When I told Harry that I had taken a few days off from work in anticipation of the holidays, he was surprised. We host both Thanksgiving and Christmas and I do almost all of the cooking and we have overnight guests. He was puzzled that I would use my time in this way, but I thought it was a great opportunity to enjoy the holiday season. During my seventeen years in law practice, the day before Thanksgiving was consistently one of the very worst each year. There have been manufactured emergencies, false deadlines, unnecessarily acrimonious contract negotiations, and stupid drafts exchanged every year. Since I never worked at a company with a November 30 end of fiscal year and that time of fall is too late for anything to impact the holiday shopping season, I can tell you that all of it was nonsense. But I did what I had to do. Conference calls, meetings, last minute shopping at 24-hour markets late in the evening. I have baked my semi-famous Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake at 3AM on more than a few occasions. So now, in exile from my profession, and with vacation days a substitute for cash, I took my days with an eye toward making the very best of it. Life is happening now.
My elementary school years were a time of great turmoil for my family. My parents divorced, both remarried and my mom was very sadly on her way to a second divorce. We moved twice. I skipped the third grade and had to make new friends, only to have the school district re-zoned and move to another school. This brings me to Mr. Kalinowski. He was my fifth grade reading teacher. He was loud and rigid and scary. I have no memory of him smiling. I sat in the front row in a one-period-a-day anxiety attack for ten months. This man knew nothing about me or my home life and made no effort to change that. I think I’ve written before about how teachers used to get help from kids in the class with filing, etc. back in the day. I was always asked to provide clerical and other support. Weird, but true. One day in the sixth grade, when I was doing some filing, I stumbled on what can only be called my “permanent file.” Years of evaluations, notes, etc. On a full-page form filled with many sample descriptors, etc., Mr. K. chose to write one phrase about me: “Can Be Lazy at Times.” What does that mean? Are there people who CAN’T be lazy at times? I find this fascinating because practically anyone who has ever met me would know immediately that “lazy” is pretty much the last word you can use to describe me. I also think it’s interesting that he always gave me an “A.” “Unambitious” is another word my old boss used, also while giving me stellar reviews. I have never had any material criticism from a supervisor, except for this one point, which seems to really irritate some people. I want to like my job, do a good job, and have a life. In exchange for that, I did not seek ever more responsibility, ever more money. I studied my area and became expert (I think they say 10,000 hours makes an expert.) I was so happy to be where I was. And even now, while I still try to move things forward, I don’t see how being miserable will help. I will use my vacation benefits, my sick days, my personal time. I will look forward and do my best to improve my situation, but while my life is happening, I will also try to be satisfied.
There is a post-script to this: I waited until way after the holidays to post this to see how my plan turned out. I can tell you it was perfect. We entertained, we visited, I sent handwritten notes to close friends. We saw movies, we talked, we read. On Christmas Eve, we spent much of the day cooking and drinking wine with my brother. We actually got to sit and visit with our family – to hear what they had to say – to relax. To enjoy our meal together. I sat quietly with my niece after opening the gifts to consider how she felt about each. Harry dressed as “Uncle Harry as Santa” because Michael and Nicole are too big now for Santa, but not quite sure they wanted to give it up entirely. We had breakfast together and I could hear about Mark’s job and Irene’s PTA work. We visited with my friend Charity – she usually passes through NYC one day during the Christmas season and I am so sad to think how many times I missed her because I had to work. This time, we sat together in a lovely restaurant with Harry, Charity’s sister, Faith, and my brother, Robert before we went on to dinner with other friends. I had drinks and dinner with my work colleague, Fran, one night and we had an opportunity to talk about things we never would in the office – this is how you start a friendship. In early December, we had dinner with our friends Kerry and Andy, who stayed the night. We sat in the living room in our pajamas like college students and had the chance to connect in a way we have not in years. When I got sick before New Year’s, I did not panic about work. Our friends Cynthia and Kristy visited us with their son, Jackson, and we went to the train show at the Botanical Garden. Harry and I have wanted to do that for ten years. I know that this can’t last, but remembering that last year I was unemployed, and before that every holiday season since age 17 has been a blur of work, finals, or both, I completely enjoyed it. I thank the people who made the time to get together (and I really thank our friends Joe and Cie who understood my New Year’s Eve sinus infection…). It was everything the season should be. I think next year will be different, but I will have this time for comparison and maybe I will strike a good balance. “Unambitious?” “Can Be Lazy at Times?” Perhaps in the view of a few cranky strivers, but from my end, thank God.