Monday, August 20, 2012

Leaving Neverland

"Sometimes I feel like Peter Pan," I said to Blake over  couple of beers last Sunday afternoon, as I enjoyed a moment to just chat with him before my evening shift began.  "Like I'm not a grown-up.  Lindsey and Elise are moving on to these big things, and I'm just stuck here in Neverland."

"I feel more like Pooh.  You know, how Christopher Robin outgrows Pooh.  I feel like everyone's just outgrowing me."

A fair analogy, I think, but I stick to Peter Pan.  Peter Pan, the boy who never wanted to grow up, was grown up in his own way.  He lived on his own, without any grown ups telling him what to do, and took care of himself, and had a pack of lost boys that he also looked after.  He just rejected the structured lifestyle of the working world.

In fairness to myself, I've had a job since I was 16 years old.  For nearly half my life I've been a part of the working world. Maybe my job doesn't seem very "grown-up," but it pays my grown-up bills and has taught me some very grown-up lessons.  A bartender matures quickly.

But working at the bar has been my safety net for so long.  I have a list of reasons as to why I am still there.  I was a wife, and a mother, and wanted to focus on building my family.  I wanted to be available to my children in a way that my own working mom wasn't.  Though I admired my parents for instilling me with a strong work ethic, I also missed their presence in my childhood.  Raising my family, watching them grow, and not missing out on the big moments in their life kept me from committing to a full-time legal practice.

Besides, I reasoned, there were no jobs to be had.

It turns out, even if the latter reason was once true, it isn't anymore.  In the last couple of months I cautiously sent out two resumes, tentatively hoping for something to come of them.  To my surprise I was called back on both to interview.  I was even more surprised when I was offered a position last Thursday, before I had a chance to interview for the second job. Today, I accepted the position with the first firm, a worker's compensation defense firm where I will be one of five attorneys in the Bakersfield office.

My surprise at being called didn't stem from self-deprecation or a lack of confidence, but from the very real fact that I graduated from law school three years ago - the shortest, fastest three years of my life - and have never had a "real" lawyer position.  I lack experience, not confidence - and experience is usually what gets a person in the door for an interview.  Once through the door, I've always been very sure of my ability to charm my way into a job, even when I didn't.

As I delighted in the first interview and the anticipation of the second, and the feeling of being wanted - or, possibly wanted, I also fearfully considered what a full-time position would mean.  If things went well, I'd soon find myself waking up Monday through Friday to an early alarm clock for the first time since high school.  There would be much less late Tuesday nights, "just because it's Tuesday, and I can." When would I do my banking?  People who work day jobs have to go to Target when everyone else does, when they've all got their sticky kids with them.  When do people who work "normal" jobs go to Petsmart? When do they lounge in their backyards to drink coffee?  When do they meet new people and when do they see their kids?

I'm terrified of never having children again, but I'm also at least as terrified of having children just to let them be raised by a day-care provider who will see their first step, not me.  What is it like to miss your child all day?  Of course, I already know what it's like.  And missing a child, knowing you'll see them again at the end of the workday, can't possibly be worse than missing him and knowing you won't get to see him for a long time, can it?

When I imagine seeing Gabriel again, I imagine it being much like picking a child up from the baby-sitter.  In my imagination, Gabriel is always 5 pounds, 9 ounces, 19.5 inches long and looks every bit like a baby, with the quirks and behaviors of a toddler, and the wisdom of an old man.  I imagine seeing him again, and he has his back to me.  He's on the floor, playing with blocks among other toddlers and babies when someone points in my direction, and he turns to look at me with wide eyes.  A smile stretches across his face as he realizes he's been having so much fun he didn't even know he missed me, but he has never been so happy as he is to see me again.  I hope to God my son doesn't feel the pain of missing me the way I ache from missing him, but the thought of reuniting with Gabriel someday is the only thing that gets me through many days here on earth.

I thought of my fears and my anticipation as I absently followed the voice on my phone's GPS system, which was navigating me to the salon where the girl who waxes my eyebrows has relocated to.  I also wondered to myself when people who work day jobs find time to have their eyebrows done, until I pulled into the parking lot and realized I was across the street from the worker's comp firm.  Clearly, people who work day jobs walk across the street on their lunch hour to get such things accomplished.

It felt like such a small, silly sign, until I was greeted by Dolores the esthetician, who was quick to ask, "Well, did you get the job?"

"I don't know yet, but I get a good feeling.  The firm is across the street.  I think I'm supposed to be there."

I went to the interview with the second firm today, trusting that I would know which job was right for me by the end of it.  Sure enough, I did.  I think I could be happy at today's firm; I think I was meant to be at the other.

Accepting the position is bittersweet.  The bitter stems from what feels like finality.  I wouldn't be looking for full-time work if Gabriel were still here.  I wouldn't be looking if I were going to stay married and keep trying for more children.  Something about saying "yes" to the job feels like saying "no" to my hope that there will be a family for me in the future.  I fear becoming so entrenched in my career that I can't get back out again, even to have another baby.

But there's sweetness in the victory.  For three years I've felt like I must be an unemployable lawyer; my resumes went unanswered when I was first admitted to practice, and for the last two years I've been too scared to seek out even part-time work.  But I AM employable; in fact, I'm now employed.

The sweetest thing, though, is knowing that I've done what I wanted to with my career so far.  I've helped people who couldn't have afforded an attorney otherwise.  I've learned a lot, not the least of which is to not be afraid to ask questions, but to also be a self-sufficient attorney.  I'm grateful to my bosses, Rick and Lynn, for keeping me in a job where I was able to provide for myself even after Ben left.  I am grateful that though times are tough and business is sometimes slow and always uncertain, somehow I've always gotten by.  I'm grateful that they're letting me keep my foot in their door, allowing me to keep one or two shifts of my choosing.

Standing at the edge of Neverland, I look forward to life's next adventure.

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