A fifth attempt

Funny; this is the fifth time I've deleted a paragraph and started over. It's not that I don't have anything to say tonight. It's that my mind is tired and whirling and thinking about many different things at once.

So much of what today was, was influenced by what happened at work today. It's incredibly easy to let "what you do for a living" become "what you are." In fact, the questions are almost synonymous in our society. The expectation is that we will do something we love so much that we want to do nothing but that, and that our working activities consume our free thoughts, even when we are not at work.As the child of two professional workaholics, that disturbs me. I find myself rebelling against it in fear of becoming merely a carbon copy of my parents.

For example, my mother. She will celebrate her 58th birthday this year, and will retire from her position as a second-grade teacher in May of 2001, at the end of this school year. I am immensely proud of her for sticking out a job that she has fallen out of love with in the past few years.

As I look back on my life, I see it as a testament to her teaching ability. She learned a lot from watching her daughters learn, but I learned much more from her.

Some of what I learned was good. Through her I learned how to work hard, how to put your heart and soul into what you do for a living. But I also learned what bringing your work home with you night after night, year after year, does to you. It makes you resent going to work the next morning, because you feel like you never really walked away from it for the night.

Multiply this over years and years, and you have someone who wants nothing but to retire, but who will be more than a little lost without the daily grind that has been her life for nearly thirty years.

When I look at my mother, I recognize that what I see is my future—unless I learn to change the way I live and work. At twenty-two I brought work home and was taking antacids to combat the stress-related acid reflux problems I had. At twenty-three I quit my job to find another that would help me avoid burning out by the age of thirty.

When growing up, I often wished that my parents had more time to spend with me. Mom always brought home a suitcaseful of papers to grade each evening, and Dad, working shiftwork, would only be home in the evenings for one week out of four. Mom would sit in the green recliner, a wreath of cigarette smoke floating lazily around her head, as she dangled a cigarette between the fingers of her left hand while wielding her red pen in her right hand. One by one, the papers would be graded, notated, and put away. Then it was time to do a little housework, and then it was time to sleep. It was the same ritual every school night for every year that I can remember.

I can't say that I was neglected or mistreated or anything like that. On the contrary, if something in my life was important enough, my mother made time for it. But work always interfered at some level, whether it was either job-related work or house-related work. Mom always seemed uncomfortable if things were "left undone." When she was on vacation, Mom always seemed a little lost, as if losing her daily routine caused her to momentarily lose her bearings in life.

Mom's retiring in May. I look at her and wonder what she's going to do after she retires. At first, I believe she will be happy—finally, a chance to rest and relax—but after that, I fear she's going to be a bit confused and more than a little bit lost. Work really has been her reason for being for so many years.

I hope she relaxes. She's earned it. I just hope she's not going to be as lost as I fear she will be. I just hope that one of these years, I won't be as lost as I think she's going to be.

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