Archive for September, 2008

Leaving the Office

September 29, 2008

This leaving business, I suspect, is one of those things that is more difficult for a Superwoman than for a Superman.  I am amazed by all the ‘stuff’ I have acquired since being here. I bet male colleagues would just sweep everything into a bin bag, but by contrast, 24 hours before going, my desk is currently littered with:

The instruction manual for my phone (I always did mean to get round to reading it.  But I’m afraid I never did: it’s still hit or miss whether I transfer calls.)
A toilet roll (I had a virulent cold last winter and ran out of tissues)
A broken stapler (I kept thinking I would ask someone to look at it, but didn’t get round to it)
My photograph of a falcon (a present from a friend who said I resembled this fierce bird of prey.  I think it was meant as a compliment)
A taxi chit for Nottingham (!)
A green ribbon (it once adorned the neck of a delicious chocolate Easter bunny)

Is this all that remains of my time here?  Karen Blixen pondered the same question in Out of Africa as she was about to leave Kenya, “Does Africa know a song of me?  Will the air over the plain quiver with a colour I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”

When you put it like that, I will take with me more, so much more, than a broken stapler.  These are some of the things I have, thanks to my time here:

A recipe for Queen Latifah’s bobotie of conciliation ( my avid cooking/travelling desk partner brought this recipe in for me after I had
Read about the wonders of bobotie – spicy minced beef under an egg & milk custard topping – yum!)

An understanding of how you speak to rugby players (a colleague runs a sports management agency and so can be heard shouting, “Hiya But” and “How’d the training go, then?”)

A sassy attitude (In the open-plan office, I have lost count of the number of times I have heard robust advice being given to clients, “You don’t ask, you don’t get!”)  This has definitely passed by osmosis to me.  If you just push the other side a little bit further, it is amazing how it can pay dividends.

A realisation about friendship (we work in a small world here – our adversaries are often people we socialise with, or at least people whose expertise we respect).  I have watched with interest how my colleagues here tread the fine line between maintaining utter professionalism in representing a client’s best interests and nurturing friendships with others in the same field.  It’s not an easy balance, but they seem to achieve it!

A sense of community ( I have a friend who is a contemplative nun and she, from her convent, is always going on about the importance of the sense of community in everything we do – the need for a common purpose, shared values and so on).  At work, there is nothing formal in place, but there is a sense of community.  Terrific loyalty, great flexibility and a good measure of partying all seem to contribute to enjoying our time together.

All this makes me feel scared.  I am trading all this for the unknown.  Next week, when the office here fills with the chatter of what everyone did at the week end, I will be somewhere new finding out where the kettle is, and how the photocopier works.  This leaving business is certainly difficult.  Why do we bother to leave our comfort zones and move on at all?  What if the next bit is frightening? Karen Blixen in Out of Africa said, “Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.”  Perhaps indeed.

Very Important Job

September 15, 2008

I am a 43 year old lawyer and a Superwoman. This is the Superwoman story this week.

My 9 year old son witnessed an altercation between me and Mr. S.  The altercation was a common one, familiar to Superwomen all over the world, and centered on the division of household chores.  Actually not just the division of household chores but the speed at which said chores are carried out.  In the time it takes Mr. S to shave I can unload and reload both dishwasher and washing machine, make packed lunches and hunt down the right gym kit whilst simultaneously getting dressed and slapping moisturizer on my face and décolletage in the vain hope that that new expensive Oil of Olay cream really can reverse the appearance of fine lines and a nascent scraggy neck.

It’s not that Mr. S is lazy.  He’s not.  He qualifies as a New Man, more or less.  He cooks, he shops, he picks up from nursery.  He’ll even at a push watch Brothers and Sisters.  It’s just that he moves a lot slower than I do and consequently gets less done in the slim crescents of time that exist either side of bed and work.   He would say if asked that he does not expect me to do more house work than him because that would not be fair but the reality is that I do by the simple expedient of working faster.

It is a constant niggle that he has no idea on what days Cubs/Tennis/Self Defence fall, particularly as he has no problem remembering the dates of sporting fixtures.  “What is it today?” he’ll ask vacantly as I scurry around him locating tennis rackets and trainers.  “It’s never tennis again is it?”  It’s Wednesday, I sigh internally.  Wednesdays is tennis.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise by now.  But it does.  It really does.    Another niggle is that Mr. S refuses to take any notice of permission slips (those bits of paper which if not promptly completed and signed mean your children can’t have their photo taken or go on the school trip) because they’re just paper aren’t they?  You don’t actually have to do anything with paper.  You just pile it up on the counter along with the bills and the junk mail and eventually all of it just disappears in the same way that pans left to soak will if left long enough also disappear.

Normally I just get on with it.  It’s easier that way and faster to do it myself.  However, this week has been a busy week for Superwoman.  I’ve had a lot of meetings, some of which have involved travelling away and late nights.  On the day of the altercation I had got up even earlier than usual so as to prepare for one of those meetings and Mr. S took the opportunity to have himself a little lie in because clearly with a bit of extra time on my hands I could manage to get the kids ready on my own.  I did not take to this attitude kindly.  I shouted at Mr S.  Loudly.  I believe I may have used the words lazy, selfish and ass as I slammed the door behind me.

In the car on the way to school my 9 year old told me how he hated it when I shouted.  How it made him anxious.  I apologized.  I told him that I wasn’t angry with him but with his father who had not been helping me that morning.

My 9 year old put his hand gently on my arm and looked over at me solicitously as I drove.

“The thing is Mum, what you’ve got to understand is this. Daddy has a really important job.”

This doesn’t happen to me often but I was lost for words.  I think a little steam may have escaped through my nose.  Mr. S is a lawyer just like me.

“What do you think I do all day?” I asked him through only slightly gritted teeth.

“You just sit around in your office playing with your computer.”

Later, when Mr S called to apologise for his lie in I recounted this story to him.

“That hasn’t done me any favours has it?” he winced.

At home that evening Mr S. explained to my son what Mum does all day which does involve an office and a computer but not much in the way of playing.  He also told him that Mum earns as much money as he does – in fact a bit more some years – and that Mum is her own boss which is why she can nip out early to attend sports day and parents day and see him perform in the school play whereas Mr S. works for a company and has no less than three bosses.

“Gosh Dad,” he said, looking over at me with new found respect.  “How does she manage to do all that and all the washing too?”

S’easy.   I am Superwoman.  And just to make sure my son understands what being a Superwoman involves I have now taught him to load the washing machine.  All by himself and quickly.