Thursday, January 20, 2011

Work: Choosing now over later

A few weeks ago, I found myself at the end of a long line in the copier room at work.  Just as I began to settle in for the wait, an unfamiliar sensation washed over me. 

I folded the paper in my hand, turned on my heel and strode to the other end of the building.  That unaccustomed feeling, it turned out, was decisiveness and nerve, and soon I found myself in my program coordinator's room, stating my case for keeping my part-time position next year.  I'm pretty sure that one or two of my co-workers are hoping for my reduced hours next year and I'd been quietly fretting about having to return to full-time.  Yet until my sudden copy room flash of boldness and (what felt like) clarity, I'd hemmed and hawed about how and when to stake my claim.

My program coordinator was receptive and reassuring, and I got what I wanted.  I left the room puffed full of triumph and relief. That is, until the door shut behind me and my more typical state of doubt and misgiving took over.

I have loved my part-time schedule.  I've been able to very nearly finish my re-organization of the playroom, cook some impressive dinners, and, yes, even find the time to share my neuroses with strangers on the Internet.  My favorite part, though, is that it has made me feel human again, less torn between my various responsibilities and far less panicked about choosing which among them I can most get away with neglecting at any given moment.  And that is where my doubt comes from.

For my contentedness, my family is giving up 40 percent of my full-time salary and this makes me feel selfish.  We will not take a big vacation this year, we don't eat out too often, and I think we can all live with these things.  We're not saving much, though, and I worry about what will happen down the road.  I also worry about retirement, as my retirement plan is affected by my decreased position.  Will the girls hate me if their college funds are less than robust?  Will I hate the world when I'm dragging myself to work full-time 35 years from now?

Then there's the question of my own in whatever happened to that?  There was a time when my parents drove an hour each way to bring me to the high school that would get me into the college that would make me a success.  I'm still making payments on the college loans, but the sort of achievement I dreamed of then is far less important to me now than knowing that I can make it to Big E's school when she presents her project on rainforest butterflies.  I wonder if I'm setting the right example for my daughters and what they'll think of my choices when they get older.

I try to find solace in what they think right now.  A few days after my moment in the copy room, I stood in line at the grocery store with Little E.  She sat in the cart eating a Valentine's cookie from the bakery and asking me her usual endless string of questions about anything and everything that pops into her head, when she stopped, slapped her forehead and marvelled, "I can't believe I get to leave early everyday!"

It was a vote of confidence in my decision that offered me a little glimmer of the strength of purpose that I'd felt that morning in the copy room.  I won't know for years to come whether I was right to choose happiness now over security later --or if that is even the cost.  I can only hope that I won't come to regret it.

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