Sunday, May 24, 2009

One of Those Birthdays

(Photo by Flickr user elston, and used under Creative Commons license.)

Let me tell you a story.

Ten years ago, I turned thirty. My life was in tatters. I was ending a chaotic and soul-draining relationship, and it was not ending in that clean surgical way in which relationships should end. It was like pulling away ivy that had been growing for years - pull out a huge chunk, find the next tendril, pull hard, try not to uproot something valuable, find the next tendril...

I had been fired three months before from a job that I hated. I despised the job, and yet to be fired seemed like the ultimate humiliation. I didn't want to be there, but I was furious that they were claiming I wasn't doing good enough work to be doing that job. I pursued legal action, based on firing without just cause, and quickly found out that it was impossible given my state's employment laws.

Because I was living paycheck to paycheck, my firing set in motion a series of events that eventually led to bankruptcy. Eventually, I left my home, ended up living with my brother for several years because I had nowhere else to go and couldn't afford my own place. (Thank you, by the way, to my brother for opening his door to me.)

At the time, I was living in a house that I hated with roommates that I couldn't stand. I had no privacy. I had no social life. I was working in a job that felt tenuous and temporary, and I didn't really know anybody there well enough to call a friend.

I was alone.

I remember that, for my thirtieth birthday, I wanted to get away. I drove to Bellingham, which was as far as I could manage to escape for a night. I drove sixty miles north to Bellingham, got a burger and fries from a highway burger stand, and parked by the waterfront. And I remember watching the sun slowly setting over the water, being alone, gratified for the privacy but aching from my loneliness and sadness. I cried several times that night. It was one of the saddest days of my life.

And then I drove home to my house that I hated, and went to sleep without talking to anyone. No presents, no cards, no cake. That was it.

That was a long time ago, and it was one of the worst birthdays or days that I have ever experienced in my life. I look back at that time now and it seems like a lifetime ago.

Tomorrow I will turn forty, and I've felt on the verge of tears for most of the day. My wife wants to know what I want for my birthday, and I don't know. I have no ideas. I don't want any presents. I don't know how to celebrate this birthday.

I have been out of work for nearly five months. Looking for a job is very much like dating, in the sense that it feels like rejection after rejection after rejection. The momentary bursts of joy are quickly washed away by the repeated slaps in the face. The thrill of the chase is replaced by the desperation of the chase, the fervent need to be exactly what someone (a company) is looking for, and the repeated discovery that you're not the guy. You're not the one they've been looking for, but you're very very close, and maybe someday you'll find the right match for you.

So I have been out of work for nearly five months, and our finances are a bit tight. And my sense of self-worth is pretty low these days. And I'm turning forty, which is supposed to be a pivotal age in my life, a watershed moment, a moment that means something. Some birthdays are just a birthday, and some birthdays are supposed to mean something. 18, 21, 30, 40, 50, 65. Some birthdays matter, and you take note of where you are in your life.

I have a beautiful wife who loves me. I have a son who lights up my life on a daily basis. I have a close circle of friends, friends real and virtual. I have a decent home, music to play, food to eat. We drive good cars. We eat well. I am happy.

But I'm out of work. And that's eating me alive. It is such a small thing, with all the great things happening in my life. But it matters, and it's painful and frustrating and infuriating. And it makes this birthday something that I just want to be over.

It was just over ten years ago that I took my first job in the nonprofit world, and I immediately knew what I would be doing for the rest of my working days. I never realized that I could make money and generate social change at the same time. As many regrets as I have about the misdeeds and failings and imperfections of nonprofit organizations, they are driven by missions that seek to make the world a better place. That might mean cleaning up the air and water, or it might mean fighting social injustices, or it might mean creating jobs for the jobless, finding food for the hungry, finding homes for the homeless. But every organization for which I've worked in the last ten years is trying to make the world a better place, and I have been fortunate to work in this field.

I want to get back to work. It's been ten years since I joined this field, this vocation, the change-the-world career ladder. I'm looking for a way back into that career ladder, back into the movement, back on the horse.

It seems somehow portentous that I find myself back in this position. Ten years ago, I had the rug pulled out from under me, and I made a seemingly small decision that changed my life. Ten years later, the rug has been pulled out again, and I find myself scrambling for footing. Once again, I'm left unsure of myself, questioning my own talents and abilities. Once again, I'm facing one of those birthdays, one that signals a change of life. Once again, so it seems, it's time for another great transition in my life.

I want this period to be over. I hate the waiting. I know that soon, I will find a job that will change my life. I want the waiting to be over so the next change can begin happening. The waiting is what's killing me.

So tomorrow, I will celebrate my birthday that I have been dreading for so long. The next day, I have an interview for a job. It might not be the next great job, but it's the next interview, and that's something. It could lead to the next great job, and it is that promise that keeps me going.

Happy birthday to me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Danger to Himself and Others

I do not know what is going on with this kid.

Twice in the last month, I've found myself walking around, whispering to myself, "He's okay. He's okay."

A dresser fell on him. He was okay, but a dresser fell on him. I left Oliver alone in his room for a minute. I've done this a hundred times before. He had the top drawer of my dresser open and he had a Lego block he was pressing on the side of it, like playing Tetris, trying to fit the block into the crack. I left for a minute to get something, and as I walked away, I saw in my head the dresser falling over, him pinned underneath.

I see images like this all the time. I'm constantly afraid of what he might do to himself, but I've tried to keep those visions batted down because otherwise I'll just make myself crazy. 99% of the time, I'm just being paranoid, imagining the worst possible thing that could happen to him.

But a minute later, I heard a crash. And I heard him say, "Ow. Daddy." He said it once, like a request, and then he hollered, "DADDY!!"

We both ran down the hall.

The dresser was tipped over at a 45-degree angle, every drawer popped out. Everything on top had fallen off, somehow missing him. One of the drawers was on top of his leg, and he was calling for help. I moved the dresser, Mrs. B pulled him out and inspected him for damage. Miraculously - and I mean that truly - he was not hurt. No bones were broken, not even a bump on the head. He got some splinters in one of his hands from trying to catch the dresser, but that's all.

(We found out that he was reaching for a box of pictures that we keep on top of the dresser. That's what tipped it over. )


Just last week, he poked himself in the eye with a broom. He's okay, but he popped himself right in the eye, hard. And no, it wasn't the bristle end of the broom, it was the stick end.

I don't know what he was doing, but it didn't surprise me he was playing with the broom. He has loved playing with our broom for years now. It's one of his favorite toys. Occasionally, for a lark, he tries to actually sweep with it. But it serves so many other purposes: as a bridge between footstools, as a stick that he can jump over, as a club that he can wave around and look menacing, as a poker that he can use to tip blocks over, and so many more purposes. It's a broom! It's like the supertoy for the 21st generation!

I think that he had it sticking horizontally out of the footstool. I don't know why, but it was there, about two feet off the ground, sticking out like an invitation. And of course, he tripped, and of course, he fell with his face hurtling toward the footstool, and of course, he pushed the end of the broom right into his left eye.

He cried forever, both eyes wedged shut, tears flooding out, his face red as a beet. Eventually, he opened his left eye again, and we checked for damage. No bleeding, no bruises. His pupil wasn't dilated. We asked him if he could see out of it, and he could. But we were both spooked, and so we called the triage nurse at the hospital. She told me about the basic symptoms to watch out, had me do a couple of basic checks to make sure he hadn't broken the orbital bone that surrounds his eye. (Thank goodness, he hadn't.) He got lucky. Didn't even end up with a black eye.


There's more that he's done. He trips constantly, stumbles over the flotsam and jetsam that covers our floor. He climbs onto stools that he should. not. be. on. and then tries to reach for things way above his head. We were going to catch the water taxi last week - it was a bit of a rainy day - and he slipped walking down the ramp. He slipped and fell twice. And if I hadn't been holding his hand, he would have gone flying down the ramp right into Puget Sound.

He tries to stand with both feet in his wagon, which is just a recipe for a broken nose.

Once, he tried to put our big red balance ball on the bed and then climb on top of it. I stopped him, frantically.

Here's what I think is going on. First of all, I'm going to say that there is a four-year-old developmental step that is massive and monumental, because he always goes to hell right before a developmental step. He's also very emotional and very clingy and melts down at the drop of a hat, which also seem like indicators of a massive development step about to happen.

The second thing is that he's physically growing. One of my friends put it well - it's the physical version of stuttering right before he takes a big leap in his verbal skills. His body is stuttering. He's clumsy right now because he's trying to get used to his new size and his new strength.

That's the best I can guess. I don't know. Really, it's exhausting right now trying to keep him safe, because it feels like he's trying so hard to keep himself unsafe.