There aren’t really that many times in my life that I’d like to go back and slap myself silly – there are times I’d like to do over, sure, but not many that I’d like to do over simply because I was being a jerk. I was never a Mean Girl or anything like that. I pretty much always appreciated my parents. In face-to-face meetings, I’m typically awkward and say either way too much or nothing at all, but I hardly ever cross the line into bitchy.
But there was one day I did step over into bitch territory. I was 24, and I was basically insufferable in that I had, in the span of one year, gotten married, bought a house, earned a master’s degree and been hired at my first real job. Now I’m 35 and have gotten divorced; survived the housing crash; realized my master’s degree is most useful as a wall decoration (although I actually don’t even know where it is, probably in a box somewhere); and look back fondly on my “real job” in which I mostly filed things, typed letters, drank endless cups of coffee, did online crossword puzzles and chatted on AOL Instant Messenger (this was a long time ago) with my friends. Oh, and most important and life-altering: I’ve had kids.
This was then, though, and I – bless my 24-year-old heart – just didn’t even know what I didn’t know.
I had a coworker who I liked OK; let’s call her Eileen. Eileen had a child. I liked her kid. I happily bought wrapping paper for school fundraisers and listened to and laughed at stories about clever things her kid had said and made appropriately glowing comments when she showed me the latest school pictures. I even rustled up a bunch of multicolored highlighters for her daughter to color with one day when she brought her to work.
I didn’t really think, though, that Eileen’s kid should take up so much of her work hours. I was annoyed that it seemed like she was always leaving early to get her kid for a doctor’s appointment, coming in late because her kid had a conference, missing days because her kid was sick. I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just make her family fit into her non-work hours. Keep in mind that I was spending my work hours as described above, so it’s not like Eileen’s job was falling to me or anything. I had absolutely no reason to be bothered by her frequent absences; I was just irked that it seemed like she got some kind of free pass to miss work merely by virtue of having a kid. None of this, I guess, was really all that bitchy.
It was just the way you think when you’re 24 and have no kids of your own yet. Eileen would tell me how tired she was on Monday morning, and I’d say, “I know. My dog woke me up at 6:30 on Saturday wanting to be let out. On a Saturday. I get it.” And I thought I was actually sympathizing; I thought I did get it. I wasn’t bitchy. I was blessedly clueless.
But then one day, she called in because her kid was sick. Again. And I was pissed because it was January, and I was always pissed for the duration of winter generally but also because that day I’d had to scrape my windshield and drive to work in the snow and really did not want to be in the office myself and I didn’t understand why she wasn’t going to have to come in, too.
So when she called me and said she wouldn’t be in because Lauren was sick, I said, “Oh, it’s OK; you’re never here anyway. I don’t even really know why you don’t just quit and stay home because, like, you’re paying so much for day care, but she never even goes.” And then I laughed, I guess to soften the meanness of what I’d said, and she went completely silent and then cleared her throat and said, “OK, well, I’ll see you when I get back.” And I said, “I hope Lauren feels better,” and hung up.
It isn’t the worst thing anyone could say, but for a childless woman to say that to a working mom with a sick kid … well, like I said, I wish I could go back and slap myself.
Of course, the joke’s on me anyway because my kids were sick two days last week and another two – possibly three – this week. Also, Ruby had a dentist appointment, and Georgia had a doctor’s appointment, and also I had to run out to the pharmacy to get a prescription filled and to Target to buy ballet shoes and so, oops, sorry, I accidentally took a two-hour lunch but didn’t actually eat anything, so now I’m going to eat some takeout at my desk.
I am sure that from the outside, it looks like I’m missing a lot of work – and work is actual work now, not drinking coffee and looking for a 10-letter word for “hodgepodge.” From the inside, though, I’m running every minute, feeling bad for not doing enough for my job or my kids, and working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life.
Eileen, if you’re out there, please know that 35-year-old me would like to humbly apologize for 24-year-old me, and that I hope your daughter and mine all grow up in a world where women are nicer to one another.
Excerpted from Eve Crawford Peyton’s blog, Joie d’Eve, which appears each Friday on MyNewOrleans.com.