Monday, March 4, 2013

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 10

Vivian did not contact me again after her last, markedly short, email.

At first, I didn't know what to think about this. I believed that if she needed me to come into the office, she would reach out to me. When she didn't, I told myself it was because she didn't need me (... or want me...). I thought this meant her office was better off without me -- after all, she didn't have to pay me anymore! And she still had Edith and Erica to take care of things, after all they had pretty much taken care of everything even while I was still working there.

And, hang on, she would contact me if she needed me, right? That's what I told her to do.

I let weeks go by. I started to let myself believe that this is what Vivian and I both wanted -- an easy out. No hard conversations, no bad feelings, just two people who need to go in different directions. My grandmother had given us both the perfect excuse: it's not you, it's the situation.

Even if all the while we were both thinking, "but actually.... It's you."

I may have been slightly worried about this for a while. What did it mean that Vivian hadn't reached out to me again? Was I supposed to contact her? Was I, though? Really? Because her last email hadn't invited much of a response. Shouldn't I wait for her to contact me? She would let me know if she needed me, right? Isn't this just better for both of us?

Because to be perfectly honest, this ending suited my current needs and I truly believed she felt the same way. I needed to be at home; she needed to not be paying me anymore.... And we both had a lot of other concerns. I needed to be at the hospital caring for my grandmother and my family, I needed to be at Elizabeth's caring for her children, I needed to be recovering and caring for myself. She needed to be running her business.

So I let it go. I let weeks pass with ease. I took on more and more babysitting hours, and my grandmother finally started to get better. April became May became June...

I should have known better.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 9

After Elizabeth was fired, I didn't quit my job in the same hour -- which would have been my impulse. In fact, I ended up sticking around for a few more weeks. I had an untried reputation to worry about, and I didn't want Vivian to think I was taking sides against her (though, in my heart, I completely already had).

But, as it turned out, the end of my working relationship with Vivian sort of... took care of itself, without my having to worry about it or put any work into it.

In March, Vivian went on a vacation to Florida for a week, thus missing the beginning of my family crisis. On the day she returned, I wasn't supposed to come into the office (it was one of my days off), so the other girls filled her in on what happened in my family.

That day, I received an email from her saying something to the effect of, "I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother! Please don't worry about coming in this week -- you should be with your family and taking care of yourself. However, we are having a party at my house this Saturday to celebrate my company's anniversary!! I would love for you to come! Please let me know if you can come! I know Jillian and Ben would love to see you!"

I didn't write her back right away. I KNOW -- MISTAKE. But I was already off until Wednesday, that was my schedule, and it was only Monday. I figured if I wrote her back on Tuesday... no one would be the wiser!


I got an email from her on Tuesday morning. It was very short. All it said was, "Jane - did you get my email?" Now, it can be kind of hard to tell what people are thinking over email. But you know, sometimes it's not that hard.

I wrote her back right away, something to the effect of: "Yes! I got your email. Thank you for being so understanding. However, I am happy to come into the office this week, and next. Please let me know when you need me and I will be there. Unfortunately, I can't come to your party this weekend, I have family obligations. But I will be there in spirit! But please do let me know if you need me to come into the office. Thank you again, Jane."

The email I got back was very short. Very, very short. Awkwardly short, you might say. All it said was, "We are all good here, just take care of yourself."

I wasn't quite sure what to think when I read it. The delusionally hopeful side of me piped up, "Maybe she does just want you to take care of yourself..." The realistic side of me reasoned.... probably not.... but I decided to ignore that side. After all, I had a lot of other things to worry about.

And I TOLD her to let me know if she needed me.... So, she will.

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 8

All at once, shit started hitting the fan.

First, I noticed a marked change in Vivian's attitude towards me once my hours were costing her money. No longer was I just "that adorable, young intern" she wanted to take under her wing. No, now that she was paying me, my worth to her company was in question.

I should have realized my mistake. I admit I was pretty naive about this sort of thing at the time. SO, NOTE TO SELF: if you are already wondering about your position in a company and whether or not you have anything to contribute... THAT PROBABLY ISN'T THE BEST TIME TO ASK FOR A RAISE. Lesson learned.

Second, I was babysitting more and more for Elizabeth. Her children loved me and I loved them. Furthermore, Elizabeth appreciated me -- a lot -- and as a result, she paid me very well. Basically, I was rich! The only problem I had at all with the arrangement is that I was tired from working two jobs.

Third, at the beginning of March, my grandmother began suffering serious heart problems and was placed in the hospital for an extended period of time. Suddenly, I was very much needed at home, with my family.

And all together, the relaxing semester at home I had imagined was rapidly becoming stressful and exhausting. My time was a valuable commodity. Everybody needed a lot of it and no one was getting enough of it, especially me. It wasn't long before I was wondering which of my obligations I could give up, which of my jobs I could quit... And the answer was obvious.

I loved working for Elizabeth, and felt that she relied on me. Plus... it was very lucrative. I definitely wanted to keep that job.

I knew my family needed my help caring for my grandmother, that was a given. In fact, they already needed way more help than I was able to give them.

So what was left? Vivian. Well, she hardly needed me at all! She would probably be grateful if I left and stopped costing her an outrageous $100 a week.

But what about working towards my future? I insisted to myself that I couldn't give in to the urge to leave, I had to hold onto this job so that she would help me get my next one. But then, oh why was she acting more and more like she liked me less and less?

And then Vivian did something that made it so I could never look at her the same way again. After a mere two months, she unceremoniously fired my friend, Elizabeth.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 7

The longer I worked in Vivian's *new* office, the more I came to like Elizabeth. Of all the new people, she was by far the most similar to me -- even compared to the girls in my own age group. We just... clicked. Sometimes these things can't be explained.

Elizabeth lived in the same area of the city as me, and she had two children, aged 6 and 10. Now, not to toot my own horn, but I am good with kids. I love them, they love me - it just works. Vivian had seen this first hand when she brought her own children into the office. It wasn't long before she was suggesting to Elizabeth that Elizabeth might like to use me as a babysitter one or two evenings a week, you know, since we lived so near each other. Before the words were even all the way out of her mouth, Elizabeth was nodding her head in agreement. It seemed a natural progression to our working relationship.

When I told my mom later that day she was adamantly against the idea. "Jane," she said, "Obviously you're not a mom so you can't completely get this, but women are crazy about their babysitters." She tried to impress upon me that women become possessive of the babysitters that their children adore. She had seen it on the playground when she was raising my sister and me. And, if we're being completely honest, maybe she was one of the crazy women herself. Actually, forget maybe. She definitely was one.

But I had an easy solution to this problem! I would make sure Vivian knew that I still cared about her children as well as Elizabeth's. I would babysit for both of them. This was easier said than done: Elizabeth lived in the city, but Vivian lived out in the suburbs -- not nearly as convenient a commute. But still, I was willing to do it, and Vivian was eager to have me spend time with her children. I carefully arranged with her a date during the week when I would drive all the way out to the boonies and spend an afternoon looking after her kids.

And so I did. I borrowed my mom's car, plugged her address into my GPS, and drove an hour out of my way to pick her children up from school and make them dinner. Granted, I DO love spending time with children, and her children are awesome. So this wasn't necessarily the most horrendous chore in the world. In fact, Vivian's daughter reminded me a bit of myself as a preteen, and I had fun talking to her about her adorable boy problems, and friend problems, and general drama. And the rest of the afternoon was spent watching her and her brother show me tricks on their trampoline, helping with homework, and figuring out what the heck to make for dinner.

Vivian came home from her tennis lesson around 8 o'clock that night -- not late, especially for a babysitting gig, but I did still have to drive home. I let her know I should probably be getting along soon-ish, if she didn't mind. She looked at her watch and said, "Oh! Yes! Of course, we don't want you to get home too late." Then she turned to her kids, "Jillian! Ben! Did you thank Jane for visiting? Please say thank you to Jane for coming all the way out here and visiting you!" They both mumbled their "thank yous" in that 'someone else is making me do it' awkward way. I smiled encouragingly at them and then turned expectantly to Vivian.

"Well," She said, "I better go take a shower! Thank you again for visiting, Jane! Can you see yourself out?"

"What??? OH! Yes, yes of course. Anytime guys! Thanks!" I tried to sound absolutely as neutral as possible, and not at all surprised, while I grabbed my coat and made my way to my car.

Once I was seated behind the wheel, I sat still for a moment, a little stunned, and then I started laughing. What a fool I am! I had just babysat for free! FOR FREE!!! Even now, I still don't know how I could have handled that situation better. Obviously I wasn't about to say what I wanted to say: "Wait!! What about, uh... compensation for my hours of labor?" I couldn't do it just like that, to her face, in front of her kids. But. On the other hand. Oh my God! Who doesn't pay her babysitter?!

Maybe it was my own fault, I reasoned with myself as I drove home. I hadn't solidified an hourly wage with her beforehand. I hadn't been 100% clear with her that I considered this a job, and that I wouldn't normally drive an hour out of my way simply to "hang out" with children half my age.

But it was also becoming increasingly clear that, with Vivian, money was going to be a bit of an issue. After all, I HAD been, in my eyes, VERY blunt and aggressive in my attempt to get paid for my internship -- almost awkwardly so -- and yet I was still waiting on my first paycheck.

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 6

Over the course of the previous summer and my January internship, I had considered Vivian a very kind and gracious woman. She had, after all, offered me the opportunity to work for her, and then work for her again. And when I returned in the winter much less healthy than I had been, she encouraged me many times to take better care of myself. I still have on a shelf somewhere the book she gave me, called something to the effect of: "Taking Better Care of Yourself." Yes, she seemed genuinely concerned. Maternal even.

However, as time continued to pass and winter became spring, a few things happened that began to change my perception of her dramatically.

The first was something I discovered while talking to the two other girls about my age, Edith and Erica. They both had the same title as me, "Intern," but over the course of our conversation I learned that they were PAID interns, whereas I was working for free.


I decided that, since I was staying on past January, I should get paid as well. I remember fretfully attempting to compose an email, both my parents sitting over my shoulder (helicopter parenting for the WIN!), and trying to find a way to say, "I would like to be earning wages, please," that didn't sound.. pushy? Aggressive? Obnoxious and entitled? It was a fine line. Razor fine. When I had finally written something to my liking, I still had to close my eyes when I hit send. It was, for me, THE MOMENT OF TRUTH.

However, things worked out better than I could have hoped! The very next day, Vivian called me into her office and agreed that I should be paid for my time, like the other girls. Though, she said, perhaps a little less than them because they were a year older than me. Whatever! I said. That sounds reasonable!! It was all well an good as far as I was concerned. I had succeeded! I had stood up for myself and it had worked! Achievement.

It took a few more weeks (Yes. Weeks.) for me to realize that.... Yes, she had said she was willing to pay me, but somehow that hadn't materialized into actual payment. Another night of fretful email writing ensued. How do I find a way a casual and light way to say, "So... Uh........ About that payment?" Is it even possible to be casual and light about that sort of thing? I tried to make it seem like I just hadn't gotten the tax forms yet, so if I could just grab those from her the next time I was in the office, I could have them filled out in a jiffy! No problem.

When I was next in the office, Vivian wasn't there. It was one of her "work from home" days. But! There was an 1-9 and a W-4 sitting on my desk with a post-it that said to scan and send to the accountant when I was finished with them.

So... Mission accomplished! I hoped.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 5

When I arrived for the first day of my January internship, it was to a completely different office from the one I had left behind. Savannah, my friend and coworker, had left New York and returned home to Arizona. With her went the team dynamic we had cultivated, a dynamic that only once it was gone did I realize had a huge impact on how I felt about work.

Of course, there was a new girl in Savannah's place, Erica, but I would never work as well with her or like her nearly as much. In fact, there were several new people in the office. Another girl, Edith, was solely responsible for producing the PowerPoint presentations Vivian needed for her Training Programs. And, the most important new addition, Vivian had taken a bold step and hired a partner-figure, Elizabeth. Like Vivian, Elizabeth had worked as a Recruiting Director at several large, well-known law firms, and had signed on to help Vivian grow her business.

And so it was a hectic and confusing first week back as I tried to grapple with so many new people and such a different office environment. I found myself longing for the days of the summer when I had understood my place in the team. Now I felt insecure and uncertain about where, if anywhere, I belonged.

Erica managed the administrative duties: phones, calendar, email, expense reports.

Edith did the training programs and special projects.

Elizabeth worked with Vivian on business development and company strategy.

Even though Vivian had welcomed and encouraged my return, by the end of my first day I was wondering if there was anything left over for me to actually do.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, my mom was trying to convince me to take a semester off from school. After such a disastrous fall, I still wasn't completely 100% well, and my mom felt that going back to school again so quickly would further damage my still-fragile health. I brushed off her suggestions for the most part. I didn't want to postpone my college graduation; it didn't sit well with me to put it off.

But then something unexpected happened that changed my life again. On a snowy night in the middle of January, I slipped on the sidewalk and broke two of my front teeth. I cannot stress enough how traumatic this was for me. All of my previous injuries from the past few months seemed impermanent in comparison. My surgery wounds? They healed eventually. The infection went away and the rash faded. But my tooth? My tooth would never be the same.

I would also like to add, as an aside, that I have extremely large and prominent front teeth and I have always been rather fond of them. Even before I broke my teeth, I would have said that breaking a tooth topped my list of "worst possible fears." And then I broke a tooth! And as it turned out, the reality was just as bad as I'd imagined.

Ok, perhaps that last sentence is a big of an exaggeration. After all, five dental surgeries later and you would never know the difference. My dentist was so thorough that he even managed to get the slight discoloration at the bottom of my fake front teeth to match the real ones. However, the breaking of my teeth, the culmination of what can only be described as a Series of Unfortunate Events, was also, as they say, the straw that broke the camel's back. Shortly after it happened, I determined that I was not yet emotionally or physically ready to return to college. My mom was right after all. I would take a semester off from school.

After I had made my decision, I told Vivian that I would be sticking around for the following few months and would love to keep working for her, if possible. She said she would be delighted to have me stay on at the office, part time. Again I was relieved. I felt that, if I needed to take time off from finishing my college degree, at least I would be working toward a successful future.

And so the winter began thawing into spring.

Jane Gets a Job, Episode 4

After a remarkably pleasant and easy summer, the fall of 2010 was unexpectedly difficult for me. Ok, that might be an understatement. In fact, that might be an ENORMOUS understatement. I don't want to go into too much detail about it right now because that's not what this story is about, so I'll try to sum up quickly:

1. In September, my boyfriend of 3 years broke up with me (we're back together now).
2. In October, I got appendicitis and had emergency surgery (I'm only 90% sure there's no correlation between that and the break up).
3. A week or so later, one of my incisions became infected.
4. I got a prescription for antibiotics that I didn't know I was allergic to. I proceeded to get a horrible rash covering my entire body, from the shells of my ears to the palms of my hands to the soles of my feet and everywhere in between.
5. I was given a prescription for steroids, to combate the reaction, which made me absolutely hysterical. If someone so much as said "hi" to me, I would start sobbing.
6. My suite, which I shared with three other girls, got bed bugs. At this point, I was basically living in the health center so I didn't mind too terribly much, but it was still a problem.
7. My friends and suite-mates turned against me. This is probably because I became totally self-concerned over the course of my many illnesses.
8. And! In the background: more boy drama, friend drama, general college drama. SO MUCH RIDICULOUS DRAMA. It all seems just a little bit absurd in retrospect.

Honestly, I am still 150% amazed that I managed to claw my way over the finish line of that semester. My mom begged me to come home on multiple occasions. The nurse at the health center, who had become one of my BFFs, assured me I could take incompletes in my courses, I could finish at home on my own time, I should be relaxing and taking care of myself above everything else. She let me know several times that she would personally sign off on my medical leave. Please. Just go. But I ignored all of that. I was determined to get this semester done, over with, behind me. I wanted nothing more than to come home for Christmas without another worry in the world.

Also, I still had my internship to look forward to. I had cleared it with my college, which meant I would get credit for JanPlan AND be able to stay in New York City for the month of January (readers of my blog will know how much this meant to me). I just had to get through the last few weeks of school, and my path would be clear. I wasn't going to let anything get in the way of that.