There is no such thing

Posted by jdg | Thursday, May 26, 2011

I was sitting on the couch the other day when a wave of panic rolled over me. It occurred to me---as it has several times over the past year---that as fun as this blog has been to write and as awesome as it is to make a living from it, Sweet Juniper (at least in its current incarnation) is kind of like a tub of yogurt at the back of your fridge that has reached its expiration date. Sure, it's yogurt: it smelled kind of weird the day you brought it home and it will probably be fine for a few more days or even weeks, but in the end the contents have to go. Maybe you can re-use the container to store granola or something, but how much longer can this dad go writing about the stuff he loves doing with his kids? Besides, it's only a matter of time before some younger dad with younger, cuter kids moves to downtown Gary, Indiana and builds a working model of the Space Shuttle Discovery out of dumped tires and smelly mattresses, training a dozen former prostitutes to be his ground control while he live tweets the inaugural launch with an HD webcam showing the kids hitting zero-gravity in their awesome flight suits that he sewed for them, and when I cough everyone's gonna be like, oh yeah, Griffioen, that guy. He's so 2009.

But you know, there's still a bit of blood in this turnip. This isn't one of those tortured posts where the blogger snivels on and on about how I'm done with this while secretly hoping his readers will beg him to stay. We started this site back in 2005 because we didn't know anyone with kids and we were lonely. That was back before blogs had advertisements and most of us didn't have anything close to the number of readers to justify them. I kept doing this because I enjoyed writing, and later when the opportunity arose to do it professionally it was nothing more than a happy accident. What sent me into a panic the other day was the realization that though I've had the good fortune to spend years telling stories about my transition into parenthood, the narrative is naturally shifting to something else (something I don't quite understand yet). This is sort of uncharted territory, and as with ads and almost everything else, Heather is out there with the machete taking on the brunt of the mosquitoes. When you've spent years of your life out of a conventional workplace devoted to a website that you still don't know quite how to explain to strangers, what do you do as your children move out the sphere of your story and into their own? As a man who's spent the last five years as a stay-at-home dad, resuming a traditional career is one of the very few areas where I am disadvantaged by convention. Mothers have always found it hard to transition back into the workplace, but try to imagine explaining it as a man. A man with a website documenting his jam-making endeavors.

My wife recently started her "dream job" and is happier with her career than ever before, and having helped nurture that career by taking care of our kids, I can't help but feel great pride and happiness in her success. But she has also been wonderfully supportive of me. When I expressed some of the self-doubt that followed my moment of panic and lame bourgeois anxiety, she said, "Why the hell would you want to return to a real job in an office somewhere? Don't you remember how much you hated it?" And of course she was right. I remember a workday in San Francisco when I took the MUNI to a client's office in one of the neighborhoods and I remembered seeing people hanging out in coffee shops in the afternoon and wondering WHO ARE ALL THESE LUCKY JERKS? Now I am one of those lucky jerks!

I tried to think of anything I missed about spending all my daylight hours in a climate-controlled office tower, and the only thing I could really come up with were the free lunches. Whoever said there's no such thing probably never worked in a big office with lots of meetings. I'm not talking about all the interview lunches at trendy restaurants with the James Beard-winning chefs (an hour of lying about how great it is to be a corporate lawyer does not equal "free"). I'm talking about the leftovers from the various meetings and trainings that took place in our conference rooms every day. If I left the building for lunch, that was one less hour I could bill. If I ate at my desk I could leave an hour earlier. Of all the skills I developed at that job, I'd say my greatest proficiency was sneaking in on a meeting right when it was breaking up when there were still plenty of good sandwiches, salads, cold sodas, and (often) fresh-baked macadamia-nut cookies right there for the taking. I did lots of "research" from the books on shelves with good vantage points over certain conference rooms. I befriended strategically-located secretaries and convinced them to call me when they saw a lunch meeting breaking up. I organized a secretive coterie of like-minded filing clerks, paralegals, and mailroom employees and we would send each other coded e-mails on days whenever a culinary bounty presented itself. There was plenty of intrigue. We circled like vultures during meetings of the Women's Associate Committee (women associates hardly touch their food). We fought like wolves over the scraps after partner meetings. We would sit in the kitchen and reminisce about the best meals we ever glommed. I really miss those guys.

To this day, whenever my wife tells me she had a training or a big lunch meeting in a conference room, the first thing I ask her is how was the food while thinking fondly of all the room-temperature tuna salad sandwiches I consumed for what I thought was free. 

Yeah, that's what I miss most about confining myself to an office every day.

Every Sunday, I check my sitemeter and laugh at how many searches I get for "how to quit law firm." There's always several dozen on Sundays, and the oracle leads these poor office-bound souls here, as if I have any answers. I try to remind myself of how lucky I am when my anxiety rises, that I would be even more anxious and unhappy if I'd stayed in that life. It makes the reality that I can never get hired back into that world much easier to swallow.

* * * * *

Here is the small kinship with mothers throughout time. Where do we find ourselves when we have spent so long defining ourselves through the mirror of our growing children? Where do we go? The fearfulness in my empty belly, the panic: over ordinary complacency these are actually good things. These are nutrients. This is the fertile soil where new opportunities sprout.