Author Archives: Karma Farmer

Confessions From the Home Office

Confessions From the Home Office
Confessions From the Home Office

 

7 years ago, I became a “remote employee”. Back in the beginning, I was like a unicorn; rumored to exist, but others weren’t convinced it was real.  We “home basers” have come a long way since then, but perceptions haven’t evolved as quickly.  Some friends think I spend my day watching television and snacking.  Some envision it as identical to an office structure:  at a desk by 8:00 a.m., break for a 30 minute lunch at noon, and close up my computer at 4:30.  My kids think I never get out of my pajamas …which is the most accurate of all the assumptions.

I won’t lie; it’s a pretty sweet gig….but it has it’s downsides. While my coworkers in the office are chatting about their weekend over lunch at Chili’s, I’m more likely eating random things from Glad leftover containers while prepping dinner.  Sometimes it’s stiflingly lonely, and it takes focus to keep our team connected and bonded when we’re scattered across the country. Oh, who am I kidding?  I get to skip traffic, makeup, and ironing (or wearing) pants.  It’s frickin’ awesome!

While every day is different, I’ve tracked a recent day that is pretty representative.  Here’s a look at my pj clad, slipper wearing, unwashed hair, they-really-pay-me-for-this day.

5:00 a.m. – I’m awake. From bed, I grab my phone and check email.  Check Facebook.  Check Twitter.  Check NPR. It’s my turn on Words with Friends, and my brother is kicking my ass.  Jump into my slippers and take the dogs outside for their morning evacuations.

5:30 a.m. – I get my Kanban board set up. If you don’t know what that is, you can learn about it here.  Don’t let all the fancy stuff fool you:  mine is created with 3M sticky notes and a dry erase board.  The reality of the tasks give me anxiety, so I pick 2 of the easiest things to do quickly and get them off my plate.

Read email and replace the 2 tasks I’ve just completed with 4 more.  Friggin’ hell.

6:00 a.m. – I play with the dogs, because they’ve been annoying me for some attention since we came in at 5:30.

6:12 a.m. – Drink from last night’s cup of ….diet Pepsi?  Tastes like flat, warm diet Pepsi.  Drink it anyway.  Refill with fresh diet Pepsi.   Empty dishwasher. Remember new tasks on Kanban board and go back to work.

6:20 a.m. – Get to work on the non-urgent emails from overnight. Since I work for a global entity, communications come in all the time.  The goal is to clear those out before my “real day” starts at 7:30.

7:00 a.m. – Make sure the Mister is up and put some coffee on.

7:05 a.m. –Notice the first coworkers starting to pop up on Skype.  Why do we pretend that we start work at 8:30?  If we haven’t heard from someone by 7:30, we’re calling out the National Guard.

7:15 a.m. – Chat with the Mister, shove him out the door with leftovers for lunch.

7:30 a.m. – The Morning Blur: Skype, phone conferences, emails, internet research, daily industry news summaries, book airfare for upcoming trip, confirm meetings.

10:12 a.m. – Refill Pepsi, bathroom break, take dogs out, feed the cat, evaluate options for dinner and take something out of the freezer.  I’m exhausted, and it’s not even 10:30 in the morning.

10:22 a.m. – Daughter calls. “Hi, what are you up to?”  “Making pizza.”  “Oh, you’re not working?”  Silence.  “OK, sorry, just wanted to ask you something real quick….”

10:30 a.m. – The Morning Blur, Part Deux: this part of the morning almost always involves heavy phone calls.  This is when the dogs have their daily barking bonanza.  Sometimes it’s over a squirrel.  Or the UPS guy.  Or a leaf blowing across the yard.   Hit mute on my phone and head to the spare bedroom for noise control.  Forget I’m on mute and just think everyone is talking over me.

Realize I didn’t finish upcoming trip preparations, make car reservations.  Realize I booked the car at a different airport than the one I’m arriving in.  Cancel existing reservation and start over.  Question how I’ve survived this long.

12:22 p.m. – HOW IS IT AFTERNOON ALREADY? Take a shower.  Debate return to pajamas or upgrade to sweat pants.  Refill diet Pepsi, and chastise myself for diet soda addiction.  Hunt for food.  Settle for cheese and nuts, unless there are really good leftovers that I didn’t send to work with the Mister.  Go feed chickens and collect eggs. Get mail.

If you’re picturing a woman in purple leopard print flannel nightwear, hair piled up in a ponytail, sometimes with a coat on over the pajamas, hauling around a chicken feeder, you’d be accurate. Just add my chicken waders to the visual, and you’ve got it.  My neighbors love me.

I inevitably get a phone call while I’m doing chicken chores  Usually it’s something critical and detailed, and it’s from an angry customer.  Try to memorize the details while replacing fowl food.  Rooster starts crowing because I haven’t given them treats yet.  “Is that a chicken I hear?  Why do you have a chicken at work?”  This does not soothe the situation.  Ever.

12:50 p.m. – Start on a project that requires concentration, for which I’ve blocked 2 hours and set my Skype to Do Not Disturb

12:52 p.m. – Get a phone call about a sick grandchild, and go pick them up from school. Make phone calls while in the car. Hands-free, of course.

2:00 p.m. – Return home, take dogs out, refill diet Pepsi, get sick kid situated on couch with blankets and remote control. Realize I’m still starving, and hunt for more food.  Bacon!

2:20 p.m. – The Afternoon Blur: Skype, phone conferences, return phone calls.  Realize one of the conferences is video enabled, and curse myself for the Cardinals t-shirt and crazy, untamed Phyllis Diller hair.  Thank God I got the call about the sick kid, or it’d be the purple leopard print  with the untamed Phyllis Diller hair.  Always look on the bright side.

2:32 p.m. – Son calls. “Hey, are you busy?”  This is always better than “Whatcha doin’?”.

2:48 p.m. – Daughter calls. “Go check Facebook.  You’re going to DIE!”

3:15 p.m.  –  Realize I didn’t book a hotel for upcoming trip.  Back to travel planning mode.

4:40 p.m. – Parent of sick child arrives for pick up. Take dogs out.  Throw in a load of laundry.  Get dinner prepped and in the oven.  Feel guilty for making dinner during work hours.

5:00 p.m. – Re-evaluate Kanban board. Commit to finishing 2 items before calling it a day.

5:05 p.m. – The Mister comes home, and I apologetically explain I’ve just got 2 more things to do.

5:50 p.m. – Boss calls from car on his way home to catch up on some topics we were supposed to talk about but didn’t get to. (He has a 75 minute drive, so this could take 5 minutes or 60.)

6:30 p.m. – Dinner; dishes; dogs; tv; normal evening.  My mother in law calls and asks what I did today.  I say “nothing, really”.

9:00 p.m. – Check email. Prime time in Asia, and the Inbox is filling up.

At some point – go to bed.

1:15 a.m. – Wake up; bathroom, check email.

3:22 a.m. – Wake up, check email. Find response from annoying string that’s been going on all day; type out snarky reply on phone.  Click send.

3:23 a.m. – Realize it was much too snarky, and that I’ve just blown my chance to go back to sleep.

5:00 a.m. – Here we go again.

It has its ups and downs, but I’ll take my chicken feeding, dish washing, makeup free days over the traditional corporate schedule any day.

 

Why She Stays

Why She Stays
Why She Stays

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Rather than give statistics and a pep talk about “zero tolerance”, I thought I’d talk about the elephant in the room.  The victim who keeps going back.

If you know anyone who is impacted by domestic violence (and I hope you don’t, but it’s likely you do), you have undoubtedly experienced the sense of helplessness that smothers friends and family of the abused.  You may have helped intervene.  Maybe you’ve provided a safe place.  You may have been there during the humiliating physical exams, police reports, or court proceedings seeking protection.  You’ve likely wiped tears and listened to hours of sobbing, reinforcing that it wasn’t the victim’s fault.  You’ve put on soothing smiles while trying to distract children who have seen too much, heard too much, and can’t quite understand what they’re afraid of.

The one thing you can’t do, can’t comprehend, can’t accept, is why she goes back.  After multiple instances, it’s difficult to remain supportive.  Out of frustration and fear, the victim’s strongest supporters become her biggest critics.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time trying to educate myself on the dynamics that keep the cycle in motion.  When you’re outside looking in, the choice is so crystal clear.  When you’re in the maelstrom, it’s not so easy.  If you love someone who is in an abusive situation, you have experienced the massive relief, bordering on euphoria, when the victim reaches out for help because they are “done”.  You cheer them on as they stand their ground and take steps to move on with their life.  She finally sees herself as others see her:  smart, capable, and so deserving of a better life.  You commit to doing whatever she needs to get a clean start, and you mean it.

It may last a day, a week, a month, 3 months, but you can feel it when she starts to slip.  Her anger and fear is replaced with the anxiety of starting over.  She loses the fire that made her take those steps out the door.  She is tired. Then you sense the danger is returning:  the victim stops talking about the future, communication starts to wane, and pretty soon you realize it’s all back to square one.  She backs away from the people who have supported her initial decision to leave, and surrounds herself with the enablers who are congratulating her for her commitment to her relationship.

It’s hard to accept.  Most people just hold their breath and wait for the next time.  Some people sever the relationship with the victim because they don’t want to be part of it any longer.  Many deride the victim for the decision, creating an even bigger obstacle for them to seek help the next time.

It seems insane.  So, why does she do it?

She stays for the kids.  While it seems insane to people on the outside looking in, she thinks the downside of not having their father around is worse than the occasional outburst.  She doesn’t want him putting the kids in the middle, or, worse, making the kids feel sorry for him because Mommy got him in trouble.  She knows that no matter how poor of a father he may be, if she leaves him, he’ll be worse.  She doesn’t want them to be abandoned.  She doesn’t want them to have a series of new step-mommies, because she knows he won’t be alone for long.  Abusers need to have that relationship to get their fix.

She stays out of sympathy.  Most abusers have enablers around them.  Friends, family, people that have never held the abuser accountable for his actions.  These people work overtime trying to appeal to the victim.  They’ll give her updates about how sorry he is.  Convey messages, letters, gifts, even in the face of violating restraining orders.  Why?  Like her, they believe his lies.  They believe he’s learned his lesson, and is so sorry, and will never ever ever do this again.  He likely plies them with manipulative lies:  “Don’t tell her, but I haven’t slept in 4 days because I can’t stop thinking about her.” The victim, too, may have developed a co-dependent relationship with the abuser.  Codependent relationships may stink to high heaven, but they’re as comfortable as an old pair of slippers.

She stays out of fear. Whether the threats have been against her, the kids, her family, or himself, she believes he’s capable of following through.  The risk is just too great.

She stays because of ego.  This is a tough one to acknowledge, but it’s true.  When the cycle hits the part where he is begging, pleading, promising, saying all the right things, it’s pretty powerful.  He can’t go on without her.  Life without her is meaningless.  What woman doesn’t want to feel that adored?  Of course it’s bull hockey, because if it were true, the pain he caused her the very first time he abused her mentally, emotionally, or physically would have crushed him to the point that he would have immediately gotten the help he needed to never let it happen again.

She stays for security.  The abuser may hold all the cards financially.  He may threaten to take the children away if she leaves.  The truth is, after living in an abusive relationship, it is likely many of the positives in the victim’s life have faded away:  self esteem, friends, family, career.  The victim may not feel capable. She may not feel worthy.  She may be dealing with depression.  She may be afraid of being alone.

She stays out of shame and embarrassment.  The first time, there’s some hope that the abuser really means it when he says “I’m sorry.”  The second time, there’s usually a harsher ultimatum, and the apology is more profuse.  If the victim seems really serious, the abuser pulls out some deep dark secret that explains the abusive tendencies, and swears to get help. As the cycle repeats itself, the victim is humiliated that she ignored the advice from her supporters that was likely hurled at her endlessly every time she went back.  Now, she just feels stupid:  she fell for it again.

She stays because she’s invested. Forty percent of women  who leave an abusive situation will return.  On average, women leave seven times before leaving for good. Why? The investment theory  is a classical analysis that is often used to explain why people do what is so clearly not in their best interest. Simply put, what has already been invested into the relationship, be it emotional, social and/or financial, can be incredibly hard psychologically to give up.  It may seem infinitely easier to stay in a bad situation then to muster the energy and make a change. This explains why people stay: In jobs they hate, cities with no opportunities, with the wrong circle of friends or in an abusive relationship. Where we are may not be good, but it seems easier to coast along rather than put in the considerable effort needed to make a change.

She stays because she loves him.  There may have been happy times, and hope is a powerful thing.  However, this response is typically just a combination of all the other reasons listed.  Of course she loves him, or did at one point, but a genuine love would encourage the victim to stand firm so that the abuser could get healthy.  Statistics show that if she stays, the chances of the abuser actually learning how to stop the abusive behavior are abysmally low.

So what do you do?  There’s no right answer, but the decision should be based on what is healthiest for YOU rather than what the victim’s situation is.  You may cross your fingers and wait for the next time the dysfunction spills over into violence.  You may choose to maintain a relationship with the victim, but not the abuser.  You may decide you need a break from all of it, and step away for a time.  You may have to accept that if the victim goes back, it is with the agreement that she will stay away from you.  Abusers don’t like the people that try to help the victim leave the situation, and will try to convince the victim that their supporters are causing problems in the relationship.

Even if you have to keep your distance for awhile, it’s important that the victim knows that people love her, care about her well being, and that there are resources available to her if she needs them.  Unconditional love is the best thing you can offer.

**While I have used “he” for the abuser, and “she” for the victim, that is only for clarity of communication.  Victims and abusers come in all genders, colors, and religions.**

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE

Please Don’t Fix the Sidewalks

Please Don’t Fix the Sidewalks

I love having any excuse to go to St. Louis.  It is, without doubt, my definition of “home”, even though I moved away 30 years ago.  It’s where I was born and raised, and I am a walking stereotype of a South St. Louis native: I grew up in a little brick house in a blue collar neighborhood, I eat jack salmon and pork steaks, can spot a hoosier a mile away, still scream and shout for my beloved Cardinals, and know that asking someone what high school they went to will tell me almost everything I need to know about them.

So, when I got an email from my East Coast sister (I call her that so as not to confuse her with my St. Louis sister) announcing that her clan would be in St. Louis over the July 4 holiday, I immediately got my Happy Dance on.  While any excuse to go breathe in the comfort of The Lou will do, being able to get together with my siblings is one of my favorite justifications.

 

This visit seemed to be more poignant than most.  That may be due to my funk / midlife crisis / badditude, I’m not sure.  Yes, I’m still wallowing in my mood…my discombobulation….my glass-half-empty phase.   You get the picture.  I’m not spewing sunshine and positive juju over here.

 

As is my norm, I digress…..back to the visit.

 

We packed a lot into this 48 hour fun fest.  A walk down Market to enjoy the throngs of kids playing in the fountains at City Garden, and watching the beautiful horse drawn carriages give their fares an unforgettable view of downtown.  Strolled through Soulard early on Saturday morning (which is the optimum time to go, of course) while snacking on the best mini donuts ever.  Watched the parade down Market Street that kicks off Fair St. Louis.  Visited City Museum, and enjoyed the added attraction of a huge Hindu wedding that was being held there….watching children in beautifully elaborate clothes sneak away to go flying down a 2 story metal slide kept us entertained for a good half hour.  An evening with friends from grade school at a local bar…..and a not-so-subtle reminder of how quickly we’re aging as we abandoned ship when the alternative rock band started to blow our eardrums out. (The lead singer had a decent voice, though, so I might try to find an online recording by Butterfly Distortion…and listen to it on low volume before passing judgment)  A movie at the OmniMax, which is a domed screen (roof), and made me kind of queasy.  Pizza at Imo’s.  A drive through Tower Grove and Forest Park.  Dinner with my family at Bartolino’s.  An air show while sprawled on the Market Street green way.

 

It was all of those things and yet none of them that made this trip special.  It was walking along jagged sidewalks, the giant slabs of concrete having been rearranged by the roots of the massive trees that grow along the street.  It was driving down Loughborough and taking in the giant sycamores, a tree that doesn’t seem to show up in other cities very often.  It was the literal sea of Cardinals gear, even though there was no game at Busch Stadium.  It was opening the door to our hotel room in the morning to find a St. Louis Post Dispatch greeting me.  It was knowing before I even put my dimes in the parking meter at Soulard that if I wanted a watermelon, the best ones come from the vendor on the NW corner of the market.

 

For some crazy reason (blame the aforementioned funk / midlife crisis / badditude), those things comfort me.  They have existed for as long as I can remember, and I can count on them.  They remind me that no matter what changes in life, some things will persevere, survive, withstand….even flourish.  Inbev may have bought the AB empire, but those big ol’ horses in the parade?  Those were the Anheuser Busch Clydesdales, my friends, and they always will be. At a time in my life when so many aspects of my belief system are being challenged, listening to that vendor barking about having the sweetest watermelons is like being wrapped in a warm blanket.

 

I hope my own roots go as deep as the ones that have mangled those city sidewalks.  I hope they keep me standing straight and tall when push comes to shove.

 

Mostly, I hope I get past the point in my life when I’m trying to gain perspective and inner strength by comparing myself to an old tree.