The ad read “Executive Administrative Assistant.” It meant “Secretary.” My new master’s degree and I didn’t care. I was organized, good on the phone, and had decent computer skills, thanks to swift on-the-job training at school, where I found myself plunged into a new world led by computer technology instead of people skills, which I also excelled at. I was planning a wedding and a new life. I didn’t need a career; we needed cash.
My word processing and spreadsheeting skills proved worthy enough to land the job, and I worked forty-plus hours a week deciphering the boss’s handwriting as I typed up reports and data tables full of familiar numbers and letters due to my time spent crunching academic data. I knew statistics, and asked questions about the programs used to come up with the results I was transcribing, and isn’t this a better way to say this than what you’ve put here? Within months I was part of the projects teams, spending my days doing additional analyses and writing rough drafts of report results. I hated the stats, but loved the writing.
My coworkers, most transplants from Brooklyn, filled the air with accented voices I had only heard on TV and in the movies. I stood on the sidelines, watching the Goodfellas converse in a way I previously thought was fabricated in Hollywood. They took me in as a Yankee sister, having originated from north of the Mason-Dixon Line, though admittedly more Midwestern than East Coast. One thing we shared: our surroundings were foreign. Grits and biscuits were on every menu; twangy ya’lls stood out as homegrown strangers and neighbors addressed each other.
It was a small, friendly, fast-paced office and I was moving on up.
One day I went to work feeling awful. I looked it too, because my boss came out of his office, stared at me, and said You Look Awful.
This was not out of the ordinary for me, feeling awful at work. My husband and I were in our early twenties, and we stayed up too late and drank and ate too much of the wrong things. Never, though, had anyone called me on actually looking the part. The worst part of this declaration was that I had no excuse; there was no over-indulging to blame this time.
One call to my mother and a trip to the drugstore confirmed what my husband and I didn’t plan: I was pregnant.
We discussed children; how many, what kind, names. He liked Peyton; I liked Marguerite. Having both grown up without nannies and daycare, we wholly agreed that one of us would stay at home. We knew it would be me. We kept quiet about that, biding our time until the time was apparent.
A new job appeared for my husband, far away from there but closer to home. Things made more sense. We were starting a new life again. I approached the boss, trembling. I’m pregnant and we’re moving, I said. He smiled. I know plenty of people in that city. I can find you something. My boss was a good person.
No, I said. I want to stay home. I want to continue to work for you, but remotely.
Telecommuting was a new thing, but I convinced him that I was a good worker, that I’d stay on top of things, and that there would be no difference in the work I produced.
It worked. The move and transition from office job to home office went smoothly, though I missed the rapport and pop-in conversations I had with coworkers. I was isolated, but the move was necessary for our family. It was the best of both worlds. Two years went by and our family was four.
Things got tougher. The workload changed; the deadlines stricter. My flexible hours were not flexible enough. They needed this done in an hour, and I was in the middle of making dinner for my family. I needed to work during naptimes, and the client needed a rough draft when the kids woke up.
I struggled. I refused work. I asked for longer deadlines. In time, my coworkers gave up including me in their projects.
My husband and I talked. By then I was only working part-time; my salary wasn’t huge, and surely we could get by on less? As long as we could pay our bills and eat, we would manage. We set a date, and I dialed the company.
I talked to two people; my project manager, by then the department head, who agreed that this was the best move for me, and my boss, who admitted that he didn’t even know that I still worked for him. I said my goodbyes and hung up, free. I didn’t think I’d feel so light. I had worked there for six years, five of them remotely.
Today, I work solely as a manager of our household, as I have every day for the past eight years since that day. This job has proven to be most important to our family, even though it comes with no paycheck. The benefits outweigh the costs, and I would quit any other job to do it.
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