After 17 years, I resigned from my job.
Yeah, that sentence makes it sound profound, like I've decided to strike out on my own and tackle writing, mummyhood and the art of jam making while waving a triumphant middle finger to THE MAN. But it really isn't that romantic. Just a case of office politics, "business decisions" and a month-long shower in corporate crap.
I've had a pretty sweet deal: working from home with a team that was smart and well-regarded, in a job I liked and was good at. Then came the news: our work from home arrangement was being terminated. Crap.
The reasons management decided to cut our work from home programme still haven't been made transparent, but suffice it to say that I was the only one with a 2 hour commute, so the message to me was loud and clear. Ciao baby, and thanks for all the fish.
The powers that be were professional enough to allow me to keep my job until the end of August, which is more than they technically needed to, but the atmosphere had become so unhealthy that I knew I couldn't hang on that long. Hurt feelings and a bruised ego didn't help matters much, either. And when I summoned up my courage and voiced my opinions on the whole scenario to my bosses, it did nothing to improve an already unpleasant situation. It got harder and harder to breathe every time I logged in to work, so I gave my two weeks' notice and got the hell outta Dodge.
I took Jade to work with me on Friday, because I figured she should experience the place to which I've devoted the last 17 years of my professional life. I wanted her to know what my office looked like, meet the people who had been my friends and colleagues for so long, and get a taste of what Mummy did all day.
Jade received her security card necklace, eyed it with interest and announced, "Now I'm pretty just like Daddy!" (D wears a security card every day), making the security guard - one of my favourite faces in the office - grin.
As I guided my daughter down the labrynthine path to my department, she studied the neutral fabric walls, the stained carpets, the photos and posters and whiteboards that adorned the cubicles. She said hi to people I didn't even know, and waved her security card at them in case they doubted her right to be there.
When we finally reached the hotel office where I usually set up camp for my monthly visits, Jade's mouth dropped open. My crazy colleagues, following a time-honoured tradition on our team, had decorated my office both with photos of things I hated (gnarly man-feet, feet with rotting toenails) and things I loved (Second Cup logos, the dancing spiderman gif) plus balloons and streamers. I noticed two tiny potted roses, which I instantly knew were a quiet tribute to my little lost daughter; I lit up when I saw photos of my friends and I at office Christmas parties, my wedding, Hallowe'en contests. Jade was enchanted; my vision started to blur. They were sending me off with a heartfelt bang.
After Jade had visited my colleagues and the cafeteria, and done a few downward facing dogs in the aisle, I took her back through the cubes to the front door, where my sister was waiting. "Don't get lost in the maze, Mumma," my daughter warned me. Probably the best advice I'd get all day.
Back at my desk, I cracked open the boxes of doughnuts I'd brought from the Lucknow bakery and took a big breath. Bring it on, I thought, and sent an email to friends to let them know my corporate wake had begun.
The doughnuts began to disappear, and I said goodbye to people I'd worked with for almost two decades, answered questions (No, I wasn't going to take up farming; yes, I would be back to sell my jam), laughed at kooky memories, gave and received hugs, wiped tears and held back my own. I hate crying; I especially hate crying in the office. Tears just seem so incongruous with cubicles. So I sucked it up and laughed and joked instead.
My team had a final pita lunch together, which was equal bits hilarious and soggy. We talked about all the office episodes our little group had collected over the years: fibre pills, exploding juice cans, Second Cup runs, broken noses and first impressions. Our tradition of getting Pita Pit lunches to celebrate all things big and small seemed fitting, but when my friends brought out gifts and cards the tone of our little party changed. Goodbyes suck.
I wish I could say I got through the rest of the day without a sniffle, that I walked out of there with my head held high. But I didn't. A few careless remarks from my boss and two zero-hour embraces from beloved colleagues broke my resolve; the tears welled up, and I stumbled out of the maze and through the jaws of death one last time with red eyes and a heavy heart.
So here I am, on my second day of freedom, contemplating the months ahead and sighing over the years behind me. I'm giving myself permission to grieve, feel pissed off and a bit lonely. I'm also allowing myself to roll on the floor with the kids until 9 p.m., hang laundry in my underwear, drink coffee on the deck with the chipmunk and garden in my bare feet. I plan to laugh, swim, pick sweetcorn, build sandcastles and drink a lot of wine. I'm going to write and get jamming. I'm going to be happy, eventually.
And, if I'm honest with myself, I may just owe the company a great debt. I was too loyal to leave on my own, to nervous to jump off the edge into unemployment. When they asked me to resign, they also handed me an oyster. Whether I find any pearls inside is up to me.