Monday, December 14, 2009

These ARE the better times

I’ve been a contractor a long, long time. I suppose if I count all the years we called it “temping,” I’d have to own up to having been mostly a contractor since 1984.

When I first started working For Real, the economy wasn’t so great. I was blissfully unaware of how bad things were, because I was young and sheltered. I had no idea that it was “bad” that I never got job offers, but merely bounced from temp gig to temp gig.

I thought it was rather grand. I’d work for a few weeks, bank the paychecks, then take off for a long weekend up in Tahoe, or down in LA, or drive up the Pacific Coast highway, camping in the redwoods, hanging out on the beaches, being all artsy for a few days…and then the money would dry up and I’d climb down from whatever tree I’d been hugging and call my agency and within a couple days I’d be working again and it would all be good.

Of course, in those days I paid something like $60 a month for private Blue Cross Prudent Buyer health insurance (ah, to be young and free of pre-existing conditions again!), had a $600 monthly tab for the rent on my worst-cave-in-the-nicest-complex apartment (with gorgeous views of the parking lot, overlooking the dumpsters!) and didn’t even have a cat to feed.

Now, of course, I have a few more obligations. That cat food doesn’t buy itself, you know…nor does the human food, the gasoline, the clothes, the mortgage, the health insurance, etc. etc. etc.

Ten years ago, I had a hellish run of back luck while working for MegaBank as a contractor. It was a one month period that, by the end of it, had me questioning what deity I had pissed off because obviously, Somebody really had it in for me.

The kids were sick, never all at once but rather one at a time. My husband was out of town on business a lot, so when the call would come that somebody was puking at daycare – I had to drop everything and go get them.

We were in the middle of a big project at work, right in the center of crunch time, and here I was dropping everything and running out the door, gone for two or three days while the tide of puke turned and fevers came down and Kid 1 could be returned to school…and I’d get back in the office, sighing heavy sighs of relief…and {ring-ring} goes the cell phone and DAMN if Kid 2 wasn’t now in the nurse’s office hurling up last week’s Jell-O…gah!

At the time, MegaBank had a firm policy about contractor’s working from home, and it went like this: Absolutely not under any circumstances NEVER NO WAY!

Which meant two things: I went without pay for most of the whole month (but still had to pay for the childcare we couldn’t use because of all the barfing), and the project ground to an utter halt because I wasn’t just ‘a’ programmer, I was ‘the’ programmer.

We circumnavigated the rules a bit to keep the project from drying up, but I couldn’t “work from home” or anything like it. I lost a lot of time and money, and my group was set back almost an entire month – very embarrassing, but nothing to be done about it. Unlike when I was temping as a receptionist or filing clerk, the plug-n-play aspect has dropped considerably. It can take months to find a suitable database programmer to begin with, and even one far more crackerjack than me is still going to take weeks to get enough familiarity with Things to be of much practical use. (The first month of my contracts always frustrate the @*^&@ out of me. I want to be doing stuff, earning my keep, producing things that make people go, “AWESOME! My Saints, how have we ever survived without you?!”…but instead I’m spending that time going, “Wait…OK, stupid question here, sorry, but…is this table updated daily? Or is this one of the weekly ones? And does it come from Domain, or does it come from Host? Wait…do we trust Host? I can’t remember, was Host one of those ‘we take it because we have no choice, but we trust is as much as we trust a grinning insurance salesman?...hang on, I’ve got it written down here somewhere…”)

So when “the” programmer suddenly has Issues, there’s often no fast work-around if they can’t log in from wherever they are.

Which brings me to today.

I’m working from home today, unexpectedly. I got up and put on my fancy workin’ duds and came downstairs to find my husband groaning on the sofa, unable to stand up, drive, or deal in any way. His diverticulitis is not merely flaring up but exploding this morning.

It’s not a complete surprise, since he’s been suffering all weekend – but we’d thought it was getting better, not getting worse.

Sooooooooo, we’ll be off to the doctor in a little while, who will likely send him on to the hospital, where Very Unfun Things will go on, and then I’m going to be bringing home a very unhappy husband to recuperate.

In the meantime, well, I’ve been working. I’ve been calling in to my meetings, taking notes right on my work laptop, producing spreadsheets, uploading files to the Share directories, writing code to update changes directly in the SQL Server, calling sprocs and building reports with drill-thrus and all like that because…this MegaBank lets me.

The first day I arrived, they handed me a laptop. A few days later, I got the Official Bank Air Card.

I can securely, with layers of encryption that makes NASA look like an open book, work from anywhere. From home, from the car (passenger seat!), the train, the doctor’s waiting room, from the cafeteria at the hospital, from the school library while waiting for the 4H meeting to finish up…I’m able to take care of things that come up, and keep my work life running even if my home life is throwing curveballs at me.

It removes a tremendous layer of stress from me. Having my husband in awful pain I can do nothing about is bad enough; sitting there saying, “there, there” and finding household chores to do (which isn’t hard – just, you know, glance around the room…I guarantee there’s something that needs to be cleaned, put away, vacuumed, etc., no matter what room of the house you’re in) while also knowing I’m letting my work team down just adds a lovely layer of whipped-cream frosting to the stress cake.

I like going into the office. I like the energy, I like being able to sit right there with people in meetings so I can read their body language (and occasionally their lips – I’m slightly hard of hearing, which makes phone meetings a bit of a challenge for me), I like the fact that I’m not seeing something I should be tidying up every time I look away from the computer screen.

But I love that I can work from home, almost seamlessly. I love that I don’t have to lose a whole day’s pay because someone is sick, or the car won’t start, or the mass transit system gummed up because a cow decided to play chicken with a train.

I love that I don’t have to fall behind, just because I had to stay behind when the train pulled out of the station this morning.

And I’m pretty sure MegaBank is glad I can keep on keepin’ on, too.

Speaking of which…it’s about time to get back to it. It’s going to be a fractured-up day no matter how you slice it, so the earlier I get started, the better…onward!


Rena said...

Finally, a job that will work WITH you, not just have you work FOR them.

Hope your hubby is feeling better soon. That pain is horrible.

PipneyJane said...

I'm sorry your DH is in pain.

Putting my old nurse's hat on for a moment (sorry about the dust on it!), if he gets offered the option of surgery - take it. The recurrences will only get worse and more frequent. (Remember what it was like with your gall bladder? Same cycle, different trigger.) Certainly surgery can be painful and carries its own risks, but it's a one-off, whereas living with recurrent diverticulitis is like living with years of pain.

- Pam

Bonnie in Iowa said...

I'm so sorry for you husband. Must be the time of year for diverticulitis. I mine started last Thursday night. Getting better gradually, but that first night and the next day were "not nice".

Glad your new job is working out so well. I was able to work from home part of the time last summer and it was great.

Take care. I really enjoy reading about your family.