Friday, January 29, 2016


My eldest niece's eighteenth birthday is upon us.

On the afternoon she was born, I was on my way into a job interview. I knew my sister-in-law had gone into labor, and called my mom from a pay phone to find out I was an aunt for the first time. I recall the day (accurately or not) as windy and bright, one of those blustery but not very cold winter days that can make your chest swell - and, if you have happy family news, can also make you turn up the radio in the car and drive with a smile on your face.

Instead of getting into my car, I got into the building, and ended up taking a job that was, on its face, the worst I ever had ... but which changed my life in a lot of very, very, very good ways. I'm grateful for that job. And I'm grateful for the photo I still keep on my desk at work now, of my infant niece, on her tum and lifting her face up, mouth full of little wet tongue, looking incredibly cute and incredibly funny.

That pic got me through that job. She'll never know how important she was, before she could even talk; her mere existence had the power to create joy in the hideous slog that was That Damned Job.

I'd been working at one of those big insurance agencies that sells itself as a financial planning outfit, assistant to some of the larger producers (agents) there, and custodian of the newsletter, orphan clients, and (bizarrely enough, for a luddite) the second-string IT go-to. It was a good job, and I worked with one of the best managers I've ever seen; she spotted what people were good at and what they liked to do, and did whatever she could to balance their duties upon these things.

At some point along that way, I impressed one of our clients, a guy we'll call Rick, and one day he sent me a note or gave me a call and dangled the old "I have a super high paying job of the sort you are in, know anyone who might be interested?"

I was pretty naive back then, but not entirely obtuse, and I thought, "Huh, that sounds like he might be asking me." I talked to my dad, he said, "Yep, you're being thrown a feeler there." I interviewed with the guy at a restaurant around the corner from my job, and we went from there.

When I walked in the door on my first day, I learned that Rick's current assistant had not been fired, and I was expected to lie about whom I worked for (another president, a new guy, whom indeed I was to support in addition to Rick). Um.

I also learned I was the fourth assistant in this position this CALENDAR year. I started that job in May, having begun these proceedings in, as has been noted, January.


When September came, and I was fired for not working enough overtime on the morning the CEO sent all the admins flowers because we'd stayed very, very late the night before, I have to say I all but danced out of the building as the daily stock prices posted on the front door went plummeting, and the company made headlines in the Wall Street Journal for all the very worst of reasons. The CEO, I was given to understand, sighed and rolled his eyes when he found out I had been terminated.

Nice attention to exposure to lawsuits, dude. But I didn't sue, I used their computers to look for a new job, as they had given me permission to do so, and got one I ended up loving, with a man I respect and still like to this day. Rick, whatever else he did that was risible and idiotic, had put me on a financial footing that commanded a much better fee in what was an employee's market.

I have a lot to be grateful for, from the worst job I ever had.

But the thing I remember most about it is: my niece. Whose nativity coincided with this sudden uplift in my career, and whose face got me through the trials it represented.

The improvement in my circumstances is tied oddly, but tightly, to her existence. When she was born, so was my own ambition, my professional drive and talent: my career, as it came to exist in real earnest.

I miss my nieces so much. They astonish me constantly, and seeing the older one this past summer was a revelation in: "Wow, she is NOT a little girl anymore." They are brilliant in such unexpected and distinct ways, and yet there is the constant temptation to see in them the threads of our family. Complete individuals, and scintillating ones, still they are shot through with this skein or that of recognizeable traits of my mom's and my dad's side of *our* side of their family.

Being an auntie and not a parent, I get to indulge in silly old lady surprise at how they've grown, how smart they are, how beautiful, how talented, all the "oh my how you've"'s privileges silly auntie-dom confers. Meeting elder niece's boyfriend this past summer, he was marvelously forbearing of my making a point of liking him.

Seeing HER, and the shape of the woman she is becoming, she was at least tolerant of those silly auntie privileges. At seventeen, you can't ask for enthusiasm from a lot of people, but she put up with me almost as if I were actually tolerable. And we laughed. There was a lot of laughter, with all of us, this past summer. And good food. Her dad's a mean cook, no matter how bratty a brother he was in a former lifetime.

I have a fire laid in my hearth, set up during the blizzard, and I have a mind to celebrate my niece's birthday by burning it. We sat around my brother's fire pit this summer, and there is both a beauty and a rite to a good fire that seems right as a small remembrance of my niece's celebration.

Of course, it's supposed to be like sixty-plus this weekend ...

... but maybe it'll cool down enough to accommodate a good fire.

1 comment:

Donnaeve said...

First jobs - or early career jobs. Ick. At least you can see the positives in the "Rick" event.

I am Aunt to only nephews and "Mimi" to Payton who will be nine in May. Le sigh. BUT - I have Abigail - a.k.a. as Miss Priss! She'll be one Feb 8th - which is SO hard to believe!