Every year, well more frequently than that, I think about my mother. I think about her on the Ides of March, the portentous day in which Brutus stabbed Caesar and my mother was born. Not the same year, mind you, as I’m not tapping this out on my ancient Roman computer.
Actually, it was portent upon portent for old Pat. She was born on the Ides of March the year of the stock market crash for the Great Depression. She was meant for great things.
So, another anniversary rolls around.
I like to remember the ways in which Pat stood out from the crowd. Or in my warped and selfish and self-absorbed brain, the ways in which Pat affected me and stood out from the crowd.
Today’s memory is tied to the current season of my manual toil. OK, typing and sitting at a desk isn’t manual labor, but some days it grinds you just the same. I got callouses on my tappy type finger tips.
At work these days the pesky little papers (now computer files) that once a year worker drones planet-wide, or at least U.S.-wide, bemoan are due — the annual performance reviews. The neat little report where you and your boss get to write out how you’re “meeting expectations” and otherwise doing what a cog does when one is employed.
You say to yourself right about now, I can hear you breathing and thinking, you say, but how does that relate to Pat. Surely, she was not your boss, apart from the sense in which we are all subordinates to our mothers.
Well, here’s the thing. I might be one of the only people rambling around that has written their own performance “self reports” for the decades that I have been employed as a grown up adult, who got their start years before they were allowed to work.
Pat, enmeshed in some heavy duty politics and just short of Brutus-like backstabbing in my town’s school system, turned her typewriter over to her precocious daughter one fine day and asked for her help in word smithing her review. She had to describe her classroom contributions, and since she floated around helping learning disabled kids within other people’s classrooms, she had to talk about that too.
By nature, she was a mix of fierceness on some opinions and topics (ahem, Catholic molesters) and shy reticence on a whole lot more. She complained to those nearest and dearest, but she was way too polite to complain to anyone or anything with any authority, including a cashier at a convenient store. (Although, the school teacher might pop out at any time if said cashier couldn’t do the math to make simple change.)
Real humility, not the false stuff that often passes for humility, was part of her core, and she could not find any words at all to describe what she contributed. She knew what she did, but she couldn’t spin it to advertise her brand.
I could do that for her and with some nudging to not get carried away with florid prose extolling her greatness, together we spoke about her patience with kids in the classroom. Her vast experience. Her gentle but persistent nature. Her true and deep caring for children and learning and education. Her mastery of basic skills and pedagogies and learning methods. That she could set and meet goals until the sun rose and set a hundred years.
She was a champion to a whole lot of kids fumbling in classrooms with dyslexia, a host of other syndromes and disorders, and simply poor study skills.
Pat was also a drill sergeant. No misplaced modifiers, misspellings (which I incidentally just mistyped), prepositions dangling at a sentence’s end, no math not shown happened on her watch. For the stuff where there is a right and wrong way to do it, by god she was going to teach you the right way or die trying.
All of her skills, the ones that made strangers come up to me in high school and beyond and say they knew my mother and that she was great, they were in her heart effortlessly as a teacher.
But, she did suck at telling management what was up. I helped do that for her. I was a kid and it was a fun writing assignment and in truth I had no feel for the politics or fear of the consequences, so I could write without inhibition. She could not. It became an annual ritual in her later years of work.
Now, about a thousand years later, or maybe just shy of that, I have to do the same kind of reports for myself.
So, I sit at my desk and return to the game that I had done at my mother’s typewriter. I right fast and furiously, and I have learned how to advertise my own brand but temper it with a soupçon of self-reflection. I allow for the things I do not know, and I hammer out my strengths. I find the notes of self improvement that are surmountable and demonstrate my good attitude.
I try very hard not to by cynical. But, for that to happen, I do not dwell, I do not agonize. If I spend over 15 minutes on the thing, at about 10 minutes in, I walk away until my head is in the game and I give it only 5 minutes more.
It’s impossible to tell your boss that in addition to my 25-30 years of doing the things for myself, I might have done 10 years more. We breeze through the things, the virtual online handshake is done and another year will pass.
And my highest proof of mastery were the words of my attorney, the one I hired on account of my work at the time not really feeling the love, the labor lawyer who helped me out of a jam. That besuited gentleman pulled all of my Human Resources records out of the belly of the employment beast, and he went through each paper with the loving care that an hourly fee will get you.
Upon sage and learned analysis, he proclaimed that while many a person had come through his office doors with a sad story to tell about the workplace, almost all of them had some marks in their permanent records. But my file, the years of reviews and meetings, they were a pristine and glimmering example. He said in all his years of lawyering he had never seen such stellar performance reviews.