Monday, July 19, 2010

The Women On My Walk #5 - My Former Co-Workers

Grams went to work for our local United Way when I was 19 years old. I worked there for 32 years in a variety of positions. Over that period of time the organization had seven different Executive Directors. The total number of employees working there at any one time over the years ranged from 10-20. Most of those were women. Never at any time were there more than three men on staff at the same time. Generally speaking, nonprofit organizations employ many more women than men. I'm pretty sure it's because women work cheaper than men, but that's not the point of this post.

I wish I had kept a list of all the women I worked with over the years. In most nonprofit organizations employee turnover is high. If I just had to guess, I'd say that over that 32 year period I worked with more than 100 women of all ages, races and varying degrees of competence. Most of them were lovely women from whom I learned a lot. There were a few who would qualify as outright crazy, but most of them were just like me; working to give their families a better quality of life and making the best of being working moms. Some of them left and I've never heard from them again; others have become close friends.

One of the groups that has saved my sanity is a group of these former co-workers that I call "the lunch bunch." For the several years we worked together, we ate lunch together, usually at a table in one of the common areas of the office. When the last director took over, she immediately decreed that we would no longer be allowed to eat there. It was her way of beginning to divide and conquer. Shortly thereafter, she began firing and/or laying off existing employees or driving them away so she could hire her friends. In less than one year, all but one employee had been replaced by her friends.

No longer working together did not deter us from getting together for lunch. Of course, it was not every day, but it was still fairly regular. Recently, we've moved our gatherings to the evening for cocktails and dinner. It gives us more time to linger and visit. And there are a couple of former co-workers who no longer live nearby, but we stay in touch via email and/or Facebook.

We were co-workers. We covered for each other at work. We worked together to make sure everyone met deadlines and achieved goals. But as co-workers we shared more than just work; we shared our lives on a daily basis as only women can. We had babies, sent them to day care and came back to work. We nursed sick children and sometimes we brought them to work with us. We bought whatever the kids were selling as fundraisers. We wept with each other when loved ones died. We laughed at our kids' antics. We gave each other moral support when our kids were teenagers. We supported each other through divorces. We hosted showers for babies and brides. We celebrated graduations from high school and college. We held each others hands when our children started kindergarten or left for college. We cooked for each other. Some of us became grandmothers. Somehow, we made going to work every day more tolerable and sometimes even enjoyable.

We held our tongues when we saw each other doing stupid things ... well, sometimes we didn't actually hold our tongues because sometimes you've just got to say what has to be said. Sometimes we got downright mad at each other. There were even a few instances where we yelled at each other or stopped speaking for a while. Some of us spoke our minds, others just shook our heads and walked away. We provided shoulders to cry on and encouragement to keep on going. We accomplished a lot of good things together, both personally and for our community.

But we came to know each other and to like each other. I once told a group of them that they were not my friends, they were my co-workers. When I worked with them, I somehow felt it was important to recognize that difference. But I have to acknowledge that when I said that, they looked as if I had slapped them and I felt bad.

We are a diverse group of women ... accountants, secretaries, social workers, fund-raisers, managers, educators, and consultants, among other things. Each is accomplished in her own way. Sometimes we make it look so easy to be working moms and sometimes our hair is on fire. We are as different as we are alike. Some of us are girly girls and some of us are not. Some of us cook and some of us don't. Some are high-maintenance and high-heels and some of us are jeans and flip-flops.

When we get together we let our hair down ... we eat ... we drink ... we laugh ... we bitch ... we moan ... we celebrate ... we cry ... we surprise each other ... we shock each other ... we support each other ... we like each other. We've become our very own support group. I'm proud to call them my friends!

No comments:

Post a Comment