This last week has slowly turned up the dial on seemingly every part of my life. I’m going to take a moment and dump some of what’s going on here.

This got long, so here are links to navigate to each section:

There’s lots to get to, so without further ado, let’s jump in.

Benji’s neurological assessment

Back in February, Benji’s therapist suggested he might benefit from a neurological assessment to see whether things like his inability to sit still for 2 seconds at a time, his flash-trigger temper, his alarming level of intelligence, his extreme lack of physical dexterity, his desperate need for routine, and his struggles with flexible thinking add up to some kind of actual psychological diagnosis. I’m sure they will — but I’m honestly not sure yet what that may be.

To establish that diagnosis, the psychologist conducts a six-hour-long battery of tests on Benji over the course of two sessions. Benji completed one session on Friday and one session yesterday, and after each proved exceptionally irritable the rest of the day. I don’t blame him; it sounds like having your brain squeezed until they’ve juiced out every last drop, and then maybe squeezed a little more for good measure.

But anyone with him after that has to exercise extreme patience and self-control, and after a while it becomes a real strain.

Also, as part of the assessment, the psychologist sent home questionnaires for the subject’s parents and teacher to fill out. And when I say questionnaire, I mean in the grand tradition of 200-question multiple choice tests. Ian and I spent easily three hours over the course of the weekend and Monday night filling all that out.

The end of the school year and the beginning of Y Camp

Oh, did I mention the school year ended on Friday? Yep. Benji missed the last Zoom calls of the year thanks to the neuro assessment. This also made it difficult to get the teacher’s version of the assessment questionnaire filled out, since the teacher also finished. She actually bent over backwards and met me on Monday, completed the form that evening, and returned it to us on Tuesday. Just more evidence of what an awesome human being and teacher she is. But that was another emergency scheduling/planning activity to deal with.

Anyway, I believe I mentioned our challenges with transitions in our household. Under any circumstances, the switch to or from school involves a certain amount of negative behavior — usually evinced as rudeness, shorter temper, increased demandingness, and decreased flexibility. Again, more strain on the adults around who end up soaking up all this acting out.

Home project decisions heating up

We are slowly starting a process of planning and implementing some nice improvements to our home. These upgrades include new windows, new flooring throughout the house, new doors and trim, paving in the back yard, deck refinishing, and a pretty major master bathroom remodel. The contractor will split this work up between 2021 and 2022, mainly divided along the lines of “master bathroom work” and “everything else.”

Most of these changes remain no more than a twinkle in our eye and a down payment in the general contractor’s pocket, but the contractor recently started asking for decisions. Window prices have risen, and are expected to continue rising, so we need to decide on those quickly. While we’re at it, choose exterior doors and make some decisions about paving stone style and design, too.

I like doing all this kind of stuff, but it’s difficult to get to when a zillion-question neurological questionnaire sucks up the one hour of discretionary time I have with my spouse each evening. It starts getting stressful when we have to make decisions with a timer ticking in the background: Decide sooner or you’ll pay more! Gah!

Work from home winding down

The HR department at my employer sent out an email last week that really kicked the hornet’s nest. It laid out how 95% of employees wanted more flexibility in their remote working options, and the company’s response: giving individual managers huge discretion over their team’s remote work situation. Essentially, the email said, “Your manager decides how much you’re allowed to work from home, but we recommend more flexibility whenever possible.”

They also announced our offices open to 50% capacity on July 6.

Mostly the writers on my team want to work from home as much as they can — some have long commutes, many have kids, others just prefer the quieter, commute-free home environment — so we received this email with open arms… and a grain of salt. Because our manager loathes, despises, abhors, and in the strongest possible language hates his employees working remotely.

He thinks managers can’t effectively manage if they can’t walk by and eavesdrop on employees’ conversations, glance at employees’ screens, or drop by for impromptu chats. To him, managing a team remotely is like trying to organize grains of rice in a complicated pattern with three-foot-long chopsticks. Suffice it to say, he wants us all back in person, where he can keep his eye on us.

What he told our team, however, is that his boss and the CEO had both mandated a schedule with a maximum of two remote days per week. He reiterated numerous times how his hands were tied; he wanted to give us more remote work time, but he couldn’t! Sorry! See you all bright and early on July 6!

To put it baldly, that sounds like a self-serving lie. My manager does that, when lying proves more expedient and reduces the friction around a decision. I’m not tolerating it in this circumstance, though, because that HR email was quite clear. I’m hearing extremely different things from HR and my manager, and I want to know what the true policy is.

So I emailed our HR department, laid out the situation, and asked for clarification. My HR rep is on vacation, and I won’t hear back from her until Monday. Needless to say, I’m on tenterhooks.

(As I previously mentioned at tedious length, I’m not keen on returning July 6, and my boss generously gave me and the other parents “special dispensation” — which wasn’t that special, given that the HR email also stated that people with childcare or other challenges wouldn’t be required to return immediately.)

Major career direction decisions

Despite remote work friction, I’ve actually enjoyed my job quite a bit the last couple months. With the other senior writer on leave, two new writers joining the team, and our boss swamped with other management work, I’ve gotten the opportunity to take more of a leadership role. I like it.

I enjoy helping other writers get unstuck, providing them with suggestions and guidance when they need it and leaving them alone when they don’t. I’ve prioritized collaboration and connection, since everyone is remote, trying to foster a community of support for writers even if we aren’t all in the same office. Spending time connecting with and supporting other people brings me a great deal of joy.

My boss has noticed, and he wants to offer me the position of technical writer manager, if I want it. Besides being a significant promotion, that would entail a very dramatic shift in my career path. I’m weighing very seriously whether the pros of becoming a manager outweigh the cons. I have another blog post brewing about this, so stay tuned.

My writer colleague returns

Did I mention the other senior writer being on leave? Just kidding! On Tuesday, after two months off, she texted me: “I’m coming back to work tomorrow.” Sure enough, yesterday, her avatar’s little indicator dot changed from “out of office” to “active.” She’s back!

I want to have unalloyed positive feelings about her return, because I really like her, she’s a very strong writer and editor, and we’ve worked together for years. But when she departed, the tone of the team changed dramatically for the better. It felt like a heavy cloud lifted. We all took a deep breath, raised our eyes, and saw the shining blue sky. I like the positive vibe of our team without her, and I’m worried that will slip away with her return.

Even if she’s resolved the things that dragged her down and made her need to take leave, she cultivates a cynical, pessimistic attitude at all times. I find it seductive to slip into that same attitude, and I don’t like myself when I do. For example, she has serious issues with our boss, and tends to complain bitterly about him often — even though I know he’s bent over backwards to help her in every possible way.

I don’t want to walk down that road again, and I’m afraid I’ll find my feet veering in that direction despite my good intentions with her return.

Plus, having another senior writer muddies the leadership waters. I’m less senior than she is; does that mean I should defer to her? I always did before. But now I’ve taken on more leadership in our team, and how does that work now she’s here too? I don’t know, but Dad advised me to just treat her as a peer. I think that’s good advice, and I’ll try to follow it.

That’s all, folks

On Tuesday morning, with all this going on, I got up… and could barely stand up. I was dizzy and nauseous, emphasis on the nauseous. I dragged myself downstairs, barely succeeded at assembling Benji’s lunch, and made it back to bed in time to vomit into the bowl Ian provided. Every time I tried to move my head, nausea. I took some Dramamine, but I can’t say it helped that much. But over the course of the day I slowly felt better, albeit still a little off. I have no explanations, but my theories include a sinus infection, low blood sugar combined with poor sleep, or a stress-induced migraine.

I’ve never had a migraine, but given everything happening in the last few days, it’s easy to imagine my body just telling me it needs to shut down for a little bit. I took Tuesday a little slower, went to bed early, and on Wednesday felt back to normal.

I don’t have any great conclusion. This is the way life is.

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