Carpool Diem: Here's The Situation.
Yay, Annie! Because, really, how can we balance our jobs and our families if we aren't supposed to even admit we have a family. I'm not sure how or when it happened-but somehow uttering the word “family” at work has become like “Voldemort” in Harry Potter-that which we dare not say.
Now that my family has grown to include two daughters and the dog, it's hard for me to believe that someone once thought I had “a situation” before I had kids. It now seems quaint, and a bit bizarre!
But at the time it made sense. I was working in New York for a movie company based in Hollywood. My days were filled with meetings, my nights with screenings, my weekends devoted to reading screenplays, treatments, plays and novels. Like everyone else who did my job, I worked pretty much whenever I wasn't sleeping.
This was fine with me. I was young, ambitious, and childfree. But, according to my boss, I did have that situation.
What did my situation mean to him? It meant he didn't feel free to send me away for a month on a whim. If someone needed to be dispatched to keep an eye on a director, to keep an ear to the ground about a movie, to hover about while a writer pounded out a screenplay, it was understood that I wouldn't want to go. And it was true. I didn't. Because early on I deduced that these trips were pretty much completely unproductive. And I was already mindful of one of the cardinal rules of balancing work and home-eliminate that which is a waste of time.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the “situation” spectrum was my friend in our California office. My friend had no situation, or at least none anyone knew about. And so he was the go-to guy for last minute trips of any kind or duration. In fact he spent almost all of his time on the road.
One day, while I was in California and he was briefly passing through his home town, he confided in me that this was getting to be a huge drag. He wasn't home long enough to date, let alone build a relationship. He worried about having his electricity turned off not because he couldn't afford to pay his bill but because he wasn't home long enough to open his mail. He used his dry cleaner as his closet-stopping off for a fresh suit, shirt and tie on the way to the airport. And forget pets. With his lifestyle he couldn't keep a plant alive, let alone a goldfish.
He asked me if I knew why he was the one who was always asked to fly away at a moment's notice. Why did they never ask me? I told him I really didn't know.
Later that day, after he'd hopped on a plane to wherever, I was in a meeting with our boss, the president of the company, and his number two guy. A call came in-something about a producer in a small town in Canada who might or might not have a movie that might or might not be ready to be screened at the end of the week or the month or the year.
“Who are we going to send?” the president mused. They immediately settled on my situation-less friend. “He'll go,” the number two guy said. “He'll go anywhere. He loves to go.” And they had a hearty laugh over it.
I think about my friend sometimes. We've lost touch over the years and he seems to have fallen off the radar. Maybe it's because he found a less demanding job, like an emergency room triage nurse. Or maybe it's because he finally got himself a situation. I hope so.
Because here's one thing I know: balancing work and family is messy. Everyone I know struggles so as not to miss deadlines, promotions, school plays, play-off games, first concerts, and legitimately necessary business trips. Dinner is rushed, tempers are short, guilt is everywhere.
But without our “situations”-wait-let me say it the way Annie would-without our families, we'd be just another guy whose best friend is the dry cleaner, and whose apartment is home to a bunch of dead houseplants and a couple of floating fish.