Work Bullies

It was May of last year when I was first bullied at work. Caught completely off guard, I really didn’t know how to respond. I guess I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t had to deal with a bully before (I don’t count my teenagers), but that lack of experience clearly had me at a loss. The 40-year-old woman was about to get married (her first) and I quickly justified her behavior to pre-wedding jitters. When Jane returned from her honeymoon, she was even crankier. I had just been called to jury duty, so again, I quickly justified her crabby attitude to the fact that I was looking at an unexpected two weeks out of the office at one of the busiest times for Jane.

As it turned out, I was out of the office a whopping two days not two weeks. I thought that would make Jane happy, but it didn’t. For most of the summer, she regularly stopped at my desk to rant and rave about how dissatisfied she was with the quality of work my team was doing. Honestly, I don’t think we could have submitted “perfect” work; Jane would have found something wrong with anything we did. Her complaints were unreasonable to me, and I tried to tell her that. Wrong move. I explained the situation to my oldest daughter, Kate—a high school teacher—to see if she could offer me some insight for dealing with a bully.

As things escalated, I talked about it with my manager. I didn’t want him to get caught unawares if Jane decided to rant to him. Sure enough, she ranted to him about mid-August, when I took a week off to prepare for my daughter Rose’s wedding. My manager pretty much blew off Jane’s complaints and told me to do so too.

Truly I tried to dismiss Jane’s rants, but they only intensified. Looking back, I realize now that she didn’t get the response she wanted from me or my manager so she notched up her attacks. In early October, she harangued me so badly at my desk one morning that another co-worker heard it. He came up to me later to ask what was going on. He was shocked and he urged me to talk to my manager again. I did, but the tables turned a little and I think my manager saw me as a whiner or complainer. I was smart enough to know I needed to just shut my mouth and do my job.

But Jane kept up her attacks and I was feeling pretty desperate. So I started to chat with others about how cranky Jane was. Some agreed Jane was pretty difficult to work with, others didn’t say much. Through it all, I realized I was the only one being bullied. It was so disheartening. The job I really enjoyed now became a sort of torture. I had to muster up courage to go back each day. And each night I spent hours trying to figure out what I had done to Jane and what I should do to get this to stop. My husband was a great listener, but the best he could offer was, “Don’t take it personally.” How in the world do you not take bullying personally? Jane’s attacks were aimed at me, no one else.

I’m guessing word got around to Jane that I was making comments about how cranky she was. Or maybe Jane was getting so much satisfaction that she wanted to share it with someone else. Whatever the catalyst, Jane took on a cohort. And now I had two bullies. I was so grateful for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. I had a little more than a week off of work and did everything I could to replenish my self-esteem.

The second week of January our business relocated to a new building. As the cubicle gods shined on me and gave me the premium spot in the building, Jane and Barb found themselves without private offices. They were not happy campers. Barb went so far as to bring in a magnetic board, essentially building a “wall” where there wasn’t one. The imagery was not lost on me. And frustrations with all the change only caused Jane and Barb to heighten their bullying. It came at a time when my manager was tied up in meetings for the better part of two weeks and not engaged in daily events. Jane and Barb were asking a lot of questions in emails, painting a bleak picture of the work my team and I were doing. I fought to keep my composure and stay professional as I answered their questions. Emails were forwarded to my manager and he was beginning to buy in to the fact that maybe my team and I were not putting forth our best effort.

So it was, last Monday, my manager called me in to his office first thing and asked me to shut the door. Immediately he started asking some tough questions about exactly what was going on with me and my team. I was shocked at his tone of voice. His words were telling me he had sided with Jane and Barb, and I couldn’t take any more. I started to cry. Wow! I don’t know where the tears came from and I was mortified. I was so embarrassed that I had lost my composure. I was angry at myself, which only caused more tears to flow. And then my manager softened his voice and tried to show me compassion, and that caused even more tears. I wanted to just slink away and never come back. Unfortunately, I need this job. I tried to defend myself and explain what was going on, but I think the tears were too much for my manager. He was as eager to get me out of his office as I was to leave. I went to the rest room and spent a few minutes composing myself, taking deep cleansing breaths, and convincing myself that I would survive the day. It was one of the roughest days I’ve ever had on a job, but I did survive. And for the rest of the week, I did everything I could to smile, cooperate, and collaborate. I was determined to show my boss I was capable in my job despite what Jane and Barb were stating in emails.

And then, the “big slip” I kept praying for happened. Near the end of the day on Friday my manager asked me to send out an email to Jane, Barb, and two others. I was given a very specific message to deliver and I pretty much used my manager’s words verbatim. I sent the email to the four individuals and within about a minute or so, Jane “replied all” with one of her rants. It was vicious, disrespectful, and inappropriate. Finally, I had the first proof in black and white. I forwarded Jane’s reply to my manager with the brief note, “FYI.” I cleaned up my things and headed out, for the first time in a long time with a little lighter bounce in my step. Later that night, I checked my work email from home. I never do that, but curiosity got the better of me. Sure enough, my manager had replied to my email with the statement, “Wow! Is she crabby???”

I spent the weekend contemplating how best to respond. I bounced ideas off my two best friends and my husband. On Monday morning when I got to my desk, I replied to my boss with the simple statement, “This is typical.” No embellishments. And he replied with a statement about how he agrees Jane’s behavior was uncalled for. About an hour later, my manager and I attended a weekly meeting with Jane and Barb and others. He sat beside me, silently showing me his support. And as the day progressed, I sensed a change in the air. Jane and Barb were nowhere in sight. In fact, Jane was hunkered down at her desk, quiet as a mouse. Today, the two of them were even more subdued and avoiding me like the plague.

For the first time in nearly a year, I feel the tides are turning. Is this all behind me? Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve seen the last of the bullying. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I suspect Jane was spoken to about the disrespectful and incorrigible language she used in her email to me on that Friday afternoon. I don’t know a lot about bullies, but common sense tells me that Jane now sees me as an even greater threat. The best I can do is smile, cooperate, and collaborate some more. And wait, as patiently as I can, for Jane to slip again.

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Top 10 Peeves for the (work) Week ending 2.15.2013

10. All that money that we had in our pockets last year going through airport security then left behind, totaled more than half a million dollars.

9. Bernie Madoff regrets pleading guilty.

8. I can get a “combo meal” at the local drive-thru for almost the same price as a gallon of gas.

7. I am the only one in my house who knows where to find new rolls of paper towels and toilet paper.

6. I am also the only one who knows how to wash towels.

5. Only blogs that use the words freshly pressed get Freshly Pressed.

4. Jane received an appropriate compliment from Susan in a meeting on Monday for doing a good job. The next day Jane went to Susan’s manager and complained that Susan had singled Jane out in front of others.

3. The CEO of a multi-Billion dollar nonprofit decides to retire because he can’t handle the grueling schedule anymore. None of this nonprofit’s other CEOs in the last 600 years didn’t have this man’s courage. Maybe this nonprofit wouldn’t have had so many lawsuits if they had.

2. Media was so busy telling us about the asteroid, that no one (that I know of) warned us about the meteorite. It must have slipped by our satellites, in stealth mode.

1. Carnival Cruise lines really believes people will want to get on Triumph after a thorough two-month cleaning.

A Call to Tradition

If I were to ask ten people what traditions they have in their families, I bet nine of the ten would mention something about a holiday. Hidden Easter baskets or egg hunts. Memorial Day or Fourth of July parades. State Fair or a city’s summer celebration. Goose, not turkey, on the platter. Stockings hung up by the fireplace or stairs. Mistletoe.

My husband celebrates a unique event on Christmas Eve, something he calls “setting the table for the dead.” It was something his Italian grandfather did in the Calabria region of Italy. At the end of the evening when everyone was settling down for sleep, the table would get set with the best dishes or china, with food that wouldn’t spoil (nuts, cookies, bread), and unopened bottles of wine. His grandfather would light a candle and place it on the table and invite all of their ancestors to come and celebrate. The candle would remain lit all night long, then blown out when the family gathered for Christmas breakfast. My husband is the only one of his siblings to ever celebrate this tradition, and he still celebrates it to this day. I like the thought of inviting all those who came before us to come and celebrate what goodness they brought to all of us. My husband’s daughters think it’s silly. My daughters think it borders on insanity. I doubt any of them will carry on the tradition.

When I was growing up, we had a tradition of going out to a country club of sorts for Easter Sunday brunch. There were eight of us kids, so when we all walked in together and sat down at a table, we received more than a few stares. It was the only time all eight of us kids were ever taken out to eat at the same time.

Recently I was sharing a story with one of my cousins and it caused me to think of traditions, that passing down of some event or ritual from generation to generation. What about that event or ritual touches enough of our senses or emotions that we treasure it and want to experience it again and again?

The story I shared with my cousin had to do with prayer. I teasingly said I’ve been saying the Hail Mary even before I was born. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if my parents said the rosary every night while my mother was pregnant with me. Surely I know the Lord’s Prayer just as well, but for all of my life it’s the Hail Mary prayer that I turn to when I’m afraid or overcome with worry.

Several years ago I happened to mention this fact to one of my aunts, who is a Dominican nun. She smiled and nodded and proceeded to tell me exactly why I turn to the Hail Mary prayer, and it had everything to do with the story of my aunt’s birth. She was the twelfth child of Michael and Kathryn. They lived on a farm, several miles from the nearby small village. As was common in that time, Kathryn delivered the baby at home. It was a difficult birth and Kathryn lost a lot of blood. She went into shock, but she was awake and aware of what was happening and knew that she may die. Kathryn began to pray nonstop to the Blessed Mother Mary. In her prayers, she told Mary that if it was her time to pass then so be it, but that Mary would have to find someone to take care of the twelve children. The local priest came and gave Kathryn last rites. Everyone believed she would not see the morning’s light. But Kathryn kept her brain working with her prayers to Mary. She survived, made a complete recovery, and went on to live until the age of 96.

My aunt told me that all twelve of those children from that point on knew they had the Blessed Mother Mary to thank for keeping their mother alive. The Hail Mary prayer was as commonly spoken in their house as any conversation. Kathryn passed that prayer on to her children, and they passed it on to their children. My cousin laughed as I told this story, for he too grew up with regular prayers to Mary. His mother was one of the twelve children.

Sadly, my own children have not been called to this tradition. They know I believe in the power of prayer, they’ve heard me say that prayer and others many times, but they have not been called to prayer as I have been. Maybe it will still come.

I like the idea of the passing down of something from one generation to the next. When my daughters were little, our house was the only one in the neighborhood to celebrate St. Nick’s night. It wasn’t something my parents had done when I was a child, nor my then-husband’s parents. But it was a tradition I wanted to create so my children would have a unique memory of the holidays. I’m eager to watch and see if any of them continue the tradition when they have children and those children are old enough to understand and remember.

With the recent news that I will welcome my second grandchild in September, I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions and what I might be able to pass down through the years. My husband has warm and fond memories of going to his grandmother’s house every Sunday for an afternoon dinner. The extended family gathered at the noon church service, then went to Grandma’s for spaghetti dinner. A gathering of aunts and uncles and cousins, a blend of generations. It was a common tradition when my husband was growing up; not so much these days. Maybe we’ll start a tradition of having a Skype call every Sunday afternoon.

So much about our world today is different from when we grew up. And I struggle to think of a tradition I can hand down, one that will be respected and passed on to yet another generation. But I’m not giving up just yet. My thinking cap stays on.

To Push or Not

No, this isn’t about birthing children; it’s about launching teenagers. In our house, the challenge is a conundrum and most days I wonder, what if our only options are all bad options? (Not to be confused with bad choices.)

As I see it, our only option is to keep Brianna a resident of our house until we find a maturity pill she can be prescribed or until she wakes up one day from her stupor and decides to join the real world.

As my husband sees it, our only choice is to kick her out of the house.

Brianna is not my husband’s daughter and therein lies the rub. One of his daughters wreaked havoc in his previous marriage as she journeyed through adolescence, but he did a lot of traveling for his job at that time. All the responsibility and parenting shifted to his then-wife and his burden was listening to her vent when he called home each night to check in. Although he was the Dad in the situation, he wasn’t living “in the moment.” He was thousands of miles away physically and mentally.

Now, indeed he is living in the moment. And instead of his daughter acting out, it’s his step-daughter. And, rightfully so, he’s had enough of her poor choices and lackadaisical attitude and he says PUSH!

And I say, not so fast. I know a lot about the concepts of enabling and tough love. I understand it’s easy for a mother to get sucked in to nurturing a child. And yes, I also admit I am one of the first to get sucked in no matter what the situation. But I also have the ability to step out of the moment and look back in, to figure out what our options are and what course of action we should take.

In Brianna’s case, my life and that of my husband would be so much calmer and easier and less stressful if Brianna no longer lived with us. At nineteen she is old enough to rent an apartment. She can enter into any contract she wants, if she chooses. But is it my purpose in life to make my and my husband’s daily life easier?

Unfortunately, what I know and what my husband knows is that Brianna may be chronologically nineteen and an adult in the eyes of the world, yet the truth of the matter is emotionally and psychologically she behaves as does a twelve-year-old. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve said it before. Brianna is a very intelligent young woman. She is capable of doing anything and achieving any goal, so long as she sets her mind to it. The devil is in the details.

At this point in time, Brianna has not yet graduated from high school. She’s had so many second chances, first with our public schools, next with an “alternative” school, then with not one but two online high schools. The last online school drew the line at Christmas and kicked her out. She was furious and not comprehending of the fact that she didn’t abide by their attendance rules. She is seven months away from her twentieth birthday and she thinks she might take the GED test by then. The keyword being might. She works about twelve hours a week delivering pizzas and loves her job. She is not motivated to look for a different job. For the last four years she has turned her days and nights around, so that she chooses to stay up all night and watch TV, then sleep all day. She doesn’t understand why she can’t run a load of laundry at two in the morning when the rest of us are asleep. She doesn’t know why we get so bent out of shape when the dogs hear her come and go at three in the morning (usually to the all-night drive thru).

Yet at the same time, at nineteen Brianna has infinitely more wisdom about manipulating “the system” than I’ll ever achieve in my entire lifetime. She does not have ADHD and yet she convinced a medical doctor that she needs to be on prescribed medication for it. She is not old enough to legally consume alcohol, and yet our recycling bins each week are full of bottles and cans my husband and I have not purchased nor drank. She loves to tell the story of how she got a “permanent” pass to leave school early each day when she was in the tenth grade, to come home and take a nap.

We knew we had a problem about five years ago and we tried to get Brianna to work with a therapist. She went to one for about three months, and then the counselor caught on to the manipulations Brianna was doing. Brianna denied it and said she couldn’t work with that counselor any more. We tried another. Same result. We tried another who suggested we medicate Brianna for her anxieties, which are a legitimate concern. Brianna was all for that. The first doctor we worked with was great but her office was not convenient for us to get to during regular business hours and they had no evening or weekend hours. So we switched to another, and that worked great until their office closed. So then we found another and immediately I wondered whether he should be allowed to practice. Brianna loves him by the way. And as soon as she reached eighteen, she signed paperwork to remove me from being authorized for her medical care and began medicating for ADHD.

A year ago, I issued an ultimatum. Go to in-patient treatment or move out of my house. She agreed to go to treatment! I was thrilled, but, oh, how little I knew about the system. I got on the phone with the insurance company and tried to find a place for her to go. Because she had not yet graduated from high school, she had only one or two choices of facilities. One was three hours away and the other eight hours away. Of course, Brianna wanted to go to the one farther away. Okay, fine, I said. I called the facility and asked to have her admitted. They didn’t have any openings. Neither did the other facility. After all we’d been through, after coming to the end of my nerve and issuing an ultimatum—that she agreed to—there wasn’t any room at either inn. Still, I felt the place eight hours away was the best choice to guide Brianna through all of her needs. In our initial call to this place, I explained we wanted to get Brianna there as soon as possible so that she could be home in time for her sister’s wedding in August. Is it just a coincidence that the facility had an opening two weeks before the wedding? And even though I knew the answer, I had to ask. No, they wouldn’t let Brianna come for ten days, then leave for the wedding, then return to treatment. Brianna didn’t go.

Present day—it is the middle of winter, the worst time of the year for my husband. He hates the cold. He hates the snow. He hates a lot of things. And right now, Brianna is on his list. And he says push her out.

No one will allow Brianna to move in with them. No family. No friends. She has no money to put down as a deposit on an apartment. She earns roughly seventy dollars each week in her part-time job, some of that fuel allowance (for delivering pizzas). That won’t pay for food or rent or laundry or car insurance. She is incapable of sustaining herself. As a master manipulator, I fear what schemes she will concoct to earn money if kicked out of our house. Worse, I fear we will be planning a funeral instead of a twentieth birthday dinner.

In our most heated exchanges, my husband has said we will be much better off without Brianna in our house. And I’ve replied, as a mother I cannot abandon my child. I’ve been accused of being too soft and enabling. He’s been accused of being uncaring.

To push or not to push, that is the question.