My Truth

I haven’t been writing lately because I’ve been healing. I’ve tried to write, but the things on my mind are too big for 1000 words or so, and too raw for mixed company. I don’t know when I’ll be finished sorting it all out, but I’m doing my best, and I think it’s going well.

When I wrote most of the content people likely to read this started following me for, I was in a horrendously abusive relationship. By the time my article on gun control went viral, I had called the Domestic Violence Hotline over a dozen times, and the police at least once. If I wrote, yet didn’t do any single thing that person asked of me, I would be punished for days, and that was always the case. Each piece I published cost me the silent treatment, being deprived of sleep, and being repeatedly told that I was a horrible partner, an ignorant millennial, and pretty much the worst thing about humanity. Yet, I wrote, because it was positive, and I liked it. I still like it, but I haven’t been in a place to write in a while.

I thought I would make it out of that situation unscathed because I’m optimistic, and I journaled everything from the moment I realized I was being gaslighted, so I thought I kept my feet on the ground, and a clear head, and was just biding my time until I could get out. That wasn’t the case. Thankfully, I have wonderful benefits through my employer, and because of that, I am processing through all of this with a therapist. I probably will be for a while. It’s hard work sometimes, but it feels necessary and intentional, and gives me some clue about how to move forward.

At this time, I also find myself in the most beautifully functional relationship of my life. My partner and I knew each other through work for years before we began dating. I’ve mentioned him here before as a friend. I’ve always liked him, and I feel lucky that he and I are together now. He’s kind, and we respect each other, and when I do things for him, it is because I want him to be happy, not because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t. I have no reason to be afraid now. I am safe, and that’s finally starting to sink in.

I am learning valuable lessons every day, things that would have changed my life infinitely if I had known them years ago. The biggest one is the meaning of the saying, “relationships take work”. Previously, this had meant that I needed to put up with a lot of mistreatment or just irresponsibility on the part of the other person. I thought that “work” meant abdication of self. Now I see that it means being up front and honest about my needs, while listening to his, and figuring out how we can both get what we need out of this. Sometimes those needs are at odds. Maybe he needs more alone time, and I need more closeness. That’s when both people put in the work, and get intentional about figuring out how to reconcile it all. When that happens, and it does when both people try hard, it is a beautiful thing. It’s not perfect because nothing in life ever is, but feeling heard, respected, and acknowledged for the first time in my life is as close to perfect as I could imagine at this time.

That doesn’t mean it’s seamless. Sometimes I ask him if he’s mad at me just because he’s quiet. I did that yesterday. That’s the anxiety talking. It’s got nothing to do with reality. I believe him when he tells me he’s not mad at me. Sometimes I just need to hear him say it. I don’t think that will always be the case. It’s just part of healing. When silence was used as a weapon, as a tool to reject, to isolate, to make resolution impossible, for years, it’s hard to lose the fear of it. I notice it’s less now, even so.

For the first time in years, I have agency. I don’t have to ask if I can do something. I have to coordinate logistics, of course, and it’s courtesy in a relationship to tell one’s partner of plans with some advanced notice, but if I want to go to Happy Hour with a friend, or take ballet class every Sunday, it’s my choice, and I won’t be punished for it, not so much as a passive-aggressive remark. Indeed, everything is different.

I still feel most at peace in the desert. I don’t know why, but I always have. Two days in Odessa, TX, and my anxiety goes away for a week. It’s a simple place. The horizon is far, and the oil wells bob up and down rhythmically. Most people don’t like it there, but I do. Work sends me out there every few months, and that’s when I can really clear my mind. Bouncing along in my work-issued F-350 SuperDuty, with steel toe boots on my feet and my hard hat beside me, I can think in the desert, and I’m at peace with my entire life. Everyone at work knows projects for Odessa and El Paso are mine by default. Yet, no matter how many times I am recognized for these projects, it never occurs to anybody that I need them more than anything or anybody in this lifetime has ever needed me.

I’ve always been a little bit troubled. I was the kid nobody understood, who became the ex-military rebel who majored in engineering yet gave far less of a fuck than anybody else who published far fewer papers and got less money for grad school than I did. I’m realizing now how self-destructive I was, how I accepted less in every aspect of my life that people didn’t see, because I didn’t think I deserved good. I know now that I do deserve good, and now that I have it, my biggest challenge is learning to live like this. Don’t misunderstand me. That’s not a bad thing. It’s the best challenge of my life. This is where my energy is going these days, though. I’m learning to live. I’m learning to be healthy. I am going to be so much more than just ok, even if it means a trip to Odessa once in a while.

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Vote Democrat in 2020

I cannot believe it’s already time to talk about the primaries for the 2020 election! I’m relieved by this, but also nervous because I predict lots of in-fighting among the Democratic side, and we remember how that went for the Republicans last time. They looked like crap, and they elected crap, so obviously I don’t want us to do that. We have a lot of qualified people in our party, so I’m not concerned about the availability of a good candidate (Julian Castro, I’m looking at you). I’m worried about the electorate.

People, have you seen social media lately? Have you seen the things people are saying? I’m a more progressive Democrat myself, but some of the things I’m hearing from people I substantially agree with politically are not making me feel good about the election. People are already talking about how they refuse to vote for a white man or a mainstream Democrat. I understand the need for diversity, and actually, none of my top three choices are white men, but ultimately, I’ll vote for a Democrat no matter what demographic they fall into, because they’ll be able to move us in a more favorable direction than a Republican will.

That’s what it comes down to, folks. If the Republicans give you Donald Trump or Mike Pence, and the Democrats give you Beto O’Rourke or Joe Biden, are you really about to tell me that the latter two are not vastly superior to the former?

Let’s talk about that for a minute. I see a lot of toxic dialog about how mainstream Democrats are just as bad as Republicans. I’m sorry, but no, they’re not. That’s simply incorrect. While neither party is perfect, and I can certainly find Democrat policies I disagree with, there’s only one party that’s trying to cut funding for climate research, is gutting the EPA, would love to overturn Roe vs Wade, tries to make stupid laws restricting what transgender people can do, and thinks people with preexisting conditions shouldn’t get healthcare. Spoiler alert: It isn’t the Democrats.

Can we focus on the big picture instead of engaging in the same nasty in-fighting we all laughed at the Republicans for in 2016? A lot of us want progressives in office, and that is happening. Look at the midterm election results. More women, more people of color, more progressive candidates, were elected to positions all over the country, including state legislatures, judgeships, and even Congress. The wave is happening.

Diversity is taking hold, and that’s a good thing because casting a wider net results in finding the best people for the job. We have over 100 women in the House of Representatives for the first time in history. Houston’s judgeships overwhelmingly were shifted to black women in districts that have a history of unfairly punishing black and Hispanic juvenile offenders. Every day, we hear of a district that elected their first Native American woman representative, a transgender person to their state house, or someone under the age of 30 to a city council. Can we take a minute to appreciate that for the real progress that it is?

Now, let’s look at reality. The presidential election is going to be really difficult, and it’s going to be a lot harder to elect a true progressive when that person will have to win over farmers in Iowa, factory workers in Pennsylvania, rednecks in Florida, and tech workers in California alike. We’re not going to do that by nominating someone who swings hard to one subset of our base. I’m part of that subset and I’d like it theoretically as much as anyone, but I also know it’s not going to work.

What we can do is nominate someone who’s going to be able to work with everyone, including the progressives who have been elected to other offices, and not lose the progress we made in the midterms. Electing another Republican at this point would be a grave mistake, and refusing to vote for a mainstream Democrat is effectively electing another Republican.

I thought about this a lot last night, wondering if our country was just so bad off economically that the average person really doesn’t see the difference between life in an administration run by mainstream Democrats and that in an administration run by Republicans. There’s no denying that economic inequality is on the rise, but people are more intelligent than this, and I don’t buy it. Everyone I know, from the richest to the poorest, knows climate change is real and manmade. They all know that reproductive freedoms are important, support LGBT+ rights, and think poor shaming measures like drug testing for public assistance, are ridiculous and uneconomical. Everyone knows who’s on the other side of those things, and that it’s not the Democrats. Yet, many claim they’ll never vote for another mainstream Democrat.

I call bullshit on that mentality, because that’s exactly what it is. Bullshit.

I’m a progressive Democrat. If you gave me a magic wand tomorrow, and told me I could be president for a day, I would do the most socialist stuff you ever saw. I would implement Medicare For All, automatic SNAP to everyone 200% or less of the federal poverty level, Universal Basic Income for all citizens, broad sweeping housing assistance, and heavily subsidized university tuition, just to start. That’s what I like. That’s where my mind is. But come November, when I walk into that voting booth, I’m going to vote for the Democrat, whoever they are, because shooting ourselves in the foot by refusing to vote for a candidate that isn’t progressive enough to fulfill our wildest dreams is going to have extremely undesirable results, and a loss of the midterm gains we all fought so hard for.

 

You Cheered for a Transgender Athlete Today.

We sat on the sideline of a soccer field in a small southern town not far from our own as 16 tween girls played some objectively good soccer just feet from us. My daughter, one of the Captains for that game, was in at Striker, her favorite position to play, and she’d been playing the entire half. Her golden-brown hair was matted with sweat and her white jersey had grass stains from when she tripped over a defender’s left foot, but not before passing the ball to her teammate.

“She’s aggressive!” you remarked, adding that you wish your daughter would pick up on a little of that.

I replied that my daughter is sassy because she’s so small for her age. It’s true. Standing barely over 4’ tall, and not quite tipping the scale to 60 pounds, she was easily the smallest girl on the field that day. Her coach nicknamed her “Firecracker” because she’s tiny and explosive. Nobody can believe this is her first season.

We talked a little more about how well the girls were doing on the field, how the passing drills coach puts them through every practice were paying off for them, and we were thrilled when they shut out the rival team on their own field, 6-0.

You and the other parents all yelled my daughter’s conveniently unisex name, which blends in fine with the other nonconventional names on the team, and you loved when she assisted the first goal, and every time she drove down the field, or got into a scrum and inevitably came out with the ball because it took two to three opposing players just to attempt to contain her.

My daughter is a soccer player. There is no doubt about that.

My daughter is also transgender.

You didn’t know it, and you probably never will, but you cheered for a transgender athlete today. Then you got into your SUV with the “Trump” sticker on the bumper, and you went to the polling place to vote for people who want to take away her rights.

I talked about this with my partner that night, and he reminded me that people fear what they don’t know, and most people don’t think they know a transgender person. He’s right. I can’t argue with his point.

That made me think, though. I’ll bet a lot more people know a transgender person than are even aware of that fact. There were probably 100 people on the sidelines of every one of my daughter’s games, and only a few of her teammates (the ones who were her classmates when she socially transitioned in 3rd grade) know she’s transgender. Everyone else just knows she’s a soccer player.

I’m not going to out my kid at her extracurricular activities. I’m not going to confront parents about their politics. I don’t want to make her life any harder than it already is in some ways. She likes blending in when she’s able. On that field, she’s a soccer player, nothing more, nothing less, and that’s beautiful.

Yet, in this format, in which my child is anonymous, I want to remind everyone that you have interacted with transgender people. You’ve shared bathrooms with them. You’ve shared lunch tables with them. You’ve sat next to them in college lectures. Maybe you even played soccer with one. You have, almost definitely, interacted with transgender people in your daily life, and you might not have even known it.

Let’s change that. Let’s all assume that in any given crowd of people, there’s probably someone who doesn’t fit neatly within the gender binary. They’re not in your face trying to make you wave rainbow flags and denounce your pronouns. They’re just living their lives, blending in with everyone else wherever possible, and that’s really the point, isn’t it?

You cheered for a transgender athlete today. You were fine. She wants to be fine, too.

 

Kavanaugh, an Agent of Recalibration

Yesterday was a difficult day for me. Watching as much as I could of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s brave testimony before the Senate, overhearing insensitive comments from people at work, and making the cardinal mistake of the internet, reading the comments on literally anything controversial, had me feeling, well, triggered. I don’t talk about it much, but I have lived the same experience as many others all throughout society have.

The first time I was sexually assaulted, I was six years old, on the bus home from Kindergarten. The most recent time, I was wearing an Army uniform. I nearly lost count of how many times the exact sort of thing Brett Kavanaugh is accused of happened to me over the years between. I am not alone in this. I stand with millions of other people, of all genders, who were also experiencing huge emotions, and even reliving past trauma that many of us never fully processed, with yesterday’s testimony.

All day, I was glad for anything that distracted me from this. I’ve never been more grateful to work for the most demanding boss I’ve ever had. He kept my head in the game yesterday, and without knowing I was struggling, he did exactly what I needed him to do, and insisted that I practice engineering, which is one of the few things I’ve done in my life that’s consistently made me feel worthy. I’m glad my kids’ soccer schedule keeps me busy most nights of the week. I was able to be distracted for a while with passing drills and a really decent scrimmage in which my son played some of the best defense he’s ever played.

Then I came home, and I sat at my table with a glass of wine, and I felt the way I felt when Donald Trump won the election, and I had to truly accept for the first time that our country really, truly wasn’t doing well, and that we had a lot more work than I thought to fix that. Trump’s election is a story of its own, but I learned from it. The biggest lesson was that I actually had no idea how desperate a lot of people in my own country are, and that was surprising because I had considered myself aware. After all, I grew up pretty broke, in the Deep South no less! Yet, people are struggling a lot harder than I thought they were, and in much greater numbers. Since the election, there has been much greater focus on understanding what the poor and working class in our country are going through, not only by everyday people, but by non-governmental and governmental organizations alike, even the UN. We are learning from this. I have no doubt that the studies being conducted today will affect change in years to come.

The Kavanaugh hearings seem to shine a similar light on the country. I’m not even sure I’ve been able to fully process what the main lesson in this is, but I do think there’s something significant to be had here. Maybe it’s the fact that some really horrible behavior has been normalized in our culture for a long time, and we need to change that. Maybe it’s part of the general removal of straight, white, moneyed, Christian, man as the default setting of our government. Maybe it’s women standing up and demanding real equality rather than the theoretical “you can do anything” platitudes we’ve been given all our lives while old white men in the government debate which rights we should really have. Maybe it’s something I’ve completely missed.

All I know is that we are experiencing a recalibration. Trump is part of it. Kavanaugh is part of it. I don’t know who or what else will be, but I know it’s not over yet. Rome is not burning. We are not falling apart at the seams. We are a young country experiencing some nasty growing pains, and I am pretty confident that if we stick with it, we’re going to come out of all this better than we went in.

I say this as much for myself as for anyone else. As a person who spent yesterday reliving past trauma and feeling pretty terrified in general, keeping my head in the game is a constant battle. It’s not over. We’re fighting. We may just block Kavanaugh’s nomination. The American Bar Association is calling for a full FBI investigation, as Dr. Ford has. If the Senate complies with this, and the investigation finds questionable things, there is a very good chance this will set a significant precedent of people who do bad things to other people not being allowed to influence the laws of our country.

That’s been a long time coming. Our nation has a rich and lengthy history of being ruled by a long line of mostly academically brilliant and well-spoken scumbags. It’s not a partisan thing. I can name just as many Democrats as I can Republicans throughout history who fall into this category, and people of every party who don’t. I’m also not saying that the known philanderers, harassers, racists, and homophobes of our history never made any good leadership decisions. Sure they did. At the same time, I know we can do better, and maybe this epic battle over Kavanaugh is part and parcel of getting to that place where we demand our government consist of a diverse array of decent people who understand and honor the humanity of others.

These are difficult times we’re in, but I feel strongly that there’s a purpose for it all, that if we stick with it, and keep holding our government accountable, we’re going to rise from this place, and be better than we were before we went through these challenging times. People like Trump and Kavanaugh aren’t the problem. They’re symptoms of the problem, manifestations of what’s existed just below the surface for longer than any of us have been alive. They are showing us what’s wrong, and forcing us to fix it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, of course.

Hang in there. We’re going to get through this together. As my Drill Sergeant used to say, courage isn’t a lack of fear. It’s acknowledging that you’re afraid, and pushing through anyway. We’re all afraid, for numerous reasons, but the only way out of this is straight through, so we have to keep pushing. I believe we will be glad we did.

 

On False Accusations, and Sons

Content Warning: General discussion of sexual assault as a societal issue.

I fear for my teenage daughter because she is the age I was when I noticed grown men looking at me that way, when sleepovers at certain friends’ houses became uncomfortable due to the actions and words of fathers and brothers. I fear for her because I know what it is like to be of an age to go places without adult supervision, and to navigate interactions with random men, which can sometimes be scary. I fear for her because the next few years of her life may cause her to lose a lot of faith in humanity as she learns that her primary value to a lot of the men she will meet has nothing to do with who she is.

I fear for my transgender daughter because the murder rate for people like her is astronomically higher than it is for the general population. I fear for her because she is beautiful, and passes easily as her true gender, and to some men in this society, that means she’s deceiving them, maliciously tricking them, because she may not tell every person she meets, within minutes of meeting them, that she’s transgender. I fear for her because people are encouraged by some facets of our government to question her humanity.

I fear for my son, but in a different way. I fear he will drive too fast, or drink too much at parties, or take risks that could get him injured or killed. I fear that he will want to play American football someday rather than his current soccer, and that he’ll get a head injury, as football players are prone to. I fear he’ll rely on raw intelligence too much, and not develop work ethic, resulting in a difficult learning curve and some inevitable bad grades come high school or college. I worry that he may not get into the university he wants to go to, that someone will break his heart in a relationship, or that he’ll have a hard time finding clothes that fit because he’s so tall and skinny.

Yet, I do not fear for my son being falsely accused of sexual assault by people within my daughters’ cohort. Of course I’m doing all I can to raise him right. I know he respects women. He tells people, “I want to be an engineer like my mom.” and doesn’t find that at all questionable, even though many boys want to be like their dads. We talk about how girls and boys are equally strong, smart, and funny. My kids, regardless of gender, have the same set of expectations. Boys and girls clean, boys and girls do yard work.

I’ve always valued their bodily autonomy, never forcing them to give hugs or accept physical affection if they didn’t want to. It was always acceptable to verbally say hello or goodbye, or to give a high five or handshake instead of a hug if that’s what they felt like. All my children are aware that other people’s bodies are their own, and that just as they get to make the decision on who touches them, other people do as well. I have every reason to believe that the ongoing conversation about consent that has been happening in my household since my kids were toddlers, will result in my son growing up to be the type of person who can go his whole life without sexually assaulting anybody.

That means it is highly unlikely that he will be accused. According to the FBI, only 2% of sexual assault accusations are determined to be false. Something like 60% of these crimes go unreported. If you think about that, the odds are far more that if anyone’s son does grow up to be the type of scumbag who assaults people, he’ll get away with it without consequence, than that someone’s son who did nothing wrong will be falsely accused.

I have seen three articles today alone shared on social media, written from the perspective of parents who fear for their sons in this climate of calling out sexual assault. This says very little about the reality of today’s situation, and volumes about the people sharing them. I have questions for those people.

Do you think it’s normal for teen boys to violate the bodily autonomy of teen girls?

Did you do that when you were that age, and is that why you’re pretty sure your son will do it, too?

Did it simply never occur to you that you can teach him about consent? Do you know what consent is? No, really, do you actually understand consent yourself?

Do you think so lowly of the entire male gender that you consider them incapable of figuring out whether or not they have obtained consent?

I want to talk about that last one a bit. As a feminist, I get asked a lot whether I hate men. I don’t. I love men, and I’ve been fortunate to know some excellent men in my three decades on this planet. They are the main reason I hold men in general to the same high standard I hold myself and other women to. They prove that men are not these deranged animals people like Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump would have us believe they are. I hold my son to the standards lived daily by the good men I personally know. These men are his role models. They are a huge part of the reason I am confident he will grow up to be a decent man who treats all people with respect.

I am concerned for the women speaking out against the accusers. Just this morning, Clarence Thomas’ wife asked Anita Hill to apologize for speaking out. There are many women who appear to believe the disgusting behavior we’re hearing described by those who have come forward is normal. In fact, Brett Kavanaugh’s wife appeared beside him on Fox News, apparently in a bid to prove he’s a normal man, not a scary attempted rapist.

When I see this, I wonder what these women’s lives have been like. Has this type of behavior been so normalized to them that they never knew that there is another way? Are the men in their lives so committed to their tradition of dehumanizing women, that they have no idea a lot of men don’t act like that, and that they can demand better for their own lives? What did their fathers act like? I do not think they acted like my father, because if they did, these women would not stand by the horrible actions of their husbands and re-victimize the accusers.

This is an indictment of society. We have been screwing up for generations in the way that we raise our kids, to the point that we actually have parents out there who think it’s normal for boys to sexually assault girls, and they fear for their sons being what they would perceive as falsely accused, but what is actually just held accountable for what they did. They think sexual assault is normal boy behavior. It’s not. It never was. We need to distance ourselves decisively from the predator/prey dynamic that seems to pervade dating culture for so many. It’s not helping anyone of any gender. The way we relate to one another, on the whole, is not what it could be if we collectively decided that our kids would know what it means to be egalitarian in relationships, and what consent actually consists of.

I could write an entire essay series on the numerous ways in which traditional gender roles are crippling people of all genders within our society, and certainly it applies here, but this is more than just gender roles showing their worst side. This is also our societal acceptance of violence, especially from males.

When is the first time you heard “boys will be boys”? For me, it was when a kid at school hit me, and the classroom aid said, “that’s just boys”, as if getting hit was part and parcel of interacting in society with males of my own species. At 7 years old, I found that ridiculous, and I still do, yet, that wasn’t an isolated incident. People excuse a lot of violence from boys because it’s been normalized. Do people think this violence goes away when they become school age? Teenagers? Adults? Of course it doesn’t. It takes other forms.

It doesn’t have to be like that, though. Many of my friends also have sons, and we all believe in non-violence. If one of them hits, we correct them, just as we do our daughters, and teach them how to resolve conflicts without violence. These boys do not fight and hit each other when they’re together. They love doing the typical boy stuff we hear about, like exploring the yard and getting dirty, or playing sports, or even playing video games, and making jokes about poop. They’re curious, energetic, loud, wonderful boys, and violence doesn’t have to be a part of that. We’ve been raising our daughters non-violently for generations. It makes perfect sense to apply that same tactic to our sons.

While we’re at it, can we all just accept that humans of all genders feel a full range of emotions and that expressing those emotions in an age appropriate way is valid? That will help, too. I’m pretty sure that having fully half of society expected to repress every emotion that isn’t pride or anger isn’t doing us a lot of favors in this department either.

I don’t fear for our nation’s sons being falsely accused. I fear for people perpetuating the same toxic tropes that got us into this mess in the first place. We can do better, and we should.

 

On Imagery, Progression, and Engineering

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I picture the precipice of human understanding as a wall of mist, concealing just barely, the vastness of the universe beyond our understanding. It is the colors of a desert sunset, and it is warm. We stare into this balmy, orange mist, not knowing what is beyond it, but solemnly understanding that our role is to find out as much as we can while it’s still our turn.

Research has always felt profound to me, and frankly, I’m glad to be back. The three years I spent away from research made me a better engineer, but this is home. This is where I feel as close to the divine as I ever will.

This week, I am reminded of more symbolic imagery, in an entirely unexpected context. We have a maiden-mother-crone situation in our current research, and I don’t know that I have seen anything so beautiful in this entire profession.

Tangential to our group is an engineer who has spent her career conducting some of the most brilliant Portland Cement Concrete Pavement research I have encountered. She announced several years ago that she was retiring this year because she wanted them to be able to find her a replacement. She has no assistant, no direct supervisor, and no research group. Her work is hers alone, and has been for some time. Our director tried to assign a few people to work on her projects, but none were a good fit. Earlier this week, he assigned me.

I went to see her on Tuesday. When I walked into her office, she smiled, put her hand on my shoulder, and said, “I have told them for years to send me someone new to take over this work. I won’t be here forever, you know. Look at you! You’re young. You’ll be here a long time. They told me you used to design bridges. You’ll be great at this. They sent me a few others, but they didn’t know anything about reinforced concrete. You know a lot about that, don’t you? Here, let me show you around.” And she showed me her life’s work. It was beautiful, and she’s right. If the part I’ve done this week is any indication, I am good at this. She seems pleased with me.

The entire thing feels right. I am back in research, and it brings together everything I have done as an engineer. Nothing I have ever learned is wasted. It all fits together, and makes things just a little clearer than they were before. With my new study, I take one tenuous step into the mist. I will soon see just a tiny bit further than I could.

I think the best part of this is that I have an intern this summer, and she has been watching all of this. She assisted me in building 3D models needed for simulation trials. She watched as I wrote the first of the code that will ultimately help me develop the design equations that guide implementation of the method we are studying.

As I do this work, with her at my side, I am so acutely aware that before I know it, the day will come that I will be handing off my research to some younger engineer, hoping with my entire being that they have what it takes to carry it forward, not my way, but their way. I have a lot to accomplish between now and then, but it feels like yesterday that I was my intern’s age. She is only 5 years older than my daughter. It goes by fast. It all goes by fast.

When I picture the precipice of human understanding now, I no longer only see those of us who are currently there. I see those who came before us, guiding us at our side, gently and wisely, tempered by a lifetime of taking step after step into the mist. Then there are those who are where I am, stoic and wide-eyed, peering into the mist, hoping to see just a tiny bit more than we did yesterday, occasionally taking a tiny, shaky, tenuous step. And half a step behind us are the maidens, the ones whose turn it is next, watching us, furiously taking notes, learning all they can about the tiny bit of the mist that they can see from where they are.

Maidens. Mothers. Crones. Engineers.

Before you give advice to poor people, read this.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you have probably noticed that America really hates poor people. In a relatively well known pet group I belong to on FaceBook, the admins approved a member’s GoFundMe post this morning. She was earning less money than usual because her job is weather dependent, and it has been raining. Therefore, her entire checks were taken up with rent, and she was at risk of having her utilities cut off. It seemed like an unfortunate situation that could happen to pretty much anyone who works outside for an hourly wage (and let’s be honest, that’s a lot of people). I felt bad for her.

Then I made the cardinal mistake of the internet. I read the comments, and had an immediate flashback to seven years ago when my ex-husband got out of the Army and my family slid from solidly middle class to The Poor in a matter of months. Apparently, people haven’t changed at all in that amount of time, and they still love to give totally horrible advice to poor people. To paraphrase Al Bundy (and my husband’s reaction when I read him a draft of this post), these people’s response was like, “Where’s that hundred dollar bill I use to light my cigars?”. They act like they’ve never struggled a day in their lives, and that it could never happen to them. What I want to do here is unpack some of that horrible advice as a person who’s been poor and also gotten out of it.

“Get a different job/a second job/a job”

Without contention, this is the most common piece of advice given to poor people, and on the surface, it seems reasonable. Jobs result in money, right? This is pretty indisputable. The problem is that working isn’t free. The person whose GoFundMe I saw today can’t get a second job because her first job has variable hours, and nobody will hire her part time without knowing her availability. She explained this patiently to the dozens of people who insisted that all she needed was an extra shift at Ye Olde McDonald’s.

My ex-husband tried this one on me, too. At the time that we slid into poverty, I was a stay at home mom to a 7-year-old who needed speech therapy, occupational therapy, and specialized dyslexia therapy, a 2-year-old, and a high-needs newborn whom I was breastfeeding. I averaged three hours of sleep a night, cooked all our meals from scratch, grew a lot of our food in a garden, and sewed things to sell to other people for grocery money or to trade for other things we needed.

For me to do as my then-husband suggested, and pick up a few shifts at the gas station, I would have had to work when he was home, so night shift. Then I would have had to come home in the morning, get my oldest to school, spend my day caring for a toddler and a newborn and coordinate my oldest child’s therapies, pick up my oldest, somewhere in there, do all the prep work, all the gardening (because honestly, we mostly ate what I could grow in the dirt at that point in time), and then go off to work at Valero. When would I sleep?

My milk supply would have tanked instantly (it was never good, and required intensive work on my part to maintain at any reasonable level) so then we would have had to buy formula. WIC covers some, but we would have had to buy more no matter what, so in addition to the toll it would have taken on me physically and mentally to essentially function on no sleep indefinitely, there would have been a financial cost as well. The few hundred dollars a month I could have made doing this would not make up for the cost. Even if the dollar amount lost would by my no longer being able to breastfeed would have weighed out in our favor, the physical and mental cost is unreasonable to ask of any person.

The details of everyone’s story will vary, but the reason a lot of people don’t just pick up a second job, or a stay-at-home-parent start working, the minute financial hardship hits, is never laziness. There is always some reason that they can’t do that. Variable scheduling, children’s needs, medical issues, it can be anything. We have become a society that forgets that people are not machines, and that life has to include more than just working nonstop for a hand to mouth existence.

“You should move to a less expensive place.”

This is another favorite of the average asshole if someone is having a hard time making their bills. It’s also something I looked into when I was the person struggling. Let me tell you about moving to a cheaper place, and why a lot of people who have fallen on hard times don’t do it.

First of all, moving is expensive. I shouldn’t have to explain this. We’ve all moved before. Remember how much money you had to pay your last landlord before you moved in? You had to pay your first month’s rent and a security deposit. Some places, those deposits can be pretty high. If you have pets, you probably had to pay a deposit for them as well. This can be hundreds more, and often non-refundable. Some places, you even have to pay your last month’s rent up front. Even in the cheapest areas known to American mankind, the dollar figure to move into a new place is going to have four digits. Some utility companies will also charge you to move your service, or if you end up in the service area of a new utility company, you’ll probably have to pay deposits at least for some things, so add probably a couple hundred for that.  I’m no accountant, but I know it’s hard to come up with that kind of money when you’re already struggling to pay for the basics.

In addition to that, you’ve got the move itself. Unless you own a truck, or have a really good friend who does, you’re going to have to rent one. I know U-Haul always has signs out that say you can rent one for $40 or something similar, but it never ends up just that much. I’ve done daily truck rentals before, and even the cheapest one was still close to $100. That one was uncommonly cheap, too. We moved our stuff from one end of our apartment complex to the other, racking up the most minimal mileage charge possible. If we’d moved across town, it would have been more. Also, you’re likely to lose some hours at work for this move, so you’re losing money for that as well.

Aside from those costs, which should really be obvious to anybody, you’ve got the elephant in the room that I ran up against when I attempted this myself. Most landlords have an income requirement, and if you’ve fallen on hard times, you probably won’t make the cut to rent a different place anyway.

There will be a few people who suggest getting a roommate at this point. That could actually work for single people, or childless couples, but for families who are trying to afford a 2 BR duplex in a questionable neighborhood and just missed the income requirement, getting a roommate isn’t the remedy they need.

“Sell all your stuff.”

People make this suggestion all the time, and I wonder if they’ve ever been to Craigslist as a seller, or hell, even as a buyer. Anyone who’s ever attempted to sell something knows that they’re not going to get very much for it, and anyone who’s ever shopped those types of pages knows that it’s the place to go for a bargain because prices are always negotiable. This is unsurprising considering that the economy sucks, and we are all looking to spend as little money on everything we can. With that in mind, it’s highly unlikely that any of us are sitting on a goldmine that will solve all our financial woes.

The other thing is that this is straight out of the Captain Obvious playbook. From personal experience, by the time a person even tells others that they’re struggling financially, they’ve already sold everything they could.

I will never forget selling off all my high quality baby gear, leaving myself just basic cloth diapers, one sling, and an umbrella stroller. I remember when a woman in a Mercedes came to buy my Stokke high chair, which I’d paid over $300 for less than a year prior, and as she tried to get me to accept $60, I told her, “Whatever I get for this is all the money I have to feed my family for the next two weeks. Please be kind.” I got $90, just $20 less than I asked, and bought beans, rice, cheese, flour, sugar, eggs, and a few new vegetable starts that I could plant in the garden (I’ve never been good at growing things from seed), I even splurged on two blocks of tofu and a bottle of cooking oil since it was on sale. But then those things were gone, and I didn’t have another Stokke high chair to sell.

Soon after, the double stroller sold. That bought a week’s worth of gas. My organic bamboo velour cloth diapers sold on a site that specializes in this (Yes, that’s a thing.) That was two more weeks’ worth of beans and rice, no tofu this time. I sold the gold bullion coin I got as a wedding present. That turned on our cell phones for one month. I sold the high quality baby carriers I’d barely used. This brought enough to turn the electricity back on when it got cut off on a 105 degree day.

Then, there was nothing else to sell, and we still had the same needs. I’m not sure anyone understands just how little you can get for things, or how temporary a bandaid that is. Also, what if I had always been poor? What if I had bought my baby gear at Wal-Mart? What if I never owned an expensive Swedish high chair, or trendy baby wraps and cloth diapers? That’s a lot of people’s situation. What if the highest value thing you owned was never worth much to begin with, and everyone thought all your problems would be solved by selling it? Ridiculous, right?

Use logic. Nobody wants to ask for help. People have usually exhausted all options before they admit to others that there is a problem. A person who is telling you about their issues has already sold anything they could sell.

“Go see a church/a charity. Get a loan. Use a credit card.”

People love to act charitable, and some people really are, but the simple fact of the matter is that there’s not enough help to go around when it comes to charitable organizations. Churches often help their own members, and sometimes there are larger organizations like Catholic Charities that help the entire community, but these resources are limited, and far more people ask than are approved. It seems like a lot of people who have never been in the situation of needing help seem to think that charities are a wellspring of free money ripe for the picking for anyone who needs it.

This is not the case. As I was writing this, my husband told me the story of the time he was unable to pay his ex-wife’s electric bill (This was during their divorce proceedings. He was responsible for all her household bills until it was over.) He’s self-employed, and his business was down a bit that month, and oh yeah, paying two houses’ worth of bills is hard for almost anybody. So he called the electric company and told them he couldn’t pay it all, and asked for a payment plan. They said they don’t do payment plans, and told him to contact the churches on a list they gave him. He contacted the churches, and unsurprisingly, they had already given out their charity funds for the year. There is more need than there are funds. It’s not the fault of the charities or the churches. It’s a statement about our economy.

People often are also told to put it on a credit card. This is problematic for two reasons. First, if the person has a credit card, it’s probably already maxed. As a person who has been in that position, I can assure you, when there’s credit card balance available to put a bill on, that’s what you do. By the time a person is asking for help, that’s no longer an option. Getting another credit card is out of the question at this point because high credit usage scores drop a person’s credit worthiness, and lenders won’t give them the time of day.

Bottom Line

The situations I have highlighted here are not isolated incidents. They are common. Any conversation about a person who needs help is going to focus mostly on what they should be doing to help themselves. People don’t seem to realize that by the time someone asks for help, they’ve already done everything they can do, largely because this country is such a hostile environment for anyone who lets on that they’re not doing great.

Next time you see a person ask for help, even if you can’t do anything for them yourself, at least be kind. If you feel the need to offer advice, before doing so, think to yourself, “If I were in this situation, would I have already thought of this?”

Bitches Get Stuff Done

I was a major bitch at work this week. Just ask my coworker. He’ll probably tell you I must have been suffering from the worst case of PMS in history, because that’s what people say when a normally even-tempered woman gets fed up enough to stand up for herself. I’m normally a nice engineer. I’m the person they can count on to design the stuff everybody finds boring, and never complain about it. I’m the engineer who will always say yes to an extra assignment, who will take on anything, and who will make any move necessary for the organization without a single complaint, except maybe to a trusted friend at happy hour, or my husband. Every boss I’ve ever had has told everyone, “Anastasia is the easiest engineer to work with. Her work is top notch, she works fast, and she never complains.” And it’s true. I am an easy engineer to work with.

This is unsurprising considering my upbringing. I’m a nice southern girl. I don’t take up much space. I move over when someone else is walking toward me on the sidewalk, even if it’s relatively clear that they should. I don’t dare weigh over 120 pounds, probably because I subconsciously don’t even want to take up physical space. For years, I wouldn’t wear heels because they make me taller than most men, and my well above average height mother taught me that that’s something that’s to be avoided if at all possible. Growing up, I received hundreds of messages that basically told me that people were allowed to walk on me. My boss skimmed off my tips? Well, find another job. What an asshole. Don’t ask for them back, though. You might need him as a reference, and you wouldn’t want him to tell people you’re difficult. Teacher gave class officer position to dumb as a rock popular kid when you deserved it more? Don’t make waves. People will think you’re difficult. Friend’s dad made comments about how you’re growing up in all the right places? OK, no more sleepovers for Anastasia, but we definitely will not say anything. You don’t want that kind of reputation. People will think you’re difficult.

This is why I’m the easy to work with engineer. This is why I’ve designed all the projects nobody else wanted, why I’ve served on boards I didn’t have time or energy for, why I did the work other people complained about, why I spent a year of my life practicing engineering at a foldable table half taken up by other people’s file boxes in an actual storage room, while people who didn’t even have degrees got real cubicles. I’d always been told the world was allowed to walk on me, that I was a nice girl and that means you don’t make waves, you don’t offend, you don’t speak up, you stay grateful for what you have, because really nobody owes you anything, which really means you deserve nothing.

This week, something clicked, and all of that changed. I actually spoke the words, “If this guy doesn’t step off me with an urgent quickness, I’m going back to my old job!” to my boss, and then, “Stay out of my files and away from my projects for the rest of your life!” to my coworker. My boss was understanding. My coworker was stunned. My intern looked on with the same face I make when I see any of the women in the Black Panther movie being extremely badass. It felt like an out of body experience, and I liked it.

This didn’t come out of nowhere, of course. That would be crazy. I can explain.

I joined my current working group a month and a half ago, and due to some shifting of personnel, I became the lead engineer after three weeks. The other engineer in the group is fresh out of school. He’s been in the group for five months. They also brought on one other engineer, but he’s been there just a few days, so he’s an unknown quantity at this point. He seems fine. I’ve been with our organization longer than anyone else here, including our boss, and I transferred over from the most respected division because the work this group does is more complimentary to my research interests, and I needed a more field-based position for a couple years in order to advance to higher, director level positions.

The fresh out of school coworker, whom I’ll call AG from here forward (it stands for Arrogant Guy, which is a perfectly accurate description) did not take the shakeup in which I became our group’s lead engineer very well at all. He seems to think that because he’s been in this working group longer, he owns the place, and that it doesn’t matter that I’m actually quite drastically ahead of him professionally, tenure-wise, and everything else. He’s had no mentor like what I had as a new engineer, and therefore has no professional courtesy. I overheard him the other day telling someone he trained me. The reality is, I mostly trained myself, although he did give me some links to videos I wanted to watch from our machines’ manufacturers, so maybe that’s what he thinks training is.

The worst part isn’t his attitude, although that’s pretty horrible, but the fact that he has no sense of boundaries at all. He thinks every project is his, and horns in on everything he possibly can. A month ago, I did a field investigation in conjunction with another engineer who left a week later, and a technician. We got back to the office, and AG, who was not on the mission, took the flash drive of the data, said, “I’ll process this now” and I never saw it again. I didn’t question it because I was still brand new, and I was just learning the system.

A couple weeks later, he was out of town at a training, and our boss told me to conduct an analysis at the request of a client. I did the analysis, and when I finished it, my boss wanted it, but I had an appointment that morning and was out of the office. The boss knew this and was ok with waiting until I got back. AG came back into the office, told the boss, “I’ll do it.”, repeated my analysis, and luckily cc’d me on all these emails. I got back to the office, saw this, worked through lunch to assemble the presentation my boss wanted, ran to his office while AG was still away for lunch, and gave him the presentation. Once again, luckily, it was Ramadan at the time, which meant my boss was fasting, and would be spending lunchtime in his office. Had he or I eaten lunch that day, this would not have worked, and AG would have stolen my assignment right out from under me. It was then that I started to realize that I was going to have to do something about this.

A few days ago, I was talking with my boss about a project that I’m the assigned engineer of. He asked me about the presentation for it to give to the client, and I told him I’d finished it. I showed it to him, and he was happy with it. AG overheard this conversation, and went into my files on the shared drive, changing a few things, adding a bunch of things, and not saying a single word to me about it. When I saw this, I went to my boss. I told him that I need AG to step off me quickly, because I absolutely cannot work like this. Luckily, he understood completely, and said he’d work on writing a policy to address this sort of thing.

The following day, the boss and I were presenting my analysis via webinar to a client, and they asked a question. My boss and I both said we didn’t have the test data they were talking about. AG, who was sitting in on the webinar, blurted out that he did, ran out for his laptop, came back in, and basically took over the webinar, discussing an analysis nobody asked him to do, on a project that didn’t belong to him, with data we have no idea where he got. We were horrified.

When I got back to my desk, AG, looking very pleased with himself, told me that if I wanted to do the analysis myself, that was ok, but he was doing the next step of it, and would contact the client with his findings. I was ready to spit nails at this point, but maintained my composure. I walked over to him, looked him straight in the eye, and in a calm and even tone, told him to stay out of my projects for the rest of his life.

See? I was a major bitch at work this week, but we’re having a policy implementation meeting on Monday, and the boss is going to talk with all of the engineers about staying out of each other’s projects, the procedure for assigning projects, and timelines for completing them, in addition to file management, data processing, and other things relevant. AG will know he can’t step on my toes anymore, and if he does, my boss assures me that he won’t hesitate to take official disciplinary action.

The thing is, this is how he’s been the entire time he’s been here. I talked with the engineer who left, and she said, “Yeah, that’s just how AG is. That’s his personality.” But why should he be allowed to continue that? I don’t think he should be. Frankly, I’m glad I got fed up enough to call this out for what it was, incite the boss to make an official policy, which he allowed me to contribute to the development of, and change things for the good of the group. We’re going to be better off for this, and my boss told me he’s glad I came to him. He is now speaking to me in terms of when I am a director, not if, but when. Apparently, being unafraid to call out a bad situation is part of being leadership material. I have learned valuable lessons from this, and I will continue to learn.

It’s like Tina Fey said, “Bitches get stuff done.”

Sorry, AG, your lead engineer is kind of a bitch, but if you stop stepping on her toes, you’ll be just fine. Stay in your lane, and I am, in fact, a very easy engineer to work with.

We Have to Talk About Immigrants

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In the current episode of the 2018 season of The World Has Completely Gone Off The Rails, have you noticed how much people hate immigrants?

We have to talk about this. I’m the wife of an immigrant. I spent years of my life living on the US-Mexico border. I currently reside in a state heavily affected by the current policies, and I’m a person with common sense who can read, therefore I’m completely fed up with the current national discourse on the subject.

First of all, American white people (because it’s pretty much always white people), do you even understand how stupid we all look when your first question when you see a crying child being separated from their parents is, “Well, did they come here legally?” Take off the MAGA hat for a second, stay away from the tin foil hat, and realize that nobody in their right mind wants to leave their home country unless things are really bad there, or something really good is waiting for them in the new place.

Really, think about it. You may think it would be cool or fun to live abroad, but have you ever really considered the logistics and details of it? I have. My husband is from England. It’s a great place, but I know if we moved there, which we may someday, it would be hard for me in some ways. I couldn’t get my favorite foods anymore. I would have to learn new customs, new laws, new cultural norms. If something happened to one of my relatives, I’d have to take an international flight to get to them, and that’s expensive. My professional licenses would need to be transferred. None of my electronics would work without converters. These are little things, I know, and that’s moving to a country people like to go to, not just whatever is next door and isn’t the situation you’re running from. The latter has no choice in it whatsoever. This isn’t something people are doing for fun. This is the international equivalent of your neighbor banging on your door because their house is on fire. Are you going to let them in or not?

These people are coming here because things have gotten bad where they came from. Have you ever been to the non-touristy parts of Honduras, Mexico, or any other country in that region, or even lived in a metro area that included both US and Mexican cities? Cartels run the show, child soldiers are a thing that exists, and the economy is horrible. When I lived on the border, there was one town in Mexico about 20 minutes from me that went through 5 police chiefs in one year because the cartels kept killing them. If you look at that place on Google Street View, you’ll see a bunch of Mexican Army checkpoints in the streets. Law enforcement is powerless, the government is bought, and people do really upstanding things like shooting up children’s birthday parties (something I used to hear about on the radio a lot when I lived on the border).

These people coming here didn’t want to leave their homes. They had no choice, and I would bet my entire salary for the rest of my life that if you were in that situation, you’d do exactly the same thing. I know I would. Even living on the US side of the border, as I did, it wasn’t if, but when, someone you knew was killed in a cartel-related incident. In the case of the person I knew, it was a case of mistaken identity. That sort of thing isn’t uncommon. They kill innocent people all the time, and are basically never caught or brought to justice. Yes, you absolutely would leave that environment by any means possible if you thought you could give your kids a better life somewhere else. Don’t act like you wouldn’t.

“But, Anastasia, they’re coming here to take all our welfare benefits! We shouldn’t have to support them!”

Where do I begin? First of all, you’re a morally bankrupt excuse for a person if you think that granting political asylum to people is worth less than the cost of some food stamps and Medicaid. That stuff isn’t even expensive. I wish they could all get full benefits, I really do. The reality is, immigrants are generally ineligible for benefits, and undocumented immigrants are always ineligible because they don’t have a social security number. When my husband got his green card, the immigration people were very clear that he could not qualify for any form of public assistance for five years. He’s never gotten public assistance, even after that, but the fact remains, immigrants are not coming here and eating up all the welfare benefits because they’re simply not allowed to get them in the first place.

Plus, social welfare benefits take up a minuscule portion of the federal budget compared to numerous other things. If you’re a real fiscal conservative, maybe you should be demanding the Department of Defense be audited, or check out how many tax breaks Wal-Mart got last year while paying their workers so little that most qualify for food stamps. We don’t need a single immigrant to have fiscal problems. We’ve proven over and over again that we’re fantastic at creating our own.

“But Obama did this, too!”

No he didn’t. Neither did Bush. Neither did Clinton. Neither did the other Bush. Neither did Reagan. Neither did Carter. Do you see the point here? Let’s not make this a Democrats vs Republicans thing. It’s so much bigger than political parties. We’ve got Laura Bush writing op-eds in the Washington Post against separating migrant families at the border. That alone should tell you this isn’t left and right. We’ve got the Southern Baptist Convention making statements against this. Religious Republicans, does that mean anything to you? This is about those with some shred of humanity drawing the line at this, and those completely devoid of humanity refusing to. If you’re a Republican, you should be extra outraged because this administration is perpetrating these acts under your party’s name. If you’re not completely pissed off about having something you identify with associated with this, ask yourself why.

“But there were horrible atrocities against Native Americans, Black Americans, and Japanese Americans throughout history, and I didn’t see you being outraged about that. Democrats are just looking for a pet cause to be outraged about.”

I was born in the 1980’s. I was not alive for things like slavery, Wounded Knee, Native American kids being sent to residential schools, or the Japanese internment. Hell, I’m not even sure my parents were alive for much of that stuff. I do know that those things were taught in history class as things we definitely don’t want to repeat. That’s what makes this so horrifying. We were taught about those other parts of history in school so that we would know not to do that sort of thing again, and here we are, doing it again, and we’re alive for it this time. Of course we’re outraged! This flies in the face of everything we were ever taught was ok!

Now, for you people who actually think this stuff is ok, that it’s actually excusable, or in some way commendable, to separate asylum seeking families, or even undocumented families who made it into the US, I really need you to ask yourself why you think that.

Why do you feel entitled to sit on a high horse just because you won some draw in the birth lottery and happened to be born into a country that was mostly safe for you to grow up in, and in most cases, to be born white, to middle or upper class parents, and therefore at the top of the heap even in this country? We didn’t earn any of this. We were just born here. It’s not like people are walking into our yard and driving off in our car that we worked and paid for. They’re crossing an arbitrary border created by politicians, into a place that is safer than what they left behind, and you feel self-righteous just because you were born on this side of that border? That’s illogical.

We all need to realize that every one of us has more in common with any given one of these immigrants than we do with the elites who are having them put into cages. That’s really what this comes down to. We’re not the rich. We’re not the powerful. Any one of us could be taken from any security we thought we had at any moment. We live in a country where people lose their homes and livelihoods because they got sick, or injured, or had a kid who did. We live in a place where millions of people are homeless and just as many homes are empty because the banks got bailed out when the economy crashed, but the homeowners never did. We live in a place where we’re told that we don’t deserve a living wage unless we get a highly sought after degree, and that we’re stupid for going into debt for that degree. We live in a place where fertility rates are falling, not only because people want fewer kids, but because an entire generation cannot afford to have children in the numbers needed to sustain our economy, and our social security system is not going to be around for those of us working today because of it.

Everything about our place in the food chain of class is precarious, and I think half the reason some people cast metaphorical stones at migrants is because they don’t want to admit to themselves that that could be us. The shoe isn’t on the other foot now, but it could be, and our government is comprised of some people who wouldn’t mind a bit if it were. The rich will always be fine. The poor will always be screwed. It’s those of us in the middle who feel the differences, and that’s got to have something to do with why so many middle class white people want to excuse putting migrant children into cages. “No, that couldn’t possibly be me or my kids. I’m here. I work hard. I’m ok. Right? Right?”

We have to do better. Donate to RAICES, the ACLU, and any other organization you know of that is providing immigration attorneys to help. Children in cages is not our legacy. It can’t be. We draw the line right now.

I Was the One at Career Day

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Two skinny boys with fade haircuts and soccer jerseys sat next to each other in the front row as I was about to start my presentation on civil engineering. It was Career Day at my kids’ school, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. The boy on the left, tan with black hair and eyes the color of dark chocolate, asked me, “Mommy, can I wear your hard hat?” and so I handed it to him. He sat there the whole time, wearing my hard hat, proud as could be that his mommy had come to the school to meet his friends and tell them about engineering. “My mom builds the biggest bridges ever!”, he told a girl sitting behind him. She smiled approvingly. Apparently, when you’re a few days shy of 7, this is worth some street cred.

At the end of my presentation, the boy sitting next to my son raised his hand. He said, “Have you ever heard of [consulting firm]?”

I said, “Yes, I know it well. I almost ended up working there.”

He replied, “My daddy works there. He’s an engineer, too.”

“What’s his name? I probably know him.”, I asked.

The boy told me his father’s name, and sure enough, he was the CEO, and I do know him. He interviewed me twice, passed me over once, and made an offer the second time. I told the boy that his father is a brilliant engineer, and that he does work that everybody respects, because that’s true. He smiled, probably mostly amused by the fact that his schoolmate’s mom knows his dad. Civil engineering really is a small profession.

As the kids filed out, I thought to myself how glad I am that I chose my employer over that firm when I had both options in play.

It was a significant crossroads in my life as an engineer. I could go to the fastest growing consulting firm in our region of the country, receive bonuses for every project I completed, drink free craft beer out of the office fridge, and work in a hip looking office in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood just east of the Central Business District and right by a train station. That firm looks so shiny on the surface. They have the best looking and best dressed engineers, and they roll into local government meetings with the precision of an Army unit (not surprising, as I served in the Army with one of their VP’s), the flare of a fraternity step dance team, and the smoothness of every politician up the hill in the capital building combined. They do the kind of work that gets written up in the paper for its originality, its relevance, and its sheer good looks. Their permit parties draw a crowd that includes the Mayor, Senators, and sometimes local actors and musicians. They are a shiny firm, and I wanted in since the day I arrived in this city.

At the last minute, I stopped short and accepted an offer from a state agency to work in an ugly building in an area with terrible traffic, and do work that nobody would ever hear about unless I messed up badly enough that people died. It came down to a gut feeling, and the fact that I trusted my first boss here at this state agency to let me be there for my family. I did not trust the leadership of that firm to have my interests in mind in that way. The hours they worked, it was clear that they were relying very heavily on their spouses or hired help to care for their kids, and while I don’t judge them or anybody else for that, it would not have worked for my family, and it didn’t seem like they were flexible on it.

Could I have made more money at that firm? I’m not sure. I might have been able to, but I’ve done better than expected here. The one thing I do know is that of the two civil engineers with kids in that room at that moment, I was the one at Career Day. That’s worth something, too.