Thursday, September 26, 2013

On being your own boss, and then having a baby and not being the boss anymore at all.

I've been the sole proprietor of my traditional Chinese medical clinic now for four years. For six or seven years before opening the clinic, I had a variety of jobs, but almost always as an independent contractor. My point is that I've been my own boss for at least the last ten years.

Having myself as a boss hasn't been easy. My self is not a particularly lax boss, especially these last few years, when the business I've been working for is my own. My self is a boss that only agrees to let me go on vacation every three or four years. She doesn't approve of lunch breaks; rather, to avoid her reproachful glare, I always work while eating lunch, and bring it with me most of the time so I'm not spending valuable work time getting takeout. She holds me to exacting standards: she insists I stay current with research; she requires that I go above and beyond the ethical norms for my profession; she doesn't let me wear jeans to work.

I thought my self was a tough boss until I had a baby. Now my boss--all twenty-something pounds and twenty-something inches of him--is the kind of tyrant that makes me realize my self (who has been deposed to a distant second-in-command) is actually a big old softy of a boss.

My current boss does not approve of vacations at all. Ever. While I think there's the chance I might be up for one in eighteen years or so, I'm not counting on it. He also does not approve of lunch breaks. Or coffee breaks. Or bathroom breaks. If I take a bathroom break, he literally screams at me until I return. This is not an equitable dynamic.

My current boss expects me or my coworker Adam to make him at least three meals a day, and has exacting specifications for those meals, but does not communicate those specifications. We are left to guess, and we do. Adam and I have long, involved strategy sessions about what our boss might find palatable. We seek out only the best ingredients, cook his meals with unremitting attention to detail, and plate his food with an eye for aesthetics. We are both good cooks; Adam in particular is a remarkable cook. With all modesty, I feel confident saying that most people would be thrilled to have the two of us employed as their dedicated personal chefs. But Boss Kamal? He regards the meal we have placed in front of him with detached circumspection. He picks up a bite between thumb and forefinger, regards it with an expression that is either disdain or indifference, places it in his mouth, grimaces in disgust, condescends to chew it a little bit, and then actually spits it out. Spits it out! With no regard for where the spit-out bite lands, as though having expelled it from his person he is relieved to no longer be concerned with it. And then, as though we cooks were not sufficiently discountenanced, he laughs. In our faces. 

Seriously. Having a baby is so weird, you guys. Can you imagine having a friend over for a meal you've cooked from scratch, and he inspects the food closely before trying it, and then tries it and makes a face and spits it out? And then laughs? You would totally never have that friend over again.  But for your baby, you will go through this ten times a day, you will buy untold quantities of his favorite freeze-dried bananas, you will wake up twenty times in one night and still love him in the morning, even if you are crying from fatigue. You will tolerate having your foot peed on and vomit in your bra. You will make up songs to sing while you are actually on the toilet, like the awkwardest karaoke singer of all time, while he sits on the bathroom tile and stares you down. You will attempt to discern whether he has pooped in his diaper by smelling his butt. While you are attempting to--this bears repeating--smell another person's butt, if he starts walking away because he just learned to walk and loves it and you haven't figured out yet whether he has pooped or not, you will crawl after him on your hands and knees trying to keep your nose to his butt. And then you will realize that you are engaging in a behavior that you find repulsive in dogs, only less successfully. And then you will wonder hard about where love has brought you, because all of it, all of this, is at once a graceless and an exalted exercise in love. 

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