Thursday, August 20, 2009

Random Thoughts about SeaWorld

About three months ago, I took Spark to SeaWorld for the first time. He loves all things associated with the sea from sharks to whales to dolphins to sting rays, so SeaWorld seemed like a logical place to take him. Buzz, who had injured a foot, would stay home with Flower (who I wasn't sure would enjoy the sea life as much as Spark).

It was my first trip, too, so I was actually kind of excited about maneuvering myself and a 4 year old through a jam-packed theme park in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record. Yeah. Fun.

I happened to take this trip with Spark about 3 weeks before my last day of work at my job. I had also just finished weaning my daughter from nursing. To put it lightly, June was turning out to be just a tad emotional...just a tad.

The day went pretty simply. On the advice of a friend who frequents SeaWorld, we hit up the water park first so that as we toured the huge inferno we could stay cool by dripping dry. Before I knew it, we had spent about an hour jumping waves in the wave pool and about three hours floating down the river in plastic tubes. Thinking we should at least justify the outrageous entrance fees by seeing at least one show, I convinced him to come along with me to see the sea lion show The Cannery Row Caper. We both laughed as we watched the crazy sea lions try to figure out who was eating all the fish at the cannery. (SPOILER: it was the walrus.)

We then spent some time (sweet, glorious air-conditioned time) looking at the tanks filled with sharks, sting rays, eels, and jellyfish. After that, we visited the penguin encounter (again glorious air conditioning!) and made plans to feed the dolphins. Although Spark wouldn't touch the dolphins, he picked up the dead fish and fed it to the playful sea mammals.

We decided to end our day with the summer show Shamu Rocks Texas, which turned out to be a lot of killer whale antics set to music, including some AC/DC. As we waited on Shamu to appear, I succumbed to buying a $6 light sword that I had to remind Spark was just for show, not for actually whacking people with.

Finally, to the tune of AC/DC's Thunderstruck, the DJ for the evening chanted "Shamu" in place of the "Thunder" and really had the crowd into it. The arena was completely packed; at least 50 people stood in the back of our section alone, wanting for Shamu.

Then, Shamu burst through the gates, sleekly gliding through the tank of saltwater. The trainer stood on the other end of the saltwater pool and suddenly dove into the water. A few moments passed, all was silent except some Toby Keith song. Then, Shamu leapt from the water, threw the trainer into the air, and they synchronized an Olympic figure-skating triple axel kind of move above the water before diving back into the pool. Applause exploded as Shamu rose just above the water with the trainer riding her. It was magic.

Spark was completely beside himself. To be honest, so was I. I hadn't seen anything like this ever in my life. I tried to wipe my tears off my face, but they just kept coming in torrents, running hot down my cheeks. It was so loud that I couldn't explain to Spark why I was crying. And how does one explain the emotional piles adults take on until final there is a proverbial straw? Shamu was my straw. She allowed me to release all that I felt inside about leaving work, weaning my daughter, spending a day in the hot sun with this wonderful 4 year old.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why I Left One of the Best Jobs in the Country

For 5.5 years, I worked at a one of the best jobs in the country. No, for real. Fortune Magazine has ranked this company as one of the Top 100 Employers to Work for at least for the past 10 years straight.

I took this job straight of grad school and enjoyed (nearly) every single minute of it. The culture there is great. The flexibility offered to me as I became a mother to first one, then two kids was beyond compare. My coworkers were wonderful, and I've never known a better manager. But, a couple years ago something started nagging me.

The first tug came when we decided to look for preschool for Spark (who was then 2 years ago). For a brief weekend, we considered me keeping him home instead of looking for preschool. But, after research and prayer and heart decisions, we decided on a great preschool for him.

The second tug came when I realized that I needed to write more, and not just technical documents. But, I dismissed these tugs in favor of financial security at one of the best jobs in the country.

After we had Flower, I reduced my work hours and started working about 50% of my time from home so that I could be with her. Soon, it became obvious that working from home with an increasingly mobile baby was adding more stress to my life. Buzz had taken on some additional responsibility at his job. Our lives were getting more and more hectic. I'm a reader and researcher, so I researched this issue.

My findings? Frenetic paces are expected these days. Two income families pay more for daycare, housekeeping, and convenience foods than the second income typically provides. A lot of folks with adult kids who had two-income families used daycare, preschools, nanny care and NOW regret those decisions. They wish they had taken life more slowly and enjoyed the path more. More and more kids are being diagnosed with learning disabilities and attention disabilities; studies link this to group care and hurried lives and insufficient cuddle/bonding time with parents.

Our typical day had become harried. I was getting crankier because I have "stuff" in me to write, but I'm not writing it because there is no time. I wanted more time with my kids and not divided time where I am sitting at a computer trying to fix typos in my documents and appease a needy 11-month old. I wanted to read Spark four bedtime stories and not worry that it was getting so late that I'd surely get behind if I didn't clean up the kitchen RIGHT NOW. I hated feeling rushed in the evenings, spending Saturdays catching up, and dreading the 5:00 bell on Sunday night. I had proven that I could do "it"--whatever "it" is goes something like "be a full-time working mom with a happy marriage and relatively clean home, homecooked meals, healthy kids," and do it all again tomorrow. I had done it; we were doing it. But, I didn't like where we were going. I felt a desire to slow the pace down to concentrate more on this all-important thing called family.

So, Buzz and I saw a financial advisor. We figured it would be impossible to maintain our current lifestyle AND knock off several grand a year. Surprisingly, when the advisor showed us a couple areas we could tweak, the difference turned out to be very little financially. (We haven't noticed the "tweaked" changes.)

Here I am, just two months after my final day at work. The view couldn't be better:
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