n/51

Marty Jones and NAMB's AV conference room equipment.

There is a palpable sense of relief in the room when the company CEO loosens his tie. There’s a moment of respect paid around the conference table, and then top shirt buttons are gratefully tugged open and ties pulled into cockeyed Ys. It can’t be more than 78 degrees in the room, and once it was clear that the air conditioning had well and fully failed, fans were hastily procured and brought in. But it’s still hot.

I keep my tie securely fastened. I’m the vendor in the room.

The next slide comes up, and the narration continues. The corner of this slide reads 11/51. I’ve already read the first eleven, in depth, in my office, and I’ve read the next forty, too. But the CEO wants to deliver them, so I’m listening.

Sort of.

What percentage of me is in this room? Sixty, seventy percent. I’m not necessarily feigning interest; that’s too harsh a term. But, seventeen years into a career of consulting, I can put on a studious expression at will. My soul is twenty-one miles west down I-70, hefting my giggling son in the air for another toss into the deep end of the pool. I can already feel my rotator cuff stinging from the effort, but I don’t mind. My last memory of him, and his sisters, before I left this afternoon was one of pure presence and mindfulness. They are truly themselves in the summer; there’s no artifice of school personas, no submerged intensity. They reach a perfect symmetry of their inner and outer selves, all in balance, all present without shame or conformity. They are the children they are. It’s beautiful.

They’re looking at my tie at this point, and I think about loosening it for a moment, and then – perhaps in honor of that memory – I just don’t. “Can we run that back?” I ask. “Are those assumptions base case or bear case?” More discussion.

I’m not always required to be present in these moments, suit-and-tied in client offices. Most days, when I’m not selling new engagements or reading out existing ones, I can work alongside their summers, shorts and Keens all around as they sprawl about the house with new books or invent new plots involving the TARDIS tent in the basement or add on to the ever-expanding world they’re building in Minecraft. But when I am present in the corporate environment, I’m conscious of how I’m holding it in, toeing the line, obeying the norms –

Speaking of, they’re still looking at my tie. Right; when in Rome. I unfasten the top button my shirt, too, and give my tie a tug. It’s all part of the ritual, the dance…the ojigi.

They’ve done this in school all this time, holding their intensities at bay to be like the others, laughing when the peerage wants it and not laughing when the teacher’s had enough, and otherwise obeying the ojigi of public-school life. They’re not necessarily themselves when they’ve done so, and the contrast between the children I taught for the year and those I see daily over the summer is dramatic.

I know why I do what I do. I enjoy it, first off; it’s mentally engaging for me to help clients tackle thorny issues. I like the people I encounter (mostly) and the compensation I receive for work done (mostly), but that’s all been of my own design. My children trust in me that their school days are spent in equally directed and efficient endeavors. Otherwise, why would you bother? Why not exist in this perfect symmetry at every moment? Why contend with any of the bullshit ojigi at all?

Why not be the people we are all the time?

We don’t get to, of course. There are Important Tasks to Attend To in the Adult World®.  I’m fortunate in that my time-to-be-a-grownup moments are fairly few and far between, but even I have to pretend to be 43 from time to time. But I can see my own purpose for doing so. Even as the slide deck drips languorously over to 12/51, I can contemplate what this engagement means: it’s money in the bank for homeschooling tech, or a fistful of day trips this fall, or in their 529 accounts, or the rainy-day fund. My reward for time spent in ojigi is linear; I know why I’m here, what the pros and cons of my involvement in this moment are. I’m aware of the decision I’m making, and it is made of my own free will.

Theirs isn’t. Education is a long-term investment of their time and effort. Maybe that time and effort docks with the work environment of their future, and it was time well-spent. Maybe it doesn’t, and I’m just burning their childhood hours, these perfect symmetric hours, for nothing. When I do get the chance to remember who they are, skin darkening with each passing day in the sun, laughter a little more organic and less self-conscious as the months roll on, I want nothing more than to preserve the conditions under which they freed themselves to be these people. There are endless days of ties and slides and ojigi ahead of them, but every day I can keep them from that is a day they’ll remember well later. Even when they find their passions and go to them, that’s still not quite the same – and I feel that I will, in some sense, owe them a reckoning of I how I chose to spend these moments on their behalf.

As we roll on to 13/51, comfortably aware of my own motivations in this moment, I look out the window. There’s plenty of sun left in the day.

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