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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation

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it's not all genetics, though i have to wonder how, then
children of dune - leto 1

I've been thinking on privilege in the more general sense of my life since the meme, because quantifying my existence into mathematics is something I do for fun. I can add up my life in a series of value statements on what I've contributed to the world as opposed to what I've taken without return; how I've speeded or slowed entropy, if you will. And that's Spock speaking, by the way, but the succinctness fascinates me. Bread upon the water--if it should be returned, are we talking seven fold or will I receive a floating bill for services rendered?

A lot of my personal weirdness comes from too much Star Trek, I suspect. Somewhere in the back of my head is a balance that I keep adding or subtracting from, like a miniQuicken that tells me if I've surpassed my harm with good. Though I suspect both are debatable depending on who I ask.

At the new job, I'm recognized on sight. There's wide smiles and hand-shaking and hopes I'll enjoy the work. They laugh at whatever stupid joke I make to get through the moment, and they come back later, with encouraging smiles and how I'll be such a success.

The thing is, they don't know my name. They know my mom's.

I can honestly say this is the first time I've been the recipient of nepotism, even if it's all based on assumptions of future performance: now that I think about it, I am a mutual fund.

It was there at the local office at the beginning, but most people were newer, younger, hadn't been with the agency since the beginning of time. My PM had worked with my mom, so had his wife; the Regional Director worked with her and checked on our office during that thing with the crazy guy of weirdness. The hiring was all done in HR, none of whom had ever passed a day in actual day-to-day casework and policy, though the supervisors and PMs did sit in on the interviews.

The last job was the same, made up of middle and lower tenure, with a rare exception in upper management and native Austinites who sat through the trenches with her for years back in the days casework was done on paper with a pencil, an calculator, and mind for math. Everything I was came from what I did, the work I performed, the inheritance they didn't know I carried of a woman who most had never met.

Now everything's changed, from the first time I stepped foot in the building.

They talk about my mom in awe, with these bright smiles and old intimacy; she's their go-to for policy, the one they call when they don't know the rules of a welfare program or why the computer system decided to do it this way. She was on the committee that built the decision tables; she didn't do the programming itself, but the design and architecture (hell, the freaking acronyms) are hers; I can see her fingerprints in the logic like I can read this sentence.

It's amazing, and it's awe-inducing and it's something I never realized that I should have known. I always knew my mom was good, because she's like that, she's so brilliant that it hurts me how she doesn't recognize it--but I had no idea she was this good. So good that people I've never met walk up to ask about her and tell me how they know her. The Indian contractors who do some of our coding came over to introduce themselves to me, tell me how they knew my mom and how they look forward to working with me (!!!!) and women from different units sidle by to say hi and say how much they enjoy working with her, and it's just.

Just I had no idea.

It's this tiny world, so tiny that ninety-nine point nine nine nine nine nine percent of the population have no idea it exists, but there; in this small place, she's like some kind of rock star performing amazing feats of policy inventory and system analysis. Seriously, it hit me today when I was gritting my teeth through how our fucking voices sound so much alike! It's like she's in the next office! that I had just found my place as the daughter of a celebrity.

This is deeply stressing. I swear my learning curve is slowing down to compensate. I feel an unexpected teen pregnancy coming on and a drug rehab in my future.

More oddly; I don't resent it.

I mean, I do, and I let her know it as vocally as possible. Every person that comes by my office is accounted for; I give her numbers and names when I can remember, units when I can't. I spend fifteen minutes telling her how she's ruining my life and how tired I am about hearing about that damn policy guru crap and how she's always been the only person that could always find the answer and how she's done so much for the agency. I whine about the contractors who gush about her talents and her experience, and about my supervisor waxing lyrical over our shared wall about how much we sound alike. I tell I hate everything and how am I supposed to compete with that? I'll never know policy like she does, never interpret it, never understand it on that instinctive level that lets her sit down and blink three times before sorting out a family consisting of a family with two kids, three stepchildren on both sides, a grandmother who adopted another daughter's kid, and two dogs, and tell you exactly what the household composition and benefit amount is for TANF. (Dogs don't count. I just threw that in.)

It's all true; I'll never be that amazing. She's the embodiment of old school that the state is losing and can never replace; decades of experience backed with decades of policy, staring at ground level as a Clerk I (a job that doesn't even *exist* anymore) and moving up the ranks through sheer hard work and brilliance. She knows it all because she saw it all, every kind of policy question you can ask, she interviewed it. There's nothing she hasn't seen, hasn't done, didn't do better; she was a clerk and a caseworker, a casereader who reviewed and critiqued other cases; she trained workers and trained staff, acted as client advocate and policy expert, helped design the architecture of the system that is taking over welfare determination in the state of Texas. She interprets insane federal policy into comprehensibility, works to integrate it into insane state policy, acts as consultant for the system testers like me and for the programmers who write the code.

When they talk about her, it's in their voices that I can almost see; awe and gratitude and pleasure, and complacency too. The problems she can't solve are probably unsolvable. The things she doesn't know are things no one knows. There is nothing, nothing she cannot do.

And she doesn't see it, and I don't know if she's ever seen it, and I'm not sure there's any way I can make sure she does; I see her fingerprints everywhere I look, in the people I meet and who tell me without words the legacy I'm expected to live up to; I can't hope to surpass her.

I hope to make her proud, though. That the legacy I carry--the face and voice that were hers before they were mine, the mind that she gave me, the way she raised me, the way she taught me without words that it wasn't enough, would never be enough, to be good, be better, be the best. It was doing something with those things, doing something that mattered--I'll always remember.

After the last group of people to wander through my cubicle, I told her I wasn't speaking to her for a month and changing my name. And my voice.

She hasn't stopped smiling.

I never thought it would be that easy to make her smile.
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Beautiful, Jenn. A wonderful tribute.

Oooh. miniQuicken. I can see this.
Very cool tribute, your mom sounds very cool. I want to be that person some day, the one who's done it all from the ground up. I have tremendous respect for that.

*sighs* Me too. Exactly like that.

As someone who bears an uncanny resemblance to my mother, I can sympathize... but at the same time, I understand (I think) that kind of pride.

A lovely tribute.

That's a very cool tribute.

You know your mom sounds like my Aunt Patricia. She started working as a clerk for the courts right out of high school and retired last year having spent at least the last 15 years as the chief clerk of the US Bankruptcy division of the courts. When she retired she had letters from Supreme Court Justices and senators and the President. All of this she achieved by working from the ground up and with only a high school education. It's really amazing how some people are able to go so far and do so much. I really wish that the system was open to other people doing the same thing because so many people hired into the administration don't have that knowledge like the people who worked from the bottom to the top.

I often seriously think that most jobs should *require* starting as close to the bottom as feasible for the job they wish to take. It still makes no sense to me to hire people to supervise/manage/make important decisions for people/agencies that they have never worked for or with.


Your mom sounds wonderful. You're right to be damned proud of her.

I have sympathy for you, too, though, 'cause your experience sounds a bit like mine--everywhere I've ever gone, it's always been: "You're X's daughter? Let me tell you, your father is a Great Man..." (big shoes to follow in, m'dear)

What can you do with such a legacy? I suspect the best you can do is just what you've said you intend to: I hope to make her proud
Good for you! I hope you do.

*hugs* Thanks.

And those convos are always fun, yes? I admit, while it gets irritating sometimes, mostly it's just amazing, because I can tell her about all the things that people think and rarely say to her.

I like this.

My mum ... is an innately good person.

I want to be so much better than I am, because of her.


*hugs* I hope to do the same thing.

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Very moving tribute to your mum. I wish we had more in public service like her.

And she doesn't see it, and I don't know if she's ever seen it, and I'm not sure there's any way I can make sure she does

Talking to her, as you've done, is one way; hearing the words, in her daughter's voice, that's wonderful.

I'd urge you to also print out your entry and give it to her. Not revised to directly address your mum but just as you posted - written to share with others how amazing your mum is.

Because on those bad days, when the sound of your voice has faded from her ears, overwhelmed by the voice of self-doubt and daily disappointments, being able to read your words, to realize again how much she is valued - that's priceless.

*thoughtful* Actaully, that might work, especially if I mailed it.

Hmm. *mulls*

it's not all genetics, though i have to wonder how, then

Well, you've got me literally in tears, rolling down my face, so moved by your tribute to your mom. You're a lucky woman, and so is your mom, to have you! Thank you for sharing. Love, max

Re: it's not all genetics, though i have to wonder how, then

*hugs* Thanks!

What an awesome post.

Thank you. She's a pretty awesome woman.

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