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.