No matter how experienced you are, the first day of a new job can be daunting…
A new job at my age? I know! Crazy really. Especially when so many of my friends are giving up work to do adventurous things like walking the south west coastline or exploring the Amazon or even getting married again!
However needs must. So here I am, only just sixty and old enough to retire, but young enough to be in that band of women who’ve just found out they don’t get their pension until they’re 67 – don’t even get me onto that! – and just about capable of taking on a new job in my already varied portfolio of careers.
Just about capable? Well, that’s how Annie, my new boss made me feel when she interviewed me. Strangely, she didn’t ask the usual kind of questions I’ve had over the years, such as my typing speed or my organisational abilities or how I’d describe my strengths and weaknesses.
Instead, she seemed more interested in what hours I could work and whether I was certain I was up to the job. I got the feeling that she hadn’t had much interest from other people and she was rather desperate!
So now here I am, on my first day, in my uniform and ready to go.
“Of course, with a job as important as this, it would be a good idea if you shadowed me for a while first,” my boss had already said.
I can see her point. She’s going to be busy doing another project – that’s why she hired me – and the responsibility is both exciting and rather daunting. Come on, I tell myself, you can do this.
So I try to concentrate hard as Annie takes me through the paces, showing me what to put where.
The equipment nowadays is very different from what I used to deal with. In some ways it looks easier but in practice it turns out to be much more complicated.
I can see she’s already beginning to doubt my abilities…
“Why don’t you take notes,” says Annie sharply.
There’s another problem too. My assistant Polly. Did I mention her earlier? No, I thought not. There’s a reason for that. To be honest, I’m a bit worried about her. At times she’s really friendly and at others… well, she’s a complete nightmare! But if I’m going to make a success of this, I have to get on with her. Talk about workplace politics!
“Do you think you can manage?” asks Annie at the end of the day. I’m tempted to tell her that, actually, I’m not sure.
My head is reeling with facts and figures, I’m exhausted with all the manual side of the job, and Polly has given me the cold shoulder from the minute I arrived.
In fact, I can’t wait to get home, crash out on the sofa and send a What on earth am I doing? text to my neighbour Maggie on the south-west coastal route. Of all people, I know she’ll understand.
Don’t worry, she texts back. You’ll soon settle in. It’s just a matter of getting back into the routine.
I’m not so sure.
My alarm goes at 5.30am. It’s been ages since I’ve had to get up at this time! But I can’t be late. Annie has made that very clear and I don’t want to be sacked on the first day.
Luckily, I don’t have far to go. Annie is ready and waiting. So too is Polly who gives me a You again? look.
“Right, now you’re sure you can remember everything? If you’ve any problems, you might be able to reach me on my mobile, but I can’t guarantee it. Here’s a list of today’s activities. Make sure you write down your expenses in the notebook I gave you.”
She glances at Polly. “Please remember who’s in charge, won’t you?”
So much for establishing the pecking order – now she’s bound to hate me!
I’d like to say that everything goes smoothly, but despite Annie’s instructions, we’re late for the first appointment – partly because I couldn’t find everything I needed and partly because we got lost.
“Is it round this corner or the other one?” I ask Polly, but her lips are tight.
By the time we get there, I’m a bit of a wreck
I can see all the others looking at me and I try to remember what Annie had told me, but it all goes out of the window.
Then something nice happens.
“Would you like to come and sit next to me?” says one of the other women. “I’ll show you what to do.”
To my surprise, it isn’t as difficult as I’d thought and the results are amazing. Even Polly seems to approve.
I won’t bore you with the rest of my day, but I will admit that some of it goes better than I’d hoped for – and some of it worse.
One thing is certain I’m exhausted – and so it seems is Annie when she returns half an hour later than promised.
“What was it like?” I ask.
Her face reminds me of a little girl coming back at the end of her very first day at school.
“All right,” she says. Her bottom lip wobbles. “But it was really odd going back. So much has changed – and I really missed you.”
My daughter gently lifts Polly out of my arms. I want to tell her not to, because I’ve only just got her down to sleep. The baby massage class that morning knocked her out until after lunch.
Then she got all grouchy again until I checked Annie’s list of instructions
If she yells, take her for a walk in the pram. Of course I knew that, but it was the diagram that was more complicated – in my day, prams had brakes at the bottom not on the handle!
“It’s all about making adjustments,” I hurry on. “Things have changed at work for you, and they’ve changed for me too. So we both have to be adaptable and at the same time make our own mark while doing the very best job we can.”
When I say it like that, it makes me feel more assured too.
It’s true I’ve been absolutely terrified of dropping Polly or getting her fingers trapped in the pram or saying something daft in front of her friends at baby massage or afternoon playgroup or one of the many activities listed on the spreadsheet my daughter has given me.
My own mother died when Annie was tiny and she didn’t have this incredible opportunity to be with her granddaughter every day.
Maggie’s son and children are in Canada. Jill’s don’t bother seeing her much. This is, as someone said to me only this morning, quite an honour really, isn’t it? There really is nothing quite like family.
“You’re right, Mum.” My daughter looks happier now. “Thanks. You’ve already made me feel better about going back tomorrow.” She stands up, with little Polly still zoned out in her arms. “You know how grateful I am to you for moving down here, don’t you?”
How nice it is to be appreciated, I tell myself as I open the fridge for a bottle of wine. (Off-duty now, so it’s allowed). Goodness, what’s that, lurking behind the butter…?
Then I hear a voice coming downstairs from my son-in-law’s old office which is now the nursery.
“Mum, did you know there’s a loaf of bread in the top drawer here? And where are the nappies? Why have you re-organised the nursery? And there’s baby lotion all over the carpet – you left the lid off!”
At the same time, my mobile rings with a text…
It’s the nice grandfather from today’s afternoon playgroup session. It was nice to meet you today. Will you be there again tomorrow?
He’s a new boy too. Even rustier than I am when it comes to finger painting.
Hope so, I text back, taking the now cold packet of nappies out of the fridge. Just as long as I haven’t been sacked.
Of course, I’m only joking. My daughter needs me just like she did when she was little. After everything I’ve gone through, it’s a nice feeling.
You can keep the south-west coastal path and the Amazon. There really is nothing more important than family – and maybe new friends too.
“Looks like we’ve got a date tomorrow,” I whisper to Poppy as I kiss her goodnight before going back to my own home. “But don’t tell the boss…”
We’re sharing a short story collection from our archives every Monday and Thursday during August. Look out for some heartwarming family fiction – and remember, there’s exciting new fiction every week in My Weekly magazine, too. Sign up for a money-saving subscription here.