15 MORE MINUTES.

15 MORE MINUTES.

Mary Higgins Clark, one of my favorite authors, shared this wisdom: “At the end of one’s life nobody says, “How I wish I could spend 15 more minutes at my office!” But how often they wish they could have spent 15 more minutes with their family”. This is a good argument to use though only when you feel it is absolutely needed. True, a scientist’s work is very demanding, the same as doctor’s, policeman’s, teacher’s, to name but a few. It is understandable that when someone conducts an experiment they cannot simply drop everything and go home. It is also clear that those “five minutes” at a computer during the weekend may turn into an hour or a full day. And yet we have a good education and decent brains, which means that we can be flexible. It is possible to plan one’s life and shift around one’s obligations. Sure, work, research is all a great responsibility, but so is family. Life as we know it stops with the arrival of a baby; one needs to introduce changes. True, usually one of the partners has to take care of more things at home while the other spends more time at work, and that partner is most often the wife and mother. It does not mean that the child or children cannot see their father or that the father cannot find the time to take part in some family activities, to attend a meeting or a game, to go out at least once a year.

When we came to Columbia University in New York for my husband’s post-doctorate course, we already had three young kids. We had a certain schedule, a rhythm which worked for us. During part of the week we worked in shifts; I also worked full day Saturdays while he stayed home. Sunday was our family day. After the first meeting with his boss my husband reported: the boss said everybody worked Saturdays and sometimes Sundays; sometimes he’d ask someone to spend the night at the lab. I knew that the boss had two grown daughters; and I also knew that at present we were the only family with three children. The rest of my knowledge came from various books. I thought carefully what I could say and went to see the men at work on a Saturday. We all shook hands; the kids behaved as I knew they would – I had drilled some common politeness rules into them all. I asked first about the work schedule, then explained that we would feel too nervous in New York if our man was not home at night. And, I added, if he was not home on Sundays to take them out to a playground I would grow crazy and he would not be able to work well on Mondays. Of course I understood perfectly that the outcome might have been unpredictable but I had to try for my family. Our three-year-old looked the boss in the eye and clarified, “Sundays – playground! You want to come?” He said, “Deal”. We shook hands. He told me later when we became friends that he could see how well-organized we were, and he understood that we had a set schedule which worked well both for the family and for work. Plus he said he was happy to meet the three big stimuli for good work. What I realized was the fact that democracy is a big myth when it comes to work. Everything really depends on the person in charge. On the other hand, it pays if they hear their employees. A person who is not under a double pressure works much better and is more productive.

What do people miss when all they care about is work? That toothless smile of pure joy which greets them every day at home; the first baby steps; the first words. And most of all the general perception of Life and the world at large, the unconditional love and optimism which are the inherent qualities of the very young. Would we have even noticed that giant figure of Gollum floating under the ceiling at Wellington airport if our kids hadn’t unexpectedly spoken in that horrible hoarse whisper for several years while they watched “Lord of the Rings”? After twenty four hours in flight, I am not so sure. It definitely would not have been the very first picture I took when we arrived to New Zealand and immediately emailed it to them.

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