Temporary flare-up of on-the-job jealousy

'I had been on that career track and never regretted leaving it behind to put my famliy first. Still, my strong drive to achieve led me to have occasional pangs of professional jealousy.'
'I had been on that career track and never regretted leaving it behind to put my famliy first. Still, my strong drive to achieve led me to have occasional pangs of professional jealousy.' (Gillianne Tedder/ Bloomberg News/ File 2002)

I don't usually have anger management issues, but when I took an office job after nine years of stay-at-home motherhood, I confess I had difficulty subduing my "cubby rage."

I was filling in as publications editor at a large organization while my friend, the communications director, searched for a replacement. When he asked me about taking the job on a temp basis, I eagerly accepted, and rejiggered my child care and carpool arrangements for my four children. It was fun to dress up each day, sit in a real office (as opposed to my make shift "office" in my living room), and reclaim the feeling that I was a true professional.

The first two weeks went smoothly. Then one morning, as I carried my first cup of coffee into my office, where I had come to feel quite at home, I was startled by a very young woman with a penchant for the Goth-look fanning out a display of her favorite hipster magazines on the credenza. I was alarmed to discover how territorial I felt after only a few weeks of working at a job I knew was temporary.

I introduced myself, after which she introduced herself as the new editor. (I guess my friend forgot to tell me that my days requiring fresh lipstick and dressing for success were coming to a screeching halt.)

Even though I had been offered the job on a permanent basis and turned it down, everything about my replacement set my teeth on edge. We were a study in contrasts: her black nail polish and creepy brown lipstick compared with my tame Revlon plum; her taste in magazines, whose covers featured men wearing not much more than surly expressions and hair sculpted into a bed of nails versus my stack of Ladies' Home Journals at home; her tight leather miniskirt compared with my below-the-knee skirt and long-sleeved blouse. Let's face it: I could have been a greeter at a Republican convention. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

But most of all, the new editor, who was about 10 years my junior, represented the life I left when my first child was born and I turned in my company Amex card: the career woman, unencumbered, rising in the ranks to ever greater professional advancement.

I had been on that track and never regretted leaving it behind to put my family first. Still, my strong drive to achieve led me to have occasional pangs of professional jealousy. So when she said to me, "Well, this job must really have been a feather in your cap!" I desperately wanted to punch her lights out.

I wanted to shout, "Listen, you mini-skirted malignancy, I was charging executive lunches on the company when you were still dabbing Clearasil on your zits. I used to hire and fire entire editorial production staffs back when you were bumming cigarettes in your scummy high school bathroom hoping not to get suspended by the principal. Meanwhile, I'm raising children, the most important work of all."

Fortunately, a good upbringing kept me from speaking my mind to this saucy scullion, but I couldn't resist a withering glare at her condescension.

Unfortunately, when I excused myself to go to the ladies' room, I saw to my horror that the hem of my skirt had come undone, paralleling my emotional state.

As I taped my hem back in place with tape I had borrowed from a secretary, I reminded myself that the life I was living was my own choice. And who knows? Perhaps some of these younger women, taking the jobs that I might have had, wished they could trade places with me.

The new editor moved in to "my" office that day, and I got bumped to another office, which at least still had a good view of the Hollywood Hills.

The following week, I resumed my "normal" work life, despite the occupational hazards of working with young children underfoot. These included having one young "secretary" answer the phone and tell a client that I was "making" and couldn't talk, then hanging up before even getting a name so I could apologize later.

Another time, I held my toddler girl in one arm while on the phone with a client, when my daughter, who had been utterly silent, suddenly unleashed a mammoth belch into the mouthpiece. I pleaded innocence to my client and explained the circumstance. He graciously told me not to worry, that he understood, yet I could never shake the fear that from that moment on he suspected I was just a vulgar lush with a penchant for spotting dangling participles.

Finally, there was the time when a client came to the house in the evening, when everyone was home. With his slim build, long hair, and earring, he looked gender-neutral, which fascinated my two little boys, who were around 5 and 6 years old at the time. They circled him, posse-like, eventually asking, "Are you a boy or a girl?" as my husband ran forward to whisk them out of the room.

Of course, career advancement is never assured, no matter what company you work for or your marital or motherhood status. And eventually, my professional jealousy subsided as my children grew older, leaving me more time to advance my writing career.

Besides, working from home has several distinct advantages over office life. For one thing, I don't need to keep up with what's happening on "Lost," "Desperate Housewives," or "American Idol." My daily commute to and from work is only a few feet, and while there is occasional gridlock by the laundry room, I can usually weave my way around it pretty fast. Nor do I have the problem of trying to steer clear of office politics and gossip.

But best of all, working from home, I have no fear of young, churlish editorial trespassers wearing black nail polish announcing that they have arrived to replace me.

Judy Gruen's latest book is The Women's Daily Irony Supplement. Read more of her work on www.judygruen.com. If you want to write about the view from your cube, send e-mail to cube@globe.com.