The underwhelmingly amazing work leaving party

Wednesday 13th September, 2023

As a parent of young kids, I often hear that I had better not blink or I may miss their entire childhood. It all goes past so fast they say, before you know it they will be moving out, having babies of their own, moving to another continent, or whatever they choose to do. On a day-to-day basis, this is not really true. They take approximately 20 minutes to put their shoes on. They spend about 1 minute per turn playing snakes and ladders. Eating meals takes upwards of an hour. Most of it does not go by quickly. At. All.

As with most things related to time however, days drag on and years fly by.

Our eldest child recently reached the ripe old age of 5, thus meaning it was time for "big school". I have no idea why they refer to primary school as "big school" since there is at least secondary school to go once primary is finished, and then there may even be college and / or university. Anyway, the realisation gradually hit us that school hours are shorter than nursery, and she would now start at 9am instead of 8.30am, and finish at 3pm instead of 4.30pm i.e. 6 hours of childcare instead of 8 hours. Add that to the youngest only being in nursery 3 days a week, and I realised that actually having a job while only being available for 18 hours a week was going to become a real issue.

My partner works offshore, so sharing the joy of making up the childcare shortfall was never an option. It would be interesting to know if things would have been different if he had a normal job, but I guess we will never know.

This led to the inevitable decision, and I handed in my notice. Or rather, I tried to. My boss offered various compromises to try to accommodate me, but since I work on projects I would not have been involved in the fun stuff anymore. No one wants an IT focal point who is there less than half the week. I could have done evening work to make the time up but…no. We ended up with me doing 2 short days a week for an as-yet-undecided length of time. My imposter syndrome took a real hit, as I thought they would be glad to be rid of me.

Even though I will be hanging around for a few weeks, one of my work bffs insisted that I needed to have a work leaving party. Back in my pre-child days, he had been a regular drinking buddy, and he was very much pleased to have an excuse to force me out again. My boss panicked a bit and pointed out that I was not meant to be leaving yet, he hadn't done an office collection, and I had better not expect a work leaving gift yet. I reassured him that it was an official-last-day leaving party, an excuse for a long-needed night out, and we would all get very drunk. He then said it was a great idea, but did also reiterate that there would be no leaving gift.

So, I booked a table in a bar I had never been to and tried to work out who to invite. I have worked there for nearly 14 years, and being in a global central support role, I have dealt with a lot of people. Too many people, as I didn't know who to invite without offending those who weren't invited, and without looking desperate for asking people I had only ever worked with peripherally. So I tried to only invite a select few, maybe 20 people.

This backfired. Only 7 people showed up. Only 4 of them actually still work for the company.

Fortunately, I realised beforehand that this was going to be the case. After 14 years you get to know the flakers, and you can recognise the difference between, "I'll try to make it," and, "What time does it start?" I was quite prepared for the low turnout and had told everyone that was coming that it was very low-key.

As it turned out, it was far more awesome than if I had arranged a massive party with 100 people there. We spent the night reminiscing about the good old days. We were able to have conversations that included everyone there, and everyone was able to add their own memories to the stories. The most notable missing people have since moved to different countries, so even though we weren't 100% complete it did feel like we got the gang back together for one last drunken night of happiness.

I am now settling in to my life of decreased working hours and increased parenting hours. Amid the mundane and chaotic days of parenting, I am reminded that moments that seem insignificant at the time can take on immense value when viewed through the lens of memory. The journey from full-time work to navigating the challenges of childcare and part-time employment is just one chapter of the ever-changing nature of life.

Days drag on, and years fly by.

My work leaving night out wasn't a grand party with a massive turnout, but it was something far more meaningful. Eight old friends gathered and relived snapshots of the shared experiences of our past. Stories were exchanged, we finished each other's sentences, laughter flowed, and long-forgotten memories resurfaced. The absence of some reminded us of the distances that life had taken all of us.

In the end, it's not the size of the gathering that matters, but the quality of the connections. As I start to write my next chapter, I take with me the lessons of that night - that the bonds we form and the memories we create are what truly endures, even as time relentlessly marches on.

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