Nights, weekends, holidays and birthdays
As I settle back into my recliner after a superlative Easter Brunch at my sister’s sister-in-law’s (talk about extended family!), I reflect on the holidays that I’ve missed. Technically, you couldn’t really say I missed them as I was present but often not at the place of the celebration. In the years I spent on the job, missing a holiday celebration was part of the deal. I signed up knowing that I’d miss Christmas morning with the kids opening their gifts, Thanksgiving afternoon with Mom and Dad, birthdays and anniversaries. Those days were often spent driving around alone trying to keep busy but not get into trouble or sitting in a dimly lit room staring at flickering monitors.
It’s kind of funny, going to work on Christmas morning when everyone you know is still in sugar-plum fairy land isn’t as doleful as it sounds. I always (even in the depths of my comatose commute) felt a little special to be awake when everyone else was asleep. I knew that when I got to work, that I would be there. I might really be able to help someone, maybe even save a life. But, I knew I would miss holidays with family and friends when I hired on so I didn’t spend time feeling sorry for myself. I adjusted my thinking to alternatives and never looked back. Sure, I had to explain my goofy shifts to my mother and non-law enforcement friends. But over the years, they all grew accustomed to my absence or shortened visits (“Sorry Mom, gotta go to work.”).
When I got married, it was to a man who had children. Holidays and birthdays were sometimes celebrated a day before the actual event, or maybe a day after—it depended on my husband’s schedule. Because he was a fire fighter, he worked 24 hour shifts, sometimes 72 hour shifts. One day, I consoled my son who was upset that we wouldn’t be together for Easter: I reminded him that he’d be at his mother’s house and get goodies then come home later that night and have goodies at our house. Twice as many goodies! This was a lesson that the kids learned well. Our time together became more special because we had to schedule it—with others in the family (brother-in-law and sister) who also worked in emergency services, it was usually a challenge.
Christmas Eve swing shift and grave yard were always kind of “special”. In years past, someone from county dispatch sent out periodic “Santa sightings” over the police telecommunications system. These days, this is strictly prohibited but for those of us on duty then, it provided entertainment between family fights and drunks. In dispatch and on the street, it was normal to be sorry to miss your family but few if any officers or dispatchers allowed themselves to give in to melancholy. I’ve been ordered in on Christmas. I wasn’t happy but I worked. Crime, fires and medical emergencies don’t wait for 9 to 5 hours, so neither can the job. One Christmas, I worked my scheduled day shift-7am to 5pm. The second dispatch position was off on vacation and as no one had signed up to work the overtime, five dispatchers were ordered in to each work a 2 hour shift. That is an extreme, to be sure. Usually, a generous soul—one with grown or no kids—would take the time. But not always. Sometimes I had to dump the kids at a sitter and work. It’s just the way it is. But don’t feel sorry for me. I am a professional and get paid accordingly. If I worked a holiday, I was compensated with varying degrees of salary or commensurate time off.
After all, all your co-workers were in the same situation. The bottom line was that everyone, no matter what their situation, was prepared to get the job done—paycheck aside, even then it was sometimes a sacrifice. But we do it every day—nights, weekends, holidays and birthdays.
A salute to all those working this Easter!