My not-so-agile re-entry into the workplace

Z’s hearing is still deteriorating from the car crash. I think he might be ready to call it quits on cello.

I have a hard time knowing what to say because it’s all so sad. I have to stop myself from becoming  Julie Andrews, tossing out desperate suggestions.

In the mornings we walk the dog together. I ask Z about his plans for the day. He ignores me and chases the dog up the Freedom Trail. I throw sticks for fetch while he sits on the bench by the State House to rest his head.

Somehow the dog always knows when Z’s head is rested and nudges him up. On the way home through the Common we wonder, does his head hurt too much to play cello today?

He says, “Can’t I just go to sleep and not wake back up til I’m married with kids? What’s the point of plans when they fail.”

I think, look, if you want to talk about the pointlessness of plans, no one has a better example than having kids.

But I don’t say that. I tell him I met an engineer I want to partner with and how he wants to see some sort of product roadmap first. I tell him I started making a Gantt chart but then I noticed all the good templates now are for agile. And in the spirit of doing research over producing results, I read about product management instead of managing my product.

I say: “I’ve been reading about agile. The idea is that failure is an artificial construct. It’s better to just change the goal and go down the new path.”

He walks a little ahead of me to make sure I know I’m part of his problem. The dog drops a little behind me so I know I’m part of hers.

But that’s never stopped me so I keep going. “Your life isn’t over because you can’t play cello. Move the goal posts. Success is not binary!”

I talk and talk and wave my hands and miss our turn. Then we walk the long way home in silence.

The dog hates the smell of bleach. Z hates that it’s more minutes til he crawls back in bed. I take the extra time to craft a plan for my 9AM.

So he does Spanish and I pitch investors. Or try to.

Not that I’m done parenting. But it’s different now. There’s no screaming for Cheerios or Cheetos or changes of clothes while I’m on calls. I’m still close by. But when Z needs me now it’s for things so big that no one has the words for them.

I cancel meetings when Z is crying. I cried in one meeting though so I guess I should have cancelled that one, too.

But I am so grateful to have a startup again. Because being right matters. And refusing to fail matters. After spending ten years of trying to see my kids as the startup, it’s such a relief to actually be able to have one.

I spend half an hour applying makeup to my face. Then I change shirts three times, only to put on the first one back on but backwards, because my shoulders are so wide.

Z says, “Is that my contour kit??”


“I’m fixing it.”

I try to rub off the lipstick marks on the back of my hand. He notices how hard I’m trying.

The agency starts the call and hits record. I click Got it and think about how transformative this is: no more client-entitlement upper hand about what was said or not said. The account manager starts telling me the rules of working with them — she says they will not reply to any messages after normal work hours. “And,” she says, “we don’t work on the weekend.”

“Wait,” I say. “What? When I worked at agencies before we all worked whenever the client wanted.”

There are three other people on the video from the agency. Everyone is silent.

I say, “I don’t know how long you’ve been able to say this to clients, but I want to tell you I’m really happy for you. Your life is so much better because of this. It’s a huge deal. Don’t ever let anyone make you work weekends.”

They stare at me. It occurs to me that I don’t think it’s ever occurred to them to work weekends.

It never occurred to me to not work weekends. And I realized how long I’ve been waiting for this — for my kids to be old enough for me to do another company. So that I can finally start working weekends again.

27 replies
  1. Maria Miccoli
    Maria Miccoli says:

    A few years ago I was house sitting and started hearing a factory. I assumed it was outside and it seemed to be going on 24/7. It took me 2 weeks and ear plugs to realize it was inside my head (one of the down sides of being alone is not having anyone to compare with).

    After my second vaccine, the factory sound (likely hearing my blood flow and heart beat) was replaced with multiple simultaneous high pitched sounds and occasional buzzing).
    Yup, tinitis.

    I was losing my hearing. Do I give up all of my instruments? Do I give up on creating a podcast? Do I join a group meeting for other hearing impaired individuals while we complain about how it isn’t fair?

    I decided to create musical sounds and incorporate them in my future videos like they did in the 60’s movies. I plan on using A.I. to delete the pops and improve the music in it’s own interpretation making the music unique (the benefit is it’s truly copyright free and I can license it and maybe make a few pennies from it).

    There have been several musicians who lost their hearing yet continued to play and some took a break.

    The important thing is to know Z is not alone … That he needs new mentors and that he can still play the Cello.

    Here’s a dozen musicians with hearing loss;

    Here’s 9 more including a video by Chris Martin from the band Cold Play who also suffers from hearing loss;

  2. Connie Davis
    Connie Davis says:

    I discovered your blog during Sheryl Sanders husband’s weird possibly criminal death in Mexico and agreed with what you said. Critical of her ridiculous “advice” column as book Lean forward or whatever. You are so brave and honest and fearless I admire you so much although we probably are polar opposites politically. I’m also not a mother but I can’t imagine a better mother than you. I look forward to follow up on your new start up with weekends off! ❤️


    • Marne
      Marne says:

      Me, too. I can’t wait to hear what PT has to say about the end of Sandberg’s time at Facebook. How did the author of Lean In become one of those women who spends her time in the office planning her wedding? And did she ever reveal the number of nannies?

  3. Lynne
    Lynne says:

    Haha . . . the irony of finally being in a position to work weekends — and the workplace has evolved so that its not a requirement any more. Id like to see a time when ads dont say that one “must be available for all shifts”, or jobs where u can apply to work one set shift, ie only the day shift , or the afternoon or the evening. NOT being “available” to work any three. Either in a pre-made schedule OR on-call. Revolving shiftwork has been scientifically-proven to be detrimental to human health. Very confusing to the body’s (forgotten the name for it) rhythm.

  4. joyce
    joyce says:

    Dear Penelope, from time to time I read your words delivered to my email. and mostly I resonated and identify with your life, your children, how you are facing everything with determination, your hopes and fiesty outlook. Today, your line “if you want to talk about the pointlessness of plans, no one has a better example than having kids” struck such a raw chord. …..particularly to this era of ‘entitled kids’ who blame all except themselves. Don’t we try to plan with the best interests of these kids, (and yes talking too ) to influence them, into lifting themselves up with every little stumble! It is a new phase, to recognise that I should not expect anymore of myself to redeem them nor even try for they are now their own responsibility. Yet, I know it is such a challenge to drop my constant anxiety for them to be well…I realised this is a natural instinct to mitigate risk for myself, to insure myself against all their mistakes for I know that eventually, if things with them go pear, would mom ignore or go to their rescue?!

    Thank you for your lively and great writings, I too am smiling over your last ‘austism’ post! Wishing yourself a great next phase, and your kids happiness, peace and knowingness stepping into each day.

  5. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    💜💜 This is the most moving post I’ve read of yours, Penelope. (Have been following you for years and years, though I’ve likely only commented once or twice in all this time.)

  6. Matthew
    Matthew says:

    I think of the Freedom Trail as a long narrow band of bricks.

    The picture looks more like a residential sidewalk in Beacon Hil, Back Bay, or the South End.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s the South End, where we were living before we moved — to Chinatown which is right by the Freedom Trail. I have lived so many different places while I’ve been blogging, and Boston is the only place where there are a million experts on the geography. So I always think twice before I write about geography in here. Anyway, thank you for making sure I know that no mention of Boston will go unnoticed!


  7. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Good advice above about your son. I have some more. (Aside: When I had a hearing test 3 years ago the first words out of the audiologist’s mouth were “Are you a musician?” Um, well, I was, but my son is a professional musician now. So I have some background.) So, Z. **He could switch to music education.** Yes, yes, I know all the performance majors look down their noses at the education majors. Ignore them. (I’m keeping my language clean, here, for Z.) Ignore them, keep music in your life—and make a living. Get hearing aids when you have to, they’ll keep you going. Lots of things suck, no way around it, but hang in there, Z. My son met his future wife in grad school (she’s also a music educator), so see? You WILL wake up with a wife and kids! Give Z a hug for me, please.

  8. Juliana Mann
    Juliana Mann says:

    I have to believe that Z will be ok! Rooting for both of you. (I just hired a babysitter so we can work weekends. But I struggle to get much done during the week.)

  9. Steven Pofcher
    Steven Pofcher says:

    Penelope – I can greatly identify with three of your points.
    My daughter is clinically depressed. All she wants to do is sleep so she can escape reality. It is sad to see her being depressed most of the time. I look at old photos of her smiling and laughing and get teary eyed.

    Not working weekends or after hours?!?! Whoever heard of such a thing.

    I just moved back to the Boston area. I grew up here. I recently got separated and moved back after 35 years. I’m currently staying at the house I grew up in and even in the same bed I grew up in. Kind of an odd feeling.

  10. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I wish I had an answer for you and Z. Z will eventually come to some realizations on his own. In the meantime, it will require a lot of patience on your part. I think both you and Z have to practice extreme gratitude for what you both still have. As you wrote in a previous post, as bad as the accident was, it could have been worse. There’s a saying I read a long time ago. Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans. I don’t know where I read it but it has stuck with me. I’m thinking I read it from a tea bag with a string and this quote was attached. In any case, Z is not alone. We love him and support him whatever path he chooses and whatever the future holds for him

  11. Bettywhitechan
    Bettywhitechan says:

    I too, am sorry to hear that Z is going through this. When people go through a trauma, they often use spirituality to help heal. One doesn’t need special skills or talents to commit acts of kindness. There are many different ways he can commit himself and feel like he is living a full life. I wish you both the best.

  12. Nia
    Nia says:

    I have a daughter on the spectrum and you’d definitely say I belong on the spectrum – an idea I’ve warmed to through reading your blog, ‘cos geez it’s nice to belong. Digression about me, sorry. My daughter also resists my attempts at problem solving and I also interpret this resistance in the context of a history of my own interpersonal rejections. I feel that she’d at least listen if she respected me – we seem to have a really close relationship, and I usually have topical experience and/or knowledge if I chose to problem-solve. All the active listening and reflecting of feelings in the world won’t lead to more receptiveness. She tells me that it’s not about me. Even my thinking about her response is about me, so she has a point. And given how close our relationship is, I appreciate that she needs to disentangle to find her own path. So hard when I have good things to say! She is 19 and Australian perspectives on parenting are different to American perspectives. There are cultural differences- especially in the Autism space. But then, problem-solving seems to be a natural response in the face of anguish – see all the caring responses above. Hope I haven’t been too obtuse.
    I’ve always admired your doggedness, but this post, and some of your more recent posts, have highlighted the multi-faceted nature of doggedness. Every privilege has its responsibility.
    Don’t want to miss my own turn-off to home, so I’ll just reiterate that I, too, have also felt that ‘but you’re my everything’ drowning moment and survived (seem to be a few of us). So glad to hear about future plans. Posted without editing- sorry.

  13. Carol
    Carol says:

    Dear Penelope,

    I am a big fan of rick beato, who has had a number of careers in the music field. These days he’s realized he does music appreciation. He’s on He’s so interesting and explains elements of pop tunes that make the song even more enjoyable. When I was little I remember being taken to classical concerts where a narrator would explain the instruments in Peter and the Wolf. What got Z into classical music and/or the cello? Perhaps he could do youtube videos to inspire others.

    I have always had hearing loss, ie tinnitus in one ear, had it for years, which makes it hard when people mumble and don’t enunciate. I realized I had it when I would turn off the vacuum cleaner to figure out where the Scottish bagpipe music was coming from and that would make the music stop. My tinnitus is sometimes a very clear tune and I wonder if that’s where some tunes come from ie the brain surging and dinging and it ends up being lyrical.

    Am I the only one who thinks depression is normal? Someone explained to me that neural pathways and brain segments work together and feeling happy is really hard because three sections of the brain have to light up at the same time.

    Just typing away here. Sending you and Z and all your family lots of love, carol

  14. Kimi
    Kimi says:

    Ok I missed it somewhere along the line. What happen to Z that cello is not working out. I was so happen when he got into JA and very sad when you didn’t have the money to keep him in. Mostly I LOVE seeing kids actually become good at something, really good. My kids dont seem to care about anything and they are getting older and still not caring. Makes me sad.

  15. Fred
    Fred says:

    You know why I read this blog? Because I remember your website address. I don’t go to any other non-corporate sites, because I never remember any other addresses.

    Posts like this one is why I remember your address. Because you remind me that life is complicated. Or maybe a better word is unfair. And sometimes I just like to know that’s true for other people too.

    Keep on keeping on.


      • harris497
        harris497 says:

        Oh Penny, you fit and you do not even realize it?
        There are lots of searchers, uncertain, maybe even broken people in the world, and you let us know that it is okay. That we are not the only ones, and that it will all be okay. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and …
        Thank you very much.

  16. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Please don’t get too involved in your new startup and not have time for Z! He sounds depressed and may need help.

  17. Rita
    Rita says:

    May I recommend chatting with Dr. Jay Lucker, speech-language pathologist/audiologist out of Virginia that works with those that have Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), which is when there is difficulty with how the brain processes sound, which can happen as a result of traumatic brain injury. Therapy is possible to help those with APD, depending on the sub-deficit. Best of everything to you and your son.

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