I Am Not A Chimpanzee. And You, Ma'am, Are No Jane Goodall

Imagine, for a moment, that your husband has just told you he's leaving. He's in love with another woman, and he's leaving you.

Now, imagine that he says, "But before I go, I'd like my girlfriend to come over here and observe you going about your day. So she knows what to do when she takes over."

This was one of the many scenarios that I imagined the other day. The day that the woman who is getting my job came to "observe" me, so she knows what to do when she takes over in September.

When my boss, the lead teacher, told me about this plan, I kind of giggled. I thought it was funny. "How odd!" I thought. I tried to remember which woman it was who observed chimpanzees. I get the chimp one and the gorilla one mixed up, okay? Jane. Jane Goodall was the chimps, Dian Fossey had the gorillas. So I started calling my replacement "Jane Goodall" in my head because I am more chimp-like than gorilla like. I have small shoulders.

So I imagined Jane Goodall coming to our classroom, and hunkering down behind one of the little shelves...furiously scribbling in a small notebook as she took note of my fascinating workday. In my imagination, she also wore a pith helmet.

"This morning, I observed the subject feeding breakfast to approximately 15 young. She displayed great patience while they cried out her name repeatedly and asked for more pears."

"At 9:00 a.m., the subject suddenly left the room. I was able to follow her trail and found her relieving herself. NOTE: after this mid-morning elimination, the subject was much more relaxed."

"After she had successfully gotten approximately 20 young to sleep for 'nap time', I noted the subject peering into the screen of a laptop. I approached the subject carefully, not wanting to disturb her. I noted that she was looking up 'FOOT PAIN' on a website called 'WebMd'. NOTE: Subject was wearing flip flops and a crude pedicure."

"The subject was wary around me. At times she showed her teeth and I was unsure if this was an attempt to be friendly or a warning."

A few things crossed my mind that day. One of them was, OMG. Could this be any more awkward or humiliating? I mean, it's bad enough to get laid off. But then, they expect me to be all shits and giggles while the person who is taking my job comes to watch me do it?

I know, I know. IT'S NOT HER FAULT. Her only crime is having more years under her belt than me. But dammit. It was really hard to be kind. Especially when she kept asking me the same question, over and over, in a very hard to understand, very heavy accent:

"What are you doing?"

She must have asked me this question a hundred times. The first forty times or so, I answered her. I had to explain to her, very slowly, what I was doing, why I was doing it. There was a slight communication issue. Aside from giving her a blow-by-blow account of my every move, I also had to do my actual job. The kids didn't turn it down a notch because Jane Goodall was in the room observing their Miss Jenny. They went about their day, being kids. Loud, active, brash and bold and did I mention loud?

My kindness waned.

Again, I reminded myself, IT'S NOT HER FAULT. But you know what? I'm human. And while she stood there, staring at me, writing things down, and asking me over and over,

"What are you doing?"

I felt an ugly wave of emotions rolling over me. I was mad. I was sad. I found it absolutely repugnant that someone thought this was a good idea. I started to think about how much I like my job and how much fun I have and how this past year has been so freaking good. So good for me, for my kids. I thought about the job search and how hard it is and what it's like to be middle-aged and scared and how sick and tired I am of being middle-aged and scared. And then I thought:

"Fuck this." (sorry) (actually, not sorry. This was a fucked up situation, folks. F-bomb entirely called for.)

I stopped answering her and I did my job. I decided if the powers-that-be wanted her to learn the ropes, they could give me a paid day off and have Jane MotherEffing Goodall come in and do it.


She asked me, one more time:

"What are you doing?"

I looked at her, looked at this Jane Goodall person, this person I was having trouble understanding. This person I was having trouble liking.

I looked into her eyes and I said,

"I'm doing my job."

Jane Goodall's visit happened earlier this week, and it affected me more than I thought. Today I lost it at work. No worries, the kids were napping. But I straight up lost it, crying and dabbing my eyes with paper towels in the lead teacher's tiny office. I told her how shitty this was, how freaking scared I was. How it felt like I was getting dumped by my husband all over again, and having Jane G. there to watch me was so wrong. I told her I'm scared that I won't find a good-enough job, and I won't be able to stay in this house and how I don't want my kids to ever have to move again, ever have to pack up their stuff and leave. How I'm terrified that we'll have to move somewhere small and cheap and give Walter away and how Molly will have to leave college and she'll hate me.

Oh, and the handle on my car broke. The one on the driver's side. So while I try and figure out how to get that mother effer fixed, I'm going to have to either leave the window down all the time or else swing into my car like freaking Bo and Luke Duke.

It's all going to be okay. I'm just going to keep telling myself that. Everything always works out okay.

"Subject has calmed down since her last episode. During my observations, I noted that she has big feelings and cannot hide them, no matter how hard she tries. Her obvious contempt for me was overshadowed only by the guilt she exhibited for having such contemptuous feelings. She approached me, at the end of my observation period, and reached out. I was afraid, at first, until the subject spoke: "I'm sorry if I was rude to you." she said, slowly. "This is hard for me. I'm not a mean person. I hope you like working here."  


  1. I wish I was a fairy godmother and I would totally come there and wave my magic wand and give you a perfect job and fix all this shit - I hate this for you and I will keep you in my prayers.

    1. Aww...thank you! I appreciate this so, so much :)

  2. oh wow, that's just not fair to you at all. Sounds like you dealt with it remarkably well. hang in there

    1. Thanks Debra! Hanging in there seems to be one of my best tricks.

  3. That blows. I admire your restraint and hate that you're going through this. xoxo

    1. Thank you Autumn! I'm using up my vacation days..5 days off in a row now (over Memorial Weekend). The martinis are helping ;)

  4. That you can be so funny during such a stressful time shows what a strong and remarkable woman you are. God never closes a door without opening a window. I cringed when I wrote that. I hate those platitudes but it is true. Something wonderful for you is right around the corner.

    1. Oh Kay, THANK YOU. I thought this one was pretty freaking funny myself ;) If I didn't laugh about all the shit, I'd be up to my shoulders in the oven by now.

      I appreciate you so much. Thank you.

  5. ". . and how hard it is and what it's like to be middle-aged and scared and how sick and tired I am of being middle-aged and scared."

    Not middle age, but definitely tired of being scared.

    1. It's getting real old, right? Gah. Thank you for reading, and for commiserating. Sorry you're scared, too.

  6. Your writing is an amazing gift to all of us. You never cease to inspire, coach and teach us how to be better than what life throws at us. Thank you, thank you, thank you... And seriously think about becoming a "life coach".

    1. Wow! Thank you, Cleveland. What a lovely thing to say. Nice to hear at this juncture, as well.

  7. And again I say, I would SO have reacted identically to you if this had happened to me! Except I just know I wouldn't have had as much restraint; one too many of those "What are you doing now?" questions from "Jane" and her "observation" would have read: "Subject has just forcibly removed my head and defecated down my throat (verbally, that is). Not certain what this means." And, God help her especially if it was my "wrong time of the month"! This was just so effed up, Jenny. Who, again, is the rocket scientist who thought it was such a brilliant idea to have "Jane" shadow you like this, and actually expected you to think it REALLY was a good idea? Honestly, I hope your lead teacher is really struggling with guilt after you leveled with her about how awful this made you feel. (She needed to hear it!). In fact, I kind of hope she -- and whoever her boss is -- lose some sleep over how it's affecting you, I really do. I am not usually a mean, spiteful person either, but as you know it REALLY pisses me off to see a dear friend treated badly, and I want those responsible to face consequences. And, I frankly don't have much confidence in this "Jane," either. Really, she has to keep asking you what you're doing so often, when it should be pretty bloody obvious?? And, she doesn't communicate well in English? How is this person anywhere near qualified to care for these kids?? Yikes. The kids themselves could make smarter choices!! I hope and pray that in your next job, you'll not only have wonderful kids to care for, but supervisors who actually have half a clue. OK -- rant over, sorry!

    1. Damn I love that fire in your belly!

      I do have to stress this though: my lead teacher is a wonderful friend. None of this was her idea, nor was she happy about it. She was Charlie's first preschool teacher, so I've known her for almost 20 years. She is so, so against what is happening.

      In fact, when I started wailing in her office, she started crying right along with me. If she had her way, we'd be working together for many years to come. I truly love her.

      I will nod enthusiastically, however, at your astute observation of Jane. She didn't know how to spell "email". Our program will not be the same next year. Which is really unfortunate.

      Thank you, so much, for your enthusiastic support. You are a gem.

    2. I'm curious how she has more seniority over you and why her "language challenges" are not a focal point for management especially since she is working with preschoolers ( language skills? ) are you part of organized labor? Ugh , if so no good end in sight....

    3. Cleveland: they are merging two entities, both programs fall under "Community Education". She's worked within the district for over 10 years, all of those years with older elementary aged students. One of my job requirements is having the ability to be able to communicate effectively with the students and their parents. On the day she shadowed me, we told her about that particular requirement. She answered, "No! I never talk to the parents." Le sigh.

      And yep. Union. Another le sigh.

  8. I'm having some days like this lately... my divorce from my cheater ex was finalized about a year ago... I just finished a one year grad program - borrowing a lot of money from gov't to do it. I was sure I was going to land a great job after. But am still interviewing. Was going to move to the "big city" about an hour away and start again with this great career... still going forward with that even without a job yet (hoping it will magically materialize soon) but ex is attempting to block my plans so have to fork over money on a lawyer. And he's talking shit about me to the kids about the move and even the divorce as well. To top it off, I get freaking pulled over for a speeding ticket last night and due to confusion I moved my car up a bit before the guy got out to talk to me. And he proceeded to tear me a new asshole in front of my very young children and accuse me of attempting to "take off". Just feels like everything that could go wrong is going wrong right now and that all of my big plans are amounting to nothing...

    So, trying to be positive and know everything happens for a reason and blah blah blah. So, I wish you all the same blah blah blah comforting thoughts! ;)

  9. I can't believe that you had to go through this. You say she got the job because she is more qualified than you, then why does she have to observe and ask "and why are you doing this?"!!!!!!!!!!!!! NOT FAIR! You will find something great. By the sounds of things you have fabulous resilient children and you are too! I know things will turn out favorably for you. Take care! Hugs! Cheers!!{have a drink you deserve it!} Andrea

  10. It is fucked up, the way seniority is handled in some job situations. And it's ridiculous that they set it up so the job taker gets to observe the out-going chimp. Too much MN "nice." You should've told them, "Fuck you, no, the new person cannot observe me." If she had seniority, shouldn't she be expected to be able to figure it out on the fucking job?

    I'm in a fucking bad mood for you, J.

  11. This was so well written but I'm really sorry for the situation you're put in. You obviously have serious writing talent, hopefully your next place of work will appreciate you and all that you can bring to a job.

  12. Hi Happy Hausfrau.

    I would value your opinion if you can find it in your heart to write back.

    I have been dating a man for just over a year. I am divorced and so is he. I have a ten year old son and he has two daughters in their late twenties. One of them recently had a baby.

    I am 18 years his junior. This took me by surprise because I had never been involved with anybody older than me, not even two years older. It was always men my age or a bit younger.

    In any case, I know that when he left his wife, two years ago -and no, I didn't know him back then- she was devastated because she had never seen the end of her marriage coming.

    Now, don't get me wrong, I love this man. But I feel terrible about his ex-wife.

    I experience very mixed feelings towards her. I resent her, because she was married to him thirty years, she had him in his youth, she is and always will be always present. But I also sympathise with her, because I know that she suffered a great deal when he left. And I think she still does.

    I have never met her in person, but I have seen her photos and she seems very attractive. She is very physically active and sporty and highly achieved in her career. I enjoy swimming but that is about it and I am just a staff nurse working full time in a busy ward.

    His ex-wife kept their house and he hasn't got much in the way of financial prospects or savings. He works very hard and his job is well paid, but he has previous debts from enterprises gone wrong... He is no sugar daddy.

    He has asked me to be his wife and this is something that I want, because I feel that I do love him. But I also feel that his family will never accept me if I marry him. What's more, I feel his daughters and siblings will forever question my existence and suspect my intentions.

    These aren't unfounded fears. One of his brothers left his wife and remarried ten years ago. I know for a fact that his entire family -and himself- poke fun at the 'new' wife. They claim that the first wife is in fact their auntie/sister-in-law/etc., and that his second wife is 'nuts'. I feel for this woman.

    I don't want to submit my son to this kind of hostility, and quite frankly, I want to spare myself from it too.

    My son spends exactly half the week with his father and the other half with me. We live not too far from each other and we co-exist peacefully. We support each other to do what is best for our son, something of which I am proud.

    By the way, my current partner had a vasectomy many years ago and I cannot have any more children due to complications from my son's birth. We have discussed this at large and we are happy not to have any more children.

    I have thought that perhaps I could move in with him like he asked, and that I could avoid interacting with his family. Am I being unrealistic? I don't see why I should socialise with his daughters or his siblings -they live in America, and I we live in Britain- when they travel to Europe or we go to the US.

    I realise he has to be there for his daughters and family, but I don't see why I should be there hovering about feeling unwelcome and judged.

    I would like to know what you make of all this.

    Most of all, if you are short on time, I would like you to answer this question, as it keeps me up at night.

    I would like to contact his ex-wife. I would like to have a conversation with her. I want to know her side of the story. I want to know what happened, according to her.

    Do you think I would be out of line doing this?

    Thank you so very much for your blog.

    It has opened my eyes to so many things I hadn't considered.

    All the best,


  13. That is so darned screwed up. SCREWED UP. You're better than Jane Goodall anyway. <3

  14. Jenny, are you okay? Long time no post ....

  15. Jenny, are you okay? Long time no post ....

  16. Jenny, I check almost every day for a new post. Hope everything is ok?
    How are you?


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