Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Not Despicable, but Replaceable Me

When I heard my previous employer had hired someone to replace me, I had mixed feelings. On one hand I was glad they filled the position (especially since authors were starting to contact me on Facebook for help), but on the other hand, this hiring was proof that I am, in fact, replaceable. All I could hope for was that this person was already failing to perform, was completely unlikable, or passed gas during meetings. Apparently none of the above applies to the new Kim new marketing director whom everyone is speaking highly of. Well, goodie for them. I hope they'll be very happy together.

While I confess to having had this terribly immature response, you'll be glad to know I didn't dwell on it for long. I've chosen something else to fret over instead, namely, the superstar I hired to be the new Associate Director of Marketing and Communications. Kelly started last month and without question, she's terrific. She's smart, hard working, inquisitive and pleasant to be around. She has a passion for office supplies and to-do lists. I can tell from the tchotchkes on her desk that her family and boyfriend mean the world to her. She's showing signs of a compatible sense of humor. In other words, I think I hired a younger version of myself. Except that I realized after looking at all the photos on her desk that I don't have a single picture of family or friends on mine.

Aside from the photographic reminder of my shortcomings as a mom/wife/friend, things with Kelly look promising.Though I have to say that there have been a couple times I've found my ego crushed myself slightly hurt by faculty and staff who behave like we've hired the savior. One of the deans actually introduced her as "the future of the College." To which I replied with a not-in-the-least-bit bitter "Whoa! Hello? What about me?" That little episode was followed by a marketing-related meeting in which the director of one of our programs directed absolutely everything in the conversation to Kelly. At one point I blurted out, "I've been working on that and will continue to do so. I mean, Kelly and I will work together on these things." Geez. Talk about insecure. Afterward I immediately felt like a jerk for appearing to be desperate for control and power. I apologized to Kelly and a faculty member in attendance, both whom said they didn't see it as such. In fact, the faculty member said he could see I was being a mother hen in protecting Kelly from all the work that was being dumped on her. Yes, that's it. I was protective. Not petty and insecure. Let's go with that!

I have very little experience being someone's "boss" and I can't say I was looking forward to it when I was informed that I would be hiring someone to work with me. I'm kinda the lone ranger type. Not "kinda." I'm definitely a lone ranger. Tell me what needs to be done and I'll do it. Don't make me be part of team and don't tell me how to do my job and we'll get along just fine. Given this controlling personality of mine, my biggest concern with working with someone was that I wasn't going to be willing to give up any part of what I consider to be "my" job. That I'd want to hold on tight to everything, or at the very least, give very specific direction on how to get the work done. In other words, I foresaw myself as a micro-manager, the very thing I hate in a supervisor.

The good news is that I haven't found myself doing much of that micromanaging or even withholding of work (heck, there's so much of it and so much that's challenging, that I've been more than happy to hand it off). What I didn't expect, however, is that I'd feel threatened, bordering on jealous. During that meeting in which Kelly was the star of the show, and given her glowing introductions and interactions with faculty and staff, I suddenly realized that I had hired someone who could replace me in the not so distant future. My reaction during that meeting wasn't so much about control (and certainly not about mothering), but rather it was a direct reflection of the threat I felt when I realized if they gave her all the work, I would no longer be needed. Once again, in the span of a few weeks, I've been shown to be replaceable. This is does nothing to boost one's ego.

To add insult to injury, last week I had my first official "Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" at work. It started with a security violation citation for leaving the office door open and the lights on with valuable equipment in the room. On Saturday. When I wasn't here. Four people in my office and I'm the only one with a citation. I hope this doesn't go down on my permanent record (insert "Kiss Off" Violent Femmes music here). The week only improved when I discovered a mailing piece I sent out was half the size I thought it would be (I'd only seen the computer file), AND that there was a major mistake in the title I bestowed upon the professor whom the postcard was for. Totally not my fault, but guilty by association. Then there was the insider information I received that clued me in to another rouge department pursuing a printed publication without me. And did I mention the number of occasions on which I've said too much about certain issues (so unlike me)? Have I told you about the tension that's been building in my office space because no one has the quiet place they need to accomplish their work? The honeymoon is definitely over, but the good news is I've gotten that officially crappy day out of the way and I'm still employed.

Yes, getting older sucks. Learning you're replaceable is a bummer. Knowing someone you hired will eventually be doing your job is threatening. Envying your kids for the opportunities they have that have officially passed you by stinks, too. But on the flip side, getting older means I'm closer to living the dream. Hiring someone amazing means I have a colleague who doesn't frustrate, disappoint or require me to watch over her. And envying my kids means they have a life worth envying, and what more could a parent ask?

Wow. That was so weird. Me looking at the positive side of things. I better stop here before I revert back to my old self.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Finding Faith Despite My Failings

On Sunday my son Ian was confirmed in our church, Media Presbyterian. This special day was the culmination of about seven months of classes, which he did not attend willingly. Because I failed to make Sunday school a required part of our week - a "given" - as kids, Ian and Abby both gradually fell away from the church. For Abby, the inconsistency in her attendance resulted in feelings of being behind in her learning (not a state she's comfortable in). For Ian, not being there regularly meant he never formed the close relationships that many of the other kids share. Fortunately, Abby has found youth group to be a place to grow in her faith. Ian's faith, however, has been a strictly personal journey, one taken alone instead of with the church family, the same church family that has literally changed my life. Because getting Ian to church was always a battle, last year I made it a point to regularly remind him that confirmation class was not up for discussion. He would go, not just because it was an important part of his spiritual growth, but because as a church elder, usher and involved member, I'd look like an even worse mom if my son did not get confirmed. A lousy reason, but an honest one.

So Ian went. And while the fellowship aspect of the experience did not greatly improve, Ian did grow significantly in his understanding of the Christian faith. More importantly, he actually enjoyed learning, and in the end, he was one of five confirmands who willingly read his faith statement in front of the congregation on Sunday. More on that later.

When Rob and I arrived at church yesterday, I immediately had the sense that I'd blown it. The pews were packed with family and friends who turned out to support and applaud these young people. We didn't even have Abby with us because we allowed her to choose between her brother's confirmation and a soccer game. A no-brainer in her book. I had invited my parents who were unable to attend, and that was it. I had no gift for Ian and no grand party. (He suggested we should have sent invitations to a post-party with instructions to "treat this like a Bar Mitvah."). I couldn't even convince him to let his Dad and me take him out for a nice lunch. For someone who claims to be a person of faith and a committed member of MPC, I had definitely dropped the ball on what was my son's biggest day in the life of the church. And the more I think about it, the more I realize I dropped the ball when it comes to my children's faith in general.
Ian and John

In addition to failing to make Sundays at church a family tradition, I rarely talk faith with Ian and Abby. I'll share it with my Freakin' Angels. I'll talk with Rob. I'll even write the occasional blog post about it, but the two most important people I should be sharing it with are being overlooked. I guess it should have come as no surprise when Ian stood in front of the church to read his faith statement and gave most of the credit to our youth director (and confirmation class teacher) John Chaffee. I think Rob and I were recognized for dragging, um, I mean bringing him to church. Even Pastor Bill and the children's choir director got more props than mom and dad. I know, he's a 15-year-old boy and they tend to forget their parents exist, but as he spoke and I reflected on those 15 years, I had to admit that I don't deserve the credit for bringing him to where he is now, at least where faith is concerned. I'm thankful to John for helping Ian to grow.

If you're wondering about Ian's paper presentation, I'm happy to say he did a great job with regard to his composure, delivery and eye contact. (He gets his public speaking chops from his mom.) As for the paper itself, it was classic Ian.
Honest: "I don't know where I'm headed with this faith journey or how I'm going to get there."
Humorous: "Despite appearances to the contrary, I actually enjoyed the time I've spent at church over the years." 
Brief (to John, before Sunday): "That's all I want to say. Can I stop at two pages?"
It's obvious that despite our lack of pomp and circumstance, confirmation meant something to Ian. After the service, he asked Pastor Bill if he can be a church elder now (the youngest elder ever, I'm sure). Bill offered him the pastorate instead, and I think Ian can handle it.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Priceless Unplanned Moments

I'm not a fly by the seat of my pants kinda girl. While I admire those with a sense of adventure, personally I don't have a taste for "winging it." I greatly prefer having a plan. I think that's part of what made Italy such a great experience for me. The itinerary was set on paper, nearly down to the hour. We knew when we were eating, what time we needed to be on the bus, where we were going, what churches we'd be visiting, and when we could take a nap (a.k.a. free time). We had a 24-7 Italian guide who took care of everything except fluffing our pillows. Agendas were in place, schedules were adhered to, everything ran smoothly. And  naturally, the most special moments were those we hadn't planned for.

Silvertones with Maestro del Coro John Shankweiler
The first of several memorable moments took place after the Silvertones' first concert. We were in the beautiful seaside town of Gallipoli for an evening performance in Sacro Cuore di Gesu, one of the dozen-plus Baroque style churches we were to visit on this trip. The singing was lovely and audience appreciative. In fact, oddly appreciative. A few older women gave us standing ovations, repeatedly. A little over the top, I thought. Well, it turns out that unbeknownst to us, the Silvertones were performing a tribute concert of sorts. It seems a few years back, a young man named Andrea heard the Silvertones perform when they were in that same part of Italy. A young composer and musician himself, he embraced the group and was involved in arranging one of their performances during that visit. Sadly, Andrea died from hepatitis B at age 32, just a year before the Silvertones returned to the Puglia region for this tour. When his family learned the group would be performing, they invited friends and extended family and printed a special tribute book. After the concert and the repeat standing ovations, his mother presented Silvertones' director John Shankweiler with a piece of art, and the family surprised the kids with a pizza party (which was being followed by a pre-planned 7-course meal). The highlight of the evening, however, was when friends of Andrea's sang one of his songs for us. That magical moment moved me to tears, and when I looked across the room at my son, I saw his eyes were also welling up. Just one of the many reasons why I love that kid.

I'm happy to say that none of the other special, unplanned moments of our trip had that kind of sad note to them. However, another did involve singing by someone other than -- or I should say in addition to -- us. After a performance in a church in Martina Franca (I think it was the one that was cold enough that we could see our breath), a local gospel group suggested we get together to perform for one another. The next evening after dinner, the Wake Up Gospel project paid a visit to our hotel where the five of them blew us away with their performances of classic American gospel music. I thought the Silvertones were good, but these folks were amazing. Of course, to be fair, they'd been together for seven years while our group changes every nine months.

I was being sarcastic when I said it was impressive.
Number three on the list of pleasant surprises was an unexpected invitation into a woman's home while we were strolling the streets of one of the historic town centers. As we meandered through the narrow alleys admiring the architecture, an Italian woman, probably in her 50s, invited us into her home to see what these residences looked like inside. Yes, 40+ Americans made their way up her glorious marble staircase and found ourselves in the quintessential Italian lady's home. An older woman lived there with her three adult daughters, surrounded by furnishing and decor that hadn't been touched in 30+ years. Naturally there wasn't a speck of
Valentino. Word of lung cancer
still has not reached Italy
dust among the mismatched photographs, trinkets and tableware, but all I could think of was how amazing that space, with it's 12 foot ceilings and marble columns, could have looked with some updating. The Silvertones thanked the women for the impromptu visit by gathering around her dining room table to sing for them. That performance gave me an opportunity to admire the artwork, including the impressive painting above of a pope or bishop or some other Catholic holy guy. The most fascinating tidbit of info we learned during that visit was that the home previously belonged to Rudolph Valentino.

Finally, the most lighthearted unexpected moment of our tour came in Matera, the last "big" city we visited. As we walked along the city wall, high above a valley below, we witnessed wildlife of some sort racing along the ravine. That wildlife? Wild boars. Trailing a short distance behind them? Baby boars struggling to keep up. The country has no deer, squirrels, rabbits, etc., but wild boar? Absolutely.

Hog heaven
Prior to this trip I did very little traveling outside the U.S. (and not that much inside the U.S. either). I'd only been to Yorkshire, England 15 years ago, with a couple of trips to Mexico in between. Visiting Italy awakened in me a real desire to travel, to see more of this amazingly beautiful world we live in. If I can get the kids to go to Villanova, I will happily spend their college savings (and perhaps their inheritance) exploring places I've only seen in pictures. And I'll be sure to leave time in my well thought out itineraries for those memorable unplanned moments.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Random Musings: Italian Edition

I have returned from the Silvertones' singing tour of the southeastern region (Puglia) of Italy. It was an amazing experience and worth every penny of my children's college education money. Just seeing Ian's tremendous smile when singing or hanging with his friends was incredibly special. I told him I must go on the next tour in two years. And maybe I'll continue to go after he graduates. He told me the kids liked me best out of all the chaperones, but lest I think too highly of myself he added, "That really isn't saying much when you consider the competition."

As I prepare to return to the daily grind, time and my jet lagged brain do not permit a full post reflecting on the experience at this point.  But because I know you've missed me terribly (and Rob disappointed you by not taking advantage of a great opportunity to get even with me for a three years worth of somewhat questionable posts), I thought I'd quickly share:

20 Things I Learned in Italy
A frogfish face only a mother could love.

  1. I do, in fact, like red wine!
  2. I do not, however, like octopus, or squid, or veal, or sushi, or vegetables...(most of the adventurous multi-course meals were wasted on me; I think Ian actually ate more than I did).
  3. Frogfish does not taste as bad as it looks.
  4. America's bread, cheese, salami/prosciutto and pizza pale in comparison to Italy's. Just don't try to bring home the meat. Damn those customs agents! Damn me for including the salami on the declaration form! 
  5. Italian men are instantly recognizable and live up to their reputation as Lotharios. Our girls were frequent objects of "affection."
  6. Older Italian women look like my mother-in-law and her sisters. 
  7. Italians, at least in the region we were in, don't often use garlic, and the country as a whole is not

    particularly wild about chicken.
  8. Or, hair conditioner.
  9. Hotels don't feel adequate hair dryers are important, but they're big on heated towel racks and bidets.
  10. As a tourist, siesta time sucks. This is why I didn't buy you anything. All the stores were closed when I wanted to shop.
  11. Buildings in Italy are considered modern if they were built after the 17th century. 
  12. Italians don't dress up for church, even on Easter Sunday. It's perfectly okay to wear ripped jeans and a sweatshirt, as long as you don't expose your shoulders, elbows or knees.
  13. The long-legged blondes in our group turned a lot of heads in Italy. Same as they do in America.
  14. Italians sell pizza topped with hot dogs and French fries. 
  15. In the piazzas, throngs of people stroll through the streets (and I do mean "stroll." No one ever seems to be in a hurry over there. Maddening for speed walkers like me). Vehicles also drive on these streets, causing us to frequently shout "CAR" during our walking tours.  
  16. There's a trend toward rosé wines at the vineyards in Italy. Rob is terribly disappointed to hear this.
  17. Depeche Mode sounds awesome when drinking tea in a bar (what we would call a cafe or coffee bar) next to a 15th century church in Martina Franca.
  18. The window balconies you see on castles and fancy homes were shaped outward to fit women's big
    dresses back in the day.
  19. There are more than 50 million olive trees in the Puglia region.
  20. The best moments in life are generally those you didn't plan for. 
And those special unplanned moments are what I'll share in my next post. Until then, arrivederci!