Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My New Reality: A Preview

It's been a strange summer thus far and it's going to remain strange right up until the first of August. It began in June with Ian heading off to a church youth group retreat in the Poconos the Monday after school let out. He returned home on a Friday afternoon and declined to join his family at the Phillies game and fireworks that evening. The next morning, Rob took Ian and his friend Keaton to the airport at 4:15 a.m. for a flight to Atlanta, where Keaton's parents would pick the boys up and take them to Lake Burton, Georgia. Their stay in Georgia lasted 10 days. On the day they returned, we dropped Abby and her friend Maddie off at Immaculata University for soccer camp. They spent four days there. Three days later Abby left for the Poconos for the middle schoolers' week-long church youth group retreat. That same day Rob and I flew to Minneapolis for the All Star Game. We left Ian home alone, paying one of Rob's coworkers to spend the nights with him.

Rob and I returned from Minnesota last Wednesday afternoon; Abby got home on Thursday. On Saturday, Rob and Ian headed out on their road trip to Oxford, Ohio where Ian is spending two weeks in Miami University's Summer Scholars program.

At the parent meeting for Abby's soccer camp, the leaders told us this would be a good first step toward college for the girls. They were responsible for getting themselves where they needed to be, when they needed to be there. They had to remember their gear and their water, and be sure to change their socks and clothes frequently enough that they didn't develop any strange rashes. They ate in the dining hall and slept in the dormitory and if they had lost their keys it would have cost us them $75. Naturally, Abby and Maddie were just fine. Those two could run the camp.

Ian's two week experience at Miami will be an even greater pre-college test. The question is, who will perform better, him or me?

While I usually welcome the opportunity to have a few days away from my children, I have to confess that this June-July anomaly has me a bit freaked out. Let's face it, these exoduses away from home are just harbingers of things to come. And those things to come will be here before I know it. And quite frankly, I'm not sure I'm ready. Me. The one who started counting down the days till they left for college when they were three. Me. The one who thought this motherhood thing might have been a poor (and irreversible) job choice. Me. The one with the 10-year plan that includes no one except me and Rob on a beach somewhere. How has this happened? How is it that I actually have a small ache in my heart?

I think what happened is that I've grown to really like my kids. Loving your children is pretty much a given, but liking them? Not always. As they've gotten older, we actually have meaningful conversations (as long as Ian's not sitting in front of a screen of some sort), and I find I truly enjoy their company. Ian's bright, quick wit never fails to amuse and impress, and Abby's observations, intelligence and competitive spirit provide a challenge.

I'm amazed at the way they've both changed in the past year or so; Ian, in particular. Last summer he couldn't wait to come home from two camp experiences right here at Villanova, 15 minutes from home. He was miserable. This year he's nine hours away for two weeks, spending his days with complete strangers. And he loves it. He's made friends, enjoys his classes (The Business of Sports), and finds the whole experience "great." "Great" is high praise indeed from a 16-year-old boy. On day one it was only "good."

Knowing that Ian's doing well has eased that small ache, but I do miss his sense of humor. I suppose I better get used to it.

This Saturday, while Ian's still in Ohio, Rob, Abby, my mom and I will drive 10 hours to Banner Elk, NC for our church mission trip. We'll leave a day early, Friday, August 1, in order to pick up Ian at the Baltimore airport where he'll fly in from Cincinnati at the conclusion of his Miami U. experience. We'll return home that night where we will begin the month of August with nothing more than Vacation Bible School on the calendar.

It'll be weird, being together like that. I just hope the kids don't get on my nerves.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Midwestern Meditations

There's nothing better than getting away for a few days. It doesn't even matter how far you go, as long as you're not in your own home with your never-ending to do list in plain sight. I swear I become a different person. Almost pleasant to be around. It's delightful!

Summer presents the most opportunities for these bits of respite from reality. In the past couple months, I've enjoyed an overnight to Cape May with my family; a visit with my parents, sister and nephew near Barnegat Bay; and most recently, I traveled to Minneapolis with my husband for the MLB All Star Game. On this little jaunt I made several observations that I'd like to share with you. This top 10 list isn't particularly meaty (except for the steak and BBQ) or deep, but it's all I've got time for. Seems these little getaways get in the way of getting stuff done and now I'm behind in my job, my home life, my volunteer obligations, yada, yada, yada. The good news is that I actually have a couple of ideas for more substantial posts in the near future. So you have that to look forward to. I seriously hope, however, that you have more to look forward to than a blog post. But I digress. Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation (in no particular order).
  1. Pepsi, popcorn, donuts and beer can bring a person to their knees. Literally.
  2. You can't help but feel a tremendous sense of pride and patriotism when six U.S. Air Force Thunderbird jets do a flyover in a flat delta formation at about 400 mph just as Idina Menzel hits the final note of the national anthem.
  3. Somewhere over the rainbow, skies, indeed, are blue.
  4. Some people over-pack clothes when they travel. I over-pack reading material (and never have enough clothes).
  5. You hear some memorable stuff when you visit new places, like "Can you pass me my cheese curds? I left them under your seat."
  6. Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you one hell of a steak. 
  7. People in Minnesota are just nice. TSA folks in the airport there actually appeared to like their jobs. Just can't imagine seeing that in the City of so-called Brotherly Love. 
  8. Every state believes it's the master of BBQ.  
  9. I don't know what it is, but elderly black men have some of the most beautiful faces I've ever seen. I saw Hank Aaron at a pre-game event over the weekend, and his distinguished face reminded me of the Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, one of the greatest elder statesmen (96!) of the black church (and a Judson Press author).  
    Mr. Hank Aaron
    Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor
  10. It's awesome to see people you love as others see them. Over the weekend, I was able to watch my husband in his element, associating with colleagues from around the MLB. He's the same friendly, intelligent, engaging, real, humorous and well-respected guy I fell in love with. Now if only he could return to proper form at home. Ha! 
Here's hoping that wherever your travels take you this summer, you come home with your own top 10 list! And how about sharing it?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Just a Cliche and a Decade Away from Being the It Girl

I am officially too old to ever again be an "It Girl." This painful realization hit me a couple of weeks ago when I learned of a much younger colleague's designation as the cat's meow, the cream of the crop, and the best thing since sliced bread. Okay, no one used those exact words, but the sentiment was communicated clearly enough.

While I will agree that this colleague is a terrific person and a hard working, competent and mature professional, I am not happy about all the chatter. My reasons for being envious concerned are completely rational:
  1. If this individual were to learn that she is so highly regarded, the ego boost could make her very difficult to work with.
  2. Those who think this individual is all that and a bag of chips may become blind to her weaknesses and willing to overlook her flaws.
  3. For leadership to heap the majority of praise on one employee can have disastrous affects on the self-esteem of others who may feel the need to retaliate.
While, none of this applies to me personally because I don't compete work that closely with this individual, I have become aware that older women like myself are clearly being discriminated against when it comes to being the bees knees. Simply put, It Girl status can only be bestowed upon those under the age of 30. This is evidenced by the fact that business journals publish lists of the "Top Professionals Under Age 30," or "40 to Watch Under Age 40," but you never see anything for "Fantastic in their Fifties" or "Successful in their Sixties." The reality is that, once you turn 41, you're expected to be a performer. There's no special recognition. No talk in the break room about the new superstar. No grumbling about the girl who thinks she's "all that."

This is a hard reality for me to face because in my 20s and 30s, I was an It Girl. I worked hard to make sure I was bringing the very best to whatever position I held so that the bar would forever be set at "Kim level" and my replacements would always have very big shoes to fill. Gave everything 110%, never content with the merely the old college try. Raised my hand for every new job responsibility. Kissed butt ad nauseum. And for what? The same Wawa gift card everyone else received. And more responsibility at the same salary. It Girl status doesn't really pay off in the non-profit sector. Ah, hindsight. The point is that I enjoyed the heady feeling of knowing I was appreciated and recognized, and now I'm being forced to rely on my self-confidence to get me through the day. This is why middle-aged people turn to drinking and prescription drugs. They're much more accessible than self-esteem. 

In retrospect, I should have seen this coming several years ago when I noticed that I was no longer the youngest employee in my department or organization. I remember being truly shocked to discover that not only was Susie Q not older than me, but in fact, she was a good decade younger. Clearly I was am in denial of my advancing age, and this new performance-based "reality" is adding insult to injury.

In trying to decide how to handle this delicate situation, I can think of only a few options:

  • Sabotage my colleague's work so her performance is of concern versus congratulations.
  • Find ways to highlight my own work in such a way that it overshadows hers.
  • Encourage her to find employment elsewhere and then recommend a clearly inferior individual to take her place.
  • Find a new job in which I likely am the youngest employee. Maybe the library or the school cafeteria?
  • Put on my big girl panties and deal with it.
I welcome your advice, really. I especially look forward to hearing from you if you've personally managed to maintain It Girl status into your 40s or 50s. I probably won't talk to you again, but I'm still eager to know how you did it.