Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Give Me Something I Can Hold On To

I contemplated titling this post "What's Old is New Again." Despite our penchant for the next best thing and forward momentum in all facets of life, Americans (I can't speak for the rest of the world) are known to occasionally turn back time (Cher is usually involved). We see it most commonly with fashion when someone decides that bell bottoms, leg warmers, high waisted pants, shoulder pads, Bermuda shorts and pantsuits should be reintroduced to society. What's less common is taking a step back when it comes to technology and how we spend our time. This year I'm struck by the return of coloring, Polaroids, and old-fashioned printed books.

Though I've never considered myself a trendsetter, apparently I was on to something when in 1989, while in middle school college, I purchased a coloring book and crayons. You might assume this was because I had no social life and needed something to do, and that's true, but it was also a reflection of my need to disconnect (though I'm not sure what I was plugged into except my hot rollers) and allow my my mind to get the rest it needed. Coloring is also known to improve focus, relieve stress, and improve fine motor skills. When combined with wine, it also becomes an social activity. I can't say I've been invited to any coloring parties lately, but I suppose those Painting with a Twist places are the more upscale equivalent to getting together at the dining room table with your preschooler's crayons and colored pencils.

I acquired my first post-1989 coloring book just a few weeks when I found one at Five Below. The kids even treated me to a box of crayons to go with it. Having finished my first picture with crayons, I recommend using colored pencils instead. Just a bit of free coloring advice from me to you. Coloring is an excellent pre-bedtime activity. The blue light emitted from tech devices is said to affect sleep, whereas the blue pencil, crayon or marker has no known side effects. And if all of this doesn't convince you to pick up a coloring book, consider this: inexpensive artwork!

Now, on to pictures of a different sort. The 1977 Polaroid. When I think of the Polaroid, I think of my Aunt Faify who brought hers to every family gathering. The quality of those photos was never great, but there was something special about the instant results. Of course, with today's technology we're accustomed to immediacy, but what our smartphones are lacking is something to hold on to. Think of the billions of photos floating around in cyberspace, resting in the cloud and eating up valuable space on our devices. With the Polaroid, we can generate actual prints that we'll later stuff in shoe boxes, which eat up valuable space in closets and attics.

And finally, books. It appears that books--the kind made of paper that require you to physically turn the pages--are making a comeback. In the past year, news headlines have included:
"The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead" --NY Times
"Paper is back: Why 'real' books are on the rebound" --GeekWire
"E-book sales plummet as print stages comeback" --Fortune
Of course there are a variety of theories as to why this is happening, but at Christmastime, I can say with relative certainty that few people are gifting e-books for the holidays. They're just too hard to wrap. It could also be related to that blue light e-reader issue, and our need for healthier sleep habits. I know I'm all for anything that helps me sleep. I love sleep the way other people love parties. But I digress.

When it comes to "kickin' it old school," I have a prediction for 2016. I would wager a bet that friends will start hanging out again. In the flesh. There's just something to be said for reading the expression on someone's face instead of responding to the emoticon. And real hugs are much nicer than virtual pokes (does anyone do that anymore?). And making actual memories that last a lifetime is so much sweeter than snappy exchanges that disappear in a moment.
Here's hoping your holidays are filled with something you can hold on to!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Top 11 Things I'm Thankful for this Thanksgiving Day

In no particular order:

  1. A multitude of angels in my life, freakin' and otherwise.
  2. A teenage son who treats his wonderful girlfriend like a princess, demonstrating what a kind, thoughtful, loving and mature young man he has become.
  3. Radio City's Christmas Spectacular for actually leaving the Christ in Christmas. It's nearly impossible to see Christianity on display in a secular environment these days. So nice to see they didn't sanitize it to avoid offending anyone.
  4. A fulfilling career in which I get to share the stories of those who are truly making the world a better place.
  5. Those who help others--around the corner and around the world--not for recognition or reward, but because it's the right thing to do.
  6. Books, so many wonderful books!
  7. A teenage daughter who will hold my hand walking through NYC, and ask me to lie down with her on a rare night when she can't fall asleep.
  8. The opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream and the friends and family who encourage and support me.
  9. A teacher whose childlike joy and passion for his craft make being in school again an amazing experience.
  10. Puppy love.
  11. Being married to my best friend--a man who makes me laugh, think and look to our future as empty nesters with anticipation instead of sadness.
Finally, thank you for your friendship. I can't imagine walking through this life without one another to lean on!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Service" Spelled with an F U

Let's rant, shall we? The topic: customer service. Or the lack thereof. In 24-hours I moved from bemused to pissed off thanks to two separate service fiascos.

Incident #1: The Acme Cashier

I was already irritated by the elderly. I say that with utmost respect for those who consider themselves to be in that category, though I'm relatively certain no one I would classify as elderly is reading my blog (mom and dad, you're old, but not elderly - insert winky, smiley face here). Anyway, I was irritated because slow, confused women with clown makeup and crazy hair were wandering around the aisles at Acme at 5 p.m., making it difficult for us young and busy professionals to do what we came to do. Why do they need to go to the grocery store between 4-6 p.m.? Shouldn't they be eating an early bird meal at their favorite diner?

This is not related to my service complaint, however, as I write, I believe I may have stumbled onto a brilliant service concept. Much like the "adult swim" at the pool, perhaps there should be separate hours for shopping based on age group. Those 25-54 can shop between 7-9 a.m and 4-6 p.m.; those 75-plus and moms with infants are given a big chunk of time between 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; and teens can come by after school, 2:30-4:00 p.m. and at stupidly late hours when they're in need of cheese curls. There should probably be a similar schedule at the health club.

But I digress.

My main Acme complaint was with Louis, my couldn't-be-happier-to-have-this-job cashier. I don't know if I set him off by letting him know I didn't mind bagging my own groceries--perhaps he took it as a personal affront, like I didn't think he'd do it right--but the dude literally threw my groceries. Not at me, thank goodness, but onto the grocery collection area. This was fairly amusing until he came to my bananas and apples, and then the bread. Apparently no one told him that fruit bruises when tossed, and that bread can be bent out of shape, much like his increasingly grumpy customer.

Incident #2: The Jiffy Lube Guys

In my never-ending quest to save money, I drove out of my way to Jiffy Lube for an oil change and state inspection. I had a coupon (turns out I had a coupon for Midas, which made this incident even more irritating).

When I went to pick up my vehicle, the guys at the counter decided to mess with me. "That's $249.00." Seriously? "Nah, just messing with you. It's actually $____." (I'm not going to tell you how much I paid because I don't need my dad or anyone else tell me I was ripped off.) Of course, now I'm wondering if what I paid was the real price because nowhere in the place were the service prices listed. Still, I smiled gamely at his delightful sense of humor. Then I got into my soccer mom minivan and prepared to drive off. Until I noticed the pond.

A nearly full travel mug of tea that I had left in my cup holder had spilled in that handy little tray/console area between the front seats. Crumbs, bits of paper, and my parking pass were floating in a half-inch of liquid; the empty cup holders also were filled. And I was pissed. I returned to the shop and asked for towels to clean the mess. Did I let them know it was their spill and that I was displeased? No. They were bigger than me, had already intimidated me at the register, and I'm not good with confrontation. I sopped up what I could and drove away.

About a half-mile down the road I stopped at Philly Pretzel Factory to address my constant carb craving, but before I could even get out of the car, I had to write. An angry Yelp review was burning a hole inside of me. I had to let it out. I deal with my problems much better in writing:
"Just had my car inspected and oil changed at this Jiffy Lube location. I'm uncomfortable with what I paid because there were no posted prices for their services, which is what I find at Midas where I normally go. I went to Jiffy Lube because I had a coupon. Probably a big mistake. Most disappointing, when I got into my car I saw that an entire travel mug of tea that I had left in a cup holder had spilled in my center console and nobody bothered to clean it up before giving me my car back. Something so simple that would've made such a big difference in how I feel about my service. Because their service requires them to vacuum the floors, they did that, but since it didn't say anywhere that they should clean up when they spill something in a customer's car, they just left it. Classic lazy customer service. I won't be back."
After letting out my frustration and picking up my pretzel--which was cold and kinda hard and itself worthy of complaint--I headed home. And then it occurred to me. The son-of-a-bitch hadn't returned my insurance card and registration. And freakin' Jiffy Lube is on Baltimore Pike, the busiest damn retail road in Delaware County. And I hate running "errands" more than going to the dentist. And it was almost 5 p.m. and traffic was already brutal. I contemplated asking them to mail me my stuff, but wondered what the odds were that it would ever reach me.

I called and the assistant manager answered the phone--not the same guy who totally made up the price of my oil change and inspection. I told him they forgot my paperwork. He informed me it was on my passenger seat. Ah yes. Indeed. I figured this was an opportunity to share my thoughts about spilled tea. He apologized, wasn't aware of it, will tell the big scary guy who worked on my vehicle. Awesome. Originally I had posted my Yelp review with my photo; I took that down. I don't want him to find me. There are risks associated with speaking ones mind.

These delightful experiences are ripe for political commentary, which as a rule I stay away from because I'm generally in enemy territory with my views. But I do find myself thinking about personal responsibility and its role in the lives we live. If you hate working as a grocery store cashier, what could you do about it instead of taking it out on your customers, and ultimately, your employer? And I wonder about the debate over minimum wage. If the cashier and the Jiffy Lube guys were paid more, would they care more? Or would they be paid more to deliver the same shitty service? Tough subjects, indeed. Perhaps Ian, as an economist in training, but with a servant's heart, will one day help solve these problems plaguing our increasingly polarized country.

Wow. This post took a turn, didn't it? Sorry to end on such a heavy note. To make it up to you, here's a picture of a kitten. Make it a good day!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

But, they're only suggestions

It's crunch time. In a mere five days, applications will be due for two of the three colleges my son Ian is applying to: University of Chicago (early action) and Villanova (for consideration for the Honors College). If it were up to me these applications would have been submitted a month ago, but Ian is not me. And I've been trying hard to keep that in mind, not only where college admissions are concerned, but also with regard to his collegiate life.

One of the things I have struggled with during his high school years is allowing my son to be himself. Personality-wise, he's good to go (except for his excessive computer time and tendency to procrastinate), but I confess that I have been disappointed more than once in the decisions he's made. Not with regard to classes, behavior, friends or that special someone (a shout out to B.Q.), but rather his choice of extracurriculars. That's not quite accurate. It's not the activities he's been involved with that bother me, it's the ones he hasn't taken part in that bum me out.

Ian should have appeared in every play and musical for the past three years. He should have competed in the oral interpretation category in speech and debate--I personally found him the perfect material. He could have pursued fencing or martial arts, both of which he showed promise in when he was younger. And I'm sure there are a myriad of other activities that I would have wanted him to take part in if I'd known about them.

You may think this is about me. That I want to relive my youth through my son. Well, not's entirely true. He did show great potential in these activities, particularly where acting and speech competitions were concerned. It's not like I pushed, prodded, nagged at encouraged him to take on the school newspaper or yearbook. I didn't recommend more than once or twice robotics or other appropriately geeky science-related clubs that I knew he wasn't interested in, despite being eminently qualified for. Honestly, I had the best intentions. And, if Ian loves his mother, he might just prove it by auditioning for the musical this year. One last opportunity for him to make the right decision.

Until college, when I'm he's given a fresh start.

I have recently experienced Ian sightings at Villanova. I'll be walking across campus and envision bumping into him. Or seeing him in the cafeteria. That's not so bad. I probably won't embarrass him much if/when that happens. What's more problematic is that I've started to take note of opportunities that I don't want him to miss if he comes here. I hear one of the many acapella groups perform and think, "He's got to try out; he'd be great!" I learn of a student-run homeless shelter in the city, and I can't wait for him to get involved. I know of a certain professor who is conducting research on a topic that will interest Ian and I tell the professor that my son would love to work with him/her. The Global Leadership Fellows Program? Where do I sign him does he sign up? My The excitement is palpable!

I'm in trouble here.

And this post may have just squashed the possibility of Ian attending Villanova.

I have his best interests at heart. But he knows his interests and he's becoming an adult and he will need to make all of these decisions for himself.

Perhaps if I just refer to them as suggestions?

P.S. Did I mention there's Irish dance? And an ethics bowl team?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gotta Get Myself Connected

When my kids were in middle school, their day ended with a period called "Connections," which was the equivalent of "home room" in my day. Today, though my children are no longer at the middle school, I find myself thinking about that word choice, and I think I really like it.

The idea of connections has been on my mind of late. Though if I reflect on the posts I've written through the years, I suppose connections are a running theme for me. It's basically the purpose of my writing. While blogging may be perceived as a cry for attention, in my case, the need for attention is really the equivalent of a desire for connections. And if we zoom out for a wider view, I think we can agree that my posts generally are about the real issues, feelings and life experiences that connect us.

Whether we put it into words or not, most of us crave connections. It's what makes us human. Nearly every day I think to myself, "Today is the day I'm going to say hello to every individual I encounter." Why is that always on my mind? For one thing, I think it'd make for a fascinating blog post, but more importantly, I think I could make a small difference in someone's day. Not because there's anything special about me, but because we all want to be recognized. And honestly, there is something surprisingly lovely about someone offering a simple greeting, an acknowledgement of our existence.

One of the nicest encounters I've had recently occurred while I was walking on campus. I passed by an older gentlemen and he greeted me with "Good morning, Miss." Now, it could be because he called me "miss" instead of "ma'am," but I'm pretty sure just the "good morning" and a smile would have had roughly the same effect. Even though that encounter was weeks ago, it's stuck with me. That's how powerful a greeting can be.

So why haven't I followed through on my desire to greet everyone I see? It's hard. Way harder than it should be. People don't make eye contact anymore. If their heads aren't down, looking at their phones, they're likely to look away if you look at them directly. Friendliness, sadly, has become uncomfortable instead of commonplace. A couple years ago, Villanova, which boasts its friendliness and sense of community, tried to institute "tech-free Tuesdays" in an effort to get us to stop looking at our devices when walking across campus, and instead look at one another and say hello. It failed miserably.

I honestly worry that within a short number of years all we will see when we walk down the street is the top of people's heads. No one will look up anymore. We'll all need chiropractors to work on our aching necks. And sales of hair growing tonic will dramatically increase as men worry more about balding.

Given the challenge of exchanging basic niceties with strangers on the street, I thought I might have more success trying to connect with those whom I interact with on some level. The gym is the perfect example. If we're in a class together, we should be bonded by a shared misery experience. We should connect over a good groan when the instructor calls for burpies or mountain climbers.  If we're walking out of the building afterward and it's refreshingly chilly, you should acknowledge my witty comment about it. Unfortunately, for most people it doesn't even register that you're speaking to them.

I leave you with this quote from Dr. Brene Brown, a young American researcher who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame:
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness."
So put yourself out there and connect to another member of our human family. I can almost guarantee the good feelings will be worth it!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Suck it Up

I was all set to write a post in which I declared my shortcomings and threw in the towel where this acting thing is concerned. After all, I am two classes in to the semester and the professor has not yet declared me the best student he's ever had. Nor has he asked me where I've been all his life or why I am not on Broadway. This lack of positive feedback combined with the fact that "all the other kids know each other and I feel left out" leads naturally to my decision to move on. Yep. I'm a quitter. Not my best personality trait, I know.

On Saturday, Rob and I were at the beach, just the two of us. And I decided to open up and share my thoughts and feelings. As if that's a rare thing for me. So I said something along the lines of "Do you ever get bummed out thinking that you're never going to do anything amazing with your life?" Like write a book, or make an impressive career move, or be a star on the stage? Being the rational man that he is, he suggested 1) that raising two pretty awesome kids can be considered having done something amazing, and 2) what's the point of thinking about what you haven't done with your life when all along it's been your choice. And he's right, of course.

This conversation led to another in which I told him I'd read in an advice column a letter from a young mother of an 8-month child. She wrote that both she and her husband were unhappy with parenthood. Not just sleep-deprived or anxious about it, but downright miserable. She noted that this was obviously not something she could share with anyone else. Most folks don't think kindly of those who would like to undo the whole baby thing. My heart broke for her because I could have written that letter 16 years ago. Or 10 years ago. Alright. Probably five years ago. The point is, I could relate, especially to feeling alone. Wondering if you've made a huge mistake entering into motherhood is not something most women are comfortable confessing, even women like me who open up our lives like a book for others to read.

Rob's response to this went something along the lines of "And a woman definitely can't tell her mother how she feels in this situation, especially if her mother was of my mom's generation." Rob's mom--who turns 85 in December--would have told her daughters (and probably me, if I'd confessed), "Too late for that now. You have a child to raise. Get to it." My reaction to my husband's comment on behalf of his mother? Ouch. Harsh. But Rob continued the conversation by asking if that kick in the pants isn't what we do need to hear when we find ourselves in difficult situations.

In today's "you're okay, I'm okay" society, we're encouraged to share our every thought and feeling and to accept them for what they are. To reflect, meditate, indulge, and caress our emotions. We whiners will not be denied that opportunity. How dare we be told to suck it up and take responsibility for fixing what's wrong instead of wallowing in it!

I am conflicted in my reaction to my husband's comments. They certainly hit a bit too close to home, given that I'm a living, breathing example of one of those people who mulls over every emotion as if it's the key I need to unlock the rest of my life. I can see where that's not always the best decision. Perhaps I'd be better off just living instead of analyzing. But then again, what would I possibly blog about?

I'd love your thoughts on this. Should we stop coddling and instead call one other out when it comes to that which we allow to stymie us? Is it okay to extend sympathy/empathy only so far as to say "I get that you're bummed/unhappy/miserable, but this is life, so start living?" Or is the world cruel enough that we owe it to each other to be kinder and gentler, as George H. W. Bush suggested back in 1988? Maybe this whole trend toward emotional overindulgence is his fault. Well, it would be one more thing we could blame on the Republicans. But I digress. Tell me what you think.

Monday, August 31, 2015

I've Got Class

You know those anxiety dreams you used to have/still have about school? The one where you forgot to go to class all semester and now there's a final exam? Or you wore a ridiculous outfit or forgot to wear clothes at all? Or you showed up and it was the wrong night or the wrong time or the wrong place? Well, last week I lived out one of my anxiety dreams in the very first class of the graduate certificate in practical theater program that I started this semester. (You may recall that I'm going to be a famous actress as soon as my kids move out of the house.)

Here's how my dreams/nightmares became reality:

I showed up for my Principles of  Acting class about 15 minutes early on Thursday evening. I was anxious and I didn't want to be late. When I got to the room there was a sign on the door that said "Do Not Disturb. Studio in Use," but I chalked it up to my early arrival and I waited. And waited. At 7:30, the door still hadn't opened and no one else had showed up. Obviously not a good sign. Given my increased tendency to remember things incorrectly, I double checked my calendar. I had the class start time correct. My calendar didn't indicate a location, but I was certain it was Vasey Studio. Well, I was certainly wrong. My acting class was in another building. The one furthest from where I was currently, and I wasn't wearing running shoes. So I took off my sandals and started sprinting barefoot across campus. I can just imagine how many heads I turned. And not in a good way.

I arrived at my class 20 minutes late, dripping with sweat. I explained to the professor and my classmates that I was going for "a dramatic entrance" and then took my seat in the circle on the floor. I had missed everyone's personal introductions and the syllabus review, and was put on the spot with a request to tell the group something interesting about myself. I played the 2nd degree black belt card so all the other students would think I'm a badass. A sweaty, late, middle aged badass.

From there, things got interesting. The class started with movement. Lots of movement. On the floor. Yoga positions, which I must say I nailed as compared to my considerably more youthful classmates. Of course, being an acting class, we couldn't merely stretch into the locust position. We had to breathe at the same time. Audibly. With feeling. Being born without the capacity for embarrassment, I let it all out. Including my underwear. Bad choice of granny panties with pants that sat too low on my hips to cover them, particularly when rocking back and forth on my stomach while holding my feet in my hands. By the time we finished on the floor, I was so sweaty that I looked like I'd peed myself. And they say you only get one chance to make a first impression.

After we returned to vertical positions and circled up, we began throwing knives at one another. No surprise there. And if we didn't catch the imaginary knife being thrown at us, we had to die a dramatic death. I died relatively early in the process. So I spent more time on the floor. I'm not sure what actors have against chairs.

The good news is that the highlight of the evening was still to come.

We spent the final hour (seriously, a full hour) of class staring at each other. But at least we got to sit for it. We each took turns on a chair in the front of the room where our assignment was to look at each person for longer than is comfortable. Frankly, I enjoyed it. We were given permission to gawk and I gave myself permission to also judge everyone I looked at. I made up little stories about them in my head. It was good fun. The sitting while others stared wasn't quite as enjoyable. Way too much down time for someone who constantly needs to be doing something (or sleeping). I didn't mind being stared, though I did have trouble not breaking into a smile, winking, licking my lips, or tossing out a Joey Tribbiani "How you doin?" just to break up the monotony.

Next week's class will begin with one word to describe how we feel, followed by more floor moves, a physical destination exercise and a read through of the monologue we've selected for our semester performance. I'm psyched. Seriously.

Though I'm the only one in class who didn't major in theater or performance as an undergraduate, and am probably the only one who hasn't auditioned or performed in anything for 25 years, I'm surprisingly comfortable. I rather enjoy the age difference (especially given my impressive level of flexibility), I don't have to think twice about letting my freak flag fly, and honestly, the other students are super friendly. I think this is gonna be good. And if it's not, I'll at least get some great blog material out of the experience!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Reflecting on the "F" Word

It's been a particularly emotional couple of weeks for me and that's saying something given that I'm always emotional. I think it's fair to say the "F" word was the source of my emotion overload. Yes, family has a way of affecting us like nothing else can. It can bring out the best in us and the worst. It can be a source of great joy and utter misery. We may relish the laughter of shared memories, and at the same time struggle with the disappointment of unmet expectations. We can take comfort in the power of forgiveness, or live with the bitterness of unresolved issues. Family is a big bundle of crazy that we can't imagine (though sometimes we wish we were) living without.

My family has tapped into my every emotion in the past two weeks. It started with Rob and Ian traveling to Mexico City on a week long church mission trip. I was concerned for their safety, proud of their willingness to serve, and a bit envious that the two of them were spending that special time together. I also was lonely. With communications limited to three brief text messages, for the first time in my marriage I acutely felt Rob's absence.
I discovered I missed my husband. While it sounds terrible, I confess that I'm not someone who pines for my spouse when we're apart. With phone calls and email and Facebook updates, it's hard to feel truly separated. But when Rob wasn't here and I couldn't call him and didn't know how he and Ian were, and there was no opportunity to share and take comfort in the mere the presence of the person with whom I share my life, my heart hurt. I was reminded of how much I love him and how blessed I am. Missing him was good for me.

Two days after Ian and Rob returned home, I left for three days, thereby maintaining the warm fuzzies that came from missing them. I headed to the mecca of Waretown, NJ along Barnegat Bay for a getaway with my parents and sister, brother-in-law and nephew who were home from Colorado for their semiannual visit. Time with my sister Dawn was spent laughing at painful memories of falling off my bike, competing in plank challenges (which I won both times), swatting green head flies on the boat while crabbing, and playing numerous games of Bananagrams (of which I am the champion). Unfortunately, on the first night of our visit, my mom learned that her sister Janet had died, nearly two years to the day that her sister Glenna passed away. My mom was one of five girls in her family. There are only two of them left, and this causes my mom considerable grief and pain.

When Irving Berlin wrote "Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters" he clearly had my mom and my aunts in mind. There existed a bond between those women that I've never seen before and likely never will experience personally. Interestingly, the closeness they shared is is in sharp contrast to the relationships my aunts often had with others, whether it be their husbands or their own children. In fact, in my Aunt Janet's obituary, there was no mention of her oldest son. They stopped talking decades ago, evidence of how easily relationships can be destroyed by an unwillingness to forgive and forget.

Last summer's photo.
We forgot to take one this year.
Irving Berlin did not write a song about my sister and me. While there is no bitterness or underlying root cause for the distance between us (literally and figuratively), I must confess to a level of disappointment with the way things are versus the way I'd like them to be. I would like Dawn to move home (or within reasonable driving distance). I would like Dawn to at least want to move home. I would like her to be sad when it's time to say goodbye. I would like it if we would start telling each other "I love you." While I don't expect to achieve the level of closeness my mom had with her sisters, I know Dawn and I could have more, but I don't know how to get us there.

Dawn's visit home coincided with my church's annual mission trip to western North Carolina. A truly family affair, this trip brings together all ages for a week of work and fellowship that has to be experienced because no description can do it justice. Obviously I did not go on the trip this year because I wanted to spend time with my sister. Abby, however, more than adequately represented the MacShimer family.
Abby on the roofing site with her MPC family.
Since she returned home on Saturday evening, I've lost count of the number of times Abby wished she were back in Banner Elk. For the first time in her life, Abby, who thinks a 30 minute car ride is torture, was sad to see a nine-hour car ride end (she had traveled with friends). Despite the fact that she was leaving for Avalon on Sunday to spend time with three girls from school, Abby actually seemed weepy when she repeated for the umpteenth time that she "didn't want to be home," but wished she could return to NC (which makes me sad, though I'm trying not to take it personally).

Car ride buddies (plus the Hicks girls)
The Sunday church service following Banner Elk is always wonderful. Those who went on the trip wear their matching t-shirts. We watch a slide show of photos from the week. The praise band (which for the first time included Abby on guitar!) plays the same music, and a few individuals on the trip share their experience in place of a traditional sermon. Naturally, I cried during several parts of the service, partly because I was disappointed to have missed being there, and partly because I was overwhelmed with love for my church family. While the church, like our flesh and blood family, has its own issues, the grace and forgiveness that we extend to one another provides a foundation for the strongest relationships I've ever known. And I don't know if it's a "Christian thing" or if we're just lucky, but my MPC brothers and sisters so openly share their love. There's no awkwardness in a hug. There's no discomfort in saying "I love you." What a gift!

As I reflect on the experiences of the past two weeks, I realize how blessed I am to have more than one family who loves me. If you've been separated from a loved one, I pray for reconciliation and healing. The bonds of family should not be so easily broken.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Your Mama Can't Dance

For two whole weeks in June I went to the gym fairly regularly. If I had actually worked out while I was there, I'd probably see results. But seriously, one week I actually went three times and could have gone a fourth, but I didn't want to start any crazy precedents. The point is, I was trying. But then I took Zumba.

At 5:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays my gym offers a TRX class. I'm a big fan of this workout. It's tough, but not extreme. I'm sweaty when I'm done, but I don't actually pass out, so that's a good thing. The only problem with TRX is that the class fills up too fast, given that there's only room for 10. So this particular Tuesday I arrived at 5 p.m. feeling super confident about securing my place, but would you believe 5 was too late? All the spots were taken. My natural inclination was to call it fate and head home, but the woman at the front desk suggested Zumba. I told her I'm not good at Zumba. She said it was a beginner's class. I figured what the hell.

What the hell, indeed.

There's something about Zumba that makes it right for blog post abuse. Maybe it's because...
  • I see Zumba as the new Sweatin' to the Oldies. Baby boomers don't want to admit that they've gotten older, so they take classes in which they dance to club music and shake body parts that have no business being shaken at this point in their lives. We are definitely NOT bringing sexy back in Zumba class. 
  • Honestly, I think I actually bring down the class's median age.
  • Zumba instructors, at least at my gym, appear to be misfits who aren't qualified to teach anything else. They're the only instructors who make me feel good about my physique.
  • It's embarrassing. I completely suck at it, but I imagine that even if I was a pro I'd be embarrassed to have those who are "really" working out see me doing this silly stuff that should definitely be reserved for dark nightclubs where alcohol is being consumed.
So there I was in Zumba class. On the side closest to the windows overlooking the gym floor where the real working out was taking place. And naturally there were college-age women watching us with amused faces. And old men looking for a hip swinging honey to take home for the night. I smiled and waved. They moved on. That's how badly I was swinging and shaking. I tried to laugh it off as I improvised the moves, but no one laughed with me, which made me feel even more pathetic.

Obviously Zumba is not a real workout.
I look hot afterward! Or maybe that's just sweat. 
I was sweating and panting about 30 minutes into what I assumed was a 45 minute class. At that point I
decided to just tap my toes and swing my arms around. What difference could it make? Fifteen minutes later I realized that the class was actually 60-minutes long. So I did the only sensible thing. I left. I had developed a side stitch and a stomach cramp.

And would you believe my hip ached for a whole week afterward?

So I swore never again. But then Abby asked me to take the class with her. I figured it is every teen's right to see their mom do something ridiculous, and since I've never done anything ridiculous before, she had earned this opportunity. We went to Zumba together. The teacher was late. I was counting, praying we'd make it to the 15 minute mark when you're technically allowed to leave class. I later found out that that rule doesn't apply at the health club, where you actually can leave class any time.

Turns out our instructor was Alex. I assumed she was the same teacher I'd had a couple weeks earlier. When she turned up (under the 15 minute rule), she was a he. He is the teacher that kicks butt, literally, in Cardio Kickboxing. The class that I tried twice and gave up on. Second degree black belt, my ass. So when I saw Alex I groaned. Outwardly.

And you can guess what happened next. Or maybe not.

I loved it.

My skills weren't any better, but Alex was a much better instructor. And perhaps there was a small part of me that didn't want to appear completely ridiculous in front of my teenage daughter. So she and I still have that experience to look forward to. And perhaps we'll take a few Zumba classes together in the meantime.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Shocking Developments

Dear Diary,

My mom is such a bitch. It would appear that yours truly is grounded.

Last week some guy showed up at the house. He seemed friendly enough, had a big, goofy grin on his face and talked nice, but after he left I realized he had made a mess of things in the yard. And I don't mean poop or a big hole in the dirt. No, this guy went and stuck a bunch of flags all over my property. Bunches of them! Everywhere I look I see them. And I hear them when I get too close.

So does mom come to the rescue? Noooo. In fact, she seems to test me around these things. She holds my leash all normal-like, but as soon as we get close she yanks me back saying "No!" and we frantically return to the center of the yard like crazy animals. Then she praises me in that sickeningly sweet voice she uses when she wants me to do something. I walked all over the yard looking for a place that didn't have one of these white flags (white for surrender, I guess!), but couldn't find one.

Eventually I gave up and just kept my distance, though I have to say I'm incredibly bummed that my favorite things appear to be just out of reach. The yard to the left of mine has this really great restaurant -- an all-you-can-eat buffet with banana and orange peels, egg shells, and a variety of exotic foods. I'll try anything! Sometimes when mom tries to get me to come home I'll follow her to the door and then turn around and run right back to the buffet. It's a really fun game we play together. Another thing I really love about the buffet is that after I eat there my butt makes funny tooting noises. I guess my parents don't like the sound because frequently they leave the room and let me have the bed or sofa all to myself!

In addition to the food, I really like the little girl that lives at the house next door. Her name is Sophia and she's five, I think. She was afraid of me when I first moved in so I try to run over there every time I see her so that comes to love me. I'm very lovable! Even her mom is pretty nice to me and I know she doesn't care for "my kind." Whatever that means.

But the biggest problem with my being grounded is that I can't sneak over and visit my BFF Maxine who lives in the house on the right. Her parents and mine already curtailed the time we spend together - something about her being a bad influence on me - but I've found easy ways under the wire fence in her backyard so I'll just run over there whenever I see her outside.

I have to tell you, I'm feeling like a trapped animal. Even though the yard is more than half an acre, it's not possibly big enough to provide the space I need for my youthful exuberance. I can see it in mom's eyes. She's already feeling guilty. Good. She should. She leaves me in a crate during the day when she's at work, and now she wants to curb my enthusiasm when we're outside together. Worst Mom Ever!!


Dear Diary, 

I didn't think it was possible, but the situation with these flags has gone from bad to worse. Not only do they make sounds when I get too close, but as of yesterday they buzz me! Mom compares it to static electricity. Dad said it's like sticking your finger in a socket. I think Dad's version is closer to the truth. Anyway, to protest I went through the flags to my friend's house and I made them come get me. I'll show them who's boss.

You're probably thinking I should just run away, and I've thought about it, but I believe I have an even better idea. I'm digging a hole to China. Don't laugh! I'm serious. There's this bare spot in the front yard where they cut down a tree and haven't planted grass seed and I've started to dig there. I'm stealthy and I don't think they've noticed the progress I've made in such a short amount of time. Best of all, Maxine's family is from China so I'm sure she'll be happy to accompany me.

Diary, thank you for keeping my secrets. I'm going to get back to work on my tunnel now and give some more thought to this flag situation. I'll keep you posted.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Everyone You Meet

A few months ago, my friend Mindy wrote this heartfelt reflection after the tragic loss of 13-year-old Caynam Naib. I asked her permission to post it on my blog, but never got around to it. As I find myself distracted, downhearted and a bit blue these days, I thought it might be a good time to share Mindy's piece. Perhaps you'll be kind if I happen to be that "person in the middle of the aisle."

Everyone You Meet
by Melinda Ann Madore Davis

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about." Wendy Mass, The Candymakers

Who will you “meet” today? I don’t mean in the sit down and exchange names sense. I mean who will you come across as you go about your day? Certainly, you will interact with those who are an everyday part of your life— family, coworkers, perhaps one of those “frequently occurring characters” like the particularly friendly Starbucks clerk, who has made it a point to remember your name. However, every day, each of us shares space with innumerable others, even if only ever so slightly: those ahead of us in line at the sandwich shop, those who are driving the same route as we head to work, those who are in the grocery store at the same time that we are.

This makes me think about Cayman’s mom. Most of us know of her, but we do not know her. Here is a mother who is suffering, who is grieving, and who continues to care for her family. Who does she meet when she is in the grocery store? You may not meet Cayman’s mom, but you've met that person in the middle of the aisle who seems to be in another world, not noticing that you are trying to get by. Now what if, instead of becoming irritated we remembered the above quote? How would we choose to act/react/respond? What if it were Cayman’s mom? Maybe this “someone” is seemingly in another world because they lost their job this week or because they have learned of a devastating diagnosis in their family. What if, no matter what, we chose to approach these “ordinary” situations with a different mindset? What kind of difference could this make to the tone of our world? I see this as a divine opportunity, a chance to extend a gracious attitude toward someone who is technically a “stranger,” but who shares my world, if only for a minute.

Most of us will not found a philanthropic organization. Not all of us will contribute great wealth to a worthwhile cause. We might not be able to travel to a distant place to share our time, resources and skills with others who are in need. But while all of these are important, isn't it encouraging to realize that we don’t have to do big things with money or specialized skills to make an important contribution to our world?
All of us end up in the grocery store. All of us can choose to be kind, patient, gracious. And, in this way, all of us can make a difference. The next time you are in the grocery store, think about Cayman’s mom. Think about her as “everyone you meet”—“for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Who is Cayman’s Mom? Cayman’s mom is Rebecca Malcolm-Naib. Her dear son, Cayman Naib, 13, of Newtown Square, PA tragically died near his home on March 4, 2015.

Monday, April 27, 2015

College-Prep Chronicles, Volume 3

"I don't think it hit me--until the last one left home--that my job was basically over."
"It never occurred to me that they'd all move away."
"Boys definitely don't stick around." 
Three separate conversations. Three opportunities for me to stop in my tracks and wonder, "Could this actually be more difficult than I imagined?"

You know my story. I disliked motherhood for at least the first ten five years of my kids' lives. Nothing against them personally, I just didn't enjoy all the responsibility and the self-sacrifice. Frankly, it was really hard. Despite everyone telling me to enjoy it, that it goes "so fast," the time seemed to crawl by in those early years. As they grew up and things became easier, i.e., they didn't need so much from me, I became less unhappy. I wouldn't say I was singing from the rooftop or doing arts and crafts or making dinner, or anything crazy like that, but at least I wasn't regularly planning my getaway. Oddly enough, it wasn't until my children became tweens and teens that I actually decided this whole motherhood thing might not have been a mistake after all.

Given how eager I was for them to go off to college during the toddler years, I must confess that I never saw this coming. This sense of foreboding that's sometimes accompanied by a dull ache when I think about what waits just around the corner. I suppose if there's a downside to have pretty great teenagers, it's that it's harder to imagine letting them go.

For the first time in my life I'm having sentimental mommy moments:

The highlight of my trip to Italy was watching Ian from a distance and finding immense joy in seeing him smile and laugh. 

Pictures before the junior prom choked me up when I considered how grown up and lovely they all are. And dear God, how is it possible that next year it will be the senior prom?

I recognize that breakfast with Ian after church, before he goes to work, is precious time. And when we're together he looks at his phone less often than his father does, which makes me think the time is somewhat special to him, too.

When he makes me laugh or smile, even when he makes me crazy, I realize that our home won't be the same without him.

And it's not just Ian that I'm getting a bit emotional about these days. Although Abby is still four years away from college, I am acutely aware of what a huge void she will leave behind. For one thing, she's actually a visible presence, whereas Ian only leaves his room or the basement for food or to head out the front door for another destination. When Abby leaves home, who's going to run the household, knowing where everything is, where everyone needs to be and when, and how to do everything? Who will bake for me?

For the past year, Rob and I have been talking about our impending move, "as soon as the kids are gone." It sounded good to me, starting over, just the two of us. But now I wonder if I'm not employing the old "ditch the boyfriend/girlfriend" trick. You know, the one where you break up with him/her so he/she can't break up with you first? In other words, if Rob and I announce our decision to move on, the kids can't hurt us when it's their turn to leave. Oh, the mind games I play.

Hopefully, I'm making much ado about nothing. Perhaps I'll love having a quiet and considerably cleaner home. Perhaps I'll be so busy with my own activities I won't notice their absence (there is that theater degree in my future). Perhaps they'll call everyday just to chat so it won't feel like they're gone. Perhaps they'll both go to Villanova and I'll meet them regularly for lunch (HA!).

Perhaps I should stop worrying and wondering about the "what ifs" and try to enjoy the time I have left with them.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Liquid Courage and the Dancing Queens

I returned from Italy last Tuesday evening, super crabby following the maddening inefficiency of the airport immigration experience. The dreary, gray skies and the general ugliness of Jamaica, NY did nothing to improve my mood, and the scary bus ride home only added to my misery. Within 24 hours I could add to my bitch list a canine chocolate overdose and an overwhelming to do list at work My full upcoming weekend should have lifted my spirits, but instead it all seemed like an ill-timed inconvenience given how much else I had to do. Given this piss poor attitude, the absolute blast I had this weekend came as a complete surprise.

On Saturday Rob and I went with friends Dave and Karen to Atlantic City. Dave and Karen are "those" friends. The bad influence kind with whom you always have a good time. Since our friendship began I've gone to more concerts and drank more beer than at any other point in my life.

The purpose of our trip to AC was not gambling-related. We were in town to see Jerry Seinfeld. You'll appreciate this tidbit: Karen originally proposed this idea to Rob because she knew I'd say "Hell no!" when I saw the price. But it was worth the gouging expense. Not only were Jerry and his opening act hysterical, but I had an absolutely awesome time post show, which translates into post 10 p.m. at which point in the evening I generally bow out and hit the sack. Not only did I not hit the sack after Seinfeld, but I actually hit the dance floor! This is BIG. I do not often dance in public. If you've seen me dance you know why. But we were at the Gypsy Bar where they serve beers not in 16 ounce pints, but in 22 ounce glasses. This liquid courage explains the dancing. And a good band playing today's popular hits also helped spur us on.

The wall-to-wall crowd offered a good deal of visual stimulation to go with the musical vibrations. I saw a woman with Life Savers strategically attached to her t-shirt, allowing various men to sample her wares. I gawked noted another woman whose dress ended where her thigh-high stockings began. I was surprised at the range of ages co-mingling. I'd guess 21-60, though I'm notoriously bad at guessing age. I still think I'm younger than everyone I meet, when in fact that rarely holds true anymore, which is depressing as hell, but that's a blog post for another time. Anyway, I was feeling pretty good about myself out there. Had on my favorite dress. My ass wasn't hanging out. I wasn't stumbling about in 4" heels. Wasn't spilling my beer while I danced. It was all good. Until my dancing and jumping caused a small leak and I was rudely reminded that I am not young and that I still need to do kegel exercises. But I didn't let that stop me! In fact, it was not boring old Kim who called it a night, but rather her usually gung-ho husband. We made our way to the hotel room where we promptly crashed and slept soundly until the next morning. (Note: Moderation is important if a romantic night is on your agenda.)

Sunday was a continuation of the good times that began with our AC adventures. I played with my pup and played in the dirt, readying the gardens for spring flowers. My pup also played in the dirt--if you need a hole dug, she's your girl. The evening ended on a more age-appropriate, but equally awesome note: Indigo Girls with the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra. Loved, loved, loved it! Even my aching hip, the result of the previous night's dancing, couldn't diminish my enthusiasm.

I figure if I get 10-hours of sleep each night this week I'll be good to go again next weekend!

Who's in?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Random Musings: Pre-Italy Edition

It's been awhile since I posted my random musings. Here's one for you: Why do women in public bathrooms (don't know if this applies to men) never choose a stall next to one that's occupied if there are others available? And speaking of bathrooms, the only upside to there being fewer women in engineering is that there's never a line for the ladies' room in my building.

I leave on Friday afternoon for a 10-day singing tour with the Strath Haven High School Silvertones (ST). I'm not singing; I'm chaperoning. I wish they'd let me sing. I'm still wondering if I'd make the group.

Yes, I chaperoned two years ago. First, someone has to do it; I'm taking one for the team. Second, my 16-year-old son is fine with me joining him/them. That alone means I have to go. How many teenagers are willing to have their parents go anywhere with them? And it's not just because he considers me a walking ATM. In fact, now that he's a working man I told him he has to provide his own spending money. Of course, this means I won't actually spend any time with him on this trip. But that's okay, too. I'm in it for the tours. As I've gotten older I've developed a strange passion for history. I actually get giddy when I learn something is hundreds or thousands of years old. It's the same reaction most women would have if they were told George Clooney was around the corner.

Did I tell you I've subscribed to National Geographic? I love it. I feel smart reading it. And if I don't feel like reading, I can always look at the pictures. The irony in my subscribing to National Geographic is that my grandfather ordered me subscriptions every year for my birthday when I was a kid and I didn't read a single issue. Threw them all away. Not too many kids are good candidates for that magazine. That's why they now offer the kids' edition. Still, I feel guilty.

Another reason to go to Italy? The wine. Did you know that prior to the previous trip I had never had a whole glass of red wine? And since returning I haven't had any either. There's something about red wine in Italy. It tastes better there. Kind of like mashed potatoes at my mom's house.

I also love Italian meats. This year I won't make the mistake of trying to bring them home in my suitcase. Or, I won't claim them on my official forms at the airport. I'm such a freakin' rule follower. Last time they took all my meat. The only thing I'd brought from Italy for my husband. I cried. Meat's expensive.

To prove to my son that going on this trip is not all about him, I have every intention of chaperoning again in 2017, when he'll be in (yikes!) college. This means I need Cornelia's son Alex, and/or Theresa's son AJ to make the group next year. Not for their own satisfaction, but for my own selfish travel purposes. It would be weird to chaperone if I didn't actually know any of the kids in the group. And I'm fully expecting Cornelia and/or Theresa to accompany me. Girls' week in Italy. Woo hoo!

This year I have a bit of anxiety about the trip for a couple reasons. One, there have been recurrent issues with paying for it. It went something like this:

  1. I sent an electronic check through my online bank. 
  2. Check was apparently lost in the maze of school district offices.
  3. Check was found and sent to ST director.
  4. ST director misplaced check. 
  5. ST director calls me; I stop check; incur $25 charge from my bank.
  6. Write new check; hand delivered to director.
  7. Receive text from director weeks later noting that my check did not clear.
  8. I go ape shit, insisting that I'm loaded with money; no way check bounced.
  9. Turns out mystery person in school district tried to deposit rediscovered original check.
  10. It's declined; school district charged fee.
  11. New check was cashed, but school district account shows negative balance. 
  12. Not my problem.
This might be a sign that I should not go on this trip. If I don't make it home alive, let's just say "I knew it."

Second concern: Roommate situation. For months leading up to the trip it looked like I was going to be the only female chaperone. A status I was quite happy with. I prefer to be the lone woman. It makes me feel powerful. But no, the director had to go and encourage others to join me. I don't really know the other ST moms, but there was only one I really didn't want to come with us. No particular reason other than that she's one of those moms who make us normal moms look bad. In other words, she's super attractive in a rock-n-roll kind of way. Great hair. Cool clothes. Way more hip than yours truly. So hip she probably knows the 2015 word for "hip." Then there's also the fact that her email and blog name are "I am Bossy." Personally, I'm more passive aggressive. 

Did I mention that her blog has tons of readers and gets bunches of comments? If you truly care about me you'll share a comment on this post, just to make me feel better about myself.

A third concern: My flat iron. At the time of the previous trip I had not yet discovered the magic of the flat iron. Of course my hair was short so I didn't need one. Now I need one, but I'm afraid if I use it I'll blow a fuse at the hotel, cutting  power to the whole place. Everything I read says you need a voltage adapter, and even then, hair dryers and the like are risky to use because of their voltage. Do I risk it or accept bad hair for 10 days? Keep in mind that my roommate has great hair. Long, blond, curly. If I come home with a k.d. lang cut, don't be surprised.

Finally, I've decided "Uptown Funk" is this decade's version of "Celebrate Good Times" by Kool & the Gang. I love Uptown Funk, but really hate Celebrate. Maybe I started out loving Celebrate, but they played it to death. Maybe I will one day hate Uptown Funk. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Don't Go Away

I have a bunch of work to do. Deadlines are looming. But there are more important things than the articles I need to write. Just as there are more important things than overdue homework assignments or a bad test grade.

Last week’s disappearance of 13-year-old Cayman Naib was frightening and beyond nerve wracking for his parents and even for us outsiders who wondered and waited. The discovery of his body two days ago was every parent’s worst nightmare. Learning that he had committed suicide made that nightmare even more unbearable.

When our kids are small we worry about doing something wrong, hurting them somehow. Are we sufficiently supporting the baby’s neck when we hold him? Are there too many blankets in the crib? Is she getting enough to eat? Are the outlets protected and the cleaning fluids locked up? Does he know not to talk to strangers? Are they okay crossing the street? Is this babysitter reliable?  Though we can make ourselves crazy with concern, to some degree we believe that we can keep them safe if we do everything right.

Of all the challenges that present themselves as the parents of teens, one of the biggest is trusting they will be okay when we can no longer hold them tight and keep them in our sights 24-7. Beyond the everyday risks that this world presents are the dangers that teens and young adults are to themselves. You pray that you've taught them well, but one bad decision can literally be the difference between life and death. Getting in the car with a buddy who’s been drinking, trying a drug that has disastrous consequences, checking out the handgun you found in a friend’s house, leaving home in anger at night, during a snowstorm. When we wondered whether Cayman had been hit by a car, I was struck with fear over one bad decision. It reminded me of the West Chester student who disappeared the night before Thanksgiving after going out drinking with friends and was later found drowned. One bad decision.

Learning that Cayman committed suicide compounds one life-ending decision with a parent’s overwhelming sense of guilt. Without knowing anything about this family, I can only surmise that they are asking themselves, “Did we put too much pressure on him? Did we see any signs that he was depressed?  Why didn't we go after him that night instead of thinking he just needed to let off some steam?”

As a parent I have agonized over how to raise productive, accomplished, hard-working, and happy children. How much do you push or "encourage?” When do you require commitment and when do you allow them to quit the team or the band to stop the tears and the fighting?  How do you know if they “can do better,” or if this is their best? How can you tell if they’re working hard to please themselves, or their teachers, or you? And when is it too much?

I imagine Cayman felt he had let someone down. That the pressure was ovewhelming. That he was never going to be successful and that meant he could never be happy. He didn't know that every 13-year-old has that doubt and fear and anxiety and that someday he would look back and shake his head and wonder why he let it matter so much.

As I was working on this post, I saw that my friend and Freakin’ Angel Kim Graham shared her thoughts about this tragedy on Facebook. And since she has a way of saying things so eloquently, I’m going to share some of what she wrote here. This is my plea as well. And parents, Kim's message about finding perspective and seeking help applies to you us too:
"If you need help finding perspective or seeing the big picture of whatever you are going through, tell an adult who loves you. I promise you there are adults who have loved you before you were ever graded on anything, and who will love you long after you’re no longer being graded. If--for whatever reason--you are too nervous to talk to them, come talk to me. And if you don't need to talk but just need a gentle reminder when things get stressful, stop and think about adults you know and respect. The ones you want to be like someday. Do you know what grade they got on their 9th grade social studies test? How many goals they scored for the soccer team? (Or if they were even on the soccer team?) What they got on their SATs? Exactly.
Driving home yesterday I heard the song "Father and Son" by Cat Stevens. Given the loss of this young man, I found the lyrics particularly painful:
“All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside, It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it. If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them you know not me. Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away. I know I have to go. Father, stay stay stay, why must you go and Make this decision alone?"
Don't go away.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Nothing I Love More than a Good Challenge!

I always hoped that someday I'd become a full-fledged adult who behaves like a full-fledged adult. No meltdowns, no whining, no crying, no throwing little fits, no breaking into a sweat and running away every time something doesn't go my way. Alas, it seems I have a ways to go.

Obviously this means that being my spouse can be hell on earth frustrating. Being my child isn't easy-breezy either. Close friends, too, have seen the ugly side. And I'm okay with exposing those I love to the real me. It's in the workplace that I really wish I had better control of my reactions to the down parts of life's ups and downs. When I imagine powerful, professional women who have successful careers, I see no resemblance between them and me. Sheryl Sandberg may tell me to "Lean In," but when the going gets tough, I lean so far out that I can touch the street from my third floor office.

You may be wondering how I arrived at this woe's me place. Two things: 1) A new marketing director, and 2) HTML tags and coding, URLs, and lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

My new marketing director started yesterday. She seems great. Very nice. Smart. Experienced. Capable and confident. And I'm not all wigged out about losing my "It girl" status to her, like I was with Kelly, her predecessor. "It" is already lost. That ship has sailed. No, this mostly internal meltdown is a function of having brain freeze on this young woman's first day on the job. The day when you most want to make a good first impression so that your new employee doesn't wonder what the hell kind of moron they're going to be working with. Ideally you don't want the individual it took you months to hire to go running for the hills when they realize their so-called boss is a blathering idiot. Yep. Blathering idiot. That about sums it up. In the process of showing her the ropes, I found myself unable to explain things that she really needs to know, like the status of our current marketing plan. And the location of important files. And how X-Y-Z works. I'm lucky I was able to communicate the location of the bathroom. I was completely incoherent. It was embarrassing. I can only hope that she was nervous enough on her first day to not notice my inadequacies. Except that I kept apologizing for my inadequacies. She's probably counting the days before we can switch job titles. I hope she shows up for her second day.

Even worse than my supervisory stumbling was the nearly overwhelming sense of panic I felt when confronted with a problem I didn't know how to solve. Here's the thing: There's nothing I hate more than not knowing how to do something and do it well. This explains why I don't ski, vehemently dislike magic tricks, don't dance unless I've been drinking, avoid math problems like the plague, and refuse to debate politics or religion. I don't like to lose and I don't like to look or feel stupid, unless it's voluntary on my part. Like blogging about it, for instance.

My childish refusal to work on something that does not come easily (I believe they call it "trying"), is really pathetic. I've become one of those old people who've been on the job for 40 years and refuse to work with that new fangled technology known as a computer. "What's wrong with hard copies, for cryin' out loud!"

This pattern of panic started months ago with a Google Analytics course. It's been toying with me recently on topics like landing pages and inquiry forms. And yesterday it blindsided me with an email subject line that read: "ROI Tag Instructions for multiple ROI Pages." Before I even read the message, my heart started pounding and I began whimpering and stomping my feet. The message itself -- sent from my ad agency -- took things from bad to worse:
"We do not have new ROI tags for Smartbrief and Technically. This will not affect the leads that you receive, but it will affect if I can see them in my ad server.  These tags should go on the Thank You Page that pertains to the Smartbrief and to Technically. It would be appreciated if you could have these implemented as soon as possible. Also, once implemented, if you could send me the url of the landing page, that would be great."
I could share with you the actual instructions for adding said ROI tags to the custom landing pages with the unique inquiry forms, but looking at them again may cause my head to explode. The email might as well have asked me to split the atom, scale Mt. Everest, or successfully train my puppy. Time to put on my running shoes. I can't do this!

I realize that very few of us (probably only those powerful and successful folks I dreamt of one day becoming) get psyched when confronted with something well outside our comfort zone, but my reaction seems a bit extreme. As in "I need to quit my job because I'm never going to understand how tagging works." I guess it hits so hard because my job is the one place I feel most secure in my abilities. I know there's lots of room for improvement in my performance as a wife and mother. I know I totally suck at cooking and general "home" stuff. I know that despite my best intentions, I'm not knocking it out of the park with this puppy thing. But Communications? I can do that. And do it well. I can write. I can work social media. I can deliver strong publications and make effective presentations (except to new employees). I can meet and beat deadlines and have a reputation for getting stuff done. I feel really good about my ability to do my job well. Why would I muck that up with ROI tags, SEO, SEM, and Google Analytics?

It really does make me want to cry. And that's not mature. Not adult. Not the sign of a powerful or successful professional. It's this kind of reaction that makes women look bad. I'm single handedly setting women back in the workplace every time I feign having a heart attack so I can run from the office.

I can go on whining about this or I can put on my big girl panties and deal with it. I'm smart. I can learn how to do this stuff. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'm having a heart attack.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Risk of Dirty Roses

It's amazing how something that lasts only about three minutes can make me feel so dirty. One bad decision before 8 a.m. and for the rest of the day I'm wishing I could take another shower. You would think that feeling this way just once would be enough to teach me a lesson, but I'm ashamed to say that I continue to go back for more.

The temptation begins around 7:20 a.m. when I consider my arrival time in the parking lot at work. I know I'll be there before 7:40, but will it be 7:30 or 7:39? Those few minutes make all the difference. I'm not so far gone that I'm willing to wait for 10 minutes, but a minute or two is a different story. If the timing is right, I wait. The regret will come just minutes later.
I blame one of Rob's coworkers for turning me on to this cheap thrill.  He once told me his daughter is obsessed with War of the Roses on MIX 106.1 FM. It airs at 7:40 a.m. The premise is simple. An insecure man or woman has suspicions about their significant other. Rather than speak with the individual whom they purportedly love, they call a radio station to air their concerns. The morning show host Chio involves "Marie from Accounting" who calls the presumably unfaithful, pretending to be from a flower shop. Said flower shop is giving that individual a dozen long stemmed roses, the only hitch is that said individual cannot accept them him/herself, but rather must send them to someone special. If that someone special is not the suspicious partner listening online, well then Houston we have a problem. What follows is ugly. Screaming, crying, general nastiness, and most recently threats of bodily harm when a guy played this game to see if another guy was into his girl, which naturally he was, otherwise they wouldn't have bothered airing it.

I've learned a lot listening to this program:
  1. There are entirely too many people in this world happy to air their dirty laundry for a couple minutes in the spotlight.
  2. There are bunches of people who should not marry, and most definitely should not procreate.
  3. There's something seriously wrong with those who listen to this shit. 
  4. This is a great example of what happens when you hang out in the wrong neighborhood.
Just like the wrong crowd can lead you astray, apparently, so can the wrong radio station. Not only have I heard stories that involve cheap whore earrings and lip gloss found in the husband's toolbox, but I now know that Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose had a huge blow up on Twitter. Thank God for Mario Lopez or I'd never stay up to date with this stuff. And, did you know that this past weekend more than a dozen teenage Sudanese boys were kidnapped by a militant group while studying for school exams? It's obviously not that important because Mario didn't mention it. I stumbled upon this bit of news while skimming the paper. It was only a short paragraph in small type in the back of the national/international news section, so don't feel bad if you missed it. 

I confess that prior to this fall from grace, I'd felt pretty damn superior to the rest of America. I read "real" literature, I watch independent films, and my television program choices are, for the most part, respectable. (Although I watch America's Next Top Model, I do fast forward through the tawdry portions.)

So why this, why now? Perhaps it's nothing more than the same sick need we have to look at car wrecks, in which case God is responsible for messing up our hard wiring. Or maybe I listen to that relationship absurdity to feel downright giddy about the blissful state of my marriage. Whatever the cause, I know it's a habit I must break if I ever want to regain my place of superiority in our great nation of fools.

If you've personally experienced an unhealthy addiction such as this, please share your story. I hope it will be more disturbing than mine. That way I'll feel better about myself. But I promise I won't judge.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Imagining a Temporary Reprieve from Adulthood

Today's one of those days when I don't want to be a grown up. I don't want to deal with those fairly
Real life. Look crappy. Cat ignores me.
mundane adult issues that are commonplace to us working parents of teenagers and pets. Stuff like:

  • Arranging for a tile pick up so the contractor can finish the kitchen. 
  • Picking up Lily from her meet and greet at the Barker Lounge, a doggie daycare facility where I can take her when the cleaners are at the house and board her when we go out of town.
  • Going out of town this weekend for our annual church retreat. Ian wants to stay home to work instead. Old enough to stay home alone? Sure. Do I trust him. Absolutely. Do I trust everyone he knows not to show up at the door with illegal goods in hand? No. Call neighbor, recent college grad now living at home. He'll hang with Ian and Lily, One problem solved.
  • Figuring out when to schedule Lily for dog training. I'll be in Italy with the Silvertones for two of the six Saturday classes. Can Rob take her on those days, or will Phillies' games be an issue? It's that time already...
  • Having that damn gum ball tree removed. It's the only tree left in the front yard and it's the one I've always hated the most. There goes another grand.
  • Deciding if we want to take in an 18-year-old refugee whose father and brother were killed by the Taliban. My parents think I should give up the dog because she's causing too much stress; imagine if I bring someone into our home who doesn't speak English. Hard to explain why the things that cause stress and major adjustments to our lives can also be the greatest gifts. 
  • Learning to vent elsewhere.
  • Managing the gender issues that frustrate me in the workplace.
  • Ian's first tutoring session and the college search process. Hoping we can get those SAT scores up just a couple hundred points. May make all the difference where merit scholarships are concerned. Villanova may not be the obvious choice after all. What fun these next 12 months will bring.
  • Working out? Don't see fitting it in tonight. That's three nights in a row. I really should work out on the weekends, but I think of that as my vacation time. And since working out isn't something I want to do, I'm definitely not doing it on vacation. 
  • Making dinner.
  • Doing laundry.
  • Figuring out how to get a crap load of work done before March 27, especially when all I want to do is cry, sleep, and write about my issues.

Goofy college girls. Not a care in the world.
So, I'd like to give up being a grown up for a few hours. Maybe days. Oh, who am I kidding? I'd like to be college-age again for at least a week, month, maybe a year.  Let's imagine I'm 19 and a sophomore at some competitive private liberal arts college in the South. One that turns out great writers.

8:00 a.m.: I've just woken from a recurring nightmare in which I'm late for a final exam, for a class that I forgot to attend for the entire semester.

I don't bother with my hair; a baseball cap will suffice. I pull on yoga pants and I don't iron my wrinkled shirt. Do I even own an iron?

Given that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, I hit the cafeteria and make myself a Belgium waffle, top it with fresh strawberries, maybe a dollop of whipped cream. No longer a freshman, no longer fearing the freshmen 15.

9:30 a.m.: Dramatic liturgy class. Looking forward to tonight's rehearsal for the musical. Surprised and delighted with my leading role!

11:00 a.m. Photography class. My digital skills are really developing (no pun intended). Definitely going to enter that photo contest.

Noon: Cheeseburger, fries, vanilla shake. I'll pay for it later. Someday I'll probably learn that I'm lactose intolerant.

1:00 p.m. Catch up on DVRd episodes of American Idol. I can't figure out why everyone disses this show. First, it's the only talent competition that's created bona fide stars, and second, Harry Connick Jr. is the man. So funny, charming, smart and talented. Not hard on the eyes, either. Actually, I'm dating this guy named Rob who has a lot of the same qualities. He could be a keeper. Rob, not Harry. I think Harry's taken.

2:00 p.m. A nap. A quick nap. I always say that, but it's always at least an hour or two.

4:00 p.m. Writing for publication class. I like that this course covers publishing for old fashioned print media, as well as social media. Still psyched that my piece about Greek Rush was picked up by the Huffington Post. Now if only National Geographic would consider the photos and article I wrote about my experience in Ghana with my friend Ann. She's going to be a great doctor someday, I just know it.

5:30 p.m. Leftover pizza. Should probably start refrigerating the leftovers, rather than leaving them on the counter for days. But hey, hasn't killed me yet.

6:00 p.m. Rehearsal starts, only going till 9. An early night. Looking forward to meeting up with the girls later.

9:00 p.m. A quick glass of Boone's Farm with Kathie & Cathie, Lisa, Amy, the Karens, and Kim and Theresa. GDIs, all of us. Love these girls. I hope we're friends well into old age. Can't imagine getting old. Hard to imagine life much past this year. Can't believe one day soon I'll have a full-time job, I'll get married. Probably have kids. Definitely want a dog and a cat. And a shore house. Would love a shore house.

Can't wait till tomorrow. Same shit, different day. Lots of new stuff to learn. Ideas to share. Fun to be had. Talents to engage. Love this life.

Friday, January 23, 2015

It's Greek Season. Rush. (Away)

Wow. It's been a whole month since I last wrote. It's nothing personal, I just haven't had much to say. And I've been whinier than usual, so I've done you a favor by not posting. Today, however, I have something "stuck in my craw" that I need to put out there, even at the risk of "wrankling" my Greek readers. And by Greek, I don't mean those whose last names end in "opolis." In this case I'm referring to those of you who were/are members of sororities or fraternities. I expect this post will be even less popular than the one in which I unintentionally offended women from the South.

For years I've considered writing on the topic of Greek life, but I just haven't taken the plunge. Yesterday, however, I read a piece in the Villanovan (the University student newspaper) that demands my response; even at the risk of wrankling some of you. The article "Sorority recruitment does not end in smiles for everyone" was written by a freshman who's been a sorority sister for all of one week. With memories of recruitment/rush still fresh in her mind, Deanna details a process she calls both "horrifying and exciting." She explains that rush requires every girl to attend nine 20-minute "rounds," one with each of the University's sororities--and then she describes the experience:
Lines of girls stood outside rooms of screaming sorority girls chanting songs about their chapters, wondering how they would be assessed once in the room and how they should act, if any different from themselves.
The rounds were exhausting, as I’m positive they were for the sororities as well. I like to consider myself a fairly social person, but I've never experienced a situation that called for so much social energy and effort in my life.
On the first day we all met two or three girls from each chapter and were expected to hold a conversation with them, about literally anything, for the full allotted time, without awkward silences. During each of these meetings all I could think about was “how is she judging me right now? The way I talk? My eye contact?” I’m still not sure I know.
By my final round I felt like a robot programmed for small talk and smiling—I was exhausted. And while that seemed like a lot of complaining, I did somehow have fun with many of the girls I met and I was happy to be able to meet so many of the faces I pass on campus every day. I didn't really know what to think when I “went to sleep” (stayed up all night re-living each conversation) on day one.
The writer goes on to report that she received a text the following morning at 4:30 a.m. telling her her schedule for day two. This is when you learn which chapters "dropped you." Deanna says, "If you thought your conversations went well, it’s difficult to not take the rejections personally." At the beginning of day two, she recalls the number of women she saw crying. By the end of that day, she was "seriously starting to wonder if recruitment was worth the social and emotional exhaustion." She continues:
I have to say, my wake-up text on the third day of rush was one of the worst rejections I’d ever felt. I now know that it was a blessing to have been dropped by the sororities that I was, but at the time I had no perspective, and I really just felt worthless. I know this isn't the intention of the sororities, and they “don’t want to drop any girl” but the reality is awful. And I didn't just feel sorry for myself. I felt horrible for my friends and even for strangers too. 
No woman should have to feel unwanted, but at the same time, how else would sorority recruitment work? 
Our writer says she couldn't be happier with where she ended up and she's glad that things worked out the way they did. She concludes, however, "I still look back on recruitment with negative memories, and I wish there was another way to do it. I think it may just be a necessary evil that some women won’t escape from with a smiling face. I know so many great women that fell through the cracks and I wish I could convince the sisters to go back on their decisions."

Wow. Where do I start?

My feelings about the Greek system have been firmly in place for 25 years, since I was a wee freshman myself. Deanna's honest evaluation of the sorority rush experience only adds to my conviction that this system is at best ludicrous, and at worst, cruel. Why any bright, personable college student would put themself through it is beyond my comprehension. And yet I have several friends who have nothing but great memories of their Greek experience. Even my husband is a former fraternity boy (though I'm not sure "former" ever applies to frat brothers).

I could go through Deanna's article line by line and comment on what I perceive to be madness, but I think I can sum it up by saying no one should voluntarily put themself in a position of being assessed/judged/evaluated unless there's a career move on the line. Don't we tell our kids, especially sensitive teenagers, to not let others determine their worth, to not let what others think or say bother them? I know that's a message I hope my kids hear, and yet, in just a few short years they may actually choose to have that very experience. And if selling yourself with fashion, a smile and small talk isn't enough, many of these groups will ask you to humiliate yourself and even risk your life to prove you have what it takes to be one of them. My husband would say it's about creating a bond, but I would say, "No thanks."

I understand that your first year in college is difficult. I know that making new friends isn't easy, and that there's something appealing about the idea of having a ready-made group of sisters or brothers to help you adjust. But no matter how hard I try, I just can't imagine allowing myself to be evaluated by my peers and waiting to hear whether I've impressed them enough that they want me to join them. Everyday in real life we're judged in some form or another; do I want to volunteer for a formalized version wherein I may be rejected not by one mean girl in high school, but by a couple dozen from different sisterhoods who are kind enough to turn me away by text message? I don't get it.

If all of that doesn't have you "rushing" for the hills, consider this:
Screaming sorority girls chanting songs about their chapters.
Enough said.