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.