Thursday, August 18, 2016

Decisions

Sometimes we make decisions and we never look back because we know we made the right choice, the best choice, the only choice. Other times, we don't look back because we can't, because we are afraid we made the wrong choice, or because it will hurt too much to think about what could have been, what would have been, and we wonder if it is what should have been. We make decisions every day. Some of them are small and inconsequential and others change our lives and the lives of those around us. Some decisions are bigger for others than they are for us and sometimes we make decisions that seem small to another but are our own giant hurdles.

Nearly two winters ago, I made a choice. Six years before that, I made a choice. In 2008, less than a year after Caroline was born, I left my full-time job, in a field that I'd planned for, and trained for, and hoped to become a leader in, for a part-time, entry-level position in a new field that I was interested in but not trained in. A field in which I never imagined I'd become a leader in because, at that moment in time, I didn't see my professional future. I did not have eyes for myelf as a professional. I had eyes for a little person, a little girl, who was beautiful and full of joy and love and who took my breath away with each of her own. Along came another miracle and my life was so full. There was no room for a full-time job, a professional life that pushed me, and required 50 or 60 hours of my physical time and many more hours of my mental time.

Despite a part-time schedule, I spent many panicked days trying to work from home after calling in sick with an ill child or due to being stranded at home because of a snow storm. I spent many days feeling exhausted and trying to hide my exhaustion so I could keep up the appearance that I was "in the game" professionally. I I pumped in bathrooms while at meetings on the road. I cried in pain in a hotel shower because I forgot a critical piece of my pump and had to self express, and then I went to a work function and smiled despite feeling like I had boulders attached to my chest. Others may have spontaneously stayed in the office late to catch up. I carefully planned every after- five work night and most eves, I rushed from the office to the daycare and home, willing myself to be patient and at ease when all I wanted to do was go to bed. I made a choice to work part-time but there were many days, and many teary-eyed nights, when I asked myself, and Andy, if I had made the right decision. The decision I questioned was never about deciding to leave full-time employment. I regularly questioned if I should be working at all.

I did what I could at work and then I did what I could at home. While I worked part-time, during those years I felt like I was a full-time staff person and a full-time mom. There was always so much to and never enough time. But I wasn't working full-time. I made the decision to share my energy and time and I did that. While I was salaried, I generally worked 4 days a week. I worked 10 months and, in the first years of my part-time gig, I checked out of work almost 100% during the summer months. Yes, juggling both worlds was hard. Yes, I never felt like I was doing enough or being enough, at work or home. But I was. I was being everything to everyone, and personally growing, despite my exhaustion or doubt. It was the right decision for me.

It was right for me because I was able to spend time home with my daughters and while, in 2008, I could not see my professional future, in 2014 I could. After tears, after pain (what seems like a lot of boob pain), after doubt and through mommy-hood, raising my daughters, and summers at the lake, I made another decision. I was offered the director position in my office, a full-time, five days, 12 months, position. At the time, the decision seemed clear. The girls were getting older, Charlotte was headed to school in the fall. I worked hard to prove I deserved this opportunity and there it was, right in front ot me. I traded in Friday laundry days and said good bye to summers in the sand with my daughters for summers under A/C with a lap top.

I used to write a blog post, at the end of each summer, titled, "Reflecting on a Summer with my Girls" and last year I had to retire that post topic. I thought about writing a post titled, "Reflecting on a Summer without my Girls" but I can't bring myself to do it. I made a decision. Yet, hindsight is 20/20. As the summer comes to a close, and I come home to the smiling, sun-kissed faces of my children, I can't help but wonder if I made the right choice. Yet, I can't look back. I can only look forward. When it comes to making a decision about work and family, professional success and personal satisfaction, there is no ultimate and final best choice, right choice, or only choice. There is just the best choice we can make at any given moment.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Mrs Cooperstown

On a June return flight from California, I sat next to a woman on the connection from Chicago to Albany. Without sharing our names, we began chatting about the usual flight topics like how cold it was on the plane, racing to catch the flight after delays, and the dreaded drive home from Albany at 11 at night. After telling her my drive was an hour and 15 minutes from Albany, she asked exactly where I called home. When I told her Cooperstown, I should have known what she might ask.

"Oh! Cooperstown! Do you know Andrew Marietta?"

I couldn't help but roll my eyes when replying, "Yes! Yes, I know him!"

She smiled, cautiously, and I continued, "He's my husband."

I went on to tell her I can't help but react in this way because it happens so often. She continued to share with me, as most people do, that she's from our area, and has worked with Andy before. She told me how helpful Andy is and how friendly and informative she finds him. These are all words echoed by many community members, however, one thing she didn't say, that many others do, is how thankful she is to me for, "letting him do what he does."

I made a new friend that night and had a laugh at how small the world can be and how big of a fish Andy is in our small pond. For the most part, I'm content to know that the person I chose to spend the rest of my life with has chosen to spend his life helping others. It is truly his calling. As a career advisor, I know that Andy is in the right place for him- the ultimate professional goal. Yet, I have shared before tales of my marital competitive side and my struggles and wishes for the same level of local notoriety that is bestowed upon my partner.

I find that, some days, I just don't want to be "Mrs. Cooperstown" and, as I stand at his side, at various community functions, nodding and smiling, I have to bite my tongue when someone thanks me for, "allowing him to do all the good work he does." I want to say, "First of all, I don't allow him to do it! I've been trying, with every ounce of my being, to stop him from being so damn helpful. It's called free will, people! Don't thank me. Thank him. Get me a drink."

I'm a bad wife, I know. I'm a bad wife because I don't want to be the great woman behind the great man. I want to be the great woman next to the great man. I want a leg in the potato sack race and I want to be on the winning team. A long time ago, in college, I was pretty sure I was going to be that woman who changed the world. When we are at these various functions, and as I stand, mostly, behind him, I wonder, what happened?

At a recent Andy-obligatory community function (yes, I wanted to watch Downton Abbey in my pj's instead) I was prepared for the usual activities of an event of this nature. I would wear something nice, enjoy a drink, shake hands and smile, and try to amuse myself by looking at my surroundings and monologuing in my head. This particular night, it was hotter than Hades, I was sober-preparing for a race the next day- my dress was too tight and I couldn't breathe well. Right from the start, I knew this event was going downhill fast.

That is until one of the guests approached me for conversation. I was at my usual post, hovering next-to-but mostly-behind Andy, juggling water and apps. Andy initiated the conversation, introducing himself, wrapping one arm around his waist, and the other pensively stroking his chin, while he prepared his pitch. This guest, however, didn't even give him the chance to start pitching. She turned to me, her body facing me directly, her eyes wide, and said, "You must be his wife."

I was caught completely off guard. I tried to quickly inhale the cracker and salmon before I mumbled, "Uh, yes. Yes, I am." I thought that'd be the end of my part in the conversation until she asked me more questions, like "What do you do?" When I shared that I am a director of a career office at a college she said, "Oh, I must talk to you! You have all the secrets." I did a slight look over my shoulder as I was pretty sure she was talking to someone who just walked in, obviously having lost interest in me. But, no, she continued to ask me questions about industry trends, student career interests, and I gave my own pitch about my passions: the value of a liberal arts education and the need for parents to have better resources to juggle child rearing and work. I did try, a few times, to weave Andy back in to the conversation, but this guest was committed to hearing my opinion and for once, he stood quietly by my side..

Now, I'm no fool. Unwavering attention and keen listening skills are required in this guest's line of work. You see, she is a politician who is up for election. It is her job to listen to her constituents and demonstrate her sincere interest and enthusiasm, which she did very well and in turn, I'll vote for her. I also wondered if, since I was one of the only "young" mothers in the room, and she is also a woman, she knew that I'd appreciate some face time.

Regardless of her intentions, I rode that wave, and despite the fact that I felt like a stuffed, melting sausage, I held my head high that night, thankful for some attention and for the chance to speak with someone about my opinion.

Speaking of my opinion, as I mentioned, one of my talking points was "brain drain" and the ever-present upstate challenge of retaining talent in the area. We all know that families, lots of them, and with good jobs, help stimulate the local economy. Politicians and economic developers are always talking about how to retain good talent and think teams gather to strategize tactics. Well, I'll tell you and I told her: People! It takes a g-damn village to raise a child! A village does not two people make. Working families need a network of resources like excellent health care providers, top-notch educators, supportive after school programs, stimulating and engaging enrichment co-curricular activities, and safe public transportation. Working parents need reasonable salaries to pay for all of this and flexible employers who understand the value of raising children(or helping elderly parents). Working families need communities that give resources to people and places that support working families like schools, hospitals, public health entities, community gardens and after school programs, to name a few.

Yes, brain drain experts, I want cute and hipster places to buy purses and coffee. Yes, I want to listen to live music within a 30 minute radius of my home. Yes, I want a salary that matches my abilities and experience but most of all, I want to know that my girls are safe and sound, healthy, happy and learning all day, every day, especially when I am not with them. I spend a lot of time building our family's village and I hope one day, to give back to that village, to support all of the resources our working family needs to thrive. But, for now, I focus on what I can do- through my work and with my children, and I leave it to Andy to focus on strengthening and supporting our community resources.

I'm glad Andy dragged me to that event (because I still got to watch Downton when we got home) which allowed me to realize I don't have to stand behind him. I can stand right next to him. There's nowhere else I belong and I should stop telling myself anything different. Andy and I are in that potato sack together, racing toward the same finish line and when people thank me for allowing him to do his good work, I'll silently thank myself for doing my own good work, even if it's not as publicly regarded. It's true, I struggle sometimes being "Mrs. Cooperstown" because I did not choose to be a public figure or a big fish in a small town. I'm still just a small fish, doing small fish things that are vital to the ecosystem of our pond. I do it all. I do good. I work. I raise kids and I still have time for Downton Abbey. And if you want to call me something, you can call me Your Ladyship.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Power of a Kiss

This week, to wish her five-year old daughter happy birthday, Victoria Beckham kissed her on the lips. Mommy shamers united in hatred and blasted Posh Spice, calling her action disgusting and her a pedophile. In the photo, posted on her Instagram account, Victoria and Harper are in a pool (an AMAZING infinity pool with an ocean view BTW) and Victoria has her head slightly tilted while kissing her pig-tailed kid smack on the lips. With a few simple clicks you can be privy to the negative comments questioning the appropriateness of the kiss. You can also read tons and tons of positive comments in support of the kiss and see photo after photo of Mommy and Me smooches.

There are many articles, and blogs, online discussing whether parents and children should kiss on the lips and as you can imagine, there are just as many supporters as there are those in opposition. The web has drawn upon experts, like a British etiquette expert who said it's not proper etiquette to kiss your child on the lips and an American psychologist who commented on the irony of the controversy over a mother kissing her daughter, considering the over-sexualization that takes place in our culture. You can guess that the fashionista/icon's celebrity kiss wasn't the first time the debate has been sparked, and discussed, on the WWW. A simple Google search brought up a string on Ask Yahoo! from 2010, many mommy blogs, and this article from just this spring.

Is it right? Is it wrong? Is there a kissing cut off? What are acceptable actions of affection and which actions cross the line?

I think about this a lot because I was a touchy kid. I grew up with a mom that wasn't necessarily affection-seeking with me, but she certainly allowed me to be as affectionate as I needed to be with her. Mom was also very open about the human body and nudity and she didn't really have a choice for, as a kid, wherever she was, there I was. I took a bath with her until I couldn't fit in the tub anymore. I remember stuffing myself behind her in the bath, catching the water she'd toss over her shoulder and washing her back while she flicked her cigarrette ashes into a tray on the side of the tub. I'd follow her around the house, telling her nonsensical stories. I couldn't stop talking, so I'd tell her stories while she did the dishes, while she went to the bathroom, and while she got dressed. It didn't matter to me if she was naked as long as she listened to me.

At night, I'd smoosh into the recliner to watch TV with her, wrapping my arm around her and crossing my legs over hers. When she made dinner, I would grab onto her legs and laugh as she tried to prepare dinner while dragging me around. For his pre-dinner entertainmment, my brother would pretend Mom was his wrestling opponent, putting her in a Figure Four and making her shout, "I submit!" Did I mention we did this as teenagers? I loved the summer we borrowed a camper, parked it in the driveway and she slept in it with me each night. Nobody is better to spoon with than my mom. Even now, when I return home, I have no problem if the sleeping arrangement permits me to cuddle with Mom and her pug, Lilly. And when I leave, after leaning over to give her a hug, we might even still kiss on the lips.

Since Americans aren't known to be particualry affectionate, there can be days when we might not be touched by anyone. We learn, when we are young, about personal space. We prefer nodding-with eye contact and hand shaking to cheek kissing, and the "bro hug" is used by as many women as men.We reserve intimate affection for our partners and let's be honest, most women know that a back rub isn 't just a back rub. That means that, while some couples hold hands or hug or kiss just to kiss, many couples associate affection with sex and that leaves us to think that, if people share affection, they want something in return.

So, remember how I said I was touchy? I wish we were cheek kissers. I wish we walked around holding hands with our friends. I want to hug people all of the time. It gets awkward. I've had to learn to hold back from hugging people as much as I want to and I even warn people when a hug is coming their way. Nobody at work liked my idea of standing at the door each morning to give our co-workers a morning hug. Wouldn't you want a morning hug from me? For me, physical touch establishes comfort. I know that this is not possible in almost every other situation of my life, but it can happen with my family.

Back to my poor mom. I say that she wasn't necessarily affection-seeking because my brother and I were all over her all of the time. I couldn't get close enough to her. I imagine that all she wanted to do was take a bath alone, or go to the bathroom without someone at her feet, reading her a book. I, too, confess that, despite my penchant for affection, there are just some moments when I don't want anyone to touch me, even my kids. For many years, especially for new moms, our bodies don't feel like they are our own. After a day of nursing, followed by a night of nursing, I craved fifteen minutes without a sweaty little body stuck to my body. On a hot summer day, when I'm carrying groceries in from the car, (you know, trying to hang as many bags on my arm as humanly possible while praying the bags don't rip apart) I really don't also want to give one of my children a piggy back ride. I also prefer to poop alone and it's not so much fun when I draw a bath and someone, uninvited, climbs in and announces she peed. But, for the most part, I love having my kids as attached to me just as much as I was attached to my mom. I like the feel of their warm, soft bodies next to mine and I relish the intimacy we share that will likely fade over the next five years, if not sooner. And, like Posh Spice, I'll you what I want, what I really, really want, I want a, I want a, I want a kiss.

Charlotte is a big-time kisser. She has no problem laying one on me before bed or when she gets on the bus in the morning. She also loves to chant, "KISS! KISS!" whenever Andy and I are remotely near one another. She kisses me so much I have to forget that she picks her nose and eats it and lets the dog kiss her, too. (BTW, I bet you all the Victoria Beckham haters have no problem letting their dogs kiss them. People, dogs eat poop and lick their own butts.)Now, Caroline, on the other hand, is not a kisser. When she was a baby, I kissed her as I pleased. In her toddler years, once she was able to show me what she wanted, Caroline never wanted kisses. If I pursed my lips in her direction, she would shyly lower her head, allowing me to kiss the top of her it rather than her face. We didn't talk about it then, but I took my cues from her and simply kissed the top of her head. As she got older, I noticed how downright nervous she looked if someone wanted to kiss her, even on the cheek. She loved hugs and having her hair rubbed and, for those she trusted, she'd almost purr and rub her head on one's arm. She certainly used touch to show affection, helpful for someone who struggled to communicate verbally, but anyone, even Andy or I, touching her face was always too intimate.

When she started Kindergarten, she and I were layng in her bed one night, doing her nightly post-story back rub. What I still consider the best time of the day, I tucked myself into the covers and spooned against her, feeling the rise and fall of her breath against my own. Just as I thought she was about to drift to sleep, she turned and looked at me, our faces not more than six inches apart.

"Mommy," she asked,"does kissing hurt?"

"No," I whispered, "not at all."

What does it feel like?" she asked.

I smiled at her. "Well, it feels really soft. It's very nice." I held my breath.

Then she asked: "Can we try?"

"Of course." I told her. She leaned in to me, closed her eyes, gave me the gentlest, sweetest of kisses and tears welled in my eyes. It had been years since we had kissed and it pained me that she thought something so beautiful and special would hurt her. I tried to understand why she was afraid to kiss anyone, especially me. After our kiss, I asked her if it was so bad. She smiled and said it wasn't. The next night, as we lay in bed after reading, I asked her if she wanted to kiss me again. She smiled shyly and told me no. Ever since that night, now over four years ago, she has never asked me to kiss her again and I do my best to respect her wishes, even by warning her if I would like to kiss her on the cheek. I watch her, with Andy and Charlotte, or with our parents. She will glady hug those she feels safe around and she isn't shy about asking friends and family to rub her legs or her feet, but she almost always lowers her head when she hugs, ensuring that she shields her face from any unwanted kisses. Andy tells me her fear of kissing isn't a bad thing and it means she won't be giving them out to anyone, unless they are absolutely deserving. However, I can't help but wish, for her, that she can one day give someone she loves a kiss, and share in the joy that this simple action can bring, whether it is with me or someone else she really loves.

So, Victoria Beckham, I say you go girl because, to me, whether a mommy/child kiss is shared in a fancy pool and blasted out for the world to see, or shared in a quiet bedroom after story time, it is something to be coveted and celebrated.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Tiny Thought

A tiny thought has been knocking at my mind's door. It's been tap, tap, tapping; some days very loudly, so much so that it distracts me from anything else. Other days, it is subtle and soft, rhythmic, like my pulse; in sync with the rise and fall of my chest.

The tiny thought blew in from a distant place, a far away land. I do not know exactly when it arrived, but I surmise it came in on the fierce gales of the mid-life late winter storm, which took place just as the ice began to recede on the lake, reminding us that winter had not yet let us go. Just as I realized that this stage of my life was not yet ready to let me go.

I'd thought I was impervious to the tiny thought. The thought, though small in one's mind, proves powerful for many women. I've heard stories of the tiny thought and have been witness to the tiny thought's metamorphosis. It starts as a seed and grows to a longing, a home sickness, an unspoken knowing. You will know, friends say. You will know if this thought Is meant for you. Some women open the door and let the tiny thought in. They welcome her in from the cold and offer her a cup of tea and a place to warm herself by the fire. Some women let the tiny thought stay for a while or they let the tiny thought make herself at home. Then, it is as though the tiny thought was never just a thought but instead real and touchable, flesh and blood and always and forever.

When I first heard the knocking, I knew it was the tiny thought who had arrived. I'd felt the storm. It has churned something inside of me as much as it had caused a stir in the early spring birds and eager buds. I crept to the window of my mind and peered out.

"I see you and I know you see me, too," said the tiny thought, smiling at me.

"You are correct," I replied. "I see you, too, however, you have the wrong mind. You must be lost."

No," whispered the tiny thought, emphatically, "The wind blew me to you."

I shook my head. "Well then, so be it. Perhaps the wind did carry you from there to here but this is where you are going to stay- right here on the stoop of my mind. I don't care if you get tired or hungry or lonely. This is where your journey ends with me."

The tiny thought gave me a tiny smile and said, "I'll wait here. I'll wait for you if it's sunny or cold or rainy or windy. I'll wait for you when I am cold. I will wait for you when I am hungry. The wind blew me here and this is where I shall stay."

At first, I tried to blow the tiny thought back to where she came from, but no sneezing, no yawning, or jumping on one leg with my head titled to the side, made any difference whatsoever. It was as though she was stuck right there, like glue, perpetually knocking on my mind's door. I'd play music to cover up the sound. I'd busy myself with all the things that makes one's day busy, trying to forget, yet when I'd lay in bed at night, I could hear the tiny thought's tiny cough. "It's getting cold out there," I'd think to myself. "Maybe I should let her in."

As though she'd read my mind the tiny thought would cry out, "I'm fine, I'm here when you are ready to open the door. I'm not going anywhere.

"Good night then," I would murmur, falling into slumber.

"Good night," she would sing as she hummed a soft and gentle lullaby.

Over time, I have become accustomed to the tiny thought at my mind's door. I sneak a look out my window and there she is, and we exchange smiles. I water the flowers on my mind's door stoop each morning and there is the tiny thought, always smiling up at me.

"There you are," I greet her.

"I'll never leave you," she reminds me, cheerfully.

"I know," I reply, before shutting the door.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

With Caroline

A few weeks ago Andy and I attended the spring parent/teacher conference with Charlotte's Kindergarten teacher. We sat in little chairs and talked about Charlotte's progress throughout the course of her first year: the number of sight words she now knows, her math fluency, her ability to follow instructions, and her success at interacting with her peers. We learned that she is not a chatter box like she is at home. We learned that she likes to build things and prefers math to writing and reading. Actually we, as trained historians, reveled in that particular fact. The teacher encouraged us to keep reading and working on sight words throughout the summer, told us Charlotte was a pleasure to have in class, and that she wished her well moving into first grade. It was a Kindergarten spring parent/teacher conference like those had by millions of other parents and teachers. And we know not to take this for granted because, while millions of parents are told their child was a pleasure and is doing very well socially and academically, not all parents are told this. We have been those parents.

The girls both have had the same Kindergarten teacher. I love this teacher and was ecstatic when we found out Charlotte would be in her class. This teacher is special to us, as are several of the staff at the elementary school. Four years ago, we sat in those same little chairs, with the same amazing Kindergarten teacher, who talked with us about Caro's social and academic challenges. She was the first person to use the phrase, "looking for the missing pieces of the puzzle" to describe Caroline. She was the first person to share with us that she knew something was not typical for Caroline, something Andy and I had felt in our guts for a long time. Something we'd talked about, in hushed and frustrated tones, to friends and family who did not understand. I don't blame them because you have to go there to know there. I don't blame them but I do thank her teacher. She, along with a few other educators, helped us along the journey of finding out what the missing pieces were in Caroline's puzzle. They helped us connect the dots. They helped us build the missing pieces for and with Caroline, so that she could be the socially and academically successful child that she is today.

We don't take an easy Kindergarten parent/teacher conference for granted because we know what it is like to have hard conversations with teachers. We know what it is like when you can't check off the box that your kid is good in school, good at sports, has friends, plays with others. Will be ok. Will be great. We don't check off the box that we met the teacher once- at the parent teacher conference.

We check off the box that we have many meetings, with many teachers; a room full of teachers. We check off the box that it takes a village. We check off the box that says the teachers, and PT, OT, speech teacher know our home number. They know where our home is. They have eaten dinner with us, several times, and they help us build those missing pieces. We check off the box that our kid struggles in school, and has a hard time making friends, and had to learn how to play with others. However, we do check off that box that she will be ok. She will be great. We check off these boxes because,alongside us, others care about our child.

I'm so, so very thankful about the support we receive from the educators and from Springbrook, the non-profit that provides community (and home) support to Caroline and to us as a family. I call the Springbrook team our angels. Andy gets uncomfortable in IEP meetings because I get emotional and sometimes cry, when trying to thank the teaching staff. I wonder, as Caro gets older, will others be as supportive as the people we have in our life now? Who will be there for her if she needs someone?

Back to the parent/teacher conference for Charlotte. While the teacher talked about Charlotte's progress, she shared with us her test scores and samples of her work. One particular piece of work was her journal for the year. The teacher showed us how Charlotte's letter development and sentence building improved over the last 9 months. Each entry covered activities of the weekend, and we chuckled to read Charlotte's interpretation of each weekend's events, highlighted by drawings of us.

On the front cover of the journal, the teacher had placed a sticky note with two words. The teacher directed to us to the note, mentioning she'd picked up on how Charlotte used these two particular words in nearly every journal entry: with Caroline.

Went to the park with Caroline.

Sledded with Caroline.

Ate ice cream with Caroline.

Went ice skating with Caroline.

Watched a movie with Caroline.

That evening, I shared with Charlotte that I'd read her journal when visiting her teacher that day. I asked her about mentioning Caroline in every entry. She, in typical Charlotte fashion (aka, has an answer for everything) said, "Well, yeah. She's my sister.

You see, she's her sister. Charlotte makes it sound so simple. But, those of us with a sibling know that it's not that simple. Yes, we are raised by the same people and share many mutual experiences. Yet, just because you are siblings does not mean that you are going to be there for each other. It's not always meant to be. Sometimes siblings just don't click, or worse, they have hurt that goes too deep to heal. Sometimes blood can be bad blood.

As the parent of siblings, I can only hope that Caroline and Charlotte will be a support for one another. I hope they share laughs like they do now. I hope they enjoy one another's company. I hope they offer one another a shoulder to cry on. I hope they are each other's champions. I hope they have a bond that goes deeper than me and Andy.

Sometimes I say to Charlotte, "You know, Char. You need to make sure you take care of your sister. You need to be her friend." Charlotte, whom I forget just turned six, replies, "But, she's the big sister. I'm the little sister. She needs to take care of me." While Charlotte knows Caroline is different (Char recently got very mad at me for trying to get her to pronounce "non neurotypical"- I know, I'm a mean mommy), she's still too young to always demonstrate compassion. Sometimes, she is jealous. Sometimes, she acts out to get the attention she feels she is lacking. Sometimes, she takes advantage of Caroline. Other times, she amazes me with her kindness and sensitivity and the speed at which she defends, teaches, and guides Caroline.

Right now, Caroline has a wonderful circle of people enveloping her. As members of that circle, we witness to what makes a special needs person so special. While in a different way, one that is uniquely her, Charlotte is special, too. My final hope is that many of the tales Charlotte records in her journal entries throughout her life are, "with Caroline."

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Keep a Hook Free for Me

Andy and I don't have the same taste in home decor. I would call his interior design style "College Dorm". His decorum includes the typical items like black cords, a variety of electronics and at least he frames his posters. Andy is a quirky college guy though. His eclectic taste mixes plastic Wal-Mart furniture with antique chairs, boxes of yet-to-be organized papers with a late 19th century breakfront. It's "frat house meets antique book collector."

I've discussed Andy's lasagna organization technique which utilizes the piles and stacking methods. Most of his belongings look like a variation of a Jenga game. At any moment that one pair of pants, half sticking out mid-way through the pile, could easily topple over the stacks of slacks. I haven't seen the bottom of his trunk in...well, I was going to say years but he just got a new car so I haven't seen the trunks of his car since the keys passed into his possession.

Speaking of keys, one of our many decorating/organizing arguments involves a key holder. Without asking me, Andy bought a hideous brass key shaped key chain with 5 hooks. He mounted it below a pass through window between the living room and the kitchen. He mounted it at about 3 1/2 feet above the floor. He mounted it in a visually noticeable spot in the house and at a child accessible height. Not only have the kids locked our cars and turned on the car alarms on many occasions but it is just plain ugly. I'm in favor of hiding the day-to-day stuff in an effort to make our house look like a Pottery Barn catalog. I firmly believe everything should be in its place and that there is a place for everything. Family photos should be on display. Art should be on display. Cords should not be on display. Stacks of loose paper should not be on display. Receipts should not be on display. Keys should not be on display.

To make matters worse, all 5 hooks are filled with Andy's keys. He has 7 key chains with anywhere between 10 and 30 (I can't make this shit up) keys. The key chains are so big and heavy that he could easily hit someone over the head and knock them out. I have one key chain and on it are about 7 keys for the house, work, cars, etc. While I despise the brass key chain holder, I must confess that I use it. Or at least I try to.

Many nights I come home from work and methodically put my keys on the holder, without even looking at it. A few nights ago, I was telling one kid to stop laying on the dog while telling the other kid to put her shoes in the shoe cubby. I wasn't looking at the holder and I missed the hook and my keys fell to the floor. As I picked them up I looked at the hook and realized I hand't misjudged after all. My keys had hit the hook but there was no room for more keys. 5 hooks for 5 sets of keys and there was no room for my key chain with 7 keys on it's ring. In exasperation I asked Andy, "Can you please keep one hook free for me?"

Andy manages his life like he manages his stuff. He piles responsibility up like a Jenga game, each piece balanced precariously on top of the other. With little sleep and a penchant for saying yes to everything, it seems (to an outsider, at least) that the leaning tower of Pisa could fall at any moment. He goes from meeting to meeting to meeting, one after another, some overlapping so he calls in to one meeting from another meeting. I jokingly ask him if he's the head of the Committee on Committees but he never laughs. I'm worried it's true. Many days he is out the door before the girls get the bus and returns long after I am in bed. By the end of the week he falls asleep at 7, with his phone in his hand, muttering about all the tasks that await him in the day ahead. He is tired and I'm tired just being around him. And I'm not around him all that often.

I like to say that Andy and I are like ships passing in the night. Except I'm a paddle boat with a broken rudder. I putter around by the dock, pull seaweed from my rudder, spin in circles. I only have room for a few sailors, er, um, paddlers. Too much weight makes me sink. Too much wind tips me over. I have been trying to think about what type of vessel Andy is. I suggested he is a cruise liner. He's a sturdy boat who is always there for entertainment. He's steady, on course, and always wants everyone to enjoy the ride. It's just too bad that the girls and I missed that boat. Andy has a more fitting boat suggestion for himself. He is a tug boat: a powerful and strongly-built boat designed to push or pull other boats that don't have the power or ability to push themselves. Yep, that sounds like Andy- the non-profit, community service tug boat. When there's a committee in need of organization, a committee that can't push itself forward, Andy is there to pull the committee to where it needs to go. Got a non-profit that's stalled due to some board challenges? Let Tug Boat Andy break the ice and get the organization to a safe harbor. The 9/11 collection? That's Tug Boat Andy's garbage barge. When I'm lucky, Tug Boat Andy stops and picks me up and I enjoy a ride back home and five minutes of his undivided attention.

Despite my efforts, and let me tell you I have put a lot of effort into it, Andy will not slow down and he won't stop tugging and he won't just fu*&ing straighten out the pieces of his Jenga game and save me from some anxiety and heart burn. And he won't throw away anything, especially all of those keys. All I can do is ask him for one simple things: keep a hook free for me.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sorry Not Sorry

This world is topsy turvy and upside down. People say sorry when there is no need and don't say sorry when they should. There are commercials, blogs, and much ado about this trend with women, who naturally seek harmony and want to seem polite. (check out this article: http://www.levo.com/articles/lifestyle/im-sorry-problem-women-have)While women may say sorry more often, I see this issue with men as well. Many of my students are constantly apologetic for doing or saying things that are of no offense whatsoever and deserve nothing more than a response or return action. My work study assistants regularly apologize for knocking on my door, interrupting me from nothing more than email, to let me know they have assisted me with a task or to inform me of a visitor. I regularly tell them there is no need to apologize to me for a job well done. When I suggest a student move a certain activity to another location on their resume, they apologize. I reassure them that if all college students knew how to organize a resume I'd be out of a job.

If you stop and listen, on any given day people are apologizing for actions that require no apology. The Levo article author references another author, Linda Sapadin PHD, who argues, "By taking responsibility for things that aren't your fault you denigrate your self esteem." Perhaps in a world that seems chaotic, in a world where many think others are being too sensitive, or are too easily offended, people apologize for self protection and out of a desire for harmony.

Remember, this is a topsy turvy world. So, for all those people apologizing for no reason, there are just as many people who refuse to apologize when they should. No surprise here that articles have been written on this topic as well: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/04/why-apologize/274622/. The author of this article writes that no one likes to apologize and that social science suggests people feel better when they refuse to apologize. The article argues that apologizing, when necessary, isn't about us, it is about the receiver. Again, if one is to stop and listen, on any given day people are taking actions that hurt others and they do not apologize for those actions and those people may even be defiant or indignant about a lack of apology. Ever heard the phrase, "Sorry Not Sorry"? Refusal of apologies is a joke. We make decisions about when, and to whom, we should apologize and we rationalize the personal benefits of that apology often over the benefits to the other person. Think about the flip side. Why would people over apologize so much if it wasn't about them? I don't feel like a better person when someone apologizes to me for not knowing they were to spell out months on a resume. Similarly to what was written in the Levo article, an apology can be perceived as a lack of self-esteem. Apologizing hurts egos. Apologizing takes power from one and gives it to another.

Take me, for example. I fall in the gender conforming apology category at work. I'm more cognizant of it now that I see it take shape with my students, but, I often have a tendency to apologize when it's not needed or to over apologize when I feel that I have wronged someone or messed up. At work, I want harmony and if that means sacrificing myself for the harmony, I choose that. I let the balance of power move away from me in many work situations. As a manager it's not always the best decision so I'm working on getting through tough situations that might not be so harmonious.

Now at home, I prefer the upper hand. I want the power. When Andy and I are arguing, I'll say ludicrous things. I rarely apologize for them. Remember that Bare Naked Ladies song about the fight? "It'll still be two weeks 'til I say I'm sorry." That's me. Even if I know I was a jack-hole, by apologizing to Andy, I think I'll lose my power. I am that person who feels good about refusing to apologize. Similarly to the changes needed at work with decreasing unnecessary apologies, I'm working at home to apologize more often when I should, and to recognize that I'm not losing "power" when I say I'm sorry for being a dick during a heated moment.

By now you are thinking about what happened to me recently to look up articles on apologies and write this whole narrative about it. Yes, something did happen to me and it's got my wires firing. Yesterday we went to civilization and stopped at The Mall. Any smart parent knows this is a bad idea. Within moments of being at The Mall, the children went into a feeding frenzy and started bouncing off the walls. Caro had a huge meltdown over what can be summed up as an issue over her decision to buy flowers at the grocery store and then not being able to purchase a plastic tiara at Claire's Boutique. The incident included flailing, screaming and a Mall Cop. Even after we worked out the situation, both kids were moaning and whiny but I still needed 10 minutes to buy a few things at The Big Bookstore. As I waited in line to make the purchases, the kids took turns asking me to buy them a number of assorted items in the check out line to which I firmly replied no over and over. When it was my turn to check out, I ignored the children's pleas for book marks and calendars and gave the Check Out Lady a big smile and hello. Now, before me, she'd been chatting it up with a customer, talking about vacation destinations. With me, however, her voice became soft, almost a whisper. She looked up at me through her bangs and said, "I'm sorry."

Her apology didn't register with me initially. It was probably because she was competing with the kids, who were talking to me simultaneously, and Andy, who was standing at the door, asking me about something he just saw on Facebook. Then, The Check Out Lady asked me if we were members of their book club. I let her know we live far away and therefore we wouldn't use the book club that often, so no thank you. What did she say again? You guessed it. In her hushed tone she said, "I'm so sorry." Well, I was befuddled and my head hurt from everyone talking to me and the whole Mall Cop situation so I replied, "Don't be sorry!" Apparently my sass was enough for the Check Out Lady who retreated to her customer service cave. With no other words exchanged, she slipped my items, and receipt, in the bag and we were off like a tornado. We touched down, wreaked havoc, and whirled away leaving the Check Out Lady in an apologetic dust.

I had no choice but to try to break it down on the drive from civilization to the sticks. Andy was of no help, of course. Why did she apologize? Was it because she felt she spoke too long to the previous customer? Was it because she was sorry about us missing out on the benefits of the book club? Was it because the items I picked sucked and she knew it and I didn't? Was it because the customer is always right and she kicked off the power struggle by laying that right out with an apology? Or was it because my kids were acting up and she could see that and she felt bad for me? Was she reading my mind and seeing that, at that moment, I was feeling sorry for myself and apologizing to myself for my decision to be a parent and have all of my personal power sucked away from me and given to child tyrants? It looks like I'll never know and I'll be left to always wonder why the Check Out Lady apologized to me.

I'm reading into it of course, but let me be clear. Let go of your power and apologize to me if you accidentally bump me or call me a bitch to my face and then regret it. Apologize if you provide me with poor customer service or if you were to do something for me and you fell through on doing it. Don't apologize to me for my decision to be a parent. It's not your fault that I have kids. It's Andy's. And yes, some days I feel bad about it and I feel sorry about how hard it is to be a parent. But let this be known, less than five seconds after removing my little micro bursts from The Mall, and they were happily tucked into their car seats, snacking and watching their iPads and telling me cute things about how fun the day was, I thought to myself: Sorry Not Sorry.