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.