Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My New Reality: A Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

Midwestern Meditations

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

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 27, 2014

I Get So Emotional, Baby

By now my proclivity for tears has become a bit of a joke. My son and one of my Angel friends have called me out for crying "because the sun came up today." I roll with it. At least they're giving me the attention I so deserve desperately crave.

Just your typical day for "feelers" like me!
If you want to label me a bit more accurately, I'm not strictly a crier. I think a better word might be "feeler." I experience a range of emotions in a really deep way. It's as if all the nerves that trigger emotions lie too close to the surface. As a result, tears and laughter come in equally easy measure. The same movie might elicit both, and if you're with me, you may be embarrassed by how freely I share them. If the reaction of strangers is of concern to you, I'll understand if you want to sit a few rows behind me. I should also warn you that I can get physical when frightened. Rob still has the scars of childbirth. Let's just say I held on to his hand really tightly.

In addition to those experiences that evoke a physical reaction, I also can feel overwhelming emotion in life's everyday moments. The daily news or a walk down the street can trigger heartache. The beauty of nature can hit me like a ton of bricks. Even my rare bouts with being content or peaceful are acute, nearly palpable.

Sometimes I think I possess some strange genetic disposition that causes me to observe and absorb more from the world than most people. Except I guess it's not genetic, because I'm pretty sure I'm the only one in my family built this way. My sister tries to avoid unpleasant feelings at all cost, and Abby seems immune to emotional distress. She may be the only person in America who didn't cry at The Fault in Our Stars, though she did confess that her eyes welled up a couple of times. I'm not going to see that movie, at least not in the theaters. Don't want to drown out the audio with my sobbing.

Given my tendency toward free-flowing tears or raucous laughter, one might think that I'd avoid situations that are likely to result in a total breakdown or complete hysteria. But here's the thing: I kind of like the depth of emotions that I experience. While I often will pass on books or movies that I know will cause me distress, when I stumble upon something that touches me, I embrace it rather than fight it. I don't see my emotions as a curse, but rather as a blessing. What a wonderful gift to be so alive and in touch with the world around me!

Having said all that, I should add that the level of emotion of which I speak, even when it's sadness, should not be confused with clinical depression, with which I also have plenty of experience. Perhaps those of us who struggle with this disease also tend to feel things more deeply than others, but they are not one in the same. Depression is a weight that drags you down, making your heart feel heavy regardless of the book you're reading, the movie you're watching or the evening news. In fact, one of the most frustrating things about it is how it settles in regardless of the reality of our lives. When you're suffering with depression, there's nothing worse than hearing "you have nothing to be unhappy about." Be assured that I know my life is nearly perfect, and I already feel badly about feeling bad for no logical reason.

Personally, I'm in a pretty good place these days. I'm lucky to have found a combination of things that work for me, including medication, exercise, wine and quiet time. And I'm happy to say that the antidepressants I take allow me to feel those range of emotions that I've described. If you're on meds that leave you feeling nothing--no highs or lows--I urge you to see your doctor, or a different doctor. There are ways to make the pain go away without shutting down all the feelings--good and bad--that make life worth living.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Case of Righteous Indigestion

Have you ever felt unmoored, adrift, insecure and uncertain? Maybe your bedrock has been shaken as a result of job loss, divorce or the death of a loved one? Unstable ground is a lousy place to stand, and I'd wager a bet that my recent breakouts, sleep issues, and increasing bouts of anger and frustration are being triggered by the cracks in my foundation. Seems like a good time to call on one of my civil engineering professors. They're good with structural issues.

While I wish I could be fixed with a new and improved form of concrete, unfortunately, the problems are in my head and my heart. I'd say my soul is also taking a beating these days, which makes sense given that my church (MPC) is currently the piece of my foundation most in need of bolstering. In the past year, MPC has experienced remarkable upheaval, leaving its members to work through various stages of grief and a range of emotions, combined with an uncomfortable level of change (at least for some of us), and uncertainty about the future. While all of that has played a significant part in the weakening of this pillar in my life, I have come to recognize that my attitude, stubbornness and need to always be right has contributed to the hurt and bitterness I feel. I have a case of what I'm calling "righteous indigestion."

Let me back up a bit to put things in perspective for those of you who don't know the story. A year ago, MPC lost its senior pastor as a result of poor choices made on his part. When it was time for him to go, there was serious debate over how to manage certain aspects of his leaving. And though I had lived most of my life in shades of gray, for me, these matters were black and white. I experienced an unusually clear sense of right and wrong in the decisions that needed to be made. The problem? I wasn't just in the minority in my thinking, I was alone. The only one coming down on the other side of the issue. Uncomfortable? Not really. I guess my conviction provided me with the feistiness I needed to carry on (literally and figuratively). Fortunately, I didn't stand alone for long, and in fact, the minority became the majority.

I have to confess that my experience leading the revolution charge left me with a heady feeling. I liked knowing that others saw me as a pillar of strength in the sands of spinelessness someone who would stand up for what was right, someone who would put words to what others were thinking, someone who would "speak truth." I became drunk on my own power. Okay, that's a little over the top, but you get what I'm saying.

As the year progressed, the divisions within the church slowly faded and we refocused on what made MPC special, including our commitment to mission, ministry to children and youth, and the amazing love we have for one another as the body of Christ. There was no need for an underground opposition movement and hence, no work left for the activist in me. We were chugging along, and just before Christmas our interim pastor came on board. As pastors are prone free to do, he made a number of substantive changes over the past six months, focusing primarily on our worship service. Those changes didn't sit well.

As the weeks went on, I began to feel spiritually empty and increasingly disconnected from the church. And being completely self-absorbed, I assumed that if I was feeling this way, surely everyone else was too. It was time to hoist myself up on my soapbox and prepare to lead the fight! So, last month, I spoke out about my concerns, and lo and behold, the reaction from those in attendance was...crickets. There was no applause for my candor, insight, and willingness to stand up and complain say what needed to be said. In fact, there wasn't widespread agreement with my assessment.  I was, again, in the minority, but this time, I don't foresee the tide turning in my direction. Nor does it need to. If our church members are happy and their spiritual needs are being met, who am I to raise a red flag? Instead, given my level of emotional and spiritual maturity, I have vowed I will not return to worship for the foreseeable future. I recognize that it seems childish, but in all honesty, Sunday morning had become an emotionally draining experience for me, and that's just not what I'm looking for when I come to worship.

Nearly a month after making this little speech, I further distanced myself this week when I left a meeting in anger and frustration when it was more than 30 minutes late in starting. Driving home with a taste of bitterness in my mouth, I thought, "How dare they disrespect me and my valuable time?"

Clearly I slept through those sermons on grace and forgiveness.

Sometimes I suck at this Christian thing.

Two months ago, I thought my church family would be the primary reason for my staying in the area despite wanting to move south in about 10 years. How could I possibly say goodbye? Now, I'm feeling rudderless, disconnected and distant, and I imagine the fault is mostly mine. Still, I can't bring myself to return on Sunday morning. I'm not sure what comes next or where the answer lies, but I do know one thing:

I'm going to need a serious supply of Tums for this miserable case of righteous indigestion.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The #1 Challenge in Raising a Daughter

It's often said that it's easier to raise boys than girls. I guess that's true, though for me it's not about Abby herself, but rather her interaction with the world that makes having a daughter more challenging. I don't worry what people will think if Ian's shorts are too short. I'm not as concerned that someone will try to physically take advantage of Ian. I don't give much consideration as to whether Ian's "behavior" will cause people to talk, or whether others think he's a "bitch" for being smart, competitive and driven to succeed. These are real concerns for me with my daughter, however. And I would add to this list: society's definition of beauty.

No matter how confident we are, regardless of our level of self-esteem, at some point in our lives every single one of us has wondered whether we're good enough. I was at the pool this weekend, and as I walked the perimeter looking for an empty chair, I felt like I was on display. I was self-conscious about my less than perfectly toned thighs and I cursed the blemishes on my face. And when I found a chair and settled in, I looked at every other woman who walked by and tried to figure out whether I was more or less attractive than her. At the age of 13, I'm sure Abby already has compared herself to her peers, and if her self-confidence is what it should be, she's not concerned about how she measures up. But, unfortunately, someday she will be.

Though I stopped reading parenting books when the kids were little because they made me feel badly about my skills (the same reason I don't read Better Homes & Gardens, Self, or a single cooking magazine), the one thing I remember is that, as parents, the example we set is the number one influence on our children's lives. If we are committed to our faith, eating well and living a healthy lifestyle, our children are more likely to be similarly committed (maybe not as quickly as we'd like, but someday). If we demonstrate kindness, service to others and a strong work ethic, our children will likely do the same (or at least one of our children will pick up these traits). Naturally, the negatives apply here as well. If we put ourselves first in every way, judge others and allow ourselves to be consumed by bitterness and hate, we're raising kids who may do the same (unless they decide to be completely different because they are ashamed of us). If we have no use for reading and lifelong learning, exercising or spending money wisely, well, you get the picture. What I'm taking a long time to say is that a mom's self-image can have dramatic effects on her daughter(s). If I complain about my weight and my blemishes and I constantly compare myself to others, Abby may very likely follow suit. And let's face it, the last thing our daughters need is any help in feeling badly about themselves.

So why this topic now? Probably because I watched the whole season of American Idol and Jennifer Lopez is just depressing as hell at look at every week. And then there's Jennifer Aniston who reportedly wants to lose 10 pounds before her wedding, which is good news because her shape was starting to concern me. But then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Aussie mom Tara Brumfitt who has embraced the "reverse progress body movement," showing off her rock solid body builder physique "before" and her soft, beautiful, mommy figure "after." With her daughter as her motivation, Tara's working on a documentary called Embrace. “How will I teach my daughter to love her body?” she wrote on her website. “How am I going to encourage her to accept and love her body, when I am standing in front of her with a surgically enhanced body? What type of hypocrite or mother would I be?”

I had a friend recently confess that she considered breast implants, but when she thought of the message it would send her daughter, she decided against it. This was in sharp contrast to another friend who offered her physically fit, athletic 12-year-old daughter a reward if she lost some weight.

I don't generally say much about my weight in front of Abby, but where I increasingly have expressed frustration and insecurity is with the appearance of my face. From first time fever blisters and recent breakouts that take weeks to clear, to those obvious fine lines above my lips and the dark circles under my eyes, I know I'm growing older and I feel considerably less attractive. And this is obvious to Abby because I recently bought stock in Mary Kay cosmetics and am having their makeup and skin care solutions shipped directly to our house by the palate.

I used to be an all-natural kind of girl like my mom, who never wore anything on her face except lipstick, But now I'm using special facial cleanser and zit cream. I bought foundation powder. And just last week, I asked my Mary Kay rep to stop by and give me a makeup lesson. She showed up with a case larger than most of my pieces of luggage, and tried to sell me everything under the sun. Rather than just covering those dark circles, I really need their special heavy duty eye cream. If my blemishes aren't clearing up with the treatment she sold me, then I may need to wash with another Mary Kay product. She showed me numerous combinations of eye shadow colors, and lipsticks that I could brighten with a separate purchase of gloss. She left with my order for mascara (waterproof, of course), eye shadow, eye liner and blush/bronzer, but what was most interesting about this sales call visit was the rep's interaction with Abby, who sat at the table and judged whether what I was being pitched actually made a difference.

The Mary Kay rep tried to hook Abby like a drug dealer. "Ooh, I bet you'll like this eye shadow." Nope. Abby doesn't wear eye shadow. "Oh, how about these great lip pencils." Nope. Abby doesn't wear lip color. "This gloss would be fun, right?" Abby explained that she prefers the EOS lip balm. Mission Failed. That's my girl. You don't need makeup, my dear. Your natural beauty is undeniable. I can only hope that she will avoid painting her face simply because mom does, and as a teenager, it's important to avoid anything that makes you look like your mom.

So that's my two cents on how society's notion of beauty makes raising girls more difficult than parenting their brothers. I'd love to know your thoughts on the subject!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Regrets? I've Had a Few, But a New Look Might Help

5/15/2014  The Regret

I love working at a university. On those all-too-infrequent days when I take the time to leave my office, I remember exactly what brought me here. It’s the students and the faculty, the old stone buildings, and the trees, lawns and brick-lined pathways. It’s the learning and discovery, energy and potential, and glimpses of an encouraging future built on a foundation of bright minds and willing spirits. (Damn, I should write marketing copy for this place…) This time of year can be tough for me, however. Partly because I catch spring fever just like the kids. Partly because the students have gone home, leaving it disappointingly quiet. But mostly it’s a somewhat difficult time because of graduation—a reminder of what a twit I was to pass on the opportunity to experience the pomp and circumstance.

I skipped both my grad and undergrad commencement ceremonies. The reason was the same on both occasions: I was ready to move on. Why waste time on some long, drawn-out tradition when my life was waiting somewhere else? Why? Because you'll never be with those people, in that place, on that occasion ever again, while life on the other hand, will keep moving you along ready or not. That's why you stay for your last semester of college even if you don't need the credits, and that's why you hang out even if your thesis is complete, and that's why you go through the ceremony. You know what they say about hindsight. 

I don't have a lot of regrets in life, but those I do have are almost all tied to being in a hurry for the "next thing" and failing to live in the moment. I'm certain this is also why I have a lousy memory. It's hard to remember those special times if you're too busy thinking about where you're going next. In high school, you looked forward to college. From college, grad school. From grad school, career. After you meet Mr. Right and fall in love and spend a few years waiting for him to propose, next comes marriage. And somewhere before the wedding you buy a house. Then after the wedding, if you're old school, you move into the house. As soon as the time comes when you're too tired to go out on a Friday night after work, you realize you may as well have children. Then you have children and you wonder what you were drinking thinking when you made that decision. So you cry yourself to sleep, praying that time moves this baby/toddler thing along before you go stark raving mad. And then suddenly those babies are teenagers and you're wondering how you got to this point so quickly. And you're thinking about their college application process and what you'll do with their rooms when they leave for school. Finally, the question becomes, do you move away and restart your life while they're still in college, or wait to see if they need a home to come back to when they can't find a job after you just spent $100K on their education.  And when can I officially retire?

It's crazy to think that my life is half over. That I've wasted so much time hurrying it along. But the good news is that I still have half of it to go (God willing) and I can learn from my mistakes. 

5/20/2014 On Second Thought...

One of our engineering PhDs being hooded at Commencement
Went to the College's Recognition Ceremony on Saturday. It was lovely and all, but I no longer feel badly about not having gone through my own graduation ceremonies. Too much sitting. I can't sit that long without something to read. After some reflection, I don't think it's that crap about "living in the moment" that makes me wish I had done the whole cap and gown thing. I think it was about the outfit. I want to wear the gown and that cool looking hood they give you when you earn your master's degree or doctorate. I may earn another degree while I'm at Villanova, just so I can wear the hood. Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

The more I think about it, there are a number of occupations I would consider solely for the clothes. I suppose I could go back to school to become a nurse or doctor (love the roomy, comfy scrubs and the clogs), church pastor (there are some pretty cool stoles out there) or soldier (dig the fatigues, could totally sneak up on people that way). And if all else fails, I can live in a fantasyland of my own creation where I would be a Disney princess for the awesome gowns and the great body that goes along with them.