Blog Archives

Stressful Vacations

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing. They are supposed to provide a way of escaping the day-to-day dilemmas and disasters. They are supposed to provide us with an opportunity to slow things down, to get done those things we want to do but which we often don’t have the time to do, they are supposed to provide us time to relax, to recreate, to even escape our realities in some way, if need be. At least, this is true in theory.

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When Society Breaks

I entered the lunchroom at the office complex where I work yesterday. I was reveling in the fact that it was almost quitting time. One of my co-workers asked if she could turn on the news. That’s never a good sign. My interest and my ears immediately perked up, but a sense of dread began its tell-tale churning in my stomach. Read the rest of this entry

Same Song, Second Verse Same As The First…Other Side

I must confess. I have not been up late at night…much…lately. I’ve been sleeping very well and feeling good when I wake up the next day. Never mind that I was sick for two weeks with food poisoning. My bills are paid. There is food in my cupboards. And there’s a wee little bit to offset the unexpected thing that might come up. It is amazing how having a little extra cash in the bank and a car that is reliable changes one’s outlook on life. It’s also pretty incredible how that makes it easier to sleep. It’s been a good month. Or rather, a good couple of weeks. I can’t complain. And I won’t start now, even though, life has turned on the proverbial dime for me, once again. Read the rest of this entry

Uncle

Ever had one of those weeks when you were a day ahead of yourself?  You thought it was, say, Thursday, but it was really only Wednesday.  All day long, you’re excited as anything that tomorrow’s Friday, then somewhere, oh, around 4:00 pm, you realize that you were off by a day.  Welcome to my world.  I don’t know what I was thinking in my last post.  Eleven days left till payday?  Ha!  I don’t even know how I arrived at that number, except that I must have been so exhausted when I wrote that post.  It registered today, when someone mentioned that it was only 14 more days until Halloween.  I then remembered my 11 day thinking and got myself all in a wad trying to figure out how I even came up with the whole 11 days until payday thing anyway.  Early onset Alzheimer’s?  Clearly, this was more than just a minor soon-to-be-senior moment.  Even so, the disappointment was not nearly as great as it might have been, had I been a day ahead of myself.  I’m in the same place I was when I wrote Countdown.  Nothing much has changed, except, I’m adding another thing that I’m counting down to.

A few days ago, my daughter arrived home late from an activity.  She was in tears.  She’d just rear-ended someone.  It seems that her little sister had texted her, the phone vibrated, startling my daughter.  She glanced down to see where the noise was coming from (the car had been totally silent) and when she did, she hit the car in front of her, who apparently had either slowed or stopped.  I don’t know many more details than this.  The accident happened so recently.  My daughter is 18, so she will be dealing with the insurance company, the DMV, and whatever entities she must in order to resolve this, as much as possible, on her own.  Fortunately, she is fine.  Our vehicle, however, is not. Welcome to another completely unexpected financial disaster.  This time?  The $500 deductible.  The best part?  This is the third time this vehicle has been in an accident like this, this calendar year. (Each incident involved a different driver.)  In fact, I just had the same repair done on this car in January.

This year has been, for me, the absolute worst on record.  The year my dad died, 1984, was pretty bad, but only that part of the year.  The rest of the year had some pretty wonderful aspects to it.  All of the years between 2000-2005, when I was married to The Evil Ex, were completely disastrous. This year, however, I just can’t catch a break. There has been one disaster after another each month, all year long.  Just when I hope life might let up just a little and grant me a reprieve from the deluge of bad luck, another crisis occurs. I’m finally calling “Uncle.”  I really can’t take another disaster.  I’m going to be glad to be done with this year.

I’m counting down the days to January 1, 2013.

2 months and 13 days left.

Unless the world ends in December.

Bad Day

Today started out all wrong.  The problem is, I didn’t know it was going badly until it was too late to correct. Today I arrived at work 30 minutes late. There is nothing like walking into a meeting full of people, when your company has called in a consultant and designated you as a leader, with your boss present…and you are a full 30 minutes late.

I would have actually been on time, however, the competent individual who sent out the information via email stated an 8:00 start time.  Everyone else got the follow up memo with the time correction.  Everyone except me.

You know it is a bad thing when you are walking down the hall to a meeting, thinking that you perfectly on time, maybe even a few minutes early and your boss is texting you, “Are you coming?” That awkward moment when you feel the dread thickening in the pit of your stomach as you open the door, take your seat and discover, everyone else has been there for 30 minutes.

Embarrassment.

Anger.

Sudden, overwhelming insecurity and paranoia.

I, did, in fact check my memos.  All of them listed an 8:00 start time. There was no follow-up memo, at least, not to me.

How is it that every one else knew of the change in time, but me?  And then my next thought, Was this an intentional set up?  Who would do that?  Why?  Read the rest of this entry

It’s Raining Again

Life turns on a dime. One moment, you are sailing along enjoying everything, even though everything might not be perfect. You’re thinking to yourself that, even though things may have been rough, they are now looking up a bit. You worked a little extra, got a little money set aside for Christmas; something that hasn’t happened in years. Then one wonderful day, as you finally, just barely, allow yourself to begin to believe that there might be hope for a brighter financial future for you and your family, you get an email. Read the rest of this entry

What’s Holding You Back? Could It Be…Reality?

Lately, I’ve read a great deal of people writing and exhorting things like this: You can be whatever you want to be.  You can do whatever you want to do.  You decide.  If you don’t like  your life the way it is now, make the necessary changes and create the life you desire.

Okay, seriously?  This is 20-year-old thinking.

I mean, when I hear someone say that I am in complete control of my destiny and that any minute I can just unilaterally shelve everything and make a change (that works for me and me alone) then, well, I’m thinking this person is young, and so very optimistic (I do applaud this) and they do not have children.

So, let me dial it back about three decades for you.

I was one of those who believed exactly that:  I was in charge of my future.  I was in charge of my life.  If I didn’t like something, then I could make decisions and change it on a moment’s notice.  It could be the 7:30 am class I’d signed up for which I hated so I figured I’d change it, (I’m so not a morning person) or it could be the fact that I’d rather be living in the San Francisco Bay Area instead of the Pacific Northwest, or the Southwest, or the East Coast, take your pick.  It could be any number of things.  When I was younger (24+)  and had no real obligations, there really was nothing holding me back. Nothing.  I’m not kidding.  I made great money as a 25-year-old.  I was making bank and had no obligations.  The few credit cards I had, I could pay off in full each month (gross amounts of money I wish I now had). In addition, I had time.  I had time to regroup my losses.  I had time to correct my errors and regain my losses (if there were any).  I simply had time…or so I thought.  But…we don’t ever really know how much time we have…and we are never an island unto ourselves.

The reality is, you can’t always make the decisions you’d like, because you aren’t always completely in control of your life, unless you are an island.

I know.  That sounds blasphemous to many.  Sorry, but it’s true.  As much as I’d like to send it out to the universe that I am this or that…the reality is…what the reality is.

Think of it this way, if you are your own person and you have no obligations or commitments to others then, maybe, you can just up and do whatever you like whenever you want and, possibly, there really is nothing or no one holding you back. This is, at once, the best argument for remaining single forever and, at the same time, for leaving the single state as quickly as you can.   I feel for you if you are in this place.

The reality is, that as life goes on, life becomes less and less about us and more and more about those we love and what is best for them.

For the average 25-year-old, there aren’t many people you have to consult to make decisions about your life.  If you are lucky, your parents will support you in whatever adventure you take on.  You also, if you are lucky (meaning you did what you needed to do to make sure you were employable at a better-than-minimum-wage rate) have an income that provides for your basic needs and allows you the ability to make some choices with your life. In addition, you have the golden opportunity  that I call “TIME”.  At 25, you have an entire lifetime ahead of you.  If you make a bad choice, you have time to regroup and mitigate the losses.  It’s a very different story when you are say, 50 or 60.

So, let’s consider the mantra of “What’s Holding You Back”  (clearly a 20+-year-old perspective) from a more seasoned stance.

As a person well over 40, let me tell you “What’s Holding Me Back”:

  • I would love to consider another career field.  While it isn’t entirely impossible that I make the switch, the reality is that I am currently in a field where I am required to have at least a graduate degree.  The cost of this for me: $46,000. I have about 15 years to pay this off while I try to feed and clothe my children on a salary that is a fraction of what most other professional people make. I can’t possibly consider taking out more loans for a career field switch, especially when the likelihood is that I cannot have these loans paid off before I retire in my current profession.  It is wishful thinking to believe that I can completely jump ship on the professional field I’ve been in since 1985, and think I’m A.) going to be able to fund this life change, and B.) be able to pay off the debt in the time I have left to work.  This is just not going to happen.  The reality of economics and time hold me back here.
  • I would love to sell everything I own, find a job in a BIG CITY (read San Francisco Bay Area or something really decadent back on the East Coast), but the reality is this:  I have children.  My children have friends and lives that I have to consider in every decision I make.  I can’t just quit my job and move.  I have to consider how that’s going to roll with the kids that the respective ex’s.  (Yeah, I hate that part.)

The  reality is, no one is completely in charge of their destiny.  At 20, I might have had more freedom to make more choices.  At a much older age, this is not the case.  I now have children, ex’s, significant others, and employers to consider…and if you think considering the employer isn’t important consider this:  I work in a career field where, if I move, I take a significant pay cut and I lose the security of knowing I have a job in years to come. I’m sorry, but I have children to feed, clothe, and hopefully prepare and send to college.  Me, as a single mother of four,  taking a pay cut, or even risking it, is so not an option.

So…what’s holding me back?

Really?  You’re kidding me, right?

Because that’s the question a 20-something would pose.

What’s holding me back is my obligation to the other people in my life that I am responsible for and the reality is, I can’t just ditch that for something that works for me, but fails them. So, I remain in a place, that I like, but I don’t “LOVE” and I do a job that I love in a place that is, at times, troublesome and which makes me wonder if there isn’t something  better elsewhere…yet…I endure it, not because I have no desire to change, but because it is best for those who depend upon me.   All of this is holding me back from what I would personally love to be doing…if I had my druthers.

The reality is, I am responsible to others and for others, and it is no longer just about me. I cannot make these  decisions in a vacuum, excluding their input or perspectives.

So, here’s what’s holding me back:  It’s my decision to recognize that it isn’t always just about me and that sometimes, I must think of others before I think of myself, even if those choices aren’t ones I would choose in isolation.

What’s holding me back is my love for the other  important people in my life versus me choosing to make life all about me and what works for just me.

Life Superior

“Mom, my graduation from my fellowship is Saturday, August 24th. Can you come? Dad can’t make it, and really would like someone here for me. Plus there are many key political figures I want you meet. Can you please come?”

How does one say no to child who asks, no begs, for you to remain present and involved in their adult lives. This isn’t because the apron strings haven’t been cut. No, this is my firstborn, the independent one who has chosen to do life her way since she was born. She drives herself to achieve impossibilities, she still fights sleep, she’s been tapped to lead a prominent campaign for a candidate of her political party, and she’s intentionally choosing to sit out a term of college to gain this experience. This is not a needy, clingy child who is having a tough time leaving the nest. This is strong, intelligent, independent woman we are dealing with here. So, when she asks, especially when  she asks in this particular way, a caring parent pays attention. Even if she is not yet 22 years old. I was very close to having to tell my daughter no this time.

Why would I do such a thing?

The problem is a financial one more than anything.

More than once, this month, I’ve regretted the fact that I allowed the insurance company to pull The Gone BF’s payment out of my account. Sadly, he was attentive enough to our finances to wait until the payments had cleared before he decided to head out. More than once, over the last few weeks, I’ve wondered why I let this relationship go on an why I didn’t do something earlier about it. The fact that he is now gone, brings a different kind of sadness. It is a sadness that comes from realizing the truth when you worked so hard to ignore it. It’s a sadness that comes from realizing you had to work at ignoring the truth, that he just never was that into me, in spite of his helpfulness and wonderful words. He’s gone. I’ve no doubt he is glad to be gone. He hasn’t contacted me in well over a week. I don’t expect to hear or see from him again. I do wish I hadn’t been such a fool, but other than that my life is greatly improved since he left. But I am annoyed with myself for having paid his insurance bill.

I also wish my daughter, for all her competence, had informed me earlier. I would have planned this month so differently. Traditionally, the end of summer, with it’s back school registrations and expenses, is tight. This year is no exception. Even though I am past my bankruptcy, and I am doing all I can to improve my credit, I still don’t like using the credit cards. I have one with a small limit that I use and pay off every month, but it didn’t have enough on it to cover the expenses for this trip. On a whim, exactly a week ago, I applied for a credit card with a $1, 000 limit. Okay, in my past life, that’s a low limit, almost an insult. In my current financial recovery life, it’s an indicator that my life is improving. If you read through the credit repair literature, most suggest that it takes about a year to be approved for a credit card with that kind of limit. I was approved and it has been just over two months since I received my discharge letter. This was great news. Now to hope that I received the card in seven days rather than the ten of the 7-10 business days it takes to receive the card.

Waiting. As time drew near and my mailbox remained empty, I made up a Plan B. The Good Ex is usually great about giving me cash if I write him a post dated check. I hate doing this, but this was an exception and for a good reason. So, the stress was off as far as whether or not I was going, because The Good Ex was very good about it and payday is very near.

I have to say though, that in a situation like this that involves unplanned expenses four days before payday, having a credit card helps. What also helps is that this summer, I worked five extra weeks. What I spend this weekend will be paid off in a week. I will get to see my daughter and support her. But having that credit card would mean I’d have a cushion. It would mean some extra in case something happened. It would NOT mean a spending spree, it would mean I could enjoy the trip without worry.

Yesterday afternoon, as I was firming up our plans, I texted my oldest, “If that card is in the mail today, my life will be superior.”

I am pleased to report that my life is indeed superior.

An Open Letter To The Guy Who Spilled Ketchup On Me

I was sitting there, in the Dairy Queen, waiting for my daughter and her friend to come back from the bathroom.  I felt a cold wet sensation on my side, my back, my arm, my thigh.  I thought for sure that my daughter and her friend were playing pranks and throwing ice.

I turned to look at the offended locations on my body.  Instead of ice, I saw, ketchup.

Disbelieving, I looked up to see you looking my way just as dumbfounded.  As if you, in your wildest imagination, could not believe that you had dropped the ketchup, let alone that it landed all over me.

You were obviously embarrassed.

You fumbled.  Desperately seeking to right a wrong that somehow strangely couldn’t be righted.  You handed me all your napkins and there were many.  You went to get water for me to use to wipe the red stuff off my attire. You were worried that you had damaged my fine attire.  Never mind that I was wearing a discount skirt purchased from Ross Dress-For-Less and my bike shoes.  Okay, the bike shoes were somewhat expensive, but you wiped them clean.

I, in return, was so shocked that I did not, I’m afraid, respond well at all.

You see, when I felt the cold liquid on my body and through my clothing, I was really certain, the girls were playing games.  They’d been a bit silly all day and after a meal laden with carbs and chased by sugar in the form of soft serve ice cream cones, I was certain, they’d grabbed ice from the ice machine and were tossing it at me…for pranks.

My shock, Mr. Ketchup Guy, was not because I had ketchup on me, as much as it was because I did not have water or ice on me.  I was stunned…but not for the reasons you supposed.

You hurriedly helped me clean up, then disappeared to your table on the other side of the dining hall.  I walked by you on my way out, in shame, you didn’t even look up or glance my way.

Mr. Ketchup Guy, I owe you an apology.

You did not deserve my response today.  Never mind that my response was not what you thought.  I was not angry with you. I was not, though I’m certain I came off that way.  You did not deserve to leave that place thinking you had offended me or angered me or upset me.  You did not deserve to experience embarrassment.

I was just so completely stunned that my kids were not throwing ice at me, that it took me a bit to realize what was going on.  You handled everything so smoothly and so well and so quickly, I didn’t have the time to tell you.  Then, as I left the place, suspecting you still harbored some embarrassment about the entire episode, I failed to approach you and to thank you for the napkins and the water.

But it really wasn’t the napkins and the water that I’d have thanked you for.

It would have been for the courtesy, the chilvary, the emotion in the person that felt that spilling ketchup on a lady in a fast food restaurant was worth being addressed rather than ignored; that the incident was worthy of some embarrassment on your part.

Many would have acted like the incident never happened.

Thank you for not being one of the many.

Please accept my apologies for not letting you know how grateful I was for your response and for relieving any embarrassment you might have experienced as the result.  I was amiss to not assure you that I was fine and the clothing washable, yes, even the expensive bike shoes.

It was clear to me that you are a gentleman, while I did not behave like much of a lady.

Thank you for being part of an endangered species rarely seen these days.  I regret to think that I might have taken steps to hurry your kind closer to extinction.

Please forgive me.

How My House is Like Educational Reform

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The “rental” is presentable. The mess is up off the floors, bagged, and sits in a pile in the garage until payday when I can order a commercial dumpster for a day. This dumpster will be left in front of the house so we can toss in all the trash bags and broken furniture that remain in 24 hours, at the end of which the garbage company will haul it away for us. At $119, this is a good deal considering I just took a trailer piled high with mattresses and a pickup full of smelly garbage and it cost me $63.

The outside of the home is cleaned up and the rotting stench (or the garbage creating it) has been hauled away. And, yes, during the clean out my worst fears were confirmed when two rat carcasses were discovered in the garage. I’m not surprised that they had rats. The place was the worst cesspool of filth, debris and decay that I have ever seen. This made the mess left by The Evil Ex when he moved out look like Felix Unger’s flat.

The alarming reality is that my tenant had a child living in that mess with her. The little guy was about one; still in diapers and not talking. It just makes me wonder, when we know all that we do about the importance of early experiences on the developing body and brain, what kind of life this child will have. Growing up in filthy, rat infested, smoke filled, dwellings lacking in the requisite attention from his mother who most likely is battling addiction and depression and is unable and ill-equipped to parent. I can empathize with being poor and struggling desperately to make ends meet, but I have a hard time understanding how people when given an opportunity and a place to live that is safe, clean, and in good repair can be so negligent, destructive, and disrespectful.

I don’t want to go off on a big political treatise on the American educational system, but is it any wonder our schools are in trouble when this mentality of disrespect is becoming the mainstream of society filling the seats in our public school classrooms? I just have a hard time understanding how the teachers who deal daily with children who come from circumstances like these are vilified and held responsible for their students’ failures on high stakes tests when the fact that their students are often struggling to survive the night after they leave school. In situations like the one my tenants represent, homework and school achievement seem a bit irrelevant. And, for the record, I live in a small rural area, of which the largest city boasts a population of 60,000. I’m not talking large metropolitan inner city here. This is suburbia. This is the small town. This is not the exception it is becoming the norm. To lay the ills of society and the failure of the educational system to adequately meet the needs of a society it was not designed to service at the feet of teachers and then point blame is misdirected and completely pointless. The failure of our school system is not a teacher problem, it is a societal problem. Poor policy only compounds the problem.

Our society is changing and policy makers, the people who pass the laws telling teachers what they will teach, how they will teach it, and how long each day they will teach it, are completely out of touch with these changes. Further, there seems to be little understanding as to how these pervasive societal changes impact children and classrooms.

It’s a start to get policy makers out of their tidy, manicured offices furnished with items that costs more than it would take to feed a family of five for a year into the classrooms. The problem is that policy makers cannot get any idea of how their policies play out in a five minute walk through. They ought to spend some real time observing how things roll day to day in the life of a classroom over a period of time. They need to see how their policies impact daily instruction and school climate. That would only scratch the surface, but it would be a start at increasing the awareness of policy makers so they could better understand the situation they attempt to improve with their policies.

Of course, if policy makers really wanted to make a difference, they would also familiarize themselves with the things outside the classroom that make learning so difficult for students in the classroom. The mindset shared by my tenants is clearly one absent of the most basic level of respect: for things, the environment, others and themselves. How do you help people who just don’t care? Effecting real, lasting and positive change in a society that often seems dead set on destroying itself, is not and will not be an easy task. It is so much easier to concern oneself with merely getting re-elected.

It’s like my house. 72 hours ago, the place appeared to be in ruin. Some muscle, hard work, and a bit of knowledge and determination, and a whole lot of desire to help later and my house is moving toward being inhabitable again. It could function adequately as a safe dwelling for a family. This is like the policy makers and education today. What we have is okay. In some respects it is even great. But, based on more thorough investigation, there is still a great deal to change.

My house, in order for it to be a good home for a long time, needs far more than a clean out. It needs a complete overhaul. The plumbing needs to be replaced and the kitchen needs updating in the worst way. Windows need to be replaced with energy efficient ones. I’m sure the wiring is out of code. Attic fans and new insulation are necessary. Cabinets, counter tops and floors require updating. The roof will need to be replaced before the homeowners policy expires. Once the improvements begin, it may be discovered that there is further work to be done beneath the surfaces. So it is with our educational system. Once we get started working on educational reform, it will be a large, seemingly impossible task. Where will it end? How much will it cost? Maybe it is better to leave well enough alone?

So, until we figure out which parts of the educational house need to be renovated and which we should dispose of, its just easier to do the basic clean out. Instead, we stick with the basics and make the house look presentable and hope for the best. I think we know it isn’t just the educational system that needs refurbishing. Instead, like it often happens when you remodel, when you rip into one wall, you might uncover a deeper, bigger problem that must be dealt with before the remodel can move forward. That’s where I think we are with education. We’ve begun to remodel, but until we deal with some of the deeper, larger issues buried in the framework of our society, our educational remodel will never be completely effective.

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