Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bragging Rights

I spent yesterday with a group of high school freshmen and sophomores as part of a College Readiness program I am involved with. I serve as a mentor to low-income, first generation and minority students, helping them learn the skills they will need to get into and succeed in college. This is a passion of mine, and spending one Saturday a month with them reminds me of why I am in higher education and helps me stay in touch with "today's student."

This month's topic was career exploration. We took them to a local radio station for a tour and conversation with a couple DJ's. They shared their college experiences and talked about turning college experiences, interests, and majors into fun jobs. After that, I led an activity called "Dependable Strengths." This involved writing down ten things that you are good at and enjoy. Examples could include sports, volunteering, taking care of family, learning to ride a bike, or drawing. Next, they prioritized the top five and wrote down what strengths were included in each of the experiences. Being a team captain demonstrates leadership, for example. After the activity we talked about the process and I asked them how it went. Right away, hands went up and one student said, "It was hard!" When I asked him why, he said, "Remembering mistakes and bad stuff is easier than the good stuff."

This 14-year-old boy voiced what we have all experienced at one point or another in our lives. Our mistakes, missed opportunities, and failures can loom larger than our successes, talents, and bold moves we make in our lives. As I helped them identify their strengths for this exercise, it reminded me that we could all benefit from an inventory of the good stuff in our lives. This is especially important if you are lucky enough to have an influence on others, whether it be your kids, friends, or people in the community. Seeing confidence inspires confidence. So go ahead, make a list of your accomplishments big and small, remember the things you most enjoy, and make room for the "good stuff!"

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Null and Void?

These past few weeks I've wrestled with the problem of having to "shop" for a church in which to get marriedfor our wedding. I was raised Catholic, and he grew up in the Lutheran faith, but neither of us practice anymore. Kyle wasn't crazy about having to go through the Catholic hoops and I just couldn't get excited about a Lutheran ceremony. We were a mini-reformation in the making. I have to say that I was leaning toward going through the Catholic hoops for the sake of tradition when I realized that the Saturday evening mass would conflict with my vision of an evening wedding. Having the wedding at a secular site was the best solution.

All was well and good until I called my maid of honor to tell her we had the wedding site settled. We chose to have our wedding and reception at the same place. I explained that it was just easier and we loved the space. Besides, I told her, I couldn't have a Catholic wedding because...and she interrupted and said, "because you'd have to get an annulment." An annulment! I completely forgot! Here I thought the biggest conflict was the Saturday worship schedule. We had a good laugh, but later I thought more about this concept. If you are divorced, and you wish to get remarried in the Catholic faith, you must petition for an annulment and a tribunal decides whether or not the previous marriage was deemed valid or if it can be nullified. The Bible says that if a man marries a divorced woman, he is commiting adultery because, once married, always married. So, no annulment, no Catholic marriage.

I'm not writing to rant against the church. I'm no expert on the subject and I have far too many other wedding details to consider without crafting an argument against this archaic and patriarchal practice. It's just that the whole thing prompts me to reflect on what it has meant to be a divorcee. As much as I would like to "nullify" certain events from my past, my marriage is certainly not one of them. Yes, it was not the right decision after all, but my ex-husband was a good and kind person with whom I shared nearly ten years. To erase this relationship would be to forget days spent on the ski slopes or cross-country skiing around a silent, snow-covered lake, countless road trips, camping, and going to concerts in the height of the grunge era. I would have to forget winter nights pouring over seed catalogs together and drawing our summer garden plans, and then summer months of picking basil and turning it into pungent pesto and sharing late dinners on the porch with friends. And most important, I would have to forget the moment when I stood at my kitchen sink and realized I had to leave him in order to be the woman I wanted to be. My marriage did not work for many personal reasons, but throughout the separation and divorce, I learned much about myself, my values, and what I wanted my life to be. Deciding to divorce him was, at once, the most painful and brave thing I've ever done. Now, ten years later, I appreciate these lessons even more. So I say, thanks but no thanks Father, I'll keep my past intact.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Nanny 911

After my fourth day on the nanny job, I was doing fairly well getting the kids off to school and was learning the routine, but discipline....ah discipline. It's hard! It's hard under the best circumstances, but being a nanny for children that have never had discipline is much more difficult than I imagined. By day four, I was at a loss, so I made an emergency call to my friend A. A is a seasoned mother of two with a master's in elementary education to complement her natural parenting and people skills. She is one of those kick-ass women who approaches every life situation with a can-do attitude and practical solutions. I explained my situation and she immediately knew what to say. I had to establish myself as the alpha dog, the pack leader, a'la Cesar Milan. If they complain about their breakfast, simply say, "That's your breakfast. Eat it or not; I don't care." End of story. If they call me stupid, call each other stupid, call one another's stuffed animals stupid, throw their breakfast across the table, or fail to follow directions, I must have consequences in mind and mete out consistent punishment. She said that I need to be respected, not liked, and that kids crave structure and consistency. She was my Nanny 911! What would we do without our girlfriends?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Sherri Poppins

For the better part of a year now, I've been preoccupied with finding a fun part-time job. I know, I know, I'm "working" on getting a PhD, but the gratification is so nebulous, the reward so far away. I want something startlingly different from scholarly work, something with a clear objective: demonstrate a skill, punch out, go home. Oh, and the extra money for my wedding fund would be nice. The tough thing is that part-time student jobs always seem to include unpredictable schedules and working weekends and nights, two things I'm not willing to give up As much as I'd love to fulfill my lifelong dream of being a Starbucks barista, free coffee and $4.00/hour after taxes is not worth working the 5:00 a.m. shift on Saturday.

With these restrictions in mind, I discovered the perfect job: babysitting! Before I was a doctoral student, before I was a professional, even before I was a cook/busgirl/grocery store clerk, I was a babysitter. So, I found a job listing for a part-time nanny for two children. Now, nearly 25 years later, I'm a babysitter again. I'm happy to report that the pay has increased from the $2/hour I earned in 1984. This job fits my schedule (6:30--8:30 a.m. M-F) and includes helping two kids, aged 10 and 6, get up and off to school. I pack lunches, make breakfast to order, organize backpacks, oversee teeth brushing and weather-appropriate dress, and walk them safely to school before the 8:20 bell.

The family moved to town a year ago and as a result the kids have had to adjust to new schools, friends, and nannies. According to their parents, the previous nanny doted on them, providing a lot of love, but no discipline. As a result, one of the tasks for myself and the afternoon nanny is to help them become more mature, respectful, self-sufficient young people. This is a daunting task for 6:30 a.m.! I discovered on the first day that I was "stupid" for waking the six year old up at 7:20 instead of 7:30 and he "hated" me for making his bacon on the stovetop rather than in the microwave. The ten year old girl was happy to inform me at the breakfast table that the little boy still wore diapers to bed and that his stuffed dog was mentally retarded. What? Public shaming over bagels? Fortunately for the children, I had already consumed two cups of coffee and could respond in my zen-caffeinated state. As we walked up the stairs to finish getting ready, the boy commented that I had a "big fat butt" to which I responded, "That's not an appropriate comment." I wanted to say, "You are far too young and it is far too early to objectify women based on your preconceived notion of butt size. Now run along and brush your teeth!" This job may not be so "part-time" after all!