Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When is Coffee Not Coffee?

A couple days ago, I walked a mile in the snow and ice (yes, part of it was actually uphill, in the wind) to meet a few other students across campus for a group project. Now, everyone who has ever gone to college bristles when they hear the words "group project." Yeah! Let's synchronize our wildly different schedules and work outside of class together! In an effort to make the experience less painful, I suggested we have our first meeting over coffee. Starbucks and homework in one shot, pardon the pun. My plan fell apart, however, when one of my partners invited us to her office across campus. She said, "I'll make coffee or tea." Uh, do you have a personal barista?

So there I was, trudging across a bridge to the other side of campus, freezing cold, just betting that her idea of coffee would be very different from my own. I know this because I have seen her drinking tea on several occasions. I have always viewed "tea drinkers" as suspect, and those that drink tea, yet offer to make coffee for others, even more so. How can you understand robust, earthy, and strong coffee if you spend your life drinking flaccid hot water with sugar? Sure enough, when I arrived, she took my coat and led me to the table where packets of non-dairy creamer and sugar substitute awaited. Red flag! Even though I am one of the most critical people I know, I also understand how to grin and bear it, or, in this case, gulp and bear it. So, I took a deep breath and poured a full cup of Folgers. She warned me that it was "really strong," but I took a sip and said, "oh, it's just right." For the first time, I actually craved a cup of Constant Comment.

Some may say, "coffee is coffee" but I vehemently disagree. Coffee is not coffee when you can 1. see the bottom of the cup; 2. say the word "bleck!" when you taste it; or 3. close your eyes and visualize you are in a truck stop when you smell it. At least the grinning and bearing it tactic allowed me to breathe through my mouth and avoid the offending smell.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cuba vs. Couture

Yes, I'm one of those people: I love pop culture and following celebrities along with my friends on E! News and OK! magazine. I especially love that my favorites use an exclamation point in their titles, aptly describing the fervor with which we follow their subjects. OK! would not be the same without the exclamation point. It would be, "she looked 'ok' in the Ballenciaga," rather than "OK! let's see who's fabulous, scandalized, or rehabilitated this week!" But I digress...

I found out just how attached I was to pop culture when I received an invitation for a dinner hosted by the graduate student association. It was scheduled for 5:30 on Sunday, February 24th. My first response was, "Who the hell schedules an event on Oscar night?" Now, I am as commited to my program as the next person and I understand the importance of bonding with my cohort, not to mention having the decency to show up when my faculty advisor hosts a party. But not at 5:30 on the 24th of February! On this night, I am transfixed on my couch, holding my breath until George Clooney arrives in a perfect-fitting tuxedo.

Alas, I had to go. I reviewed my Operation Oscar exit strategy with my partner before we walked up the driveway: Greet, eat, and then a gracious "oh, wow, time to get back to the books" exit. Unfortunately, I missed all the glamour and arrived just in time to see Daniel Day Lewis wearing brown suede Hush Puppies with his tuxedo. Fortunately for him, the best actor votes were already tallied. The next morning, I woke up like a little girl on Christmas morning, excited to creep down the stairs and turn on my DVR to see what E! News Red Carpet coverage had brought me. And then, a dilemma: My alarm clock is set to the NPR station. When it sounded, the news was all about Raul Castro and a new leadership for Cuba. Damn. Now what was I supposed to do? Cuba's future, or red carpet recap? Quick! Rationalize! I laid in bed for approximately 45 seconds before I made my decision. No political pundit or E! News correspondent knew the designer Jennifer Garner would choose. But Raul is, after all, Fidel's brother and Fidel remains the leader of the Communist party. Not exactly another revolution, right?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Now THAT'S Self Worth!

Yesterday, my mom recounted a conversation she had with my nine year-old niece. This little girl is our family's resident "kick-ass kid." Forthright, stubborn, and very smart, she never lets you off the hook when she asks for what she wants or deserves. This past weekend, she and her sister babysat Aunt M.'s two kids. My mom assumed $5 and a trip to the movies was a good payment. She didn't agree:

Granny: Here is your $5.
B.: Granny, I did all the work so I deserve more money.
Granny: How much were you thinking?
B.: $10 from you and $10 from Aunt M. But, I will count your $10 as the movie cost and treats.
Granny: How about $5 for M's share?
B.: No, $10 is my final offer.
Granny: Ok, I have $5 now and can give you the other $5 when I have some change.
B.: You don't have to go to the ATM today; next week is fine.

Once again, I was struck by the difference that good parenting (and grandparenting!) can make in a child's behavior and outlook. My older sister is pretty "kick ass" herself and her kids benefit from her allowing them to grow into self-sufficient, confident individuals. I hope she understands what a great job she has done. And we're all confident that Miss B. will never lose her sense of self-worth!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Self-Worth in Sheep's Clothing

I have enjoyed what you might call a banner year in the self-esteem category. I love my program at Iowa, am connected to my dearest girlfriends and family, and looking forward to my wedding this summer. Who knew, then, that the biggest challenge to my esteem would come in the form of a 36-pound boy and his ten-year-old sister?

But challenge they did! For five weeks, I woke up at 6:00 a.m. to take care of two children who were accustomed to having every detail of their lives attended to; every whim fulfilled. I mentioned in my earlier posts some of their antics, but I did it in my usual funny narrative. Truth be told, it was awful. I have extensive experience with children of all ages and temperaments, but nothing had prepared me for their behavior. The screaming tantrums, constant demands ("soup OR sandwich, not BOTH!") and chipping away at my self-esteem. Not in the global, I-am-questioning-my-very-identity sort of way, but chipping nonetheless. Imagine waking up every morning and hearing, "You're chubby!" "I hate you" "Get out of my house!" "I don't like you!" "You're skin is like rubber because that's what fat people's skin is made of!" "You're stupid!" And those were the things the boy would say when he finally came up for air after screaming for 30 minutes straight that he was "TOO TIRED!" to get up. His sister would spend her mornings firing put-downs at her brother, throwing things at him, throwing things at me (scrambled eggs, anyone?), screaming when she realized she forgot to do her homework, and examining her packed lunch to be sure I included everything she wanted and nothing she didn't.

How could two children be so awful? The one-word answer? Parents. Not having kids of my own, I know I can't understand actual parenting, but I do know there are basic things that children need: consistency, boundaries, and positive attention to name a few. These children had none of the above. Their parents were both surgeons, and accustomed to holding their hand out and someone handing them a scalpel to do their job, and nannies to do their parenting. They programmed their children like a universal remote, sending them to Hebrew School, Chinese lessons, ballet, tap, and jazz dance, basketball, and ice-skating. I can only hope they did a better job of closing incisions than they did raising their children.

It didn't take long before I woke up each morning dreading my job. It took longer, however, to realize that I had a choice in the matter. I asked the parents twice to schedule a meeting to talk about the kids, but they never had time. Once again, it was my friend A to the rescue. She listened to my stories and offered advice for weeks before giving me the best advice of all: Quit. This happens to be my four-letter word. I'm no quitter! I finish what I start! I am loyal to the bitter end! What does she know! After I calmed down, I realized that this sort of misguided loyalty had gotten me in trouble in the past. Remember that man whose name we do not mention? He did so much chipping he needed an ice pick, yet I stayed for two years. And now, here he was again, 150 lbs. lighter.

For the first time, I realized that while I had learned to respect myself in the man department, having self-worth means requiring respect in all areas of my life. Bosses, friends, co-workers. Everyone. It is not my responsibility to make the best of a bad situation when it is clear it will never change. I can say, "wow, those people don't respect me, I think I'll quit." And quit I did. It was scary, I agonized over what they'd think of me, I fought the urge to call myself a quitter, and then I wrote a succinct resignation letter and hit "send." And, just like the man whose name we do not mention, the mother tried to get me back. She emailed, called, and had her children send hand-written apology letters and Valentines. When I refused to compromise, she got nasty and called me "incapable." This time, instead of begging her to take me back, I didn't respond, stayed firm, and left Ms. Bad Mommy to throw herself on the floor in a tantrum.