Sunday, August 3, 2014

College Prep Course for Soccer Moms

Are You Ready for What's Next?

I still have two more years until it will be my reality, but this summer I'm getting a taste of what it will be like
An image from my "sorta stay-cation" (View from BRHS)
when C & N go off to college and I become an empty-nester. I've seen what a difficult transition it will be when my kids finally go off to college. I think my life will change as much as their lives do. All I have to say is that I'm glad to heed the warning: they grow up too fast, so enjoy every minute!

Morning Rush (Church St.)
You've heard of a working lunch? Well this year I'm experiencing a "working summer". I've been leaving my house before 7:00 am and not returning until after 7:30 pm. While I've been able to knit or read quite a bit during my train rides from Somerville to Newark, and occasionally (if I'm fortunate enough to get a seat) on the PATH train between Newark and the World Trade Center, it doesn't make up for the time missed with the kids.... 

That is, if they were home! C left for Camp Cory in Penn Yan, NY (near Rochester in the Finger Lakes) on June 27th. She won't be home until August 23rd. N spent two weeks in a ceramics class at Bridgewater-Raritan High School - and he rode his bike both directions, (if any BRRSD Board of Ed members are reading, I found out your big secret: the district doesn't want kids to bike to the high school, so the district has rejected allowing bike racks on the campus... NOT COOL, but that's for another blog), showing me some evidence that he is ready for high school. Then, he spent 2 weeks at Camp Cory (see picture below - he's in one of the 2 person boats), then he came home last Saturday night only to leave for Norway on Sunday afternoon. Today is Sunday and in two hours their plane lands in Newark, I'll get him home for 5 days and then he's back at Cory for another two weeks. They return with just enough time to buy a few binders and finish their summer work before school starts in early September.

N - somewhere on Keuka Lake

Wish I could be a camper

Having them gone so much has been a rough awakening for me. My days of spontaneous trips to the beach or weeks at my in-laws summer house have been traded for writing endless marketing copy, checking open/conversion rates and daily meetings. When I was home I pined for full-time work. Now that I have it, I miss having summers off. Can't I learn that the grass is never really greener? 

So I'm trying to do what I've always done in life: do something - anything - to make the most of each day, in whatever life I have. This summer, that has included looking for a new place to walk/run, trying to see friends more often, reading good books and eating well (well, in theory). Today, I felt like writing (or, perhaps I wanted a break from cleaning). Some days it's easier than others to have my kids not physically present. Some days I am not jealous of the fantastic lives people appear to post on Facebook, remembering that my life is pretty fabulous, and I'm very grateful, even when I get lonely.

One thing that doesn't change whether the kids are home or not, whether I'm home work at work: I still loathe housework - laundry, cleaning, yard work, going through junk mail (I almost threw away the tax bill... subliminal???) and preparing for a new week of work. But it's got to get done... and now's my time to do it. Thanks for reading. Be well, friends... 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bittersweet

750-ish Middle Schoolers graduated this week

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." 


Well, "TBH" (to be honest, as the teens tweet), it wasn't either the best or the worst, and now it's over. If I had to grade BRMS over the past two years, I'd give it a B-. There were a few well-deserved As counterbalanced with a few failing grades.

The As

A couple of teachers who went the extra mile - communicated with me when N was lagging in the homework department or tried to make workable solutions to bridge the gap between his abilities and his output. They were also the ones who saw N as a very bright boy and encouraged him to participate in class.

A few U-apples

Some teachers clearly didn't care. Worse than that, they said that N didn't care either, which shows how little they knew him, earning a solid U (what we used to call an F). If they can give that grade for partially completed homework, I can give them this grade for partially-completed educating. "I reminded N to hand it in." --My (mental, non-verbalized) response "And I reminded you to remind him." In between was the guidance counselor who played middleman between my "professionally-toned" (i.e. curt) e-mails and teachers' somewhat lackluster responses.

Outside the classroom

Socially it was a mixed bag as well. This year he didn't do a single activity - no sports, no clubs. The only club he wanted to do was skiing, and he didn't get picked. Can't they make it so more kids can be involved? Encourage non-superstars to take part? Some kids aren't looking for sports scholarship... On the bright side, unlike his sister's grade, I didn't hear about (or see!!) any 8th graders drinking, and to my knowledge there weren't any drug busts (which happened a few years ago). Another mixed bag 50% - another U.

The lunchroom was overcrowded and the lines were long. With his schedule he often got to the cafeteria late, and didn't always have space at the table with his friends... so he ended up making others. I'd grade that a C, but my son would probably give lunch a B+ or A-.

The sweet side

However, he still has lots of friends, and had a great time at Hershey, bringing home lasting memories and a chocolate cover for his cell phone. And while I am not a fan of Hershey - I would have preferred something more academic-oriented, like DC - he loved it, and he loved the 7th grade environmental trip. A-.

He didn't get one detention, not one call home for behavior, never an argument or a tear (except maybe mine about homework frustration - I hear it's normal for boys not to hand in homework). I remember tearful heartbreak of unrequited love from Ernie Davis Junior High ca. 1983 - N hasn't had that experience. He doesn't know how lucky he is.

Summary

And now it's over. In the blink of an eye he is off to high school. I'm not sure who is more nervous, him or me. He can't get into a good college with the grades he got at BRMS, and he wants to be a scientist, so he has to get good grades. He's no longer a little kid - he's well on his way to becoming a man, and I guess an overcrowded BRHS is as good a place as any to navigate the world's waters.

Today he's biking to the high school - to get used to it before he takes an enrichment class there starting Monday - another step on his daily journey to independent life.

And four years from now, I may be sitting at my computer writing another bittersweet blog (hopefully with MUCH better feedback).

Honorable mention

Today's blog is dedicated to my friend's son. He just graduated from BRHS - heading to a Big 10 School.

D: Your Mamma-M is going to miss you more than you know, and guess what - you're gonna miss her too!! Best of luck in college, and remember to keep in touch with Mamma-M (and not just when you need something), Grandma "Ma" and the sisters who admire you! I don't need to remind you to keep in touch with P-Daddy - I'm sure you'll be text sports scores.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Cooling Off

Introducing "a cooling off period"

Learning a new concept on my last day at work

On my last day at my beloved job, a group of us boycotted the office-sponsored pizza party favoring a nice restaurant that serves great food, Trap Rock Restaurant. There we ran into another group from the office, some of whom also had chosen good beer - it's a brewery too - over no beer, pizza and uncomfortable conversation between "those who are staying" and "those who aren't". At least ten colleagues fall into my category. As my colleague said, "this is survivor and we've been voted off the island."

Plans for when I warm back up
At the bar I saw Kumar, a visual thinker, and former colleague. I'm not sure whether it is marketing or perspective, but he referred to his last few months outside of the full time workforce as a "cooling off period". As a consultant he has a freedom to take time between projects. Evelyn and I both loved that description. So I've spent my first week "cooling off" at the gym, cleaning the house, looking for jobs and having lunch. In fact I went to lunch or coffee with a friend every day this week! Evelyn - the ever-talented - spent her time writing poetry.

Cooling off and stepping back

Years ago, when I quit my job at Rutgers to stay home full time, I made a promise to myself: no television during the day. The two exceptions were when folding laundry I could watch TV and when I was sick (or a kid was sick) TV could stay on. This time I am using Lent as an excuse to give up Facebook. I really enjoy Facebook - but it is a time suck and only gives an alternate form of reality. It's much better to see people in person, talk on the phone or write letters. Yeah, right - remember letter writing?  Nothing feels quite like getting a handwritten letter. So why not write a few?

Opportunities and obstacles

There are lots of jobs out there - but many more applicants. I plan to blog about job hunting soon, but for today I want to continue the cooler path. Many friends from my old job have asked me about collaborations, but I still am waiting for someone to have something "real" beyond the intangible. So many people have the desire to start a small business. Having done that, I know that running a business isn't my strong suit. It's important to know your weaknesses too. It's hard to know who to trust to run a successful business. 

Spring is here and with it, I sense renewed optimism. I still see snow, its brightness almost stings my eyes on this sunny day. But the birds are singing and the forecast calls for great running weather: high 40s, sunny and low winds. I've been waiting all winter for a day warm enough for a pleasant run (and no ice on the streets). I hope this is the day. Fresh air breeds fresh ideas. Ideas bring hope. Hope leads to results. Time to step away from the computer and into the sunshine.

Have a wonderful day!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Unsolicited advice

Advocacy and advice 

Soccer mom with many years' experience teaches the tools of the trade

When I first got involved in local educational issues, I was introduced to the old-timers. The veterans who had sat through many a Board of Education (BOE) meeting. I was new blood, and full of enthusiasm to elicit change. For many years I was the parent in our school who knew what happened at the latest board of ed meeting (whether or not I attended) and understood the multiple sides of any story. Whether or not I agreed, I kept up with the oppositions argument. Yesterday I was introduced to a friend of friends with young kids. She has jumped onto the advocacy bandwagon. Without doing any research, I think I support her cause (bringing full day kindergarten to Bridgewater schools). But it isn't my fight, and I'm glad to be an observer this time and not take center stage.  

Words of wisdom

Looking back I realize I have a lot of advice that may be helpful to share. There are certain things I wish I knew before speaking at the BOE's podium. So here they are, unsolicited and unedited:

  • Keep it short! The BOE doesn't want to hear back stories of any kind. They don't care if you cry; they don't want personal narratives. Stick to facts.
  • Be Bridgewater-specific. It doesn't matter to them what happened in your sister's kids' district (unless it happened somewhere close and affluent, like Basking Ridge).  
  • Mind the BOE "rules of play". If you don't know them, an old-timer (or even a BOE member) will shame you, and you will learn quickly. The BOE is very particular on when you may speak and for how long.
  • Don't expect answers. Even if you ask direct questions. You rarely get feedback immediately - or even an answer to a direct questions. 
  • Know the budget related to your cause. Do your homework! Know what they spend now, what they would spend/save if your initiative passes.
  • Cite the number of children your initiative would impact over time. 
  • Don't name names of board members, of teachers or of administrators. 
  • If you have a large group of supporters, have them speak if possible (otherwise the BOE doesn't know which item brought them) but keep it short. Five sentences is enough: 
    • My name is and I live at. You have to provide this information.
    • My kids attend [name] school. 
    • I am supporting [cause]. 
    • Please vote to [action]. 
    • Thank you. 
  • Remember you are being recorded and what you say becomes part of the public record. 

Beware your allies

Don't assume because a group agrees with you on this particular issue, you have continuing support in the future. This is possibly my greatest fault. I've had the experience where I was sitting with a group of supporters, went to the podium, said my peace and sat down to a very different group of people. They didn't like PART of what I said. Especially union members. They may love you, and love what you say, but they are a very strong, and very, very unified group come negotiation-season.

Beware of individual BOE members - if you say one thing they don't like (it doesn't matter if it is true), you may face unexpected consequences.

Unanticipated costs

Being very involved means your children enter a grade without a blank slate. This is something you should weigh carefully! While you think you are doing something in their best interest, or in the best interest of all children, once you are known in the district it can be a double-edged sword. Your children's future teachers will have heard of you, and it is very hard for even the best teacher to be unbiased.

Advocacy and ambivalence 

While the flame of my passion regarding the school district issues has somewhat abated (and being much less involved in district matters provides less fodder for blogging), I still want to express my experiences. If only I had equal amounts of energy and passion? My impressions of the district used to come from many sources, and not just my family's experience. My credibility has waned as I've pulled one child out of Bridgewater schools. Most of all returning to the full-time workforce has taken away a lot of free time to attend meetings and be involved in the schools. 

Other things have also happened - we no longer vote on the budget. This is a huge issue! I have no impact on the budget anymore, so who cares? When citizens had a vote, we had a reason to follow along with the process. 

Hope for new changes

So dear friend of friends, I wish you and your cause well. Although I can count tangible wins on a few fingers, being involved in the district's politics has consumed my energies for the past decade. I hope my experiences serve you well. In the end, even with politics, backlash and negative consequences, I am proud of my time fighting for my beliefs and I am sure you will find it just as rewarding, and addictive, as I do. If I sound jaded, maybe I am, but I'm also inspired and proud of my engagement. Best of luck to you!


****
Update: A reader e-mailed me offline and reminded me not to forget the importance of behind-the-scene e-mail. Send the BOE something in writing. Some will respond right away, others won't. Don't write anything you would not want seen in print.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Quick update

According to NJ.com the note to the waitress may have been a hoax.

What a sad world we live in. Making up hate? Isn't there more than enough to go around?!!!

Sweating small stuff

Ho Ho NOOOO!!!!!!!

Holiday's off to their usual start

Tired feet from a day in the kitchen
I love a good holiday tradition. But why is my most faithful tradition to stress? Thanksgiving always includes "a difference of opinion." Some years it is something someone said at my cousin's beautiful table (discussed on the ride home, not at the table), or what time we should arrive/leave, or what I could possibly contribute to such a perfect dinner? This year we were just us with Dad in 08807. We nearly made it the whole day squabble-free, but alas Thanksgiving traditions are safely in tact. C can't text during thanksgiving dinner, and I should ask for help, not bark commands. 

When will I ever learn?

Sit! Stay! Focus? Look here!
Another key to a successful holiday? Sending "the perfect" holiday card. Since the kids were infants, it's been the same "joy". Maybe this sounds familiar? I take 2000 pictures hoping that one image focuses with 2 smiles and the dog facing forward.  Then I make the same decision: save money and print them downstairs, or spend more and get them done "offsite"? Lately, I've done the latter.

The problem is, I'm never happy. When I self-print, they look crafty. When I trust someone else - in recent years this included Costco, RiteAid and Target - I'm disappointed by the quality.  For the second year in a row, I have been tricked by seemingly better online printers. Last night I spent several hours picking just the right images, only to notice a small detail that I missed:  the cards were "estimated" to arrive to me on December 10th. Then I remembered why I didn't use them in 2012 --- the exact same reason. Snapfish and Minted have much cooler cards, but their turnaround time means no one will see anything before Christmas (and Minted prices themselves outside of my budget). When do they think people take Christmas pictures? June??? When 40% of our 100 cards go to non-US addresses, I must take time and budget into account.
Calendar from a few years ago

Finally, another advent tradition... the calendar

When do kids get to be too old for childhood traditions? I would have said last year. But alas, I can't admit my kids are too old because that would mean I have to let go of something that I'm not ready to give up. That doesn't mean I've learned from experience. Today is 11/30. I'm up against a BIG deadline. 

Advent - an event

For the next 24 days each of my kids will get a package to open. Some days will be gifts. Some days will be activities. (Getting ice cream or hot cocoa, sleepovers, etc.). The hardest part - wrapping 48 gifts. In a way I'm ahead of the game. I've bought half of the days and already wrapped them. Some years I've really waited until the last minute and only started wrapping and organizing on the last day of November. 

Joy of the season

In the end, it's important to take a little time to reflect. Embrace the traditions and not make myself crazy by focusing on my unreasonably high standards.

But now it's time to embrace small business Saturday. Somerville is our main street. See you there? 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Loving thy neighbor in 08807

"I feel a blog coming on"

Hateful acts in 08807 make national news 

Whenever anything interesting happens my girlfriend says to me, "I feel a blog coming on." And while I haven't seen her lately, I wonder if that's what she was thinking when she saw that once again Bridgewater made the news for its ability to spew hate. 

Keep your stupid tip!

Diners in Bridgewater refused to leave a tip to a waitress because they assumed she was a lesbian.  Even the foreign press knows about it. NIMBY is alive and well here!

It's one thing not to leave the tip - but the note? We don't tip gay people??? Did they think their note would make her re-think her hairstyle, and "lifestyle"? 

Mosque update kept quiet

I understand that I haven't been at the forefront of Bridgewater politics this year, but I assume I would have heard about this ruling earlier. In 2011 Bridgewater made the New York Times when this first came up: see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/19/opinion/no-room-for-tolerance.html?_r=0. The ruling is back in the news... and the township is appealing the loss, even though we've already spent a quarter of a million dollars (of tax payer money!) according to the Courier News. (While I wouldn't quite call it "mob rule" here in 08807, here is another take from a Courier writer on it). Call it traffic if it makes you more comfortable, but you can't deny that increased traffic is the only reason some don't want a mosque in Martinsville!

And then the saddest hatred of all: the silent kind

My Dad spent 55 years as a pathologist and he has seen his share of hatred, horrifying stories (not to mention that he lived in Europe during World War II and was an officer in Egypt during the Suez Canal crisis - an undeclared war). 

Often he would come home from work and share another sad story of brutality in which a husband killed his wife. Recently a my daughter's former classmate survived a horrifying thing: her father killed her mother while she was home. (That was the original article, here is a follow up story.) Unfortunately this happens EVERYWHERE. Every single day women are brutalized in domestic violence.

Beside the  hate, there is plenty of love <3 font="">

I try to keep optimistic. As I learn about these outpourings of hate, I also find out about so much positive:
Finally - if you want to do something for the young girl who lost her mother so tragically this week, there is a trust fund being set up to help with her college expenses.

Nitya Kalidindi Trust: 

A Trust account has been established to assist Nitya Kalidindi, age 16, daughter of Janaki Dantuluru who passed away under tragic circumstances on November 16, 2013 at  Somerset Medical Center.  A trust fund will be used exclusively for the health, education and welfare of Nitya Kalidindi, a gifted student at Somerset Academy for Health and Bio Sciences. 

Checks can be made payable to:  "Nitya Kalidindi Trust" P.O. Box 6245 Bridgewater NJ 08807

Thank you to my friends who keep me informed of the good, the bad and the ugly in 08807 and beyond. Remember that even if you don't agree with the posting or any other, when you voice your disagreement, do it respectfully. Your friends, your neighbors - and the press - have enough reason to think we're all a bunch of bigots here. 

I know that there is bigotry everywhere and domestic violence is world-wide, and that the Jews, Christians and Muslims have been fighting one another in some form for centuries. I just feel a little NIMBY too - not in my backyard too....But I'm NIMBY about the hateful rhetoric and horrific actions in my neighborhood. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Finding TLC in Somerset County

It Was a Week Unlike Any Other (and thank God for that!)

A rough start by calm seas**

Last Sunday I went to a wake. It was "down the shore" so I took the rare opportunity to visit the Atlantic Ocean. I felt so alone. Normally I feel at peace near any substantial body of water, but this time my demons haunted me and stayed. Maybe that's what happens when you go to a wake? I've never been a big fan and am eternally grateful that wakes aren't my family's way of saying good-bye. It was so ironic: a gorgeous Sunday, unseasonably warm, calm ocean. New boardwalk and I wallowed in self-doubt and unhappiness.

Office jitters abound at Halloween-time (but not because of any goblins)

Everyone in my office started the workweek knowing about 200 people had lost their jobs and Halloween was the final day. So it seemed that my Atlantic demons followed me to the office and spread their wings. 
Real-life drama at every turn. A colleague's brother was diagnosed with very nasty cancer in the abdomen. Another colleague needed consoling as she faced an uncertain future as "unemployed". Another colleague got scary medical news. Finally a colleague who had been living with her boyfriend for a long time "got dumped" and all the "look at the bright side" rhetoric I could muster fell on very deaf ears.

On Friday I learned that I will report to a different supervisor. I like him, but not like I loved my now-ex boss. One less ally in the workplace... and the politics that go with it leave me wondering.

A friend in need 

Demons found their way outside of my work world, too. A friend e-mailed in a panic - should she stay with her kids or fly across the country to see her mom for possibly the last time (I counseled her to go). Another friend had lots of issues with her family - her Aunt died recently and there were unresolved "issues" - so I listened, as she has listened to me countless times. In addition, I heard that another friend has lost her Mom, so I'm heading to another wake tomorrow. We shared stories and then I had to go - people were crying near my cubicle...

Weekend: project rejuvenation

My brilliant colleague saw my overwhelmed state. She pulled me aside to remind me that it isn't my role to take on all the world's problems. Mentioning one specific issue listed above she said, "Focus on your own life. Don't try to fix hers!" She's right, of course. 

Step one: focus on me

So this weekend I "actively" took care of myself. Friday night I took out yarn that I'd been saving for something special and started a project for me. 

The view from the parking lot
That's what I've done. Taken care of me. Besides knitting, I spent yesterday shopping - bought myself a pair of much-needed shoes AND boots (How decadent). Then my DH and I took the dog for a long walk at the gem of a county park - Sourlands preserve.  I'm sure I've blogged about them before, including here (which was exactly three years ago).  There were fewer people than the busy parking lot would have indicated, and we hiked for nearly two hours. We even wondered if we would get out alive - it was getting dark and at one point we were unsure where we were.  

Today began my day a bit earlier than expected. A friend had posted on facebook that she was up early to see a solar eclipse. That woke me right up (I turned on my cell to check the time). After a while I exercised at Strength and Honor Fitness where for 40 minutes I gave it my all. This helped so much! Exercising two days in a row may actually be the best medicine against anxiety.

Step two: a little luck

When I left the gym, I went into the Desert Plate for some coffee. There I met a very interesting woman named Melanie Davis. Ms. Davis is the author of A Look Within. She writes about sexual health and self-awareness. I found her to be very interesting and so I bought her book, which is actually a kind of reflective journal.

I need to reflect on my life and find what makes me most happy and focus on that. This will give me a good start.

So I will start a new week rejuvenated and ready to take on the stressful work environment. 


** This was written 11/3/2013, published 11/10.