Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Waffles and things

In Praise of Good Work

A Special Treat

So often when I blog it is in reaction to an inappropriate action, a statement - true or otherwise - or an unpleasant encounter.

Today I just want to write something nice.

Every other Monday around 6am we get an update automatically emailed to us with my son's latest grades. Not every Monday starts on a positive note. Thank Goodness for @Evelyn. She talked me off the ledge many a Monday morning.

Yesterday, however, was the perfect way to start a Monday morning. It began by reading three simple comments from three different teachers. "Keep up the good work." "Pleasure to teach." "Is a positive role model." This is always nice to hear about your offspring. By the time your kid is in high school you kind of know what to expect... and while I think N is a pleasure to teach, it's not often I've read, "keep up the good work" so it was a big deal for Mom.

As I often do, I took a walk at lunch. Today I stopped at N's favorite sight in all of the Big Apple: Wafels and Dinges. N's friend B introduced us to this beautiful stand a few years ago, and we've all been madly in love ever since!

This afternoon it served as just the right token: It looks like a square Belgian waffle, but really it's a gingerbread-flavored message that says, "Keep up the good work."

I hope I become a regular customer. Who cares if I go broke spending the college savings plan on high-caloric treats? It's worth every penny to start the week off with positive feedback.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hiatus!

Dear Friends,

My commute is early, but not without benefits
I have been on a social media hiatus (with two exceptions: work-related use, sometimes I use my personal login to update company social media) and private messages for Facebook friends whom I don't tend to email.

I've heard from people that they miss my updates. That warms me and surprises me in equal parts.

What am I "hiding" from? Several things:

  1. All things political - including religious-political banter and school board election-related discussions - especially school board elections: It's funny. I made a few posts about school-related matters (once about a grammatical mistake that my son's English teacher made on back to school night, and another about a parent who nearly ran over two students who were legally crossing in a crosswalk in front of the high school) and it was enough stress to make me give up Facebook for a month. I even took down the grammar discussion after fearing I'd lost a friendship with my neighbor. An incorrect object-pronoun isn't worth bad blood between neighbors. 
  2. Jealously. I'll admit it. The green-eyed monster resides just below the surface. Pretty ironic since I live such a cushy life!! I've got it all: love, family, every material item one could desire, a great job and a very interesting life. Still 20 minutes on Facebook and something ALWAYS brings out the worst in me. When you have so many friends (and I'm using the term loosely, since I'm talking about facebook) someone is always on a fabulous vacation, eating the perfect meal or out with people I like, and instead of being happy for them, I notice I wasn't invited...
  3. Competition: I never thought the most competitive sport I'd ever enter was parenting! We'll leave it at that, Bridgewater Moms. I'll never be as perfect: thin, pretty, well-liked, and my kids will never be as perfect as the women around me. I just have to learn to live with that. (Please note my sarcastic tone).
  4. The great timesuck. So I have no time for Facebook and yet I make LOTS OF TIME for Facebook. (I have a 90 minute commute on a good day, each way - that alone could gives me 150 minutes on Facebook - I can connect on part of the commute). When I cut Facebook I actually read. Well, it could be that someone reads to me (formerly known as "books on tape") while I knit on the train. And, earlier this summer I actually spent time writing!!! As in, creatively, using a pen and paper!!!! It's amazing how much time I sacrifice to Facebook.
 I have to admit, I do miss it. There is something so casual about "liking" a picture or adding my two cents to something I have otherwise no business discussing. I enjoy debating parenting with my friends in Seattle. They live in such a different world - or do they? I like to support friends when they are having a bad day and I LOVE seeing pictures of people who mean something to me (and, yes, like everyone else who uses social media, I do enjoy a little stalking of people whom I have no business peeking at).

My office view. We enjoy this strange combination... 
I'll be back in November to see (and, of course, to post) the holiday pictures that people love to enjoy - and some like to mock. I'm not sure how much political blogging I will do. Lately thinking about Bridgewater politics really gets to me - to the point where I'll be in the middle of a run and have to force myself to make it home because I am so upset that I can't think of anything else. I relive conversations and rethink what I really wanted to say to someone, and it ruins my running "mojo". In that moment I feel doubly defeated - I'm losing my limited time to exercise and I'm losing the confidence I gain from a good run. The person who upset then wins twice without even knowing it.

And I'll miss the "good lucks" I'd get if I were to post that I am running a 10 mile race at the end of the month. All the best wishes on N's confirmation and I'll certainly miss the halloween pictures (which I can probably still see on November 1st).

But now, it's 9:55 pm - and when you begin your day at 5:30 am that means it's bedtime. I look forward to hearing from - and about - my beloved friends in two weeks. And for the rest of you... yes, we'll be in touch on or around November 1st.

Until then - I do have a phone, an email address and... yes, a mailbox.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Running

I am a runner. Statement of fact. About an hour ago* I returned from an 8.2 mile run. Anyone would think that makes me a runner.

Except me.

I don't know the source of my insecurities. My constant feelings of not meeting other's standards (or even who the "other" would be). I do know that I generally say I'm sort of a runner. Even though I've run two half marathons, a 10 mile race, multiple 5 and 10Ks, I don't see myself as a runner. Noel is a runner. Anna is a runner. My 89 year of father, who hasn't run in a few years, is a runner. I'm an impostor.

Except I am a runner. I used to run remembering my friend who died. I often think about people who love to run (or do another physical activity) and can't, when I run. I find it motivating: be grateful for what you can do, and push just a teeny bit more.

Tonight I ran into a friend who has run marathons, but no longer can. Her knees. Not a disease, not an ailment, just plain old shot knees. I will always think of her as a bona fide runner.

What makes you a runner? (Or a swimmer, a violinist, cook?) You do. As I get older my mantra is "be who you are". Guess what: the correlating concept should "you decide who you are".

*this was written several weeks ago and not posted. The images come from that evening's run.

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.