Wednesday, March 23, 2011

First challenge

Tonight I was at the Candidates' Night for the Special Needs Alliance. I'm not sure what I expected, but I did my best, was honest about it when I didn't know something and explained myself to the best of my abilities.

And while I think that they got my mantra of "you tell me what you need" instead of "me tell you what I think", I don't know how many votes will come my way after this evening, simply because it was hard to gauge what the audience was looking for. Their needs seem very diverse. One person is paying for private services because the district won't, yet another was pleased that the district is sending her child out of district for services. Another has kids who are classified but in-house and she is pleased this year, but wasn't last year. And so on and so on. Apparently there were several teachers in the audience and at least 3 adults who do not have kids with special needs but for one reason or another wanted to hear what we had to say.

One person came up to me and basically said that I seem nice, but I don't have a chance... another guy came up and said that I should be more confident and proud of the fact that I am mostly a stay-at-home Mom, while I saw a parent visibly cringe when I used that expression. What was I supposed to call it?

I did my best. I seemed to speak just as clearly as the others and I don't think I rattled on any more than anyone else did. The candidates agreed on lots of points. If I were in the audience I might find it difficult to differentiate between our viewpoints sometimes. Then what do people vote on? Perhaps then they vote on the least important things - gut feelings or personal similarities.

Time will tell. At least I am glad I didn't come off any less prepared or qualified as the others. In my humble opinion....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

10 days

It's 10 days since I started this blog and two weeks since I decided to run for the Board of Education. It's already been harder than I want it to be, and my thick skin is apparently on backorder. I'm hoping for a shipment to arrive any day now with my name on it.

I've already learned a lot. I've learned a lesson in communication skills - men definitely communicate differently than women do. An apparently well-meaning friend had heard things he didn't like and called me "to talk about it" but I came away feeling something between indirectly threatened and directly bullied. I cried hard for an hour. A few days later, a different male friend explained that the caller probably thought he was guiding me on local politics, but I was in a daze for days.

How did I get over it?  I ran a 10K! In 1 hour and 42 seconds. That's a 9:46 minute mile over about 6.5 miles. I hadn't ever done anything like that before - not a 5K, not even a timed relay race since grade school. I'm still in disbelief. I don't consider myself an athlete, or even a runner. I don't dare jog with friends who I think are - and I managed THIS!

And that is how I am thinking about this election. The odds are against me, but I'm not afraid to try. There are 5 candidates for 2 seats, including the 2 incumbents. The other two women running are both connected to the district: one is a former math supervisor and the other is a former board of ed member - meaning that one could easily argue that I am the candidate with the least relevant experience. But I have the experience of being in schools on a near-daily basis for 8 years. I can give you perspective from teachers, students and parents on many issues because I listen... do they?

One constant that has been with me since the moment I finally decided to run. The empowerment I've felt from the women (and a few good men) around me. I never cease to be amazed by my friends. One friend stood up for me in a venue where it would have been much easier to say nothing. When they were saying bad things about me, she retorted with "I've never heard Soccer Mom say anything like that!" It didn't sway them, but it really meant something to me! The peer pressure would have been strong, I'm sure for her to agree with the others. Another friend gave me strategies for dealing with difficult parents (for future use). Another just let me cry and sided with me. Other friends have come, unsolicited, and said they want to put up signs on their yards. Still others have just cheered me on every single day. Outrageous empowerment fueled by caring friends. I'm so fortunate to have all these people - and so many more - in my life.

My desire to do this started even before this blog, but the impetus to run this year came from losing El. Had I not gotten the reminder that life is brutally short, I would not have dared try. She was never one to hide her feelings. I feel passionately about the schools. The election pushes me beyond my comfort zone, and I haven't had a really good night sleep in days. It's OK to feel anxiety if you believe in something. I believe that I am the candidate who has to best idea of what is really going on in the schools, and the most insight to parents' concerns. The question is, how many voters can I convince of this between now and April 27th? Time will show. If nothing else, this experience has already taught me so much. And I'm sure I'll learn much more in the weeks to come.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Into the closet?

I did it - I decided to run for BOE. That means that I will be in a political campaign and the last thing that I really want is Bridgewater's voters reading personal posts... and quoting how mad I am at my daughter, or some such nonesense.

I have also started a Facebook page for the election, and started using the hated-twitter. I am being honest when I say I REALLY didn't want to do Twitter, but it's a campaign and the 21st century, so I have to. And I'm updated my linkedin profile. Again, not my favorite task, but perhaps a necessary evil. Finally, I have to get my nails done and start coloring the gray.  The new "vain" me will only be around for about 8 weeks - perfect hair and nails are not my forte'...

I am also working on a business venture with a friend of mine who is an artist. I am spending a lot of time reading business books - wishing I had taken a more practical route in college.

So you will understand why I haven't been blogging this week.

Best wishes to my faithful readers and all your ventures.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day 2011...

It's International Women's Day and my own contribution to the movement is to put my hat into the race for the Bridgewater Board of Education! Yes, a political campaign is about to begin - and I am definitely pushing the limits on my comfort zone!

Due to many blogs of a personal nature that I have written through the years, I am changing the blog from open to everyone, to an invitation only party. If you know people who would like to read it, please send me an e-mail (or give them your access). I get about 30 readers a day and although some of them are easy to guess based on their location and IP address, there are many users of Optonline in Bridgewater...

I hope that you will wish me luck as I enter this new phase, and should it not go as planned, I hope that we can enjoy a consolation tea when it is over.

Kindest regards from your Bridgewater Soccer Mom

Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday morning meeting

Many jobs I've held started the week with a Monday morning meeting. On this Monday morning, I really wish I had a team. I need to discuss the direction this "project" is taking. I look at the clutter in my kitchen and living room and see it as a metaphor for my own plans. There are lots of balls in the air and more being added each day.

Some of these have sub-lists
Here at the B&B I'm on my own. "The B&B" is a relative term, we don't actually get paid by our many guests for their extended stays. And this is an off week with no guests. This week looks to be especially busy and I really wish I had a team of players to join me around the kitchen table to discuss the state of affairs. I'd like to gather the various departments: strategic planning, HR, marketing, corporate communications. Instead all of these functions are performed by Poppet. Mr Poppet is the Finance and IT guy but he's not big on interoffice meetings and C is the household Social Secretary and already at school. Everything else is me. Does the right side of my brain know what the left side is doing?

The yes-no questions of strategic planning are daunting. Go for a business venture or hold back? Summer plans? Camp or no camp for N? Apply for more jobs and if so do I go outside my comfort zone - in terms of work and commute?

But even at my most overwhelmed I find a source of light. Today it is quite simple: It's Opening Day at Ritas! Free ice cream. In the old days I'd bring bagels for morning meeting - the best ones on Connecticut Avenue just south of the Beltway in Bethesda, MD. Although I miss seeing my co-workers happy smiles when they bite into a fresh bagel, Ritas as an after-school pick me up for my two kids (and perhaps their friends) works fine too as inspiration toward meeting all our goals. To do lists are easier to tackle after extra carbs.


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Sometimes I make a mistake... 

I misread my e-mail from Ritas. It's free on the 1st day of Spring. There is actually a countdown on their website... 20 days, 9 hours, 20 minutes, 32 seconds... and counting. 

Maybe I should spring for Ritas ANYWAY?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rainy Sunday

Were you a fan of the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" series? I was. The entire meaning of life was simplified to a single number. It even had  practical advice that I actually had use for today. "Always carry a towel. It can double as a blanket in need." One of my friends quoted the book this evening and it has me thinking.

In my younger years of train travel I hit destinations that guaranteed adventure: Amsterdam, Venice, Moscow. My travel these days tends to be via car up the familiar highways of I-78 and 33N into the Pocono Mountains, either as a destination or a stop on the way to my hometown.

Today we returned from our yearly ski weekend with the Ms and the Bs. It was probably just my mood, but this weekend wasn't quite as fantastic for me as last year.  But I realize now that I got something relatively rare. Time alone with C.

She and I drove home together. No friends, no other family and no Diego, and while I was able to confirm that I really can't stand Justin Bieber, it was worth every bar of his annoying music to spend time with C. She shared her short-term plans and long-long term disappointments. She shared a description of her new Middle School friends - edited for parental approval. I was able to talk with her, not lecture her, not teach her, not nag her. I listened and later shared with her how proud I am of her and why. She knows that, of course, but a little reminder of my admiration isn't a bad thing. Is it? I looked at this young woman and wonder why do I get so worked up about so many small things? Why can't I just enjoy the journey we have together?

Through the storming rain I tried to avoid puddles. Both on the highways and in my conversation. In the blink of an eye she will be entering the world, leaving me behind. I think for her high school graduation I'll give her a Eurrail pass, just as my parents did. And a copy of the Hitchhikers Guide to go with it... there are some trips you simply can't take with your Mom. Luckily today's ride wasn't one of them.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Tire marks?

"Don't say that out loud or they'll slash your tires." A friend told me recently.

Now I don't have to. Someone else grew a pair and published it for me*. It's been hard to think the opposite of the prevailing Soccer Mom viewpoint. Thanks, Courier!



* Please don't misunderstand. I had NOTHING to do with the paper's opinion.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New budget numbers for Bridgewater

Last night the Superintendent presented the district's 2011-2012 budget. You can download it for yourself here. According to a friend who was at the meeting, the Patch did an accurate job covering what was said. You can read it here. The Courier hasn't published its account yet (I assume it will). The Messenger (nj.com) hasn't posted anything yet either - again, I assume they will soon.

Without knowing the outcome of the union negotiations (contracts are up in June) I'm afraid to take a realistic look at the costs as payroll is the largest component of the budget.  Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing in these guesstimates? Apparently no one asked last night and I didn't have the opportunity to go.

I wish the District were shopping around for cheaper healthcare. Healthcare is important, and the Superintendent has a point, but many companies' healthcare costs increased 30% and made changes. We downgraded from a Cadillac plan - with power steering - to a Hyundai - with higher at-pump prices (co-pays) to boot. It's the way the economy is...

Mr. Brookner's right too - the district needs some capital improvements. One of my daughter's Middle School classrooms had a pipe burst months ago, and there is still exposed tile with dust of an unknown nature (at least to me... I hope it's not asbestos but I don't dare ask if they've checked!). Kids have been told not to touch it and that it should be fixed during Spring Break but I don't like her breathing in that air every day. What is going on that I don't know about?

Then there is the other elephant in the room: can we keep our academic programs in tact if the budget fails? Maybe I missed the "doomsday slide 2012" if they presented it. On this sunny March morning, I simply can't worry about it. I've had enough worries this week.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Souvenirs

Started for Valentines Day, she got it for Christmas....
It's almost three months that I've been in a near-constant state of distraction. Wondering, worrying and caring for my sick friend and her daughter. She is gone now and we spent yesterday celebrating her life. The sun is out today and I feel as though I can step into a new phase of my life.

My worrying "what did I do for El today?" may reflect my own fears. Was I banking my time in a hope that my friends will stand up for me should the same happen to me? After all, cancer's horrors have ravaged other members of my gene pool. I may find myself making similar decisions someday, begging friends to watch over my cherubs, tears streaming down my face. What kind of friend am I?

The strange thing about the funeral was that while I was (with fellow Nightingale MR) ever-present in El's last months, I wasn't even acquainted with her three years ago. Ours was a short-lived love story. I met her and felt an instant connection. We shared so much - an outspoken, brazen nature - an intensity and a low-tolerance for bullshit, instilled in us from an Italian-American upbringing (probably). Her friends would gasp when they met me in her kitchen. They saw my hair. If you have ever seen me in person, you know my hair - it's big and bold and wild. Just like El's. Our kids actually look like siblings. They fathers' fair coloring blended with our dark features... I actually think that LS and N (my son) are very, very much alike beyond their nearly identical hair (of course, not the style). I could talk to both El and LS openly about the disease that was ruining their lives. El wouldn't sugarcoat her feelings about her situation and I'd listen and contribute what I could. It was an organic friendship.

This experience has reformed my feelings about friendship. An ironic juxtaposition, as I've been assisting El's family, I've been in a few squabbles. One in December. Another in January. Finally, another this past weekend. These situations have made me take a hard look at my beliefs on friendship.

What is friendship? Well, if you think you and I are friends, but we have never done anything to show one-another that we care beyond a superficial relationship, then likely we are not. A frank lecture mislabeled as candor doesn't always equate closeness. Gossip certainly isn't! And when we hurt one another (which friends sometimes do), friends forgive. Do you love me? If I love you - I hope I show it. It's the flip side of my low bullshit policy: reminders of how I feel.

Do you worry, do you care? Do you still show you care when no one is looking? Does that feeling translate to warm feelings towards your friends' children or parents? I love my kids' friends, even when I don't always like their behavior (but hey, they're kids!). When was the last time you performed a random act of kindness toward a friend? LL brought me matzoh soup when I had a cold last year. JJ brought me quiche last year to Taekwondo just because I said it sounded good. (And she promised me chocolate this week, even though it isn't exactly on my diet). TA routinely picks up my son from school, just so he doesn't have to walk. K included me in her birthday celebration, even though I wasn't part of her circle of girlfriends. And the Ms welcome Diego ANYTIME into their loving home. Several people have contacted me this week to see how I've been. I'm so lucky that I have so many friends to turn to, and I'm so lucky to be there for so many others. Who knew this social misfit in 1977 would have a diverse collection of friends?

I'm reminded of the reading from so many weddings, including my own... "Love is patient, love is kind..." It was originally translated with "Charity" instead of "love". Want a litmus test for friendship? Can you replace the word love/charity with friendship? Is your friendship patient? Are you kind to your friends? Are you easily angered?

As I said yesterday to LS (and the rest of the people at the funeral - in completely unprepared remarks after N begged, "c'mon Mom, you've gotta say something"), I wasn't friends with El for 37 years. I'd known her for two. It isn't how long you know someone, it is what you do with the time you have with them." I missed out on her wild parties, incredible costumes and camping trips but I've still been an important figure in her life and she in mine.

I would rather spend the rest of my life caring for people like El than spend one more afternoon arguing over minutia. One of my biggest challenges as a friend is keeping out of the vortex of superfluous nonsense. Let go of the unimportant. Differences of opinion on parental decision or political issues are too often a source of schism between friends. I can't tell you the hours I wasted over the last three months in an internal (or external) struggle. Angry phone calls in haste and carefully reworded e-mails are time wasted when I could have been finishing my husband's sweater, walking Diego with a friend or reading with my son.

That is the souvenir I am taking from my recent journey alongside a sick friend. Is your time together well spent? If not, change your activity! I've got 2 coupons for a free drink at Starbucks. I hope one of my friends will let me treat them to their drink of choice!



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Addendum:
I forgot one thing. Last year a friend was financially strapped and sent out an SOS to her nearest and dearest friends asking her to help out with Christmas gifts for her son. Feeling you can ask for help is as much a demonstration of trust as giving it.

2nd addendum... A promotion of Random Acts of Kindness???? A friend just brought me the world's greatest brownies for no particular reason except that I said I could use a chocolate fix. If that isn't material proof of a good friend in need, then I don't know what one is! A thousand thank yous to LD and her lovely cherubs!