Tag Archives: Motherhood

I Used to be Sensitive and Then I Went to Business School

Growing up, I was an extremely sensitive child.  My feelings were hurt very easily, but I wasn’t a crier or a tattler (though my brother would tend to disagree).  Self-confidence wasn’t something I had either.  So in an effort to make people like me, I worked hard, particularly in those early years, in school.  Now while the teachers appreciated this hard work and rewarded me for it, it wasn’t exactly popular with a particular group of my classmates.  And this group of classmates would make life pretty miserable when the teachers, the adults, were not around. 

During my grade-school years, back in the 1970’s, bullies were defined largely as those who physically hit other kids or who stole lunch money.  And it was clearly known who these individuals were and their actions often got them sent home from school.  What wasn’t recognized was the harassment bullies – these were the individuals who harassed others in a passive-aggressive non-physical manner and always out of sight of adults.  These were the individuals who while we were waiting for the teacher to get back to the classroom, would mess with my work and threaten me with physical harm if I said anything, or who would chant awful things at me as we walked from building to building without adult supervision.  These were the individuals that would call my home, sometimes several times in an evening, and either hang up or say something nasty and then hang up – anonymous as these were the days before caller ID.  And these were the individuals who had a sense of who was sensitive and quiet and went after the sensitive personalities like dogs on a hunt.  I wasn’t the only sensitive one they attacked, but it sure felt like it.

Now as I got into high school, the bullying wasn’t so in my face.  The early years of keeping my head low and studying hard and practicing music and sports in the same manner began to pay off.  The bullies were still there, but I didn’t pay much attention as I kept busy.  And for a bully, harassing someone who doesn’t pay attention isn’t much fun.  So they move on.  But, I was still sensitive and strived for perfection in all areas I could.  I wanted people to like me for doing things well as I strived to gain some confidence.  This would be something I’d carry on into college and into the workforce – I was the ultimate carrier of the banner:  “Work hard.  Play hard.”  And as I moved into my twenties, I gained some confidence and the bullies, and they are in college and the work environment too, took a back seat.

And then I went to business school.

Now business school is a different world.  Imagine putting together 300+ largely Type-A people who have in the past, been pretty darn successful in their undergraduate studies and in their early careers.  These individuals have always achieved high marks, some of them quite easily, and most of these individuals are pushy and opinionated and book- and some even street-smart (as in Wall Street).  You put these individuals into a class and they now must compete against each other for grades and jobs.  It’s really quite an interesting experiment and is repeated year after year in business, and law, and medical, and many other professional schools.

So I went to the Fuqua School of Business, at Duke University.  I entered business school thinking it was going to be a two-year conference where we would exchange ideas and think big thoughts.  In reality, it was two years of grinding work, no sleep, no money, and for me, stress about getting a job to pay off the enormous debt I was accumulating to pay for tuition and living expenses.  Business school is not something I would really want to repeat in my lifetime, but it was critical in overcoming my sensitivity and achieving a bit of self-confidence.  (I should also say that I met some of my most cherished friends and acquaintances there!)

In business school, 30%-50% of one’s grade is based on “class participation.”  In short, that means that you speak up or you fail.  Now I’d done my fair share of “speaking up,” but it was generally after all others had spoken and/or I was invited to add my perspective.  Being the first or second person to get my opinion or analysis on the floor was not my thing, but failing wasn’t either.  The first term was hard, but I survived.  The second term wasn’t as hard, and I survived too.  And then I realized that I was surviving and even thriving in some cases in the midst of a pool of some really aggressive personalities.  And while I could never out-shout them and still don’t, I could quietly keep up by offering opinions based on facts and data and experience.  And what is amazing, facts and data are a lot like having an adult in the room – it quiets the bullies quickly.  Moreover, bullies don’t like bullying individuals who bring facts and data.  It’s just not as much fun for them.

On occasion, in the workplace, I challenge my colleagues.  I hope that I do it respectfully, but my fear of being wrong or being bullied back for challenging is largely gone.  If I have data or information or experience that conflict with their opinions or plans, I feel a fiduciary, if not personal, duty to press them for how they arrived at their decision.  Oftentimes, I can’t disagree with their approach, and even if I don’t agree with the approach, I feel the need to support it anyway – more fiduciary duty there.  And I don’t take disagreements personally.  I don’t believe that a difference of opinion makes one of us wrong or right or one of us less intelligent than the other. 

And that is what business school did for me.  It gave me confidence to push my opinions, but even more confidence to support opinions different than mine as our team grades or company survival depends on it.  Business school stripped me of my over-sensitivity – it made me numb to it, thank goodness. 

And while I still cry easily at movies, or when I see my young children accomplish something, or when I hear the Star-Spangled Banner or Amazing Grace, I don’t cry or fret about bullies in the work place, in politics, on the road, or in our own community.  I respectfully face up to the bullies with data, facts, and questions, whether they are testing my bully-tolerance or that of others.

I still haven’t fully figured out how to help my children with bullies, since elementary bullies aren’t impressed with data or facts.  And Nicholas has received the sensitivity gene handed down from his grandmothers, so he is ripe for harassment and has already received some as the bullies test each Kindergartner for their bully-tolerance level.  We talk about it periodically and in addition to advising him to make teachers aware when it happens or if he feels unsafe, we talk much about how to react, which is really quite simply, not to react.  We even practice – I tease him, and we talk about how he should respond and how he should not.

It’s working for now and we’ll see how it goes.  And I suppose that in the worst case scenario, if I simply cannot help him overcome his sensitivity in these early years, there is always business school.

Admiring Public School Teachers – and Still Learning From Them!

My eldest son is into his second week of Kindergarten.  It has been a transition that I was not expecting.  No struggles in the morning to get up and out of bed.  No questions about how many days until the weekend.  No begging for me to stay home so he too can stay home and play with the kitties.  He’s been tired at night, and yes, a bit grumpy, but he is enjoying Kindergarten to the fullest.  The transition has been smooth and pleasant!

Now Kindergarten is different that when I went to school in the early 1970s (yes, I am an aged mother!).  Back then, we went for only a few hours and those hours included a snack with a carton of milk that we ever so carefully opened into a triangular spout, an often very dry cookie with a square of hardened jelly-something on the top, and an ever-so small white, paper napkin.  Our final exam was probably something like putting a blue circle around the dog and a triangle around the cat – a paper that my son came home with on the first day, though that paper also including counting and matching and other feats.  Kindergarten today is more what I remember 1st Grade was – or at least the second half of first grade.

And my son has weekly exposure to the computer lab, the music room, the media center (which we called the library), the art room, and the gym (in addition to recess twice a day).  Yes, school has changed.

And demands on public school teachers have changed also.  My son’s classroom has 22 active 5ish-year-olds.  When they arrive each morning about 8:00 a.m., the kids arrive to a project already set up on their tables.  They bring in their snacks for the day and their homework folder – that’s their entry pass into the room.  The teacher is looking for written communications from home or completed homework or other school notifications.  And all that must be organized for the day, and then reorganized to go home.

My son has come home with a bevy of completed assignments and art projects in his folder, many of which had to have taken hours to prepare 22 of.  The teacher informed us that generally, she is there at 7:00 a.m. for class preparation and leaves about 5:00 p.m. And I know she’s truthful having received a phone call around 5:00 p.m. and an email the next morning just after 7:00 a.m. – all reporting on my son’s progress (thankfully all great news!).  And she likely did this 21 more times with 21 more families.

It made me stop and think about my profession and the profession of my husband.  Indeed, we work some long hours and many with intensity.  But the difference is, that for many of those hours, we get to retreat behind a computer or in our offices where we can take some breaks from being on stage and from the constant demand and questions of colleagues.

School teachers don’t get that luxury on the job.  I get exhausted answering the questions and demands of my children in the evenings and on weekends.  It’s tough work being a parent, and I don’t have work projects set up for them at the table when they arrive.  Can you imagine almost seven hours a day teaching and comforting and leading 22 children?  And then spending several hours more preparing for the next day?  And then there’s the working with the parents of 22 children.

In addition, the organizational skills for teachers required these days are incredible.  In my day, kids either were bussed home or walked home.  Today, they might bus one day, walk the next, they might go to aftercare on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to scouts on Wednesdays, and be picked up by Grandma or Grandpa or Aunt Sally on the other days.  Multiply this times 20+ children.

And then are food allergies to manage, and varying share-days, and homework, and extra projects, and progress reports, and records, and extra-curricular activities.  And don’t forget, most teachers have families of their own to manage.

For years I have heard people say that they’d wished they’d become a teacher because they get summers off.  I’ve also heard many say that school teachers are overpaid for the amount of work they do.  And I’ve also seen parents berate and demean the teacher’s of their children.  It seems that so many of we parent’s think this job is easy and so many think they know more about teaching than teachers.  I’m not one of them.  In fact, I think these “teaching is easy” parents should be put into the classroom for a week – and not just to “babysit”  or “assist,” but actually, to be put on stage and then assessed on how much the entire classroom has learned in the week.  I’m guessing that most would be running for the door by the second day, and that they would be more appreciative of teachers.

My mother was an elementary school teacher.  In her later years as a teacher, she focused on remedial reading.  When children had reading challenges, her goal was to immerse them and get them back with their reading group.  Sometimes they were in her room for a few days working on a letter or too, sometimes the kids were there much longer as they required much more intense and personal attention to get them going.

As she came closer to retirement, she would lament out of concern that a good portion of her job was now dedicated to being more of a mother than a teacher.  So many of her students would arrive hungry having had no real dinner or breakfast (so the schools now have started serving breakfast), tired because they had no real bedroom to sleep in or parents were fighting or partying all night, and often cold since they were not dressed for the cold Michigan weathers.  These children wanted hugs and attention because for whatever reason, they were not getting it at home.  And my mother would give all that she could in a motherly way, but I recall one day her frustration and concern where she stated something like, “Johnny arrives cold, hungry, tired, and lonely.  All he really wants to do is sit on my lap and be held and feel warm and secure, but I am to teach him to read.”  And though I can recall only a few poor parental incidents involving my mother, these same parents who demonstrated little concern for the basic needs of their children were often the ones presenting themselves at school to loudly and publicly berate the school board, the principal, the bus driver, the teacher, and even the custodian.  After all, they would say, it was their right to do so.

My mother retired about as early as she could.  And though I’m not sure she articulated it as such, I believe part of that was that teaching had become very emotionally exhausting.  In the business world, as we get tenure, as a survival technique, we learn to “compartmentalize,” particularly if we have families.  For the most part, we learn to leave the latest declining sales forecast, profitability decline, or personnel issue, at the office.  It’s not always easy or achieved, but we try to separate our young families from our office.  Children demanding our focused attention when we arrive home are quite helpful in that manner!  But imagine, as a teacher, attempting to leave the thought of Johnny and his less than adequate family and home-life issues at school, particularly on Friday when it would be two days before he might have a good meal again.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, particularly as a teacher and a mother, to leave that at work.

So I as a parent of a child in public school (and let me say that yes, I am a proponent of public schools since they are a slice of the real world), want to express my admiration and gratitude for public school teachers.

I believe that in fact, school teachers are gasp, “underpaid.”  While I admire Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods, and Johnny Depp, and Will Smith (our highest paid athletes and actors), for their talents, they do nothing for the education and rearing of my sons or the future of our youth.  Indeed some of them have philanthropic foundations that serve youth, but overall, the impact of these efforts compared to teachers, is minuscule.  And these entertainers make millions, and think about their work schedules!

I have to believe it is the case that most teachers, the good ones (and there are many good ones), aren’t there for the paycheck or the work lifestyle.  They are there because they are inspired by the kids they teach.  They are inspired by seeing the light bulbs go off when after struggling, a child finally “gets it.”  They are inspired by smiles, enjoyment of learning, increasing vocabulary and mastery of numbers.  They are inspired by students who grow into leaders in their classrooms and their community.  They are inspired by the successes of students who come with natural talents, but perhaps even more so by the successes of those who come with challenges. 

And the energy and inspiration these teachers show inspires me as a parent.  I am reading more to my boys.  I’m asking them more questions.  I’m pointing out more facts.  I’m taking more time to listen and to explain.  I’m encouraging more self-discovery and more experiences.  Only a few days into my son’s public school education, and already his teacher has taught me, the parent, many things!

Longing for a Return to Civility

What is wrong with us – we citizens of the United States?  Who do we think we are?  When did we become so self-important, so sure that we are 100% right about everything from health care, to global warming, to foreign policy, to referee calls, to best videos of all time, to our rights as fans or drivers or employees that all we do is shout our opinions loudly and profanely to the world?  We don’t listen.  We don’t have empathy for others’ opinions.  We no longer analyze but rather just jump to conclusions.  We show disdain for those that disagree with us or for anyone that even stops to think a moment – “you’re either for us or against us, 100%.”  No longer is “I’m not sure about that,” or a middle-of-the-road position acceptable.

In the past several months, I can hardly stand to turn on the news, and now this “self-important, I’m allowed to act inhumane because I’m stressed out or over-worked or in the moment” attitude is proliferating into sports and entertainment.  It seems that civility can only be experienced in the safe confines of home, at church (since my particular church leaves judgment to a higher power), and my son’s Kindergarten classroom where manners, respect, and sharing continue to be emphasized.  And that is a sad commentary on society today.

Respecting the Presidency

As I was driving from work to pick up my sons, I turned on my radio and heard a woman patting herself on the back because she had sent a note to her school to keep her son out of the broadcast of President Barack Obama’s speech to school children.  She proudly noted that she was the only parent in the entire school to isolate her son from his remarks.  She stated how she didn’t know what the President was going to say and wanted to filter her son from things she didn’t agree with.  Now I’ve been self-isolated from a lot of news these days because it has been so hateful (thank goodness), but if this woman was so informed that she’d call into a radio show, didn’t she know that his speech was published the day before?  She could have read it and realized it was focused on getting an education (not on health care or being a Democrat).  I’m sure her son felt just wonderful being the only one who had to go sit in a room by himself – you know, because that isn’t something that his peers might pick on him about.  So she made her statement to the school (and to those of us who couldn’t reach the radio dial to fast enough to tune her out) – but frankly, it was at her son’s expense – and for what was really a politically benign speech.  I’m not sure that’s going to get her nominated for mother of the year.

And then another man indicated that he would keep his son home from school that day because he didn’t want his son inundated with Democratic rhetoric and he “wanted his son to be able to think freely and make decisions for himself.”  Hmm, isn’t keeping your son home, isolated from this discussion a form of thwarting his son’s free-thinking?  I (freely) think so!

And then we have the South Carolina Representative who shouts “You lie” during the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress.  Respectfully, he apologizes.  And that should have been it, but the political parties want blood and continue to squeeze.  And the election funds of both parties have seen a huge influx of money.  We the American Public are rewarding politicians who act like barking dogs with what they want most – more money and more power.  Shame on us!

First of all fellow citizens, this is the Office of the President of the United States of America.  This is the elected leader of our nation.  Now whether it is a Republican or a Democrat, we owe it to the longevity of our nation, to our children, to show proper respect.  You don’t have to agree with the policies, but you do need to show respect.

And I don’t get the idea out there that, “Obama is trying to indoctrinate our children by visiting them in school.”  Are you kidding me?  Where was George Bush on 9/11?  Don’t you remember how his face turned ashen-gray as he learned from the aid to his right as he was sitting in the front of a classroom that the US was under attack?  I remember that scene as if it was yesterday.  Was he indoctrinating?

The fact is that most presidents of late have visited schools and school children.  And they should.  Kids need to see leaders.  They need to dream.  They need to look beyond the street they live on.  And if the President of the United States is coming to their classroom, they need to be there.  Don’t go stealing that type of experience from them and claim it is good parenting.  If my child ever has the opportunity to meet the President, I don’t care if he or she is a Democrat, a Republican, or a Martian, my child will be there and will have been lectured for hours on how to be respectful during the visit.

Sports and Entertainment – the Players AND the Fans

So then we have Serena Williams berating a line judge and Kanye West giving his opinion on who has the best video by stealing the moment from Taylor Swift (someone described this as akin to stepping on a kitten since Miss Swift is known to be so sweet).  Both these bullies claim they were “in the moment” and/or under stress – blah, blah, blah.  Kudos by the way to Beyonce who has shown the greatest act of civility in the US in several months!

And then to bring it home, as I was attending my first Big 10 football game of the season this past weekend, I was bullied by the ticket-holder next to me.  I have been a season ticket-holder for 6-7 years and attended regularly for about 10 years.  If you’ve ever been to a University of Michigan football game when they play teams like Notre Dame or Ohio State, you know that it is a packed house.  The bench space you are allotted is about 16 inches – the average American takes up much more than that, especially when donned in winter clothing.  But, we accommodate.  As each person arrives, we squeeze a bit tighter.

It is bench seating and my seats are two from the end.  My new neighbor arrives several minutes into the first quarter, shouts at me to, “Move over.  You’re in my seat.  Move or I’ll call security.  I’m a season ticket-holder.”  Well howdy and have a nice day to you too!  I advised him that we needed to get the bench of people moving over so we could make more room, to which he replied, “You have to move now.  You’re in my seat.”  He then pushed me over and back and stood with his hands on his hips and left elbow in front of my chest such that he was effectively standing in front of me and making it physically uncomfortable for me.  Yup, it kind stole the excitement of my first game of the season.  In fact, it squashed it like a bug.  So I ask again, “Who do we think we are?”  We drive aggressively like this too.  It’s everywhere and it’s awful.

What Do I Tell My Children?

I frankly am at a loss on how to raise children in this current environment of bullying and shouting and pushing and shoving.  Every day my husband and I remind my boys to say “thank you” and “please” and “excuse me.”  We talk about sharing and speaking politely and waiting for others to stop talking before we start.  But every day, they see US citizens of all kinds pushing and shouting and taking whatever they can take leaving nothing for those next in line.  I’m all for competition and I’m certainly not a Marxist or a Socialist, but come on, at some point you need to think beyond yourself.  If you don’t, aren’t we really the equivalent of a pack of wolves following the alpha male who has dominated all others for the moment?  Isn’t that called a dictatorship?  It certainly is not a democracy.

I Want 9/11 Back

I was stuck in France on 9-11-2001.  In fact, my friends and I didn’t even learn of 9/11 until 9/12.  And then it took almost seven more days before we could get a flight back home.  And when I returned to the US, it was a different country.

When I left about 10 days earlier, I was the only house on my block that regularly put out my US flag.  When I returned, nearly every house on my block and the surrounding blocks had one flying.  When I returned, people came out of their houses to check on their neighbors.  When I returned and went to my first Big 10 football game the season, the fans openly wept as the Star -Spangled Banner was played.  When I returned, politicians were working together respectfully to understand what we were up against.  When I returned, we listened to and followed our president.  When I returned, we treated each other and our first-responders with more respect.  When I returned, people let people merge onto the highway.  When I returned, I returned to a nation of citizens, to a nation of people with different opinions, but with a common bond that included civility, and respect, and empathy, and acceptance.

I want that nation back.  I want that nation for my children.  I don’t want another 9/11 tragedy to spur us into a civilized nation again.  I want everyday citizens like you and me to stand up and speak softly with intelligence and respect.  And I want us to demand intelligence and respect from our leaders, our athletes, our entertainers, our children, and our fellow citizens.  Will you help?

Releasing My Child to the Public Domain

My eldest son is starting Kindergarten in just a few days.  I’m not having the emotional reaction that I see many mom’s having over this monumental event, perhaps because, for better or worse, Nicholas has been attending daycare since he was 12 weeks old.

Our daycare refers to itself as a “Learning Center” so as to distinguish itself from a babysitting entity.  And I am happy with their approach since they are largely responsible for Nicholas’ readiness for Kindergarten.  The school system provided us with a list of things he should know and be able to do by the day he enters, and every item on the list was accomplished several months ago. 

Well, the list did suggest that he know his street address and phone number, and we took responsibility for helping him memorize those two things.  As for knowing letters and numbers and writing his name, our center had that done a long time ago.  Our center is also very focused on social development and has given Nicholas the knowledge and tools he needs to be good to his friends, manage his anger, and when necessary, make an apology.

So I have not had an emotional tug when I think of him entering the public school.  He’s been to Safety Town there and a couple of drop-ins to visit his classroom.  He’s ready and excited.  He likes the learning center, but in Kindergarten he tells me, “You don’t have to take a long, long nap every day.”  (In 30 years, he’ll wish he could have the luxury of such a long nap.)  And after the latest visit to his classroom, I get the sense that he already feels quite comfortable there – so many new things to explore!

Indeed, during our Safety Town week and at the latest and last drop-in orientation, I noticed several moms with puffy pink or watery eyes.  In fact during Safety Town, one mom sat with her girl at the table crying.  The mother didn’t want to leave her there for the 2.5 hours of safety fun and shortly thereafter, her 5-year-old daughter started to cry.  I almost felt guilty.  I took Nicholas to his room, got him started on his construction-paper fireman’s hat, and he hardly noticed when I said goodbye and walked out the door.  He was hard at work cutting and pasting.  There was no drama – just focus on cutting on the lines to make that hat.

And in fact, I’ve been really looking forward to Nicholas starting public school.   The learning center tuition check will be reduced to one child and hot lunch will be provided at school.  For me, that is some money and time back – both desperately needed.

So this summer I have been gleefully dancing along, excited about him starting to learn to read and even some of the projects I may get to help him with, and the no lunches for me to pack, and the cash back, and the feeling that he is just really ready for this, and I’m just moving along counting down the days without looking back – until last Sunday afternoon.

Having been at our learning center for over four years, we have come to know several of the parents of Nicholas’ classmates.  We’ve been put together by various activities and birthday parties and have watched our children grow up together.  Since our kids will be dispersed across a number of classrooms, we decided to get together last Sunday afternoon for a potluck and afternoon at the park.

It was a beautiful day – cool but sunny.  The park is one of those with a very large wooden climbing structure and it was just recently refurbished.  There are castles and boats and climbing walls and slides, and well, you get the picture.  The kids were having a ball running and climbing and squealing in this wonderful and safe playground.  There were of course a few bumps and tumbles, but nothing serious.

My husband and I took turns rotating between watching our 2-year-old, who wanted to climb and jump like the 5-year-olds, and visiting with the parents.  I was on child-watching duty when suddenly, Alexander bounded over to the swings.  Doug was over there with some parents and other kids and Nicholas was somewhere crawling through logs and ropes.  As I turned to follow Alexander, a young boy said, “Can you help me?”  I turned to see that Doug was putting Alexander on the swing so all was safe there, and said, “Sure, what do you need?”

The boy, about 5-6 years, said that he had lost his shoe and wondered if I could help him find it.  The boy didn’t belong to our learning center group, but I was happy to help out.  I asked him where he thought he might have lost it.  He pointed to an area in the play area that was a maze that looked like a castle.  After a few failed attempts at trying to help him narrow down exactly where it was lost, I told him I’d take a look for it.

Now I am about 5’11” tall and yes, over 40 years of age.  Navigating through a maze of logs, steps, and tunnels designed for those under 10 years is not the easiest thing.  But I did my duty.  After several minutes of searching the section, I found my way out.  As I was about to step out in the clear, I neglected to duck far enough down and bumped my head with veracity on a support beam (because it’s a good idea to set the logs just inches above the beam effectively placing your spacial judgment off as you lunge to escape the tunnels and clunk your forehead).  It hurt and took my breath away for a moment.

Dazed, as I rounded the corner to let the young, one-shoe boy know that I did not find his other shoe (he was standing up on a platform that you needed to climb a rope ladder to get to), I found him fist-fighting with another boy his same age.  They were just out of reach so the only interference I could immediately apply was some stern, “Stop that.  Stop fighting.  Hey” –type pleas.

It turns out they were fighting because the second boy had taken his shoe and hidden it (information I would have liked to have had before wandering through the wooden tunnels and using my head for a hammer).  The one-shoe boy demanded to get it back, the second boy said in an obvious lie (he wasn’t good at it) that he didn’t hide it, and then boy number three announces he knows where it is and he’s not going to tell.

My head has grown to twice its normal size and is pounding, but I hear behind me the voice of a man telling the boys to stop fighting.  The one-shoe boy says once again that boy number two has hidden his shoe, to which boy number two says he did not and goes running into the maze of logs.  It turns out the male voice is the father of boy number two and after hearing the accusation, the father says, “Oh, he wouldn’t do that . . . I don’t think anyway.”  Boy number three once again announces he knows where it is.  I ask him to tell me where, and he says, “I’m not telling,” and runs off into the wooden castle.

So what do I do?  My head is pounding.  There is no way I can chase these disobedient children through this town of timber.  I don’t fit in many places.  These are not my kids, and the father is obviously not going to help solve the problem because he doesn’t “think” his child would have done such a thing.

I was shocked.  Had my son and any of the kids from the learning center been involved in this, there would have been a gathering of the participants, a rapid inquest, a finding of the shoe, apologies, hugs, and moving on.  Instead there were children running away and continuing to torment.  So what to do?  I turned to the father and said, “Listen, I didn’t see the whole event, but that young man is missing his shoe and is insistent that the other two boys are involved.”  I don’t know any of you and I’ve just racked my head looking for the shoe because he asked for help.  You are the father of one of these kids – I’m going to let you resolve it.”   And I walked away.

As I walked across the lot to the swings, my head still reeling, it hit me.  This is what I am releasing my Kindergartner to – to the public domain.  I am moving him from the safety of a caring, safe environment where squirmishes, when they occur, are used as teaching moments and parents are supportive of corrective action to achieve proper behavior –  to an environment where it is okay to takes someone’s things and hide them, and hit other people, and run away from adults, even parents, and not be held accountable for that action.

So on Tuesday, when I take my son to his first day of class.  It may be the case that I do find some tears welling up in my eyes.  The tears won’t be forming because I am losing my son to the teaching of others, they will be unfortunately, tears of concern that my son and his learning center classmates are soon to face some physical and emotional hurt from those that have not been reared in a supportive but corrective environment.  Indeed, they will survive, but they are heading towards experiences that we mothers (and the learning center) can no longer control.  We can only pick up the pieces and help them get stronger and move on.  Nicholas will learn how to do this at age five, and I will learn how to do this again at age 42.  Welcome to the public domain.

Question: Financial Struggles? Answer: $125 Swim-shorts.

My mother has installed the ritual of “spring cleaning” within me.  As an elementary teacher, each spring, after she closed up her classroom for the summer, we would spend about a week spring cleaning the house from top to bottom.  The windows, walls, and ceilings of every room and every nook in the furniture would be cleaned.  Closets and drawers of stuff would be emptied, washed, and re-organized.  Once finished, each room would noticeably glisten.  Our hypothesis was that once thoroughly cleaned, the weekly cleanings thereafter would be faster.  Perhaps, but it was also a sense of accomplishment.

As an adult, each spring, I continue that ritual in my own home.  I even spring cleaned while living in apartments – I supposed I yearned for that glistening freshness and sense of accomplishment even in rented walls and windows.  With two young children, this annual ritual must be done by taking a couple vacation days to clean – my cleaning vacation as I call it.  So that is where I found myself in early June of this year – my husband at work, the kids at daycare, and me with my bucket, rags, and vacuum.

During these cleaning vacations, I tend to listen to television in the morning and my iTunes library in the afternoon.  This cleaning day was no different.  It was still fairly early and the morning news show was on. 

As is typical, the morning news shows start the broadcast in the early morning with typically harder news and then as the broadcast moves further into the morning, they offer some special segments – what I often call, the fluffy stuff.  With the economy in the rough shape that it is, the fluffy stuff has revolved largely around “saving you money” themes.  Segments were plenty on how to save money on vacations (which strikes me as odd because when I had no money, I saved on vacations by not going on vacations), how to invest wisely in these tough times (again odd, since if I have no money, an 5%-8% (really good in this market) return on zero principal is still zero), and how to select the most inexpensive organic foods (okay, need I even touch this one?).

The most memorable money saving segment during my June 2009 cleaning vacation, however, had to be the segment on saving money on kid’s summer clothes.  They of course, in an effort to expand the time, had a mini-runway with darling, well-behaved children dressed in colorful clothes.  It started sensibly enough.  They talked of mixing & matching shorts and t-shirts and some tips for dressing up the casual-wear.  The prices they alluded to for the outfits seemed a bit high, certainly higher than the $2.99 shirt and $3.99 pair of pants that I sent my preschooler out the door in – but I thought to myself, perhaps they are quoting NYC prices since the broadcast is based there.

And then came the beach portion of the money-saving fashion show.  Out came a handsome pre-teen boy in some colorful, wildly patterned beachy swim-shorts followed by a couple of youngerish kids in other colors of the same short.  The shorts were eye-catching and each child was of course, properly accessorized with flip-flops and cool sunglasses, and carrying over-sized beach balls.  The fashion narrator went on to talk about the fabric of the beach shorts, how durable it was, how the color won’t fade, and how these shorts were the “hot” swim shorts of the season – everyone wants them.  And then she states, “ . . . and at only $125, these swim shorts are a steal!”  I about dropped my bucket of cleaning fluid.  “A steal?”  I wanted to say to the woman, “I’m sure they are a steal my dear, because if you are economically challenged this summer ‘stealing’ them is the only way you can (or should) get them!” 

And to make matters worse, the news anchor went on to agree with the fashionista.  They concluded that due to the durability of the fabric, that for young boys who are rough on their swimsuits, the shorts were worth $125 because you’d only need to buy one pair for the summer season.  And then they went on to say that the shorts are so durable that it’s likely your boys can wear them next summer (because of course the one thing we know is that young boys don’t grow once summer ends).

So this makes me wonder.  Do these folks really get it?  $125 swim shorts for kids as a money-saving strategy?  Is this really a good lesson to broadcast to the masses?  Even if these times weren’t economically challenging, unless you are a celebrity or Wall Street executive with a retention incentive bonus, does it really make good financial sense in ANY economic environment to buy $125 swim-shorts?  And just for the record, I bought my five-year-old son a pair of Batman-themed swim-shorts for $14.99 with a 15% discount off that price.  He was delighted – he thinks his swim-shorts are pretty “hot.”  And these crime-fighter shorts have lasted the season, and it’s a high probability that Alexander will be seeing these swim-shorts in his future as he grows into them.

So this is how my “reality” saving money segment and lesson regarding boys beachware would go.  Nicholas would come out in his Batman shorts, bare feet, hair askew, holding an oversized beach ball.  Alexander, in a toddler-size pair of swim-shorts (handed down from Nicholas from his toddler days) would come running out shortly thereafter screaming at the top of his lungs because he wants the beach ball that Nicholas is holding just out of his reach.  Nicholas would begin to run away from Alexander.  Alexander would continue pursuit around the stage for awhile and then out of view of the camera but with shouts, whines, and screams still heard in the background of “My ball.  My baaalll!”  I would hold up my 15% discount card I received as a loyal customer and let the public know that for $12.74 plus tax, all this can be yours.  And you can put the remaining $112.26 you saved by not buying the $125 swim-shorts in the bank (versus using the savings to buy gold or some type of financial derivatives recommended in the previous money-saving segment).

But since I will only appear as a reality fashionista in my own mind, perhaps the better advice is that the next time a “money-saving” segment from the morning news show comes on, go turn on your iTunes library.

Finding My Inner Voice

“Build it and they will come.”  “Speak softly and you will be heard.”  “Don’t buy ice cream at the grocery store in 80+ degree heat with two more stops to make.”  “Take life with a pinch of salt . . . and wedge of lime and a shot of tequila.”  Listen, can you hear the soft-spoken advice of your inner voice?

For many, it is the golden years when the inner voice is finally heard.  Perhaps it is in these years that we finally have time to hear the inner voice that guides and directs us and offers us wisdom, or perhaps as we’ve gained experience, we are more easily able to interpret or believe our pleasant, peaceful, and wisdom-filled inner voice.

Call me an overachiever, but in the last two months, I have had the opportunity to hear my inner voice – and more than a few times.  And while I expected my inner voice to be heavenly and pleasant, it turns out, it is a loud, guttural yell that generates itself from the bottom of my gut and explodes through my head.  Far from angelic, it is really much more like the frightening voice that emerged from Linda Blair in The Exorcist (less the split-pea soup, thank goodness).

And what wisdom has that inner voice offered?  After a morning filled with two boys finding every means to stall and torment their mother before getting out the door for school, the inner voice offered this:  “GET YOUR SHOES ON NOW” – phonetically, “now” is pronounced “naawwwwwwhhhhhh!!!”  The decibel, tone, and gravel of the voice shooting past my tongue was such that my 5-year-old stood to attention like that of a well-trained soldier, and the loud whining from the 2-year-old stopped immediately.  After the inner growl, there was a long moment of silence – and then rapid movement to the shoes and out the door.

The inner voice has also offered, “PUT THE BOOK DOWN NOW” when the toddler attempted to throw a hard-covered book across the bed as we were reading and “settling down” for bedtime.  “STOP RUNNING NOW” emerged while with dad still at work, I was attempting to get dinner cooked and served while the boys tested the limits of sibling rivalry by wanting whatever the other one had, taking it, and then running around the house playing keep away – screaming and whining for the duration.  “GIVE ME THE SCREWDRIVER NOW” the inner voice ordered as the toddler began to tap on the picture window with his daddy’s tool that he must have obtained by quickly (I was tending to preschooler potty issues) scaling drawers to climb to the counter to get into the bag in the cupboard that holds the tools.  (And yes, we are quickly running out of places high enough to hide things and are considering renting a storage locker until we are through the toddler years.)

Now, the inner voice takes some time to build.  It is usually preceded by at least three attempts of firm but polite requests from the normal voice for the less than acceptable behavior to stop.  It is also preceded by physically intervening in the behavior – removing the book or toy or tool and encouraging proper behavior by getting down to the level of the offender.  And when these civilized gestures to quash the unacceptable behavior or noise fail miserably and just before my head explodes, the inner voice expels itself.

It’s never a proud moment.  But the inner voice achieves the objective.  Children seem to realize that when the inner voice of mom becomes outer, she means business.  There will be no more warnings – the guttural punch of the inner voice is not a warning shot, it is the “prepared to have really bad things happen if I don’t stop right now” shot.

I’ve admitted hearing my inner voice to several mothers – some with children of similar ages as mine and some who have been through these ages.  They too are overachievers having heard their inner voices early in life and in much the same circumstance, tone, and emphasis.  They too agree that their inner voice is not the saintly whisper they had imagined it would be.  And, we all long for the day that our normal voices are heard by our children, the first time we speak, making our inner voice truly inner and generally unheard, until of course, it emerges again in our golden years in the in the saintly, wisdom-filled undertone we have come to expect.  So yes, I have found my inner voice, and God-willing, I will lose it soon.

I’m not very smart (and why I’m not worried about my children being “gifted”)

“Is your child gifted?”  I continuously get emails and see articles in magazines in the waiting rooms of various doctor’s offices on this topic.  The articles make me feel as if I’m a bad mother because I’m not measuring my children for giftedness nor am I seeking classes to maximize their giftedness.  My 5-year-old has a vocabulary and a maturity much beyond what I did at age five – but is it because he’s gifted or simply that things are so much more progressed these days than “in the old days?”  The answer is that I don’t know.  And frankly, I’m not that worried about it.

Why?  Because I am not very smart.  And I’ve managed to achieve some average and above average things even though I’m not encumbered with a huge IQ (and no, I don’t know the number).  What I do have is stamina and persistence and good time management skills.  In school, whatever the subject, I studied.  And if I had too much to do, I found ways to study in short stints in odd places, if needed.  Advanced biology test tomorrow and basketball game tonight?  I studied on the bus to and from the game, reviewed notes propped up in the bathroom mirror while getting ready for school and had them on my music stand to review during band while the woodwinds (I played flute) waited for the brass or the percussion to get their parts right.

I am also not a good standardized test taker.  So when it came to the GMAT, I took math refresher courses since a mastery of geometry seems to be critical for entrance into a good business school, and it was a subject I had not visited since high school.  And indeed, I took the GMAT prep courses practicing test questions until I could write them.  And guess what, it worked.

My roommate at Duke University was gifted.  He was a natural numeracy genius.  In preparation for a statistics or quantitative analysis exam, I would begin to study for the mid-term about the second day of the course and I’d start study for the final exam after receiving the grade on the mid-term.  I would do practice problems over and over again.  I would reverse engineer them so I literally could do them backwards.  My roommate would get the textbook out the night before and inquire with me about what chapters the exam was to cover.  I would get a 97% on my exam.  He would achieve a 98%.

For years, I envied those that were truly gifted.  Things came so easily for them.  But as the years went by, I started to realize that in the real world, often the less-gifted started to fare better than the gifted.  My hypothesis is that those of us who are forced to use stamina and persistence regularly – well, we don’t notice when things aren’t so easy.  And the real world isn’t easy.  We ungifted expect to work hard and work through inconsistencies on most days.  We practice and we learn a lot from that practice.  For those that are gifted, because things have come so easily for them, when things get tough, they easily get frustrated and often give up and move on.  It’s simply too foreign a behavior to have to practice to achieve.  Practicing is for the proletariat, after all.

So I don’t worry about my children being gifted and I don’t feel bad about not enrolling them in Calculus at age five or pushing sports or music on my two-year-old.  Indeed, I’ll give them opportunities to explore these things early and often in life, and we’ll see if they take to any of them (none so far!).  Instead, my focus will be to help them learn persistence, stamina, and good time management skills.  I hope also that they’ll experience a bit of failure while they are under my roof because they’ll learn that they’ll live through it – as I did while under my parent’s roof.  I found out that my parent’s loved me whether I was placing first or second, and that was a good, reassuring thing to know.

And while some may say that by not pushing my children into gifted programs at ages two and five, that I may be destroying their future if they have abilities like Tiger Woods.  I wonder.  Is Tiger Woods just simply a natural at golf?  What if he used the same persistence and practice at playing the violin?  He’d wouldn’t be nearly as wealthy (Nike doesn’t put its swoosh on violins, at least not yet), but he just might be the world’s leading violinist.  While I’m sure Mr. Woods has some natural proclivity for golf, perhaps his true gift is that he has a proclivity for practice.