Category Archives: Family

Trusting The Chaos

When my daughters were little I remember feeling slightly sick to my stomach when we would visit large, outdoor playgrounds.

Wiltshire Park in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania

Their chubby legs would teeter up the steps of the slide and climb, fall, reach, miss, fall, reach again, fall again, etc. while they gained their footing.  I realized that they had to learn how to navigate around other kids that were pushing, shoving, running, teetering and just as uncoordinated as they were.  Tripping and falling was part of the package and like it or not, I had to allow that to happen if I wanted them to grow physically, psychologically as well as socially.

So I did what any conscientious parent would do in this situation.  To keep myself from freaking out, I frequently  turned my back on them.  I would get lost in a conversation with a friend and let my kids play instead of shrieking, reaching, grabbing and otherwise choreographing their every move.  I tried to alternate between being close with a helping hand and giving them the freedom to create a muscle memory and explore.

When we moved to an urban area they were forced to spend all of their play time on even more complex equipment involving higher slides and older kids that would teach them cool tricks like how to sway through the monkey bars or worst yet, climb on top of them.  Again, my stomach was in knots.  My kids that used to play with a few children on a backyard play set were now one of 50 kids of various ages trying to stake their claim on a metal jungle gym.  It was chaotic, frankly but instead of nervously anticipating that my kids would fall, I tried my damnedest to anticipate success.  I decided to assume the best and keep the entire experience in perspective because although my kids appeared to be seconds away from a head injury, in actuality, every kid there was moments away from serious injury.  And yet in all my years of public park visiting, never once has an ambulance been summoned.

This chaos continued when I returned to my apartment.  From my 10th floor window I would watch cars commuting north on 1st Avenue as they barely missed side swiping, clipping and crashing into each other.

Photo by Beggs

I wondered how the traffic below would change if the pedestrians realized how close they were to harm or if drivers knew that they were mere inches away from paying towards their $1000 deductible?

This memory is helping me now as my husband and I teach our daughter to drive.  I keep reminding myself that like the playground and 1st Avenue, although danger is lurking – closely – it somehow keeps it’s distance.

And even though chaos theory,  (the butterfly effect) tells me otherwise…that initial conditions are so sensitive that small changes in a nonlinear system can and may result in vastly different outcomes, i.e., the presence or absence of a butterfly flapping its wings could lead to creation or absence of a hurricane…I’m surprisingly calm.  Not because I’m trying to control the chaos. That would be futile because as controlled chaos theory tells us, even if you can successfully stabilize a system, the change you insert must be small, as in extremely small, so as to only affect one outcome and not derail the entire system all together.  

In other words, calmly telling my daughter to “slow down a little” will help her avoid a crash.  But if I scream “SLOW THE FUCK DOWN!” while stomping on her foot to slam on the brakes – sure we’ll avoid crashing, but I risk derailing the entire system, i.e., scarring her for life, making all driving situations stressful rather than exciting, fracturing her foot,  and putting us both at risk to be rear-ended by the car behind us.

Thus my only option is to follow my own theory which I like to call, trusting chaos  while remembering that like all of the combined worst case scenarios involving kids from the playground and cars from the city  – in the end, everything worked out fine.  I simply remind myself that we’re in a non-linear system which means that even though the idiot next to us is texting, a lot of things have to happen before he’ll actually wreck into us.  

Likewise, I’m finding that this new found calmness, is carrying over into other areas of my psyche.  For example:

  • Even though I enjoyed a deliciously, fattening salted caramel cupcake from Angelcakes last Tuesday (and a Snickerdoodle flavored one, last Saturday), my entire metabolic system will not be derailed overnight and force me out of every pair of pants that I own.  Quite a few things must happen before I need to go up a size, so I’m not going to sweat celebrating my birthday with baked goods.
  • Although the economy is in the shitter, a very specific sequence of events must happen in order for me to find myself living under a bridge. Considering that I’ve always had enough and have never been homeless, I highly doubt that will change any time soon. 

Suddenly, and maybe for the first time ever, I’m finding comfort in the chaos and wondering if my lack of acceptance and complete avoidance of pandemonium has been the problem all along?  Has my inner control freak been secretly wanting to chaotically wave her freak flag all this time?  Could it be that, flying by the seat of my pants and embracing the commotion around me, has been the answer all along.  I’m not 100% convinced of this – but for whatever reason, all the signs are pointing in this direction right now so it’s certainly worth exploring.

Yesterday, during the big East Coast Earthquake, I was outside with my youngest and therefore didn’t feel a thing.  Apparently you had to be inside your 4 walls here in Frederick to experience it.  So when I returned home, I asked my daughter, the new driver of the family, what the Earthquake felt like.

“I didn’t notice it,” she replied.

“How could you miss it?  Our neighbors on each side of us and across the street felt the rumbling and heard/saw things shaking in their houses,”  I said.

“Well, honestly, I blast the music when you’re not here.  I had the volume up to 10 on the stereo.  The house had been shaking pretty much since you left, so I didn’t feel a thing,” she admitted.

So basically her self-created chaos, camouflaged the natural disaster chaos which allowed her to avoid any internal, fear-based feelings of chaos…Interesting.

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Oh Canada…

Spent a wonderful week in Canada.  It was my second visit, but my first in the summer.  A few random thoughts:

  • Canadian money is colorful and thus more functional, however, one and two dollar coins are a little annoying.  My purse got heavier and heavier as each day went by.
  • 86 degrees, oops I mean 30 degrees in August is what I call a beautiful summer’s day.
  • I forgot how much I enjoyed constantly hearing other languages and accents when you’re in a big city (Toronto). Here in Frederick, MD I only hear English, Spanish and see Sign Language.
  • I’m always surprised at how much folks from other countries are tuned into our news.
  • Talking politics with Canadians was interesting as well.  Apparently they don’t mix their social issues with fiscal ones.  They would never waste time debating gay marriage when fiscal problems need to be solved.  They think we’re insane for constantly allowing our differing dogmas to distract from what needs to get done.  They’re right.
  • They say, “pop” not “soda” which is not only awesome but correct, damn it!
  • I found a grocery store called Longos which is my Mom’s maiden name so I not only shopped there, but we also had dinner there which was delicious.  It was like the Wegman’s of Toronto.
  • A small coffee is actually “small” as in 1/2 the size of a kid’s drink in the states.  Kudos to them for portion control.  Paying the American price for a small, however, kind of sucked.

Seeing my gorgeous friend Michelle, her husband Steve and their daughter’s Alex and Josie after 10 years was the highlight of our trip.   Having lunch made by Michelle who’s a fabulous cook was delicious.  The fact that the kids got along after a decade long break was wonderful.

Friends Again!

  • Michelle tried and failed to open a bottle of wine via the trunk of a tree.  This is how it’s supposed to work:

  • But Michelle’s can-do attitude along with a pen knife and ink-pen, got the job done.  Kudos to her for her tenacity.

See how happy we look after splitting a bottle of wine on a beautiful summer's day?

Our trip consisted of visiting Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls from the Canadian side.

It’s definitely worth the passport hassle to see Niagra Falls from the Canadian side.  The views were amazing.  Looking back toward the US and not seeing a bunch of commercial shit behind the falls was a relief.  Imagine this picture with golden arches, casino lights and giant hotel marquees in the background?  That would’ve been awful.  Kudos for the people of Niagra Falls, New York for allowing nature to remain the star.

I was surprised at how much cheesiness was just beyond the beauty on the Canadian side.  It was a cross between the Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk and the bright lights of Times Square.

Commercialism at it's best!

On a side note: Sadly, it appears that visitors to the Falls like to urinate from a distance.  Thus along with taking a ride on The Maid of The Mist, my husband came dangerously close to becoming “The Man of The Mist” on quite a few occasions. Luckily he has quick reflexes.

We then explored, Niagra On The Lake, an adorable and picturesque town 30 minutes north of the falls.  You can hang out on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Niagara On The Lake

Or explore the Ma and Pa type shops while enjoying the flowers in town.

Then we headed to Toronto which was a blast.  Loved the Hockey Hall of Fame:

We love you Mario…

And Crosby..

And Malkin.

But Stanley, you're our favorite!

Right outside our hotel was the ferry to the Toronto Islands.

You get a great view of Toronto from the ferry.

We spent the afternoon on Centre Island, opting not to explore the “clothing optional” beach at Hanlan’s Point.  Instead we enjoyed walking around

as well as hanging out at the beach.  This was the first time I have ever relaxed on a beach, under a tree, which is now officially my favorite kind of sun bathing.  If all beaches had shade trees, I’d probably go more often.

The view from my beach towel - sweet!

We saw Billy Elliot. Great show.  Piss off! is my new go-to cuss word when yelling at the kids.  It’s fun and communicates that I mean business without being personally degrading in any way as opposed to Fuck Off! which is too harsh and raunchy to use as a parenting device if you ask me.  Leave it to the British to come up with a more civil way of cursing at each other.

And of course, no trip to Toronto would be complete without a visit to the CN Tower.  One of the world’s tallest towers and a great example of how you can take something a city needs (i.e., better radio communication) and turn it into a money making attraction as well.

I don’t like heights.  Well, I don’t mind being up high, if I’m going fast, like on a roller coaster, but looking off the side of a giant building, really doesn’t do it for me.  Standing on a plexiglass floor 360-some meters above the ground, also seems like a bad idea.

Paige was the brave Pruce that took these pictures, not me.

And if you asked me to go OUTSIDE this tower and walk around?

Not like this. I can handle being outside and looking out through a metal, safety grate.

I’m talking about this craziness…

Who thinks this shit up?

From inside the tower, you can watch via a live cam all of the adrenaline junkies that pay $150 to walk on the outside edge of the CN Tower.  These fellas were enjoying the view from the outside, while I was getting a little sick to my stomach on the inside.

When we were safe on the ground, we decided to sit a spell before heading back to the hotel.   Before leaving, I took one last look up at the tower, only to see 5 asses staring down at me…

Are they mooning us?

This was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

Canada was great and even though Gary and Jarin didn’t get to enjoy a traditional beach like they wanted, we got time in and around water while Paige and I got to explore a big city.  I will say that being in Canada both during the winter and now the summer, I remember a lot more from this trip.  Not freezing our asses off, we meandered more, walked everywhere, opting often to simply sit and people watch.  We spent a ton of time outside as opposed to spending all of it in their underground PATH system that allows you to explore the city without having to brave the elements.

My kids loved Canada.  My youngest wants to move there.  In all fairness, she would move anywhere, but still, I told her she might want to come back in say, February and then decide if Toronto is the place for her.  Being on the water when it’s 30 below, just might have her saying, Piss Off! or worse!

Digital Dieting

I sat my daughter down yesterday and as difficult as it was, told her the truth.  She needed to go on a diet.  A Facebook diet.  She’s gaining some serious informational girth.

For the last month or so, she’s been photo-loading, binging on comments, and compulsively over-liking the pictures and status updates of others.  Clearly she has some form of an oversharing disease.  I tell her all the time to: Tone it down;   Stay under the radar:  Remember, people like a little mystery.

I’m being ignored.

Some of her FB friends have their own compulsive over-sharing issues as well and yesterday was the last straw for me.  She posted this picture of herself decked out in a Steelers hat and shirt.

No big deal.  Except she tagged 15 people on the photo which lead to  a Steelers VS Ravens FB fight between middle schoolers which ended when I logged in with the following:

Just an FYI – this entire conversation was sent out to everyone tagged in the above photo. Jarin’s parents. Her grandmother in Pittsburgh. Her adult neighbors. Here’s the thing people. Facebook fights/disagreements/talki​ng smack, call it whatever you want, are a bad idea, especially when people that don’t care are watching/listening. Everyone will be untagged as soon as Jarin wakes up.

It is my humble opinion that many FaceBookers are getting a little portly with their info.  And although she didn’t do anything wrong, this time, she along with many people on FB, could benefit from some slimming down secrets.  I’m not out to create a 12-step program or get famous from writing a self-help book, just a mom that needs to teach her daughter a few things.

Also, I’m not here to point fingers.  I’m simply going to describe some character traits that I’ve noticed on FB and if on some intuitive level you feel I might, maybe, possibly be talking about you – feel free to do something about it.

Cryptic Messages:  I’m not a big fan of the cryptic for various reasons.

  1. I’m lazy.  I don’t want to guess at what the hell you’re talking about.  Say what you and mean what you say.
  2. I’m also blunt which I know many find annoying, but I guarantee you, you’ll never walk away from a conversation with me and wonder, “Hmm…what was Linda, really trying to say?”  You’ll know.  Trust me.  I would like the same courtesy.
  3. I (like most people) have to actually hear your voice to understand if you’re kidding or not – especially if we haven’t spoken since high school.  If you post, “I know why people consider suicide…” it freaks me out.  Should I call the cops or not?!  If your day is that bad, call your best friend in lieu of messing with the minds of 297 of your FB friends scattered around the globe.

Liking Everything:  I have no doubt in my mind that you really like all the shit you “like”.  But after a while, if you like everything you see, your stamp of approval loses it’s power.  It gets diluted a little.  Instead consider:

  1. Reposting the link to your wall and sharing it with others in lieu of telling me how great it is.
  2. Maybe only “like it” if you truly “love it”.
  3. Getting an occasional “like” or comment from you , makes you seems discriminating and hence a better judge.  If however, you like everything I say or do, it feels like you’re my mom (who’s sort of required by law to like everything I say or do whether it’s deserving or not.)

Constantly Revealing Your Location:  This one really concerns me.  I’ve threatened my children with a complete end to their FB accounts as well as bathroom clean up duty for a year if they EVER put their location out on Facebook.

Newsflash: This applies to adults as well.  I shouldn’t know that you’re at the Jiffy Lube, or waiting to be seen at your gynecologist’s office or hanging out at a nude beach in France.

First off that’s clearly too much information.  I don’t want or need to know about your yearly pap and pelvic exam.  And unless you enjoy being burglarized, telling me that you’re away from your home is a bad idea.  Do none of you people watch, Criminal Minds?  Did no one see the episode when the unsub tracked down all of his victims via their social networking sites?  Spoiler Alert – HE KILLED THEM!  And posted videos of their killings to his social networking site. Oh and kept their bodies for his own sexual pleasure – ugh.  So to avoid being the victim of a serial killer, consider the following:

  1. Post your vacation pictures AFTER you’ve returned home.
  2. If you must tell me where you’re going, just say, “I’m off to the beach”.  Don’t post,  “Can’t wait to get to the Marriott in Ocean City, Maryland tomorrow!”
  3. If you must tell me the status of your uterus..And truly, I do not need to know, but if you must…tell me after you’re in for the day.
  4. Turn off whatever tracking shit you have set up between your mobile phone and your FB account.  Do you realize that I not only know where you are, but I’m given a map to your exact location in real time!?  I would crack my kids in the skull if that did.

Digitally documenting EVERY moment of your day:  I don’t need to see every photo you took today.  Just post the highlights or at least, delete the blurry photos or crazy closeups of your nose hairs.  A nice one of you and the family ocean side, is plenty.

Look, I had diarrhea of the mouth at 13.  But 13-year-old Linda had to dial a phone, keep the phone calls within her area code and could only talk to one person at a time.  Since she didn’t have call waiting and was attached to a wall, her talk time was limited in case others in my family were expecting a call or my conversation in the kitchen was interrupting the TV watching in the next room.  I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if I had the ability back then to share my every fucking thought with everyone I knew while roaming the streets with a mobile device.

My daughter’s diet is going to consist of a few levels:

  1. We’ll start via a cold turkey approach.  She’s to go 1 week without posting, liking, or commenting.  She can log on, read and enjoy all the idiotic stuff  that her middle school friends post, but I’m asking her to merely be an observer.
  2. Then will move on to moderate postings where she’ll be asked to think a thought and then wait 15 minutes or so before posting it to see if she even cares enough to post it at all.
  3. She’ll also be barred from posting from her phone.  She’ll have to stop what she’s doing and if she has to post something that badly, post it via the desk top computer.  This distance between thinking the thought and sharing the thought would be the dieting equivalent of wanting a Ho-Ho but forcing yourself to wait to see if you’re still even craving the damn thing or forget all about it completely.

If you’d like to join her feel free.  And if you have any other ways to stay a lean, mean Facebook machine, let me know.  I’d love to hear about them.

New Year – More Yoga

Happy New Year.  So far 2011 is pretty cool (even though the Pittsburgh Penguins lost the Winter Classic to the Washington Capitals yesterday – UGH!). But other than that, life is good.  Got to hang with family and eat some delicious food and I must say, I’m ready to head back to Frederick and get 2011 cracking.

One thing that will change is that my duties at my yoga job have expanded such that I’ll be blogging for the studio at their blog, entitled, Shine.  Which means I’ll be doing more yoga.  Which means, I’ll be getting healthier.  Because of that, my blogging may be more along the lines of yoga/health/food these next few months.  Since this isn’t a yoga/health/food blog, I will simply link to those posts from this blog and if you feel inclined to head over and read about my yoga adventures, feel free.

The first post of 2011 is New Year – More Yoga.  Enjoy.

It’s All Right Here, Sir

It’s tough to navigate the health care system when you’re elderly. Because privacy trumps the exchange of information and the fact that society lives longer, by the time you’re 85, you’ve seen a plethora of health care providers that don’t communicate with or even know about one another.  To live longer and prosper at that age, you’ll need to see a whole bunch more that don’t or can’t communicate with one another.  And your future 85-year-old self, will be in charge of managing all of this information.

As an outpatient speech therapist, I tend to only add to the confusion as I have to give my elderly patients more information to process.  Often times my spiel goes something like this:

“Your wife needs a swallowing test over at the hospital called a Modified Barium Swallow.  But you’ll first have to get a prescription from your doctor for this test (hand him the handy prescription with all of the information that he can give to his wife’s doctor to sign) and then call over to radiology (give him a handout that gives all of these steps in a written form, while pointing to the phone number of radiology that I’ve highlighted in yellow) to make the appointment because we don’t do those tests here.  And in the meantime, you’ll need to thicken your wife’s liquids to a nectar consistency (explain how a nectar differs from a thin liquid) with a thickener that you can buy from your local pharmacist (hand him a few papers with information about thickener brands, recipes, how to thicken liquids, the difference between a mechanical soft and regular solid diet).  Once your wife has the test done, if the inpatient speech therapist at the hospital feels that she would benefit from swallowing therapy, you can come back here for that.  Or course, you’ll need another prescription for swallowing therapy at that time. Do you have any questions?”

At which point the gentleman, being a gentleman will smile, take all the information, maybe ask a few questions and then go home and make his wife some hot tea without thickening it.

Being an outpatient therapist I’ll never know what happens to them after they leave.  If on the off chance they do get the tests completed and come back, I pray they had it done at the Frederick Memorial Hospital (FMH) as I’m only privy to medical information within that system. In a few minutes I can look up the patient and read the MBS results online.  Otherwise, they’ll need to bring the test results with them.  Of course, I’m happy to call and get the records faxed – that is if they can remember the name of the facility and/or the professionals they spoke with and hopefully they signed a release of information form before they left.  Keeping in mind that I’m talking about the elderly, not all of my patients have this information stored in their memory banks.

Please understand that I’m not mocking the elderly. I’m 42 and honestly can’t tell you the name of my gynecologist. I know the name of the practice and that I go to the Frederick office, but I’d have to look him up online and read through the names to tell you his for sure. His initial’s are LB and he has a cool, Polish sounding name, something ending in ski or sky.  He’s got a mustache, he’s super personable and engaged to be married, if that helps.

Now imagine me at 85.

Exactly.

So that’s problem number one. Problem number two is the lack of power balance in the the elderly couples I meet.  I find that one is greatly responsible for the other either out of necessity (a husband taking care of his wife with advanced dementia) or habit (a wife that’s always been “in charge” is now the gate keeper of her husband’s medical information as well) or an age differential (a middle aged woman married to an elderly gentleman).

What concerns me is that these couples are at risk of becoming like the businessmen in an old but very funny Computer Associates commercial:

I have a few elderly Dan’s that are the only ones in the family that know the specifics of their wife’s diet.  The kids are busy with high pressure jobs and their own kids and they don’t fully understand Mom’s risk of getting pneumonia due to her silent aspiration problem. My fear is that before Dan can educate his grown children, he gets impaled by a falling icicle on the way to Christmas dinner and mom is left alone at the table with a full glass of eggnog.

If Dan goes down, how will the remaining spouse that’s ill, manage?  Maybe Dan’s lucky and has some adult children to lean on, but what if they live across the country? Or they’re idiots?  Or they’re simply too busy to help out because they are sandwiched between both parents and children that need their assistance?

There’s got to be a better way to coordinate all of this information.  I’ve noticed that some health systems as well as private business offer medical concierge services.  Cleveland Clinic will help you coordinate your care and arrangements if you’re visiting them from out of town.  Apparently, the locals are on their own.  If you have some extra cash, Potomac Concierge here outside of DC besides providing personal assistant services, will help clients navigate the health care system, making appointments, and even assisting with medical claims and insurance forms.  And of course, insurers are offering these services, but its more about helping you understand your benefits and less about the exchange of information between professionals.

As our population gets older and lives longer I’m guessing medical concierge services will be popping up more and more.  I imagine it wont be long before someone creates a web portal where patients can upload information and health care providers, with permission, can download whatever information they need.  It’ll be like Google Docs for real doctors and not documents.

But until then, you might want to step in and do yourself and your parents a huge favor and get involved.  This Christmas, the best gift you can give the elderly family members in your life is to be their health care back up.  Their Bright Storage Software if you will.  Set up a time, sit down and write down the names, phone numbers, fax numbers and addresses of their health care providers.  Have them sign whatever HIPAA papers necessary to give you access to their medical information.  Find out the specialists they’re scheduled to see, the follow up appointment they need to make, and the aftercare recommendation they need to follow.  Know what pharmacist they use.  Find out which medications they take.  Be invested in their health and wellness and get involved by getting informed.

This same advice goes for adult siblings of one remaining elderly parent.  Just because your Mom or Dad can still live alone and manage day-to-day activities, doesn’t mean that they can manage all of this fluctuating information. Or that what they manage for themselves independently today, wont drastically change in 6 months.  All it takes it one undetected UTI to allow significant confusion to set in and you’ll be wishing that you had gotten this information while your parent was alert and oriented.

I realize that you’re busy – but you need to realize that it’s a lot less work to be proactive with grandma while she’s cognizant and able to tell you everything you need to know to manage her care.  And once you know, don’t be like Dan.  Tell someone else in the family.  You never know when a metaphorical file cabinet is going to come out of nowhere.  Be ready for it by filling your own personal file cabinet with the information you need to be an advocate if need be.

I Swear I’m Going To Try This Year

I haven’t been a fan of the Christmas season for a while.  It’s not that I don’t like the holiday, I’m just not into the build up and required preparations.  I don’t find them fun…

Get and decorate a tree, decorate the outside and inside of the house, bake cookies, create and mail cards, buy and wrap gifts, create and prepare two major feasts in a 24 hour period, buy a nice outfit to wear to the Christmas party you were invited to, bring a side dish to said party, attend work holiday functions, participate in a secret Santa, come up with something nice but not too over-the-top to give to all of the neighbors, give an extra tip gift to anyone that provides an ongoing service (hair dresser, nail tech, door man) along with gifts of appreciation (teachers, school bus drivers, coaches).  And oh yea – pay for everything listed above as well.

I gave up Christmas cards a few years ago.  I used to enjoy seeing how a friend’s kids have grown or hearing about their life in a yearly update letter, but with Facebook and email, I have access to this information all year round.

I don’t like to shop, so I write checks or give gift cards. Let me be clear.  I’ve got no problem putting in the mall time necessary to buy a nice gift for a loved one. Nothing would thrill me more than to buy a gift that someone really wants.  I just refuse to walk aimlessly around Brookstone guessing at what to buy someone who doesn’t actually need anything.   Take my father for instance.  His wish list includes a new rotator cuff and a trip to Cossino, Italy.  The guy doesn’t need a  foot massager or a clock radio that beams the digital time on his bedroom ceiling.

When I was a kid, Christmas was the time of year that I finally got something I needed like a pair of  jeans or a curling iron.  My kids don’t wait until Christmas to finally get an album from their favorite artist.  In 1986 the cassette tape I had to buy to get the song I wanted to play cost $18!  Now it only costs my daughters 99 cents to download the latest hit from the radio.  No one waits until December 25th to do that.

Most people buy the small stuff they want – it’s the big, expensive, you-really-need-to-pick-that-out-yourself-type things that folks need.  So in case you’re wondering,  I need wall-to-wall carpeting for the second floor of my house not a candle from Bath and Body Works.

The problem is that I can’t figure out if I’m a genius or a lazy ass.  The other problem is that since the year 2000, with the exception of one holiday, I’ve had to travel to another state every Christmas.  When you’re not in your own home it’s much easier to let things slide.  You find yourself buying gifts based on whether or not they can fit inside your trunk and can be easily transported.  You don’t decorate your house because, no family will be coming over on Christmas day to actually see it.  Because you don’t have access to a kitchen, you don’t bring a dish for the family function as you’re only in the way of the hostess and her preparations.  Because you don’t have access to your house, you can’t host a party.  Because you’re taking up space in someone else’s space, its easier to defer to their vision and expectations.  Before you know it, a decade has gone by and the only holiday tradition you’ve created is stopping at the Hillcrest Drive BP station outside of Cumberland, MD for their homemade pepperoni rolls.

Maybe I’m not a lazy ass.  Maybe I’m just a victim of circumstance.  I’m still not sending out Christmas cards, but I will try to enjoy the season a little bit more.  The following commercial always got me in the mood back when I was younger.  Here’s to all of us getting a lift this Christmas.

PTA Tips

In about a week I will officially be done volunteering for this school year.  I’ve been the parent in charge of the Parkway Elementary Safety Patrol and Spirit Week, co-in charge of the 5th Grade Fun Day, co-in charge of the Challenge 24 Math Team, helped with teacher appreciation and will pitch in next week for Field Day.  Besides all that I’ve been a somewhat active member of the West Frederick Middle School PTSA (helping with the family giving drive, restaurant nights as well as membership and publications for new students), a parental volunteer for the spring drama performance of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, pitched in items for the 8th grade formal and will help out next week at the 8th grade picnic.   

I’ve definitely hit the PTA wall this year.  I’ve been volunteering in some capacity since 1998, when my eldest entered her “Time For Two’s” Preschool class and usually I pace myself pretty well.  But this year, I’m not sure what happened.  I didn’t anticipate begin in charge of certain activities and the ones I knew I would be running, were more work than I expected.  I survived.  I’ll be fine, but I feel the need to lay out some tips for other mom’s out there to help them avoid splattering like a bug against the PTA windshield of life.

I’m basically a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM) that works here and there. Therefore, I expect to do more than a working mom when it comes to school volunteerism.  I figure I’m doing your part at the school so that when I need an accountant or a physical examination, you’ll be there for me.  Because of this, I will NEVER throw a working mom under the PTA bus.  But let me tell you a little secret.  The working moms that are volunteering a lot at school, they’ll not only throw you under the bus, they’ll be the one driving it when it runs you over.  They keep score.  And because they’re taking off work, damn it, to help out, they’re curious why the hell you can’t also?  I’m not kidding. So to all the working moms out there, do something – anything – to keep the other working mom volunteers from becoming snipers on the roofs of schools with loaded shot guns:

  • Respond to emails.  Even if you can’t help, hit “reply” and say that you can’t help because you have to work and thank them for all that they do for your kid.  Like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, “They wont be ignored”.  
  • Send in some cash.  When you see the SAHM in the grocery store buying cupcakes for the class party, give her five bucks because you may think that she’s turning in a receipt and getting reimbursed – trust me – she’s not.  Help her out.
  • See if there’s anything you can do at home in the evenings or on the weekends.  Sometimes the help needed is to research the best moon bounce deal.  You can do that online at night.  Maybe the next time you run to Costco, you can pick up some stuff for the picnic.  You’re going to be there anyway – kill two birds with one stone.  
  • Be specific.  You’re busy.  We get that.  So say exactly what you can and can’t do and trust that the other PTA moms will respect that.  Helping out even one time, helps out a lot.  In fact, if everyone did a little, a lot would get done and no one would snap.    
  • If you don’t have the guts to set up your parameters and enforce those boundaries with the other PTA moms – grow a pair.  It’s the PTA for Christ sake, not the Mafia.  You can say no.  No one is going to break your knee caps.  But avoiding everyone and every request for help because you don’t want to get sucked in to a situation you don’t have time for is a lame-ass excuse.  You’re an adult.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • If you really can’t help it’s not a problem.  Besides work, we realize that you actually have a life and other responsibilities and instead of volunteering at school you might very well be swinging a hammer at Habitat For Humanity or manning the 24 hour suicide hotline on your days off.  Just don’t bitch about about the school volunteers and don’t expect the ones actually doing the work to do things your way.  

Now, a few tips for the many SAHM’s that volunteer a lot for the PTA.  I don’t mean to break ranks and criticize from within, but some of you are little nutty and need some feedback.  Understand that this comes from a place of love.  

  • You chose to quit your job and stay at home.  Using the PTA as your pseudo power base to make you feel productive and important is not appropriate.  You’re there to help parents, teachers and students, not to fill the hole created when you stopped earning a paycheck.  If you need outside recognition to function properly, consider getting a part-time job where you will be paid and expected to boss people around. 
  • Decide if you’re a worker bee or a leader-type and then do what’s recuired in that role.  Don’t be a leader then micro-manage the shit out of everyone because you can’t delegate.  Likewise, don’t be a worker bee that insists on doing everything your way because you can’t follow a simple direction.
  • Decide what’s most important to you and stick with that.  If you’re a health nut, don’t sign up to oversee the candy fundraiser and then spend weeks trying to find an organic, gluten and dairy free candy bar that doesn’t taste like ass.  You will drive your committee crazy.  Instead, offer to write a few paragraphs each month in the PTA newsletter about healthy eating or bake vegan cupcakes for the next Valentine’s party. This isn’t rocket science.  Do what you like.  Like what you do.
  • Knock if off with the “reply all”.  Emails get sent out to large lists of PTA people.  Unless you’re told to hit reply all and keep everyone in the loop – just hit reply!  Don’t stuff my in box with your bitching, moaning, suggestions and/or excuses.  I don’t need to know.  I don’t want to know.  I don’t have to know.  
  • Your willingness to help out your child is wonderful.  Your compulsion to do everything for your child is a problem.  When you help out with the dance, stay focused on the punch bowl and the balloon arch.  Signing up  so you can spy on your kid, review the DJ’s song lists, suggest dress code changes and ensure that only healthy snacks are donated, is not appropriate. Your kid is one of a diverse mix of races, ethnicities, intelligence, and socioeconomic status.  Add to that the different rates of maturation, raging hormones, personality quirks and basic trends and you start to realize that school activities need to reach an extremely broad range of children.  Everything can’t perfectly fit the needs of your child.  Suck it up and roll with it. Trust that your child might actually benefit and that change may do him or her some good.

Clearly, I could blog about this for weeks.  I know for certain, I haven’t covered all PTA tips in this one post.  Please feel free, dear reader, to fill in the blanks as you see fit.