Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Bullying

            A couple weeks back, one of the bloggers I follow wrote a post on bullying. As I sat down to write a quick comment I found myself writing and writing and writing. Turns out I had a lot to say about bullying. So I cut my comment short and got out my journal and started writing down my own thoughts on the subject. Then Thanksgiving came and I was distracted by apple pie and baked Brie. So now that the boys are back in school I can sit down and focus on more important (and less fattening) issues.
First of all, I want to differentiate between teasing and bullying. Just about everyone endures teasing at some point in his or her lives. It’s unpleasant but a relatively harmless part of growing up. My brothers used to tease me about a variety of things—from my name (do you have any idea how many words rhyme with Vic or Vickie?) to my vanity (little girls—especially little girls who grow up to be actors—love mirrors). But they never crossed the line where I felt threatened or like less of a person. I always knew they were my brothers and they had my back. Come to think of it, they still tease me. But then again, they still have my back. It’s a pretty good trade-off. Bullies, on the other hand tear people down in order to build themselves up. Being bullied can take away your sense of self worth.
From the time I was in kindergarten, I never really fit in at school. In third grade a handful of students were taken out of class and given IQ tests. Much to my teacher’s surprise, I wasn’t weird. I was “gifted” (or maybe I should say I wasn’t just weird). Twenty-two kids from different schools across the city were be bused to a centrally located school for the A2 Program (these days it would be a TAG or Talented and Gifted program). It had some flaws. Basic skills were often overlooked in favor of more creative projects (I’m still a little shaky on arithmetic, but I make one hell of a diorama) I didn’t consider that a flaw at the time and I fit in much better with the kids in the program than I did at my original school.
We were supposed to be together for three years in elementary school and two years in Junior High. That is, until the budget was cut. When we went to 7th grade we were integrated back into traditional classrooms. During the first few years of elementary school we were a little dorky among our peers, now having been separated from them for three years we were officially recognized dorks. We were “A2 Fags” to the other kids. For three years our teachers told us how smart we were, now we were “A2 Fags”.
            There was one girl who gave me a particularly hard time. As I said, I had been teased before, but this was different. There was menace implied in her ridicule. She scared me. I don’t remember her name. I remember her blond ponytail and her “posse” who always flanked her when she harassed me. She cornered me one day after school in the hallway. I don’t remember why I was still there when school was over. But I’ll never forget being in the second floor corridor near the service elevator that day. And I’ll certainly never forget what I was wearing. My mother had just made me a purple and white striped dress—sort of like an oversized sweatshirt (it was the 80’s). I loved it and I was so proud of the fact that she had made it for me. Blondie strutted up to me with her posse and said, “Nice dress.” He voice was sarcastic and threatening.
            I was terrified. There were no teachers around and I was little—I hadn’t quite reached my current towering height of 4’11 and couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds. She had given me grief a thousand times before and I just took it. But this time it really made me angry. I felt so good about that dress. My mother who worked full time and had three other kids had taken the time to make me a dress. And here was this girl with her blond hair and her Palmetto jeans making fun of it. So I forced a big shiny smile on my face and said, “Thanks! It is nice isn’t it?”
            There was this look of fury on her face followed by a look of panic. She was the big bad girl as long as I was the pushover. So she started laughing and literally dropped on the ground and rolled around as if what I had said was so funny she couldn’t contain herself. Her girls looked a little confused and started laughing too.
            It didn’t take someone as smart as an “A2 Fag” to figure out why she was laughing. She never had any intention of hitting me, but she also never figured I’d talk back. Did I think she was going to hit me at the time? Yup. Did I know what to do if that happened? Nope. But I was tired of someone making me feel badly about myself. I knew I deserved better so I finally spoke up. She only gave a hard time one or two more times and the same thing happened. I stood up for myself and she pretended it was funny.
            Now, I know I got lucky. There are plenty of bullies who are going to go ahead and throw the first punch. What then? You can teach your kids to defend yourself but most schools have such strict anti-fighting policies that it rarely matters. Unless you let the bully beat you to a pulp you’re going to get suspended (or worse) for fighting. So what do we do about it? How do we keep our kids from being bullied? And how to you stop it if it starts?
            Instill in your children a sense of self-respect—not self-esteem. What’s the difference? Read this blog post from a fantastic young writer who explains in beautifully. How do you do that? Love them, accept them for who they are, and let them do things for themselves. Nothing builds self-respect like accomplishment. Bullies look for kids who appear to be an easy mark. A kid who walks tall and appears confident is less likely to be a victim. If you can afford it and your kid is interested, maritial arts are great for building confidence (and for knowing what to do if you absolutely must defend yourself physically).
            Talk to them. It sounds obvious, but the big conversations don’t just come out of nowhere. As parents, we know when we ask, “How was your day?” , we never get an answer like, “Today we had fish sticks for lunch, I aced my math test, had art and Freddy said he’s going to stick my head in the toilet if I don’t stay out of his way.”  I usually get a sulky, “Good” from one child and an exuberant “Awesome!” from the other when I ask. But as they’re having their after school snack, doing homework, and while I’m making dinner I get a lot more information.
            Make sure the administration of the school knows who you are. Go to PTA or PTO meetings, volunteer at events, chaperone a field trip. Your concerns are more likely to be listened to if you are known as the involved parent, and not just the parent who calls when something is wrong. And be selective about calling. I know the experts would disagree with me on this one, but I think it’s important for two reasons. First of all, if you call about every little thing, you become the parent who thinks every little thing is an issue—like a well-intentioned boy who cried wolf. Also, I really feel like the age of the helicopter parenting needs to come to an end. Kids have to learn to handle situations themselves or they’ll never earn their own self-respect. When you’re talking to your kids try to find out if a situation is really bullying of if it is just kids “being kids”. If it’s happening repeatedly and your child doesn’t want to go to school it is time to make a call. If he comes home from school one day and has a few scrapes, but everything else seems okay, just keep an eye on him and your ears open.
            Have you noticed how many people you know have stories to tell about being bullied? I mentioned on my Facebook page that my son had been called a nerd on the bus one day. Dozens of my friends chimed in about how great “nerds” grow up to be and how they had similar experiences as kids. Maybe because pre-adolescence and adolescence is all about fitting in, but being a successful adult means standing out. Who came up with that rule? Probably some mean girl with fantastic hair.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Favorite Holiday

            This may be my favorite holiday of the year. No, not Black Friday. I wouldn’t venture to a mall on this sacred day if they were giving out dates with Russell Crowe and Viggo Mortensen (well maybe for Viggo). Today is “National Buy Nothing, Drink Tea and Wear Sweatpants Day” in our house. I’m absolutely thrilled that it’s a rainy day here. If I were inclined to go outside, I’d probably find the weather miserable. But since going outside would involve putting on shoes, I’ll skip it. 
            Yesterday was a marvelous and manic Thanksgiving Day. I got up at 4:30 to head to New Hampshire where much of my family lives. I intended to be up by 5:00 but that OCD of mine kicked in early. By 6:00 we were packed, gassed up, and had made the requisite stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and were on the road.
            I ran the 37th Annual Greater Derry Track Club Turkey Trot with a few members of my family. It was, as we say here in New England, wicked fun. They are all much faster than I am. My brother Jim, nephew Jack, niece Annie, and husband Dan all crossed the finish line10 minutes or more before I did. But I finished—with no passing out, vomiting or injuring myself. So I call it a success. 
            After showering and doing a little baking in my mother’s kitchen we headed over to my sister Katie’s house. After devouring enough Brie en croute for a small city in France (not to mention proscuito, red wine, salami, and gorgonzola-walnut spread) and waiting for the football game to be over (GO PATS!) dinner was served. Katie and her family had ingeniously put together tables in the living room in such a way that all twenty of us could sit down at one large t-shaped table. Having a kids’ table would be torturous to some members of our youngest generation who are rapidly turning into adults. I would love to show you a picture of the set up, but I was having so much fun I didn’t take my camera out all day.
            Somehow we all managed to leave room for dinner—potatoes, squash, turnip, stuffing, cornbread, sweet potato bacon biscuits, peas (I think there may have even been turkey and gravy). As a family, we aren’t big grace-sayers, but my lovely sister-in-law Kim raised her glass at the beginning of the meal to give thanks for our wonderful family. I looked around and thought about how true that was. Not only do I love everyone who sat at that table, but I genuinely like everyone who had gathered. What a blessing! As much as I enjoyed the meal, it was the warmth and companionship I enjoyed most of all. Long after the plates had been cleared we continued to sit and talk. If it weren’t for our long drive home, I could have stayed for hours more. My boys were teary-eyed when we told them it was time to say goodbye to their cousins.
            So today is marvelous and mellow day. Leftover cornbread for breakfast followed by a day of reading, playing games with the kids, a little writing, and maybe an afternoon cuddled up watching a movie together. After that I’ll be spending a little time in the kitchen whipping up a batch of tortilla soup (perfect dish for a rainy day) and another apple pie (I was just too full to fully appreciate my favorite dessert yesterday). I wish you all a happy and unproductive “National Buy Nothing, Drink Tea and Wear Sweatpants Day”.

It isn't Thanksgiving without a chorus or two of "Alice's Restaurant"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


            It’s t-minus forty-eight hours until Thanksgiving Day. You’ve probably noticed that the grocery store is packed with people who only cook once a year and don’t know where anything is. Facebook and the blogosphere are going to be jammed with lists of things people are thankful for and testaments to gratitude. I’m not going to knock that—I think a little extra gratitude could fix a lot of problems in the world. If my children grow up to have integrity, kindness and a sense of gratitude I will feel I did something right.
            So I decided to pull together a list of things I’m thankful for. I don’t have the obvious stuff on here. Of course I’m thankful for my home, my family, and my health. I make sure I say thank you to the Man Upstairs for those and my many other blessings on a regular basis. Here’s a list of the little everyday things that make my life better.

The Little things I’m Thankful For

1.)   My husband loves my laugh lines.

2.)   Strawberries. They’re good for you, have tons of vitamins and anti-oxidants and fiber and yet they are DELICIOUS! And they aren’t the kind of good for you like red wine and dark chocolate where you’re supposed to eat them in moderation. You can eat LOTS of strawberries even if you’re on a diet (unless it’s a low-carb diet which I can’t do—carbs are part of the delicate web that keeps me sane).

3.)   While we’re at it. I’m pretty thankful about red wine and dark chocolate too. So even though you can’t shouldn’t gorge yourself on them, they’re still so tasty and good for your heart and your eyes—and my gene pool is full of bad hearts and macular degeneration (so I have an excuse to eat extra).

4.)   I have a fantastic mechanic. He never tries to talk me into any services I don’t need or talk to me like I’m an idiot (which might be appropriate when it comes to automobile service).

5.)   I’m grateful that my brother Jim asked my parents not to name me Jennifer as they had planned (apparently we had a neighbor with a dog named Jennifer and he objected to me being named after a dog). Don’t get me wrong, Jennifer is a lovely name. It was also the most common girl’s name the year I was born. Plus, they would have named me Jennifer Anne—so my initials would have been JAP.

6.)   My six-year-old still wants me to sing, “Sweet Baby James” to him every night.

7.)   Curbside recycling. It makes being “green” so much easier.

8.)   My blog has seven followers (hey! it’s a start!)—and they aren’t all related to me! Anyone want to make it eight?
Owen's contribution to the list.

9.)   My eight-year-old is still a hugger—and shows no signs of changing.

10.)                  I’m thankful that a crazy trainer at the gym talked me into running my first 5k. I never would have done it if no one asked. I’m not so thankful for her talking me into playing in the dodgeball tournament. I’m still having flashbacks.

11.)                  My husband likes my laugh lines. He does! No, he isn’t just saying that because he wants something—shut up!

12.)                  My cat thinks he’s a puppy. He runs to the door to greet me when I get home and lies on his back so I can scratch his belly. He has the temperament of a dog, but he’s low-maintenance like a cat.

13.)                  Fall in New England. I think it’s the main reason most of us haven’t moved south (that and we get tired of people asking us to say "pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd"). Sandwiched in between the near tropical heat of August and months of ice and snow, the gorgeous weather and scenery are reason enough to stay.

14.)                  My kids still go to bed before 8:00. Yes, they’re up pretty early but having  a couple of quiet hours in the evening is wonderful.

15.)                  Did I mention that my husband loves my laugh lines?

What are the little things you’re thankful for this year? Did you find jeans that make you look fabulous? Did you get carded even though you can’t even remember what you did on your 21st birthday anymore? Does that special someone think you look great with a few extra pounds? Leave a comment—I’d love to know what you’re thankful for this year. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Two Actors in the House

            A few months back I was helping a customer design a walk-in closet. If folks don’t come in knowing exactly what they want, I ask them about what they’ll be storing. Do they need a lot of hanging space? Would more drawers be better? Do they have a lot of shoes or purses? He told me, “I won’t need much hanging space. I have one suit and I only wear it once or twice a year.” I looked at him a moment and said, “Firefighter?” He laughed and said he was indeed a firefighter.
            We set up his part of the closet and moved on to the portion his wife would use. “I wish she were here with me, but she’s working.” 
            “Oh,” I said. “Is she a nurse?”
            “Yeah,” he replied. I could tell he was deciding whether to be freaked out or impressed. “How did you know?”
            “I only know a handful of firefighters and they’re all married to nurses—except my brother. His wife is a teacher. It’s Sunday—a lot of nurses work on Sundays.” I told him.
            He must have decided I was just observant and not a stalker. He said it was true that a lot of firefighters are married to nurses. He explained that the two professions were complimentary to one another in a marriage. “You have a lot of empathy for each other.” He said. “You don’t have to explain why a day is tough, because the other person has been through something similar.”  [Yes, I do have really personal conversations with my customers some times. I don’t know what it is about selling bedroom furniture that makes people want to open up to you. Some days I feel like the Dr. Phil of furniture.]
            I was thinking about this as I watched my husband Dan on stage last Friday. It was opening night of the community theatre production of the hysterical British farce Noises Off. He and the rest of the cast and crew had been rehearsing since August. The show was fantastic and Dan was brilliant and charming in it (in my completely unbiased opinion). He had worked very hard memorizing his excruciatingly confusing lines and perfecting his English accent. Everyone’s hard work paid off—the audience was in stitches.
There aren’t many people with young children who are involved in community theatre. It’s a huge time commitment. Three nights of rehearsal for about eight weeks followed by a production week that normally includes four nights of rehearsals followed by a couple of weekends of performances. Not to mention the time outside of rehearsals you spend learning lines, helping to build sets and looking for costumes. All of this while juggling a full-time job and a family. I doubt very much I could be particularly supportive if I didn’t know exactly what he was going through. But we both love theatre and support each other’s involvement as much as we can.
            We can’t both do a show at the same time. We would be away from the boys too much. Even if the babysitting bills didn’t bankrupt us, we’d miss out on them growing up for the sake of a hobby. So we take turns. Beginning in January, I’ll be the one at rehearsal three times a week and Dan will be picking up my slack. But it isn’t simply I pull extra parenting duty now and you do it for me in the spring. Supporting each other in theatre is more than a tit-for-tat exchange. It’s easier to be a fulfilled and happy couple if we’re each fulfilled and happy individuals. Being involved in theatre is something Dan and I both value. I doubt very much either one of us could pursue this avocation if we didn’t both feel passionate about it.
In her book On Writing, Ellen Gilchrist wrote, “There is nothing on earth so much fun as putting on a play, most art is done by solitary people alone in their lairs. In the theatre people get together to create, to fight and compromise and bargain and plot and sometimes triumph.”  This is something I learned when I did my first play in the sixth grade. It was an extravaganza called Fabulous Fixed Franks (an original musical written by a student teacher at my elementary school—that’ll deserve a post of its own some day). Creating a piece of art with others and then sharing it with an audience is very rewarding. Not to mention, people clap when you’re finished. How many hobbies have that benefit?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

            So, I started this little blog in September in hopes it would keep me writing regularly—and it has. And I’ve been really encouraged by the positive feedback I’ve gotten from my friends and once and a while from people I’ve never met. One of the nifty features of Google’s Blogspot is the statistics page. You can track how often your blog is being read and by whom. Don’t get creeped out—it doesn’t say Fred Smith from Walla Walla read this page six times yesterday. But it does tell you what countries your readers are in, what operating systems they use, and how they found your blog—whether they did a key word search, followed a link from another blog, a social networking site, etc.
            I must admit, I’ve gotten hooked on checking my own stats. As you might guess, most of my readers are here in the US. Can you guess which country is second? Romania. Isn’t that crazy? People in Romania (and Singapore and Australia and Russia and South Africa!) are reading my blog. I know it shouldn’t matter, right? Writing this blog is all about personal growth and working on my writing. But as Rachel from Glee once said, “I’m like Tinkerbelle. I need applause to live!” Okay, so I don’t need it to live, but it’s nice to have—like cashmere or a really nice steak.
            So Wednesday night I posted a piece on being prepared. I thought it was pretty funny—maybe not my best post ever, but funny nevertheless. So I went to check my stats yesterday morning and I got this message:

There was an error while fetching stats. Please reload page.

            Bummer, right? But no big deal. I went about my business. It was the first day off I had in a few so I had a pretty long “to do” list. When I took a little break for lunch I sat down with my laptop, checked e-mail, Facebook, paid a few bills, and thought I’d take a quick look at my stats. Once again, I got:

There was an error while fetching stats. Please reload page.

            Sigh. No stat fix for me. The day went on. I ran errands, cooked meals, hung out with my kids, went to parent teacher conferences. Every once in a while I checked in and got the same message.
I can live without knowing the stats. I have lots to do. There is laundry to fold, blinds to hang, training for my Thanksgiving race to be done, the dishwasher needs to be emptied, Christmas shopping, on and on and boringly on… You know what the problem is with all that stuff? They aren’t checking my stats, which is what I really want to do. Ever have a really strong craving for something? Sushi, chocolate, pizza, Mexican food, whatever. But you can’t get it right now so you settle for something else. The craving doesn’t go away. Now you’ve eaten your way through half a bag of rice cakes and you still want a Snickers bar.
I’ve wasted enough time for today (and yesterday!) so I’d better crank up the tunes and get to work. By the way, if you’re reading this from some far off land leave a comment so I knew you were here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Semper Paratus!

That’s “always prepared” in Latin. It’s my motto. When you’re anal retentive OCD particular like I am it’s in everyone’s best interest to always be prepared. I’m thinking about this today because I woke up this morning utterly unprepared for the day. Normally, before I go to bed at night everyone’s lunches for the next day are made, dishes are washed, my uniform is ironed, and dinner for the next night is planned. This is not because I am some psychotic Martha Stewart wannabe. It simply limits the amount of chaos we have—chaos ensues anyway. But it’s chaos of the controlled variety.
This morning I was making lunches for the boys while trying to keep them on track to get ready for school, while getting myself ready for work. As a result I forgot to eat breakfast (and things get ugly when my blood sugar gets low) or pack my own lunch. So it meant going through the BK drive thru after the bus stop and eating lunch from the staff café at work. One of these days I’ll write a post about the staff café. Today’s special—steak and cheese subs with onion rings and bacon on the side (there is bacon on the side every day no matter what the meal). You also get a choice of two soups—both cream soups. For dessert? Angioplasti! 
            It is particularly important for me to be prepared for Wednesdays. Wednesdays my husband has rehearsal and the boys and I have Cub Scouts. I need to be prepared to keep 8 or 10 second graders engaged in the early evening at a time I would much prefer to be settling down to a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Fortunately things have eased up a bit now that soccer season is over. This is what the typical Wednesday looked like for me in September and October:

            2:30 Punch out of work and head for home.
            3:00 Arrive home, change clothes, check e-mail, and organize my stuff for Scouts
            3:35 Pick up boys at the bus stop, go to Little Caesar’s, and buy cheap pizza.
            4:00 Arrive home, scarf down cheap pizza, and make boys scarf down pizza, while doing homework.
            4:20 Supervise an eight-year-old getting into Cub Scout uniform and a six-year-old into cleats and shin guards.
            4:28 Pick up Aunt from chemotherapy appointment and drop off across town.
            4:50 Drive from Aunt’s house to soccer practice (if there is time, grab coffee—please Lord let there be time to get coffee!).
            5:00 James’ soccer practice begins and Owen finishes homework at soccer field while I make final preparation for Cub Scout meeting (this invariably involves cutting out little bits of paper on a windy day). 
            6:00 I’m staring at the clock on my phone wondering why practice isn’t over.
            6:05 The coach asks if anyone knows what time it is.
            6:07 The boys load into the van. James strips off sweaty cleats and shin guards while we drive across town.
            6:28 We pull into the church parking lot where the Scouts meet. James finishes changing into his uniform—I swear scouts wear more accessories than RuPaul!
            6:30 Scouts. I can’t remember exactly what happens there—I’m usually too dazed by then.
            7:30 The meeting is over. I usually have stuff I need to talk about with the Cub Master and Assistant Cub Master while the boys reenact The Lord of the Flies.
            7:45 We head for home. They are ordered into the house to brush their teeth, wash up and get ready for bed while I get remove all stray sporting equipment and other detritus from the minivan.
            8:00 The boys are in bed. I read a story and issue dire warnings about getting out of bed for any reason other than using the bathroom.
            8:10 I make the next days lunches and throw away pizza boxes and otherwise prepare for the next day.
            8:30 Relax with a shot of Jim Beam Black and watch old episodes of Glee cup of Tension Tamer Tea and catch up on my reading.

            Fortunately soccer and my aunt’s chemo are no longer a part of my Wednesday routine. So things have eased up significantly. But I still need to have all my ducks in a row when I wake up in the mornings. Otherwise I’ll have to make PB&Js while I ought to be writing in my journal and sowing the seeds that grow into blog posts.
            But this isn’t supposed to be a post about my wacky Wednesdays. It’s a post about being prepared. I was talking to one of the moms that I run into at various activities one day and she expressed surprise at my finding this Den Mother gig challenging. I explained that it wasn’t the Scouts—they’re a good bunch of kids. I was having difficulty finding the time to prepare for meetings. She laughed and said something like, “After doing Girl Scouts for so many years I just wing it and kind of fly by the seat of my pants.” Okey dokey, whatever works for you Honey. I want a plan. And a back up plan. That’s how I roll.
            I have two handbags (that’s a lie—I have a zillion—but I have two that get regular use). One is for days when I’m not with my kids. It has my wallet, cell phone, a couple of pens and my work ID. I keep my keys (of course I have a Swiss Army knife on the key chain) in my pocket so if my purse gets snatched the keys aren’t conveniently located near my address. Then there is the bag I carry when I have the kids with me—it’s a lot bigger. In addition to the above, I also have a small first aid kit, wet wipes, fruit snacks, a couple of small notebooks or coloring books, and a water bottle or two. Yes, sometimes it bothers my shoulder. But I’ve never said, “Geez, I really wish I didn’t bring along something to bribe distract the kids with. They really seem content to wait 40 minutes in the pediatricians office with nothing to do.”
            I only have two kids, so I really could get along without a minivan. But having a minivan means I can really be prepared. In any season you’ll find a gallon of water, a snow brush, a blanket, cat litter, plastic bags, snacks, tissues, wet wipes, a road atlas (hoping to upgrade to a GPS for Christmas—you reading this Sweetie?) and jumper cables in the back of my van. It’s entirely possible that I’m a little obsessive about having everything I need. But the nice thing is, I’m always willing to share with folks that aren’t quite so obsessed prepared.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Reluctant Den Mother

            I’m willing to do a lot of things to help with the activities my children are involved in. I’ve baked for class parties, worked at school book fairs, and hosted an end of soccer season pizza party at my house. This summer I found myself writing and directing a couple of skits for Vacation Bible School. When it comes to Cub Scouts I’ve been more than willing to cook for the blue and gold banquet, ferry kids in my minivan the end of a parade route back to the beginning (where parents had parked). I’ve offered to help design posters and even work on getting a website going. But I have sworn that I would not become a Den Leader. It just isn’t my thing. There are plenty of ways I am willing and able to contribute, but Den Leader (or Den Mother as they used to say in the good old days)? Maybe you ought to talk to my husband about that sort of thing. He’s a guy after all—good with his hands, outdoorsy, not to mention far more patient with other people’s children than I am.
            I didn’t go to many of the den meetings last year. My husband took Owen to Scouts and I stayed home with James unless I was working a night shift—in which case Dan brought both boys along. Cub Scout meetings are torture for children old enough to understand what’s going on but too young to be a scout (it’s equally torturous for the parents of said children). But this year, James was old enough and was itching to sign up.
            This year, my husband has had rehearsals on Wednesday nights, so I’m the one going to Scout meetings. At the first Pack meeting of the year, they asked for volunteers. The Assistant Cub Master suggested that if each parent took on the responsibilities of Den Leader for one month, it wouldn’t be too much of a burden on any one parent. You know what happens next, right? No one raises their hand and says, “Pick me! Pick me!” So I took a deep breath and broke that solemn promise I made to myself, “Mike,” I said to the Assistant Cub Master, “I’ll take the Tigers (first graders) for September and October.” The next thing I knew, he gave me a binder with a weekly curriculum to follow and a website I needed to go to complete something called, “Youth Protection Training”.
Okay, okay, I'll be a leader. But NO uniform. I have to draw a line somewhere.
            Anyone who knows me (and probably someone who has been reading this blog) knows that I don’t do much in half measures (except maybe housecleaning). So I spent a lot of my free time the following week reading the program book, planning and gathering materials. By the next weekend I was prepared—but terrified.
            When we arrived for my first meeting as Den Leader, Mike, said to me, “Jack (the Cub Master) is stuck in traffic and probably won’t get here. Can you take the Tigers and the Wolves and I’ll take the Bears and the Webelos?” I pasted a look of supreme (and phony) confidence on my face and said, “Sure, no problem.” Thank God I have theatre training (it has loads of uses in the real world—believe me). So I took the boys—James, James, Jonathan, Jonathan, and Joshua (seriously—God must have been smiling down on me because I am HORRIBLE with names) downstairs and we made scouting scrapbooks and talked about the Cub Scout motto and the Cub Scout pledge. Much to my surprise, the meeting went well. So well in fact, that the following week I was still the Den Leader for the Tigers and the Wolves, which wasn’t so bad because it was only five boys. Preparation was a bit of a pain in the neck because I needed to create one program out of two to suit the different levels of scouts. It had to be at a level that first-graders could follow and wouldn’t bore the life out of the second graders.
            And then Cub Master Jack called on Saturday afternoon, “Great news! We had a sign up at the Hancock School Friday night and signed up nine new boys!” Um. Nine. New. Boys. “Wow,” I said after I regained consciousness, “How many of them are Tigers and Wolves Jack?”  The count was eight. Eight new boys for me. How was I going to handle this? I bet some of their names don’t even start with the letter J and then I’ll really be screwed I thought.
            Fortunately another parent stepped up to lead the Bears, which allowed the Cub Master to take the Tigers off my hands. Now I have a manageable sized group all the same age. Plus, October’s over right? So, I’m done, right? Because I just volunteered for September and October. Right?
            During my boys’ last check up, their pediatrician told me that he had been a Den Leader for years. Years.
“You know,” he said. “I think there is a gene we could call the ‘V’ gene for people who always end up volunteering for stuff—Den Leaders, soccer coaches, little league.  I hate to disappoint the kids.”
I thought about this conversation when Jack approached me at the last pack meeting. “Are you going to break my heart?” He asked.
“In what way?” I responded.
“Well, you only signed up for September and October. It’s November.” Jack thinks I’m really good at this Den Leader thing—either that or he’s flattering me so I’ll stick with it.”
I looked over at the boys who had become my Cub Scouts over the previous few weeks and I thought about what my pediatrician had said. “You know Jack,” I said. “I think I can stick with these guys through Christmas.” 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

That Sucks

            I try to keep my blog posts funny—or at least light-hearted. This isn’t one of those posts. I got a call this afternoon from a good friend of mine. She was expecting her third grandchild this winter, but the baby died in utero after five months. Like a huge number of women, I’ve experience the loss of a miscarriage. Each time I hear a story of a stillborn child or a miscarriage it brings me back to the weekend in 2001 when I went to bed on a Friday night pregnant and by the time the sun had risen on Saturday I wasn’t anymore.
            I never met my friend’s daughter-in-law, but I know what the tip of the iceberg she’s standing on feels like. I know what it’s like when one day you’re wondering if you’re ready to be a mother and then you realize you won’t know the answer any time soon. I was eleven weeks along, not long enough to feel the baby move but long enough to really feel pregnant. I cannot even fathom the kind of pain a family goes through when they lose a child so late in the game.
I’m not one of those people to keeps many secrets about myself—the “wait 12 weeks to tell anyone rule” wasn’t for me. I remember a co-worker being shocked that I told people I was pregnant so early on (I was probably only 3 or 4 weeks along—I told family members when I was only a week or so late). Joyful news is to be shared—and did I ever share! Even the waitress at our usual Sunday breakfast haunt knew—actually she guessed. Why else would I ask for de-caf? But I have no regrets about telling people. Yes, there were one or two awkward moments months later when someone remarked that I “was hardly even showing”  (I eat when I’m sad—I wasn’t carrying a baby but I was carrying some extra pounds). But for the most part, it was better that people knew that I had been pregnant and that I wasn’t anymore. People gave me a little slack and a little space, which I desperately needed. If no one knew what was going on in my life, they probably would have just though I was moody and incompetent.
One of the most comforting words came from an unlikely source. One of the sales reps for the company I worked for stopped by my desk when I got back from leave. He wasn’t one of my favorite people—he tended to be a little rough around the edges. When I told him why I had been out, he looked me square in the face and said, “That really sucks.” And you know what? He was right. So many people had tried to comfort me with well intentioned platitudes like, “Everything happens for a reason.” But when you’re dealing with a loss, the last thing you need to hear is that there is a reason for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I just don’t think it’s a particularly comforting thought that your grief is part of some master plan. It was a conclusion I had to come to on my own—in my own time. Now that nine years have passed, I truly believe that this experience has made me a more grateful mother and a more compassionate person. But anyone who told me that back then risked me bursting into tears or punching them in the nose.
Exactly one year after I had my miscarriage, I had Owen. He was nine and a half pounds and had a full head of jet-black hair—he didn’t even look like a newborn. He was strong and healthy and nursed like a champ and could hold held his head up before we even left the hospital. Two years later James joined the family adding a new layer of mischief and joy to our house. I have two beautiful, healthy little boys. They make me laugh and teach me something every day. I am thankful for their existence every day. But every once in a while I think of the baby I never named and never held. I learned a lot from that child too. Everything does happen for a reason—and sometimes it sucks.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Run Vickie! Run!

            I’m a runner. That sounds weird to me. I didn’t start running until well into my thirties. I wasn’t a high school or college athlete. The last time I played a team sport was intramural basketball in the 5th grade. Some of my former teammates read this blog. Maybe they can tell you about the only basket I ever made—into the wrong net. Who knew you changed sides at the half (everyone but me apparently)? If I hadn’t been the shortest girl in school my athletic skills still would have been lacking. One might even say hopeless. Even though sports were a mystery to me I was in pretty decent shape. I danced and did Jane Fonda’s workout daily during high school—sometimes twice a day. I guess that’s why I stayed under 100 pounds. I was a little obsessed. I didn’t even know I was thin. There is no skinny like teenaged skinny and there is no stupid like teenaged stupid (apologies to my nieces of that age who are a thousand times smarter than I was back then).
            This week I realized that the running shoes that I bought right after the kids went back to school in September were still looking really new. I think they had only been on my feet once or twice. Not coincidentally, I noticed that my church clothes were uncomfortably tight around the waist. I try to avoid stepping on scales—it makes me crazy, but I knew I had packed on a few pounds. The holidays are rapidly approaching and this is no time to diet. Who am I kidding? Diet—is there a good time to diet? It’s time to rev up the old metabolism. So on Wednesday, I strapped on those still-shiny Saucony running shoes and headed for the Y.
            I got a lot of “Gee we haven’t seen you in a while” sort of comments from the folks at the gym. I work out in the middle of the day so almost everyone else there is a retiree. They are a chatty bunch and they seem to like me. I think they think I’m funny—watching a tiny girl lift heavy things makes them laugh. Plus, I find it very motivational to see old people running and lifting weights. I figure, if they can get there I have no excuses. One day I ran into my uncle (great uncle actually) when I was on my way out of the Y. He said, “I come here every day and I’m 87 years old.” I said to him, “You’re 87 years old because you come here everyday.”
            So I picked my favorite treadmill—second one from the right and pressed manual. I set the incline on 0.5 and the speed at 3.5 to warm up. I popped in my ear buds and started walking.
            At 3.0 minutes I started getting bored. Was it time to up the speed? Surely I don’t need to warm up that much. But I kept walking until after Darius Rucker finished his first song.
            At 5.14 minutes I upped the speed and started jogging. “Wow,” I thought to myself. “It’s been a while.”
            At 6.14 minutes I thought, “Maybe I should have walked for longer.”
            At 7.32 minutes I thought, “Damn, my knees hurt. Maybe I should walk for a while.”
            At 9.02 minutes I thought, “Okay, I’m almost to ten minutes. When this song is over I’ll let myself walk.” But the next song was “Sin Wagon” by the Dixie Chicks. I can’t walk during that song—it’s a running song if ever there was one.
            At 15.17 minutes I thought, “Hmm… that wasn’t so bad. Too bad this sports bra was designed by someone who had never been the victim of gravity, aging or a nursing child. I think I can make it through one more song.”
            By minute 18 or so I reached that runners high people talk about. Those endorphins start pumping and you feel really good. The trick is to get there. Before I was a runner, other runners had told me the first mile was the hardest. It got easier after that. I didn’t believe them until I pushed myself beyond a mile. Once you get to that mile, you want to get to another one and another one. Something might hurt—but it doesn’t bother you enough to stop.
            So I ran that day for about 40 minutes. I talked myself into sticking with it, one song at a time. Each moment my body made some excuse for me to stop, but I talked myself into running for one more song until I didn’t want to make excuses anymore. I managed to run a little over three miles. It wasn’t my best time, but I did it and I felt great.
            A lot of things are like that in life: starting a new job, cleaning the attic, teaching a child to ride a bike, directing a play. It’s always the beginning that is difficult and scary. Once you make some progress and find your rhythm it all comes together. You just need to ignore those aches and pains (whether they are physical, psychological or emotional) and keep on running. You’ll get there.
My fantastic coach and husband with me at my first race. He graciously agreed to run at my beginners pace.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Perils of Shopping

            I’m going shopping today—clothes shopping. I hate clothes shopping. I know. I’m weird and un-American and not a real girl. Let me be clear—I love nice clothes. I love having something that looks good and is stylish and fits great. Try finding that when you’ve never quite reached the five-foot mark. My father likes to joke that in men’s clothing stores there are departments for “men” and “young men” but not “old men”. That’s funny, because they have an old women’s department. They call it “petites”.  I can find clothes that fit, but only if I need something to wear to bingo on Friday nights.
            My other alternative is to shop in the junior’s department. I have really good luck buying jeans there. I’m not exactly skinny, but I have no ass (pardon the vulgarity). Seriously, none. One sleepy morning a few years back, I was getting dressed for work and my skirt  fit much better than usual (this was back in my corporate days—no skirts at work for me anymore). Were all my workouts paying off? Nope. The skirt was on backwards. But shopping in the Junior’s department must be done carefully. There are few things more pathetic than a soccer mom trying to dress like Hannah Montana.
            I have a party to go to Sunday night to celebrate my store’s fifth anniversary. It’s casual. What does that mean exactly? How casual? Bus stop casual? Nah, paint splattered sweat pants are probably out of the question. Saturday afternoon mass casual? Nah, too “churchy”. I know, it’s more like going to a bar with friends casual. I’m not good at that. I like to go out. But it just doesn’t happen often enough for it to be effortless for me.
There are a number of women from India where I work. Last year they all wore saris to our “casual” holiday party. They looked awesome—our work uniform is jeans and unflattering mustard-colored shirts. It was cool to see them in these gorgeous fabrics. I wonder what the Irish-Italian-American version of the sari is? A denim skirt and a Guinness? A glass of Chianti? I don’t know, but I’m on a quest to find it. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Party Hardy

(...or as we say in New England "Pahty Hahdy")

I come from a BIG family that loves to celebrate. “Eat, drink and be merry” is a motto we take very seriously. Whether it was a family picnic or a first communion or a graduation party, all of the festivities I can remember from my childhood featured tables ready to collapse from the results of many hours of labor in everyone’s kitchens. The food was wonderful and so was the company. At some point in growing up and owning a home and starting a family I forgot that it was the social part that was important. Yes, the food was amazing. But hanging out with my cousins and other relatives was a blast. We left every occasion thinking that we ought to do this more often.  
When my son Owen was born I pulled together a party to celebrate the day of his Christening. There were sandwich platters, pasta salad, potato salad, cole slaw, and all kinds of sweets made from scratch. All this while I had a newborn who nursed every two to three hours—he was born late (2 weeks), huge (9.8 lbs.), and hungry. I’m not telling you this to brag about my catering-while-sleep-deprived skills. I’m telling you this to illustrate how stupid I was. I never actually asked for help. And when I accepted the help that was offered I was less than gracious about it. Thank God my mother has thick skin and understands how psychotic a new mother can be. She would have been more than happy to help—she’s an amazing cook, a former caterer, and a retired Home Ec teacher. Did I ask her for help? Nope. See? Stupid.
This was the Christmas I decide to keep it simple by just having dessert. Psycho.

While clearing away the debris of our pre-trick-or-treating Halloween party this morning I reflected on how much more fun I have when I throw parties these days. It’s been eight (fast moving) years since Owen’s Christening and I’ve gotten much smarter—about entertaining anyway. It all started last spring. One of my fantastic neighbors held an Easter egg hunt for all the kids. They ordered a couple of big sheet pizzas and some calzones from a local take-out place. Someone made cupcakes and a few people brought beverages. No one stressed and everyone had a great time.
Owen’s First Communion was a few weeks off and I hadn’t planned a menu yet. While we were walking home from the egg hunt I said to him, “Hey Owen. How would
 you feel if we had pizza for your First Communion party?”
            “Great! From where?”
            “It’s your party. You get to choose.”
            “Yay! Papa Gino’s” he yelled.
            I ordered pizza and calzones and a cake. I made a huge salad and a few appetizers. I asked my mother to make up a fruit platter (she claims she isn’t creative but her fruit displays are works of art). I didn’t break my back or stress everyone out.
It isn't as fancy, but a call to the bakery is better than Valium!

            Something cool happened. No one missed my psychotic display of homemade goodness. Owen was excited we were having the food of his choosing for his party. We still ate, drank and were merry. I thoroughly enjoyed my little bear’s big day. I relaxed, drank wine and ate food that someone else made. Most of all, I got to enjoy the company of some of my favorite people—my family.