Category Archives: MARKETING – The Random Ramblings of a Housewife
This has not been an easy past twelve months. At the beginning of summer last year, my father was hospitalized with leukemia. He went into remission in the fall but had a relapse in the winter. He was back in the hospital in March and while receiving chemotherapy, he got an infection and passed away on March 12. He was exactly 79 1/2. It’s interesting in how many ways the passing of a parent can affect you. I’ve always felt like a twenty-something at heart, and yet with one funeral, I became middle-aged. When you experience, for the first time, a person close to you, actually having a life that is finite, the passing of time becomes real. The idea, that you have all the time in the world to accomplish your dreams, is proven to be false. For those of us struggling with the fear of leaving an underwhelming legacy, all of a sudden facing the reality of time having an end can almost be paralyzing. Most goals and dreams can not be met over night. They take time to achieve. But now, what if there is not enough time? Are they worth still striving for or are you just being foolish to even try? It’s especially hard when you’re on your second set of goals. I had twenty years, starting from college, to build an impressive career. But now that career is over, so I have had to start form scratch to come up with my next goal, but time is no longer on my side. Or so it seems.
Luckily, sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely places. I happened to TiVo a movie staring Bruce Willis, called The Kid. It’s always good to have a mindless movie on hand to watch while working out if you’ve run through all the shows you usually see. I didn’t know what it was about, but anything with Bruce Willis in it will at least be mildly interesting enough to get me through an hour on the treadmill. It turns out that he’s 40 years old and meets a kid who is actually himself at the age of 8. The kid has come into his life to remind him of what his goals and dreams had been as a child, to help him realize why he may have taken a different path away from those goals, and to ultimately help get him back on track. At the end of the movie, he meets himself as a seventy-something-year-old man, with a dog and a family, flying his own plane. The 40 year-old “Bruce Willis” turns to the 8 year-old “Bruce Willis” and high-fives him. They had done it. So, he knew that even though he wasn’t where he needed to be right then and there at 40, that by 75, he had accomplished what he wanted to. So, maybe there is still time.
I may suddenly feel middle-aged now, but I need to remember that “middle” means that there can be an equal amount of time in your future as has already gone passed. And I did get a lot accomplished in my first 45 years, so why should I not think that my next 45 will be just as fulfilling. And maybe, now that my father has passed and I have been forced to become an adult, perhaps wisdom will come along with that responsibility. And that my new-found maturity will either help me to become even more dedicated to achieving my new set of goals or to perhaps find the serenity to let my legacy play out as it will.
And the beat goes on. La de da de de, La de da de da….
My youngest son is seven-years-old and he has made it his mission this year to find out what all those “bad” words are that he’s not supposed to say. When my daughter came to me last year and asked me about them, I knew she was just expressing her curiosity and was mature enough to take in the information and not then go out and use it. My son, on the other hand, would not think twice about immediately putting those words to use if he thought the other boys would think he was funny for using them. So, the approach I have taken with my son on this topic has been very different than the one I took with my daughter.
At least once a week, my son will come home and try to guess at what he’s determined one of those “bad” words to be. And I have decided to agree with him if he comes up with a word that is at least not as bad as what the actual word is. It typically goes like this: “I know what the “s” word is, mommy.” “Really, honey, what is it?” “It’s “stupid”.” “You’re right that’s the “s” word. Now I don’t like to hear you using that word.” Then he promptly dances around the house repeating it with glee, “Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.” After awhile, all of a sudden, he will stop and look at me and say, “That’s not really the “s” word is it?” “No, honey, it’s not, but it’s still not a nice word to say.” The day he decided the word was “sex”, and started singing, “sexy, sexy, sex”, I started questioning what the real “s” word was. Because the idea of him singing his new song on the bus to his friends, seemed to be just as bad as him writing the actual “s” word in marker on the back of a bus seat – like my peers used to do, way back when I was in school.
I have found when he comes upon a word that is not cringe-worthy, my first instinct is to drive it home, “Yes, that’s it. That’s definitely the word.” Which was the case when he decided the “f” word was “Fix”. I’m not sure where he got that from, but I was happy for him to go with that. That is until during the recent past holidays, when we were standing in line to get the kids photo taken with Santa and I tried to pat down my son’s hair before his close-up. My son fidgeted away and said, “Mommy, what are you doing?” I replied, “I’m just trying to fix your hair, sweetie.” With that, his mouth dropped open and his eyes got wide as he said in a whisper, “Mommy, you just said the “f” word in front of Santa.”
So, my son still doesn’t know what the “f” word and the “s” word are, and thank goodness he doesn’t even know to ask what the “c” word is, but I’m thinking the mature thing to do, on my part, is to sit him down and have a truthful conversation about what those words really are and why it’s not appropriate to then go and chant them on the bus. So, that’s what I’m thinking, doesn’t mean I’ve found the courage to do it yet though. But I better do it quick, cause I have a feeling if I don’t, one of his peers will beat me to it – and if that happens the song he comes up with might make “sexy, sexy, sex” sound like a nursery rhyme by comparison.
I was known as “the smart one” in my family. I was accepted early admission into Wellesley College, which was arguably more prestigious than the other schools my two brothers and four sisters went to. I went on to have a successful career in investment banking. So, you could say for the first three and a half decades of my life, my legacy was defined by my family’s title for me “the smart one”.
But then, when I was pregnant with my third child, I “retired”. With three children, one with special needs, it made the most sense to stay “retired”, and devote my full time to raising them. Though one would argue, it does take some intelligence to raise three children, I knew my legacy would no longer point to my being “the smart one”. There are many more mothers in the world than successful businesswomen, so to carve out a unique legacy going forward was going to be a little more difficult. The only upside is that the pool of people, who you are trying to impress with your legacy, is greatly diminished. In reality for the majority of us, once you’re a mother, the only people we really want to look back and have admire us, thirty, forty years from now, are our kids.
I believe it’s never too early to work on one’s legacy. When my kids look at me, whether today or in the future, I want them to be able to point to things I accomplished and to be proud they had me as their mother. Hopefully it’s a given that they see me as a good mom but, I would like them to have more to point to. The eldest were too young to remember me when I was a New York City career woman, so you can throw those 15 odd years out. There was the possibility that maybe they could have still viewed me as “the smart one”, that is until the schools decided to adopt what they call “new math”, which means I can’t even help them add three-digit numbers correctly. So, I needed to build up other areas of “greatness”. Creativity has always been a strong point of mine, so I decided to push forward in that direction.
To that end, here’s how I thought my legacy was shaping up. Let’s start off with I’m a good mother. But I also have created my own web blogs – the experience I share with my kids. I play the piano and the saxophone, filling the house with music, and even write original songs that I dedicate to my children. I throw the most imaginative home-grown birthday parties for them. I fill their weekends with innovative games to play that I create. I am a creative writer and have put photo ficitional-storybooks together for them. I turn the house into a wonderland at holiday times. I am also involved in their schools and have a large group of social friends. I try to stay active and involve the kids in my workouts. I’m thinking, for someone who can’t easily just point to a business role for my kids to define me by, I’m doing a good job in trying to be creative and unique in things my kids can point to that can be thought of as my legacy.
When my daughter came home the other day and told me they were doing a project at school on family and that they had to come up with one thing for each family member that they felt most defined each of them, I was excited to hear what she picked for me from the many things I just listed above. For dad, she listed where he worked. For her brothers, she listed the past times that they liked the most. “So, honey, what did you put down for me? My web blogs? My creative parties? Music?”
“Mommy, for you, I put down that you like watching the soap opera “Days of Our Lives“.
That’s my legacy? I like to watch a soap opera. That’s what she chose to share with her class and her teacher and one day perhaps with my grandchildren? My mom, the soap opera watcher. Wow. The scary part is, one of the things I remember my mom the most for – is watching the soap opera “Days of Our Lives“. But my mom didn’t have 1000 channels to choose from like we do now. I watch other things. If the legacy I have been so hard at work on, was going to be debased into just “t.v. watching”, then how about the news, or even an innovative musical show like “Smash”? But a soap opera? Have I come no further, from the generation before me, than that?
Apparently, I have been too subtle with the building of my legacy and have left it up for any willy-nilly interpretation. Perhaps I should put a newsletter together for my family updating them on my current projects. Or put up posters around the house with my picture and the caption “Song Writer” underneath. I could even hand out business cards at dinner with the occupation “party planner” when their birthdays are coming up. And I am not beneath having a neon-lighted sign commissioned that I can hang on the door that blinks “Web Blogger Lives Here”.
But obviously the biggest change must be to eradicate this ridiculous notion that I’m just a soap opera watcher. To that end, the only solution is, I can no longer TIVO my soap opera and watch it in the evening – I’m going to need to watch that show real time – while the kids are at school. No need to leave anything up to needless interpretation…
I know I’m getting older. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I stopped watching MTV’s Real World and started watching HGTV (Home and Garden Television). I became less interested in a show about a group of people living together in a house, and much more fascinated by the house itself. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we are in the process of a few renovations ourselves. We’re adding a sunroom, a more substantial front porch, and a pool. We’ve been working with an architect and we just sent the project out to builders for bids. The problem with watching HGTV is that the more I watch it, the more things I add to our own project. I saw an episode of “Million Dollar Rooms” that showed a pool with one side that was all plexiglass so you could see through it. When I asked our architect to see about incorporating that into our pool plans, he just shook his head and said it was out of our budget. I guess the show is called “Million Dollar Rooms” for a reason. And then I chose railings that I saw in a special they ran on Newport Mansions. Again, not just any mansions – Newport Mansions. So, needless to say, I guess I couldn’t be that surprised when the architect recently came back to us to say that the bids he was getting in, were over the highest range he projected.
So, I don’t know that my addiction is a good thing. I have even found myself referring to HGTV designers and contractors when I talk to our architect and potential builders. I referred to an episode of one of the shows where even the “famous designer” had trouble having his contractors show up on time and so if it could happen to him, how could we be assured that it wouldn’t happen to us. I actually saw them roll their eyes at that. And we haven’t even gotten started on the actual construction. I see whole houses being renovated over the course of a sixty minute show. I’m afraid I’m in for a rude awakening with the actual time this project is really going to take.
The construction phase will probably start in about four to six weeks. Will living my own renovation reality show curb my addiction to HGTV or will it just make it worse? Will I be happy with the finished project or are my t.v. expectations too high? Well, our next meeting with our architect is next week to review the contractor bids and decide where we need to cut back to bring the budget back in-line. But on HGTV when a family has to get realistic and cut some things out of their budget, usually at the end of the project, the designer on the show gives them a new couch or flat screen t.v. and that makes them feel better. Does that not happen in real life?
Well, either way, a couple of months living with a construction crew for eight hours a day, should be an interesting experience. I just hope they don’t have to cut for too many commercial breaks…
Every year, we take our children to a local Junior League fundraiser called “The Enchanted Forest”. They get the same Santa Clause to come each year and the kids always prepare what one thing they are going to ask Santa for when they see him. Usually Santa smiles and tells them if they are good he will try really hard to get them what they want, as long as they promise not to be disappointed if he’s not able to get them that particular gift. But this year, it didn’t quite flow like that. There was a moment. It was right after my daughter said she would like an iPad Mini. Santa shot me a look – frankly, a very judgmental look. Did I just see that? I was busy videotaping so maybe I was mistaken. But this morning, as I downloaded the video onto my computer, I watched it and waited… Sure enough, right after the iPad Mini wish, there it was… the look. I took a picture of the video on my screen. Do you see it? That is at the exact moment. If that isn’t a “what type of spoiled children have you raised” type of look, I don’t know what is. And this coming from Santa. He then proceeded to ask her, “And what would you do with an iPad Mini?” Really, Santa? That’s the most extravagant request you’ve ever received? I know little girls since the dawn of time have been asking you for ponies. Do you know how much a pony costs to buy and house and maintain? A lot more than an iPad Mini, I would hazard a guess.
What’s more, considering you see all the children when they’re sleeping and when they’re awake, and you know when they’ve been bad or good, so how is it possible you missed the conversation I had with my daughter when that particular gift-wish idea came up? Were the elves misbehaving? Did they get into the egg nog a month too early? Or were you busy playing on your own iPad, updating your Facebook Page Status: “Counting down the days ’til Christmas. Busy up here in the North Pole. Always stressful this time of year, even more so with that last round of elf lay-offs.”
Well, whatever you were busy with, let me take a moment to explain what really went down since you apparently missed it. My boys were excitedly getting dressed, talking to each other about what they were going to ask you for, but my daughter was looking forlorn and not joining in. I asked her if she was excited about seeing you and she said that she really wasn’t. She is almost nine, so I thought maybe your magic was wearing off a little for her. So, I asked her to explain what she was feeling. She then said that she was having trouble thinking of what to ask for, because she felt she had everything. Does that sound like a spoiled little girl who believes she deserves the latest and greatest? Huh, Santa? Does it? No, it doesn’t. She is grateful for what she has and is thankful anytime she receives anything. This is someone who, perhaps, despite my best efforts to spoil her, for some reason, manages to stay grounded. So, I suggested to her, having already thought about what I would like to see on her list, that she ask Santa for an iPad Mini. My idea. Not hers. She even questioned me, thinking it might be a little too much to ask Santa for. Perhaps she knows you, Santa, better than I. Even as she stood in line waiting to go up to see you, she told me later that she was feeling uneasy about asking you for that. So, no, Santa, I don’t think I’ve raised spoiled children.
So, when you squeeze down that chimney this year, and expectantly go in search of that plateful of Sugar Cookies we always leave for you, don’t be surprised to see Oatmeal Raisin instead. Maybe then you’ll be more careful with your looks and try harder not to judge a child by their wish list. Good thing I didn’t tell you what’s on mine – believe me, you would rather be bringing me a pony.
You may have been wondering where I have been for the last two weeks. Well, I’ve been in the dark. Hurricane Sandy wiped out so many huge trees and utility poles that it has taken just shy of two weeks to have my power restored. And I have to say, it nearly broke me. I know others lost their entire homes, or even loved ones, in the storm so I really can’t complain – but I’m going to be a little self-indulgent for a moment.
We have a small generator but due to the electrical configuration of our house, we weren’t able to just hook it up to our electric box. So, we had to pick and choose small things to plug directly into it. We could only plug in one small space heater so we had to pick which room we were going to live out of. Our master bedroom is on the first floor so we chose that one. All five of us and a fish, one bedroom, wall-to-wall mattresses, for thirteen days. We slept in that room. We ate in that room. We played in that room. We did crafts in that room. We got ready for school in that room. The kids watched mommy slowly unravel in that room.
It wasn’t even so much the inconvenience of it all. It was more that one moment we were planning for Halloween and the next moment we’re about a week away from Thanksgiving. I feel like I was in a time warp. One that I couldn’t control. And the way our electric company handled things, there was no communication. No matter how many phone calls you made, it made no difference. And the hard part for me is I don’t like when I’m not in control and I have no plan. If at the outset, someone told me that I was going to be without power for two weeks and that the kids would be out of school for a week but back to school the second week, then I could have had a plan. Maybe we would have left the house and gone to stay with someone. But from the moment the power went out, each day we questioned what the next would bring. Maybe we’ll get power back tomorrow, maybe mid-week, maybe by the weekend, maybe by the following Wednesday at eleven o’clock at night like the automated ConEd service said, or maybe not until the end of the second weekend. There’s no way to plan for that or even to wrap your head around it.
Between the hours of midnight and six in the morning, we would turn the generator off in order to conserve gas. There really wasn’t much sleeping on my part. I had to worry about my eldest son who I usually don’t like him even having a blanket at night because he has trouble with sleep apnea anyway and then he finds a way of wrapping his head in the blanket and I’m terrified he’s not going to be able to breathe. So, I was on constant blanket patrol – making sure the kids didn’t kick the blankets off and freeze, while at the same time not have them burrow too far underneath them. And then if anyone woke up with a need to use the bathroom, I had to be ready with a flashlight, as well as to warm up the toilet seat with layers of paper because it was freezing in there and my eldest son has an aversion to things that feel too cold. A few nights into it, my son got sick and I had to wake up my husband to hurry and turn the generator back on because I couldn’t see anything and I needed to take care of him. So, to say the least, I was on edge, on edge for thirteen days.
There were two highlights for me though. One, was how, once again, my children showed me how resilient they are. As mommy was becoming a shivering mess, shaking my head, and mumbling to myself, my kids were having a great time with their camp-out/sleep over, where they didn’t have to take showers, and got to eat take-out everyday. The other highlight was a local community parent networking site on Facebook. It really was what saved me from going over the edge. Where no real information was forthcoming from our electrical company or our town officials, this network of parents was like being part of a stake-out. “Con-Ed crew spotted on Hardscrabble.” “Copy that. In pursuit of crew.” “Hey, Momma Smith, this is Papa Jones what’s the 10-20 on the crew up on 133?” “No sight of them. Think they saw the mess and cleared straight out. We’re keeping the area under surveillance, though.” “You have the donuts, just in case?” “Roger that, donuts and hot coffee. We’ll deliver the package as soon as we see them set up shop.” “Wait a second. Crew in site. I repeat, crew in site. All moms in vicinity please ready yourselves. We need a round-the-clock onslaught of food delivery. Coffee and donuts are covered, but we’ll need a delivery of pizza at noon, and cookies and hot cider to follow. We can not let this crew get away. This is go-time people. Keep that food coming.”
Somehow, what a town, whose residents include New York’s Governor Cuomo and former President of the United States Bill Clinton, couldn’t do for me, a band of rogue parents did. This group of moms and dads made me feel empowered. They were literally my lifeline. I knew which streets were still without power. I knew where the crews were working. I knew what gas stations still had gas. I knew what delis were open where I could find food for my kids to eat. I knew which laundromats to go to. I knew that I needed to tell my husband to add oil to the generator. I knew what roads were impassable. And most importantly, I knew I wasn’t in this myself and I knew I wasn’t the only one losing my mind and I knew I wasn’t powerless – I was part of a rabble-rousing group, who tried to break into meetings at the town hall, and made phone calls to the CEO of ConEdison and our State’s Representatives. There was even talk about taking the funds raised for the high school turf field, and suggesting to use it to bury our electric wires so that we didn’t go through this Armageddon again – yes, turf field funds – I know, kick-ass stuff.
And I would be remiss not to mention the out-of-state Pike electrical crews. The one that worked on our road was from Central Florida. They were sleeping in a semi-trailer, as the hotel ConEd wanted to put them up in was two hours away. They were also ill-prepared for our snowstorm and many didn’t have gloves or boots, so neighbors supplemented their supplies where they could. They had traveled many hours to get here to help out, missing out on Halloween with their own kids. And though it must have gotten old after awhile, they were always very appreciative when they received yet another box of donuts from residents.
So, now that my lights are finally back on, I still feel like I’m walking around in shock. What just happened? The town is still a mess with huge trees down all over people’s properties, including my own. My house is a wreck, which I’m still confused about since we only spent time in one room but with freezers to clean out and dishes in the sink and piles of batteries and random blankets and flashlights and the toy box that got dumped out, and then of course the boxes and closets that were strewn about in search of winter clothes I wasn’t prepared for because of the Nor’easter that came through, there’s still a lot of clean up to do. But with Thanksgiving on the horizon, for once I’ll have room in the refrigerator for all the food for the feast since we had to throw everything else out, and I will certainly be ready with my list of what I’m thankful for: for lights, for heat, for hot water, for a sound roof over my head, for the safety and love of my family, for every neighbor that offered me a hot shower (did my hair look that bad?), and for a community, which I’m still relatively new to, that helped me in more ways than they can imagine. And as I drove around the town today doing my usual errands, I saw one lonely orange utility safety cone by the side of the road, with “Pike” written on the side in black marker. It must have been left behind. Those out-of-state workers may be gone but they will never be forgotten. I had half a mind to pick it up and use it as the center piece for my Thanksgiving table this year with a candle stuck in it – it would be very fitting, and it doesn’t hurt that it would go with the color scheme of my holiday decor.
In case we end up being without power for a number of days, as they are predicting, I just wanted to get a quick post in. They’ve already canceled school for Monday and Tuesday. So, besides making sure we are equipped with emergency supplies and enough food and water for a few days, I’m also being diligent about making sure I have things to keep the kids busy. I always like to have a toy or two hidden in my closest to take out for a rainy day – and I think Hurricane Sandy qualifies for that. Currently those items consist of a new board game and video. The new stuff will be my go-to if the kids get scared during the storm, that always works to get their mind off things. I’m also collecting books, other games, and kid-size flashlights. We may be without power for awhile so I’m also making sure all their hand-held video games and my iPad are fully charged.
They are already getting excited for the “sleep-over” we will have, as I like everyone to sleep in the same room during a big storm – otherwise I’m up all night anyway, checking on them all. I’ve put my youngest son in charge of the compass, in order to calculate which part of the house is in the pathway of the wind direction so that we can determine which room we should occupy, as all our rooms in our house have very large windows. It’s never easy getting through a storm with three young kids but thinking ahead and making sure you add to your preparedness plan some diversionary items in case they get scared and some back-to-basics games, books, and toys to keep them from getting bored, cooped up in a house without electricity for a few days, will be well worth your time now.
To all those in the affected area, stay safe!
I started off this morning writing a blog about having a business plan for success. But I ending up going on such a tangent that I thought it best to let this be a post in itself. Now, if you’ve read most of my other posts, you’ll see how important the titles of my blog posts are to me – that’s my marketing side coming out. If possible, I like to come up with my title first and that gives me an idea about where I want to go with my idea. My first title doesn’t always stick, but at least, it gives me a starting point. For instance, for the post I started to write, I thought I would do a play off of the urban slang word “business”. With there being no place less “urban” than Westchester County, I like to consult the urban dictionary – the true experts – just to make sure I’m using the word correctly. Good thing I did, because what I hadn’t realized is that the urban slang for “business” is actually what us mommy’s like to call “going number two”. Now, after having three children, I can probably tell you more about “going number two”, than most people. When my 8 year-old-daughter was a baby, if you didn’t get her out of her crib fast enough when she woke up, you would be greeted by a smiling baby girl, standing up holding onto the rails with her diaper half pulled off and “number two” smeared all over her crib. She was always very proud of her creation, not surprisingly she is growing up to be quite the artist. However, since that wasn’t supposed to be the focus of the post I was trying to write, I thought I would go with a different title there.
What it did tell me was that I better be doing some serious reading of my urban dictionary before my kids get to high school, because apparently I’m a lot less “cool” than I thought – and I don’t even think they use the word “cool” anymore. In fact, in an effort to appear more hip, I thought maybe I would use the word “phat” – even though a “mature” mother of three doesn’t like to be called “phat” no matter how you spell it – but I thought I better look it up first. Ahh, I’m not that out of touch, the first definition to the word “phat” is “cool”. I knew it. But wait, here’s something i didn’t know. Did you know that “phat” actually stands for “pretty hot and tempting”? I never knew that. After reading that, I’m thinking, I guess if anyone would, per chance, want to call me “phat”, I suppose I could live with it sounding like that “other” word. At 7:30 in the morning, in my long, wrap-around Ralph Lauren sweater, fuzzy Ugg slippers, cup of Cinnamon Dolce coffee, and bowl of oatmeal, I’m starting to feel more urban than ever, as I take pride in the fact that I am indeed down with the kids’ slang.
But then I read definition number two, which I will reproduce verbatim here from my handy Urban Dictionary. It states, “The problem with “phat” is that it is no longer in really. It has kind of phased out and is mostly used by wannabes, lowerclassmen in high school, or middle schoolers. It is now considered a slang faux pas. I wouldn’t use it if I was you.” It goes on to say that “phat” got “old” in the late 90s. What? The slang I was already too old to be using, was already “out” over a decade ago? Can you imagine ten years from now when my kids are in high school, how totally lame/uncool/not phat I’m going to be to them then? What a rude awakening I am having this early on a Sunday morning – I’m going to need more coffee.
But just as I am having a complete middle-aged moment, I decide to see what my urban “bible” would say if I looked up my original word “cool”. Perhaps it would give me insight into what ridiculous acronym I’m supposed to be using. And here’s what it said, “The word “cool” is the best way to say something is neat-o, awesome, or swell. The phrase “cool” is very relaxed, never goes out of style, and people will never laugh at you for using it.” Well, thank goodness for that. Nothing to worry about here, folks. You can all go about your business (and to be clear, I don’t mean the aforementioned slang word for business). I am happy to state, that I guess I am still pretty “cool” after all… for shizzle.
Being a stay-at-home mom means you have more opportunities to go on field trips with your children’s classes. That can be a blessing and a curse. I just went to a local working farm today with my youngest son’s second-grade class. We were to meet in the classroom before boarding the bus. As I walked in, I immediately questioned my decision to wake up early to curl my hair, looking around at the group of seven-year-olds and wondering if half of them had even brushed their hair that morning. Apparently they weren’t seeing this trip as the social event that I was – they perhaps get out of the house more than I do. The teacher asked us to all put name tags on our coats – which was fine, but then they didn’t stick, so I had to scotch tape it onto my quilted jacket. It took four pieces of tape, let me tell you, it wasn’t an attractive look.
Next, all the kids had to pair up with a bus partner. My son’s choice had picked someone else. I took one look at him and I knew he was upset. So, I jumped in and said that I would like him to sit with me. Little did I know, that meant sitting where my son wanted us to sit, all the way in the back of the bus. I don’t know when the last time you sat in the back of a school bus was, but what might have seemed fun thirty years ago, is just a miserable experience now. I have to believe there are no shock absorbers back there, then you get thrown around, the noise is deafening, and all-in-all, you just feel completely car sick – how old do I sound? Half-way there, I see it has started to rain – so much for the hair. We finally get off the bus and it is now cold and rainy. Perfect day for a trip to the farm, because who doesn’t love mud – oh, that’s right, I don’t.
As a chaperone, you play a fine line – trying to keep the kids from misbehaving while not embarrassing your own child. So, the trick is, you talk sternly to the errant student, saying “Tommy (names here have been changed to protect the innocent or not so innocent), don’t try to pull that feather out of the chicken,” but then when “Tommy” turns and looks at you like “who do you think you are, you’re neither my mother, nor my teacher”, the key is just to smile. That way, you confuse him – did she really just yell at me or was I just imagining it – and while this thought process is going on in his head, I have successfully distracted him from the feather pulling, while not having my son think I’m being mean to his friend.
As I’m wondering if the teacher thinks I’m just doing a fabulous job as chaperone, though I’m pretty sure she hasn’t even noticed how great I am at it, one of those moments happen that you’re hoping actually goes unnoticed. We were in a barn, listening to our guide, Vicky, who, by the way, got annoyed when the kids asked questions – what’s that about – but anyway, that’s when the moment happened. I am standing next to my son and one of his little girl classmates, when all of a sudden a barn swallow flies right at my head. All I hear is the rapid fluttering of the wings. Now, I’m sorry, but to me when you hear something like that, you just go into survival mode. Being a mother, luckily you never lose your inherent instinct to keep your child safe, even when your own safety is in jeopardy, but apparently that doesn’t hold true with someone else’s kid. Feeling that bird descend on me, I immediately panicked, stepped in front of my child while grabbing the other student, pulling her towards me, as I attempted to use her as a human shield. The threat passed almost as quickly as it appeared, and no harm was done to either myself or to the little girl who I hid behind, but she whipped around and glared at me like what the heck was I doing. Once again, I thought it best to use my diversionary tactic and smiled back at her. She just shook her head – so much for thinking I was going to go down as one of the best chaperones ever.
My feet are now freezing, my scotch-taped name tag has fallen off, I believe my mascara has run a little in the rain, and let’s not even talk about the state of my hair. Just as I think about my working-mom friends who are warmly sitting at their office desks, hair neatly coifed, my son comes up to me and puts his hand in mine, as he excitedly wants to show me the piglets. This is the blessing part. A blessing, even as I have to watch the other boys think it’s cool to purposely step in a big pile of fresh cow manure. The same boys, on the return trip to school, I will have to sit next to in the back of the bus. And by the way, as soon as the trip was over and the bus pulled into the school yard, of course, the sun came out.
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I have to say I’ve always been a people pleaser. Perhaps it was growing up as one of seven kids and my parents drilling into us “if you can’t play together, you’ll work together”. So, in an effort to avoid weeding the garden, I always made that extra effort to get along with my siblings. But whether you were brought up that way or not, becoming a people pleaser just comes with the territory when you become a mother. You get so used to feeding someone else, bathing them, changing them, walking them up and down the hallway in the middle of the night, just to get them to stop crying. Do that for a couple of years, combined with what’s probably in a woman’s DNA, and you get used to wanting to help others, wanting to make others happy. However, there are pitfalls to being too much of a people pleaser. I know at times, I’m guilty of pushing it to the extreme and that’s when it can become a bit of a problem.
I’ve always been the type of person who wants to come across as a very engaged listener. People like to be heard. People like to be agreed with. It pleases them. If the discussion is about a topic that requires an opinion, and I have a strong one, then I will usually voice my side whether it makes the other person happy or not. But, if the discussion is just about day to day things, then I become a head nodder. I just like to agree. Cold out? Sure. Getting late? You bet. As a people pleaser, I like to head nod even when I don’t really hear what the person has said which can lead to a classic pitfall.
I ran into an acquaintance at the gym about a year ago. It was a little noisy, she was talking about something, I was nodding. Then she asked me, “You’re ___ like me, right?” I couldn’t make out one of the words she said, but I went along with it and said, “Yup. Yeah, I am.” But then, you know when you walk away from a conversation and that’s when it comes to you, you’re able to fill in the blank. Well, as I walked out of the gym, I thought to myself, “I think I just agreed that I was Jewish.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m not an overly religious person either way, but if you’ve seen my post on how I decorate for the holidays, you would see that I am Catholic. I didn’t think much of it, I don’t run into this woman all that much anyway. But shortly thereafter, I saw her in a department store, and it happened to be the day before a Jewish holiday. I can barely keep my own holy days straight, so I wasn’t sure what this particular day represented in the Jewish faith. I panicked. I tried to skip the aisles she was in, avoid eye contact at all costs, make her think I didn’t see her. Because it just would have been an awkward conversation, ” No, I’m actually not going to temple tomorrow because even though when you asked me if I was Jewish and I said I was, I’m really not.” If I had only asked her to repeat herself when we first had the conversation, she wouldn’t have cared one way or the other what my response was, but now to fix the situation it would just be messy all the way around.
I successfully avoided her that time, but then a few months later, I ran into her again, in December of all months. Turned a corner, face to face, no chance of avoidance. The store, dripping with holiday decor, pretty much insured that there would be no way something wasn’t going to be mentioned. And sure enough… She talked about how she had just moved a town away and how over-the-top the Christmas decorations on everyone’s lawns were and how it was just annoying – she said, “You know how annoying it can be.” So, here’s my chance to set the record straight. Clear up the miscommunication once and for all. Secretly knowing, I myself had a giant blow-up Santa on my front porch, complete with eight, tiny reindeer. But, once again, I found myself nodding in agreement. We wished each other a Happy Chanukah and went on our way.
So, though it’s a nice attribute to want to make others happy or comfortable, there has to be limits. There has to be limits with our kids and there has to be limits with our peers. I have essentially converted religions for a mere acquaintance, albeit, it’s just for a fleeting few moments when I run into her a couple times a year, but still. Now, I try to be less quick with my head nods and ask people to repeat themselves before I respond if I’ve missed something that they said. It’s much better if you try to be true to yourself and not worry so much about pleasing others because you just end up digging yourself deeper and deeper into a hole. We’ve all had those moments where we are over-scheduled but someone asks you for a favor so you automatically say yes, without thinking about whether you’ll be able to get your own stuff done. I’m not saying don’t be helpful, we all want to treat people the way we would like to be treated ourselves, but you just have to make sure you don’t do it to a fault. Your friend will understand if you have to pass every once in awhile. As mothers, in order to avoid those people pleaser pitfalls, we just need to take a step back from automatically saying yes all the time, and actually think before answering. If we can do that, we can still please people, while hopefully staying true to ourselves.
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