Two weeks ago, in a communications class, I led the discussion about Society and Politics. I spent twenty hours to prepare for one hour in front of the class- reading, looking for the most up to date and accurate, information, struggling with google slides, putting YouTube clips inside google slides, putting anything other than youtube clips inside google slides- get the picture?

I was intimidated by the material. In light of recent events, everything in the textbook seemed outdated or irrelevant. At the end of the class, the professor asked how anyone could feel hope in light of current events. The world has become a dark place. The bad guys are winning, our population is under a constant state of attack we aren’t even aware of, and, realistically, it appears =it might be virtually impossible to overturn or overcome current events.

I answered his question by saying that although I agreed with everything he just said, I am able to find optimism in the course of my job and day to day life. I work with students, non profit organizations, and older people trying to find a way to become relevant in today’s world. I need to find hope, because the people I work with need me to believe there is a point to what they are doing or plan to do.

Quite a few of the people I work with are international, many are undocumented. The majority of these people are coming to Quincy College, a two year college, after they have completed their doctorate, or master’s degree in their own country. Dentists hoping to become dental assistants, doctors registering for the Certified Nurse Assistant program. Last week, I worked with an economist from Nigeria to find the resources to study for the TEAS so she can enter our LPN program.

I stand by what I said about needing to feel hope so I can offer my optimism, like a pen or an apple, to these people when they step into my office.

Last week, I had to lead the class in a conversation about the Global Media. Half way through the chapter, I realized I need to do so much more.

I had always thought ]when I welcomed a woman from Haiti, leaning over the table to listen to her words through her accent, and answering her questions, clearly, with the program sheet between us, as a visual guide- that was doing the right thing. Calling upstairs to see when the next TEAS preparatory class began,  also the right thing. Personally showing her the campus, introducing her to the Dean of Nursing, directing her to the most sympathetic staff member in our Financial Aid office, I felt like a rock star.

Welcoming people from other countries and helping them adjust to the area, navigate their way through job searches, higher education, even helping them help their own children make the transition, is important. But wouldn’t I be so much more effective if I knew something, anything, about the world these people are coming from?

Since Wednesday, I’ve made a priority to spend about twenty minutes looking outside of Western sources for the news. Columbia, France, Brazil, Canada,, Africa, Egypt, Qatar- the world is huge. I thought catching up on ‘Game of Thrones’ was going to be a process.I

I don’t know anything about ransomware, triple talaq, the recent rescue in Italy or spread of cholera in Yeman.

 

I consider myself an ambassador for higher education in the United States and I know little or nothing about where these people’s stories began.

Since then, I search out the international news mid-day. Over coffee, it’s too much. Before bed, I would never,sleep. Middle of my work day, I take a few minutes over lunch to seek out global news, not just from my half of the equator.  After reading a story like ‘There is no justice for the poor in Brazil’  or ‘Pentagon wants to boost US troop numbers in Afghanistan’, my ongoing issues with the copier machine seem a little less dire.

It’s sad, often, the state of the world, but it’s also enlightening, to feel like I’m becoming, bit by bit, more aware of what is actually happening in the whole world- the whole world. I’m aware and beginning to understand different points of view. I’ve had the opportunity to glimpse at a different landscape, politically, emotionally, socially, and   outside my own window. (Honestly, it’s been a week. I know enough to know I’m going to be without a clue for a while.)

I’m never going to have time to catch up on Game of Thrones.

MY Job At Quincy College

August 15, 2015

It’s been a Long Week in my life.

Hours at work have been intense, I work for Quincy College and a large part of my job is working to help potential students become students.

This involves many conversations, involving almost every single candidate. There are conversations with the student, some parents chime in. I have Financial Aid on speed dial – “He hasn’t turned in his Financial Aid information form? Really?”

Admissions- “Are you sure you haven’t gotten her transcript? Can I put her thru to you?” Followed closely by the Registrar’s Office, the Business Office, the Deans, the Advisors-  at the end of the week, I’ve talked a lot.

Occasionally I sit down with someone and they tell me about what their plans are, about which classes they’ll be taking, even about what they want to be when they grow up.

When a student leans forward, and starts to talk to me, I lean back and listen.

I don’t answer the phone. I ignore my son’s texts. I stop wondering what they will be serving upstairs for Karen’s Birthday or Michael’s going away.

I need this time with these people- kids, baby boomers, grandparents, unwed mothers, recovering addicts, struggling sons, international students from Nepal, Bulgaria, France, Haiti.

I need time with the people that come to me for help, I need to hear their stories so that I can remember why helping them is the best job I’ve ever had.

I was driving to the grocery store this evening and went right by a playground. It was just after 7, dusk here in New England, windy and cloudy and warm. It was crowded; spring has been a long time coming and some of us are not quite convinced it’s here to stay.

And a thought came to me- My kids don’t go the playground with me anymore. Colin is 13, Katy is 10. They go to the park these days, all by themselves or in packs with other kids from the neighborhood.

I hadn’t even noticed the passing of playground days, and they are gone, along with mornings of helping them pick out their clothes for school and the Thursday night phone calls in search of a sitter.

I remembered our trips to Andrews Park. Katy would clutch my hand, which would then smell like peanut butter until I got home. Colin would race ahead, clutching a frisbee or a football or a backpack with snacks. I would juggle my phone and my iced coffee and a book, all while one of my hands was clenched inside Katy’s warm, smudgy grip.

When we got there, I swear, it took us twenty minutes at least, and Andrews is three blocks away, I’d find a bench and settle down with the book and the drink and the phone. I’d make nervous conversations with other mothers, who all seemed to know each other, while eyeing my kids to make sure they didn’t hijack the swings. I’d wish I’d brought wipes, or bottled water. I’d look at my phone and calculate how much longer we’d have to stay until I could safely give them the five minute warning. I’d wonder what was underneath all the sand in the sandbox, if that was even sand in the sandbox. I’d call someone, anyone at all who might pick up the phone, and wouldn’t mind helping me kill some time until I could safely check the time again. Finally, Katy would make me push her on the swing. Then Colin would make me throw him a ball, or shoot baskets, or teach him how to make a frisbee sail thru the air. And I’d wish I was just a little bit better at doing any of those things while looking around to make sure no one was watching. And they weren’t. Until whatever I was throwing hit someone in the head.

Today, I took Katy to SOWA, an open air market with food trucks and art galleries and one stand that had an entire display of 19 different kinds of cheese. Colin went with me last week to the Y, and we worked on the new Keiser equipment. I can’t get a basket, well I can, but it’s not that often, but I can work with him on strength training to help his jump shot. Next month, I’m going to take them to see Lion King, The Musical, which is a helluva lot more fun than watching the Disney video four times in the same afternoon, (not that we ever spent that much time in front of the tv.)

So tonight I was sad for a bit that the playground days are gone until I thought about it. Now, I’m mostly relieved. Though I’m thinking that for Mother’s Day, I might request a sentimental journey over to the swing set on Castle Island. And I will let Colin and Katy take turns pushing me.

Places I Have Been To

September 10, 2013

I went to church last Sunday. It was the first Sunday of the church year. Everyone came early for a pancake breakfast hosted by the youth group. I’d actually been at the church since Saturday night since I had been one of the chaperones for the pre-pancake breakfast youth sleepover.  (I am either a very brave or a very stupid woman.) As I moved around the halls, directed guests to the bathroom, and found a sugar bowl for somebody in the kitchen, it occurred to me- I feel at home here. I am a member of the club.

You know the feeling I’m talking about? When all the sudden you look around whatever space you are in and realize- you know where stuff is. You know the names of people around you, you even know if they are people worth knowing, and you move thru hallways and rooms with ease.

The church is the latest in a long series of places I made my own.  I’m sure for many, school is the first thing that comes to mind.  Not for me. As a matter of fact, for all the time I spent in school, my memories are mostly of feeling lost. Literally. I have a lousy sense of direction, every year classrooms are different, they were usually located on different floors. Kids in classes changed, and every few years, buildings changed. To make matters really difficult, when I was 12 my family moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

I suppose, on a much smaller level, I got a sense of it over at friends houses. Going over to Leslie’s and being able to drink from the water jug in the fridge reserved for family members. Over at my first boyfriend’s house, I was entrusted with the location of spare key, and knew the names of all of his cousins. He only had three cousins, but I’m not that good with names. And of course, the Stanfields. Their home became the back up home to many teenagers in Mountain Lakes. I knew where to find the corn nuts, and what bedroom was likely to be unoccupied, or mostly unoccupied. Of course, so did about seventy five other kids between the ages of 15 and 18. But it was nice, knowing my home wasn’t my only home. Especially since things weren’t always so easy in my home growing up.

Skip forward quite a few years. My first true sense of belonging to a group, and knowing where I fit in, was when I settled in Boston, and discovered the club scene. And the bands. (And the members of bands. Whole nother story.) And the drugs, and the right ratio of drugs and alcohol for just the right buzz. I remember how it felt to saunter up to the front a line, nod at the bouncer and walk in a front door. How I felt so damn special to be granted entrance into a dark, crowded smoky room, with minimal bathrooms, insane lines- to buy a drink, pee, even to grab a seat. I became familiar with the bartenders, did my research and sought out the johns no one else knew about, and became particularly skilled at lurking behind someone getting ready to leave, then swooping in for their spot at the bar before they’d even picked up their keys. I knew where the stairs were, where the elevators were, where the back doors were, who bartended on which night, and who might be willing to pay for my drinks.

And the best part… Everybody knew me. By name. After years of feeling pretty damn anonymous, I had circles and circles of friends. I had friends to go out to dinner with, friends to sleep with, friends to stay up all night with, friends to play scrabble with… I had lots and lots and lots of friends. I spent piles of money, had, from what I remember a damn good time, and woke up from it all when I was pregnant with my first child.

Then I went back to feeling like I had in school, a little bit lost.

When I sat down to write this, I was going to list all of the places in my life that weren’t my home, but that felt like home.

And this is what I found out- there were the clubs in Boston and Cambridge in the 90’s, there is the space between my two kids anywhere in the whole world, and there is my church. My church is a place that practices something called “radical hospitality”, and I guess they really, truly do. At least in my case. My church is a place where we have twenty minute conversations about which class will work for a nine year old who is more mature than most, but needs to make more friends in his grade. It is a place where there is always coffee, though I often have to make it, or find the filters. Where the minister is my friend, and I swim with the Youth Advisor most mornings, (not at the church, it’s not that nice.) And where when the conversation turns to Social Justice, and it often does, it is not in the abstract.

I’m glad I finally found my way there.

Missing

July 11, 2013

It was a tough day. Lost library book.  Hot. Fight with Colin, my son, about  what I know now was absolutely nothing. Three hours ago it seemed important while I sat on my stairs and weighed punishments.

Each disagreement we have now that he is heading toward his thirteen year is dark with danger – is this the moment he stops liking me? Each punishment or consequence is an opportunity to establish important policy. (There are repercussions for not leaving a note, for taking five dollars from my purse, for teasing his sister.) Each punishment or consequence is an opportunity for me to prove myself to be an inflexible ass. (He did call my cell, I’d told him I’d give him a few dollars, and what twelve year old boy doesn’t tease his sister.)

So I removed myself, and his sister, from the battlefield. It is July, there is a pool less than a mile away, and it is open from 6 until 7:45 every week night.

Katy and I swam. I did laps, she chased behind me and grabbed my toes when she could. I taught her the words to a song that begins “There once was a farmer who took a young miss”. I got irritated when she fell behind on our way to the car. She wasn’t happy when I denied her movie request. It was a wonderful, normal summertime night.

When we got home, the lights were out. I called for Colin. No answer. I fed the animals, I reminded Katy that we were not going to add a hamster to our menagerie until I was not the only one feeding the animals.

I called for Colin. It was dark. There wasn’t a note. Most nights, I would have just taken the dog to the park to remind him of the time. But he and I had been arguing. He wouldn’t have gone to the park.

I checked the phone for incoming calls, a telemarketer called from Seattle at 7:30. I checked the phone for outgoing calls. He’d called a friend at 5:15.

I went to the park. It was dark. It was quiet. There was a teenager smoking by the batting cage. The teenager said no one had been there for at least an hour.

I texted the moms of his friends. “Looking for Colin. Heard from him?” I didn’t want to panic anyone, or look like an idiot when he strolled in dribbling his basketball. I don’t like it when he bounces that damn ball in the house. I looked for the ball, couldn’t find it. No word from Colin

I called one of the moms, and kept my tone light. She volunteered to come pick me up, take me out so we could look for him together. I made a joke about not being ready to be “one of those moms”, but if I’d known her better, I would have said yes.

When he’s nervous, everything that he says sounds like it’s heading for a punchline. It’s why by the end of the school year, half of his teachers are in love with him and half of them want to give him detention in someone else’s classroom for the rest of his life.

That is my son. And right after I thought just that thought, it occurred to me. When he’s in trouble, he gets scared. When he gets scared, he gets tired.

He was in bed. Colin was tucked in, under four blankets, behind a door in a room sealed shut, like I told him to do, when he runs the air conditioner. The air conditioner must be ten years old. It is loud. It doesn’t have power saver or even a thermostat. Just high and low.

Colin had it on low. I guess he had heard my lecture on not wasting power and that other charming ditty of mine about not zoning out in front of the tv.  He’d even paid attention to that speech about reading more books; “The Chronicles of Captain Underpants” was just next to him, on top of his blankets, book mark placed towards the end.

He was missing and I missed him so much. And there he was, sleeping upstairs while I worried, cursed, wept and made stupid jokes so no one would know just how scared I was.

There is a lesson here, and I’m just not ready to learn it. I hope I have a little more time.

My feet are cold. They are still stuck inside the long, brown, polka dotted boots I wear for shoveling. The socks are a little wet, and the jeans I tucked inside the boots are also a little wet.  This explains why my feet are cold, but not why I’m still wearing the damn boots.

It is the tail end of another “snow event”. In other words, it’s still snowing. In about twenty minutes, I will head back outside in my quest to clear a path along our thirty feet of sidewalk. It snowed a lot, two feet I think, so the walls of white along the path are about three feet high. I am proud to be the one that built those walls of snow, me and my shovel make a helluva team.

Colin and Katy started their snow day out in the kitchen, making pancakes. Katy is nine, Colin is twelve. This was their first attempt at creating a breakfast that didn’t come out of a box or a bag of bread. I chose to stay out of the kitchen,  I stayed on the sofa and listened to the process.  

“I don’t know Colin, do you really think we should add two eggs? The box says to add one.”  “Katy, what did you DO with the spatula?” “Why do you think I did something to the spatula. I don’t even know where mom keeps the spatula, I don’t even know what COLOR the spatula is… Sophie!!!! Put that down!!!”

For about 2 minutes I listen to both of my children chase Sophie the Wonder Pup, as she flies around our dining room, spatula firmly planted between her jaws. Then I hear- “Sophie… treats.” Katy is using her sweetest voice, the one that promises wonderful, wonderful delectable morsels. I almost got up to go see what she offered.

About ten minutes after the spatula was recovered by my daughter’s feminine wiles, and some old slices of turkey, the first batch was done. Colin called out “Orders up.” Katy stood at the refrigerator and asked me- “What’s your poison?” meaning did I want milk or orange juice. When did my kids begin to talk like short order cooks or bartenders? Why didn’t they bug me to make french toast?

 Most snow days, we tackle the driveway and the sidewalks together. We argue over who gets which shovel, and wears the gloves that don’t match. We throw snow balls, and there comes a time where I have to institute a cease fire because one hits Katy to hard in the head.

But today, I felt like I could handle the job on my own. While I listened to them make breakfast, watched them serve breakfast, marveled at them cleaning up after breakfast… it occurred to me that maybe they deserved a break. And maybe I needed a few minutes outside by myself to get used to the idea that Colin and Katy are growing up.

The driveway is done. The sidewalk and the stairs up to our house are clear. I’m a gym rat, and I like the fact that I am strong enough to do all this work, to shift mountains of snow from one spot to another, without pause.

But I saved the other side, the sidewalk on Franklin. I have laid out our collective mittens, found a few extra shovels, and we are going to finish it up together. There will be snow balls thrown, and endless negotiations about who gets which shovel, and whether we should clear in front of the neighbors house. And if we still like each other when we are done, and can still feel our toes, I’m thinking this snow is the right kind for building a snow man.

I’ll see what they think. I am hopeful that they are still young enough to be bribed with hot chocolate, especially if I still have my stash of the right kind of marshmellows.

My kids had mid winter break last week.

My brother had chest pains and had two stents put in his chest; my mom says having two stents put in his chest at 48 is no big deal, the surgery was non invasive.

I got a C on my BioMechanics quiz on Tuesday, my attempt at diagramming the muscles in the upper thigh was pathetic.

My mother in law, currently suffering from the early stages of dementia, was found to have breast cancer at her last checkup. Five minutes after she left the doctor’s office, she told her daughter they needed to go out and celebrate “another perfect checkup.”

When my husband told me this, I started to cry, but then I remembered I was late picking up my best friend’s kids from the school bus. They didn’t have a break this week. So if I was late I couldn’t use my own kids as an excuse. And I  didn’t want them to see me crying because then I’d have to explain the whole thing to them and I’d cry more. Or they wouldn’t notice me crying

And I’d cry even more after I dropped them off.

My daughter went to camp. My son, he’s 12, in seventh grade, didn’t want to go to camp. He said he needed time at home to relax. I let him stay home, but made him put clean sheets on my bed, and walk the dog, and fold clothes, even Katy’s clothes, which always end up on the floor. Every morning before I left, I told him to feed the animals. I’m not sure what he fed them. Each night, when I got home, Sophie, Michael and Bijoux all seemed more anxious than usual. So, I’m wondering, did he feed them, or did he just listen to obnoxious music all day and they aren’t used to having him around. Maybe they have an afternoon napping club and he messed them up. So I fed them really large dinners each night.

Other than the C, school was good. Katy had fun at camp. Colin seems more relaxed, but he also announced this morning he is suffering from a severe cold. So I don’t know if he’s relaxed or weak from fever.

Thank God we went away for a weekend. Thank God, I saw my friend, and had a conversation outside of what’s for dinner, or what’s for lunch or whether the special socks are dry. Thank God, there were movies, and time to talk without any agenda, bigger than small talk, but smaller than meaningful… just conversation. And then home, and a drop off of luggage, and we deposited ourselves at another friend’s house for the Oscars. Chicken wings, and skits about boobs, and Captain Kirk as the voice of all wisdom…

And home by 9:30. I’m packed for the gym in the morning. Colin and Katy are ready for school There is milk for their cereal. There is cream for my coffee. There is coffee.

I am at the age where normal, daily life is going to be interrupted by horrible, horrible news. And I need to move forward thru my normal daily life because I am lucky enough to be in the middle of one. My prayers go out to the world, and soon enough, I know, I will be asking that the world pray for me.

Happy February Vacation Week. We are a little closer to springtime tonight and a little  closer to death.

Are you an optimist, a pessimist or just plain disgusted with poorly executed transitions?

I’m a little of both, but figure this will pass once the sidewalks are clear and I get a good grade on my midterms.

 

 

While I was making dinner tonight, I realized I was basking in the glow of a very good day. You know the feeling that lingers-  after the moment of accomplishment, a really good compliment or just after you’ve figured out an inspired solution to a difficult problem,(“Im thinking about the time I had to have a discussion with Aunt Joan about her, um, peculiar smell, but she’s still alive so I’ll save that story, and the inspired solution for a few years in the future.) When Katy figured out how to ride her two wheel bicycle,  I experienced major glow that lasted for days. When Colin got accepted to an AAU team, my heart fluttered every time I thought about it, every time I looked at him. When I make a meal both of them will eat, happily, no negotiations required, I glide thru the post dinner dance of dishes and counters and searching for tupperware tops.

In the middle of the nightly gotta make dinner two step- chopping peppers and peering into the oven at a chicken, still a pale yellow, except for  herbs on his back and the bacon wrapped around his legs, washing the spinach, and searching for more garlic, in the middle of a  hectic, rushed, half an hour intended to result in a delicious meal for four, I realized my feet were not touching the ground. That the missing garlic wasn’t making me anxious, or sending me rushing to the market for more. I was happy, and singing along to the radio, and smiling at the cat, who wasn’t smiling back because he isn’t happy with the order of operations. (People eat before pets.)

I had started a class last night, Exercise Facility Management, with an amazing teacher that is in charge of the Quincy Y in Quincy, MA. Unlike a lot of professionals, who take up teaching part-time, she was fascinating, engaging, and able to make a discussion about human resources paperwork interesting. This morning, I signed up to start working with disabled individuals during their workouts in a partnership program with the local YMCA. And I got to spend time with the king of exercise science at Quincy College, Dr. Wayne Westcott. He is enthusiasm personified, and may I just note the man doesn’t drink coffee, doesn’t even know what a munchkin is. During my class time with him, he chose me to help a young lady who had signed up for the wrong glass and had never even been on a piece of cardiorespiratory equipment. It felt terrific to be one introducing this lovely girl to something that just might change her life. And to top it all off, Kathi Schaeffer, my supervisor at the college, made arrangements that will allow me to take on the role of eyes for a blind student during her Nutrtition Lab.

All that good stuff has nothing to do with kids, or dogs, or even music on the radio.  It is about   having an opportunity to surround myself with amazing, smart people, and the joy I feel when they recognize me in their midst.  For the first time in a long time, I have found satisfaction outside my home, away from my family, unaccompanied by a gentle nudge of a cold, wet nose.

I think I’m growing up a little bit. I think I have ventured out of the nest and discovered some parts of the world are pretty wonderful. And the best part of all of this is, tonight, at dinner, if the chicken doesn’t burn, and the spinach isn’t too soggy and we have ketchup for the potatoes, I will be able to talk about all of the wonderful things that happened to me lately. I know Colin and Katy will be happy to listen. Since Colin got a Smart Phone, most of our dinner time conversations have focused on the dangers of the internet, the necessity of me having his passcode, (non-negotiable) and why, even though I’ve taken the test three times, I still fail miserably at his game Are You Prepared for A Zombie Invasion. We could all use a little break, at least until Katy hijacks the conversation with the question I’ve been waiting for… “Mommy, when can I get a smart phone?”

When one of the lovely people I just told you about gives me a job, my dear.

Today, 730 wake up, kids home from school, I’m off for interpersonal communications. Three hour class lecture covered syntax and hopi indians and the n word. Next, work study, I am the woman responsible for making sure the students of Quincy College know Jesus is coming to speak to us about the importance of voting, and there is a creative writing club whose leader has promised to bring snacks to 

the first meeting. And I tidied up the lounge. And I replaced the tape used on fliers in the past with sticky goo. I worked until four.
Then, two frantic conversations later, I had to pick one kid up from the bus, and get another to football… Do you have your water bottle… What you mean you forgot your helmut? You need your helmut? Your phone? You need your phone at football practice????
Picked up. Dropped off. Picked up. Dropped off. I am truly a modern day suburban glacier.
Home to get ready for a benefit, Date night with my daughter. Dress, make up, brief attempt at making my hair look like a style instead of just hair, I need to learn how to make a chignon… Katy looked great, she is eight, she knows about accessoriess and the dangers of too much blush. 
We are in the car in fifteen minutes. Dressed and smelling really good and then, we are pulling into the parking lot of the t, and… no cash. I begin my evening begging the parking attendant to let me slide an envelope thru his window with the $5 parking fee after they close because we are running late. I guess he likes my hair, or he thinks I’m really pathetic, or he will agree to anything because as I beg him, three other cars pull in behind me…
We park the car. I dig out an old tee ticket from the summer and we fly thru the turnstiles, Katy still loves a ride on the escalator,
We take the red line to the green line. We walk from Copley five blocks to the Copley Marriot. Katy and I are both in high heels but they are wedges, our feet don’t hurt too bad and we are excited. We are in the city. We are going to a benefit. We have tickets waiting, and there will be music, and dinner and dancing.
And there was. For a few hours, there was music by Bernadette Peters, and dancing by a swing band, and sliders and shrimp and wine and Shirley Temples. It was a lovely night. 
On the way to the t, I remembered to hit the bank machine. When we got back to the car, I remembered to slip the cash in the envelope and leave the envelope in the booth where the parking attendant was sitting just a few hours ago.
I was a princess tonight, even if it was just for an hour or two. And princesses always keep their promises, even when they are really, really tired from a long night of dancing.
And princesses in 2012 make sure they go home and blog about keeping their promises even though they were really, really tired after a long, long night of dancing and a long, long day of doing everything else.