A Facebook Carol

A few weeks ago I was chatting with my friend Jayne, when she asked me a question that stopped me dead in my tracks. We were sitting on the beach watching our kids play in the sand, as we recovered from a morning of educational tide pools, lunch-ordering mishaps, spectacular multi-child throw-up and general drama (let’s not forget I have 2 girls – we bring drama wherever we go). Having reached that part of the day where the kids had settled down and we could have somewhat normal, semi-uninterrupted, adult conversation, she threw out this zinger, “What’s the point of Facebook?” This was followed by the reason she doesn‘t have a Facebook account, “I just don’t get it.”

I’m from Generation X. I grew up playing Pac Man, which I sucked at, and typing on an electric typewriter, which I also sucked at, though I was and still am a better typist than Pac Man player. Jayne is also from Generation X, and while I can’t comment on her Pac Man playing or typing skills, I am fairly certain that if I tell her the point of Facebook is to post pictures of your food before you eat it, she will give up on humanity and head for the hills.

Since I like Jayne and did not want her to run away screaming, I instead looked at her dumbly and said “Good question. I dunno.” Clearly this was not an impressive answer, but I was at a loss.

As I lay in bed that night I found myself haunted by her question. Here I had a Facebook account and should have been able to provide a thoughtful, well-rounded answer. Yet, one escaped me. Even worse, an ugly truth lingered in the air. I wondered if Facebook was just a meaningless vortex of dinner selfies, sarcastic cartoons and ads for Walmart which existed for the pure purpose of helping me ignore my parenting responsibilities. After all, why go to the effort of cooking when we could just look at a picture of somebody’s spaghetti alla carbonara, salivate appropriately, and then throw a Lean Cuisine in the microwave?

This was not looking good. I was pretty sure I was turning into a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge and could soon expect a visit from the Ghost of Facebook Past. No wonder I couldn’t sleep. I could hear the chains of Facebook users no longer with us, dragging on the floor.

Curling myself into a ball in my bed, my mind raced to find bonafide reasons for spending time on Facebook and not with my kids. Suddenly, I had one. Birthdays! As I’m past the age of looking forward to getting older, all the birthday wishes from my Facebook friends help me get past the trauma of looking like crap. I racked my brain further. Another good one! Facebook can help you keep track of important events you didn’t even know existed, like National Dog Day. Jayne had both a birthday and a dog, so this could be some valuable insight for her too. I made a mental note to fill her in.

However, if I was going to stave off a visit from the Facebook Ghosts tonight, I needed real, substantive answers. It was time to consult the Oracle of Facebook, my cousin Wayne. Wayne has an exponential number of Facebook friends, and these people are loyal. Several years back he mused about what it would theoretically be like to have a lemur living in his garage. Within hours there were 457 comments pertaining to this theoretical lemur. If that had happened today, the lemur would have its own Twitter account.

It was 11pm when I instant messaged the Oracle for help with my debacle. His response came back a few hours later and was full of the wisdom he is known for. To paraphrase: while social media is great for sharing pictures of your lemur with grandma and reconnecting with people from elementary school you never liked or can’t remember, it’s especially important for networking and promoting your product or business. Suddenly I felt instant relief wash over my body. I was justified in my use of Facebook; after all, I have a blog to promote here. It’s a crappy blog with about 2 followers, but quality was not one of his criteria.

As for Jayne, the Oracle continued, if she doesn’t like lemurs, doesn’t have anything to promote and is content with good old fashioned e-mail and text, then she’s probably not missing much.

I could finally get some sleep. I was safe from the Facebook Ghosts and Jayne was safe from the Facebook Vortex. Neither of us was safe from the sunburns we got, but that’s another story.

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Soggy Anniversary

This year for our anniversary we got tickets to see Willie Nelson who was playing at the local fair. Because, in all honesty, there’s really no more romantic way to celebrate your commitment to each other than by eating deep-fried Twinkies alongside aging ladies in cowboy boots.

Admittedly this may not be everyone’s dream date, but it was actually a huge improvement over our first anniversary years ago, which we spent cleaning our guest bathroom.

Don’t misunderstand. It’s not that we preferred scrubbing toilets to the more romantic notion of looking lovingly into each other’s eyes over free tortilla chips at El Torito, but the next night was our turn to host the monthly Homeowners’ Association meeting, and we didn’t want anyone on the HOA Board comparing us to the “rat” lady several doors down. In retrospect this was probably not very logical, since I doubt anyone could even find the rat lady’s bathroom. We did find her refrigerator, though. It was in the middle of the patio.

Since we didn’t have anyone to pawn off the kids on this year, we were forced to bring them along. This was one parental decision they actually agreed with. Granted, not all youth would see the value of such a concert, but Thomas has been brainwashing…I mean, schooling, our youngsters in classic folk and country music for several years now.[1]

The prospect of combining a steel guitar with junk food and vertigo-inducing, spinning rides was almost more anticipation than any of us could handle. We all anxiously counted down the days.

Now, not only does it generally not rain in California between the months of May and October, but the state is in a serious drought. So, it was a shock to all, particularly those who’d been at the fair all day, when the skies opened up and poured water down upon the fairgrounds a few hours before concert time. Because we had not gone to the fair early in the day (in an effort to keep Twinkie consumption down to an acceptable level), we managed to avoid arriving at the venue unprepared.

The rain started shortly before we were set to leave the house. Once my brain processed the fact that actual water was coming down from the sky, my amazement turned to joy. A few more of these downpours might turn our grass back to green, which in turn meant we wouldn’t have to worry about replacing everything in sight with succulents in order to have enough water to flush the toilet. I don’t have anything against succulents, but the idea of turning the pool into a huge cactus pot was a little depressing. Besides, Larry the Pool Guy is ex-military, and I feel safer just having him around. You never can be too careful.

When we recovered from the excitement, we scurried around the house in a mad panic trying to remember where and in which year we’d last seen the umbrellas and rain slickers. Was it before or after the infamous toilet scrubbing? Had the kids already been born?

Once we’d successfully dug them up, we hopped in the car and psychologically prepared ourselves for the ride to come…Californians are notoriously incapable of driving without incident in any weather other than sunshine. As it turned out, luck was on our side that day; we managed to make it to the fair unscathed.

As we entered the grounds with our protective rain gear, it was clear to us that the folks who had been there all day and were forced to contend with the elements unprotected, were having a slightly different experience than we were. Many had completely given up trying to stay dry and had decided to embrace nature, which was primarily achieved by taking off their flip-flops and treading barefoot through the puddles of water inhabited by half-eaten, mushy fries and remnants of mysterious items wrapped in bacon. This didn’t seem like a very sanitary idea, but with my umbrella in hand and close-toed shoes, I didn’t think my opinion would be appreciated.

We’d really worked up an appetite dealing with all that water and immediately headed for the concession stands. Eating, however, proved challenging, since there were no covered areas except the bathrooms. We were understandably less than thrilled with the idea of spending another anniversary huddled around a toilet, and instead opted for Plan B, which consisted of alternately holding umbrellas for each other and shoving food into our mouths.

As we were finishing up the last of our dinner, the rain started to let up, allowing the rides to re-open and paving the way for extensive negotiations with the kids in an effort to keep the cost of the evening within reason. At $6 per ride per kid, Disneyland was cheaper…not to mention less grimy, less rickety and, generally speaking, less dubious. Snow White didn’t usually have a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. After heavy haggling and a few tears (mine, not the kids’), we settled on two rides each and no more Twinkies.

Once the rides were behind us, we were ready to walk over to the concert area. Right about this time it started to rain again. We had proven that we could handle this water stuff and expertly pulled out our umbrellas for the second time that day (and this decade), as we made our way over to see Willie.

Arriving at our seats, we made a roof with our umbrellas and hunkered down while we took obnoxious selfies and waited for the concert to begin. It began to rain harder and harder.

Studying the stage it dawned on us that there might be a problem. It wasn’t just the audience and the doobies that were getting wet. The instruments on the stage were all covered in plastic, which appeared to be dripping and closer inspection revealed the floor was flooding. Our eyes moved slowly to the roof over the stage…uh, where was the roof?

Apparently the builders had consulted the historical weather charts and found it rained so little in California on concert days that it was more cost-effective to ditch the roof on the outdoor stage. I wondered if Willie was going to play his guitar wearing waders and a giant Hefty bag. As it turned out, Willie was not feeling like embracing nature (and probable electrocution) and opted to stay in his trailer.

No concert for us. Maybe cleaning the bathroom really wouldn’t have been so bad. At least our bathroom has a roof.

[1] While I had generally been supportive of this educational experience, I heavily considered putting the brakes on his efforts when the kids started obsessively playing Bob Dylan’s “Christmas in the Heart” album. Bob Dylan lending his voice to songs meant to soothe your nerves and put you in the holiday spirit is already bad enough during the actual holiday season, but the fact that the kids were listening to this in mid-July made it nearly unbearable.

Heteroskedasticity

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As every parent knows, you have 2 careers: one career as a parent and then a second career doing whatever you do when  you’re not parenting, or as I call it, “yelling at your kids.”

I happen to work outside the home and for the most part really enjoy it. I get to create PowerPoint documents, lead meetings on topics I don’t understand and learn exclusive vocabulary that will confuse and annoy everyone outside of my workplace.

As I have found that I am not particularly good at keeping work-speak in the office, there is a strong possibility that I will slip up and use some of this language in one of my postings. Therefore, I am providing these official translations to help you decipher my ramblings.

Fire drill – this term is only used in the literal sense about once a year, and only following a notice from the Facilities Department. The rest of the time this means someone, somewhere did not do what they were supposed to do, causing it to end up in your lap with minutes to spare before the deadline. You would love to pull out the extinguisher and spray the person who needlessly started this fire, but there is no time to waste.

I had to stop using this term with my parents, because they couldn’t understand how in the world our fire drills lasted an entire week and why I wanted to spray people.

Dropping the ball – an action (or lack thereof) that causes a fire drill. During the Fall this is often the result of too much discussion regarding the department NFL pool.

Landing the plane – finally finishing a project that you should have finished a week earlier but were too busy watching YouTube.

Sanity check – validating with someone of equal or higher authority that your idea is completely reasonable, even though nobody agrees with you.

Heteroskedasticity – this is a term bandied about by the statistical team. I have no idea what it means, but after 5 years, I have finally learned to pronounce it and now use it to sound smart. Since I don’t happen to know any statisticians outside of work, this is a safe strategy for impressing my friends and family.

The extended team – the people left off the meeting invite.

Coach someone – to yell at an employee for dropping the ball and or not landing the plane. This has nothing to do with heteroskedasticity.

Align – ensure you have “buy in.”

Get buy-in – align.

Execute – to get something done / complete. This has nothing to do with the death penalty… unless you DON’T execute, in which case you had better watch your back.

Socialize (a document) – take your PowerPoint to a party so it can make friends with other PowerPoints.

It can also mean to make sure everybody you don’t want to tick off approves of the document.

Wheelhouse – your area of expertise / responsibility. This is a stupid term and anyone caught using it should be subjected to a lecture on heteroskedasticity.

80’s Wedding

imageThis summer my 10 year old and her best guy friend officially declared their undying love for each other. Well, she did…at which point he ran upstairs and hid under a table…certainly not an uncommon reaction in these types of situations.

While Dominic laid low, literally, Elizabeth detailed out for her future mother-in-law and me the type of wedding she wanted. Most importantly, it needed to be 80’s themed. In fact, she was ready to forgo a traditional wedding dress in favor of a jeans miniskirt. (During subsequent planning discussions, her best friend pleaded with her to go with a dress, but Elizabeth was not to be influenced.) 

She didn’t fully elaborate on what she would force the wedding party to wear, but I could see where this was going. Odds were everyone was going to end up with crimped hair, including the groom. I silently pleaded with Dominic to stay under the table…for the next 20 years.

When Elizabeth went to go find her man, Corinne decided this was a prime opportunity to get into the picture. This was, after all, the duty of every little sister. She sidled up to Dom’s mother and me and loudly whispered “This is bad but I like Dominic a little too.” The love triangle was on! This was definitely Shakespearean. As Corinne ran upstairs to help pull Dominic out from under the table, I wondered if it was too late to send the poor kid into the witness protection program. He needed a new identity and quickly. 

Once the kids were out of the room, Dom’s mom and I talked business. She pointed out that it was a good thing we had just sold our condo, since we would have to pay for the wedding. I agreed this would be good use of any remaining equity we could squeeze out of that dump. As the negotiation continued, I offered to hunt down the mystery animal next door for the dowry. Although there has been no confirmed sighting of the animal, from the bizarre squealing it makes, we suspect it is something from the boar/pig/hog family – definitely appropriate for a dowry. While I had always parked in the street when bringing the girls over to visit, Dom’s mom noted that I should feel free to start parking in the driveway. After all, we’re family now.

Preparation for Parenthood

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There seems to be a general consensus that having pets is a precursor to parenthood and somehow prepares you for the experience. While I admit there is some validity to this concept, in my experience it is not completely true.

Yes, like kids, pets do steal your food and trash your house beyond recognition. However, unlike your offspring, your tween pets don’t usually talk back to you when you say something they find offensive or stomp their feet and slam the door to express their frustration at the fact that you don’t believe they’ve really brushed their teeth.

I actually found my wedding to be better preparation for parenthood. This might not be an obvious connection but hear me out.

Much like parenthood, a wedding is full of surprises. For both of these pivotal life events, you plan for a year and yet, despite your efforts to coordinate everything perfectly, you quickly learn that nothing actually turns out the way you had anticipated.

Here are some detailed comparisons to illustrate my point:

Wedding: Drunk “professional” photographer takes goofy, off-center pictures.

Parenthood: Kids figure out how to bypass your phone security to take inappropriate pictures of you in the dressing room at TJ Maxx.

Wedding: The insulation at the church is so poor that you and the entire wedding party have sweat running down your faces, leaving you with expensive pictures that are off-center (see above point) and unattractive. Even Photoshop can’t save them.

Parenthood: You can’t post selfies without people asking if you’re feeling ok.

Wedding: Pastor realizes there is not enough bread for Communion and secretly sends the Best Man to the grocery store in the middle of the ceremony.

Parenthood: When tucking her in, your child informs you that she is assigned to bring the caramel topping to the class ice cream party the next day. You drag your husband out of bed and send him to the grocery store.

Wedding: You keep getting whisked away during dinner and miss out on the delicious buffet you paid to enjoy.

Parenthood: You come from work starving. As you approach the second hour of helping your child prepare for her math test, you start wondering if they sell edible flash cards.

Wedding: Wedding cake mix-up has you and hubby sharing carrot cake rather than your specially-selected favorite marble cake.

Parenthood: Lean Cuisine on Saturday night sounds good; no actual cooking is required! If you buy 4 microwaves, you can have everyone’s dinner ready at the same time.

Wedding: Wedding coordinator forgets to have you throw the bouquet, ensuring no single people at the reception will ever tie the knot.

Parenthood: Two-year old daughter throws epic tantrum at Hometown Buffet, ensuring no single patrons will ever have children.

Wedding: Evening ends with a trip to the local bar.

Parenthood: Evening ends with a trip to the local bar.

So, clearly my wedding prepared me better for parenthood than did my pet rabbits. That said, the rabbits did teach me some helpful parenthood coping strategies. Next time Elizabeth exclaims loudly “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND”, I won’t freak out. Instead, I’ll stare at her blankly for a moment, and then I’ll hop past her haughtily on my way to chew on the sofa.

My Life in Kindergarten

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This time last year I found out I work in kindergarten. This was particularly surprising since there aren’t actually any children in my office building.

Let me explain. It was Back to School night at my children’s school and we were in my 5 year old’s classroom. There was a nervous and excited buzz in the room, as my husband and I, along with the other parents, sat down on the little blue chairs and waited anxiously to hear about the expectations for the school year…and of course, whether or not the teacher would announce that our child had already clearly established herself as the genius of the class.

After welcoming everyone, the teacher began explaining the life of a kindergartner. As her presentation progressed, it began to sound strangely familiar. Yet, try as I may, I could not put my finger on the connection. I knew it wasn’t because I was relating her words to detailed memories of my own year in kindergarten. I can barely remember last week, let alone events from the 1970’s. Instead, a much more disturbing truth slowly dawned on me. My daughter’s days in kindergarten were not much different than my days at work in corporate America.

The first topic covered was behavior management in kindergarten. The concept centers around a large color chart. Each child has a clothespin with his or her name on it. The clothespin is clipped on Green at the start of the day. Green designates a neutral color. During the day, if the child is paying attention and working diligently, that child is complimented and his or her clothespin is moved up the chart to a “better” color like yellow, orange or red, which is the best of all colors.

At work, if I do a good job, my boss compliments me…and silently moves my clothespin up the career chart.

In kindergarten, if a child is not focusing on his or her work, the child is reprimanded and must move the clothespin down to blue or purple. If he or she hits another child, the clothespin goes straight to the dreaded color pink, and the kid’s parents are called.

At work, if I spend the day surfing YouTube and don’t turn in my PowerPoint draft, my clothespin moves down the career chart. If I slap someone in IT for not providing me the right data for my PowerPoint draft, then the Human Resources Department is called.

The teacher then went on to discuss her motivation techniques. When a child does a really good job on a project or exemplifies good listening skills, he or she gets a “super worker treat”, which is a piece of candy. When the class as a whole does well, the teacher puts little toy bears in a jar. Once the jar is filled, everyone gets to choose a prize from the classroom Treasure Chest.

Hmm…if I do well, I get a bonus at the end of the year. If my company does well, I get an even bigger bonus from the Company Treasure Chest.

She next went on to talk about class activities. They make colorful art projects using different shapes like triangles, circles and rectangles. I, on the other hand, create colorful PowerPoint slides that have arrows, boxes and bullet points.

The class participates in regular story time. All the children gather around in a circle on the floor while the teacher reads aloud. When she has finished telling the story, she asks the children a series of comprehension questions.

In my world, we refer to this as a meeting or “conference call”. I often lead such meetings. For example, I might explain during such a call that my team has suddenly been tasked with performing a time-sensitive review of ABC product. To do so, I need XYZ data. I will then follow up with questions to assess comprehension. For example, how quickly can you get me that data…i.e. did you understand the meaning of time-sensitive?

There are even parallels to the playground. In kindergarten, children ride around on tricycles and climb up and down the ladders on the play equipment. Similarly, I drive my car through miles of traffic across the county, jostle for a spot in the parking garage and have to walk down 4 flights of stairs.

So, as you see, my daughter and I actually have very similar days. We are rewarded for good work, do colorful projects with shapes, have story time and run up and down stairs. For those who worry about the quality of our public school system, you can rest assured. It is indeed preparing our children for the real world.

Foray into Management

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A number of years ago I was promoted to a managerial position. Never having been a manager before, I quickly found that there were several new skills I would need to acquire. First of all, I needed an HP 12C financial calculator. To be respected in my segment of the financial industry one must discard the old Casio pocket calculator in favor of one these electronic wonders of the modern world. It makes no difference whether or not your job actually requires you to quickly calculate interest payments or amortization schedules; this was the tool of the trade and you must carry one at all times.

I had held out as long as I could, but I knew my management days were numbered if I resisted any longer. When the package arrived I approached it with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. This was my ticket to certain success and career superstardom, but could I figure out how to use it? This thing is no ordinary calculator. It comes with comprehensive instructions – in the form of a starter manual and a supplemental CD which you need to consult just to figure out how to do simple addition. (You first punch in the whole list of numbers to be added and then hit the plus key at the end.) I haven’t yet claimed defeat, but while my shiny HP 12C sits prominently on my desk for all to see, I grab my hidden Casio when I have to calculate how many sick days I have left.

I’d always fancied myself a fairly educated person – a notion which was totally false, as I learned when I sat down at my first meeting with executive management. Vocabulary words were whizzing by that I had never heard before and wasn’t even sure I could spell. Where did these words come from? Did managers secretly read the dictionary at night? They all seemed to understand each other, so maybe an executive e-mail went out Mondays with the words of the week? The lady next to me just said “diminuous”…or was that “deminutous”?

After the meeting I desperately searched for this word on dictionary.com, but to no avail. I stewed on this for weeks when, to my surprise, my boss used the same word in a conversation with me. Thoughts raced through my head – this was my chance… should I stop him and ask him to spell it? No, I couldn’t admit this failure. I would have to figure this out myself. After several more internet searches, victory was finally mine:

de minimis (adj): so small or minimal in difference that it does not matter or the law does not take it into consideration

Shortly thereafter, my staff began receiving Monday morning e-mails with the word of the week.

One of the perks of these new responsibilities was an office. Offices are prime real estate and being low-man on the totem pole, I was given the only one left that wasn’t spoken for. For the first time in my career I had a desk with 2 chairs on the other side, a large bookshelf, a file cabinet nearly as tall as I am, and a huge white board.

While I was naively happy with my new surroundings, others took pity on me for having the smallest office. Well-meaning colleagues would come by and sympathize with my plight. “Well, at least you have a door that you can close, right?” and “Yep, (sigh with pity) this used to be my office.” Finally, “Oh Jesse had this office….” (voice dropping off). Since Jesse disappeared one day never to be seen or heard from again, I wondered what had become of him. Had the dimensions of the office sent him over the edge? Was my mental health at stake? In all likelihood Jesse had simply never learned how to use the HP 12C.