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.

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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.

Plumbing and 3D

For Father’s Day, we got my husband a plumber. Since this was an unforeseen present, we didn’t have time to wrap him.

At issue was the tree next to the sidewalk whose roots were clogging the sewer line and causing the overflow pipe in the front yard to fertilize the geraniums. This was truly a sight to behold; it’s not everyday that you see flowers wrapped in toilet paper.

As our testing revealed, the clog was so bad that any water run through any pipe in the Money Pit, err…house, came out the front. It’s a shame we didn’t have more notice or we could have figured out how to funnel the water and toilet paper to the dying grass. (It’s tricks like these that can help your garden thrive during a California drought.)

Uncertain how quickly the plumbing company could send someone over and having drunk a fair amount of coffee, we were forced to flesh out several contingency plans should we hear the call of nature. We agreed the easiest solution would be to pile in the car, drive to Starbucks and try to inconspicuously use the facilities without buying anything. Not only are we cheap, but consuming anything would certainly lead to greater bathroom necessity.

However, we also needed a longer-term solution, should this turn into a serious plumbing problem. I decided such an incident could be classified as a disaster, and we would therefore be justified in breaking out our disaster preparedness kit with its big, yellow bucket that doubled as a toilet.

On the other hand, why go in a bucket when you have a pool, which everyone knows is really just an oversized toilet. This really wasn’t such a bad idea, particularly since we knew from experience that Larry the Pool Guy could neutralize anything (and was likely a chemist with the CIA in his younger days). Of course, if we could hold out until it was night and the neighbors were in bed, we could just go directly onto the grass. With all of these possibilities, things were looking up.

As it turns out, no drastic measures were required. Instead, an emergency plumber arrived promptly and after 3 hours of industrial snaking, declared victory over the tree.

To celebrate our functioning toilets, we decided to go see Jurassic World the next weekend. Not having seen a movie in a movie theater in about a year, Thomas and I were excited to experience how the rest of the world lives. We left Corinne with my dad and stepmom but figured 10 year old Elizabeth could handle the content. After witnessing the horrors of our 1960’s plumbing, I doubted  she would be fazed by a few dinosaurs eating people. The people-eating was in 3D, but then again, so were the contents flowing into the front yard the week before.

This was the first time I had seen a film in 3D and I must admit it was impressive. In fact, I found myself wondering if I could figure out a way to do my PowerPoint presentation at the next month’s Board meeting in 3D. It certainly would be harder to ignore me if my bullet points were floating in the air in front of them. I made a mental note to give IT a call.

Opening Remarks

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This blog[1] was my cousin Wayne’s idea. If you find it as ridiculous and nonsensical as I do, then I’ll give you his contact information and you can complain to him directly. Wayne is a writer/director/producer, so if you are indignant enough in your complaint, you might land yourself free tickets to his dinner theater (which is excellent, by the way). In fact, maybe if I complain, he’ll send me free tickets. I’ll give it a shot and let you know how it goes.

Background

In all fairness, I suppose I can’t completely blame my cousin. After all, he was just trying to help me find a more suitable forum for my middle-age ramblings[2]. You see about 10 years ago I had taken to expressing myself (that is, dumping on everyone) through an annual Christmas letter. After all, it was cheaper than therapy. However, as I got older (better said, as my kids got older), my life became increasingly more dramatic – which meant I needed more cheap therapy – which meant longer, crappier Christmas letters. Unfortunately, like with many things, holiday letters have a point of diminishing marginal utility. Statistical testing has shown this point to be about 4 pages. In other words, if you send people holiday letters longer than 4 pages in length, they will find more utility in using it to line their cat’s litter box than in reading it.

I knew I had reached this point when I stopped receiving Christmas cards from people with cats. The true enlightenment came however when I started getting requests to provide my letter in an audio format. This request came exclusively from people who had no cats or litter boxes to line, which meant that they were forced to read it and more than likely would need to take a day off work to get through the whole thing.

I try to be accommodating and took this request seriously. After careful consideration, though, I was forced to admit that an audio version was out of my league. Although I had joined Toastmasters over a year ago, I was doubtful that I could get through a 12 page letter without peppering every pause with at least one “uh”, “um” and, the real signature of failure, “you know”.

The logical solution was to simply send out mid-year update letters. This worked for awhile, but it proved not to be a viable long-term solution. This year the jig was up. It was clear to anyone who read my June update letter that an update to the update letter would be forthcoming. This was mainly due to the fact that we had purchased a house that everyone started affectionately referring to as “The Money Pit”. In Italy they have a saying about the city of Naples[3] which can also be applied to our money pit: “le storie non finiscono mai” which translates to “the stories are never ending.” How many updates to updates can you do before physics steps in and you go back in time? Luckily, right when I found myself on the edge of the swirling black hole of update letters, my cousin entered with his blog idea.

Birth of the Blog

Wayne was a child computer genius. In elementary school he could do pretty much anything with his Tandem computer, and I secretly suspect he may have invented hacking. Consequently, he has automatic credibility regarding anything computer-related, including blogs. In all honesty, it didn’t take much convincing. I was almost immediately on board, since being a blogger clearly meant I could quit my job compiling boring statistical information into PowerPoints and instead could drop my kids off at school and hang out at Starbucks drinking vanilla lattes all day.

Whether or not anyone actually reads this will be seen, but at least trees and everyone in my address book can breathe a sigh of relief.

[1] For disclosure purposes, this may not actually meet the definition of a blog, since I don’t actually know what a blog is. Using the term “blog” makes me feel cool, so I’m going to stick with it.

[2] Yes, I’ve already started to ramble in my 40’s. I’m certain my kids will catch on by the time they’re in high school and start making plans to move abroad…permanently.

[3] On second thought this may not actually be an official Italian saying. Well, in any case, I can personally confirm that at least one Italian has said this. His name was Carlo. Sorry Carlo, I don’t remember your whole name or I’d give you more credit. After all, that was 20 years ago.