One Afghan, Many Roles

Ever since I worked at Fordham University, I have aced any trivia question that involves the word “sesquicentennial.” I was fortunate enough to be a Fordham employee when the university celebrated its 150th birthday in 1991. As part of the celebration, we were given commemorative blankets depicting the university.

I wonder who was the first person to touch the threads that became part of these blankets, who wove them into finished products, how many people were part of their journey to the Bronx and into my hands.

I loved my Fordham blanket. It followed me back to Tallahassee after Wayne and I got married and had a prominent place in our living room. It wasn’t just decorative, though; it comforted me through many naps and illnesses.

The Blanket and Dad

At some point during Wayne’s dad’s stay with us over the past three years, the Fordham blanket became his go-to covering as he sat in his chair and watched tv. I can’t say I was especially happy about this turn of events. The latter years for Dad were signified by a serious decline in his personal hygiene habits; at some point the blanket developed a hole in it. I, again, was not happy about this but put the blanket’s downfall into the “it is what it is” category. We had too many other things going on to fret about it.

In the couple of weeks prior to Dad’s move to Hospice House, he started carrying blankets with him from the chair to his bed, security-blanket style. Anything near was fair game. The Fordham blanket especially, but if there was another blanket around, it went too.

About ten days before his move to Hospice House, on a Saturday, Dad sat for lengthy periods of time, pulling individual threads of the Fordham blanket out, obsessively. I’m sure this was a signal of his cognitive decline. The Hospice nurses helped us adjust his anti-anxiety medications, which helped with the obsessiveness a bit, but the blanket was none the better for this episode.

A Final Comfort

When Dad’s condition declined so much (and space available in Hospice House allowed), he was moved there (on June 27). I wasn’t home, but I understand the nurse and social worker encouraged us to send the Fordham blanket with Dad to provide continued security.

Although I didn’t really plan to circulate them, I did take pictures each of the five nights I visited Dad before he passed away, mainly in case family members wanted to see them, as difficult as they were to view.

The Fordham blanket was always front and center, providing comfort. This is an edited picture of my last visit, hours before he passed away.

Life Reflections

I *may* have asked Wayne (husband) more than once to double check that the Fordham blanket made it back to us from Hospice House after Dad died. (We still have a pair of “inherited” sweatpants that came home with Dad after his respite stay there in April — dear family out there looking for the tan sweatpants — we’ll hang onto them for you!)

Earlier in Kiger Family History

As I have been going through old pictures looking for photos of Dad, I ran across a picture from twenty years ago, a different time in the Fordham blanket’s lifecycle with us. It was a time of new beginnings, before Tenley (now 21) was six months old.

Life Reflections

(Oh, the cuteness!)

At six months, Tenley was already going to my in-laws every day. They took care of her until she was two years old. She was thriving. She was loved. My father-in-law and I had relatively diametrically opposed ideas about child care, but at no point was she not cared for with love by two people who were also helping us avoid the financial drain of child care.

Thanks, Jesuits (and Ignatians) for Cura Personalis

As I was looking up a few details about Fordham and the Sesquicentennial Celebration for this post, I ran across the concept of “cura personalis” on the university website.

This is an excerpt of what IgnatianSpiritality.com has to say (but I encourage you to read the entire post):

Little is written about the Ignatian-Jesuit characteristic of cura personalis, which is Latin for “care for the whole person.” Cura personalis comes down to the respect for all that makes up each individual. As St. Paul reminds us, “the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body…” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

I can’t say I ever heard the term “cura personalis” during my time at Fordham. (I also must admit I was quite focused on the thrills of Manhattan and the Bronx — I did do my job as Internship Coordinator to the best of my ability and fell in love with Fordham while developing a deeper respect for the Jesuit approach …. but NYC held much of my focus!).

Somehow, though, the idea of cura personalis is a fit for the journey the Fordham blanket has taken, from the time I acquired it in 1991, through my marriage, to the time it lay under my infant, to the time it comforted my father-in-law as he passed from his earthly life.

Where will the blanket end up?

I don’t know where the blanket itself will be 150 years from now. Maybe my great grandchildren will transfer it from home to home, use it for various purposes, reflect back on how “this once belonged to great-grandma Paula.”

My hopes are that, if it survives, it will never be a “hands-off” showpiece, something people don’t touch, but rather something that brings comfort, security, and joy.

Something that does what cura personalis envisions: serving not just the intellect, but the heart, body, and whole person.

Life Reflections

Editor’s note: Yes, I titled this “afghan” and then referred to the item as a blanket throughout. Choose a preference; hopefully the sentiment makes sense either way!

The Internship Dress Code Petition: My Opinion

When I first saw a Yahoo Style post about interns who got fired after protesting the dress code at work, my first thought wasn’t “oh there those millennials go again … when will they learn?”.

Disgruntlement Among Employees Is Multi-Generational

My first thought was about a different communication. It was different because it was anonymous (whereas the interns’ petition was signed by all but the one intern). It was different because it was composed by one individual (whose identity I still don’t know years later). Maybe that individual was a millennial; I will never know. It was different because instead of being presented to our Executive Director, it was mailed anonymously to every member of our organization’s board of directors. Yep.

My second thought was about a time much earlier in my career. Three of us peers were in roughly equivalent positions and shared responsibilities at the same area of the organization. Two of us grew frustrated with the other’s lack of carrying her share of the weight. We had planned an agenda for a meeting with our boss in which we would share our outrage that she was not pulling her weight and demand that something be done. Shortly before the meeting, my ally told me that she was being promoted, and did not want to proceed with our plan for concern that our expressions of disgruntlement would interfere with her promotion. I was angry at the time, but in retrospect I am so glad that our plan fell through. Telling our boss how our co-worker was failing (in our eyes) would have suggested that he wasn’t doing his job as a supervisor. 

My third thought was “this kind of thing would never happen at the Disney College Program (DCP). My daughter just finished her tenure at the DCP, and the appearance code is meticulous, strict, and unyielding. Is that right or fair? Maybe not, but there are so few applicants (relatively) who are accepted proportionate to the applications received, that a DCP’s appreciation for being there (and, by extension, their parents’) means they will correct the two-toned hair, cover up a tattoo every single day for work, buy the glasses with the basic frames. The list goes on and on.

Now Back to the Disgruntled Intern at the Heart of this Story

Let me recap the intern/dress code situation that got me going down this path. On June 28, Ask a Manager published a post titled I was fired from my internship for writing a proposal for a more flexible dress code. I first learned about the situation from the Yahoo Style post I referenced in the first paragraph. The only way I can process what the intern wrote in their letter to Ask a Manager is to point out the passages that pressed buttons for me (there are many!) and share my opinion.

Disgruntled Intern (DI): I was able to get a summer internship at a company that does work in the industry I want to work in after I graduate.

Big Green Pen (BGP): “Able” is the key here. Getting an internship is a privilege. This internship will provide payoffs in new learning, networking, and the opportunity to learn real-life applications of everything you’ve learned in school.

DI: Even though the division I was hired to work in doesn’t deal with clients or customers, there still was a very strict dress code.

Internship Problems

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

BGP: It may not make sense to get dressed up formally if a customer is not going to walk in the door. I can see that. Two thoughts: 1) There is some truth to the idea that the way you dress influences the way you act and 2) By agreeing to intern there, you accepted their “very strict dress code” and I would advise just dealing with it, being grateful for the payoffs in new learning, networking, and the opportunity to learn real-life applications of everything you’ve learned in school.

DI: I spoke with my manager about being allowed some leeway under the dress code and was told this was not possible, despite the other person being allowed to do it. [Note: DI had shared in their letter to Ask A Manager that there was one employee who wore shoes that were not aligned with the dress code.]

BGP: I don’t think I would even have done that (I’m not sure how long you had been there, but I probably wouldn’t have asked at all), but it sounds like you attempted to start with the appropriate place on the chain of command. Smart move. That said, when they said it was not possible, that should have been the end of the subject.

DI: I soon found out that many of the other interns felt the same way, and the ones who asked their managers about it were told the same thing as me. We decided to write a proposal stating why we should be allowed someone leeway under the dress code. We accompanied the proposal with a petition, signed by all of the interns (except for one who declined to sign it) and gave it to our managers to consider.

BGP: First of all, I would like to shake the hand of the one intern who declined to sign the petition. Secondly, one of the things I would have asked, were I one of your managers, would have been “wow, did they spend work time composing/writing/organizing this petition effort when they could have been doing the work related to the core of our business goals?”. Maybe you all did this on your personal time, and there are times when it is appropriate to do human resources-related tasks on the clock, but it would make me question your priorities. Thirdly, in case I haven’t been clear enough about this, I don’t agree with this strategy on your part.

DI: The next day, all of us who signed the petition were called into a meeting where we thought our proposal would be discussed. Instead, we were informed that due to our “unprofessional” behavior, we were being let go from our internships. We were told to hand in our ID badges and to gather our things and leave the property ASAP.

BGP: I agree with Alison from Ask a Manager that this was a pretty extreme reaction on your employer’s part, BUT it was their option to choose that reaction. In a perfect world, I would love for them to have used this as a teachable moment to explain why your strategy was so offensive to them and how, in the future, you could approach situations that you thought needed changing, but ultimately I imagine they may have doubted whether or not you would be receptive to this type of counseling and every moment they took away from the business to manage this situation was time away from the core purpose of of the organization, time away from making money (or providing services or whatever your particular organization did).

DI: The proposal was written professionally like examples I have learned about in school, and our arguments were thought out and well-reasoned. We weren’t even given a chance to discuss it.

BGP: Props to you for professional writing skills. Props to school for teaching you professional writing skills, and props for the ability to think through well-reasoned arguments. The thing they don’t teach you in school is how and when to share a proposal, or whether to share it at all. Sometimes the answer from a business is “you don’t even get a chance to discuss it.” That’s just the way it is.

DI: The worst part is that just before the meeting ended, one of the managers told us that the worker who was allowed to disobey the dress code was a former soldier who lost her leg and was therefore given permission to wear whatever kind of shoes she could walk in. You can’t even tell, and if we had known about this we would have factored it into our argument.

BGP: Well, there you go. Applause to your employer for accommodating the employee who needed an exception to the dress code due to her combat related injury sustained while serving our country. You say “if we had known about this we would have factored it into our argument.” It would have been nice if the several managers that several of you apparently approached about this issue had said, “sometimes we make accommodations for personal health issues (or whatever)” but a) they aren’t required to do that and b) did it occur to you they may have been trying to protect the privacy and dignity of your coworker who has a combat related injury sustained while serving our country? Lastly, as I said above, I don’t think you should have continued making the argument after the initial “no.”

DI: I have never had a job before (I’ve always focused on school) and I was hoping to gain some experience before I graduate next year. I feel my dismissal was unfair and would like to ask them to reconsider but I’m not sure the best way to go about it.

BGP: The fact that you’ve never had a job before is precisely why it was premature and ill-considered for you to proceed with your proposal/petition plan after the initial “no.” It’s great and fitting that you’ve focused on school, but the transition to the work world (part of which is an internship) is brand new territory. Just like you wouldn’t race a car in the Daytona 500 while still in Driver’s Ed, you shouldn’t take it upon yourself to change an organization’s dress code while still in your internship. The dismissal was drastic, not unfair. Alison of Ask a Manager is right: “it would be smart to write a letter to your manager explaining that you’ve learned from the situation and that you appreciate the opportunity they gave you and are sorry that you squandered it.” (And not to put words in Alison’s mouth, but she probably means REAL LETTER. On paper. With a return address, a “to” address, a stamp, and your honest to goodness most sincerely felt signature.)

To Repeat, This Is Not About “Kids These Days”

Many of the reactions to the intern/dress code post criticized millennials and young people as entitled, unwilling to pay their dues, and overly coddled. One Reddit thread I visited introduced me to the acronym SJW and shared lots of opinions about “day care babies,” the participation ribbon culture, and kids who have never been told no. Although I do see those types of struggles among millennials, as I pointed out in the example at the start of this blog, our “anonymous letter to the board” situation may have come from a millennial but since it was anonymous and our office included Millennials, Gen X, Gen Y, and Baby Boomers, I can’t assume. In that case, it wasn’t about demographics, it was about the sheer stupidity of thinking it would be constructive to air organizational dirty laundry and embarrass the Executive Director by using the “anonymous letter to the board” approach.

During grad school, I resigned from an internship when I was getting my Masters in Counseling and Human Systems. The supervision was (to my mind and the opinions of others) sporadic. I was not alone; several of us called this place the “Family Death Center” instead of its given name, the Family Life Center. At the time, I was told I would be able to return later. When I tried to return, I was told by the administrator in charge of interns, “I don’t have time to manage all that.” At the time, it seemed unfair. I had followed the procedures I had been given, and this felt arbitrary. But they had the power and I did not. In the “things happen for a reason” category, that inability to get re-hired is what led me to do an internship in Career Planning (thanks, FSU Career Center!) and my eventual position as Internship Coordinator at Fordham University.

Five or ten years from  now, the interns who created the dress code proposal/petition may put this whole situation in the “things happen for a reason” category.

I still want to hear from the one intern who declined. I’m guessing they were pretty busy after all those other interns were fired!

If you were in a position at that organization to respond to the interns’ proposal/petition, what would you have done?

thoughtful-thursdays4

Why I Am Gettin’ Dirty**

**This is definitely a G-Rated post. I just love the catchy title!

I had one attendant at my wedding on August 8, 1992, on the Brooklyn Promenade in New York City, Mary Jane. Mary Jane and I had worked together at Fordham University for almost three years. We had shared many laughs, a few tears, and quite a few conversations about our mutual love of figure skating. I do have a serious picture of us taken that day:

Multiple Myeloma Advocacy

Photo Credit: Dan Carubia

But it is pictures like this that most capture Mary Jane’s enthusiasm (I wonder what she, my friend Audrey, and my friend Jennie were reacting to):

Multiple Myeloma Advocacy

Photo Credit: Dan Carubia

Although my return to Florida from New York and the busy nature of our lives as we each pursued our careers and grew our families kept us from seeing each other very much, we have always been there for one another, and especially enjoyed meeting up twice for the National Figure Skating Championships (we were in Detroit when the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding situation went down).

A few years ago, Mary Jane called me with very serious news: she had been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma (I didn’t know what it was and had to ask). After a demanding, grueling course of treatment, she is in an excellent place, all things considered. However, there is no cure for Multiple Myeloma and true to her enthusiastic nature (see picture above), she has gone “all in” for participating with Team in Training to help fund research, support, and advocacy for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

I have lost track of the number of Team in Training events Mary Jane has already done, the number of people she has mentored, and the amount of money she has raised. I can be certain, though, that it is a lot and that she brought fun and encouragement to every single event. (The 13 minutes it takes to watch her Inspiration Speech is worth it, I PROMISE.) 

For my 50th birthday in November, I asked my family to send me back to my favorite place (New York City). I am always ecstatic to be in New York City but this trip has a purpose: I will be participating in the 2015 New York City Half Marathon with Mary Jane and Team SOAR (Spirited Optimistic And Relentless) For A Cure.

I was thinking about my participation with Team SOAR this Saturday when I ran the Swamp Forest Trail Race. Although race day wasn’t as frigid as it was in 2014, a surplus of rain in Tallahassee had made the trail muddy and treacherous. In addition, the heart rate issues I have been struggling with cropped up at a point in the race when I was feeling incredible and forced me to switch to a run/walk strategy 2/3 of the way in. Even though the race wasn’t easy, and my body did not cooperate with my race plan, I was thrilled to be making my debut as a member of Team in Training, wearing my TnT shirt. I don’t figure anyone who has dealt with leukemia, lymphoma, or other blood cancers really felt that their body was cooperating with them, either, so it’s time to stop spinning around in circles of frustration and direct my energies toward making a difference.

I have committed to raise $2,500 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as part of my participation in the New York City Half Marathon. Here is my plan as it stands now:

1) I am accepting donations via this link. Seriously, no amount is too small.

2) There will be a “pairs” workout on Saturday, February 7 at Badass Fitness at 10 a.m. This is the first “gettin’ dirty (by gettin’ sweaty) opportunity. In a pre-Valentines Day workout, couples (it can be spouses, friends, siblings, whatever) can partake in pairs-based exercises. A portion of proceeds will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Sign-up is OPEN. Visit Badass Fitness, click “Sign Up For A Badass Fitness Class” and follow the prompts for the 2/7 class at 10 am!

3) Please join my Gettin’ Dirty Benefit at Madison Social. The date is 2/7 (you know, work out in the morning, drink in the evening!) and one featured bevvie is Dirty Tequila. A generous portion of the proceeds will go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. Here’s the link for tickets ($25 per person and a portion to goes to LLS).

I raised $500 for Autism Speaks in 2012 for my Boston Half Marathon. That was hard. $2,500 will be harder. But when it comes to a priceless friendship, I’m all in to do the work.

Multiple Myeloma Advocacy

Photo Credit: Fred Deckert

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