Let The Magic Begin!

“I’ve never taken you for much of a Disney person.”

This is what my husband said to me tonight as I was explaining how sad I was that today’s visit to the Magic Kingdom was probably the last one I will be able to take before my annual pass expires on November 29.

It’s not that I’ve always been “much of a Disney person” and it’s not that I’ll ever be someone who visits monthly, nor will I ever have the expertise or sufficient passion to be a Disney-centered blogger like A Disney Mom’s Thoughts.

But my relationship with Disney has deepened over this year, and here are a few thoughts on why:

Candlelight Processional, November 2015

Last November, Tenley was planning to visit Disney with friends. On a quick whim, she said, “why don’t you come down for the Candlelight Processional for your birthday?” It was the need to purchase admission to EPCOT for the processional that led to my first ever Annual Pass purchase. (I knew Tenley would be living in Orlando during her College Program January – May of 2016, so it was a pretty safe bet I would be back down.)

There were many great firsts (to me) that trip. First stay at the Beach Club. First Candlelight Processional (with a phenomenal Gary Sinise). First time wearing a “Happy Birthday” button through the parks and being treated like royalty just because I had survived another year on Earth.

Remembering Disney World

Becoming a Disney College Program Parent

What really drove my newfound interest in and love of Disney was the fact that I dug deeper into all things Disney as Tenley prepared to begin her tenure as a participant in the Disney College Program. I’ve never pretended Disney is my happy place the same way it is for her (for the record, New York City is my happy place), but it’s just my nature to try to understand a place that means that much to my child (well, okay, maybe it’s stalkerish but moms just want to know right?!).

When I went to Disney in January to help Tenley move in, I had more firsts. First stay at a Value Resort (Pop Century). First visit to Animal Kingdom. First of the “bigger” kid good-byes (I knew I wouldn’t be seeing her until April).

Remembering Disney World

Customer Service Matters

One thing that has really grown on me over this year is the Disney attention to guest services. It’s certainly not always perfect, but having seen Tenley go through Disney training, having read a lot more about Disney’s 4 C’s of great guest experiences, and having had the opportunity to be treated to magical moments myself, my customer-service heart is just pleased that a company still cares and places a value on excellent service.

I always try to single out at least one cast member who provided fantastic guest service and let Disney know so that the cast member can be recognized. This doesn’t happen every trip (it didn’t happen on the trip I just completed, for example). But it’s a reminder that you should have to work hard and be exceptional to earn recognition.

Having had a loved one work as a cast member, I am exponentially more sensitive to the need to be kind to cast members. I don’t know what percentage of them are College Program participants, but in the back of my mind is always the idea that this cast member, especially if they are a college program participant, may be far from home, may be doing their first real “big” job, probably dreamed of working at Disney all their life. I know the magical awesome guest moments outweigh the bad, but I’ve heard enough stories of guests who are unreasonable and downright abusive that I want to do my small part to outweigh some of that.

Family Time

By the time our April family visit rolled around, we were all excited to be together. This was my first stay at Riverside, a lovely moderate Disney resort.

We ate, we enjoyed the Flower and Garden Festival (despite the rain!). Together we experienced the final “Dream Along With Mickey” show (if you want to see a Disney character look “sad,” watch them try to work through their nostalgia as they perform the last rendition of a beloved show).

Remembering Disney World

Joy, Sadness, and May’s Visit

Right before Tenley’s College Program ended, she suggested I visit one more time (twist. my. arm!). This was a quick visit, but it gave us an opportunity to experience a little more park time and catch up with some friends who were visiting from various areas of Florida. This was a shoestring visit, but Tenley and I agreed it was more important to be frugal with lodgings, so I stayed at the Clarion Lake Buena Vista which was definitely suitable and offered a generous cast member discount.

Although this visit was almost an afterthought planning-wise, it ended up having a special place in my heart because of the loss of Will, a College Program participant, and the way the College Program parents came together in shared sadness, reminded of what matters most.

Remembering Disney World

Being Able to Come and Go Without Having to Pack All the Magic Into One Day

The best perk of having an Annual Pass was, to me, being able to just “drop in” on a park. When I see guests trying to squeeze an entire day’s worth of attractions, food, photos, and memories into one single trip, I feel sorry for them. I have been able to take in the parks in bite-sized pieces. That first visit, when I went to the Candlelight Processional, my pass paid for itself by the time I stopped by Hollywood Studios later that evening (and saw the Osborne Family Lights for their last year), and Magic Kingdom the next morning.

Bite-sized magic tastes just as sweet on memory’s taste buds as do super-sized helpings. Sometimes even better.

Beginnings Count

Among the Disney-isms I have discovered, including the Hubgrass (my favorite!), the Hidden Mickeys, and all kinds of little traditions, I realized that I had never been to the Park Opening Ceremony at the Magic Kingdom (also known as Rope Drop).

When I participated in the Type A Parent conference at Disney World this past week, I arranged my arrival so that I would be at the park in time for Rope Drop on the first day. It helped that the conference was at the Contemporary so I could easily walk to the Magic Kingdom.

I am not sure what it is about Rope Drop, a happy start-of-day ceremony, that brings tears to my eyes, but I was fighting back sentimental tears as the train pulled into the station with Mickey and the family of the day. I loved the final line of the ceremony:

LET THE MEMORIES BEGIN!

I realize that when I walked away from the Magic Kingdom today, it probably wasn’t the last time ever. I know I should just be grateful for all of the memories I have made this year and the time with family, friends, and pixie-dusted adventures.

I guess the memories which began last November will never really leave me.

Like this sweet little girl I saw Wednesday, when I need a break from reality, I’ll just get up on my tiptoes, think about a distant castle, and allow my heart to smile while expecting something happy to be on its way.

Remembering Disney World

Thanks, Disney. It’s been a great year.

Remembering Disney World

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Suffer the Little Children

I am pleased to share a guest post from my friend Mandi about her experience of the time she and her family spent at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Process Tragedy

I watched my 10-year-old and held my breath. We were standing in front of Ground Zero, the memorial for all those lost lives, where the names were engraved around that beautiful dark fountain. Above us, buildings rose up, construction was a constant sound, along with the not-too-distant traffic.

But inside the memorial park, it was like being in the eye of a hurricane. There was stillness and reverence.

And I had brought my ten-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter who seem to be fueled, most of the time, by equal parts adrenaline and chaos.

Process Tragedy

I had prepped them, of course. Ineptly, but I had prepped them. I talked about “bad guys” and airplanes and immense, nationwide sadness and fear.

Their questions were pointed:

“Did the bad guys get punished, Mama?”

“Of course, definitely,” I answered. But so did everyone else, I kept to myself.

“Did any kids die, Mama?”

“Yes, but they are in heaven now,” I said. And their families lived through hell, said the dark part of my soul.

There were so many things I didn’t tell them. I didn’t describe things that are etched into my brain, like how I came out of the shower that unforgettable morning, sat down on the edge of my bed in front of the TV news and didn’t move – other than to desperately dial friends’ numbers – the entire day. At 6 PM, I realized I was still wrapped in a towel.

I remember candles lining the sidewalks of the Los Angeles street where I lived, silent streets where stunned, lost people walked. Even the walking was strange – people don’t walk in L.A. But they did that day. Restaurants were quiet. Except in one, a man began singing “God Bless America” and people around the room joined in, in almost whispered tones.

You have your story, I’m sure. Full of strange disjointed details that don’t mean that much – and at the same time, mean everything.

I tried to distill things down for my kids in language that wouldn’t scare them, but would impart the seriousness of the day and the importance of the place. And as we approached the park, I was a little afraid, I’ll admit, that they would be silly, that they would come across as disrespectful, that they would be too loud or offend someone.

They approached the stone around the fountain where the names were engraved. They ran their fingers across the letters. They touched the water. My daughter began to loudly sound out the names. She was disappointed that I didn’t know any of those people.

Her brother turned to her. “Shhh!” he said. Then he laid his head down on the warm stone.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Hugging them,” he said. And he rested his face against the names of the lost and closed his beautiful eyes.

Process Tragedy

Mandi Broadfoot is the homeschooling mom of two: a 10-year-old son with autism named Billy and a seven-year-old daughter named Willow.  She is also the Creative Director of Making Light Productions, a nonprofit dedicated to making the arts accessible to kids of all abilities, and you can find her blog posts here.

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Hope for Jose

As I write this, we have had power back on for almost 8 hours. Yes, we did do a happy dance of celebration at 3 am when the whole house lit up after a hurricane-induced outage of more than 48 hours.

Our outage was a “hardship.” Our home was really hot; we had to cook our eggs in a cast iron pot on the grill before they spoiled. My son mastered backgammon by flashlight. I was the first to volunteer for ANY outing that would take me out of the house and into blessed air conditioning. It was sad and frustrating to deal with my father-in-law’s constant requests for TV (he has short term memory issues).

In the scheme of things, however, we had it good. Our home is solid. Legions of utility personnel flowed into town and worked day and night to get us back up and running.

For families served by Unbound in Guatemala, the set of challenges is different. Because homes are often constructed of less-than-solid materials and methods. Because families rely upon day-to-day agricultural or other “get it as you can” work, a natural disaster poses daunting problems.

As this 2010 blog documenting the Unbound response to natural disasters in Guatemala documents, issues can include perilous roads, mudslides, volcanoes, and theft of personal property because homes are not secured.

For children like Jose, sponsorship can make a difference through providing food, health care, education, and support of his family’s efforts to make a living for themselves (via owning animals like chickens that produce eggs or by instructing a mom in a skill like sewing). In addition, Unbound holds two quetzales per child specifically to be able to respond immediately in case of disaster.

Child Sponsorship

A home we visited in Guatemala — it always humbled me that the family put so much work into creating the welcome sign and the dad said “I am sorry my home is so small.” It was very large in hospitality.

Unbound does an incredible job of balancing its imperative to help families learn how to help themselves, with providing support at times when survival is at stake. That’s one of the many reasons we love Unbound and sponsor three children (a young adult woman in Guatemala, a young girl in Guatemala, and a little boy in El Salvador).

Meet Jose, age 7, from Guatemala, who is seeking sponsorship now:

Child Sponsorship

Unbound shares the following about Jose:

Jose has fun singing and playing with toy cars, alongside his two brothers. He’s diligent in his studies and loves physical education.

At home, Jose helps his grandmother feed the pigs and he helps make the beds.

He and his family have lived with his grandparents for some time now. Their block home has a sheet metal roof and cement floor. His mother tends to the household chores.

Jose’s father is a mason’s assistant, but the work is unsteady. To augment his income, he also has a part-time job at a local store.

To help Jose:

If you are interested in sponsoring Jose, please outreach (at) unbound.org or call Clair, the Outreach Coordinator, at 800.875.6564 ext. 7309. I would also be happy to facilitate putting you in touch with Unbound.

Sponsorship is $36 a month. In the scheme of things, it’s a small investment which yields enormous results both for Jose and his family, for the good of humankind in general, and in the relationship you’ll develop with Jose and his family via letters (and, when fate really smiles upon you, VISITS).

You can also learn more about Unbound at their website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

I am part of an Unbound effort to help secure sponsors for 100 children by Christmas. Since Jose turns 8 on December 10, I’m shooting for about 15 days earlier than that for him to hear those happy words “you have a new friend.”

Child Sponsorship

A neighborhood we visited in Guatemala. The families are VERY grateful to the sponsors and humbled us with such a grand welcome.

Child Sponsorship

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Facebook and Politics: Is There Anything to Like?

Social Media Politics

This week, Kat of Mama’s Losin’ It encouraged us to write to this prompt: 10 things you have learned about politics from Facebook.

ONE: Zero Minds have Ever Been Changed Because of a Facebook Share

Social Media Politics

There have been many opinions and information pieces shared on Facebook which did change my mind or at least inform me. I’ve learned about the intensely stressful emotional, financial, and physical price of invisible illnesses. I’ve learned about laudable causes to support, inspirational athletes to encourage, great recipes. I’ve read nothing that, by itself, reversed how I felt about an issue or candidate (especially a Presidential candidate).

TWO: Private Messaging Has the Potential to Change My Mind And Is Appreciated

Our primary is August 30 (I voted early (hooray!)). A few days ago, a good friend sent me a private message in which she shared her support of a candidate for a local race and why she felt that way. I am sure it was cut and pasted; it wasn’t composed exclusively for me. However, since she took the time to choose me rather than throwing the message out to the universe and hoping it would stick, I did take notice and thank her, sincerely.

THREE: It Matters When Candidates Interact Directly

I know this is a bit of a hypothetical. I don’t expect national or statewide candidates to interact directly. Again, staying with the “wouldn’t it be nice,” when I think about how much I love it when authors interact with me directly via social media, it strikes me how much it would matter if a candidate responded directly to me on social media.

FOUR: You Learn A Lot About Each Other

Have you ever seen a friend post their support for a candidate on social media and been shocked because their post seemed so incongruous with what you know about them? Me too. My choice in that situation is typically to file that piece of knowledge away rather than fire a volley across the tennis court of social media discourse (See Number One).

FIVE: Facebook Live Gives Us Access We Wouldn’t Otherwise Have

I have found it useful that the Tallahassee Democrat has provided access to their candidate forums via Facebook Live. Doing so makes it more possible for potential voters who can’t attend a rally or forum in person to hear where the candidates stand on various issues.

Six: Your “Friend” Count Is Likely to Fluctuate In Correlation to Your Politics

I don’t post much political material on Facebook. The main candidate I post frequently about is someone I can’t even vote for (DeeDee Rasmussen, candidate for School Board District 4). Otherwise, Rule Number 1 frequently compels me not to even waste the keystrokes. This may be keeping my friend count on an even keel, but I know Facebook friendships have been lost and gained this election season.

SEVEN: Every Vote Matters

I suppose this isn’t exactly a lesson learned from Facebook, but it is one that is reinforced. I may disagree with you, I may scroll past your diatribe, I may “like” your post because I agree. I may privately shake my head and wonder how you can believe that individual will make America great again or I may privately rejoice that you, like me, are #WithHer. What I will NOT do is be sad that you plan to vote. It’s so fundamental. In the most divisive of times I will still give you a ride to the poll or do what it takes to get you there. People in some countries have given their lives for the same privilege.

Eight: There ARE Some Trustworthy Experts Out There, And Facebook Gives You Access to Them

Case in point: Steve Schale. Although I usually pick him up on Facebook, you can also find him on Twitter here.

Second example: Nicholas Kristof.  One reader’s sentiment echoed mine: Thank God for your passionate journalism. Sometimes I don’t agree with you but I always respect you. Never stop doing what you do. It SO matters.

If I could think of others, I would share them. But I can’t. That’s how rare it is to find a trustworthy political expert on Facebook.

Nine: Facebook is Woefully Inadequate as a Source of Political Information

Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to be a part of a candidates’ forum at WFSU sponsored by the League of Women Voters. I am happy I got to hear so many candidates, even if they each only had two minutes. I saw such a broad array of this county’s candidates. Even the ones I could not vote for or disagreed with I gained a new respect for. Even if I had watched something like that on Facebook Live, nothing would have equaled the electricity in the room or the very American sensation of knowing that everyone who had qualified to run and accepted the invitation was getting an opportunity to put themselves out there.

Ten: Personal Action on Issues Matters

A few weeks ago, I learned from a Facebook (and real life) friend of a September opportunity that she was not going to be able to pursue, that might interest me. I quickly researched the opportunity, applied, and was accepted to be part of the Moms Rising contingent at We Won’t Wait 2016, a gathering where 1,000 community leaders and organizers from around the country will elevate the voices of women of color and low-income women and call for a comprehensive women’s economic agenda that will advance the lives of working women and families across the country.

I’m so excited to hear these women’s stories and be a part of making our nation better and more equitable for working women and families.

13728893_146583395770433_719915185488178382_n

Given Rule #1 (above), you can bet I’ll be sharing about what I learn other places in addition to Facebook!

How about you? Has your mind ever been changed about something political by a Facebook post?

Social Media Politics

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Talking About Children on Social Media

Sometimes, I find it impossible to make my point in a succession of 140-character tweets. This recent tweet about an article titled Why I Decided to Stop Writing About My Children

…led to an exchange that got me thinking and also resulted in me feeling like I hadn’t really articulated my thoughts on the subject thoroughly.

Social Media Choices

The exchange led to two thoughts:

  1. Honestly, my first impulse was a knee-jerk reaction to the term “mommy blogger” rather than an urge to delve into the article the tweet linked to. I don’t love the term. Or, to be specific I don’t love the term as it applies to me. I’ve always incorporated MANY topics into my blog in addition to the fact that I’m a parent. I enjoy blogging in leadership and public relations circles, and I recoiled the first time a “leadership blogger” acquaintance referred to me as a “mommy blogger.” Had he NOT READ my blogs about customer service, supervision, and corporate culture?
  2. A desire to dig a bit deeper into the topics the article addressed.

NOTE: Christine wrote a post related to this topic on August 15. Click here to read it.

Blogging About Our Children

I am glad I didn’t start blogging when my kids were little. 

I published my first-ever blog post on May 17, 2008. It was a whopping four sentences long and did not contain any images but it did contain a reference to my son, who was 8 at the time. On June 28, 2009, I declared my intention to blog weekly (and I have, missing maybe five weeks in the seven years between now and then). At first, I intended for every blog to be about running (although the blog declaring my intention to post weekly contained a picture of my son too!).

As time progressed, I branched out from running. In the 700+ posts I’ve published since then, I’ve discussed my sock drawer, people and companies that provide incredible customer service, running (in prison and elsewhere), a convenience store bathroom, causes I love such as Shot at Life, and many other topics.

am glad I didn’t start blogging until my kids were 7 and 10. I am pretty sure I would have been an oversharer if I had been blogging through my pregnancies and childbirth, as well as my children’s early years. I have read quite a few blogs where I thought “holy crap this blogger is sharing a LOT of personal info” and “I’m not sure that kid is going to be glad his mom shared that picture of him at eighteen months wearing his sister’s tutu on his head and his superhero underoos on his butt when he is 18 years old.” But that’s up to that blogger, and I can always move on and read something else.

Does an alias name protect a blogger’s children?

Some bloggers use aliases to protect their children’s identities. They may call “Susan” a name like “Ann” or they may call “Susan” an amusing moniker like “Doodlebug.” Frankly, one of the reasons I don’t do that is I could not pull it off consistently. It’s a lot of work to a) remember and b) implement.

My incredible friend Jess (Diary of a Mom) explained her rationale for using alternate names here, to give you one parent’s thoughts.

One of my earliest lessons.

Back in 2009, I thought it was HILARIOUS when I tagged my son’s stuffed animal in a picture. I just happened to show him, and he (at 10 years old) didn’t laugh – he immediately burst into tears. This incident was one of my first lessons in “what you find hilarious as a blogger, something you think your readers/Facebook friends will laugh at, will embarrass your child.” Hmmm.

Here’s what I wrote after that incident:

If I had not offhandedly mentioned to Wayne the “tagging,” he never would have known. However, it was something I did for me and not at all for him. I learned a lesson that a certain set of parents of 8 children [I was referring to Jon & Kate + 8] is completely missing right now (in my opinion): our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking liberties with their images, identities, and hearts. I may have 572 friends on Facebook who would get a chuckle out of something like this, but I only have two children counting on me to give them an emotional safe haven.

Nothing is Temporary on the Internet

I mean, nothing is temporary on the internet (even Snapchat). On the one hand, my blogs create a better “virtual baby book” than the paper baby books I’ve managed cobble together for my two children. On the other hand, what on earth is going to pop up 20/30/40 years from now when they google themselves?

So many opinions

I asked the smartest, savviest people I know (my friends!) their thoughts on the NYT article. Here are a few:

I wonder what it will be like for her [referring to her daughter] to read something at 10, 11, 12, 13. She’s very sensitive so I try to be mindful. But I think it’s a matter of personal choice and temperament. – Sili of @mymamihood

I think that we have a tendency to overshare on social media. When it comes to your own life, that’s up to you as an adult to decide if your trials, tribulations, joys and secrets should be shared with the world. Writing about your children – especially about topics they might find embarrassing – should be tread on lightly. – Kim F.

This really speaks to me. I had a blog a few years ago about parenting my son with autism. I stopped writing that particular blog for the same reason this writer discusses: He is a person and deserves his privacy. Both my kids still find their way into my work, but now they are carefully disguised as some kind of talking animal in a children’s play or the lyrics to a song. – Amanda B. of Making Light Productions

I share my failures in mothering because blogging is a virtual water-cooler of sorts.  I reveal *my downfalls* not her shortcomings. – Carla Birnberg of Unapologetically Myself (read her full post on the topic here)

I am very careful to not over share on social media. I feel strongly that it is their story to tell. – LeeAnn K.

I have been burned by over sharing in real life and online. I say things that are not ugly but brutally honest. That’s the way I was raised, but I always thought it was a southern bell thing. At some point I realized that it’s not the way my kids developed. They are quite opposite from me. – Kathy D.

There is a balance that is needed and each writer has to find it. – Velva K. of Tomatoes on the Vine.

My kids are old enough now that they actually ask me not to post certain things, not to take pictures of them, not to share stuff. It has become an issue of trust, and I pray I never violate theirs. – Rebecca B.

With all the problems we have in this world, we focus on things that are byproducts of overthinking. – Will L.

I stopped posting pics of my children online and talking about them is limited – when I was working on research project and learned how often pics of children are stolen and used on child porn sites. They take what would be innocent pics and pervert them. – Kora R.

For Me, It Boils Down to This

If I were to scrub references to my children, my parenting, and my family life from my blog and social media presence, that would be as much a misrepresentation of who I really am than it would be to share every moment, even those with the potential to embarrass or humiliate my children either now or decades down the road.

When I began blogging, it was “to exercise my writing muscle,” but it has become much more. It is part diary, large part therapy, part family documentation … it is many things which bring me joy and hopefully educate/inspire others along the way.

What I don’t want it to be is an ill-considered instrument of destruction. To repeat what I said back in 2009: “our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking liberties with their images, identities, and hearts.”

I suppose with seven years of blogging experience behind me, from the perspective of a parent of a 17-year old and a 20-year old, I would change the “think before taking liberties” phrase to something different:

Our children have to be able to trust that we as parents will think before taking not knowingly take liberties with their images, identities, and hearts.

What are your thoughts on parents who blog about their children?

Social Media Choices

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An Overdue Teacher Thank You

If you had the chance to jump on a bandwagon full of people working to mitigate all of the negativity in the world (and especially the news), would you jump on it?

I would.

I did.

I joined UNFUCD UNFUCDand feel better already. Visit our site, take a look around, and sign up if it makes you smile just to think about being part of a group that wants to “raise better people, be better people, and expect more of those around us.”

Assignment Number One: Teacher Appreciation

The first assignment (they’re optional!) is to write a note of thanks to a teacher. We were encouraged to hand-write these. Mine is a bit long, so it is not hand-written, but because I value snail mail so much, I am sending the hard copy to the teacher I’m thanking along with some Big Green Pen swag!

My Note to Carol Kelley

(Note: Carol Kelley was my teacher in eleventh and twelfth grade, for several classes including business, accounting, and (gasp!) shorthand.)

Teacher Appreciation

July 30, 2016

Dear Mrs. Kelley,

I am participating in a project whose goal is creating happiness one day at a time (in order to counteract all the negativity in the world).

Today, I have been given a specific mission by that project: write a note of thanks to a teacher.

You and I had a conversation the weekend of Mary Nell’s funeral when I told you I had something I’ve always wanted to thank you for that had occurred when you taught me.

The particular day I am writing about was only one day among many days that I was your student. This could turn into a long letter if I elaborated on the many ways I learned from you, and why I hold you in such high regard.

But the day I am writing about now was a day which had to be one of the most difficult days we faced together in 1982, my senior year. It was the day we had all learned that our classmate, Debbie Hales, had passed away unexpectedly, and we were all shell-shocked. I can only imagine what it was like for you as a teacher to personally process the loss of a student while trying to provide support to a classroom full of her classmates who were also stunned into disbelief.

As we all sat there in class, obviously unable to focus on the topic (I think it was accounting but don’t recall for sure), you said, “Let’s go to the science fair.” (The science fair was underway that day, and all of the projects were on display.)

Of course we had as little interest in the science fair that day as we did in balance sheets, BUT your choice did several things:

  • It got us moving. No amount of “exercise endorphins” were really going to cut through our shock and grief, but the act of getting our blood and oxygen flowing was better than sitting, mute and powerless to change the tragedy that had just occurred.
  • Besides getting our bodies moving, it got our minds distracted and put us in a new setting, one where we did not have to look at Debbie’s empty desk.
  • It acknowledged that there are times in our lives where we have to trust our instincts in order to lead effectively and make a choice that is guided by no rule book or set of procedures.

We were in the Business/Accounting track because we wanted to have useful skills for eventual employment.

What we got that day was an example of a useful skill for life management and being sensitive to those around us.

More than 30 years later, I still think of that day OFTEN.

The way you handled our classmate’s death certainly did not bring her back or make us feel “better,” but it acknowledged the gravity of the day while exemplifying how to lead in a way that has influenced me at times when I have had to help a child, friend, or co-worker handle tragic news.

School is about so much more than facts in our heads, and I appreciate how you taught us “heart lessons” in addition to the ones directed toward our heads.

Sincerely,

Paula Rucker Kiger

Do YOU Need or Want to Thank a Teacher?

Although I wrote to a “traditional” teacher, one of the things I love about this assignment is how it encourages us to think about people who have been our teachers in other ways, about forms of teaching such as:

  • A mentor at work
  • A family member with life lessons
  • A colleague
  • A peer

If some one has made a difference for you by taking on the role of “teacher,” why not drop them a note?

Teacher Appreciation

Teacher Appreciation

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?

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What Matters Most

A month or so ago, another adult and I got in an online argument about Disney character waffle irons.

Yes, we really did.

I am part of an amazing group on Facebook. The group is for parents of participants in the Disney College Program. There are over 1,000 of us.

I had shared the Google Doc Tenley and her roommates had developed to figure out who was bringing what for move-in. It was an attempt to make sure they ended up with the correct distribution of needed items, instead of six toasters and no TV (for example).

Apparently I am not always as hilarious as I think I am, because when I explained that the three waffle irons the girls planned to bring were necessary because (duh!) they were different characters, she responded back with “there is a space issue.” While it is true that space is at a premium, I had been kidding. Jesting. Making a joke, Being sardonic. She went on to DM me, asking me to untag her (because Facebook automatically tags people in responses now). Before I could breathe, I received a second “please untag me” message.

The whole exchange above got my blood pressure high and resulted in about a half hour of wasted negative energy I threw out into the universe that I will never get back.

A Dramatic Reminder

Tonight, though, I had a big, profoundly earth shattering reminder of what matters most (hint: it’s not waffle irons and quibbling over social media practices).

One of Tenley’s fellow College Program participants passed away today of natural causes. (Secondary issue: one of the buses used by the College Program was run into by an SUV driving the wrong way, causing both vehicles to be on fire and causing multiple injuries (but no fatalities, thank goodness).

I found out about the death right as Wishes began – the grandiosely optimistic, beautiful, heart-warming, and magical fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom, the one I had been determined to see this visit after missing it on previous visits for various reasons.

As I saw all of the participants in the Parents’ Group respond to the verification of the situation, with their sadness, their promises to pray, their shock, and their overwhelming dedication to a community of people who have come to care deeply for one another, I took a quick snap of the fireworks (it was a bad picture but ….) and sent it to Tenley, with “I love you.” I needed her to know, and right-that-very-moment.

Child Loss

Service Celebration (Graduation) Day Spring 2016 Photo Credit: DisneyHousing SnapChat Account

Taking Action

One of the things the parents in the parents’ group do is take pictures of the kids in the program when they are at a Disney Park, and post them for the parents who are far away and can’t easily visit. I will admit I am a failed Mamarazzi. If I am with Tenley, I know she doesn’t want me to make a big deal out of a fellow College Program kid. When I am not with Tenley, I simply struggle with the extroverted energy it requires, and we’ve all learned over the past several months that we can’t just pull a kid out of the work assignment to take their picture — this is their work, not summer camp.

But one parent chimed in who knew I was at Main Street, told me the name of her son and what he looked like, and said she would love a picture.

Knowing one mom and dad out there just got the worst news they will ever get spurred me past the introversion, the inability to read nametags without my glasses on, and all the other objections.

One mom got a picture of her kid.

I don’t know any details about the young man who passed away except for his gender and which complex he lived in.

Update as of 5 pm on 5/15/16: Condolences to the family of William Gracia. There are more people praying for you than you could ever know. For anyone who wants to read more about Will, and how to help (his family has requested prayers and consideration of help with funeral expenses), click here for more information. ~ pk

But a higher power than us knows, and I am sure the family could use your prayers and good intentions as they walk their road of grief.

And the next time I feel inclined to spend some negative energy on something that is inconsequential long-term, I am going to remind myself to focus on what matters most.

Ironically, this incredible, upbeat, profoundly sentimental video was released today (pro-tip: for someone you know, fast forward to 15:07, 46:13, and 1:07:06). Thank you, Sharon Costello, for putting this together. Your love for our children (and us) shines through in every frame.

thoughtful-thursdays4

Mashed Potatoes: A Book Review

How long has it been since your dreams contained adventure instead of the panicked feeling that you have failed to handle some obligation?

Mashed Potatoes: A Little Brother Story rekindled my belief in the power of lofty dreams to fuel our goals and fantasies. The book was self-published by my friend/co-worker, Carrie Koens and her husband, Peter.

Book Review

Although my kids are now 16 and 19, I can just SEE their younger eyes lighting up at the idea of getting all. they. wanted. of. their. favorite. foods and being rescued from the ill effects of gluttony by the simple act of rousing from sleep.

When she was little my almost-20-year-old loved We Like Kindergarten, a book that had worked its way into our collection somehow. This classic was published the year after I was born (1965)! The illustrations were definitely not 21st century, but the story was timeless: Big sister Carol got to go to Kindergarten and her little sister had to stay home. The book was already VERY LOVED when we got it, but that didn’t reduce its charm at all. This little golden book truly was GOLDEN.

Another favorite of my kids was a board book called Jamberry. One novel feature of Jamberry was the two-page passage with NO WORDS. I would summon up all my imagination and whatever drops of dramatic tendencies I could and make the passage FUN as the characters went over blueberry falls.

When another blogger, life as mom, talked about how Mashed Potatoes was one of her children’s perennial favorites, and how when she took it out of the mothballs to take a picture recently, the (now older) children each exclaimed “oh I LOVE that book!!,” I could relate.

Book Review: Why Mashed Potatoes is a Keeper:

  • It conjures up images of how, when we were little kids, we desperately wanted more, more, more of the things we loved (even if they weren’t good for us in unlimited quantities!)
  • The disarmingly adorable yet not too sappy-sweet illustrations
  • The fact that as the reader, you feel the protagonist’s struggle between right and wrong as he tries to figure out how to respond to his dad after his act of disobedience
  • The outer space reference (because I’ve been in a big space-lover mode recently thanks to my trips to NASA)
  • As I mentioned in the beginning, the reminder that our “child” spirit, whether we are 5 or 51, has the capacity to dream big, as high as the sky!

This is More Than a Book

In addition to sharing the qualities about Mashed Potatoes that made it a “hit” with me, I also want to note that all proceeds from the purchase of this book (here’s the link) are going to the authors’ adoption fund. They are planning to adopt five siblings from Costa Rica, and of course that brings with it expenses. Read more about their adoption journey here.

Please join me in wishing Peter and Carrie blessings and success on their adoption journey. I can just imagine five little heads on five little pillows, dreaming big dreams in their slumber and knowing the big love of family when they wake up!
Book Review

Design by Rachel Royer

 Book Review
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Book Review

God’s Crooked Straight Lines

I have fantasized for quite some time about participating in a silent retreat. My ideal vision involved going to a monastery in north Georgia (or somewhere else far enough away from Tallahassee to feel “gone”) and spending two days or so in contemplative silence.

As it turns out, life is harshly disinclined to release me from my Tallahassee obligations for a full weekend involving travel to and from, and my budget is rather slim for that kind of thing too.

When I participated in a Toastmasters competition at Unity Eastside Church recently, there was a flier for a silent retreat day on our sign-in table. Six hours, twenty dollars, fifteen minutes from home. Not exactly my “ideal,” but an option with much more likelihood of happening. I informed my husband I would be out of pocket on March 26 for six hours, suspended my usual Saturday morning long run plans, and prepared.

I had two main goals: 1) write my friend Kathleen, my one true “snail mail only” friend, who I have owed a letter to for a very long time, then 2) read a book which would frame the rest of the day. I chose Becoming Who You Are by James Martin, SJ.

There was a brief introductory session at the beginning of the day (where we were encouraged to “wander and ponder,”) and a 15-minute closing session at the end, but other than that we were free to do whatever we wanted on the expansive property.

When I signed in, I was given a handout about Noble Silence which directed us to refrain from writing to one another. Hmmm ….. although Kathleen wasn’t a participant in the retreat, my rule-follower brain worried if my personal agenda was a bad fit!

Fortunately, there were no Noble Silence police at this retreat so I forged ahead with my plans. My correspondence with Kathleen edifies me in many ways, so it was a blessing to write her. After I wrote Kathleen, I started the book. As books go, it is brief (97 pages), but I figured it would be a perfect fit for a 6-hour retreat. I’ve experienced a great deal of difficulty attending to books on paper (vs audiobooks) lately, so imagine my surprise when I had finished the book before the retreat was even halfway over!

A Day Well Spent

Before I share takeaways from the book, here’s how I spent the rest of the day:

  • Co-existing with the wildlife (I had camped out in the nursery because the rocking chair was great. So had a green frog.) HMMM.
  • Napping
  • Walking their labyrinth. The fact that it was raining made this one of the most lovely labyrinth walks I have ever taken!

God's Crooked Straight Lines

  • Walking their grounds
  • Praying
  • Eating lunch
  • Writing another letter when I was out of things to read and prayers to say (I also skimmed “Radiation Therapy and You” a publication I had taken solely to have a hard surface to write on. Maybe I do have trouble calming my brain!)
  • Reading and re-reading the lyrics to Where Does the Good Go?, which Shonda Rhimes talked about in Year of Yes and I subsequently can’t. stop. thinking. about. Just can’t!
  • Taking pictures with a disposable camera (because I was afraid if I took my smartphone in “just for the camera” I would not be able to resist checking Email/Instagram/Facebook/Twitter)

Silent Retreat Reading Takeaways

Now for my takeaways from Fr. Martin’s book, which focused on insights about what constitutes the “true self,” drawing heavily on Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen.

Humanity is, in itself, holy. Holiness is not limited to the officially beatified or incessantly selfless.

Time is a gift. In a passage discussing how each moment is a sacrament (a parent preparing a child’s lunch, etc.), I was reminded anew that my tasks of caregiving are sacramental (even though that is not how they feel). Yes, I have grumbled audibly when closing our back French door which my FIL frequently inadvertently leaves open, uttered my share of sarcastic comebacks, and prayed for him to sleep in just a little longer in the mornings so I can have my house (and train of thought) to myself. Although I know I need to cut myself a break as a caregiver, I also owe these responsibilities the perspective they are due.

The idea (generated by Nouwen) that “the term burnout was a convenient psychological translation for a spiritual death.” Having said, as I left my job in May 2014, that my soul was being sucked out of me, I could relate to this passage!

As a follow up to the burnout idea, I was intrigued by the idea that “ordinary people,” who are leading “ordinary” non ministerial lives, are still serving God.

Merton calls these men and women “hidden contemplatives” who enjoy a kind of “masked contemplation.” Their ability to do so hinges on their willingness to find God not by trying to be cloistered monks, but by discovering the divine spark in their own busy lives.

Repeatedly throughout the book, Fr. Martin repeated his point that “being holy means being your true self.”

As I walked the labyrinth, I reflected on a proverb Fr. Martin had shared: “God writes straight, with crooked lines.” You can see the center of the labyrinth from the entrance, but you can’t get there without following, obediently, a circuitous path. As the path unfolded before me, I tried not to look at my watch, to let time elapse naturally. I saw a beautiful red cardinal, the raindrops on the trees, and a broken tree, its fresh splinters reflecting how jagged you become when you are broken. All of them encouraged my mind to relax and expand, to focus on enjoying the journey knowing that the center would appear eventually.

In a day of quiet, one idea persisted in asserting itself, wordlessly but forcefully:

The divine spark. It is worth seeking, protecting, sustaining.

(For more pictures from the day, click here.)

Creative K Kids