Monday, July 26, 2010

Passing the Torch - Part 2

There is a current push in Fortune 500 corporate type circles to help employees identify their areas of strength so that the employees can leverage those strengths to make more money for the company. It’s actually the result of a 30 year study, conducted by Gallup, where the research team tried to identify characteristics that top performers share. They were looking for one or maybe a few psychological factors or talents that high achievers have in common. The thinking was, apparently, that if they knew what they were looking for, it would be easier to eliminate the poor performers before they were stuck with them as employees. Stick with me here because this is really very interesting and has application in parenting too.

Gallup looked at workers across every conceivable field of interest, including financiers, teachers, artists, athletes, doctors, lawyers, tinkers, and tailors. The reason it took the researchers 30 years is that they couldn’t pinpoint any particular set of psychological traits or personality types that were shared by the people they studied. What they ultimately found is that there are 29 different areas of strength (i.e. leadership, flexibility, rational thought, harmony, deliberation, etc) and that nobody is good at all of them but everybody is good at some of them. What top performers share is that they have risen to the top because they have learned to capitalize on their areas of strength rather than working fruitlessly to improve their ability to perform in those areas where they are weak.

It was an eye opener for large-scale employers. The days where annual reviews focus on what you didn’t accomplish or what you could have done better are giving way to giving employees ownership of the jobs they do and getting them to engage in their jobs by identifying and recognizing their areas of strength.

Long before I was exposed to the results of the Gallup study, I recognized that most parents have a tendency to look at the children of their friends and acquaintances and see THOSE children for all the things they are. And then they look at their own children and see all the things their own offspring aren’t. That’s not a criticism of parents. Lord knows I’ve spent most of the last 30 years in the same pattern. All the way through high school, if any of my children brought home a report card that had three A’s, two B’s, and a D, it was the D that got attention. That kind of parenting behavior is rooted in all the hopes and dreams we have for our children because we love them. Now I think that approach is as counter-productive in aiding them to reach their potential as primarily focusing on the things they are good at, and not dwelling on their failures, is counter-intuitive. It’s simply not part of most of our parenting bags of tricks to ignore what we perceive as deficiencies. But good parents, like good employers, can learn to focus on areas of excellence, in order to maximize potential. They can learn that you cannot turn a weakness into a strength; that all we can really do is help those in our charge develop ways to minimize the impact of
the weaknesses.

And so most of this is another iteration of that singular theme from yesterday. Chill. Recognize that she is what she is; assisted by her unique combination of genes and acknowledge that nature and nurture should work in harmony to bring her to her best. If she is going to be a lily, you can’t turn her into a cactus by withholding water. And, if she’s destined to thrive in the desert, more water than she needs will keep her from blooming.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Passing the Torch - Part I

A young woman I know, and one who happens to be one of my daughter’s most cherished friends, very recently had her first baby. I have no doubt that she and her husband will develop top-notch parenting skills that will exemplify the amazing young people they have already proven themselves to be. So, I would not offer them parenting advice if she hadn’t issued an open call - especially since I’m not one that believes it takes a village to raise a child. I can clearly recall multiple occasions where I felt it appropriate to remind relatives, friends, and/or educational personnel who it was that give birth to my three offspring and assured them, each in turn, that when I wanted their advice I would remember to ask them for it.

But since this young woman did make such a request, and I’ve been at this for over 30 years already, I’ve decided to accept the challenge and share what my children have taught me.

Most of it can really be summed up in one word. Chill. Children, even the very young, have an innate ability to let you know what they need when they need it. In no time at all you will recognize the tone of the cry. But, if it takes you awhile, or even if you just disagree with her current demand, she is not going to explode or disappear into a puff of dust if she doesn’t get what she wants, or even needs, right this very minute. That’s as true now when she thinks she wants a bottle as it will be when she’s 6 and wants a pony or 16 and thinks she needs a Mustang Convertible.

Chill. The horse will drink when it gets thirsty. It is NOT your job to tell the horse when it’s thirsty. It is your job to provide the skills needed to recognize thirst and the skills needed to find the water.

Chill. Let her find out who she is. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set boundaries and standards. Of course you should. It does mean that when those boundaries and standards cause conflict – and they will – that you will win some of the ensuing battles and you will lose some of them. And you should not mark your success as a parent by keeping score. Nor should you mark your success as a parent by your child’s successes or failures. GOOD parents have children that fail at life and parents that do TERRIBLE things have children that do amazing things with their life.

I’ll post part II of this tomorrow . . . . it’s pretty much along the lines of “Everything I Need to Know About Parenting, I Learned in Business School.”

Friday, July 16, 2010

Top 10 Reasons for Staying Married

10. He makes really GOOD hamburgers.

09. He likes to mow.

08. He gets up to take the dog out in the middle of the night.

07. He doesn't expect me to pick his clothes up from the floor. (Let's be clear. He's not going to either but he doesn't expect ME to do it.)

06. He doesn't take himself seriously.

05. He knows how to fix my internet connection.

04. He encourages me to pursue the things that interest me - even though most of them bore him to tears.

03. He never suggests that I should lose weight (even though we both know I need to).

02. He "gets it" when I cry.

01. He fixes the coffee in the mornings!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Time Well Spent

I knew that I liked it (major understatement!) but I did not know that Scrapbooking is the national number one leisure pastime. According to Wikipedia, where golf was the previous reigning champion, the number of households with scrapbookers exceeded the number of households with golfers starting in 2004. One in 5 households includes a golfer but one in four can now claim a scrapbooker. In the United States alone, Scrapbooking is a 2.5 billion dollar industry with over 1600 companies that make scrapbook related products. The craft originated with traditional paper pages but has grown to include an increasing number of pages and projects completed exclusively with digital products as well as hybrid creations that employ both techniques. And you’re all thinking “zzzz ZZZ zzzzz. . . is there a point to this?”. Well, yes, but I agree that these dry facts are only almost interesting to MAYBE one person in every 4th household but that it does nothing to explain the allure for those of us that are so hopelessly addicted. I can’t speak for anyone but myself. But I can tell you why it’s such a major part of my life.

My husband would tell you it’s because there such a wide range of products and events for me to spend our money on and that’s not entirely without justification. It did open a whole new world of things to buy! But that’s just a benefit – not a reason. It’s an art form of sorts and the artistry calls out to the inner child in me – the part that really liked to color when I was kid. Finding and mastering new techniques soothes my needd for change and growth. I like for my pages to look better that Sally-Sue Smugwitch’s pages so the contests and challenges to be found in the world of scrapbookers appeal to the competitive side of my nature. But, since I can and have satisfied all of those personal needs with other things, I know that they are not the reason I find it so appealing.

I’ve spent a lot time in the last 20 years with my mother on my mind. I’ve only been scrapping for three years and of course, I thought about her before I began to scrap and frequently think of her even when I’m not scrapping. But to me, she seems closest when I’m in my scraproom. What’s different about the times she’s on my mind when I’m wearing my scrap hat is that my thoughts are focused on my mother as a whole person and not just about how much I miss sharing my daily life with her or how my daughter is so much like her. In my scraproom, I see my mother outside of her assigned roles as my champion, my coach, and my protector from the storms of life.

I’m able to see her as the person she was because of what she gave me during the last year – when we knew the end was coming and we knew we couldn’t stop it. Her bequest to me wasn’t a material thing and I didn’t understand it at the time. In fact, at the time I viewed it as kind of peculiar and there were days when it made me uncomfortable. But now, maybe because of my advancing age or maybe because I’ve started scrapbooking, I’ve begun to understand what it was that she was doing during those private afternoon gab sessions. There were several times when she really came close to crossing the boundary into the land of Too Much Information (you all have or had mothers so you know how it is – I was 30 something with a very colorfully checkered past of my own but I was still reasonably certain she had never even held hands with anyone other than my father). To her credit, she never really crossed the line of propriety and there was a point to everything she shared with me. The point was that she NEEDED for me to see her as whole person and to have a glimpse of the world through HER eyes. She NEEDED for me to understand that as much as my brother and I enriched her life (her words, not mine), she was a person of depth and interests and experiences that had nothing to do with us and that it was the sum of those many parts that made her whole self. She NEEDED for me to know that the concentric circles that rippled outward from her life encompassed but were by NO means limited to her career as wife and mother.

After her death and even before I started scrapbooking, I became the keeper of the family repository of photographs. Now that I know HOW, it’s really easy for me to scrap photos of my history and my view of the history of my children and my grandchildren but it becomes increasingly more difficult for me to successfully create a meaningful page when I move backwards through the generations; especially the people she didn’t talk about. And the reason is, I don’t KNOW those people. Well, yes, I know that this picture is my paternal grandfather and this one is her twin uncles, CB and MB, but that knowledge doesn’t give me a clue about the essence that made the person. Of those that comprise my heritage, my mother alone that it was important to bridge the gap in knowledge.

She was a poet and for others in the family, especially my dad and my brother – and, as I’ve recently learned, aunts and uncles and cousins - she told them what she wanted to say in her poems but since I don’t do poetry more complex than Jack Be Nimble, she made my gift with the only other tools she had available. What she spent that last year giving me was a verbal scrapbook.

William James tells us “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast us.” So, other than a few thousand lines of COBOL code, generated over a 30 year career, the pages that I create and compile into books are the legacy I’ll leave. They’ll be unknown and unimportant to the outside world, but they will, I hope, be enduring ways for my children and their children to look at the people that are their heritage AS people and not just really weird names on the lines of patchworked pedigree. I NEED that in the same way my mother did and I believe my children and my grandchildren also need it even if they don’t fully know that yet.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Empty Nest Syndrome

My children are my heartbeat. They are the jewels in my crown. They are the most common cause of the smile on my face. And I will be so glad when they finally move out and start their own households that I will do handsprings and the boogie-woogie down the substantial length of my driveway. I've already been doing the mom-thing for 34 years and, by my calculations, still have at least 6 or 7 to go before my husband and I enter what we call our Project Completion Phase. I really believe that Empty Nest Syndrome is a canard, dreamed up and promoted by some young adult that found out independence isn't all it's cracked up to be and wanted to move back home. If I’m wrong about that, then I'm convinced that I can offer a first class cure. As long as I have visitation rights, I will lease my kids to those who suffer from the malady.

When I first came up with this plan, I really didn't know how to market them. . .youngest to oldest; most driven to most laid back; most careful to most destructive. I mean the ways to arrange the arrays are almost endless. But I think I have it figured out so let me outline my newest plan and you can tell me what you think.

My firstborn is the recommended treatment for those with the mildest form of the syndrome. He’s all grown up and he's a GOOD man. He comes equipped with his own family and a house of his own – which needs to be placed within a two mile radius of the empty nest in order to achieve the maximum effect. His active ingredients include frequent drop ins on his way home from work; usually coinciding with our dinner time on nights his wife is serving leftovers, tool borrowing that most often results in parental retrieval; and fairly infrequent requests to babysit his 5 children – preferably in your nest and not his.

His baby sister is for more advanced cases of Empty Nest. She likes popcorn and pickles and requires constant access to both food groups. She will also eat chicken in any form except baked or boiled, fried potatoes, Popsicles, and pizza rolls but whines or refuses food altogether if you attempt to feed her any vegetables other than broccoli or any recipe containing even trace amounts of onions or tomatoes. She has a naturally sunny disposition but when she’s tired or stressed does develop her own drama queen version of Jekyll and Hyde. If you leave the room for more than 5 minutes, you never know who you’ll find when you return. She is currently away at college but refuses to stay gone for more than 11 days at a time since that’s as many days of clothes as she has and she can’t fit more than 11 days worth of groceries from the main nest pantry into the back of her car – which, BTW, is a lot nicer than the one I drive. When she is home, she uses the family room as command central and requires sole custody of the universal remote and any horizontal surfaces within reach of her throne for her books, her laptop, her cell phone and the dishes that never make their way back to the kitchen. The sandblaster needed for cleaning her assigned room and bathroom is not included in the base rental.

The most complex cases of Empty Nest Syndrome need a good dose of my middle child. He is a highly talented rock/blues guitarist that cannot be shipped express because of the equipment he needs to sustain life. Included in the base price, this unit comes with: 2 electric guitars, 3 amplifiers of varying sizes, various distortion pedals, 2 electronic keyboards and a bench, 2 computers that record and/or synthesize noises that sound like the screams of the Un-Dead, a TV, and a sound system with speakers large enough to enable him to share whatever he’s currently listening to with your closest neighbors – even if they live ½ mile away. At the end of the lease, you are required to keep this equipment. He pleads constantly for a set of drums and we have not yet located the mute switch for that recording. He does not require a closet since he never hangs anything up. On his own, without urging, he does shower at least once daily; will cheerfully shave upon receipt of the 15th request and will grudgingly get his haircut almost immediately after you begin to withhold meals. He is not a picky eater. You may find a coal shovel a more efficient eating utensil for him than a fork. For the Empty Nester that would like to see the merchandise before signing the lease, we offer the following directions to his current location. Go south on Clueless, about 5 blocks past Irresponsible, and then take a hard right on Stupid. There is no maximum time limit on his lease –it’s not like he needs to be anywhere. Since he found ping-pong in the Student Center vastly superior to his Algebra and Engineering classes as a worthy use of his time, he is no longer in school and is also currently unemployed although he is up by the crack of noon everyday to continue looking. You will need to exercise great caution when dealing with this unit or he will use every dirty trick in the book to negate his effectiveness as a remedy. He comes armed with GREAT smile, a genuine concern for the people around him, and warm and ready hug for anybody that looks like they need one.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Getting to Know Me

I've written the infrequent blog for My Place on Scrapbook.Com so some of you may already know me and, to those that do, I apologize for any repetitions. For those that don't yet know me, I offer the following random facts about myself:

  1. 1. I have learned that things are seldom what they seem to be. I met my husband when he responded to a remark I made in the Letters to the Editor of William William F. Buckley’s National Review. We corresponded for a while then he drove 300 miles to take me out for the first time on New Year’s Eve. We got married 3 months later. Then I found out that he is a registered Democrat.

  2. 2. Our wedding anniversary is April 1st. Really. Other couples get Valentine’s Day or Christmas time or Summer Solstice. We got April Fool’s Day. 21 years today! :)

  3. 3. I’ve never cared for Rock. When all the other kids in my generation were listening to The Stones, The Beatles, Steppenwolf, Cream, and Strawberry Alarm Clock, I was listening to Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams. My poor parents thought something was terribly wrong with me.

  4. 4. I hate most poetry. I just don’t get most of it. Poems are supposed to rhyme. If someone has something to say, why can’t they just say it without burying it in senseless metaphors that don’t rhyme?

  5. 5. I’m not gifted with foreign languages. Because my father was in the Air Force and we went to Europe when I was in Jr. High, I wound up taking 3 Years of high school level French, 2 years of high school level German, and 2 years of high school level Spanish by the time I graduated from high school. I can’t count to 10 in anything but English. Well, I can, but it takes all three of those other languages to get the job done.

  6. 6. I'm very loyal. Like a dog. Say something nice to me or feed me and I'm your friend for life.

  7. 7. That doesn't mean I'm needy. I'm very emotionally independent. Like a cat, except not QUITE as condescending as a cat (see #6). People are cool and can be fun but really, I'm my own best friend. I can always occupy myself and never get bored.

  8. 8. Since my dad was in the Air Force, we moved a lot when I was a kid. I went to 3 different schools the year I was in 3rd grade (that was a personal best record that remained unbroken). The net effect of that kind of childhood is emotional independence. (See #7.)

  9. 9. In my view, I had a very happy childhood. I loved moving and going to new places and growing up on a SAC Air Force base during the Cold War years was a VERY safe environment. At each new place I got to re-invent myself and start with a clean slate. There were several times that I needed that clean slate.

  10. 10. I collect Lucy Van Pelt (from Peanuts) stuff. She's my role model. She's never at a loss for words, even those that would be much better left unsaid. (See #9).

  11. 11. The two kids that are still at home were born in this house. Literally. Delivered in my bedroom by a lay (but licensed) midwife. The births were not medicated. Even my oldest, who was delivered in a hospital, was delivered sans medication. I should get a trophy. The midwife says I am a strong contender for who can yell the loudest.

  12. 12. Buy stock in Kleenex. I'm a weeper. Sad movies. Happy movies. Any movie with a puppy. Pretty music. Well written words. Poorly written words. Learning I'm married to a Democrat. Half the news on FOX (the stories that concern the horrible things humans do to each other and to animals). Good news. Saying hello to someone I love that I haven't seen in a long time. Saying goodbye to someone I love that I won't see for a long time. When I get mad. The electricity bill. Anyone of those things (and dozens more) are enough to start the waterworks.

For tonight, that's enough. I have my work cut out for me over the next week or so just learning the basics and getting the lay of the land.

So, thanks for dropping in and TTFN!