Work and Road Etiquette

February 6, 2019

An old saying has become popular where I work- “stay in your own lane”. I work at a college, and lately there seems to be concern sweeping the campus that those of us that work in the administration are trying to do other people’s jobs. Employees in the registrar’s office are giving tips on how to navigate IRS data retrieval. Advisors are giving students pointers on their algebra homework. The head of student life is telling liberal arts majors that clubs are a waste of time and they should be preparing for the TEAS test.

Of course, none of what I described above is actually happening. I’m not really sure why this phrase recently became part of my work culture. I just know that someone way, way above me on the food chain sent me an email recently with that very phrase in the title line. This person was actually wrong in making this particular accusation. I had made a mistake, one I’m not going to get into detail about here, but it wasn’t because I was rewriting my job description. I had been asked to help out in the office I was told I was infringing upon. My critic wasn’t aware of the situation, so I let it go.

But it got me thinking. What kind of wisdom for a college, or even corporate culture, is “stay in your own lane”.

How many times have you been driven mad by the words- “that’s not my department..” “I need to transfer your call.” “You need to email this person between the hours of 11:02 pm and 11:04 pm, the night after the moon is the fullest, during a month that is only four letters, and, only then, will your questions be answered.’

I work with people, students. When they come into my office, many of them are scared. A lot of them aren’t sure they fit in, will ever fit in, or figure out how to find their classroom, pass a math class or figure out the portal, (yes, for those of you not in academia, it is a portal. It is on your computer, and figuring out your portal is the key to everything. Really.).

I check on their financial aid. I do not work in financial aid, but I explain the difference between a loan and a grant, and remind them, every single time I see them, to do their financial aid.

I talk to them about the learning center, and point out how important it is to stay ahead in their classes, and take advantage of the free tutoring, online and on campus.

I tell them where the nearest Starbucks is, where to find cheap indian food, and when Dunkin Donuts has the discounts. I don’t work for yelp.

At work, I have a job. My title is Outreach and Dual Enrollment Specialist. I am currently lucky enough to work in our Advising office. All day long, I tell students that want to talk about which schools to transfer to, to make an appointment to see an advisor. I tell students that want to know how to fill out a master promissory note, to check in with Financial Aid. If someone wants to drop a class, the only person to see is someone in the Registrar’s office, and, quite often, I will walk them over and show them the form.

I know there are limitations to what I know, and what I can do. I know that bad advice can cost someone hundreds of dollars. I know that each office where I work has an amazing team of professionals trained to answer all questions related to just about anything.

I also do have a lot of answers. I received my Associate’s degree where I work. I’ve spent time in Career Services, IT, Mission Support, Admissions, administered placement tests and helped out on FAFSA day.

I don’t know it all, but I know a lot. And I know when to kick the ball, or make the call, or take a student by the hand and bring them over to meet with an advisor.

I work with people, students, and my job, no matter what the description is, is to help them. If there isn’t anyone answering the phone, or I’m the third person they’ve been sent to, I’m going to do my job. I might not be able to resolve their issue, but I can offer them a seat. I can listen to how their day is going, hear about what they hope to do with their degree. I can share a little of my story, not much, they aren’t there to hear my story.

They are at college to learn. I work at a college and am privileged to help them, from time to time.

Stay in your lane is a term that is useful when you are driving down a highway. I’m not on a road trip at work. I’m the person on the side of the road who is there to help people find their way back to school. For many, it’s their first time in college, and it’s the first time someone in their family went to college. It is a privilege to hear their stories, and spend a few minutes doing whatever I can to make sure they come back tomorrow, and next semester, until they’ve moved on.

Cliches and credos should be avoided, at work, at least. There is no one size fits all phrase that applies to everything. The customer isn’t always right. Do more with less is sometimes just not possible. And circling back later isn’t always effective as getting things done now.

So let’s say what we mean to each other, and avoid warnings that come from too much time behind the wheel.

I’m not good at staying in my own lane on the high way, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid to late August, it happens.

The back to school flyers weigh more than the news/travel/ and sports section combined.

My 14 year old daughter sighs and shakes her head-“I don’t know where the time went.”

Cunningham pool posts it’s last day. Sunblock goes on sale.
I look up from everything
To wonder how the hell that happened.

The pool might close,
assignments might be due,
but the sales are going to run until it’s time for Halloween.

Summertime is time out. Time off.
A day at the beach. An hour by the barbecue. An afternoon with a good book.

Some time at the park with your kids, grandkids,
or a bunch of dogs you’re babysitting,
spying on them on the swing in the playground,
wondering where the hell time went.

I don’t know where you’re at in the journey,
but I can pass this on.

The beach doesn’t close.
The barbecue doesn’t care if it’s Monday, November, or 4 am.

Cunningham pool shuts down,
but there’s ponds, kiddie pools,
the ocean, the bay,
and the bathtub,
all offering different water temperatures and dining options.

We can move thru life
At summertime slow,
Or fall frantic.
It’s still August, my friends.

No one is going to run out of pencils.

You don’t need to start wearing fall until January,
orange is not on the runway this year.

Revel in flip flops, sundresses, and shorts of all shapes,
until knees are blue.

Stay barefoot whenever you can, have something on hand
in case you want to enter a store, a restaurant,
or have an appointment with a court officer, or a prospective employer.

There are beaches, and the water is warm.
If the sharks bother you-
There are lakes, kayaks, italian ice, baseball, drive-ins, eating outside, eating takeout from the boxes in bed while watching Netflix, bike paths, hiking trails…

These are my summer time things.

I want to say- to myself- as much as you-

It doesn’t have to end because
the bus pass came in,
or a leaf turned,
or your son graduated high school, and all his friends are going to college,
and you want him to get ready for fall.

Summer is here.

It will not leave
until we mark
it in pen
Or email a colleague
Likely to note
it’s expected departure
On the calendar.

There is time
To call your family.
Text your friends.
Light a sparkler. Go dancing.
Sing along to the radio.
Roll down the top.
Roll down the window.
Laugh out loud.
Wish on a candle.
Look at the clouds.
Buy a beach towel that
means something.

Everything else goes by so fast, everything else-

This year,
Let summer last.

We don’t need to infringe
on the Fall season-

those that love the fall,
or make their living selling leafblowers, pumpkins, and autumn colored towels-
I respect their needs too,

I am just asking for a little room
to prepare for what needs to be done
in September.

There is work to be done in September.

This year,
I need a little extra time at the beach,
Before what comes
After Summer
2018.

Yesterday was the “progressive dinner” of high school college fairs in this area of Massachusetts. If you’re not familiar with the term, a progressive dinner is one where the participants move from one houses to enjoy different courses- the Jennings for cocktails, the Gorbenski’s for apps, Jenny and Rob always serve the roast beef, you get the idea.

I had to be a Milton High School at 8 am, followed by Braintree at 9:30, Blue Hills Regional Technical School at 1, and Randolph at 220 pm. I had a lot of company, about fifty to sixty other colleges attended, some from as far away as Florida. We all wore comfortable shoes, lugged portable suitcases stuffed with tiny phone chargers, stress balls, little notebooks, flyers, viewbooks, pens, inquiry cards, invitations, business cards, pop up signs and polyester table runners in school colors.

We walked from the parking lot thru Milton High School’s front door like we’d been there before. (I have actually spent a lot of time walking in and out of Milton High School’s front door. My son was asked to leave three months before he was to graduate.) Yesterday morning, I was there to speak to his classmates about coming to school at Quincy College while Colin played NBA All Star Draft in his room.

Admissions representatives don’t speak to each other much, at least that I’ve noticed. Walking in and out of the high schools, we’re rushing, to get to our tables, hoping for coffee, trying to get our display set up and inviting before the first class descends into the cafeteria or the gym, trying to find our car to get to the next college fair, or home, or to a hotel. We are rushing from one place to another, phones in one hand, suitcases dragging behind us. We save our smiles and conversation for the prospective students, that want to us to tell them that Criminal Justice is a terrific major, there are careers for people that study Art, or that they’ll get into Nursing School. I try to be as honest as I can when I speak to the teenagers.

It’s easy for me. Quincy College, where I work, is affordable, so it’s a good fit for most seventeen year olds without a clue. And most seventeen year olds are without a clue. Even if they think they have a clue, they really don’t. Not about the future, anyway. But they do have a hell of a lot of time to figure things out. Not as much time as my son, but they’ve got time, especially if they spend a year at Quincy College, where tuition is affordable, and they can save on housing costs by living at home.

As an Admissions representative, I don’t say much to my colleagues because I’m saving all of my energy for the conversations with the seventeen year olds. I have tired conversations about how Monday’s suck with friends, how irritating work politics can be with people the next desk over, how much I hate the morning with my daughter every morning. The teenagers at the other side get to see Julie, the empathetic, interesting, and interested version. And I get to listen to them, and remember what it was like to be seventeen with the whole world, and a whole life, spread in front of me.

I imagine a few years ago, Admissions representatives might have spoken to each other on the way back to their cars, after the first fair, on their way to the second about the best way to get from point a to point b. But now, we all have phones, with apps like Waze, Google Maps, good ol’ Suri, to guide us to the next stop of the route. So we walk to our cars, separately, calculating if we have enough business cards, summer schedules, and pens for the next stop. In between, Suri does the talking.

During the events, we listen, ask the right questions, and thrust inquiry cards at the students, saying- just fill out your name, email address, high school, interest and date of graduation. The cards they give back are hard to read, and a lot of the time, the workstudy who enters the address gets it wrong. Soon, we’ll have tablets. Soon the inquiry cards will be as automated as our directions.

I’m grateful for Suri. I can’t find my way to the corner store some days. My work study will say a prayer of thanks when we start having prospective students type in their information on a tablet.

Hopefully, there isn’t a technology waiting in the wings to take over the conversations with juniors. They look me in the eye, they listen to my answers. They tell me their plans, they tell me their other plans, sometimes, they tell me they’ve got no plans. I could spend all day going from high school to high school, five days a week.

 

A List and A Prayer

December 15, 2017

The other day, I was putting off writing these words, and I went to CVS, a great place to go when there are ten blank pages weighing on my brain. (Relax, the outcome was more like five. And I talk fast.) The woman behind the cash register was brand new, but she was familiar because she had been ringing me up at 7 11 for years.

I don’t know why, but seeing the person that I’d been buying coffee from since 2010 working in the drug store right down the street thru me for a loop.

You know the feeling? You’ve had it. That moment when something or someone changes, and you weren’t expecting it. When one of your favorite people announces they’re moving out of state. When two people that you love tell you they are getting divorced.  When you find out someone is sick, or wake up to discover someone unexpected was elected president, even though everyone said it could never happen.

There are great surprises in store too- there will be babies, amazing job offers, or full scholarships to top notch schools. Your favorite band might get back together after a nasty, public, breakup on Twitter.

Even considering the good kind, I am still not a huge fan of change.

When I’m going to the Cape, I immediately move all the way to the left, to the lane that merges with Route 3, so I can stay in the same lane for the entire trip. When our neighbors move, even if I don’t know them, even if I don’t like them, I grieve. I still watch Gray’s Anatomy.

For those of you that are like me, I’ve put together a list of things I use to help cope with the endless fluctuations, cancellations, and curveballs life will throw at you. If you have any to add, please feel free to email me. I mean it.

  1. Go to the gym. Ride your bike. Or take a walk. Do something with your body that helps you stay strong for all of the mind blowing, fantastic, and terrible stuff that is to come. There are so many options, from yoga in straps, to hiking, lifting weights, kickboxing, dancing- explore. Mix it up. Ruts are for the unimaginative and lead to other ruts.
  2. Get off the phone while you’re at the gym, riding your bike, or taking a walk. Okay, listen to music. Just don’t scroll thru life. No matter what you have heard, it is not necessary to tell your 872 Instagram followers every time you pick up a weight or climb a hill. It still happened. If you are going to deal with the world, you have to be in the world, not watching it go by on your newsfeed.
  3. Decide who matters to you. Make a list. We don’t have all the time in the world. Choose your people and choose well.

4.  You are driving your own bus.

I was planning my wedding with a good friend of mine. I complained that I was going to miss a concert that weekend. She pointed out that I had to get married right away I was six months pregnant. It was my responsibility to make sure that the baby wasn’t born out of wedlock. I agreed and stopped whining. Eighteen years after that wedding day, I’m still pissed I missed Springsteen.

If you want to go to a show, or out to restaurant, or to a ball game, on your special day, listen to that inner voice. YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOUR OWN LIFE. People will try to hijack your plans, or the route you choose, but remember- No one else should be driving your bus but you. You can ask for directions, you can give people a ride, but at the end of the day, it is your journey. You are going a long way. Don’t let somebody else take the wheel unless you trust them, and even then, sleep lightly. It’s your damn bus.

What does public transportation have to do with the roller coaster ride ahead? If you are in charge of the changes in your life, you own them. You can’t be in charge of everything- someday you might get laid off, at some point you are going to lose someone you love, but wherever and however you can, don’t let life happen to you. Be proactive, noisy, daring, decisive, and brave. At the end of the day, it’s nice to know you were the one that chose how it was spent.

  1. Be flexible. In yoga, or pilates, they tell you to keep your knees slightly bent during the balance poses. This helps you find stability, keeps you from falling on your face. Flexibility in life means you don’t freak out when the movie you planned to see is sold out, when someone cancels last minute, or when your landlord texts you to tell you they aren’t renewing your lease and you have two weeks to find a new apartment in October in a city that caters to college students. Let’s be realistic, a minor freak out is expected for the landlord thing, but after you’ve done some deep breathing, maybe gone to a yoga class, you’ll figure it out. Spinning your wheels happens, just don’t get buried.
  2. Choose your traditions and embrace them.

The other night, I decorated the Christmas tree alone. I’ve always loved placing the ornaments collected over the years on the branches, and the ritual has been a big part of our holiday since the kids were old enough to stab each other with the little hooks. This year, we tried to coordinate a night to decorate together. Their father was working. Katy had flute lessons. Colin needed to stay after school. Colin needed to go out to eat. Colin needed to spend time on his Snapchat Anyway, Friday night, the only creature stirring was Michael the three legged cat. So, I decorated the tree by myself. It was a little bit sad, not having the company of my family. But at the end of the evening, the tree looked beautiful, Colin and Katy had a wonderful time fixing all of my horrible decorating decisions, and all was right with the world.

You will find traditions, create new traditions, and then they will change as your world changes. But it is wonderful to have touch stones to honor the past, whether it’s your personal past, your faith, or your family. It’s a thread that allows us to step back and appreciate where we have come from and where we might go.

 

  1. Stop looking around. Every single one of us is obsessed with how everyone else is doing. When you were little, your mom was checking out the toddler next door, and going a bit crazy because Jaimie started to speak five months ago, and you were still blowing bubbles and staring at your feet.

This attitude, this constant need to check in on whose doing what isn’t a true or even a semi true, yardstick of where you are at. Joe is killing it on Wall Street, but he’s not posting pictures on Facebook of his partner handing him divorce papers. Jenn just crashed a computer system at work, and is talking about going back to school to learn sign language. All the little pieces of information of how everyone else is doing, what they’ve accomplished, what they’re wearing and what car they are driving, have this incredible power to make us feel better, or worse and have nothing to do with where we are at.

Pay attention to your own path, and you won’t end up face planted on the sidewalk, wondering if someone is going to step on your head or come along and pick you up out of the dirt.

In closing, let me fill you in on the outcome of the uncomfortable interaction with the woman that inspired me.

While I waited in line, I wondered- was it her presence at CVS that made me uncomfortable, or was it the fact she hadn’t mentioned she was leaving 7/11 during one our conversations about Scratch tickets?

.  When I stepped in front of her, I asked why she’d switched jobs. It turns out Gwen, (we exchanged names during our conversation., thank God there was no one behind me,) had been studying to become a pharmacy technician, and the chain had hired her to work the retail side while waiting to pass whatever test pharmacy techs need to pass. So in a couple of weeks, Gwen will be the person I see when filling a prescription for penicillin.

Our lives are as big or as small as we choose to make them. People will come and go, or change positions, or we’ll change the way we define our relationships with them- from lover to ex, friend to best friend, to Christmas card recipient.

Some of you probably love the roller coaster of it all- not knowing what’s to come.

For the rest of usLean in. Reach for the commotion and the havoc.    Uproot everything you know to explore the unknown. Be a part of the changes you’re scared of, embrace the ones that are out of your hands, endure and learn from those that feel like they might break you forever.

     Find faith, and know who you are in this moment.

    Don’t be a person that clings to one system of beliefs, and one way of doing things, but recognize and build on the wisdom around and within you.

     What you discover in the years to come has the power to change you, and transform the world around you.

     Right now, the world needs changing.

     I trust all of you are up for doing your part.

     

 

Orangetheory and ME

November 5, 2017

I go to the gym almost every single day. Working out gives me the chance to listen to silly pop music and use the immaculate showers when  finished, (I live with two teenagers).

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not  a gym rat. I’m as coordinated as a newborn giraffe. I carry baby weight 17 years after having the baby, and living with the teenager has probably added a late night when-the-hell-is-he-going-to-start-packing-for-college Breyer’s induced pounds. I wear glasses, my hair refuses to stay in one of those adorable high ponytails, and my torso, when tucked inside a yoga top, looks like a well stuffed sausage.

When a person acknowledges they go a health club to listen to Shakira and hit the steam room, it’s an indication this person should take their workout up a notch. When I received a chance to try out something new, I took the leap.

I was curious about Orangetheory, a fitness studio that opened a year ago in Quincy Center. There are about two hundred franchises nationwide, and the chain is growing rapidly.

Each gym is set up the same way, with treadmills along one side, a large area in the center for rowing machines, and an open space for strength training that includes TRX cords, free weights, and gravity balls. The colors are- you guessed it- tangerine orange, and slate grey.

Along the wall in the separate workout areas are flat television screens that flicker on when class begins. Every participant has their first name listed alphabetically on the screen in day glow letters. During the workout, people can track their heart rate and  see how they measure up because of a special Orangetheory heart rate monitor strapped on their arm. The studios are dark, and the music is loud.

I knew all this beforehand because I’d been peering thru their window for weeks, while sipping coffee from the cappuccino shop next door.

On the day of my visit, I went to the Friday afternoon 4:30 class. As soon as I opened the door, I was surrounded by three different employees.  All of them greeted me with the enthusiasm shown for adorable babies wearing cute hats and tiny little athletic shoes or socks with bunnies on them. They knew my name, were eager to answer all my questions and, four separate times, assured me I didn’t need to be nervous

This made me nervous. After they strapped the heart rate monitor onto my forearm and led me to the waiting area filled with female twenty something fitness models wearing perfect ponytails and shiny spandex and one very male body builder type, I was very nervous. Looking at the body builder helped a little.

My trainer decided I would start on the treadmills, and explained that even though most (all would have been the correct term) of the others were runners or joggers, power walking was fine. I walk fast, and I stroll, but I have never power walked.

Power walking was a thing in the eighties. Today there are occasional outbreaks at the mall before it opens because some brilliant activities director at an assisted living facility is nervous about residents wandering around the parking lots trying to get their steps while dodging cars, dogs, visitors, and wheelchairs. It came back yesterday to downtown Quincy, Massachusetts, thanks to me, because I only jog when I’m running outside to chase Sophie The Best Dog Ever, (obviously there might be a better dog that doesn’t slip out the door for a game of tag during rush hour,) find the newspaper, or realize someone is driving away with my phone.

Megan went over what my target numbers would be,and explained about the incline, monitor, and large tv screen where my name was right in between Jenna and Kylie. Somebody turned up the music, and I checked for the fourth time that I’d double knotted my sneakers.

During those twenty minutes on the treadmill, I worked really hard. When using the elliptical, I have access to the same data that flashed over my head at Orangetheory, heart rate, calories burned, and distance traveled. What made me work harder than I ever do at my gym- the data is posted in different colors, according to what your heart rate is. I really wanted to make my numbers RED.

I wanted to make my numbers red so much, I jogged. I even ran. It felt like running anyway.

After twenty minutes on the treadmill, we headed over to the water rowers. There is something significant about these rowers because they are powered by water, but they just seemed like nice looking rowers to me. Rowing is hard, but since I knew everyone could see exactly how much effort I was putting into it, I kept up. When I rowed, I rowed like I was actually trying to go somewhere. (I’ll remember that for next time.)

Because of my unique approach, the fact that it took me about two minutes to strap my feet into the pedals didn’t do too much damage. It only took me one minute to unstrap my feet out of the pedals because I was looking forward to the strength workout.

I’d had the chance to watch two groups rotate thru the exercises posted for us this part of the class, and felt pretty confident I could handle them. After all, I had jogged. I’d figured out the buckles on the rowing machine. I wasn’t wheezing, or asking someone to call my mom.

There are three different sets of exercises during the strength interval, designed to work most major muscle groups. The first set of exercises were one legged deadlifts, spiderman arms on the TRX, and pushups. It’s hard to do one legged deadlifts in a dark room with a Techno soundtrack, especially after running and rowing. I wobbled a bit, but didn’t fall down, so I’ll call that a win.

For the Spiderman arms, I had to position my body at a forty five degree angle, leaning backwards, while I clutched onto cables. I had to use my arms, like hinges, to pull my body up, one arm at a time. My moves were less Spiderman climbing a building and more clumsy person flails on resistance bands. But I flailed less with practice.

Finally, I made it to the pushups. I kept my back flat. My eyes faced the top of the mat. I didn’t bend my knees. I completed five of the best pushups ever before realizing everyone was back up doing the one legged dead lifts again.

At the end of the workout, everyone came together to stretch. I looked around the room, and realized that I hadn’t noticed anyone during my hour session, except so I could figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I  had run faster than I have ever run in my life. (As a child, my games of choice was not tag or soccer. They were backgammon and reading books; the latter isn’t a game and might explain a lot about my lack of coordination.)

The next day, they sent me a wrap up of my work out-

484 CALORIES BURNED
146 AVG HR
83 % AVG
29 SPLAT POINT

Am I a horrible person for pointing out the expected goal for a first time clients is around 12 Splat points and thatthe numbers are cut off, my Splat points were 29? Splat points refer to the amount of time spent in the red and orange zones, when the heart rate is elevated. Of course, my heart was racing! I ran, and I don’t run, I rowed, and I even ended the workout doing mountain climbers. (At my regular gym, I usually just hold a plank. Not a climber, either.)

At the end of the day, what I’m most proud of is that I took on something new, in a room full of people I didn’t know, and I did things I decided a long time ago I don’t do.

It’s really nice to surprise the world. It’s even better when one of my kids looks at me with respect and says ‘Mom, you’re doing such a great job.” But what I learned at Orangetheory is how wonderful it feels to surprise myself.

Next week, I’m going to try Acroyoga. I’ll let you know what happens.

 

 

Two weeks ago, in a communications class, I led the discussion about Society and Politics. I spent twenty hours to prepare for one hour in front of the class- reading, looking for the most up to date and accurate, information, struggling with google slides, putting YouTube clips inside google slides, putting anything other than youtube clips inside google slides- get the picture?

I was intimidated by the material. In light of recent events, everything in the textbook seemed outdated or irrelevant. At the end of the class, the professor asked how anyone could feel hope in light of current events. The world has become a dark place. The bad guys are winning, our population is under a constant state of attack we aren’t even aware of, and, realistically, it appears =it might be virtually impossible to overturn or overcome current events.

I answered his question by saying that although I agreed with everything he just said, I am able to find optimism in the course of my job and day to day life. I work with students, non profit organizations, and older people trying to find a way to become relevant in today’s world. I need to find hope, because the people I work with need me to believe there is a point to what they are doing or plan to do.

Quite a few of the people I work with are international, many are undocumented. The majority of these people are coming to Quincy College, a two year college, after they have completed their doctorate, or master’s degree in their own country. Dentists hoping to become dental assistants, doctors registering for the Certified Nurse Assistant program. Last week, I worked with an economist from Nigeria to find the resources to study for the TEAS so she can enter our LPN program.

I stand by what I said about needing to feel hope so I can offer my optimism, like a pen or an apple, to these people when they step into my office.

Last week, I had to lead the class in a conversation about the Global Media. Half way through the chapter, I realized I need to do so much more.

I had always thought ]when I welcomed a woman from Haiti, leaning over the table to listen to her words through her accent, and answering her questions, clearly, with the program sheet between us, as a visual guide- that was doing the right thing. Calling upstairs to see when the next TEAS preparatory class began,  also the right thing. Personally showing her the campus, introducing her to the Dean of Nursing, directing her to the most sympathetic staff member in our Financial Aid office, I felt like a rock star.

Welcoming people from other countries and helping them adjust to the area, navigate their way through job searches, higher education, even helping them help their own children make the transition, is important. But wouldn’t I be so much more effective if I knew something, anything, about the world these people are coming from?

Since Wednesday, I’ve made a priority to spend about twenty minutes looking outside of Western sources for the news. Columbia, France, Brazil, Canada,, Africa, Egypt, Qatar- the world is huge. I thought catching up on ‘Game of Thrones’ was going to be a process.I

I don’t know anything about ransomware, triple talaq, the recent rescue in Italy or spread of cholera in Yeman.

 

I consider myself an ambassador for higher education in the United States and I know little or nothing about where these people’s stories began.

Since then, I search out the international news mid-day. Over coffee, it’s too much. Before bed, I would never,sleep. Middle of my work day, I take a few minutes over lunch to seek out global news, not just from my half of the equator.  After reading a story like ‘There is no justice for the poor in Brazil’  or ‘Pentagon wants to boost US troop numbers in Afghanistan’, my ongoing issues with the copier machine seem a little less dire.

It’s sad, often, the state of the world, but it’s also enlightening, to feel like I’m becoming, bit by bit, more aware of what is actually happening in the whole world- the whole world. I’m aware and beginning to understand different points of view. I’ve had the opportunity to glimpse at a different landscape, politically, emotionally, socially, and   outside my own window. (Honestly, it’s been a week. I know enough to know I’m going to be without a clue for a while.)

I’m never going to have time to catch up on Game of Thrones.

Today was Monday, a big Monday in our world.

Big day at work, not really. I work in Mission Support at Quincy College. I was calling prospective nurses who had been accepted into our Nursing program to confirm that they planned on beginning our Nursing program. It couldn’t get much simpler. These people really, really wanted to be in our Nursing program. I heard “of course” most of the time. Or if they called me back, they led with “is something wrong with my application?”

I like talking to prospective Nurses. I love their clarity, their sense of purpose. Not once have I heard someone say “I’m thinking about the Nursing program, but I’m also considering being a Vet or going into law school like my dad.” Many students come into Nursing after trying other things out, so by the time they are applying, I guess they pretty much have seen what their alternative lives look like.

I work for Mission Support. Nobody really knows what that means, except me and my boss. Not even people that work at the College. The Director of Finance told me I actually work in IT. Some people think I do some kind of outreach, students like to ask for my help figuring out if they should take Math or English in their first semester and the people in IT would tell you I work on the second floor.

After work, I raced home to switch costume from aspiring Mission Support/IT/Outreach Coordinator trying to climb up the ladder to a job title people have heard of, to Football Mom. Skirt off. Jeans over tights. Some kind of workout long sleeve sleeved fleece thing in black to hide too many lunches and office parties.  Uggs. Scarf. Sunglasses. Old Starbucks cup filled up with this mornings coffee that left on the burner for 7 hours. Dog on leash, keys in hand, phone charged, I made it ten minutes before half time.

Afterwards, Colin says it wasn’t a good game and he sucked. I spent my time talking to friends and walking the dog back and forth. It was lovely.Occasionally there are advantages to being totally without a clue.

Home again, my 12 year old daughter had a band concert. She plays the flute. A friend had picked her up early, so I had the luxury of switching again,*this time to low heeled leather boots, a flannel shirt from Bass Pro shop and a blazer. Little lip gloss, little mascara, should have done something about the hair but my friend was saving me a seat and I didn’t want to be presumptuous. Or have to park on the sidewalk. Which I had to do. (Milton moms, and most of us have full time jobs, are usually groomed. Especially at concerts, school plays and sporting events. I am not usually groomed and am certainly not the sort to wear three different outfits in one day, but for some reason, especially when there a whole of them gathered together, I really, really want to look like one.)

Great concert. They were 12.  There was a chorus, a orchestra, a string band, and a cello group. The singing was lovely. My daughter and her friends were brilliant. All the different interpretations of black pants, white shirt, black shoes was fascinating. My daughter wore Converse. My daughter is so much cooler than I will ever be.

I picked up my son. He didn’t want to talk, you know, sucky game and all. Katy wanted to know when I was going to her a phone. I asked both of them when they were going to put their clean clothes away. We should have put it on YouTube.

I pulled into the grocery store. I needed meat. I needed salad. I just started Atkins again, and all I’d eaten all day was peanut granola bars with nougat.

I went into CVS, a hungry mom of two, worried about my weight and my job and whether or not the  Colin and Katy’s clothes were going to rot on the stairway while I grew out of mine, and I looked around. I looked for Diet Root beer and snacks on sale for after school that I wouldn’t be tempted to demolish and nail polish remover and thought about lipstick.

I decided to buy the root beer and go home.

I’ve known the cashier who rang me up for a while. She is an English student, crazy smart and she uses words the way I do. We have lightning conversations about everything but the Kardashians, under the glare of the Kardashians, every time I shop there.

While I was ringing out, she mentioned that in her senior year she’d be doing some teaching. I offered to introduce her to a friend of mine, a math teacher, suggested we have coffee.

She grinned at me. “You know what, here’s my number. Give me a call some time. I’d love to go to coffee with you. You seem like you’d be a cool person to talk to.”

Do you know how long it’s been since I thought of myself as a cool person to talk to?

I define myself as a middle aged mom, good for advice about what to do when puberty hits or whether or not a family should get a dog.

I’m an employee of Quincy College- I can talk to anyone about financial aid, pathways to careers, and how to get into UMass.

I have a lot of friends, and I know they think I’m interesting, but most of my friendships have taken a long time to take hold. I figured I kind of grow on people, or wear them down, or they just appreciate that I like to take their kids to the gym.

I’m a cool person to talk to, says a college student named Alexandria.

Of course, I lost her number.

But I always need stuff from CVS.

It’s where the cool people shop.

MY Job At Quincy College

August 15, 2015

It’s been a Long Week in my life.

Hours at work have been intense, I work for Quincy College and a large part of my job is working to help potential students become students.

This involves many conversations, involving almost every single candidate. There are conversations with the student, some parents chime in. I have Financial Aid on speed dial – “He hasn’t turned in his Financial Aid information form? Really?”

Admissions- “Are you sure you haven’t gotten her transcript? Can I put her thru to you?” Followed closely by the Registrar’s Office, the Business Office, the Deans, the Advisors-  at the end of the week, I’ve talked a lot.

Occasionally I sit down with someone and they tell me about what their plans are, about which classes they’ll be taking, even about what they want to be when they grow up.

When a student leans forward, and starts to talk to me, I lean back and listen.

I don’t answer the phone. I ignore my son’s texts. I stop wondering what they will be serving upstairs for Karen’s Birthday or Michael’s going away.

I need this time with these people- kids, baby boomers, grandparents, unwed mothers, recovering addicts, struggling sons, international students from Nepal, Bulgaria, France, Haiti.

I need time with the people that come to me for help, I need to hear their stories so that I can remember why helping them is the best job I’ve ever had.

The other night, Colin was sprawled on my bed, watching basketball. He looked up at me. He smiled. He spoke- “mom, come here. I want to watch basketball with you.”
I swooned.

These are interesting times in our house. With Colin, I am often the source of great amusement, for what I wear, what I know and don’t know, (who is Kendrick Lamar?) and how I text.

Then he wants me to listen to a song he loves, or offers to lend me his basketball sneakers to go to zumba class.*

My daughter is 10. She went to see a teacher got married and needed to ask the next door neighbor for eyeshadow, my selection wasn’t flattering to her skin tone. And while I was making dinner tonight, she marched up to me in the kitchen, in front of the stove, thru her arms around me and declared it was time to snuggle.

I packed up all of Colin’s boy clothes last week. A thousand hats, he never wore one. Fifteen different teeshirts from basketball camp and summer camp and football practice. Little boy pajamas with dinosaurs and fire trucks and skulls.

In the midst of all these changes I’ve been on a bit of a cleaning bender. The hard thing is, Colin is thirteen. Katy is nine. They are used to my bi monthly half hearted attempts to get the house in order. They listened to the speech. They made their beds. They put the clean towels into the linen closet instead of on the floor in front of the linen closet. This all lasted about three days, every couple of months. Before.

When Back To School struck this year, I decided we were going to get the house in order. And that meant all of us. I regard clean clothes perched on the stairs the way I used see Sophie’s poop when she’d been left home too long. Socks in the hallway send me into a frenzy. And stuffing all of the offending articles into the closet and then closing the door doesn’t work anymore either. In the old days, I wouldn’t open the door. Now I do.

And of course, along with Back To School, the New Leaf Cleaning Policies, there are all of the Back to School Activities- swim team, football, youth group, flute lessons. And there is my job. And my other job. And two classes at Quincy college. And dinner, and friends, and the gym.

I have to go to the gym. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with asthma. Mostly at night. My lungs wheeze, it sounds like I have a choir of Who’s from Whoville singing in my chest. I can’t catch my breath. Yoga seems to help. And an extended time spent in the sauna after yoga helps even more.

It’s not surprising, I guess. My family has started careening forward towards the next part, the part where I have to learn to let them go. I can clean, watch basketball, burn dinner while I cuddle on the couch, zumba till the teacher throws me out, and it’s not going to slow down. And when I do slow down, when I lay me down to sleep, I lose my breath.

It returns. And I go back to sleep, and wake up to the most charismatic of canines, Sophie. Sophie groans when I first reach down to say good morning. And then she wags, not just her tail, her whole body. And she shivers, and sighs, and wedges closer to my body. I know she really, really needs to get outside. Even so she will stay in bed in bliss right next to me until I have to pry myself away and return to vertical.

That’s how things are right now in our house.

*Don’t ever wear basketball sneakers to zumba. Ever. They are incredibly hard to dance in, and more important, they look really, really stupid.

Last week I wrote a piece about the places in my life that make me happy, that make me feel at home, and let me move thru them without stropping to try to remember where the bathroom is.

Right after I click publish, there is a brief period of post-post afterglow, (sometimes I think that brief period after I’ve put something out there for the “public”, when I’m just thrilled with the simple fact that once more- I found something to say- it’s bliss, it’s relief, and there’s a dash of excitement in the mix… What if nobody reads what I so carefully offered to them, what if there are better things out there on the interweb, and all of my readers finally found out about them! Oh sorry, that causes a mild blip of terror, the excitement sings when I think about what if someone new finds my words, and they work in publishing, or run the New Yorker, or are a big time Broadway producer who thinks so far out of the box she can imagine my musings as having the potential to make a wonderful musical. Off off Broadway. (As long as I got rid of my son, the snakes and the turtle, and at the beginning of the second act lose my husband for a while to a crack whore, later saved by my 9 year old daughter, who put on a show so Daddy could go to rehab.) You never know, I suppose, but for the record, I wouldn’t get rid of my son or the snakes, but the turtle, well, I would be open to a discussion.

Right after the brief period of post-post afterglow, I remembered what I forgot. Nowhere in musings did I mention one place that I have had a love affair with for years. So intense was this relationship, I went back to school so I could get a job to work at this place. It is the Quincy Y,a local branch of the South Shore Y.

We first joined when my daughter started attending preschool at their Early Childhood Education Center. We moved up to next level when she signed up for swim team, and I began to work out while she was at practice. I’ve never been a mom that could happily sit by any pool, even to watch her youngest swim laps for an hour. Pool sides are for when you are in St.Croix and I have a thick book and a really hot waiter that wants to bring me martinis. I am a kind person, if someone wants to bring me martinis, I accept them, with grace. Pool sides at the Quincy Y are places where I put my stuff before I go swimming. My daughter didn’t think it was a terrific idea for me to do laps with the team. And so…

I ventured to the world of strength training and cardio. Soon I flirted with the classes, found out I loved Zumba, and Body Pump and Definitions.

Katy left preschool, and I signed her up for a cheaper swim team in Dorchester, but I found myself spending more a time there.

Long story short, and I could essentially turn my slow journey into the world of the workout into a very, very long story, I decided to go to school to study Exercise Science, in hopes of one day working at this place that had become such an integral part of my life. I took the classes and got the job, and am proud to say I am an Ace Certified Personal Trainer working at the Quincy Y.

I’ve only been there about six months, but in that short span of time, I’ve made many friends. When I walk in that door, and glance at the woman at the front desk, I know her name. I know where the lost and found is, and that a pair of headphones wouldn’t be found there. They go in the drawer behind the desk. I know what to say to the six teenage boys sitting in a corner on Nautilus equipment, texting their friends and showing off their sneakers, I show them how to get to basketball court. In case they forgot since the last time I showed them yesterday.

But I hadn’t gone all the way, and it wasn’t that the Y didn’t make me feel welcome. So many of the trainers have become really good friends. And the members remember my name, even my name tag on order.

It’s this. I am a exercise science major. I passed my Ace exam and am a real, certified by the great people at Ace to train people.

And I’m not in amazing shape.

I work out every day. But this summer, I became a little obsessed with swimming and hiking. It has been… um… two months since I’ve lifted anything, other than my daughter off a wall. I thought about doing a plank when I was looking for my car keys under the sofa, but then I found them so I had to drive someone somewhere. But by the first week in September I knew it was time to get to the business of building the muscles, and I really do want muscles, I have wanted muscles long before Michelle Obama started wearing short sleeve shirts. So when fall came, I was happy. I knew that cold weather would soon send me inside to the elliptical, onto the sweet seat of the chest press and the assisted chin, and others.

And I would, with the help of my fellow trainers, build and lift and wave ropes around in the air until I finally got a body that looked like it belonged on a personal trainer. Since I am a personal trainer, this is probably a good idea. Swimming and hiking all the time count for something, but mostly they give you really bad hair, and an excellent cardiovascular system.

I knew once I had some muscles, the Y would be right up there with church,kids, woods and water as one of my homes away from home. And it would have to stay that way iif I wanted to keep all those muscles.

But two weeks ago, the Quincy Y succumbed to time, a water pipe exploded and the building shut for good. They are hoping to reopen the new facility the end of October, the beginning of November.

And so I’ve been missing it. I miss my friends, the seventy two difficult teenagers, and that feeling I’d get when Kim, my boss, 6’2″, told me she had something to talk to me about. I miss hearing Dani talk about Crossfit, and Angela telling enthusiastically showing off the bruises she’d gotten in kick boxing class with Mickey.

So tonight, I realized I have some work to do. I need to squat those squats and curl those hammers, I need to conquer the world of free weights, and work on my push
ups. I am going to ready when the new Y opens. I will be ripped, and taut, and strong. People will look at the new Y, and look at me, in my tank top, and they will wonder if I built it all by myself.

On opening day, when I walk in to our new state of the art facility, I will be worthy. And if I’m not quite there yet, I know I can count on a little help from my friends.