An Internship in Life



    Musing upon the what-ifs that lottery jackpots often spawn, someone recently asked me what I would do if money wasn’t a factor. I can’t remember who. That’s an issue lately, but I digress. I do that too -again, another issue.

    
Back to the windfall that grants dreams, though.




    My answer was too quick, too honest, too sappy. But it explains a lot.




    Like why I work with kids (okay, technically they’re adults) and love it even though it was never part of the plan.




    And why I can sit for hours tweaking writing for which I don’t get paid and spend much less time on the kind of writing that pays (little, tiny) bills.

    
If I could do anything at all for work, I’d do exactly what I’m doing right now. 

    
In different proportions, perhaps. Squeezed in-between travels around the world. But –I’d still work. I’d still write. I’d still hang around college kids.

    
Which brings me to the ill-titled blog which generates an unexpected number of monthly hits.




    This week marks Kidssuck’s one year anniversary.




    I didn’t know what it was going to be when I started it. Most days, I still don’t. But I’m still having fun with it. And you’re still reading it.

    
Thanks for that.




    Thanks also for allowing me to be less of a hypocrite when I advise my kids and my students to choose a job to do because they love it.




    With the certainty one might observe that the tide will rise, Kelley once told me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing –this writing thing. It took me decades to put my work out there, longer still to call myself “writer” when someone asked what I do. Odd, really. Because it’s as much a part of who I am as is my heritage, the color of my eyes. I can’t change it.

    
I tell everyone of the next generation who will listen: Do what you love. Don’t worry about the money.

    
It wasn’t the advice I received as a kid.




    Doesn’t matter. 




    I pretend I’m not as old as I am and I’m finally following my own advice. 

    
It’s like I’m on internship now, trying on pieces of a profession or two for size, adjusting their fit as I go. Every new job, new client, new story seems to produce another; they’re self-propagating. 

    
Instead of following a traditional path for someone my age, I’m forging one of my own. 

    
Maybe that’s why I get along so well with the college kids. On many days, I still feel like I’m just starting out. I make mistakes, ignore reality a lot, think about what-ifs far removed from lottery winnings.

    
And write.




    So, thank you. For being with me on the site’s anniversary. For joining me in these stream-of-consciousness jottings. And for giving me someone for whom to write -besides just me.






Breach of the Levee



    Their barriers are better fortified so the floods are less frequent. It may also be that, stuck on an unbreaking weather front for so long, I now miss the nuances of atmospheric change that could predict an impending deluge. The monotony of the climate has impaired my instincts for meteorological shift.



    Still, when stars and clouds align, I can sometimes become receptacle to a warm and pleasant shower of conversation from my children. Even Michael.




    Alex has always been more the flash flood sort. Her sharing comes in loud bursts of information, full of pelting details. There’s immediacy and urgency. Pay attention and take cover. I can’t always be sure what’s coming, but I’ve learned to ride out the storms; they usually don’t last long.




    Until the year he stopped talking (to me), Michael’s showers were constant and consistent. Like those sleep aid sound boxes that generate rainforest background noise. I could predict their content and clutter. There wasn’t much I needed to do to inspire the rains; little I could do to forestall them.




    He and I have been in a drought for awhile, though. I rarely feel the pulse of quenching wet weather.




    But pulled away from the stresses of his life, Michael can sometimes fall to old weather patterns. I can’t change the storm’s path or direct its flow. In fact, the wrong questions from me can dry up the conversation entirely. If I’m careful, though, I can listen, bask in the cooling waters, and learn.
 
    
Back from Boy Scout camp, and trapped in the car with me for over an hour, Michael could have settled into sleep as he often does. And he did. But not until he shared stories of his adventures –for nearly half the trip.

    
Similar results from the sound recording camp he attended at Salem State University. His enthusiasm –and words- spilled over and out and onto me. And it wasn’t just a soaking of what-he-did, but more pleasing to me was that the conversation included plans of what-he-could-do, who-he-could-be.

    
Because in the tumult of the rains, there’s nothing better to see than glimmers of light, a bit of sun.

    
And the colors of his rainbow.




Boy Scouts



    My son is a Boy Scout. 

    
Not metaphorically. He’d unlikely make the metaphorical cut.




    But he is an actual Boy Scout.

    
Green shorts, olive drab shirt, badge-pocked sash, and all.




    If you saw Michael sans uniform, you probably wouldn’t peg him as a Boy Scout. Doesn’t really look the part.

    
His association with Scouting, though? A terrific metaphor for what Michael is.

    
A contradiction.

    
From the time Michael was in elementary school, his teachers often used an interesting assortment of adjectives and nouns to describe him –the gist of their meaning easily encapsulated in a single word: puzzle (thank you Mrs. Klipfel). 

    
Luckily for Michael, those early teachers liked puzzles.




    Not so much his high school teachers.

    Even I weary of the 
challenge. 

    
And I’ve been known to become puzzle-obsessed ‘til wee hours of the morning. 

    
But the pieces of Michael’s puzzle don’t generally fit neatly to any anonymous manufacturers’ pre-fabbed slots.

    
Then, why should they?




    In some ways, Michael is what I always wished I could have been – a non-conformist. Someone who chooses his path based on his own perception of what fits with who he is and who he wants to become.




    Had I the courage to begin along a similar course when I was his age, I don’t think it’s a path I could have fully followed. There would have been doubts. And then, a turning back.

    
There’s a push and pull for many of us, particularly in those early years when we’re all so damned confused. So many kids -and the kids who we once were- really have no idea what they want to be or do when they shed their childhoods for that next big chapter of life.




    Michael must have his moments, too.




    Boy Scouts, really?




    When Michael decided to quit Scouts, I dropped him off at summer camp with the caveat that we expected him to behave, earn the requisite number of badges, support the Troop, regardless of his future plans.




    That was three years ago.




    He goes back every summer.

    
This year, I overhead Michael’s answer to the Scoutmaster’s encouraging statement/question: “See you in September./?”




    The same guy that once wanted Michael out of the Troop, now wants him to stay.

    
Really.




    “Absolutely,” Michael responded, shaking the man’s hand and looking him in the eye.




    So my son, who doesn’t look the part and listens to the beat of a different drum (a whole jazz orchestra, actually) will, in September, begin anew his commitment to a 100-year old organization steeped in obedience and conformity.
 
    
I try to tell myself that I don’t really need to get it. It’s not my job to fully understand why he does what he does.




    Michael’s always colored outside the lines.




    Maybe it’s time I step back and look at the forming picture from a different vantage so I can better see the image that’s really only just beginning to take shape.

    
(And for all those of you who wonder how Michael feels about being front-and-center in so many of these posts, I’ve always given him veto power. In fact, he’s the only family member who seems at all interested in these rantings, even when they don’t include him. He usually lets me read them to him.

    
Go figure.)



Blame It on the Tooth Fairy


    We certainly didn’t originate the concept, but we are perpetuating it. And inflating it, apparently. My sister-in-law, who works in our town’s K-3 school, says the going rate of a lost tooth these days is five bucks. Wow. For virtue of a throw away to every other species on the planet, our kids are yielding some serious bucks.




    In the name of tradition, we’re padding their pillows with cash and sending a message: minimum effort = maximum return. 

    
Hmm.

    
Before you berate my dis to the Tooth Fairy, consider that Santa at least expects good behavior and that the Easter Bunny demands a bit of hunting proficiency. But not the Tooth Fairy. She doesn’t even grade the teeth, or consider the pain with which they may have been extracted. Based solely upon bodily function –in with new teeth, out with old- she delivers reward. Not a bad pay structure, if you can get it.

    
And they can –because we allow it. 

    
Not just by means of the Tooth Fairy but in so many other contemporary versions of the metaphor. By handing out trophies to everyone, by inflating grades and tossing accolades like confetti. And by telling our offspring that they are ALL wonderful. 

    
And they are. Just not at everything.




    That’s more the message we should be sending. Because the problem with giving them much without getting much from them is that it sets the bar pretty low. Instead of being rewarded for a job well done, they’re just being rewarded. 

    
Back in the 20th century when I grew up (makes us all sound old, huh?), my friend and I had our summers pretty easy. We’d hang in the neighborhood, ride our bikes, hop from pool-to-pool. We’d also play a lot of mini golf, hit the arcade and buy ourselves ice cream cones. But our excursions to the big dinosaur weren’t financed by our parents. Not directly anyway. Before we could head out to the links, we had to earn the cash. Okay, it wasn’t digging trenches, but it was work –we’d wash cars, most typically those of our parents. The interesting thing was that while my mom was a pushover with regard to how well we did our job, my friend’s dad was not. His car needed to be spotless and scrubbed to perfection. Our golf money wasn’t handed over until his car underwent a pretty vigorous inspection. Often, there was a redo involved. We weren’t very happy. But what a good message he sent. We got paid only for a job well done.

    
I relate the story not just in a nod to summertime nostalgia, but also because I wonder how often we demand a redo from our own kids. I know I’m too often guilty of letting things slide. As a toddler, Alex made her bed with tight corners and patted down ruffles; now there’s a tangle of covers heaped in a pile. At one time, every lego and choo choo had a set-in-stone home in her brother’s room. Those toys could very well still be there –buried under the pile of clean clothes Michael pulls from every morning as he gets dressed. Oh, how our standards have slipped.

    
I have an interesting relationship with the professors at my school. Interesting, I say, because I rarely meet them. Instead, I get to know them only through the eyes of their students. I find it particularly telling when two students give me completely opposing viewpoints of the same professor. Says more about the student than the teacher, I know. But from this limited scope, I have chosen the professors that I like best, not for who they are, but rather for how they teach. And, of course, how they treat my students. I like when the expectations placed upon my kids are clear and the deadlines are unwavering. And the other thing I really like –is when the bar is high. Because I know my students can reach it. 

    
I have two students upon whom I rely to give me accurate assessments of the professors. Both of them are bright and capable and both of them have received their share of poor grades. What is telling is that when given the recent option to opt for the easy teacher or the one with the reputation of being a hardass, they both chose the latter. Not because they’re type A or because they seek fulfillment from a teacher; they’re not, they don’t. Instead, it’s because they recognize the difference between mediocrity and the reach for perfection. Not perfection. Just the idea of it as a beacon from which to chart a course. 

    
What I’ve discovered is that our kids don’t really mind reaching to high expectations. They just need to know where they are and maybe be given a little guidance on how to get there.




Bridging Divides


    My son has a girlfriend. And I like her.

    
Which is probably okay with Michael. More likely, my input on his love life falls to the apathy pit of his emotion with regard to anything parent-related. An actual objection from him would indicate that he cared. Or noticed.

    
Way too much effort.

    
What he may not be as comfortable with, though, is that she seems to like me, too.




    And I can’t imagine that notion fits well into a world where the parent-child divide spans like the width of Grand Canyon.

    
Ah, the Grand Canyon. 

    
The family vacation which my husband still refers to as the time I tried to kill him. (He’s not much of an adventurer.)



    And which I call the trip-of-a-lifetime.

    
Because it was.

    
Not only for the photo-stop memories that set three generations against a backdrop unlike any other on the planet.

    
But also for that slice of nine-year-old boy that seems such a juxtaposition against the 17-year-old near-man with whom we now live.

    
Hard to believe that Michael is the same boy who mom and dad protectively shuffled to the boat’s rear as we settled in. Showed how much we knew about whitewater rafting and inflatable boats –we had positioned him most decidedly at the craft’s bow, the best place to enjoy the ride. And also to be swallowed whole by the mammoth rapids we would encounter. Go figure.

    
And then again, warned of an impending day of wet, wild, and frosty rapids coming our way, we wrapped Michael in a blue rubber suit that would have fitted better if he were first mate to Captain Ahab. Sure, the water was cold, but temperatures hit 116 degrees that day. The poor kid was at the mercy of his parents’ pitiful effort at protection.




    And, to some extent, he still is.
 
    
Unfortunately, today there are no guides creeping alongside the rapid-riding youngster to assure his safety from plummeting conditions. And we’ve got no trusted adult giving Michael a parental reprieve and lessons on the right way to get up close to a rattlesnake (Dad still maintains there is no right way).

    
One of my students refers to me as her life coach. Apparently, calling myself that actually would require some sort of education and certification. What I am, more likely, is a sort of bridge between her generation and my own. I get to “coach” her not by benefit of school degree, but rather by life degree. And span the chasm that could separate us by offering up a rope of knowledge without placing too much expectation upon her. Or judgment. 

    
As parents, we expect, and too often –we judge.  To some extent, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. After all, we’re the ones who brought them into this world. And we will be judged by what impact they make upon it. But we should, perhaps, let the judgments fall away.  Our own, but more importantly, our concern for others’, as well.
 
    
Our kids would certainly appreciate that.




    Because they’re judged enough by their peers. 

    
In Michael’s case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite his ill-fit to the world-at-large, he seems a good fit to most of his friends. His girlfriend seems to like him. More importantly, she thinks he’s a good person. And with a maturity that contradicts her age, she says she understands my own frustration at the path he’s been heading down recently. She maintains, though, that he will find his way to the other side. I could lay off her faith in Michael on the love-is-blind foundation of young relationships or simple naiveté. Or I could attribute it to optimism, as yet unjaded by time.

    
But instead, I want to trust that this girl has insight, which I may have lost, into the young man I am still trying to raise. I also want to believe that for every guide in Michael’s life now who is introducing him to rattlesnakes, there are others still showing him how to keep a proper grip on life so he doesn’t fall too far off balance.

Unabbreviated Content


    OMG, LMFAO

    
Using the brevity of acronyms within the hyper speed world of text messaging and Facebook posts makes a lot of sense. It’s quick, to the point, and for the generation which is text typing most of the letters and numbers, it turns their otherwise easily observable messages into secret code: PR911, 4Q, 420, GNOC, PAW. 

    
Secret, that is, until the codes become so universally accepted that even parents are privy to the hidden language. A teen’s worst nightmare, I am sure.

    
The thing is, those teens are not nearly as clever as they think they are. First off, I’d posit that we of another generation may have chiseled out the beginnings to the whole acronym anonymity.  At the close of all those notes being tossed on desks, and handed off in hallways and homerooms long ago, was invariably a script of innocuous letters. Seemingly meaningless, except to the author, and hopefully, the recipient.

    
In my own writing, I was always hesitant to join in on the big-message sentiment of those little letters. AFA –really how did I know if I was going to be their friend ALWAYS? For that matter, what exactly did they mean by friend? 

    
It’s the likes of these memories that make me wonder -did I really over think every uttered syllable and written word? 

    
Probably, yes. 

    
A friend –yes, the real kind- told me not long ago that I was disgustingly deep as a kid. Yeech! Who would want that kind of moniker? But then she assured me, that since she considered herself its opposite back-in-the-day, the tag wasn’t meant as insult, just observation.

    
Of course, I know that it wasn’t merely my literal interpretation of life that left my pen reluctant to scribe. The truth lay more in a self-defense hewn from a risk adverse beginning. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t take chances; I did all the time. I played too much, drove too fast, back-packed solo through Europe, took hang gliding lessons. I often took chances on myself. But rarely on others.

    
I’m better now.

    
Not much.

    
That’s probably why I don’t understand how kids can share so much with so many. On some level, I wish I could. But on another, I wonder if they’re not building themselves up for disappointment that may turn them cynical long before they’re meant to be.

    
How many times, after all, can they put themselves out there unsuccessfully before writing off whole swaths of human interaction? Maybe their walls need not be made of brick, but the structures so many of them have built leave them fully open to elements they may not be prepared to handle. And texting in code is unlikely to prevent overexposure. 

    
Problem is -gauging the measure of risk against reward isn’t easy. People don’t often come with guarantees. Those that claim to are often the ones who come up most sorely lacking. And it’s never a good feeling to be on the other end of an unanswered text with a laid bare message, regardless of the effort to conceal it in code.

    
Me, I’ll take actions over words any day. Weird philosophy for a writer.

    
The people in my own life accept the lack of the BFF and HAK at the bottom of my emails –warm and fuzzy, I’m not. And they’ve probably learned to read a bit into what I don’t say. I don’t say a lot. But at this point in my life, I also don’t make a whole lot of apologies.

    
I have a friend who ends most of our conversations now with I love you, to which I reply in turn. Because I get it. And she gets to remind me with the simple, but powerful sentiment, of what I already know. That in an instant the opportunity to say it can be taken away and that reminding someone you love him isn’t a bad way to say goodbye. Just in case, it’s the last time you can.

    

The Academics of Life

     Someone recently reminded me that my job title is academic tutor. In that capacity, I’d like to say that I’m at least marginally qualified to impart some sort of knowledge onto my students. On the other hand, I’d also be the first to admit that I may be completely ill qualified in most other areas in which I offer counsel to them.


whiteboard  When we set out in the semester, my fellow learning consultants and I are supposed to outline the student support program, explain the requirements of participation and tell the students what they can expect from us. Each year, I’m quickly able to click through the points and offer my assistance on a host of academic, organizational and campus navigational tasks without hesitation. 

 

     Until the last one.


Be a mentor.


My first year, I balked at what I thought was a pretty presumptuous offering. Of course, I understand that anyone can be a mentor, that it requires no degree or specialized training. I get that even I am vaguely qualified.


Still.


I didn’t even know these kids, yet. And, more importantly, they certainly didn’t know me. Why would they sign on to take counsel from a stranger more closely aligned with their parents and professors than their peers. How could they say yes to a pretty big trust connection with such a blank slate?

 

Luckily, my students aren’t nearly as jaded as I.

    Lucky also, that my boss is a bit of a sorceress. Not only does she perform a pretty neat trick with regard to the space-time continuum –accomplishing way more hours of work than should reasonably fit in a day- but she also seems to possess some intuitive knack for fitting tutee to tutor. At first glance, she’s merely linking business students with business tutors; communications kids with the likes of me. But there’s something more to the doweled fit she seems to construct.


Kelley would likely not allow me to attribute the pairings to the mere technical savvy of my supervisor. Rather, she’d be more apt to point to a grand scheme for the universe in which I am supposed to be doing just this job at this point in my life and with these particular kids. What I try to lay off on coincidence, she sets before a higher power. A concept over which, I have learned not to roll my eyes. Not only because I truly respect from where she comes, but also because she seems to have some sort of belief in me –that perhaps I still can be taught. And in weaker moments, she does have the ability to suck me in. 


And I understand now, that this is a good thing.

     For me.

    But also for my students.

    And for my own children. Because of all the jobs I have held, the one for which I often feel most inadequately prepared is parent. And sometimes also this position as mentor.

    But with voices other than my own in my head, I take a breath and try to listen to the universe. And rather than assume myself ill-fitted to any role, I think to all of the people who would have been considered such a mismatch to my own life. And thank that they were there.

The woman for whom I babysat should have remained only a neighbor and a reliable source of funds. Instead, in the fuzzy friendship we forged as I stepped into adulthood, she helped me become the person I was supposed to be. An unlikely pairing, believe me. Had we been the same age, our paths would not have crossed and we would never have become friends. But we did.

So when my daughter’s high school years were in turmoil and I was one of her closest friends, rather than fret over the time she spent with a woman I barely knew, I stopped and tried to believe. In the goodness of people. In my parents’ creed that what goes around, comes around, and in the idea that a good kid deserved someone good in her life. And it worked.

    I owe an immeasurable thank-you to that woman of long ago and to the woman who helped pull my daughter back to the surface.

    And I owe something to these kids I supposedly tutor. Because I often think that they’ve given me more than I have given them. 


Or maybe not. They thank me often and text me with good grades and give me credit that I don’t deserve. They share their work and their accomplishments and pieces of their lives. And they trust me.


I am an academic tutor, and I’ve tried to set some pretty clear boundaries –the most ironic of which might be exampled in a recent interaction with one of my students. I told her that if she ever felt compelled to text me in the middle of the night because she was under-the-gun with regard to an assignment, that I would indeed be angry. However, I added that I would be angrier still if she neglected to make the call when it had nothing to do with academics at all.