Monthly Archives: January 2007
Let me preface this post by saying I think of myself as an average suburban mom. I am a democrat, which is unusual in the republican stronghold where I live. I have an ivy-league education, and my own podcast about education issues. I am sure some of my “demographics” put me outside of the main stream, but for the purposes of this post, let’s assume I am average.
I had my doubts about Bill Clinton when he first ran. But he was a great president. Yes, he had a charisma problem- too much and it got him into trouble. He believed his own hype and appeal, and regardless of how you spin in, he took advantage of a young girl and he should have known better. I still don’t think it was any of our business, though. And I would vote for him again in a heartbeat, because I think Smart is important. In fact, I wish we had “being a Rhodes Scholar” as one of the qualifications for president, because I think it says a lot about your native curiosity and intellectual ability – better than the person who brags about being a C student and hating policy running the country.
I admire Hillary Clinton for taking on a substantive role as first lady, and for trying to deal with health care. She got a bad deal from republicans who wanted to see her in a more traditional “housewife to the country” role, and the Country is poorer for it. She had to deal with very private issues on a public stage, and has come through those times with her head held high.
Friends in New York state where I grew up think she’s been a great senator. She is one smart woman, and I love all of this about her. I would even love to see a woman president, because we need a different kind of voice leading us into the future. But I am concerned that she comes with too much baggage from the old days. I also think that we need to get away from this “American Monarchy” that shifts between left and right. What if the history books read “Bush Clinton Clinton Bush, Bush, Clinton…..” in terms of order of presidents- I think we might need new ideas and a new approach. I think Hillary would be an excellent VP. An excellent cabinet officer. She is smart and capable. But I don’t think she’s going to be an easy sell to the majority of Americans, and I cannot stand the thought of another republican president after the fiasco of the last 6 years.
I just don’t have the sense that at this point in time she can win. This may change. Women won’t vote for her just because she’s a woman. Women are, at heart, as self-interested as the next person, and they will want to vote for a candidate who will make this country a better place, regardless of gender or party. We are raising children, and we want them to grow up in a better world, not just the status quo. So we need to see substance, and not simple demographic facts about our candidates. If Hillary can show us that she is authentic and substantive beyond sound bites, she can do this. I am just tired of the same old political blah blah blah- speak to me like an adult you respect, and you can have my vote. Don’t sell me- Convince me.
This past weekend, my husband and I took the kids to Washington, DC. We drove down Saturday morning, checked into the hotel, and went to the National Mall. We saw a huge protest about the Iraq war, went to a few museums, and then went back to the hotel and let the kids swim while we read books poolside. It was a weekend that was totally unplugged except for watching a video on TV in the hotel room. No computers, no cell phones, just us.
I have not felt so relaxed, so recharged,-so happy- in such a long time. Why was this so great? Well, besides the fact that the hotel was luxurious and beautiful, the peace and the simple pleasure of the children swimming while the sun set over the Jefferson Memorial in the background seemed like a perfect slice of heaven. (You can see pictures on my Flickr page). Saturday was 52 degrees. Today, it was cooler, and began to snow as we worked our way back to the hotl and then the car to head home. The days were like Spring next to Winter- another juxtaposition of break versus returning to reality.
I kept coming back to the question- Why do I feel so rejuvenated from this short break, one I questioned the expense and need for it, at first? Was it spending time together after Matt and I have both been crazy busy these past few weeks? Was it being out of our own environment? Was it something about the type of hotel, and that the beauty and luxury help us feel spoiled and cared for? Why was this 36 hour trip more restful than a week away?
I think part of it was the unexpected nature- this was a last minute plan. There wasn’t a lot of packing, or a lot of scheduling done- we were going to go, to hang out and explore. On longer trips, the hassle of getting to the destination often subtracts from the pleasure, and lengthens the time needed to unwind afterwards. The lack of planning probably worked to our advantage. And the kids are finally of an age where an unplanned adventure of this sort suits them just fine as well. This was what the british call a “mini-break”- and what a terrific break it was!
It’s made me reconsider what we consider a vacation. Maybe shorter, but slightly more luxurious trips are worth more than a week at a more moderate, more like home setting. While I think we still believe most hotels provide you with the same 2 x queen-size beds, cable TV and a bathroom, the level of service at the upscale hotels makes you feel special and pampered. In a world where great customer service is becoming more and more rare, the refined atmosphere of the truly elegant hotels is always welcome.
Hotels seem to come in several ranges. The bare bones, such as Motel 6 or Red Roof Inn, are essentially camping in my book. The next level is the Hampton Inn-Holiday Inn Express- always a clean hotel, decent, and has a quick breakfast included. Not posh. Not worth more than a single nights’ stay if you can help it. It’s a slight step up from there to the Country Inn Suites and Courtyard by Marriot which are decent hotels, with some amenities- easy to stay for more than a day or two, or even overnight. Then you get to the Marriott/Basic Hilton level, where the hotels are a bit nicer, more amenities, but it feels like a convention center. These are fine hotels, but nothing I can get all that excited about. I never really feel these are worth the extra money you pay to stay here over a Courtyard/Country Inn type of place.
But then there is the level of the Mandarin Oriental/Ritz Carlton/Fairmont Hotel. It’s not the marble bathrooms or increased amenities that make these places. It’s the fact that the concierge recognizes you and say “Mrs. Hoffman, how was your dinner last night?” when they see you in the morning. They ask if they can do anything for you, offering to call a cab, loan an umbrella, recommend something- they go out of their way to care for you as if you were family. Every member of the staff is courteous and makes sure any question or concern is followed through. They don’t do things just based on job description. Your comfort and convenience is every member of the staff’s concern and mission, and it shows.
I used to think this level of service was oddly creepy- a little like they’re following you around- but I have gotten to really like and appreciate it. I like being treated as if I am a friend and a guest, rather than a nuisance. And I am beginning to believe these shorter, but more luxurious breaks are worth the money that could be spent on two or three nights at a lesser spot. I come away from these breaks feeling refreshed and recharged, where often in the less posh spots, I feel like they were simply places to lay our heads for a night, not a destination in itself.
The bottom line is that if vacations are for changing your viewpoint, recharging the batteries and relaxing, the posh spots have it all over all the other choices you can make. And I guess I’ve hit the point in my life where quality is mattering much more than quantity across the board.
I’ve been having a great conversation with my friend, Andrea, from the Just One More Book podcast. It started out as a conversation about ways to help support your podcast, and her feeling that projects with passion as the sole or main motivator were important.
This got me thinking. I recently posted an entry at GNM Parents about the intrusion of more and more advertising into every aspect of our daily lives, and how I was finding this was making me angry and annoyed.
So what are “pure motivations and what does it matter? Are we all so used to being sold at every moment of the day that iit’s hard to believe anyone wold do anything “just because”? I hope not.
Motivation is such a tricky thing- what really motivates us to do anything? And especially moms, where our motivation is often taking care of others, adding value to their lives, and so little of it is really for ourselves? Yet, we enjoy what we are doing, and really, in the end, does it matter very much if there are side benefits for us? Darwin would say that even in altruism, there is still an element of survival of the fittest- we sacrifice self-interest for that of others we want to survive and do better, even if there is an immediate, and potentially high cost to ourselves- this is really the core of parenting. Finding something more important than just you.
I could buy cookies, or not bring these kids anything at all. But I want them to know I care about them, and I care that they learn something, even if they don’t always care themselves. It’s a small way to show them they matter, and I think we all need this feeling.. It’s like that quote from Mother Teresa (without trying to get all preachy and religious, since this isn’t my thing anyway-) that says we can’t all do great things, but we can do small things with great love. The love and the feeling with which you do what you do matters most of all.
I want to care about what I do everyday, regardless of the benefits. In a lot of ways, I could care less about the monetary stuff- that is ultimately just the way some people keep score in this game of life, and measure what they feel success is.
I feel success is doing something well. Putting your heart into something. Like knitting a shawl for my sister in law for her trip to Egypt- I could buy one, but taking the time to make one while waiting for kids to do sports, etc. is giving my time, effort, creativity, etc. a home and hopefully a place in her life… and this you can’t measure in dollars and cents.
And I find my life is empty if I don’t care about what I do. It’s really that simple.
So the take home message for today is to try to put something of yourself into everything you do- otherwise, it really is just going through the motions, and if that’s all you are doing, why are you bothering at all?
Sure, there are bills to pay and things we don’t love, and I can’t always tell myself that the laundry is really contributing to the overall good of my life,. But I am trying to take small pleasures out of the feel of the hot towels coming out of the dryer, and getting the kids a bit more organized- it’s smaller amounts of myself invested than I put into teaching or other aspects of my life, but every little bit counts.
In case you are not already aware, besides this blog, I post over at Grasshopper New Media Parents as well as my LD Podcast blog. Megin tagged us all with the following meme for the weekend, so here it goes: Songs in the Key of Life, to quote the Stevie Wonder song of the same name. Give it a shot and link back here, or to GNM Parents. We’d love to hear your songs!
How to Play:
1. Open your library (iTunes,iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question below, type the song that’s playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the nextbutton
Here are mine:
Think for Yourself- The Beatles
First Day At School:
Absolute Beginners – The Jam
Falling In Love:
Bouncing Around the Room- Amazing Blue (an acapellla group)
(Ok, this is weirdly appropriate so far, and I have been bursting out laughing and amazed)
Anything Goes -from the soundtrack of De-Lovely
I Will- The Beatles
Ok- I got a chapter of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince about trusting Prof. Slughorn from Chapter 17. Hmmmm.
Dancing Cheek to Cheek- Eva Cassidy
Getting Back Together:
North Dakota- Lyle Lovett (If you love me say you love me, if you love me, take my hand…)
Let’s Have a Baby- The Candy Butchers (This is funny, especially since my husband is an OB-GYN)
Volcano- Jimmy Buffett
The Hard Way- Mary Chapin-Carpenter
River of Dreams- Billy Joel
Don’t get around much anymore- Harry Connick Jr. From When Harry Met Sally soundtrack- (Mr. Saturday Night….)
I want a little sugar in my bowl-Nina Simone with Sam Ellis
And for Megin- Favorite exercise song:
I think it’s a three way tie. Train in Vain by the Clash. Life is a Highway by Rascal Flats. Some Kind of Wonderful- I have one from a collection of 70’s songs that I love.
What are yours?
I just read a post over at GNM parents about a mom being a workaholic and dad scheduling time for the kids and Mom to interact, and have quality time, so to speak, together. It made me think that sometimes, work is so much easier than home for many parents.
At work, you get to be an adult. You get to make grown-up decisions. You may or may not have a job you love, or be your own boss, but you probably get to interact with other adults during the day. No one throws up on you, unless you work in a hospital. No one asks you to wipe their butt, literally. And no matter how successful you are outside of the home, when you come home, you are expected to service the other individuals in the house and meet their needs.
I joke that at home, I am only as good as my last peanut better and jelly sandwich. These kids would drive professional chefs to their knees. “No, I said I wanted parallelograms, today, not circles, Mom!” “I’m not going to eat that!” “Can I just do a tongue taste?” “You know I don’t like that.” Why a child who ate pesto gleefully off a baby spoon at 6 months now won’t get near anything green is beyond me. I am a laundress, a short order cook, a chauffer, a professional organizer, a logistics coordinator, a telephone operator, a technology specialist, and a number of other hats that I never have to deal with when I am working a regular, paid job. Work is a breeze compared to the ad hoc challenges of parenting.
But I love being a mostly at home parent. I do a little work outside the home, I podcast, and I do get to talk to adults, which keeps me sane. I do love helping kids with projects, being the one who can heal them with a hug and kiss. I love watching them grow, and teaching them the fun stuff like how to blow bubbles and ride a bike. I love watching them explore the world.
One of the jobs I have had involved providing on site services for people with disabilities at the Super Bowl every year. This required me to be out of town for at least 12 days at the same time, year after year. I began to refer to it as grown-up camp. This was my time each year to interact with adults, and have people call me by name. I was no longer known simply as James’s Mom, but by my own name! I had a sense of self again. And this is incredibly important.
The difference between work and home is that work is less complicated, and the expectations are clear. At home, the goal line is constantly moving; the reviews of your performance as a parent won’t really be known for years. Sure, you might think a kid’s latest report card reflects well on you, but that’s at best a 5 point quiz in your career as a parent. The long term results, just like long term research and development projects for companies, matter more than any short term return on investment. What matters is whether or not your child is happy and well adjusted. Whether they get to be balanced, centered adults, self-confident and self-assured. And this means constantly re-adjusting your parenting for an ever-changing child, in an ever-changing world.
Parenting is all about adaptation and evolution. You have to be willing to adapt and change to new circumstances and problems you have never faced before, and this is so different than the sameness most people face day to day at a regular, paying job.
It’s no wonder dads (and moms) sometimes like to stay at work late. Work is easier than re-inserting yourself in a family where there seem to be no rules. It’s messy. It’s complicated. And there are expectations that REALLY count. If you hand in a project at work a little late, there may be some repercussions. However, if you miss a kid’s dance recital, school play, or father’s day picnic, those disappointment, those hurt feelings will haunt you forever. Disappointing people at work is transient- disappointing people you love is much harder, and infinitely more painful. And if you are “busy with work”, you have an excuse that seems so understandable. You get off the hook.
The work home balance, and juggling the two, is hard for everyone. I feel fortunate to be able to choose to juggle, rather than having to do it, but there are times I still feel like a beginner clown, unable to keep all the balls in the air, no matter what choices I try to make.