Friday, September 30, 2016

Odd Man Out

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My husband and daughter are history buffs; I don't share their love for the subject. Perhaps if I'd learned to view history as a succession of stories with colorful characters rather than trying to memorize dates and wars and who was president when, I'd feel differently.

It's not that my teachers didn't try. Looking back, I remember the stories and the enthusiasm my high school history teachers brought to the subject; I just wasn't interested enough to work at finding an angle in. Instead, I concentrated on learning the information, practically in isolation, so I could take first one test, then another. In retrospect, that didn't make sense, and I made things harder than they needed to be.

Sometimes, our government suffers from the same affliction. I never really gave any thought to why the Supreme Court needs nine justices, not eight, but now, it seems obvious. When people seek assistance and resolutions, certain criteria need to be met, and one of those is setting things up so that a tie, which is not a resolution at all, is not a possibility.

Maybe a few of our Congressmen should go back to high school history -- unless, of course, ambiguity is what they were hoping for all along.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

6 Questions from the Porch Swing for Judge William Mercer

Today, Marita's father, retired judge William Mercer, takes some time away from his study  to join me on the porch swing. 

Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
Judge Mercer: As you've indicated in your introduction, I spend a great deal of time in my studyNow that I am retired, I have more time available to immerse myself in cases that fascinate me, and I enjoy writing about them as well.

What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
Judge Mercer: Retirement has not dampened my enthusiasm for the law and all of its nuances. Perhaps that is not surprising, however.

What are your thoughts on children?
Judge Mercer: Although helping my daughter to raise my granddaughter was not something on which I had planned, I greatly enjoyed having Charlotte in the house. She is now and always has been a wonderful young lady.

What regrets do you have?
Judge Mercer: I often wonder what I might have done differently in raising my daughter. She has a reasonably good life now, but I wish she hadn't followed such a circuitous path to get there. 

Whom do you admire? 
Judge Mercer: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She continues to pursue justice and the law with a passion uncharacteristic of many peers half her age.

Are you happy with the role that church is playing in Marita's life now? 
Judge Mercer:
 I am suspicious of the role that church is currently playing in my daughter's life. Although I am happy to see a resurgence of interest in that area, I question both the motive and longevity behind that interest.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Reframing the Empty Nest
This time last month, I was adjusting to our empty nest. I'd been warned that the first week would be the toughest -- a warning that turned out to be true, as I kept waiting for my wayfaring child to wander back into the house and hang up her car keys.

She didn't.

And we adjusted.

Before she left, I'd heard from other parents that they couldn't go into their college child's room. Some said that even walking past the door was painful.

Since we live in a small cape cod, and her bedroom door is directly across from ours, separated by only a few feet, I was dreading this. I was dreading it mostly because I was familiar with the feeling. From time to time, as she was growing up, seeing that empty room when she was away overnight made me sad. Something -- someone -- was missing, and it just felt wrong.

But, as it turns out, I didn't need to dread it at all. The empty room feels different than I feared it would, but in a good way. Her room is, well, hers, and going into it makes me feel closer to her. Perhaps it's the clothes folded neatly on the bed (yes, she did that), waiting to be packed up and traded for summer stuff on Parents' Weekend. Or the things she left behind, some outgrown, but others just too numerous to fit into her newer, smaller, more public room.

More likely, it's that a little piece of her is somehow present in that space, and always will be. The colors of the walls, the desk under the windows, the books on the shelves all evoke the child she was and the young woman she's become. She no longer needs bedtime stories, watches Miss Frizzle, or anxiously awaits the next Magic Tree House book, but we survived all of those transitions.

And something wonderful was always on the other side.

I can't wait to see her next month and hear about her real-life adventures -- the books she's reading, the friends she's making, the dreams she's dreaming -- because I have faith that, once again, there's something wonderful waiting for her. The child reared on Jack and Annie's magic tree house and Miss Frizzle's admonition to "Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!" has become brave enough to do just that.

As for me, I'm happy to be living across the hall from her launchpad.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Feature: Successful Starts

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I always enjoy reading about the habits of successful people. Sometimes, I even find that I'm already following a few of the suggestions in the articles.

What's fun about this piece in Entrepreneur -- besides its slide show format -- is that it includes links to the businesses of and apps recommended by the leaders it features. Even better, the diversity of the ways in which each entrepreneur begins his or her day makes it clear there's no one pathway to a successful day.

Now if only there was more than one woman represented.

Baby steps.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

6 Questions From the Porch Swing for Rosemarie Mercer

Today, Marita's mother, Rosemarie Mercer, joins me on the porch swing. As we begin, she's very unhappy with me, as a series of maternal responsibilities of my own delayed the writing of this post, and I had to reschedule her to this afternoon. So, with apologies, I'll begin.

Where will we find you when you’re not on the page of the book we’re reading?
Rosemarie: Well, today you will find me re-arranging my schedule in an effort to accommodate this blog post. Usually, I'll be busy with my volunteer work, at church, or perhaps even at home with my husband, Judge William Mercer, who is retired, but still plays a vital role in the community. 

What’s something we’d be surprised to know about you?
Rosemarie: I suspect there is quite a bit you'd be surprised to know about me. Unlike my daughter, I believe in discretion and prefer that my private life remain private.

What are your thoughts on children?
Rosemarie: Today's children are spoiled. Parents simply do not discipline them. When I was raising my granddaughter, she had limits. Charlotte understood, even from a young age, that there are consequences that accompany bad behavior.
What regrets do you have?
Rosemarie: I regret that my daughter chose to rebel and reject everything her father and I stand for. 

Whom do you admire? 
Rosemarie: My husband, of course, and the ministers at our church. They do God's work.

It seems that Jim's outlook on life is more similar to yours than Marita's is. Did you ever wonder if perhaps he should have gotten full custody of Charli? 
Rosemarie: Of course not! A child belongs with her mother. If Jim had wanted to be a parent, he should have accepted his paternal responsibilities from the very beginning. His late arrival has less to do with what's best for Charli and more to do with what's best for Jim.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Enthusiastic Perfectionism

Last Sunday night, as I was cranky because I took the "day of rest" very seriously and did more napping than schoolwork, my husband told me that he thought perhaps the goals I'd set for myself were too high.


The timing of this conversation was interesting. I'd just finished teaching a unit on time management and goal-setting with my freshmen, and was about to launch into our discussions on perfectionism.

Perfectionism is a funny thing, and it's very good at hiding. If you took a look at my house, you'd never believe I could be afflicted with it. And, generally speaking, I don't expect it from other people. But more and more, when things don't go according to plan, or, more accurately, I don't accomplish what I set out to accomplish, that ugly p-word makes an appearance. I become disheartened. Grouchy. Defeated.

Tons of fun to be around.

This type of all-or-nothing thinking is a hallmark of perfectionism -- and not the good kind of Hallmark, with cheery verses and flowery covers either. Instead, it's the kind of thinking that leads us to dismiss our accomplishments as trivial, even when they're anything but.

Being aware of this counterproductive mindset isn't enough, and often, it takes observations from others to nudge us toward doing something about it. Next week, as I simultaneously free my freshmen from the pressure to be perfect in my class and beat myself up when I don't finish grading their papers in the (possibly unrealistic) time frame I've assigned myself, I need to step back with my husband's observation in mind. I need to ask myself whether my enthusiasm for what I'm doing has overwhelmed my realism.

And yes, enthusiasm can put us on the path to perfectionism. New ideas and new discoveries lead to new possibilities that collide with realities like calendars and time constraints and the need to do things like sleep, eat and live in a semi-clean environment. Suddenly, that thing we were previously doing seems hugely inferior and, rushing in to change things -- to perfect them, if you will -- we skip the process and, instead, race toward the result. Painting the dining room in a rush of weekend energy. Cooking a gourmet meal when we're really more about takeout. Laboring away at a project until it's just right, no matter how long it takes. Then, we feel frustrated when we arrive at the finish line and the result is sub-par.


But we can change the way we manage the race. Enthusiasm and conscientiousness are good things, and we can harness them with the use of one very simple word, a word that often gathers dust in the corners of the vocabularies of recovering perfectionists.


No, I can't do that right now. No, it's not reasonable to let a part-time project become an all-consuming endeavor.

No. More is not always better.

Oh, but it's hard to say "no" guilt-free. We often need to cloak it in apologies and explanations and rationalizations.

Even when we're saying it to ourselves.

No. There simply aren't enough hours in the day.

And, yes. Conscientiousness is better than perfectionism. Something is better than nothing. Sleep is better than exhaustion. Balance is better than running full-tilt until we hit the wall and wonder why it hurts so much.

When I put it that way, it makes so much sense. Perhaps I should give it a try.

Won't you join me?

If your calendar is full, feel free to say no.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fitting Fashion

Recently, I've become fascinated with trying things out by mail. I ordered eyeglass frames from Warby Parker to try on at home. I ordered jewelry from a company I saw advertised on Facebook. I love my Dia & Co. clothing boxes so much that I'm writing a Tech Talk blog on the subject for next month.

Given the metrics collected by social media, it's possible that those purchases -- particularly my boxes full of clothes -- are responsible for this article by Project Runway's Tim Gunn showing up in my newsfeed. While I know I struggle to find clothes I like that fit both my height and my shape, I had no idea some designers stopped their sizing at a 10 or a 12.

I shouldn't be surprised. Anyone who's gone shopping with a preteen or a teen who's not model thin has wondered about the sizing and target audience of some of the mall stores. And I won't even go down the path of finding clothes that are a good fit for the age, size and budget of women over 40 -- a group that's nothing if not heterogeneous.

What fascinated me about this article was that it wasn't written by a woman; rather, it was written by an advocate of fashion and style on behalf of both consumers and the industry he loves. Gunn sees a potential win-win here that much of the fashion industry is ignoring.

Let's hope the designers listen.