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I really hate when you say that.

I’m finding as I’m settling deeper into the crankiness of middle age, there are a number of phrases I’ve learned to really hate:

1. “Been there, done that.”  I get it; you’ve already finished raising your kids, planning your wedding, or writing your doctoral thesis.  It sucked when you did it, and it still sucks now. Maybe you should just say THAT.

2. “That’s why they make vanilla and chocolate.” Really? They make a lot more flavors than that.

3. “No offense.”  You should just say, “I’m sorry. I know I just said something offensive.”

4. “It is what it is.” I’m guilty of using this one, but it’s just stupid. Of course it is what it is. I mean, what else would it be?

5. “We won!” Allow me to clarify – this is a perfectly acceptable phrase when it comes from a child who just won a t-ball game. Or from a grown man named Manning. When you are sitting in the stands, watching your child, or drinking beer and eating peanuts at a Yankee game, YOU DID NOT WIN. In the eternal words of Jerry Seinfeld, “They won. You watched.”

6. “Literally.” I think we have a winner. Someone once told me, “That job was literally the death of me.” I didn’t respond, because I figured she wouldn’t hear me from the grave. Whatever.

7. “I’ll be out of pocket.” I think this is a cell phone derived phrase, but how about we just say we’re going to be unreachable or out of town. When people say this, I think the guy from the Lucky Charms box jumping out of their pocket.

lucky charms

I hope you won’t say any of these things to me. That would be amazeballs.

 

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Follow Your Dreams.

Twice a week, I teach college communication classes. I’ve been doing it since Matthew was a baby, so I could freelance, but still have a steady source of income and work (and distraction from the never-ending needs that a baby usually has). While I don’t love the fight for a campus parking spot, some of the dry material I’m contracted to cover, or the grading of sometimes poorly-written papers, I love that there is information I have that I’m able to share with people who have a real desire and need for that information.

Every semester, I tell my students the story about my first job. I graduated from Penn State with a degree in Speech Communication and a dream of working for an advertising agency in New York City. It was mid-recession, so it took me a few months, but I found my dream job – working as an assistant at a large, high-profile advertising agency in New York.

And I hated it.

I hated the 90-minute commute each way and the trudge through Port Authority with the other miserable people who were getting off the bus. I hated the smelly walk up 8th Avenue, I hated my boss, who gave me work to do without explaining anything about it, and who condescendingly handed me extra cash to “get something for myself” when I went to the company cafeteria to fetch coffee for her meetings. I hated the people I worked with. I hated that I got home after 7:00 p.m. every night and felt the need to go for a run as soon as I did, just to burn off the stress of the day.

I stuck it out for four months, until I was able to get a fellowship that covered the cost graduate school, which bought me an extra year and a half to figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life now that the reality of my dream turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.

dreams

Artwork courtesy of Rose Hill Designs by Heather Stillufsen

As I’m telling my students this story, they tend to look at me, dumbfounded – like, why would our professor, who is supposed to be encouraging us and our dreams, be telling us about her awful first job??

And I always tell them, I’m GLAD I had that awful job. I’m glad I had a job in the city, worked in advertising, did precisely what I thought I wanted to do.  Because if I hadn’t, maybe I’d be standing in front of these classes, telling them they should pursue their dreams because I didn’t. I’m glad I can tell them that THIS is the time to be doing what they want to do. From where I stand now, I know that when you have a dream come true and it doesn’t look like a dream anymore, it’s time to find a new dream. From where I stand, I know that if I HADN’T pursued the dream I had, it would be a whole lot tougher to try and do that now.  I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I’m saying that going after a fantasy in your 20s, before you have a mortgage, car payments and kids, is a whole lot easier than doing it later, especially if that dream turns out to be something you never really wanted in the first place.

My story has a happy ending, and that’s also something I stress to my students. While I was in graduate school, I took a public relations class, loved it, did an internship and loved that – I’d figured out what I really wanted to do.  I spent 10 years working in public relations in jobs I enjoyed, and then when I had my first child, started doing freelance PR and teaching.

It turns out that my dream wasn’t what I thought it was. But I’m glad the detour took me to the dream I’m living now.

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I’m too old for this.

So, we’re almost two weeks into the new school year. My kids seem settled into their new routines in 4th grade and 8th grade.  Me? Not so much.

Now that my younger son is in 4th grade and I have just two years left as an elementary school parent, I realize that not only are my kids getting older, but I am too.  This was especially apparent to me on the first day of school, when I stood outside the school door, waiting for my 4th grader to bound out and announce to me that he was “starving” – our charming daily after-school routine. I glanced over to the door where the tiny first-graders came out, and saw the parents at their first school pickup, pushing a stroller with a younger sibling, or chasing a toddler around the playground.

back to school

That was me – seven years ago, picking up a first-grader while simultaneously figuring out how to get through a second round of the Terrible Twos.  I got involved in the school, met other moms, and made friends. By the time both kids overlapped in the school, every face there was a familiar one.

Seven years is a pretty long time, if you’re going to the same place twice a day, every day, from September until June. And in seven years, a lot can change.  My 8th grader is still more or less that same sweet kid he was in first grade.  Unless we’re together in public where he might be seen by another 8th grader. Then he might pretend that he doesn’t know me. My 4th grader is still adorable and energetic.

And me?  By the time my family “graduates” from elementary school, I will have spent nearly a decade getting to know teachers and parents, watching my kids learn and grow.  In “my” elementary school years, I will have gotten through most of my 40s – arguably the happiest years of my life so far. But it feels strange. I had kids on the older side, and as I’m a little closer to 50 than I am to 40, many of the new parents are in their 30s. They are just beginning this journey, while I’m figuring out how to parent with an arthritic knee, graying hair and a husband with an AARP membership (and no, he’s not generations ahead of me; they send you the paperwork at 50, and if your hankering for discounts outweighs your vanity about your age, it’s a nice thing to have. But I digress).

In another two years, when I have one child in high school and one in middle school, I suspect I will look back on the nine years spent as an elementary school parent as a sweet time in my life. I still enjoy shopping for school supplies and making Halloween costumes; I don’t mind helping with homework and packing lunches.  Now I just need my reading glasses to do it all.

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Entering unfamiliar territory.

Tryouts for our town’s travel basketball program are tonight, and I’m a nervous wreck. I’m not even trying out.

You see, travel basketball starts in 4th grade, and Michael has been talking about it since FIRST grade. It’s the only travel sport he has ever wanted to play.

His older brother has always played in-town sports. No tryout necessary – just practice once a week, play a game once a week, and call it a day. I’ve seen Matthew through plenty of “tryouts,” but they’ve all been auditions, in  a world I’m more comfortable and familiar with.

So tonight, I’ll be taking my 9-year-old to the high school gym, where a bunch of people I don’t know will evaluate I’m not sure which skills until well past his bedtime. I don’t know how he will do, or when we will find out how these strangers think he did. While I know that Michael loves basketball and is good at it, I don’t know how good he is relative to the other I-don’t-know-how-many kids who are also trying out for what I’ve heard are 36 slots on three teams.

basketball

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this whole thing. I really want him to make a travel team, because it’s something that he wants so much. But I don’t love some of the things I’ve felt the need to say to someone who is still, let’s face it, a little kid.

I don’t like that yesterday at our annual block party, it was nearly killing me that he wasn’t practicing basketball, knowing the tryout was 24 hours away. What WAS he doing? Playing football and soccer, and running around with his friends. Exactly what a 9-year-old OUGHT to be doing on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when everyone on the street is outside too. But part of me was concerned; would playing football instead of practicing basketball give some other kid the edge? Was he going to hurt himself or get so worn out that he’d be too tired to do well at the tryout?

I wasn’t sure if playing goalie on his soccer team (or at recess at school, for that matter) was a good idea, since he sprained his wrist playing goalie about a month ago at camp. I’ve been paranoid that the level of practice he’s done (playing most every day at camp over the summer, a few private coaching sessions with friends who have played at at high levels, and shooting in our driveway) can never compete with the skills clinics, private basketball camps and private coaching that other kids have experienced.

So, we’re telling Michael (who is definitely a little nervous, because even at this age, he understands what’s at stake tonight) to just try his best, and we’re all hoping he’ll make it. We explain to him that he just wants to play basketball because he loves it, and if he doesn’t make a travel team, there’s still an in-town league and a few others, so he can still play basketball.

Because here’s the bottom line. My kid isn’t going to the NBA. He’s not getting a college basketball scholarship. He barely cracks 55 pounds, and he’s shorter than most of his peers. I hope that he makes a travel team. And I hope that if he doesn’t, he’ll still love basketball and will want to play. It’s tough that there’s this kind of pressure on kids who still drink chocolate milk and need a babysitter.  I hope that our decision to have our kid play other sports, and run around and just be a kid, isn’t going to take away the love he has for this sport.

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