Friday, October 23, 2009

Effective Immediately!

New rule peeps.

If I step on one of your motherfucking legos while trying to cross my living room with an armful of laundry, the piece is a gonner. This rule goes into effect immediately regardless of the fact that you are at school and can't be here to put said piece where it freaking belongs. Shoulda done that in the first place. Stipulations of new rule do not allow for negotiations, exceptions or grace periods. Even if the piece is a critical part to a Star Wars ship.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where is the joy?

The seemingly inexhaustible four letter word used during last year’s presidential campaign. It is what this nation needed then and it is what this nation is still trying to find now. Our world has never seen a convergence of crises like our current state of affairs and while many people claim we are on the upswing of this recession/housing crisis/financial meltdown, we seem to be in that period of time where things will continue to get worse before they get better. A year ago our nation overwhelmingly chose the one who promised change because frankly, no one was happy. In my part of the world there seems to be a pall cast over the community and at times, business owners in our little hamlet post signs that simply read “smile.” But what is the relationship between hope and happiness? It seems to be a chicken and an egg problem. Is hope born out of a state of happiness or is joy a byproduct of being hopeful?

The October 10th -16th, 2009 issue of the Economist had an interesting article titled “Hating what you do”. It certainly caught my eye, not that I could ever say I hate what I do because, I am, at the moment, going about the business of raising my beautiful children. There is undeniable joy in watching two young people sprout their wings and expand their minds. However, being a stay-at-home mother does not hold the same allure it once did for me. Now that both my children are in school full-time, and the prospect of adopting our third child is turning to dust after 4 years of waiting, I have more time to reflect on my life. What defines my life? Honestly? Laundry. Grocery shopping. Hunting for pants long enough and shoes wide enough for these growing children. I am no longer the mainstay in the budding growth of my babies’ minds or solely responsible for keeping them moving. They have their teachers and PE instructors now leading the charge each day. So where am I? Truthfully, I’m a bit lost.

About a year ago, on a three-day weekend in Vermont over Columbus Day, I realized I was desperate to go back to work. I loved working and left my career as a meeting and event planner because, for as well as I could plan the events of other people’s lives, I could not execute the expansion of my own family. After too much time trying to conceive, I realized that my job, the travel, and the demands of my clients could be possibly contributing to the failure to do the one thing in life I knew I was born to do – become a mother.

So certain in my conviction that I would thrive as a stay-at-home mother, I left no inroads, no ties, back to my career as a meeting and event planner. I didn’t burn any bridges but I didn’t keep my toes wet either. Nine years later I find myself with a big bowl of regret each morning after I drop my kids off at school. I have been sending out resumes for 12 months now but jobs in my field are far and few between. When they do pop up, my 9-year employment gap and I can’t compete with the fresh twenty-somethings with current experience. I am not saying I am not fresh. I am. Probably more in the language department but nonetheless, I am smart, creative, and hardworking. But my downfall is that I know more about the shoe selection at Target than what is going on now in hotel contract negotiation. So while I don’t HATE what I do, I connect with this article’s description of how the feeling of stagnation can demoralize people to the point of lower productivity and a higher level of resentment. If you examine the internal state of any company these days I am sure you will find that the level of unhappiness amongst its employees is taking a toll not only on morale, but also the level of productivity and perhaps the quality of work.

Like in any relationship, there has to be a free flowing, two-way street of give and take. We’ve all been in that relationship where one person does all the giving while the other person does all the taking. Those relationships don’t work out very well, do they? The giver finally gives up when the well of generosity runs dry because it isn’t being replenished with gratitude, care, or love from the other half of the relationship. This equation is not just reserved for personal relationships but can be used to describe the worker/employer relationship as well. When you are feeling taken advantage of, used up, or under-valued, the bonds of that relationship are going to weaken and, in many cases, snap. I believe this is what is going on all over the world at work and at home.

People lucky enough to have a job have had enough of feeling used up and under-valued. Bonuses have been cut, salaries lowered, jobs eliminated, promotions delayed, and hiring frozen. Yet the cost of living still continues to rise. How can people not be stressed out when their family’s means for life has at best stayed level and at the worst evaporated, while the cost of food, clothing, and heating your home keeps going up? Add to that, non-profit organizations are still vying for your charitable dollars and volunteer organizations are still hounding you for your time. I think most people feel pecked to death by the end of the day. Where is the joy in that?

At the moment, in my jobless state, I am a co-President of the PTO for my children’s school. We are having an incredibly difficult time trying to engage a stable base of volunteers for our events and programs this year. From what I heard at this week’s district-wide PTO meeting, it is a problem across the entire town. Where are the volunteers? Well according to an article in October 15th’s Boston Globe, “Many parents report volunteer-related angst. Among the worries, taking on too much and doing a lousy job - or taking on too little and becoming the object of gossip.“ I found the article to be a puff piece with little value, because while it acknowledged the economy as a contributing factor to the difficulty in securing volunteers, it focused on social implications as being the main cause. The truth of the matter is that when people can barely do for themselves, they certainly do not have the funds, energy or drive to do for others. It’s that simple.

So where on the merry-go-round of life do we find happiness and hope? Does one come before the other? Or do they co-exist? My guess would be the latter and right now in this country, and in most countries across the globe, we are in a state where without one, we don’t have the other. As the world gets back on track and people feel more safe and secure, I am sure we will see the clouds of despair dissipate.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The plane is hot. it is a 3 and 3 and we are sitting window, middle, aisle, aisle like we normally do on these kinds of planes. Boarding is a rush. Our family, squashed between men in suits making their way from Paris to Frankfurt on this Friday afternoon in October, seems misplaced in the priority boarding line. All four of us carrying more that the maximum weight in carry -on luggage but hoping that our smiling faces and daddy's mega-frequent-flyer status will get us through unnoticed.

The plane leaves on time. Our excessive carry-ons went undetected. We back up from the gate and roll uninterrupted to the runway, make a 90 degree turn and as my children amuse the other passengers with their countdown from 10, the engines go full throttle and we are off. After 14 years, SJ knows to drop his hand from his paper to grab mine as we lift off into the partly cloudy skies above Paris. The children ooohh and aaaahh over the birds-eye view of the city they have come to love. I, and likely SJ, have come to terms with our departure. He quietly releases my hand and goes back to his paper. I fetch my trusty notebook from my backpack and I write him a note. Torn from a spiral binding and folded in half, it reads,

It was more than I ever dreamed it would be.

Paris is magical. It will suck you in if you let it. Up until now I hadn't let it penetrate my soul like other cities have. But now, after 3 months, I have fallen prey to the charms of the city of lights. The sights and sounds of our city rest comfortably in my heart, I hope forever.

The people at SJ's office asked the whole family to come to the office yesterday for a casual farewell. We toasted with Veuve Cliquot. They gave us gifts. All of us. They gave the kids books in French and more French candy than 3 halloweens put together. And for me? The coveted cookbook from Laduree which is a testament to how well these strangers got to know ME. Me, the spouse. Their kindness and generosity has admittedly overwhelmed me. I thoroughly enjoy each and every one of them and would love the chance to know them better.

SJ has closed his eyes as he does on most flights. For all appearances this could be one of our usual domestic flights in the US. But it is not. It is a flight that is taking us far away from some place we have grown to cherish. A place we feel more at home than we do when we are at home. As sad as I am to leave, I can't help but acknowledge the tremendous feeling of gratitude that rests in my soul.


Finally we succumb to Le Hippopotamus. A restaurant in Paris renowned for being family friendly - complete with balloons. I avoided it like the plague.

But having checked 9 bags all over the weight limit without even a bat of an eye from the Lufthansa check-in guy and in typical SJ fashion he decided to push his luck and ask to check a 10th. Pas de problem says the man and takes SJ's carry-on that he didn't need, slapped a tag on it and tossed it down the conveyor belt. So after all that, we decided to have a sit-down lunch and the only option was Le Hippo. Burgers for everyone except maman who had her last chevre chaud. A green salad with a piece of toast holding warm chevre cheese.

When the boys excused themselves to use the loo before the food and wine arrived, I get a chance to talk to my very quiet daughter. She is drawing on the back of a receipt. I ask her what she is drawing and she replies that it is a picture of people sleeping in China. China for us is a very sad subject and only comes up when someone is feeling volny. What is volny I hear you ask? it is a bridge between the words vulnerable and lonely a few of us made up on a study abroad program in Florence while in college. Anyway, as she sat there concentrating a little too hard on a simple drawing on the back of a receipt I asked her if she knew what melancholy meant. She shook her head. I explained that it was a feeling of sadness that envelops you without making you feel like you need to cry. She looked up at me with bright eyes and said "yes, that's me right now. You are the crying sad." Now if you know me in person you probably are chuckling to yourself as you read this. I am a weeper. Waterworks, I am. Nevertheless, France, Paris, Pezenas, le TGV, le Thalys, London, Monceau, Bastille, Notre Dame, Le Tour Eiffel have all left an indelible mark on my baby girl and her melancholy is my pride. I hope to have set the stage for a wonderful life of exploration for my children and for that I would do anything. Even come home.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Packing mayhem

We arrived with the maximum number of bags each at the maximum weight of 23 kilos. I sent one suitcase home with my mother but purchased lots of school clothes amongst all the other souvenirs we now had to get home. Added to that we were trying to get a few (well maybe more than a few) bottles of wine home and now that you can't carry liquids on board, they must go in the checked baggage. I am sure you can get the drift of where this word problem is headed. If you arrive with 9 bags, send 1 home but buy a ton of stuff - how do you get it all back?

We decided to leave a bunch of things that no longer fit or served a purpose or was really that important. Things that didn't make the cut included 1 glass pie plate, 1 glass loaf pan, 2 five lb weights, a boules set, scrapbooking supplies, books we finished reading, my 501 French Verbs book (which I am pissed I have to leave) a few clothes, and a set of sheets.

Still we were stuck with not enough room for everything and we are leaving tomorrow.

Solution: send SPY down to those cheapie suitcase stores by Chatelet in the 1st to buy the largest bag she can find for as little money as possible.

Problem: She's got to be fast because we are to be meeting SJ's officemates for a goodbye champagne toast in 2 hours.

So I am released from the house with my sprinting shoes on. Run to Parc Monceau and hop on line 2 to Etoile where I change to line 1. Ride to Pont Neuf and zip up the escalator. Now if I remember correctly there is an Etam that seemed to have a good sale on of cute clothes and bags which I haven't been able to get into because I always have the kids with me. However, I am alone now....

He will never know if I just zip in there really fast right?

So at 10 am just as I arrive, Etam opens their doors and I do a mega fast shopping sprint which results in 1 handbag, 2 shirts and a really cute scarf.

Etam bag in hand, I then sprint down a few blocks to the cheapy bag store and purchase a huge but cheap suitcase. Toss the Etam bag in the suitcase and dash back to the metro. I look at my watch and it is now 11:15 and I still have to get home for us to get to SJ's office by Noon. I guess my shopping excursion at Etam was not as mega-fast as I thought. But I think I am okay. I call SJ and fudge things a bit and say that I am about to board line 1 back home but am actually still a few blocks from the metro. A little white lie never hurt anyone and he'd never know. So as I am dashing back to Pont Neuf I decided to take a sidestreet cut-through to save some time when I spot a store called Darty. I chuckle to myself at who would name a store Darty and what could they possibly sell. As I am flying by the windows I look in and see that Darty looks surprisingly like a Best Buy. And as I am thinking that it looks like a Best Buy I realize that at home Best Buy stores sell iTunes gift cards. Remember my little unresolved quest a few weeks ago for that French iTunes card?

My head is now spinning. I don't have time. I don't have time. I found myself saying as I turned around and walked or rather ran into the Darty store.

Luckily I catch a cute guy's eye as I dash into the store and I say "Bonjour Monsieur, vendez vous des cartes cadeaux pour iTunes?" Instead of a blank stare, I got a smile and a "oui, madame jusque la" and he points me in the right direction. I head to the desk and ask a lovely woman for the iTunes card and she asks which amount did I want to buy. In my head right now I am thinking OMG after all this time, at the very last minute, I am finding someone who will sell me this damn thing!!! I explain to her that I had been searching all over Paris for the iTunes card and no one suggested I go to a Darty store. I then explained why I was buying it and I got a french nod of well done, skirting the system!

So, now really behind in time I dart off to the metro and luckily I am blessed with trains arriving just as I walk onto the platform. I get home in 15 minutes just as SJ is hopping in the shower. He looks at me and the suitcase (which is hiding the Etam bag) and I say that I was late because I found a store that sold me an iTunes card!!! He smiled and said "good for you!" and closed the bathroom door. I then quickly removed the Etam bag, tookout all the contents and quickly packed my covert purchase so he'd never know! Before he got out of the shower, all evidence of my Etam diversion was erased including the shopping bag.

We were half an hour late to the office but after a glass of Veuve Cliquot and some munchies nothing mattered.

PS: When we got home, I changed into my sexy SPY trench coat and logged into my computer as Angelique Belgique. Quiet as a church mouse I head over to my iTunes account and enter the code on the iTunes card I bought this morning. Then, in a miracle of all miracles, I bought the music we heard on the 14th of July at the Eiffel Tower concert.

UPDATE: Back in the U.S. when I loggin to the Angelique user on my computer the iTunes account is still linked to SCORE!!