Thursday, December 18, 2014

Something is Missing From the Picture Hook On My Office Wall

I have lived in the house we are renting for over two years now.  It is a five-bedroom home, and it is just the two of us - my partner and I - living in the home.  Obviously we occupy the master bedroom.  We have a guest room.  My partner uses one of the bedrooms as his office.  One of the spare bedrooms is used as a workout room.

That leaves one spare bedroom.  For about six months, the only contents in this additional room were some leftover boxes of my old miscellaneous junk and mementos.  In September 2012, I left my job and decided to start focusing on school and starting up a business.  Shortly after I left my job, we turned this spare room into my very own little office.  I took a few months break - for the first time in my life - to destress from a toxic job before I started focusing on school.

I knew that after sitting at an office desk for fifteen years, I needed to have a desk in my home office to be more productive.  To set up my office, I purchased a glass desk from Costco.  I set my desk up to face the outside window, and my neighbors have a few bird feeders set up in their backyard.  I keep the blinds halfway up so I can watch some of the gorgeous birds that stop by throughout the year.

I found the most perfect desk chair for my needs - a lovely four-way adjustable lumbar, mesh chair with an adjustable headrest and armrests.  I put up some pictures of my cat and dog on the desk, and it was officially an office.

I purchased some desk accessories - pencil cups, file organizers, and a trash can - at Ikea.

I even set up a small five gallon aquarium with the tadpole babies that resulted from a little tryst between my two guaranteed-to-be-the-same-sex African dwarf frogs from Brookstone (I guess some guarantees aren't nearly as assuring as others).  I now have six adult frogs swimming around in this tank at my desk.

This is the first time I have had my own official "office" in my home.  I have never really needed one since my previous jobs only allowed a very special exception for telecommuting.

Now that I have my own office, I more readily notice something's been missing from my office and my home for ages now.  Sometimes I can almost feel its absence burning a mark in the back of my head.

You see, the previous tenants left a picture hook in the wall of my office.

Normally, when I move into a house that has such things remaining from previous tenants, I either go "Sweet!  I don't have to measure!" and hang one of my pictures up in its place, or I rip it out if I do not like its placement.

This little hook is seemingly perfectly aligned right in the middle of this wall, and I just didn't want to remove it.  The first time I noticed it, I thought to myself: "I know what belongs there..."

No, it's not that "Ele Dreaming" photo I have had my eye on for ages now.  Though yes, I'd give just about anything to have that hanging on my office wall!  Yeah, that's pretty much never going to happen!  In that particular photo, it looks like the elephant is butting its head against a tree out of frustration, but actually it is drunk from the fermented fruit that previously fell off the tree.  From the first day I saw that photo in Peter Lik's gallery, I knew I wanted to hang it in the most appropriate of all places where frustration runs rampant - an office wall.

Still, it's not that photo that is missing from my wall.  My bachelor's degree diploma belongs there, but I don't have one yet.

There are a variety of reasons I am now thirty-three years old, and I still don't have my bachelor's degree.  Most of them have to do with the religion I was raised in, and some of it is because of other things that had to take priority.  Let me explain.  It's a long story, and I apologize in advance for being long winded!

Before I get into it, let me give you a little background on some Jehovah's Witness (JW) terminology so you are not completely lost with some of the things I mention.  Forgive me if I fumble this, because I rarely spend time trying to explain my former beliefs to anyone who isn't familiar with the religion.

  • Worldly - They don't use this phrase to describe someone who is well traveled.  Jesus said he was not part of this world, so basically this phrase is used to describe anyone or anything that is not fully aligned with serving Jehovah (God).  It is used in the sense of all of the things that non-believers seek to achieve or obtain as a means of accomplishment or satisfaction that may take away from their number one priority, serving Jehovah.
  • The Truth - This is the phrase they use to describe their beliefs.  They use it since they firmly believe that others who do not believe the same things they do - they have been lied to (and JWs feel genuine pity for them) because JW beliefs are based "strictly" on their interpretation of the bible.  It is used in sentences like this: "Is he still in the truth?"  This means "Is he still a Jehovah's Witness?"
  • The Kingdom - This means "Jehovah's Kingdom," as in his rulership, and being aligned with it in every aspect of your life.


Growing up in a Jehovah's Witness household, the focus was not on "worldly" things such as riches and possessions.  Yes, my penchant for a very expensive piece of art would be frowned upon in the JW world!  Though I certainly do agree there is at least some wise advice in not being so heavily focused on to "keep up with the Joneses" and losing sight of the important things in one's life.  There are so many more important things in life than material possessions.  After all, we all enter this world with nothing and we leave with nothing!

The JW enterpretation of not focusing on worldly things went much further than that.  Heavy emphasis was put on "seeking first the Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you."  This meant that a higher education that would possibly prevent you from attending meetings and doing field service, was frowned upon.  Considering the fact that I was also raised in a small town and as a Jehovah's Witness, it was frowned upon even more so due to a lack of exposure to alternate opinions and experiences, just as small town minds will do sometimes.  In bigger cities such as Austin, the attitudes are a little more relaxed towards higher education.  All of this meant that I never really grew up with the thought of going to a four-plus year college in my mind.  It meant that college degrees just weren't very prominent in the Jehovah's Witness world, especially in the 1990s and earlier.  Sure, there were a few Jehovah's Witnesses who were doctors and lawyers, but the majority (not all) of them had converted to the religion after going to college and establishing their careers.  For the most part, JWs occupations center around things that could be learned on the job or that were taught by friends and family members.

JW assemblies talked about how the pursuit of higher education could compromise one's beliefs because of some of the things they teach in science and various theology courses.  So the general consensus amongst the Jehovah's Witnesses was that higher education wasn't necessarily a good thing.  The last "official stance" I heard from the JW world is that college education is just considered to be a "personal choice of conscience."

Don't get me wrong here; my parents were all for my education.  My father graduated high school, but my mother did not.  Until I turned 18, neither one of my parents attended college, but they were always fantastic students.  My father is a very sharp man in general, and my mother is quite book smart as well.

There came one point where my mother had to miss school due to a serious illness.  She grew very sick when she was only sixteen years old, and she was less than twenty-four hours away from requiring a hysterectomy!  One day, her doctors told her if she didn't stop hemorrhaging by the next morning, they would have to give her a hysterectomy.  Fortunately (for my own existence!), she recovered.  However, since she was out of school for an entire month due to her illness, she fell very far behind in her school work.  She had a tutor when she was in the hospital, but it wasn't good enough.  She grew frustrated with how far she had lagged behind, and she dropped out of school.  Such was the way of life in the 1960s.

My parents worked very hard for a living, and I'm very glad they instilled the value of hard work to my brother and me.  Even so, they knew they didn't want their children to have to work as hard as they did to make ends meet.  My mom knew she couldn't go work in an "easy desk job" (relatively speaking, folks) when she didn't even have her high school diploma, though she did a spectacular job when she worked for the census bureau and with my father's book work for his business.  Not having an education meant she was forced to do "grunt" work in spite of the fact that she was a highly capable human being and always willing to learn.  I'll talk more about this later.

My mother took me to house cleaning jobs when I was a pre-teen, and I helped her clean houses for a local Realtor.  She did this because she wanted to buy new furniture for the house they had just purchased, and my father's income just couldn't be stretched to buy new furniture.  As always, my parents looked for quality items because they would take good care of their things so that they would last a long time.  Since my mother was buying bedroom furniture for me too, I was put to work!  She did pay me a little bit too.

I remember at one job, she was warned that the previous tenant was HIV positive.  Since this was in the early 90s and HIV education and understanding wasn't what it is today, she was a bit scared to take the job.  She did it because she needed the money, and she made sure to use heavy latex gloves the entire time.  I had received a bit of education on the subject in school, so I also helped reassure her that as long as she didn't cut herself, she should be absolutely fine.

At one job, she showed me her chapped and bleeding hands after scrubbing a particularly grody bathroom with bleach, and she said to me "I don't ever want you to have to work this hard to earn a living.  I want you to get good grades and get an education."  I cannot begin to tell you how thoroughly that lesson stuck with me.  I carried those words of wisdom with me from that moment on.  The takeaway from this is: parents, please, talk to your children about the importance of education.  You just might be surprised to find out that they will listen to you when they see examples of what education can do for them and what a lack of education can do.  Prepare your children for life, and you just might feel the joy of knowing that some of the most important life lessons managed to "stick" with them.  

When I hit the eighth grade right along with my fellow JW friends, a lot of my friends' parents pulled them out of public school.  My family was criticized for not following suit and not "protecting" me from "the world" and accused me of being worldly and/or eventually becoming worldly because of this choice to not switch to home school.  My parents had decided that was a terrible idea because "You're going to have to get out there in 'the world' one day, and we'd rather you learn how to deal with it while you're still under our roof."  Additionally, since my mother would have been the person to become my home school "teacher," my parents knew I would receive a better quality education if I stayed in public school with the professionals.  Thanks, mom and dad for not being complete nut-jobs about this one thing!

The bottom line is that my parents weren't completely against the idea of me pursuing a college degree, although college opportunities weren't really discussed before I hit my teen years.  Frankly, I originally figured my parents wouldn't let me go since I knew they had seen it go "poorly" for others before, in terms of keeping with the religion.  Once the discussion did happen when I was in the 8th grade, I discovered my parents did have one hard and fast rule about their children going to college.

They had seen friends whose children had gone off to college and "fell away from the truth" as they always put it.  They had gone to live in the dorms and discovered that life could be pretty fun when you weren't under the constant scrutiny of your parents' watch.  Imagine that...  A few of them strayed away from the religion for a little while during their college years, and a few of them came back to the fold afterwards.  Most of them ran for the hills!

My parents did not want to see that happen to me, so they came up with a rule about college that they applied to both my brother and me.

"If you want to go to college, we will support you as best as we can.  However, you will have to live here at home with us so that we can help make sure you keep your eyes on the prize and do not stray away from Jehovah."

I know some people would hear of my parents' offer and say "I wish my parents would have let me live with them while I went to college!  I could have saved so much money!"  I know some of my fellow JW peers from back in the day would have said "I wish my parents would have supported me going to college at all!"  Yes, I am ever-so grateful that my parents were supportive of my education.  I am even grateful that they made this offer in the first place because I know their intentions were good.  Their intentions were always good.

I had many friends, including my ex husband, who asked their parents if they could go to college, and they replied with a frank "No!" in a sort of "How dare you ask such a ridiculous question, child!" way. In some cases, it was because their families couldn't afford it.  After all, it can be difficult to afford college for your offspring when you follow a religion that tells you to "keep your eye simple" and "keep on seeking first the kingdom," and then "all of these other things will be added to you."  In many JW families, it is because it was considered a frivolous expense and merely a means of seeking "worldly" riches!  Even so, many families out there cannot afford college, but there are programs out there to assist (Pell Grants, student need grants, etc).  I have a few friends whose parents adamantly refused to provide their financial data, so they weren't even allowed the opportunity to even try to obtain financial aid!  Some of them declined because they were paranoid over handing over financial data, and some of them declined because they didn't want their kids to go to college!  What a sad situation!  Truly, I am grateful for the support my parents did provide me, especially when I know how things have turned out for so many others out there.

However, in my own personal situation, my parents' supportive offer wasn't nearly as enticing as it may appear at a cursory glance.  As I previously mentioned, my parents didn't want my brother and I to have to work as hard as they did to make a living for all of us.  Even though my parents were quite supportive of my brother and I going to college (especially when compared to other JW families), it still wasn't an ideal thing for me to spend that extra time living with my parents.  For a variety of reasons, I am not going to go into great detail explaining those reasons in a public forum such as this.  I knew I needed to get out of my parents' home as fast as I could.  All I will say is my father was making it increasingly difficult for me to keep living there.  I knew I would not be able to last an additional four years past high school graduation in my parents' home.  I had my eyes on moving out for as long as I can remember.  In fact, the biggest reason I sped up high school graduation to the age of 16 was to facilitate an earlier move out!

In the years since I was a teenage JW, they have relaxed - ever so slightly - their general stance on college degrees.  It's a cultural shift that has gradually grown a little more tolerant.  Basically what I am trying to say is that it isn't quite as frowned upon as it was when I was a teenager.  It is even less frowned upon for men since they are supposed to support their families and be "head of the household" in the JW world.  My older brother bared the brunt of a lot of criticism for obtaining - gasp - his Associates Degree!  I know there was a lot of criticism towards me in obtaining my Associates Degree too, but I just didn't care.  I had stopped listening or caring about what a certain group of individuals in the congregation thought about me because long ago, because I had figured that they were nothing but a big group of idiots - and jealous idiots at that!

As a female, I didn't have the same congregation "privileges" that my brother had as a Ministerial Servant, so I didn't have to suffer quite the negative consequences he endured.  It was one thing to have people merely spreading hate-filled gossip about me.  That had no real impact on my life.  You cannot control what people are going to think or say about you, so there was no point in worrying about their opinions!  It was another thing to have back-stabbing reports written that meant my brother was not recommended to be a Ministerial Servant when we changed congregations to get away from the negativity that certain individuals perpetuated.  Fortunately their little scheme didn't have any real impact on my brother's desire and ability to be a Ministerial Servant, and he was re-appointed after the congregation transfer.  It just made him very sad to know that the years of resentment towards my family had caused certain individuals to stroke their own ego and exert their power to hurt him, especially when he had never done or said anything to hurt them.  Vindictiveness has always been an incredibly undesirable trait to me.

When my brother graduated high school, my parents tried to encourage him to get his Associates Degree for CAD/Drafting.  He initially refused to go because he hated the English classes so much, and he didn't want to take another class.  For that first year after high school, he worked for a local builder and he earned minimum wage.  Minimum wage was $5.15 per hour during that time period.  He would come home exhausted.  After all, construction is difficult work in the South Texas heat!

One particular day, he came home exhausted and seemingly very depressed.  It was his pay day.  He was laying in his bedroom, staring at the ceiling fan that seemed as though it could not spin fast enough to keep up with the heat.  I asked him what was wrong, and I eventually dragged the answer out of him.  He was feeling down over the fact that it was pay day, and his paycheck was basically already gone.  He made his truck payment, filled the truck with gas, and he had practically nothing leftover from his check!  I told him in my best Shatner voice, "Just.  Go.  To.  College!"

He rolled his eyes and responded with the phrase we had grown all-too familiar with: "But I don't want to take English!"

I shook my head at the sheer stupidity of this stubborn refusal and said "I will help you with your homework."

My offer sealed the deal.  I wish I could include my perfect auditory imitation of his response of "Okay..." into this blog.  Many people have told me it is a spot-on imitation.

At nineteen, my brother enrolled in the CAD program at the community college located an hour away from our home.  He finished his Associates Degree when he was twenty-one, and we were all very proud of him for it.  Yes, I did fulfill my vow and helped him with his English homework.  Though to be quite honest, he didn't really need a whole lot of help.  He mostly just needed some proofreading assistance.  If you can pass a high school level English class, you can pass a basic community college level English class.

Mind you, I was fifteen years old when I had the aforementioned conversation with my brother.  I was about 1 year away from my own high school graduation.

My brother had participated in the "DECA" program the last two years of high school, and he only went to school for a half a day those last two years.  In the first semester of my freshman year, my mom discovered a newspaper article that the state of Texas offered high school students $1,000 in college tuition if they graduated a year early.  Frankly, this is my earliest recollection of a discussion of the possibility of me being allowed to go to college.

I showed the newspaper clipping to my school counselor, and she had never heard of it.  Apparently it was a new program.  She was on board with it, and she helped me ensure I took only the required courses in order to graduate.  I had considered doing the DECA program myself, but I figured "Why should I go to school half a day for two years when I can just go to school all day for one year and get it over with?"

I had received high school credit for taking honors classes in middle school, so I was ahead of the game.  I decided to take "zero hour" classes by coming in early to get ahead.  When I did the math, I discovered that I would only need an additional six hours of credits for that last spring semester (third year) of high school.  I signed up for summer school after my freshman year, and I was set up to graduate an additional six months early, with one extra credit!  For those of you who aren't doing the math, that meant I graduated an entire year and a half early!

Incidentally, the same girls who criticized me and my parents for not switching to home school used to brag saying that home school was so much better because they could graduate early!  Guess who graduated high school first amongst our age group?  Yup, that was me!  Trash talking gets you nowhere, kids; action does!

After high school, I had decided on only obtaining my Associates Degree in General Business because I wanted to have a job that would allow me to work Monday through Friday, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and not be on call outside of those hours.  Since my parents had drilled in the importance of attending meetings and going out in field service, I focused on setting myself up for a job that would keep those hours.  Also, since I wasn't sure where I would move after I graduated (though I did have my eyes on Austin), I also wanted to have a job that could be found in any town in any place.  Plus I knew that being a nurse or dental hygienist wouldn't be a great idea with my vasovagal response to needles.

For the summer before my last semester of high school, I enrolled in twelve hours of college classes.  When I enrolled, the director of the local community college sat down and talked with me personally before I started.  He asked me "Are you sure you only want to get your Associates Degree?  Are you sure you don't want to just do some classes here and transfer to Texas A&M?  It's right there.  You're very smart, and I know you can do it.  I've seen your test scores and your grades."  I assured him I was positive that I would only go for my Associates Degree.  I didn't explain precisely why I needed to "GTFO" of Kingsville so quickly, but I did assure him that I just wanted my Associates Degree.

During my fall semester of high school, I took one three-hour night class.  Oddly enough, my college professor was also my teacher for one of my last high school classes that semester!  We laughed about how odd it was that I had to ask her for permission to go to the bathroom during the day and not at night!  She would tell me "Just go!"

After high school was over, I started full time on college courses.  I took seventeen and eighteen hour semesters.  During my first spring semester of college, I took a business course.  One day, our professor approached the class with an offer.  She offered to work with a few local businesses to get some of us a non-paid internship to work a few hours each week.  If we did this, we would not have to take the final exam.  She recognized that some would not be able to take advantage of this offer because some of them had families and jobs to take care of, but she put that offer out there to everyone.

I was sixteen, and the only work experience I had was doing college tutoring and working with my parents' family business by helping my mom do bookwork.  I didn't just jump at this opportunity, I leaped at it!  I knew I needed experience to put on my resume, and not having to take a final seemed like a win/win!  Sure, I wouldn't get paid for it, but I knew I knew the importance of good job experience and references, and I knew it would be worth it in the long run.  I was right.  After the semester was over, several of the students concluded their work at the same business I volunteered for.  I was the only person they asked to stay afterwards - paid!  Sure, it also was minimum wage, but I appreciated the experience opportunity!  Every single job I ever worked ultimately paved the way towards the next one.

During this non-paid internship job, I discovered my love of marketing.  I knew this was what I was meant to do.  I liked the art of capturing the attention of customers and figuring out what drew them in.  However, I knew that I just could not take an additional two years of living in my parents' home.  Plus by this time, I knew (I almost feel like I should put that word in quotes just to take away from the finality and seriousness of the word!) I wanted to get married to my boyfriend and move to Austin.

About a year after I started college, my brother and I convinced my mom that she needed to go back to school.  My dad's health was failing, and we were worried that she needed to have a means of supporting herself in case something happened to him.  Fortunately, he did make a good recovery in the long run, and he is still with us to this day.  Still, there really wasn't much of a need for her to not obtain her GED and get a job.  Her last child (me) was moving out soon, and she was still only in her 40s, so she had plenty of time to do something new in her life!

My brother and I helped her study to obtain her GED.  I will never forget how proud and happy she was when that certificate arrived in the mail!  She came running into the room I was in, excitedly stamped her feet on the ground, and jumped for joy!  The giant smile on her face was something I will never forget, and it brings tears to my eyes to even recall it right now.  Once the GED was accomplished, it was time for her to start college.  She went for the same degree I had started.  She used all of my old books (and notes!) and she even had classes with so many of my fellow students and professors!  We never took any classes together, but I did help her with her homework on occasion.  She was a fine student, and it certainly proved to me that my mom didn't drop out of high school because she just wasn't "smart enough" for it.  She was also very proud and overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment at the fact that she was the very first member of her family to go to college.  Heck, she was the first one in her family to obtain a GED or diploma, period!  After all, her father was illiterate, so this was a huge deal for her.  I am immensely proud of her for all of her accomplishments!

My last semester of college for my Associates Degree was quite tumultuous.  I had to drive to a different college campus for my last 2 courses, and I was working about 35 hours per week.  Then my fiance was in a very bad car accident about a month and a half before I graduated.  He almost died, and he spent about a month in the hospital.  He also went into a full time therapy facility for a few months after being released from the hospital.  It was a rough year, but I was in "full steam ahead" mode!  At the time, I was very thankful that I still lived with my parents.  My mother took care of my laundry and all of those things I just did not have the time to do.  It was difficult balancing everything - work, school, finances, a relationship, religious obligations, etc.  Since gas prices were extremely cheap - $.72 per gallon, yes, seriously! - I was able to afford to drive two hours, each way, every weekend, to see my fiance during his recovery.  I knew emotional support was going to be an integral part of his recovery, especially since he had no choice but to move back in with his parents.

My college graduation time came when I was eighteen years old.  My fiance missed my college graduation, but his family attended, and my mother attended.  I received my Associates Degree two weeks before my old high school buddies received their high school diplomas.  I had no regrets.  I remember telling my high school friends that I was graduating early, and they said "But you'll miss all the great things about senior year!  Prom, homecoming, dances, senior trip..."  It was almost cute that they thought my parents would finally let up and allow me to participate in those things - the things they had never seen me participate in even once in my whole life!  I knew there was absolutely no point for me to spend another year in high school, and I have never regretted that decision.

I got married to my fiance about a year after his car accident.  Now, I do admit I have regretted that decision!  I moved to the Austin area right after we got married, and I managed to get a job as an admin at Dell.  I was nineteen years old.  I remember my hiring manager asking me during the interview, "You don't have to answer this, but... how old are you?!"  I shocked him when I said I was nineteen, but my ambition and achievements really impressed him.

After a year of working there, I was eligible for tuition reimbursement through Dell.  I knew I wanted to go back to college to obtain my bachelor's degree.  There was a community college right across the street from my apartment complex, and I knew this was something I wanted.  I figured it would be cheaper to get a few basic courses done there and transfer them to University of Texas for my bachelor's degree.

I started looking into it, and I discussed it with my husband.  Since his parents adamantly refused to allow him to go to college, he was a bit upset with the notion of me obtaining my bachelor's degree when he hadn't even obtained an Associates Degree.  He had moved out of their home at seventeen.  When he moved out, he lost a lot of his school books.  Since he was home schooled, this meant he was not able to finish his high school studies.

Right before we got married, his father came up to my parents and very quietly talked them into encouraging/sort of demanding that he obtain his GED before we get married.  My ex never even knew this conversation happened between our parents.  His own parents felt it would be very difficult for him to obtain a job and support a family without one.  I thought it was a bit weird that now they were worried about his education.  So I talked to him about it, and he went and obtained his GED.  I left out the part about his father being the initiator of this endeavor because I knew it would only sour him on the idea.  About six months before we married, he took a few study classes and obtained his GED without issue.

When my ex complained that it "wasn't fair" that we would spend the money on me getting my bachelor's degree before he obtained any college degree.  So I told him "Go get your Associates Degree.  The college is right there (across the street)."

I pointed out that if I were to go to college, it was reimbursed tuition.  He still seemed perturbed at the notion of spending our own money - even just up front - on furthering my education before his.  Of course, since he was incredibly selfish and all talk and no action (in every sense of the phrase), he didn't do it.  A year or so after this conversation, I was laid off from my job, and the opportunity of tuition reimbursement went out the window.

After enduring enough of the aforementioned "crap" (and much, much more!) from my ex, I decided it was time for a divorce.  Shortly thereafter, I decided to leave the religion I was raised to believe.  No, I have never regretted either one of those decisions.

After my divorce, I looked into going to the University of Texas to obtain my bachelor's degree.  Since I earned just too much money (as a single woman without any dependents) to qualify for financial assistance that didn't involve loans, the cost of tuition was way out of my reach on my income.  I did the math.  Considering the fact that I had built my career up to the upper ranks of my wage bracket, it would have only meant roughly an additional $5-15k per year - it I was lucky - once I obtained my bachelor's degree in the field I wanted.  My new employer was supportive of the idea of me going back to school, but they didn't exactly offer to foot the bill.  They offered "something" - they used that exact word - since they didn't have a formal tuition reimbursement program as a small business, but they never stated exactly what that "something" was.  I ultimately decided the cost of tuition at UT Austin was going to be out of my reach, even with loans.  Sure, it would have eventually paid off, but it would have taken a long time to do so.  I decided that I needed to wait until I would be in a better position to afford paying for school out of pocket, or at least until I was in a better position to be able to add loan payments to my budget.  Since I was also in the process of trying to save up for a house, there was no way I could do both at the same time.

After my partner and I became a long-term couple, we moved to Portland.  I landed a job working downtown, and I decided to start going back to school.  I enrolled in two night courses at Portland State University, and I was ready to start this whole bachelor's degree thing.

What a waste of my time (and money) that turned out to be!  First of all, PSU lost my transcript.  That resulted in a major delay in enrollment.  Then they didn't transfer my credits properly, and this caused me to have an even bigger delay in enrollment.  Because of this, I didn't get to start on one of the classes I really wanted and needed.  I ended up enrolling in two courses.  I started on one of the classes, and I realized I had already taken this class during my last semester of college!  Since it was way too late to start a different class, I just finished the class and submitted a transcript correction to have them give me credit for my previous class and remove that one class from my bill.  Since I had just recently moved from Texas, I had to pay insane out of state tuition prices - about $3,000 for one three credit class!  I dropped out of PSU.  I refused to give that university one more dime.  Their prices and their incompetence was a major turn off.

When we moved to Seattle, I looked into attending the University of Washington.  Once again, I was a bit turned off by the tuition prices, but the biggest deal breaker was the fact that I would have quite a commute to go to school.  When you factor school in with a full time job and how much pain that commute caused, it was not a feasible idea.

Then I discovered WGU - Western Governors University.  I was in!  Spending ~$3,200 per six months for a college degree was an absolute winning proposition for me!  Incidentally, that one class I took at PSU - the transferred credit didn't even fulfill one single requirement for my degree with WGU.  I'm not exaggerating when I say PSU was a waste of my time!

So here I am, with only three classes left to go before I finish my bachelor's degree.  As you can tell, this has been a long, arduous journey for me.  This is something I have wanted for a very long time.

I know I have been turned down from countless jobs because I didn't have my bachelor's degree.  I've been on the receiving end of stunned looks from snobbish people when they find out I did not go to a fancy university, let alone any university at all.  I'm sure some of them would still give me a similarly judgmental look since I didn't go to an Ivy League school or a "real" (subjectively) university.  Naturally, their opinions mean absolutely nil to me because I have no interest in getting to know anyone who looks down on people who do not meet their self righteous standard of companionship or conversation based on education, material possessions, net worth, or career.  That brand of snobbery does not sit well with me.

I've also heard people say "Really?  You don't have your bachelor's degree?  You seem so smart, educated, and eloquent!  I would have figured you even had your MBA!"  It just goes to show that education doesn't always have to happen inside brick walls, people.  I have lived.  I have grown.  I have worked hard.  I have soaked up almost every single learning opportunity that crossed my path.  I have observed the world around me.  I have toiled and earned practically every single thing I have ever owned.  I am damn proud of that fact.  I am grateful for the life experiences that came my way.  I have appreciated all of the career advice and learning opportunities that my employers have provided me and all the bills they have facilitated paying.  I am the person I am today because of all of the opportunities, troubles, and decision points that have been thrown in my direction throughout my life, and I apologize for none of it.

Do I have any life regrets?  Sure, I have a few.  I wish I had learned long ago that I didn't need certain individuals' support for my life choices and goals after all.  I learned the lesson eventually, and to go back and change any single minor to major decision point would mean that my life might have taken a completely different direction.  I do not regret where I am today.  I wouldn't have met some wonderful friends through previous places of employment if life had taken even one slightly different turn early on.  Sure, I would have met other people and life would just be a little bit different, but who is to say which life would have been "better?"  The life I have now is the best life I could have chosen given the knowledge and decisions I had to make.

I have waited for the day when I get to finish my degree.  I have worked hard for it.  I have earned this .. but not quite yet.  I'm almost there.  Just know that when that day comes, it will be one of the proudest days in my life.  When you really want something and you work hard for it, you appreciate it that much more.  Believe me, I will appreciate that little piece of "artwork" on my wall for the rest of my life.  It will be way more valuable to me, personally, than a copy of "Ele Dreaming" on my wall ever could.

I've heard many people say "You don't just need a piece of paper on your wall."  Some have said it in an attempt to encourage me over my own insecurity over my lack of a bachelor's degree.  Others have meant it to discourage me from getting my bachelor's degree.  The thing is: it's not just going to be a piece of paper on my wall.  For me, it's a symbol of many things.  It's a reminder that I can accomplish the things I want to in life.  It's a symbol of all the hard work I have done in my life.

It's a symbol that we are never truly done learning.  Learning is such a beautiful gift.  All of the knowledge in the world cannot fit into one human brain, but it sure is fun to try, isn't it?

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Will Be Your Robin Williams

Today, I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of one of our greatest comedians, Robin Williams.  I was even more saddened to hear it is likely that we lost him due to suicide.  Tears were shed.

If any of you are suffering from depression or you know someone who is, please know that there are resources to get help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's website can help.  As their website says, no matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living.  By calling 1-800-273-8255, you'll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime, 24/7.

I have had my own experiences with depression, and I know how dark things can seem at times.  When we lose fantastic loved ones due to suicide, we often look back in hindsight and wonder "Is there anything I could have done?  I wish I would have known what they were going through so I could have tried to help.  I wish I would have called or stopped by to see how they were doing."  Survivor's guilt can be quite the burden.  So is depression.  

I understand how a loss of hope can cause one to go down a dark path like that.  I understand how desperation taints the ability to figure out alternate ways of ending the kind of pain (physical or emotional) that causes the suffering.  I understand that feeling trapped can make people want to get out of their situation by any means possible.  I understand that sometimes the people who make you laugh the most or seem to have it "together" the most can be going through their own problems that probably nobody will ever know about.

I also understand that suicide leaves the friends and loved ones feeling deep regret over what they "could have done" to prevent such a loss.  At the same time, I understand that sometimes people don't necessarily think about that when they are so desperate to end it all.  Sometimes they just don't care because the pain is so overwhelming.  Maybe they even rationalize that "life will go on eventually" once they are gone, and the mark they leave on the world won't leave a huge void.

Just scrolling through the reactions on my own social network feed - reactions from people who never even met Robin Williams - proves to me that we, as humans, will probably never really understand just how much of an impact we make during our short time span on this earth.  We really don't understand how that impact will continue to change the world once we are gone either.  After we lose friends and loved ones, we often say things such as "I still can't believe you're gone.  I always considered you a true friend, and you will be sorely missed.  You will never know how much you meant to me, and I'm sorry I didn't get to tell you one last time."  When you think about it, it is kind of sad that we always seem to wait until people are gone before we try to tell them how much they meant to us.

Sure, we can try to make a difference in our world while we still can.  The average person won't necessarily touch the lives of countless audience members like a comedic actor like Robin Williams could, but we can all still try to make a difference in the lives of our loved ones and friends.  

Even though I never had the opportunity to meet Robin Williams, I will always remember him as an eternal comedian and an undeniably excellent friend to his college roommate, Christoper Reeve. 

When I have friends who are sick and dealing with absolutely awful things (like fighting cancer and whatnot), I do my best to try to make them laugh. I tell my good friends: "I will be your Robin Williams." If you're wondering what the heck that even means, read this story, taken from Christopher Reeve's Wikipedia page:

For the first few days after the accident, Reeve suffered from delirium, woke up sporadically and would mouth words to Dana such as "Get the gun" and "They're after us." After five days, he regained full consciousness, and Dr. John Jane explained that he had destroyed his first and second cervical vertebrae, which meant that his skull and spine were not connected. His lungs were filling with fluid and were suctioned by entry through the throat; this was said to be the most painful part of Reeve's recovery.
After considering his situation, believing that not only would he never walk again, but that he might never move a body part again, Reeve considered suicide. He mouthed to Dana, "Maybe we should let me go." She tearfully replied, "I am only going to say this once: I will support whatever you want to do, because this is your life, and your decision. But I want you to know that I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what. You're still you. And I love you." Reeve never considered suicide as an option again.  
Reeve went through inner anguish in the ICU, particularly when he was alone during the night. His approaching operation to reattach his skull to his spine (June 1995) "was frightening to contemplate. ... I already knew that I had only a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the surgery. ... Then, at an especially bleak moment, the door flew open and in hurried a squat fellow with a blue scrub hat and a yellow surgical gown and glasses, speaking in a Russian accent." The man announced that he was a proctologist and was going to perform a rectal exam on Reeve. It was Robin Williams, reprising his character from the film Nine Months. Reeve wrote: "For the first time since the accident, I laughed. My old friend had helped me know that somehow I was going to be okay."

More from MentalFloss:

At Julliard, roomies Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve vowed to always be friends and help each other throughout life. Both held true to the promise, as they remained close. Williams even covered some of Reeves' medical expenses after he was paralyzed. Of course, being Robin Williams, he couldn't stop there; after Reeve found out he couldn't walk again, Williams channeled his inner-Patch Adams, visiting Reeve dressed as a doctor and pretending to be his proctologist. Reportedly, the act caused Reeve to smile for the first time after his accident.
Suffice it to say, Christopher Reeve had a true friend in Robin Williams.

When one of my good friends was battling thyroid cancer, I chatted with her about her hospital visit after her surgery.  Here are some of the chat quotes:

My friend: Then later the nurse was like - want a popsicle?  So I was like "A popsicle?  A POPSICLE?  You have popsicles and didn't tell me?"  It was a huge rainbow freeze popsicle.
Me:  "Hell yes, I want a popsicle!  That's dessert!  What kind of ridiculous question is this?!  'Do I want a popsicle?'  What kind of idiots do they have running this place?!"
I could include more quotes, but I will only include one more quote - the most important quote of them all.
My friend: Thanks btw... You kind of helped get my mind back in a normal state of mind.
Laughter helps take the sting of pain away.  It softens it.  It relieves stress.  It forms bonds of friendship and camaraderie .  It helps us stop worrying about the terrible things that we are going through - even if only momentarily.  It gives us a healthy perspective.  It helps us cope with our troubles.  It helps us power through difficult times.  It helps us remember that there are good times and good things to be experienced in this world.  As the old saying goes, sometimes laughter is the best medicine.

My wish for all of you is that you may all be so lucky to have someone to be your "Robin Williams" in your lives.  In honor of this great comedian, I hope this post will inspire at least one of you  - among my incredibly minuscule readership - to get out there and be someone's "Robin Williams."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

25 Years Later, China Still Longs For Democracy & the Right To Speak Out

Today is the 25th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.  The Chinese people still don't have the democracy they longed for during their peaceful demonstration that was so horribly marred by the massacre of hundred, if not thousands, of pro-democracy protesters.

I'll never forget our trip to Beijing or our tour guide in China, Wilson.  Wilson!!!  WILLLSOOOON!  Yep, he selected his "American" name from Castaway.  Wilson was in his early to mid 30s.

When we first checked into our hotel, they asked for our passports.  *Twitch*  Yeah, umm... I was always taught that you never let your passport out of your SIGHT for a single damn second when you are in a foreign country.  When I balked at handing over my passport, our tour guide explained that each hotel has to report that each foreigner has officially "registered" to the Chinese police so they don't go looking for you.  Yikes, man.  Of all the countries where I would not be comfortable having someone else "hold onto" a highly-sought-after female American passport, China is pretty high on the list.  *Twitch*

Then when we checked into our room, and it was super hot.  We turned on the AC and hoped for relief.  Nothing happened.  We opened the window, and it was stopped by a chain that only let it open about a foot wide - not good enough!  This was problematic for my partner since he has organic hypoglycemia, and the heat kicks his hypoglycemia into high gear.  We called the front desk and through broken English, they figured they needed to send a maintenance man, who only knew about 3 English phrases, to our room.  He offered to break the chain, and my partner sarcastically said "What, so I can JUMP out of the window in hopes that I would catch a nice breeze on my way down?!"  Of course the maintenance guy had no idea what he was saying, but it was still funny.  It took another trip and a few more conversations with the front desk before we grasped that the government regulations only allowed hotels to turn on their air conditioners when the weather reaches certain temperatures, and we were about 2-3 degrees celsius from that brink.  They ended up moving us to the room where the sun didn't face the windows most of the day.  Yup, we never got to use our air conditioner during our entire trip.

Wilson's mother was a nurse who would go out to remote villages to teach families about family planning.  The one-child policy didn't really apply to people outside big cities like Beijing or Hong Kong.  After all, they needed to have children who would help them with their farms.  She would give the villagers condoms, and tell them to use them so they wouldn't get pregnant.  Imagine her surprise when she returned to find they were still having issues with women still getting pregnant!  She inquired if they used the condoms, and they said "Well yes, we swallowed it and I still got pregnant!"  Oh myyy...  Wilson said "Yes, I'm serious" when some tourists expressed their skepticism.

When we were on the bus, Wilson spoke freely about how the world had changed since he was a child in a feudal society.  He also spoke very negatively against Chairman Mao.  He grew up longing to be able to eat an egg a day, and not just "some egg" - no, one whole egg.  His family was only allowed a dozen eggs for the entire month, so the possibility of eating one egg a day was absolutely out of the question when he was a child.  Then, China changed.  He started eating omelettes every day, and he got fat!  Oops!  Then he started watching his diet and walking every day doing his job as a tour guide, and he lost all the weight!  We didn't believe him until he showed us his old passport photo.  It was remarkable!

He also spoke about how parents can lose their government jobs if they dare to have a second child and not pay the fee imposed for violating the one-child policy.  Unregistered children aren't allowed the opportunity for an education or public jobs either.  He said he had a friend who wanted a second child very badly, so she and her husband scrimped and saved all the money they could to afford the fee for a second child.  Imagine their surprise when out popped twin boys in their second pregnancy!  Do you know what that meant?  Yup, double fee.  There aren't any fees for twins with a first pregnancy - that's good luck!  But oh yes, there are double fees for twins with a second pregnancy.

The thing was, he got a lot more quiet when they took us to Tiananmen square.  They let us loose on the area for a bit, and he just did not speak another word against his country's political system while he was out in the public square.  Smart man.

Yes, Facebook was blocked, though many Chinese people know how to circumnavigate the government rules.  It's not too hard.  Our tour guide told us that even if you do a Google search for Jasmine tea, that will be blocked too.  Why?  Because someone named Jasmine had ruffled some government feathers, and now her name was forever blocked from the internet in China!

The day of my birthday, they took us to have a meal inside a small, 3-room family home.  It was basically a shantytown area.  The walls were covered with contact paper, and they were bubbling.  The home didn't even have its own bathroom.  They shared a bathroom with several of their neighbors.  At first, I wondered why they didn't fix them up at least a little bit (after all, they were getting a pretty nice chunk of change from having tourists come through!), but then we were informed that the Chinese government owns a large percentage of the home.  Heh, I don't even want to so much as paint my bedroom walls when I am merely renting a home from my landlord!  I couldn't imagine even bothering to fix up a home when the government owns such a huge percentage of my OWN HOME outright!  No, it wasn't one of those "they took out a loan, and the government owns part of it" sorts of things.  No, the government just TOOK it and refused to relinquish their claim on the entire neighborhood.

We kept hearing about all of the things that meant good luck to the Chinese people.  If you get into a car accident and you break your precious jade bracelet or necklace amulet that was given to you by your mother or father, that's good luck.  Most of us would go "Aww man!  My dead grandfather gave that to me, and now it's ruined!"  To the Chinese people, that meant that the jade absorbed the damage, and it saved your life.  Crickets?  Good luck.  Twins on your first pregnancy?  Good luck (though hey, if it saves you from having to pay a crazy ~$20k USD fee, I'd probably call that just plain good luck too!).  Bats?  Good luck.  The number 8?  Extremely good luck.  I heard about all of these strange, random and usually not-so-great things that were labeled as good luck to the Chinese people.  Personally, I am hard-wired for a logical explanation to these sorts of human behaviors.  After all, I was never raised to believe in luck (mom: "Satan is the god of luck!"  *snort*).  So, why do they label so many things as good luck?  The Chinese people have had so many terrible things happen to them over the years, and sometimes, they just could not catch a break!  The thing about "Oh, it's good luck!" is that it's a head-fake.  It's a coping mechanism that presents itself in the form of optimism and hope.  Hope and optimism are powerful and motivating things.  You know what?  You don't want to "break" the psychology of people's coping mechanisms like that.  Just let them be.

We sometimes forget just how lucky we are to enjoy the freedoms we do in our part of the world.  No, it's not just the "head-fake" sort of luck either.  Sometimes you just don't realize how good you have it until you see what the rest of the world is like.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fight Idiocracy!

Dear Society,

Have you seen the Mike Judge film, Idiocracy?  Did it scare you at least a *little* bit?  No?  Then please stop reading this message and go do a little personal research on vasectomies and tubal ligation.  I know, those are big words.  Copy and paste them in a Google search.  Planned Parenthood might also be able to hook you up.  Go, now.  Ha!  Who am I kidding?  If you saw that movie and it didn't scare you at least a *little* bit, you probably can't even read anyway. :P

Now, If that movie scared you on any level ranging from "Eh, it could happen, though certainly not in my lifetime!" to "I HAVE SEEN THE DOCUMENTARY OF THE FUTURE!  GET ME OFF OF THIS PLANET!", then I have something you can do to fight the good fight.  No, it doesn't require you to go pop out a kid with an intelligent human being.  It's much simpler than that!

Take a look!  It's in a book!  Oh, yes!  You know what I am talking about!  Donate to bringing back one of the best programs to ever grace your television set during your youth - Reading Rainbow!  LeVar Burton wants to bring it to the web, and subsequently, the classrooms.  He has launched a Kickstarter campaign, and needs your help to make this happen.

Bottom line, if you want to fight Idiocracy then you NEED to see this project happen!  The goal is set at $1,000,000, but I'd like to see it go twice as high!  (did you see what I did there?)

We have to teach children that books are awesome and will improve their lives!


Just call me "Carol."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Using Foul Language

I grew up in a very strict Christian household.  I was very sheltered, and my parents were very careful about the words they used in front of me.  They were even more careful about what sort of media influences were allowed in the home.  R-rated movies were always absolutely out of the question.  PG-13 movies were typically only watched when other friends recommended them and after they told my parents what made the movie receive the additional "-13" rating.  If the movie had less than a handful of curse words, we were allowed to watch it.  I remember my mom took us to see the movie "Uncle Buck" when I was a kid, and she walked us out of the movie theater in the first 5 minutes.

I remember the first time I had ever heard someone use the "f" word.  You see, I already knew I wasn't supposed to use the word, but I had never really heard it said by anyone or used in a sentence.  I had seen it written in graffiti before.  Prior to hearing the word used out loud, I remember participating in a contest where we had to draw an "ugly" house and what we would do to make it pretty.  It was for a sort of a "before/after" setup.  I remember drawing a picture of the dilapidated house down the street from our house.  It was overrun with weeds, had graffiti on it, had broken windows, and nobody lived there.  To make it look worse, I wrote words I had seen in graffiti before - "Fuck You" - on it.  It was just a mindless phrase to my 7 year old self, and I had no idea what it meant.  My mom got mad at me and made me color over it.  She said it was not a nice phrase and I should never use it, and that was the end of that.

The first time I heard that word said out loud, I was in 4th grade lunch room, and one of my male classmates used it in conjunction with a certain one-fingered hand gesture towards someone.  I had never seen this sort of display before, but I had heard all sorts of downtalk over the notorious "bad finger" and how it was never to be used.  I remember asking my classmate - who was agasp over the incident - about what that word meant, and they explained it to me.

About 2-3 years prior to hearing the word used in a sentence, I had already been taught a harsh lesson to never say the word - ever.  This was also sometime after the infamous "house drawing" incident.

One day when I was about 7-8 years old, I walked outside of my room and found my older brother (between 11-12 years old) laying on the floor with a dictionary open to the "F" section.  I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was looking words up.  He pointed to one particular "F" word - oh yes, the notorious "F" word - and showed it to me.

Since I was still used to the process of sounding words out, I sounded it out.  "Fuuuuck?"  I said.  My brother gasped, and said "*GASP*!  Ummmm!  You said a bad word.  I'm 'gonna tell mom and daaaad."  Now, keep in mind, I didn't even have time to read the definition of the word.  His hand was partially covering it anyway since he was pointing to the word.  I didn't get to read that it was considered a curse word.  I just saw a word, sounded it out, and that was it.

He jumped up and started heading towards my parents' room.  I begged and pleaded with him to not tell them, but he was insistent.  He walked into their room and told them I said the "F" word.  This ignited an absolute RAGE in my parents, particularly my father.  No further questions were asked.  The judge, jury, and executioner made a unanimous decision, and that decision meant I was to receive a beating to my raw butt.

To be quite honest, I didn't really remember the word after that.  All I remembered was that my brother got me in trouble, my parents got really mad at me, and apparently I said a bad word that I shouldn't have.  There also wasn't any talk about why it was wrong to say it or how I heard it.  If there had been a little more investigation, I'd imagine my brother would have been the recipient of said beating instead!  After all, he was the one looking up "bad" words!  (For the record, even though I realize - with an adult perspective - just how incredibly messed up that entire incident was, no, I do not hold any animosity towards my brother over this incident.  After all, he was just a kid too.)

Years later, I remember saying a Spanish curse word in front of one of my friends.  This friend was a bilingual Mexican, and she was about 18 years older than me.   I was about 13-14 years old.  For the first time in my life, she actually gave me a taste of what could only be described as appropriate discipline.  I said the word, she corrected me, told me what it meant, why it was offensive, and told me I shouldn't say it again.  I remember asking her if she was going to tell my parents about it (since I could quite vividly recall the last time I was beaten for saying a "bad" word), and she said "No, you didn't know any better.  But now you do, so just don't say it again."  Wow!  Just thinking back to that incident makes me tear up a little bit because it was truly one of the first times anyone had ever tried to correct me - especially over something that was frowned upon, religiously - without severely punishing me.  I have since reached out to her and thanked her for that little lesson and how well she handled it because it meant so much to me at the time.

All of these experiences have shaped me and the way I plan to approach foul language with my future children.

Truth be told, I say curse words.  I curtail them when I am in the office.  I curtail them in written form.  I curtail them in my social media.  I curtail them when I am around older folks and young, impressionable children.  I curtail them when I do business dealings in general.  I might not always be perfect at curtailing my own language during these situations, but I do try to make a conscious effort to watch my tongue.

I know my children are going to hear words that will not be age-appropriate.  I think the most important part of this is to let them know what you expect of them.  I'm not going to get upset if my 13 year old says words like that around their friends or when they're frustrated at their work.  After all, I'm sure they might hear me say those words sometimes too.  At the same time, I don't want to receive phone calls from the mothers of my 6 year old's playmates, complaining about the type of language he/she is using.  When it comes to swearing, this is basically what I plan to tell my children:
Some people get very offended over certain words. Some are offensive because they used to be said with hatred and racism behind them, and I don't ever want to hear you say those words - never, under any circumstances. Other words are just considered "curse" or "swear" words that people say when they're upset, angry, or frustrated. I'd prefer that you wouldn't get in the habit of saying those things because I can tell you from experience, it's hard to remove words like that from your vocabulary and filter yourself when you need to - like at work, at school, in speeches, in business dealings, around young kids, and around older folks - when those words aren't appropriate. If you want to show the world you're an intelligent, articulate young lady/man, then you need to be careful about what you say. If you use words that are considered to be 'offensive' then your message won't be heard because they will be focusing more on how offended they are instead of focusing on what you said. If you hear someone say a word that you think or heard is a curse word, ask me about it, and I will tell you *if* it is a curse word, why it's a curse word, and whether or not you will ever be allowed to say it. There are some highly offensive words that I simply will not tolerate you saying, such as the c-word, n-word, and other racial slurs. People invent new curse phrases all the time, so we will handle these things on a case-by-case basis as you discover them.
The thing is, kids are going to hear curse words.  This is a fact of life.  Sheltering kids from these things doesn't mean they're never going to encounter this sort of language.   You can't control that.  What you can control is setting appropriate expectations with them.  I want my kids to know why they should try to avoid over-peppering their language with words such as these, and I want them to know that (seemingly) the whole world can be watching their every move when they are online, in front of children, in school, in the office, etc.  Still, I think emphasis on when and where one should not use the language is the most important part of it.  They are going to move out of the house one day, and decisions such as choosing to use foul language will be entirely up to them.  I don't expect my children to be perfect, but I do want them to know how to have their messages heard.

After all, when you first encounter an individual who says a curse word every five words or so, is your first impression anything along the lines of "He/she's very intelligent!"  No.  If you want an audience to listen to you, use language that shows you are an articulate, intelligent human being, you have something important to say, and maybe they will listen to you.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen to Me!

There was this girl I once knew; we'll call her Emily for anonymous reasons.

Emily was the sister of a good friend.  She was in her early to mid 20s, and she didn't know how to drive.  She didn't have a job.  She didn't go to college.  She didn't get on airplanes for travel.  She was afraid of commitment.  She was perfectly content with sitting at my friend's home, babysitting in exchange for food, clothing, and shelter.  Though this was an almost symbiotic relationship for my friend (especially since she was a single mom), it was a bit puzzling to me when I looked at Emily and wondered why she wasn't striving to make a life for herself.  I use the world "almost" because clearly, Emily needed help in a way that her family wasn't able to give her.

Simply put, she had no ambition, and she was paralyzed by fear in practically every aspect of life.

When asked her why she didn't drive, she said she was afraid to.  She was scared she would get into an accident and die, and she was okay with not driving since her brother and sister could drive her where she needed to go.  She was "open" to the idea of learning to drive "one day" but she wasn't ready for it - at ~23-24 years old.  She had been in one car accident a few years prior - naturally, she wasn't driving - and she feared getting into other accidents.

When I asked her why she didn't have a job, she explained that it was difficult to have a job when you can't drive.  She had previously had an entry-level job somewhere, but it didn't last long.  I cannot recall for sure, but I believe the business might have shut down, and she did not look for a job afterwards.

When I asked her why she didn't go to college, she said it was too expensive and she didn't really need to go to college to get a job.  I tried to explain that getting a 1-2 year college degree wouldn't be too expensive, and it would ultimately result in much better wages - wages that would greatly compensate for any college expenses, but that concept was lost on her because she said it would be a "waste of time."  (Oh, the irony because of all the time she was wasting by not setting herself up to be self-sufficient!)

When I asked her why she didn't travel via airplanes, she said she was too afraid to fly because airplanes can crash and she could die.  I thought about explaining that the chances of her getting into a car accident were greater than her airplane crashing, but then I remembered that convincing her to drive was a whole different battle.

I asked her what she wanted to do after my friend's child was old enough to go to school, her eyes got kind of big as though she had never even thought of needing to fend for herself - ever.

When I summed it up and said "So, you won't drive, you won't get on a plane - I assume a cruise ship is out too?"
"Of course!  It would sink right as I get on it!" she responded.
I replied, "I figured.  Why won't you do all of these things - awesome things that everyone else enjoys so much?"
"Because if I don't do all of those things, nothing bad will ever happen to me!"
A lightbulb suddenly went off in my head.  I responded by saying: "You know what, you're absolutely right.  Nothing will ever happen to you..." as I trailed off giving her a stare with my "think about it... think about it... let it sink in..." look.

I was hoping the point would sink in, but it didn't.  I'm not a trained psychiatric professional, but it was one of those moments when I think to myself: "Oh lord have mercy, you need help!  Dysfunction junction, what's your major malfunction?  ALMOST EVERYTHING!"

When you really think about it, she IS right.  None of those bad things will ever happen to her if she doesn't get on a plane, cruise ship, or learn to drive.  You know what else?  None of those really awesome things will happen to her either!

When I reminisce about all of my adventures I've had in life, I know I wouldn't have been able to do many - if not all - of them if I was paralyzed with fear.  If I couldn't drive, I wouldn't have been able to go to so many great concerts, go to parks or the beach, move halfway across the country, see new places, meet up with friends, go to the doctor when I needed to, or even get to work to support myself!  I wouldn't have met so many awesome friends over the years, and my life would be very, very boring if I just sat at home, watched movies, listened to music, played video games, surfed the web, and stuffed my face all day - every day.

In life, yes, sometimes bad things will happen.  Even if Emily never learns to drive, she will still find herself in a vehicle on numerous occasions (something she was okay with).  Even if her family members are impeccable drivers, guess what?  Many others on the road aren't!  Accidents may happen!  Whether she's driving or someone else is driving, car accidents happen.  We all buckle up and hope for the best when we start our vehicles every day, but fear doesn't always keep us from getting out there and living our life!  Sure, taking precautions and having a focus on safety are both necessary.  That's why we buckle up.  That's why there are safety ratings on vehicles and engineers work on improvements every day.  That's why we practice defensive driving.  That's why we obey the traffic laws.  That's why we honk our horns when we sense danger.  That's why we keep an eye on other drivers and what they are doing.  That's why we tend to decide against getting out on the roads when it's snowing or icy - if it can be avoided.

If you refuse to get on a boat or a plane, this means you will never get to dip your toes in the sands of a beautiful island.  You won't get to immerse yourself into another culture.  I could go on and on about all the things you're missing, but the biggest summary of it all is: you won't get to see our beautiful world and all it - and life - has to offer.

You can't let fear stop you from doing things all of the time.  Sure, there are situations in life where you might not want to just blindly take a leap of faith (financial investments, starting a new business, taking on a new career, uprooting your life, choosing to have a child with someone, etc), but you can at least try to make an educated decision before making the decision!

The fear of the unknown is only conquered when you give it a try.  This goes back to the concept of "guarded optimism" and how it helps carry us through all of life's adventures.  We aren't snails.  We aren't ostriches.  We can't always hide in our shell or bury our heads in the sand if we sense that danger is completely surrounding us everywhere.  We still have to come out of our shell and unbury our head if we want to keep living!  You have to be open to letting life happen, and that includes the good and the bad!

As of today, I haven't seen or spoken to Emily in almost 7 years, but from what I've gathered through others, not much has changed in her world.  As I originally warned, nothing will ever happen to her.  That makes me very, very sad for her.

She always was a very sweet girl, yet I saw so much sadness bottled up inside of her.  I truly believe that getting out there and enjoying life and all it has to offer would have done her a world of good.  Alas, there isn't much I can do about it, though I wish there was.  As the old saying goes "You can lead a horse to the water, but you can't make it drink."

Don't let "nothing ever happen" to you!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Baby's First Words

Everybody talks about a baby's first words with such excitement and anticipation.  It's such a wonderful passage of right to look forward to in a child's life.  It's the first time your baby takes an effort to communicate with you through one of the many words he or she has learned to understand since you first met face to face.  Moms and dads vie for the opportunity to be the first name the child utters.  Great elation is held within the heart of the person whose name the child utters first.  Then that same elation is felt in the heart of the second person who hears their child utter their name for the first time.

I've known lots of people whose first words spoke volumes about their upbringing, who they were on the inside, who they would be closest to at least for those first few years (since they typically spent more time around the person whose name they uttered first), and sometimes even who they might become.  Though realistically speaking, you certainly can't read too much into those first words.

My first word was "cookie."  Ha!  That's right!  Take that, mom and dad - "cookie" was what I chose!  For a short period thereafter, everything in my world was "cookie."  I think it spoke volumes and set me up for being a foodie.  I knew a guy who had two first words that were used in sequence - the words were "dirty" and "water."  He used these words because his hands were dirty and he wanted water to clean them.  His wife said it was highly appropriate because he was highly obsessed with being clean and a bit OCD (or CDO, as I like to call it - with the letters in alphabetical order just as they should be!).  I have a friend whose first name was a three syllable word - martini.  Yes, you can probably garner enough information about their parents based on that first word alone.

Now, I don't have children at this moment in time.  When I was a teen, I wanted kids.  Then I met my ex-husband, and we decided together that we wouldn't have any children.  It was a remarkably wise decision for numerous reasons - some well beyond my comprehension at the time.  After my divorce, I realized that I did want to have kids after all.  I just realized I didn't want to have kids with someone who wouldn't be a good life partner or father.

Of course, as every year ticks on in my life, I realize that I'm running a great risk of becoming like "Carol" from the movie Idiocracy.  If you aren't familiar with this concept, you can catch the movie intro here: Idiocracy Intro Clip(warning: some language is not safe for work)  I've also come to accept the possibility that there could be someone among my high school peers who becomes a grandparent before I become a parent.

With the luxury of time and planning for children, I've also had the luxury of taking the time to think about how I would approach child rearing.  I've spent a fair amount of time around kids.  I've spent years watching the interactions between other parents and children.  I've seen some really great decisions made, some absolutely heart-breaking decisions made, and everything in between.  I've spent a lot of time talking with parents and friends about their experiences in parenthood and their experiences in childhood.  I've come to realize that although nobody can claim to have the most perfect answers to every parenting decision they will ever encounter, the important thing is to realize that what makes a great parent is one who genuinely tries their best to be a great parent.

Though I certainly do not think I have everything all figured out, I do think I have a pretty good idea about how to avoid a lot of mistakes that I don't want to make.  I absolutely reserve the right to change my stance on every single thing I have decided in advance of actually having a child to care for.  I realize that I might have to throw everything I think I know out of the window when I encounter a real-world application.  I am also aware that I will make countless mistakes when I become a parent.  After all, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

I realized a long time ago that the most important job a parent will ever have is to prepare their child for life.  It's an all-encompassing job, and it's a 24/7 job.  It's also the most important job anyone will ever have.  The job includes everything from teaching them how to love, how to be loved, how to manage finances and resources, how to swim, how to talk, how to read, how to be a productive member of society, how to cope with life's ups and downs, how to be a likable person, how to develop a work ethic, how to develop life ethics, how to obey the laws of the land, how to make good decisions, how to deal with success and failure, how to be a good sport and team player, and the list could go on and on!  I firmly believe that if every parent grasped this concept and put it into practice, the world would be a much better place.

In part of preparing children for life, I've often thought about many of the "firsts" my future children would experience.  One of those things is their first words, but not the first words they say.  I'm talking about the first sentence I would say to them on the day I meet them face to face.  I've thought long and hard about what that sentence would be.

Some people don't really ponder it well in advance.  Some just go with whatever words come to them in that magical moment.  Most people choose something along the lines of "Hi, (insert baby's name here), I am your mommy/daddy!  I've waited a long time to meet you!  You are so beautiful!"  I have chosen something a little different.

"You are loved."

I've chosen these words because I feel that this will set a good course for a child.  I want them to know that they were already loved long before they knew who I was.  I want them to know that no matter what life throws at them, they are loved and they are worthy of being loved.  I want them to carry that knowledge with them for the rest of their life - above and beyond everything else.  I want them to know that when my time on this earth has come to pass, that was the the most important and first thing I wanted them to know.  Of course I realize that just saying the phrase for the first time isn't enough, and scientifically speaking, those first words spoken to a child won't really matter very much.  I have to make sure they grasp this concept in future interactions.  After all, actions speak louder than words.

Though I realize that in the heat (and agony) of the moment, I might forget to say those words when I meet my child.  What matters the most is that they know it and can feel it for the rest of their life.  After all, if I were to ask them years later "Do you remember what I said when I first held you in my arms the day you were born?" they wouldn't have a clue!
"I don't know, mom, I didn't understand English just yet."
Of course I also might respond with something along the lines of "Good, 'cause I don't remember either.  Those drugs were something else!" :)

I know they won't understand or remember those first words, but I will make sure I spend great effort in showing them so they can understand that they are loved.