Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Born On Third Base

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Last week one of my neighbors texted me to ask if I had any knowledge of bookkeeping. I (hesitantly) texted her back that I'm a little rusty, but yes - I actually have a degree in accounting. I use the word "hesitantly" because it seems that no matter where I go, accounting follows me. I haven't worked full-time in accounting in about 10 years, and in that time of hiatus I've arrived at the conclusion that I decidedly do NOT want to be an accountant when I grow up. Apparently the universe has different ideas.

It turns out that the reason she wanted to know is that she works for a non-profit organization in town that provides food and shelter for families in emergency situations. The woman that had been handling the books needed to resign due to some personal health problems and they were looking for someone to take her place. I've really been wanting to find a volunteer opportunity like this for years and this one just happened to find me, so I jumped at the chance to do it. I've heard that God puts you in certain places at certain times for certain reasons. Well…THAT. And for once, I'm actually glad that this accounting degree thing JUST WON'T QUIT.

SIDEBAR: This is the internet after all, so as ridiculous as it is, I feel it's necessary to include a notation that I'm actually extremely grateful that I have a degree. It took a lot of hard work and even more student loans to get it, so before anyone jumps down my throat about how fortunate I am and that I shouldn't complain: I KNOW THIS. Chill and keep reading.

Friday night the same neighbor texted me and asked if I was available to ride with her to a local hotel to help out a family in need. The family (Mom, Dad, and 3 kids) are currently living there and had been locked out of their room because they were unable to pay. They had an EBT card and a $97 hold had been put on it when they put $11 worth of gas in their car earlier that day. With the hold, they didn't have enough remaining on the card to pay for the hotel and they were going to be on the street until they got paid on Monday.

The organization gets as much information about families as they can before they are granted help, simply because they run entirely off donations and want to make sure they are begin good stewards with donor's contributions.  So after we spoke with the front desk and paid for them to stay through the weekend, we talked a little with the mother.

Before they found themselves in the situation they are currently in, they had been living with family. One of the family members in the home was very ill, and the mother became her caregiver. Unfortunately, the family member passed away, the mother's help was no longer needed, and they were no longer welcome to live in the house.

"I knew once we moved into a hotel, we would never get out. I didn't want to move in here, but we didn't have anywhere else to go."

My friend asked if she had been able to find employment. (She had to quit her job to take care of the ill family member.)

"I've looked. I can't afford child care and now we don't have any family to help out. I can't find a job where I can work while they are at school because I don't have a diploma. So no one will hire me."

"Have you looked into getting a GED?"

"I went to take the test. I didn't know anything. I couldn't answer any of the questions. I quit school when I was 14."

Her eyes watered and she looked at the ceiling as she said that last part. I don't know that I've ever seen a human being wear shame like I saw when she told us that.

We gave her a hug and a number to call about taking classes that would prepare her for taking the test and asked that she let us know how things are going. Honestly, I wanted to take the whole lot of them home with me, but there is a certain degree of professionalism and (for lack of a better word) distance required when you're dealing with these situations on behalf of an actual organization, and not out of your own pocketbook.

I got home and thought about what I'd just witnessed. We've worked hard to get where we are, there's no arguing that. My husband literally started on the lowest rung in his company and worked his way up. But there is also no arguing that there IS such a thing as being born on third base. And we were. Don't confuse this to mean that we were handed our successes - we weren't, and there was a lot of hard work involved with getting us where we are - but there are some circumstances that had nothing to do with anything we did personally that put us a little ahead of the game.

It's not as if I've never realized this before, but I don't think it's ever been quite so glaringly in my face. I don't have a memory of sitting face to face with someone who can't dig their way out of the hole they've dug for themselves and have subsequently, and continuously, been shit on by life.

My husband and I were raised in homes that valued education. Quitting school at any point, let alone at the age of 14 was NEVER an option. Had I attempted such a thing, I believe wholeheartedly that my parents would have personally escorted me to school, and to every class, probably even holding my hand, until I had a diploma with my name on it. And nothing I have done "earned" me a family that cared that much. That's just the card I drew.

It is hard to imagine that there are people out there who have no interest in whether or not their children succeed, because for most of us that is our number one priority. It's easy to say, "Well, quitting school was her decision. What does she expect?" To that, I agree. It was an especially terrible decision, and one for which she continues to pay. But I would also say, "Have you met a 14 year-old?" Making good decisions aren't exactly their strong suit. Furthermore, I don't know many people who can say they HAVEN'T made a bad decision(s) in their lifetime that could have had worse consequences than they did. As I think about this, I'm having flashbacks to a few college weekends. Also age 17. Moving on.

When the subject of welfare or "government assistance" is discussed, I don't think I've ever NOT heard someone say, "I've worked hard and earned EVERYTHING I've got. Why shouldn't they?"

I don't doubt that people who say this have worked hard. I believe that is likely true. But where did you start out? Did you grow up with a family who instilled a strong work ethic? Did you have a person, or people in your life who made you believe you were valuable? That you could make something of yourself?

Of course, there are people who grow up without all of those things and still manage to beat the odds. If this describes you, I salute you. You rock. I personally know a few people who fall into this category and I am amazed at their perseverance. But, truth be told, had I been raised made to feel less-than or worthless or, worst of all, unloved - I can't say with any certainty that I would have come out on the other side anywhere close to where I am. In fact, I feel like there's a good chance that life would have gotten the best of me. If I never once heard that I could be someone, where would I be?

Would I be struggling to put $11 worth of gas in my car?
Would I be wondering how I was going to feed my children tomorrow?
Would I have a safe place for my family to sleep tonight?

This isn't a debate on whether or not there are people out there who manipulate the system. Of course there are. There are bad eggs in every group - regardless of their socioeconomic standing. I'm going to oversimplify this with a personal example.

When I was in college, I worked at a vet clinic. There was a staff rotation for "weekend duty", meaning coming in to feed and medicate any animals that were staying overnight. There was a client who had a Rottweiler. He was the kind of guy who you could tell owned a Rottweiler because it was a Rottweiler, which by default made him a badass. Sorry for the stereotype, but you know exactly the type of person I'm describing. And I swear to the heavens that he checked to see exactly which weekends I would be working as to make sure he boarded his dog on my watch. That dog was the bane of my existence. He was huge, he didn't listen worth a shit, and he hated - HATED - being in a kennel. And it was my job to put him in one. Yayyyyy.

One weekend, he was being particularly obstinate and no matter what I tried, I could NOT coerce him back into his kennel. I tried everything. When I finally decided that he wasn't going to go in voluntarily, I went over to grab his collar so I could drag him in. He bared his teeth and growled at me. I'm no idiot, and I was certainly not interested in being mauled by a large dog that day. I called the veterinarian and told him that if he hoped to return to his office on Monday and find it NOT destroyed, that he needed to come help me kennel this dog. Otherwise, good luck and I'll go ahead and leave my key under the mat. I have never liked Rottweilers because of that experience.

A couple of weekends ago, I was out on a trail when I passed a woman who was walking her dog. A Rottweiler. As I passed, the dog got close enough to me and nudged my hand with his head. She pulled him back and reprimanded him. I scooted over to let them pass, but I could tell that the dog meant no harm so I stopped and let him sniff me. He rubbed his head on my hand again, so I bent over and scratched behind his ears and patted his head. He didn't want to maul me. He just wanted a little love.

Two dogs. Same breed. Different home life. Very different outcomes.

Like I said, I am oversimplifying here. But then again, am I?

Later that night we received a text from the woman we helped at the hotel (and before you get all up on her for having a phone - it is the most basic phone you can have with no data plan, and she texts using one of those free texting apps so it comes through in about 7 different out of order text bubbles). It said, "Thank you for saving us. We have not been in this situation before. I have always had a home. When I get back on my feet I want to help other people who need it because I know how it feels. I know how it feels to have no one and to be scared because you don't know what is going to happen. I just want to give back."

There is so much more to this story and about this woman that I could share, but my point is this. Before you make the decision to pigeonhole everyone who could use some help, or who is down on their luck, or who uses government assistance, please stop and think about this woman. And when you look at your life, where you've ended up, and still make the decision to go forth in life with the mentality of "What's mine is mine!", stop and ask yourself "Where would I be if….".

It just might change your perspective.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Taking a Swing

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The last time I published a blog post was on August 9, 2015. I haven't written since then for a lot of reasons - kids started school, we moved across the country, the holidays, I'm lazy. Anyway, the day I published that post, I was really excited. I felt strongly about what I wrote. I felt like it had meaning and purpose, and unlike a lot of things I put out there in the blogosphere - I felt like it was pretty well written and that I had done a decent job of getting my point across. Then, that afternoon, another blogger accused me of plagiarizing something she had written on a similar topic. It was super irritating. Mostly because I had never even read her blog post (so how was it possible to steal her content??), but also because my post was from a specific event that had happened that I had PERSONALLY witnessed. I'm not going to bore you with the details, but in short I HADN'T ripped off her idea (anyone who knows anything about me would know I'm not that kind of person), and the whole experience kind of gave me an "F this" attitude. If this is what bloggers are like, then I don't want any part of it. Meanwhile, not ALL bloggers are like that. I'm furious at myself for having such a quitter attitude, and I'm more than disappointed in myself that I let someone so insignificant get under my skin.

But I can't blame my lack of writing entirely on that incident. Before that I hadn't written anything since April. Of course, I have a list of things I can blame that on - including lack of inspiration - but, if I'm being honest, I can blame most of it on deciding that I'm just not good enough of a writer. The blog world is tricky. Everyone tells you to do it for yourself, and maybe that's why you start your blog. It WAS why I started mine - as an outlet. We had recently moved to California, I hadn't made a lot of friends, and I was bored. And lonely. I'd be lying if I said a part of me didn't hope that something would come from it. At first it was enough to have my friends comment and tell me how much they enjoyed my words. Then I discovered that there were groups of bloggers out there who considered themselves to be part of a "tribe". Oh, how I wanted to be part of their tribe! I wanted to be in with the populars. I wanted to be invited to sit at the "cool table". I wanted to go "viral". If I could just get the right people's attention. If I could just write something funny enough or moving enough or figure out a way to use the word "eleventeen" in just the right place…then, THEN, I would be one of them. But it never happened. Don't get me wrong - I got a few accolades and fist bumps from some really great people. But, it kind of felt like the time you DID get invited to sit at the cool table because you wore the right designer jeans one day, but the day eventually came that you went to get dressed and discovered that those jeans were in the washing machine. And that day you're back in you're same old non-designer jeans and you wander into the lunch room to find that your seat is taken.

Writing stopped being fun because I was no longer writing for myself. So I stopped writing at all. Because that's how you really go places. By quitting. Sigh.

A couple of days ago I sat in the parking lot of the gym WILLING myself to go inside. I could not think of a place I wanted to be LESS than I wanted to be at the gym. I don't know why. I don't always feel that way. It was just one of those days. But as I sat there staring at the building, trying to think of a good, legitimate excuse to leave, I remembered I had downloaded Elizabeth Gilbert's "Big Magic" on Audible. I told myself that I didn't get to listen unless I took my ass INSIDE the gym, so I eventually got out of my car and went inside. I listened to her for over an hour - and YES, I was exercising that whole time.

The author said so many things that, like many other readers I'm sure, felt like she was speaking directly to me. Telling me to get my head out of my ass and get on with it already. She said that we've (I've) complicated things by making it about someone other than myself. She said we should make things because we LIKE making things. I should write because I LIKE to write. Painters should paint because they LIKE to paint. Bakers should bake because they LIKE to bake. Haters should hate because they like to hate. Ok, she didn't say that. My daughter is 14 and Taylor Swift has taken over my life. Anyway..she said that we should stop looking for permission to create. And that was exactly the push I needed.

Last spring I listened to the Serial podcast. Sidenote: If you haven't listened to it, you should. I was instantly hooked and got all kinds of shit done around my house because I wouldn't let myself listen to it unless I was being productive in some form. But I wasn't only hooked on the story, I loved the idea of a podcast. Doing a podcast sounded like great fun. I mean, there's not much in this world that I like more than talking. Ask my husband. He would like me to shut up occasionally. He doesn't say that in so many words (usually) but I can see it in his eyes (because they're rolling). It probably has something to do with the fact that I like talking to him most right after he's put his headphones on to listen to music or watch youtube videos. It's kind of like a Pavlov's dog reaction. You know, how kids' suddenly… URGENTLY…need Mom the second she picks up the telephone. Put on your headphones? Nope. I just remembered something really important that we need to talk about right now. Guess what I saw on Facebook today.

Anyway, podcasts. Shortly after I finished listening to the Serial, I started listening to audiobooks. Something I had never really gotten into previously because I somehow felt like I was "cheating". Like I wasn't really reading. (For some reason I tend to set a lot of stupid and unnecessary rules for myself that NO ONE on earth will EVER care if I follow.) So here I am, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, all the while thinking, "That would be so cool! Talking about whatever I want, whenever I want, and no one can interrupt me." But there's one little problem. I haven't written a book. And what do I have to talk about? So, like most ideas I have (and I actually have a surprising number of ideas), I let that one fizzle out.

Then I listened to "Big Magic". And I realized the reason that I let things fizzle out is because I'm afraid of failure. I don't think that's anything unique - I assume most people don't start a project thinking, "I hope I really suck at this."

Last week my mom was out shopping and she sent me a picture of a decorative canvas that she thought would be great for my son's bedroom. It said, "You can't get a hit if you don't take a swing." He plays baseball, and this is actually a conversation we've had with him frequently during the season. We would get frustrated with him because he went through a streak where he would just stand there and watch perfect pitches go by. We would ask him why he didn't take any swings, to which his answer would always be, "I'm afraid I'm going to strike out." Ironically enough, he struck out more frequently from NOT taking swings than he did when he actually tried to make contact. My husband would tell him, "It's ALWAYS better to strike out swinging."

Hmmm. It's always better to strike out swinging.

WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING? I am being thrown all these pitches and I'm just standing here with the bat resting on my shoulder. Maybe the pitches aren't perfect, and maybe I won't even make contact. But how will I ever know if I'm not even willing to get in position?

So this is it. I like writing and I like talking so this is me taking a swing. I might strike out, or I might get  a little hit and then get thrown out at first, but hey - at least I'm taking a swing.

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