Monday, October 31, 2011

I can hardly believe we are at the end of October already.  Where has the time gone?  And now, as the calendar turns to November, we can count on time moving at a dead run from here to the first of the new year.

Every part of my life feels like it is just vibrating with change.  Sam is in his senior year, desperately finishing up the paperwork to earn his Eagle Scout rank and filling out college applications, all while trying to keep his grades up enough to have some hope of scholarships.  It's a lot to juggle, but I feel he is doing a better job at it than ever before. He turns 18 at the end of the week and I can hardly fathom that my baby will be, in the eyes of society, an adult.  And frankly, in many ways he is beginning to think like one!

Warren lost a week of his life to oral surgery and is still not feeling normal yet.  But once he recovers, he will continue to be in constant change.  He is just at a point in his life where there sort of is no status quo.  He is in a part-time job with no future; he will either move to a better job, or start school, or both, but there's no possibility that he will ride on as things are for very long.

Bob has applied for a new job in his same company.  I can't tell yet how big a probability there is that he will actually make a change -- but it feels like it's been a while since he even went so far as to post for another job, so it feels significant to me.  Whether it is this opportunity or another, I feel there is change in his future.

And today at my day job, my "new" boss (of five month's tenure) announced that she is leaving.  So we are back in a state of uncertainty.  And they are about to reconfigure the entire work space, squeezing in something like 6 more work stations in the existing space and moving everyone around.  So there will be a certain level of discomfort for everyone.

In my volunteer life, too, there is change.  With Sam wrapping up his Boy Scout career I have announced that I will serve out this year as Troop Committee Chair then I plan to step down. And at church, things have felt unsettled ever since Father Larussa joined us in the summer of 2009. We are on our second choir director since he started (though it feels like Matthew will be with us for a while) and most of our old traditions and comfort zones have been swept away.  It isn't so bad, really, but it has certainly taken away any illusion that church is a place you go for the comfort of the familiar.

I had an interesting talk with my 87-year-old mother on Sunday.  She told me not to apologize for being busy, even when it makes me miss calling her occasionally, because being busy is a good thing.  "And as you get older," she cautioned, "Make sure you stay busy! That is one of the most important things you can do for yourself."

So that's my insight for the week: busy-ness can be a good thing.  And when it isn't, it's probably because of the choices I have made about which things to be busy with.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Read a really good column in the Wall Street Journal by Peggy Noonan this morning. In it,she cites research that polled women in Orlando and Des Moines who were selected on the basis of “having shopped at Wal-Mart at least once in the past month.” She said one group was in their 30's and 40's, the other in their 40's and 50's. They were strikingly consistent in their opinions. Things they agreed upon included:
  • Unemployment is definitely worse than the official government numbers make it sound.
  • The recession doesn't feel like it's getting any better.
  • They all resent the bank bailouts when they feel the banks were huge contributors to the problem.
  • Obama hasn't done a good job, but they get angrier when they talk about Congress.
  • Both parties are equally responsible.
  • They feel their elected leaders have no sense of how they live, and don't care.
I would qualify for one of those groups, and I'm surprised to find how mainstream I must be. I can pretty much agree with those points. I came from a working class family, got an education, rose pretty high in my career and then slowed down off the fast track, but remained in a professional position. So I have experienced some times in my life when money flowed pretty freely, and some where money was tighter. But today feels different.

This feels like the first time in my life that everyone I know is affected by the adverse economy, and no one has any sense of when there might be an end in sight. I actually think that my son's standard of living will be affected forever by the tough economic times in which he came of age. We have saved some for college, but are counting on some financial aid, too. Money would always have been a factor in the final choice of school, but it will be a bigger factor than I would have imagined. And he's one of the lucky ones.

Our other pseudo-son, Warren, who is not typical in many ways, is perhaps more typical in this way. As a young man with only a high school diploma, his opportunities to build a life for himself are far more restricted than they would have been just five years ago. Like many kids in his situation he doesn't mean to be without an education forever, and has a general plan of working, taking classes at Columbus State Community College, and eventually attaining a degree. But unlike a few years ago, even entry level jobs are scarce, sources of public aid are tighter, and he will have to work harder and do without more to attain those goals. I believe a kid like him faces greater challenges today than ever. And living at home is almost the only way they can make it. Left to fully support oneself on minimum wage in today's economy is beyond difficult -- it is virtually impossible. 

Among our friends, it almost feels like everyone has dropped one socioeconomic level. Those who I always considered affluent now live more like upper middle class. Upper middle class has tightened its belt to the standards of lower middle class. Lower middle class is slipping into the paycheck-to-paycheck patterns that characterized the working class, and working class families struggle to stay employed at all and out of poverty. No one I know buys cars as frequently or travels as often as they used to. For a lot of us, eating out has slipped from a routine item to a luxury. Children who went off to college and maybe even have that first post-college job are still living at home because it's too risky to try to get out on their own.  Grown offspring with children and sometimes spouses are moving back in because it is the only way they can provide a decent life experience for the kids.

So we plug away, seeking silver linings where we can. I know that my values have changed for the better through this. I appreciate what I have more and judge others' choices less. I am learning greater patience and flexibility. I have really internalized the reality that people matter, things don't. These are all good things. But the future still looks really scary, and I would be delighted to take these good lessons and apply them in a somewhat less stressful future. I'm just sayin', in case anyone out there in the universe is listening.......

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

I have been trying to post for days, but Blogger and my browser seem to be having a disagreement. If you can see this post, it means that I found a workaround that allowed me to post.

My life has been almost frenetic lately. I think this was the pace at which my life moved routinely some years ago, but at some point it slowed down and I got used to that more leisurely pace. But lately, with two teenagers in the house, two significant volunteer commitments, a full time job plus freelance work, and Bob busy with multiple volunteer commitments and work travel, the tempo of my life has accelerated. So far, it hasn't been unpleasant. I seem to remember reaching a point of burn-out, where I didn't want to do all that anymore. But so far, this time around, it has felt OK. If anything, it has felt energizing.

I am so enjoying having these two teenagers in my life. Sam is working on his Eagle project, trying to keep his grades up, applying to colleges. That all sounds so mainstream, so straight arrow. But anyone who has known us all over the years knows that Sam is anything but mainstream. I count it a huge success that he is on the path he is on. And while there is some stress to it, he seems to be handling it well. He isn't having much of a social life, but I don't think it is significant -- I just think he's spread too thin to add that right now. In fact, since I drafted this the first time he has made noises about asking a girl out -- after his Eagle project is done.

Warren struggled mightily to find a new job, and has now landed one at Otani Sushi Bar & Japanese Restaurant. But I still feel like he is struggling with believing that things will work out -- his self-confidence is shaken, and he's having a hard time seeing his way from today to tomorrow. On the other hand, I remain extremely positive about his future.  He is a hard worker and a survivor.  We just need to keep his spirits up, so he doesn't lose faith in himself. Warren also has a social life -- possibly too much so. It seems that girls go for him in a big way, often to his detriment. I hope that while I am in a position of influence in his life, I can help him learn better coping mechanisms for girls, and to set his sites higher than he has in the past.

I know that next year, when Sam heads off to college, our life will become quite different. I can't predict at this point whether Warren will still be here with us then or not (though I hope so). But whatever the configuration of our life then, I know it will be something new, totally unexperienced. And it might be just as wonderful. But for today, I am savoring the life we are living. Oh, it has its stresses and bumps in the road, but then, it wouldn't be life otherwise, would it?  And it is, indeed, a wonderful life.