Thursday, November 10, 2016

WWYD (What Would YOU Do?)

Since starting work in a pediatrician’s office, I overhear all kinds of things these days. Some of these jewels include:

“Where is your shoe?” 
“Where are your pants?” 
“Do you need to go potty?” 
“Did you just go potty here already?” 
“Don’t lick that.”

I am not an eavesdropper by nature and typically don’t have the time or concern to listen in on others’ conversations, but today, two women were chatting and it was a slower time and fairly quiet and here’s the jist of the conversation:

A man was diagnosed with cancer and given a pretty bleak prognosis. He sought a second opinion, but before that, made some pretty big decisions. The days that followed were filled with life-altering words and actions. In his defense, he thought his hourglass was about out of sand so he wasn’t wasting any time. He quit his job. He started selling some real estate and unfreezing assets. He reached out to a friend and a sibling, both of whom he’d lost contact with over the years, and rekindled those relationships. His wife decided she was down with the “health” part of the marriage vows but wasn’t as keen with the “sickness” part, so he cut her loose and she took off. He lost some friends he thought were true blue and gained the devotion and love from a couple of friends who surprised him. 

Then he received an equally alarming message in his second opinion:  “Your scans are clear. You don’t have cancer.”  What would normally be cause for celebration was met with more of a “what have I done?” reaction. He faced the equally-compelling conundrum of “what now?”

As I allowed my brain to wrap itself around this story, the one thing that struck me and struck me good was the thought that one phone call, one sentence, one word even, can have a domino effect on the rest of your life, however much is left.

“You have cancer.”
“I quit.”
“Can we talk?”
“I can’t do this.”
“Your scans are clear.”

The morale of this story, if there is one, is two-part. One, choose your words carefully as they may have a long-lasting and far-reaching impact that affects not just the intended recipient, but countless unseen others. And two, make the most of the day you have, for tomorrow is promised to no one.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Working for a Living

Today marks the end of my third week at a new job. After doing a little of this, a little of that, a bit more of this and then my own thing for a while, I stepped back into the world of working stiffs. I went cold turkey from “make my own hours” to “chained to a desk” and it’s been a transition, to be sure. But there are perks such as “having other adults to talk to” and “getting paid regularly.”  

My new job? Thanks for asking. I now man the front desk at a busy pediatricians’ office. I can’t tell you why, but it’s always been on my job “bucket list” and I decided this was the year to mark that bad boy off. You don’t have a job bucket list? Huh. I’ve had one for as long as I can remember. Let’s see. 

One stop shopping for small appliances, jewelry and home decor.

There was a local department store in Nashville called Service Merchandise. It went out of business years ago, but even if it hadn’t, Amazon would have been its undoing. I shopped there as a child because that’s where you went for everything from a new watch to a new toaster or a new piece of luggage. I thought it was a fun place, so that was where I went my senior year of high school to get my first job. I quit when, after just a few months of working there, I asked off for Halloween so I could go to a party and was denied.

100% synthetic, 0% comfort.

I always wanted to work outside, perhaps as a life guard or roller coaster operator. So, the summer after my freshman year of college, I applied for employment at the now extinct Nashville amusement park, Opryland. I thought I might roll in and be appointed to work the flume zoom or the Wabash Cannonball. Ha. I was handed a starched-within-an-inch-of-its-life 100% polyester sailor uniform and instructed to report to Kid Kountry, the small rides area designed for kids five and under. It was Hell right here on Earth. Each morning began with doing a sweep of each of the rides and attractions to look for snakes that could and did sneak into these areas overnight. Then I worked eight-10 grueling hours breaking up fights, reuniting lost kids with their anxious parents, getting kicked in the shins, called a “poopy head” when I insisted they wait their turn, and occasionally getting puked on. The shift ended by pulling a rope that hoisted all of the balls in the ball pit up into a net, allowing the night crew to hose out the bottom of the ball pit. You have not seen horrors the likes of which lurk in the bottom of a ball pit at an amusement park. I’m scarred from what I saw and, because of this, have never been in one since. There was “ball pit gravy," which consisted of leftover rinse water from the night before, dew, spittle, kid pee, and the occasional spilled drink. Also found in the ball pit:  shoes, socks, shirts, diapers, hats, sunglasses, loose change, paper money, a camera, park maps, various food items, watches, keys, oh, and snakes. After a week, I put in for a transfer to another attraction. I was assured my paperwork would be processed and I would be notified when an opening became available. I spent the entire summer in Kid Kountry. It was a long summer.

Party 101

Next on the job bucket list was “work at a party supply store.” After the debacle of working at Opryland, something cool, indoors and air conditioned seemed like the next logical move. Now in college in Memphis, I applied at a new party supply store that opened close to campus, Party Headquarters. My boss was high all the time and was eventually fired when they caught him in the back eating wedding favor jordan almonds as fast as he could. When the phone rang, we had to answer, “Thank you for calling Party Headquarters, where every day is a party. This is party animal, Valerie. How can I help you get your party started?” It was a lot. A new store came to town and opened up just across the strip mall from Party Headquarters. They sold clothing that was cute, fashionable and reasonably priced. I spent most of my paychecks at this place called “Old Navy.”

Once out of college, I ticked off other roles and jobs from my list:

  • answer phones at a busy switchboard
  • graphic design
  • work for an ad agency (Bonus points for having strategic meetings like Darrin Stephens and Larry Tate. Bonus points for you if you know who these people are.)
  • work for PR firm
  • work in glamorous world of marketing

Any day ending in "Y" is a day to have cake and celebrate.

And then some items on my list were very specific:

  • work at a place where you have to wear a lanyard/security badge and swipe it to get in places

Note:  not all it was cracked up to be. Totally stunk when you got to work and realized you’d left your badge at home or sitting on your desk on the other side of the security checkpoint.

  • work at a place that has a cafeteria (or gym)

Note:  I worked at a place that had both. They also offered free/all you wanted snacks & soft drinks, had Friday lunches, and had someone who would pick up and deliver dry cleaning right to your office. The down side? They expected you to work a 60-hour week without complaint and that was a typical week. Who needs to see their family? That’s what picture frames are for.

  • work for a non-profit

Note:  Learned quickly that “non-profit” is just a tax designation and that non-profits are very much about the profit

So, as you can see, my resume is varied and comprehensive. I decided the next item I would tackle would be “work in a busy doctor’s office.” Yes, it surprised me as much as it did you because I am a self-described germaphobe and, on top of that, I don’t really like kids, other than my own. And she’ll tell you, there are days I’m not crazy about her. But I’ve sat in various doctors’ offices and watched them take calls and make appointments and play with patient charts with the stickers for the first three letters of the patient’s last name, and then talk about which pharmaceutical rep was coming with lunch today and I thought it seemed fun. 

Now, here I am at the two-week mark working in a pediatrician’s office. I don’t know about fun but I’ve really enjoyed my time so far. It’s busy. From the time we open to the time I walk out, I don’t have a lot of free time. In fact, there are days I get home and think, “I haven’t eaten or gone to the bathroom today.” It’s like that. But the good thing I’ve already learned? There’s no work to take home. There’s nothing to sit up working on after everyone else is in bed. There’s no “get up early to prepare for the next day.” I go in, I work hard while I’m there, and then I come home. It’s that easy. And that, my friends, is money in the bank.

Stay tuned for more Adventures from a Pediatrician’s Office. Until then, take your vitamins, wash your hands, and get your flu shot if you haven’t done so yet.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Doggone Dumb

I love animals, especially dogs. If you know me at all, you know my motto is “I tolerate people; I adore dogs.” I have actually swerved while driving to avoid a dog or squirrel only to notice afterwards that there was a pedestrian whom I did not register being there at all. I sacrifice decent sleep and comfort on a nightly basis so my pups have room to stretch out. My girls eat breakfast and dinner before I do. I’ve spent more on a dog sweater than I have on a people sweater for myself.

With all this said, I’m getting ready to say something seemingly uncharacteristic:

Dogs don’t need to be everywhere, all the time.

There, I said it. Your pooch is not an accessory. Now, time and schedule and weather permitting, I’ll load up one or both of our girls to make the drive to school in the morning or afternoon, provided it’s going to be a quick, non-stop flight. They love to get out and ride and see things and sniff things. But I’m seeing an epidemic of people with dogs in all kinds of wildly inappropriate places and I wonder “what are you thinking?”

Here are a few recent examples:

1.  At school.
There are only a couple of Moms who do this, but they’re repeat offenders. If it was a “Fido has been sick and I’m keeping an eye on him” situation, I’d be all over that, offering to make canine-friendly chicken soup. But it’s not because it happens regularly. What it does come across as is “I’m an introvert and this furry crutch I’m holding will help me in conversation.” Totally fair, coming from this world-renowned introvert. But still, not OK. Here’s my issue with it:  not everyone likes dogs. I know, I don’t get it and trust me, I trust dogs a lot more than people. But it’s the truth. As a fairly empathetic person, I realize that there are people out there with fears and allergies and just general wariness and ambivalence that I couldn’t and shouldn’t try to help them overcome by forcing my dog into their inner circle.

2.  At sporting events.
So your kid is playing a double header soccer game Saturday and you’ll be at the ball park from 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon on a Saturday in August? For some people, this means dragging a drooling, panting dog all over God’s green earth, desperately seeking shade and water. Not to mention, anywhere where there will be a ton of small children is not a good environment for any dog, no matter how well trained or behaved. I’ve never met a dog that loved seven different short people coming up, surrounding it, shrieking in their little kid voices and touching him all over. It makes the dog nervous and a nervous dog is never good.

3.  In the car.  
Of course, most of us know not to leave our precious pups in the car on crazy hot days. And if you don’t, I promise I’ll be more than happy to break your window if I stand there and watch your dog suffer more than 10 minutes on a blistering hot day. But what about the other, not-crazy-hot days? Is it fair to drag your pup along with you as you run a day’s worth of errands?

4.  Chained in the yard. All. The. Time.  
We have one of these in our neighborhood and it breaks my heart. Especially as I’m giving my pups extra snuggle time and asking them which treat they’re in the mood for while hearing plaintiff cries down the street from a dog who just wants some attention, good or bad. I’ve never understood why people get a dog when they don’t seem “all in.” Now, I know not everyone is willing to share their lives inhales/exhales with their pets as I do and that’s fine. But what is the point of having a dog chained up in the far back corner of your yard? You might have wanted a pet but perhaps a goldfish or plush, stuffed animal would have been a better option.

5.  As a photo prop.
This is my last one for today. Again, I adore dogs. I truly do. But I respect them, too. Regardless of how I treat and speak to mine, I know deep down they’re not human. They’re animals. And because of this, there is a tiny part of them that is unpredictable. And that’s why I cringe every time I see a photo like this:

It’s not cute. It’s not wise. It’s selfish and not thought out well by the new parents who are probably stumbling around in a sleep-deprived stupor.

Now, in closing, I’ll offer some good suggestions for places to take your pet:

1. Find a dog park nearby. Take a leash, a ball, a collapsible bowl and a bottle of water. Adhere to the posted rules, especially regarding size.

2.  Go on a picnic. Find a secluded, shady spot somewhere just off the main drag of a park. Bring a tether or tie out so Fido can roam further than a leash and explore the surroundings.

3.  Go for a drive, but don’t get out. Roll the windows down as low as you’re comfortable doing and let them soak up the smells out there. You get bonus points for driving by the vet, but not stopping.

4.  Visit a DIY dog bath and get Scruffy, well, less scruffy. They give you all the supplies you need and you walk away with a healthy back and a clean bathtub at home.

5.  Schedule a play date with a friend’s or neighbor’s pooch. Make sure ahead of time that their temperaments are compatible but social interaction is just as important in canines as it is with your other kids.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

There is Sodium in Sweat

We picked up this souvenir in Venice, Italy almost exactly 13 years ago. It was May 2003 and our lives were changing. Just over a year and a half earlier, terrorists had forever altered our level of security, of safety, and air travel as we knew it. After jumping through new and countless hoops in various airports, we enjoyed touring the country, with Venice being our last stop. Our plan was to start a family upon our return, to settle down, to get serious, to think about something and someone other than ourselves. 

We possibly brought back more than this salt cellar from Italy, though we didn’t claim anything else on the customs forms. Over the couple of months following our return to the U.S., we would experience the high of learning we were pregnant and the low of discovering the meaning of the word “not viable.”

Eventually we were blessed with another pregnancy, this time quite viable, and that product is a happy fifth grader now.

The salt cellar has sat on our kitchen counter now for 13 years. It’s endured one move, several trips in the dishwasher, and countless close calls of being knocked off the counter or having something dropped on it. You’d think when I look at it, I would immediately be taken back to those cobble-stoned streets, the smell of fresh produce from the marketplace, the sound of a group of old ladies laughing in an alley, the smell of an unfiltered cigarette. You’d think my palate would conjure the tastes of homemade pasta, the freshest tomato sauce, the most delicate pastries, and the depth of wine made and consumed all within a ten-mile radius.

But instead, when I see this salt cellar, I usually want to strangle my husband. You see, he uses it 95% of the time and I always know when he’s been in it because there’s salt everywhere. Everywhere. He’s a great cook. Ask anyone who’s had his food. It comes naturally and easy for him and he actually seems to enjoy it. In the kitchen, he’s Hendrix with a guitar, Shakespeare with a pen (sorry, Bill, a quill), and Edison with a light bulb all rolled into one. But when he gets salt from this salt cellar, he reaches in, obtains a healthy pinch, carries it to an awaiting vessel and then sprinkles the salt from some distance above the dish. The result is, you guessed it, salt.  Everywhere.

And I can deal with the salt on the countertops and the floor. I clean often enough that I can usually stay on top of that part. What I will describe on our divorce papers is the residual salt left behind on the lid of the cellar. I know, it’s a first world problem for sure, yet it still drives me nuts (a reward for you finishing this article awaits at the end). It makes me crazy because, during the 5% of the time that I use this device, never once have I left behind a grain of salt. I know to carry the food to the cellar or the cellar to the food to avoid the countertop and floor distribution. And I learned pretty quickly that a quick brushing of the fingers over the sink or a rinse will prevent salt from being left on the lid when you replace it. My sunshine has not yet worked this out.

But let me tell you what will, at least temporarily, allow me to overlook this transgression:

That’s a dear friend of our family up there in that urn. We attended the memorial service yesterday afternoon. And this morning, when I looked over at the salt cellar and saw it covered in salt, I just smiled. Because I have another day with my sunshine and the good Lord has given me another day walking around this marble, so, at least today, I will choose to not sweat the small stuff.

The reward:  a joke. Enjoy.

A pirate walks into a bar with a ship's steering wheel attached to the front of his pants. The bartender asks, "what's going on there, pal?" The pirate replies, "I don't know but it's drivin' me nuts." 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Shadow You Cast

Traveling by plane, as I recently did, is always fun for me. If you keep your head up and take in the sights, oh, it’s a smorgasbord of visual candy.

You see things like this guy, dressed like peanut butter fudge:

And this woman, 

wearing the same sweater I have at home:

There’s always this guy:

who can plop down and fall asleep, anywhere, in front of anyone.

And then there’s this guy, the loud talker:

Sometimes you’re seated next to him on the plane or in a restaurant. Other times, as was the case for me, you’re just seated within a close enough proximity that you hear every single word he says while you’re just trying to relax and read your book. 

First, he made a phone call and screamed into the phone for a few minutes. It wasn’t an angry scream. Just an elevated volume. The call ended and I thought, “OK, now I can read.” but he had other plans. Then he started talking to the lady, who I assume is his wife. Despite my best efforts, I could not block him out. Seeking alternative seating proved futile, so I just sat there and took it in. Since there was no tuning him out, I decided to at least concentrate on his words. After just a few seconds, I realized he was just talking to be talking and wasn’t really talking to his wife, or anyone for that matter, about anything. He was simply talking. It was stream of consciousness, saying whatever came into his mind. And the interesting thing was his wife never responded, never bat an eye, never really even looked up. He had an entire conversation all by himself.

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."Psalm 91:1

Monday, April 11, 2016

National Only Child Day

Just as I blame greeting card companies for holidays such as “Grandparents Day” and “Administrative Professionals Day,” I think we can blame Facebook for yesterday’s “National Sibling Day” and the response to that, today’s “National Only Child Day.” But in recognition of today, enjoy this post from an only child whose mother and daughter are onlies, as well. That’s right…my daughter is a proud, third-generation only.

Growing up an only was, simply put, fantastic. You know that saying “friends are the family you choose?” I’ve seen it on a plaque somewhere. Well, as I watched my friends and classmates struggle with their siblings, this concept was foreign to me. Friends and neighbors and cousins drifted in and out of my home and my life like people you share a plane ride with. We were thrown together for a little bit, but just when I thought “I could stab you in the neck with this ballpoint pen,” the ride was over and they went back to their own homes and I could get on with my life.

I was taught to share but the entire notion seemed utterly overrated. In social situations where sharing was the word of the day, I learned a life skill early on that has both saved and haunted me:  move on.  If there was a toy someone else wanted to play with, I’d just go play with another. If there was a project in school and someone else wanted to cover my chosen topic and the teacher suggested a group effort, I’d simply slide into another subject matter. As I transitioned to adult life and corporate America, I thought, naively, that sharing was behind me. Ha. That was until I was thrown, completely unsuspecting, into my first committee. There were bigger words being used and people were smiling weirdly and nodding but I saw what was happening here and I didn’t like it:  we were being forced to share something worse than a slinky. We were expected to share ideas and assignments and workload. Son of a biscuit.

The upsides of being an only are as countless as the stars in the sky. Christmas and Easter mornings were all about me. And Jesus, but He wasn’t getting any gifts. I had my own bathroom, but, of course, I shared my parents’ because, as I’ve found now that I’m a parent, that’s what kids do. There was no fighting over whose turn it was with the TV remote. When I was very young, I was the remote. When the clicker finally came around, Daddy got to hold the little, magic box, end of discussion. When staying in a hotel, the parents got one bed and I got the other. I don’t recall any “he’s touching me” or “it’s her turn to do the dishes” complaints.

The flip side of this, of course, is that there is very little room for error. If a lamp gets knocked off and broken, there aren’t many directions in which to point a finger. In fact, there’s little room for deflection at all. Being an only means you get the attention all of the time, good or bad.

People have asked me throughout my life, “weren’t you ever lonely?” Yes, of course I was, but the benefits a sibling would have offered wouldn’t have outweighed the cons. Having someone to see-saw with for five minutes wouldn’t have made up for a childhood of having the entire backseat to myself on car trips. Getting to play board games, most of which require a minimum of two players, wouldn’t have fostered my creative side and nurtured the part of me that wanted to write.

Now that I’m a parent, I’m fascinated by how many of my only child’s friends are onlies, too. It’s a good percentage. And among us parents, there’s a sense of camaraderie, of accomplishment, a feeling that we got it right, we hit the bullseye. We see other parents struggling to get their kids to different sports practices and to be at parent meetings and clothe and feed the masses and we smile to ourselves knowing we’ve got it pretty darn good. A couple of times I’ve been asked,”do you have just the one?” Just the one. As if I’m somehow not worthy of the title of “Mother” unless I look harried and utterly worn down. Trust me, with “just one” I sometimes feel like screaming and pulling my hair out and driving across the border never to be heard from again. I give props to Moms of multiples.The fact is, we have a tough job, whether we have one or seven.

I lucked out as far as parents. And I’m not just saying that. They did it well and made it look easy, even when it wasn’t. They did a terrific job of teaching me independence and giving me my space. They allowed me to make mistakes. I look at some of my child’s only child friends and I see them in some of the pitfalls of only-dom. They have a “glommy” or “smother” — a mother who just refuses to cut the apron strings. They’ve had so much sunshine pumped up their little bottoms that they can’t fathom when they don’t win the race, when they don’t get the blue ribbon, and when the world’s attention isn’t focused solely on them. It’s sad to watch the unraveling of a 10-year-old who’s been told their entire life “you’re the best” when they find out, as they eventually will, that they’re not. My husband and I have tried so hard to avoid this for our own only child, that I fear we’ve allowed the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction. We rarely miss an opportunity to tell her how she’s mired in mediocrity. “That’s a nice painting of a unicorn, sweetie, but that horn is terribly out of proportion.”


FDR - President Roosevelt apparently had a “glommy.” But, by golly, her baby boy became leader of the free world, even if it was a gloomy period of time.

Lance Armstrong - Mama was said to have said on more than one occasion, “Lance, honey, why don’t you go outside and ride your bike?” Unfortunately, she didn’t tell him to avoid performance-enhancing drugs while he did it.

Harry Potter (and Daniel Radcliffe) - You are a wizard, Harry. And an only child. Go play with your wand.

Drew Barrymore - Well, it’s difficult to compare celebrities to us mere mortals. Drew knew how to make a perfect martini and roll a joint by first grade. Over-achiever.


10. You have all the best qualities of being both an extrovert and an introvert.
  9.  You know how to share (because people insisted you learn) but you never have to.
  8.  Family vacations are awesome. The only downside is deciding which parent to ride the roller coaster with. Coin toss!
  7.  Responsibility is your middle name. Or “Ann,” because that seemed popular.
  6.  All of your clothes are yours and yours alone. And new. No hand-me-downs. (Downside: no one to point the finger at over a horrible outfit.)
  5.  Your birthday is a national event. At least at your house.
  4.  Super close relationship with your parents.
  3.  There’s one baby book, it’s completely filled out, and it’s all about you.
  2.  Independence wasn’t a lifestyle choice, it was a matter of survival.
  1.  You learn early on all of the perks of solitude. Ahh, the sound of silence.


10.  See-saws suck.
  9.  Having no one to blame when you screw up.
  8.  You throw like a boss, but never learned to catch.
  7.  You think the dog is a good listener. (I debated which list this should go on.)
  6.  Playing “Hide & Seek” blows.
  5.  Imaginary friends aren’t a childhood phase. They’re real. Hold on for a minute. Stella, I’m writing a blog post right now. I’ll chat with you when I’m finished, OK?
  4.  The noise out there in the world! Oh my goodness. Noisy things in my house growing up included Daddy watching televised golf, Mom emptying the dishwasher, and the dog clicking across the linoleum when his nails were in need of a trim. I got my bottom (and my ear drums) handed to me when I went off to college and learned first-hand, from three roommates, what real noise was. 
  3.  There are times you daydream about being part of a larger family. If you haven’t watched the Steve Carrel movie “Dan in Real Life,” look it up on Netflix. It’s a great little movie and he’s at the top of his game. At the center of the movie is his large and larger-than-life family and seeing vignettes like this make me long, quite temporarily, for the opportunity to be a part of something bigger.
  2.  My definition and your definition of “personal space” are infinitely different. Infinitely. In fact, go ahead and take a couple steps back while you’re reading this.

  1.  Being an only makes you who you are. For better or worse. (I debated which list this should go on.)

Wouldn't trade it - or them - for the world.