Friday, May 23, 2014

Something Wicked

Photo by Ambro
There is a disturbing trend that I've noticed in our culture. Husband has noticed it too. It isn't the rising cost of gasoline or groceries, although that is also concerning, but the seemingly decreasing ability of our younger people to do simple troubleshooting and follow through.

I'm sure everyone has encountered this problem in the now popular centralized customer service centers. Back in the day, when customer service was local, it seemed like our problems were taken, well, seriously. If you had a problem with your refrigerator, you called the local repair company and you spoke with Irene. She would schedule an appointment, say Thursday morning at 10 AM, when Ernest would come to fix the refrigerator. Thursday afternoon Irene would give you a call to make sure everything was working alright. Later that week you'd run into Irene, or Ernest, at the grocery store, or church, or the hardware store. Now days, companies are BIGGER and in an effort to consolidate departments and save money they have centralized their customer service departments. Now, if you have a problem with your refrigerator you call the repair company at 800-and-more-numbers, and you talk to Darshwana, who barely speaks English, she makes an appointment to have a repair man come to take a look at your refrigerator on Thursday between 10 AM and 4 PM. Suddenly, Darshwana has a degree from Harvard Law and she recites the disclaimer where you are warned to be home because he won't wait, there will be a $75 service call fee whether or not it can be fixed. Further, you, the customer, accept all responsibility for payment, parts, and if it is determined that YOU are the reason the refrigerator is broken then you will pay another fee. The repairman may, or may not show up, Darshwana never calls back to make sure he got there, and unless you live in Mumbai, the odds are you'll not run into Darshwana at the grocery, church or hardware store. There is no incentive for her to care.

Husband and I have different views on this problem which he witnesses everyday at his work. He believes it's due to a disposable culture we've built. In the old days if something broke, you figured out what was wrong with it and you fixed it. Today, something breaks, you throw it out and get a new one. Even your big-ticket items like refrigerators and cars seem to be disposable. Perhaps, he'll muse, that it has something to do with our culture being so closely tied to technology. Something's not working right? Control-Alt-Delete. Undo. Reset. There's no investigation, no logical troubleshooting, no process of elimination until you come to a possible solution.

My view is that it's a cancer spreading in our education system and PC world. After all, even our President doesn't believe you can do that, or build that, on your own. Our schools don't teach critical thinking. Instead, they teach what to think rather than how to think. Ask any high school senior what a syllogism is and he won't know. Do they teach proofs in mathematics anymore? And why should our youth care about logical thinking, or troubleshooting? Why will it matter? There's no reward for trying or succeeding and they know this because they've played countless games for fun and not for competition or excellence. Everyone gets a trophy after all. It's wicked in the evil sense.

Hopefully, Little Man will understand that we expect him to be excellent even though his classmates may accept status quo. Hopefully, he'll understand why we'll keep insisting he try and then try harder and tell him that we know he can do whatever he sets his mind to do; he simply needs to set his mind to doing everything. Hopefully, Little Man will keep score and aim to win. And even if everyone gets a trophy, hopefully he'll play to earn it.

What are some of your experiences with customer service/troubleshooting/follow through stories?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Summer Time, Summer Time

Photo by David Castillo Dominici
Well, it's summer break for the Little Man an me. A break for him, that is. My schedule just kicked into high gear. It's not easy entertaining a 3-year old. Husband built a tree house for Little Man. Not just any tree house, a pirate-ship-fort tree house. It is awesome with a rope ladder, slide, ship's wheel, telescope, and cabin. Yet Little Man isn't at all interested in playing in the tree house with me, he waits until Daddy gets home and the two of them go out and play together. I think that's sweet. Still, the fantasy of opening the back door and letting the kid and the dogs out into the back yard to play for the day has vanished. So amid the housekeeping, fixer-uppering, needlepointing, knitting, writing, blogging, reading, bill-paying, laundrying, errand-running, cooking, property-managing I typically do, I now have to find things to entertain and occupy the Little Man without setting him in front of a TV all day.

There are lots of things to do, but at his age there aren't (at least none I've found) day camps where he can go for the morning. Those will have to wait until he's five. So, this means all my housekeeping, fixer-uppering, needlepointing, knitting, writing, blogging, reading, bill-paying, laundrying, errand-running, cooking, and property-managing will have to happen on the go or in the middle of the night after the boy has gone to sleep. That's okay because he's only this age once and if we spend the day playing hide-and-seek, reading books, coloring on the sidewalk with chalk, or making rice crispy treats that's good. The only real obligation I have is the autobiography I'm ghost writing. Everything else can be squeezed in when necessary or until Husband has to go buy new underwear because I haven't gotten to the laundry in a while.
Image by Stuart Miles

So what to do? Well, if you have little ones and are wondering what to do with your summer, these are some of the things I found to do with Little Man:
  1. Teaching him to swim in the neighborhood pool. He's terrified of water so this is going to be a struggle. I also don't like to swim so this is a REAL challenge.
  2.  Story Times. Barnes and Noble and the public library both offer story times for toddlers and preschoolers. Barnes and Noble is good because we can have a morning at the mall. The library is walking distance, connected to a park and it promotes reading.
  3. Library programs. Our library offers wonderful programs. This summer there will be a ventriloquist, a magician, a jazz concert (geared towards children), an art exhibit, and a puppet show.
  4. Farmer's Market. There is a farmer's market at our library near the park every Thursday. He can play and then we can visit the market to pick up vegetables. He's usually more willing to try a vegetable if he can pick it out and help cook it.
  5. The gym. I am making a renewed effort to go to yoga and the gym. This is good for him to spend time at their nursery meeting new kids. He is also enrolled in a tumbling class at a gymnastics gym where he can meet new friends and learn new skills.
  6. Parties and play-dates. Little Man has several friends from school who have summer birthdays, including his. So, at least once a month there will be a birthday party to attend. Play dates will be arranged probably once a week or so. I have come to realize that play dates are really more for the mothers than the kids. We need the interaction of another adult.
  7. Helping around the house. Little Man is more than willing to help "clean" the house. He will dust and put his clothes away and he's learning how to make his bed. He also likes to draw on the sidewalk and driveway while I'm weeding the gardens.
All that sounds like enough but still, there needs to be something BIG to look forward to. Something he chooses to do. So, I created the "Fun Bowl." Inside the Fun Bowl are folded slips of paper with an activity written on it. Each Sunday he reaches into the Fun Bowl and pulls out a slip and that is the activity we will do one day during the week. This Sunday he selected bowling so on Friday afternoon we will go bowling. Next week (due to scheduling) we will be going to the Renaissance Festival. The other activities in the Fun Bowl waiting to be selected are: Visiting a farm and going berry picking, children's museum, zoo, putt putt, movie, aquarium, planetarium, ceramics, Build-A-Bear, and an afternoon in the bouncy house. And we will have a family vacation in there somewhere that will be fun.

It will be a packed summer with lots to do. What are some of the things you've found to do with your little ones? What are some of your favorite summer memories?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I Say Everything Twice. I Say Everything Twice.

There have been a number of studies that show, on average, women speak more words per day than men. I'd believe that. I know I say a LOT of words everyday, mainly because I am the mother of a male toddler. This means that unless I'm wearing an eye patch, talking like a pirate and brandishing a plastic pirate sword I am otherwise invisible and silent and must repeat myself in hopes of getting a response. Well, unless he wants me to fetch food that is. Then I can be heard quite clearly saying "no" to the chocolate chip cookie and yes to the yogurt. I know he hears that because there is either foot-stomping, arguing, or a tantrum that follows.

 I know all parents find themselves repeating the same things over and over again, it just happens to be a pet peeve of mine.

Me: Little Man, what do you want for breakfast?
Little Man:
Me: What do you want for breakfast?
Little Man:
I walk away.
Little Man: Mama, can I get oatmeal?

Sometimes there is a response but it is more of a non sequitur:

Me: Little Man, what do you want for breakfast?
Little Man: Mama, this is my airplane.
Me: Yes it is. What do you want for breakfast?
Little Man: vroooooom.
I walk away.
Little Man: Mama, can I get oatmeal?
Image from

It reminds me of Joseph Heller's masterpiece Catch-22. An exercise in futility and circular logic. A synopsis: Army pilot Captain John Yossarian is trying to get out of the army by pleading insanity but the army physicians claim that anyone claiming to be insane to get out of the army is sane. At one time, Yossarian imitates another soldier who is quarantined when he says he sees everything twice. Eventually, the other soldier dies before he gets sent home and Yossarian decides he can see everything once.

I feel that way. Sort of. I say everything twice in an attempt to get some sort of reward in the form of a response from my Little Man. It seems that the only time I get a response is actually after I've walked away. Does that mean I have to be absent in order to interact?

Still, the question remains, why do I have to repeat myself? Does he not hear me? Does he not understand me? Does he take me for granted? Why? Why?

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Mother By Any Other Name...

Flowers from our garden
Photo by LeeAnn Rhoden
Yesterday was Mother's Day. I have celebrated four Mother's Days and they have all been fantastic. Husband works hard to make it so. I can see the struggle effort he puts into it to make my day special. Usually, he takes over the cooking responsibilities and handles any need Little Man decides he has. That's really gift enough but there is also a gift of some kind too. He can't go wrong, I tell him what I want. This year my day started with fresh flowers from our gardens and my favorite breakfast. For my gift, we started the deck "renovation." Our deck is in great shape except that it needs a good pressure washing and next year we will need to paint it. The BIGGEST problem with the deck is that it faces west and in Georgia that means you cannot use your deck from noon April 25th until 6:30 PM October 25th without suffering from heat stroke. The first part of the deck renovation is not just to make it aesthetically pleasing but to make it useable.  So, we invested in a GINORMOUS umbrella to shield us from the life sucking radiation sun. Now, we can actually sit on the deck and enjoy our back yard. Or, at least, plan what needs to be done back there to make it enjoyable. All part of the fixer-uppering. As much as I will enjoy the umbrella, my favorite gift by far has been  my first Mother's Day gift. It is a Mother's ring.
Ginormous umbrella
Photo by LeeAnn Rhoden
My ring. Don't touch it.
Photo by LeeAnn Rhoden
It has my birth stone, Husband's birth stone and Little Man's birth stone. I wear it everyday. It's precious and means more to me than anything else.

And we should celebrate mothers. A mother has a tremendous job and responsibility yet she takes it on voluntarily and with love. Okay, okay, there are times when she wants to lock herself in the bathroom, but everyone needs a five minute time out, right? There is even a YouTube video done about a mother's job. They call it "World's Toughest Job." If you haven't seen it, you should. It's funny!

I'm fortunate that right now I'm a stay-at-home-mom. We made this decision because we felt it would be in the best interest for our Little Man and we are able to make that happen. Many, many moms work outside the home whether it be by choice or circumstance. This does not diminish in anyway their role at home, nor does it diminish my role as a financial contributor. This is a personal struggle I have in that I lose sight of my worth when I'm home all day changing diapers, potty training, making six different lunches trying to get Little Man to eat something, schlepping laundry, and sweeping up Cheerios. I've worked since I was 16 years old and now .... But just in case there are cynics (like myself) about the value of stay-home-moms, or moms in general, has a terrific article on the financial value of a mom and the $112,00 she'd earn outside the home performing her job. Forbes calculated it closer to $115,00. Perhaps we need another title for moms? Domestic Engineers? Director of Operations (as suggested by YouTube)? Family Assistant?

Tasks aside, the value of a mom is not computable. Moms provide something that cannot be replaced by a staff. Moms provide emotional comfort and healing and nurturing that is carried in the heart for a lifetime. Only moms understand the beginning babbling of the toddler. Only moms recognize the different cries a child has and can react to child's exact need.  A mom's love is priceless. So, to my mom and all moms out there, or whatever you want to call them, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

Friday, May 9, 2014


Image from Wikipedia
I have decided I have an addictive personality. I'm not addicted to drugs, or alcohol, or anything bad, although I did smoke for a number of years. I'm not addicted to working out, gambling, or shopping. I'm not addicted to cleaning, although my mother is so it's AWESOME when she comes to visit. No, I don't think it's wrong to let her clean. She hums and smiles while she sweeps. Besides, she's the only one who knows where the dust mop is. But, I digress. My addictions are more mundane and probably boring to most people. What are they? Coffee, Diet Coke, Little Man's hugs, the use of the Oxford comma, good food, and puzzles. I am a puzzle-holic.

Image from

I love all sorts of puzzles: jigsaw, cryptograms, word jumbles, anagrams, Sudoku, you name it. Recently, I discovered a Sudoku app for my IPhone. Glee! The result has been that at the expense of other chores or conversation, I spend lots of time on my Sudoku app. Any puzzle will draw my attention like a shiny object. SQUIRREL!

This also translates to really anything I have to figure out or concentrate on to get right. A complex knitting pattern, crochet pattern, needlepoint pattern, embroidery stitches, a new recipe, organizing a schedule or creation of a Gantt chart. I love the focus and concentration these take. It allows me to escape deep into my own brain, my focus, my thoughts. It's alone time while the chaos swirls around me. Truly, when I am in deep concentration I don't even hear what is going on in the same room. It's calming and soothing. I guess that's why I enjoy reading and writing mysteries. Inside the mystery is a place of calmness for me.

I recently read a post from a blog on writing that characters should be given hobbies. These hobbies can better identify the mental function of the character so the readers, especially those familiar with the hobby, can relate to the characters. So, I think, Walter may actually be a puzzle addict. Why else would he be a detective?

What are some other hobbies out there? What do they tell you about the person who has these hobbies? What do your hobbies say about you?