Monday, May 28, 2012

Camping, and dams, and fish and swimming and even a rattlesnake!

On Friday we packed up the trailer and headed out north for the long weekend. Our destination was the Coulee region. It is an area that we have never been and so we aimed to explore.

We pulled in early evening to our campspot.

AB and I rolled our eyes a little. Yes, I told them the trailer was 26' long - actually I fibbed and said 30', because I wanted to make sure there was extra room. But we were alloted a narrow sliver for our trailer, a picnic table and a firepit. No more. And strict dog rules. Sigh.

I told AB we wouldn't be there much - we planned to be out exploring!

Our first evening there we got to know our neighbors across the way. The brought over shots of Jagermeister for AB and I - which I hadn't done since college. We talked trailers, we talked fish and when they were up yapping and partying till midnight, I can't say I was as irritated as if we hadn't gotten to know them a bit. Super nice people.

We got up Saturday morning and headed to the Grand Coulee Dam. AB and I were thrilled to finally see the monstrosity and the kids just were along for the ride. We arrived, joined a tour and I saw a different side of my kids, particularly Leif.

He was enthralled, in rapture, completely devoted to learning the details of the dam and doing math in his head to figure out the numbers that our (drama major failure - according to AB) tour guide was spewing. He took it all in. Eyes were wide.

By the end of the tour I am pretty sure Leif knew more about it then I did since I spent so much of the time amazed with his need for information.

We picnicked and then headed back to the campground intent on a few diversions on the way back. Dry Falls - where my miniature scholar read every single panel describing the lava flows, ice age floods and the animals that perished as a result (favorites being the wooley mammoth and the saber tooth cat skull at the visitor center).

We contemplated doing something else that late afternoon, but decided to have a leisurely afternoon back at the trailer, mostly thanks to the kid's request.

We got back and noted a bunch of "kids" (ok - probably 20-somethings) now in the other spots on the other side of us. I was sure they were up to no good - then I admired their very organized camping methods with Rubbermaid bins, I felt for the woman with the about 4 month old (I remember camping with Skadi at four months - that was my last time in a tent.)

Then our kids did something unlike them. They wandered off.

In little time Leif had joined a badmitton game with other 1st and 2nd graders. Skadi had found two girls and was requesting her swim suit and life jacket.

And AB and I were left sitting by ourselves.

Of course, I picked up my Kindle and went to the "swim beach" to sit and watch Skadi in the water. AB chatted with the neighbors, he wandered the campground and finally ended up at the swim beach with me.

Leif met another boy his age named Jonathen from Seattle and they became inseperable. The boys came to the trailer with Leif requesting his fishing pole and the two spent hours over the weekend standing on the docks fishing together, helping each other get knots out, casting to the exact preferred spots and discussing the merits of each of their techniques.

I don't know what happened this week, but my view of my son? Completely changed. He is a kid who can pick up his fishing pole, wander off, check in when he is supposed to and be his own kid. He is... ummm... Independent?

(Nope, he never caught anything, the lake we were camped on was not stocked that spring due to budget cuts.)

So I mentioned rattlesnake in the title, didn't I?

Despite AB's and my desire to get away from the clogged in, packed in like sardines campground we were at, we didn't get out much. The kids had made friends and were seeking to maximize that time with their new buddies.

We did make it out to fish a stocked lake and catch and cook one trout - which Leif declared as the best tasting fish EVER. Then on Monday, we got up and started packing up while the kids (looking like complete ragamuffins) ran off to be with their friends.

Once we had everything packed up and had decided on the Gingko Petrified Forest for a drive home attraction, we begged the kids to return to us.

Leif returned with tears about departing from his new friend Jonathen. I scribbled a note out and sent Leif back with it detailing our e-mail address and he returned with a similar note in response. And no more tears.

We got in the car, noisy neighbors helped guide us out - because men and trailers... well suffice to say I could sit comfortably in the car while Hans was effectively steered out by loads of testosterone.

Oh, I didn't say, but the young kids I expected to party all night? Yeah, no, I was wrong. Way wrong. In bed early and then distributed their load of split firewood to any and all who were staying beyond Monday. Yes, my lesson learned - looks can be deceiving.

We drove finally to the Petrified Forest. For years I had been wanting to go there. Yes, I am an amateur rock hound and love anything of ancient times.

We walked along with the dogs looking down into rock cairns with steel grates covering the petrified woods. I longed for my chunk of petrified wood lost when I was 13 due to a rock collection mishap (ok, the rock collection fell out of my closet and onto the head of the woman who was helping my mom pack the house up - and my mom tossed the collection in its entirety. I still haven't recovered.)

We had been talking about snakes all along because Freya was obsessed with them and while fishing the day before had cornered a number of bull snakes and according to the kids was bitten once.

Leif and Winny were leading the way.

Bad idea.

They passed a rock cairn and I was directly behind on the very narrow path. I stopped dead when I heard the rattle. Leif stopped as did Winny. I couldn't see where Leif was and I yelled at him to walk forward, quickly. He did, exactly as ordered, looking back and saying, "mom, it's a rattlesnake, a big one, right there."

I edged forward and peeked over the cairn and saw it. I put it at 3' long with a solid 1.75" diameter. One foot - at most from the trail.

AB and I calmly and rationally thought about this.

Ok, I can't lie. I freaked.

I grew up in rattlesnake country and remember when my dad would bring home rattles from working in the mines. Or being out camping and finding a rattlesnake and someone dropping a rock on its head. It wasn't uncommon.

But my son! My son was within a foot of at least the tail!

Another couple came along and confirmed for my husband that I was not just a completely crazed lunatic. Confirmed that yes, the snake was there, though now, coiled up and about 3' off the narrow trail.

They helped us forge a trail down and around the snake, giving it a wide berth and joining our son on the other side.

"You know it's tail Leif?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"How many buttons did it have?" I asked.

"12-15," he said.

He vividly described the diamondback pattern, said his heart was pounding and talked about little else the whole way home.

And that... is the rattlesnake story.

The fire siren

I used to be all about reading the mom blogs. Many rang true. Many sounded the same. Many were just whining. Many were smart.

Maybe it is just because I am crazy busy anymore (I can't even keep my own blog up), but I haven't "followed" the blogs in a while because so many seem to have gone off the deep end or become too commercial. And maybe after reading this post, you will think that of mine.

Despite the fact that I haven’t stayed current with the mom blogs, every once in a while a Facebook friend will post a link and I will click and read. But what drives me up the wall lately about so many of the blogs that get posted are the black and white nature of them. No shades of grey. And frankly they can be a bit vicious sounding.
Because us parents need one more thing to worry about. Yes, I need one more person out there writing some pedantic article about how I am DESTROYING my children! Just pile on the guilt. Is this what we as parents should be doing to each other?
My mental list (ok, actually it came from my phone, where I have been making a list preparing for this post for a few months… but more on that later.)
A few months ago there was a post about how boys are “objectifying girls” by teasing them. Oh my goodness, if you are the parent of a boy, you need to take control of this! Your son is objectifying my daughter.
Umm, how about that little boys don’t know any other way in the world to interact with a little girl? Despite us as parents imparting our decades of wisdom… How about that this centuries old behavior (yes, I know old behavior doesn’t make it right) may imply that this is human nature? My dad spent his kindergarten year teasing and pulling a little girl’s braids. That little girl became my mom.
And girls? They feed it right back. You think your daughter is innocent? HA! I have heard the same crying from my son – “Sarah” is teasing me and bugging me and she won’t leave me alone at recess. And gasp – I have uttered the same words back at him, “probably because she likes you!” Because really, will a little girl (or boy) waste their time on someone they don’t like? Not usually. I know, I was once a little girl (my kids find that hard to believe). And the light bulb went on with my son.
Or what about the post that said we should not tell our daughters they are beautiful? No, because we need to value them as intelligent beings!
Come on, this isn’t 1940. We have come a long way. Sure, we still have a long way to come. But I tell my daughter she is beautiful every single day or her life and most of the time, multiple times a day. And if she hasn’t heard it enough? She asks me, “mommy, will you tell me I am beautiful?” And then mommy guilt swoops in because I was remiss.
And maybe I am oversensitive to this because growing up I don’t remember being told I was beautiful. I am sure I probably was, but it isn't standing out. I do remember one time I was upset because all the boys said one girl in the class was cute and no one said I was cute. My dad, well intentioned, replied to me, "You aren't cute, your beautiful." Of course at age 8, all I really heard was "you aren't cute"... and my feelings were further hurt by my dad's good intentions.

After that I strived and strived to be cute/pretty/beautiful all the while hearing what a gorgeous little girl my sister was and how smart I was. I freaking knew I was smart. Nobody had to tell me THAT!

What needed to be reinforced within me was that I was beautiful.
Next on this list? This one popped up a few weeks ago - how we are all ruining our children’s lives because of our smart phone addictions. Before you assume that I am sitting there playing games on my phone instead of giving my kids attention consider this…
  • My phone enables me to work from home 2 hours a day. I pick up my daughter from preschool at 3pm, meet my son's bus at 3:35pm and they are home with me. And my phone. I take work calls while at home, at gymnastics lessons and while sitting at the park. I return quick e-mails during these times as well. Am I 100% there with my kids? Nope, but I am most of the way there and they aren't sitting in an after school program. (Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that, if I didn't have incredible flexibility with my work, my kids would be there too.) My kids are NOT suffering because I am not staring at their adorable little cherubic faces 100% of the time. My kids instead see that I am needed and relied on by others in my daily work, and that people come to me because I am a resource to my coworkers. And dang it, they are proud of me!
  • I fix dinner. My kids are running around doing kid stuff during this time. I have my phone in one hand. It buzzes. It may be a work e-mail coming through... or it could be that my seven year old darted in and played his move on I pause. Slide my phone on, evaluate my move options (probably not enough since my son has recently taken to stomping me at chess), make my move and hit submit. And my son? Loves it. So maybe an alternative would be to have a chess board out on a table… and for some that works. But when you have a little sister, two cats and a dog? Let’s just say that online chess games that may take 3-4 days to finish fit our lives better.
  • As a mom that works from home a portion of my week and from my description above, you can guess that I work to get my 40 hours a week in sometimes. So I wake up, first thing I do is grab my phone and start responding to my east coast clients. My clients? They love it. They don't have to wait until nearly noon their time to get a response from me. So yes, my phone IS in my hand first thing in the morning.
  • Not to mention, have you checked out everything you can do on these aps lately? I can file my flexible reimbursement, check the bank account and transfer funds between accounts, check my travel schedules, figure out what the weather is supposed to be like at 5:30pm for t-ball, make a grocery list and sync it to my husband's phone (even adding last minute items) for him to grab on the way home, make a playlist JUST for my daughter for our morning commutes, track my period, send a quick message to a friend I have who battles depression knowing it might make him feel a bit better to get a nice "thinking about you" message (where I would never have time to write out a card and send it and even phone calls are hard), dictate verbally a message to my sister in law to see if she can watch the cats this weekend, get a note from my coworker telling me he is running late for our meeting (like usual), hear about my neice's new bike, read a few pages my Kindle book, put a Dora video on for my daughter while we wait at the doctor's office, make a list of things we need to pack for the upcoming vacation, comparison shop on Amazon, and check my personal e-mail at work so that I don't have to use my work computer to do this.
My phone = a sliver of organization in my life.


One of my best friends recently posted on Facebook a link about how kids need to be isolated from from the social media that seeks to destroy them. Yes, you get it, I am paraphrasing. But as I read the post, it seemed aimed at making us parents who are proud of our kids, paranoid. We are DESTROYING them!

We approach the internet with an open mind in our house.  We believe that our kids need to be taught about it. Parents need to be careful and mindful. But the reality of life is that we are entering an era where I believe (and I may be proven wrong) kids who don’t understand how to use the internet, social media and other emerging technologies will be at a distinct disadvantage. The ability to quickly pick up technology is an advantage to adults in the workplace, why are we viewing this as a detriment in our children?

I remember when I was a kid and my mom would send our annual school picture by snail mail to our distant family that I never knew, never met and wouldn't know if I walked down the street next to them. It was a struggle for her as a busy mom, just to get these out. I wish I would have known those people. I wish that I had the opportunity to know those kids in my extended family whose families don’t use the internet (I will call out my cousin here who has a 3 year old and an infant... heed my beggings to join Facebook and update me on my adorable second cousins!).

The internet and social network has offered us the possibility of connecting and letting our children who are so often forced to grow up so far away from family and other people that care about them to be part of their lives. I wasn’t blessed with loads of family nearby for a good portion of my preteen and teen years and my children have it even worse – their extended family isn’t even within driving distance. But my kids know that I can snap a photo on my phone and it can be out there to be shared with the people we love and care for within minutes. Sure, I could send it by e-mail and I do for some people. But it is easier to post it to Facebook where grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles and cousins can see at their convenience.

But what about the strangers? What about the ever changing privacy laws? Is private, really private?

Honestly, I don't know. I don't have anyone on my Friends list that I don't know well enough to sit down and reminisce over a cup of coffee. I am friends with a few high school girlfriends' husbands who I haven't "really" met, but I trust my girls! I just don't believe that the general public is that bad. I also do NOT cross certain lines and at any point if my kids requested not to post anything, I would honor it. But as it stands now I get more requests from my son to post certain sayings, jokes and pictures on the internet than I am willing to do...

One of our goals for the summer? When he was 1 year old I registered his name as a domain. Our goal is to get that up and running as a website.

I, in no way believe that my kids will look back and struggle with the fact that I was so proud of their beaming faces that I shared it with my friends. I have connected with a lot of friends from high school with kids the similar ages and it is so fun to see their kids grow and the faces I knew decades ago reappear in their offspring. I hope that my kids will have distant contacts with their extended family who will share memories with them when I am someday gone.


So there it is, my four pet peeve hot internet topics from the past few months.
At work I recently took a class aimed to help us all in communications, particularly difficult conversations, the ones where you have to confront someone. First rule is to not assume. All of the above posts that boiled my blood – that aimed to make me feel guilty for my parenting – have one thing in common. They assume. Sure we all know that if you assume you make an ass of you and me. Still we do it. Give a person the benefit of the doubt. The example from class - that person speeding down the road? Yes, they shouldn’t be doing it, but maybe they are on their way to their child at the hospital. Apply this in your writing. Apply this in your daily life. Have confidence that what you write is of quality enough that you don't need to blow the fire siren to get someone's attention.
Don’t assume that you are the only one who has thought about consequences. Remember we are all doing our best. Remember that we will all make mistakes. Remember that kids are resilient. We aren't ruining them, we aren't destroying them, we are all doing our best.

Friday, May 04, 2012

What drives you?

I am sitting here in the hotel with my husband. We aren't really on vacation. It is a vacation of sorts I suppose. Dig down and it is actually work travel for me.

One of the teams I manage - that I have managed for right at four years - won a national level award. It's an FLC-IPA award. Every year the FLC honors those of us who work in federal labs for successfully transfering technology for use. Our award was an IPA (Interagency Partnership Award) - only one of these awards is offered a year as compared to the Technology Transfer Awards. So what does that boil down to? Basically my team won this in collaboration with our Navy partners and we were all honored and packed onto a little stage with a bunch of lights shining on us while they said something about what we did - but I didn't hear any of that.

A few months ago I was whining to my mentor about something - I don't remember what - and she told me how important it is to find what drives your people on your team. Some people are driven by raises and promotions, some are driven by awards and recognition and some are driven by other things.

Me? I am not driven by awards. Ok, it is nice. We have enjoyed a nice expenses paid "vacation" tremendously. I have been impressed by my sister in laws ability to step up and take the reigns with the kids for a few days. AB and I have really had a nice time connecting together. We have eaten fabulous (Nola on the Square), fabulous (Salt of the Earth) food. We have gone on tours that we would never take our kids on (Fallingwater and through multiple turn of the century churches with amazing architecture).

I tend to be a bit of a nervous person. I worry about tripping when walking up to accept an award. I don't care to be in the limelight (yet I don't really mind public speaking when I can rehearse). I worry about saying stupid things. I don't care to have my name called out over a microphone. Attention? Not my thing.

Today I got a few e-mails. The first was from our media person at the lab sending notes to start setting up interviews. First up, one of our local news networks next week.

Heartburn. I procrastinated that reply while I wondered if I could get out of it. My husband reminded me how nuts I was.

I will do it, but my head might spin a bit before and I will blush horribly watching myself on the TV later that evening.

The other e-mail that I got? One of the guys I have worked with on a few projects in passing - and who is the lead design engineer for one of the biggest programs for my lab - sent me a note. He asked me if he could set up a meeting with me and some of his engineers who are trying to make some sector connections and could we collaborate on a new proposal? YES!

Elated! I sent a reply to that e-mail right on back!

What drives me?

I am a Capricorn. I like to climb. Being known in my organization, being networked with others, being the go to person for others - that's what gives me that kick. Knowing and being known on a first name basis by those across my lab and up the entire chain of my management. That's what drives me. Being known for doing good work.

Yes, my mentor was right - some people are driven by awards and external recognition (a few of my team members fit this well) - but not everyone is driven by that.

My job going forward? Being a good team leader and not ignoring the things that don't drive me. Pursue those awards. Don't ignore and avoid the media and communications people. Buck up and push it forward for the team.

Because the vacation and end results are pretty neat.