Ask not for whom the school bell tolls – it tolls for thee (and me)

It’s hard to say who dreads the first day of school more – my kids or me. Now, I’d love to say it’s because of the waning days of summer or the loss of freedom to make plans and spend time together without a care for football game schedules or upcoming exams or papers due. I could even wax eloquent about the first day of school as harbinger of another Michigan winter, another year of our lives together passing into the mists of time, etc., etc. But that really isn’t it.


The first day of school means that stress time and conflict time begins. Sure, some level of stress and/or conflict is there year round – I live with teenagers after all, when a request to please pick up laundry takes on Wagnerian levels of drama. That said, school brings a whole ‘mother level of stress and angst, beginning with the first evening’s homework – usually a signature on the class syllabus which is to be turned in the next day.

Homework, in it’s own special way, (a new ring of hell for Dante way) becomes a fire point, a trigger, a symbol of both my kids’ indifference and my self-perceived failures as a parent. My kids are very intelligent creatures. I say that with all confidence. They could also give a rip about school, each in their own way.

My daughter generally gets her work done shortly after getting home. She seems to view it as a necessary evil separating her from the things she wants to do. If the subject or assignment is something she particularly enjoys, she’ll give it her all; if it isn’t, she’ll do enough to get by and may or may not read the directions before proceeding. We can also safely assume that what’s completed will be turned in. Her special stressors really isn’t homework as much as study habits (a silly and somewhat archaic concept in her mind) and test prep – but that’s a topic for another day.

My son is a different matter altogether. He is, I think sometimes, smarter than all of us, as far as sheer ability. He is also Olympic-level homework-averse. If we can get past the hurdles of a) recording what homework needs to be done and b) bringing home the materials to complete said homework and even c) completing the homework and packing it up, there’s a sizable chance that the work – done well and done on time – will never see the teacher’s inbox. His hard work, crumpled on the bottom of his backpack, there to die among the gum wrappers and old Monster Energy cans, never to see the light of day again.  (And yes, we know there’s a control issue woven in here.) Then, after a period of no (in the teacher’s eyes) discernible attempts at mastering the material, he’ll saunter in on exam day and ace it.

What this all means is that the school bell rings and my Pavlovian response is to spike my blood pressure and yearn for valium. Somehow, somewhere, we missed out on the “work is it’s own reward” lesson. Aw hell, I’d settle for “if I do the work and get the grades, that crazy lady will leave me alone”.

I’m not one of those moms who demand perfection. Far from it. I’ve seen the kids that are the product of their parent’s own thwarted ambitions or drives and it ain’t pretty.  What I want is for my kids to simply give it their best shot – and along the way, hopefully stumble into something that they love to do and want to pursue.  Happy lives and gainful employment – and the ability to take care of Mike and I in the manner to which we’d like to become accustomed someday. 🙂

cat-jumps-off-ledgeAt any rate, the school bell tolls on Tuesday so like it or not, we’re off to the races.


Can a gal get a break, please? (with bonus thoughts about “the new normal”)

Yes, yes she can. (fingers crossed, knock wood, etc.)

grumpy cat feels stress

Grumpy Cat understands me

Physically, emotionally and psychologically, it has been a rough several months.  We’ve handled my son starting high school (and all that goes along with that transition), my daughter in her junior year (her hardest) and the continuing circus of working at an understaffed, overbusy ad agency. I thought that was stressful.

Then shit got real.

We went to acute stress action phase when my mother-in-law started to decline and ultimately entered hospice care this past March. In our home. It was difficult, rewarding, intrusive, beautiful – all those adjectives and more. It was also a lot of stress layered on top our already packed lives.  And more so, for my husband. Dianne passed peacefully on May 16.

With her passing came all of the activities that follow a death: the paperwork, the cleaning out and sorting of a lifetime accumulation of stuff. Stuff that needed to be sorted, wrapped, boxed, transported, donated or tossed. Mike’s sister came to town and is, thankfully, a mofo packing machine and helped make quick work of it all. (Left to our own devices, Mike and I would still be there, looking at photos and wondering what to do with the china.)

No sooner was that done then our son was hospitalized. Stress, doctors, phone calls, worry and more.  He’s home now and doing better but there’s a bit of a journey there yet to come.

And now it’s summer. Kids out of school, things slow down, leisurely evenings and weekends, right?  Nope. Just as I’m vowing to stop with the crazy hours at the office for a while, things go nuts there.  Not sure why but the workload is worse than ever right now. Seems every client we currently work with wants to start something new right now, every other client wants to consider it and new business opportunities are clamoring.  Now I am not one to be sorry we have so many opportunities but really – all at once? I blame the NSA and Supermoon.  In that order.

This past Friday morning we woke up to find AbbieCat, my MIL’s kitty, had passed in her sleep during the night. This was not a huge surprise – she was 16, overweight, with dodgy kidneys to boot – but we really had hoped to have her longer. I think she just got sad that her person was gone.

What surprised me most about this was my lack of real reaction. Normally the loss of a loved pet is very traumatic for me. Granted, this was not my cat but I knew Abbie well; she’d stayed with us many times over the years, whenever Dianne visited. I had some attachment here.  It isn’t that I don’t care. Rather, it’s I don’t have time to care right now. With all of the balls in the air and plates spinning, this registered just a bit of a wobble.

Earlier this week, while viewing yet another webinar titled “______: The New Normal”, my coworkers and I spent more time joking about how everything is “The New Normal” these days.  Mobile is Everywhere: The New Normal!  Brands Getting Social: The New Normal! It’s replaced “Synergy” and “Paradigm” as the POV presentation buzz-phrase of choice. It’s old, trite and laughable.

angry orange cat swimming

ignore the stress. just keep swimming, cat.

BUT.  What if this hyper-stressed existence I’ve been leading is actually my New Normal? Is that why losing that sweet ol’ kitty didn’t even ruffle my feathers? I honestly was more sad for my husband and kids than feeling anything resembling a feeling myself.  I noted she was gone, hugged my husband, gave her some pets and headed off to work and into a crazy calendar of meetings. It wasn’t until the end of the day that I mentioned it to a friend at work and she inquired how I was doing? Doing? Should I be doing something? Feeling something?  Apparently yes.

So here’s the thing. I can’t do anything about workload right now. It is what it is and will be what it is until it isn’t.  I can handle it or I can go elsewhere (not that it doesn’t enter my mind sometimes).  What I can do is take better advantage of the time I am off. Time to decompress, time to just relax. Not quite sure how that’s going to happen just yet but it’s worth a shot. And I have Thursday and Friday off next week. That break this gal is going to take!

The one where the blogger opines about being home sick for a week

Yeah, so the cold I felt coming on Monday afternoon – sore, scratchy throat, febrile-iousness, etc. – turned into a lovely case of pneumonia by Wednesday morning.  Doctors orders had me home in bed for the rest of the week. Who am I to argue with a medical professional, after all? So off to bed I went, with a Z-pack, inhaler, course of steroids, box of kleenex, plenty of fluids and a bottle of cough syrup at hand. While not exactly consumptive (or missing teeth, hair, dignity or clutching an Oscar), I may or may not have hummed a few bars of “I Dreamed a Dream” under my breath, just to milk things a bit.  At any rate, here’s a few thoughts that floated briefly through my mind during my time at home:


…There’s a lot of crap on daytime TV.  A lot of crap.  I chose mostly to switch on IFC or the Sundance Channel and watch whatever movies wandered by.  Of note: “Monsoon Wedding”, “The Descendants” and “The Station Agent” are wonderful when stuck at home with limited mental capacity (fever and codeine cough syrup, ahem!).  Interesting stories, beautifully shot and well-acted. “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is not quite the light, sick-at-home viewing that one might want.  Incidentally, Peter Dinklage was quite hot in The Station Agent – way more than you might think watching him in Game of Thrones.

…Cats take advantage of people sick in bed.  I couldn’t shake the Burmese no matter what I did, although she would leap over to the edge of the bed and look at me with disgust if I had a coughing fit.  She hates having her beauty sleep interrupted, apparently. Quite often, I’d have both felines on the bed, albeit with a DMZ pillow or ridge of blanket between the two. This is mostly for the brown cat’s peace of mind; the orange cat couldn’t give a shit.
…By about the third day, a certain degree of lassitude creeps into your general psyche.  I stopped checking email quite so often – even work email – and didn’t feel a need to respond to much.  I had brief bursts of energy and focus, especially in the hour or so after taking the prednisone, where I could get a few emails answered or, on one afternoon, a short presentation written but for the most part, languor was the order of the day.
…Starve a cold, feed a fever, stuff pneumonia with carbs.  Just sayin’

Truth be told, this past week was one of the nicer breaks I’ve ever had.  The last few months have been a complete crazy-making rush of too much work with too few hands, leading to 65+ hour weeks.  At one point, my boss said I was averaging 13.5 hours a day.  This on top of the usual level of family activities and needs.  All of this leaving me feeling So. Much. Stress. and guilt for not doing enough with my family – kids, house, husband – that have definitely left me in a less-than-hardy place.  In other words, I think I wore myself out.  Having this past week where I really had no choice but to stay in bed and read or watch movies, all while being kept company with a kitty or two, was – sorry – just what the doctor ordered for me.  I feel rested.  And that’s saying a lot.  It’s going to take a while to get my energy back – I have no doubt that Monday is going to kick my ass – but I believe that having this week to just turn my head and body off for a time was needed and will help me get back at it with a renewed spirit.  Or at least a slightly less exhausted one.

Tom Hanks begins to type

Oh boy! Back to work I go!

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