One More Reason To Hate Wall Street

Last week, Dave and I took Alexandria off to her preschool orientation.  She was jazzed, and so were we.  She met her teacher, played on the playground, and familiarized herself with the classroom activities.  I would be remiss if I failed to mention snack.  She also ate snack.

While the children acquainted themselves with their new environment, the parents learned what they needed to know, as well.  Due dates of tuition, spaghetti dinner/auction night, the preschool garage sale, and book sale fundraisers topped the list.  The director of the school then mentioned something that disturbed me.  While informing us of the school's "three-month tuition reduction for families in need," she told us that enrollment is down, and that many families who registered initially simply could not afford this year of preschool.  The economy is the culprit again.

I don't pretend to understand economics.  I don't "get" derivatives or securities or any of that.  I understand PeRT and a savings account and an IRA and maybe a bit more, but not much.  But I do know this.  When all the boys on Wall Street slapped each other's backs one too many times, and they all sat and watched the economy tank (the fruit of their handiwork), I'm sure none of them realized that, as a result, group of four year-olds would miss preschool.

According to this article, children who attend preschool score 27% higher in than their counterparts who do not attend preschool, and that a  "good preschool can provide learning opportunities above and beyond what most homes can provide."  As I come from a family of educators, I'm familiar with the stories of the children who arrived on their first day of kindergarten unfamiliar with scissors, crayons, pencils, and markers, who lacked social skills and were unable to work in a group.  Right out of the starting gates, those children are at a disadvantage.  According to that same article, the children who are able to work independently are more likely to experience academic success.

As a person struggling to make ends meet, I understand the awful dilemma of those parents.  There are no more holes in the belt.  It's as tight as it will go.  As somebody floating in the middle class, I feel terribly frustrated.  All the people responsible for this economic quagmire swim in money, and they'll never have to decide whether they can afford preschool.  Their kids are going to get all the advantages that money can buy.  Their kids will likely be rich and successful because that's how the statistics, and the system, work.

But it's the children of the poor and lower middle class who will now bear this particular burden of Wall Street's greed.  A parent may have lost a job.  A mother may decide that health insurance is more important.  They both decide that more expensive rent in a better neighborhood is the best option for their family.  But they can't afford all of it.  So they make choices.  Who would blame them?  All of those options are valid and worthwhile and needed.

What will happen to this generation of children then?  The children whose parents might have been able to bear the sacrifice of preschool tuition before the recession, now, cannot.  So these children may find themselves in kindergarten lacking the ability to work in a group, use scissors, or "think beyond the midline."  The children with preschool experience will move ahead in lessons, while the other children will play catch-up.  For years.  Forever?  Will this divide the classes further?  Will this create a growing population of working poor Americans?  How can we even hope that the next generation will do better than us? 

I guess we'll find out in a couple of decades.

Update: Forbes Magazine just released their Wealthiest Americans list, and guess what?  The collective wealth of those people rose 8% from last year.  Good to know that while the rest of the nation chooses between health care and preschool, they're doing wondering what all the fuss is about.

Update: I just got a phonecall from the preschool director, and she wanted to keep me "in the loop."  Because enrollment is so low, they're combining two classes and letting go of one of the teachers.  Someone is going to lose their job, and it's a horrible decision for her to make.  Thank you, Wall Street.


Reflections on Insomnia

I'm lying in bed.  I hear Dave breathing softly next to me.  Crickets chirp.  An air conditioner clicks on, hums, and clicks off.  A dog barks.  So I roll to the left, and then to the right.  Nothing.  The world outside sleeps quietly through the night while a war rages inside my head.

The big culprit in my sleeplessness is stress.  I never considered myself a worrier, but I think the tendency to freak out about things I can't control is growing.  And just like in "I Dreamed A Dream," when those tigers come at night, their thunderous voices keep me awake.  Anxiety over money (lack of!), my future, and inevitable confrontations with dysfunctional people laces itself into my brain, tying up rational thoughts.

Sometimes when Dave travels, my fears manifest themselves into crazy Manson-like scenarios.  I'll sleep with two phones next to my bed sometimes.  I know it's irrational, but it doesn't matter.  It's where my brain goes, and I've got a hard time stopping it.

Tonight is different, though.  The normal stuff is still there - dysfunctional people in and money out.  Tonight my future is there, waiting to be acknowledged, and I'm afraid to look.

As I may have mentioned, I've gone back to school to become a personal trainer.  Combining my love of athletics with my desire to improve the lives of others seemed like a great direction to go.  It is.  I know it is.  But the process of learning reminds me how much I don't know.  When I look boldly at all the information I have yet to acquire, I start to ask the same debilitating questions I've asked for years.  Will I be any good?  Am I a fraud?  Will anyone really take me seriously?  What if I fail?  What if it doesn't work?

I know I'm not the only one who asks these questions.  My life strategy in the past has been to play it extremely safe.  I bartended.  I could carry on a conversation with relatively bright people, do my job, and go home.  At work, I never challenged myself.  I remained in a position with no advancement, no pay increases, no ability to move forward for nearly a decade.  While I loved what I did, I knew always that when I turned out the lights and got in bed, those nasty tigers would come.  I would wonder if I was wasting my brain, wasting my God-given potential on an intellectually dissatisfying job I loved.  Did I take the easiest, safest route?  Why didn't I put myself out there and take a chance?

The decision to leave the safety of the restaurant industry was not mine, but I accept it.  Now, well over a year later, I have no choice but to take chances.  I'm out of options.  I have no desire to go back to restaurants, nor do I have any inclination to use my degree.  Instead, I'm heading in a new direction doing something that I know I'll love.  But those same fears nags me.  Only this time, I don't have any safety net.  The part of me that knows I can do it gets squashed by the baseless anxiety over whether or not I'll be able to assimilate information and pass it along effectively, whether I'll help people lose weight and feel good about themselves without getting injured, or whether I can even get a client.

The thing I resent most about these worries, these irrational worries, is how much time I let them consume.  My brain is polluted by things I don't even need to consider.  For instance, "What if I fail?"  Well, since failure is simply not an option, I don't even need to consider it.  The anxieties that accompany the failure question should also be disregarded.

Unfortunately, simply disregarding the fear of failure is not so easy.  If I really want to understand my fear, I must understand what about failure really frightens me.  Honestly, I am afraid of having to tell people, "It didn't work out."  I fear that those who may not like me will take satisfaction in my lack of success.  I fear disappointing myself and letting down my family.  I fear not being able to "hack" a career, because I've never really had one.

Writing those words makes the whole problem seem so benign...  Interesting.

My eyes are drooping and my heartbeat has returned to normal.  I'm going to try to go to sleep, hopefully worry-free.  My final thought is this.  If you've ever felt imprisoned by your fear of failure, ask yourself what "not failing" really is.  Is it making a lot of money?  Is it getting married and having a family?  Is it a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day?  If you had those things, do you think you would feel like a success?  For a moment, consider your role models.  Do you think they are successes in life?  And then, do you think they believe they are successes in life?  We're all human.  Flawed and imperfect, but beautiful and full of potential.  The standards by which we measure our own success are vastly different than those by which we measure the success of others.  Be gentle with yourself.  And be brave.  Maybe the question we really need to ask is, "What if I succeed?"


The Same River Twice

I'm somewhere new today.  Somewhere far away from where I've been.  My little fingers ached to tell the story as it unfolded, but there was no time.  It all happened so fast.  Here's a summation.

I wrote furiously.  I worked my way through the mess my life was by writing about how I wanted my life to be.  Then, I took my own advice, on the suggestion of my therapist.  This is what I did:
  1. I quit my job.  I made a decision for my mental health, the health of my marriage, and the happiness of my children, to leave a job that made me miserable.  Financial hit?  You betcha!  In my life though, the thing that trumps finances is my family.  So, is making dinner every night, arriving on-time for swimming lessons, and relatively unrushed mornings worth it?  Is Kindermusik with teacher Erin, park play dates, the gym, and playing with my kids worth it?  Is maximizing the time Dave and I have together worth it?  You betcha!
  2. I went back to school.  The thing that sucks about choosing a major when you're 20 is that you're kind of stuck with it when you're 30 and don't really know what you want to do when you grow up.  With my slate clean, I found myself in the unique position of choosing from virtually anything in the world that I might want to pursue.  Since I've been involved in sports, health, and fitness for nearly my whole life (all of you who knew me when I smoked are completely welcome to shut your mouths right now.  Same goes for all of you who knew me as a waitress.), I felt that becoming a personal trainer might be a great fit for me.   So that's what I did.  I've enrolled in a course to become certified.  I spend my spare time studying now, although my little fingers itch to write...write...write.
Two items seem so unimpressive.  The headers are deceptively simple.  I quit my job and went back to school.  The words are so easy to write.  Actual execution of the action proved excruciatingly challenging and emotionally draining.  These two simple events sent our home and family into turmoil, and we're only just emerging. 

So that's the digs.  That's what's been going down for the past few months. 

Then we decided we needed a vacation from all of the above craziness.  So we packed up the car and drove.  For two days.  With a 4 year old and a 1 year old.  We drove to Utah.  On the same road that took us towards the biggest change of our lives.

In September 2005, days after Katrina ravaged New Orleans, my boyfriend Dave and I set out on a road trip.  We packed up the truck full of camping gear and headed east.  Our trip took us through the desolation of the Mojave Desert, Apple Valley, and Las Vegas (how does one drive through and not stop?!?).  We followed the road into the Virgin River Valley and then up to the beginnings of the toppled Colorado Plateau.  We thought we would drive into the side of a mountain, but insead veered right and drove through the grandeur of brown, red, and gray rocks of a million years past.  Remember that degree?  no.  Up, up, up to red and black and plateaus and valleys of Nevada, Arizona, and finally to Utah.  Beautiful green and red Utah.  We camped at a site called Red Bluffs, outside of St. George.  I recall how thick and dusty and warm the air felt against my skin, so familiar with fog and ocean.  We would follow the road out of St. George that took us east to Moab, and then up to Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and finally, home.  We spent 14 days and over 3000 miles together, never once even disagreeing.  That trip changed everything.  I would come back engaged, in love completely with my fiancee and our trip and the possibility of our future.

Yesterday, we got into that same truck, but as a family of four.  We drove the same road through the same mountains and valleys, through Las Vegas (again with no stop...) to St. George.  There we stopped for the night.  As a family, we didn't camp.  We donned bathing suits and went in the hotel pool.  As a family.  Family.

This morning, we enjoyed our Continental breakfast and took a different road, because as a family, we do different things than couples.  This time, we continued north on the road to Park City, UT, to see my sister's family.  The me from five years ago had a vague concept of what being a nuclear family meant, but I know she didn't understand this.

Me-from-five-years-ago didn't really understand that the same places will never be the same again.  That revisiting a place from the past means seeing something old with new eyes.  We could take both of our children on the exact roads of that trip again, to show them the place in Idaho where their dad asked their mom to marry him, along the roads that took us west to the bluegreen of Seattle, down though the stripped forests of Oregon and through northeastern plateau of California, finally heading home.  We could do all of that again, but we will have these 5 years worth of life and experience tagging along.  We'll never be as carefree and careless about being out of cellphone range again.  That becoming a wife, seeing babies come into the world, celebrating the arrival of three nieces, fighting, making-up, sacrificing, gets packed right along with toothpaste and clean underwear.  All for this possibility.  I drove the same road with the same person, but with a radically different destination.  This time, we opted against building a cocoon and living inside, away, for two weeks, and instead visited family.  Children.  Babies.  Our years together with our children has built up to this. This magical moment in our lives when our children are playing with their cousins, staying up way past their bedtimes, the beginning of memory.

We visit these places again, come back to the familiar in the vain hope that we can restore some beauty that is lost to the past.  Too often though, we seek that same memory, that feeling that the past evoked, at the expense of the feeling of right now.  Yesterday, we were on the same river, dipping our toes in the cool rushing water, but this time, we listened to our kids splash and laugh with us.