Sometimes the juice ain’t worth the squeeze

20 Jan

During difficult situations, ask yourself if the juice is worth the squeeze.

Quitting can be right and necessary when your best efforts are constantly met with criticism or failure.  

It felt like the bites of 100,000 mosquitoes, and I had no bug spray.

That’s how I describe an awful job that left me emotionally, physically and spiritually drained. Just as 100,000 mosquitoes would do, it sucked away nearly every drop of strength I had and menacingly buzzed around my family.

I had no choice.

I had to open up a giant can of  (fill in the blank).

The swarm begins

Give me some credit.  I was tempted, but I never opened up the proverbial can of righteous indignation.   However, I did behave in a way that is greatly out of character – I quit.

My mosquito problem began at a communications agency. (Factoid: Only a few bloodsuckers are created within the marketing and advertising arms of communications agencies. The bulk are birthed by political parties.) They had signed a contract with a non-profit organization that needed some communications help during a transitional phase. I was added to the team and quickly learned the client’s “transitional phase” involved an incomplete public relations campaign, turf wars among members of management, exorbitant executive salaries, and a round of layoffs due to “financial difficulties.”  Within a few weeks of my addition, another round of layoffs occurred, and many more employees were let go in the name of “right-sizing.”  To add insult to injury, many of the job duties performed by jettisoned employees were taken over by consulting agencies and other outside vendors.

The entire situation was unsettling. Maybe I’m too sensitive, but I wrestled with receiving a paycheck based on others’ misfortune. I disliked hearing the consultants tell the remaining employees what to do and how to do it. I hated seeing the look in their eyes as they waited for the other shoe to drop.

Things weren’t much better on my end. Expectations were often unclear or unrealistic,  plans were constantly changing, and our original employee contacts were eliminated during the second round of layoffs.  I lost count of the number of times my supervisor threw me under the bus, but the client or my co-workers may have kept a running tally. When the work day was over, I was absolutely exhausted and had no energy or patience for my family.  My daughter fell into an emotional funk, and my son, who was facing some learning difficulties, was giving up on school.

I endured the environment for three months, but a cold and rainy afternoon pushed me to my breaking point.  After yet another bus throwing, I managed to leave early enough to pick my son up from school. He had taken a practice version of our state’s end-of-year exam earlier in the day and seemed upset when he got into the car. “I’m too stupid to pass the test,” he tearfully sobbed.

That was it. No more.

I sent my supervisor an email tendering my immediate resignation.  It was met with an accusatory response about how unprofessional and uncaring I was. I felt scared, betrayed, helpless and angry. I sacrificed my time, energy and focus for this project at the expense of my family and well-being, and they had the nerve to accuse me of being dishonorable?

I was tempted to gloriously go-off* on a few folks, but I knew the act would destroy my professional standing and Christian witness. In its place, I chose the less-public option of constantly doubting myself and frequent crying.

It was not a good decision.

An infusion of reassurance

Shortly after my resignation, a college friend shared a blog post from Christian author and speaker Jen Hatmaker. In her post, “When is it time to walk away,” Jen explained why quitting can be a right and necessary action when a situation turns toxic. She got my attention with the line, “Girl, sometimes the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.” I instantly realized I had rotten lemons that were never going to be lemonade, and no amount of squeezing or sugar would ever change it.

Hatmaker wrote, “There is a tipping point when the work becomes exhausting beyond measure, useless. You can’t pour antidote into a vat of poison forever and expect it to transform into something safe, something healthy. In some cases, poison is poison, and the only sane answer is to move on.”

Her words gave me reassurance and peace about my actions.

After a good bit of prayer, I  was inspired to start a blog — largely as a therapeutic measure. It was a way to recapture my creativity, keep my writing skills sharp and indulge my sense of humor. My first readers were friends and family. Five months later, those friends and family members helped make my blog go viral.  I went from telling myself, “Sob, I can’t do anything right,”  to “Wow, a few folks like how I write.”

God put me where He wanted me to be and used it all to open new and wonderful doors.

The positive side of quitting

As the great philosopher and chicken entrepreneur Kenny Rogers once said, “You gotta know when to hold ’em; know when to fold ’em.”

Ugh, I didn’t know.

I missed God’s instruction and voice and got stuck in a losing game thanks to my own stubbornness, fear of failure, and misplaced feelings of obligation.

God doesn’t want us to squeeze rotten lemons for someone else’s juice; He wants us to press fresh grapes for His wine.

* For readers unfamiliar with Southern idioms, “go-off” means to give another person a piece of your mind, usually done in an assertive manner. 

_ _ _ _ _
Read more from Jen Hatmaker at http://jenhatmaker.com/home.htm
Public domain image courtesy of Emilian Robert Vicol, Flickr.

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Roadkill Goldfish featured on Fox News Latino: What can Latinos do to improve our children’s education?

15 Jan

Fox LatinoMy great grandmother attended school for only three years, and my grandmother dropped out during eighth grade. Life circumstances limited their education. Bisabuela grew up in rural Puerto Rico during the early 1900s when public schools were virtually non-existent. Abuela came to New York as a toddler, but poverty forced her to drop out at 13-years-old so she could work to help support her family.

Thankfully, educational opportunities for Latinos have improved dramatically since then. My mother was the first high school graduate in the family, and I became the first college graduate.

The U.S. Department of Education released a study in 2012 that examined high school completion rates from 1972 to 2009. Overall, graduation rates have increased for all races and ethnicities, but Latinos have had the largest jump over the 27-year study. Get the full story at Fox News Latino.*

* I am very proud of my Puerto Rican roots, and I appreciate the opportunity to share my heritage and experience as a guest contributor for Fox News Latino.  Check out other pieces I’ve written for them.

What parents really want from public schools

9 Jan

school houseWhat do parents really want from public schools?

Plain and simple, we want them to help us educate our kids. Help them learn to read and write. Build their math skills. Introduce them to science and show them how the world works. Educate them about history and let them see how the past impacts our future. Expose them to the arts and let them tap their creativity. Help us prepare them for adulthood.

That’s it. Nothing more.

We’re not interested in having curriculum that tells our children how they should think; we’d rather have curriculum that gives them things to think about. We don’t want to turn teachers into surrogate parents; they have enough to do already, and most of us are quite capable of doing it ourselves. And finally, we could do without administrators, school boards, state education officials and union leaders who belittle experienced teachers and parents, but bow down to politicians and corporate education entrepreneurs.

Parents really do support public education, but we’re tired of the politics and the “we know what’s best for your child” attitude. No offense, but as our children’s primary teachers, we’re the ones who know what’s best. Others are welcome to give suggestions. but we make the final decisions.

Most of us attended public schools, and we believe these schools are good for our kids and communities. We honestly like the majority of our children’s teachers, and we know they genuinely care about their students.  (Reality check: Some current teachers need to find new careers that don’t involve education or children.)

Parents know the current educational system has problems, and we want to be included in creating the solutions. Officials may be pleasantly surprised to learn we’re much smarter than the elite Ivy League and Washington reformers –  even though most of us were educated by the public school system.

Dear teachers, I owe you an apology

8 Jan
Sorry cat

Posting a cute little kitten meme doesn’t make it all better, but I do hope teachers can forgive me for my prior prejudice.

Dear Teachers,

I owe you an apology.  From the deepest level of my heart, I am so sorry for misjudging you.

This is what happens when a person bases her opinion about a school solely on test scores. This is what happens when a person judges an entire profession based on news stories about a few bad apples. This is what happens when a person believes the so-called education experts’ solutions rather than trusting the men and women who invest their lives in the education and well-being of my children.

I have been guilty of all of the above, and I ask for your forgiveness.

My epiphany came last week when I made a Facebook post about my fifth-grade son’s problems with math. He’s had difficulty since third grade, which coincides with when Texas, as well as virtually every other state in the country, adopted the education experts’ “conceptual math,” a teaching method that shuns memorization of math facts and promotes multi-step “strategies” to solve math problems. Several of my teacher friends blasted the new method.  My friend April, a third grade teacher in Tennessee, confessed she desperately wants to teach her class using the tried and true methods that have worked during her 20-year teaching career, but she is prohibited from doing so by the state.  She candidly told me teachers are not allowed to speak out against the new material, especially with students’ parents.

April and other veteran teachers I’ve talked to say student comprehension has not improved under any of the new methods, and Common Core is making things worse. They vigorously dispute U.S.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s assertion that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” The kids and teachers are not the problem; the constant revamping of education by inexperienced experts is the problem.

Principals are also held hostage by the revamping problem. Earlier this year I attended a parent meeting about our elementary school’s curriculum and was told how the experts have determined these new techniques would be better for public school students. The teaching techniques, especially with math, were radically different from what my daughter experienced just three years earlier.  In exasperation, I blurted, “Why are we changing things every few years? Has there ever been a time when these experts thought public education worked?” The principal gave me a sympathetic smile. She wanted to respond, but couldn’t. I felt her pain.

Why do we keep trying to fix public education with new teaching models and testing? Why can’t we return to the teaching methods that worked for us, our parents and grandparents?  Long before reform became a buzzword, America’s public schools have been educating our nation’s scientists, engineers, teachers, economists, physicians and other degreed professionals. They’ve also educated our entrepreneurs, technology pioneers, farmers, mechanics, nurses and countless other Americans who contribute to making our society great. I believe they still do a good job, and they could do better if more parents gave a flip about their kids and the so-called experts got out of the teachers’ way.

April, like thousands of other teachers, has spent more time with 9-year-olds than a Teach for America volunteer or education reformers like Bill Gates. She knows what works. She teaches them reading, math, social studies and science. She provides books and supplies for kids who can’t afford them, spends her free time trying to engage busy or apathetic parents, comforts children when they are sad, and serves as their primary source of encouragement, and sometimes, discipline.  What would help improve education for April’s students? It’s not multi-billion dollar testing or new teaching models; it’s parental involvement.  A teacher cannot encourage a love for learning if the child’s parents treat education with disdain or indifference. Parents, not bureaucrats, need to be actively involved in their child’s life by reading with them, helping with homework, supporting teachers’ discipline efforts, and stressing the importance of learning.

Teachers, I don’t expect you to do this alone. You can’t. You need my help, and I need yours. You also deserve some gratitude for a job that often gets you more criticism than praise. Thank you for caring about my kids. I know you would do anything to protect them from harm, and I know their tears hurt you as much as they hurt me. Thank you for the emails and calls to update me on how they’re doing.  I know you want to keep me involved in the process. Thank you for inspiring them to be better people. I know you see their potential.

I want you to know that I have your back. You may not be able to speak out about things like Common Core or other curriculum issues, but I can. I will be loud and persistent because you are valuable, and I don’t want to see you run off because of ridiculous regulations and self-righteous reformers who have never been in a classroom. I recognize I am the worst PTA fundraising and party-planning mom, but I promise to be a great butt-kicking mom who will fight for things that will make our educational system better for you and my children.

I know you want what’s best for the kids, and I’m sorry for not standing up for you sooner.

Sincerely,

Kim

P.S. –   I am a product of our nation’s public schools.

_________________________________________________________________________

Parent tutorial: What is conceptual math?
This is not the math you learned during elementary school. The old time-tested methods for long division, borrowing and carrying are no longer used. In their place are tactics such as partial products for multiplication and magic seven for division. Students can no longer provide an answer; they must also show their work and explain the strategy they used to get it.  The techniques work for some students, but the multiple steps can cause great frustration for others and can make it nearly impossible for parents to help with homework.

Mamapedia names Roadkill Goldfish’s “Dear Daughter” the best post of 2013

3 Jan

Mamapedia selected “Dear Daughter, Let Miley Cyrus be a Lesson to You” as THE top post of 2013 based on the most views, comments and social media sharing.

THANK YOU, Mamapedia readers! I am humbled and honored to be included in the list, and I commend the other awesome writers and fellow moms who are part of the Mamapedia sisterhood.

See the Top 10 now.

New daddy-blogger brings tattoos and piercings to parenthood

3 Jan

He’s got tattoos, piercings and a love for cardigans.

He’s also the devoted daddy of kindergarten-queen Lily and precocious preschooler Keefer.  

Craig Spence started blogging just a few  months ago, and he’s quickly become one of my favorite up-and-coming young writers. I had the pleasure of meeting him in August 2013, and I was immediately impressed by his honesty, wisdom, edginess and fatherhood-on-the-front-line attitude.

Check him out at DaddysDaysandDaze.wordpress.com. I personally enjoyed his post on how he used Lily’s first grounding to introduce the kids to classic radio dramas.

No resolutions for 2014, just new experiences

30 Dec
What's your resolution for 2014? Mashable.com is hosting a resolution photo contest. (Click the photo for info.) I won't be entering.

Mashable.com is hosting a new year’s resolution photo contest. (Click the photo for info.)
I don’t qualify because I’ve sworn off resolutions in favor of new experiences.

I am not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions.  Yes, there are things about my life I’d like to change, but resolutions don’t work for me. My goals were always too high, and the guilt of non-attainment crushed me.

My thinking changed about 20 years ago. I discovered that new experiences, rather than New Year’s resolutions, were a better option. I’m a bit of an introvert and risk-avoider, and consequently, I’ve missed out on some great life experiences because of fear. Therefore, every year I set out to try something I’ve never tried before; nothing immoral or illegal, just stuff that personally terrifies me.

A few of my new experiences have addressed genuine life-and-death fears like water and falling; I conquered those with swimming lessons and a bungee jumping. However, most of my new experiences deal with my fear of failure. In addition to being an introvert and risk-avoider, I am also a recovering perfectionist.  I’m afraid to try new things simply because I’m terrified of failing in the attempt.

During the past few years, I put on my big girl panties and met a few of these fears head on. They include:

Dancing:
My mother’s family is Puerto Rican, and rhythm seems to be an intrinsic part of their DNA. My father’s family is Polish, and the white-guy shuffle is part of every chromosome. Genetics screwed me over; I can’t dance. Heck, I can’t even clap in time with the music.

So what did I do? I tried out for a musical, and I actually got a part. (The director had no choice. The show had an ice-skating scene, and I was the only actor who could skate.)  My acting and skating skills were pretty good, but my dancing was abysmal. During a hat and cane number, I whacked a fellow performer in the back of the head. I stepped on toes, I tripped over my own feet, and I forgot the choreography, but here’s the awesome part – I didn’t run offstage in tears. I toughed it out. In the end, I danced in front of roughly 6,000 people during the show’s run, and none of the critics blasted me for my choreography carnage.

Birds:
My children wanted to walk through the zoo’s aviary, but I refused to budge. Behind the screen door were dozens of birds flying freely through a rain forest exhibit. They chirped, squawked and defecated with reckless abandon. I told my kids I’d meet them at the exit, and I left the building. Not a good decision when your kids are seven and three.

I’ve been afraid of birds ever since I caught five seconds of crows attacking kids in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”  It didn’t help when barn swallows built a nest in the eaves of my childhood home and dive-bombed me on my way to and from school. Things got much worse when a freaky mockingbird attacked my dog ten years later. I let her outside to do her business, and the bird decided to go kamikaze on her furry butt. I ended up swinging a broom at the bird and screaming to keep her away from my dog. This went on for weeks. My neighbors never talked to me again. It’s no wonder the poor dog was constipated for years.

So what did I do? I found lorikeets, the cutest birds on the planet. Years after my aviary abandonment, we saw the birds at a South Carolina zoo. People walked into the enclosure and fed them little cups of fruit nectar. The little birds gently flitted from person to person. We were about to walk past the exhibit, but I declared it was time to face my fear. I purchased my over-priced paper cup of nectar and walked into the enclosure with my family. A lorikeet was on my hand within seconds. I trembled a bit, but then I focused on the bird’s beauty. Soon more lorikeets perched on my hand. One landed on my head. I stopped shaking. The birds didn’t kill my children or gouge my eyes out. They were cute little freeloaders who just wanted some juice and a place to poop. I left the enclosure with a new sense of accomplishment and a streak of recycled nectar on my back.

The Ocean:
I firmly believe what Mufasa said about the Circle of Life, and I refuse to become a part of it. Sharks live in the ocean; therefore, the ocean is not a good place for me to hang out. I’d wade into ankle-deep water and then trudge back to shore to watch for dorsal fins while my husband and kids played in the waves.

My husband took me to Puerto Rico two years ago and booked a snorkeling trip for us. My plan was just to stay on the boat and read a book, but $75 a person seemed a bit much for reading time. I reluctantly agreed to get in the water. The captain gave me my snorkel, mask, fins and floatation belt. (Yes, I was the only adult with floaties. I can swim, but I don’t swim well.) I swam out with my husband, and the water was blessed with a new warm spot. Below me I saw beautiful coral and small fish darting in and out of the ocean plants. I had a death grip on my husband’s arm, but I splashed around for a few more minutes.  That’s when I saw it gliding through the water. I made another warm spot and contributed some chum for nearby fish. It wasn’t a shark, but rather one of those Steve Irwin-killing sting rays. I was out of the water within 15 seconds. My husband later told me the sting ray was roughly two feet long from tip to tail and hid itself in the sand after I darted. Failure? No way. Even though my time was limited, I actually joined the ocean ecosystem for a few awe-inspiring minutes.

2014:
I had to face a lot of unexpected fears in 2013 – my son’s cancer scare, my brain lesion, threats and hate from my blog and the Piers Morgan show. (Piers was by far the scariest.) I haven’t decided what fears I’ll tackle in 2014. I may try a sport that involves hand-eye coordination, or I may get over my “getting my butt kicked” fears with some Krav Maga self-defense lessons or tae kwon do classes. The only thing I know for certain is that I’ll end 2014 the same way I ended 2013 – with fewer fears, a little more self-confidence and a much richer life.

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