Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shoes and Roses

Dear readers who recently sent me flattering emails after reading this blog because you’re too shy to comment:  I do not heart you-grande, which I discovered at Starbucks only means medium, I heart you-venti, which is large.

Thank you for asking, but I can’t write another God post until God shows up in my workplace or car and it will only be because I’ve done something (or not done something) to warrant the visit which is not usually a happy thing.

And, I’ll be inspired to write another Barbie post soon, but recall, as a Barbie, I did very little other than fluff and spray my hair, spend too much money on mascara, wear a lot of cashmere, and find stockings that matched my outfit (yes, I owned burgundy stockings) because that’s what Barbies do until they have babies, hang up their plastic heels, and denounce all things shallow.

However, in the days since I last posted I had what my father (Mr. Adage) would call a “no shoes” experience i.e. “I cried because I had no shoes and then I saw a man with no feet.” My father does not heart crybabies.

As I noted in an earlier post, our organization (not my organization as I mistakenly referred to it - it was not me who went to work one day in the forties wearing a fedora and wing tips and plugged in the phone) coordinates, sponsors, hosts, publicizes, and everything-elses professional development events for school administrators, leaders and educators of all types.

We’re always busy during conference season, but this has been the month of The Big One, the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference (not the "CMTC conference" as I mistakenly referred to it twice this week), which draws well over a thousand educator-everybodies from all over the region. CMTC is more than a big event. It is a mammoth, gigantic, Godzilla of an event that makes each day leading up to it feel like a walk through a wind tunnel. Daily registrations, phonecalls, and inquiries grow exponentially, regular responsibilities get half-attention, tempers shrink, apologies get mumbled, sighs get heaved. Thoughts of short lives and un-smelled roses come and go as the parking lot empties, and it usually takes the sight of home to restore the balance.

It was raining and dark when I left the parking lot the other night and as I approached a stop sign on a corner I saw a woman standing there alone and in tears. She looked left, then right, then left again as though she were considering the street traffic before crossing but no one approached from either direction. Two cars in front of me slowed, then passed her by. When I lowered the window, I realized it was the office cleaner from our building.

I motioned her over and asked what was wrong. She’d loaned her brother her car to apply for a job she said, and he’d forgotten to come back for her. She had a baby in day care who was waiting to be picked up. She’d been warned not to be late again. She feared she’d lose her childcare now, and wouldn’t be able to work. She feared she’d lose her income. She feared maybe even losing her child – she knew others who couldn’t take care of their babies… She had to cash her check before she could pick up the baby. She couldn’t reach her brother because she had no phone.

I told her to get in, handed her my cell phone and she called her brother. I brought her to the credit union where she would cash her check and meet up with the brother. As she was getting out of the car, she turned and said, “I like your building. When I clean there, I think about what people do. God bless you. Thank you.”

On the way home I thought about the people who drove past that woman. I thought about the context of a struggle, and the kind of muscle we develop to deal with life, and what a capable person loses every time they’re forgotten. I thought about that office and what I do there, about the problems I’m lucky to have, and if I can even remember a time when I have been forgotten.

I needed a rose. I got one.

See you next time.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cruise Control

This week, Sam will go for his license. He’ll get it. I’ve spent hours in the car with him and he is one of the best drivers I know. No thanks to me, because I am the worst driver I know. I am not a “clear and present danger,” to quote an attorney friend of mine, and I no longer read novels in traffic jams, but I’ve made no secret of my shortcomings. “Don’t be like me,” I’ve said to my children who, as drivers, can all take me with one hand off the wheel. “Don’t worry,” they respond.

Is there anything worse than people who admit a fault, especially one that bothers other people, and then do nothing about it because “that’s just the way they are?” Yes, there is. It is worse to get stopped for speeding by an officer who is young enough to be your son while your actual son, a week away from completing Driver’s Ed, is in the car with you. I’ll share.

I was driving an empty, main road with Sam. I was telling a funny story and we were laughing and I wasn’t paying attention to my speed which was climbing one mph at a time over the limit until I was limit + ten. A cruiser passed, I glanced in the rear view mirror, and saw it u-turn. “Please don’t be after me,” I said, which of course it was.

“Pull over and don’t argue with him,” said my son, as though I might suddenly become:

Hotheaded and righteous.

Far from it, I thought. Here was an opportunity to overwrite my bad example with a good one and so I said, “I’m in the wrong here.” I looked for my registration, adding, “I deserve a ticket and I’m going to apologize.”
I lowered the window.
“Good evening, ma’am,” said the officer who looked only a couple of years older than my passenger.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
"You know why I stopped you, then?” he asked, sympathetically. He looked past me at my son and said, “Hey. What’s up?”
“I’m pretty sure I was speeding,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
He nodded pleasantly, “Okay, cool. You got a license and registration there?”
I handed it over and he said, “Awesome.” Then he scanned. “So you’re still at this address? On Crowell Road?”
My son stared ahead and shook his head.
“No,” I said, “We’ve moved. Actually. Somewhere else. I’m sorry.”
He looked interested. “Really? Near here?"
“Just over there,” I said, pointing.
“Sweet. You happen to know when?”
“Just recently.”
“So, what, a couple of weeks ago maybe?”
“In May.”
“So, like, five months ago,” he said, squinting while he calculated.
“I’ve been meaning to change the address. I’m sorry.”
“Okay, cool,” he said. “Any special destination for you folks tonight?”
“Just home. I’m sorry.”
He raised my license, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

My son turned to me. “You never changed the address?”
“I thought I had six months.”
“You get ten days. We just covered that in class.”

Moments later, the officer was back. “Okay, ma’am, just keep an eye on your speed, and have a good night.”
“I will. Thank you. I’m sorry.”
“Make sure you get that address taken care of.”
"I will. Thank you. I’m sorry.”
He u-turned toward town, and I resumed my funny story.

Is there anything worse than people who promise to do something and then don’t? Yes, it is worse to get stopped by the same officer twice inside of a week in a conspicuous part of town while everyone you’ve known for thirteen years drives by and waves. I’ll share, again.

Five days later, late and hustling out the door, we headed for the high school. Before long, Sam was telling a funny story and I was laughing and as he finished saying, “Watch your speed, it’s thirty in here,” we passed the half-concealed cruiser on the right.
“Oh no,” I said.
“Busted,” said Sam.
The cruiser left its spot and was trailing me seconds later.
"Please don’t be the same guy,” I said to the mirror.
“Tell me you changed the address,” said Sam.
I looked at him.
“You know what?” Sam said, “Just let me drive from now on.”

The same officer appeared at the window. I wanted to hand him my keys.“Hey! How are you?” he asked, cheerfully.
“I’m sorry,” I said, handing him my documents before he asked for them.
Looking past me at my son, he said, “Hey there, again! Where are you two headed today?”
“School,” said Sam.
“Cool,” said the officer, “I’ll be right back.” He turned and headed back to the cruiser.
“I will be disappointed in our police force if he doesn’t ticket you this time,” said Sam, as his calculus teacher passed us.

Which was worse than being busted.

It’s good to know you have shortcomings and accept them. But as I sat there waiting for my example-ticket, it occurred to me that refusing to change your flaws isn’t the same as accepting them.

And so over the river and through the woods at well under the speed limit we will go to the DMV where Sam will become a real driver, and I will have my license updated. And then, I’ll show it to Sam, and promise to be a better driver and he will probably say something like, “I’m the best driver you know. Be like me.”

And I will do that, because that’s just the way I am. And then, in honor of the occasion, I’ll hand him the keys and ask him to drive.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Here is class.
Here is determination.
Here is confidence in the making.

A few months ago, Jacqueline quietly signed up to run in the Cape Cod Marathon and without fanfare, went about the business of “training.” Periodically, there were updates about her running schedule (twenty miles before dinner two weeks ago), diet regimens and other things she was doing to meet her goal. Most of it she kept to herself, as though the sudden need to bow out might present itself and would be easier to handle without having raised anyone’s hopes, including her own.

On Saturday, en route to our hotel in Falmouth she said, “I don’t want to say ‘after the marathon,’ anymore. I shouldn’t say that as if I already did it.”

Sunday morning, at 6:15, she checked in and received her bib. At 8:31, a cannon sounded and she was off, her black and orange hair ribbons visible for only seconds before she was engulfed in a crowd of 1100 runners that rolled from the start line like a wave.  Her onlygoal she said at the beginning was to finish, to reach the end of the 26 mile route. She could have focused on the higher goal of placing, but she opted to bring it down a peg, zeroed in, and went for it.

I was at the finish line a good hour and a half before she appeared. Many runners sprinted to the finish, others limped purposefully across, some collapsed. One had to be carried. At around five hours and twenty minutes, Jacqueline rounded the corner several blocks away. Her pace was steady. She passed me, looked at me with a huge smile of “I did it,” then crossed the line, arms raised. She was wrapped in a blanket and awarded a medallion. I was too awed to cry. At first. 

This is the Jacqueline Bonifant route to confidence: Consider what you can probably do with very hard work. Then shut up and do more. Be constantly surprised by your own strength. Be motivated for the next challenge that comes along. Repeat above steps.

Sometimes, in spite of all our good thoughts, high hopes, solemn prayers, heartfelt beliefs and lofty expectations, our children don’t accomplish what we think/hope/pray/believe/expect they will, but more.

Jacqueline on Sunday, one month and four days after her twenty-first birthday, was Jacqueline squared.

Congratulations, my girl. I am beyond proud of you.