Monday, October 21, 2019

Failure Leads to Success

Marissa and her beautiful smile.
Last week I had parent-teacher conferences with some of Marissa's teachers at her new school. She's doing really well in most classes, not so well in a couple. I met with two she was doing well in and two she was not doing as well in to get a sense of how the classes were going. Two of her classes allow all students to either re-take tests or re-submit written work. And when I spoke with both teachers on the hows and whys, I was so impressed. Their purpose:

What's the point of failing if students don't get a chance to succeed?

One teacher told me about his frustration he used to feel when he would grade an essay, return it to students and then watch them throw it away on their way out the door. To the students it was just another piece of homework that they didn't do well on, would learn nothing from and would go on to submit similar work the next assignment.

Now he allows students to re-submit essays with corrections as many times as they would like. Why? So they can learn from their mistakes. From learning how to properly cite a source to using verbs consistently, when students correct their own mistakes they tend to remember what they had done wrong and hopefully not make those mistakes in future assignments. It's like having work edited by an editor — as a freelance copywriter, what a gift that would be to have a skilled editor review my work before I turned it in to a client for "grading!"

Same with Marissa's math teacher. Once a test is graded, the test is returned to students and they review it, then are given the chance to re-take the test at a later date. What's the point of finding out after the test that you did the math wrong if you don't have the opportunity to learn how to do it correctly?

Would we have any world-class gymnasts if the first time a gymnast tried the balance beam she fell off and wasn't allowed to get on it again? How are students supposed to learn these subjects when they get tested on one area, fail, and then move on to the next unit?

This is not about getting better grades, it's about actually learning the material, and I really like this approach. It takes work and re-work to get better grades, and that's when learning takes place.

Once upon a time in my career, my agency won a large client and I was asked to be the account director on it. It was an honor and big confidence booster to be chosen for this...and also a massive responsibility. It was daunting and I was afraid of failing. And fail I did — the first campaign we did for them we came in over budget by nearly six figures due to the number of small but costly blunders that had occurred along the way.

I was the director, I was given the task of picking up the phone and telling the client what we were about to invoice them. Gulp.

Because I had informed them all along the way of every mistake — and the ways in which we would NEVER let that mistake happen in future campaigns — they were understanding and expected the overage. They paid the invoice in full, with the understanding that this would NEVER happen again. And it never did. I made sure of that. Because I had been allowed to fail on that first campaign, we went on to have a long, fruitful relationship with them for years and they never had a surprise invoice again; our work was done exceptionally well with outstanding results. Now, if anyone ever asks me about a time I succeeded in my career, I tell them this story because my failure became my greatest success.

Back to those pesky parent-teacher conferences...

More importantly than Marissa's work or her grades, she is a good student in class according to her teachers. She speaks confidently even if she isn't sure of her answer, helps other students or asks for help when needed, and adds a spark of humor and light to the classroom. She is friendly to everyone she meets; her face lights up with a smile when she greets teachers and her fellow students.

No matter what grades she earns, those qualities make her a success already.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Trials and Tribulations of GPS



Last night I took Lindsey and a friend of hers to a counter-protest in downtown Minneapolis. I'd heard and read that traffic was going to be challenging. All the roads around the Target Center were closed to make room for the protesters, we had to get down there around rush hour, so leave extra time or plan alternate transportation.

My plan was to park in a ramp far away from the action and walk to the Target Center. That way we would also be away from all the traffic and could leave downtown relatively easily. It didn't exactly work out that way.

We parked in the first ramp I saw and I dropped a pin on the map to note that I had parked there. We walked to the Target Center no problem with just a few quick turnarounds when we first made it out of the ramp. I hate it when pedestrians exit parking ramps on different sides than where you entered, I always get a little twisted around at first.

We went to the protest, had a great time, ate dinner at The Local (also a great time), and then headed back to my dropped pin....which looked nothing like the ramp I had parked in. We found a staircase, went up a flight and looked around. No car, and not familiar surroundings.

So we went across the street to another ramp that looked more like the one I had parked in. Nope, no there either.

We all remembered coming down a blue staircase that was marked "2B," because we were laughing about "to be or not to be." The staircases we were trying were marked by a letter or a number, not both. They were also either purple, orange, brown, or a variety of other colors, not blue.

What. On. Earth.

Lindsey, Ava and I walked from ramp to ramp in a four-block radius for nearly an hour before Lindsey finally collapsed after yet another staircase. "I think my feet have had it, Mom," she said. It was now way past Ava's requested time to be home and getting late to be lost in downtown Minneapolis.

I ordered a Lyft and decided to try to find my car the next day. The driver told me how he always takes his parking stub with him when he parks because it has the ramp address on it, that way he always knows where he parked. This told me two things: 1. That's a really smart idea and I should do that in the future. 2. He's lost his car before or he wouldn't do that, so I'm not the only numskull who's done this.

We went home and I slept fitfully, wondering if I'd remembered to lock my car, if I had anything valuable in there, if someone had broken into it...my mind went wild with catastrophizing. My brain is good at that.

As soon as my sister got off work the next morning she came over to my house, had a little breakfast, and we went back downtown to search for my parked car. Both Google and Apple maps marked my car in the same place they reported it the previous night, so I was interested in seeing where they hell it was and how many ramps we'd have to check before we found it. Kristi drove the same route into downtown as I had the previous night, hoping we'd come across the ramp from the same direction and it would jog my memory.

We found it immediately — the first ramp we checked. The ramp was under construction and the previous night I had gone in on a side that was dark and had many roped off spaces. The pin had dropped on the opposite side of the block, where it was well-lit with multiple ways in and out, which was why the ramp didn't look familiar to us when we searched it the previous night. Plus it was divided into two separate parking areas that did not connect. No wonder we hadn't found it the previous night.

Kristi and I left and were driving our separate ways when she called me.

"You're gonna laugh," she said.

After I'd found my car, she set her GPS to get out of downtown and head back home. After exiting the ramp, the GPS system was having her take all kind of winding side roads, not the main roads of downtown. It was making her turn this way and that, and she couldn't figure out where it was having her go until it gave her a detour for Cedar Lake Trail. Cedar Lake Trail? That's a bike path! It thought she was biking so it was having her take the less traveled streets of downtown! She pulled over, re-set it to know she was driving, and it safely and quickly directed her out of downtown and back on her route home.

"Some day we'll laugh about this," we said last night when we were taking the Lyft home. I already am.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

She Can't Drive 55

Lindsey behind the wheel of her dream F150 at the State Fair this summer.
Getting your license sure has changed a lot since I was 16. When I was learning how to drive, my classmates and I were handed the DMV driver's handbook and put in a simulator where we goofed around for an hour a day for one week. I tested for my permit after that, then I did two or three behind-the-wheels with Mr. Berceau, our biology teacher, and eventually took my driving test. I'm sure I did lots of practice hours so I could pass the test, but had the opportunity to do more when I failed my test the first time I took it. Oh well.

Lindsey had to complete 30 hours of classroom training before she could even get her permit. After that, she needs six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction with a certified instructor, then 50 "practice" hours with an adult. Which means, a parent. Which in our house means me, because we all agree that Wayne would not have the patience or composure needed to be the parent with a new driver behind the wheel.

These 50 hours should be a good mix of neighborhood, highway, daytime and nighttime driving. The night time driving is mandated — 15 hours required. There's a handy little app called "Road Ready" that can track all of your practice drives and awards you badges based on the kind of driving you do.

I had forgotten how much driving is habit. Deeply ingrained, instilled habits that experienced drivers forget to teach. Like, when you back out of parking space, you need to begin turning the wheel in the direction you want to go before you take your foot off the brake. If you don't, you end up doing what Lindsey did one Saturday afternoon, which had to be quite amusing to passersby. She parked, backed up, re-parked the car in the same spot, backed out, re-parked, backed out, until I finally realized she wasn't turning the wheel in the opposite direction before taking her foot off the brake.

She has tried to take the car out of park before she's started it. She's almost gotten out of the car before realizing she hasn't yet turned it off. She's mistaken the gas for the brake and vice versa. (But realized it quickly and corrected her mistake.) These are all deeply ingrained habits for people who have been driving for years, and they all have to be remembered by a new driver every single time.

It's so fascinating to see these habits build upon themselves. Things that were difficult to remember are becoming habit. Neighborhoods are now a snap, and now we're moving on to highways, then freeways. She's building her skills and her confidence and is always careful.

Posing with my car with her student driver sticker...and damage done in an unrelated incident.

This brings me to the title of this post.

The first time Lindsey drove down France Ave, the main street in our neighborhood, she felt like she was flying. She checked her speed and discovered she was going 20 — 5 miles under the speed limit. When we hit four-lane roads that are 40 mph, she dutifully pulls into the right lane, knowing that everyone else will be speeding around her in the left-hand lane because she's only doing 35. And she drove on a highway for the first time this week, telling me she felt like she was driving a spaceship, her elbows locked as she gripped the steering wheel, eyes fixed on the road. A semi-truck passed her on her left and she was like "Whoa!" She may have hit 55 for a minute or two, but most of the time she was being passed by a parade of vehicles.

This experience is making me realize how much trust we all have in others when we are passengers. I have to work hard to keep  my mouth shut and not point out every little hazard that I see when Lindsey is practicing. She sees it, she's slowing and signaling appropriately, she needs to not rely on me to point this stuff out because I won't always be with her. It takes a lot of trust to be quiet and let her learn.

Let's just say she and I are out of our comfort zone, but getting comfortable there.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Finding Her Religion


About a month ago Marissa asked if I could start taking her to church.

Those of you who know me know I am not a church-goer. Explaining why is a long, winding road with many philosophical points, none of which I will bore you with because this isn't about me, it's about Marissa.

We have never been a church-going family with the exception of Christmas Eve service. When the girls were younger we had beginner Bibles for them and told them Bible stories, and they got great enjoyment from watching Veggie Tales. (Marissa only recently made the connection that Veggie Tales tells Bible stories using animation and silly songs.)

This summer Marissa asked me to take her to church, but on Sunday mornings she always said, "Nah, I'd rather sleep in." Now that school has started, sleeping in until 8 to be ready for church at 9 is sleeping in, and she asked if we could start attending St. Stephen's, an episcopal church in our neighborhood.

I think part of what's encouraging this is that she realizes she is not educated about religion. Many of her classmates at Eagle Ridge are coming to the high school from Catholic or Lutheran schools. In her humanities class, they relate many of the classical works they are reading to Bible stories...which Marissa is not familiar with. She's curious, and I'm happy to encourage this curiosity.

And so we go to church. This past week we bought her a Bible so she could begin reading the stories herself. After reading much of Genesis she talked to me about the creation of the world, how God decided he had made a mistake in creating humans and sent a flood to destroy all but Noah's family.

After the first time we went to church I overheard her telling her dad all about it. "We get on our knees on these little things with cushions on them that you pull out, and we confess our sins. I don't know what sins are, but it's really cool." The last couple of weeks Wayne's come with us as well, and has seemed to enjoy the service also.

I go because Marissa wants me to. The church is stunningly beautiful and the people kind and welcoming. I'm really proud of my kid who is inquisitive and open to new experiences.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Unraveling a Life


My step-grandmother Janet Lau passed away a couple of weeks ago. She was 94 years old, in terrible pain and unable to get around due to osteoporosis and a myriad of other medical issues. She had told her son, my stepdad, several times that at night she prayed that she wouldn't wake up in the morning. She finally got her wish on August 26th and never woke to see the following day.

Her husband Norman died 40 years earlier of a heart attack, far too young. He had not been feeling well and left work to see a doctor. The doctor didn't think he had the signs of a heart attack and sent him home — he died later that day. Janet never remarried. She only ever went on one date and afterwards told family that no one could take Norman's place and never dated again.

Norman on the left, Janet on the right, their wedding photo in the middle.
When I first met her nearly 30 years ago she was busy traveling the world with her sister, Doris, who had also lost her husband. Back then I called her my "Las Vegas grandma," she could often be seen wearing one of those be-dazzled, flashy zip-up coats over a t-shirt, with sneakers that matched the coat. Her hair was dyed a strawberry red blonde and was always perfectly coiffed in soft curls around the crown of her head. She and Doris went to Vegas, Hawaii, Branston, MO and other places, taking in the sights and shows that could be had.

Janet loved to play cards. I mean, she looooved to play cards. Every time I saw her, within half an hour of her arrival we were either eating a meal or playing a game of spades, or hand-and-foot, or sheepshead (okay, I wasn't playing that one, I have no idea how, but she was able to play that strategic game until the week before she passed). She was up for any game, as long as it involved cards.

At Christmas she made a traditional German dessert called "himmel futter," or "heavenly hash." The base is called a torte but was more like a crisp meringue with dates and figs baked into it, covered by various fruits, then completely covered in whipping cream. I had never had such a thing before, and the first time I tried one I was in heaven, it is so absolutely delicious.

She raised a wonderful family. My stepdad is a patient, generous, kind and loving man. He is a gift to my mom and our family. He was the primary caretaker of Janet as she got older — he and my mother worked with the home where she lived to ensure she got her medications, managed her finances, and more.

And now she's gone. The managing and caring of Janet is complete. All there is to do is to unravel her life.

Cancel the newspaper she used to read daily. Inform the Social Security office, the government entities that need to know. Clean out her modest little place at the assisted living community. Much of her worldly goods had already been gone through and given to family members who wanted them. Furniture, kitchen wares, pieces of art and more were all in the possession of others. Now, what was left: a hair comb. Bobby pins. Nail file. Shampoo. A small jewelry chest with some last remaining pieces of jewelry. It feels weird to go through a dead woman's things, sorting and sifting the last few items for usefulness or memories.

Janet wrote her own obituary and funeral arrangements. She asked for specific readings from grandchildren, whichever ones thought they could or would want to read. My stepsister Michelle sang a touching song which Janet picked out. The service finished with some beautiful words from Janet herself (paraphrased):
The Lord has come to take me...Let kisses, kindness and love for one another replace the tears. I leave to all of you my legacy of love.  
She truly was a gift to this world and will be remembered with fondness and love.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

New High School Adjustments


While many kids are going back to school today, Marissa has already been at Eagle Ridge Academy one week. What an amazing week it's been!

Her first night she came home with a passage she had to read and answer questions about. The passage? "The Apology" by Plato, written about Socrates' trial and sentence, as translated from ancient Greek. It starts like this:
How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was - such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth. 
Ummmm....yeah, sure.

For a girl who does not love to read and is often quite literal in her interpretation of writings, this was going to be a challenge. I read it aloud to her over several nights, paraphrasing what each section meant so she could make sense of it and answer the questions. If a person is unaccustomed to reading this kind of writing, it is incredibly difficult to understand. But with practice, it gets easier. By the end of the week she was starting "The Iliad" by Homer and was having no problem reading and comprehending the stanzas on her own. Wow, okay...

Some observations about her school that she appreciates:

1. She is loving wearing uniforms. So far she can't tell who the "popular" kids are in her class because everyone is dressed the same, there are no brands to distinguish between the "haves" and the "have nots."

2. The class sizes!! Her largest class is Humanities with 16 students, her smallest is Spanish with six. She is one of very few freshman in her Spanish II class and has a native Spanish speaker as a teacher, which she is super excited about.

3. School lunch is delicious! She brought a lunch the first day but after that has been eating the lunch at the school. It is freshly made there at the school, not shipped in and warmed like her lunches at Lake Harriet, and there is always a salad bar option.

4. They pipe in classical music to the lunchroom during lunch time. It is a classical education school, after all! There is plenty of room, there are even a few empty tables in the area, and she eats with the entire 9th through 12th grade students. Lunch is at a reasonable hour, because they don't need to stagger lunches due to class size. (Her lunch at her middle school started at 1:40.)

In a small group in her Humanities class they were discussing Achilles, which Marissa pronounced "Ah-CHILL-ease" having never encountered the name before. A boy in her group teased her about not being able to pronounce it. Shortly after he said, "myu-SAY" for muse, and she teased him back. The rest of the class they gave each other a hard time and intentionally mispronounced things to see who could say it the silliest.

She has already made many friends, both girls and boys, and has mixed grades in many of her classes — many are helping her get accustomed to the new things she's studying. Most everyone in school is engaged and ready to learn. She often gets frustrated and annoyed at students who talk or whisper while the teacher is talking, especially because with her ADHD she has a really hard time tuning out distractions. That is less of a problem at Eagle Ridge than at her last school.

I'm so excited for her to be at this school and for the opportunities she will have there.

Monday, September 02, 2019

The Glue That Holds Us Together: High School Reunions

Class of 1989 in 1989

Class of 1989 in 2019
This weekend was my 30th high school reunion, and it was pretty amazing.

I graduated with around 150 students from Sheboygan Falls High School. I have fond memories of my high school years — playing in the band, acting and playing for musicals, forensics competitions, and all-around fun.

Social media makes these reunions so different from what they used to be. We all keep up with each other's lives from a distance, but only what we all share on Facebook. A fun day, first day of school, a special dinner out for an anniversary, a kid's sports accomplishments.

But when we all get together, we share each other's lives. And because we've known each other so intimately, granted a long time ago, we are all pretty open about challenges facing each of us. Divorces. Careers gone askew, demanding jobs that suck the life out of a person. Challenges raising children. Caring for aging parents. The real deal that doesn't get shared on Facebook. And often these troubles are met with encouraging words of "I know what you're going through," or "You should talk to so-and-so, they went through something like that," or just, "I'm sorry that's happening to you."

Plus there are things to celebrate. One classmate opened a tab and let people know to have a drink on him. His explanation? "I've just been so fortunate in my life, and I want to share my good fortune with others." Wow, that's awesome, thank you!

I was speaking with another classmate and asking how life was going and he said, "I love my job, I love my family, I've got good health, I'm about as happy as I can be in my life right now, and I'm so grateful for it." That's the best any of us can ever hope for, and I'm so happy for him.

And sharing those high school memories, oh my! What is it about graduating high school together that becomes a glue that holds people together?

As seniors, my girlfriend Jody and I once had Domino's pizza delivered to the school for lunch. (There were other people who did this with us, I can't remember all of them.) We brought it into the lunch room to eat and the vice principal just about had a conniption, I've never seen that man's face so red. He was a small guy, not very tall or broad, but we got out of there with that pizza pretty quickly. Eventually we got smart and had pizza delivered to Jody's house just across the street. We would run to her house so we wouldn't get caught leaving the school to eat it, then dash back before the bell rang.

My friend Judi recounted spending hours in my basement, listening to music and goofing off. Had Wendy been there I could have told some good stories of a sleepover at her house where she pretended to be sleep-talking but wasn't really, she was just giving us a hard time.

Our class is planning on creating a scholarship fund and at our reunion appointed a committee of people to work on this. That's a pretty amazing legacy that we'll be leaving for future generations of graduates from Sheboygan Falls.

It was a great weekend getting together with my classmates, and I am so grateful for their being in my life, even if it's only every 5 years.
Comparing cute shoes, 25th and 30th reunions (Myself, Kelly and Rachel)

Goofing off.