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Mean Girl

Seven years ago, I attended my 20th high school reunion. That night I talked to many people I had not seen for 20 years. In fact, I had not seen MOST of the attendees for 20 years. When I moved away from Louisville in 1988, I had little fondness for the city or its people beyond my family and a very small circle of friends. Keeping in touch was the last thing on my mind; I planned to leave town and never come back.

That reunion ended up being much more fun than I expected. All those almost-forty-somethings had grown up, left high school behind, and (for the most part) developed into mature, perfectly reasonable adults. Perhaps most surprisingly to me, at least one member of the way-cooler-than-me crowd approached me for conversation and was very sociable. Did he not remember being a jerk to me, or was he trying to make amends for being a jerk to me? I’m still not sure. Nor does/did it matter. Seemingly, he’s no longer a jerk, and that’s the part that counts.

Well baby, that reunion was just a practice round for this past weekend, wherein I attended my cousin’s son’s Bar Mitzvah, which was populated by at least a dozen people I had not seen in close to 30 years, one of whom was embarrassed by my teenage crush on him (I wasn’t cool enough) and one of whom made my life a living a hell in the summer of 1981 when we were summer camp tent-mates. She was the 12-year-old sixth grade queen bee who knew all about boys; I was the 11-year-old fifth grader who didn’t  know I was supposed to know all about boys that way. It was pretty awful.

Now, when the dude that didn’t want me to like him approached for conversation, I was amused but not stunned. He was never mean, and we had bumped into each in our digital lives via mutual friends several times in the last year or so. Having virtually caught up, it was fun for both of us to continue the conversation in analog life.

But when the other one—who I didn’t know knew my cousin—showed up, I was briefly frozen. What the heck should I say to her?

Well no worries! Because she approached me, started a conversation, was thoroughly delightful, and clearly had no memory of me from the past. Like, none at all; she thought I grew up somewhere else.

By the end of the kiddush luncheon, we were friendly acquaintances, and by the end of the dinner buffet line that night it seemed natural to have her sit at my table. Two hours later we were complimenting each other’s kids and sharing confidences. I do volunteer work she’s genuinely interested in; she’s in a line of work I think is important and noble. If she lived in Louisville, we’d probably be friends. How weird is that?

But you know, I can’t help but wonder if there is a second lesson in all of this? Because, yeah, I’ve now had two social encounters with likable, sociable people who were mean to me in high school and/or the summer before I started middle school. But I have also grudgingly or nervously attended at least two events in which I was not looking forward to seeing many people because I used to think they were mean, tacky, stupid, or weird.

In other words, I might have been a jerk, too. I wasn’t mean to anyone directly; I know and am relieved about that. Increasingly, though, I’m realizing how judgmental I was in my earlier years and how unattractive that part of my personality is. I’m still a little judgmental—I’m not going to lie. However, age, experience, and a few life detours have gifted me with an understanding of my foibles and compassion for those of others.

So the next time I bump into someone I haven’t seen in 30 years, I’m going to assume that they are much nicer now . . .

and that they are assuming the same will be true of me.



Shopping Amnesia

Once upon a time, I shopped for fun, need, and therapy. I shopped with friends and alone, to celebrate and self-medicate.

Then Simon came along and with him, certain restrictions on time and cash. A few years later, I began running and doing pilates, and further restrictions on shopping were put into place. Finally, last year two things happened: First, I was trying to rebuild savings after buying a car, hot water heater, and furnace in one year; Second, I was busier than ever due to my part-time work, my increasing volunteer work, and Simon’s increasing sports participation.

Suddenly, shopping was something I hardly ever did. And unlike riding a bike, it turns out you really can forget how. I’ve tried day-long ventures with long-ish lists of wants and needs, only to find myself overwhelmed and bag-less after two hours. I’ve gone out to buy a specific item and found it, only to then second-guess whether I really needed it and return home empty-handed.

The primary evidence for this is in my closet, where I’ve been making do without several things I said I needed months ago, and my bank account, where my shopping paralysis helped to restore quite a bit of our savings despite increased league fees and an expensive vacation. I’m pretty sure I’ve repeated high holy day dresses for five years straight, and this year I struggled to get holiday presents for everyone.

Now it’s gotten to the point where I feel a slight disconnect with my middle-class cohort. I go to Target, see all the nice and modestly priced home goods I could be sprucing up my tired looking house with, but fail to pull the trigger. I go in thinking “let’s shop!”, only to have my thoughts quickly turn to “eh, I’ve gone this long with it. I don’t need to spend the money.” My towels are a decade old, my colander came from my grandparents’ store 40-someodd years ago, and I’ve got pots with loose handles and only one fry pan I like.

I have declared 2015 as the year of the spruce. It’s time to get rid of the worn out pots and fraying and stained napkins, both of which are now 18 years old. We will probably not die in penury if I spring for a better hand-vac or replace the carpet tiles in the guest bedroom that won’t stay together. On the other hand, that colander still works just fine, as does my hand mirror, which is the re-purposed lid to a compact I bought back when I lived in Ann Arbor. And those decade-old towels are still fluffy and nice.

It’s interesting. Five years ago I worried my shopping habit would be hard to break; now I’m wondering if I’m capable of (or interested in) fully breaking my non-shopping one.

The Bad Sport

Not-so-rhetorical question: How old does a child have to be before it is OK to dislike him or her? Don’t get me wrong, there are 3-year-olds I dislike. It’s just that when a child is hard to like at age 3, you have to assume the child is unhappy, off-schedule, stressed, or a normal 3-year-old depending on the unpleasant behaviors on display.

Age 10 is totally different though, right?

I hope so. Because there is a boy in Simon’s tennis group this time out who is working my last nerve. I first met Jon* at Simon’s 10 and under tennis tournament last June, where he immediately announced that he had won a tournament before. I didn’t love that, but I might have the child who bragged similarly, so I didn’t think too much about it.

Then he showed up for a week or two in one of Simon’s tennis clinics last fall, where he was a pretty bad sport. As I’ve explained before, Goldsteins are traditionally gracious winners and bad losers. Whitworths, on the other hand, are traditionally awful winners and equally bad losers in a way that counter-intuitively makes them pretty gracious at both. Which is to say, they gloat in victory, despair in loss, and clearly aren’t serious about either. It’s just part of the game.

Simon threads the middle. In public among his peers, he’s wonderful; alone with me and Matt, he can melt down with the worst of them. That tells me that he has a serious competitive fire in his belly, but cares enough about being polite and well liked that he can hold it together in public.

This kid, though? Jon? He is THE WORST. He pumps his fists and gloats every time he wins a point and cries and misbehaves every time he loses. And by cry, I mean literally cry: open mouth, wailing, the whole ugly shebang. Then he gets angry and hits balls over to other courts or kicks them into corners. If a coach reprimands him, he acts out even worse.

So of course, this session he’s in Simon’s group every week for the full 6-week run. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. The other kids are a competitive, fun, and sportsmanship minded group. They cheer in victory, fake wail in defeat, high-five each other, and generally bring out the best in each other with regard to tennis and social skills.

This past Sunday was a particularly rough session for Jon. I asked Simon what he made of the situation afterwards, and his answers were illuminating.

“What would you say to Jon if you could when he acts out?”

“I’d say, ‘Dude, you’re 10. You should be over this already.'”

“Does it ruin the fun at all for the rest of you?”

“Oh yeah. Sometimes we just give each other the look that says, ‘Maybe we should just let him win so he’ll not cry and we can go on with the game.'”

“Would you actually do that? Let him win?”

“Oh heck no! We just think about it and know it’d be easier.”

“Does Jon have any friends in the group?”

“No. He used to. But then everyone saw how he was, and now he doesn’t.”

Out of the mouths of babes, eh?

Here’s where I’ve landed on this. I think judging and disliking the child is probably a poor and presumptuous response. It’s certainly unkind. I don’t know if Jon has school issues, personality/brain wiring issues, family issues, or medical issues. I’m a grown-up and should have compassion.

On the other hand, his behavior is making things less fun for the five other kids out there, none of whom display the same poor sportsmanship and most of whom are younger. Given Jon’s position as the stand-out poor sport, I think group tennis is not the right place for him now. Someone, preferably his mother, needs to explain to Jon that if he cannot behave better in tennis clinics, he’ll have to stop taking them. There needs to be repercussions and limits, for his sake as well as that of the other kids.

I’m not holding my breath for that happen though, and I’m not sure how long wisdom and compassion on my end is going to hold out.



*Name changed.

Math Lessons

Last night, Simon and I sat down to work on math word problems. He was supposed to to learn the following:

  • How to use addition to solve a problem;
  • How to use multiplication to solve a problem;
  • How to combine the two in to solve a multi-step problem.

Instead, he learned this:

  • It’s hard to do math after soccer practice when it’s late and you are tired;
  • Math is doubly hard when you didn’t eat enough dinner;
  • Math is the absolute worst when the person who is supposed to helping you behaves poorly.

In case I am being too subtle here, let me just state baldly that I was a beast last night.

Here’s a sample problem we struggled with: Sally wants to buy two books for $5 each, another for $8, and a third for $4. She has $18 saved up. How much more money does she need to buy the books? Simon quickly answers “$4″

“Great,” I say. “Show me your work.”

“Five times 2 is 10; 10 + 8 + 4 is 22. She needs $4 more dollars.”

“Yes, but what is the final math sentence you did in your head to get that answer?”


“No, 4 is the answer. You had the 22, you had the 18, you figured out the 4. What was the equation?”

“18 + 4 = 22?”

“Simon, are you even listening to me? Four is the answer. NOW MAKE A SENTENCE WHERE YOU HAVE 22 AND 18 AND COME UP WITH 4?”

Perhaps this doesn’t sound so bad. Let me assure you it was bad; monotone, loud, and audibly irritated. What’s more, I had sounded the same or worse on the proceeding 2 questions, where he misread one problem and erroneously added answers together for two different questions in another. For whatever reason, all of Simon’s math sense flew out of his brain last night, he couldn’t get anything right, and I was completely irritated at and out of patience with him.

There were tears, and he didn’t want me to be the one to tuck him in last night. So while Matt took care of bedtime duty, I washed up the dishes and faced up to some home truths. Namely:

  • I would never have treated another student like I did Simon;
  • I would be angry at any teacher who talked to him the way I did;
  • I would have been devastated myself if someone had treated me the same way I did him.
  • It was late and he was tired. I had set him up to fail.

Oof. Today we had to finish the sheet as part of Simon’s homework. This time we did it soon after coming home from school, and today he didn’t have soccer practice. Before we ever started, I sat him down, apologized for how I treated him last night, and promised that tonight I would be his helper and give him the patience and respect he deserves.

We were set up for success from the beginning, and indeed Simon knocked out the problems with ease and with no help needed from me. Today he learned how to set up and solve multi-step problems, how to combine addition and multiplication in the same problem, and that sometimes adults behave poorly and have to apologize themselves. Somehow, I think that last lesson might be the most important one of all.


The Limbic Lag

In a bit of irony that nearly drove me to tears, I got a note from Simon’s teacher last Wednesday that he has made a complete 180-degree turn in class. He is no longer shy, no longer hesitant to raise his hand out of fear of making a mistake, and is fully and fearlessly participating in class. Later that night, he collapsed in the biggest fit I’ve seen outside of toddlerdom, all over the fact that he couldn’t get a drum beat right.

No, scratch that, the melt-down was owing to the fact that he couldn’t get the drum beat right fast enough. Which is ALSO ironic, because only four days prior to this collapse, I marveled at Simon’s patience and equanimity as he struggled to master a drum beat in class. “Wow,” thought to myself, “he’s really learned to give himself time and not freak out if he fails to achieve immediate mastery in something.”

Fast forward to Wednesday night, when I arrived home from pilates to the sounds of howling and wailing from the basement. This went on for some time, punctuated by drumming, until at last Simon emerged from the basement with red-rimmed and puffy eyes. He barely held it together to talk to me, staggered upstairs, and at one point crawled under his bed to mope/weep/hide/whatever.

Silly me, I assumed that he failed to perform the drum beat in question. But Matt would soon inform me that Simon had in fact pulled it off at the end, an accomplishment that did nothing to temper his fit. The issue, of course, is that Simon’s limbic system—the part of your brain involved in the fight-or-flight reflex—was so worked up that it could not, would not, listen to the part of his brain that involves logic, language, or reason.

I tried helping him breathe slowly with mixed results. I tried talking to him with no real results. In the end, we just had to wait him out, get him into bed, and accept that our night took an unfortunate U-turn at around 7:15 p.m.

But before he fell asleep, I had a little chat with him about the night’s events, wherein I explained that the part of the brain that makes you feel scared, angry, and hurt doesn’t always listen to the rest of your brain. That means you can still feel scared, angry, or hurt long after the scary thing is gone, the person who angered you has apologized, and the hurt should be over. Sometimes this delay—called the limbic lag—is short and you hardly notice it. Other times it is so extreme that the thinking part of your brain decides something must still be terribly, terribly wrong if you still feel so bad and then goes looking for reasons.

That limbic lag is the reasons couples resort to “kitchen sink” arguments every bit as much as 8-year-olds hide under their beds in frustration over something. The partner has apologized and the drum beat has been performed, but a sufficiently stimulated limbic system is slow to listen, and sometimes that means the partner looks for other reasons to be angry and the 8-year-old forgets he ever liked drumming.

Simon is a little young for explanations like this, but it seems reasonable to plant a seed, much as I did the first time I caught him engaging in catastrophic thinking. I was in my mid 20s before I learned about the latter and mid-30s before I discovered the limbic lag. Earlier knowledge of either could have been a huge tool for coping with stress and arguments as an older child or young adult. Here’s to hoping Simon can begin using these tools a little earlier.




His Happiest Moment

Presented with parenthetical commentary by yours truly, Simon’s most recent school essay.

My First Turniment Goal

By Simon Whitworth

Last weekend I went to a soccer tournament. (Or thee months ago. Same diff.) The soccer tournament was a 2 hour drive to Cincinnati with my mom and dad.

The game was really early. The game started at 8:00. Then the game finally started. After the first half it was 5 to 1. (against his team, making me question how “happy” this event could have been.)

Then after 5 minutes the 2nd half started. One second it was a goal punt, a kid named Sciles (Silas) past (passed) it to me. It was just me and the goalie . . . (The kid loves ellipses almost as much as I love parentheses. Credit to him for deploying them correctly here.)

I gave it a toe poke and the ball rolled across the line. I can’t believe I made it.

It was the happiest moment in my life. The End.

(And that’s a wrap. Birthdays, a running trophy, a soccer trophy, holidays, you name it. None of them can compare with the joy of scoring his first goal in a tournament, even if his team went on to lose three games straight in a land-slide. I’m especially confused because this same child went upstairs last night in tears because I beat him at a game of . . . . Twister. Finally, I suspect the day is coming soon when Ms. Ray instructs Simon that he simply must write a personal narrative about something/anything other than soccer.)

Quotable 2014

I’ve made a real effort these past two weeks to clear off my literal and metaphorical desk so I can begin 2015 fresh. The end of 2014 was busier than most and left me with a disordered house and scattered mind. So in between cooking and cleaning and entertaining and visiting these past two weeks there has also been a spate of filing, recycling, polishing, and arranging. It feels good: When I look around my house, fewer cluttered corners and untended items greet me with a silent rebuke.

Along those lines, and in line with last year, I have a compendium of some of the funnier or odder things Simon said throughout last year that somehow didn’t make it into a post. Hit it!


In which he demonstrates self knowledge:

“My New Year’s resolutions are to keep playing soccer and tennis, finish learning to ride my bike and swim, and eat vegetables.”


In which he demonstrates superior math skills:

Me: “Ulysses S. Grant was born in 1822. It says here that if he were still alive he’d be 188 years old!”

Simon: “That can’t be right, Mommy. They got the math wrong.”

He was right, and he noticed it when I didn’t. The online resource we were reading had not been updated. This was the beginning of Simon’s consistently doing math in his head faster than I do.


In which he demonstrates an overly literal mind:

“Mommy, today in PE Mrs. Ragsdale said that a 5K was three miles. I think she doesn’t know about the .1 part. Should I tell her?”


In which he reveals limits to his soccer devotion:

Me:”Simon, what do you like more, soccer or tennis?”

Simon: “Soccer.”

Me: “Soccer or swimming?”

Simon: “Soccer.”

Me: “Soccer or school?”

Simon: “Soccer.”

Me: “Soccer or candy?”

Simon: “Soccer.”

Me: “Soccer or Caroline?”

Simon: “Caroline. But I don’t want to hurt soccer’s feelings, so don’t say anything.”

I file this one under funny, sweet, and quite possibly true. Which, if you have read this blog over the past year or checked out my Facebook page, you know is saying A LOT.


In which he reveals that small-talk is still a work in progress:

“Hey, Mom, I just realized something cool. Nine plus nine and nine times nine have the same numbers in them, just in a different order. The digits are the same, but the place value is different.”


In which he demonstrates a desire to incorporate new, scientific information into casual speech:

“Don’t move a Planck space!”


In which he demonstrates that we have neglected his Kentucky-specific education:

“Are five fouls like a red card? …. Man, I think that guy is man of the match.”


In which he demonstrates that everything related to soccer, even Foosball, must be analyzed:

“So I’ve got a trick with my two front players. They’ve formed a strike partnership.”


In which he demonstrates the entwined instinct to make boyish fart jokes and also be super polite:

“Oh! That toot was terrible. Curse you, butt! No, wait, butt isn’t a very nice word. Curse you, tushie!”


In which he demonstrates that he has got his father’s number:

“Don’t leave my Easter candy out where Daddy can get it. Papa has a relationship with chocolate.”


In which he demonstrates a habit that won’t make him new friends in high school:

“Today Ms. Thomas asked us what we saw in the night sky. I said I saw a waxing gibbous. She had to give the class a little lecture about that.”


In which the current Dolphie fixation gets started:

Me: “Where’s Dolphie?”

Simon: “Oops, I left him downstairs. I must be the worst parent in the world.”


In which my dear, sweet boy threatens his own mother:

“Simon, sometimes I think we should just get rid of TV.”

“That’s not a good idea unless you want to buy a new dining room table after, like, three days.”


In which he demonstrates that he knows on which side his bread is buttered:

“Ask Mama. Mama knows everything. Mama is in charge of this house.”


In which self-interest wins out over doing things the right way and cheering the underdog:

“I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to play for Southampton; I’m going to Atletico Madrid. I want a shot at Champions League.”


In which he is obnoxiously self-aware and just plain obnoxious on the tennis court:

“I think it’s time for me to haul out my spins. It’s pretty hard to beat me at the net. Now I’m just being obnoxious.”


In which he does not make a new friend at school:

“J— is disgusting even for a boy.”


In which he hilariously insults his own pet:

Me: “Wow, that Sammy (relative’s cat we are taking care of) is a one-in-a-million cat.”

Simon: “What’s Cambria? About a one-in-ten cat?”


In which he further explores figurative language:

“Mama, I’m really hungry. My stomach feels like an empty river.”


In which he demonstrates that that word does not mean what he thinks it means:

“Today we had to write down on a little piece of paper whether we liked our name or not. I wrote ‘no’. I wish my name were more exciting—something like ‘Jacob’.”


In which he continues a family trend of overly investing emotionally with food:

“Graeter’s has never disappointed me. Their shakes have never disappointed me, their ice cream has never disappointed me . . .”


In which an attempt at figurative language gets disturbing:

“For a while today when I was playing tennis I couldn’t feel my feet. It was like I was sleeping . . . in heaven.”


In which he discovers the limits of gender-typing:

Me: “What do you think Simon? When you are a grown-up do you want a son, a daughter, or both?”

Simon: “I think boys are easier. With girls, the shopping is harder. You’ve got the clothes, the make-up, the hair stuff, the Barbies, the girl-of-the-year dolls. Boys are simpler; they just like Legos. Well, most boys anyway . . . ”


In which he demonstrates athletic drive foreign to both his parents:

“My legs kind of hurt at the 2.5 mile mark, but I wanted a trophy and pushed through.”


In which he again demonstrates an overly literal mind:

“Tomorrow I’m going to be 7 and 364 365ths.”


In which he demonstrates a deep truth that will serve him well as an adult:

Simon: “How do you do this!” [He’s struggling to put on tights that are part of his Halloween costume.]

Me: “When putting on tights, you have to roll them up just a few inches at a time. It takes a while.”

Simon: “Wow, it’s hard being a girl.”


In which he reveals the stuff that little kid fantasies are made of:

Matt: “So Simon, how did it feel out there [at the soccer tournament] playing on a lighted pitch?”

Simon: “Honestly, it made me feel like a hot-shot.”


In which he reveals a resistance to parental insistence that he will go to college and prepare for a long-standing career:

“After I retire from being a professional soccer player, you know, when I have a few million dollars, do I have to find another job or can I just hang out?”


In which he reveals the sometimes odd juxtaposition of being (partly) Jewish in a mostly gentile country:

“I want to wear my Rosh Hashanah outfit to The Nutcracker—only without the kippah.”

That’s all folks! Now I’m ready to start afresh with whatever 2015 brings our little family.


Chiefs and Indians

Like so many years before it, 2014 is ending on a sprint. Part of that sprint is owing to my own tendency towards procrastination. What can I say: I respond to deadlines. But the other part is owing to a phenomenon I know many are familiar with: the too many chiefs, not enough Indians school of organization.

I have most acutely felt this within the PTA this past year. As the Vice President of Programming, my job is to be in charge of all non-fundraising programming. I’m a chief! Or I would be, if most of the Indians didn’t fancy themselves chiefs, too.

Our communications chair has great ideas about how to harness social media for the group and was quickly recruited to help the school roll out a new website. What didn’t so much happen were the flyers about fundraisers, the PTA introduction packet, or any newsletters. That was farmed out, half-assed, and/or skipped. The one “newsletter” that was produced lead with a call for volunteers to take over the newsletter. You know, some Indians to follow the communication chief’s vision.

I probably should have taken over this one, but I didn’t.

Then there was the PTA directory. Lots of opinions about that one, too, including how it should be formatted, how to use advertising to make it a revenue provider, etc. I even had volunteers sign up for this one! Except then they didn’t reply to email. So who did the whole thing? Me, of course.

Then there is merchandise. We had a real visionary on this front–someone who provided a necessary re-brand for the entire run of merchandise.  She then asked for 4 volunteers to manage stock and sell the stuff, not understanding that her role included taking care of those mundane details. But wait! The cavalry arrived in the form of two school parents who run small businesses. They had just the solution, including managing stock and sales through inventory software. They even showed up one day to take inventory, then were never seen again and quit answering emails or returning phone calls.

Don’t we have volunteers for that kind of grunt work? Yes we do. In all likelihood, me in about two weeks.

I was super fortunate to find one volunteer to take over the staff appreciation lunch, which is typically held the last week before school lets out for the winter holidays. “Awesome!” I thought to myself. Except then it turned out that the only day out of five that person wasn’t available was the only day the school was able to host the event.

So who organized the whole thing? Me. To be fair, though, one of the school’s teachers split the heavy-lifting with me. She’s not afraid to be an Indian!

On the Sudanese front, things have been increasingly lop-sided for some time. We’ve had all kinds of life changes on our board, including births, deaths, impending moves, and the onset of chronic illnesses. All are true and valid. But the end result is that I am now the person planning the meetings, running the meetings, taking minutes at the meetings, and doing all the work to allocate scholarships. I have one hard-working Indian left, but her forte is fund-raising, and we don’t need that any more.

But! When it came time to write our closing letter to donors, the board was pretty adamant that they needed to review my letter and suggest alternative charities to recommend to our present donors. I begged this not be so, as Thanksgiving was just around the corner and I knew I’d be facing many other end-of-year deadlines. They didn’t relent, and I didn’t pull the chief card and over-rule them.

I should have. Because what happened?  Uh huh, no one replied to my email, and I ended up doing the whole thing on my own anyway—only on a much more compressed deadline.

And so it goes, much as it ever has. All the leadership guidelines about “delegating” in the world don’t help if you delegees aren’t willing or able to be delegated to. My own goal for 2015 is to be a little more chief, and a little less Indian. Wish me luck!

The yin-yang of big kid-little kid with Simon has reached dizzying heights. Consider today:

1. I catch Simon singing the theme song to the “Men in Blazers” show. These are two British expats who do a podcast and television show about football, or as they like to mockingly say, “saaaacker”. If that doesn’t sound like a kid show, it’s because it’s not.

2. Then Simon watches Jeopardy and gets the question about what constellation the star Betelgeuse is in correct. If you guessed Orion, you got it right, too. This does not strike me as second-grade knowledge.

3. Then Simon lights our Chanukah menorah and sings the blessing all by himself, in Hebrew. We’ve been working on that for about a week now, but he still seemed very grown up while doing it.

4. So what happens next? He pretends Dolphie (his stuffed dolphin/alter ego) loses a tooth, takes a candy cane out of treat bag and a dollar out of his change jar, and puts both in his tooth pillow. He goes on to carefully place the tooth pillow under his own, all the while adjuring me to NOT spoil the secret about the Tooth Fairy or Santa for Dolphie, since she still believes.

That is some straight up kid stuff right there. I am curious as to why Dolphie is a girl and why she believes in Santa, but I’ve learned not to ask too many questions where Dolphie is concerned.

I have also learned that Simon’s reverence for Dolphie waxes and wanes like a moon cycle. A week or so ago, Matt was teasing Simon by being mean to Dolphie. According to Simon, Dolphie was very upset and felt unloved in our house. At the time, Simon seemed very upset, too. So I did what any rational parent would do: I staged a family counseling session with Matt, Simon,  Dolphie, and me. I played the part of counselor and Dolphie, and poor Matt could barely make it through he was laughing so hard.

For a time, my problem of nightly Simon-Dolphie-Matt battles were over. Then Simon decided that family counseling sessions with Dolphie are fun and funny, so he’s spent the last several days setting Matt up to get him into trouble in the hope I will insist on more therapy.

And that about sums up my life about now where Simon is concerned. I live with a Jeopardy watching, numbers crunching, soccer obsessed mini-adult who also happens to spend a lot of time imagining and acting out the life of his alter-ego (or daemon familiar if you’ve read the Philip Pullman books) rainbow colored stuffed dolphin.

Nothing to see over here, folks.

Putting the Baby to Bed

I haven’t had a literal baby to put to bed for seven years now, but I’ve had a metaphorical one—the Sudanese scholarship organization I’ve been a part of—for the past six. I joined when the group was just coming off its peak of fundraising and scholarship allocation, and I took over as director the year we celebrated the graduation of 12 refugees.

For the last 2-3 years, there has been a sense of slowing or winding down.  But then there would arrive another unexpected check, another surprise benefactor, and another grateful and talented student. So we’d continue, and I’d wait for a clear sign that it was time to call it a day.

That sign has come, and I’m putting one of my babies to bed.  It is turning out to take a fair amount of physical energy to close up shop, and even more mental energy to remind myself that this is the right thing to do. Like so many endings, this is hard.

So why is it time to close? For reasons both personal and professional. On the personal end, our board is tapped out, and a series of major changes in life circumstances has resulted in half of our board members needing to step down. On the professional end, in the parlance of the non-profit industry, we are no longer meeting donor intent. For some time now our scholarship pool has drifted from non-citizen Sudanese refugees pursuing bachelor’s degrees to newly arrived refugees working on their GED, Sudanese graduates pursuing advanced degrees, and the children of Sudanese refugees starting college.

These are all worthy goals and deserve support, but it’s not what our donors think they are giving to and it’s not what our organization set out to do. The final sign came a month ago, when applications arrived for our most recent scholarship cycle. Three out of ten met our original selection criteria. Then I learned that one of our founding board members, the last Southern Sudanese to remain on our board, was planning a move and needed to resign his position. Tea leaves don’t get much clearer than that.

My letter to donors struck a celebratory tone. We have largely accomplished our mission, having disbursed over $160,000 in the form of 244 individual scholarships over the course of 9 1/2 years. We’ve celebrated approximately 100 post-secondary degrees, including three masters degrees. And we’ve done all of this without spending a single dollar of donor money.We are set to award our last round of scholarships at the decade mark, which seems quite tidy. Our original applicant pool, the Lost Boys of South Sudan, still face many obstacles in life, but they are neither lost nor boys. They are now family men in their 30s, many of whom have finished their schooling and most of whom are now proud US citizens.

And yet, even as I type all of this and even as I know it to be true, I am still wrestling with guilt. Because even through all the signs point to closing up shop, there is still need. Helping Darfuri refugees take ESL classes is not what our organization set out to do, but we’ve been doing it. We can’t effectively fund-raise when our undergraduate pool has dwindled to 5 or 6, but those 5 or 6 still need help.

What’s more, because we are disbursing scholarships right now for the Winter 2015 term, my inbox is now full of grateful refugees God-blessing me for my work and calling me an angel. Rarely has such kindness made me feel so awful.

Next March, we plan to assemble our board past and present to celebrate and lift our glass to a job well done. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m going to need a good cry in the bathroom first. And then? Well, and then I’m going to look for a new gig—volunteer or otherwise—helping refugees. Only a new beginning is going to make this end feel right.


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