Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I find sometimes it's easy to be myself... much to say.

This month has already been nutty. Just plain nutty. And that's no one's fault but my own. I have overbooked us, and it is insanity. So all of this month's craziness (and it's only the 16th), plus next month's trips to Oregon and Miami = Mommy is grounded for the rest of the month. Well, provisionally anyway.

The first week of this month was mentally taxing because of what we had going on at work. The second week was physically and mentally taxing because of how much I have scheduled for us and the realization of just how much more I have scheduled for us this fall. (Plus, there was Olivia's birthday party and the gas nozzle-to-the-toe incident. If you've not heard that story, oh, do please ask.) The third week (this week) has been emotionally taxing because I am me. And that's all.

Today was Olivia's last day at DS. She's been there since she was three months old. When I enrolled her, I was living and working in West Little Rock, so it just made sense. When I took the job downtown, I was still living out west, in fact, we had moved into a house less than 2 miles from the center, so it still made sense. But when we bought the house out here...well. I knew it didn't make sense, but I also didn't think it was fair to introduce that many changes to her all at once - bye bye to the Cove house, hello to a new house *and* hello to a new daycare? No. I just refused to do it. And I refused to even think about doing it. Until about a month ago when I was promoted and feeling the need to be at work at o-dark-thirty to start getting everything done, and I was fighting three interstates worth of traffic just to get there by eight. Plus, there's this spot...on 430...where she starts to cry and/or fuss, just about every day. Like clockwork. So I figured...maybe it's time to make a change. So I have. Tomorrow she'll stay with Aunt Rachel. Friday she's hanging out with Baba, who's going to take her for a visit to her new center, and then on Monday, she'll go in for her first real day. Naturally it will be a half day - I've arranged to be off that afternoon. I'm just trying to minimize separation anxiety on every level possible...and the critical voice in the back of my head says that I'm failing. Normally, I would analyze all of the different ways to do this and come to a complete and total stall - no decision, no progress, just stall. Good old PBA. But for some reason, where she is concerned, I find myself capable of making resolute decisions and sticking to them. Even if they scare the fool out of me. Maybe that's grace.

I brought home a folder full of server specs and system requirements and service contract quotes that I really need to be reviewing before tomorrow morning's meeting. And I will. When I get to work early because Aunt Rachel is coming here to watch Livi in the morning. Bliss! I started really looking at them on Tuesday - not ideal, since I was not even in the office - and it began this entire thought process on cost-benefit analysis that I cannot get out of my head. If I am not careful, I will begin to think in grids and spreadsheets and disconnected prose. Still, I just can't stop thinking about how blessed I am to be working where I am, with and for the people I am. Bad sentence, I know. Especially for someone who keys off of the relational aspect of the workplace as heavily as I do, this setup offers some pretty solid results. Qualitatively, too. That point must definitely be made.

So today when we got home, part of my garden had crashed. I have these raised beds in front of my house that have a slate rock curtain. The builder put in impatiens and these blueish bush thingies that I don't like, and I also planted some zinnias in there earlier this summer. Well, the slate rock curtain was d-o-w-n down in the front on the north side. My first thought was: blasted deer. So we parked the truck and I got out to look - no hoof prints. There should be hoof prints, right? I mean, you would think. But none. Instead, just this massive mound of dirt and I realized...all this rain. The drainage is poor, and the rain must have just overwhelmed the bed and busted the curtain. So I called my builder and arranged for him to come fix it up. Gotta love that warranty. By this point, though, I was done. Today was just a little on the iffy side, so I went ahead and let it swing all the way to the right. I rolled up my jeans, kicked off my satin ballet flats, stripped down to the tank top and sat on the porch with Olivia. She had milk and I had wine. At one point I think she tried to convince me that it was okay for her to poo in the backyard. Potty-training is not going that well, obviously. But she just ran around back there, got mud all over her jeans, and we just ignored everything but each other and the big ball-shaped things that are falling from my trees. I do not know what they are.

Today, a woman in my training class said something about me being happily married. It was odd. I thought, I don't wear a ring...I don't talk about my husband.... So I just smiled and told her that I'm single. She stammered and seemed a little confused, and I told her that I do have a daughter, and that it's just me and her. It really didn't bother me. I just thought it was interesting. There is another lady at work that seems to think that I'm divorced and just don't want to talk about it.

Shortly after discovering the leaning tower of impatiens in my front yard, I started checking on all of my zinnias. I have a tree ring near the driveway that is boasting one extraordinary giant African violet that was just getting ready to bloom. It bloomed alright. And promptly fell. No idea why. Maybe the rain. Maybe the giant deer who was escaping, hoof print-less, after barreling through my garden like the fricking demolition derby. No clue. But it was laid flat. I really wanted to cry. I love that zinnia, and I have been watching it literally every day since it started to bud. Thankfully, there was another plant nearby, so I was able to reinforce the roots a little and sturdy it up by leaning it on the zinnia next to it, and we'll see if that works or not. I have one other giant that's getting ready to bloom, so I went to look at it, and I got really close and was looking at the bud and the stem and soil and all that stuff. Well, Livi must have been watching me pretty closely, because she started running around and looking at all of our zinnias. She would bend down and really stare at them. So precious. I couldn't help but look at her and think - I am so happily daughtered.

This life is more than enough for us. I am lucky to have a life so full that it bursts at the seams - that the slate rock wall sometimes just can't hold everything we try to cram into it - all of the rich, earthy goodness and beauty - and even the cement holding the rocks together busts loose and everything spills onto the yard. It is such a beautiful mess. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm Here for the Party...

Today I interviewed a job applicant who was telling me about her lazy co-worker, and she said, "You know, I'm here to work." I literally stopped, wrote it down, and thought: Blog #2 in the Why I Work series. Then I finished her interview and, of course, the day, which was, by the way, brutal. Brutal. But that's not what I'm here to discuss.

I've interviewed so many people, talked to so many people about their jobs, and almost 80% of the time, when you ask them how they deal with stress, crises, etc., in the workplace, they will say, "I don't let it get to me, you know, I'm just here to work..." That phrase literally thumped me on the nose today. I've explained why I work - to have a better life. But my question is now: What am I here to do?

Quite honestly, I'm here to enjoy myself. When I have found myself in the job market, I have never been content to find 'just a job'. I have always looked for something I could enjoy, something I would like. And I like what I do now. I have a big job ahead of me. Huge, even. But I like it. So that's one reason that I'm there.

Next, I'm here to make a difference. It is trite, but for me, it is true. See, I have been miserable in a job before. Usually my level of misery was directly influenced by my manager/supervisor/boss. Of all my leadership goals, perhaps one of the most central is a desire to create a positive, encouraging work environment for my employees. I want to be the boyfriend who buys you roses for no reason after two years with some dude who forgot your birthdays, Valentine's Day and Christmas. I don't want to do this because I am a saint. I want to do this because I want to be good at what I do. If I am good at what I do (leading people), then my success will grow. Next, I want to hire good employees, and then I want them to stay. It makes my life easier when they stay because I do not have to spend time hiring and training new employees. Finally, I want my employees to like working for me. I want them to say, "Now, she is a good boss." It's interesting, and not at all surprising, that even within this desire to create a positive environment for my employees, there exists a set of subdesires serving my needs alone. I am such a selfish creature.

I'm here to use what I know. When I learn something, I'm not content to just throw it on the shelf. I want to use it...teach it...hone has to remain a fluid process for me, or I see no point in learning the thing in the first place. One of the most gratifying ways that I use what I know is in teaching and training positions. Perhaps that is why I always gravitate to positions of leadership. Well, it's one of the reasons, at least.

I feel like there is maybe another 'Why I'm Here' or two, but this is what I've got for now. And it is, of course, open for discussion.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ignorance is Anything but Bliss

I hate not knowing something.

As a result, this week is presenting a myriad of challenges, all of such depth and magnitude that I am left staring at the calendar and asking myself if it is really only Wednesday.

To begin, we are still driving - well, I am driving and Olivia is riding - from Sherwood to West Little Rock to downtown each morning, and then, of course, in reverse - well, not in reverse gear, perhaps in reverse fashion - every afternoon. It is wearing me out. O-U-T. I promised myself when we bought this house that I would try it out for a month. My heart just broke to think of moving Livi from her wonderful Kaykee. After two months of scrambling to get out the door on time, fighting with a still sleepy toddler to get in her carseat, and navigating my way through traffic that is almost never pleasant, my heart no longer breaks to think of Livi leaving Kaykee. And I'm pretty sure that no one on 430 is going to miss me, either. So I visited another center today, and as I drove up to it, I thought - I am an idiot. This place is five miles from my house, and eight miles from my office. My house, by the way, is 13 miles from my office. You do the math. How - how??? - did this escape me for two months? It is a wonderful center - big, huge picture windows in the classrooms, at least six thousand shade trees, a very rustic camp-y feel to the building, and all the kids were smiling and happy and showing me their bellies. Plus, they are very learning-based, much like a Montessori school. So I basically enrolled her right then and there. But now, the question is - when do I move her? I think it should be a Monday, but maybe a Friday is best? Give her a day there, maybe even a short day, then give her the weekend to process, then head back on Monday, full swing. But I've got trainings almost back to back in the next two weeks, so my ability to be flexible is fairly limited until after those wrap up. Which means we have to wait a tad longer than I'm comfortable with waiting to move her, but maybe that is best. And then I wonder - am I even doing the right thing by moving her? It's funny...sometimes I really want to bounce these things off of someone, so I usually choose my mom, but at the same time, I am so strong-willed that I want to know that I've done it all myself. Odd how that works.

I headed back to the office today, fully expecting our database management system/web application to be on its way to restoration. Long story, essentially two weeks after a version upgrade, the sky has begun to fall. Our two vendors are somewhat gridlocked on what the actual issue is - whether application-based, or hardware-based. So I suggest to one vendor that we move the entire system - application and hardware - to his location, set up a test environment and see what we end up with. If system performance improves, we have a hardware issue. Right? In the meantime, the application crashes completely. So vendors A and B conference and then call me to tell me that they have decided to move the entire system - application and hardware - to vendor A's location, set up a test environment and see what we end up with. Thanks fellas. Vendor B asks me to visit their location and run the application on their system to eliminate the possibility of an in-house networking issue (i.e., fault within my agency's wires/flips/switches/routers), so I head over and the whole thing actually works less well than it is working in my building. I breathe one very major sigh of relief that I will not be having to rewire our entire building. And then we wait. And we wait. And we wait some more. I am still waiting. It is so frustrating for me to not know how to fix this. It is actually less frustrating that my vendors seem to be having a hard time fixing it. I'd really just like to be able to do it myself. And the fact that I am so weak in this area is just a major inconvenience.

So I decided to go ahead and attend the state technology meeting this afternoon, since there didn't seem to be anything I could do at the office. First presentation: Chief Security Officer just back from DEFCON(r) conference in Vegas, talking about digital signatures vs. electronic signatures and PKIs and CAs and oh my gosh. Just as my brain is beginning to catch up with his presentation, he sits down and some guy gets up and starts talking about encryption algorithms. And this - THIS - is where I become a bottom-line person. I don't want to know about it - I don't want to see it - I don't want to make a decision about it. I want to tell you what I need, and I want you to deploy my solution. At the same time...I feel responsible for knowing about, seeing, making a decision about these things now. So I hung on for as long as I could and jotted down a note to google "encryption for dummies" later on.

In the middle of all of this, I'm seeing e-mails go back and forth across my phone where 1, 2 and 3 complex and individual attempts are made at restoring our application's performance, and all have failed. So I'm back in the truck and back to the office, where I am able to do a minimal amount of troubleshooting before handing everything back over to my vendors, so I can wait for them to reach resolution. Still. I want to be able to look at all of this and know what the problem is, and it is driving me crazy that I cannot. My brain is like a Maglite when what this issue needs is a full-on flood - you know, like the ones they use to make it look like daytime in a football stadium at night.

So I came home and shut the Maglite off. Made dinner for me and the babe, then Pops picked her up and took her shopping so I could get some things done around here. Livi and I were sitting on the couch, about to get her ready for bed, and we were going over her numbers. When we got to three, she wouldn't say anything. She would stare at the number, furrow her brow a little, and then get this almost scared look on her face, and I realized - it's the "th" sound, followed by the "r" sound - she doesn't use those sounds right now. She literally does not know how to form them. So I made her look at me, and I showed her how to "thhhh". Which was, of course, very funny. We practiced "thhhhh"-ing for a little while, then we went back to the number 3, and I asked her to say it again. This time, she managed to get out a very whispery "thhhee". It was so tentative; so obvious that she was unsure of herself, that she knew she was in uncharted territory. Yet, I could not have been prouder of her. Because she tried, and she was brave, and because she is my daughter and I love the absolute fool out of her.

So tomorrow, I will make our crazy drive, and I will wait for my vendors to fix my database and web app, and I will try to remember that it is okay if there is something I just don't know, if I can't speak words because I don't even know how to make their sounds. And then I'll just sound it out.