I Live In A Van Down By The River

Just call me Matt Foley.  If you have no idea who he is or why it’s funny, come out from underneath that rock and check it out.  Click here to view a Saturday Night Live masterpiece. You surely will not regret it.  

And then check these.  These are my boys, then ages 3 and 5, turning up their very best preschool impressions of the hilarious Chris Farley character.  And yeah, we let them watch the skit when they were tiny.  Because we were terrible parents.  Or maybe awesome parents–depends who you ask, I suppose.

Matt Foley is the world’s least successful motivational speaker.  Well, maybe second least successful.  Probably I win (lose?) that designation.

At the close of our speech-language department’s monthly meetings, I or another of my colleagues end the meeting with what we call Closing Thoughts.  These presentations, not truly “motivational speeches,”  but a short 1-5 minutes in duration, are meant to impart a message of positivity.  Sometimes the messages are hopeful or gushy, some contain sentiments of gratitude or mindfulness, but always the objective is a moment of contemplation about our place in the SLP world.

I’m up for next week Friday’s meeting.  It’s our opening meeting for the year, and this meeting above all others, is long with procedures and policy.  It’s where our speech paths learn what the new mandates are (there are MANY!), and how much more of their time will be co-opted by paperwork and administrative crap over what really matters: speech-language therapy.  No one ever leaves procedural meetings uplifted.  Beaten?  Overwhelmed? Inert?  You betcha!  But not quite enthusiastic.

Being the senior (not in age, but in experience, ahem) program support teacher, I volunteer often for the jobs no one else really wants to do.  I’m no martyr or anything; I just feel at some level responsible for the success of our entire department, and especially for the happiness and contentedness my four office mates, so if I can relieve someone of a stressor or inconvenience, I do try to do that.  I think I’ve developed a pretty good opening message for this year, but revealing it here would be anti-climactic.

Instead, I’ll leave you with how I opened last year, which actually borrowed heavily from a blog post I’d written here, but people seemed to like my talk, so the message bears repeating.  This back to school stuff is killing me.  The shoulder-induced lack of sleep is one thing when you’re just hanging with your children, but when reality forces you to wake long before dawn and be smart on command all day long. . .  #epicfail, y’all.

 

Familiar with the six word memoir?  The story goes that a magazine editor challenged Ernest Hemingway to write the shortest narrative possible.  He submitted “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”  Six words.  Six words that provided character and conflict, that told a complete story.  A simple Google search returns this version of the tale along with 1.24 million more hits confirming or denying its veracity.  Whatever the truth, SMITH magazine supports a website dedicated to the six word memoir and its role in creative writing and self-reflection.

Last summer, my big kid attended the College for Kids Young Writers’ Academy at UWM.  On the showcase day, audience members, mostly parents and other family members, were invited to participate in a challenge much like the students had been doing all week.  One of the instructors threw down the six word memoir challenge.  I absolutely froze with writer’s block.  Not everyone did, and from the room came a handful of charming mini-bios.  Among my favorites:

I found you; I found me.  (And the “awwwww” went up from the entire audience.)

I am not good at this.  The audience bust out laughing at this young lady’s clever spin.

Life sometimes strides; Life sometimes sucks.  This one also drew laughs from around the room, and I couldn’t have been more surprised at its author:  my son.

Around this same time, I’d just returned from one of my Barenaked Ladies concert road trips.  The refrain I hear often from those around me after I return from another show is, “Don’t you ever get sick of it?”  That, “don’t you ever get sick of it?” would NOT be MY memoir. If I continued to do something that bored me to tears, I wouldn’t continue to do that something.  It’s why I have the ever-changing career I do.  It’s why I do the creative writing project I do.  It’s why I’m a people person, because my brain isn’t wired to be a tasks person.

You want to ride horses or buy your own spray-tan machine?  Cool.  You are captivated by Lularoe leggings or have 34 pairs of Toms shoes?  Good on ya.  Enjoy them!  I won’t judge.  And therein lies the difference–I won’t judge you for spending money and time in ways that make you happy.  I might not get it for me, but I don’t have to.  If you get it for you, it should be enough.

Try as I might, my six word memoir remains unwritten. How does one capture one’s essential self or perception of self?  Including one attribute eliminates space for another. I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I’m a friend. I’m a speech-language pathologist.  I dabble in many roles, but star in none. But getting back to my son’s memoir: Why was he, all 5’10″ of twelve-and-a-half years of him, able to crank it out in the allotted time frame and belt it out in a roomful of people?  I wondered, does it accurately reflect how he views the world?  He nailed it–life does sometimes stride, and it most assuredly sucks at others.  It’s profound.  Alternately, it’s middle school shallow.  It is balanced though, right?  Much can be revealed in six words.  Maybe that’s why getting it right matters so.  Have you written your six word memoir?  I can’t do it in six, so here’s seven:

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Image found at kikki.k Stationery

As you move forward this year, do more of what makes you happy here in your work as a speech-language pathologist.  If it’s creating cutesy, Pinterest crafty stuff in your therapy activities, do it.  If it’s mentoring students through an activity such as robotics or Girls on the Run, do it.  If it’s developing a laser focus on strategies for working with students with autism or phonology, do it.  If it’s taking a break at lunch time and walking around the block to get your steps in, do that.  Do it even if you get weird looks from your staff.  Do it even if it’s inconvenient or forces you to step out of your comfort zone a little.  Do it even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone but you.  I don’t have to get it for me, but if you get it for you and it makes you happy, that should be enough. You being happy will very likely make you a better, more effective clinician.   So though it’s one word too long for a six word memoir:  Do more of what makes you happy.

 

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Apparently I’d Be A Good Funeral Director

Monday begins my twenty-seventh year as a speech-language pathologist.  I’m the rare freak in today’s world of work: I’ve had but one employer.  Early in my career, when I was even more broke than I am now, I provided speech therapy per diem under the employ of a handful of rehab agencies.  But for my “actual” job, my full-time gig, my paychecks have been funded by the same entity.  Twenty-seven years and not even a stinkin’ pin for my 25th anniversary.  A “thank you” would’ve been nice, sure, but whatevs, that’s probably not in the budget either.

Labor statistics startle me, and my observations in my own professional department leave me with the only conclusion to be made: Nobody sticks around anymore.  I wasn’t kidding when I labeled myself a freak.  I am.

Until recently, I’d given no consideration to engaging in any other kind of work.  The litany of skills I don’t possess is long, and my experience is narrow.  Plus, I’ve not felt a calling to shift careers.  I’m an excellent mentor for speech-language pathologists (see here if you don’t believe me), but my profession doesn’t support hired guns as mentors.  That gig is rather in-house supported in the various environs SLPs find themselves providing services.  I enjoy speech-language therapy, I do.  But what if I was actually meant to do and be something different?

I vowed to take a career inventory in 2017, and what better time to do that than the eve of back-to-school?  Today is my last alarm clock-free morning and my shoulder injury allows little sleep anyway, so let’s carpe this diem and discover what I might be better suited to do.  I created a fake persona, because really, what better way to enter the second half of my career years than under false pretense?  Nah, I did that just to avoid the spammy emails.  I was also (so far) unwilling to make any financial investment without proper vetting of these sites, so I’m not all-in trusting what I “learned” about myself in 100 online questions.  What I’ve received thus far isn’t a comprehensive list of jobs, but a collection of broad areas of strength, weakness, and attitudes about work.

Based on my response profile, judged to be valid and reliable, I’m supposed to be a writer.  Apparently I’m also well-suited to be a funeral director or involved in food service or the outdoors.  I am realistic, attentive, and investigative (not social?).  Any one of my co-workers can attest to my being realistic and attentive, and I suspect they want to beat me over the head for my workplace pragmatism and my vision of how we fit in our workplace “real world” (and when I say “fit in” I mean how at “our level” we must defer to every layer of higher administration, which kind of means “Shut up, Wendy.” And why am I so overusing the quotation marks and colons today???).  Investigative?  Not so sure about that one, although as an SLP, one often finds herself unraveling the mysteries of a child’s communicative weaknesses and creating a pathway toward competence.  I choose to believe I’m investigative after all.

I’m not a writer.  Nor am I involved in funerary responsibilities, food preparation, or the Parks Service.  Not yet anyway.

Monday I’ll drag my ass out of bed, carry my left arm and shoulder to the shower, and fire it up for my forty-sixth first day of school.  I am good at what I do, and the students and speech paths I support and mentor deserve nothing less.  I can’t help but wonder though, what if I could be good at or even better doing something different?  Those deep thoughts will likely percolate, then emerge here as I inch closer to my birthday–the round one, that really big one looming. . .  This is not a midlife crisis, you guys, unless I live to be one hundred.

But today?  Today we celebrate the end of my summer!  Once they finally drag their tween and teen butts out of bed, my middle schoolers and I are going to enjoy our day under the unseasonably cool, azure, perfect last day of summer vacation sky.

 

What Are You Good At?

Obviously I’m quite talented with the grammar, ending a sentence with a preposition in the title here and all.  *and a stunned hush falls over the crowd*  Despite this particular gaffe, somebody thought enough of me to purchase this card with a beautiful message of thanks inscribed within, and a fab swag bag to thank me for being her mentor this year.

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The fidget spinner was not part of the swag (because we are grown-ups), but some energizing bath & body products were. Also, my children never ever put anything away, so my house is a disaster.

I was having a conversation with my friends, the Ladies ladies, not long ago. Periodically we throw out a random question of the week just to see how the others respond. We are all friends, but we don’t get to spend much time together in the real world, so sometimes these questions illuminate and help us get to know one another better. I was bragging on my killer vodka pasta, which I’d made a few days earlier. I wrote that since I’m not really good at anything (crabbing again about my Grand Canyon-scale negative space vacuum of artistic skills) I was happy to have some creative outlet in the kitchen.

Now because they are my friends, the girls responded by telling me I was a talented writer, a good mom, and a good friend.  See, they are my friends. Of course they’re going to say that. And how I love them for their mendacity.  But the reality is my weak visual motor integration frustrates me, and this is not news to anyone who has read this blog before.  I asked the girls: So, what are you good at?

I thought for a while myself, and came up with a short list of things I considered myself good at.  I’m a good friend. I really am. I’m a good program support teacher. Thank goodness, ’cause they pay me for it and I’ve got 183 people who directly or indirectly rely on me to be good in my role. I’m a decent cook–tasty food, but not beautiful plates because, hello?? And I’m a good mentor.

Fortunately, my mentees agree. So it must be true!  For fourteen of the last 16 years, I have had the good fortune to have mentored brand-new speech-language pathologists.  They’ve taught me so much, more than I could ever hope to return to them.  As a group and individually, they’re exceptionally driven, high-achieving young women. Like they have never gotten a ‘B’ in grad school types of high-achieving young women. They’re bright, buoyant though generally seem to believe themselves as underperforming in their roles as school speech-language pathologists.  They are not underperforming.

The miracle is that they do facilitate progress with the district’s (city’s, state’s) most academically and communicatively challenged students. They improve the lives of kids in most desperate need. They do it with woefully inadequate resources and with too often inhospitable working conditions.  These young women work their butts off while feeling they’re not doing a good enough job, deflecting compliments and assigning credit to everyone around them but themselves. 

I do kick ass at work. I fail way more often than I succeed in getting what I believe our SLPs deserve and need though.  If I kick ass, it’s because I’m surrounded by equally (no, more) kick ass SLPs.  I don’t do status quo well, and I’m certain that my boss wants to throat punch me at least thrice weekly. But my boss is a lovely human who understands that my wanting the best for our SLPs and students underlies that tenacity.  Yes, tenacity. Because “pain in the ass” sounds just slightly less professional. 

So thank you, Lenaya, for the gift. The stuff, yes, (the happy notes are SO me!) but the gift of time with you this year. It was I who received the gift this year. Watching you grow in skill and confidence, and measuring the progress you made happen in those small people was my distinct pleasure.  Thank you for reminding me that I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. Thanks for telling me you considered me a rock star.  YOU kick ass. 

Best. Card. Ever.  

What are you good at?