Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pop's 7th Inning Stretch

Dad turned 70 years-old January 29th and for all the hype that milestone birthdays bring, it’s no wonder that people plan parties, reflect on decades of living, achievement and the legacy that life brings when you have a portfolio 7 decades long.

My dad, AKA 'Pop-Pop' was born in New Jersey 7 innings ago, as Robert Howard Maher (yeah, with the same surname as yours truly). During that month, Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the March of Dimes. Benny Goodman performed in Carnegie Hall in New York City and the first ski tow opened in Vermont. So much has happened in the world since then; some were milestones and others are black marks on history.

For instance, the year 1938 was marked by several important historical events pertaining to the Nazi holocaust. German troops entered Austria, the Mauthausen and other concentration camps opened, Winston Churchill condemned Hitler in response to the Munich agreement, which allowed for German occupation of Czechoslovakia, and November’s Kristallnacht occurred (being the first night of large-scale violence against Jews by the Nazi regime). These dark spots on the year 1938 were only precursors to the darker years ahead marking the economic hardships of the Great Depression and the sorrows plaguing the emergence of World War II.

On the lighter side of history, in entertainment, 1938 saw the debut of Porky Pig, Daffy Duck & Bugs Bunny. Disney’s version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered. BBC’s production of the first science fiction program for television aired and RCA & NBC were born. Baseball introduced helmets for all batters at the plate, Pearl S. Buck won the Nobel prize for Literature, and Orson Welles’ version of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” was broadcast on the radio, creating a national state of chaos and panic. 1938 also marked the first time that Kate Smith sang her infamous “God Bless America” live on the radio.

Invention and innovation entered the world stage in 1938 with the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia, DuPont's marketing of the first nylon toothbrush, Douglas’ test flight of the DC-4 airplane, and the maiden voyage of the Queen Elizabeth out of Glasgow. The Thousand Islands Bridge, connecting the US and Canada over the St. Lawrence River was dedicated by thenPresident Roosevelt.

It was also the year that a 450 metric ton meteorite struke an empty field in Chicora, Pennsylvania, Howard Hughes achieved a world record by completing a 91 hour airplane flight around the world and the Mallard steam train broke a record speed of 126 mph. Transportation changed all around the world in 1938. My... how things have changed throughout the world in 70 years' time!

At the age of seventy, one has lived to see many things both personally and historically. Like a consecutive tri-marathon, or a very long baseball game, Pop has endured being a child of the Great Depression who was the oldest of seven children. He survived a two-year stint in the US Army, a 30+ year career with the same employer, the tedious raising of three precocious daughters and marriage to the same woman for 42 years. As a result of the endurance, his legacy boasts eight grandchildren and a treasure chest of friends. He has enjoyed tenure as a high school tennis coach, a hobbyist who loves working with his hands, and a resume of rebuilding vintage sports cars and fixing a lot of stuff. His landmarks in the community include being a volunteer all his adult life. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Elks. He is a Catholic who prays everyday and loves his family. For all that and so much more; Pop, you owe yourself a couple victory laps.

Congratulations on batting a 1000 and Happy 7th inning stretch. Let's party...woo hoo!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

There ought to be a law

October 1980 marked a significant month that has since returned to haunt me. It was the last month I was eligible to take the SAT exam prior to college application deadlines. I remember the day well because it was the bleakest day of the year. Reluctantly, (I say this because I knew I was setting myself up) I stayed out late with friends the night before, succumbing to peer pressures to stay up late…stupid. Oh, how I wish I knew then what I know now. As a result of staying out late, I was tired, rushed and late for my SAT exam. Consequently, I didn’t eat anything, felt a cold coming on and could barely see the road in front of me driving to Sonoma State University to take the exam (it was so memorable, I hardly remember checking in, with barely a pencil to my name). This one day and the scores that ultimately resulted from it set the course of my future in ways I never expected. My scores were laughably average in so many ways. They told the story of the night before, being late and the terrible October weather. They told the story of a student who had storm going on in her brain because the questions might as well have been in Greek.

I was an AP student at a private high school. When the scores showed up, my parents asked what the numbers meant and in my head I responded “well, they mean that I will be applying to the junior college and maybe a state school; however Notre Dame is just going to have to wait.” “These aren’t too bad” was what I actually said. My epiphany in the experience of taking the SAT exam was simply this; standardized testing had nothing at all to do with intelligence. It has everything to do with how much money one spends on fancy test prep books, test prep courses and sheer luck. Of course, the sleep factor is important, as well sharpened #2 pencils, good bubble technique and a clear head. Good weather helps too. I hated that test and have since developed a strong opinion on standardized testing as a way to single out clever people who may possess little if any common sense. I worked in my careers with people who were book smart, but bad managers. They may have scored high on their HS SATs but they had little sense about people or good business decisions. Ah, but I digress.

I know there are many people who are largely Einsteinean, attended Ivy League schools on the heels of their awesome SAT scores and I congratulate them all. Good for you. Please don’t take offense at my disdain for standardized testing. It obviously has measured many things; but it doesn’t measure ability, character or the willingness to work hard and achieve greatness in themselves or motivate others.

It’s been a long time since 1980. Middle agers returning to school (that would be me) want to be nurses. We’ve had a lot of life experience. We’ve raised families. In the midst of this we returned to schools and enrolled in hard science classes. We studied hard, often late and into a state of exhaustion, in some cases to the detriment of our real lives. Knowing that hard work pays off, lo and behold we earned high grades. We are so excited about the possibility of becoming nurses, helping to ease the pain and suffering of those who need our compassion and knowledge, our caring and concern, and our smarts, we earnestly apply to wonderful, local accredited nursing programs, where we know the training will be excellent and the experience worthwhile….but wait! No, say it isn’t so…there is a little test we need you to take. It’s called the TEAS test. Huh? It’s just a little assessment test. I thought I just took a whole bunch of tests (you know the ones that I took in chemistry, microbiology and anatomy and physiology)?
Sacramento State University has decided that if one desires to obtain a 2nd bachelor’s degree, one now needs to take a Graduate school record examination (the GRE exam- the exam that kids take to get into Master and Doctoral programs) Excellent grades simply aren’t enough. Standardized tests carry as much weight as the grades and the performance of a single exam on a given day (in a single testing environment) will determine whether or not you will be admitted to a nursing program. I thought that’s what the boards were all about. I was expecting the NCLEX, but not this, not now. I thought I put this behind me 28 years ago. So history repeats itself once again and as I stare at my GRE scores in disbelief and anticipate the TEAS test this week, I study hard but I’m not sure it will be enough.
The weather is better this time. I don’t succumb to peer-pressure anymore, not since turning 40, and I have plenty of #2 pencils. My eraser is 6 inches long and I am mad as hell. My hypothetical patient, Mr. Johnson, is waiting in the wings for me to scale this Everest. Ok. I'll try Mr. Johnson, only for you. Standardized tests don’t define the kind of nurse I will be. There ought to be a law.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Let's get it started now

2008 marks twenty years for us as a family and as I watch the years go by, I feel like the first years of raising our kids were in super slow motion and the later years can only be described as the “don’t blink, you might miss it” years. That toddler who was a King in the epiphany pageant is about to enter high school in the Fall, the little girl with the long flowing hair is gearing up to drive a car and the baby girl is gearing up for the middle school years. I’ve been so busy trying to catch up with the backlog of laundry that I hardly notice that all three kids are about to surpass me in height. Our discussions are longer, the topics more interesting, and the disagreements a little more heated, but the years of parenting are golden. I hardly can imagine what it will be like when they are on their own. When my son wraps his arms around me, it’s a bittersweet reminder that it wasn’t that long ago that I was rocking him to sleep in the glider chair with my arms encircling him. The time between then and now is a quick blur. On New Year’s Eve my son turned 14 years old and Bird turns 11 today. My kids are growing up. I’m so happy and yet it hurts so much.

We haven’t had a real baby in our house for 11 years so every time I lay eyes on a little infant, that old longing comes back “I wish we had more”. These sandwich years are difficult because in a sense we are fast tracked towards trying to launch our kids into adulthood, while noting new concerns about the health and wellbeing of parents who are getting up in the later years of life. Every year JD and I remark on how the year has been for us; both the good and the bad and the surprises that each year brings whether they are setbacks or success, sorrows or joys; there is nothing that can prepare us for the changes we encounter year to year, only the expectation that whatever comes our way, we’ll handle it but by the grace of God. Usually when we talk about these things, it’s late on New Year’s Eve after all the reverie has died down, and the conversation starts out a little bit like this, “Did you ever think that this year we’d (fill in the blank) or that (fill in the blank) would happen?”

Uncertainty about the future, the economy, politics, education, coupled with the nuances of life and death; these are the things that prompt us to face the New Year with not only a slight trepidation, but renewed energy, recommitment and hope. Knowing that as we enter the first months of 2008, some of the people we know and love will not be with us by this time next year and there will be new relationships around the bend, people we have yet to meet. Perhaps the coming year will involve finding and rekindling friendships with old friends we haven’t seen in many years, who really knows what’s around the corner for 2008?

More than anything, we see 2008 as the year we prepare for the changes in our own lives, including the kids getting ready for college and high school, helping our parents when and where we are needed and seeking our own vocational goals. Becoming a nursing student at this stage in my life has opened my eyes to the importance of life long learning. It’s never too late to go back to school, to learn something new; to start over again.

So in these uncertain times, it’s better not to know what the future holds, rather it’s a time to start over, in a sense and make changes, while holding fast to the important things such as faith, family and friends, knowing that while some things are just passing, the important things are everlasting, no matter what year it is. Let’s get it started now…Happy New Year!