Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I am feeling annoyed.

A woman who chairs a committee upon which I sit as a volunteer, called me today to ask me not to knit during meetings of the committee. She said that she feels concerned about the impression that I give others because they may believe that I am not paying attention. She said she could tell that I was indeed paying attention. But she thought that others might not be able to tell that I am paying attention.

She is older than I am, and in a socially conservative profession. She is also obviously not a knitter, because I was crocheting. So, I can understand that maybe she doesn’t understand my perspective.

My response to her was to thank her for bringing up an issue that concerned her. I also explained that I find sitting still and listening to be difficult, and that I am a more active and engaged listener when I am doing something with my hands. I advised her that most people around the room are surfing the internet or checking their emails during the meeting, and that I have no such temptation to actually be ignoring the meeting because my hands are too busy to trying to act sly by using the internet instead of listening at the meeting. I told her that knitting is more respectful, it seemed to me, than getting up and moving around the room, or than checking my email.

I did not tell her (and maybe I should have) that I have actually been thanked for bringing knitting along with me to seminars from astute seminar providers, who realize that I am listening and not checking email if my hands are otherwise engaged. The last seminar I attended had a room full of people with laptops. The speaker called out people who appeared to be following along with the course materials on their screens. He asked them to read an excerpt. Each time, it was clear they were not following along. They all declined to read. They were surfing the net. Every single time. Really. He thanked me for bringing along my knitting. Said he knew I was listening.

So, back to my conversation with this woman. She insisted that regardless of my true situation, I gave others the impression that I was not paying attention. I said, well, given my need to keep myself busy to actively listen, what do you suggest?

She said, “Sit still.” She went on to say, well I understand that you feel like this helps you listen, but it just doesn’t look good. Ah, the appearance of things is more important than the reality.

So, I thanked her for letting me know about her concern. I was not overly enthusiastic, and I probably could have been warmer about it. I really do appreciate her telling me how she feels. But I am feeling so annoyed.

I get that she felt concerned. And I don’t want to upset her. But it seems that she is fine upsetting me. And that annoys me. I find myself more and more wanting to find solutions to problems that include understanding and compromise. I would much rather agree to disagree than be told that I need to sit still. For goodness sakes.

Unfortunately, my desire for understanding and compromise, where we all speak our minds and still find solutions that can work for everyone, tends to get me into trouble. I have had a few conflicts that I think come from this desire of mine (perhaps not artfully executed, I will admit) lately and they are all piling up and becoming a little more painful.

Let's also be clear. This profession that this woman is in does not necessarily value understanding and compromise. So, it's fair to say that it's probably not something she gets to do as often as I do in my role homeschooling three children.

I think that when I was willing to just not speak my mind, it was easier. When I did what I was told without feeling annoyed, it was easier. Wait a minute. When was that? Did I ever do that? Well, a lot more than I do lately.

I also think that if it was a man doing what I was doing, she would not have said anything. But that is perhaps my own issues speaking to the situation. Finally, I wonder why she thinks that only she can tell that I am paying attention. Does she think she can see that I am paying attention and assume that the rest of the room is full of dolts who don't know better? Okay, that's not very generous. But, I still wonder why if she can see that I am paying attention, she worries that others won't.

So, now, what to do about this situation? Not bring any yarn to meetings because I know it will offend this woman? Bring the yarn and see what the consequences will be? Quit the committee (because I am having other issues with it anyway) even though it would be before the end of my commitment, and it is a professional committee that could someday be meaningful if I ever need to go back to work and earn some real money? Bring it up on the agenda, and explain so everyone can understand that I am using yarn as a listening tool and agree to put the yarn down when guests are in the room? I really like the latter idea, but I suspect it will irk said Chair. What to do? What to do?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Snow Days

Recently, I went snowboarding with my good friend, Ginny, and her kids. The kids take weekly ski lessons and their parents get to do some skiing while the kids are in ski school. I tagged along with them since Ginny could use an adult companion and I could use a friend to hang with on the mountain.

My husband and I used to snowboard pretty much every weekend and sometimes more often. We took lovely snowy vacations. We laughed in the face of big bumps, loved the black diamond runs, hopped over obstacles, dropped over ledges into big snowy bowls, and could get off the lift without falling (which is a significant skill on a snowboard!). He even asked me to marry him at the top of Stevens Pass, and our friends bought us season passes as a wedding gift. Our snow days were full of romance and fun. We haven’t snowboarded together in eight years. It often feels like that era has ended for us.

Yet, here I was with Ginny, 8 years from my last time at Stevens Pass. While it was not a day I would have chosen when I used to be able to choose – hard pack, overcast, and blech – it was fun to be back. It hasn’t been a full 8 years away from my board, but nearly so. I had one half day almost three years ago. And that is it. I’ll admit I was a little nervous.

I can now attest to the fact that my muscles have memory. But it’s also true that they need reminding. After an awkward start, it felt almost normal again (I only wiped out getting off the lift once). And it felt sort of awesome.

I did notice some differences from my wicked snowboarding experiences of yesteryear (aside from the fact that I used to say “wicked” and now I do not, unless I am reading a fairy tale). Yet it’s hard to know what caused the differences. For example, did the fact that I had to adjust my leash to a bigger size mean that my calf muscle is stronger from carrying a toddler in my backpack every day? No, I don’t think so, either.

After several runs, I got off the lift gracefully on the outside (and quaking on the inside). And I found myself on steeps on the back side of Stevens, nostalgically finding a path down the ungroomed concrete-like bumps.

And I quickly had enough of that. Rather than continue to be abused by the bumps, I found the groomed runs more tolerable. This is indeed a difference. There was a time when I would rather ride concrete ridges any day than wide open groomers. Probably that time is over.

After three hours on the slopes, my legs were burning. I self-medicated with a glass of wine and noticed the full bars. I had no idea before how many people spent the afternoon on the ski hill in the bar. I had never seen this before. I was always rushing to eat and get back out for the rest of the day’s runs.

I was also struck by the weird culture of downhill. How did I not notice before all of the fancy jackets and obvious privilege? These people, were, after all, able to afford expensive gear and $63 lift tickets. And expensive food and drinks in the bar. Was I one of those people who did that without a second thought once? I think I was. Before we transitioned to one income and three kids.

Ginny’s kids seemed to be having a wonderful time (despite the two crashes her poor boy had, one of which ended the day with a ride down from ski patrol - not seriously injured, but sore and sad nonetheless). Yet, I noticed a million ways in which my kids would not have had a similarly fun time.

When my kids are old enough to ski, I always told myself, the whole family would start going up together. In the past couple of years, my friends with kids younger than my oldest have been putting their kids in ski schools, and then enjoying full days of downhill fun while the kids learn to ski. They kids like it, they say, and the parents enjoy the weekly snow time. With a two year-old at home, ski lessons would mean either separating the family every week for a long day, or bringing a two year-old to the ski hill and trying to entertain her for a full day. Somehow hanging out with my two year-old, the odor sweaty ski socks, and the squeak-clomp of ski boots all day does not grab me. Thus, I have just not summoned the energy to make it happen.

My older kids also are not super excited about taking ski lessons. They don’t relish the idea of being dropped off with a stranger and a group of other kids to do something that they feel is physically challenging. While I always envisioned enrolling them in ski school, the homeschooler in me realizes that they can learn to ski or snowboard just like I did, with a couple of pointers from friends and a lot of trial and error. Since I snowboard, I may not be the best person to provide ski lessons. Unless….I learn to downhill ski. It’s crazy, so I am not going to go there yet.

Likewise, my kids don’t have the tolerance for crashing and falling that Ginny’s kids do. They were horrified to learn that their little friend had a crash that ended his day on the slopes. They hold on to me for dear life when we get on roller skates on a flat rink. They do not crave speed. They do not welcome danger.

And that’s okay with me. I didn’t feel comfortable with the speed/danger/crashing stuff until I was in high school at the earliest. And I didn’t really embrace it until I was in college. And that still gave me a good ten years of hardcore snowboaring before I took my parenting hiatus.

What I did realize last month, when we tried cross country skiing as a family, is that everyone in my family can manage cross country skiing together. Baby Sister rides in the sled. The rest of us ski. Even I can go as fast as my 5 year-old on skis. And it’s probably good for them to see me tipping over and muddling through as much as they do. They will learn to balance and move on skis. But they will also have a model show what it’s like to struggle and learn a new physical skill.

I also note that there are some distinct advantages to cross country skiing that I never considered before trying it with my kids. For a lot less than the cost of lift tickets, we can enjoy a day of cross country skiing together. Rather than blasting down the hill and getting separated, or having to wait for someone who is slower, we can all ski together, chatting as we go. We never have to stop and sit on a cold lift in the wind. I don’t have to worry about my kids falling off the lift. And did I mention the cost of lift tickets? Yikes!

When Baby Sis is old enough to put planks on her feet, we will revisit our position. Maybe it will be time to consider some vertical. Until then, we will work on the kids’ cross country skills and enjoy family time that way together for a bit longer.