It’s A Different World

A few weeks ago, my job was expanded to include another plant under my human resources umbrella. I introduced myself to the General Manager and the office and production employees. I started with the personal.

“My partner and I have two children. They are 14 years old. We adopted them from Guatemala as infants.”

I shared my philosophy of human resources. I view my human resources department as a service to employees. I explained how they would see me on the manufacturing floor. I welcomed them to stop me and ask for a W2 form, address change form, vacation slip, etc.

Their eyes lit up when they understood that I would come to them instead of them having to come to me.

I marveled that I could bring me to them. The all of me. Specifically, having a partner.

It wasn’t that long ago that I never mentioned the word ‘partner’ at work. I kept the personal to myself. I wanted people to judge my human resources style not my personal life.

What changed for me was that same sex marriage became legal in Minnesota on August 1, 2013.

I am legitimate. I don’t need to hide behind unspoken words. I don’t need to say anything about my personal life. Or, I can.

This past January, Jody accompanied me to a work outing. I introduced her to the President, Vice President and others as my partner.

It’s been 4 years of living in a different world.

It’s a good thing for all of us.

Traveling with Hispanics

Guatemala City, Guatemala. Heading home with Juan Jose’.

It started when Juan was eight months old. I was sure that at any moment, gun wielding policemen would climb aboard the airplane and snatch our baby from Jody’s arms. We were on the flight home from Guatemala. Everyone on the plane could tell Juan wasn’t our baby. We were white and he was brown. I was in terror that Juan could be taken away from us, even though he was legally ours.

This fear has continued, though it hasn’t stopped our family from traveling. Internationally, we have traveled four times to Guatemala and once to Mexico. In a week, we will be boarding a plane for our third trip to Florida.

Peten, Guatemala Juan Jose’ age 7

The fear starts about the time we book our flights, whether international or domestic. I start thinking of all the documents to bring: passports, adoption paperwork, name change documents, birth certificates, citizenship papers, and photos of us as a family. All the paperwork that will prove that Juan and Crystel are our children.

We have not been questioned or stopped at airport security. That hasn’t ended my heart from beating furiously as our passports are studied, then we’re looked over, and finally the returned gaze back to our passports.

Cozumel, Mexico Crystel age 10

Even Juan and Crystel have questioned their citizenship. The first time they asked, I was driving them home from grade school. “Are we citizens?” Crystel asked casually. She is usually the one who brings these types of things up. Juan just sits quietly next to her, listening intently all the same. Once we were home, I opened our lock box. Showed them their Certificate of Citizenship documents and the welcome letter from President Bush. I described to them how I had laid out a train of documents on the floor, ten in all, sent them in, to make sure that they would receive their citizenship.

Even though we’ve been on 7 flights, I’m still afraid. My latest fear is that Juan and Crystel could be separated from us and questioned. That would be traumatic for them. For all of us. And, isn’t it our job as parents to raise our kids with the least trauma possible?

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala Crystel Age 11

I was thinking about this with our upcoming flight to Florida. It came to me that there are two additional things that I could do. I could apply for TSA precheck and Global entry. That would be proof to security that Juan and Crystel have already been vetted and have proved their citizenship. I immediately applied online, received our appointments, and took them out of school to meet with the agency. As of this writing, I’ve been approved. Juan and Crystel have not yet even though we applied at the same time and were at the same appointment. Jody has been approved even though she filed several days after us.

Florida, Age 3

When the renewal comes up in 5 years, I hope that we can simply complete a renewal form and pay a fee.

I finished applying for Global entry for us this morning.

I don’t ever think that it will be easy for Juan and Crystel to travel our world for the simple reason that they are Hispanic. As their parent, I’ll do what I can for as long as I can to make it not traumatic. That’s my job.

Spending Time with Teens

Juan and Crystel

Juan and Crystel

I’ll tell you right up front that this is a feel-good blog about teens. Stop reading right now if you think that all teens are sneaky, up to no good, and downright horrible. That’s not been my experience.

A teenager dog-sat and house-sat for us this past President’s weekend. The same teen we handed our house keys over to last year when we left for a ten day stay in Guatemala. It was the summer before his senior year in high school. We came home to a note on the counter and the house as clean as we left it. Our dogs were walked and run. Our cats fed.

Jody and I spent President’s weekend with 4 teens. We promised our daughter a cross country skiing weekend for her birthday. Juan, Crystel and two of her friends came. I thought this might be a long weekend, one that you just try to get through. It was a long weekend and I genuinely enjoyed being with them. Lights were out at 11 pm and the teens were up at 8 am to start the day. Of course, we used some of the same techniques that Jody and I used when Juan and Crystel were little. Such as, “We’ll see you at breakfast.” Knowing that if the teens wanted to eat, that we would see them at breakfast and that if they didn’t want to eat we wouldn’t. Juan missed one morning.

Photo taken by Jody

photo by Jody

The skiing conditions in Tofte, MN were satisfactory. As soon as the teens had their skis on they disappeared so quickly that I wasn’t sure which direction they went. Jody and I didn’t meet up with them until we had finished skiing several hours later.

We spent a lot of time in the car. A trip on Saturday and Sunday to Tofte to ski. An extended trip to Grand Marais. A stop at Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls. Being trapped in the car with teens could have been a nightmare but wasn’t. We took turns sitting in the cramped third seat of the van. Crystel and I had a competition to see who could have a straw stuck to their lip longest. I lost. I pretended that I was at the movies with her and tried sneaking my arm around her shoulders, to no avail. When Juan wasn’t sleeping he was beating me at electronic pool.

The most memorable and fun time with the teens was at restaurants. The rule at the table was no phones.

photo taken by Crystel

photo by Crystel

There was no bickering. No poking fun at each other. Which isn’t really ever fun if you think about it. There were times I laughed until my stomach hurt.

Of course, it wasn’t all rosy. It wouldn’t be real, then. After Juan mentioned for the third time that he wanted to go home, I told him that he needed to stop. That I had heard him but that we weren’t going home until Monday. He slept a lot. The same thing I did as a teen.

The following week was a middle school dance. Neither, Juan and Crystel wanted to go. Instead, they asked to have friends over. Jody and I would be working the dance as Police Reserve Officers while they would be at home. At one point when Juan, Crystel, and their five friends were gathered together, I said that if any of them smoked marijuana they were not to do it in or outside of our house. They all looked at me like I had lost my mind.

photo by Crystel

photo by Crystel

They were gathered in the front yard when Jody and I got into our car to leave. We were in our police uniforms and would be going right to the middle school. One of them asked me why I had said that. I looked at the seven of them and told them that I was fourteen once. Juan mentioned my book, House of Fire. He knew why I knew.

I pointed two fingers at my eyes and then I waved it in a circle at all of them.

“I’m watching you,” I said. “I’m watching all of you.”

Jody and I then left to watch someone else’s kids at the middle school dance.

It occurred to me as we drove away that I was making good at my spoken and unspoken promise to my children – That growing up, they would have a different life than mine. Both of them are 14. Their life is so very very different. I’m proud of that.

The Last Time I saw an F, I was in high school.

img_2035“The last time I saw an F, I was in high school,” I told my son.

“It was only an F for two days,” he replied.

That was true. His science grade had gone up to a D-. Seemed as if for him that was a cause for celebration. Or, at least noteworthy.

“And, there it sits,” I said.

“Should be a D+ soon,” he said hopefully as if that was something for us to look forward to.

At the start of the school year, Juan and Crystel sign a sheet of paper stating that if they drop below a B- they lose their phone privileges. I tack this agreement on the refrigerator where it stays throughout the school year.

Not as much to remind them, I found out, then to remind me and Jody.

ParentVUE is a wonderful tool. I click on it daily to check on my children’s grades. I watched Juan’s drop to a C+ in science but it wasn’t until it went to an F that I woke up.

“Jody, Juan should not be having his phone,” I said to her. We were at the YMCA in the dressing room. I’m not sure why that was the place it struck me.

At 14, the phone is the most important personal item to Juan and Crystel. That makes it the most important motivating tool for me and Jody.

When I was in school what was most important to me was how my hair looked draped over my arms in class while I slept. On my report card, next to the D’s and F’s was has the ability but lacks initiative. Sometimes, Juan and Crystel bring home a note from a class for a parent to sign. It will have the question, how have you helped your child in this subject this week. I write, I threatened to take their phone away if it drops below a B-.

My children are very capable of getting A’s. At times, Juan lacks the initiative.

16387422_10210598873182208_1856781610126200938_n1I’ve told them stories about my middle and high school experience: smoking around the corner outside of school, throwing eggs in the hallway, dead mouse on a teacher’s chair (she went into rehab after that), jumping out of a classroom window, getting an F in typing (who gets an F in typing?), etc….. I quickly remind them that the stories are for entertainment purposes only and that they don’t have the same parents that I did.

Of course, they have learned this, because I’ve followed through many times on joining Juan in his classroom when he was tardy. “Just trying to figure out what the problem is, Juan”.

He hasn’t been tardy yet this year. I keep looking at ParentVue under attendance, waiting for the invite.

Darn. It’s almost like I get to do a do-over when I’m sitting there next to him observing him and his classmates.

Love those kids. They’re attentive, respectful to the teacher. I keep looking for that one kid who has his/her hair draped over their arms sleeping. The one that lacks initiative. The one who is getting F’s, that reminds me of me. One time there was such a girl who came storming late into a classroom. Juan whispered to me, “That’s a bad girl.”

Hmmmm, I thought to myself. Sometimes all you can do is grow up and get out.

At last look, Juan’s grade has moved to a C+, inching ever closer to the required B-.

 

 

Enduring Friendships

Enduring Friendships

web-natcheztrl-e1450370163848124 years ago, I was biking alone on a Klobuchar bicycle trip. Beginning in 1974, Jim Klobuchar, the former Star Tribune columnist led annual, weeklong Jaunt With Jim rides throughout the state of Minnesota. It was 1992, and I often was in the habit of doing something new. I picked adventures even though I wouldn’t know anyone. I often felt as if I was making up for my lost childhood, teenage-hood, and early adulthood. In my twenties and thirties, I was ready to tear up the world. Do what I want. If an adventure piqued my interest, I’d ask myself, “Will I regret it if I don’t do it?” If the answer was yes, I was on to my next adventure.

I met the two men in an abandoned town on a Sunday afternoon. It was a picture out of an old western movie. Two men riding into a dusty quiet town on their bikes, while the damsel was sitting on bench eating lunch.

I overheard them lamenting about the lack of . . . anything. They were hungry.

“I have food,” I said. I always had food. It didn’t matter where I was going, I was sure to have food. When you are one of twelve children, you pack a lunch. “I’ll share what I have,” I added.

Out came the trail mix, the crackers, and the sausage. I even had dessert.

Galen told me he was a school teacher. I would meet Bonnie, another of his school teacher friends later in the ride.

Galen and Bonnie invited me to bike the Natchez Trace, a historic forest trail which extends from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. I met George on that trip. Together we biked in Glacier National Park and the historic Sun Road. That was Jody’s first trip with us.

Last year, Jody and I went to George’s funeral. He was 86 years old.

Klobuchar said, “Friendships developed that are still alive. That’s really my biggest satisfaction — bringing people together and sharing the road together.”

Gary Lund

Gary Lund

Gary Lund and I are very much in that category. 24 years later, we continue to email almost daily. He remembers our first meeting, saying it was the most miserable bike riding day of his life. It was a ride from Litchfield to Montevideo. Rainy, cold, and wet. He noticed me at the lunch break in Wilmar where we were both freezing, trying to figure out how to dry off and warm up.

Later that day he would see me in the ditch with a flat tire. He asked if I wanted help. I quickly tossed him my tube. We were together off and on for the rest of that week. When I wasn’t with him, I was with Bonnie and Galen, stopping in cafés and waiting out the rainstorms.

Gary was a front of the pack guy. I was grateful for his friendship. He was there to patch me up when I took a spill. Then he took a spill and I patched him up. We laughed lots. Talked lots. Never about politics or religion. There was no need. Our friendship wasn’t based on that. It was based on sharing food with people who were hungry. It was based on sharing our lives although they were different.

My life is fuller because of these people. I’m grateful our friendship has endured time and differences.

I imagine that they are reading my WordSisters column now. Thank you, friends.