Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Customer Service Matters

Two weeks ago, I ordered a decorated cookie from a local business for my son's class birthday party. I wanted to pick it up first thing in the morning, but the person who took the order said that wouldn't be enough time to get it decorated. I got permission to go during my lunch hour and scheduled the pick up for 12:15. If I left at noon, I could get there at 12:15 and be back to school by 12:30 - just enough time.

On the drive there, I started fretting. What would I do if they spelled the kids names wrong? Nothing is worse for making a student feel special than getting his or her name wrong! But all that fretting was for nothing.

The cookie wasn't even done when I got there.

I was furious! I was on a schedule. I gave them all the extra time they asked for. When a customer says they will be there at a certain time, the product should be ready - it's like a contract. I realized on the way there that I had to run home, so I said I would do that and come back. I grumbled the whole way there. "Not done?! What do you mean it's not done?! I have KIDS waiting for this - counting on this! I have to get back for book fair - I don't have the flexibility to come back later! The party is at 2 and it's almost 12:30! If I have disappointed kids instead of a cookie, other people are going to hear about this business that 'failed' me."

By the time I got back to the shop, I was determined to get some sort of discount for their failure to provide my order on time. I had even rehearsed what I was going to say.

What I didn't plan for was the baker offering to deliver the cookie personally to the school.

I was floored! All my demands for a discount and my indignation went right out of my head. I paid the full price for my cookie, left the address of the school, and said a prayer that it would show up in time for the party. Thankfully, my afternoon was busy the second I got back to school so I had no time to fret about what would happen if 2 pm came and there was no cookie.

At 1:30, my cookie arrived - along with a half dozen cookies for my trouble. Instead of ranting about the business' failure, I was raving to everyone I saw about the baker (not the owner of the business) who delivered it personally when it wasn't done at the appointed time.

This woman redeemed a potential business disaster by taking responsibility and offering to make it right - and she delivered on her promise (literally).

Customer service matters. It has the power to change a day and change an attitude.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I'm Such a Girl

This past weekend, my husband and I pooled our resources with some friends to have a laser tag birthday party for our sons.

We were looking for something unusual and memorable for this party. We had talked about rock climbing, but decided we wanted our son and his friends to be older before we tried that. Then my husband mentioned laser tag. For this particular group of boys, we couldn't think of a more perfect outing.

And the boys LOVED it. On the way to the place, the group in our car chatted about all sorts of things. On the way home (and for HOURS afterwards) they could only talk about one thing - laser tag. They replayed all their favorite moments, talked about trying to take out the group of "pros" who showed up for the second game, and congratulated themselves on their strategies.

And I was thrilled with the experience. The facility took care of everything - there was a plan to the party, they provided a cake and drinks, and they recorded gifts for each of the boys. I was so proud of how our boys behaved. The boys had an amazing time. It was a great day. When I asked my son to rank the party on a scale of 1 to 10, he said, "A Million!"

But I did have one moment....

It was the first game of tag the boys were playing. It was dark and smoky, and I was watching from an observation spot on the second floor. I watched our boys (every one a student of mine) work their way around the walls, watching for opponents, while a sniper (my husband!) was picking them off from the second floor.

And for a moment it became all too real. I was too aware that there are men and women who are in fire fights like this, but with real bullets and real risk, every day. While our boys could roam around without fear of what was around a corner or hiding above them, in real life, there are soldiers who live with that fear every moment of every day. The mom and the teacher in me was horrified to think of these precious boys in such an awful situation in real life.

Despite my best efforts from the day he was born, my son is fascinated with guns and shooting. No matter how many times I try to tell him that guns and violence are not something to take lightly, this is still his style of play - and the style of play of a number of his peers. It's so not my style - and not what I would choose for him if I could. But I believe this is part of his journey as a man. While there are many ways I can influence his development, this is still going to be a part of him. Boys and girls are different, no matter how much adults might want to believe otherwise. I know in my head that this is just play, but in that moment the play became all too real.

And my first thought was, "I am such a girl."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Trying Something New

I am an elementary school librarian. I teach 17 classes a week to kindergarten through sixth graders. For my youngest students, I pull a selection of books for them to choose from each week. Kindergarten students choose one book from 3 tables full - fiction, non-fiction, picture books, early readers. First grade students choose from bins of fiction and non-fiction sorted by Accelerated Reader color. We do things this way to keep the library shelves in order until the students are in second grade where they are learning how to alphabetize and when I teach them to use shelf markers. I also thought the smaller number of books to choose from would help the students not be overwhelmed by shelf after shelf after shelf of books.

But week after week I would have students come up to me and say, "There's nothing on the tables I want to read." Or "I've already read all those."

This is especially painful to hear after spending a weekend getting a pile of new books ready for just this group of students.

So I've worked hard to change up the choices. When kids ask for a favorite character or topic, I have scoured the shelves for those so they were available the next week -- only to have that student decline the very book he wanted a week ago. As I would collect the books to put them away at the end of the day, I would marvel at the titles that were left behind. No one wanted to read these books?

Last week I was highlighting books that were going to be part of our upcoming book fair. Class after class of students would have to be batted away as they tried to run off with book fair titles that aren't part of our library collection yet. I wondered what would happen if I highlighted some of my kindergarten books before I sent the kids off to choose one.

It was a completely different experience. I told them what some of the books were about. I read the first page or two of some. I showed off some of the pictures. Most of my students checked out one of the books I had highlighted.

This week I tried it with my first graders, too. Again, more students chose the books I highlighted (many of which were new to the library, but had been ignored in previous weeks) than books I didn't talk about.

It made me wonder if even those smaller sets of books on tables are overwhelming for some kids. Maybe they are afraid they will pick a "dud" and be stuck with it for a week. Maybe the cover isn't enough to grab their interest.

Whatever the reason, my little book "chat" seemed to help kids connect with books more easily than leaving them on their own to discover what books are available and then to choose one for the coming week.

I will be highlighting books with these groups of students every week from now on!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Free Time

I do NOT knit.

But I love reading "The Yarn Harlot." I've gotten her books from the library before and I downloaded a sample of her book All Wound Up for my Nook.
All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin

This weekend I read through those few sample pages where she talks about how annoying it is when people see her knitting and say something like, "I might do that if I had your free time." The author's point was that most people have some amount of free time or down time. Whether we use it to read or watch TV or surf the internet or knit, we have some. We all make choices about how we use what free time we have. The people who look at her sideways in a doctor's office as she is knitting have chosen to use their free time (while in the waiting room) to fret about their wait or to check email on their phone or whatever. She chooses to spend that time knitting.

As I read her rant (which was completely enjoyable) about the perception that she knits because she has nothing better to do or has too much free time, I starting thinking about my lamentations about free time.

It feels like "I never have any free time." My weekends zip by all to quickly. My post-work time at home seems to be over in a blink. But in reality, I choose how I spend my time. Some Mondays I leave school as soon as my official schedule is over. Other days I get caught up in a meeting or I decided to stay and get some things done. My "evening" can start at 3:15 or 5:15, depending on my after school obligations and choices. No matter what time I leave school, though, my time is booked with mom-duties until 8pm. If I have to bring work home that I couldn't get to during the day, that has to be squeezed in as well. And if I don't go to bed by 10 pm, my students get a  grumpy librarian/lunch lady the next day. My evening free time is finite.

Even so, on a "bad" day or a busy day, I can usually carve out an hour of time every day that's just for me. An hour's not bad! Sure, I'd love to have more, but during the school week - four days - that's four hours to do what I choose - read a book, surf the internet, be crafty, read a magazine, blog, journal, draw, etc.

What I realized is my true problem isn't a lack of time.

It's an overabundance of hobbies.

There are too many things I want to do with that hour or so a day. I can't read a book AND a magazine AND do some scrapbooking AND check my email AND work on an art journal AND check out Pinterest in one hour. I can't read a book for the school library AND a mystery for me AND non-fiction book on a topic I want to study in the same hour. It just can't be done.

In order to be content, I am going to need to lose a dozen hobbies or lower my expectations for what I can reasonably do in a week.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

One of Those Faces

Have you ever watched a football game where one team is stomping on the other? Some times it's a come back moment and other times the team just starts hot and stays hot. Inevitably, the TV guys will zero in on a section of fans whose team is getting stomped. They are stunned. They sit there like zombies, wondering what happened. Their faces are slack with disbelief.

This weekend, I was one of those faces.

We had gotten tickets to an NFL game where the local team was playing my favorite team. We were taking my fourth grader to his first live professional major league sporting event. It was going to be great.

And for the first half it was. But then the tide turned, the home team found their rhythm and they beat my boys by 3 points.

As the home team was building their come back, play by play, first down by first down, I realized I was one of those faces I always pity on Sunday afternoons. One of the folks who had to sit by and watch other spectators cheer and high five and chant. It was painful. Far more painful than to watch your team lose in the comfort of your own home. At home, you don't have to watch your fellow fans get desperate, complaining about calls that are obviously accurate but just not in your favor. At home, you don't have to worry that some inebriated individual is going to make an issue of the comeback and start something ugly.

In the end, it was a great football game - lots of good plays (by both teams) and our family had a great experience together. My son got to cheer for the home team and watch them win. He was elated. But I'm ready to go back to watching my boys play from the comfort and safety of my own home, where I can yell at the TV and no one cares - where my family will cheer with me instead of against me. I am ready for some football.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


There's all sorts of research out there that says when you praise kids, be sure to be specific. Highlight what you want to reinforce. Generic praise ("That was super") doesn't get the job done like specifics ("I really appreciated the way you picked that trash up in the parking lot today. It wasn't yours, and no one asked you to do it. You saw something that needed to be done, and you did it. That's classy.").

Specific. Details matter.

If you want your child or student to keep up a desirable behavior, praise it. Last week when I was cleaning tables in the school cafeteria, there were three boys still sitting at the table waiting for their teacher. There was a big, white napkin still sitting on the table as well as straw wrappers. I knew the trash wasn't theirs - these are boys who clean up their stuff - but the trash needed to be thrown away, and the kids are responsible to clean off their own tables. So I asked the boys to clean it up. Immediately, two of them protested: "But, that's not mine." The third reached over (he was the farthest from the mess, and therefore the least likely of the three to have left it) and picked the things up and threw them in the trash. I gave him 5 blessings (in simplest terms, positive "points" for good choices and good behavior). He stopped in his tracks. "Five? I've never been given that many at one time before."

"Attitude matters," I told him.

It wasn't his mess, but he cleaned it up and he did it with a good attitude. I wanted it contrast his choices with those of his friends. The attitude was more important to me than the clean up at that point. I was specific about what was praiseworthy; I hope it made an impact.

Last week I was on the receiving end of non-specific "appreciation." I'll give the individual the benefit of the doubt (which feels generous - I'm still quite frustrated over the whole thing) and say the intention was to make me feel appreciated and included, but the content of the message made it quite clear that the individual has no earthly idea what I do. Instead of making me feel warm and fuzzy about the appreciation, I felt wounded, angry and belittled.

Details matter. If you are going to reach out to someone in a genuine way, if you want someone to feel cared for or encouraged or loved, be sure you know what you are talking about. Be accurate. Be specific. Otherwise, instead of making something better, you just might make it worse.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I Wish....

I Wish.... (9/24/12)

I wish I had time to read like I used to  - like I want to.

I wish I had time to be crafty.

I wish I had one more room in my house to deal with the clutter I don't have time to sort (I could just shove it in a room and enjoy the rest of my space).

I wish I could get all the books in the library office cataloged and on shelves so students could use them rather than look at them longingly through the door.

I wish I knew how to help my son click faster and better with his school work this year.

I wish I could "do it all" and keep my sanity - and have time to sleep.

I wish there had been two of me this summer - one who got work done at school and one who got work done at home. [I think I would be more content now if that had been the case. Right now, I can't even tell you where the summer went. I did a lot of work, but it doesn't seem like I did enough to match the time I should have had.]

I wish I could get back to a place of contentment with my life.

I know I'm not going to give up searching for that contentment.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Church Chat

Periodically, someone new moves to town and joins our Christian school family. Inevitably, as I chat with them, talk turns to church.

Recently I had this conversation with a new member of the staff.  She shared what congregations they had visited so far, and her impressions on which ones might be a good fit for their family.
It would seem this is a natural time to for me to extol the virtues of our church... And I can't - or don't.

In this case, the woman mentioned a church that preferred contemporary worship and their family seemed to be looking for something with a little more balance. We have that! I thought I might mention our church when there was a break in the conversation. Then she said another one they tried was too old. Oh - never mind our church then. My son is in a small Sunday school class of 3rd through 5th graders - if he isn't the only 4th grader in the class, he's one of only a couple. We have a older congregation. When my husband and I taught Sunday school, we had 25 students in a fifth and sixth grade class. My son has 5 or 6 kids total who regularly attend his class. A week ago, he was the only student in attendance that day. It's a hard sell for young families. I'm concerned it could become a hard sell for OUR family as my son gets older.

Another time, the person I was talking to mentioned their old church and how they loved the Biblical teaching and Biblical foundation of the congregation. Now, our pastor preaches Biblical messages, and The Word is spoken in our church. But we also have pockets of folks who don't think the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. We have people who don't believe in the Virgin birth. My school family is more conservative, politically and in faith, than my church family. Many days I feel as though I live in no man's land in between the two. And it makes it hard to bring the two groups together.

I feel like I should be a better advocate for my home congregation - I love the people at our church. I probably frustrate our children's program staff because I don't attend the meetings they hold for parents during Sunday school. But it's because I am not willing to give up my Sunday school hour - I look forward to that time every week. I look forward to learning from the women I meet with every week - learning from their life experiences and their insights as well as learning about myself. I am proud of the things our congregation has done in the last 10 years to reach out to our community - our After school programs, food pantry, community center, outreach in Africa, etc.

I guess I just need to find a place of comfort in that no-man's land between these two faith communities in my life....

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pause Button

Did you seen the "Easy Button" commercials that were popular a few years ago? I've decided I don't need an "easy" button - I need a pause button.

I want to press "pause" and stop the world moving around me while I get caught up - or even ahead - on the tasks that need to be done.

I want to press "pause" and stop the world while I tackle all of Dad's papers that are still sitting in boxes from last summer. I don't want to blow through them and end up throwing out something I'd want later. [And frankly, I'm not sure where I'd put anything I chose to keep.]

I want to press "pause" and stop the world while I clean my house.

I want to press "pause" and stop the world while I process new books for the library that are waiting (and waiting... and waiting).

I want to press "pause" and stop the world while I clean out old junk and make space for other... "stuff."

I want to press "pause" and stop the world while I catch up on the email that piles up by 40 or 50 messages a day.

I want to press "pause" and stop the world while I do some things that make me feel like myself again - reading books and being crafty.

I want to press "pause" and stop the world while I help my son get a handle on his school responsibilities so we can go back to enjoying some of our time together rather than wrestling over school work every night.

I want to press "pause" and stop the world so I can just stop and breathe.

See, I can do some of these things, but I can't do all of them. If I could hit pause, get something done, then hit play again, I could get twice as much done. I could sleep until I wasn't tired any more. I could do my household responsibilities and my parenting responsibilities and my work responsibilities without feeling like I'm only skating by on all of them rather than doing anything with excellence.

In the absence of a pause button, a Time Turner would do, but I know they were all destroyed in the Battle at the Department of Mysteries, so I guess I'm out of luck there, too....

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Come, Holy Spirit, Come

This past Sunday, I woke up feeling sad and lonely. I'd had a bad dream about my dad, and the crummy feelings hung with me. I've been in a yucky place lately, anyway - running, running, running but feeling as though I am getting nowhere. Unsettled with my work (tasks that need to be done, not feeling confident in the map I've laid out for the next few weeks), unsettled at home (piles and piles, more stuff than space, things left undone because of more pressing things). Two steps forward, fifteen steps back.

Despite my grumbling, we all got up and went to church. I was the only one who showed up for my Sunday school class, which meant a morning of quiet reading in a bright, sunny spot (a nice contrast to my mood) and something I've done too little of lately.

In the service, I enjoyed beautiful music and a celebration of the gifts of friends. I heard a message my soul was longing to hear - about the restoration and the power and the change that is possible when we invite the Holy Spirit to be active in our lives.

The morning wasn't a fix for any of the things that wear on me these days, but I felt more at peace than I had in many days. And an element of that peace is still with me today.

Come, Holy Spirit, come.