Monday, May 31, 2010

When Someone Steals Your Chair

I'd broken a sweat already, turning the pool chairs so they faced the dewy green of some spectacular hole on the resort golf course, putting down the big beach umbrella so we'd get some early sun and have some cover later.  It was nine-thirty in the morning in the glorious hills outside Austin, Texas.  My friend Tammy and I had sought a quick getaway for the long May weekend.  We'd already established that there were going to be far too many children there (we both love our own, but when we need to rejuvenate, screaming toddlers aren't exactly what the doctor ordered) but had decided we'd get in some pool time until we couldn't stand it any more.

Tammy had just arrived with coffee when a woman stormed up.  "These are my chairs!!! I put towels out on five of them--one, two, three, four, five--at eight-thirty this morning so no one would take them!! I. Am. Here. With. MY. Family!!"  She looked at her husband and rolled her eyes towards me.  "The resort doesn't put the towels out for you.  You have to be out here early, taking care of it."  She clucked her tongue at my deeply boorish behavior.  

At moments like this, experience must override instinct.  If I'd actually looked at her, I honestly might have strangled her on the spot.  But I've learned the hard way that trying to talk to a person who is screaming at me is a complete waste of time.  And that the kind of person who screams at someone who took "her" pool chairs--even inadvertently, not that I was given the benefit of the doubt in any way--finds every day a trial through which she must suffer inumerable fools like me. If this is the sort of thing that makes her come unglued, life can't be any fun for her or anyone who has the misfortune to be in her daily orbit.  Her husband looked as though helplessness was a habit, and her teenaged daughters cast their eyes downward. 

So I meekly packed up our things and made to move.  Another nice patron pointed towards a couple of chairs that weren't taken, he was sure.  Tammy cursed under her breath but, after counting to ten, agreed it would have been a a major scene if we'd objected.  And we got our sun-screened time by the pool, the children were all really cute and fun to watch, and we read our chick magazines and talked about clothes and workouts and men and had a nice time as we'd planned.

At dinner that night we played the I wish I'd said game.  Most of it isn't fit for publication, but I thought "I'm really glad you're not my mom" would have been pretty good.  But we decided the Southern passive-aggressive tactic would have been quite satisfying.  "Well, bless your heart," we'd have said, "you had everything all set 'till we showed up!"  If you are not familiar with the way this works--it took me at least five years in Texas before I got it at all--it roughly translates to: Excuse us, you crazy *^$#%.  Do you own this %$&*@!& place?  We could take you in ten seconds, but since you are clearly in need of meds, we'll leave before your children require even more therapy than they do already.  But she wouldn't have understood.   Whatever else we might have going on, at least, we concluded, we don't have to pass through life being her.  Bless her heart.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Glass Half-Full, Considered

"Don't worry about letting go of things.  Think instead about what you would like to move toward." --Communicatrix.

Changing oneself, as I've written here before, is difficult.  People resist reinvention because it means they might be disrespectful of the place or family from which they've come.  When many people think about change, they think about how difficult it will be.  Thinking about what you're going to, as Communicatrix advises, sounds great to people who actually like to change, but it's completely terrifying for those who dislike uncertainty.  But then life is very difficult in any event for those who need to know what's coming. 

The idea of making things better is usually associated with big, sweeping changes--overhauling a system or spending years on overturning a landmark Supreme Court decision.  And yet, the smallest things can make a difference.  Not just someone bravely refusing to sit at the back of the bus, but making the small but critical shift to see little stuff that's good.  Seeing the glass as half-full can fix a big problem. 

In Switch: Don't Solve Problems--Copy Success, brothers Chip and Dan Heath give us remarkable evidence that looking at small bright spots and replicating them is what can really change the world. 

They look at teachers finding one positive attribute in a "problem" kid and helping him actually gain academic ground, companies on the verge of bankruptcy that find ways back to solvency, marriages pulled back from the brink of divorce. The best story for me is one about how pragmatic optimism saved a lot of lives. In 1990, a many named Jerry Sternin went to Vietnam as part of a non-profit to help fight malnutrition.  Millions of children were at starvation levels.  Sternin could have stayed for 20 years and written position papers about the need for infrastructure--there was widespread and deep poverty and a lack of clean water throughout the country, for a start--but instead he went and visited villages and paid attention to the kids who were doing well.  The difference?  Their moms fed them four times a day instead of two, and they were eating different kinds of food: the moms added shrimp and sweet potato greens (the latter was considered low-class food) to their kids meals.  So Sternin started low-cost workshops where parents cooked together and used the same methods, and malnutrition decreased by 65 percent.  After six months.  The program eventually reached 2.2 million people in 265 villages. 

"What if we had a more positive orientation?" ask the Healths.  What if we experienced a rush of gratitude when we flipped on a light switch or turned on a tap?  Humans don't do this naturally, of course.  We look for what's wrong.  This book reminded me that looking for the bright spot doesn't mean becoming a polyanna.  Finding that bright spot and copying it can make the world a lot better. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Should We Be Afraid Of?

In 2008, the number of Americans killed around the world by terrorists was 33.  The number who died from seasonal (not H1N1) flu?  More than 33,000. 

This week one of my favorite skeptics sent me a list* of facts about what we're freaking out about versus the hard numbers.  It's not only an interesting illustration of the nature of human fear, it also tells a tale about our daily information diet. There were only 321 fatal airline crashes in 2005, versus over 34,000 deadly car crashes annually in the US.  So why are so many of the same people who are afraid to fly not afraid to drive or be passengers in cars?  Because a large number of people dying separately doesn't make a news story, but 100 or more dying together as strangers does. 

Another list caught my attention last week.  What are the characteristics of people who are easily manipulated?  Seth Godin, who frequently provokes my thoughts, has a few ideas in this post.  People who are easily worked over, says Seth, do the following:

  • Focus on now at the expense of the long term.
  • Repeat a mantra heard from a figurehead without considering whether it's true.
  • Try to find a short-cut to losing weight, reducing debt, or making money.
  • Have an inability to tolerate fear and uncertainty.
There are more, and reading the post made me wonder how well I question authority. 

Godin points out that the bulk of advertising time on AM radio was devoted three years ago to companies selling mortgages; now it's to those selling gold. I'm pretty sure it's true for cable television also, but given his premise I need to go and find out if that's true or just an observation that rings true.  I don't really consume either, at least not on purpose, so I need to determine if there are facts behind it.

Newsweek, the source of the list of fears v. numbers, is on the market to be sold by the Washington Post company, but according to former publisher Ben Bradlee in this interview, there may not be many takers.  Yet AM radio is prospering.  I'll leave that to my readers to think through for themselves. 

*Apologies to Newsweek for not publishing the link to the original article but the bad .pdf.  I will continue to look for the original, but it was just too compelling not to include.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Beauty of Leaving Things Out

"The purest beauty in life is in the ellipsis...Intentional omission is the foundation of minimalism: we leave things out because they are unnecessary, and retain only what we need or use or love.  Omitting the unnecessary is a thing of pure beauty."

--Leo Babuta, mnmlist

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Performance Reviews: Judge Thyself

As part of the yearly wrap-up at my work organization, I am being asked, as I was last year, to write a detailed evaluation of my own performance.  I've never had a root canal, but have a sense it might be more fun than self-appraisal.

Last June I was only a year old, and could ride on newbie status at this world-class place I'd gotten the chance to work at.  I've learned more than I even imagined, and my colleagues amaze me with their talents and their work ethic.  Good Lord, their work ethic.  Twenty-plus years ago, when I living in a pup tent for months at a time and planting trees on the tundra from six in the morning until nine at night (remember, in that part of the world in June the sun doesn't set until almost midnight, and it rises again by about three in the morning) the expression was, go hard or go home.  Well, there were others, but they mostly about poop and not for a family-friendly blog. 

So I thought I knew hard work,  As a treeplanter, I didn't need to look nice.  I got to say as many swear words as I wanted, especially because there were about five guys to every woman in the camp.  I didn't worry about my hair, as I was wearing a hard hat all day and didn't get to bathe for at least ten days at a time.  And since full tree bags weigh about eighty pounds and I might have been pushing a buck ten in those days, I was really bad at the job.  As I spent more than half my time trying not to tip over, I didn't feel much love from fellow planters, and as it was piece work I didn't make much cash, either.

When we go through these very ugly failures--for the record, I did not go home, but went back for a second year and failed only marginally less, proof of my hardheadedness--we can only say it's character building.  Otherwise, we are big losers, and since what I did was pretty bloody hard, I figured it was okay to say I'd earned some grit.

Still, how to I personally evaluate myself against the gold standard I see every day?  I consulted Psychology Today, which says that overly high self-esteem is indicative of the manic phase of bi-polar folks, so I'm out of the woods there.  And really low self-esteem sounds a bit over the top, and when I saw it in writing I realized the people who are stuck there need a hug and a good cup of tea, and then a talented therapist.  I've had a couple of wonderful ones, and they've helped me absolve myself of my tree-planting sins and a multitude of others.

Exercises involving formal self-appraisal help us look back on what we've learned and what we need to do to grow more.  But for people who listen to the 99 things they've done well but go home and obsess about the one thing they've done badly (I'm getting better at this, but old habits die hard) they are rough.  I remind myself that I am learning from among the best, and that I know a lot more than I did when I got into this field a decade ago.  If I thought I was all over it, that would mean that I am sitting in my comfort zone. Boring and chickenshit. Gotta grow, gotta grow. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Grace, Humanity and Surrender

Faced with his son's suicide, a well-loved professor of mine took several weeks off during my last year of university. When he returned after Christmas to our small class, he talked not about the event itself but what he'd learned.  "As a young person, you probably assume that by the time you get to be my age you'll have things figured out," he said sadly.  "But you know, you never really get there."

Kristin Armstrong writes about running and friendship, and in her recent post, Bonded by Burden, she relates the story of her running friend who is grappling with her father's battle with cancer.  Armstrong wishes she could alleviate the pain, but says doing so would "eliminate the growth divinely appointed by the challenge."

With all due respect to Ms. Armstrong's faith, I just can't buy that.  There are gifts in many difficult and painful experiences, but there are things people just don't grow from.  They endure them, often with great courage, but when major loss occurs, I don't believe there are subsequent epiphanies where the sufferer says, oh, I lost my child/spouse/sibling/best friend/major limb so I would gain this marvelous insight.  Maybe that's not what Armstrong meant, though, because she followed those words by describing how talking wouldn't help--all she could really do in support was run beside her friend. 

Last week, I got knocked on my ass in a way I never expected.  It was certainly nothing on par with a major loss, but was an unpleasant and painful surprise.  All I got from this experience was the same lesson I seem to need to go through periodically: no matter how well I think I've planned and covered all the bases, life can still hit me in ways I never see coming.  And typically these things are just really hard and have no intrinsic teachable moments.  As my professor would remind me, being a middle-aged adult is no guarantee against getting blind-sided.  As Communicatrix would say, this is a moment to work on mastering the art of surrender.  This means I am not in charge. By now you understand I don't like this at all, but there you have it. 

We can't attribute cosmic or divine reasons to the hardest times in life; all we can do is make the best sense of them that we can.  When people know of our experience, most will hand us platitudes, which are worse than nothing at all.  But others--sometimes our dearest friends and family, sometimes acquaintances we barely know--will hand us a kindness that will mean something to us as long as we live.  Over twelve years ago, a woman whose name I don't remember and who I've never seen since held my hand during a medical procedure.  I was scared, in a new country, and knew almost no one.  My husband at the time was tending to our toddler, and I was on my own.  To the end of my life, I will be grateful to this person, who had a real job, one she did not only capably but with incredible kindness. 

The lesson that we don't travel alone, that no matter what life throws at us, that there are people who are sent to help us, if we are open to it, is the only gift in some experiences.  Spiritual people call it grace, and others call it the human experience.  As Margo Timmins sings (and Townes Van Zandt wrote): Where you've been is good and gone.  All you keep's the gettin' there. 

A Lie...

"A lie gets halfway round the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

--Winston Churchill

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to Get Your Kid Into Princeton

On another occasion..she would have smugly, sharply, explained that the system--the much maligned system that so perplexed and offended the woman beside her--did not exist to validate [this woman's] child's life, let alone her parents' lives.  It did not exist to crown the best and the brightest, reward the hardest workers, or cast judgment on those who had not fulfilled their potential by the ripe age of eighteen.  It certainly did not exist to congratulate those parents who had done the best parenting, pureed the most organic baby foods, wielded the most flash cards, hired the most tutors, or driven the greatest distances to the greatest number of field hockey games.  The system, as far as she was concerned, was not about the applicant at all.  It was about the institution.

--Admission, Jean Hanff Korelitz

Portia Nathan is a Princeton admissions officer, and her fictional character is an apologist for the Ivy League system throughout the novel Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz, a brilliant storyteller. At the outset of the novel, she is visiting schools across New England, a post she was awarded only after a long, dues-paying stint on the West Coast, of all indignities.  Korelitz does Yankee snobbery in subtle yet unmistakable way. Portia lives in Princeton with a British professor of English literature.  Their relationship is comfortable, or so she thinks.  Its placidity serves as a balm to a painful relationship she had as an undergraduate at Dartmouth. (Yes, as legacy parents point out, she couldn't have gotten into Princeton.)  As in all good stories, people make mistakes, and things change in Portia's life rather quickly in the first chapters of this book. 

Portia's personal story weaves its way through what's known as reading season in admissions offices.  Her thoughts on her job, however, are the theme of the book. Like Jacques Steinberg's The Gatekeepers, a non-fiction chronicle of the admissions office at Wesleyan University, it is sympathetic to the people who determine what feels for high school seniors like the most important thing that will ever happen to them.  And then there are the parents:  Korelitz writes satirically about those who call to make sure their child's application hasn't been lost and then must make certain she is aware of the lead flute playing or the volunteer work at the women's shelter. 

In a scene that makes clear how siblings can be as different as night and day, the man she is dating takes her to a family gathering.  His sister, who turns out not to be a caricature thanks to deft prose, is grilling Portia about just how students can go about getting into their school of choice.  "These kids just need to know what you want," she says.

These kids, Portia tells us, suffer from a lifetime of being packaged for admission. Many of them, she learns anecdotally, suffer from imposter's syndrome:  they've done everything to get into these schools, but it's not been their own voice speaking, so they all silently assume they are the only frauds in their class.

In the end, there is message from this book of fiction that rings so true: an authentic life leads to success, even when we are children and barely more.  As Portia says near the end of the novel, when she confronts an ethical crisis that may help her resolve a major personal dilemma but puts her job in jeopardy: "Oh yes, now I understand.  These impressive, compelling kids, enormously likeable kids--they're the ones we don't take.  This amazing, extraordinary kid, that's the kid we take.

What Portia tells us is that, in order to help our kids succeed, we need to let them become extraordinary in their own way.  That might mean Princeton, or for the other 99 percent of them, it means being true to oneself, not easy at any age.  Better to learn it young, if one can.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Real Jobs: People Who Take Care of the Rest of Us

Last Thanksgiving, it looked for a day or so as though I might have to work through the holiday.  When presented with this possibility by my parents, my son simply didn't understand.  My Dad, who was a police officer for more than three decades, explained to his grandson that he'd had to work lots of extra hours if a job needed to be done.  "Yes, Grandpa," was the exasperated response, "but you had an important job." 

It turned out my skills were not essential to the project, which was largely completed in our London office. Of course my son was right.  I was brought up in a house where a mistake at work might mean life or death.  This has given me a perspective that kids whose parents have regular jobs, as I think of them, don't.  But it's also left me, more than others, wondering how exactly what I do matters at all. 

I have a friend who is a nurse anesthetist at a very well-regarded children's hospital.  A few years ago she had a trauma patient come in.  Good as the facility is, it's not made for emergency care, but in this case it probably wouldn't have made a difference.  Still, she and the rest of her colleagues kept up efforts to keep him alive long after it was clear he wouldn't make it. By the time the patient finally died, my friend's tennis shoes were squishy with his blood. 

These are the kinds of stories people with real jobs sometimes tell those close to them, but often I think they keep them to themselves because, let's face it, none of us wants to know the kind of horrors that take place around us daily.  We only really care about the jobs these people do when our kid or brother or boyfriend might bleed to death or have a psychotic episode or be arraigned.  We take the work of engineers for granted while our water is safe and our streets don't flood.  (There are shows glamorizing trauma doctors, housewives and even lawyers, but the world lacks engineers because no one has figured out how to make sewage and bridges sexy.)

I have other friends and acquaintances who prosecute horrible crimes and still others who defend those who are accused of committing them. No matter how well they do their jobs, there will be those who criticize.  Lawyers of this ilk are not usually the most popular folks at the cocktail parties. They hold themselves up not against social approval, but the rule of law.  Really.  So because they don't expect people to like them, the rest of us can rely upon a framework of justice that works pretty well, just in case we or someone we love might pass through it. 

Once people understand the reality of actually doing these kinds of jobs, they tend, like me, to head elsewhere.  None of them make a person rich, to be sure.  Not being liked is really, really unpleasant for most of us, especially if we're not so brilliant that we're already used to it. Then there's the horror. When I worked as a policy analyst for the same police force my dad served, I thought for about ten seconds about doing the job myself.  But I remembered the stories about the drunks on the side of the road at four in the morning, the children found cold and undiapered for days, the very messy suicides that in rural Ontario only the cops were there to handle.  I knew I couldn't be one of these extraordinary people.

I care about doing my job well, and I will do my best to make sure my colleagues feel I've got their backs. I know that people depend upon me to get the job done, and I'll do what I can to make it happen.  But, as my former boss used to tell her team, we are not saving babies here.  Next time you meet someone who is saving someone's child or making sure your water is clean, thank them for what they do.  Someday you might need them.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

How I Spent Mother's Day 2009

Last year, my Mother’s Day began with a bloody cat and ended with a home invasion.

The kids were out of town with their Dad and his significant other, and I didn’t expect them until after lunch. When I woke, the cat, Midnight, had been gone for three days. Now she was sitting, strangely still, on the ledge outside the bathroom window. Coaxed down, she revealed the damage from fending off a tomcat’s advances: three deep bites around her tail.

As is my typical pattern for Hallmark Card days, I’d decided to spend Mother’s Day alone instead of taking up friends on kind invitations. Why give up a perfectly good opportunity for a little self-pity? Thanks to Midnight, I now had something to do: spend four hundred dollars and an afternoon sitting at the emergency pet clinic. Good thing I’d turned down those brunch offers.

Somehow I got her into the dog’s crate. The smell of Gus, a terrier of indeterminate origin, totally freaked her out. Gus and Midnight are like China and Taiwan—as long as Midnight knows her place, it’s all good, but if she gets uppity, Gus hauls out the aircraft carrier that is his convulsive bark; she stops trying to stare him down and gets the hell off the deck for fear he might break through the glass door to eat her alive.

By the time I got her home, laden with medications costing me a king’s ransom (yet having been provided by the vet tech with little or no notion of how to actually get them into the cat) the kids were arriving. I received some wilted carnations and a lot of questions about logistics for the night. Opening the refrigerator door, I suggested that for starters we lock the dog in the bathroom and the cat, still in the crate, in my son’s bedroom. We decamped to the deck, eating grilled cheese, which can, incidentally, pair quite nicely with Sauvignon Blanc, trying vainly to ignore muffled yowls and barks. We eventually gave up, distracted by the situation inside.

After several missed attempts to administer the meds, I called my neighbors, Susan and Jay. They’ve restored a house and are the sort of people who will take almost anything on, and they gamely accepted this challenge The cat expressed her gratitude by doing her best to viciously scratch and bite them. When they took their leave, the kids and I watched a little Desperate Housewives and determined our strategy for the night. The dog would sleep with my daughter, and the cat, still bleeding quite a bit, would stay in the crate. We’d hope that the doors of our matchbox-sized, 1927 rental house would do a better job than usual of staying closed and keeping noise out. My then nine year-old son, a thrashing sleeper known in the family as Sir Kicks a Lot, would be in with me.

Around 2 a.m. I awoke to a bony knee in my kidney area and the unmistakable sound of a dog’s nails clicking on the hardwood in the hallway. Oh my goodness, I thought (okay, maybe not in so many words) Gus is out.

I rolled over and blinked. Twice. There was a Saint Bernard standing beside my bed. He was wagging his tail. As I looked over at my son, I realized a train could roll through the house without waking him. No witness there. “C’mon, buddy,” I said, strangely calm in my half-awake state, and walked the noble beast out to the kitchen, where the wind had blown the back door open. In the chaos, I’d neglected to lock it. Buddy exited compliantly, and I went back to bed and was soon asleep again, only briefly considering who else might have walked in.

On the way to the office a few hours later, I made some calls.

“So, you had, like, a conversation with this dog?” said my friend Tammy.

“That doesn’t happen every day,” said the man I was dating. “Of course I believe you.”

“Exactly how much of the cat’s pain medication did you take?” Jay wondered.

My only solace was my twenty-something colleague in Chicago. “He walked into your bedroom uninvited? He didn’t even buy you a drink? Well, that’s a bit cheeky.”

After a day in the real world, I wondered if any of it had happened. I called my regular vet and he assured me Midnight would be on the mend after she’d boarded at his clinic for a week. As for the noctural visit, the kids had by now decided that I’d dreamed the entire incident.

Time for Gus’ walk, and by now it was nearly dark. Around the corner, there was a man holding the collar of a large brown and white dog. I recognized my Saint Bernard immediately, even though he was a she, and in fact a border collie. Jumping up and down, I watched the man, who had a glass of wine in his other hand, grow amused and hopeful. “Sir! Is that your dog?” It was not. But did I know who she belonged to? I ran home to get the other leash.

After parading Buddy--her real name, it turned out, accounting at least in part for her obedience--past my neighbors' house (Susan and Jay weren't home but at least now Judy next door could vouch for me) and in front of the kids, I was stopped by a woman driving around looking for said canine. The dog had jumped their fence several times since they’d adopted her a week before, and were pleased to find her on the front step early that morning. They lived two doors down. I might have been derelict in home safety, but at least I wasn’t hallicinating.

This Mother’s Day, we are happily in a roomier house. The cat and dog came with us, and though they still have their stand-offs, now they both spend their nights inside, more or less amicably, in different rooms in our bigger, quieter space. And, yes, I always lock my doors.

Monday, May 3, 2010

McIver Mom

Do you remember that show where the secret agent named McIver could defuse nuclear warheads with a couple of paperclips and a piece of chewing gum?  Well, one thing McIver didn't do was be a single parent trying to get to a one-week work commitment out of town.

I'd had this on my calendar for months but had neglected to very specifically tell the ex that I would be gone all week.  As luck would have it, it's "my" week for the kids to be at my house, and the ex and his SO had planned a trip to Mexico.  This I found out a week before I absolutely had to be in Chicago for five days. 

Enter single parent resourcefulness.  Find the only person who can understand--another single parent--and figure it out.  I have the bigger house, a new sofabed (it's an air mattress that blows up in sixty seconds) and a friend who's going through her own split and has been staying with a family member as legal proceedings drag on.  My deck and extra room will be her happy place this week, I hope, despite four children on her hands. 

All of this seems to be working out fine, although my children were both a little sad last night and I felt the familiar pang of maternal guilt.  I'd cleaned house and bought groceries and thought about every detail I could.  We had dinner last night, my friend's kids still with their dad, and then all got off to sleep by 10. I had my alarm set for 3:45.  I was awake at 2:30 and didn't go back to sleep, left for the airport at 4:30 (with a car service, thank God) and was then given an extra search and a pat-down at DFW because the pants I was wearing had little buckles on them and I couldn't get through security.  "This is not appropriate attire for air travel," I was informed by the jack-booted TSA lady.  At five in the morning, I wasn't my most delightful self in response.  I believe "you've got to be %*&!;-ing kidding me" was what came out of my mouth.  Or maybe I didn't actually say it out loud.  I was pretty tired.

Nap on the plane (from the looks of fellow passengers, this included catching flies and probably some drooling) then rush to the Firm office, then out to the convention centre to set up the dreaded booth.  Had fabulous help in the form of a twenty-something colleague who has the energy and patience for such tasks.  Off to business dinner tonight, where I must appear capable and in control.  Hope I can stay awake and then make it on my 7 a.m. call, be perky all day at the trade show, run to another meeting, then to a reception tomorrow evening.  At work as at home, I've got great people carrying a good of the load, so I should be fine, unless someone starts throwing up or gets really mad at me.  This can happen in either context, so I'm fighting this battle on dual fronts. 

My life often feels as though it's held together by paperclips and chewing gum, and some days I am amazed that it all works out.  The things I worry about never seem to materialize, and it's the stuff I don't see coming that knocks me flat.  Until I am actually through one of these weeks, I don't exhale.  Only a dinner and four days left.   As Kenny Chesney sings, I wanted it all.  And that's what I got.