Featured

I hate to travel . . . but (part 1)

I work in Global Education and repeatedly hear students express a love of travel, a wanderlust, and a passion for new places. I would never admit it to students, but I hate traveling. It’s very expensive, exhausting, unpredictable and fraught with delays, canceled flights, lost luggage and awkward interactions. So, why did I, in mid-career, choose to accept a position in Global Higher Ed?

I hate to travel, but I am fascinated by trying to understand how the world works: scientifically, politically, economically, artistically, spiritually, culturally, linguistically, historically… While it is certainly possible to get a pretty good understanding of the world through books and films, there is nothing quite like standing 100 yards from a ship passing through the Panama Canal to excite the imagination. I become suddenly fascinated with the robotic cars that guide the boats through – how much do they cost?  Who came up with the idea to make these? How much maintenance do they require? I start to wonder about what’s on the ship. Where did it come from and where is it going? Who is on the ship? Have they left family behind for this long journey? What do they do in their down time? Are there things or people on that ship that are not supposed to be there? How has Panama’s economy changed since they gained control of the canal? How has the expansion of the canal affected local economies? It turns out it has helped some and hurt others.

Or how about visiting the Berlin Wall and being transported back in time to the day the wall was built and how it must have felt to be separated from friends, family, school, work… imagining what my life would be like if I woke up tomorrow and a wall had been built along the edge of my neighborhood. It would separate me and my husband from our jobs, our kids from their schools, and our family from most of our friends. We would not be able to get to the airport. I have no idea where the nearest grocery store would be. And then to look at how the memorials to the wall have been constructed. How does it have us remember history? What can we learn from how the Germans have memorialized that period of history as we in the U.S. struggle with questions of how to memorialize our own Civil War?  And when the wall came down… my mind just reels with questions.

I’m not a historian, but how can I stand in a former slave castle on the former Gold Coast of Africa and not want to learn more about the Transatlantic Slave Trade? I’m not an economist, but how can I not wonder about how the slave castle as tourist destination affects the local economy? I don’t study education, but how can I not wonder why the young men hawking their wares as I leave the castle are not in school?

I know very little about the science of energy. But how interesting to visit a coal plant in Berlin and learn that the neat, clean, orderly, environmentally friendly Germans have doubled down on coal and rejected nuclear energy? Why have electric cars taken off in one place and not in another? Does it have to do with infrastructure or cultural attitudes or the power of the petroleum industry? Which countries are using wind and solar energy and which are not? Why? Some people say that wind turbines are ugly.  Really? I think they are beautiful and much more aesthetically pleasing than oil rigs, but that’s just me. Don’t get me wrong, I do love my gas powered car and my plastic bottles.

Even though I have read a bit about post-Apartheid South Africa and recognize that although Blacks gained some political power, economic power remains very solidly with White South Africans, there’s nothing like getting on an airplane going from Chicago to Cape Town and there not being a single Black person on the airplane to really reinforce that concept. Reading about labor migration and race just isn’t the same as staying at a resort in the Dominican Republic and noticing that the people working at the front desk are very light skinned, the housekeeping staff is medium skinned, and the labors on the road side are very dark skinned, and most likely Haitian.

The things that fascinate me may not be the same things that fascinate you. What fascinated me when I was 25 is not the same as what fascinates me at 45. But, it’s pretty difficult to travel the world and not be fascinated by something. So, even though I hate to travel, I do it because I love being fascinated.

Featured

The Santa Claus Debacle

It was the 100th birthday of my kids’ school, and they were supposed to dress like “old people.” I am the most un-crafty person to walk the earth. In high school, when it was time to make spirit posters, I would be asked to run an errand, anything to keep me away from the posters and paint. But, I am committed to making sure my kids have fond memories of childhood. Two days before they were supposed to dress up, my oldest tells me that he wants to dress like the monopoly man. Sweet, I think, I just need a monocle, a black coat, a top hat and a moustache. And little brother can be the same. Two of everything. I got this. I run to the costume store, thinking, how easy could this be – one stop shop. Of course, it was not to be. I find the top hat, glasses, a plastic cane, and moustache, but no luck with the black coat. I’ve got another day, so I take it home and figure I’ll get the coat tomorrow. Well, that’s when all hell breaks loose.

Oldest son: “I want to be the GOLDEN monopoly man, not the regular monopoly man.”

Youngest son: “I want to be Santa Claus!!!!!”

Are you freaking kidding me? It’s six o’clock, I have to work all day tomorrow, and you both want costumes that are going to require ingenuity, time, money, and desperate calls to crafty friends to figure out what to do??? Alright, I tell myself, you take care of much more complicated situations at work all the time, don’t let a couple silly costumes get the better of you. Stores close at nine o’clock? You’ve got three hours, you can surely knock out one costume. Monopoly man is going to be easier. We’ll tackle Santa tomorrow night.

First stop, costume shop for a gold top hat. Done. Next stop, Dillards for a gold sports coat. That’s a thing, right? No, clearly it’s not. I buy a blue, seer-sucker sports coat instead. I’ll figure out how to make it gold later. Spray paint? Next stop, Michael’s craft store. Starting to panic, I text my friend who is the ultimate crafter. “What kind of paint can I use on plastic and fabric?” She asks some basic questions to determine exactly what I’m trying to do and then suggests fabric dye for the coat and gold duck-tape for the cane. Check and check, brillant. She even offers to wrap the cane in the duck-tape for me. Score. Thank you! The costume is a huge hit. We have some leftover silver hair-spray from a previous costume and boom, old man golden monopoly! We’ll tackle Santa Claus tomorrow. I mean, how do you find the makings of a Santa costume for a five-year-old in September?

The next day, I leave work a little early, pick up the younger kid, and take him to the costume store. We find a Santa beard, but nothing else. At my wit’s end, I head to the giant hobby shop. Surely people who craft are already working on Christmas crafts. Searching the aisles, clock ticking, I look at my five-year-old and think, he’s pretty small, we could probably patch together some stockings. Just some scissors and hot glue, we can do this. I start grabbing stockings, and he starts crying. “I want a REAL Santa costume!!!” he sobs. I try to explain that I can make a Santa costume out of the material in the stockings, but he is just not having it. As we wander the store, I patiently tell him that there isn’t such a thing as a tiny Santa costume that we can just buy off the shelf. That explanation goes about as well as anyone who has tried to reason with a five-year-old might expect. When all of a sudden, I look up, and what to wondering eyes did appear? A three-foot Santa Claus. I flag down a store employee and ask him to get the Santa down for me. I have to make the call on the spot – do I think I can take off Santa’s clothes intact? I pray to the craft gods, buy the Santa, and take him out in the parking lot where I strip him down to his plastic and cloth birthday suit. My son is super excited. I am still a little doubtful. When we get home, we try on the suit. The jacket, hat, glasses and belt fit great. But the pants are about six inches too short. My suggestion is to take off the white trim at the bottom of the pant leg, add some red material, and reattach the white trim. That probably sounds sensible to most adults, but clearly I am letting the five-year-old call the shots, and he does not want to take things in that direction. What do I do? I run to Target and buy some red sweatpants – thank goodness they have some, I am not usually this lucky. He wears the sweatpants, and we hot-glue the santa pants to the sweatpants about four inches below the waist. It looks ridiculous, but the kid is so happy. He sleeps in the costume, minus the glasses and beard which I miraculously am able to get him to take off for safekeeping. When we arrive at school the next morning, it becomes very clear to me why he HAD to be Santa, and why the costume HAD to be just right. His sweet little friend is dressed as Mrs. Clause.

Work as Haven

This blog was originally published for the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities and can be found here.

In graduate school, I read a book called The Time BindWhen Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work by sociologist Arlie Hochschild. At the time, I did not have children and could not imagine how people could feel more at home at work than they did where they actually lived. I’ve always loved my work and been comfortable in my office, but how could it ever be better than the place where you go to trade your uncomfortable clothes for yoga pants and a hoodie so you can eat junk food while watching mindless, but highly entertaining television? Then I had kids: two boys, who are now four and seven. And Monday morning at eight o’clock, when I sit alone in my office, is the most peaceful and relaxing moment of my week.

What could possibly make people feel more at home at work? For me, after a long, loud, chaotic weekend of living room wrestling matches, epic meltdowns and endless questions that have no answers, I long for the quiet and solitude of my office. Hochschild spent three years interviewing and observing employees of a Fortune 500 company. She noted the reversal of the “home as haven in a heartless world (work)” model to be evident among all levels of employees, among women and men, and among those who were married and who were single. Hochschild notes that people often felt more appreciated at work than at home, that they enjoyed seeing their friends, and that the problems that needed to be solved at work were more practical, with well articulated, achievable outcomes than, say, my kids’ insistence that we need to have a swimming pool in our kitchen.

A more recent study (Damaske, Smyth, and Zawadzki 2014) seeks to empirically test this “work as haven” hypothesis. Researchers measured self-reports of happiness and stress at work and at home as well as cortisol levels ( chemical measure of stress) of participants while at home and at work. The study’s findings support the “work as haven” hypothesis. Overall, participants had lower cortisol levels (indicating lower stress) at work than at home. This finding was stronger for those with lower incomes and for those with no children at home. Interestingly, there was a contradiction between participants’ self-reported feelings of stress and their cortisol levels, with participants reporting higher subjective feelings of stress on workdays than on non-workdays. As for self-reports of happiness, women were significantly happier at work than at home, while men reported slightly higher levels of happiness at home.The finding that people with no children in the home had lower cortisol levels at work than people with children at home was surprising to the researchers (and to me). Age of children in the home was not included in the analysis, nor was the difference between mothers and fathers. Also, I wonder if parents may have different self-reports than what their cortisol levels reveal? The study authors did not address this.

Maybe I’m very happy on Monday morning to be sitting quietly in my clean office, drinking coffee while someone else has to listen to my kids complain about how the color blue hurts their toes, but my cortisol level tells the story that I know at some point this week, likely today, I will forget to sign a permission slip, turn in a report to my boss that has a dinosaur battling a robot drawn on the front in red marker, and get a call from the school asking me to pick up a sick kid who will then end up clinging to me like a monkey while I give welcoming remarks to a group of Azerbaijani government officials. I wish someone had taken a picture that day!

Works Cited

Damaske, Sarah, Joshua M. Smyth, and Matthew Zawadzki. 2014. “Has work replaced home as haven? Re-examining Arlie Hochschild’s Time Bind proposition with objective stress data.” Social Science and Medicine 115:130-138.

Hochschild, Arlie. 1997. The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work. New York: Metropolitan Books.

I hate to travel. . . but (part 4)

 I hate to travel, but… I love trying new food. Most of my life, I have been a picky eater, but for some reason, since I had children, my tastes have changed, and I now I love finding amazing new favorites with each of my travels:

  • Cherry Soup and Hortobágyi pancakes in Hungary
  • Chicheme in Panama
  • Yogurt in Karamay, China
  • A hot chocolate flight at Pijalnie Czekolady in Warsaw, Poland
  • Cheese and cured meat platters in Spain
  • Kelewele (spicy fried plantains) in Ghana

I realize these are not the most adventurous choices, but oh, are they good.

Food also allows insight into culture and globalization. I might have a traditional meal one night and then find myself eating pizza at a Turkish restaurant in Accra, Ghana the next. I always have fun with this when I travel with students who want “authentic” food. I start by asking them what authentic Oklahoma food is. They will often say BBQ, although we could certainly make an argument for fry bread and grape dumplings (traditional food of several American Indian tribes). Then I ask, “Do you eat BBQ for every single meal?” “No, of course not!” they reply. Then I ask, “Where would you take international visitors to eat in Tulsa?”

  • Laffa (Middle Eastern cuisine)
  • India Palace (Indian cuisine)
  • Hideaway Pizza (Italian cuisine)
  • Guang Zhou (Chinese cuisine)
  • McNellie’s (Irish Pub)
  • El Guapo’s (Mexican cuisine)

Okay, okay, we get the point…

But, this question of authentic food also allows for some very interesting discussions about globalization. I had an amazing meal in Boquete, Panama… sausage stuffed mushrooms, pumpkin risotto, a seafood soup, steak, and a luxurious dessert. The owner of the restaurant is a second-generation Italian immigrant. As I looked around at the restaurant patrons, I noticed that none of them appeared to be Panamanian. It turns out that the clientele was almost entirely U.S. and Canadian ex-pats who have retired in Boquete. That’s interesting. Why are these folks relocating to Panama? Well, you have the U.S. connection to Panama through the Panama Canal Zone, an affordable cost of living relative to many U.S. and Canadian cities, and a very low cost of health care relative to the U.S.

One time, students I took to Ghana were frustrated that we were eating at a Chinese restaurant rather than an “authentic” Ghanaian restaurant. I asked them two questions.

Question One:
Me: Who is eating here?
Students: Mostly Ghanaians.
Me: Then, isn’t this, in fact, an authentic Ghanaian experience?

Question Two:
Me: Did you notice the large Chinese population earlier today when we were in Osu? Why do you think there are so many Chinese people in Ghana?
Students: Blank stares
Me: Well, Let’s start with Hong Kong and Ghana both being under British Rule in the 1940s… moving forward, we can talk about Chinese companies in Ghana and throughout Africa, working in mining, building roads, railroads, hospitals, and other infrastructure, opening retail businesses. Depending on who you ask, these Chinese initiatives provide jobs for local citizens, pollute the environment and poach resources, or are courting a huge capitalist consumer base.

We often hear about how we can learn a lot about a culture by its food. I think that food is also a great entry point to learning about globalization and the fluidity of cultures. I hate to travel, but I love encouraging students to complicate their thinking about “authenticity.” I also love trying new, yummy food.

I hate to travel . . . but (part 3)

This is the third blog in this series, so hopefully by now you know that there are many things I hate about traveling:

  • Alerting my banks and phone carrier that I’ll be traveling
  • Airline food
  • Lost luggage
  • Flight delays and cancellations
  • Packing
  • Swollen ankles and sore ears on airplanes
  • Economy seats on a 15 hour flight
  • Expense reports in a foreign currency or, better yet, 5 different foreign currencies!

But, I travel because I love to be fascinated about how the world works, and I love learning new things about myself. There is another reason I travel, and this one is not something I love, because it is something that is hard, but necessary. When I travel, mostly internationally, but sometimes domestically too, I learn what it’s like to be the person in the minority. That is not usually a fun lesson, but it is an important one.

Whether I am the only white woman on an airplane with 300 passengers traveling to Ghana or the only foreigner on a crowded bus in China, these are the moments when I get to glimpse the experience of the recent immigrant to the U.S. who may be trying to learn the language. I can tell you it’s hard, and during stressful moments, second or third or fourth languages don’t come as easily.

It feels like all eyes are on me. I’m sure they’re not because most people are just going about their day and are not particularly concerned with a white woman on a plane or a bus. But, if they do notice me, what are they thinking? They usually rightly assume I am from the U.S. (Not sure why I cannot pull off Canadian or European, but I cannot.) What do they think of my country? And do they project that, good or bad, on to me? Do they resent my western privilege? I might, if I were them. Do they want to help the clueless American who can’t speak the language or read a map? Or do they wish we would all just stay home and leave them alone?

My first visit to China, I was alone at the airport taking a domestic flight from Beijing to Karamay. I didn’t understand the check in system. I didn’t know where to go. When I finally got to my gate, we all got on a crowded bus. I’ve been in other airports where I’ve done this, so I was comfortable enough, but then we kept riding and riding for so long. Still, the bus transfer at London Heathrow can be quite long, so I’m still good. But now we are passing what looks like an airplane graveyard and what appears to be a group of young military men running some kind of drill – there’s a lot of them, what are they doing? And why is this taking us so long? I can’t ask anyone because I don’t speak Chinese. And I get a small glimpse of how a refugee might feel. When they think they are headed to a safe place, but they really are not sure because they cannot read the signs or speak the language, and the long bus ride takes them past sights and sounds that are unfamiliar and disconcerting. A mix of relief and hope that you are heading toward safety, but also fear and apprehension because you are just not sure.

I’m careful to call these glimpses, because I will go home in a few days. I live most of my life in the majority with lots of layers of privilege. But this glimpse helps me be more compassionate, more empathetic, more willing to help someone read a map, and more willing to advocate for policies that support minorities. I hate to travel, but I have to so that I can put myself in other people’s shoes. And then bring that experience with me into the voting booth or to a city council meeting.

I hate to travel…but (part 2)

In volume 1 of this series, I wrote about my dislike of travel, but my love of being fascinated. Another reason I travel, despite swollen ankles and blown eardrums when I fly, is because even as a 45-year-old woman who has a successful career, two kids, and is relatively well read and well-traveled, I still learn something about myself on nearly every trip. 

When I was 21, I bungee jumped out of a cable car from 400 feet in the Swiss Alps. I’ve never been much of a risk taker, but that day, I learned that I could be: I just might have to modify and customize the risk. The friend who was supposed to jump before me looked down and chickened out. My turn. In a split second, I decided that I didn’t want to take the chance of looking down and getting scared, so I fell backwards. It was amazing. That experience, with some spin on how it could translate into the workplace, got me through my first few job interviews.

In my early 30’s, it was through travel, mostly domestic, that I discovered what kinds of things triggered anxiety for me. I learned to book flights and arrange lodging and ground transportation in such a way so as to avoid the triggers. In my late 30’s, I learned, in part through travel, that I am an introvert and need some alone time to recharge. When traveling for work, I am typically hosted by an international office at a partner university. In some cultures, the importance of hospitality can extend late into the night. So, after eight hours of meetings, you might spend another six or more hours of dining and socializing with colleagues. I learned two things in this period. First, I can do it if I have to. Second, it’s okay to ask to have downtime scheduled. This also helps me when hosting colleagues at my home institution. I try to remember to ask how much downtime they would like scheduled.

In my 40’s, despite extensive travel, including leading large groups of students abroad, and traveling with my own two wild children, I still find myself in situations where I have to solve a travel related problem in an unfamiliar context. Very recently, I was in China, alone – my colleagues who were supposed to join me didn’t make it because of mechanical problems on their flight. My hosts arranged for a driver to take me to the Great Wall. She said he would pick me up at 3:00. At 1:15 as I sat in my hotel room eager to check emails and rest my feet, the phone rings. It’s the driver, he’s here. When we arrived at the Great Wall, I assumed he would join me, but instead, he ushered me through the gate, and in broken English said “I will wait for you” and then he was gone.  I had no idea how long he expected me to be, and I didn’t have his contact number. I walked partway up some very steep stairs, took some pictures and headed back down to the entrance. He wasn’t there. A guard who did not speak English (mind you, I have only one word of Chinese – Xie Xie means thank you) somehow communicated to me that I should go to parking lot number four.  So, back up the steep stairs I went, bought a few souvenirs and a coke and finally found parking lot number 4. The driver was not there. I waited for quite some time. I tried to pull up the phone number of my host, but did not have adequate internet coverage.  There was a time in my life when this scenario would have led to a full-blown panic attack. Instead, I found a spot of shade and a ledge to sit on and drank my coke. I finally remembered that I had the phone number of the young woman who had picked me up from the airport. She was able to connect me with the driver, and a crisis was averted.

Some of the ability to stay calm in that situation comes with age, experience, and raising kids, but another bit comes from traveling and having to navigate unfamiliar circumstances and solve problems with limited resources. So, while I hate to travel, I do it because I love learning new things about myself and finding courage, organizational skills, patience, and problem-solving abilities that I didn’t know I had.

This is what it’s like when I try to meditate

Okay, everyone is in bed, I am going to do a guided, loving kindness meditation.

Get comfortable, press play. “And now, bring to mind a good friend and offer them these phrases – may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from suffering.” Okay, I’ve got this. This is nice. Door bursts open “Mom! I don’t feel good, can you get me some pepto?” Yes dear. Here you go. Have a glass of water too. Are you feeling better? These are the kinds of things you just have to ride out. Try to go to sleep.

Okay, get comfortable, press play. “And now, bring to mind a neutral person. You may not know this person well, but you can imagine they want to be happy and to be content.” Door bursts open “where is the electrical tape?” I’m not sure. Have you checked your tool box?

Okay. Now it’s bedtime, I’m going to switch to my sleep hypnosis meditation with my voice crush, Greg. Get comfortable, press play.

Greg: Welcome to this guided meditation to help you fall asleep.

Me: Damn you Greg and that hypnotic voice. Are you married? Do you hypnotise your partner? That’s kind of creepy.

Greg: This recording will help you clear your mind, and wash away your anxieties, and fall into a deep and peaceful sleep.

Me: Whatever, I don’t believe in hypnosis. It doesn’t work on me.

Greg: Stay with my voice. If your mind wanders, just return to my voice.

Me: Don’t worry, I can’t escape your beautiful, mesmerizing voice, Greg.

Greg: Let gravity draw your body into your mattress.

Me: I need to remember to order the groceries. My body feels like melting butter. How is he doing this?

Greg: Imagine a healing light over your head. It will clear away your stress and negativity.

Me: Bullshit. There’s no such thing as a healing light . . . oh crap, it’s kind of working. This is weird.

Greg: Imagine the light clearing away the negative thoughts and the stress. Focus on that. And feel sleepier and sleepier.

Letting go.

Letting go.

Letting go.

Letting go.

Letting go.

Me: Is there a hole in my mattress? I am a pool of marshmallow cream draining to the floor.

Greg: Now imagine you are in a field of wildflowers. If your mind wanders, take your thought, put it in your hand, and let the wind blow it away.

Me: This is stupid. Wshhhhhh, Wshhhh . . .

Greg: I’m going to leave you now. I wish you sweet dreams.

Me: No Greg, don’t go. Zzzzz. Zzzzz.

I finally have time to write a blog…or do I?

A couple years ago, I was recounting yet another story of chaos at my house to my boss who suggested I should start a blog.  Encouraged, I purchased a WordPress account and then promptly forgot about it for two years.  Well, I was reminded of it once when the auto-renew payment was extracted from my bank account.  Why didn’t I follow through?  Like so many of us, I was juggling a lot – an awesome and exciting job with lots of travel, enthusiastic and spirited kids who both play competitive sports, a couple of wild dogs, and all the other stuff.  Fast forward a couple of years and we are six weeks in to a global pandemic, juggling remote working, kids’ distance learning, my husband’s renovation projects (because that’s his way of dealing with sheltering-in-place), and keeping up with the endless cooking, dishes and laundry . . . what better time to finally start my blog. 

Most of the time, when it comes to parenting, I am definitely winging it, which creates fertile ground for comedy. I expect this blog will mostly be about my kids’ crazy shenanigans and my responses to them. But who knows, I’m also a sociologist by trade, so I can’t help but see the world from that lens. I plan to keep the blog light and personal, but I may not be able to help myself from commenting on the changing social norms as we enter a new pandemic observant world.

Welcome

I’m an “older” mom juggling a career I love, two awesome boys, one a “spirited” 10 year old and the other a stubborn 7 year old, two wild rescue dogs, and a patient and supportive husband. When it comes to parenting, I’m usually winging it which often leads to some comical stories to which I suspect other juggling parents might relate.