Saturday, September 09, 2006

Losing Control

This has been a very stressful week.

I think it comes from the fact that I was struggling on two fronts--work and home--though one was a more significant problem than the other.

First the smaller problem.

Sarah went through her second week of First Grade this week and things really are going fine. She is well prepared for reading, rudimentary math, and the other academic tasks that she must face. It certainly doesn't sound like the way this Newsweek cover story describes the increased pressure on First Graders in some parts of the country. And for that I am thankful. I want Sarah to get a good, solid education, not worry about graduating from Princeton summa cum laude right now.

It's always hard to get the exact story of what happens at school, though. Sarah is very articulate, but she is only six and her perception of things is different. She still sees everything in terms of herself and can't quite understand all of the motivations of others. (Not that Lynda and I can either, which is another part of this story.)

It was my job this week to go to work early and leave early to get Sarah from the elementary school. Monday was the holiday and then I started me new week's schedule on Tuesday. I picked Sarah up, went and got Grace from the daycare and headed home. At home I started getting dinner ready while the girls played. Lynda came home, we ate dinner and then we drove across the city to our weekly bible study group. By the time we got home it was 9 o'clock and the girls were tired. It was then I realized that I hadn't checked to see if Sarah had homework to do for the following day. Sarah hadn't said anything, but then I hadn't checked or asked. There was some small reading to do and worksheets to complete (more than normal because Sarah had also missed some of the school day to go to the dentist that day).

Lynda had to take care of going over that stuff the next morning and that is when the confusion began. There was a phonics reading workbook that Lynda put back in Sarah's bookbag Wednesday morning. But it got misplaced somewhere between the house and the time it was needed in class that day. I think Sarah had one of her six pins taken away from her that day because she wasn't prepared. (If you loose all of you pins, you don't get to pick from the treasure chest on Friday afternoon.)

We looked for the book at home, we asked Sarah about where it might be, and we looked for it at the daycare where she eats breakfast before riding the bus to school. Nothing. We emailed Sarah's teacher to ask about it and got what Lynda felt was a slightly reprimanding reply about how she doesn't want Sarah taking ANYTHING school-related out of her bag at the daycare. (We felt she might be prejudiced against daycares, an attitude we have run into before from teachers, doctors, etc.)

We looked around again at home and at daycare, hoping we would locate the book. We asked Sarah about it again, but as I said, it is hard to get an accurate view of the events from her perspective. She gets her passage of time confused and it's not clear what occurred when. But he had a glimmer of hope that she might have put the workbook in some other student's desk.

On Friday, I was prepared to meet with the teacher and pay for a new book to prevent (?) any further punishment that Sarah might receive from not having her book which we still could not locate. But on Friday I got another email from Lynda explaining that the book had indeed been placed in another boy's chair pocket. We saved some money, saved our stress, and prevented Sarah being colored as forgetful in the first month of First Grade.


That was probably the only bit of good news I got on Friday because I was in the midst of digging myself out of the work-related problem that I was in. I am not going to go into particulars here, since it is never a good idea to discuss work in your blog, but I get into generalities.

As I was preparing contracts for some work that I am freelancing, I began to suspect that I had made a mistake interpreting the budget of my project. For a few days (while trying to continue moving forward on other aspects of my multi-faceted project) I teased out the particulars of the mistake. Sure enough, by Thursday it was clear that I had misinterpreted the budget and done something incorrect.

Trust me when I say I felt very ashamed and foolish when I alerted my boss of my mistake. As he always does, he (outwardly) took it in stride and didn't waste any time getting upset at me. Rather, he asked questions and set about solving it. I made a suggestion, which he brought up to his boss and they agreed that it would be okay to handle it the way I proposed.

Everyone politely agreed that more careful oversight would have kept this from happening, but the honest truth is that I started the mistake and it was my primary responsibility to prevent it from happening in the first place. But both bosses were calm, not outwardly angry, and everyone moved on.

On Friday I went about my day, having meetings to review future plans on my project and make sure that all agree upon what is to be done and what everything is to be called--no small task when I am overseeing probably 100+ individual items. Corrections were noted and I moved on to the next phase. I had another meeting where I and other formally launched some of my items into their next phase of production . . . and then later I discovered that some of the corrections pointed out in the first meeting were not accounted for when one item was launched to phase two. So, I had to make some quick adjustments, clear notes to myself on how to check it later, and then photocopy the record to use as a check.

Of course, the photocopied jammed on me, trying to eat one of the pages in the process. And naturally, about fifteen of the photocopied pages were mysteriously blank, leaving them fairly useless for future checking. So, I had to go back downstairs again, get the original sheets and try to photocopy them again.

But the time my day ended on Friday, I was ready to get out of there--both to clear my head and to avoid making any further mistakes.

On the way out, Flipper stopped and gave me a hug. Not everyone knew about what had happened (I hadn't broadcast it or anything) but I had run into her at lunch and she could tell it was frustrated. Anyway, it was a very sweet gesture and made me feel better.


I thought last night that while I have been wrapped up in my own problems, my colleagues around me have been facing many of their own problems. And I haven't paid much attention to those problems at all. I hope I can move on this next week, staring out fresh for myself and being more available to them if needed.

Basically I hope to take back control of my work, looking at things more clearly and accurately. I also think that was a source of frustration with Sarah's book saga. Now that she is moving ever so slightly out of our parental reach, maybe Lynda and I are frustrated at our lack of control. We begin to realize that as our kids grow, they naturally encounter other authority figures and do things that we aren't a part of. School will be something that she does in the company of others, under the eyes of others. And while both our kids have done that in daycare for years, school is symbolic of another stage of development.

I don't mean that I oppose this development. I just mean to say that she isn't the only one making adjustments. Here's to making all kinds of changes carefully and accurately. Fewer mistakes . . . or at least no more big costly ones.


Sven Golly said...

Nah, she didn't want to go to Princeton anyway. I see her more as the Agnes Scott type, and this whole experience will give her material for her first one-woman art show, novel, or book of poems - an angst-filled family coming-of-age episode in which the teacher (and doctor, and manager, et al) has her own control issues, and of course, everyone wants to get an A.

Sven Golly said...

She didn't want to go to Princeton anyway. Sarah might be more the Agnes Scott College type, small private liberal arts bursting with creativity. And then she'll fondly recall these family coming-of-age episodes in an angst-filled independent film, one-woman art exhibit, theater piece, or first novel.