Monday, December 21, 2015

On the bus

When I was a kid the main mode of transport for our family was bus, tram or bicycle. Even after my father got his first car I usually took the bus wherever I needed to go, as do most people in Dublin to this day. Dubliners complain about public transport but actually, compared with most other cities I have lived in, it is very good and inexpensive. Possibly the only city with a better public transportation system is London. Certainly Austin TX, where I now live, is way behind the times in this respect. We are only now getting sidewalks and the recent addition of a commuter train is sadly under utilized. Americans are very attached to their cars, Texans more especially, their cars and their pickup trucks.

When I visit Seattle I stay with my son in Bellevue, but usually I am there for work, so I take the bus every morning and every evening. Seattle has a really good public transport system, and busing it is kind of nostalgic for me, particularly as the Seattle weather is similar to that in Dublin.

One thing about traveling on a bus during rush hour, you get a lot of time to observe people and to think about what you are observing.

In this picture from 1952 it is possible to see the bar
Photo from Irish History links 
When I was a kid, the buses didn't have doors, people jumped on and off at stop lights, or the tardy chased after the bus and jumped on as it pulled away. There was even a cool way to dismount from a moving bus. There was a bar in the center of the opening, you held on to that bar until you had the perfect spot to dismount, then let go, landing in a run equating to the speed of the bus at the time of letting go the bar. That is a skill long since lost.

People chatted at the bus stop, formed an orderly queue and never, ever jumped the queue. There was a bus driver and a bus conductor on every bus. The conductor walked up and down the aisles of both decks, collecting fares and issuing tickets. From time to time an inspector would get on and go through the bus punching tickets to verify everyone had paid their fare, and that it was the correct fare. The inspectors had perfected the moving mount and dismount of the bus.

Dublin today
While on the bus, people chatted, or children hastily finished homework. If there were adults standing and children seated, and those children didn't immediately stand to give an adult their seat, more than one person would chastise them and force them to do so. Young men were the next line of seat surrenderers, after that older men. All elderly women had a seat, any seats left were take by elderly men, then younger women. You get the picture I am sure.

Needless to say, no one had electronic devices, least of all smart phones.

Now I observe old women, some unable to move without the aid of a cane, standing while children and apparently healthy young men and women remain seated. Everyone is glued to the screen of their smart phone.Texting, reading or playing games. No one talks and certainly no one volunteers their seat to someone in need. At the bus stops it is a free for all, there are no unwritten rules. And, no bus conductor. Back in the days of the conductor, the driver was in a separated cab, not to be disturbed by anything. Now the driver is seated by the door, he doesn't even take the fares, but monitors people as they get on to ensure they either use their ticket to electronically pay the required amount, or place the exact cash in the every hungry machine - it you don't have the correct amount, you better have more because you won't get change, and you won't get on without paying.

And so, we have disposed of the conductor, the inspector and added a door to prevent unscheduled mounting or dismounting, however cool and agile they might have been.

Seattle bus
The buses in Seattle are not double deckers, like in Dublin, they are double length, with an accordion type join in the middle - to allow it to safely turn corners. It gives me considerable amusement to watch the passengers in the seats in that section of the bus, there is a circular plate with seating mounted on, and as the bus turns the corner, the circle turns and so do the seats, and the passengers unlucky enough to be seated there. It is almost like a somewhat pathetic ride at a fun fair and it makes texting, reading or game playing quite difficult, I know because on occasion I have been unfortunate enough to have been seated in one of those swiveling seats.








Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The job of a QA Engineer

"Four years ago I couldn't spell engineer, now I are one." Used to be a funny saying a long time ago. Now I really are an engineer and have been for a lot longer than four years.

I won't go into how I got there, but my path brought me through 'Application Developer'.


There are some definitions out there, but to me an Application Developer is someone who develops applications using libraries that a real developer has created to make developing applications easy. I don't know about easy, but it was fun. And it still is. I never quite got over that feeling of amazement when some piece of code I write actually performs as I expected.

When I came to America (read my book to find out how I got here), the most important thing to me was to find a job, any job. I was quite prepared to wait tables if necessary. In fact, in the first year, I ended up with three jobs, yes, at the same time.  I taught horseback riding (yes, I am qualified to do that) on Saturday. At night I did the books for a window treatment company, and during the day I was a Software Quality Assurance Engineer. Never heard of that job before I got it.  But like I said, any job!



I went to a job fair and handed my resume out to everyone. Long story short I got an interview and was offered the choice of Customer Service Engineer or Quality Assurance Engineer. The second sound really interesting so I chose that. What a fortunate choice.

The first few weeks I had to scramble to figure out the jargon. Hell, I was just learning to speak American, speaking QA on top of that was not easy. But I got it. I figured out what a Test Plan was, established that, while very boring, it was also very necessary. And best of all, I got to program.

Writing tests is a whole lot easier, and more fun, than what I call 'real programming'. You, the QA Engineer, decide what you want to write and how you want to write it, rather than have a designer tell you what to do. You get to know and understand, and experience, the entire application. A developer only works on one small part, and frequently is totally ignorant as to how their contribution is incorporated into the whole.

The down side is that you are the last line of defense, after you is the USER. And no matter how many defects you find and are responsible for preventing the USER from encountering, you are held responsible for those few that escape into USER land.

Believe me, there is no one, not even the USER, who feels worse about the escapees. We live to catch those bugs. The ones that get away (and we know there will be many of them) are the ones we live in terror of. They are the bugs that define who we are to the rest of our colleagues.

The only person who knows about the bugs you catch and prevent from getting out are the developers  whose bug you managed to catch - and the good developers know and appreciate your work - after all, you prevented them from looking bad. Everyone knows about the bugs that get away.

So, I hear you ask, why do we do it?  I know why I do it. I love programming but I know that I am not good enough at it to be a programmer, and truth be told, I like being involved in the entire production. I like all of the side shows associated with QA but still get to write code, and it doesn't have to be highly efficient, just has to catch those bugs and exercise as much of the real code as possible. But I am also a little bit OCD, OK, may a lot OCD - and I am a Virgo.

Most of all I don't want to use applications that keep crashing, returning errors or just flat 'don't work' and I get a huge amount of satisfaction from making sure that my customers (yes, I think of them as mine) are protected from the same unpleasant experiences.

You are more than welcome! It is my great pleasure.





Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Words of Advice

borrowed from Mishi's Gathering

Here are some of the things I would tell my younger self:

  1. Yes, use the words 'fuck off' much more frequently
  2. It is OK to dream, but it is up to you to make your dreams come true.
  3. If you are not happy with your life, change it!
  4. Fear is no excuse 
  5. If you can't afford it, don't buy it.
  6. Save!
  7. Buying the cheapest is not always the best choice
  8. Don't settle for second best
  9. Never, ever excuse abuse of any kind. 
  10. Don't waste time hanging with people who put you down
  11. It is better to be alone than with someone who doesn't treat you right
  12. Love your body and your mind - you only have them for a limited time
  13. If you don't love you, how can you expect anyone else to?
  14. It is never too late
  15. Look for the silver lining - it is always there
  16. Everything happens for a reason
  17. Make every experience a lesson - learn the lesson
  18. Accept people for who they are
  19. The only person you should try to change is yourself
  20. Karma - pay it forward
  21. "... there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so ..." (Hamlet)


And back in 2002, my son listed the things he had learned from me:

  1. Always say thank you
  2. Don't spit
  3. Eat the chocolates I don't like
  4. Put rubbish in your pocket (not on the ground)
  5. Be good to people but don't let them push you about
  6. Respect women
  7. Never let anyone hurt the people who are close to you
  8. It is good to be early
  9. Listen
  10. Try not to sulk
  11. Let people make their own mistakes, be ready to pick them up
  12. Be big enough to admit you are wrong
  13. Enjoy every day
If you don't understand # 3, you don't know me well enough. If you are curious, ask.



Monday, October 12, 2015

Texas

Here is the thing about Texans, they are convinced that everything in Texas is not just bigger, it is better than anywhere else.  This is an enlargement of the American attitude that America is better than everywhere else. Texans are Texan first, but they are still American.

Don't get me wrong. I love America, and I love Texas. I am American by choice and proud of it, and Texan, I believe, from a previous life. But I was born and brought up in Ireland (I got here as fast as I could),

I have lived and worked in England, Canada and the US, and traveled all over Europe and America. I still think America is great - but I know that other countries, while they may be different, are also great (and some, not so much), I do believe that Americans are remarkably spoilt, though they do not realize it. I also know that a large percentage of Americans have never been outside of America, and equal percentage of Texans have never been outside of Texas. How could they? working Americans don't get enough vacation time to do much traveling, and it takes a long time to get out of Texas.

One of the many things Americans do that irritates non-Americans, is to declare their champions to be champions of the world. Of course they mean champions of America but as America is their world... A perfect example is the World Series. As Wikipedia explains,
"The World Series is the annual championship series of (MLB) in North America" 
Notice, the NORTH AMERICA in that description? Americans will tell you, that 'World Series' is just a name, but the rest of the world do get offended. Why is it not 'North American Series' or 'United States Series'. I have to admit that World Series does have a nice ring to it.

Things Texans talk about - I came across this recently, it is missing a few BIG discussion points, these would most definitely vie for the number one spot: How bad their allergies are, and how it hasn't rained in such a long time. And, on the very rare occasion that the big sky becomes overcast for more than an hour, how hard it is to deal with grey skies. No sympathy from an Irish person on that score!

I have to admit to enjoying (while not entirely agreeing with) this list of things Americans do that drive Brits nuts. However, as I am not a Brit, I guess it is OK for me to disagree. I personally take it as a compliment if someone says they like my accent, usually I feel the same about theirs, and the only problem I have with their spelling is that I now can't spell either in English English, nor American English, but American English spelling is most definitely more logical. And, in their defense, BBC America also published this list of things Brits do that drive Americans nuts, and I wholeheartedly agree with it.

Here is an Irishman's view of what he finds irritating. And while it makes amusing reading - perhaps if you are not American, I don't agree with all he says. He does qualify his remarks with the fact that it is impossible to generalize about a country with a population of 300 million.  He also finishes up his article with a list of the things he loves about Americans.

I agree with him on the fact that most Americans will not accept constructive criticism from anyone, not even a close friend. They will ask you for advice, but be careful that you don't give them any home truths that sting, because they do not want that and they don't appreciate it. Here again, I am generalizing, I have met many who don't resent constructive criticism. My wonderful husband for one. But I have met some who did not appreciate my 'down home truths'.

I think my biggest single complaint is that most Americans - at least the ones I have known, complain too much. Taxes, economy, weather, politics, traffic and of course, allergies. And lots of other things besides. I have also noticed that many of them believe that all Americans are the same, or similar. Yet I have noticed that people in the South are like a different nationality when compare with people in the East, similarly there is a big difference between Californians and natives of Alabama for instance. In fact they almost speak different languages.

Here is an article (the religious overtones aside) by an American, listing the differences he observed between Ireland and America. What I find interesting about this article is the fact that he is comparing what he observed in Ireland, to the small part of America that he is familiar with. There is the rub - so few people are familiar with all of the myriad cultures that make up America.  Yet everyone, including most Americans tend to lump all of these cultures together when making a comparison or a statement. Not all of his observations are correct, I don't think he spent much time in Ireland and I suspect he didn't get outside Dublin.

This article from Irish Central is extremely accurate, it lists some more realistic points where Ireland differs.

All of this research was a result of my mulling over how different things are here, but how many Americans I have met who appear to make the assumption that every other country is the same as the US.

But then I realized I was making the same mistake my wonderful Texans make, I was looking only at Texas and thinking it is typical of America, and of course it is not. So my intention of listing the differences get swept away in the knowledge that each State has its own culture, and to class anything as American is flat wrong. That is the same as saying all Europeans - anyone who has traveled in Europe will testify - each country has its own identity and its own culture.

I still think Texans need to see the silver lining, and perhaps they can't because they just don't have enough clouds?

Here are some of my other blog entries dealing with the unexpected difficulties encountered when becoming American:

Will I ever speak Kentucky
I didn't grow up here
The Language Barrier
Silver Linings




Saturday, September 19, 2015

On the defensive

I had a boyfriend once, actually I had quite a few, but this particular one constantly told me that I was very defensive, 'No I am not!' I replied, then got a strange feeling that I was just proving his point. I spent a lot of time wondering what exactly 'being defensive' meant and what I was doing to make him say that, and what I could do to prove that I was not defensive, or alternatively, what I could do to stop being defensive.


I think this is only a partial definition, the full definition should include ' refusing to take responsibility for your actions or behavior when someone points it out to you'.

I guess he was correct and it was also true that he was always criticizing me, I realized that rather than be on the defensive - that is constantly defending myself against his criticism I needed to keep an open mind and also I didn't need to be around someone who had such a low opinion of me. I turned around and walked away.



I did figure out what it meant to be on the defensive and it was a useful lesson to learn.

There is not much to be gained from hissing and scratching at someone who is criticizing you, far better to take the criticism under consideration and decide if it is warranted, If it is, then it should be an opportunity to learn and grow, if it is not, then it is necessary to consider why that person feels the need to put you down, and do you benefit from being around this person? Either way, being defensive is definitely not the answer.


Psychology Today has an interesting article on how to avoid being defensive, and how to avoid the negative effects that criticism sometimes causes.

I particularly like this article on The Leadership Hub, where they have a checklist of eight things to help figure out if you are being defensive:

Do you:
  1. Rationalize - Explain, defend and make excuses?
  2. Agree with your attacker
  3. Undermine or devalue people who make you feel defensive
  4. Withdraw, deny or avoid conflict
  5. Take a passive-aggressive position
  6. Attack / counter attack
  7. Long-suffering, martyr
  8. Blame someone else
In some cases, where the criticism is deserved, it can not only be deflected, but the behavior rectified by accepting and asking for help - this only works if the person doing the criticizing is capable of helping. Take for instance the ex boyfriend, who was criticizing me in order to make himself appear smarter and more accomplished. Therefore, even if his criticism was deserved, and if he could have helped me to improve, he would not have wanted to

Putting someone down just because they criticize you is not the answer, whether to their face or behind their back, deserved or not. Being passive aggressive is a cowards way out and flat out aggression serves no purpose.

One of the areas where I have received the most criticism is my driving. I suspect it is something men will do without thinking, criticize how a woman drives. But as I have been told by every man I have known, that I am not a good driver, or had my driving criticized constantly sometimes thinly veiled as coaching and helpful hints, I have not only come to believe it, I drive extremely badly if I have any passenger in the car with me simply because I am so sure they are sitting in judgement and it makes me nervous. Had I reacted differently from the very beginning, by asking for some pointers to help me improve my driving, perhaps things would now be different and I would have more confidence.

It first started when I was learning to drive and my first husband continuously criticized everything I did, unfortunately he was not exactly a great driver himself, therefore asking him to teach me would not only have been unnecessary as I was getting profession driving lessons, but would only have served to inflate his already over sized ego and would not have helped my driving.

It is sad to think that we can have such a lasting negative effect on someone by not thinking before we speak, but even sadder to think how frail our self esteem is that it can be destroyed so easily. Sad that we let it be destroyed.

I have still to figure out that thin line between defending yourself and being on the defensive. However I think the most important thing is to not let someone else's opinion of you have any effect on your self esteem. People have a right to think whatever they want to about you. But what other people think about you is none of your business. If they try to make it your business it is up to you to avoid letting it influence how you feel about yourself.







Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reviews

More specifically, book reviews. I wrote a book, actually, it wasn't really a book. I wrote a series of essays, I wrote them for myself, as a form of therapy and to put a stop to the well meaning urging from friends and family who read them, I self published. I really had no expectations and was very pleased that anyone bought it, even more pleased that some even read it, and delighted that a few went to the trouble of posting reviews on Amazon.com (where the book is available in both paperback and for kindle). I freely admit that most of the reviews were written by people who knew me, some perhaps not very well, but all had at least met me.

From time to time I receive a few cents in royalties, signalling another sale. It really does surprise me that anyone would buy it. It isn't fiction, it is all fact and while it is obviously of interest to me, I find it difficult to believe anyone else would care about it. Except for the very few who might gain some benefit from one or two chapters, if they had similar experiences. I really did write it for my own personal benefit. My intention was to peel away the layers of scar tissue and expose the wounds in the hope that I could then let them heal. And I will tell you, heal they did.

So, perhaps you can imagine my surprise when I received a review from a total stranger. Someone had bought my book and had taken the time to write a review. Yes, it was not a very good review, actually it was not in the least bit good, but despite that, they gave it two stars, which I feel was at least one more than warranted by the review.

At first I was a little uncomfortable about the review. Not annoyed, probably more embarrassed. Embarrassed that someone spent good money on it to discover that it was, in their words 'boring'. And I don't doubt it would be very boring to a lot of people.

I put the review out of my mind for a while, then returned and read it again. Still the overall feeling was embarrassment. Certainly if you write something, and put it out there for the general public, you are inviting criticism. But the more I thought about it, the more I feel grateful. Some total stranger bought my book (I wonder why?) and read it, and then took the time to write a review.

Thank you K. Marlo and I am sorry that you were bored, sorry that it wasn't what you had hoped. You see, it was, as you said, an account of some random woman's life. Well, not my entire life, just the pieces that caused scars or deep seated memories. And believe me, it was peeling layers of my life back, sadly I can't peel layers of your life, only you can do that.  (see the review here)


As I rationalized the two star review, I accept that I am some random woman, but then everyone is just some random person to most other people. Every writer writes what is inside them trying to get out. I admit that I don't do much to market my book, the most I do is place a link to Amazon.com where you can purchase it, here on my blog. The main reason I don't market it is because I don't really expect anyone to have any interest in it. The few people I believe could possibly benefit from some of my experiences, I have given a copy to. So, I don't feel too bad if someone buys it and doesn't enjoy it.

However, after 3 months digesting the review, I also do not feel bad about that either. In fact the more I think about it, the better I feel. Someone bought it, read it and took the time to write a review, to me that is amazing and  a gift.

I did some searches and it is very interesting the differing opinions there are about negative reviews. And the amazingly negative reviews some incredible books and authors received - don't get me wrong, I don't consider my book a potential best seller, nor do I consider myself any sort of  a writer. I just love to write and most of all I find it very therapeutic.

The New York Times on negative book reviews. (And yes, NYT is very, very low in my estimation of good reporting, bearing in mind the almost comical way they portrayed my employer recently)

The Huffington Post, which I do admire.

Here is an interesting article which indicates that a negative review can possible boost sales. Well, I think it would take a little more than that to boost my sales, but sales were not my intention as I already said.

I found this one interesting. I know people who write reviews on Amazon as a hobby. Personally, I will write a review, as the articles says, if I am extremely happy with a product, extremely unhappy, or if I receive exceptional customer service.

I enjoyed this one, though I had already figured out how I felt about my bad review, it was still an interesting take.

And finally, as I mentioned above, some best sellers with bad reviews.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

How much is one cent worth?

Apparently more than you would think.

Today I received a letter from The Ulster Bank, remember my recent run in with them (see here)? Their envelopes are 9" x 6.5" window envelopes with printed address - not cheap I would imagine, and OK, the postage was printed matter, but from the UK (it was from the Belfast Branch) to the US has to have cost at least 50 cents if not more. Inside was a letter and a check.

So add the cost of the headed notepaper, someones time to do the book work and type up the letter, and sign it, and the cost of the check, which was in the amount of EURO 0.01.  That's correct, one cent. At a conservative estimate I would guess that it cost the Ulster Bank at least EURO 5.01 to send me 1 cent. And that in not taking into account the cost to the environment, because I am sure this is not the first time they have wasted time, money and most of all paper, for something so stupid.

It doesn't really surprise me because I worked for a bank a very long time ago, but I am still horrified by the waste. Had they asked me at the time of closing the account, if I would donate any possibly outstanding interest due in order to save this ridiculous situation I would have not only been delighted to do so, I would have been extremely impressed. It could even be stipulated any outstanding interest up to a certain amount - say EURO 10.00.

The letter also encourages me to deposit the check with 6 months. So, though  I would not incur much of a cost to deposit it, as our Credit Union allows us to do so on our mobile phone through their app. But that is where the expense would definitely accrue. There would be a foreign exchange fee and no doubt a fee for handling a non US check.

No, I won't be depositing it. Perhaps I will frame it.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Cross Cut Shredders

If you don't have one, you should.  I am amazed by how many people throw what they consider to be benign items, into the trash. My rule is, if it contains my name, address, phone number, SSN (of course) or any information what so ever about me, it gets shredded, and that means cross shredded, after which it goes into the recycle. Actually, I frequently shred stuff that really doesn't need to be shredded - but it gets recycled so I see no harm in it. If you have ever been stalked you will do the same. I highly recommend you do so before rather than later - not to mention the risk of identity theft, though I have to say the bank appear to be practically giving that information away, so shredding a few bills will not do a lot of good.

Here is a synopsis of one of the chapter's in my book to explain why I am not being paranoid by shredding everything. (My book is  a memoir and every word in it is true).

When I met Sam he was on the rebound.  I was aware that he was totally obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, but I convinced myself that as our relationship developed, he would forget her.  The strange thing is that he was not really terribly interested in me while we were dating.  He actually told me that I could never live up to his previous girlfriend, whom he still loved.

He was a retired Army officer, of independent means, youthful, active and great fun. A man of honor, he frequently told me.  I started to worry when he told me that he had been watching his ex-girlfriend’s house, and had taken photographs of the license plates on her visitors’ cars. Later looking them up on the Internet. It became obvious that he was spending long hours on the Internet - frequently as many as 8 hours a day, tracking down as much information as he could on the ex-girlfriend and anyone who came in contact with her.  I just hoped that he would get over it.

It was when he told me that he had been by his ex-girlfriend's house one night, and noticing that the next day was garbage day, he threw two big black plastic bags from outside her house, into his truck.  He took those bags home, emptied them out on his kitchen floor and spent the entire night sifting through them.  It really scared me to discover that he found telephone bills, from which he tracked down all the people she called, again using the Internet. He made copious notes about her lifestyle, noting what she was eating, where she was shopping, buying her gas, and many other details - all from her garbage. That day I bought a cross-shredder. And since then I have shredded everything that will go through it, before disposing of it. I was relieved that at least he did not ‘love’ me. I would not be subjected to such attention.

Needless to say, we broke up shortly after that. For a few weeks I heard nothing more of him. Then he started phoning and emailing me.  At first I chatted casually with him, but I began to realize that he was hoping to get back together, and so I avoided contact with him totally. That is when he started phoning me in the early hours of the morning, leaving drunken, abusive messages on my answering machine. Sending me abusive emails.  I continued to ignore him, thinking he would get bored. I was wrong. Things got very unpleasant. One Thursday evening, I headed off for a long weekend of seminars being held in a hotel just outside town. My friend, Kim, was staying in my house while I was gone. She had been visiting from California and was happy to look after the house for me.

I got settled in my hotel room by about 9.30 p.m., when my mobile phone rang and, without thinking, I answered it to hear Sam’s voice - I hung up immediately. At about 10.30 Kim called me to say that Sam had called the house and been abusive on the phone to her. She said that she told him that she was not surprised that I didn’t want to talk to him again. He called her back a few moments later and told her that he would report her to the local police. That was when she called me - she was nervous and frightened at that stage. I calmed her down as best I could, saying that there would be no point in him calling the local police. What could he say to them?  She had done nothing wrong after all.  As we spoke on the phone, I could hear a pounding on my front door - it was now after 11 p.m. Kim was terrified.  With me still at the other end of the phone, she answered the door.  It was the local police - and they had woken the entire neighborhood. They asked Kim if she were me, and in her terror she agreed that she was. Fortunately they didn’t ask for identification. They said that my ex-boyfriend had called them and asked them to come to my home, as he feared that I was in danger from my house guest. Kim managed to convince the police that she was fine and they left.  Immediately, Kimberly packed her bags and headed back to California.

I don’t ever remember being so angry in my entire life. I was furious and as soon I hung up the phone, I dialed Sam’s number and let him have it. I told him that I never wanted to see him again, nor speak to him again. That if he ever came near me, I would report him to the police as a stalker. I thought that would be the end of it.

A number of weeks went by and I heard no more from Sam.  Then a mutual friend told me that Sam had been watching me, and had told her that he ‘knew my every move’. I realized that I was being subjected to yet another form of abuse, and I reported him to the local police, reminding them of the false alert he had called into them previously. They made a note and told me to keep a log of any further contact.  He did contact me again, sometime after that, but luckily I had finally found a man who was honest and good, who really did love me. He warned Sam off and I have heard nothing more from him since.

As always, there is a wiki for that.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Never leave home without a utility bill

Why? You just never know when you have to prove your identity, and believe it or not, there are still businesses that do not consider passports to be valid proof of identity.

Some time ago I wrote about Customer Service but my most recent experience forces me to revisit this subject. It just amazes me that some companies do not value their customers, nor do they realize how much it damages their business to not pay enough attention to each individual customer. We all have relatives and friends and almost everyone has a Facebook account.

When I left Ireland, 21 years ago, I kept my bank account in the Ulster Bank in Baggot Street in Dublin open. Partly because at that time, I was not certain I would not be returning. I had vowed to give it two years in the US before I made any decisions, but if I did return, it would be useful to have my existing bank account still operational and I really like the Manager and staff there at that time.

Although I decided after six months, that I was going to stay in Texas, I found it useful to have an account in an Irish bank, it was partly nostalgia and partly practical - occasionally I received Irish checks and just had them deposited there for spending money when I visited and, in the first few years, before my US ATM card actually worked in Ireland, it was useful for cashing US checks should the need arise. I never had more than Euro 500 in the account, and in the last few years, I had a balance of Euro 59. I also had a current ATM card for that account.

At the beginning of the year I received a letter from Ulster Bank advising that as my account had been inactive for some time, they would mark it dormant unless I confirmed that I wanted it to remain active. I responded immediately asking them to keep it active as I would be using it on my next visit.

Despite that, when I attempted to use my ATM card in an Ulster Bank ATM machine in Dublin, it was declined as 'Inactive Account'. I called into the bank the following day and after a long wait, I was seated in an open area in the bank, beside a particularly rude man, John Moriarty, an unpleasant, self important man.


It is amazing to me that some people cannot be polite. Nothing he said would have come across as rude, but the tone of his voice, his body language and facial expressions made it an extremely unpleasant experience. I explained that I had requested that my account be maintained active, and that I needed to withdraw Euro 40. He told me that I had received a letter advising me to bring proof of identity to the bank - I had not received any such letter, but he insisted that I had. I handed over my TX drivers licence - with photo and address, the address matching that on my account. I had my US Passport and my Irish Passport, both with photos and both current, and for good measure I had my US Credit Union check book, also showing my address. He said none of these were acceptable. I needed either an Irish drivers licence or a utility bill. I explained to him that I had lived in the US for 21 years and therefore did not have an Irish driver's licence and that I didn't think to bring a utility bill with me when traveling internationally.

The man was so unpleasant (and thankfully I didn't actually need the Euro 40), I told him to give me back my various items of identity and I left. As soon as I got to a computer I registered a strong complaint online with Ulster Bank - I was advised to return to that branch and ask to see a manager, or go to another branch.

Next day I returned to the branch where I had held my account for so long. I asked to see a manager and was immediately swept into a far corner by a young man who assured my that the manager, Gerry Bolger, was on vacation for the entire week. I explained my problem to him and demanded to close my account. He told me I needed a utility bill, at which point I asked him if the Ulster Bank was going to keep my 59 euro because I neglected to carry a utility bill on vacation with me. I also told him that I had registered a strong complaint about his colleague online the previous day and that the customer service representative I had spoken to had advised me to speak with a manager.

Those readers who know me, know that I am not inclined to make a fuss. But that is not to say I won't fight for what I believe is right. I will pick my battles but once I have decided to fight I won't back down. And I didn't back down this time. I refused to budge until finally Mark (that was the whispering young man's name) agreed to override the ridiculous utility bill requirement (I almost wish I had one because I am sure they would refused to accept it as it wasn't from an Irish utility supplier) and finally I was able to close the account and get my cash.

It was with mixed feelings that I left the bank. Triumphant that I had stood my ground and got my money. Sad because I had cut another tie to my past, but proud that I was able to cast off that tie - something I probably should have done long ago. But most of all, sad because my fight was such a small ripple in the ocean of banking and they will never be aware of the negative knock on effect that will most definitely have on their business.

It is really not rocket science. Every customer is important. It is not just the few dollars or Euro or whatever other currency is involved, it is the word of mouth, and with social media as powerful as it is, this is not something to be ignored. But I guess Banks still think they are above that.

I have added to my checklist when packing 'utility bill' - I am guessing I will never need it.




Sunday, July 19, 2015

Procrastination




I have never been a procrastinator, probably part of my possible OCD (see this blog entry). If I have to do something I stress until it is done. I stress partly because I might forget to do it on time, but also I worry that it might take longer than anticipated and if I don't start immediately I could miss whatever deadline had been set.

Take for instance, doing our taxes, I install the tax software the moment it arrives, usually late November, then open it every few days to apply the multiple updates as tax forms and rules change. I watch and wait for the various 1099s and W3s and any other tax documents, knowing full well they won't arrive until the beginning of February. The moment I have all the documentation, I get my taxes done. If I have a refund due, I file immediately and breath a sigh of relief as another task is ticked off. Obviously, if I owe money I won't file until close to the due date - but I put a reminder in my calendar and it is usually about two weeks prior to the final filing date, because I would consider it to be procrastination otherwise.

Annual review time at work tends to cause considerable stress. The moment I get the notification to complete my self appraisal, I am in there getting it done. In a previous job, my boss was a procrastinator and would schedule review for the day before they were due to be completed and submitted. This caused me endless amounts of stress because any form of procrastination disturbs me, not just my own. I guess it all stems from the same source - my absolute abhorrence with being late for anything.

But there is another force in play, particularly when the task is unpleasant or difficult, then I have to deal with it immediately in order to get it over with and so that I can stop thinking about it. And believe me, I find review time very unpleasant, and not because I expect to get a bad review, it is because I find it equally uncomfortable to get a good one. I just find the entire process embarrassing.

Doing some research on the subject I find that the extreme opposite to procrastination is precrastination, which could be considered equally undesirable. The happy medium is being proactive. I would like to consider myself proactive.

The problem I see is that I might just be a precrastinator. In my determination to get things done immediately, I may go at it too fast, where giving the matter more thought and planning could possibly have a better outcome. Take for example, recently we planned a long weekend away. I booked two days vacation at work well in advance, advised everyone I would be out of the office and set my out of office rule, ready to be turned on before I left. Then we thought perhaps the trip we planned would be too much for my mother in law and might tire her out, so we decided to cancel it. The next day I cancelled my two days vacation, deleted my out of office notification and told my colleagues I would not be gone after all. When I got home from work I discovered another change of plan - my mother in law insisted she wanted to go and so the trip was on again. I had to rebook my vacation days and go through the setting notifications and advising colleagues all over again, so instead of saving time I actually tripled my work for that one weekend.

What started me on this vein of thought was the fact that I had fully packed for a trip, 4 days prior to departure. All that was left to pack was my toiletries and makeup. Instead of feeling the relief from getting that major task out of the way, I felt strangely uncomfortable.I felt like I should be doing something, I worried about my clothes being crushed - which of course they will be, but as I will be traveling for approximately 20 hours, I doubt they could get any more crushed. I worry about what I had packed and, more important, what I had not packed. I check and double check, add more items 'just in case' and generally stress every bit as much as I would have, had I left my packing to the last minute. Plus there is a strong likelihood that I will need something from my case before I actually leave. And now I have nothing to do but wait for my departure date.

The problem is that I get way more stressed if I put things off till the last minute, and according to this website, procrastination is extremely damaging to your health.

I would like to work at just hitting the proactive range, but if that is not possible, I will stick to precrastination, being in my mind the lesser of the two evils.







Friday, July 10, 2015

Divorce

There are some aspects of divorce that are the same everywhere - though I have to admit that my experience is limited. Limited to Texas, Ireland and France.

Most people get down and dirty when it comes to any relationship break up, but with marriage, where children and/or property are involved it frequently gets downright nasty.

Here are some differences I have observed - obviously I know more about the Texas divorce because I was personally involved, on the other hand I know that my case was unusual because it was cut and dried and uncontested - all the nastiness had already happened and was over:

Do it yourself in Texas:


I left Ireland in June 1994. At that time I had already been legally separated for almost 5 years. Divorce was not an option - in fact the Irish Constitution banned it. I settled into my new life in Austin TX. One day, while browsing the shelves in Barnes & Nobel I found a book titled 'How to Do Your Own Divorce in Texas'. I had to buy it. It consisted of instructions and sample documents to be filed. The more I read, the more I realized I could do this! I did some research and discovered that although divorce was not legal in Ireland, a divorce decreed in a country / state where it was legal, was recognized by the Irish State, with conditions, the divorcee(s) had to either be citizens of that country, or permanent legal residents. If you read my book, you know this already.

Among the conditions for a do it yourself divorce were that all joint assets had to have been already divided and custody of any children of the marriage had to have been agreed upon. Well, I was already legally separated, all assets had been sorted out at that time and all three children were no longer children, all being over 18. I had to obtain a notarized waiver from my ex husband, indicating that he had no intention of disputing the divorce, and I had to supply a notarized declaration of intent to never return to live permanently in Ireland. Both documents were easily acquired, and once I had them I filed the papers in Williamson County, TX. It would be 10 weeks before a court date was set.

While I counted down to the court date, I read and reread the instructions in the book. I would be expected to stand up before the Judge and state my case. List the reasons for the divorce, the example given was 'reconcilable differences'. I carefully prepared my speech. I would explain that we were already legally separated, all assets had been divided as part of that separation, all children were over 18, I had a notarized waiver from my ex husband. Everything was in order and I had put in for the morning off work, was as ready as I would ever be.

As is my habit, I was at the courthouse 30 minutes before it opened for business. It was a chilly, windy winter morning and I was already a bag of nerves as I stood outside shivering, waiting for the doors to open. At last I made my way through the security checkpoint and found the court room where Judge Carter (now Congressman Carter) was presiding. It didn't surprise me to discover I was the first to sign the book, stating my case and ticked the box for 'pro se', found a seat and sat there going over my lines.

I suspected it would be first come, first served and was relieved that I was top of the list, more especially as the court started filling up as self important people is smart suits bustled in with papers and books. I was going to be nervous enough standing up there speaking without having a huge audience. Ah but I forgot that in such an environment it would be the lawyers time that would be considered most valuable. Therefore anyone who was not 'pro se' (that was everyone but me) would be heard first. As I listened to each case - all uncontested divorces - I realized that the words in the book were exactly what I should have prepared to recite tunelessly, just as each lawyer in turn did. But it was too late now, I would just freeze up if I didn't follow what I had been practicing. And in my usual perverse way, I wanted to do it my own way.

Finally, after about 2 hours, it was my turn. I stood in front of the Judge and went through my speech, he didn't look like a judge to me, no wig or gown, just a grey haired man watching me with a look of mixed amusement and surprise on his face. When I finally reached the end of what I had prepared, I waited in anticipation - would he grant the divorce or would he find some flaw in my argument? He lent forward and said "And what made you decide to come to Texas?". So, not only did I have to present my case in front of all those people, I then had to explain that I had won a Green Card in the lottery and I came to Texas because of my love of Country & Western music, the history of the wild west, Davy Crockett & the Alamo and John Wayne - of course as always, I then had to explain that I knew John Wayne was not from Texas, but to me, through his movies, he represented the history of Texas and the West. Judge Carter listened with obvious amusement and the banged his gavel and granted my divorce. I went back to work.

Ireland:

In November 1995 there was a referendum to remove the ban from the constitution, it passed by 51%-49% and in June 1996 divorce was available in Ireland, though not very easily so. The requirements were very stiff.

This year, almost 20 years later, what is one of the more stressful events in a persons life, is still a long and expensive process in Ireland. It takes a minimum of 5 years, and considering that the marriage has probably been unbearable for sometime before that, that is is a very long time to have to maintain a less than normal life and deal with the stress -  not to mention cost. The cost of maintaining separate homes, who lives in the family home and what about the children? Of course, all of the details around home and children are usually sorted out with the legal separation which is available after one year of living apart. The divorce, which can cost anything from EURO 2,000 to EURO 25,000 is available for those who can afford it, 4 years after the separation. That 4 year wait is obligatory, for what reason I do not know.

Obviously if you can agree to terms and draw up the papers without the assistance of a judge, the cost will be less, though still more than most can afford.

France:

It is impossible to figure out what they think they are doing in France. More so than any other country, in France it is who you know, and if you happen to be married to a man who is violent, by French law you better just sit tight and take a beating, because according to this web site:
"It should be noted that a spouse who leaves the family domicile without a court authorization may be deemed under French law to have committed a "fault" giving rise to significant financial consequences. Thus, a spouse should avoid doing so until it has been possible to consult with French counsel"
The woman I know, ran for her life, to a police station and filed a report. Here is the strange thing, the report vanished, ceased to exist. The fact that her spouse was military, and her sister in law was a Gendarme might have had something to do with that, otherwise we must believe that the French police are very inefficient. Like any other country, there is very little you can do about people signing false affidavits to ensure that marital property is not shared evenly.  But it is hard to believe that after a 16 year marriage, living and working together to make a home, a divorce settlement results in the battered female owing the triumphant military 'gentleman' a large sum of money to pay for the fact that she lived with him rent free? And that was not a compensation for standard of living because he was earning a healthy income while she was unemployed - due to having to escape from his violence. That was a result of fraud and perjury.

I guess the moral of this story is don't get married? or perhaps the real lesson is - study the laws of the land carefully no matter where you live, not just divorce laws but if you see a divorce in your future, that is when you have got to educate yourself, because learning about it after the fact is frequently too late.




Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Writing as a therapy


Peeling The Onion by Aideen Walsh
Available on Amazon

I wrote my book (Peeling the Onion) purely as a therapeutic exercise - in fact it was not intended to be a book, it was a series of essays, I was urged to publish it by so many people I did so to quiet them more than for any other reason. But a secondary reason was the thought that perhaps some people could benefit from reading about my experiences. Writing each chapter was sufficient for my purposes.

I didn't realized that this was a recognized form of therapy until I decided to expand on it here, and doing some google searches informed me I was not the first to come up with this idea.

It struck me how writing about the main discomforts experienced with the ladies' toilets in our new office had minimized considerably, if not eliminated, my issues with it. I now just accept the way it is.

Then, more recently, expressing my annoyance on my Facebook status, at the tuneless whistling in the office seemed to reduce my irritation. I am guessing that is why most people take to their status to express joy, excitement, dread, irritation and sadness - it helps.  It really does help just to write it down.

According to this article:
"Over the past 20 years, a growing body of literature has demonstrated the beneficial effects that writing about traumatic or stressful events has on physical and emotional health."
As I mentioned, there is a lot of information to be found on the Internet regarding the benefits of writing, in particular in keeping a journal. Many of the articles I found recommend keeping your writing secret, for me, it really didn't matter if it was never read again, or read by the entire world. Just putting it on paper (or the electronic equivalent) helped.

I suppose what helped me most about it was that in order to write, I had to organize my thoughts, then examine and reexamine them, then face and accept my reactions, and in doing so, let go of a whole lot of emotional garbage surrounding the memories. Frequently allowing suppressed memories to surface resulting in an emotional purgative.

Somehow, putting it all into words, while in no way invalidating my feelings, started the healing process. I was able to let go of the resentment, and accept the injustice. The benefits were immediate and ongoing.

Here is what I found with just a very rudimentary google search:

The process is better explained in this article:
The most substantial effect at play is perhaps the cognitive process of taking apart our experience and configuring it for the telling. As leading theorist in writing therapy James Pennebaker explains, “The development of a coherent narrative helps to reorganize and structure traumatic memories, resulting in more adaptive internal schemas.” The result? Having given language to traumatic experiences, we’ve in a sense contained their potency. The chronic stress they’ve induced – and the corresponding physiological impact like weakened immune function, systemic inflammation, hormonal imbalance, and impaired cardiovascular function – diminishes.
Psychology Today:
Over the past few decades the therapeutic power of writing has been discovered. Old people are encouraged first to learn to write but then to tell their story.

The task can require serious, introspection: an attempt to make sense of the past. To examine it from various angles rather than simple to try to shift blame onto others.
BJPsych Advances
Writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health, in non-clinical and clinical populations.
Good Therapy deals with keeping a journal as a therapeutic exercise

And finally, the good old wiki page.






Saturday, June 20, 2015

Back in the toilet

Seriously, I am not obsessed with toilets, despite the fact that I have written a few times around the subject. There was most recently the toilet roll discussion, and quite a long time ago I wrote about the toilet seat positioning, then there was a piece dealing with the inadequacies of the toilet in the office where I previously worked.

This time, I am  back in the toilets at the office - different office. This is a brand new building, in fact it isn't even completed - the top floor is still windowless and unfinished. But we moved in this month (not into the top floor of course) and immediately the toilet grabbed my attention. I suppose it is relatively normal, after all, apart from the hours spent at my own desk, the only other place I visit with any frequency is the ladies bathroom. Don't get me wrong - I don't run to the toilet every 20 minutes. But it is one place that cannot be avoided.

I suppose I get frustrated when things are not done right, and yes, I guess that means right according to me, after all that really is all I have to judge by.

But when I explain it to you, I am sure you will agree. The first and biggest annoyance is the fact that the stall doors do not have any display to indicate occupancy or vacancy. Yes, there are locks, but they are not the kind that slide a polite sign, red or green or 'occupied'  or 'vacant'. This problem could be tolerated if it were not for the fact that the doors have springs on them, so when you exit the stall, with the best will in the world, you can't leave the door open to show that it is available. It closes quietly but firmly behind you.

So, as I see it, you have three or four options. You can shove on the door to see if it will open - something I hate to do in case (as has often happened) someone has not locked the door and screams and embarrassment follow. Or, you can hunker down and peer under the doors, I am not keen on that idea because if someone came in while I was doing that, I could be accused of being a somewhat disgusting pervert. You could listen carefully outside each door to see if there were any sounds that might give a clue - again could be considered somewhat perverted. Finally, you could yell out 'anyone in there' like the cleaning crew do. I am not comfortable with the yelling idea either.

I reluctantly settled on a variation of the first choice. I walk briskly in as though heading for the last stall in the row, but casually push each door I pass with just one finger - if it moves without any screams from within, I nip into that stall. I might add that while I am there, should someone else come into the bathroom, I cough loudly so that they don't have to exercise their favorite method to locate an empty stall. Perhaps a sign on the inside of each stall 'Please cough while in situ' might help.

There are a few other things about these bathrooms that bother me, albeit less than the absence of a occupied sign.



On the wall opposite the stalls there are two .. things ... I am not sure what they are. They look like magazine racks. So I guess they are intended either for magazines for those who have time and inclination to linger over their ablutions, or else they are for placing paperwork or laptops while hurrying between meetings. So far I have never seen them being used by anyone.






Come to think of it, so far I am the only person I have ever seen in the bathroom closest to my office. One of the many bonuses of working in a male dominated occupation.


Another minor annoyance is the appallingly bad tile work on the walls. I mean seriously, I have tiled many walls and floors, and without training, I could do a better job. Thankfully it is not on the floor because the tiles are so uneven, someone would surely trip.





And last, but not least is the fact that there is a very nice sink, with a faucet that is motion activated, but the soap dispenser is not, and it is very close to the faucet. One must take great care when pumping the soap dispenser, to avoid activating a spray of water all over one's arm. I am trying to get into the habit of making sure my sleeves are well rolled up before pumping soap, at least I can dry my arm if it accidentally gets sprayed.


Oh and that is another thing I forgot, the paper towel dispenser is crammed full of very small pieces of paper - like the size of a Kleenex, and no matter how carefully you try to extract just enough to dry your hands (and possible one arm) - which I must say is quite a few pieces - you will get a big chunk of them come out, way more than you need.

It is all such a waste because I am sure that it cost quite a bit to put this inadequate bathroom together.






Thursday, June 11, 2015

Parenting


 


Being a parent is probably the single most difficult and definitely the most rewarding experience of my life, seeing what amazing parents my own children have become is my ultimate reward, but recently one of my nieces, now a mother herself, told me that she modeled her parenting style on me. Not only was that a huge and unexpected compliment, it also brought home to me how much our behavior will influence children, and not just our own children. It is a mistake to think that just because they are children, and don't appear to notice, they are not being influenced by everything around them, and in particular, by the behavior of the adults in their lives.

This appears to be the current definitive definition of parenting, according to my research:
"Parenting (or child rearing) is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the aspects of raising a child aside from the biological relationship." Davies, Martin (2000). The Blackwell encyclopedia of social work 
This definition would indicate that parenting ends at some 'adulthood' point. It doesn't. You can't switch it off. At least, assuming the parenting switch is on, it can never be switched off, this wiki is in agreement with me on that point.
"Parenting doesn't usually end when a child turns 18. Support can be needed in a child's life well beyond the adolescent years and continues into middle and later adulthood. Parenting can be a lifelong process. " Wiki.
There is no way to train for parenting. Yes there are all sorts of classes and websites that claim to prepare you, but as every child is different and the learning experience never ends, no amount of training can prepare you. From the moment of conception, everything you do for the rest of your child's life, has a bearing on how they develop, physically, mentally and emotionally. We learn on the job and we never stop learning, and we never stop making mistakes, the hope is that the mistakes are few and do not cause lasting damage - and most of all, that we learn from our mistakes.

Frequently we learn our parenting skills (or lack thereof) from our own parents - and this is not always a good thing, for some it is possible to observe our parents mistakes and not repeat them, but for others the sad truth is that is not always the case. Many people who were abused as children will in turn be abusers but fortunately not all. I believe it takes a mixture of compassion, intelligence and imagination to get past our own childhood experiences and avoid 'visiting' the sins of our fathers upon our own children.

Some people do not have it in them to be parents, other than biologically, and for them the scars they leave on their children can often be lasting and deep.

I found this very interesting article by Kathy Caprino in which she quotes Dr Tim Elmore on the 7 Damaging Parental behaviors that keep children from becoming leaders:
  • We don't let our children experience risk
  • We rescue too quickly
  • We rave too easily
  • We let guilt get in the way of leading well
  • We don't share our past mistakes
  • We mistake intelligence, giftedness and influence for maturity
  • We don't practice what we preach
What is interesting about this list is that the inverse is also equally bad:

  • We let our children run wild
  • We are never available when needed
  • We never praise
  • We accept no guilt or responsibility
  • We burden our children with our problems
  • We fail to recognize intelligence and giftedness 
  • We don't preach - don't communicate and don't lead by example

And with the second last item - many parents recognize giftedness - such as a talent for some sport, and instead of allowing their child to enjoy their talent they push too hard, attempting to live vicariously through their child, taking the fun out of it and frequently destroying all interest the child may have in pursuing the activity.

To that list I can add a few more to produce, not necessarily leaders, but well adjusted adults and potentially good parents.

I believe the following:

Accept responsibility for your mistakes and apologize

It is impossible to go through life without making mistakes, parenting is the same as anything else, we will make mistakes. But by accepting responsibility and apologizing for those mistakes, we not only reduce the damage they could potentially cause, we also teach our children an important lesson.

Sometimes parental behavior goes beyond mistakes and that thin line is crossed into emotional, or even physical abuse. It is a fact that the most abusive of parents will perpetuate the damage they do by continuing to deny they have done anything wrong. This is a very good article on why this happens. For those who suffered abuse as a child, here is an article on how to get past it.

Another good quote from Robert Brault


It is never OK to beat a child.

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother could command absolute attention and perfect behavior with just her eyes. She never raised her voice, she never raised her hand. Chapter One of my book describes how she did it:
"There were rules to be obeyed and the only punishment incurred for breaking those rules was the ‘Look’. It was all she had to do to stop us in our tracks. She would slightly widen her flashing eyes, and pierce our bodies with a stare, nothing more. Just one look and then she returned to the sweet Granny immediately. She never prolonged the punishment, nor even needed to lecture us. We behaved and she forgave and forgot." Peeling The Onion, Chapter One

It is never OK to use a child as a 'weapon' or ask them to take sides

When parents argue, the child should never be drawn into the argument, never be forced to side with one parent. This is most common, and most damaging when a marriage ends and there is shared custody. An inadequate parent will use the child, or children as weapons to hurt the other parent - and they end up doing irreparable damage to the child, and ultimately permanently damaging their own relationship with that child.

There should be consequences NOT punishment

This is a very good article on the difference. Consequences will also be different for each child, and some punishments will devastate one child and have no effect on another. For example I know of a man who frequently locked his very young son in a dark and cluttered garage as a punishment, this child had a fear of the dark and was absolutely terrified for the entire time - in serious danger of suffering emotional injury. When the same father attempted to use this punishment on his second son, the effect was entirely different - that boy had no fear of the dark and an insatiable curiosity, he spent the time happily investigating the rusty old tools left carelessly lying around and climbed over old furniture and clutter, in serious danger of suffering physical injury. Of course, this was most definitely abusive behavior. He was a man without compassion and without imagination, despite his own miserable childhood, he treated his children as he had been treated himself.

The rules and associated consequences for breaking them should be clear

And should be enforced consistently. Children need boundaries and they need to be able to trust their parents to protect them. Setting and enforcing boundaries consistently give a child that sense of security. Boundaries should remain constant.

There should be rewards for achievements

However, as with item number 3 in the first list - rewards should be earned and not lavished for no good reason. Just as in real life - sometimes achievement is its own reward. To constantly praise for mediocre performance is to prevent your child from excelling and also will not prepare them for the real world. Conversely to not recognize effort, but keep demanding more than the child is capable of, will eventually cause them to stop trying.

It is never right to denigrate a child

Most children have fragile egos and building or damaging their self esteem depends almost entirely upon a parents attitude. To denigrate a child, or to compare them unfavorable with their siblings is a major mistake and frequently one that cannot be corrected.

Be honest

Always, taking into account a child's age and what they can handle, be honest. Children can tell if you are not. A simple example: I sucked my thumb, actually into adulthood, and might have managed to give it up, given the warnings of damage to my teeth and germs etc; however when I was about six years old, a friend of my parents told me I would grow a thumb down the back of my throat if I didn't stop. I knew that was not possible, knew he was making it up and as a result, doubted everything that had been said and continued to suck my thumb. I also never trusted that man again.

It is wrong to tell a child a lie because making the truth easy for them to understand is difficult, or uncomfortable. Where do babies come from? NOT from a stork, or under a mushroom. If you can't be honest with your children, do not expect them to be honest with you. That comes under the heading of practice what you preach.

Be a parent

It is possible to be both parent and friend, but be a parent first and foremost, be a parent that your child can trust enough to come to when they are in trouble, be a parent your child is comfortable confiding in. And above all else, listen to what they say to you - really listen.




Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Piggy in the middle


Anyone remember that game?

It summarizes what it is like to be a middle child. You are stuck between two others passing the ball over your head as you desperately try to catch it. It is pretty much the opposite of dodge ball, instead of trying to hit someone with the ball, you are trying to avoid them touching the ball.



According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of Piggy in the middle is:


Once the 'piggy' has caught the ball, they get the opportunity to not be in the middle, and whoever threw the ball has to be the piggy. A loose ball is free for all. So, not exactly like being a middle child.

I was very surprised to discover how much has been written about the effects, both good and bad, of being a middle child. It was slightly amusing to notice that most of what has been written - by people qualified in medicine and / or psychology - was written by middle 'children'. Also, the definition of a middle child appears to apply to any child who is neither first of last in a group of siblings. Therefore, all children who are not the oldest and not the youngest, are middle children. The true middle child, in my opinion is the 2nd of only three children.

The term is then extended to make exceptions for gender - for example if the oldest and the youngest of three are boys, and the middle child is the only girl in the family, then she, apparently, doesn't experience the same 'middle child' syndrome as say, the middle of three boys, or three girls.

Am I a middle child? Depends on how you look at it. I always felt like I was, and I was the middle of three girls, but the third of six siblings. According to all I have read, given the order in which we were born, I am a middle child. We were, boy, three girls (me in the middle) then two boys.

Here is a very good definition of middle child syndrome - and it also explains why such a syndrome exists. I must admit I can relate to a lesser degree - being the middle of three girls, my older sister naturally got new clothes, I got to wear her old clothes when she had outgrown them but by the time I was finished with them they were not worth passing down so my younger sister got new clothes. It is very strange the apparently small injustices we hold on to - forever it would seem - because I still feel a mixture of sad and angry when I think of my confirmation outfit - my older sister's cast off confirmation outfit. Yes, my younger sister got a new outfit for her confirmation.

However, on the positive side, many of the traits that helped me to reach for, and grasp so many opportunities in my life are as a result of that very syndrome, assuming it truly does exist. I figured out early on that nothing is handed to you, you have to go out and get it.

I gathered a list of middle child traits from a number of websites, many of which were identical and so I guess all copied from the same source. Here are the main ones:
  • You are independent
  • You are happy doing your own thing
  • You are tough
  • You think outside the box
  • You are happy to not be the center of attention
  • You are not afraid to take risks
  • You are more likely to fly under the radar at extended family gatherings
  • You are empathetic towards others
  • You are a lot more well adjusted than you may appear
I have to admit I think that kind of describes me. I do like this from Psychology Today - advice for middle children:
  • The amount of parental attention you received as a child doesn't define how well you turn out.
  • Sometimes you need to be able to walk away, especially when you are being taken advantage of.
  • Sometimes you need to step up to the plate - like when there is conflict you simply can't avoid.
  • You are moderate and well balanced by nature, so don't be afraid to rock the boat once in a while.
I felt neglected and left out as a child, but I suspect any child in a large family feels like that, as a teenager I started to appreciate the fact that I truly appeared to be invisible a lot of the time and as an adult I really appreciate the fact that I am independent and not afraid to take risks.

I don't think I suffered any more than my siblings, nor do I think I had any greater advantages, just different. And the bottom line is not what cards you are dealt, but how you play your hand that is important. Ultimately, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry - we are responsible for our own lives, happiness and outcome.

I repeat what has become my mantra:  If you don't like it, change it!