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As a little girl, I hated dogs.
One of my earliest memories was of being chased around my front yard by a neighbor’s Great Dane who used to roam the streets. Looking back, I’m sure the dog just wanted to play, but from a three-year-old’s perspective he was terrifying. My grandfather used to keep a wooden baseball bat on the front porch to chase him away.
And so, for the first 12 years of my life, my family shared a home with a beautiful but anti-social white cat named Edel Weiss and I stayed away from dogs.
Then, a few years after Edel Weiss died, my parents met a border terrier at a friend’s dinner party. They were so impressed with how smart, friendly and adorable the dog was, they decided to get their own. So one day in February we drove to Virginia to pick up our new puppy.
Her AKC name was Bendywood Sleigh Belle, but we called her Belle. She was like a lot of dogs — she loved chasing squirrels, eating and playing. But she was unique as well. She was stubborn and never learned to fetch because she thought it was much more fun to train us to chase her. She learned words just by listening to us. LeCoco, Cindy, dinner, go, Grandma’s — she understood what they all meant. And she adored my father. He was the only one who was allowed to hold her on her back like a baby, rub her chin and talk baby talk to her.
Belle was such a good dog that my parents decided to get a second border terrier, a friendly but ditzy girl named Maggie. The two terriers became friends and as Belle aged and lost her hearing and then her sight, Maggie became her nursemaid.
Last week, Belle died at the ripe old doggie age of 15. I still can’t quite believe it and I’m not looking forward to visiting my parents this weekend and not seeing her there. Maggie wanders the house at night now, looking for Belle. And my dad’s voice choked up when I asked him how he was faring.
Belle left behind a family of people who loved her. But more than that, she was my first dog and the reason I love dogs today. Belle paved the way for me to say yes when my fiance proposed getting a Hungarian viszla puppy this year. Rugby is a smart, funny and loving puppy who wouldn’t be in my life today if not for Belle.
I miss her, but she left me better off. She was a good dog.
Tonight there is a Christmas tree and a dining room table groaning under the weight of Christmas cookies and my aunt’s amazing chocolate. Later there will be a candlelight Christmas service and a ridiculously large meal. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
Best of all, tonight my family is warm, healthy and together. That’s what matter most of all.
And I’m so grateful.
Here’s hoping that wherever you are and whoever you are celebrating with, you have a lot to be grateful for too. Merry Christmas.
Sleeping in until 8 a.m. That’s late for me!
Working out every single day. When you have nowhere you have to be, you have time to do all those special sit ups and fancy arm curls from Self magazine.
Reading whatever I want. That includes Vanity Fair, simply because Johnny Depp is on the cover.
Baking cupcakes almost every day. The success stories include champagne and strawberries, eggnog with caramel bourbon cream cheese frosting and chocolate with pretzels and salted caramel.
Buying new running shoes. Now if it would just warm up so I can jog outside…
Planning the final details of my New Year’s sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands, where it is forecast to be 76 degrees. Yeah, I’m bragging a little. But wouldn’t you?
Spending time with my mom and dad and brother, and trying not to think about the fact that next year at this time I’ll be 1,200 miles away.
I’m home for Thanksgiving break, where the source of amusement is usually my punchy and inappropriate mother.
She and my brother often feed off each other, sending one another into fits of giggles with increasingly ridiculous mental images. I’ve tried to capture them in prose before, but they lose most of their hilarity. For what it’s worth, some perennial favorites are:
- French deer appearing on a talk show while smoking cigarettes, wearing berets and saying that they fart in our general direction.
- Henry, the church program director, announcing that he’ll be there in a second, “I’m just washing down my nuts.”
- My mother’s first reaction when she saw my father – who’d just suffered severe burns thanks to a Girl Scout project – with his head wrapped in a black and white checked towel in the ER: “You look like Yasser Arafat.”
One of my brother’s favorites is asking ridiculous questions. His favorite since the age of 13 he stole from a cartoon called Pinky & The Brain: “If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why does he keep doing it?”
He’s posed it to his seventh grade math teacher and to comedian Jeff Dunham at a nightclub. Both times he got three beats of stunned silence and then snorted laughter. It’s become an inside family joke.
But this holiday my dad has been the funny one. Normally he’s the one shaking his head at my mom and my brother, chuckling but not really joining in. He’s got a great sense of humor. It’s just not their twisted, absurdist sense of humor.
But this Thanksgiving, you see, he had knee surgery. Which meant he was under anesthesia. Which meant he was unexpectedly and ridiculously funny.
It started a few weeks ago when he went in for his regularly scheduled, your-over-50-now colonoscopy. He was still woozy when the nurse informed my mother she should get him dressed and go home. While Mom was working him into his clothes – a procedure akin to dressing an oversized rag doll – my dad reached out and groped her, um, lady bosom.
I cracked up when Mom recalled the story on Wednesday, right before she took Dad in for his knee surgery.
“What if it hadn’t been Mom?” I asked between gasps of laughter while my poor father turned bright red. “What if it had been a nurse?”
What indeed? Turns out Dad was awfully worried about that. After his knee surgery that Wednesday afternoon, the nurse asked if he had any questions. He only had two.
“Did I do anything inappropriate?”
“If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why does he keep doing it?”
I’d been back in the workforce precisely a week when the New York Times published this story about wealthy parents who worried about how to instill a work ethic in their children.
One of the subjects – Steven Hayworth, a CEO of a bank in ritzy Coral Gables, Fla. — described how he was thrilled his teenage daughter had taken a job at a clothing store for the summer.
“As a parent who has worked his whole life and has had a little bit of success in my career, one of the huge life lessons I learned early on is the value of a dollar,” he says in the story. “Particularly for children of upper-middle-class and affluent families, there is no perspective on value. When the new Range Rover pulls into the driveway, there’s no concept of how many hours of hard work went into owning that vehicle.”
The question that immediately popped into my head was – why not? Why does the fact your family has money preclude you from learning the value of a dollar and the importance of working hard? And why is it such a mystery to wealthy parents how to instill those values?
We were solidly middle class when I was growing up but that didn’t mean my brother and I got allowances or got most of our “wants” paid for by Mom and Dad. My parents — both the product of a steel and coal mining town and families that had to struggle to get ahead — didn’t want their kids to think money came cheap.
So they put us to work. Early. I had my first real job at age 9.
We worked for the family business, a land planning and civil engineering firm my dad owned. I was 9, my brother was 7 and we were the office janitors. Every Friday afternoon my parents drove us to the other side of town after school and we took out the trash, vacuumed, dusted, mopped, cleaned toilets, scrubbed sinks and washed dishes. Once a month, we waxed the floors.
In return we got a paycheck. Every pay period, we got $20 each and the rest went into a college savings account. My parents let us know that we were funding our own education.
As a result, I learned at age 10 or 11 the lessons that a lot of kids don’t encounter until their first mall job as a teenager or – even scarier – at their first real job after college.
I learned that the quality of the work I did affected other people when I did a shoddy job cleaning a glass-topped conference table and my dad told me he’d had to redo my work – in front of an important client.
I learned how to do a job that was dirty, unpleasant at times and often completely unnoticed – unless you did it wrong. It made me appreciate people who do this kind of work for their entire lives.
I learned the value of a dollar when I had to save up three months worth of paychecks to buy the American Girl doll I coveted and then had to save for three more to buy her accessories. I still have that doll, lovingly packed away in perfect condition. I don’t think any other toy meant as much to me.
And, perhaps the most important, I learned how to work hard. It’s an attribute that amazed my first “real” employers, in part because most teenagers or even recent college graduates don’t have it. But working for my dad, and learning from him what made a good employee, I knew that initiative and follow-through will go a long way in this world – certainly a lot further than talent alone.
These lessons have paid huge dividends in my professional life and made me smarter about managing my money, managing my time and managing my boss.
These are lessons that a lot of parents don’t teach their kids. I know because I’ve worked with those parents’ kids. You probably have too. It’s not a great experience.
So, to these wealthy parents who worry about their children’s worth ethic, I say, good. You should worry. Worry is the first step, the indication that you know enough to be concerned. But the next step is to do something about it.
Don’t provide everything your kids want and need. Give them an opportunity to work for it, starting from an early age. Make sure the stakes are higher than just picking up their room or setting the table (they should be doing that anyway). Instead give them some real responsibility and a job that requires follow through.
Making your kids work is not punishment. It’s one of the million ways you show them you love them.
Thanks to Darden’s generous vacation policy, this is the longest time I’ve ever been home for the holidays. Which also means it’s the most time I’ve spent with my parents in a long time. Specifically my mom and her goofy and slightly inappropriate sense of humor.
So, here for your amusement, are a few tidbits I overheard at home during the holiday break.
At the dinner table discussion about booze:
Mom: I had my last beer in second grade.
Watching a Viagra commercial:
Steph: I thought that was going to be a men’s hair dye commercial.
Mom: If it’s not one head, it’s the other.
Driving home from the movie theater:
Mom: Guns fascinate me. What? They do!
Watching a guy on the local news with a large, red, swollen nose:
Mom: Buddy, you need to stop drinking. It’s too late for your nose but you might save your liver.
Here’s what they don’t tell you about the first week of business school:
You need to decide right then what you want to do for the rest of your life, forever and ever, amen.
At least, that’s what it feels like.
The career service’s office puts the pressure on to narrow your focus, figure it out, do the research and start hunting for that internship. They bring in high-powered speakers from each type of job (i-banking, private wealth, general management — the list goes on) to tell you what it’s like to live their lives. They dole out more personality quizzes than Cosmo (Myers-Briggs, anyone?) and force a ton of introspection (What makes you really happy? What are you really good at?).
It suddenly dawns on you that you are not just here for two years of education, enlightenment and world-broadening. You are here to get a job. As someone once told me, b-school is a two-year job search.
To be fair to b-schools around the world, they’re under a lot of pressure. Those fancy b-school rankings in Business Week and others rely heavily on statistics on how many graduates have a job and how much that job pays. Also, it’s a bad economy and competitive market, so we need to be prepared. And there is so much to do at my MBA program that if the career office didn’t force us to pay attention, narrow it down and focus on our job search, it would be very, very easy to shove it on the back burner.
But that pressure cooker of the first week is intense. And it was as I listened to all these experts telling me about their jobs and the reason that being an i-banker/consultant/marketer/trader that I started to think I should be a consultant.
It’s official. I’m here. I’ve moved into my grad school apartment right next to my grad school nestled in the perfect college town. It’s real. It’s really, really real.
Oh my God, it’s real.
That’s pretty much the freak out I had the first day in my apartment. After practicing, planning, testing, applying and interviewing for the last year and a half, I was standing in my too-small apartment that was partway underground and smelled faintly of kitty litter.
I had traded a lovely life, a lovely group of friends and a lovely house in Florida (with a closet the size of my new bedroom) for this?
I took deep breaths and remembered why I came here. Job prospects in journalism were bad. I never planned to make Florida my home forever and ever amen. Getting an MBA could not hurt me, only help me. Breathe, breathe.
I have rebounded nicely since then. I tried a running route and added a half mile to my run, despite the massive hills. I hung a shelf, bought a new TV, changed my own burned out brake light and got my apartment in order. I have a long to-do list to keep me busy. I’m saying hi to the people in my apartment complex and I’m sure that any day now one of them will say hi back without averting their eyes.
It’s all going to be OK. It’s real and it’s OK.
Expect a similar freak out when classes start.
Side note: A few funny moments from the move:
- Watching my brother unpack my clothes and be utterly confused by some of them. “What is this?” he asked, genuinely befuddled by the silver halter top. “Why do you have so many huge change purses?” he asked, pointing to my clutch collection.
- My father, after hanging hooks for my extensive collection of bags, discovered more purses in another box. “Stephanie!” he gasped, with equal parts surprise, disappointment and anguish. You’d think he’d discovered a stash of vodka after I’d told him I was sober.
- My mother carefully placing each word of my Magnetic Poetry set on the refrigerator. She didn’t realize until she was finished that she had subconsciously lined up the words by letter length – one row for one-letter words, another row for two-letter words, another for three-letter words and so on.