When I’m 64…(or 84 or 124)

This week, my AmeriCorps program introduced a new initiative to help seniors “age in place” through technology training and integration. As the youngest member of my team, age is a topic that is always on my mind. Especially, since one of my colleagues is 80 years old. I find this to be equally inspiring and terrifying. Why terrifying, you ask? You say, “it’s a gift to be old, at one time, humans didn’t live much past the age of 30. What are you afraid of?”

I’m terrified because her life may very well be my future. With Social Security running out by 2035 and my lack of retirement savings due to money going towards my basic living expenses and student loans, I don’t expect to ever be able to retire. Also, thanks to modern medicine, the average human lifespan is expected to rise to 120, meaning that I may need to work because I may outlive my retirement savings. Although we’re fortunate that our employer doesn’t age discriminate, most do.

I’ve seen this happen with my mother. At 70, she is still working, much to the dismay of her younger supervisors and colleagues who try to put her “out to pasture” by making her working conditions as miserable as possible. She says she continues to work because she wants to. I respect her decision. Even though I wish she’d just retire and take it easy for the rest of her days, especially after her brush with early stage breast cancer two years ago. Although she’s in good health now, it still worries me that by being “too” active, she’ll end up in a worse condition.

However, it’s not just being unable to spend my golden years drinking Mai-Tais on the beach that concerns me about old age, it’s also my health. On the other end of the aging spectrum is my father, who is also 70. Defying his doctors’ expectations, he has been living with late stage prostate cancer for nearly a decade. As a result, he is literally out of his mind from the painkillers he uses to manage his condition. He doesn’t remember basic details like what type of car I drive or his address, but he remembers the name of my late childhood dog, who he believes is still alive.

Looking at how my own parents have aged, my wish for old age is to not be a burden on my family, whether health-wise or financially. Other than the effects of the economy and climate change, that is my true fear regarding aging. My hope is that my ability to adapt and learn quickly will get me through whatever challenges I face in my future.

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It Takes a (Digital) Village

With Mother’s Day on Sunday, I’ve been thinking about how technology has changed parenthood for my generation. I often wonder how they did it. How did Mom (or Grandma) know everything about caring for a child without the ability to look it up on Google or WebMD? Or how they kept their sanity without having an iPad that their child could watch “Baby Shark” on so they could have five minutes to use the bathroom in peace?

They had “The Village,” as in the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” This village was made up of neighbors, friends, and older relatives who helped each other look after their families. Most women stayed home, so they could cook meals for, socialize with, and offer babysitting services to fellow mothers.

Today, most families require both parents to work in order to afford the basics. Also, many of these young parents work remotely and have left traditional social networks, like church, so they don’t have access to those “villages” like their parents and grandparents did. So, where can a young mother find “mom friends?” Online.

There are Facebook Groups to provide community to anyone in any season of life, including busy parents. This is especially helpful when your family doesn’t fit the traditional “mold.” This is why I’ve taken advantage of this opportunity myself.

When my ex and I became guardians of his teenage sister, I sought out advice on how to navigate this situation. Everyone else in my family and peer group started their families, “the old fashioned way.” Local hospitals and churches didn’t offer support groups for situations like ours. I learned that parenthood can be an isolating experience, but entering into it through international sibling adoption in a predominantly white community is downright lonely.

Out of desperation, I turned to the Internet. I found The Almost Indian Wife blog and the related Facebook Groups, Multiracial Motherhood and Loving Abroad. These blog posts and groups were answered prayers. I gained a better understanding of my family’s culture and situation. I met families similar to my own and although, I’ve never met most of these people in person, I consider them to be my best friends. I often wish we could live in the same neighborhood and build a real village.

I realize that my entire Facebook “mom group” isn’t going to uproot their lives to move into the same neighborhood, but I’m grateful for the community they offer me. My wish for this Mother’s Day is that other people find community online like I have. After all, “it takes a village.”

So, What’s it Like to be a Teacher?

Today is Teacher Appreciation Day, which is part of Teacher Appreciation Week. As a teacher, I have mixed feelings about these events. After all, for the rest of the year, teachers are generally seen as, to quote Donald Trump Jr., “losers.” But, we do have demanding jobs that deserve much more respect than we typically receive.

Although in my current role, teaching adult education, I feel respected by my students and administrators, this wasn’t always the case. As a substitute teacher, I have dealt with my share of mouthy children and fantasized about being in the classroom 40 years earlier when I could give them the paddle. However, their disrespect wasn’t as hard to take as their parents’.

As much as I appreciate parents taking an interest in their child’s education, sometimes it goes too far, such as in the case of “Operation Varsity Blues.” Although I’ve never dealt with anything that extreme, I have had students spend an entire semester not doing any of their homework while their parents still expect me to pass them. Once report cards go home, I can expect a flood of nasty emails from helicopter parents demanding I give their children only As or the minimum grade required for them to still be able to play sports.

You’re probably wondering where my administrators are. They’re there. They just take the parents’ sides. I’ve had several meetings with administrators about how they’ve received complaints that I’m “too strict,” when I’m just doing my job as a teacher. In the same breath, they also ask that I do anything necessary to protect these same children in the event of a school shooting. Mind you, human shield, is not in my job description, nor is being the parents’ or their child’s best friend.

Although, I might as well be friends with my students and their parents, I have no time to have a social life of my own. I was sold a bill of goods when I was told I’d have my evenings, weekends, and summers off as a teacher. I spend my “free” time marking papers, planning lessons, and responding to emails. Luckily, most of this can be done from my home.

You’re probably wondering why I stay in the classroom if I’m so bloody miserable. It’s because it is rewarding work. I’ve worked retail and I’d rather deal with children acting like children than adults acting like children over something as trivial as an armchair. Also, my current teaching position is opening the door for me to pursue my true passion, which is technology.

No matter what path I end up going down in life, I’ll always have a great deal of respect for teachers. As someone who has been in the classroom for 5 years now, I believe that every day should be Teacher Appreciation Day. After all, even “loser teachers” deserve respect.

So, Why Care About Digital Addiction?

May is mental health awareness month. Now, you’re probably wondering what that has to do with millennials, technology, or anything else I deal with in my classroom on a daily basis. I’m a teacher, not a therapist, after all. I thought the same thing until I attended an event hosted by my congressman a couple of weeks ago that drew my attention to one particular mental health issue.

Myself and other AmeriCorps members had tables set up to present information about our programs to the congressman. As he and his followers came through, they asked us questions. One question in particular was quite convicting. The question was, “what are you doing to deal with digital addiction?” Neither my supervisor who was attending or I had a good answer for this.

I felt ashamed, so I began looking further into the issue to learn more and see if there was something we could do. It is estimated that 1 in 8 Americans suffer from digital addiction. Despite this much of the population being affected, the legitimacy of this disorder is still questioned. Even though the Internet, as we know it, has been around for 30 years, inpatient treatment for digital addiction has only existed since 2013.

Although most people think of the teenager glued to their phone or computer when they think of digital addiction, it can affect anyone. As a millennial who works in technology, most of my life happens online but I do try to control my internet use as much as possible. I don’t answer work emails in the evening or on weekends. Since I mostly work from home, I shut down my work computer when I’m done for the day. I keep my phone in the car when I don’t need it such as when I’m at school or church.

I like to think that these small steps are keeping my technology use balanced. However, many of my peers aren’t as savvy about this. For example, my cousin has two small children, a toddler and a kindergartner. Whenever they visit, you can find her on the couch playing with her phone while ignoring her children. It saddens me as an educator because I see the effects of this in the classroom as children seek attention they may not be getting at home from device-addicted parents.

While I realize that there’s no one solution to this issue, I do try to lead by example in my own life. While my cousin plays with her phone, I play with the children (including hers) and the pets at our family gatherings instead. When I’m in the classroom, I only use technology relevant to the lesson I’m teaching. I hope that eventually those watching will follow my example, no matter how small it may seem.


WAHM I Am!

Today is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, which is exactly what it sounds like. Originally called Take Our Daughters to Work Day, the event was founded in 1993 by Gloria Steinem and the Ms. Foundation for Women. Despite having been around since I was a child, I never got to participate in this event but I wish I had.

My mother was a nurse and I often asked to go with her to work only to have my request refused. As a child, I didn’t understand the concept of HIPAA and patient privacy policies, so I assumed that I was welcome at the hospital. After all, there were windows through which people could see newborn babies they had no relationship with and there was the episode of Seinfeld where they watched a surgery from a set of bleachers in the operating room.

Also, other children got to go with their parents to work. My teachers’ kids attended our school and our pastor’s family came to church with him every Sunday. These children were affected positively by their parents’ work and even pursued similar paths. Perhaps had I visited my mother at the hospital, I would’ve made the connection between my “boring” math and science classes and the “cool” things she got to do like save lives and deliver babies.

In the end, the law won, and I learned about my mother’s profession through television shows like General Hospital and Grey’s Anatomy. Of course, these shows were grossly dramatized and nothing like the true life of a nurse. I’m sure she didn’t have a handsome doctor swooning over her as she emptied bedpans and started IVs. I can also assure you she wasn’t playing cards. The only influence my mother’s occupation had on me was that it was one that I knew I didn’t want to do because of the lack of work-life balance (and if I’m honest, the blood and needles).

As an adult, I realize now that my mother’s work did have an impact on me, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. My ex was the guardian of his younger sister who came to North America to study. Their mother was a stay-at-home mom who raised them as vegans and fed them home-cooked organic meals every night. I was green with envy thinking back to my childhood as a latchkey kid who lived on Kraft Dinner.

As the saying goes, the grass is greener on the other side. My ex’s sister wanted more for herself than to be a housewife. She never had a working female adult role model in her life until I came along. Many weekends, I’d be on my laptop marking papers or responding to student emails while she’d be a few feet away from me doing homework or practicing her dance team routines.

I didn’t think what I was doing had an impact on her. Even though she was a teenager capable of feeding and otherwise caring for herself, I felt guilt. I saw this as the beginning of a life in which I focus more on the kids who call me “Mrs. X” instead of the ones who call me “Mom.” I couldn’t imagine doing this with a baby or small child who was completely dependent on me.

Little did I realize at the time, I had nothing to feel guilty about. I was part of a movement that would make Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work an every day thing. I was beginning my life as a work-at-home mom or WAHM. This life would allow me to have the best of both worlds as a working and stay-at-home parent.

This lifestyle would also impact the young person in my life more than I expected to. Today, my ex’s younger sister is pursuing a degree in computer science and a software engineering internship with IBM. She credits me with being her inspiration to pursue her dreams despite expectations to follow in her birth mother’s footsteps. Through this experience, I learned that whether you’re a working parent, a SAHM, or a WAHM, your work influences your child more than you realize.

I’m the Tax (wo)Man

Today is tax day in Maine. This is also an important date in my own digital literacy and financial literacy education. Despite being raised in a broken home, I was blessed to have learned valuable skills that have benefited me as an adult. Especially, in my current role.

One of the classes I teach as part of my AmeriCorps service is Quickbooks. This is a program I’ve been using since I was 14 years old. I bet you’re wondering why on Earth a 14-year-old needs to use Quickbooks, unless their name is Alex P. Keaton. It’s because I was doing it as a service to my Baby Boomer parents.

Up until I was 14 years old, they had an old MS-DOS computer on which they did their taxes and nothing else. I had a more modern PC that I used for school work and other activities. When their computer quit working, they purchased Quickbooks and TurboTax software to install on my PC. They tasked me with learning to use these programs in order to do their taxes and monthly budgets for them.

With the help of my aunt who worked for Revenue Canada at the time (she has since retired), I took to learning these programs. As a result, I passed the Accounting class I took in high school as an elective with flying colors. I was the only student in the class who knew how to maintain a budget, balance a checkbook, and do taxes.

Looking back, I often wonder if I missed my calling. After all, I would’ve had a far more successful career as a CPA than a teacher. Then, during the summer of 2015, my first AmeriCorps term serving at a financial organization helped me to realize that I wasn’t cut out to work in finance. I’m a creative person who needs an outlet for her creativity in her work in order to have job satisfaction. However, I’m grateful to have these skills as they are essential to my survival.

So, What do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

Since my Plan B career has become my Plan A, I often joke that I’m almost 30 years old and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. It’s silly because, for all intents and purposes, I am a grown-up, even if I don’t feel like one most days (or act like one, if I’m honest). However, I do have to think about my future as my AmeriCorps term ends in less than six months.

I recently had my mid-year evaluation. My supervisor and I discussed options for my “life after AmeriCorps.” For the first time in my life, I had an answer that I truly felt good about to the question, “What do you want to do for a living?” I want to work in technology.

What has helped me to affirm this desire is an initiative that I’ve taken part in via AmeriCorps, Service and Tech. Since my current term is directly related to this topic, I decided to join. Through this initiative, I’ve been able to sit in on webinars hosted by fellow AmeriCorps members and alums who work with technology in various capacities.

One webinar that was especially interesting to me was about General Assembly, an adult education program offering technology courses both live and online. The webinar I attended was promoting their online courses. Which was especially relevant as their closest site to me is in Boston. We even got to take part in a mini-lesson where we wrote lines of code.

As I was writing the lines of both CSS and HTML, I realized that coding wasn’t as intimidating or boring as one would think it would be. I felt actual joy writing and correcting code to perform certain functions. Looking further into the opportunities coding knowledge would bring me was even more exciting.

Working in web or software development, I would have the potential to earn over $100,000 per year, which is the average salary of a software developer. That is three times what I would earn as a teacher. Also, the scheduling is far more flexible and allows for better work-life balance than teaching. In fact, there are many jobs in technology that allow people to work remotely.

Even if I do end up working remotely in technology, it doesn’t mean I’ll become a hermit. There are many networking events for those in technology. I recently presented at the Maine Technology User’s Group (MTUG)’s “Peers and Beers” event in my city. Most of the people I met were quite friendly and I felt comfortable among them.

Up to this point, my view of technology workers has been shaped by the media and those that I’ve met. For example, my ex, a software engineer with an advanced degree in computer science, fit every stereotype so well that he could’ve played Steve Jobs better than Ashton Kutcher did in his biopic. The genius who lacked social skills, was more committed to his career than his family, and wore monochromatic outfits was who I thought someone had to be to work in technology.

That is why I’m out to change that image, starting with me. Instead of all black, I’ll be robed in colorful leggings from LulaRoe as I support my fellow momtrepeneurs. Instead of living at my office and going home just to sleep, I’ll bring my office to my living room as I work remotely. I’ll create the digital world by day and build a family and life I truly enjoy by night (and on the weekends).

Recent studies have shown that I’m not the only one from my generation who feels this way. More young people are choosing to work in technology than traditional industries like finance because of the flexibility it offers. Although some may say that this is a sign that my generation lacks work ethic, I’d say it’s the start of a cultural shift that will lead to happier, more productive workers in all industries.

So, Where do You Want to Live?

This week, I got to stay a little closer to home to teach, just a mile down the road to be specific. Although I’ve lived in Orrington since 2015, counting last night, I’ve maybe stepped foot into my local library a half dozen times. Honestly, I haven’t engaged with the town I live in much, including interacting with my own neighbors.

The reason is not because I’m a hermit who chose to live in the woods to avoid all human contact. Orrington and other small towns in the area, are bedroom communities for Bangor. Because housing is expensive and difficult to find “in town,” many people will live in the surrounding towns and commute into the city for school, work, and pretty much everything else. By living in Orrington, I have a half hour commute into Bangor and a beautiful, affordable townhouse.

Is it the ideal situation? To be honest, no, but I can’t really afford to change it. For all intents and purposes, I live in the middle of nowhere. This is a question I’ve been dealing with lately. Since the AmeriCorps Conference, to be specific. Our keynote speaker was from the organization “Live and Work in Maine.” His presentation discussed the topic of what people are looking for in a place they choose to live in, with a plea for young people to stay in rural Maine.

What I’m looking for in a community are not things that the place I currently live in offer. I’d like to live in a “walkable” community with everything I need at my fingertips. Although I have a car, reliable public transportation would be ideal. Since I take pride in my home and its appearance, I’d gladly participate in a HOA.

For my entertainment, I’d like to have an active arts and culture scene. Some of my favorite hangouts include theatres, bookstores, ethnic restaurants, and cafes. I’d also like my neighbors to be a diverse group of young professionals like myself who are welcoming to newcomers.

I’m a fairly well-traveled person, so I do have some ideas as to where I’d like to live. I know I wouldn’t want to live in a large city like New York, because it’s too crowded. I found that out when I went there on my senior trip and returned with a whole new appreciation for my hometown. But that doesn’t exclude all major cities.

I fell in love with Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN when I stayed there with my aunt the summer after college, it has since earned the honor of being the “best” place to live. I also enjoyed Raleigh-Durham, NC when I visited family there in middle school. Not much has changed since it’s now the second “best” place to live. In high school, I attended a National Honor Society convention in Salt Lake City, UT and took full advantage of their excellent public transportation system. I’d even be willing to stay in Maine, with the greater Portland area topping the list of my preferred destinations.

So, what’s stopping me from making this move? After all, I’m a young single who doesn’t have a family to uproot. The answer is not really that simple. My colleague asked me this question during my presentation and it’s been gnawing at me since. I usually try not to let anything he says bother me because he is a stereotypical mansplainer who likes to hear himself talk, but this time he had a point.

He remarked that if I were to drive just four hours south to Boston, I’d have a great, high-paying job at a tech company instead of the gigs that barely keep my head above water here. I explained to him in my answer that different people have different priorities, which is the truth. I know that I’d never want to live in Boston or somewhere similar, but sometimes wonder if I’m limiting myself in that way.

When my ex first accepted a job offer in Montreal, I told him to go on his own to see if he’d like it before I move there with him. He didn’t speak a word of French, so I expected him to come crawling back after a month. Nearly two years later, he’s still there and has a career as a software engineer successful enough to allow his new wife to be a stay-at-home mom. As you can imagine, I often wonder if I would’ve gotten used to living in the big city and had a better life as a result of going with him.

So, why didn’t I? Or, why, as an independent career woman, do I not make this move on my own? First, I do have student loans and other debt to pay off. In order to take care of this, along with moving expenses, I do need at least an employment offer in hand. The catch-22 here is that most companies prefer to hire local candidates. Despite this, I continue to apply for work in hopes that something will happen.

Second, I’m an only child with aging parents. For as along as they’re living, I need to be within a reasonable traveling distance of them. At the moment, I’m a four hour drive away from them, which is manageable, if they do need me. Since I left home for college, they’ve both had health scares that have reinforced the need for me to stay close. My extended family members love to give me guilt trips to remind me of this any chance they get, despite moving thousands of miles from their own parents (who are now deceased) when they left home.

I know what you’re thinking, “Stop blaming everyone but yourself for not taking steps to improve your life. After all, your ex abandoned your family for a job offer in a major city with no regrets and he’s doing better than he ever would have if he stayed with you.” Yes, but women tend to be more “family-oriented” and prone to guilt to begin with, so these factors affect our decisions more.

So, the answer to where I want to live is where I can find work and live comfortably while fulfilling all of my responsibilities to myself and others. I encourage others to do the same level of self-examination before loading up the U-Haul and hitting the road. It’s the most responsible thing people can do for themselves, their families, and the communities they choose to belong to.

The Kid on the Lawn

This week, I had my biggest accomplishment in my career so far. I presented at the state AmeriCorps Conference in Belfast on March 27th. The subject of my presentation was the generation gap, specifically intergenerational relations between
Baby Boomers and Millennials in the workplace.

This is a topic that is especially relevant to me as the youngest member of my AmeriCorps program. I was pleased to see that my colleagues attended my presentation and were engaged in the discussion. I was honestly expecting them to wave their canes at me and yell “damned kid, get off our lawn.” But, they didn’t.

As the “damned kid on the lawn,” I feel pressure to perform well in the workplace to dispel stereotypes that my generation is lazy. I hear it all the time from my parents, their friends, their siblings, and anyone over the age of 50 that I encounter. “Young people today have no work ethic. They have it so easy,” they say.

I can honestly tell you that’s not the truth. My generation is one of the hardest working of all time. Many of us have advanced degrees and work multiple jobs to survive in the current economy, myself included. I just wish potential employers and my family members would realize this.

My AmeriCorps contract ends in September. I’ve started applying and interviewing for other jobs. Since I graduated from college in 2014, I’ve worked multiple jobs, often at the same time. This has started to become a question in job interviews. It is my least favorite interview question. Mostly because I’ve been defending this to my family who insists that at my age I should just “settle down” already.

Believe me, I would if I could. If I could work in one place for 40 years, then get a gold watch and pension upon retirement, I would. Unfortunately, the world that my parents’ generation came of age into no longer exists. But, I’ve made the best of it, as have others in my situation. All of these experiences have value, even if it doesn’t feel that way at times.

Social Science Festival

As a teacher, as much as I love my students, I confess that I sometimes crave adult conversation. I enjoy going to events in my community, but many of them happen during the school day. Living in a small town, there isn’t a lot going on, so I like to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. The fact that I’m able to represent my AmeriCorps program at community events allows me to have the best of both worlds.

This past weekend, I staffed my program’s table at the Maine Science Festival. I’d been in years past as an attendee, but never as a volunteer. I enjoyed being on the other side of the table more than I ever did attending the events. I had the opportunity to talk to people who came by, even if it was just to grab a piece of chocolate. I even directed one family to the bathroom using the very limited Spanish I’ve picked up in my attempts to learn the language over the years.

My friends and family wonder why I voluntarily work weekends. I even have a hard time getting my colleagues to join me at these events. After all, I need to have a social life, which for a working adult, happens on the weekend. If anything, working weekends has helped my socialization more than not doing so.

Most events in my community are family or couple oriented. As a single person, it can be awkward to attend alone. By attending as a volunteer, I get to socialize, promote my service in AmeriCorps, and be an active member of the community by attending these events.

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