Archive for July, 2010

The Times They are a Changin

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

We were chatting with some friends before church last week, when they asked us how our summer was going. My answer was that this is a summer of transitions for us.

In previous summers, one of the kids might be making the transition to junior high or high school, but I had a sense of security knowing that nothing in our lives would dramatically change in the time between June and August.

But this year, the dynamics in our house will be very different by the time we get to the end of the summer. Valerie will be away at college, adjusting to dorm life and we’ll be adjusting to life without her. Gulp.

Once Valerie goes away to college, two of the three kids will be out of the house ““ at least for the foreseeable future. So at the same time that we have been anticipating her leaving, we have also been planning another major transition: selling our house.

We are grateful that in spite of the toll the recession has taken on our business that we still have a house; many people don’t. But downsizing to a smaller place with less upkeep, less overhead and less debt hanging over our head sounds really good to us.

Since I started working full time outside the home, the maintenance and yard work hangs over my head. It would be great if I found it recreational, but gardening, and yard work in general, is number 11 on my top 10 list of favorite activities. I think about the change of seasons in the context of the amount of yard work that I’m going to have to do. In spring, rather than appreciating the emerging buds and leaves, what comes to mind is, “Oh darn, it’s spring, that means weekends of weed pulling.” I look forward to the dark, rainy days in January because there’s no yard work that I should be doing. Now my idea of a yard is two flower pots on a concrete slab.

So in our eagerness to be free of the burden of the house, we decided that we would put our house on the market by September 1. That certainly makes sense from a real estate point of view; we can take advantage of activity in the market before everyone’s attention turns from house-hunting to the celebrating the holidays.

But does it make sense for us as a family? Putting the house on the market one week after Valerie moves out and before we have had any time for us and her younger sister to adjust seems like we’re moving forward too fast. Perhaps what was really motivating us to get our house on the market so fast was that the sooner we were out of this house, the less we would have to walk past Valerie’s tidy, but empty room and be reminded of how much we miss her.

Selling a house that you’ve lived in for 15 years and the only house that Jennifer and Valerie have ever known is a pretty big deal. We can still move ahead with the preparations we need to take to get the house ready to put on the market. But we have come to realize that we will all be better off if we slow the process down a little and take one major transition at a time.

Going Pains

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

On Saturday, our daughter Valerie, celebrated her 18th birthday. It makes no difference to Valerie that her July 17th birthday means that she is a “Cancer” in the zodiac signs. What is far more meaningful to her is that she was born under the “Nordstrom Anniversary Sale” sign. Her birthday always falls during the two weeks of their sale so she can celebrate her birthday with a back-to-school shopping trip.

This year when we shopped at Nordstrom, we weren’t just buying clothes for school, we were buying clothes that Valerie would be taking with her when she goes away to college. And sending a child off to college right out of high school is a new experience for us.

Our older son moved away in stages: first moving into a house in town with some buddies while he was still at the JC and then finding and apartment close to his four-year school, San Francisco State. For the first year he was at SFSU, he often drove home to see a movie with Steve or rummage through the cupboards for chips and salsa. But now that he has deposited his car in our driveway in Petaluma so he doesn’t have to have the burden of a car in the city, we won’t be seeing him unless he invites us to come visit him. However, I still find some parental reassurance in knowing that he is only an hour away.

So when I think of Valerie going away to college in Southern California and not seeing her for weeks or even months at a time, it brings to mind the saddest movie that I’ve seen in a long time: “Toy Story 3.” Just thinking of the scene when Andy’s mom walks into his stripped and empty room and the reality of his leaving hits her, I get choked up.

For Andy’s mom, it seems like yesterday that he was playing with Woody and Buzz. For me, it’s hard to believe that 14 years have passed since Valerie was sitting at a Little Tikes table next to the window in her room, coloring precisely inside the lines in a Disney princess coloring book using markers that she had gotten in a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

The years have flown by, especially the last four in high school and now it is hard for me to believe that she’s 18 and going away. I know saying goodbye will be hard. I’ve talked to several mothers who said they cried the entire way home after they moved their child into the dorm and said goodbye.

But I also know that all of the zillions of mothers who have watched their daughters go away to college didn’t love them any less than I do, and somehow, both the parents and the kids made the adjustment just fine.

Steve and I believe that it will be better than “fine,” it’s going to be good for all of us. Valerie will get more resourceful and become more of her own person, her younger sister gets a chance to shine, and Steve and I can get back to being a couple first, and parents, second.

Right now, our family is going through a growth spurt”¦and that can be a little painful.

Life Lessons: Registering for College

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night when our 17-year-old daughter, Valerie, got the “Award Letter” from the college that was her number one choice. That’s the letter that outlines how much the school is going to award in scholarships and financial aid.

In reality, it was actually a nice sunny day in April when the Award Letter arrived. It’s just that when an emotional teenage girl gets “dumped” by the college that has stolen her heart, the atmosphere in the house can take a pretty dark turn.

It took a few days, but the clouds cleared. Valerie knew that unless she wanted to graduate from college with student loans totaling well into six digits, that school was not in her future and she would need to come to terms with attending her second choice school. She would still have student debt but it would be more in the range of the cost of a nice SUV and not a jumbo mortgage.

From Steve’s and my perspective, we considered it answered prayer that the school that just “wasn’t that into her” (USC) made going to Chapman University an obvious decision; Chapman, her second choice, had come through with significant financial aid.

Plus, we felt that the smaller size of Chapman would be a better fit for her. I told her how it would have a more nurturing environment. In my attempt to bring her around to the positive aspects of going to Chapman, I’m sure I gave her the impression that because this school really wants her, they are going to smooth the path along the way as she goes through the process of loans, housing and registration. I gave her the expectation that she is special.

So this past week, when Valerie began the steps necessary to register for classes and ran into a couple of roadblocks she was stunned and angry. “Why does everything have to be so hard? I didn’t get any of the classes that I chose as options for my Freshman Foundation Course and all the classes look like they are full or wait-listed. Aren’t I going to a private school so I can get the classes I need so that I can graduate in four years?”

Once again, our daughter gets a cold dose of reality. You can do all the right things, work with wonderful people, and things may still not go as planned. That’s just life and none of us are exempt.

There is always a steep learning curve to figuring out any system. She needs to take some responsibility and be persistent. And it will probably mean that she needs to make some phone calls to crack the code of their online registration system.

After the first semester, she’ll know exactly what to do. It’s just for now, things would go a lot easier for her if she accepted that it is a process and she can’t expect to understand something that she has never had any experience with.

I am trying to teach her this lesson but I would be a great one for me to learn too. Take a deep breath, don’t panic and have a little faith. And be grateful when things do go as planned; it’s a gift.

Upbeat Petaluma Pete

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Last week I had the opportunity to interview John Maher, aka Petaluma Pete. When I left after chatting with him for about an hour, the thought that popped into my mind was how much fun talking to him had been. (That’s the truth, even if there wasn’t a chance that Petaluma Pete would read this.)

So I thought I would share some thoughts and information about Petaluma Pete that I didn’t have room for in the article.

Interviewing Petaluma Pete was fun because John is such a positive guy. You would have to be a “I can take whatever comes my way” kind of person to be willing to be as out there as he is when he is playing as Petaluma Pete. While playing a piano in downtown Petaluma is certainly safer than playing in downtown Oakland, Petaluma Pete is still very exposed to all types of reactions, some nice and some not so nice but he takes it with a smile and keeps on playing.

I love that it was inspiration, partly from watching his son busk in the subway stations in Boston and partly from seeing Petaluma as a perfect fit for his favorite type of music, that led John to start playing in Petaluma. And because John is a performer at heart, when he wanted to see if he still had his piano playing skills, he brought his piano to the streets pretty much ensuring that he would always have an audience.

Being  Petaluma Pete is very physically demanding. Even though the piano is on a cart, pushing and pulling 600 pounds across Petaluma’s less than even streets and sidewalks is back-breaking work. And the honky-tonk music that Petaluma Pete plays isn’t meant to be played pianissimo. He is pounding the keyboard sometimes for four straight hours. Petaluma Pete wears gloves to protect his hands although he still has plenty of calluses to show for it.

It was interesting to learn that all the moving and playing on less than level surfaces takes its toll on the piano too. The first piano John purchased as Petaluma Pete didn’t last 90 days. John jokes that its replacement, a 100-year-old Palmer, can’t be killed. It’s made out of rock-hard Canadian maple. The hinges work loose so about once a month, John takes the piano apart and puts the pins back in. Also, he breaks a string about every week which a local piano tuner (who asks to remain nameless lest people think that Petaluma Pete’s upright is representative of his quality of work) has taught him how to replace.

What strikes me most about Petaluma Pete is how he is such a perfect fit for this town. He is the personification of Petaluma’s 19th century heritage and he is such a natural addition to the downtown scene that it surprises me to remember that he has only been here less than three years”¦and not for generations.

John Maher has embraced Petaluma in a special way. Lucky for us, John and his wife hope to stay in here for the rest of their lives.