Thursday, March 26, 2015

How Do You Spell Relief?

How Do You Spell Relief - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Hooray!  The freakin' PARCC, a controversial new standardized testing system, is over as of yesterday in our school.  Did the sky fall?  Nope.  Did the opposers make a dent?  I don’t know.  Do the proponents feel vindicated? I don’t know.  Do I care?  Nope.  Am I curious about the results of the tests for my child?  Not really. 

I more just wanted it to be over so people would “stifle it” as Archie Bunker would say, as I heard some of the craziest comments come out of people’s mouths and experienced more than a few awkward “ice breakers” trying to lure me into conversation about an issue I care absolutely nothing about.  Here’s some fun examples:

Parent (and School):  “I let my kids decide if they wanted to take the test or not.”

Initially it sounded insane to me to ask your kid if they want to take a test or not, DUH….NO.  I’m envisioning the fast-forward button pushed where grown children who were given and took the chance to opt-out of PARCC testing, were up for an interview at a company where personality/admin/financial/whatever testing needs to be administered as part of the screening process and candidates says, “I’m going to choose not to take the test.”  That’s a surefire way to take yourself out of the running for said job.  To be fair, I’ve turned down testing myself (only drug) on occasion in my young adulthood, as the timing wasn’t right, but it wasn’t because my parents taught me I could choose if I wanted to be tested or not….I just knew I would fail, which is another whole issue in itself.  As a follow-up, most of the parents’ kids who had been given the option without any parental nudging (at least of people that I know), actually chose to take the test. Might our kids have a better appreciation of the testing’s importance than we do? Could be.

Parent:  “I’m not having my child take the test because it’s conducted with paper and pencil, and that’s nothing like the real weighted test next year, so it’s not considered good practice.”

“A sphincter says what?” as Wayne Campbell would say.  Do we not still use paper and pencil in this world?  Might the opportunity ever arise when our children might need to use a writing utensil in a pinch to get their point across?  Might they benefit from the lesson of flexibility when it comes to testing, and everything else for that matter, as many times in life you don’t get what you expect, and isn’t that when character comes out….how you handle change?  Additionally, the subject matter of the test is the same, regardless of the vehicle to assess the topics.

Parent:  “They’re hiring test scorers on Craigslist!  Grading won’t be done properly by people making $11/hour.”

Wow.  Do you need the president to grade your kids’ test?  Seriously, did you ever make $11/hour and if so, what did you do?  Was it important or not?  I’ve never had an unimportant job and I can assure you I’ve completed some tough tasks for $11/hour and moved on to $12/hour, then $15/hour and so on.  Do you know that many of the people in Chicago, cripe, people living in this neighborhood even, make about that hourly rate?  Would you not feel a parent from this neighborhood capable of grading your childrens’ tests, if trained to do so?  On another note, Craigslist is still a great place to find employees and jobs, and that’s ll the grading is….a job.  End of story.

Parent:  “Are you having your kids take the PARCC?” 
Another Parent:  “No.  I don’t have any issue with it.”
Parent:  “I didn’t either until everyone started sending emails, posting social media warnings about it, and lobbying at school and in the media for other parents to join forces against it.  Now I don’t know what to do.”
Another Parent:  “Well what do you think now about the test?”
Parent:  “It doesn’t bother me, but I’ll probably opt out because everyone else is.”

I have no sidebar on this other than JONES is probably not your last name, so quit trying to act like one.

Look, I’m not trying to stir the cauldron here on an issue that is finally lying peacefully, at least for this week, at the bottom of everyone’s laundry list.  I just want to point out that regardless of all the pros and cons and lobbying and digging in heels over the testing issue, it’s over and it didn’t kill anyone, at least no one that I know of.  From my vantage point, the kids were happy for some candy in the classroom (another issue to throw people off the deep end) and a break from the unending homework (go ahead, you know you want to jump back on the homework is evil train).

Shall we just relish together in the fact that this is over for now and our kids were left unscathed and we’re left without anything to talk about?  That’s how I spell relief!  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Community is About Participation

Community is About Participation - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Scene from Hoosiers
Most of us are part of various communities, whether we want to be or not, based on our affiliations, associations, and sometimes just the physical location where we live.  Some of us simply exist in the communities, many participate, and still others take leadership roles within the groups.  We all usually reap the same benefits and suffer the same hardships bestowed on the group at large.  It’s an honor system of sorts, you do right by your clan and they do right by you.  Yet some are weary of taking lest they have to give.  But community is not about tit for tat, as in a monetary system.  Community is about taking ownership of the success of the whole group, which includes helping those individuals in need within the social unit, and accepting a leg up yourself when you’re not able to go another mile on your own.  Sometimes you give, sometimes you take, sometimes you go stretches without doing either one, but you do it all without ever expecting a payout or an IOU hanging over your head.  

Being part of a community has always been important to me as an individual.  From a young age, I actively gravitated toward specific groups that shared similar interests, likes student athletes, performers, and practical jokers.  I didn’t want a label, I just enjoyed talking and sharing stories and ideas with other like-minded individuals.  I felt part of something larger than myself, and while I felt no obligation to contribute to the individual communities, I WANTED to, so I did.  In turn I just naturally experienced lots of good will from the groups and their members.  

As I got older, the investment in the communities I submerged myself in became greater, yet the yield was more than I could even measure.  The time, energy, and loyalty I gave to the radio broadcast community, the gay community, and later my work community in real estate was substantial, yet I attribute almost every win during those time periods to a collaboration between me and my clan.  Without the support and camaraderie of my tribes, my success is uncertain, as I am only one man, with limitations and faults.  Yet as a participant in a group, even a small one at that, my accomplishments echo for days and my failures are absorbed and put into perspective without complaint.   

While I never thought much about my natural attraction to communities, now as a parent, even a two-parent, above-average wage-earning household in an affluent neighborhood filled with what can only be described as “white people problems," I thank my lucky stars every day for the various communities that support, nurture, and provide direct friendship and care to me and my family.  While I am completely capable of surviving on my own, I would never want to because my life would be sub-par.  Who would pick up my kids when I’m running late, drop me at the train station on the way our of town, or leave chicken soup at my door when I was sick?  Who would shovel my walkway in an unexpected snowstorm or pay the babysitter when I’m out of cash or let the roofer in when I’m at work?  Who would invite me over when I need a break from my spouse or family or keep my kids overnight when I have to attend to an emergency?

I simply don’t think I’d be able to do it on my own, at least without questioning if there is a God or a point to this life.  

I know it takes courage to give of yourself, lest your trust be shattered.  It also takes faith to take of what is given to you, as it’s really not about your worry over a tally sheet, but acknowledgement that you are not perfect, are not able to be in 3 places at one time, and are not SuperMan/Woman, because that shit ain’t real.  It’s about surrendering to the idea that we are not in complete control of our lives and that we all need to “get by with a little help from our friends.” 

Take a leap of faith today.  Ask someone for a hand.  Offer a kind word or assistance to someone “just because.”  Build a bridge of trust.  Your community is what you make of it. Think you don’t have a natural community?  I bet you do.  What about your fellow pre-/grade-/middle-/high school parents,  your daily carpool counterparts, and the neighbors that live around you, they are all examples of community by association.  Co-workers in your department, people you wave to on your morning walk or Starbucks run, or the members of your support group.  We all have a basic connection with our unique groups and people in them based on repeated exposure, whether it be through work or kids or shared interest.  We have a choice, though, whether we will participate in that community around us.  

Community is About Participation - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Maybe you don’t crave social outlets or collaboration or belonging…you like to be on your own and do your own thing.  Okay, that’s cool.  Then seek out other people like yourself that pride themselves on being in control, even though we all know you’re not, and join forces with them.  The specific group you surround yourself is not nearly as important as the act of participating within a group at all, even if just by association.  Fake it to make it if you have to.  The odds of you accidentally giving of yourself to your posse or accepting aid by default that you incidentally need will increase exponentially just by bridging the gap with people and accepting the tie that binds you.

What do you have to lose?  Maybe a little time or energy.  What do you have to gain?  A potential lifeline that keeps you afloat.  It’s worth the tradeoff in my book.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hands Free Mama Giveaway!

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Hands Free Mama Giveaway

Many of you already follow Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog and are in tune with her Hands Free Journey of letting go of distractions and perfection in order to live a fuller life based on what really matters.  I was fished in, hook line and sinker, after reading just one paragraph a few years ago in one of her posts, which highlighted the impression your kids and the people around you get when you’re busy working, playing, or talking on your mobile device in their presence.  It went something like this:
  • Whatever you’re doing on your phone is more important than me
  • You are my model and you are showing me how I should use my own cell phone
If you haven’t checked out her HandsFreeMama site, I would highly recommend you doing so immediately.  It completely changed my outlook on life, and my behavior soon followed suit. Stafford’s first book was recently published and it instantly hit the New York Time’s Best Seller List.  

Hands Free Mama details the pitfalls of multi-tasking all the time, adding to the already warped pace of our world.  It provides an easy guide to just setting down the technology and going “hands free,” even if just for small bits at a time until you are able to fully confront your addition.  The result is re-establishing honest-to-goodness live interactions with people and rediscovering those things that are near and dear to your heart by being fully present.

One lucky reader will receive a FREE copy of Hands Free Mama, compliments of Zondervan. 

Required disclosure:  Zondervan provided the book, valued at $15.95.  All opinions are my own.  I will provide the randomly selected winner the paperback Hands Free Mama book.

Simply click below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Living Life Large

Living Life Large - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder
Do you live comfortably, or even well within your means? Do you whole-heartedly enjoy those things in life that are most important to you?  Then you, my friend, are Living Large.  You've got values and beliefs that drive you to make the decisions you do.  They dictate how you spend your money and your time.  When financial situations change in your world, you make adjustments to accommodate.

If this doesn't sound familiar, but you want it to, or if you are in need of loosening the monetary noose around your neck a bit, read some of the posts about Living Large.  The essential concept is based on cash, as you can only spend what you physically have in your possession.  If you live your life based on this, you'll build a pretty solid financial house.  If you spend spend less than what you make, even better...that means you're saving some, whether it be a reserve account, a college fund, or a rainy day stash.

Living within your means is achieved by always keeping the economic balance in check by constantly monitoring the money you have coming in and comparing it to the money you have going out.  Keeping track will create an awareness of your expenses, which will allow you to create a budget, or picture of your financial affairs.  Massaging the budget regularly, by bringing in more money to cover expenses and cutting costs to stay within your bounty is the final step of Living Large.  

While it sounds super simplistic, and the numbers part of it really is when you lay it out on paper, the day-to-day adherence to your plan can sometimes prove daunting.  Unexpected expenses or breaks in income, impulse buys, and pressure from family and friends can add up to straying from your budget, often-times resulting in debt.  

Give yourself permission to take charge of your financial picture on your own terms.  Satisfy the need for monetary peace in your life.  Put some effort in and get some tips and you will be Living Large in no time.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fruit of my Labor

ParentUnplugged - Fruit of my Labor - Stacy Snyder
It's embarrassing to even call it labor.  I made a few clicks on a website, printed out a form, filled in the blanks, and sent it to the state.  A few weeks later my unclaimed money showed up.  It's that easy.

If you're looking for money you forgot about and don't want to dig through the junk drawer to find it, check out your state's unclaimed property website.  Take a step, even if its a baby step, toward Living Large, by living well within your means while enjoying the things in life that matter. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Part of the Solution

Parentunplugged - Part of the Solution - Parent Actions Speak Loudly
If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. I wholeheartedly agree with and live by this statement.  It’s truly not enough to just have opinions on the way things should be.  It’s necessary to actually live your life under the umbrella of what you believe in.  

Once enough people do this….making daily decisions regarding behavior, practice, and lifestyle based on the values they hold, other people start to notice and think, 'Hey, maybe I should think about X and incorporate it into my world.’  It spreads.  It becomes commonplace to act or think X, and next thing you know it is an issue, a real hot button topic and the masses at large are weighing in on it and sometimes putting it to law or banning 'it.'  It’s amazing how it happens, really.

There will always be opponents to whatever you believe or hold dear, and I’m not necessarily talking about politics or religion, two of my least favorite topics, but just simple viewpoints or beliefs.  That’s okay, heck that’s even great, as it’s the various takes on the “hows” of the world that make us think and consider the opinions we’ve actually honed, or in some cases, should develop.  Discord keeps us on our toes and in some cases, forces us to take action on our beliefs.

Complacency, on the other hand, does nothing to help a cause.  Never considering your own opinion on a topic, thereby choosing not to weigh in at all, or even worse, doing nothing when you know the right course of action, based on your own opinions and value system, can actually inflate a subject.  Just as taking a stand or an action is contagious, doing zero, or doing nada except complaining is also infectious, causing those around you to do as you do.  Desensitized to the issue, it actually becomes worse, as it appears as if there is no case at all, since there is no attention being pointed its way.

Let’s apply a super general example to prove my point:  Using common manners when interacting with others.

It’s super important to many that manners be used, as they are a symbol of respect when communicating with other people.  If you share that principle, most likely you utilize manners yourself when you interact with the population at large.  You teach those niceties to your children, and they in turn, model your behavior and that which is expected of them, in their own.  Hopefully, if one of you occasionally ‘falls off the wagon’ and forgets or consciously chooses not to be respectful by, the family, subscribing to the same belief system, will keep the individuals in check.  

But other people other people enter the picture. 

“I want a snack now” a 6-year-old whines while at the house visiting.  “What do you have?”

What do you do now?  It’s someone else’s kid….in your house.  To me it’s the same as those mystery books I read as a kid where you could choose the outcome of the story yourself, based on the choices you made during the book….If A, then turn to page 114, if B, then turn to page 64…..the ending was different every time.  You can correct the child and suggest he use “please” or give him the opportunity to rephrase his statement as a polite request.  Or you can take a mental note of his lack of manners, but ignore it and give him his snack options and deliver the goods.  Or maybe you’re already so desensitized to so many kids not using manners that you don’t even notice the infraction or recognize the teaching moment.

Your action, or lack thereof, has impact.  If you create a learning experience and give the child an option to use good manners, not only does it have affect on him, it also is recognized by your own children and teaches them how to use and ask for respect in their own lives.  Maybe the child will say please or thank you next time he asks for something from another child or teacher or parent.  Maybe he won’t.  But he’ll know that the expectation is out there, even if just at your house. Choose another path, and do nothing, and the child learns that there is no expectation whatsoever.  Your child learns that she has to use good manners but her friends don’t, and maybe your child even deducts from the situation that she doesn’t need to use manners at another friend’s home.  

Now multiply this exact scenario.  If every parent acted on the principle of good manners with every child, not to mention adult, that crossed his path, imagine the effect!  Every child would know, in no uncertain terms, that manners were not only expected, but required.  Manners would, by necessity, be incorporated into acceptable behavior.  Conversely, if every parent opted out of mentoring manners in those crucial teaching moments with their own or other people’s kids, children walk away feeling not an ounce of obligation toward respect, but also with a cemented behavior pattern.  After repeated exposure to enough passive parents, lack of manners in communication simply becomes a way of life for kids.

Now take this elementary example and apply it to every other creed you follow.  Your politics, your religion, you human rights stance....are you talking the talk and walking the walk with each view, or are you on cruise control and only setting the behavior portion to action when its convenient or non-confrontational?  I feel like it’s a constant struggle to put myself out there and consistently live the life my personal philosophy dictates.  But then I remind myself that it’s not just about me.  It’s about what my kids and their friends and my associates and friends and the community at large sees me practice.  If I don’t break down my own ideals into actions that are clear, my complacency makes just as loud of a statement….that my beliefs aren’t really that important.  

Look at your own actions in relation to your beliefs.  Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stick to Your Guns

Stick to Your Guns - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Photo Source:
Living Large is not always easy.  While living well within your means and enjoying the things you love most in life sounds like a no-brainer, it actually requires discipline.  And restraint, whether it applies to your interaction with your kids, your employees, or yourself, can be taxing.  It is totally doable, though, and you’ll be happy you stuck to your guns on following your budget once the end of the quarter or year rolls around and you’ve managed to save more than you thought or spend less than you’d bargained.  

Once your budget is in place (click here if you don’t have a budget yet) the key to success is following it.  Assuming your budget is thoughtfully construed, meaning it's a relatively accurate account of expected expenses and is zero-balance based, meaning all money coming in over a specific time period, is accounted for as going out, whether to expenses, savings or investment, you’ve won half the battle. 

Planning and flexibility is required to stay on point with your budget. While you’ve probably already anticipated unexpected expenses in your yearly budget, you may not have considered the will power necessary to spend just the allowances set aside for each category, especially when shopping on the fly.  

Even though I have subscribed for years to the mindset of only purchasing what I’ve planned on buying, and nothing more, each day can be a new challenge. Just today, I visited a new gym I had planned on joining with my wife.  I had already researched the gym’s website and acquainted myself with its fees, its offerings, and its commitment and cancellation policies, yet I still decided we should visit it to get a feel before joining online.

I knew I hadn’t budgeted money in our recreation category for the year.  My wife already owned a pre-paid membership at a gym downtown and I had an existing membership at local pricey gym, currently on hold because I was on a long road of recovery from a recent knee surgery and was facing another one in the upcoming months, which will keep me off my feet and unable to utilize the gym for quite some time.  However, our situation had changed recently in that my wife’s gym was no longer easily accessible after a job change and I was recently given the clearance to use an elliptical machine, which I desperately wanted to try.  I was confident, however, in the fact that if I finessed the budget a bit and spent X number of dollars on gym memberships this year that I hadn’t planned for, I could spend the same X number of dollars LESS in another category in order to make my zero balance budget jive.  I just needed to adjust to the situation.

Armed with a dollar amount in my head that we could spend this year on memberships, we visited the gym, prepared to try it out and join on the spot if we liked it.  But we were met with roadblocks that made us reconsider.  There was no “trial” the gym offered for before joining unless a $20 fee was paid per person per day. No thank you.  The low monthly, no-commitment-based fee with an almost nonexistence sign-up charge was no longer available as of 2 days ago, but was replaced with a decent wad of cash for a joiner fee.  Top that off with the full-court sales press toward the super-sized membership that touted bells and whistles and had a price tag double the monthly fee plus a year-long commitment, and our day was all of a sudden not so clear cut.

My wife and I had to take a minute to regroup on our own without the salesman.  We considered every angle of the membership info that was thrown at us.  We quickly moved past our inability to “try the gym out” for the day before deciding and went right into negotiations.  We went back and forth with our separate lists of wants and needs, haggling the terms for half an hour.  Our visit ended with the two of us walking out, each from a separate set of doors on opposite ends of the gym because we were barely speaking, with no membership at all as we couldn’t make and combination of concessions work for our budget on the spot.  

On the longer-than-I’d-like-to-drive-in-a-car-to-get-to-a-gym car ride home, we bickered over the outcome of our gym visit, and ultimately I decided the location was too inconvenient an option for me to personally consider.  My wife went back and purchased the mac daddy membership she had, unbeknownst to me, wanted all along, for the exact price we had allotted for the total money spent for gym memberships.  She received unlimited guest passes with her sign-up, so I’m in for an elliptical workout or two a week with her.  It all worked out in the end after much scrutiny, but there was nothing enjoyable about keeping those scales balanced.

Some days are much easier than others and it just becomes a way of life.  It’s all a tradeoff though.  If you get into the habit of putting more thought into your purchases, maybe even just large ones at first, that will spill over onto smaller ones, it will become a routine.  Just like quitting a bad habit like smoking, it takes the same 21 days to institute a new good pattern, like sticking to your guns on your finances.

Give it a try.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish in just a short period of time.  And then your attitude starts to change when you see how much money you can actually save just by preparing for purchases and honoring your budget.  You’ve got nothing to lose…..but spending too much green!