Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Employees, Get Your Act Together

I am really tired of shitty service. With so many people out of work one would think that employees with jobs would be trying really hard to keep their jobs.
This has not been my experience lately. Two recent experiences demonstrate, but are not the limitation, of my viewpoint.

Last Sunday at the Chili's downtown Chicago, two kids meals, a soup and salad, and a pasta dish took twenty minutes to deliver. The restaurant was at least 50% full but not more than 75%. About fifteen minutes after placing our order, I started looking for our waiter. We hadn't seen him in some time, possibly since placing the order. Finally, I stood up and walked to the kitchen where I spied him carrying a tray holding our meal. The pasta and soup were lukewarm and the kids meals had obviously been sitting under the warmer. Seriously, dummy, just come and tell us that you screwed up and ask if you should bring the kids' meals out, the soup out, or something to keep my kids from acting toward the wrong side of their age behavior spectrum. We did not bother complaining. If you've been to a restaurant with small children, you know what a ticking time bomb each experience can be, just waiting for one to be done and demonstratively ready to leave. If you're wondering where the manager was during all of this, don't worry, so was I. I took the time to fill out the online survey to slam my experience.

Then there's Jewel on Ashland Ave. Many times when I'm checking out, the checkers are talking across the lines to one another. That's terribly unprofessional. One woman, in particular, always stands out. She never appears to be happy and is frequently heard gossiping about life or moaning about work. I don't want to hear it. It's uncomfortable as a customer to listen to all of this. She was checking my order and whining about her crappy life to her co-workers. Seriously, I know you have problems lady, but I don't want to hear about them while you're on the job and I'm making a purchase. After weighing the pros and cons, I called the manager after leaving the store and mentioned this behavior with the caveat that she's probably a good person, but that this was not the first time I'd heard her and, if I'm the manager, I want to hear about it. Call me a tattle tale, that is, unless you're a shareholder.

If I am ever again a manager, one of the first things that I will tell my crew regards professional conduct. First and foremost, when you are at work, you are not you, the individual. You are the company. And unless you are truly a specialist in your field, you are probably replaceable.

That is not to say that these are bad jobs or that the people doing them lack intelligence or creativity. There are many great employees who take their jobs seriously and make the customer's experience positive while taking care of routine upkeep.

The employees who are not doing so should be made to know that they are replaceable, that training a new person is far less expensive than having a cancer on the floor. A neutral customer experience can bring a customer back. A positive one and she'll send another customer. A bad experience will keep that customer, her family, and her friends from coming back.

And yet so many - the vast, yet visible and audible, minority - do not take the customer experience seriously and say things like, "I just work here." They stare at the clock waiting to punch it instead of finding ways to make the company better and be better at their jobs.

The cynic says, That's why these people have these jobs - they are not motivated individuals. I believe people have great capacity if only they give themselves the proper motivation. It's maintaining your job motivation enough?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Midnight Switcheroo

I was going to bed tonight around 130am when I went in the kids' room to check up on them.

Something looked strange. Toodles's blanket was bunched up from the top. I couldn't see her head. Into what kind of contortion has she arranged herself? So I checked under the blanket. Nothing.

Where was she? I looked up, or rather, forward.

There she was, curled up on JD's bed.

I found a suitable blanket and tucked her in. If it wouldn't have been totally disturbing, the camera would have been clicking.

Gosh they're amazing when they're sleeping.

Best Friends

There isn't much better than having your best friends call you up on a lonely Friday night and telling you the're picking up a 12-pack and coming over.

J Chales and J Philip were at the Blackhawks game. I was going to go out tonight, but with Toodles having a cold, I canceled the sitter and took them to the st alphonsus oktoberfest then home to read a story.

There I was, watching The Big C (a terrific show) when J Charles called me and asked what I was doing, then said he and J Philip were going to stop off at his house to pick up his xbox and a 12-pack, then on to my house to hang out.

It's an amazing feeling when you're thought of by people you love, when they are thinking about you and how to include you in their lives. A real confidence and self-esteem booster.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Not a Jedi Yet

JD was just acting out a scene from Return of the Jedi. It's the scene where Luke, Han, and Chewy were being made by Jabba the Hut to walk the plank into the moster in the crater.

JD was on top of the deck storage box with Toodles. He recited Luke's dialogue, "Jabba, this is your last chance. Free us or die."

Good stuff.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Receive, Process, Send Feedback

I have gone through phases of understanding JD's speech challenges.

When he was first diagnosed with a, "Speech Delay," and they said that he was one age group behind, we would do some therapy, he would get caught up, and all would be good.

That was three years ago.

About a year ago, I realized that this was not something like a cold or the flu. It's not something that we can cure or heal. It could be something that is a lifelong challenge or something that he grows to live with, and possibly quite productively.

Once in a while, I will talk to a friend and mention JD's speech delay. The response is usually, "What do you mean? He talks just fine."

Wife and I know from being around him regularly that his speech is not like other kids his age, or at least not like the more articulate kids. This has lead me to redefine his challenge.

Communication. It is not saying the words that is difficult. It is the process of sending and receiving information. If Wife asks him, "What did you do at the park today?" he is challenged to think back to the time we were at the park. He simply cannot think about the park, pick out a few highlights or the funny thing that happened, and relate it to her or anyone else. "What's your favorite food?" "What's your favorite dinosaur?" These are questions that he simply cannot process. If he is asked a yes or no question that is false, like, "Did you play hockey at the park?" he may say, "Yes," when he hadn't.

For me, putting some kind of definition or label helps me because I can put the issue into persepective. It's like using technical or conceptual terms in conversation - it eliminates or reduces subjectivity.

So now, if I tell someone that he has a speech delay and they reply that he sounds fine, I can briefly define it more accurately as difficulty with his overall communication skills.

Having defined it like that has also helped me communicate better with him. Alleviating frustration makes a happy household. So do chocolate chip cookies.

How Do You Spell, "Frustrated"?

Sometimes I wonder if I have the patience for job as a homemaker, if I'm really cut out for it.

I'm trying to teach JD how to write. Last year during preschool, he would write his name every day before class started. I got him to the point where he could do it on his own, then stopped diligently helping him do it correctly. Toodles was with me and was under two years old in a preschool classroom running wild and tearing up the joint for the five minutes I would spend with JD trying to get him to write his name correctly.

Did we ever work on it at home? Maybe once or twice. That's my bad.

So I'm really trying to do it now. For the last week, we have spent some part of almost every day doing some learning. Thursday, we did big and little "A" and "B". Today, I was just going to review "A", "a", "B", "b". "A" was not too difficult. He kept drawing the middle line past the vertical lines, but that will come with time. "a" was much more challenging.

I have shown him at least fifty times, maybe more. Hand-over-hand and doing it myself. Fortunately, I am, to some degree, ambidextrous, so I am able to write legibly with my left hand. (JD is left-handed.) Each time I try to get him to do it himself, he starts from a different place than I've shown him over and over.

For the most part, I have been very patient. After a while, though, I start getting frustrated and it comes out in my voice. "No! Not there! Here," again pointing out the correct place to start "a".

I have a feeling that this has, in some part, to do with his speech and occupational difficulties. Perhaps he is unable to keep the process in his head. I really don't know.

I need to find a place in my life that I can equate this challenge and it has to be a physical activity that gives me trouble. Perhaps it's like in hockey, my constant disability to calmly handle the puck as a defenseman in the offensive zone. I get the puck on the blue line and suddenly I become myopic and anxiety sets in. It is frustrating to my teammates because I have ruined more than one scoring chance by making hasty or errant plays. In my head, I know that I need to catch the puck, look up, find the open lane to the net to shoot or find the open teammate. It only takes a split second.

However, I have not had anyone take the time to practice this with me. I have not had the opportunity to have repetitions to make it automatic. Perhaps even if I did, it would still give me trouble.

Or I can scrap the analogies and attempts to relate and simply try to understand who my son is. He isn't me. He doesn't get it. It's a great challenge to JD to follow these directions. It may take hundreds of repetitions before he begins to get it right. I have to wrap my head around that reality.

If that's the case, then how many repetitions in one sitting is right? Perhaps I simply need to find the happy place between not enough and too much through trial and error. Find the right tone of voice, find the right reward, and all will be good. Maybe it will take a month before he gets "a" down (maybe more.) Perhaps once he gets it, then "b" or "c" will come easier. Perhaps it's getting his mind to understand how to understand and follow the directions more than his motor skills. Maybe once he starts understanding how one or two letters are constructed, he'll be able to understand how to construct others because there are similarities.

What challenges have you faced in teaching your child or children various skills?

Thanks for reading. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and feelings.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Wrinkle turns into a Meltdown

One of Wife's best friends, Rosie visited this evening. After playing with JD and Toodles for a while, they became rowdy and irritable. It was clearly time for bed.

I pulled the plug abruptly and made them say good-night without a warning. There was dissention in the ranks. Trudging on, I grabbed Toodles and put her in bed, then came back for JD and brought him up. We did our in-bed routine ("Twinkle Twinkle," "Jingle Bells," "Goodnight Moon.") Then I said good-night.

Toodles was complaining fiercely from the moment we made a move to go to bed. Then we couldn't find her "Bunny." Then she didn't want a blanket. Then she did. Then she didn't want this pillow, she wanted that one. I helped her while singing the songs and telling the story, then I walked out. As I did, they began calling for "Mommy."

Usually, we all go upstairs together, read a story or two in our bed, then they kiss Mommy good-night, and I do the in-bed lullabies. Going straight to bed from the living room and without Mommy was a big change for them and they were not happy about it. When I came downstairs, Wife asked what the problem was. I dryly replied that there was a wrinkle in their routine. Mommy replied that we should just stick to the routine. I rebutted that we should stray from the routine more often.

When is routine too routine?

The best thing about routine is that there are clear expectations and a lack of the unknown. Routine is comforting. But routine can also fail to allow for improvement, creativity, or finding something new.

In our brief discussion upon returning from putting the kids to bed, I recalled a story from seventh grade. The whole grade went on a two-night sleep away excursion to Wisconsin. One boy became so distraught on the first night that his parents were called and picked him up at midnight or later. While I had no evidence to support, I theorized that he had had few, if any, experiences sleeping away from home and that any time when it came up and he showed anxiety, his parents excused him.

While a routine and a schedule have the similar quality of alleviating the fear of the unknown, they are two very different things. A routine is something that is done on a regular basis in a similar fashion each time. Like showering or putting clothes away. A schedule is a list of events that will take place in a certain order.

Why am I comparing them? Because I believe that many parents use routine as a schedule. Doing the same things in the same way day-in and day-out. Having a schedule, in my mind, allows for creative imbalance.

Routine is comfortable for the parent as well as for the child or children. There is little thought that goes into routine. Once it is established, following it takes little effort. And there is little friction. That is probably the more important reason. Nobody likes screaming children. And they will scream if they don't get what was requested. I try to tell JD that there was a time when he hadn't seen Finding Nemo, and that when I told him I was going to play it on TV the first time, he resisted. Now, it's one of his favorite movies.

Is there any utility from routine? Absolutely. I surmise that a common threat between successful individuals is being anal in their routine. Having a routine takes the thought out of the mundane and allows for creativity and production in the same time space. At home, a morning routine can allow the family to move from pajamas through breakfast and preparation for the day. Have a routine for the way you get in and out of the car or for cleaning up toys.

Routine is a problem when deviating from it causes a disproportionate amount of stress. Having a meltdown because a certain story wasn't read at bedtime or because there wasn't a certain type of cracker for lunch is not healthy. It is mental weakness. And, please, do not give me some line about them being babies. They are little people. How many adults do know who get rattled for proportionate reasons? I'm sure you and I can find things about ourselves in this way. But do you melt down when there is a problem, feigning reason for screaming and tears, or do you get frustrated, then move to reason and solve the problem?

Make alterations to your routines part of your schedule. I believe that, like sleep training, a rough patch will lead to smooth sailing.