The Rockwood Files: Aspiring to try

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I got my first real job 19 years ago by replying to a classified ad that asked for resumes from “aspiring journalists.” Fresh out of college with an English degree and absolutely no idea what to do with it, I didn’t know if I was qualified to be a journalist. But I did know I was “aspiring” for something — even though I wasn’t clear on what. So I took my resume down to the newspaper office and dropped it off.

A few days later, I got a call from the executive editor, which made me feel fancy and grown-up. I put on a dress I imagined a business woman might wear and went to the interview. I don’t remember much of what he asked or how I answered. I was crazy nervous and kept telling myself that if I accidentally said something grammatically incorrect, I’d blow the whole interview.

The only part I remember was when he told me the job would be mostly administrative — that I’d be typing in school lunch menus, wedding announcements and obituaries and that I’d answer the phone a lot and take messages. Did I still want the job? After all, I’d graduated college with honors and the job didn’t pay much.

broom-Broom_icon.svgI looked around the newsroom, full of reporters, editors and photographers who were rushing around, typing and talking loudly over the sound of too many ringing phones. The only thing I knew for sure was that they were paid to work with words. And in that moment, that’s all I wanted. So I said something dramatic and desperate: “I will sweep the floors in this place if it means I get to work with words.”

To this day, I don’t know if he hired me because of that line or in spite of it or because he really needed somebody to type in those wordy wedding announcements. I like to believe it was a “God thing.”

After more than a year as the assistant, that same editor sent me downtown one afternoon in late November to write a story about the city’s holiday decorations and activities. It was a tiny story but I felt like he’d just handed me the assignment of a lifetime. I walked around the town square worried sick that I wouldn’t describe things just right. I clutched my little tape recorder and forced myself out of a shy-girl shell so I could interview the man who drove the decorated horse-drawn carriage. I remember playing the tape back later that night as I sat in the newsroom, groaning because I could barely hear the man’s comments over the loud jingle bells and the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on pavement.

I turned in the story on time and the next day I had my first newspaper byline. It was a start — an exciting, imperfect, nerve-wracking start. A few months after that, I was writing and editing business stories and, eventually, I talked that same editor into giving me a chance to write a column — this column. I’ve been blessed with so many business and creative adventures since then, and I couldn’t have imagined any of them the day I answered that classified ad.

It reminds me that often one brave or desperate attempt can lead to something special. Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, started out writing plane tickets as an agent for Eastern Airlines. Alexander Graham Bell set out to make something that would help his deaf wife communicate better, and he ended up inventing the telephone.

So here’s to all of us who aspire to try, who find a way to make something from nothing. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it would feel so much safer not to risk it. But here’s hoping we never forget that life is always — always — worth a try.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: Do you have this condition?

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I have a condition many parents suffer from: Worst Case Scenario Syndrome or WCSS. It’s not in the official book of diseases because I just made it up but that doesn’t make it any less real. Make no mistake — it’s real, and I have the freshly sprouted gray hairs to prove it.

This sanity-threatening condition reared its paranoid head just last week. When I sat down in my home office to begin the day’s work, I smelled a faint but distinctive smell of something burning. It smelled hot with a hint of a chemical scent, the way an overworked engine might smell just before bursting into flames.

I walked around the room, sniffing the printer, computer, lamp, computer modem and television, but I couldn’t determine the source of that ominous smell. I unplugged everything, just to be safe.

An hour later, the smell had intensified. That’s when my internal light bulb went off and I realized the problem might be overhead — in the light bulb. I looked up and eyed the ceiling-mounted light fixture suspiciously. What if some faulty electrical wiring was causing sinister sparks to ignite within the walls and ceiling where I couldn’t see?

So I did what I imagine any concerned woman would do. I climbed up onto my desk and sniffed as close to the light fixture as possible, and then I climbed back down and called my husband.

“Honey, there’s a bad smell in my office and I think it might be an electrical fire.”

“What? Do you see smoke?”

“Well, no, there’s no smoke but there’s a terrible smell — like a mix of chemicals burning. The weird thing is that I can only smell it in my office.”

“Did you check all the electrical outlets?”

electrical fire“Yes, and I unplugged everything in this room, but the smell is getting worse. I think it might be in the light fixture on the ceiling. I got as close to it as I could so I could sniff it.”

“You sniffed a light fixture? Did you use a ladder?”

“Well, no, I climbed up on the desk, but you’re missing the point. I’m not sure that’s where the smell is coming from, but I turned the light switch off, just in case.”

“Okay, well let’s see if the smell gets better now that the light is off.”

“But I’ve got to go run errands. What if the house catches on fire while I’m gone?”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

“You don’t think we should call an electrician to come out here and check it?”

“We will if we need to, but let’s try to pinpoint what it is first.”

“Okay, but I’m telling you something is catching on fire in the ceiling.”

I wanted to go on record with my hunch so that if the house suddenly turned into a scene from the movie Backdraft, I could issue a stern “I told you so” as we sifted through the charred remains of our family memories.

After running errands, I returned home and walked into the office hoping the smell had dissipated – but it was even stronger. Charlie, our intrepid Beagle, trotted along beside me and went immediately to the trash can by my desk where he stopped and sniffed.

Following his lead, I leaned over and sniffed the trash can, too, and that’s when I saw it — a discarded bag of microwave popcorn with blackened kernels inside. Suddenly the memory of 7-year-old Kate bringing the burnt bag of popcorn to me the day before reentered my mind. I’d tossed it into the trash without a second thought.

And just so you know, burnt popcorn on Day 2 smells like an electrical fire. But before you have the fire trucks come screeching up to your house, you should probably empty the trash and open a window. Worst Case Scenario Syndrome can get pretty embarrassing.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: On Pins and Needles

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

There are two kinds of people in the world: grown-ups and fraidy-cats who are scared of needles. I’m in that second group.

fraidy catSomething happened yesterday that “outed” me with the kids, so now they know that their mother – who they always assumed was a bona fide grown-up – is actually a big ol’ fraidy cat.

Our insurance program sent us a couple of “biometric test kits” in the mail, requiring Tom and me to fill out a health questionnaire and submit a blood sample. The kit came with a little needle with which to perform the finger prick and a card that required three drops of blood.

Trust me when I say that I realize a finger prick is no big deal. I had three kids so I’ve seen my fair share of needles. When I was in the midst of active childbirth, I practically begged the anesthesiologist to bring the biggest needle he could find and stick it in my spine – anything that might dull the pain of contractions.

In those situations, however, I was focused on the goal of delivering a baby into the world. A needle seemed like a small price to pay for such a lofty mission. But a biometric test kit for a nosy insurance program? That offered no motivation whatsoever.

But I’m married to a grown-up who insisted we complete the test and send it back. After a 9-hour fasting period, he dutifully stabbed his finger and bled all over the test card before sealing it up in the return envelope. Then he looked at me and said, “Do you want to prick your own finger or do you want me to do it for you?”

“Neither?” I said.

“That wasn’t one of the options,” he said in that annoying, grown-up tone of voice.

Insisting I wasn’t ready yet, I hid out in our bedroom trying to talk my inner fraidy-cat into acting like a grown-up long enough to face the needle. I knew I couldn’t bring myself to stab my own finger which meant I’d have to let him do it.

It’s one thing to let a trained medical professional stick you with a needle, and it’s another thing entirely to let someone stick you who has roughly the same medical expertise as Bozo the Clown.

Fortunately, my mother came over about that time and she offered to be the finger pricker, since she’s diabetic and has experience with such things. I reluctantly extended my hand and turned my head away from the carnage.

Admittedly, the finger prick didn’t hurt much. Had it ended with the needle stick, I would’ve been fine. But my finger wouldn’t bleed enough to get three big drops onto the test card, so Tom and my mother started squeezing the blood out of my hand, insisting they just needed one more drop.

All that squeezing and talking about blood started to make me feel woozy. Suddenly the back of my neck got hot and my stomach started a queasy somersault. Seven-year-old Kate appeared at my side, holding my other hand and reassuring me I’d be okay. Her 10-year-old brother also came to my aid, worried about how pale I looked.

Finally, after they literally squeezed the life blood out of me, the tormenters released me and I slid down to a more comfortable horizontal position on the floor where I continued to bleed. Tom fetched me a Band-Aid while the kids fanned me with the newspaper. It was not my finest moment.

Of course, all the grown-ups out there will roll their eyes and scoff at my silliness. But my fellow fraidy-cats? They understand.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

What We’re Reading: Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile

Facebook shareHappy Friday, mamas!

It’s cold and might even snow this weekend, so it’s a good time to cozy up with a fun book by the fire. And we’ve got a great recommendation for you because Gwen’s book, Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile, is on an Amazon special promotion right now which means you can get the e-book version for 99 cents. (That deal will be over by the 20th so grab it while you can.)

You can also give the e-book to a friend (and even schedule the day it arrives in their inbox) so this would be a great way to give a few holiday gifts without rockwood files photo logospending too much money.

In addition to being the co-founder of nwaMotherlode.com, Gwen is also a syndicated newspaper columnist who writes about marriage, motherhood, kids, pets and more, and this book is a collection of columns that her newspaper readers have loved most over the past 18 years.

Click HERE to see read the reviews posted by Amazon readers, and get the e-book version for yourself or a friend. Stay warm this weekend, and Happy Reading!

The Rockwood Files: Fed Up

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

During the drive to school this morning, I turned down the radio when another political ad came on. “Ugh! At least today is the last day we’ll have to put up with the ads. It’s election day.”

“Stupid voting,” my 12-year-old son mumbled in agreement.

“No, it’s not stupid,” I said, realizing that weeks of irritating commercials have caused him to lump voting into the same unappealing category as those repetitive ads. He was about to throw the voting baby out with the advertising bathwater, which has become increasingly dirty these past few weeks.

i votedSo I tried to explain why it’s important that adults go vote: “Some of the ads are annoying — that’s true — but the voting part is important. People shouldn’t complain about government leaders if they’re not willing to vote on who gets into office. We’re lucky we get to vote.”

“I know,” he said. “The voting part is good, but I’m so sick of those stupid ads.”

And he is not alone. We’re all sick of them. I have to imagine that even the candidates themselves get tired of hearing their names either built up or torn down every other 30 seconds.

The DVR that allows me to record the news and TV shows and then speed through the commercials has never been more appreciated than it has been these past few months when it let me skip over the constant stream of political jabs. But even with a DVR, it’s impossible to avoid the ads completely. Part of me wanted to scold the candidates for all their non-stop bickering and then send them to separate corners to think about what they’ve done.

But maybe it’s unfair to blame the players for what is inherently an ugly game. The candidates, their political parties and their supporters know that people are more likely to vote for familiar names, for people they feel like they know something about. So they run their ads — morning, noon and night — and hope their commercials are a little less annoying than their competitors’ spots. They hope one of their messages will strike a nerve with voters who’ll remember it on Election Day.

A few weeks ago, our 7-year-old daughter told me she would not vote for a certain candidate because she heard about what he did and that he voted “no” on something important. She was almost angry at him, and she was convinced that he must not be a good person. So I tried to tell her that sometimes advertisements don’t tell the whole truth and that we can’t decide what kind of person someone is based on a 30-second commercial on television.

“Can the people on commercials tell lies?” she asked.

“Well, no, they’re not supposed to tell lies in commercials because that’s against the law, but sometimes they only tell part of the truth and not the whole story,” I answered. She looked at me blankly and went back to her bowl of Cheerios. (Want a tough parenting assignment? Try explaining political “spin” to a 7-year-old.)

Lately I’m wondering if we’re not all frustrated children, when it comes to truly understanding our political system and knowing the candidates. I wish I could say I always study each candidate objectively and understand the nuances of every amendment, but I don’t. Sometimes what I know comes from a series of sound-bites or headlines that never tell the full story. That’s just not good enough. I have to do better than that, not only for myself but as an example to the future voters I’m raising.

But for the record, I have to believe we could do better than our current system of back-biting, name-calling, mud-slinging campaigns that stretch on for months and completely turn off the young people who will one day be new voters.

“I’m fed up, and I approved this message.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

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