The Rockwood Files: On Moms and Managers

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

About this time of year, I sympathize with store managers. Although I’ve never worked in retail during the holiday rush, I have worked as a mother for nearly 13 years now. Moms and managers need the same skill sets to survive the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Crowd control: From now until the last after-Christmas sale ends, store managers have to deal with lots of extra people — many of whom act like hyperactive children when they’re drunk on deep discounts and high on the possibility of getting the last copy of this year’s must-have video game.

Moms also understand what it’s like when the house is full of extra people. Someone is always in somebody else’s way and the bathroom is constantly running out of toilet paper. We’re like air traffic controllers trying to figure out seating and sleeping arrangements and how to keep people moving in an orderly fashion.

christmas decorPresentation: Go to any store during the holiday season and you’ll know exactly what the store manager and his or her staff have been doing — stocking shelves, folding sweaters and filling displays. As soon as another delivery truck shows up, items must be emptied, sorted and put out for purchase and — because it’s the holidays — everything needs to look amazing. We shoppers expect a little more razzle-dazzle in December.

If anyone can relate to the pressure of a good presentation, it’s a mom. Some women started working on Christmas decorations before the Thanksgiving turkey ever went into the oven. As much as we may love it, holiday decor has become a beast. What used to be the simple act of putting up a Christmas tree has morphed into a day-long ordeal. Not only is there the Christmas tree, there’s also the table centerpieces, the ceramic knick-knacks, the outdoor lights, the wreath, the Elf on the Shelf, the holiday plates and cups, and the list goes on.

Conflict resolution: It’s almost a given that at some point during the weeks leading up to Christmas, you’ll either say or hear the following phrase when you’re out shopping: “I need to talk to your store manager.” Those are probably the most hated eight words in the English language for managers. Because when somebody says it, it’s not because they want to tell the manager about what a pleasant experience they’ve just had. It’s because they’re mad — really mad, and they want to gripe about it.

Moms can relate because, for the most part, we are ignored by the crowds of people in our house until there’s a problem to solve. That’s when we’re expected to step in and referee the fight or diffuse the tension. Inevitably, a house full of people at a Christmas gathering will include at least one uncle saying something inappropriate and one sister-in-law passing judgment on a third cousin. It’s bound to happen, and it’s usually up to the mom to smooth things over.

Overtime: As much as store managers try to staff up for the holiday rush, there’s never enough people to cover the long shifts during Black Friday and December. And getting a day off from work is about as rare as a sighting of the indomitable snowman.

Moms also work a lot of overtime because we need to deck the halls, cook the food, buy the gifts, wrap the presents, attend the parties, pack for trips and visit the relatives. We practically sleep-walk through the last half of December because managing all the merriment has already worn us out.

The moral of this story? The “most wonderful time of the year” is also an intensely busy one for many of us. Extra patience and kindness is perhaps one of the best gifts you can give. So remember to share a little “peace on Earth” with your town’s store managers — and be sweet to your mama, too.

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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Hi mamas! If you’re like me, you use your email inbox a LOT. When there’s something I want to keep up with, I usually have it sent to me via email because rockwood files photo logoI’m more likely to see it there, versus remembering to go out to a website to look it up.

So I’m expanding the list of people who receive my newspaper column (The Rockwood Files) via email. It’s a good way to make sure you don’t miss an article and, if you like it, it’s easy to hit the forward button and share it with a friend or post a link on Facebook.

When you sign up to receive the column via email, you’ll get five weeks worth of bonus columns called The Funny Papers, each one delivered on a Friday so you can start the weekend with a good laugh.

Click HERE if you’d like to receive The Rockwood Files free via email and get the bonus material. (And rest assured, your email address is safe and will never be misused.)

Once you click the link, look for the green sign-up box on the right-hand side of the page and enter your first name and email address. Fast and simple! Thanks!

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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

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