A Time of Uncertainty

I recently watched the movie The Company Men.  The movie, which came out last year, follows the lives of three men who have lost their jobs due to downsizing at a large transportation company, GTX.  It stars Ben Affleck, who was a rising star in the company, Chris Cooper, who had been with the company for years and has risen to middle management, and Tommy Lee Jones, who was an executive manager and was the first person hired by the company.  The movie got good but not great ratings and did not do particularly well at the box office.   However, I found it compelling. The character’s dilemmas, both internal and external, felt very real.

The movie remains timely. Unemployment is still high, the job market remains tight, and talk of downsizing is often in the news.  I recently got together with some friends of mine. Each of us have a family, is somewhere in our 40s, and gainfully employed. It should be a time where we are talking of promotions, bonuses, and exciting opportunities. None of that came up.  Fear seemed to be the topic – no one uttered the word, yet it stayed on the edge of conversation. We talked of being happy to still have our jobs, the issues our employers are going through, and how we hoped that we would continue to stay employed. One friend added, “I just don’t know what jobs will be around when our kids grow up.”  Though the hour was late and we each had had a couple of drinks, the lack of response was because no one had a good answer.   

My wife and I are both in traditionally secure work fields. However, the concerns and repercussions have creeped into the education and non-profit worlds. They have already completed three rounds of layoffs (they don’t call it that anymore – but everyone knows what I mean) at my wife’s workplace. She is concerned another one is coming, and she is not the only one.  Education, which seems to be under a microscope these days and is often on the lips of politicians and the pens of journalists, does not provide a comfortable atmosphere.  My colleagues and I feel under fire as we are perpetually bombarded with memos, instructions, and changes. Combined with the fact that students actions and abilities are accepted with out question leaves many teachers feeling under the gun.  However, we grin and bear it as the knowledge of being potentially excessed and shuffled about looms.

What’s next? Where are the jobs coming from? What will be for the next generation, our children? I don’t know. There has to be something better. We are ready and willing to work.

Want to be There

We all have people in our lives who we see only periodically but would like to see more often. However, life is busy with alot of stuff, and the time to socialize is limited. Everyone is going in different directions.

My mother has some friends in her life that she has known since she was a child.  These friends of hers became like family to my siblings and I. We spent time with them growing up, and they always came to our and now our children’s life cycle events.  My niece’s bat mitzvah is coming up and so that means my mom and her crew will have a chance to get together. Well, unfortunately not. During a recent conversation, my mom listed the ailments that her friends are experiencing. “It makes me feel old and sad. I know we all get older but to not be able to do the things you used to be able to do is hard. You know.”  I said, “Sort of.”   I had little to add to the conversation and hung up soon thereafter while feeling sad myself.

Last weekend, my mother called to tell me of the passing of ‘Uncle Jimmy.’ His wife and my mother had been friends for over 60 years. He was a good man who always seemed happy to see you. He made a person feel that what they had to say was interesting, and he wanted to hear it.  It was always a treat to see him and his wife. So, when I heard the news about his passing, I wanted to attend the funeral to pay my respects and moreso to let his family know how much I respected, enjoyed, and admired their husband/father. However, I could not go as I’ve missed quite a few days of work recently.

I’ll make the call, be sympathetic, express condolences, and try to convey my feelings. I am sure they will appreciate the call and say it is okay, but it doesn’t feel like enough to me. I want to share this loss and grieve with them. Actually, what I really want is to see my mom and her crew at my niece’s bat mitzvah.


I don’t think I know what joy is. I may have known at one point, but I don’t know now. Don’t get me wrong, I like plenty of things – a delicious meal, a good night of sleep, family time, etc. . I even love certain things, but I don’t know joy – pure unadulterated joy.

My son loves Thomas.  There are no ifs ands or buts about it.  I am nearly certain he loves the character more than anything else in life. I am just glad he does not have to choose between me and Thomas. I couldn’t take the drama.  He watches the show, plays with the trains, reads the books, and sings the songs. He has asked for a Thomas birthday party – it should be a surprise by the way on the day he has told us. Do you think he’ll be surprised?

We have had a behavior modification chart on the refrigerator for the past three weeks.  What was the present that he would receive when he completed the chart?  You guessed it – a Thomas train – Stanley to be exact. Each time my son wore his weighed vest, he put a sticker (yes, Thomas) on the chart and the he inched one step closer to completion.

He completed the chart and immediately and repeatedly asked “Where’s Stanley?”  My wife knew we were on the cusp of this auspicious moment, so she had ordered the train and had it ready to deliver into his excited little hands.  Well, he reached his goal on Friday afternoon and therefore instead of getting the engine, he received the envelope and was told he could not open it till Saturday evening. It was delayed gratification at its most excruciating.  By the time Saturday rolled around, each hour loomed longer and more difficult. I was not around for the final hour, but I am told it rolled by minute by minute.

I was not there at the moment my son received his new train, however I am sure it was a glorious moment. When I got home, he had the train firmly gripped in his hand. He patiently showed it to me and even allowed me to pretend zoom it as he watched proudly. The only reason the train was not in his hand when he fell asleep was because I insisted he give it to me. Once he saw it resting by his bedside, he allowed himself to relax and fell joyfully asleep.

I’m Busy!

I feel stressed.  While the clichés keep running around my head – there is only so much I can do, just relax, everything will be fine – it is still a very busy time.  Grades are due this week which always makes for a busy time of furious marking. On top of that is the holidays and even though they are great, they mean less time to focus on work. Unfortunately, my students and school don’t recognize the holidays (apart from Rosh Hashanah, when both students and teachers alike appreciate and thank me, representative of the Jewish people, for the days off) and the work must get done.

I was weighted down with packages this morning as I walked in from food shopping. I was already a half hour late based on the plan I had made in mind. Then, things started to fall – there was the eggs, tomato sauce, and more. I was pissed – running around like a lunatic trying to do everything and keep everyone happy, and then this happens. Waste of money and time.  I wanted to scream but my younger son was not far off and I didn’t want to scare him.  I wanted to bang something but I had a sore hand from fixing my fence the other day. So, I kicked. I would like to say it made me feel better, but it didn’t. Instead, I now have a little hole in the door.  Great – another thing to worry about.

Teachable moment is the parlance these days. While driving to the train station to pick up my mother, I spoke to my older son who sat calmly in the back seat.   “Did you see the hole in the kitchen door?  I kicked it when I lost my temper.”  After I was sure he knew what that meant, I explained why I did it. He seemed to be very interested, as losing his temper and acting irrationally is something he does periodically (It’s even on his chart. Where does he get that from?). “Yes,” I explained, “I do lose my temper sometimes,” and “No, it did not make me feel any better.”  In fact, explaining the situation to him made me feel even more foolish. What was I thinking?

Stress, man. Sometimes, we don’t always think things through. Teachable moment for him and learnable moment for me.  Breathe in, breathe out. Everything is going to be fine.