“OMG..it’s Karen!’”

As Parents Weekend at Julia’s school comes to a slow crawl (currently stuck in an hour long traffic jam) I’m drifting back to yesterdays events. Spending the day with Jules on my old stomping grounds was a gift. Another moment though stole my heart yesterday and hurled me back some 17 years ago. Let me explain.

While sitting in the lounge enjoying my Starbucks I heard “omg it’s you Karen..Hiiiii Karen”. I turned to find our Reed running towards me and hugging me. Oh wow. It was Reed – Jakes first friend ever. Reed is a College of Saint Rose student too. Right behind him arms outstretched is his mom…my Brenda.

Jake and Reed met in preschool September 2001. Both had recently been diagnosed with Autism. Two weeks after they started school I found myself sitting in a parent support group in the schools gym. I sat there with a cold cup of coffee with bags under my eyes hoping no one could see that I’d been crying every day for a month. I was silent only responding if directly asked a question.

Across from me sat this vision of a mom. Perfect hair, makeup that was air brushed, pearls, loafers, and a killer look from Banana Republic. I didn’t know if I should hate her or ask if she wanted to go shopping. She told us her name was Brenda and that she was an attorney. I thought oh my God this one is so good at this. She’s handling this like a champ. I’m sitting here weeping like child and she’s so snappy. Look at her. We made eye contact and I smiled. That was it. Brenda drew me in.

We met every week at our group and never stopped talking. Conversations turned into every day phone calls, play dates with the kids, double dates with the guys, family parties, and endless school events.

I learned that Brenda has many of the same struggles I had with the kids but just had a different outlook on things. Together we used our different strategies to help each other get through the day to day. Brenda has a knack for looking to the future with the most realistic and positive outlook I will never forget. I was worried about making it through dinner that night and Brenda was researching drivers licenses for the boys.

Years went by and the boys matured in ways we hoped for but just couldn’t imagine. Life stepped in. It got busy. We’d go for months without talking but we never ever lost sight of each other. One day we received the most beautiful invitation in the mail to Reeds Bar Mitzvah. I dropped the invite on the table and burst into tears. Reed was making his Bar Mitzvah. My God.

Months later I walked into Temple and saw looked up to see Brenda in front of me looking gorgeous as ever. We didn’t say anything. We just stared at each other. The tears came quickly for both of us and we held each other for a long time. I just looked at her and said “We made it my friend”. I then looked at Reed and thought..life really is good. This boy who we loved for so many years was now a man. Reed aced his ceremony. The next day we enjoyed Reeds celebration without a care in the world. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house that day despite us dancing the day away!

Flash forward to yesterday when we giggled and reminisced over the coffee listening to Reed and Jake now 20 years old talk to each other like long lost pals. I turned to Brenda and said I love you. What I really wanted to say was thank you. Thank you for holding my hand and pulling me through those early years that I thought I’d never get through. I hope she knows that I’ve got her back until we leave this earth.

I’m a firm believer that people are placed on your path for specific reasons. They are meant to be here with you on your journey. I don’t wish Autism on anyone but I do wish you a Brenda. Your life will be changed forever. Mine was.

Thank you my friend.

Hey Jules..

Hey Jules,

Zoom in on the Madre sitting cross legged in your room armed with a trash bag. I’m trying to make a path to your closet so that I can start the big purge of clothing that hasn’t graced your back since you were a Freshman in Bethpage.

It’s been ten days since we dropped you off at Saint Rose. I’ve actually been pretty good with tears. That is until today. I’m Still in my gym clothes from Boot Camp trying to muscle through this room and the memories you have been growing in here since you care home from the hospital.

A conversation I had with your Uncle Mike (and Aunt Di) just came to mind. He talked about it being his greatest accomplishment to raise his kids to be good people – really awesome humans who when ready could head out into this world and fly. I’ll never ever forget that intense conversation with Uncle Mike. It left a mark on me and now here I am watching your new life begin. It’s happening right before my very eyes.

I’m making progress… I stacked your Harry Potter books in the bookcase remembering how you devoured these books one by one. I would find you up late just reading. I never scolded you for that – you always did have our love for reading. Never lose that! Reading as you know can bring you to incredible places…

I just found a box that you decorated with “Beautiful – the Carole King Musical” signs. We told you you could see the show if you save your money. You always have done everything with a dramatic flair! Well you got there not once but you’ve seen the show three times. You don’t know that we put that money back in your box after you bought your first set of tickets.

This room is still loaded with Hamilton memories. Remember our Hamilton craze? All those days leading up to April 26, 2016 when we witnessed magic! That show with you was nothing short of wizardry. You know how I feel about Lin’s views but that man is a lyrical genius. Thank you for introducing me to music that I still belt out every single day on the way to Starbucks after a stressful day at work.

Your jazz/show shoes just peeked out from under your dresser. My goodness they put in some stage miles haven’t they? How I’ll miss watching you in the BHS Masquers Guild productions. The afternoons of picking you up from rehearsals and listening to your rants about the producers, cast shenanigans, and the fun you were having. I would watch the energy surround you as you spoke. It was absolutely electrifying. All of those talks would stay with me as you took the stage every night during show week. I couldn’t have written a better script for you.

All of your handwritten scripts are in the trundle under your bed. Your creations are legendary. You caught the theater writing bug early. Wasn’t it after I gave you the Grimmary– the backstage creation story of Wicked? I’m convinced you can write a story or musical about anything! Please don’t stop writing Jules! You have a gift for others to open with your stories.

You have certainly filled this room with memories. I’m proud to have been a part of so many of them – if only as a guide at times. I’m sure your dorm room is starting to collect new memories and experiences. You are in an amazing school and community of people who will change your life forever.

I’ve reached the closet. Time to see what waits for me on the other side of the store. If it’s anything like what I’ve just been through this past hour well then I never want to leave. Your world is exciting to me – so happy to be a part of you and all that lies ahead.

Love you,

Momsy

Finish What You Started

It has been months since my last Blog. I have no reason for the lapse other than sheer procrastination. I think. When thinking of what to write I thought you have to finish what you started as it was one of my last year’s suggestions to write/blog on a regular basis.

Finishing things was always somewhat of an issue when I was growing up. My Mom always said that I had good intentions…and then would trail off. I let other things cloud my goals and yes, that damn procrastination took over and I allowed plans to stall or just plain fizzle. I settled and let it happen. Situations changed when I had kids because well, you just cannot let things ride when you have kids. Goals with the kids were always met except for maybe putting my foot down about cooking four separate meals while they were growing up. That my friends is a completely different blog. My business world is full of deadlines which I meet easily (although some days I am kicking and screaming all the way to the last day) and my life outside of work in let’s say PTA was successful in that I was able to collaborate with my boards to complete piles of projects and plans. Yes, I can do things well when I put my mind to it. We all can. It is just a matter of drive and the basic question of “How bad do you want it?”

2017 – My second Spartan season. I was certainly more confident than my first season. I doubled up on my training and committed to running my races. I became more involved in the Spartan community and started to learn that my new passion is something that I truly cannot and will not live without. The principles I have learned in this world have spilled into my personal life. I will talk about this extensively in future blogs and if you happen to catch me in conversation about this topic. For this and a million other reasons, I realized after my summer race in Boston that I needed to finish what I started and grab my Trifecta by the end of the year.

Things had really changed last season. My outlook on life was completely altered since my maiden season when I first jumped fire at Tuxedo in 2016. I realized that I could do ANYTHING if I really planned for it. Gifts arrived in my life last year that showed me that I was indeed on the right path. They have strengthened me and shown me that my life is on course and is headed towards what I really want – to be me…and my best me at that. Again. Mom was right. Be yourself but be your best self.

In September, I knew I had to register for my last race of the season in order to complete the Trifecta. It would be a Beast, which to my non-Spartan friends means a Spartan race that is 12-15 miles long filled with 8 billion obstacles. My first thought was to register for Dallas but after researching the course and consulting with my personal Spartan guru, I decided that the final race would be in Florida. The issue was then getting there. I knew at this point that I would be travelling and racing alone. That to me was huge. As many of you know, I am a social beast. I do everything with my friends and enjoy life to the fullest when I am with them. This would be different. I planned it out during my trip to Boot Camp every single night and finally announced that I would fly into Florida on 12/8, race 12/9, and return home on 12/10. There was no question. I could not let the Trifecta go. I worked too hard in Boot Camp and in Planet Fitness to not grab what I wanted. I needed to jump fire and wear that green medal. I could taste it.

I announced the plans that I would be running Florida. I knew that my friends in Spartan 4-0 would be with me on the course. In Spartan, you are never ever alone. You can be on that course and look at someone and they will help. I have written about my Spartan angels in past blogs. They are real. They are everywhere on (and off) that course. Before I knew it, I was sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight to Tampa. I struck up a conversation with someone on the plane who when they heard I was running a race in Florida said…”I admire you doing this at your age”. I cannot say that I am sorry for bopping them in the head when I pulled out my bag from the overhead compartment and beating them off the plane. At my age. As if. I would like to see you try to climb a wall or slog through mud and barbed wire lady. I digress. The drive from Tampa to Lakeland was flawless and somewhat liberating. I was alone. I was doing this for me. I thought…in 24 hours, I will wear that green medal and hopefully be diving into a very large bottle of wine.

The night before the race was nerve wracking. No. It was not nerve-wracking. It was terrifying. It rained all night long. I thought about what the rain was doing to the course. It did not matter. We literally ran through a hurricane during our Boston race. I made it through that. I was not going to let more mud and rain get to me. I did not get much sleep between the storm and the nerves. Before I knew it though I was sitting at breakfast with my 4-0 pals laughing and taking selfies. After breakfast, I geared up and put my game face on. I piled it all into my UPGRADE rental (everyone deserves a very large upgrade in life) and headed for the race. On the final approach into the lot, I found myself singing “Mas Tequila” by Sammy Hagar at the top of my lungs. I was relaxed. It was still raining. In true Spartan fashion, I parked about a mile from the entrance. It is the Spartan way because you cannot run 12-15 miles and then just get into your car. That isn’t enough. You need to hobble another 1.6 miles back to your car.

On the way to the start corral, I found my pals Ray and Rob who helped me with my hydration pack which was now hemorrhaging Gatorade. I needed my fuel for the race but there was really nothing I could do about it. I am not allowed water breaks in Hell Boot Camp so what difference did it make. I took my place in the corral and met so many familiar Spartan 4-0 faces that I see every day on Facebook and Instagram. It was time to shout “I am a Spartan” right before we take off. It gets me every time and I cry. Not shocking really considering how sentimental I am. I ran the first mile at a good pace. I was beaming because if you know the real me…I loathe running. I hit the Hay Bale obstacle and pulled myself over with zero issue. I literally turned around to look what I had done. In other races, I need a boost and my Nicole to rip the arm out of my socket to get me over. Hmm I thought…let’s keep going. I hit the next one or two obstacles and thought my God Kiki you are on a roll here. By the time I got to my nemesis “The Bucket Brigade” I thought…just get in there girl. I boxed jumped to the top of the rock pile. HUGE feat. I do not box jump. I step. Somehow, though I found the adrenaline to do it. The rest of the obstacles were challenging and very hard but I got through it one at a time. Except the rope. I will not get that rope no matter how hard I try. You just have to finish. One foot in front of the other.

The course was long and I decided early on that I would think. Really think about things while I ran or walked. I had three topics two of which were Jake and Julia. I thought about how far these angels have come in life and how my life would never be what it is without them.  I would not be on a Spartan course working my ass off if it wasn’t for what I am trying to teach them. Never give up on your goals and what you want for anybody, any reason, or anything. Keep pushing yourself even when things get in your way or seem as if they will never get better. Never settle or accept average for that is not what will get you through life. Hard work and determination will get you through any situation placed before you.  Passion about what you love will get you through hell. You just have to want it bad enough.

I got to mile 12 and someone mentioned the time. I had been on the course for over 4 hours but that was where I wanted to be pace wise. The 2016 Beast had me on the course for 8 ½ hours. I was almost done and it was nearly 4 ½ hours. My goal was in reach. By the time I reached the Dunk Wall, I was giddy. Giddy or getting punch drunk with adrenaline. My hydration pack was toast so I literally tossed it to a spectator and said please trash this. I could see the finish line and smell the fire ahead of me. In typical Spartan fashion, the course creators kicked us back into the trails for another 3-mile hike and final 4 obstacles. The end was indeed near but it would need to wait. I spent the last few miles climbing and clawing through thoughts and obstacles. I was back in the trails and back into deep thoughts. I thought of Julia. Her last year in school. Her college choices. Her relationship with me and how much fun we have together. Yes, I am a very strong disciplinarian but we have an incredible bond. We giggle and we binge-watch Friends together laughing like village idiots over the characters. I tell Jules every day that you cannot give up on yourself. Always plug away. Always go for what you want in life even if you do not think the outcome will go as planned. I found myself smiling as I came up to the last two obstacles. I could hear the DJ and you will not believe what was playing…it was the theme from Friends “I’ll Be There for You”. I could not believe it. It was truly a sign that I was not alone. Jules got my message and was with me. Jake was with me. I found my strength at the Hercules Hoist (my fave obstacle) and hoisted that damn red sandbag with one hand. I was pumped and I was singing along. Then it happened. I jumped over that damn fire. The final obstacle. I crossed the finish line ALONE. There was no one to greet me. There was no one to high five me. I collected my banana and Finisher shirt wearing my green medal ALONE. I did it. I came to run this race and prove to myself and myself only that I could do this. Walking back to the car, I heard my medal clink that distinctive Spartan sound….clink clink clink clink clink as it banged against my chest. I heard the cry “I am a Spartan” that we screamed at the beginning. I had earned my Trifecta and most importantly,…I finished what I had started.

It’s My Job

Julia’s text on Thursday read “its payday today!” She was ecstatic. This would be her first paycheck…ever. She was now being paid for a summer job that she loves in our school district. By the time I arrived home from work, her social media accounts were flooded with her posts of her holding her first paycheck. The pride on Julia’s face was so apparent and her smile just made you want to hug her, which I of course did as soon as I met her in the kitchen!

I thought of Jake receiving his first paycheck for the same summer classroom position a few years ago. He was beaming just as bright as he held up his first step into the world of gainful employment.

As a parent, you hope that you instill a good, solid ethics into your kids. You hope they learn by example and what they see you doing. I have only held three paid positions since leaving college, which I believe, demonstrates not only commitment to the workforce but also a sense of loyalty (which is a completely separate blog). It thrills me that my kids not only work but also WANT to work. Jake as some of you know is now working two jobs this summer. That was a bit of an adjustment here in Chez Fikar but I think it had more to do with his anxiety about messing with his daily routines. The bottom line is that Jake loves to work and stay busy. Jules has already applied for another job to start later this summer or the fall. I am thrilled that there is an interest in working and interacting with the world rather than being glued to some type of electronic device.

I have been deep in thought about this work ethic piece lately. It must be genetic. Ernie is certainly a hard worker – always has been having held multiple jobs while in school and working every ounce of overtime he could while with the Sheriff’s Department for all of those years. I had my first job at age 11 in which I stuffed and delivered those dreaded circulars and local news book called “The Pennysaver”. Maybe this is why I still cringe when I smell a newspaper? I digress. I babysat for a number of different neighborhood families and built up a loyal following. Where else could you eat snacks, watch Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Saturday Night Live, and if it was late, Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert and are paid. That was a great gig.

In High School, I started working summers with Daddy He and I would take the train and subway to the World Trade Center and enter Auriema, Inc. on the 18th floor each day. That is where I learned not only crucial office skills but also nuances of office life that would become invaluable later on. The office etiquette, how to speak to people…how to interact with peers and leadership appropriately. Dad took me to work every school break and summer for years. He taught me that once you are working you DO NOT call in sick. You do not stay home. You do not just decide to go to the beach and skip work just because your friends ask. Work and school came first (do not get me started on staying home from school – Anne Eastwood had her own guidelines for this).

School was also our job growing up. I tried the “cough cough…I don’t feel like going to school” act one day. Anne called my bluff. You want to stay home? She calmly asked me as she took a long drag from her cigarette. I said yes, yet somewhat hesitantly. Well, she explained…there would be no television..no cartoons…no dancing lessons after school…no talking on the phone with your friends…and no playing outside on the block. I was changed in five minutes and on the bus in ten. You just don’t call in sick. The Eastwood girls had perfect attendance for years.

The work force teaches us so much. We find out about ourselves, our relationships with others, teamwork, our capabilities, and our worth. I have always been drawn to those with a strong work ethic such as my family or mine. My dad gave us great tools and a strong base. My sister Kathy is literally a force to be reckoned with when it comes to working. Not only is she talented but she is incredibly smart and able to plan and execute any plan with top business minds. I have learned so much from Kathy over the years. While I hold a completely different style and approach to management, we both know where our principles come from. As a result, I tend to bond with those like me. I recognize someone who gives 500% of their being into whatever they are doing whether it be in a paid or volunteer position.

Last night I am listening to the chatter between Jake and Jules about work. Jules is trying to “suggest” to Jake (ok she was forcefully telling him) that he should get his stuff for work ready the night before so that he isn’t running around in the morning. I love the “do as I say not as I do” approach Jules. This coming from the girl who can roll out of bed and into the car all within 3 minutes and still function at top level the entire day. We had a fun discussion about working. I said don’t you love how each of us has a job that serves a purpose and that all of our jobs are somewhat connected. Think about it – it is an incredible thought really. We all rely on each other and what we do to live our everyday lives. We may not all love what we do but we work in some way, shape, or form to provide a service or skill that the other person needs. To me therefore, work is a huge responsibility. I always tell Jake and Jules that they should give their all no matter what they are doing. Be the best “fill in the job name here” you can be. One of my fave Jimmy Buffett songs is called “It’s My Job”. Jimmy sings about his conversation with a Street Sweeper. The line says, “It’s my job to be cleaning up this mess and that’s enough reason to go for me”.

Here’s hoping Jake and Julia collect many more years of paychecks in their jobs whether they have one, two, or thirty-two jobs. Hope that like me that they love what they do. Have a great week everyone…time for me to get ready for work.

Work hard. Be Nice. 

By now you, you all know my weekday routine of picking up my Mobile order at Starbucks and driving to work. I am a stickler for being on time each day. Traffic and inept people at Starbucks can mess with my timetable but I must plan accordingly for it. I need to get to work on time. In addition, unlike some people I know, I like work. I love what I do. Some days are downright challenging but I rarely have a day where I get up and say I am not going to the office. There also is not a day that goes by when I do not thank my parents for instilling this work ethic in me.I am sitting in an office doing what I love – managing a student and family population in an extremely large school district. It is only the third position I have held since college. My first gig out of the gates was for an insurance conglomerate (SAT word) which I cannot bring myself to even utter the name of as it still make me shudder when I think of how it all ended. That position lasted twenty years. I learned a multitude of lessons there about people and how they operated. It was not about the business so much as it was about managing people and how they ticked. It was the perfect arena to utilize what I had learned in one of my later Business Management courses. To this day, I thank that professor who introduced me to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Recognize that everyone has the same basic need and you will receive positive results. Understand that if you work hard and recognize what other’s needs are that you will be successful. Sure, there is much more to this theory but I do not want this blog to be a weeklong. Maslow and I became fast friends. In fact, when we were redecorating our living room last year I found the sign featured in this Blog episode. “Work Hard – Be Nice”. It is that simple. If you work hard and treat people with respect – you will reach your goals. You will. Maslow was not the only man in my life to instill this theory in my blood….in my bones.

In the summer of 1979, John Eastwood and I traveled on the LIRR to his office at the World Trade Center in NYC. I had been there countless times sitting in his corner office gazing at the Statue of Liberty and hoping I’d someday work in an office like his with a staff that was more like family than his work team. He had gained the respect of his team because he treated them like family and realized that they had personal needs and goals. I later learned how much my Daddy was loved because of how he made them feel. I worked each summer with Daddy until I went to college. I learned filing, typing, telex, receptionist coverage, and even letter writing (which by the way came to a halt when I did not proofread my letter to a Distributor. Yes, I had meant to write “Dear Ken…” but it came out as “Dead Ken”. That my friends is how my legendary typos started). My dad never let me call in sick to work. My friends were going to the beach and I was hopping on a train to work. I had lots to keep me busy and I loved it. When the business moved out to Long Island, I would carpool with one of Dad’s managers who lived in the next town when he was away on business. On one particular Monday morning, I was sick as a dog. I was suffering from the…well…”cocktail flu” after having partied too much at my friend’s graduation party the night before. I was green. Dad’s manager smoked a pipe each morning on the way in. I was fifty shades of green by the time we pulled into the office parking lot. I learned my lesson that day about calling in sick. You just did not do it. I did not learn my lesson about hangovers but that is a different blog.

By the time I started studying Business Management in college I was already well versed in the working world thanks to Dad. Mommy had also jumped in with instilling work ethic during my years in Bethpage. If you wanted to stay home sick, you could but there would be no TV and no going outside to play with your friends after school. If you were sick, you were sick. In bed. No questions asked. As a result, the only time I EVER missed school was when I had Chicken Pox in the 4th grade. I truly believe that work ethic is instilled in us at a very early age. My kids now actually want jobs. They want to work and earn money for themselves. It is refreshing. I do not want this to veer political but I will say this. Kids today need to work hard to earn money. Things. Get where they are in life. No one should be looking for a handout. I am pleased to report that Jake just completed his first 30 days at his new job. He received his review and was removed from the probationary period. I asked Jake how the review went. His response is just so genuine and pure. He said, “My manager thinks I am a hard worker and likes what I am doing. I treat the customers with a smile and always ask what else I can do to help”. Jake gets it. No surprise considering Ernie is one of the hardest workers I have ever met. For years in school, he worked three or four jobs to earn money for a car. Work ethic and hard work are an extreme attraction for me…just saying.

What will happen though with our next generation? I hope they do not take the easy way out and expect to skate through life. We now live in a world of instant gratification. Will that be a deterrent? I can ask Alexa for anything I want and it will happen. She makes our lives easier but will Alexa and her tech friends help us to get the job done? I suppose to some extent but she cannot make me want to go to work. She can’t make me want to help every single family I deal with at work as if they were my own. Instant gratification works for me to make my life easier but it does not replace good old fashioned/laser focused work in my eyes. In my book, you have to earn it.

With that, I have to get back to work. I have lots to do before I climb into my car and begin the drive home. Just remember – Work Hard. Be Nice. Four words to success.