Mi Madre’s Birfday

This weekend, my two brothers, two sisters, and I are spending the weekend in the mountains of North Carolina with soon-to-be 82-year-old mother.  Together, the five of us are the products of 2 marriages, spread out over 16 years.  We have never vacationed together as a group before, and likely will never again.  But for one weekend, we will be the brothers and sisters with our mom experiencing who we are now, probably a little of who we used to be (that stuff does come up when you get together as a family), and hopefully we will go away with all body parts still intact and a new understanding of our family dynamics.

I didn’t want to wait until the next funeral for this to happen.  In our culture, that is sometimes (often) the only reason for spread-out families to get together.  How odd but how common, and how special I feel that this weekend will be for creating memories with a group of siblings who live their busy lives three states apart, and do not have regular opportunities to see each other.  I wish we did.  We do the annual Christmas get-together, and on a rare occasion, the summer picnic.  This weekend will be deeply interesting and I’m quite sure, extremely entertaining.

I fall in the middle of the five of us.  My older brother is ahead of me by 5 years, my older sister is 3 years away, my younger brother is 6 years behind me, and my younger sister is eleven years below.  Together we have ten children, and three of us are grandparents.  One sibling had no children.  He prefers adorable dogs to the regular pediatrician visit.  Two of us have three children each, and two of us have two children each.  My mother has two grandchildren who are attorneys, one banker who has dropped that to re-enter grad-school, one who is a Presbyterian minister, one graduating college in December, another grandson who is an accomplished opera vocalist, a granddaughter who embraced the teaching gene, and three who are still below middle school.  It is a varied and fascinating crowd.

All families have interesting downlines and ours is no exception.  The quantity of this group does not outstrip the quality, as each of us has embraced our American opportunities.  Four of my mother’s five children graduated from college (me being the most recent), and two received graduate degrees.  One is an accountant, three are teachers (with one of those being a business owner as well), and one is incredibly talented with his hands, creating beautiful renovations in homes that need them.

The weekend, however, is only for the children of my mother.  We will come together, and remind ourselves of shared memories, tell each other about the ones we missed (again), talk about our own children and their life choices – some good, some bad – and brag about our grandchildren and dogs.  I anticipate that this will be a trip we will always remember.  I hope that it will increase the bonds which we now share somewhat tenuously, and that we will come away with a stronger sense of our own immediate childhood family.

I’ll let you know if we survived.  🙂

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Building Company Morale by Helping Others

We have a monthly brainstorming meeting at our company.  I started this recently (we’ve met twice) in the belief that many of our innovative thoughts don’t have to be paid for from consultants who claim to know more about us than we do. We have an office full of human beings who have brains, and I choose to believe that within those brains lie creativity and ideas and suggestions – that previously if expressed possibly fell on deaf ears.  Some people are great at listening and encouraging ideas and some are good at squashing (or stealing) them.  Being a basically lazy person, I like to pump up those who can offer great suggestions, give them as many accolades and standing ovations as I can, and then get out-of-the-way.

I have discovered that to run an effective brainstorming meeting (and I’m sure I will be discovering more as we progress) I must filter out the complaints.  Brainstorming does not include bitching about nobody taking overflow calls in customer service.  What it does include are the “out of the box” ideas that will help our company distinguish itself from dozens of others, and consequently, grow and become healthier.  And if at all possible, also a more fun place to work.  I believe that if one must spend the majority of one’s waking hours at work, then one should have some fun as well.  I can dream.

To avoid the above mentioned slide into the bitching ditch, I conduct a consent agenda.  This is not like the basic consent agenda of a huge corporation (look it up).  This is my consent agenda – topics I consent to discuss.  I ask for emailed ideas ahead of the meeting (each employee has a Big Red Book of Ideas in which to write their inspired thoughts during the month) and I present these ideas to the group.  This keeps them focused on the creative suggestions and does not allow for other conversation.  A balancing act for sure, but if there needs to be a b-ching session, we plan on a different meeting (which we occasionally get to).

Prior to the most recent meeting, I received the suggestion that we do something to improve morale.  If you are a business owner, you hear this a lot.  Especially in the recent down economy.  So, I began thinking about this, and it occurred to me that building morale  does not have to come from management only, although I do believe that attitude starts at the top.  I was making the assumption that we needed to provide something to those who take the lead in morale.  A gift card, a plaque, some kind of recognition that someone was taking the lead in being upbeat, helping the business, or just plain positive.  I was thinking in the box.  Our employees were way ahead of me.

What this person had in mind was that we do something as a company to help others. Many of you reading this will say that you already do this.  Give to a charity, or help out cleaning up the highways.  I stand and applaud that.  But I think my point here is that I had to be kicked (metaphorically speaking) to understand how a small company could jump in to help the hungry, or provide toys this Christmas for many who would receive none, or donate a small portion of time to help those in need.  I was humbled and impressed.

One woman suggested that we collect canned goods and donate them before Thanksgiving.  Our goal is to fill up the wall in our conference room before we take them to a local shelter.  Another woman suggested the toy idea – I think perhaps she had many Christmases that were not celebratory in her family.  She will be in charge of choosing the location in which she and others will drop off the toys.

I thought they only wanted recognition for their own work.  How boxed up I was, and how delighted I am to participate in these thoughtful and generous suggestions.  I know that my morale has improved greatly.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead