Sunday, September 27, 2009

Aging Out

In my work at Healthy Kids, we frequently use the term "age out" to describe the situation where a child has become too old for the program he or she has been in. For example, child who turns 5 has "aged out" and must move from MediKids to Healthy Kids. A child who turns 19 has "aged out" from the Healthy Kids program and has to find other options for insurance.

When I woke up this morning, I first opened the newspaper to the obituaries section (a morbid lifelong habit of mine). I was stunned to see the obituary of Jack Finlay.

Jack and I had been extras together in the FSU Film "Tosca." We were a couple attending a swanky party prior to an opera. We criss crossed the room a whole bunch of times, making silly small talk each time. In between takes, I learned that he had gone to school at Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico, as I had (different years); that he had been in a "real" film with Corey Feldman who was very down to earth; and that he had great suggestions for pursuing extras work. I had recently "friended" him on Facebook, and was looking forward to picking up where we had left off in the foyer of Bradfordville First Baptist Church (where Tosca was filmed).

Jack, 50 years old, died unexpectedly of a cardiac-related issue while auditioning for a part at the film school on September 20. One of his friends shared the last email Jack had sent the friend on Jack's Facebook page. It was full of support and positivity, including this line (written from 50 year old Jack to the 27 year old recipient): "What's weird is that I'm not really sure what 50's supposed to be, so you have become a great peer for me, not a 27 year old kid."

From a life perspective, Jack "timed out" before he could "age out." From the small amount of time I spent with him, I am pretty sure he didn't feel like "you are supposed to feel when you are 50" -- he felt alive and engaged.

When I think about another person who is older than me but lives her life in a way devoid of "supposed to's," I think of Margarete Deckert. Margarete is almost twice my age (76 to my 44). She and I are frequently in the same general vicinity of each other at races, and my family loves to remind me that I am getting "beat" by a 76 year old. Here's the thing -- the race times don't lie -- I have never crossed the finish line ahead of Margarete. But she did something for me in January 2009 following the Billy Bowlegs 5K that motivates me every single day: she handed me her "age group" award as she passed me in the parking lot. Here it is:

I hung Margarete's award up where it is one of the first things I see when I wake up every morning. Every time I look at it I feel that I have something to live up to; Margarete didn't pass along that award just to decorate my bedroom; the goal was to decorate my "drive" to improve my running times.

She's not aging out or timing out; she's on the "ultra" plan.

Several friends who are older than me frequently say something along the lines of "I don't feel [insert age number here]." I usually feel like saying, "well I feel ten years older than I am." And that usually leads me into the "supposed to's."

At every race, Margarete helps shoo those "supposed to's" off the course.

And for me personally, she and Jack appear to have been reading from the same script -- even if you are chronologically older, when you treat younger people as peers, no one "ages out."

Rest in peace, Jack.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Going the Distance

Yesterday, Wayne Kevin and I ran the Women's Distance Festival race in Indianhead Acres. I was really happy to run my second sub-39:00 race in twelve days, and Wayne had a good mile run as well.

My original draft for this blog talked about one of the main topics of curiosity on Wayne's part when he started running the 1 mile in this race in 2006 -- why are the street names so funny? (We always park on Kolopakin Nene, which apparently is an authentically Seminole way of saying "Seventh Trail."). I learned that the original developers wanted to name Jim Lee Trail "Humpin Nene"! Some ideas are better left not implemented.

Back to original programming ......
After the 5K, I helped set out the prizes for the one mile run - TOYS!!! After the kids finish their run, they are called up in the order of their finish to choose a toy as their reward. Here was the loot freshly arrayed:

And here was the loot surrounded by the excited kids as they awaited the 1 mile awards:

Between taking picture #1 and picture #2, I watched all the kids finish the race. The most dramatic moment of the entire day was this neck-and-neck finish between Lilly and Austin, who finished within .29 seconds of each other:

I don't know the full backstory of why these two 7 year olds were so bound and determined to prevail over each other. The finish was right up there with one of Michael Phelps's oh-so-close finishes in the Beijing Olympics.

What I do know is that no toy in the world will bring out the tenacity I saw in these two young people yesterday. It comes from somewhere else deeper in the soul.

Each child got a goodie bag yesterday in addition to their toy of choice. (They could also choose a trophy instead of a toy). These rewards for getting up early, running a mile, and pitting yourself against your goal of choice: beating your most recent "best" time, beating a worthy competitor, earning "grand prix" points, or just finishing the race, are important incentives to get kids out to our races and integrated into the world of running.

Lilly's and Austin's toys, along with all of the other ones earned yesterday, won't last forever. But that building block of "I can do this" is no child's play ---- it will "go the distance" of a lifetime.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sock It To Me

There have not been any big developments in my running life since I posted on Monday. So, on a whim I posted to my Facebook status the fact that I was taking suggestions for what to blog about tonight. My choices were (in this order): 1) my sock drawer (thanks, Fred D.) 2) the Leon County Middle School football jamboree yesterday (go Rams!!), and 3) the glaring public failure of several sports and political leaders to display civility this week.

I love a writing challenge. Whereas my kids probably don't find the periodic "Writes Upon Request" exercise in school "fun," to me having the opportunity to prove I can find an angle on just about anything is truly an opportunity I welcome.

If I was going to do the sock drawer option, I had to do inventory of the "before" state:

The situation was dire. There is clearly a reason why every time I go into my sock drawer, I futilely paw through all these orphans and castoff items from the last four years of my life, thinking somehow the occupants of sockland would have found compatible mates and conspired to make my mornings easier by being prepared to complete my outfits.

I commenced to make some sense out of this mess. Out of nine pairs of socks, five stayed, one went back to their rightful owner (my husband) and three are outta here. The seventeen orphans, many of which belonged to one of my children, are also gone. The rest of the inventory included hosiery and kneehis (now organized); two jewelry box/pouches; two girls' gold cross necklaces; a blue fanny pack; a hot pink visor (now retired); a blackberry belt clip; a motorola charger for a phone from about five years ago; a set of ipod earphones; three funky blue plastic things that must have corresponded to something sometime; a bandaid; two reflectors from running; a drawer sachet knitted by my mother in law; a red stocking cap; a pair of blue biking shorts circa 1987; a picture of Wayne Kevin at 18 months (keeping!); three crayons, a non functional ink pen, 3 shoestrings, a toothbrush and toothpaste in a ziploc bag, a cheap poncho, a blank check, 4 pieces of genuine trash, a Land's End invoice from March 2005 for a pair of pants that went to Goodwill long ago, and one penny.

My family was mystified by the sight of me on the floor of the bedroom, typing in the sock drawer inventory into the laptop. The nice side benefit is that since my daughter was watching the Video Music Awards, I got to share a little of that with her (and knew when to send my 10 year old out of the room). Here's the end result:

This little exercise reminded me of several scenarios set forth in the book I am reading, Freakonomics. The author does a thought-provoking job of explaining why sometimes events that we think are directly correlated are, upon further exploration, not as straightforward as they seem. I am a little upset that reading to your children isn't necessarily correlated with success in school, but I would still argue it is time well spent. Anyway, is having a clean sock drawer going to correlate with cleaning out some mental baggage and simplifying my life as I would like?
Right now, I would say the "before" picture is truer to my current reality than the "after." Hopefully, making this one small inroad into taking inventory, discarding the unwanted and unneeded "stuff" from my life and spending time on organization will make a small deposit into my satisfaction "bank."
If not, I'm still richer by one cent.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Today I Scanned My Coffee Cup

First, before I explain the coffee-cup theme, I need to clarify something about my blog. As my friend Velva aptly pointed out, this blog is about a lot more than running. Even when the week's post is anchored by a running event, somehow it always meanders off into parenting, finding your dreams, or other topics.

I will definitely keep everyone apprized of my progress as I claw my way out of the "Last Banana Club." Today I checked off one milestone on my slow-as-paint-drying progress toward running a 5K in less than 30 minutes. I ran one in less than 40 minutes!! The Red Cross Hurricane Run 5K at Southwood held the magic for me; the cool weather and my need to run after three days of no exercise didn't hurt.

There were several potential topics to choose from this week: the many things I learned at the QATC (Quality Assurance Training Connection) conference in Nashville last week; Stacy Mitchhart, who played guitar with his tongue at BB King's (also in Nashville); and the range of emotions our family experienced as we came together to bury Wayne's brother Chuck's ashes in Riverview to name a few.

I guess some concepts take time to bubble up in your brain. When I bought coffee at Starbucks this morning, and the cup said, "We don't just want to make your drink. We want to make your day," my burning takeaway question from the QATC congress crystallized. Being that I am responsible for the Customer Service function for Florida KidCare enrollees and applicants (at least a large portion of them), but the people providing most of the customer service are with a contracted entity, what can I as one person do to shape the experience of our callers (and emailers and webchatters and letter writers)?

I recently read a quote about how rapidly our minds and spirits can become uncentered; a transition that occurs before we are conscious of it. I have been in this job for 15 years, and it has become way too easy to say how the individuals who speak to our enrollees day in and day out "should" do it while I veered close to "settling" for getting the job done, not "Getting the job done!"

There were SO many ideas at my conference last week. It was really invigorating to participate in the session with the trainer from Coca Cola, who loves her product -- I think all of her reps do too. As I am writing this, the old Coke ad campaign, "Coke is It!" comes to mind.

Helping applicants and enrollees wade through the intricate web of their children's health coverage options and the attendant administrative details isn't as exciting as encouraging people to consume a soda they probably already love.

How, how, how do I make any positive change in a group of approximately 60 employees who have many different imperatives? Pressure to handle calls quickly, various levels of supervisory input (if the training people and the quality people tell me two different things, who do I listen to, and why is this mom on the phone crying?)

Clearly the change begins with me. Am I just "making your drink"? Am I even doing that? How do I (with my immediate staff and a whole group of people in a subcontractual relationship) get from "making your drink" to "making your day"?

It might be about as challenging as playing the guitar with my tongue.

Hopefully once I am there, though, people's experiences will be the equivalent of the rest of the text on this cup. Where Starbucks says, "It's not just coffee. It's STARBUCKS," hopefully our callers will say, "It's not just health care. It's KIDCARE."

I'll "run" into everyone next week!