Tag Archives: friendship

I Said I’d Never Write About Politics, But I Know Paul Ryan and I’ve Got Some Advice.

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Who am I to Paul Ryan? No one and everyone.

I’m a forty-two year old suburban mom who knew Paul in college. I’m also a registered Democrat who has voted for both parties over the last twenty-four years. I live in Colorado, a state that offers electoral votes crucial to the outcome of this year’s presidential race. I’m a bleeding heart who lives in a gated community. I’m self-sufficient, yet I feel a responsibility to help others who are in need. As a voter, I’m a pretty interesting mix, difficult to label and hard to define. In my experience, most women are, and from what I understand, our demographic will be a deciding factor in November.

Who is Paul Ryan to me? Someone to watch.

As a U.S. citizen, I’m troubled by the precarious spot our nation occupies on an international chessboard of pieces in constant flux. I don’t support finger-pointing and placing blame for an economy that was weakened by both parties as much as free will. I’m concerned about the future of my children. I dislike negative politics and am frustrated by the inability of our bipartisan House and Senate to find common ground. I’m an optimist who believes tomorrow will be a brighter day, but I see real storm clouds in my direct line of sight. I want our country to move forward, and I’m worried about falling behind.

I’m a daughter, a sister, a mother, and a friend. I vote with my head and I vote with my heart. I read. I listen. I debate. I decide. I’m a potential liability and asset to both campaigns.

Three generations of women who don’t always vote the same way. Image via Stacie Chadwick

And with Mitt Romney’s introduction of Paul Ryan as his running mate, I’m now engaged in this race in a way that I hadn’t been before. Maybe it’s the deepening differences I see in the platforms of the two opposing parties. Better yet, a curiosity around the potential impact of a clear, if not controversial voice. Perhaps it’s due simply to the fact that I know Paul. More likely, it’s my hope that he’ll take the time to reacquaint himself with me, and by that I mean millions of women like me who will vote in the upcoming election.

I also consider Paul to be a friend. Am I jumping on the bandwagon headed straight from Janesville, WI to a national stage? Probably. Although I’ve followed his career, I haven’t spoken with Paul in over twenty years. But something about his addition to the shape of our legislative landscape piques my interest. Regardless of political beliefs, I’m proud that we graduated in the same class at Miami, watched votes together in the Senate gallery when we interned in D.C., and hung out on campus. I’m betting on an accurate memory of the person he was when we were college kids masquerading as adults, and a time-honored belief that as individuals, we don’t really change. In the heat of battle, we often forget the people behind the politics. I knew him as a smart, ambitious, honest guy with Midwestern values and a focused vision. I’m sure he still is. And now? He’s running for Vice President of the United States of America. When I tell my children that they can be anyone they want to be, I can now point to someone I know who is.

Children masquerading as adults. Image via Stacie Chadwick.

So surrounded by a cacophony of shrieks and giggles sung by kids who are stealing the last ounce out of summer on their way back to school, enough dirty laundry to fill a semi, and a stack of bills, I’m doing what I said I never would. I’m flipping my position and writing about politics. I’m offering unsolicited advice to someone who pays people to advise him. I do this because I’m a woman and a friend. It’s my nature. Humor me.

***

Dear Paul,

Mitt Romney’s misspoken reference to you as “the next president of the United States” plays directly into what should be the underlying backbone of your political strategy. Run with a broader vision than the role of Vice President and set your own course.

Show us how you simultaneously lower government spending and make a real commitment to education and job creation. As mothers, we have children who are high school dropouts and can’t support themselves, and post-college boomerang kids who are underemployed. We understand that there’s a real chance their generation will reach a ceiling constructed at a lower height and of lesser materials than ours, buttressed by flawed trusses and support beams. Show us a concrete plan to correct a system that’s broken and produces students who continue to slide behind other countries in core curriculum, is rooted in the industrial age, and pays teachers much less than what they’re worth.

Addressing the economy is a given, so consider looking at it from our point of view. As mothers and wives, we’re often the emotional backbone as well as a financial anchor for our families. What we earn in a paycheck we give back in time spent away from our children. Dig deeper than budget cuts and tax reform in addressing our role in this issue, and show your sensitivity to our increasingly complex jobs.

The Wall Street Journal has championed your cause for years, but the majority of its readership is already part of your base. Embrace media outlets that will challenge your voice, but give you a long runway. With your intelligence and passion, a successful one-on-one with someone like Katie Couric could be a brilliant move, made more so by the failure of your predecessor’s endeavor.

Show us how you privatize Medicare without decimating it. We’re the daughters of aging parents and the mothers of children with disabilities, and often serve as emotional and physical lifelines to three generations of our family. We’re taxed and we’re tired, and yes, a little scared.

Disclose your tax statements. Immediately.

Follow your heart. The ugly side of bipartisanship is based on a world painted in black and white, when most of reality exists in various shades of gray.

Channel Alex Trebek and brush up on foreign affairs. You already know that Syria is further away from Wisconsin than Russia is from Alaska, so silence the naysayers.

Dial down the camo and the ammo. There’s a large group of undecided female voters who will roll their SUVs to save one of the thousands of overpopulated jackrabbits darting in front of their truck as they race off to the grocery store to figure out what’s for dinner.

Give us a small glimpse of the family behind the photo op. To the extent it’s not invasive, let us see the side of your life that we live every day…dropping the kids off at school after the tardy bell rings and staying up late to watch the Olympics as laughter turns to tired tears. We’ll relate to the emotions behind the smiles on your annual holiday card because we know how many tries it takes to get the perfect picture.

My family had to climb a fourteener, build a guard rail, and go without water for three days to get this pic. OK, not really, but it felt like it. Image via Stacie Chadwick.

You’re a well-versed, physical, engaging public speaker: use your open hand gesture and tone down the finger pointing. The first makes us feel included and the second one doesn’t.

You’re an athlete, you vacation in Colorado, and you love the outdoors. It might be a good idea to take a well-documented run through our great state. There are a lot of thirty to fifty year-old female voters who are athletes, live in Colorado, and love the outdoors.

Act like both a CEO and a salesman. Use your gut to champion causes and finesse to drive them home. Women follow people we trust and hire people we like.

Translate the budget deficit into a language we understand: a realistic picture of how the current trajectory will impact our children and our grandchildren’s lives is much more meaningful than rhetoric.

You’re at the heart of our demographic, and your youthful enthusiasm is appealing. Don’t run away from your age.

As women and constituents, we’re straight, gay, wealthy, and poor. We’re married, divorced, widowed, and single. We’re CFOs of corporations and Treasurers of the family budget. We’ve started businesses that have flourished and others that have failed. We’ve decimated our savings accounts and we’ve cut our discretionary spending to build them back up. We’ve sacrificed for our families and feel a twinge of guilt whenever we take time for ourselves. We’re smart, dedicated, and we care about the future of our country. We’re uneasy about the prospect of war but are passionately committed to taking care of our soldiers. We’re healers who want to leave the world a better place for our children than the one we gave them, and we’re not sure that we can.

We vote with our heads, and we vote with our hearts. Understanding the significance of that phrase is the key to your success in our demographic. Your introduction to this race has attracted our attention. My best unsolicited advice? Find a way to keep it.

Regards,

Stacie Whitten Chadwick

No matter where you go, your friends will always have your back. Image via Stacie Chadwick.

As always, please feel free to leave a comment. My only request is that you refrain from personal attacks and inflammatory statements. Due to the polarizing nature of the subject matter, this is my first and last foray into politics. I think.

The American Dream Wrapped Up in a Cannoli

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I first met Caity DiFabio at the epicenter of all clichés.  A bar.  On a trip to Louisville two years ago, bored and waiting for a friend, I settled onto a stool and ordered an Old Fashioned.  That such a young girl could serve an ancient cocktail the right way surprised me, almost as much as her sarcastic wit and quick smile.

English: Picture of an Old Fashioned cocktail,...

This cocktail is targeted at a specific demographic: old. Old Fashioned Image via Wikipedia

Eventually my friend showed up, Caity got off work, Old Fashions took a sharp left toward tequila, then dinner, which was a great excuse for….more tequila, enough laughter to annoy everyone at the bar who wasn’t in on the joke, and tears.  Lots and lots of tears.  If you happen to have two x chromosomes, you know that four seasons of emotion over a seared tuna salad with a stranger is rare.

Not only was I impressed with Caity’s mind, but also?  That girl could drink.  She was the one with her arm around me at the end of the night as I sniffled over a long-lost love and babbled my way into a cab.  Anyone who doesn’t agree that tequila is the ultimate truth serum hasn’t gotten to the bottom of the bottle.

This however, appeals to just about everybody, including your underage son. Tequila via Flickr

Even though she was hardly born the year I left Louisville to go to college, I knew almost instantly she was an old soul, and we would be friends.  Not the talk-on-the-phone-every-day-to-compare-notes-on-life’s-little-nuances kind of thing, but a real connection nevertheless.  It seemed what we had to say to one another mattered, regardless of the chunk of variable time and space placed in between.

So it came as no surprise when I got a Facebook message over a year later that she had something important to tell me.  Caity is from a family of restaurateurs, and spent considerable time in and around the kitchen growing up.  They had decided to open a branch of their restaurant in Louisville, and she was to be a key player in the new initiative.  At the time, she was excited and scared and nervous and ready, and was also only twenty-two years old.

DiFabio’s Casapela opened in 2010.  Caity was barely legal to crack the pop-top off a beer when her family launched the restaurant, much less understand the delicate balance between supply and demand, and that the term “management” is really just secret code for “what the customer wants, the customer gets.”

English: Beer cans and bottles.

Image via Wikipedia

Yet somehow she got it, and is doing it, and still has time to sit down over a shot of tequila and listen to the bleary-eyed stranger of the night lament the things that matter most.

Day after day and way too late into the evening she shows up, often early, to orchestrate the chaos and earn an MBA on the fly that kids her age pay up to $40,000 a year to buy.  If you ask, she won’t tell you that running a family business in a foundering economy is harder than she thought it would be.  She won’t mention the NOI isn’t always in the black, her stemware keeps disappearing, and she doesn’t get to see enough of her dogs.

Image via Flickr

She’ll just smile that impish smile, fill your glass, and substitute the Piccata for the Marsala, because you could have sworn that’s what you ordered (you didn’t).

At a time when corporate profits are being redistributed as dividends or kept in cash instead of creating jobs, and the stimulus package that was or wasn’t is debated around town, it’s the Caity DiFabios of the world who remind us what it means to pursue the American Dream.  All of it.

Image via Flickr

If she wanted to, Caity could simply ride the coattails of the lost generation, cash her unemployment check, and go home.  Instead, she’s building a business, hiring employees, and figuring out how to handle the bills.  And life.  Even when she’s supposed to be off, she shows up every day, regardless of what happened the night before, to do her job and roll with the tide of whatever crazy customer happens to come in the door.

I won’t bore you with my take on the gorgonzola filet versus the chicken parmesan.  This isn’t a restaurant review…it’s more of a critique on life.  As far as I’m concerned, Caity’s already earned a full five stars because what she’s doing is the heart of the American Dream, and I’ll take it with or without the sauce.

What Would You Do Differently Today if You Were Having Brain Surgery Tomorrow?

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For you and me this is a hypothetical question, because in that way we’re lucky.

But the rhetoric is real for my friend.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to get a fast food dinner to support some of my favorite families, because the restaurant was giving half the value of anything purchased that night to their school.  I’m all about the two-toned beauty of take-out and showing up when it counts, so to me, it was a win-win.

Based on the ginormous line snaking out the door when I got there, half the neighborhood agreed.  Regardless, I dutifully stepped up, wrenched my phone from the ankle-biters, and hummed We Want the Funk under my breath to pass the time.

George Clinton

We want the funk! George Clinton Image via Flickr

It seemed that the lady behind me, who was clutching two kids wearing the uniform of the school I was there to support, didn’t like old-school hip-hop.  Or me.  She was mad, and she wasn’t singing a decades-old song under her breath.  Instead, she ran off a litany of rants that sounded a lot like:

“This line is ridiculous!”

“Do people (me) think we have all night to order?”

“I can’t believe,” heavy sigh, “that someone (me again) would be on their phone in the middle of a restaurant.”

My son, Taylor, was at basketball practice, my husband out of town, I had two straight-from-the-pool, dripping wet daughters next to me, I needed to be three places at once, I wanted to be a good friend, and I quickly glanced at my phone to place the order Taylor had texted about an hour before.

That’s it.

She probably thought I was playing Fruit Ninja, or trolling Safari for articles about Demi Moore.  But I wasn’t.  I was just doing my job as short-order cook and chauffeur extraordinaire for the fam.  Oh yeah, and supporting her kids’ school.

Fruit Ninja is played by using a touch pad to ...

Fruit Ninja Image via Wikipedia

As the back of my head absorbed her string of accusations, it became obvious she was frazzled.  But no more so than anyone else.  Her kids were probably hungry.  Ditto that.  And she obviously didn’t mind taking the news ticker of complaints running through her mind straight to the street.

That’s where I stopped short.

I was this close to going there, and shoving my phone down her throat.  But my soggy girls, wilting by the minute and aware that something was off, stared up at me with a look that questioned a lot more than the menu.  So I kept my mouth shut.

A side view of a Rotary phone

A rotary phone is hard to shove down someone’s throat. Image via Wikipedia

Instead, I stood there and thought of twelve things I’d say to her if I were alone.  That night?  I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and thought of twenty-three more.  I completely obsessed over ways I could fictitiously tell her where to go and how to get there until the next day, when I found out about my friend’s brain tumor.

And then?  That lady disappeared, and instead of stalking my every thought, took up zero percent of my space.  Which is where she should have been all along.

I tell anyone who will listen, but especially my kids, that it’s the small things in life that matter.  What I don’t often let on, because I forget it myself, is there are many smaller ones that don’t.

With that in mind, I’m asking you to help me with one of those small things that matters most.  Whether you pray, think positively, or wish upon stars, please keep my friend in your heart.  His surgery really is tomorrow, he’s one of the good guys, and the world is a much better place with him around.

***

This is my friend's brain tumor.

What was your first thought when you found out about your tumor?

Am I going to die? Be paralyzed? Permanently brain-damaged? What am I going to tell my oldest daughter, Maria?

What is your present state of mind?

That my life is on hold.  I’m worried complications may draw out what I expect to be an unpleasant experience, and I’m not looking forward to a hole being drilled in my head.  I’m also hoping that I’m not too much of a burden on my wife.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be healthy, financially independent, and spend my days reading, skiing, trail running, cycling, traveling, and playing with my kids.

What is your greatest fear?

Disappointing the people who rely on me.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

My quick temper.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Intellectual arrogance and physical bullying.

What would happen if you elected not to have surgery?

The tumor would continue to grow over the years.  It would cause more hearing loss and balance problems, as well as ringing in my ears, and double vision.  It would damage nerves that would make the left side of my face droop.  I would lose the ability to close my left eyelid and my sense of taste.  I could have difficulty swallowing which would make it difficult or impossible to drink or eat, and I might have to be fed through a stomach tube.  I would suffer fine motor control problems in my left hand.  The tumor would eventually grow into the brain stem, which controls involuntary muscle like the lungs and heart.  My lungs and heart could stop functioning.

What do you consider your greatest achievements?

  • Graduating from West Point in the top 5% of my class.
  • Successfully leading my Army unit on long deployments in Bangladesh to build schools, the Kingdom of Tonga to build water desalinization plants, and Micronesia to complete various civic action projects for the islanders.
  • Finding a great woman to marry.

What have been your greatest struggles?

Growing up in poor in Harlem Heights, NYC with an alcoholic, chain-smoking, wife-beating father.  I hated being poor, so I resolved at an early age to do well in school so I could secure a more stable future.  I try hard to be nothing like my father.

What do you admire most about your mother?

Despite living a life filled with abuse and hardship, she is a patient, forgiving, and caring person.

What do you admire most about your children?

  • Maria’s sweet sensitivity (age 10).
  • Michael’s resilience and independence in the face of three surgeries (age 8).
  • Alberto’s easy-going personality (age 8).
  • Andre’s sense of humor (age 5).
  • George’s tenderness (age 3).
  • Ann’s rambunctiousness (age 2).

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

First, the fear of losing a child.  Second, being jailed in a small cell forever with a beautiful view of mountains that I will never be allowed to explore.

Has your prognosis changed the way you look at life?

I worry less about things that don’t really matter.  I worked way too hard and traveled too much last year, so I’ve changed that and am spending more time with my family.

What is your motto?

I have two.

The Seven Ps (from the Army): “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”

“Life is good.”

***

As I look back at these questions and my brave friend’s replies, I’m struck by something I’m embarrassed to admit.  Before this week, I didn’t know the majority of his answers.  I’d never bothered to ask.

In our daily sprint against a fading clock, it’s a lot easier to say, “How are you,” in the form of a statement rather than a question, because society is conditioned to respond with a unilateral “fine.”

“Fine” makes things easy.  It’s an all-encompassing reply that rests in the gray matter of our conscience and allows us to smile, nod our heads, and move on with our day.  “Fine” is a free pass that someone stuck under the windshield wiper in the grocery store parking lot.  It’s when you wave to a neighbor from the porch instead of meeting her at the curb to talk.  “Fine” is convenient.  It’s Facebook…a click, a thumb’s up, quick comment, and I’ve done my job.  “Fine” is one of the small things in life that doesn’t count.

There’s something wrong with a world where I‘d rather shove my phone down a stranger’s throat than stop to ask what’s the matter, or that I go deep with a friend only in the face of pending danger and loss.  Or maybe there’s just something wrong with me.  Either way, I don’t like it, and from now on I’m replacing “How are you?” with “Who are you?”

It’s a small change that leads to a big question, and I, for one, would really like to know.  If I were having brain surgery tomorrow, that’s the first thing I’d do differently today.

02/16/12: I’m happy to report that my friend’s surgery was a success.  He’ll spend the next week recuperating in the hospital, and then he’s homeward bound to rest some more.  All of your thoughts, prayers, and positive wishes made a difference.  Thank you.