As long as I can remember my father encouraged me to make new friends and to be very kind and encouraging towards others. This time of year your local health club is the perfect place to make friends. Over the past twenty or so years, I have been a gym member in different towns and cities, and I have never had anyone address me with disgust or venom, or even much annoyance. Most gym goers seem much happier after speaking with me, and tend to stay at the gym longer, as do I when I have a friend to talk with. “Wow! Your triceps look awesome!” I mentioned to a girl about my age recently, “I just learned that our triceps have twice as much surface area than biceps, but you must have learned that a long time ago!” My daughter Annie often parrots me, but is starting to come up with her own compliments. “I like your sparkly shirt” she said the other day to the cashier as we were paying for lunch. At road races, when I cheer for a runner, Annie will yell out the same number a few minutes later, “Go number forty-four” she yelled to the runners in Ocean Beach Park ten minutes after number forty-four crossed the finish line.
Imagine my surprise a few months ago when I heard, “Who do you think you are? I don’t think that you are a surgeon! You can’t just make up your own rules,” from a sneering man who was slowly peddling a stationary bike in front of me. Without ever speaking to me before or knowing my name, this man assumed that I was someone of little importance, and that he had the right to belittle me. I don’t make a habit of breaking rules of common courtesy, but I admit that I have ignored the “no cell phone calls permitted outside the lobby area” sign that is posted at my health club. I never have full phone conversations while I am mounted atop an elliptical machine, but I do sometimes confirm plans for meeting friends or inform my husband that I already picked up my daughter. I meet another mom at Whole Foods on a certain night of the week, but this particular week I needed to attend a meeting for a non-profit organization instead of meeting up with her for our “dinner”, which can be quite chaotic with four preschoolers at the table. This gym is particularly quiet from 1PM until 4PM since most people are at work during those hours. The child-watch area is shuttered during this time-window, which also eliminates the opportunity for stay at home parents to use the gym during these hours. If I do need to answer my phone or make a call during the more bustling time frames, I simply say to the person next to me, “I’m sorry, my husband/mom/dad/mother-in-law is just calling to make sure that I already picked up my daughter”. If one of my student’s parents calls, I always move off the equipment to a private area. I was not expecting anyone to chastise me at three in the afternoon for taking a one minute phone call, but the man reminded me twice that I “am not a surgeon”. I have never seen this particularly upset gentleman speak to anyone at our gym, but I do notice that he never wipes his sweat off any of the machines that he uses which is also against the rules of our gym and common courtesy. I do spend a great deal of time speaking to other professionals in my field such as Connecticut Association of Boards of Education’s Executive Director, Bob Rader, but I also know a great deal about the custodial and childcare staff members at my gym. Thanks to Bob Rader I was able to meet the 2012 Connecticut Superintendent of the year, Gary Richards, posing with me in this photo. Richards, Colgate class of 1969 and I, teacher, mother of two year old Annie, and Colgate class of 1998 attended a presentation called “CABE’s Response to Next Ed” during which time the Superintendents and Board of Education Members were able to ask questions about some of the 140 recommendations outlined in the NextEd report which can be found at www.ctnexted.org. With both Richards and I very concerned about the high cost of Special Education, especially the potential for lawsuits, we were pleased to learn that CABE continues to support more pre-school programs to be added, which greatly insure children’s future school success and decrease the future special education costs. Childcare is extremely costly in our state, even for those families with two incomes. For families with more than one preschool age child, it is not uncommon for the childcare bill to equal the entire salary of one parent after taxes. If a parent were to relinquish his or her job for several years, there is no guarantee that he or she will ever be able to be hired in a similar position in the future. If my husband and I did not have our parents in the area who are physically and financially able to care part-time for our two year old daughter, the yearly cost of her education would be more expensive than one year’s tuition and boarding at the nearby Central Connecticut State University. Still smarting from the crotchety stranger’s comment that I “am not a surgeon” I mentioned to Gary Richards that I am not a high ranking supervisor, but “only an English teacher” and he said never to say that, of course I am not “only” anything. I couldn’t agree with Richards more. How would Gary's wife Sheri Richards who is also posing with me feel if someone said that she was "only" a classroom teacher. Sheri also raised three girls who attended Wilton Connecticut Public Schools where her husband Gary has been Superintendent for the past twenty-seven years. If you don’t know as much about the people who keep your office building clean and operational as you do about your boss, now is the time to strike up a meaningful conversation. As I learned recently, not everyone will find me immediately charming, but it’s worth the risk to open up anyway. You never know when someone needs somebody to talk to, or needs a nice compliment to get them through their day!