02 September 2019

Fall Cleaning

Turning A Corner

As an adult who isn't a student or working in the education fields or a farmer or fisherman or construction worker or tourism industry worker, my work projects often last more than the nine months of the school year, and more importantly, there is never a time, even briefly, when all of your projects are completely finished before a new set of projects begin. But, the school year still defines the life of a parent, even when your kids are in college far away from home. The new school year is as close as one gets to a new clean slate beginning in middle age.

My son and daughter are ensconced in their college dorm rooms in New England for the year, my two nieces are beginning the 6th grade years in school, and my nephew is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief at having his very chatty sister out of his hair during the day as he continues at the grindstone of home schooling in his eighth grade equivalent year doing so. I am done traveling until Thanksgiving after trips to Greece for a 25th wedding anniversary trip and a trip to Providence to get my son settled into school, although my dear wife will be jet setting on a couple of trips before then, seeing family, this fall.

Fall Cleaning and an MS Word Rant

After two decades with kids at home, it is amazing how easy it is to be uncluttered when they are both gone. And, clearing out the clutter is a nice way to quietly recognize a new phase in life. 

In fairness, my fairly conscientious kids, with not a little nagging, also did a lot to get their own rooms and the house, in general, in order before they left and purged a fair share of their own obsolete junk in addition to what they took with them in my daughter's full sized SUV filled to the gills with two kids worth of stuff to move into their college dorm rooms. The lawn got mowed at the very last moment, the house was well vacuumed, pictures that had been displaced from painting work got hung, and so on. 

The task was already half done after frantic efforts to get the house in order for a high school graduation party with lots of out of town guests and reorganizations needed for some home repairs and minor upgrades (all intended to be finished before graduation, but some of which took well into the summer).

The last of these tasks, which I hope to make a dent into this evening when its not 98ยบ with the sun beating down and no wind, and perhaps finish next weekend, is to clear various kinds of landscaping and camping and sports stuff out of my garage (designed with the 1920s and 1930s cars in use when it was built in mind), so I can squeeze the car my son left behind in there until he returns for winter break, so I don't have to get tickets if I forget to move it on street sweeping days or for leaving a car idle parked on the street longer than allowed by law.

It's not just physical clutter either. I used dead time while traveling to and from Rhode Island to update software, delete space hogging files and applications that I don't need, put electronic files in the proper folders, etc.

I also took a shot at making the style sheet in the default document on my version of Microsoft Word closer to my standards which I must always redo from scratch with each fresh document not recycled from a previous one. It is surprising hard to do that in a system that is so focused on styles and maximizing opportunities for user customization. I want fewer options easily available for my daily work. I would be happy to go through extra clicks to consider fonts and colors and other formatting options I never use, for example. Ideally, formatting options never used for a long period of time would automatically default to a background status that would require extra clicks to use so as to reduce clutter in the user interface. Likewise, I wish it were easier to make style functions that I do use more prominent (e.g. superscript, subscripts, Greek and mathematical and typographical characters). The fact that Microsoft doesn't do these things reflects poorly on their corporate culture. The fact that third-parties don't offer software that resets defaults to better standard sets likewise reflects poorly on the domestic IT industry culture (whatever the cause of that may be).

While strictly coincidental, two years after the building was purchased, after sixteen months of renovations before we could move in featuring delays in getting permits and construction delays, and eight more months in occupancy, the punch list items from the construction are now almost done and my building where I have my new office is finally very presentable. The outside looks complete now, and we're getting ready to clear out the last office stuff and construction materials out of our garage at work so we can use that in the winter. Now, if we can just get our industrial sized copier, printer, scanner, fax machine to work for more than a week without needing repairs . . . . Law offices use a lot less paper and snail mail far fewer things than we used to, be we aren't entirely weaned from that yet.

Mission Accomplished

Our nest is empty. 

In some ways, it is time to say "mission accomplished" in the parenting department. My children are both adults (although, for some perverse reason, there are only a handful of motels and hotels in Boston that are willing to rent rooms to adults under the age of twenty-one, let alone rent cars to them). They got into good colleges that they will be able to attend student loan debt free when they attain their undergraduate degrees. My oldest will graduate in the fall after three years with a major in environmental science and a minor in managerial economics and will turn twenty one a month later. My son may someday find out what he wants to do with his life. Or not. They've both had serious significant others for extended periods of time, who may or may not be around for the long haul. They are capable of surviving with only minimal assistance at this point and even if both my wife and I passed suddenly in some accident, they'd have each other, extended family on both sides, and many friends to turn to for support, as well as a modest inheritance and a substantial sum in the form of term life insurance payouts to provide (realistically) more financial support than we would have provided to them and their families over the next several decades of our lives.

According to sources cited by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers", most of the economic boost that the children of people with high socio-economic status and affluence receive in life comes not from inheritances received when their parents die or large lifetime gifts during their lifetimes, but from the human capital and education that they acquire from their parents grown up and in their early twenties. Some of that goes all of the way back to genetics and pre-natal good health they have received before they are born. More comes from good parenting, great opportunities, and most importantly, a lack of severe deprivation, neglect or abuse (what J.D. Vance in his memoir the "Hillbilly Elegies" refers to by the psychologist and social worker's terminology of "Aces" which stands for "adverse childhood experiences") growing up. A bit comes from opportunities to attend the right college and universities and the connections that they can benefit from on the eve of and at the very dawn of their careers.

Obviously, parents are not irrelevant even in adult life and grandparents can pass on benefits to their children and grandchildren, although my sense is that this contribution has been greatly diminished as of the early 21st century and also is a role that can be filled quite adequately by someone who isn't a blood relative if need be.


So, with all of these changes, and the mission of parenting, if not actually fully accomplished, at least greatly diminished, the time has come to consider where to refocus my efforts and what goals to give greater emphasis.

For example, one of my wife's goals was to get everyone to compete in an athletic competition this year - something that she and the kids have already done, and now I'm signed up for my own baby step, a one mile race while she runs a 10K, in a few weeks.

It is time to contemplate, reconsider, reinvent, and redirect. And, the quiet discipline of "fall cleaning" is a good way to let that cauldron of decision-making simmer in my unconscious background, with mental resources not diverted to other tasks.

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