Think About It

My earliest memory of math is the homemade flashcards my mom made out of index cards to help me get faster with my addition and subtraction skills, and later my multiplication skills. Remember those sheets you would get in school that you had to try to get done in like five seconds or something dumb? I was slow and my mom wanted to help me get faster.

I hated those damn flashcards.

A few years later came fractions. If I thought I hated those flashcards, then fractions were straight up devil’s work.

Looking back, I blame the way math was taught, but that’s a whole different post. The fact was that math was hard for me, but I didn’t want to fail.  And my parents didn’t want me to either.

Fast-forward to nightly math homework starting in middle school with all the equations and fractions. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my head in my hands. Whoever had those textbooks in the years after me will probably find small wrinkled spots throughout the pages where my frustrated tears landed.

My mom, while naturally a numbers person (she’s an accountant), is more of a number organizer than a math person. My dad, on the other hand, has worked with fractions his whole life. He worked for Herman Miller–an office furniture giant–as a model maker. He and his team made the first prototypes (and following models) of what the designers dreamed up. Fractions were pretty much second-nature to him.

But he didn’t attempt to re-teach me fractions. Instead, he re-read the math problem with me. Thought about it and then said to me, “Think about it, Kate. Think about it.”

He wasn’t trying to get out of helping me, but he wanted me to really try before I gave up. He knew that I read the problem, got overwhelmed, and shut down. He wanted me to try to get it before declaring it impossible. Ninety-five percent of the time, that phrase was all it took for me to at least understand what the question was asking me. Often I still needed his help for how to set up the equation (especially if it involved fractions), but that simple phrase, “think about it,” was really telling me, “you can do this. I know you can, Kate.”

*************

This past fall, while discussing the accomplishments of my brothers and I in high school, college, and career, my dad said, “You weren’t the most naturally gifted of the three of you, but you were the hardest working.”

I smiled and nodded. All three of us did quite well for ourselves academically. Their stories are not mine to tell, but I can say we all graduated high school with decent to excellent grades and GPAs, and we all got into the universities of our choice.

What we did to get there, stay there (some of us), and beyond wasn’t so much a reflection on who was the smartest, my dad pointed out. And success wasn’t determined by anything other than what you wanted to do with your life and whether you worked to achieve it.

You weren’t the most naturally gifted of the three of you, but you were the hardest working.

I spent a few days pondering these words.

It’s not really fun to be called “not the most naturally talented” even if you know that what the speaker was saying wasn’t meant to be a put-down.

I knew my dad was trying to compliment me, but I kept turning the words over in my head for another week until the night of my dad’s retirement celebration and dinner.

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I’m going to confess something here. Even though my dad was retiring after 40+ years of working for the same company, I never thought about how this event was a big deal. The thing is, my dad is probably one of the most humble people to walk this earth. He just says “thanks” or shrugs it off if you tell him he did something amazing. So because he didn’t make a big deal about the event, I guess I forgot to too.

Then people he worked with started getting up and talking about how hardworking he is. They said phrases like, “Tom would say ‘yes’ to anything and then figure out how to make it work,” “Tom taught me that with hard work, you can do anything,” and “Tom is probably the hardest working person I have ever worked with.”

It’s one thing to know your dad believes in hard work, it’s another to listen to people talk about it and gush about how much they have learned from working with him.

That night I realized that my dad taught me about hard work too, and when he told me I was the hardest working of all three of his kids, it was one of the biggest compliments he could give. I didn’t just rely on my natural abilities (of which I had few), I decided I wanted to do well, and I did it.

“Think about it, Kate,” became my motto to myself through college when my dad wasn’t there to stand over my shoulder while I did homework or had to make a choice about going to class or sleeping in.

It became ingrained in my problem-solving and trouble-shooting when lesson planning, figuring out behavior plans, writing grad school papers, and even deciding what is the next best step for my career.

My dad’s words made a much bigger impact than just figuring out fractions, which if we are being honest here, I still have problems with, those words became how I navigate life.

*************

Happy 65th birthday, Dad. I love you and I hope I can teach Eddie, Charlie, and Alice all to “think about it.”

the unknown dream

In October of 2009,Cortney got laid off from one of the only jobs he had ever had. At the time he had a three-month old baby and a wife who was falling apart mentally.

Those were some dark times for us.

The history of his job is long and complicated, and I’m not really going to go into all that here. But I will say that not having to go to that place anymore was a sort of relief for him emotionally.

Just prior to being laid off, Cortney went back to school for Network Administration (shout out to my computer nerd, yo!). When the lay off occurred we talked about it and decided that no matter what, he needed to stay in school. As it was, he didn’t have any sort of degree and he had to have one to find another job.

That was the start of eighteen long months of unemployment.

Being unemployed was both a blessing and an epic challenge for our family. Looking back, having Cortney home full-time with Eddie for the first year-and-a-half of Eddie’s life was awesome. Christmas break meant we were all home together. Summer vacation had all three of us home. We could take family walks at 10am on a Tuesday if we wanted. My mom took us to the zoo as a family. Even though things were tight, we were able to be together.

Of course, we constantly struggled with how to make ends meet on my pay and Cortney’s unemployment checks, and lived with some harsh judgement from some people who didn’t understand that any job was NOT in fact better than no job. Now that we had Eddie, if Cortney got a job, it would have to be able to pay for daycare and still pay out for it to be worth it to our family.

That is when he made looking for work and getting his degree his full-time job.

Every day when Eddie would nap Cort would hit the books and apply for more jobs.

A year and a half.

I’d like to say we stayed positive the entire time, but that would be a lie. There were many times he felt discouraged and frustrated. There were times when my anxiety hit an all time high. In fact, it was six months into the unemployment that I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety.

But we marched on together as a team of three.

By the grace of God, Cortney and I were never distressed at the same time. If he was down, I would carry him with words of encouragement. If my anxiety surfaced, Cort would remind me that things would work out; we just needed to have some faith.

And three months before Eddie’s second birthday, Cortney found a job. A job he knew. A job he loved.

For about the first year, he tip-toed around waiting for a non-existent “other shoe” to drop. He waited for this job to not be real. He waited…but it just stayed awesome.

No. That’s not true. After about a year working for them, Cort suggested a Craft Brew Lunch on Fridays to go along with the pizza the bosses bought and it became a hit.  So the job actually got AWESOMER.

Exactly a year after he was hired, Charlie joined the family.

This job has been incredibly understanding and flexible when kids get sick or we run into snags with childcare. Cort’s bosses became more than just the guys who called the shots, but guys who he enjoyed working for and with.

Another year went by and there started to be some talk. Talk of a new job. Talk of new opportunities.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declared the Lord..."

As of December, Cortney (and I, I suppose) became part-owner in start-up company with the guys who were his bosses for the past two and a half years.

The company he was working for did installs of trusses (those are the things that make the roof on a building…in case you didn’t know).  The company Cortney was laid off from four years ago built the trusses.  The company he and these three other guys are starting is another company that builds the trusses.

Have I confused you yet?

Cortney’s official position is Co-Owner and Vice President of Sales and Estimating for his new company.

I am so proud of him.  In the short month that they have been accepting bid requests they have been slammed. This is a good thing. Jobs are coming in to be bid which means there is a lot of interest. Again, yay!

In the almost ten+ years that Cort and I have been together, I have never seen him happier or more content in his job. He is enjoying what he is doing.

Better yet, it’s in his blood. Both of his grandfathers were small business owners, and so are many of his uncles. And so was his dad.

I know his grandpas and dad are slapping each other on the back in Heaven over Cortney’s bravery and accomplishments.

I’ve been asked if this is scary to me, and I can honestly say “no”.  I completely believe in this company, in Cortney’s partners, and mostly in Cortney.

We feel like our dreams might be coming true…in ways we could never imagine.

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