Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Short Informational Meeting (and a Small, Tasteful Gift)

Henry David Thoreau warned that enterprises requiring new clothes should be avoided. I have an addendum for that one, Hank: walk quickly in the opposite direction whenever someone says that you are required to attend a short informational meeting.

Some people’s summers have been full, as Jack Nicholson famously said, of good times and noodle salad. My summer, on the other hand, has been full of informational meetings. I‘ve gotten the folder, received the complimentary pen and sipped the watery decaf. As the proceedings have unspooled, I have (so far) refrained from laying my head on the conference table and moaning; nor have I attempted to poke out my own eyeballs with that complimentary pen. And don’t think I haven’t been tempted.

A quick review of my summer includes the foster dog volunteer who made me drive all the way to the outer rings of desperate suburbia, and then informed me, upon noting my prompt arrival, that we’d postpone start time for 45 minutes “because people are running late.” When she followed up this news with the 411 that the meeting would be THREE hours long, I died, just a little bit, inside. The three-hour training turned out be one hour of useful information, larded with a two-hour-storyfest that covered every dog she’d every cared for, including a lengthy discourse on pustules that was not, I have to say, an appetite-booster.

I've got enough material for a SIM (Short, Informational Meeting) Hall of Fame & Shame.  Shame is for for the Crisis Nursery staffer whose idea of a four-hour training was to make the volunteer group take turns reading the training manual aloud to each other. Fame is for Shari DeBlieck at VEAP, whose information-packed volunteer introduction meeting stayed true to her promise.  It started on time, lasted exactly sixty minutes and included green lollipops at the end. Snaps to Shari.

Back here at home, Emma has officially become a Citizen of the World. Hosting an exchange student turned out to be her lifelong dream. Who knew? If this turns out to be the same sort of lifelong dream that the guitar was in fourth grade, we’ve got a problem, because we have a sixteen year old Italian arriving on Saturday, and I don’t think she’ll be happy with two weeks of enthusiasm followed by six months on the floor of Emma’s bedroom closet.

For an enterprise as lofty as world citizenship, there was both a home visit and a SIM. I sat for the requisite three hours in another room in another suburb, hearing many a wry anecdote of La Vie Internationale. Helpful tips included the suggestions to arrive at the student pickup point with a “small, tasteful gift.” Say again? Many families, I was told, had created interpretive posters and meaning-laden artwork.

Dear God.

We had a family discussion on the S. and T. gift idea, which went something like this:

Me: How about a photograph of us? We could be holding a sign that says “welcome.” I could even go to the dollar store and get a frame.

Emma: Gum. We should give her gum.

Me: After a pause for a Brian Keith rub of the face ("Family Affair” on You Tube!) Honey, it needs to be meaningful and welcoming.

Emma: Nothing says “welcome” like gum. If I came to a foreign country, full of foreigners, the one thing I would want is gum.

Me: It’s supposed to be lasting.

Emma: Minty mintiness, that’s what anyone would want.

Me: Let’s think about it and regroup tomorrow. Meet me in the living room at six p.m. for a short informational meeting.

Emma: Bring gum. I don’t go to meetings without gum.

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