Burnt Out

I don’t like to blog about my job because one of the drawbacks of living in a small state like Maine is folks tend to know who you are so things like anonymity just don’t exist even on the web. Hell, a good portion of my Twitter followers are Mainers and it turns out the degrees of separation even on a site like Twitter when it comes to Mainers is probably about 2 degrees at best.

Yet as I have been reading some real cool blogs lately that talk about the non-profit sector as well as related articles, I feel there is a segment of the non-profit world that writers and consultants leave out. That would be those of us that work at the tiny of tiniest agencies. I am talking the agencies and organizations in many parts of the US that do serious front line work like food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters where at best there is 1-2 paid staff members and a cadre of volunteers that provide the services. The IRS recently instituted guidelines this year that all 501c3’s must now file a 990 so that they can get a better sense of who really is out there in the non-profit sector. The best estimate is that there is approximately 31% of all US charities have gross receipts under $25,000. That means until recently those folks didn’t have to file a tax return, yet that is a hell of a lot of agencies doing work and making do in many cases with some less than optimal situations.

I know because I work at such a place, granted our gross revenue is higher than the previous  minimum threshold required to file taxes but our budget doesn’t even tip 6 figures. Which when you consider the fact we are in the business of providing after school and summer programming for kids is a miracle. It’s a good thing we are faith-based because we are praying daily to keep the doors open.

Lately I have been encountering others like me though who love the work we do yet we are burnt out. However unlike life in any major sized city where even with the economic downturn if one gets truly tired of their job, one can generally make the decision to look for work at another agency it becomes virtually impossible to do that in a rural state. In 8 years of living in Maine, very little of mid and senior level management positions have turned over at any of the larger agencies in my part of the state. Of course not! Where would these folks go? Unless they are leaving the state or hanging out their shingle as a consultant or retiring from the work force, there simply is no place to go.

Which means for Gen X’ers or even some of the Gen Y folks the only viable options to get management experience is to take on the leadership roles at the tiny agencies. Yet after 18 months in my current position, I am burnt out. I wear multiple hats at my job, oh let’s share all the hats I wear: program director and designer, chief fundraiser and sole grant writer, director of volunteer management, manager of the actually site (though I do have a solid volunteer who works directly with the kids as well). On a bad week though I might even have to physically clean the facility! Two months into my position, my site guy was out on sick leave and I had to con the Spousal Unit into assisting me as I mopped and cleaned toilets. Yeah baby! Talk about the glamorous life of an Executive Director.

Though as you can imagine after 18 months of juggling all these balls in the air, it was only a matter of time before I started asking myself what the hell am I doing? I earn peanuts, have no paid healthcare benefits, thankfully I have a flexible schedule (why the hell not, I am the creator of the schedule) and generous paid time off. I will tell you that at the root of it all I love the work that I do, I love knowing our agency makes a difference, we are there for kids who have very little in terms of safe options after school and in the summer. Families trust us. Yet lately I struggle with the needs of my own family, since technically my gig is only part-time but like my predecessors I work closer to a 40 hrs a week schedule because simply put the job needs to be done.

In many ways the work I am doing goes against all I learned in grad school as well as in my job experiences in Chicago yet in rural and small town agencies it’s the only way to get the work done. Generally speaking I believe organizations have a responsibility to treat its employees well, pay them an acceptable wage and so on. On the other hand as the creator of my organization’s budget I know first hand what we can and cannot afford so realistically I can not get a salary increase when the money simply does not exist. Right now I would love to bring in a consultant to work with my board and jumpstart us towards creative and energizing ideas but that too is not within the grasp of our budget and none of my connections in the consulting world can take on a free job at the moment.

Previously I worked as a non-profit consultant with a focus on strategic planning and fundraising, most of my work was with small agencies and often we would have great sessions, renew the energy yet in smaller agencies without enough hands to do the work, such plans often go flat. So I am aware that even an excellent consultant can’t change the course of our ship without one hundred percent buy in from all participants.

So if you have ever worked or currently work in a small agency how do you stay sane? Share your tips and ideas.

Not all skinfolk is kinfolk…living in Maine while Black

From time to time well meaning friends and acquaintances who live back in Chicago or places with far more diversity than my current state of Maine will lament with me over how hard it must be to live in a state where to be honest there is not a lot of racial diversity. In my early days in Maine, I would often associate bad days with the fact that if only I had more folks who looked like me, all would be well. As if the mere presence of Black and Latino folks would be my magical Tara from which I would draw my strength.

In the past year though while I do wish certain products and services were more readily available, personally it bothers me less and less that there is not a great deal of diversity here. See, not all skinfolk is kinfolks to quote the marvelous Zora Neale Hurston. I was reminded of this recently when I went back to Chicago and actually decided to leave a day early after dealing with some interpersonal shit with my so called friends.

Let me go way back to a time when I was just a wee lass growing up in Chicago so you can get a sense of who I am. I grew up with two Black  parents who raised their 2 kids to be Black. Yet I was that geeky kid who well to be honest was bookish, my cool factor was diminished in the eyes of my aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members because we lived on Chicago’s northside and not in the hood. (considering my folks were Black hippies we were hardly living large, we were broke) I attended schools where in the early grades I was the only fly in the buttermilk to quote my Granny.

This meant when I got together with family and family friends I was teased mercilessly for talking and acting like a white girl. See Black Girl in Maine, cannot jump rope aka double dutch to save her life, my dancing skills are well limited though I actually keep time with the music these days and don’t make a complete ass of myself. Whenever I tried to hang with my folk’s fact is I got burnt emotionally and was made to feel like I didn’t belong and was not welcomed.

Last time I saw one of my most fervent torturers was almost 7 years ago when my Mom was dying and even then this relative tried to as we used to say throw shade on me and clown me. Only problem was at that point I was a grown ass woman and at that stage in my life with my Mom in rough shape I had no interest in playing those games. I also let that same relative know we could take it outside and she would learn that the lil girl she used to tease didn’t exist anymore. I might still talk white at times, but don’t get fooled, if need be I will handle my business. Interestingly but that relative died 2 yrs after my Mom and now what family members do talk to me, often talk about maybe there was value in the way my folks raised my brother and I. In our generation of the family we are the only two have had no brushes with the law, or any outward signs of hard living.

Funny thing is at this point and I think I speak for my brother we don’t give a rat’s ass about them; though the lack of family and my kids makes me stay connected in an indirect way because I feel my kids should at least know these folks. Even though not all skinfolk in ya kinfolk.

So yeah my relationship to most of my family except for literally a handful of folks is strained at best. I am not sure I fared better when it came to relationships with non family members. In the 5th grade I met a sista who has been in my life ever since. Yet some shit went down recently that has me realizing that not everyone we call a friend is a friend some folks are merely acquaintances even if we are tight and have known each other over 25 years. Those 2 facts don’t make us best friends forever…

Don’t get me wrong its not as if I have had lousy relationships with all folks of color and great relationships with white folks because that is definitely not true. No, instead I have realized its important for me to just be around good folks who nurture me and offer friendship who I can reciprocate with. Fact is some of the best damn people I have met in almost 40 years on this planet have been here in Maine. All except for a few are white but true connection allows for connecting across race and culture. Yes, there are differences and yes they can be annoying at times but at the same time it is very possible to make connections and find a home.

It’s that point that was brought home for me when I landed in Chicago a few weeks ago and as soon as I entered the terminal at Midway Airport, I saw a sea of faces that looked a like mine. For a moment my heart rejoiced but within an hour I was reminded again not all skinfolk is kinfolk as I stood in line for the bathroom and a woman who looked like me with a cellphone had a mouth so foul and believe me when it comes to cussing I can cuss with the best of them even I was bothered. It didn’t help that when our eyes met she gave me a look that chilled me, I would love to say that was a one time event but any illusions of connecting with the sistas went out the window. When I returned to Maine, I talked to a dear sista friend of mine who left Maine in the past year to be in a more diverse area and she confirmed that she too had had some of the experiences I had in Chicago on my brief trip. My girl had left Maine seeking to reconnect with Black folks for the sake of her own sanity and for that of her kids but realistically she had not found it though in her case she was close enough to her biological family that the move was still a good one.

There are places where Black folks connect and are good to one another, yet in many urban areas that is not the case, I am sad to say. Obviously there are a myriad of reasons for why our young are hell bent on destruction but coming from Chicago and being where I am now a place that while it lacks diversity and a few other things gives me a pace of life I do like. I think for now I am going to stay where I am until the wind blows me in a new direction.

Why People Beat their Kids

Disclaimer, its late and Mama has had a long day. When those two things happen, I tend to get slap happy and nonsensical, so if my bad sense of humor offends you, get a coke and bag of chips and push on. Otherwise if you are a frazzled parent, who is finally catching their breath now that the kidlets are asleep, pour a glass of wine or make a cup of tea and commiserate with me as I kvetch.

Preschool ended for the almost 5 yo kidlet a couple of weeks ago and while in my mind I saw us sharing many tender Mommy-child moments together this summer, my reality has been um…exhausting. The kidlet has always had sleep issues from age 0-almost 3 she would only fall asleep if she were physically carried or attached to one of us. There was a good 2 year period where I forgot what the Spousal Unit looked like at night since around 18 months he took over nighttime duty for fear he wasn’t going to wake up one day due to his frazzled sleep deprived wife snapping. Turns out the man is far better suited to going without regular sleep than yours truly.

Even when she started sleeping in her room last year she still required a parental unit’s involvement at some point in the middle of the night (yeah, I know developmentally appropriate and when your firstborn got the hang of sleeping at oh 6 weeks getting a kid the 2nd time around who hates to sleep rocks your fucking world) so to be honest its safe to say she has always had issues around sleep. Kidlet will go to bed late and wake up early. I tried the consensual route at one point believing that she would fall asleep when she needed and get the sleep her body required. Bad idea, instead we had a kid who was constantly over tired and making our lives a living hell.

No, it took getting hardcore and regimented and having a consistent schedule that seemed to make our lives easier though we still never knew (know) when she will wake up. So imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when she started sleeping late, I am talking almost 9 am! I felt like a brand new person being able to sleep that late instead of hearing the call at 6:45 am…”Mommy, Daddy I am up”. But all good things must come to end and that week of heaven on earth (think about the best sex you ever had, shit so good it was like heaven, the moon, the stars..you get the point) has ended only to now return to super early wake up time and a kid who is always high energy having even more energy.

It’s that energy that brings me to today, we were out as a family enjoying our community and time together, all said we were out about 7-8 hours and after a long warm day outside we (the big people) came home and were wiped out. Yet the kidlet came home and had more energy that 5 yo triplets combined. “Mommy, let’s play store.” “Mommy, let’s play dress up”…after reading 3 long stories, “Mommy can you read some more”? It went on and on. Finally I said “Chile, how about we watch some tv (sue me, if your kid doesn’t watch tv, well you are probably a better parent than I, hats off to you now pass me a drink!). Here I was offering unfettered access to the idiot box and she said no, um…..NOoooooooooo!

It was in that moment I realized just how easy it would be for a parent with less resources and more pressures to just snap on the kid. It’s the reason when you are in places like Target and the evil Wal-Mart you see parents just snapping on kids. Kids push our buttons, thankfully the Spousal Unit came in and ran interference and after being left alone for an hour I was happy to hang out with her. But dammit for a split second it ran through my mind how easy it would have been when she was having that whine fest to do as the ole folks would say and just pop her and tell her to shut the hell up.

So while I am not proud of the thoughts that ran through my mind, I am glad I had the ability to get back on track and be the best parent I can within my reality but at the same time I realized why some parents spank their kids. Its less about the kid and more about how we handle stressful moments.