Thursday January 3, 2013

I think it’s expected by now that when you go home for the holidays, something will surprise you, disappoint you or confuse you.

I went back to Ohio this past weekend to celebrate a belated Christmas and a Happy New Year with family and friends, respectively.

The 10-hour drive got me thinking that I can’t wait to see everyone and catch up with their lives. Despite Facebook, Twitter and whatever social media platform you use, a face-to-face conversation beats them all.

I was surprised to learn that some of the smartest people I know are stuck in a job that pays too little and requires too much work. One friend, Kyle, is in his late 20s, has a bachelor of science degree in journalism and works as a manager of a bar.

Now, you’d think "All right. Manager ain’t half bad." But working close to 70 hours a week with less pay than when he was a bartender is pretty bad. This man is clever and is bound to go further in his life. I was just expecting it to happen sooner for him.

A few other friends hailing from a concentration in journalism are working decent first-time reporter gigs at local papers and making close to a menial salary every year. Yes, it’s getting their foot through a door to bigger and better things, but with all of our debt just from going to school, it’s rough.

But commiserating over champagne and ringing in the New Year with poppers and yelling, we cried and laughed at ourselves for our decisions to go to school, to move away to pursue our career goals and to one day see each other on a daily basis.


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As I headed back to Massachusetts, I switched on the radio to a NPR station, where I heard that 60 percent of young people in Greece and Spain were unemployed (http://n.pr/XiViyr).

Well, damn, that makes me feel better about my situation. But how on Earth did it get to be that more than half of the most educated young people Europe has ever seen are unemployed?

NPR’s newscaster Sylvia Poggioli explained: "The major cause is, of course, three years of recession worsened by German-dictated draconian austerity measures, and rigid labor markets that make it hard to get full-time employment. And behind that is an outdated Southern European welfare model that favors older workers, mostly men, with full-time jobs."

There’s my holiday surprise of the year. I thought the American outlook was bleak, and I knew it was bad in Europe, but it didn’t hit me until I heard these numbers and that young people in Europe have no sense of future.

Here in America, I still have a sense of hope that I’ll be OK and so will my friends.

I don’t think it’s blind faith, either. It’s a matter of realizing what’s in front of you and first making the best of the situation, then figuring out how to make it better.

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While home, I, of course, got to visit with family. When you’re gone for a year, you have so much catching up to do and you have only a small amount of time to do it. That was the disappointing part of my trip. I never realized how large my dad’s side of the family was until we were all crammed into my uncle’s basement, trying to open presents without stepping on one of the wee children.

It’s a stressful situation, never made better by pushing and pulling from an outside source. Without getting into the messy details, I had to leave my family’s wonderfully fun Christmas party because a family member said I wasn’t spending enough time with my niece. My car was at her house, so I was in a corner of sorts. I see this side of my family once a year, and it’s for a single night. My trip home was meant to be a vacation, but this particular night turned into a drama-filled one that ended in tears because of a lack of communication.

It’s just a cliché that happens in every family each year, as I’m sure many of you can relate to. But how to deal with the situation -- that’s always the trickiest part. With this particular family member, I said "I love you" after we finally parted ways and didn’t say anything else for a day. It took a whole 24 hours, but I got an apology, and I apologized as well, because it was said and done and I just wanted it to be over.

Sometimes, just sucking it up and making quick amends is the best way to forget anything ever happened in the first place. But I’ll be reminded again next year, I’m sure.

n

P.S. In my last column, I wrote about some differences between life in Ohio and life in Massachusetts, but I forgot one. In Ohio, there are garage-like drive-thrus where you can purchase beer, wine, cigarettes, lottery tickets and snacks -- all without getting out of your car.

Call us Ohioans lazy, but I’ll be saying you mispronounced innovative. If this columnist gig doesn’t pan out, my boyfriend and I will make it our goal to bring these to the entire Bay State.

Write to Laura Lofgren at llofgren@berkshireeagle.com.