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  • Everyone Has A Story

    January 13, 2013

    I recently came across the Washington Post story of Joshua Bell, a world class violinist who agrees to work in cahoots with the Post for a story.  He positions himself as an anonymous sort of starving artist in a Washington DC subway playing for tips during morning rush hour — that is, a starving artist playing for tips with a $3 million Stradivari.  As he plays his glorious music, for which he earns millions, for which he has played for kings and queens, he is largely ignored.

    The story is not new, it came out in 2007, but I didn’t see it then because at that time I had a just turned four-year-old and I was as likely to have time to read the newspaper as I was to take trapeze lessons.

    Nonetheless, I came across the story on Facebook, and as you might expect, there were hundreds of comments about how awful people are because here they were in the presence musical genius and they neither recognized it nor would they take time to stop and smell the musical roses.

    I, however, did not think the story was about how awful people are for not recognizing Joshua Bell or stopping to enjoy awesome violin music.  Until I read this story I had not heard of Joshua Bell and I only somewhat enjoy violin music. Paint my collar blue.

    That people don’t recognize a celebrity out of context is not surprising, especially a non-Hollywood celebrity.  That the majority of people don’t recognize a famous classical musician is not surprising as the majority of people who can afford seats at the symphony are not the majority of the subway-riding working stiffs.  That people won’t stop and close their eyes and sway and appreciate musical beauty as they are late to work is not surprising either, because if they get fired, how are they ever going to afford symphony tickets?

    Recognition of celebrity or beauty out of context may have been the intended story, but I thought the real story was about how everyone you pass has a story — a tragic beautiful amazing heroic unique thrilling and wonderful story, co-written with a mighty creator.

    Everyone you pass has a story that is out of context.  The mom I often pass on the way to school, who wears yoga pants and drives the Mercedes, who never makes eye contact or speaks to me, who makes me feel like she thinks she is better than me — she has a story.  And if I knew her story, it might provide some context.  It might change my perspective.  I might view her differently.

    The mom who is 30-pounds overweight.  The mom who is always pulled together and volunteers for everything.  The mom who is a little too loud. The mom who lets her kid wear shorts to school in January.  The mom who….

    Everyone has a story, which in the subway station of life, is out of context.  And no, I’m not suggesting that we stop and take in the story of everyone we pass, because then we would never have time for those trapeze lessons.  But we can try to remember that everyone we pass has a story and that if we knew it, we would have the context to recognize the celebrity and beauty in them that God sees.

    The Lord does not look at the things people look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  1Samuel 16:7

     

    Wherein We Speak of YKW

    February 19, 2012

    Today’s topic is YKW, which shall be code for ‘you know what’ which shall be code for well, you know. . .  It’s not that I am Victorian when it comes to the topic of YKW, it’s just that I’d prefer Google not send a certain audience of seekers to my humble wholesome blog, so therefore I have developed my own dorky top secret code.  So then, now you are in the know about YKW.

    * * * * *

    Sean prefers to sit with AD and I in our Sunday school class.  And we don’t mind, we like having him with us.  He brings a book to read.  But he is also listening.  He’s always listening.  We know this because usually sometime around Wednesday, out of the blue, he’ll make some observation about something the teacher said.

    For the past several weeks, a family and marriage therapist has been leading the class on various aspects of the marriage relationship.  The next class, we were warned, would be on marital intimacy.  So of course we told Sean that he would have to go to his own class.  “Why!?” he protested, “Because you’re going to talk about s+x?”  Yes, I said, for that very reason.  “But I promise I won’t answer any of the questions!” he said.

    Sean has a good understanding of YKW.  He understands the physiology.  He knows that God created male and female, each with their own unique components for reproduction.  He does not yet fully understand how the components come together to make that happen because he is not ready for that.

    We decided early on that we would approach the topic honestly anytime the opportunity presented.  And one thing that has helped in that regard is that Sean has always been keenly interested in wild life and animals.  We have watched a lot of Animal Planet, where the topic is unavoidable and usually narrated in a British voice.  Which somehow makes everything seem more proper.

    One time when Sean was about five and my parents were visiting, Sean and my dad were sitting on the couch watching an episode of Animal Planet while the British guy gave a play by play of two lions engaged in YKW.  Sean, ever the educator, turns to my dad and flatly informs him, “The male is the one top.”  To which my dad replied, “Oh.” and then quickly excused himself to the kitchen to refill his glass of tea.

    Everyone has to develop their own parenting philosophy in terms of how and when to teach their children about YKW, so what follows is not to comment upon what anyone else is doing, but merely to say what has worked for us. Thus far.  We may find out years from now that our philosophy was a complete and utter failure.

    If I were to offer any advice in regards to how you decide to educate your children on this topic it would be to decide.  That is to say give some thought as to what, when and how you want your children to learn about YKW, and not wait to see how the world fills the void.

    Parenting often occurs in reaction to and against our own experience and this may be part of how our thinking on this topic developed — we looked back on our own experience and decided that maybe there was a better way.  I think for many of us Baby Boomers the best practice of the day was that somewhere around puberty, your mother or some other well-intended adult would ominously sit you down and give you THE TALK, maybe give you a book which covered the basic physiology illustrated with line drawings.  They would then dust their hands, relieved that the task was complete, thankful that we could all move on with our lives and pretend it never happened.

    The problem with this approach in my view is that it’s like getting a bucket of cold water in the face.  There was no information leading up to THE TALK (except maybe from unreliable peer sources), there was no context, and definitely no follow-up.  And it was incredibly awkward at a time when your life is one big hot steaming bowl of awkward.

    In light of that we decided to forego the bucket method, and opted instead for the dribble method – we would start early and give him little bits of accurate and age-appropriate information as the opportunity presented.  There would be no cabbage patch or stork or cute names for body parts.

    THE TALK approach, to me, always seemed to confer upon it a sense of shame, that somehow after THE TALK you don’t talk about it, ever, again.  We want Sean to talk to us openly and freely, about everything, but at the same time YKW is not a topic we want him discussing openly and freely outside of our family, for many reasons, but not the least of which is because just like Santa Claus, other families might be going the stork route and we want to respect that.  We don’t want Sean to be a spoiler or to get in the way of how other people are teaching their children.  So, we constantly remind Sean that this is a topic that we only talk about at home among the three of us, and never with others.

    When I was coming of age, my knowledge on the topic was like a book that was missing every other page.  I had bits and pieces of information here and there, but by no means did I have a complete picture or a useful understanding.  And I knew it.  I can still remember my freshman year of high school, the panicky feeling of knowing that I didn’t know what I thought everyone else knew, and trying to pretend that I did.  And that panic and pretending is awful, because you’re just waiting to be found out as the dumbest person ever.  And I don’t want for Sean.  I want him to have confidence in who he is and what he knows. I don’t want to leave wide open gaps for the world to fill with panic and ugly half-truths.

    That is why we want Sean to hear from us first on the topic of YKW – like the local news, we want to be his first and most trusted source of information!  Back to you AD in the studio!

    That he should hear from us first on this topic is the cornerstone of our philosophy — the two people who love him most and know him best, who have his best interest at heart and in whom he knows he can trust completely.

    We want to provide him with information on a level that is appropriate for him, in the context of our beliefs and values, with the understanding that physiology and faith are partners, not opponents, that one without the other is incomplete.  We want him to feel he can talk to us anytime, openly and without reserve or shame.  We want him to understand that this is a topic that is to be handled with respect, and therefore is private (not secret) and not public.

    If our philosophy is sound and works the way we hope, when the topic of YKW comes up on the playground, as it will if it hasn’t already, he’s heard it before, it is old news.  And hopefully he’ll yawn confidently and walk away.

    If not, he can discuss it with his future family and marriage therapist.

    A Big Conversation

    February 4, 2012

    We have a number of friends who home school their children and one of the traits that AD and I have observed in these kiddos that we admire is their comfort and poise in speaking with adults.  We are impressed with how they look us in the eye when speaking to us, how they speak in complete sentences, how they thoughtfully and appropriately engage us in conversation, both contributing and inquiring.   

    Of course it would be a gross over-generalization to attribute this solely to homeschooling but that seems to be the common denominator in our limited experience.  It could just be that our friends have terrific kids. 

    Most kids – and I’m sure yours is an exception - will answer in choppy one or two-word sentences when engaged by an adult and then look around nervously for an escape hatch. 

    All that to say, we have been working with Sean to help him to become a comfortable conversationalist.  We think it is a valuable life skill, one that we want him to develop.  For some kids this may come easily, for others, like mine, it will require some practice.

    So the other day, we were driving up to Tuna to see some of our relatives, whom we don’t see often enough, and we were preparing him to greet his great aunts and uncles and so we were role playing as a way to practice.

    Me:  Ok Sean, let’s pretend I am Aunt Doris.  And I say something like, ‘Why hello Sean.  You sure are getting big!’ – What would you say to Aunt Doris? 

    Sean:  You are too! 

    On second thought, maybe it would be better if he just said “Yup” and then hid behind my skirt. 

    Disclaimer:  Doris is NOT big, we don’t think Doris is big, no one at our house has ever said Doris and Big in the same sentence, ever, not once.

    The Value Of A Good Coconut Tree

    October 10, 2011

    Sunday was a slow and rainy day, very much welcome as we have not had rain here since 1996.  It’s true, ask my lawn.

    Rain brushed against the windows and falling acorns made the sound of popcorn popping as the wind shook them from the trees onto the roof.  Football noise filled the house and AD dozed on the couch in front of the TV.  Which left Sean and me with a wonderful afternoon of nothingness to fill.  It was a perfect day for artsy people like us, so we called up our inner-Picassos and sought out something creative to do.

    I recently found a box that had been stashed away for years, and inside was a bunch of artsy crafty things like markers, craft wire, beads, fancy papers and four small blank puzzles among other things.  I handed the bag to Sean to dig through to see what elements would inspire him. He chose the blank puzzles.  He wanted to make a puzzle to give to his dad to solve at such time as he awoke from watching the game. . .

    Before I even handed Sean the puzzle, I knew exactly how it would play out.  He would make three or four marks on the puzzle and then heave a big sigh of regret and slump his shoulders and hang his head – the posture of tragedy and lamentation.  He had messed up, nothing could be done to salvage the project.  It was not perfectly executed. There was no hope, none.  It was hideous and must be destroyed and hidden from view of the world.

    I remember doing the very same thing when I was about his age.  I would sit down with much creative energy and an artistic vision in my head, one about seven clicks beyond my skill level.  I would make a few marks on the paper and then feel disgust at what I saw.  It was not perfect.  Not even close.  Then I would wad up the paper and throw it in the trash, wanting no one to see.

    I would wad up paper after paper as I sought artistic perfection which never came.  And my mother let me.  Maybe she didn’t care about the wasting of paper or the environment, not very many people did in the 60s.  Or maybe the wadding and tossing of paper kept me busy which meant she could keep reading her book.  Nonetheless, I remember the frustration of not being able to perfectly transmit my idea to the paper and the dissatisfaction of never completing a project, never having anything to show for my time and effort.

    Unfortunately for Sean, I am not as easy going as my mother.  I don’t allow wadding and tossing.  I make him finish what he started.  He doesn’t like that I make him do that, but he lives under a momocracy and Queen AM decides the fate of all paper and art supplies around here.

    So I knew before I even handed Sean the puzzle that this is how it would go. That he would make a few marks and then heave breath and hang head and beg for a do-over.

    Therefore, I  preemptively gave my little speech on how he needed to think through and consider what he was going to do before he made one single mark.  Oh yes!  He knew exactly what he was going to do! He didn’t need a sketch or a thumbnail!  That is for amateurs!  He had an artistic vision! I said that was awesome that he was so far advanced, that even DaVinci made thumbnails.  I reminded him that this was a one shot deal, no do-overs, that he was required to complete the project no matter what.

    He decided that he would make a tropical scene, a palm tree with coconuts.  Unfortunately, about 63 seconds into the project, he decided that the coconuts didn’t turn out as he had hoped, which set off the heaving, hanging, slumping and lamenting.

    He looked up at me with the practiced expression of hopeful, yet sad watery eyes.  Might he please, possibly, please have another blank puzzle?

    And do you know what I said? I said No.

    I said you figure out some way to make the composition work – that is the creative process – figuring out how to make your mistakes work.  No one makes perfect art.  But those who make good art, have learned how to do so by working through the failures.  Those who keep wadding up paper and throwing it in the trash hoping the next effort will be better, never get better.  Art is about making something good out of your mistakes.

    Or maybe I was talking about life.  I don’t know.

    He didn’t like that I made him finish his coconut tree puzzle.  He said it was a terrible coconut tree and he frowned a sad frown.

    I don’t really enjoy making my child frown sad frowns (although it is kind of cute) but I know that some day, because I insisted, he will grow up to make good coconut trees, and you can’t really overestimate the value of that.

    Patterns

    October 9, 2011

    Last week Sean had an extra-credit homework assignment that involved investigating patterns.  He grabbed the clipboard and tucked a pencil behind his ear and off we set around the house to do some research.

    We walked around the perimeter of the outside of the house and took note of everything we saw that could be interpreted as a pattern.  He came up with flowers, leaves, the pumpkin, the fence, the roof shingles and the bricks.  Inside he determined there are patterns on the floor tile, the fabrics of the furniture, the Kleenex box and the carved Greek key motif on my desk.

    He illustrated each of the patterns, as the assignment required, and set it aside, ready to tuck into his homework folder.  That could have been the end of it, but I couldn’t let him stop there, there was just too much fun to be had.

    Instead, I asked him to classify the patterns.  He studied the paper for a moment and then said it seems to him that there are patterns that God made, like flowers, and then there are patterns that man made, like bricks.  That was a pretty astute observation, and again, I could have left it at that, but he seemed open to pressing it further.  So I suggested to him that perhaps there were more patterns in his life which were less obvious than those that he could see and draw.

    He tapped his pencil on the table as he cocked his head and squinted at the ceiling, a posture known to all to push the thinking ions into the brain.  I let him wrestle with it until I was sure he was stumped. Then I pulled the plastic place mat from under the paper upon which he had been writing, the one with the multiplication tables on it.  I handed it to him and asked him to study it for a moment and see if he could find any patterns.  A light bulb went off above his head, crackled and popped and then exploded into an Aha! cloud of smoke.  He quickly pointed out the 5 multiplication table, the repeating of the 5’s and 0s and also the 9s, how the numbers go up on one side of the answers and down on the other.

    Since we were on a roll, I had him close his eyes as I recited a poem for him.  Then I took him over to the piano and played a simple piece for him.  I had him clap the patterns.

    He went back to the table to add these types of patterns to his homework.  As he worked, I asked him if he thought these types of patterns that escape the eye but exist in the mind – were they God made or man made?

    We spent the next 15 minutes at the kitchen table, bending our brains around that idea and batting it back and forth, each trying to dismiss the theories and suppositions of the other.  My hypothesis was that God made mathematical patterns and man discovered them. Sean said he felt like man invented number patterns.  I told him that I could be convinced of that.  Maybe man invented numbers as a way to describe and make sense of his world, that perhaps math is just another language.  And for the first time in my life, the aroma of math was not clinical Pine-Sol, but appealing, lilac and romantic.

    And then Sean said, no, man created numbers so that he could collect taxes.

    Well, there’s that too, I suppose.

     

    Steve

    October 6, 2011

    I remember when I was 16, seeing the cover of some magazine that featured Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  Actually I don’t really remember if Wozniak was on the cover or not, all I remember is thinking that Steve Jobs is really cute!   I also remember thinking, wow, he’s just a few years older than me, so young to be so rich and successful.  And then, “I wonder if he has a girlfriend…”

    Steve never became my real life boyfriend, but he’s always been my pretend techno-geek boyfriend.  I’ve always had a crush on him, I’ve always had a thang for smart geeky guys.

    Steve changed the world in many ways, not the least of which, he showed the world that geeks can be hot and that being a geek can be a cool thing.

    But the biggest way he changed the world is in how we communicate and stay connected, how we learn and how we process creativity.

    When the news broke yesterday that Steve Jobs had died, I read different reports on his life and what various people had to say about him. They talked about all he had accomplished and how he changed the world with his products.  And it’s true, because of the products he envisioned and brought to market, people can do more in less time, be more creative, share more, connect more, learn more.  I am one of those people.

    I’ve always been a big fan of the “i” products and recently splurged on an iPad2 for Sean and I.  We love it with a deep intensity and use it all the time.  I have loaded it up with educational games for him and photography and design apps for me and just all kinds of fun and cool stuff.

    Last night Sean and I went out for an early dinner at Chili’s.  He confiscated the cardboard coasters off several nearby tables so that we had a deck of about 20.  While we waited for our food we tried stacking the coasters in different configurations to see what kind of load-bearing structures we could make and how much weight they could bear.  Answer:  Triangle structures can bear the weight of a drinking straw – if you hold your breath and no one bumps the table. When we got bored with that, we divided up the coasters.  I asked him spelling and math questions and if he answered right, he got one of my cards; if he answered wrong, I took one of his cards.  Very low tech, but fun for geeky geeks like us and just a tad educational.  But most importantly, we were engaged.

    As Sean and I were playing our silly made-up coaster games, I noticed a mom and little girl in the booth across the way.  The mom was staring into her iPhone and the little girl was watching something on her iPad, both bathed in the glow of their devices, a separation of less than two feet, but worlds apart.  I am not making a judgment here, just an observation. I realize there are many many reasons why a mom might need to decompress and veg out and that I have no idea what she’s dealing with.  But I will say that AD and I have taken note of how often we see this when we go out, families out to eat together, but not together – silent and zombie-like, the face and spirit of each lit up by their personal device.

    I thought about Steve Jobs and how everyone is talking about how he changed the way we live for the better, that we are better connected than ever.  But, I have to wonder, if perhaps in other ways, we are not changed for the better, if our beloved devices are more of a wedge than a bridge, if we are not more connected than ever, but more disconnected than ever.

    What do you think?

     

    * * *
    Addendum:  Found this post along the same lines from Jon Acuff who writes Stuff Christians Like: http://www.jonacuff.com/blog/how-to-improve-your-marriage-instantly/

     

    Jackets Lost And Found

    October 4, 2011

    So far we have had two chilly mornings.  So far Sean has worn a jacket to school two times. So far Sean has lost two jackets.

    So this morning, as he put on his 3rd and final jacket, I said to him that his first order of business today was to locate the other two jackets.

    “Mom,” he said, “If the jackets are not claimed within so many days they give them to someone who does not have a jacket.”

    “Sean,” I said, “That someone without a jacket may be you if you don’t come home with your jackets.”

    And I was not kidding.  I am a big proponent of Love & Logic parenting. If he comes home with no jackets today, tomorrow he will be mighty chilly as he walks to school.

    After seven years of parenting, I have yet to discover how to teach this child to keep track of his stuff.  I have tried to teach him that when you do not return things to their proper place, they become lost.  When you just put things down wherever you are done with them, they are not in their proper place and therefore — become lost.  When you do not put mommy’s scissors back in her desk, the proper place of scissors, they are not there when mommy wants to use them, and they become lost.  And that makes the vein in mommy’s neck bulge just a little.

    The constant losing of stuff is a source of aggravation to me for two reasons.  1) It somehow becomes my job to find or replace the lost stuff, usually at the very inconvenient 11th hour and 2) I am not now, nor have I ever been, one to lose stuff.  I obsessively keep track of my stuff.

    I grew up with not a lot and if I lost my stuff, I would have been transferred from the “grew up with not a lot” category into the “grew up with nothing” category.  There just wasn’t any getting more stuff.  Period.  Papa Ed and Vivian practiced Love & Logic out of necessity, long before it was a parenting philosophy, long before people said stuff like “parenting philosophy”.

    Last fall, Sean lost his jacket the very first day he wore it.  It was a very distinctive beige and black plaid jacket that I loved that someone had handed down to us.  I had an inexplicable sentimental attachment to that jacket — probably because when he wore it with the hood pulled up, all I could see was my own 1st grade face and that melts my heart like butter on a hot waffle.

    At any rate, several times a week I would go up to the school and rifle through the lost and found box of MIA lunch boxes, jackets and water bottles looking for that jacket.  And let me tell you, that is not an especially pleasant job.  That lost and found box falls into the category of “smells not that great.”

    Finally I gave the jacket up for lost, grieved it and went to the resale store and bought him a bright orange jacket for $5.  I figured that maybe he would be less likely to lose an orange jacket, and if he did, I was only out $5.

    But then in the spring time, when it warmed up, Sean came home with the brown and black plaid jacket.  Which was now too small.   I could never get clear how the jacket resurfaced, if Sean checked the box again and there it was or if at the end of the year, some kind soul looked through the box and saw his name in the jacket and returned it to him.   If the jacket could talk, I’d ask where in the heck it had been all year.

    And maybe the jacket would say he went home to spend a season with a little boy who was growing up with not a lot.

    If Mother Teresa Had Shopped At Walmart, She’d Just Be Teresa

    September 30, 2011

    I love the Mother Teresa quote which says, “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

    I would like to be like Mother Teresa, to be able to say that my life is a love letter to the world, but some days, I’m afraid my life looks less like a love letter and more like graffiti.

    The other day I went to Walmart to pick up just a few things, and is always the case, when I walked into the store there was no one in the checkout lanes.  The lanes were so empty you coulda gone bowling.  The cashiers were standing in the main aisle chatting and looking around hopefully for someone to checkout.  Ten minutes later, when I had gathered my few things and headed towards the lanes, they were backed up, three deep.

    But that did not matter, for I was in a love-letter-writing-to-the-world mood.  I stood in line behind a lady who was apparently stocking up for the apocalypse.  But what did I care? I was all love, peace, patience, kindness, yada yada —  I was busy browsing the September issue of Good Housekeeping (the one with Meredith Vieira on the front; I’m featured somewhere around page 150, in case you care).

    Now let me pause here and say that someday I am going to write an entire series on grocery store etiquette, but for now, I will just tell you that at the top of the list of grocery store do’s and don’t is this:  Don’t crowd the person checking out.  They own that space until they have been cleared for takeoff and pushed away from the checkout tarmac, so BACK OFF.  I hate it when I am not even done loading my stuff on the conveyor and the person behind me starts putting their stuff on.  It makes life complicated.  As well, don’t stand right beside me when I am paying.  You are not welcome in my space at that time, so please, step off.

    So since the lady in front of me was the current owner of the conveyor, I politely left a reasonable 12-18 inches between the end of the conveyor and me.

    As I was standing there, flipping through the pages of Good Housekeeping, I sensed a cart was very close to my backside.  Apparently my backside has some sort of extra sensory perception, my backside has ESP.  So I turned and looked and sure enough, there was a cart there, with only a whisper of airspace between my Hanes yoga pants and this cart.  But again, I was feeling the Mother Teresa vibe, so I didn’t turn and shout, “BACK OFF BUSTER!”  I just kept reading.

    And then I heard this very large middle-aged man behind me grumbling loudly. “You are a complete idiot!”  I turned again, anxious to find out to whom he was directing his ire and boy was I surprised when I found out it was ME.  And my first thought was this:  I am glad my kid is not here.  My second thought was this:  Wha?

    He continued his tirade against me, describing me in inventive and colorful terms.  That was a day brightener.

    I finally figured out that what I had done to upset him so was that I had not moved forward 18-inches and sidled up next to Apocalypse Lady to watch her write her check.  He was upset because he had to stand at the end of the aisle and not next to the gum rack.

    I was stunned.  In my years of shopping at Walmart, I’ve encountered the occasional less than pleasant electric cart lady, but never has anyone behaved so aggressively towards me.   So in an effort to smooth his ruffled feathers, I said to him, “I’m really not trying to upset you, I just want to give the lady ahead of me her space.”  But he didn’t care to hear my thoughts and provided an exhaustive description of the content of my character.

    And frankly, I didn’t know what to do.  I felt like opening up a can of Antique Mommy whoop bottom on him. I felt angry. I felt intimidated. I felt scared. I felt like crying. But at no time did I feel like writing a love letter with God’s little pencil.

    So I just turned away and ignored him as best I could and tried to convince myself I wasn’t terrified.

    When it was my turn to checkout, I put my few things on the conveyor, anxious to get checked out and get gone.  I had picked up a water bottle for Sean that did not have a price on it, and for a split second, I was tempted to insist on a price check, just to gig him. But I didn’t.  The urge to flee trumped the urge to gig.  So I told the cashier I didn’t really need it and I would get it another time.  That was as love-lettery as I could muster.

    As I left the store, anger began to overtake fear, so I stopped by the manager’s station and told her what had happened and pointed him out.   And then I high tailed it out of there, anxious to get home and get some sympathy from Antique Daddy.

    As luck would have it, when I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the lane that passes in front of the store, Mr. Asshat was coming out.  And he notices me in spite of my clever disguise of sunglasses.   He stops in the middle of the of lane with his cart and blocks my car.   He bares his teeth at me, like some kind of animal, and then punctuates his point with his middle finger.  Wow. What an awesome display of manhood. His mother must be so proud.

    So then I did what I’m sure Mother Teresa would have done.  I stuck my tongue out at him.  And then I sped home taking a circuitous route.

    Yes indeed, Mother Teresa’s life was an inspirational love letter to the world. Then again, Mother Teresa didn’t shop at Walmart.

    School Dazed

    September 27, 2011

    The last time I wrote here, Sean and I were coming to the end of his of first grade year of school.  I say “Sean and I”  because, really, it was not just his first grade – it occupied a large share of my time and my thinking and my emotional space too.  It was my first grade experience by proxy; a much needed do-over of sorts for me.

    It seemed to me that first grade would be a pivotal point in Sean’s academic career.  In that first school year, he would either decide school was a good thing or not a good thing, and it would have everything to do with his teacher.

    I had a sour, joyless and surly nun for first grade named Sister Edwina.  I decided early on in that first grade year that school was an exercise in misery.  That’s a rotten way for a six-year-old to spend seven hours of a day, hating it.  Thereafter, I pretty much hated school and I was a cruddy student with a cruddy attitude and the grades to prove it.  All that changed when I was 30 and became a professional student, but I don’t want that for Sean.

    For Sean, I wanted a teacher who would make him toe the line in terms of behavior, as we do at home. I wanted a teacher who would appreciate his creativity.  I wanted a teacher who would not allow him to get away with doing the least, as he is wont to do.  I wanted a teacher who wanted to be a teacher, whose nature it was to be happy.  And, as important as anything else, I wanted a teacher who would not make me feel like “that mom” or a big fat bother any time I had a question or an issue.

    We got the teacher for which we prayed. She was Sean’s advocate, and for me, she was an encourager and adviser and even a friend.  It was a terrific first grade year that came and went in a flurry of papers and projects and lunches and parties and jackets lost and found.

    And now, here we are at the top of the second grade school year and I’m still having trouble saying second grade instead of first grade and Ms. W. instead of Ms. S.  And by the grace of God and the awesome ladies who run the school, Sean was assigned a second grade teacher who is picking up right where the first grade teacher left off and we are off and running on our way to another exciting write-it-all-down-in-your-diary kind of school year.

    One of my favorite quotes is that education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire, and thus far, all of Sean’s teachers have been pyromaniacs.  May it ever be so.  I’m sure it won’t ever be so, but may it ever be so at least until his learning spirit can’t be easily broken.

    The other morning, Sean got up and got dressed for school and came to the breakfast bar for the most important meal of the day.  I asked him if he had had any dreams.  He said he knows that he has dreams, but that he never remembers them.

    I stood on the other side of the bar wringing a dish towel in my hands for no reason and watched him eat his toast.  I noticed the jelly marking the corners of his mouth and how he is still unable to resist the urge to use his shirt for a napkin.  In the haze of a morning-minded fog, I saw not a long-legged soccer-playing second-grader, but my kindergartner, the one I could still carry on my hip, the one I picked up from school at 1pm and took with me to the grocery store in the afternoon.

    “As soon as I open my eyes,” he said, “the dreams rush out of my mind, like the tide, and I can’t catch them.”

    I loved how he said that, loved the imagery.

    I thought about how that is exactly how it is with each passing school year – dream like and slow motion and mixed up when you’re in the middle of it, and then before you know it,  it rushes away and you can’t hold onto it.   And when you look back, even from a short distance, you don’t really remember it.

    You just know it was.

     


    excels at soccer, second grade and being seven

    Why There Are No 1st Graders In The Secret Service

    May 25, 2011

    As he walked towards me, I could see that something wasn’t right.

    That is not to say that I saw anything unusual, but my momtennae went up. There was something about his posture and his expression, something that telegraphed that all was not well.

    His hair was a crazy mess.  Nothing unusual about that.

    He had a red popsicle ring around his mouth which matched the red splotches on the front of his t-shirt, also not so very unusual.

    I took his backpack from him and slung it over my shoulder.

    “Hi dude! How was your day?” I asked as we turned and walked towards the car.

    “Okay,” he said unconvincingly.  I noticed the spring in his step was missing.  He did not run off and play tag with the other kids as he usually does.

    Instead, he heaved a heavy sigh and watched the ground pass under his feet as he walked.

    I decided not to push it and instead wait to see what he would offer.

    He reached up and grabbed my hand as we walked along.

    I looked at his fingers interlacing mine – dirty jagged nails, scraped knuckles, long slender fingers, red and sticky with popsicle and marker and who knows what all else.

    I reflected back to the days when those same hands would reach up for my face as I cradled him and gave him his bottle.  He would gaze into my eyes as though he were trying to figure me out and play with my chin as he slurped and gnawed on the bottle.

    When we got to the car, he confessed.

    “Actually Mom,” he said, “I had a bad day.  A reeeeeallly bad day.”

    “Oh no,” I consoled, “Tell me about it.”

    And he did.

    He told a friend at school a secret, that he liked a certain girl in another class. The so-called friend didn’t keep the secret, but blurted it to everyone instead.

    The bandwagon was a 1956 Chrysler, big and wide, with room for everyone in the 1st grade class, save one little boy named Conor.  There was chanting and teasing.  He said he started crying, so he pulled his sweatshirt up over his face.  He said he cried because he was embarrassed.  I don’t know exactly how it all played out but the teacher sent Sean and Conor for a slow walk around the school while she chatted with the class.

    We sat in the car and talked about what happened for a long time.  As painful as it was for Sean, for me it was a gift – a golden opportunity to talk about trust and compassion and other important things, all wrapped up in a real life experience.

    We talked about the importance of trust, of figuring out who you can trust and the importance of being someone who can be trusted. I told him that at school, at least, if you don’t want everybody to know everything, don’t tell anybody anything.  I told him that first graders are notorious blabbers and that’s why there are no 1st graders in the Secret Service.

    We talked about compassion, about how it felt to be teased and what a good and noble thing it was for Conor to choose not join in the teasing.  I told him Conor’s mom and dad could be very proud of him and that is exactly how I would want him to respond if someone else was being teased or picked on.

    We talked about how sometimes you have to just not care what other people think, that there will always be people who don’t like you or what you are doing and want to make you feel badly about it.  We talked about how you can’t control what others think, you can only control your own response. Although I was quick to admit that that was a hard one, one he might have to work on his whole life if he is anything like his mother.

    Then I told him the true story of how one time when I was in 1st grade, I had to go pee, but I was afraid of the nun and too scared to ask to go to the bathroom, so I just pee’d right there in my seat and it puddled on the floor by my desk and ran clear down the row to the back of the room. When the other kids saw it, there was a mighty uproar as they all laughed and made fun of me.

    “What did you do?” he asked aghast.

    “I cried,” I said as a matter of fact.  “I pulled my shirt up over my head and cried.”

    We both laughed about that just a little, because after 45 years, the humiliation has worn off a little bit and it’s kind of funny.

    He looked me in the eye and squeezed my hand.  His eyes shone softly with compassion.

    “Mom,” he said, “I’m sorry that you pee’d, I mean, you know, that that happened to you.”

    “Yeah, thanks buddy,” I said.  And I squeezed his hand back.

    And I tried not to cry.