Five Opinions For The Price Of One

Published in the Ferndale Record, February 25, 2015

Sometimes it’s hard to narrow a column down to just one idea, so this time I didn’t even try. Here are my thoughts on the following:

*A 14-pound baby was born in Florida a few weeks ago, to a woman who claims she didn’t know she was pregnant until her sixth month. These stories fascinate me. Having a baby inside of you, especially a large one, is like being inhabited by an alien. A mother who doesn’t know there’s one in there is always a little suspect to me. The whopping infant, who came into the world with a law degree from Columbia University, drove himself and his mother home from the hospital. Both are doing well.

*Mainstream pornography is now sought after, paid for and brought directly into homes through cable and Netflix. The acceptability of it, in the name of art and brilliant acting or writing, is tragic – and I don’t ever use that word lightly. Orange Is The New Black, Game Of Thrones and Fifty Shades Of Grey are only a few examples. Live and let live may be the politically correct thing to say here, but I won’t be saying it. This kind of entertainment is not sophisticated or intelligent. Porn, no matter how ‘tastefully’ it’s done, or how compelling the story, is a lie, and destroys real love and families. This is an opinion column, right?

*Jonathan Freund, mayor of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin got an earful while ceremoniously presenting the local groundhog, Jimmy. When his handler cleverly held him close to the mayor so Freund could ‘hear’ the forecast, Jimmy leaned in with gusto and took a healthy bite at Freund’s ear. I say Jimmy is tired of this charade and while he’s well fed and required to work only once a year, he’s had enough already. I also believe his actions represent the true feelings of groundhogs everywhere. Back off, mayor – Jimmy’s in charge now.

*When people we’ve known or loved die, especially if it’s unexpected, we can’t believe it. It can’t be true. Our lives and the world will never be the same. It always takes time to process the loss. I heard someone say the reason endings are hard for humans, is because our souls know there’s more, and in our finite state as mortals, we can’t totally grasp that concept. I believe this, and stick by a quote I love, “We should not assume.. that just because something is unexplainable by us, it is unexplainable.”

*Dogs that bark all the time must be exhausted because literally everything gets their attention. In my neighborhood several of them bark whenever I come home, turn a light on in my apartment, turn on the TV, or enter a different room. They bark when the wind blows, when someone shuts a car door, or when they see a rock. And they don’t just bark a couple of times – they do it until their doggie voices become raspy and tired. This can, of course, be annoying, but it’s also slightly amusing to see how often I can get them to respond.

OK. Next month’s plan: grab one topic and go with it.

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Accountability Anyone?

Published in the Ferndale Record, January 28, 2015

Last week a parent called my school office. He asked what time his son had PE and I told him. He said this:

“He forgot his PE clothes today and I was going to try and get them there before his class, but I can’t make it. Guess he’ll just have to remember to bring them next time. How will he ever learn this stuff if I do it for him?”

Thank you, sir, and well done.

Children don’t magically learn accountability, and they certainly don’t learn it when they’re constantly bailed out by a well meaning but misguided parent. I see this happen a lot.

You want children to succeed and you want to help where you can – always. But what you don’t want to do is take away their personal responsibility or live in fear that if you don’t do everything they ask, you’ll be unpopular and invite rebellion. Rebellion will happen no matter what you do. You’re going to have to trust me on this.

When one of my children was in high school, he had an extraordinarily hard time with morning wake up. He was in an early class and had to be out the door before 6:30am. It was common to hear his alarm blaring for 30 minutes before he turned it off, if he did at all.

I dutifully rousted him almost every day. I had things to do, too, but first on the list was getting him on his way. After months of this, I hated it and more importantly, realized he needed to learn the skills I was providing for him. I told him I wouldn’t be waking him up anymore.

One day I didn’t do it. His music came on loud and he slept. I got up, ready for work and left the house. Around 9:30am, he called my work place and said, “What just happened?” He mentioned what time it was, and asked why I hadn’t awakened him. I calmly invited him to remember the conversation we’d had. He wanted me to come take him to school because he simply couldn’t miss it. I told him I couldn’t because I was working. When he asked me what he was going to do, I said, “Figure it out.” He was furious.

But things eventually got better, like they always do when you require a child to do something important.

A 5-year-old appeared in my office and with a factual lilt in his voice announced, “I pooped my pants.”

To help those who come to me with such problems, I keep a drawer full of clean clothes and plastic bags. I also don’t ask a lot of questions. I give them what they need and send them to the nearest bathroom where they do the work. It happened twice to this little one during the week, and both times he was forthcoming, open and ready to take responsibility.

A few days later he brought me a homemade card. A crude drawing on the front was difficult to decipher, but I soon learned it was a pair of underpants. The sentiment on the inside was one of thanks for helping him. It was signed with Xs and Os.

Responsibility, accountability and gratitude: learn early, practice often.