Dear Teenage Me

Published in the Ferndale Record, April 29, 2015

I’ve been thinking about you and what I would tell you if I could. Now that I’m a whole lot older than you, and have a wee bit of experience, here goes.

First – you are perfect just the way you are. I know this because our dad, who always spoke the truth, told me this on several occasions. I don’t think he meant ‘perfect’ in the sense that you and I never made mistakes, just that we didn’t have to try so hard to be something we’re not. That’s what I’m telling you, Teenage Me, you are good enough, and much better at most things than you think.

Don’t use a small voice, ever. Keep laughing too loud, talking too much and acting too silly. When people say you are too ‘something,’ take it as a compliment. You’ve become a woman who, frankly, is too much at times. It has caused only occasional problems, but mostly served you well. Keep it up. Be bold, live out loud. Don’t cower.

Next – you spend a lot of time being afraid. You fear the death of a loved one, spiders, not understanding, failing, succeeding, what other people think. Stop it. If you’re going to be afraid, save it for something really big like skydiving. Otherwise, roll with it. Stuff happens. People die. Life gets messy. Meet these things where they live and don’t smudge your innate curiosity with worry.

Also – boys and clothes are important. I get it. But they’re only miniscule parts of your huge life. Spend more time thinking about what you really like (besides boys and clothes). Go deep into music, writing and dance. Don’t think, not even for a second, that the dark-haired boy (who almost has a mustache) in your French class, or the sweater you have on layaway at Lipman’s are tickets to personal happiness. If you get how great you already are, those things won’t matter anyway.

Another thing – money. The older you has learned hard lessons about this. So, even though you’d rather spend than save, develop a healthy respect for what money can and cannot do. You know those three part time jobs you have? Be grateful that people pay you to baby sit, sling tacos and teach children piano lessons because there are days ahead when jobs and money won’t come as easily. I think you know this, so really enjoy what you’ve got, and it wouldn’t hurt to sock away a little of your extra dough – and you DO have extra.

The other thing about money: Don’t rely on anyone – the government, your parents or a man – to pay your way. Money comes from work. This is a tough lesson you don’t want to know, but it’s the truth.

So, Teenage Me, here’s the deal. I don’t really want to be you anymore. But if I could, in a Star Trek kind of way, go back in time for a few minutes, I would hug you hard, brush your long hair, and tell you all of this. Then I would assure you that you will love and be loved by many, I’d ask for a piece of our mom’s German Chocolate Cake, hug you again, and magically re-inhabit my current life.

Thank you for your part in our ride. I still feel like you sometimes.

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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.

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.

Dear Froot Loops: I Love You

Published in The Ferndale Record, December 31, 2014

I know. You and I got a late start. I had to dabble in healthier choices before I finally got around to knowing you better.

Most of my adult life I’ve purchased virtuous cereal. I always chose the less offensive (sorry, my love) alternatives in the name of nourishing children and their growing bodies. You know the ones – Corn Flakes, Cheerios (if I was feeling especially rebellious, I bought the Honey Nut variety) and of course, Corn Chex.

I sometimes opted for Raisin Bran or homemade granola with wheat germ because, well, that’s what responsible parents do, and I liked to believe I was one of them.

But every now and then, I’d come home with a box of Lucky Charms and the troops would lose control. I learned the hard way how small cereal boxes really are. At some point I showed up with you, Froot Loops, and that sealed the deal. I knew you were special, and looked for ways to have you in the house without children knowing. I live alone now, and don’t have to hide your bright red box.

I’m pretty sure no one else enjoys you in the same way I do, but you already know that. I don’t bathe you in milk, but enjoy you straight from the box, or if I’m feeling particularly polite, I’ll pour my loops into a bowl. The only milk I drink with you is of the chocolate persuasion, and in a glass. Who else does this?

I’ve read that there’s no discernible flavor difference between your colors. Your purple loops are not grape-flavored, your orange, yellow, red, blue and green loops apparently aren’t assigned any flavor either. But you know what? I don’t care. The inherent loopy goodness is all that matters.

Once I made the mistake of trying Trix because I assumed, except for the shape, you were identical. Can you forgive me? Sure, Trix are round, and so are you, but with none of the explosive, sweet, crackly crunchiness that’s so crisp it sometimes scratches against the top of my mouth in that way I like.

Remember a month ago when I was jonesing for you? I went into Rite Aid where your 8.7-ounce boxes were two for only $5. I bought one, plus a bottle of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup and a half-gallon of milk. You disappeared in around 24 hours. I felt some shame about that, but only a little. The other thing I felt was my body holding up the proverbial ‘hand’ in ugly protest.

Let the others have their Cap’n Crunch (with Crunch Berries), Lucky Charms, Cookie Crisp, Reese’s Puffs and Count Chocula. I don’t crave any of them like I do you.

I love that if I shop smart I can find you on sale. I love the little sugary bits in the bottom of the box’s plastic liner. I love that there will never be a New Year’s resolution about less of you in my future. I even love the clever way you spell your name, with two Os in “Froot.”

My unabashed Froot Loop love – now it’s out there.

Forgiveness: It’s What’s For Dinner

Published in the Ferndale Record, October 29, 2014

It’s almost time to sit around the dining room table with family and either really enjoy it, or really hate it. Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings have a way of making us remember either why we love the people we do, or why we left home and rarely come back.

Recently I heard a speaker talk about how to obtain confidence, specifically spiritual confidence – the kind that let’s you know you’re doing good things and making progress without having to be perfect. I needed this.

I also needed each of his six practical suggestions to get and stay on this road, but one of them knocked me out. He said it like it could be done, and many will believe it can’t, but I think it can. Here’s the suggestion:

“Become really, really good at forgiving. Forgive everyone, everything, all the time, or at least strive to do so, thus allowing forgiveness into your own life. Don’t hold grudges, don’t be easily offended, forgive and forget quickly.”

I’ve been playing with this for the past few weeks and here’s what happened. I don’t naturally give others the benefit of the doubt—I have to work at it. But when I force myself to try, it’s easier the next time.

For instance, it means that when the guy on TV yells at me to buy OxiClean, or an ad pops up on a website inviting me to learn “73 Things About Reese Witherspoon You Didn’t Know,” I need to replace the snark running around my brain, and remember one of the things I’ve learned about marketing – it’s meant to be in your face.

Or, when I’m on the freeway and that woman on her cell passes me just in time to make the same exit I’m taking, instead of muttering and laying on the horn, I can relax and tell myself that maybe she really, really needed to be somewhere in a hurry.

These examples sound syrupy, sniveling and unimportant. They aren’t. Simple steps make the big ones easier. It’s a chain reaction, I promise.

When we think we know what someone else should be doing, saying or being, we really don’t. We know what we see. What we can’t see is what’s in their hearts.

Forgiving is one of those things that doesn’t have to be easier said than done. I know this because I’ve lived with people, (yes, LIVED with) who knew how to, and chose to forgive instantly.

I’m not talking here about huge issues that stem from hurtful relationships and habits. Those need to be addressed on their own levels and take time.

But maybe they won’t take as much time as we think. Forgiveness can be done and over with in seconds. The deed, the slight, the hurt can be forgotten – but here’s the catch: we have to just do it. Not wait, not let it simmer, not ruminate about how we’re right and the other person is wrong (although that may be true). We can simply let go of the rope.

Soured relationships turn sweet, impatience gives way to understanding and holiday dinners become something to look forward to.

The freedom associated with this is at once terrifying, exhilarating and enlightening. It’s like high stakes risk without the chance of a crash and burn.

You win every time.

When You Can’t Fix It

Published in the Ferndale Record, October 1, 2014

One of the best parts about working in an elementary school is making things better. A knee scrape? Bandages make tears stop. Fall off the monkey bars? An ice pack eases that twisted ankle. Even hurt feelings are talked through and children run back to class together, still friends.

Sometimes these quick fixes happen too fast for my liking. The nurturing part of me wants the child to linger so I can dry tears and impart warm words before sending them back into fray. This happens only occasionally.

The dichotomy of circumstances at school and those in other parts of my life is not lost on me. A situation, a person or relationship that I see as troubled gets my attention. My nature is to spring into action, to fix it, to be proactive, to make the hurt go away. The catch is that usually, real life doesn’t work like it does in kindergarten through fifth grade.

It’s not that these other day-to-day situations can’t be fixed, but I’m not necessarily the one to do it. That’s the problem. There lies the anger, the sorrow, and frustration that accompany so many scenarios in the life of a nurturer. Other people help, too. In fact, other people besides me are crucial.

When my best friend’s husband was in an accident that almost claimed his life, I dropped everything – like anyone would, and went to her side. So did many other people and this, I’m sorry to say, annoyed me. She was MY best friend, not someone else’s! I was the one she should lean on. I was the one who would make her life easier.

I expressed these sentiments to my husband and he kindly explained that at this moment in my best friend’s life, she had more needs than one person could fill. I could definitely be who I was to her, but others were wanted and needed, too. It was all about continued, ongoing and widespread support and nothing about me.

My nurturing instinct doesn’t just want to fix problems; it wants to make the pain vanish. If I could do this, as much as I hate to admit it, it would defeat the very things that build character in other people. Pain might go away, but there would be no courage or growth, no accountability or responsibility on the other end. I would effectively erase all of that, too.

Watching people I care about suffer is uncomfortable and at times close to unbearable, but I’ve been through rough spots, too. And I know that’s where personal and spiritual strength is born – in the crucible of suffering.

So, I try to remember the following:

-When I can’t fix it, whatever it is, I remember it’s probably not mine to fix – at least not entirely.

-My job is to be kind, supportive (in the ways most needed, not necessarily in the ways I perceive as helpful) and non-judgmental.

-Prayer, good vibes and white light are things I can offer in the direction of whoever needs it.

I’m more of a positive influence when I stop feeling helpless, and start doing whatever I can with the above rules. Flailing along and making it about my needs are never right.

Toasters and cars are fixed by people who know how to do those things. I can’t definitively mend most situations, but I can let go of what I can’t do and concentrate on what I can.

July 2014

Book CoverPublished in the Ferndale Record, July 30, 2014

Some months deliver more gravy than others, and July has been one bubbling with delicious epiphanies.

*I went outside a lot. For a rain-loving, indoor activity enthusiast, being out in the world meant re-discovering the feel of sun on my shoulders, connecting with neighbors and being less afraid of “what’s out there.”

As a fair weather bicyclist, sticking to flat routes with few rises and low, if any, traffic, I’ve hardly biked Ferndale at all. But this month, I found my groove on a few city streets and in the park. I’m a treadmill runner, but discovered that running works outside, too. In short, I got a little braver. Probably not faster – but a little more comfortable with what I can do and where I can do it.

*One Sunday night, kind of by accident, most of my children were in my home. It was dinnertime and there was food enough for all, but one component was missing – gooey dessert. A Sunday staple, something decadent is always served up, especially when we get together. One son stepped forward, enlisted the help of his sister and suggested they go to the store and buy needed supplies. I tried to talk them down, thinking we’d be OK just this once.

Then, the boy, in a declarative statement built on his almost 30 years of experience, and founded in deep family roots said, “No. We need to have something. It’s what we do.”

I was amused at how serious he was about dessert. Then, days later, like it usually happens, the meaning of what he said tumbled in on me. “It’s what we do,” meant tradition and connection. It was important. We had dessert that night. In fact, we had two.

*From an early age I wasn’t crazy about heights. It’s only been in recent years that I kind of enjoy air travel. Because of this, and because he likes to surprise me, my youngest child kept a huge secret until after a planned adventure. He told almost everyone in the free world what his plans were, but not me.

He came in casually one night and told us he’d been skydiving that day. My first response was, “No you didn’t.” It turns out he had a certificate, a DVD, and a goofy grin to prove it. Thinking about a person I would take a bullet for falling voluntarily from a plane, and knowing he was telling the truth about it, felt like a direct punch to my gut.

Here’s the gravy part: After the initial shock and awe wore off, his enthusiasm had me considering a jump of my own. I kissed his cheek and said, “You rock.” In another, not so long ago life, I would have required resuscitation and ongoing therapy. This time I asked questions like, “What were you thinking about before the chute opened? Were you afraid? What was the landing like?” It’s all on the DVD.

I’m going to store all of this month’s goodness like a squirrel stores nuts in his cheeks. And hopefully, other times that are not so full of sweetness and discovery will be a little less difficult because I had July.