Feeding the Ache: Twenty One Pilots and My Friend Pete Crozier

Hey, friends!  I’m trying something new today.  If you want to LISTEN to the post while you are doing something else, click on the video link below.  If not, just drop down and start reading!  Let me know if you appreciate the audio!  It feels a bit more like a podcast.  🙂

Read below or LISTEN here: https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cqin0GOf3Z

Let me start by saying this: This post is going to take some strange twists and turns, but just stick with me.  Primarily, I want to introduce you to my friend, Pete Crozier, an inspirational guy with an awesome cause that I think you will want to support.  But I really can’t do that until I tell you about the Twenty One Pilots concert I attended in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday for two reasons.

(1.) I can’t stop thinking about it.

(2.) I think I can pull these two things together.  (Let’s hope so, anyway!)

First, let’s talk about the concert.  You guys, it was AMAZING.  In a society where people cannot agree on ANYTHING and are offended by EVERYTHING, music still has the power to create a healthy sense of unity that I wasn’t sure was even possible anymore.  Add to that the astounding level of creative detail in both the production and the music itself and you have a memorable experience that I was lucky enough to share with my two sons.  Those boys waited patiently for months after receiving the tickets for Christmas.  It was their first concert –  and it set the bar very high for their future ticket purchases.

Here’s the deal – I have a bit of an obsession with insanely creative people.  I want to experience the way they think.  I want to look through the lens that shapes the way they see the world.  I want to understand their compulsion to MAKE something that MEANS something and then to SHARE that something with the world.  I want to know the catalysts that move them, the inherent need to tell a story, the emotional tumult that paralyzes most people but erupts from others into words and lyrics and melodies and art and dance and PURPOSE.

Obviously, this fascinates me.  Maybe a little bit TOO much.  But, really, isn’t it interesting?

In truth, I feel like these kind of people are MY kind of people.  I’m talking about people who have an incurable creative ache that can only be controlled through some sort of ACTION.  It’s a pain that drives some people to take REALLY BIG risks, not because they are braver or more confident than anybody else but because inaction is so uncomfortable that the discomfort of action is somehow a better option.

This is where great art comes from.  Maybe this is what allowed two young and extremely talented guys from Columbus, Ohio (Yes, they are hometown boys!) who were a bit outside the box, genre-less, and sometimes underestimated to think, Yeah, we should do this.  And even if we fail, it’s worth the risk and pain.  Maybe they even thought, We aren’t exactly comfortable doing this.  But we won’t be comfortable NOT doing it either.  They responded to the ache, and now millions of people benefit from that decision.

As people scurried to their cars under the night sky after the concert, a young man holding a box full of music approached concertgoers, saying, “We’re a local band like Twenty One Pilots trying to get off the ground.  Free CDs!”  I thought, Wow.  That kid is a risk-taker, handing his demos to people leaving the best concert that most of them have seen in their lives.  And he didn’t seem particularly brave.  Instead, he seemed like he had the ache, and, standing there in front of Nationwide Arena handing out free copies of his music, he was releasing his dream into the universe.  That is SCARY, you guys!  Because you can toss something around in your head for years, and as long as it stays within those boundaries, you cannot fail.  But once that dream leaves your heart and your mouth, it’s a whole different story.

And this leads me to my friend, Pete.  This is an honest blog, so I don’t want to mislead anyone.  Although I wish I were friends with Josh and Tyler of Twenty One Pilots (even though I was probably graduating from high school when they entered kindergarten), I do not know them.  And even though I describe Pete as my friend and I see him often in our community, we are just getting acquainted.  We know each other in a we-played-a-mean-game-of-Catchphrase-together-at-a-friend’s-New-Year’s-Eve-party kind of way.  We know each other because we both like to write and we share that on social media.  We know each other through mutual friends who are trusted and wonderful people, which tells me a lot about Pete and his wife Sarah’s character.  And we know each other because our sons are good friends.

And they are both named Gavin.

So we both have really good taste.  (Or maybe Sarah gets all of the credit for that one!)

In fact, here is a pic of them to prove this is real.  Meet the two Gavins.

Remember how I said that some people just can’t be comfortable NOT doing something when they have an ache to do it?  Well, one of those people is Pete, and he is on a truly awesome adventure right now called Fifty for Father.   On his website, Pete shares personal stories about the loss of his father and the diabetes diagnosis of his son – yes, my son’s friend, Gavin.

Here’s the thing that I love about Fifty for Father: Pete decided to DO SOMETHING rather than just THINK ABOUT IT.  He is currently on the last leg of his fundraising campaign that involves playing 50 rounds of golf in 50 states in 50 days.  That is a lot of driving, a lot of walking, and a lot of time away from the family that he loves.  Why would Pete do this?  Two reasons: to honor his father’s legacy and to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) to honor his son.  His goal is to raise $50,000 by the end of his journey.  Today is day 37, and he has raised over $38,000 so far.  I know that meeting his goal in the next 13 days is of the utmost importance to him, and it is important to me because we love Pete’s family and his son Gavin and because juvenile diabetes has touched my extended family, as well.

If you are like me and want to track Pete’s travel and fundraising, you can check out this page with his stats.

I love what Pete is doing for a lot of reasons, but here is maybe the strongest one: Pete, like the kid handing out CDs after the concert, released his dream to the universe.  He accepted the risk and the discomfort.  He didn’t allow the thought to pinball around in his mind forever in order to keep it safe.  As a result, he has raised funds for JDRF, has almost traveled across the entire country (even hitting Alaska and Hawaii), and has shared and heard so many inspirational stories along the way.

I imagine how scary it might have felt the first time he put his IDEA into the WORDS that made it “real.”

But I’m so glad that he did.  I’m so thankful for his decision to respond to the ache and to accept the discomfort of risk – a risk that is paying off in a big way.

I don’t ask for a lot, but I am asking two things of you today.  First, if you know Josh and Tyler and you are inviting them over for dinner any time soon, PLEASE  invite me, as well, so that we can talk about metaphors and meaning and all of that English teacher/international rock star kind of stuff.  (Seriously, we have so much in common.)  And if you have a few minutes and a few dollars to spare, please check out Fifty for Father to see Pete’s posts and videos about his journey and to donate to JDRF to support the mission before his 50 day adventure ends very soon.

I’m sure that some of your families have been touched by diabetes, too.

Thanks everyone!

~Mary Ann

P.S.  Don’t keep incubating your dreams.  It’s time for them to hatch.  🙂

Why I Took an Unusually Hard Stance on Gillette’s New Ad

 

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*Note: This is a challenging post, both to write and to read.  I hope it will bring something new to the conversations you are already having.  Please be prepared for crude language in the first section.

 

I. You Park Like a C***

Let me tell you a story.

Several months ago, a friend of mine shuffled her two young children into a local restaurant to celebrate her daughter’s soccer season with the team. The families laughed. They shared stories. They ate tacos. It was a happy occasion, a short reprieve from the stresses of school and of life. When the event drew to a close and my friend returned to her minivan with her kids, she noticed that a folded piece of paper had been slipped onto her windshield. Maybe one of their soccer friends had forgotten to tell her something, she thought. When she unfolded the scrap of paper, she found this message, scrawled in pencil: You park like a cunt. Her mood quickly shifted. She surveyed the area to see if someone was watching her, to make sure that they were safe. She loaded her kids into the car and headed home, but she was rattled to her core. Who does something like that?

Later that evening, I saw that she had posted about her experience on a private Facebook page for people who live in or around her community. She had included a photograph of the note – the visual evoked a powerful emotional response – and wrote a heartfelt message that our community can do better. The note on her minivan was alarming and unacceptable, but it had prompted a valuable conversation about kindness and respect with her family, and she hoped that sharing this story would remind other local families to have this conversation, too.

Her post had generated an unusually high number of responses.  I was proud of the way we rally around one another to defend what is right. I was proud of us, proud that her message had garnered so much support from the community.

Except it hadn’t.

At first, the comments were kind and appropriate: “I’m so sorry this happened to you” and “This is totally unacceptable” and “We don’t want this kind of behavior in our community.” A doctor who works at a local hospital noted that she had seen people in the ER who had been shot in similar situations; there is danger in treating people this way. Some empathized, imagining how they would feel if their teenage daughters or their wives or their mothers had found notes like this on their cars. But it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn on my friend, who had RECEIVED the vulgar note. First, people justified the note: “I would like to see a picture of how badly you parked.” “How bad do you have to park to get a note like that?” Then people blamed her for being afraid or offended: “It’s just words. What’s the big deal?” “Words don’t mean anything.” “Why are you letting this bother you?” Then people questioned her parenting: “What kind of mother would let her kids read a note like that?”  The downward spiral continued.  At one point in a comment thread, a woman actually said something to the effect of “I hope her daughter gets your daughter’s spot on the soccer team.”

ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME?

This conversation happened on a private Facebook page for people who live in or near one of the most affluent, highly educated cities in the state of Ohio. And there was only one appropriate response to a person (male or female) leaving that note in those words on a family minivan for any reason: “That never should have happened.”

If we cannot agree on that, can we agree on ANYTHING?

II. Razor Burn

I am eating my cereal and catching up on the morning news on the Today Show. They share a new Gillette ad that is generating some buzz. After airing the ad, the newscasters raise their eyebrows and nod approvingly. I, too, feel a warm glow inside from the positive message. This is huge, I think to myself between bites of toasted oats and dried berries. We are – WITH INTENTION – showing boys like my own sons what behaviors are unacceptable (the beginning of the commercial) and what behaviors are acceptable (the end of the commercial) in a society where the messages we have been sending them have been horribly blurry. I see a beautiful depiction of masculinity, with Terry Crews, the picture of traditional masculinity with his physical strength and confidence, as the ambassador of male kindness and accountability, as well. I see the message that masculinity is being kind and strong and confident and courageous and respectful and responsible and brave. There are MANY, MANY challenging political and social issues with valid arguments that I understand on both sides, but this commercial is something we can all agree on. RIGHT?

The next day, the media is flooded with pictures of men across America throwing their shaving cream in the trashcan.

Is this really happening?

III. The Dukes of Hazzard

Americans are skilled at avoidance and deflection. We are trained to avoid and deflect at a young age, and the skills are honed and reinforced as we watch celebrities and politicians and public relations machines dance around the truth on a daily basis. We suspend our disbelief and accept the Photoshopped images and the “reality” television shows as authentic. We ignore biases and learn from social media that the image we convey is far more important than what is REAL.

Avoidance and deflection are our natural human reaction when faced with the parts of ourselves that make us uncomfortable. This is true of all of us, myself included.  The number on the scale this winter makes me uncomfortable, so I’ve implemented a solution. Am I exercising more? No. Am I eating more carrots? Nope, I am not. My solution is easier and should work until June: I’M AVOIDING THE MIRROR. I’m wearing extra layers to hide things and avoiding that mirror like the plague.

Looking in the mirror ruins the fun of eating mac and cheese, and the truth is that I’m not quite willing to give that up yet.

Acknowledging that the Gillette ad is amazing ruins something, too. It ruins the peace of mind that comes from a belief that we are ONLY responsible for our own behavior, and whatever anybody else does, well, that’s not our business.

The Gillette commercial is also a mirror that is forcing men to strip off the protective layers that we’ve ALL built up by adulthood and take a cold, hard look at an uncomfortable reality: the way we’ve been doing things hasn’t been perfect. It has been flawed. We’ve made some mistakes. And maybe this is a reason why some really fantastic guys I know are feeling uncomfortable. Part of toxic masculinity is the belief that admitting a mistake is a sign of weakness. It’s a fear that a flaw is the equivalent of a failure, that an error is not a chance for growth but a white flag of defeat. We’ve taught our boys not to compromise. We’ve taught our boys that if you don’t win, you lose. In fact, we’ve DEPENDED ON MEN to be firm and tough and stoic and to pretend to be fearless. And that’s kind of exactly what this commercial is trying to say – GUYS, you don’t have to live by those stupid rules any longer.

My two sons and I recently stumbled across an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard. It wasn’t long into the storyline when a dashing Bo Duke blindsided an unwitting girl with a kiss as she turned around. She was surprised. So was I. I paused the show. “Wow. So…. maybe that was acceptable in the eighties? I don’t remember? But you understand that surprising an unsuspecting girl with a kiss like that is not okay, right? It’s completely disrespectful.” We resumed the show, and soon Daisy Duke was wearing even less than her famous Daisy Dukes. She stood in the middle of a country road wearing a tiny bikini to tempt some guys to pull over in order to help her cousins, who, of course, drive a car painted to look like the Confederate flag. Yikes. I had more explaining to do than I expected.  As Bob Dylan once sang, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

This is what we forty-year-old adults were raised on, you guys. These are the attitudes and behaviors that were normalized for us as kids. We tend to remember a lot of not-so-great things fondly if they are threads in the quilt of our formative years. But the messaging wasn’t all good.

Like every generation before us, we have some knots from our childhood to unravel.

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IV. Complicit

It’s hard to look at the people we love, the shows we love, the music we love, the movies we love, the commercials we love, the entertainment we love and realize that all of it is flawed. No one and nothing is perfect. It’s hard to look in the mirror and realize that we, too, are flawed people, that we may have somehow contributed to somebody else’s pain, that we need to change – in significant ways or in small ones. We don’t want to be considered complicit.

We now know that for many, many years the Catholic church harbored a problem of priests abusing children in the church. We also know that the vast majority of Catholic priests are selfless, generous, faithful people – yet the credibility of ALL of the priests took a serious hit when the stories of abuse came to light. And there’s a reason.

According to reports, time and time again the “good” priests chose NOT to address the behavior of the “bad” priests. They were afraid that the unacceptable behavior of one priest, if publicized, would reflect poorly on the church as a whole, so they ignored it. But by ignoring the abuse to protect the whole, THEY BECAME COMPLICIT. If they had not turned a blind eye, if they had forced the guilty priests to be accountable right away, then the good guys would have looked like good guys. In fact, they would have been MORE than innocent. They would have been heroic.

But in so many cases, that is not what happened. By protecting the group rather than contributing to positive change, the priests who were NOT engaging in abuse became tarnished themselves. They tried to separate themselves from the problem, but they became part of the problem.

This is why it is so important for men to support an ad like Gillette’s. Sometimes, there isn’t really a middle ground to stand on. When there is a societal problem and you are made aware of it, you must choose to become part of the problem or part of the solution. You choose to become complicit or heroic.

The commercial is unfair, some people say, because it puts all of the responsibility on men. Don’t women need to be part of the conversation, too? YES. YES, THEY DO. But change happens when people WITHIN a particular group begin TO PUT PRESSURE ON THEIR OWN. Women ALREADY aren’t laughing at blatantly inappropriate comments about other women. Men will stop making those comments when THE OTHER MEN AROUND THE TABLE or THE OTHER MEN ON THE GOLF COURSE or THE OTHER MEN IN THE BOARDROOM stop laughing. That is when those comments will die.

Old habits die hard. But old habits CAN die.

When the bystanders stop resuscitating them.

V. The Playground

It was a beautiful summer day. The sky was clear, a brilliant shade of blue. I was taping clues for a scavenger hunt onto objects around the playground at a local park for a back-to-school party with some friends. I noticed that a few little boys were following, tearing the slips of paper down behind me. I politely asked them to stop and retraced my path, taping the clues back where they belonged. Within minutes, the boys had torn them down again. I kindly tried to negotiate; if you will leave these notes alone for twenty minutes, then we will make sure that you can do the scavenger hunt yourselves in a little while. That will be fun for you. That didn’t work, either. So, while the playground thieves’ mothers chatted away at a picnic table nearby, we assigned parents from our party to stand beside every clue until the game had concluded.

At this point, I was livid, so when one of the same boys walked up behind my son, who was playing soccer with his friends, and spit on the back of his neck in my view, my head nearly exploded. I approached the mothers of the boys and explained what I had just witnessed, adding that it was extremely disrespectful for one of the boys to spit on my son after we had treated them kindly despite their repeated attempts to destroy our game.

The spitter’s mother was indifferent.  She shrugged. “They are just kids,” she said. They finished packing their things and walked away.

My heart was heavy with both anger and sadness. What are the chances that this little boy, the one who spit on my son and was expected to take no responsibility for his behavior, will grow up to become a kind, respectful, accountable young man who respects women, or any authority at all? If that incident is representative of his upbringing, the chances are very, very low.

Some people are perpetuating the myth that an attack on “toxic masculinity” is an attack on masculinity in general – that being critical of “toxic masculinity” is being critical of manhood itself. That argument has proven to be a surprisingly effective deflection, but it’s NOT THE TRUTH. Aside from some extremists on the fringes, no one is saying that being physically strong, muscular, and athletic is toxic. No one is saying that being competitive, hardworking, and assertive is toxic. No one is saying that protecting others by being a police officer, a firefighter, or a soldier is toxic. That is not toxic masculinity – so just stop spreading that nonsense. The reality is that even though we have MILLIONS of amazing and wonderful men in our country who are tough and strong and brave, we also have a serious problem with men involved in gun violence, domestic violence, and drugs. We have a serious problem with men who will not seek help for mental health concerns, men who weren’t taught to deal with stress and emotions, and men who are not financially or emotionally supporting their children. That stuff – it’s toxic. And it’s not just a toxic pill that those guys swallow. It’s a toxic gas that drifts through the air, exposing families and communities to the ill effects.

The truth is that we women, like the mom at the park, contribute to toxic masculinity by the things that we say, the behaviors we allow, and the entertainment that we provide for our sons. And, guys, we know that toxic femininity is a thing, too. It’s only fair that we also call out our own. Victoria’s Secret models aren’t doing women any favors. We do need to hold other women accountable for choices that negatively influence the beliefs of our daughters and our sons, and we need to stop defending women whose behaviors contribute to the objectification of women.

But accepting some responsibility on our end doesn’t let guys off the hook. Those boys on the playground needed mothers who would instill empathy and accountability. But they also clearly needed some solid male role models who would influence them positively and who would encourage the other men around them to have a positive influence, too. Maybe there will be another man who will make the difference – a teacher, a coach, a neighbor, a religious leader, a friend. Maybe.

Somebody has to teach boys like them how to be masculine without being toxic.

And the more pressure that men are putting on one another to be better, the more secure and confident all of our boys will become.

VI. The Wrong Side of History

This week as our nation celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many students across America will read two important historical texts. The first text, “A Call for Unity,” is a plea written by eight white clergymen in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. In the text, the clergymen ask civil rights activists to stop demonstrating in their city. The gist of their letter is this: Although we do not support hate, your demonstrations are disrupting our peace, so we think you should be patient and give the court more time to work this out. In so many words, the clergymen said we aren’t against you, but we aren’t going to help you, either. They were trying to walk a very fine line between not quite being racist and not quite NOT being racist, if such a line exists.

The second text is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s brilliant and much more famous response, his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he effectively tears down every part of the clergymen’s plea, revealing the hypocrisy of their stance.

Those eight clergymen probably did many wonderful things while serving their parishioners throughout their careers. But the only reason anyone is talking about them in 2019 is because they signed their names to the wrong side of history. Their public plea for the “outsiders” to go away and for the insiders to be patient was supposed to deter the civil rights protests, but instead their words confirmed the NEED for demonstrations. Their letter was like a flashing neon sign that said, “WE STILL DON’T GET IT!” In fact, the only positive aspect of what the clergymen wrote is that it prompted Dr. King’s incredible response, paving the way for events that would prove other men heroic and would eventually change the face of our nation in tremendous ways.

In a similar way, the shaving cream in the trashcan last week had the opposite effect of the intent; when men reacted so harshly to a commercial that promotes positive male role models, the images of brand new razors thrown into the garbage screamed “Maybe I have the exact problem that throwing away this razor is supposed to prove that I don’t have.”

I wonder if those eight white clergymen in Birmingham, with the blessing of hindsight, would recognize that by asking the demonstrators to stop rather than joining them in the streets they were complicit in the injustices in Birmingham. I wonder if they would be embarrassed that by trying not to get involved, they actually WERE involved, and their complacence hurt people.

I wonder if the letter they wrote to their community and their place in history might have been different if they could go back in time.

I wonder if they would have been brave enough to join the protests instead of criticizing them.

I wonder if they would have been heroes.

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How the Smallest House Taught Me the Biggest Lessons

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“I really have to go, Mom.  Like, NOW,” my son said from behind the bathroom door of my parents’ home.

“I’m hurrying!”  I’m sure I snapped at him.  I didn’t want the warm embrace of the shower to end so soon.  And all of the sudden, I was fourteen again, telling my brother to get lost so that I could enjoy just a few moments of peace, all by myself, in the confines of our only bathroom.

I grew up in a small house.

My house was a really small house, especially by today’s standards. Seven rooms, no basement, one floor, and just one bathroom for the four of us to share. I remember when Doug Stone released the country song “Little Houses” in 1994, the fall after I graduated from high school. When he crooned about brushing one another while passing in the hall, he wasn’t kidding. The quarters were tight, and they grew even tighter as we grew bigger.

My friend up the street had a small house, as well, but she had a bedroom in the attic.  That meant that she had stairs.  I dreamt about having stairs.  Someday, I promised myself, I would have a house with stairs.  I don’t remember dreaming of a mansion, but I did fantasize about having a bathroom where I could shower without someone banging on the door.  And if I could have a basement where I could hide from a tornado, that would be okay, too.

Looking back with more wisdom and experience, I understand that our small house on a small street in a small town was just fine.  It was more than fine, actually.  It was always warm and it was always cozy.  It was never too small to welcome a guest who stopped by, and it was just the right size for a small dining room table where a nourishing meal was served every night.  The love in our house was condensed into such a small space that it hung thick in the air.  We breathed it.  We felt it on our skin.

So during a recent visit, as I finished my shower at my parents’ house while my son impatiently waited outside the door, it struck me that, while my own kids have stairs and a second shower and a finished basement, too, all of those things I had wanted as a child, maybe they are actually missing out.  Growing up in a small space shaped the person I am today, so here are a few of the biggest lessons I learned from the smallest house.

1. The world does not revolve around you.

For the most part, my kids don’t have to accommodate other people too much during their normal routine at home.  If they need to use the toilet, we have three.  If they need to shower, we have two.  If they need a sink where they can brush their teeth, we have options.  If they want to watch something on television, we have two comfortable living spaces where they can do just that.  And many kids today are living in homes much bigger and with many more televisions than ours.

Life isn’t like that in a small house.

In a small house, you learn to wait and you learn to hurry.  It doesn’t really matter how much you might enjoy pampering yourself a bit more or how hard your workday has been.  At the end of the day, you have three minutes to get clean, partly because you are just one link in the shower chain and partly because everyone wants some hot water.  Small houses don’t have huge hot water tanks.  Everything about small houses is, well, small.

When you have one bathroom, someone is always beating on the door.  Always.  And while it’s annoying when you are the occupant and someone is knocking, you have also been the person beating on the door – too many times to count.  So you learn to hurry in order to accommodate someone else, even if you do so with loud sighs and eye rolling, in the hopes that they will return the favor later in the week.

When you live in a small house, you never expect to watch what you want on TV, unless you just happen to get home from school before everyone else does, which did happen during middle school and was kind of amazing.  Then you can watch Santa Barbara, a soap opera that you probably shouldn’t be watching anyway, without anyone complaining.  But most of the time, watching TV in a small house is an exercise in compromise.  You learn to watch things like Jeopardy and Animal Planet and old sitcoms that everyone in the family can enjoy.  You also learn the importance of the win/win.  Yes, you are missing the shows that your friends are watching, but you aren’t being forced to watch football or He-Man or something else that your brother would choose, and that, my friends, is a WIN.  You become skilled at negotiations and learn to stand by your word – “You can play video games for one hour if I can watch Beverly Hills 90210 at 8.”  That’s a no brainer.  DEAL.

A college writing professor once asked me if my parents argued in front of me often while I was growing up.  They didn’t.  He explained his observation that students who are skilled in the art of argumentation were often raised in the midst of conflict.  Nope.  Not me.  I grew up in a small house.  I just learned to debate and negotiate so that I could watch what I wanted on TV.

2. Don’t want anyone to know about it? Then don’t do it.

It is very, very hard to have secrets in a small house.

In a small house, your family hears everything.  They observe what you are doing, see what you are watching, and hear what you are listening to.  If your friends come over, no one sends you to the basement and closes the door behind you because there is no basement.  Your bedroom is close to the living spaces in the house, and you may even share a bedroom with a sibling.  People can see into your room every time they walk to the restroom, and your drawers and closet space might even be used to store things that aren’t your own.  People are in your stuff and in your space all of the time.  But it’s okay.  You never get comfortable with privacy because you never have any.

This can keep you out of lots and lots of trouble.

Our kids today believe privacy is their right, and it’s no wonder that they feel this way.  They have their own rooms, their own phones, their own e-mail addresses.  Many have their own bathrooms, their own televisions, and their own gaming systems.  Sure, privacy is nice.  But privacy is also where, in many cases, we make mistakes that have the most serious consequences.  Sure, my friends and I could have gone to other people’s houses to hide from our parents, but that feeling of never having privacy just became a part of who I was.  I imagine that my small house saved me from making at least a few very poor decisions.

3. If you don’t plan ahead, you have no one to blame but yourself (even if you try to blame your brother).

Getting four people ready for anything in a small house requires military-level planning.  It is impossible for everyone to “pull it together” at the last minute when everything that everyone needs is located in one very small place.  The timing of showers has to be coordinated and supplies have to be distributed so that various tasks can be completed wherever a mirror can be found.  Extra time has to be factored in if the ladies are washing their hair or shaving their legs.  And inevitably someone will actually need to use the toilet somewhere along the line, which can completely derail the entire schedule.

In a small house, if you don’t plan ahead, you may be going to school without brushing your teeth.  Or going to work with wet hair.  Or showing up with your friends only to find that your brother’s friends have already claimed the living room.  Or trying to study while everyone else is enjoying dessert with guests and loudly reminiscing at the dinner table.  Or bringing a date over when your family is being completely embarrassing and there is nowhere to escape in the house.

Kids with big houses will never understand the strategic planning that takes place in small homes.

4. Most of what you think you need, you don’t need.

Now that I have a home of my own, I am AMAZED that two teenagers and two adults lived in my parents’ teeny house and never really “felt” how small it was.  I chalk this up to my mother’s skills and wisdom in managing our household.

My mom shopped from a list of what we needed, and I don’t remember ever buying much extra. If she didn’t have an immediate need for something AND know exactly where she could store it, she didn’t buy it. I can remember my mom declining invitations to go shopping, and this baffled me because shopping seemed fun. She said, “If I’m not going to buy anything, then why would I go there?” She didn’t get sucked into “window shopping” because “window shopping” usually becomes “actual shopping.” And I still fall for this ALL. THE. TIME.

I spend impulsively sometimes.  I buy things I don’t need sometimes.  I buy things that I can’t use now but hope to use later sometimes.  I can do this because I have a little extra room to store things, but extra space can encourage excess spending.  Small-house people can’t just buy more things.  They truly understand the difference between a need and a want.  They also know that buying one thing will probably require them to get rid of something else, and that trade-off often isn’t worth it.  The value of the things that they choose to save is very clear, and there is no need for extra gadgets when another simple tool will do the trick.

My mom also kept our house very tidy.  Although she treasures family heirlooms, she has always been able to “clean out” without getting too hung up on emotional connections to objects.  In a small house, there is just no space for clutter.  Everything has a place, and when things are out of place in a small home, you literally have to move them or step over them all the time.  You can’t stuff them in a closet or in the basement or in the “guest room.”  When you live in a small home, you learn to recognize the true value of the things that you have, to buy only what you need, and to respect your space by putting things away.

5. Get over it.

In a big house, people can hide from one another.  They can remain angry or sad or frustrated for a long time without really dealing with the problem at hand.  In a small house, you can’t do that.  You are going to be sitting directly across from the person who hurt your feelings at some point later that day.  There is really no place else for the two of you to go.

You are going to need that person to let you use the bathroom because there is only one.  You are going to eat at the same table because there is only one place to eat.  You are going to watch television together because your bedroom is boring and all of the entertainment is in one room.  You have to have hard conversations or your own life will be miserable.  You have to get over things and move on.

That’s not a bad life skill to learn.

I’m not saying that kids who grow up in big houses won’t learn these life lessons in other ways, but I do wonder if they will learn them the hard way, from people who don’t love them as much when they leave the safe boundaries of home.  And if they don’t learn to be humble, to compromise, to share openly, to manage their time and their space and their money, and to resolve conflicts as a natural part of sharing a home, I wonder how we should be fostering these skills and if a deficiency in them might impact their relationships and experiences in the future.

My mom was never one to listen to the radio much.  She had her Barry Manilow albums that we listened to instead.  But I remember that she loved the lyrics to Doug Stone’s song:

But you know, love grows best in little houses,
With fewer walls to separate,
Where you eat and sleep so close together.
You can’t help but communicate,
Oh, and if we had more room between us, think of all we’d miss.
Love grows best, in houses just like this.

In reality, the most consequential lessons we learn are often from the little things – the close-up, intimate interactions with people that force us to change who we are, decide what we value, and reflect on how we respond to others.  Maybe more walls and more bathrooms and more TVs and more staircases are making our job as parents more difficult, forcing us to be more intentional about promoting certain values and skills.  I don’t know.  But I do know that tonight I will take a long, hot shower with no one banging on the door.  And, because of my childhood, I will appreciate every minute of it.

 

 

Doug Stone. “Little Houses.” Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, Sony Legacy, 1994

The Homework Assignment Your Kids Must Do This Summer

Awaiting

I have been teaching high school English Language Arts for over fourteen years now.  Throughout those years, I have assigned hundreds, maybe even a thousand, homework assignments to bright-eyed students who have stuffed the work into backpacks and recorded due dates in tattered planners.  I never thought to keep an ongoing record of how much work I have assigned over the years.  But I do have a fairly accurate idea of how many students have thanked me for giving them homework in high school.  That number is somewhere around, oh, I don’t know . . . Let’s just say it is a very, VERY low number.

And I get it.  Nobody likes homework, especially when the skills that are being practiced may not always seem relevant to a teenager’s life in the present.  Most sixteen-year-olds, even the most diligent and scholarly, would rather be sleeping, eating, or dating than writing a detailed literary analysis for me, and I understand this.  Plus, I live with my own tween/teen boys, and I am fully aware that we are all smarter as teenagers than we will be at any other point in our lives.

But some assignments are different, and I want to tell you about one of them.  I receive actual thank you notes from my students for assigning this senior citizen interview project.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  TIME.  It is an incredible way for your child to disconnect from technology, practice face-to-face communication skills, and LEARN really important historical information.  It can strengthen family relationships and may even help students retain some academic skills over the summer.  Students of all ages can participate.  I encourage YOU to assign your own children or grandchildren this project over the summer months.

Now that I’ve gotten you really excited about this project, you may be expecting your kids to feel excited about this, too.  Maybe they will cheer and give you warm bear hugs when you tell them that you found this great summer homework idea on a random teacher’s blog on the Internet!  This is not going to happen.  My teacher experience tells me that your kids may make some unhappy grumbling sounds or mumble something indiscernible under their breath or roll their eyes.  Or maybe they will do all three while also shaking their heads as if you are a total disgrace to parents everywhere.  This is a perfectly normal reaction.  Do not surrender!  The “thank you” will come later.  I promise.

You won’t regret this.  Just trust me.  Or trust Adam, one of my amazing students:

Grandma Adam B

Or believe Amarah, another one of my incredible students:

My Grandmother by Amarah

I even completed this project myself after assigning it to my students several years ago.  I interviewed my own grandmother using the original assignment, which led me to continue calling her to ask her more questions that had not been on the list.  Eventually this morphed into a binder that included my grandmother’s answers, my family’s special personal memories, photos, and recipes compiled as a gift for my grandmother for Christmas.  I read through that book this morning while preparing this blog, and it remains one of my favorite gifts and keepsakes ever, especially now that my grandmother has passed.

Dear Grandma

So let’s get this homework assignment started!

Step 1:

Schedule a time for your children to interview a senior citizen.  I encourage my students to choose a family member if possible, but I know that this isn’t possible for everyone.  Interviewing an older friend or neighbor will also be very educational.  Older generations, like great-grandparents, have even more historical details to share, so do not overlook them when choosing someone to interview.

Your children should ask permission to interview this person, meet when it is convenient, and explain that the person is free to share as much or as little as she feels comfortable.  Audio or video recordings are wonderful keepsakes, but only if the senior citizen approves.  This year, a student submitted her interview as an audio recording instead of in writing.  I was going to ask her to transcribe it for me, but before I knew it I had listened to the full twenty-six minutes!  (I had over 100 to grade, so assessing audio recordings was not time efficient.)  Listening to her interact with her grandfather was incredibly engaging.  You could literally hear their admiration for and understanding of one another growing as they talked.

(Note: If your children see their grandparents often, they are likely to say that they already know their grandparents very well.  Ignore this.  I knew my grandmother well, but I did not know that she pole vaulted in high school!  My grandma did that?  NO WAY!  My students ALWAYS say they learned new information, even students who live with their grandparents.  Think about your normal conversations.  We typically don’t dig very deeply into personal details.)

Step 2

Choose questions.  I usually provide a list of questions for my students to pick from based on what they already know about their senior citizen.  For example, asking about how weddings and marriage have changed can spark a very interesting conversation with some interviewees, while that question might be too painful for others.  Help your children choose appropriate questions.  I’m adding extra questions here beyond what I use with my students so that you have plenty to choose from.

Encourage your children to ask follow-up questions or to ask for more explanation.  This is a great conversational skill to learn!

This list has been edited and revised multiple times since 2001, so I don’t recall which questions I created, which ones I added from other sources, and which ones were from the original assignment created by a teacher at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis North Carolina where I taught many years ago.

  • When and where were you born?  How did your parents choose your name?
  • What is your definition of a hero?  Who is someone you would consider a hero and why?
  • What major historical events have occurred in your lifetime?  How did they change the world?  How did they affect you personally?
  • What are the advantages of being a senior citizen?  What are the disadvantages?
  • What advice for living a good life would you give today’s teenage generation?  What would you warn me to stay away from?  What would you suggest I spend more time doing?
  • How do you feel about teenagers today?  What do you like and dislike about them as a group?
  • How do you see families changing in today’s society?  How do you feel about that?
  • Tell me about your own parents.  What impressed you about them?  How were they similar to and different from parents today?
  • If you could change one thing about society today, what would it be?  Why?
  • What are a few of the most memorable aspects of your childhood?
  • What was your favorite toy as a child?  Why?
  • Share a holiday memory from your childhood.
  • What kind of entertainment did you enjoy when you were a teenager?
  • What does being an American mean to you?  What is the greatest responsibility of being an American?  What is the greatest privilege?
  • How was your parents’ culture a part of your childhood?  Did you have any special traditions or recipes that were tied to your ancestry?  Did you share these with your children?
  • What are the most significant changes that you have seen in society throughout your lifetime?  Do you consider these changes to be positive or negative?
  • How has your own perspective on life changed since you were a teenager?  Why?
  • What was your wedding like?  How was it different from weddings today?  How long have you been married, and how old were you when you got married?
  • What advice would you give a couple that is just starting their marriage?
  • What advice would you give a teenager who is starting to date?
  • How much have prices changed since you were a teenager?  How much did a gallon of gas cost?  A new house?  A new car? A candy bar?  How much did your first job pay?
  • What is the one rule of life that you live by and that has guided your actions?  Why?
  • What is the best gift that you ever received?  Why is it memorable?
  • Describe any memories of wartime that you have.
  • How did you spend your free time when you were a child?  Do you think kids today are lucky or unlucky to have their own televisions, computers, and cell phones?
  • If you had a chance to do something that you have not yet done in life, what would it be?  Why?
  • How have schools and education changed since you were a child?
  • When you were a kid, who did you look up to?  Why?
  • What is something that you remember disagreeing with your parents about when you were young?  Looking back, who was “right”?
  • Tell me about a funny memory from your childhood.  Tell me about a happy memory.  Tell me about a sad memory.  Tell me about a time you were afraid.  Tell me about a time you felt proud.
  • Finish this sentence.  “Looking back, one thing I wish I had known as a young adult was . . . “
  • What advice do you have for someone facing a really hard time in life?  What has gotten you through your hardest times?
  • Are their any special heirlooms that are being passed down in our family?
  • Do you have a favorite song, book, meal, color, quotation, or religious verse?
  • You know me well.  What are your goals and wishes for my future?

Step 3

Preserve it.  Maybe your child could type the interview and share it with someone else who will appreciate it, if the interviewee doesn’t mind sharing.  Maybe your child could use the interview to write a special letter to the person who was interviewed.  As a teacher, I assign my students to write a reflection essay.  I don’t give them a specific topic because each student walks away from each interview with a different takeaway and a different emotional response.  However, students could be assigned to write about several lessons they learned or ways society has changed or answers that most surprised them.  Some students have also chosen to write beautiful poems inspired by their interviews as part of a creative writing project at the end of the year.

Step 4

Show gratitude.  I require my students to write a thank you note to the person who was interviewed, and I encourage them to share their final essay with that person, as well.  They typically walk away with a deeper appreciation for the person who was interviewed, so they are eager to share their thanks.  They sometimes write me a thank you note, as well!  (No more eye rolls!)

Friends, I am telling you that you will not regret sharing this homework assignment with your kids.  This year, one of my students worked so hard on her reflection essay that she revised it over and over again until she felt in her heart that it truly honored her grandmother.  Multiple students told me that they thought their grandparents really didn’t like teenagers or that they thought teenagers and senior citizens had little in common, but they discovered that their assumptions were completely wrong.  Many had no idea how much adversity the senior citizens they interviewed had overcome.

This assignment always reminds me that English Language Arts is a humanity, and that the humanities are important because they teach us how to be human.  Students have left my classroom as better writers and students have left my classroom as better editors and students have left my classroom with better test scores.  That is all very good.

But if students leave my classroom as better people, then maybe I have truly done the job that I’m supposed to do.

Awaiting

 

 

I Remember When the Lights Turned Black

Baby Carson

All day long, there was bleeding. The nurse smiled warmly whenever our eyes met. Her name was Mary. My name. The name of my aunts and my grandmother. She smiled, and I felt safe with her, but when she looked away from me, there was worry in the lines of her forehead. I noticed it. I noticed how her brows pulled together like magnets every time she examined me. I noticed that my nurses seemed more interested than the last time I stayed here, quietly fluttering in and out of the room like butterflies. I noticed, but I didn’t really care, because I was holding the tiny, warm ball of you in my arms.

Yes, I feel fine. Yes, I’m tired, but I didn’t sleep well last night. My body felt heavy, and I was uncomfortable, and maybe my chart mentions that I just gave birth to a child this morning. No, I really don’t need anything. Unless you can stretch time – can you do that? I only want more time today. Could you make this day the longest one? I need time to soak up every detail of these moments, to absorb them into my memory. Time to properly welcome this newest human to our family and our planet. Time for my skin to speak promises to him. Promises of safety and of love.

Yes, I can take a break, if you think I need to. Here, you take the baby. Yes, I can sit up straight and stand and walk to the restroom by myself, but thank you. I’ve done this before and everything was simple and maybe we’ll go home tomorrow. I have a new baby, and everything is good. It’s SO good. Really. I’m just fine.

Except – why is this room spinning? And everything inside of me just washed to the bottom. Where did the lines go? Where are all the corners? Walls or floors or ceilings, a blur of colors, and that loud sound, don’t you hear it? I need to lie down.

There. That’s better. I’m fine.

Please give me my baby.

That was the beginning of a very slow and a very fast day, a day that felt so long and so short and so high and so low and that almost ended in tragedy. But here’s what I want you to know, Son. Even if that day a dozen years ago had ended differently, even if I had been given only one day to know you, only one day to love you, even if I had held you close for just a single day, it would have been worth it. If I had lost all of the special moments we have shared since you were born (a painful thought that ripples through my heart like a shock), I would have no regrets.

Because . . . YOU.

I remember those hours, from the welcoming beams of dawn until the last gleams at dusk, so vividly. I remember your first cries and the warm wave of relief and the explosive joy that felt like tears when I first held you. I remember loving you all day long.  I remember the lights in my room suddenly turning black and I remember the quick strings of urgent words as we rushed into surgery through sleepy hospital halls and I remember the fear that smoldered in loving eyes and the heavy air that hovered low around my bed.

And I remember the overwhelming peace, the comfort that embraced me. The quiet contentment in my mind. I remember that this normally anxious spirit was not afraid of what would happen despite an outcome that was still unclear.

What I remember most is that March 31 was one of the very best days of my life.

Because . . . YOU.

You were not a gift made for me, not someone to be owned, but a beautiful spirit entrusted to our care, to be loved and taught and shared with the world, and then returned to the God who designed you. I didn’t know, on that day, if I would see you in the morning, if you would ever really know who I had been.  But I have been given so many more days to enjoy you, and my heart swells with gratitude and with the hope of so many more.  Your light stood out in my darkness, and the little spirit that I welcomed grows bigger and brighter and bolder each year.

Love you always,

Mom

Mary Lou Retton, Commodore 64, and a Pack of Lucky Strikes

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I grew up in a house that was too small for secrets.  There were no secluded hiding spots or private spaces.  Time alone was so rare that it almost felt uncomfortable.  And even when you thought you were having a private conversation, someone was always within earshot.  Usually, that person was your little brother.

There wasn’t much the four of us didn’t know about each other.

So I was surprised when, on a crisp November day while my boys and I were visiting my parents, my dad revealed a treasure box that had been covertly concealed in a closet.  Even in our teeny tiny house, he’d kept a secret – a stash of yellowed newspapers and vintage magazines that he had squirreled away over the years for their historical or personal significance, including several Sports Illustrated magazines from my childhood.

You guys, MARY LOU RETTON.

My memories of the spring and summer of 1984 are limited.  I had just turned eight years old.  My second grade teacher had been creative and unconventional, and she would remain one of my favorites forever.  (She played the guitar, produced a play every season, and sang “Puff the Magic Dragon.”  Standardized tests weren’t holding us hostage yet.)  I owned a Michael Jackson t-shirt that I vaguely remember wearing often.  Probably too often.  I honestly don’t remember much more that that.

But I DO remember watching Mary Lou Retton win gold in the summer Olympics, right here in America.  I remember seeing her on the Wheaties boxes at the store.  (She was the first woman on the front of the box, by the way.)  She was smiley and spunky, and she grew up just a couple of hours away from me, which in Appalachia means that you might as well be neighbors.  We claimed her, and she would become one of the most beloved athletes of all time.

So when my dad pulled out his treasures, I went straight for the Sports Illustrated dated August 13, 1984 to read the articles about Mary Lou.  But I didn’t even read them.  I still haven’t read them, actually.  (I’m so sorry, Mary Lou.  I will.  I promise!)  When I opened the cover and saw the first advertisement, I quickly became engrossed in what this relic from the past reveals about the American experience just a few decades ago.  Is this really what life was like when I was a child?  Whoa.  Apparently, growing up requires so much concentration that we don’t even notice the changes of life swirling around us.

It does surprise me how much some areas of our lives have been transformed.  And it’s equally amazing how much some things that need to change really haven’t changed so much at all.  See for yourself!  Check out this walk down Memory Lane courtesy of Sports Illustrated magazine, August 1984.

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The Marlboro Man was to 1984 what The Most Interesting Man in the World is to 2018.  He was cool.  He persuaded us to believe that indulging in unhealthy habits isn’t immature or irresponsible; it’s manly.  (We are all still recovering from the devastation this myth creates in our society…)  In the 80s, kids loved their candy cigarettes, and there were women who could not resist a man who smelled like a campfire and sounded like he was coughing up a lung.  But the Marlboro man wasn’t lonely in Sports Illustrated.  There were almost as many cigarette ads as articles.

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There was this one, which makes a pool party look like a lot more fun than smoking, but whatever.  I guess the ladies only came when they heard there would be cigarettes?

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And there was this guy.  He had no idea how to ride a motorcycle until he smoked a Kool.  I bet he didn’t have hair like that B.K. (Before Kool), either.  I might even consider smoking a Kool to grow thick hair and have deep thoughts like that . . .

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And there were these.  Hey, at least they are low tar.  A lot of tar sounds gross, but a little tar, well, that’s perfect.

You guys, there were SO MANY tobacco ads in this Sports Illustrated.

Interestingly, according to this article on nbcnews.com dated May 24, 2016, “roughly 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked” about fifty years ago, down to around 15% today.  Which suggests that maybe, just maybe, sometimes government regulations imposed on profitable industries that care more about money than actual Americans can be the catalyst for significant and positive shifts in our society.

Or maybe I’m misunderstanding the statistics.

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Remember when Kmart was king of the department stores and Walmart was just invading the Midwest?  Really, did anyone who banked on the success of Velcro shoes get ahead?

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Yes, there was a time when everybody wanted a Commodore 64.  Who thought technology would expand beyond THIS?  Just look at those graphics!

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What?!?  AT&T made personal computers?  Based on the ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE customer service I experienced with them recently, I’m not surprised they’ve experienced some failures.

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Even with the advancing technology, in the 1980s computers still seemed unnecessary to most of us.  As if every family would need its own computer!  Please!  That would be as crazy as having phones that weren’t attached to the wall!  Or computers that would fit in our pockets!  Just the idea was hilarious.  Electronic typewriters were the perfect middle ground for most of middle America.  We liked change.  But not THAT much change.

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Rolls of film?  My kids would have no idea what this even means . . .

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Friends, here’s a true story: I almost surrendered while trying to open a package of Tide pods yesterday to wash our clothes.  I’m not even joking.  The childproofing was so advanced and creative that it took me several minutes to figure it out.  In 2018, we live in our own personal prisons to keep our children safe.  But in 1984, I was eight years old, and I was sitting in the front seat, probably on my knees, without a safety belt.  Really, I might as well have been driving.  According to this ad, only 15% of Americans were buckling up in 1984, so I was in good company – and my parents were perfectly wonderful – and totally normal to allow this.  I remember people protesting when seatbelt laws were first introduced, but those regulations have saved a whole lot of lives.

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A few things I found in this SI issue did disturb me.  I’m not sure this ad campaign would fly today.  I’m pretty sure that secretaries have other things to type at work . . .

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And I’m confident that the photographers at the Olympics could have shared a more appropriate photo of the Romanian women’s gymnastics team than this.  REALLY?

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And I’d love to tell you that thirty years since this letter to the editor, at least one woman has qualified to officiate a regular season game for major league baseball, but as far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened.  It’s been THIRTY YEARS!

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And this guy wrote an editorial about how, in his opinion, Americans weren’t the most hospitable hosts of the Olympics because, well, maybe our culture is generally kind of selfish and maybe we think that America should always be the center of attention.  Maybe we weren’t as welcoming and open minded toward people from other countries in 1984 as we thought we were.

Whew.  Thank goodness those attitudes have changed, right?  (*sigh*)

So everything wasn’t perfect in 1984.  There were problems, some that we’ve almost extinguished and some that we have not.

But we did have Velcro shoes.

And Mary Lou Retton.

And that alone makes up for a lot.

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Ten Lessons I Learned When Life Tried to Drown Me – Part 2

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Don’t worry!  If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here.  If you already read that post, thanks for coming back!  I know the anticipation was killing you, especially since I am a day late . . . Here are five more lessons I learned when life tried to drown me in 2017.

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6. You can’t change people.

We’re approaching the end of January, and gym attendance has already dropped dramatically since January 1.  In fact, according to statisticbrain.com, 67% of people who have gym memberships don’t even use them.  If you are still plugging away at your new year’s resolutions, kudos to you!  Statistically, you were probably more likely to have been hit by lightning or killed by a hippo, but you persevered!

Resolutions are tough because it’s hard for us to change what we are accustomed to believing or doing.  Change is not impossible, for sure, but it’s difficult, even when we really WANT a change to take place. Here’s the point: If it is incredibly challenging just to change yourself, then how would you possibly be able to change another person who sees no reason for an adjustment in the first place?

Let me say this (to myself) one more time.  YOU. CAN’T. CHANGE. PEOPLE.  You can love them.  You can encourage them.  You can share your wisdom and experiences.  You can listen.  You can care about them from the very bottom of your heart.  But you can only change yourself.  You can play a supporting role for other people when they decide to change themselves.  And that could be . . . well . . . never.  Changing them is not your responsibility.  Thank goodness.  Because you can’t do it.

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7. Grief is like a cloud.

Grief is like the clouds in the sky.  At first, the clouds are thick and heavy, and very little light slips through.  The days are foggy and dark, and time feels long and slow and kind of blurry.  Fortunately, as the weeks pass by, the clouds break up and the sunbeams win.  Brightness, clarity, and sunshine become normal again.  The clouds become lighter and fluffier, and they blow by gently, and sometimes you don’t even notice them at all.  Some days there is not a single cloud, just a bright blue sky, and those sunny days are more magnificent than they ever were before.

But clouds always return.  They always blow in and out of the sky.  They are smaller and farther between, but they are never really gone.

Sometimes you can feel a storm cloud rolling in before you see it, like older people say they feel the rain in their bones.  Other times, a single dark cloud surprises you.  It shows up out of nowhere in the middle of a clear blue sky.  You are having a picnic or swimming in the pool, playing with your kids or laughing with friends, and you unexpectedly find yourself running for cover.

But the sunny days, after a while, far outnumber those sprinkled with clouds.

There is no timeline for grief, no good way to measure or explain it.  Be patient with friends who have experienced a loss. It’s okay for you to ask them how they are doing, even after time has passed.  You aren’t going to remind them of something that they have forgotten.  Most likely, there is still at least one cloud in their sky, and they might appreciate that you recognize that.

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8. Your value does not depend on your success or your failure.

After several disappointing team losses recently, my son was feeling defeated as an athlete.  I could see it.  He didn’t need a lecture on how to improve his skills or a play-by-play account of the team’s mistakes. He already knew that stuff, and I’m not his coach.   What he needed from mom was encouragement.

We talked about the season and his goals and his improvements.  We talked about some camps and some training he might like.  But his disappointment was heavy, despite his usual resilience.  I wasn’t really sure what else to say.  And then these words spilled out of my mouth, “I know disappointment is hard, but do you know what would make this experience really tragic?”

He raised his eyebrows and looked up from his phone.

“If your value as a person were actually tied to your wins and your losses.”

I don’t really know where that came from, but my first thought was, DANGTHAT was some good parenting!  Yes, I nailed it!  Then my throat tightened just a little bit because the message was also convicting.  Because sometimes I forget that my own value as a human being isn’t tied to what I do for a living or what I have in the bank or who likes me or how many mistakes I’ve made or what I mark off my to-do list each day.

The fact that I am losing my job does not diminish my personal value. Yes, teaching is very important to me, and, yes, I love helping teenagers, and, yes, I am proud of what I have accomplished over the past fourteen years, but my job does not determine my value.

The fact that I am going through a divorce does not diminish my personal value. Yes, it dramatically changes what I imagined for the future, and, yes, it has been a painful experience, and, yes, family is incredibly important to me, but my relationships do not determine my value.

The fact that some people don’t enjoy my writing does not diminish my personal value.  Yes, rejection stings, and, yes, I wish everyone liked me, but what other people think does not determine my value.

Your value, the true measure of who you are, is separate from your parenting, your marriage, your friendships, your job, your hobbies, your paycheck, and your successes. Every one of those things can be stripped away from you, yet you would still BE.

You.  Would.  Still.  Be. 

And if that leaves you wondering where your value actually comes from, maybe it’s time to slow down and reflect on who you truly are and where you put your faith and what that really means.

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9. The opinions of other people matter.  Sometimes.

When I hear my high school students say things like, “I don’t really care what people think,” or “Other people’s opinions don’t matter to me,” or “Nobody is going to tell me what to do,” that can usually be translated into “I am making some very poor life choices right now.” The reality is that I rarely hear those words strung together by students who are experiencing success at school and in life at that moment.

But I specifically remember one girl in my English class who wrote that whenever she makes a decision, she asks herself what her Aunt Diane would do.  Her Aunt Diane’s opinion matters.  She trusts it.  Every person needs an Aunt Diane.

There are people in our lives who play an important role in encouraging us to make the best decisions and in holding us accountable when they see danger lurking around us. Their opinions matter to us, even after they are gone.  (My grandmothers’ voices still play a powerful role in my life.)  But there are a whole lot of other opinions that don’t matter, voices that serve only to distract and discourage us, with no true concern for our well being at all.  There are people who don’t even know us and people who have not earned our trust that complain, criticize, and try to convince us to give up on the good things we are doing.  It’s so important to discern the opinions that matter from the opinions that don’t.

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10. Bravery is not what people think it is.

The bravest people I know do not fit the image of bravery that American culture has created. We like to associate bravery with physical strength and tough words and a lust for adventure,  but brave people are often quiet and humble.  They often suffer and sacrifice in ways that other people don’t even notice.  And bravery doesn’t always sound like we expect.  Saying “I am not perfect” is braver than saying “I don’t make mistakes.”  Saying “I was hurt by what you did” is braver than saying “That didn’t matter to me.”  Saying “I made a mistake” is braver than saying “I don’t see a problem.”  Saying “I can relate to how you feel because this happened to me” is braver than saying “Call if you need me.”  Saying “Actually, life is hard right now” is braver than saying “Everything is fine.”  Bravery can be big and loud, but it can also be quiet and unassuming.  Be sure to notice and appreciate (and maybe even try to experience) both kinds.

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Thanks so much for reading this post, sharing the blog with friends, and weathering the storms of life together!  (We all need a village, right?  Don’t tell me you forgot #1 already!)  Here’s to hoping, but not expecting, to win the lottery in 2018!

*Pictures created using Bitmoji.

Join the conversation!  Which of these ten lessons resonated with you the most?  Comment below or on the Still Chasing Fireflies Facebook page!