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365 Reasons to Smile – Day 93

A few weeks ago, my mom sent me an email with a link to her cousin’s obituary and told me to read the comments. Since I’d only met the man a couple of times, I didn’t immediately pay much attention. But, as I was cleaning up old emails, I decided to take a look.

I’m glad I did.

Apparently, Mom’s cousin Clark died while preparing to attend the visitation for his wife, who had just passed away. According to his son, he had his own idea about what the visitation meant and decided to go see his wife in heaven rather than at the funeral home. Others commented that no one should be surprised. The two had been married for 55 years, were joined at the hip and helped define each other.

I’m generally cynical about the concept of soul mates and destiny, but their story gives me pause. In a world in which celebrity break-ups make headlines,  an article in a small town newspaper (Clark and Shirley: A Love Story) captures what is truly important in life.

And that will always make me smile.

Day 93: True Love  Day 92: Camera Phones Day 91: Bicycle BrakesDay 90:  HeroesDay 89: The Cricket in Times Square  Day 88:  The Grand Canyon Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being HumanDay 84: Captain Underpants  Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank  Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry  Day 80: The Outsiders Day 79:  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day 77: People Who Touch Our LivesDay 76:  The Rewards of Parenting   Day 75:  ImprovementsDay 74:  Family TraditionsDay 73: Learning From Our MistakesDay 72: Live Music Day 71:  Sleeping InDay 70:  GroverDay 69:  A Good Hair Day Day 68:  A Sense of Community Day 67: KindnessDay 66: Living in a Place You Love  Day 65: Gifts from the Heart  Day 64: The Arrival of FallDay 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green LightsDay 61:  My Canine FriendsDay 60:  DifferencesDay 59:  A New Box of CrayonsDay 58: BookwormsDay 57: Being Oblivious  Day 56: Three-day WeekendsDay 55:  A Cat PurringDay 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s ArtworkDay 52: LeftiesDay 51: The Neighborhood Deer  Day 50: CampfiresDay 49: Childhood CrushesDay  48: The Words “Miss You”Day 47:  Birthday StoriesDay 46: Nature’s Hold on UsDay 45:  Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School PicturesDay 43: Calvin and HobbesDay 42: Appreciative ReadersDay 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best QuoteDay 40:  Being SillyDay 39:  Being Happy Exactly Where You AreDay 38: Proud GrandparentsDay 37: Chocolate Chip CookiesDay 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great StoriesDay 35: You Can’t Always Get What You WantDay 34:  Accepting the Fog    Day 33: I See the MoonDay 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal TapDay 31: PerspectiveDay 30:  Unlikely FriendshipsDay 29: Good SamaritansDay 28:  Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet?Day 27: ShadowsDay 26: Bike Riding on Country RoadsDay 25: When Harry Met SallyDay 24: HibiscusDay 23: The Ice Cream TruckDay 22:  The Wonderful World of DisneyDay 21: Puppy loveDay 20 Personal Theme Songs  Day 19:  Summer CloudsDay 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s VictoryDay 17:  A Royal Birth  Day 16:  Creative KidsDay 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His MasculinityDay 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter  Day 12:  Round Bales of HayDay 11:  Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf CloversDay 8: Great Teachers We Still RememberDay  7:  Finding the missing sock Day 6:  Children’s books that teach life-long lessonsDay 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment   Day 4:  Jumping in Puddles  Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old PhotographsDay 1: The Martians on Sesame Street

365 Reasons to Smile – Day 25

If you ask me what my favorite movie is, you’ll  get the same answer you’d get if you asked me my favorite song.

“That depends on my mood.”

But, I do have top ten lists, and When Harry Met Sally will always be near the top of my favorite movies list.

From the first time I saw the film in the theater when to the last time I saw it on television, the love story always makes me smile.

Day 25:  When Harry Met Sally

Day 24:  Hibiscus  Day 23:  The Ice Cream Truck

Day 22:  The Wonderful World of Disney   Day 21: Puppy Love

Day 20 Personal Theme Songs     Day 19:  Summer Clouds

Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s Victory

Day 17:  A Royal Birth        Day 16:  Creative Kids

Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle   Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His Masculinity

Day 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter     Day 12:  Round Bales of Hay

Day 11:  Water Fountains for Dogs    Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial

Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers  Day 8: Great Teachers We Still Remember

Day  7:  Finding the missing sock   Day 6:  Children’s books that teach life-long lessons

Day 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment     Day 4:  Jumping in Puddles  

Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill    Day 2: Old Photographs

Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street

365 Reasons to Smile – Day 21

Ikcandrodneyf someone were to ask me what is needed to live a happy life, having a dog would be at the top of my list.

Even when I was young, I knew I could never marry a man who didn’t love dogs and consider them important family members.

But that never guaranteed I would have children who love dogs.

Thank goodness they do, and that always makes me smile.

Day 21:  Puppy Love

Day 20: Personal Theme Songs   Day 19:  Summer Clouds

Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s Victory

Day 17:  A Royal Birth        Day 16:  Creative Kids

Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle   Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His Masculinity

Day 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter     Day 12:  Round Bales of Hay

Day 11:  Water Fountains for Dogs    Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial

Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers  Day 8: Great Teachers We Still Remember

Day  7:  Finding the missing sock   Day 6:  Children’s books that teach life-long lessons

Day 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment     Day 4:  Jumping in Puddles  

Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill    Day 2: Old Photographs

Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street

The Starfish in the Greenhouse

My dad is a man of nature.

He has a degree in forestry, and even now, on the verge of  80-years-old, he still nurtures gardens full of flowers and vegetables.

starfishIf I had only one word to describe him, that word would be green.

He had a green thumb and, when I was still a child, he even built his own green house. That ensured that when conditions didn’t cooperate with his plans, he could still grow the plants he wanted.

Because he was a man of dirt and seeds, I’ll never be able to think of my dad as a person of sea and surf.

But my mother is.

She’s loves to sit on cliffs over the ocean and watch waves crash into the rocks.

To this day, the only times I remember seeing my mom not being productive were the moments she spent watching the ocean.

Maybe that’s why my dad made sure she had that opportunity at least once a year.

On one of those trips to the Oregon Coast during my childhood, I found a starfish on the beach.

My dad, who was walking with me along the shore when I picked up the starfish, seemed less than delighted that I wanted to keep the starfish. But he let me take it home anyway. He even suggested I put it in the greenhouse so it would dry out.

I took him up on his suggestion, but I grew to regret it.

The starfish may have dried out, but it also stunk up the greenhouse.

For years it stunk up that greenhouse. And every time I entered it, I was reminded of that stinking starfish.

But my dad never mentioned it.

I doubt I’ll ever know why he didn’t, but I’m pretty sure the answer has something to do with love.

Love isn’t about having people in our life who find peace in the same place we do.

Love is about having people in our life who show us how to find joy in places we wouldn’t otherwise look.

Where Fear Comes From

As I sat in my driveway Thursday night watching fireworks, I was transported back to a July evening more than 40 years ago.

My family and I were sitting in lawn chairs in front of our small rental house on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon watching an amateur fireworks show. As a very young girl, I didn’t know the pyrotechnics were less than impressive. All I knew was that my parents were complaining about the long delays between explosions and that Charlie Brown was scared. And I was worried about Charlie.

Trina and Charlie Brown 1971

Trina and Charlie Brown 1971

From the day my parents adopted Charlie Brown, they should have known I would fall deeply in love. I was born to be a dog lover the way some people are born to be athletes or musicians. According to my baby book, one of my first words was “doggie,” and, as a toddler, I would search out dog books at the local library.

But until Charlie Brown arrived, my family never had a dog.

Since then, my family has never been complete without a dog.

charlie brown

Charlie Brown

And even though we loved Charlie, his early years weren’t easy. He came into our lives at a time when dogs were allowed to roam, and roam he did. When he strayed onto a cattle ranch and started chasing the cows, the rancher shot him. He barely survived, and my parents always blamed his fear of thunder and fireworks on that incident.

Their explanation was reasonable, and I always believed them until I discovered that other dogs, those who have never been shot, also fear thunder and fireworks.

That’s when I began to wonder where the fear comes from. I just couldn’t understand why so many dogs would be afraid of the same thing when their experiences were so varied.

The concept of fear has always fascinated me, especially since I’ve spent my own life overcoming unjustified ones. When I was young, I was afraid to swim in water that was over my head even though I could swim perfectly well when I could touch the bottom. I was afraid to slide down a fireman’s pole, even when all the other kids were expressing sheer joy during the descent. And I’ve always been afraid of rejection and failure to the extent that I avoided potential relationships and challenges.

Then, at one point in my life, I thought I had finally figured out the fear factor.

In college, a Psychology professor discussed the theory of collective memory, and the concept clicked. I might not have experienced an event that would provoke fear, but one of more of my ancestors had. They would have then passed those fears down to me.

That made sense for the dogs as well. They may not have experienced the danger associated with loud noises, but their ancestors had.

For years, as I’ve slowly overcome my fears one by one, I’ve held on to that theory.

Then Rodney entered my life.

Rodney watching the fireworks.

Rodney watching the fireworks.

Rodney is the current canine member of my family. He’s a giant German Shepherd with a lot of energy and very little fear. That is, very little fear unless you count his inability to be left alone.

When we first adopted Rodney from a rescue group, he wouldn’t even go into our backyard without someone accompanying him. Over the past three years, he’s improved, but he still hates to be separated from the family, and, yes, particularly from me.

On Thursday night, as the human members of the family sat in the driveway watching fireworks, Rodney sat in the house watching us. He whined, he whimpered and he cried until I brought him out to join us.

And then he was content. While the city fireworks boomed overhead and the neighbors shot off their firecrackers, he simply watched. And my theory about the roots of fear was forgotten.

Because, at that moment, I realized that no matter where fear comes from, there will always be an even greater force.

It’s called love.

Everything I Need to Know About Valentine’s Day, I learned in First Grade

candyheartsI always liked school, but I absolutely hated first grade. That’s because I had a very, very, very mean teacher.

Even forty years later, I’m still traumatized by memories of Mrs. Gladwill.

Normally, I’d feel really guilty calling someone out by name but 1) I’m not the only who has scars inflicted by Mrs. Gladwill and, 2) She’s dead. She died in 2008 at the age of 94. I know this because my mother sent me a link to her obituary. My mother, who is a very wise woman, knew I needed closure.

There’s no need to go into all the details of why first grade was difficult. There are just too many of those details, such as:

Watching fellow students have their ears twisted;

Sitting in class in fear of having “accidents” because, instead of giving permission to use the bathroom, Mrs. Gladwill gave lectures about “not planning accordingly”;

Having my desk put in the corner of the room so others couldn’t cheat from my papers.

But my worst memory, by far, is Valentine’s Day.

Back in the early 1970’s, before there were strict dietary guidelines in schools, Valentine’s Day parties were one of the celebrated days of the school year. Preparation began well before the actual day. By the beginning of February, letters were sent home with both the names of classmates and a list of snacks, such as cookies, cupcakes and candy, that parents were asked to contribute. We used that list of names to painstakingly address a card for every single classmate – whether we liked the person or not. But we did pick out “the best” cards and candy (every card had to have candy) for our friends.

In school, we decorated mailboxes (shoeboxes covered with construction paper) in which our Valentine’s Day cards were to be delivered. The actual celebration was to be a festival of sugar and giggles.

The day before the big Valentine’s Day party, I could no longer hide the fact I couldn’t swallow. I’d begun to worry the day before at school when eating lunch was a painful challenge. At breakfast, while I was trying to somehow swallow a spoonful of Cheerios, my mother took one look at me, told me I looked like a chipmunk and declared I had the mumps.

I wasn’t just devastated. I was horrified.

Mrs. Gladwill simply did not tolerate illness. Every day, after she took attendance, she would take a piece of chalk and scrawl the names of the absent on the blackboard. In the eyes of first graders, having your name on the blackboard was equivalent to the adult version of being forced to wear a scarlet letter. Walking into the classroom and seeing  your name on the blackboard was the ultimate walk of shame.

Being diagnosed with mumps was not only a sentence to take that walk of shame, but it also meant I was going to miss the Valentine’s Day party. In the eyes of a six-year-old, life couldn’t have been much worse.

That Valentine’s Day was probably one of the longest days of my life as I spent every minute imagining all I was missing. Finally, sometime after 3:00, I heard the squeal of the school bus’ brakes as it stopped in front of my house. When my brother came into the house, he didn’t call me chipmunk or tease me for missing all the festivities. Instead, he handed me the shoebox I had so painstakingly decorated only a few days earlier. But now, it was full of Valentine’s and candy. I spent hours reading and treasuring all of the cards, even the ones I knew weren’t heartfelt.

A few days later when I returned to class, my name was one of many written in dark chalk on the blackboard. Apparently, some nameless person (me?) had come to school with the mumps and shared the virus with everyone else.

Eventually, attendance went back up and our class returned to the same, miserable status quo. But I didn’t. That Valentine’s Day taught me a lot about love:

1. Love is about the memories we treasure because, even though they sometimes grow out of difficult situations, they remind us of people and challenges we’ve overcome.

2.Love is about finding a song that will mean something to you at any age. For me, the  Rolling Stones got it exactly right. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you just might find, you get what you need.”

3. Love is about having a family whose support will always make the worst day a little bit brighter.

4. Love is learning to treasure all the small gifts, even ones from people who may not realize that they were giving anything of importance.

5. Love is about taking care yourself, even when others will try to make you feel as though their needs should come first.

Most of all, I learned that Valentine’s Day is much more complicated than cards, or candy or having just one special person in your life. It’s about recognizing and acknowledge everything that makes you happy.

And, over the past 40 years, I’ve been immensely blessed with people, memories and circumstances that make me happy.

Which, is why, even though I may not entirely succumb to the sappiness of Valentine’s Day, I certainly embrace the sentiments, and the lessons, it’s taught me.

Ten Lessons about Love for My Ten Year-old Daughter

Being a very practical person, I’m extremely fortunate to have a pragmatic daughter. Unlike many of her peers, she’s shown little concern about romance and relationships. Other than incessantly listening to Taylor Swift songs and keeping tabs on Taylor’s love life, she just doesn’t seem to care.

And while I hope that doesn’t change, I also know that, eventually, it will.

I can’t imagine that she’ll ever be the type of person who feels incomplete without a significant other, but I do know that she will start dating at some point.

And that also means she’ll have her heart broken.

But before that happens, I feel obligated to share ten lessons I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) about love:

1. You can’t truly love someone else unless you love who you are. And who you are is an imperfect person who makes mistakes, gets mad and will sometimes say and do very stupid things. Love yourself anyone. How you handle your mistakes and flaws is more important than trying to hide them.

2.  Love is only genuine when you are being true to yourself.  Don’t pretend to enjoy something when you don’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compromise. You should. Love requires a great deal of compromise. But compromise doesn’t mean you should pretend to be someone you’re not.  If you do, you’ll wind up being miserable.

3. Love isn’t a competition, and you can’t make someone love you. You will always be loved for being the unique person you are and not because you are prettier, smarter, funnier, sexier or nicer than someone else. Therefore, you should never worry about what others are doing to attract attention or affection. Being yourself is enough.

4.  You don’t fall in love. That indescribable feeling of “falling in love'” is usually a combination of infatuation and physical attraction. Love is something that is grounded in mutual respect, grows slowly and doesn’t necessarily bloom as much as it thrives.

5.  Love isn’t about romance. It’s about experiencing someone at their very worst and realizing that walking away would still be more devastating than dealing with a tough situation.

6. Love is about having passion in your life – but not necessarily in the way you might think. Never invest so much of yourself in a relationship that you don’t have time for everything else you love. Be passionate about a hobby. Be passionate about a cause. Be passionate about your family and friends. And also be passionate about your love.

7. True love means you aren’t worried about what other people think about your relationship. If you spend time worrying about what others are thinking or saying, you likely have concerns yourself. If you’re confident about your relationship and the integrity of your significant other, you won’t care what others say. Always stay in tune with your inner voice and be honest with yourself.

8. Love means saying you’re sorry. Unlike the quote “love means never having to say you’re sorry” made popular in the 1970’s movie “Love Story,” love means that you’re willing to let go of your ego. Admit when you are wrong or when you’ve said or done something hurtful. And when you are in a relationship, you will say and do hurtful things at times.

9.  Don’t expect love to always feel exciting and new. Just like life, love can sometimes be dull and boring and predictable. Relationships are like roller coasters: sometimes they can be difficult and sometimes they can be easy and fun. But being able to work together during the uphill battles is what makes the downhill ride so enjoyable.

10. People do change, and that can affect your relationship.  Our experiences shape who we become. The person who you fell in love with several years ago will probably be different from the person you know today. And you will be different too.  Many times, you can join hands while you grow.  Sometimes, you drop your hands and grow apart. Often, the decision is yours, but sometimes it isn’t.

As I share these lessons with my daughter, I realize that I could add so many more. But I figure one for every year of her life is enough for now. Besides, she often doesn’t listen to me anyway.  Despite that, I do want her to hear one message loud and clear:  even though she will ALWAYS have her mother’s heart, I  hope she is also able to follow her own.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Halloween may be  the most ghostly holiday, but like Ebenezer Scrooge, I have always found Christmas to be more haunting. 

And just as with Scrooge, my Christmas ghosts remind me of what used to be and what I  still hold dear.

Unlike Scrooge, my ghosts don’t necessarily encourage me to reconsider my life path. They are simply reminders about change, about being a parent and about how the best Christmas gifts often go unopened for years and sometimes even decades.

And every holiday season, my ghosts remind me of  when I was an adolescent  and received gifts that I didn’t unwrap or appreciate  until years later.

They were given to me when I  was struggling with the usual  angst and therefore oblivious to anything my parents were dealing with.

And they were dealing with a lot.

My dad was unhappy with his current employment and seeking a new job. My mom was happy and fulfilled with her role in the community, but supportive of my dad.  Therefore, the needs of my dad, the family breadwinner, won out and he accepted a job almost all the way across the country from our Oregon home.

Shortly after accepting  the new job, he packed up his Ford truck  and our family dog and drove cross-country to West Virginia. And my mother, my brother and I were left behind.

He made the move in early fall, and even through my self-absorbed haze, I knew much my mom didn’t want to move.

She even insisted that no one was going to buy our house anytime soon.  But it sold almost immediately, and plans were made for the rest of the family to move to West Virginia over the Christmas holiday.

I continued my life as usual, pretending the change wouldn’t occur. My mother appeared to do the same. And with the holidays approaching, she made sure all the family traditions were kept. We decorated the house and the tree. We participated in holiday events. And we baked Christmas cookies and breads. Our house was warm, festive and inviting.  In fact, there were very few indications that our life would soon be disrupted in ways that would take me years to understand.

But that Christmas WAS different.

My dad wasn’t around, and my mom’s eyes would tear up every time ‘”I’ll be Home For Christmas” came on the radio.

Too soon, school was out for winter break, my dad came home to help with the move, we hurriedly celebrated Christmas and just as quickly packed the house. Then we left. Forever.

Initially, I thought I would never adapt to my new life. Everything was different – the way people talked, how they viewed the world and what their priorities were.  But I was young, and I eventually adjusted.  But because I was young, I was also self-absorbed.  So, the fact that  my mother was facing the same issues at the “real-world” level didn’t seem important.

I knew she was unhappy. I knew that she went from being a community leader to being someone fairly unknown. And I knew that she just couldn’t conform to the suburban culture that we suddenly found ourselves in.

But I also thought she was “old” and just wasn’t affected by things the way I was.  Or at least she knew how to deal with everything better.

I’m now even older than she was at that time, and I know we “old” people don’t always know how to deal.  At least I don’t.  And I don’t always hide my frustrations and imperfections… not even from my children.  And during the holidays, I sometimes simply choke.

But my mom never choked.  Even when she was going through one of the hardest times of her life, she never put her own issues, concerns and needs before those of her kids. She  pretended that whatever her children were going through was a much greater priority.  And she knew the importance of making us feel like we were home, even if she didn’t feel like she was.

That’s why, the Christmas after “the big move” felt just like every other Christmas.  We decorated the house with the same decorations that we’d put out in years past. We baked the same cookies and breads that we baked in the past. And we listened to Christmas carols on the scratchy records we’d always listened to. It felt like we were home for Christmas.

I actually received several unwrapped gifts those two Christmas holidays.  I received the gift of learning to move forward with my life while still embracing the past. I received the gift of  understanding the importance of traditions at Christmas. And I received the gift of a role model who gave of herself at a time when there was often little left to give.

I unwrapped those gifts years ago, but I’ve held onto them. Every year when we hang the decorations on the tree… some which go back to my childhood…these Ghosts of Christmas Past come back to haunt me. And they remind me that life is constantly changing: new people arrive while others leave. Circumstances sometimes improve and sometimes get worse.  And sometimes, even the entire culture seems to dramatically shift.  But amid these changes, we can still appreciate the Ghosts of Christmas Past, celebrate the Ghosts of Christmas Present  and hope that the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come provide opportunities for our children to open the unwrapped gifts we’ve given them. And that they too are haunted by Ghosts of Christmas Past.

Lesbian Is Not a Dirty Word

Relationships with other parents were so much simpler when my children were little. That’s  primarily because we all had the same rules for our children: share with each other, don’t hit when you get mad and don’t throw temper tantrums, especially not in public.

But as our children get older, the issues become more complicated. And so do the relationships with other parents.  Because the tougher the issues are, the more likely the adults are to have different values and opinions.

Take the issue of love and relationships.

My husband and I have always believed in tolerance and love. It doesn’t matter who you love. What matters is that you do love and, hopefully, are loved back.  The power of love is so much greater than bigotry and hate, and  we’ve tried to pass down that value to our children.

But not everyone shares that value.  There are those people who believe that there is a right kind of love and a wrong kind of love.  And they pass that value down to their children.

Unfortunately in that process, they try to pass their values down to other children too.

Take a recent incident in the neighborhood.  Like so much neighborhood drama, it started on the school bus.

A neighbor boy called my daughter and her BFF lesbians.

My daughter was completely unaffected by the comment.  She probably would have  forgotten about it if her best friend hadn’t told her father, who completely freaked out. In fact, I wouldn’t have even know about the incident if  the BFF’s parents hadn’t felt the need to include me in on their concerns.

“They were called a name,” the frantic father told me.

“What name?” I asked.

“I can’t say it in front of the girls,” he said. “When they are older and learn what it means, it will scar them.”

This seemed ridiculous to me since his daughter had obviously heard “the name” and had repeated it  to him.  But, my daughter, who never misses anything, reinforced the concept.

“I already know what ‘it’ means,” she said.

At this point, I was still completely unaware of what “it” was, but my daughter caught my confusion.  “Lesbian,” she whispered.

The BFF’s father looked a bit confused then muttered, “Well my daughter doesn’t know what it means.”

Being raised not to think any of this was a big deal, my daughter immediately chimed in, “Yes she does. I told her.”

Here’s the deal.  If my son or daughter even mentions an issue related to sex or sexuality, I make sure to contribute to the conversation. I want to ensure they get the facts. I’ve seen the research that shows the more accurate  information youth have, the more likely they are to make safe choices when the time comes.  Which means there are a lot of interesting, and honest, conversations in my house.

Apparently, those conversations aren’t happening in the home of my daughter’s BFF.  Instead, she’s  getting her sex education on the school bus.

After getting over his initial shock that my ten-year old daughter had told his ten-year old daughter what a lesbian is, the BFF’s  father ranted on.

I only heard a small part of what he was saying.  First, I knew I didn’t agree with his concerns.  My only concern was that any of the children would use lesbian as a derogatory term.  Of course, in the world of ten-year-olds,  it was intended to be an insult to two girls who don’t yet shave their legs (which is apparently what the conversation was about). Secondly,  I was  thinking  there are a  lot worse names my daughter could have been called.

Regardless of my attention to his rant,  my daughter WAS listening because she later wanted to know if lesbian is a dirty word. (My daughter’s new obsession is dirty words,  and she’s hyper-vigilant as to anything that even has the appearance of being one.) And even though I reassured her that it wasn’t, she still seems very concerned.  Over  the last week, I feel like I’ve spent more time undoing the negative influence of the BFF’s father than I ever had to spend on conveying that love is ALWAYS a good thing.

“No,” I told her. “Lesbian is not a dirty word. Prejudice is a dirty word. Bigotry is a dirty word. Hate is a dirty word. But not lesbian. It’s a clean word.”

She seems a bit confused  that  none of the words I  recited were on her list of dirty words, but I know that, through my persistence, they’ll land on her list eventually.

After all, I know a dirty word when I hear one.

Valentines Day 2011: Genes, Family, Love and, of Course, Dogs

I never grew up with really warm and fuzzy feelings for my grandfather. The strained relationship was more than just a matter of not clicking. It was more an issue of two head strong people who were so sure they were in the right, the other person had to be wrong.

When I first began complaining about him to my mother, she tried to convince me he had a lot of great qualities. And, if I look at the matter objectively, I can see that he did. As a child growing up in Oregon, he and my grandmother made sure that, even in their seventies, they travelled from Michigan to visit us twice a year. No matter what. Even after my uncle died in a plane crash, they still made the trip via air at times, which I now realize was extremely hard on them.

And when it came to matters of giving gifts of money or material possessions, he went beyond the call of duty to be fair.

But when it came to matters of who he respected and held in high regards, I never measured up. Not because I wasn’t smart or determined. I was both. What I didn’t have was the ability to keep my mouth shut, a natural respect for my elders or, most importantly, a Y chromosome. And nothing was ever going to change that. And therefore, nothing was going to change about my relationship with him. Or so I thought.

But time and perspective have a way of altering our views. Admittedly, when my grandfather died of Alzheimer’s in 1998, my relationship with him hadn’t changed. But now in my mid-forties, I’ve bumped along the path of life long enough to accept some of the hard lessons it teaches.

And one of the toughest for me was recognizing how much I am like my grandfather.

Granted, I think I could teach him a thing or two about tolerance and about not taking life too seriously, but other than that? I’m definitely his granddaughter. No doubt about it. I’m no scientist, but I have no question that the helix of DNA he passed on to me carried the genes for being outspoken, strong-willed, and impatient. That same blue print is also completely missing the genes for being calm, detached and deferential.

I may not care about the same things he cared about, but I don’t think that matters. At least not to me. Granted, my conservative grandfather is probably rolling over in his grave at some of my beliefs and loyalties, but that’s all right. What’s shaped my passions and values isn’t part of the DNA. I get those from my life experiences and the choices I’ve made.

But in remembering my grandfather, I realize there was one passion we shared. And, even though there may be no scientific proof, I’m pretty sure it is an inherited trait. I’m positive that there is a gene for undying love and compassion for animals, particularly dogs.

I know my rigid, self-controlled grandfather was beholden to the pull of the “dog gene.” His absolute adoration of dogs above people is only matched by my own. When my children or husband comment about how I love dogs more than I love them, I smile. I know I should be denying it, but instead, I think of my grandfather: a man who would fly or even drive a couple thousand miles to visit his daughter and grandchildren. Or so everyone else thought.

But even as a young girl, I knew differently. When he and my grandmother would arrive at our house, it wasn’t me or my brother that would make his face light up. It was the sight of our lab/German Short hair mix, Charlie Brown, that would make his eyes twinkle and his usually stern mouth break into a smile. And, if you look back through family photo albums, I think there are more pictures of grandfather with Charlie Brown than there with any of the rest of us.

I never saw my grandfather get enthusiastic about much, but he was always enthusiastic about animals. And even though a lot of things about my grandfather bothered me,that never did. And now I know why.

Because I was exactly like him. I still am. And, now, I appreciate all the traits he passed on to me.

Now, on this Valentine’s Day when we are supposed to let those we love know, I don’t have the opportunity to tell my grandfather what I’ve learned. That I loved his passion for animals, and, after all these years, I know I also loved him for that passion… not as much as I love my dog, but I still loved him.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Grandpa.