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365 Reasons to Smile – Day 142

IMG_1398I was on the phone with my children’s piano teacher, Kinsey, the other day, and she said my daughter no longer thinks that she’s cool. (When Kendall started piano lessons, Kinsey was engaged, now she is married with a nearly four year-old daughter.)

“That’s o.k.,” said Kinsey. “I understand. It’s her turn to be cool. My daughter wants to be just like her. She wants to wear her hair like Kendall and buy boots like Kendall’s.”

Kendall enjoys watching over and caring for younger girls, but until recently, I never realized that they might think that she is “cool.”  Then yesterday in church,  I watched her interact with a 6 year-old girl, and I realized how the little girl was looking up to my daughter.

The fact that my daughter can be a role model for others will always make me smile.

Day 142:  When Our Children Become Role Models  Day 141: Random Acts of Kindness

Day 140; People Watching  Day 139: Sharing Interests with My Children  Day 138: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Best Advice  Day 137: Weird Human Behavior about Garbage  Day 136: Postcards from Heaven  Day 135: Mickey Mouse  Day 134: Generous Souls  Day 133: I’m Moving On  Day 132: A Family That is Really Family  Day 131:   A Personal Motto  Day 130:  Mork and Mindy  Day 129: The Bears’ House  Day 128:  Veterans  Day 127: Doppelgangers  Day 126: Letting Life Unfold as It Should  Day 125: The Constantly Changing Sky  Day 124: When History Repeats Itself   Day 123: The Love Scene in The Sound of Music Day 122:  Helen Keller  Day 121:  The Welcome Back Kotter Theme Song  Day 120: Sheldon Cooper  Day 119: Having Permission to Make Mistakes  Day 118: A Diverse Group of Friends  Day 117:  Family Traditions Day 116: The Haunting Season  Day 115; Life Experience Day 114:  Changes  Day 113:  The Wooly Bear Caterpillar  Day 112: The National Anthem  Day 111: Parents Who Care   Day 110: Good Friends Day 109:  My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss  Day 108:  A.A. Milne QuotesDay 107: Spending Time Wisely Day 106: Parades  Day 105:  The Peanuts Gang Dancing   Day 104:  Sharing a Secret Language   Day 103:  The Electric Company  Day 102:  Doing the Right Thing  Day 101:  When Siblings Agree  Day 100: Being Optimistic  Day 99: Trying Something New   Day 98:  The Sound of Children on a Playground  Day97: Good Advice  Day 96: Red and white peppermint candy  Day 95:  The Soundtrack from the Movie Shrek Day 94:  Accepting Change    Day 93:  True Love     Day 92: Camera Phones   Day 91: Bicycle Brakes    Day 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 Human  Day 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 Day77: People Who Touch Our Lives   Day 76:  The Rewards of Parenting    Day 75:  Improvements   Day 74:  Family Traditions   Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes  Day 72: Live Music  Day 71:  Sleeping In  Day 70:  Grover  Day 69:  A Good Hair Day   Day 68:  A Sense of Community   Day 67: Kindness   Day 66: Living in a Place You Love   Day 65: Gifts from the Heart   Day 64: The Arrival of Fall  Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird   Day 62: Green LightsDay 61:  My Canine Friends  Day 60:  Differences   Day 59:  A New Box of Crayons   Day 58: Bookworms  Day 57: Being Oblivious  Day 56: Three-day Weekends  Day 55:  A Cat Purring  Day 54: Being a Unique Individual   Day 53: Children’s Artwork  Day 52: Lefties  Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer  Day 50: Campfires  Day 49: Childhood Crushes  Day  48: The Words “Miss You”  Day 47:  Birthday Stories   Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us  Day 45:  Play-Doh   Day 44: First Day of School Pictures  Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes  Day 42: Appreciative Readers  Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote   Day 40:  Being Silly  Day 39:  Being Happy Exactly Where You Are  Day 38: Proud Grandparents  Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies   Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories  Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want  Day 34:  Accepting the Fog    Day 33: I See the Moon  Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap  Day 31: Perspective  Day 30:  Unlikely Friendships  Day 29: Good Samaritans  Day 28:  Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet?    Day 27: Shadows  Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads  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 VictoryDay 17:  A Royal Birth    Day 16:  Creative Kids  Day 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 Clovers  Day 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 Photographs  Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street

Picking My Battles Part 2: Validation, Lessons Learned and Being a Role Model

how you teachYesterday evening, I walked my dog through a section of the public park near my house. Children screamed with joy as they chased each other and played on playground equipment. Youth shot basketballs as parents watched from benches, and individuals waded in the creek. A young man with an accent rested his bike against the pavilion and joked with me about my dog.

And I smiled.

Had I not followed my gut and taken a risk of making a lot of people mad at me, none of those individuals would have had the opportunity to enjoy their evening in the same way. They would have been prevented from entering that part of the park by caution tape and overly eager volunteers.

But because I instinctively knew that no one had a right to prevent the public from enjoying that space, these people enjoyed a beautiful Friday evening.

But they didn’t enjoy it without a price – a price I paid.

There’s no need to recap my story of the Boy Scouts telling me I couldn’t walk in a public park since I’ve already written about that (see blog here). But if anyone is interested in the epilogue to the story, here’s a condensed version:

After being told by a staff person with our local parks and recreation office that the Boy Scouts had not received permission to section off and prevent others from entering that area of the park, I once again attempted to take my dog for his usual evening walk. And I was once again confronted and told I wasn’t allowed. After basically being accused of being a liar, I walked through the marked off section of the park anyway. And (shocker), I didn’t bother anyone or provoke any tragedy. In fact, the only tragedy that occurred that evening was all of the people who were once again chased away.

I later ran into the director of Parks and Recreation who apologized and reinforced that the group had not been given permission to close off that section of the park. In fact, groups were never allowed to be close that section of the park. In other words, my instincts were correct, and my resistance was justified.

When I told the director that the caution tape was still up and that bright orange signs proclaiming the area to be off-limits had been added, he promised he would address the issue with the group.

Unfortunately, the whole situation was a result of miscommunication. The local parks and recreation office had booked the Boy Scouts for the wrong park, and, because of that, the Boy Scouts really did think they had permission to seize control of that area of the park.

But, despite that, I have to question where the common sense was in this whole situation. Why would anyone think that particular section of the park was appropriate for an event that the organizers believed required a great deal of security? And why hadn’t other people who had been chased off spoken up? (I’ve since heard from plenty of other people who were angry but didn’t question anyone.)

If I hadn’t asked the tough questions and pursued the matter, the people I saw enjoying the park last night wouldn’t have been enjoying it.

The situation is resolved, and I finally received an email from the Boy Scout executive with whom I had been trying to communicate. He didn’t apologize but neither was he rude, and since I was becoming increasingly rude with the group, he deserves credit for that. He did emphasise that safety of their scouts was a top priority.

I understand that. Over the years, I’ve had responsibility for thousands of young people. I just didn’t bully others to ensure their safety.

Which goes back to my question about why a group so concerned about the safety of young people would hold an event in such a well-used and public section of the park.

I, and many others, use that part of the park as a point of entry, and hundreds of others enjoy it every day.  It is also the only area that provides access to a public stream (although the stream wasn’t roped off by the Boy Scouts, and people could still use it if they walked around the park to get to it.)

The bottom line is, if security were such a concern at the park, the Boy Scouts should not have chosen that particular location for the event unless they had another purpose, such as training volunteers to be guard dogs. The only other obvious benefit was the visibility of their recruitment signs.

But, regardless, the whole situation is now behind all of us, and the boys who were participating in the event weren’t hurt or prevented from enjoying their activities. In fact, as I walked my dog by (not through) their new and much more appropriate spot in the park last night, I was stopped by one young camper. (Just for clarification, he was outside the roped off area.)

“Is that your dog?” he asked. “He’s really big.”

“He is,” I said. “He also gets really excited so you don’t want to get too close because he jumps.”

“O.K.” the boy said, and then he changed subjects. “Hey, do you know what I’m doing here?”

“No,” I responded. “What are you doing?”

“I’m at Twilight Camp. And the Webelos get to spend the night.”

“That’s awesome,” I replied as the woman with the boy looked at me skeptically, as though I were lying and really didn’t want the boy to have fun.

‘Yeah,” the boy said. “It is awesome.”

“Well, have fun and be safe,” I said.

“I will,” he responded, then he and the woman in the orange vest walked away. But I was fortunate to hear the rest of the conversation.

“Do you want to know who that was?” the boy asked.

“Yes, I do,” the woman in the orange vest responded.

“That,” he said with obvious pride, “Was my Sunday school teacher.”

And I couldn’t help but smile. In the same week I had been labeled a security risk, a young boy was proud that I was his Sunday School teacher.

And that made all the trouble of the week completely disappear. It also reminded me that I am a role model, and sometimes being a role model doesn’t mean succumbing to the pressure or demands of others. It also doesn’t mean I have to be perfect or always use the exact right words.

Sometimes it simply means following my heart and doing what I know is for the greater good, even when people get angry with me or question my methods.

In the end, the smile and respect of a child is simply worth it.

The Permanent Mark of Bad Behavior

Mena-Peopel-Suck1There are times I feel as though mean and difficult people are the masterminds behind a sinister plot to take over the world. They know they’ll eventually just wear out the rest of us with their rude comments and insensitive behavior.

But then I come to my senses and realize if they were actually smart enough to carry out such a plot, they’d have more sense than a second grader. That’s when you learn some of life’s most important lessons. For example, I learned that a poor decision or a mean word will stay on your permanent record card forever, and a blemish on that card is never going to help you succeed.

Of course, I learned that lesson the hard way. I got the first black mark on my permanent record card when I was in second grade. I’ve had countless since then, but that’s the one that taught me about consequences and guilt.

The exact details of my crime are rather fuzzy, but the guilt is forever etched in my conscience.

The problems started because I was a bus rider.

In second grade, we didn’t have cliques, but there were two distinct groups: bus riders and walkers. (In those days, only the children of teachers came to school in cars.)

I perceived the walkers as privileged. They didn’t have to wait for anyone or abide by any schedule other than the ring of the bell. They didn’t have to arrive at school until the very last minute, and they could leave as soon as the bell rang at the end of the day.

I was jealous.

Those of us who rode the bus were just stuck. Since my bus ran earlier than others, there was a group of us who arrived at school much earlier than we actually needed to be there. In order for school officials to maintain order, they required us to immediately go to the cafeteria and sit quietly until given permission to go to our classrooms.

The wait was long and boring, especially since we were always being told to “quiet down.” Even now, almost 40 years later, I find that difficult. In second grade, it seemed impossible.

I don’t remember who came up with the scheme or how we executed it, but a group of friends and I decided we were going to escape the prison in the cafeteria. We didn’t make it far and were soon discovered hiding in the bathroom. After yelling at us, a teacher escorted my fellow criminals and me to the principal’s office.

The only thing I knew about the principal’s office was that it was where the really bad kids went. I was pretty sure there was a jail cell in there, where we would be handcuffed and chained to the bars as punishment for our crime. My worries grew as we were told to sit outside Mr. Mitchell’s office and “think about what we had done.”

By the time Mr. Mitchell opened his door and told us to come in, I was shaking.

Mr. Mitchell sat behind the desk and lectured us and lectured us and lectured us. As he talked, his face got redder and redder and redder. The only words I remember were “your permanent record card.”

I gulped.

I was supposed to go to college and get a job. I had no idea how I was going to tell my parents that all their hopes and dreams for me had been erased with one stupid decision. (Yes, I really did worry about such things as a young child.)

For years, I worried about my permanent record card and that time in the principal’s office. Many nights, I would lie in bed thinking about the implications. My concerns finally began to fade when I was an adolescent and transferred to a different school district. As my records were being reviewed, no one mentioned my criminal past.

I had been granted a pardon, and I was grateful. But, now, I find myself getting tired of passing on the gift of a pardon to others.

This week I am especially tired. I wrote in another blog about the death of a young West Virginian. While most of the feedback was positive, there were also individuals who left comments that belittled the individual and his way of life. The comments were hurtful and rude and pointless.

They were also permanent. Even if they are deleted, others have already read them, including friends and family members.

The situation bothered me to the point I couldn’t sleep at night worrying whether or not I should even have written about the young man’s death.

But then I remembered another important lesson from second grade: most people are mean to others because they don’t feel good about themselves, so you should try to be nice to them anyway.

I guess I’ll keep trying. Even though the marks made by  negative behavior (by both me and by other people) may be permanent, marks for positive behaviors can be permanent too. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

A Tale of Two Teachers and Blank Sheets of Paper

With the current year fading fast and all of the potential of  a new year on the horizon, I’d like to suggest a resolution for everyone: don’t write on someone else’s blank sheet of paper.

Whether or not you let someone write on YOUR  paper is up to you, but please don’t write on someone else’s.

Personally, I’m resolving to avoid both.  For such an outwardly head strong, opinionated person, you might think the first will be more difficult.  But, for the unsure, worried and perpetually questioning me inside, the second will be just as challenging.

For years, I’ve let way too many people write on my paper. . . altering my story with their advice, opinions and standards. And the difference between someone who writes on your paper and someone who cheers as you write is long-lasting.

I learned this from two teachers and the blank sheets of paper they expected their students to fill.

I absolutely loved those blank sheets of paper.  I loved the smell. I loved the look. And I loved the endless possibilities.

During my grade school years, the paper wasn’t white. It was an indescribable shade of grey and tan with space for a picture above and a combination of dotted and solid lines below.  The purpose of the lines was to ensure appropriate hand-writing form.

I never worried about my handwriting (and was generally graded down accordingly).  I was much more worried about content. I was fascinated by how I could string words together to say something that nobody else had ever said. I adored the feeling of putting pencil to paper and creating something.  And I loved being able to express myself.

What I didn’t love was having parameters placed on me.

And those parameters were set forth quite firmly by my first grade teacher, Mrs. Gladwill. Unfortunately, I can’t really say anything nice about the woman.  I could write pages about the horrors of that school year –about the times I was stuck in the corner so other students wouldn’t cheat off me; about how needing to go to the bathroom was a nightmare because it was prohibited during class time (Mrs. Gladwill’s theory was that if you didn’t have the sense to go during recess or lunch, then you should wait); about how Mrs. Gladwill liberally used harsh words and a ruler on knuckles; and, most of all, about how Mrs. Gladwill required conformity.

For a “spirited” child, there’s no wonder that I didn’t thrive in first grade. I simply survived. And was beholden to a series of lessons that led me to believe that sometimes it’s easier to just let others control what goes on your blank sheet of paper.

That became evident when Mrs. Gladwill gave all of her students the assignment of  writing (and drawing) an answer to the question  “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

At first, I was very excited about the assignment.  With Mrs. Gladwill as a teacher, I should have known better.

I wanted to write about becoming a trapeze artist. My father had built and hung a trapeze from a juniper tree in our backyard, and I was already practicing my act.

The problem was, I didn’t know how to spell trapeze.

When I asked Mrs. Gladwill, her only advice was to look it up in the “book of careers” she had provided us.

Needless to say, trapeze artist wasn’t listed.

So I had to ask Mrs. Gladwill again.

Instead of helping me spell out my dream, she advised me to write about something “normal”, like becoming a nurse.

I had no desire to be nurse, but I recognized the authority she had. So, I reluctantly looked up nurse in the career book and wrote about how I wanted to be one. I even remember drawing the picture with particularly harsh strokes: I was angry that Mrs. Gladwill had taken control of MY piece of paper.  At the same time, I did not want to be in trouble. So my blank sheet of paper became a full sheet of paper that was a lie.

Turning in that paper marked the end of my dreams of becoming a trapeze artist.  Mrs. Gladwill had made it clear: if it wasn’t in the book about careers, there was no sense in pursuing it.

By second grade, my dreams had evolved anyway.  My new ambition was to become a writer.

Much to my surprise, my teacher, Mrs. Roth, never told me to look up writer in the “career book.” In fact, she didn’t even have a career book. She simply encouraged me to write stories whenever I had extra time. She even taped my stories on the outside of her classroom door where others could read them. And they did.

I remember swelling with pride when fourth graders stopped by our classroom to read my stories.

Since then, that dream of being a writer has never died.  I can’t say I’ve fully achieved that goal, but I never gave it up. It’s hard to give up something when others, particular teachers, believe in you.

So as 2012 approaches, I’m raising a glass to toast the blank sheets of paper everyone will receive in the new year. And I’m toasting the opportunity we all have to continue writing our own unique story without being told what the plot should be.  I’m also raising a glass to how we can all cheer each other on. And most of all, I’m raising a glass to the great teachers who lead the way.  Not only do they encourage so many of us, but they also serve as examples for other teachers by acknowledging that sometimes the most meaningful lessons aren’t the ones that are taught but are the ones that are observed.

Here’s to that! Cheers!

Please Don’t Feed the Drama Queen

My house was invaded by bees this month. Well, according to my husband, they are yellow jackets.  But to me?  Anything that has stripes, wings and a stinger is a bee.

But regardless of their taxonomy, they invaded my basement and my life.

We eventually got rid of them thanks to our hero, Gary the Exterminator  Guy.  But, in the meantime, they created a bit of drama in the house.

I should have expected that. I live with a drama queen.  The invasion of the stinging beasts simply emphasized that fact.

I warned my kids that the bees, make that yellow jackets,  dying in the basement could still sting. My son, per normal, didn’t listen.  Instead, he went barefoot into the Kid Cave, stepped on a yellow jacket and got stung.  He then calmly came upstairs to tell me he’d been stung and his foot hurt. That was it. The incident was over, and he never mentioned it again.

My daughter, on the other hand, over reacted as usual.

She was already perturbed that I didn’t share her belief that the start of school also marks the beginning of Halloween season. She was insistent that the time to decorate had come.  When I didn’t respond to her demands to bring up the tub of Halloween decorations up from the basement, she took matters into her own hands.

But, a dying yellow jacket had found the tub first.  Keep in mind, it had died.  It could have been easily flicked away. But, that would have been under normal circumstances  when  a drama queen wasn’t involved.

A drama queen changes everything.

My daughter ALMOST touched the yellow jacket, and the subsequent scream traveled farther than the recent earthquake that shook the East Coast.

I absolutely love my daughter, but about eight years ago I came to the inevitable conclusion that Shakespeare knew a girl just like her when he said “all the world’s a stage.”

On the positive side, there are benefits to being the mother of a drama queen.  It not only helps you to be less reactive,  it also helps you to completely ignore it.

Which is a good thing considering what’s going on in our country right now. We’ve got a lot of drama queens and people who encourage them.   I’m not sure which is worse.

Anyone who has lived or worked with a drama queen,  knows this is someone who blows things way out of proportion.   A drama queen often views the world in absolutes.  In short, drama queens are all about creating crisis out of any situation. And the more people pay attention, the more drama ensues.

If you pay any attention to the news,  you probably think the world is  being taken over by drama queens.  If the invasion of the yellow jackets had made the news? I’m pretty sure there would be a world-wide scare and a call to exterminate every flying insect.

Sadly,  I’m pretty sure that a lot of people  pay more attention to drama queens than they are to the facts.

I’m not saying our country is perfect or that changes don’t need to be made.

But I am saying that using fear or emotional blackmail to drive the political process is completely ridiculous.  Very few matters or situations are black and white, but drama queens love black and white.

They thrive on it.

But, as the mom of a drama queen , I’ve learned that one of the best way to deal with faux  drama is to simply complicate matters. Add facts, variables and diverse opinions.   Instead of creating drama, create genuine discussion.

And if the drama continues anyway? Simply do what I do with my daughter – ignore it.

I’m pretty sure it works with most drama queens.

I’d like to create some more buzz about the issue. But, the moment, I’ve had enough of both buzz and drama.

I’m Pretty Sure There’s a Gene for That


My grandmother spent her entire life thinking she wasn't attractive.

There are times when I truly believe I am the most self-critical person on earth. At the same time, I also believe that, for the most part, I’ve become pretty good at hiding that trait from all but those who know me best.

(And yes, I also know those people are doubled over laughing at that idea that I think I can hide anything I’m feeling or thinking. But, believe it or not, I really don’t reveal everything. Really, I don’t).

But here’s the thing.  I’ve begun to wonder if there might be a gene for self-criticism.

 I say this in all seriousness.

While many women point out their flaws more often than they point out their strengths, there are those who take it to a whole new level.

My mother, the over achiever, is a prime example. For all her accomplishments, I don’t remember her ever being satisfied with what she had achieved. Instead, she was always comparing herself to others and thinking she didn’t measure up.

For skeptics of my self-criticism gene theory who believe it’s simply a learned behavior, let me go on the record saying my mother tried her hardest to ensure she didn’t pass that characteristic on to me.

Her efforts didn’t work. And neither did her mother’s.

I’m fairly certain that my grandmother carried a self-criticism gene that weakened upon passage to future generations.  There’s simply no other explanation for why my grandmother would have been critical of herself.

First of all, she was beautiful.  I look at photos of her and wonder how she ever could have any self doubts about her appearance. But she never thought she was attractive

Secondly, she was one of the strongest and most intelligent women I’ve ever known. She grew up on a farm in Michigan. I’m told she held the record for the hundred yard dash at her high school  for decades. And she, like her three other siblings  was so determined to get a college education that worked hard to pay her own way through Michigan State University.

In the early 1930’s.

As a female.

 During the Great Depression.

And not only did she graduate, she excelled.

But, like my mother and like me, instead of seeing her accomplishments, she often focused on her perceived failures. And she constantly compared herself to others, particularly her older sister Sylvia.

I never understood why.  I always thought my grandmother was prettier than and just as accomplished as my Aunt Sylvia. I also thought  Aunt Sylvia was a really cool lady who lived her life in a manner completely foreign to me.

Sylvia, by all accounts, completely lacked the self-criticism gene.

What Sylvia didn’t lack was a passion for living and a limited fear of failure: all things my grandmother strived for.

While my grandmother thought she was too skinny, Sylvia carried a few extra pounds.

While my grandmother was cautious, Sylvia embraced life.

While my grandmother aimed for perfection, Aunt Sylvia aimed for laughter, love and music.

And while my grandmother always felt like she was being judged, Sylvia never seemed to worry what others thought.

Admittedly I can relate too well to my grandmother. I have battled some of these issues all my life (with the obvious exception of thinking I’m too skinny. I have NEVER had that concern.)

But, here’s the really cool thing about genetics.  They combine with those of our other ancestors to create some really remarkable combinations.

So if you can buy into the whole “self-criticism gene” theory, you can also accept that there are genes for compassion. And humor. And tenacity

All traits I think I got from some of my amazing relatives.

Which means while I believe “there’s a gene for that,” I also believe that “there’s a family for that.”

And I got one heck of a great family.