11 (Make That 12) Steps to Great Kids

I have two boys. Ahem. I have two sons that are now late twenties. When I wrote this missive in 2004, they were seventeen and nineteen. I had two great boys then and I have two wonderful young men for sons. It’s not blind… maybe a little prejudiced, but as I muse the truth of their good-ness, I believe that somehow, just somehow, we did something right. We are not alone, of course: we read and see and hear of good things, good people. But more often, we are bombarded with the junk about mankind that makes us feel better about ourselves, as in, “There but for the grace of God go I.” So let’s not make this about good in relative terms… Let’s just say they’re good.

We were lucky. Yes, but we did some things really right, and I will share those 10 steps with you now.

  1. Stay married.
  2. Have grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles in your midst. Let the children get to know them.
  3. One of you stay home or at least work a job that allows shorter hours and/or less stress to save mental and physical energy for your kids.
  4. Join the PTA at your kids’ schools. You’ll know what’s going on (They’re not being coy or private all the time. The kids don’t know or can’t remember —really, they don’t — by the time you see them at the end of the day.) Oh, and stay involved all the way through high school. Most parents drop out after elementary, but it’s almost more important when your kids are older!
  5. Find something that grabs their heart, mind, or body to carry them through the tough times. Being a kid is harder and harder. If they don’t have a talent, hobby or sport to start with, keep digging until you find it. Don’t give up.
  6. Make school and grades important. There is no way they’ll succeed in this world without the knowledge of how to learn. It’s not just the facts and figures that will help them: It’s knowing how to learn to learn. This one ability will serve them their whole lives long.
  7. Talk to them about sex. Really. They get exposed to it in school, but it’s somehow more important to them that you have the guts to talk to them about it. Even as young adults, they’ll appreciate your awareness that they’re tempted, but that it’s dang important not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant.
  8. Have a religion. I don’t care what. It helps them feel a connection to a higher power, and helps them develop a moral compass.
  9. Celebrate birthdays and holidays with abandon. Decorate, invite family, and have big parties. It doesn’t have to be expensive. The 99-Cent store is great. Burgers and dogs. Pizza. Home made and cheap is better. Celebrate family.
  10. Know where and who and when. It’s easier with cell phones than in the past, but don’t substitute technology for knowledge. And finally…
  11. HAVE YOUR KIDS WAKE YOU UP WHEN THEY COME HOME at night. It’s not necessary to stay awake. It is necessary to have them wake you. First, it gives them accountability; second, it’s an easy out for them to blame leaving an uncomfortable situation on their parents, and third, you can look into their eyes and see if they’re “okay.”
  12. LOVE!!!! They’ll know you love them from the other 11 steps, but don’t forget to tell them every single day.

Try to set a good example. We make mistakes, sure, but believe me, your kids know every single one of your faults. They also know when and how you’re trying to be better, that you’re trying to help them succeed, and that you’re paying attention to them. They also know when they mess up, and ours did. They were not perfect, but they didn’t make the big mistakes. We were lucky, as I said.

Two-income working parents are exhausted at the end of the day, and the kids know it. I get it. We’re all busy, but I heard one parenting specialist say, the best rule for raising good kids is “get up off the couch.” (My rule was, “Don’t sit down.”)

I know a lot of people with good kids. I know some that have kids that strayed. I’d say from my limited survey — the above formula works, with minor variances.

Good Luck!

Bonus Material — Definition of “Good kids”

  1. Good kids get relatively good grades. B’s and A’s. With the emphasis on grades, and with tutoring, mentoring, and learning schools like Sylvan and Kumon, it should be doable even for lower income folks.
  2. Good kids have something they care about besides themselves and their friends. It can be a sport or a hobby, a community group or their church. Scouting, if you can possibly sell it, leaves a huge positive mark on the kids’ souls. (Both of our kids are Eagle Scouts.)
  3. Good kids don’t drink, have sex, or smoke cigarettes, and they don’t do drugs. In our day we did some of those, but somehow, we knew where to draw the line. I’m not sure why the line is so murky these days.
  4. Good kids respect adults and the law and they respect themselves, their teachers, and their God, whoever that may be for them.
  5. Good kids care when you do well, when you’re sick, or when someone they know and love has gotten sick or has failed or died. They value life because they value themselves and their family.

Deadlines

Deadlines are the lines drawn in the sand, the air, and on calendars. They are imaginary lines past which one should not go, or you’ll die.  Die of what?  Failure? Disappointment? Losing a job? Not answering a need? Shame?

Deadlines are a form of communication.  “I need this by noon so we can move forward on the project.”

There should be no room for negotiation in a deadline. There is no room for negotiation in death, is there? So why do people push up against deadlines by crushing the work to be done up against the wall of the deadline?  To see if it will move?  Will it give in like a loose door, or an unsure mother or father?  Kids know this instinctively. Will the rules change if we keep ignoring them? Will Mom and Dad change their minds? Will my manager forget? Will the rule/deadline go away in the rush of life?

photodune-1687970-precious-time-concept-clock-mSome of us use faraway deadlines like beacons for purposeful activity, plotting steps from A to B in the final goal to arrive at Point Z.  Others of us assume that there’s still plenty of time and that there’s no use getting all excited — nothing can be gained by starting too early, they say.  It wastes time to start too soon, they say.  Besides, working under the pressure of a close deadline works in in their favor, they think, as in, “I work better because I’m more focused if time is short.”

Oh? What if your computer breaks? What if the electricity goes out? What if you get sick? What if?

I like deadlines. I like setting up a meeting… it gives me a deadline. I like to be early, to have room and time to make one last pass, one final reading, a once over to see if I left a sponge in the abdomen of my patient before they wake up. (I wanted to see if you were paying attention!)

There’s the Leonard Bernstein quote to throw in here, too. “To achieve great things two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” I think that’s the reason deadlines are SO important.  Somewhere along the creative lines of life, the concept of not quite enough time leads us to finality. If we didn’t have deadlines, we would continue to fix, trim, and self-edit until nothing ever, ever was produced. “Perfect is the enemy of good,” as they say. Someone has to say those two wonderful words, “It’s done!”

I like the pressure and excitement of a looming deadline, but sometimes, just sometimes, I procrastinate… to feel that teeny rush. Shucks. My cover is blown.

I write about the things that I would like to do better—largely because I’m not perfect. See my recent blog on “Perfect” if you’re so inclined. Meanwhile, I have a deadline.

“Perfect”

You’ve heard the word: Perfect. You’ll hear people saying it everywhere as you go through your day. Trust me. Everyone is saying the word. And quite frankly, it scares me.

I thought it was just a coincidence at first. Someone at a local store said it—then someone else. A little while after that, I asked a coworker if I had done something correctly, and she said yes, “Perfect.” Then in the next breath she said, “But you forgot to do this other part.”

It struck me at that moment as I replied to her, “Then, it was NOT perfect.” And it wasn’t.

I hear my kids say the word. I started to hear their friends say it. Still, I was in my own “backyard,” so it was continuing to be a local event. The next day, I was talking to someone toll free, back East. I heard THE WORD. “Perfect,” he said. And I knew the infection had spread.

The reason I call it an infection is exactly what happened when I had clearly made a mistake at my work, but was told what I had done was perfect. It wasn’t perfect, darn it. As I look at grade inflation in our schools, and as I continue to see that our California students are becoming less and less able to read and do math, and as our tax dollars to repair this damage become higher and higher, I wonder if the casual use of this simple word has caused the problem or if rather, it is a reflection of the problem. We are expecting less because our common perception of perfection has been tainted.

Webster’s II defines the word as follows:

Perfect (pûr′fikt) adj. 1. Lacking nothing essential to the whole: complete of its nature or kind. 2. Being in a state of undiminished or highest excellence: flawless 3. Completely adept or talented in a certain field or area; 4. Completely reproducing or corresponding to a type or original: exact; 5. Thorough: complete; 6. Undiluted, pure; 7. Excellent and delightful in all respects.

Evidently, I’m a traditionalist from the looks of Webster’s continuation:

usage: Traditionalists consider perfect to be an absolute term and therefore reject its use with modifiers of degree such as more or less. Nonetheless such usage is entirely acceptable, esp. when perfect is used in the sense of excellent in all respects.. . .as in A more perfect example could not be found.”

But I feel cheated. Am I missing something or do I see from the above that even Webster’s waffles on the concept?

The problem as I see it is that we think we see perfection every day. The media has made it possible for us to hear Pavarotti, see Tiger Woods, experience a clever movie like “Toy Story” or “Monsters, Inc.,” and make us believe that the end result, perfection, is within our reach, and easy to attain. The world experiences a shortened end-result kind of view, and it seems that especially kids of today have no concept of the hours, days, weeks, months and years of discipline and practice and work that it takes to approach, much less achieve, perfection. And the schools let kids believe that:

1)     … they are becoming closer to perfect. (Why wouldn’t they think that? Their grades are higher. How is it, then, that many kids are “dumber?”)

2 )    … if the children don’t achieve perfection, they can’t enjoy an activity. At a very young age, some kids are kept from playing sports if they aren’t “good.” Equally, they are not allowed to lose. In fact, soccer games are not scored these days for little kids, because someone didn’t want their child to experience losing. WHAT? Maybe if you don’t lose, then you can pretend you’re perfect? (!)

Here’s an example. A friend of mine attended an art seminar. He’s just learning and is not an artist by profession, but he wanted to enjoy it as a thoroughly escapist experience from his normal work. He was flanked at his worktable by professional artists. His work was clearly rudimentary in comparison, but it didn’t matter. He was enjoying the experience and was not expecting perfection. No one there said his work was perfect. It wasn’t. He knew it; they knew it. But in the vernacular of the day, someone might have said. “Wow!  That’s perfect!” Further, that he was there as a non-professional surprised everyone in the room. Can we enjoy things for what they are and not even strive for perfection?

There really is no such thing as perfection. Ask any artist, musician, athlete, writer, scientist or any professional you want. They will never have reached it if they are worth their salt. The artist could have always “painted those clouds to look just a little more real.” The musician, having not even missed a note, could have “played that passage just a tiny bit better.” A scratch golfer could always have “done a little better on that last hole.”   So there is no perfection in the world. Therefore, the word perfect is only an idea, a concept, a goal, an objective, an ethereal, wonderful target to strive to reach, but not to be used lightly in a casual, offhand manner as it is today. This article, as an example, is not perfect, but it says what I want to say, and is worth writing for that reason. It’s not perfect, dammit, but I felt strongly that society’s current notion of perfection had to be explored.

Next time you hear yourself say “perfect”(and I know you’ll do it), stop yourself and ask if it really is or not. Obviously, it can’t be, as there is no perfection. Instead substitute “That’s fine,” or “That’s sufficient, okay, adequate, or passable.” Or try:

“That works.”

“That’ll do.” (as in “That’ll do, Pig” from the movie Babe)

“That makes sense.”

“That works for me.”

“That’s good.”

Any of these makes the other person feel that although it (whatever “it” is) might be great, there is room for just a little bit more. Because there always is.

One P.M.

Lunch hangs warm in your stomach. Your brain’s fogged. The afternoon looms and with luck, yRestaurantour To-Do list from the morning has some items that are crossed off, or checked. I prefer crossing off. How about you?

As you face the afternoon list, you wonder if it’s prioritized correctly. There are three “A’s” two “B’s” and three “C’s” looking back at you.  Just before lunch one of the A’s became a B because another A stole in when your boss (you?) changed your priorities for you.  That’s not so bad, is it?

You ponder each of the items,  planning your attack when  ** KA-BOOM **  your  email unleashes its revenge: your best client has an emergency.  Order runs for the doors. Calm disappears behind the file cabinet. Control (a figment of your imagination) sidles behind a dusty dictionary.

You’re staring at the clock. It’s now 1:10, and one of the “C’s” has disappeared into the basement. The A that pushed the C down the stairs has been downgraded to B and swings dizzily from a rotating fan blade.

The  new “A”  preens, sitting atop the list. Is that a smirk?

Nice try on the organization. It just went out the window.

**Sigh**

Packaging?!?!!!!

ImageReally? Seriously? Ah, come on… I don’t see how the boxes of crackers can get any smaller, the packages of cookies any littler, the ice cream containers any tinier, or the chip bags any more filled with air (and NOT product).  Do they think we don’t notice? Do they think we’ll be glad there’s less so we won’t eat as much? Do they think we appreciate that we don’t have to carry so many bags to the car from the grocery store? Do they think we are glad we have smaller boxes to clutter landfill? What?  I said REALLY????!!

I feel seriously ripped off. I just wanted to let them know that we are paying attention out here. Thanks for listening.