Life Is A LIttle Kid

You never know what will happen when you wake up in the morning. What will this day bring? If I wake up with a positive soul, will the day always bring goodness?

It’s impossible to know what will happen, but comfortable to know that I can respond to what happens in a positive manner. I’d like to believe that I could be okay with anything if my soul is happy and confident in its place.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I’d like it if the place I live every day would feel so balanced that I would not let the events of the unfolding day undo me. It’s so transitory, this life, this happiness, this state of mind. Going to work at 7 o’clock and being fired from your job at three o’clock might be a prime example of “stuff happens.” In fact, my friend did just that, and his life and his marriage and his sense of well being flew out from his neatly ordered life and smashed against the tenuous walls of sanity — and we are never sure where we really weigh in on this scale until crap like this happens — and the day he thought he was going to have changed the course of his life irreparably. It’s a crapshoot at best.

Every day can melt without incident into the next until the two by four of chance, the four by four of fate, or the four by six of catastrophe crushes our internal senses into paying attention again.

Life might say, “Look at me!” like little kids do to their moms on the playground. And perhaps Life is just a little kid, playing quietly at times, but challenging us to keep on our toes while it passes off scrapes and scratches at times, but presents us with broken legs, broken hearts and broken dreams at others. We try to keep up with the lessons our kids teach us, including the kid that is Life — and sometimes we fail.

That means learning the lesson all over again later. Life (the Life kid) is good at this. “You didn’t learn last time, so here it is again,” it seems to say.

We wake up the each morning, wondering what the Life kid will bring. You never know if you’ll be fired, be handed a divorce paper, go to the hospital, or win the happiness lottery. One day is fine and the next day is foul —like the weather in Chicago.

Dealing with whatever Life brings makes us strong, or crushes us, and while they say what you’re given makes you stronger… I don’t know about that one.

Borrow

We borrow our identities when we give in to outside approval. It’s a counter-force to innovation if we listen to the inner voice that says, “What if they don’t like it?” It squelches the courage to ship. We don’t need approval at the creative stage. In fact, we don’t need it at all unless we want to sell what we’ve made. Anyone knows that. And so we borrow the attention of anyone we can to ask for their approval. Over and over we ask “Did I get it right this time?” “Do you like this?” “Am I OKAY?”

My dog is persistent but at some point, he gives up, content to just be. He understands that after a certain point, his borrowing of my time and attention is an unacceptable imposition. Why don’t people get that?

What about the borrow “bank”?   If you borrow money, you use it, and  must pay it back. But when we borrow people’s time, we can never pay it back. Time is gone the minute it’s spent. One cannot be on “borrowed” time.” There’s no future to borrow from. It’s not here. The past has been borrowed out. No reserves fund that bank. It’s been cleaned out as it were by the ravages of time.

Is that what Shakespeare meant Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 75–77  by “Neither photodune-1687970-precious-time-concept-clock-ma borrower nor a lender be.”? The verse continues, “For borrowing or loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” I think Polonius was really talking about money, but  the application to the idea of time is all the more appropriate. Really… don’t lend your time, and don’t ask to “borrow” it from someone else. You cannot give it back.

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.

Different

The eighth grade boy was the only one in the classical dance show last night. It was an arts school, yes, but he was alone on the stage. How would he spend his day at a normal school? How does he make this decision every day —to  be different, so different? Because something in his heart makes it worth the pain, and we can only be reminded of Mikael Baryshnikov… a truly great dancer who despite being Russian, was probably still derided by his vodka-drinking buddies for doing pirouettes instead of playing soccer. There were undoubtedly days of being called gay or being thrust head first into a trashcan, or pelted with tomatoes on the way home from the ballet studio. Yet he persevered.

It is scary to think that people who dared to be different may have succumbed to peer pressure; to the pain of being different — and gave up. What if Mozart had given up? Michael Jordan? Bill Gates? How do you know you’re different enough to be really good, though? What about all the male dancers that never make it to that top, and just go through life being different, feeling the pain but never achieving success with it?

Somehow, one must be able to withstand the separateness by basking in the sheer joy of doing what you do because it’s what you crave. It makes you happy; it provides moments of unbridled peace, calm and beauty. It eschews the idea that success in life is measured by money or fame, but rather is discovered by realizing that there is something that makes you so happy you smile from the deepest core of your being all the way out to a glow on your skin. Many people never find that. It’s a shame!

It’s probably because this happiness comes at the cost of the pain, and the moments of frustration and solitude endured by hours and hours of practice in a room with an instrument, at the ballet barre, at the computer, at the driving range, in a swimming pool, or wherever one does one’s servitude to the god of Perfection; and she rarely yields her blessing. Perfection arrives sporadically if at all; sometimes never. Mostly in the blink of an eye, then it’s gone, and you doubt it was there, because, it really could have been better, couldn’t it? Probably so.

So, you’re left wondering… I did it perfectly, or nearly so, and I practiced until my eyes crossed, my toes bled, my muscles screamed in agony, my head pounded. And finally, I tried out. I auditioned, I competed, I sent it off, I played my best, did my best, sounded my best. But what if I did not win, get the part, make the grade, or achieve that illusive next level? I still I love what I do. So I will keep trying, remain different, and be joyfully alone and true to myself.

Life Is A Bicycle Ride

“In the end, we’re all just riding bicycles.” The buzz in the room stopped. We all knew we were in thj0149029e presence of a deep philosophical certainty. We internalized the analogy, knowing that sometimes, the road of life is so steep that it is insurmountable. We may pump and strain, slipping into lower gears. We struggle to hang on. Some people can ride longer than others. Some people walk their bikes at the first tiny grade that impedes their progress; the first rotten apple that life throws at them. Others dig in, set their brains for the battle, every muscle straining, every bit of resolve steeled against the challenge. Some days, the roads are littered with abandoned bikes — the little baskets with broken dreams hang off the fenders. We loathe this ride we call life. The damn bike doesn’t have the decency to have a flat tire, so we cast it aside. Bike stand? Forget it. We hope someone will steal it. We want to walk home, maybe even to die.

We like the ride when it goes down hill. We don’t have to pump. We don’t have to pedal. We can relax. Sometimes this ride lasts for days. Maybe weeks. It feels good. Too good. It has to end. The hill down is the back side of an up hill. There’s no slacking off without eventually paying the piper, right?

We ride different bikes. Some have of us ten-speeds. Some have road bikes. Some of us wear bike pants, prepared for the long haul. Others don’t know that they make hand pads, soft seats, and toe holders, and we ride in pain the whole way, discomfort slowing us down as if we had sand bags on the back fender, or a two-ton gorilla breathing banana breath KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAdown our necks. Some people go through life with their own personal gorilla slobbering, leering, and slowing to depression what should be a manic down hill ride.

Riding a bike upsets your crotch. Life attacks all our parts, eventually. Riding life is mostly uncomfortable. It’s a long haul, and there are high years and low years, high gears and low gears. Some of the best parts of life are in the low gears, when you think all is lost, when every intersection you come to has cross traffic, stoplights, and people who get in your way. As you look back, those years sometimes provided the map for the easier, higher gears ahead. How else can you learn? How else could you have known what it took to get what you wanted had it not been for the bumps, the curves, and the hills? Then, there are comfortable times — squishy, soft-seat, downhill times. They help us hang on when the crotch-grabbing times won’t go away.

I’m riding a bicycle with five gears today. It’s on flat ground. I have to pedal, but I am going somewhere. I don’t have to struggle today. I have to keep pedaling, sure. But I find routes that avoid the hills if I can. Sometimes, I can’t. The terrain is not always a choice. It lies before me, and I must take it to find the reason I am here. But ride, I will, for that is what we do. In the end, we are all just riding bicycles.

Summer Spiders

j0178905In summer, countless spiders dot my front and back yards. They look like little Christmas ornaments hanging from tiny invisible hooks, and they cast miniature, blurred shadows against the walls behind them when the morning sun hits them just right.

Last week, a particularly plucky spider stood guard at my front porch. She was there every morning as I opened the door to pick up my newspapers. She seemed to taunt me, knowing full well, as spiders do, that we humans hate to pass through a spider web. Reluctantly, I dismantled her miraculous (how in the heck do they DO that?) all-night construction wondering if it was her dream home. Mostly I felt regret knowing it was her source of breakfast, or at least an early lunch.

I was pleased to note that she was able to learn, at an ever so rudimentary level, as the week wore on. Every morning for the first three mornings, I broke her landlines and disturbed her semi-sleep. After I broke the line, she would scamper to the safety of the nearby bush, mumbling an arachnid epithet under her breath. Finally on the fourth day, she heard my front door open and scuttled to the bush before I broke her bracing line.

I told Mrs. Spider she could spin her meal-trap elsewhere, but she was not as sharp as her ancestor Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web. Stubborn yes, smart, no.

A few days ago, I opened the door to reassert my human superiority when I saw she was gone. Had she learned the final lesson—that this was not a good place to build? Or had she gone to that big spider web in the sky?

At first I thought that summer spider season might be over. Nope. We still have webs aplenty everywhere else. Hopefully she’s just found another spot, having learned the mantra of real estate in a relatively painless way. Location. Location. Location.

I miss her.

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**

March, April, and May

“It’s not what you think.”

“Oh yeah? I saw you two together!”

April sighed, put on her new spring coat, the shiny pink one with black polka dots and matching pink and black rain hat, and started for the door. May wouldn’t let her alone.

“You and March were at the mall. I saw you.”

“April spun around, glared at May and said, “You have to ruin everything.”

“Yes, I guess I do. You two go have fun.  I’ll leave tonight after work at the calendar factory,” May said.

“You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“It’s a surprise party. It WAS a surprise party.  All the months were meeting to make your birthday cake, and then we were going to invite Mom and Pop Time to the park for hot dogs and hamburgers.  March and I were buying decorations.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.”

YES!

Just say yes. Yes to life. Yes to happiness. Yes to adventure.  Yes to experiments. Yes to yesterday. Yes to being outside. Yes to travel. Yes to solitude. Yes to crowds. Yes to humbleness. Giving. Gratitude.  Yes to meditation. Consciousness. Yes to frugality. Yes to IMG_0761creativity. Forgiveness. Prayer. Enlightenment, learning, knowledge.  Yes to children. Babies. Dogs. Bubbles. Water. Quiet. Far off places. Smells. Rising bread. Sweet apple pies. Yes to permanence. Yes to transience. Yes to classes, to study, to goals. To rootlessness, to roots! Yes to writing. Finding joy. Living joy. Living light. Yes to being free. Yes to comfort in your own skin. Yes to solving knotty problems. The scientific method. Trial and error. Dumb luck. Smart luck. Being open to luck. Having love. Giving love. Staying married. Being okay. Always positive. Being the best you can be. Say yes to curiosity. Yes to failure. Say yes to experience. Just say yes.