Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Me, Myself and I

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.” Malcolm X

            Standing up for yourself, others, or what you believe in takes courage.  It takes strength.  It’s what I try to teach my kids in the classroom and my two kids at home.  If you feel strongly about something, anything, you should defend that.  So, what happens when the need to please others is stronger?  When you worry so much about not hurting a person’s feelings, or upsetting someone, that you allow your own feelings, and thoughts, and maybe even values to be compromised?
By nature I am a peacemaker.  I do not like conflict, and most times I avoid it like the plague.  I fight against all odds to go against the grain sometimes, and I have perfected sugar coating to an art. If anyone has read Divergent you would understand when I say I am a complete Abnegation.   For those who haven’t read it, the book is based on a society made up of different factions or small-organized groups.  Each group values a different virtue.  So there is the Honest, the Selfless, the Peaceful, the Intelligent, and the Brave.  (It’s a pretty good read in my opinion.  If you haven’t read it, you should check it out) Back to the point, I was curious to see which faction I belonged to, and where I would fit it.  After ten questions, the results were in.  I was destined to belong with Abnegation.  I took a few other quizzes, claiming to pick the perfect faction for me, and all said the same thing.  Abnegation was where I belonged.  This particular group values the needs of others above the needs of oneself.  So much so that I’m not really sure they have an opinion about much.  And they definitely avoid conflict.  They also have to wear grey, loose fitting clothing.  The makers of the quizzes obviously have not seen my closet.   It’s not that I don’t have an opinion about things.  I do.  I just second-guess myself.  I question whether I am justified to feel what I feel, and I am very easily swayed. 
Unfortunately after years of this, who is left?  I don’t know to be honest.   I don’t take the time to find out.  Instead I spend my time figuring out how to make sure everyone around me is happy and content.  I don’t really know me.  This past year I have been forced to really look into that.  Into myself.   I’ve learned a little. I’m interested in discovering more.  Here are a few things I have learned:

1.     Investing in myself isn’t selfish.  Its necessary.
2.     It’s ok to say no.  I’m still learning how to do this.  I still don’t like to do it.  But I know that it is ok to say it. 
3.      I’m stronger than I give myself credit for.  Just need to “flex” a little more.
4.     I’m doing the best I can.  I really am.
5.     There is nothing wrong with me.  I do not need to harden up so that life won’t take advantage of me.  It’s ok to see the good instead of the bad. And not always be on the defensive.
6.     I will crumble sometimes.  And I am allowed to do that for a little while.  I just can’t stay that way.
7.     As important as it is to tell my children at school, and at home to stand up for themselves, to be strong, and to have a voice, it is just as important to show them and model it.  

My list will continue to grow on my path to self-discovery.  It might not be the smoothest road, but I am going to enjoy the view along the way.

~Esmer L.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Life Lessons (and How I Learned Them) by Carolyn

Lesson #1: Do not hug a dog that is guarding something.
Long, long ago when I was about four years old, my father and grandfather and some uncles had gone fishing and deposited their catch (live and still swimming) in a large galvanized washtub, which they put down in the yard. My grandparents had a medium-large black dog, creatively named Midnight, that had always been very friendly and playful. As I heard the story, my mother was washing dishes in the house when she looked out the window and saw me hug Midnight playfully, as I often did. Midnight must have thought that I was trying to steal some of the fish he was guarding, a job he obviously took very seriously. As my mother watched helplessly through the window, he flipped me over flat on my back in the yard, stood stiff-legged over me, and took a big chunk of my cheek out of my face. My mother raised the alarm, of course, and I was soon scooped up and carried away from the scene, probably bleeding copiously and screaming hysterically. I, fortunately, do not remember any of these events. Midnight, unfortunately, was deemed unsafe to keep around and was put down. I have always been sad about that, especially since we were the ones who gave Midnight to my grandparents. The moral of this story is that no matter how mild-mannered a dog normally is, a dog that is "on guard" is not something to play with.

Lesson #2: Don't make a habit of sitting on a sink.
When my sister and I were teenagers we shared a bathroom. Every morning, that bathroom was where we put on our (probably too heavy) makeup and fixed our hair. The bathroom did not have a convenient place to allow us to get close to the mirror. There was a large mirror above a countertop, which was too wide to lean across. The other mirror was the front of a medicine cabinet located above the sink. The sink was not set into a cabinet, but was caulked to the wall and had a water pipe running from under it into the wall below.  It became our custom to take turns sitting on the sink so we could get close enough to the mirror to put on our makeup. (I am trying to make it clear here that the succeeding event was not totally my fault!) One morning after Mom left for work, I perched on the sink, mascara wand in hand, ready to start my beauty routine. We heard a loud crack . . . and suddenly the sink was on the floor, the pipe had detached itself from the wall, and water was gushing out onto the bathroom floor. By the time the water was ankle-deep, we came to our senses enough to call for help. Fortunately, our across-the-street-neighbor was a fireman so we called him. Mom, returning to the house for something she had forgotten, walked down the street from the bus stop to find a firetruck and a flooded house. Bless her heart, she was probably tempted to strangle us, but she didn't, and I am still alive to tell the tale. Corollary to Lesson #2: Always know where the water shut-off is for your house.

Lesson #3: Never have two dates at the same time.
I must admit that I did not learn this from first-hand experience - having an overabundance of dates has never been a problem for me. However, I am smart enough to know a good life lesson when I see one. Many years ago, a college roommate of mine (who shall remain nameless) had the questionable blessing of having made a date and being set up with a date at exactly the same time. At that time we lived in one-half of a dorm suite that had a matching room on the other side of a shared bathroom. For several hours she ran back and forth between the two rooms (and the two guys), pretending to each date that he was the only one she was seeing that night. Fortunately, both of the dates were the stay-in-and-watch-TV kind of date, as opposed to a go-out-and-do- something date. I don't know what she would have done if one of the guys had suggested going out. I do know that she was exhausted (and out of excuses for going into the restroom) at the end of the evening!

Lesson #4: Do not fire a gun in the house, even if you have been told it is not loaded.
Once when I was home from college, my sister and her boyfriend were also visiting my mother's house. He was showing off the handgun he had bought for my sister to carry in the glove compartment of her car. (Have I mentioned that we are born-and-bred Texans?) He brought it into the house, assuring us it was not loaded. I believed him. After all, he was in law enforcement, and knew a lot about guns. I picked up the gun, aimed it, and pulled the trigger. A bullet, which was not supposed to be in the chamber, flashed across the living room and buried itself in the small strip of metal between a window pane and the wall surrounding the window. Even if I had been Annie Oakley, I could not have placed that bullet anywhere in that whole room where it would do less damage. Praise God, I had the good sense not to point an (unloaded) gun at any of the people in the room!

Lesson #5: Let the bakery deliver the wedding cake.
My sister married the gun guy from Lesson #4. Their wedding was to be held in my mother's house (yes, the one with the bullet-hole in the window sash). We had tried to make the wedding as inexpensive (but lovely) as it could be. One of the ways we decided to save money was to pick up the wedding cake ourselves, rather than having the bakery deliver it (for a fee). Bad idea. My then-boyfriend and I were deputized to perform cake-fetching duty. As we were traveling back to Mom's house with the three-tier cake in my lap, I may have reminded Don one too many times to be sure to drive carefully because of the delicate cargo I was holding. Whether I nagged too much or not, he hit the brakes just a little too hard at a stop sign. The cake followed the action-reaction rule of physics and slammed into the dashboard. I did what any woman would do - I cried - and put all the blame on Don. The top of my sister's beautiful, three-tier, white icing-with-beautiful-piped-flowers wedding cake was smushed in.  Bless my sister, she was very gracious and forgiving. We smeared the icing around a little to cover the dent, turned the smushed part of the cake toward the wall, and pretended it was perfect. I guess the wedding was okay, since their marriage lasted thirty-three years, until his death a few years ago. Maybe the cake is not so important after all.

Lesson #6: Don't walk backwards without looking behind you.
Earlier in my career, I taught in an "open concept" school - the classrooms had no walls between them. You can imagine that sound traveled very easily between the rooms. One day, the teacher across the way from me was being visited by the principal for her evaluation. I felt that it was very important for my class to be as quiet as possible so that we did not disturb the other teacher's lesson. To that end, I was conducting our usual warm-up activities in total silence. During our warm-up activities, many of my students had the habit of sitting on the floor so that they could better see the screen where the activity was projected. As we were about to finish up, I began to back up across the room to reach the light switch. I did not take the precaution of looking behind me to see if any small bodies were crouched there. I should have. I tripped backwards over a child, flew head over heels (my full circle skirt doing a fluttery cartwheel around me) and immediately bounced back up to my feet, and, thinking of the evaluation going on behind me, held my finger to my lips to caution my students not to make a sound so we would not disturb the class next to us. My students and I laughed hysterically for five minutes over my less-than-graceful acrobatic feat, all the while maintaining a perfect silence!

Lesson #7: The number of dogs in a house should never exceed the number of human hands available in the same house.
I live alone. I have three dogs. Enough said.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lost and Found - by Susan

Act 1, Train Station, Arles, France, March 1988

As the train pulls into the station, my husband reaches into his shirt pocket for the Eurail pass that we have been using to travel around Europe for the past month.  Today is the last day we can use it. We will catch a train to Zurich, just to see the Alpes.  We will then take an overnight train to Paris, thus saving on hotel and from Paris we will take a plane to Israel.  Problem is, the pass is not in his pocket!. There are no identifying information on it. Anyone can use it to travel anywhere in Europe. He frantically looks in his other pockets and the accessible parts of our luggage, but the train comes and goes.  As the non-french speaking partner, I stay at the station with our luggage while he goes back to our hotel in search of the missing pass.  An hour or so later he comes back, waving the pass as he approaches.  After searching the room at the little pension where we had been staying, he goes back to the restaurant where we ate the night before.  The restaurant is closed but the owner is sweeping the sidewalk. After hearing about the lost pass, he retrieves it from his cash register where he has kept it safely.  Apparently, Ben had dropped it when he went to pay the bill.

Act 2, The Market, New Delhi, India, April 1988

I reach in my purse for my credit card to pay for a pair of sandals and it's not there!  Quickly Ben and I retrace our steps mentally and realize that the last time we used the card was over an hour ago at a restaurant for lunch.  We race back to the hotel where the restaurant was located, all the while imagining the worst.  A quick inquiry brings out the waiter who had served us, bearing the credit card on a silver tray as if it were the last course of our meal.  All is well!  

Act 3, A Friend's House, Barquisimeto, Venezuela, December 1998

Baby Kent needs changing, so I go searching for my backpack to get a diaper.  He is our fourth child and we have done away with the niceties of carrying diaper bags and other baby paraphernalia when we travel.  I have been using my rugged backpack as an all in one diaper bag/ purse/carry on.  That means that it also contains all of our passports, marriage license and birth certificates.  We are on a trip with several stops along the way.  The last one will be the American Embassy in Caracas to get Kent's passport.  The last time I had the backpack was on the taxi we took from the bus terminal to my friend's house.  But we arrived a couple of hours ago and until I noticed the need for the diaper change, I did not realize the bag was missing.  When you have four kids under the age of eight and have been travelling all day, you tend to misplace things.  Ben and my friend's husband drive back to the terminal in search of the missing backpack.  The chances of finding it are pretty slim.  No one wants to think of the consequences of losing all those documents and having to replace them.  An hour later, they return.  Ben is empty handed.  But he quickly turns around to show the backpack!  At the bus terminal they are told that the taxi we took was a "pirate" one, meaning a guy working on his own and not part of an official line.  No one knows him and doesn't think he is coming back to the terminal that night.  As they are leaving the parking lot, the driver does come back.  He has not seen the bag and since leaving us at our destination, has given rides to several other people.  Ben still inspects the back seat where I had been sitting and sure enough the back pack is under the seat, untouched.  

I don't tell these stories to brag about my travels or admit to my distraction and absent-mindedness.  To me they are examples of moments where I could lose but instead found hope in the goodness of humanity.  They remind me that most people, regardless of geography and circumstances, will do the right thing.  And that is a nice reminder every once in a while in a world where humanity gets a bad rap because of the actions of a minority.  We need to hire a better PR person to counter every story of human failure with one much more powerful of love and kindness which is out there. Maybe then entire businesses such as some reality shows would not be dedicated to showing some of us behaving badly and the rest of us watching and drawing pleasure from it.  

Act 4, gas station, Cedar Park, Texas, November 2011

I arrive at the University of Texas for a day-long seminar.  My cell phone rings and it is the secretary of the elementary school where I work.  She tells me that someone brought my wallet to the school because they found it at the gas station where I had stopped earlier that morning to put air in my tires. The kind neighbor then took it to my house and gave it to my husband who brought it to me.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Twelve Things We Know but May Sometimes Forget

  1. RSVP: The initials stand for the French phrase “Répondez, s'il vous plaît," which literally means, "reply please."   Whether we can OR cannot attend an event, when asked to RSVP, it is right and courteous to do so.  The host is counting on each invitee's response to aid in planning a pleasurable experience for self and guests. With the prevalence of Evite and social media event apps, this has become so much easier -with just a click of a button.  If you receive an old-fashioned paper and ink invitation, remember to RSVP… and within the allotted time. 
  2. Tip wait staff and others in service industries whether the service is good or less than stellar.  It is how the majority of them make their living here in the USA.  Don’t penalize them for a bad day, poor manners or being in a position for which they are ill-suited. (see #6)Just as we would never skip out on the check, let's not skip out on the tip. Reward above-the-call-of-duty service with more than the minimum.  Emily Post would be proud.
  3. Use turn signals as a matter of law, safety and public service.  A simple push up or down of the little stick on the steering column could drastically reduce the number of people who are irritated before they get to work, making them more capable of remembering to do the next thing on this list.
  4.  Make eye contact and say “Good morning” or “Hello” upon entering a space where there are other people, especially people that are seen every day like one's housemates, co-workers and neighbors.  It puts everyone in a good mood and usually brings about more positive interactions throughout the day.
  5. Say “Thank You” when someone holds the door open or demonstrates any other act of kindness and courtesy.  Also, saying please will usually get a lot more done and with much better attitudes.
  6. Everyone makes mistakes.  Most of the time, people are doing the best they can.  There is not a person one will meet who is not dealing with or thinking about something.  Grace is not just something to say over a meal.  It is a attitude extended when someone does something we would have done differently or better (at least in our opinion).
  7. Never say “Never!”.  If one lives long enough, it becomes more evident that it all eventually comes to pass if not in your life, in someone else’s. Kids make their own choices and sometimes those choices are mistakes.  Companies downsize.  Couples disagree.  Friends fight.  Feelings change... for better and for worse.  No life is bullet-proof. Nonetheless, every life can be really good and full especially if we keep an open mind and an open heart to what things may come.
  8. Listen when others are speaking.  We are all developing a permanent bend in our necks from staring at electronic devices even during conversations with people who matter.  Guilty as charged.  Listen to hear and understand, not to respond. Listen completely.  Listen with your whole body.  Listening well is a sure-fire way to bring connection and spur on relationships.  Maybe that's why we have two ears that do not close and one mouth that does.
  9. Be grateful for what you have.  The late Dale Carnegie would like to remind us all “Success is getting what you want.  Happiness is wanting what you get.” To get in the habit of practicing gratitude, write down at least three new things to be grateful for each day.
  10. Learn something new everyday.  Every person we interact with and every experience in which we find ourselves offers something for us to learn.  Be a good student of life.  There are no grades, but there are definitely rewards!
  11. There are very few real grown-ups.  Sorry if you didn’t already know this.  We are all making this thing up as we go.  Some people are just a little more confident in their experiments than others.  You might already know that even they are not as confident and sure of themselves as they may seem to you. Don't be insecure. "Comparison is the thief of joy.", said Teddy Roosevelt. We are doing just fine.  And if not, we will do it better as we know better. We are all trying to figure out this thing called life and how to live it well without breaking anything or anyone.
  12. The best of life is now.  The evidence is in the pictures we take, the books we read, the notes we scribble in our journals and the appointments in our calendars, the things we do for free and the people we spend our time with. Look at pictures from 10 years ago.  I bet the sweet memories will freely flow. "Today" will be 10 years ago before you know it.  It is the best of life- NOW.  A word of encouragement, however: I am learning that life is best enjoyed in real time, not only in photographs. So put the camera down and carpe diem!
  - Andrea