Are You Wiser Than a 1st Grader?

Have you ever dreamed of doing something, but let someone talk you out of it? Have you ever had a dream that went unfulfilled because it seemed silly or because life’s responsibilities got in the way? If so, you may not be wiser than a first grader. We adults believe ourselves to be experienced and wise, when in fact, there are some very important lessons we can, and should, take from our kids.

Dream. Children dare to dream. They believe they can do or be anything. Astronaut, president or Michelin star chef. My daughter is a classic example. She thinks she’s going to grow up to build the first combination homeless shelter/animal shelter/food pantry. The practical adult in me asks where the money is in that, but in her mind, that doesn’t matter. She might just earn the money as a dancer or singer since she’s clearly better than Taylor Swift. She believes she can change the world. Her life is full of possibilities. She is limitless. She can do it all. Even make her own “ chocolate” cookies with flour, butter, and Hershey’s syrup. She doesn’t care if it doesn’t work. She doesn’t give up. She tries again, because she still believes she’ll find a way to do it. She doesn’t care about “rules”. Eventually she will find the “right” way, or invent her own new way.

Desire. Kids find their passion and run with it, no matter what others think. My son has loved learning about animals since he was old enough to talk. He was so interested in them that it almost became an obsession. He refused to read a fiction book until he was forced in the second grade. He is that funny kids who stops at the zoo exhibit and instructs other on-lookers about the genetic make up of the Okapi. He loves Pokemon and Skylanders. Never mind the fact that when he tries to explain these games to me I can only stare in confusion. He likes hot tea and the color pink, even though that isn’t “normal” for boys his age. He doesn’t care if others think he’s silly. He just knows what he likes. That’s the beauty of a kid’s mind. It doesn’t matter what others think of them. At least until they’re in Middle School!

Determination. Children find a way to do what they want. They let know obstacle stand in the way. Until they are old enough to “know better.” One day we made a tub of cookies. Audrey wanted those cookies so badly she could hardly stand it, but they were supposed to be for a bake sale, so we hid them on top of the fridge where we thought she’d never find them. We should have known then that our strong-willed girl wouldn’t rest until she got what she wanted. Later that day, while we were watching television and she was supposed to be sleeping, she snuck into the kitchen. She climbed on a chair, pulled down the tub, and stole away to her room. She crawled into her closet and shut the door, and there she stayed until she had eaten every last one of those cookies.

Stolen cookies might be a silly example. And to be clear, I’m not really encouraging you to lie, cheat, or steal to get what you want. But when was the last time you wanted something so badly or worked so hard until you got it? Somewhere along the way, we grow up. We become “wiser”, but along with that wisdom comes a loss of innocence and the idea that we “can’t” do things. These limitations seem real, but they are often self-imposed.

Today, instead of asking you to think like mature adults, I’d like to encourage you to be more childlike. Find your passion. Believe that you can do anything. Or at least try it. And when life tells you that you can’t have any cookies, find a way around it. I never thought I would be a published author. But with a dream, desire, and determination, anything is possible. Take up painting. Take a cooking class. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, if not as a profession, than for pleasure and fulfillment. If you’re waiting for the right time to begin a new project, if you’re waiting for some kind of sign, I’ll give you one!

Begin

Think First and Blow On It

Kids… I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!

This phrase has been uttered by parents and grandparents for generations. As a middle school teacher, I confess, I find myself wondering the same thing. Several times a day! There are lots of theories out there as to what the problem might be. They don’t get enough exercise. They play too many video games. They’re too dependent on electronics. I admit there is some validity to these claims. I subbed for a six grade math class last year and got so frustrated that I literally wrestled a kid’s calculator out of her hand when she tried to use it to multiply 2×2. And just last week I overheard a student in the hallway with his mother. She was helping him to dial the combination on his locker. When it opened, he turned to her amazed and said, “Oh, I had the combination wrong! I thought I just lacked the upper arm strength to open it!” So, that kid obviously could have benefitted from a little physical activity or strength some kind of strength training. But, I maintain that the biggest problem with today’s youth is the complete lack of accountability and common sense. Folks, I hate to break it to you, but it may have started with us.

As a society, we no longer appear to value these assets. We have made it too simple to do something stupid and either blame someone else, or claim that we didn’t know any better. Law makers vindicate people who spill scalding hot coffee themselves and then sue and virtually everything has a disclaimer— everything except my crazy Aunt Earlene. Have you noticed this? The directions to my new vacuum cleaner read: 1. “Do not pick up anything smoking or burning” and 2. “Do not immerse in water.” Why is this necessary? I tell you why. Because someone somewhere once turned to his/her spouse one day and said, “Honey, the pool filter’s out again. Why don’t you take that new Dyson out there and see if you can clean that thing out!”

Have you ever wondered why the little packet of silicon in your new shoe box reads “Do not eat?” Some brilliant individual thought their sketchers were supposed to come with a snack and now we must warn the others!

My sister sent me a picture from the Laundromat where the washers bore this sign: “High Speed Spins – Do not put a person in this washer.” It’s a good thing that label was posted. I’m a multi-tasker. I was totally going to save time by washing my kids and my laundry at the same time.

How about the warning on the flushable toilet brush cautions, “do not use for personal hygiene”? Apparently Swiffer brand wet wipes should also include this warning, because my principal’s kids did exactly that when he accidentally left the box on the back of the toilet last year. They did develop a bit of “irritation”, but being a rational man, instead of suing the company, he recommended that his children pay closer attention the “home care” label next time.

My personal favorite was a warning for a fuel Tank Cap: “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.” Now, I have never considered doing that. But then, I have one of those fancy new automobiles with the little needle thingy on the dash board to indicate the fuel level. Should we really have to tell people this stuff? For that matter, should A&W really need to advertise: Contents under pressure. Cap may blow off causing eye or other serious injury. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I can see that happening as a result of a “double dog dare” in the middle school lunch room. “Dude, I bet you can’t shake that until the lid blows off!” Still, I ask you, is it really the root beer’s fault that middle school kids are crazy? Shouldn’t we expect our kids to know better than that? I don’t think one has to be a scientist to know that gasoline is flammable and soda explodes when you shake it? My six year old knows better. I dropped a bottle of Sprite on the way in from the grocery store the other day and she said to me, hand on her hip, “Mom, I seriously would not open that if I were you!”

Some of these are extreme cases, but my point is, if we want to find out what’s the matter with kids, we have to start by looking at ourselves. Why should we expect America’s youth to be problem solvers or to use common sense when we don’t expect most adults to either? People, it’s time to raise the bar. If you have a youngster in your life, talk to them. Monitor them so they don’t turn play time into an episode of Myth Busters gone wrong. But more importantly, help them learn about safety and making smart choices. Teach them to be responsible for their own mistakes and learn from them. If you take your toddler to Mc Donald’s and he burns his little tongue on his Happy Meal. Don’t just whip out your phone and google a lawyer. Teach him to think first and blow on it!

Sunday—There’s Something Fishy Going On!

Colorful Fish Photo #9,852

After a quick bite at the coffee shop, we bid adieu to the gardens at the Hotel Gaylord and headed out of Nashville bound for Atlanta. We checked into the Hilton Garden Inn a few hours later and made a beeline for the Georgia Aquarium. I pleased to say that the drive was not nearly as eventful as the day before. In fact it was a great visit with hardly any drama at all….

Unless you count the food court feast of chicken fingers and nachos that cost fifty big ones and almost caused hubby to have “the big one”! Come to think of it, we only narrowly avoided a fit from the five year old when her arms weren’t long enough to reach the sting rays skimming along the bottom of the touch pool. We tried three different pools and all of them were just as deep. So, we distracted her with a slide at the indoor play yard just before she was able to launch a full blown tantrum. And of course, my son, in classic form, began to whine the moment he found out that we were seated in the “splash zone” for the Dolphin Tales presentation for fear he might melt. This is the same kid who stands directly under the dump buckets every time he visits a splash pad. It is also the same kid who conveniently forgot about his aversion to water the moment another boy his age sat down two seats away. He immediately asked to swap spots with his dad and the two boys began to pray for wild dolphin attacks so that they could get soaked and save themselves a shower before bedtime.

White Alligator
White Alligator

Aside from a few minor disturbances, it was an exciting day for the whole family, with rare white alligators and the Ocean Voyager Exhibit—the largest indoor aquatic habitat in the world. I’d highly recommend this stop to anyone with little ones. They’ll love all of the underwater adventures. Just a one thing…. Make sure you have plenty of storage space on your phone because your daughter may need you to take pictures of EVERY colorful fish you find. Oh! And you may be hard-pressed to get your son out of there at the end of the day. So, take my advice. Save the gift shop for last!

Spring Break 2014 134
Whale Shark (in a 60×30 ft window)

“You’ll shoot your eye out!”

The following is an adaptation of a speech I gave several years ago in my Toastmasters club. I found it in an old folder, and it still amused me. I thought I would share.

What’s the Matter with Kids Today? It was a question raised in song in the musical Bye-Bye Birdie. It’s a question that has been raised by older generations for decades. We find ourselves looking at our youth and wondering why they seem to lack common sense. We ask how they have become so entitled, with no sense of responsibility. If you ask me, the problem doesn’t originate with the children. They have not evolved into senseless creatures all by themselves. Today’s children are victims of society. As a society, we no longer appear to value this asset. We have made it too simple to do something stupid and either blame someone else or claim that we didn’t know any better. Law makers vindicate people who spill scalding hot coffee themselves then sue, and the only thing that doesn’t come with a warning label is your crazy Aunt Earlene.

The aforementioned McDonald’s lawsuit was so outrageous that it made the news all over the U.S. You might think that something so ridiculous would cause us to take a long hard look at ourselves, but I’m not sure that discouraged others from filing silly lawsuits. In fact, it may have encouraged it. The Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch listed several similar cases.

One homeowner sued the owners of a local business saying that their dust was trespassing on her property.  Of course, once it was established that dust had no legs and could not intentionally trespass, the case was dismissed.

Another woman, a housekeeper, stole what she thought was a decorative candle from a house that she was cleaning. During dinner with friends, she lit the “candle.” It turned out to be a firecracker and caused a small explosion. She later sued her client for leaving the firecracker laying around the house without a warning on it.

A woman leaving the hospital in a wheel chair was pushed into a parking gate. She sustained minor head injuries and sued, not the person who pushed her into the gate, but the manufacturer of the gate.  If you’re going to sue in a situation like that, at least get your priorities straight! The jury rightfully found that the gate maker was not at fault.

Even those convicted of crimes themselves continue to blame others for their problems. In Michigan, a prisoner sued the state because prison food was causing a flatulence problem. The Attorney General’s office estimated that frivolous prisoner lawsuits like that one waste several million dollars in state tax dollars every year.

Maybe they need more warning signs posted in those prison cafeterias. After all, nearly everything else in the US comes with some kind warning. Vacuum cleaners include such directions as: “Do not pick up anything smoking or burning” and “Do not immerse in water.”  Did someone wake up one day and decide to use their Hoover to clean out the pool? Why does the little packet of silicon in your new shoe box read “Do not eat?” Some brilliant individual one day mistook it for a snack. Now, steps must be taken to warn others and avoid prosecution. Once upon a time, there was a site called Wackywarnigns.com which gave several other examples like these. A Laundromat washer bore this sign: “High Speed Spins – Do not put a person in this washer.”  It’s a good thing that label is posted. That way the multi-taskers would know better than to wash their laundry and their children in the same machine. A warning on a flushable toilet brush cautioned, “Do not use for personal hygiene.” Apparently Swiffer brand wet wipes should also include this warning, because my principal’s kid did exactly that when he accidentally left the box on the back of the toilet. Kudos to him. Rather than sue, he suggested his son pay more attention to the “home care” label the next time.

Here are a two more serious warnings:  A fuel Tank Cap warns, “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.”  A&W soda labels state: Warning: Contents under pressure. Cap may blow off causing eye or other serious injury. As a middle school teacher, I can see that happening as a result of a “double dog dare” in the lunch room. “Dude, I bet you can’t open that bottle with your eye!” Still, I ask you, is it really the root beer’s fault that middle school kids are crazy?

Why should children think for themselves or try to solve a problem by using common sense when we don’t expect adults to? If you have a youngster in your life, talk to them about what they watch on TV so they don’t turn play time into an episode of Myth Busters gone wrong.  Help them learn about safety and making smart choices.  Teach them to be responsible for there own mistakes. Don’t help your toddler dial a lawyer when he burns his tongue on his Hamburger Happy Meal.  Teach him to think first and blow on it next time.

Jesus, Drugs, and Whitney Houston

Everyone knows that as a parent you will eventually have to tackle difficult topics with your kids. You assume that as they grow you will have to teach them about smoking, drugs, sex, and other big issues. What no one tells you is that there are no rules as to when these topics come up. No one told me that I would be driving home from a Toastmasters meeting on a Tuesday night with my four and six year olds in the backseat giving the longest, most important table topic of my life.

It all started on our way out of the meeting. Someone had given a speech or a table topic about the dangers of smoking or something. I don’t even recall the specifics anymore. My son began before we even got in the car. I should have known I was in for it. The conversation went something like this:

“Mom, smoking is bad for you, right?”

“Yes it is.”

“But, people in our family smoke.”

“Yes they do.”

“Why? Don’t they know it’s bad for you?”

“Yes. I’m sure they do.”

“Then why do they do it?”

“Because cigarettes are addictive.”

He got in the car and was quiet for a moment. Then it began again.

“What’s addictive?”

I sighed as I eased out of the parking space. I didn’t really want to get into it while driving, because- you should know- I’m a bad driver as it is. I don’t really need distractions. But, you never know how many opportunities you will have to discuss these things with your kids while they are actually listening. At the moment, the kids were strapped into the backseat, a captive audience, so I chose my words carefully, trying to be simple, but effective.

“Addictive is when you have something and you just want more of it, like when you eat chocolate and it’s so good that you just want more of it.”

“Why are cigarettes addictive?”

“Because they have a drug called nicotine in them.”

That satisfied him for a moment, as the sun began to set, the situation worsened. It started to rain and my ever-inquisitive boy continued.

“Drugs are bad for you too, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then why do people do drugs?”

I sighed again as I turned the wipers on.

“Well, because drugs can make you feel good at first and people don’t know how bad they really are. By the time they realize it, it’s too late to stop.”

“Whitney Houston did drugs and she died.”

“Yes.”

Then my daughter got in on it.

“I miss Whitney Houston.”

“It is sad, isn’t it?” (She’s four! Does she even know a Whitney Houston song?)

“Why did Whitney Houston die?” she wanted to know.

The windows were starting to steam up, probably from all of our hot air.  I turned on the defogger.

“Ah… they say she took too many prescription drugs, so you see, even drugs from your doctor can be dangerous if you’re not careful about following directions.” I was feeling pretty good about working that in. But it wasn’t over.

We were traveling down Riverside Drive, a dark and windy road when my daughter hit me with another curve ball. Whitney died. She missed Whitney. So naturally, another death occurred to her, and she cried, “I miss Jesus!”

“Yeah,” her brother said. “Jesus died.” (Thank you vacation bible schoo!)

“Why did Jesus die?” she asked. (I take it back… thanks for nothing VBS!)

I turned up the wipers and tried to focus. Everything seemed to be happening so fast. Rain, headlights, questions. “Well, it is said that Jesus died to save us from our sins.”

“He sacrificed himself for us, right mom?”

“Yes.”  (My wise little boy!)

“You would sacrifice yourself for us, right mom?” (Holy cow! Where did that come from?)

“Yes, honey, of course I would.” (Dear, God, would this drive never end?)

It was pouring by that time and I hit a puddle. They were relentless. We hydroplaned. As I struggled to keep control, my daughter said, “What about dad?  Would he sacrifice himself for us?”

I couldn’t take anymore. “You’ll have to ask your father!” I shouted.

Two minutes later, we pulled on to our street. The kids clamored out of the car and ran into the house as I lay back exhausted in the driver’s seat. And you know, they didn’t ask their father! Part of me wondered why I had been blessed with the tough questions and not him. But I’m thankful that they felt they could ask, and happy that we could be so open with each other. I’m also thankful that I’m a Toastmaster, so that I wasn’t completely panic stricken and was able to formulate somewhat coherent answers. I’m actually hopeful that we will have more of these types of conversations, even if they are at night, in the dark, in the car, in the middle of a monsoon! Oh, who am I kidding? Next time they’re riding home with dad!

Signs

A year ago I was on a quest. It was a quest to look good. I had visions of looking like a Hollywood movie star. Of course, as my mother affectionately pointed out when I was a mere sprout of a girl, “You’re built like a bison.” So, I knew I would never be petite, but thin and relatively toned seemed attainable. Then Thanksgiving came… and Christmas… and New Year’s…. several birthday parties… Saint Patty’s Day… End of the year school parties…. And well… you get the idea. Around every corner I found another excuse to give myself a free pass on points. But now that my “skinny pants” are more than a tad snug, I think it’s time that I jumped back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon and renew my commitment to “The Quest”.  If any one of the following has ever happened to you, it might be time you joined me in my quest.

  1. Your five year-old poked your stomach and said, “Mommy, when you look like that it means you have a baby in your belly.”
  2. While shopping with your husband, you held up a pair of pants in your size and your husband said, “Wow, those look huge!”
  3. You were folding laundry, when your son walked in and asked, “Are those pants yours or Dad’s?”
  4. You noticed the server in the school cafeteria giving you a funny look as you went through the line. Moments later, she stopped a fellow teacher and asked, “Hey, is she pregnant again?”
  5. Even after pointing out that it wasn’t polite, the five year-old repeated, “I’m sorry, Mommy, but it really looks like there’s a baby in there!”

They’ve all happened to me. Sad but true. By the looks of things, either I have made some incredibly poor wardrobe choices lately, or I need to lay off the Dairy Queen and Doritos. If I keep going at this rate, by the time I have to go back to work in the fall, I’ll have blown all my money on Peanut Buster Parfaits. There won’t be any room in the budget for new “fat pants”. So, that’s it.  I have no choice! I’m renewing my commitment to “The Quest”. If Lynn Redgrave, Fergie (the duchess, not the pop star) and Jennifer Hudson can do it, so can I. Rice cakes and carrot sticks, here I come… tomorrow!