More yes than no

Something took place during my most recent stay in a kindergarten class that I will always remember, primarily so as not to repeat it. It was the end of the day and I made it possible for each of my students to pick one of my stickers before leaving the class. The stickers are part of my magic substitute bag that I bring to nearly all of my teaching assignments.

One of my little girls was particularly active and difficult to keep focused. Almost predictably, she was not satisfied with one sticker for her and one for her tiny stuffed dog. As nearly everyone had gone through the sticker line, she asked for yet another sticker. After confirming that she already had one for herself and her dog, I asked if she was seeking a third, to which she replied, “Yes.” At that point, I said no, you have enough.

It was a mistake on all levels. For one, I have about 5,000 stickers and one would not have made a difference. More importantly, I failed to recognize an opportunity to say yes instead of no, a lesson for us all who have the opportunity to impact young lives.

From the time that students enter a classroom until the moment they are reunited with parents or enter a school bus, they are most likely to hear the word “no” much more often than “yes.” That doesn’t work. As educators, parents, grandparents or any other adult, we can and must make the world a place full of empowerment and acknowledgement rather than denial and discouragement.

You might want to make the argument that I was teaching this young lady how to be considerate and truthful. She did not admit to having two stickers in place before I asked her. Or it may have been an opportunity for me to remind her that if she took more than her share, there wouldn’t be enough for everyone in the future. To a five- or six-year-old, the future is as nebulous as what she’s going to be getting for Christmas. It would have been a perfect time to combine a tiny act of generosity with a learning moment. “I’ll give you this extra sticker but next time, please tell me that you already have two and you wanted the third for a gift.” Yes, this is a mature lesson for an immature person. But it’s never too early to say yes instead of no. Shalom.

Realization

Something that I don’t quite understand but appreciate with all of my being is that now and then I run smack into an idea for this medium without any warning that it is going to happen. It may not be worthy of examination so I will choose to enjoy the experience rather than wonder why it happens.

In this case, I was sitting and thinking as I often do. What occurred to me was a simple expression that I will call, “a higher purpose.” Initially I thought of my own religion and the ways in which I conceive of my God. But this was not strictly about those definitions. More importantly, it occurred to me for the first time that I have a specific, unique purpose for my existence on this planet.

One of my closest friends and I have discussed similar subjects at great length but until this moment, I don’t know that I ever thought myself capable of or responsible for a “higher purpose.” This is not to suggest that I am doing the work of God – I would like to believe that if this were true, I would have a much clearer sense of motivation and clarity.

After saying what this is not, I can attempt to say what it is. Somehow, through the actions that I have completed or will complete, I believe with great certainty that I will create or represent something with a higher purpose. At this moment, I am not quite sure what that is or will be. Perhaps through giving birth and raising two children, I have made it possible for one or more great accomplishments to occur, either through them or their offspring.

It may be through my writing that I have established something with a higher purpose. It may be through my teaching that I have contributed to the growth and coming of age for one or more of my students. Or it may be an action or creation not yet completed or understood. Coming to these conclusions makes me feel that the hard times contributed as much as the joyous ones in enabling me to be part of this higher purpose. Because I have just encountered this concept, I hope to have ample time to understand and realize whatever it is. No matter the outcome, it is certain that my life and legacies will not end when I do. Shalom.

Change is good

Recently I had reason to question those standards and values with which we were raised, if only to determine how many of them are still relevant. Here’s the short version. Someone quite close to me was raised in the tradition of cleaning his plate, no matter how full or satisfied he might be. Back in the old days, we invoked the concept of “Children are starving in Asia” as the reason for eating everything we are served.

Another example happened several weeks ago and had to do with plastic straws. When you read or see the stories about all of the waste deposited into our oceans and the toxic effects of this waste, it makes you think twice about all of the trash that you create. When I made the comment at a restaurant the other day that I don’t use plastic straws any more because I don’t want to kill any dolphins, I was challenged. “How can straws that you use in the southwest kill any ocean dolphins?” Somehow, that entirely misses the point.

When we stop changing to meet the circumstances that face us, we cease to be viable members of our community. Clearing plates is not necessarily a good thing to do – it conduces to overeating and has no effect whatsoever on world hunger. My belief is that it lends itself to obesity rather than healthy eating. The same type of reality applies to straws. Just because our landfill probably doesn’t get to the ocean doesn’t mean that we can stop being conscious of the waste that we create.

Some old-style standards are absolutely and positively worthy of being maintained. We must demonstrate and teach respect for each other, just as we must exhibit kindness and consideration whenever and wherever possible. We must take good care of our young and our elderly. We must continue to educate with intention, organization, and compassion. But some of our old habits can easily be left behind. If we are selective about what we save and what we discard, I believe that we will create a better world. If we can adapt to gigabytes rather than transistor radios, the rest should be easy. Shalom.

To be thankful

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us refer to “going home” for this holiday and for several others, including Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, and others. This past weekend I had occasion to return to my last home in Denver, one where I resided for over thirty years.

While I initially didn’t consider my trip to be one of going home, as the days passed and I interacted with many of the people whom I value most, it came to me that this was truly a form of homecoming. This came as a huge surprise to me, primarily because I’ve always thought of Chicago as my home, one that represents my birth, early years, education, and many landmark events.

All of the events from this past weekend were reminiscent of going home. The people with whom I spent time this weekend welcomed me with warmth and genuine hospitality. If I compare that to going home to Chicago, I can think of only one person who would welcome me with enthusiasm and love.

And so, I’m thinking that it may be time to redefine my definition of home and going home. Is it possible to have two places to which you are going home? There are clearly no rules and I can consider both Denver and Chicago my homes, particularly because I spent more years in Denver than my birthplace.

Thinking about this holiday, maybe the home to which many people are going consists entirely of the people who are there, much more than the events or locations of our lives. It’s not a case of disloyalty – I’m not being disloyal to Chicago by considering Denver my home – if it mattered to anyone but me, I’m not at all certain whom that would be.

But home is all about the people who are waiting for us to return there. I am certain that if we were to go to Denver for Thanksgiving, there would be a variety of locations that would be meaningful. In the case of Chicago, there are much fewer options. And so I am willing to have two homes and recommend that those who seek the feeling of returning home do so on the basis of those who reside there. Wherever you go and whomever you see, do it with love and gratitude for the blessings of family and cherished friends. Enjoy Thanksgiving as a means to give thanks for the ability to enjoy treasured relationships. Shalom.

School days

Visiting my favorite class at my favorite school, I began the day by experiencing events that remind me why they are favorites. Multiple students greeted me by name. Others expressed how happy they were to see me. And the teacher I was replacing welcomed me with enthusiasm.

You might reasonably assume that this was standard morning behavior but (sadly) it’s not. Sometimes students are stoic. Sometimes they are fidgety and sometimes they just melt down. For the most part, students who know me are much kinder than those I’m seeing for the first time.

Maybe it’s just an exercise in logic. We accept and welcome the familiar while being cautious and apprehensive about the unfamiliar.

But I must always remain vigilant to treat all my students with the same patience. The key is to think of them as potential favorite students. I must be certain to spend more time with the recalcitrant kids than the warm and loving. Or maybe I can just keep doing what I’m doing – more listening than talking, more patience than impatience, and identifying problem situations as soon as I encounter them. No matter what, I will absolutely and positively treat my students with love, compassion, and respect. There really is no alternative. Shalom.

A gift

Today I find myself in an unusual position, that of waiting for the email that will deliver very sad news. A close friend from my previous home in Denver is in her last hours and I feel quite sad, both about her condition and the fact that I will not have the ability to say goodbye.

While I am thinking seriously about attending her memorial service, I am keenly aware that while doing so will somewhat assuage my sadness, it will not directly impact her life or a realization that she has one more person who cares deeply about her. And so, I am left with a few choices.

I’ve already written a poem to her, something that makes me feel a bit better and I hope will touch those to whom I send it. But as I ponder what else I can do, there is really only one option, remembering her and the years of friendship that we shared.

This was a person who was always cheerful and smiling, no matter the time or space she occupied. She was kind and giving, always considering the needs and concerns of others. While I will never have the joy of experiencing her kindness again, it has left an indelible impression on my heart.

Why am I sharing all of this? It serves as a reminder, to me and to those who read this, to treasure every available moment with those we cherish. While this lady lived a long life, she was never going to be ready to leave this life for the next one and none of us are going to have an easy time of saying goodbye. Live each moment that is made available to you. Your religious beliefs are irrelevant, I suppose, as far as paying tribute to a loved one. It is simply the idea of realizing that every day is a gift that we must receive as such. The memories of this wonderful lady will always be a gift to my heart and that of others, probably the best testimonial that we can deliver. May her memory be for countless blessings. Shalom.

Saving

Most of us were taught from an early age that saving is a good idea. It really doesn’t matter what it is that you save, causing this to be the primary reason why I question the entire concept.

It’s good to save money, for retirement, for college, and for the possibility of hard times that could occur in the future. Another good idea is to save some food in your pantry or freezer, to make life easier in the event of shortages or physical limitations.

But if you are at all like me, you save all types of things for some time or occasion in the indefinite future. As a result, I have a closet full of clothes that I don’t wear, jewelry that I love but don’t wear for lack of the right occasion, and shoes that are for one special situation or another.

The point of all that is essentially that we save things that we could be enjoying. Maybe I should pick one or two Fridays per month as special date nights when I roll out my party clothes and jewelry. And I should also remove special food from the freezer and prepare it for no particular reason whatsoever.

Although I don’t like thinking about each day being my last one on earth, that possibility clearly exists. And for what reason did I put away all of those things that I saved and treasured? We don’t have many rainy days in New Mexico. And those who follow me will either enjoy what I leave behind or pass those items along to those who will. Those things that are not food will not wear out or become unusable, whether I wear them/use them or not. It’s time to treasure those items I treasure by putting them to good use. That’s what they were intended to do and the chances are excellent that I will enjoy using them. Shalom.

Vaccines for children

Now that the Covid-19 vaccine is available for children over 5 years, I feel that I must encourage those who are undecided to decide in favor of vaccinating those children. It’s clear that many adults have opted out of the vaccine for whatever reason they choose. But when it comes to making decisions for those who don’t have the ability to make their own responsible choices, please don’t allow your prejudices to endanger these children.

Almost daily I am told of children in my schools who are testing positive for Covid. Fortunately, many of them have light or no symptoms and I just don’t hear about those who have more serious outcomes. The reality is that kids can and do contract Covid-19; many have already died from the disease. If you love your children and you realize that they are exposed whenever they are in school or out in the world, why would you allow yourself to risk their lives?

From my standpoint, there is no conflict to opting out of the vaccine for yourself and securing it for your child or children. So far, I have not encountered a child who objects to it except when they have a parent who has chosen not to be vaccinated. We are clear and obvious role models for our children. If you want to choose what I think is the socially responsible reasoning, we are making it possible for our kids to learn that path and follow it when they reach majority age. It is statistically obvious that receiving the vaccine vastly reduces your chances of catching the virus and succumbing to it. With that clear evidence, why would you want to take a chance on the lives of those who do not have the legal status to save their own lives? Give your offspring a chance to live long and happy lives. Shalom.

Don’t ignore me

Saturday was the day before Halloween and countless neighbors or visitors to the neighborhood swamped my local grocery chain. As I entered to purchase a few items, I couldn’t help but notice a small boy who was wailing at the top of his lungs. His apparent mother was a few feet ahead of him and was totally ignoring the child and whatever distress he was experiencing.

Having taught several thousand children and been the mother of two, I couldn’t help but wonder about the wisdom of her decision to ignore him. It appeared that he was frantically attempting to secure a pumpkin for the holiday and was evidently thwarted in his pursuit.

Because I don’t know the mother or the child, I can’t pretend to understand the whole story or the conversation that preceded his explosion. All I do know was what I witnessed, a mother who chose to deal with her son’s tantrum by pretending that he wasn’t there.

Nobody likes to be ignored. Whether you are having a fit about your obvious need for a pumpkin or because you have been difficult all morning (all day, all week, etc.), from my standpoint, ignoring a child is the worst possible tactic. Turn around and speak to him in a small voice, saying, “I know you want a pumpkin – let’s get a cart first so that I don’t have to carry it.” Ignoring a child or anyone else is the ultimate dismissal. It probably communicates one of the following: I don’t want to talk to you. You are not important enough for me to acknowledge you. Whatever I have to do is a better way to spend my time than interacting with you. I will only speak with you when you behave according to my rules. I don’t know why you are upset and just don’t care. But maybe a little patience can go a long way and inclusion is a much better option than exclusion. Shalom.

All rights matter

While I seldom become intentionally controversial, something that has recently been the subject of frequent press coverage is women’s rights. This is a subject for which I have very strong feelings, especially in light of the recent anti-abortion law in Texas.

From the top, I object to those who feel the right and obligation to tell women what they can and cannot do with their bodies, especially with respect to abortion. Combine this with the lunacy that we often see that says, “My body, my rights,” often coming from the same contingency as the anti-abortion contingent. Okay – let’s see. You have the right to decline the vaccination as part of your presumed Constitutional rights but you also have the right to deny Roe v. Wade?

Throughout my career, I have encountered more sexual discrimination than many who appear to fight for it. I had a hiring authority advise that he could never hire a woman for a branch manager position, in spite of the fact that I was the assistant manager and had been in the office and territory for eight years. I was advised that my career in a bank would be limited by my gender – at that time, there was only one female officer at the bank.

It seems to me that many of those who are campaigning for women’s rights are doing so only for the sake of looking good or feeling that they have a place on the bandwagon. Abortion is critical to women’s rights and I can’t imagine supporting one without the other. And to suggest that the right to decline the vaccine and put others at risk through your contamination is inconceivable, especially to those who advocate for women’s rights. We need to keep our priorities clear.

As I have previously stated, it is your right to remain unvaccinated under the heading of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But the constitution does not give you the right to infect others. And while Roe v. Wade is a law not included in that constitution, it is still law. All of women’s rights matter, not just the ones that you prefer for any reason. Shalom.