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Metaphor

Sitting in the sun recently, I spied a bird of a variety I couldn’t recognize sitting on the patio. He was very still and it was only by getting close that I could verify that he was alive. The beak was opening and closing and you could observe the rise and fall of a chest that indicated breathing. By virtue of the location and failure to move when I approached, I was certain that something was wrong.

Soon I realized that my response was exactly that of a parent or educator and this bird was a metaphor for my roles. For a very long time, the bird did not change position. I wanted to feed it, help it fly or somehow assist in its recovery. My best guess is that he flew into one of our windows (it happens frequently) and essentially knocked himself into a frenzy.

Those of my experience and background want to help in some way. Because I am not a trained bird doctor or expert, I had no idea what to do other than observe. But that did not prevent me from wanting to do something or anything.

As educators and parents, sometimes we are forced to watch our charges flounder, stumble and work on their own survival methods. That is exactly what this bird did. Eventually, he began to walk and do several flips before landing on his side. Educators want to provide information, coaching or encouragement in this type of situation but sometimes it’s usually better to do nothing until called on to help. Bird never did that, of course, but I wanted to help him in any way that I could.

We left the bird alone, in spite of my desire to do something or anything. Checking back on him later, we saw that he had stopped breathing. Thankfully, our children and students seldom reach this type of resolution to their frustration. But in both cases, our best wishes and intentions occasionally must be stifled. In the case of offspring and students, children will seek our attention when appropriate. When that does not take place, we must simply watch. Shalom.

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Simplify

In previous blogs, I’ve mentioned the value of a small investment in stickers or construction paper that has paid huge dividends. Because I will never buy a child a tablet or cell phone or laptop, the educational rewards for items that don’t need a charge are boundless.

The most recent example of this was the purchase of an inflatable beach ball and sprinkler device. Whether it was a good idea or not, I notified the grandkids that I had purchased said items for their fun.

After at least twenty reminders that they were ready to play with them, we rolled out the treasures. Had they been multi-story ferris wheels or high tech video games, they could not have been more enthusiastically received. Getting wet has always and will always be entertaining for little people. It allows them to run back and forth, scream and simply enjoy the outdoors.

No, I’m no hero. It just makes so much sense to invest a small amount of money in a low-tech, inflatable rubber and plastic toy than trendy or techy toys. If I had been able to predict that they would burn out in twenty minutes and have new fun with the bicycle pump I would still have purchased what I did. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Give kids simple toys and they will be just as satisfied as with complicated, cutting edge gadgets.

We grownups have volumes to learn from this exercise. While I’ve done my share of cruises and long, exotic journeys, a recent trip to a local cabin in the mountains was equally fulfilling. The occasional hamburger and fries can be just as satisfying as an umpteen course gourmet meal. And the present of a simple, funny cactus can be just as joyously received as a Rolex.

It appears that we may be approaching another quarantine/lockdown, a reality that I don’t fear. With enough food and drink, books to read and write and a vast world with which to remain in contact, we have nothing to cause us to be afraid. Shalom.

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Substitutes

The older I become, the more I realize how much a waste of time it becomes to find substitutes for those people or things that we cherish or have cherished for some time. Today was a day when that became altogether clear to me, on a subject I will address later.

We often tell ourselves that something we have easily and completely replaces something that we truly love. On a very mundane level, no hamburger that I have encountered can take the place of a White Castle slider. My best guess is that my recollection is colored by the family events associated with those burgers in a time long past.

The same phenomenon occurs with other locations or businesses. No deli that I experienced before or since can replace the one at which I received my traditional pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon (lox). Never will I ever have ice cream as that which I shared with my sweet sister-in-law, now a prisoner of the dementia disease. And finally, no shopping adventure will ever emulate the experience of going to downtown Chicago with mom, riding on the Illinois Central and having lunch at Marshall Field’s.

With all that in mind, I wonder why I should bother with the process of trying to improve upon or duplicate treasured memories for the sake of fully experiencing a food, location or event. Today, as I visit the optical shop for new eyeglasses, I know that no-one will ever be able to go with me and contribute the kind of input and love as my daughter did in the past or would if she were here. And as many times and I shop in as many venues as I have frequented, none will ever emulate the beautiful trips that I loved.

The point of all this is to recommend that you savor and cherish the events or tastes or companionship that you value as they occur. We will never be able to reverse the clock and relive those occurrences that are defined by time. And so, as we move ahead, we can create new memories with their own values to our existences. We can also treasure what we have already lived, smelling the smell of a particular burger or remembering the hat, gloves and purse that were part of shopping adventures with Mommy. Shalom.

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Fear

What is it about fear that makes it easy to describe when we’re young and less so as we become older? It may be the fact that children have no reluctance about saying whatever is on their minds. Adults learn to develop filters that prevent them from saying many things, especially those that represent any appearance of weakness.

The best way I can describe this is by using myself as an example. On the most basic level, I am seriously afraid of rodents. While I’m not entirely sure why this is true, mice and rats have always seemed to be sneaky, evil creatures to be avoided.

Beyond that, I am much more private about my fears and I think that the same is true of most adults. Some of us fear death while others see it as another, perhaps peaceful life chapter. In the same sense, some of us fear dependence upon others while some have confidence that either they will not arrive at dependency or that those closest to them will provide support in a manner that preserves dignity and respect.

Much of our willingness or unwillingness to discuss our fears depends on the person listening. We’re not going to tell our neighbors about our most private and sensitive thoughts as much as we do our spouses, children and best friends.

I believe that it benefits us and those closest to us to ponder both our fears and our most sincere hopes. For instance, I hope to return to Europe for a visit to some specific locations, especially in Italy. But I don’t spend my energy on being afraid that I won’t get there. Along the same lines, I fervently hope that my recently completed book will be published and then purchased by those who can best benefit from it. But I refuse to be afraid that its publication will not come to pass.

As I feel is the case with many negative expenditures of time, fear of anything doesn’t work toward anything positive or desirable. In the classroom, I comfort children who are afraid because consolation is what they need most. Adults with fears – redirect that effort to predicting positive occurrences. The more you plan for them, the less you need to fear that they won’t come to pass. Shalom.

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Pets

Those who enjoy the ownership of pets often comment that they are as much a part of the family as children. In fact, if you ask many of them, they will refer to cats, dogs and other pets as their babies.

Because I’m not an expert on the presence or absence of souls, I cannot attest to whether or not pets have souls. The only reason I mention this is because we know for certain that pets have feelings and are capable of showing remorse, sympathy or affection.

My daughter recently disclosed the comments of her local vet who is treating her mini donkey for some sort of disease. Apparently, the disease is serious enough to warrant a specialist, in addition to other veterinary care. But when my daughter expressed concern for the donkey, her vet responded, “He’s only a donkey.” Wow.

For those who want to suggest that donkeys have no particular purpose or justification, I would respond, “What household tasks does your Siamese, toucan or lizard perform?” This little guy whom we’ll call JJ, is a treasured member of the family and is treated accordingly.

If you are a vet inclined to suggest, “He’s only a donkey,” what animals justify your obvious elite status? And what good does JJ need to fulfill in this family other than being a sweet little critter who brings enjoyment to adults and kids in the family.

On my daughter’s behalf, I issue this objection to the cruelty imposed by the vet who dismisses JJ as well as the copious family members or acquaintances who might suggest that JJ is worthless because he doesn’t do any sort of job. Save your commentary. What do the rest of the animals tended by the vet contribute to the greater good?

We don’t know if JJ has a soul or not, just as we don’t know if he is able to sense an air of disregard delivered by the vet. So let’s treat our animals with kindness, regardless of size, species or social status. This is a sweet little guy who means quite a bit to a select few people who mean a great deal to me. Shalom.

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Always do right

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest. Mark Twain

 Wisdom is one of those entities that is uniquely and consistently valuable. Some of us seek wisdom from those whom we love and trust. Others look to politics, medicine or religion for a set of truths that are viable, timely and relevant.

Because I seldom take credit for my own wisdom, I find it available from writers such as Mr. Twain. This is another of those examples, as we are doing our best to handle the constraints and frustrations of quarantine. This quote is so good – it really answers any questions we may have about right and wrong behavior during a global crisis.

If you have any doubts about whether or not to wear a mask, wear it. And if you are wondering if you are six feet away from the nearest human, extend that distance.

Some of doing right consists of giving to others less fortunate. There is also a component that I would call restraint. If you have something negative to say to anyone involved in observing the quarantine, keep it to yourself.

Yes, I realize that some of this is extremely difficult, much more so than feeling sorry for yourself. Like you, I would love to go to my favorite restaurant, sit on the patio and have a glass of wine while looking at the mountains. The best statement I can offer is that the wait will make the event more pleasurable than ever.

Our children are watching how we deal with crisis. Being the best we can be must be the answer. Generosity is a good trait to demonstrate. So is patience as is imagination. Some of the games and activities that I have seen parents develop for their home schooling are extraordinary. And I try my hand at creativity in the kitchen or at my keyboard.

Doing the right thing is always easier than the alternative. The very good news is that outcomes from right actions are generally more enduring than those that are done in anger or haste. Take a breath, realize that our situation is only temporary and give more than you receive. Shalom.

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Planting seeds

We had just planted some zucchini seeds to add to the corn, tomatoes, peppers and flower that were already in the ground. Jokingly, my husband asked, “Do we have any zucchini yet?” By no means would I laugh at this or suggest that he give the seeds a few weeks. Magically, I heard myself say, “They’ll come up when they are ready.”

Why was this magic? Because it sounded exactly like something my sweet mom would have said. That would have been a teaching opportunity for her. Her understanding was endless and her dedication to enhancing or promoting me was tireless.

This miniature revelation caused me to wonder how much of me came from her, in many cases without my awareness. I’m sure that she taught me about forever. She said that she would love me forever. She also assured me that with my curiosity about everything, I would be forever learning something. Happily, she was absolutely right about this. Or maybe I remained curious because she fostered it – that’s probably the case.

Something else that I remember is to think before you speak; once you say something, you can never take it back. Admittedly, I haven’t always followed this guidance and I’ve said many things that I wish I could recover. But the real point is that I remember her guidance and with many people and in many instances, I have carefully measured what I said or didn’t say.

In many contexts, she taught me patience with things and with people. Being in the classroom, I am acutely aware of this wisdom. And I never become frustrated with my keyboard. As I battle with my sewing machine, I clearly remember that she never gave up or displayed frustration with any of the sewing that she did. Maybe it was because much of what she sewed was for me. Most likely it was because she never said the words, “I give up.”

It will be increasingly illuminating for me to examine my speech or thoughts so that I  can silently deliver the credit to which she is due. Her maternal wisdom was eternally wise and I always wish that more were available.  Shalom.

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Words we use

Sometimes we get to be a bit sloppy about the words we use to express ourselves. As a writer, I believe that I have a more pressing imperative to be precise about my language. But I don’t think that I am exempt from using language that could easily be improved.

What got me thinking about this was a television series in which a man referred to his mother as “Ma.” While it’s been many years since I was able to speak with my own mother, I’m sure that I never called her “Ma.” It conjures an old country, perhaps eastern European image that simply doesn’t fit into my world. But the other piece is that I don’t think that I have been called by that name, primarily because I’ve been Mom, Mommy, Mama or Mother Figure, depending on the decade.

The other concern I’ve had recently about the words we use is the decision to call the Coronavirus the “Chinese” virus. This has resulted in a rash of serious hateful acts toward Chinese citizens whom others have held responsible for this pandemic. To say that this is gratuitous and self-serving is an understatement. If you really want to blame someone or something for the virus, the newest data suggests that 5g is responsible. For real?

This is a time like no other that our world has ever experienced. Blaming it on a culture or a technology is seriously ridiculous (why can’t something be serious and ridiculous at the same time?) and serves no purpose whatsoever. Does yelling insults at a Chinese citizen make you any less quarantined? While the Coronavirus might have originated in China (and I’m not absolutely certain of that), a man trying to run over a Chinese Albuquerque lady in retaliation should concern all of us.

We have enough stress going on right now. Let’s be thoughtful about our words and actions. If your dear mother likes to be called “Ma,” so be it. My preference will always be “Mommy” or “Mama” or actually, anything that my offspring would like to use. It’s really about loving one another, isn’t it? Shalom.

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Working as a community

At this moment, the world is in the grip of one of the most terrifying, life-changing events in our history – that of the Coronavirus. Large or small, young or old, we are all aware of its power and potential, for as much as any of us can anticipate how it will play out.

My school district and many others are now closed, at least for the next three weeks. Our children are receiving data from any and all possible sources, some reliable and some quite a bit less than trustworthy. As adults, we have an explicit and imposing responsibility to be judicious about what we are saying and to whom.

The neighborhood in which we live has one of those fashionable forums where various residents make comments or inquiries about subjects that are pertinent both locally and beyond. One of the presumably well-intentioned neighbors has just released her second tirade about how stupid we are to go shopping, eat in restaurants and horde our toilet paper. This is all at the expense, she says, of being able to intercept and prevent our contracting the virus.

While I find her remarks personally distasteful and entirely inappropriate, they are also extremely dangerous. Neither she nor many others have a substantial amount of truth available on the Coronavirus. We don’t know how it happened, how to protect ourselves from it and for how long we will need to be vulnerable to it. With all that in mind, why start browbeating your neighbors who are already under sufficient stress?

In other words, let’s be kind and supportive of our friends, family members and neighbors. Let’s avoid rumor and conjecture. We must also avoid dispensing advice, particularly when you are probably no better informed than most of us and have no authority to dictate behavior.

Stand by your neighbor and offer support whenever possible. Stop the pontificating and preaching. We are all concerned about our world and must work on protection and preparation, not insinuation and lecture. Our kids are listening. Shalom.

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Changing life

Here’s a suggestion from my new book of writing prompts that I’ll paraphrase slightly: Describe something that could have happened in high school that would have changed the course of my lifetime. This is an especially good one, not only because my high school years were full of events but also because the appeal of any of these is quite provocative.

Before I return to my high school days, I am careful not to lapse into the process of catastrophizing those events that did occur. But for the sake of speculation, I can indulge in the process of imagining different outcomes.

The first was the situation I’ll call my first broken heart. During my years in high school, I had two crushes. One was on a friend of my brother’s and the other was a contemporary of mine. In both cases, I was not the designated participant for prom. Mr. First Crush invited one of my best friends to prom. As I remember, she was apologetic but that wasn’t anywhere close to saving my hurt feelings. In the second case, Mr. Second Crush invited a girl who was one year younger. He and I eventually dated briefly, but that ended in nowhere.

What if either of those had materialized into lasting relationships? Most likely, I would still be in Chicago, not having experienced the California, Colorado and New Mexico lives I enjoyed. Reunions would be easier to attend but who knows beyond that.

The second was what I’ll call undiscovered talent. From the beginning of my time in high school, I was a member of the mixed chorus. While content to be merely a singer in the band, what if I had been “discovered.” In this fantasy,  I had someone approach me and say, “Wow, you have the most beautiful voice I’ve heard lately. Let’s talk about voice coaching and eventual recordings.” This is quite far-fetched but an amusing possibility.

Most importantly, my mom died while I was in high school. If she had lived, I suspect that my life would have evolved quite differently and I am certain that I could have benefited from her presence and wisdom. That would be the one change that I would make that far outweighs all others. As in all of our life processes, this is probably the one event that taught me far more than all others. Shalom.