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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.

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A carton of wisdom

From where do we derive wisdom? We can’t look it up online and order a pound or a box or a pallet of wisdom. Many acquire it from parents and grandparents, if they are wise enough (smart enough?) to be paying attention. But in those cases where parents and/or grandparents haven’t been available during formative years, from where does wisdom come?

As one who has occupied this planet for a number of decades, I submit that wisdom is acquired primarily from making mistakes and learning from them. We often believe that mistakes are toxic. Once we stop blaming ourselves (and others) for our errors, it’s inevitable that learning will take place.

The best part is that we don’t always know from where learning will be derived and how it is constructed. Here’s an example: Many years ago, I took driving lessons because my dad admitted that he didn’t have the patience to teach me. Some years later, I was pulled over by a Chicago policeman because I failed to pull over and enable right of way for a fire engine. He didn’t ticket me but I was certain that I wasn’t taught to pull over, just learning it through this wake-up.

It’s definitely not a large dose of wisdom but I am grateful that I have been able to pull over ever since, ostensibly contributing to life-saving measures. In the same manner, I have learned other important facts about driving, teaching and life in general.

As soon as we believe that we know it all or have heard it all, we restrict ourselves from acquiring wisdom. My students teach me daily, about such things as the need for patience, the imperative of teaching them as individuals instead of as a class and the fact that playground behavior is often representative of needs for running, jumping and playing tag without restraint.

We probably won’t have the option of contacting Amazon for wisdom, a fact for which I am grateful. Instead, we need to keep our eyes open to the morsels of good sense that appear on our plates every day. Shalom.

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The next provocative prompt in my volume of suggestions is the word “comfort.” As a mother, grandmother and educator, this is a word that evokes many responses from me. From the top, I think of comfort much more as something that I deliver than something that I receive. In spite of the fact that comfort is most commonly associated with food these days, I think of it as a much more important process.

Comfort can be delivered and received on multiple levels. On Thursday, I observed a young girl who spent the entire lunch period crying, bemoaning the fact that she missed her dad. It appeared to be the byproduct of divorce, with mom and boyfriend living in the immediate vicinity and Dad living some miles away. Apparently, the issue was more of a symbolic separation than actual distance.

Although I’m not a trained therapist, my instant reaction was to provide comfort. But in order to do so, I began by asking a few simple questions. Where was he? When are you planning to see him? Can you speak to him between now and then? Unfortunately, nothing was going to help because her panic was far beyond reach of rational thought.

Comfort to loved ones requires additional skills. In these cases, we know quite a bit about the areas of sensitivity and pain. And to make the process of providing comfort more complicated, we must emphasize the loving/caring component while injecting rational commentary when possible.

It’s easier for me to react to someone’s need for comfort than to decipher from where the comfort gene emanates. I’m confident that it’s not a question of have and have-not – my life has been full of enough emotion and disappointment for me to have a clear understanding of despair. But when I wonder about why I resist comfort, I reach two conclusions.

Even though I don’t consider those who deserve comfort to be weak, I have always believed that I don’t accept comfort easily because I think of myself as strong and resilient. If there’s a contradiction present, I accept it. The other reason is that I have always thought of myself as a caregiver rather than a care receiver. My hope is that this status won’t change any time soon.

In the interim, I continue to be ready to assist and support others who can benefit from my care and concern. Whether it’s a second grader or senior who is having trouble carrying a heavy package, I am eager to lend a hand or two. Shalom.


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In one second

One of the highlights of the holiday season is receiving gifts from my two children. In addition to being creative and thoughtful, they both possess an uncanny realization of what will be the most gratifying demonstrations of their love for me.

This year was no exception and my son, who apparently does extensive research before choosing his gifts, again displayed his support of my writing endeavors. This tasty morsel was a book of prompts, over 600 of them, on subjects to explore in my writing. What a wonderful idea! When I asked him how he could possibly uncover such a treasure, he modestly gave credit to the Internet.

Although I’m not stuck in some linear methodology that would require me to investigate these subjects in numerical order, I thought it fitting to choose the first one first. For the sake of not violating any copyright laws, I can say that the book is 642 Things to Write About, by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. They have compiled a fascinating, intriguing collection and their first prompt included things that can happen in a second.

Very few, if any, actions or thoughts require only one second. For the sake of respecting the concept, I will extrapolate one second to mean a very short period of time. On the negative side, this category will include a car accident, plane crash or armed robbery. Our personal experiences can make additions to this group. Household accidents, break-ins, explosions and bombings can all happen within a symbolic second.

If we take a look at the brighter side, we can fall in love at first sight (within a second?). Those of us who have treasured lifelong friendships can often identify those who are to be our friends within a very short period of time. We can reach understanding of a complex concept in a moment of absolute clarity. On occasion, we can stumble into opportunities to assist those in our paths. This can include rescuing a grocery cart so that someone else doesn’t have to walk it back. It can be inviting someone to check out ahead of us at a store. Or it can be picking up a check for someone at a restaurant.

My preference is to ponder those pleasant things that can happen in a second. For the moment, my gratitude is to the two young people who have made my motherhood magical. Shalom.

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The skills that I observe on a daily basis from the dedicated and compassionate professionals around me are always exceptional. What’s most magical is that no-one sees what they do unless they spend time in the classroom.

My most recent encounter was in a special education kindergarten class. One child is visibly autistic but amiable and sweet. Teachers and education assistants are quiet, soft-spoken and thoroughly kind. They enforce those rules that are basic and survival driven. Otherwise, this child plays and operates in the room without interference.

What’s more compelling is the behavior toward a very difficult girl who is missing part of her brain. She is oblivious to rules and what constitutes doing the right thing. In spite of this condition, she is clever at devising methods to be disruptive and boisterous. While I didn’t hear any of her undesirable language, I am told that she has enough obscenities in her vocabulary to make most folks blush.

Teachers must think totally outside the parameters of traditional learning in order to manage her. She is told to do the curriculum that other children do, with emphasis that she can’t proceed to other tasks until the mandatory ones are completed. But it’s done with such patience that I am completely in awe.

As parents, we have all experienced our frustrations and anxieties about helping our children evolve into responsible, intelligent adults. The best of us can’t possibly aspire to the talents of many special education and general education educators.

With all my heart and soul, I am grateful for the heroism displayed by our armed forces, police officers and firefighters. They prioritize the welfare of the general public with all of their actions and sacrifices. But we must add these educators to that list, because of their ability to deliver education to those who won’t be educated, discipline to those who can’t comply and love to all they touch. Shalom.

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Thank a teacher

Do you remember when you learned how to play, “Rock, Paper, Scissors?” How about “Ring Around the Rosy?” In spite of the fact that today’s elementary school students now encounter cell phones, tablets, Internet and social media, some customs  (happily) don’t change.

It’s nearly impossible to see kids acquiring the habits or expressions that we had as children. As I watch and adhere to curriculum for all grades, I primarily observe the traditional subjects. We do math, reading, history, writing, science and specials such as art, music and physical education.

But I’ll continue to explore the non-traditional learning. Much of it is derived simply by observation. First and second graders who see fourth and fifth graders play tag soon learn the rules. The same is true for unacceptable actions such as kicking, slapping and punching.

Where do they learn kindness? Every day, I watch one or two or more students displaying extreme care and gentle actions toward each other. My best (charitable) guess is that some is experienced and emulated at home. But having seen and spoken with many parents, some of the positive behavior must be acquired elsewhere.

This includes helping a fallen classmate get on his or her feet. It’s also sharing food with someone who has none. My favorite is when one child is crying and two or three rally to provide comfort.

For the rest of the positive, compassionate gestures, thank teachers. The teachers are the ones who receive and deliver hugs, all day and every day. We appreciate gifts large and small, rudimentary and sophisticated. We congratulate and celebrate all accomplishments. And we love all of our students enough to teach them how to play musical chairs, heads up Seven-Up and hangman.

One could easily make the case that the informal, non-subject learning is the method by which young people grow into responsible, loving adults. As I play my part in this process, I am ever grateful for an opportunity to demonstrate the power of kindness. Shalom.

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While I’ve never pondered what percent of the great questions of the universe I can answer, occasionally I stop to consider one or two of these questions. Some can be clarified through scientific or historical research. But many cannot.

This is my most recent dilemma. Where do I begin and you end? Or where do you end and I begin? Here’s how that looks. We’re in a crowded airport terminal and I am seated next to a gum chewer/popper. As someone who detests the sound of gum being cracked or popped, do I have the right to ask you to desist? Most would say no. If there’s a problem, I own it. Accordingly, my best option is to get up and find another seat. Does that process/situation change when we are seated next to each other on our flight? The majority would say that my neighbor has as much right to orchestrate her gum chewing as I have to end it. Do I ever have the right to say something?

Change it slightly and there’s a child kicking your seat. In my view, that’s a condition that I shouldn’t have to endure, especially because I believe that action to be more of a dysfunction than a prerogative. As a parent and educator, that behavior is always worthy of being corrected.

Here’s where it gets messy. You are sitting next to someone you know at a concert or play. This person is sprawled all over his or her seat and part of yours. Do you take one for the team and suffer through it or jokingly indicate that your space has been encroached?

It’s only when we bring this type of issue into a broader context that it takes on greater significance. Do we have the right to exercise free speech anywhere, at any time? Can you justify yelling at someone down a hotel hall at 3:00 am, without concern for those who may very likely be sleeping?

In this wonderful land of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I wonder if we sometimes stretch the boundaries of what we should be able to say or do, regardless of how it affects others. Does your right to speak about whatever you choose at whatever volume in any venue take precedence over my right not to hear it? The easy answer is yes, unless I am unable to leave your vicinity.

You’re welcome to extrapolate as you choose. We have people whose dogs bark at all hours. We also have those who have the Constitutional right to shoot guns where and when they choose, no matter who is around. How do I posit the right to make certain that I don’t get shot? Shalom.



If I may assist with any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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One of the disadvantages of being part of faculty instead of administration in the school system is that I have no ability to impact curriculum in any way. While I have no specific training in curriculum development and implementation, I have seventeen years in the classroom and double that in mothering. Along the way, I have often thought of worthwhile additions to make to the subjects that are taught.

The first subject that I would introduce is that of surprises. Everyone appreciates surprises and I would teach both the value in surprises and their implementation. My guess is that this would be a subject that my students would quickly embrace. They always show excitement when I surprise them and I would capitalize on that enthusiasm by showing them the endless methods by which they can surprise others. The positive consequence is delivering happiness as it is received.

My second inclusion would be courtesy and respect. These concepts are parts of most school rules and priorities but I haven’t seen any specific actions designed to acknowledge and appreciate either of them. Having been almost knocked over in the playground and slapped by a student, I am certain that our youthful population could benefit from some old school etiquette. Yes, I realize that this is a subject matter best introduced at home but when we have no ability to influence home learning, the classroom is the next best venue.

The final component that I would like to teach is that of finding fun and gratification in the world without benefit of electronics or toys. Many schools are extremely proficient at taking students to certain events outside the school such as 4H or fire departments, both of which are excellent ideas. My inclusion would be to take kids to assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Our seniors have so much to teach and children have so much to learn from the generation that preceded that of our parents. This would be the ultimate win-win – seniors benefitting from the presence of young lives and students realizing how much of their present is derived from the past.

As a substitute teacher who often sees new students each day, I will remain resolute in educating outside reading, writing and arithmetic when I can. Creating, respecting and appreciating are always in my briefcase, next to the pencils and candy. All of them are critical to producing the next great generation. Shalom.


If I may assist you in any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com and I hope that you will use this address only for business purposes.