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We deserve it

More often than I would prefer, I hear senior citizens referred to in ways that are far less than positive. This consists of, “Watch out for the old lady in the Honda,” or “Look at the old man on the motorcycle.”

These are not the worst names that abound. Instead of treating our senior citizens with the respect to which they are manifestly due, we hurl insults and slander.

One of the most powerful moments in the recent Super Bowl was the introduction of four 100-year old World War II veterans, one of whom was asked to bring the coin for the traditional coin toss. The crowd displayed the honor to which they were entitled and the experience was quite memorable.

Every now and then, we see 80+ year old competitive swimmers, marathon runners and concerned volunteers. Beyond this, those who have lived long lives were often firefighters, doctors, nurses and police officers who have contributed hundreds of thousands of hours. The good majority have also raised children and grandchildren, and/or provided care for their parents.

Regardless of the fact that the lady in the Honda and the gentleman on the motorcycle can’t hear you, others can and do. Respect is learned both through words and by actions.

When my students ask my age, I quickly respond, “115,” followed by “Haven’t you been taught that it’s bad manners to ask a lady her age?”. My point is two-fold – part one is about rudeness and part two is about judging a book by its cover. How important is my age to teaching a class? Teachers who are older and younger than I am are to be found throughout school districts everywhere in this country, with varying levels of competence and agility.

I’ve talked about this need for honor in the past but it deserves repeating. Age is not justification for slander or for telephone and email scams, identity theft or simple everyday disrespect. Deal with others and with me because we usually know more, have experienced more or endured more than you can imagine. All that aside, it’s simply the right thing to do. Shalom.

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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.

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One of the worst realities of aging is what that process does to your memory. Somewhere I remember reading that there’s a part of the brain that is affected by age, resulting in memory loss. My experience suggests that this condition is irregular, unpredictable and beyond frustrating.

It’s not a lightning bolt realization that I am getting older.  As I point out to people who incessantly complain about aging, it’s much preferable to the alternative of not aging. Here’s the problem. While it’s difficult wanting to recall something, important or otherwise, what makes it worse is when those around us exacerbate the problem by prefacing the process with, “Don’t you remember?”.

If I could remember something, I definitely would. Part of what consoles and replenishes us is the ability to recall and celebrate the bright spots in our pasts. Usually, the births, graduations, weddings, anniversaries and other festivities are more easily recovered than the less significant events. Many of the rest of our recollections require a struggle. Sometimes we recall after a while but occasionally, it’s fruitless.

Of course, memory loss is not specific to the process of getting older. Some diseases result in multiple compromised processes, including memory. Having a loved one in advanced stages of dementia, I am certain that she will never know me again, a reality that is beyond tragic for me.

My recommendation is that you spend time with an older member of our society, it’s much more useful to say, “Do you remember?” than “Don’t you remember?”. It sounds minor but it’s much kinder. In addition to having trouble with memories, that person may also have the reminders of aching joints, a variety of ouches and discomforts and a general sense of inability to complete many tasks.

Love and kindness always work, with young or not so young. Baby Boomers are no longer the majority population, but we have many of them to thank for the many achievements for which they were and are responsible. Shalom.

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Loving memory

Last month was the birthday of a very special woman who has been part of my family and my life for many years. On all previous years, I observed the tradition of sending her a birthday card, knowing that it would be received with gratitude and the love with which it was sent.

There was no birthday card sent, only because I know that she wouldn’t have recognized my name or the sentiment it represented. My cherished family member is a dementia resident of a nicely appointed and solicitous hospice center. Because she is many states away, I visited her last summer and know that she is oblivious to her surroundings and everything else.

Although I haven’t had to begin the mourning process, she is as lost to me as she could possibly be. My home is filled with reminders of her. She was famous for her photos, celebration of all holidays and thoughtful, sentimental gifts.

As we speak, every recollection of her except the last one is one of joy. Her current state reminds me of the fragility of life and how crucial it is to treasure every moment we share with loved ones. If it’s been too long since you reminded a loved one of your feelings, don’t wait another second to do so.

My fervent and unending hope is that my status will never duplicate hers and that those who love me will not need to endure my declining health and cognition. Most of us want to die quickly and without pain. While immediacy creates a shock and trauma to those left behind, they don’t need to watch the progression of death.

For the sake of not closing in sadness, I will forever treasure the memories of my family member as a healthy, thoughtful woman who put her family above all else. She will always be a lesson in kindness to me and those who knew her. If we can in any way emulate this form of compassion, we will all be of blessed memory. Shalom.

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If I had walked into the classroom and behaved in the typical teacher mode, no-one would have been able to recognize me. Because we all have our own methods, modes and manners, there probably is no “typical” except for the one posited by teacher textbooks.

Just for comparison, these characteristics include unfaltering patience and understanding. Miss Typical Teacher is soft-spoken, supportive and always cheerful. She is always punctual,  immaculate and the quintessential role model.

Her sunny disposition is facilitated by model students. They never talk out of turn, they turn in  homework with all correct answers. And they all say, “please” and “thank you.”

Happily, I will never be described as typical. While I am eternally working on classroom patience, instructing a student to do math and hearing, “I don’t want to” will frustrate most of us. But the recalcitrant, belligerent students aren’t the greatest challenge. It’s the quiet, secluded ones who need the greatest amount of love and attention.

In these cases, I need to be the mother who may be abusive or absent. Or I need to be the leader who assures them that their work is exceptional and worthwhile. Sometimes I need to be a pair of ears to listen for issues at home or with classmates. Every day, I look my students in the eyes and communicate that their needs are my priority.

None of these are in my how-to book but some of them make me cry. All of them make me atypical, a type that all of my kids want. They don’t teach us that every student needs to be taught in his or her own speed, style and emotional level. Thankfully, the students teach me what they need, and I am grateful for the wisdom to listen. Shalom.

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Aging (dis)gracefully

How many of us grew up hearing “Act your age”? In my case, it was “Act your age, not your shoe size.” With the happy status that I now enjoy as an older person, I continue to wonder what that means.

My first question is, “What am I expected to do at my age?” This suggests that we all have age buzzers that go off on various birthdays.

For example:

At age 55, stop skiing and speed skating, ice or roller blading. Take a cooking class.

At age 60, learn how to crochet or knit. Discontinue yoga, Taekwondo and fencing.

At age 65, research Social Security benefits, visit retirement communities and begin making clothes and toys for grandchildren, real or imagined.

At age 70, discontinue all physical exercise other than walking or watering plants. Check your blood pressure every day.

By now you should be realizing that I am completely sarcastic. Recently, I saw an 89-year old Holocaust survivor and veteran who regularly runs marathons. And then there was the 90-something ballet teacher. Both of these senior citizens inspire and motivate me.

In other words, the warning to act your age is entirely meaningless and ridiculous. If acting my age disqualifies me from walking 5K races, so be it. If acting my age determines what I wear, I immediately want to ask, “Whose judgment is this and why do I care?”

We must all make the best of every minute we have available. Creating restrictions, timetables and criteria wastes those minutes and prevents us from enjoying life to the fullest. Dance to the music you love and assume that no-one is watching because they’re not. Shalom.

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Too old

This morning I was waiting for my car repairs to be completed when I inadvertently overheard a young man reporting on the status of a new hire. He advised that this employee was an “older man” and they were worried about his capacity to learn. The young man indicated that they were pleased that he did grasp the concepts, that they were surprised at his abilities.

Had I started laughing, I would have disclosed that I was intentionally or unintentionally listening to his discourse. Of course, I didn’t do anything. But I was amused, not only because of the insult to seniors but also because I had been thinking about this subject earlier in the day.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a chart or clipboard that designates actions as age-appropriate or not. There must be one for teachers because I often hear students indicate that someone is “too old to teach.” If that’s true, we must have other measurements that are available to those keeping track.

When does someone get too old to run or walk races? Someone had better alert the remarkable lady in her 90s who has run many marathons. When does someone get too old to learn another language? And when do we get too old to learn to be chefs, volunteer in the community, sing in choirs, experience cosmetic surgery or open an exciting new business? The world is full of stories about men and women in their 70s, 80s and 90s who do all of these things and more.

As we age, we have two options. One is to consider age merely as reality and the other is to consider it as a reason to do whatever we choose. You won’t hear any platitudes from me about taking chances, living life to the fullest or any garbage. What you will hear is my express encouragement to do what you can and want to do. Take all the chances that you can.

This is the same as my urging children not to limit their dreams. If you can’t see the age-appropriate clipboard, so much the better. Pushing limits always inspires those around you. Shalom.

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A kind word to the wise

Having spent numerous years advocating for the senior population, I have become especially sensitive to issues that pertain to senior abuse, nursing home violations and a variety of issues that concern this population sector. The exact age at which one becomes a senior varies according to context, but the majority of arenas consider 65 to be the coming of aged.

While increasing awareness of the potential for wrongdoing, I inadvertently omitted one of the worst injustices we can commit. It’s an admirable idea to identify harmful actions perpetrated against our senior population. But when you stop delivering respect to seniors while protecting their rights, you damage them almost as seriously as stealing their identities.

Several years ago, I experienced what most would consider senior discrimination in employment. This week I was told that I looked like an “old lady grandma.” And I am always amused when students ask my age and I respond, “135.” Their reactions are those of shock, wondering for a moment if I am serious. The best one was a third grader who asked if my grandma was alive when Jesus was born. Children have few filters and I elect to use the observation as a life lesson in careful selection of words.

You are well advised to exercise some caution about the method by which you choose to interact with seniors. Many have the advantages of experience, wisdom, diverse life experiences and the self-satisfaction that results from years on the planet.  Very few of us are oblivious to insult. While a helping hand will likely be appreciated, you may want to honor before you disparage.  Shalom.