Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dear Daughter: A letter of thanks-giving at Thanksgiving

Dear Daughter:

At Thanksgiving dinner, it is a tradition to go around the family table, and each person expresses what they are thankful for. Often times the answers sound something like this: "I am thankful for my family, house, job, health, etc." Those are all terrific answers and certainly, "things" for which to be grateful.

I am indeed incredibly blessed with my family and friends. But today, I want to tell you specifically why I am grateful and thankful to you, daughter.

I am first and foremost incredibly grateful to be your Mom. There is nothing that will fulfill me as much as watching you grow into the strong, intelligent, loving, young woman that you are becoming. If I have ever done anything right in this lifetime, it was bringing you into this world, and doing my best to raise you.

I am grateful for the early morning, wake-up kisses and the warm snuggly smell that is only you. I treasure every hug, every kiss and every "I love you." I cherish every loving note and card that you've ever written to me, and every picture that the two of us are in together.

I am thankful that every day you teach me something. For example, when my natural inclination might be to say "no" to a request, you have taught how to say "yes."

I am grateful that you have taught me not to be so serious. You have given me joy and laughter. You have made me lighter, freer, more loving. Thank you for teaching me that play is just as important as work.

I am thankful to you for teaching and showing me every day how to be a better Mom. Thank you for being the fabulous daughter and person that you are...

Happy Thanksgiving.

I love you. - Mom

Friday, July 10, 2009

Being Olympian

My daughter has been a member of a swim team for 15 months . She is a good swimmer, but at her current rate, she will never be Dara Torres. But even though she will (probably) not be an Olympic swimmer, I care deeply about the life lessons that she is learning from being on a swim team.

While swimming is mostly an individual sport, she is also learning what it means to be on a team. At a swim meet held recently, I watched her pump up the members of her 200 Freestyle Relay team, and it made me smile. At 10 years old, she was the oldest in the foursome. One girl was swimming in her first meet and was very nervous. Hannah offered her advice, and said, "It'll be fine...You'll be great." My daughter may not be the fastest swimmer, but she is a kind-hearted, nurturer to her teammates. She may not always contribute points to the team's cumulative total points, but she definitely adds to the group's bottom line.

Her coach, Matt Wunderlin, recently told his swimmers the following about swimming: "It's not about being an Olympian. It's about being Olympian. Learning to be a hero. And, it is not comfortable to be a hero. If it were, being one wouldn't be so great."

Trying things that you haven't attempted before, losing the safety net, and stretching yourself beyond your self-imposed limits, now that is heroic. I explain to my daughter when she laments that she doesn't swim faster or that she DQs sometimes, she does heroic things everyday. Going to swim practice three or more times a week, when you'd rather be vegging with a good book, is heroic. Cheering on your teammates in a race is heroic. Giving kind words to struggling swimmers is heroic.

As parents, and as coaches, we need to teach our children how to be heroes in their daily lives. The following story now embarrasses me, but I tell it with the hopes that another parent might learn a valuable lesson from it.

When my daughter was a 2nd grader, she joined a competitive soccer team. This was her (our) first venture into the sports world. Many of her teammates were also new to soccer, so we weren't expecting to win the Waunakee World Cup or anything. At this age-level, the soccer players don't understand the concept of "playing a position" on the field. Constantly, it looked like a group of swarming bumblebees with all ten players hovering around the soccer ball. The background music provided by the parents sounded something like this, "SPREAD OUT! MIDDLE! GET TO THE MIDDLE! SPREAD OUT!"

Soccer just wasn't serious at this stage. For the kids, I should say, it wasn't serious. For the parents, well...It wasn't unusual when play was at the other end of the field, to see the goalie turning cartwheels, sitting down in the goal, daydreaming, or picking flower weeds.

After their 8th straight loss without scoring a goal, I (this is the mortification part of the story) actually went up to the coach and asked (pleaded) with him to set it up so that they could score a goal in the next game. "Can you put in a few extra players on their side or something? Just so that they can know what it FEELS like to score?? They are demoralized and it's hurting their self-esteem." I am now certain that he was internally rolling his eyes at my pathetic, dramatic tirade. My request came from a good parental place, but I know now that it wasn't the right answer. He managed to soothe and placate me, but didn't agree to my suggestion. (thank you...and I'm sorry, Steve)

The team ended up finishing their season with a record of 2-14. Yes, they did manage to score some goals as their play improved...on their own and using their skills...without parental intervention. The players self-esteem wasn't scarred for life and they learned, in a safe environment, that sometimes you just don't win. The coach, by not rigging the system in their favor, taught them perseverance, strength, and sportsmanship. (My daughter even scored a goal, though she was supposed to be playing defense at the time.) The bottom line is that the coach allowed them to become heroes. They turned into kids who overcame a miserable string of losses, with their improved skills, teamwork and determination.

It's easy to make similar over-protective parental mistakes. As parents, we want to keep our children safe, and it seems intuitive that we should protect our children when we can. We want everyone to get a ribbon. We pad the walls. We hover like helicopters, never letting them be alone to explore the world. We don't let them fail. We lessen life's blows to the ego. We offer excuses for them. Basically, at times we carry them and keep them sheltered from life's storms in plastic bubbles. And, then we have the audacity to pat ourselves on the back, because we are "good parents."

Is it wrong to want our children to always be happy and successful? Actually, it is. If our child is sad and disappointed, we tend to attempt to talk them out of the mood. We spin strands of golden sunshine of happy words to cheer them. This is wrong. By dismissing and belittling their feelings, we disparage our children. We need to let them feel their emotions, and learn to express them appropriately.

When a child cries because they failed, they are expressing their disappointment. They are not asking you to fix the issue. Parents are fixers. From the moment we gave birth, we want to make it all better. Falling down and getting a boo-boo requires a band-aid and a kiss, yes. Your child getting a bad grade on a report card does not require you to phone the teacher and petition for a better grade. As parents, the answer needs to be more cuddling and far less coddling.

By cushioning every bump in life's roadway, we cheat our children of the opportunity to fail. Yes, you read that correctly. The act of failing is an opportunity. You know the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again?"Failing is a chance to find a way to do something better, or perhaps in a different way. Children who are allowed to fail learn self-coping skills. These life lessons are better learned now as children, when the stakes are small.

The reality is that sometimes you don't win. Sometimes, you lose and fail miserably. Sometimes your feelings get hurt. At times, you will have to play hurt. And, sometimes, you will even have to ride the bench, while others play. Real life has many competitive moments, and there aren't many consolation prizes for 2nd place, much less 16th place.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hannah Swim Meet 7-8-09

video
Hannah swims backstroke at Swim Meet. She's near bottom of screen.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Clippin' Coupons

I am the MASTER when it comes to saving money, and that includes my coupon clipping pastime!

My friends know that if they need to find a deal, I'm their girl Friday. If there's a money-saving deal to be had, I know where it's at.

Doing some online shopping, are ya? I don't believe in paying full price...ever. It's downright un-American, I say. My favorite website to find out promotional coupon codes to enter at checkout is www.retailmenot.com.

Do you love eating out, but hate paying full price for dinner? I do! Here are my favorite sites to find CHEAP gift certificates for Madison area dining spots:

http://mad-cc.dine-madison.com/
http://www.isthmussaves.com/intro.php
http://www.77squaredeals.madison.com/

To shop for restaurant deals nation-wide, I like this site, Restaurant.com.
http://www.restaurant.com/

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Priceless Coupons Discovered!

Ok, but now to the real point of my blog today. While I was searching through my treasure trove of sentimental papers, (I'm a hoarder, you may recall), I stumbled upon a PRICELESS "coupon book." Each coupon was intact, and entirely forgotten.

The coupon book was a Christmas gift from my daughter, a class project made in secret. The words "Coupon Book" and her picture grace the cover of the book.
Here are the coupons that are included in this one-of-a-kind coupon insert, which notes on the inside cover, "The coupons in this book never expire."

  • This coupon is good for ONE uncomplaining shower.
    (Note the emphasis on the word "one." She is not willing to commit to more than one "uncomplaining shower." Bath/shower time is a battleground at our house. I'm not sure why, because she ultimately ends of languishing in the enjoyment of the activity after it transpires?? I will look back fondly on these days, when she's a teenager and I'm attempting to get her OUT of the 5th shower of the day.)
  • This coupon is good for one hour of shoveling.
    (Note: I have never, ever witnessed seriously-moving-snow-for-real type of shoveling by this girl...ever. Not five minutes worth, much less an entire HOUR of shoveling. Wait, wait. She didn't mention snow shoveling...perhaps she meant "shoveling dinner" into her mouth??
  • This coupon is good for fifteen snuggles.
    (Note: I have not torn this coupon from the book, and I have been the beneficiary of hundreds of snuggles since Christmas. I am glad that I wasn't limited to the maximum noted on said coupon.)
  • This coupon is good for five chores.
    (Note: Wow, I don't even know what to say about this one. Do I need a coupon to get her to do 5 measly chores??)
  • This coupon is good for one bear hug. - Never Expires.
    Okay, this is my favorite. I've had it laminated and have placed it into my wallet. I'll be holding onto this one and pulling it out for use when she's a teenager and acting cool with her girlfriends.
I have to say, I feel rich beyond measure.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Surgery at 35,000 feet in the Friendly Skies

Last week we took our annual summer vacation. Our destination spot this trip was San Diego. Our flight at o'dark thirty from Madison to Chicago was uneventful, which is just how I prefer flights in the metal death tube to be.

We boarded the plane in Chicago for our four hour flight to San Diego. One hour into the flight, my 10-year old daughter, when I grabbed her hand to hold it, and she recoiled in pain and said, "OUCH! Mommy that hurt!" Now, I do not have the loving grip of David Banner turned Lou Ferrigno. (For you youngsters, that means Incredible Hulk.) Not understanding the source of this pain, I studied her finger. The tip of her left index finger was cherry red, swollen, inflamed, and filled with creamy pus. (Note: You weren't eating, right? Another Note: Is it just me, or does the word "pus," sound just like how gross it really IS?) With this sympathetic maternal empathy outpouring, she began to cry.

Of course, I was still confused. This was obviously not a new injury and had been festering quite some time, completely unbeknownst to me. "Honey, what happened to your finger??"

She explained to me that three weeks prior, she had squashed this finger accidently with a skee ball, while bowling at Chuck e Cheese's. (She swore that she mentioned it to me at the time. Huh?) The pressure from the plane's cabin had made it swell up and start to thump like Edgar Allen Poe's Telltale Heart.


She began to cry harder. Action was required...surgery action by Dr. Mom! I searched frantically through the scary depths of my purse for something to prick the festering infected region. Safety pin? Needle? Nail clippers? Ice pick? Nothing...not one dang sharp item in my purse.

I flagged down the flight attendant and told her the problem. "Listen I understand the irony of the request that I am about to make, so bear with me. Yes, we are on an airplane. But here's the thing, I am in desperate need of a sharp, piercing object. I do not care WHAT it is. I just need to poke a little hole into my daughter's finger."

She looked at me dubiously, "Uh huh." She looked around as if to flag down some help in case I needed to be restrained and then hauled down the plane's aisle. I showed her the offending finger and explained the situation further. She noted the crazed look in my eyes and scurried away to rummage through her supplies. (I'm sure the flight attendant's training manual indicates, "Do not ever attempt to stand in the path of a Mama Grizzly Bear.")

Within a few moments, she brought me a...wait for it...serrated plastic butter knife to slice and dice my daughter's finger. And then she added importantly, "I sterilized it with warm water in the bathroom." I'm pretty sure I didn't hold back the eye roll. First of all, have you heard of anything EVER being "sterilized" in WARM water? Secondly, do you think that the mouse-sized cubby hole on an AIRPLANE is the best location for performing said sterilization process?? Ewwww.

I had no choice. My daughter looked at me with deer-in-the-headlights-Bambi-eyed-betrayal. "You're going to cut me with THAT?" I told her to bite down as hard as she could onto her fleece jacket. This was a little for her benefit, but mostly so as not to alarm her fellow passengers. I don't think that it's ever a good thing to hear a blood-curdling scream on an airplane. In spite of the mouthful of fuzz, she howled when I attempt to saw into her finger. It didn't do a darn thing except press down very hard onto an already ultra-sensitive throbbing area.

Fortunately, my partner has honed, razor-sharp Edward Scissorhands talons. She reached over and while daughter was still in the initial waves of crying from the first attempt, she pierced the offending finger with her nails and achieved immediate pus-draining success! Nearly immediately, Hannah stopped crying.

Our friendly flight attendant, who had conveniently disappeared after the first failed surgery, reappeared after the successful second one. She then brought us - her newly christened "VIP section" - bandaids, ice, alcohol swabs, Valium (kidding), etc. She then offered my nearly-legal daughter (she's 10) a glass of vodka to soak her finger in. She lamented that it was the only thing that she had on hand to "sterilize" the wound. I told her that it would probably be more "medicinal" if she brought me some orange juice to mix into it.

Unfortunately, I did not get the name of our Flying Florence Nightingale, in order to send a complimentary letter to her United superiors. But then, maybe that's a good thing. Maybe not so good to thank her for providing the sharp object and liquor to the 10 year old flier. :) But, I do thank you, Heroine of the Skies!

Friday, May 29, 2009

My love is like a Mother Wood Duck's


Mama Wood Duck & Ducklings

The first clue should have been when we spotted two ducks IN A TREE (??) several weeks ago. We chalked the weirdness of that sighting up to an extended happy hour, and dismissed it from our minds. However, doing a little research later, I discovered that the visitors were wood ducks, which nest in trees, usually within one mile of a water source. After hatching, the baby ducklings FALL from the tree's nest, and can survive falls to the ground up to 250+ feet. Which makes me think, "Watch that first step...it's a doozy!"

I've decided that my love is like a Mother Wood Duck's.

No, it'll never be the title of a hit country song, but bear with me, and you'll understand the sentiment after reading this entry.

So, really, the performance could have received an Oscar for Best Actress in a dramatic role. The Wood Duck was THAT good. As I walked out into my yard, I heard a flapping noise in the yard next door. It was a duck, and it appeared to be incredibly hurt and agitated. "Pain" and stress were emanating from this poor creature. It flailed, it hopped, it dragged it's wing. And me? I fell for the biggest distraction ever, even though every kid in elementary science learns that this is a a mother bird's ploy to distract a human or other predator from either its nest or its young.

I stopped in my tracks and surveyed the scene. "Aha! I'm onto you, Mama," I said. Sure enough, out from beneath some Hosta plants, screaming, "Cheep, cheep," were ELEVEN little wood ducklings. Fluffy little marvels hollering, "Wait for me!"

The mother duck, you can imagine that internally, she was shaking her head, "These kids. They never listen...I tell them to wait in the bushes. Do they? Of course not. *SIGH*" Resigned to her protective role, she returned to them, and placed her body between me and her brood.

As a fellow mother, I understand the responsibility and the burden of providing physical protection. I moved to a safer distance to watch them, which lessened the mother's terror. She turned back to them, and gave them what I can imagine to be a tongue lashing about following orders. I'm sure there would be repercussions for the disobeying ducklings later.

They turned to go. Eleven little fluffballs, following in a straight line like new kindergartners, and I was left to ponder the bravery and love of the Mother Wood Duck.

Daughter, I love you like a Wood Duck loves its ducklings. As a Mom, it is my job to protect you from harm. I would use any means of distraction to lure a predator away from you, even at my own peril. I would take on any animal or human threat, even if it was 100 times my size. I would place my body between you and any danger. Now, if it were only as easy to protect you from emotional hurts!

So again, I love you like a Wood Duck. Listen for it on your local radio station.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Random Acts of Humanity...with a hint of Kindness

My daughter was released from school early last Friday to begin the long Memorial Day weekend. We decided to take a road-trip to the Amish community located north of Pardeeville. Because it was her first visit, I spoke of the people's dress and manner. I told her that she could expect to see buggies pulled by horses, and an overall simpler way of life.

When we left town, we passed a man on the highway who was holding a sign that said, "Will Work for Food." He was a young, African American man, who looked uncomfortable holding up the sign for all to see. He leaned against a highway speed limit sign, his backpack near him on the ground. My daughter, who hadn't noticed him, continued to chat happily about our upcoming adventure.

I drove for nearly one-half mile and then I did a spontaneous, quick u-turn into a McDonald's. "Why are we stopping here, Mommy?" I explained about the man who I had spotted on the road. I told my daughter that we were going to buy him some cheeseburgers.

While we waited in the drive-thru lane for our order, we talked about how truly blessed we are. We may need a new $10,000 roof on the house, but we are warm and dry. We may have more bills than money, but we are so fortunate. We are loved, we are healthy, and we have a little money to go on adventures like the one we were on that day.

With cheeseburgers in hand, we perpetrated yet another u-turn and returned to where the young traveler was standing with his cardboard sign. As we pulled up, I rolled down my daughter's backseat window. She smiled kindly at the man, as she handed over the food to him. The young, weary-looking traveler, looked from my daughter to me, and then back at my daughter. "Thank you very kindly," he said with a smile. Daughter and I replied, "You're welcome," in unison. As we started to drive away, he called out, "You have a great day."

You, too, young man. We hope YOU had a great day. We wish for your luck to change. We hope that the day comes soon that you have a warm bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, and food in your belly. We hope that someone picked you up and provided you with employment, lodging, and more food.

As we drove on to our destination, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw my daughter smiling serenely and gazing out her window. I asked her what she was pondering, and she replied, "I was just thinking how nice that was, and how lucky we are."

I hope this lesson in random acts of kindness will stick with her beyond this day. I wish that one day far off in the future, she will relate this story to her children and grandkids. I pray that she will grow to be a kind steward to people and animals on this big ole spinning blue ball called Earth.

I find that when I'm in parental teaching mode with my child, I often times learn more than my daughter did from the experience. Here's what I learned.

First of all, after I made the decision in my head to do this deed, I immediately started second guessing the plan. Inside, I was scared, and I questioned, "WHAT am I DOING?!" I am ashamed to say that I locked the car doors. In full anxiety mode, I pictured him pulling out a weapon when the car window was rolled down. Cripes, who can blame me? The media deluges us daily with frightening stories of murder, mayhem and tragedies. Truly, it's amazing that we can even leave our homes each day for fear of falling victim to a violent crime. The first lesson I learned is that there are so MANY MORE good people in this world, than bad people who wish to do us harm.

Secondly, I learned that I do not have a big, lovely heart that embraces all people. I had to confront my stereotypes head on. I immediately assumed the worst about this young man on the highway. What was his racket? Why doesn't he have a job? I squashed down those nagging thoughts, and reminded myself that being homeless and poor is not a crime. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. People lose their jobs and can end up homeless. We are here to love one another, not to judge.

Most importantly, I learned that to be a good parent, I cannot just tell my daughter to be nice to others. I must model kindness and generosity through my own behavior and my actions. The best part of this teaching moment, for both of us, is that it wasn't planned. It wasn't a premeditated, contrived experience that I'd set up in advance. It was right then and there - spontaneous and unanalyzed.

And, knowing my daughter, and her incredible memory, she will comment on this act of kindness in the future when we drive past that spot on the highway. I can picture it now, "Hey Mommy, remember when we gave some cheeseburgers to that man?" As her Mom, it is up to me to make this story the rule, and not the exception.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wrinkles - A road map of my life

I forgot to set my daughter’s alarm clock for the school day, so I had to wake her up. I sat down on the edge of her bed and looked down at her sweet, unlined face. I whispered, “Good morning,” and within a few moments, she awakened and looked deeply into my eyes.

I patiently waited for her sweet morning greeting. Instead she studied my face closely, frowned, and then said, “Mommy, your eyes look old this morning. Underneath your eyes, it looks puffy and wrinkled. You look about, hmmm, 49 years old.” (Children are full of truth serum, at this age.)

Uh hem. I recently turned 42 years old. Ouch! What a rough way to start a day. I went into internal and external justification mode. “I’m tired. I didn’t sleep well. I haven’t put on make-up.”

Later, after she’d gone to school, I studied those facial lines (I refuse to call them “wrinkles) in the bathroom mirror. I decided that I am comfortable with the aging process, and I don’t feel that I’ll be tempted to go under the plastic surgery scalpel anytime soon.

I wanted my daughter to know that I am comfortable in my skin, in the hopes that she will grow up being comfortable in hers. I jotted down these thoughts to share with her.

Dear Darling Daughter of mine:

You commented recently that I have lots of wrinkles on my face and that they make me look older than my actual age. At first, I was saddened by your observation, but after thinking about it, I have found peace and acceptance, and perhaps a bit of pride in the lines that show on my face. The pride part has a little bit to do with you.

I decided that I have earned each and every one of these age lines, and I am not going to make any excuses or apologies for them. You are responsible for several of them. Some of these wrinkles are reflections of the life that I have lived with you.

Sometimes, my eyes are puffy with dark circles because I haven’t slept well. As your Mommy, at times I worry, and that causes me to lose sleep. When you become a Mom, you will find out that as a parent, you worry about your child all of the time. You stay awake at night pondering crime, global warming, swine flu, and billions of other crazy notions. Actually, I don’t think I have had a truly carefree night of sleep since May 21, 1999.

Did you notice those crow’s feet around my eyes? A great many of those lines were obtained from watching your sporting events held in the blinding sun, or playing with you in the backyard. Any time that I can spend with you, I will always choose a little sun-damage over missing out on an experience.

Yes, I have lines around the corners of my mouth, too. I’ve noticed that they become more pronounced every time you make me smile or laugh. I’m happily keeping them.

Those deep furrows between my eyebrows, show all of the worries that I have had for, and about you, throughout the past ten years of your life. As you grow older, and the challenges grow tougher, the lines have progressively deepened. Those particular wrinkles began when you were in the womb and I cried because you might have been born with a birth defect. They deepened during those 2nd grade days when you came home from school, and said that you didn’t have any friends to play with. And today? I have devoted today to worrying about your entry into puberty, and all of the “stuff” that comes along with it.

So, my daughter, I won’t be seeing a plastic surgeon for a face lift or an eye lift. Each of those lines is a roadmap of what makes me - ME. And, if I removed some of my wrinkles, I would be erasing a part of the life that I have already lived…with you.

Your loving, pruney Mother.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Safety's Overrated aka Being "safe" in my Old Age

Eleanor Roosevelt once challenged, "Do something every day that scares you."

If you read newspapers or watch the television news reports, you probably think that the world is a pretty scary place. If you're a parent, you live in perpetual fear of child abductions, food tampering, and bone-breaking injuries. (etc, etc - topics are endless) If you're like me, sometimes the mere act of leaving your house probably qualifies as doing something scary each day!

But, I cannot recall the last time that I've truly chosen to be "scared." Each day seems to safely flow from one to the next, without much change. And, as I grow steadily older, I have found comfort in the relative safety of each day.

Ack! I'm an Aries...the RAM...We laugh in the face of fear! HA! (I am pounding my chest here.) I should never be happy with safety!!! Well, I'm not happy nor content with this state of homeostasis. After a friend casually mentioned that she was relieved that her grandkids lived in a "peaceful, lovely, and most importantly, safe" new city, I have been contemplating the word "safe" and "safety," as they pertain to my own life.

I think that as we age, we start to weigh our life choices in terms of "how safe is a potential activity?" As I grow older, I measure how likely it is that I might obtain an injury from a possible activity. In my advancing years, I have to minimize the potential for harm. Listen, I can hurt myself just in the act of sleeping. I often awaken with a stiff neck and back, hobbling about like I've been in a street fight - with my bed. My loved ones inquire, "What's wrong?" and I have to sheepishly state, "I slept wrong." HOW is THAT even possible?? Do I need to stretch before climbing into bed for the night? What is going on during my REM snooze? Seems dangerous.

Since I can hurt myself in the mere act of sleeping, perhaps you can see why I must ignore my natural tendency to worry about safety. When I was younger, I felt immortal and immune to potential harm. I took chances, and didn't worry about the consequences.

As we grow older, we cling more to life and the continuation of the act of living. Life becomes more precious, and we hold on tighter. As a rule, we make safer choices. For example, older people tend to do their errands in midday on weekdays in order to avoid traffic scares from younger, more agressive drivers. I'm beginning to understand the logic.

So, I am reminded of that Spanish proverb that warns, "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived."
I don't want to be too "safe." I don't want to half-live. If I live safely or in fear, I will miss out on opportunities. But, it is not natural to participate in activities that make us feel uncomfortably out of our comfort zones.

With all this in mind, I recently made the unsafe decision to confront head-on a major fear of mine. I love children and I love to letterbox. (see www.letterboxing.org for explanation) I was recently offered the opportunity to combine these two loves. Several local Parks Departments asked me to teach several letterboxing classes this summer. The only issue is that there will be people there. Staring at me. Listening to my every word. Public speaking is my Achilles heel. I get sweaty, my voice quavers, and my face reddens. In general, it makes me feel extremely unsafe. However, I know that once I confront my frightened demons, I am going to have the time of my life, teaching children about an incredibly fun pastime.

So, you think you're fearless, huh? If you want to experience the ultimate scenario of flying without a net, being unsafe, or living in perpetual fear, I DARE you to have a child. First of all, from the day that they are conceived, you are fearful FOR them. "Are they breathing, did they change their underwear today, do they have friends at school, will they get into Harvard, etc." Oh my God, the things to worry about, and be fearful of, are endless. You could truly worry yourself into a raving lunatic in the first trimester alone!

And, then these little people, when they inevitably attain the power of speech, they will challenge you to do the most ridiculous and scary things you can ever imagine. (P.S. They are NOT worried about YOUR mental or physical safety at all.) They think you are a superhero and can do anything! I wish that I would have told my daughter earlier in life that my cape was being dry-cleaned.

SHE: "Mommy, let's go dance out on the dance floor."
ME inside: "No one else is dancing."

SHE: "Let's go jump in puddles, Mommy!"
ME inside: "My hair will get frizzy in the humidity, my feet will get wet."

SHE: "Let's roll down that hu-normous hill!"(our new word on par with gi-normous.)
ME inside: "I might break a hip, collar bone, femur, etc."

SHE: "Kiss me Mommy." (Oh, I can handle that one a thousand times over. No fear!)

Through the years, I have learned that it's best to find ways to say "yes" when my daughter challenges me and my fears. If I discover that I'm going to answer "no" to her request because of potential public humiliation, I try to fight through my fears and participate. (See dance scenario above.) If I am inclined to deny her request because of possible physical injury to my body, I have to ask myself more questions. (Ice skating, for example.) Do I currently have health insurance? How maimed could I end up if things don't go smoothly? Is the risk worth the reward? The reward is always my daughter's smile, and man, I have risked a lot through the years to attain as many of these love tokens as I can! If you're a parent, you know what I mean.

And, now I find that sometimes our roles are reversed. My daughter is now a great teacher, and even a role model for me. Currently starring in her class' musical next week, she has NO fear of public speaking. Subsequently, she is now helping me to overcome my own fears.

So, I'm going to vow to try and live life a little more fully, and less fearfully. Sure, I'll still wear my seat belt every day, have my annual physical exams, and eat my monthly vegetables, but I'm going to try new things and live more bravely, too.

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It's hell to get old, but it sure beats the alternative.

I'll leave you with this awesome quote:

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece, but to skid across the line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil, shouting 'GERONIMO!' " --Bill McKenna, professional motorcycle racer (Cycle magazine 02.1982)

Six Word Memoirs by Mrs. Barth's 4th graders

I am completely enthralled by a book that I read recently. It is entitled, "Not Quite What I was Planning: 6-word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure." The memoirs were compiled by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser.

The concept of the 6-word memoir was inspired by a legend that Hemingway was once challenged to write a complete memoir using only six words. His work: "For sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn."

In 2006, Smith Magazine challenged its readers to submit their own 6-word memoirs. Thousands of entries poured in. Several hundred of those were published in the book noted above.

Intrigued by the book, I recently explored the Smith Magazine/6 word memoir website.
Click here:
http://www.smithmag.net/sixwords/

Many, many people have submitted their own 6 word stories to this website. I have discovered that once a person starts thinking in 6 words, it's difficult to stop. Here are some of my own submissions:

  • Thank God. I'm not my mother.
  • Man's Best Friend ate my stir-fry! (Hannah's)
  • Lost dental insurance...inspired to floss
  • They lied to me about Santa.
  • Fat pants far outnumber skinny pants.
  • Motherhood...best thing I've ever done.
I polled some friends and they come up with these:
  • Love life and those so dear.
  • Live fully, live forward, live purposeful.
  • Been there. Done that. Didn't work.
There is an electronic booklet on the website that contains the 6-word memoirs of a 3rd grade class. I so enjoyed reading the children's thoughts. My favorite submission was, "Eight years old. Combed hair twice."

Perusing the children's memoirs online, inspired me to take the project into my daughter's 4th grade class to have them attempt to pen their own stories. Oh, what fun we had!

On the day of our Writer's Workshop, I explained the concept of the 6 word memoir. I started by providing them with a definition of the word "memoir," as an account of one's life. I told them that they had six words to tell their entire life story. Having always written stories in their academic life that didn't have a number limit, they seemed a bit concerned. I reminded them that their teacher has perpetually emphasized the use of "juicy words," in their writing. Therefore, writing a six word memoir was a way to utilize juicy words and to make every word count. (literally)

I then provided them with some examples from the book, as well as sample memoirs that I'd written. I shared two about their classmate and my daughter, Hannah. To describe her, I had written, "So many books, too little time," and "Math was invented to torture me." Hannah is known as a book lover who loathes Math, so many students nodded their heads in agreement. I also shared a mushy one about her, "My daughter: the sun and moon."

Armed with an explanation and the examples, we kicked off the project.

Some kids struggled to start.

"Can it be 7 words?" No.

"Is this "right?" There is no "right."

"I don't know what to write." (which happens to be one of my own 6-word memoirs!)

Others jumped right in. Normally verbose children entered contemplative modes. After a bit of writing, they wandered amongst each other, comparing life stories. There was much laughter and loads of excited energy.

The kids described writing 6-word memoirs with words like, "challenging," "hard," and "frustrating. My daughter, Hannah, reflected on the experience. "It's hard to put your whole life into six words." Colin Duffy echoed that sentiment, as well. Ally DeSpirito added, "It's hard but somehow the most important words pop out very strongly in your mind and in your heart."

But the word used most often to describe the experience was "fun." Connor Reefe explained, "It is a fun way to exercise your brain!"

Owen Frazier said, "I learned that a memoir can be funny, personal, and so much more."

And, what did I learn? As usual, I found that some of the greatest life lessons have been taught to me by children. This 6-word memoir experience was no exception. I learned that everyone has a story, and that you don't have to be old to have a life story. Children surprised me with their depth and their whimsy. Some memoirs made me smile with their wit. Still others made me pause to ponder their truth. Quiet, reserved kids often have heavy things to say.

While one can say a lot with 6 words, I also learned that sometimes six words just aren't enough. Some memoirs left me longing to know more of a child's story. The six words offered glimpses, but not complete insights into the authors. And, sometimes memoirs, like personalized vanity plates, are esoteric...only understood by the author.

Despite what we read in the newspapers, this generation is not a bunch of egotistical, loud-music-listening troublemakers. This generation of children deeply loves their family, even their annoying siblings. They care about Mother Earth and all of her animal inhabitants. Most importantly, their memoirs show that they are, above all other things, optimistic. In spite of the chaos near and far in our world, they are positive and hopeful for the future. One young lady summed up this prevailing optimism in one of her memoirs, "My glass is always half full."

As adults, we should be inclined to incorporate that half-fullness into our own lives.

The complete list of memoirs:

Aleaha Martinez

One life… it’s like a rollercoaster.

Math does not work with me.

Dogs: they’re more than great, awesome

My mom rocks, just like dad.

Math is like my brother, annoying.

There are brothers then there’s Caleb.

Alyssa DeSpirito

Take care of the world ,EVERYONE!

Why can’t vegetables taste like dessert ?

I love almost every single animal.

Can’t live without them ,my family.

Friends are the best, keep them.

Still waiting for a dog, “please?”

Austin Zellner

I love and hate yellow bugs

I love the Bucky Buckaroo hamster

I love animals from outer mars

Inventing to get my sister extinct

Can not live without b-ball games

My cousin wants to be a tiger

Blake Smithback

I don’t know why night comes?

My fish was very, very awesome.

Can’t live without them, my sisters.

Math was invented to KILL me!

Expert hornet killers: Blake and Jack.

Brayden Johnson

I really, really, really hate math.

My family is very, very cool.

I like vegetables; no not really.

Colin Duffy

Good athlete, good student, GO COLTS!

Got jabbed, in nose, didn’t bleed

Harrison: OLD FOR POSITION, MY FAV

ORITE

Connor Reefe

I like my dad’s potato soup.

I wish I were a monkey.

We adopted my sister Valentine’s Day.

Dylan Wischhoff

Can not live without my sports.

My brother’s dream job: A dog.

Can’t live without them: My dogs.

I love my mom and dad.

Haley Werlein

Live, laugh, love… all day long

Can’t live without them: mom & Dad

Can’t live without MY pepperoni pizza

Hanna Thomas

I love polar bear a lot!

Daddy, I love you so much!

I wish boney was here today!

I love my mommy so much!

Hannah Nies

Wish I could go to Aunt’s.

Why is math an hour long?

Allergic to cats, but love them.

My baking mom is my sunshine.

Dog broke in to my take-out!

Man’s best friend ate my stir-fry!

Jack Kratcha

I really, really, really like sports.

MATH was invented to be fun.

My favorite pet is a dog.

Professional hornet hunters: Jack and Blake.

My favorite athlete is Peyton Manning.

I have two Colts football jerseys.

Jessica Bymers

I am my brother’s punching bag

I love all of the animals

Natalia lives in Sao Paolo Brazil

I like dogs better than cats

Lexa Buechner

My family, dogs…important to me

I clean my brother’s diapers…gross!

I like horses, dogs and cats

I love my brother very much

I will always protect my brother.

Love every color in the world.

Otto Clifcorn

I am nice to my friends.

I wish I were a monkey.

My Brother: really funny, a lot.

Owen Frazier

I love to climb huge trees.

I act just like a chimp.

Chimps are the best animals ever.

He is the best, my brother.

Rachel Tuschl

Family, friends, candy… life is good

Why can’t candy be really healthy?

I love puppies, yes I do

Helpful, happy, that’s what dads are

Obsessed with Deb’s yummy chocolate cake.

Colorful rainbows make me so happy

Tesa Benisch