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 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.


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:

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.
  • 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



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