Monday, January 27, 2014

Baby's First Words

Everybody talks about a baby's first words with such excitement and anticipation.  It's such a wonderful passage of right to look forward to in a child's life.  It's the first time your baby takes an effort to communicate with you through one of the many words he or she has learned to understand since you first met face to face.  Moms and dads vie for the opportunity to be the first name the child utters.  Great elation is held within the heart of the person whose name the child utters first.  Then that same elation is felt in the heart of the second person who hears their child utter their name for the first time.

I've known lots of people whose first words spoke volumes about their upbringing, who they were on the inside, who they would be closest to at least for those first few years (since they typically spent more time around the person whose name they uttered first), and sometimes even who they might become.  Though realistically speaking, you certainly can't read too much into those first words.

My first word was "cookie."  Ha!  That's right!  Take that, mom and dad - "cookie" was what I chose!  For a short period thereafter, everything in my world was "cookie."  I think it spoke volumes and set me up for being a foodie.  I knew a guy who had two first words that were used in sequence - the words were "dirty" and "water."  He used these words because his hands were dirty and he wanted water to clean them.  His wife said it was highly appropriate because he was highly obsessed with being clean and a bit OCD (or CDO, as I like to call it - with the letters in alphabetical order just as they should be!).  I have a friend whose first name was a three syllable word - martini.  Yes, you can probably garner enough information about their parents based on that first word alone.

Now, I don't have children at this moment in time.  When I was a teen, I wanted kids.  Then I met my ex-husband, and we decided together that we wouldn't have any children.  It was a remarkably wise decision for numerous reasons - some well beyond my comprehension at the time.  After my divorce, I realized that I did want to have kids after all.  I just realized I didn't want to have kids with someone who wouldn't be a good life partner or father.

Of course, as every year ticks on in my life, I realize that I'm running a great risk of becoming like "Carol" from the movie Idiocracy.  If you aren't familiar with this concept, you can catch the movie intro here: Idiocracy Intro Clip(warning: some language is not safe for work)  I've also come to accept the possibility that there could be someone among my high school peers who becomes a grandparent before I become a parent.

With the luxury of time and planning for children, I've also had the luxury of taking the time to think about how I would approach child rearing.  I've spent a fair amount of time around kids.  I've spent years watching the interactions between other parents and children.  I've seen some really great decisions made, some absolutely heart-breaking decisions made, and everything in between.  I've spent a lot of time talking with parents and friends about their experiences in parenthood and their experiences in childhood.  I've come to realize that although nobody can claim to have the most perfect answers to every parenting decision they will ever encounter, the important thing is to realize that what makes a great parent is one who genuinely tries their best to be a great parent.

Though I certainly do not think I have everything all figured out, I do think I have a pretty good idea about how to avoid a lot of mistakes that I don't want to make.  I absolutely reserve the right to change my stance on every single thing I have decided in advance of actually having a child to care for.  I realize that I might have to throw everything I think I know out of the window when I encounter a real-world application.  I am also aware that I will make countless mistakes when I become a parent.  After all, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

I realized a long time ago that the most important job a parent will ever have is to prepare their child for life.  It's an all-encompassing job, and it's a 24/7 job.  It's also the most important job anyone will ever have.  The job includes everything from teaching them how to love, how to be loved, how to manage finances and resources, how to swim, how to talk, how to read, how to be a productive member of society, how to cope with life's ups and downs, how to be a likable person, how to develop a work ethic, how to develop life ethics, how to obey the laws of the land, how to make good decisions, how to deal with success and failure, how to be a good sport and team player, and the list could go on and on!  I firmly believe that if every parent grasped this concept and put it into practice, the world would be a much better place.

In part of preparing children for life, I've often thought about many of the "firsts" my future children would experience.  One of those things is their first words, but not the first words they say.  I'm talking about the first sentence I would say to them on the day I meet them face to face.  I've thought long and hard about what that sentence would be.

Some people don't really ponder it well in advance.  Some just go with whatever words come to them in that magical moment.  Most people choose something along the lines of "Hi, (insert baby's name here), I am your mommy/daddy!  I've waited a long time to meet you!  You are so beautiful!"  I have chosen something a little different.

"You are loved."

I've chosen these words because I feel that this will set a good course for a child.  I want them to know that they were already loved long before they knew who I was.  I want them to know that no matter what life throws at them, they are loved and they are worthy of being loved.  I want them to carry that knowledge with them for the rest of their life - above and beyond everything else.  I want them to know that when my time on this earth has come to pass, that was the the most important and first thing I wanted them to know.  Of course I realize that just saying the phrase for the first time isn't enough, and scientifically speaking, those first words spoken to a child won't really matter very much.  I have to make sure they grasp this concept in future interactions.  After all, actions speak louder than words.

Though I realize that in the heat (and agony) of the moment, I might forget to say those words when I meet my child.  What matters the most is that they know it and can feel it for the rest of their life.  After all, if I were to ask them years later "Do you remember what I said when I first held you in my arms the day you were born?" they wouldn't have a clue!
"I don't know, mom, I didn't understand English just yet."
Of course I also might respond with something along the lines of "Good, 'cause I don't remember either.  Those drugs were something else!" :)

I know they won't understand or remember those first words, but I will make sure I spend great effort in showing them so they can understand that they are loved.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thank the Good Teachers of Your Youth

Many years ago, I had one notably fantastic teacher.  Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of great teachers whose names I can still remember in spite of the fact that it's been 15+ years since I stepped foot in their classrooms.  However, this one teach in particular had a particular "shine" that made her stand out in a crowd of many great teachers.

That teacher was my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Molly Argo.  Aside from the fact that she was (and still is!) beautiful, she was a fantastic teacher.  She was fresh out of college when I entered her classroom.  I was part of her first class!  Not her first class where she was an assistant teacher, her first full class!  That sort of noteworthiness manifesting itself in the very beginning of one's career is testament to her natural talent as a teacher.

This lady really believed in me.  I guess she just saw something in me, and she knew just how to bring it out in me.

You see, Mrs. Argo was the first teacher who helped me discover my knack for creative writing.

She had the duty of preparing all of her students for the TEAMS (Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills) test, and part of this test included a short writing assignment.

Prior to entering the 3rd grade, I don't think any of my peers had really written anything well beyond the depth of "Hello!  My name is ___.  I like ___.  Today I ___."  This was a new territory for us as 3rd graders.

We had numerous practice writing assignments.  Sometimes we were just given a picture, and we had to write a descriptive narrative about what we saw.  Sometimes we were instructed to create a fictional story.  Sometimes we were instructed to write a "how to" essay.

I remember one particular assignment started off with a picture of a tiger.  My mom saved this piece; I should ask her for it!  The story I wrote involved a boy named Chase.  I can, in fact, admit that the name was inspired by none other than Chase Hampton from the Mickey Mouse Club.  I know; my shame is great.  In my defense, I was 8 or 9 years old at the time.  Not good enough for you?  Well, I'm sorry.  I am also afraid I cannot assure you that my future disappointments will be better or worse than this egregious childhood error.  Hey, at least it wasn't Bieber.  Yes, yes, I know Bieber wasn't even alive back then.  

Returning back to the story, "Chase" heard that there was a tiger that had broken loose from the local zoo, and there was a reward for its return.  He decided to attempt to capture the tiger by digging a giant hole in his yard and put some camouflage foliage over it.  He did catch the tiger and collect his reward!  Then his dad got mad at him for ruining the yard, and he made him pay for the repairs - putting the dirt back in the hole, putting new grass back down on the lawn, etc.  As luck would have it, the cost of the repair was the exact same amount as the reward for the tiger's return.  Waah-waah!  Yes, even at 8-9 years old, I already had a rudimentary understanding of ironic humor!  

Sure, the piece has a few spelling errors and punctuation errors (again, I was 8 years old!), but it was one of those pieces that drew me into the world of writing.  I had already discovered my love of books, so the prospect of writing my own book seemed a little more within reach.

Aside from instilling and nurturing my love of writing, she was a spectacular teacher.  She was patient, kind, up-building, and empowering.  Since I grew up a little different from the rest of the kids in my classroom, there were certain things I was allowed and not allowed to do due to my parents' religion.  She was always very respectful and accommodating of all of my parents' requests, and that made life a heck of a lot easier all around.  Since she was respectful, the other kids followed her example.  When I was elected class president and I was forced to turn down the role (again, due to religion), she followed my parents' wishes and tactfully explained to my classmates why our vice president would now be the class president.  She helped remove some of that awkwardness that could have easily crept in.

Mrs. Argo always inspired me to do my best, and she knew just how to push me to do my best.  She never came on too strong.  She never left me feeling bored.  She had done such a fine job!  In fact, I remember reflecting back at the end of my 4th grade school year, and I realized the only thing my 4th grade teacher had taught me (that I hadn't previously learned) was multiplication!  Even at that, Mrs. Argo had started those lessons in the last 6 weeks of our school year.  My 4th grade teacher was a stark contrast to Mrs. Argo in so many ways.  It made me miss having Mrs. Argo that much more!

In the years after 3rd grade, we would occasionally see Mrs. Argo and her kids at the grocery store.  After all, that was where practically everyone in that small town saw each other!  She always recognized me and gave me a big hug.  I think I was a teenager or preteen the last time I saw her.

With the advent of social networking, I was able to reconnect with Mrs. Argo.  Every now and then when I write a little narrative about some of my thoughts or daily occurrences, she posts comments, praising my writing.  It always makes me smile because I know she was the person that made it all happen.  She set the ball in motion.

So, for Teacher Appreciation Week a couple of years ago, I decided to write Mrs. Argo a letter and send her a little present to thank her for all she did.  I wanted her to know that she was the person who made it all happen. Again, with the advent of social networking, I was able to find the mailing address of where she was working. The contents of my letter are pasted below.

Dear Mrs. Argo,

It has been almost 21 years since I was last in your classroom, but I thought I should send you something to let you know what a great influence you've had on me in the last 21 years.

You believed in me.  You saw the potential in me with my writing skills, and you nurtured it.  When I look back at my years of education since I first stepped foot in your classroom, I can honestly say out of every teacher I ever had, you certainly taught me the most.  I can look back at each year and reflect on what each year of education brought to me, and my one year in your third grade classroom definitely had the most impact on my education.  I also think I could have skipped the fourth grade because of the fine work you did!  The only thing I remember learning in the 4th grade was multiplication tables, and even so, you had already started teaching us the multiplication tables in the last few weeks of our time spent with you.  I ultimately did end up graduating a year and a half early from High School, and I can say it was because of the fine foundation you helped lay down. 

You were patient and empowering.  You were incredibly respectful of all of my parents' wishes, and for that they were always grateful.  You always inspired me to do my best and to push just a little harder.  You never once tried to push me beyond my capabilities, but that was because you saw so many bigger things within me. 

Since it has been 21 years since I last stepped foot in your classroom, the impact you've had on my life is old enough to drink!  Since I can't be there to toast you, I am also sending a bottle of wine to you as well.  Enjoy it!  Out of all the educators I've ever encountered, you certainly deserve it the most.  It is a Pinot Gris Vin Glace from King Estate in Oregon.  I used to live about 20 minutes from this winery, and it is the biggest winery in Oregon.  It is a delicious wine, and it was one of my favorites!  It is a very sweet dessert wine, so enjoy it with a fruity dessert.  Tasting notes are included and can be found here: http://www.kingestate.com/wp-content/uploads/techsheets/2007/2007SIGLACE.pdf 

The winery also has recommended paired recipes on their website.  I have also enclosed one of those.  I made this recipe, and it was quite tasty.  It would be even better with some caramel.  The wine pairs well with any crème brûlée, fruit tart, or other fruit dessert.  It doesn't pair well with chocolate. http://www.kingestate.com/restaurant/tc-recipe-apple-walnut-creme-fraiche-coffee-cake/#more-1078
 
I just wanted to let you know how eternally grateful I am for all that you did for me 21 years ago.  I know teachers are underpaid and overworked, but I wanted to let you know that you were certainly never under-appreciated.  For all that you did, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You truly did make a lasting impact on my life, and that is so much more than I could have ever asked for from a teacher such as you.  I only hope that my future children are even half as lucky to have such fine influences in their education. 

Eternally grateful,

-signature-


---

She wrote me a lovely thank you note in response.  She said she cried when she received it, and thanked me for reminding her about why she decided to pursue teaching.  I have every bit of confidence to say: if every teacher out there was like Mrs. Argo, every kid out there could reach an amazing potential.  

So, why am I writing this and sharing it with the world?  As I wrote in my letter, teachers are so underpaid and overworked, but they should never be under-appreciated.  I'm sure almost every single person reading this had at least one teacher who believed in them, inspired them, taught them at least one vital life (maybe even life-altering) lesson, or nurtured something in them.  When you read that sentence, a name and a face probably popped into your mind's eye.  I'm writing this so you can find them and drop them a quick note to say thank you.  Don't wait until they're gone.  Tell them now.  If you're still in school, tell them on your last day, and give them a small token of appreciation to remember you.  It would mean so much to them, I assure you!  

Maybe it's been 21+ years since you've seen that one special teacher.  There may have even been a few days when they wanted to go home and have a drink because of you, so it seems pretty fair to send them a nice bottle of wine!  Hopefully they will be able to enjoy it - and maybe even save the bottle and put a copy of your letter in it.

Much like saying "I love you" to your close friends, spouse, partner, parents, siblings, and children, saying "thank you" is something that is typically better to do more often rather than less often.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Guarded Optimism

This is a little something I wrote at the end of 2013.  Enjoy,

As 2013 wraps up, I'm sitting here reflecting on it all. After all, self reflection is how we evolve as individuals, right? It's how we sharpen ourselves.

Though there certainly have been some fantastic highlights and wonderful new people who have entered my life in the last year, it was a pretty rough year. It was just about as tumultuous as 2009 was but in completely different ways and for completely different reasons.

Both years, some people I was close to said and did some really horrible, selfish things that really hurt me. Some really terrible, and incredibly skewed things have been said about me, and there's nothing I can do about it. What's done is done, and I don't dwell on it. At least time and perspective have vindicated me.

For me personally, this all serves as a painful reminder that you cannot undo the things you say and do that will hurt people, so it is incredibly important to make sure you always consider other people's feelings before you act. If you have no clue how others feel, or if you only *think* you know, then ASKING is the only way to be sure. Begging for forgiveness later isn't the best way to build up friendships and relationships, and delinquent, half-hearted, or mitigated apologies aren't upbuilding either. Never assume the worst about the good people in your life and never jump to conclusions by assuming you know what's best either.

Well over half my lifetime ago, I realized that the best way to live one's life is to try to strive to have minimal regrets. I realized the happiest people I knew had very few regrets over their long lives. This ideal certainly means different things to each individual. For example, one person may say "I regret never having kids when I was young and still had the chance" while another may say "I regret having kids when I was so young and wasn't ready for parenthood." No one can give you a map of everything you should and shouldn't do, though there are some easily identifiable things that at least 99.99% of the population would all regret just the same. You will never regret using sunscreen.

At the end of 2013, and like so many other years in my life, the only big regrets I recall ever having were when I trusted the wrong people - people who absolutely did not deserve my trust or friendship. I end my year with minimal regrets. Can you say the same?

Though regretting trusting people is certainly not 100% preventable, I strive for balance. I strive to find that healthy balance between being having an open enough heart to not miss out on all the good things and good people in life (while allowing for others' imperfections and room for error and forgiveness) and being guarded enough to keep from being repeatedly hurt. In a world where we dictate how we will be treated by what we put up with, we all have to draw a line somewhere.

Guarded optimism. It's my entire life approach. I try to balance science, logic, instinct, forward-thinking, common sense, historical record, and occasionally leaps of faith. It's a fine balance to tune, and "balance" in general will always be my life-long endeavor in every aspect of my life.

At the end of my last breath on this earth, I want to have minimal regrets and I want to be able to know that I strived to be an all-around good person. Much like the rest of life, it's an ongoing process. All you could ever ask of me is to do my very best, and that's what I give. It's what I've always given. It's all you can ask of anyone.

At the start of the new year, my best wish for all of my friends is that you have as few regrets as possible and you do your very best to be the very best person you can possibly be. With your own autonomy and the glorious gift of free will, you get to decide exactly what that looks like. Do your thing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Life is Like Driving

The other day, I had a conversation with a friend about some of his previous cad-like behavior.  He's been going to therapy for a while, and he freely admits that the whole "therapy thing" has resulted in a lot more personal growth than he ever anticipated.  This is a good thing!

We were talking about how some of the things he did that were very inconsiderate, and it made me think of a great analogy.  I decided to put some additional thought into it and put it down in writing.

Life is like driving.


You have to keep your eyes on the road - where you're going, what you're doing.
You have to maintain your focus.
You have to pay attention to warning signs.
You have to follow the laws.
You have to be on the lookout for other drivers who may intentionally or unintentionally cause you harm.
You need to keep an occasional glance at your rear view mirror in order to reflect on where you've been and who may be following you.
You can't keep a constant glance in your rear view mirror if you want to safely move forward.
Sometimes, you still have to reflect on where you've been.

For some journeys in life, you might have a few "passengers" with you.
You don't have to conquer this adventure alone because it's okay to let your driving partner take over too.
If you want your fellow passengers to be truly happy, you can't always go where you only want to go.
You have to take your passengers' feelings, wants, and needs into consideration if you want the journey to be more pleasant.
You might find that passenger seat driver to be very annoying at times, but you shouldn't shut them out completely.
Occasionally that passenger seat driver might see something you don't see, and their warning and advice could save you a whole lot of trouble.

You have to clean and maintain the body and the inner workings of your vehicle if you want it to keep it working in optimal shape.
Sometimes you can do the repairs for yourself.
Sometimes you need to hire a professional.

You might need to have someone pull you along for a tow on occasionally, but you can't rely on that as your primary means of getting around.
You might have to give someone else a short tow, a push, or a jump start on occasion.

You have to take other drivers into consideration, and you have to make adjustments to accommodate them.
Sometimes you have to speak up and honk to give an alert of imminent danger or a gentle reminder.
Blasting the horn doesn't really solve problems.

You might see someone else's ride and feel envy towards them, but you have to remember that your own ride is something you've earned and be happy with it since it is getting you where you need to go.

You should stop and do what you can to help if you see a fellow driver is in need while still maintaining a level of safety for yourself.
Sometimes things will go wrong through no fault of your own.
Sometimes you will make mistakes.
Freaking out in a dangerous situation doesn't help.
You have to learn from your mistakes and make corrections.
You shouldn't over-correct either, otherwise you might "get ditched."

Sometimes you might "get ditched" anyway, and you might need to call a friend or a professional to help you keep going about your way.
If you get into a wreck, it doesn't necessarily mean you should give up on driving.

Some sales agents and mechanics will be honest and genuinely helpful.
Some will try to rip you off, but this shouldn't make you lose your faith in humanity.
Rather, this should just become a lesson in learning how to spot the honest, good people who are still out there and do your best to try to exclusively deal with them.

When you're younger, you have a stronger desire to drive fast and make tight turns.
When you're older, you might still have a strong desire to drive fast, but you learn to appreciate the value of being safer and going slower in smoother ride.

When you're younger, you just want to squeeze all of your friends in the car with you to go for a joy ride to just about anywhere.
When you're older, you just want to take your loved ones with you where you need and want to go.

Sometimes you have to stop and take a look around to see the beauty that surrounds you.
Sometimes you need to stop and take breaks for rest, relaxation, and replenishment.
Sometimes you have to pull over because someone else's emergency is more important than your journey right now.
Sometimes you have to speed up.
Sometimes you have to slow down.
Sometimes you just have to get out of the way.
Sometimes you need to pull over and come up with an alternate plan.
Sometimes you have to merge along with your fellow drivers.
Sometimes you have to turn your blinker on to let others know you're about to make an important movement.
Sometimes there are bumps along the road.
Sometimes you have to change lanes.
Sometimes you have to make a U-turn.
Sometimes you have to decide which way to go.
Sometimes things will be on "cruise control."
Sometimes a directional guide will be provided.
Sometimes the guide is WRONG.
Sometimes you will feel like you're surrounded by idiots.
Sometimes you will be RIGHT.
Sometimes you will want to kick your tires in frustration on a bad day.
Sometimes you will smile as you enjoy the sound of a purring engine, the wind in your hair, and the warm sun on a good day.

Hopefully there will be more good driving days than bad days.

If you drive like you're the most important person on the road, practically running people off the road because they're in your way or slowing you down, "riding their butt" (tailgating), cutting people off, and not giving even a modicum of caring about any other drivers' well-being, then everyone's going to hate you for being "that jerk" on the road.  Why?  Because you are, in fact, being *that* jerk, and everybody hates that jerk.  Everybody knows who "that jerk" is too.

Hindsight is 20/20 Vision

The older I get, the more I reflect on life.  I evolve.  I sharpen myself.  I give life my best.

Want to know a little secret about me?  Psst, come closer, and I'll tell you.  I don't have all the answers.

Yes, folks, like you, I'm imperfect.  I've made my fair share of mistakes.  I am not going to sit here and pretend to be an expert on life at the ripe old age of *cough*.  I don't know all the right answers, but I generally know how to recognize a good portion of the wrong answers.

In this little thing called "life" I've had my ups and downs just like everyone else who has ever existed on the planet.  I've tried to maintain a good perspective.  I've tried to maintain a good balance.  I've tried to surround myself with good people.  I've been honest.  I've stood up for myself.  I've tried to make good decisions.  I've tried to say and do the right things.  I've tried to live my life with minimal regrets.  I've tried to be good to people who did and did not deserve it.  I've tried to help others when and where I could.

The thing is, I would give just about anything to help prevent someone - anyone, but especially my future children - from repeating some of the mistakes I've made.  At the same time, I respect everyone's own autonomy, free will, and freedom to make their own mistakes (and hopefully learn from them).

Occasionally, I write little pieces of advice down and share them with my friends.  My friends frequently tell me "You always know the right thing to say, and you always know how to make me laugh when you do it!"  I have decided that I should start putting these things out there on a little blog.  My friends also keep telling me I should publish my writing pieces, so I'm doing it through this little forum.

Do what you will with it.  Share it if you'd like.  Tell me if you enjoyed it.  Let it inspire you, even if it's only the shortest little phrase that you needed to hear at the moment.