Love and Work Ethic

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Saturday mornings never varied when my brothers and I were kids. We’d wake up with the chickens and turn on the shows designed just for children. They were so good back then, and they’d last for hours, or so it seemed. Our mother usually slept a bit late after working all week which we didn’t mind at all because it meant more time to view our programs. When she did finally join us it was usually with a big mug of coffee and a long list of chores that we had to accomplish before the weekend fun began.

Each of us got special jobs beyond the usual duties of cleaning our rooms and folding laundry and putting it away. For some reason I inherited latrine duty. I was as well trained as a G.I. when it came to making our bathroom spic and span. An inspector might have run a mirror under the toilet rim and never found a single germ. I took great pride in my work and enjoyed my mother’s compliments once I had finished. My brothers often had the loathsome task of mowing the lawn which was made even more difficult by the fact that they had to use a push mower with no motor. They claimed that it made them stronger which was probably true, but I always felt terrible for them. Somehow sanitizing the bathroom fixtures seemed much easier than what they had to do.

We always had to change the linens on our beds as part of the weekly routine and our mother taught us how to make tight corners on the top sheet. With our work abilities we would have been great candidates for the military, but none of us ever leaned that way. Instead we imagined ourselves as characters in some exciting adventure as we made up stories to make our work seem more like play. Our mom turned on classical music as we merrily did our chores which were often punctuated with pauses for sword fights or pretend flying through the sky. Somehow she managed to convince us that our labors were tons of fun, so we willingly dusted and swept and made our home gleam again.

On Saturdays once the work was done we were rewarded with a shopping trip. Back then my favorite place was Palm Center because it had the best places to spend the quarter that she gave us for jobs well done. The hunt for some item worthy of our hard earned pay was all part of the fun and our mom was quite patient in allowing us to spend as much time as we needed to make a selection.

During the school week our focus was on our studies. Our mama didn’t worry too much about how the house looked when we had to read, write papers and study for tests. At the end of each evening she’d manage a five or ten minute drill that involved taking whatever belonged to us to our respective rooms. That way the shoes and socks and clothes were confined to the back of the house leaving the front area looking rather nice save for the dust that accumulated from Saturday to Saturday.

My mother and I took turns washing dishes each evening. We couldn’t even imagine having a dishwasher back then. It was a luxury for wealthier folk. Instead we used the sink as it was originally intended, filling it with warm sudsy water on one side and saving the other for rinsing. Mama was compulsive about removing all of the soap residue, so she often checked my work. Luckily she thought that it was okay to let the items air dry on a drainer making the task go more quickly.

Eventually we grew older and added real jobs to our resumes. I was the local babysitter until I landed a position as a summer receptionist at my doctors’ office. I was all of fifteen years old and appeared to be around ten. I must have been quite a sight to the patients, but the doctor thought that my work was swell. He paid me eighty eight dollars a month for my services. I suppose that I was a bargain for him because I worked five days a week from nine in the morning until six at night. I never missed a day and I faithfully accepted payments from the patients and balanced the books at the end of each day. I did this for three summers until I landed a better gig at Holiday Inn. While I didn’t make much money I would one day be quite happy when it came time to claim Social Security. Those quarters from my teen years added up.

My brothers worked at a produce stand along the side of Mykawa Road. Like me they earned little money but they took great pride in their work and were able to get regular pay starting from very young ages. They followed up with a variety of work with better compensation like moving furniture and driving a mail truck for the United States Postal Service.

All three of us eventually graduated from college and later earned advanced degrees. Our work ethic was formed in those years when we were no more than eight or nine. Our mother had high expectations for us and we never wanted to disappoint her. By the time we were adults we had created our own goals and aspirations for ourselves. To this day, even in retirement, we energetically fill our days with a variety of responsibilities and somehow make even the most mundane tasks seem like fun. Our mother slyly taught us how to do that long, long ago. Not only did she require us to learn the value of work, but she did so with heaping mounds of love. That was the real secret to our willingness to work hard even to this very day.

Researchers now agree that two important traits of a good parent are showing love and developing a work ethic in children beginning even when they are small. I recall my mom handing me a dust cloth and demonstrating how to clean her collection of salt and pepper shakers when I could not have been more than about five or six years old. I graduated from there to folding towels and carrying them to the linen closet. Little by little she advanced my skills and those of my brothers, always finding ways to let us know how much she appreciated our efforts, even when she was not able to do so monetarily.

My mother often joked that she should have written a parenting book. She was quite proud that we had turned out so well in spite of being raised in a single parent home. I think that perhaps she was quite right in believing that she had somehow found the secret to mothering success. I still have a tendency to spend my Saturday mornings tidying up my home, and then going out to shop in the afternoon. I turn on music and dance my way around the dusting and mopping and fondly recall those days of long ago when my mother’s routines spelled order, renewal, accomplishment. They set the foundation for lives that my brothers and I have lived quite well.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Victim of Circumstance

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I’m one of those people who believes that whether the government had prevented 9/11 or it had happened as it actually did there would have been those who complained. Every since that fateful day there has been much criticism of TSA  and its methods designed to prevent another such tragedy. I suspect that those folks who watch over as at airports are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Like teachers and police officers they have a sometimes thankless job.

I’ve had a full body pat down in Paris and had to hand over a snow globe that I was carrying onto a plane in New York City. I’ve received glares from TSA agents when I attempted to nervously joke a bit. I find the passage way through the TSA gauntlet to be the most nerve wracking aspect of flying. Still I applaud those fine folks for doing work that few of us would care to endure. I suspect that we’ve mostly been safe as we jet from one place to another since they have been screening passengers. In spite of a few mistakes here and there they have done an admirable job.

It seems that The New York Times recently featured an investigative report revealing that TSA agents watch for certain suspicious behaviors from travelers. Among them are profuse sweating and multiple trips to the bathroom. Folks who do such things are sometimes judged to be unnaturally nervous and up to no good. Often they end up on a no fly list.

I had to laugh out loud when I heard this because on that basis I should most certainly be someone to watch carefully. My long years as a teacher have weakened my bladder to the point of ridiculousness. So many times over the years I had to ignore nature’s call in spite of warning from doctors that doing so would one day cause me grave problems, but what was I to do? I always had to wait for break time or the lunch half hour to take care of my needs. The resulting bladder problem is a common ailment among educators that leads us to the ladies’ room more often than most.

I suppose that visits to the bathroom might be forgiven by the TSA, but I have an additional affliction that might give them pause. I’m one of those lucky women who suffered from hot flashes during menopause. Unfortunately those bursts of profuse perspiration have never gone away. I am liable to grow beet red and without warning end up with droplets of sweat running down my face for no reason at all. It happens so often that I have actually frightened people who worry that I am having some type of medical emergency. It can occur even in freezing weather, and sadly I have been told by my doctor that it will in all probability never go away.

I imagine a TSA agent observing me and wondering if I am some radical old woman ready to do harm as I sweat in my seat and wander back and forth from the bathroom. Little wonder that the agents in France worried enough to pull me aside and feel around for who knows what on my person. Add to that the fact that I was carrying rock specimens for my grandchildren and their reasoning becomes crystal clear.

The Times article appears to have been intended to bring sighs of indignation from those concerned with violations of our civil rights. Nonetheless I find myself sympathizing with TSA rather than being irritated. I know that our human natures will crucify any agent who unwittingly allows a terrorist to get through the airport gaunlet. We won’t be so concerned about fairness if another tragedy occurs. For that reason I actually applaud those folks who are hyper vigilant. I wonder how many times they have prevented disasters that we don’t even know about.

I have a love/hate relationship with flying ever since 9/11. I always breathe a sigh of relief once I have passed inspection. Everything changed on that fateful day when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came tumbling down. We became more suspicious and fearful of one another. We began to pull apart as a nation. It didn’t take sweat or trips to the bathroom for us to begin to question our way of life. Ours has been a sad decline into extreme political orthodoxies and divisions. In many ways much of our nation has become as surly as those agents who check us out before we get access to a plane. It is a sad state of affairs that bothers me more than I care to admit, but I don’t mind the TSA agents at all and I urge them to  keep up the good work.

I try to laugh at our problems and keep an even disposition. It’s the only way that we will come out of this anxious state of mind that so plagues us. So if you see me sweating as I wait in a long line at the airport just know that I am simply a victim of Mother Nature and lousy circumstance. If I worry you because I make so many trips to the bathroom have pity and maybe even a bit of appreciation for one of the sacrifices I made as a teacher. I mean no harm to anyone in how I act, and I love our TSA.

An Open and Loving Heart

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I have to admit that I am one of those people who is sometimes uncomfortable with my appearance. I’ve had hair dressers and acquaintances make negative comments about my tresses, noting how difficult it is to do anything with them because they are so baby fine. When I complained about having bangs it was noted that my forehead is too high to sweep my locks back away from my face. I’ve been asked if I’ve had a stroke because one of my eyelids is drooping noticeably. I never had much of a chin, and I try to forget that facial flaw until someone asks if I’ve ever thought of surgery. I don’t think that anyone intends to be mean by making such comments. They are probably just passing suggestions meant to give me ideas for self improvement, but sadly they only tend to remind me of my imperfections.

I’m old enough now to just let such comments go, but like any other woman I’d love to be viewed as someone who is physically beautiful. Instead I concentrate of making my heart a lovely place for people find solace. I smile and live with myself just as I am. At this point in time I understand all too well that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the pursuit of vain glorious attractiveness is worth far less than concentrating on the really important aspects of life.

Our society doesn’t help much with its barrage of so called icons of feminine pulchritude. We are continually reminded of what is thought to be pretty and what is not. Hair and makeup are billion dollar industries, and with all of that emphasis on appearance women often feel as though they are judged not just on their character and talents, but also on their physical presentation.

Social media with its constant flow of photographs and selfies makes beauty seem to be even more important than it ever was. With filters and editing so many ladies and young girls are now removing wrinkles and flaws in attempts to perfect themselves. Now there is a real psychological thing called Snapchat dysmorphia. It is an overwhelming desire to look exactly like the perfected images that appear on the pages of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. In fact, psychologists are learning that many females are often fearful of appearing in person lest their friends learn that they are less beautiful than the photos that they have created of themselves. Some are even going as far as visiting plastic surgeons hoping to make the altered versions of themselves become reality.

I’m not against a bit of self improvement. I enjoy perusing the aisles of Ulta as much as anyone. I apply night creams and moisturizers to my face, and correct my dark circles as much as possible. I like to brighten my face with cosmetics, and I get my hair trimmed once a month and highlighted twice a year. I find nothing more relaxing than enjoying a good pedicure. Still, I worry that we are unintentionally adding just one more stress to women’s plates by not so subtly implying that physical beauty is an important aspect of success.

When I was growing up I was typically gangly. I was probably in the eighth grade before I even thought about attempting to make myself more presentable. That’s when I suddenly became aware of the real beauties around me. In fact, my one and only female cousin was one of those people with golden locks that swirled naturally around her lovely face. As the two of us grew into our teenage years she became known among members of the extended family as the pretty one while I was the smart one. Little did I know that while I was longing to be thought of as attractive at least once, she was stewing over the idea that she was not considered to be as bright as I was. No such delineations were ever directed at the males in the family. They were simply whoever they wished to be. While I don’t believe that my family or most people set out to deliberately make young girls and women feel uncomfortable about themselves, we still have a way of sending hidden messages and hurtful comments without intending to do so.

I’m not certain that there is a clear answer to this conundrum other than insisting to our little girls that beauty is a total package that includes character and talents, not just an image. A truly exceptional and caring person becomes attractive in our eyes without makeup or coiffure.

We all know of people who are lovely by dent of personality rather than superficiality. In particular I recall a student that I once taught who had been badly burned over most of her body. Her face was horribly scarred to the point that people often looked away when she passed before them. Over the course of a school year I learned just how remarkable she was, and over time she became transformed in my mind to a one of the most gorgeous people I have ever known.

If I had one bit of advice for young women it would be to just smile and look beyond themselves. The most beautiful woman in the room is always the one who is more concerned with others than with herself. It doesn’t take plastic surgery or filters to be attractive. It only requires an open and loving heart.

We Never Know

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We hear it over and over again, and may even experience it, yet we so often seem to momentarily forget. Perhaps we do so because to consider the possibilities of such horror is just too difficult, and so we find ourselves being shocked by reality again and again.

Of course I am speaking of our need to cherish and appreciate all that is wonderful in our lives because we may one day find ourselves all too sadly staring into the abyss of a tragic loss. I learned that fateful truth at the age of eight when I awoke expecting to spend a day with family at the beach, but instead learned that my father had been killed in a car accident. There was so much that I might have said to him had I known what was to happen, so many questions I might have asked. Like so many I was blindsided and left with a nagging feeling of wondering if he ever truly understood how much I loved him.

Over the years I’ve seen such situations play out for me and others that again and again. There was the death of a dear friend from a heart attack, and my mother-in-law’s stroke both of which came so suddenly and unexpectedly. Beloved students died far too soon from car accidents and even murders. I comforted a cousin through marriage whose own cousin and best friend was killed in a freak accident while he was vacationing. A long time family friend was close to death after being injured while having an adventure with good friends. That time we all got lucky, and he did manage to survive but not without a long battle to regain his health. Like most people I might go on and on with examples of tragic and shocking events that knocked me off of my feet. 

Each of us has endured far too many such incidents. They tear at our hearts and sometimes even leave us with regrets. We want just one more hour with loved ones who are ripped from us so quickly, that we feel as though big chunks of our hearts went with them. We may have complete trust that God’s will is being done as it should be, but still feel as though the very earth has suddenly been pulled out from under our feet. We tell ourselves that we are going to be far better at opening our hearts to the people that we love. We pledge to never again take our lives for granted, and then we let the business of the world intrude.

I was reminded of that hollow feeling in times of great and unexpected loss by a heartbreaking post from my niece. A sweet family including a young couple, their two year old child, and their mom and dad had gone to Canada for vacation. They were traveling in a van down a mountainous highway when something quite terrible happened. They had a head on collision with another vehicle and in the aftermath six people lay dead and two were in serious condition in the hospital. Miraculously the toddler was unhurt, but his father and grandmother had died and his mother and grandfather were injured. The other victims had been in the other car when the fiery crash turned deadly.

My niece, Katie posted the article because her daughter’s kindergarten teacher was one of the survivors. Katie asked for prayers and explained that the young woman was an angel who had been exceedingly patient and kind to her little child. Katie was quite naturally very upset and concerned about the wonderful woman who had made such a lasting and beautiful impression on the children that she taught each day. 

Knowing Katie as I do, I am certain that she went out of her way to let this teacher know how much she was appreciated. Katie’s daughter truly loved this woman and in turn felt safe and secure in her classroom. There are probably countless other parents and students who feel the same way, but how many of them actually let their feelings be known?

It takes so little time to voice gratitude or to tell someone how much impact he/she has on our lives. So why do we seem to hesitate or get distracted by work and worries? I’ve brought up this topic so many times because I know without a doubt how important it is to sing praises when someone is alive to hear them. We’d like to think that our dearly departed know how we feel, but why take chances when we might make someone’s day while they are still very much with us? A quick call or note or email is all that it takes, and it will not just make the recipient smile, but will also bring a sense of joy to the sender of the good wishes.

I cried upon learning about the tragedy of this precious family that will never be the same after their horrific accident. I understand in a visceral way the physical and emotional pain that they will endure. I’d like to think that as they travelled together that they had so much fun that once the horror begins to fade, they will have beautiful memories to comfort them. I intend to pray for them, and remind myself once again just how fragile our existences really are. As the saying goes, we just never know what will happen from one moment to the next. We should always be prepared in both the way that we live and the ways in which we build loving relationships with the people that we encounter along our way. It’s a bitter lesson, but one that teaches us the importance of appreciating beyond measure every single breath that we take.

Life Is Good

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She dutifully arises from her sleep at half past five each morning to care for her beloved dogs, one of whom is a young puppy. She takes them outside and watches them as they romp around the backyard. Then she prepares their morning meals and smiles with contentment as the sun rise and the coyotes utter their mournful cries in the distance. The air is cool and just as invigorating as the coffee that she sips to awaken her brain just a bit more.

After the early morning routine she eats a light breakfast and dresses for a visit with the little goat that she has decided to raise. She lovingly brings the dogs back inside and gets them settled for her departure. She sits quietly and pensively during the short ride to the barn where her kid is housed. It is a beautiful time of day when the morning promises so many possibilities with its cool breezes wafting over the rugged terrain in the Texas hill country. Deer dart in front of the car or graze leisurely along the side of the road. Now and again a group of walkers smile at her as they go past.

Nobody else is yet at the barn when she arrives. It is summer time and most of the young people with animals have chosen to sleep in a bit taking advantage of the final few days before the school year begins. They will come to carry out their duties later, but she likes working in the coolness of the morning and listening to the members of the marching band practicing just across the way. She wonders how her good friends are doing with the rigorous sessions that begin at seven in the morning and continue until four in the afternoon. She thinks of them as she feeds her goat, refreshes his water, cleans his stall and walks him around the high school campus. Along the way she sees the cross country team practicing and greets locals from the neighborhood who are enjoying their daily walks.

Later in the afternoon she will repeat her duties with both the dogs and the goat. In between she enjoys the book assigned by her English teacher for summer reading and practices some Spanish in anticipation of the language class that she will be studying in the coming school year. Several days a week she works at a veterinary clinic observing and assisting in every possible way. Her goal is to one day be a veterinarian, and so she is focused on learning as much about animals as possible, which is why she chose to dedicate her time to a goat rather than playing the clarinet in the band. She enjoys being a musician by being a member of a youth orchestra instead. She is unquestionably focused on her goals with a maturity that belies her age of fourteen, almost fifteen, years. She even chose to stay behind while her family went on a vacation trip so that she might dedicate herself to her animals, at least for now.

On Sundays she takes riding lessons, mostly so that she will have the opportunity to learn about horses. She looks rather tiny as she sits tall and erect on her steed. It takes far more strength and athleticism than she had imagined to manage the animal, and she is often quite tired after guiding the horse around barrels and getting him to jump over gates. She takes instruction from her teacher quite seriously, repeating drills over and over again.

She will be a freshman in high school when the new academic year begins near the end of August. She has chosen a STEM pathway which will feature extensive studies of science and mathematics, but she is also set to take advanced English and Social Studies classes as well. She already understands how competitive it is to gain admission to the universities that she hopes to one day attend. She feels certain that she has chosen a goal that is doable and will also bring her much joy, but she understands how much time and work she will have to invest to get there. She is unafraid.

She is also a quite typical teenager. She sends and receives text messages from her friends all day long. She loves to shop and get the latest styles for her school wardrobe. She talks on the phone for hours once her duties have been completed. She exercises to keep fit and watches makeup tutorials to learn how to use beauty supplies correctly. She loves going to the mall with her best friend and trying on prom dresses and dreaming of one day buying and wearing one to a special event. She is fully aware of world events and has definite opinions about politics. She wants to one day have a positive effect on the environment and the people around her. She is wise and serious, innocent and quick to laugh.

She is our future as are her friends and so many young men and women who will one day be running our businesses, schools and governments. Her earnestness and unflagging dedication leave me feeling quite confident that we have no worries. With the thousands and thousands like her the world will move forward just as it should, just as it always has. When I see her I know that we often worry needlessly. The human spirit always finds a way to shine in people like this remarkable girl, and all of us will benefit from the endless wave of very good individuals like her who step forward to join the ranks of honest, productive adults. When I see her I know for certain that life is good.