Category Archives: Family

A Eulogy for My Dad – What My Dad Taught Me

My dad passed away on June 19, 2012.  These are the words I shared with the community as we paid final tribute to him on June 23, 2012.

On June 3, 2012, just about three weeks ago, Dad turned 76 years old.  He seemed always to rally for the weekend get-togethers we’ve held since his diagnosis and his birthday weekend was no different.  I’m a lot like my dad, and my mom of course, as is my brother John.  It is true that we as children find ourselves evolving into our parents – physically (those ugly Gettel feet – that Hungarian (hunky) hair!) and in personality and character.

My dad, often had a hard time speaking about his feelings.  As Pastor Jackie will mention, he showed his love in many other ways and most often with delicious meals – our favorites served so many times.  I’m was a lot like my dad when trying to tell him about how proud I have been to be his daughter and to be part of the family that he and mom have fostered.  I have an easier time writing it down, so that’s what I did.  And as I gave him a hug and kiss to head back to Chelsea that birthday Sunday, I gave him a letter which my mom read to him. 

These are what I call, “the big three life lessons” that if I’m asked about what I learned from my dad, my mom, or growing up in a farm family that I try to convey.  There are more lessons to be sure, but these are the ones I share most with my friends and colleagues.

Work like a farmer – I believe I was a senior in high school and I overheard my dad talking with Uncle Earl or perhaps Uncle Tom.  I was in the side room probably studying notes from one of Mr. Thies’ science classes.  I heard him tell his brother something like, “No, I don’t have to get on her at all.  She’s so busy she doesn’t have time to get into trouble.  It’s hard to keep up with her and sometimes I think she should slow down.”  I recall being a bit shocked that he didn’t think that I had time to make trouble.  Why I was rebellious, I thought.  I’d show him, after getting through my science notes, I picked up my flute and only practiced for a half hour. (I had planned to practice for an hour.  This was my rebellion.)

The truth of it is that I learned to work this way from him.  I work like my dad – like a farmer.  I prepare and practice like I am planting or harvesting all that I can before the rain comes.  And when it’s raining, instead of moping around complaining that the rain is interrupting my progress, I make progress on things that the rain doesn’t impact.  I work ahead such that if an unexpected break-down happens, and it always does, it doesn’t severely hamper the process.  This has served me well in so many instances from being well-prepared for final exams to being over-prepared for work deadlines and presentations such that my project managers always wanted me for their projects (cheap labor!) and when things like “downsizing” came along, I somehow was overlooked.

Even if you mess up, we still will love you – This is that story that we still laugh about where on a sunny day in July, I found myself mowing over one of the new apple trees that had been planted in the spring.  After the shock of the sound of a shredding fruit tree between the blades of that old riding mower, I remember running into the house to find the file in the grey file drawer that had the information and map of all the apple trees.  Desperately, I tried to find the price of the tree.  I could not but went and found all the money I had and asked John if he thought it was enough to cover the cost.  He was sure it was not, and dejected, I went up and packed a few things as I figured I would be excommunicated from the house.  I then went and lay down on the couch dreading my fate and waiting until my dad or mom got home.  He arrived first, and upon hearing my story asked me one simple question, “Did you mean to do it?”  I responded that no, of course I hadn’t wanted to mow over the tree.  You said, “Then why would I be mad at you?”  The weight from my shoulders lifted and the sickness in my stomach went away.  Shortly thereafter, mom drove in from her hair appointment (those were the bu-font days – they call them up-do’s now!) that had been lengthened from a persistent Alec Kovach who insisted on buying her a birthday drink at “George’s.”  Not only was Mom not upset with me, she felt terrible because I had suffered so long waiting for a return of a parent to let me know my fate – that even if I messed up, I’d still be loved and still be welcomed into my home.  And that brings me to my last point today.

Go ahead and try.  You can always come home.  There isn’t a specific incident here.  It’s really just a feeling I’ve had of unconditional support.  And while I hope to demonstrate the two lessons just noted above to Nicholas and Alexander, this lesson is what I hope as a parent to duplicate most.  I want my sons to know that they always will have a safety net as long as they are trying their best.  As a girl from the small town of Owendale, heading off to Alma College was one thing, but taking a job in downtown Detroit, then heading to Duke in North Carolina along with a stint in California had a lot of risks.  But I always knew in my heart that if things went terribly wrong and I needed to, I could always come home and start over.  There would always be a tray of lasagna, a crockpot of clam chowder, or a fresh batch of fudge that would help me find my way.  This feeling of home and unconditional support has freed me to take risks (let me emphasize calculated risks that didn’t include bodily harm – except for the skydiving incident, of course!) – to take risks even when I had no confidence of my own success, and this has made the difference in what I have become.

Thank you – So Dad, I wrote, as you celebrate your birthday today, in addition to wishing you a “Happy Birthday,” I also want to thank you for all of the life lessons that perhaps you didn’t know yourself that you were teaching me.  It has and will make me a better person and a better parent.

Welcome home Dad – So that was my birthday gift to him just 21 days ago – a simple thank you with words that I found difficult to share out loud.  And as I think about dad today, there is sadness since from this day forward, so many things will be different for me and for my family.  The family gatherings may take on a different flavor as we try, but just can’t exactly replicate the clam chowder and lasagna and dishes we’ve come to savor; Aunt Mary may have an easier time keeping her Christmas auction gifts since Dad won’t steal all of them; and we’ll likely to struggle with the fine details of our memories of the old days since it was Dad who always recalled even the smallest of details.

There is a sadness for sure, but there is also comfort as I imagine him going to live with Jesus (as we explained it to our boys) and reuniting with his community and friends and farmers who have gone to live with Jesus before him.  I can imagine as he made his way that he may have heard a loud, familiar yawn and sigh coming from Windy Weinlander, that Alec Kovach invited him to play a game of euchre, or that his deer-camp buddies and friends welcomed him home and handed him a pan & told him to get cooking.  I can imagine my grandpa and grandma Gettel smiling at him with their gentle, approving smiles as he came their way.  I can imagine Grandpa Retford giving him the “Grandpa wave” before he gave him a hug and a welcome.  And I can imagine Grandma Retford taking him in his arms, giving him the familiar hug that only moms can give and saying, “Billy, you always knew you could take some risks and then come home to us when you were ready.  Welcome home Billy.  Welcome home son.” 

Welcome home Dad.

I Used to be Sensitive and Then I Went to Business School

Growing up, I was an extremely sensitive child.  My feelings were hurt very easily, but I wasn’t a crier or a tattler (though my brother would tend to disagree).  Self-confidence wasn’t something I had either.  So in an effort to make people like me, I worked hard, particularly in those early years, in school.  Now while the teachers appreciated this hard work and rewarded me for it, it wasn’t exactly popular with a particular group of my classmates.  And this group of classmates would make life pretty miserable when the teachers, the adults, were not around. 

During my grade-school years, back in the 1970’s, bullies were defined largely as those who physically hit other kids or who stole lunch money.  And it was clearly known who these individuals were and their actions often got them sent home from school.  What wasn’t recognized was the harassment bullies – these were the individuals who harassed others in a passive-aggressive non-physical manner and always out of sight of adults.  These were the individuals who while we were waiting for the teacher to get back to the classroom, would mess with my work and threaten me with physical harm if I said anything, or who would chant awful things at me as we walked from building to building without adult supervision.  These were the individuals that would call my home, sometimes several times in an evening, and either hang up or say something nasty and then hang up – anonymous as these were the days before caller ID.  And these were the individuals who had a sense of who was sensitive and quiet and went after the sensitive personalities like dogs on a hunt.  I wasn’t the only sensitive one they attacked, but it sure felt like it.

Now as I got into high school, the bullying wasn’t so in my face.  The early years of keeping my head low and studying hard and practicing music and sports in the same manner began to pay off.  The bullies were still there, but I didn’t pay much attention as I kept busy.  And for a bully, harassing someone who doesn’t pay attention isn’t much fun.  So they move on.  But, I was still sensitive and strived for perfection in all areas I could.  I wanted people to like me for doing things well as I strived to gain some confidence.  This would be something I’d carry on into college and into the workforce – I was the ultimate carrier of the banner:  “Work hard.  Play hard.”  And as I moved into my twenties, I gained some confidence and the bullies, and they are in college and the work environment too, took a back seat.

And then I went to business school.

Now business school is a different world.  Imagine putting together 300+ largely Type-A people who have in the past, been pretty darn successful in their undergraduate studies and in their early careers.  These individuals have always achieved high marks, some of them quite easily, and most of these individuals are pushy and opinionated and book- and some even street-smart (as in Wall Street).  You put these individuals into a class and they now must compete against each other for grades and jobs.  It’s really quite an interesting experiment and is repeated year after year in business, and law, and medical, and many other professional schools.

So I went to the Fuqua School of Business, at Duke University.  I entered business school thinking it was going to be a two-year conference where we would exchange ideas and think big thoughts.  In reality, it was two years of grinding work, no sleep, no money, and for me, stress about getting a job to pay off the enormous debt I was accumulating to pay for tuition and living expenses.  Business school is not something I would really want to repeat in my lifetime, but it was critical in overcoming my sensitivity and achieving a bit of self-confidence.  (I should also say that I met some of my most cherished friends and acquaintances there!)

In business school, 30%-50% of one’s grade is based on “class participation.”  In short, that means that you speak up or you fail.  Now I’d done my fair share of “speaking up,” but it was generally after all others had spoken and/or I was invited to add my perspective.  Being the first or second person to get my opinion or analysis on the floor was not my thing, but failing wasn’t either.  The first term was hard, but I survived.  The second term wasn’t as hard, and I survived too.  And then I realized that I was surviving and even thriving in some cases in the midst of a pool of some really aggressive personalities.  And while I could never out-shout them and still don’t, I could quietly keep up by offering opinions based on facts and data and experience.  And what is amazing, facts and data are a lot like having an adult in the room – it quiets the bullies quickly.  Moreover, bullies don’t like bullying individuals who bring facts and data.  It’s just not as much fun for them.

On occasion, in the workplace, I challenge my colleagues.  I hope that I do it respectfully, but my fear of being wrong or being bullied back for challenging is largely gone.  If I have data or information or experience that conflict with their opinions or plans, I feel a fiduciary, if not personal, duty to press them for how they arrived at their decision.  Oftentimes, I can’t disagree with their approach, and even if I don’t agree with the approach, I feel the need to support it anyway – more fiduciary duty there.  And I don’t take disagreements personally.  I don’t believe that a difference of opinion makes one of us wrong or right or one of us less intelligent than the other. 

And that is what business school did for me.  It gave me confidence to push my opinions, but even more confidence to support opinions different than mine as our team grades or company survival depends on it.  Business school stripped me of my over-sensitivity – it made me numb to it, thank goodness. 

And while I still cry easily at movies, or when I see my young children accomplish something, or when I hear the Star-Spangled Banner or Amazing Grace, I don’t cry or fret about bullies in the work place, in politics, on the road, or in our own community.  I respectfully face up to the bullies with data, facts, and questions, whether they are testing my bully-tolerance or that of others.

I still haven’t fully figured out how to help my children with bullies, since elementary bullies aren’t impressed with data or facts.  And Nicholas has received the sensitivity gene handed down from his grandmothers, so he is ripe for harassment and has already received some as the bullies test each Kindergartner for their bully-tolerance level.  We talk about it periodically and in addition to advising him to make teachers aware when it happens or if he feels unsafe, we talk much about how to react, which is really quite simply, not to react.  We even practice – I tease him, and we talk about how he should respond and how he should not.

It’s working for now and we’ll see how it goes.  And I suppose that in the worst case scenario, if I simply cannot help him overcome his sensitivity in these early years, there is always business school.

Admiring Public School Teachers – and Still Learning From Them!

My eldest son is into his second week of Kindergarten.  It has been a transition that I was not expecting.  No struggles in the morning to get up and out of bed.  No questions about how many days until the weekend.  No begging for me to stay home so he too can stay home and play with the kitties.  He’s been tired at night, and yes, a bit grumpy, but he is enjoying Kindergarten to the fullest.  The transition has been smooth and pleasant!

Now Kindergarten is different that when I went to school in the early 1970s (yes, I am an aged mother!).  Back then, we went for only a few hours and those hours included a snack with a carton of milk that we ever so carefully opened into a triangular spout, an often very dry cookie with a square of hardened jelly-something on the top, and an ever-so small white, paper napkin.  Our final exam was probably something like putting a blue circle around the dog and a triangle around the cat – a paper that my son came home with on the first day, though that paper also including counting and matching and other feats.  Kindergarten today is more what I remember 1st Grade was – or at least the second half of first grade.

And my son has weekly exposure to the computer lab, the music room, the media center (which we called the library), the art room, and the gym (in addition to recess twice a day).  Yes, school has changed.

And demands on public school teachers have changed also.  My son’s classroom has 22 active 5ish-year-olds.  When they arrive each morning about 8:00 a.m., the kids arrive to a project already set up on their tables.  They bring in their snacks for the day and their homework folder – that’s their entry pass into the room.  The teacher is looking for written communications from home or completed homework or other school notifications.  And all that must be organized for the day, and then reorganized to go home.

My son has come home with a bevy of completed assignments and art projects in his folder, many of which had to have taken hours to prepare 22 of.  The teacher informed us that generally, she is there at 7:00 a.m. for class preparation and leaves about 5:00 p.m. And I know she’s truthful having received a phone call around 5:00 p.m. and an email the next morning just after 7:00 a.m. – all reporting on my son’s progress (thankfully all great news!).  And she likely did this 21 more times with 21 more families.

It made me stop and think about my profession and the profession of my husband.  Indeed, we work some long hours and many with intensity.  But the difference is, that for many of those hours, we get to retreat behind a computer or in our offices where we can take some breaks from being on stage and from the constant demand and questions of colleagues.

School teachers don’t get that luxury on the job.  I get exhausted answering the questions and demands of my children in the evenings and on weekends.  It’s tough work being a parent, and I don’t have work projects set up for them at the table when they arrive.  Can you imagine almost seven hours a day teaching and comforting and leading 22 children?  And then spending several hours more preparing for the next day?  And then there’s the working with the parents of 22 children.

In addition, the organizational skills for teachers required these days are incredible.  In my day, kids either were bussed home or walked home.  Today, they might bus one day, walk the next, they might go to aftercare on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to scouts on Wednesdays, and be picked up by Grandma or Grandpa or Aunt Sally on the other days.  Multiply this times 20+ children.

And then are food allergies to manage, and varying share-days, and homework, and extra projects, and progress reports, and records, and extra-curricular activities.  And don’t forget, most teachers have families of their own to manage.

For years I have heard people say that they’d wished they’d become a teacher because they get summers off.  I’ve also heard many say that school teachers are overpaid for the amount of work they do.  And I’ve also seen parents berate and demean the teacher’s of their children.  It seems that so many of we parent’s think this job is easy and so many think they know more about teaching than teachers.  I’m not one of them.  In fact, I think these “teaching is easy” parents should be put into the classroom for a week – and not just to “babysit”  or “assist,” but actually, to be put on stage and then assessed on how much the entire classroom has learned in the week.  I’m guessing that most would be running for the door by the second day, and that they would be more appreciative of teachers.

My mother was an elementary school teacher.  In her later years as a teacher, she focused on remedial reading.  When children had reading challenges, her goal was to immerse them and get them back with their reading group.  Sometimes they were in her room for a few days working on a letter or too, sometimes the kids were there much longer as they required much more intense and personal attention to get them going.

As she came closer to retirement, she would lament out of concern that a good portion of her job was now dedicated to being more of a mother than a teacher.  So many of her students would arrive hungry having had no real dinner or breakfast (so the schools now have started serving breakfast), tired because they had no real bedroom to sleep in or parents were fighting or partying all night, and often cold since they were not dressed for the cold Michigan weathers.  These children wanted hugs and attention because for whatever reason, they were not getting it at home.  And my mother would give all that she could in a motherly way, but I recall one day her frustration and concern where she stated something like, “Johnny arrives cold, hungry, tired, and lonely.  All he really wants to do is sit on my lap and be held and feel warm and secure, but I am to teach him to read.”  And though I can recall only a few poor parental incidents involving my mother, these same parents who demonstrated little concern for the basic needs of their children were often the ones presenting themselves at school to loudly and publicly berate the school board, the principal, the bus driver, the teacher, and even the custodian.  After all, they would say, it was their right to do so.

My mother retired about as early as she could.  And though I’m not sure she articulated it as such, I believe part of that was that teaching had become very emotionally exhausting.  In the business world, as we get tenure, as a survival technique, we learn to “compartmentalize,” particularly if we have families.  For the most part, we learn to leave the latest declining sales forecast, profitability decline, or personnel issue, at the office.  It’s not always easy or achieved, but we try to separate our young families from our office.  Children demanding our focused attention when we arrive home are quite helpful in that manner!  But imagine, as a teacher, attempting to leave the thought of Johnny and his less than adequate family and home-life issues at school, particularly on Friday when it would be two days before he might have a good meal again.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, particularly as a teacher and a mother, to leave that at work.

So I as a parent of a child in public school (and let me say that yes, I am a proponent of public schools since they are a slice of the real world), want to express my admiration and gratitude for public school teachers.

I believe that in fact, school teachers are gasp, “underpaid.”  While I admire Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods, and Johnny Depp, and Will Smith (our highest paid athletes and actors), for their talents, they do nothing for the education and rearing of my sons or the future of our youth.  Indeed some of them have philanthropic foundations that serve youth, but overall, the impact of these efforts compared to teachers, is minuscule.  And these entertainers make millions, and think about their work schedules!

I have to believe it is the case that most teachers, the good ones (and there are many good ones), aren’t there for the paycheck or the work lifestyle.  They are there because they are inspired by the kids they teach.  They are inspired by seeing the light bulbs go off when after struggling, a child finally “gets it.”  They are inspired by smiles, enjoyment of learning, increasing vocabulary and mastery of numbers.  They are inspired by students who grow into leaders in their classrooms and their community.  They are inspired by the successes of students who come with natural talents, but perhaps even more so by the successes of those who come with challenges. 

And the energy and inspiration these teachers show inspires me as a parent.  I am reading more to my boys.  I’m asking them more questions.  I’m pointing out more facts.  I’m taking more time to listen and to explain.  I’m encouraging more self-discovery and more experiences.  Only a few days into my son’s public school education, and already his teacher has taught me, the parent, many things!

Longing for a Return to Civility

What is wrong with us – we citizens of the United States?  Who do we think we are?  When did we become so self-important, so sure that we are 100% right about everything from health care, to global warming, to foreign policy, to referee calls, to best videos of all time, to our rights as fans or drivers or employees that all we do is shout our opinions loudly and profanely to the world?  We don’t listen.  We don’t have empathy for others’ opinions.  We no longer analyze but rather just jump to conclusions.  We show disdain for those that disagree with us or for anyone that even stops to think a moment – “you’re either for us or against us, 100%.”  No longer is “I’m not sure about that,” or a middle-of-the-road position acceptable.

In the past several months, I can hardly stand to turn on the news, and now this “self-important, I’m allowed to act inhumane because I’m stressed out or over-worked or in the moment” attitude is proliferating into sports and entertainment.  It seems that civility can only be experienced in the safe confines of home, at church (since my particular church leaves judgment to a higher power), and my son’s Kindergarten classroom where manners, respect, and sharing continue to be emphasized.  And that is a sad commentary on society today.

Respecting the Presidency

As I was driving from work to pick up my sons, I turned on my radio and heard a woman patting herself on the back because she had sent a note to her school to keep her son out of the broadcast of President Barack Obama’s speech to school children.  She proudly noted that she was the only parent in the entire school to isolate her son from his remarks.  She stated how she didn’t know what the President was going to say and wanted to filter her son from things she didn’t agree with.  Now I’ve been self-isolated from a lot of news these days because it has been so hateful (thank goodness), but if this woman was so informed that she’d call into a radio show, didn’t she know that his speech was published the day before?  She could have read it and realized it was focused on getting an education (not on health care or being a Democrat).  I’m sure her son felt just wonderful being the only one who had to go sit in a room by himself – you know, because that isn’t something that his peers might pick on him about.  So she made her statement to the school (and to those of us who couldn’t reach the radio dial to fast enough to tune her out) – but frankly, it was at her son’s expense – and for what was really a politically benign speech.  I’m not sure that’s going to get her nominated for mother of the year.

And then another man indicated that he would keep his son home from school that day because he didn’t want his son inundated with Democratic rhetoric and he “wanted his son to be able to think freely and make decisions for himself.”  Hmm, isn’t keeping your son home, isolated from this discussion a form of thwarting his son’s free-thinking?  I (freely) think so!

And then we have the South Carolina Representative who shouts “You lie” during the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress.  Respectfully, he apologizes.  And that should have been it, but the political parties want blood and continue to squeeze.  And the election funds of both parties have seen a huge influx of money.  We the American Public are rewarding politicians who act like barking dogs with what they want most – more money and more power.  Shame on us!

First of all fellow citizens, this is the Office of the President of the United States of America.  This is the elected leader of our nation.  Now whether it is a Republican or a Democrat, we owe it to the longevity of our nation, to our children, to show proper respect.  You don’t have to agree with the policies, but you do need to show respect.

And I don’t get the idea out there that, “Obama is trying to indoctrinate our children by visiting them in school.”  Are you kidding me?  Where was George Bush on 9/11?  Don’t you remember how his face turned ashen-gray as he learned from the aid to his right as he was sitting in the front of a classroom that the US was under attack?  I remember that scene as if it was yesterday.  Was he indoctrinating?

The fact is that most presidents of late have visited schools and school children.  And they should.  Kids need to see leaders.  They need to dream.  They need to look beyond the street they live on.  And if the President of the United States is coming to their classroom, they need to be there.  Don’t go stealing that type of experience from them and claim it is good parenting.  If my child ever has the opportunity to meet the President, I don’t care if he or she is a Democrat, a Republican, or a Martian, my child will be there and will have been lectured for hours on how to be respectful during the visit.

Sports and Entertainment – the Players AND the Fans

So then we have Serena Williams berating a line judge and Kanye West giving his opinion on who has the best video by stealing the moment from Taylor Swift (someone described this as akin to stepping on a kitten since Miss Swift is known to be so sweet).  Both these bullies claim they were “in the moment” and/or under stress – blah, blah, blah.  Kudos by the way to Beyonce who has shown the greatest act of civility in the US in several months!

And then to bring it home, as I was attending my first Big 10 football game of the season this past weekend, I was bullied by the ticket-holder next to me.  I have been a season ticket-holder for 6-7 years and attended regularly for about 10 years.  If you’ve ever been to a University of Michigan football game when they play teams like Notre Dame or Ohio State, you know that it is a packed house.  The bench space you are allotted is about 16 inches – the average American takes up much more than that, especially when donned in winter clothing.  But, we accommodate.  As each person arrives, we squeeze a bit tighter.

It is bench seating and my seats are two from the end.  My new neighbor arrives several minutes into the first quarter, shouts at me to, “Move over.  You’re in my seat.  Move or I’ll call security.  I’m a season ticket-holder.”  Well howdy and have a nice day to you too!  I advised him that we needed to get the bench of people moving over so we could make more room, to which he replied, “You have to move now.  You’re in my seat.”  He then pushed me over and back and stood with his hands on his hips and left elbow in front of my chest such that he was effectively standing in front of me and making it physically uncomfortable for me.  Yup, it kind stole the excitement of my first game of the season.  In fact, it squashed it like a bug.  So I ask again, “Who do we think we are?”  We drive aggressively like this too.  It’s everywhere and it’s awful.

What Do I Tell My Children?

I frankly am at a loss on how to raise children in this current environment of bullying and shouting and pushing and shoving.  Every day my husband and I remind my boys to say “thank you” and “please” and “excuse me.”  We talk about sharing and speaking politely and waiting for others to stop talking before we start.  But every day, they see US citizens of all kinds pushing and shouting and taking whatever they can take leaving nothing for those next in line.  I’m all for competition and I’m certainly not a Marxist or a Socialist, but come on, at some point you need to think beyond yourself.  If you don’t, aren’t we really the equivalent of a pack of wolves following the alpha male who has dominated all others for the moment?  Isn’t that called a dictatorship?  It certainly is not a democracy.

I Want 9/11 Back

I was stuck in France on 9-11-2001.  In fact, my friends and I didn’t even learn of 9/11 until 9/12.  And then it took almost seven more days before we could get a flight back home.  And when I returned to the US, it was a different country.

When I left about 10 days earlier, I was the only house on my block that regularly put out my US flag.  When I returned, nearly every house on my block and the surrounding blocks had one flying.  When I returned, people came out of their houses to check on their neighbors.  When I returned and went to my first Big 10 football game the season, the fans openly wept as the Star -Spangled Banner was played.  When I returned, politicians were working together respectfully to understand what we were up against.  When I returned, we listened to and followed our president.  When I returned, we treated each other and our first-responders with more respect.  When I returned, people let people merge onto the highway.  When I returned, I returned to a nation of citizens, to a nation of people with different opinions, but with a common bond that included civility, and respect, and empathy, and acceptance.

I want that nation back.  I want that nation for my children.  I don’t want another 9/11 tragedy to spur us into a civilized nation again.  I want everyday citizens like you and me to stand up and speak softly with intelligence and respect.  And I want us to demand intelligence and respect from our leaders, our athletes, our entertainers, our children, and our fellow citizens.  Will you help?

Finding My Inner Voice

“Build it and they will come.”  “Speak softly and you will be heard.”  “Don’t buy ice cream at the grocery store in 80+ degree heat with two more stops to make.”  “Take life with a pinch of salt . . . and wedge of lime and a shot of tequila.”  Listen, can you hear the soft-spoken advice of your inner voice?

For many, it is the golden years when the inner voice is finally heard.  Perhaps it is in these years that we finally have time to hear the inner voice that guides and directs us and offers us wisdom, or perhaps as we’ve gained experience, we are more easily able to interpret or believe our pleasant, peaceful, and wisdom-filled inner voice.

Call me an overachiever, but in the last two months, I have had the opportunity to hear my inner voice – and more than a few times.  And while I expected my inner voice to be heavenly and pleasant, it turns out, it is a loud, guttural yell that generates itself from the bottom of my gut and explodes through my head.  Far from angelic, it is really much more like the frightening voice that emerged from Linda Blair in The Exorcist (less the split-pea soup, thank goodness).

And what wisdom has that inner voice offered?  After a morning filled with two boys finding every means to stall and torment their mother before getting out the door for school, the inner voice offered this:  “GET YOUR SHOES ON NOW” – phonetically, “now” is pronounced “naawwwwwwhhhhhh!!!”  The decibel, tone, and gravel of the voice shooting past my tongue was such that my 5-year-old stood to attention like that of a well-trained soldier, and the loud whining from the 2-year-old stopped immediately.  After the inner growl, there was a long moment of silence – and then rapid movement to the shoes and out the door.

The inner voice has also offered, “PUT THE BOOK DOWN NOW” when the toddler attempted to throw a hard-covered book across the bed as we were reading and “settling down” for bedtime.  “STOP RUNNING NOW” emerged while with dad still at work, I was attempting to get dinner cooked and served while the boys tested the limits of sibling rivalry by wanting whatever the other one had, taking it, and then running around the house playing keep away – screaming and whining for the duration.  “GIVE ME THE SCREWDRIVER NOW” the inner voice ordered as the toddler began to tap on the picture window with his daddy’s tool that he must have obtained by quickly (I was tending to preschooler potty issues) scaling drawers to climb to the counter to get into the bag in the cupboard that holds the tools.  (And yes, we are quickly running out of places high enough to hide things and are considering renting a storage locker until we are through the toddler years.)

Now, the inner voice takes some time to build.  It is usually preceded by at least three attempts of firm but polite requests from the normal voice for the less than acceptable behavior to stop.  It is also preceded by physically intervening in the behavior – removing the book or toy or tool and encouraging proper behavior by getting down to the level of the offender.  And when these civilized gestures to quash the unacceptable behavior or noise fail miserably and just before my head explodes, the inner voice expels itself.

It’s never a proud moment.  But the inner voice achieves the objective.  Children seem to realize that when the inner voice of mom becomes outer, she means business.  There will be no more warnings – the guttural punch of the inner voice is not a warning shot, it is the “prepared to have really bad things happen if I don’t stop right now” shot.

I’ve admitted hearing my inner voice to several mothers – some with children of similar ages as mine and some who have been through these ages.  They too are overachievers having heard their inner voices early in life and in much the same circumstance, tone, and emphasis.  They too agree that their inner voice is not the saintly whisper they had imagined it would be.  And, we all long for the day that our normal voices are heard by our children, the first time we speak, making our inner voice truly inner and generally unheard, until of course, it emerges again in our golden years in the in the saintly, wisdom-filled undertone we have come to expect.  So yes, I have found my inner voice, and God-willing, I will lose it soon.

I’m not very smart (and why I’m not worried about my children being “gifted”)

“Is your child gifted?”  I continuously get emails and see articles in magazines in the waiting rooms of various doctor’s offices on this topic.  The articles make me feel as if I’m a bad mother because I’m not measuring my children for giftedness nor am I seeking classes to maximize their giftedness.  My 5-year-old has a vocabulary and a maturity much beyond what I did at age five – but is it because he’s gifted or simply that things are so much more progressed these days than “in the old days?”  The answer is that I don’t know.  And frankly, I’m not that worried about it.

Why?  Because I am not very smart.  And I’ve managed to achieve some average and above average things even though I’m not encumbered with a huge IQ (and no, I don’t know the number).  What I do have is stamina and persistence and good time management skills.  In school, whatever the subject, I studied.  And if I had too much to do, I found ways to study in short stints in odd places, if needed.  Advanced biology test tomorrow and basketball game tonight?  I studied on the bus to and from the game, reviewed notes propped up in the bathroom mirror while getting ready for school and had them on my music stand to review during band while the woodwinds (I played flute) waited for the brass or the percussion to get their parts right.

I am also not a good standardized test taker.  So when it came to the GMAT, I took math refresher courses since a mastery of geometry seems to be critical for entrance into a good business school, and it was a subject I had not visited since high school.  And indeed, I took the GMAT prep courses practicing test questions until I could write them.  And guess what, it worked.

My roommate at Duke University was gifted.  He was a natural numeracy genius.  In preparation for a statistics or quantitative analysis exam, I would begin to study for the mid-term about the second day of the course and I’d start study for the final exam after receiving the grade on the mid-term.  I would do practice problems over and over again.  I would reverse engineer them so I literally could do them backwards.  My roommate would get the textbook out the night before and inquire with me about what chapters the exam was to cover.  I would get a 97% on my exam.  He would achieve a 98%.

For years, I envied those that were truly gifted.  Things came so easily for them.  But as the years went by, I started to realize that in the real world, often the less-gifted started to fare better than the gifted.  My hypothesis is that those of us who are forced to use stamina and persistence regularly – well, we don’t notice when things aren’t so easy.  And the real world isn’t easy.  We ungifted expect to work hard and work through inconsistencies on most days.  We practice and we learn a lot from that practice.  For those that are gifted, because things have come so easily for them, when things get tough, they easily get frustrated and often give up and move on.  It’s simply too foreign a behavior to have to practice to achieve.  Practicing is for the proletariat, after all.

So I don’t worry about my children being gifted and I don’t feel bad about not enrolling them in Calculus at age five or pushing sports or music on my two-year-old.  Indeed, I’ll give them opportunities to explore these things early and often in life, and we’ll see if they take to any of them (none so far!).  Instead, my focus will be to help them learn persistence, stamina, and good time management skills.  I hope also that they’ll experience a bit of failure while they are under my roof because they’ll learn that they’ll live through it – as I did while under my parent’s roof.  I found out that my parent’s loved me whether I was placing first or second, and that was a good, reassuring thing to know.

And while some may say that by not pushing my children into gifted programs at ages two and five, that I may be destroying their future if they have abilities like Tiger Woods.  I wonder.  Is Tiger Woods just simply a natural at golf?  What if he used the same persistence and practice at playing the violin?  He’d wouldn’t be nearly as wealthy (Nike doesn’t put its swoosh on violins, at least not yet), but he just might be the world’s leading violinist.  While I’m sure Mr. Woods has some natural proclivity for golf, perhaps his true gift is that he has a proclivity for practice.

A Personal Recession

My brother-in-law, a high school classmate, my sister-in-law, a good friend’s husband, a graduate school friend.  My son’s Pre-K teacher moves to Illinois where her husband has now found a job and his classmate moves with her family to Nebraska where all have found employment.  A majority of us, upside-down on our home mortgages simply because we bought our homes in the last decade.

Recessions of the past have been only skin deep.  I graduated from Alma College in the 80s and Duke University in the 90s, both at the tail end of recessions (yes, great timing, I know).  Finding a job was harder, it took longer, and wages were perhaps lower than they would have been, but if you stuck to it, you could at least find a job.  You could find a job with some basic benefits in time to start paying those now-due student loans, rent a cheap apartment, and buy gas for your old, used car.  You could survive and hang in there until the recession ended.

These light recessions found one or two friends of friends impacted somewhat by these short-lived downturns.  And those that lost jobs soon found other jobs or were even hired back by their companies after only a few months.  And some of these other positions they found were in better positions at higher wages.

This recession is different.  It drags on, and I know of no one who has not had a family member or close personal friend laid-off.  And these are good, productive workers, many of them brighter and more talented than me.  Their personnel files are unblemished.  They have families, reasonable mortgages, little if any other debt and good credit ratings, and they face the risk of uncovered health care expenses if something happens once the health care grace period runs out.

These hard-working, follow-the-rules people are vulnerable.  And that makes those of us who know and care for them vulnerable too.  We worry about them.  We prepare to help however we can.  And we worry, with each new day, that we too will find ourselves in the same position.  We too can easily become economic victims. 

The experts agree that the technical recession “is likely” over, but they also agree that there will be more pain to come before things get better for our workforce, our family, our friends.  It gives us hope, but still we feel vulnerable and completely out of control. 

We come together to work on resumes, and we search for jobs and pass along leads.  We get together for dinner instead of nights out in an effort to save money.  Even those of us with employment look for ways to save money out of respect for those who are saving out of necessity and we are quietly saving should it become a necessity for us.  This recession seems to have made us pause to reflect.  We’ve stepped off the noisy, fast-paced treadmills of everyday work and home life and have gotten to know each other again in deeper, more appreciative ways.  If there is a silver-lining to this recession, perhaps this is it.  We talk more about life, struggles, and the future.  We live more modestly, more quietly.  We’ve come to know each other better, because this recession, it’s personal.