Tragedies and Loss of Innocence

In December, I was at my desk working while I kept an eye on Twitter. I started to see posts about a shooting in Newtown. I opened a few stories and realized something very bad had happened. But it was a photo of children being evacuated that rocked me to my core. Even thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes. The photographer captured a moment of sheer terror. Those little faces were so close in age to my son, as I sat there I started to imagine the scene unfolding in my neighborhood, I lost it.

photo from NY Daily News
photo from NY Daily News

I decided I needed to get to my son. I packed up and got to my car and then I realized he was still in school. So, then I t occurred to me I might upset him if I disrupted his routine. OK, new plan, run errands until he would be settled into daycare. It was better that I had an opportunity to think and plan. I realized we needed to keep network television off to avoid news coverage and limit his shows to On Demand, videos, etc. By the time I did get to him, his daycare was in the midst of a previously-scheduled party. All the kids were blissfully unaware of the day’s events. We managed to limit his exposure to tv for the next week and I communicated with his teacher so she was aware that in our household Newtown was not being discussed. Interestingly, the school district had recommended that we address the matter with our children but I decided not to follow that direction.

Flash forward to April and the bombing in Boston. As the photos of the suspects were shown on the news, it occurred to me it was time for my son to see that evil can come in the form of some average-looking young men. If he has experienced lockdown drills at school, it seems fitting to understand that bad people may appear in unlikely places. It is not a lesson I expected to approach with him just yet but I felt that he needs to be better aware. It would be great if we could preserve him in a bubble of innocence but I’m not sure that will serve him well. Unfortunately one of the victims was again a boy his age so that also drove the point home. I took to the Internet, to Twitter, to find out how others have approached these topics. There was no uniform answer. But it was helpful to gather some insights and professional opinions about how these events might impact my son. I felt mentally prepared to handle it. My husband and I are both first-time parents and with our one son, all our attention has been focused (for better or worse). I was grateful for my social network.

Life Happens

bowlingWhen I began my blog I was newly-unemployed. I decided to split my available time between my son, embarking on a job search and expanding my social media skills. It took ten months to secure a new job. During those months, my son and I went on various outings (bowling, library visits, swimming, and the zoo, among others). I was able to walk him to school every morning as he started Kindergarten and I assisted the coach for his first soccer team. It was a success in many regards.

I got this blog launched and networked with better-established bloggers. I did not have a rhythm going but I did manage to produce some decent content. The new job stalled my best intentions. Life happens. My son is completing the first grade and we have been to Disneyland. Soccer was replaced by t-ball. And the tooth Fairy has made repeated visits to our house.

Last weekend, I attended a conference and Chris Brogan was a presenter. He talked about distractions and suggested if we “stopped doing stupid shit” we could get more accomplished. With that in mind, I am resuming my writing. It is a time I can carve out for me. Let’s begin…

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My Life Interrupted

The goal or theme of writing this blog was how I intended to make sure my life was balanced. I started a new job in October and as a result I have not been writing. I have been very busy at work and learning a great deal, and I did not have much more to give of myself when I got home. My son started kindergarten and we’ve been surprised to find we had homework every night. My priority was to help him with his assignments and by the end of the night I’ve been spent. Happily, we are seeing all sorts of progress in his reading and writing skills, and how he can illustrate his thoughts. We’ve also had our first two parent-teacher conferences. We’re watching him develop before our eyes.

I have a neighbor who is facing health issues and her husband was recently laid off from his job. As a result, she and I have discussed our mortality. We’re close in age and had our babies within two months of each other, so our lives have been on parallel paths. In recent days, there have been announcements of the deaths of a few famous people that also struck a nerve in me. The most stunning was a news story that Wall Street Journal author Jeff Zaslow died in a car accident. Aside from his newspaper work, his book, “The Last Lecture” was a favorite of mine. I found so many life lessons in it and felt the connection he had made with his subject (professor Randy Pausch). lastlecture_bookcvrHis writing was powerful. Then, to read that he was the father of three daughters and had just published another book made me stop short. We all go through life knowing it will end eventually but are rather blissfully unaware of when that might be. We presume we have decades but what if it turns out there are only months (or less) left for us? Would we do things differently?

I’m planning our first Spring Break vacation and it will be a trip to Los Angeles. A visit to Disneyland is on the agenda. My husband and I are hoping to surprise our son. We’ve seen those ads where kids are told about the destination and they go nuts. I’m not sure if we can hold out that long but we’re going to try. There are six weeks to go and we’re weakening. We have all this anticipation building for us and we do stop periodically because we want to remember to enjoy it as it happens. Taking too many pictures or having too many expectations may make it less fun in the end. But, it might just be magical.

Part of the fun of the So Cal trip is that I can hopefully see some friends who I have not seen in years. A former co-worker, college roommate, business associate—I hope we can squeeze them all in. Through social media, email and Christmas cards, we’ve managed to keep track of one another for many years but it would be really great to see people in person. Like the ad…we will be creating memories.

 

 

I love Fall! (and so does my son)

This post will be more photo-heavy than most. We live near a pumpkin patch. We visit it annually and our son has a good time there. I love taking photos. Here is one from maybe three years back as he was looking for the perfect pumpkin.


My husband introduced him to leaf piles. Yesterday a neighbor invited him over to play soccer then proceeded to build a huge pile of leaves that became the goal. I think my son spent more time in the goal than the ball.

It was raining leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then he got buried (like at the beach).

 

Then he emerged!

Rainbows…a little bit of magic

My son saw his first rainbow today. I have to say it was pretty cool. He was at soccer practice. I was not thrilled to be there on the sidelines because it was overcast and windy. I thought we had lucked out with no rain but the clouds opened up with about five minutes left. Off in the distance there was a rainbow and my son stopped dead in his tracks to look at it. It was a double rainbow and it looked like it ended right on top of our car. As we walked toward it he could see it was far away. I stopped in the parking lot and took a photo. We drove home and saw the other end of it,  which made the experience complete.

Looking back on this year, I may have preferred to have worked but I would have missed so much in the process. We went swimming. There were play dates. The walks to and from school. I could not have done all that if I had been employed. So I guess I am actually thankful that I was forced to have this time off and be available for my son. I hope he has good memories of this summer. I know I will.

We’ve had some fun conversations. I’ve jotted down his comments when he made me laugh. I was not sure I could use them, but his insights have been pretty entertaining.  Here are a couple: “There’s a lot of love in this family” or “You know what I like about our house? Everything.”

It is possible that we would have had similar exchanges on our way home from work. Or that he would make cute observations over the weekend. However, the sheer number of hours we spent together meant that my odds were greater to catch the small details. I will readily admit to getting tired of cartoons and non-adult activities. But like tonight, I regularly realized I was witnessing firsts and those simply cannot be recreated. Another blogger recently wrote about magical moments being all around us and I could not agree more.

 

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What do my favorite books say about me?

I was sorting through some files and I came across a list of books.  About two years ago on Facebook people were inviting their friends to “List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. They should be the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”  I did it and here is the list I posted to my profile:

1.     The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

2.     Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

3.     Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

4.     The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

5.     Nancy Drew  by Carolyn Keene

6.     Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume

7.     The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

8.     The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

9.     The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

10.  Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

11.  Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck

12.  The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

13.  Harry Potter by JK Rowling

14.  Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

15.   The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

It went all the way back to my childhood. So, that first one, “The Giving Tree,” was probably read to me by my mother.  I’m pretty sure I read “Charlotte’s Web” on my own.  What strikes me, though, is that the common theme of the two most recent (“Tuesdays with Morrie” and “The Last Lecture”) revolved around death.  Both were stories about real men who were dying and how they shared their final days with others.  There were tremendous lessons to be learned.  I decided to take that last one off my shelf and read it again.  Not your typical summer/beach fare but it was worth a second look.

On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” which sparked his book.  He was battling cancer and chose this opportunity to give a final lecture that could be saved for his three young children after his death.  I saw the video of it which had gone viral (as of today, there have been more than 13 million views of it on You Tube). Then I watched a television profile of him, and I also read Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Zazlow’s coverage of Pausch. When I finally read his book it was one of those bittersweet experiences where I was touched by his lighthearted stories and I also cried.  It made me wonder how I would behave if I was in a similar position.  I am impressed by the grace some people exhibit as they die. Zazlow wrote that “Randy had a way of framing human experiences in his own distinctive way, mixing humor here, unexpected inspiration there, and wrapping it all in an uncommon optimism.” So while we face death with the author as we read his words, we come away inspired.

I think that we can learn a great deal from death: how people react to it; how families cope with the loss of a loved one; and how our lives can impact others even after we are gone.  It is a sad event but so much positive can come from it.

The book, “The Last Lecture,” is dedicated: With thanks to my parents who allowed me to dream, and with hopes for the dreams my children will have.  This sets the tone for what follows.

As a parent, I was struck his early memories of his youth and that he thought of his family as “winning the jackpot” of parents. One glowing example was that they let him paint/draw all over his bedroom to illustrate his dreams and passions.  I can be rather controlling and I like having everything in its place. I’m all about order. So I can learn something about giving over some control on the décor of my son’s room and what some early encouragement might eventually help him obtain.

Pausch ran through a number of key thoughts that were worthwhile to share. Here’s a sampling:

  • Never lose the childlike wonder
  • Help others
  • Loyalty is a two-way street
  • Never give up
  • Apologize when you screw up
  • Brick walls (obstacles) are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something
  • Be engaged, appreciate this day and this moment

I just paused to look back over the Facebook list and am struck by the thread of death in other books here. I hope I don’t have spoilers in writing here, but “The Giving Tree,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Little Women” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” all included main characters who died.  Which leads me to ask myself, what is with my curiosity about the end of life? I’ll ponder that one for a while…

At this point, you might be wondering if I gave away all the content of “The Last Lecture.” I have not—there is plenty for you to explore on your own.  I highly recommend it for those who want something real and inspiring.

Want more recommendations (and some variety)? Here is a number of other blog posts with books and movies from the summer:

 

As my son turns 5…

A friend of mine, Nevin Adams, was inspired to write today because his son just graduated from high school.  As the Editor-in-Chief of PLANSPONSOR and PLANADVISER, he had some sage advice for young adults as they enter the workforce.  His list of ‘exhortations’ is prompting me to write a letter to my son as he is turning 5.  I wrote one earlier this year and it was my intent to periodically do this for him.  I think this is a pivotal year, as he begins kindergarten and is less of a baby and more a regular boy.  Well, that has been the case for a while but I am confronted by it more often now.

I am going to lift a few standout points here from Nevin’s list (you can read it in its entirety here) and continue with a few of my own:

If you wouldn’t want your mother to learn about it, don’t do it.

Never miss a chance to tell someone “thank you.” This can be a friend, a teacher or anyone who you see helping others.

You’ll fall in love more than once – or at least think you have. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but that girlfriend you have in preschool, she’s just the first one.

Hug your parents – often.

Listen. It is better to listen than talk.  Learn what you can before telling others your opinion, then don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Smile.

Read. You can expand your horizons without leaving your home!  I cannot stress this one enough.  You should anticipate that learning will happen throughout life, not just in the classroom.

Teamwork comes in handy off the playing field.

While winning is good, you will learn a lot from losing. Some of our biggest lessons come from our most difficult challenges.

You can learn a lot from Dr. Seuss. He communicates well with a limited vocabulary.  He has an extensive imagination. He finds fun ways to share life lessons—read those books again when you’re older.

Life is about to change for us, especially for my son, this year.  I hope that he continues to enjoy life as he adjusts to more rules, a schedule, and the pending grades.  His carefree life is about to be a thing of the past.

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A Spiritual Rebirth, Writing Renewal

This is both a discussion of procrastination and spiritual exploration.  In April, we went through the Easter season.  At that time, I read an article by Jeff Goins entitled “Why Writers Must Practice Resurrection.” Among other things he wrote: “When you write, you share a piece of you with the world. You put your very soul on display for all to see.” I began thinking about how different parts of my life might merge at this time.  I’ve been trying to write more regularly with limited success.  I am currently job hunting.  And, I have not set foot in a church in quite some time.  There has been a void in my spiritual life.  These things may not be connected but I do think that if I fix the spiritual void I’ve felt, I will see success in other areas.

I have not been attending church regularly for a number of years.  The simple act of going to church helps at a minimum because you can learn new things.  Whether or not they stick, whether or not one continues to study the Bible, is up to the individual.  A greater sense of community is also good and I’ve participated in ‘small groups’ over the years that provided me with more spiritual development.  This has all been lacking lately.  I did start reading a book on devotions but even that has not been a routine effort.  But, Jeff’s post in April did spark something in me and as a result I have begun church shopping.

On Easter morning, I happened to catch “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” where Tim Keller, from New York, was featured.  This minister spoke to me even though it was via the television.  He touched on the polarization of secularism and devout religion that has been growing in the U.S.  He pondered the essence of sin.  He suggested we stop demonizing each other as has become common practice.  This connects particularly with politics when one side of an issue decides the other is not only wrong but evil.  He proposed that churches should play a role in creating individuals who know how to talk civilly, that churches should teach people humility and graciousness, and that they ought to serve people in their communities.  These are the sorts of lessons I am hoping to hear at my home church.  Now if I could only find it!  The search began that day.

I attended one Methodist church on Easter Sunday and returned to it to see what a regular service was like.  Then, I visited a Lutheran church service.  These were in stark contrast to one another.  The Methodist church was much more formal in all regards (some men wearing suits) and, as a result, I was not particularly comfortable.  On the flip side, the contemporary Lutheran service was at the other end of the spectrum.  I liked the pastor there.  I’m going to head back for one of the church’s traditional services.

Interestingly, both ministers touched on how we conduct our lives in a “messy” world.  I liked some of the descriptions that one used: the thought of heaven and God being nearer to us than someplace so very far removed.  And, that from our current perspective, we see the loose threads rather than the finished design of the tapestry (of life).  It was a reaffirmation of the need for faith in God while we make our way through this life.

Back to my opening line: I have been thinking on these things and considering whether or not to write about spiritual exploration.  It does not fit with previous posts and I tend to not talk about faith in my work life.  This blog is somewhere in between my professional and personal worlds and I was not sure about venturing into this area.  So I have not written at all.  But now I have made some progress and am turning a corner creatively.  Wish me luck as the journey continues.

 

 

 

My Favorite Bookstore: After-Words

After-Words is located in downtown Chicago ( 23 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL) and it is a hidden gem.  I think it is an odd location, surrounded by offices and restaurants.  It is hustling during the week but rather quiet on the weekend.  I cannot remember how I found it but I love it.  It is a two-story building with a mix of both used (downstairs) and new (upstairs) books.  You can drop off books at the front desk and begin browsing immediately.  I love that!  I live in the suburbs and had once tried a used bookstore that needed a week to evaluate and estimate a value for books you intended to exchange.  What is the point?  I’d rather drive downtown and have the immediate satisfaction of leaving the store with some new items.  They have a great selection from which to choose.  I’ve ventured into different areas on each visit.  I’ve gone in looking for a new cookbook and came out with a fun, huge one to try.  I’ve gone with nothing in mind and found some books by authors I’ve read previously (Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book was a recent acquisition).  More recently, I focused on the children’s section and came out with some great new additions for my son’s collection.  Dr. Seuss is well-represented but I also got something by Mo Willems (Piggy and Elephant), as well as Inkpen (Kipper).

Another compelling reason to go here is that even if they do not want to resell your books, they can donate the rest to charity.  Either way, your books find a new home.  I feel good clearing some space on my shelves and sharing my books with other people.  As I sit here typing for a blog, I realize fewer people are buying books and e-books are more a thing of the future.  As long as we do continue to own bound editions, why not keep the cycle going via independent stores like this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I don’t tweet about Bieber, Palin or Snooki

I do not like Justin Bieber.  My husband laughs at me because I cringe whenever Bieber is in the news.  I think he’s ok looking and his singing is also ok.  But why do I know who he is if he is just ok?

He performed on the Grammy awards show this year and has been the subject of a movie.  Is his life so extraordinary at age 17 that there is already a movie about him?  Truly, this drives me insane.  The proliferation of reality TV also celebrates the most average people and creates celebrities on a daily basis.  Recently it was reported that “Snooki,” from the Jersey Shore crew, was paid more to make an appearance by Rutgers University than Toni Morrison, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, will be paid to speak at the upcoming commencement.  How is that justifiable?  Journalists die in the Middle East and we do not know their names.  Headlines run with Karadashian and we can identify those women.  Can we please avoid hyping mediocrity?

Countless people attend good schools, work hard, and do philanthropic work and yet do not rise above normal awareness.  A smaller percentage are truly gifted musicians, athletes or scholars and get some acclaim but what is annoying is the obscene amount of coverage those mediocre famous-for-being-famous types keep getting.  I mentioned Palin in the title here and I want to limit the word count on her.  I believe her 15 minutes were up a long time ago and I wish heads of state, other politicians and the media would simply ignore what she says at this point.

I fear that this trend reaches into our local communities.  Our children are awarded ribbons for merely participating in sports and such.  This is not a great life lesson.  Employers do not promote people just for showing up, one must exceed expectations/goals in order to get recognized and move up the corporate ladder.  So, I think we need to reinforce that concept early.  Some teams win, some lose.  Grades reflect different levels of learning and other honors should be limited to performance, too.

As I watch my son play Wii, I do get it that his self-esteem improves when he wins, and there is a lot of celebrating.  But I actually like to see him stick with it when he loses and tries again.  As a society we’ve gotten afraid of failure but in the end we probably learn more from challenges that we do from success.

Am I too intense about this?  Or do you also dislike mediocrity?