Tag Archives: lessons

Letter to my son as he turns 10

My son turned 10 and I just found the letter I wrote here when he turned 5. I cannot believe time has passed so quickly! (Yes, friends did warn me.) I am drawing, once more, from the inspiration that prompted me previously. My friend, Nevin Adams, wrote a letter to his son as he graduated from high school. I cherry-picked a few of his messages because, really, a 5-year old can only follow so much! 

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

“What do you think?” is a great response when you don’t know the answer. We often do not have all the answers! AND, more importantly, asking questions is the smartest thing you can do to keep learning. Life will always be your classroom.

The hardest thing to do is quit while you’re ahead. 

The second hardest thing to do is to keep your mouth shut. Listening is much more important than speaking. Unfortunately, some people want more attention and make a bit of noise. That’s ok. Be well informed before you decide to take center stage.

If you don’t speak up, people will assume you’re happy with the way things are. It is acceptable to question authority and propose new ideas.

If you don’t love yourself, nobody else will.

Not everyone will become your friend, but be kind to everyone.

Civil discussions are important. People will have differing opinions but discuss your viewpoints without being disrespectful.

I just shared this with my son. He read both out loud to me. After going out and playing Pokémon Go this morning, I enjoy having a moment where we just talk. The next five years might fly by just as fast, so I will hold onto this day.


Bedtime Reading: Sharing My Love of Reading

I enjoyed reading to my son since before he could speak. I thought that we would begin that tradition and he would instantly love to read, too. However, in school they were assigned a reading log and have had to do it every night for a certain length of time.  When it was forced, he did not love reading so much. Our last teacher did not require the logs and the struggles ended. His tastes are definitely maturing and unique to him. At age 9, here is what keeps his attention:

“Captain UCaptain Underpantsnderpants” by Dav Pilkey – is done in comic book style. They have been illustrated in black and white but “The Attack of the Talking Toilets” was in Full Color! The main characters, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, came up with the super hero comics. I won’t try to come up with any educational value here—the stories make my son laugh.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney details the daily adventures of a boy named Greg Heffley. He has two brothers and a best friend named Rowley. Life can be a challenge both at school and at home and he tells it like it is. Funny and awkward, kids can relate to his frustrations and the movies based on the books have been fun to watch, too! We have seven installments of the Diaries.

“And then what happened, Paul Revere?” by Jean Fritz was a gift from his third grade teacher. This started us on a string of biographies. This one, in particular, came from Scholastic Books and it provides a balance of reading, with illustrations and plenty of historical material. It was the launching point for a book report and he foWonderund additional books to round out the source material.

“Wonder” is a book by R.J. Palacio about a boy in the fifth grade that begins at a new school. The twist is that he has a facial difference that had kept him from attending a mainstream school. So he is dealing both with entering a new situation but also being different from the others and tells how he copes. My son wanted to get it (and the accompanying “365 Days of Wonder”) because they were reading it in class. I’m going to read it myself.Civil War Soldier

“You Wouldn’t Want to be a Civil War Soldier!” by Thomas Ratliff has been a favorite because my son really loves history. There are more in the series—about being a colonist, a pioneer, and a pirate’s prisoner—but they look a bit grim. I will share that this is not for younger kids—there are some realistic details about medical treatment included along with battle information. That being said, it contains a glossary of terms so vocabulary development will definitely be a bonus.

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.

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:


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?

Lessons from an unexpected source

I recently bought two new books for my son that were by Dr. Seuss: “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”  I was motivated partially because I had a bunch of Dr. Seuss books when I was little.  Then, I went to Amazon.com and found this list of essential books for children ages 5-6.  My son has recently started enjoying the Cat in the Hat cartoons, and I figure their appeal will connect him to the books.  My husband and I both love reading and it is my hope that my son will share this trait with us. I hoped he’d learn to read with the help of these books.  I did not expect to learn from them, too.

“Green Eggs and Ham” has lines and phrases that are so memorable.  As I stood there reading it in the book store, I was struck by its simplicity.  The back cover explains that there were fifty words used for all the text.  As a writer, I tend to avoid repeating words or phrases but now I may rethink that strategy.  It was drilled into my head, in my first professional job, that it was the mark of a lazy author to repeat oneself.  But here is a classic and Dr. Seuss does nothing but repeat himself and I can remember it after an absence of so many years.  That sort of impact speaks volumes to me.  Not being overly complicated, he crafted this story rather carefully.  And, it contains a valuable lesson.  How many battles have I had with my son over a meal?  There have been quite a few and he is only 4.  I ask him to try something and get the response he does not like it.  Even when I explain that I know it is something he has never tried, he is firm in his conviction he does not like it. I can tell you he smiled at the ending and he knew the message was there for him.

However, I did not expect that the subject matter of “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” would be so mature.  I guess I do not really remember it.   I’ll share an excerpt of it here to provide some context: “You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose…You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights…I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you…the Lurch…in a Slump…The Waiting Place…” The adventure continues through the choices one faces in the journey of life, and the influences awaiting the reader, to the conclusion that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.  Really?  This is something I am coming to terms with as an adult.  Why are children learning this?  Well, given all I hear about Millennials and their sense of entitlement, perhaps this book got missed somewhere in the past generation.  I do like it and we’re keeping it.  I wonder how much of an impact it will have on him.  Will I find out soon?  Or, will it be much later that we might stumble upon it and I’ll find out he was inspired by it?  It is always possible he won’t remember it all.  But for now, we’ll give it a try.

What I Would Say To My 20-Year Old Self

Life is going to be pretty good.  You can stress less about the future.  Try to enjoy moments in the present.  Try very hard.

Spend more time with your grandmother to learn more about her youth.  Some day it could help put pieces together.  It would be fun to think that maybe she’d share a secret with you. Back story:  In 2001 I traveled to Malta and requested the birth certificates and marriage certificate for my grandparents.  As it turned out, my grandmother’s birth date was ten years earlier than we believed.  My aunts & uncles were not super excited with this news.  I found it inspiring.  But it also made me wonder about her life before coming to the U.S. It would have been great to be able to ask her about it when I had the chance.

Try to get along with your father.  He is going to die in 1996.  Don’t regret that you missed time with him.

Getting laid off in 2001 ends up being a major turning point.  This will be the place you meet your husband and start your family. When you move to Chicago, try to embrace it sooner.  You’ll be there much longer than you anticipated.  Nine years so far!

It’s in my nature to plan and analyze, so it is a nice break to look back and consider the paths I have taken and how it all led to the place and person I am today.



My friend Kipper

I have one child, a son, who is by all accounts very typical.  He loves Lego, Star Wars, Wii, and all sorts of super heroes.  Super Heroes are usually good guys but they also tend to fight.  With 3D graphics, I sometimes wonder if he grasps the difference between reality and make believe.

My savior is Kipper.  We found him a couple of years ago and my son still enjoys him.  He is the perfect antidote to the rest.  I just noticed a line on the cover of the DVD case that states it perfectly: “A refreshing pace for today’s busy kids!”  It’s true.

Here is a brief description of what the series will provide: Kipper is based on the best-selling books written and illustrated by Mick Inkpen. Optimistic and curious, Kipper is the quintessential child with an overactive imagination, loveable antics and unforgettable charm. Gentle humor, laughter and warmth fill each adventure of the affable hound and his animal friends – Tiger, Jake, Pig and Arnold – as they find themselves in one hilarious escapade after another.

We own five disks and have them in rotation in our household.  Some are seasonal (“Let it Snow!” was great for Christmas), they take little trips, meet visitors (like a cute mouse or alien from outer space), and when all is done they get safely home.  No big explosions, no fights, the tone is fairly quiet and yet it captures my son’s attention completely.  I also enjoy that they speak with an English accent, so it exposes him to a cultural difference.  Periodically they use vocabulary that is a little different, so that is fun, too.  Lessons are woven throughout in a very subtle, entertaining way.  When you need a break from the chaos that is usually on tv, my advice is to find Kipper.

It is worth explaining, why I chose to write about this little guy.  In a world with so much hype, licensing, Happy Meals, etc., the quiet nature of this show could go largely unnoticed.  It is worth watching and having a break from the rest.

In my region, this is on television on Sprout.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

A Letter to My Son

In December, as I read about Elizabeth Edwards (when she passed away from cancer), I heard a few things that stood out: as her condition worsened, she wanted to leave her children with great memories of living rather than prepare them/focus on her pending death; and she wrote letters to her children so they could learn from her later after she is gone.  With that in mind, here is the first letter (of several) I will write to my son.

I have tried to raise you by taking some of the customs or traditions I was raised with but I have also done away with things that were unnecessary.  I have worked hard to be the best parent possible.  Someday, I hope you look back and recognize I am human so I may have made some mistakes but I have tried my best.

Please stay true to yourself, be self-confident and be an individual.  Don’t be a follower.

I hope you enjoy exploring the world around you and be inquisitive about new things.  This should apply to many aspects of life.  Be curious to listen to different music, travel, eat weird food.  It is ok to not like it but make informed decisions.  Saying you don’t like something you never tried is ignorant.  Meet new people and try to understand different cultures. The world is a diverse place, so it will be easier if you can get along with people.  Be compassionate and give to those who need help.  Lots of people need help.

My grandparents immigrated from Malta.  They lived the American dream.  Appreciate the risks they took and learn from their work ethic.  This means you should aspire to achieve a lot but you will need to work hard to attain that goal.  Do not expect a free ride. I went to a terrific college and I hope you do the same.  It took years of dedication to my studies and focus when I was young.  I want you to enjoy your childhood but sometimes it will be important to work toward your future success.

Have faith in God.  Life is complicated and we cannot get by on our own efforts.

Challenge yourself constantly–don’t limit yourself or set expectations that you can achieve easily.  Avoid mediocrity.  I hope you enjoy reading and learning new things. I believe in life-long learning.  I still think about heading back to school for an advanced degree as an adult but informally, I use the Internet to expand my scope of knowledge.  We are now capable of connecting with people globally.  This is remarkable.

I hope you enjoy sports.  Have fun playing and learn teamwork.  Soccer players have great legs, so I highly encourage you to try it. 🙂 But there are probably better scholarships in other sports.

Don’t be afraid to do the unexpected.  Moving to Chicago from California was a drastic change for me that resulted in starting a family.  Life doesn’t come with a blueprint and rarely can you go in a straight line.  It will be helpful to learn from life experiences of older people (like your parents) and it can save you some heartache. But sometimes you will need to step out on your own and take a risk.

Why the Chilean Miners’ Story Captured My Attention

Last night I was glued to the story as it unfolded.  In the weeks leading up to the rescue, I have grown increasingly intrigued by it.  I watched a live video stream that had no voiceover and the only people speaking were talking in Spanish, so I could not grasp the details.  I’d break into the television to switch to CNN for clarification (where my son and husband were watching something else).  I was on twitter and could not find a lot of others posting about it initially.  One person I follow suggested people were fickle if it did not make them angry or give them something to protest it might not get noticed.  Another woman was angered that it was not a trending topic and just said people suck.  I responded that maybe it was because those who did have something to say about it were not taking the time to tag their posts and there was not a common theme to track.  People wrote about the time it took to rescue the miners, and how it was a miracle, and even mentioned crying as they were watching.  Another commented on how good the president of Chile was at hugs.  But I did not see #chile #rescue #miners following all those comments so they could not be counted.  At least, that was my hope.

I also saw some members of the media marveling at the coverage and also posting some quotes from the journalists covering it.  That was interesting, too.  A debate emerged on the historical significance of the evening.  Was it as big as the moon landing?  Was it the most inspirational story since Sully landed the plane on the Hudson?  People seemed to be watching on CNN, BBC, MSNBC and Univision.

So why did I care?  I think, in part, because it was a story of life and death.  And hope.  We saw teams from various countries come together to work to find a solution in a way that did not occur in the recent disaster in the Gulf.  When the oil was spreading across the water, I kept thinking that someone somewhere in the world might step forward with some ingenious idea but that never materialized.  I thought that competitors might share their emergency plans in case they had considered some situations like this one, but nothing.

Then, in terms of more similar incidents, we’ve lost miners in recent accidents in the U.S.  How is it that these 33 men in Chile escaped death and then were kept alive for two months?  Do they have better engineering in Chile?  What do we need to learn from them?

The people down there have shown amazing fortitude.  As I read periodic updates (these past two months), I was reminded that my stresses at work were nothing in comparison.  My husband used to joke with me “no one is trapped in a mine” when I’d come home with an issue that was bothering me.  He doesn’t say that anymore and I’m not sure we will in the same off-hand manner.

Back to work: I am in PR.  Sometimes I am happy with my career choice and other times it embarrasses me.  There is a reason some people are called flacks and we’ve added the word “spin” to ordinary vocabulary.  I am tired of stupid news that really should not merit the time or inches spent by media.  Just in the past 72 hours the separations of Courteney Cox or Christina Aguilera from their husbands have been in the headlines.  So what?  Enough with the political bickering and Sarah Palin’s 15 minutes of fame are past being done.  How about what’s happening on the Jersey Shore?  When those are the topics taking up space next to a story of this magnitude, does it make editors pause to reconsider what they are covering?  I am tired of mediocre celebrities being plastered on magazine covers.  There are faces and names now being followed by paparazzi and I do not care.

One additional comment resonated for me last night: someone noted that while the miners needed a miracle, maybe the rest of us did, too.