What a Hassle!

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3_730x410In my advanced middle age (read: “old”), I have come to realize that most of my time consists of avoiding hassles. I’m forever commenting about potential activities, “That seems like a hassle.”

I love that word: “hassle.” My dictionary app says that the word comes from a Southeastern United States expression meaning, “to pant, as from exertion.” Or it could derive from the British meaning: “to hack at, saw away at with a blunt blade.”

Yep. That’s how it feels when something is a hassle. Not long ago, our friends were telling us about the day spent getting their boat ready for sailing on Lake Michigan. They described a long, dirty ordeal that just seems like too much work.

Many people’s avocations seem to involve too much hassle: gardening, wood-working, restoring furniture, and most DIY household projects. And many sports are equipment-heavy and time-consuming just to prepare for: football, hockey, golf, waterskiing, snow skiing, among others.

I remember when my son started playing tackle football the summer before fifth grade. He came home with a huge bag full of equipment that I had to somehow help him assemble onto himself. A friend whose son was also starting football that year hosted a get together whose main purpose was helping each other figure out how to suit up our boys like gladiators for battle. What a hassle!

I’ve also seen fit over the years to complain about school projects with many moving parts and expeditions involving long drives, packed coolers, and other hassles. Even getting the kids ready to go to the local pool – finding their suits, packing towels and goggles, slathering sunscreen on wriggling bodies – sometimes made me weary.

On the other hand, tell me you need two dozen baked goods for the school bake sale, and I’m all over it. There will be nary a complaint about buying, assembling, and prepping ingredients for cookies, cupcakes, or other sweet treats. No exasperation at counters covered in flour and colored sprinkles. No whining about hassles.

I guess when you truly enjoy something, you have the patience and sustained interest to plough through without feeling hassled. For me, cleaning up the house and the kids after a beach expedition: hassle. But three hours on the couch reading book after book to my little ones? Pure joy.

I guess a hassle is in the eye of the beholder.

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Does Dad Need Some Daditude?

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Does your father or husband like to chuckle and/or laugh out loud occasionally? Do you need a last minute Father’s Day gift?

I’ve been listening to a wry, humorous, and heartwarming book of essays titled Daditude by Chris Erskine. Erskine is a Los Angeles Times writer whose columns are syndicated in my hometown Chicago Tribune under the title “The Middle Ages.” I’ve followed Erskine’s musings for a number of years now, and the man is great with a turn of phrase.

Erskine writes about the trials, tribulations, and joys of family, friends, and growing older. His tales about his brood of four kids and his long-suffering wife alternate with stories about a group of incorrigible drinking buddies. In Daditude, though, he has culled a selection of former columns about his family: rites of passage, holidays, childhood memories.

The tone of these essays is always one of tender bemusement. As much as he mocks some of his kids’ excesses (In one story, he claims his younger daughter renamed herself VISA, with a dollar sign for the “S.”), its clear how much he adores his kids and worships his wife, whom he affectionately calls “Posh” in his writing.

In descriptions of Christmases past and summers in LA, of dropping his oldest daughter off at college, and of shopping for the perfect valentine, Erskine notes the details – the little nuances of nature and human nature that many of us miss. For instance, he describes dressing his newborn son: “I can’t seem to thread this kid’s tiny hand through a shirt hole the size of a nostril.” Or the first cool day of fall: “The cool feels good. Like brushing your teeth. Like a snowy kiss.”

Some of the stories are even more poignant in retrospect, as the twin losses of his son and wife in the past two years had not yet happened. The book was published as Erskine’s wife was going through cancer treatment. Even in those columns that described Posh’s illness, Erskine retains some of the gentle humor and wry sense of the world that no doubt has helped him through such tragedy.

I highly recommend Daditude for fathers and mothers and anyone with a heart, really. As Erskine himself says in the foreword of the book, “I hope you devour this book shamelessly, like no one’s watching, like a big gooey pizza at midnight.”

 

Mom-isms

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30741381_1587385254720889_7378585026608234496_nIn honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share some of the things my mom tried to teach me as I was growing up:

  1. Beds should be made daily and sheets changed weekly.
  2. Every kitchen counter needs a matching set of canisters.
  3. Men take showers, but ladies take baths.
  4. Leaving a dish or glass in the kitchen sink is a venial sin.
  5. No silliness at the dinner table.
  6. Moms have eyes in the back of their heads.
  7. Close the front door. You’re heating the outdoors.
  8. No reading at the dinner table.
  9. If you cross your eyes, they’ll stay that way.
  10. A dinner should consist of meat, vegetables, and a starch.
  11. Dessert is not optional.
  12. No singing at the dinner table.
  13. The teacher is always right.
  14. No roughhousing inside.
  15. Wash your elbows.
  16. Do it because I said so.
  17. Don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about.

Although I haven’t always kept all of Mom’s “commandments” in my life, my mother’s voice still echoes in my head when I’m running around the house tidying up and making sure the dishes are done. I find myself using her expressions, such as “Stop your dilly-dallying!”

And my mom also taught me:

  1. Honesty is the best policy.
  2. Put others before yourself.
  3. Have a treat at night before bedtime.
  4. Have music in your life.
  5. Work hard.
  6. Be frugal.
  7. Family comes first.
  8. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  9. Nurture your faith.
  10. The joys of having children outweigh the pain.

So Happy Mother’s Day to my beloved mother – and to all mothers, both literal and in spirit. May our mothers’ lessons give us the strength and courage to be good women and to nurture the next generation.

Teachers Are Losers

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Donald Trump, Jr. was absolutely right when he said teachers were losers.

  • Teachers lose money buying their own supplies for the classroom.
  • Teachers lose sleep grading papers and worrying about their “kids.”
  • Teachers lose large chunks of time outside of school coaching and supervising extracurriculars.
  • Teachers lose heart when they can’t get through to one of their students.
  • Teachers lose hope when know-nothings like Trump, Jr., denigrate them and their profession in public.

May is traditionally the month in which school and parent communities show their appreciation for the hard-working educators that spend hours every day with our children. Special breakfasts, goodie bags, flowers, and the like are prepared to make teachers feel special.

But the teaching profession is losing ground. A report by CBS News states, “Teachers are earning almost 2 percent less than they did in 1999 and 5 percent less than their 2009 pay, according to the Department of Education.” (Aimee Picchi, “School’s back in session, but many teachers aren’t returning,” August 23, 2018) Teacher pay is only one factor explaining the attrition in qualified teachers. The climate at many schools and the lack of leadership has caused many teachers to leave the field well shy of retirement age. And the numbers of college students planning to major in education has dropped.

I believe that what is contributing to the decline in the ranks of teachers in America is the public’s perception of teachers as lazy, entitled complainers who get their summers off.  In other industrialized countries, the teaching profession is well paid and well respected. Here in America we subscribe to the old saw, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

So while our little ones pick flowers from their gardens to bring to their teachers this month, it would behoove all of us to consider the hard work and dedication it takes to educate the next generation. It’s time to stand up for teachers and support them in the difficult job they have of making sure our children can read, compute, reason, and live responsibly in our society.

If we fail to respect the education profession, we are going to be the losers.

Try, Try Again

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IMG_4547In rugby, a score across the opponent’s goal line is called a “try.” When my husband and I first began watching our son play this curious sport, we were bemused by that term. (My husband still occasionally calls it a touchdown.) After all, it’s much more than a try; it’s an accomplishment.

Terminology notwithstanding, we have found much to enjoy in this “hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen.” For one, it’s a much faster paced sport than football. There’s no grim march down the field to advance yardage. In rugby, it’s more of an up and down run as players get tackled and then instantly pass the ball (backwards!) to a teammate, continuing the advance until they score, lose the ball, or garner a penalty.

Rugby seems like a big guy’s game. Indeed, his size and strength seem to be our son’s secret weapons in the scrum. Overall, though, speed and agility are immensely important for all the players on the field. So smaller players can be very effective at getting the ball down the field, weaving in and out between opponents, and other maneuvers. This athleticism is just a lot of fun to watch.

Last weekend, our son’s college team, the Claremont Lions, once again took the national title in the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) championship cup. Try and try again they did, as they racked up a score of 57-17 against the Christendom Crusaders.

My husband and I were, of course, thrilled with the club’s victory and series of accomplishments since our son started with the team three years ago. But we were even more impressed with the relationships these young men have developed off the field as a result of their participation in college rugby. In a ceremony the night before the title match, the boys each shared what it meant to them to be playing for the national championship – and, more importantly, what it meant to them to be part of this team. It was a beautiful display of friendship and belonging that transcends any victories or losses on the field.

I’m not sure how well I’ll ever understand the rough and tumble sport of rugby. It has taken me a lifetime to get the rules of American football and basketball. (And I still have questions!) What is clear to me is how much joy my son gets out of playing rugby with a great group of guys. Too soon, his college and rugby careers will be a thing of the past. But no one will ever take away the memories he has made and continues to make as a Claremont Colleges Lion. I’d like to see them try.

 

Just Say No to Teenage Drinking

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Teens-Drinking-at-a-PartyThis morning’s Chicago Tribune had an article about New Trier officials’ alarm at the increase in binge drinking by their students, as reported anonymously in a survey the students complete annually to gauge teenage health and safety. As national underage drinking rates go down, New Trier’s has gone up.

Recently my teenage daughter told me she wished my husband and I were more “cool” about underage drinking. Apparently many teens’ parents tolerate and even expect a certain amount of drinking on the part of their high school kids. Many parents reason that it’s safer to have kids drink under their supervision. They feel it will lead to more responsible drinking in college.

But as New Trier assistant superintendent says, “All of the research shows it doesn’t work that way.” (“New Trier officials: Binge drinking grew exponentially,” Chicago Tribune, March 11, 2019) According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, “Adolescents who attend parties where parents supply alcohol are at increased risk for heavy episodic drinking, alcohol-related problems, and drinking and driving.” (Celia Vimont, drugfree.org, Oct. 1, 2014)

It’s difficult as a parent to take a hard line on the issue of teen drinking. Our culture is very accepting of it, popular movies depict it, and it has come to be seen almost as a rite of passage for teenagers. And teens can find ways of sneaking alcohol unbeknownst to even the most vigilant parents. Yet the research is clear. As Stevenson High School’s substance abuse prevention coordinator Cristina Cortesi states, “We know all of the studies find the number one reason kids don’t use [alcohol] is their parents.” (Tribune, March 11, 2019)

As parents, we want our children to be happy and healthy. In the short term, our teens may hate us for holding the line on teenage drinking. But we need to take the long view and realize that it is their prosperous and happy future that should be our goal.

 

Feeding the Soul

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Although I don’t really like to cook, I love to feed people. There’s nothing more gratifying to me than to set out a meal and have my friends or family members enjoy it. And while I myself have a tendency to pick at my food, I love hosting a person with a hearty appetite, one who cleans his or her plate and asks for seconds.

There’s something fundamental about meeting a human being’s need for food. Mothers the world over begin the process with their infants almost from the first moment they are born. I loved the close bonding of nursing my biological children, but I also loved bottle feeding my adopted child. In fact, one of the most frustrating parts of having young children is how difficult they can be about mealtime at certain phases of their lives. They thwart their parents need to nurture them with food.

Communal meals have been a feature of every human society from time immemorial. Families and clans have always gathered around campfires and tables to share food and companionship, to bond and feel safe and nourished. Every celebration involves food, and food is the focal point of holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, and even the Fourth of July. At my parish Bible Study, we always have a table full of treats. If someone forgets to bring them, we get downright cranky.

The joy of feeding people can extend outward to those in need. Most communities have thriving food pantries, and many have soup kitchens, places where the homeless, the underemployed, and the struggling of our society can go to receive sustenance. Of all the charitable acts I can think of, nothing comes close to the fundamental gift of nourishment through feeding people.

During the recent government shutdown, business owners and ordinary Americans opened their hearts, their wallets and their doors to furloughed workers in order to provide them groceries and hot meals. Say what you will about the divided state of our nation. When push comes to shove, Americans will step up and help each other fill our most basic human needs.

If you come to my house, chances are good that I will try to foist some kind of food on you. It gives me such pleasure to watch people enjoy the food I’ve made – or even just bought and unwrapped. As Elizabeth Berg writes in her wonderful novel The Story of Arthur Truluv, “It’s something to feed somebody who is so in need of eating. It’s something to feed somebody, period.”