It’s Called Empathy

When my oldest daughter was around 3 year old, I went on a girls’ weekend with my mother and sister. I left my daughter home with her dad and she knew when I’d be home.  Her dad was on call and wouldn’t you know it he got called into work.  He called a neighbor to come stay with her. Not wanting to wake her, he left without introducing her to the babysitter. She woke up to a stranger,  terrified. The babysitter called my cell as he couldn’t get her to come out from under the covers or to stop crying. I tried to comfort her over the phone, but could tell from her whisper of a voice that she was still afraid and I was four hours away. Grandpa came to the rescue that day (as he was only 45 minutes away). Even so, the pain and distress my daugher felt that day shot through my heart. It took her several months, if not, longer to get over it. I felt like the worst mother ever. Would I have knowingly, on-purpose caused distress to my child? No way. Unless…her life was in danger, then absolutely.

This is how I can understand why immigrant families come to our border knowing they could be separated from their children – better in an internment camp than dead?  I can’t imagine how horrible the conditions must be in their home countries that they would rather their children live without them in a foreign country, than die with them in a country overrun with violence. Sure I could be separated from my children, if I committed a felony or was deployed in the military, but in both cases the decisions would be mine. One could argue crossing an imaginary line in the sand is a choice as well, but is it, if the alternative means death for my children? This is called empathy. Would I make that same decision in their place if it meant my children would live? Yes. What would you do?

Sitting on a hard wooden pew as a child, I remember hearing this parable many times:

“‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” (Matthew 25:42-45 (NIV))

In my heart of hearts I never wanted to be the one that passed by someone in need with a cold, hard heart. I strived to be like the Good Samaritan (another parable ingrained in my mind). In my mind I really wanted to be kind-hearted and help those less fortunate than me. I grew up believing in loving my neighbors as myself and in praying for my enemies. This is where I learned about empathy.  “What would Jesus do?”  Do you remember those bracelets from back in the 1990s? I had a green one.

A few months ago a woman approached me as my daughters and I were getting out of the car to go into the mall.  She asked if I had any spare change to give as she’d run out of gas and didn’t get paid until the following week. I gave her what change I had in my pocket and knew my daughter had $10 in her coin purse. I asked her to give the money to the woman. She reluctantly gave the woman the money, who was very grateful. I assured my daughter I would pay her back the $10 as soon as we found an ATM. Yet, she was still salty (yes I just used teen lingo there) over the whole episode.

I asked her what was wrong as this is my child that has bible verses posted on her bedroom walls. I expected her to want to help others. As it turns out she thought the woman was scamming us or could have robbed us. I told her that yes, she was absolutely right. Both of those things could have been true. On the other hand, the woman may have been sincere in her need. I said I would rather assume she truly needed help. It was broad daylight and many people were around so I didn’t feel unsafe doing so.  I told her I would rather ten people scam me, than not give to one person who could really use it. If I were in need (and I have been), I would and am truly grateful for those that have helped me.

I share this story not to shame my daughter or anyone else for that matter. Her fears come honestly.  We live in a day and age where our society assumes the worst in others instead of the best. Imagine what life might be like if instead, we assumed the best by default? I’m not a theologian or a philosopher or a politician, but I honestly think it would be pretty damn awesome. In my cheesy, alter-universe, we live in a world full of empathy, compassion, tolerance and love. We are all human. Each and every one of us. We all have the same basic human needs (anyone remember Maslow?) Why can’t we move away from fear and hate to love and acceptance?

Whether you are a conservative, right-winger or a liberal, leftist, it doesn’t matter. We are all human. The right thinks the left is brain-washed and vice-versa. People shout “fake news” when the read something that doesn’t agree with whatever politician they support. In the end, we are in a quagmire. Yes, there are shades of gray.  But there is also right and wrong. Taking young, innocent children away from their parents, who are only seeking a better life for themselves is w-r-o-n-g.  I don’t care who put the policy in place (Clinton, Obama, Trump – I’ve seen all three in my news feeds today), it is doesn’t change it from being wrong. Two wrongs never make a right. Ignoring what is happening around us doesn’t alleviate our guilt, it makes us complicit.

Our country was founded on immigration.  My grandfather came here from Mexico with his parents, seeking a better life. He worked as a hard laborer, a migrant worker and eventually along with his parents became naturalized citizens. I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t sought a better life and to live the “American Dream.”  (Even so, I had no control over where or when I was born and neither does anyone else, including the people we seek to keep out). We dehumanize the people who come to our borders, when we call them “illegals” or “criminals.” They want they same things that we want.

I read this Tweet from our president and I weep.

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Children are not bargaining chips. People’s lives are not pawns in a political agenda. This is using blackmail and extortion to get what you want. These are real, human beings. This is not fake news. These screenshots are from reputable news feeds:

2018-06-18_12-43-32  2018-06-18_12-41-15

People are quick to comment and point fingers at each other, but fail to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. I read many un-related arguments to justify supporting this horrible policy (why are the Democrats mad, they support abortion? Why don’t they worry about American children instead of illegal aliens?)  These arguments are beside the point and still doesn’t change the fact that what we are doing now is inhumane. For the record, I personally, do care about the American children living in poverty and orphanages and I think all human life is sacred (from the unborn to the criminals on death row) and I also think it is wrong to separate children from their parents. If we spent the millions (dare I say billions) of dollars earmarked for a wall or temporary camps for the displaced children and used it to help end poverty in our own country, to give those seeking a better life a path so they can become contributing citizens, we could make America even better.

Yes, we in doing so we may let in some “thugs” or “criminals” along they way. But, hey, at least we can all go out and buy an AR-15 style rifle to protect ourselves, just in case. (Yes, that was sarcasm there, but I digress.)

I know in the grand scheme of things, my little post means nothing and won’t change anything. But, if you shared this post to your feed, and someone else posted it to theirs, maybe the 1490 words of this blog post could make a difference.

empathy

Does Winning Have To Be Everything?

20170928_234413893_iOSMy fifth grader recently finished up her first season of basketball. She’s been learning the basics, since third grade and attended Coach Huger’s Basketball Camp last summer and fall. This, though, was her first year where she got to play actual games and not just a scrimmage at the half time of someone else’s game. She spent countless hours in the driveway shooting hoops and dribbling. She loves to play. Nevermind she’s this little, waif of a girl, she is tenacious and not afraid to shoot. She was ready to play.

Her coaches were awesome and gave all the girls on her team equal opportunity to play in games, even when they weren’t winning, which was most of the time. In fact, her team didn’t win one game all season. They lost a lot and by a lot. However, she didn’t let that get her down. She kept practicing and pushing forward.  She and her team made strides and improved immensely as the season progressed. By her last game they only lost by single digits. It didn’t matter to her that she lost (OK maybe it did a little as who doesn’t like to win once in a while?), only that she played her best. She learned and she grew as a player. I am proud of her. Not because she scored baskets or got to be the point guard once in a while, but because she is a team player and worked hard.  At basketball camp she was on the team that won the end-of-camp tournament both times. However, the best sport trophy was the one that made me proudest.

Juxtapose her experience with that of my oldest daughter. She played her last game as a ninth grader after spending countless hours on the bench. From seventh grade through ninety grade her playing time in games wasn’t more than an entire game total. I am just as proud of her as my younger daughter though. I cheered even louder and encouraged her even more for those last few minutes or seconds when she got in to the game. I don’t think I could have been more excited when she was finally in a position to shoot, was passed the ball and scored a basket in the very last game she played.  My heart broke for her on those games when she didn’t get to play at all. I think my heart ached for her more than her own disappointment in not getting to play at all. And why didn’t she get to play, I thought to myself after every game when she didn’t even when her team was beating their opponent by more than 20 points. She worked hard and she practiced hard.

Our school district has a strict policy about asking the coaches about “playing time,” so I kept my mouth shut as my disagreement in coaching philosophy grew.  I watched as her love for playing the sport and being on a team dwindled to nothing. She has no desire to play any more. She, too was a small side. However, she was more timid than her sister. As  parent I understand that not everyone can be a starter or the MVP of the team. What I fail to understand though why all players aren’t developed as opposed to only those that showed some natural ability.  In the beginning she went to basketball camp and practiced in the driveway; however, her enthusiasm diminished as even though her skills improved, her playing time never did.

As I was prohibited from asking the coaches about playing time, I encouraged her to talk to them to find out what she could do to improve and see more time in the game.  After finally finding the courage to ask, she came home more discouraged than ever when she was given a vague answer of “improved basketball skills and knowledge of the game overall.”  What??? The lowest day came when the coaches dismissed her and a couple other players from practice early to work with the starters as they weren’t “needed.”  I only heard her side so I don’t know if that was meant, but it’s what she heard.

10984214_10153569454479046_6742827290618213911_nI was frustrated to learn later that she and several other players not deemed “good enough,” sat against the wall during many practices and watched the starters scrimmage and learn the plays. She wasn’t even given the opportunity to learn the plays during practice. Is it any wonder that when put in the game she had no confidence. If she made any small error I could see her eyes travel immediately towards the coach’s, waiting to be pulled out. Sure enough as if it were a self-fulfilling prophecy, she’d be back on the bench in one or two plays. Even the very best players make mistakes in games, they: foul, travel, miss shots and rebounds, throw bad passes, and step out-of-bounds. The difference is they have the confidence to know they won’t be pulled from the game if they aren’t perfect. Mistakes are part of the game. A field goal percentage of 50% and above is considered good. That means most players miss at least one basket for everyone they make! You have to shoot to score. If a player is not given the opportunity to play during practice or allowed to gain experience in actual games (in middle school!), how will they ever grow into the players they could be? Is it politics? Coach ego? The drive to win? I’m not sure, but it sure sucks. I can understand the “must win” mentality at the college level and obviously at the pro-level as those coaches are being paid mega-bucks to win.

As far as I can tell even the starters of our winningest team didn’t go out to play Big 10 basketball or even little 10 basketball. Our stands are not crawling with scouts. Would allowing all team members the space and time to make mistakes and become better players in lieu of a perfect record be that horrible? I worry that this same fate is in store for my younger daughter as she moves into junior high in the coming years. I want her to learn that hard work does pay off in the end. I want her to know that winning isn’t the end all and be all. I want her to have a positive experience and good memories. I have fond memories of my time as a basketball player. Granted I played in our local CYO league, but I got to play the game I loved without worrying about being judged or punished for not being perfect. I may not have scored every game and our team definitely didn’t win every game, but when I look back on that time I remember the laughter, the camaraderie and the excitement of playing on a team and being part of something bigger than myself. That is what I want for my daughters.

I truly don’t get the need to win at all costs. Why is winning more important than encouraging and developing all our young athletes into becoming better players? I don’t think we need to give our kids participation awards to make them feel good, but I do think we need to give them all the opportunity to be better. Just think how good Michael Jordan’s high school team might have been had his coach spent time developing him instead of cutting him from the team. Luckily for basketball fans (especially those in Chicago), Jordan didn’t get discouraged. He continued practicing and practicing to improve his skills instead of giving up and believing he’d never be good enough.

Life is unfair. I get that. It’s a lesson we all learn sooner or later.  However, I’d rather it be later than sooner. What do you think? Do we place too much emphasis on winning in middle school/high school sports?

 

 

 

The Story Teller

20170919_230223573_iOSSometimes as I read back over my words, I am amazed that they came from the depths of my mind.  Did I really write that?  I muse.  I try to think back to my former self that had those particular thoughts on that particular day and remember. What was I feeling? What else happened? What circumstances led me to write those exact words? If I’d written them at another time on a another day would they have been different?  As I look at an old blog post, or journal entry or some odd story I wrote, I am reminded of how human I am and how far I’ve come.  My journey has taken many twists and turns, yet my words still remain true to me.  The same themes thread their way through my life connecting them together and giving me the voice that the shy, little girl within me would have a hard time speaking aloud. I have changed and grown, but I am still the same. I am me, uncompromised.

I watch my daughters as they are becoming young women. I am filled with pride and hope and love. They are finding their own voices each in their unique ways. A smile comes to my lips when I find the little stories and essays they have written. The letters and notes I find. They too have a love of expressing themselves in words and creating a story from their imaginations. Of all the quirks and neuroses I have passes on to these two, this is the one that I am grateful to have inspired in them.

20170919_225524589_iOSA few months ago my fifth-grade daughter and I were down in the dredges of our basement, trying to organize our “craft” room. She came upon a tote in the back corner labeled “writing and stuff” and pried off the lid. (Yes, we were supposed to be putting stuff away.)  Here eyes got wide and she became so excited as she found a pile of old and I mean OLD stories that I had penned back in the day. She took them upstairs and made me read them all to her.  I laughed as she did she as we landed upon her favorite, “Pedro the Great.”  Ahhh good old Pedro the Great was inspired by my childhood dog – a chihuahua named, of course, Pedro. In my little tale, Pedro is a disco-dancing super hero. I illustrated it myself (as you can see in the picture above.)  I explained to her that I was the exact same age that she is now when I wrote that story – fifth grade. I told her we didn’t have computers (way back then in the old days) and had to use a typewriter (what’s that?”) and I used markers to draw the pics. She was even more impressed when I told her that my teacher read it to our class. I have no recollection of how that came to happen – I think I must have asked her to read it and she humored me. I was proud of my story though and she encouraged me to write.

20170919_222745525_iOSI hadn’t given much thought to Pedro since that evening, until I came home from work a couple of days ago — tired and ready to veg. Usually when I come home the girls are watching TV or doing homework or playing outside, but on this particular day, she ran into the garage to meet me. In her hands was her very own story, “Maggie the Magnificent.”  MTM is also a super-hero dog named after our Jack Russell mix, who I’m not sure I would describe as magnficent (based on the growing pile of chewed up bras, undies, pens, shoes and Barbies in her wake or the number of times a week she wakes me up a 3 AM to pee), none-the-less, my daugher’s version of MTM is larger than life. My daugher was so proud of her story and I could see my ten-year old self in her. I loved her story.  She wants to get it published now and I encourage her to follow her dream. Her fifth grade ambitions are much higher than mine.  She’s working on the sequel now as she doesn’t want our other dog, Ollie, to feel left out. I agreed, he should get his story too. And, I can’t wait to read it.

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah Right, Keep Dreaming Baby…

The girls officially started summer vacation almost two weeks ago already. They love the warmer weather, playing outside, no homework and later bed times. I love burying my nose in their sun-kissed hair and watching their arms and legs brown up, despite the sunscreen I insist they lather on. The other night as we were walking along, I talked about what we were going to do the upcoming weekend. My oldest looked at me and smiled. She said, “you know what I love about summer, Mom? I forget what day it is! I bet you don’t though, because you still have to go to work!”Sigh. Alas, she is quite right, though. For the most part, I know what day we’re on and how many days left until the weekend! I’m quite envious of my daughters. It’s days like that, I wish I’d gone into teaching (unfortunately, my authoritative aura is lacking and I’d be like the substitute that goes home crying because the class ran over her – not good for me or the kids.)

As the days continue to grow longer, though at least I get to enjoy spending more time outdoors with the girls after work and on weekends. As I’ve recently started a fitness obsession, we’re walking, riding bikes and shooting hoops in the driveway. What we haven’t been doing (at least not yet), is swimming. While the girls love splashing about, the pool is not one of my favorite summer activities. If I could float undisturbed on a raft (without getting wet) in my own private pool with a tall, tall fence I might enjoy it more. However, the idea of putting on a scrap of material (or in my case a really big scrap) and parading around in a public place with much of my body exposed mortifies me (hence, the above-mentioned fitness obsession!). On the bright side, at least I don’t live in a country where bathing suits are optional!

Me, Age 26
ref=”https://justwords41.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/shar-young.jpg”> Me, Age 26[/ca
The other day I came across an old photo of myself (see right) in (gasp) a bathing suit (with a t-shirt over it). I remember cringing at this photo back in the day when it was first taken. I didn’t think I looked good – at all. I didn’t think I was pretty enough or curvy enough. Looking at the girl in the photo almost 20 years later, I would give anything to look that good in a bathing suit again! So I’m thinking, either I didn’t look as bad as I thought back then or my standards are lower these days! Unfortunately, I don’t think even if I ran 10 miles a day or limited myself to 900 calories a day, I could ever look like that again.  It’s a shame I didn’t appreciate what I had when I had it.

So I’m thinking as I stand in front of a mirror once again mentally criticising my body and they way I look, I wonder if when I look back at my 43-year-old self 20 years from now, I’ll wish I looked as good now as I did then. What would my 63-year-old-self tell me now? Would I tell myself I don’t look half as bad as I thought! Hmmm. Probably. So, why not think it now?  Why not be happy with myself they way I am right now? Well, because I know I could look better and feel better. Out of all the uncertainties in this world, I can control my body. I control what I eat, how much I sleep and whether I jog two miles or sit on the couch and watch TV.  And so, I’m running/walking in my second 5k on Saturday. Yes, the obsession continues….For now…

What about you? How do you see yourself in old photos? Do you think you look better or worse than you thought you did back when it was taken?

My Little Card Sharks

photo credit: Velvet Android via photopin cc
photo credit: Velvet Android via photopin cc

The smile that flashes across my six-year-old’s face when she beats me at a game of cards warms my heart. She beams from ear-to-ear. She tries to be a gracious winner, but is unsuccessful (I suspect she gets that from her grandpa – who used to make us kiss his feet when we lost at euchre. I’m still haunted by his “kissy, kissy” taunts as he waved his stinky foot around).

Both my girls love to play cards – Go Fish!, Uno, War, Slap Jack and Trash top the list today. The youngest though by far loves to play the most (unless she’s losing). Her favorite is a game called “Trash.” This is a new one for me that she learned in preschool. We all spent this afternoon playing her beloved game with my parents. Low and behold the little shark won (again) and I came in last (again). She’s either really good or really lucky. Even when I try to win (which is all the time now!), she manages to beat me the majority of the time. I do have to keep an eye on her though, as she likes to skip my turn if I’m not paying attention and my oldest claims she cheats as her sixes become nines and vice versa or she peeks at the next card in the deck.

We have a wonderful time playing though no matter who wins and I hope we are building happy memories. Some of my fondest memories are playing cards with my parents, grandparents and sister. We’d play cards (Rummy 500,Gin Rummy, War, SkipBo, I Doubt It, Euchre, Uno and Hearts) for hours on end, laughing and talking and making memories. I’m happy to pass the card tradition on to my girls.

What about you? Do you/did you play cards? What’s your favorite game?

Dancing Girls

2013-04-18 17.19.36Sorry to disappoint anyone, but my dancing-girls are ages ten and six. We just finished up a long recital weekend. I’m drained and I’m not even a dancer. The girls performed Friday night, Saturday night and again this afternoon. The show lasted three hours and forty-five minutes minimum. Yes, you read that correctly – three hours and forty-five minutes times three shows equals almost twelve hours of my weekend I’ll never get back.

When other mom’s told me the recital would be long, I had no idea how long. Both my girls started dancing when they were three years old. However, this was the first year they took dance at a full-blown, competitive dance studio. Prior to that my girls were at the lazy-mom’s dance studio. We loved Ms. Karen’s. The girls got to perform in two recitals a year instead of just one. In addition to that, there were no costumes or hair/makeup requirements. It didn’t matter if you had a side pony or a high pony. She didn’t care if you wore pink tights or tan tights. You could wear black shoes or whites shoes or tan shoes. Ms. Karen’s  focused on dancing, having fun, building self-esteem and getting the kids on the stage. Besides the monthly lesson fee and tap/jazz shoes, I only had to buy a $10 t-shirt and some black leggings for recital day. The recital was only one day and only lasted an hour. Ms. Karen broke up her classes into three separate one-hour recitals instead of one mega-long recital. In the six years my girls danced with Ms. Karen there was only one time when the girls were in two different recitals.

Sadly, Ms. Karen closed her dance studio two summers ago to focus on her daycare center. My girls were devastated. I was devastated and so was my pocketbook. Last year, in an attempt to circumvent the inevitability of enrolling them in the high-end dance studio, we tried the only other dance studio nearby. This place focused mainly on gymnastics, but offered several dance classes. Neither of the girls made it past the December recital. My oldest took jazz and there was only one other girl in her class. She didn’t show up for the recital and my daughter ended up doing a solo dance. She was a trooper though and did a great job. The youngest didn’t like doing “ballet” and thought her $60-costume was too itchy. Lucky for me, we weren’t committed to a year-long program and didn’t return for the spring session.

Which brings us back to the high-end dance studio. Don’t get me wrong the production was spectacular, the costumes were adorable and the girls had a great time. It’s just the mommy-stress of it all, the expensive costumes, getting their hair just so, making sure their headband went the right direction and that the tights had no holes that got to me. That and the waiting around for hours. The girls were each in one number, but we couldn’t leave as everyone danced in the grand finale at the end of the show. By 9:30 PM we were all tired and grouchy.

I’m not sure what we’ll do next year. I wish I could find a happy, medium dance studio… I’m guessing I’ll be sitting in the dressing room doing hair and makeup, and waiting for the grand finale. My youngest is more excited than ever about dance now and wants to do baton too. My oldest was ready to quit, but a friend doing hip-hop convinced her to dance another year. On the bright-side, I have three months away from running the kids to and from various activities as after this afternoon all their activities are done until September. Yeah me!

Why? Why? Why?

2013-01-29 09.06.45Wonder what I’ll write about tonight? Me too. We’re winding up the A to Z blogging challenge and this first day of the weekend landed on “W.”  Lot’s of great “W” words come to mind: women, worry, weariness, winsome, wobegone, wanton, whacky and wasted. All great W topics, but alas none inspired me tonight. In fact I’m feeling rather uninspired and really don’t know what my fingers will write tonight.

Pondering on the letter “W” again I’m reminded that “W” in and of itself is kind of a weird letter. Think about it a second. As my “why” daughters pointed out to me the day, the letter “W” sounds like double “U”, but looks like double “V.”  Why is that? they ask. Why indeed? Good question, but I have no idea why. My girls ask my oddball “why” questions like that all the time. Yesterday we were in the Subway drive thru waiting for our food. My oldest starts wondering about the building.

Her: “Do you think the floor of the building is up higher than our van?”

Me: “What?”

Her: “Do you think they built the floor up higher than the road?”

Me: “Huh? I don’t know. Why would I know the answer to that?”

Her: ” I don’t know.”

I am glad my girls are curious and encourage them to ask questions. I  want them to know more about the “wonderful world” around them, but some days they really exasperate me with their never-ending interrogations. Lucky for them, when I don’t know, they don’t have to thumb through an encyclopedia to find the answers. They don’t even have to go to the library, flip through a card catalog and then use the dewey decimal system to find a book that might have the answer. They have the miracles called “Google” and “Bing.”  Two seconds, a couple of clicks and presto they have hundreds of answers to choose from. That’s pretty incredible if you think about it. The Internet makes my life as a writer a lot easier too. I can research without even leaving my bed. That’s powerful. That’s knowledge waiting to be grasped. Wow!