Day 67: Remembering

memorial dayWhen I was child growing up in central Iowa, on Memorial Day—or “Decoration Day,” as my family called it—we put flowers on the graves of all our relatives to honor their memories.  This usually required most of a day as the relatives were buried in various little cemeteries in a 30 mile radius around my hometown.  My mom and her sister, my Aunt Linda, always organized the cemetery visiting, and other relatives would occasionally join in.  This may sound like a somber occasion; actually it was anything but.  We had so much fun!

We loaded the car with a picnic basket holding our lunch and a couple boxes holding the flowers for decorating the graves:  sometimes lilacs in Mason jars, or lily of the valley bunched together with twists of aluminum foil, or sprays of silk flowers.   Then we began our adventure, driving from cemetery to cemetery, one in town and the others scattered on gravel country roads surrounded by just-planted corn fields.  We laughed, told stories, and enjoyed the sunshine.

Trudging through the cemeteries searching for relatives, Mom and Aunt Linda often came across grave markers of people they hadn’t thought about in years, and they told the deceased’s stories.  Whether the tales were sad, silly, irritating, funny, or heart-wrenching, I loved hearing them, and I learned so much about the lives of these tough farm women and men.  Sometimes I found unadorned graves, and I pestered my mom to give me some of our flowers to lay on them because I was heartbroken that these folks were not remembered on Memorial Day.

Eventually we would find the grave stones we were looking for, pull the weeds and grass that had grown up around them, and set down our flowers.  Then we’d be off to the next cemetery, Mom and Aunt Linda exchanging remembrances as we bobbed along the miles of country road.

Now I live outside of Chicago, and the 350 miles between me and my hometown prevent me from continuing our Memorial Day tradition.  It bothers me that my dad is buried in one of those little cemeteries, and my family has all moved away so no one is able to put flowers on his grave this Memorial Day.  I remember as a kid feeling bad for those people with unadorned graves, thinking that no one remembered them on Memorial Day.  Now I realize that, at least in some cases, those loved ones were remembered, but by family members who couldn’t be there to put flowers on their graves.

With that in mind, Abby and I went to a local cemetery today armed with silk flowers from the dollar store.  We walked around looking at the grave stones and wondering aloud about the people’s lives, who was connected to whom, and how they died.  We looked for grave markers that compelled us to put our flowers on them.  We put our flowers on graves with no other decoration, one for a  woman named Mary with the maiden name McCoy—the same as Abby’s grandma—who ironically died in the same year as our Grandma Mary.  We found the grave of a boy who died when he was attending the same middle school that Abby attended.  We put flowers on the grave of a girl who died when she was 14 years old, a year younger than Abby.  We found the gravestone of a woman born in 1863 and who died in 1947 and decided that she deserved flowers because she had lived to be 84 at a time when most people didn’t live that long, and because it had probably been a long time since her grave was decorated.

My favorite, though, was the grave marker of a man who died when he was only 41 years old.   When Abby was in kindergarten her friend “Sarah” lost her dad to a heart attack.  This was Sarah’s dad.  Several years ago Sarah’s family moved back to Indiana to be close to her grandparents.  The grave had some perennials lovingly planted around it, but nothing was blooming yet and there were no signs that anyone had visited the grave recently.  So Abby and I placed our favorite spray of flowers on Sarah’s dad’s grave in honor of Abby’s grade school friend and her family.

Although I can’t put flowers on my dad’s grave today, I am happy that I could honor other people’s lives by putting flowers on their graves.  I’m especially pleased that we could decorate Sarah’s dad’s grave.  I hope someone is doing the same for my dad at that little cemetery in Iowa.

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Day 66: What’s Important

imagesCAE3IXNYSometimes it’s not worth arguing even when you are right.  Recently things worked out for an old friend from out of town to visit.  I was excited since it had been over a year since I last saw him.  He arrived (late) bearing thoughtful gifts for Abby and Grace, which they loved.  I made us a little something to eat, and we were having a lovely time catching up.

Midway into our visit, my friend mentioned that he’d gotten lost on the way to our house.  He insisted that the driving directions I’d given him were incorrect.  This brought me up short.  I was absolutely positive that the directions were right because Gary and I had tested them out only a few days prior.  Before I could stop myself, I told him I was pretty sure the directions were accurate.  He seemed a little indignant and told me the specific part of the directions I had “messed up.”

Okay.

This is when my “bad angel” fluttered over one shoulder whispering to me to tell him the mistake was his and that he needed to be careful about pinning his own direction-following inadequacies on me.  My “good angel” fluttered over the other shoulder whispering that what really mattered was that I was given the opportunity to visit with a dear friend and if it made him feel better to think I’d messed up the directions, so be it.

So, I apologized that the directions were confusing to him and reaffirmed how happy I was that he had made it, even under difficult circumstances.  Then we were on to the next topic and an extremely enjoyable afternoon.

After he left, amid many hugs and promises from Abby and Grace to send him emails and pictures, I looked back at the email I’d sent him containing the driving directions.  They were spot-on.  I knew they would be.  I don’t regret for one second that I apologized for something I didn’t do.  If I had insisted on proving I was right, the rest of our visit may have been dramatically different, and probably would have ended much sooner than it did.  Who knows when I’ll see my friend again; I’m so glad I didn’t spoil our time together by needing him to acknowledge that I was right.

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Day 65: Let’s Just Get Along

imagesCAAL5QFLLet’s face it, we all know people with whom we find it hard to get along.  My general approach has always been to stay away from these kinds of people.  When I’m around them, I can’t seem to stop my facial expressions and body language from screaming my distaste.  I don’t put forward the positive persona I want to project, so I try to avoid the situation altogether.

Lately I’ve found myself in several circumstances in which I could not politely remove myself from the company of those who make me crazy.  It’s been like a little test from the kindness gods.  While I still have a lot of room for growth, I definitely showed improvement on these tests over my past performance in similar circumstances.

Here are some tips/truths I’ve learned from focusing on kindness while interacting with folks I find unpleasant:

  1.  Be a good listener.  Part of the reason I don’t like being around some people is that I do not trust them.  They are competitive people who constantly compare themselves and their children to me and my children.  They build themselves up by knocking others down.  By listening, I give them no fuel for their competitive fire.  Plus, people generally like to feel heard, so it softens them up and makes them friendlier.
  2. Try to feel real empathy for them.  I cannot imagine what it must feel like to live in the skin of someone so unhappy or insecure that he/she purposely puts down other people, but I try to understand the motivation of people like that.  When I can see that what is driving someone to be unkind is something far beyond me or the current situation, it’s easier to see past their distasteful words and behaviors.
  3. People change; give them a chance.  Recently I had a very pleasant conversation with a woman I had previously considered to be on my “evade list.”  We hadn’t spoken in several years—not because of any rift, but because I was pretty good at circumventing her—and I was surprised at how much more friendly and kind she seemed now.
  4. Keep it short.  Just like when my girls used to have play dates—it’s better to end the play date (conversation) with the children wanting more time together rather than after they’re sick of each other.  End conversations while they’re still on a positive note.
  5. Show appreciation.  Often the best way to handle a boastful person or an incessantly bragging parent is to acknowledge their need for approval.  What puts me off is not hearing about their accomplishment, but their need to “show off” about it.  The sooner you recognize and appreciate their accomplishment, the quicker you can move on to a new topic!

I hope that practicing kindness will eventually lead me to the point where being around upsetting people doesn’t bother me anymore, but realistically I recognize that is a long way off.  In the meantime, practicing these tips/truths helps me to maintain a more positive attitude when I’m around difficult people.

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Day 64: Mom aka: Fix-It Felix

fix it felixToday I had a substitute teaching job lined up, one that the teacher specifically requested me for, but I had to cancel it at the last minute because Grace woke up not feeling well.  Specifically, Grace’s teeth are hurting because yesterday when we went to an emergency orthodontist appointment to have a bracket put back on, they decided to go ahead and give her a heavier wire, tighten things up, and have her wear rubber bands so that we wouldn’t have to come in for our regular appointment on Saturday.  Well, that seems like a very nice thing to do, right?  However, it turns out that all the changes made Grace’s teeth and jaws hurt so badly that she woke up crying and in a lot of pain this morning.

After Grace took some Tylenol the pain seemed to subside a bit, and I was still hopeful that I could keep the sub job.  As our morning preparations continued though, it became clear that Grace was in no shape to go to school.  Even though she wasn’t complaining, every so often I noticed her wiping a tear from her cheek.  She couldn’t go to school in that kind of pain.  With no grandma close by nor a local auntie to watch over her, I was nominated by elimination to stay home with Grace.

I don’t mind staying home with Grace—she’s fun to be around even when she’s not feeling well—but I do mind missing the sub job.  As I’m trying to build up my reputation as a good and reliable substitute teacher, calling in at the last minute doesn’t help my credibility.  It makes me cringe to know that I caused the school secretary a problem this morning.  Next time I get one of those urgent phone calls asking if I can sub at the last minute, I will do my best to take it—to kind of even things out.

My kindness?  It’s not so much that I gave up my plans in order to stay home with Grace; it’s more that I did not make Grace feel bad or guilty for forcing me to do so.

This morning Grace and I enjoyed a little mother-daughter movie-time watching Wreck-It Ralph.  I want one of those little golden hammers like Fix-It Felix has–one that magically repairs all it touches.  I wonder if it would work on teeth?

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Day 63: Gotta Dance

Grace and her friends backstage at their 3rd grade variety show

Grace and her friends backstage at their 3rd grade variety show

Grace and her friends “Lucy,” “Susan,” and “Ramona” started performing together in their elementary school’s Variety Show when they were in second grade.  Each year I have organized the group, except for last year when I was student teaching and had no life.

Organizing Grace and her friends for their Variety Show dance is not hard, just a bit time consuming.  It involves pulling together an act that the girls (and their parents) can feel good about, teaching it to the girls, communicating with their parents and the school, keeping costs low, and trying to make decisions that will be supported by all.  And, the most important thing, keeping it fun for the girls.

Today I got the costumes handled.  This is a big deal when you’re talking about fifth grade girls!  My secret weapon is Abby.  She approves of the costumes, and her opinion has a lot of influence on the younger girls.  Also, Abby created the choreography for the dance and will teach the second minute of the two-minute dance to the girls on Saturday afternoon.

It’s fun to help the girls with their Variety Show act.  It’s time-consuming, yes, but it has been such a positive, bonding experience for the friends over the years that every minute I’ve spent is worth it.  It’s also a way that I get to know Grace’s friends better.  I have to say they are super-duper nice girls!  Working with them over the years I am so pleased by what wonderful young ladies they are becoming.  I am blessed that at their age they still trust me and let me in to their lives.  What a privilege!

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Day 62: Life is a song–sing it!

Grace prior to her 5th grade concert

Grace prior to her 5th grade concert

This evening was Grace’s fifth grade music concert.  Between Abby and Grace, this was our 10th (and last) music concert at the elementary school, and it was the best of them all!  The kids were well-rehearsed, the songs fun and upbeat, and this year the students performed special musical acts on the stage—banging buckets and pots and pans like drums, playing a ball “game” along with the music, performing a sword dance, etc.– in addition to singing in traditional concert-style on the risers.  It really was exceptional!

After the concert I sent a quick email to Grace’s music teacher to let him know how much I enjoyed the concert and thanking him for his hard work, dedication, and creativity.  I really appreciate how much of his heart and soul he put into helping those kids end their elementary school music careers with a bang—literally!

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Day 61: Have Courage!

courageToday there were so many acts of courage performed by the people around me that I must take a moment to acknowledge my admiration for them.

One of those involves Grace’s friend, “Lucy.”  Lucy is a basketball player and is naturally gifted at team sports.  She is not a dancer.  So when Grace and two of her other friends attended a dance clinic sponsored by the high school Orchesis team a couple months ago, Lucy didn’t go.  I think she had a basketball game, or more likely two basketball games.  Later when the friends wanted to do the dance they learned at the clinic for the elementary school variety show, I doubted that Lucy would want to perform it with them since she didn’t know the dance and doesn’t have a lot of confidence in her dancing.  We invited her to do it anyway because it’s so much better to be asked and turn down the invitation than to not be asked at all.  I cautioned Grace not to take it personally if Lucy said no.  But she said YES!  Lucy learned the dance in about an hour last weekend, and today she performed it at the variety show act preview in front of many of her classmates.  Yay for her!  That took courage!

Another act of courage I witnessed today occurred when I was subbing for an early childhood teaching assistant.  The three- to five-year-olds in the classroom had some big challenges.  All were non-verbal, and one, “Tim,” was in a wheel chair.  One of Tim’s activities was to spend time in a “stander” to help him develop the muscles in his legs so that he might be able to walk.  Once he was strapped in securely, Tim spent 20 minutes in the stander.  Five year olds do not naturally stay still for 20 minutes, and the stander, the teacher said, is sometimes uncomfortable.  But Tim handled his time in the stander like a champ.  He played with toys and read books and laughed with the other teaching assistant and me.  With a courageous spirit like that, I have every reason to believe that Tim will overcome many of the challenges with which he is faced.

Finally, I got an email from my niece, “Nicole,” today.  She is doing something that is so hard for her, but she persists with a good attitude and a sense of humor.  Nicole is the kind of girl who likes to spend time with her family.  Through high school, she would just as likely be home as out with friends.  She is very smart, but sometimes fights fears of things that don’t bother other people so much, such as storms.  Nicole and her family live in the Dallas area, so when she decided to go to college in Boston, that came as something of a shock.  Boston and Dallas have such different cultures, and Boston is so far away from her family!  I can’t tell you that the story ends with Nicole losing her fears and reveling in her new independent life in Boston.  But I can tell you that she gets up every day with a good attitude, tries her best, succeeds a lot, deals with her fears and her homesickness, and is making the most out of an awesome opportunity to stretch and learn about Boston and herself.  I admire her courage.

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