Friday, May 31, 2013

Lesson 19- Be a Dad

A kid needs five minutes of your time

 “Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope”. ~Bill Cosby

And this is no joke. Poor fathers. This is their fate.  With few shopping days left till Father’s Day, I am compelled to share better gift ideas with you. And give you some things to think about.

My friends in the gift industry tell me this- there is Mother’s Day and then every other holiday. Except Father’s Day. Father’s Day is so low on the sales chart; even retailers don’t care about it.

My husband and I recently laughed at Father’s Day gifts we remembered. There were tons. From batteries, peanuts and hot sauce. To flashlights and socks.  Our favorite was a walking salt and pepper shaker our kids gave my father.

It’s hard to say if too little or too much thought is put into the buying of Dad gifts. But I think we can all agree- it’s mostly their fault.

They get what they get. And they don’t throw a fit. 

It's another reason we love them. These gifts and their straight faces are a testament to how easily they love us. I once made an ashtray for my dad out of a piece of furniture from my Barbie Dream House. He loved it. 
Seriously. Think of the worst gift you ever gave your dad. Then ask yourself how it affected your relationship. Did he think less of you after that?  Hint- he didn’t.

Here's something to think about...

Roughly four million men become fathers in the USA every year. That’s the number of babies born.  Of these men, hundreds of thousands are never involved in that child’s life. Every day fewer men are choosing the role of father. How sad. 

It takes so little to be one.

My husband (whom I call Biker Mike, even though he asks me not to) says that if dads knew how easy the job was, more of them would be dads. Showing up. That’s what being a father is about. Showing up with a smile on your face is all it takes to convince a child you care. 


Compared to a mother’s job, Biker Mike says being a dad is the easiest job ever.  And he should know. Because he never planned to have children, then he married me. And I had two, already.  Feeling comfortable with parenting took a few years. But finding joy in those kids, Biker Mike says, was instant.

Meantime, there are thousands of men wanting to be fathers. 

Please don’t give up. While you dream about becoming a father, be there for some child who could really use an extra role model. Every day, groups like Big Brothers and Sisters, CASA and scouts are looking for volunteers. Give up your time and open your heart. Be a friend. Be an uncle. Just be there. Some child will be better for it.


Last year I was with my granddaughter (Valerie Fields) when she shopped for her dad.

With her own money she chose a ballpoint pen, a refrigerator magnet and a garish plastic key chain. Everything she could see with the inscription “Number one Dad”. If he didn’t know his place before, surely he would after this.

The next afternoon Valerie Fields helped her dad work on her mother’s car. You should have seen the huge smile on her grease-marked face, my daughter told me.  I had. Every time her father called her ‘Munchkin’. Or lifted her high off the ground and twirled her in the air.  How hard he works for her adoration.

Today marks six years since the last time I saw my dad’s face. And I still remember how he loved me.

I remember the first time he stopped reading to me at bedtime and leaned back to listen as I read to him. I remember the day he let go of my bike and I didn’t fall. The smile on his face when I showed him my first college course schedule. His belief in me is what I remember most. 

So when a dad says that he loves soap-on-a-rope, what he means is he loves that you bought it for him.  (And he will never hold that against you.)

Thanks, Dad






Friday, May 24, 2013

Lesson 18- Let the Commencement begin

How Truck Driving School for GIrls is good for us all

All around me people are graduating. Every day an invitation comes in the mail from someone I thought was in preschool. Every weekend stadium lights come on and long lines of young people await their walking papers. Parents beam, thinking of what the future holds for their child.

I feel better already.

I’m not kidding. I really do. I believe in the human spirit. With a single positive thought, many can benefit.
When something is learned, everyone advances just a little. It’s progress. And it’s palpable this month. Commencement is advancement for us all. When one student steps forward on that stage, we all move forward a little. Every generation benefits from generations before and after them. Think of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk.
Graduation is forward motion.

 From learning to walk to learning to read. From riding a bike to correctly pronouncing words. With one person’s improvement, we are all better for it.
 When my granddaughter (whose pen name is Valerie Fields) started Pre-K, she seemed to learn exponentially. One minute she was depending on us to feed her and hold her hand to stand up. The next she was counting by 5s to 200. A curriculum was all she needed to propel her- and us- into the reality that she was no longer helpless. To prepare for kindergarten, Valerie Fields began speaking and inventing words in Spanish. She   didn’t just learn to tie her shoes; she tied bows on everything. 

But learning is not without strife.
Learning can bring defiance, bull-headedness, whining and more than a little back talk. All of this was necessary, we assured Valerie Fields’ mother, to teach her confidence. To accept and own what she was learning.  

Like Valerie Fields I, too, struggle with learning. Sometimes I make the same mistake 56 times before I understand why it’s wrong. We all need refresher courses.

Which explains Truck Driving School for Girls

Just before Valerie Fields’ graduation, she told me she wanted to take some summer classes. She worried she might stop being smart if she took a few weeks off.  She was thinking about cheerleading and dance classes. And maybe a truck-driving school, just for girls.

Though Valerie Fields’ third course of study surprised me, it made me the proudest. Truck Driving School for Girls was her four year old version of breaking a glass ceiling. She was fascinated by cars and trucks. And because she had no life models for that, she knew a course of study was the next step. What confidence she had already learned. 

The trickledown effect

Imagine my pride when Valerie Fields walked calmly to the front of the room (her cap and gown more than slightly askew) and sat with her classmates.

The wishes, prayers and optimism of families, teachers and loved ones brought these kids to this point. And they would every class after them.  When Valerie Fields’ name was called, she raced to the podium for her diploma. As she received it, she announced her plans to become a basketball player.  Though stunned, we were moved forward a decade in that single moment. I’d like to think that the next time I learn something the hard way, another truck driving school graduate is becoming a basketball player.    

Friday, May 17, 2013

Lesson 17- If you come to the party, you've got to dance!

How to leave a scene like Darryl Philbin

Last night I had a dream about Darryl Philbin, the warehouse manager of The Office. When I woke up, I really wanted to dance. I rarely need an excuse to dance. I love dancing.

 I think everyone should dance. I have told that to my son since he was old enough to stop wanting to dance. About six, I think. The age of peer pressure. That’s where it begins. Little boys seem to think if they can’t be good at something, they shouldn’t even try. They are missing what dancing is all about. Not moves, but freedom of inhibition. I still remember the guys at my high school that could rock the dance floor. I don’t remember their faces or anything else about them. I just wanted every guy I knew to be like them.   Dancing guys impress everyone.

Why is that?

Every mother wants her son to be a dancing guy, but we have no control. Peer pressure can whip that thought out of their head faster than you can say no. But the few who succeed become names women remember.

Though dancing is certainly a fast pass to a woman’s heart, dancing is not about romance. Dancing is about being comfortable in your own skin. Feeling graceful or larger than life, however silly you might look.  Let’s agree to leave that fear in high school. In real life, how you look is different than how you feel. And how we feel is everything, right?

 Look at Darryl

How fitting that the creators of The Office chose Darryl’s last day to be so interactive. As an employee, he was anything but involved with the rest of the office. You could say Darryl’s plan of escape was a dance.  From his wallflower comments about how no one would miss him, to assuring himself he would miss no one, Darryl skirts being part of the Dunder Mifflin team like teens at a dance.

He packs his desk. He hopes for an invisible escape, but is busted. Confronted by his office co-workers, Darryl agrees to hang around long enough to participate in one group activity. Nothing more. And his co-workers must decide. Blurring lines of office etiquette and intimacy, they honor Darryl’s last day with both something he is really good at and something he has always avoided. Dancing and involvement.

We should all leave like Darryl.

People want to dance. It’s the reason prime time TV is flooded with dance shows. Even when we think we can’t dance or have no one to dance with, we think about dancing. Or dream about it. Dancing is a reward for our far too often stationary bodies. It's physical interpretation of music that unleashes our souls.

Babies start dancing before they walk.  Long before they can read, write or hold down a job.

My granddaughter (who has asked to be called Blossom) has danced every day of her life, I’m almost certain. Without instruction or prompting. Many times without music- that we can hear, anyway.

We can’t take the prom attitude toward dancing anymore than we should live life like high school. We can’t wait and see if there might be a better person to dance with or something better to do than dance. There isn’t. I’m telling you. Ask the producers of Dancing with the Stars,  American Bandstand or Soul Train. There isn’t.

I am begging you to dance. I’m leaving you with this challenge and this link. Right now. Wherever you are. Get up and dance. Bust out your air guitars if that’s what feels good.

You’re welcome.
Now let me know, was it as good for you as it was for Darryl?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lesson 16- Every time a child is born, a mother is born, too


Every mother has heard this question on Mother's Day or Father's Day:
"But when is Kid's Day?"
And every mother I know has given her version of this answer:
"Every day is Kid's Day."
But today I am telling my kids this is their day, not mine.

I'll tell you why. 
(And it's not because I might get more presents, although I might.)

When I was a girl, I dreamed of becoming many things. A mother was not one of them. Don't get me wrong, I knew I wanted to be a mother. But I never thought I would need training for that.

My mom lived the role of mother like she was born for it. She made it look effortless. Since I was a girl, too. I thought I had this one in the bag.

Imagine my surprise when I gave birth.

No amount of training could have prepared me for what was about to happen. From the moment your tiny form was placed on my belly, I was changed forever. A part of my heart once reserved for parents, first loves and adorable pets opened so wide it took over. This new heart (that seemed attached to all things) governed the rest of my life.

My capacity to say "ooh" and "ah" increased exponentially.

When you smiled for the first time, I witnessed the first smile ever. And when someone hurt you, the pain I felt was physical.

When your dreams came true, my heart could not be contained.


And when you gave birth, I saw the first child born all over again.

It took a lot to make this day so happy. And I I couldn't have done it without you.
Happy Kid's Day, you two!

And thanks, Mom.

"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new."   Rajneesh

Friday, May 3, 2013

Lesson 15- A picture is worth 1000 words

I don't really subscribe to that. I love words. Sometimes, the more the merrier.
But this week, nature left me speechless.
On Monday, I found that rabbits had eaten both eggplants in my garden. They had also eaten half a jalapeno tree and half a jalapeno. Wow. I couldn't believe my luck.
When I told my granddaughter, she suggested I take a picture and ask her Papa (aka Biker Mike)  to do something about it.
So I did. And so did he.
On Wednesday, the giant Amaryllis started blooming its head off.
She was stunning. Valerie Fields (who is fortunately my granddaughter) agreed. She told me it was so pretty I should take a picture of it.
I did.
Then, on Thursday, Mother Nature changed her mind about sunny days and we had a  visit from frost fairies.
We also a had a surprise visit by Snowflake
(really Valerie Fields, who decided she wanted to dress as a frost fairy). Snowflake also helped me drag the potted plants in for the night. I am very lucky to know her.

That's all I have to say about this week. And all I have to show for it.
How did nature treat you this week?
Share stories if you've got them!