Words

“I don’t like swimming,” said the little boy, five years-old.

“It’s too hard. And I have to do it every day at camp.”

“If you do it every day, then you’ll get better at it and then it won’t be so hard,” I responded.

“Hmmmm,” he remarked, twitching his little nose, dubiously.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. The boy looked at me, both curious but doubtful of the grown-up advice he was about to receive. I fully expected an eye-roll, selective listening or to be outright dismissed.

“If you believe in yourself,” I continued. “If you believe that every day you’ll get a little bit better than the day before, then I bet by the end of the summer, you will be an amazing swimmer.”

He looked at me.

And then returned to playing, or went off elsewhere. I don’t remember. This was probably the longest and most serious conversation I’d had with this little boy who I’ve known all his little life. But I presumed, to him, I was just another boring adult saying bla bla bla. I quickly forgot the conversation as I assumed he had.

A month or so later, his parents mentioned to me that suddenly he’s had a new attitude towards his swimming classes. He’s serious. Committed. Intent on doing the work and improving. He told them “Aunty Sam told me to believe in myself so that’s what I’m doing.”

Hearing this brought sudden hot tears to my eyes, surprising even myself. Who knew that the words that had come out of my mouth – without too much aforethought, admittedly – had actually been heard, instead of discarded? Those words were processed by that little mind. Absorbed and now, applied.

So many words. We say so many words to each other. Many without due thought, not even thinking about the impact they may have or unsure whether anyone is really listening.

But Sondheim was right: “Careful the things you say. Children will listen.

This was a potent, and precious, reminder.

Thank You, Taylor Swift, for the Parenting Advice

I’m a big Taylor fan and not just for her toons. Mostly because “Shake It Off” has become the most awesomest parenting tool.

Her popular song has helped me reinforce some key messages with my kids. Stuff parents have said throughout the ages – but somehow now, with the Taylor seal of approval, now the kids are listening.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” still rings true but telling a kid to “shake it off” when other kids say mean stuff seems to resonate more.

And yes, accidents happen, but if you can “shake it off”, child, then we can all learn and move on.

And so on.

I put Taylor’s words of wisdom to work recently with my daughter. We were selecting boxes of Valentine’s cards for her classmates. Now my kid’s a tomboy (and I love it) and in the past, she’s rushed to pick out Transformers or Star Wars-themed cards. But this year, she hesitated and instead, picked out a Hello Kitty box. Because, she claimed that her classmates don’t think it’s cool that she “likes boy stuff.”

Well, this made me mad. And so it begins, the peer pressure that makes kids feel they have to fit in rather than stand out. I get it, I really do. At their age, non-conformance is abhorrent. But I want my kids to be true to themselves and their passions. To stand up for their beliefs, have conviction. Even if that belief is that Transformers are cool. (They are.)

But how to instill in them that it’s OK to follow their hearts and be different? The kid and I had a serious chat. With tears welling in her eyes, she explained that she was embarrassed when the other girls told her it wasn’t cool to like boy’s stuff.

I looked her in the eye and asked, what would Taylor Swift do?

Shake it off, she responded, knowingly, her head held a little higher.

Thank you, Taylor.

 

The Things You Don’t See

See that smiling woman cuddling her kids, you don’t see her anxiety and her battle every day with post-partum depression.

You don’t imagine the insecurity that business woman faces as she addresses a meeting.

You can’t fathom the self-loathing of that young woman who’s fighting bulimia and can’t wait to stick her fingers down her throat.

That homeless man was once a father with a regular job.

You don’t realize that you’re talking with a confident Asian woman who actually wishes she were white.

The car that’s driving slowly or erratically in front of you, annoying you – you’re unaware that a Mom is dealing with a screaming kid.

Your friend who’s always smiling and composed, maybe she’s hiding verbal abuse or an addiction to pain meds?

That kid you think is a bully, you don’t see how shy he really is. Or maybe he’s just hungry?

Maybe that rude individual talking loudly on the phone is dealing with a family emergency?

A distracted, grumpy colleague? She just broke up with her boyfriend.

That person who’s in such a rush to end a conversation with you probably needs to pee really badly.

Your girlfriend who doesn’t want to split the restaurant bill four ways might be worrying about how to make her next credit card payment.

What about the call service rep who sounds disinterested? This could be the only job he could find and he hates it. But it’s a job. A paying job.

 

The fact is, there’s an awful lot we don’t, won’t or can’t see. But we are oh-so-quick to assume and judge. Myself included.

What you don’t see about me is the constant burning and itching on my forehead, the invisible remnants of shingles from a little over a year ago. I’m not complaining. In fact, I even appreciate it. This burning-you-can’t-see is my daily reminder not to assume things about the people I know and the strangers I don’t.

And it’s also a persistent reminder of my duty to teach my kids to also be thoughtful and respectful of all the people they encounter and all the stuff they are dealing with that we can’t see.

 

 

 

 

“Be All Of Who You Are” & 24 Other Great Quotes from #BlogHer14

 

#BlogHer14 words

The words that mattered most at BlogHer14

I don’t have time to write a full recap about all that made BlogHer14 an amazing and thought provoking experience. Besides, so many of you have already written recaps that mirror much of what’s in my head and heart. So instead, I’m perusing the notes I took and the tweets I tweeted or retweeted – and listed below are the statements that impacted me most. Apologies in advance for not being able to attribute them or bungling them a tad — but know that your words were heard and felt.

Be all of who you are

What people think of me is not my problem

I an unable to can

Be a conduit not a vessel

Don’t fear the stories that make you uncomfortable and make you think

I try not to tell other people’s stories but I’m very committed to telling my own

The best networkers are givers

No is a complete sentence

Sometimes the words burn hot and I just have to get them out

Live life as though everything is rigged in your favor

Being tired is the new norm and we have to change that

We need to listen even harder

Make connections that map to your values and your soul

Find the moments when you can enter the conversation and have something meaningful to say

Be additive

If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring your own chair

You don’t need permission: you’re you

Just give a crap

Good intuitive poignant writing will always be relevant

Comparison is the thief of joy

I want my blog to be a love letter to my kids

Value the slow

We are creating culture with every blog post we publish

Writers write. Always. Everywhere.

Words make the world.

#BlogHer14

P.S. I write about the key takeaways from BlogHer for brands for my company’s blog. You can find it here.

P.P.S. I also pulled together a Storify to highlight the tweets and images from BlogHer – it’s over here.

Storify: #BlogHer14 As Told in 140 Characters

I’m still processing all that was #BlogHer14. But in the meantime, here’s a quick Storify of some of the many Tweets and photos from the conference.

#BlogHer14 highlights

A Storify of all that was #BlogHer14

 

The Words That Mattered Most at #BlogHer14

#BlogHer14  words

The words that mattered most at BlogHer14

Third Graders Ask “What If?’

As a working Mom I don’t manage to spend much time in my kids’ classrooms, something I try not to guilt myself about too much. But I aim to be there for the things that really matter to my kids – like when they are making a presentation to the class and other parents. The excitement and pride fairly sparkles in their eyes when a parent is there to watch them. And I admit it, I always get misty-eyed too.

Last week, following several weeks of prep and some last-minute panic over a suitable costume, my son and fellow third graders presented the fruits of their biography project. I was beyond proud to watch my son, dressed as Paul Revere, deliver his essay about this freedom fighter to the assembled kids and parents.  One by one, his fellow classmates each stood up and educated me about the character they had selected. Not just facts but their interpretation of why each person mattered, how he or she contributed to society and changed the world forever. In less than five short minutes, the kids explored the character traits and motivations of their selected biographical character, and how they felt inspired by their achievements. From Susan B. Anthony and Marco Polo to Nelly Bly, Steve Jobs and Louis Braille and more — I was truly impressed.

But the icing on the cake came at the very end when all the kids gathered together to present a poem they had jointly written. “What If?” explores how gravely the world would be different, were it not for the contributions of each of these individuals they had studied. I’m posting an abbreviated version of the poem below because I really think the entire school project (which lasted roughly six weeks) culminated in these kids not only learning some solid history but also realizing that they too have the potential to do great things. For this, I laud their teachers.

What If?

What if Marco Polo

Never explored

Or Walt Disney

Never built more?

What if Paul Revere

Never sent the call

Or Charles Lindbergh

Never flew at all?

What if Louis Braille

Never become blind

Or Dr Seuss

Didn’t have a creative mind?

What if Nelly Bly

Never travelled to write

Or Martin Luther King Jr

Never had a dream in sight?

What if Steve Jobs

Wasn’t so smart

Or Princess Diana

Never used her heart?

What if Susan B. Anthony

Never marched for  a woman’s right

Or Wilma Rudolph

Didn’t run with all her might?

What if you had a dream

And held it inside?

What if you had a dream

And never tried?

Paul Revere: TIME' Person of the Year

TIME Person of the Year: Paul Revere
by Gabriel McGarry

Pacific Specific

Some hilarity during the car drive home today from school. It appears neither of my kids can wrap their teeth around pronouncing the word: “specific.” Their attempts included:

Pacific

Speficic

and such other mutations.

Then I asked the seven year-old to spell it. She thought, and then slowly and seriously said:

S-P-I-F-I-C-I-F-I-C

We laughed and laughed!

A Parenting “Aha” Moment

You know those lightbulb moments when, like a bolt outta nowhere, you suddenly slap your forehead and realize something utterly amazing.

Well this wasn’t like that.

Rather, this was a slo-mo, blurry edged, fuzzy thing dawning on me kind of realization. But it did make me slap by forehead.

For years now, I’ve been giving my kids multi-request instructions. And, by giving, I mean yelling across the house. For example:

“G, please go upstairs and turn the light off in your room, pick up the PJs you left strewn on the floor and put them in the hamper. And don’t forget to bring your library book downstairs.”

or

“T, it’s  time to put your shoes on and then brush your teeth. Don’t forget to also brush your hair. Then get your coat, hat and mittens on. Oh and is your lunchbox in your backpack?”

or variations thereof.

This happens on a daily basis. Often many times.

You are nodding, I see. You do this too. And, like me, you wonder why all components of such requests never ever ever ever get completed?

The slow-loading realization that finally slapped me around the face like a cold, wet fish was that, after the first few words of the request, kids universally hear the following:

“Wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah…….”

It’s nothing personal (I hope.) I realized they can only process one request at a time! All this time, I’ve been projecting my multi-tasking-ninjaness onto these little creatures whose brains simply cannot deal with that much information at once, let alone remember the correct sequence.

This finally dawned on me when my six year-old said, just like Otto in the movie A Fish Called Wanda, but cuter:

“What was the middle thing?”

Henceforth, I must remember to break down these requests into bite-sized chunks and deliver them eyeball-to-eyeball, rather than shriek them from one end of the house to the other. We’ll see how that goes during the usual morning mayhem.

“What was the middle thing” Otto, from a Fish Called Wanda

Guest Post: Searching

by Ben Jackson

As most of us who blog discover from our analytics, people put some strange search phrases together to find things on the internet. Aside from the stomach-churning searches for nocturnal activities (of which there are many), I also often find queries for advice on dadding (“single dad blog. too busy to eat breakfast”), searches for quotes and things to say on fatherhood (“dad eulogy” often appears), and queries for which I simply can’t understand how my blog could possibly be relevant (“waiter with dreadlocks” and “she said prison barber hair shorn”).

And then there are the searches for “teratoma,” and variants thereof.  It’s these people, anonymous through the internet, I want to find, and hug and do whatever else I can to offer some small measure of comfort.

My daughter Emma was born in 2001 with a cervical teratoma – a tumor on her neck which was larger than her head.  It protruded from her mouth, it extended down into her chest and attached from her heart, and it sat like a grapefruit underneath her chin.  It nearly killed her, and she spent almost her entire first year hospitalized as a result.

These search queries in my stats page are small digital prayers.  They represent some terrified stranger, who has just received news that is far beyond their comprehension, and they are pleading into the information ether for salvation or information. They are suffering in a way I can understand more deeply than almost anyone else on the planet, and most of the time I feel powerless to do anything to help.  I hope my writing provides some factual information and a lot of hope, but because of the anonymity of the internet, these deeply personal cries for help are beyond my reach to personally answer.

Last week, I received an email from a mother of a girl who also has a tumor similar to the one Emma had. She talked about being isolated, and was largely reaching out for a connection from a very lonely and scary place—and it knocked me for a loop for a bit.  It reminded me that what we write is read by actual people; that those search phrases bandied about have an individual behind a screen, looking for something to connect with.  That, beyond the creeps searching for their jollies, there are stories, and there is pain, and hope, and love and loneliness yearning for something that maybe we can touch.

It reminded me that we who write have a responsibility to those people behind the queries, that our words matter to someone, and that we had damn well better get what we’re trying to say right—and it reminded me that from my readers I can gain the connection that I seek as a writer, and as a dad.

Here’s hoping that your queries find you the connections you seek in 2014!

Ben Jackson is a father, blogger, publishing professional, creative writing student, and majestically bearded. From time to time, he has conned otherwise sensible editors into publishing his short fiction and essays. As an avid martial artist, one can often find Ben writing through bruises, slings and casts. You can read more of his writing at www.benfjackson.com or www.dadofthedecade.com

ben xmas sweater

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