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.

A Little Silly to Start the Day

There’s a lot of nasty in the world right now: it can suck your spirit. My weapon to guard off the negative? A healthy dose of silly, especially when it includes my kids.

Now, you can’t force the sillies. They gotta happen spontaneously.

This morning, I snuck into bed with T shortly after her alarm went off. We were talking sweet nuthins and I can’t remember how or why but suddenly we were messing around with words and landed on the fact that ‘waffle’ and ‘awful’ kind of rhyme, especially when you pronounce ‘awful’ like ‘offal’.

“Waiter, this waffle is awful” I stated, and we both fell into a crazy heap of gut-busting giggles. The kind of giggles that set you up for the day with a smile on your face.

But it got even better.

Guess what papa had made the kids for breakfast?

Yup, waffles. T and I looked at each other gleefully and plotted.

She took a few bites then turned to her father. “Papa, this waffle is awful!” she giggled.

I giggled. We all giggled.

Silliness rules.

“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.

The Words That Mattered Most at #BlogHer14

#BlogHer14  words

The words that mattered most at BlogHer14

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!

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

Holy Crap!

Since when did the word ‘crap’ become an acceptable and commonplace part of the English language? I hear people saying ‘crap’ left right and center and fully expect that any day now, I’ll hear this ugly – but apparently tolerated – word coming out of my kids’ mouths.

Don’t get me wrong: I am no prude. I have a filthy mouth. I’m just trying to delay the inevitable moment when my kids repeat explicit words and I have to react with the requisite  levels of discipline and feigned horror (while hiding my giggles.)

Flashback to the 70s … upstairs in my big brother’s bedroom. He was complaining about how crap his math teacher was in hushed tones so the parentals wouldn’t hear. I, at the tender age of about six or seven, had no clue what this word meant. (Shit, now you can work out how old I am … ) Anyway, later that evening over dinner, Dad was asking us about our school day. I excitedly offered up this new tidbit of information I had recently acquired: “Dad, did you know that Jonathan’s math teacher Mr. Agnew is crap?” (Side note: apologies to Mr. Agnew, I’m sure you were a fine teacher and my brother was just an extraordinarily large pain in the arse.)

Silence at the table. Uhoh.

Without going into the details, what followed involved soap, some chasing around the living room, my mouth and lots of crying.

(For which, I have never forgiven my brother.)

Hence, my friends, you can understand my sensitivity about the word ‘crap’. This punishment also applies to calling someone an ‘old bag’, I also discovered.

Kids, you’ve been warned.

Learning from the Mean Kids

My outie is better than your innie.

You’re not my friend any more.

Little makes me sadder – and madder – than when one of my kids tells me someone was to mean to him or her  and it hurt their feelings. My first instinct is to locate the brat and his parents and give them a good punch talking to. My second instinct is to envelop my kids’ heart in bubble wrap so that no wretched child can ever make them feel that way again.

We usually have these discussions around bathtime and bedtime. With their eyes wide open and teary, or sometimes with their shoulders caved in and chins dropped, we discuss who said what to whom and how it made them feel. And I have come to realize, through these end-of-day discussions, that my kids are counting on us grown-ups to help set things right again in their little but ever-so-large universes so that, tomorrow, when they get back on the school bus, it all will be OK.

But I’ve also realized that, Mama Bear rage and retribution urges aside, my job is to actually help them (figuratively) fight their own battles. These are life skills that will help them from the playground to the sports field to college and into the workplace – or wherever their journeys take them. Because there will always be meanies.

And, because, I like to group things into neat buckets, lists and bullets, I figure there are four key ways to tackle the meanies:

  1. Respect: It’s tough then the mean kid is actually a friend, and all the more so, if he or she is  from a family you know. In our family, we talk a lot about how important it is to treat other people the same way you want to be treated (and my kids’ karate lessons do a great job reinforcing this.) So maybe this meanie needs a gentle reminder that respect is the foundation of friendship. I urge my kids to say: “That’s not a nice thing to say to a friend,” and to go find someone else to play with until that kid is ready to resume being a real friend.
  2. Empathy: The meanie might be unhappy or lonely or shy. This kid might be from a household that is dealing with stuff, or maybe he’s a little insecure. I encourage my kids to think about what might be going on behind the mean words. Perhaps they should consider this an opportunity to be empathetic and extend the hand of friendship?
  3. Forgiveness: People say hurtful things when they’ve been hurt themselves. I’ve seen this first hand when my son had a fight with a close friend. It doesn’t matter who said what first. If you really value your friendship, put injustices aside and say you are sorry. In our case, we talked it over, the boys shook hands and, within seconds, were BFFs all over again and in full Pokemon mode.
  4. Laugh it off: Comparing belly buttons, seriously?! Giggling together about whatever ridiculous nonsense is being thrown out can change the dynamic of the whole encounter. Maybe all the meanie was looking for was a way to make a connection? Turn the whole thing into a hoot and maybe you’ll find a new friend? (This often goes hand in hand with #2.)

These are not lessons that can be learned and applied overnight. Heck, I know many an adult who could learn them too and I’m including myself in that mix. But, you know me, I like to look on the bright side and I’m hoping that, with a little dose of respect, empathy, self-awareness –and let’s not forget, silliness – we can all get along a little better.

A Letter to Dr Seuss

Dear Dr Seuss,

Allow me to introduce myself: I am Sam. Yes, Sam I Am. For the last eight years, I’ve spent LOTS of time with your books and I’ve some things I need to get off my chest.

I have to confess that the first four years were torturous, truth be told. You see, my little ones were at that stage when they wanted to be read the same book over and over. And over and over. And over. I became sick and tired of Green Eggs & Ham, the Cat in the Hat, There’s a Wocket in my Pocket and others. I mean there’s only so many times you can read, and re-read and then read again, those rhythmic lines and words without wanting to tear your hair out or bang you head against something hard. Fortunately, these were also the years when my kids couldn’t yet read and were blithely oblivious to my skipping lines and even pages, which I would do a LOT just to expedite matters.

Then my kids become early readers. And I gradually realized the genius of your books, especially ones like Go Dog Go and Hop on Pop. Words cleverly assembled, rhymed, reversed and scrambled, forcing their developing brains to focus, sound out words, take their time. As my kids started to be able to read these books for themselves, I could see their pride forming and reading confidence grow.

Naturally, they started bringing home more of your books every week from the school library. Books they wanted me to read to them because they were complex, long, filled with ridiculously non-sensical words, creatures and situations. Find me a parent who, weary at the end of the day, really wants to put themselves through such tongue calisthenics? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of silliness, creativity and all that is good and goofy but really, these book were too much for this tired, working mama.

And then we watched the movie, The Lorax. And a light bulb went off and my whole relationship with you changed! I saw your genius. More than just a wrangler of words, I realized you’re a philosopher, a commentator on society and, most importantly, a voice of inspiration. Your simple phrases make profound statements—better-sounding to me, quite frankly, than any catechism or sermon I’ve ever heard. (Here’s 30 of your finest quotes.) Your books are life lessons to the young and old, inspiring us to be who we are, think for ourselves, take chances (try new foods!), read, boldly forge our way in the world—and to care for others, no matter how small.

So, dear Dr Seuss, on this day, March 2, 2013, your birthday, I say thank you, thank you, thank you!

Love,

Sam I Am

Advice to My 16-Year Old Self

This morning, a tweet from MumClub asking “what would you tell your 16-year old self?” got me thinking. Often I can tweet a quick, snappy response but this I needed to mull over. So I stepped into the shower, and ideas kept popping into my head. Thanks to my waterproof Post-It notes, I wrote down the following advice to Samantha Stern:

  • Keep working on your writing and languages—they will be the foundation of your success
  • There is so much more than Duran Duran
  • You are not fat
  • Dating/kissing boys that are not Jewish will not be the end of the world
  • Friendships trump religious differences
  • Invest in your friends—you’re going to need them
  • Gary Morris may break your heart but there are lots of fish in the see—explore 😉
  • Red heads have more fun
  • Keep dancing
  • Go on blind dates (the last one will be the best one)
  • You are in charge of your future
  • Mum and Dad were right about many things (but not about only kissing/dating Jewish boys)
  • Find your own style
  • Keep traveling
  • Bacon is not evil
  • In two years, Mum and Dad will take you to see Les Miserables. It will change everything.
  • Try sushi: you’ll like it!

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