Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Turning "Absolutely Almost" 6 (I mean 8)…

Somehow, this weekend, Cooper celebrated his eighth birthday. While I was shopping for him, I found myself instinctively looking for cards and candles for a six-year old. My mind, nor my heart for that matter, were ready for the fact that he was actually turning eight. The weekend parties went fabulously, with ten friends joining in for bowling on Saturday, and our closest friends and family for the Packer game on Sunday. We won't go into the results of the game, except to say that the blow was lessened by the fact that we were surrounded by kids being kids. Riding bikes in the sun, throwing footballs and beanbags, sitting and talking on the trampoline, coming up with the next cool game for the kids ages two to fourteen to play, all together.

In front of and behind the bday party weekend, I have had the opportunity to substitute teach middle school. It's a series of ups and downs, with small breakthroughs followed by tough classroom "management" followed by another smile or glimpse of confidence, followed by math class and just not getting it. I was reminded: teachers really do have to have the goods and patience. Something else I was reminded of: how important the skills of mentoring, modeling and reading are, as well as the nurturing of empathy and confidence. It makes me recall ever-so-slightly the feelings I had in middle-school. I know I wanted to fit in, fit in, fit in.. and often that meant excluding someone in a cruel way. 

I just finished the book Absolutely Almost with Albie as the lead (a "book about fitting in and standing out"). Albie didn't yet have the emotional maturity to know that "cool" wasn't always a good character trait, and that by ascribing to his classmate's brand of cool that he was hurting others. But he grew in the novel over a couple weeks time, to backtrack on cool and embrace kindness. He embraced his own kindness, not just because it was natural for him, but because he had a mentor, an influence or three, and a series of circumstances that allowed him to realize this was a gift he could give. The author did an amazing job of showing Albie's transformation in a subtle manner. Albie wasn't aware of a "transformation" - and those around him simply saw little glimpses of change which, to the reader, added up to a bit more. The book reminded me how easy it is to be led down a path that doesn't suit us -- and yet how easy it for others to help in redirecting our paths. We can get sucked in, whether it be because of our want to fit in, because we aren't emotionally ready, or for any number of other reasons.

I look at my kids and see in Greta an impressionable pleaser with a bit of spunk; and in Cooper a natural but shy leader with determination. In both, I see ways they can take a quick turn in the right direction as well as in the wrong direction. It takes teachers, peers, parents, and the community members we meet and engage with perhaps infrequently to help keep that path positive. To redirect, notice, embrace, and celebrate the unique and amazing traits we each possess. I believe each and every one of us, however brief or perhaps persistenly we come in contact, are a part of each others' journeys. So, thank you for the way(s) you've touched and directed mine, and I hope I have done a bit of the same in return for you.

Finally, the novel had one statement that rang true, especially now, as I search and start to define the next chapter in my life, the transformation I am perhaps subconsciously readying for and that those around me are supporting in small but significant ways: "I think the hard thing for you... is not going to be getting what you want in life, but figuring out what that is. Once you know what you want - really, truly - I know you'll get it." 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Hotdog Giggles

Last night, I got the giggles and couldn’t stop laughing at this article all about hotdogs. I hadn’t laughed that hard for way too long. My eyes were running, I could barely talk, and thankfully I had Cal to share it with. He found the hot dog stuff funny, not nearly so much as I, but it happened to hit at the absolute perfect moment. 

The moment came after a day of rainy, nasty weather. After a day spent on the dreaded taxes and all the while a big career decision loomed - should I take the job or not? My husband and I trudged along and got our taxes 90% done. The kids made it home and were greeted by a lack of power, encouraging them to get creative whereby they moved into a genius indoor activity -- piling pillows and blankets at the bottom of the stairs and jumping away, each time one stair higher. I purposefully avoided checking out this activity for quite some time because I knew it would freak me out. By the time I did check it out, they were ten or eleven steps up - check your stairs, that’s quite a distance to fly through the air! After I saw it I asked them to cut back a stair or two but let them continue - they were having so much fun. 

Power still out, we cozied up in sweaters, scarves, wool socks and sweatshirts, got in the car and headed to our favorite restaurant. The temperature read 42, the wind was whipping, and Presque Isle Lake looked like the gales of November. I silently wondered if it would snow -- way too early even for our crazy northern climate. The kids were fab-u-lous at dinner, sweet and polite to everyone including Cal and I. We enjoyed homemade tomato parmesan soup and hot rolls, and pared it with a couple glasses of body-warming wine. Charlie and Jim were at the bar watching the Brewers trying to hang on -- we got in a few laughs about their season and I said a silent prayer for a wild card spot for the Crew. We then headed home, knowing we were likely coming back to a heated house, and to a quick bedtime routine as the night had gotten away from us a bit. The kids conked out, we hit the bed reading and checking out Facebook, and that’s when I got a hold of the hotdog article. 

It was on The Week’s facebook page and given the fact that I occasionally still find myself referring to and wondering about the mysterious nature of the meat therein, I decided I couldn’t pass it up. The teaser said “No, hot dogs aren’t full of eyeballs, toenails, or any other stuff of Upton Sinclair’s nightmares. So eat up!” The article gave me a little chuckle - it was an ode to hotdogs and included ways to indulge in the “classy dog” and the “less-than-classy-dog”, and debunked some of the myths we grew up with and still subscribe to today. To me, it was a light-hearted read and a reminder to not get too serious about food. We Johnson’s are fairly healthly eaters but I will still on occasion order a good ole Chicago dog. The really funny stuff started when I began to read the comments from other readers. I won’t get into them too much but suffice it to say I felt like I was in the middle of a Seinfeld episode. There were angry animal rights activists commenting, with smart-ass meativores responding in jest. There was one nice lady, a self-proclaimed hotdog expert, who wrote about one of her projects: “the installation of the Bun-length Hot Dog line.” Also, someone from another country, commenting that she is “lucky enough to not even know what a hotdog thing is.. I have never eaten one and never will.. I heard this hotdog burger name a lot and I always thought hotdog is made of a dog which just freshly served ewwww!” 

So today I say thank you to the people that have a sense of humor about hotdogs, that choose to write about them, as well as those that choose to just eat ‘em, and I’m also thankful to those anti-hotdoggers out there because I know they were worked up due to true intentions. If you’re so inclined you can find the article here. To see the Facebook comments and to just maybe catch yourself with a case of the hotdog giggles, become a friend of "The Week" -- for me, the laughs were well worth it!