Friday, August 17, 2012

Reflections on Our Sabbatical Year

What did they learn?
One year ago today, we left our home and headed out on a grand adventure.  (See last year's blog post.)  Our main goal:  to spend more time with our family by traveling the world.  We accomplished that, but still I wanted more.  All year, I was reminded of the great rush of time regardless of my attempt to snatch a quiet year to tell the kids all the things I want for them. I intended to teach the kids more than reading and math, but we got stuck solving for X a lot more than I planned.  Looking back, I'm not sure I conveyed everything to them, so here are the lessons I learned from our year; I hope the kids picked them up through osmosis.

Don't grow up too fast.  Childhood is a precious gift to be vigilantly guarded like the Beefeaters protect the Queen's Jewels.  We only have one childhood and those that rush it tend to return to childish behaviors that were never fully experienced.  Childhood is for pretending you're an adult- trying it on for size. 

"Do I want to be a doctor when I grow up?  I'll cover my dolls in bandaids and stiches to see." 
"Maybe I want to be a Vet.  Where's the dog so I can hear his heart beat?"
"I've got to pay the bills. Where's the checkbook?  Let's see ten dollars for the house, five dollars for the car."

Childhood does not know how much a house costs or how much a job pays.  It's about dirty feet, catching frogs and snuggling with Teddy.  It's about catching a flyball, licking a popsicle and not caring that you're covered in mosquito bites.  It's soaking up information like a sponge and eavesdropping on adult conversations while not understanding a word of what they say.  It's putting your bathing suit on when you wake up and not taking it off until time to put on your pajamas.   Responsibility applies to homework and competition refers to the next baseball game.

Only you can make you happy.  I don't know how to teach this, but I try to show it everyday.

Please be a Sue Heck.  It's cool to be uncool.  Hug your parents in public and tell your brother and sisters that you love them.  Don't worry too much about popularity.  Trust me, you do not want to peak at thirteen.  Hold on to your beliefs and feel confident to speak about them.  Never give up on yourself.  Try new things.  Share your love of God and talk about him openly.  Laugh when something is funny and cry when something is sad.  Look people in the eye when you talk to them. Sing along to your favorite songs.  Don't be afraid to dance in front of others.  (I know this last one will be the hardest.)

Be proud you're an American.  Get choked up when you sing the Star Spangled Banner.  Feel your chest tighten when you say the pledge of alligence.  Love the world, but be proud of who you are and where you come from.   Know the history of your country and share it with others.  Know the presidents' accomplishments and remember they are only human when you study their failures.  Believe that you could be one, too, someday- even in this day and age when it seems that only billionaires and club members may join. 

Don't think you're better than others; just different.  People come in all shapes and sizes, in different colors and with varying beliefs.  If you are confident, you are beautiful.  Be tolerant of others' thoughts and dreams.  Remember that we are all neighbors on the planet Earth and try to love your neighbor.  Follow the Golden Rule and the middle path.  Treat others the way you want to be treated and demand others do the same.  Have compassion for those less fortunate.  Whether someone is having a bad day or a bad year, say something nice and try to leave someone feeling better after you have met than before you arrived.

Great adventures usually start with a UHAUL.
If I could be sure all these lessons were sinking in during our travels, I wouldn't worry about that  Pythagorean theorem stuff a bit.   When I was a child, my mom always said, "These are the best years of your life!"  I would have to argue with her now.  I don't know if this was the best year of our children's lives, but I think Greg and I agree- it was for us.  I thank God we had this year, but don't think the best is over by far.  I look forward to the future.  Life is good.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Lost Wallet

I have an ethics question for you: If you found a lost wallet, would you return it to its owner?  Imagine the wallet had no identification and contained $174 in cash and a $50 gift card.  Would you think such a careless owner deserved to be taught a lesson and therefore, feel justified in spending the money?  Or would you secure it in trust that the owner would eventually show up?  If you chose to hold on to it for safe keeping, how long would you wait?  A day? Two?  How about a week?

Our son recently experienced this moral dilemma, but from the other side; Wyatt lost his wallet.  Just before leaving for England, he had purchased a brown, leather wallet and against his parents instructions, put all his eggs in that basket.  His eggs amounted to $200 of grass-mowing, chore-doing, birthday-gifting and allowance-saving money.  Tenaciously, he kept the wallet secure throughout the UK, but became lax after returning home.

Our first Saturday afternoon back home, Greg took the kids to Publix for groceries.  Planning to buy a $1 bag of Skittles, Wyatt grabbed his wallet on the way out the door- because an eleven-year-old boy must bring all his money, obviously, for that "just in case" purchase.  He wore an old pair of shorts with a small pocket, but by stuffing the wallet in, he managed to make it fit.  So what if it hung out a little?  On the way to the store, his sister had a nose bleed- because nothing is easy when taking your kids anywhere- even to the grocery store two miles away.  Greg pulled into the nearest convenience store and sent Wyatt inside for napkins.  With everybody relatively clean and blood-free, they proceeded to Publix.  After walking up and down every single aisle in the store at least five times- because that's what kids do when they go to a grocery store- the party was ready to check out.  Wyatt reached for his wallet to buy his Skittles and discovered it was gone.  He, of course, told his parents all this... ONE WEEK LATER!

Greg and I were crushed for him.  How do you explain to your kids that the world is not an honest place?  I figured it was best to just rip the band-aid off and be blunt.

"The wallet is gone, Son.  If you had told your dad the minute you realized it was missing, we might have found it.  But losing it in one of two high-traffic areas, over a week ago, makes it impossible."

Call me a cynic, but I believed what I said.  The tears flowed... from Wyatt and me; Greg somehow managed to hold it together.  We gave Wyatt a stern speech on respecting money and explained that part of being responsible meant not just spending wisely, but keeping the money safe.  We said, "We told you to keep your money at home and only put five dollars in your wallet.  If you're not responsible with money, the world will take it from you- one way or another."

For Wyatt's sake, I called Publix and spoke with someone in customer service.  She kindly told me what I already knew: no wallet had been turned in.  Greg looked up the number to the convenience store, but we didn't know the new name.  My dad had built the store twenty-five years ago and called it BJ's for Bobbie and Johnny's, my parents' names.  It has changed hands a couple of times since so I had no idea what to look up in the phone book.  Feeling deflated after my cry, I used a trip to the store as an excuse to get out of the house for a little while.

The store was packed for a rainy afternoon.  Only one employee worked the rush so I waited in line to speak with her.  When I reached the counter, I was brief.

"Hi.  My son was in here last week and lost his wallet.  It was brown leather and had a lot of money in it, but no ID.  He just told us about losing it.  Has anyone turned one it?"

"I don't think so, but I'll check.  Do you want to leave your name and number?"

"I doubt it will do any good," I replied as I wrote down our information.  She rang up the next customer as I thanked her and walked back to my car.

Before I got home, a miracle happened.  The store clerk called and told Wyatt (who answered the phone) that she found his wallet a week ago and had put it in the safe and forgot about it.  She assumed the owner would claim it soon.  By the time I got home, Wyatt was jumping for joy.  Greg and I stood in shocked disbelief.  Honestly, I didn't know how to react.  Part of me was thrilled that an honest person was still out there, but another part of me was kind of pissed.   I mean, how was this going to teach Wyatt to take care of money?  Isn't that awful!  Wyatt was dancing a jig and instead of dancing with him, I wanted to make sure he understood how rare this was and how lucky he was.  Instead of celebrating this moral exemplary person who found his wallet and kept it safe, I chose to be dour.  Why was it hard to be happy that someone did the right thing?  I think it's because sometimes (Dare I say it?)-  being a parent sucks.   Sometimes you get so caught up in teaching a lesson that you miss the point of it.  Say your kid gets an A on a test without studying.  A parent can't say, "Good job! You must have listened and participated well in class." Oh no.  A parent must say, "You lucked out this time.  Classes get harder so you better study next time."  With the burden of the future ever looming, I forgot to celebrate the present- the gift of an honest person.

When I came to my senses, I called to thank her.  I told her what an amazing thing she did by keeping the wallet safe for my son.

"I knew it must be a kid's wallet because it had no identification in it.  I have a three-year-old and I know if it were his, I'd want someone to turn it in for him.  I put it in the safe and forgot about it after no one had come looking for it."

We kept talking, discussing ethics.  We both agreed how hard it was to find honest people these days.  Then we made a strange connection.  I told her that my father built the convenience store where she worked and her heart opened up to me.

"Johnny is your father?  I used to be in love with your brother!  I came in the store at least five times a day to see Chris smile.  I was only fifteen, but he was always so nice to me.  I hated what happened to him, but you know drugs are hard to kick.  I was an addict for six years, but have been clean for over three years since I found out I was pregnant.  I feel great, but I struggle with it everyday.  I think of Chris when I'm working here and wish he'd been able to get off drugs, too.  Thinking of him helps me stay straight."

I said, "Well, you're obviously a good person and respect yourself now.  You've done a very nice thing for Chris's nephew."  I admit I was a little choked up as I said it.

On our way to pick up the wallet, Wyatt asked, "Can I give the lady a reward for finding the wallet and keeping it safe."

"I think that's a great idea."

"Would twenty dollars be okay?"


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Back to School

As Anabel, Wyatt and Emma stepped on the school bus this morning, I choked back my tears.  Our dream year is officially over.  Sitting at the computer, completely free of distractions, I feel despondent.  And incredulous... I can't believe I am feeling this way.  How many times last year did I think how much easier it would be to let someone else shoulder the weight of the responsibility of educating my kids? But now that it is here, I am filled with sadness.  I see where Anabel gets it- I don't transition well.

Maybe I am conflicted because this is the first time they have gone to school without me.  As a mom and a teacher, I had the luxury of seeing the kids during their school day.  I could stroll into the lunchroom for an encouraging smile or wave.  I could casually glance in their classroom doors and get a glimpse into their school worlds.   When Anabel was in first grade, I remember spotting her standing in line after lunch.  She was whispering and giggling with a friend, and then, turned to quietly follow her teacher.   A boy sauntered up in front of her, but she tapped him on the shoulder and confidently pointed to the back of the line.  Head down, he returned to his spot.  It was a beautiful site to see.  Today, I am home and ignorant to it all.

Emma-confident with her new glasses
I know this is part of the growing up and letting go phase of raising kids.  Parents must transition with their kids to foster healthy relationships.  I've taken all the child development classes and read all the books.  My kids are 13, 11 and 9- not babies anymore.  They were thrilled to be returning to regular school- complete with the sleepless anticipation of the night before the first day.  They are transitioning well.  Why am I such a basket case?