Connections

We need to teach our children how to connect with others. I don’t mean teach them how to connect via social media—they are experts at that already. I mean we need to teach them to connect with other people face-to-face and one-on-one.

This thought struck me the other day after a couple things happened. First of all, I realized the new version of Google’s gmail is now offering me the option to click on a pre-determined email response. Essentially, it is “reading” my email and formulating a quick response that I can send to someone like, say, my boss, to thank her, let her know I will check into something, or make her think I am following up on her response or a request. In reality, the pre-determined one-click response allows me to not think. I don’t have to think about my response, and I don’t have to think about following up.

Now, I appreciate the time and effort Google has put in to formulating this algorithm, but shortcuts like this are the reason true communication skills are dwindling to non-functional levels. Seriously.

In order to have functional communication, we have to think about our responses. We have to consider whether an email deserves more than just a cursory glance. We have to think about the person who is receiving the response, and we must choose our language (and tone) based on our audience. Effective communication requires us to engage.

People are no longer engaged with communication. They are no longer engaged with others. They simply hit the reply button, send a one-to-ten word response, and they are done. That brevity does not encourage individuals to connect with other individuals. It demonstrates the power of technology to pull us apart. Yes, it does.

The second thing that gave me a glimpse into our need for better communication occurred when I was picking up a pack of colored chalk for some student tutors. I wandered into a local craft store. When I located the chalk and made my way to the check out, I was greeted by Ted. And when I say, “greeted by,” I mean Ted was working the register. He did not talk to me. He did not make eye contact. He did not speak in a voice that was loud enough or clear enough to be heard and understood. I am not sure why this corporation thought Ted was the best choice for this position. Then again, given the lack of any other visible workers in the store, I suppose their choice was limited.

Friends, we need to teach our children how to connect with others. We need to reinforce the importance of communication in all forms—face-to-face, through email, and over the phone. We need to teach them to look up from their shoes and make eye contact. We need to model and reinforce the conventions of carrying on a conversation. Being able to connect with other people is so important for living a healthy life. If our children have this skill—the ability to connect and communicate—they will have a strong foundation as they move on to “adulting.”

The Lesson of the Donut Vendor

This morning, my daughter and I were racing to get her back to college before the impending snowstorm settled in. The drive is a pretty one—over rolling hills, alongside rivers and train tracks, across farmland, and through the center of an occasional small town.

We chatted as we drove, and as we wound our way through one town, we noticed a crowd gathered near what looked like an old-fashioned carriage. As we drew closer, we could see that the crowd was actually a line, and the cart was some sort of vendor. Only upon passing the scene could we read the bright pink wording on the side of the black carriage: DONUTS!

“Donuts!” we both exclaimed.

I turned to her briefly, keeping one eye on the road. “Do you want to stop?” I asked.

She thought for a minute. “Well, I don’t really want a donut…” she replied as we continued our journey. After a pause, she said, “But we should go back.”

“You want to?” I questioned. “I’ll have to find a place to turn around.”

“If you want to,” she told me. “But we do have to get back before the snow.” And there it was. The reality check to an otherwise whimsical and fun idea.

“Ugh. You’re right. I guess today’s not the day,” I said to no one in particular. And I kept driving. But I also kept thinking about the donuts and the donut vendor. What a great idea—to spend a Saturday morning selling donuts on the town green. It reminded me of the idea my dad had when I was younger to buy a popcorn wagon and sell popcorn on a busy street corner.

I thought about that donut wagon and the vendor for the rest of the day. I decided if he was still there on my return trip, I would stop and buy some donuts for my boys. After all, the line by the cart certainly hinted that his donuts must be good. But when I drove back through town over an hour later, the vendor and his wagon were gone.

This moment—the choice to stop or not stop—was an example of me being 2018 me. I was on a journey from point A to point B, and the destination was my goal.

But what if the destination is only part of the goal? What if the true journey lies in the adventures along the way?

Driving home, I decided that next time, I am going to stop when I see something interesting. From now on, I am going to work on not being so focused on the destination that I miss the experiences that might come from an occasional detour or two. Next time, I will stop when I first think of it, and I will buy donuts!

{Photo by Charles “Duck” Unitas on Unsplash}

Looking Ahead…

At the end of year, I was going to write a wrap-up post, talking about all of the things I learned in 2018. But that didn’t happen. And then when we got to 2019, I was going to write a “looking forward” post, telling you all about the exciting steps I am taking toward self-improvement, life improvement, and blog improvement. But that didn’t happen, either. Because right after Christmas, a winter cold-virus caught me… and I have not had the energy to pry myself from the rut into which I fell in the last half of 2018.

The last half of 2018 was taken over by changing schedules, different demands, and shifting priorities. As I have mentioned once or twice, my blog suffered, but the lessons of the past months were well-learned. The biggest blogging lesson of 2018 is that creativity is fleeting. Like a flowering plant, creativity must be fed, watered, and cared for daily. With the proper nutrients, attention, temperature and light, a tended plant will grow and bloom and thrive. If it is not nurtured—constantly—it will wane and fizzle and wilt and die. The same is true of creativity.

But this is a new year and we are starting on a positive note. So for 2019, I will commit myself to once again uncovering and nurturing my creativity. I know it’s in there somewhere, and with a bit of attention, it will peek from its hiding place, step out into the open, and begin to grow. With a little daily writing attention, the ideas will start to flow once more, and the floodgates will open up.

Of course, daily writing is a challenge, especially with my schedule ramping up in the next few weeks. I’m hoping the experience of last year has helped me to recognize the importance of maintaining creativity, something that comes into play in so many parts of my life. But if I am writing regularly and nurturing my creativity, the freedom and ideas will scatter and spread like a fine mist permeating all aspects of my experience. Creativity will become a way of life and a way of thinking rather than an “extra” that requires its own attention.

As I look forward, deep into 2019, I am excited! I am approaching the year with a lean in attitude. With creativity and positivity, I can lean in to the experiences that come up. I can create new opportunities through the ideas and plans I put in place. And I can make 2019 a wonderful year of growth and development that will push me to be the best I can be.

Here are some steps I’m putting in place to help me expand myself and lean in to all that  2019 has to offer.

Daily

  • Set aside a few minutes of reflection time
  • List things I’m thankful for each day
  • Engage in (and share) exercises in creativity
  • Stretch myself to think (and act) outside the box (my normal box, that is)

Weekly

  • Plan one new experience
  • Keep a list of life possibilities (as if they have already happened)
  • Write about my journey

Monthly

  • Take one risk that “2018 me” would not take

What’s on your list for 2019?

{Photo credit: Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash}

Family Time

Yesterday, I was with my three nearly-grown children, and we stopped at Panera for lunch. At the table next to us was a young family. Mom and Dad were there with two young daughters—one about nine or ten going on sixteen, and a younger daughter of five or six. In the middle of the meal, Dad said good-bye and left to go to work. Mom stayed at the table with the girls while they all finished their lunch. As they sat there, it was hard not to notice that Mom’s cell phone was sitting on the table, loudly and regularly letting her know she had messages and notifications. Each time the phone alerted her, she looked down and responded.

Lately, I have noticed more and more parents interacting with their phones rather than their children. And I have heard from my children that many of their friends are on their own to make food at home, eating on the run, in their bedrooms, or in front of the television. So here’s my question: when are you spending uninterrupted quality time with your children? How do you show them that they are important and worthy of your time and undivided attention?

I have written about this before, but early in my parenting—and even when our family structure shifted, and I became a single parent—I established dinner together as a deeply important part of our day. This is the time when we come together as a family—and we are together for an important purpose: eating our evening meal. But dinnertime has become so much more over the years. Dinnertime is when we connect. We check in on each other. We talk about life, issues, morals, values, and what is happening in our individual lives and in the world. This meal has become a regular and expected time together as a family.

Now, I have two children in college, and they are home for the Christmas/winter break. Still, each night when I get home from work, we sit down together to consume our evening meal. We laugh, we talk, we eat. And now that they are older, we hash out political issues and share our views, we discuss environmental dilemmas, and we weave together the fundamental pieces of our day into an intricate tapestry that solidifies our family connection.

The unwritten rule, and one that is mostly followed, is that there are no devices at the table. This is family time, and devices are a distraction. Constantly looking at a device and responding to notifications demonstrates that we are not giving others our undivided attention. And it pulls us apart rather than bringing us closer.

And so… about childhood—this is time you will not get back. Establish a daily time to put away your devices and sit down with your children. Talk to them. Listen to them. Learn from them. They are amazing little people who will grow up to become wonderful adults. And those adults will need to know how to connect—deeply and meaningfully—with others. Scheduling some daily time to connect with family can make all the difference.

Believing in Magic

Navigating the many aspects of childhood can be an interesting journey. There are a million situations in which kids walk a line between the reality of the world and some magical thoughts of their own making (or the making of society), simply because their imaginations allow them to believe in magic. Santa. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. This list is lengthy.

Recently, when I was sorting through some (very) old papers, I came across a reminder of my previous parenting life, back when all three of my children still had one foot firmly planted in the magical, and it was my job—as a parent—to make sure the magic remained for as long as possible. But as a single parent, things didn’t always go smoothly.

After all, perpetuating magic is a difficult job. Everything we say… everything we do… it’s all being registered by the little ones around us, even when we don’t know they are listening. Magic takes careful planning, much thought, attention to detail, and a lot of work. It is no wonder, then, that sometimes we slip up.

The note I recently uncovered reminded me that the Tooth Fairy forgot to come. It was one of those moments when I was—no doubt—jolted awake in the early morning hours when I realized that I had forgotten my role in the magic just a bit too late. Despite my best intentions, I had failed. Instead, I had to make up a story about why the Tooth Fairy didn’t come, and some blending of various reasons came out. Unlike Santa, the Tooth Fairy can’t always get to every house…. Teeth are heavy, and if she collects too many teeth one night, she has difficulty flying….

Really, I don’t remember the story I made up, but it seemed to be enough as the child in question believed me. And somehow, over the years, I was able to instill just enough lasting magic—despite occasional slip-ups—that a bit lingers in my now grown children. Because if you think about it, shouldn’t everyone hold onto a little bit of magic in their lives?

Patience

This year has been a challenge. Changes blew through, bringing a different schedule, more intensity, and a shift in focus away from where I want to be. The election brought dissonance and division and the general society has been difficult to tolerate. I turned off the news and frequently found myself turning to music as my chosen distraction on the way to work. I took a step back from social media. In fact, in the past month, I have chosen to observe for a while. Just observe.

One point I have taken from my observations: it seems patience is a trait that few people possess nowadays. We are not nice to each other as we go about our daily business, and I think it’s because we are wrapped up in our own lives. We fail to look outside of ourselves, put ourselves in another’s shoes, and recognize that each of us, in whatever way possible, is trying our best in that given moment.

Case in point: recently, I was in line at the local CVS. I was behind the woman who was next in line. But the customer at the counter had left her wallet in the car, and she apologized as she ran out of the store to get it. This tiny little wrinkle seemed to throw the next-in-line-woman into a tizzy. She began sighing. Loudly. She shifted from one foot to the other. She tapped her foot on the floor, and she turned to me and rolled her eyes, most likely in an attempt to pull me in to her impatience.

Meanwhile, I was feeling sorry for the woman who had run to the parking lot. I could so see myself leaving my wallet (my keys, my brain…) in the car—even though I’ve never done so—that when the impatient woman tried to pull me in, I smiled sweetly while I clutched my tissues and my M&Ms. The forgetful woman was gone for two—maybe three—minutes, but her brief absence certainly annoyed the woman behind her in line. And when we are impatient and not taking advantage of the downtime to enjoy the moment’s pause, time tends to pass more slowly.

This small instance of impatience is one of many I have witnessed in the past few months. I have to wonder: what is the hurry? Why are we so unable to relax and support those around us rather than rush past them with little care for anything outside of our own lives?

Before I judge or become impatient, I am going to take a deep breath and imagine what the other person might be going through. Maybe she forgot her wallet because her first and forever best friend just passed away, and she is trying to hold it together. Maybe the person who is still stopped in front of me at a traffic light that has turned green has a job that just isn’t paying the bills—and the bills are due. Maybe the woman whose cart is in the middle of the aisle at the grocery store is distracted because her grown child is an addict, and she is at the end of her rope.

Patience. It is one of the best gifts we can give to the world. And one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves as we navigate the world. Take a deep breath and give patience a try.

Traffic

It’s been a crazy busy ridiculous fall. Wednesday was Halloween, and I didn’t have time to buy candy until after work. On Wednesday. Because I’m efficient like that. When I left work, I discovered that everyone was exiting the highway where I usually enter, and that can only mean one thing—traffic is bad. Very bad. Going south when I needed to go north was probably not the best idea, but I needed treats for my little goblins. Maybe the errand would allow the highway to clear up a bit.

The candy run was quick. As I cashed out, I texted my son that the highway was backed up and I wasn’t likely to be home right away. Back in the car, I selected some good driving tunes and settled in for the long, slow trip. Navigating the entrance ramp, a nice driver in an SUV waved me into the lane in front of him. I thanked him, and there I sat, moving at a snail’s pace along with a bajillion other cars.

Now, there’s a certain way this is designed to work. If people are patient and friendly and kind, the traffic moves smoothly, and we all get where we are going. It might take a little longer, but we’ll all get there. But Friends, listen… people are crazy! I mean, not necessarily you, per se, but there are a lot of impatient people on the roads. And when there are a lot more cars on the road than usual, it can be downright dangerous.

Here’s the thing. Everyone on the road is behind the wheel of a potentially deadly weapon. When one person decides that he or she needs to be in the front of the line, and the front of the line is well beyond the horizon, things are not going to go well. In fact, when I exited the highway (onto a relatively long exit ramp), I had to sit through three light cycles to take my left-hand turn. Just before I turned, a car came speeding up on my right and cut into the smoothly moving line of patient drivers. Really?

If you are that impatient when you are on the road with so many other people, what are you like when you are not in your car? Are you really so self-important that you can’t obey the rules of the road, putting everyone—including yourself—at risk? Most importantly, what is all the rush about?

Perhaps instead of constantly pushing to get to the front of the line, pushing the speed limit and the driving abilities of both you and those around you, you might, instead, think of your driving time as an opportunity to be present in your life, notice the people around you, and reflect on where you are going (both right now and in the grander scheme of your life). Put away the phones, the food, the notepad, the book, the map, the list, the GPS, etc. You might use this as an opportunity to commune with God or with nature or with yourself. In other words, you might use your road time as a chance to slow down to the speed of life and think about what really matters.

And then, when you have mastered the art of being patient and kind while on the road with so many people, you might take that skill out into the rest of the real world. We could use some patience and kindness in society these days. Perhaps our time on the road is where we could begin. If we can be kind to the person who simply wants to switch lanes to get out from behind a particularly slow truck, we might be able to be kind to the person whose arms are too full to open the door. If we can be present while we are driving, maybe we can put down the phone while we are interacting with the cashier at the grocery or the waiter at the restaurant or better still, our children at home who just want to have a real conversation.

Because what I have found is that kindness snowballs. It starts out with one small gesture and it grows in momentum. As you move throughout your day, be present. Notice what is going on around you. Make one small gesture of kindness and see if it grows.

 

{Photo by Robin Pierre on Unsplash}