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.”

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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}

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?

Sprinkles of Love

I was at the grocery store the other day, walking past the bakery on my way to the produce department for some fruits and veggies. My eye caught on a giant tub of autumn sprinkles, the kind that someone might use on a cake or cupcakes for an all-school Halloween gathering. Or… whatever you are baking for fall that might be jazzed up with sprinkles.

At first sight of the sprinkles, my mind had zipped away from the bakery, the store, and into the past. Years ago, when C was in early elementary school, his teacher had planned a fall party. I can’t remember the occasion, but I was tasked with baking cookies masquerading as pizza (cookies in a Halloween costume, perhaps…). Easy, right? I’d planned to make round sugar cookies with red frosting. But the “cheese” was eluding me. Coconut? Different frosting? I was stumped. My parents happened to be visiting, and they went off to the grocery store to see what they could come up with.

When they returned, they had a large tub of autumn sprinkles as well as some other possibilities. Dad was most excited about the sprinkles. “We can take all the brown ones out, and you can just use the yellow and orange!” While that would be a great idea in theory, in practice it seemed a bit daunting.

“That’s a bit ridiculous,” I told him. “There are a lot of brown ones in there.”

“It won’t take long,” he assured me, though I wasn’t so sure. Those sprinkles were awfully small. But I didn’t say that.

The next day, the kids went off to school, and I went off to work. Back then, I was working mother’s hours, so I arrived home in the early afternoon—in time to get my kids off the bus. When I walked in the door that day, the kitchen table had become the work area for the sprinkle project. One bowl held the yellow and orange sprinkles. Another bowl held just brown. Mom took my entry as her excuse to rest her eyes, but Dad remained bent over a pile of sprinkles on a paper towel. Wielding a butter knife as his tool, he was pulling the brown sprinkles away from the others with the precision of a pharmacist counting and separating pills.

I am sure this project was far more involved (and tedious) than Dad expected, but he never uttered a word of complaint. He finished off that whole tub of sprinkles, so I’d have “cheese” for my pizza cookies—and they looked amazing! I’m sure none of the kids eating them even suspected the amount of work—and grandparent love—that went into each cookie.

And I had forgotten, as well, until I walked by that one random item in the grocery store last week. I was immediately transported back to that day so many years ago. It was a day much like today, and my memory of Dad, painstakingly separating sprinkles at my kitchen table, was as clear as if it had been yesterday. The love (and self-imposed duty) of a parent was captured in the memories grounded in a tub of autumn sprinkles.

Patience in the Un-find-able

If I had a dollar for every minute I’ve spent searching for the un-find-able, I would be a rich woman. This weekend, it was a pair of shorts that we swore were in the house as both my son and I had “seen” them on Saturday. After a frantic search of the house, he returned to camp without them, and found that he had left them in his cabin when he left camp on Friday.

Over the years, there have been so many things. The “favorite” bean-bag dog that was pushed to the bottom of the sleeping bag in the night and ended up being rolled up inside it for months. The team jacket that we accidentally left (or did we?) in the locker room after the final competition of the year one June many years ago. I called the coach before she left the venue. On Monday, I called the school where the competition had been held. I emailed the coordinator of the event. We searched the closet, the car, and eventually, realized we’d have to buy a new one before the next competition season began. At the end of August, as we headed back to the studio, one of the other girls discovered my daughter’s jacket, along with her own, on the floor of her closet.

How many times have I heard: “Hey Mom, you know that form we were looking for…? It was in my locker.” How much time and energy have I spent searching, and in the end, the thing I am looking for turns up in its own time? Many such searches have confirmed that I can’t find the unfindable. That I shouldn’t worry about things that are out of my control. The things I am searching for will appear in their own time. Sometimes, lost items appear only to eyes that aren’t frantic from looking. And in this process, I have learned that (aside from endlessly searching) all I can do is be patient and wait.

This lesson is one that we learn over and over. The lesson reappears in small ways so we might recognize when it comes into our lives in big ways. We search for our career path, the fantastic opportunity, the house, the family, our way in life…. These things will all come in time and in their own way. When we are ready. When the world is ready. When God is ready. It’s important to recognize that the unfindable may be hidden from our view because there are situations that we cannot control—that we should not control.

When something is lost—or we are lost—remember to take a deep breath and let go. The simple act of letting go makes just enough space in our lives that whatever is lost might just find us.

Amplified Mischief

Somehow, in the craziness of my home, we came into possession of a megaphone for a brief period over the weekend. In fact, it was an intentional acquisition on the part of the youngest member of my household. He purchased it as a “Secret Santa” gift for another staff member at his summer camp job. I’m told his pick for “Secret Santa” is the loudest staff member at camp, and my son is the master of gag gifts.

But no one in their right mind can be in possession of a megaphone without trying it out, can they?

So my son scrounged around for the right batteries, and soon, he was walking around our small kitchen, talking to us through the megaphone, turning up the volume, trying out the “siren,” and turning up the volume some more. He decided the volume was best when it was close to as loud as it could get.

Meanwhile, his brother was torturing the cat, picking him up and holding him hostage, despite the fact that the cat wanted to get away from the unpleasant noise of the megaphone. “Leave the cat alone,” I told him. “He wants to flee.”

“C, put the cat down,” the megaphoned command clattered through the kitchen as if the local police had driven right up to our kitchen window and made the demand themselves. It wasn’t long before we were all laughing, including the neighbor out walking her dog.

* * * * *

On Saturday morning, I had to go out to pick up our car, and I figured I would get groceries since I would be car-less for the afternoon. J had to leave for work by 1:15, and even though I knew I would make it, I was cutting it close. I was on my way home when. at 1:05, she called me. “I’m on my way,” I told her. “But I’m going to need some help unloading the car as soon as I get home.”

A few minutes later, I pulled up to the house. My son (the current owner of the megaphone) was standing at the end of our walkway ready to grab the groceries from the car and carry them into the house. My daughter was standing at the front door, megaphone in hand, the look of “boss in charge” in her stance. Had I arrived only two minutes earlier, I might have been able to watch this all shake down.

Oh, how I longed to ask about this particular arrangement of my children—how little brother wound up outside while sister took control of the megaphone. But I know some questions are best left to my imagination.