Why I’m Glad I’m Not a Kid: Part Four

Media and conversations continue to remind me how relieved I am NOT to be a kid these days. It’s like kids are expected to come from the womb knowing exactly who they are and what they want from life.

If you read my other posts in this series, you might recall that I wanted to be a secret agent at one point. Oh, and if I didn’t wish to be a horse, I pretended to be a boy. All of this to say school isn’t about learning the basics anymore.

Recently, I realized that I had another advantage over kids these days. Of course, movies and journalists will claim it means I was brainwashed, but I was expected to adhere to a specific set of rules. And my mother took me to the church she believed taught the right things.

So Many Beliefs

Our world is diverse in so many ways. There are different races and religions. People choose political affiliation.

Cultures stress family units or individual achievement. Books are written about things as vague as basketweaving to the ridiculous notion of a zombie apocalypse.

Who’s to say what’s right or wrong?

Well, in the world of what I want to believe, I get to decide what is right for me. And, as a parent, I’m responsible for teaching my child the difference between right behavior and wrong behavior.
How did any of us survive with our mothers feeding us cow’s mile in our bottles? Everyone knows babies can process all those harsh proteins. They need their mother’s milk or expensive formula.
But we did survive. Our parents fed us what they ate.
Medical research has since declared cow’s milk “unhealthy” for infants. But did babies die from drinking it back in the day when people didn’t know better?
Maybe. Most likely they developed some form of allergic reaction. Even I was allergic to the fat in milk. It made my skin bubble up and itch.
All this to say that no person can teach their child every different belief system. In fact, they should give due diligence to being consistent living their own beliefs and explaining them to their children.
This whole “We don’t take our kid to church because we want them to choose their own beliefs” mentality confuses me. Introducing your children to what you believe is choosing to believe it for them?
I think not. You’ll put the Crest toothpaste on the counter in the bathroom and watch them brush their teeth twice per day. Why Crest? Is it really better than Colgate or Aquafresh or the store brand?
How can you force your toothpaste choice on your child?
Even more to the point, why do you make them brush their teeth anyway? What if they believe bad breath is better?

Pressure to Conform

Children will face pressure to conform.
If the parents don’t give them a baseline of acceptable responses (based on their own worldviews and societal standards), they’re setting their child up to fall in with the loudest voice.
For a few years, parents can be the only voice a child hears. And believe me, they will choose to ignore that voice plenty of times. Hopefully there will be consequences when they do.
Fair and consistent outcomes won’t happen very often in the larger world, but parents can make sure they happen in their child’s pre-school world. Why wouldn’t you take the opportunity to do it?
Because you’re brainwashing your child to be a Christian or a person who bathes or someone who eats three balanced meals per day?
As soon as they begin interacting with other kids, the pressure is on. Eventually, they’ll want different toys, different clothes, and different opportunities.
Do they really need these things to become a well-rounded individual?
Or if they conform to these expectations, are they being brainwashed by larger society to believe and act a certain way?

Freedom to Choose

God created humans to have free will.
Every person should have freedom to choose for themselves. God said so. He set the universe in place on that truth.

But if there is a choice, there is a right one and a wrong one.

Just because being a doctor is right for some people, it’s wrong for me. I don’t like to listen to a sick person’s list of complaints. I don’t want to go to school for a decade and be exposed to every bodily fluid.

But that doesn’t mean being a doctor is wrong. We need conscientious doctors who care about the physical and emotional well-being of people.

I wouldn’t be that doctor.

This is a case where the freedom to choose will give individuals unique outcomes. What’s right for one isn’t right for all.

However, children need to eat protein and vitamins. If they don’t, their brains and bodies won’t grow to optimum potential.

And fortified cereal isn’t the same as fresh fruit and organic eggs. Even if all the nutrients are the same, we know the foods aren’t equal. One choice is healthier for the developing human than the other.

In this case, freedom to choose can have a negative outcome if you choose poorly. And there is a better, more healthy choice.

All choices aren’t created equal even if the right to make them is consistent across the board.

I’m glad my mother didn’t give me a choice. Even though it meant eating liver and butternut squash, I didn’t get to choose to have a bologna and cheese sandwich instead. It meant I had to pick up rocks, pull weeds and clean toilets, but I’m not afraid to work hard and I know how to take care of my yard, garden (ugh, or how to NOT have one) and home.

I wouldn’t have been able to make good choices about many things in my life when I was a kid. If I’m honest, I still make poor choices as a middle-aged adult woman.

Let’s face it the $5 lunch from Dairy Queen sound delicious. And so much easier to make than fresh fruit, plain yogurt and sliced red peppers. But which one is a healthier choice?

School Begins: So will this argument about dress code

Is this really about treating girls like sex objects?
Is this really about treating girls like sex objects?

Most of the time, I just blow off the millions of memes I see on Facebook, especially when they’re obviously nothing more than a soapbox. For some reason, this one stabbed deeper than others. Because enforcing a dress code has nothing to do with shaming or promoting misogyny.

I worked in the public education system for nearly fifteen years. I sent girls (in 7th or 8th grade) whose breasts were hanging out of their strappy camisole to the office for a “real” shirt.

I am a die-hard believer of successful education, which means I support dress codes. AND there’s no point in having rules if they aren’t going to be enforced (state and federal governments might care to remember this).

Since I’m a woman, it’s obvious that I don’t hold these beliefs because I believe I’m nothing more than a sex object. Of course, I am from a pre-70s generation, so I’ve probably been brainwashed by societal norms *rolls eyes.*

Anyone who knows me is doubled over with laughter. Here, let me give them a moment to collect themselves.

This meme is a perfect example of the tendency in American society to blow every little thing out of proportion while claiming it has something to do with discrimination.

Alert: Dress codes exist everywhere

At the schools where I worked, guys were dinged nearly as often as girls for inappropriate dressing. Mostly it had to do with their pants pulled so low those boxers they wanted everyone to see were hanging out.

The rule: undergarments can’t be on display.

How many of us would go to work with our undergarments on display?

(Other than those of us who work at a home office where sweats and pajamas are part of the norm.)

School is about preparing young people for adulthood.

Unfortunately, some people are counting on the school system to teach their kids things that only parents should be addressing.

“Because what if those parents don’t talk to their girls about menstruation or birth control?”

Yeah, what if that happens. Because that happens quite frequently? Systems are being constructed around the exceptions in society rather than the majority.

And I probably just offended someone with that statement. Maybe even a multitude of someones. Please read on before you compose your diatribe for my comments section.

You can’t change physiology, folks. Teenagers are walking hormones. They’re going to be distracted by things like what a person’s wearing.

How can a teacher compete with that?

A girl who’s worried about being told to cover up her assets isn’t thinking about how her education was interrupted by this trip to the office. Do people really think that? Or is that just a reason they know will bring attention to their gripes?

In fact, most of these teenagers would go along and get along if media didn’t push issues like this to the forefront of everyone’s mind. I’m not saying they would be drones, but they’d learn. In this case, they could understand the point of enforcing the dress code.

It has nothing to do with discrimination. It’s not about reinforcing some perspective that women are sex objects.

It’s about teaching people to follow the rules.

I’m not going to bring in the statistics about the ever-increasing misdemeanor crime among young people. You live here. You know it’s a problem.

Maybe it’s because rather than telling kids, “Those are the rules. We don’t have to agree. We don’t have to like it. But we do have to follow them;” parents and media are encouraging them to defy the rules they disagree with.

As if teenagers need any additional incentive to buck the system.

The fact is, we do have to follw the rules. At school. Or work. In public. Otherwise, there are consequences.

At home, dress how you want. Watch what you want. Drink it, do it, knock yourself out. At home, you make your own rules.

But rather than bashing the school’s standards, support them as necessary for that time and place. Fight them through regular channels if you truly feel they’re unfair, biased, or out-dated.

For the next two weeks, I’ll post on this topic again. Next up: a letter to the teenage girl referenced in the meme that started this fire under my feet. The third post: a letter to the teenage boy supposedly being taught to regard girls as sex objects.

What do you think? Feel free to disagree with me. All I ask is that you use the same amount of respect you want when people argue against you.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

When I first started school I wanted to be a teacher. Who wouldn’t want to boss everyone around? By fourth grade, I loved making up stories, so I decided I wanted to be a novelist. Later…solving mysteries seemed exciting, so how about becoming an FBI agent?

Like most kids, my thoughts about the future vacillated from one end of the realistic spectrum to the other end of unrealistic. Dreams are grand. Dreams inspire us to reach higher.

Dreams are dreams. Expectations are a 1000-pound weight on a tired swimmers back. Throw them into the sea of swarming high school students who think they know everything. Is it any wonder kids drown?

When you know your purpose

I wrote my first “book” when I was nine years old. I filled dozens of spiral notebooks with short stories, longer stories, poetry and general musings from that time until after I graduated from high school.

Writing has always helped me express my emotions and sort out my problems. It’s safer to bleed your secrets on a sheet of paper than divulge them to people. A pen ranting on notebook paper gets a person in much less trouble than a verbal confrontation.

My yearning has always been to write. I used that yearning to write copy for a non-profit newsletter, lessons for classes I taught at church, and plays and skits for the youth group to perform.

I submitted a few stories to contests when I was younger. Tried my hand at writing articles and even wrote a novel. Rejection letters deterred me. My family needed me to be present in the moment rather than rattling around my make-believe worlds.

Most people don’t know what they want to do until they’re at least in high school. Some people don’t discover their “calling” until the age of 40, 50 or beyond.

If you’re 18 and don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, big deal. Don’t decide you won’t grow up until you do know. Follow a path. Experiment with different things. Purposelessness has a purpose when you’re using it as a barometer.

How to find your purpose

Some people volunteer at the animal shelter and they know they want to be a veterinarian. Others volunteer at the veterinarian office and decide they love animals, but doctoring the four-legged creatures isn’t how to express it.

The only way to find your niche is by doing. Try sports. Try theater. Try writing for the school newspaper (I did). Sing in the choir. Play in the band. Sell lemonade and deliver newspapers.

My oldest son found out he didn’t want a manual labor job after he worked at one for the summer. It inspired him to work hard in school so he could go to college. How did he know he wanted to be a computer programmer? You’ll have to ask him. His dad is and he always wanted to follow that path. Go figure.

My husband went to college to be an electrician. Yep and he ended up as a computer engineer. Electrical engineer or computer engineer. Slight difference, right? He’s been happy with the choice.

Some people like to do many different things. That could mean they would be happy in multiple fields. It might involve tons of experimentation before they find the right fit. Don’t give up. Keep trying.

You never know until you try. Words to live by – just saying.

What stands in the way

Let’s face it, when you’re a teenager, plenty of things stand in the way of finding out your genuine heart’s calling.

A short list:

  • Teachers: you know the one’s I’m talking about “You’re the best artist I’ve had in years”
  • Parents: “Writing? But what will your day job be?” “You’re going to take over the family business, right?”
  • Friends: “You should go to Western because I’m going there.”
  • Money: You either have it or you don’t. Don’t let that limit your vision.
  • Locale: If you live a million miles from nowhere, it’s hard to know if you’d like a career in the city or some other more urbanized setting.
  • Other nay-sayers: “What can you do with a degree in history?” “If you don’t go to college, you’ll never amount to anything.”

What other things have you heard that made it difficult to find your true calling? If you have advice or experience, please share it in the comments.

The Book, the Key or the Goblet

Dewy cedar mingles with brisk pine as I inhale deeply the fragrant woods.  A familiar path stretches before me, yet the mist that hovers near the ground lends a mysterious, unknown quality to the hard-packed dirt track under my feet.  Light from the rising sun filters through the treetops, a slight breeze sends the branches overhead into applause and whisks the mist around my ankles like a friendly feline.  Turning to the left, the path begins to rise, and ahead I see the outline of a cabin.

Immediately, I sense that no structure was in evidence the last time I walked this way.  I quicken my pace, up
the slight incline, breath quickening and calves burning.  Aside from the clapping branches, the woods are strangely silent; no birds twitter a greeting to the rising sun and no bugs hum in the pre-dawn coolness.

Cresting the hill, the cabin comes completely into view, a small one-room shack resembling the pump house at my grandmother’s retirement home in Idaho. Painted hunter green, just like that one, the exterior blends with the surrounding foliage.  As I pause to catch my breath, it seems as if the trees shrink away from the little building.  The sound of running water reaches my ears, but there isn’t a creek nearby and the sound is out-of-place.

While I glance around and puzzle over the sound of rushing water, the door of the house swings open,
creaking on its hinges and scraping against the wooden floorboards in the same manner Gram’s pump house door always did.  A woman with a wicker basket over her arm emerges from within.  Strangely, a veil covers her face, clashing with the light blue polyester slacks and black rain slicker she’s wearing.  Even though she moves confidently, her shoulders are slightly hunched which gives the impression that she’s older. Her
figure is full, soft, and grandmotherly even though she’s several inches shorter than I am.

When she is just a few feet away, she stops and speaks.  Holding the basket out toward me, I see lying within it on a scrap of red silk a dusty tome, an antique key and a simple pottery goblet.  She invites me to take one, or all, of the items from her basket, promising they will give me special knowledge about myself.

My fingers itch to touch the hardbound book.  It appears to be a journal with a faded navy leather cover.  Red ribbon peeps from the top indicating a silky bookmark inside.  My eyes rest upon the antique key briefly.  It’s small, somewhat discolored from age and so old-fashioned I can’t fathom what it would open.  The goblet is fired to a pearly sheen; marbled purple, lavender and ivory clay gives the cup shape and appeal.

Reaching with my right hand, I gently lift the book from the basket, which tilts and sways as I remove the small volume. My eyes sweep over the other two items again, but instead of reaching for anything else, I clutch the book with both hands, pulling it protectively toward my chest.  The cover feels warm and supple beneath my fingers.

The woman commends my choice. When her hands cover mine, they are rough and calloused but warm in the cool morning air.  Her knuckles , wrinkled and spotted with age, are knobby from arthritis.  After releasing my hands, she steps closer until we are only inches apart and pulls the veil away from her face.

Tears prick the back of my eyes because the face belongs to my much-loved grandmother.  Every wrinkle, every smile line, the silver, wire-framed glasses, the white hair in its short, wind-tousled style belongs to my Gram.  Every inch of the face is just as I remember, and then she smiles – angelic. The clearing brightens and I’m sure I hear musical calls of several birds.  Even as I return her smile, I feel the hot moisture on my face. I’ve missed her so much!

“Ask me one question about your life so far,” she says.  “Any question you want and I’ll answer you the best I know how.”

I’m speechless with joy and sorrow, overwhelmed that I’m getting another opportunity to talk to her.  I really just want one of her hugs.  I’ve missed them more than anything.  Only Gram could hug me in a way that made me feel cherished and accepted. Who knew a hug could say so much?

“Did you write this book?” I finally ask, holding the thin volume up slightly.

“You’re asking me about the book when you could ask me about anything?”

I nod, my eyes memorizing her every feature, knowing she’ll be gone soon. I don’t want to forget anything about this moment.

She shakes her head slightly, “I didn’t write the book,” she says quietly. “You did.”

Author’s Note: I wrote this story as part of an assignment for my nonfiction workshop in February 2011. My grandmother had been gone just over a year and I cried the whole time I wrote it. Gram believed in my dream. I’m pursuing my writing career with gusto now – in honor of her unfailing support and unconditional love.