Four Things to do When Life Isn’t Behaving …

Planner

My newly made planner for 2015. My 2014 Susan Branch Calendar sacrificed its life to make this wonderfulness a reality.

For list makers, goal setters and other planning nut jobs, this time of year is especially wonderful.  I start making my yearly “Goals Program” in December and hit the ground running in January.  I charge into a new year determined to be the Worlds Best version of myself.  It’s big fun.  I recommend insanity.  But there are millions of posts this time of year about goals and resolutions, so I won’t bore you with the details of mine … this post is about the things that happen that have nothing to do with your plan ….

The idea of “unplanning” my life a little bit came to me when I ran into an older lady at our church.  I don’t mean I saw her and approached her calmly because I hadn’t spoken to her in a while … I mean I ran into her.  I wasn’t paying attention and I almost knocked the poor woman over.  After I grabbed her to keep her upright, laughed, hugged her and sincerely apologized, she said something really wonderful to me.

“Oh, I’m so glad you weren’t paying attention!  It gave me a chance to hug you and say hi!  I haven’t seen you in forever!”  What a sweetheart.  Also, what a fabulous perspective on mistakes, detours, derailed plans, life.  I really needed it.

So I am switching my thoughts on goals and plans.  I will still make them, obviously, but here are things I’ve decided to do when they go awry.  Also a few thoughts on when something unexpected comes up that wasn’t even a missed plan, it wasn’t on my radar at all.

1.  Remember that most unplanned things aren’t a problem until we make them a problem.  

Of course there are exceptions to this, disease, car crashes … those sorts of things are a problem in themselves.  I’m talking about roadwork, getting cut off, traffic delays, missing a meeting, smacking face first into a 75 year old lady in your church hallway.  Your attitude determines whether or not these things will ruin your day.  My dad used to call them “adventures”.  If you see your life as an adventure, having to make a detour won’t upset you so much.  Life is what you make of it.  So make it great.

2.  Most mistakes can be fixed with just the right word at just the right time.

I have a problem with my mouth.  It is always opening and saying things.  I have learned that, while words spoken can’t ever be taken back, there are ways to mend the things you broke when you opened your mouth.  Recently I was on Facebook and in a super bad mood.  As a side note, it’s always a good idea to get on Facebook when you’re ready to spit nails.  I was following a thread about something non-important and noticed a friend’s comment had been taken poorly by the group and people were reacting negatively towards her.  I went into attack mode, defending my friend while eviscerating the person who had been unkind and thereby started an entirely new war.  Really.  Nothing is more vicious than a group of mommies with nothing to do but follow pointless Facebook threads.  The next day I noticed that the thread had exploded thanks to my hostile comment and one lady was even considering leaving the group.  Sigh. I apologized on the thread, promised them that I now had my head on straight (and had drunk several cups of coffee that morning, improving my outlook on life) and begged the poor woman not to leave the group based solely on my stupidity.  She accepted my apology, stayed in the group and I think she might even like me now.

If I had waited one more day to try and make amends, I doubt the story would be the same.  Sometimes everyone needs time to cool down, but sometimes the situation needs to be diffused immediately.  When broiling over words and tempers are involved usually a soft word is what’s needed, not days and days for the problem to fester and grow.  Stop the madness!  Apologize quickly and completely (even if you were partially right, now’s not the time!) and let everyone move on with their lives!  And when in doubt … just keep your mouth shut in the first place and stay off the internet when you’re a grouch.

3. Have a positive default setting for when things go really wrong.

Ever heard the phrase, “Bad hair days are good hat days”?  We all know that things are going to go wrong in our lives eventually.  If you plan your immediate reaction to the negatives in life, it will make them a bit easier to deal with.  For instance, when something upsetting happens to my mom, she buys chocolate for us all to eat.  No kidding.  Who doesn’t win in that scenario?  There are doctors who would call that an unhealthy relationship with food.  I call it delicious.

When Jason and I were first married we had two miscarriages in one year.  I took every test the medical world could offer and they all had “normal” results.  When I got pregnant for the third time, I made a plan for how I would react if I once again lost the pregnancy.  I actually made a list of the things in my life that would still be good even if I couldn’t have the baby I desired so desperately.  He was a boy.  Sometimes you don’t have to put your default setting to use.  That’s always nice.

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My oldest son, Jack. He’s six now.

4. Use the opportunity to help someone else.

This entire world is broken.  That is just a fact.  I love to see the positive and silver lining, and I wear rose colored glasses on purpose, but sometimes even I have to get real.  People need help, healing, love, hugs … us.  If you’re thinking, “How am I supposed to deliver healing when I’M so sick?!” I have some fabulous news for you!  God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty.  It’s awesome.  So many times the things we look at as a struggle and a heart ache, someone else can look to as a light at the end of their very dark tunnel.  If you have health problems, use them to help others with the same problem. If you’ve lost a parent, you can now reach out with empathy to others who have suffered the same loss.  If you have a child who is making terrible choices, other parents may one day look to you to figure out how to live through their own precious child’s crisis.

Many of you are probably well aware that the current and effective “Amber Alert” system grew out of the greatest tragedy imaginable.  I was a teenager when the beautiful little Amber was snatched from her street by a psychopath and the manhunt that ensued was brutal and heartbreaking.  On the other side of it, Amber’s parents took their horror story and turned it into something that has given hundreds of parents back their children.  Can you imagine that? Heartache will happen anyway.  We might as well help each other through.

I do realize this isn’t a typical “Happy New Year!” post.  But since our year definitely will not go as planned, we might as well have a plan for it … see what I did there?

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And really, Happy New Year!  I hope all of your lists work out.

Generation X and Y Raise Children … from our iPhones

Lils

There are distinct advantages to parenting now days.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when our kids are sick.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when we need birthday party ideas.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when we need stocking-stuffer ideas. There are real disadvantages too.  We have the internet to tell us about GMO’s and high-fructose corn syrup.  We have the internet to feed all our children’s symptoms into when they’re sick and find out that they match up with either cancer, ebola or the common cold.  We have the internet so now we have to buy three different softwares just to protect our children from its content.

The bigger disadvantage to raising kids coming from our generation is that the vast majority of us don’t use our heads any more even though we have the bulk of the world’s knowledge on a palm fitting device in our purses. I personally cannot hold one single phone number in my brain.  I don’t even know my husband’s number by heart.  The only number I remember is my friend Jennilyn’s and that’s only because it hasn’t changed since my childhood and it has a very nice rhythm to it that stuck in my head like a commercial jingle.

Also, we’re not good at heeding actual human advice. Since we are children of the eighties and nineties, constantly told that “no one has the right to tell us what to do”,  we now all get on our tablets and get THEM to tell us what to do. Instead of calling our moms to discover how to fix a behavior issue with our children, like our mothers did, we now ask a million strangers in cyberspace what to do.  The good news is we avoid cluing our mothers in on the fact that we are ignorant of something.  The bad news is, we have no human contact and may all shrivel up and die.  But we probably won’t notice, we’ll be looking at cat pictures and arguing with a stranger on the internet up until our last dying breath.

The wealth of info at our fingertips would truly be awesome if it came from fabulous sources, right?  But, how many of our doctors in recent years have heaved enormous sighs when we admitted that we looked up our symptoms on WebMd before we came in … and that’s why it took us so long to come in … and that’s why it has now developed into bronchial pneumonia.  I’m sorry, Dr.  I was afraid you’d tell me I had lung cancer, so I was treating this dreadful cough myself.  Essential oils are a real thing … I swear.  I read it on the internet. (Just kidding, I actually use essential oils with some success).

But I digress.

A disturbing trend I’m seeing in modern parents comes from a mixture of inexperienced moms who write about their lack of experience as if they really know what they’re doing, and equally inexperienced people who “share” these writings on all social networks.  Here are a few recent “gems” the popped up in my newsfeed/twitterfeed, “Why I Didn’t Make My Child Share” – the sage advice of a parent with a three year old who uses 2000 words to explain why her child should never have to share anything they like … because they are the king of the planet and every other child should bow down to them.  “Why I NEVER Tell My Child She is Naughty” – this one was a well-meaning mom trying not to damage their child’s fragile self-image by saying “you are naughty”.  Instead she would affirm her daughter by saying “what you just did was inappropriate.”  I’m sure the subtle nuance totally got through to her toddler.

I have no problem trying out new parenting techniques.  And I certainly have no problem with people sharing blog posts on Facebook.  I learn from them.  I like them.  I HAVE a blog, so I definitely love that it can be shared!  But humans have a weird brain thing when it comes to things we see in print.  Especially things with swirling, beautiful pictures all around them, in professional looking font.  I’m as much of a sucker as anyone.  I read these posts and then wonder, “are my kids scarred for life?  I definitely said Lily WAS naughty the other day instead of saying her actions were inappropriate.  And I made Jack share his toys with his cousins who came over yesterday … and now they’re going to grow up and be ax murderers.”  And then I get a grip.

We’ve got to wake up and see, that the people we are flocking to for this advice are A) people we don’t know. B) more importantly we don’t know their KIDS?  If they aren’t ever taught that they are naughty and they have to share, I’m pretty sure they’re not delightful.  I absolutely don’t want my child to be in their vicinity. And C) they are people whose kids are only 3 and they really have no idea what the results of these ideas will be.

There are a trillion different parenting styles and my kids are still little, so I don’t judge.  What I’m saying is, perhaps, getting all our ideas from a very untested future is not the answer.  I always thought that finding a nice couple at my church, with children who are grown up and lovely and asking for their secrets was the way to go.  Unfortunately, these people usually don’t write blogs.  They either think computers are too “newfangled” or they’re too busy with their grandkids … or the worst one yet:  They have fabulous grown children who are successful and happy and they tell you, “Whatever you do, don’t do what we did.”  “If I had it to do over again, I would never yell at them.”  “If I had it to do over again, I would have prayed more and worried less.”  “I wouldn’t have spanked them … ever!” Wait what?  How is this helpful?  Your kids went to Harvard!  They are confident, brilliant and still manage to be sweet and compassionate.  Why do good parents do this, you wonder?  It’s because of a little thing I like to call, “the grandparent phenomenon”.  They aren’t really the people in those houses raising those currently fabulous people.  All the sudden they are afraid their grandkids will be yelled at, or grounded, or won’t be allowed to play with the new iPad they’re buying them for Christmas.  Now, as Bill Cosby would say, they are just old people trying to get into heaven. We are sunk.

So if we don’t trust the internet’s toddler parent offerings, and every old person tells us to do they opposite of what they did, what ARE we supposed to do?  If we’re smart, aware of the source, and paying attention to the results of our own attempts, then there must be an algorithm we can follow.  For instance, every time my child cries and screams for something and I tell them that they must stop or go take a nap, they stop crying.  Voila!  That worked … at least that time.  The sad truth is, there is no perfect trick to parenting.  Growing up I was taught that there are various promises in the Bible apparently like a magic spell (except magic was a sin,) that if we only lean on them, our children will all be doctors, or missionaries in Ethiopia.  The truth is, God Himself, the perfect father, still allows people their own free will.  Even your little people.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” is a principle, not a promise.  How could God possibly make a promise about the condition of the human heart when He Himself, refuses to dictate its actions?  My pastor pointed this out a few weeks ago, it’s not my own insight.  But it’s definitely a relief.  God doesn’t let parents off the hook.  We are supposed to train up our children in the way they should go.  But the results are not in our hands, they lie in the hands of free-willed human beings.  And free-willed human beings make mistakes sometimes.  Mistakes that lead to disaster in some cases.  My mom always says not to judge people who are in desperate situations because of their choices.  “We are all just three bad decisions away from disaster at any given time.”  So true.  Sometimes just one decision.

Are our children doomed because we yell occasionally?  I certainly hope not.  If we tell them they’re naughty?  Come on?  Really?  How many times did your mom tell you you were naughty?  You lived.  I’m pretty sure, if your child has any real problems, and any brains later on, a tiny change in syntax will not destroy them.

Jason reading

Maybe if we give them too many hugs.  Tell them we love them too much.  Spend more time with them than is strictly necessary they will do well in life.  My husband is good at stretching time especially when reading to them.  Books that I skim through as quickly as possible, sometimes skipping words for efficiency, he reads slowly, with big voices.  He points out shapes and colors, and spells the words with them.  He is awesome.  I usually can’t get the mound of dishes in the sink off my mind.  To his credit, or perhaps detriment, the dishes don’t come into his mind at all.

To make a short story longer than it should be, the real thing I lean on is love.  You can’t go wrong with love. I don’t mean doting on your children, giving in to every little thing they want and not ever forcing them to do something they don’t like.  I mean true love.  If you look up the definition in a dictionary it will suffice, but I prefer 1 Corinthians 13, because it is beautiful and full of poetic words that sound like music to me.  Love is patient, kind, long-suffering, keeps no record of wrongs … it goes on and on and if we take just this chapter and used it as our guideline for life, and teach our kids to do the same, I think our they will be just fine.  This is tested parenting advice.  It came from my mother, and my grandmother, and her grandmother… and I can’t get a single one of them to write a parenting blog.

3 Steps to a More Positive Life

Calm in the Whirlwind

Rainbow over the Muldrow Glacier

The term “pet peeve” has always bugged me.  I mean, aside from the fact that “peeve” just sounds weird and sets my teeth on edge, the term itself is just an excuse.  Someone is giving themselves permission to be negative because whatever just happened is their “pet peeve”.  As my sister would say, well, bully for you.

My Dad had chronic pain when I was growing up.  Rheumatoid arthritis.   Dreadful.  Anyway, in spite of this, he strove to raise us in an ultra positive atmosphere.  The things normal people disliked were usually my favorites because I didn’t know we were supposed to hate them.  I have crazy love for things like Mondays, broccoli, cats and rainy days.  I was homeschooled, so I didn’t know until I got out into the “real world” that there was something inherently wrong with this.  I learned how to keep this disturbing part of…

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11 Thoughts from 9/11

statue of liberty

Nobody forgets where they were and what they were doing when National Tragedies strike.  My mom told us the story of where she was when Kennedy was shot, and she was just a little girl.  While the sadness that overwhelms us after events like 9/11 finally lessens with time, the impact they make on our country and our personal lives last forever.  And they should.  It is a good thing for people to remember, to mourn again for a moment, to rally to a cause.  It’s what makes us different from animals.  We are human, so we remember …

1. I remember that America became temporarily patriotic again.  For that small window of time, politics, religion, race, all that separates us from one another was removed and we loved our country, and we loved each other.

2. I remember that the Pentagon was also hit. (It seemed like New York got so much more press, but I bet the families affected by the Pentagon attack didn’t think it was less important.)

3. I remember the heroes of the day.  I love ordinary heroes, and there were a lot that day.  Many helping hands pulled people from flames, held doors so people could get out.  Went in when everyone else was getting out.  People are incredibly brave!

Praying firefighter

4.  I remember “Let’s Roll”.  Those courageous men, led by Todd Beamer, who took over Flight 93 when they found out what was happening to the other hijacked planes.  They stormed the cockpit, overpowered the terrorists and crashed the plane into a field rather than allow the terrorists to kill more innocent people.

5. I remember the guy in the median.  I never knew his name, but there was a guy who spent the days following 9/11 sitting on a folding chair in a median holding a sign that said, “Honk if you love America”.

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6. I remember the teenagers on the corner with signs.  Our college bus service was taking us to Walmart when we passed a group of teenagers on the corner, holding signs that said “We love America”, “Honk for America”, “Pray for America”.  The entire bus spontaneously broke into a chorus of “God Bless America”.  We gathered at the windows and sang at the top of our lungs and pounded on the metal roof of the bus, while the kids on the corner hooped and hollered and clapped for our country.

7. I remember that churches were full.

8. I remember that cities were emptied.

9. I remember that George W. Bush continued to read a book to an elementary class, not giving that group of children the burden of adulthood, even though he had just been given the news that America was under attack.

George Bush

10. I remember that my Dad resolutely refused to stop flying on airplanes,  My Mom works for Southwest, and Daddy told anyone who would listen that it was okay to fly.  He comforted passengers whose jobs required them to fly, intentionally sitting by those who looked most nervous so that he could speak peace to them during the flight.

11. I remember that many have died defending our country ever since.  There has never been a war like the war we have waged these past 13 years.  Sometimes I’ve supported it, sometimes I’ve scratched my head at it, but I have always been thankful and supportive of our brave, dedicated troops who risk their lives so we can be free.

“Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It’s a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. But not only of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend–even a friend whose name it never knew.“ – President George W. Bush, December 11, 2001

Birthday Present

My husband’s hiking journey across America!

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So 15 years ago today, I arranged a little birthday present to myself. I scheduled for my last day of active duty in the United States Marine Corps to coincide with my birthday, September 2, 1999. Just that by itself, not a bad gift; but this particular day  also marked the 1st day of my final preparations to start my hiking trek from San Diego, California to Calais, Maine.

So there I was with my little white Nissan pickup, its bed loaded with boxes of supplies. Each box labeled with a different city. Twenty-five cities along a predetermined route between San Diego, CA and Marble Falls, TX. I know Marble Falls isn’t a big deal to most, but it was my hometown, it would be a good motivator to help me stay the course. Each box represented a supply drop that I had planned along my coarse as I traveled…

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The Eye of the Beholder

rose picture

I heard a quote the other day that I just love:  “Anyone can love a rose, but it takes a great deal to love a leaf.  It is ordinary to love the beautiful, but it is beautiful to love the ordinary.”

I have a conch shell on my bathroom windowsill that is impossible to dust. No one would think it was anything special, just at a glance. It is thickly coated in some sort of white crust, and into the crust is embedded all these tiny little shells that no doubt belonged to tiny sea creatures who wandered up looking for a spot to land. I’m guessing they finally just left their shells there after fruitlessly trying to disconnect from the muck. One can only hope they found a safe harbor before being eaten by something … probably the thing that lived in my conch shell. As unlovely as it is now, it was actually a slimy mossy green when I got it, and I bleached it and scrubbed it until it is now its white crusty, spiderweb catching self. I think it’s beautiful.

Here it is in all it's inglory!

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I do not have an artistic eye, though I’m working on it. I usually last about 12 minutes in an art gallery. I look long and hard at sculptures that appear to have been dropped, then glued back together, and I see no deeper meaning.

I always wind up thinking, “My five year old could make that, and then we’d really be banking!” Those kinds of things are worth a fortune. So I spend my obligatory 12 minutes working my way through the art I understand and then, once I’ve passed the Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses stuff I’m all, “So, someone mentioned going for pizza after this? Is anyone else starving?”

America has a strange idea of beauty now. Have you noticed? Beauty is only attributed to young, smooth, perfect sorts of things. I mean, we seem to like weird artwork, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to other stuff or people, we miss the boat a lot. Not all Americans, but mainstream folks, even Christians seem to place a higher value on that which is fun to look at. Just try finding a popular Christian musician that isn’t pretty. I’m telling you, IF they exist, they are super rare!

Not just Christians though, of course. Hollywood is kind of low on talent, but ridiculously high in the beauty category. It is full of gorgeous, young, smooth women who are twenty pounds underweight, and full of people of ordinary size who are all grocery store clerks in movies. I feel bad for Hollywood women.  They only have a shelf life of approximately three months.  Then they develop a wrinkle that can’t be airbrushed out and their career is shot, unless you’re Betty White who is adorable, or Meryl Streep who is just too fabulous to be shunted away. Still it’s pretty hard to get a job in Hollywood, even for a guy, if you don’t have just the perfect look. I guess if they feel you’re worth the trouble, they might also try to give you just the perfect look. Heaven forbid people just look normal. It might give people the impression that they are worthy of attention just like they are.

Anyone watching the night Susan Boyle debuted on “Britain’s Got Talent” knows exactly what I’m talking about.  You should watch it on Youtube if you didn’t see it live.  People’s reactions to her were incredible.  The obvious, not just distaste, but utter lack of respect shown to her before she started singing will blow your mind.  Also, everyone’s reaction AFTER she started singing will blow your minds.  How could someone with slightly crooked teeth, who doesn’t fall in the 16-22 age range and isn’t a stick figure possibly be talented?  An anomaly of the first order no doubt.  Someone completely forgot to tell her that she was worthless because she wasn’t a super model.  I think we should all use a little less plastic and paint.

Here is my thought about my conch shell, and unbeautiful people (I learned that word from a five-year-old. It’s so awesome that every word processor underlines it with a red squiggly line). I don’t think my conch shell is beautiful because I bought it at a shell shop somewhere in Missouri a thousand miles from an actual beach. You can find shells in places like that.  It’s just weird. I guess they’re there for people who spend money to have perfectly polished and beautiful things to decorate their house. I am obviously not one of those people. If you added up everything I’ve spent on my home decor, it probably wouldn’t equal what one of those pretty conch shells would cost you.

But I ask you this: Was your pretty and polished conch shell fished out of the sea for you on a mission trip to Belize?  Was it handed to you with love by one of the sweetest teenagers in existence?  Was it smuggled, somewhat illegally, through customs wrapped artfully in dirty clothes in your luggage?  I’m just sayin.  My story is cooler. Just so you know, I have nothing against spending money on your house … but I have nothing against my way either.

Everything in my house is either a token of an experience that I loved, or given to me by someone I love. I hate those random psych questions that ask, “If your house was on fire and your family was safe and you knew you could save one thing, what would you save?” I usually sit for a moment and mentally run through every picture, book, bottle of sand (yes, sand is a decoration at my house) and then flee the room in tears. I would want to save all of it. It all has meaning to me. That query is even more bizarre when they tell you you can only save one family member. My husband refers to a Captain Kirkism as an answer.  “I don’t believe in a no win scenario.  I would save them all.”   I refuse to answer altogether.  I don’t think Jason or I would do very well on a psyche evaluation.

It is my personal opinion that people are more beautiful the longer they live and the less they botox. If you will sit and share your life story with a kid for an hour, or if you can describe what it was like to huddle in a foxhole, or fearlessly march onto a beach in Normandy under constant German fire, or you still knit, sew or crochet, you are a beautiful person. If you sag somewhere because you’ve had three children, or your skin is puckered from surgery, or your hands are calloused from years of using them for your livelihood, that’s all because life has happened to you.  If you’re a single or foster parent, don’t even get me started on your level of amazingness.

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The greatest beauty lies in reality: in the depth of our experiences. Smile lines are a mark of a life spent finding joy in trials. Not the mark of a perfect life.

So, we should expand our definition of beauty a little bit, right?  At least enough to include ourselves, for pete’s sake!  It isn’t because we’re humble that we don’t think we’re beautiful, it’s because we’ve been lied to, we’re insecure, we’re inundated with plastic figurines all painted to perfect specifications by toddlers in China.  So forget the Walmart version of you, or the Dillards version if you happen to have more money.  We are my conch shell.  We have a story that is worth being a bit banged up for.  We are real people, with real purpose in life.  We are loved by God.  Jesus would rather die than live without us.  If nothing else in this entire world is beautiful, that is beautiful.  End of story.

Poisoning People for Fun and Profit

 

I have always had a thing for words. Like, since I was old enough to start noticing their usefulness in getting what I wanted.  Especially when this included grating on my older brother and sister’s nerves. It was big fun when, in an argument, Ryan would make some perfectly lucid 6-year-old point, and I would spout back in my three-year-old wisdom, “Well you’re just too preposition to know better!”. He would usually respond to this by running to Mom yelling, “Mom, Julie’s talking weird again!” Argument won.

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Words in pretty much any form are beloved by me.  Listening to a really fabulous speech or sermon took my breath away even when I was much too young for that to be cool.  Speaking them for myself was, of course, fabulous.  Written words … heaven.  You don’t even want to see my “written words” collection.  But just in case you do ever happen upon one of my bookshelves and feel the urge to pull a book out, please put it on the table for re-shelving by the competent maniac librarian who has them all categorized in a very specific order.  The pulling-books-off-the-shelves stage was a very hard moment in my toddlers’ lives.  I say moment, because I pretty muchly lost my mind over it, and they never tried it again.  I mean, really.  Have a little respect for the crazy person and her library.  18-month-olds.  Sheesh.

My problem is that words come too easily, too naturally to me. Just the perfect word to zap someone in their place is usually right on the tip of my tongue. This would be perfect except my Mom ruined it for me.  Imagine if you will the kindest, most considerate person on the planet.  I mean, so nice that it’s actually just ridiculous.  Now double it.  Now imagine they raised you.  Sigh.

65% of the conversations I had with my mother up to the age of like 17, were the following:

Me:  “So then I told them (insert brilliant, just-funny-enough-to-make-everyone-laugh, just-true-enough-to-make-one-person-really-pale comment)”.

Mom with a horrified and disappointed look on her face: “But you didn’t really say that, did you?” She always gave me the benefit of the doubt, knowing my love of words also extended to the ability to embellish details of stories after the fact.

Me: too honest to say no, too embarrassed to admit out loud that I really did say whatever horrible thing I had said.

Mom: (insert various forms of telling your child to go apologize immediately.)

Sad times, friends.  Apologizing for the perfect zinger tends to take the “zing” out.  Brutal for a budding verbal martial artist.

I can’t remember how old I was before I started to realize on my own that my words had the same effect on others that their words had on me. I do remember that I was much older than I should have been for that insight. I will also say that whoever made up that idiotic childhood taunt, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” had probably never been spoken to before. Or more likely, they had been talked to too much, and this fictional phrase was their defense mechanism. Today, I’m sure they would have been assigned a syndrome. Off the point a bit, my favorite version of this saying remains Gilligan’s from “Gilligan’s Island”.  His phrasing was far more accurate in my opinion, “Sticks and stones may break my bones … so please, don’t throw sticks and stones.”

In my childhood verbiage was fun to experiment with. The many sounds words made tickled my brain, sizzled on my tongue. I used them ecstatically, with reckless abandon. The more powerful the word, the better. In my adulthood, I have discovered the truth about them. They can be extremely dangerous in the wrong circumstances. Hitler used them to build his Third Reich, to justify genocide, to work people into a frenzy for his cruel, lustful regime.  When teaching on the Nazis in my World History classes I had many students ask me, “How could he ever get people to do the things they did?” Just with words.  What a frightening prospect.

So here is my happy note (I always enjoy the happy note). Like any powerful thing, language is also wonderful! The right word spoken at the right moment is pure brilliance!

My mom had a quote about kindness that I remind myself of constantly when raising my own kids, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.” Really. Kindness is available to your lips 24 hours a day at no expense to you whatsoever. How much does it really cost you to say something healing, instead of corrupting? To be honest, instead of manipulative? To do a little research before posting some preposterous media-cooked-up horror story on your Facebook page?  Good words are just as free as terrible ones.  That is comforting to me.

Jason and I have four beautiful children … that we had in four not always-so-beautiful years.  An interesting phenomenon happens to you when you have more than two children, as anyone with three plus will attest to.  People have a weird idea that they are allowed to say anything whatsoever to you, no matter how personal, even if they don’t know you.

Ground breaking

The pretty lady on my right is my precious mom

It cracks me up the amount of people who ask us if we’re finished, to which I actually respond with a smile and a “We think probably so,” instead of what I’d rather say, “None of your cotton pickin’ business”.  They also feel free to ask us about our sex life.  “You do know what causes that, don’t you?”  to which I want to respond with either “No, can you explain it to me?  I was homeschooled.” or “Yes!  We LOVE doing what causes this.” depending on my mood.  I’ve even been asked on multiple occasions if I’ve finally taken care of that problem – Really?  I could go on a while, but I won’t.  I will say, that today someone spoke the most wonderful words to me when I was out with my four children at a restaurant.

An older couple were sitting beside us while we ate.  When they were getting up to leave, the man grinned at my kids and said, “Are they all yours?” I smiled back and said they were.  He got a little teary eyed and said, “The only thing that could possibly be better than this, would be to add a couple more.”  Love.

 They both smiled and waved at the kids as they left.  My heart just glowed from his sweet words.  The waitress came with the check and asked me as I was paying if they were all mine, and if we were done.  I smiled and said, “We think probably so.”  Nice moments can’t last forever.  That’s okay.  She had to clean up the mess they made, so she’s way more entitled to ask than that random lady in the toilet paper aisle at Walmart.

Because of their incredibleness, I’m fairly certain my love affair with words will continue as long as I live.  I will try to be more cautious though, remembering the impact words have on people.  I’ll keep in mind the next time the anger boils up and I just want to rip someone to shreds that it’s usually not the customer service representative’s fault that my phone bill was double this month.  Niceness will always get me farther than yelling.  I know.  I’ve tried both.

Our friends, children, coworkers, staff are collecting the things that we say and turning it into our legacy with them.  They don’t care how much money we make, or what car we drive or how nice our clothes are.  They only care about how our words make them feel.  So let’s make them feel awesome!  And whatever we do, let’s just please not throw sticks and stones.