Nursery Rhymes For Children

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So when it comes to free thought, mine may be closer to connected that one might think.  Last night, around bedtime, the General wanted to know what I was doing and I said: “I’m winding clocks.”  Think it through.  I’ve got eight clocks that chime at fifteen- minute intervals.  At some point shortly before bedtime, I noticed that one of the clocks had stopped running altogether and that another wasn’t in proper sync with the correct number of chimes at fifteen-minute intervals. Subsequently, in getting it wound and properly set, the rhythm or rotation was slightly off. Consequently, I inadvertently went passed the actual time before it was chiming and striking at the correct intervals and reflecting the current time. Long story short, getting it correct was a time consuming process.  Unfortunately, I didn’t start the process until bedtime.

 

Almost with the thrill of a kid in a candy store, befor I actually went to bed last night I was elated that all eight clocks were once again operational and doing what wind-up clocks are designed to do.  It was more than three-part-harmony. It was more like two quartets of clocks melodiously singing their sound into the night.  Yet before everything was in sync, I was moving from clock to clock advancing each at fifteen-minute intervals. I had the thought: “I’ve become the Mad Hatter.”

Maybe it all ties back to my friend’s plan to take his two grandsons from Texas to Nebraska so they can absorb 1 minute and 52 seconds of the sun playing second chair to the moon and darkness enveloping parts of the earth.  How’s that for a layman’s explanation of the total eclipse?  You are probably thinking I’m bonkers.  Bingo! – That is the correct answer. Didn’t folks think the Mad Hatter in Alice In Wonderland was also bonkers?

Okay, so what’s the connection? Wasn’t Alice in Wonderland originally from Kansas?  Do you get my drift and see where I’m going with this?  Be careful how you answer?  You might find yourself on a list (perhaps a very long list) of folks needing a mental health assessment related to cognition. Okay, so it is contagious and it does relate to cognition.  Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz was from Kansas. It wasn’t Alice at all!  Alice was the English girl who fell into a rabbit hole and discovered a fantasy world filled with strange characters.

Of course, the Mad Hatter in Alice In Wonderland was more than a little strange.  Okay, so he was very strange.  It was one of the pitfalls of the vocation. After all, how many poisonous chemicals can one work with in the course of a career track without having unintended side effects?  Reportedly, the Mad Hatter portrayed in Alice In Wonderland, a story made for children carried a subtle message for the adults who read the story to their children.

Didn’t everyone know you’d have to be crazy to work in a British hat factory?  There was something about the long-term exposure to mercury used in the creation of felt hats that took its toll on the cognitive abilities of those involved in that trade. If you lost your cognitive abilities it was explained away as “mad hatters disease” or so the story behind the story goes.

I guess you can read almost anything into a storyline, but some think Alice in Wonderland was actually written as a satire on the 19th century British social system.  It was easily understood that the Queen of Hearts could refer to Queen Victoria herself.  With that as a given, all of the characters were representations of various British personalities.  The Mad Hatter represented environmental dangers that could be found in the workplace of many.

It is similar to the concept that you can usually almost always get by with saying anything as long as you remember to laugh as you share the punch line.  Integrate a subtle cautionary warning to adults through the storyline that includes children as the intended audience and the message gets by without question.

What about the nursery rhymes that we learned as children? Was Baa Baa Black Sheep a story line for children or was it an acceptable form of protest related to taxation?  Some think it had to do with the medieval wool tax imposed by King Edward in the 13th Century.  It was a lofty tax.  King Edward got a third, the church got a third and the farmer got a third.  The little shepherd boy who lives down the lane didn’t get anything but a responsibility to occupy his time.

Do you remember playing or singing Ring Around the Rosie as children?  Who would have thought the storyline has to do with the 1665 Great Plague of London?  The “rosie” related to the rash of those suffering from the bubonic plague and the “pocket full of posies” were need to camouflage or neutralize the smell of death.

What about the line: “Mary Mary Quite Contrary How Does You Garden Grow?”  Oh My!  Who would have thought the story had to do with religious conflict? Reportedly Contrary Mary had to do with “Bloody Mary”, the daughter of King Henry VIII.  She was given the tagline “bloody” because of her influence to torture and murder of Protestants.  I guess you could say she was a devout Catholic who thought the kingdom was better served with fewer Protestants.  Her garden was reportedly the graveyards which were filling with Protestant Martyrs.

Getting back to the Mad Hatter, in Alice in Wonderland, some think it was a reference to one of the author’s friends.  He was a man by the name of Theophilus Carter who spent a good portion of his day standing in the doorway of his furniture shop.  He predictably was always wearing a top hat. He reportedly was a bit eccentric and folks in the neighborhood gave him the nickname, “The Mad Hatter.”

Theophilus Carter is credited with inventing “The Alarm Clock Bed”.  What better way to wake up than being dumped into a tub of cold water?  Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.  I don’t know if that makes him the mad hatter, but I’d definitely be mad at the hatter if I awakened by being spilled into cold water.

All My Best!

Don

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The Pied Piper

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The little guy was absolutely precious. At first he was shy and self-protectively content in in close proximity to his mother’s arms or those of his father.  I understand that self-protective stance represents secure attachment and really should be regarded as a highly desired trait. Most folks intuitively think otherwise, but they don’t know what they don’t know.  I probably wouldn’t know it either, but I have the good fortune of having a child welfare background and I actually learned a few things about child development across the years.

Of course, as the evening wore on the little guy intuitively warmed to the General and myself.  It isn’t that I know all the tricks of the trade, I don’t. But having been a kid I know the things that were always a welcoming discovery for me.  Take for example, a bottle of chocolate milk. Anticipating the family’s coming for grilled burgers, I picked up a bottle of chocolate milk at the grocery store.  Pardon the pun, but that had to be good for brownie points with a two year old.

Maybe he picked up on the sparkle in my eyes when I talked of chocolate milk. I even had the thought as I talked that I wouldn’t mind having a glass myself.  I generally hate going to the grocery store for anything other than a steak to grill, but if I find myself in the dairy section, I have a tendency for a chocolate milk drift.  I buy a quart for my own consumption and it is gone before I get back home.  Sometimes it just feels good to be a kid again.

When I mentioned the chocolate milk, the mother said: “Maybe he’d like it. He’s never had chocolate milk before.”  Wow!  Could that really be true?  I countered, “Oh, then he doesn’t have to try it.  I just thought it was something he’d enjoy.”  She smiled and said, “No let’s try it. I like chocolate milk myself.”

The dad went out to the car to get the little guy’s Sippy cup and the rest is history. It was a “bottoms up” kind of experience.  The little guy really like it!  After dinner the General played the “pied piper” and appeared with a basket full of toys ideally suited for a two year old.  I was shocked by their appearance. After all didn’t we just rid the house of the non-essentials?  I’m sure we carried more than one box full of toys to Goodwill. 

Okay, so I learned something about the General. I’m not the only one that has difficulty letting go of things.  The basket of toys was all wooden objects that you’d find in a grocery store.  The apples and bananas and other assorted things were pieced together with Velcro.  So the toys were educational in nature and required eye-hand-coordination and the ability to experientially put things that came apart back together again.  These toys were not leftover toys from our children’s childhood. They were purchased for the grandkids. 

I made a mental note to ask the General about them later. I thought we were getting rid of all the non-essentials.  Of course, it worked out well that we had them for the little guy’s use. After all, he probably had never pieced a banana or apple back together before.  Add to that the chocolate milk, and he was on an adventure of sorts for himself.

I playfully asked if he’d like to go outside and feed the fish.  Of course, he was open to that.  As we neared the door I asked:  “Would you mind holding my hand?”  He reached out and took my hand. It was a “feel good” experience for me. I sensed it was for him as well.

In short order, the next thing I knew the little guy was periodically climbing up in my lap as the conversation had moved from out of the house to the patio.  His parents were very complimentary of our patio area and the outside view. They have only been in Henly for a couple of years.  Initially living in Houston, they made it to Austin and in a quest not to live on a postage size stamp lot, discovered property in Henly.  They purchased the property and subsequently had their first home built.

Speaking of their home, the mom said: “We really need to get a deck built. If you open the door it is a four foot drop to the ground.”  I had an immediately flashback to the first house we built in Henly.  When had an identical experience.  The wooden deck was built a couple of years after we moved in because money doesn’t grow on trees and we had to wait until we could afford it.

Actually, a good friend who had been a next-door neighbor when we lived in San Angelo came and helped with the construction.  Okay, so I helped with the construction and he provided the knowledge base and expertise to build the deck.  It instantly served as an outdoor sitting area for many a conversation and several years of enjoyment.  In fact, I’m sure the same is true for the family that purchased the home from us. They still live there.

Sometimes things seem more special when you have to wait and save to orchestrate their creation rather than having everything turn-key ready when you move in.  I’m one of those guys that need a project.  I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “I don’t half-do the projects I have now”. Just yesterday, the General mentioned my need to pull weeds out of the river rock.  With her recognition of the need there was also the veiled threat that if I didn’t do it, she’d call the landscape people and that would cost me.

I let her word of warning pass me by like water running off of a duck’s back. I didn’t mention to her that I spent some time earlier in the day pulling weeds. She’d make her own discovery of that soon enough when she noticed I didn’t bag and throw away the residue of weeds. She’d subsequently deliver “Lecture #3783” about not half-doing anything.  As for now, I’m content to wait and see.

At any rate, we had a delightful evening with a young couple and their two year old.  It is folks like them that will craft the kind of place that Henly subsequently becomes. Somehow I have the sense that things will be better.  They aren’t the kind of people who will settle for second best, but they will contribute the effort needed to make the community all it should be.

All My Best!

Don

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Why Settle For 2nd Chair?

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Jake, my eight-year-grandson, has never met a stranger. Every fiber in his being is laced with extrovert tendencies. Frankly, I’m a little envious. He is not at all intimidated by engaging an adult in conversation. A neighbor mentioned to me on Sunday that his son, who is a year older than Craig, was commenting on Jake. He said something closely akin to: “Jake has a great personality and he is really funny. He definitely has the ability to think on his feet”. For example, Jake had shared that the deer his sister killed was bigger than the deer he had killed. I’ll tell you more about that conversation later.

 

Sibling rivalry or competition is as commonplace as the morning dew in most families that have more than one child. Of course, in Jake’s case, he was born into a family where competition and the need to be a high achiever seems as normal as the hands on a clock rotating to the right. I get it. I grew up in a similar household. It was particularly true of the relationship that Ronnie and I shared. “Whose the smartest?” “Whose the fastest?” “Whose the strongest?” “Whose this” and “whose that” were the comparative questions that folks repeatedly pelted out for us to answer.

 

Of course, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the answers that Ronnie and I provided to the questions asked of us were also based on our bias and personal perceptions. We did not easily concede or yield to the other’s perception of superiority.

 

Growing up in a family of three boys, I have absolutely no idea how difference in gender manifest itself in sibling relationships or the need to be competitive. Yet, I’m sure it is a factor that has to be factored into the equation. Okay guys, we’ve all heard that girls mature more quickly that boys, but do you really believe that is true? If you were to ask the General, she’d probably suggest that I never grew up. She’s perfectly content being retired and considers it age appropriate. On the other hand, I’m struggling to get to that same place.

 

I also wonder how birth order factors into the dynamic? That, too, could be a contributing factor. In terms of my grandchildren, Jenna is the oldest. She also has a tendency to be a little bossy. Okay, I may be overstating or understating it, but she definitely has that “I’m in charge” persona. Of course, her brothers don’t necessarily choose to follow her instructions. “Good for them!” Did I say that out-loud?

 

So is that “take charge” persona tied to birth order, gender, environment or all three? If I ask enough questions, I could get into a heap of trouble. That is particularly true if the General reads my blog. I’m not a gambling man, but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the General pelted out orders for her younger siblings during their growing up years.

 

If you have an opinion or experience related to sibling rivalry or competition, I’d be interested in your insight or experience. I probably should think of a more subtle way to express this: “Are older brothers as adapt at engaging younger siblings in assigned tasks?” That is a question for which I have no idea.

 

Please hear me say, “I’m not suggesting that the ability to share insight, wisdom, wise counsel and an assignment or two to younger siblings is a character flaw? I’m not saying that at all. I am simply suggesting that birth order, gender and environment or life experiences all factor in to influences formative in a youngster’s life.

 

My grandchildren don’t attempt to negate the accomplishments of their siblings to enhance their own. They don’t share that kind of sibling rivalry. They actually are a very close-knit harmonious group. William and Jake are very close. It is almost as though Jakes sees his older brother as his hero. They celebrate the success of each other, but they also want their own opportunities stay in the high achiever category. You can rest assured, if one shoots a deer, it befalls the other two to want the same opportunity.

 

So what was the conversation that Jake was sharing with my friend’s adult son? Jake was talking about the deer he shot and comparing it to the deer his sister shot. He said this: “The deer my sister shot was a little bigger than mine”. He then added the caveat: “Of course, that was her first deer. When I was six, I got a six pointer. The day I turned eight years old, I got an eight pointer. It is just going to get better for me.” The man he was talking with countered: “It seems to me that you’ll soon be running out of more pointers that you can get.” Jakes response was immediate and it was dismissive. He responded, “Not at all, I’ll just shoot two deer.”

 

Of course, my grandchildren are in a regimented environment where accomplishment and winning is a value highly regarded. If you question that, watch both of their parents watch Texas A&M play football. You’d be amazed! You’d think it was a life or death situation. Neither parent manifest the persona that “it is only a game”. No wonder their children aren’t content to be anything less than first chair or in the  winners circle. No doubt, that competitive edge will serve them well in life.

 

All My Best!

Don

 

Life Is A Gift

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I was content to stay in bed this morning. I didn’t want to get up. It was warm beneath the covers. Thoughts about my morning blog were rolling around in my head. Would I have time to write it was one of the questions on my mind? Today is another workday. Maybe I should have taken the day off work? Its not like I don’t have accrued annual leave that I could have used.

 

I remembered turning off the alarm. I wondered what time it was, but I was content to wonder. My iPhone was under my pillow, but I didn’t retrieve it to look at the time. I also was so comfortable with my head against the pillow that I didn’t want to move or lift my head up to look at the display on the clock on the General’s side of the bed. I was content simply giving thought to many things. I wondered if I was just being lazy?

 

Do you ever have a morning like that? Somewhere in the house one of the grandfather clocks began to chime. Like it or not, I was soon going to know the time because the Westminster chimes were in the forth interval. That meant it was on the hour and the clock would soon strike the time. Was I prepared to count the number? I wanted to pull the covers over my head and drown out the sound, but that too meant I’d have to alter my position in bed and I didn’t want to move.

 

The clock struck once, twice, three times, four times, five times and then there was only silence. Could that be correct? Was it really only five o’clock in the morning? Somehow I feared it would be much later. Maybe the morning was still salvageable? If I wrote quickly, I still had time for the blog, my shower and off to work I’d go in order to arrive on time.

 

Before I got out of bed, I had the thought that yesterday had been a gift. Isn’t that true of each day? Despite the accuracy of what I’m writing, most often I don’t live with the awareness that the time I’ve been given is a gift. That thought was interrupted by pain in my left foot and leg. My left hand was also hurting.

 

Clumsily, I had fallen down the steps in the early morning hours earlier this week going out to the hot tub. It was pitch black outside. Anyone could have fallen. I didn’t completely fall. Actually, that’s not true. I did completely fall, but I caught myself on the railing on the left side. It kept my head above the concrete, but I fell down the steps.

 

Disturbingly, the weight of my fall damaged the security of the railing. Of course, I didn’t know that until the light of day. The railing now has a wobble to it. That is completely unacceptable. It has to get repaired. Failure to paint a house is beginning to destroy a city. The same could be said about a loose rail next to the steps.

 

I then thought of something I’d heard in a conference over a year ago. It was in response to a question being asked, but the physician speaking said there is now a requirement that physicians ask their patients two questions. The two questions are: (1) “Do you feel safe at home?” (2) “Have you fallen lately?”

 

The thought of the question: “Have you fallen lately?” set off the alarm bells in my head. I was now fully awake and ready to get out of bed and get on with my life. Under the auspices of full disclosure and total transparency, I have to confess I could be a hypochondriac. I think that is true of a lot of old people. That is one of the fears associated with advancing age. I don’t want to be like that.

 

I found myself wondering if I fell earlier in the week because I was clumsy and not paying attention or had I fallen because I had a stroke? I’m going with “clumsy and not paying attention” as the correct answer. However, I resolved to myself that I need to be more careful. That concept also reinforced the earlier thought that life is a gift.

 

Yesterday was indeed a gift. It was my understanding that Craig and crew were going home after my son took his daughter deer hunting. As I drove to work, I was prepared for it to be very quiet when I got home from work yesterday. The downside to company is the house always seems empty when they are gone. However, when my granddaughter’s early morning deer hunting experience was foiled by a low flying helicopter, the seven bucks she and her dad had in their sight (or did I mean to write sites) exited stage right. The same thing happened again yesterday afternoon.

 

My son is a patient man. He opted to stay another night and provide Jenna another opportunity to get a deer this morning before they head homeward. As it turned out, Andrea and Kevin invited everyone to their home for pizza last night. It was a very relaxing evening.

 

Before the evening was over, I caught a tender moment between by daughter and her brother. I overheard her say, “ I need your help with the lottery. I really need for you to do this”. What was she talking about? As it turns out, she wants her brother to run with her in the U.S. Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. next fall. Three years ago she had trained to run the marathon with him. She was ready for a twenty-six mile jaunt. Months before, she’d cleared with her supervisor at work that she could have the time away. Unfortunately she got a new supervisor and the timing didn’t work. She had to cancel on the marathon.

 

Andrea and her brother have always been close despite the fact that he is her much older brother. He was 9 ½ years old when she was born. Regardless of ages, having adult children who love and enjoy times shared together is a gift. You don’t always find that.

 

Jake told Gram yesterday afternoon: “Gram I am sorry that we have to go home tomorrow. I like spending time with you. We’ll be back soon.” Last night before bedtime, I told Jake that Gram and I are grateful that he likes spending time with us. He responded, “Why wouldn’t I?” The kid is amazingly kind.

 

I then asked: “Jake, what did you like best about the week?” He made a one-word response, “Everything”. I followed that question with: “ Does anything stand out above everything else”. He answered, “No”. I asked, “Could it have been your birthday?” “No” “Could it have been that you shot your first deer; that you got an eight point?” With  a sense of finality, he answered: “No. I liked everything!”

 

I don’t hunt and I don’t run. I’m not sure how I really fit in with this family, but I’m grateful to be included.

 

All My Best!

Don

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

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On Wednesday evening I received an email from the craftsman building the sofa table for my daughter and son-in-law.  He wanted me to know that the table was ready. Consequently, I opted to drive my truck to work yesterday and pick the table up on my way home. As I’ve mentioned previously, the the man’s shop isn’t strategically located in a convenient or perhaps even the safest of neighborhoods. Actually, that is probably an overstatement. Just because I narrowly missed arriving at the complex where the shop is located just after sixteen police officers raided a backroom gambling establishment and rounded up a host of folks for illegal gambling, doesn’t mean that the neighborhood isn’t safe. Perhaps “questionable” is a better description. At any rate, all of that took place when I had gone to make the order. Surely, the neighborhood was back to a low-key environment or at least one not in the midst of a raid by the Austin Police Department.

 

I was pleased the table was ready and anticipated that my daughter and son-in-law would be pleased with the outcome. I made plans with them on Wednesday evening to deliver the table to their home the following day even though they had plans to be away. My job was simply being the delivery guy. After all, I’ve got a truck and anyone with a truck is guaranteed to have friends. Everybody needs a friend with a truck including family members.

 

Actually, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I steered them toward a Craigslist savings and they were getting a handcrafted table in the process. I anticipated dropping the table off after placing it behind the two chairs where I thought they wanted it placed.

 

As I was getting into town (Dripping Springs), I telephoned the General to see if she wanted to ride with me to deliver the table. After picking her up, she said that Andrea and Kevin cancelled their plans for the evening and that they were home. That was even better. At least I could see their initial reaction to the table. After all, I had convinced them to trust me on this one. Hopefully they wouldn’t be disappointed.

 

The table got good reviews by the two of them and they began contemplating what they needed to purchase to set on the table. I tuned them out. They didn’t need to purchase anything. All they needed to do was reconfigure some of the stuff in their house. It is true of them and it is true of all of us. We all have too much stuff. Before you go out not knowing what you need, but assured you’ll know it when you see it, why not be a little more proactive in considering possibilities of what you already have?

 

The kids have a couple of bookcases that I built for the first home the General and I purchased in 1974. I want tell you how many different homes subsequently become home for those bookcases.  Actually, I’m not sure I can count that high.  “Quality” or”fine furnishing” aren’t terms you’d use to describe them, but I’m pleased Andrea and Kevin opted to take them anyway. I actually previously had them in our current home.

 

I subsequently had built a similar bookcase for my parents.  It was almost the same size of the two bookcase units that I had previously built. It was along the same design and also fell in something other than the “fine furniture” category. At any rate, when I gave my parents the bookcase, I asked if I could have it when they no longer needed it.  They both say “Yes”.  Consequently, the one piece bookcase unit I made for them replaced my need for the two bookcase unit.  I gave the two piece units to Andrea.  It was before she and Kevin married.

 

At any rate, I walked over to the two bookcases in their home and removed a couple of items and placed them on the top of the new table. It wasn’t a bad look, but it wasn’t quite right. Shaking my head “No”, I replaced the items I had borrowed from the bookcases and went on a treasure hunt.

 

I didn’t have to go far. As I wandered through their home, I noticed a canvas picture they had not yet determined where they wanted it to hang. I drew the conclusion because it was lay on a piece of furniture.  Why not placed that on one end of the sofa table? Actually, it could be hung on the wall, but needed to be hung just above the tabletop level. When I simply set the picture on the tabletop and propped it against the wall, I could tell from the body language that both Andrea and Kevin liked it there.

 

For one thing the colors were complimentary of table. For another, the picture was one Andrea previously purchased for Kevin. If memory serves me correctly, I think she bought it in New Orleans. Kevin’s childhood was spent in that locality and he loves the sound of jazz. At any rate, having the picture on display in his living area will serve as a trigger for him to remember the days of his youth.

 

Inventorying the bookcases again in the room, I spied another perfect possibility. Several years ago the General and I had given Andrea and Kevin metal sculptured bookends of two black labs. The bookends were large and heavy enough to carry the balance needed on the sofa table. Presto – placing the bookends of the table ignited a sense of “this is perfect” in my head. I know it sounds stupid, but sometimes when I get it right, I know its right. Besides that, the verbal affirmation that Andrea and Kevin were providing was a “feel good” for me. They liked the look.

 

Andrea and Kevin are Lab-people. No one could be doting over their dogs than the two of them. They are more protective of them than many people are of their children. They represent the quintessential epitome of ideal pet owners. They provide their dogs the gift of family and devote their full attention to meeting their primary needs.

 

So there you have it. What better objects could have been placed on the sofa table? The picture and the bookends visually trigger things they value and from my perspective, they looked perfect on the table. Well almost perfect.

 

Turning to Andrea, I said: “Rather than hanging the picture on the wall just above the bookcase, what you really need is an easel to set the picture on”. As I heard the suggestion coming out of my mouth, I knew it would be perfect. Nuts isn’t it? I was energized by envisioning the picture on an easel in my head.  Without saying anything, Andrea walked out of the room and came back carrying an easel. She handed it to me and asked: “Will this work?” It couldn’t have been more perfect.

 

Later that evening, Andrea sent a text that put a smile on my face: “Thank you SO much – simply stunning!”
All My Best!

Don

Daddy’s Girl

 

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The man’s countenance was gracious and kind.  He obviously had never met a stranger because he immediately engaged in conversation with me.  He was a staff person at the Radisson in Crystal City (Arlington, VA) and one of his responsibilities included driving the shuttle.  I needed a lift to National Airport.  His first question was: “How was your stay with us?” 

I replied that my stay was good.   He said: “I hope you’ll come back again and bring your family with you. When the remodeling is completed, we’ll be operating as a Hilton Garden Inn.   The new look is going to be really nice.  The lobby will be much larger and architecturally it has a great design. Besides that, it is going to have my favorite colors. They are orange and green.  It will be a very bright and uplifting look.  Just seeing it will be a great way to start your day”.

He may have been the driver of the van, but he came across like a public relations person on steroids.  He energy and enthusiasm were almost contagious.  I had the thought: “I wonder if your employer has any idea how good your are at your job?”  The man’s personality and rhetoric couldn’t have been scripted better.  You could tell he was riding for the brand.  He also obviously enjoyed his work and was well ahead of most in understanding the importance of being service friendly.

The man eventually asked where I was from.  When I replied Austin, he asked if I was a Longhorn?  I responded that my daughter is a Longhorn and my son is an Aggie. Without missing a beat he smiled and said: “Go with the daughter.  She will be the one that takes care of you when you are old”. 

He said, “If your son is married, you probably are already aware that his allegiance is to his wife. Consequently, hers will be the family that will eventually come to have more importance to him.  That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love you or respect you.  It just means that he is smart”.   I was amused by his response, but before I could refute his assertion or ask about his family, he added another thoughtful nugget of information.  He said, “Your daughter will always be your girl.  She’ll never outgrow the desire to be ‘daddy’s girl’.  She will take care of you when you are old”.

I started to tell him that my daughter has already told her brother that she’s watched over us for the past twenty years and that it is his job to manage us for the next twenty, but he didn’t give me an opportunity to interject even a comment. Besides that, my daughter was only joking. 

He went on to say, “You’ll always be more comfortable at your daughter’s home.  You won’t think twice about opening the refrigerator or using the restroom.  It will be different at your son’s home because of his wife.  I’m not sure why it is the way I describe it, but I know what I’m saying is true”.

He then voluntarily told me that he was one of nine children.  He was the fifth child born into his family.  He has four younger sisters.  The man himself has been in this country for the last twenty-nine years and he has three daughters.  They are all American citizens.  One is in college, one is in high school and one is in middle school.  He said, “I’m a lucky man because I will always feel cared for and welcomed.  I have daughters.”

I asked about his country of origin and learned that he is an Egyptian.  He was born in Cairo.  At some point in his childhood, his father sent him to live with his grandmother who lived in the country because he thought the schools were better. He added that he felt he had the best of both worlds.  His older siblings never had the experience of country life. 

I asked about his extended family. Were they still in Egypt?  He affirmed that they were.  He said, “I’m the only one from my family who set my sights on the United States.”  He said, “You know, I’m just a blue collar worker, but I’ve made a good living in this country.  If I didn’t like my job, I’d find another job.  I live within my means and I have a good home for my family”.  He added, “Someone recently told me that they didn’t make enough money. I replied, ‘I disagree with you.  Your problem isn’t your salary. The problem is you are choosing not to live within your budget.” 

I shared with the man that his wisdom was obviously beyond his years.  He seemed very content with life, grateful for his place of employment and intent on making others feel welcomed and valued.

As he opened the back door of the van to get my luggage when we arrived at the airport, he said to me: “You are a Longhorn.  Go with your daughter. It will serve you well”.  Of the Aggies he said: “They are good for something. I mostly mention them when I’m telling a joke.”  Of course, how could I be surprised that he is a Longhorn?  He told me early on that one of his favorite two colors is orange.

I wondered later about the man’s life experiences.  Was his perception of the differences between sons and daughters cultural?  Was it formed through observation of how life played out in his own family of origin?  As a rule of thumb, is his observation an accurate description in American life?

I can truthfully say that I think I am equally comfortable opening the refrigerator in either my daughter’s home or my son’s.  However, it would be a rare occasion that I’d have a need to do so at either.  When it comes to using the restroom, I think of them as a comfort station. Consequently, I’m always grateful for the accommodation.

The man had strengths.  He was friendly and personable. He also came across as family oriented and talked with pride about his three daughters.  He valued the opportunity of calling the United States home and he was a dedicated employee to his employer.  He was grateful to be in this country. In addition, I’d say he is doing his part in making America great.

All My Best!

Don

Things You Need To Know

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Yesterday a friend from high school (actually she was in my younger brother’s peer group) posted on Facebook that there is a first time for everything. She and her husband had gone to a restaurant for lunch. After taking her order, the waitress turned briefly toward her husband to take his order and then turned back. She said: “Wow, you just make me miss my mom so much. You smell just like her.”

 

Immediately a memory came alive in my head that was pleasant to remember. The year was 1988. I had left a 17 ½ year career track as a State employee the year before. It was probably a midlife crisis, but I also processed it as a sense of calling. I wanted to try my hand at direct service delivery to children and families from hard places by serving in the role of an executive director of a children’s home.

 

I had invested 15 ½ years in residential childcare licensing and felt fairly comfortable that I had the skill set and knowledge base to be successful. After all, I knew state licensing requirements like the back of my hand.   In the context of my new role, I was invited to speak along with two other people at a State wide annual child care administrator’s conference. The workshop was entitled “Things You Need To Know”.

 

Actually it was the first time I’d ever been invited to speak at a conference. I was both honored and humbled by the invitation. The other two persons participating in the workshop were seasoned professionals who were highly respected for their work. I figured since I was the new kid on the block at the age of 42, that newfound role was my only foray into the lineup. I certainly didn’t have the experience and expertise of the other two presenters.

 

I was pretty transparent in my presentation. The thoughts I shared were more along the line of what I was discovering you needed to know, rather than definitively identifying a chiseled in stone list.   One of the first things you needed to know was that having a knowledge base of how to work with children, minimum standards, best practice and child development weren’t the highest ingredients needed. Important? – “Yes” Urgent? – “No”. There were many other things that took priority over any of that.

 

For example: Whom do you call when water is spewing out in the boiler room? What do you do when you receive notice that payroll taxes weren’t submitted during the last quarter? What do you do with resolving delinquent taxes on property you didn’t even know the children’s home owned? Trust me when you are in a place of leadership where the buck stops, the sky is the limit in things you need to know, but don’t.

 

I talked about the importance of involving the board in any deliberation related to change. After all, they are the group that can identify the sacred cows. In addition, when push comes to shove, they have the upper hand. In fact, some of the board members may see themselves and what they want as sacred.

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever considered it, but the search committee of every board looking for an executive director has the same rhetoric. They are all looking for someone who can walk on water (I mean who can provide the leadership needed to promote a program of excellence).

 

They are sincere. They mean it when they tell you they think you are exactly the kind of person they’ve been looking for to fill the position.   And of course you want to believe it because it provides unlimited opportunity for you. Truth be told, give it a little time and the situation may look quite differently.

 

I know you’re thinking that nothing I’ve shared has any relationship to the “you smell like my mother” reference made in the introduction. If you’re thinking that, you’re rushing me. I haven’t gotten to that part yet. Actually, it was the concluding point I made during my thirty-minute presentation. Consequently, in the interest of time, I’m skipping over other points that are vaguely on the horizon of my conscience memory. The concluding point was simply this: “If your investing your life in the well being of children, keep doing what you’re doing because you may never know the impact it carries.”

 

I then shared the story of Teddy Stallard that Charles Swindoll had included in one of his books. The book was a new release at the time and reading the story had brought tears to my eyes. Wiping away the tears, I remember having the thought, “I’ve got to include this example in my presentation. It is definitely one of the things you need to know.”

 

Mrs. Thompson, Teddy’s fifth grade teacher, didn’t immediately find herself drawn to him. He was an unkempt, quiet, solemn and distant. He didn’t relate well to his peers and he wasn’t a good student. Mrs. Thompson had read his file. He was a kid from a hard place. You could look at his records for each of his previous school years and note the decline. As his mother became more ill, he experienced more academic difficulties. Mrs. Thompson knew that Teddy’s mother had died the previous year, but even that knowledge didn’t pull at her heartstrings to get involved and offer extra help.

 

At the class Christmas party, most of the students brought brightly wrapped presents for Mrs. Thomason. Even Teddy brought a present, but it was not neatly wrapped. Opening it, she found a bracelet with a rhinestone or two missing and a partially filled bottle of ladies perfume. The other students started laughing.

 

Mrs. Thompson thoughtfully offered thanks, put the bracelet on and sprayed some of the perfume on her arm. As she thanked Teddy for his gift, he said: “You smell just like my mother”.

 

That affirmation melted her heart and she purposefully chose to provide extra attention, support and encouragement to Teddy for the remainder of the school year. By the end of the school year, he was functioning back at grade level and his demeanor and posture seemed completely changed. Teddy was a child she stayed in touch with for several years, but as Teddy grew older the connection faded.

 

Many years later, Mrs. Thompson received a handwritten invitation to Teddy’s wedding. He communicated in his note that he had graduated from college and subsequently from medical school. He also shared that his father had passed away. He asked if she’d attend his wedding and have the honor of sitting in the seat his mother would have filled.”

 

Obviously that is a good place to stop and offer the reminder, “When you invest your time in making someone else feel important and valued, you’ll never know the difference it might make.” The point was well received by the audience in the workshop. There reaction caught me totally off-guard. There was a thunderous applause as I was taking my seat. It was a nice affirmation.

 

Out of curiosity, I just did a Google search to determine the authenticity of the Teddy Stallard story. Reportedly, it is false. That being said, the principal I shared is still valid. When you invest your time in making someone else feel important and valued, you’ll never know the difference it might make. I know any number of adults who would attest that the kindness of folks who invested in their lives made a lasting difference.

All My Best!

Don