An Essay Collection for the Panini Generation

Do you remember the “Cathy” comics?

The famous comic strip “ran in newspapers 365 days a year from 1976 to 2010.” Now, the creator of Cathy has written a book. And it was her title, Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault, that first caught my attention.

I read through this collection of essays and while I didn’t enjoy them all, I did find several to be both amusing and relatable. 

This week, I’d like to share just a few of the “stand-out bits” that resonated with me.

From the essay titled “The Build-A-Boob Workshop”: 

Yesterday, the Build-A-Bear Workshop. Today, the Build-A-Boob Workshop.” 

(You’ll have to read the entire essay. It’s entertaining and rings oh-so-true!)

 

From the essay titled “Infidelity”:

“I woke up with the exhilarating urge to cheat on my Fitbit fitness tracker.”  

(Which made me think about my own personal essay about “breaking up” with my Fitbit. You can click here to read it.)

 

And the one that just screamed “Wendy,” from the essay titled “I’m Flunking Retirement”:

“They call it the ‘sandwich generation,’ but it seems much more squashed than that. More like the ‘panini generation.’ I feel absolutely flattened some days by the pressure to be everything to everyone, including myself.”

Here’s Why I Have a Complicated Relationship With My Legs

Do you have a body part, that only now, a bit later in life, you have learned to genuinely appreciate? A body part you now realize wasn’t nearly as “bad/flabby/unattractive/you-fill-in-the-adjective” as you used to think?

I have a complicated relationship with my legs, because sometimes they just seem like these “things” that are disconnected from the rest of me.  These limbs that aren’t behaving the way I want them to.  These appendages that are causing me nothing but trouble and pain.”

The paragraph above is taken from my recently published essay “Why My Rare Condition Puts Me in a Complicated Relationship With My Legs.” Click here to be redirected to The Mighty where you can read the essay in its entirety. 

 

Brave? Me?

LEGOLAND, March 2018 – Ryan and I were brave, riding the roller coaster!

A neighbor recently called me “brave.”

It temporarily stopped me, because I don’t consider myself a particularly brave person. 

I have lived my entire life within the same ZIP code. 

My first passport expired before I earned a stamp in it. And since then, I’ve had one international trip. 

But my neighbor spoke of my bravery in a different context. 

We were speaking, in very general terms, of my autoimmune disease. 

We were speaking, in very general terms, about my pain level increasing as the day goes on.

Yet, she sees me outside on a regular basis, sweeping my front steps and my back patio. Watering my plants. Going for a walk with my son. 

I don’t regard those activities as “brave.” They are merely the activities that make up a part of my days.

Am I brave? I don’t know. 

So I did what I usually do when I’m not sure about something, when I need more information. I looked it up. I used my computer’s dictionary to read the definition of “brave” – “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.” 

Am I “ready to face and endure danger or pain”? 

I don’t have a choice. It’s just what I do.

 

Slow and Steady

Galápagos Tortoises at the San Diego Zoo

 

Each morning, my fourth and fifth grade students began the school day writing in their journals, answering a prompt such as “What animal are you most like? Why? 

Lately, I find myself thinking about that prompt and wondering. 

What animal am I most like? 

I don’t know. I can’t narrow it down to one animal that is most similar to the person I am on a daily basis. Maybe because I feel like a slightly different version of myself each day, throughout the day.

And so begins my most recently published personal essay, “My Slow and Steady Path Forward With an Invisible Disability.” Click here to be re-directed to The Mighty and read the rest of the essay. 

Readers, I’m curious.  What animal are you most like? Why?”

I encourage you to share your responses in the comments section.

Announcing My Motto for Life

July 2019 – A memorable morning; a perfect example of “stubborn gladness”

I think I’ve discovered my mantra, or as close as I’ll get to having a mantra.  

Maybe mantra isn’t the right word.  

My motto. 

My slogan.

My maxim. 

Stubborn gladness.”

I discovered this delightful phrase while re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. 

This was my second read of Ms. Gilbert’s book.  The first time was three years ago.  That time, I read the book, used my highlighter to mark “stubborn gladness,” and that was the end of it.

This time, “stubborn gladness” grabbed me.  It stopped me from reading.  I attached a purple Post-It to the page.  And, surprisingly, it’s been my biggest takeaway from this read.

Ms. Gilbert explains that it is her destiny to be a writer.  “I’ve decided to meet that destiny with as much good cheer and as little drama as I can – because how I choose to handle myself as a writer is entirely my own choice.” 

She goes on:  “My ultimate choice, then, is to always approach my work from a place of stubborn gladness.” 

This time, when I read that passage I immediately saw its relevance to my life with an invisible disability.

I certainly don’t approach doctors’ appointments, lab work, and MRIs with “stubborn gladness.”  

And there’s nothing “glad” about daily pain.

But I most definitely, absolutely, positively approach my day-to-day life with “stubborn gladness.”

That’s the reason why I do the things I do.

The reason why I bought myself a new bike.

The reason why I go for neighborhood walks with my son and coffee walks with my husband.

The reason why I went horseback riding this summer.  (Before he started preschool, we took Ryan to Disneyland for a “big adventure.”  It’s the one and only time he’s been.  The summer before he started kindergarten, we took Ryan on his first hotel trip, spending a few days in Cambria, California.  This summer, before starting middle school, Ryan chose horseback riding as his big adventure.)

I do these things, big things and little things and everything-in-between-things with “stubborn gladness.”

Because I can’t change my health.  I can’t make my autoimmune disease go away.  I have to learn to live with it, to handle it, to live with my life as fully as I can – with “stubborn gladness.”

Sending Some Encouragement Your Way

September 12th is National Day of Encouragement. 

In honor of that day, I send this week’s blog out to you as a virtual hug.

Because, in the the 9 years I’ve been living with my autoimmune disease, I’ve learned that everyone is going through something.

We could all use some encouragement.  

A large part of the way I taught involved encouraging my students.  With a hug, with a high five, with a smile, with a positive word or two. 

But I can’t reach all my readers and look at you directly and tell you that I’m proud of your effort.  Tell you that I think you’re doing a great job.  Tell you to keep at it. 

Instead, I’ll share these words of encouragement that help me, and I hope they’ll help you:

“Faith is taking the first step even 

when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

“Believe you can and 

you’re halfway there.”    – Theodore Roosevelt

 

“Nothing can dim the light which shines 

from within.”    – Maya Angelou

 

“Believe anything is possible and then 

work like hell to make it happen.”   Julianna Marguiles

 

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters 

compared to what lies within us.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

“Promise me you’ll always remember:

You’re braver than you believe,

And stronger than you seem, 

And smarter than you think.”   

Christopher Robin, from A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh

 

And now it’s your turn readers. 

Share the encouragement. Pass along some words of support, of hope, of inspiration to someone else. 

Plus, you can help encourage me by sharing my blog. Tell a friend who may be interested in reading my weekly posts about books, boys, and bodies. Invite them to sign-up. Share it on social media.

I appreciate it! 

No Picky Readers in This House

Ryan (age 3) and I, reading at our public library

Within the first week of school, my son’s sixth grade English teacher noticed his strong reading skills, and he asked Ryan what types of books he likes to read.

“It was hard for me to answer at first,” Ryan told me that afternoon after I picked him up from school and he filled me in on his day. 

I smiled.

Of course it was hard to answer.

My son may be a bit of a picky eater (he refuses to try macaroni and cheese, yet he loves a daily serving or two of cucumbers and carrots). 

But he certainly isn’t a picky reader.

Currently, we are reading Martin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior – a biography about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Most of our reading happens at bedtime as part of our nightly routine. It’s a serious book filled with facts that are not easy to read and discuss. But they are important and necessary not just because they are a part of our nation’s history, but our family’s history as well. (We are a mixed race family, and Ryan was understandably astounded to learn that not-too-long-ago my husband and I would not have legally been permitted to marry.)

Before this nonfiction book, Ryan had read the latest installment of a popular graphic novel series – Dog Man #7: For Whom the Ball Rolls. That book isn’t serious. It’s silly and off-the-wall and entertaining (for him). I enjoy the clever titles referencing literature classics (Lord of the Fleas, A Tale of Two Kitties, Brawl of the Wild).

Later that afternoon, I got the rest of the story.

“I told Mr. V. I like to read books about space,” Ryan told me. (Reaching For the Moon). 

“Yes you do,” I said. 

And basketball (Dream Big: Michael Jordan and the Pursuit of Excellence). 

And famous people (Who Was Rachel Carson?).

And dogs (Because of Winn-Dixie).

And girls with magical powers (Matilda). 

And kids in middle school (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). I silently added all these to the list.

So I will happily take this trade-off. 

I’ll deal with a somewhat limited rotation of dinner menus in exchange for my son’s plentiful book appetite. 

Who Else Looks Up Words While Reading?

 

While reading Anna Quindlen’s Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting, I couldn’t stop thinking about a book in my son’s collection – The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. 

Perhaps you’re wondering why I chose to read a memoir about being a grandparent.  After all, my son is only 11 years old.

The main reason – I was studying the book’s structure.  As I work on my own memoir, I struggle with knowing how to end it.  When is my book done? 

While a completely different subject matter, Ms. Quindlen and I have something in common – she will not stop being a grandmother.  I will not stop being a woman living with an invisible disability.  I wanted to see how she handled it in her own memoir.  (Spoiler alert – with the announcement of grandchild number two on the way.) 

However, while reading the book, looking at her organization, and enjoying amusing grandparent anecdotes, I also felt like a “word collector.”  I read a lot and yet, I found myself jotting down words that were unfamiliar to me. 

Let me share a few with you:

Homunculus – a very small human; the human fetus

Carapace – the hard upper shell or bony covering on the back of turtles, armadillos, and crustaceans

Chassis – the base frame of a car

Purview – the range, as of operation, activity, or concern; scope; extent

Usurious – related to the practice of usury (the lending of money at an extremely high rate of interest)

Anodyne – a painkilling medication; anything that soothes

But now those words are a part of my collection too.

Readers, I’m curious. Any new words you’ve added to your own collection lately as a result of your reading?  Share in the comments section below.

It’s Bigger Than Basketball

Air Ryan

 

My son just completed a summer basketball league through our local Parks and Recreation. 

Though Ryan is eleven years old, and now a middle schooler (gasp!), up until his request to play basketball this summer, he had never wanted to enroll in any sort of  enrichment class or activity (either after-school or on weekends).

And that was always fine with me.   

You can click here to be redirected to RoleReboot to read my personal essay, “Why My Son Doesn’t Need ‘Enrichment’ Classes,” that was published back in 2018 to find out more.

But that was then.

Ryan decided he wanted to play basketball, and play he did with one hundred percent heart and soul – at every practice and every game. 

About half-way into the summer session, there was a major scheduling snafu.  Only ten children showed up at game time.  The other team Ryan and his teammates were scheduled to play, kids from a neighboring park, didn’t show.  And the coaches didn’t show.

But we had 10 kids who came to play.  2 referees ready to work.  And 1 park employee prepared to keep track of points, fouls, and timeouts. 

The 10 kids were split into 2 groups of 5, and my husband and another parent were asked to serve as coaches.

My husband coached the way we parent.  Not stressing the outcome, but praising the effort.  Paul walked over to “his team,” introduced himself, asked each kid his name and gave each one a fist-bump.  (And yes, Ryan was on his Daddy’s team.)

At each timeout, Paul shared fist-bumps and high-fives with his group of kids.  He clapped while they played, encouraged them to pass the ball and communicate with one another.  And for most of the game, he let these boys just run the court and play.

When the game was over, (Ryan and his teammates won), my husband had them all line up to shake hands with their competition.  And while the other coach had begun to walk away from the court, my husband walked over to him, shook his hand, and congratulated him on a good game.

That’s a big part of the lesson I wanted Ryan to take away from this basketball experience.  

Yes, it’s been great to see his layups improve.  

Yes, I’m impressed with his defensive playing. 

Yes, his long-range shots are dramatically better than they were when he started.  (And he made a big shot in the last game of the season!)

But ultimately, I’m proud of his good sportsmanship and his wholehearted effort.

And the biggest takeaway is one Ryan provided himself.  The ability to know yourself, to trust yourself.  

It was Ryan’s choice to play basketball.  On his own time-table.  When he was ready.

 

What Everyone Should Know About Teachers

   Before – This is what my classroom looked like at the end of summer vacation 2010, a week before the start of a new school year.

 

Quick.  Name five things you think teachers do during a typical school day.

What did you come up with? Depending on your past experiences, your list might look something like this:

“Correct papers,” “yell,” “staple,” “organize,” “erase.”

But in my twelve years’ experience, I’d add these verbs to the list: 

Dare.

Give.

Listen.

Model.

Nurture.

You can read my personal essay/list “The A to Z List of Verbs Teachers and Students Practice Daily” by clicking here and being re-directed to iTeach literary magazine.

 

After – The finished result: an organized, colorful, inviting (I hope) classroom. All it needs now are students!