Monthly Archives: December 2013

Not Too Little of Anything (and Not Too Much)

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Christmas is behind us now, but I can’t bring myself  to take down the tree or the window candles or the paper snowflakes my daughter and her friend made, copying Buddy the Elf.  I want beautiful white lights to sparkle inside the house year round.  I want the spotlight to shine on our home, making it look cozy and inviting to neighbors and friends.

I suppose there’s no harm in leaving white lights up for a few more weeks, or even through winter, but sadly, the fresh balsam Christmas tree is beginning to lose more and more of its needles each day and will soon look like a large version of Charlie Brown’s tree.  Time to place the ornaments carefully back in the big box until next year.

I remember watching a Sesame Street video when my kids were little, where Elmo wishes Santa would come every day.  He got his wish in a dream and quickly realized how dreadful it feels to always be bombarded with treats.  Too much of anything is never good.  (Think how bad we’d feel if we lived on Christmas cookies, cake, egg nog and wine).  As the Christmas break nears its end, my teens are wishing for more time off from school.  But like everyone else, teens need structure and even they will grow tired of too much down time.  Everything in moderation.

At last, even my youngest child is aware of who Santa Claus is.  She has not verbalized this awareness but has been my sidekick on a few shopping excursions.  I am only slightly sad about this.  She knows the real meaning of Christmas and cherishes every bit of the season.  Asked what she loved the most about Christmas this year, she replied getting together with relatives.

Now that they’re teens, our children’s personalities and preferences are more apparent to us.  Choosing gifts for them is no longer such a guessing game. This year’s choice of a Blue Ray/DVD device for the family was well received this year by everyone.  My husband’s choice of a deluxe DVD set of The Waltons series two years ago:  not so much.  

Even if we do make mistakes in our gift-giving, teenagers are usually mature enough to still show gratitude.  They know we are human.  (Skinny jeans were not what I thought I was buying for my son, although  I did get the waist and length right).  There seems to be a general appreciation for the time and thought (and money) that goes into choosing those special gifts that end up under the tree.  Who doesn’t love to be treated to something that they love but don’t necessarily need? 

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I recently read about a way that well-intentioned parents can avoid that sickly feeling that comes from over-purchasing gifts for their kids.   In this simple plan, each child receives four gifts:

Something they want

Something they need

Something to wear and

Something to read

The key is to start this when the kids are little — when opening four gifts each is perfectly fine, as it should be.  (I do  NOT recommend starting this system following a year of the kids opening 10 gifts each).  This is a great system for teenagers.

In my last post, I explained that I was longing for the peace of mind I believe would come to me if I saw my kids giving back a little more.   The idea was for all three of them to pitch in together to really clean up around the house (laundry, dishes, bedrooms) for an afternoon and to cook a nice meal for everyone.  That has not happened yet, due to work schedules, hockey and holiday gatherings, but I am certain that it will.  Each kid has expressed an interest in the plan.  We shall see….

In the meantime, I came across  a story/poem that has been re-posted for years on various sites and blogs.  It resonates with me because it is truly what I want for my own children as they become more independent and life gets more complicated.  And it is probably what other well-meaning, yet slightly indulgent and/or overprotective parents want for their own children.  Not too little of anything, but not too much of anything either.   Happy New Year!

“I wish you enough!”©
By Bob Perks
Contact Bob

I never really thought that I’d spend as much time in airports as I do. I don’t know why. I always wanted to be famous and that would mean lots of travel. But I’m not famous, yet I do see more than my share of airports.

I love them and I hate them. I love them because of the people I get to watch. But they are also the same reason why I hate airports. It all comes down to “hello” and “goodbye.”I must have mentioned this a few times while writing my stories for you.

I have great difficulties with saying goodbye. Even as I write this I am experiencing that pounding sensation in my heart. If I am watching such a scene in a movie I am affected so much that I need to sit up and take a few deep breaths. So when faced with a challenge in my life I have been known to go to our local airport and watch people say goodbye. I figure nothing that is happening to me at the time could be as bad as having to say goodbye.

Watching people cling to each other, crying, and holding each other in that last embrace makes me appreciate what I have even more. Seeing them finally pull apart, extending their arms until the tips of their fingers are the last to let go, is an image that stays forefront in my mind throughout the day.

On one of my recent business trips, when I arrived at the counter to check in, the woman said, “How are you today?” I replied, “I am missing my wife already and I haven’t even said goodbye.”

She then looked at my ticket and began to ask, “How long will you…Oh, my God. You will only be gone three days!” We all laughed. My problem was I still had to say goodbye.

But I learn from goodbye moments, too.

Recently I overheard a father and daughter in their last moments together. They had announced her departure and standing near the security gate, they hugged and he said, “I love you. I wish you enough.” She in turn said, “Daddy, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Daddy.”

They kissed and she left. He walked over toward the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see he wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on his privacy, but he welcomed me in by asking, “Did you ever say goodbye to someone knowing it would be forever?”

“Yes, I have,” I replied. Saying that brought back memories I had of expressing my love and appreciation for all my Dad had done for me. Recognizing that his days were limited, I took the time to tell him face to face how much he meant to me.

So I knew what this man experiencing.

“Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever goodbye?” I asked.

“I am old and she lives much too far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is, the next trip back would be for my funeral,” he said.

“When you were saying goodbye I heard you say, “I wish you enough.” May I ask what that means?”

He began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.” He paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, he smiled even more.”When we said ‘I wish you enough,’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them,” he continued and then turning toward me he shared the following as if he
were reciting it from memory.

“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much
bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Goodbye.”

He then began to sob and walked away.

My friends, I wish you enough!
by
Bob Perks

A Little Peace of Mind, Please

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It’s easy for me to understand now why my mother would request only “peace of mind” for her Christmas gift when my siblings and I were growing up.   Peace of mind is not easy to define.  I guess it’s just knowing that you – and your kids – are on the right track.

My mother never wanted us to spend our money on gifts for her.  What she wanted, I realize now, is for her kids to be happy, safe, healthy and on their way to becoming kind, caring, and productive adults.  That brings more peace to a mother’s mind than most material gifts.  I want the very same gift for myself.  I love nice things like any other mom.  I love Yankee Candles, perfume, cozy pajamas, pretty earrings…  But I don’t really need those things as  much as I need to know my kids are becoming good people.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the progress they are making when you’re racing from activity to activity and people are tired and grouchy.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the progress they’re making when they’re complaining that there’s no food in the house or they can’t find any socks to wear.  But then I spot one of them explaining a difficult math problem to the other or helping each other put together an outfit for school, and it gives me hope.

Parenting teenagers is tricky because it means providing the right balance of discipline, encouragement and freedom so they can learn and develop.  I always want to rush in and fix things for them when they make mistakes or face disappointments — but I know I can’t.   Problem-solving is part of their learning.

Having said that, I’m requesting for Christmas a peace of mind day for me and my husband.  This is how it will work:  For one day over Christmas break, my husband and I are going to kick back and relax. (He doesn’t know this yet).  For that one day (or a  significant part of one day), the kids are going to serve us.  I don’t mean we are going to treat them like slaves.  Nor are we going to sit around drinking pina coladas.  I just mean I am going to request that they work together to do some of the cleaning and some of the cooking (dinner), which involves a bit of planning and getting along with each other.  Everything will be provided (cleaning supplies, cookware, and money for groceries) except for the labor required to make it happen.

What’s great about this is one of my kids has her license, one is very interested in cooking, and one will learn that all of these household tasks can and should be done by both females and males.  (His future wife will thank me some day).

A long time ago, when I was a junior in college and moved into an on-campus apartment with friends, I could barely cook more than Ramen noodles, spaghetti and grilled cheese sandwiches.  My roommates (whose skills were not much better than mine) were shocked to learn I had never cleaned a toilet before.  And my version of doing laundry consisted of placing everything except dry clean only garments into the same washing machine, on cold water.  (All of my white garments were eventually either gray or pink).  Everyone eventually learns these skills but I’d like to see if my kids can learn them before I set them free.

So for one day over Christmas break, I would like to see if my three teens can manage the household operations.  I’m hoping they will:

  • Come away from the experience with a sense of pride in what they did.
  • Get along with each other by cooperating and dividing up the tasks.
  • Appreciate all that goes into keeping a house picked up and clean (even for just one day).
  • Learn that it requires planning (not magic) to make a meal appear on the dining room table.
  • Realize that mothers and fathers get tired, too, even though their activities are different from their children’s activities. (This is why we frequently ask for help from them).
  • Feel good about helping others.

This gives me peace of mind.

Maybe you’re thinking that this should be easy for teenagers.  It should be fairly easy for teenagers if they’ve been helping out with chores regularly (which mine have, um, for the most part).  It should be easy if they can find the ingredients they need at Stop & Shop and if they can  follow a recipe that I choose for them. (It won’t be fancy or complicated).

Can siblings get along for a whole day if they are cleaning and cooking and not glued to a cell phone, t.v., computer or PS3?  I believe they can.

Oh, and when nighttime comes, I get to choose a movie for everyone to watch together (if the kids don’t already have plans or aren’t heading to bed).  Maybe Ferris Beuller’s Day Off or Christmas Vacation or Elf — for the thousandth time.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

A high school band worth checking out

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I’ve been trying to figure out the Pembroke High School Band’s formula for success.  Every year, the band increases in size, significantly.  Every year, the band improves its sound, significantly.  I have a feeling it has something to do with the law of attraction:  when you enjoy what you do and do it well, good people and good situations are attracted to you.   More players and more good reviews have come their way.   Maybe the decision to go with a simple uniform plays a role in the band’s growing numbers.   As impressive as the traditional uniform looks in formation, it is not easy to be the person wearing it to perform for friends, family and strangers at a football game.  (I know.  I wore one thirty years ago).

PHS’s band uniform is entirely black (polo shirt, pants and shoes) except for a royal blue baseball cap embroidered with a white P.  At cold events,  they proudly wear a fleece-lined, hooded band jacket with their name and instrument embroidered on the sleeve.  I cannot remember if my band uniform of 1983 kept me warm at those chilly autumn football games but I am certain it would not have sufficed in this Thanksgiving’s frigid weather.  It was not fleece-lined, I remember that much.

It makes me happy that my son is part of Pembroke’s 130-person band ( including the color guard) that earned a two-page photo spread in a recent is of the Pembroke Mariner.  The front page story Turkey bowl a high note, by Mark Burridge, gave equal amounts of praise to the football team for its come-from-behind win and the marching band for its outstanding halftime performance.  I’m happy for the football team but I’m even happier for the band because it is evident that this band is finally receiving the admiration and respect that any hard working group should receive. (Praise and respect is motivating, is it not?)

Not that many years ago, the trend in Pembroke and most towns was students would begin to learn  instruments in the fourth grade and by middle school, many had lost interest (whether from boredom, lack of stamina or peer pressure).   Going by the size of the high school’s band participation — in Jazz Band, Freshman Band, Concert Band and Wind Ensemble –(all of whom participate in the marching band) that trend may be a thing of the past. To quote Bob Dylan, The times they are a-changin‘.

One of my previous posts focused on how common it is for students to be well-rounded today.  Whether this is a consequence of living in a  competitive world or thinking ahead to college applications or keeping busy to stay out of trouble, it’s normal today for students to be on multiple sports teams and clubs while taking challenging courses, volunteering and even working part-time jobs. Perhaps the increase in band members at PHS is a result of all that. Maybe the positive research about playing an instrument is making an impact.

But I sense it has a lot to do with Pembroke’s talented, dedicated and spirited music staff, particularly at the high school.   Students interviewed for that newspaper article reported that many of the different social groups at the high school  are represented in the band, including cheerleaders and football players.  The stigma that used to be attached to playing in the marching band no longer exists at Pembroke High School.  It takes great skill and leadership (and a good sense of  humor) to keep teenagers engaged and happy.  Somehow it’s accomplished.  Lots of bonding activities outside of the classroom have help, too, such as an annual tree lighting ceremony, a trip to Six Flags Amusement Park, a spot in Pembroke’s 300th Anniversary Parade, and of course a week of band camp.  If you catch a glimpse of this  band out in public, perhaps sitting in the stands at football games, it’s pretty obvious they are having a blast.

If playing in the high school band has truly gained acceptance and is even cool (just as girls playing sports became cool), I truly believe it could have a ripple effect, spreading to the rest of the teenage population at the high school.   I’m imagining more school spirit and more acceptance of and tolerance toward individuals and groups that also need and deserve it.

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In October, the PHS band was invited to UMass Band Day at Gillette Stadium where 72 local high school marching bands played together at the UMass/Miami (Ohio) football game. How impressive that all these teenagers chose to get up early on a Saturday morning to travel with their bands to Gillette Stadium. All day long until the 4:00 kickoff, this massive group of musicians practiced over and over the music, formations and sequence to get onto and off the football field for this spectacular halftime show.  I kept thinking to myself, how lucky is the relatively small group of Miami fans who traveled to watch this football game, to be treated to this halftime event.

And just when you thought nothing could possibly top that musical and visual treat, UMass Amherst’s 300+ member award-winning marching band performed its own halftime show.  It doesn’t surprise me one bit that this polished group of musicians (including some Pembroke High School alumnae) was invited to play in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year.  Hard word really does pay off.

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NOTE:  If you’re curious about the benefits of playing a musical instrument, check out this great article:    http://www.effectivemusicteaching.com/articles/directors/18-benefits-of-playing-a-musical-instrument/