Instructing Grandchildren

Sara Teasdale is one of my favorite Twentieth-Century, American poets.  In her poem, The Net, she describes the futility of trying to put into words how very special a certain person in her life is.  She says that when she makes an effort to do this, it is “As though a net of words were flung to catch a star.” That poem describes any attempt on my part to put into words how special my grandchildren are to me.  It simply cannot be done and every endeavor to do so falls short.

Because I was a mother before I became a grandmother, I realize for how short a time children remain children.  I feel an urgent need to pass along to my grandchildren all of the important life lessons I have learned in my 60+ years of living.  Therefore, unless I check myself, I am tempted to turn all of my experiences with them into science, math, morality or faith lessons.

Our oldest granddaughter is five now and ripe for instruction.  While playing in our backyard, she and I came across a cocoon.  She showed a mild interest so I explained how the little worm inside would gradually turn into a beautiful butterfly.  I volunteered that it was very hard work for the young butterfly to break out of its shell.  I warned that she or I might be tempted to help the butterfly escape by peeling away the layers of the cocoon, but that would keep the butterfly from developing the muscles it needs to be able to fly off into the sunshine.  I looked into my granddaughter’s sweet face to see if she comprehended.  She smiled warmly and said, “Besides, it would get our hands all icky.”   Yes, that too.

This five-year-old misses her great-grandmother, who died just over a year ago.  She asks many questions about where her Mee-Maw is now, why she had to go away, whether she is really underneath the dirt, does she sit on Jesus’ lap, etc.  I explain that all of the good things she remembers about her Mee-Maw are still alive.  Her Mee-Maw is now living in heaven and she is very happy there.  I emphasize how important it is to love God and believe in Jesus and trust that we will be in heaven one day too.  I am hoping I am making an impact when this little one exclaims, “And guess what, Grandma!  Mee-Maw gave me a beach towel and it smells just like her house!  You can smell it if you want to.”  Ahhh, yes.

My granddaughter and I spend quite a bit of time putting together jigsaw puzzles.  Her favorite puzzles feature Disney princesses.  I have taught her how first to look for the four corner pieces, followed by the straight-edged pieces that form the border.  Once those pieces are in place, the rest of the puzzle goes together easily.  I want to compare the puzzle to life and to tell her that if a person has a good framework of faith, moral guidelines and discipline, all of the other pieces of life will fall into place.  As I am considering how best to present this lesson, she looks up at me expectantly and says, “Uh, Grandma, I think you’re sitting on the stem of Belle’s rose.”  Touché.

I won’t stop trying to instill in my grandchildren the principles I know to be important.  Perhaps, though, I should lighten up a bit and simply enjoy them while they are still oblivious to principles.  Another of Sara Teasdale’s poems, The Coin, emphasizes the importance of creating lasting memories.   She says, “Oh, better than the minting of a gold-crowned king is the safe-kept memory of a lovely thing.”  The “lovely thing” I am doing right now with these little ones is creating memories for them and for me.

As for the instruction part, I sometimes wonder who is teaching whom.

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My Hair Towel

Being a woman with distinct OCD tendencies, I like doing things in prescribed ways.  Nowhere is this more evident than in my showering routine.  I have several large, white, very absorbent bath towels that I use for drying my body after a shower.  I also have two smaller, well-worn, white bath towels that I use exclusively for wrapping around my wet hair.  Since these towels are used only for covering clean, freshly washed hair, I use them several times before washing them, and I hang them on a specific rack in the bathroom for easy access after a shampoo.  These old towels are too worn and too small to be much good for use as bath towels, and I have asked my husband not to use them for such.  They are designated hair towels.

One morning I found one of these damp hair towels in the bathroom, hanging on a rack where I never hang them.  “Uh-huh,” I thought.  “Dan has once again used one of my hair towels as a bath towel even though I have asked him more than once not to do that.”

I took the towel off its unassigned rack and confronted Dan with it.  “Haven’t I asked you not to use these towels?  Don’t you know they’re my hair towels and are not to be used for anything else?”  He looked up from whatever he was doing and said, “I didn’t use that towel.  I found it lying on our bed, wet, so I hung it up in the bathroom.”

Oh.  Well.  Hmmm.  “Okay,” I said.  Truly, I had left my wet hair towel on our bed, on his side, no doubt.  He had found it there, and without chastising me or complaining, had merely hung it up for me in the bathroom.

I hope I learned something from this little episode with my hair towel.  In any given situation, I rarely have all the facts.  I need to be a little more charitable in my estimation of others.  I am called to extend grace, not hand out judgments.  Could it be that I am too insistent upon the rest of the world doing things my way?

Everlasting Job Stoppers

All of us are alike in many ways.  We all eat, sleep, breathe, love, interact with people, and spend 24 hours every day doing something.  Our areas of difference, however, are what make us individuals.  We all have habits (I always park in aisle 10/11 at Wal-Mart.), preferences (I choose Prego spaghetti sauce over Ragu.) and quirks (I cut my fingernails very short when I am stressed.).   And then, as my grandmother used to say, we all have our own “ways.”  I have a way of grimacing in an unattractive manner when concentrating very intently.  I grew up hearing, “Stop scrunching up your face!  It’ll freeze that way!”  I also have a way of finding pull-through parking spaces because I hate backing vehicles, and I have a way of avoiding tasks that I really don’t want to do.

As a matter of fact, I am quite skilled at finding ways to skirt around doing jobs that I don’t want to do.   Here are three job-stopping tactics that I successfully employ when I want to dodge a distasteful chore.

My first job-stopping strategy is to over-analyze the task at hand.  For example, if I need to wipe down my greasy stove top, I stand in front of the appliance and take inventory.  Yes, the stove top is greasy and needs to be wiped down.  However, it seems imprudent to settle for wiping down the stove top when the burners are blackened with baked-on food and in far worse shape than the actual stove top is.  The filter for the vent above the stove top is covered with dust; the back splash is be-speckled with food particles; dust bunnies, coins, and runaway allergy tablets reside underneath the stove; and the oven needs to be cleaned.  It is impossible to decide where to begin!  Therefore, I deduce that since I don’t have time to do a thorough job today, I’ll wait until another day when I can do the job right.  The greasy stove top, which I really didn’t want to clean, goes untouched, providing proof that this strategy works.

Another strategy that works for me is to avoid tackling a particularly distasteful job by addressing other tasks instead.  Let’s say that my overloaded, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves need to be dusted.  This is a monstrous endeavor involving a ladder, cleaning rags, a vacuum cleaner, various cleaning products for the different types of items on the shelves, and the stamina of a rock climber.  Yet, the job needs to be done.  However, upon reflection I realize that I also need to go to the bank, return some library books, and visit the Post Office.  In fact, these jobs are more time-sensitive than the shelf-dusting.  If I don’t take care of them right away, I risk bouncing a check, accumulating overdue book fines and getting my Mom’s birthday card to her a day late, so I put on my coat and head out the door.  At the end of the day, the bookshelves are still coated with dust, but I did take care of three jobs instead of just one.  I even managed to get in a little window shopping.  Truly, I am an efficiency expert.

A third job-stopping strategy I often employ involves simply asking myself these questions: “Will doing this job really make a positive difference in the lives of others?”  “Is there not some more noble, charitable, or service-oriented task that I should address instead?”   Thus, when I recognize that 14 items of clothing are waiting to be ironed, I ask myself who will benefit if I spend my time ironing them.  Will anyone’s day be brightened?  Certainly mine won’t be.  Will a relationship be strengthened?  Who will receive encouragement or pleasure from the fact that my ironing is done?  Probably no one will.  However, my granddaughter will be ecstatic if I tell her we are going on an impromptu outing to Monkey Joe’s.  A friend who is feeling blue will be cheered if she and I go to lunch.  My mother, who lives 600 miles away, will delight in a long, rambling phone chat with me.  Shouldn’t I choose to bless rather than to press?

It may be true that greasy stove tops, dusty bookshelves, and wrinkled clothes deserve more attention than I give them, but consider all that I accomplish by choosing to neglect them!  In the category of Avoiding Unpleasant Jobs, I rate myself as functioning at the professional level.   However, reaching this high degree of expertise does not happen overnight.  Like any skill, this one takes years to master.  I will give a tip, though, to anyone interested in becoming more adept in this area: It helps if you’re already good at rationalizing.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?

I am not bothered by many of the things that annoy other people.  For example, there is not one ounce of road rage inside my whole body.  Drivers can cut me off in traffic, adjust their driving speeds to exactly coincide with mine to make it impossible for me to pass them, take a parking space I have been waiting on for five minutes, fail to signal an upcoming turn, or even stop dead in the middle of the road to finish sending a text and I don’t get flustered.  I figure that as long as nobody gets hurt, the “no harm, no foul” rule applies.

I don’t criticize people for putting up their Christmas lights before Halloween or for leaving them up and turned on until Easter.  I have no problem with people wearing wet swimsuits in the library.  I don’t even care if people use the same plate when making a return trip to a food bar as long as they do not let the serving spoon touch their plate, arm, clothing, or floor.  I say live and let live.

I save my fury to vent on important issues:  printed spelling, grammar and word usage errors in public places.  I am incensed every time I go into a grocery store and see a sign above a register reading: 10 items or less.  One cart does not contain “less” items than another cart.  It may contain fewer, but never less.  If I ever find a grocery store with lane signs reading: 10 items or fewer, I will patronize that store; I don’t care how high its prices are.  If their eggs cost a dollar apiece, I will buy no fewer eggs than I always buy.

Another thing that makes my blood pressure go up is seeing a billboard, which almost certainly is costing someone thousands of dollars a month to display, containing a glaring error.  I almost wrecked my car the other day when I saw a prominent highway billboard proclaiming: One out of every five high school students are using illegal drugs.  I don’t want any high school students to use illegal drugs, but that is not the thing that caused me to hit my brakes and scream, “What?”  One out of every five high school students is, not “are” using illegal drugs.  Were I not afraid of heights, I might make it my business to paint corrections on such billboards to save the people who put them up so much embarrassment.

I know I am not the only one who is troubled by these errors.  I once saw a sign on a restaurant door that read: Shoes and shirts are required to eat here.  Someone had scribbled next to those words:  Socks may eat wherever they wish.

As a public servant, I want to educate people and help them correct word errors for which they are responsible, but for some reason, such conversations tend not to go well for me.  People often misunderstand the point I am trying to make and think I am saying something that I am not saying.   I saw on the check-out counter of a sandwich shop recently a cup containing coins and bearing this sign:  We are greatful for your tips.  I wanted to explain to the clerk the problem that I had with the sign; however, I suspect that if I had broached the subject with her, she rather snootily would have told me that the shop was entitled to have a tip cup if it wanted to have one.  Then as I tried to make a graceful exit she would have added something like, “And for all intensive purposes, it’s none of your business!”

One day I returned from grocery shopping with a frozen Sara Lee cheesecake.  I took the cheesecake out of the box to thaw and just as I tossed the empty carton into the trash I spotted these words on its side:  Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee.  Having listened to Sara Lee commercials since I was a child, I knew that the company’s slogan was “Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee.”  How could such a well-known, reputable company as Sara Lee allow an error like that to appear on its packaging?  I put together possible scenarios in my mind.  Maybe a new plant had opened and the person responsible for printing the words on the carton was new to the company and had just made an honest mistake.  These things happen.

Fortunately, on the box was printed a 1-800 number for people to use when calling with concerns about Sara Lee products.  I was certainly concerned and so I called.  After jumping through the usual prerecorded hoops I was finally connected with a customer service representative.  I told the young woman as clearly as I could that I had just spotted a printing error on a box of Sara Lee cheesecake.  Instead of immediately thanking me and assuring me that the error would be corrected, she began asking me all kinds of irrelevant questions.  “Where did you buy this product?”  “Do you often buy Sara Lee products?”  “Are you usually pleased with the Sara Lee products you purchase?”  I was patient to a point but finally I pressed her to hear me out.  I said, “This box of Sara Lee cheesecake that I bought today has printed on it the words: Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee.  “Yes?” she replied.  “Well,” I said, “That’s wrong.”  “What is wrong about it?” she asked.  Astounded that she, a sales representative, did not even know her company’s slogan, I explained.  “The box should read: Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee.”  “No, it shouldn’t,” she explained.  “That is not our company’s slogan.  The slogan is ‘Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee.'”  “What?”  I almost screamed into the phone.  “Are you telling me that the Sara Lee slogan is actually ‘Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee’?”  “Yes,” she replied.  “That slogan appears on all of our products.”  Completely aghast I shot back, “A double negative?  Nobody doesn’t like . . .”  “Yes,” she said.  “But that is grammatically incorrect,” I insisted.  “We know,” she said, “but we like it.”

What is wrong with people?

For friends who share common interests with me and enjoy reading lighthearted, inspirational, and entertaining articles, many with spiritual applications.