Friday, December 13, 2013

How we spend our Time

I believe that you define who you are by how you choose to spend your Time. It's a simple formula to identify the priorities in your life. They are the ones that consume the most hours of your day. Those hours that you have complete freedom to dictate, beyond the hours you work, the hours you sleep.

A myriad of circumstances this week have called upon me to evaluate how I spend my Time, how I define my life.

Yesterday, Cameron read me a quick-write he wrote for a warm-up in health class about how he wants to be remembered. Here is an excerpt:
I want to be remembered for giving back to the community. I want to be remembered as the guy that was not worried about himself but cared more about those who needed help. I want to be that guy that everyone knew more about his impact on the world than his own life. I want to be remembered as the guy that gave back everything he could to the world. I would rather have people remember what I did than remember my name.

It was one of those fulfilling moments when I felt like, whether as Mom or as McHenry, his Key Club Adviser, I must be spending the Time to 'do something right' with him.

Then, last night as I was driving home from dinner with Jason, I told him that I wanted to take the Time over Christmas Break to see a lot of my former Key Clubbers while they were home from college. I have been so swept up in the busy-ness of life other chances they were home that I couldn't coordinate seeing them although they tried to make the Time for me.

Ironically, right in the middle of that conversation, I received a text from one of my "formers," Jordan, that I hadn't spoken to in a while. Here is an excerpt:
Thought of you a lot today for some reason. It starts with a kid with a green sticker on his notebook and it congratulated him on donating blood for the first time... I wrapped up my first semester at CNU yesterday, with many changes at this place in the last week... Thanks for allowing my heart of a servant to grow during high school, because it's getting the final coats of paint here.

It was one of those fulfilling moments when I felt the rewards for how I chose to spend my Time, not the proverbial pats on my back, but the realization that I had an influence on someone that is so giving of his Time. A college junior that when he's out past midnight, it's because he's delivering blankets to the inner city homeless sleeping in the street.

Then tonight.

Many of the kids embrace being a Key Clubber as how they spend their Time, how they define themselves, make it easy on me. They are eager, and hard workers, and give a public image that I am proud to stand behind. On days that teaching seems so stressful, they remind me of the great many rewards.

Sometimes though, it's not so easy. I try real hard to find a niche for every single one of my kids. Some are great leaders, motivating others to get involved and be active. Some's greatest strength is rolling up their sleeves and getting the hard work done. Some are the money makers, they are the first to sell tickets for any fundraiser or to fill their banks with change to donate.

Sometimes though, it's not that easy to figure out the niche. To figure out how one fits into the greater picture of what we collectively achieve. Sometimes it's hard to remember that Key Club might provide the happiest moments of their high school years. I might provide the only happy moments of their high school years. When they think back on their teens, I may be the first face they remember as someone who gave them my Time. I might be the only person.

Tonight, I was reminded of this.

At the school division's Christmas Party, each place setting included a small hand-written post card from random students in the county. All the ones that I saw were from elementary kids, they were vague but endearing. Brief notes of gratitudes and holiday wishes to "Staff" or "School Family," nothing too specific or personal. The one at my seat read: "Dear Staff, thank you for all you have done for us to make us so happy. We appreciate what you do for us and others. We wish you a vary, vary Merry Christmas."

I'm sure there were others but I didn't see them, any written by our high schoolers or any written to specific teachers, but when the evening was over, another teacher I knew brought me one of the post cards that had adorned her table:

The card was signed, I just though it best to obscure it for the sake of this public post.

It was a timely gift. For reasons that I just cannot go into on this forum, it was just the right message. At the right time. From the right person.

And, I cried. Oh, how I cried. Then... I cried some more.

There are many nights when I have to pause and question why I get involved with this or why I help with that. Am I doing it for the right reasons? Am I able to give what is really needed, or am I just the only person willing to do it? Is this really how I want to spend my Time?

Various events this week have really caused me to pause and reflect upon those decisions once again. I am definitely not someone who is quick to say that God was trying to 'give me a sign.' Just a few weeks ago I debated a class of idealistic sophomores on the belief that 'everything happens for a reason.' (I opposed that position.)

I have to admit, tonight though, it was just a small token. But it was enough to answer the questions I had been asking myself and to show me that this is how I want to spend my Time. This is how I want to define my life.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Story

My Story by Elizabeth Smart

Like most Americans I was both intrigued and mortified by the story of Elizabeth Smart's abduction. It wasn't the first story of child kidnapping, and unfortunately, could never be the last. However, the narrative of it was far more disturbing than most stories told. Blond hair, blue eyes, just 14 years old, she was the model of the "All American girl" pulled from the bed shared with her sleeping (so it was believed at the time) sister.

Eventually the story faded from the news and our minds...

Until nine months later when she is discovered by the police "hiding in plain sight" as the story was often subtitled, coupled with images of veils and ramshackle tents in the woods, stories of being the destined young wife of a homeless prophet.

But, she didn't want to talk. And her family respected that wish, or perhaps behind scenes, strongly encouraged it in an effort to as quickly as possible bury the story from news headlines and their lives. No interviews, no book deals,  no "real" details except those pulled from the trial many years later and crafted into a producer's movie image of the experience.

Until now, over ten years later when she has released the memoir of that experience. I question why now, and after reading the book, still don't have that answer. I can't help but think it's the easy answer, the money. I was rather disappointed when I saw that she was the Key Note speaker at Key Club International Convention this summer... and I couldn't go. Cameron said that while her story was amazing enough in itself, that she wasn't a very good speaker... and I would have to say his standards are pretty low.

After reading her memoir,  I would have to say that she's not a very good writer either. The effect of the writing style is that it comes across as from the perspective of  a fourteen year old having just experienced this ordeal, which thankfully works with the narrative. However, it doesn't show the reflection and perspective that would expected ten years later. I am curious as to what the person who co-wrote actually got paid to do.

Overshadowing the lack of writing style, perhaps directly influencing it, is the total emotional detachment. The story is written as if it happened to someone else, not the person writing about it. It is framed almost like a diary, chronicling  the daily living style and overall event line of the experience. Peppered amongst it are several self-defending claims against the notion that she suffered Stockholm Syndrome, which would signify an emotional attachment to her abductors, and several statements of defense that it was in fear of her family's safety that she remained quiet when help was so often, so close. This is quite apparently an issue for her. However, considering the lack of therapy following the ordeal, she probably has yet to discover all the issues that are longstanding from the daily rapes and harsh living conditions of those nine months of her young teen years.

I freely admit that my greatest point of reference of Mormonism is from the memoirs of women who escaped the fundamentalist cults loosely tied to the religion. However, one theme I see connecting many of their stories is the idea of teaching the young girls to "Stay Sweet." That is a phrase common in all there stories, the one that was used an ever-present reminder to edit their behaviors to the expected norm. When Elizabeth writes about the conversation with her mother the morning following her return home, and from her talking about that same conversation in the televised interview I watched after reading the book, I could not help but be reminded of that phrase, that mentality. Her therapy was riding horses and playing the harp. While I am sure those brought her peace and comfort, I am also sure they mainly brought her distraction.

While I am no great proponent of the field of psychology, despite it being my minor, I think a few... quite a few... therapy sessions should have ended this chapter in her life. I appreciate the mother's point of view in that they were not going to allow the man who robbed her of nine months of her life control her thoughts and emotions for one single more day. I also like Elizabeth's perspective that out of all the months lived in her life, this experience only filled nine of them, few in comparison, so those nine shouldn't taint all the others. However, I think I think the emotional detachment she shows now is  the product of that approach, not necessarily the success of it. For how many other situations in her life is this going to be the default coping mechanism? Will that be a good thing? I don't know...

It is an interesting read. While it is disturbing to imagine such things can happen, such things exist, the very traits that prevent it from being literarily acclaimed do make it a more palatable read. Elizabeth does gloss over all sexual details, to the point that it makes you feel a bit perverse to wonder to what she was referring by various vague statements. The story in itself is disturbing. It doesn't rely on gratuitous graphic scenes design to hold the reader's attention. Overall though, the story of Elizabeth Smart's abduction, her time in captivity, and her ultimate discovery and return home is so far removed from the expectations of what we expect in life that it hard to remember the book is not fiction, or not just the plot of a Lifetime movie.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thanksgiving Traditions?

Justin came home for Thanksgiving Week. It's comforting how quickly family life can fall into routine again. Our home had adjusted to one less son, and then when he returned home, he just melted into that Justin-sized hole left in his absence. We didn't feel that void, life gets busy, life goes on, but when he returns everything just fits together as if he never left. In many ways the same son that I knew a year ago, in many ways also showing a sense of maturity and reality-adjustment that only perspective and reflection can give... not too much maturity though.

On one of his first nights back home, Benjamin asked Justin, "Why do you have Cameron's face?" That's an astoundingly perceptive question for his 3-year old little brain. I have occasionally noticed a shared trait between the two but I have never thought they looked alike, despite the comments of many others. I guess since Cameron has just sprouted up and changed so much physically lately, I can see it a lot more.

My sophomores read the short story "Everyday Use," by Alice Walker. The pre-writing activity is writing about a family tradition. The students often struggle over this and say that they don't have any family traditions. So, I tell them to just think about something they always do for the holidays. This, of course, causes me to stress and worry if our small little family has any traditions and would my boys be ones to struggle over responding to this prompt. I imagine they would.

Our Thanksgiving morning traditionally begins with the boys running the Turkey Trot 5K with the YMCA. This year, they actually walked down there themselves, food donations in tote, and ran. So, I can't really say that's much of a "family" tradition. Second to that, I would say we traditionally watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Except this year, I gave myself permission to admit that I just find the whole thing irritating. Is it a parade or is it a collection of musical melodies? And do we really need commentators identifying the overly-inflated socially iconic balloons harnessed down and drug along "Fifty Shades" style? No, this year I didn't need that, and just skipped the whole thing.

Does Black Friday shopping count as a family tradition? It probably shouldn't since it is the epitome of why I dread the "holiday season." If it could though, we could check that one on the Thanksgiving traditions list. We didn't get crazy about it, didn't head out until after 10 in the morning. Of course with the (much debated) beginning of "Black Friday" specials on Thanksgiving Day, it doesn't seem there were the normal early morning hour crowds and craziness.

We did a little bit of this...
And a whole lot of this...
Getting the boys new phones was first on the agenda of the day. However, it became the greater part of the entire day. After spending nearly two hours waiting in the Verizon store, we were (thankfully) told by our Associate that the phones we were looking at were $200 cheaper at Best Buy that day. The really sad part of the whole "adventure" was the phones we were getting were the most decent of the nondata-required models, and thus not at all the ones anyone else wanted, but yet the ones that consumed our day in wait. Case in point, when we arrived to Best Buy, there were only two models in stock. Over two hours later when we made it to the front of the line (which was not that long and should not have taken two hours), there were still two models in-stock. Of course with both boys having phones requiring duct tape to hold them together, speaker phones to call anyone, and advanced cryptology skills to decipher the texts, I was approaching the modern-aged definition of neglect, and they needed to be allowed to just die... the phones, not the boys.

After a bit of shopping, post phone-buying-marathon, we did go see "Catching Fire." Come to think of it, the last time we did Black Friday shopping, it was to stand in line over 3 hours to buy I-pod Touches after going to see the late showing of one of the "Twilight" movies.

So, I guess the best summary of our Thanksgiving traditions is prolonged shopping to buy mildly outdated technology coupled with Hollywood's raping of young adult literature?