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The School System is Oppressive for a Reason

School system feels oppressive quote from book and book cover on desert background.

“Marianne’s classmates all seem to like school so much and find it normal. To dress in the same uniform every day, to comply at all times with arbitrary rules, to be scrutinized and monitored for misbehavior, this is normal to them. They have no sense of the school as an oppressive environment.”

Normal People by Sally Rooney

The school system we have is not the best way to create a responsible and independent population.

Speaking out against the public school system is unpopular, I know. I usually get even fewer likes when I speak my mind here. But hear me out, please. What we are currently doing (and have been for nearly 100 years) isn’t working. That old cliché definition of insanity comes to mind.

I pulled this quote out because it reminded me of my own experience in high school and my feeling when I talk to parents that send their kids to school. In fact, it reminds me of how I feel when I talk to kids in high school, or that have just left it.

I was good at the system. I was able to work my way through public school in the 80’s and get good grades, make some friends, and start university. But I felt like I as living a lie, walking among zombies that didn’t realize there was a world outside what we were being forced to live until we were 18 or completed so many credits. Why was I different?

I don’t believe controlling other people from birth to death is the way we create order out of chaos. I’ve heard time and time again, if you don’t teach a child that you are bigger and stronger than them, the authority in all things, while they are small and fragile, they’ll walk all over you when they get into their teens and are bigger than you, capable of walking away from your control. It sounds so perverse.

It’s the same with schools today. I’ve heard parents tell me that you need to put your children in daycare early so that they learn to fit in to the system once they get to school age. Children that have not been corralled from early age have a harder time settling into the mold of school days.

A young person, fresh out of high school at 18 years old, scoffed at the fact that my son (her boyfriend) must have been too lazy to finish high school. He didn’t get the same education as she did and would probably never fully understand the system of merely making good grades and completing checklists instead of engaging in and learning from the material and teachers he came across at college. He was 16 and taking the same classes as her, helping her with her math assignments and holding a job.

When people see us, our children, and our lifestyle, some say, “Sure, that’s fine for you but other people need the control of an authority.” Do they? Or have they been trained from birth to believe that they do?

Some people have met us and have told me, “Wow. Your sons are so happy and intelligent. They seem like full-fledged people, not teenagers.” Their next comment is usually that we must have had a strong hand on them, kept them out of trouble, restricted them from video games and cellphones. It was the opposite. They have grown up being respected as individuals, with their own needs and wants, the ultimate authority of themselves, even when we thought they were crazy. We worked together to make living together comfortable. They grew up treating us the same way.

It wasn’t easy. Every decision, every change, every stage of life has to be thought about and evaluated to some degree. Negotiation so that everyone’s needs are met is impossible sometimes. And sometimes we failed miserably. We were learning too, not just the kids. Ultimately, now that the youngest is leaving home, I think it worked out well overall, more positive than negative.

The quote above, Marianne’s feeling about the school environment she is in, it’s legitimate. Raising large groups of people in controlled environments where they have no choice but to attend and obey is oppressive. It brainwashes people into believing that they are not capable of living outside a set of parameters set by someone else.

And that, my friends, is bullshit. We can all live exactly as we please. That doesn’t mean I have to live next to you or with you and agree with you, but it does mean you have the right and the ability to make your own choices, ones that serve you and your needs alone.

Stop raising humans as herd animals and start treating them as independent sentient beings from the moment they are born and we’ll begin to see civilization flourish in ways you can’t imagine.


If you’d like to go back and read my thoughts on this book from the beginning, start at my post New Read: Normal People.

You can find “Normal People” by Sally Rooney on Amazon.

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Can More Faith in Yourself Lead to More Faith in Others?

faith in yourself quote with background image

“Only the person who has faith in himself is able to be faithful to others, because only he can be sure that he will be the same at a future time as he is today and, therefore, that he will feel and act as he now expects to.”

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

Find the book on Amazon, HERE!

Loving others starts with having faith in yourself.

We simply lived without school. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t learn. The outcome proves that.

My sons are both out on their own, living productive lives. One traveled Europe, and now has a good job with potential for growth, along with his own car and apartment. He’s 20 years old. The other has been at community college here in town for two years, working, and has his own car. He’s transferring to university next semester and will be leaving the state to live in the dorm and focus on his studies for the next couple of years.

What did we do instead of school?

Our faith in our own drive to learn led me to believe my children had that same drive.

We lived and learned together. We read books, watched movies, built things, went places. We talked and laughed and loved together. We cried and fought, worked things out as best we could so that everyone had their space and got as much as they wanted without stepping on anyone else’s toes. I rarely said no to things they wanted to try out. I spent a lot of time searching for new experiences, and then making it possible to do them. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

I had faith in them from the moment they were born. I knew myself and so did their father. We didn’t need an authority to guide, protect, and direct our lives. What we wanted more of growing up was less direction and more support, so that’s what we gave our kids. We knew they would find their own unique way to adulthood if we gave them a loving and supportive home, if we led by example and followed our own interests, served our own needs, without sacrificing anyone else’s lives in the process.

I had faith in them because I had faith in myself.

And I have faith in others because I have that faith in myself. I know that others can take responsibility for themselves and their families if they want to. I’m not special. My family is not special. We are not more intelligent or lucky than anyone else. The only thing that is different is that, for some reason, we have faith in ourselves.

Real love starts with you loving yourself, believing in yourself, and taking responsibility for your own life. And no one can give that to you. I believe all of us have the ability, but somewhere along the line we have lost the knowledge of it.

I’m telling you that you have it. Start using it.

Want to read other posts from this same book? You can find them here…

How to Parent by Respecting the Individual

Learning to Concentrate by Being Alone

We Cannot Give What We Do Not Have

Where Did Our Words For “Love” Go?

How to Parent by Respecting the Individual

“How many parents experience the child’s reactions in terms of his being obedient, of giving them pleasure, of being a credit to them, and so forth, instead of perceiving or even being interested in what the child feels for and by himself?”

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

Parenting Needs Respect

I hear and see parents do this constantly, everywhere I go. A baby cries and it’s a sign of “neediness” or the baby is already trying to exert control over the parent. A toddler throws a fit over something and they are called “strong-willed.” A school child interrupts a LONG adult conversation, and they are scolded and pushed away.

It couldn’t possibly be that the baby’s only way of communication a basic need is to cry out, the toddler wanted something that was important to him but couldn’t communicate it in time, or that the school child had a limited amount of patience to wait for a break in adult conversation.

Contrary to popular belief, your children are not actually a piece of you walking around outside your body.

That is supposed to be a metaphor for how you feel, but it doesn’t really help you treat them as the whole individual human they were born to be.

We all are born with our own innate wants and needs. Our first communication tool is noise and as we grow and learn to control our muscles, we learn to communicate better and more precisely. Our job as parents is to help our children learn to use these tools. It takes a lot of time and patience because not only do our children have limited communication skills, but they also have a limited attention span and patience as well. And the only way to expand those is by giving them the time and space to practice using them.

Parenting Needs Patience

Poor communication skills and a lack of patience in adults, in my opinion, comes from lacking in practice while a person is growing up. Children that are set aside, ignored, or not treated as relevant human beings with independent wants and needs, grow up to be adults that insist on centering the world on themselves and treating others as NPC’s. That’s “non-playing characters,” people that have no active narrative, space filler for the game, for those who are not gamers.

Recently, within the last few years, my brother opened a car repair shop and has been complaining about people making appointments and not showing up, requesting things be done without regard for his time and effort, and things of that nature. I had the same experience working at a pregnancy clinic in the past. People would make appointments and not show, complain about how the place was run and what they received (for free, from volunteers and donations) when they were asked to complete tasks to qualify.

How do we, as adults, “reparent” ourselves so that we learn to treat others with the respect we wish to be given? How do we make it clear to those that treat us as NPC’s that we are not? Yelling and cursing at each other isn’t working. Calling people out for bad behavior, punishing people for having little patience, poor communication skills, or no respect for us, doesn’t seem to help either.

When a baby cries out, we look to see what the problem is and attempt to fix it quietly and calmly. When a toddler pitches a fit over the wrong color cup at lunch, we lovingly give him the one he wants when we can and when he’s happy again, explain how it might be easier for both of us to get what we want next time. And when the school child interrupts us with his antics, we hold his hand or let him join in our conversation for a moment and then shift the attention to him so that he’s shown he is respected and how adults give others a chance to speak. We don’t hold grudges against them, yell, or punish.

Could that work with the adults around us? Loving space, respect for individuals exactly where they are, and sympathetic consolation for the natural consequences of their actions would go a lot farther than pushing people into a corner until they behaved according to our own wishes.

Parenting Experience Points

“The thing is, Peter, grown-ups don’t know what they’re doing any better than kids do. That’s the truth.”

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

This quote reminded me of the relationship between my stepdaughter and me. Let’s just say, I was not the ideal parent and I apologized a lot, but it never helped. I wish kids were born knowing the adults in their lives are doing the best they can with what they have.

She was my first child, even though I got her when she was five years old and only half the week. Parenting was new to me. Step-parenting was new to me. She was new to me. I wanted to do better than my parents did, but in a lot of ways I failed. We all fail. It’s how we learn to do better.

Our relationship was torture for both of us much of the time. There were great days, but I felt like I failed at every turn and she’d never forgive me for it, which only made me feel worse about myself, and then I’d get worse. It was a vicious cycle downward that only ended when she finally moved out forever. And at the bottom of my heart, I was glad she did, proud of her for getting away and doing what was best for her.

I haven’t seen her in six years and we only recently, carefully started texting each other. I still don’t know how to talk to her. I try to listen to my husband. He seems to have a better sense of these things. His advice stems from what he’d want, “Just leave her alone and let her come to you when she’s ready,” but I’m afraid. What if the day she comes to me when she’s ready, I am not? What if I screw it all up again?

I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t. Parenting is hard. Parenting someone else’s kid is harder.

The only difference between adults and children is experience points. The more experience you have in life, the more you know how much you don’t know, how much you still need to learn…and then we die, hoping our kids do better than we did.

Unintentional Lessons From Childhood

“She raised her hand when she felt like talking and didn’t think that was notable until Mr. Behan told her parents in the parent-teacher conference that he was glad to see a girl raising her hand.”

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

As I read any book, I make notes. I underline perfect sentences, things that start me thinking, and sweet “ah-ha” moments. After I finish reading the book, I go back through and look at my notes, pulling out things that trigger a reaction in me. Sometimes, just days after I’ve finished reading, I can’t remember why I marked a certain passage. Maybe it struck me but didn’t stick? It must not have been that important, a passing idea.

Sometimes a sentence jumps out at me, I’m brought to some revelation about my current situation, or it reminds me of my childhood, and I write about that. This passage did both!

I’m not sure if you know this, but I live in the desert. The rural part, not the city part. I’m not totally in the middle of nowhere. I can drive into town any day of the week. I can drive into the city, and I often do. It’s not that I’m physically that isolated, but the town is small, and it is the desert. People tend to move here because they like being alone. We come together as a community for special occasions, like the 4th of July or a music festival. We complain about “traffic” and crowded parking lots when there are more than a few cars nearby. Unless you are part of some sub-group, it’s not the hub of social activity.

So…what’s your point, Michelle?

I know, I’m getting to that!

Let’s see…summed up… I’ve found myself a bit hungry for social interaction lately.

Since my boys have flown the nest, I’ve been at a loss about how to find a new social circle. How do I meet new people now? BC (before children) I met people at work. With kids, it was playgroups and then homeschool events. I started to get involved in our local community center but with the shutdowns all of that is on hiatus until further notice.

So, what do I do? I looked to the internet, Facebook groups be precise. I found a few that looked promising and joined. That was the easy part. Then, when I started scrolling through the posts, I noticed that people were posting an introduction, a picture and some description of themselves and why they were there. I read them, found them interesting…but could not bring to post one myself, even though I longed to do so. I literally broke into a cold sweat just thinking about what I would write. Why?

Then I saw this underlined in my book and it dawned on me. It’s like raising my hand in class. I never could do it. Even as an adult, in any kind of classroom like situation, an office meeting, anything, I couldn’t raise my hand to say something no matter how much I wanted to. I’d sit there, heart racing, mind trying to put together just the right words to express my thoughts…and do nothing. I have the answer! I have something important to add! I can help with that! But nothing could get me to raise my hand.

Why? Because raising your hand draws attention to yourself, drawing attention to yourself if not lady-like or attractive. And that is the worst crime of all. Where in the world did I get that idea? I assume I got that message from my mother’s family growing up. I can hear their words like family mantras, “don’t make a scene,” “don’t be ugly,” “keep your voice down,” etc. There was no evil scheme to keep a child down, it was just the way they were raised, so they passed those social and cultural rules on to me.

The women in my father’s family were different. They were loud, brash, and wild. Since my parents divorced when I was very young, and back then fathers didn’t get 50/50 custody of their kids, I didn’t see them often. I mostly saw them on holidays when they were at their most boisterous. Recently, I’ve dreamt about being more like what I perceived them to be: confident, proud, intelligent, unrestrained.

So here I am, 47 and looking for new friends on the internet. I joined a group of like-minded people in an attempt to socialize…and I’m paralyzed with fear at the idea of introducing myself, even from behind a screen. What the hell?! I need to get over this right quick. There’s a huge difference between running into a room, doing crazy things, screaming “Look at me!” and contributing to a group social dynamic.

Our children learn some strange lessons, ones we didn’t mean to teach them at all. I wonder what unintentional lessons my children learned from me.

Why Do I Get Up In The Morning – Episode 6

What the heck?! Where have I been? Was there NOTHING to be joyful about? Nothing to share? No reason at all to get up in the morning?!

(That’s me, creating drama!) No, nothing like that at all. I’m just inconsistent with my writing habits. In fact, inconsistency is my mantra, my whole being wrapped up in one fine word! So here I am starting up again, picking up where I left off and waving a big hello to you. I’ll wrap you up in a big hug and sit down next to you, maybe under a tree on a park bench, or across from you in a restaurant over tacos.

Sheesh…I just scanned back and realized that I haven’t talked to you since late August. Two whole months! Instead of boring you with a long list of what I’ve been up too, because honestly, it’s a lot and pretty wild and crazy and…oh who am I kidding?! I’m talking to friends here! You know me. The wildest I get is maybe one too many glasses of tequila and a very loud game of pool on the back porch, but that’s what life is for!

I’ll just pick one thing that I’m extremely proud of at this very moment and tell you about it. My oldest son is off on another adventure today. He’s packing up his car and heading out into the world again. This time, he has a new job in a new state and a new car. And he’s very excited (and I know probably pretty nervous too).

The “pandemic” brought him back to us back in April. He had two jobs, one online and one at an airport, but when the airport laid him off and he wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, he decided that it was probably best just to head home for a bit and regroup. I’ll admit…I kinda pushed in that direction. I was worried and wanted as much of my family together as possible. I’m not always as strong and cool as I make myself out to be. Control is my go-to when I’m not sure of the outcomes, and I grab for anything I can. So here we are, six months later, and after a long and strenuous job search, he’s found work and is on his way.

Me? I’m not so much worried about him leaving as I was in the past. I know he’s a more than capable adult. I just know I will miss him terribly. I realized earlier this week that I was pretending like the day wasn’t coming, just going through the week like usual. I hate dwelling on what’s coming. I hate mooning over “This the last workday. This is the last grocery trip. This is the last beer we share.” Just typing that makes me choke up…stupid to sit and ruin those “lasts” so I pretend they aren’t. It’s ridiculous anyway. He’s not dying or moving to another planet. All kids grow up and move out. Sentimentality is not my strong suit. My husband on the other hand…poor guy.

While I wish he loved the desert as much as we do or could find work closer so that he could be here on weekends to visit, I’m happy that he loves adventure and follows his own heart. I’m happy that he’s not afraid to try new things and create his own world. I’m proud that we’ve created a strong enough foundation for him that he just jumps without worrying about what he’s leaving behind. I wish I were more like him. I think he’s going to love it there once he gets settled and I have a feeling he’ll find some new friends there.

One more thing before I go! His brother is not far behind him. He’s on his way to University in January and when I looked on the map I found that they’ll be only six hours apart. They’ll be able to spend some weekends together camping and hiking, maybe even racing sometime. I know they’re crazy different people and that they each have their own worlds to create, but something about knowing they at least have each other close enough to visit if they want to makes this Mom heart happy.

See you next week!

Really. I promise.

Quotes from The Mastery of Love – One

“…the instinct to love is so strong that you pay a high price to have a relationship with others.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miquel Ruiz

That it is. No matter how many times we’ve been hurt, how many times we’ve lost, the primal urge to connect with others pushes us forward.

We create new and inventive ways to protect ourselves, ways that sometimes don’t seem to make sense or get us anywhere near where we want to be, but we’ll do anything to love and be loved.

Ruiz makes a beautiful analogy about the human condition. He says we all act as though everyone’s skin is covered in painful sores. The longer we live, the more we have. It hurts to touch and be touched, yet we crave it. The worst part is that most of us aren’t even aware the sores are there or that others have them too. We react badly when people touch us, thinking they are deliberately hurting us, and hurt them back.

The solution? Awareness of the pain we carry from our injuries and allowing others to touch us anyway. Awareness that everyone else has that pain and may not yet be aware of it themselves. Touch gently. Love and be loved. Pay the price and you begin to heal and grow strong until loving and reacting in love becomes the new habit.

“We domesticate humans the same way we domesticate a dog or any other animal: with punishment and reward.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miquel Ruiz

Another quote from the same book that touched me. It reminded me of the way we raised our kids. We tried our best not to use punishments and rewards to control behavior. Instead, we tried not to control behavior at all but learn to communicate and get along with each other, make space and time in the hopes of filling everyone’s needs as much as possible.

When it wasn’t, we attempted to negotiate and make sure everyone had as much input as possible. It didn’t always work. There were times when rewards were handed out and punishment meted, but it was usually when we (the adults) were not at our best.

This is the way that humans are in this world. Your behavior or activity is disrupting. Your needs are too much for those around you to accommodate. You are rewarded for not bothering people and punished when your behavior steps out of the bounds the authority as made for themselves. It sounds so medieval, but it’s not that crazy.

You are hurting me with your behavior, so I hurt you until you stop or go away. You’re not hurting me so  I reward you with my love and attention. Easy, right?

But when I think what one’s behavior means, it starts to sound ugly. Say you’re very tired and you don’t have the communication skills to convey that information, so you decide to pull your parent away from the people they are visiting with. The parent refuses. You are hurting her, so she hurts you to tell you your behavior is unacceptable. She knows no better way.

Is there a better way? I believe so. She could listen to you and attempt to figure out what you are trying to communicate with your behavior and see if you can come up with a solution. But in the world we live in, most people don’t see that as a way at all.

The same goes with all kinds of relationships. Your new boyfriend teases. Why? What is he trying to communicate? I doubt he’s trying to hurt you deliberately. There’s no need to retaliate. Your friend doesn’t answer your texts right away. Your mother insists on telling you how to run your household. All these relationships have been built on punishment and reward.

What if we assumed positive intent, validated everyone’s needs, and attempted to communicate directly instead? We only train animals that way because we can’t communicate with them directly. They don’t speak our language or have the ability to learn it.

Bird Watching

Ideas coming into focus. I search for a place to sit and quietly watch them settle, hoping I can make note of them, capture them before they…

Be careful! Don’t startle them. Any sudden movement or noise may scare them into flight and who knows when they’ll be back again. Ideas, like birds, are flighty things.

An old woman sits on a park bench and watches the birds. She simply watches, content and satisfied with her view. They alight, coo, and walk around pecking the ground at her feet.  

A young mother comes by, pushing her new baby in a stroller. It’s one of those big heavy contraptions that a car seat fits into. From her park bench, she sees the mother arrive in the parking lot. Stepping from the sedan, she walks to the back of the vehicle as the trunk pops open. She reaches inside, and with both hands heaves the stroller base out onto the pavement, snapping it open as she lowers it to the ground.

“I remember being that strong,” the old woman thinks. The young mother maneuvers the stroller to the side of the car, opens the back seat door, pulls the baby car seat out of its base, turns on one foot and sets it atop the stroller, locking it into place with a snap.

“Does that baby even know where he is?” She chuckles to herself. “I sound like an old woman, even in my head. Back in my day…” She smiles as she watches the mom start her brisk walk around the park. She’s here for the exercise and baby is the resistance weight. “Two for one deal,” she thinks, “Mom gets a good walk and baby get some fresh air. He’s probably napping the whole time anyway.”

She goes back to her birds as they settle once again at her feet, instinctively pecking the ground. There are so many different varieties of the same kind of bird. Pigeons are not known for their beauty, but they are fascinating. Interspersed between them are several sparrows that flit in and out of the group, dwarfed by the lumbering pigeons.

A war cry is sounded to her right and the pounding of small feet, “Josh, honey, no! Don’t chase them off!” Mom comes walking breathlessly after her toddler son just as the birds scatter to the sky and trees. “I’m so sorry. He gets so excited about the birds.” She bends down and scoops him up into her arms. “That’s ok. They’ll be back. I love watching them return just as much.” Mom smiles. “How old is he?” “24 months and always running.”

Twenty-four months. Why not just say 2½? It’s strange the way we do that with a babies age until they’re three years old. Maybe after that it gets too cumbersome. Fifty-four months would be a lot to calculate, I guess.

“Sit down, honey. Let him chase around the bench for a moment and catch your breath.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Not at all. He reminds me of my own sons when they were that age. Always chasing after something. I’m just sitting here taking in the sights and right now, you’re it!”

“Thank you. Young boys aren’t always welcome. All that energy. They have to run it off somewhere!”

As she takes a seat, she leans forward to set her son down. The moment his feet hit the ground, he wobbles and takes off again, toddling to the back of the bench. He babbles about the rocks and sticks he finds back there as the two women smile and listen. While he’s distracted and out of view, a few birds return to the ground in front of the bench.

He makes his way around to the side of the bench, quietly, almost stalking his prey. He’s showing a lot of restraint for a two-year-old. He wants to see the birds so badly. As another bird lands he bolts out among them, “Birds!” They scatter and he laughs ecstatically. Mom and the old woman shake their heads. “You’ll never catch them that way,” mom playfully scolds.

“I don’t think he wants to. He sure gets a lot of joy from the power he exerts over them. See that smile as they scatter? He has won his battle.”

“Birds!” the boy yells again.

“Yep. Birds. Birds everywhere.”

He smiles and grabs mom’s hand, pulling her in the direction of the playground. “I guess we’re leaving. It was nice talking to you.”

“Nice meeting both of you. Have a good time out there!”

She settles back into her spot on the bench and sighs. The quiet of the park starts to move back in and surround her. The birds have returned, along with a small squirrel. They don’t seem to mind the small stranger and she watches as the birds move out of the way when he darts in among them. They all know this is where people will leave snacks for them. They scour the ground around the bench for bits of popcorn, sunflower seeds, and cracker bits. So much energy put into scratching around for scraps.

It’s warm out today, but the soft breeze brings comfort. It smells of fresh cut grass and wet pavement. She takes a deep breath and tastes the scent. It brings back memories of her childhood in this same park. Climbing the jungle gym and standing atop that slide thinking it was the longest drop she had ever seen. Looking toward the playground, she can see young girls on the swings. Their bare feet pointed to the sky, hands reaching to the side to try and touch as they pass back and forth.

She hears their mom call to them from a picnic table nearby. “Come eat your lunch, girls! We have a little work to do, but I think it will be fun.” The girls jump from the top of the arch of their swing and land gracefully in the sand, plop, plop. One stumbles over from her dismount, not so graceful but full of energy, rights herself and comes running behind her sister. “Nice one, dork.” “Stop. Please don’t start, you two.”

The girls fall to the table and begin munching on sandwiches and chips, as their mom picks up a book and starts to read to them. The cover is so bright and bold, the old woman can see it from her park bench. “Drawing with  Children” is says. They must be homeschoolers, she thinks.

“Girls, after you eat, let’s try to draw things we find in the park. What do you think?”

“I’d rather swing!” the older one states. “Me too!” her little sister chimes in.

And then surprisingly, “So would I!” says Mom. She closes the book and heads toward the swings, both girls running ahead to get there first. The swinging commences with gusto, Mom reaching the highest point first due to her expertise. The girls struggle to keep up.

“Ok, that’s enough for me!” Mom stops pumping her feet and slows the swing to hop off.

“I’m beat. I think I’ll draw birds instead!” She goes back to the table, picks up a sketch pad, and sits in the grass. Within a few minutes, both girls are by her side. They want to see what Mom is drawing. “You guys, I can’t get anything on paper with you pushing your face in to see what I’m doing. Get your own sketch pad and draw something yourself. We can share ideas in a bit.”

Running to the table and back, they plop down in the grass beside her and begin to draw with intention.

The old woman smiles as she watches the swings sway and slow and finally stop. Her birds begin to return, and her attention is pulled toward them once again. There are more now. A few of her favorites have arrived. They are clearly pigeons of the same build and make, but these are snow white and without a blemish. How does that happen? They look like obese doves, ones that escaped from someone’s wedding cake and have been gorging on bits of cracker and popcorn instead of their usual kept bird diet of clean birdseed.

Stroller mom walks by, earbuds in. She isn’t loud or sudden, so the birds just move out of the way as she goes by, returning to their pecking the moment she passes. It’s a small neighborhood park, so she passes by every couple of minutes as she does her loop. The fourth time, she slows and stops to sit and rest.

“Do you mind sharing the bench for a moment?” she asks the old woman, slightly out of breath.

“I’d love to. I was hoping you’d stop so I can get a glimpse of the new human.”

Stroller mom chuckles. “He is pretty cute, if I do say so myself.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” She smiles and Stroller Mom lifts the canopy of the car seat to reveal her prize. Her new son, all chubby and swaddled, sleeps his afternoon away, completely unaware that he’s being rocketed around the park.

“Don’t you wish you could sleep like that?” she asks.

“I wish he’d sleep like that at night!”

“That’s the way, isn’t it? As soon as it’s quiet, the noise in your head gets louder and you can’t get a moments rest. I’ve always had trouble sleeping at night. It’s when all my ideas start to come through. My husband used to complain that I’d be up all night writing out ideas, only to sleep all day while the tv blared and the traffic snarled outside our window.

“Babies probably feel the same way. Once all the stimulation is gone, they start to think and process, and then cry about it. I know I did!”

“That’s funny. I do the same thing. Growing and creative minds must be so similar.”

Stroller Mom closes the canopy. “Breath caught. Three more laps and I’m off to the showers. Thanks for the insight. You come here often? Maybe I’ll see you again?”

“Every afternoon I can, that is, until it gets too hot.”

Stroller Mom smiles and gets on her way.

The birds are quick to return to the ground around her bench once again. She is quiet and doesn’t move much and besides, she has seed they can’t resist.

“It’s fascinating to me how easily they startle and how quickly they forget what scared them and return. Do they forget, or is the lure of food too much for them to ignore? Or maybe they know how fast they are? Whatever the reason, they’ve gotten this far with the strategy. Look how many there are!”

As she sits and ponders the evolution of park birds, she notices a woman walk in from the parking lot with a lawn chair and a sketch pad. Clad in a flowing skirt and a tank top, she seemingly glides across the park like a dryad.

She seems to know exactly where she’s going, a small shaded spot under a flowering tree directly across from the old woman. She sets her lawn chair down and situates it so she is facing the old woman and her birds, expertly flipping open her sketch book. She attempts to pull a charcoal pencil from behind her ear, but it gets tangled in her flowing gray hair.

“Ugg.” The old woman hears her grumble to herself as she sets the sketchbook down and tries to extricate the pencil. The birds are frightened into flight once again by the angry flop of the sketch book.

“Dammit.” She looks up at the old woman and eyes her apology.

“It’s ok, sweetheart. They’ll be back soon.”

The artist smiles at the old woman, too shy and embarrassed to approach and speak. She’s there to draw after all, not have a conversation. The old woman has been her subject for weeks now. The looks are all the conversation either of them needs. She gathers her pencil and paper, settles back in her chair and waits quietly, filling in from memory where she left off the week before.

The old woman knows what the artist is up to and subconsciously tries to look her best. She sits up a tad straighter, fixes the fallen hair from her bun, and sucks in her sagging belly as best she can. With the return of the birds, the distraction of an adorable squabble between a chipmunk and a pigeon, she relaxes again into her natural state, and the artist attempts to capture the charm with her pencil.

One of the swinging girls has taken an interest in the old woman feeding the birds and comes to investigate. She’s been creeping up slowly and shyly from the side for several minutes. The old woman noticed her minutes ago but hadn’t said anything yet. She hoped to allow the girl to prove her bravery and approach. After several slightly stressful minutes, she decided to help and speak first.

“Is there something you need, dear?”

The girl glances back at her mother for encouragement, returns her gaze and shakes her head no.

“There’s plenty of room for two here, if you’d like to sit.”

Again, the girl glances back at her mom. Mom smiles, “It’s ok. Most people warn you with behavior if they bite.”

The old woman chuckles. “Oh, I don’t bite anymore, but I used to. Do you want to hear the story?”

The girl looks down and smiles from under her blonde bangs. “Yes.” She says, and giggling walks up and plops herself on the bench beside her.

“Well, I fibbed a bit there. I never was a biter, even when I was little. More of a hugger.”

The girl smiles up at her. “A hugger?”

“Yes. I’ve always loved hugs from anyone I meet. You can tell a lot about a person when you try to hug them. Some move away when you try to put an arm around them. Some don’t but stiffen up when you hug them, like they’d rather you didn’t but can’t say no. And then some…oh these are very special; they simply melt into your arms like it’s all they ever needed in the world but never had.”

The old woman is tossing the last of the seeds in her bag to the birds as she talks. She stops and looks at the youngster beside her. “What kind of a hugger are you?”

“Me? I don’t know.”

“Would you like to find out? I’ve always found that asking a person if they’d like a hug before you hug them is a good idea. Some people just don’t appreciate a touch from someone they don’t know and springing it on them makes it much worse. Would you like a hug?”

The girl looks to her mother. She’s always been told to keep her distance from strangers, not because they’re dangerous, but out of respect for their space. The mother is walking over with the picnic basket in one hand, a backpack over her shoulder, and holding her little sister’s hand. “That one has always been a hugger. We’ve been working on consent since she was tiny.”

The old woman smiles at the thought. She never could understand why anyone would want to refuse a hug, but to each his own. We have to respect each other’s feelings if we’re going to want people to respect ours.

The little girl stood up from the park bench and turned to the old woman and as she leaned in for a hug, her little sister came barreling in from the side. “Let me in!” she squealed and all three melted together in a comforting embrace like old friends.

“You smell like a grandma!” the little girl chimes. The old woman chuckles, “That’s because I am a grandma, several times!” The older girl laughs, “I knew it. Only grandma’s give hugs like that!”

“Come on girls. Let’s give her a break from your ruckus. We have baseball practice in an hour.” Shifting her attention to the old woman. “I hope we weren’t bothering you. We see you here every week and kind of feel like we know you.”

“Never a bother, dear. I love hearing the way you talk to them. I feel like you respect their person and they sure seem to love you.”

“Thank you so much for saying that. Really. When we took them out of school and decided to ‘unschool’ I was terrified about what it would look like to people. Most people just laugh and shake their heads. Some are outright angry and have told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t get control over them, show them who’s the boss now, I’d lose them when they are teenagers. I just don’t see children that way, something to be controlled and molded into what we want.”

“Neither do I. That’s how we were raised, and I always feared my parents. They thought they had control over my brother and I, but we just lied to them and hid our real lives away until we were old enough not to need their approval. But wouldn’t it have been nicer to be able to talk about things together? Ask questions and get their advice?”

She sat thinking about the last time she saw her mother. “No dear, you’re doing right. Things change and so can we. These days we need to communicate openly, use less force, and allow children to do things their way as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.”

Sighing in relief, “You have no idea how much that means to hear someone say that.” Gathering up her things, “Listen, we need to run, but you’ll be here next week? Maybe we can talk more?”

“Of course! I’ll bring some cookies.”

“Like a regular play date for grown ups.”

They both laugh. “Bye, then! See you next week!” She calls as they race to their car.

The afternoon rolls on and the shade of the tree starts to move off her favorite bench. It’s almost time to head home. Most of the birds have given up on getting any more food, but there are a few persistent beggars pecking around under her feet. “There’s no more, I tell you. Why do have to try and ruin a beautiful day?” She chuckles at them.

A scream of indignity calls her attention to the parking lot. The toddler doesn’t seem to want to leave yet and mom insists with her most stern voice that it is, indeed, time to leave. She argues with the boy but finally gives up, reaches for him and scoops him up, plopping into his car seat. That’s when the real howls begin.

She looks up apologetically at the old woman on her bench and the old woman, in turn, gives her the sympathetic universal look of, “We’ve all been there.”

The artist/dryad seems to be giving up on the moment as well. She’s packing up her pencils and folding her chair. Will she come to talk to the old woman this time? Her focused attitude as she packs and heads toward the bus stop says, probably not.

“I would have liked to know her story.” She thinks as she gathers her things as well, slings her bag over her shoulder and dusts her hands of any bird seed crumbs. Two quick beeps of a car horn alert her to the presence of her ride home.

Her daughter pushes the passenger side door open from inside, “Hi, Mom. Do you need help with your things?”

“Oh, no, I’ve got it. I’ll just put these at my feet.”

“Have a nice time?”

“Always do. And today I met a new person.”

“Got a hot date, Mom?”

“Oh, no. Too young even for me! Would you mind stopping for coffee on the way home?”

“That sounds nice. Let’s go in and get a muffin too!”

Why Do I Get Up in The Morning – Episode 2

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I’m writing my new “Why I Get Up” weekly post a day late. Why? Because I was busy doing the thing that makes me want to get up in the morning and now, I get to tell you about it!

My husband and I went on a scouting mission for new, more local camp sites a couple weeks ago. It’s hard to pull a trailer and look for good places to camp and we don’t have any vacation time to waste right now. We plan to drive to a few locations half a day’s drive (translation: less than 6 hours) away and then spend the weekend there exploring campgrounds and hiking areas.

The result of our first mission was a lot of great future tent camping places, which we haven’t done in years, and we were able to get in a couple beautiful hikes as well. I texted back locations to our sons at home so they could look them up and maybe do some camping/backpacking on their own. We never did spend much time in the Sierra’s, amazingly enough. We always went on weeks long RV trips into other states instead of exploring the wonderland in our own backyard. Maybe we were unconsciously saving it for a time when we couldn’t make the long hauls, who knows!

Back to why I get up in the morning: my awesome sons. Over dinner last weekend, my youngest (18) expressed an interest in doing some camping, but he didn’t really want to go alone. He was thinking maybe he could find a friend that would want to go on his days off from work. I asked if he would mind taking me camping, just the two of us and he lit up. We began to make our plans immediately. I use the word “plans” very lightly. We’re kind of “fly by the seat of our pants” kind of people, so “plans” mean general direction and days.

Early Monday morning, we threw a tent, sleeping bags, water, firewood, the coffee pot, and some food in the truck and headed to the mountains. I had an idea of where I wanted to go but was afraid the best-looking first-come, first-served places would be full, since all the places that took reservations were booked until the end of summer.

I was delightfully surprised! My first choice of campground was available, and my son picked THE best spot right by the creek. We got out of the truck, paid the fees ($25 for primitive camping…wow), filled our water bottles and headed up the first trail we found.

We hiked for five hours, came back to camp, ate, and went for another hour-long walk down the road. The night was wonderfully cold. We got up just as the sky started to lighten, made a fire, boiled some coffee, ate, packed our backpacks for a long day and headed up the other side of the canyon for five more hours of hiking.

We could only stay one night since he had to work the next day, but I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful twenty-four hours. We had amazing conversations, laughed hard, and met some nice people and their dogs. My son is very athletic and I … well, I’m getting old and I’ve never been much hard worker, but he never lost patience with me. These hikes were hard. We started at 9000 feet and got up to 11,000 in about three miles. It was like a staircase up to the lakes, but I got there. He could have run up them but always stopped and rested with me.

We took pictures of each other, made up stories about weird looking plants and trees, and made fun of other campers and hikers. “Burning daylight!” was heard many times. We were tired, dirty, and mosquito bitten. We were hungry. We didn’t sleep well because the ground was so hard. Climbing the second day, I honestly didn’t think I’d make it, but he just kept me going with his gentle positive attitude. He encouraged and empowered me with every climb and every rest in the shade. I felt like a warrior!

Last year, I thought my days of having adventures with my sons was coming to a close. My older son had moved to the east coast and was determined to do things on his own. And my younger son was making plans to spend time in Europe like his brother and go to University in the city when he came back. I was on my own and it seemed so sudden to me. I found myself wondering, “Weren’t they just asking me to take them to Disneyland? Didn’t I have to be there to sign waivers for motocross last week? What just happened?”

And here we are. Circumstances change all the time. I’m not happy their plans had to change and everyone is back in the same house. That kind of sucks for all of us. But I am happy that I was reminded that any moment can be the last time, any adventure could be the last, or not. You just don’t know.

We took a “selfie” at the top of the pass, 11,000 feet above sea level, the highest I have ever been with my feet on the ground. I said, “You never know if this is the last time we camp and hike together like this. We need a good picture of our feat of strength!”

“Every trip we take is the best one, Mom. It doesn’t matter if we ever do it again.”

We taught them that. Always live today, right now, like it’s your last day. Don’t waste a moment.

Bonus level: We came up with a great story starter as we walked, and I made a few notes when we got back to camp. Now I have another short story to work on and this one is Twilight Zone style!

Speak. Because You Have Something to Add.

You guys!

It’s so important to live out loud and honestly.

Speak.

Tell your stories. Show your pictures.

Share your ideas, your thinking, and your passions.

You may never get positive feedback. You may never gain followers or an income. It may feel like no one is ever listening or learning from you.

But they are.

Someone is out there and they need to hear you, whether they know it or not.

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