Entitlement

8 years old.

Entitlement is not a disease that I suffer from. In 1970, I was one of the kids who in middle school stood in the principal’s office amidst a tangle of classmates wondering why I was there. I was no stranger to the principal’s office. However, as I looked around at the others gathered, I wondered what our connection was. The Principal explained that a free lunch program started, and the ones gathered would be receivers of this new subsidy for low income families. Sweeping the small room with my eyes, I took stock. Two students were my siblings, the other seven were from families in our small town and farming community. We all knew each other. We were the ones on the fringes. It wasn’t difficult in our small community to know where you were on the economic ladder.

There wasn’t any money for a letterman’s jacket, yearbook, or class pictures. You knew what you could and couldn’t ask for at Christmas time. I never expected any inheritance from my parents. They simply didn’t have the money.

Jody and I feel blessed and fortunate for what we have. We truly are the lucky ones who have enough in this world.

Our teenage children also have enough. They don’t lack for anything. As well as having jobs, they have parents who like to give to them.

They have the letterman jackets, the yearbooks, the mopeds, and spending money.

Sometimes they feel entitled. They want for more.

This is when we stop. Give pause. In a way that isn’t too overbearing, too apparent, or overt, we seek to bring to their attention what they have. We want them to feel fortunate and blessed like we do. The best way we have found is to say, “No”. Or, “Use your own money from your job”. Or, “Write a letter what you are grateful for”. Or, “Fill a bag with toys, clothes, or whatever you are asking for to give away before we buy anything new”. Or, “Look around at others in your school and your community and notice the disparity”.

Our 4 trips to Guatemala, their birth country, have helped. We don’t need to say anything. They see what we see. As soon as we leave the airport, all of us are shocked into another reality.

This past Christmas, instead of opening presents on Christmas Eve, we played a grateful game. Though that isn’t what we called it. It was simply a game. The four of us joined together for a round robin of what we received during the year without it being on our birthday or holiday. Jody and I wanted the children to acknowledge all that they are blessed with. There was plenty.

Spring vacation Florida trip, South Dakota summer vacation, mopeds, helicopter rides, hot air balloon rides, Everglades airboat ride, jet ski rides, letterman jacket, updates to our house, etc.

Prior to our round robin, we did open one gift. A family values lazy susan. Words of wisdom, love and encouragement are colorfully displayed on this decorative table centerpiece. It would be great if this simple reminder would leave the teens feeling full of gratitude all year long. I doubt it.

That’s when we can pause. Stop. And, start counting our blessings.

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Thanksgiving 2017

Family will fill the dining room Wednesday evening for Thanksgiving Dinner 2017. We’ve divvied up side dishes so everyone will be carrying something to the feast. It will be a grand gathering.

No holiday has morphed as often in our home as Thanksgiving dinner. Loved ones who shared the day have passed. Friends who joined us at various times left stories we share. Korean students we hosted carry memories of our pecan pie. Babies grew up. Family dogs endured ribbons or costumes with rewards of bits of our meal.

Turkey always appears but side dishes reflect the times. My father’s sausage dressing gave way for my mother-in-law’s oyster stuffing. A former son-in-law only liked a five-minute version made out of a box. For years I rehydrated and doctored up packaged stuffing mixes. Now it is made from scratch. Green bean casserole has given way to Brussels sprouts. Homemade applesauce and cranberry relish still claim menu priority.

Tears accompanied some transition years. Significant tears cried about an empty chair. Exhausted red eyes when traditions overwhelmed my ability to deliver. A parent’s sadness as children are absent a first time. Happy wet eyes when the stories begin flowing among those who are present and it is no longer important that we are gathering on Wednesday night for the whole deal or on Friday for turkey tetrazzini and leftovers.

Wishing all of you a moment of comfort however you spend the coming holiday.

The Last Time I saw an F, I was in high school.

img_2035“The last time I saw an F, I was in high school,” I told my son.

“It was only an F for two days,” he replied.

That was true. His science grade had gone up to a D-. Seemed as if for him that was a cause for celebration. Or, at least noteworthy.

“And, there it sits,” I said.

“Should be a D+ soon,” he said hopefully as if that was something for us to look forward to.

At the start of the school year, Juan and Crystel sign a sheet of paper stating that if they drop below a B- they lose their phone privileges. I tack this agreement on the refrigerator where it stays throughout the school year.

Not as much to remind them, I found out, then to remind me and Jody.

ParentVUE is a wonderful tool. I click on it daily to check on my children’s grades. I watched Juan’s drop to a C+ in science but it wasn’t until it went to an F that I woke up.

“Jody, Juan should not be having his phone,” I said to her. We were at the YMCA in the dressing room. I’m not sure why that was the place it struck me.

At 14, the phone is the most important personal item to Juan and Crystel. That makes it the most important motivating tool for me and Jody.

When I was in school what was most important to me was how my hair looked draped over my arms in class while I slept. On my report card, next to the D’s and F’s was has the ability but lacks initiative. Sometimes, Juan and Crystel bring home a note from a class for a parent to sign. It will have the question, how have you helped your child in this subject this week. I write, I threatened to take their phone away if it drops below a B-.

My children are very capable of getting A’s. At times, Juan lacks the initiative.

16387422_10210598873182208_1856781610126200938_n1I’ve told them stories about my middle and high school experience: smoking around the corner outside of school, throwing eggs in the hallway, dead mouse on a teacher’s chair (she went into rehab after that), jumping out of a classroom window, getting an F in typing (who gets an F in typing?), etc….. I quickly remind them that the stories are for entertainment purposes only and that they don’t have the same parents that I did.

Of course, they have learned this, because I’ve followed through many times on joining Juan in his classroom when he was tardy. “Just trying to figure out what the problem is, Juan”.

He hasn’t been tardy yet this year. I keep looking at ParentVue under attendance, waiting for the invite.

Darn. It’s almost like I get to do a do-over when I’m sitting there next to him observing him and his classmates.

Love those kids. They’re attentive, respectful to the teacher. I keep looking for that one kid who has his/her hair draped over their arms sleeping. The one that lacks initiative. The one who is getting F’s, that reminds me of me. One time there was such a girl who came storming late into a classroom. Juan whispered to me, “That’s a bad girl.”

Hmmmm, I thought to myself. Sometimes all you can do is grow up and get out.

At last look, Juan’s grade has moved to a C+, inching ever closer to the required B-.

 

 

No Merit Badge For This

davannis“After Penn Fest, Ryan wants me to come over and hang out and then we’ll go to the Mall of  America”, Juan said.

Juan would be finishing up his shift at Davanni’s. His second job. He was a line judge for soccer over the summer. A fellow cross-country runner told him that Davanni’s hired 14-year-old’s. His cross-country coach introduced him to the hiring manager.

I gave him a sideways look. “Who else are you going with? Who are you going to meet up with? I’ll need more information.”

“Just us,” he said.

I gave Juan the usual response. “I’ll have to check with his parents.”

We were driving home from Boy Scouts. Juan had hoped to have his final three merit badges checked off. (I was, too. If he’s in scouts, I’m in scouts.) He’s aiming to get his Eagle Scout by the end of this year.

Turning on Penn Avenue from 50th Street, I asked him. “What would you do if there was a fight in the food court?”

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

Eagle Project, Antiqua Guatemala

He dodged, displaying a typical defensive teenage move. “Ryan and I won’t be in the food court.”

I persisted. “Still, what if you were and a fight broke out?”

Juan described some superhero ninja moves he’d make leaping over railings, running faster than the speed of light. Then he paused, “Ryan isn’t as fast as me, though.”

I didn’t tell him that Ryan was white and didn’t need to be as fast as him.

Instead, I said, “You’re Hispanic. If you’re running from a fight, police could think you were a part of it. If the police ever stop you, you stop. You don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I went on to tell him that there were at least 10 teens arrested at the Mall of America the day before. All were juveniles, ranging in age from 12 to 15.

Juan is 14.

He doesn’t have any fear of the police. He shouldn’t. I’m a volunteer Police Reserve Officer, Jody is currently going through orientation to be a Police Reserve, and he’s never been in trouble.

He’s known to the Richfield police because he’s helped me with police patrol, vehicle maintenance on police cars, and wrapping gifts with the police at holiday time for Heroes and Helpers.

After his eight grade school year, he’s planning on becoming a police explorer.

Juan has no thought of being concerned. He’s an A/B student and active in three sports. All of his interactions with police have been positive.

Still, when there’s a melee involving 200 juveniles, he’s just another Hispanic. I thought of him getting thrown to the ground, kneed in the back, his arm twisted behind him.

I repeated, “If you’re ever told to stop, you stop, you don’t argue, you lay down, and when you can, you call your moms.”

I left him with these words, “What the police see is a Hispanic running away.”

 

Packing Your Teenager

Juan took this rainbow photo in Alaska

Photo by Juan Jose’

I thought I had Juan packed for life.

In his backpack were all the essentials for his Boy Scout trip to Alaska. He would be Denali hiking and animal watching, Kesugi Ridge backpacking, whitewater rafting, glacier exploring, salmon fishing, sea kayaking and camping by the Columbia glacier.

Inside his internal frame pack, Juan had base and middle layers for upper and lower. He had all the must haves: whistle, bowl, spork, insect repellant and water bottle. I even made sure that he had the optional items: foot powder, matches/lighter, compass, and pocket knife.

Of course, Juan helped pack. He picked out his stocking cap and gloves, sleeping bag, tent, and sleeping pad and all of the items that went into his backpack.  I was along as his advisor.

Photo by Juan

Photo by Juan Jose’

Juan would be gone for 12 days. His emancipation from his parents, I thought. And, to that end, Jody and I didn’t initiate contact while he was gone. Of course, this was also made easy because he was out of cell range.

There were times while he was gone that I felt smug. I had followed the packing list to a tee even though I’m not one to follow rules. I had helped him bag his items into gallon Ziploc bags so he would be organized and his clothes dry.

This packing had gone so well that I was starting to feel that this is all one had to do for their teenager.

Follow a list, not do the work for him but with him, and then drive him to the airport.

Photo by Juan Jose'

Photo by Juan Jose’

Now it was up to him to dress to stay warm … or not. To stay dry … or not. To brush his teeth … or not. He had all the essentials. He would make the decisions.

I figured when he came home we could follow this pattern in his teen years. Give him the information he needed—like a packing list for life—and then let him decide what to do.

That was until Jody told me that being cold in Alaska … or not and being dry … or not, didn’t equate to other decisions that he’d have to make as a teenager. That those decisions could have a life-long effect.

Juan Jose' Antonio Sol di Grazia

photo by Juan Jose’

I thought about my teenage years and realized she was right. I was pregnant at age 14 and 15. Juan could have a room full of packing lists, all the guidance in the world from friends, teachers and parents, and still make decisions that could alter the course of his life.

Even so, all there was to do when I saw him at the airport was hug him tight and welcome him home.

We’d be walking these years together.