Monday, September 26, 2011

What Do You Have In Common?

"What do you have in common"?  Last week I went to a women's bible study. At one point we were asked to form groups of 6-8 ladies and, in ten minutes, find out what we had in common.  We were told that nothing was too small and that there would be prizes.  So, I get together with a group of women that I'd never met before and one of them says, "I wanna win this".  Someone else says, "me too", another, "oh yeah, there's always good prizes", and so on until we discover our first commonality: we are all competitive and want to win the "what do you have in common" contest!  Now, don't forget that when we were given our instructions we were told that "nothing is to small to count" so, at first, we were throwing all sorts of things out there:  we were all women, we were all at a bible study, we were all in the same room, we're all daughters, we all had shoes on...etc...after a while we had to start discussions and conversations to find out what else might connect the eight of us but we found out things like we all own ugg boots, we all own a crock pot, we've all been to Hawaii, we all had some member of our family in the military and we'd all had the chicken pox.  After the ten minutes were up we had come up with 35 things that the eight of us had in common.  We figured we'd be in the running to win the prize.  The first group announces that they found 8 things in common, second group: 12, third group: 8, fourth group 6, the fifth group said that the only thing they had in common was that they didn't have anything in common.  Well, needless to say, we won. 

After the meeting I started thinking about the game and it made me sad to realize that a group of eight ladies sitting together for ten minutes couldn't come up with any similarities.  I started to think that too often, as people, we are quick to see how different we are in things like skin color, political views, clothing choices or parenting styles but we are slow to acknowledge how much we truly have in common.  Basic things like we are all human, we live on this earth together, we are all someone's child.

I loved how during the commonality game our group was able to come up with quite a few superficial things right off the bat but after discussion and conversation we came up with some really interesting and deeper similarities.  

It makes me wonder, when I walk into a store or a movie or I'm sitting in a waiting room and I look around at all the people...what do I have in common with them?  Who else in the room has had a parent die of cancer?  Who has a spouse in the military? Who enjoys theater? Who likes soccer?  Who has a child with special needs?  There is always someone else out there who can commiserate and understand what we are dealing with.  There is always someone, somewhere, that has been through or is going through a similar situation.

I guess what I learned from this exercise in similarities is twofold.  First, we all have things in common, some things are quick and easy to identify while some may take a bit of discussion and conversation to uncover.  Second, we are never alone in our journey.  We will never be the only person to have experienced a certain joy or despair.  Many people have gone through the same trials and celebrated identical triumphs as we have. There will always be someone out there who has had a similar path in life. To me that is comforting in a way.  Although I may not always know the people who have dealt with the same issues as me, it's reassuring to know that I'm not alone. When I do actually know people who are dealing with similar issues, it is a blessing to have someone who can empathize and sympathize.  For example, I'm part of an online group for parent's of Kabuki kids.  I love this site because even if we, as parents, only have that one thing in common, it is a strong, emotional bond that connects us.  We are able to talk about the accomplishments of our kids, the hardships, the frustration and the love and we all completely understand what the others are going through.  Then, as the online discussions grow, we find out that it's not just Kabuki syndrome that we have in common.  The discussions grow and change as we learn more about each other.  It's amazing to me how once we start talking to people and looking past our differences, we really do have a lot in common!

So, that's what's been on my mind...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


"You shouldn't praise your kids for everything they do".  This was the topic of an article I read a few weeks ago.  The author was basically saying that one of the many problems with kids today is the fact that we, as parents, teachers, coaches, etc..., praise and compliment them for everything they do including mediocre or average work.  For example, a child who gets 7 out of 10 on a spelling test is told that they did a "great job" or a kid who makes 5 mistakes during a 3 minute piano recital is told "well done". 

Now, I agree with this idea in theory.  We shouldn't praise our children when they only do so-so...we are teaching them that so-so is good enough and that they don't need to strive to do any better. We are teaching them to be mediocre adults.  Would I scold my child for producing average work?  Of course not.  I might, however, say something like, "that's not bad, but I know you and what you are capable of, and I know you can do better." 
Where I have an issue with this concept is: you have to know the child in question before you decide what mediocre really is. The standard that you hold your child up to should be the child himself, based on his own strengths and talents, weaknesses and limitations.

I have two examples from my own boys. 

First, as you all know by now, my oldest son, John has a genetic disorder called Kabuki Syndrome (KS).  John has mild to moderate cognitive delays and has difficulty staying focused on a single topic. John learns things slower and differently than typical kids his age and he really struggles with taking tests. 
Every year in California, kids in second grade and higher take CST (California Standards Tests).  The child's score is categorized into 5 categories: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced.  Schools strive to get all children into the proficient and advanced categories.  Well, John took the CST last May.  He had a few modifications to the test taking environment but he took the same test everybody else did in language arts.  A few weeks ago we got his scores.  By just one point he made it into the proficient category!!!  Did I scream and shout and tell him how proud I am?  You bet I did! Did I tell him he's amazing and smart and that he did a fantastic job on his test?  You 'betcha! Because John's barely proficient is another child's perfect score!  John had to work and struggle and put in extra hours and be drilled on test taking strategies.  He put in so much effort for every single one of those points and he deserved every bit of praise and compliments I could give him for that proficient score.

Now, just so you don't think this only pertains to special needs kids.  Let me give you another example with my typical son, Robert.  Robert plays soccer.  He's not great but he enjoys the sport.  During practice, the coaches work Robert pretty hard and give him a lot of extra time and attention because his skills are not quite as strong as some of the other players.  At home, Robert and I will practice and kick the ball around.  He also helps out at his brother's VIP soccer practice.  I know how much time and effort Robert puts into soccer but he's just not a natural.  At Robert's last soccer game, during the last 2 minutes of the game, the score was tied 3 to 3.  Our goalie kicks the ball out into the field and it lands right at Robert's feet.  My heart stops.  Then, I watch as Robert turns with the ball, dribbles a bit up field, makes it around a defender and passes it perfectly to one of the other forwards who powers it into the goal!  They won the game 4 to 3!  Robert didn't score the winning goal but his footwork and pass allowed one of the stronger players to make the goal.  I know, and his coaches know, how much effort Robert has put into those basic skills of stopping the ball, dribbling and passing.  To someone else that might not have seemed like much...but to Robert... it was huge! Those few seconds were the culmination of years of practice and I (and his coaches) made sure he knew what a fantastic job he did during the game and that his fancy footwork and pass lead directly to the goal that won the game. We praised him profusely for what others might consider average soccer skills.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this:  it is definitely possible to lull our kids into thinking that average is ok when we praise them for passable work and mediocre performance.  When we tell them that they are doing "great" when the are really just doing "alright" then they don't feel the desire to strive for anything higher.  However, when our kids put in the time and the effort and do their best and try with all their might and they are still just proficient or average, I think they deserve all the love and praise we can give them.  They need to know that doing their best may not make them the best at something but that the effort they put in is noticeable and praiseworthy.

So, that's what's been on my mind...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My 9/11 story

September 10th, 2001, I was in Boston with my husband and 14 month old son.  We'd been visiting my husband's family and friends in New England but we were finally headed home.  The first leg of our flight took us from Boston to New York and then we would be on our way back home to Virginia.  When we landed in New York, however, we were told that our connecting flight had been canceled due to thunderstorms in the area.  The airline was nice enough to put us up in a hotel and asked which flight we'd like in the morning.  I told Eric I'd like to sleep in and take the later flight around 9:00am but he was ready to get home and we opted for the earlier flight at 7:30am.  So, on the morning of September 11th 2001, I boarded a plane in New York with my husband and young son.  I remember sitting by the window with John in my lap.  He hadn't slept well the night before and was dozing with his head on my shoulder.  After takeoff the plane turned over the water and out of my window I had a complete view of the New York skyline.  I remember seeing the twin towers with the early morning sun reflecting off of them.  There seemed to be a bit of a golden haze over the city and I remember thinking that when viewed from the right perspective even a big city can be beautiful.  I didn't know it at the time but a little more than an hour later the skyline that I'd just been admiring would be destroyed forever.  After we landed and got our baggage we took a taxi home. When we got back to our house I finally remembered to turn my cell phone back on.  There were 4 or 5 messages from my mom left in the last 15 minutes or so.  I called her back and she was the one who ultimately told me about the plane crashing into one of the towers.  She had been frantic because she knew we had been stuck in New York for a night and knew we were flying out that morning.  I don't know if there is such a thing as retroactive fear but I remember actually shaking thinking about how close we'd been to these horrific events.  I watched on the news as the towers crumbled and thought that earlier that morning I'd seen those towers shining in the sun.  I remember wondering what would have happened if we'd chosen to take the 9:00am flight instead of the 7:30am flight.  Would we have taken off at all?  Would we be stuck in New York?
 Less that a week later my husband left with VFA 143 to fly combat missions for Operation Enduring Freedom.  This was one of the most difficult times in my entire life. 

We all have our stories and memories of 9/11.  Every American remembers where they were when they heard the news of the planes crashing or saw the towers fall.  This is just my story...just one tiny piece of the American consciousness of that horrific day ten years ago.