Monday, March 24, 2014

Accidental Niceness

The nicest thing I ever did in high school was accidental.

I had a pretty great high school experience.  I was not one of those timid, uncomfortable girls in high school, instead, I was the quintessential be all, do all, not-a-cheerleader-as-that-was-beneath-me, kind of girls. I was quick with a comeback--pithy, witty, saucy, and that made me look like the smartest girl in the class.

I thought I was pretty cute but I wore coke bottle glasses and it turns out that an accurate vision of my own appearance wasn't the only part of my teen view that was distorted.
What I was really best at was being a fraud. You know who I mean, that girl who managed to get through school with all the same insecurities as everyone else, but whose greatest talent was acting confident. Yup, that was me.
But I could pirouette. My momma was one of the only dance teachers in my little town. She would clear out the kitchen in the mornings all summer long and teach us ballet. First position, second position, third position, plie. She taught me as long as she could stand me and I took it from there. I practiced all the time and could perform a tight pirouette down in the aisles of our crowded little grocery store.
My nemesis through high school, (everybody has one, otherwise it wouldn’t be a good story)-- my arch-rival was Sandra D. She and I had an unspoken competition going—one I didn’t learn all the details of until later. (The coke bottles distorted most things that were right in front of my face.)
What I perceived from my altered perspective was that she was spoiled rotten. She had her own car with personalized license plates. I had my parent’s 20 yr old clunker, when they didn’t have it, which was always. Her family was rich—appeared to be anyway--again from my teen-altered perspective.
Anything I wanted she got, anything she got, I wanted. President of Speech and Forensics, she got it. President of Drama Club, me.  Choir, her. Valedictorian – I got it, but no, when the numbers were re-tallied, she won by 1/100th of a point. But I was the best dancer. I could pirouette!
It was Spring Prom time and it was my Junior prom. In those days, the Senior Ball was kinda low key because the Seniors were all focused on graduating. So the Junior Prom was the big thing. Juniors got to date (usually for the first time) since everybody was turning 16 about then. We got days off to decorate the gymnasium, and spent the big bucks on the plastic to encase it.  We strung colored lights, and painted murals--the whole thing. The Juniors got dates, got group pictures, and most important, the Juniors got to promenade. That means to parade down the middle of the gym be presented, in their first formals/tuxedo’s and then the whole Junior class danced during intermission.
This dance, was choreographed every year by a Sandra's aunt, a school teacher and the only other dance teacher in town. The first day of promenade practice, the girls all lined up and set out to pirouette. The teacher had to know which ones of us could pirouette the furthest because in her plan, at least two of us had to do it without barfing or slamming into anyone else. The best ones would dance to the center with their assigned partners.
Partners… that was a problem. Picking partners is like picking teams in P.E. You just know it’s going to get really ugly for some people, so they used the luck-of-the-draw-from-a-hat trick. My dream dance partner was Dean—as in James Dean! He was handsome in that famous, unassuming, yet brooding way. I would have died to dance with Dean. Thank goodness I was sick the day everyone hat-picked partners.When I got back the next day and walked into the after school promenade rehearsal, I found out that Sandra lucked out with Dean and I was dancing with the reject guy—Judd.
Now, being a reject is a regional concept. In the state of Oklahoma, Judd would have been no reject—the boy was a giant! He would have been the star fullback and loved by everyone, coach and cheerleaders alike, but in my home state, he was just big, and… no dancer.
How my Momma got through my stuck-up, thick skull that I should pretend to be a nice person, I don’t know. I was not naturally a nice person; I have this ongoing fear that I’ll go to a high school reunion and someone will walk up to me and smack me right across the face and I will have to say, “I deserved that,” because I did. But this time, I shut my mouth and just danced. Sandra and I danced the best pirouettes, so we took the middle positions.
The Prom that year could have been titled the Year of the Loser Prom. It was this same dance when I first said yes to a pity date. I had avoided saying yes to another certain boy in town, but he was determined. He suffered the ignominy of being told over and over that I could not go out, that I had to spend that evening washing my hair, (Yes, that excuse really works!) or that I was grounded, (and I should have been—for lying).  I just couldn’t go out as I had to babysit, (that was true, but my baby sister had doubled with me before—often, on many of my dates.)
But this other boy caught me at my lowest, two weeks before prom with no date! In my little town, that was not done. In fact, at the Prom two years before, the boys had arranged for all the girls to have dates. They even pooled money and paid out cold hard cash for dates—just to make sure no one was humiliated--completely missing the irony. I tell you, dates were important.
So this boy caught me at a low point and I said I would go, but I told my Mom, "No pictures, take no photos. I will never date this person ever again!" and off I went to prom.
I pirouetted beautifully and I’m sure I wowed the audience. I really don’t know how it looked, because at that time I spurned wearing my coke bottles glasses to important functions like that so I really couldn’t see how it went, because of course I couldn’t see anything. But I was certain, I was beautiful.
Skip ahead three years, I was now married to my “never date again prom date.” And I was working full time, team-cleaning condominiums for the ski season in the tourist town next door.
I loved my cleaning team. Those women ranged in age from 15 to 50 and they taught me so much. They taught me to work, and what "clean" really looked like.  They humbled me and my uppity attitude and they helped me discover that age was only a number—that hilarity is ageless and that girls will be girls no matter how old.
I benefited so much from their training and on my last day, I mentioned how much the friendships meant to me and my cleaning partner that day responded, “You’ve always meant a lot to me, too… ever since you danced with my son.”
I didn’t want to say, “I had to,” so I wisely shut up. That was one of best things these women tried to teach me—to Shut Up!
She went on as if reading my mind, “I know you didn’t have to. He told me that that day at the gym when everyone was picking partners—another girl pulled his name out of the hat, and she threw such a fit, that they let her put his name back and she took your intended partner, Dean.”
“You danced with my son. And you will never know until you have children of your own what that means to a mom.”
And she’s right. I never really understood until I had boys of my own.
So really, at that loser prom, two of the nicest things I ever did in high school happened accidentally.

And that boy just might be the only guy at the reunion that I don’t have to duck.

I Trekked the South Mountain Challenge

Cedar Ridge Trek 2014

Parent Discussion Challenge Topics

March 19, 2014   Wed. night--Pretrek FHE

A mountain of buckets and sleeping bags filled the cultural hall the night before we departed for our historical reinactment of the handcart pioneers trek across the United States to the West. 


The youth arrived buzzing with excitement.  We introduced Ma’s and Pa’s and began the challenge of blending families--the first being what would become our surname.  The family name, selected by the youth, and reflecting our ancestral heritages was crucial to achieving unanimity.  The Rockefellers, Ripleys and MacCalters, won out.   

 We broke out into families and got to know each other.  One family asked how were each of them pioneers? What is our purpose in the Lord’s plan? We volunteered for family role assignments to fulfill what the prophet advises--to fit in we need a purpose, and a friend.  And we needed another challenge, so we were all given a heavy baby to symbolize the small and innocents on the trek. Ask about our baby's name and how it was decided.


March 20, 2014   Thurs. morning 7 a.m.  Pickup, bandanas and travel to trek site

·       In our morning meeting, Bro. Watts showed us a shawl carried across the plains by his ancestor--the young girl, Mary Elizabeth Rollins in Independence who rescued the book of commandments pages from the mob.  After we arrived out past Henryetta, the youth were responsible for packing their personal buckets and sleep material onto handcarts.  We decided that our super youth needed this super challenge and still some trek parents had to simply walk away as they observed the potential packing failures.  
      
      As incredible as it seems, they piled all their buckets and mountains of sleep gear into a five by five cart, stacked it up and then covered and roped it.  When we walked that first day, the loads did shift and carts... excreted.   But, first day packing failures are great training.    Some families tore a Title of Liberty, wrote their name and flew it on a pole.  Carrying a pole became the challenge to some walkers as they looked for incentives to keep up.  

      Admittedly many of the challenges on this trek were man-ufactured--created to challenge the youth in difficult situations and crafted to create discussion and to push the youth out of their comfort zone to seek spiritual guidance.  They had to learn how the pioneers turned to the Lord so they could test His strength in their/our own personal trials.  

Yet, some of the trials were accidental.   The boxes of food were loaded but at lunchtime, one box was just gone.  We did not plan it, but when the kids were told of the situation in pioneer parlance, “that one family was thus challenged” the youth rallied, combined their stores and set into motion a lunch line and delivery system that was marvelous.   Ask about the pioneer story of miracle of the shoes or the pie in the road.  Miracles happen.


·       Our youth worked together coordinating cart-pulling duties all on their own.  I explained that our family would have extra challenges with our dozen orphans that the other companies did not and that our older bro and sis would have to step up.  They had to forge ahead like many true pioneer children did as parents fell behind caring for others or perishing.  

Pa and I fell behind that first day, sometimes far, far behind as the two of us built a trust relationship for the challenge that our two weaker trekkers would face ahead.  In that first day, there was talk of illness, of calling for the truck and talk of giving up and each time youth rescuers would step in, add encouragement and even one youth, the youngest, and shortest offered to take the youth’s biggest pack. 

      Uplifting and pertinent conversation. There was  only one incidence of  the youth interacting about worldly issues (I asked one youth to discuss videogames with another to take his mind of the misery and they do mesmerize and take the mind off the current miserable task).  Otherwise, the walking conversations were to be focused on history, comparisons and personal live challenges.

      Each individual upped their personal trial level and we parents were encouraged to allow it.  Some youth stepped it up (ha pun!) and initiated a barefoot challenge to authenticate their experience.   Wow. When one walker twisted an ankle, these same youth improvised and perched the injured atop a precarious pile.  That’s what the pioneers did.  It was the story of the woman who pulled her husband the sixteen miles up Rocky Ridge that helped the youth understand that this could only have been accomplished with the help of angels. Thereafter, packing plans included that potentiality.

        It was truly a vision of the promised land that the youth experienced when at the days end we parked at the shores of what was to be their Sweetwater or Platt River crossing challenge.  Ask about that evening, and the success of the soothing sand/water activities.   The topic of conversation was “What is your Trek Trial?”  Our beach devotional was insightful.  It was about then that the youth voted to limit my devotions to morning, noon and night.  After all the stories, they marveled that any pioneers ever survived.

      That night was the terrific stew/spoon challenge—again planned only by the Lord, but inventiveness and sharing again prevailed.  Ask about Zane’s bark spoon.  Again, no complaining.  Ask how your youth adapted.

     The potential for crossing the river challenge was deeply felt.  The youth sent out explorers to test the depths, as they brainstormed how to make it easier.  There was talk of dumping buckets and attaching them as ballast to float across.  The group packed the next morning with purpose and dressed in water shoes, preparing well.  When they were told it was too treacherous, their mental planning served them well for the next challenge.        

       The immediate mustering of the men for the battalion challenge was emotionally overwhelming for all of us.  They left for battle still in their worst water shoes, and as the male priesthood presence exited (not period authentic as not all the men left,) the women experienced the lack thereof.  

      Ask your youth about the survivor guilt these men must have felt as they were government funded, fed and clothed.  The discussion and comparison to current day was deep and impactful to all of us.  Ask about the boys watching in silence and difficulty of them allowing the girls to test their own strength and endurance in the women’s pull.  Ask girls about the discussion that sometimes we will put our spouses on the spiritual wagon, and sometimes vice-versa. For the women, the stops for prayer, (once kneeling) along our journey was significant.  We increased our trust in the Lord.  Sometimes when we feel more bodies would be better, prayer works best.  

 At times, in spite of best planning, the Lord’s small challenges continued.  Ask about the jug water challenge, unplanned but it fit well with our own 4 oz. biscuit challenge.  Even when the youth saw the extra rations in the box and knew that the food challenge would end, they stepped up to the spirit of the challenge and tested their own limits.  They chose to either eat, share or pocket their stores and then pulled harder to reexamine their own endurance.

That evening upon reaching camp with minimal stores, they still pitched camp, and joined enthusiastically in all the authentic activities prepared to coincide with stories of the true pioneer challenges.  The deprivation hunger challenge served it’s purpose and not one complained about it as they explored their own personal spiritual starvation.

.  Ask your youth about games:  the blind guide game, the boy/girl wagon pull, and the three-legged jump. There was some small murmuring about feeling at their peak for competition, but after the Joseph Smith stick pull, the guys and girls proved they can survive fasting deprivation and with the strength of the Lord, it is possible to endure and excel!


·       Ask about the afternoon rescue party who brought fresh baked bread and three cookies each to us. When the group finally opened the stores, the food was even more appreciated.  Ask about the second wave rescuers whose dutch oven dessert included three or four delicious choices and ice cream.

·       It was here that the group met one of its hardest social challenges, dancing.  We hoedowned, Virginia Reeled and learned three line dances.  Aside from a few, all participated and enjoyed themselves.

      The firesites and vignettes added much spiritual depth to the trek, the sacrifice of their pie, the Indian encampment, the deceased family complete with bagpiper and  Hudson, our three year old child actor portraying the deceased, who did not step out of character, and Jim Bridger telling them not to go.  President Fox speaking of trials building strength and Bishop advising “Find Joy in your Journey,” regardless how arduous.  Ask what they learned about themselves in each of these situations--particularly when two babies of our company died and one adult merely disappeared.  They learned like the pioneers, that they could do hard things.


·         Break-feasts were the bounty.  Fruit, scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, biscuits, sausage gravy, juice milk; we ate like royalty in the mornings and enjoyed quick and tasty lunches on the trail—like our ancestors we never went hungry as we focused less on sustenance and more on the feasting of the Spirit.  

      Each night the youth set up their own camp, prepared for any bad eventuality (I promise I did not once say Indian raid at night-- that was totally camp gossip. Well done! whoever started that.)  Each morning they broke camp and packed again.  By day two the handcarts were packed tight and strong!  This challenge promised initial failure but the process of thinking and packing stimulated their pioneer spirit and the resulting success made their next challenge even more do-able.  

      We were all changed by this experience, and this was best demonstrated by the change in our most challenged walkers who by the second day were discussing how they might improve, how to gain a second wind, challenge themselves, and by the third day even the first day’s weakest were pulling the cart—in the impromptu single cart challenges.  Go Andrew the Ox!    The youth stepped up to challenges we couldn’t even imagine for them.


We Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked and walked, and walked, and walked.  Even when the youth got that we were retraipsing trail to extend the experience, there was no grumbling.  There was joy in the journey and we became grateful for the journey of our forbearers who persevered as an example for us so we could gain the strength and testimony from their journey. More than once it was mentioned that they did their trek for us—in a literal and figurative and spiritual sense.  Bishop once told us that Family History creates resilient teens.  Knowing about others who faced greater difficulties and then experiencing a taste of that challenge make life-altering changes  for these youth.

And then it was over.   I watched as the white flags waved and the trek ended and the teens relished time to hug parents but then felt the need to immediately return back again to their trek brothers and sisters in regret and sorrow, taking a moment to adapt to the return to reality.  Continuity in our ward family was just what our youth needed and what they came to yearn for.  They were still filled with reluctance to give up the greatness that these life-altering experiences offered them.   

This was reaffirmed when the next morning I received a lengthy text from a teen.  “I miss trek.  I want to wake everyday with the excitement and enthusiasm for the thrill of a new spiritual experience.  Help me!  What can I do now?  Do you have ideas for service projects or challenges for me?  I can’t give up this feeling.  I want the Spirit with me all the time.  I want more.” 

They can do hard things and with enough challenge, they will Find Joy in The Journey.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Practically-Perfect-In-Every-Way Public Schooler, is Why I Homeschool.

I have a valedictorian, college-graduated, successful daughter who is a shining example of public school system success.  She excelled in the top ten percent.  My darling, wonder child led an exemplary high school life and surrounded herself with a social group of great kids with diverse interests that also were dedicated to “achievement.” 

She is my impetus for home schooling her sibling. 

 I admit, it was very heady to watch her success and to claim a little of that accolade for being “the good parent.”    From the top looking down, it does look like the challenge of scaling the lofty peaks is preferable to the trials of the underachiever. 

Her life adventure was well rounded, not only in academia, but in sports as a swimmer, with community service,  involved in the arts; a classically trained pianist, she wrote for the city paper, learned four years of French, traveled to Europe, excelled in vocal music in honor, state, and national choirs and was even a soloist.  

 In her climb to excel, she took five AP courses every year, graduated valedictorian from one of the state’s best high schools, and missed a perfect ACT score by only two points.  

She attended and graduated college on a full scholarship as an English major with excellent grades--finishing in five years, in spite of spending two years abroad, living in Hong Kong and learning Cantonese.

What a success right?    

She is why I home school her sibling. 

It’s senior year in college, the very last semester and she calls home, “Mom, I am an excellent student and a great tutor.  My professors love me, they write accolades to me and they beg me to join their graduate programs.  What now?”  She had reached it, the apex—the highest point and the view from that precipice can be daunting.  Where does one go from the top?

I saw it coming—this cliff.  When counselors in high school viewed her transcripts, they brushed aside her concerns about the future and said, “You can do anything.”  What they neglected to say was, “But, you can’t do everything.”  

No one ever offered her the vision that successful scholarship is not about momentary academia, but about finding your lifelong passion and pursuing it.   

She clarified her dilemma, “Mom, I’ve lived life to excel at the test, and when I’m no longer being graded, how will I gauge my worth?" She anguished, "Is my only choice more school, and if so in what?”   

So the Masters degree search began and time and time again she was told by wise professors, “If this is what you want to do,  go do it and don’t waste two more years in class preparing to do it.”  

Finally, one wise professor said, “Today’s assignment is to skip school and dedicate the time to something you really enjoy. Then return and report.”  That event sent her down a new path.  When I called the next week to see how class went she responded, “Oh, I skipped this week too.  There was this idea that I’m interested in exploring …” 

She got it, finally, and she began to search for the vision, her passion, her mission.  Tutored by mentors, she dived into the study of achievement vs. education in America.  It was her exploration of the fallacies of academia that opened my eyes to the real problem in education. 

It is in part through her tutelage, that I began to understand the other“FAILING 90 PERCENT” in a educational system that stifles creativity, discourages imagination and promotes a false sense of achievement.  What if her path had lead directly to her passion before four (no, eight) years were wasted in a fruitless search for false achievement in the guise of conformity.  How far could she have excelled?  

Admittedly it prepared her well for her college success—that of learning how to please professors.  She will be able to please bosses too, but what else could she have accomplished if creativity not conformity were her goal?  What could America be with youth like that? 





All this happened, just in time for my last child, a boy who was finally succeeding at education by sitting down, shutting up and shutting off.  He had become proficient at the test and by middle school, his early passion for creativity, ingenuity and thinking outside the universe was gone.   He was finally excelling at learning what-- not how-- to think. 

 I saw the vision of a couple more years of this fruitless trek and then he would be forced to opt out for his own sanity.   With the Oklahoma public school drop-out rate doubling this year from last, when I do the math, that is a public-school fail.   

With our daughter’s encouragement, my husband and I are working with our son to craft an alternative education—the kind that identifies personal genius, encourages ultimate creativity and inspires greatness.  

Our son now seeks purpose, which promotes the passion to pursue his interests and that encourages a true scholar education.

*  *  *

Just yesterday, I received a note from a young doppelganger of my daughter.  She is offended by my comments on social media about the public schooling failings in America.  She has done as most youth do and personalized my comments about the public school reform. ("It’s all about me," is a typical teen thought process.)    

Let me clarify.  I engage in civil dialogue, never once do I disdain a student, teachers nor their dedication to teaching.  But I cannot stand back knowing what I know and seeing the failure from every angle, top to bottom and from both sides.  

We must have a broader vision for the good of America; we must become better at a brighter educational experience for everyone.