Sunday, January 29, 2012

From the Archive: The Foundlings

Deacon the Milkman and I have been hosting a couple of exchange students from Tierra del Fuego. Their original host-family had them working in a sweatshop and calling it “vocational school” as they were learning how to sew in 36-hour stints. We rescued them and they came into our lives with nothing but the homemade clothes on their backs and various “tickle-me Elmo” limbs stuffed in their pockets. They said they were going to trade them for cat food. Evidently, there’s a huge market for bootleg Elmo parts. Anyway, they’ve been shacking up in my office for the past week. If you saw the look on their little faces when we told them they were having Hamburger Helper for dinner with Oatmeal substituted for meat…well there just aren’t any words.

Deacon found them jobs as bologna gatherers at our local slaughterhouse. Pick’n up the parts, dust'n ‘em off, throw’n them in the bin…I know they’re thanking their lucky stars. Every night, we hear them crying themselves to sleep with tears of joy. Occasionally, we have to shake a can full of pennies at them in order to keep them off the furniture or urinating in the refrigerator, but I’m sure you know exactly how these sorts of things go.

Two nights ago, I was crawling into bed and found a full bull’s bladder sitting on my pillow. The skin was taut, round, almost bursting with urine. The way it gleamed in the light it almost looked like if you so much as breathed on it, it would go off. The workmanship! Those little scamps had sewn all the openings shut and put in our bed to make sure we’d find it, not unlike the cat who kills something and leaves it in front of the coffee maker for you to find. It was so sweet. It was also very delicate, must have taken them hours to prepare it. Deacon grabbed one end of it and I the other, and we headed downstairs to give it back to them. Because our hands were full, we had to kick open the door and then hurl it at their shared twin cot. Sure, in hindsight, we could have gently set the bloated orb outside their door and tip-toed back up the stairs, but we wanted them to share in our excitement and give it back to them immediately. The look of shock in combination with unbridled tear-streaked, urine-bathed joy was an image I shall take with me throughout the rest of my days…I love our new foundlings.

*Here’s the translation
We’ve got neighbors whose a/c went out. They’ve been with us for most of the week. In Houston no A/C really does mean Hell's crotch.
Unfortunately there’s no such urine-bomb experience that I can relate to you in truth…I just sorta made that up…
They were exemplary guests…

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The importance of "NO!"

I have been through the wringer lately. Working with today’s youth, trying to get them through the pitfalls of higher education relatively unscathed. I’ve come to notice that even though I do my very damnedest to help folks, I have been ending my days on a note that what some folks need to hear, more than anything, is “no”. It’s an issue that has been plaguing me from many sides. We are apparently fostering a culture where everybody wins. The sad fact of the real world is that first place isn’t given for participation, it’s an accomplishment. No one is going to give you a prize for effort when you botch a lung transplant.  I understand that people need a healthy self-esteem and a real sense of self-confidence in order to not fall face down in a ditch of self-destructive habits. I get that. At the same time, the Special Olympics model isn’t how you run a company, a country or even how you go about achieving your dreams.

I estimate that the cause of this situation stems from parents who have gone out of their way to make sure that their kids grow up without having to endure any of the heartaches that they grew up with. It’s done out of love, which is endearing.  To that, I would bring up the example of generational wealth. Kids, who have been able to have anything they wanted even if just they wanted it out of novelty. What they get from the interaction is that all they have to do to get something is ask…sometimes not even that. Street smarts is cultivated, and if you don’t have to develop that sense of getting what you want from life for yourself, then you won’t.  Most people don’t take Algebra because they’re seeking a challenge; they take it because they have to. Work is hard. “Yeah kid, I know. It sucks... character building and all that. Buck up.” Back to the parents that bubble-wrap their kids against life’s little bumps, scrapes and knocks, most come from reasonable means, not rich, not poor, just making do with what they have. But telling your kid that they’re smarter than everyone they come across could be just as detrimental to them as calling them a moron. They don’t finish things or pursue their goals because they’re already smarter than everybody else, as opposed to the moron who won’t make the attempt because they’re too stupid to pull it off, so why bother? There’s got to be some middle ground here.

What I’m getting at here is the over-inflated sense of entitlement. I hear “I don’t want to do anything that’s hard” almost on repeat. I find that my helping them find the path of least resistance handicaps them from flourishing into well-rounded and disciplined individuals. Am I becoming part of the problem? My job requires me to plot the course that will lead my students to their goal. I cannot tell them “It’s not going to happen”. Instead, I have to tell them “In order for this to happen, these things must be done”. I can do that; however, many of them don’t pick up on the subtleties of diplomatic language.  One of my professors was a hack writer who told the class, “Don’t even try to write humor, because you can’t do it.” He was poet who was in love the sound of his own voice. If you can imagine a guy who rolls up the car windows when he farts because he wants to truly be at one with his essences, you’re on the right track. I took it as a challenge. If you want me to do something, tell me I can’t.

Tell people “No”. Saying no isn’t a crime. You have no need to feel guilt about it. It’s not your job nor place to please everyone. There are people that you should try to appease. If you are in some sort of subordinate role in a relationship, it’s important to try to appease these people, your boss, your probation officer, your teacher, your client, the judge that could send you up the river etc. Say yes to these people.

Your kids are not on this list. They have to say yes to you, not the other way round.
Give them the power to realize that life has to be seized and taken, it won’t be handed to them on bended knee. Tell them no. I implore you. Tell them no. You’ll be doing me a solid. Thanks.