I run on schedule. This is not a brag as much as a criticism. But that fact didn’t hit me hard until this weekend, when I met Marion Pitts, a native of Rabun Gap, Georgia and a card-carrying member of Appalachia.
I didn’t go looking for Marion and his wife, Dene. But there they were, sitting at the table of the B & B where my sister, mom and I had breakfast. My sisters, mom and I have never understood the word ‘strangers.’ We gave them the Raymond “third degree.”
Marion had been born and bred in this neck of the woods. He was the first person in his family to have graduated from high school, and now he teaches students enrolled in the GED program in a community college. Wise way beyond education, Marion told us he recommends each of his students read the short poem: Limited, by Carl Sandburg. It’s a beauty — that Ecclesiastes stuff that one day we will be gone and the stuff we treasure will turn to scrap. But the underlying theme is a lesson that hit me hard after we lost our firstborn son. I had often before and often since lived my life in dread: what if this happens, what if that happens? The fear of death limits our ability to live life fully. The sun shines strong above, but you cannot see it for the clouds you’ve brought down.
When the unnatural relationship with death was forced upon me, I was forced to be braver and more confident than any other time in my life. And believe me, near death were words I heard way too often in my life, with the rough start I had as a baby, all my health problems topped off by severe burns and skin graft recovery after the accident. I have often been less than brave. But bravery is a choice, not a condition.
Marion Pitts was not on my schedule. But he came to me in the nick of time, when I was feeling a bit down, and reminded me to enjoy the ride just as he had done for the fifty-three years since high school.
And I am so thankful for the people who have put a nick in my time-line, to share a moment of their wisdom for my benefit.
Teachers! They are the ones that walk beside us, behind us, and in front of us leading the way, so that one day they will step into our shoes and be the teachers.
The boys seemed to sense the reverence of these war memorials in Poland and Germany, and were certainly affected deeply by the remnants of luggage, shoes and clothing left behind. But I wonder if anything touched them as deeply as the talk their father gave them about the concentration camp introductions? (check out Youtube.com and our facebook today for the video)
When we were in Japan, we also were touched by the museums and affects of the bombing of Hiroshima. But things become more personal when a name or photo was attached to the story. Ron took the time to read to the boys as they bedded down on the floors of the hostel in Japan. He chose the story of Sadako Sasaki, who was just 2 when the atomic bomb dropped in her city. At 12, she was diagnosed with leukemia from radiation — referred to in Japan as the ‘atom bomb disease.’ Sadako took on the task of folding 1000 paper cranes, according to the Japanese legend that 1000 paper cranes would allow a wish to be granted. Her wish was to live. Although Sadako only folded 644 before she died, her life is a legacy and tribute thanks to her friends and family who exceeded her task, raising a statue in her honor, publishing a book of letters about those who died from result of the A-bomb and placing her paper cranes of hope at the NYC 9/11 Memorial, at Pear Harbor, the Museum of Tolerance, in other places of honor.
“At the foot of the statue (of Sadako) is a plaque that reads: “This is our prayer. This is our cry. Peace on Earth.”
Make history come alive for your child. It takes time. It takes creativity. It takes knowledge. It takes love. Be a teacher.
In the midst of a year boiling with political controversy, we are now given something else to consider: Do we want to encourage our kids to take a year in the school of hard knocks – the Gap Year. “Taking a structured Gap Year invariably serves to develop the individual into a more focused student with a better sense of purpose and engagement in the world,” from Joe O’Shea’s book, Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs.
Today’s High Schoolers face pressures you and I didn’t face until we were in college and in some cases, Grad School. The heights they must hurdle keep getting higher, the options keep growing and way too soon, they have to make crucial decisions: Where will you be accepted to college and what is your major? Most of them don’t have a clue who they are much less who they want to become. And the question: “what do you want to become,” sounds like a life sentence!
Long before it was fashionable, I took the ‘Gap Year Challenge.’ Having saved up enough money, I grabbed my passport and backpack and headed out to Western Europe- on my own-volunteering, working and exploring. This decision changed my trajectory in life. Geography, sociology, politics, foreign relations, languages, health- the subjects I had breezed through became my reality to survival.
Aside from my Passport, I had no privilege in my travels, which heightened my awareness for self-survival and strengthened my empathy for others. Nobody here owed me anything. But I could give a hand up to those who had not been born as lucky as I.
Following my Gap Year, with a renewed appreciation and commitment to the opportunities I had been given, I returned to College, then Grad School and was a much more appreciative, eager and confident student. I am a better person for the experience and happy I participated in life’s prep-school: Gap Year ‘The School of Hard Knocks.’
People ask us “Which of your sons is most like Ryan?”The answer is difficult, because each of the four treasures God has given us is different. Like snowflakes, there are no two alike. With great joy, we watched each of our sons evolve during this world trip.
Education and individual growth becomes a challenge when you insist on strict Road School as we did. Each boy learned at a different pace, in a different way and at a different level. Everybody crowded together in the Hirn School Room du jour, for lessons part of each day. But the rest of the time we took life’s lessons on the road. We shared our own observations with each other, and we practiced one of the most important educational lessons of all: the art of listening!
There are Hirn House Rules: We all knew there was no such thing as a dumb question or a dumb answer. We became each other’s best friends, teachers and advocates. We stuck together, learned together, argued together, cried together, comforted each other and grew together.
Road Schooling is tough. A teacher must always stay ahead of the student – or at least give the illusion of staying ahead. But, tactically, isn’t that the job of the parent too?
We all hope for great things from our kids. But don’t overlook the ‘now’ – Treasure time with them as they observe, process information, interact with strangers, and adapt to cultural differences and lifestyles. They are constantly evolving!
Everything evolves – caterpillars become butterflies, buds become flowers. But then again, evolution must exclude moms. After all we have been through, we still have only two hands and one set of eyes.
In the past, I’ve written about taking a hard look at yourself in the mirror of a videographer. Today, lets talk about the microscope.
When you are on a world adventure with your family, 24/7, mom and dad have a gracious allowance of time to study their kids under the microscope. (Isn’t that really part of the purpose of family time together?)
As our trip progressed, I unsnapped their ankle monitors and began to enjoy the entertainment. My boys faced the world bringing with them their unique approaches. Ron and I sat back and watched them. And under the microscope we learned:
Our boys see no difference in other people. We are proud of that.
Recently I referred to one of the children in Colton’s classrooms as “that sweet Asian child” – and he looked at me like I had chopped liver for brains. They didn’t care about the child’s nationality, religion, or political alliance. Boys talk in simple terms such as soccer balls, footballs, skateboards and stunts. The language is universal.
Kids adapt more quickly than adults. The younger, the better.
Before we left home, we had studied about places, people, foods, various forms of transportation (from tut tuts to camels), sleeping accommodations (we chose hostels) and the ever- dependable but not always well-received “UYOLTGT” (Use Your Own Legs To Get There.) Despite a few meltdowns, they adapted beautifully.
Under the microscope we discovered Colton’s love for little children and babies especially. We experienced Trenton’s non-verbal form of communication – his love of sports and physical activity, and enjoyed seeing him interact with others often instigating a game. And Tyler grew so much on this trip, from a boy to a caring and might I add, tolerant young man.
Take your children out of their comfort zone as a family. Don’t forget to unshackle them. Microscope or not, sit back and enjoy.
A person who speaks three languages is tri-lingual.
A person who speaks two languages is bi-lingual.
A person who speaks one language is American.
Before we left for our World adventure, we required everybody to learn at least five words/phrases-“thank you,” “your welcome,” “please,” “excuse me,” and “hello”-in the language of each of the countries we were going to visit. Saying “hello” in that language doesn’t cover it when you need to find a restroom. And crossing your legs and jumping around doesn’t always translate. Kids always level the playing field with their complete candor.
Here are some communication tips when you don’t know the language:
Use your hands. Pantomime to your heart’s content.
Use your smile. They know you’re a foreigner. Smiles are a great ice-breaker.
Memorize just a few phrases. Put the words to music and it becomes a lot easier! Wǒ xiǎng xiān qù cèsuǒ “Where is the bathroom?” in Chinese. Sing it to: ‘I heard it through the grapevine.”
Use your phone apps. Google Translate or iTranslate is good. Waygo is great studying Chinese, Japanese and Korean. You can actually take a photo of what you don’t understand and say “Aha.” (BTW, the word “Aha” is pretty much the same in every language!)
Take chances. Don’t worry about proper pronunciation. People are kind – they will want to help you and, of course, you open the door for them to practice their English on you.
They’re not laughing at you; they’re smiling to encourage you (Paris, France may be an exception to this rule).
Pay attention. Great communicators mirror their audiences.
And remember- communication takes two people. Don’t be shy, find one.