Looking back at the ’00s

The 00’s are almost history.

Looking back, the last 10 years seem exceptional. Typically, I tend to focus more on the positive. However, from my perspective, the 00’s seem to have had more than their share of turbulence and tragedy. The preceding decades that I remember seem calm by comparison.

For many of us, the last 10 years have been ones of high highs and low lows. The country shared clear defining moments.

We started off 2000 by holding our breath. What would happen when the clocks struck midnight and the Great Computer Crash caused computers all over the world to stop functioning? Even with all the hype and fear mongering, from the start, the 2000’s didn’t miss a beat.

While the Y2K computer glitches didn’t change a thing, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything. Life since then has changed for all of us. With more complications and challenges, the events of that day linger in our lives in ways large and small. Most of us hunkered down in the year that followed and stayed home – watching news of the war in Afghanistan and another crisis brewing in Iraq.

In spring 2003, the U.S. entered into war with Iraq. Back then, most people seemed to expect the war to be short-lived, sort of like the First Gulf War in the early 1990s. I doubt that few of us would have believed that nearly seven years later the war would still be waging.

When Katrina and Rita struck in 2005, life in Louisiana took a wretched turn. Directly or indirectly, the pain, suffering and sadness affected us all.

By now, we again realize that time dulls the pain of wounds.

Politically, the decade has seen its share of The Great Divide. The contrasts and conflicts that have brewed among us revealed themselves in less than healthy ways. Lines have been drawn, and many wonder how a nation so divided could muddle toward a more perfect union.

Through the difficulties, moments of love and happiness have brightened the way.

In late 2002, my husband and I traveled to China to adopt the youngest member of our family. Piper celebrated her eighth birthday last week. The joy and light she brings to the world is, for our family, a formidable yang to the yin of pain and darkness.

Here’s a sampling of the way she makes me smile. As she was getting ready for bed on her birthday, she blithely said to me, “It hurts to be beautiful, you know?”

Caught off guard, I replied, “What do you mean?”

“The hair and the make-up, the picking out of clothes and the toe clipping,” she said and quickly moved on to, “I wish there wasn’t gravity.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Then I could fly,” she said, just before her head hit the pillow.

As we approach the ending of one milestone and the beginning of another, I offer a prayer of gratitude for the miracles of joy along the way.

LSS: Tis the season…

Tis the season.

Peace on earth. Goodwill toward man.

Truth be told, we’ll never have much peace until goodwill becomes standard operating procedure for the masses.

Along those lines, years ago, my uncle David and I confided in each other that we had figured out my mother’s secret. People naturally want her to be happy because they easily recognize all she does to help others.

“She gets more back from people by being good to them than she ever would if she tried to take whatever it was she was after in the first place,” Uncle David said.

My husband didn’t need my mother’s example to embrace self-interested benevolence. On his own (or probably through the examples of his own family), he realized how much better life was if he was good to people.

“If I’m good to them – and specifically to you,” he told me, “my life is easier and just gets better.”

I’m not sure what that says about me, but I suppose my husband is living proof of the saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

It’s true. When he does kind things – especially little things like getting me a cup of water late at night or going to the grocery store when we’re out of something and it’s raining outside, he’s banking goodwill.

Denying an ever-growing stockpile of my husband’s goodwill is impossible. Sometimes, despite my natural tendencies, I act nice and in his best interest instead of my own. I know he’d do the same for me, and I want him to be happy.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of communication breakdowns and moments of frustration on the homefront. But over the years, our relationship has improved dramatically.

I’m happy to give him the lion’s share of credit.

On the flipside of building and banking goodwill is the scene I see carried out between classes in the halls of the middle school where I teach. Peace on earth seems a long way off when you watch a group of adolescents relentlessly badger each other on matters large and small.

Moments of isolated kindness are celebrated, but all too often, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Watching the innocence of childhood disappear right before your very eyes is painful — even with the knowledge that students’ mean-spirited words and actions are usually based in attempts to prove self-worth, as much to themselves as to others.

Quiet students, with seemingly sweet demeanors, time and again are gobbled up by nastiness around them. Eventually, I see malice building in many of them. They’re tired of it. They’re not going to take it anymore.

And, the cycle continues.

Breaking the cycle of cruelty and creating an atmosphere of civility comes down to nurturing the needy, healing the wounds and creating circles of forgiveness on a consistent basis.

The lesson of learning to love back – and forward – whether through a mother, a husband or students is powerful throughout the year.

May peace and goodwill start with each of us.

LSS: Sixth graders’ tube socks and advice

When I was in the sixth grade, the Boston Red Sox played the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.

Brian Kaskie and I were the only real Red Sox fans in the class. When it was all said and done, Mrs. Waggoner, our math and homeroom teacher, bought Brian and me pairs of tube socks with three red bands at the top as consolation prizes when our team finally lost.

Those socks were epic.

I wore them with pride.

I’m pretty sure I took them to college.

In all the years since that fall of 1975, Brian, other classmates and I have talked about those socks more than we’ve talked about the Sox.

All these years later, I think I’ve figured out the real reason – beyond the Red Sox losing the World Series – that I was the recipient of those socks.

In September, I started teaching sixth graders – a first for me.

When I’m dealing with my students, I think of those socks on an almost daily basis – and remember that the sixth grade can be magic. Ask almost anyone and they can tell you something life-defining that happened their sixth grade year.

I try to realize how on-the-cusp my students are. Sometimes my patience wears thin, and I am not the teacher I want to be. But I think of those tube socks and try to be better.

Many sixth graders are at the fork in the road deciding which life route they’re going to take.

Very Robert Frost. At this point, my focus is on the roads in front of the sixth graders. While we spend a lot of time learning about how to make words possessive, reading historical fiction and the things students are supposed to learn in English class, there are other issues to consider as well. The students are the ones dictating the other, more important, issues.

I asked students to list things they wish more adults understood.

Here are a few in their own words:

– I think that adults need to know that some families are in need of food. Us kids know. Sometimes they buy food for us, but they complain if we eat it.

– Smoking is bad.

– We need to stop borrowing money from other countries.

– If you have a friend who just got kicked out their home, let them stay with you for a while until they find a place to stay.

– Stop littering.

– Stop hurting animals.

– Pick up trash on the side of the road.

– Recycle.

– Save energy by turning of the water while brushing your teeth.

I’m not sure how much time these students spend in the thick of the issues they brought up. I know enough to know that some of them are hungry, and some of them have never considered picking up trash on the side of the road until the time came to try to make a good impression on the teacher.

Either way, these are not issues I was considering when I was twelve, what about you?

Long Story Short: Home economics 101

Unlike a former neighbor, cleaning out closets and cabinets is not high on my list of ways to pass downtime.

Invariably every other time I called our El Paso neighbor or she called me, I would say, “What are you up to?” and the answer would be, “I’m cleaning out closets.”

Her inclination toward closet orderliness came to be a running joke. She became embarrassed to admit to the task.

Her passion for closet cleanliness never rubbed off on me.

Sad to say, but photographs of our family’s closets would be more likely to be featured in a modern art journal’s study of the absurd than in any Martha Stewart magazine.

If you’re brave or fool-hearty enough to open one of our closet doors, anything from an old Russian hat like Boris Yeltsin used to wear to 1,000 envelopes (made from recycled materials) may hit your noggin. A stray hanger could poke you in the eye. A purse made from recycled Thai Coca-Cola cans dangles on the top shelf. Scarves and belts sway. Herbs (partially through the drying phase) hang to the side.

Moving on to the kitchen, our pantry is a blend of the contemporary art scene and an old bomb shelter.

Even still, given the extraordinary measure of the task, the Thanksgiving holidays gave me no excuses. Along with an opportunity to reflect on the bounty of our lives – figuratively and literally, my oldest daughter and I spent the better part of an afternoon doing what we could to straighten our kitchen cupboard.

Twelve cans of tomato sauce, ten cans of green beans, eight cans of Rotel, six cans of creamed corn, five cans of tuna, four cans of Cream of Mushroom soup, three Cream of Chicken and green enchilada sauce, pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, baby clams, slicked peaches, salsa casera, mushroom pieces, chipotle peppers adobo sauce, Blackburn’s syrup, Girard’s Lite Champagne salad dressing, two cans of black beans, red enchilada sauce, a big jar of Ovaltine and 17 packets of various sauce mixes later, I came to a conclusion. Our family of four could live on the contents of our pantry – without ever making a trip to the grocery store – for months, maybe a year.

Yet, every third day or so, we’re off to the market to get more.

As my daughter and I worked, we made a game of stacking and aligning the bounty. Our activity barely made a dent in our home organizational game plan, but it did reinforce the Thanksgiving mantra — we live in a land of plenty.

Certainly mine is not an original idea, but I’m challenging my family to see how long we can go without buying another canned item. Rather than deliberately preparing dishes that require ingredients not in my arsenal, wouldn’t it be more interesting to find recipes to make based on available ingredients from our kitchen’s cupboard?

Save time and money.

Basic home economics.

It’s not just for high school anymore.