Oil and Water (TikTok Challenge)

In light of the recent bomb threats in one of the biggest small towns in New Jersey, the new superintendent left messages for the parents of each student enrolled in the district. Every building in the school district will reopen after an emergency closure resulted from a threat that went viral on social media. This was not the first threat the district has endured. But this time, the adversity has directed the energy where it may be best felt—a conversation between parents and students.

As I listened to the plea for help, I prepared my mind as both an educator of ten year olds and a parent of a seventeen year old. I considered my students who confide in me how messy the bathroom has become (as a result of TikTok inspired vandalism). Their little hearts conflicted as they exchange their thrill of the chaos for their need to be exonerated. They don’t want to get in trouble for something that another student did.

I considered my son who is on the cusp of getting his driver’s license and applying for jobs and preparing for graduation. I also think about how smart he is, his potential, and his likeliness to stay out of trouble. It’s his affiliations that bring me pause.

The superintendent’s message was a call to action for parents to have a meaningful conversation with their children. There’s a need not only to prevent future occurrences, but to discuss the implications of this kind of behavior.

We must be cautious to label these acts frivolous or thoughtless! There could be nothing more contrary. A LOT of effort went into concocting these challenges. The social media mileage that it’s been getting is not accidental. Somewhere there is a proud troll. The impact ripples throughout communities across the nation. How long have we been telling our youngsters to think globally? We had no idea how that might manifest.

When I picked my son up today, I greeted him with the love that comes from missing him for a few days. I asked him his thoughts of the “day off from school” as a result of the recent threat. He was appreciative that it wasn’t a “remote instruction” day. Beyond that, it all seemed to be outside of his purview.

I replayed the superintendent’s message for my son. I cautiously approached the need to have this conversation in a way that he could “buy” into the the resolve. I watched my son’s expression fade from disinterest into something that resembled “are we done here?”

I began by reminding him of the various occasions that he thought he had things under control only to realize that situations can be cumbersome or overwhelming. I then affirmed how smart he was and how much trust I have in his decisions.

THEN…

I reminded him of my role to guide him rather than restrict him or hover over him. What happened next surprised even me. My son picked up a fruit and began to toss it into the air rhythmically. Up and down, over and over. Seemingly not paying attention, it wasn’t until I hit upon a nerve that he missed his mark and dropped the fruit.

He couldn’t focus on his toss and grasp the points at the same time. He offered little as a rebuttal as the conversation morphed more so into a lecture. Sure enough, each time I hit upon a valid point, he dropped the fruit.

Despite the easy analogy that could be made between regretful decisions and this pummeled fruit, I narrowed the talk to three points.

1) Students have some knowledge of what is happening here and may not have fully considered the consequences. Nonetheless, it does not require hard evidence to charge another student with vandalism. It merely requires a witness or mitigating circumstances to transform an investigation into formal charges.

2) Someone will speak up to either put an end to the destructive behavior or they will direct that negative energy from themselves (to ensure that they are not blamed).

3) If even half the parents had this “meaningful” talk with their child, the kids would likely steer clear of the kids that they KNOW are engaging in this activity.

I call this “oil and water.” Both are powerful, but neither wants anything to do with the other. Students who desire to be on the path to success want nothing to do with behavior that will create obstacles. For other students, misdirection will continue until they experience a consequence for themselves or until they witness someone else get caught.

I’ve asked my son to consider “oil and water” as he witnesses these TikTok challenges unfurl. From this point on, he can no longer claim that he doesn’t know any better. And as his parent, I can no longer say that I didn’t at least start the conversation.

Defining Wealth

Wealth is not exclusive to an accumulation of resources. It can be a state of mind. To be rich in health or opportunity; to have strong relationships; or to have rich dreams.

How can wealth be a goal and an asset? We can aspire to have materials or piece of mind, but ultimately what we attain is a manifestation of our efforts. It’s our ownership that inspires appreciation.

No one can give us peace. Nor can peace be earned. This state of mind is ethereal. It is the result of accepting circumstances that are beyond our control. Those who claim to have found some semblance of peace may be wealthier than others.

Much like strength, our physical and emotional health both attribute to our overall wealth. Health is heavily reliant on exercising our bodies and minds. We endure obstacles and overcome challenges. We celebrate those accomplishments. We achieve a wealthier lifestyle through our achievements. It’s not the announcements, however, of our growth. It’s the actual improvement of and/or our resilience to our circumstances that signifies our wealth.

When asked what they’d do if they gained a million dollars, a group of ten year olds revealed some interesting desires. Several students confirmed that they’d spend it on fancy cars, bigger homes, or luxurious accessories. Another group of students collaborated and conveyed that they’d give some of their new-found wealth away to charity or save it for college. But one proclaimed he’d go to his fathers job and complicate things for him so that his father would no longer work there.

This last revelation spoke volumes and warranted a deeper understanding. This student confided that this new wealth would change circumstances. With wealth, he could control the world around him. He wanted his father home. He wanted his father’s troubles at work to disappear. He wanted to contribute to his father’s happiness. Our children exude charity and noble traits. Their paths towards adulthood offer them the tools needed to attain their goals. Will this one day evolve into a healthier or wealthier life?

Wealth is ambiguous. Desire’s subjectivity is fluid and changeable. Regardless of how we attain it, how we transmit it to our loved ones in life (and in death) speaks to its inherent value. We decide what wealth is. We decide how to build it. We decide how to apply it. One might conclude that wealth is not a thing at all, but a state of mind.

Daddy Issues!

Too often we hear about the sadness that results from dads falling short on their responsibilities. We blame absenteeism on dads. We blame inadequacies on unpaid child support. We blame dads (who’ve moved on and started new families) for those ill-feelings that the oldest kids experience. These are amongst the many things that cause their sons and specifically their daughters to have “daddy issues.”

Pardon me for a moment as I stand up for myself and the many fathers who have been upholding their responsibilities. It goes without saying that there are moms who will disagree. They may claim that these dads do not match the narratives that the moms have been feeding their kids. Well so be it!

The most important lesson that I’ve tried to teach my kids is that there are three sides to every story. There’s her side. There’s his side. And there’s the truth!

My kids got her side every time their mom was angry with me. Every time she observed that I was living my best life, my kids heard her side. Every time my kids told me why their mom was upset, they got to hear my side. And although I believed that I was going damage control, I was contributing to their confusion. I created a situation that forced them to decide for themselves what the truth was. And to be completely honest, they may never be built tough enough to handle the truths that either of their parents are capable of telling.

It’s story time! And the best stories are told about someone else’s drama. When it’s personal, it’s not drama. It’s trauma!

Comedian Chris Rock reminds dads that they have but one job. “Keep your daughters off the pole!” He goes on to joke that a daughter that didn’t get enough love may find herself getting even with dad by becoming an exotic dancer. It’s cringe worthy, and no less than horrifying. “Daddy issues,” he calls it.

The reality is that children who have had great dads develop daddy issues too. Kids who don’t get their way, kids who have alternatives to a caring dad, and kids who cling to moms who disparage their dad all risk developing “daddy issues.”

It’s sad that dads may be blamed for their children’s disappointments. As a dad who has fulfilled his responsibilities, I can point out that responsibility falls on parents AND children. Adulthood spans beyond blaming someone else. Raising children properly is not about giving them what they want. It’s about developing the tools necessary for our kids to get what they need.

Kids who have developed a sense of integrity are fully aware of their ability to choose their path. Our job as parents is to identify the obstacles and encourage our children to overcome them.

I want my children to achieve success with dignity. But sometimes it’s easier to blame dear ol’ dad. I suppose I could have fallen short in some ways, but I am not sure who gets to decide what the standards are (or whether a shortfall has occurred). Not mom. Not dad. And certainly not the kids. Who can be objective enough?

Daddy issues are unlike any other condition. Assigning accountability to anyone else doesn’t ring true quite the same way. One thing is certain. Thanksgiving dinners that don’t yield the biggest piece of meat for dad are very revealing.

Never Blame the Victim

We build our philosophies on absolutes, but life is not absolute. Entire systems are built upon rules—some of which have exceptions and exclusions. Ask any legal expert. Let’s not overlook implied meanings and common practice. Each is a component for understandings and agreements that must be adhered to. If not, there’s a result that may require all parties to revisit the original agreement.

Here’s one: never blame the victim. It begs for an addendum. “Never blame the victim…unless…” But nope! Can’t do it. Never! But then again, we never say never.

There’s varying degrees of victimhood, and each one requires a clandestine protection against retribution. We speak of justice beyond the crime. But we rarely speak of the restoration of the victim. Neither punishment nor restitution can undo the damage. Understanding and forgiveness might do the trick, but that’s not justice. That’s empathy. And empathy is too often overlooked because the victims and the witnesses and the enforcers of the rules need to feel something greater than what empathy affords them.

Depending on the severity of the crime, mitigating circumstance seem useless. Sometimes knowing “why” doesn’t ease the pain.

It hurts to be a victim. Victims need care and compassion. Victims need healing. But do you know what victims don’t need? They don’t need others pretending to be victims. Perpetrators pretend to be harmed, offended victims of injustice so that they can glean sympathy. They know that no one will blame them for being a victim. All that they need to do is claim to be hurt, shed a little tear, or share a sad story to awaken the emotions of their caregivers.

No one likes a liar. Cons are despised. There’s no dignity in betraying the confidence of others. And the true victims of this crime are the not the ones who employ this technique, but instead are the ones who fall for the fakery. It’s like dialing 911 when there is no emergency. It distracts the responders from the real emergencies.

We Are What We Eat

Last night before bed, I ate a piece of string cheese. I hadn’t eaten much all day, so I figured a little treat might do me good. I shun proper nutrition habits because (like most things) I think they are simply fads. Without knowing the facts, I have decided to make my dietary decisions based solely on emotion. I am not alone.

I’d like to think that my added weight was a result of 15 months of COVID lifestyle changes. This has proven false by photos of me from 5 years ago which convey my robust shape. I’ve been eating what I want for years! I’m reduced to the choices in my cabinets. And since I shop based on emotion too, it’s a wonder that I’m not a walking, talking mound of sugar and carbs. I don’t have many mirrors in the house. I also don’t own a scale. My last visit to the doctor revealed that a lot more weight was needed on the counter-balance. But I’m ok with it.

So string cheese before bed, seemed like a better choice. But if we are what we eat, and I’ve eaten very little, why aren’t I…very little? Something about the body storing up fat or having an irregular routine is a warning that my choices are not good for me.

String cheese is compact. It can be eaten in various ways. I usually just chomp on it. This time I decided to peel it. Each piece was smaller and “stringier.” I savored it. It tasted nice. So nice, that I had to savor another. I refrained from having a third though.

The thinner the serving, the easier it went down in to my tummy. I wasn’t as heavy as that bag of gummy bears that I had yesterday. But that was then, and this is…well…this is then too. BUT, anyone can feast on a bag of goodies. But sting cheese isn’t designed to be shared. It’s a serving for ONE, and sometimes I have another ONE. Who would judge me for a healthier snack choice.

My bedtime snack will surely inspire pleasant dreams. Visions of cows jumping over moons, or wooly sheep leaping farmer’s fences. Sunflowers swaying in the breeze and fireflies brightening up the night, eyes getting heavy and the num num whispering of string cheese.