Adventures in…Adventuring

I’d like to say to all my fans out there, thanks for the support. And to all my doubters, thank you very much because you guys have also pushed me.

Usain Bolt
This picture is a reminder of times I’ve accomplished more than I would have thought possible because I’ve dug in and gotten stubborn when people who shall remain nameless have scoffed at my ability or actively discouraged me from doing something.
Case in point: whitewater rafting. I love rafting, and have gone several times. I was in my 40s, well past my physical prime (which was a two month period in my late teens, I think) when I saw a picture of people whitewater rafting and thought, “I should try that.” After I announced that I was planning a trip, I became a punchline for a few people. Their expectation seemed to be that I would come to my senses just before time to board the raft, realizing that rafting was not the sort of thing I would do.
I loved it. We primitive camped in the woods at Ohiopyle State Park, rafted, and had a great time, one of the highlights of my life. I’ve gone again a couple times, and I even took students on a small trip to whitewater raft in Kentucky.
That trip had its nay-sayers, too. Several students were ambitious organizers, helping myself and the other teacher in charge so this could happen, and my principal gave us his wholehearted support (and the money for the bus, which made the trip possible). But there were others who had myriad reasons the trip was a bad idea. The whisper campaign and teachers who had earnest conversations about things I may not have considered did take a toll and may have contributed to several students backing out.
It would have been easy to give up as the roadblocks grew against us going, just as it would have been easy (and cheaper) to stay home when I first decided to go rafting. Not doing it would have been easy to explain, with plenty of logical reasons to discard the idea. But the haters who denigrated the idea, and the frienemies who helpfully pointed out the potential pitfalls and lurking liabilities of going–they were a motivation to put on my best Alfred E. Neuman smile and insist everything was going as planned, better than, in fact.
Sometimes, negative people and unsupportive friends do stifle my mojo. No doubt, I’m as prone to succumbing to disparaging words–both from internal and external sources–as anyone. As a teacher and parent, I work to be an encouraging voice, challenging while supporting. I need those people too, the ones whose whipered “I know you can do it” resonates when I’m about to give up. But sometimes–and the bigger the challenge, the more I respond to this dynamic–proving someone wrong about my ability to meet a challenge is the underlying push that has made the difference. And for that, I am grateful.

When I Was More Innocent: Reflections on People with Differing Viewpoints, 2014 edition

It is just that we should be grateful, not only to those with whose views we may agree, but also to those who have expressed more superficial views; for these also contributed something, by developing before us the powers of thought. ~Aristotle
Another election season has ended. I’m not especially thankful it ended, in large part because the business of campaigning in America never ends–it merely enters another cycle. The part of the election process which I am thankful for is this: people from various viewpoints who engage in questioning, discussing, and defending their views. It’s through those discussions that I have the opportunity to hone my ideas further–or, when I find my ideas to be flawed, begin the process of thinking through the core beliefs/problem/solution matrix that filters my attitudes.
Aristotle suggests that I should be grateful to those who expressed superficial views. He said that before 24 hour news cycles and Facebook memes were invented; if he were writing today, perhaps he would draw a line between the superficial ideas worthy of delving into, whether to repudiate or support, and those that should be ignored (…and blocked. The ability to block posts and people on Facebook is something I’m extremely grateful for!). Now society faces such an overwhelming influx of information that we too often wear blinders, fending off the overwhelming stream of facts, ideas, and appeals by only looking through our narrow lens. I’m guilty of it too–it’s a crucial coping mechanism for dealing with the onslaught of words and images we daily encounter.
But I embrace Aristotle’s concept. Considering views that differ from mine, or sometimes even superficially expressed views that I endorse, challenges me to work harder to explain–even to myself–why I hold the beliefs I do. I am pushed to examine the underlying assumptions I hold about the nature of the issue and my priorities as I answer, and I have to re-validate the data and facts that I’m using as evidence. People who disagree with me cause me to be a better critical thinker and more definite in my ideas–as long as I’m gaining that confidence based on thoughtful examination and not merely stubbornness, something I admit to at times.
I’ve framed this as a political injunction, but it extends through any ideas, opinions or creeds I hold. When I teach Sunday School (for adults–no one in their right mind wants me near children in Sunday School!), I’ve had fascinating conversations with classmates who hold opinions that baffle me.Those discussions, just like discussions I have about diet, health, education, relationships, nature, child-rearing–all thoughtful discussions–lead me to build a stronger understanding of the world and my place in it. I’m grateful for my opponents from the other side of the aisle, because they help me understand why I’m where I am and whether that’s where I should stay.

Family Ties (from 2014)

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. ~Desmond Tutu

In a few minutes, I’m going to head home from Parent-Teacher conferences to have chili made by my daughter Megan, who is home from Columbus for a couple days. We’ll sit at the table eating and chatting, and if Bethany has her way, we will play a card game called “Gloom” that we’ve planned to play but never made time to. It will be one of those Vonnegut “If this isn’t good, what Is?” moments.

My kids are high on the list of things I’m thankful for–and I’m not saying that because it’s a required part of the “Mother Job Description.” What I’m grateful for isn’t that I managed to follow the step-by-step directions to reproduce. Truth: Growing up, I’d never seen myself as the mother type. Even in my mid-20s, I was willing to indefinitely delay the becoming a mommy stage of adulthood. At best, I was an adequate mother who managed to mitigate at least some of my worst mothering mistakes by having terrifically talented, complex, interesting kids…which also compounded most of the challenges of parenting.

Anyway, we’re going to gather at a table and have chili that Megan made, and enjoy a few moments of family time–something that’s incredibly rare since my oldest two have scattered. Chris is nowhere near, but there are many times that I go on the Meatloaf philosophy: Two out of Three ain’t Bad.

The absolute best part of having my kids around–or even having them call or email, or send carrier pigeons or smoke signals–is this: I think all three of my kids are fun to talk to. They’re interesting, and they all know things I don’t know. For all the mistakes and “interesting choices” we made as the kids were growing up, the kids are all right. I can say without hesitation that I would choose each of them to be a friend of mine if I were to meet them now. To me, that matters.

So in a few minutes, I’ll head home from conferences to find a messy kitchen and noise in my usually silent house–and it will be good.