A Letter To A Shattered Child

 

martiens letterWhen I was sixteen years old my dad and my brother Jack, who was around 21, died within two weeks of each other in the month of May. I was shattered.  In an effort to save me from absolute despair that summer my mom, Ann Stell, found a counselor/therapist for me here in Hot Springs. Martien Carroll.

I would sit in a bean bag chair in his office for hours and he would listen and try to save me.

I recently found a letter he wrote me in August of that year and I as moved by his wisdom and kindness. And the words he wrote to a broken sixteen year old girl are still just as true and powerful today, for all of us.

The letter reads,

Dear Pooh,

Loneliness is both positive and negative. Thought is both positive and negative – your choice!

I also morn for the killing of the whales, oil spills, starvation ,injustices and know that on a large scale karma, life and  rebirth are all the result and responsibility of ourselves. No matter how you work it out the final judge, jury and sentence comes from the self. Good returns Good – Evil returns Evil in gradations of 10- (Both experience and the master teachers say so)

Hey, you’re not the first person to recognize how you/they put up a front- I too-can-but choose not to do it with everyone- my closest friends-network of people supports…hear, respond, return. We are always alone (locked up with our own perceptions) This is true even surrounded by our closest friends.

Have joy that you can perceive the world, many can never see nor know why they must be reborn again.

Money is just a vehicle – a game- a device-a medium-a process of learning how to reach the top. Being able to establish the flow by giving it back to the life source is the real exchange.

Love yourself enough to be responsible for every act influencing yourself. Ann Stell must undergo her pain to move forward just as you undergo your pain to grow forward. However it us up to each individual to grow Positively or Negatively.

Write-Write-Write-Rewrite- your depth amazes me, yet how old are we really -chronologically-metaphysically?

Utilize your talents -Be the best wherever you are-whoever you are-whenever you are- whatever-however….The only thing you can lose is yourself. But Thank God you can play the game over and over, even when you lose. Unfortunately, you must play it till you win…till we all win…We (the Whole universe) are all related and joined by cohesion-magnetism-gravity-electricity-life force- I didn’t ask for it nor did you-It’s just a part of growing up, awareness, recognition,    and love

Love, Peace, Freedom to Be,

Martien

P.S. You’re a teacher too – you know but don’t know that you know.

Some of Martien’s views might have changed but he is still a wonderful, brilliant and loving man. But I wanted to write his words down as a way of thanking him for loving me but pushing me at the same time. I also wanted to share these ideas with my own children because they are important and true.

 

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Our Video Store….Movie Magic

fountain lakeToday Sandor, who is suspended from school, and I went to Movie Magic, the video store here in Ft. Lake.  That’s right Fountain Lake, a little rural redneck community out side Hot Springs, Arkansas still has a video store.  The closest Red Box is eight miles away, infront of the Wal-Mart, so an actual video store is really useful.  I think there’s only one other video store in the county of 100,000.

I love Movie Magic for a lot of reasons. Sure, we have Netflix and that strange Amazon Fire Stick thing, but Movie Magic has other attributes.  First, Pat and Amy save me a ton of money.  Yes Red Box is cheaper per night but I’m bad about returning videos. Really bad.  When I walked in today Pat reminded me I had not returned “Get On Up” a movie about James Brown…..in three weeks!. He charged me less than ten dollars in late fees, cause he knows how the Hampos are. If I’d rented that movie from Red Box my late fees would be right around  sixty five dollars.  My debit card would have kept on getting dinged, no one would have called me and I’d be screwed.

Lot’s of times, when we go in the guys at Movie Magic make recommendations of movies they think I might like. They know I like weird stuff compared to other folks in Fountain Lake. Movie magic tries to help, Red box never does.

Movie Magic knows I’m pretty strict about the content I let my kids watch so they always give me the heads up if I’m renting something they suspect I won’t like.  Red Box doesn’t care what I rent!

And finally Movie Magic has real people who know my name when I walk in! They take my checks, they ask me how the kids are and they buy stupid fundraiser stuff from us for band or basketball or quiz bowl. They have weird hours,close early and sometimes don’t have the movies we want but Movie Magic is  is part of Fountain Lake, part of what makes us a little backwards, a little different and a little awesome.

So go on out and rent a movie tonight, just to support Movie Magic, because we want to keep them around. Oh wait, you can’t, it’s eight o’clock. Well tomorrow, go rent a move.

 

 

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So You Want Your Kid To Be Nice?

niceYesterday I was in a grocery store and I asked my son to put the groceries in the truck will I visited with a woman I hadn’t seen in a long time.

He said, “Yes ma’am” and rolled away with the buggy full of food.

The lady behind us, in line said, “Good Lord how do you get your kid to act like that?”

She was serious.  I actually get this question quite a bit.  It’s not that I’m some magical mom, my kids are not saints.  But I did do something with them starting about age three.  A long time ago I implemented the “yes for a yes” program.  At a very young age I  explained to all of them that the more they say yes when asked to do things, the more I would say yes when they asked for something. As soon as they said “no” to me or whined about doing a chore… I stopped saying yes to fun stuff. And I kept on saying, “it’s a yes for a yes,” until they were brain washed.

Early examples: “Mom, can I have ice cream?” “Sure you can, if you make your bed.”

“Mom, can Sam come over?”  “Sure, if you’ll rake the leaves for me. It’s a yes for a yes”

“Mom, can I have some gas money?” “Sure, if you’ll give me 45 minutes for a game of Apples to Apples with your little sister. It’s a yes for a yes”

The key is you never have to raise your voice or sound mean. it’s always friendly,even when they start testing the limits. “Mom, can we go pick up James to spend the night?” “Sure, if you rake the leaves for me.”  “But I did that already this week.” “I know, but it’s Fall, there are new leaves. It’s your call. Yes for a yes.”

It takes a while but kids are smart and they are opportunists.  They figure the system out pretty quickly.

By the time the kids are 8 or 9 they fully understand the system. Even their friends get it. So they say yes to me all the time, without thinking, and I’m generally the mom that takes them to the movies. Sandor is twelve now and “yes for a yes” is so ingrained in his brain he knows without being told that I said yes to Hot Pockets and ice cream so he says yes to dealing with the groceries.

The system works but I promise you, all kids, even the very best, make stupid decisions and screw.  As I’m writing this, Sandor is home, raking leaves, instead of in school because he messed up and got suspended.  Latter today he’s going to work at the Jackson House, a local homeless shelter and food pantry.

Be patient, consistent, smile at your kids a lot and have fun. It’ll work out.

 

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Really Tough Life Lessons

dirt bikeI was feeling profound this morning and wanted to tell Sandor, who is twelve, something important.

The Yoda part of my brain realized something yesterday. We are what we are. But we are also who we choose to be.

It was raining this morning.  Sandor got in the truck with his backpack and  I said, “Hey, I want you to think about something.   You can look at every member of our family and pick and choose the qualities you want to have. Your Dad has the most extraordinary work ethic, he works harder than any man I’ve ever known.  That’s a good quality. But he smokes, you don’t need that. You understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“So what are Mary’s best qualities you’d want to have?”

Sandor fiddled with the radio knobs then said, “She’s really fun and pushy so she gets things done and she still plays.  I always want to play like that.” I knew exactly what he was talking about. At twenty six Mary is the person most likely to tackle you in the yard when you are watering the garden or lie down right on top of you while you’re trying to watch the news. She’s really fun and affectionate.

I continued with my high minded thoughts as I handed him a ten dollar bill for his field trip. “So you can always pick and choose the qualities you want to have.  Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re born the way you are and that’s it.  You are what you are….a little bit. But what’s even bigger is you are what you decide to make your self. You get to decide what kind of person you’re gonna be. And this goes on for the rest of your life. Even after your grown up you can still pick and choose qualities you admire and make them your own.”

I stopped in front of his school. The rain was coming down in sheets so Sandor pulled his hoodie over his head.

I looked him dead in the eye. “You have any questions?”

“Yeah, if it keeps raining today can I go over to James’ house and practice riding my dirt bike in the mud?  It’s the perfect day.”

I nodded my head, “Sure you can.”

 

 

 

 

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Bad Words

bad wordsThere are words I love, ubiquitous and onus are two of my favorites.And there are words, lots of words, I hate. The meaning and impacts of words change constantly.

Years ago, when the phrase “that sucks” became popular I almost had a nervous breakdown. I forbid Jack and mary to use that phrase because I associated it with oral sex to be honest.  today I use that word almost every day.  It’s lost it’s ugly meaning and I’ve been desensitised.

Remember how crazy everyone went when Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl?  Now grandmothers and little boys  sing along together, unphased. Desensitised.

There are some words I still consider “bad words” because I have an ugly, visceral reaction to them. A few are “douche”, “skank” and “whore.” No matter if I hear those words in a cheerful, friendly context they hurt. For a couple of years kids used the word “rape” as a normal verb.  They would say, “I raped that test” and I was horrified. Thankfully, that word has lost a lot of it’s popularity.

Sometimes,  we become desensitized to bad words because of the group, gang or pack of people we hang out with.  A few years ago one Jack’s twenty five year old friends showed up at my office to  visit. I love this handsome shaggy brilliant boy. but in the first ten minutes of conversation, about a club he played the previous weekend, he was loudly dropping the F Bomb and describing women he met in a club as hot bitches. I had to shhh him and explain there were ‘grown ups” in the hall way. He just laughed.  I understood in his world, surrounded by other 20 something musicians and friends that language was just fine.

In our family we do the same thing.  In Hampoland we call each other “chicken butt” and “ugly” and “loser” all the time, because we love each other. But these are words I can’t generally use with clients….or they’ll fire me because they aren’t part of Hampoland.

I might say to my eighteen year old daughter, “Listen silly bitch you better make your bed.” And she’ll laugh at me and give me a hug. If I said that to a colleague at work I would not get the same response. Or if it came back to that same colleague, second hand, that I had referred to her as a bitch, no matter the context….there would be drama at work and I would likely lose a friend.

So that’s the tricky part.  If you are part of a group, a soriety or frat, a gang or pack that’s less tied by normal or business restraints and  rules…keep in mind some words do hurt. A lot. They aren’t cute or funny. they just hurt.

Maturity ultimately plays a big role in all this.  When I told the kids not to use the word “suck”, they made fun of me, said I was old fashioned, they were annoyed and  defended the word. Because they were childish and immature.

When I corrected the twenty five year old boy he laughed and said, “Oh f*** I forgot, I’m sorry.” At least he had the maturity to understand and he tried to correct. I was proud of him. He didn’t make excuses! What a man.

In the end I guess we all need to understand, words are powerful. That’s how the majority of our human communication takes place.  And words stay with us, even after they’ve been explained away. They can have long lasting effects, intended or not. So in the future I’m going to mind my Ps and Qs, look for good words in life and try to be kind every dy.

 

 

 

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Getting Punched In The Face and Learning Lessons

sandor winsLast weekend Sandor had a Taekwondo tournament. He gets so nervous before tournaments.  As we drove the forty five minutes  he twitched and squirmed. He asked me every possible question about what I thought might happen. Even though he knew there was no way for me to know how big his division would be, who the judges might be, who he might go up against, how big the room would be or how many folks would be in the audience.  Every tournament is different.  Sandor has been training in traditional Taekwondo since he was three, nine years, he knows the routine, still he questions and speculates constantly, a pickle jar full of nerves.

His older sister, Lexie, was  the opposite. Before tournaments, competitions or testings, she was always excited, dancing around listening to music, totally relaxed.

Once we arrived at the gym and he was dressed out in his uniform he was still almost too nervous to stretch.  He tried. But he kept returning to my side.  He stood too close and bumped up against me  while intently watching everything going on in the room.

Then they called his division. Straightening his uniform he lined up side by side with his competitors. Some were bigger some were smaller, but they were all fairly close in age. He looked calm and confident.

For the next forty five minutes he competed in forms and sparred the other kids.  He was just about flawless. He took his time and had great timing and power on his form. He spared a bigger kid first and I was worried.  He was down two to zero but he kept his composure, then he did what he’s been trained to do and scored five straight points to win the match.

He ended up winning first and first in forms and sparring and I was so proud, not because he won, though. I was proud because my son has learned to put his nerves in a jar.  Taekwondo has taught him to be stronger than his fear, so he doesn’t end up beating himself. That’s an extraordinary ability, most of us struggle with all our lives.

And the boy has learned to take a punch.  During his first match the other kid scored the first two point with straight punches right to his face.  The kid was bigger and taller than Sandor so they were really solid punches. The second punch was so hard he actually had to readjust his head gear and mouth piece.  But he didn’t fall apart, he didn’t cry or snivel or let fear overwhelm him.  Instead, he kept his composure, shook it off and got to work.

Five years ago he would have teared up, gotten furious and embarrassed. You can’t fight when your emotions are incharge.  But this time he just bumped gloves with the other kid, as a way of saying “good shot”, then went back to work.

Our version of Taekwondo doesn’t sit well with some people.  We allow high ranks to punch to the face, because in real life, thugs punch you in the face.  And we don’t pull punches and kicks.  You never try to punch or kick you opponent with full power but you’re allowed to hit folks pretty hard. That’s the best way to learn defensive skills. You better keep your hands up. At the end of every sparring match the judges raise the hands of the fighters, “This time, next time.” It’s pretty black and white.  But so is life.

But this version of Taekwondo has served my family so well. Taekwondo has taught Sandor how to take a punch.  He knows there’s a difference between something hurting and actually getting hurt. He’s learned to shake it off and keep a clear head. That’s an invaluable life lesson.

And finally, Taekwondo tournaments are a great class room because kids get to watch other kids win and lose. When a ten year old boy throws a fit and acts like a three year old when he loses it’s embarrassing. Everybody, including the other kids, think “That’s so not cool. I don’t want to act like that.”

A fighter who is cool enought to lose well looks awesome, looks stronger and more in control. Who doesn’t want to be that guy.

So, some might think our version of Taekwondo is too violent and aggressive.  but invaluable life skills are learned everyday. Life can be tough, very tough. But Taekwondo teaches kids to keep their composure, shake it off and above all….be respectful.

My kids may come home with a bloody nose but they know how to persevere in life, they can control their fear and nerves and shake hands like a man.

 

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Junk In My Trunk

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I had to get my pick up truck worked on today and two young service guys were looking in the bed at my son’s skateboard. Then one of them said, “Man you got all the good stuff back here, look there’s fishing poles, the skateboard, a ramp for a dirt bike and boxing gloves.. He must be a pretty cool kid.”

I smiled and said,”That’s what happens when you don’t let them play video games.”

I’ve written about this several times but I think it bears repeating. As the mother of four I’ve made plenty of bad decisions…plenty. But one of the best decisions I made came twenty five years ago.  A friend gave mary and Jack where were just three or four this weird thing we hooked up to our tv. there were two controlers and they could play games like Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers. It was strange and everything looked like it was made out of Legos but the kids liked it, they liked it so much they wanted to play all the time and whined when I made them stop to eat or go to bed.

They didn’t want to do anything else. And then they started fighting about the games. Jack and Mary never fought but they were Hell bent on war over that box attached to our tv, which was tiny. I think it had a twelve inch screen, so the kids had to huddle up as though they were sitting around a campfire in order to play.

Finally, after a week, I put that whole mess in a grocery bag and gave it back. The kids were shocked and mad and sad, but I didn’t care. It gave off bad vibes, like a Ouija Board.

Latter, Jack thanked me. He swears he reads books and writes songs because I never let the online computer gaming, X-Box mania eat our children.

I didn’t care if they played all that stuff when they went to visit friends. I just didn’t want it in my house.

A few years latter Jack and Mary both insisted I raise their younger brother and sister under the same rules. Because looking back they decided they had a better childhood without all the screen time.

So far I’m feeling pretty good about my kid’s track record. Three out of four have gotten full rides to college. They have all had major mess ups and blow ups and derailments but so far they are awesome.

And Sandor the baby is 12. He’s the one will all the junk in my trunk, because I’ve listened to Jack and Mary and Lexie. As a result he plays drums, the guitar and trumpet.  He works out and loves his dirtbike and skateboarding. If the sun is shining he and his best buddy, Sam, are playing, like boys, like we used to.

It’s too late for us to all put the video and computer games in a grocery bag and simply give them back. But I think parents need to stop allowing their kids to have unlimited access to gaming at home and on the go. I watch kids riding in cars at baseball games and taekwondo tournaments and when they aren’t directly involved they stare at game boys and tablets, completely anti-social.

Kids learn everything by exploring, by being curious, by being bored. That’s when they invent the best games. When they look out the window on a long drive, when they are bored they begin  learning and seeing and imagining.

We need to give that back to our children. They deserve to be bored and restless and desperate for something to happen so they can learn to be creative, imaginative and inventive.

 

 

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Love Over Friendship….Everytime

sam and sandorBreaking news in our house! My son Sandor has had the same best friend for a very long time, Sam. And now he has a girl friend!   Sam rarely speaks to anyone he doesn’t know very well so this was a surprise.  Sandor and Sam are twelve.  But Sam has beautiful blonde hair and a gorgeous smile so we should have seen it coming.  According to Sandor they even walk around the halls with their arms around each other and Sam walks right up to his red headed girl and tickles her.

The quiet one has moves! And now Sandor really wants a girlfriend.

Last night after the boys showered and were in bed with the puppy, I stood at the end of their bed and made  what I thought to be a pretty informative mom speech.

I told them they would both have lots of girl friends and every time a new love came along they would want to dedicate their lives to her.  She would become the most important thing in the world to them, even if nobody else liked her too much. “You’ll blow off all your friends to hang with her on the weekends.  You’ll ignore all the texts and phone calls. You’ll try to skip football practice.  You won’t even have time to go fishing with your buddy because humans are programed to choose love. It’s the way God made us.  Every time you fall in love you’ll think this is it , this is the love that will change the world and you will choose love over your friends and family. It’s not because you guys don’t love us anymore, so none of us can take it personally,  it’s just the way we’re made. So neither one of you guys can get your feelings hurt too bad or get mad at each other. It happens to everybody.”

“And then two months down the road when you find out the hot girl was a mean little sneak and break up…you’ll be there to distract you from the heartbreak.  any questions?”

“No ma’am.”

then Sam said, “I’m going to her house this Saturday.”

“Dude, we have the taekwondo tournament.” Sandor whined.

“And I already paid Sam so I’m overriding your plans this time but that’s pretty much how it’s gonna roll from here on. Now go to sleep. I love you.”

A few minutes latter I overheard them plotting in the dark,  trying to figure out how to get Sandor a girl friend too. I felt better, armed with some mom knowledge, I knew their friendship would survive. And they wouldn’t be completely blindsided by the shrapnel of love.

 

 

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The Ugly Truth about Fraternites

fratFor years I have pleaded with my children, all of them, boys and girls, to stay the hell away from fraternities when they got to college. For years and years almost all the news about fraternities is bad. Can you name the last time you heard something good about a frat?

When I was in college the frat houses were home to the biggest, drunkest sloppiest parties on campus….every weekend. There were bongs and kegs everywhere. The fraternities had little paperback books with all the freshmen’s profile pictures and only invited the pretty girls. Nobody got carded and everybody got really really drunk.

From what I’ve been told by college kids recently…things are exactly the same.

If you put thirty unsupervised teenage boys in a house together what’s going to happen….bad things. So, why is anybody surprised by the horrendous behavior of these fraternities? I’ve said it over and over, teen age boys have more bad ides in an hour than the rest of us have in a year because their brain isn’t fully developed.  A grown man wants to throw the water balloon in the living room just as much as the seventeen year old. But he doesn’t do it, he goes outside to nail his buddy, because throwing it inside is a bad idea,  it’s wrong and he’ll get in trouble. That’s the difference between a boy brain and a man brain.

I have a friend who owns a low rent hotel close to a very pretty lake.  Recently he rented the entire hotel out to a fraternity.  He was paid with a national fraternity credit card.  They bought cases and cases and cases of whiskey and vodka.  They did over 20,000 dollars worth of damage to their rooms… but my friend wasn’t upset because the national chapter of the fraternity always paid for the damages.  It was all expected and taken care of. In face, my friend seemed almost pleased, I guess that’s how he paid for remodeling.

And that’s just what fraternities do.

When you put  unsupervised, well off and elitist boys in a house together….and you get sexism, racism, violence, arrogance and ignorance.

For the most part, frat boys are very similar, middle to upper class and white.  They avoid diversity (that’s generally seen as a bad thing), as a result they start thinking they are better than everyone else and more deserving of what ever they want. That’s human nature. If man were not an animal fraternities might work.

The question is why do we allow fraternities on our college campuses.  College is all about shaping these kids into smart, thoughtful and productive adults.  Is that what fraternities help us do? That’s not what those basement frat parties did for me. The real question is why would we ever want our daughters to walk inside a fraternity house and why do we want our sons to be part of that culture that thrives on and cultivates elitism, sexism and racism?

 

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Yankees and Clocks in Dallas County, Arkansas

clockThere is a beautiful antique Seth Thomas mantel clock in the closet at my house.  It belongs to my son Jack, who is twenty six years old, but doesn’t really have a place to keep the old clock yet.

The story behind the Seth Thomas clock comes from the Stell side of my family. I heard it hundreds of times growing up but it was never written down. For generations the Stell family lived near Fordyce, in the Big Woods of Dallas County Arkansas, an area full of pine trees and farm land.

Just two months before the start of the Civil War in 1861, a  clock peddle from Connecticut was traveling through Dallas County, Arkansas.  My great grandfather, William Dallas Stell was a teen-ager when the enthusiastic clock peddler’s wagon rolled up to their farm house. He was invited to wash up and stay for dinner.

The young man accepted the invitation and while they ate he explained his predicament. He told the family he was from Connecticut and fully understood the war was about to begin.  His brothers already planned to fight with the Union and he felt he had to return and fight along side them.

He was afraid however that he’d never make it back in time because of his wagon and the Seth Thomas clocks he was carrying with him.  He made a deal with my great great grand father as young William Dallas Stell listened.  He wanted to leave the wagon and the clocks in the barn.  If he lived through the war he would return and give Mr. Stell a clock. If he did not return all three or four clocks and the wagon would belong to the Stell family.

The men shook hands and the younger man said he was certain the war wouldn’t last too long. The next morning, at first light, the young clock peddler took off on horseback to join his own brothers.

The barn, the wagon and the clocks survived the Civil War, but they young man never returned. Each boy in the family was given a clock with the instructions  it was to stay in the Stell family.

And so, the young Yankee  peddlers clock sits in my closet waiting for my son, who bears his great grand father’s name, Jack Stell, to finally take it home.

 

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