by Michael S McCown
by Michael S McCown
Another year, another birthday. I’m not a “birthday” kinda guy. I don’t like the attention and would prefer that it passed quietly and unnoticed. This year I was feeling extra-curmudgeonly and spent the day avoiding most everyone, which is almost impossible, because I have the most wonderful family in the world and they know right where to find me. I usually get through the day by reflecting on the past and thinking of what I can do to improve things going forward.
Despite my shortfalls, I know that I’m truly loved by my family. I spent the afternoon examining the details of our past and how amazing it has been. I thought about my little “quirks” as I poured through a lifetime of saved pictures. My life is wonderful because my family is wonderful. Our biggest blessing? A gloriously twisted sense of humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves. When we get together, decorum, manners and sanity, all get left at the door.
After looking through the pictures, I’m left with one thought; Who AM I and what the hell have I done to the kids…🤔
Me spending some quiet time with my favorite Slippers
…and then there was that one Halloween
And that awesome sale on cold weather gear
Apparently, I’m told I know way too much about chickens…
at least I’m setting a good example for the Grandkids…
We like to pick a theme for Thanksgiving, maybe Pilgrims or …
Last Thanksgiving we all made shirts with Fruit loop patches…
and oddly, needles terrify me, seriously
I also cry like a little girl at weddings, ok, my daughter’s weddings…
My Grandmother, Sister and Nephew came over for a visit. A Christmas card in the making…
and then there was Austria. I just couldn’t get the Sound of Music out of my head
I am the luckiest guy in the world to be a part of this glorious troupe. Something strange happens to normal people when they cross our threshold. They smile and then head for the kitchen.
What is the hardest job in the world? The answer is, of course, subjective. At the end of the day though, I thought that being a parent ultimately topped the list. I was wrong. Becoming a parent, requires only that you participate in the act of procreation and nine-ish months later, you’re a parent. Don’t confuse the word “parent” with the word “Mom” or “Dad”. There is a difference and it’s huge. When you’re called Mom or Dad, savor the moment, it conveys love and a bond that means everything. It is the key to your heart.
So what’s the hardest job in the world? Without a doubt, it’s being a Grandparent. Sounds silly doesn’t it? What makes it so hard? Before I answer that, let’s make a few very broad assumptions about just being a parent.
As a parent, you get to call the shots, you make the rules, they live where you live and do what you say. Also, within reason, you’re allowed to download your values, thoughts, beliefs and baggage into their little hard-drives and get a tax deduction for each of them at the same time. You are also, most likely, the most influential person in their life which can either be good or bad.
Being a parent is tough, but the biggest challenge begins when they grow up and start their own family. It’s here that your parental role, which you have spent the last 18-ish years getting used to, changes drastically. You go from “essential” to “as needed”. Your work is now done and it’s time to sit back, relax and watch your children raise their children the same way you raised them; I mean they learned from watching you, right? …Wrong.
Basically, your career as a parent just went under a microscope. You expect them to do “this” and they do “that”. When you bring it up, they politely point out how they are going to do some things “differently”, and with that, you’re completely crushed. Now, you are officially a Grand Parent with a whole new set of rules and rule #1; you are no longer in charge and that’s that.
If that alone didn’t make it hard enough, how about this:
1. Being a Grandparent is totally voluntary: You actually have to want to participate. You get what you give. You have to be there and be involved and if you sit at home waiting to be included, good luck.
2. Your unsolicited opinions about this or that really don’t seem to matter anymore. Go ahead and point out their parenting flaws and tell them what you would have done differently; then duck and find cover. You’ve just crossed the line.
3. It requires travel, wherever. Your children will probably move away. They don’t come to you, you go to them. They’re busy building their life and raising a family. Never show up unannounced and learn to read between the lines. You didn’t like it when your parents did it to you and they won’t either.
4. Your schedule will “suddenly” begin to look a lot like theirs. Get used to it. You will begin checking with them first before making plans.
5. You will now start second guessing everything. Was I a good parent? If I do “this” will I be in trouble? My God, what do they think of me, the way I parented and why does this feeling hurt so much? I should have done things differently, I should have been…
6. You will stare in amazement as they deal with parenting issues, making incredibly hard decisions and all without your valuable input, yet they still have great results. Never underestimate your children or their capacity to face challenges and prevail.
7. If you’re smart, you’ll check with them on the rules they’ve made for their children. If you’re really smart, you’ll actually follow them. I’m struggling with just being smart.
8. You’re still their Mom and Dad. Show your love by supporting their decisions and respecting the goals they’ve set for the children. You can love and spoil the Grandkids, just know where the line is. As a Grandparent, it’s your job to “tap-dance” right up to the edge.
9. Learn to be a good source for solicited advice and ideas, be non-judgmental and your home, a place of peace for the family. Love your Grandchildren more than life itself. They represent the best of your children, who represent the best of you.
10. The bond between a Grandparent and a Grandchild is a truly wonderful thing. To see such joy spring forth from your beloved child is what makes life worth living. But, if something goes horribly wrong and you are blessed to continue raising these precious grandchildren, raise them as your children would have wanted. Show them the passion, desires and beliefs of their parents. Instill in them a sense of “family” and belonging; When they look into your eyes, make sure they always see the reflections of their Mom and Dad and show them that they are never alone, that they belong to a large loving Family with a sense of continuity, shared history and memories of the loved and lost.
Being a Grandparent warms my soul as in the eyes of my Grandchildren, I see the reflection of my children, who I absolutely adore. We are thrilled to welcome each new addition to our family and have never been happier. August can’t get here soon enough, as we will be welcoming our fourth Grandchild. He will be surrounded by his wonderful parents and a large supportive family, who will be bursting at the seams with love and affection. Our bags are already packed and I can’t wait.
Sometimes, I’m absolutely amazed that we’re not extinct. We really should be. We certainly didn’t get this far in human evolution because of our superior intellect. Most likely, it was just pure dumb luck; think, Forrest Gump.
Whether you believe in the theory of Creationism or Evolution, really isn’t important for this argument. What does matter, is that we agree that we’ve been living here for a long, long time. I’d like to think that after this long, we would’ve learned SOMETHING about getting along with each other. Getting along should be ingrained in us. It should be easy. It’s a “core” thing.
What’s a core behavior? So, you’re walking down a trail and you come face to face with a bear. No one has to tell you that this is a problem. You won’t find yourself thinking, “I wonder if this bear would mind if I scratched its tummy” or “let’s poke at it with this stick”; you just knew you were in danger and “fight or flight” kicked in. You also knew that the odds were bad and that most likely, you were going to be the largest part of the next crap the bear was going to take. Either way, you just knew. We also know not to blindly stick our arm into a deep dark hole or eat 3 day old roadkill. Again, somehow, you just know that this is not a good idea. It’s critical knowledge that’s been passed down thru life experience and recorded deep within our genes.
Throughout our very long history, inevitably, some idiot would do something like I mentioned above, then we would all start to cringe, but refuse to look away, and it would usually end very badly for the person; proving that the odd “gut-feeling” we had, was probably worth paying attention to. It also proves that we like drama. Don’t think I’m right? OK, next car crash, don’t watch as you drive on by.
For the sake of argument, let’s just say that humanity, in some form, has been wandering the earth for 15,000 years. In that time span does anyone really think that someone today could make a mistake that hasn’t been made at least a thousand times already? I’m speaking in a general way; a core mistake. Obviously, playing “chicken” with a hand grenade wasn’t possible 2000 years ago, but tempting the Fates was, and stupid is stupid no matter what year it is.
Pain and Death are great Teachers and we’ve been in their class for eons. You would think that there wouldn’t be any mistakes left to make, that prior generations would have warned us, that our “gut” would have warned us. We’ll they did, it does and we still don’t appear to have learned a thing; nothing. It’s hard to believe that we are capable of the horrible things we do to ourselves and to each other. Maybe we just don’t “get it” or we are simply unable or unwilling to “learn”.
To be fair, lets define the word: Learn:
“To gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught”
Let’s check the boxes; It appears that we’ve acquired knowledge, we’ve studied, we’ve had experience AND that the prior generations HAVE “passed it on”.
Clearly, I’m missing something here. With all of the wars, cruelty, self-destruction and hate around us today, how exactly, have we evolved since the biblical times of Genesis or the days of the Cro-Magnon Man? Maybe if someone would have just written it all down so that we would have a guidebook, or maybe a list of suggestions, say 10 or so, on things we should or shouldn’t do, to get along with each other and then passed it down…
Bottom line. Our ancestors have shown us what has worked and what hasn’t. We live in the shadow of so much history, yet we ignore it’s lessons. Our language is full of clichés and idioms that try to warn us; Once bitten, twice shy, Those that do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it (Santayana), War is Hell, Cruelty is contagious in uncivilized communities (Jacobs) and We as Human beings, have the capacity for extreme cruelty (Nyong’o).
I’m beginning to think that we just exist day-to-day. We are not growing, learning or evolving as a species. Humanity is like a bunch of monkeys trying to drive a car: Their all in turning the wheel and honking the horn, fighting over how to make it go, but none can agree on anything, so they just fight amongst themselves and go absolutely nowhere.
So, please, remind me again, how have we survived this long? Oh, that’s right; pure dumb luck.
The World: Hey Michael, Karma called looking for you.
Me: Crap! What did she want?
The World: I don’t know, but she was really pissed!
Me: What did you tell her?
The World: I told her right where to find you.
Me: Why would you do that? You’re not still mad about the…
The World: Uh huh, I told you I would get…
Me: Seriously?, Gawd…
During my childhood, the playground bully was a staple; usually ruling recess with an iron fist. While I went to great lengths to avoid his and at times her attention, some days it was my turn in the barrel and that was the accepted reality of the times.
The bully’s of my youth were usually larger, meaner and more comfortable with confrontation than I was at the time. Their reputation usually preceded them with anecdotal stories which were relayed from student to student and thus the bully became larger than life. That was the playground. That was life. We survived and moved on.
As I look back, I realized that the bully’s of my childhood and the people who confronted those bully’s, taught me volumes about existing in the real world beyond the playground.
1. Size Matters: You don’t run your mouth to someone twice your size and expect to walk away unscathed.
2. I learned very early to think strategically: To get from A to B required a plan of action in order to avoid a confrontation, especially when I knew they were looking for me.
3. You learn to think quickly and measure your words: Every utterance had the potential to either provoke or calm the situation.
4. You learned diplomacy and the ability to reason your way out of trouble: I learned the importance of “engage brain before mouth”. I also learned how to reason with the bully, which rarely worked but was worth trying.
5. I learned team work: When the bully would go too far and it became time to end his reign, I learned early that by joining with others and confronting the bully, he would ultimately cave and run.
6. I learned to respect bravery: Every once in a while, someone would say “no” and square off with the bully. Win or lose, I admired the one who was brave enough to say “no more”. Their singular action usually started a chain reaction, in which a group formed and drove the bully away.
7. I learned compassion: I also learned why they were a bully. Their home life was a struggle and they were generally unhappy and acting out. I also learned that most bully’s would rather have friends than enemies.
8. I learned to choose a side: Either you were part of the bully’s circle or you weren’t. I learned the value of compromising with those who disagree. Everyone has their own problems, wants and desires and you learned, to whatever degree, how far you were willing to tolerate their position . The bully affected us all: either you were with him, which made life easier, or you were against him. Either way, you chose.
9 I learned to adapt and to cope: The playground was your world now. It’s not like you can just leave, so you learned to make it work.
10. You learned who you DIDN’T want to be like in life: In the presence of a bully, who you are, is defined relatively quickly. I wanted to be the one who “stood up”.
I remember two pivotal events in my life that formed a core belief that I still live by to this day.
The first occurred when I was about 10 years old during a Boy Scout meeting at a park. We were surrounded by eucalyptus trees when we heard the sound of a boy screaming for help. We spotted a large tree house and saw older boys hitting him with belts. I was stunned at the cruelty. My next door neighbor, Renée, immediately went to the tree, climbed it and the older boys began suffering her wrath and were jumping out of the tree in all directions, running for their lives. She then returned with the greatful boy who was without a shirt and covered with welts. She was my hero. We all just stood there with our mouths open, including the other adults; she didn’t fail to act, she took charge.
The next event occurred two years later in junior high school. I was wearing a religious shirt that said “Only He can prevent eternal fire” with a picture of Smoky the Bear on the front. I really liked that shirt but an older kid, who enjoyed picking on 7th graders, didn’t. He grabbed my collar and stretched it almost to the point of tearing the shirt. I was furious and attacked him. At 5’ 6” and maybe 120 lbs, I was no real threat but I did everything but chew his ear off and he actually fled never to bother me again.
Those two events changed me forever; I learned to never underestimate the sheer awesome will and power of a Parent in defense of a child, whether it’s her’s or not. I also learned to never, ever tolerate a bully. You either step-up or you sit down and shut up. Dante reserved the anteroom of hell for those who can’t decide which.
The Playgrounds of my youth were a microcosm of the outside world. After high school, I felt generally ready and prepared for the harsh realities of adult life.
In an bizarre way, we owe a twisted debt of gratitude to the school bully. Unintentionally, they contributed to the overall social development of the students they encountered. Sadly, I do recognize, however, that while some were able to overcome the bully’s existence, others, tragically were not and took their own lives.
Bully’s are a reality of life. They cannot be legislated away nor can they be ignored. I feel our best course is to explore the reason why children become bully’s and try and effect a change on that level.
About 5 years ago, I was watching one of the TV news channels, when this bitter sounding man began speaking about world conflict. He was providing critical analysis about the way in which America was influencing the world politically, and he didn’t seem very happy about the way it was currently being conducted. I remember being surprised at how quickly I developed a dislike for him. He was antagonistic, argumentative and seemed itching for a fight with whomever would give him the opportunity. I also remember that I didn’t like his mustache, it made him look “dated” and old, but it did seem to complete his overall persona as a grouchy old curmudgeon.
Over the following years, I would see him return to the news channels, usually as a guest commentator giving his personal views on the world situation, and without exception, he would scare the hell out of me each time. Ultimately, I concluded that he was the harbinger of World War III and that I was very thankful he was only a commentator and had no “real” power or authority. I remember thinking to myself, “Thank God this guy is not in charge of anything, he’d land us in the middle of a war”. “This guy’s” name is John Robert Bolton and he was America’s ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush.
And so it went until last week when President Trump made the same John R. Bolton the National Security Advisor-designate, effective April 9th, 2018. This is about as real as it gets and to me, this is a problem. Barring a brief moment of sanity by President Trump, John Bolton will begin scaring me to death on a daily basis on April 9th.
It’s a fine thing to be bold and resolute in your convictions, provided you temper that passion with patience and a desire for peace. I have observed neither quality in Mr. Bolton. For that matter, I don’t see those qualities in President Trump either.
President Trump (who I voted for) is acting like a petulant child as he conducts America’s business; hiring and firing as if our government was his personal TV game show. His behavior, while initially tolerable, has become grotesque. This unorthodox political experiment has created a monster of sorts.
Electing Donald Trump and taking a break from the “usual politics” initially sounded like a worthwhile endeavor. Unfortunately, it has been disappointing and is quickly becoming intolerable. I’m afraid that our attempt to breathe “new life” into an antiquated and dying political system has resulted in a Frankensteinian outcome that we neither expected nor desired. I, for one, will not make the same mistake twice.