Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dad Created Expectations

Jessica, now about to finish college, remembers well the expectations that came with growing up in her household.

"I remember growing up: Dad would read something from a magazine or the paper about a scientist new discovery or a doctor who saved a life and then he would ask me, "Is there a reason you can't do that someday?" I would have to answer no, of course not.

"Growing up it was never a question of 'if you go to college'. It was 'when you go to college.' I knew, even though we didn't have much money, that there was a way to go to college. Everyone could go to some college if they wanted to. It might mean starting at junior college, or getting scholarships or taking out loans. But I was going. period. That expectation was always in my head so I never, ever thought otherwise. I knew it to be true like I knew water ran from the tap. You don't question things when they are a part of everyday life.

"I guess I had confidence because my Dad pointed out things I had done right, not just things I did wrong. For example, I remember when I wrote a story in the fifth grade. He read it, pointed out specific things that were right -- this character was believable, that sort of stuff. He said my ability to write would help me get into college and do well. Kids believe what you tell them. You tell them something is rotten and it doesn't always inspire the kid to do better, instead it may convince them they are just not good at it and give it up. I know Dad knew that.

"He had a rule that I couldn't just go to school and then veg out. I had to belong to something -- a club, play a sport, whatever. But I had to be in something else. That made me look at all the things in school and I ended up doing a lot of extra-curricular activities, which helped me get into college. Duh! Of course, if friends said it was lame to join this or that I said I had to, my Dad was making me.

"And he was there when I played soccer or when I gave an important presentation. I would go on the field or on the stage and he would nod and me like 'Yes you can.' And of course I could.

"When I screwed up in middle school and got in trouble he never lost that confidence. 'This is a detour, this isn't who you are. You'll soon be back on track' he said.

"Now, I'm going to law school. I'm going to be a judge someday. I didn't grow up with the 'things' so many kids have, we just didn't have much money. But I grew up with the confidence to be anything I wanted to be. And I will.'

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How to Build Community For A Child

When Janet Swenson moved to a new city she chose a neighborhood near her work, one that was a mix of houses and apartments. Alex was ten and Zoe was seven when the moved. They had given up the comfort of extended family to accept a promotion for Janet. Now here they were in a strange city, knowing no one. That night Zoe crawled into bed with her mother. "This isn't like our old neighborhood, it's full of strangers," she said.

"Well, we're just frightened of what we don't know so let's begin learning about where we live," said her mother.

The next day was Sunday, and Janet baked a pie. She then took Alex and Zoe to the house next door, with one-third of the pie. "Hi, we're the Swensons and we just moved in next door," Janet said. The couple in the house, Crystal and Lori, welcomed the family and told them who lived where. Janet got their phone number ... "it's good for the kids to know people in case I'm not home," she said. "We're happy to have them call anytime," said Lori.

The next weekend Janet made a batch off cookies and they went over the house across the street where they had seen a young couple and their child. Soon, they were friends with John and Cheryl and their three-year-old Stacey. "Maybe you would want to babysit for us sometime," Cheryl said to Alex. They traded phone numbers and John said they would be watching out for the new kids in the neighborhood.

Janet continued to build community for her kids, introducing themselves to the Korean owners of the little grocery at the end of the block, going through the same one or two checkers lines at the market until the checkers knew the kids, meeting the mail carrier on a Saturday by leaving a note asking her to ring the bell. When she baked she shared with everyone, from the single real estate agent on the corner to the Jewish couple on their way to a Seder. Soon, neighbors were attending the kids' events and the family was surrounded by people they knew.

When Janet considered moving to a bigger place the kids protested -- "No way," said now 9-year-old Zoe. "I would miss Crystal and Lori and well ... everyone around here!"

Janet agreed. "We have a community here," she said. "I guess that's more important than a bigger house."

How To Teach Honesty

When Patricio was 11, he went to the store with two of his friends. One of them, Michael, put a candy bar in his pocket. “Grab one Patricio, c’mon. And we’ll take off!” Patricio looked at Michael and remembered ...

When he was six he visited a homeless shelter with his mother, where she volunteered as a cook twice a week. Patricio's first visit was scary and he stayed close to his mother. “Who are these people? he asked. “They are people and they need our help. We are the kind of peopl who help others,” she told him.

When he was eight he went to a neighborhood meeting and watched as his father stood up and spoke on behalf of a halfway house that wanted to move into the neighborhood. “We all have struggles in our lives,” his father had said, the only neighbor not in opposition. “We have to do what is right not just for us but for our community.”

On the way home Patricio asked his father why he had supported something so unpopular. “Because we do what we think is right in this family, not just what is popular. That’s the kind of people we are.”

A few months later Patricio went to the supermarket with his mother. When they got to the check stand she asked that some of the food be put into a separate bag. On the way home his mother drove down a street Patricio didn’t recognize. She stopped at a home and took one bag of groceries to the door, then came back to the car.

“Why did you have to give food to those people?” he asked. “I didn’t have to Patricio  they are a family that has had a difficult time. We can afford to help them. That’s the kind of people we are.”

His family had limits on how far Patricio was allowed to go on his bike. Yet, Patricio rode downtown one day when he wasn’t supposed to. What he didn’t know was that a family friend had seen him. At dinner his father asked what he had done that day. “Not much,” Patricio answered. When asked about whether he went downtown, Patricio lied. His father didn’t become angry, he just looked as his son, puzzled.

“ Patricio,” he asked, “are we the kind of people who lie?” Patricio felt his face get hot. “No Dad,” he said.

Now, in the store, Patricio was with his two friends feeling the pressure to steal the candy.
“I don’t even want one,” Patricio finally said. “Besides, I don’t steal. That’s not the kind of people we are.”

Saturday, July 19, 2008

How To Contribute/Buy Booklets

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