Dear old Golden Rule days….

It’s that time of year again.  Seventeen years of it, and it never gets old. 

The students are a LOT younger than they used to be.  At least that’s what I thought when I met with a group of student athletes last week to give them the low down on how NOT to mess up their first year of college. 

My advice was pretty simple.  I told them to go to class every day.  To get to know their instructors and to be sure to visit them during office hours.  I told them  to sit in the first two rows of the classroom,  to take notes, to be present and engaged. I told them to get enough sleep and eat their veggies and figure out how to get along with their roommates.

I explained that as part of the majority of students enrolled in colleges and universities with student loans that it is up to them, and only them, to determine whether or not they will get their money’s worth.  That loans, like many things in life, are both a blessing and curse.

I’d love to be able to report that I saw the illumination of fifty tiny light bulbs above the heads of my audience as I handed out these pearls but I saw more yawning than flickering, I’m afraid.  This is mainly because they are new at this game called College.  They haven’t even been in a college classroom yet. They are in two a day practices with new team mates they’ve just met and are are miles (or states) away from everything and everyone familiar to them. They aren’t sure they’re sold on this thing called a college education.  Yet.

It’s my job to clinch the deal and  to guide them toward seeing themselves as scholars.  I show them a backpack and explain that before they put one notebook or pen in it on the first day, they need to be aware of what they may also “carry” every day that no one sees. Things like attitudes about school and learning and masculinity and what it all means for them.  How those things can get awfully heavy, even for a football player used to lifting weights. 

I know from experience that they will miss class and make up lame excuses for doing so.  I know that they will  turn in bad essays that will need to be rewritten.  I know that at least some of them will make some really poor choices and become their own worst enemy at least once this semester.   But I also know that there will be growth and learning and small victories along the way for most of them.

They are football players. It’s what they love to do and where they feel most competent. I am a generation older and not a football player. But year after year, I suit up to do this job I love mostly because I remember what it was like to be that young, that scared, that unsure of what it meant to be in college at all.  Because I’ve seen lives change when a student succeeds. Others just like them.  Others just like me.

And because I know that teachers who can remember that  matter. A lot.  And that feeling? Of mattering?

It matters to me.

August lessons….

By the time we said goodbye, the only parts that still worked well were her nose and her stomach.

Both got her into a lot of trouble throughout her life.  But she couldn’t help herself. She was a beagle, after all. Her lineage forced her to do things that other dogs who are not cursed with hound genes can usually stop themselves from doing when the humans in their lives tell them to knock it off.  Very bad things like running into the woods without looking back, chasing bunnies, and howling. She did this a lot as a younger dog.

She spent the first year and half of her life living in a barn with a black lab who never let her eat.  After she adopted us from the Humane Society, whenever we walked her and she passed a black lab, she’d let loose with her trademark howl, proving that even beagles are capable of holding grudges.

She hated rain and the vacuum cleaner and taking baths.  She loved rotisserie chicken from Walmart, ice cream, and anything that even remotely resembled or smelled like bacon.  The only heroic thing she ever did was snatch a bat out of the air at the cabin one summer night when she was still young and agile enough to do it.  But mostly, she lived only to sniff and eat for the seventeen years she lived on Earth.

Last week, on a perfectly sunny mid-August afternoon as a cool breeze came through the windows in our screen porch, we said goodbye the only way we knew how to….as a family.  The boy and girl she loved best were there with her at the end. The mom and dad, too. 

And now, there’s a hole in the middle of our family where a beagle used to be.  We are filling it up with memories and tenderness and hugs, the way she’d want us to.  It’s going to take a little while, though.

As humans, we’re trained from an early age to spend our entire lives hoping that there’s some place better to look forward to once we’re gone.   Dogs are smarter than that.  They know that even when you’re very old and can’t hear your people or even see them very well and have a bad Ticker to boot, that  a warm bed on a cold night, ear scratches and under -the- collar scratches, rotisserie chicken, new smells, and the sun on your back as you take a walk after dinner can be more than enough to make life worth living.  They know that sometimes Life is just too lovely to leave.

A very old dog named Maggie taught me that.


Three bad puppies…

On the summer day the photograph was snapped, they had been especially naughty, as I recall.   Well, maybe “naughty” is a little harsh.  They were only toddlers, after all.  It isn’t like they were setting fires or robbing banks or anything majorly terrible.  But they were busy and noisy and squabbling over toys.  My sister, cousin, and I were young, first-time moms.  First-born children are often called  the “experimental” ones in families. That day, it seemed like our experiments were going terribly, terribly wrong.

Despite this, it is still my favorite picture of the three of them, and one of my best memories because my grandmother, who would be gone by mid-September of that year, is the fourth person in the photo.  I remember her sitting in our screen porch in a wicker rocker watching her three great grandchildren bonk each other on the head as she tried in vain to distract the trio with other things to do that didn’t involve chucking toys at each other.  Finally, in defeat, she took a drag of her cigarette, looked at all three of them, started to laugh and said, “They are like three bad puppies, but at least they’re CUTE.”

Cute helps. Particularly when it comes to great-grandchildren.

While she was living, there wasn’t anything that the three of them could do that she didn’t find endlessly entertaining.  To her, they were the three smartest, most wonderful babies the Lord had ever placed upon the earth.  Peter, the oldest, was her personal comedian from the day he was born.  Lexie, the girl in the bunch, was her little princess, and Ben, with his snapping black eyes so unlike his two cousins, was her heartthrob.  She didn’t know them very long, but I’m glad she got a chance to know them for a little while. I’m glad they were loved that much.

Today, her three bad puppies are grown.  Pete has a job in biochemistry that will take him to New York on business this month.  Miss Lexie is a nurse planning an October wedding.  And by this time next year, Ben will be an engineer.  Our experiments seem to have turned out, after all. They aren’t much different now than they were that day the picture was taken.  Older, yes.  Smarter, for sure.  Less inclined to bonk each other on the head?  Usually.

Well played, puppies.  Well played.

Moving pictures….

A picture is worth a thousand words.

I’d been digging through thirty years of photographs when it dawned on me that if I’m ever hit by a bus, my poor kids will never, and I mean NEVER be able to figure out where their baby pictures are. Or their first day of school pictures.  Or their graduation pictures. For most of my life, I’ve been considered one of the more “organized” members of my extended family, which, if you know my extended family isn’t really saying much.  But I am a fraud.  An imposter.  As my grandmother used to say, I am (also) “as Irish as Paddy’s pig” in case anyone is interested. 

The proof? My photos are a big old mess.

Once, I thought I had a system.  I bought those hard sided cardboard “photo storage” boxes and sat on the living room floor and separated piles of photos according to the following categories:

-My family

-His family

-Our life before kids

-The Boy

-The Girl

And then, feeling pretty dang proud of myself, I placed the corresponding photos from each category into the proper box and stuck them on a shelf.  That was about ten years ago, before we all had phones with cameras and moved three times in one year. It was before the Boy graduated from high school and I needed to find photos of him for his graduation open house, which I actually FOUND because of, well, the box on the shelf labeled “The BOY” that I dug a bunch of photos out of.  It was before his sister graduated from high school two years later and I found the box labeled “The GIRL” and did the same thing.  Each time, I painstakingly taped photos of them to large pieces of foam core board, captioned the cutest ones, and smugly displayed them at their parties.

After the open houses, the foam core boards got squirreled away in a closet with all their pictures still attached and I kept thinking, “One of these days I have to take those pictures off that foam core board and put them away” and then didn’t.  When I finally got sick of hearing myself saying this, I finally did. But then, I got busy and left the piles on my desk. I kept moving the piles every couple of months until all the Boy’s pictures were mixed up with the Girl’s pictures.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, I went to look for the Pile to find pictures of the kids with their other grandparents so that I could put together a couple of scrapbook pages for them. It must have moved all by itself to the abyss where stray tube socks that disappear from the dryer and  all the AA batteries and the dental floss I’m sure I bought at Target reside because it was gone.  Gone.

I admire the people I know who archive their lives with pretty scrapbook pages. The ones who use cute stickers and sayings and envelope their completed pages in clear plastic sheets. I am not one of those people.  I maybe could learn to be one of those people if I could find the pile. Or maybe not.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?