When The Going Gets Tough…

Few things test the will of individuals like stress and hardship. The old saying ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ is often more true than most realize. I’m counting the many blessings I have this day because I have my health and the love of family and friends surrounding me. When things get tough I know I can count on them for support and prayer. I’m not one to give up very easily when thrown a challenge, but I also realize that I can’t do all the pulling by myself. I’m forever grateful to all those that choose to pull with me, keeping me from being dragged through the muck and mire and to the good Lord above who supplies me the strength to make all things possible.

Mowing

The smell of freshly cut grass always takes me back to the summers of my childhood. My younger brother and I shared the responsibility of mowing an elderly widow’s yard every summer, a kind woman who we all had come to know very well. We spent time visiting her and her late husband when we were younger, so it really wasn’t much of a chore but an honorable duty. We called her ‘grandma’, though I think she privately despised it.

Whenever her grass began looking unkempt we hauled down dad’s old side-bagger Briggs and Stratton and spent what seemed like a whole day mowing. Not only was her lawn expansive, but very intricately landscaped. The backyard was a very quaint and shady respite with lots of shrubbery and herringbones of railroad ties, so maneuvering the old mower became a matter of efficient geometry. I’m pretty sure this is where I developed my mowing technique. I would trace the perimeter of the area of what I was going to mow by ‘cutting in’ and then, very meticulously, I would strive to make the straightest mowing lines possible. Even trees that fell in the path of my ‘lines’ I would carefully swerve around, back up, and continue on my ‘line’ as if the tree were not there.

After the task was complete, I’d report to the front door, ring the doorbell and await the wrought iron storm door to open. Some days she would invite me in for a short visit, which on hot summer days I appreciated very much because she had a window ac unit to keep it cool. Pay day was either by cash or check – you could expect four crisp Washingtons and a Kennedy half dollar or a beautifully printed check. Having been a perfectionist school teacher, her penmanship was incredible (to this day, my printed signature is inspired by the late Alma Schwartz).

I realize now probably more than I did then how important it is to respect and care for the elderly. I appreciated the payment for doing the work, but I think she cherished the time to visit with someone who took an interest in what she had to share – and I guess I did too. The saddest part of all those summers, is one day we didn’t do the mowing anymore. I don’t remember why exactly, whether another young neighbor had assumed the duties as we grew older, but the year Grandma Schwartz passed away I felt incredibly sad that I hadn’t visited her for so many years. It’s funny how something like mowing the lawn can teach you so much.

The Talk

I knew the day was coming, but the school curriculum pretty much sealed the date. My oldest son’s class will soon be covering HIV in science and with it will come some talk about ‘changes’ they are all going through. Rather than have a bunch of squirrelly school boys educating each other, I thought I’d step in.

After having a nice lunch I thought I’d take him for a drive where we could discuss the topic with some privacy. After pulling into a parking lot and turning off the vehicle, I knew he was suspicious about why I wasn’t getting out. Nothing can prepare you for the awkwardness that this moment brings and once I started there was no turning back. I was going to have ‘the talk’ whether either of us were ready for it.

I must have gotten a little too graphic because at one point he complained of having a stomach ache and actually got out of the van to sit down in the parking lot. I thought he was going to refund his lunch. After the initial queasiness wore off I found out a little about what he knew and let him know where the boundaries were. We even shared some stories that we could both laugh about. Ultimately I wanted him to know that if he ever had questions about anything, that he could come talk to me.

Afterward he looked at me and said, “Dad, I feel more mature right now.” I told him how proud we were of the young man he was becoming but that he was still a boy and not to get carried away with his ‘maturity’. He’s a smart kid and I know he’ll learn more than what I’ve told him today, but being there to teach him the secret handshake of manhood was quite the experience. The talk with son number two will be in another three years. I should be ready.

Love Isn’t Cool When You’re a Kid

You have to appreciate the independence kids develop as they get older. That’s the only way you’ll be able to deal with what seems like heartbreaking rejection. If you’re not there yet, prepare yourself. There will come a day when you drop your ‘baby’ off at school and he/she will all but ignore you. Don’t even think about giving good-bye hugs or kisses or verbal affirmations of such affection – they’d rather be set on fire than to have their friends witness such mushiness.

Walking into the school to greet your child after school is tolerated but don’t even think about escorting them onto school property in the morning. Bad idea. I’ve found that a drive-by drop-off is preferred. That way they can enter into the no-demonstrative-love-zone of school without too much of their parents’ being exposed. I never understood why kids want to pretend that they were orphans raised in the wild rather than claim two loving parents. I don’t intend to let them off the hook anytime soon. They’ll have to deal with my loving them publicly at the risk of being embarrassed by it.

Salespeople

In my experience there is no more strained relationship than that of a salesperson and a creative. With some rare exceptions the two rarely see eye-to-eye which almost guarantees communication problems. I view the salesperson as a privileged liaison – the deliverer of the client’s wishes to the designer and the designer’s solution to the client. If either the designer or client is misrepresented by the salesperson nobody wins. Consequently the creative may lack the charisma and experience of a salesperson who’s closed a few deals, but give the creative a chance to “sell” you his idea and you may discover that you have a powerful sales ally. Fortunately I’ve had the honor of working with salespeople that actually go to bat for me, selling the ideas that I come up with. Don’t fool yourself, it’s a beautiful thing!

Carrying the Load

I admit that I’m guilty of trying to carry too much. Like Atlas, I often feel like I have the whole world on my shoulders. The worst part is, the heavy load is usually my own doing. My wife reminds me that I need to just say “no” to some of the projects I take on (easier said than done). She’s right though. With all the self-imposed deadlines, I get stressed, and the only one I have to blame is myself. Sadly, the copious amounts of work and effort I end up pouring into what I want to get done seems worth that feeling of accomplishment in the end. It’s a high for me, so I keep doing it. I’m grateful that she’s in my life providing some balance. She’ll pull me away from work to appreciate what I’m missing in life, but she also supports me when I need help by reminding me to lift with my knees.