Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Think It (If You Must), But Don't Say It

Three days ago, I finished reading The Book Thief, in which an ongoing theme is the power of wordsThe protagonist is Liesel, who is nine years old when the story begins. It is 1939 and she quickly realizes that the words of Hitler contained enough power to rule Germany and a vast area of surrounding countries, ultimately sending millions of innocent people to their deaths.

While history, both distant and recent, has shown me the same or similar atrocities as Liesel witnessed, it is the little, common, day to day words that I hear that can pack a big punch—a punch that has a lifelong gradual effect. Much of the time, the speaker doesn't even realize his or her power.

Ironically, the punch is often delivered to children from their loving parents.

In a perfect world, we'd all be smart, talented, and good looking—among the obvious traits of being loving and giving. I can't imagine that world; it sounds like heaven. But while we're here, it would be great if we could improve upon the delivery of our opinions.

When I was eight years old, my brother began to tease me about a certain body part. I doubt that the teasing lasted more than a few days, but during one episode, my mother laughed. That was all it took for the indelible mark to be formed. It took a couple years of maturing to realize that the body feature was normal. Fortunately, I've never been overly self-conscious, allowing my imperfections to dictate the course of my life… well, maybe. I wonder about others.

Numerous times, I've heard children being told:
  • You're too short
  • Your hair is too curly or kinky
  • That class is for smart people
  • You need some more muscles
  • Get out of the sun - you're dark enough
  • You need some sun - you're too white
  • Your feet look like boats
  • You have elephant legs
  • You have chicken legs
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.
Or, if not directed toward the victim child, another child (often a sibling) in his or her presence will be complimented:
  • You're so nice and talll...
  • You're so smart
  • You're only 14! You're so big and muscular
  • I love your blonde hair and blue eyes
  • You look good in everything you wear
  • You're so pretty
  • You're so handsome
  • You have your dad's good looks
  • You have your mom's brains
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.
Albeit, fairly mild stuff.  (This is not about abusive situations.)

A lesson I learned from my mother came from a story she told me. When my brother and I were toddlers, an aunt said to Mom, "He's so cute," to which Mom replied, "Both of my children are cute." (My brother had more of the physical characteristics of what was—and still is—considered a good-looking black person.) History repeated itself when a shopper told my two year old how pretty she looked in her pretty dress as my four year old stood by. My older daughter probably paid no attention to the woman; however, I said to her, "Your dress is pretty, too." The embarrassed woman apologized as I kept walking. It was no big deal, but maybe a lesson for her - the shopper.

I look at my kids and I don't see physical perfection (whatever that is); sometimes, not even close. Nor are they candidates for Mensa, embellished with extraordinary personalities. All three have tease-worthy characteristics, but I refrain… most of the time some of the time. In other words, I try to think before I talk; to choose words that will promote balance and confidence instead of insecurity, but not holding back so much that results in a fragile child. On the other hand, overdoing it with non-stop compliments might create a sense of superiority. Cliché, but kids don't come with an instruction manual.

Of course, kids are not the only recipients of the life-changing words that have the power to shape us and mold us throughout our existence. Should we just man-up and take it? Or, should we embrace our wimpiness? Or, should we punch back?

I digress.

In a nutshell… The examples I cited above seem superficial, but are they really? "Are they" the impetus for a life thrown off course?

Did any negative words change the course of your life? Positive words?

Image found here

Image found here

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gifts... Especially, Books

I started collecting classics in the mid 1980s. Every month, a beautiful, gilded, faux leather bound book would arrive at my home. Eagerly, but carefully, I'd open the box from the Franklin Library, to see what the title would be and what color it would be and what gold letterings and designs it would have on its cover. After savoring the smell and fanning the crisp new pages, I'd give it a home on my book shelf.

It was over two years before I stopped collecting the books that, at the time, were surprisingly inexpensive. Titles included, My Antonia, Gulliver's Travels, and The Portrait of a Lady. About thirty books were in my library, yet I read only six or so. Single at the time, I could have/should have read more. (Okay, so I had a TV and a life.)

Years later, I subscribed to another book collection - from the Eastern Press - and this time, the books were "genuine leather," a selling point on the advertisement. I read another six or so.

You may be able to tell that I have had a slight addiction to books. All of the above is not even intended to be what this post is about. Somehow, when I began writing, I found myself reminiscing and stopping to browse the shelves of pretty (yes I said pretty) and mostly unread books. Thank you for indulging me.

However, there are two other areas in the house that are filled with books that I have read. People in my life know that reading is one of my pleasures, which results in an occasional book as a gift. Many are from my husband and children, but also from other relatives and friends. How thoughtful they are.

The reality...

I can't read every book that I own. I'd like to, but I can't.

I was reminded of this when Cousin Bee asked if I'd read the book she gave to me for Christmas.

"No," I admitted. "I skimmed a few pages though. I'm going to put it on my night table," I continued, "that way, I'll remember to read it."

Does she really care if I read it or not? Isn't the gift her way of saying that she likes me and that the book says she thought about my interests?

I think so... or maybe she thought, "I don't know what to get her. I'll go with a book."

A gift to someone is somewhat presumptuous; a book seeming to be more of a message than a vase or a shirt. The title and content says, "You need to know this" or "This will make you laugh" or "This will help you cope;" or simply, "The reviews on this book are good, so I hope you'll enjoy it."

A book feeds you. Whether you like its story/message or not, it presumes what your mind wants to absorb.

A shirt says, "I think you'll like this" or "You'll look good in this" or "You need this." Whichever, it's all external.

The vase: I was at a friend's home when she showed me hers that was a present. I couldn't help but laugh when she said, "I need this vase like I need a hole in my head."

At least it can be stored away and brought out in the spring for fresh flowers; unlike the wedding present my husband and I received almost twenty years ago - a framed art print.


The giver had never been to our new home together and had never asked what type of art we liked. Fortunately, she never visited and asked where it was hanging.

I'm all for books as gifts and fine with receiving more. Which ones I'll read, "Who knows?" Just when I decided my next book to read, I looked over and saw Cousin Bee's gift on the night table, picked it up, and began to read. It's a good book.

Do you give books as gifts? How do you feel about books you receive as a gift?

Other thoughts?

By the way, since I  started blogging, I've read at least 2 books written by bloggers. Day Laughs, Night Cries: Fifteen by Peaches Ledwidge and Whole Latte Life by Joanne Demaio. (Joanne doesn't appear to be making the blogging rounds anymore.) I've also read a book that I won by entering a blog giveaway. All were good reads.

Monday, February 3, 2014


You haven't changed a bit!

(Other versions: You haven't changed at all! and You still look the same!)

How many times did I hear this lie greeting at my husband's high school reunion! The former classmates were so excited to see each other that I think they actually believed what they were saying, and believed hearing it when the lie compliment was directed to them.

What does the phrase really mean? Does it mean that, even though you're older, you're still attractive? Or maybe it just means that you still... uh... have the same look?

If it's been several years since I've seen someone, I don't say that phrase. First of all, I'm not good at recognizing people who I don't see often. Very much a "live in the present" person, it's a wonder that I, at least, know you're someone I've known, even though I can't exactly pin you down. And if I do recognize you, I see that - you've changed.

Remember that adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all." So if after 30 or 40 years, I can't say, "Oh, you're still so cute... or handsome... or fashionable" etc, then I stick with, "It's good to see you again!" which is better than saying nothing at all.

At Darling Husband's class reunion, after the third time hearing "the lie," I thought, "I hope he's (random person) changed, because if he looked like that as a senior in high school... well... hmmm..."

I don't know anyone - let's say over 40 - who looks the same as when 18, 21, or even 25 years old.

People age. For that matter, everything ages... I think. (Any scientists out there?)


Hair gets thin. Hair loss occurs. Hair color changes. Skin wrinkles. Skin sags. Skin spots. Skin cracks. Chins disappear. Backs bend. Heights lessen. Teeth shift. Hair grows in new places. Waists thicken. Bellies protrude. Hips spread. Cellulite gives you dimples. Under eye dark circles or bags increase. Crow's feet widen. Eyelids droop. Other body parts droop. Bat wings jiggle. Muscles atrophy. Fat accumulates. "And so forth and so on," as people in the south say... old people, that is.

So maybe you're lucky and most of these things don't happen to you.

You still don't look the same! Get over it! It's okay! You're breathing!
...however, keep that plastic surgeon's number handy.

Happy Monday!
Who's that girl?

How are you handling the exterior effects of aging? ...unless of course, you look the same as you did in high school.

(What's going on inside the body is a whole 'nother blog post.)