Things I Want My Son To Know #14 ~ Learn From Your Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. You are a bit of a perfectionist; from the time you were very little you never wanted to do anything until or unless you could do it very well (dare I say perfectly). But everyone makes mistakes. I read an interesting article that talked about how we use mistakes ~ if we tell our children “oh never mind its ok” they won’t learn anything, if we chastise or humiliate our children, they won’t learn anything. The idea is that you should learn from a mistake.

So when you make a mistake, the response should be yes that was a mistake. An appropriate action might be an apology, if you hurt someone. Or you might correct a result, if you are at work. But first, take responsibility for your mistakes. They are yours and you are human, everybody makes mistakes.

Most important, learn from your mistakes. Just like reviewing the wrong answers on an exam in order to learn why they were wrong, the point is to do it right the next time around. Simply put, if you do what you’ve always done, you will get the result you’ve always gotten. The good news is a mistake will point your feet back to the path, or onto a new one, if you have the humility to recognize the mistake, acknowledge the mistake and find a way to do things differently.

So, this goes along with taking a little risk in life. If its okay to make mistakes, then it is okay to try new things. You won’t do them perfectly because, as you know, everything takes practice and committment. You may not even do them well at first, but that’s okay too. You weren’t born knowing how to read and walk, you had learn and you certainly weren’t good at them at first; but you really wanted to do them so you worked at it pretty hard. As we get older, our pride prevents us from trying for fear of the mistake. But just as Native American artisans weave an error into their work so as not to offend God with perfection; we know we are human by our mistakes.

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Things Miss Kitty Wants You To Know #1 ~ Looks Can Be Deceiving

Ok, says Miss Kitty, we have been together for fifteen of your almost eighteen years. As a result, I think I know you pretty well and I have some things to say.

Just because I am skinny doesn’t mean I’m not tough. As you know, I was gone for three weeks. And you (all of you) assumed I was dead. Because I am old, and because I was gone. But I surprised you… I came back. If I could talk I would tell you where I was, but then I might have to kill you. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t pretty. And you know I came back skin and bones, but I’m okay.

I have had a pretty interesting life as cat lives go. I was abandoned by my mother when I was four weeks old and was rescued by a crazy old public defender. He put us in a big box and brought us to the office where your mom found me. I was different even then. All my brothers and sisters were plain old tabby cats. I, on the other hand, am a delicate, beautiful long-haired, blue-eyed chocolate point siamese.
As you know yourself, being different isn’t easy.

Since then I have been a cossetted house pet, a wild New England barn cat and lots of things in between. In New Mexico I ran with horses and patrolled the perimeter, watching the house for enemies. In Florida I walked the golf course with your mom and dad and, of course, the dogs. By the way, I have trained several dogs in my life. I have always chosen what I wanted to be. Sometimes a cuddly house cat, sometimes living almost exclusively outdoors. I have reinvented myself many times. But how I chose to be was always my choice.

I was a beautiful cat, even when I lived in the barn. With my beautiful long fur, nobody would have guessed I was a barn cat. I have always been skittish, but I can be very loyal. I look very very delicate but I have grown old despite my many adventures. I might have come home really skinny but I am tough. So remember, don’t judge a book by its cover, often there is much more to people than meets the eye; you never know who you might be talking to.

Things I Want My Son To Know #13 ~ Practice Tolerance

We live in a world of amazing diversity. Around the globe there are people of a vast array of ethnicities and faiths, just for starters. Our own country is a land of immigrants and races from around the world. This country was founded by immigrants fleeing religious intolerance and persecution. Your ancestors were immigrants here, fleeing religious persecution. Others of your ancestors were indigenous people of the Americas, Native Americans, who suffered terrible persecution and near extinction as the result of ignorance, hatred and intolerance.

Diversity makes our world a fascinating and complex place. Respect the diversity around you, in our country and around the globe. Learn to live with diversity and to learn from it. Other cultures have something to teach, other religions have a point of view that deserves respect.

Unfortunately we also live in a country that seems to be determined to showcase its ignorance and intolerance often and broadly. Watching the pastor intent on burning the Quran, many copies, sickened me. He truly believed that burning the Quran would somehow memorialize and sanctify the memory of those that perished on September 11, 2001. What insanity. The destruction of a holy object will never sanctify anyone’s memory. Millions of peace loving muslims did not terrorize the United States. All he did was show himself to be ignorant. But he is not alone in his beliefs, unfortunately.

It is important to practice tolerance actively, as a counterbalance to those who are mindlessly intolerant. Practicing tolerance doesn’t just mean being passively tolerant in your behavior. It means that you speak against intolerance when you see it, when you hear it. That you embrace the beliefs of others, not by believing as they do, but by respecting their right to believe as they do and to practice their beliefs in a peaceful way without persecution. As a Jew you know that we were nearly obliterated by the passivity of those who watched the holocaust unfold and did nothing to stop it, assuming others would act, or that it would just go away. Bigotry, intolerance and prejudice never “just go away”. It requires action, courage and conviction.

We used to say that when we protested we “manned the barricades” because the police would put up wooden barricades to contain where the protest was legally supposed to be. In my youth, we believed that protest matters, that it works. In Europe they still do. On my last trip to France, I saw hundreds of thousands of Parisians take to the streets with their children, parents and pets, to protest the president serving at that time. They do it because they believe that their voices will have an effect.

You should never feel superior to, or better than, someone because they are different than you. There is nothing inherently better or worse about any race, religion, gender or sexual identity. Being born Jewish or Catholic is not a choice, being born with black, brown or white skin is not a choice, being born male or female is not a choice, being born gay is not a choice. People are who they are and valuing them for their character, their principles, valus and actions is what matters. If your mind is closed to the value of difference you might miss a wonderful friend, a great teacher, the love of your life; you never know what barricades active tolerance will take you past and what you will find there.

Things Your Father Wants You To Know #1 ~ Get An Education

Your father isn’t a writer, and he isn’t great at words, especially when it comes to his feelings. But he cares about your future more than you can possibly know. It is the great tragedy of his life that he did not get a post-secondary education. He is a very smart guy, and he has spent his life learning things, but many people won’t give him a second look because he doesn’t have a college degree. One of the most important things in his life is that you don’t screw up your chance at education, college and post college, whatever you need to have a better life.

Like your immigrant great grandparents who worked liked dogs to provide for their children’s education (an extremely Jewish tradition), your father would do anything to ensure that you get yours. Your father believes, and wants you to understand, that education is the key to a certain kind of life. It is not just the key to financial or work success, it is the key to a certain type of enjoyment of life. Reading, listening to the opinions of experts, researching things you are interested in, generally the acquisition of knowledge, makes life interesting, productive and fulfilling.

This year of all years, you need to step up, do what you need to do to make it happen. Your father and I can only give you moral support, you need to earn your college education, through having the grades for Bright Futures money, through working for what you want your future to be and through just plain working. There have been many opportunities not offerred and dreams unrealized for your father. It is the dream of all parents that their children have more and do better. This is your father’s dream and one he hopes you share. Your father recognizes that it is very difficult for youth to learn from their elders experiences; often needing to make their own mistakes. Some experiences do not need to be repeated.

Practical Advice For My Son #2 ~ How To Use The Washer

I wouldn’t normally do two practical things in a row, but in an homage to a commenter, I felt compelled to write this. A man I don’t know commented that I should tell my son how to run laundry because most men don’t really know how to use a washer or a dryer. His comment was that these machines should be shaped like women!

So here goes. First, there is never a real need to use hot water, warm will always do. Saves money, saves the environment. Second, don’t put your wadded up, inside out, socks and pants in the washer without unwadding, unfolding and generally right side outing everything (except black which I will get to in a minute). Check your pockets, we have washed a lot of IDs, licenses, important school papers, money, over the years. You never know when you might want that phone number and once its washed you can’t read it.

Since you will always use Shaklee (purchased, of course, from your mother) you will put one to two ounces of laundry soap in the bottom of the washer along with a small scoop of laundry booster. Turn on the water, let everything dissolve. Separate light and dark and very heavy items (do these in their own load, like the towels). If you have new colored clothing, do it separately or only with like colors. If you have nice new blacks, turn them inside out to wash, it will preserve the black. Make sure you do your sheets and towels at least once a week! If you like softener, put the correct measure of softener in the post. Set the water level to the size load and put on regular wash, no need for extra rinses.

Put your clothes in the dryer with a dryer sheet (recyclable of course) and set on either regular or permanent press (for synthetics, dress shirts/pants, blends, things you would prefer not to have shrink like favorite t-shirts, regular for jeans, underwear, socks, towels, etc.) There is never a need to use high heat. If you use dryer balls you will shorten drying time, save on electricity and lessen wrinkles. If you don’t know what they are or where to get them, look it up on the internet, a skill I know you have. If you take your clothes out as soon as they are dry and fold or hang, you will reduce your ironing by a lot. Remember, most things will smooth out nicely when removed warm and treated right. And that doesn’t just go for laundry.

Practical Advice For My Son #1 ~ How To Iron A Shirt

Do the collar first. This is important because if you try to scootch the shirt around after you have done other parts of it in order to do the collar you will wrinkle it back up. So do the collar and the band. Then do the yoke. Put each shoulder over the skinny end of the ironing board, one at a time, and iron those flat. You can get the top part of the fronts this way too. Then do the sleeves. You have to lay each one flat with the seams lined up and try not to press to many wrinkles in down by the cuff where the shirt gathers. Use the tiip of the iron there and go delicately. Then put one side of the front on the board with the skinny end of the board up into the shoulder. Iron one side then the other. Then go around and iron the back. Voila you are done. So you see, it is very hard to describe how to iron a shirt. It is easier to iron the shirt. Keep your iron filled with water to line and if it is a cotton shirt, iron it hot with steam. Polyester will melt if you iron it too hot (good to know for pants which may be part synthetic and many shirts are a blend which need a slightly lower heat). Heavy cotton can be sprayed with water to ease the wrinkles but don’t soak it or it will scorch if the iron is hot. Didn’t know there was so much to it, did you! Like everything else in life, ironing a shirt takes practice.

What I Want My Son To Know #12 ~ Stand Up And Be Counted

Having principles is a problem; whatever those principles might be. And they always sound good, until they are tested; then they are a problem. Because standing up for them, standing up because of them, doesn’t always make you a popular person. When sometime tells a racial or ethnic joke, or uses hate language “but everyone does it”, it takes courage to say “that’s not funny”. Especially when your friends are all laughing.

But principles are what give your live meaning, and truth, and something to hold on to when you are not sure what gives with the world. Remember that you have friends of color who have experienced discrimination, that you have gay friends who have experienced hatred, that your mother was treated like a servant in my early career becaause women still weren’t expected to be professionals, to be something independent of their husbands ~ a world you can’t imagine.

So something as simple as honesty… telling the cashier there is something under the cart she forgot to charge you for. The habitual practice of honesty will help you when you are really challenged. Something as simple as protecting and caring for those weaker than most; being polite; holding the door for women. Respect the elderly; remembering that they have lived things you can’t imagine and might have something to teach you if you have the patience to listen. This simple practice of respect, for the weak, for women, for the elderly, will bring you relationships you never anticipated and lessons you might be astonished to learn.

Imagine if nobody had stood with the marchers for civil rights; imagine if nobody had stood with women in their fight for property rights and the vote; imagine if nobody had stood for those that Hitler despised. The people that stood up often lost their lives doing so. But they did so because they couldn’t imagine a world in which such terrible injustices continued to exist, and it felt worth their lives to try to prevent these injustices.

I hope you are never tested in that way, I hope your principles never put your life in jeopardy. But I do hope that you have the courage to stand up for what is right in whatever ways challenge you in your life. It is important to stand up and be counted, to look back and say, I lived a life of principle, I did the right things, I did good in the world.