Works to Ability

When it comes to report cards, there is a large selection of prepared comments I can select from. I doubt students or their parents realize this, but one of the most meaningful I can give a student is when I select ‘works to ability.’  I respect when people work hard and utilize whatever gifts they have been blessed with. When students don’t fulfill their potential – whatever that is – and settle for something less, I am annoyed. How dare you not do your best?

On that note, I wade into the Whitney Houston discussion.  This former gospel singer burst on the scene, and everyone fell in love with her. How could you not love her? She was fresh, beautiful, and gifted.  What an amazing voice!  She was eminently likable.  She was a commercial success beyond belief – having sold 170 million records.  Who can forget the performance she gave at the Super bowl? Every performance since has been measured against it. When I hear people eulogizing her, this is the woman they are talking about.

However, her last big album (not in comparison to the earlier albums) was in the late 90’s. It is also since that time period that she has been a drug addict and an alcoholic.  According to rumors/press, she has gone through rehab at least once, but as evidence shows, those trips were unsuccessful. In addition, it seems her daughter is on the same destructive path. So, when people call her death tragic, I can’t agree. The last decade plus of her life was a lost opportunity.  She was the opposite of someone who utilizes their skills to the utmost.  I view her similarly to Dwight Gooden, an immensely talented baseball star whose careers was tarred by addiction of various sorts. He had some spectacular and unforgettable performances.  I remember watching Dwight Gooden pitch a game against the Phillies in 1985.  The hitters were so overmatched that it didn’t seem fair.  I looked up the stats and saw he had 13 strikeouts that game while letting up 3 hits and 3 walks.  They never got close to scoring, and I remember being happy when they simply made contact. Dwight Gooden’s career stats are pretty good, but he could have been one of the greats. 

In this country, people have a chance for redemption. We are all about second chances – hell, even Marion Barry got elected to a second term.  Whitney Houston was spectacular. She fell from the pedestal and had repeated chances to redeem herself. That is sad. She wasted her talents. That is sad. Whitney Houston did not get the most out of her talents. That almost makes me angry.

Taking Responsibility

This past Sunday, we took the children to a carnival.  The carnival featured your typical amusements – there were clowns, animal balloons, and games of chance.  However, what really makes a carnival besides cotton candy, which I don’t think they had, is goldfish.  To truly qualify as a carnival, there has to be a table with glass jars set up and ping pong balls ready to be thrown in order to win the beloved goldfish. We all have won goldfish at some points in our lives – it’s a rite of passage. Anyway, one thing that people come to realize quickly is the short life span of a goldfish.  I once won a goldfish at a carnival, and it died before we got home.

My older son is seven going on eight. At the carnival, he won his first goldfish. He came over to where I was standing with my younger son who instantly decided he wanted a fish too. So, I went back with my older son to where the game was set up. He tried to win one for his little brother, before I, the expert, had to step in. A moment later we walked away with two more goldfish. On the way home, I tried to warn the kids that goldfish don’t tend to live very long, “Hey, it looks like we got dinner.”  They were not interested in hearing it.

Well, a few days have passed, and so far all three goldfish are alive and swimming (I wrote that quietly – don’t want to alert the evil eye).  My older son is convinced the one that is downstairs is the one he won because it is happy when it sees him. He also says it is female though when asked how he knows he did not provide a clear answer. Anyway, he is thrilled to feed them, wants the fish near him when he does his homework, and is talking about them. While he has talked about pets before, I did not expect to see him this excited over goldfish. His excitement has made me reconsider a previous held stand against pets. I think it may be good for him. I’ve heard it said before that having pets teaches kids responsibility.  So, what’s the harm in getting some fish? Not a big deal right?

Well, my wife is having none of it. “Who do you think is going to end up taking care of it,” she asked when I brought up the idea of getting some more fish?  It was déjà vu for me. When I was a kid, my family and I always ended up in a split decision over a dog. My father, one of my brothers and I wanted a dog. Two of my brothers and my mother did not. My mother’s rationale always won the case, “Who do you think is going to end up taking care of it?”  She was probably right. 

My wife is probably right too. However, I still think we should do it. She can handle it. Besides, I’m talking fish not a dog.  Either way, let’s bring the kid joy. If we don’t let him learn responsibility and the joy of caring for another, the first he might have to take care of someone/thing is us in our old age. I’d like to see him work out the kinks with the fish. They’re replaceable – they’re always at the carnival.

Utilize Your Skills Kids

There’s a job out there for everyone.  I am not saying that as a political statement, and I recognize that real unemployment is about 15%.  However, everyone has been blessed with a skill that when found can be utilized in a work setting.  Some of us are teachers or lawyers or electricians or accountants or chefs, etc.  You know a ‘standard’ type of job. However, some people have jobs that leave you wondering how do you get a job like that?

I think the first real job other than cowboy or basketball player that many little boys dream of is to be a bat boy.  Didn’t every little boy think it was cool to go to every game and meet the players? Remember the scene in The Natural where Roy Hobbs’s (Robert Redford) bat, Wonderboy, gets destroyed. Roy asks the batboy to pick out a winner and the batboy gives the player his own homemade bat, the Savoy Special. On the next pitch, Roy hits the game-winning home run. You had to love that kid. 

There are other jobs that really look great. Where do you get an application to be a taste tester for Hersheys?  How about the person who lays on beds to make sure they are comfortable enough?    

How many times have you heard a parent tell you their child would just be perfect at – you fill in the profession – when their child is barely out of diapers?  All parents wonder and hope for the future of their child.  Will little Sally be a productive citizen one day?  Will little Johnny be able to support his family?  Will he/she find something interesting that utilizes his/her skills? I know I am not the only parent who has thought that for their child.  Well, I have come up with the perfect job for my younger son. Now, he has mentioned that he wanted to be a soccer player. but I don’t see that happening.  He is chubby, has poor balance, and shies away from contact. I, however, have a job for him that is certainly out of the ordinary. It utilizes his penchant for drama. I appreciate the drama when he sings and does a jig because we are having macaroni and cheese for dinner – not so much when he falls apart if we have a contest and he doesn’t get a prize.  

Anyway, the job I have in mind is perfect for him.  You know in those melodramatic movies when the village is being destroyed, there is always a blood-curdling scream. My son is perfect for that. He could add words to go with the scream. He is especially adept at adding “MOOOOMMMMMYYYYYY!!!”  He can pretty much do it on cue. Today, he let out a scream that shook the house. He can go from silence to scream in .02 seconds. By the way, he also does tears which are equally convincing.

So, parents take heart. My blessing to you is that your child should one day find the perfect job to fit his/her talents. Now, where do you think you can find a job listing on for a blood curdling screamer?

Homework Time

I graduated high school over 20 years ago.  I have an undergraduate degree and three master’s degrees (creative writing, literature, and education).  My chosen profession is a high school English teacher. Therefore, it is safe to say that I have and continue to spend much of my life in a school setting. 

A pet peeve of mine, well more like a frustration, is when students turn in homework and say to me, “Mister, I did your homework.”  I always correct them (no not about my name which is not just mister) and say, “it’s your homework – not mine.  My homework is to give you homework and mark your homework.”  I’ve done my time – no more homework for me, thank you very much.  They often mumble a reply, “Yeah, right. I did my homework.”

After a week and a half break, my older son returned to school.  Most parents are happy when their children return to school. Having them home can be a big challenge cause that means figuring out who will watch them and how to entertain them.  How many parents are plain crazy that first week of September?  Take them back – please!  Like most houses, our schedule revolves around the children.

Anyway, sending my son back to school presents challenges as well.  You see he gets homework every night.  Generally, I approve of this. Feed his mind – make him grow!  When he gets home, he chills out a bit after school (my wife and I think it is best to let him have some down time). For him, that means dashing to the computer and playing video games.  When homework time arrives, I’d like to say he appreciates the space we give him and comes up happily. That, however, would be a lie. After the countdown, he often needs to be dragged up. The amount of homework given on a nightly basis varies. However, the bigger unknown is him. You see, thankfully, he is a very bright and capable student. Never the less, when it comes to his homework, it is a crapshoot. Some days he blasts right through the homework and other days, well let’s just say it can get ugly. Patience – I tell myself. Patience.

So, on those rare days when there is no homework, our whole schedule changes. We make smores, write poetry, and listen to classical music.  Well, not quite but it is a much appreciated bonus. All these years later and I’m still thrilled when the teacher says no homework tonight class. Give me a break!