In Lieu Of Flowers

Erin and I just returned from a weeklong vacation to Miami Beach. My body is relaxed, my mind is clear, and life seems just a little bit better…vacations have a funny way of doing that. Lying on a beach with nothing but your thoughts and a drink with a little umbrella can teach you a lot of things. Here are three very important lessons I learned while basking in the sun:

#1.) Sand is magical. It has a way of mysteriously appearing in the most unlikely of places. For instance, you’re sitting down to a romantic dinner at a five-star restaurant, you go to taste the soup of the day and crunch! Sand kernel. Or you go to give your wife a good morning kiss and abracadabra! A magical stream of sand slowly tumbles out of your left nostril. Or you discover that one grain of sand has incubated in a hidden crevice long enough to become a pearl. On a semi-related note, all of my loved ones will be receiving a piece of pearl jewelry for the holidays. A word of advice: don’t wear it.

#2.) Some things are best left to the imagination. For example, butts. I’m all for expressing yourself, and feminism, and being proud of your curves, blah, blah, blah. But for real. Thongs are tho dithgusthting. And just because your significant other is wearing a thong, doesn’t mean it’s okay. After all, two thongs don’t make a right (da-dum-ch.)

#3.) While lying on my back, with millions of grains of sand beneath me, miles of ocean beyond me, and endless skies above me, I realized how small I really am. I don’t mean to go all existential and hippie-dippie on you, my loyal readers, but this beach vacation truly reminded me that I am here on earth for a very brief period of time and I am just a “grain of sand” in this huge universe. I know my purpose while I’m here is important, and I was simply reminded how little time I actually have.

Several years ago, I accompanied a friend of mine to her grandmother’s 80th birthday party. At the party, one family member spoke about how we often wait until a person has passed away to “send flowers” with a kind note about how much that person has meant to us. She encouraged us to think about how the world might improve if we “gave flowers” to our loved ones while they were still with us. I remember at the time thinking that was a very cool idea, but not until I was making pearls this past week did it really hit me how seldom I tell important people how much they mean to me. And as much as I try to avoid clichés in this blog, tomorrow is not guaranteed to me or anyone else.

So here it is…my third blog issued challenge. Send some “flowers” in the coming days. Call someone. Write a letter. Send a text or a private message. Just tell someone how they have impacted your life.

In the interest of taking my own advice, I will begin here with just a few “flowers,” but I plan to give others throughout the summer.

Mom, you have taught me more about enjoying life and pursuing my dream than anyone else. People are drawn to your open, giving, and magnetic personality. You are the definition of “living life to the fullest” and as I age, I am proud that we have become such good friends. I love you.

Dad, you have taught me what being a man and husband looks like. You are kindness personified. You are the most forgiving, gentle, honest, and helpful person I know, and I could not have asked for a better father. I love you.

Erin, you are the bravest and sweetest spirit I have ever had the pleasure of encountering, and I am humbled that I get to spend my life loving and serving you. Your courage, discipline, and humility encourage me to be a better person. I love you.

Simple. Honest. Not a moment too soon and not a minute not too late.

The rest I plan to do privately. Now go out into the world and send some “flowers.” It is good for the soul.   And it’s much better than giving pearls.


Church and State

We hear it all the time (and of course by “hear it” I mean we read Facebook memes about it): “we need God back in our schools…I’ll bet none of my friends will repost this” or “so many of the problems in the world today could be fixed if we put God back in the schools.” As a God-loving, God-fearing Christian, I must respectfully disagree. And here is why…

First and foremost, we live in a beautiful country with a beautiful little thing called “separation of church and state.” The government is supposed to have no say in our worship, and the church is supposed to have no say in our government. When these two entities remain separate, life is just easier. Like chocolate ice cream and an onion…nothing good can come from mixing them. You don’t see me walking into a church and forcing a captive audience to sit through a lesson on mitosis, now do you? There is a time and place for everything.

School is a place for educating children on how to read, write, do math, and learn the science behind this confusing world. Above all, it is a place where children should learn how to think for themselves. The adults who are teaching this information to your children have spent years in school mastering this content in order to become an “expert” on their subjects. So unless you’re suggesting that a schooled pastor or priest be hired onto every single public school staff, it’s a little scary to think of which version of “God” would be taught by teachers who are certified in computer technology or Algebra II or (God forbid) theatre. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching theology.

You see, that’s the beauty of church: you can seek out a spiritual leader and a doctrine that aligns with your individual belief system. And if, by some chance, you are suggesting that a schooled pastor or priest be hired onto your child’s school staff, I’m sure there are plenty of private schools that would gladly accept your thousands of dollars.

Secondly, I’ve blogged before about the teacher’s ever-growing responsibilities that reach far beyond content. This year alone, in addition to my daily lessons, I have helped a child get out of an abusive household, mended a student’s only pair of uniform pants, coached children on integrity, honesty, appropriate language, and manners, as well as purchased lunch and field trips for countless students. I am not writing any of this for accolades. In fact, this is the norm for almost all schoolteachers. My point is, already our duties have gone far beyond the classroom. We have to draw the line somewhere.

Thirdly (is that a word?), can God really be kept out of schools? Even though the law prohibits me from leading a group of students in prayer, nothing can stop me from praying for “my children.” You see, God is not really someone you can get rid of. It’s just that children must be taught that God is always in their hearts and they can decide when to speak to Him. The key is they must decide. Which brings me to my final point…

Schools have not done away with God. Children have not gotten worse. Many parents are simply relying on the school to raise their children. If you want your child to pray in the cafeteria, then pray with him at your dinner table. If you want your child to read the Bible during English class, then read the Bible with her before bedtime. If you want your child to minister to other children who are not as fortunate as your child, then model Godly ministering.

The break down is not with our kids and it’s not with our schools. A Godly education occurs at home.

Garbage Men, Peter Pan, and Bob Barker

When I was three, my heroes were garbage men. I thought there was nothing more heroic or cool than riding on the back of a huge truck.

When I was six, my hero was Robin Williams’ Peter Pan character in Hook. Who didn’t love the moment when Peter finally found his happy thought and began soaring through the sky? It was bangarang to say the least.

At age nine, while most boys my age were idolizing Troy Aikman, I had a little hero-crush on Bob Barker. You heard me.   Bob Barker. The long-time host of “The Price is Right” with just enough sass to crack you up and a microphone so long it could have been used for pole vaulting. Bob was well-dressed, hilarious, knew a lot about the cost of appliances, and was surrounded by beautiful women 60 years his junior. Can you say “national holiday?”

As I matured, so did my taste in heroes. My 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Huston, became my hero and still remains one. Of course my parents and grandparents have, over time, become people I consider heroes as well.

The simple point here is that heroes change and heroes are personal. They are people who inspire me in some way. Me. They’re my heroes. Just because they’re mine, does not mean they are yours…except of course for Bob. It goes without saying that Bob is everyone’s hero.

But these individuals were my heroes because they affected (or dare I say changed) my life in a way that I needed at that particular moment. And everyone just stepped aside and no one told me that garbage men couldn’t be my hero, because who is anyone to take that away from me?

But about two weeks ago, when many publications and tweets hailed the newly revealed Caitlyn Jenner as a hero, the nation went up in arms. Suddenly, people started wanting to tell others who their heroes could and could not be. They began defining the word as someone who “risks a lot and gains a little” or someone who “saves lives” or someone who is “a Greek dish consisting of roasted meat rolled on a pita” (some people were confused which hero/gyro we were discussing).

If Caitlyn Jenner is not a hero for you, fine. Frankly Troy Aikman didn’t do anything for me, either. But please, please, please don’t take this away from someone else. Whether you agree with Jenner’s choice to transition, or whether you recognize “transgender” as an actual thing (and by this logic, I am hereby denying the pain of childbirth because I have never experienced it), there is no denying that thousands of people describe feeling like their gender does not match their body. And the suicide rate among this group is astronomically high. So, if the “greatest athlete of all time” inspires one person to spare his or her life for promise of a hopeful future, maybe Jenner is a hero to that person.

Caitlyn Jenner, you are not my hero. But you are someone’s and I would never take that away from him. Or her.


I’m ba-ack!

During my hiatus, I have been doing some reflecting. I’ve discovered that I’m getting a lot more gray hair. But then I stepped away from the mirror and did a little internal reflecting, and came to a much deeper conclusion. [Side note: Apparently it is now on trend to dye your hair gray, so my status as a fashion pioneer is once again confirmed.]

I have a vivid kindergarten memory that I believe truly defines my personality. But first, some backstory…

I have always loved art or any type of artistic expression. In elementary school, projects and coloring pages were my absolute favorite thing. I was the kid you all hated. You know, the kid who, when the teacher asked for a sketch of the solar system, brought in a hand-made 3-D model of the solar system complete with orbiting planets. I was that kid. But I honestly never did it to suck up. I did it because I truly loved creating things. In fact, if I went days or weeks without creating, I began to go a little stir crazy, like an addict going through withdrawals. It’s something that still continues to this day.

Now back to my kindergarten class. On the day in question, the class was abuzz with excitement. The letter fairy had visited our room overnight and brought us a new letter person, Mr. C. We did a lot of “c” activities that day. We met a clown. We tasted some cucumbers. We disassembled a carburetor. And then, at the end of the day, we were given a picture of a crocodile to color. I busted out my 96-pack of crayons (see my previous post) and got to work shading and texturing this croc’s skin. But as I began to draw carefully inside the lines with a green crayon, my hand slipped ever so slightly out of the lines. Completely devastated and in a shocking turn of events, I began to scribble all over the poor, smiling croc. I paid no mind to those black lines on the page. I was all over this thing, until 30 seconds later, when I declared my picture done and I shoved it in my backpack. It’s still hard for me to talk about.

On the bus ride home that day, I felt ashamed of my poor work. I knew that my mom would be checking my schoolwork like she did everyday, and that it would not be acceptable for her either. So I took the dreaded picture and hid it in a secret pocket in my backpack. In hindsight, I should have just thrown it away. After all, the teacher was not collecting it, but my six-year-old brain wasn’t that deceptive yet.

As predicted, Mom asked for my backpack that night. Being the excellent liar that I was, I told her, “Here ya go. You can look wherever you want except this pocket.” It was fool proof. But Mom was no fool, so of course she looked and found the saddest looking crocodile ever, which appeared to have been colored by an infant or man without arms. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do remember that Mom said she was disappointed in me for not doing my best. I remember crying huge tears. Crocodile tears, ironically. And I vowed from that day forward to never do something again unless I was going to do my absolute best.

In a lot of ways, I have upheld that vow. I think in most areas of my life, I am a perfectionist. And perfectionists tend to be extremists. If I can’t do something perfectly, I won’t do it at all. My old car is a great example of this. It was either completely spotless or a bio-hazard. There was no in between. It was all or nothing. So most of the time my car was a deathtrap complete with food wrappers and old costumes and Amelia Earhart (mystery solved).

But here’s where my self-reflection comes into play. I’ve discovered that perfectionism isn’t always a great character trait because some areas of our lives need constant upkeep and maintenance. If things aren’t perfect, that’s okay, but we should fix the problems while they are small enough to be fixed before they become a garbled crocodile or a frightening car interior.

So in an effort to break out of my perfectionist mold, I am now going to make a typo: jd;aw9s

That was therapeutic. Thank you for listening and returning to the blog. I’ve missed you. Here’s to being completely imperfect, but doing a little bit each day to become a little bit better.

Back To School

As an elementary student, my favorite part of going back to school was shopping for school supplies the week before classes began. I have vivid memories of strolling the aisles of Wal-Mart with my parents, shopping cart in tow, mulling over the hand-written shopping list supplied by my school.

Five two-pocket folders. I think I’ll go with these beauties. They say “No Fear” and have some kind of distorted cartoon kid playing baseball. I’m going to be so organized this year, these teachers don’t even know! I will label each folder with a subject on the outside, and each of the inside pockets will be labeled “graded” and “ungraded.” Folders…check!

Up next…pencils. All of those other eight-year old fools will walk into school with yellow, number two pencils. Not me. No sir! I have graduated to the much more sophisticated mechanical pencils with…wait for it…point 7 lead. I’ll take this 10 pack. That will get me through the whole year. And an extra tube of lead just in case. Pencils…check.

Moving on to one of the most crucial purchases…the trapper keeper. I need something simple that still makes a statement. It should say, “I’m ready to learn, but I still know how to have a pizza party.” A solid color (green, of course) so as not to draw attention to myself, but still special enough that I can pick it out of a crowd. I open and close the brand new zipper to feel how smoothly it glides along the tracks. And the three rings on the inside! They snap open and closed like a freshly-oiled bear trap. Trapper keeper…check.

And now, the Holy Grail. The crayons. My God, the crayons. I do not care, Mom and Dad, that RoseArt crayons are eighty percent less expensive than Crayola, and I also do not care that my shopping list asks for a box of 16. I must have this box of 96 with a built-in sharpener in the back. I must! After all, Mom and Dad, do you want me coming home with mediocre alligator coloring pages, or do you want an alligator with believably shaded and textured skin? The choice is yours. 96? That’s what I thought. And, oh, just look at the points of those crayons. Perfectly peaked like a beautiful rainbow mountain range. 96 perfectly sharpened cylinders. The paper on each one is crisp and clean, clearly displaying the beautiful name of each color in the box. Caribbean Green. Pacific Blue. Raw Sienna. Cerulean. Isn’t that beautiful? I think I will name my first child Cerulean. Cerulean Andrulonis. Crayons…double check.

Without fail, every year, one month into school and the newness had worn off. Just getting through the next eight months was a daily battle to survive.

Each of my folders is held together by the grace of God and a single strip of silver duct tape down the spine. Although I did label them by subject, there is no telling what you will find in each one. A math paper in the science folder. A science paper in the math folder. Half of a bologna sandwich in the history folder. And a bag of dead crickets that I was supposed to bring in for the class pet lizard might explain the foul odor coming from the English folder.

Nine of the mechanical pencils are M.I.A. I loaned one to a friend, who up and moved out of town over the weekend. Suspicious. Only the Lord knows where the others have gone. Possibly somewhere into the depths of my desk or possibly tossed in the garbage by a disgruntled custodian. The one remaining pencil I have is pathetic. The eraser is missing so the end is plugged with tissue to keep that elusive point 7 lead from falling out. And the extra tube of lead? I traded it for a role of Bubble Tape. It was definitely a rash decision.

My beautiful green trapper keeper looks more like camouflage now, thanks to a few dirt and Dorito stains. The zipper that once glided so effortlessly now takes three second-graders to undo, so I opt to leave it unzipped and hold it closed with an oversized rubberband. The three rings on the inside are a mess, too. I think someone stepped on it during gym class and it hasn’t been the same since. The prongs do not align nor close completely.

And my once beautiful crayons look like they have just returned from war. Limbs are missing, some are bandaged together with tape, and some have no identification at all. Except the white crayon. It still looks brand new because it is never used. Poor white. Never able to realize its intended purpose as a crayon.

Now that I teach, I have noticed a similar pattern. Each school year begins with a brand new wardrobe, neatly typed lesson plans that are hot off the press, and yes, even new supplies. But as the realities of teaching set in, the school year is like a runaway train and if you try to stop, you die. So my wardrobe gets less polished, and my lesson plans get marked up with hand-written notes and tweaks, and my supplies get sparse, and I resort to borrowing from colleagues.

But in a way, I love that. It means I am being used. I am not the white crayon that remains in the box, never able to fulfill its purpose. I am Cerulean. Used every day to the best of my abilities by 300 students who need me. I may be broken, worn down to a nub, and taped back together (just go with it), but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Bring it on, year six. I’m ready to be used!

Dear Men, Stop It!

An open letter to men everywhere…

Dear Men,

Stop it! You’re embarrassing me!

Okay, maybe I should back up for a moment. In six days, August 25, I will have officially lived in New York for one whole year. I have seen a lot in the past year, including a legendary elderly drag queen on a subway, a street prophet who predicted Erin would leave me (read my previous blog post entitled “Mr. Nice Guy”), and a whole lot of macho douche-baggery that makes me embarrassed to be a man.

What better way to celebrate my anniversary than with a scathing letter to the gender with which I am grouped by default?

So let me start again…

Dear Men,

Have you turned on the television lately and noticed how a majority of the male species is portrayed? If not, let me help you out. As morons. Men are portrayed as morons. Family Guy’s Peter Griffin, Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy, The Simpsons’ Homer, and even The Office’s beloved Michael Scott are written (mostly by male writers, mind you) as ignorant, bumbling, and obtuse characters. And most of them are disgusting to boot.

This should offend you. It offends me.

But then I ask myself, “From where are these ‘idiotic’ stereotypes coming?” Then I walk down the street and my question is answered.

You are behaving in an idiotic way! Stop it!

It is not okay to leer at a woman’s chest or butt as you pass her on the street. Stop it!

It is not okay to cat-call, whistle, or make a sexual comment to a woman as she is walking to work. Stop it! You’re embarrassing me.

And don’t give me some excuse about men being “wired” this way. You are a human being with a brain and the capacity for self-control. Utilize it. I am “wired” to urinate when my bladder is full, but you don’t see me walking around with wet breeches now, do you? (Minus that one time at Taco Cabana, but that was a fluke incident.) My point is, urination is a basic urge that can be controlled. And so are your barbaric sexual impulses. Show some class and stop relying on the antiquated excuse that you have primal urges that are beyond your control. I don’t buy it.

Speaking of excuses, here is one I’ve been reading about lately. This one is called the “Triple-A Club of Marriage.” The gist of the theory is this: a man needs adoration, admiration, and appreciation from his wife, and if he’s not getting it, he will seek it out some place else.

Come on, men! Really? Stop it! You’re embarrassing me!

Here’s a thought: if you’re not getting adoration, admiration, and appreciation from your wife, maybe you’re not doing anything adorable, admirable, or worthy of appreciation. Fix yourself and give your wife something to be proud of.

And now an open letter to women everywhere…

Dear Women,

Don’t be comfortable with these societal excuses for men. We’re capable of more. Hold us to high standards.

Aim for a Cliff Huxtable or a Danny Tanner or a Carl Winslow or a Howard Cunningham. These are the types of men with whom I want to be associated. Except the kind that exist in real life.

My Dog Pooped A Tampon

Don’t get me wrong. I love sarcasm, as I hope is evidenced sporadically throughout my blog. But the best sarcasm is done tastefully, like a sarcastic slow clap when one of your friends comes up with a less-than-intelligent idea. It really bothers me, though, when sarcasm is used to hurt or tear down another person. Case in point, memes that have recently been flooding my Facebook newsfeed, which read:

“I hope your life is half as perfect as you pretend it is on Facebook.”

“Welcome to Facebook, where relationships are perfect, liars believe their own lies, and the world shows off they are living a great life.”

“Your life is a mess but you’re pretending on Facebook like it’s perfect. Honey, maybe you should get the f–k off Facebook and go fix it!”* [*This meme was edited for adult content and the incorrect use of ‘your’.]

I can only speak for myself, but when posting statuses or pictures on Facebook, I am never trying to create the illusion that I have a perfect life. Any human being with common sense knows that nobody has a perfect life. Except for maybe Chef Gordon Ramsey. His life seems pretty good.

I simply filter what I post.

Yes, my life is mess (aren’t they all?) But due to the amount of negativity in the world, I try to use Facebook as a platform to post positive things. Things I’m proud of. Things I love. Things that make me happy. Things that might possibly inspire others, God forbid (note the tasteful sarcasm here). I have even used Facebook to ask for prayer requests, which I believe is a very positive thing.

If you use Facebook as a platform to post negative things (your marital troubles, your money troubles, your multiple injuries from a game of Twister), that’s completely up to you. But it’s also completely up to me to hide you from my timeline. I can turn on the news if I want to see problems. I don’t need to see a picture of the tooth growing on your neck at the top of my newsfeed every time someone “likes” it.

But just to dispel the myth that my life is perfect, I’m going to disclose some of the not-so-perfect things that have happened in my life recently. The title of this blog may have spoiled the first one. This weekend, my dog ate and pooped a tampon. Ate it whole. Pooped it whole. I cleaned up the mess. Wish that had been a Facebook status?

What else? What else? There’s a wart on my forearm that’s currently on its fourth round of meds. It shows no signs of getting smaller. Should I Instagram it? I’ll be sure to choose a pretty filter. Maybe vintage?

Here’s a dandy: four teachers at my job were laid off on the last day of school. It was unjust, in my opinion. Why don’t I write a post about this terrible moment in their life so that I can make it about me?

You see where I’m going? What does this accomplish, except perhaps to make someone feel better about their lives…they may be suffering from a debilitating case of dragon pox, but at least they’re not picking up a tampon that has passed through the small intestine of a Yorkie.

So, in spite of the haters, I vow to continue posting positive. Feel free to hide or delete me if you are insulted by positivity. And here, folks, is my second ever blog-issued challenge: get rid of the negativity on your newsfeed. Whether that means hiding people, deleting people, or rethinking your own posts, do it. I’m positive it will make a big difference in your life. It has in mine. My life is now perfect. Sarcasm.


You know how sometimes you’ll get a text from a friend, but you’re really busy at the moment and you think, “I’ll text them back later,” but then life keeps happening and you forget to text them back, so then you think, I can’t text them now…I’ll look like an idiot….so you keep avoiding texting them, and then they start calling, so you avoid their calls because you feel so bad about the texting thing, and then you awkwardly run into said friend at the supermarket and you just have to say, “I dropped the ball! I’m sorry!”

So here I am…returning to my blog after about two months away. I dropped the ball. I’m sorry. My life became so consumed by my school’s production of The Wiz that my brain absolutely refused to focus on anything else. Thank you for being a loyal subscriber and returning anyways. I promise to post much more frequently in the coming months. The kind people at WordPress were so concerned about my hiatus that they e-mailed me to make sure I was feeling okay. Actually, it was more along the lines of “if you don’t start posting again, we’re going to deactivate your account,” but it was still nice to be missed.

Now that summer is here, I can officially move on from all this Wiz biz (someone remind me trademark that) and rejoin the real world. Did you guys hear that Phillip Seymour Hoffman died? What’s that? Months ago? I am behind. R.I.P. P.S.H.

There’s another story that was in the news a few weeks ago that I bookmarked in my brain to discuss when I returned to my blog. The infamous “hot felon” mugshot. In cased you missed it (lucky you), some guy named Jeremy Meeks was arrested in California on felony weapons charges, and his mugshot went viral. Desperate women and desperate gay men all over the world began sharing the photo with captions such as “I volunteer as cellmate!” and “I have handcuffs!” Someone even suggested a Kickstarter campaign to raise his $900,000 bail. And the icing on the cake is that, while still in prison, Meeks was offered a $30,000 modeling contract.

Deep sigh. Collecting my thoughts….be right with you.

First of all, if a bald head and poofy lips make you hot, someone hand me a razor and a syringe filled with collagen. Second, if you think this type of “felon-worship” is harmless, I have a story for you. While in my school’s cafeteria during the “hot felon” phenomenon, I overheard a conversation between two of my eighth grade female students.

Girl A: Hey, did you see that picture on Facebook of that hot guy’s mugshot?

Girl B: Yes! Ooooh….he is sexy!

Me: Girls…you know he’s in prison on felony charges, right?

Girl B: I don’t even care, Mr. A. A guy that looks like that is sexy!

You see the damage that is done here? Yet again, our children are being taught that outer beauty is far more important than any sense of morality, and that even the most negative of life choices can bring about fame and adoration. My two students got that message loud and clear. I am thankful for all of the classy women and classy gay men who did not help perpetuate the Jeremy Meeks “felon worship.”

I long for the day I can overhear a conversation like this:

Girl A: Hey, did you read that story on Facebook about that man that worked two jobs to support his family and was really nice to people?

Girl B: Yes! Ooooh…that guy is sexy!

Me: Girls…you realize they didn’t even show his picture, right?

Girl B: I don’t even care, Mr. A. A guy that acts like that is sexy!

We have a long way to go to get to this point. And, as with all real educations, it must begin at home. I teach many classes, but it is very difficult to teach class.

Kids These Days

Suppose Gertrude buys a small house plant to spruce up a corner of her apartment, because, let’s face it, with a name like Gertrude, she’s going to be spending an awful lot of time alone in that apartment.  After bringing it home from the nursery, she nestles it into a quiet corner of her bookshelf and begins reading one of her favorite romance novels (you know…the one where the shirtless guy on the cover is riding a horse while holding a puppy to his pectoral muscles).  Days pass and Gertrude never tends to her plant.  She never gives it water to drink nor opens a window to let it bask in the sunlight.  Gertrude is far too busy reading her soft-core erotica.  A few more days pass, and the plant begins to wilt.  One evening, while doing Jazzercise in her living room, Gertrude notices the plant is completely lifeless.  She picks up the pot and exclaims, “Plants these days!  They just don’t grow like they used to!”

Now suppose for a moment that Angus also buys a small houseplant, because…well…he’s got the same name trauma as Gertrude.  Angus, however, hovers over his plant constantly.  The plant never wants for a drink of water, and it receives the perfect amount of sunlight every single day.  As the days pass, the plant grows larger and larger.  In fact, it becomes so large that its roots become an entangled mass.  Angus knows he should move the plant to a larger pot, but he just doesn’t want to risk the transplant (just go with me here, for the sake of the metaphor).  Eventually, the plant can no longer thrive in its tiny pot and it slowly begins to wither and die.  Angus picks up the pot and exclaims, “Plants these days!  They just don’t grow like they used to!”

I think we can all admit that, in both instances, it is absurd for the plant owners to blame the plants for dying.  Gertrude did absolutely nothing to help her plant survive, while Angus was far too protective of his plant to give it the space it needed.

But all of us (myself included) have probably been guilty of saying, “Kids these days!  They just don’t have behave like they used to!”  And maybe they don’t.  But guess what?  The cynics and pessimists who make this exclamation are the ones who raised the “kids these days.”  They are either the Gertrudes—taking a hands-off approach to parenting—or the Anguses—taking an over-protective, helicopter approach to parenting—that produce disrespectful, lazy, and spoiled children.

So who’s to blame?  Certainly not the children…not any more than the poor plants are to blame.  You see, children behave how you allow them to behave.  If you are unhappy with the “kids these days,” take a closer look at the “parents these days.”  That’s where you’ll find the root (no plant pun intended) of most of the problems.

And as a side note, I still stand firm in my belief that the amazing “kids these days” outweigh the not-so-amazing “kids these days” 10 to 1.  The unfortunate part is that no one ever talks about those kids.  So here is my first ever blog-issued challenge:  Take a moment this week to praise one of today’s amazing youth, either privately or publicly.  And the next time you want to scold a kid for their lack of respect, scold the parent instead (just kidding…sort of.).

Big Brother

I’ve had a lot of great teachers in my life, but the first one I can ever recall is my big brother, Conner.  He taught me a lot of things.

When I was 5, he taught me how to tunnel under my parents’ bed to peek at all our Christmas presents.

When I was 10, he taught me how to smoke grass.  Not marijuana.  Actual grass.  Like from your backyard.  We would take notebook paper out of our trapper-keepers, dig some grass out of the yard, and role up a cig.  A very long cig.  We would light it and smoke it behind the shed thinking we were about as cool as we could get.

We were so right.

When I was 14, he taught me that, to French-kiss a girl, all I had to do was write my name in cursive with my tongue.  And yes, it was important to dot the “i.”

But the biggest lesson he ever taught me began when I was about 15 and continued on into my young adulthood.

You see, as we entered adolescence, Conner began to struggle.  It was a struggle that would last upwards of a decade, but would teach both of us so much about life and about our relationship as brothers.

Conner struggled with an addiction to drugs and alcohol.  It was something that began “harmlessly” and “recreationally” but it soon developed into something that ruled his life.  When he was sober, Conner was my best friend and favorite person to be around.  When he wasn’t sober, he was a different person, like a ghost of what he once was.  His brilliance, his humor, and his light were masked by the hazy effects of the drugs.

It pained me to see what the drugs were doing to my brother, but it pained me more that others didn’t always get to see the beautiful person I knew him to be.

What I learned during those dark times was acceptance.  I had to accept Conner’s addiction as a disease.  I had to accept that I could not fix him.  And I had to accept that, somewhere down the line, God had a plan.  The story of the prodigal son became the hope I held onto—the story of a young man who goes out on his own, straying from his father, but is welcomed home with open arms.  I longed for the day that we welcomed Conner home again.

It took about thirteen years for that day to come.  But it finally did.  Conner is now almost two years sober, very close to finishing his college degree, and this past weekend, he got engaged to the love of his life.  I could not be more proud of him.

Through the lowest points in his life, my big brother was still teaching me.  Teaching me that no matter how dark things seem, there is always a glimmer of hope and that God is still working miracles in the most unlikely of places.

Conner is back to his old self.  The best friend I had missed all those years.  He has the biggest heart of anyone I know, which is an example to us all.  In fact, when I asked him if it was okay to talk about his story in my blog, he responded, “I’ve never had an issue sharing all the good things or the bad things in my life.  That’s how it can help people!  And if my story doesn’t help people, then it was for nothing.”

So if you get nothing else out of this post, I hope maybe you’ll walk away with this:  We have no excuse to give up.  Ever.  On others or ourselves.

Thanks for always teaching me, Conner.  And in case I don’t tell you often enough, you really are a wonderful big brother.