Thursday, June 18, 2015

Use critical words sparingly

     “It’s about time,” I stated emphatically with my hands on my hips.

     The words that come out of your mouth are powerful, and in certain instances, they may be harmful, too. You damage another person’s ego faster than you spend a dollar. It’s the voice that conveys the real message I believe.
     Dickens deadheaded to the back porch as fast as his little legs would carry his 12-pound body.
      He won the cat lottery when he moved into our household. Like a typical feline, he operates on his own schedule, and frankly, it can be exasperating.
     Dickens had been wandering outside after the sun had faded into the western sky, and I, the ever-vigilant owner, wanted him back inside away from roaming night critters. He arrived on his own terms — he leads a charmed life — and glanced up annoyingly at me on his way to his feeding bowl.
     Not that Dickens knows what “it’s about time” means, but I would suspect that his ears picked up my nervousness about his safety.
     “It’s about time” was not a statement that I made as a teacher unless there was a smile on my face and a one-on-one rapport had been established previously. Respect comes from a mutual trusting relationship.

     One year in sixth grade I had a very talented writer. He kept telling me about a fantasy novel that he was working on at home while burning the midnight oil. Slaving over his novel often was his excuse for not finishing his homework assignments.
    “I’m writing, too, except that I do arrive to work in the morning prepared,” I explained.
     My student would be disappointed in me if I weren’t doing my best as his teacher. I expected the same in return.
     A lengthy teacher-student talk about priories and multi-tasking apparently must have done the trick in the long run.
    The day came toward the end of the year when the twelve-year-old flew in with a huge bundle under his arm. He waited until there was no one at my desk and deposited his manuscript. He scurried off to his seat, and I could see from his eyes peering up at me, that he wanted my reaction. His feet were tapping on the floor wildly and he was anxiously clicking his pen, both rare body language for this normally secure kid.
     I examined the cover and flipped through several pages. My first impression was that it appeared better than I had thought originally, and obviously major effort had gone into the project.  
     I walked over to his desk, and with a slight smile on my face looked at him and proudly said, “It’s about time.”
     The look I got back was priceless. We were good to go as teacher-student forever. To this day when his name pops up in my head, I think happy thoughts of the first of many novels he still has in him. I will celebrate when I hear the news of his published book without thinking those words.
    During a free period I read the novel, and I was hooked right from the beginning. Knowing that sixth graders with their exuberance of hormones don’t like to be drawn or singled out, I decided a celebration of the event would not be in order. Instead I wrote a long personal note with a coupon for a novel or two from the box that I kept beside my desk as rewards.
     “It’s about time,” I said to my California nephew when he finally moved out of his childhood home after college and launched off on his own as a grown-up.
     The safety of the family home as a place to nest is what one should have available for necessity and for brief periods. He was not budging, however, and his folks were frustrated. Enter another adult with a fresh set of thoughts and nothing to gain.
     I am sure that message from his aunt stung. Point made. Point taken. The next thing that I knew, my nephew had an apartment, and I believe he was happier doing his own thing, too.

     Here’s a slightly different spin on the tortoise and the hare fable. Once there was a speedy hare constantly bragging on Facebook about his running abilities.
     Tired of hearing him boast, the tortoise challenged him to a race and set up an event page. Why not? He invited all the animals to watch in person, or live stream in their habitats. They placed their bets on the hare’s Go-Fund Me website, the sure winner, even though they secretly were rooting for the underdog.
     Now the hare was so confident he sat down on the side of the road, caught up on his texting to friends in neighboring burrows, took a few selfies and snoozed.
     The tortoise walked and walked plugged in to his iTune personal playlist.
    At the finish line the tortoise glided across while the animals cheered in astonishment. Slow and steady won the race.  
    The hare woke up hearing all the commotion and sprinted along the racecourse, but it was way too late.
     When the panting hare crossed the finish line the animals yelled in unison, “It’s about time.”  
     The tortoise tweeted his success, granted several interviews to local news media and was the guest of honor at the party. The hare hopped on over, high-fived the tortoise and ate a piece of humble pie.