Friday, January 29, 2010

Counseling: Session 1

The pre-marital counseling has begun. With the help of a professional, we have now begun to explore all the secrets of a successful marriage. In my last post here I listed the topics that we felt that we needed to address. In our first session, we focused on the most important aspect of any good relationship - communication.

The ability to talk honestly and openly with another person is the only means to creating and maintaining a trusting and loving relationship with another person. Sharing all those thoughts, dreams, wishes, and fears that for so many remain hidden forever in the darkest corners of the soul is what binds the lives of two people together. I am lucky to have such a relationship with both Weber and the girls. There is no topic that is off limits for discussion, no question that will deliberately go unanswered, no dream that must go unexpressed.

We do, however, have one serious problem relative to communication - what will be our primary second language at home - French or Spanish?

Erin and I speak French. It is not uncommon for us to have conversations about dinner, or clothing, or the weather in French. We can also talk about the people around us because no one else here understands what we are saying. That is definite advantage to French.

Weber and Edgar (Erin's boyfriend) speak Spanish. They too can talk about the people around them (usually Erin) in Spanish. Though Erin had several years of Spanish in elementary school, her Spanish vocabulary was repressed with the memories of a horrid Spanish teacher that she had in school the last year she took Spanish. Once you get past Gracias and taco my ability to comprehend Spanish is almost nonexistent. That is a rather sad state of affairs given that I live in Texas. Though I teach at a school that is in an area with a large Hispanic population, I have very few Spanish speaking students; most of my non-English speaking studenys are Korean. Fortunately all of them are commited to learning English!

So what to do at home . . .

The language line is rather sexist - the girls speak French and the boys speak Spanish. (Even Adidas, the male dog understands Spanish because as a puppy Brooke taught him all those important dog words in Spanish.) With gender as the dividing line it is easy for Erin and I to talk about how sweet the boys are without it going to their heads. On the flip side, I have no idea what the boys are saying. Their conversations are usually quite animated and involve many hand gestures and laughing, undoubtably at our expense. Since we don't underdstand much of what they are saying, its OK. We don't know that they are talking about the fact that we ae lousy cooks or are having a bad hair day.

Perhaps having gender-specific languages is not such a bad idea . . .except for one thing. Erin thinks it is "hot" when Edgar talks to her in Spanish. Remember that no topic around here is off limits . . .She asked me if I thought it was hot when Weber spoke Spanish. I had never really thought about it in quite those terms. Usually when he is talking to me in Spanish it is to relate stories about the "not-so-nice" things that his students have said forgetting that he will indeed understand them .

I was telling this story to a group of friends, one of whom is a single male Latin teacher. Another member of the group, a woman in her sixties, turned to the two bilingual guys and said, "When you are in bed, you should talk to the woman in both languages so that they will feel like they are in bed with two guys!" First we all had to get over the shock that this particular person thought and then said that and then we had a good laugh at the scenario. All I could think was that I would have to learn how to say, "Are either of you awake?" and "Can one of you move the dog out of the middle?" in Spanish.

So how was this settled? We will remain a tri-lingual family. Despite our language differences, we manage to communicate well with one another. The truth of the matter is that the most important things that need to be communicated between people require no words. A smile or a hug is understood universally; they require no translation.

I think we got our money's worth from our counseling session. What a pleasant surprise.

Oops! Make that a tetra-lingual , or should we just go with multi-lingual, family. Brooke is fluent in Russian, a language that none of us understands even a single word, which may be a good thing since her Russian class last quarter focused on Russian bath houses!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thought for the Day

IF "Less is more." AND "Size matters."

THEN The fewer the merrier.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Church or State

*NOTE It is pure coincidence (or maybe not . . . see my post from August 8, 2008 ) that this post immediately follows my January 7th post on making decisions.

Weber and I are now engaged (actually we have been since September 5th) and are planning our wedding. One of the first decisions to be made was whether we wanted a secular or a sacred wedding. Many people avoid the pomp, circumstance, and expense of a formal church wedding when the marriage is a second for one or both parties as is the case with us. However, for reasons that are deeply personal and that we have discussed and prayed about at length, we decided that because it was God’s love and grace that brought us together and the same that will nourish and sustain us in our life to come, we want to make our commitment to each other and to God in The Church.

Our first step in this process was to approach our rector. He gave us our parish’s “Wedding Guide.” It resembles one of those manuals that comes with your TV and that you really have no desire to read but must if you want anything to work in your favor. We read it, but whether anything is working in our favor is up for debate.

Our second step was a meeting with our vicar. I have yet to figure out what the real purpose of this meeting was other than to tell us that our next next step was to is to seek pre-marital counseling. My first marriage was in the Episcopal Church. We received the requisite counseling from the priest who would be officiating at our wedding. Despite the fact that my first marriage ended, I honestly believe that we entered into it seriously and believed that the counseling was thorough.

Weber and I assumed that we would receive our counseling from a priest as well. Not so. Much to our surprise, our clergy does not offer such counseling; they “refer’ us out to a secular therapist. We made a prayerful decision to make our commitment to one another through the sacrament of holy matrimony. It is upsetting that our church and our clergy do not seem to be taking our commitment to one another and to God as seriously as we are.

I know that young couples who have no experience sharing a life with another human being can benefit from secular counseling with regard to practical matters such as communication skills, dealing with in-laws, philosophies on child-rearing, gender roles in the relationship, and money. I am nearly fifty years old. I have a grasp on these things. And, many of them don’t pertain to us. We have exactly one family member between us. We are both only children and the only parent either of has living is my dad. Should we have to deal with child-rearing issues, ours will be truly a religious experience – or the making of a lawsuit, which would take care of any money issues.

Because our church does not seem to recognize how strongly we feel about our desire for our pre-marital counseling to be spiritually based and is requiring us to see a secular counselor to address “our issues”, we have used our communication skills that the clergy thinks that we are lacking to make a list of things to discuss during our time with a counselor.

These are the things we have come up with:
• Paper or plastic
• Rough cut or quick
• Vista or Windows 7
• Boxers or briefs
• Time or Newsweek
• 1-ply or 2
• Cotton or nylon
• Gas or electric
• iTunes or eMusic
• Morning or Evening
• Blended or fruit on the bottom
• White or wheat
• Times or Arial
• Scented or unscented
• French or Spanish
• Tassimo or Keurig
• Side by side or top and bottom
• 200 or 400 count
• Hard or soft
• East or west
• Church or state

At $90 an hour, I’m not sure how many hours we can spend dealing with these burning issues, but I will keep you posted on how a professional deals with such things.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The process of decision making is on my mind today. This is probably because this morning at 5:10 am the phone rang. When I answered I heard a recorded message from our school district saying that classes were cancelled today due to inclement weather. Really? I wandered over to the door, stepping over dogs who thought it was too early to be awake whether there was school or not. The instant I opened the door, the frigid air from the arctic air that made its way into North Texas last night greeted me. It was definitely cold, 20 degrees with a wind chill around 5 degrees, but other than that I could not see any real “inclement weather.” Like many other parents who had awakened to the early morning call that gave their kids a day to sleep in, we turned on the TV to see what was really going on.
The story seems to be that about 4 am this morning a light mist began falling in our area. Because it is so cold here, the moisture immediately froze creating a thin layer of solid ice on the roads. Faced with this overnight development, school administrators had to make a relatively quick decision with regard to school today. This decision is made based on the safety of running the school buses, and in today’s case, it was decided that it would be hazardous to run the buses this morning. Several surrounding school districts made the same decision. The one in which Weber teaches was not one of them. We watched the continual list of school closures scroll across the bottom of the TV screen as the local media showed video footage of accidents all over the major highways in the area. Weber decided to leave for school quite a bit earlier than usual to allow himself plenty of time to navigate the seemingly difficult roadways. After sitting in the car listening to more news and traffic reports for twenty minutes while waiting for the windshield to defrost, which it never did, he made the decision to call school and tell them that he would be late. This was not an easy decision for him just as I’m sure the decision to close schools in Denton was not easy for those who had to make it.

What is it that happens when we make decisions? What is it that makes a decision easy? Or hard? What is a good decision or a bad decision? A right decision or a wrong decision?

Making a decision usually involves weighing the pros and cons of one choice over another. The best decision is assumed to be the one that has the most pros. This seems like a fairly simple process. So why do we talk about something being an easy decision or a hard decision? I don’t think that the difficulty comes in making a decision once the pros and cons are listed, but in many situations it is hard to identify what the pros and cons really are. In determining both pros and cons, both the short term and the long term effects must be considered. With regard to these effects, we must also realize that something may be a pro for one group of people and a con for another. The decision becomes difficult when someone must decide which group’s interest is more important. And thus, the potential exists for a decision to be perceived as both good and bad simultaneously.. A decision seems easy when you are only able to see one side, one perspective in a situation. If you have the ability to look at something from many different angles, identifying pros and cons becomes more difficult. In the end, the judgment as to whether a decision was either good or bad often can’t really be made. Sometimes things simply are what they are based on what was known and thought at the time the decision was made. External situations to the original decision-making process may change one’s long term perception as to whether a decision was either good or bad. Remember the whole WMD scandal!

Was it a good decision to cancel school this morning? If the decision was based on trying to avoid children being injured because buses would have trouble on the roads, then the right decision was made. If you are the parent of a child who can’t stay home alone and you still have to be at work today then you probably think the wrong decision was made. If you are a high school student who at 9:30 is still in bed, with permission, on a school day, then you probably think that the right decision was made. If you are that same high school student who is not in bed on the Monday after Easter, which should be a holiday, because you are making up today’s snow day, you may rethink whether today’s decision was a good one. There is that long term effect that I mentioned.

Weber left an hour and half later than usual and had no problems at all getting to school. Was it a good or a bad decision to leave late? In that hour an half difference, the precipitation stopped, the wind blew constantly at 30 mph drying the roads, the sun came up, and those that had no choice about being on the roads early had worn much of the ice away. He arrived at school late but without any problems so his was probably a good decision – unless the teacher who had his class for the first part of the morning is found tied to a chair or stuffed in a locker. Then, the whole issue of it being a good or bad decision may be up for debate.

If decision-making is given the attention it deserves, no decision is ever really easy. If it were easy, there would not be a decision. You would have simply made a choice. When faced with making a decision, give it the time and energy it deserves. And before you criticize the decisions of others, put yourself in their shoes. It is easy to “make a decision” when you are not the one who will carry the burden of its consequences.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Wonderless or Wonderful???

Several people have called today to wish me a happy new year. As might be expected, they also inquired as to how I spent New Year’s Eve. What did I do to usher in 2010? I can say, without regret, that we had a quiet and wonderful night at home. I had tentative plans for a really big bottle of white zinfandel that my friends who love me (and know me too well) gave me for my birthday, but it is still in the refrigerator – unopened.

So what did I do? Weber, Brooke and I were the only ones home. I made turkey jambalaya with the last remaining bits of smoked turkey from Christmas. Weber and I ate that. Brooke made pasta with edemame pesto and a hazelnut pound cake. I had a slice of the four layer chocolate cake that my friends who love and know me so well also gave me for my birthday. After this wondrous feast, I sat down at the computer and logged on to pay my Christmas shopping credit card bill that is not even due for twenty eight days. What better way to start 2010 than debt free! As the ball fell in Times Square, we were all sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, in much the same way we do every night. As you read this, I’m sure you are thinking how could that possibly have been a wonderful night!!!

This morning I read the following in a book of daily meditations: “Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition.” No one will argue that there is probably some truth in this statement. Why is this? Why do things, or events, or even people that we perceived as awesome when we first encountered them lose their appeal over time? Do they really change? Or, do we become bored? Do we have unrealistic expectations?

I suspect that in most cases our expectations play a much bigger part in the perception and outcome of a situation than does reality itself. This is the crux of the question of whether you see the glass as half empty or half full. The reality here is that there exists a glass that contains half of its potential volume. Our perception as to whether it is half empty or half full carries with it all of the meaning of the situation as we perceive it. Describing the glass as half empty implies that the contents of the glass are diminishing. Following that current trend will eventually lead to a completely empty glass - a standard that most would consider to be a negative outcome. On the contrary, half full implies an upward trend toward fullness and thus a positive outcome. It is repeated encounters with the glass that confirm whether the glass was initially half empty or half full.

Our own perception also determines whether the statement above is true. Many things are wonderful the first time. Last year, Weber and I spent our first New Year’s Eve together. We attended a black tie affair with an open bar, a catered meal, and a live DJ. This year we sat at the kitchen table in our blue jeans drinking coffee with one crazy friend. Though very different than New Year’s Eve last year, this year was equally as wonderful. It would have been easy to say at this time last year that it doesn’t get any better than New Year’s Eve 2008. Doing so would have been admitting that our glass was half empty, that we had already experienced the best of the best. It’s not and we didn’t. I have no idea how we will spend future New Year’s Eves, but I have to believe that each, as it gives us memories of times past and hopes for times yet to come, will be at least as wonder-full as the last. Perhaps one that is wonder-fuller will even come along. As long as I am able to live in the present, to see and celebrate the simple, and to embrace the beauty of the sacred in the mundane, I will never cease to experience awe and wonder. Every day is a new day. Every smile is a new smile. Every cup of coffee is a new cup of coffee. Each brings with it the possibility to be awestruck and wonder-filled.

My wish is that we can all move into the new year with open eyes, open minds, and open hearts so that wonder will never cease to be.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Though this picture was taken on the streets of Assisi, Italy last March, the sentiment expressed is fitting as we begin a new year. We wish you and your loved ones, "Peace and all good" in the coming year.