did I mention that I’m traveling to Korea? (South Korea. the good one.) / Japan is kawaii

“Making kawaii stuff, watching Studio Ghibli films,
looking through Netflix for good anime…
Hi, my name is Katie, and I’m obsessed with Japan.
Oh, and did I mention I’m traveling to Korea?”

~ Katherine Bacher

Happy Spring, Precious Readers! (And, Erin go Bragh!)

(Wow, an entire sentence with all capitalized words. I think that’s a new one for this blog.)

First up, complete transparency:
I’ve never kept it a secret that Pilot and I are not wealthy people. I didn’t have the funds to keep my domain up and running the last few months. I apologize for making it seem like this blog was dead. It wasn’t. Think of it as being in winter hibernation.

Second, quick catch up:
As I wrote in my last two blogs, I had just begun working at a high school. Now that it’s MARCH, clearly I’ve dusted off my rookie wings and am beginning to truly learn how to fly. Due to enjoying the perks of my new job, that did include paychecks. Unfortunately, the paychecks had to go directly to some bills instead of this.  Life priorities always seem to get in the way. (Why, oh why can we not just recreate the barter system?) During that time, I’ve been able to assist the students in participating with school morale boosting events. One of which was “What Makes Me Happy?”

(…aaaand there’s the second sentence with entirely capitalized words. I’m on a roll!)

Lastly, the purpose of this blog post today:
Each staff member was provided with a piece of paper saying “What makes ____ happy,” asking each of us to populate the sheet with our name and a list of things that bring joy to our life. Our particular district has suffered due to previously mentioned lock downs, along with heartrending news of several children committing suicide or killed in gang fights.

Yes, I’m serious.

In the last 1.5 years, our district has suffered a minimum of 4 child suicides. One was as young as an eighth grader. It’s horrifying, sad, and makes me wonder how it was possible for an eighth grader to feel so alone. That they felt their only choice was a permanent solution to what might have been a temporary problem.  (Not an easy problem to solve, but most likely temporary.)

I ask you, Precious Readers, to be respectful of those who have suffered loss and not provoke each other. Instead, let us always keep this blog as an area of uplifting and supporting each other. That’s the culture I try to leave behind as I wake each morning. I hope you do as well.

Back to the story:
As you can imagine, after suffering those losses, we amplified not only positive morale boosting activities among our schools, but also to make our staff reveal ourselves as human and approachable. II sat looking at this sheet. Some of my coworkers had already completed theirs, making long lists of written words such as
family, friends, bacon, etc.

Let me tell you something: Kids have short attention spans. With our world ever evolving towards instantaneous gratification, their attention span is even shorter than previous generations. What kid is going to want to spend 5 minutes reading an entire written list by an adult they hardly know? Not many. I looked at my sheet and decided to go a different direction. I found images and obvious symbolism of things I was interested. Since I embrace my inner nerd here, I embraced my inner nerd for the project. After arranging photos, a pattern emerged.

My inner ego is obsessed with Japan. I don’t watch a lot of anime, but I probably watch more than your average person. I have never dressed up and gone to Sakura Con. I have friends who have never heard of or watched anime in their life. I fall somewhere in between.

I’m obsessed with Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli films. If you haven’t heard of him, he created animated family favorites like My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle (LOVE), Princess Mononoke, recently, The Secret World of Arriety, and currently in theaters Only Yesterday. (For Washingtonians, this means in Seattle at SIFF.) In fact, I’m seeing Only Yesterday this weekend with gal pal, “Caring.” Maybe you’ll spot me.

Why the Japanese culture fandom? If you’ve read this blog before, you know I’m an only child. (This blog is a perfect testament to my “Only Child Syndrome” condition of loving to talk about myself and having an internal dialogue that often becomes an audible dialogue of my thoughts.) To help pay for school, and additionally for my socialization needs, my family hosted several exchange students. 28 to be exact. Most were from different areas of Japan, with only 5 out of the 28 being from elsewhere of the world. (Stories for another day.)

Keep in mind, we hosted students from when I was a toddler through my junior year of high school. That is a LOT of students over the course of a LONG period of time. Since most were from Japan, I learned quite a bit not only about their culture and language, but at a young age was exposed to awesome shows that few 90’s kids spent time watching. Sailor Moon and Voltron were a couple of personal favorites. More commonly known Speed Racer was a greatly admired show during the 80’s/90’s.

Did you enjoy the Speed Racer movie? I liked their adaptation, but the constant spinning and Lisa Frank rainbow/neon style of palette made me horribly nauseous during the film. And I go on rollercoasters for fun.

Caring and I recently discovered we had a mutual love of Studio Ghibli films. She and her sister are such fans, they even give the proper pronunciation of Totoro. I hope to save up the funds to purchase the Studio Ghibli collector’s box containing every film they’ve created.

I’m also a fan of kawaii things. For those who don’t know what “kawaii” means “cute” in Japanese. It’s a term encompassing all things adorable. Think cupcakes with smiley faces.

One of my bucket list locations to travel to is Japan. Ride the bullet train, hike on Mt. Fuji, and of course, enjoy the light, fresh cuisine they’re known for. It will be some time before Pilot and I get to enjoy Japan, but I hope to go someday. But in the meantime… I’ll settle for:

KATIE’S BIG SUMMER ADVENTURE!

A dream has come true, Precious Readers! This year, Pilot and I will be flying across the world to South Korea! It all started with a documentary.

Once upon a November in 2015…

Pilot and I were having a quiet Thursday night, trying to decide what to watch from our Netflix queue. (Yes, “queue.” There’s an extra “-ue” in there.) Some time ago, I’d been told to watch a documentary called “Twinsters.” I won’t provide spoilers here, but it’s a real life documentary about Korean Adoptees. (There’s WAY more to that film, but I don’t want to give anything away.)

I had actually avoided this documentary for a few months, unsure if I would appreciate the content. Several programs focused on “adoption” in popular culture stem from the idea that there is a “lost soul” who needs to “reconnect” with their so-called “missing piece.” Granted, there are some adoptees who feel that way, but between myself and fellow friends who are adopted… I’ve never met someone in person who feels that way. In my personal experience, most of those shows represent a small percentage of adoptees. The shows are catering to viewers looking for “drama.” Twinsters was far more realistic in representing, what I believe to be, the general adoptee point of view. (At least for those who were born in Korea, then adopted outside of that country.)

Pilot and I were riveted by the documentary, staying up later in the evening to finish it in one go. Twinsters revealed information about a Korean Adoptee Conference held in Seoul, South Korea, which is only held once every three years. It welcomes around 500 Korean-born adoptees from around the world to fly to Seoul and learn not only about the adoption process, but learn about their birth country.  (Major plus: it’s mostly hosted in English, thank GOD!)

After the documentary finished Pilot and I deeply discussed into the wee hours of early morning. I’m not terribly emotional when it comes to my adoption, however I did experience several waves of different emotions I wasn’t expecting. Pilot shared that he felt closer to me, that he was able to better understand my personality and how my thought processes work. I am grateful to Twinsters for this. Over the course of 13 years, you learn so much about a person, but the documentary gave a voice to a part of my point of view of the world and my childhood that I’ve never been able to verbalize well. Even if you’re not an adoptee, if you just like documentaries, I highly recommend the film.

While discussing the conference, I remembered the film saying it’s hosted only once every three years. We checked the date of the documentary. It was took place in 2013. I looked at Pilot, and he looked at me. Instantly, we were both looking up the conference, and sure enough, it’s being hosted this year.

Pilot and I are in our (early) 30’s. If we don’t attend this year, the next time it will be hosted is 2019. If Pilot and I are realistic, if we’re going to have kids, it’s going to be sometime in our 30’s. If we were going to (easily) attend, it would have to be this year, or we’ll be waiting a looong time before going again. There were 3 problems:

How was this going to affect my mother?
I don’t care how understanding your parents are, how open-minded, how freely they share their emotions, how old you/they are. Talking with an (adoptive) parent about potentially looking for biologically related family members can create a whole world of hurt, pain, and insensitivity if not handled correctly.

I’ve mentioned time and time again, my (adoptive) parents are my real parents. I don’t think of them in any other way. Just because we don’t share the same biology does not mean they’re not my “real” family. My parents are each adopted as well. We have this in common, and I’m grateful that although they were both born in the USA and adopted within the USA, and I was adopted out of country, we share 90% of our points of view regarding adoption. My mother even spent time in the early 2000’s searching for more information about her biological family, and received information back from her adoption agency. She’s even mentioned that if I was interested in looking up biologically related people, she would be supportive.

This doesn’t change the fact that I wasn’t sure how to broach this topic; and I still didn’t want to cause my mom any pain in any way shape or form. Especially about this topic. I wanted her to be sure that I view her as my mother, 100%, and that I don’t consider anyone else my mom. If my dad was still alive, I’d want to reassure him as well. The timing of watching the documentary couldn’t have been better. Pilot and I had stayed up late on a Thursday evening, and we were having dinner with my mom the next night.

I was a nervous wreck.

We first mentioned the documentary to her. My mom and I love watching movies, it’s one of our favorite activities, so it’s not uncommon for us to recommend films to each other. I wasn’t even 5 minutes into talking about the documentary plot when she jumped in and asked me if I wanted to go to Korea, in an excited manner!

Did I mention, I love my mom? We’re far too similar, which is probably the reason we butt heads sometimes.  All of the worry and concern was for nothing, and she was supportive beyond description.

Emotional problems avoided, I found myself with a new problem.

Did I mention we’re not wealthy?
Even on the cheap, there is zero way we would be able to afford this trip. At the time of the conference, it’s the highest time of tourism for the country, meaning the flights for a single person round trip would be $1,700-$1,800. This doesn’t include the fee of the conference, living quarters, or food.

Did I mention, I love my mom?  (Oh, I did? Well, I’m mentioning it again.)

While growing up, my parents both said that there was some money set aside should I ever express interest in traveling to South Korea. I had completely forgotten about it, as my 30-something year old brain is beginning to forget conversations like that from my itty bitty childhood years.

Besides, no person in their 30’s enjoys going to their parents and asking for thousands of dollars. I don’t care who you are. Asking for money can be stressful, hurt relationships, and all around not end well. I am fortunate that my parents had the foresight to predict this want to visit Korea may happen in my future. Hence, this added to my stress of approaching my mother with this topic.

Immediately after jumping in during my description of Twinsters, her second immediate statement was, “How much do you need? You have X amount of money already. Will that be enough? If you need more, let me know. Want to stay longer? You can stay longer beyond the conference if you want. Just let me know.”

I love my mom.

Funding issues avoided, and absolutely no more hurdles to prevent Pilot and I attending the conference, I was stuck with one, final problem.

Did I even want to do this?
Here’s my (current) list of insecurities, (as they fluctuate in severity each day):

  • Am I doing this because it’s convenient, or do I really want to go?
  • This is both Pilot and my first big trip anywhere. Were we prepared to do a large trip, especially to a foreign country where we don’t speak the language?
  • I hate flying. Can I stand to be on an airplane for 12 hours?
  • It’s going to be hot with 99% humidity, and they’re a conservative country requiring me to dress covered up. I grew up on the West Coast. I need new shirts. I’m going to FRY!
  • Is the conference going to be good, or will I be wasting my mom’s money on something that wasn’t “my thing”?
  • Am I prepared to go searching for birth/foster family information?
  • What happens if birth/foster family members don’t want to meet me?
  • What happens if they do?

I don’t have much to say on the subject right now. I’m still processing the fact that my husband and I have booked the trip, found a place to stay, have the flights all scheduled and will be leaving for 2 WEEKS for South Korea this year.

As far as what to do about biologically related people, or foster family people… I haven’t decided yet. We have a few months to get paperwork in, and I have a feeling I’ll probably regret not doing the paperwork, but it’s too much to decide in this moment right now. I gave myself a personal due date to make the decision and fill out the paperwork, and I’m 75% sure that I’ll do it. (I mean, if will be traveling all of that way to Korea and staying that long, why wouldn’t I at least try?)

That’s a post for another day. I promise to update as time goes on, and let you know the progress of that decision.

Wishing you and yours the luck of the Irish today. I think I’ll need some for the remainder of the year.

If you had the opportunity to travel to a country of your family’s heritage, would you go? What would you do? Who would you visit, if you could?

What was the best and worst advice you received about traveling abroad?

Would you do your best to learn the language before going?

If you’ve been to Korea, what should I know before going? (It will be late summer.)

– Food
– Culture
– Manners
– Things to see
– Things to eat
– 
Things to do

 

what is the number one piece of advice teachers would give you? (Marysville-Pilchuck High School Shooting)

Dearest, most Precious Readers:

 

Recent news in the State of Washington compels me to write about a tragic event that occurred on October 24th, 2014.

 

Jaylen Fryburg chose to shoot friends and family at his high school.

 

Before you close this page, I assure you that I will not be writing anything political about gun safety/availability or amendment rights. Instead, I am writing on a subject you all know is near and dear to my heart:  children.

 

On posts past, I’ve mentioned that I have never planned to have children, nor any plans for planning a family now. So, why should I care?

 

We ALL should.

 

Why does a school shooting bother me perhaps more than the average blogger or news observer?

 

My husband, Pilot, worked for Marysville-Pilchuck High School in 2012.

 

Please realize that my concern would not be, in any way, lessened should my husband not have worked for the school.

 

School shootings are nothing to glean over. However, I also don’t believe it should be exploited for personal gain by using a devastating event for political platforms.  The safety of children should always be a number one priority for every citizen of the planet Earth.

 

Much of the speculation-

 

…and at this point, that is all we can do: SPECULATE. SPECULATION DOES NOT EQUAL TRUTH.

 

-has been around the question of “Why?”

 

Why did he shoot his friends?  His family?

He was popular!

He played sports!

He was well liked!

He seemed normal!

 

Let’s hone in on that word now, shall we? “Normal.”

 

What is normal? What is your perception of normal?

 

Pilot is not just a teacher, but he is a special education teacher. He has focused the majority of his career on children with emotional and behavioral disorders.  Do you know what “normal” is for this group of children? Juvenile detention, abusive home lives, homelessness, drug dealing/addiction, being part of neighborhood gangs, violent tendencies, social workers, psychologists (if they can afford one), parole officers, etc. This is their “normal.” The average age of Pilot’s students?  15 years old.

 

The child in question in the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting was considered coming from a good home, with friends, popularity at school, extracurricular sports activities, etc. This was his “normal.”

 

There is a massive stigma against “loners,” “unpopular kids,” “goth,” etc. children that they are the usual suspects and the ones to watch for “threatening behavior.”

 

Earlier this year, the world lost an incredibly talented entertainer, Robin Williams, to suicide incurred due to depression. How many other countless celebrities can we name? Another loss last year, was Glee’s leading actor, Cory Monteith. From the 1990’s beloved actor Phil Harman was murdered by his wife. His wife shot their children, killed Hartman and committed suicide. Another local Washington state school experienced a shooting earlier this spring, Seattle Pacific University, a private college.

 

So what about last Friday? I am not going to propose any theories on this child’s life.  I’m not going to demonize him and continue calling him “shooter.”  He was a child. A child who made a horrible, irrefutably horrible and gruesome choice that has destroyed the lives of his family, the victims and their families, his classmates and the school’s faculty and staff, and anyone who is remotely connected to the school and the people of that school.

 

Based on new evidence coming to light, aka Twitter, it has come to the attention that several of Fryberg’s tweets from Twitter indicated disturbing “warning signs” that (in hindsight… and we all understand how hindsight works) should have indicated that there was major dissatisfaction with Fryberg.

 

Depression and pain doesn’t have a single type of face.  It’s a feeling.  It doesn’t hit one type of personality, race, gender, age, or background.  It can occur in anyone.  Stop making excuses and stop being an ostrich.  A shooting could happen anywhere, and it could be caused by any one going through pain.

 1

 I’ve gone through and suffer depression myself.  After a series of events between 2007-2009, I went on antidepressants.  I was in great denial.  It was after those closest to me suggested I talk with someone about the events during this two-year period (a post for another day) and that I should try to get help, it made me realize that if everyone was asking me to at least try it, I wasn’t being my normal perky, snarky self.  I was in such denial about it, that it took several of my loved ones to talk bring it to my attention before I actually sought out help.  Realizing I had a strong support net, even from people I’d least expect to be encouraging, is what pushed me forward.  I couldn’t realize it for myself, it took others’ efforts to get through to me.

 

One of the things I’ve learned after watching years of Pilot navigating the delicate tightrope of emotional turmoil that his students face every day, boils down to a few key things:

 

Involvement

Understanding

Support

 

Involvement: The key factor that unites all of the different problems these children face is lack of involvement from their parents/guardians.  Either the parents/guardians are too busy to help their children, or they have no interest in how their children spend time.

 

Understanding: I don’t like to believe anyone is a lost cause. Adults seem to forget that children are much sharper than they’re given credit for.  A child doesn’t necessarily need to be book smart to be intelligent. Many of the children I’ve seen Pilot work with are sharp, aware, and hyperaware of their environment.

 

Support: America has its priorities messed up.  There, I said it, and I’ll say it again.  America has its priorities messed up.  We do not put enough value on education.

modern schoolteacher

(http://thegrumpyvoter.ca/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/the.modern.school.teacher.jpg)

 

America does not put enough funding into our social work systems, the foster care system, education, mental care, medical facilities, and programs to assist with those who are homeless/jobless.  Many of these children do not receive the necessary resources required to assist with their advancement.

 

Continuing with the support idea, many parents and those not involved in the school systems ask, “What are schools doing to prevent a shooting from happening again?

 

The answer?  You can’t.

 

I know that’s not the answer you wanted to hear.  Sorry, you just can’t.  No more than you can stop a corner store armed robbery from occurring.

 

Education lives in a rock and a hard place right now.  All schools can do is have good security staff on hand, an emergency drill plan, clear communication channels to local law enforcement, and train their faculty/staff in self defense and classroom management in case a situation like this occurs.  Faculty of every educational institution has to go through some type of psychology training.  Some schools in rougher neighborhoods have metal detectors and body search wands (like at the airport).

 

Nothing is going to deter someone from wanting to inflict harm in others, except for one thing: Someone taking notice of that person’s behavior.  You can have all of the training and preparation in the world.  Taking control of how to handle a situation like that and executing routine practice drills is all of the control you can provide in that situation.

 

Silence is what kills.  Not acting upon that piece of instinct within you to ask the tough questions.  If you notice behavior is off with someone you know, it is worth the risk of creating an awkward situation by asking if something is bothering that person.  I would much rather risk a friendship and dealing with an uncomfortable conversation, than no conversation occurring at all –with dire results as the aftermath.

 

I would rather risk a friendship and push conversations into the “tough stuff” so that the other person knows that I’m always there to listen, open mindedly (that’s key, here people), to what their thoughts are.  You may not agree with their morals or ethics, you may not agree with their opinion, but being willing to listen in the first place and letting the person know they’ve been heard is usually the first step in alleviating anxiety, stress, pain and depression for the other person.

 

If you don’t feel comfortable confronting the person in regards to their change in behavior, speak with someone else close to that person.

 

Again, silence is what kills.

 

Kids today in general have so much more pressure. One key factor I believe causes this, is our world is smaller.  Cell phones, internet, instant messaging, social media, texting, instagram, etc. has made our world more connected, yes, but it has also made each user be placed dead center under literally a world of scrutiny.  Add in the typical pressures of a teenager, growing up, being an adult, still being a kid, academic pressure, extracurricular activity performance pressure, getting into college/not getting into college, home life, jobs, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends/in-between, now you throw in gender identity, dating, sex, love, marriage, hookups, breakups, SAT’s, GED’s, drugs, drinking, expectations/lack of expectations… the list goes on and on.  It’s enough to make anyone cringe at those few, intense years that very few can say with 100% certainty that they survived unscathed.

 

Even the “normal” kids face incredible amounts of pressure I can barely keep up with to try and understand, and I wasn’t a teenager/young adult that long ago.

 

Break the silence.  It’s better to have checked in with someone than let it go.  I don’t know what was going through Fryberg’s mind leading up to and during October 24, 2014.  I can guarantee, that child must have felt severely alone, desperate, angry, resentful and/or any combination of those emotions.

 

It isn’t a “type” of person who feels those things.  Every human being has felt one or more of those emotions at some point in her/his life. Maybe his friends and family might have even talked to him about it leading up to it.  A decision to kill isn’t born into someone. It’s caused.

 

We need to be made more aware of the people around us. Not with a discerning, skeptical, calculating eye, but with a caring, respectful, and genuine sense of community for each other.

 

For parents, all Pilot and I can both suggest as a method to staying Involved, Understanding, and Supportive:

 

  1. LISTEN to your kids. Don’t talk AT them, talk WITH them.  I don’t always succeed in my execution of this, but my efforts are still noted. Even if the conversation doesn’t work the first time, keep at it.  It may not get easier, but at least your kids will know they have safe place to share their thoughts.

 

  1. BE AWARE of your kids’ internet/cell phone use. DO NOT SNOOP.  Establishing at the beginning what the rules are for using computers, cell phones, and other methods of communication are within your home (setting expectations) are key to understanding the world your child has created for herself/himself.  Believe me, you may not have full access to whom /where your kids are spending their time, but Facebook/Twitter sure do.

 

cheating vs social media
http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/236x/7f/06/b4/7f06b4fd9eb38ce67b25b30379628933.jpg

 

  1. CARE. I once heard that 99% of parenting is showing up.  Being physically present, or even a phone call (NOT TEXT.  I SAID CALL.  A voice connects you to each other far more than reading letters on a screen) to wish your child good luck with their next activity when you’re not able to attend.  Let them know you’re taking them out afterward to celebrate (whether it goes well or not, especially when it does not).  You have a child in your life. This is a precious gift. Be involved, or get involved.

 

I asked Pilot what the one piece of advice he would give parents/guardians and I’ll paraphrase it here:

 

Be consciously involved in your child’s education and life.

 

Going back to the question of, “What are schools doing to prevent a shooting from happening again?”  There is a mindset becoming more prevalent in parent/teacher conferences:  That the kids spend all of their time at school, so the teachers are responsible for their child’s behavior.

 

This is ass backwards, and here is why:

 

Children spend 6 hours a day in school.  Let’s say 7 hours total to include commute time (assuming your child goes to a nearby school).  I ask you, how many hours are there in a day?  How good are your math skills?  Mine suck, and I can tell you that 7 out of 24 hours is not a lot of time.

 

changes in time

http://pjmedia-new.pjmedia.netdna-cdn.com/lifestyle//user-content/36/files//2014/01/funny-parents-grades-teachers-comic.jpg

 

Children spend 1/3 of their day at school.  Estimate the average 8 hours of sleep at their place of residence, and where is the rest?  With their family or chosen extracurricular activity/jobs.  Do you know where your child works?  Who they work with?  These are questions you should already know the answer to, don’t you think?

 

The point of all of this:  Be there for your children.  Be involved in your children’s lives.  It takes effort, time, and patience, but it’s worth it.  They won’t be children for long, and it’s a tough world.  Not to sound corny, but who they are and how they interact with the world is every person’s responsibility, and they will be our future leaders.  Their choices will shape our future.

 

Be Involved.

Be Understanding.

Be Supportive.

 

What are your methods for staying involved with the children in your life?

How do you monitor your child’s use of technology and social media?

Have you talked to your children to keep an eye out for rash behavioral changes in their friends and peers?

Do your children know where to go at school/work/extracurricular activities to report concerning behavior safely?

For those in the education field, what are your tips for keeping your classrooms safe?

smells like teen spirit

She’s overboard and self-assured.

At least, that’s how I felt my first day moving into my college dorm room years ago.

Ok, we don’t necessarily need to point out exactly how long ago.

Today’s DWC is focused on the “end of an era.” It made me think back to my first day at college and what my parents might have been going through.  It was a much more crazy day than my character’s family dealt with.

Mine was filled with all types of stuff being hauled in and out of hallways. New students passing each other, bumping into each other, knocking boxes out from each other, all wide-eyed and pretending to be confident.

My high school friend and his parents were on the floor above me getting Randy* settled into his dorm.  Not fifty feet away from me, my future husband was moving into his.  I wouldn’t meet Pilot for three more weeks.

I wonder how many times my parents and I must have passed him and his parents in the hallways that first day.  It boggles the mind how my life literally changed directions, all under the same roof in a matter of months.

For my mom and dad, today’s DWC is for you.

*Name has been changed for privacy

Daily Writing Challenge

Day 22: Today is the end of an era in your characters life. How do they feel about this? What is happening today? Write a scene of your character on this day.

Looking around the tiny space, it still amazes me how all of that furniture fit in one room.  The shelves above and below the bed, the tiny desk, and the part mini refrigerator, part microwave combination.  Ellie began to hang her clothing in the closet. I helped setup some family photos while Henry setup her computer.

A flash appeared in my mind.  A five-year-old Ellie standing with her Sesame Street backpack and her pigtails in the middle of her kindergarten classroom.

“No, Mommy! Don’t go! I don’t want to be here!”

I crouched down to her eye level and gave her a squeeze.  “Honey, it’s going to be fine. You’re going to make new friends and your teacher Mrs. Johansen is nice.”

Ellie’s lip trembled. “But I want to go home!”

I gave her a squeeze.  “Ellie, this is your first day of school, and I know it can be scary. But I’ll be back at lunchtime and we’ll go out for a family lunch to celebrate!”

Henry picked Ellie up and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “That’s right, sweetie pie! We can go anywhere you want.”

Ellie’s eyes lit up. “Even the place with the big bird?”

Henry laughed, “Yes. We can go to Red Robin.”  He gave her a conspiratorial look, touching his forehead to hers.  “You might even get a balloon if you’re good for Ms. Johansen.” Ellie’s eyes widened as she gasped.

“I’ll be good Daddy! I promise!  Love you!” She said squirming to get to her cubby.

Henry laughed.  “Good girl!” he said setting her down.  “Now go put your backpack away in that special cubby Ms. Johansen picked just for you.”

I watched her pigtails bounce as she ran to halfway to her cubby, then stop.  She whipped around and ran back to me.

Ellie, my precious baby girl gave me a kiss on the cheek. She smelled like baby shampoo and Ellie-ness.  I squeezed her again as tears pricked at the corners of my eyes.

“Mommy, I can’t breathe!” she said, her voice muffled by my shoulder.

“Sorry honey. I hope it’s a terrific first day!”  I released her a little bit, kissing her forehead.

“Love you Mommy! Bye Daddy!”

I watched as she scampered away.  Now I was seeing Ellie standing in her college dorm room tentatively as if waiting for an answer.

“I’m sorry, honey. What was that?” I blinked.

Ellie rolled her eyes.  “I was just saying the RA’s are probably going to want us to assemble soon.”

“Oh.”  I paused.  “Are you sure you have enough pillows and blankets?  Winters get awfully cold here.”

“Mom, I’m fine. I have everything I need,” she said smiling at me, slinging her arm around my shoulder.  She glanced around.  “In fact, I think I have enough blankets to create a giant pillow fort for me and twelve roomates.”

“Louise, leave Ellie alone. She’s going to be fine,” Henry said taking my hand in his, gently pulling me away.

Ellie put her hands on her hips. “Besides, I’m going to come home and see you in a couple of weeks after orientation and after I get used to my class schedule,” shooing us out the door.  I broke free from Henry’s steering to give her one more hug.

Henry and I pulled away from the curb. A sniffle escaped as the car wound down the road.  As we continued, a tear escaped down my cheek.  Henry handed me the box of tissues.

“Oh, Louise. She’ll be fine.  You’ll be fine.”

I wiped the tears from my eyes. Glancing over at Henry, I swiped a tissue and handed him one.

“Oh, hell,” was all he said as he took my hand.  We watched Ellie’s figure which was waving goodbye to us shrink in the mirrors.

“She’s all grown up now, Henry.  What do we do?”

“Same thing we did before.”  He glanced at me and smiled.  “We send her off into the world, hope we’ve taught her enough to do the right things and pray she’ll always want to come back to us.”

giving good advice and hoping it’s the best

I encourage you to inspire someone today.

“Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.” Got to love the endlessly quotable Jurassic Park. Today’s DWC is about influence. When we question something, are we truly seeking advice in the first place? Some say when we go searching for answers, we already know what our answer is. Instead, we’re looking for validation for our decision.

Words are a powerful motivator. Whether it be positive or negative advice, it can generate repurcussions far beyond our expectations.  In the film The Shawshank Redemption, the film touches on whether “hope” is good or dangerous, and the fallout of believing both.

After reading my instructions for today’s DWC, I began to wonder about influence and another word often used interchangibly for seeking enlightenment, “encouragement.”

What is the difference between influence and encouragement?  Hmm…

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “influence” as:

1. an ethereal fluid held to flow from the stars and to affect the actions of humans
2. an emanation of spiritual or moral force
3. the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command
4. the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways
5. one that exerts influence

“Encourage” is defined as:

1. to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope
2. to spur on
3. to give help or patronage to

I began to think about “advice” and how so many of my life’s decisions were for issues falling under some shade of gray rather than black and white, and praying that the decisions I’ve made were the right ones.

Not all of them were the right decisions… Oh, well.

Influence is motivation from an unknown source (whether it be a thought referencing to an earlier conversation or decision, signs from ‘up above’ or whatnot). Where as encouragement is a suggestion from a direct source.

Identifying my DWC’s grammar is wrong, that’s a different different post for another time.

The scene I wrote below is dealing with some very difficult issues. Murder, abuse, drunk driving, and most of all, parenting. What guidance do you give someone who has suffered a horrible tragedy?

Advice can be good, but is it always the best?  Check out today’s DWC and let me know if our protagonist, Roger is receiving good advice.  If separate, is Roger receiving the best advice?

What were some encouraging words that you’ve held onto in your life?  Were they helpful or did they cause more trouble than the advice was worth? 

Daily Writing Challenge

Day 18: Your character has a conversation with an influential person in their life. It can be a parent, a teacher, a mentor, anyone your character looks up to. Why are they having the conversation? Write the scene.

The steel gate shut, the sound of the lock settling echoed through the cement hallways.  Next was his least favorite part, but a necessity of the procedure.  After walking through the metal detector, he spread his arms and legs.  Roger let the security guard pat him down, check his driver’s license and walk up to the check in desk.

“Nice to see you again, Roger,” Lorraine greeted him with a slight nod.

“Afternoon, ma’am,” returning the nod as he signed the paperwork and turned over his personal belongings. 

“Got a new pic of that darlin’ girl of yours?” Lorraine asked.

“Yup. Won the school spelling bee this year!” he said proudly.

“Now ain’t that nice,” Lorraine winked. Giving a nod to the row of seats she said, “She’ll be out in just a few minutes. Go to number six.”

He sat at the cement table, its cool hard surface chilling his hands. Through the glass, Roger saw a flash of orange appear at the doorway.

She looked thin. Her cheeks used to be full and pink with color. Now, after three years of being in Willow Creek County Correctional Facility, her face was sallow and worn. A blue bandanna was tied around her head, her hair wiry and raw from the harsh soaps.  He remembered she used to spend an hour in the morning, making sure every hair was in place, with a shellac of hair spray over the top. If she’d set her hair correctly, Mother Nature herself wouldn’t dare ruffle that hairdo.

As the correction officer led the woman into the room, Roger grabbed the wired phone and tapped the window with the receiver, then placing it to his ear.  The woman grabbed the receiver on her side of the glass, and her voice funneled through the earpiece with some slight static.

“Hello, baby,” she said warmly.

The same calm voice that comforted him when he was sick, that helped guide him during his baseball games, that same voice who would read him bedtime stories when he was little.  It was always difficult seeing her through the safety glass.  Not even able to give her a hug of support during her time in this horrible place.

“Hi Mama,” he said.

“Did you get that fancy job in Chicago?”

“I did, Mama. I got it. We’re supposed to leave next week.” His heart sank. How could he move on with his mama living in this shithole?

“How’s my little angel?” she asked, glancing at his shirt pockets.

Roger took the picture from his shirt and held it up to the glass.  “She’s seven now, Mama. She looks just like Whit. More, every day,” he said, giving her his best smile.  “She won the spelling bee.”

“Oh she’s so big! And she has her daddy’s smile!” His mother ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the picture for a few more minutes. “Anyone can tell after meeting her for two seconds that that girlie is goin’ places!”

In the photo, stood his beautiful little Jenny. A spotlight on her, with her shaking hands with the school’s principal. Sure enough, she had her daddy’s ear-splitting grin, which was wide as the Mississippi is long, despite missing a couple of teeth. Standing up straight with her chest puffed up, holding her certificate proudly on stage, you could just feel the joy emanating from the photo.

Returning his smile she replied, “There now! That’s what I like to see!  A smile looks good on you. And yet…” her brow furrowed. “Now what’s troublin’ you, baby boy?”

Roger’s smile fell slightly, “How did you know something was wrong?”

“A mother always knows when her baby is hurtin’.”

Roger wiped his face with his hand and sighed.  After a few moments of silence, he decided to just get right down to it.  “I don’t know what to do about Jenny, mama.” He shok his head. “She’s getting big now, and she’s smart. Smart as a whip.  But that means she’s starting to ask questions I don’t have the answers to.”

His mother just sat, patiently listening to him, letting him gather his thoughts. She had always been a good listener. Hopefully she’d know what to do.

“She wants to know why Whitney is gone, and I can’t…  I just-” he voice faded, pausing as an ice block settled into this stomach like every other time he remembered his wife.

“You don’t know how to explain why her mama’s gone,” she said more as a statement rather than a question.

He looked up at the ceiling, hesitating before responding.  “What am I gonna do, mama? How do I tell my little girl.. How that idiot was too drunk to know his ass from his elbow and crashed into Whitney’s car? It’s a miracle Jenny even survived the crash herself, let alone having to explain to my girl that he killed my wife?”

His mother gave him a stern look and pointed her index finger firmly at him. “Roger, your daddy made his own decisions and ruined this family. I let that nonsense go on for far too long, and I will not let you continue to feel guilty about your daddy’s sins. It was not your fault.”

“Mama, if I had just been there instead of off the coast for work, Whit would never have gone to pick him up at Two Snake Jake’s.”

His mama raised an eyebrow. “Roger, you listen to me and you listen good. What’s done is done. You can’t change the past. But you can build a newer and brighter future for you and my granddaughter.”

“But what do I tell her?” he exclaimed. “How do I explain Whit-… And you bein’ in here?”

“This is what you tell her. Life is all about choices. That the ones you ignore are just as powerful as the ones you make, and hope you have the sense to know the difference.”  Her eyes softened.  “You tell her that she had a beautiful mama who died trying to do the right thing. And a nana who-” her voice caught and she paused a moment. “A nana who made sure that her granddaddy couldn’t hurt anyone ever again.”

She blinked back some tears.  After taking a moment to compose herself, she said pointedly, “You tell my little angel that people make mistakes. It’s part of being human. That I made mistakes too, and I have to live with them, and that’s that. She’s only a little girl. That’s all. She. Needs. To. Know.”

Roger felt a huge vice clamping down on his heart, immobilizing him.  “You shouldn’t be in here. It’s not fair. It’s not your fault that daddy was a no-good sonfabitch.”

“It was my decision. I did a bad thing, and that’s why I’m here.  This had nothin’ to do with you,” she said firmly.

“It had everythin’ to do with me! With us!” he was shouting now.  “Daddy drank till he was blue in the face, and any time he wasn’t drinkin’ he was smackin’ you around!”

“Hey!” the guard said in a steely, cold voice. “If you don’t simmer down right now, you’re gone. Understand, son?”

“Sorry. Won’t happen again,” Roger grumbled under his breath.

His mother watched Roger carefully for a few moments before speaking again.  “Now, Roger, you go on up outta here. Give your baby girl a hug and never let her go. You hold onto her with everything you’ve got, take the job in Chicago and don’t ever look back at this town.”