Why, yes, I do box

When someone asks you to go boxing, it’s not the sort of invitation you accept without asking questions. I had two: “Are you going to hit me in the face?” and “Will there be blood?”

Lori BoxingThe retired United Methodist minister who invited me is congenial, witty, and not the sort of man you would picture taking a swing at your face and breaking your nose, but all the same I felt better asking.

As it turns out, nobody in Marvin’s boxing class hits anybody else. They box heavy bags, speed bags and practice with two female trainers—one a three-time world champion boxer.

Oh, did I mention that all the boxers in the class have Parkinson’s?

Marvin was diagnosed at 61, a few months after he retired. Seven years later he’s still boxing, working to stave off the progression of Parkinson’s.

With any affliction, challenge or brick wall, when the determined ones can’t pass through, they hunt for a way around, under or over. It’s called grit.

Grit is what they develop at Rock Steady Boxing. It’s an intense 90-minute workout. They start with warm-up exercises in a ring that used to be a backup ring at Madison Square Garden years ago.

After their warm up, they hit the exercise machines and after that they don the gloves. Then they box against the heavy bags and the speed bags. Periodically, a trainer yells to drop and give her three pushups. Some shake, some tremble, some falter, but nobody quits.

The drill with the jump rope is fascinating. One man jump ropes the length of the gym, others lay the jump rope on the floor and practice jumping over it, back and forth, back and forth. Making the feet move is hard for people with Parkinson’s. There is something about seeing a line that encourages the brain to tell the feet to step over it. Maybe it’s the same effect as signs that say “Wet Paint” or “Don’t Walk on the Grass.”

And then there is the drill with the focus pads. Focus pads are the baseball gloves of boxing. Trainers put a focus pad on each hand, and boxers punch into them, working on speed, endurance and agility. A trainer calls out a large man with an unsteady and halting gait. He turns toward her and nearly loses his footing. He hesitates. He doesn’t say anything verbally, but it looks like a body language no.

She calls him again. He lumbers over, raises his gloves and throws a punch. His stance is uncertain. She yells and he throws another punch. Then another. Left, right, left, right. She demands more of him. More and more. She’s pushing him hard, and if he falls it won’t be easy getting him back up.

He throws faster and faster, harder and harder. He has found a rhythm that moments ago was beyond reach, or at least beyond my imagination. She slowly raises the focus pads higher and higher still yelling, challenging, encouraging. His punches follow her moves with a fluid grace. Her arms are extended as high as they will go. He reaches high and throws hard in complete and utter defiance to the forces working against him.

Determination 1, Challenges of Life, 0.

More dad moments, please

It truly was a dad-moment. Harry Connick, Jr., amazing musician, husband, father of three daughters and all-around nice guy, recently asked an “American Idol” contestant, who had just turned 18, to repeat the first line of the song she just sang.

“You got me down on the floor, so what you got me down here for,” she replied.

He asked her if she really wanted to be singing about, you know, being down on the floor.

She squirmed. The camera cut to her parents sitting in the audience. She squirmed a bit more and then said something along the lines of why yes, she did want to sing about being “down on the floor, so what you got me down here for” because it was about women, power and what women want.

The audience roared and her parents beamed.

The dad in Connick had trumped the entertainer and celebrity in him. He didn’t flinch. In challenging the girl with a pointed question, he was actually attempting to protect her. That’s a brave move in today’s world.

We’re an odd lot. We strive to give kids the best schools, the best experiences, brag that they’re talented and ahead of the curve, yet shrink from asking basic questions that reveal whether they can follow simple logic.

If you’re down on the floor when you’ve barely turned 18, where do you think you’ll be at 19?

We do better with friend-mode than dad-mode or mom-mode. Friend-mode is comfortable, less confrontational. Yet asking kids pointed questions helps them connect the dots. It’s nothing new. It’s the same way Socrates taught Plato.

The thing about pop culture is that it demands such strict allegiance that few have the courage to question it. If you don’t think pop culture inflicts a suffocating sameness, note that gaggle of girls at the mall, the ones striving for individuality, yet pressed into conformity. They’re all wearing the same leggings, the same boots and twirling the same highlighted hair.

We sidestepped much of pop culture when our kids were young simply because so much of it was (and still is) coarse and vulgar. They were cheeky enough without the encouragement of Bart Simpson.

Were we protective? Without apology.

When they were older and ready to date, we protected them again.

Boys interested in spending time with our girls were often invited to dinner. We would tease that three out of the five members of our family belonged to the NRA. They’d laugh a nervous laugh, which is what we were going for. The message was, “We’re a fun family, but don’t do anything stupid, son.”

A graduating high school senior once said that of all the girls he dated, we were the only parents who had ever talked to him.

Was parent-mode ever interpreted as aggressive? Yes.

Did it cause conflict? On occasion.

Are children worth it? Absolutely.

When a lovely young woman croons about being down on the floor, someone needs to slip into dad-mode. Someone needs to ask her hard questions and let her know that she’s worth so much more.

Bird’s eye view of work

I picked up the phone. Without so much as a hello, a voice said, “What’s new? We have an eagle in the backyard.”

EagleThere was a three-second brain lapse before I recognized the voice as my nephew’s. He was excited.

“It has a white head about the size of a baseball and a big yellow beak. He’s sitting in the top of a dead cottonwood tree at the back of our property. You know, where we used to keep the trailer.”

My nephew is visually impaired as we say today.

“It has white tail feathers that must be a foot long. He’s been there a long time. We’re sitting out in the sunroom watching him.”

The term “visually impaired” lacks the full kick in the gut. He is blind.

Retinitis pigmentosa began stealing his sight when he was 12. He’s in his twenties now.

“It’s a big ol’ thing. Dad saw it fly in and said it must have a wingspan of six feet. We’ve got an eagle sitting out back. Can you believe it?”

I can believe they have the rare pleasure of spotting an eagle in the top of a cottonwood. What I can’t believe is that my nephew without sight is giving the color commentary. It shouldn’t be that surprising really.

His sight might be gone, but he sees plenty. From memory mostly, from conversation around him, from listening to television and radio. He has amazing recall. We took him into town with us when we were visiting once. Our GPS wouldn’t work, so he gave us directions. Turn by turn, complete with landmarks, approximate distance and cautions on curves in the road. He knew exactly where we were and got us to where we wanted to go.

Second to his family, there are two things that have been pivotal in this young man’s life: a guide dog and a job.

The guide dog unleashed confidence he didn’t know he had.

The job, well, as his dad said, “Having a job makes him like everybody else. Now he has something to come home and gripe about at the end of the day.”

I never have a conversation with my nephew without asking about his job in case he wants to gripe. If he does, I join the club and grouse a bit about my work, too.

But I know, and I know that he knows, work is a gift.

We were created to work. We were made to produce goods and services, invent, engineer and solve problems. Work, including the nonpaying work of mothers and caregivers, is what drags us out of bed in the morning.

Work gives us something to do and somewhere to go. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, talk to someone unemployed. You might even help them paint over the claw marks running down their walls.

Work is how you prove that you have what it takes, to the world, and more importantly, to yourself. It is working hard that enhances the time that you don’t work, from kicking back and reading a book to watching an eagle.

Take the money, please

I hope I’m not asking too much, but could I just pay?

Could I just hand you some cash or swipe my credit card, take my purchase and go?

Why do you have to make me feel like a worm?

I’m friendly by nature, really I am. Surely you saw that when I approached the checkout counter and smiled.

We’re getting along fabulously, the transaction is going smoothly and then you have to sour it all by asking for my phone number.

Are you going to give me your phone number? I didn’t think so. I’m not giving you my phone number any more than I’m going to the parking lot and writing it in the dirt on the back windshields of pickup trucks. I don’t need a new best friend; I just need a new scrub brush I can fill with dish soap.

Now you look hurt and disappointed because I won’t give you my phone number. I feel terrible.

What’s that? You’d like my email address? No, you can’t have my email address.

What’s that? If I give you my email address, you’ll take five dollars off my next purchase? Look, I’ll pay you five dollars here and now if you’ll never ask me for personal information again. No? You can’t take cash? Too bad.

What’s that? Would I like to give you my street address? Why? Are you coming over? No, you can’t have my address. And if I see you follow me out of the store, I’m calling the police.

My zip code? All right. My zip code you can have. Now will you wipe that sad-puppy look off your face?

That’s better.

Did I know I could “like” your store on Facebook? Marvelous.

Would I like to donate to a charitable cause? If I say no, you’re going to think I’m cold and uncaring. What does it matter? You already think I’m a snob.

Would I like to take a survey? You’re circling the web address I can access to take a survey about my shopping experience today? If I say yes I’ll be lying, but if I say no you’re going to get that sad look again. I don’t say anything and now you’re certain I’m a snob, cold and uncaring.

Excuse me, I have a text: “Would you like a six-pack of Coke just for being you?”

How did the grocery get my cell? I never, ever, ever give out my cell. Blast that NSA!

For the record, the answer is no. No, I don’t want a six-pack of Coke; no, I don’t want to give you my phone number, my address, my email, my cell, my birth date, my Social Security number, my shoe size or my blood type. For the record, I make charitable contributions without solicitation and I probably won’t take time to go online and rate my shopping experience.

I’m leaving now. I feel like a jerk. I’m sorry it had to end this way. I just wanted to pay.

Giving your child unfair advantage

An acquaintance in his late 20s beamed from ear to ear as he told me that he is about to become a father. I gave him my hearty congratulations and commented on how happy he and his wife must be.

They are not married. I knew that, but I threw in the part about “he and his wife” hoping to plant an idea. I threw it in because the stories of kids growing up without dads are too many and too painful. I threw it in because Brad and Angelina may have assembled a brood of six before becoming engaged, but they are from that thin sliver of the population that enjoys unlimited wealth, own multiple homes and give private jets as birthday gifts. Rich celebrity couples do a great disservice when they make unmarried parenting look easy. Rich celebrity couples don’t shop Wal-Mart.

The fact is that this very kind young man, who surely chose a very kind young woman to deliberately replicate DNA with, will give his child a much better chance at success in this cold, cruel world if he advances from the role of father to that of husband.

The truth of this plays out every day. Literally.

If you are ever in a class or corporate training exploring diversity, you may be asked to play a game in which you will be “penalized” if you grew up in a married two-parent home because it has given you an unfair advantage in life.

What does the unfair advantage look like? Quite simply, two people can move a piano easier than one. When one of you is exhausted, the other one can take the lead. When one of you grows discouraged, the other one can find a new angle around a difficult corner.

Two are usually better equipped than one to avoid poverty, provide a roof overhead, food on the table, greater interaction, more supervision and conversation. Single parents can, and do, successfully raise children alone, but the path is far more difficult, which is why we readily give them generous amounts of support and sympathy.

From a child’s perspective, there is something mysteriously empowering about a wedding picture in a frame sitting on a shelf, the occasional envelope that comes addressed to Mr. and Mrs. and that crazy snoring at the end of the hall. It makes a kid feel stronger, smarter and taller. Marriage creates a safety net, visible and invisible.

People spend a lot of time assembling all the things a new baby will need, carefully choosing a crib, soft sleepers, diapers and baby creams. In a matter of several short years the child will have outgrown all of those things. But a child never outgrows the need for stability, a mom and dad committed to making a life and a home.

I wish I had been more direct with my young acquaintance. I should have said, “Your precious unborn baby deserves every unfair advantage. Why not give it to him? Why not give him the security of a mother and a father who are also husband and wife?”

Oh baby, here come the swaddling bans

When our fifth grandchild was born, I was in our daughter’s hospital room alongside our son-in-law helping him freshen up this adorable creature, their third baby. We changed her diaper, put a sleeper on her and prepared to swaddle her.

babyOur son-in-law has excellent swaddling skills. He employs a technique much like folding a flag, which reflects his military background. The folds are so crisp you nearly want to salute the infant when he’s finished.

As he was spreading out the blanket, my daughter said, “Mom, did you know swaddling babies is now frowned upon?”

I paused before saying the first thought that came into my head, and good thing, because a nurse had quietly entered the room.

I was about to proclaim, “If swaddling was good enough for the Christ child, it’s good enough for this child!”

The young nurse picked up the conversation and proceeded to inform me why swaddling is no longer an accepted practice. I gathered from her tone that swaddling is not quite as bad as letting your children play in traffic, but a close second.

She explained that the new way to put a baby to sleep is to put the baby on her back in the crib, place a blanket over her and tuck the blanket in on both sides of the mattress. This, of course, is a direct violation of the standing edict of the past 20 years that you never, never, never put a loose blanket in a crib with a baby under age 1.

People have been swaddling babies for more than 2,000 years. But why should that stop us from denouncing the practice now? We are nothing, if not arrogant.

Any mother worth her stretch marks will tell you that swaddling calms babies. Swaddling simulates the tight quarters in the womb, reduces crying, allows babies to hold body heat and sleep well. Swaddling for a baby is like a Snuggie for an adult—only much tighter fitting and more socially acceptable.

Bureaucratic fingerprints are all over this baby. The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education now states that “swaddling is not necessary or recommended.” What do you bet they were all swaddled as babies and swaddled their own babies as well?

In California, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, swaddling finds itself wrapped in virtual bans. Pennsylvania parents must obtain a signed wavier from a pediatrician if they want a daycare to swaddle their baby.

If only government bureaucrats intent on banning swaddling showed the same enthusiasm for deficit reduction.

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of the best-known gurus of baby sleep, maintains that swaddling has many benefits and “may well reduce infant sleep deaths.” But why listen to him? He’s only a well-respected, highly regarded specialist in how babies sleep; whereas the government specializes in . . . I’ll get back to you on that one.

When my obituary for Common Sense was published in a small book several years ago, it’s a shame we didn’t insert 100 blank pages at the back of the book so readers could add their own examples.

Sadly, you could fill a new page almost every day. This is definitely one for the book.

Nite, nite, Mr. Germ

Like a lot of kids during cold and flu season, our grandchildren have been trained for good health and good manners: Cover your mouth when you cough and say bless you when someone sneezes. Earlier in the day, one sneezed and another one said, “Hey! Don’t bless on me!”

Three of the grands are spending the night. Their mother is putting them down and I have been summoned to tell a bedtime story. The baby is already asleep, another is on the verge of sleep, and the third apparently has been downing espresso on the sly. The conversation between the very awake toddler and her rapidly fading mother turns to germs. “Grandma is going to tell you a story, because Mommy doesn’t feel well.”

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” the three-year-old asks.

“I have a virus,” Mommy says, getting up to leave.

“What’s a virus?”

“A virus is caused by a germ.”

“What’s the germ’s name, Mommy?”

Mommy sits back down. “I don’t know.”

“But, Mommy, what’s the germ’s name?”

“It’s probably rhinovirus. All right? Mommy’s going to leave now.” Mommy gets up again.

“But wait, Mommy. Where is the germ?”

“It’s in my mouth.”

“How did it get there?”

“I don’t know. Germs just travel this time of year.”

“Oh. What’s the germ’s name?”

“Rhinovirus.”

“Oh. I can’t say that.”

“It’s a hard word to pronounce,” says Mommy, who has inched her way to the door.

“And it’s in your mouth?”

“Yes, it’s in my mouth.”

Mommy leaves the room. I begin telling a story about a heavy snowfall and a full moon. It is a captivating story, if I may say so myself, and yet I am interrupted.

“Mommy has a germ.”

“I know. And on the most crooked branch of the tree sat a very round and puffy owl.”

“What’s its name?”

“What’s what name? The owl or the germ?”

“Mommy’s germ. What’s the name?”

“I think it was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

“I don’t think that was it, Grandma.”

“Maybe not. I don’t remember the germ’s name.”

“It’s hard to say, Grandma.”

“Yes, I know. The owl had yellow eyes, pointed ears and a hook nose.”

“Grandma?”

“Yes?”

“Mommy has a germ. The germ has a name. The germ is in her mouth.”

“Yes, that’s why she has a sore throat and doesn’t feel well.”

“Do I have a germ in my mouth?” She opens her mouth wide.

“No, all you have in your mouth is your teeth and your tongue.”

“Oh. That’s good,” she says with a yawn. “Good night, Grandma.”

Four wheels forward, three back

Every time I walk through a parking lot, I look for the car we should have bought. The husband’s car was totaled by another car last year, so we had to buy another one. We bought a Mistake. That’s not the model name, but it should be.

First, there’s the color. We viewed color samples in a slick brochure and chose Kodiak Brown. It’s black.

If the sun hits it just right, it will reflect a deep beautiful rich brown. It happened once. On a Thursday. In the driveway.

I directed a valet to the car once and said, “Over there, the brown one.”

“You mean the black one?”

“No, it’s brown. Look again. Here, angle yourself just so. Better yet, come to the house on a sunny day, half an hour before sunset.”

You can also see it is brown if you hold a flashlight six inches from the car. That’s us driving down the street with flashlights suspended from iron hooks mounted to the car, illuminating the brown exterior.

The husband often laments the disappearance of the two-toned car. His fondness for two-toned is embarrassing, almost as embarrassing as being in a movie theater, watching a preview featuring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts and having him loudly proclaim, “If I ever say I want to see that movie, just shoot me.”

We are both opinionated. Our opinions sometimes differ on movies and cars, but we agree about the Mistake.

It’s terrible to have no affection for your vehicle. Ford knows I’ve tried to conjure up some feelings of warmth and affection. “Aren’t these seats nice?” I say. “Look how clear the glass is on the windshield.” It’s like telling the kid with the worst handwriting in the class that he dots his i’s well. Even a car can detect condescension.

The worst thing about the Mistake is the dashboard. It would be safer to drive, text, drink, smoke, apply mascara and fry chicken all at the same time than to operate the Dashboard of a Thousand Choices. It’s called “smart technology.” That’s code for “one more thing to make you feel dumb.”

There are no fewer than 28 buttons on the dash between the driver and the passenger. There’s internet radio, Bluetooth, MP3 integrated player, incoming calls, call to text, and more. All that’s missing is a button to froth a latte.

Of course, everything is voice activated, but the Mistake doesn’t seem to like our voices. “CALL HOME!”

“Calling Joan.”

The Mistake prefers accents. It will respond to a thick Southern drawl, a stiff British accent and pirate talk, but not us.

Good luck finding the button that turns on the radio. I’d like to see the dummy crash test for that one. “Not bad, only six broken bones.” All I’m saying is, don’t let your insurance lapse.

I have a bad feeling about the Mistake, a feeling that it is going to last 300,000 miles. We’ll learn to like it. We’ll have to.

In the meantime, would a car maker please consider bringing back the punch-button radio? I feel so desperate I’d buy a car like that even if it was two-toned.

Small dot accused of big attitude

Perhaps it is only an ugly rumor, but you never know. Word is, there is trouble brewing in the land of punctuation.

To be specific, and anyone with any regard for punctuation always is, the lowly period, that faithful end mark at the end of a sentence, is falling from favor.

This disturbing news comes by way of the New Republic. I often read a lot of disturbing things in the New Republic, but this may be the most disturbing of all. It would appear the period is now regarded as a small dot with a big attitude.

Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, reports that his teenage son told him his text messages were aggressive because he used a period at the end. The young man found his father’s texts not only aggressive, but downright harsh.

Harsh?

Let me tell you about harsh, son. Harsh is Sunday dinner at your Grandma’s with 24 first cousins and one indoor bathroom. Harsh is growing up in summers with 105-degree heat, matching humidity and no air conditioning. Harsh is delivering three babies at the peak of the natural craze and having an Earth momma convince you there was no need for painkillers.

I apologize. I may have gotten a little carried away there. After all this is only about the period the most basic of punctuation marks among those configurations of dots and curls and squiggly lines that tell you when to breathe when to pause when to question when to change thought lines and in the whole scheme of things how big a deal can punctuation really be

Perhaps it is a generational thing. Years ago, when instant messaging came on the scene, my mother joined in and would instant message with the kids from time to time. They got a chuckle out of the fact that Grandma never ended a conversation without proper form. She’d type a closing (Love), followed by a comma, new line, then “Grandma.” My mother, once a teacher, wouldn’t have dreamed of ending a correspondence any other way.

As one who appreciates form, I must also confess that the young man’s perspective does have merit. I, too, have witnessed a growing streak of aggression in the period—not by its absence, but by its overuse. Usually displayed in the comments section on social media, it often looks like this:

MUST. MAKE. THIS. TODAY.

There’s no denying such use of periods is aggressive bordering on harsh. Such posts are usually seen on Pinterest beneath a picture of cherry pie. Make that a harsh piece of cherry pie.

Too many. Too few. What to do?

Should we go to the other extreme and abandon the lowly end mark, I fear a domino effect. They scoffed at such theories during the Vietnam War, and there went Cambodia and Laos. It’s the period today, the comma and the semicolon tomorrow.

No matter how you look at it, there’s something terribly unfinished about a sentence without a period

DON’T. QUESTION. ME.

Container mania boxes us in

A catalog from the Container Store came today and it contained alarming news: Our containers now need containers. Just when you thought the container craze was waning, it spawns a second generation.

You know those little individual coffee containers that you put in those specialty coffeemakers? It used to be people put them in a metal rack next to the coffeemaker. Now there’s a big container to hold the little containers before they go public and move to the rack. Heaven forbid they should simply sit quietly in the box they came in.

Any woman will tell you that containers are like candles, highly infectious. You weren’t thinking about candles, you don’t really need candles, you don’t even like scented candles, but the minute you get a whiff of ocean breeze and pumpkin spice—wham!—you need candles. Come to think of it, you probably need a container for your candles.

The stores that sell containers and tubs promising to organize your life, keep your sweaters stacked, your shirts on hangers and your shoes lined up according to color, have an intoxicating power. Case in point: Only minutes ago I was happy with our junk drawer, the cabinet under the bathroom sink and that space in the garage where we keep the trowel and weed digger. But now, after looking at a myriad of container solutions, I suddenly have an insatiable need for wooden drawer dividers, mesh containers, and monogrammed canvas bins.

Yesterday, I was happy storing pasta in the box it came in, but today I saw pasta neatly displayed in clear acrylic containers with specially patented locking lids. They had me at locking lids. You never know when your rigatoni and bow ties may plan a middle-of-the night escape.

What’s more, I suddenly find myself needing bamboo wood dividers for my sock drawer. Who knows how I’ve gotten dressed all these years without them?

Shelving may be the most powerful lure of all. Personally, I blame our lack of a floor-to-ceiling shelving unit for standing between me and the Time magazine Person of the Year award.

Then again, it is possible that there is a downside to all this organization. Once you put compartments and dividers in your junk drawer, it ceases to be a junk drawer. Sure, it may look nice, but what are you going to call it?

Consider that the chaos of your kitchen utensil drawer may be keeping your brain sharp. Rifling through that tangled mess for a vegetable peeler is like solving the hidden pictures puzzles you did as a kid.

If you can’t get dressed without having your socks rolled and organized by color, you have problems far bigger than your bare feet.

And ask yourself this: Do you really need one more under-the-bed plastic storage box? If you fill up all that space under the bed, where is the boogeyman going to hide? I know, I know, probably on a shelf in the garage.

At the risk of being practical, instead of storing all that junk, why not get rid of it? There’s a container for that, too. I believe it’s called a trash can.