Friday, February 14, 2014

Makenna Pope's insights expose injustice and initiate change

How much of our lives do we live unexamined?

What do we take for granted?

What are we unwilling to question?

These were the questions that lingered with me after I watched Makenna Pope’s TED talk titled Want to be an activist? Start with your toys. This young woman is certainly remarkable! She saw in her brother a talent and passion for cooking. She saw a boy who enjoyed something and hoped he had an outlet to explore and develop that interest. But she also saw something in the world that would potentially hold him back. Something that would send a message out into the world clouding his and others’ perceptions about young boys who like to cook. A message that could squash them. Something that could extinguish his desire.

Watch the video below:

What I like most about this TED talk is how Makenna pushes her audience to change the world, to go out into it and actively work for change that needs to be made. Maybe it is as simple as wanting to change the packaging of a toy. Yet even something as simple as that can be monstrous to obtain. Like Makenna states, once you realize you can become an activist and argue for change, you are immediately faced with obstacles: people. She shares how discouraging people in the world can be. Disrespectful. Close-minded. Unsupportive. Downright cruel and vindictive.

Makenna advises us to breeze past the negative people out there with the simple phrase, "haters gonna hate." In doing this, she not only accomplishes the change she wishes to see happen, she, as a young person, has convinced the adult world to make a difference in the lives of young boys who enjoy to cook.

I think there is much we can take from this short talk. One, what do we teach our kids both explicitly and implicitly? Two, what gendered messages do we communicate to children? Three, how can we better listen to youth, and encourage them to explore and challenge the injustices they see in the world, no matter how big or small?

Finally, how can we take what we believe and turn it into a cause?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Moments of (random) connection

Today has been full of haphazard connections with random strangers.

It began with a late morning trip with Charlie to the vet. Charlie loved visiting his vet in Lincoln. I think the most difficult thing about moving to a new city is trying to discover all those places you frequented in your old city because of habit and comfort: your doctor's offices, dentist (mine is my father-in-law, so that one really hasn't changed), barber, or repair services. The list is endless. We establish relationships with those we frequent for the services and necessities of life.

Deb, my barber in Lincoln, is someone I have known since high school and college. When she answered the phone, all I had to say was, "Hi, Deb, it's Todd." She knew it was me and we scheduled my three week hair cut appointment, during which we caught up on what was happening in life. I shared buying my first house, graduating from college, teaching, surviving a car accident, getting married, getting a new job. Deb shared updates about the state of her garden, all the details of her sons' weddings and job changes, her husband's heart-attack. Both Deb and I were sad about my move to Omaha. She reminded me that I can still have my hair cut in Lincoln when I make trips to visit family and friends.

Maybe there is something wrong with me, but replacing Deb was hard. It was a necessity, and I didn't want to do it. Recently I have found a new barber in Omaha at a place called The Beard and Mane. Not only did I receive a great haircut, but I was greeted with a smile, a handshake, and was offered a beer or coffee while I waited. The Beard and Mane is my kind of place! But this blog post isn't about haircuts and finding a new barber or veterinarian. What I'm interested in are those connections we make as people. Oftentimes we have to work hard at establishing those connections, while other times they are the coincidences of life.

Back to this morning. Michelle took Charlie to his first vet appointment in Omaha and today was my first time taking him there. I wasn't so sure that I was going to enjoy this experience as much as I liked Wachel Pet Health Center in Lincoln. Charlie was just happy to be in the car with me. We were greeted with a smile by Karen at VCA Animal Medical Center of Omaha. Karen was verifying our information and then said that she lives in our neighborhood. I found out that Karen lives a block away from us. She asked where our house was and after I explained the location to her, she named our neighbors who we really like. We had a great conversation about where we like to walk our dogs. She can't wait for warmer weather to see everyone out with their kids and dogs. She shared that another young family recently moved into the neighborhood.

After the appointment, we told her that we looked forward to seeing her again, either outside in the spring or next time at the vet. It was a random connection, but one that seems to happen frequently with those who live in our neighborhood.

When Charlie and I got home, we stayed outside to clear the sidewalks of the light dusting of snow from earlier in the morning. As I was out front, a Nebraska Furniture Mart truck slowly turned the corner and drove by, stopping at our house next door. I kept my head down, taking care of the task ahead of me. I had an inkling that I should shout out a neighborly hello to the two delivery men who got out of the truck but I resisted. It have no idea why I decided not to say hi to these random strangers. It would have been a perfectly nice thing to do, especially since I felt something urging me to do so. And shame on me for not doing it.

One of the men at the back of the truck said, "Did you recently buy that house?"

"Yes we did," I replied, wondering about the nature of the question and where this conversation was headed, "Around the end of August."

"I knew the guy, Peter, who used to live there," said the Nebraska Furniture Mart man.

I smiled about the second random connection of the day. "It's a great house," I said. "We love it."

"It's a terrific house," said the Nebraska Furniture Mart man. "I helped Peter do a lot of work on it. The first time I met him, we installed that bathroom on the first floor. And then we became friends and did a lot of updates on it. I knew when I saw it go up for sale that it would sell fast."

"Well, I feel like the lucky one," I said as I returned to shoveling the snow.

I am feeling lucky and thankful about life. Maybe it is because of the two random encounters happening in such a short period of time from each another. Maybe I'm a little more sentimental and reflective this time of year, as the anniversary of my severe car accident is only days away. Maybe I'm turning into an old man (as another birthday is quickly approaching) who discovers too much meaning in the ordinary and just enjoys talking to anyone about anything. Or maybe I'm just experiencing an endless euphoric state of surprise that we stumbled upon such an amazing place to call home.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

That rug smells new

Today we made our first substantial purchase, a crib, in preparation for our first child. While we were shopping, we also spent some time looking at area rugs. Choosing the rug was more of an ordeal than selecting the right bed for a baby. The first complication was that I'm not much of a shopper. I don't particularly enjoy being in stores, around crowds, with endless selection. I just can't stand searching through things to find what I want. The second complication was Michelle. Her decision-making skills are deliberate and elaborate, consisting of weighing extensive pros and cons. Promptness is rarely involved. Her one decision for the day was selecting the crib. Rug shopping put her over the edge, and she shut down quickly.

Luckily, as we walked away from the floor covering department giving up for the day, she stated there were rugs she could see in our bedroom. We turned back to the department, promptly picking a rug, which even seemed to surprise the salesman.

Back at home, Charlie was very excited to have new stuff. He was right alongside me the entire time I unpacked all the pieces of the crib from the box.

The real treat was when I unrolled the new rug upstairs in the bedroom.

Poor, unfortunate Charlie has been unable to find a comfortable space to lay on the floor. Having a home with wood floors has been quite rough for him.

Until now.

Immediately he rolled all over the rug to either gather up that new rug smell onto himself, or to make it smell like him. Regardless, he vigorously accomplished what he deemed necessary. Then, after sniffing, scratching, rolling, and pacing the entire area, he plopped down to lay contently.

It seems he approves of our decision.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Free dog

This morning started out ordinarily, in a similar way of my other mornings. I turned in bed, almost awake, Charlie sensing it was time to get up. I heard his paws hit the wood floor as he got out of his dog bed located on the floor next to the human bed. The metal license tag on his collar slightly jingled while he did the dog shake. Then the tap, tap, tap of paws rounded their way around the bed. Like he does every morning, Charlie put his front paws on the mattress and stretched up to greet me.

I looked at his large beady eyes right near my face. His tail was thumping loudly, swinging back and forth persistently, hitting the corner of the bedroom wall.

It was time to get up.

We walked out of the bedroom, me leading the way (as it should be in any owner-dog relationship, with the "master" being in charge). Charlie followed down the stairs and I let him outside into the backyard after glancing at the outdoor temperature of only 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I opened the blinds to the back window, seeing Charlie begin his morning ritual of smelling and inspecting the happenings from overnight. I went around and opened some of the other blinds in the living room and dinning room before refilling Charlie's water dish and then prepared the coffeemaker for my morning brew. I glanced out the back window. Charlie did his business and then went around the patio for more yard inspection. I knew he would take a little more time. Next he would go stand on the deck, hold his head high, smell the wind, then walk off the porch and around the side to the gate that leads to the front yard. Then he would be willing and ready to come in for some breakfast. He's a creature of habit.

I started the coffee and then gathered some breakfast for myself. I opened the back door. Charlie wasn't sitting there waiting, like usual. I looked out the back window. I thought he must still be over where I couldn't see him, sniffing. Instinctively, I had a bad feeling. But I convinced myself that all was fine. There are some mornings where he likes to take his time. I continued with my morning ritual of opening blinds, turning the spindle to the last window, the one in the kitchen.

Immediately, after seeing out the window, I remembered the conversation Michelle and I had the night before about the defective latch on the gate and how it occasionally swings open in the wind.  

You've got to be kidding me, I thought to myself, half annoyed with Charlie but also slightly delighted for him because what dog doesn't deserve to have a little freedom and excitement that a lack of boundaries provides. His little mind was probably bombarded with adrenaline to roam the neighborhood. My next thought was one of anxiety and fear for Charlie's safety (I'm not completely an irresponsible dog-owner). Our home is one house from a street with decent traffic.

Remembering the temperature, I put my coat on over my stylish pajamas, becoming more perturbed with the situation.

I walked out onto the deck, stepped down, and followed the sidewalk around the side of the deck to the defective gate.

"Charlie," I said, standing there. There wasn't any sign of him yet. I stepped a little more brazenly out of the backyard, stopping near the front of the house. I glanced at the neighborhood houses across the street, not able to really see in their windows, but glad that I couldn't easily discern bodies looking out, seeing me in my dapper attire.

Next, I began to scan the neighborhood for Charlie. I wasn't prepared to show myself to the world and hoped I wouldn't have to go inside to change and begin the search party.

Our dog was better than this. He will listen to me. I've trained him well. I'll let him know that I meant business this time.

I took a deep breath, pulling the cold air into my lungs: "CHARLIE!"

I screamed.

If Charlie was anywhere in a two to three block area, I know he heard my call. I waited, hopeful, still scanning for where he might be.

And then . . .

I think my hearing and sight captured the moment at the same time. Around the corner of the neighbor's house, on the sidewalk along the busy street, a flash of a brown and white Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in a dead sprint, head notched forward, tail down, and ears flowing in the wind, brought me a smile of amusement and relief.

That's my dog, I laughed to myself at his particularity to stay on paths like the sidewalk. Ordinary dogs would cut across the grass, through yards, disregarding human infrastructure. Not Charlie.

Without letting up, Charlie rounded the corner of the sidewalk turning onto our block, a twinkle in his eye, his legs pumping in unison. He kept his stride, running on the concrete, past the neighbor's house and continued along the front of our house. In a perfect pivot, he leapt up the steps and followed the sidewalk towards the front porch. I'm describing this all in slow motion, but in real time it happened in seconds. I thought he would slow down, since he was back home. Instead, Charlie's sprint continued, along the little curved concrete path around the side of the house, past me standing in flannel pants and a winter coat. He disappeared through the gate to the backyard.

I followed him and made sure that the gate latched behind me. There, a happy Charlie stood on the back deck next to the door of the house. I quietly, halfheartedly, let out a "bad dog" which didn't phase him at all, nor was it meant to. At that point it just seemed obligatory and it really didn't matter. I was glad he was back. He heard my yell and quickly came home.

Most importantly, he stayed on the sidewalk the entire time. And that is as far as I'm allowing my imagination to go, leaving me with the amusing memory of him safely running on the sidewalk back home, free from danger the entire time.