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Don’t be a Bully

In this age of the Internet, like many parents, I’m concerned about what my children get exposed to online. But I’m also concerned about what my children may do and say online. Whether it’s in a text message, on a discussion forum, in YouTube comments, or over the microphone while playing Xbox, I don’t want my children to become bullies, jerks, assholes, or douche bags. Being a regular consumer of various Internet sites, I’ve seen many, many, many bullies, jerks, assholes, and douche bags. There is something about anonymity plus an audience that makes people become horrible, terrible monsters. It actually saddens me.

A while back, while surfing YouTube, I saw the thumbnail of a video with the title, “World’s Ugliest Woman.” I didn’t click the link or view the video because that whole concept — labeling and showing someone like that — just isn’t something that interests me. I’ve seen enough of the Internet to know how cruel people can be to anyone.

A couple weeks ago, I saw a photo of some famous soccer player with a very, (abnormally), skinny woman. The title of the photo just had the athlete’s name and the woman’s name. I didn’t know either of them, so I checked the comments to see if someone explained who they were. Of course there were many cruel comments about the woman, but fortunately there were also some explanations of who she was. She was the woman from the YouTube video I mentioned above. Her name is Lizzie Velasquez, and she’s a motivational speaker.

This intrigued me, so I went back to YouTube and looked her up. She has her own channel, with many videos — both personal vlogs and her motivational speeches in front of large crowds. She is amazing. I’m a big fan of TED Talks, and I found she has a couple of her own. Watch this 12 minute speech:

After seeing this, I watched some of her other videos including her personal vlogs and some TV appearances, like on The View.

Her attitude is wonderful. “You can choose to be happy, or you can choose to give up.” Even listening to her chat off the top of her head in her vlogs is inspirational and motivational. She is so full of happiness to the point of even being a bit silly, rambling, and playing with her hair, that it makes me smile. She is a joy to watch.

Last night I introduced my family to Lizzie Velasquez. I brought up her TED talk on our TV and showed it to Wifegrit and our boys. Both my boys are pretty normal for 10 and 13 year olds. They could use a little inspiration/motivation, (especially the teenager), but my main goal with showing them this video was more to teach them against bullying.

I wanted them to hear about, and see and understand, how bullying, (both online as well as in person), affected a real person. I wanted them to hear, in a victim’s own words and voice, how much it hurts. You can hear Lizzie’s voice tremble a bit when she talks about it. You can tell it still bothers her. But she has risen above it, and she is a champion now.

I told my boys that I know them well enough that I don’t think either of them would ever be cruel to another person. But I explained how sometimes their friends may say something mean to someone else. And sometimes communicating on the Internet, with its disconnection and anonymity, lures good people into doing and saying terrible things. I explained that I want them to understand how being mean can really hurt someone, even online. Real people are at the other end of our words, whether we speak them or write them, and whether we can see the other person or not.

Also I want them to understand that sometimes they may meet or see someone who looks very different than they expect, but those persons are still human beings with feelings and hopes and dreams and hearts just like their own. I want my boys to have empathy for others. I think Wifegrit and I have taught them this already, and I think both boys do understand, but Ms. Velasquez’s speech really shows and explains this eloquently and personally.

I am so impressed with this woman. She is a beautiful person. I am so glad I found her videos.


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We’ve started watching the TV show Cosmos, (with Neil deGrasse Tyson), on Netflix. I first got Calfgrit9 to watch the first episode with me, and it captured his interest and imagination. During and after the show, I answered his questions about science and the universe, and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation.

A few days later, we brought Calfgrit13 into the second episode, and he, too, found it very interesting. Then a couple days later, again, we all three watched another episode.

I’m glad my boys are both showing interest in science and our universe. Although I have an “Arts” major, (Bachelor of Arts in English), I am fascinated by science, especially astrophysics. I literally have Stephen Hawking’s books and NdT’s books in the drawers of my nightstand, beside my bed. I’ve read a handful of other such texts over the years, and I just love learning about the universe.

I graduated with the English degree, but I started my college career, (the first three years), in Computer Science, with all the math that major requires. And I currently work in a job and company that has me surrounded by scientists and engineers, (though, sadly, not “space scientists”). It really makes me happy to see both my boys interested in science — they both make A-level grades in their science classes.

A few weeks ago, we also watched an older show, Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, through YouTube. I consider this a scientific-ish show because magic tricks are as much science and engineering as they are showmanship. It’s fun to see how the tricks are actually performed, and it shows my boys that you can and should question and think about what someone presents to you.

I want my boys to understand the concept of the scientific method. I want them to think, examine, and inquire about the world, the universe, and what other people present to them. I don’t want them to fall for myths, misunderstandings, and lies. It’s fun to wonder, “What if?” about things, like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, ghosts, and such. But I also don’t want them easily fooled without giving these kinds of things logical thought.

Will this make them better people? I don’t know. But I do hope it will armor them against ignorance, misdirection, and deception. And besides, it’s my experience that although looking at the world more scientifically may reduce the thrill of the little unknowns, (like Bigfoot and ghosts), it opens up more interesting questions about the big unknowns.


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Universal Sign for Choking

Teach your children the universal sign for choking. It never dawned on me that someone would have to be taught the sign for choking — I just always assumed someone choking made that sign naturally/instinctively.

I was upstairs eating some lunch alone in my quiet and peaceful bedroom, (don’t tell Wifegrit), when I heard Calfgrit9 downstairs sort of cry out. It was a weird cry. The boys had been in and out of the house a bit all morning, and I figured Calfgrit13 had done something to upset his little brother. They can’t seem to go half an hour without one aggravating the other. I put down my plate and made my way downstairs chewing a mouthful of food. I wasn’t hurrying because I didn’t hear any other cries or shouts from anyone.

Once I reached the bottom of the stairs, Calfgrit9 was there on his knees, leaning over as if to vomit. I mumbled, “What’s wrong?” through a mouth still full. Calfgrit9 just rocked and made gagging sounds. When I got to him, he pointed to himself trying to communicate. I thought he was about to throw up, as that seems to be a common activity with all kids.

I managed to swallow my the food filling my mouth, and told him to go to the bathroom to throw up. He wouldn’t move, and just rocked back and forth. I had my hands on him by this time and tried to move him towards the bathroom. He wasn’t speaking, but continued gagging and pointing to himself. Then he hacked up a half-eaten grape.

He finally caught his breath and told me he had been choking. Holy crap! I got him to talk to me about what had happened for two reasons: one to make sure his airway was clear, and two to learn exactly what had happened.

He had been eating grapes, and one got lodged in his throat. I felt awful. Here, my son had almost choked to death, and I had only ordered him to the bathroom because I thought he was just throwing up. Had I realized what was actually happening, I could have helped him. Had he not cleared his throat on his own, he might have died.

Fortunately, the situation ended well, with only a scare. But when the realization got through my head over the next few minutes, it really shook me.

Later in the day, when both boys were in the house, I talked with them about the universal sign for choking. Calfgrit13 already knew it, from school. But Calfgrit9 was just learning about it then, from me. I made sure they both fully understood how and when to make the sign, and what it means when someone else makes the sign.

Seriously — teach your children the universal sign for choking. It may save their life one day.

The situation with me telling my choking son to go to the bathroom to vomit brings up another thing. There are a lot of times that parents seem to be slow to help their children when they’re in distress. To a non-parent, this will often look like a sign of neglect. But as experienced parents, we get so used to certain things happening so much, like vomiting and falling down, that we automatically assume a current situation is just like every similar situation before it.

For instance, just today: I was running around the lake trail for exercise when I passed a mom and son on the trail. The mom was walking, and the boy, (probably about 9), was on a Razor scooter. The boy was already several yards ahead of his mom, going down hill, and a few seconds after I passed him, I heard the metal scrap and vocal shout of him falling down. I stopped and looked back.

The boy was sitting on the ground, holding his knees, and making the hissing sounds everyone makes.

As illustrated by Peter Griffin:

I was closer to the kid than his mom was, so I turned around and jogged to him. “Are you okay, buddy,” I asked. “Can you stand up?” I held out my hand to him. He looked at my hand a moment, then let go of his knees and took my hand. I pulled him up to standing. As his mother go to us, I turned to her and said, “No blood.”

As she knelt down to check him over, she said, “I just kept walking, waiting for you to stand up and say you were alright.”

Seeing they were okay, I took off running again. I totally understood her position and thought process. Kids fall all the time. All the time. And 9 times out of 10, they get right back up and continue whatever activity they were doing. No harm, no worry.

I checked on the kid because I was right there, not because I felt his mother wasn’t concerned. I knew she was concerned, like any mother would be, but like all parents who’ve been lulled into the pattern that kids’ set, she sort of got caught in the rut for a few moments. Sometimes being in that pattern makes us slower to respond to real emergencies that don’t look obviously like a real emergency. (Fortunately, though, this fall wasn’t actually an emergency, anyway.) Then we feel like bad parents when someone else reacts to our children quicker than we do. But we’re not bad parents for this. We’re just used to the pattern, and we get surprised sometimes when the situation turns out to be outside the long-set patterns.


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Wifegrit picked up a substitute teaching day at Calfgrit9’s school, for CG9’s own class. She ran the idea by him before accepting it, and he OKed it with one condition: She can’t use his nickname or his full name. Actually, what he considers his name is a nickname, itself – a shortened form of his full name. But Wifegrit also occasionally uses her own “sweet” name for him – basically his shortened name with a y on the end. (Compare to “Timothy,” “Tim,” and “Timmy.”)

He doesn’t like attention, and is easily embarrassed. He’s much like both his parents in that regard. So, he doesn’t want his classmates to know – or heaven forbid, use — any name for him other than the one he’s always gone by.

When Wifegrit and I were picking names for our boys, we wanted to avoid giving them nicknames. Unfortunately, we goofed on Calfgrit9’s name. Wifegrit wanted to name him what he considers his name, but I really liked the sound of the full-length name. So we compromised: his official/full name would be what I liked, but we would call him the shortened form. I mildly regret that, now. Although, his shortened/nick name is obvious from his full name, so it shouldn’t cause any confusion for anyone that deals with him and his name. (And it shouldn’t be embarrassing for him, but he’s so sensitive about any attention.)

Wifegrit and I both have nicknames we dislike. They both sound like names for 9 year old children, and we both tried to shake them during college. Hers at least is based off her full name, so few would be confused hearing it. She managed to transition from her childish nickname to her mature full name after college, and now only her close family, (including mine, her in-laws), ever use her nickname. I use it at home, but I use her full name when outside our home or around non-family people.

My name, though, is more complicated. I tried to drop my nickname during college, but I had three complications. One, my nickname had too-deep roots in my life; I was so used to it. Two, my nickname was completely unrelated to my real name, so no one would ever connect to the two names to the same person. Three, my full name is unusual, (both first and middle names), so I wanted to shorten it to something more common.

Basically, because I disliked both my unusual full name and my childish nickname, I had to pick a shortened form of my full name to serve as a better nickname. So. Damn. Complicated. I tried a transition during college, but it got weird. Some people knew one nickname, and other people knew the other nickname, and all people were confused when they heard my full name. I never really managed to make the change stick in my life. Too many people knew me by the old nickname, and explaining to them why I wanted to change was too aggravating. No one who knew my old nickname knew my full name, so the new nickname made no sense unless I explained it all. After a couple of years, I just gave up and stuck with my old nickname.

When I left college and started into my professional life, I should have attempted the change in names again. But having struggled with it previously, I just kind of didn’t bother. I dearly wish I had, though. In recent years, I’ve dabbled with using my shortened full name, but again, my nickname has too deep roots in my life. I’ve considered making the change when changing jobs, but that complicates résumés and references – no coworkers or even supervisors would recognize my shortened or full name. (Only HR departments usually know my full name.)

I’ve used my shortened full name in some situations and places. For instance, I’ve used my shortened full name at restaurants or other places where they call out to you.

I’ve used it when going to a new hair stylist, but then that got complicated and embarrassing: I slipped and used my nickname with one stylist and later had another stylist in the same salon call me by the other name. There was some confusion over why I’d give a completely different name, as if I was being secretive. *sigh* No, I just hate this name.

Yeah, my name is a mess. I really, really dislike my old nickname because it just sounds so childish. And I really dislike my full name because it’s so unusual. If I had a definite break in my life, (like moving to a different state, with all new people), I’d definitely make the change at that point. But that’s not going to happen, so I just have to accept that I’m a middle-age man with a child’s nickname, and also a 21st century man with a 19th century full name.


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