Put the spotlight where it belongs

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas, Life with children

A little over a week ago, thirteen-year-old Johnathan Kaufusi of Baytown became a hero when he pulled nearly-drowned Chriszetta Owens from the water at Banana Bend. She had gone out to rescue a younger cousin, and although successful, found herself in big trouble. Lucky for her, Johnathan was prepared to make good on the Boy Scout promise, “To help other people at all times.”  I, along with many, applaud this young man who sprang into action during moments when it mattered most.  

I often lament the fact that we as a society spend too much time ruminating over, and shining the spotlight on a few bad apples instead of praising to high heavens the youth of today who aren’t involved in creating chaos and tragic events.  I’ve learned to look for the silver lining, and while there are days I have to get past societal myopia, I always find it.

As a parent, I’m guilty of noticing less-than-desirable behavior, while not frequently enough taking note and verbalizing my appreciation for the fact that my children make me immensely proud a majority of the time. “I can’t do anything right”, uttered to me by one of my own cuts me to the core, and causes me to remember  once again that it takes many “atta-boys”  to make up for one  “what in the world  were you thinking?”

I’ve never been one to subscribe to  the “it takes a village” theory, but I believe we  all need to be on the constant lookout in our daily travels for young people making good decisions, and as a fellow columnist friend of mine would say, “be all over it like a hobo on a hotdog”.  The investment of a few seconds of our time could have huge returns, and I’ve found giving praise runs a close second to receiving it. Give it a try this week, I dare you.

Human beings rise up, respond, and far exceed expectations when positively acknowledged. Don’t believe me? Visit a classroom full of children, and watch most of them snap-to when the teacher compliments noticeably good behavior on display. It’s a contagion we should intentionally spread.

Paying attention to a degree that will allow us to see the good in our youth requires each and every one of us to unplug from the TV, computer, cell phone and video gaming system, and plug into their lives. Trade the electronics for a Q-Beam, and be prepared to shed some light on why our future is as bright as we choose to make it.   

Johnny Mercer got it right when he sang, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mister In-Between, you’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum, bring gloom down to the minimum, have faith or pandemonium’s, liable to walk upon the scene”

© 2008 Natalie Whatley


Perfection is…surrendering to imperfection

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

What’s your idea of perfection? April in southeast Texas makes me pause and feel that I’ve gotten pretty close to the elusive standard. (Yes, I ordered last week’s weather. You know where to send the check.) I all but refuse to be cooped up indoors this time of year, and that’s fitting nicely into my plan of learning to accept life’s many flaws.  While I’m out of the house, the imperfections pile up along with the laundry. Hey, practice makes perfect.

For me, the concept of perfection is constantly evolving. Marriage, children, a dog, a home, and all the unexpected that goes along, has made me realize that perfection is more closely achieved in the form of rolling with the tide, and letting go of some pretty silly notions of what’s “supposed to be”.  Things are much easier when I’m not going against the grain, and it’s a life lesson I’m gladly learning. I only wish I’d caught on sooner.

As I inch my way to becoming a fully-reformed perfectionist, I worry that I’m succumbing to lower standards, and that the proverbial pendulum will swing me into chaos. Thanks to Martha Stewart, and her ilk, I’ve spent many years feeling like the world would come to a screeching halt if my bath towels were not folded “just so”. (Raise your hand if you’ve re-folded towels because the kids didn’t do it “right”.) Now, I feel pride in my hard-earned mental fortitude as I cram the towels in the closet willy-nilly. Heck, months ago, I wouldn’t have even used the phrase “willy-nilly”. I call that progress!  

I’ve made recent efforts to reduce the effects of my dysfunction on my children, but I’m afraid it’s too late for the oldest. At the ripe old age of six, his kindergarten teacher told me there was no hope for him. Unfortunately, he’s the first-born of two first-borns. As a teen-aged boy, it outwardly appears he has deflected the awful trait, but I see it. Perfectionism has a close cousin in procrastination. I get a taste of it almost daily, sense his frustration, and because I’ve been there, I know he’ll not start what he doesn’t think he has the time to do well. The guilt is tremendous as I realize he’ll probably be close to forty before he “gets” that it’s okay not to do everything to perfection.

 My younger son, the middle child, is a definite subscriber to the “good enough” standard. Gosh, I wish I could be more like him. He’s my unwitting teacher, and a true inspiration to someone who spent too many years agonizing over details that just don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

As if having a first-born perfectionist mom wasn’t bad enough, I married a fellow first-born perfectionist. First-borns don’t typically do well married to each other, but honestly I don’t know who else could stand either one of us.  Mostly our “tendencies” cohabit peacefully as we’re fussy about different issues…and as Martha would say, “That’s a good thing.”

We’re in for another round of beautiful weather this week, and I’ll be outside…practicing imperfection.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley




April showers bring May flour

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home

I’ve been banned from anything that requires water. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the time made available by that edict, but I’m likely to do it alone after not showering for a few days.

Imagine a Norman Rockwell print: wife standing at the kitchen sink washing vegetables for the evening meal, while enjoying conversation with the husband, who’s at the table with a cold beverage. She’s laughing at something the husband said, while jumping backwards in surprise as water sprays from underneath a closed cabinet onto her feet. 

I’m no plumber, but I knew it wasn’t good.  My personal fix-it man rushed to my rescue, turned off the water (I was too busy looking to see where it was coming from), and brought towels to soak it all up.  He despises plumbing, but deserves an honorary license, as his bride and offspring provide ample on-the-job training.  

He immediately diagnosed the problem as a hole in the garbage disposal.  Weeks prior to this episode, while under the sink muttering sweet nothings as he removed potato peels from the gooseneck (again), he’d warned that the metal on the disposal was deteriorating and wouldn’t last much longer. I made a mental note of it, and upon sleeping, forever purged that information. It’s not my department.

As Jeff and our younger son embarked on a field trip to Lowe’s, I started the wet towels washing, and began mentally preparing myself for the misery coming down the pipes. (As an experienced plumber’s helper, I know these projects never go smoothly.)  Then, through some sick twist of fate, the washing machine sprung a leak, and made a puddle on the laundry-room floor. Not good. I had enough presence of mind to keep that information to myself in spite of the fact that current technology would’ve allowed me to disclose the problem immediately to the man in charge of these matters.  

I’m happy to report the garbage disposal replacement went flawlessly; it works, and it was replaced in less than half an hour. I was mighty impressed, and he puffed up like a peacock when I told him so.  He didn’t strut for long, and I bet you know why.

The man, whose work is truly never done, took the washing machine apart, found a cracked pump, perused his favorite website for replacement parts, and announced the old washer wasn’t worth fixing. Hundreds of dollars, and hours later, a shiny new Whirlpool took the place of the leaker.

I know you’re all wondering what flour has to do with any of the above. Well, the rainy-day fund needs to be reimbursed, and the grocery budget is usually the first to get the ax. A well-meaning friend sent me to check out www.hillbillyhousewife.com for ideas. It’s a must-see, ladies. You’ll find some good information, and get a few chuckles to boot. I discovered I could feed my family for a week by cooking everything from scratch with a bag of flour, and a few other items, for a mere $45!  I think I just figured out what to do with that extra time, but I’ll need my access to water reinstated.  

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Reflections of you, Baytown

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

Back In January when I started this gig, I was asked what inspired me personally, not to be confused with what inspires the semi-coherent ramblings I offer up. I answered being truly inspired by Joe and Jane Citizen. You know, the guys and gals who get up each day and keep this big rock spinning on its axis.  That’s not meant to discount the role of the Big Guy, but you know the type I’m talking about.

I started off this past week in awe of the stories behind Baytown’s Citizen of the Year, along with the runners-up, and unsung heroes.  It’s great to see hardworking people, who are adept at laboring in the background, receive notice and accolades.

Last week’s article about appearing nude at city hall created a little stir, but it came from an unlikely crowd.  I’d like to recognize all those kind ladies, who let me know they are way past their thirties, and also disappointed in today’s fashion choices, even in shopping outside our fair city. Anyway, the best part was their gratitude for my going public, and I appreciated it beyond words.

Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting with a fine group of ladies who are working very hard to put on the annual SFA Elementary 5th-grade play day.  Let me say as an SFA elementary alumnus (Go Gators!) that WOW, we’ve come a long way. The highlight of the meeting was the announcement that the owner of the new Chik-Fil-A, Drew Ellis, was making a most generous donation to the cause.

 I moved to Baytown mid-way through my fourth-grade year, and Mrs. Delores Ellis (Drew’s mother) was my first teacher at SFA. I remember her fondly, not just because she was a great teacher, but because of the kindness she showed me after my beloved dog was run over just weeks after settling in.

Mrs. Ellis’ son, Drew, is my age, and we shared many classrooms before graduation. I have many memories of Drew, but a specific one from Mr. Macinski’s chemistry class came straight to mind. Drew was a real cut-up, and that year he found a certain laxative commercial comical, and parroted it in class many times. I can still see, and hear him singing it, but for the life of me can’t remember the name of the product.  I hope Drew still has that sense of humor.  If not, I have three kids as well, and I’ll have to take them over to Chik-Fil-A, so he can embarrass me.

Lastly, it was with great sadness that the news of the recent fire at the new Highlands Junior High spread throughout Baytown.  Adding insult to injury was that the choir’s fund-raising money had also been stolen, and a summer choir trip was in jeopardy. Armed with that fact, sports leagues and other choir groups in Baytown and Highlands have been organizing various ways to make sure those kids don’t miss that trip. Of note is that some organizers’ children attend other junior schools.

I’ve been asked a time or two why I’ve remained in Baytown. Take a look in the mirror, and you’ll see my answer.  I’m honored to have you all as my neighbors.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley