Archive for Family

Your Choice: Be a Zombie…or be Aware.

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2011 by erikball123

I always thought my family was incredibly nosey. I recall incidents when my mother or father would pick up the receiver of another house phone to interrupt my call with my school friend to tell me it was time for dinner. Or, the countless teachers I had that caught me talking in class or doing something silly behind their backs, supporting the theory that teachers have eyes in the backs of their heads. Even my grandmother, on nights I had my girlfriend over to watch a movie, would walk into the room with impecable timing to offer us cookies…or something. (That girlfriend, by the way, is now my wife…and we now laugh at those moments.) Nosey, nosey people. Right?

I’m finding as I get older, that the people I once thought were gettin’ “up in my grill” (to use the street vernacular) were actually just acutely aware. It has come to my attention (pun intended) that society as we know it has becaome less and less aware of themselves. I could put a spin on this post by going on and on about the various medias that probe our minds, or the various technological influences that control our every move. (Of course, I could simply type this post on my iPad, iPhone or one of my three computers. I could even text it in if I wanted to…but that would take too long, and I have crops to harvest on Farmville and tweets to twit on Twitter. So…yeah.)

Instead, I think I’ll let you all assume that the bulk of this post has to do with the fact that times, they are a’changin’…and let’s agree that there are MANY reasons/influences that could be blamed. I’m satisfied with this. I’m not trying to nail down a culprit here. I guess you could say my goal was to merely bring awareness to the fact that we aren’t as aware as we once were. Allow me to elaborate. Here are some every day examples of how society demonstrates that they aren’t aware:

  • TURN SIGNALS – It’s a common argument (when discussing driving etiquette) but I truly have noticed (say in the last three years) that more and more drivers simply don’t use their turn signals. Back roads, main roads, highways, drive ways…it’s absolutely astounding to me. I tried to break into the psychological reasoning behind it. The result is a very selfish one. If you think about it, the only reason a turn signal exists is to ensure the safety of others, primarily. To NOT use it…means that the driver cares MORE about whatever they are doing inside the car (or not doing, for that matter!) is MORE important that the safety and ultimately the concern of others. That’s very bad. Watch the next few times you are driving…you’ll see what I mean. People aren’t using their signals! I looked it up…when turning left or right onto any roadway, parkway or driveway, a driver must have their turn signal on at least 100 feet before the turn. Failure to do so can result in a ticket. Come on police….let’s nab ’em!!!!
  • WALKING – Okay, I live in Vegas. One of the busiest cities in the world (especially when it comes to tourism.) But, with that said, I don’t think it is too much to ask to be courteous when you are walking around in public. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I’ve been walking down the aisle of the grocery store and someone (in this example, a crazed Steelers fan with red glasses and Crocs) is walking right toward me….and nearly takes me out like a freakin’ hockey player, only to (seconds before) look up, shoot me a dirty look and walk away. Most of the time these people are on their cell phones, or texting. But sometimes it’s a general focus issue. Take the little kid with the dirty face I met in the parking lot today. I was walking into a store and was nearly thrown to the pavement when he swiped my left leg. He turned and looked at me like I was insane…but what was worse was the mother who just walked by and said NOTHING to him. Just kept walking. I could easily chalk these experiences as being merely rude…but the FOCUS is gone. If these people were aware that they are positing themselves in public areas, where others are co-existing, then we can all go about our days safely. I blame zombie movies. We’ve all adopted that particular mind set, I guess.
  • CLOSING DOORS – When you walk through a door…do not presume that there is no one behind you. Actually look…then if there is, I don’t care how rushed you are…hold it for them. Adults and students alike…you are guilty as charged.
  • PLEASANTRIES – This is a personal pet peeve of mine. We’re all busy. I’m constantly buzzing from one place to another. But, if I’m in a hall walking from point A to point B, and I pass a fellow teacher or a student….or God forbid, a stranger…and I say “good morning,” or “hello,”….is the sky going to rain down fire and brimstone if you answer back with a pleasantry? I’m in awe at this. This social formality is probably the easiest to fix. Just remember, you are not alone in this world…there are others…and sometimes they are nice people who are just trying to be nice. Try to turn on your “common courtesy radar” and drop a “good morning” every now and then. For the love of all that is holy, it won’t kill you!
  • TIME – To all the people of the world: I promise you, I will never presume that my schedule is more jam-packed than yours, if you promise to keep in mind, that in this busy busy life, we all have places to go and people to see. Please be aware of what is going on in the big picture for everyone…not just you. Try not to monopolize time. Try not to presume others have access time to spare. And most of all, don’t drop by unannounced. Unless you’re a beloved friend with a cute daughter who brightens our day with a little smile from next door…It really puts people in awkward situations when they are forced to choose: either accommodate this interruption and figure out a way to work it into what you have already planned on doing, or tell them to leave. For non-confrontation people like me…this is very trying at times.
  • INSTANT INFORMATION – I would say that students today get exactly what they want…when they want it. Every day, without fail, students walk into my classroom and say, “what are we doing today?” Patience is a fruit of the spirit, and I guarantee these children….they WILL indeed find out in mere minutes. But, no. They NEED to know right now. (Why? Because when they NEED to know something, they are so accustomed to getting that info instantly.) When watching a Charlie Chaplin movie with my Clowning & Puppetry class, a student goes “what’s going to happen to him”…right in the middle of the movie. Just shouts it out. I replied “wait and see.” “But, is he going to jail?” They asked. “Just wait and see.” “Yeah…but, is he going to jail?” I don’t exaggerate. If the student was patient, and watched with 100% focus / awareness….they would receive all the info they need to watch the movie.
In church today, pastor talked about the fact that we are all so very fortunate. How we take for granted the unbelievable resources that are not only available to us daily, but completely at our disposal, daily. To think some people don’t have clean water to drink, or a bed to sleep on. I’m typing on a $2000 laptop and I’m complaining about turn signals. What the Sam Hill gives me the right!? Right?!
I suppose my point is, we all are so accustomed to the lives we lead. We are unaccustomed to those lives in foreign lands where people must cope with conditions that are very different from our own. I suppose it unrealistic to expect anyone (least of all, me) to radically change our daily existences to make up for the sufferings / challenges of other countries. But I do think that change is possible, if approached bit-by-bit.
Awareness is something we can all do. (Heck, if this ADD-riddled freak can turn on the radar a little more, you can.) I think the result is a friendlier, more sensitive, encouraging and safer place. We shouldn’t have to live life on the defensive. Instead let’s choose a less-driven path…and focus on being a smidge more aware in this beautiful world. I’m positive we can make a difference.
Until then…I’m going to walk over to the teacher’s lounge for a soda. Perhaps I’ll meet a zombie. If so, I’ll make sure I use my turn signal as I swerve out of their way.

BABIES: Lovely Lady Lumps. Check it out.

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2009 by erikball123
Jane and Rachael on our last outing.

Jane and Rachael on our last outing.

I think it was right around the Lansing border, as we pulled out of the Old Navy parking lot when my niece began her rendition of “My Humps.” She’s three, and I don’t recall ever finding that particular song any cuter. It’s not even a cute song really. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it…but put any lyric in the mouth of an innocent twerp…and you have what in the theatre we call “a moment.”

I love children. Contrary to what my students, or friends might believe, I truly, truly do. I always joke with my friends that the reason Emily and I don’t have kids is because we simply don’t have the space for another kennel. Or that the day the dishes and laundry get to a breaking point, then we’ll just hire some help, or have a child. I joke of course. Kinda.

I think there’s an old proverb that says “The soul is healed by being with children” and I’m reminded of the simple joys of being around small children every time I visit my sister and brother-in-law and have the pleasure of chillin’ with my peeps, Jane and Rachael.

Emily and I don’t want children right now for several reasons, all of which are none of any body’s business. I will attest that raising a child and giving them positive support, care and nurturing is the most important thing in the world, and (with the consideration that both of us come from broken families) we are very happy with our current schedules and routines and wish to expand on these personal endeavors prior to adding another living, breathing person to the mix. We both recognize the immense sacrifice having children brings and we’re not willing to go there yet. For the record, I do not feel the need to apologize for this.

Which brings me to my next thought: I think that it is every married couple’s responsibility to identify the right time to have children. (Or to have children at all.) The Bible says to be fruitful and multiply. I will say (until I’m blue in the face) that I’m a privileged man to work in the school that I do. But, I would be remiss to say that I don’t see neglect, carelessness and disregard in every other child, most of the time…in even the wealthiest of families. I look at my own family. I think I was raised well. I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t drink, I stayed in school and got good grades…we even ate at the dinner table together. For the most part mommy and daddy did well, I thought. (I will, however, choose NOT to discuss how they dressed me, which is the basis for another blog post and truly the reason I got into theatre. That’s for another day!) But, It wasn’t until my younger brother’s senior year that my parents divorced and I found myself in more ways than one, completely independent.

All too often children these days are expected to be independent before they should be. Bottom line. don’t assume that resilient young man is not in need of a kind word, or that head strong young lady doesn’t need guidance.  Unrealistic expectations and entitlement issues override the proverbial group hub and catch with dad in the side yard. It’s not fair. A child is an investment…not a purchase. You can’t strap a child in a car seat and then coast out on fumes into adulthood. It doesn’t work that way. Every freakin’ step of the way….every burp….every nap….every diaper…every homework assignment…every cent of lunch money…every curfew…every haircut….every boyfriend/girlfriend….everything!….is YOUR responsibility as a parent until they move out of the house. Somehow…someway…society has it tucked away in their Blackberries that it is okay to circumvent these demands. Raising a child and those integral moments (yes, that includes acts of defiance and temper tantrums) are not something you can TiVo and deal with later. The focus needs to be 100% on the baby…and all too often it’s about the baby daddy. I never want to be a “baby daddy.” (The mere fact that this catch phrase exists proves that the focus has shifted in a certain dynamic in our society from what is truly important.)

My wife would be the best mother in the world, and if our child is half as smart and half as pretty as she is, we’ll have a winner. But, I also want to do the right thing. I’m still working on me. I’m still working on our marriage. I’m still working on being an effective drama teacher. I’m still working on being an actor. I’m not ready to put these things in the back seat yet, and until I am ready, I think it would be selfish of me to bring a child into this world KNOWING that they would take a back seat to my goals. I think anyone has the right to call this selfish. Absolutely. I’ll take it. I’d rather take it like this…instead of being called selfish when I DO have a child.

Right now…my wife and I don’t want kids. Poo-poo to your heart’s content. (Don’t even start on the whole “clock is ticking” thing. In this fast-food, instant coffee world we live in, I don’t wanna hear it!) I assure you, our minds won’t change as a result of poo-pooing.

This decision is the reason we get raised eyebrows in church. It’s the fuel that burns the ever-present dropped hints from family members. It’s the bait that traps questions like “So, when are you two going to have a child” every time we hold a baby. Arrg.

It is no one’s right to have a child. It’s is no one’s responsibility. It is everyone’s great privilege. I take that very seriously.

I love the fact that you need a license to drive a car, buy a gun, sell a house, own a dog, or to go fishing…but no one needs a license to have child. Anyone with a certain appendage and a little bit of time has the opportunity, and all too often I see the product of rash, or in some cases, no preconceived thoughts.

If you pack your lunch for the day, you think to yourself…”hmmm, I think I’d like an apple. That Twinkie would be nice. Better have a sandwich. I do like peanut butter. Oooo, apple juice!” It’s a process. You know what you’re getting yourself into and you know what to expect later. You don’t strap a blindfold on and shove whatever you touch into an empty sack and hope for the best…which is what a LOT of people do, unfortunately.

I know my child will be a handful, because I was a handful. I know my child will have “issues”…because I have issues. I want to be thoughtful in the decision making process…in the hopes that maybe someday I will raise a child that will likewise be thoughtful. Maybe I’ll never get there, who knows.

So, don’t hope that this post will end in an announcement that Emily and I are having a baby. Ain’t gonna happen. Instead, please help to remember that not every couple is like you and your significant other. The curtains close in everyone’s theatre and people don’t always don’t get to see what happens backstage or in-between scenes, so don’t assume that everyone has the same plans for what will appear center stage.

Instead, trust that each couple (ones with a million rug rats, and ones with zero kids) are making the educated and thoughtful decision to do what is right. I’m not suggesting that everyone’s mind is hard at work, and until the teenage pregnancy rate goes down, I’ll never say that, but I will suggest that thought “processes” are happening in even the most unlikely of places and it’s no one’s job to identify and then critisize that. (Which is probably my ultimate criticism of any friend who has ever raised an eyebrow.) In our case, we’re ensuring our potential investment down the road, should we choose to go that route.

Sheesh, this turned out to be the defense’s closing statement! Well…..good. Whether or not you like it doesn’t matter. Everyone will judge just the same.

But, it is my hope that no one would assume I haven’t already thought about what it might be like for my own proud moment when my child breaks into Fergie’s latest and serenades a friend. I’ve thought about it…and for now I’m not ready. I’m happy listening to Rachael and provide my own backing vocals.

We’ll both be in the kitchen eating out of the sugar bowl.


Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , on July 4, 2009 by erikball123

I suppose it was the night air, or the fifty mosquito bites on the nape of my neck that brought me back to reality the second I became a smidge nostalgic for my younger days and life in Michigan. I recall front porch screens that closed with a snap and bang, adventures in Cedar Point (America’s roller coast) and a taste for summer cocktails of Faygo and Deep Woods Off. (Shaken.) But, oh, do I love Las Vegas more. At least, I thought I did until I took a drive down a back road today.

Back then, it was the best of times…it was the worst of times, and I love remembering them. I love my family very much and it is good to see them again. Although I admit that sometimes the visits are too short  (burdened with the ever looming vacation itinerary) and the in-between times too long, I do think that in the world of crazed family situational comedies and tragedies, perhaps the more poignant visit is the most appropriate.

On this particular trip we flew first class. I feel no shame in writing about it. The pillows were of average airplane size, the Reuben/Chicken Salad menu options dwindled to merely Chicken Salad by the time they got to row 6, and my Bloody Mary tasted like feet. I’m sure someone in coach won the lottery. We all have our win falls and downfalls. Poo-poo on those who can’t see past the little curtain that separates things. Anyway…dropping into Detroit brought chilly winds, loving faces, and sprouting nieces who I swear are growing in front of me as I spend time with them.

The Zoo, Lake Michigan, Fireworks, Grandma’s Birthday and a Lansing Lugnuts game filled my dance card for the week and I was able to put my Vegas summer plans on the back burner for a while. (Even if they did indeed fit in my carry-on.)

Jackson, Michigan is a very interesting place and a perfect example of rural Mid-West. The culture shock isn’t terribly jarring, (even if songs from 5 years ago are still in the county’s top ten and going to one of two Starbucks within 60 miles is considered a “trip”) I argue everyone needs to take two steps backs every now and then and remember where they came from. Breakfast at the Bone Island Grille and sharing stories with my Mom and Grandma did just that, and I took off my sunglasses at the table and opted to drop the “out of town” act at least until the bill came.

For some reason this trip I found myself particularly interested in the surrounding areas of Jackson. The ones that had father and son, one-garage auto shops with signs that read, “Save a Squirrel, Check your Breaks” and Taste-E Freezes oozing with chocolate covered cherry compote. I noticed broken windows in broken down factory buildings, deserted fairgrounds and weeds hiding between cracks in the road.

When I came upon a weathered yard sign that read “Burning Barrels – $10” I stumbled upon a whole different avenue of forgotten times. For those of you who don’t know, burning barrels are empty oil drums, stripped and painted for the sole purpose of rounding out the corner in your acre backyard, so that your family can take trash out every other day to burn. That’s right. Garbage men came around only once every two weeks…and it was relatively light work. Everything else was toted and burned. After a year or so, when the ashes get to around 2-inches from overflowing, you call up a handyman to come and tote the heavy bugger away, and you start over again.

Kinda crude in the age of fuel emissions and recycled Diet Coke cans I suppose. But for a young boy, growing up, it provided excitement to that occasional desire to hold a match to something and created an He-Man action figure death trap and a source of amusement. (Moss Man: R.I.P.) I had forgotten about watching those plastic bottles shrivel up and the Kleenex take flight into the air as a charred web of ash.

As I get older and find these visits “back home” to be more and more about finding time instead of catching up, I wonder how my life has changed from the days of the burning barrel. I like to think I’m wiser, but to this day in Las Vegas, twice a week mind you, I open my garage door and drag my trash 2-inches to the curb of my street…the same type of garbage, without a care.

We all have demons. We all have regrets. We all have things that weigh on our minds and hearts. There are things that need to be said…and things that need to be undone. And I all too often find myself willing and able to tote those fears, doubts, angers and griefs out to the road, knowing that if we reach the curb, we won’t have to worry about them anymore. We do that all too often with hopes, goals, promises and dreams as well.

If I were to manage these hopes, fears, ambitions, etc….strike the match and begin a blaze, for whatever reason…at least then I would be most likely to stand and watch the progress of my decision. Ponder….reflect….and then watch whatever I trashed wisp away into the air, or shrivel up and melt. At least then, I see it with my own eyes. At least then, when my burning barrel gets full…it’s my responsibility to figure out a way to remove it.

Deep stuff, huh? I thought so too. But, using a burning barrel as a metaphor isn’t the only thing I found interesting this trip. The innocence in my Grandmother’s and nieces eyes…the fervent desire to cling to precious time with her son in my mother’s smile….the practical need for an ant trap back home so my house sitter isn’t grossed out…all these things add to the stew I brew up every time I step on a plane back to Jackson, MI. As often as I roll my eyes every time someone might suggest I ever live in the Mid-West again…Jackson has always provided me with something that I can take home with me to think about.

I need to think about what I throw away everyday in my personal trash can, perhaps sift out the recyclables, and then make room in the back yard for a burning barrel once more. I think it is important to reflect on everything in the past, the present and in the future. All too often, because of time or space we forget how we once used to deal with things. Perhaps in the rapid fire age of drive-thru Starbucks and zoom zoom race cars we need a back road tour of how to slow down our decision-making.

At least then maybe I can appreciate the trips “back home,” enjoy a slow-paced itinerary, and be thankful for golden nuggets like a simple Jackson city burning barrel.

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