Do You Have Time to be Bored?

“I’m bored.” The two words parents perhaps loathe most. Whether the child is four or fourteen, those two words can send the most sensible of parents into an emotional frenzy. “When I was your age, I was out working.” “When I was fourteen, I didn’t have time to be bored.” Now, my son has rarely used those two words, but watching and reading about the so-called “flash mobs” invading¬† Philadelphia’s South Street and weeks ago at the Gallery and Macy’s downtown, I think back to my teenage years. There was no time to be bored. Ever.

We didn’t have cell phones, instant messaging and social networking, but we had telephones. My mother would scream at me to “Get off the phone.” I would spend hours on the telephone, if she let me. I had so many activities before and after school and worked from the time I was 14, I never had a chance to be bored. If I dared utter those words, my mom would find me something to do around the house pretty darn quick. I did plenty of chores as well. I remember scrubbing woodwork and ironing clothes.

I was never allowed to hang out at the mall. That was probably the closest thing to “flash mobs” from my day. A lot of kids would head to Roosevelt Mall and just walk around doing nothing but being seen. I don’t recall hearing any problems from those days of hanging out, but there seem to be so many more kids today. The social networking, cell phones and word of mouth is viral.

I happen to agree with what Police Commissioner Chuck Ramsey and Mayor Michael Nutter have said in their subsequent news conferences following the South Street incident. Parents must be responsible for their children. I can’t imagine NOT knowing where my son is. I can’t imagine him putting himself in a situation where mobs of kids are doing absolutely nothing but ranting, running and mobbing into shops and restaurants.

Commissioner Ramsey is right: if your child says he or she doesn’t have anything to do, it’s YOUR job to find them something to do.Parents have to stop throwing up their arms and give kids some tough love. No threats – only action when the kids wander off without telling you what’s going on. For parents with small kids, this is YOUR teachable moment. Reign in your kids now, and they’ll never be bored. Teach them activities and volunteerism. Be an example – volunteer yourself and take the kids with you. They’ll never be bored.

http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local-beat/Mayor-Takes-Anti-Flash-Mob-Message-to-the-Street-89353867.html

Watching Camden Up Close

Driving into Camden from the South Jersey suburbs brings home the thought that Sacred Heart Church’s Father Michael Doyle has pressed for many years: there are a thousands miles between the suburbs and Camden. When I heard Center for Transformation staffer Andrea Feirich and board president Mark Doorley talk about how Camden became cut off from the region when the Ben Franklin Bridge, Admiral Wilson Boulevard and 676 were constructed, it didn’t mean as much to me until today. My husband, son and I drove to help at the weekly dinner at Joe’s Place. The nondescript building across from Sacred Heart Church at Broadway and Jasper is in the heart of Waterfront South.

Once we turned left onto Broadway leaving Rutgers-Camden, Cooper Hospital and Campbell’s Soup in our rearview mirror, it was if we’d stepped into a war zone. There’d be a few decent homes or businesses on Broadway or a side street, then vacant sites or more likely, boarded up homes, business and buildings that probably won’t see attention for years. We passed what looked like a group of volunteers serving a meal right outside in a vacant lot. Once we parked and got to the St. Vincent de Paul Society building, we knocked on the locked door. Once Burt let us in, we were welcomed by Sheryl and John along with the other volunteers who have given of their time, their hearts and souls to the community. This was our first time, so we were glad to do whatever was needed to serve dinner and dessert to about 60 people from the community.

Precisely at 4 p.m. when the doors opened, the people appeared. Their faces showed a road map of hard life. Women and men came. Their clothes worn and torn. There were a few little girls with their young mother. One man had a very pleasant conversation with himself the entire time he was having dinner. But he looked me in the eyes and asked for his pie for dessert; then he went back to his seat to enjoy his dessert and continue his conversation. Except for one angry man, each person was so grateful for every bite they were offered. Many had two plates of food and two (or three desserts). It didn’t matter. Our hosts supplied the lovely meal. We were glad to serve and share a little of ourselves with others who have so little.

When we were leaving today, dinner was still going on at Joe’s Place. I was getting in the car when a man walking through the vacant field next to the building yelled, “It’s not over is it?” I realized he was a regular at Joe’s Place and yelled back, “No, of course not; there’s plenty left.” The big smile on his face led me to think this might be his only good meal of the day and maybe for the week. He was carrying a plastic grocery bag. I know he was going to be taking some leftovers with him.

We drove just 50 yards from our parking spot. Looking down the side street to my right was a drug deal happening before my eyes. The person in the driver’s seat gave the man standing outside the car the money; the two shook hands. The deal was sealed. There is so much work to do in Camden. So many lives that need tending to. But in reality, it must start with the youngest of the people in Camden. There’s a way out. The many good people doing wonderful things on a daily basis in Camden can make it happen for these children. The thing is, my hope is that the children see the light with the right guidance, then they will show others like them the way out. For now, we can all do just a little more – a day at a time. Inside Joe’s Place, everyone is good and safe and has a full belly.

The Art of Letter-Writing

With respect to the greeting card industry, I have never found a sympathy card that truly reflects my thoughts or feelings about the dearly departed. Sometime between the time I attended my first viewing and when a co-worker’s baby died, I realized I had a knack for expressing condolences in a personal, heartfelt way.

Teaching my class business communications sometimes feels like that proverbial salmon swimming upstream. The mainly twenty-somethings are so intent on texting, emailing and using whatever shorthand they can find, most have never written a heartfelt, handwritten note. When I was growing up, I went to Girl Scout camp. I wrote letters home; my mom wrote back (never my dad) and I remember a boyfriend who also wrote to me and I him. I still have a shoebox stashed in the attic with those handwritten missives.

The other night in class, I was telling the students what an art it is to receive a heartfelt note. While handwritten is best, it’s also a talent to be able to sit at the keyboard and write a letter that includes a memory, a story, or a moment in time that brings a smile to the reader’s face and maybe brightens their day.¬† Losing a co-worker to an accident or a business associate dying suddenly are examples of why you would have to write a letter of condolence. The looks on my students faces ranged from, “not me – I’ll never have to write THAT letter,” to a look of sheer terror – “WHAT would I EVER say?” I explained that again, you are writing to the reader. You want to make that person feel a little better, if only for the time it takes to read the few paragraphs.

I remember when two married co-workers lost their baby. He’d been sick from the moment he was born and fought for a while, but he died. While I was driving to work shortly before the baby’s death, for some reason I had to drive to work a different way. I remember seeing in the sky above the road a formation of clouds in a circle that seemed to create an opening. At that moment, I felt as though the baby was being called from above – for his suffering to end and he was walking into the heavens above. I wrote something like that to the parents in hopes that they could find some peace.

Maybe you remember a great joke the person told or how they had a fantastic laugh; maybe the person wasn’t so nice but had a terrific knack for organizing events or meetings. Tell the story you know in a brief and heartfelt way and the reader will appreciate your effort.

Meantime, I really wish people would get back to writing cards and letters. The U.S. Postal Service is billions of dollars in the red. Hardly anyone writes cards or letters anymore. The impersonal email has taken over. You barely get a printed birthday card anymore. People send those completely ridiculous e-cards. At the holidays, you may get a batch of greeting cards with a family’s yearly letter – we even send one. I’m wondering how long holiday cards will last and people resort to sending e-holiday greetings.

Perhaps you’ve never written a letter or sympathy card from scratch. You probably have those thoughts churning in your brain. The next time the occasion calls for it, think about pulling out a blank card or notepaper from the desk. You may have to dig deep in the back of a drawer, but I bet that note card is there. It’ll take you a few moments. The results will be straight from your heart – to the reader’s. Now, excuse me while I write to my nephew who’s looking for my next letter.

Finding the Lead

We were buried in snow. That’s my excuse for disappearing from the blogosphere for a while. Really, my mind has been a jumble of topics, some of which I’ll recap. First, we’re much closer to opening day. Baseball, I mean. I snagged two tickets to the Phillies home opener April 12 which my son has been longing for, so I obliged. I just hope we don’t have a resurgence of winter and we’re sitting in our ballpark seats with blankets, hats, scarves, gloves and the like and end up forking out big bucks for a couple of cups of hot chocolate.

As I watched the first two televised Grapefruit League games from Clearwater and Kissimmee, FL, I couldn’t help but wonder how the final lineup will be cemented in the next few weeks. One of the Atlanta Braves commentators during last night’s game commented that the Phillies lineup right now is so solid, that if a player has a shirt number in the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s, they could be stuck in the Phillies minor league system for a long time. One of those guys batting last night looked younger than the ball boy – or is that just me seeing time march on?

With spring fast approaching, it’s been terrific to be outside with just a light jacket. I gave the interior of my car a fabulous cleaning the other day, but had to go to the neighborhood car wash to clean the exterior. My husband is sure (and I agree) that turning on the hose faucets would ensure a deep freeze followed by the chance of a bursting pipe. I do love washing my car in the driveway with the portable radio tuned to Phillies baseball. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s sort of like when I’m at the gym. I absolutely have to have something on the TV when I’m doing cardio. These days I’ll watch the Today Show for a while, then flip to Bravo where episodes of The West Wing run from 8-9 a.m. Before I know it, 50 minutes have ticked by as I sweated on the elliptical.

Finally, my son and his room have been bothering me. You can tell me until the cows come home that it’s normal for a 15-year-old to shove things under his bed (including his one and only dress shirt) and continually put all the stuff he should put away on the other side of his bed (not easily seen from the hallway). But I’ll never understand why at some point, the mood doesn’t strike him to straighten things up. We have tried NOT saying anything; we’ve nagged him; we’ve fallen somewhere in the middle and still, he lives in what becomes a pig pen over time. Yuck. Sometimes I think we should remove all furniture and let him live on the carpet. I think he’d be OK with that.