I work in a school.  I am the fly on the wall or the mouse in your pocket.  I am often invisible no matter the amount of noise I make.  I hear things.

I hear a lot of things.




Team Building

In the school setting they talk about teams a lot.  They talk about building teams as a way to teach and a way to relate and a way to communicate.  They talk about teams a lot.  They don’t have a clue.

Teams are more than a mutual goal.  Teams are more than completing an assignment together.  Teams are about more than working together under guidance from a coach or a boss.

Teams, real teams, are not a corporate structure.  Real teams make a commitment.  Not to the work; to each other.  Real teams are really marriages of commitment to each other.  The work can be a binding piece like shared passions are a binding piece in a romantic marriage.  I remember in high school fighting with the pitchers on my baseball teams like brothers fight.  They could, and did, call me names and treat me in ways that were appropriately awful for a teammate.  They would have lined up to kick the ass of anyone else that called me those names or treated me like they did.  I would have done the same for them.  Our commitment to each other was organic and personal.  And, it was only coincident with our love of the game of baseball.

I have been thinking about how you can see the teams that are organic within the school.  It is harder than I thought it would be, mostly because the people I am observing are indoctrinated into the corporate way of thinking about team.  There are personal connections between the teachers to be sure.  But, there are also fences.  It has been intriguing to watch and learn how those relationships make ripples and waves in the pool of personalities.

I think I have isolated a couple of behaviors to watch for that describes a team.  They are very similar behaviors but I note a difference in importance.  The first behavior is ‘checking in”.  I see that there are a few folks who seek out others to check in with when they first arrive.  This is the least of the two, but still descriptive of a commonality that is unavoidable in a team.  The need to see a face, shape an attitude, and map the work for the day is a critical component of team.  When the first thing that happens when you arrive at work is not a solitary activity but rather a checking in with a member of your team it describes the primacy of team over work.  This is how things really get done.  The second more important and telling of the behaviors is “checking on”.   The last thing a true teammate does on the way out of work or off the field or out of the house, is to check on your teammates.  You check to make certain all is well and good and that nobody on the team is left holding the bag.  This is a more definitive indicator of team.  It is important to the organization that teams are formed and that teams interact with personal commitment throughout the day.   It is a sign of true commitment that team members want also to check in at the end of the day and make certain that the personal connection shown in the morning is about more than getting through the day.

So, if you are assigned to be on a team, are you really?  Or are you just on a committee named team this or team that?  Who do you check in with first thing in the morning?  Who do you check on when you leave? Who is checking on you when they leave or checking in when they first arrive?  If the answer is nobody, you need to ask yourself why not?

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We went to a funeral today.  A celebration of a life lived in a magic burst.  The young woman was a member of our community of special needs families that played baseball together.  She played on the Challenger Baseball League team that we were lucky enough to be a part of for a number of years.  She passed away a week ago at the age of 21.  She went gently and quietly in her sleep.  Her passing is tragic.  Her life was not.

Katy had issues.  I have known her for years but really don’t know what her diagnoses were.  Oddly enough, I never really cared.  Diagnoses are for doctors, therapists and trivia games.  We trade them around like so many bubble gum cards.  We use them to one-up each other.  That game where you try to “top”  your buddies with how hard you have it.  “Oh yeah!?  Heart attack, schmart attack!  I was born without a heart.”  We collect diagnoses by accident and they define a lot in our lives, but they do not define the kids.  The kids in our world are defined the same way as every other kid, by who they are in their own heart.   Katy was defined by her heart as well.  She was full of life and curiosity and joy.  She was a smile. She was a light.  She was bright and warm and funny.  She was a candle with a huge flame. And, like a candle that burns bright and warm, it often burns out far before we would like.  And, so did Katy.

One of God’s miracles, though, is the power of memory. The candle may be temporary, but the memory of it is not.  The memory of that special, bright, warm, joyous candle can stay with us for as long as we live.  Even when we no longer can call a memory to the surface at will, some moment will snap it back into focus. The warmth of that candle, its brightness and color and aroma will be as real in memory as it was in reality.  For the rest of my life I will be blessed to see Katy in my memory.  I will see her smile.  I will see the incredible devotion of her parents to her well-being.  I will hear her laugh. I will see her point to her Mom and Dad with the purist of love in her eyes.  I will see Katy. I am blessed.

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Vacation Plans

This parenting thing never ends.  And, that is a good thing.

Our middle child is in SF and we have come out to visit.  She has a boyfriend who I will call Todd.  I call him that because it is his name and that makes it pretty easy to remember.  Any way this Todd fellow is a pretty good guy who happens to be a pretty fragile sort.  He had some terrible soccer injury and it wasn’t fully healed and he was playing dodgeball and shredded his knee.  Torn ACL, and flipped his meniscus.  So, while we are out here on vacation he had his knee rebuilt.  We had plans, you know.   We were gonna go to the Wharf and the Golden Gate Park and you know the stuff you do in SF.  And then this surgery and help take care of a kid that we hardly know and who, by reasonable assumption, is FAR TOO DAMN FAMILIAR with my daughter.

Here is the funny thing.  We would rather take care of the kid, and my daughter, than any trip to Alcatraz or whale watching or another drive across the Golden Gate in an open air bus.  There is little or nothing that can replace the feeling we have as parents to be useful to our kids, if even by proxy.  Taking care of Todd, (his real name), is in a way taking care of my daughter.  It feels natural to step in and help.  It feels wonderful to be of use.

I think we are even making a bit of a bother of ourselves because we are trying to be so damn helpful we are, of course, in the way.  Nonetheless, Todd, (his real name), doesn’t have family out here that is able to be of much help.  His parents aren’t even in the country at the moment and he needs to be bothered by affection a little.  When you are hurt and maybe a little scared, being annoyed by cloying parents is a far better problem to have than being left to feel lost and alone.  This kid and his girlfriend are highly educated successful professionals but, I saw the look in his eyes the night before surgery and I know what I saw.  I also know that I am 54 years old and there are times when I want my Mom and Dad.

I hope in the years to come whether Todd, (his real name), becomes a more permanent part of our family or not he remembers this time as a moment when he had parents around to help out.  I hope it doesn’t matter to him so much that it wasn’t his own parents.  I hope he knows that he was loved for those days because he needed to be and that our being able to love him made our vacation better than it could have been in any other way.

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I did something yesterday I haven’t done in a few years. I shaved. That’s not entirely true. I shave every day but I have worn a goatee for years and I haven’t shaved my whole face for a long time.

Interesting the responses you get. I work as a school custodian and not a single teacher in whose rooms I work (21) either commented, or noticed, I am not certain which. It is pretty easy to accept that they didn’t really notice because I AM a custodian and as such not really on their radar. They are polite, as a group, but they are also mercenary. I am reminded that when I first took the job my teacher friends all bragged about how well they got to know the custodians at their schools because the custodians were the go-to guys for things they needed. They were proud of the fact that the primary reason they cultivated these relationships was for the good it did them. Not a single one of these educated people were moved to comment on the irony of their statements. I have one kindergarten teacher on my “route” who is more blatant than most. She will speak to me but never unless I speak to her. She will look up and have conversations in front of me with other teachers never acknowledging my presence and even go so far as to reveal in these conversations uncomfortable facts that I certainly do not need to know. But what’s the harm? Who guards their tongue in front of the furniture? But, should she need something in her room fixed or cleaned you would think we were kissin’ cousins! The other reason some might not have commented is they think I looked a hell of a lot better with parts of my face covered. And, really, who am I to argue? I did receive comment from the men on the staff, none of whom I work with directly. Polite but not really encouraging, if you know what I mean. That is to say, absolutely appropriate coming from them.

The question remains; why shave and why now? I have mentioned to some of my friends that I have had a less than easy time of it with this new employment. I had been self-employed for so long I am amazed at the drudgery people put up with for the distant chance to improve their lot. It is still months away for me to even drop the probationary title and potentially years from an improvement in shift or responsibilities. And, the emotional toll of changing my self-image from self-employed to school janitor has left me somewhat lacking in self-esteem. (Though, creating a sentence that properly contains three hyphenated words does buck up my morale a little.) As you can tell I have been living inside my own head a bit too much lately and it occurred to me that I might want to figure out why I am where I am and why I am tolerating the state of affairs. It also occurred to me that, perhaps, I am punishing myself a little for needing to take a job like this in the first place. So, I thought maybe I would take a look under the mask and see if I could still like the pudgy bastard who lives under there. It seemed a good time to remind “me” what “me” really looked like and decide whether “me” needed a little work.

I was struck by two things off the bat. First, I was most definitely hiding behind the beard. I feel exposed and unmasked. I look in the mirror and every thought seems writ large on my face. It seems to me that no amount of poker faced resolve can keep secret the thoughts lurking behind such a thin veneer. Second, I note that I have gotten old while hiding behind the veil of whiskers. Eyes that I had convinced myself were wise and knowing now simply look tired when surrounded by such a wrinkled and blank canvas. But, all in all, I think I could like the guy looking back at me from the bathroom mirror. He is after all the more real me. He is the guy I should be working to improve, not the beard that grants me distance from the world and its realities. I may grow the goatee back some time. I kind of like the way it looked, white hair and all. But, I am happy I shaved. I need to see the guy under the mask once in a while so I don’t fall victim to believing he is the real me.

Also, stripping off the pretense is a way of facing the serious work that needs to be done. I can’t live in these circumstances for years. At least, I won’t. Too much of what I want falls in conflict to this schedule and work. I need to figure out what to do about it. There is much to be done and “miles to go before I sleep”. Masks are for people who are about things like play and drama. I need to be about the work of creating the life I want and the time I need to spend with my wife and my children. I need to do some serious, grown up work and it is time, if for but a moment, to put away childish things. Things like masks.

We all wear masks. Mine was made of hair.

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Freedom – All or None

As we sit here in relative safety and comparative comfort as citizens of the United States celebrating Independence, the word “Freedom” is thrown around as if we still knew what it meant. Today’s definition has little to do with the definition understood by the founders. Today we use freedom as if it relates to free stuff. Women can’t be free unless other people pay for their birth control pills. And, not just any birth control pills but the exact kind of birth control pills they desire. Men and women can’t be free if their health care isn’t paid for by the masses. We have lost our ability to discuss freedom rationally because we have lost the understanding of what freedom really is.

The most important distinction we have lost is the one that makes us look the smallest. We only define freedom in the U.S. today by how it affects us personally. The single most important aspect of freedom is that it is not now, nor has ever been, a “me” thing. It is a “we” thing. If your freedom is reliant on others to pay for it whether they care to or not then you are not a free person, you are a member of the tyrannical class. I don’t mean the sacrifice of others who have dedicated their lives to serving in ways like, for instance, the military. I mean the every-day member of society whose goods or services are taken to pay for your this or that or the other without their consent. I mean the kid who wants to be an accountant who is forced to study chemistry because society needs doctors and pharmacists to supply your “free” health care. I mean the small business owner who works eighty hours per week who is forced to give up his earnings and future because he must pay the teenager who was willing to work for him for nine dollars an hour last week fifteen dollars an hour tomorrow without being one bit more productive or valuable to the business. If your freedom to achieve your stuff rests on the backs of others who have not freely chosen to sacrifice for you then you aren’t a free person. You are just another bully stealing the lunch money of others to pay your way through life.

If the lessons of history have taught us nothing else then it should have taught us this; freedom relies on each and every one of us putting the freedom of those around us paramount to our own. When Kennedy cautioned us to “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” he wasn’t calling us to live in servitude to our government. He was reminding us that protecting the freedom of your neighbor is the critical component to protecting your own. Looking out for only yourself is a trap. It weakens your business. It weakens your relationships. It weakens your sense of self-worth. It weakens the very fabric of freedom. Looking out for the freedom of others strengthens us all. Taking responsibility for your own actions and achievement strengthens your standing in society in business, community and self. Being a guardian of others freedoms whether it be their economic freedom or their freedom to fail strengthens us all. Telling the takers of this country that forcing others to pay for their joys in life is unacceptable lets those others achieve joy on their own and teaches the takers a valuable lesson.

On this Independence Day please rededicate yourself to the cause of Freedom. Please remember that personal independence is the only path to freedom for yourself and for the rest of us. Please remember that when we force others into servitude either through taxation or regulation that freedom is strained and weakened.

On this Independence Day and every day remember that if we are not all free then none of us are.

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When People Tell You Who They Are…

“When people tell you who they are; believe them” – Maya Angelou

In the past couple of days the candidacy of the new darling of the left for Governor of Texas, Wendy Davis,  has fallen apart under the weight of her own dishonesty. I don’t blame her for her embellishments.  I mean if you read what is now coming to light the facts are pretty embarrassing. Especially for a woman who claims to be a paragon of virtue in regards to all things motherly. The Dallas Morning News out-ed her as a standard form lying politician instead of the fresh voice of modern feminism she portrayed herself to be.  While the dishonesty is damning what is more so is that she played the victim of patriarchy when it turns out she was the victimizer.

The irony of course is her entire campaign has been based on the premise that she was taking charge, taking on the men and fighting for women just like her!  And, that is exactly the real story of her past.  She took advantage of the men in her life financially, left them with the kids and strayed to her own delights over the marriage contract.  Like our President, her platform looks exactly like her past and she knew she couldn’t let the light of day shine upon it.

One wonders if the world would be a better place if the candidates we look to elect were not ever allowed on TV to campaign.  What if they had to put in writing their beliefs and positions on issues and the voters were required to read it to vote?  Imagine if the best candidates were vetted by the press based on long form policy statements and personal histories instead of casual references in sound bite interviews.  Imagine how it would be if you would never know the race of the candidate but only the content of his or her character and the quality of his or her thinking. If you had read Obama’s speeches you would know that while he spoke in couched terms he has frequently said exactly what he would do to “fundamentally transform” America.  If you read Wendy Davis’ speeches and the content of her filibuster you would know she is all hat and no saddle.

There is no surprise here unless you allowed yourself to be fooled by looks and charisma.  Wendy Davis and Barack Obama are the reason why justice is blind.

These folks and a parade of others have told us who they are.

When will we learn to believe them?

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Talking Around the Issue

While the media new and old spend time, ink and electrons discussing the relative merits of the O-Care website and the effect it had on Black Friday and whether or not Johnny and Jane can get insurance before or after, the real issue at hand is being ignored. This argument over health insurance is an old one and it only has relationship to health care in the way a sneeze is related to a cold.

Health insurance provided by the government is only a symptom of the still raging question of unresolved politics. The unresolved question is the question of Natural Rights. As old a political issue as there is and we are truly fighting over it now.

If the Affordable Care Act can insert into the American psyche and law books the belief that health care is a right, then the standard of natural rights has suffered a significant blow.

Our founding documents espouse natural rights when they talk of being…” endowed by our creator with certain…” Don’t get trapped by the word “creator” either. It doesn’t matter if your creator is The Creator or just your Daddy; you were endowed with those rights as a birthright. It was not a function of government that supplied you with those rights it was a function of you coming into the world.

A Natural Right is a right I can avail myself of without imposing on you. I can speak freely but that right does not go so far as to impose on you the obligation to listen, much less agree. If the ACA and its proponents can convince you that you have a right to health care then they will have convinced you that someone has the obligation to provide it to you.  Health care cannot be a Natural Right because it presumes that some person can be forced by law to provide that care.

If there is no available doctor or nurse or physician’s assistant to care for you in your time of need by what means will you exercise your right to health care? If the shortage of care providers is predictable and the government is charged with providing for your health care rights then the government will have to force some young man or woman into the healthcare field in order to provide for that right. But what then of the right of the bright young woman who has a mind for chemistry and wanted to be a chemical engineer instead of a Doctor? Isn’t it pretty lucky that the Obama administration and the lap dog legislature have allowed the Federal Government to be the only source for educational loans? “Sure Janey,” says the O-bot in charge of student loans, “we will be happy to help you with college if and only if you decide to be a Doctor or Nurse. Otherwise, I don’t think there is enough money for your loan to get approved.”

These are the reasonable outcomes of the ACA and the acceptance that rights are given to man by man. If you stick to the thing that made America exceptional, the concept of Natural Rights, you know that your rights end where mine begin and you are obligated to take care of yourself in ways complex and fundamental.

This is the argument we should be having over the issue of health care and health insurance. And, this is the argument the right has been having with the left for a millennia or so.

As long as we fight over the symptoms we are distracted from curing the disease.

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