Grown-up Topics

Essay on Decisions

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Essay On Decisions

Wendy C. Kasten

Looking over my life, I would say I made some good decisions and some poor ones. Oddly, the poor decisions were more about people. And especially men. The good decisions were about work and career.

Growing up, people talk to you lots about “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Seemed like every relative visiting for any occasion always asked my brother and me this question. So, talk about careers and futures was always ongoing. I think now that this enabled me to think and keep thinking about what I wanted to be.

In narrowing down what I thought were my career choices (there were fewer choices for women then), I considered where my natural talents lay. I loved playing the piano, but I observed other kids doing it easily, joyfully, and for me it was hard work.  I concluded, correctly, that music was not my natural inclination or talent.

“I should do something I am good at,” I told myself.

One summer, I had a temporary job in a doctor’s office. My Mom worked there, managing the office, patients, and the commitments of three surgeons. I learned lots that summer, like decoding big medical words (which are just a jigsaw puzzle of Latin roots and pieces).  But my most important lesson was when I dropped to the floor, fainting at the sight of blood, being caught by my mother and one of the doctors, so as not to hit my head. Similarly, I felt physically ill sorting the doctors mail because medical magazines have lots of colorful and graphic pictures – hearts splayed open, oozing ulcers, even on the journal covers!

“Hmm, I thought. Probably medicine isn’t a good choice for me.”

Another summer, I had a job as a waitress. In that region it was about the only way to earn a decent living during a summer, as it was a popular tourist destination. I went through the training. I learned to bus tables, take orders, clean tables, set tables, and wait on customers. The only redeeming part of this job was talking with customers sometimes. I learned that summer that I detest repetition! Doing the same thing over and over in the same day makes me feel crazy. I am aware for many other people, repetition feels comforting, soothing, and satisfying. Not me! I learned something important about myself.

“I will never ever work in a restaurant again!” I promised myself.

What am I good at? Where are my talents? These are the ideas I sorted out in my teens and young adult years. What brings me joy and satisfaction?  My talents were (and are) teaching and writing. Somehow, the thing I understand the best in the whole world, is what somebody needs in order to learn, and how to help them get there. And, after decades of teaching, I still fall in love with someone else’s learning every time I sense the proverbial light bulb go on.

I recall a day during a summer school reading program, where schools sent struggling readers to the teachers in the class I taught. My role was coaching teachers to hone their skills teaching reading and writing. One day, a teacher put a humorous poem on a huge sheet of paper, tacked to the wall. The small group of students were delighted to read it over and over as the teacher in my charge pointed to the text with a ruler. Subsequently, she invited a little girl named Princess to come up to the poem and find all the letters in her name. Then this teacher challenged her to find the word alligator, which repeated throughout the poem. Then to find other words starting with /A/ and asking if she knew what they were. I was coaching the teacher how to mine the most of this momentum and attention the little girl was giving to this lesson.

The lightbulb in this little girl, wiggling with glee in her yellow sundress, was palpable. Like wheels in her brain became visible. At that moment, that little girl began to understand how reading worked. She stood there, noticing more and more things about written language, and my heart felt so full. What a priceless moment.

So, I guess I am saying, we all need to find what fills our heart, and make it a life work, and then it’s a joy going to work, at least most of the time.

Decisions about my personal life are another story. After my first divorce, I was visiting my uncle, who was the only other divorced person in the family.

“You know, love, and who you marry is the most important decision of your life, and NO one ever teaches you anything about it.”  Wow, isn’t that true! There are no units in school about love and relationships. There are no courses in college on choosing a life partner. This is the one thing everyone needs to learn, and how to learn about it is elusive.

I learned the hard way. Here are some things I learned:

  • In order to love someone, you must also respect them.
  • Respect in a relationship needs to flow in both directions. No exceptions.
  • You cannot plan on changing someone. It does not work.
  • You can love someone until you are blue in the face, and you cannot make them love you back. Love must flow in both directions. No exceptions.
  • People who yell at you, disparage you, call you names, belittle you, or put you down are NOT relationship material. Keep searching.
  • Anyone who hits you, harms you, or scares you, is NOT relationship material. Get out of there, keep searching.

Making big decisions – now that’s a category all its own. Whether or not to marry. Whether or not to take that job. Whether or not to move. Where to move to.

I confess I use lists. A list of all the “pros” and “cons” of each choice on paper can make things more clear, especially if those lists end up being lopsided. I have prayed over decisions. Talked to people I trust and respect. Ultimately, no one else can make a big decision for you. You certainly must consult immediate family, as it impacts them. But here is my rule:

If I make this decision, how will I feel about it in 5 years? Will I appreciate my choice? Will I rue a missed opportunity? As a teen, I loved the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” There’s this line that resonates with me –

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I Took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

So, in closing, I would say the best decisions of my life were never the easier ones. The good choices all involved some risk, some discomfort.

Novels

Henry from Now On

A novel for Middle Grade. Chapter 1

Chapter 1 (excerpt)

Bad News

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

April 6, 1923

I run as fast as I can, my rucksack bouncing on my shoulder, cousin Hero just ahead of me. I jump over wandering pigeons, cross the road, leap over horse poo, and head up the walkway along the canal.  Hero turns first onto the ancient stone bridge and stops at the crest. I come in second. We are huffing.

“We made it just in time,” Hero begins.

“There,” I say, pointing to the barge. Our favorite barge. The one with the friendly man, and the beautiful, fluffy dog. The man at the back works the long pole. The man at the front works the net, scooping up garbage in the water. They come closer, and we both wave like crazy.

The man with the net stops and tips his cap to us. The dog smiles and barks to us.

“Look how beautiful that dog is,” I say to my cousin.

“You and your dogs,” Hero shakes his head.

We are still catching our breath, leaning on the old bricks when this boy we know from school named Jorge gets to the top of the bridge. He’s with an older boy we don’t know.

“Hendrik, what’s your family going to do if the carpenters strike?” Jorge seems upset.

I look at Hero who shrugs his shoulders, because we don’t know what he’s talking about. Just then the older boy pulls Jorge along, and we go back to enjoying the barge, which is passing under the bridge and out of sight.

#

Hero and I part ways when we get close to our houses. I scale up the worn wooden stairs, stopping at the first landing. Nothing in the world can take away my good feelings today. Not even Pappa in one of his bad moods. The door to my Oma’s flat stands open.

“My little Henkie, come in.” My grandmother breaks into a big smile just for me. She is stirring potatoes on the burner as I step inside the door.

“How is my Henkie?” Oma wipes her hands on her apron, opening her arms wide.

Very good, Oma.”  All of me sinks into her arms, her softness surrounds me.

“How was school today?” She backs up enough to look at me, pushes my hair off my forehead.

“Great. Oma, I wrote a poem!  It mentions you! Mr. Swart really liked it. He read it in front of the whole class!  Everyone in the class said it was really good.”

“My clever boy.” Oma plants a kiss on my forehead.  “Maybe we are going to have a poet in the family, yah?” With my coat sleeve, I wipe away the wetness, still smiling. “Ach, are you getting too old for kisses from your Oma? Is this because you are almost ten?” Oma laughs. “Tell me more about this poem, Henkie!”

Quickly, I take my school rucksack from my shoulder and dig it out.  “Here it is,” uncurling the slightly bent piece of white paper.

I carefully put back the book my teacher loaned me –his very own copy of Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates. I stand up tall and ready.

Spring, by Hendrik Van Veen.” I take a deep breath, looking over at my Oma, who waits patiently.

Spring is coming, yes it will,

            Tulips bud on Oma’s sill.

            Sun is warming, days get long,

            Soon birds will sing their welcome song.”

“Wonderful, my Henkie.” Oma claps. “You are a clever boy.” She looks at me, her hand on her chest. “Now, you best be getting upstairs. Your mamma is waiting for you. Your sisters are already home.”

“Yes, Oma.  They passed me when Hero and I stopped on the bridge.”

Oma holds out a plate. She knows these butter and almond cookies are my favorite.

“Take one,” she warns holding up one finger. Snatching it, I shove it all it in my mouth, pick up my rucksack, and begin to take the stairs up to our attic flat two at a time, hoping Oma is not looking.

“Be careful on those stairs!” she yells after me. “Someone could get killed on those stairs!”

#

Stepping into our attic flat, I stand on tip toes to hang up my woolen coat and cap on the second peg by the door.  Not the first peg. Pappa’s coat goes there. He gets mad if anyone else uses it.

“Ah, Henkie, you are finally home,” Mamma says while one hand holds our big pot steady on the alcohol burner. The pot has been filled with water.  Kale, potatoes, and even metwurst are next to the pot.  My favorite dinner!  It’s been weeks since we had my favorite dinner!

“Mamma, I wrote a poem today!”

“Wonderful, Henkie. Maybe you can read it to us after dinner.”

“I already read it to Oma.” I pause. “She said that maybe I am going to be a poet someday.” Mamma turns away from the pot and looks at me, putting down the towel.

“You are good with the words, Henkie.” She turns and adds potatoes to the pot. Then the leaves of kale, a few at a time. “But remember Pappa expects you to be a carpenter, just like him. Boys always do the same trade as their fathers. You know this. You can still write poems for enjoyment, though.”  Mamma adds the ring of metwurst on top of the kale, pushes it all down with a wooden spoon, and puts the lid on the pot.

My bubble bursts a little, because I want to write.

Still, the wonderful feeling of reading my poem in class today stays with me. I walk over and put my rucksack on my cot in the alcove. My sisters’ beds are here, too.

But, this will change when we get our new place. We are all so excited about getting our new flat.

Looking out our only windows, I see Pappa walking up the street.  It’s way too early for Pappa to be getting home. He and another man stand there with his heavy toolbox, each one holding a handle on the side. They wait to cross the street until a horse and cart pass by.

“Why is Pappa coming home early?” I say to anyone who might be listening. I think back to what happened while Hero and I were watching the barge. What was Jorge talking about?  Something about a strike.  Maybe I should have asked his what he meant. Something doesn’t feel right.

“Why is Pappa getting home so early?” No one answers.

The clock strikes one ding dong for 5:30. Betsie goes to the tea table in the corner. She pulls down one of the glass doors and gets out five teacups.

“Mamma, are we getting our new flat soon?” Betsie asks while she is arranging cups at each person’s place.  She is now as tall as Mamma.

“Yah, I think so,” Mamma looks over and smiles. “Pappa says we are high on the waiting list. Not much longer now.” Steam rises in Mamma’s face while picks up the lid, stirring our dinner.

“ I am tired of living in an attic,” Betsie chimes in.

Any flat will be bigger than this place!” Mamma chuckles. The plodding lumber of Pappa’s footsteps move slowly up the last set of stairs, one at a time.  I hear the thud of the heavy toolbox on each step as he makes progress.

Pappa inches in, straining to manage the end handles on the wide and tall wooden box. When he plunks it on the floor, dishes on the table rattle. He’s breathing hard. He hangs up his jacket and cap, and pushes his hair away from his face.  Pappa is only a little taller than Mamma. His work clothes are not dirty as usual.

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On Keeping a Journal or Diary…

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On keeping a journal (or diary)

Leave a Comment / Blog / By admin

I always liked this photo my brother took of me at 15.

When I was 15 years old, and a teenager, I felt strongly that grown-ups did not understand me. I resolved to make sure I understood teenagers, and some of the aches of growing up, so that I would be a good teacher and mother someday. So I decided to keep a journal  – to remember.

Journaling wasn’t so popular in 1967. It was difficult to find something other than a school notebook to write in. But, in a stationery store, there were blank black books called “records.” The paper was lined, they came in sizes, and so I used my allowance or babysitting money to buy one. We were vacationing in Vermont at the time at a home my parents and grandparents jointly owned. Here is exactly what I wrote back then.

August 24, 1967 (age 15) Stannard, Vermont

This book is my teenage journal. Let the purpose of this book be remembered as a memory of that “precious period of frustration” which we call adolescence. Here I shall record that which I learn as well as that which I treasure. This way, I hope, all that I learn may be permanent.

Today I realized it was important to record this period of my life so that I may never display ignorance to someone I love. Teenagers are a distinct breed. They are all occupied in finding themselves and their way of life. However peculiar this process may seem, it must never be disturbed without marring their future, breeding some resentment.

Too many parents try to live their children’s lives. If I can’t live my own life, and believe me I will, then it is hardly worthwhile. I don’t want to just survive or vegetate. I want to live. I want to fulfill my life with exciting things worth remembering. Parents often blindly deprive their children of learning by doing rather than teaching.

Odd. I wrote this in 1967. Now I am 67 years old. I hardly know the girl who was me. But, I can find her in the pages of the many journals I kept then, and throughout my life (so far).

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More about journaling…

More About Journaling!

Leave a Comment / Blog / By admin

These are 50 years of my journals!

One summer project was cleaning out my desk. This one long drawer holds nearly all my journals, starting with the one in 1967. They are in many shapes and sizes. Some were gifts, others I bought myself. Smaller ones were well suited to traveling. And something about a pretty book with nice paper makes me want to write in it!

Journals come in handy. If the family is having an argument about what place they went on vacation in some year, or in what park we saw an eagle for the first time, then …..I can look it up in my journal and give a definitive answer!

I should explain that I don’t write everyday. Some people do. Me, I have never been good at anything that required that degree of regularity except brushing my teeth. Repetition isn’t my thing. If I had to do a job where you do the same thing over and over, I would be so miserable. Other people love repetition. Not me.

But the coolest thing now, is looking back on all the journals and visiting my earlier self. Who I was, what I was doing, what bothered me, what made me happy.  When I was a kid, I read about Ralph Waldo Emerson. He lived long ago, and spent time in Maine where I live. I saw where he wrote, “Whatever you write, preserve.” I took his advice seriously. So the journals have been one way. I also have file folders of other things I have written.

So, I hauled out all those journals, and read sections of each. Now, it’s time to put them away for a while.IMG_0379

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The Striped Dog

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The Striped Dog

My daughter Amanda joined my household near to her 9th birthday. Our house included one English Setter dog named Lady Sara Jane, and one cat named Cosette, and me (the Mom). Before this, Amanda had lived in about 13 foster homes. In all the places she had lived, there were other kids. So she always had someone to play with. In my house, there was just a dog and a cat.

Amanda had difficulty making friends, even though our neighborhood had lots of kids of all ages. So, lots of times, she played with Sara Jane.  Sara Jane was a medium sized dog, almost all-white, slim, athletic and comical.  This nutsy dog  loved to dive into mud puddles, chase shadows and flashlight beams, and blow bubbles in the toilet. A bucket of water could keep her busy for hours. Sara Jane was an interesting dog.

Amanda loved to play with art supplies more than dolls or other kinds of toys. So I got her sidewalk chalk for playing outside in our driveway.  She enjoyed drawing cats and dogs and houses and sunshine.

One day, however, Sara Jane arrived at the door alone, barking to come in. I opened the door, and she was covered in streaks of pink and green chalk! Oh my, I thought out loud. I have a pink and green striped dog.  Amanda came to the door next, a sheepish grin on her face. “Sorry, Mommy.” We both laughed.

I gave Sara Jane a bath. The pink chalk came out far easier than the green. We had a white dog with stripes of green for weeks.  Not everyone can say they have had a striped dog.

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On Journaling….

I always liked this photo my brother took of me at 15.  All my journals are displayed on my coffee table.

When I was 15 years old, and a teenager, I felt strongly that grown-ups did not understand me. I resolved to make sure I understood teenagers, and some of the aches of growing up, so that I would be a good teacher and mother someday. So I decided to keep a journal  – to remember.

Journaling wasn’t so popular in 1967. It was difficult to find something other than a school notebook to write in. But, in a stationery store, there were blank black books called “records.” The paper was lined, they came in sizes, and so I used my allowance or babysitting money to buy one. We were vacationing in Vermont at the time at a home my parents and grandparents jointly owned. Here is exactly what I wrote back then.

August 24, 1967 (age 15) Stannard, Vermont

This book is my teenage journal. Let the purpose of this book be remembered as a memory of that “precious period of frustration” which we call adolescence. Here I shall record that which I learn as well as that which I treasure. This way, I hope, all that I learn may be permanent.

Today I realized it was important to record this period of my life so that I may never display ignorance to someone I love. Teenagers are a distinct breed. They are all occupied in finding themselves and their way of life. However peculiar this process may seem, it must never be disturbed without marring their future, breeding some resentment.

Too many parents try to live their children’s lives. If I can’t live my own life, and believe me I will, then it is hardly worthwhile. I don’t want to just survive or vegetate. I want to live. I want to fulfill my life with exciting things worth remembering. Parents often blindly deprive their children of learning by doing rather than teaching.

Odd. I wrote this in 1967. Now I am 67 years old. I hardly know the girl who was me. But, I can find her in the pages of the many journals I kept then, and throughout my life (so far).

Poetry

Poem: Me and My Cat

Me and My Cat 2 C
I had this cat for 16 years. We were close friends. I think about her every day. Me and My Cat It’s 7 am and I need my rest I’m ignoring a ten pound cat on my chest, I can hardly breathe, But I’ll try and stay put, It’s Sunday today I don’t want to get up. It’s 7:05, and I’m staying in bed, I’m ignoring a large fluffy cat on my head. She’s purring loudly, it’s tricky to sleep. Something tells me that kitty is wanting to eat. It’s 7:15 or more I suppose, I’m ignoring the cat who is picking my nose. She’s persistent and starving in dawn’s early light, She hasn’t a morsel since Saturday night. It’s twenty past seven I hold fast my warm place, I’m ignoring the large furry paw in my face. She’s prodding so gently As loving can be Breakfast for her would mean peace for me. It’s half past seven I’m down under the sheet, I’m ignoring the ten pound blob on my feet. Still purring loudly, she might go away If I keep on sleeping the morning away. It’s 7:40 and resistance is thin There’s a purr-furry head snuggled under my chin. I have to admit, that this cat is sly She gets prey with honey Or at last it’s a try. It’s 10 til eight and the cat has prevailed I will feed the big ball of fluff with the tail. I’ll go back to sleep, I can if I wish, If only I’ll open the liver and fish. I live by myself, I do as I may, I sleep when I want And have things my own way, I do what I want, and I mean that is that! As long as my schedule conforms to my cat! W.C. Kasten, 1985, all rights reserved. ←