How to be Nice and Change the World in Ten Easy Steps

1. Do you see that elderly man wearing a black cap with gold lettering on it? The one walking gently through the crowds towards the counter line at Chick-fil-A? He’s a veteran. That’s what the hat says. He’s probably seen things and done things that are hard to imagine. All in service to his country. To you. You should buy him his chicken sandwich. Even if it feels weird. Do it. And, remember to tell him, “Thank you for your service.”

2. Be honest with others. Are you struggling with something? With someone? With life in general? I bet if you shared your struggles, you’d find someone else that is struggling with similar things, too. Maybe they’ve been through what you’re going through. Maybe they, too, have been sad or mad or disappointed or stressed. Talking about our struggles helps. Life is hard and complicated and expensive and messy and if those are the only parts you’re feeling or seeing lately, talk to someone that will listen with an empathetic ear. I bet you’ll feel better.

3. This one’s important. Learn how to merge properly in traffic. You know how when you’re driving on a two-lane highway and you see a sign that your lane is closed ahead and you immediately get over into the other lane so you’re properly positioned for the lane closure? And then, when you get to the merge point right before the lane closure, someone zips up beside you and tries to cut in to your lane at the last minute and you refuse to let them merge and then you honk and they honk and then you rage and curse at them and try to do the quick math in your head on just how much your insurance rates would rise if you hit them with your car? This has happened to you, right? Listen, you need to know, THEY’RE RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG. It’s called a zipper merge and it’s the most effective and efficient way of keeping traffic moving when there is a lane closure. Everyone is supposed to drive in both lanes down to the merge point and then we all zip into place into one lane at a moderate speed. We can do this, drivers! We can get this right! We can be less angry behind the wheels of our vehicles!

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Courtesy: Minnesota Department of Transportation because Minnesotans are super nice and probably all know how to merge properly.

4. Can you hear that child screaming in Target? Can you hear that loud, piercing, high-pitched wail that is making you glad that whatever is making that noise does not belong to you? Well, when you round the corner and find that kid’s mom and her flailing, tantrumming toddler, you should make eye contact and give her a nod or a wink. Something that communicates solidarity in this motherhood thing. Or, a quick, sincere, “You’re doing a great job.” I know it may feel awkward but it may also make that mom’s day. Heck, maybe even dig around for that extra fruit snack in your bag and offer it up. Parenting is challenging. We’re all fighting the good fight.

5. Look, do not vote for the orange man with The Hair. He is not nice. He is the opposite of nice.

6. Don’t tell a woman to smile. (We hate this.) Or, tell her she looks tired. (We are always tired because we are busy fixing things.) Or, ask her when she’s due. (This is never, ever safe.) Basically, be careful what you say to or about women. Think things through. Your words matter. Just like we matter!

7. Ask for help when you need it. Whatever “it” may be. This can be so hard. It’s hard to admit that we need help from others. It’s hard to ask for help. But, people want to help. You should let them help! Conversely, if you see someone else that needs help, help them! Or, offer to help them. They may not want your help but your offer lets them know that someone cares. That someone is willing. That someone is there. Teach your children to help others. Normalize service. The burden is lighter when it is carried by many.

8. Wiping off the kitchen table doesn’t literally mean wiping the crumbs onto the floor. You have to wipe them into your hand. Also, you can’t nest the spoons in the dishwasher. They won’t get rinsed! Likewise, you can’t overload the washing machine. Your clothes won’t get clean and will emerge in a giant tangled ball of… not clean clothes if you stuff it full with the entire contents of your laundry basket. Wait, this kind of went off the rails here. This is pretty much all directed at my husband. I’m sorry.

9. Know that the basic hopes and dreams you have for yourself and your children – health, safety, happiness, success – are the same basic hopes and dreams that people of all races and religions and ethnicities and backgrounds have for themselves and their children. Even if their families, their marriages, their homes, their neighborhoods do not look like yours, the feeling of wanting the best for themselves and the people they love is pretty universal. We are all so similar in that regard. It’s worth remembering.

10. Be generous of spirit. Be generous with your time. Be generous with your resources.

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The sunset a couple of weeks ago because it’s important to remember that we live in a beautiful world even when it doesn’t always feel like it.

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Pumpkinhead

For several months now, Charlie has been infatuated with the 1990s television show, Goosebumps. Based on the book series of the same name by R.L. Stine, the TV episodes are low-budget, poorly scripted and completely outdated in both costume and popular reference. It doesn’t matter to Charlie. He found the series on Netflix this past winter and has watched every show available. (There was a fancy movie version released last year and we have seen it but Charlie does not prefer the updated Jack Black version. Too current, too high definition.)

Charlie’s love for Goosebumps was so consuming that it even propelled him to put pen to paper, a task that Charlie finds rather loathsome and tedious. He stayed up late one night earlier this year carefully crafting his own Goosebumps fan fiction starring his favorite show’s characters. I was okay with the moderately scary storylines if the whole thing got Charlie interested in a. writing and b. reading and c. something OTHER THAN fighting with his brother over Nerf bullets.

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Then, on a seemingly unrelated note this past spring, Charlie began talking about planting pumpkin seeds.

“You want to plant a garden?” I asked. “No,” came the reply. “Just pumpkins. I want to plant pumpkins.”

Charlie became laser focused on growing pumpkins. It was all he could talk about.

Since I greatly dislike gardening of any kind I, at first, tried to dissuade Charlie from planting pumpkin seeds. Planting pumpkin seeds seemed like it might be kind of complicated and probably involved soil that was dirty and possibly weeding something and definite contact with bugs and all of that is just simply not my jam. In a last ditch effort at redirecting his endeavor, I may or may not have told him that you needed a permit from the city to plant pumpkins. (I’m not super proud of this but it was the last couple of weeks of school and my head was under water.)

Hitting a roadblock with me, Charlie then approached Bob with his entire pumpkin plan and because Bob is the Fun Parent, the Yes Parent, Bob promptly drove Charlie to the hardware store in town to purchase pumpkin seeds. The two of them carefully chose a window box-like container, added some potting mix, planted the seeds and away we went: Charlie as pumpkin farmer.

Charlie tenderly watered his potted seeds as needed, checking for change daily when he returned home from school. And, honestly, much to my surprise, right before we left for vacation in June, little green shoots appeared. Charlie was ecstatic! I didn’t know it at the time but his plan was taking shape.

We left the window box full of baby pumpkin plants in the trusted care of neighbors for the week we were in South Carolina. Charlie went over the strict care and watering instructions with our friends and with a certain amount of trepidation, he bid his pumpkin plants farewell.

When we returned, we were wholly surprised to see that the pumpkin plants were absolutely BURSTING from the window box. For a brief minute, I entertained the idea that our neighbors had somehow managed to kill the old pumpkin plants in a week’s time and done some kind of panicked switcheroo with much more mature pumpkin plants. Sort of like what you would do if a beloved goldfish belonging to your child died and a direct replacement was proffered before anyone was the wiser. However, (after admitting that they had, indeed, thought of a Plan B in the case of an untimely pumpkin plant demise on their watch), our neighbors assured us that they had not done anything more than follow Charlie’s careful instructions.

With the window box at maximum capacity, it became readily apparent that the pumpkin plants needed more room. They were not thriving in such a small space. So, Bob and Charlie scoped out the perfect spot near our basement steps and went about relocating the pumpkin plants. This involved trips to the local feed store for fencing and stakes and all manner of pumpkin support and protection items. We were all nervous that the trauma of new ground would just be too much for the tender little plants but we really had nothing to fear. The pumpkins did just fine.

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In fact, they did better than just fine. They thrived.

When it became apparent that this venture of Charlie’s might actually prove successful, I asked him what he had planned for his pumpkins. I assumed he had remembered something from school about roasting pumpkin seeds or making pumpkin pies but he instead informed me that he wanted to make a scary jack-o’-lantern.

“Oh, for the front porch, bud? For Halloween?” I asked. “That’s a great idea.”

“Well, yes for Halloween but not for the front porch,” Charlie said. “The jack-o’-lantern is for my head.”

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Charlie’s plan had come full circle.

Charlie explained that, for Halloween, he intended to dress up as a scary jack-o’-lantern just like a character found in one of his favorite Goosebumps stories and the pumpkins he was growing were meant to complete his costume. He would wait patiently while a pumpkin grew on the vine, then he would pick it, clean it out, carve out the scary face and terrorize the neighborhood.

I absolutely commend his foresight and am incredibly impressed with his ability to plan.

I, however, have doubts about if these pumpkins can grow to a useful size.

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Hand for scale.

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Hand for scale.

If these little pumpkins don’t get a move-on, we might still yet have to pull a switcheroo, come the end of October, with something of a more suitable size.

And, in the ultimate Goosebumps-like finale to this tale, the pumpkin plants appear to be taking over our yard, our railing and our basement steps, reaching their long tendrils and big leaves straight for the house. This is the current view from my bedroom window. It’s only a matter of time before our house is consumed. It’s like something straight out of a horror show.

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