How Have You Made The World A Better Place Today?

I prepare breakfast for my Yahoos every morning before school. Their teen and tween selves are entirely capable, sure, and I don’t have to do this for them, but it matters to me that I do. I remember my mom making breakfast for my brother and me on the mornings she didn’t have to work, and I still carry echoes of those conversations with me. I guess my hope is that in the future my kids will look back and remember that we had some special conversations at the breakfast table too.

You all know that I am bonkers for the book Wonder, by RJ Palacio. I have recommended the book to many friends, colleagues, acquaintances, really anyone who will listen to me. At its core is a message of kindness. Wonder’s protagonist is a fifth grader named Auggie, a child who, after dozens of surgeries, finally in fifth grade enrolls in his first brick and mortar school. Auggie has Treacher-Collins syndrome, a disorder that causes facial deformities. You can well imagine how the world is not especially kind to someone who looks very different. Wonder shows us just how.

The kids in Auggie’s class, are fortunate to have Mr. Browne, prince of a teacher and good guy extraordinaire, in their lives. Mr. Browne teaches the kids many life lessons in the form of precepts, beliefs about the way we should act in our world. Officially, a precept is a command or principle intended especially as a general rule of action. Unofficially–words to live by.

Some years back I recommended Wonder to my friend Kathie, who at the end of that school year presented me with a gift. When I opened the gift bag she handed me, I found 365 Days of Wonder {Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts} within. Palacio had gone on to author companion books based on Wonder’s theme. This particular volume contains exactly what you might expect given its title: 365 days of precepts, one for each day of the year.

At least once or twice at breakfast time with the boys each week, I select that day’s precept to read. I ask the kids what they think it means, and sometimes, though they’ve been awake probably only eight or nine minutes by this time, the kids play along thoughtfully. The fictional Mr. Browne has inspired enlightening pre-dawn conversations. With the naïve hope only a mother holds for her babies, I do hope my sons remember these exchanges fondly. Even more, I hope my boys, loves of my life, live and heed Mr. Browne’s messages.

I began working at a new school for weeks ago, and I am having a hard time reaching one of my students. Sixth grade girls can be as cuddly as wolverines, and one of the wolverines in my charge, well, I’m workin’ on it. . . I brought my precept book to school with me last week, and I’ve begun Mrs. Weir’s Board of Mr. Browne’s Precepts. Here’s the inaugural post:

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. –Aesop

It’s overcast today, the sky flat, dull February white. My husband is working this weekend, and social media is flaying the four cavities of my heart. In place of any traditional news media I’m glued to NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Winter Games (Ski Jumping, large hill if you’re curious). The kids went to a friend’s, but before they left, I asked them this:

I ask this question of them every so often (OK, usually when they’re at the zenith of sloth-dom), and I asked them today. My big kid, clever that one with evasion, asked back what was I doing to make the world better today?

I made a cake. I made this heart-shaped chocolate cake with homemade chocolate frosting dusted with pink and red sugar. Cheeseball? Super cheeseball. But you know what? It’ll make my husband smile, and my three boys will make it disappear by Monday, I am sure. My effort to improve the world today was close to home and dorky, but I like it.

Here’s today’s precept:

Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. –Lloyd Jones

I tried. I’m good with that.

What are YOU doing to make the world a better place today? I’ll slice you up a piece of cake while you tell me about it.

Namaste, Y’all

Book One

When we moved to our current home in 2005, an elderly lady, Miss Irene, owned the duplex next door.  Every day while my big kid napped, I would lounge around the patio table with my very pregnant feet up and read.  I read to my son every day, all the time, but I longed to read something with chapters!  Something longer and less sturdy than the steady diet of board books my son devoured.  My kid napped like a champ, so I usually had at least ninety connected minutes to disconnect from motherhood.

Typically more than half those ninety minutes were co-opted by Miss Irene.  She was a lonely soul whose “family”–daughter-in-law, granddaughter, grandson, and their crew–inflicted the worst kind of harm unto her.  Without reliving the experiences, let’s just say that her “family” drugged her (they were all in love with the heroin), and ran up her credit cards.  The goods they purchased they fenced from the front porch.  I came to know these details only much too late, after our neighbor, a long-time neighborhood resident filled us in.  He was the one who got her the help she needed, and the Department of Aging stepped in to remove her from her “family.”  We were new, so weren’t familiar with any of the players, and I kept busy trying my hardest not to throw up every minute of the day.  #2’s was a tough pregnancy, but I digress.

Miss Irene would amble over and chat me up each day the weather allowed me to sit outside.  I think she kept her eyes trained to her side window in hopes of a friendly face.  I wanted to hear nothing but the sound of silence as I made friends with yet another lawyer or homicide cop of some mystery author’s imagination.   But more often than not, I heard stories of Miss Irene’s youth–the dances she attended and the fancy dresses she chose, how the streets of Milwaukee had changed since streetcars were replaced by buses, her long-dead and deeply missed husband.  Her wonderful children.  (I didn’t know how truly awful they treated her.)

At that time, though I craved solitude, I listened to Irene’s tales.  Irene reminded me of my grandma, who would chat up every waitress, clerk, or bank teller in southeastern Wisconsin.  My grandma outlived most of her friends, so didn’t get much company as her years added up.  I always hoped that those souls who leaned in just a touch too long to listen to her stories were kind to her.  So that’s how I chose to be with Miss Irene.  I would hear the same stories nearly every day, sometimes twice or three times in quick succession.  Still, they were her memories and they mattered to her.  Talking to her made her happy I could tell.  So I let her talk, always hoping that someone would have shown my grandma the same kindness.

Kindness Gift (2).jpg


I walked my dog late this morning, and met a woman clearly not 100% in control of her faculties.  She was carrying an open half-gallon jug of milk (still cold judging by the condensation on the jug), and within the first minute of our chat, I learned that her husband had died five years ago.  He was an alcoholic whose demise was sped by the passing of their pet cat, gone now nine years.  Sally from HUD was unforgivable due to the shoddy job she did handling the sale of her husband’s condo.  Andy, her late husband should have just paid off that condo instead of wasting his father’s inheritance on booze.  But not beer, because a man can’t be an alcoholic if he drinks only beer.  And eight employees of her current address had quit or been fired since 2016.  She shared these details with me, random stranger, in fewer than five minutes.  Then she told me most of them again.

I relay this to you here not to poke fun, no.  I tell you because I’m no martyr, but it cost nothing to be kind to this woman.  She talked, I’d say “we” talked, but really, it was all her for about ten minutes before I really did need to keep moving. It was hard to break from her, as whatever diminished capacity she had impaired her social interactions as well, but I managed to extricate myself and bid her a good day.  I hope she gained something in those ten minutes, even if it was just a random stranger’s ear to let her tell her stories.  I would like someone to do that for someone I loved, or hell, for me when that time comes.

Book Two

My big kid’s brain is normal.  I’m not sure whether I am supposed to be relieved or disappointed about that.  I pick relieved.   Reading the radiologist’s report on my son’s brain MRI was a throwback to graduate school gross anatomy, and I was able to piece together some meaningful info about his brain as I read.  My son’s neurologist hypothesized that in addition to his muscle weakness, presence of chorea suggested there may be some problem the way the nerves were being fired at the cortical level.   I have no idea what any of this means for his future, but don’t I sound like I do?

My little kid’s arm is abnormal.  He rode the bench for the first time last night, and I felt immensely proud of him.  He did go 2/3 at the plate, which pleased him no end, and he didn’t seem overly fazed not to play defense until it came time to trot out to first base during the first inning.  He looked as if a giant iron gate had slammed shut just catching the tops of his cleats on its way down, locking him out of the game.  He consciously had to sit his butt down, but he did.  Just like he was supposed to.  He said it felt weird, but he did keep his coaches entertained with his expert play-by-play.

Book Three

It didn’t kill me.

I’m three weeks into yoga, and I haven’t died.  I’m actually pretty good at it.  For a first timer.  For a forty-nine year old first timer, thank you very much.  Though it’s summer, my anxiety-riddled brain still races, and I am thoroughly amazed that I can find utter tranquility outside on a tennis court, surrounded by kids’ lessons and ladies who don’t exactly always call in/out entirely accurately.  Since my knees have determined my running career is done, I need to do something to keep my physical self in shape.  I’m not meant to be a thin person, but I prefer being thin to not being thin.  Plus I really like to eat.   On my first date with my husband, I told him that I wasn’t one of those girls who was gonna be all “Oh, I’ll just have a side salad and a Diet Coke.  I EAT, mister, and you have to be OK with that.”  Then I tore into a hamburger and fries, and it was pretty much love.  Obviously.

I can stretch and I can use my body to work against and for itself.  My son can’t do that, and I’m not finding quite the right metaphor here, but I’m going to keep moving somehow, and in some way.  Because I can.




What Are YOU Looking At? And Also It’s My Birthday So Be Nice

I live in a pretty cool part of my city, a neighborhood busy with weekly concerts in the park, monthly art festivals, sports of all sorts–5Ks and .05Ks and the like, beer gardens, food trucks, and street festivals.  It’s a hipster haven, it’s LGBT friendly, it’s fairly liberal, it’s crazy with cool new restaurants, it’s got good schools for families–it’s got a lot going on along all the right trajectories.

Saturday was the Bay View Bash.  It’s a one-day close-down-the-streets four-stage cover band palooza.  Lots of craft vendors and artisans hawk their wares, and there’s more patchouli (eewwww) and street food than you can shake a waffle on a stick at.  Also, beer.  Lots and lots of beer is available, and lots of beer is imbibed. I don’t like beer.  GASP!  How can I hail from Brew City and dislike beer?  I just do. Dislike it, that is.  The smell of beer makes me kinda dry-heavey, and no, it’s not a holdover from having drunk too much beer when I was 22.  The smell of Southern Comfort holds that special place in my colorful history–I wasn’t always the angel I am now, you can probably imagine.  This is not a post about judging people who drink too much.  I do love a well-crafted cocktail, wines of all shades, and would dive into a pool of margaritas and slurp my way out with a straw if such an opportunity presented itself.  I’d be the world’s jerkiest hypocrite if I pretended I’d never previously gotten my sauce on in an overindulgent way.

No, this is a post about judging people who look down at people who appear different.  And by look I mean stare slack-jawed and by stare I mean, “wow, you’re really acting like an asshole.”

I encountered two people in motorized wheelchairs at the Bash.  One individual garnered little attention.  He looked “normal” (yes, quotes intended for there is still no font for my tone of voice), except for the wheelchair.  For a period, we ended up behind this gentleman in traffic as we all wove our way through the throng.  Passersby straight up stopped and stared at him as he traversed the crowd, and I don’t know why it surprised me, but it did.  This dude isn’t the one that’s got me all contemplative though–it’s the other man.  Now I will grant he was not wearing a shirt, and I’m always pro-shirt when it comes to street festivals, so maybe that could be factored into the stares.  But his body was more physically different than the first guy.  Markedly different.  Markedly physically deteriorated; his legs were contracted and his arms moved with considerable, rigid effort.  His head canted to the right and into his chest.

I know what you’re thinking, so stop it!  Wendy, obviously YOU were staring at him as well since you’re such a reliable informant on his physical being.  For a chunk of time, my family was walking behind him, and yes, he stood out.  Yes, I watched him from behind.  I mentally extend sincere apologies to wheelchair users I pass, because now I do think about wheelchairs when I encounter someone in a chair.  I wonder if my son will land in a chair like one of those I see some day–I do actually check out the various chairs’ features–and I wonder if people will stare at my boy.  I wonder if sidewalks and buildings will be accessible for him.  I wonder how he will feel if when people make assumptions about him.

What prompted me to write this was a woman’s (I hope it was booze-infused because I don’t want to live in a world with this level of overt uncouth and unkind) loooooong stare down as she approached from the opposite direction.  The stare would have been enough for me to react negatively to her, but the stare coupled with the SNEER, huff, and shriek of OH MY GAWD to her friend, whipping her head around to continue to stare at his back as they went in opposite directions.  It was awful.  She was awful.  I sincerely hope she was that drunk.  He is a PERSON, you malevolent beast, not an attraction.  Sure he looked different, but I bet he knows that already.  I bet everyone he passes recognizes that too, so probably no one needs that pointed out.

Who knows?  Maybe he did something jerky to her last pass?  Maybe they have history?  Maybe he was a giant ass to her first–people with physical disabilities can be jerks as easily as anyone else.  Maybe I’m making too much of it because I view things through the lens of my son’s future.  Maybe it was the conspicuous absence of the shirt?  Maybe it’s none of my damn business?

Except it is everyone’s business to be kind.  BE NICE, PEOPLE!  Which is a lovely segue into my next topic.  If not for Jenny Lawson’s effing amazing blog, The Bloggess, which you should totally click here and read, I’d never have discovered Wil Wheaton’s blog.  I haven’t read every syllable he’s ever written, but I do enjoy his writing style and perspective on many topics.  I LOVED this message he relayed:  Whenever you can, do something kind for future you.  Read Wil’s full blog post here. It’s much better than what you’re reading now.  I’ll wait til you come back, I promise.

Of course I was reading his post while mindlessly stuffing my face with Doritos (there’s nutritional science and psychology behind why they’re the perfectly perfect engineered snack, people), but the crunch inside my head was so loud, it took awhile to shush sufficiently that I could hear what Wil was saying.  I stopped gorging myself in that instant, and did something future me would appreciate:  I stopped jamming Doritos into my pie-hole.  I also stopped feeling guilty at keeping my  hair appointment.  My husband got called into work second shift today and tomorrow, and I felt like I should stay home to shuttle little one to football practice.  I asked another set of parents to pick up and deliver him, and they did.  There’s much more to come on this subject, but my takeaway was a new twist on a familiar mantra:  be kinder than is necessary–you are your ground zero.

It’s my birthday, so happy birthday to me!  Birthdays are not exactly time for not-resolutions, but it’s always appropriate to take stock and think kind thoughts, right?  And not just for future you, but for right now you too.  Thank you to everyone in my world for starring in the role of being just who I need.  If you made me happy, thank you.  If you made me reflect, thank you.  If you made me want to throat punch you, thank you for the lesson on what I don’t need and/or want.  You are each exactly who you are meant to be in my life, you each fill the space you were meant to inhabit for little old WW.  As is her annual tradition, my friend Nikki occupies (among her many roles in my life) the role of outdoing herself creating personalized, often inappropriate Barenaked Ladies-themed household items.  Apparently the traditional gift for one’s 49th (holy shit you guys, I’m 49 in less than two hours!) birthday is a photo collage blanket of me with my favorite musicians on the planet.  It’s amazing and hilarious–Nikki deemed her effort epic, so please enjoy.  Oh, Nikki, you kill me. You fill that role like no one else in the world possibly could!  #ketchupandmustard ❤️💛

I thought my birthday present from Nikki would be the piece de resistance of birthday swag, but that was until I got home fully blonded-up, just as nature intended.  Epic though my blanket may be, and it IS epic, right, #Ladiesladies?–it’s not this rare glimpse into the psyche of my seventh grader.  His English/Language Arts teacher charged kids to create a poster about something “real” in their lives, and this is what he designed, thus far in draft.  I could barely speak.  The birthday gift my big kid gave me isn’t even meant for me, but the gift of his perspective is more than I can manage tonight.  My hold on acknowledging 49 is tenuous enough, but this?  I can’t speak.  But I don’t need to–he, in a rare and special turn, spoke volumes.  Happy birthday to me.