Mowing the Straight and Narrow

I really enjoyed these thoughts from Mitch. Especially since I was just thinking the other day how nice it would be to have a lawn to mow (we’re in the throes of looking for our next house, partly because our current home has a not-so-useful green space). 😉

Mitch Teemley


It’s spring. Gentlemen and gentlewomen, start you mowers!

When we finally bought a house with an actual yard, I was excited about mowing.

Yeah, I got over it.

Still, if ya got grass, ya gotta mow, and that means:

  1. Ya gotta cut it often (i.e. before eagles build nests in it)
  2. And ya gotta cut it straight.

136200261⇐ The first few times I mowed, it looked like this. I finally figured out I needed to maintain a straight line. But how?


Years ago I asked a ballerina-girlfriend how she kept from losing balance every time she did those amazing turns. “Spotting,” she replied. Dancers pick something to focus on, spotting it again each time they come around. This keeps them from flying out of control, and throwing up on their nicely dressed opening night audience.

It was worth a try. I began looking at shadows on the grass and…

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An Antidote for Gun Violence: Choral Singing

There are lots of good thoughts circulating lately about loneliness in our society–particularly among our children, and particularly in our boys. Many of us are noticing that lonely boys with arrested emotional development are often the perpetrators of violent acts that splatter across our news feeds every week. So, what’s the next step?

Find some ways to effectively, practically combat that loneliness.

Here’s my first suggestion: support the arts.

children's choir clip art


Arts are ALL ABOUT emotional development and expression. Teach a kid art, and you give him a tool to communicate deep truth about himself that doesn’t require words. For kids who have not been provided with the verbal toolkit to “feel and deal,” as the Yerkoviches would say, and are too old to respect the suggestion that developing a toolkit would be a good idea–art is a safe outlet. It could be the escape hatch they desperately need to channel their emotions into something constructive and away from harm.

Secondly, collaborative arts, like choral singing, could actually provide a long-term fix to the loneliness epidemic. Read this excerpt from an article detailing the benefits of singing in a choir:

“People who sing in a group report far higher well-being than those who sing solo,” [Pink] notes. It’s about synchronizing with others.

What can explain this? According to Pink, it’s due to the sense of belonging that synchronizing with others brings.

He cites the work of Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary, social psychologists who came up with the “belongingness hypothesis” in 1995, and claimed that the “need to belong is a fundamental human motivation… and that much of what human beings do is done in the service of belongingness.”

That last paragraph should give us a real lightbulb moment. If a kid doesn’t feel like he belongs, how can we expect him not to lash out? When that disassociation is severe enough, the results are going to be drastic, as we are shown time and time again. Another excerpt:

Emily Esfahani Smith, a psychology instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, furthered this point in a TED Talk last year, as CNBC Make It reported. “Meaning comes from belonging to and serving something beyond yourself and from developing the best within you,” she said.

She recommends forming “relationships where you’re valued for who you are intrinsically and where you value others as well.”

If a child is unable to form such relationships naturally, putting him in a context of non-verbal collaboration that focuses on creating something beautiful could provide an intense sense of worth, value, and belonging like little else. To physically experience his effort contributing to something he and others admire–which is MUCH easier when you’re in a collaborative environment–could be the incipient difference in self-perception and sense of community that an otherwise killer desperately needs.

To actually get the people who need it involved in the arts requires real effort, and at least a little money–but maybe not as much as you might think. Here are some of my ideas on what we could try:

  1. Provide transportation to arts programs
  2. Supply scholarships for private lessons
  3. Teach art/dance/music/etc. at community centers
  4. Sign ourselves or our kids up for lessons to support local arts teachers
  5. Befriend underprivileged adults and invite them to free or low-cost arts programs with us (reach the parents, reach the kids!)
  6. Host an art/music/dance day at our church, activity club, or out of our own homes
  7. Get the word out about free artistic programs and productions

What are yours?

And what are your experiences with the arts providing a sense of belonging and self-worth? Leave a comment and discuss!

Dance Class With a Boy

I had waited for years–literally years, even if it was only 3 of them–to sign a child of my own up for an extracurricular. We have a lovely, well-developed community center here with dozen of programs, including several for preschoolers, and we get their catalog every quarter. Class offerings are inexpensive and entice with little write-ups of all the things your kid can learn to DO.

I took dance classes and gymnastics in my youth, so I was especially interested in those. My husband was somewhat skeptical, however, given that our oldest–my first target–is a boy.

I pointed out J has always lagged a little behind the average child with his gross motor skills. It’s been nothing that really worried me or his primary care provider, and even though OC was a suggestion, we decided to see how well we could do without it–and J’s continued to grow and master skills, develop strength and balance, etc. But after J turned 3, I noticed that he still often stood with his feet turned far out, and his ankles rolled markedly inward.

So I had the doctor take a close look, and it turns out his hip joints are rotated further out than the average kid. He was just born that way.

This is apparently not too uncommon and doesn’t need special treatment in our case. The doctor did recommend encouraging J to strengthen his leg muscles as much as possible. He said our son likely wouldn’t be a star sports player, which was disheartening to hear, as J has the typical early interest in all ball sports, but I took that with a grain of salt. Grit and enough interest can overcome most of the challenges we encounter, I figure. Especially if you add plenty of opportunities to shore up the weaknesses we know we have from early on.

Because I took dance and gymnastics, I’m well acquainted with the extensive skills in coordination and strength that they can develop. And dance is actually something football players will use to enhance their footwork on the field–did you know that? Here’s a Baltimore Raven’s player practicing Irish Step–something I took lessons in for a few years and LOVED:

So I kept toying with the idea of taking James to dance class and brought it up with my husband a few more times. He wasn’t really opposed once he thought about it; more just surprised and uncertain when I first broached the topic. Then I took a weekend trip and had some great, long conversations with a friend whose oldest is 6–and a boy. Near the end of my visit, it just came up that he used to take ballet and LOVED it. He’s disappointed not to be able to any more because they moved to a more suburban setting, and no dance school nearby will take boys (!!).

Just to completely head off any stereotyping–this really isn’t a question of our kids’ gender identification/sexuality. It’s literally about one thing: allowing them to enjoy a healthy, gender-neutral activity that nurtures their physical development far more effectively than most others.

So that settled it for me. I came home, told my husband there was a “mommy and me” class about to start, and that I wanted to sign J up. Hubby was all for it! And J was terrifically excited.

He was shy and uncertain for two whole minutes at the first class–and then fully engaged and delighted for the other 43 minutes. He was even the most verbally expressive and thankful out of the bunch (which, I will add, included one other boy as well)! “I love this dance class!” popped out pretty quickly and endeared him to the teacher and all the other moms instantly.

So what do we do at dance class? I hope you’re not thinking tutus and ballet slippers; you’ll be pretty disappointed.

J wears his sweatpants and sneakers. We pretend to make pizzas while we do stretches, and then we see how well we can jump from one dot on the floor to another. We make fireworks with colored scarves. We squash invisible bugs in front and behind us. We march like soldiers from one side of the room to the other. We try to leap across the room–which mostly just looks like running and jumping. And we play with the giant parachute.

Yup. Really gender-centric activities.

Or maybe just a bunch of preschool kids learning how to move their bodies while trying not to run into each other. 🙂

And, hopefully, in J’s case, it’s helping him develop that leg strength and turn those feet straight when they’re not so inclined that way… and maybe nudging a door open for a future in football.

Except really probably not, cause J has always been short for his age and hubby and I think football is super dangerous. But that’s another discussion.

There’s always European football. 😉