Embrace Your Differences

My column from the Albert Lea Tribune the week of April 9, 2018

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf

IMG_0300I was getting ready to meet my grandchildren, one of whom is a teenage granddaughter, and I wondered if I would pass muster and dress appropriately so I wouldn’t embarrass her. I know she used to enjoy my quirky and colorful clothes, but that was when she was little and wasn’t as aware of what her peers were doing.

To be fair to her, she has never acted embarrassed about introducing me to anyone, especially her friends. I happen to love her teenage friends because they are so respectful and fun to be with, but I wonder if silently she may question my choices.

I have toned down what I wear in the last year or two. I must admit, I haven’t felt as if I was myself in my senior adult clothes choice, which is what is expected of someone my age. I tried to conform again.

Recently with all the hoopla surrounding Kelly Ripa and Brooke Shields and the criticism for wearing bikinis at their age, I thought long and hard about my choices. No, I do not plan on trying a bikini — I never looked good in them, but I happen to think these two women looked beautiful. It is their choice to choose what they wear at their age and not our business.

When I changed my natural hair color and went red a few months ago, I did have to endure comments from people who thought the drastic changing of my hair color was terrible. I got many more compliments than criticism, but it is the criticism that stayed with me.

My mom wasn’t a dresser and did not take good care of her looks. I know now she just didn’t have time, and clothes were not important to her. Although recently finding pictures of her in her early 20s, I realized at one time she had style and her clothes were beautiful. Somewhere in her busy life, she lost all that. I must admit, at times I was ashamed of the way she dressed and the fact she had bobby pins keeping her hair in place long after bobby pins were fashionable. I was a teenager, and it wasn’t my friends who gave me a hard time about how my mom dressed. It was other adults such as relatives and neighbors. They would ask me as a teenager and especially as an adult why I didn’t do something. As a teenager, I didn’t know what to do and as an adult, instead of not seeing dementia taking hold, I tried to help, but to no avail. The bottom line is I should not have been ashamed. That was who she was.

Recently, I acquired some bright clothes with wild patterns, and they really are me. The first time I put on a wild pair of pants my husband asked, “You aren’t really going out in that are you?” I proudly replied, “Yes, I am.”

I was told to dress brightly for a small school play I was involved in by Retired Senior Volunteers. I wore my bright clothes everywhere that day. I smiled all day; I felt like me.

I have a cousin who I got to know when she was a teenager. She is now an adult, a mother, and a beautiful person. Her mother, who I love, lamented during her daughter’s teenage years that her daughter liked to shop at thrift stores when they had more than enough money to buy the best of clothing. This teenager went on to college and earned a degree or two and first was going to be a lawyer or a doctor and follow in her family’s footsteps. But she knew this life wasn’t for her, and now she works for the DNR at a lower wage than she would have made at one of the other careers.  She lives in a beautiful state, tracks wildlife (yikes wolves) and works on sustaining our environment. She followed her own path. She knew early on who she was. She knows her value and is happy with her choices.

This is my advice for the teenagers in my life and in yours. God made us all different. We come in all different shapes and sizes. We like different things and have different personalities. Embrace that. Why would God make us each different if he wanted us to try and all be the same?

As a teenager, follow your style and don’t wear clothes just because they have a certain designer label or because you feel you need to look like your friends. A true friend will embrace that. Be you. Be different because God made you uniquely you. Celebrate it. Don’t let anyone make you feel you are less smart or less beautiful because you are smaller, bigger, look different or have flaws. Those flaws are all part of the wonderful you. Live your life. Take it from an adult who didn’t learn these lessons until I got old. Making choices to accept who you are in the noise of the world will be your pathway to a more peaceful life. If we were, all the same, it would be a dull world.

Take A Risk: Look for the Gorilla In The Room

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf
by Julie Seedorf published in The Albert Lea Tribune week of June 12, 2017

I saw the gorilla. I did! I did! Because I saw the gorilla it means I am a highly creative person. That is — according to one source.

I read an article this week that said highly creative people see the world differently. I didn’t necessarily think that the highly creative adjective described me, but I have been known to think out of the box and create something weird.

A video accompanied the article. In the video, people were passing a ball back and forth. In watching the video you were supposed to count the number of times the white shirts passed the ball. They did not tell you in the instructions that a gorilla was going to walk through the group as they were passing the ball. I not only counted the correct number of passes, but I saw the gorilla. According to the test, if you saw the gorilla you are a highly creative person.

I tried the test on someone else. They counted but did not see the gorilla. I was astounded. How could anyone not see the gorilla?

The results and the article made me feel better about myself. I have stated before in this column that I do not always feel comfortable or feel I belong when interacting in some situations. I just do not fit in. I realized I do see the world differently. I look at a wall and see what it can be or I look at a building and always see its creative possibilities. I get more than my fair share of skeptical looks when I put forth an idea. I must admit I am always disappointed when others do not see the possibilities, or when I see a change is needed, others don’t agree with me. I can’t believe they don’t see what I see. And they roll their eyes at my crazy ideas.

While waiting for a friend to get through eye surgery this week, I had one of those visual moments.

I was impressed with everything surrounding the surgery. The doctor, the nursing staff, and the care were excellent and so was the coffee. It was a quiet relaxing atmosphere and the staff did everything above and beyond to make my friend, the patient, comfortable. The surgery went well and was successful.

I was offered coffee and sat back in the outpatient’s surgery room to relax and wait. That is when this problem I have with visual creativity kicked in. The room was dark browns and tan and plain. It made the room feel smaller and was kind of depressing to a person that likes color. It was not cheery; it was drab. I felt someone waiting for minor surgery and was nervous, needed light, calming, cheery colors. I could visualize a positive, calming statement scrolled on the wall. I wanted to feel the ambiance of sunshine in the darkened windowless room.

Granted we weren’t there very long, but it was refreshing to leave the room to open skylight with sunshine pouring down upon us.

That is exactly the reason I get scowling looks at times. I see the visual possibilities when constructing something, which lifts our moods and makes us smile.

I loved the article and the test. It made me feel I was not alone in what I have felt all these years. It gave me permission to be different.

Many of us spend valuable time trying to be like everyone else so we will be accepted. There are those brave individuals who have invented outrageous things we have in our world today who were probably told their creative idea would never work or become a reality. In fact, sitting in the medical facility, our conversation centered around the technology for a vision that is so advanced, eye sight is being improved and saved –procedures that were dreamed of years ago but thought to never be possible in reality.

I like color. Others like tan and gray and others live with what they don’t like because it is more accepted to be tan and gray rather than risk seeing the gorilla in the middle of the room and being branded as different. Accepting those differences in each other would cause all of us less stress.

I have a friend visiting Ireland and Wales. She has been posting pictures of the rows of colorful houses in these countries. The pictures contain pink houses, green houses, yellow houses, purple houses and orange houses situated right next to each other. I envied those people. The last people who tried a purple house in my community were scrutinized and criticized because their purple Victorian house ruined the neighborhood. When they moved, the next owners painted it a neutral color. I was one of the few that was disappointed.

We are surrounded by color right now with the leaves and the trees. I got creative and painted some old dead bushes in my yard a soft green. I like my works of art. They let my light shine.

If you see the quiz, take it. Will you see the gorilla? If you don’t, will you let your neighbor who sees the gorilla, see the world differently and accept them for it?

Kindergarten Ain’t What It Used To Be

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf published in the Albert Lea Tribune the week of May 1, 2017

Kindergarten — I still remember my kindergarten years. Mrs. Lewis was my teacher, and kindergarten in those days was half days. You either were assigned to morning or afternoon kindergarten.

Since I was only 5 at the time, I don’t remember what we had to know before we started that phase of our school life. I probably knew my colors and could count to maybe 100 or not. I don’t remember, but if I did know those things it was because of my mother, being a former teacher, took the time to teach me the basics. But it wasn’t close to anything those entering kindergartens have to know today.

A friend of mine who works in an area school recently showed me the list of desirable skills the kindergarten students of next year need to know before entering kindergarten. She attended school somewhere around the time I did, maybe a few years later, and was astounded at what needed to happen before these tiny little people could enter school.

I would assume today’s young parents know what D’Nealian handwriting is, because a child needs to know how to print their name in D’Nealian handwriting. I had to look it up. D’Nealian is a style of writing and teaching cursive, print and block handwriting, derived from the Palmer Method. How many of you know what the Palmer Method is?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not protesting all of the skills a child needs. Some on the list were: Recognize difference between upper and lowercase letters, shows an interest in learning, can attend to one activity for 10 to 15 minutes independently, has a working understanding of basic vocabulary words, can draw simple figures, can color within a given space, can grip a pencil correctly, stays in own space, can get along with a group, able to express a thought in words, and there are more stipulations. It is quite a list.

I know I did not know all of those things before I went to school. I have a feeling our list was quite short. The one thing I do remember is the rug we had to bring for our naps. Kindergarten was fun. When we first got there it was play time. Then we settled down and had a story. Some days we had show and tell. We did have teaching time but it wasn’t too long. Then we had a snack and a nap. It was a time of learning how to get along with others and learning basics to get us ready for first grade. And it was only three hours. I would say in my day and age the most basic function it served was for us to learn how to interact with each other.

There was no preschool in my day. We were kids. We played outside and played with friends or kids in the neighborhood. Our day was not scheduled with learning. We did learn while playing. We played house. We played cops and robbers. We played school. We had fun with no stress.

I wonder at the importance of coloring within a given space. To me, that says color inside the lines. Coloring inside the lines caused me great stress because I am not a color-inside-the-lines person. Why is it important to learn to color inside the lines in kindergarten? They should be exploring their child creativity, and it shouldn’t be wrong at that age to forget about the lines.

I don’t know if I still know how to hold a pencil correctly. As a parent, would I know how to teach my child to correctly hold a pencil, or would I have to ask someone for help? They probably taught me that in kindergarten, but in the scheme of life it wasn’t important enough to retain that knowledge.

A pre-requisite for attending kindergarten seems to be preschool or early childhood education. Because we didn’t have that in my day, did it hamper our learning experiences in elementary, grade school, high school and college? Were we dumbed down because we didn’t have this advance learning experience?

In spite of all the advances in education, we here in the United States seem to be lagging other countries when it comes to education. According to Pew Research, the United State ranks in the middle of the pack in education, behind many other industrialized nations.

There is a push going on in the Legislature to provide vouchers so children can go to private schools and attend more early childhood education programs so no child is left out. It doesn’t seem to be working to send our kids to school earlier and earlier. Will it work to provide vouchers to families to send more kids to early childhood education or preschool or to make private schools available to those with poor economic status?

I don’t know the answer, but in the rankings, the nations that rank the highest have public education. They pour government money into the public schools to educate all. The schools aren’t funded according to neighborhoods or school districts. They have quality schools and education for all. Perhaps, instead of lowering the age and qualification of what children need to know, or providing vouchers that still might discriminate because of parental choice on seeking them out, it might be better to funnel that money into our public education system and treat all schools equally, no matter where they sit in a geographical area. Perhaps we should put our money toward paying quality teachers who have the future of our children in their hands.

That is just my opinion based on an old person’s view of what could be important for our children. But what do I know? I am not sure how to hold a pencil, and I color outside of the lines and I didn’t know what D’nealian is. It must be because I only had kindergarten three hours a day and then I took naps.