Weakest Link

I think I spend so much time telling kids, young and older, that they can and should have anything they want that it leads to me being bummed out sometimes when reminded constantly that for me it’s usually not the case. I loved Chris Rock’s genius new stand up special Tambourine.  He has a bit in there where he begged us to stop espousing this concept, or at least amending it, as it pertains to kids. Instead of telling them they can have or be whatever they want, Mr. Rock says that we should say that they can be anything they are good at (as long as they’re hiring). It is definitely more realistic (and less idealiotic) as it adds in the truth that you need to work for those lofty wants. Whether it’s something you want or want to be, the point is you need to work for it. To earn it.

But the thing is, in reality even working hard and being a good person does not lead to one achieving their wildest dreams. Bummer, I know. And yeah – some people do just have things handed to them, or have no qualms about circumventing the being a good person part or considering societal guidelines and just taking what they want regardless of how it affects others. Those people either highlight the unfair lottery of life or make it seem like we should all just ignore the interests of other in the name of taking what we want. Those routes just seem so much easier.

But I always remember my kids are watching. Not just the ones I made but all my kids. The word “model” is in the title “role model” and while I am far from perfect I do try and live the truth I want them to see and become. And yes, I definitely got some of the unfair advantages on the market these days. I am white, and a man, in an age where an idea and a little hard work (especially, unfairly, if you’re a white male) can result in windfalls maybe larger than at any time in our history. But I just feel like I’m trying to do so many things that I can’t figure out no matter how much hard work and good personing I do. I don’t want to settle for less than what I want in my bones. But no matter how hard I slam my head against the wall, or massage its bricks, or study its structure for points of entry, or attempt to construct machinations which allow me to tunnel under or soar over – I just can’t. And meanwhile there are so many other aspects of life I just can’t seem to decipher. I can whip up a killer rubric based in CCSS or NGSS, or I can last minute lesson plan to account for misconceptions out of nowhere, or I can incentivize the heck out of a Friday school day variation to curb undesired behavior patterns. But every time I think I get a foothold in other places of my life something or another tends to take me out at the knees.

The thing is, I am what I think one needs to be in order to earn these little slices of happiness. Or at least I strive and bust my butt to deserve them. I know one cannot be “good” just so they get what they want. That’s not good, that’s self serving and trying to buy contentment. I did do that for a while. No, I just mean that I work on myself constantly. Try to always do the kind thing for all involved in every situation. Sacrifice when necessary. I am basically like this obsequious sycophant just hoping it all works out in the end.

But no matter what we are limited by what we are. Where we rate on the great food chain. Part luck, part effort. Some people are just born with, or otherwise receive, more help than others. When I lived in Florida there was this weird little farm near where the high school was. I had a country boy friend who helped the lady who ran the farm after school sometimes. Every once in a while after a few pops toward the end of the night he would bring a few of us to the farm and we’d park the trucks in the moonlight and walk over toward this large pen that was half forest and half open space. We would then attempt to help him ride the pen’s inhabitants. The farm had some chickens and other normal farm fare but the animal we helped our cowboy-in-training friend ride was an ostrich. There was a mom ostrich and two baby ostriches. Usually we would get there, make noise so they’d wake up, and with our headlights illuminating the pen watch as the mom ostrich shooed her kids into the woods and stand guard against us moron teenagers. This sounds bad, I know, teens are dumb, but we never hurt any animals while there. What would happen was 3 or 4 of us would get the big bird near the fence and just sort of corner her while the one guy got on her back and rode her as long as possible. It seemed like as long as her babies were safe she kind of just humored us. I believe the cowboy friend did this way more often than the 3 or 4 times he took me along and, actually, on the 3rd or 4th visit he helped hoist me up once or twice and I rode an ostrich for a few seconds before being tossed.

Anyways, one time I decided to be a big shot and on a night where the cowboy was not present brought my high school girlfriend and a couple other guys to the farm. I mean, I had ridden the thing before so I was basically now a cowboy myself. Only, I wasn’t. I did not possess the ability, wisdom, or talent it took to be this type (or any type really) of cowboy. We got the babies evacuated no problem. But the guys I brought along didn’t have the training needed to properly prepare the ostrich for riding, nor was my tutelage very helpful, and pretty soon they were spooked and up against the fence with the main squeeze I was failing miserably at impressing. Then, something happened I’ll never forget: the ostrich charged and tried to Karate Kid crane kick me. I immediately broke into football player mode and just as the kick leg began to swing forward I delivered a two-handed shiver to that beast’s majestic breast. Since she was balanced on just the one leg the shot was effective in warding off the kick as the bird had to right herself. My friends were cheering like spectators at a gladiator arena. The ostrich reset, made a 3 step charge and again received a stiff arm shiver soon as the kick leg was engaged. The crowd went wild. The third time I slipped. Just my right hand connected and she was kicking with her right leg. Square in my chest, the kick landed, and while ostriches can’t fly – one kick from one can initiate flight in others. I was in the air for at least 7 or 8 yards. My friends and I all scrambled over the fence and it wasn’t until we got to a buddy’s house that I realized ostriches have razor sharp claws, or I guess talons. My shirt had about a ten inch vertical slice in it, and so did my torso. Ostrich made me bleed my own blood. And, of course, I deserved it.

Years later my son and I were on an adventurous eating kick. He knew the ostrich story and we were given the opportunity to try ostrich jerky. He thought that because of the kick I’d want some semblance of revenge in the form of eating cured, dried ostrich meat. But I told him no. I didn’t deserve it. Ha. Obviously that ostrich bested me and therefore was higher than me on the food chain.

And I guess that’s how I feel about the things in life I cannot achieve. Yes, growth mindset – the things I have yet to achieve. But I’m starting to doubt, finally, that I’ll ever win. That my failures are simply a result of my place in the food chain. Because every time I strive for something above my pay grade in this food chain, as ludicrous as it sounds, I get ostrich kicked. I feel the blow struck in my failure. I fly-fall back only instead of that 3 second slow-mo launch backwards it often feels like that second you know your chair has tipped amd you are going down with it only elongated and constant, that terror and helpless freefall, for days and even weeks. And usually, too, I feel as if I am left with a bloody laceration near my chest where my heart is. Because I wasn’t born with the luck or the face or the money or the body or the brain needed to attain what I want or to figure out the rest. But I don’t see myself lowering or changing what I want. I think, instead, eventually I’ll just continue trying to better myself and show kindness and just “be good” and call it a life. Resign myself to where I’m at on the food chain. Stop feeling frustrated, confused, or bummed out that I can’t have what I want no matter how hard I try or think on ways to make it happen.

Because in the end it doesn’t really matter how I deal with this dumb stuff. Because in the end all that matters is that my kids continue to operate under the assumption that their places on the food chain are not set yet. That they should reach for the stars in their wants but be aware that they will have to work very hard to reach those heights. Because they were not born into guaranteed college money or BMWs at 16 or genetics (on my side anyways, ha) that ensure they will remain as “give me things” beautiful as they are now into their adult lives. No, I’m not giving up. I probably never will. I just need to re-adjust to my role and hope my kids, all of them, wind up higher up than I did.

4 thoughts on “Weakest Link

  1. I need to read this more than once— with my glasses on and in a quiet room. Why? It sounds so, so much like the driving-to-work conversations I have with myself in the car many mornings.

    I loved, loved, loved the ostrich story. I teach sophomores, and I can 100% envision it. I have a few names in mind… You give me a little hope that they might turn out okay after all!

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  2. The ostrich story… my fave thus far. For the past year I have been feeling very unfulfilled. Before I started to really reflect I spent a lot of time blaming others, blaming myself, and going back and forth with my career and education decisions. I know exactly how you are feeling. You are definitely not a weak link. This post… this reflection proves it.

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  3. The ostrich story is vivid and funny and full of life lessons. I’m reminded of a line I read in a language textbook for teachers, printed in the 1800s. It went something like this: Measure your success by the number of your students who leave your classroom and best you. I think that is the root desire of teachers and parents… that our children will do, be, have, know life that is better.

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