Friday, May 2, 2014

Theory 40: Contributors are happier than consumers.

Last post, I went into great detail about my upcoming adventure in aesthetic surgery (I'm not saying "plastic" because I am not about to add anything). I promise you that my priority is back, neck, and shoulder pain relief, but I must admit something; I absolutely do look forward to looking better and lighter in my public school teacher duds. Plus, I won't have to shop-hunt for exorbitantly priced bras that sometimes are so elusive, I think they are extinct. I'm pretty sure I'd have better luck finding a tree octopus. Actually, I hate shopping for most things, unless they have some creative value. I LOVE shopping for food for recipes, books to read (via the library), and bulbs, shrubs, and flowers for my yard. The payoffs of these endeavors are tasty, entertaining, colorful, and rewarding. I just don't dig some elements of domestic bliss.

When Tall Child and I bought our Glen Cove abode, it was a promising wreck. The walls were soaked in cigarette tar, the floors were stained from neglectful dog-parenting, and none of the windows had locks. The kitchen was carpeted over two layers of linoleum and one layer of asbestos tile (like we had at Pigeon Forge Elementary School).  Our home is in a "nice" neighborhood---an affluent zip code filled with UT professors, downtown professionals, and generations of families who earned B.S.'s, B.A.'s and M.D.'s while wearing party shirts sporting "Sigma something, Delta this, or Kappa that." Tall Child was a frat boy. I was in the band. Go band! I made a lot of money back then, so we spent a lot of money back then. As a new bride and homemaker, I nearly worked us to death trying to get our house up to zip code. Knoxville friends, you can only imagine the decorative pressure in "the 919." Heck, OMGG has a hand towel in her powder room that's embroidered with "919." How could I possibly keep up? I spent a lot of money and tried myself to exhaustion. Then I got older and wiser. Now, I accept my true self. I don't hide my excitement when Wal-Mart puts those blue plastic pools out front by the hanging baskets dripping with purple petunias, and I practically clap when the new tissue-weight t-shirts (my spring/summer uniform) stack up at Target. Four shirts. Two pair capris. Black Tevas. Spring. Summer. Check! 

It's the end of the school year for me, which means a natural time of reflection. In addition to being money hustlers, teachers are also professional reflectors. We constantly think, critique, improve, and revise to better our crafts and our students' experience.

I originally wrote this piece for a local magazine, but thought it would work well within my "compassionate humorist" scope here on Theories: Size 12 at this reflective time of year. Plus, I'm super busy coordinating end of course testing, starting my master's degree, and editing my second book, so—bonus—I have material ready to go that I think you'll enjoy.

I've simply copied and pasted the article below.

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Are you a contributor or a consumer? Stop and Think.

I am sure this has happened to you. For some reason, on certain days (perhaps when company is coming), you look around your house and see everything that is broken, aging, or filthy. You think, “What is wrong with the dishwasher now,”  “How embarrassing; I saw my couch on TV Land,” or “I need a pressure washer. In the kitchen!” My seventy-year-old house harasses me from room to room with projects begging for toolbox cures. Last weekend, all the above (plus work stress and concern for my sick toddler) hit me at once. I felt sorry for myself and had a good old-fashioned, mid-life working wife and mother meltdown. I threw what we Southern girls call a “hissy fit.” In the midst of my dramatic pity party, I remembered a story my friend Carl told me years ago that always makes me stop and think.

Carl earned a job promotion which moved his family from Atlanta to Knoxville and from their home church, where his teenagers contentedly built their faith among childhood friends, to a new church (my church) where they knew no one. Several months after their move, Carl said that his teenagers routinely returned from youth group events frustrated. They complained that they “didn’t fit in” and “people ignored” them. Fed up with their whining, Carl said to his teenagers, “Let me ask you this: When you participate in the group, are you being consumers or are you being contributors?” He explained that they were approaching their peers with the wrong attitude. He urged his son and daughter to stop thinking of what they took from the group and find ways to add to the group. The teenagers vowed to take initiative. At the next meeting, they volunteered personal time and talent. Within weeks, their attitudes completely changed. They found creative roles in the group and flourished in friendship and fun in their new church home.

After reflecting on Carl’s story, I cancelled my pity party. I left the mundane projects for another day, made a cup of coffee, and happily tapped the keyboard at my old, slow, hand-me-down desktop computer to check on the waiting adoptive mothers I mentor through email and social media. The waiting mothers typed back heart-felt messages of worry, endurance, and faith. I felt energized and appreciative for my family and my imperfect home. I chose to contribute and other people benefited.

From the online dictionary:

Consume: to do away with completely
Contribute: to give (something, such as money, goods, or time) to help a person, group, cause, or organization

You have unique gifts to offer your families, your co-workers, your church, and your friends. Yes, every day obligations and “grown up” to-do lists are there and must be addressed at some point. But, the next time you feel frustrated, feel like you need something better, or feel left out of the group, stop and think. Then answer Carl’s question, “Are you a consumer or a contributor?”
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Also, visit or my website to read about my book, The Eye of Adoption, my short story, Field Day, and my collection of essays for parents and teachers, Parents, Stop and Think.

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