McCOOK, Nebraska -- I have found it is significantly more rewarding to write a weekly column on the food page, coupled with the gratitude that follows from local mothers for giving them their Saturday morning chuckle, than it is to write the local crime and City Council stories. Although I have emphatically enjoyed learning about and communicating the happenings of both the courts and city departments, I would take the local women giggling over my son's most recent torturous plot against me, over the feeling of being that dastardly reporter who writes those biased stories.
The nature of the city editor position is such that the stories you actually do the best work on are the ones that often drum up the most criticism. One of my mentors consistently reminds me that when someone says your story was biased, it often means you weren't biased in the direction they preferred. Which leads to my point, when you have that perfectly balanced story that clearly states both sides of an issue, people are not usually packing your email with "atta-boys," human nature just doesn't work like that. Instead you usually breathe a sigh to yourself after the final proofing and maybe crack a smile, then prepare for the phone calls from those representing both sides of the story, letting you know how irritated they were with how much you focused on the "wrong side" of the issue.
Fortunately for those that enjoy reading the city and crime stories I plan to continue, I enjoy writing them way too much to give up the task. Given the fact that I dearly miss the weekly joy of writing my "Dinner with Declan" column though, I am forcing it back into my weekly schedule.
The timing couldn't be better, considering today I am scheduled for his first ever parent-teacher conference with his Kindergarten teacher.
Over the past few weeks his teacher has rapidly gained my respect and confidence and I am eager, as much as I am leery, to garner some of her additional insight and guidance.
As any that have followed the column in the past would expect, we have had an exciting first few weeks. We have worked on issues of staying on task, keeping our hands to ourselves, effort in regards to penmanship, just to name a few.
The penmanship was an unexpected one that I noticed right out of the gate. Declan's schoolwork began coming home the first week with some foreign scribble in the "Name" location, and not even a similar scribble on each page. Declan spent a significant amount of time with a very good local tutor last year and I was tickled with how well he could write his name, but then this?
I quickly realized he was intentionally testing boundaries and in his eyes, his teacher didn't know any better. I scoffed at him and told him how disappointed I was with his lack of effort. We spent an evening before dinner writing his name repeatedly, to which he regularly gave me an earful about how I was "no longer the best Dad ever."
I was confident the experience would get him back on track and quickly opened his backpack to check his schoolwork the next day.
Have you ever attempted to write a mirror image of your name, with the letters flipped and flowing from right to left? It's not exactly easy to do, even with my 30 plus years of writing experience, regardless of the difficulty of it that is exactly what I saw on the top of Declan's schoolwork that next day. Each letter was near perfectly written too.
It was a nice reminder of the importance of keeping feedback more positive and constructive, a lesson I continue to learn regularly. It would seem there are rarely easy solutions to any parenting problems and more importantly even fewer that are successful without the buy in of the youngster.
That night I put extra effort in praising him for his backwards writing and had him write his name a few more times the proper way, this time making it a point to keep the atmosphere a positive and cheerful one. The following day his name was in the right place and written in the right direction and has continued to improve each day since then.
Declan tells me every afternoon when I pick him up that "I learned nothing today Dad." I have learned not to argue with him, he gets too much enjoyment from seeing my reaction of surprise each time he says it, and even if it were true, the stuff he is teaching me is priceless.