Archive for July, 2009

20 Years of Noise

I’m not a big fan of noise.

Some people seem to thrive on it. Loud music, crowded parties, auditory chaos. Not for me. A walk in the woods, a good book out on the deck, a one-on-one conversation with a friend – that’s how I roll.

NoiseBut, I have kids. Five of them. Boys. And that means…noise.

Twenty+ years of noise (thus far), with about 11 more to go.

Now, I love my kids, and I know that an inescapable part of the package is barely-controlled chaos. But as I get older, I find myself yearning for the mythical empty nest state, where things aren’t broken daily, bickering is someone else’s problem, and interruptions are chosen instead of imposed. Of course, at that point I’ll miss it, and be demanding time with future grandchildren. Maybe I’ll yearn for some noise. But maybe not.

I met a young married lady at an event this week and she has three boys, all under the age of five (one set of twins). She described the state of her house, from the moment the kids got up, as “airborne”! Perfect.

Truth be told, I secretly enjoy the liveliness (mostly). But I find myself trying to carve out little moments of escape, some safe harbors from the kaleidoscope of chaos. My RAM is beginning to fill up with sound files. My hard disk is getting fragmented. It’s just one of the job hazards of being a long-time parent, I guess – when you’re young, your signal-to-noise filtering capacity is greater. At this stage, I yearn for just signal!

I’m thankful that I have kids, and many would give their right arm to be in my shoes. But as all parents can attest – some days your bell gets rung one too many times by the percussions of parenting. The result: kid concussions! Parents made punch-drunk by all the noise…

So, if you ever see me in a large group setting, looking ill at ease among the sound waves, do me a favor and lead me to a quiet corner for a chat. Finding a safe harbor from the aural maelstrom will always be much appreciated…!

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Stuck with Thorns

RoseThornsYesterday, while trimming some bushes that were a bit wild, I ended up getting impaled multiple times with thorns (yes, I know, that’s what work gloves are for – I never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed…). One of my fingers is a bit inflamed and tender right now as I type, in fact.

Thorns. Try as we might, we’re not going to escape them.

Our next-door neighbor passed away this week. Another neighbor down the street, always robust, is now frail with terminal stage IV cancer. A friend on another coast is feeling very afraid, needing a diagnostic medical procedure to see if something serious is wrong. Someone in my pharma network lost her mother overseas a couple weeks ago, before she could board the flight that would get her to the bedside. Another family just had a pending adoption blow up.


There are many sweetnesses in this life, and it’s easy to revel in them. But what about the bitter stuff? I don’t know about you, but I’m not so good with the thorns. Empathy is not my native language. But a friend has summed it up well. When others are suffering, he says, “just show up.

When facing others’ thorns, I don’t know the right words, and don’t often feel the right feelings. But maybe I can just show up. Be there. Bumbling and inadequate, but present. Maybe that’s enough when others are impaled in the hedges. And maybe, just maybe, I can pull one or two thorns out…

Just by showing up.

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Raw Material

Been thinking about what I see in people lately. Some folks rapidly achieve high levels of fame and fortune, then crash and burn because they don’t have the capacity to deal with it. Others, in obscurity, just get it done.

What should you look for in an employee, a friend, or a spouse?

goldnuggetsHere’s a hint: pay the most attention to “raw material.”

What I mean is, put most of your value on who the person is. Skills can be acquired. Knowledge taught. Experience gained. However, the raw material of a faithful, productive, growing soul is, generally speaking, either there…or not.

You want smart and practical. Diligent and balanced. Responsible and fun. You want proven character and self-control. You want transparency and a capacity for selflessness. Not all of it will be in full flower, of course, but you need to at least see the seeds and the buds. The raw material.

A job offer or a wedding ring will not impart character. Force of will and good intentions rarely re-build a faulty foundation, even for the most gifted.

In the horserace between dazzling talent and steady faithfulness, I’ll put my money on the latter every time. If the raw material is there, you can refine it. If it’s not, you’ll have nothing to build on.

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Talking Dirty

Two people can love one another deeply, but still be relatively ineffective communicating it. How?

You haven’t talked dirty enough.

soil_flowerpotHuh? Isn’t this a family friendly blog? Yep, it is. But we’re talking soil here. Let me explain.

My wife and I have always enjoyed a close friendship. But beneath the surface, we kept bumping into an area that was out of sync. How to best express love between us.

A while back, with some level of frustration that explanatory words weren’t doing the trick, I went out to the garage, got a flowerpot that had holes in the bottom, and filled it with loose potting soil. Now imagine what happens when you pour water into such an arrangement. Any plant there would need lots of frequent watering, because the moisture is going to leak out quickly.

Porous soil. Leaky pot. That’s an image of my heart. The imagery finally gave my wife a tangible picture. She, on the other hand, could go for a long stretch with just a little sprinkle – Sandy’s heart held on to small tokens of love without much leakage or evaporation. We had very different watering schedules, very different reinforcement needs – and, we didn’t speak the same love languages when it came to the best ways to show affection. What one thought was perfectly adequate was not, and vice-versa.

We had to talk dirty to really understand each other. The love was there, but the soils were different, and we needed to learn each others’ “dialects.”

If you’re committed to your spouse, you soon find that plenty of your assumptions about what “works” in showing love are blown out of the water, and you have to communicate about what makes each of you tick. Is your soil dry and crumbly, needing lots of water, or does a little moisture go a long way? Does your pot have leaks? What makes your plant flourish, or wilt, or even drown? The sooner your spouse understands how (and how often) to water, the better it will be for both of you.

Because then you’ll probably talk dirty a lot more. But that’s another post…

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Connect with Steve Woodruff

Twitter: @swoodruff

More lessons from plants? See Robert Hruzek’s post here.

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