Be the Change

By Suzanne Wiggins

When I was in first grade we would get an hour of music class once a week with Miss Nott, the elementary school music teacher. I remember walking single file down to a third grade classroom where everyone sat cross legged on the hard asbestos tile floor. One week, Randy Sage was sitting to my left, and although we were told to be quiet, Randy kept leaning over to whisper “I’m going to suck your blood.” There could only be four explanations for this behavior, 1) it was close to Halloween, 2) his mother allowed him to watch Dark Shadows after school, 3) he ate Count Chocula cereal for breakfast, or 4) he was weird. As a side note, I ended up marrying Randy Sage on the playground during recess when we were in third grade. After enduring this harassment from Randy for some time, I finally leaned towards him and acted like I was going to bite his neck. In that millisecond I heard my name screamed from the front of the room and was told to stand up and return to my classroom.

Oh, the horror of it. Kicked out of class in first grade. I remember walking the empty hallway as slowly as I could, head down, tears streaming across my face. Keep in mind, I was the perfect kid. Always happy, always listened, did what I was told, raised my hand, best student ever. Obviously I was traumatized by the event to the extent it has been burned into my memory. By the next year, Miss Nott had become Mrs. Hall and turned out to be my second grade teacher. She had no recollection of the infamous incident with Randy Sage so I kept my mouth shut. Mrs. Hall turned out to be a pretty good teacher from my point of view. I remember making holiday ornaments by sticking cloves into an orange, singing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, and on rare and special occasions getting to sit in the large rocking chair in the corner to read a favorite book aloud to the entire class. Definitely “joy of a child” type stuff.

After second grade Mrs. Hall began to teach music again. I remember standing on risers singing with a bunch of other kids while Mrs. Hall walked slowly around listening intently. I have never considered myself a good singer, but I must have done ok because I was selected to join the school’s choir. Now that I think of it, it was less like singing and more like shouting because Mrs. Hall prided herself on the volume produced by her choir. There was no hiding your light under a bushel in this group. The highlight of being a choir member was getting to go by bus to the mall 30 minutes away and performing in the center court atrium. The acoustics were really good. I stood there alongside my fellow choir members all of us in our white shirts and navy skirts for girls and pants for the boys shouting our little hearts out to the live piano music. I felt particularly good that afternoon because I wore my favorite navy knee socks which upon closer inspection had a bumble bee design. Despite my exceptionally great memory, I only remember one song from my choir days and really just the first line of the lyrics, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me…”

I was reminded of this by a video that caught my attention on Facebook the other day. It was actually more like a PowerPoint presentation with text screens fading from one to the next. It told the story of a man who had grown unhappy in his marriage. He loved his wife, but it seemed that their relationship was broken and they were becoming the worst version of themselves. The man thought long and hard about this dilemma and came to the realization that if things were to change in the marriage it would have to start with a change in him.

The next morning when his wife woke up, he rolled over and asked, “What can I do to make your day easier?” As you can probably guess, the wife was very distrustful and suspicious of this changed attitude. So he asks again, “What can I do to make your day easier?” Sarcastically she says, “Clean the kitchen.” So without comment or complaint the husband gets out of bed, goes downstairs and cleans the kitchen.

The next morning the same dialogue plays out. The husband asks, “What can I do to make your day easier?” Again with a sarcastic tone the wife responds, “Straighten the garage.” And that is exactly what he does. After about a week of this new and unexpected behavior, the wife breaks down and confesses to her husband that she is horrible to live with and that she should be the one asking him the question. The husband smiles lovingly and tells his wife that he appreciates what she has said, but for now, HE needs to be the change. The story continues on to a happy, yet imperfect ending.

I started to think about how often I look to external conditions for change before considering how I might make improvements or alterations in my own behavior. And that would be a great big IF I even think about internal possibilities. How often do we decide the solution is a different job, a different partner, new friends or social hangout, or a general change in scenery? What if every time I became frustrated or unhappy I looked to myself first to make change? Could it be possible that whenever I have the thought ‘I wish he/she were…less cranky, more loving, less negative, more open minded, listened better, communicated more, had higher self-esteem’ that it was actually a clear sign of what I needed to do?

A very good friend gave me the book, The Five Love Languages – For Singles, a few years back. Somewhere in the first few chapters the author tells of a handsome young man that approached him while at a conference and asked for help. The man explained that he desired to find love, get married and have a family, but he just never seemed to be able to form lasting relationships with women as they tended to break things off after just a few month.

The author asked the man to tell him a bit more about his past. It turns out the man grew up with a critical father who drank too much and a mother who worked hard, but was often depressed. As the discussion went on it dawned on the young man that he was often critical with the women he dated, just like his parents had been with him growing up. At the end of the meeting the author suggested a course of action for the young man to follow for the next 6 months. Although he was apprehensive, the man was willing to make the effort since the author was confident that it would ultimately lead to finding a lasting, happy relationship.

About a week later when the young man made his routine call home, he ended the brief conversation with his Mom by saying “I love you” to which his Mother replied, “I love you, too.” The man couldn’t believe it. He had anticipated an awkwardness at the end of the call thinking it would take several months before his Mom might actually respond positively. Every call after, when he said I love you, his Mom replied, “I love you too”, so he accelerated the suggested timeline and after only a month he added, “I appreciate what you’ve done for me over the years.” His Mom tearfully apologized for not being able to do more, but the young man said, “I understand, but I want you to know that I love you and appreciate everything you did.” From that point forward his phone conversations and relationship with his Mother dramatically changed for the better. Things didn’t happen so quickly with his Dad. His Mom usually answered the phone so he only talked to his Dad about every three weeks. The first time he said, “I love you”, his Dad said, “What?” So he said it again and his Father mumbled, “oh, yeah.” The next call his Dad responded to “I love you” with “yeah, ok.” At the end of the third call, his Dad said, “I love you too.” Having never heard those words from his Father before, the young man cried as he hung up the phone. The process was slower, but the relationship with his father continued to improve.When the author bumped into the young man a year later at another conference, he had been dating a girl for five months and was optimistic about the future and what might unfold.

The story makes a great point. Love stimulates love or in Law of Attraction terms, energy attracts similar energy. If you want a better world, you have to start by being a better person. If you want peace, you have to be peaceful. If you want change, YOU have to be the change.

Let Them Eat Cake

By Suzanne Wiggins

My birthday is a few weeks away and normally I would be trying to decide what type of cakes I’d be baking to share with my Mug Club friends. It all began a few years ago while having an after work beer with my friend and fellow Mug Club member, Dan. During our conversation he mentioned that as a kid, his mom always made a butter brickle cake for his birthday. If you’re unfamiliar with butter brickle, it’s actually English toffee chopped into small pieces. His mother had passed away several years earlier, but it was obvious that the thought of this special treat every year on his birthday brought back fond memories of both his mom and childhood. Right then and there I promised Dan that for his next birthday I was going to make a butter brickle cake just like his mom use to do.

And that is how I became the unofficial “Official Birthday Cake Baker for Mug Club Members” at the Rochester Mills. In actuality, I don’t bake for the entire Mug Club which has over 500 members, but just the small inner circle of regulars of which I belong. There have been carrot cakes (with and without raisins), cheesecakes, German chocolate, Italian cream, red velvet, chocolate stout, lemon, chocolate chip angel food, and antique caramel just to name a few. Each one is made from scratch with lots of care and attention. That’s not to say they’re without fault. Although they’ve all been described as delicious, not every one has fared so well on the journey from oven to plate.

The circle of Mug Club members I bake for continues to grow usually by way of, “how do I get on the list?” There are those, however, who will never have to ask because it makes me happy to create special cakes just for them.  My question is always the same; what kind of cake did your mom make for your birthday as a kid? With most, the response is immediate. For some, there is no memory or sentimental attachment to childhood birthdays so the question simply becomes, what’s your favorite?  And for the sad few that have no preference, I bake whatever interests me at the time.

If my dad were alive, he would love this idea and probably be disappointed that he lived too far away to participate. He loved cooking, baking, and generally doing kind things for his friends. As kids, my dad would always ask us what we wanted for dinner on our birthday. This tradition continued into my first few years of college. My request was always the same without deviation and every birthday meal was as delicious as the year before.

With three weeks left until my birthday there is no need for cake planning or baking. My amazing friends have decided they want to bake for ME this year. I’ve gratefully accepted because their thoughtfulness truly makes my heart swell. Following protocol they have asked what kind of birthday cake my mom made me as a kid? The question was easy to answer, but the truth is harder to tell. I would gladly forego cake any day in exchange for the special fried liver and onion and lima bean birthday dinners my dad use to make.