The Double Knots of Fate: How a Shoelace Might Have Saved our Lives

When I was 17, I was a nose away from joining the Air Force. What stopped me was my dad telling me they wouldn’t let me paint my nails.

I wonder where I’d be today if I did what I usually do and didn’t listen to him. I have an idea, of course. The 9/11 attacks happened right after this conversation and most likely, I would’ve been deployed. 

I come from a line of military service. My mom’s dad met my grandma as an MP stationed in Germany. My other grandpa served in the Air Force when it was the Army Air Corps. My dad was stationed in Viet Nam when he enlisted in the Air Force.

I was thinking about fate the other day. I was thinking about how one move, one seemingly non-consequential choice to turn left instead of right or say hi instead of passing by someone can alter the course of life forever. 

This is not a debate between free will and predestination. I’m not here to argue whether we have the power to make the choice to enlist in the military or whether we were predestined to do so. I’m here to talk about what happens when we leave 5 minutes later than usual and find out we’ve just missed being in a car accident. 

This happened to the kids and me last Thursday. It was meet-the-teacher night. Jack was dressed to the 9s. Tyler was fed and sleeping, and Elise couldn’t wait for me to meet her 3rd grade teacher. I was packing a bottle and a diaper bad, trying to find my phone and the dog so I could lock her up and Jack decided he needed his shoes double-knotted.

If it weren’t for the fact that I understand a little more about his OCD/ADHD/ODD behaviors, I would’ve told him his shoes were fine and we were leaving. I knew that wouldn’t work. I knew I could take a minute and knot them or spend the next 15 minutes trying to go to a happy place in my head while he was in a full-blown rage. 

I put down the baby, the diaper bag, spilled the bottle, got a towel and cleaned that up, knotted Jack’s shoes, put the dog away, locked the door and away we went. 

On the way to the school, we slowed to a stop in traffic. At first, I blamed it on the fair even though fair traffic usually started much further up the road.

Then I noticed an ambulance as we inched forward. Eventually, cars began to turn off the state route onto side streets to get around the deputies directing traffic, but the school was less than a minute in front of us, so we stayed put. 

When the last car in front of us re re-routed, the kids and I saw a pile of metal crushed next to the highway on-ramp.  A State Trooper came up to the window and apologized. He said we would have to find a way around the accident because a small boy was trapped inside one of the cars and they were working to get him out. 

As he stopped traffic to let us on the highway, it occurred to me that had Jack not asked for help, had I ignored him and made him get in the car, had I not spilled Tyler’s bottle and stopped to clean it up, it could very well have been us in that accident. 

I have no idea when it happened, but it couldn’t have been very long before we got there. The ironic part is there’s no way of knowing when fate sets into motion a chain of events that leads to safety or despair. And, if you think about it too long, you’d be scared to death to live. 

Elise was very upset that we were running late for open house by that point. I told her it was a good thing we were. If we left any sooner, like we were supposed to, it might have been us in that accident.

Incidentally, we made it in time to meet teachers. As far as I know, everyone survived the accident and the boy made it out ok.

It makes me wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t cared so much about painting my nails. I might have been a decorated fighter pilot. I might have died in Iraq. 

What I do know is the might haves and maybes will eat you alive if you let them. That’s why it’s so important to grab the here and now and do with it what we can. We can’t know what fate has in store for us. We can only know, when we cross its path, that it’s where we’re meant to be.

A Letter to Myself at 16: To Whom it May Concern

Philosophy: What’s coming will come and life goes on…even if it’s the hard way.

I know you’re a nose away from signing the papers, but you’re not going to do it. In a year, or so, you’ll thank your lucky stars your dad told you the Air Force won’t let you paint your nails. After all, that’s really what kept you away…in early 2001. Nail polish kept you from being deployed to the Iraq war.

You’re running your heart out now, but you won’t take the offer to run for Walsh College. You’ll think back when you’re 26 and wish you had, but you won’t lose sleep over it.

You will run in the Akron Marathon one day. You’ll see the coach, even in the thousands of people running, that told you you would never have it in you to finish road races. You’ll remember that conversation in 7th grade and you’ll dig deep to pass her.

When you do, that’s what will give you the last wind you need to cross the finish line. You’ll also lose two toenails because of it. A small price to pay.

A smooth-talking professor will pull you aside and tell you you have a gift for Philosophy. He won’t tell you how impractical it is. Neither will your mom. When you ask her why she didn’t force you into business school, she’ll tell you it was because you liked what you were doing. You won’t understand that until you have a daughter.

Your dad knows what it looks like when you jack knife a trailer into the side of his F150. You know that, but you’ll still tell him it was a shopping cart. Even when you’re 35, you’ll wonder why he ever let you drive that thing with a trailer on it.

You’re doing your best to convince yourself you’ll have no problem replacing your first love who just left you for Ashland College. You’ll feel better in the years ahead, but you never will replace him completely, nor should you.

You’ll spend some time hell-bent on proving everyone wrong and living like you know it all. You don’t. But time spent living that way will come in handy later when realize you didn’t know it all, but you were learning most of the things that will get you through the hard times.

Even though you missed the Air Force, you’ll take flying lessons from an arrogant French instructor. He’ll tell you you can’t fly in high heels, so you’ll do it just to prove him wrong.

You’ll pray to die when he teaches stalls and he’ll call you ricochet rabbit because of the way you land. You’ll never get your license, though. You’ll never solo and you’ll wish you had.

When you leave for Texas, turn back around as you drive away. What you see waving to you is what will bring you back home in a year and a half.

Speaking of Texas, you’ll make it through the homesickness. You’ll graduate up at the top, but you won’t stick around to walk across the stage. You won’t regret that either. Oh, and about homesickness, don’t bother crying to your dad about it. He was in Viet Nam.

You’ll fall in love again. When you do, say yes. Even though it falls apart and burns worse than a wrecked semi full of diesel, say yes. You’ll get two of the most precious gifts you’ve ever laid eyes on out of it.

When you lose your grandpas, you’ll find it in you to write again and you’ll find it in you to stand up and deliver the words you owe them. So when your mom and dad ask you to speak, don’t think twice.

When you’re out on your own, doing the work of two people alone, you’ll resent the people and reasons that put you there, for maybe all of five minutes. There isn’t time to dwell on it. You’ll be content for the first time knowing what’s coming is going to come and life goes on.

And do it again. Fall in love, that is. Even though you know you shouldn’t. That time, you won’t break. And, you’ll get to raise a son the hard way because…

despite everything you’ve learned in all the lessons the good Lord gave you in the past 18 years, you’ll still insist on doing things the hard way.

The Kazdin Method: Does it Work?

Philosophy: Stop riding on the downward spiral of punishment and catch the wave of praise.

I’m open about any and all diagnoses assigned to Jack. I know what it’s like to be lost in the sea of acronyms doctors give to kids who may just be plain old having a tough time.

Currently, we’re exploring the possibility of ADHD, OCD and placement on the Austism spectrum with a definite stake in ODD and we haven’t even seen three of the five specialists yet.

Having tried every form of discipline to cope with the outbursts, anger, hostility and indifference that come with ODD, without success, I took to researching alternative discipline methods.

If anyone out there feels that a good spanking or an endless time-out or even taking away his favorite toy is the simple solution, don’t think I haven’t tried. See this post.

A simple Google search brought me to The Kazdin Method. I read the book. I tried it out. This is what I found.

Dr. Alan Kazdin is a child psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with defiant children. His method is brilliant, in theory, but I wanted to try it myself and decide how it fared in practice.

It goes like this: the best way to eliminate behavior that’s unwanted is to build an alternative behavior in its place. Focusing on punishment of bad behavior reenforces bad behavior. Focusing on praising good behavior reenforces good behavior. How do you do it, then?

Bribery, of course. Bribery in the form of a sticker chart.

The first step is to pick one behavior you want to alter. Start with one. I chose the cyclical self-repetition Jack went through every night (think: “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. My throat hurts.” on endless repeat without being able to stop it). You might choose refusing to go to bed or thumb-sucking. Whatever.

Then you choose the behavior with which to replace it. I chose doing homework the first time I ask. This is the end goal. Make it specific. It doesnt have to be associated with the unwanted behavior either. You could replace thumb-sucking with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Again, whatever.

Now, for the harder part. You design the chart and decide what earns a sticker and how many stickers earn the holy grail (praise, Dollar Store junk, extra play time, ice cream…you pick, but the biggest of these is praise).

Essentially, each time Jack sat down and completed a page of homework without breaking the pencil or ruining the page, he earned a sticker. I was very specific about how he earned one. The sticker went on a calender for that day. He got a huge high five, picked his sticker, stuck it himself and got to pick out of the holiest of holies: the “Surprise Bag”.

I filled it with Kinder Eggs, Play Do, Blind Bags, coupons for Dairy Queen, chapstick, notepads…trinkets only Jack adores. Be caeful with this part, though. If they pull out a Dairy Queen coupon, be prepared to deliver on that promise like right now. Part of what’s making this work is the immediate reward for wanted behavior.

Once the chart is made, the bag is filled, the requirements are explained and they have a sneak peek at the rewards, you do a practice run. They get a sticker and reward for it too, so they know you’re serious. I had Jack get his homework out, sit at the table with his pencil and as long as there was no complaining, he got the sticker and the prize. And he did, get the prize.

I told him what to do next time in order to earn his sticker. Hs favorite part was the praise for doing what he was supposed to.

He was shocked that I noticed and he loved the praise he got for behaving. Each ime we made it through a point in the night he would usually whine and complain about school without him whining and complaining, I got very excited and he got another sticker and a high five.

As he started to get better at doing homework (maybe a week?), I gave him the opportunity to earn two stickers each night. One was for homework the other was for not repeating himself. Basically, one for doing something he was supposed to and one for not doing something he wasn’t supposed to.

At the end of the week, if he had two stickers on each calender space, he got to pick out a new board game or get ice cream.

The longer we stuck to this method, the less he complained about school and homework. After about a month, I weaned him off of the stickers and prizes down to praise for doing what he was supposed to.

There were times he did not get a sticker. No yelling, no punishment, no arguing. Most of this was because he whined about school. It’s important to be firm, explain why they lose their sticker one time and tell them thet can try again tomorrow.

This part was the hardest. Jack is a natural-born negotiaor and doesnt take no for an answer. This began to have the opposite effect and, when he lost a sticker, he started repeating himself, begging to earn it back. I tweaked the method here and allowed him one chance to earn it back if he stopped whining immediately. If he started at any point that night again, he lost it for good.

I’m still using praise for wanted behavior four months later. What’s difficult – and this is a terrible thing I realized about myself as a mom – is to recognize his good behavior. I was an expert at picking out every little “bad” thing he did and enforcing punishment. What I sucked at was praising him for everything he did right.

Once I did that, though, his behavior gradually improved. Plus, it made me start to notice all the things Jack did so well.

Th Kazdin Method is not a miracle. I think it works and I had some success with it. In order for it to work, though, you do have to be consistent and follow-through.

International Student Hosting: Meet an ICES Coordinator

Philosophy: Share the love.

With back-to-school everything taking over the lives of moms with school-age kids everywhere, I wanted share a unique perspective with you guys.

I had the opportunity to meet and a collaborate with Jackie Willock, a local coordinator for International Cultural Exchange Services who lives and operates in Florida.

A Panama native and mother of two, Jackie is a mentor, role-model and lives by the motto, “Knowledge is power.”

The best way to get knowledge, of course, is hands-on and what better way to cultivate this power than to dive into the culture of another country?

In our conversation, Jackie mentioned how many adolescents in other countries have access to Netflix and dream of coming to the United States to experience what we (kids and adults alike) take for granted.

ICES provides the opportunity for kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel here to experience American culture and education first-hand.

She was kind enough to share the information below. If you’d like to know more about this program or any of the other extensive topics in which Jackie works, drop her an email! (These topics range in everything from completing the college application process to information on our National Parks).

International Cultural Exchange Services (ICES), is a non-profit organization, is authorized by the U.S. Department of State to match international high school students with host families in USA.

ICES provides host families a network of support, starting at the local level. Their trained Local Coordinators are available in all 50 states to help with any questions or concerns you and your family may have during the hosting experience. Jackie Willock specifically works with families and schools in Miami, Florida. Host families are given an orientation before their students’ arrival to ensure they understand all aspects of hosting.

What Does the Host Family Provide:
– Room (can be shared with another child of the same gender).- Meals eaten at home (The students pays for their own school lunches and restaurant meals.)- Nurturing home environment and parental supervision.

What Does the Student Bring:

– Their own spending money to pay for everything else (i.e. toiletries, entertainment, etc.).- Full medical insurance.

Who are the Students: International high school students from Latin America, South America, Europe, Asia & Africa are excited to become a part of your family. They participate in a pre-departure orientation as well as an arrival orientation, so they understand the rules and expectations of their program. ICES works with their partners overseas who do the pre-screening of students. The partners recruit only those students who they feel will be excellent candidates for the program. They continue the screening process to ensure they have a genuine interest in becoming an exchange student. Here are some of the things they screen for:
– Academics: A minimum of a “C” average in all courses taken over the past three years. Transcripts translated into English and a Teacher’s Recommendation.- English Language Skills: Students must demonstrate acceptable scores on the Standard Test for English Proficiency and be comfortable in using English conversationally to follow course work and socialize.
– Personality: A personal essay written by the student to describe their personality, hobbies and home life.
– Attitude: The ability to deal with the inevitable challenges of adapting to another culture and communicating in a foreign language.
– Intellectual Curiosity: An open mind toward learning the ins and outs of another culture, such as its social customs, as well as concrete experiences such as food and fun.

Benefits of Hosting: The student becomes a part of your family (you gain a new son/daughter, sister/brother), they participate in family activities and even do chores at home. You and your family learn a new language, customs and traditions of another country. Wouldn’t you love to have family around the World? It’s your chance to be GLOBAL while being a local! You also play an important role in promoting (in the evolving process) of a peaceful world by increasing international awareness and cultural understanding.

How Students Benefit from Being Hosted: Students around the world contemplate and dream about an exchange experience, they wonder what things will look like once they are actually living with an American family and going to school. The impact an exchange experience has on these student’s is profound and meaningful. Being a host family not only gives students a place to call home, it changes their view on Americans, their perspective on life; it gives them the gift of friendship and of “family”. As you change their lives, you change yours, cultural differences melt away and the rewards of hosting come with the realization that you made a difference.

Role of the Local Coordinator (LC): Finds families interested in hosting and works with them during the application process. They coordinate with the local public high school, near to where you live, to enroll the student, under the J-1 Student Visa Program.

Host families receive an orientation before their students’ arrival to ensure you understand all aspects of hosting. The information is also shared with the student upon their arrival, to ensure everyone understands all the rules.

The LC checks in with you, the student and the school at least once per month, to ensure all is running smoothly. The LC prepares a monthly report that is sent to DOS, which is also seen by the student’s natural parents. The LC plans activities and events with the students (optional participation of their host family) so that all the local host students (and optional for their host family) can meet and can bond. Should any concerns, issues or anything arise, your LC is your first contact to help resolve anything. They are available 7 days per week, during normal business hours. ICES has a toll free number for support after normal hours, which is available 24/7.

Who Can Be A Host Family: Host Families come in all shapes, colors and sizes (i.e., families with or without kids, single parents, a single person with no kids, empty nesters, same sex couples, etc.). All members living in the family:

– Must have a Social Security Number.
– Can not have a felony conviction.
– Can not have a DUI or a DWI conviction in the last 5 years.
– Can not receive income-based assistance for food or housing.
– Both host father and/or host mother must be at least 25 years old.

Steps to Apply to Host a Student:

1) Complete an Application Online: You will receive a link for you to log into our secured website, where you will create your own user id and password to start the application, by providing general info about your family (names, address, rules that you want the student to follow, etc.).

2) Complete a Background Check: The application includes a link to complete a background check for everyone living in your home, age 18 or older. We use security company OneSource that specializes in background checks. I don’t see the info you provide in the link, I only see a status of Pass or Fail. Below is the info you will provide for the background check:

– Name
– Current Address
– Social Security Number
– Date of Birth
– Phone Number
– Address
– Driver’s License Number and Issuing State.
– Annual Household Income

3) Provide Three References (List 2 Personal & 1 Business)

4) Home Visit: With your Local Coordinator an appointment is scheduled to visit your home. The LC only needs to see the areas the student will use. This is a Department of State (DOS) mandatory requirement, to ensure the student will be placed in a home that is safe and sanitary.

Selecting Your Student: Once everyone 18 or older living in your home has passed the background check, the Local Coordinator will email full student profiles to you of students that share the same interests as you and your family. It will include the student’s application, photos/videos, report cards, letter the student wrote to his/her potential Host Family, letter the natural parents wrote describing their child, etc. etc. etc. Once the application, background check, home visit is completed and you have selected your student, you and your student may begin to communicate to begin to bond. The LC requests the registration of the student into a regular public high school near to your home. Once the student is registered in the school, the travel arrangements (i.e. J-1 Student Visa and flight arrangements) are arranged.

Student’s Arrival to USA: Your Local Coordinator will go with you to the airport to greet the student. Within a period of 1-2 weeks after the student’s arrival, the LC provides an orientation to the student to reiterate the rules they received from their international agent before departing their native country.Feel free to call or email with any questions.

There is also a demand for high school students in the form of a subject program. This is where the USA high school student is the point of contact at the school for international students who attend the same school, so that the USA Global Ambassador can help them meet friends, show them where their classroom is, etc.

Also, to promote hosting among their classmates, so the teens can ask their parents if they can host. The ambassador also goes with people like me (Local Coordinator) to events, like fairs, Library, etc. to work a table or a booth to spread the word about hosting.

If you would like more information on hosting or the subject program, please feel free to reach out to Jackie! Her contact information is below.

Jackie Willock / Local Coordinator

International Cultural Exchange Services (ICES)


My Facebook Page:  Be a Hero – Host an International Student

Click here for Frequently Asked Questions

Click here to meet our students! 

Click here to view Testimonials by Host Families

Click here to view Testimonials by Host Students

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Mortuary Science School Drop-Out

Philosophy: Sometimes you have to try quitting before you quit trying.

You just gotta know when to fold ‘em. That is, of course, courtesy of Kenny Rogers, which, I’m not too proud to say I’ve heard a time or two thousand. My love for Kenny comes straight from my dad’s old vinyl records.

Speaking of my dad, he didn’t raise a quitter. He tells me this often. He always knows exactly when I need to hear that straight from him, too.

I knew during my freshman year at Kent State that I wanted to major in philosophy. I had huge plans of being a professor surrounded by books or graduating at the top of my law school class and opening an office (also surrounded by books). But…well…life.

Philosophy sustained and interested me, but what always fascinated me was death. Of course, death is part of philosophy, but I’m talking about funerals and science.

I happened to listen to Three Minutes That Will Change Your Life by Alan Watts when I was between the anchor of marriage and the freedom of divorce and it compelled me to think about what I would really love to do if money were no object.

If I could drop everything and be anything I wanted, what would it be? A funeral director. I had always wanted to own a funeral home. While it sounds creepy and weird, it fascinated me.

When I had my temporary lapse in sanity, just prior to my second marriage, I enrolled in the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science online. I loved it. I loved the classes, I loved the feeling of working toward something I never thought I would do. I loved arranging places to intern part-time on the weekends.

Then I woke up early one morning (literally) alone and pregnant. Not only did I realize I couldn’t financially afford to stay in school and care for three kids, I couldn’t afford the time it would take away from them to have to intern and be called out in the middle of the night.

I quit.

I quit three quarters of the way through a term. Didn’t even see it through until the grading period ended. I quit.

I thought I would be too embarrassed to admit that to everyone who started asking how school was, but the truth goes a long way. My money and time were going to be needed somewhere else and there was nothing wrong with that.

In that sense, I wasn’t quitting anything. I was just rerouting.

Yes, I’m still a mortuary science school drop-out. But if there’s anything that sounds cooler than mortuary science school, it’s adding drop-out to the end of it.

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