Wendy Bell photo

My boys were sitting around the kitchen island the other night, eating dinner and sharing some favorite memories about growing up together. Their age range – 20, 18, 14 and twins who are 11 – makes the “remember when” conversations hilarious to overhear, even though my husband and I are almost always the punch line.

Our oldest son, Michael, will be a junior in college. His two years in South Carolina have triggered the nostalgia most young adults start to feel as their lives take shape away from home. Jack is second oldest. He’ll start college in Boston this August. As Michael and Jack weaved terrific stories of my relentless cleanliness or their father’s collegiate flashbacks (cue the eye roll here), Ryan, Chris and Bobby listened and laughed with their mouths full of cheeseburgers and golden Crispy Crowns.

This is the sweet stuff.

As I wiped down the counters and washed dishes at the sink, I eavesdropped on an audio slideshow of my children’s story. Packing into our Honda Odyssey and driving for what felt like days to the beach. Building snow tunnels after Snowmageddon. Catching fireflies. Sleeping in a tent in the backyard (which was fun until someone peed in their sleeping bag). Shooting hoops in the driveway. Hating whenever I’d make fireman’s casserole. And loudly agreeing that no peas should ever be “snuck into” dinner.

The things they remembered were almost all small, in the bigger scheme of things.

But isn’t most stuff?

I appreciated the laughter and jokes after so many months of lockdown and negativity. We’ve been collectively badgered by bad news for too long. It’s time to breathe again. To reach out and hold family members we haven’t seen again. To hope and dream and plan a vacation again. To get back to work and feel the sunshine on our faces again.

The sweet stuff.

I look around at the people who seem so angry. I feel badly for them. We all have choices in life, and choosing to be angry, to feel as though the proverbial deck is forever stacked against you, must be a terrible burden to drag through life. Worse yet is the generation of children being raised in America right now to believe that no matter what they do or how hard they try, someone (as Al Sharpton said while eulogizing George Floyd) has a knee on their neck.

What a terrible message. And it’s simply not true.

I don’t know anyone who wakes up in the morning planning to prevent another human being from succeeding. I know I don’t. The accusation that most people are racist, or that our country is systemically so, is disingenuous and flat-out wrong. I believe instead that most people are selfish. Even worse, apathetic. We are too busy with and too wrapped up in our own lives to look at other people and make judgments about what they’re doing, where they live, what they have or how they think. We simply don’t care. Life is more about dog paddling to stay above water than actively trying to sink someone you don’t know.

We’ve created an excuse society where it’s a lot easier to be a victim and to blame someone else for what we’ve personally failed to achieve than to actually get up and go achieve it. It’s a learned behavior, you know. And we all grow up learning it. Failing to take responsibility allows us to point the finger at someone else. To claim victimhood. To forever be innocent. To never be held accountable. But the cycle is vicious. There’s no winning. There’s no growth. There’s no success.

This is where we are.

Children are masters of excuse-making. (One of my younger boys recently accused the milk that he’d spilled all over the floor of “jumping out” of the jug as he tried to pour it. I felt dumber after hearing that, just to be clear. Sadly, the blame game matures as they do.) But when children are not held accountable for their actions, or their inactions, they grow into adults who find it more convenient to blame a rigged system, or a racist society, or a biased company, or a discriminatory law, than to take responsibility for whatever they’ve done or failed to do. Being a victim is so much easier than looking yourself in the mirror and being honest about what or whom you see.

“A poor workman blames his tools,” my father used tell me whenever I blamed someone or a circumstance for my personal failures. I hated hearing that. But Dad was right. Rather than blaming your shoddy carpentry on the hammer you’re using, admit that you’re not a good carpenter. Or that you need to work harder at your craft. Rather than my sons blaming a poor grade on a teacher’s style or demands, they need to do the work to reach their goal. The onus is on them. Rather than blaming a rigged system, or systemic racism, or white privilege, or any other buzz words we’re hearing a lot about these days, we must learn to accept responsibility for our life’s trajectory. With responsibility comes power. And with power comes success.

It’s decided then.

I’m making brats on the grill tonight, crispy, restaurant-style french fries and chocolate cake. The sweet smell of something in the oven will bring my boys out of their rooms and back downstairs to the kitchen island where my heart is most full. They’ll laugh and tell more stories. I’ll eavesdrop the way I always do, with a full heart and so much gratitude.

The sweet stuff. I’ll never get enough of it.

Wendy Bell can be heard on 1020AM KDKA, Weekdays from 3-6pm. KDKA Radio can also be heard through the RADIO.COM App. Follow Wendy on Facebook and Instagram @WendyBellRadio and on Twitter @WendyBellPgh.

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