Optimism in Aisle Nine – Guest Columnist Jodi Nisly Hertzler

Editor’s note: Jodi Nisly Hertzler writes occasionally for Another Way and is a proofreader and tutor. Jodi and her husband have three children.

We all make mistakes, but there’s redemption out there, as evidenced by those three boys.

It was a typical Saturday for me… at least, typical for working-mom me. Saturdays when I was a stay-at-home mom were more relaxing in a lot of ways, as I was able to spread out household errands throughout the week. But now that I work full time, Saturdays are full of such leisure activities as multiple loads of laundry, grocery shopping, and the running of various errands that just don’t get done on weekday evenings.

So this Saturday (after I got the granola made and both washer and dryer running and after the kids had done their housecleaning chores), the kids and I headed out for haircuts and a trip to the hardware store. After those events were accomplished, I brought the kids back home by way of fried chicken takeout (their reward for holding still while people whacked at their months-overgrown tresses). Then I returned to town to pick up my new eyeglasses and do the grocery shopping. (Making two trips to town was not ecofriendly, but I can only manage so many errands with kids in tow and still maintain my sanity—not to mention the fact that three bored kids in an eyeglass store is just asking for trouble and potential payment of damages.)

In the midst of all those humdrum errands, three young men pleasantly surprised me.

The first was my own 13-year-old son, who, just as we were getting to the fast-food place, politely held the door open for an older woman who was exiting. This shouldn’t be a surprising occurrence, but the boy is so often in a hurry and oblivious to others, it was nice to see him actually behaving as we so often ask him to.

The second two boys were both in the grocery store later that afternoon. It was a holiday weekend, so things were packed and crazy. But on two separate occasions, an almost identical situation occurred. A big family blocked my path, parents debating which hamburger bun to get or whether they needed more soda. Young kids roamed, shopping cart abandoned at a haphazard angle. Everyone in the family was oblivious to my quiet self just waiting to get through. Everyone except, in each situation, one lone young man probably around the age of 10. In one case, the boy smiled at me, moved the family cart, and beckoned to his mother to move a few steps to let me by. In the other, the boy smiled at me, then picked up his little sister, put her in the cart, and moved everything aside.

They were small things, relatively speaking. But on the way home from the grocery store, I was struck by the way those three little moments made me smile in the midst of bothersome errands. I’ve often bemoaned the sense of entitlement that my children’s generation bears—they expect the best and get snippy when they don’t get it. And I’ve worried about the amount of screen time they are constantly exposed to. I worry that our society is raising a generation of youth who don’t know how to talk to real people without a cell phone intermediary, of kids who are so engrossed in their screens and texts that they don’t notice the people around them. I worry that youth who communicate through LOLs and OMGs and emoticons have lost the ability for polite manners and engaging conversation. I worry that this generation which has never known a world without cell phones and the Internet expects the life each of them wants to appear at the click of a button without having to work—or wait—for it.

But these three boys and their smiles give me hope. And they remind me of the students I work with, who, though they might feel lost without their phones nearby, still know how to carry on an interesting conversation. They have crazily varied interests and hobbies—enabled by the ease of cyber-gathering eclectic and obscure information—and love to share about them. They might still seem a little entitled and self-engrossed sometimes, but two of them brought me flowers on the last day of school and four of them noticed I got a haircut when one of my closest friends did not.

I guess every generation bemoans the hopelessness of the generation following. I grew up a Gen Xer, that aimless group of individualistic cynics who were never going to make anything of themselves. And now I’m raising kids of the yet-to-be-named generation (monikers such as Generation Z, the Selfie Generation, and, my personal favorite, iGeneration, are floating around) and I’m wondering if they’re going to make anything of them selves. We all make mistakes, but there’s redemption out there, as evidenced by those three boys.

Of course, after my son opened the door so gallantly for the older woman, he slipped inside and allowed it to close on his heels, even though the rest of us were right behind him. But, whatever.

Have you observed children (boys or girls) behaving well in social/public situations, or at home, that you’d like to comment on? Send stories or share on the Facebook page for “Another Way Newspaper Column.” Send to or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.

Posted 6/26/2014 7:00:00 AM

What do you think?

Post a comment or read others’ thoughts on this article in the Online Conversation, or.