Category: Leadership

Low Power Mode

When my phone is depleted enough on battery function it prompts me to engage in “low power mode.” It recognizes that there could be some time between that moment and the time I’m able to charge it up. 

My phone is programmed that way. Good thing, too. That programming saves me from being cut off in the middle of conversations,  losing the ability to take that one last picture of my kids being a kids, or sharing a “thinking of you” text with my sweetheart. 

If I didn’t respect and respond to “low power mode” my phone would simply stop sometimes. It would stop in the middle of whatever it was doing. It would shut down occasionally. Boom. Just like that. 

“Sorry, no more phone for you,” it might say (if it could), “…not until you do the right thing and plug me in. I need a rest and I need a charge.”

Knowing my phone it might also say, “Consider wiping the sticky, dried coffee off my screen while you’re at it.”

Like my phone’s battery, my battery gets depleted. My power runs low, and even out. 

Unlike my phone, I’m not programmed to suggest “low power mode.” I’m programmed to push until the, “no more phone for you” part, but for me it’s more like, “no more me for you.” It’s, “no more me for you, for me, or for anyone else,” when I push myself to the brink of “shut down” and beyond. 

I see this happen frequently among the group of educators and parents I serve with.

We serve kids. 

We serve kids because we feel called too do so, and serving kids is as testing as it is joyful. 

We push ourselves to the brink of  “shut down” before allowing ourselves to fail in the service of the kids we serve. 

We’re very critical of ourselves, even to the point of occasional collapse. 

Sometimes we find ourselves lying in bed, surrounded by wadded up tissues, a bowl of chicken soup on the nightstand, burning nostrils, throbbing head and stinging throat, wondering how it happened. Wondering why we simply shut down, and knowing full well at the same time.

When I think about my phone’s programming, I have hope for another way.  A better way.

Let’s break it down into three states of being: 

“depleted battery,”

“low power mode.”

and “sufficiently charged.”

I typically start the day “sufficiently charged.” 

I’ve slept, I’ve exercised, and I usually get to school with some time to spend in quite thought. The start of the day is an energizing and productive time for me.

During the day I experience a series of challenges and triumphs. It’s a bit of roller coaster.  One that I wouldn’t change if I could.

Some interactions and events extend my battery while others require levels of effort and energy that use it up quickly. Both kinds are important. Both kinds are growth-producing.

I have a mentor who seems to know what to do and how to do it in every situation. It’s amazing. 

When I ask this mentor how a person can be so adept at managing self and situations, I’m flashed a knowing smile and offered the words, “I’m old.” 

Well, I’m old now.  Old enough at least to understand what charges me up and what powers me down.

I’ve been trying this “low power mode” mindfulness strategy and it seems to be working. I’ve been simply focusing on staying present in the moment (an oldie but a goodie) and prompting myself to enter “low power mode” as needed.  

Maybe I’m simply tired, maybe I’m engaged in a challenging interaction with someone whose well-being is compromised, maybe my well-being is compromised, or maybe I’ve just exerted too much energy for too long. 

During times when I find that my battery being depleted too quickly I remind myself to consider “low power mode.” 

When I can, I quickly recount a list of situations and activities that are meaningful, impactful to my mission and important, but that reserve my energy rather than deplete it. 

I politely excusing myself when necessary and/or move into spaces where I can engage in less battery-depleting, and even energizing activities for a period of time while brainstorming ways to fully charge myself up again. 

I’m finding this strategy benefits my leadership practice, strengthens the positive partnerships I work so hard to build and maintain, and enhances my ability to serve kids well. It’s been very restorative.

As educators and parents we are required to exist in the fray, and to manage it well. After all, we are the models of behavior and balance for the kids we serve. 

When we remember to model mindfulness and self-care we enhance our kids’ ability to move through this fast-paced world with intact well-being and increased joyfulness.

Try to recognize when your battery is depleted. Go into your “low power mode” when you need to. Remove yourself if that’s what it requires. Take it easy for minute. Write in a journal. Draw a picture. Eat a snack. Stretch. You know what you need. Take it. 

When you’re ready, re-engage at a comfortable, safe level. If my phone has 10% battery power I probably shouldn’t be streaming videos, but I might decide to look at or take a few pictures if it helps.  

Then, make plugging in and powering up a priority. Take the next opportunity that comes along. Once you’re “sufficiently charge” you can get back at it full throttle. 

Look after yourself. 

You, those you serve, and those you serve with are all better off when you do.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks!

Imagine That

In the first week of school our kindergarten teachers put a stuffed animal named “Chester” in my office.  They tell the kids that Chester is somewhere in the building and they spend some time searching for him.  Eventually, they make their way to my office, where they find him comfortably taking a break in a safe place. 

The kids stop by the media center, they see the playgrounds, and they pass bathrooms and drinking fountains. They get a comprehensive tour of the school, chalk full of important information as they search for Chester.  

When they get to my office I let them in on why Chester ended up with me. I tell them that he was feeling a bit sad and that he knew my office was a place he could come to talk, to rest, and to feel safe. I use my imagination. We all have fun pretending.

The teachers and I share some thinking about how kids can also come to me for support, just like Chester did, whenever they need to. We help them understand that our school is filled with trusted adults and we give them suggestions about how they can get the help they need by letting their teacher know how they feel and what they need.  

Most of the kids get pretty excited about Chester. They asked questions, they point and smile, they tell me all about the stuffed animals they have at home and the raccoon they saw in the driveway the night before. Many of them call out, “I found Chester!” 

This year, one little guy stood very still and silent. His eyes were wide. He looked back and forth from Chester’s face to my face. He studies both of us intently. 

Just before following the line of his peers out the door he looked up and asked in earnest, “Is Chester real…did he really come to your office?”

What a great reminder. Kids, especially the youngest among them, tend to believe what we tell them. At least they tend to consider it. 

I told him that Chester was “real” in my imagination. I said I was pretending Chester was “real” so the kids would understand that they can come to my office for help. I shared that our imaginations are very useful and imporatnt, and that pretending can be a great way to learn, especially because all of us have the ability to do it. I smiled and patted Chester on the head. He smiled, and I thought I saw a attempt at a wink.

The Berg kids imagine things all the time. They give me instructions – “You’re the person at the restaurant and I’m the chef,” or “I’m the teacher and your the kid,” or “You’re the brother and I’m the dad.” Then we play, learn, grow, and bond. They use their imaginations to unfold scenarios based on their interests, their curiosities, and their developmental needs. It’s pretty cool, it’s fun, and it’s engaging.

When we think about learning we often visualize something more formal than imagination and pretend play. Undoubtedly, there’s a place for formalities in education. That said, imagination is built-in and easily accessible.  

As parents and educators we have unlimited opportunities to rely on play and imagination, our kids’ and ours, for pathways to growth and well-being with equally unlimited potential.

Imagine that.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. In it together for the kids.

Made Of Love

A few weeks ago, over dinner, my sister told the four-year-old that he’s made of frogs, and snails, and puppy dog tails.  Then, she told him that his sister is made of sugar, and spice, and everything nice.  He thought about it for a minute before replying, “Auntie Rachy, don’t you know…we’re all made of love.”

All made of love.  The kid sees through a nice lens.  And this kid lives it.  

For example, I was pushed just past my limit the other night.  

I was with the frogs, and snails, and puppy dog tails (and love) kid, and the sugar, and spice, and everything nice (and love, too) kid.  We were working on getting to bed. 

The sugar, and spice, and everything nice kid was pretty much just spice at the time.  

In an effort to maintain my composure, I took a breath and told the dynamic duo I needed a bit of a break.  I’d been sitting on the edge of the little brother’s bed. 

Before I could get up off the bed and exit the room (during the extended sigh I perpetuated), he crawled up and grabbed me for a big old bear hug.  

He’s got and aptitude for hugging.  We’re pretty lucky that all our kids are mighty huggers.  It’s a very useful thing in the many moments of parenting growth I experience each day.  That’s to say, I’ve got a lot to learn about consistently being the dad I am in my best parenting moments, and it’s nice to get great hugs from my kids along the way.

This time, the four-year-old held his hug for what seemed an eternity.  Turns out, it was just enough time.  Afterward, he gently pushed me back a smidge, and with his hands on my shoulders and a huge “I told you so” smile on his face he said, “See, daddy…that was love.”  Love, indeed.  

I felt better.  The love offering fueled me.  It was just the ‘bit of a break” I needed.  I was able to re-enter the spice fray with just enough compassion to read, sing, and snuggle the precious angels to sleep.

A Wellbeing Extension: Just Share Love

Hugging isn’t alway the thing to do.  Sometimes, when your wellbeing is challenged, when you’re not feeling quite yourself, when you’re having trouble matching decision-making to your core values, you’re not in a hugging situation.  

You’re not always around people you’d feel comfortable hugging.  Moreover (and possibly more importantly), you’re not always around people who’d feel comfortable hugging you.

Love, though…there’s alway a place for love, isn’t there?  And love takes many forms.

For teachers and parents, when we’ve reached the end and have nothing left but love to share, that could mean listening to a kid read a book, or get excited over a piece of wiring or a drawing.  

It could mean going for a walk.  It could mean listening to music or playing a game.

For a friends, spouses, siblings, and even colleagues it could mean listening without judgement or even simply sitting in silence.

Sharing love could mean something different in each different situation where a love offering is the thing to do for mindfulness and enhanced wellbeing.

In the end, each of us is better off when we’re relaxed and content.  The spaces we occupy together are enhanced with a foundation of clarity and connection.  

It seems to me that the sharing of love, in whatever form works for all involved, can bridge the gap between frustration and clam.  Maybe worth a try at the very least.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.  

What If Our Passion Is Our Purpose?

I was recently invited to speak at the Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts (CASA) in Oak Park, Mi.  CASA is a wonderful school that offers students from multiple local districts opportunities for alternate programming based on their interests.

I was honored to receive a “Distinguished Alumni Award” this year.

I thought about it.  

“Alumni” … certainly.  I studied Philosophy and Japanese at CASA.

“Distinguished” … I’m not so sure.

If I am distinguished, why?  

I have a family and a job.  I serve kids, and I partner with colleagues and parents to do so.  

My core is aimed at positive progress.  I think and I act on a foundation of optimism, growth, kindness, and determination.  

I hold on to hope even when I’m gasping for air.

I work hard to forgive my shortcomings and those of others.

I reflect with some intensity as I stumble through this world so that I can enhance that stumbling, and I even have faith that my stumbling could eventually become a stride.  

I work for it.  

I believe.

I don’t know that I’m distinguished on a foundation of achievements or position.  After all, I’ve been given so much.  I’ve been privileged my entire life.  I remain privileged.  

No, if I am distinguished I think it might be because I follow my passions wherever they may lead.

I wonder, what if our passion is our purpose?

What if the process outweighs the product?

What if attending to and sharing our passions sustains a fire within each of us that spreads when we connect with others?

What if, even with the stumbling along the way, that’s what changes the world?

What if our fires burn brighter when they’re shared?

What if life is a series of mutually beneficial interactions of inspiration that drives a collective passion and enhances our world?

I have passion for literature, for music, and for storytelling.

When I was invited to speak at CASA I thought I’d be sharing a part of my story with students.  It turns out I was sharing with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and fellow Alumni.  I was glad to have the opportunity.

I was also nervous.  I was very nervous.

I was especially nervous because I decided I’d be playing my guitar and signing that morning.  I believe I referred to my nervousness as “terrified” when I addressed it with the audience.

In full disclosure I decided to throw in the towel many times before the event.  I tried hard to convince myself not to do it.  I thought of many good reasons not to.  On the basis of my fears I vigorously attempted to talk myself out of it.  

But that morning I found myself carrying my guitar to the truck, and then to the space in which I would deliver the message.  I knew that if I had my guitar with me I was likely to play it.  If others saw me with it I was likely to sing.  They would expect it.  They did.

Before I left the house I asked my nine year old son how he prepared for the stand up comedy/ventriloquism act he recently did in his school talent show.  This kid has demonstrated some shyness over the course of his nine years, and the courage he brought forward for an outstanding, funny, and passionate performance was inspiring to so many people on so many levels.  Me and Lorelei especially.

His performance is embedded in my heart and my mind as permanent inspiration for the pursuit of my passions.

Nonchalantly, he told me the secret, “I took a deep breath and believed in myself.”

Indeed.  Out of the mouths of babes.

As I watch and reflect on the recording of my reading (thank you Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom: What Do You Do With An Idea?), my singing (thank you Colin Hay: Waiting For My Real Life To Begin), and my sharing, I see that some of that nervousness bled through.  

I would have thought that I might cringe a bit at jumbled words and phrases, misplaced notes and chords, off pitch vocals, and a wobbly-kneed presentation of thoughts and ideas, but I didn’t…and I’m not.

Actually, I feel good about the rawness of the moment.  I feel good about being fallible in front of a crowd.  I feel good about publicly moving through mistakes on the foundation of my core values and sharing a bit of my humanity with others.  

I am a husband, a farther, a learner, a leader, and a servant.  

What if this type of moment is just what I need to enhance my ability to carry out each of those roles with an increasingly positive impact throughout the moments that follow?

If I am “distinguished,” what if some uneasiness and the enlisting of a bit of determination to push through it is why?

So, in the hopes that a demonstration of followed passions and shared ideas might somehow connect with even one person in that room, or in this space, who might be in need of some permission to step over the edge in embracing and sharing a passion, a thought, or an idea, here’s what I did…warts and all:

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Awake

There’s more than one way to wake up.  

I’ve been a father for almost ten years. I’ve had lot’s of practice waking people up and being woken up myself.  I have four kids.  Each one wakes up in a unique way.  Jump out of bed, stretch for ten minutes, pull covers over head and go back to sleep, groan.  

Motivation is a factor, too.  Getting out of bed at 4:30 AM for a road trip to our favorite water park looks a bit different from getting out of bed on your average icy cold Monday morning in January.

There’s also a strange space that sometime exists in which we feel awake when we’re actually asleep.  Some dreams are so lucid they’re deceptive until reality snaps in.

Like a dream about not being prepared for a test or a presentation.  Sitting in the front row of a class or a meeting.  A teacher or a boss standing directly in front of you offering an enthusiastic thumbs up.  You look down for a last peek at your notes or a double check on your number two pencil but nothing’s there.  

Sweat forms on your brow, your heart begins to race, it couldn’t feel more real. 

As your name is being announced or the test is being placed on the table in front of you a rhino in a floral patterned cardigan and riding chaps nonchalantly sauntered across the back of the room, puffing bubbles from a classic Sherlock Holmes style pipe. 

He catches your eye with a wink and a nod.  Consternation sets in for just a moment, then relief at the understanding of the impossibility of the situation before you shift into reality, thankful it was a dream.

There’s lots of ways to wake up.

There’s lots of ways to be awake, too.  Awake doesn’t necessary mean aware, and even when it does, there are levels of awareness.  

The most we can hope for in any given situation is that our lived experiences, our sensibilities, and our core values match up to help us navigate each moment with maximum benefit to ourselves and those we serve.

I engage in this reflection on the foundation of my diversity and inclusion journey, as an educator, a parent, and a human being.  

I think about and explore wakefulness in the light of my understanding that there’s so much more for me to know about myself in order to effectively lead in culturally competent ways.  

One of my biggest struggles in this realm is that each person I serve and each one I serve with is on a bit of a different journey.  

I struggle to understand where along the wakefulness continuum my partners are.  Ironically, this is critical information for me to know if my partnerships and my leadership are to be impactful.  Covey continues to remind me that I must first seek to understand people, their perspectives and their needs, before I’m able to support, encourage, and connect.

Every so often I learn something that rattles my foundation.  Most often that something is about myself.  Something about my level of wakefulness.  The more I learn the more I figure I’m less awake than I’d like to be, and less awake than I would have previously described myself as.  

Sometimes I wish the right person would dump a bucket of cold water on my head, but then I remember that when I wake up with a start I’m cranky and clouded, not calm and clear.  

I know that when I wake up gently, with a caring, patient hand on my shoulder and a soft voice of encouragement in my ear I’m apt to receive the day in increasingly rational ways, more closely connected to who I am, who I am becoming, and who I intend to be at my very best.

I want those around me to be awake.  I want those I serve to live in heightened states of wakefulness while embracing their dreams as components of learning and growth. 

I’m working to enhance my ability to wake, and to help other wake in gentle, compassionate, calm, and patient way.  

I’m finding it requires trust.  

Waking slowly brings the looming threat of missing out.  Ironically, as I engage in slow, steady wakefulness to the best of my ability, it seems that just the opposite might just be true.

We live in a system in which many people are marginalized.  As parents and educators we must constantly and stringently reflect on our roles in this system.  A difficult and confronting task to be sure.

We must wake up to the extend that we’re not already awake, we must seek to understand our level of wakefulness and enhance it with each reflection, we must gently nurture the wakefulness of others, we must own our lived experiences, our individual pathways, and our collective responsibility, and because our efforts are in earnest we must forgive ourselves and one another with each exacting realization so that we move forward on behalf of the kids we serve and a brighter further for all.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Moon Hearts, Best Friends To Be, And My Unremarkable Brain

Sometimes my wife and I tell our kids that we love them as much as the moon and the stars.  Sometimes we say we love them with all our hearts.  A few days ago our youngest told me he loves me with all his moon heart.  Even better.  It kind of took my breath away.  I kept the tears at bay, and they were working hard to surface.  

Joy, a fascinating emotion.

We’re blessed with a lot of love in our family.  Love takes many forms.  Sometimes it’s challenging and sometimes it’s flowing, graceful, and easy.  It’s certainly a treat to bare witness as our kids grow into themselves, individually and as a crew, on the foundation of the love we share.  

The other day we were dropping the sister off at a play date.  She has lot’s of those.  She doesn’t have any sisters at home, so instead she has a whole bunch of friend-sisters who she loves and loves to spend time with.  

On the car ride she was pushing every brother button she could push, and even finding some new ones.  The boys were justifiably beyond frustration.  One of them told her he was glad she had so many play dates.  He’s a great big brother and he loves her with all his moon heart, but he’d had enough.  I understood.

We finally arrived.

As she bounced out of her seat and through the threshold of our mini-van door she informed them that, “one day everything will change, we’ll grow up, I won’t torment you like this, and we’ll all be best friends!”  Then she stuck her tongue out, wiggled her bottom in their direction, and skipped over to join her already hoola-hooping, bubble-blowing friend sister with a huge, joyful smile on her face.

I believe part of the comfort she demonstrates in being able to go off and play so often has something to do with her comfort in knowing that home, love, and in particular…the bothers are always there for her when she returns.

I believe the truth is that she knows they’re already best friends, and that she finds sizable joy in the friendships she shares with her wonderful brothers.

This is what I believe, and within the pages of this reflective journal I’ve poured out many beliefs on the foundation of my thinking.  But friends, be careful, I recently found out that my brain is unremarkable.  So, the hundreds of pages of reflective thinking that precede this page are arguably unremarkable, too.  Please read with caution.

I was at a follow up appointment with my neurologist regarding the moment of Transcendental Global Amnesia I enjoyed in December when I got the official word.  I read the report myself.  My brain was described as “unremarkable.”  I had my suspicions but this was official and conclusive.  

I told the doctor that while unsurprised I was deeply offended.  He courtesy laughed.  A nice guy.

He assured me that I want an unremarkable brain.  He told me it’s the kind that nothing’s wrong with.  He told me it’s the kind that lasts.  

Then he told something that didn’t compel the smarmy joke mechanism in my unremarkable brain to trigger.  

He told me that sometimes scary, unsettling things happen for reasons we don’t understand before we investigate and reflect on them only to realize we’re actually alright.

Ain’t it the truth.   

I sometimes yearn to be sensational.  I often look at my children and see them as exceptional.  I occasionally find myself hoping for extraordinary things to happen as I round the corners of this strange journey.

What if moon hearts, best friends to be, and my unremarkable brain are enough?  What if what seems unremarkable is actually remarkable?  What if what seems ordinary is actually extraordinary?  What am I searching for anyway?  What I actually have it? 

“Actually alright.” Enough.

Unremarkable. Joyful. Lasting.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Thanks For “Nothing”

Something happened. 

“Nothing” happened.  

It was very interesting.  

After lots of testing the doctors hypothesized “Transient Global Amnesia.”  It happened on Sunday evening.  

On Monday morning I felt strangely rejuvenated.

“Strangely” because one might think that an evening in the hospital, being poked and prodded, CAT scanned and MRI’d, blood pressured and temperature checked, might have resulted in exhaustion instead.  Somehow it didn’t.  Somehow it was rejuvenating.

The doctors made clear that “Transient Global Amnesia” wasn’t their diagnosis but instead their hypothesis.  

They told me it’s the thing they hypothesize about people who “check out” for a bit and don’t show any signs of the really scary stuff that can sometimes be associated with “checking out” for a bit.  

They said I’m fine.  I was happy to hear it.  Lorelei (my wife) was really happy to hear it.

All told I asked some goofy questions, made some confusing statements, and didn’t remember a couple of hours of my evening…and then I felt rejuvenated.

I’m not a doctor, and even when I become one I won’t be that kind of doctor, but here again is my hypothesis: “nothing.”

Since no one’s sure what exactly happened to me I’m decidedly going with “nothing.”

It was unintentional this time, but given that I experienced what seemed to be some genuine and powerful healing outcomes as a result, I’m left wondering how I can reproduce it with intentionality. “Nothing,” that is.

Is it possibly for me to take time for “nothing” every now and again or do I have to have some hypothetical “Transient Global Amnesia” for that?

In reflection, I’m choosing to believe that the few hours I “lost” were actually spent in a deep state of forced mindfulness, ironically making that time a net gain. 

I’ve decided to believe that my mind wisely powered down. 

I’m feeling confident it was a good decision.  Imagine that, my mind might just be a better decision maker than I am.  Go figure.

I can learn, though.

What I’m learning from this experience is that “nothing” might actually be “something,” and “something” pretty special at that.

What if I could force myself into a state of  “nothing” every once in a while?

What if I could remove the questions, the worries, and the wonders, and simply clear the space out?

What if I could clean my mind up every so often?  

What if I could periodically take some time to not think?

What if I could spend some moments not planning, not organizing, and not designing?

What if I could intentionally engage in some mental Feng Shui as needed?  

You know how it feels really good to clean out and organize a physical space before moving on to the tasks of the time?  Why not apply that same principal to a mental space?

What if I could reproduce the rejuvenation I felt after “checking out” for a few hours earlier this week?

Could be healthy. Could be meaningful.

I understand that this is not an original thought.  It’s just that it’s making so much sense to me in the moment. 

I once read about a young monk and an old monk sitting next to one another meditating.  The young monk eventually began to get restless.  He looked at the old monk as if to ask, “Well?”

Without turning his head or opening his eyes the old monk said, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”

As I move forward bent on working to enhance my mindfulness practice I’m filled with gratitude for the meaningful experience I had this week.  Strange and even scary in some ways, but meaningful to be sure.

So, thanks for “nothing” Transient Global Amnesia.  I’ll try real hard to not waste it.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead., Thanks. 

Staff Meeting! Staff Meeting!

We were at my nephew’s 16th birthday party.  He’s a great kid and our kids love him to pieces.  Essentially, he becomes a jungle gym when we get them together.  This time, however, he was surrounded by his friends.  The party was teaming with enthusiastic 16-year-olds chattering away about whatever it is 16-year-olds chatter away about and patting my nephew on the back.  

My kids had trouble making their way into that mix, so they were eventually left to their own imaginations and resourcefulness.  They decided that chasing one another around, finding hiding places and testing the limits of mischievousness would be a perfect direction to in for the afternoon.

That’s when it happened.  The 3-year-old called a staff meeting.  He literally shouted, “Staff Meeting! Staff Meeting!”  The others eventually gathered under the pergola-like structure on the side of the house and waited for further instructions.  I witnessed the phenomenon from a distance and smiled.  I didn’t get involved at first.

Eventually, as the staff meetings increased in frequency the others lost interest.  Sure enough, the 3-three-year old found his calls futile. “Staff meeting! Staff Meeting!”  He continued.  His bothers and sister stopped attending or even responding. They moved on and back to the “limits of mischievousness” exploration.

I couldn’t leave the big guy thinking his staff meetings weren’t important.  He was working so hard to organize them and he seemed to enjoy the so much.  Besides, being someone who facilitates staff meetings myself I thought I might be able to learn a thing or two.  Couldn’t hurt.  She I answered the call.  He smiled and directed me to the spot under the pergola-like structure.  

Upon arrive he sat me down and with great vim inquired, “Ok, what type of ninja are you going to be?”

Before I could answer he listed the options, “You can be the ninja who runs around, the ninja who flies, or the ninja who annoys people.”  I decided to be the ninja who annoys people.  Why fight it.

He told me that he would continue to be, “The adorable ninja,” and off we went to skillfully annoy people and be adorable with stealth and cunning.  It was a blast!

As parents and educators we simply must take the time to engage in the strange, wonderful, creative, and unique imaginative play scenarios the kids we serve come up with.  

They need to know how important we find things that are important to them.  They need to know that we appreciate, cherish, and want to enthusiastically engage in the world as they see it.  

They want to see that pretending is a wonderful pathway to discovery and innovation. 

While we teach them the ins and outs of navigating real-world challenges, we’ve got to let ourselves holistically fall into the world of kid play that serves as such a wonderful foundation for their learning, growth, individualized development.  

Besides, it’s fun:).

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

A Few Breaths

The five-year-old comes screaming into our bedroom three to five nights a week. She’s been doing it for what seems like a few years now.  It’s become hard to measure the length of the phases that our kids go through. 

With four so close in age we’re generally experiencing multiple phases simultaneously: scared to go to the bathroom alone, needs to be snuggled for a half hour before falling asleep, will only eat pancakes without chocolate chips, will only eat pancakes with chocolate chips, will only eat chocolate chips. You get it.

This one is interesting, because it wakes us up abruptly (and by “interesting” I mean shockingly able to impart irreparable harm to our sleep cycle and psychologic well-being).  

The screaming is both physical and verbal. 

First we feel and hear the clomp of her feet hitting the floor from down the hallway, followed by her bedroom door flying open with a creak, a bang, and another creak after the bang, just before the pitter pat of her tiny “acro-jazz,” tap/hip hop feet scurrying across the wood corridor, preceding the blunt force slamming of her palms into our bedroom door, it flying open, another creek, another bang, frantic shouting and crying through uncontrollable hyperventilation, projectile tears and drool spraying forward and outward in all directions, all accompanied by inaudible expressions of what can only be described as terror, and finally, the compelling why through hard sniffling, “A LADY BUG IS IN MY BED!”

Then, she leaps into my arms (I sleep on the door side), crashes hard and instantly, settles directly into the snoring pattern employed by my great uncle Marv sleeping in his armchair at holiday parties and family gatherings (this man could crush walnuts with his bare hands – of course my 35 lb daughter sounds just like him when she snores), additional drool, and the occasional emission of various bodily gasses. Lastly, as I catch my breath and adjust to suit, she demands plainly and without opening an eye, “Go get my water.” 

She demonstrated no regard for our wellbeing in these moments.  Five-year-olds.

Interestingly, after the initial trauma I find this phase sweet and endearing.  I wouldn’t miss it. Actually, I suspect I will miss it when it’s gone.

That said, my job is to help her become independent.  I’m supposed to be guiding her toward courage and an ability to regulate those emotions, even in the middle of the night, and even when lady bugs attack.

It’s hard to see our impact because growth takes so much darn time, and ours is mixed in with the impact of  the many others we entrust her care to (grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and coaches, etc.).  I did see it one day recently, though, and it was really cool.  She taught me (as she does so often).

This time she came sauntering instead of screaming. No clomps or bangs or slams, only a few slow creaks. No shouts. No projectile tears or flying drool. 

On this night she simply crept in, slid into bed, gave me kiss on the forehead and said, “I didn’t run or scream, Daddy,” followed by, “I just took a few breaths.”

That’s my girl. She’s awesome. Truly.

Even if we can’t do it every time, even if we struggle mightily, I think we should just take a few breaths thought fears and intense struggles as much as possible, especially when the kids we serve are watching. It feels good and we’re all better off for it. At the very least, it can’t hurt.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Wait, What The What?

A quote from the 3-year-old – “Wait, what the what?”

This kid says lots of interesting things.  I get it, he’s spent much of this life observing three older siblings, a mom and a dad, and the world around him, quietly, patiently, and with a curious, reflective look on his face.  

Each of our kids have just under a two year gap between them and the next, so they seem to relate on many levels.  They play together well.  They argue, fuss, and fight well.  They share solid and deep love and a bunch of joyful moments with one another. Well.

This one, though, is just young enough that he does a bit more watching than the others.  The others are usually entangled.  He’s in the mix much of the time, but sometimes he’s not.  My wife and I speculate that “out of the mix” watching has given him a unique perspective on things.  We speculate further that it could be at least a part of the foundation of his fascinating, uniquely articulate ways. 

Quiet, thoughtful observation might just lead to joyful learning and growth.  Who knew?

Anyway, as I mentioned, the big fella’s new phrase is, “Wait, what the what?”

He says it when he’s looking to dig deeper.  It’s an exploration catalyst.  

“That cloud looks like a cantaloupe.”

“Wait, what the what?”

“The daddy seahorse has the babies.”

“Wait, what the what?”

“Looks like some ripe, red tomatoes are ready to be picked in the garden!”

“Wait, what the what?”

You get it.  He utters this signature phrase and comes running to question, explore, examine, celebrate, and marvel in the wonders of the world as they unfold before and around him.  It’s build in.  It seems to be built in to all of them.

The 9-year-old is an explorer as well.  He’s an explorer of the world in a bit of a different way.  His explorations fold almost seamlessly into his imagination.

Sometimes he seems lost in thought.  I’ll ask how he’s doing.  He’ll tell me he’s fine, and that he’s imagining that dinosaurs exist.  It’s fun for me to see him lost in the world of his imagination.  I’m a dreamer, too.

I was at his curriculum night this week.  Each kid posted a display of places they had been during the summer.  They labeled sticky notes with a location and drew landscapes on a grid under the sticky notes.  Each sticky note could be lifted up to reveal the landscape.  There were about ten spaces in the grid.  Most of his were current, existing places.  He listed Mackinac Island, Kalahrai, The Adventure Park, The Sleeping Bear Dunes, etc.  

Then, I came across the sticky note that read, “Pangea.”  I lifted it.  Dinosaurs. He drew and colored a likeness of his exploration of a place in which dinosaurs exist.  He did so as a representation of a place he’d visited this summer.  Dreamer.

Imaginative envisioning of the world might just lead to joyful learning and growth.  Who knew?

Quiet, thoughtful observation.  Imaginative envisioning of the world.  Kids are well equipped to learn.  As parents and educators it’s critical that we give them space, time, support, and encouragement.  They are each unique.  It’s critically important that we celebrate that uniqueness.  It’s critically important that we get to know them well, and that we facilitate a process by which they can safely explore and be proud the pathways they envision for themselves, which are sometimes not exactly the ones we envision for them.  It’s critically important.

When I met the 9-year-old’s teacher this week she greeted me with her arms tucked in and her hands wiggling around.  She told me she was practicing her T-Rex arms so that she could communicate with my kid.  She only just met him.  I almost cried.  He is going to spend this school year learning and growing with a teacher who’s genuinely interested in knowing him and supporting his unique pathway.  He’s spending his days with a person who’s excited that he’s a dreamer.  She seems like one, too.  My heart is filled with gratitude.

After one week we are reminded in no uncertain terms that educating children is a fast-paced, challenging, and often stressful charge.  However, even in our exhaustion we are also reminded in no uncertain terms that it’s infinitely joyful and unimaginably rewarding as well.

Let’s find the balance.  Let’s go with the flow.  Let’s always remember the joy.  Let’s rely on one another to accept every challenge as a chance on behalf of our students we serve.

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.