Category: Leadership

Imagine That: The Impact of Play on Agency

Robin Williams’ Peter Pan in Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” was a masterpiece. I highly doubt I’m alone in holding that opinion. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading, find your closest television, search it up, and see it now. Don’t forget to come back.

Welcome back!

Amazing, right? Moving and inspirational around every turn. 

I especially love the “use your imagination,” feast scene.

Old Peter sitting at a table with the lost boys, starving while watching a swath of colorful and covered serving dishes being set, steam emanating from each. Believing that they were filled with culinary treasures he could smell the feast, only to be holistically defeated as lids were thrown off to reveal the nothingness inside.  

Peter’s face sunk as he stared at  the Lost Boys digging in without hesitation. In disbelief, he watched them believe. He was frustrated, confused, and desperate. 

We saw nothing, too. Mr. Spielberg gave us Peter’s lens. It was brilliant. He would expose us to the wondrous power of imagination in the same moment it clicked for Peter. 

At one point, Thud Butt (a lost boy) asked Peter if he was going to eat what was on his plate.  Peter looked down, shrugged his shoulders, and then passed the apparently empty plate across the table with is a sarcastic huff.  Thud Butt received the plate with glee.

Just then, Juilia Roberts’ Tinkerbell (“Tink”) said, “Eat.”

Peter asked, “What’s the deal…where’s the real food?”

Tink replied, “If you can’t imagine yourself being Peter Pan you won’t be Peter Pan, so eat up!”

And there it is. If you can’t imagine yourself being (insert your name here) you won’t be (your name again)! 

Then a hint of the moment appeared. The turning point became imminent.

Peter engaged in a Battle of words with Rufio (the leader of the Lost Boys in Peter’s absence). It got heated. Finally, when enough was enough, Peter flicked a dollop of technicolored food-goop across the table at Rufio’s face. The thing is, it landed. 

Everything stopped. Everyone was stunned and/or overjoyed. Someone said, “Your doing it Peter!”

Peter said, “Doing what?”

“Using your imagination.”

Then, from that point forward, without exception or hesitation, Peter Pan was Peter Pan.

Among other things, I’m “Daddy Tickle Monster.” Imagine that.

I don’t know how it started. Our kids love being tickled, they love playing, and they love pretending. They have wild and vivid imaginations. I’ve noticed that all kids tend to.

It typically begins as soon as I walk through the door after work. One of the “littles” (our younger two of the four) greets me at the door with puppy dog eyes, fighting a sly smile, and simply asks, “Daddy Tickle Monster?”

Sometimes I hold them off for enough time to set my backpack down, take off my coat, and say “hi” to Lorelei. Eventually we end up in what I can only describe as a combination of a rugby scrum and Wrestle-Mania three. Laughing, shouting, attacking and recoiling. The kids assign personas to themselves. They call them out.

“I’m Super Banana Jumper!”

“I’m Monkey Boy!”

Usually, as they enthusiastically announce their stage names they leap into the air, only to land on me with an elbow to the lower back, a knee in the neck, or an entire little body smack dab on my head. 

I do the best I can to protect myself. Sometimes as they land I’m curled up in a ball, and then as they try to get up I reach out with lightning fast speed for a quick tickle or an extended take-down. The old man always wins.

Yesterday, our five-year-old executed an incredibly impactful whomp during a particularly energized “Daddy Tickle Monster” moment. Imagine a frozen bag of sand landing on the side of your head from about three feet up. I let our a bit of a groan as I did my best to shake of the driving pain. 

His sister redirected him in a deeply frustrated tone, “Hey, don’t hurt Daddy!”

How wonderful. She truly cares. A daughter’s deep and enduring love for her father is a beautiful thing to witness. Awww. That’s my girl.  

Or maybe I thought too fast, because her next exclamation was, “If you hurt him he won’t be able to play anymore!” 

Still, I know she loves me. I can just tell. I sure love her.

Anyway, they agreed that they should’t break their toy, and they negotiated a plan to “take it down a notch.” Neither Super Banana Jumper or Monkey Boy consulted me as they discussed the situation. It was as though I wasn’t even in the room. No more inflicting driving pain, though. That was good.

Agency, I thought. This game gives them power. 

Imagination, pretending, and playing. This stuff helps kids learn how to visualize who they are and what they can be. It stretches their potential and opens wide the truly limitless possibilities they embody.

If you can’t imagine yourself being (insert your name here) you won’t be (your name again)!

Imagine that. Literally.

I imagine myself as “Daddy Tickly Monster” during much of my life right now. Who would’ve thunk it. In my mind (and my heart), it’s among the most important things I am. 

I also imagine myself as a leader and a learner, a partner in the service of thousands of kids, and a positive contributor the world I share with everyone I pass along the way, and even those I will never know about. I imagine myself this way through the triumphs and the challenges.

I consider it a part of my job, by way of teaching, modeling, and yes…playing, to give the kids I serve opportunities, tools and permission to imagine anything and everything they can. I expect them to do just that, and to top it off, I consistently imagine the incredible things to come!

In it together for the kids.

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

Well? Triggered Not Trapped

How do you feel? 

Well? 

If so, why?

If not, why not?

Did you sleep ok last night? How about that list you’re working on?  You know, all the tasks you have to accomplish today. How’s that going, so far?  

What about the people in your life? Are your personal and professional relationships intact? Any challenges needing to be addressed, problems needing to be solved, or conversations needing to be had?

This is a very abbreviated list of the kind of stuff each of us has to think about as the moments of our days tick from one to the next. It can be overwhelming.

Then, with all of this in mind (and much more), we need to head off to whatever it is we need to head off to. There’s often not enough time to attend to what we need to attend to before even more piles on our already overflowing plates; our wonderfully rich, magical and joyful…still overflowing plates.

Just the effort to prioritize becomes a chore, time consuming and often stressful.

So now we’re driving to work, headed to a soccer game, going shopping, walking into a family dinner or a kids’ birthday party, setting up to sell girl scout cookies outside the local farm market, or any number of other commitments that require our immediate attention and land smack dab in the middle of those moments that just keep ticking by. 

Who has time for wellbeing? 

Much of the time we’re so busy just “being” whatever it is we have to be in any given moment that we tend to forget about the “well” part. We push through and we soldier on. 

Sometimes I find myself rationalizing that I’m better off working through head aches and/or exhaustion rather than taking breaks. I convince myself that work production, as opposed to balance, will produced diminished stress (even thought I don’t actually believe it). Actually, the opposite usually seems to be true. More balance tends to produce more productivity…and more meaningful productivity, to boot.  

But it’s tricky. 

Sometimes plowing through to get stuff done gives us the ability to rest for stretches of time afterward. Other times resting in the moment gives us the strength and ability to dig into to work completion when we’re rejuvenated. Both seem legitimate, depending on the complexities of the situation.  

That there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut rule is problematic and often confusing. 

The question is how do we know? 

How do we measure where we are in real-time so that we can accurately determine wellbeing-enhancing courses of action? 

Our emotions can be triggered in many ways by a variety of antecedents. If we’re not careful, triggered can sometimes become trapped. When were trapped in emotional responses we think less clearly, we act more rashly, and in turn, we tend to be less connected and productive. As parents and educators we simply don’t have time to let triggered become trapped. There’s too much going on.

We’re human, and that means we can’t help being moved as the world moves around us, and as we move within the world. 

We experience a range of emotions throughout each day. It’s healthy. The key is what we do with those emotions; how were process them. 

We’re going to get triggered. It’s not realistic to think we won’t. It might be realistic, however, to imagine a paradigm in which we don’t get trapped in emotions after being triggered. It’s reasonable to expect that we can managed triggered emotions so that they don’t get in the way of our forward progress. 

Since we’re each unique, I’d suggest that the path could, would, and should be different for each of us as well. For that reason I have very simple advice here: take some time to make a list of things you can do to prevent being triggered from becoming being trapped, write it down, post it on your refrigerator, and and then play with the items on that list when it happens.  

What calms you?  

What energizes you? 

What revitalizes you?

What fills you with compassion?

What helps you understand?

Thoughtfulness drives thoughtfulness. Joy drives joy. Hurt drives hurt. We tend to get back what we give. Being able to decide what you give is a meaningful ability, and in my opinion, well worth working diligently at.

Get good at not being trapped. Have fun with it. Celebrate your successes. Forgive your failures. Keep trying, keep playing, keep having fun, keep celebrating, and keep forgiving. Keep making the world a better place for yourself, your those around you, and for everyone else, too. You might like it. 

In it together for the kids.

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

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.