Category: Happiness

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.

Taking The Long Cut

I don’t often have the opportunity to pick our kids up from school. Usually I’m at work when they’re dismissed. Yesterday I did have that opportunity. My wife and I were able to pick them up together. It was wonderful.

We were able to pick them up because, along with my sister, we attended a funeral that had us close to school at dismissal time. Strange how life sometimes connects tragic moments with moments of celebration, and even joy. 

Loss seems to be that way in and of itself. We lost a childhood friend this past week. Danny. He was a wonderful, kind, and loving person. 

The funeral service was a celebration, and the afternoon was filled with an outpouring of love. A tragic and joyful series of moments. Confusing, upsetting, peaceful, and comforting all at once. Difficult, while simultaneously inevitable, important and meaningful. 

As our friend was eulogized we were reminded that life is for living, and specifically, that we should each live our lives in precisely the way we want, no matter what anyone says about it. This is how Danny lived. This was the message his family reminded us of as they braced themselves for a life without his physical presence. 

His sister reminded us to dance like no one is watching, because “why not?” 

She remembered her brother with no inhibitions; free, joyful, limitless in love for himself and for those around him. I hadn’t connected with Danny for many years but my heart swelled as she spoke with such longing. If only she could dance with her brother, even just one more time. She was overwhelmed with sadness and beaming with pride. She asked us to think and to speak of him often so that he might live on in our hearts, in our minds, and in the lessons he’s left as gifts for us.

Danny’s brother reminded us that nothing is more important than family as he showered us with anecdotes about Danny always putting those he loved before anything else in this world, specifically and especially his two young sons. Listening to stories relating the deep connections and the indelible bonds Danny built, maintained, and cherished tore at my heart and had me desperate for time with my family, my friends, and most importantly with my wife and children.

We all have to walk out the door. We all have to say goodbye. I sat in that space and racked my brain, trying to piece together a plan for doing it less, and for being more present. Confusing, upsetting, peaceful, and comforting all at once.

As we say, “under better circumstances.” However, it was powerfully moving and incredibly meaningful to connect with the village of people who assembled to celebrate Danny’s miraculous life yesterday. I often miss them in these busy moments that seem to sail by, too quick to truly capture. Yesterday left me deeply reflective and overwhelmed with gratitude for the life I’m blessed to be living. Tragic and joyful.

When Lorelei and I arrived at school we walked together to each of the doors our kids would be pouring out of. One by one we greeted them with hugs and high fives. They were surprised and excited to see us there together, waiting to reconnect after a long day and a long week at school and at work. 

They were all smiles, beaming with joy and enthusiasm. Detailing the excitements of the day too quickly for us to really hear, let alone process. Bouncing around us, grabbing at us, showering us with any and every thought that popped into their heads or even fluttered whimsically through their minds. 

Being together in that moment was sublime. I genuinely forgot to worry about whatever it is I’m usually worried about. I felt all together removed while at the same time inseparably connected. These moments are hard to define. They’re painted with frosted and glistening brushes. They’re saturated with stardust. They’re magical. They’re gifts.  

Our Daughter insisted that her and I walk home while the boys drove with Lorelei. She held my hand and told me, “Come on, Daddy…we’re walking!” It was freezing outside. I wasn’t cold. I was overwhelmed. That moment could have gone on forever and I would have never grown tired of it. I would have never wanted for anything else.

At each turn she asked me, “Is this the short cut or the long cut?” She insisted that we find all the “long cuts” along the way. We did. 

We turned away from home again and again as we walked through the neighborhood hand in hand, jabbering on about everything and nothing at all, smiling, laughing, skipping, eating snow, and sharing the afternoon with one another. 

Time stood still. It really did. These were genuinely pure and perfect moments. They were moments that will be impossible to ever forget, no matter how the journey unfolds. 

She told me that sometimes she takes “short cuts” when she’s trying to get somewhere quickly, and then she told me that sometimes she takes “long cuts” when she’s trying to spend more time with her daddy. She told me that and she smiled. 

I’ve been laden with gifts. 

I don’t know how this happened to me. 

I’m filled with gratitude. 

I’m working hard to be present and realize my right path in as many moments as I can. I’m trying to be ever-aware of what really matters in this life.

In the face of my many stumbles, I’m delighted to be taking the long cut. 

Rest in peace, Danny. Thank you for your lessons and for your legacy.

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.

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.

King Jr. Moments

We are each unique, which actually goes without saying because the words “each” and “unique” are not so unique from each other, both indicating one of a kind.  An individual thing as distinct from a larger set of things. Therein also lies a suggestion of similarities between each unique one of us.  “One” says we’re unique and “of a kind” says there are similarities between us.  I am me, and in being so I am one particular kind of person.  The “me” kind.  For better or worse. 

It seems to me that we’re each sort of different combinations of some of the same stuff and some different stuff wrapped up in the same kind of packages.  The human being kind.

If that’s not complex enough, we also have senses and choices. 

Senses give us information about stuff that exists around us.  Senses also give us information about what among that stuff we like, dislike, appreciate, or repudiate.  

Choices let us incorporate some stuff into our uniqueness and distance ourself from some of the other stuff.  

I may not be right, but I’m not alone in believing that each of us also has the capacity to learn, and that with some determination we’re each capable of applying that learning to our lived experiences, thereby perpetuating the unique designs we each have on our own lives, knowingly and possibly subconsciously.  

It’s easier said than done in some cases, and that makes it exhilarating.  Frustrating, discouraging, infuriating, nerve-racking, woefully maddening, and exhilarating.  The human journey is a dizzying ride.

Sometimes our learning takes hold and sometimes our intentions are waylaid by the organic ebbs and flows of the dizzying ride of a journey we’re each on.  Sometimes we’re in control and sometimes we’re out of it.  

The often-challenging news is that there seems to be no end to our struggles.  The confusingly-exciting news it that no end is almost just like perpetual progress (if not exactly like it), and that’s cool because it keeps us each in motion.  

As a parent and an educator I often hope my senses are keen enough to help me choose healthy, meaningful kinds of stuff to incorporate into my lived experiences, learn from, live by, and consequently model, so that the kids I serve have opportunities to sense that stuff too, and then make related choices that keep them living healthy, meaningful lives.  

I understand that health and meaning look different for each of us.  My hope is not for the kids I serve to make identical choices to mine, but rather to make choices on similar foundations when the see me making mine on the basis of healthy, meaningful stuff I learn.

I hope my modeling impacts the kids I serve in ways that influence them to take my intentional selection of stuff (along with the more innate combination of other stuff that makes me me) and incorporate it into their unique paradigms in new and evolved ways that influence positive progress for them, those around them, and even the world.  

A tall order, I know.  When I write it out like this it seems almost, if not actually, too lofty for me to reasonably entertain.  After all, I’m just me.  Oh well.  That’s where all the hoping comes in, I guess.

Yesterday morning my family spent a few hours packing bags of food for people in need.  We worked with an organization called Repair The World, who in league with an organization called The Noah Project and one called Gleaners.  Each of these organizations is set on a foundation of social justice, which seems healthy and meaningful to me.  

Repair The World focuses specifically on food justice and education justice.  Essentially making and acting on the argument that all people, regardless of our inherent and/or manufactured differences, have the right to good, healthy food and meaningful, enriching education.

Our kids are relatively young right now.  They each seemed to understand that every sandwich made and every snack bag packed was going to eventually reach the hands of a person, maybe even another kid, who was hungry and didn’t have another way to get food like this.  There are no doubt many complexities about poverty and hunger that our kids don’t understand, but they expressed joy at knowing they were helping people in need.

We drove separately because I had some work to do downtown after they left for home.  Lorelei (my wife) called my from the car shortly after we went our separate ways.  She was thrilled to report that as the navigation system announced a right turn on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard our youngest young one shouted from the back, “Mommy, Mommy…King Jr.!”

She was so proud that the big guy was aware and excited to share his awareness of Dr. King.  I’m proud to.  A simple thing to be proud of.  A piece of a much larger puzzle.  A start at the start of a life journey. 

Who knows how deep the awareness runs.  It’s hard to say what connections he makes from himself to Dr. King, and to the potential of a non-violent, compassionate, character-laden, generous, mindful life peppered with efforts at increasing social justice.

Might our expressed pride and excitement alone be a driver of some Dr. King modeling seeping in to him, mixing with the rest of his unique stuff and possibly enhancing the way forward?  

How about the combination of packing a few sandwiches and snack bags for kids in need in combination with the mention of Dr. King’s work around social justice?  

How do we make sure that an exclamation of, “King Jr.!” at the mention of Dr. King’s name translates in to some actionable, healthy, meaningful, rich learning and growth for our youngest kid and his siblings?  Can we?  Maybe we can’t officially make sure of anything.  Maybe that’s where trying and progress come in.

Maybe we simply keep doing the best we can and continue to hope, and push for better around each corner.

I imagine Dr. King might have counseled us that every little piece of the compassion puzzle is critical and meaningful.  

I suspect he might have not asked us to strive for his exact likeness but rather for some of his likenesses that connect us and connect to us.  

My understanding is that Dr. King understood potential as reflective progress peppered with hope, with grit, and with faith.  I gather he hoped we might each become the truest versions of our unique selves on a foundation of healthy, meaningful choices in and among the many challenges he knew we would each face.  I believe he had faith in each of us to get it done, too…to each eventually fulfill our unique potential with compassion, kindness, and justice in mind.

I take joy a great deal of joy in seeing each of my kids’ character unfold.  

When a “King Jr. moment” comes along, that joy permeates my hope and I viscerally feel that, while challenging, complex, and often times confusing and worrisome, this world is holistically headed in the right direction.  Consistently two steps forward and one step back as it goes, a delicate and frustrating dance in many ways and much of the time, but in the right direction nonetheless. 

If the best I can do is keep trying I intend to.  If the most I can offer is the sensing of light around me and the choice to share my sense of it with others, that might have to be enough.  Maybe it actually is.  When I fail to do so I try to dust myself off and give it another go.  If nothing else, maybe I can count those try’s and the connect actions as my own “King Jr. moments” and possibly, in some small way, serve as a conduit from Dr. King to the kids I serve.

We can’t each be everything, but we can each be something, and if we can learn from legends like Dr. King, and in turn from one another, we can each be proud of the something we each are and the something we are each progressively becoming.  

Unique and similar, we are truly each something great when we stay strong in choosing to be something we understand as something good.

In it together for the kids.

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.