Category: Health & Wellbeing

Breathe. All We Have Is Now. Relax. UR OK.

Breathe. All we have is now. Relax. UR OK.

This is the message on one of the many sculptures along the path of “The Walk of Art” sculpture park (“Art Rapids”) in our lovely downtown Elk Rapids – about five minutes from the farm. If you’re a northern Michigan enthusiast and you haven’t been to the sculpture park, I recommend you put it on the itinerary for an upcoming trip. It’s wonderful. 

One of the features of the park are these intermittent offshoots of roadsigns, with messages of hope, love and inspiration. One is a stop sign that reads, “Start” instead of “Stop.”

Another is a “One Way” sign that’s not rectangular but heart-shaped, indicating that the only way is love.

Still another articulates the foundational message of this post. 

Breathe. All we have is now. Relax. UR OK.

I like the message, and given that I’ve always viewed life as a journey, I like that it’s being broadcast from a road sign in this case.

Another important feature of the park (at least during our visit a few weekends ago) was an overwhelming multitude of what I’ve come to learn are called Oak Leafrolllers. 

Oak Leafrollers are the tiny green worms that hang by threads of silk from oak trees. During this particular trip to the park it was as if we were transported into an Oak Leafroller obstacle coarse. They were everywhere.

The more we focused on the little tree climbing critters the more they seemed to multiply. We realized that they were on our clothes and in our hair. As we walked on we felt them on our arms and worried that they were getting into our ears and mouths. Phantom tickles and itches overtook us.

We began to duck and run. Then we rolled and crawled through the pathways of the woods like highly skilled military operatives. Finally, we ran faster then ever before, bobbing and weaving as we went. Occasionally one of us would grab another, sometimes dropping to the ground, frantically wiping and patting the other clean from these great green silk monsters before scrambling to our feet to flee some more. 

Some of us were laughing with such uncontrolled enthusiasm that tears were streaming down our faces (that was primarily me and Lorelei – some proud parenting moments), while others had streaming tears as a result of the deep, genuine and unabashed fear-based crying they had succumb to in the face of this newfound tiny-worm terror (the kids were getting pretty excited about the sheer volume of leafrollers – the woods were dense with them). It was pretty close to utter chaos by the time we reached the car.

What’s worse, the leafrollers had sent battalions of their kinsmen to cover our car while we were fighting for dear life to avoid them on the forest battlefield. 

We had to expertly navigate our way into the vehicle without letting them overtake us (of heaven forbid, get inside). The danger persisted. Some hung on for dear life as we drove away. We promised the kids that the wind would blow the rest off. It didn’t. We watched through the windows in terror as the strongest and most persistent among them clung on, taunting us the entire way to the farm. 

In the end we survived the vicious attack of completely harmless, tiny little bugs to whom we were not doubt the most menacing, hideous and gigantic creatures imaginable…but only by the skin of our teeth.

Later, I looked them up on the internet. Turns out, collectively, they’re described as a nuisance. Curious. Really they’re just trying to eat some oak leaves, build cocoons, and morph miraculously into moths. 

I wondered if maybe we were actually the collective nuance in this particular situation. You know, because we ran around screaming at them, swatting them with sticks, swiping them around, ripping them from their silk lifelines and violently disrupting their beautiful, natural course with unfettered  rage. Just a wonder I had. 

It made me think about perspective. As parents and educators we often find ourselves in situations that are frustrating, and even unsettling. The Great Berg Oak Leafroller Battle of 2021 reminded me that thoughtful, compassionate reflection can serve us, and those around us well. 

When we take the time and make the effort to relax into the moments of our lives, whether or not we understand them immediately, we seem more likely to be able to enlist our capacity for calm, and as a result, we seem more likely to navigate the ebbs and the flows with strength and empathy. 

Whether we’re being attached by tiny floating worms or facing the bumpy road of child raising, calm hearts and minds tend to win the day, for all involved.

So as we continue together, if you can…breathe. All we have is now, and if you are able…relax. UR OK.

Thank you for reaching…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

The Fourth Best Soccer Player In The Fifth Grade

The other day when I got home from work our 6-year-old came running while simultaneously asking me to, “Guess what happened at school!”

I hand’t a clue, but I was certainly curious.

The words burst out of his mouth, “I stole the ball from the fourth best soccer player in the fifth grade!”

He and his fifth grade brother gave each other a high five with huge grins on their faces. Lorelei reminded him it was a good thing that we didn’t “take it easy” on him during the family soccer game at the farm last weekend (even thought he asked us to). She suggested that playing full steam with his fifth grade brother may have helped him become the new fourth best player in the fifth grade…as a first grader. He smiled even bigger. 

This is a kid who insisted he did not want to play soccer. Conversely, Lorelei and I have insisted that all of our kids play recreational soccer. Whether or not they want to continue after the first couple of years is up to them. We believe the game is a great onramp into organized sports for all kids. At the recreational level it’s really about running around and having fun, and they get to have experiences with coaching and teamwork in loving, kind spaces.

This is our 6-year-old’s first season and he’s rocking it. After his reluctance to join up, he quickly found a place on the team and a place in his heart for the game. Now, he’s running with the pack, developing skills and having tons of fun each week. In the beginning, we could hardly get him to take the field for practice. 

It was the same with piano lessons (another non-non-negotiable for the Berg kids). His energy around that weekly torment continues to ebb and flow. Ironically, he’s doing great in both endeavors. “Great” meaning engaged and demonstrating growth and intermittent joy around that growth. He’s learning to understand himself as a learner on the piano and on the soccer field, and that’s the name of the game as we sed it. He’s regularly feeling a sense of accomplishment, which research shows is good for health and well-being. 

Throughout the year there are plenty of wonderful events and activities available to our kids. I would suggest that it’s important to give them gentle nudges from time to time, and to help guide them through the resilience it takes to stay with short and long term goals, and community/team commitments. 

Keep an eye out for programs and events for kids, have conversations to determine interest, approach those conversations with enthusiasm, push a bit when you see a spark, and be a guide through the challenges that kids face along pathways to progress as they learn the range of critical skills that will no doubt transfer to a multure of areas in school, work and life.

Community and school programs are safe and caring spaces for kids to make mistakes, experience and build through failures and successes, and problem solve around challenges and celebrate triumphs. Who knows, they may even find themselves becoming the fourth best soccer player in the fifth grade! 

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Shadowy Movement And Sound

Today I’m writing from the farm. The farm is about four hours north of Detroit. Lorelei and I took the kids up to see if we could get a glimpse of some colors starting to change and to lake some long, slow, deep breaths after another stretch filled with busy weekdays. The colors are starting to change but not quite popping, and the long slow breaths are as easy as every to take on the farm. 

During the past three or four trips to the farm we’ve been hearing what sounds like a relative large animal bounding about in the woods behind the farmhouse. We walk the trail system a couple times each day. The woods are dense, and until today, I haven’t been able to catch a proper glimpse of the creature that seems to be squatting on our property (or maybe we’re squatting on his). From the sounds and the shadowy movements I have been able to hear and see, I’m guessing it’s a big deer. My goal has been to get eyes squarely on the big guy…maybe even a recognizable picture or two. 

This morning I went out with our 10-year-old. We heard him…and then, for the first time, we saw him. He was far away and all but hidden by some thick brush, but we saw him. 

Upon hearing us coming he leapt in a zigzag motion, through the woods and away. He leapt amazingly high and turned with incredible precision. So much so, that when the kid reported back to his siblings he told them we saw gazelle. What good fortune for us. I don’t suppose there are many gazelle sightings in northern Michigan. A fun story, though.  

Regardless, after dozens of nature walks, over a period of multiple visits, with a singular goal in mind, we were able to move the needle forward on our goal. Our quest continues. This injection of energy is just what we needed to keep the momentum going, the mystery and excitement tangible, and the possibility alive. It wasn’t today and it may not be during our next visit to the farm, but we’re confident that eventually we will meet up with our bouncy, shadowy friend – hopefully from a distance, but meet up nonetheless. 

Through this experience I’m reminded of what it is to learn, for myself, for the many adult partners with whom I collaborate each day, and for the wonderful kids we serve. As we come to understand ourselves and one another, sparks of knowing swirl in our minds alongside the sparks of excitement that swirl in our hearts. 

I’m getting to know the woods at the farm. Through exploration and focused interest, I’ve come to realize that a friend seems to be living there. I’m excited to meet that friend and working to do so with intentionality. It’s the same feeling I get when I discover a pathway to learning, whether it’s my own pathway or a pathway the comes to light around the learning of another. As an educator and a parent, the hint of a pathway can propel me forward with the magical anticipation of possibility…as I believe it can for any growth minded person. 

Once we’re set in motion, visions and goals can unfold. When we know that something is possible, we can shift from imagination to eventuality. One of the challenges we face with eventuality it that it can be waiting around the corner or it can surface three years from now. Either way, with patience, persistence, knowledge and faith, we can traverse any learning pathway we set out upon. 

Sometimes we see shadowy movements along the way, sometimes we get glimpses of outcomes, and sometimes we find ourselves staring at crossroads marking the end of one journey and the beginning of another. In any case, it is our job to hold true to course, bobbing and weaving with the ebbs and flows, and putting one foot in front fo the other for ourselves and the children we serve. 

Each In Our Own Way (An Equity-Based Reflection On Helping Our Children Connect With, Appreciate And Love Those Who Look, Think, And Act In Vastly Different Ways From Them)

*The names I’m using in this reflection are not the actual names of any children involved. I’m using alternate names to protect privacy. 

Confusion, Worry And Fear

A few weeks into the new school year our youngest child, a six-year-old starting first grade, came home from school with a troubled mind. I could see that he was deep in thought. As we went about our typical after school routine he presented as worried and distracted. 

Before long he asked if he could speak with me alone. We went outside together, where he began to reluctantly unfold a story of two children at his school with special needs. As he told me about the kids, tears formed in his eyes.

First he told me about being scared. In his words, he said that Brandon was aggressive on the playground. He told me that he sees Brandon approaching kids and insisting on playing with them in ways that frightened him. 

He said that Brandon gets physical with kids; that he uses his hands and his body in ways that make him nervous and uncomfortable; that Brandon communicates in ways that are different from how the typically functioning kids he’s used to playing with communicate, and that he’s worried about having to confront the potential eventuality of Brandon approaching him on the playground. In his way, he asked for permission to not have to engage with Brandon as school.

Knowing our child, I could see the internal struggle that this ask, and this need presented for him. He’s an empathic, compassionate person. I could see him wishing he didn’t feel this way, feeling bad about himself, and feeling bad for Brandon. 

My Brain Won’t Let Me 

Next he told me about Marvin. He told me that Marvin is in his class. He said he could see that Marvin needs friends but doesn’t have any. He told me he’s not scared of Marvin because Marvin doesn’t behave in ways that frighten him, but in ways that demonstrate his struggles with communication and socialization. He told me that he thinks he could be the friend Marvin needs, but that whenever he thinks about becoming Marvin’s friend, his brain won’t let him. 

No two children are the same. That said, most children’s unique qualities don’t overtly differentiate them from the group. At least not in the eyes their peers. Most children, regardless of gender, learning style, energy level, interests, developmental readiness, capacity for age-appropriate communication, and lived experiences don’t stand out in ways that make them unapproachable. Brandon and Marvin are both visibly unique from most other kids. 

As parents, guardians and educators, we can tune in to subtle and explicit differences between children. Children, with their concrete, relatively inexperienced world views, tend to be less adept at identifying subtle differences, and they tend to be hyper aware of explicit ones. 

To no fault of their own, children tend to notice when other children behave in ways that appear “out of the ordinary,” and because they don’t have the knowledge or experience to process why a peer would look and sound so different, they can easily fall into worry and even fear around socializing with kids who they identify as acutely different.

Our child’s description of the struggle he’s experiencing around wanting, and attempting to support a friend with special needs (“my brain won’t let me”), tells us a lot about a critical and persistent social emotional challenge felt by all of children.

We know that, like our child, both Brandon and Marvin need to experience genuine friendships. We know that developing genuine friendships with people who present as different from us, whether vastly or subtly, is mutually beneficial. 

We also know that diminishing classroom, school and community cultures can quickly and easily (while often unknowingly and inadvertently) be built around kids who’s communication and behavior are outside of the norm. This is an incredibly important point for parents, guardians and educators to be aware of as we work hard to listen to and guide our children around challenges that surface at school. 

When children come home with negative reports and concerns about their peers, we can help them focus on an “each in our own way” lens by exploring context with them. We can remind them that each person views the world in a unique way, based on who they are and what they’ve experienced, and that our abilities and world-views tend to guide our thoughts, feelings and actions. 

We can teach them that we’re all learning all the time, and that generally, people want to do good things and be nice. When our friends aren’t being their best selves it can often be because they don’t know how, or because they’re hurting. Sometimes it’s challenging, but patience, understanding and kindness can help.

Positive classroom, school and community cultures can lift kids up and build bridges to health and achievement, while negative classroom, school and community cultures, pointedly focused on the expressions and actions of a particular child, can deteriorate that child’s self image, limit their potential, and engrain increased worry and fear in others. 

Fortunately, as parents, guardians and educators, we have the power to perpetuate change in this area, to build paradigms of understanding around diversity, to help our children uncover the inherent foundations of compassion that exist within each of them, to drive equity, and in doing so, to enhance their lives and the world in which we all live.

Not Answers…Opportunities

When we teach our children to embrace diversity, to move toward rather than away from that which is different and/or unknown to them, to be reflective in their processing of communication and interactions with others, to consider multiple perspectives, to seek understanding (even through worry and fear), and to pull from kindness where frustration persists, we give them opportunities to expand their horizons. 

When we guide children through problem solving in any area we provide them with safe, supportive spaces to grapple with specific challenges.  When we give children safe, supportive spaces to grapple with specific challenges we provide them with experiences that can support the development of their ability to grapple with other challenges. 

Children become better problem solvers when they have our permission to work on solving the problems that are in front of them. Along with that permission, they benefit from our support, our love and our guidance.

A Solid Foundation For A Lifelong Journey

Our child continues to tell me that he’s nervous around Brandon and that he still hasn’t approached Marvin or become his friend. He also continues to tell me that he thinks he can be the friend that Marvin needs. 

The other day he told me that he thinks the first step will be introducing himself. He said, “We’ve never even met…maybe if we met we would become friends.”  He’s outlined multiple pathways to officially meeting Marvin, from asking his teacher to introduce them to approaching him on the playground. He continues to grapple and I continue to support. 

I don’t have the answers. While I hope they do, they may never become friends. I nudge but I don’t push. I listen and I affirm the reality of swirling emotions. I don’t know how to ease the intensity of those emotions or impart a sense of comfort around this or any of the multitude of difficult childhood challenges. 

I do know that every child is living a life in which developing skills of compassion, along with the skills needed to communicate, collaborate, and otherwise engage with one another, is a potential pathway to increased joy and balance for them and for those who they meet along the way. 

I know that we serve children well when we drive cultures of acceptance in our classrooms, school and communities, and aid our children in understanding that they can and should love and embrace others, even those who behave in ways that confuse and worry them. 

When we help them see that the personalities, inherent capacities and lived experiences of those around them contribute to their thoughts, feelings and actions, we help them put behavior into context and better manage their  interactions and relationships.

As with all challenging journeys, the complex pathways of supporting our children’s positive progress and well-being are long and winding, they’re sometimes shrouded in mist, and they’re often confusing. I would suggest that an “each in our own way” lens is solid foundation for achieving healthy outcomes, for them and for us.

Some Strategies For Coping With Anxiety

This is a uniquely challenging time. We’ve been engaged in a new type of uncertainty for a while now. Information comes in waves, and often in pieces. Parents, guardians and educators have been charged with putting those pieces together day by day and moment by moment…and to our credit, we’ve done so in ways that have kept our kids safe and balanced. It has not been easy task.

If you’re like me you have good moments and not so good moments. Some of the questions we have to ask ourselves have no “right” answers and some of the directions we have to go in have really winding roads, with hazards that are shrouded in mist until they’re directly in front of us. 

If you’re like me you’ve been able to celebrate some wonderful successes over the days, the weeks, and the years…and you also stumble, fumble, crash hard into walls and find yourself filled with worry at times. Our kids are everything. Keeping them safe, healthy and learning is priority number one.

For us, and for our kids, these strange days come along with increased levels of stress. Anxiety is real and it’s present at varying degrees among adults and children alike. As we walk this path together, I would suggest that staying mindful of the presence of anxiety in ourselves and in the kids we serve is one way to perpetuate the safety, health and learning.

I came across this TED Talk the other night. It focuses on coping with anxiety. This is the link: How to cope with anxiety (Olivia Remes) 

The message may resonate with you or it may not. I understand that while we are all living through a pandemic, we’re each living experiences that are unique to us. Whether or not you identify with Remes’ message, I believe the strategies she outlines can provide fodder for reflection, and possibly some tools to help as you work to find joy and balance in these uncertain days, for you and for your kids.

Do It Badly

It’s easy to get stuck under the weight of these intense challenges. We want so badly to do things the “right” way for our selves and for our kids. We want, and we need to get it “right” so intensely that sometimes it’s difficult to put one foot in front of the other. When that happens, we can try to remember that taking action, even if we get it “wrong” at first, can be better than staying in a rut. Remes suggests that one way to mitigate the anxiety of any moment is to plow forward. Take action. When you set yourself in motion you can give yourself momentum. One foot in front of the other. If you can muster the strength, get started and adjust along the way.

Forgive Yourself

No one is perfect. As we struggle with the challenges associated with really tough times and uncomfortable feelings, we experience ebbs and flows. In order to make it through the ebbs and into the flows we’ve got to treat ourselves with kindness. When you stumble, fumble, crash into walls and worry, shake it off as quickly as possible. Show yourself the grace that’s needed to keep moving forward. Don’t dwell in the past. Don’t dwell in any moment. If you can practice forgiving yourself for the missteps, you may find that the positive steps forward come with greater ease and efficiency.

Find Meaning by Helping Others

While self-care is critically important for our well-being, it can also be important to take breaks from a focus on ourselves in order to find, and truly experience meaning, especially when high levels of stress turn that focus to the negative, which can be frequently during uniquely challenging times. We can find strength in the compassionate work we’re doing for our kids and for one another. When we lift one another up and hone in on spreading joy with kindness and intentionality, we tend to feel enhanced positive emotion, which has the power to mitigate some of the harmful, anxiety producing impacts of the layers of trauma that exist within and all around us. 

In many ways, we’re living through the same “storm,” however, we’re each doing so in “boats” that are unique to our specific experiences. These strategies may be easier for some to enact and more difficult for others. You may find them connected to your world view and you may not. My hope is that, whatever you’re experiencing and however your responding those experiences, Remes’ suggestions can bring you some pause for reflection, some confront in the “storm,” and some ability to work through the particular challenges you’re facing, on behalf of yourself, each other and the kids we serve. 

Don’t forget that you’re surrounded by people who care. There is strength in community. As you reflect on your daily practice and on your progress, remember that we are always stronger together. Turn to those around you for support, practice projecting grace in every direction along the way, and stay in motion. The truth is, we’re doing incredible things…and we got this!

Intentionally Letting The Learning Unfold

At the start of the school year it’s important to remember that we’re on a journey with each child, that learning and growth take time, that we have one another to reply on for support and collaboration, and that there is no “right” path, but rather, that we have to navigate the twists and turns with an eye on how they impact each of us and how they impact each of the kids we serve. 

Our youngest child had his first soccer practice this week. Each of our four kids have played, or is currently playing recreational soccer. It’s been a wonderful way to get them engaged in a collaborative space, it’s helped develop social and problem solving skills, it’s perpetuated the strengthening of courage and character, and it’s been fun. Each of our three older kids seemed excited to sign up from the earliest discussions. This one was reluctant. 

In the beginning, when we started bringing up that he could play soccer soon, he told us that he didn’t want to. He said that he wasn’t good at soccer, that he wasn’t fast and that he didn’t like it. He told us that he wasn’t going to play. We didn’t push too hard, but we did push a bit, and we worked to find examples in every day life of why those things weren’t true. 

We’d see him running in the yard and point out how fast he was. We’d watch him kicking the ball around with his siblings and express all kinds of excitement and awe over his “incredible soccer skills!” We’d point out the joy we saw him experiencing when he was playing in informal settings. Eventually he acquiesced. We got him signed up. 

At the start of practice he barely moved. I introduced him to the coach. He responded to a brief line of questioning with some pretty subtle head nods and stood almost motionless on the field while the majority of the other 6-year-olds tossed and twisted around like little kids do. He was the only one wearing a mask. I told him he could take it off. He told me that he didn’t want people to see his face. The coach was running practice games. He pretty much stood still for the first 10-15 minutes. It was a slow start.

I was supportive. I didn’t redirect him by shouting from the sidelines. When he looked over I smiled and gave him a thumbs up, truly not knowing if that was the “right” things to do. Eventually, he began to move slowly, pushing the ball around the field with minimal force and very little enthusiasm. Then there was more, and in time even more, until he was almost fully engaged in a game of soccer freeze tag. I could see he was starting to enjoy himself and that he was appreciating being at practice.

Then the scrimmage began. Still wearing the mask, he decided to try his hand at goalie. Right off the bat the other team scored. My heart sank. I thought that would be the end of it. When he looked over I gave him another thumbs up and a few encouraging claps. He slowly crept out of the goalie position and moved up to forward. I was hanging on for dear life, hoping for a miracle. 

The whistle sounded, the kids pounced on the ball, and he came out with it in front of him. He ran, he kicked, he out maneuvered the defense, he made his way to the net with the ball still in front of him, he shot…he scored!

Kids called his name, they cheered, they gave him high fives…thank goodness! The next time he looked over at me I gave him another thumbs up, some more encouraging claps, and once again I motioned that he could take his mask off. This time he did. Low and behold, when he did, there was really big, genuine smile underneath it. 

Each in their own time and in their own way…that’s how kids learn. As parents and educators it’s our job to provide them with information, opportunities, grace and guidance. We don’t always get it “right,” and sometimes the love we have for our kids drives us to want to move learning along faster that it wants to move along. We should give ourselves grace, too…after all, we’re doing the best we can. 

The beginning of a new school year can be as stressful as it is exciting. Patents and educators need to stay connected, exhaust every dialogue, trust one another and remember that we are in it together for the kids. With patience and intentionality, each of them will get to where they need to be, in their own time. 

Every child is unique and every step is meaningful. There is no “right way” or “right time,” there is only seeking to understand one another and each child as an individual, digging deep into their unique personalities and needs, and doing our best to help them find joy and balance in every every moment. Its a journey. 

Now I have to find a way to help the kid understand that it’s not only about scoring goals. But that’s for another day. We’ll enjoy this moment for a while. One step at a time. 

Feel How Fast My Heart Is Beeping

Dreams. Goals. Ambitions. We all have them. Some feel far fetched. Others feel attainable with varying degrees of difficulty. Human beings have the capacity to do incredible things – “incredible” being relative. I believe in limitless possibilities when vision and courage align in right moments.   

When we know ourselves well enough we can determine how, and in what directions to push ourselves. It’s pretty cool to find accomplishment at the end of a deep dig that breaks a sweat on our brow and has us wondering, if only for a moment, whether or not we could do it. 

Knowing, believing, stretching, and having faith through challenges and triumphs, can all enhance whatever path we find yourself on. 

Our community pool has a policy that only kids who complete “the deep water test” can use the diving board. It’s a right of passage. It has been since I was a kid. I’ve now had the pleasure of watching all four of our children pass it. Most recently, our youngest. He’s six.

It was our first day at the “the pool” in long time. We skipped last summer because of COVID. The kids were thrilled to be back. The older siblings quickly found their friends and set up in various favorite spots: the deep-end wall (good for seeing who can touch the bottom first), the shallow end (good for playing in the fountains or pretending to be sharks), and the middle of the pool (where they leap around throwing, catching, and diving for water toys, and occasionally playing “sea monster”). 

`The youngest, yet to complete “the deep water test,” grabbed my hand and said, “Daddy, can you come with me to practice?”

“Of course,” I replied.

Practice he did. We spent some time repeatedly swimming the length of the pool without stopping, without touching the wall, and without hanging on the lane lines. He didn’t even need to use the roll over technique for breathing. The kid was ready.

After practicing for a while he turned to me, with a huge smile on his face, and he said, “Feel how fast my heart is beeping!”

He took my hand, placed it over his heart, and reiterated, “See!”

I did. His heart was “beeping” pretty darn fast. The smile on his face was the kind that couldn’t be helped, the kind you can’t cover up – no matter how hard you try. Genuine joy.

He was beside himself with excitement. The enthusiasm was brimming over. He knew he was ready. He was savoring the feeling. The anticipation of well earned accomplishment was sweeping over him and permeating every fiber of his being. I asked if he wanted me to get a lifeguard so that he could take the test. He told me, “Not yet.”

He took my hand and lead me to the water slide. We each rode the slid about half a dozen times. All the while, the smile remained on his face. 

I saw him glaring over to the lap lanes each time he climbed the stairs to the slide launch. He was allowing for a long lead up so that he could simmer in the anticipation and excitement. He knew he could do it. He enjoyed the feeling of his fast “beeping” heart. He was living in the moment, a moment he would never get to experience again. Once he completed “the deep water test” he would never have to take it again. A milestone. A right of passage. 

When he was ready he complete it with ease. Then, he walked me directly to the diving board and initiated the next challenge  – jumping off. He asked me to watch carefully and be ready to jump in if he needed me. I was ready. A fast “beeping” heart once again.  

I read this quote the other day: “Life’s journey is not to arrive safely at the grave in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Wow…what a ride!’”

When we love with open hearts and minds, when we offer support and encouragement, and when we learn, grow and celebrate through challenges and triumphs, we serve our kids well.

In it together for the kids!

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

End of The Year Message to My School Community: “The Start”

For the past couple of weeks we’ve been thinking and talking about the end of the school year.  Some of us count the days, some of us try to slow the time so that we can “get everything done,” and some of us simply reflect. Each in our own way, we take it one step at a time. It’s a yearly journey that none of us can, or would want to avoid.

For me, it’s bittersweet. Bitter because in a couple of days I will no longer be starting each morning alongside hundred of students and dozens of colleagues whose company I so greatly enjoy. Not for a while, anyway. For a while, things will be different. Slow, steady, and peaceful, but different. Summer breaks come with a shortage of daily challenges. Relaxing, however, the daily challenges of school leadership are also daily opportunities for problem solving, which fuels me. It keep me on my toes, sharp, thinking fast, and it keeps me collaborating with a bunch of people I respect, appreciate and admire. 

There’s a sweetness to slowing down, and we all know that absence makes the heart grow fonder, which is why year after year we also feel the incredible excitement of the beginning of the school year as summer wanes. 

I don’t view this time as an ending, and I would suggest that others might benefit by considering that lens as well. We do have to cross the threshold, and that crossing brings real emotion. I recommend letting yourself feel whatever it is you feel, and as you do, prepare to make the most of what is also the start of something that can be wonderful. 

Try to step into summer break with as much enthusiasm as possible. Spend as much time as you can with family and friends. Get enough sleep. Read books about things that interest you. Work with your hands. Go for long walks. Sail and swim whenever you come across bodies of water. Be present in each moment.

Enjoy the start of summer break. Each of us has earned it. We’ve run a marathon like never before. It’s time to take really good care of ourselves and those we love.  

With my deepest gratitude on behalf of myself and the students we serve…here’s to a joyful and balanced summer break!

In it together for the kids!

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

My Wife Is A Wonderful Person

My wife is a wonderful person.

Currently, she’s leading a shoe drive. You can read about it here:

I’ve never lead a shoe drive. She’s leading one…and it’s helping a lot of people, brining a lot of people together, and strengthening a community by way of their shared interests and core values. 

My wife is a wonderful person. 

Let’s take a step back, though. 

In the mornings, she makes sure that all ten of us have everything we need for a successful and fulfilling day. Herself, our four dogs, our four kids and me (and not in that order). Everyday, we each head to where we’re going, fully equipped to do the things we need to do…because of my wife. 

My wife is a wonderful person.

Often, our kids aren’t sure what they want for lunch. She works with them until they come to some sort of agreement. “Works with them” being a rather loose phrase for how the process goes. Our kids are kind and loving, however, they occasionally ignore my wife in the morning (and midday, and in the afternoon, and in the evening…we’re working on it). So, my wife has to exercise an incredible amount of patience in order to get things going, and she does. 

And get this, they always have balanced lunches…and not just balanced lunches, but balanced with things that each one of them will eat. One of them seems to like grapes along side turkey that’s rolled up with cheese, and some yogurt, and carrot sticks, and another one seems to like turkey on little Hawaiian buns, next to cucumbers (cut in half the long way), with a cheese stick and some watermelon, while yet another one seems to be partial to sun-butter and jelly (or something like that). I think our six-year-old’s preference is left over tikka masala. Who knows. My wife does. 

My wife a wonderful person. 

Getting us out of the house and fed is one thing. In and of itself, I can’t imagine how it’s done. I mean, I can roll turkey and cheese, make a sandwich, and even put tikka masala in a thermos, that’s not where my inability to imagine the ordeal is rooted. It’s that when I think about coordinating it all for myself, five other people and four dogs, and making each one happy, it seems an unlikely, if not an impossible task. When she does it (every day), it doesn’t even look like she’s struggling. Amazing. 

My wife is a wonderful person.

During the day, I sometimes call my wife. I need her to help me problem solve, I need to share my thinking with her, and sometimes I need to vent. How does that help her, you may ask? Actually, it doesn’t. She takes time out of her days to help me. She listens, she supports, she reminds me that I’m capable, and she celebrates my progress. 

I often call her on my way home, too. She get’s to listen to me talk while she’s managing endless after school activities like homework, snacks, playdates, and piano lessons. Lucky? Not exactly. Wonderful? Precisely.

For over a year, she’s been doing everything she always does, personally and professionally, while also making sure that our four kids (ages 6 to 11) have remained engaged in school and progressing, nourished, balanced, physically active, spiritually connected, and extremely comfortable by any standard, let along for a bunch of people in a pandemic, relegated to each other’s space all day…every day. 

My wife is a wonderful person.

My wife is the well regarded and highly respected Executive Director of our synagogue. Alone, what she does in that role is really unbelievable. She pours her heart and her soul into it, she always has our spiritual community in mind, and she’s constantly thinking about ideas and implement programs to enhance the lives of each individual who’s in any way connected…while also extending thoughtfulness, compassion, and grace to people in all spaces of the greater Detroit area, throughout Michigan, across the country and out into the world, with her professional influence, business acumen and leadership prowess. She does all of this in collaboration with the many wonderful partners she listens to, learns from and leads so fluidly. They all seem to really like her, too…and rightfully so. She’s likable and lovely.

My wife is a wonderful person.

From morning to night, my wife takes care of everything and everyone in her path. I don’t know when she takes care of herself, but strangely, she never seems to suffer from compassion fatigue. She wakes up and goes to sleep highly productive, efficient and nurturing. I’m essentially a bump on a log, and yet, she continues to let me hang around. 

My wife is a wonderful person.

When my wife reads this, she will push back. She will insist that we’re partners, that she’s not carrying the weight completely independently, that she’s imperfect and makes mistakes, that she’s got “a lot to learn” and “a long way to go,” and she may even make the absurd suggestion that I, too, have some function in perpetuating the blessed life we’re living. She will downplay her brilliance, her merit and her accomplishments – as wonderful people often do. 

I will ignore her, and that’s ok…she’s used to it.

My wife is wonderful person.

Lorelei, you have my love, respect and gratitude, now and forever. Happy Mother’s day 2021!

The Perfect Time to be Nice


We were at the playground, deep into a game in which I was an ogre, our 6-yr-old was my ogre kid, and the big brothers (9-yr-old and 11-year-old) were humans we were chasing. The goal was to catch them so that we could eat them for dinner. 

We were having a blast, running up and down playground structures, jumping, sliding, climbing poles, swinging on ropes, and growling. 

The engagement was high and the excitement was palpable. It was one of those games, where every once in a while a bust of energy shot through you and you burst into high speed. We were at if for two and a half hours before something interesting happened (our 6-yr-old can most often be counted on for something interesting – the others too, for that matter). 

The big brothers were several yards away, on the top of a hill. They were taunting us with some general, “Na, na, na, na, na’s” and their fingers were in the shape of “L’s” on their foreheads. Enough was enough for the kid ogre.

He turned to me and said, “They’re being so mean.”

Even thought they were just playing, he felt it. It was a game, but he felt sad that they were being so mean. Instead of crying, pouting, or quitting, he said, “This is the perfect time to be nice.”

I asked him what he meant by that. He explained. 

Now that we know what it feels like when someone isn’t nice to you, we should be nice to them, so that they don’t have to feel that way. He suggested that, instead of running after them, trying to catch them and eat them for dinner, maybe we should try to get them to be our guests for dinner, and eat vegetables.

The suggestion didn’t sound as fun to the big guys, so we compromised. I would still chase them, trying to catch and eat them, but my ogre kid would try to convince me to befriend the humans and become a vegetarian. Still fun, and we still got to pretend that someone was in danger of being cooked and eaten – a favored play theme among my kids.

We stayed a while longer and continued to have excited fun. 

Later that evening came to me with a big smile (that he was attempting to conceal) and said, “I had a lot of fun playing today.”

I said, “So did I, buddy.”

He said, “Ya, it was a really special time.”

My heart melted. We hugged. I would have liked for that moment to last forever, but as you know, they don’t (one of the reasons I write about them).

Here’s the thing…he’s was so right. When people are not being nice to you, it may actually be the perfect time to be nice to them. It’s healing. Even if they don’t appreciate it in the moment (or ever), it’s healing for you.

Najwa Zebian said, “Today I decided to forgive you, not because you apologized or because you acknowledged the pain you caused me, but because my soul deserves peace.”

Being mean is toxic. Being unkind is uncomfortable and stressful. Being hurtful is frustrating, and it diminishes well-being for both the hurtful and the hurt…both end up hurting.

Being kind is freeing. Being pleasant is elevating. Being friendly uplifts. Being nice is…well, it’s nice. 

We should be nice. In fact, anytime, and all the time, may be the perfect time to be nice. 

Thanks, buddy – you always know just how to deliver the message I need, in the moment I need it. I love you and I love learning from you.

In it together for the kids.

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