Sometimes I Kick Myself (And I’m Ok With It)

I often feel that I’m much better principal than I am a dad.  I never (and would never) shout at school, and to be clear, I don’t go around the house shouting all the time, but over the course of ten year and four kids I’ve been there.

I kick myself when I shout at our kids.  When my frustrations bubble over and burst through it feels like I’m failing.  

The reality is that there are times I need to step away from being Dad and be alone for bit.  There I times I just need to be me, quietly, calmly, and in isolation.  I need time outs.  

In those moment, those thoughts, actions, feelings and words are tough to process and I’m really hard on myself.  The fact is, I love our kids dearly and I show them that love each day, even when I’m not at my best.  I couldn’t live without them and I wouldn’t trade my life with them for anything.  Parent tend to be really hard on themselves for being human.  I’m no exception. 

I don’t think raising kids is about stifling our emotions or energy.  Instead, I think it’s about continuously working to enhance our ability to regulate and restore, and maybe even more importantly, I think it’s about being open, honest, transparent, and compassionate about who and what we are.  

I think our kids benefit from experiencing our humanity if we’re intentional about providing them a comprehensive and developmentally appropriate view, with the communication and support for processing it.

I read an article this weekend that highlights Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills in a way that really connects with the core values that Lorelei and I share.  The author starts with, “Social and emotional learning (SEL) skills aren’t core content but they’re the core of all content.”

We’ve had, and continue to have lots of dialogue around SEL in our home.  The consistent theme is that there’s nothing more important to than giving our kids tools and strategies for managing their emotions and their relationships, and providing them with modeling and opportunities to practice regulating and restoring as we celebrate the triumphs and face the challenges together.

We use the Zones of Regulation (http://www.zonesofregulation.com). Being a Hero at school (or being your best self at home) in every Zone is the baseline for everything else we do.  The reality that all of us, kids and adults alike, sometimes find ourselves in each of the four Zones of Regulation (BLUE – sad with low energy, GREEN – focused and ready to learn, YELLOW – worried or silly, and RED – angry with “out of control” energy) binds us with common threads and makes it possible for us to connect with our kids as we tread the SEL path together.

Transparency is critical along the path.  As we shift through the Zones throughout each day we talk with kids about our practice.  We work hard to demonstrate the difference between being a frustrated person and simply being frustrated, being an angry person and being just angry, being a sad person and being sad in the moment. 

When we share our stories with our kids, and with one another we make visible, and open minds and hearts to tools and strategies that have the potential to enhance lives.  When kids and others can see that our energy and emotions fluctuate and are influenced buy our circumstances and experiences, just like theirs do and are, bonds of genuine trust and compassion are developed and resilience is built. 

We tend to remember moments of discovery in visceral ways.  Revelation moves us.  One of the great challenges we have as parents and educators is that it’s really tough to measure growth in some areas.  There’s no straight forward assessment that monitors the development of SEL skills.  We see kids shift and change over long periods of time, we witness the ebbs the flows, and we share stories with colleagues and parents around our amazement about how Billy “has grown” or what a “mature attitude” Susan has developed about her learning, but the real-time impact of our efforts are often undetectable. 

Kids simply don’t blossom on our watch.  Even so, our work with them, our dedication to them, and our love for them are all incredibly impactful.  What we do and how we act catalyzes discovery.  They’re watching.  They’re listening to everything we say.  They’re learning from their experiences with us.  

We need to consistently demonstrate what it is to be human, warts and all.  We need to be open and honest about our successes and our failures.  We need to make sure they understand the great benefit of missteps for those of us genuinely functioning with growth mindsets.  

SEL isn’t about getting it “right” all the time or walking through this world with a smile on our faces at every turn.  SEL is about having the wherewithal to weather the storms.  None of us are perfect at it.  Kids should know that we don’t expect them to be either.  They should know that, in fact, we expect just the opposite.  They should understand that we expect their roads to be long and winding, just like ours are, and that we’re here to help as they learn to navigate.  Let’s stay focused on the core of what it takes to teach the core.  SEL first.

In it together for the kids!

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

I Could Show You This All day

The Story 

Our five year old learned a magic trick. His brother got the box set from a show we went to at school.  It had all the classics.  There was a sliding wand, some gimmick playing cards, the cups that multiply, and the plastic yellow sliding mechanism that makes a plastic coin disappear and reappear right before your very eyes!  He was fascinated with the disappearing coin trick.  I remember that one being particularly fascinating as a kid, too.  

It’s awesome to witness young ones discover things for the first time.  When he saw what this thing could do it was like he was on to something that no one else knew about.  He couldn’t wait to show the world, and he wouldn’t give away the secret (because magicians simply don’t do that). 

He approached me with a gigantic smile on his face.  Even though he was covering it up with the hand that didn’t have the disappearing coin trick in it, I could tell it was a smile.  This kid smiles with his eyes.

He prepped me with a wonderfully professional intro, demonstrating that the coin was real.  Then he pushed the sliding mechanism in the casing, he gave it a magic wave with his hand, and he slid it back out.  When it came out, the coin was gone.  Amazing!  

His smile grew and his hand moved quickly back in front of his face.  I could still tell.  The eyes.

He turned the sliding mechanism over and slid it back into the casing.  This time, when he pulled it out the coin was there again.  How could this be possible!  My eyes lit up, his smile was evermore transfixed to his rosy, enthusiastic face, and we both reveled in the magic of the moment.  

Before I could even ask about his mystical, magical secrets, he performed the trick a second time, then a third, then a fourth and a fifth, and so on.  He didn’t stop, or even pause.  He just kept going. He was a master magician.  He made that coin appear and disappear at will.  It got stuck a few times, and a few times he lost track of the orientation of the sliding mechanism and put it in the wrong way, but he quickly recovered each time.  It was a sight to behold.

After a few dozen reenactments I began wondering when it would end.  It was thrilling to be sure, but still, I might have benefitted from a bit of a break.  Before I could ask, he looked up at me (still with the smiling eyes) and said, “I could show you this all day!” 

The Learning

Kids have only had the lived experiences they’ve had.  Redundant but true.  The fact is, kids are making discoveries at every turn.

Think about how it feels to discover something new. 

I’m forty five year old (and almost forty six, if you can believe that).  I certainly don’t know everything there is to know, but I have the basics down pretty good.

Sometimes, I make a discovery, even when I’m not trying or expecting to.  Those are my favorites.  Surprise discoveries.  Good stuff. 

When a surprise discovery comes along I feel like my world has shifted.  Now a days it tends to be something about calming my mind or finding ways to balance and simplify my life. Sometimes I’m reading when it happens, I could be listening to music, or even interacting with a friend or colleague who’s discovered some secret I’ve been waiting to know. 

When it happens, it feels kind of mind blowing to me.  It’s exhilarating.  I want to shout it from the mountaintops.  I want to share, I want to practice, I want to remember, and I wan to refine.  I’m in it.  I’m engaged and excited.  Just the way we want kids to be as they learn.

The thing is, kids are constantly making mind blowing discoveries because so much is new to them.  On top of that, they love sharing.  As parents and educators we need to remember how much it matters that they have opportunities to share as much as possible. 

Ask anyone, it’s the connections we make with kids that make the difference, even over the information we teach them.  In fact, it seems to me if we spend more time listening than we do talking, more time learning from them instead of trying to impart our wisdom, and more time simply focused on connections when they demonstrate interest and engagement, we may may all be well served. 

Connections before anything.  Spending our time celebrating the things kids are excited about and sharing in that excitement paves pathways to positive process, achievement, and wellbeing for all.

In it together for the kids!

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

A Bit Of A Smile

We were at the library. We were standing by the fish tank, doing the “fish tank stare.” Our daughter said, “We should get some fish.”  

She went on, “Fish are nice to look at, “ and then she finished with, “if you look really closely, sometimes they have a bit of a smile.”

Life is filled with challenges. It’s filled with triumphs, too. We can’t get away from facing the challenges. When we try, they just get more challenging. Turning away from challenges makes them grow. They follow us. They hide and they jump out at us. They insist. They’re quite stubborn.  

Triumphs are shy. They’re humble. They don’t mind going unnoticed. They’re happy just to be. They’re content. The purpose they serve is to simply serve their purpose. 

Maybe we should pay triumphs the kind of attention we pay to challenges. Maybe more.

When you think about it, challenges and triumphs are indelibly connected. Actually, one might say that they’re two parts of the same thing. 

If you visualize a challenge as a journey, a process, or something in motion, you should be able to name one part of that process the “triumph” part. The triumph is the part where the challenge is solved, overcome, or reconciled. It’s the end, the desired outcome, or in some cases one of the ebbs (of flows, depending on how you interpret ebbs and flows).

Fish are nice to look at, in part because if you look closely it looks like they have a bit of a smile. 

When we celebrate triumphs there’s often a bit of a smile associate with the celebration.

When we anticipate triumphs there’s often a bit of smile associated with the anticipation.

Maybe we should do more of both, more frequently. When things are nice to look at, life is nice too.

It it together for the kids!

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

Everyone Will Think I’m Just a Painter

We were headed out the door to an event at the synagogue.  Of course, our five year old was wearing his pirate outfit.  It’s a good one.  There’s the lengthy, leathery foundational top coat laden with the silky, frilly accouterments you might see on the uniform of a real fake pirate.  Also, there was a right-sized sword hanging from the loop in his velvety belt.  To his credit, the sword was the centerpiece of the outfit.  Unfortunately, we simply don’t wear swords to the synagogue.  It’s just not done. 

I reminded him.  He brushed past me without acknowledging the reminder.  I called his name.  He didn’t look back.  He marched to the car grasping the sword hilt with one hand, bound and determine to keep the outfit intact.  I smiled in the light of his determination.  He’s strong-willed like his mother (and possibly his father, too).  It could serve him well some day. Off we went.

When we arrived at our destination I told him that the sword wasn’t leaving the truck with us.  He took a deep breath, he executed a precise and overt slumping of the shoulders, and then he sighed.  After an especially moving dramatic pause, and with a distant, forlorn look in his eyes, he said, “Everyone will think I’m just a painter.” 

I smiled again, trying unsuccessfully to hide it from him.  He broke the fourth wall and reflexively smiled back before quickly regaining his footing. 

Despite his best efforts, the possibly misconceived sword-less pirate and would-be a painter, his giggling sister and I walked into the synagogue. 

The idea of “what everyone thinks” is complicate.  It’s difficult to decipher, it seems really important until we understand that it’s not, and it’s almost always relatively concrete until it falls apart under the weight of self-realization.  

That is to say, we don’t really know “what every thinks” or is going to think, “everyone’s” thinking is typically set on a foundation of our own thinking (and projecting), and what others think of us (real or imagined) doesn’t change who we are or set our course in nearly as profound a way as does our own thinking.  Sometimes we think it does, but it doesn’t.  

In other words, it really didn’t matter if  everyone thought the kid was “just a painter?”  He was a pirate. He knew it.  The trick was convincing him of that “father knows best” nonsense. 

At first I thought to espouse the high qualities of painters, thinking I could initiate a paradigm shift that might comfort and instill a sense of pride in him.  Painters are creative, they have sensitivities that connect them to the world in wonderful ways, they generate beautiful works that drive imagination and spur innovation from those inspired by their shared thinking, and so on.  

I stopped short of enacting that reflexive societal instinct.  I wasn’t going to ask the pirate to pretend he was painter.  I shouldn’t.  I couldn’t. 

Fight yourself to work at becoming a thing you think “everyone else” sees you as or want’s you to be.  Try it.  Actually, I’m guessing that at one time or another you have. I would contend the core of a person is simply too strong to refuse, at least while keeping the person intact.  Whenever I’ve attempted to veer from my truest path I’ve been turned back, as if by gravity itself. 

There are many kids of painters and also assortment of pirates, I would guess.  We can certainly learn and we can undoubtedly grow.  We shift and we change in many ways over time.  However, I would suggest that we are each something at the center.  A pirate, a painter, or possibly something else.  

Children should be allowed and encouraged to get messy figuring out what’s at the heart of the matter for them.  They should try things on and see how they fit.  We should help them understand that a full and balanced life comes along with some seemingly limiting expectations (like no swords in the synagogue), but that they must push forward from a foundation of self awareness, resilience, power and pride. They should know that we expect them to go for it…whatever it is.

In it together for the kids.

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

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.