Tagged: Community

Emotional Support Plant

We were watching the movie “Sing 2” this weekend. In one scene, Miss Crawly (Buster Moon’s secretary) was driving to the country to locate and recruit the famous, hermitic, aging rock star Clay Calloway. Buster Moon and his cast of characters needed Clay in order to be able to put on a big show in the big city, but Clay was not easy to find, nor would he be easy to convince. Miss Crawly had set out on a seemingly insurmountable mission. 

As we watched her drive down the winding country road, we noticed that there was something in the passenger seat of Miss Crawly’s car. After a moment I realized it was the fruit basket Buster Moon sent with his secretary as a piece of the puzzle to try to win over Mr. Calloway. I pointed it out. Our 7 year-old matter-of-factly said, “Oh, I thought it was her emotional support plant.”

He never fails to amaze me. I don’t know where he heard the phrase “emotional support plant”, why he remembered it, or how he made the connection, but it was a reasonable thought. Miss Crawly was in a very difficult position. Sure, “Sing 2” is a piece of fiction and Miss Crawly is an imaginary, anthropomorphized elderly lizard, but she was dealing with some really tough stuff. She might have needed an emotional support plant.

Like Miss Crawly, parents and educators are dealing with some really tough stuff right now. Also like Miss Crawly, we are showing tremendous grit. We are resilient and determined, and we are pushing through challenge after challenge for the benefit of our kids. Instead of emotional support plants, we have one another. 

I like the idea of an emotional support plant. Plants are steady and stable, and if you take care of them, they thrive. We need to be taking care of one another. We are here for one another. We need to remember that we are not alone, and that we can only weather the ebbs and flows of this uniquely challenging time hand in hand, and heart in heart.

The best thing we can do for one another is be present and available. We’ve been doing a great job of providing our kids days filled with joy and balance, in large part because we’ve been doing the same for each other. These days are not always easy, however, each one is an opportunity for learning and growth. Once again, our kids remind us of what’s important. The emotional support we provide for one another is the foundation for everything else. Our partnerships are the key to our well-being and our progress.

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

You Can Tell Me What The Speed Limit Is

A Scenario 

We were in the car the other day. It was a great day. It was one of those days we spent together from start to finish. Everyone got along. The 7 and the 8 year-old started playing immediately. It’s not that they never do this, but sometimes they wake up at odds. Sometimes one want’s to go downstairs and the other wants to stay upstairs. Sometimes one wants to watch a cartoon and other wants to watch a baking challenge. Sometimes one wants some space and the other wants to wrestle. 

This time, they hopped out of bed and got right to it. The 7 year-old was in our bed because he got up a bit early, but right when his big sister woke up she came to get him. She asked if he waned to play and this time he did. The stars aligned. They spent the next hour or so in their bedroom; imagining, laughing, encouraging and playing. 

After breakfast we decided to take a day trip. It was book stores, playgrounds, soccer balls, basketball and jump rope. We told stories, played games and had fun. 

There we were, on our way to another location for more family fun, when he turned to her and said, “You know, you should live with me when we grow up. That way, when we’re driving around in the car you can tell me what the speed limit is.” 

Keen. Even though he’s 7 years-old I’m confident he knows that the speed limit is posted. In that moment I had the sneaking suspicion he was actually telling his big sister that he loves her. I suspect he was giving her some insight into the joy he feels that they have one another, the understanding he has of their unconditional bond, and the vision he holds of their connected life. I don’t know that he actually believes they’ll live together, but it seems that he believes they will alway be friends, confidants, playmates and partners in life. It was a nice moment for me. 

I grew up with five siblings, each of us less than two years apart in age. Lorelei and I have been incredibly blessed to be able to build our family in this way. In large part, we planned for four close-in-age siblings so that they would each have the others for a lifetime of comfort, support, encouragement, celebration and unconditional love. 

Siblings don’t always get along. Heck, we don’t always like one another. There are ebbs and flows. However, in my experience, there is never a time…not a single moment, when siblings are not connected. I believe that anyone of us would tell any of the others what the speed limit is anytime there’s a need, without hesitation. 

My heart was warmed to hear the big guy connect with his sister in that way. 

Two Possible Implications

We’re on winter break. Life is really busy and really challenging right now. It’s difficult to keep our kids’ days filled with routine, normalcy and comfort. We see the trends and we hear the news. On all fronts, from community health to politics we need to navigate decision making for ourselves and for our kids, while providing them with just the right developmentally appropriate information to keep them balanced, reflective and joyful. They are kids, after all. Even in an imperfect world, they should be joyful. 

Consider the following possible implications drawn from the scenario above: 

Long-term social bonds are critically important to our kids’ well-being. 

As we guide our kids through the strange social landscape of a pandemic we should keep an eye on their friendships. Whether we’re looking at friendships between siblings, other relatives, school friends or kids in the neighborhood, we should notice and encourage our kids to perpetuate healthy bonds between themselves and those they connect with. We should help them make time to spend together. When needed, we should guide them in social conflict resolution while reminding them of the joy they feel when they are together with people they appreciate and understand, who also appreciate and understand them.

Our kids prompt one another, and us. 

This time, the 7 year-old prompted his sister to continue connecting with him. Sometimes the prompt is that he needs space. Kids do this to one another and they do this to us. As a grown up he will easily be able figure out what the speed limit is without assistance. They both know this, but he wanted her to know he needs, and will continue to need her. 

We should keep an eye on the language our kids use with one another and with us, so that we can support their needs in any given moment. When kids ask for our help with things they know how to do or can handle on their own they may simply be asking for some time together, or an acknowledgement of the bond we share with them. They may be reaching out with a message of togetherness or a request for comfort. Reading and responding to such prompts is well worth the time, every time. 

An Activity

What implications do you see? What learning can you discern from this scenario? Take a moment to reflect and consider a parenting/education guiding principle the “speed limit” anecdote brings to light. Share your thinking, with me or with anyone you turn to for processing along this unique and wonderful journey. You can use the “comments” section below if you’re so inclined. There is meaning to be found in even the smallest moments. Look and listen with an open heart and on open mind.

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Don’t Yuck Someone Else’s Yum

We were sitting at the dinner table the other day when a dish was served that was beyond the ability for our pickier eaters to understand. I don’t remember if there were onions on a burger or tomatoes on a slice of pizza. Regardless, our 7-year-old was digging in with a huge smile on his face. Yum, yum, yum.

After a few bites he turned to one of his big brothers and offered a taste. The offer he was met with a wrinkled up face and a reply laden with pure disgust. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

The little guy quickly fired back with, “Don’t yuck someone else yum.”

I stopped in my tracks. 

“Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.” I love it. 

This time it applied to food, but that’s not the foundation of the message. I found out later that he learned if from his incredible first grade teacher. It means just what you think it means. 

We all have different tastes, we all have different views of the world, and while there are some universal joys we experience, we are each unique. We are all always well served when we recognize, support, encourage and celebrate one another. When our minds and hearts are open, our connections are genuine. When our connections are genuine, we are strong. 

So, don’t yuck someone else’s yum. Instead, lift them up, let them know you value them even if you don’t agree or understand. Build collective strength for the benefit and wellbeing of both of you. Strong, happy people perpetuate strong, happy communities…and that benefits everyone.

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

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.

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!

Challenging Catastrophes

The other day I was running late. These days have been extremely long, so I get less time to spend with the kids. I decided several weeks ago that if I was going to be working most of the time, my life would be more in balance if I could at least say “good morning” and “good night” to my crew every day. I’ve been doing some morning work from home (and sometimes sleeping in a bit) so that I don’t have to leave before the kids wake up.

On the “running late” day, I had a meeting that was the same amount of time away as I was. If I got into my car just just as the coffee finished dripping I might have made it, but as you might guess, one of the things that tends to happen when I’m running late is increased forgetfulness. 

I was half a mile down the road before I realized my work phone was still on the kitchen counter. I needed it. So, I resigned myself to being late. I made the next turn-around and headed home.

What a bummer. My heart rate went up and I was flooded with frustration. I don’t like being late. It felt like a really big deal…a catastrophe even. But being late isn’t a catastrophe, it’s a challenge…if that. 

Here we are in a global health crisis, with a foundational layer of catastrophes surrounding each of us, and I’m letting my blood pressure go up because I’m running a few minutes late. There are many things we can latch on to as catastrophes throughout each day…things that simply aren’t.

The thing is, when we’re calm and confident we’re better for everyone around us. When we’re patient and thoughtful, those we serve and serve with benefit. Energy transfers. Heightened, negative attitudes and behaviors deteriorate well-being. We all know that, and with some focus and dedication, I contend that we are all capable of brining positive energy to any situation, even if we have to shift from impulsive negative energy. Breathing, and focusing on breathing tends to help me. Listening, too. When I listen instead of talk, I tend to be more thoughtful. 

As I pulled back up to the house I noticed that my wife was at the door, and our 6-year-old was waking across the porch with my work phone in his hand. This was not a catastrophe, this was an opportunity to get another hug from my kid. 

There’s actually a term for creating additional crisis during challenging times. The term is “catastrophizing.” We catastrophize when we assume the worst, and when we do, we bring crisis energy into the cultures in which we live and work. 

So, here’s the deal, when we feel our blood pressure going up, when our hearts start beating faster, let’s take a step back instead of a step forward. Let’s challenge the notion that we’re dealing with catastrophes. Let’s consider that any given catastrophe might actually be an opportunity. Every challenge is a chance. It really is. 

Some of these catastrophes are absolutely real, and it’s also real that when we approach critical situations with calm confidence, we are more likely to achieve positive outcomes. We can influence the culture and climate of the spaces we occupy in positive ways buy challenging catastrophes instead of finding them in places they really don’t belong. When running late is actually an opportunity for another hug, it’s a gift, not a catastrophe…and truly, every challenge is a chance – we should work hard to take them when we can.

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.

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.  

I Got Ya Buddy

We all get scared, even (and probably especially) those among us who claim not to.

If you don’t know what it feels like to have a loving arm around your shoulder when you’re walking through a dark place you’re missing out.  It feels good.  

Compassionate, non-judgmental support is a cornerstone of organizational well-being, regardless of the organization.  Be it a city, a school, a widget factory, or a family…kind, loving, and connected is the way to build cultures in which we’re not only prepared to help one another but also to communicate openly about our need for help.  It’s a need we all have from time to time and one that’s sometimes naively suppressed in favor of the illusion of supreme competence (something none of us actually possess). 

Also, support begets support.  In one moment you’re the loving arm and in another you’re the shoulder. Life is best when we’re enthusiastic about being both. It helps us better understand each paradigm, and in doing so it helps us better understand one another.  We’re a bunch of complex organisms.  It’s as simple as that (so to speak).

Covey reminds us that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  It doesn’t take much searching to understand that the main thing is people.  The main thing is you and me and those we serve.  It’s each other.  The main thing is us.

Summer is a great time for educators and parents to build our “sharing about fears” and “being open to support” muscles.  It’s a great time because we’re generally in relatively safe spaces.  

During the summer educators and parents tend to spend lots of time with family and friends.  Much of the time these are people who are happy to embrace us for who we are, ready to listen to us with open hearts and open minds, and enthusiastic about being “our people.” 

Generally, family and friends are the ones to catch us when we fall and to walk through the dark places hand in hand with us.  Some aren’t, and we likely know who those some are (if we have some like that in our lives).  However, even those some can surprise us when push comes to shove.

Regardless, a worse case scenario of putting yourself “out there” in this way is disappointment and rejection, which as we all know are both wonderful catalyst for enhanced wisdom and strength.  A positive outcome through hard times remains a positive outcome.

Hope and optimism in mind, educators and parents might consider using this summer as an opportunity to be vulnerable by sharing our fears when they arise and accepting support when it’s available.  Through this practice we can strengthen our “genuine partnership” muscles for when we return to school and enlist them for the critical challenge of seeking to love, understand and engage each child and one another in the light of our magnificent and sometimes demanding individual uniquenesses.  

Just imagine how strong we’ll be if we practice with conviction.  Just imagine what an impact we’ll make if we dust ourselves off each time we stumble in our effort to grow into the most revealed, self-aware, and sympathetic selves we can be.  

We’ll practically be super heroes!

You get what you give.  I say give as much as you can until you can give it all, and then do that.

My son stepped onto an elevator the other day with unsteady legs, watery eyes and a quivering lip.  He told us without hesitation that he was scared.  My daughter wrapped her arm around him and said, “don’t worry…I got ya buddy.”  Without hesitation too.

The main thing.  

We got this!

In it together for the kids.

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