Tagged: Limitations

4M’s: A Focus Strategy for Grace and Understanding Through Trauma

Trauma brain. We don’t necessarily walk around thinking about how we’re several months into a global health crisis with an end that’s hard to see. We know it, and we feel the impact all around us, but we don’t think about it all the time. 

One of the cool things about the human condition is that we’re adaptable. We submerge ourselves in whatever reality we exist within, and to some extent, we make it our normal; our “new normal.”

If you’re like me, you didn’t imagine that these days, weeks and months after COVID 19 emerged, we’d still be so significantly embedded in a world of mitigation. I didn’t specifically think we wouldn’t be, it just didn’t cross my mind. I was taking it one day at a time, and through my foundational lens of optimism, I imagined best case scenarios every step of the way. I still do.

The fact is, optimism and all, like everyone else, I’m experiencing trauma.

Another cool thing about the human condition is that we are resilient. I’m lucky. I haven’t had to endure an unbalanced amount of trauma over the course of my life so far. That, along with the fact that I’ve been privileged, loved, and provided countless supports from the time I was I child, has enabled me to build enough resilience to feel relatively comfortable sorting through this traumatic situation.

Don’t get me wrong, I have ups and downs. I’ve experienced a range of emotions. Sometimes I’m my best self and sometimes I’m disappointed with my words and actions. Sometimes my presence is comforting to those around me and sometimes I catalyze heightened anxiety by pushing too hard for a purely positive tact or falling out of balance. 

That leads me to the 4M’s strategy. It’s about grace and understanding. It’s about remembering that we’re not alone, even in relative isolation. It’s about the indelible, universal truth that when we think of others with gratitude and empathy, when we exercise compassion, when we seek to understand ourselves and those around us, when we give with hearts, and when we stay present, we create enhanced spaces for individual and collective well-being.

Missteps

We all make them. When you do, breath through it. Get your footing. Remember your humanity and the humanity of others. Give yourself the grace of forgiveness and don’t allow judgement to weigh you down. After all, judgment is usually perceived more than real, and even when it’s perceived as real by the sources, it tends to be a phantom perpetuated by fear and frustration…a misstep in and of itself.

Mindfulness

We have the power to stop time. It takes a great deal of practice. Admittedly, I have a long way to go in refining my mindfulness practice. That said, I have felt the calming impact of a truly mindful moment. I’ve experienced the release of unnecessary burdens by way of connected breathing and the letting go temporary distractions. Think of time when a wave of tranquility washed over you. Seek that feeling as frequently as possible. We are suffering in many ways, however, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” – Senca, and, “You drown not by falling into a river but by staying submerged in it.” – Paulo Cohelo. 

Mission

What are you about? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? We’re each living a mission. Educators muster the strength to move through space and time so that we can make a positive impact on the lives of the children we serve. That’s our mission. In times like these, it can help to turn to the mission frequently. It can provide strength and inspire courage.

Moments

Time seems fluid, but really, if you choose to view it this way, it’s a series of moments. The benefit of a “moments” world view is that we can utilize stops and starts to our advantage when it comes to well-being and positive progress. With missteps, mindfulness and mission in mind, we can take things one moment at a time. We can celebrate a series of triumphs and we can face a series of challenges. We can forgive ourselves for stumbles and keep moving forward with the knowledge that we have as many more tries as we need to get things right. 

Remember, practice makes progress. No strategy is perfect, nor will any work for everyone. During this uniquely challenging time my hope is that exploring the 4M’s strategy might help you take steps in whatever direction you’re looking to go in. It’s helping me. 

In it together for the kids!

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

My 2020 Fifth Grade Commencement Address in Speech and Song

This past week I offered a commencement address honoring the first group of students I met as kindergarteners when I became an elementary school principal.

Needless to say, this is very special moment in time for me. 

I remember the feeling of being “the new principal.”

I remember feeling like I had a lot to learn about the job, and that I had a lot to learn about the kids. 

Caring for children from the age of 4 or 5 through the age of 10 or 11 is a different thing than caring for children beginning when they’re more advanced along their educational journey. 

Along with the families and staff who are my partners, I feel like I’ve played a role in raising these kids, and the truth is, I’m extremely proud of them. 

To be clear, I’m proud of every student I’ve met along this journey. 

Still, for these kids, I’m the only principal that they’ve had.

So this year, as I considered a commencement address, I sat and looked at the cabinet in my office which is lined with the handprints these 10 and 11-year-olds gifted me when they were 4 and 5-year-olds. 

I thought of their hands then, what their hands have done since, and what their hands, hearts, and minds are capable of doing now. 

I truly believe in the power of possibility, and I truly believe that these uniquely challenging times will foster a type of resilience that will manifest in positive world change generated from the hands, hearts and minds of this group of kids. 

So, in this year’s address I spoke some words from my heart, and remembering that music can deliver a message in alternate ways, I decided to sing as well. 

I sang a song that I wrote for all of the children of this generation. All of those who are engaged in any transition, moving from grade level to grade level or to from school to school, and in particular, for the four children my wife and I spend our days with, watching them thrive in an environment that completely shifted under their feet. 

Kids are resilient, and they learn how to grapple by having things to grapple with.

This generation of kids, at every level, are going to be sophisticated, compassionate, productive, and positive grapplers. 

As I watch the world go by with slow change in the rearview mirror and all around me, I have every bit of confidence that this generation will be the one to see our hopes and dreams of widespread peace, love, unity, inclusion and belonging fulfilled.

This is my message as I bid our fifth grade graduates a safe, joyful, and balanced journey forward. 

This is my message to all children. 

This is my message to anyone who’s interested.

In it together for the kids!

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

I Will Miss You

I was at the park with our youngest son, recently.  We were taking about the farm that we plan to build together, one day.  It will be called, “The Buddy Farm.”  

Among other things, we’ll have cows, we’ll have pigs, we’ll have corn, and we’ll have pumpkins. He and I will be the owners. I’ll manage the work and the workers, and he’ll be the one to show people around when they come to the farm.  

His brothers and his sister, his mother, his aunts and uncles, and his cousins will all work a the farm. This is the plan.

We sat, leaned back on the side of a hill, looking up at the sky through a canopy of trees. It was a beautiful day. A string of moments, essentially standing still. 

As we lay there, soaking it in, he spoke of getting older. He told me he wanted to build “The Buddy Farm” because he wan’t going to get married or have a family.  

He told me that his plan was to live with me forever.  

He told me that he doesn’t want to have a family because he thinks kissing is gross. I suggested that five-year-olds tend to feel that way, and that eventually he might enjoy kissing. I told he might eventually change his mind, fall in love, and decide to have a family, after all.  

He assured me it was unlikely, but even so, even if he were to fall in love and have a family, he was still going to live with me forever. 

He went on to inform me that if he did have kids, his brothers and his sister would be their uncles and their aunt, and that I would be there grandfather. 

Then it happened. As if he realized it just then, as if he was verifying it for himself, he told me that when he becomes a grandfather I will probably have passed.  

While difficult to hear, I could see that it was most likely true.

He looked at me with inquisitive eyes, as if to clarify.  

I agreed with a smile and a nod.

I told him that would probably one the case, and I did my best to conceal the pang of pain that ran through every molecule of my essence, though I’m guessing it showed in some form, somewhere on my face.  

He looked at me for another moment before leaning back and turning his eyes to the sky. In a patience, contemplative tone, he declared, “I will miss you.”

I thought, I will miss you too, Buddy, and my heart did something so profound and powerful that I can’t exactly explain it. I was uplifted and deeply sorrowful at exactly the same time. 

I left myself for an instant. Thinking of my boy every having to miss me is among the most intense images I can produce.  

He shifted over to rest his head in the crook of my arm, and there we lay, together, for some time, not having to miss one another yet.

It got me thinking. There are people in my life who I am not near to at this moment. They haven’t passed, but I am simply not in proximity to them. I don’t miss them. Instead, I feel their presence.  

Maybe that’s because I know I could see them, talk to them, and touch them if I wanted to. Or maybe it’s because when our connectedness isn’t based on a physical, but an emotional plane. I’d like to believe that. I do believe that. 

I believe, whether we’re present, far from one another, or even passed, we can use our minds and our heart to connected with one another. 

As I think about “lost” loved ones on this Memorial Day weekend, I take comfort in the feelings of connectedness I have.

Something inside of me believes that the connectedness exists for them, too.

Whatever you believe, I would suggest that using our minds and our hearts to perpetuate bonds with those we love can be healing. 

At the very least, I believe it isn’t hurtful to try. Sometimes uplifting and sorrowful at exactly the same time, but not hurtful. 

In it together for the kids. 

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

Finding the Good Ain’t Bad

Our experiences impact how we feel and how we function.  

Positive experiences tend to uplifted and energized us. Negative experiences can produce a range of responses that cause us to feel a range of emotions, from contemplative to drained of energy and upset.  

All of our experiences are important. None are without value.  

Even feeling pain, sadness and fear can help us learn and grow. Challenging emotions support the building of resilience. 

I’ve heard it said that kids learn to grapple when they have things to grapple with. I believe that’s true for all of us, kids and adults. We need to grapple in order to grow. We need to do so in thoughtful, safe and intentional ways. 

With focus and strength we can lift and shift the experiences of our days, and we can maximize the value of each. We can do it by compartmentalizing.  

When we make note of, and seek to understand our experiences, we can deign an energy flow that promotes positivity, productivity, and health. In this way, we can enhance our ability to process experiences, both positive and negative. 

Imagine each experience you have as a dash in a long, broken but cohesive line. A chain of events. Indelibly interwoven, but not connected physically. Imagine each experience as one piece of your day that eventually becomes a completed puzzle. 

Some experiences practically process themselves while some are more difficult to process.  

If we lift the more difficult dashes, or pieces, above the imaginary line of our daily experiences, and separate them from those that flow easily, we can put them aside for later reflection.

We can’t attend to everything in the moment it happens. There’s simply too much. If we want to remain present we can’t get wrapped up in every challenging emotion that comes our way. When we lift and shift, we can breath, regroup, focus, and go back to experiences with intentionality.

It’s not easy and it takes practice, however, when I’m able to achieve the lift and shift, I find it extremely worthwhile. 

For example, when someone treats me in an unkind way, and I’m able to lift that treatment out of my immediate timeline rather than attaching myself to negative emotions, I can stay present with the game of tag I’m playing, the book I’m reading, or the joyful experience of laying on a hammock with my daughter, counting leaves and imagining that clouds are dragons and bunnies.  

When I’m ready and have some time, I can re-engage with the challenging experience and it’s connected learning in a more productive way. When I do that, the lessons seem to take hold more deeply, with meaning rather than emotion as the foundation.  

Another piece of the experiential puzzle has to do with the narratives we write about our experiences. 

Narratives are important, and they come in multiple forms. There are the narratives we write instinctively, the ones that pop into our minds as experiences are unfolding, and then there are the ones we write reflectively, given some time and space. 

If someone treats me in an unkind way my instinct might be to consider that person unkind, when actually, they are more likely upset or frustrated. 

Most often, the initial narrative from a negative experience is not the one I want to stick with, in large part because it’s typically driven by emotion. 

When I lift and shift I still write the instinctive narrative, however, I give myself an opportunity to write multiple other narratives until I find the one that’s best for my learning and growth.

What else might be happening in any give scenario, other than the reactive, emotional possibilities that can enter our minds in moments of frustration?  

After writing multiple narratives, we can connect them to the most succinct understanding of reality that we know. We can’t read minds or understand all of the finite nuances of the world in which we live, but we can find the good in most things.

This strategy can help us decrease worry about things that are outside of our control.

Lifting and shifting, in conjunction with extended and thoughtful narrative writing, helps us assume positive intentions, which in my experience most people seem to have. 

Refining out ability to process in healthy and thoughtful ways increases well-being and perpetuates positive progress for everyone involved.

In it together for the kids.

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

The Importance of Embracing These Moments

A few weeks into this changed environment I looked back and realized my emotional bandwidth has been as broad as ever. Turns out a global pandemic sets the stage for emotional overload. Go Figure.  

Also, this era-defining moment has presented me with an opportunity to progress monitor my resilience and emotional wherewithal. Now, I’ve found a flow.  

I believe one reason I’ve been able to find this flow is the experience of accepting and intentionally navigating a wide spectrum of emotions.  

The first couple of weeks were mostly about prep work, setting things up, getting things ready, figuring out what structures work best for me to function in my roles as a principal, a husband, and a father.

Lorelei and I imagined, constructed, reimagined, refined and implemented a system and a consistent pace in our house. At this point, the kids have all but taken both over with a good deal of independence. Our days are flowing relatively smoothly. It adds a foundation of balance. 

I’ve spoken and written about the structured blueprint of our stay-at-home life on multiple occasions since the beginning. I’ll mention some particulars here as a side-note.

We have four kids, all elementary age. Our days begin with breakfast at 8:30 am, followed by a series of 45 minute sessions with10 minutes of transitional time for snacks, stretches and bathroom breaks in between each session. The sessions include “School Work,” “Fresh Air,” “Read and Relax,” and “Free time.”  

We maintain these structures with a foundation of flexibility.  We use the Zones of Regulation to see that we’re focused and ready to go for each session. If were not, we flex. We have a lot of conversations. We give the kids ownership and autonomy through which they’re demonstrating some wonderful independence.  

The few days I wrote about above came shortly after these structures were solidly in place, just after I was able to take my first breath, knowing we were on the right path with regard to some normalcy and balance for the kids. 

After the initial setting of the stage I was able to turn to my own feelings about the challenges we’re facing. In doing so, my broadened emotional bandwidth came into play. I was really sad for a few days. 

At first, I didn’t completely understand the sadness, where it came from, or why it was so intense. In hindsight it would seem obvious, but it wasn’t. I wanted to be “stronger than that,” and I had some trouble letting myself accept and appreciate that strength may not be in how you feel, but in how you respond to what you’re feeling. Upon letting go and falling into my emotions, I realized they needed my attention. 

Paulo Cohelo said, “You drown not by falling into a river but by staying submerged in it.”

What seems to have worked for me, and what I recommend, is that when we fall into a river of emotion, no matter the emotion, we recognize and accept that we’re there. 

I recommend that we look around ourselves, inside and out, for methods and means to rise to the surface and emerge. The difficult journey out might take an hour, it might take a day, and it might take a week. If it takes longer than that, I recommend asking for and embracing help from others.  

In my case, during this round of processing, it took just over 2 days. I emerged with enhanced strength and clarity of vision. I’ve since been in the flow I mentioned above.

I suspect I’ll fall into a river of emotion again during this challenging and unusual time, however it unfolds. I hope that when I do I can see clearly the value falling into the river has, along with the value of finding ways to emerge. That’s my plan, anyway.

We’ve got to give ourselves time, space, understanding and compassion. We’ve got to allow ourselves to experience the moments we’re living in, to enlist our minds and our hearts, to muster courage and strength, and to process through each moment and every feeling in ways that are healthy and balanced. 

Let’s not be too cautions about sharing our emotional truths. Let’s not turn our heads or our hearts away from those who share their emotional truths to us.  

In this relative isolation, we are truly not alone. We are together in our humanity.

In it together for the kids!

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

Let Yourselves Off The Hook Parents and Educators

This weekend’s sunshine reminded me of something important.  It reminded me of the ebbs and the flows of being a parent and an educator.  It reminded me that there are triumphant days and that there are challenging days. 

On triumphant days, the kids we’re serving and parenting demonstrate high levels of independence.  They engage in work and play without excessive arguing, fussing or fighting.  They make themselves cereal for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, they put their dirty dishes in the sink, they put toys away after using them, they flush the toilet and they wash their hand.

On challenging days, our kids argue, fuss and fight.  They don’t even need to be asked to do anything, they crawl out of their beds grumpy, and they grump around all day.  They snap at us, they roll their eyes, they stomp and sulk, and sometimes they growl.  On challenging days, everything feels like a battle, all day long.  

They tell us that they don’t like what we made them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  They ask us to make them something different, and then they don’t eat that either.  

On really challenging days they tell us that we’re the “meanest” and that they hate us. 

The thing is, the sun goes up and the sun goes down, and then the sun comes up again.  

This weekend, as I walked with sunshine radiating against my skin and blue skies above, I remembered that, like the sunshine, everything comes and goes. 

Kids are kids.  Each one is unique in many ways, but each one is a kid.  Like us, they have triumphs and they have challenges.  As parents and educators we need to simply be sure that our limbs are inside the rollercoaster car and that the safety bar is securely fastened.  We need to throw our hands up and cheer when we’re racing over hills and around the turns.  

We need to celebrate the triumphs and face the challenges with as much patience and compassion as we can, knowing that with every experience comes opportunities for learning, for them and for us.  

We need to alway remember the deep and abiding love we feel for our kids.  Even, and especially when it’s difficult, we need to muster deep and abiding love for ourselves, and maybe most importantly…we need to let our selves off the hook.

This stuff ain’t easy, but we got it!

In it together for the kids!

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

Publicly Strutting


I’ve been rollerblading every day since the stay-at-home order was put in place. It’s something I can do without getting near anyone. It’s exercise. I can engage in online meetings and phone calls while I’m doing it. The wind cuts through my hair and I glide as though I’m flying, when the surface is smooth and the slope is down.

It can be exhilarating and it can be fun. It get’s me lost in thought sometimes, which I apprecaite.

It snowed today.

It’s snowed on a couple of other days, too, but today it snowed the kind of snow that doesn’t dry up. It was pretty, but it was wet. It was fluffy until it landed, and then it was puddly. It lasted all day. Rollerblading (even for a guy who tends to find a way unless there truly isn’t one) was out of the question. 

So I walked.

I walked through eight phone conversations and the taping of my daily video message (above).

My glasses were fogged and water cascaded down my face, starting from beads dropping of my hair, and becoming streams running along the contours of my cheeks, water-falling from my chin.

I was sopping. My toes were cold. My feet were sore. 

I was processing guilt, having been away from my family for the bulk of the morning while knowing that when I returned I would have to lock myself away to take on the overflowing communication load that piled up this week.

In a flash, realized my hardships were nothing, shifting the guilt of a few hours away from my family to the guilt of knowing that I have everything I need while so many thousands of people are suffering in unthinkable ways around the world. 

Foggy glasses and cascading water didn’t seem so bad, I wasn’t actually that cold, my feet didn’t hurt so bad.

I had a few blocks left before getting to the front door of a house where my loving kids and wife were playing, and where we would sit down for a nice lunch after I shook the snow off my hair and changed my socks.  

Just a few blocks away from home, after about an hour and half of walking in the snow, Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain” came creeping into my ear buds from Pandora. 

It crept at first, as it does. It built to a proper pour before long, as it also does, and I noticed I was strutting. 

“Red Rain” was pouring into my ears. The beat overtook me.

The sense that we, humanity, in this moment of extreme challenge, remain kind, compassionate, and individually and collectively strong, invigorated me, and so, I was publicly strutting. 

Walking to the beating drums, chin up and a bounce in my step.

I don’t know if a middle aged man struts publicly because he’s lost in something and confused, or if he does so because something has propelled him into a deepened sense of self and into enhanced clarity. It doesn’t matter. It felt good. 

I din’t mind if people saw. I hoped they did.

We can’t change what we’re going through.

We can’t make it better for those who are out of our reach.

We can take care of ourselves, we can look after our families, and we can stay at home to keep distance to help flattened the curve. 

We can connect by phone, through social media, and by way of loud conversations across lawns so that our hearts remain bonded.

We can project love in as many directions as we can face, and if the mood takes us, even if we’re walking down the street with slushy snow covering our heads and the greatest hits of the eighties pouring into our ears, we can strut.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

In it together for the kids.

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.

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.