On Parenting

What Mr. Rogers' Quiet Neighborhood Can Teach Us About Our Loud and Busy Lives

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Fred Rogers began the episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood just like he’d done a hundred times before, “by putting on his cardigan and buttoning it up.” Only this time, according to Hedda Sharapan, a producer and actor who was often involved with the show, something wasn’t right. “He had started at the wrong buttonhole; he was one button off.” The crew expected Fred to start over. Instead, He gave Sharapan a look and kept on, ad libbing an explanation to his children audience just “how easy it is to make mistakes” and then spent the extra time showing them how to correct it (pg, 193).

Any other show would have snubbed the first take and instantly recorded a second. Not so with Mr. Rogers. He understood that mistakes were a huge part of life, that they were essential to life, and that his young audience needed understand that. So embraced the silly mistake and used it as a teachable moment, because he cared deeply about children, and because he knew exactly what they needed most.

After years of training, researching and observing young children in the classroom and in life, and after studying and listening to them and their stories and thoughts, Rogers become a master teacher who cared deeply for the holistic development of children. They became his chief concern. More than money, more than fame, more than job security, Fred Rogers cared about his children audience.

Which is why, in contrast to his competition, Mr. Rogers’ show was slow, even crawling at times, because he knew that was what his young audience needed.

“Rogers’s embrace of reality also included breaking one of the established rules of television, a prohibition against footage that is essentially empty. While Sesame Street used fast pacing and quick-cut technique to excite and engage their viewers and keep them glued to the screen, Fred Rogers deliberately headed in the opposite direction, creating his own quiet, slow-paced, thoughtful world, which led to real learning in his view” (pg, 194).

Fred Rogers believed children were entertained enough. That instead of another fast-paced tv show that kept children distracted, what they needed was time.

“He really was interested in the child as a developing person” Maxwell King wrote in The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, which is why Rogers feared constant entertainment; it would engage his audience but weaken their minds. And if they had a weak mind, they would not fully grasp who they were, what they were, and how they thought.

“Our job in life,” Rogers believed, “is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is - that each of us has something that no one else has - or ever will have - something inside which is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness, and to provide ways of developing its expression (pg 237).

For Mr. Roger, in order for children to discover their uniqueness, they needed silence, time, and space. Silence so that they could hear themselves think, time to consider those thoughts, then space to work them out, to fail, and then to try again. They need opportunities to be human, and they needed adults to model humanity for them, to teach them, and to encourage them that life can be hard but that we can always work to correct it. Even when it’s something as simply as a missing a buttonhole.

“One of the major goals of education,” Mr. Rogers believed, “must be to help students discover a greater awareness of their own unique selves, in order to increase their feelings of personal worth, responsibility, and freedom” (pg 328).

In contrast, classrooms, living rooms, and car rides that fill the silence with gimmicks, screens, and distractions leave little room for such self-reflection and no time for imagination.

“Fred Rogers lived out the conundrum of modern life: embracing technology and using it in imaginative ways to benefit children, while rejecting the dehumanizing aspects of complex technological advancement” (pg 80).

For our children’s sake, for our future’s sake, embrace the silence, fight for the quiet, and allow time and space for children to think, make mistakes, and try again. It’s what Mr. Rogers would do. And he was the master of a pretty amazing neighborhood.

But so can we.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Education  :  Parenting : Living

Lost in the woods for 18 hours : How a six-year old survived.

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At six years of age, Cody Sheehy found himself by losing himself.

Cody and his sister were playing their familiar game “explorer” when Cody got lost. But instead of sitting and waiting for his mother or search party to find him, he started walking. For over eighteen hours. Covering 14-20 miles. At the age of six.

Thirty-two years later, Cody believes that was the turning point of his life.

“‘Over the course of your life, you push through a lot of physical barriers,’” he says. “‘As you grow older, your first coach helps you break through barriers, and maybe in the military you learn to push through barriers or maybe in your first hard job. As a little kid, I had this opportunity to be tested and learn that there really aren’t any barriers. I think a lot of people figure that out. They just might not figure it out at six’” (via).

My favorite part about the article, however, was the discussion of guilt and responsibility.

“Marcie (Cody’s mother) never blamed herself for being a bad mom” the article reads, “which, let’s face it, would be the first accusation to pop up in online comments if this story happened today.” And it’s true. Cody’s mom, however, “never felt guilty for letting Cody and his sister play on the other side of the meadow from where she and a friend sat around the fire. “It’s just normal,” she says now. ‘Kids go off and play.’”

And I love that.

Jason Kottke does too, but with a little extra twist. He writes:

It’s a great story and a sharp rebuke of today’s helicopter parenting, not letting kids do their own thing, etc. I wonder about something though. We would think a lot differently about this tale if he hadn’t survived. If it had been a couple of degrees colder or if those coyotes had been a big hungrier or if he’d have turned a different way on that road, he might have died. Sheehy’s story is an example of survivorship bias. We hear of his adventure and how it transformed his life only because he survived, but it’s possible that nine out of ten kids in similar situations don’t survive…and we hear those tales only briefly and locally, not as features in national magazines (via).

No matter how this story turns out, someone will grab it and use it to feed their fears, or their desires. “See,” we say, “This is why I’m right and you’re wrong.” When, in reality, we’re both right, and both wrong. Depending on the vantage point. Or the outcome.

But Cody’s experience also teaches us a bit about the weight of responsibility and how it can change us.

“In my entire childhood,” he states, “I never felt it was anyone else’s fault. I felt responsible.” And because he felt responsible, because it was his mistake, it was also his responsibility to rectify the problem. So he did. Instead of waiting around or focusing on who did what wrong, he took action and ownership. He started walking.

Perhaps that is why he survived.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  : On Parenting : Without Fear: What Adults Can Learn From Young Explorers

For my daughters

"Soul Suckers"
by Amos Lee

Did you believe it,
when they told you they discovered you?
And that everything is free,
as long as you do what they tell you to.
You think it's true?

But nothing could be farther from the truth,
my love.

Did you even listen,
When they told you to change your name?
And that nobody wants honesty when looking at a perfect frame
play the game.

Nothing could be further from the truth,
my love..
And nothing is more powerful that beauty in a wicked world.
Play it girl,
play it girl,
play it girl.

Does it make you feel good,
when they tell you what you want to hear?
And after they suck all your soul,
well that's when they'll disappear.
Disappear.
They disappear forever..

Like a prince in your little fairy tale.
And you will find,
one day you put you soul on sale..

Nothing could be further from the truth,
my love..
And nothing is more powerful than beauty in a wicked world.

For more on . . .

Raising Girls : Brave, Courageous, Adventurous : Only the Wild Ones," by Dispatch : Unchained Melody : Elvis' Last Great Moment

Caroline : a short film about love, misunderstood.

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A few years ago, my wife and oldest son left me and my two youngest at the time home for 265 hours. I had a stable job, was on vacation from school, and help from various friends. My wife was coming home soon.

When she finally did make it back, I was sitting on the balcony of our 7th floor apartment, trying to process the time. Here’s a piece of what I wrote:

If you know {a single parent}, show ‘em some love. Make them dinner, wash their dishes, or babysit their kids. At the very least, by their coffee because I promise, they drink more than you. A beer wouldn’t hurt either:)

If you are one, you’re my hero. (via).

This film has all the same feels. Only worse.

This film is terrifyingly brilliant. I literally feel the heat, the fear, and the panic in the little car, and I cannot help but ache for everyone involved.

The mother loves her kids, no doubt. But she’s stuck. No babysitter, no grace from work, and three little kids who need their mother to work, pay the bills, and rush them to the bathroom.

The spectators want to care for the kids. Because they’re good and decent people. Yet, they don’t see the whole and perfect picture.

The child loves her mother.

And everything is absolutely not okay.

Ugh.

How many situations like the above could be avoided if we all acknowledged the single parents around us and gave them an extra helping hand? How many children would be saved in the process?

If you know a single parent, show them some love. Make them dinner, wash their dishes, or babysit their kids. At the very least, by their coffee because I promise, they drink more than you. A beer wouldn’t hurt either:)

If you are one, you’re my hero. Sincerely.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Short FilmsOn Parenting : Single Parents

The film Caroline is produced by ELO films, a “co-writer / director duo Celine Held & Logan George. Their work as a team has premiered in competition at Cannes Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, and at South by Southwest. They were named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s ’25 New Faces of Independent Film’ of 2017” (via).

You can see more of their work here.

Without Fear: What Adults Can Learn From Young Explorers

Image by @storyanthology

Image by @storyanthology

“Almost nothing was known about how children even explored the world,” Roger Hart explains in interview with Alix Spiegel, “and then I came across a book on baboons. And I realized that we knew more about baboons' everyday behavior than we did about children's behavior outside of school.”

So, in the 1970’s, Roger Hart set out to learn more about children’s behavior by filming them in their natural habitats and away from their parents. “There were 86 children between 3 and 12 years of age,” Hart explains, “and I worked with all of them, all of the waking hours for two and a half years, I was with them. They were my life, these kids,” and they took him everywhere.

He mapped their exploration, adding descriptions such as, “frequent paths, not used by adults.”

“They had more than the run of the town,” he explained, “Some of them would go to the lake, which would be on the edge of town, and the lake, you'd think, would be a place that would be out of bounds” because the parents weren’t motivated by fear. There was no talk of abductions, stranger danger, nothing. So the kids wondered and played all over town.

Not so today.

“{S}everal years ago, Roger went back to the exact same town to document the children of the children that he had originally tracked in the '70s, and when he asked the new generation of kids to show him where they played alone, what he found floored him . . . The huge circle of freedom on the maps had grown tiny.”

Even though the town was exactly the same physically and demographically, even though “the town is not more dangerous than it was before” and that there is “literally no more crime today than there was 40 years ago” parents are operating according to fear, and kids are staying closer to home.

The modern life, according to Ralph Adolphs, a professor at Caltech who spent decades studying fear in the human brain “is constantly triggering our fear in all kinds of ways that our natural world didn't.”

News reports that depict violent scenes and soundbites of murders, of men and women describing atrocious moments of violence and fear, and the many other images and ideas of horror throughout the world constantly surrounds us. “And Adolphs argues that because of our wiring, we are just not set up to ignore it,” which distorts our experience of the world and activates “our fear when we don't need it.”

We’ve become overly fearful and extremely protective, even as adults, with our maps of exploration growing smaller and smaller. Geographically, and intellectually.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” Mark Twain writes, “and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Luckily, the youngest of us have not learned to be fearful or bigoted yet. May we all learn a lesson from these young explorers and their adventurous spirit.

Kids do not want to be contained.
They are built for adventure.

You can watch more young explorer videos here or listen to the full podcast from above, here.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Short FilmsOn Parenting : Favorite Podcasts

Let's go rock climbing!

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Zion has been begging me to take her rock climbing because "she's the best rock climber in the family," and she isn't lying. Most of it has to do with her being fearless, but she's also just really good at it. So today, after weeks and weeks of her begging and pleading, I took her to the gym, fit her into a miniature harness, and sent her up the wall. She was so pumped, so excited, and so eager to show off her skills. 

Then she failed. 

About half way up, she got stuck, then tired, then scared. "I want to come down," she said, and was slowly lowered down. She was so disappointed.

Eden was next and she made it slightly higher. Then she too wanted to come down. 

Now I had two girls who had failed. But both wanted to try again so we gave high-fives, gave a few climbing pointers, then sent them back up. And this time, both of them made it all the way to the top! Eden even started to cry she was so happy and proud. After I hugged them and kissed them and told them how proud I was of overcoming their fears and working so hard, I started thinking about school and assessments and those all consuming and toxic grades I'd entered earlier in the day.

Suddenly, I wished I could take my students rock climbing because, What if schooling was like rock climbing? What if instead of grades for what was accomplish and known, students got second chances, third chances, and forth and fifth chances? What if instead of teaching by standing at the top of the mountain, pulling and cajoling and threatening students up the steep and daunting cliffs, we stood behind them, sending out words of encouragement and guidance ("now grab the green hold with your left hand . . . good!") and assured them that if they fell, we'd be there to catch them?

I know almost every teacher or parent has heard something like this before and have all come to the same conclusion: it sounds great but it's impossible. What teacher has the time or the effort to allow kids to fail and try, fail and try, fail and try? And quite honestly, what kid wants to try this hard on a subject they hate? The answer to both those questions is, "not many." 

But I also know the system is broken and needs fixing. That students have stopped trying on assignments they think are too difficult because, "{they're} gonna fail anyway, so why try?" and that many of them have given up hope of ever succeeding in school. "It's just not for me," they say.

And they may be right. School, as they have traditionally understood it, may not be for them. But learning is. And that is the cardinal sin of education, students are terrified to try and learn because, as Carol Dweck calls it, they have a "fixed mindset." 

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People in a fixed mindset "believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits" (via). And years of schooling, of grades, telling them over and over that they're not smart, that they won't get it has cemented the idea that talent alone creates success. And some kids have it, while others don't. 

People in a growth mindset, however, "believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point" (via). They care more about the effort, the hard work, and the process, not the product. 

Schools and grades, by and large, support a fixed mindset; rock walls don't. They encourage the process more than the product, and they teach service.

The main reason why I was able to take my kids climbing today was because one of my students is a certified belayer, and he offered to take my kids. 

More times than not, kids in schools today are told that they need to be there so they can go to college so they can get a good job so they can live a decent life. School is all about serving they self. There's even a banner in my school that reads, "Do it for you," which might be the worst reason for attending school I've ever heard.

What if, instead, students went to school to not only learn their gifts and talents, but to learn how to serve and give back? What if kids and students were given ample opportunities to serve others, not just themselves?

It sounds daunting, if not insurmountable. It sounds like rock climbing. 

And that excites the hell out of me.

On Discipline : Beyond Consequences

The students knew “G” was going to lose it eventually because they knew him, and because he’d been brewing ever since the first week of school. But I didn’t. I was new to the district and didn’t know “G” from Adam. So when he yelled, “Man, Fuck this shit!” and slammed his book shut, I was a more than a bit stunned. When I told him to sit back down, he refused, saying, “This is bullshit!” and walked out the door.

We were in the throws of reading “The Crucible” and just about to read one of my favorite scenes, so instead of following “G” out the door, I smiled and I asked them to continue on. “G” could wait.

A few minutes later, the bell rang and I went to the principal’s office and asked for “G” to not be suspended or get detention. Instead, I asked that he be allowed to spend the next week eating lunch with me.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because of my father,” I responded.

Growing up, I often heard stories of how biblical shepherds handled sheep that constantly strayed – they would break the sheep’s legs.

Then, because the sheep could no longer walk, the shepherd would carry it on his shoulders until it healed. During this time, a bond of trust would form between the shepherd and the sheep. Once healed, the sheep would no longer leave the shepherd.

So, when my mother told me not to borrow her bike and I did anyway, she tried to break my legs.  

My bike was fine, but hers was better, and the road to my friend’s house was long. So long in fact that it took thirty minutes for her to catch up in the car. It took her less than three minutes to bolt from the car, stuff her bike into the undersized trunk, yell, “WALK HOME!” and whip the car around and through the oncoming traffic.

By the time I made it back to the house, the cool of the evening was beginning to settle in and I had some pretty fantastic excuses worked out.

I walked through the front door, parched, and ready to wash myself of blame and trouble. She too was ready, “Go to your room,” she said, “Wait for your dad to come home.” When she didn’t glance up from her floured tabletop and rolled out dough, I knew I was in trouble.

The hours between then and my dad’s pickup bouncing over the curb were forever. The hour it took for my father to slowly open the door and sit on my bed was even longer. The talk, however, was less than a minute: “No TV, no friends, no phone, for two weeks.”

“TWO WEEKS!” I yelled.

“Yes, two weeks,” my dad said, even though it was summer, beautiful summer, when kids should be out with their friends, riding bikes, fishing in small ponds, building forts, and getting into simple mischief.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Not only was I confined to the acre and a half of my parents’ property, I was to memorize Bible verses, read books on the Lord’s second coming, and “think about what I’d done.”

Taking the bike was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” because it was just one of a hundred times I was disrespectful, disobedient, and selfish, and I needed to learn my lesson. I needed to have my legs broken.

As a child, my mother didn’t yell and scream when I misbehaved, but she did place the responsibility for punishing a disobedient and defiant young boy upon his father. She had a hand in creating the consequence, but he was the one who enforced it, who sat with me in my anger and tears. He was the one who talked me through it, who listened to my weak negations, and who patiently, with tears in his own eyes, refused to budge or relent but affirmed that I would indeed be grounded for two weeks.

He was also the one who took me fishing.

About a week into my grounding, I was sitting in the backyard, reading, when my father came home from work and asked if I wanted to go to the river for the next week. I still had to read and memorize, but I could do it from the camper, after running bank lines and trotlines and swimming in the great currents of the northern Mississippi River. “Of course!” I yelled.

“Great,” he said, “then pack up your stuff. We’ll head out early tomorrow morning.”

I slammed my book shut and ran inside the house; my dad grabbed the tackle box and lifted me to his shoulders, just like a good shepherd should.

The next morning, we left early.

The five-hour drive to the campground was spent hearing the same old stories of when my dad was a kid on the river. How he and his friend caught a huge snapping turtle with only a net, how he spent a summer shingling the roof of his parent’s cabin, and about the time he and his friend built a bonfire so massive that it caught the attention of a barge passing by. He told me about the propane tank.

It was he and his friend’s first night away from the cabin and they were a bit scared of the dark, even though neither one would admitted it, so they threw log after log upon the roaring flames. When they found the tank buried beneath a pile of driftwood, they threw that on too. Then quickly forgot all about it.

Minutes later, it exploded, sending sparks and wood and teenage boys flying in all directions. No one was hurt and Dad chuckled as he told it, just like he’d done the dozen or so times before, which made me laugh and smile too because I loved that story.

Then, we were there. As we crested the bluff, my dad stopped, “Oh no.”

“What?” I asked.

“It’s flooded.”

The river must have just recently receded back to its normal levels because the road was covered with a layer of deep, sloppy, river mud. “Well,” my dad said, slowly pulling forward, “if it doesn’t rain the rest of the time we’re here, we should be okay.

With each nightly downpour, our fear that we’d never make it out grew, and with each passing day, my dad prepared to get us out of the mess and safely home by shoveling as much mud off the road as possible then haul and spread gravel from a nearby gravel pit over the road, all without a shovel. 

And never once did I doubt that he could, that he would, and that we wouldn’t make it home safe.

But then, a prison work crew showed up to fix all the picnic tables. When they paused for a quick lunch break, my dad asked one of them if he wanted some of our fish. The man looked at my dad and said, “You better as’ the boss firs’.”

“I did,” my dad replied, holding up the plate of freshly grilled catfish, “he said it’s okay.” The man looked around, at his other inmates, the river, then back to the plate, “Well,” he said, “You got any salt?”

Over the next thirty minutes or so, the dozen or so inmates finished off all the fish we’d caught the previous four days. I watched from the camper, hidden behind my book, but reading nothing. One man, with his mouth full, shook his head, “Shit. Dis is better ‘en my chicken,” and I knew he was telling the truth because my dad grew up on the Mississippi river, fishing, working, and learning from his parents, and he knew how to grill catfish.

Before leaving, the crew grated the road for us, laid down new gravel, and lined the old picnic tabletops under our camper and van. When it rained hard on our last night by the river, my dad slept soundly. In the morning, instead of clearing the road or heading home, we went fishing and my dad told stories of when he was a young and imperfect son.

My dad didn’t have to break my legs for me to learn how to trust him. Nor did he have to yell and scream and rain down punishments for me to respect him. He just needed time with me, to take an interest in me, and to show me that he just because my behavior was inappropriate it didn’t mean I wasn’t wanted, or loved.

Instead of creating consequences, he created memories. And in the following years, whenever I would get into trouble or found myself stuck, it was my father I went to, who I met for coffee or called on the phone while wandering the dark streets, searching for answers. Because he was the one who took me fishing.

So when “G” said, “Fuck this shit!” in front of the entire class, when he jumped up from his chair and started walking out of the room yelling, “this is bullshit!” I didn’t walk him to the office or write him up or chase him down the hall, yelling and screaming and threatening detention, suspension, or failure of the class. Instead, I let him go and thought about fishing with my father. When the bell rang, I went to principal because, like me, “G” didn’t need to have his legs broken. Nor did he need me to carry him. He just needed someone who’d be willing to sit with him, in the muck and the mire, and hear his story.

“I want “G” to spend the next week with me, during lunch,” I said, “Is that possible?” She was a bit skeptical.

“Please. Don’t write him up, just let me spend time with him.” And because I’m fortunate to have supportive bosses, she said okay.

The next day, with a ham and cheese sandwich and a few freshly cut vegetables scattered on my desk, I waited for “G” to show, but he never did. When I saw him in the hallway, I asked him about it, told him he wasn’t in trouble, but that I just wanted to talk and hang out with him for a bit. He said he’d come tomorrow.

When he showed up, I asked him how he’s doing. “Not good,” he said. Then, he told me about his family.

“My dad came in my room and asked where Mom is” he says, lounging in the cold desk, arms crossed, “and I didn’t know if I should tell him or not. Next thing you know, we’re sitting in the car for three hours. I call my mom and she says she’s at the movies but there aren’t any cars in the parking lot because there isn’t any movie showing. My dad starts crying and my little brother starts crying and I’m thinking, ‘What’s going to happen?’ Mom didn’t get home till 3am.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, knowing where this was going. He looks up.

“Hearing your parents argue is the worst. Having your ten-year old brother cry in your arms isn’t what anyone wants.”

He fights back tears. Because he’s tough.

“Mom’s crying, Dad leaves, and nobody knows where he went. Three days pass and no sign of my dad nowhere. Until the Fourth of July.”

The bell rings and “G” gets ready to go to class. “Thanks,” I say, “Thanks for sharing.” He nods gently and heads to class.

The next day, and for the four days after, he comes back.

He tells me how his parents almost got back together, but then, on a trip to the beach, they got into another big fight and he, his little brother, and his mom had to walk home in the rain. He talks about how she eventually moved out and how difficult it was because she still lived in town, with another woman.  

He tells me that was when he finally broke down and cried because the next morning, when he woke up, he found his dad passed out on the couch, “No one should have to experience this,” he says.

“G” used to be a “good kid,” a star athlete, and a decent student. Now, he doesn’t understand why he is so angry all the time, why he can’t control his temper.

“I used to be that kid thinking life would be so easy. But that just makes it harder.”

We sit in silence for a minute.

“I just want to beak down and cry,” he says “but it’s too late to be crying over something that I can’t fix. Life isn’t easy, and it never gonna be.”

“I’m sorry,” I say again, thinking of my dad and the river and wondering if and how I could lift “G” to my shoulders, because so much of his life seems bent on breaking his legs.

The bell rings, and I still don’t know what to do.

Later that day, another teacher writes “G” up and doesn’t want him in their class because he’s disrespectful and curses and needs to be taught a lesson.

He asks if he could spend his detention with me.

A week later, when he needs help with credit recovery for science class, he comes in during lunch and we work through the material together – neither of us having a clue what is being asked but finding, and sometimes guessing, the answers together.

Later in the quarter, he writes a poem about how the Fourth of July used to be the best time of year, until Mom and Dad argue, a little brother cries, and a family falls apart, and I find myself trying to fight back tears, to be tough like “G”.

Then he writes a powerful short story about his parent’s, his mother, and the day he found out she was leaving her family – her “G” - for a woman she met at work. He writes an essay on the power of music and another on anger and how it fuels his life but ruins his days, and I smile.

“G” hasn’t stopped cursing in class, but he is trying, he is showing up almost every day, and he is working on what he can – even if it might be “bullshit”, and that makes me smile. Because that means he’s healing.

I know I’m not “G”’s father or his shepherd, but I am his teacher. And when we had lunch together, when he told me about his life and the things that matter most, I listened. When he asked me if I could relate, I told him about my failures as a son, a father, a teacher, and a husband. I told him he wasn’t alone, in his failure or his pain.

I wasn’t able to take “G” fishing or carry him on my shoulders, but I do think I was still able to help him heal, if only a little,  because whenever I walk home from work and a car honks and honks and honks, I know it’s “G”, driving with his girl, just wanting to say hi.

And sometimes, it’s the best part of the day.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Education  :  On Parenting

Because they call me Dad : A Fireside Sunday

     Photo by  @storyanthology

     Photo by @storyanthology

I could have taken a nap. I could have read a few more pages of In Cold Blood or got busy with any of the other millions of things I can get busy doing. I could have spent a large chunk of the day writing. But I didn't. Because my wife thought we should make a fire.

And as often happens, she was right. 

Snow fell from the trees and landed in our laps and dinner and our kids laughed those long and deep laughs that warm the soul. 

We sat together as a family.

Elias spit raspberries. 

I can't help but constantly feel guilty for not writing more often, for not "pursuing the craft" because I know full well, if this is ever going to happen, it won't just fall in my lap (I already said enough about that).

But then we have a day like today and I'm reminded there isn't room. Nor do I want any. Because Eden "loves the mornings" and Zion asks if she can cuddle and help make breakfast. And I get to be there. 

Because they call me Dad.

And because my wife asked me to build a fire.

So we did.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Open Thoughts  :  On Parenting

"Who did you serve today?"

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A few months ago, we started a new family dinner ritual. For years we would go through the typical, "What was your favorite part of the day?" or "What did you learn today?" and for years it bothered me - because all we're doing is talking and thinking about ourselves. And that seemed fully unsatisfying.

So we started asking the question, "Who did you serve today?" And unsurprisingly, at times, the answer was difficult to find, which was fine, because it lead us into discussions about gifts and talents and the purpose of living. Because whether we think about it often or not, our family has been gifted a great deal. We all have healthy minds and strong bodies, we are all talented and unique in our own way, and we have enough things to help us easily and comfortably survive each day.

Yet we are using these gifts and resources most often to serve and glorify ourselves. Which is sad. But not all that shocking.

In schools across America, signs advertise, "Got to college, so you can buy this" - a fancy car or luxurious vacations, commercials and advertisements encourage us to drive nicer cars, buy better appliances, and add more accessories to our phones, homes, and wardrobes. We are constantly evaluated by our personal achievements, the number of likes and followers we have obtained, and the depth and weight of accomplishments we're able to add to our resumes. 

Yet, suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, "with increases in every age group except older adults."

I often wonder if it has less to do with happiness and more to do with purpose. Because once you've bought the nicer thing, gone to the exotic places, and slept with the prettiest people and your still empty, what then? 

"How was your day," we ask, I ask, because we love our sons and daughters and we want to know how there day really was. Because we love them. But how much more important is it for them to consider how they helped make someone else's day? How they used their gifts and talents and time? Was it to serve others, or themselves? 

"Who did you serve today?" we ask, and sometimes the answer is "nobody." Other times it's a friend or family member (often Zion's is helping Mom with Elias). Always it's a reminder that today we were given chances to use what we've been given to help others. 

Did we?

"Yes," Judah says, "I shoveled the neighbors walkway." And I smile. "Awesome," I say, giving him a high five, "well done buddy. Well done." 

He takes a bite of his chicken, a smile hidden behind a pile of A1 sauce. 

And I swear, in that moment, it's the best damn smile in the world. 

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  BIG ME : little me On Living

 

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Hunting for more than a Christmas Tree

Headed into the mountains today. I carried the saw and he found a stick. The girls threw snowballs that left tiny diamonds on their dollar thirty-seven cent gloves from Walmart, and we carried home a tree. 

Photo by @storyanthology

Photo by @storyanthology

Before leaving, we had a short talk. “Why are we doing this?” I asked.  

“To get a Christmas tree!!!” 

”Nope. That’s what we’re doing, but why are we doing it?” 

“To celebrate the birth of Jesus!” Eden yelled.  

Nope not that either. 

photo by @storyanthology

photo by @storyanthology

I have a few family and friends who don't celebrate Christmas. No Christmas trees, no Christmas lights, Christmas music, no nothin.

Because Christmas isn't about consumerism.

Because Christmas isn't about stockings or presents or all the other things they don’t want life  and family to be about.

And I get it. 

Completely.

Which is why we hang garland from the windows, bake Christmas shaped cookies, hang stockings above a fire, and why we drive forty-five minutes on a Saturday morning to hike in the frozen snow in search of the imperfect Christmas tree that we’ll decorate our tree with popcorn, lights, and ornaments.

Because, Christmas trees and Christmas lights and all the other Christmas things we do are simply the things we do, not why we do them.

So we head to the mountains so we can be together, as a family, because “what is today not about?” 

“Ourselfes,” Zion says the loudest. And I don’t have the desire to say, "ourselves" because it’s glorious.  

And because we’re on our way to the mountains, in all of our imperfections, as a family. 

To celebrate Christmas.  

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Christmas Thoughts :  On Parenting

 

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