Sunday, December 26, 2010

Being a Light

Recently, one of my brothers and I went to visit my parents, my mother having undergone surgery. She was still recovering in the hospital, and one one Sunday while we were there, my dad encouraged her to sing a song in English and in Spanish. She has always been an excellent singer, and she has never hesitated to share the Good Word with those around her. She sang a couple of Christmas carols, including silent night, and I knew her voice could easily reach into the halls.

Although I enjoy listening to her sing, I thought for a brief moment that voice might disturb people outside; however, I have always been impressed with her unwavering faith and devotion to God. Never ashamed to share her beliefs, something that she has proudly worn on her sleeve. Throughout the visit, I began to reflect on what I was doing in my own life to honor my parents' name. Do I show the same level of faith and devotion that they do to each other as I do to my own family? Does my behavior toward others elevate them to live better lives because of my example?

We can never expect that our own children we live a higher standard of conduct than our own, particularly when our actions do not match our words. Personal integrity is something I have tried to learn from my parents, and I hope I can emulate their goodness towards others.

Watch for the Reefs

Life is not what it's supposed to be. It's what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”

Virginia Satir

The following is a fictitious story that I wrote for my family---somewhat didactic in nature to illustrate the importance of obedience, life's arbitrary nature of being seemingly unfair, and truth:


Let me tell ya the tale of Master Henry . . .

When I was a lad of 14, I decided to leave home in search of new adventure---Home life was good, but my dear parents wanted me to study books and things, and their way of life seemed to weigh me down. I just couldn't see rhyme or reason for minding the Good Book or heeding their counsel. They had lived their whole lives under the shade of the elm trees in the tiny hamlet. Their words seemed so passe, so . . . well . . . I knew they loved me, but call for adventure tugged at my mind. Mama and Papa were good folk, but their life seemed so simple; their moral code so limiting, confining. Papa used to ramble on, saying that a bent arrow never sails true. Or something like that. But, times were changing, I thought, and so I bid them farewell and departed to seek my destiny at sea.

Thus, as a new mate on the voyage of life, I thought that the rules were meant to restrict my freedom (“No drinking, no lying, no dating maidens from the pirate vessel”), and so once I was on board the ship, I tended to listen to the young sailors on deck---many on their first voyage--- wailing that the captain was just too feeble of mind and reviling him, suggesting he was out of touch to know better. The rumors even spread that he was part witch and merman, and that he feasted on squid entrails. Sordid stories, ya see. Plus, the captain walked with a gimp and spent most his "free" time up in the ship's crows nest looking at some old book or something. Must be a pirate map; ditch us all, he might. Walk the plank, fer sure.

Had I just left the confines of the home to be bound once again by the rantings of an old sailor?

There was the time when we went into port, and he warned me about hanging out in the pub called, “The Prancing Damsels.” He said, “Ain't nothing good coming from that wretched place.” But what did he know, plus all of my fellow sailors were going there, and nothing bad seemed to happen to them . . . so I thought.” And the more I went, the less offensive a swig here or there from the bottle of life seemed to me. A little salty language there, a little horse play with the bar maidens. Just a little harmless fun. It ain't that bad. And so, the roar of the crowd drowned out good reasoning.

Or there was the time that the captain said that a storm was a brewing by just looking at the sky, licking the salt water in the air, and watching the movements of the brine shrimp in the water. Jackie Boy and I decided to take a lifeboat out to the nearby island in search of treasure . . . only to have our tiny craft nearly capsized in a tempestuous squall. “Ah, blimey, the Captain got lucky. Tis only chance that we nearly drown, but alas, we doing mighty fine now.” However, some of the crew saw it differently. “Pure gambling,” quoth the other sailors, and three days later on another adventure on the life raft, poor Johnny was taken under . . . swallowed by the unforgiving sea whose rage spares no man. The old Captain made me swab the deck five hours a day for weeks for my misfortune, and I cursed him for he was always after me. "He's trying to kill me, I tell ya," I lamented. And he made me climb up the mask again and again for absolutely no reason. When I asked him why, he simply muttered, “It'll do you some good, trust me.” "Tis ain't fair, I tell ya." Then, he retorted, “Life ain't all bliss, and if you're expecting it ta be, you're gonna be sorely disappointed.”

However, as I grew older, I could finally see that while I was standing on the main deck of life looking into the uncertain sea ahead of me, the Captain was standing 100 feet above in the crow's nest . . . above the low-lying fog that clouded my vision (the rhetoric and misguided sayings of the day) . . . and he could see the perilous coral reefs ahead. And instead of riding as close to the reefs as possible (for this was the badgering of the sailors to see if the dear Captain had seasoned skills of a “true” sailor), he purposely swung the ship far out and around the reefs. No cursing or name calling that spilled from the sailors lips could coax the Captain to deviate his course, because unbeknownst to us were the changing currents that in a moment's notice could lull the unwary vessel . . . little by little . . . into the reefs.

During all this time, many of the crew clamored for adventure and the spoils of some lost booty found aground on some distance shore; yet, we spent most of our time trimming the sails, seemingly floating in circles with no apparent destination On one season in port, the Captain exclaimed that any man who wanted to leave his service was welcome to do so. Disenchanted with what many considered the drivelings of an imbalance soul, nearly half the crew abandoned the ship, preferring to take their chances with another crew.

Yet, I stayed. Little by little, I began to discover that the captain had been using these apparently aimless maneuvers in the sea over the past few months to gauge the firmness of the crew's character. "There's a reason why we stand clear from the reefs of life," he exclaimed. At main deck, you often can't see the dangers and have the youthful tendency to dispel the reasoning (how illogical it may appear from the view from where you stand) of the man upstairs.

Then, one evening I perchance to spy the Captain reading the Good book on deck and struck up some light conversation, for by that time, the Captain had shown a liking to me, and I found his somewhat unorthodox demeanor calming. He treated the crew with respect, although this wasn't paid in kind; he also had an uncanny ability to see the future; he also was true to his word. Then, after quoting a scripture or two, he said, “My son,“ for that is what he called me, ”sailing far away from the reefs might not raise the hair on your neck, but you'll always make it back into the harbor. Make friends with those who don't compromise the craft." And then he concluded, "Remember, a bent arrow never flies true.” “A what? Wait,” I interjected. My papa used to say the same thing.” And then, as the Captain quietly walked away into the fog of the night, he concluded, “And a fine man your father was.” Wait,” I burst out, “Do you know my father?”, but the Captain's silhouette faded into the night, ignoring my pleas for an answer.

Until . . .
Well, so what's your ending to the story?
The Moral of the Story:

My dad tried really hard, in spite of the many family challenges we faced, to provide for our financial, spiritual, and emotional well-being. When we were growing up, we often didn't see the reason behind my dad's seemingly-arbitrary decisions, but Dad instilled in me a moral compass by which he lived that has had a lasting impact on our lives. Such compass wasn't thrown off the the roar of the crowd or the shifting values of the day. He taught us values and standards that enabled us to make our own decisions later in life when we decided to plot our own courses, no matter what these decisions would be.

He taught me that life isn't always fair or that the reasons for rules aren't always clear from the deck of the ship, but the only thing we have control of is how I react to these situations: either accept the circumstances and trust in the Captain (parents, God, other leaders) in spite of the roars of the crowd (friends, the media) to do otherwise, or reject and rebel against such counsels. When we are young, we often don't realize that the string on the kite is the instrument to keeping the kite in flight, not to bind it to the ground. Remember that the string isn't rigid; it's flexible allowing some allowance for the kite to find its way. But try letting go of the string one time and see how quickly it falls.

I realized that as a member of the family, I followed the expectations of the family and the rules of society; once I was an adult and left home, I was given complete freedom to succeed or fail. What my father taught me served as the string to keep me firmly grounded, not as the world sees it, but in terms of unwavering faith, and also the strength to stay a float and thrive in the midst of challenges, not if, but when, they sail my way.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Forgiveness: Getting Beyond the Hurt

As a parent with the goal of successful and happy relationships, you have  to be prepared and willing to forgive and forget all the hurt, misfortunes, wrongs, and indiscretions that your children commit towards you, themselves, and/or others, but you must be equally be prepared to accept the fact that your children may not be as forgiving of any of your shortcomings or mistakes. The only thing you can do is to continue to sow and nourish the seeds of love and kindness and hope that the roots sink deep into your children's hearts.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Changing Seasons: Just like life . . .

On one day last week, I was mowing the grass, enjoying some pleasant weather, and the next day, I was shoveling snow in blistering cold temperatures in front of my house. One thing in life that is always certain is change. You cannot stop it, but you have to accept it under its own conditions. Complaining about the unfairness of life does nothing but make you miserable.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Finding Your Way

One hobby---or method of maintaining my sanity---is trail running. Instead of running endless miles on pavement, I much prefer hitting the hills or desert in rain, sun, or snow in testing my mental and physical endurance. In one particular race, the goal was to complete a marathon distance in the desert along some very scenic spots. The rain was coming down pretty steadily at the start of the race, but this dissipated after a few miles in the to course. However, once I reached mile 13, the runners just ahead of me seem somewhat disorientated, and although were distinctive orange arrows on the ground that seemed to point in one direction, it just didn't seem like the right way basic on the basic map we were carrying with us and the lack of footprints.  Normally, a race such as this is well marked with colored flags, signs, or even volunteers to point you in the right direction. However, after getting lost and runners going in all directions, the race was called off in light of the danger of runners getting further lost in the desert.

In many ways, this reflects the challenges which confront us and our children. Too often in life, there are signals or mixed messages that can mislead us and take us off the prescribed course. Fortunately, parents, good friends, and other mentors can keep us on the right path.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Words of Encouragement

Saying the right thing at the right moment is a constant juggling act, especially when trying to help family make the best decisions for their future. Mention the right thing, and you might rewarded with praise and admiration for your great wisdom. Say the wrong thing, and you might be the victim of some nasty porcupine quills for butting into someone else's business. The hardest thing in the process of giving advice is when you know you are probably right, yet the other person is not in the right frame of mind to see that same perspective.

My wife and I enjoy long-distance running, and although we are pretty slow, we enjoy doing it together. In part, I am trying to make up for one of the only lies I made to my wife years ago when I said (when we were still dating) that I liked to jog. At the time, I merely thought that the only thing I could say was that I enjoyed it. It never sounds very appealing for a man to admit he doesn't like to do something physical like running. I must say, however, that I did enjoy other sports including racketball, so it wasn't like I was physically inactive. I just didn't find much enjoyment in pounding the pavement mile after mile breathing in car exhaust down city streets.

Well, in our early forties I started taking up trail running in the mountains in our area after listening to the stories of an ultrarunner who had completed a number of 100 mile (160 kilometer) races. Now, running in the mountains was something I could really enjoy, and I already had done a lot of hiking, so being in the backcountry wasn't something foreign to me. After doing this for some time, my wife and I started running together, and I helped her complete her first marathon in 2009.

We then decided to try her second marathon that would take us through the desert in some of the most beautiful country in Utah. In preparation for the race, she had a specific time goal in mind, and we trained with that in mind. Having goals in life can be very useful in motivating us to achieve things we might never have done before. On this occasion, my wife was very focused on obtaining her goal, and I was just as focused on helping her achieve it. (I must openly say that she is my best friend and I try to thank her daily for the countless acts of kindness and sacrifice she has done for our family. Love for a person can actually grow as the years go by!).
Randall, and his wife, Shirley, at mile 22.

The marathon we were in was small event with only about 120 runners, and the route would take us into some canyons. The nice thing about such an event is that you don't have to listen to rock bands and the noise of the crowd around you for miles. The first part of the race went very well, and we were well on to meeting her time objective. She wasn't feeling 100%, but she looked very strong . . . for our pace.

As we reached the 22 mile mark with only 4 miles to go, I began to calculate what pace we would need to maintain over the last stretch to reach her goal, and it was becoming clear that it would be tight; however, as I glanced over at my wife, she didn't seem very concerned about it. At one point, she asked me to talk about something to keep her mind distracted from the long run, but when I started to talk about some recent family events, she told me not to talk to her. It was at this point that I realized that she wasn't completely aware of the timing and distance. Was she miscalculating in her head? If so, how was I to approach the topic without coming across as too overbearing, competitive, or uncompassionate while not getting my head chewed off? Before the race, she told me to kindly prod her on, but my encouragement could leave a sour taste in her mouth. However, if I didn't say anything (and I did ask her from time to time if she wanted to run a little more or if my walking/running pace was helping her) and she missed her goal, the thought of not reaching her goal might linger on her mind for weeks and months, knowing that she had been so close. I also might look like I hadn't done enough as her unofficial coach. Wow. Between slick rock and a very hard place.

At this same time, the memory of our last marathon flashed before my mind when we witnessed a couple running near the end of the race in which the man became somewhat upset with his woman companion because he felt that she wasn't running fast enough, and he ultimately abandoned her to complete the race on his own. Ouch.

Once we got to the last mile, I knew that coming under her time goal would be so close, and again, I kept softly encouraging her on. I then decided to run on up ahead and around the corner to see how far we were from the finish line. At that point, you could hear the loud music about a little over a quarter of a mile down the road that was greeting the runners as they crossed the finish line. I waited until she caught up with me, and then I decided to run on ahead to see if I could see the time clock which is often placed over the finish line so you can see your time. Unfortunately, they didn't have one at this race, so I was somewhat clueless as to the time. I waited within 20 feet or so of the finish line and cheer my wife on as she ran the last bit and crossed. I officially completed the race .04 seconds behind her.

We were both very ecstatic that she crossed the finish line with 58 seconds to spare. A very close race, but a superb personal victory.

So, what does all of this have to do with raising children and building relations with family? Well, knowing when to give advice and when to keep silent is a careful, and often precarious, balance of life. If you say too much and sound like you are rattling off a list of directives, then you might lose your audience. No one wants to feel like they're being preached at. On the other hand, there are times when we need to provide encouragement and boost morale and even sound a warning voice. Finding the right chemistry of counseling and admonition takes practice.

As for this race with my wife, we had a great day together, and we celebrated the accomplishment together.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Miracles Happen

I fully accept that somethings in life are nearly impossible to do. I can't flap my arms like a bird and take off on an endless flight over the mountains. I also can close my eyes and morph myself into horse and gallop around the desert. Those are givens. However, there are other events that seem nearly impossible, yet through divine intervention or mere luck, things turn out unexpectedly.

This summer, my youngest son went on a one-week trip with his Boy Scout troop to Scofield Reservoir, which is located at an elevation of approximately 7,600 feet in the mountains of central Utah. Among other things, he was looking forward to getting his fishing merit badge. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are NOT a family of fisherman, but over the years, we have enjoyed simple outings that resulted in a few fish and a lot of crayfish from different parts of the state. We are simple folk when it comes to fishing technique, which using involves putting a salmon egg or power bait on the hook and hoping our cast does land around some tree or in our clothes.

One one of the days while he was at camp, a couple of the boys and one of the leaders went to one point at the lake to see if they could catch something from the bank. After some patience, my son was able to catch his first fish. No five pounder, but a fish nevertheless. Then, after casting his line out again, he found himself in an exciting fight with another fish; it seemed to pull and dance in the water more than what you might expect. When he finally was in sight of the fish and got it on land, he realized that by some very improbably odds, the fish's tail had someone gotten lassoed by the fishing line without being impaled in any way by the hook.

So, what is the likelihood of something like this happening again? Who knows? But, I can honestly say now that it isn't impossible. Improbable, yes, but not beyond the unimaginable.

Many of us have found ourselves in situations within our families (and with our kids) where impassable and difficult situations loom before us. Not having been through some trials before, the road often seems so impossible. Hope can disappear with fear replacing the void. However, like in this whopping fishing tale, miracles do happen.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Value of Work

As human beings, we tend to do only what is required of us, and this is true with anything in life. As a language teacher, I find that at times, students are perplexed by their lack of progress and aren't self-reflective enough to recognize that their own behavior---or lack of it---can doom them in learning a language because they only willing to learn as much as required. Few students go beyond what is mandated, but the ones that do, experience greater improvement and satisfaction in their studies.

The same can be said of children and work. Growing up, we always had work and chores to do on top of any outside jobs. I worked on a farm picking vegetables and selling them at a roadside stand; I helped deliver newspapers; I worked at a fast food restaurant; I worked as a waiter; I worked as an usher at a movie theater; I worked in a factory. In all these cases, it helped teach me the value of work and to become independent and self-sufficient.

In some cases, people develop the feeling that life owes them something, that they are entitled to things without working for it. I had a student who was failing his classes and was worried about about what his parents would think when he wasn't able to get into the university. He externalize everything and blamed everyone but himself. What is was so unwilling to accept was that his poor study habits had a lot to do with his poor work ethic, not having learned this from an early age. When he found himself in trouble, he had few positive coping strategies to deal with life.

Parents have the responsibility to help kids deal with the challenges of life, particularly when they don't go our way. Success doesn't just spring from the ground without the seed being nurtured by careful planning and watering. Expecting kids to work to develop self reliance is one step toward independence and one's ability to contribute to family and society.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going for a Plunge

Many years ago while on vacation with my parents and grandparents, we stopped to spend the night a hotel, and like all youngsters, the pool was always the highlight of the trip. For many of these places, kids under a certain age are required to be accompanied by an adult, and Grandpa came with me. It was nighttime in the indoor pool, so it was a little hard to see in the water even though there were some pool lights illuminating the area. As I swam around the pool, Grandpa seemed to be content just to relax in a chair near the pool. Grandpa didn't speak a lot of English, having been raised from a youth in a Spanish-speaking home, but we did fine in communicating day-to-day things.

At one point, I swam over to the side and convinced Grandpa to get in. Although he was somewhat reticent about getting in, he jumped into the water. Within moments, I realized two important truths: (1) a non-swimmer and 7 feet of water don't mix and (2) being grounded forever for drowning a family member is not a fun way to spend the rest of your life.

As Grandpa surfaced, he was grasping for air, and I panicked because I had no idea that he couldn't swim. I grabbed his arm and pulled him over the the side, and after catching his breath, he let a somewhat embarrassed laugh. I was just glad I wasn't going to appear on the 10 o'clock evening news.

The it came to me. Two additional truths: I was certainly not going to say anything about the incident because I didn't want to get blamed or punished for an accident. "Oh, Mom, but the way, I almost drowned your Father. So, what's to eat?" I also realized quickly that Grandpa wasn't about to say anything either. Too embarrassing of an incident. The rest of the evening, Grandpa stayed in the water by the side of the pool, and we fortunately were able to laugh it off between the two of us.

Having had such experiences, I try to laugh things off when my own kids make silly mistakes. None of us is exempt at any page.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Building Memories with Your Children

"To be in your children's memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today."

- Author Unknown

Several years ago when my oldest two children were young, we used their October school vacation break to explore some of the most amazing scenery on the planet in southern Utah. We would load up into our minivan and drive and hike in places like Arches National Park, Bryce National Park, and other lessor-known trails of adventure off the beaten path. One of the traditions I started a few years before in 1996 while we were visiting Kyoto, Japan, was to tell an imaginary story of two young children, Maria and Donguriguri-kun (acorn boy) and their many space adventures.

Well, over the years, the story began to grow with countless episodes filled with fantastic encounters with alien creatures and plenty of villains to spice up the plot. Normally, a made-up story might have a lifespan of a day or two, but this one continued over the years, and I passed the time on most of our long hikes through national parks by telling my kids these tales. In fact, we crossed some very barren landscape hours upon hours with the kids content as can be . . . as long as I kept the story going.

On one particular vacation, we pulled into a very small town without having a plan as to where to spend the night. I threw out the idea of spending the night in the minivan at a gas station, and the kids were excited about the prospect of doing so. The kids ended up bedding down in the back seats while I spent a cramped and somewhat uncomfortable night in the driver's seat. However, it was honestly fun.

Now, the years have passed, and I'm sure my kids wouldn't want to spend a night at the same place. They're adults now, and we all wouldn't fit the same way we did years ago. Still, I relish the memory of doing something a little out of the ordinary.

Doing things outside of the box and experiencing the simplest pleasures of life based on our kids interests and desires can build memories for everyone.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Marriage: What children can learn from us?

As a language teacher working with international students from around the world, I often hear a lot of interesting (and often illogical or shallow) comments about a whole range of topics, including dating and marriage. Most of these students in their early twenties. One day, I asked some of my students what they would think if they went out with a man or woman and they discovered that the person was totally clueless about basic history, geography, and current events. In fact, the person couldn't even find their own country on a map.

When I asked my students if they would go out with this person again, I was somewhat (but not totally) surprised that some of them commented that it would depend on what the person looked like. Now, that's pretty shallow, but from a limited perspective when  you have never had long-term relationships, it is hard to see past the physical. How can you if you have never been involved a long-lasting and happy relationship in which you were totally committed to each other, especially in times of great trials. As a simple analogy, years ago, I thought all ice cream was the same until I tasted premium-flavored ice cream. Man, were my parents just holding out on me all those years by just giving me the generic brand, or perhaps they didn't know there was a difference either?  In other words, people often settle on dating and marrying something less than what they are hoping for, particularly in cases where they think the person will change or improve over the long run; however, I remember hearing once that if you really want to drive a nice porche or other similar vehicle, you don't buy a junker and hope it will change. That won't happen. Don't expect to marry someone that is a "project" (i.e., a person who doesn't share the same hopes and standards) with the hope that you can change the person.

 So, how does this relate to being a parent and raising kids? Children need to see healthy relationships, ones in which parents might struggle, but they have positive coping and communication skills to weather emotional, physical, and financial storms. Marriages don't have to be perfect because none are, but children need to learn the skills to help them make wise choices in making friends and getting along with eventual partners.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dealing with Disappointment

"Failure doesn't mean you are a failure. It just means you haven't succeeded yet."
- Attributed to Robert Schuller
Several years ago, I took my youngest two children to a lake in the mountains not too far from our home with the hope of landing a fish or two for dinner. Of course, growing up, my fishing experience sometimes entailed using a piece of old cheese or baloney on a rusted hook in a creek near my house. Sometimes, I was able to catch a sunfish or two, but I never really had the knack or skill to catch some more sporting game.

My kids and I were full of enthusiasm to land some nice trout that day, and from the start, the fishing was somewhat flow. People around us seemed to be having some success, but again, I was never the best at baiting a hook and knowing where to go looking for the best fishing spot. As the evening progressed, we moved to a different place along the bank of the lake and finally we caught a nice rainbow trout. The kids were thrilled at reeling in the single fish we caught that day, and they put it in a bucket with water to watch it. Having no other luck, we decided to call it a day, and the prospect of having the fish for dinner was definitely on their minds. Then, as we were preparing to leave, I decided to empty the water from the bucket to take the fish home, and in the process, I accidentally pour out the fish and he happily swam away.
At that moment, you could see my kids' countenances change in a second from exuberance and glee to total despair. "Man, Dad. You really ruined OUR day. Can't you get ANYTHING right?" Or at least, I thought they were going to say that. We didn't have more time to fish, and the thought or returning home empty handed weighed on me.
After of few moments of awkwardness and disappointment, I told them not to worry and that we would simply go to the store and buy some great seafood to replace it (which I think turned out to be shrimp and crab legs---an expensive alternative).
Now, in life, disappointment will come to all of us sooner or later. We can stop its hand from touching our lives, and in many cases, we won't be able to substitute the suffering with some grocery items as I did on our fishing trip. Feeling upset and disappointed is a natural feeling, and just telling someone not to feel that way denies the reality of the feelings. However, how we respond and react to those feelings is the key. Do we simply waddle in self pity, or do we make efforts to see such events as stepping stones to better understanding of life events?
Since that time, our family has seen our share of unique challenges, as the majority of people on this planet, and in many ways, I am grateful for each lesson these trials have taught me.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Feeding Your Marriage

"Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years."
Attributed to Simone Signoret (French actress, 1921-1985)

Stress can occur in a marriage when kids seem to be spinning out of control or if they are simply going through the everyday, evolving (and perplexing) nature of being a teenager. One day they might seem to be acting completely  rationale, and then they go ballistic the next. Face it. To a large degree, you won't be able to control what they do and say; they only real control you have to any degree is how you respond to it.
Unfortunately, all of this stress can exact its toll on a marriage and the relationship you have with your spouse. For this reason, feeding your marriage with daily acts of kindness and compassion, along with a double serving of love and thoughtfulness, can go a long way to lifting one's spirit and mending wounds. In the many years I jave published online, I have seldom spoken of my wife just because she much prefers to remain out of the limelight; however, I wouldn't do our family justice by not mentioning the glue that binds our family together. In particular, she has done so much to make me happy, and in term, I have worked hard to reciprocate these same acts of kindness.
Generally speaking, young couples with glitz and exhuberant anticipation of marriage in their eyes have little understanding of what life will throw at them 2,5, 10, or 20 years down the road, and in a way, that is a good thing because we might be so afraid of the future that we don't have the faith and hope that things will turn out for our good. Courage often develops before and during the battle.
When daily battles are to be fought, small acts of kindness and love to our spouses are truely the tiny threads, sown together over time, and keep people together. From time to time, a thread might snap, but the combined total of thousands of them sustain marriage and families in the midst of life's challenges. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Being Prepared for the Long Parenting Journey

"If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent. "
Bette Davis (1908-1989), American actress

Sometimes, as a parent, we might have the inclination to beat ourselves up for all our kids failings, particularly when children externalize their reasons for their problems which often fall in our direction. Of course, there are times when we must accept accountability for our shortcomings, but children often have an uncanny ability to make it all our fault and we often internalize this criticism to an extreme. They often magnify the serious of a situation and become can become very dramatic.

I've just been grateful that as my children have gotten older, they have reach a point where they realize that while we aren't perfect, we're not quite to ogres that might have appeared to be years ago. So, when hard times come your way and your kids scream in your face, bite your tongue a little with the knowledge that this phase will pass . . .  perhaps not in the timeline you would hope for, but things often improve. You just have to be prepared for the long haul.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Giving Positive Feedback without Sticking Your Foot in Your Mouth

"When you're right, no one remembers;
when you're wrong, no one forgets."

The tongue can be a powerful force for good, or it can be used to degrade or humiliate others, and this is as applicable to adults as it is to children. Often times, in our feeble attempts to correct our children, we sometimes become overly critical, unknowingly convincing ourselves that kids will learn it no other way. There have been occasions when I personally have tried to deal with a situation in which one of my kids was doing something that I considered somewhat annoying (e.g., yelling around the house) and have simply told the child, "Stop being annoying."

Yeah, what good does a statement like that have when (1) the activity the child was involved in wasn't destructive or bothersome to the degree that I let it irk me, (2) it didn't identify or address specifically the behavior that I wanted the child to pay attention to and modify, and (3) it didn't offer an alternative activity that the child could choose to do instead.

On the day I was leaving the post office after having registered for the draft when I was 18 (I just remember this day because of the circumstances), I remember seeing the quote above hanging on the wall. What struck me was its significance: we too often are unwilling to let others forget their past mistakes, and in the case with children, providing no positive feedback or comments only seems to magnifiy in their minds the image that others have about them.

This is a constant reminder to me that I need to focus on giving positive feedback that builds self worth and helps a child make specific behavior modifications in a supportive way.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Patience: An Underappreciated Virtue

"I can't control the wind, but I can adjust the sails."

One of things that can cause serious frustration in life is our inability to accept the fact that we have limited control over certain things that happen to us in life. Yes, I can usually decide whether I get up at 6:00 a.m. or 6:10 a.m. or whether or not I smile to the person walking past me on the street. However, some things are simply beyond our control. Fretting and complaining about it won't change the facts.

With this in mind, although parents can have a great influence on their children, we can't control many of their choices very easily. (Tying them to their beds just isn't a viable option.) You just have to accept the fact that their attitudes toward you might evolve over time. You could almost summarize the thought life cycle of a in this way:
  • Six years old: "My dad knows all kinds of stuff, and he knows more about fishing than your dad."
  • Ten years old: "My dad knows a lot about a lot of stuff, but he can't make dinner very well."
  • Thirteen years old: "My dad? He just doesn't understand how things are today. So old fashioned."
  • Fifteen years old: "Who? My old man? He just doesn't get it. He's a control freak! When I turn 18, I'm out of here! I can live life the way I want without him breathing down my neck and trying to tell me what to do and how to live. This family sucks! It's not his call to decide on how I live my life."
  • Seventeen years old (and one day before turning 18---a legal adult where I live):  "My dad says I'll be an adult tomorrow. Hmmm . . . Why is he celebrating in his bedroom?"
  • Eighteen years old (the day after turning 18): (Banging on the locked front door) "Uh dad? Uh, I know I said I wanted to move out when I turned 18, and you so nicely packed all of my belongings in boxes and placed them outside along the curb for me . . . thanks . . . but could I stay a little longer? Oh, and I don't have $250 to pay you rent for first month. Dad? Dad? I know you're inside there." 
  • Nineteen years old: "Dad. I love you! So much! Can I have (not borrow) $50?"
  • Twenty-one years old: "My dad knows a lot about a lot of stuff, but he can't make dinner very well."
As you can see (or will see in the future), our children's feelings toward us often goes through cycles, and by accepting the fact that teenagers can be calm one minute and then can go ballistic another is a fact of life. We can't control the wind, but we can have some influence on how we (and our children) trim the sails. Having patience in the midst of any frightening storm can help us see things through.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Free Time Activities: A lot can be learned outside of the classroom

Growing up in the Midwest of the United States in the 1960s and 70s, life in many ways seemed so simple and fun, but perhaps not by today's standards. With our world today filled with electronic gadgets and gizmos (some of which seem utterly useless like a USB lava lamp), teenagers walk around as if some of this devices are an actual physical appendage to their  bodies like an arm or leg, and these kids would experience some form of panic attack if their cell phone battery died. And if all the cell phone companies went out of business tomorrow and service ended as we know it today, I think many teenagers would wither up and blow away.

I remember the carefree days of playing in the cornfields, fishing along a quiet stream, hiking through the woods, and riding bikes. Come to think of it, I can't remember spending much time at all in front of the TV. And personal computers? Hah!

Now, I'm not saying that technology doesn't have its benefits, for were it not for the Internet and wireless communication, I wouldn't be able to type this blog entry on the bus coming home from work. Yet, providing kids with carefree opportunities to experience the simple pleasures of life instead of sending them to 20 different after school programs (i.e., ballad on Mondays, piano on Tuesdays, karate on Wednesdays, gymnastics on Thursdays . . .), perhaps we should be providing other opportunities to grow in different ways.

Success in life isn't measure simply by the future job our kids will have 10 years from now. Personally, I wouldn't trade the memories of just being a kid. I mean how many  kids climb up on the roof of their house, make a crude parachute out of sheets, and jump off to see if it works? I survived!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Choosing Friends

"If you judge people, you have no time to love them."

- Mother Teresa

Choosing good friends now (and a partner later on in one's life) is a difficult labyrinth to navigate for people in general, but teenagers is specific. Getting kids to trust your judgement and advice can be swayed one way or another, in part, by how we try to communicate our feelings with them. Unfortunately, standing on the pulpit of life experiences and preaching down to them (unintentionally in many cases) will only cause them to role their eyes and exclaim that mom and dad are rambling on and on in lecture mode again.

In fact, telling them that they are hanging out with a bad crowd will most certainly get you off their Christmas list. Trying to prevent them from doing so will just confirm in their minds that we are so out of touch, and preaching about the virtues of good friendship can only go so far without children seeing the same attribute demonstrated in your own life. However, parents also tend to rush to judgement and write potential friends off because of their initial looks, manners, and demeanor. Pushed to much, children might emotionally check out of your own life, preferring to seek friendship and companionship elsewhere.

Whatever the case might be, we should recognize that a friend is one who will help you live the standards you have set for yourself and will never ask or influence you to do otherwise even if your standards are different from your own.

Furthermore, a friend is one that won't bail on your when life gets really tough. I often tell my kids that one of the reasons I love their mother is that she is a solid brick. Now, it might not sound very appealing to call your spouse a brick, but what I mean to emphasize is that when (not if) trials and torrents spill into your boat of life, you want someone that will remain steadfast at your side rather than one who bails overboard at the first wind of trouble.
Yes, yes! Life will get difficult and romantic love will only carry you so far, but if you have great friends (in my case, my wife), they will stay firm in the midst of the angry waves.