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.