June 2012 - Posts
My children and I are spending this summer in
the anvil hot Midwest. The heat's a bit
of a shock for my Pacific Northwest bred brood, but boy does it bring back
memories for me: setting up a lemonade
stand, decorating my bike for the neighborhood 4th of July parade,
sitting in the way back of the blue station wagon from Wisconsin to California (and
This will be the summer your children remember.
Our stand sold lemonade that came powdered in a
can. Think how much more fun it would be
to offer (and make) lemonade with fresh
herbs. And if you have
entrepreneurial children, Kids and Money is definitely worth a look.
I also remember summer as a time for
reading-cradled in the breezy crook of an old willow tree. But if reading is a struggle for your child,
a post from one of our favorite guest
writers, Susan R. Johnson, offers food for thought.
If you'll be traveling with your kids this
summer we have suggestions
and tips for taking some of
the rough edges off travel. And if
you're staying home (or staying in one place), a summer picnic may
be just the memory maker you're hoping for.
Finally, I remember being bored in the
summer. Which, as it turns out, might
have been a great gift from my parents.
Check out this article from the Atlantic to see what I mean.
Thanks for visiting! All of us at Family Year wish you a memorable
flash: as of the date of this posting, my eleven-year-old child has practiced
her cello everyday... for 338 days... in a row.
years of nagging, bribing, cajoling, and threatening, this seems nothing short
of a miracle. How did it happen?
it began with the little red haired girl....
day, our cello teacher announced that the little red haired girl in our studio
had practiced 86 days straight without missing a day. Her plan was to practice for a full year.
"Wow!" I said to my daughter, "That's so
cool! I bet you could do that."
she could. She sputtered at first, but
after two or three weeks she got her groove and announced the number of days in
her streak with obvious pride.
think one key to long term success was setting the short term bar low. Thirty minutes of practice was the ideal, but
on a late night, just 5 minutes of scales would keep the streak going.
trick was a monetary incentive plan-one dollar per hour of practice was
earmarked for the purchase of a fancy cello case. We keep track on the calendar and celebrate
each 100th consecutive practice with cheers, sparkling cider, and a
bonus $20 towards the cello case.
have been sticky situations: overnight field trips, airplane rides, visits to
grandma. We navigated all of these by
asking, "Do you want to keep your streak going?"
always, the answer was yes.
we've taken a later flight to allow for practice before going to the
airport. My little cellist has skipped
recess to practice at school if there's a sleepover that night. We've hiked with the cello, and rented a
cello, and done pretty much anything we could to not miss a day.
practicing is her deal and she knows it.
And I think that's another reason why this has worked. "The Streak" is something she controls. And with an older sister playing flashy
concertos on the violin, "The Streak" gives my younger daughter an impressive
accomplishment for any player-beginner or advanced.
don't know if this would work for other kids.
My child always LIKED her cello, but it was a challenge to get her
started on practicing. Thanks to "The
Streak" I just mention that bedtime is in 90 minutes and she scurries off to
take out her instrument.
course the whole thing may fall apart once we get to 365 days, but right now,
it's like magic.
if I could just find some magic to get her to clean her room....
May I be a father who is:
to myself, my spouse and my son. May I
act in ways that build trust.
to participate with my full attention in the big and little events of my son's
life, experiencing the joy of everyday life.
Less iPhone, more eye contact.
in word and deed, balancing my fear, anger and appetites with faith, compassion
and self-discipline. Aristotle and
Thomas Aquinas believed that temperance (prudence) was the most important
virtue, helping us discern how best to apply all the others.
in my habits. Would I want my son to
grow up to have the same kinds of relationships that I have today with my body,
work, family, friends, alcohol and drugs, media, money, sex, food, sleep? If not, let me work on those things in me.
in my presence, so my wife and son will know that I'm there for them
emotionally. When that's the case, I
feel closer to them and we can solve problems more effectively.
in my treatment of my wife and son, even when we disagree. They will respect me because I treat them
with respect and act respectably, not because I demand it.
Any day I make progress in these
areas is FATHER's day.
When my wife is out for the evening,
sometimes I cook something delicious and healthful for myself and my three-year-old
son. Other times, I heat up some
leftovers. And, then, sometimes, we just
One place I like to go near our
house is a kid-friendly alehouse. On a
recent visit, my son ordered one of his favorites from the kid's menu, the mac
and cheese, and he ate it with gusto.
The next night, my wife was also out, and though it had not been my
intention earlier in the day, I decided we would go out that second night as
well. We went to a different place, one
I hadn't been to in a long time. I
looked at the menu while my son did some coloring. When the waitress came to take our order, she
explained to my son and me that there were two children's items that were not
shown on the menu - mac and cheese and chicken strips. This set the stage for me to learn, over the
next 15 seconds, an important parenting lesson.
My initial split-second reaction to
the children's menu was "Uh oh."
I knew my son would probably choose the mac and cheese, and I didn't
want to tell my wife (who is much more watchful about our son's diet than I am)
that he had mac and cheese two nights in a row.
However, I wasn't prepared or willing to remove that choice, so I just
waited for his reply, hoping he would spare me that uncomfortable conversation
with my wife. I was thinking to myself
silently and urgently "Chicken!
"Mac and cheese," he said. I turned to the waitress, with a knowing
look, and said, "Now there's a shock!", making a little sarcastic fun
of the situation. My son paused for a
second, taking it in. Then he said, a
little sadly, "I changed my mind, I'll have the chicken." Oh did I ever feel like a jerk. How low can a man sink, to make fun of his
child in front of a stranger? I told
him, "It's OK, you can have the mac and cheese." But by that point, it didn't matter. Nothing could take back my hurtful comment.
What happened here? Fundamentally, I think my discomfort with the
situation just leaked out sideways as sarcasm.
When the waitress told us what was available on the kids' menu, I failed
to clarify for myself or my son whether or not the mac and cheese was truly an OK
choice. I was frozen for those few
seconds somewhere between my fear of my wife's disapproval, my own ambivalence,
and wanting my son to like his dinner.
So I just sat silently, pretending I didn't care either way, when in
fact, I did. This set me up for a bad
reaction when he chose the mac and cheese.
Also, after spending the day interacting with a pre-schooler, maybe a
part of me was trying to get a smile out of the waitress with a little humor. Whatever the cause, I ended up breaking one
of the most important rules I have set for myself as a parent - to never shame
Shame is one of our core
emotions. It is different from its
cousin guilt in that it gets at our identity, not just our actions. With guilt, we feel bad because we understand
that we've done a bad thing. With shame,
we feel that we are actually bad and unlovable.
Brené Brown, a professor and researcher who has written and lectured
extensively on shame, has said that shame is the fear that we will lose our
connection to others. As such, shame is
toxic to feelings of secure attachment.
Though shame can serve a healthy function when it helps to keep us in
line with social norms, it can also undermine our own sense of lovability and
I imagine that my son, picking up on
my snide tone, felt intuitively that he was being mocked for who he was, which
is to say, for being a perfectly normal three-year old who wanted mac and
cheese for dinner. He has no concept of
a balanced diet, or the least bit of concern about what my wife might
think. He just realized that, for some
reason, tonight, his dad was making fun of him for wanting mac and cheese. The message was, "you're not OK the way
you are", and that induced shame, and within a few seconds, his demeanor
changed, and he changed his order.
Another parent in my son's preschool
shared that one of her son's teachers told her "sarcasm is
poison." After this mac and cheese
incident, I know what she means. Our
young children are just learning the language.
They are also totally dependent on us as their parents and they need to
be able to trust us. Their sense of
safety and connection relies on the truth of our words. Sarcasm is poison because it is based on
lying - the meaning intended is exactly opposite of the meaning of the words
themselves. Sarcasm is not only
confusing to a young child, but it conveys powerful messages of disdain and
rejection. I can't think of a healthy
reason to be sarcastic with my son, or to model sarcasm in his presence.
Yet, despite all my best intentions,
and all my efforts to parent with intention and conscious awareness, I still
completely blew it that night. I'm
reminded, once again, that parenting can be pretty humbling.
Now, there's a shock.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, June starts out so cool and
damp that sometimes it's hard to imagine the glories of summer that lie just
But bite into a local strawberry and it will all come flooding back.
Soon, warm breezes will entice you to hang out the laundry with
your kids, and walk (or run!) barefoot in the grass. Then slow
down and savor the lingering afternoons of summer with a tea party given for your children and their best
The days are getting longer, but the season is short. Thanks for spending a few moments of it here
with us at Family Year!
average American child now spends over eight hours in front of a screen
each day, emailing, texting, surfing and updating their status
constantly. Play Again is a documentary that looks at our
children's relationship with technology and nature today and how their
lifestyle may affect the future of our planet. It follows a group of
kids who agree to unplug in order to spend four days in the wilderness.
Meg Merrill, the producer of Play Again talks about the film and the youth featured in the film in this piece aired in May, 2012 by KBCS 91.3 FM on their program, Music + Ideas.
Click here to listen