Where Are The Parents?

Another school shooting today, this time in Maryland. This time the “bad guy with a gun” was killed by a “good guy with a gun.” But, the bad guy was 17 years old, so even though there was someone there to put an end to it, I have to ask… Where are the parents?

No matter what side of the gun debate you fall on, the bottom-line here is not that the guy went out, used a gun, and shot a bunch of people. The issue is that this young man thought the solution to his problem was to go out and kill people.

“How does a person, a human who has been brought into this world and raised by an adult and a community, not know the value of human life.”

 This angry, disappointed teenager didn’t have the ability to control his rage because no one seems to have shown him how problems get solved.

Where are the parents?

Isn’t it the job of a parent to teach children how to deal with distress – how to explain their anger, but not take it out on others? Who is not teaching our children these lessons?

Some would argue it’s violent video games, or regular, strife-ridden evening news, or the ubiquitous media calling attention to every whack job trying to “make a name for himself”. (I might have said “herself” – but there aren’t many women going crazy with guns and killing innocents.) There will be choruses of people trying to explain that the kid was crazy, that his sugar level was low, that his feelings had been hurt – what-ever.

The NRA (and others) will rejoice in the presence of an armed “resource officer” at the school – but is that really what it takes?

Should we turn our schools into prisons in the name of “safety”.

Where are the parents?

My father had a pistol in the house. I knew where it was, but I knew it wasn’t a toy and I certainly knew it was an instrument of death. Isn’t that obvious? Why are “children” with access to these firearms not being taught that killing people is completely unacceptable?

17 kids died at Stoneman Douglass High School because an angry, orphaned teen who had been flagged by the system got his hands on an assault weapon and decided to kill innocents.

Can’t we, as a society, do better than this?

Instead, our government is decreasing school funding – no need for counselors, or extra teachers, or focused curricula. Instead, the lemmings in Washington have decided that social services are unnecessary, so if you need psychological counseling, you’ll just have to get it on the streets. Having these services unavailable makes being a parent even harder – no support, no medicine, no guidance.

And so, American families fall apart.

The good news, I believe, is that the majority of us have been raised to respect each other and to practice The Golden Rule.

Unfortunately, the examples being set by our leadership are angry and fearful – so as a result those behaviors are rising in our society.

If you’re a parent – please do your job. Teach your child from their earliest years that other people are entitled to their opinions. Teach them that they will be hurt by words, but that words are just words. Teach them that being kind is the best way to navigate their lives. Teach them to come to you with their problems, to talk things out, to get things off their chests.

To do these things, we have to communicate with our kids.

We have to find out why they’re sulking, we have to keep an eye on their friendships, and their interests, and their choices. Those things ARE our business.

We have to talk with (not too) our kids, so that one day, when someone asks “Where are the parents?” it will be to congratulate them on having done such a wonderful job.

Please please please….

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That’s Not How We Do It in Our Family

Over the years our children have come home and said things like, “You know, Eric’s family watches TV during dinner.” To which we would respond. “That’s nice, but that’s not how we do it in our family.”

Our response served two purposes; one was to plant our flag with a solid “no,” and the other was to indicate that we make the “choice” to do what we do (as if we considered watching TV during dinner and decided it wasn’t for us). A side benefit, or course, is that we were also defining our family as a unit; essentially saying “You’re part of this family, and we have different expectations.

Our choices. Our values. Our family.

This may seem obvious, but these days one can’t take anything for granted.

Sadly, we are in a time when disrespect and bad behavior appear to be rewarded. Just recently I watched a video of a young girl on a subway defying a number of reasonable requests from a very calm policeman to remove her foot from the seat across from hers. For some reason (she said it was her “comfort”), she refuses to move her foot and, after repeatedly challenging and calling the cop names, he forcibly removes her from the train where he is berated by expletive spewing bystanders. Some claimed this was an unnecessary use of force, but why would anyone choose to simply not move their foot, let alone challenge a policeman (who is literally doing his job)?

After the officer told her that she needed to leave the train (prior to having to physically remove her), the girl actually said “I paid money to be on this train.” – as if she had the right to put her dirty foot on someone else’s seat because she now owned the train.  Nonetheless, after enforcing the law, the cop is criticized and this young girl is the “victim” even though she brought the entire incident upon herself.

Who raised this child?

If this seventeen-year-0ld was a toddler and you were her parent would you reward her for her disrespect and blame yourself for having high expectations?

That’s not how we do it in our family.

Ironically, even our role models no longer set a good example. Sadly, I have to put our current President at the top of the list. In a recent opinion piece “Don’t Let Dishonest Don Replace Honest Abe” Neil J. Young writes “With his daily doses of deceit, Trump is undermining the notion of truth and waging war on the foundations of American democracy. As Trumpism becomes normalized, we risk abandoning the norms that have long guided American public life…” The examples of verbal attacks, name-calling, and outright misrepresentations coming from the highest office in our land are a detriment to all of us – even if some of us believe that Donald Trump is accomplishing goals and doing a good job. In fact, these elements of his behavior (not including his sexism, regressive policies, and poorly chosen teammates) should be enough to discredit him as a leader.

Would this conduct be acceptable at your dinner table?

That’s not how we do it in our family.

What can we tell our kids about it? How can we explain that the man who should be a role model is, in fact, a self-obsessed bully. On a more immediate level, how can they deal with similar personalities they might encounter in their daily lives?

Again, I retreat to the closed system that is our family – our simple group that operates according to a set of “norms” characterized by our values; kindness, courtesy, and truth. We teach our children to take responsibility for their actions and not blame others. We teach our children to tell the truth, even if it means we have to disappoint them and sit through an uncomfortable discussion so that they better understand our behavioral expectations.

I’m writing because I believe our children will become exposed to a lot of “not how our family does it” behavior and that they will have to make choices…

I’m not writing because I think I’m a perfect parent or a guy who has all the answers. I just know that our children will become exposed to a lot of “not how our family does it” behavior and that they will have to make choices about their values. Values are seeds that get planted at home, and the most important influences our children have come from us – their parents. What we do at home is far more important than what anyone does in the White House. If we, as parents behave respectfully toward each other, navigate the world with compassion and treat the people around us with respect, we will raise children who do the same. In my book, “Raising Children That Other People Like to Be Around” I used the anagram SMART to simplify the parenting process – starting with S – for Set an Example.

There are times when the value of Truth is more important than popularity. There will be times when our kids think we’re unreasonable because we hold fast to honoring a promise and keeping our word, but in the long run these are the pillars on which we and our children will stand and survive.

That IS how we do it in our family.

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Guns Guns Guns

So, what do we tell our kids when someone with a gun goes crazy?

What do we tell our kids when someone with guns goes crazy? Do we say “Well, I’m sorry son, but in this country we have the right to bear arms, so that guy should have been stopped by a “good guy” with a gun.” Maybe we say “Things like that never happen around here.” – but then we think about Sandy Hook, The Pulse nightclub, or Virginia Tech and that excuse falls away too.

I’m just being a wise-guy.

Let your children know that they are SAFE in our world

What I do in circumstances like these is LET MY CHILDREN KNOW THEY ARE SAFE.  I tell them that there are no crazy people in or around our home, or their school, or, hopefully their neighborhood. I tell them that, as their parent, I’m always watching out for them. I explain that their mother, our neighbors, and the police are all here to protect and guide them and that they do not need to be afraid.

Young and old, children want to know they’re safe, even if we have to swallow our own fears to convince them.

I’ve gone through a lot of transitions about guns. My father had been a pistol instructor in the Army and kept one in the house. As a 10 year old, I attended a shooting class at the local YMCA and got an NRA membership certificate as a Pro-Marksman.

After my NRA class, my dad bought me a bb gun. He made me take an oath to “not shoot a living thing” which I accepted as a term of use. I was a very good shot. I could hit a bee (insect vs. “living thing”) on a wall from 30 ft.

I am trained in gun safety and I understand how serious it is to hold a weapon. I have gone to Vegas and enjoyed firing automatic weapons (at an indoor range) and I have spent hours “plinking” various objects with a .22 caliber rifle.  I’ve had a lot of the fun target shooting, but handling weapons requires training and a cool head.

When my wife and I moved into our first home, I thought about getting a pistol or a twelve gauge shotgun for home-defense.

My wife objected.

 Having a gun in the house increases the odds of an accident by ONE HUNDRED PERCENT.

Our first child was due in a few months and my wife, in her classicly logical way explained that having a gun in the house would increase the odds of an accident by ONE HUNDRED PERCENT. If I locked it away, I wouldn’t have it when I needed it, and if I put it where I could get my hands on it, it was probable that someday, some little hands would find it too. I knew this to be true because, as an eight-year-old I found my father’s pistol and went searching for the ammo (which I never found).

Details will emerge, excuses will be made, and, inexplicably, Congress will continue to loosen gun regulations.

The Las Vegas shooter appears to have been a pretty normal guy. Who knows what his grudges were, but does it really make sense for him, or anyone, to own a weapon that can rapidly fire fatal lead rounds into a crowd of innocent people? Details will emerge, excuses will be made, and, inexplicably, Congress will continue to loosen or ignore gun regulations.  They will claim that “the left” want to abolish the 2nd Amendment, they will claim that we want to confiscate their guns.  They will continue to offer these hyperbolic lies as some form of defense.

Are these issues to discuss with our young children? No. Living in fear is no way to live. I used to tell my wife that it would be OK for us to have a gun if we enrolled our kids in gun safety classes and we taught them to respect firearms… but she threw that “100% greater  possibility” fact at me time and time again. She reminded me that our child might be showing a gun to a friend who WASN’T trained in gun safety and suddenly we’d have a serious problem (another childhood anecdote here).

So that’s it. Most gun owners are responsible, caring, intelligent people – but guns are designed to kill things, and ultimately, somebody snaps and puts a gun (or guns) to its intended use.

There are statistics that prove that the fewer guns we have in our society, the fewer gun deaths we will have. Australia implemented serious gun restrictions and their death rates plummeted.

More guns mean more shootings. Fewer guns mean fewer shootings.

Seems like common sense to me.

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One Foot In Front of the Other

It’s hard to be happy all of the time.

People say I’m an optimist… and, by most accounts, including my own, I would have to agree.  Some days however, getting out of bed is not something that I look forward to. On those days, life is just a matter of having the determination to put one foot in front of the other.

I try to stay focused on parenting. That focus includes encouraging parents to learn from their mistakes and to revel in the challenge of raising kind, considerate children. I recognize that there are days when that seems pretty futile – and on those days I encourage them to just put one foot in front of the other.

My friends and I  have lost loved ones; parents, spouses, best friends, pets – and all of us know the chasm of emptiness that resides in our chests from those events.  Although I was trained to emotionally overcome those tragedies, that emptiness often lasts longer than I could have imagined. Those days are marked by trying to remember those people with love and putting one foot in front of the other.

My friend Randy’s grandma used to say “Life isn’t wonderful.”

When I think about that, I also think about how wonderful certain parts of life can be. When I remove my fears (about health, wealth, and our nation) I try to focus on the parts of my life that are, in fact, wonderful.

For each of us, those may be different. I have a loving family. My wife of forty years and I live in the house our children grew up in. Our family members are healthy and have healthcare (for as long as that lasts). We don’t worry about our next meal. Our kids are grown and earning their own livings (for the most part). I am, in fact a very lucky guy.

So why do I wake up depressed some days? Why does the world threaten me, when I should be threatening it?

Because shit happens.

Not every day is going to be perfect. Not every decision is going to be right, and not every interaction with another human being is going to go the way it should. Just because.

So what can I (we) do about it?

In my case, I’ve found that being generous – with time, gratitude or money – helps me feel better. To that end, sixty eight Southern Californians (including my son, Aaron) and I have decided to raise cancer-fighting money through an organization called Team in Training. This weekend we’re going to ride 100 miles around Lake Tahoe to complete our commitments (to ourselves and our donors). Our goal is to raise $250,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with which they will fight the terrible disease. If you’d like to donate to the cause and increase the number of Cancer survivors, please feel free to contribute here.

But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m writing to say that, even though we can all find ways to feel good, there are just days when life sucks, when the day ahead feels daunting, and that’s normal. It’s OK.

I once gave a co-worker a post-it that said “Time heals all wounds.” She put it on her bulletin board and it got us both through some tough times. I’m old enough to tell you that, if you do the work required to learn, grow and change, it’s true – time will heal most wounds… certainly the ones that are emotional.

Another way in which my coaches and teammates have put this into perspective is to say “No matter how hard it is to ride your bike up that hill, someone fighting cancer has it much harder.”

So, today and this weekend, I’ll be remembering how lucky I am that organizations like LLS are fighting hard to add happier days to the lives of cancer victims….

…and I’ll be doing it by putting one foot in front of the other.

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United We Go – Up Up and Away

United AirlinerI’ve got a lot bouncing around in my head lately, and although it’s about our country, very little of it has to do with Washington. Fact is, I think it has something to do with what I see as the state of our “United” States.

Is Dr. Dao of the United Airlines incident a hero – or a victim? Did he behave in a manner in which I would want my child, or my neighbor to behave? Did the airlines behave in a manner I would expect from a successful service provider? Is the customer ALWAYS right? Did Dao respect authority, attempt to negotiate a reasonable solution, or did he behave like a child when confronted by burly law enforcement officers? Did he concern himself in any way with the needs of the other passengers to get to their destinations on time?

Nope. It was all about him.

“That’s OK, I’ll take the $800, let that crazy guy stay in his seat.” – said NO ONE.

But Dao wasn’t the only one thinking about himself.  It’s hard for me to believe that one person on that United flight saw what was happening and didn’t step up to say “That’s OK, I’ll take the $800, let that crazy guy stay in his seat.” Lots of people objected (you can hear them), but no one was willing to make a sacrifice and surrender their own seat.  Not one person.

Lost at AirportTravel is never easy.  Typically we have to deal with cramped spaces, tight deadlines, and people who aren’t…well…us.  I’m not judging, I’m just observing. I’ve been the person sitting in my seat watching someone else’s boarding nightmare  (wrong seat, no overhead bin space, etc.) – but that confusion and impatience has never broken down to a physical encounter and  I’d like to think that logic would prevail before it got to that. It’s important to understand that sometimes life isn’t fair and we don’t always get our way.

Despite the fact that what happened to the doctor will ultimately have a positive effect on the travel industry, his behavior does not warrant poor victimhood and the possibility of being paid millions of dollars for a problem he created himself. Yes – the situation was a mess, the Chicago airport police were unnecessarily rough with the uncooperative doctor, but he was refusing to comply – which, as most people know, is a sure way to piss off an authoritarian on a mission, right or wrong.

If a cop asks me to do something, I comply –because I understand that the situation is going to have a far better outcome if I do.

Good solutions have been offered for future problems related to seating availability. When people check in, ask them privately if they’d be willing to give up their seat for compensation or give them an option to include their willingness as part of their electronic boarding details. It’s much easier to get volunteers privately than it is publicly. And, by all means, do it before you load them on the plane and give them “ownership” of their seat.

Airliner SunsetWas this injustice? United’s reasons were lame, but after protracted discussions, time spent, and offers to everyone on the plane, United followed a procedure that led to asking the Dr. to give up his seat. When he didn’t, they were required (on behalf of all the waiting passengers) to do something about it. They may not have done the right thing, but reading the full story clearly shows that Dr. Dao could have also handled himself differently.

I was raised to respect authority. If a cop asked me to do anything, I would comply – not only because I had nothing to hide, but because I understood that the situation was going to have a far better outcome if I did. I also recognized that being a cop is a tough job in which the threat is constant and the risks are high – why would I want to complicate that?

I was also raised to be aware of the people around me – to move my car out of the road if it stalled, or let others go ahead if I couldn’t find my ticket.  Unfortunately, what I see in this event is that people no longer believe in the “collective.” For all the surrounding passengers it was all about me, my selfie, and my Schadenfreude.  Perhaps if the flight had been truly “united,” everyone would have worked together to solve the problem. 

Say farewell to doing things for the “greater good.”

As usual, this brings me to parenting. Do you want to raise a child who, when confronted with an unsatisfactory situation throws a socially disruptive tantrum and gets into a physical argument with you (which is typical in a toddler, but not so acceptable in a teen)? Don’t we want to teach our children to “use their words” and to express themselves without arching their backs and flailing about? Once flailing, when they smack their hand on the wall, is it our fault for upsetting them, or their fault for behaving uncontrollably?

Tantruming babyAs my dad used to say, “Every once in a while a blind squirrel finds a nut.” and in this case, thanks to Dr Dao’s childish behavior, the airlines will find better ways handle their seat-filling problems. Nonetheless, despite the value of this lesson, I’d still rather live in a world where reasonable people negotiate satisfactory solutions, and selfish behavior is not rewarded.

As we examine the events of the United flight, let’s think of them in the context of our own citizenship and our children’s behavior. Would we be proud that our child forced authorities to physically remove him from an airplane – or would we be prouder that he verbally appealed (or had the flight crew verbally appeal) to the rest of the flight (even in desperation) to find a more reasonable solution – even if the most reasonable solution was to deplane with dignity and get every concession possible from the airline?

What do you think?

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Patriotic Parenting – Making America Great Again

Patriotic FamilyDo it by raising great children.  A “great” country needs great citizens… and building great citizens begins with focused and responsible parenting. Here are 5 ways that I believe patriotic parents can raise intelligent, inspired and involved citizens who are truly the key to making America great again.

TELL THE TRUTH

Kit KatIn most homes, truth is not a relative thing. Either your child wrote on the wall with crayon or he didn’t. Either your kid hit someone at school or not. And, by the way, “Who ate my Kit Kat bar?” These are issues that need to be addressed directly. What we do with the answers, is what parenting is all about.

Clearly, our goal is to encourage our children to tell us the truth, but how can we do that when they’re afraid they’ll get in trouble?

Justice ScalesMy parents allowed my sister and me a mechanism that would encourage discussion and value truth. If we confessed to having done something that was “trouble” worthy, we would be given an option to confess free of an anger-driven, unfair, possibly-painful punishment.   Once we opened the discussion with a mea culpa, we were allowed to explain what happened, why it had happened, and then we would have a conversation about why it wasn’t going to happen again. This openness allowed us to trust our parents and to recognize that they valued truth more than the idea of just punishing us. We were disciplined, but without physical or psychological pain.

It’s also important not to lie to others in front of your children. Remember, kids are always listening so when you tell someone on the phone that you’d help, but your car is in the shop (when it’s not), you’re teaching your child to lie. Some of us don’t even notice our “white lies” anymore, but it only takes a couple of questions from your attentive toddler to realize you’re busted.

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

Moses and CommandmentsThematically, this is very similar to telling the truth – but this is about “owning up.” I can remember being taught that a game wasn’t worth winning if you had to cheat to do so. That ethic seems to be fading (“just win, baby”), but with young kids in sports it’s important to teach them that being honest about that “close call” (a hand ball, out-of-bounds, missed tags, etc.) is a very good place to start.

Situations often arise between siblings that require one or the other, and eventually both, to step up and tell the truth. Teaching our children to “own” their actions is crucial to their ability to take responsibility as they get older.

I suspect that everyone I know has at some point said something unflattering about another person… only to have that statement find it’s way to that person and back to them. I was told “Don’t ever say something about another person that you wouldn’t be willing to say to their face.” Although it’s not always wonderful, when those statements come back at us, there is a certain peaceful clarity to “owning up” and admitting the truth to that person’s face. Those situations often lead to wonderfully honest discussions.

DO UNTO OTHERS

Yep. The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

When it comes to making friends and strengthening a society, the assumption that we’re all equal and that we all have feelings is probably a good starting point. This concept is obviously not very complicated, but teaching your child to empathize is not as easy as it might seem. Sure, you can ask “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” but the point of asking that question is to press your child to actually feel as though someone did it to them. This requires a little more parental focus – and this is an important lesson – so take the time.

GIVE BACK

There’s not much a toddler can reasonably do to “give back” to society, but there are certainly a lot of things that patriotic parents can do to model service to others. Whether it’s simply being sure to remember cupcakes for the class event (and involving your child in the process) or going with you when you perform charity work (participating in food, blood, or clothing drives), your children will benefit from your example.

Be a blood donor. I used to take my kids with me. Sometimes they sat on my lap, sometimes they just came along for the Oreos (my main motivation). Regardless, the process reduced their fear of needles and taught them the value of doing something meaningful for strangers. Easy. We get our blood for free.

STAY HEALTHY

Patriotic RunnersOur country is not going to be great again unless it’s populated by healthy people. The older I get the more I appreciate this fact. Eating and exercise habits begin when we’re young. I am a yo-yo weight kind of guy. Last year my weight was fine, this year I’m up fifteen. They say bodies are made in the kitchen and not in the gym. I believe that to be true – and habits for our children are formed in our kitchens.

Do what you can to teach your children about the value of healthy foods and exercise. At 60+ I’m still playing softball (not exactly a shape game, I’ll admit), but throughout our children’s youth they saw parents who made a point of getting off the couch and getting things done – whether it was coaching their teams, or planting gardens, or going to the beach.

This is the ultimate grass-roots campaign.  If you’re inclined to help build a strong society, filled with focused, happy, patriotic and productive citizens, these five things are the ways in which I’d endeavor to do it.  I’m not counting on any politicians to do this job – it’s just too important.

What do you think?

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Building A Happy Family – 3 New Lessons

Even though I’ve written a book about parenting, the process of building a happy family continues to evolve, and after raising four children over a period of thirty-six years, there are a few things that stand out as lessons learned.  Here are three new observations that have recently bubbled up.   I consider these to be simple tips for helping parents unify their families and raise happy children.

Be Idealistic

When our sons were young, perhaps nine and twelve, they were playing with our neighbor who had a go-kart. Both boys were salivating at the prospect of driving it. At that time, the neighbor made a point of telling Aaron he could drive the cart, but Benjamin (our second son) couldn’t. Benjamin came home (across the street) to tell me about it.

It was more the neighbor’s tone than not being able to drive that was upsetting Ben, so I called Aaron over for a chat. “Our neighbor is being really mean to Ben.” I said. “Being brothers is a package deal and I don’t think it’s right for you to ignore that behavior, even though you want to drive the go-kart. If our neighbor is going to be mean to your brother, then you can’t let him get away with it.”

At the time, I was holding my breath. I thought – gee, only an idealist would expect his kid to step up to this – but Aaron followed instructions and abandoned the mean neighbor kid.  The boys came into the house and busied themselves with something else. I completely forgot about it until twenty years later, at his bachelor party, Ben explained that he knew what being brothers truly meant the day that Aaron chose not to drive the go-kart.

Hey! It sunk in.

Promote Family

The house I grew up in had pictures like this on the walls.

We had a small area in the living room with some pictures of our cousins, and my parents had various pictures of themselves and loved ones (including my sister and me) in their bedroom… but that was pretty much it.  I always got the impression that my mom felt that putting pictures of ourselves around the house was narcissistic.

Once JoAnn and I started building our family, she began decorating our home with photos.  As our family grew, so did the collection. For a period of at least ten years, we took a family portrait every Thanksgiving so that we could send it out as a holiday card.


At the same time, we took individual pictures of our kids and those were used to decorate the immense set of shelves in our family room. It was (and remains) essentially an altar to our family and loved ones.

At first I thought having all of those pictures of us and our kids on display was egotistical (after all, I am my mother’s son). When I think back on it today, and I imagine that family room full of laughing children, I can see how our senses of unity and love were reinforced by the images around us.  So, these are the pictures our children grew up with.

More fun I think.

As a result, I encourage you to do everything you can to unite your children. Promote group activities. Take family pictures and put them where everyone can see them. Show your kids and the world that you are proud of your family – and they will be proud of it too.

 

Pay Attention

We have a grandson now, so I’m far more attuned to people with strollers. What I notice is that many parents are talking on their cell phones while pushing their toddlers through town. Whether or not the child needs attention, it’s probably clear to them that they’re not number one on their parent’s agenda.

There was a time when we made fun of this phone addiction with a family photo.

I know it’s hard to put the phone down, especially when it seems as though the baby is being entertained by all the things you’re walking by, but the fact is that children are aware of everything we do, and parents who are paying attention elsewhere are denying themselves and their children excellent opportunities for intimacy.

The same goes for the dinner table.  Try asking everyone to put their phone somewhere out of reach at dinner time. It’s hard, but it’s only thirty to forty-five minutes… set a timer if you have to, but without our phones, we actually look at each other and have conversations.  Now my kids yell at me when I get a text during dinner.

None of these things is particularly easy….well, maybe the photos thing is… but what they all require is an understanding that, as parents, our job is to show our children what family life should be, even if we’re cynical or tired or not in the mood.   We have the power to build our families from scratch. My family is different from the one I grew up in, and so is yours. Make that a difference that you’re proud of.

I find, and have found, refuge in this optimism, and I believe you can too.

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Post Inauguration Parenting – 8 Simple Tips

InaugurationAfter saying farewell to President Obama, one of the best parenting examples I could have ever wanted,  I, like many others am dealing with the inauguration of President Trump.  I am optimistic that the enormous responsibility the new President assumes will move his mind to important issues, and that he will consider the well-being of our nation in all the decisions he makes.

Regardless of how the the new President handles his position, many parents are asking what strategies might keep their children focused on kindness, inclusiveness, and generosity. Here are 8 simple tips:

  • Make your home an island of sanity. Be fair, be supportive, and listen. Show your children what respect looks like by respecting them and yourself.  Set the bar high and call them out when their behavior dips below it.  Create a cocoon where they are accepted and loved for their compliance.  Praise them for simple behaviors like when they wipe their shoes at the door, or share something with their sibling.  That security will envelop them, and will give them strength of character when they venture into the world.
  • Teach your kids to leave a trail of people behind them who have only nice things to say.  Lead by example.  We just came through the nastiest election in history, and if your kids don’t learn to navigate the world from you, they’re probably not gonna get it anywhere else.  Model empathy and respect for others. What you do matters.
  • Say this to your children a million times:  YOU are the only person whose behavior you can control.  Many times kids are frustrated by people who are mean to them, who disobey the rules, or tell lies.  Explain that we (our family) is not like that. Use those people as examples of what not to do and praise your child for being able to identify those flaws.  Make good behavior one of “our” family values, and use expressions like “Maybe that’s OK in their family, but our family doesn’t work like that.
  • Serve others, and ask your children to participate.  Several studies support the notion that doing regular chores or service to the community has numerous developmental benefits – and it doesn’t hurt to have a little help around the house!  Teach gratitude and service.  Show them that they are more fortunate than others.  Let your kids see you help a stranger, and show them that they owe something for their comfort.  Encourage your kids to pick up a piece of trash and put it in a nearby bin.
  • Stay involved. Monitor the progress of their homework. It’s a struggle, we know, but “executive skills” (organization of time) will pay off when they enter the job market. Teach them how to use their planners and check them every once in a while. Encourage them to ask for help. Be their teammate, not their boss.  Consider doing your work (or just reading) side by side.  If need be, minimize the distractions – outlaw TV and other non-homework related electronics. Great conversations often arise in these periods of parallel study and silence.
  • Allow your kids to struggle and even fail. This is one of the hardest challenges of parenting. Everybody makes mistakes…teach them to learn from theirs. As W. E. Hickson said: “If at first you don’t succeed… try try again.” This is how we all grow.
  • Say NO when you need to. Adversity is something we all encounter every day. The sooner we can teach our children to deal with it, the better they will perform in the big bad world.  Teach your children how to get you to say yes without whining or crying. Be strong.
  • Make sure they have time to get bored.  For children, play is work.  When they’re left to ponder, their imaginations kick in.  Limit their electronics during free time and don’t feel the need to entertain them.  “Go bang your head against the wall until you think of something to do.” Might be a good response to “I’m bored.”  It worked for my mother.

I trust these will be helpful. They actually apply no matter who the President is… because, as you know, Parenting is not a democracy.

Enjoy your children and lead them in the direction you would like them to go.

Happy New Year.

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Grandparenting

NewbornWell. It happened.  We became grandparents at the end of December.

Of course, nothing went according to plan. We were expecting this grandson after The Holidays – in early January – right about now.  We were mentally preparing to attend a series of parties, eat without concern, and then buckle down into the New Year with excitement and anticipation for a wonderful new addition to our family.

As is often the case with parenting however… things rarely happen the way one expects.

New father holds son.The birth wasn’t easy.  August “Gus” Greenberg’s arrival required an emergency C-section, and a number of days in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), which one familiarly pronounces “nick-you.” This, of course, led to much angst for all concerned – but in the end our tough-as-nails daughter-in-law and our 8lb. 6oz. grandson are as hearty as we all expected and have been healthy and home for over a week now.

Throughout that time, we got to watch our son and his beloved wife perform as the perfect team. He had her back every step of the way and she was his #1 concern. Proof of this was the fact that he put his 6’3” frame on a cot in her room every night!

Once all of that initial concern began to fade I immediately went into a period of age-related navel gazing. I wasn’t the “parent” on the official documents. The new family wasn’t “mine” anymore. It became very apparent that the next generation was stepping up and I wasn’t in the middle of the action anymore. I had just been moved one table farther away from the dance floor.  Grandparenting.

beautiful grandmother admires babyMy lovely and patient wife JoAnn doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the age stuff. She’s on another planet – elevated there by the rapture she feels for this new baby boy. Although we vowed not to be too vocal, she’s being very generous with her experience and I believe our daughter-in-law appreciates it… at least I hope she does.

Times have changed, and frankly, it’s a miracle we survived our childhoods. Years ago I offered to lend the crib in our attic to a friend of mine who was becoming a father. When I came home, my wife put the kibosh on that plan. “Are you kidding?” she said, “We raised our kids in that crib!!” It turns out that our grandson will not be sleeping in that crib either. Apparently the slats are an unsafe distance from each other and like I said, it’s a miracle our kids (or any of us) survived our childhoods. Gus will have pre-warmed wipes, a sock that communicates his vitals by cellphone, and a car seat that looks like it was designed for the space shuttle.

Grandpa holds grandsonOur friends say that being Grandparents is the most wonderful thing in the world – and I believe them. I’ve held my lanky little blob of a grandson and stared into his calm and fresh face. I can’t wait until he offers up more than gas.

Meanwhile, there’s still been no decision on what he’s going to call us. Am I going to be Slick, Boompa, or just plain Grandpa? Is JoAnn going to be GiGi (Gardening Grandma), Grammy Jo, or something we haven’t even considered? Only time will tell – and ultimately we’ll be whatever works best for Mr. Gus.

In the bigger picture, Gus is a new bud developing on the Ben and Kelsie branch of our family tree. He has three uncles and an aunt, all of whom are going to help him to grow healthy and strong. He has an enormous fan club in St. Louis including his grandparents and great-grandparents. He is blessed in so many ways.

baby footDespite all this musing about getting older I have to say that this natural order of things is quite reassuring. As we travel from generation to generation this inevitable tide of reproduction and renewal is cause for hope and happiness. Sure, we screw up all the time, but in the end, the power of life itself seems to prevail. We are all truly blessed to be here right now.

By the way – have I told you that Gus is a genius?

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Prescription For a Happy Thanksgiving

vectorstock_1052311There’s been a lot of complaining going on recently… the unknown (election), the weather (extreme), the world (wars, immigration, Brexit).

It’s so bad even Kanye can’t handle it.

But tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and earlier today I decided that the best way to make a Day of Thanks work would be to decide not to complain, kvetch, or even criticize anyone about anything.

Negativity breeds negativity.

So, let’s do this: Say only nice things to people. Greet your craziest cousin with a warm hello and loving embrace. Understand that your children may be a little goofier than usual because they’re seeing relatives they only get to see once a year.  Tell people how happy you are to be celebrating Thanksgiving with them.

I’ve found that my life goes through half-full and half-empty periods… and lately, although I have a very full life, I’ve been concentrating on the empty side which, frankly, does me no good at all.  Yes, I’ve had a recent surgery and a recent birthday, but getting older is a privilege – especially when you get to do it with a loving mate while surrounded by a loving family.

egbokYears ago, a couple of LA DJs (Ken and Bob) came up with the term EGBOK – Everything’s Going to Be OK. I’ve decided to adopt and embrace this philosophy for the coming period. Whenever something doesn’t go the way my loved ones or I expect it to – we’re just going to say EGBOK. It may sound a bit like denial, but the fact is that worry about things rarely makes them resolve differently… sometimes stuff just happens and there’s no real explanation.

My grandfather used to always spill his wine. I was taught it was good luck. Almost thirty-nine years ago, it rained on our wedding day. People said it was good luck, and it was. We had our first child when we were twenty-six years old. We were broke. We were scared. We were clueless. People said “Babies bring luck.” And they were right, because thirty-six years later I’m the luckiest guy I know.  Luck is where you look for it.

wishfulthinkingfingerscrossedLet’s start thinking about the silver linings and let’s use this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to do so. Let’s be truly grateful for every bite we take, because regardless of how one might want to look at this holiday, it’s really about hope – about the hope that we as people can live together in harmony, that, underneath it all we’re just human beings who like to be fed, who like to be together, who like to smile, and who need to be loved.

Since the first Thanksgiving, there have been mistakes made in the evolution of our country (slavery, internment of Japanese, the Red Scare), but the fact that we continue to celebrate means that we’re optimists; people who believe that we have much for which to be grateful, including each other and our incredible country.

Our Declaration of Independence offers this incredibly difficult and optimistic founding principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  This year we’re going to remind ourselves that we are rooted in a very solid foundation of optimism and inclusion – and that happiness is a choice.

Positive thinking breeds positivity.

img_7659Tell your adult kids you love them (even if they’re making fun of you). Smile knowingly at the rolling of their eyes. Hear criticism as passion. Start with dessert. Thank the person or people who prepared your meal. Try to stay off your phone. Tell stories from Thanksgivings past. Take a photo of the whole group.

Leave a trail of people behind you who have only nice things to say.

And remember… Everything’s Going to be OK.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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