Growing Gorillas One Fight at a Time

We posted this article (“Letting Children Win Is Always A Losing Strategy”) on the Growing Gorillas Facebook page about how important competition is for children. I encourage you to read it and think about it. Really. Think about it.

Think about how competition has helped you to become who you are. Think about those times when you failed or lost. What happened before, what happened during, what happened after. Who was there with you and what did they say?

Every match, every game, every competition is practice in living.

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And if you are a parent, ask yourself, “What am I doing to prepare my child for life?”

If you’re an adult, ask yourself who you have to thank or what experiences do you have to thank for your ability to show up for life, work hard, struggle, win, lose, win again, lose again, and show up again.

Listen. I don’t brag about our Growing Gorillas Kids Program nearly enough. But THIS is EXACTLY what we do. We teach kids to solve problems. We teach kids to compete. We teach kids to win. We teach kids to lose. But most of all we teach them to face life as it is handed to them.

No one is ever guaranteed a fair fight. No one. Ever.

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Sometimes you win because you’re better, faster, smarter. Sometimes you lose because they are. Sometimes winners lose and losers win because the “system” is wrong. But then what? What will you take from that? Where will you go? Will you withdraw and let that experience define you? Will you move on? How?

If by adulthood, our kids haven’t yet learned and experienced failure, success, hard work, or found their talents, then we have work to do. If as adults, our kids make excuses, complain about the unfairness of the world, or think that any one moment defines them completely and forever, then I know we have to go back to the drawing board and adjust what and how we teach children.

My wish is for each of us to see ourselves for who we are, strengths and weaknesses. My wish is for us to accept the challenges set in front of us. My wish is for us to have the training, confidence, and experience to ask ourselves, “What is the next right move?” And then, my wish is for us to have a team, a tribe, a family, a friend to cheer us on as we touch hands and go.

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I realize that some of you don’t know what Growing Gorillas is… hold onto your hats! My husband and I created a curriculum to teach jiu jitsu to children.

Wait – that doesn’t really explain it fully. We created a curriculum, using #jiujitsu to help children learn the basics of living. They learn through play, they learn through competition, they learn through the experience of being part of a a tribe, guided by coaches, supported by parents, and cheered on and pushed by teammates.

We incorporated what we knew and learned from teaching and raising our own children. We’ve since expanded the program and will be releasing a #kidsyoga curriculum this year.

The underlying thread of success is that we teach children how to be better versions of themselves.

Do you understand what we did? We created a curriculum for PARENTING! If only someone had given this to me when we took home Teddy from the hospital 17 years ago. Oh the grey hairs that would have never been!

Let me put it this way. When my kids were born, I felt an overwhelming panic that I had NO IDEA WHAT TO DO! I wanted them to grow up to be happy, healthy, and productive members of society. I wanted them to laugh, play, and find something in life to throw themselves into. I wanted them to learn how to love, how to be a friend, how to have a conversation, and how to be a good neighbor. Everyone wants that for their kids, right?

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Well, here’s the clincher. We really didn’t know how to do any of that stuff ourselves. In fact, neither Travis or I really knew what we were doing at all. We learned our life lessons through our practices in jiu jitsu and yoga. What we learned, we put into a curriculum for kids. That was our next move.

Life is short and it is what it is. The only thing we have control over is our own next move. What is your next move?

I love you all. Keep the fire burning. We have work to do.

Follow Growing Gorillas on Facebook.

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#womensequalityday

I’m a lucky girl to have so many amazing women in my life. What usually leaves me both speechless and smiling ear to ear is this:
Every woman I know is working very diligently in her own way to make life a little better. 
We may disagree on the “how”. We may work in different ways, at different speeds, and with different results. But we work.
We work to open opportunities for women that were previously denied. We work to improve education for girls we’ve never met. We work for pay that adequately represents our contribution. We work for access to health care. We work for the right to have a say in our governments. We work for freedom to wear whatever the hell we want to wear.
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Most of the time, the work that I see women doing is actually very, very personal. It’s work that no one can really see while it’s happening. There are no big demonstrations or public campaigns. There are no commercials or news reports.
Most of the time, the work that we do is in our own thinking. And the actions that come about from that thinking.
And while no one may notice today, over time the world will notice. Because each microscopic change we make in how we view ourselves in the world, how we interact with others, how we think about challenge and celebrate success – they all add up to large, sweeping shifts in the human condition.
Look around. Women are working diligently every where to make life better for themselves and the rest of us. We don’t all do it the same, but we do it.
#womensequalityday

What Are You Waiting For?

“How do you do it all?”

That is the number one question that people ask me. Hands down. I usually downplay my response. “Oh, you know. I just kinda put one foot in front of the other.” Or sometimes, I turn the question back on them, “I didn’t realize I had a choice? How could I not do it all?” All of the time, my first guttural, instinctive response is a big “Ha!” But seriously, what does that question even mean!??!

The truth is that the question most people are really asking is, “Why do you do so much?”

familyiseverythingMy four children who are now teenagers were born in the span of 3 ½ years. My husband and I are entrepreneurs. We own several businesses and a handful of residential and commercial properties. I am a dedicated student and teacher of yoga. I train in jiu jitsu and exercise regularly. I am an amazing cook and diligent housekeeper. I don’t like dirty toilets or unkept yards. I have a very large, amazing family that I keep in close touch with. I have a very involved social life and a travel schedule that will make your head spin. I read voraciously and write everyday.
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And I’m always looking for a new project.

Why?

Because I can. Because I want to. Because I’m called by a whisper that sometimes yells loudly in my head. Because everyday I engage with the people, activities, yoga poses, and ideas that tickle my interest – AND especially those that terrify me – is a day that I learn more about who I really am.

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Everyday I am challenged by a problem, time schedule, financial quandary, or teenage hormone-fueled drama is a day that I inch closer to the Real Essence of Me.

In my opinion, we don’t get better with the typical challenges of life. We get closer to our true nature. And every challenge, problem, weakness, shortcoming is just a speedbump or a crack in the road. Some of them take a little more thinking, a little more effort to traverse. But at the end of the day, there’s no choice. Keep going. Acknowledge your challenges. Use your strengths. Be bold. Keep going. Even better – bring it on!

So what’s my response to that initial question? How do I do it all? My response is a question.

What are YOU waiting for?

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The Daily Grind of Life on the Edge of Living

10276558_10152136056348992_1825844190_nTwo years ago, we walked Ted out of UCLA hospital after a surgery to remove brain tissue that was believed to be the cause of his lifetime of seizure activity. Surgery was a traumatic experience for me as his mother. I was terrified. And today, when I look at this photo, I see the smile of happiness, anticipation,  excitement in his eyes. I see the sweet demeanor working so fervently to peek through the temporary flattened affect that frontal lobe surgeries can cause. While those images remind me that he is better than he was two years ago, I am also quite clear that we are far from where I want to be.

“Any idiot can face a crisis. It is this day-to-day living that wears you out.” – Anton Chekhov

I’ve been thinking about this quote recently. It was a guiding mantra for me during his surgery. Oddly enough, I’m encouraged by the simplicity of the complicated things in life. Maybe it’s my dad’s voice in my head? Or my pragmatic, Kansas upbringing. Anton’s succinct reminder is that there’s really no choice but to fight and move forward, despite the seemingly overwhelming circumstances in a crisis.

Well, Ted is having part of his brain removed today. Yup. Nothing to it but to do it!

Having your child hospitalized or undergoing brain surgery or open-heart surgery is just  like that. It’s a crisis. You kiss him on the forehead before he’s wheeled back to face the team of doctors, waiting to make their play at making his life better. A few hours (or several) later, you are summoned to recovery to kiss him again. This time, you kiss him on the bandages that are tightly wrapped to compress the healing wound. And then you wait.

You wait for the next nurse to check another beeping machine. You wait for the team to make their rounds. You wait for the doctor to remind you that you also need to sleep. You wait for him to begin to show those first signs of recovery. Whether you like it or not, the crisis evolves to the next stage of no-longer-a-crisis. Whether you are ready or not, life moves on. You do your best. But the window of crisis is small and thankfully, fleeting.

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Two years ago, after the initial window of post-surgical crisis was closed and curtained, I realized how deeply I wanted Ted to be “better”. It’s taken me these past two years to truly understand what I have been looking for in “better”. As Anton reminds us, this day-to-day living wears you out. Having a child with a chronic illness or lifelong condition is a bit like facing a crisis. A crisis every day, that is. EVERY DAMN DAY.

Every morning when I wake up, I listen for Ted. Despite having his tonsils and adenoids removed many years ago, he still snores softly. For me, it’s a sound that reassures me that he is alive. Ted’s condition increases greatly his chances of dying from SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death from Epilepsy). His risk of dying is highest at night. He is at risk of dying every night. So you can imagine that no sound is sweeter to me than the sound of my son’s snoring!

So, what I’m describing here is that I make my way through crisis every morning. By the time I’ve poured my coffee, I’ve already seen what I hope is the worst of my day. Most days I’m okay. Some days, my tears pour as thickly as my coffee. This day-to-day living really does wear me out. And the crisis part of the day-to-day, I suppose, is what allows me to get over it all and move on. At least until the next morning.

But what is it that I want for Ted? I want him to be seizure-free, yes. I want him to continue to grow and develop and improve his cognitive ability that has been barraged by 16 years of epileptic activity. I want him to have meaningful relationships with friends and family. I want him to have work that he is excited and proud to do. Above all, I want him to live. This is the important goal. I want the risk of death to decrease and disappear. I want my son to live.

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Unfortunately, my sister faces a similar journey tonight. Her son was hit by a car today. While it’s a miracle that he is alive, his little body full of fractures, lacerations, bleeding, and acute trauma. He has a long road of recovery before he’s back on the pitcher’s mound. The odds are with him. He has a strong will and an even stronger mother behind him. My sweet sister. I want nothing more than to scoop her up and tell her it will all be okay. But I can’t. I can’t because even I know that this may appear a crisis to others, but to us mothers, this is the crisis of day-to-day living.

Life is so short, considering all that we pack into it. It’s no wonder that we cling to tightly to each day. And we cling even tighter to the illusion of control over the lives that our children live. Yes, it’s biological that we would do everything in our power to ensure their survival. But, there’s only so much we can control. All we can do is show up, do our best, and accept that there are things out of our control, including brain lesions and speeding cars. 11426240_10153079969873992_5468293588372826986_n

Grace? Don’t Make Me Laugh!

Just the other day, I was talking to a friend who is adjusting to life as her husband recuperates from a stroke. Yikes! As you can imagine, she was overwhelmed. She was navigating the ins and outs of supporting her husband’s recovery, relearning how to cook with a new and more restrictive diet, and somewhere amidst it all, her two young girls were looking for their mommy to feed them, hug them, and nourish their souls. But all that my sweet friend wanted to do was curl up and cry. Who can blame her!

I certainly can’t blame her at all!

But here’s the punch line in our brief conversation via text message… Looking for answers, inspiration, or maybe just a fleck of hope, she asked me how I handled my own life with such Grace.

Wait. Grace?

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Ha! I’m still laughing. Grace. Seriously, I’m crying in fits of laughter.

You see, I’ve been working for 15 years on Grace. Maybe it’s been 41 years. Who’s counting, anyway?

When our son was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms at 6 months old, Grace wasn’t even part of my vocabulary. The tears pouring down my face, my eyes poured over medical texts, research, test results, anecdotal stories from other parents, and everything I could find about how to help my son. The tears never dried, they just ran out. The feelings of pain, helplessness, guilt, fear, anger, never gave way to Grace or patience or hope back then. They raged, waxing and waning, as my energy levels would allow. But oh, they raged on.

Years went by. My son experienced reprieves from constant seizures only to have another wave of neurological trauma crash over him and the rest of us. There were good days even happy moments when the days were darkest. Joy was messy. Never clean cut. And never long-lasting.

But eventually, I began to find joy in those good days. His first words, his first arm farts, his absolute love of running, jumping, and pounding anything into whatever he could; it was all a joy to see and to experience firsthand as the mother of the boy they said would never talk, never walk, never attend school, and never find what we know as a normal childhood.

Some days were bad. Very, very bad. His second birthday when he had his first tonic seizure and lost consciousness. The night his friend slept over only to awaken with Ted mid-seizure convulsing having fallen out of bed. The day we met with his teachers only to discover how little they understood about his condition. Everyday I see his eyes heavy with neuro-fatigue, his speech slowed, and his head shifting to the side is a bad day.

Those days bring my blood to boil. Anger, hopelessness, sadness, exhaustion.  Yes, I can say wholeheartedly that Grace was never part of my operating procedure. Not even once.

So, what is it that my sweet friend sees that she thinks is Grace? (Still, I’m laughing at this thought!)

If I really think hard about it…

She sees me laugh. She sees me hug and kiss my kids (and every baby that crosses my path). She sees me putting dinner on the table for my family and then opening my door to many more friends. She sees me making jokes, dancing, and chasing toddlers while making monster noises. She sees me charting course to pursue my own dreams. She sees me hold my husband’s hand, everyday tighter than we used to hold each other because we’ve worked hard to be better to each other. She sees me clean (okay, that’s a lie. She only sees that my house is clean because I’ve hired someone!) She sees me read. She sees me write. She sees me play. She sees me work. She sees me living life.

And she sees me smile. Often the smile is accompanied by a glimmer in my eye. Is it sadness? Sometimes it’s hope. Fatigue is always a good bet. But there are moments of joy.

There are many moments of joy.

So maybe Grace is simply the act of living. The beauty of which is seen only when the act of living is pure, unplanned, honest, and yes… messy.

Yes, I think that’s my Grace. Messy but pure. Unplanned but honest. It’s real. And its value comes from the tarnish not necessarily the polish. Its beauty from the moments of joy that are strung together and broken apart then pieced together over and over and over again.

This is my Grace. And I’m thankful she sees it.

Hiking is Overrated

My kids were young when we first moved to Montana. I was thrilled at the prospect of getting them out of the city and into the woods. I read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods (an excellent read for city-dwelling parents to feel completely inadequate, on a side note); and, I made preparations for teaching my children all about the outdoors. I dug out my Girl Scout manuals and reviewed knot-tying, how to work a compass, and even dusted off my hiking boots. I was ready to show my children just how beautiful the natural world could be. 

On our third day in Montana, we ventured out for our first hike. Lone Pine State Park was a quick trip from our new digs in Kalispell and it seemed harmless enough for my kids’ first hike. Joe had just turned four, Stella and Ricky were 5, and Ted was 7. Easy peasy. This short hike would be the beginning of a new life in The Great Outdoors! 

Six hours, twelve bandaids, one bee sting, and four crying kids later, I began to rethink my grand plans.

I tried again a few days later and then once more just to be sure. It became evident that my children did not like hiking. They didn’t like trails, learning about trees, leaves, water sources, or anything involving dirt. I gave up and decided to look again at the library hours and then perhaps a trip to the movie theatre, and I sent the kids into the yard to play. 

Sometime thereafter, Stella and Ricky ran into the house asking for sandwiches and some string or rope or something to tie sticks. I obliged and sent them on their way. But curiosity led me to follow them. What on earth were they doing?

I followed them behind the condo, through the empty field, into a stand of trees. Lo and behold, they built a fort. Sticks, rocks, branches – everything they could find. They worked together, they learned to tie knots, they figured out which branches were stronger and which could be easily bent and tied together. Best of all, they were laughing.

Experts agree that play is an important part of child development. They weigh in often about the appropriate and inappropriate amount of screen time, as well as how and when children should be engaged in various forms of exercise. But what few experts talk about openly is the importance of “free play” for children. This is particularly important when it comes to playing in the outdoors. Play is critical. 

Play fosters creativity, social interactions, and forces children to discover the natural consequences of actions. There was a failure-success experience for my children when they figured out how to tie together the branches to form a make-shift doorway on their fort. Play is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that it is “essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them to manage stress and become resilient.” 

Experts also agree that outdoor activities are essential to connect our children to the natural world. A connection with nature as a young child gives a sense of belonging in the world and gives reference to education in the natural sciences, physics, math, and the like. But just like a playground offers a different outdoor experience than an open field, a directed hike through the woods deprives children of the opportunity and responsibility to use their own senses, reflections, and intellect to engage with the world. 

So what does that mean for us Montana parents who want to share the outdoors with their children? Nothing. Keep doing what you are doing. But in the back of your mind, remind yourself how you discovered what you know now about rocks and trees and leaves and dirt and animals. Remind yourself how you learned to climb a tree, skip rocks, and make forts. Was it because your mother showed you? Or was it your brother? Your cousin? Your friend?

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Yes, I want my children to eventually learn the beauty of the natural world – mountains, rivers, trails, trees, insects, plants, animal tracks, and more. But the most important skill I want them to learn is how to discover – the world and themselves.

Then maybe I will have done my job.

Creativity from Within… a Diaper.

The best part of my oldest son’s personality is his love of life. Everyday is an opportunity for a party in Ted’s world. He loves people, he loves laughing, and he loves living life to its fullest. On paper, that’s exactly what we want to say about our children. In reality, that personality trait in a child will run you ragged. Trust me.

Years ago, I put sweet Ted in his toddler bed for his afternoon nap. Most days, he was happy to curl up with a story and his blankie. His eyelids would become slow and heavy. Eventually he would fall asleep. That day, there was no heaviness in his eyelids, no slowness to his breathing, and no quiet anywhere in his room. He laughed loudly, begging for another round of Goodnight Moon. Finally, I left him with a kiss on the forehead and the book to read on his own. “Sshhhh, Teddy. It’s time for quiet. Stay in your bed and rest for a bit.” He nodded and smiled sweetly.

It took about an hour for him to settle down, but eventually I could hear him talking softly to himself and clearly taking “quiet time” to himself. So I peeked into his room.

Oh. My.

When I cracked open the door, I could see Ted standing on his bed leaning against the wall. It looked very much like he was painting or swiping the wall with something. And then, the smell hit me.

Oh. My.

I opened the door in a flurry of confusion and concern (mostly for my carpet and walls, mind you).   And sure enough, Ted had slipped off his diaper and managed to use the contents as finger paints for a mural on his wall. “See! Mama, see!”

Oh. My.

Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while”.

Clearly, Ted had tapped into his creative side that afternoon. And while I mourned the loss of my pristine walls and untainted carpet, I was immediately transfixed and suspended in a state of confusion. Ted was so happy and so proud of himself for his “work of art”. How could I, as his loving mother, condemn his masterpiece?

Oh. My.

Cultivating creativity in children can be less disturbing and more encouraging, if we put some effort and thought into it as parents. That smelly afternoon took me down a new path with all of my children. I knew that day that I had a responsibility to do better for them. Creativity is cultivated by freedom and stifled by continuous monitoring, direction and pressure to conform. In the real world, there are few questions that have one right answer. And fewer problems that have one right solution. Cultivating creativity in children makes for a better world and is crucial to the success of our species.

What can we do as parents to cultivate creativity?

1. Tell Stories. Maybe you read books or retell stories told to you. For my kids, they love reenactments and retellings of my life history. They even love hearing the stories behind the most mundane of household chores. My daughter’s favorite is how Grandma Annie taught me a slick way to peel hardboiled eggs.

2. Get Messy. Play in the mud. Stomp in a puddle. Fingerpaint. (Dirty diapers optional.)

3. Play. Really, just play.

4. Ask Questions. Lots of questions. Open-ended questions are best. “Why is that horse swatting his tail? Why do stars shine? What do you think our puppy is thinking about when he hears your voice?” Let them think, discover, and hypothesize without your know-it-all interjections.

5. Set the Scene. A big part of our job as parents is to make sure that our children’s environment is set up for them to thrive. Think of setting up a tank for a pet snake. Something to climb on, something to hide under, and some water to drink. For kids, it could be paints and paper, music and instruments, or just free time in their busy schedule to daydream.

6. Put Away the Clown Suit. I’m often quoted by even my own children saying, “My job is to keep you healthy and safe. That’s it.” In other words, I’m not a circus clown. Kids don’t actually need us to entertain them. If given the opportunity, they can be quite entertaining on their own!

7. Let Them Decide. When kids have to make decisions, they actually sharpen cognitive skills in problem-solving. If they are young, you can give them a choice. “Would you like to read Dr. Seuss or Jack Kerouac?” As they mature, let them make decisions about what they will do, how they will do it, or when they will do it. Parents should always retain the right to veto, but at least we can give them the experience of making a decision.

8. Lose Track. Turn them loose in the house or the yard or the park and see what happens. Obviously, you are still responsible for protecting your children from harmful people, places, and things. But what would they do if they had the freedom to safely explore?

In the end, cultivating creativity in our children is an essential responsibility. This can be a difficult task given an aversion to emergency room visits or a propensity toward clean carpets. But, it’s clearly as important for the development of healthy, productive adults as any nutritional, educational, or moral aspect of parenting.

One final word to the wise, crayons and fingerpaints are always easier to clean up than a dirty diaper.

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Gettin’ Gritty!

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When my oldest son was a toddler, the odds were against him. Doctors painted grim pictures of Ted’s future because of the seizures that attacked him multiple times per day. As most parents would, we went to great lengths to give him what we thought needed to learn to play and live like any other toddling boy. We scheduled an array of therapy sessions, learned sign language, encouraged him to jump and run and stack blocks and put together puzzles. We set high expectations.

By four, Ted was two years seizure-free and developing better than his doctors predicted. One hot summer day on the playground, he saw another boy make an arm-fart. The sun was shining and the trees rustling their thick manes of leaves. And Ted’s eyes glimmered in the awesome reflection of that boy’s arm-fart. I watched as Ted slowly slid his hand to his own armpit to cast his first line into the depths of body sounds. And then… nothing. Failure.

According to researchers, it is that kind of failure that should help our kids learn the keys to success. Some of history’s greatest accomplishments came only after disappointments. And yet, we all know that not everyone bounces back after failure. Angela Duckworth won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013 for her research on “grit” – what she defines as a winning combination of goal directedness, motivation, self-control, and positive mindset. Grit, according to Duckworth, is a key factor in predicting success and more important than talent in many cases.

As parents, we see when our kids have Grit and we see when they give up. What can we do to help them cultivate Grit?

  • Start Early. When they cry as infants, we soothe. This soothing calms anxieties and develops the neural circuitry to learn to self-soothe and eventually self-regulate. As they get older, set reasonable limits and enforce them with empathy. “I know you want to eat 76 cookies. They are delicious. But two is all we are going to eat right now.” This will develop internal limits and teach resilience. Children have to be taught that they don’t always get what they want – and it’s okay.
  • Teach Them to Achieve Goals. Household chores are a great vehicle for goal achievement. Start with stacking books. Then picking up laundry. One step at a time, teach your kids how to size up a project, identify steps to achieve the goal, and how to deal with obstacles along the way. We use the same system for finishing a puzzle as toddlers to coach our kids in writing research papers as middle-schoolers.
  • Teach the Growth Mindset. Tell your children how it works. “So you want to arm-fart? All right, it’s going to take time to teach your brain to work your body to make those awful noises. With practice, your brain will learn. You have the ability to be smarter, stronger, and better at whatever you choose!”
  • Enjoy Their Joy. Find out what your kids are passionate about and be their number one fan! With your support in their passions, they will learn to persevere and succeed by facing the challenges, learning through failures, and experiencing success. Most importantly, your genuine care in their happiness will help them to develop an internal happiness that will help them stay the course in the face of disappointment.

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Thankfully for Ted, we are gritty parents. It took a full year of Ted trying to arm-fart. The day that first sound emerged from his hand and armpit is one of many proud moments. To this day, we use “The Year of the Arm Fart” as an example for our other kids and a reminder to Ted that he is capable of whatever goals he sets his mind to achieve. With Grit like that, the sky is the limit!

The Best Job Ever That You Would Reconsider If You Only Knew…

Joe was an awful baby. He cried when I wanted him to sleep. He slept when I needed him to wake. He only smiled when no one was around. And often he would squish his face in disgust when anyone walked into the room. He never ate. When he did eat, it came right back up. In desperation, I weaned him off of the boob and onto food only to be told that we had to go back to breast-feeding a month later. What troubled me most of all about Joe was that I had no idea what I was doing. I was defeated. He was my fourth kid – it should have been a cakewalk. Yet, I felt hopeless, helpless, and deeply inadequate as a mother.

To make a long story shorter, I eventually figured it all out. Thanks to our beloved Dr. Lisa, I realized that I knew nothing. She taught me that raising children is a combination of learning to juggle fiery knives and trying to predict the weather in Kansas from within an Alaskan cave… while knitting socks for elephants… and humming the Ave Maria. The only thing that I could do is learn to listen to my babies and give them what they needed – not necessarily what I decided. As babies, my children were not exactly good communicators. But, I learned to hear their cries, giggles, coos, and translate accordingly. As toddlers, I learned to interpret the whining and No! into requests for food, sleep, and cuddles.

Now as kids and – yikes! – teens, these little people have the same needs but a different language. They are more capable of doing for themselves and actually have responsibilities and society. While I can certainly call the school and gear up my “Helicopter Mama” ways, I know that it doesn’t help them to learn to live in this world. Instead, I have to teach them to be independent and free to discover the realities of the world. Even if those realities are sometimes harsh and less forgiving that we want our children to experience. Since then, I’ve discovered there are varying degrees of allowing children to experience the world. The best practice I’ve found as a parent is to equip them for success and allow them to fail.

“The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain quiet observer of all that happens.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

How this plays out in daily life is the reason that a Mother’s job is so challenging. Here are my best tips:

1. Assign Responsibility. In our house, everyone is responsible for their own “stuff”. Clothes, toys, books, homework, pets, etc. However, everyone has a checklist for what needs to be done on a daily or weekly basis. No one is above a checklist.

2. Teach. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to unload a dishwasher, fold a towel, or even feed the dog. If you expect your kids to take responsibility, at least give them an opportunity to learn how to do the task. Not only will they be equipped to meet your expectation, but they will be proud to have followed your lead.

3. Reward. Let’s be clear. Sometimes the reward for doing something is that you don’t have to suffer the consequence of NOT doing it. Whether or not you decide to pass out ice cream cones or just give a big hug should always depend on the situation, the task, AND the kid! (Joe is often given a simple “Good job! It looks nice,” for making his bed and Ted often gets a ticker-tape parade for doing the same!)

In the end, my job is to do the best job I can to grow good people. The task is always daunting and never easier than it seems. But the rewards are unmatched.

The Walking (Brain) Dead

I ruined my son’s life today. There will be no iPods, iPads, tablets, Gameboys, or any other “technology” allowed. The only day that the kids will be allowed to use their “technology” is Saturday.

Ricky’s life is over.

The decision to reinstate this rule came after we played what should have been a friendly game of Monopoly last night. What typically is a night of conversation, teasing, jokes, and stories became a night of regurgitating and reenacting Vines, YouTube videos, and jokes they’d seen online. I felt as though my children’s minds had been hijacked by people I have never met.

So, this morning when I laid down the new rules, two of my three sons shrugged and made a feeble effort to put up a fight. They ended up deciding to head out to play a game of football. But poor Ricky. He spent the better part of the morning with his head buried in his pillow, making lists of why we are the worst parents on the planet.

Later, when Ricky was still buried deep in his cave of disdain, Joe asked me why I made the decision to ruin Ricky’s life. We talked about why I am actually a smart, caring mother contrary to what image I could feel developing in Ricky’s mind.

I explained that I consider our minds like a worm’s digestive system – garbage in, garbage out. If all we see, read, hear, and experience is offensive, sophomoric humor, then that’s what we’ll talk about, replay, and present to the world. I reminded him that he and his siblings are smart, talented, and compassionate. To water down their creativity with videos of kids twerking, adults falling into cakes, etc. wouldn’t be that much of a concern, except the time it takes to watch all of that. When can I expect them to practice their instruments, tidy their rooms, read books, play catch in the yard? Today’s iPods aren’t much different than the TV was in my youth. We can’t spend all day, everyday watching TV or eating Twinkies, or playing Clash of the Clans. That’s just not how we live life to its fullest.

So there I was, repeating the same conversation that I heard from my parents thirty years ago. Ugh. Which made me wonder what other Universal Truths in Parenting there were.

1. Garbage In = Garbage Out. Consider that what you put out in the world (via your athletics, academics, friendship) consists largely of what you’ve consumed.

2. A Smile for a Stranger Opens Many Gates. Is it so difficult to smile at someone? No. And believe it or not, your smiles create a sense of happiness that is contagious. Next time you are serving brussels sprouts, smile and see how much more accepting your kids are of your gourmet selection.

3. Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others. The truth is that if your child faints while you are putting on your own mask, you will still be able to help them. But if you faint, then you will be of no help to anyone. As dramatic as it is, this rule applies for many other areas in life.

I’m sure there are others that are equally crucial to surviving as a parent and molding responsible, productive members of society. This is a good start.

Maybe I’ll add more after watching the season opener for The Walking Dead… just kidding!