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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Life Lessons from a Seven-year-old

As parents we’re constantly looking for opportunities to teach our kids life lessons. Helping them recognize those moments when they can grow in maturity. We brilliantly create ways of relating a simple moment to the bigger life picture with wonderful metaphors like, “You can’t hit if you never step up to the plate,” “All things in moderation,” “Life is like a box of chocolates,” or my personal favorite, “How can you eat your pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”

We are the teacher, the life coach, the person of profound knowledge and experience. We are the life guru, the all knowing, the one with all the answers. (please stop laughing). You get what I’m saying though right? Parents are supposed to be the ones passing on life knowledge. Not the kid.

Which is why it always cracks me up when it’s my kids who teach ME. A truth that takes place all too often and today was was no exception as I watched my own children demonstrate to me the ability to overcome adversity and self reluctance.

My son had two baseball games today. He had made huge strides overcoming fears and internal demons the past couple of weeks. It culminated the other night with his first hit ever. So everyone’s expectation today was

that he’d be all over it and ready to take it to the next level. As the team made their way through the first game, much to our surprise he took a few steps back (metaphorically speaking) and on some levels simply didn’t want
to participate.

The first game ended and everyone took a short break for lunch. Our son appeared dejected, upset with himself, down, emotionally worn out and ready to go home. Rather than curl up in a corner and allow the events of the first game dictate the rest of the day, my son leaned on his teammates, grabbed a bite to eat, found his second wind and attacked the second game head on. While his heart wasn’t 100% in it, he mustered up the courage to be there and see it through. He was “baseball ready” start to finish, relishing the camaraderie that had developed over the course of the short season and he left with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. In short, he stepped up to the plate and was ready to hit.

Wow.

At seven.

How many of you can say as an adult you’ve always approached life the same way? To say that I was proud let alone humbled, is an understatement. As I looked back on my own “game” this week, I recognized more than one occasion where I myself had allowed some minor setbacks to consume me and put me in a funk. I wanted to curl up in a corner, close the blinds and shut out the world.

But how could I watch a seven year old demonstrate such profound strength of character and, as his parent, not be inspired. Is it hard sometimes? Does it feel like our concerns and setbacks are a little bigger than those of a seven year old? They may appear to be, but I submit to you that they’re not. The world is just as intimidating, if not more, to a pre-teen as it is to an adult. To witness someone that young overcome a crippling fear by leaning on friends and teammates was awe inspiring. Conversely, perhaps our own issues are no worse than a seven year old’s. Could it be we mountains out of our own mole hills?

The point? As a parent, perhaps one of the greatest gifts we often overlook, is how much we can learn from our own children about our approach to life. What we put into our kids through our own little metaphors and life lessons, often comes back to us ten fold. Sometimes as a bit of a slap in the face as well. It’s so easy to preach, but how often do we practice what we tell our kids?

I’m thankful for today. During the first game, I saw one of my son’s teammates sit down next to him after a difficult time. They talked a bit and then his friend patted him on the shoulder and gave him a hug. What an amazing lesson to take in. Surround ourselves with people who support you and stand behind you even when it’s not going so well. People who recognize when you’re down on yourself and reassure you that you can bounce back. Makes you want to strongly consider who you want in your dugout when you strike out doesn’t it?

Life after divorce provides you with plenty of opportunities to get down. It can knock you to your knees, make a grown man cry and convince you that you have no business being in the batters box. It’s during those moments that your true character is tested.

And when a seven year old demonstrates the ability to listen to a friend, suck it up and make the most of his next turn at bat, how can you not be encouraged to take a look at your own game? The next time life throws you a curve ball, consider that seven year old, grab your bat, step into the batters box and take a swing. Your chances of getting a hit are exponentially greater than if you decide to take yourself out of the game and sit on the bench.

How’s that for a metaphor?

 

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Rise Above

Those of you who regularly read my blog know that from the beginning, as difficult as it was (and still can be) my ex-wife and I have both done our best to put our differences aside and continue to work together as we raise our three kids. As much of a struggle my own situation can be, I am not blind to the fact that my circumstances are a bed of roses compared to some. So I make a point of reading other blogs about divorce and what other fathers experience as they transition into single parentdom.

When I do I’m often struck by what is sometimes and unimaginable amount of anger, frustration, fear and
discourse. The stories are chilling and sometimes unimaginable. It is such a tremendous wake up call for some men as they discover just how cold the world can be. And it’s not just an ex-spouse that can provide you with a punch to the gut. The world in general can suddenly become very cold, unfeeling and relentless. You become a number, a cliche’, a statistic. Neighbors, friends, family, banking institutions; everyone has the potential to blind side you and demonstrate a sense of judgement that in many cases can create additional hardship and stress.

So this one is for those dads who feel abandoned by good fortune, trust and support. For those who feel burned and left to their own devices to clean up shop and start over. For those who had a divorce thrust upon them and were left with nothing more than a pillow and a credit card statement. Somehow, somewhere deep inside, you manage to find the strength to get up in the morning and fight your way through the negativity.

To those dads who see their kids once a month or less. To those of you who battle the depression that can come with the separation. I wish for you peace. I wish for you a moment of contentment and acknowledgement that you’re strong and worthy. I wish for you acknowledgement for what you’ve been through. I hope, that if you haven’t already done so, you can surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you. People who, whether they fully comprehend or understand your predicament or not, demonstrate apathy and offer encouragement. Encouragement through doing nothing more than listening and telling you how great you are.

Every human needs validation. You owe it to yourself to find someone or maybe two or three someones who get you and appreciate you for who you are. Who understand your strengths and forgive your weaknesses. People who let you be you. I wish this for you. I encourage you to find these people and bring them closer. Invite them to take this walk with you as you will both benefit. Don’t close out the world simply because you hit a streak of negativity that’s got you down. It’s not worth it.

You’re angry. You’re bitter. You’re hurt. But don’t let those feelings define who you are. Don’t allow it to dictate how you view the world. Find within you forgiveness. Acknowledge the crap, as there’s plenty of it to go around. Embrace your battle scars and let it go. You can rise above it all. You may not be able to control the world or those around you. But you can control how you respond. Blow their minds by rising above it all. The more you do, the more you’ll recognize what you’re capable of enduring.

You can do this. You can become the poster child for calm cool and collected regardless of what the world throws at you. And when it becomes too much, or you get slapped in the face; go pump some iron, go for a run, go punch a fence (not a face). Get it out. Then take a deeeeep breathe and allow yourself a moment to put it all behind you and relax. Or as Scott Larose, a comedian I once had the distinct pleasure of working with once said; “Acknowledge and move on.”

 

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The Game of Life

In my last post, I shared the events that took place during an evening when my kids and I played Monopoly. After reflecting more on the experience, I thought it was worth revisiting as there were certain subtleties going on that even I didn’t recognize until I thought more about it.

As I reflected back on the evening and thought more about the game, the way each child approached it and the eventual outcome, I realized that many of their personality traits were directly reflected by the way they played. It was incredible to see how their approach to the game was a direct reflection of how they approach life in general. As a father, it was a unique opportunity to gather specific insights into how their individual minds and personalities approach any given challenge.

For example; as the game started, my middle child was reluctant to purchase any properties. She instead wanted to save her money and create a sense of financial security. As the game progressed, she continued to show reluctance toward spending and investing, even as she began to see the advantages of owning properties and collecting money from people who landed on them.

My oldest child meanwhile, attacked the game with full force, buying everything she landed on. She then began initiating trades within the first three times around the board in an attempt to secure a monopoly. Upon garnering her first triad, she dove into purchasing homes and escalating the value of her properties, even at the expense of mortgaging other properties to make it happen.

In contrast, even after obtaining a monopoly, my middle child purchased one home at a time, sporadically, yet methodically; the entire time making sure her bank account was solid. When it came time to trade she was eager to work through such an experience with her older sister, who in turn was anxious to take advantage of her less experienced sibling. To be there to guide and protect was priceless.

Meanwhile my youngest landed in jail four times within the first twenty minutes, a reality that had me just a tad concerned.

So, it wasn’t just their approach to the game that intrigued me, it was their method of trading, resolving conflicts and handling of the stress that comes with a game of that nature that blew my mind. They each were completely immersed in every aspect of the game and were in many ways living it as if it were reality.

Watching them work through questions, issues, decisions about what properties to buy and which to pass on, when to buy a house, when to trade, how to trade, with whom to trade, etc. was like watching a dress rehearsal of life. It also presented numerous opportunities to discuss with them their thought process and offer up insights that even life in general doesn’t present you with.

On the surface it was just another game. But digging deeper, it was obvious that everyone involved walked away with much more than just a few hundred dollars in Monopoly money. To me that lone fact made it worth every penny of the $14.00 in real cash it cost to bring it home, pass GO and collect an amazing amount of parenting insights.

 

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Monopoly!

When I was growing up with four older sisters, I always wanted to be a part of what they were doing. Being their baby brother many times meant I wasn’t included. So when I was invited into the weekly Monopoly tournament, it was a big deal.

We would order pizza, subs and wings from Santora’s Pizzaria in Buffalo. It was without question the nighttime meal of the gods and I have yet to experience anything of equal culinary excellence. They were typically 45 minutes to an hour late but we only cared until the food showed up and we dug in. And truth be told, there was bonding to be had in the complaining about how long it took for them to deliver a ham sub, large pizza and a bucket of wings.

But back to the game. My sisters had turned Monopoly into a ritual and a right of passage. They were ruthless and at times down right ugly. The events of the week could see two of them teaming up against a third and games, with the help of some lofty house rules, could go deep into the night. As a young lad of 7 or 8 to be included in this barbaric Milton Bradley skirmish, was what I’d been waiting for my entire life. I knew nothing about money, real estate or luxary tax, (not like now) but I was damn well ready to find out.

Monopoly with my sisters. Ah yes, I can still hear the screaming, the name calling and arguing. The accusations of stealing from the bank, the disputes over deals gone bad and the challenges over the rules of bankruptcy. Mind you I knew nothing about the game, a fact my sisters were often more than happy to take advantage of. I’m sure I was the victim of more than one bad deal come trading time. Looking back, a financial advisor would likely have been a sound investment. Regardless, those are nights I look back on as some of my most cherished memories. Staying up past my bed time, hanging with my siblings, being yelled at by our dad for not being in bed by 10. And of course, it was where my devout love of chicken wings was born, back before they were known anywhere outside of Western New York.

And so, as a dad I had looked forward to the day when I would have the opportunity to pass this tradition on to my own kids. And tonight, that dream was fulfilled. We ordered pizza and wings, albeit not Santora’s (no offense Pizza Hut, but it’s not the same), got out drinks for everyone and set up our little battle ground. We had already gone through a couple of practice rounds so that everyone would have a basic idea of how the game worked. And so it was that we laid out our money, picked our game pieces and off we went on our first time around the board before buying any properties.

In preparation, I also made sure I was fully prepared for the emotional roller coaster that would ensue. Three kids, staying up late, poppin’ back lemonade after lemonade, stressed out over potential financial ruin. Finally they would be able to relate to my own world. And I was not to be disappointed. The ingredients were all there for a fairly descent sized nuclear bomb and as advertised, the fuse was occasionally lit.

But that’s why I wanted to be there for these initial games. More than once I had to intervene as one would try to basically scam another by convincing them trading a monopoly for Baltic Avenue was a good idea. Or buy a house on Vermont and then try to move it to Pacific Avenue. There was some name calling, a few choice words, attempts to make up rules mid game and I’m pretty sure I saw one or two hotels fly across the table. But somehow we made it. All told, the game took about 4 hours. Our youngest was the first one out. But he took it fairly well. Better than I expected actually. Then the second youngest and finally, despite a valiant attempt to survive with the Baltic & Mediterranean combo with hotels, all it took was one flesh wound from landing on a fully developed New York Ave followed by a lethal blow to the bank with a stay at a hotel on Boardwalk and the game was essentially over.

But the groundwork had been laid. The tradition established. And one day dad will be left out and the three will have an opportunity to bond even tighter as siblings.

So a quick assessment reinforced to me the importance of evenings like tonight. They seem so trivial in some ways, but the bonding that takes place; it’s un paralleled. The kids loosened up to a degree I rarely see them.
The joking, the sarcasm, the snide remarks typically meant for school chums, now being tossed at dear old dad. There were of course deals made, handshakes, conflicts resolved but most of all, a ton of laughter. To have those moments when defenses are down seems to open doors I otherwise would never have the chance to peer through. To me that makes the roller coaster ride worth every roll of the dice.

Now, before I wrap it up, a word of caution. Be prepared for confrontations. Monopoly can be a stressful endeavor for a 7, 8 or 10 year old, let alone all three of them. There will be crying. There will be tempers. Just do your best to use this experience as a teaching forum on how to handle stress and conflict, because they will both be encountered, most likely more than once. It can get ugly so do your best to be patient and keep it light hearted. You WILL need to be the voice of reason more than once, so be prepared. Just sayin’.

And so it is that our little tourney has been established. The foundation laid. And when all was said and done we all learned a little something about our family tonight along with how to count money and broker a deal. We laughed, we cried, we all passed GO and collected 200 or so terrific memories, along with maybe 2 or 3 that we’ll all laugh about ten years or twenty years from now.

 

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SongPop Butt Whoopin’

I’m one of those guys who typically avoids the facebook games. You know Farmburbia or Badazallamamamam, or whatever the devil they’re called. I had little if any interest and eventually started to “unsubscribe” to friends whose updates kept letting me know every time they milked a cow or rescued a kitten.

Then the angels got together and decided to create a dream game come true. SongPop came along and everything changed. They literally had me at “Hello.” But for more reasons than just the interactive joy of trying to school my nephews on 70’s rock. Despite having to put my house up for sale out of shame from the can of whoop ass handed to me by a neighbor, I had found my new guilty pleasure.

Yes I loved the game, but the highlight for me was when my ten-year-old daughter downloaded the app on her i-touch. It quickly evolved into the first legitimate competition between us. It also became a unique way for us to connect on an unprecedented level. It started with her beboppin’ around the house after beating me on her first “Today’s Top Hits” challenge. Then her tween-cussing (crap, shoot, etc) upon losing to me in “60’s Collection.”

Aside from the competition aspect of the game, there were two amazing things happening here. First there was the bonding taking place through the simple interaction. Then there was the invitation into each other’s musical universes through which we both grew to understand a little bit more about each other. Probably small in the large scheme of things, but a cool prospect none the less. Now, even when she’s at her mom’s we’ll have a way of connecting and making each other laugh or hang our head in shame. Either way, we’re staying connected and learning to appreciate each other. I think in any relationship, there’s an amazing thing that happens any time you recognize that someone has taken the time to understand you a little better.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. It’s been painful listening to some of the music she likes, but she’s opening up to me about what she knows and listens to. In turn, I’m taking the opportunity to delve a little deeper in-between
rounds to listen a little closer to what her little ears are hearing on a regular basis. I don’t like a lot of it, but at least now I’m aware and can discuss it with her in a non confrontational manner.

I’ve written before about, what I consider to be, the importance of teaching our kids an appreciation for music and the hundreds of genres, styles and countless options there are for new discovery. To me this is such a cool opportunity to have fun with it and share something important to both of us. I may not like all of it, but now when she asks me to turn on Radio Disney or I put on the 60’s on 6, we’ll both have a reason to listen rather than go “I hate this music!” And perhaps it’ll open up other doors down the road when she’s a little older. Could this help lay the ground work for a broader more open communication? Who knows and maybe I’m reaching a bit, but it’s worth a shot don’t you think?

The first time she beat me on the Classic Rock category I couldn’t help but smile underneath my “WHAT!!!” Probably a little more than she did when I beat her on “Modern Rap.” But just to hear her yell through the house, “I GOT JUMPIN’ JACK FLASH!” was a proud moment for me. And, maybe I was imagining things, but the hug I got at the end of the day seemed a little tighter than usual as well.

Win or lose though seems more like a win / win.

 

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