To The Domestic Violence Survivors I Work With: About Your Children

I volunteer for the domestic violence organization you are brave enough to seek safety and assistance from.

We are acquaintances at best. Perhaps we’ve exchanged pleasantries in the common area after a session, but I don’t like to chat or linger too long out of respect for your privacy. When I visit the shelter, you often leave before I arrive.

My job is to care for your young sons and daughters so you may have a few uninterrupted hours to do what you need to do to move forward.

Since little ones aren’t armed with the emotional maturity and language to understand, let alone navigate trauma, I brace myself before each appointment. As an unknown adult in a position of authority, I show up expected to be tested with tantrums, outbursts and physical displays of anger.

Like you, I’m a parent. A mom who wonders how my boys conduct themselves and interact with others anytime I release them into the world. With this in mind, here are 5 observations I’ve made about your children.

Each one is remarkably capable. A preschool aged boy insists on opening his own snack wrapper. Another wants to search for parts to build a Lego tower without guidance from a grown up. A third takes the initiative to find and put on his own jacket, zip and bundle up. The phrase, “I can do it by myself” is prevalent.

They take care of one another, especially the siblings. A toddler with few words makes sure his older sister has a hat before going out to play. A big brother unties a knot in his younger brother’s necklace string. Their instinct is to help and protect.

The children are kind. A brother encourages his sister to ride the tunnel slide for the first time and waits so they can go together. A school-aged girl teaches a cranky toddler how to fold a paper airplane to distract him from his tired mood. A little brother lets his older sibling try out his new rubber snake. They lean toward what is positive and good.

They are loving. A young girl reaches out to hold my hand as we walk to the lunch table and asks me to rest beside her on a bench to watch the clouds. They talk about you with adoration and beam the moment they know you’re close enough to accept a knee high squeeze.

And filled with joy with every pump “to the moon” on the swings, every giggle as they cook up an invisible order of hamburger and fries, bounce and roll of a deflated basketball and stomp in a dwindling mound of crunchy snow. Amid the pain, your children’s default emotion is happiness.

Motherhood is challenging enough under less strenuous and terrifying circumstances. I respect your strength, determination and resilience. You are a survivor. Your children are survivors.

As you all continue to regain power and heal, please know I am here. Consider me part the village.

PLAYFUL LEARNING SAID WHAT?…5 Great Reasons To Read Graphic Novels

I like to keep my tween reading, but helping him find a welcomed book or series has its challenges. Because my son is a visual learner who also struggles with focusing, the traditional novel format can intimidate and confuse him.

Fortunately, he’s found graphic and illustrated novels.

The proprietor of our local bookstore often finds me perusing his inventory for options. During my most recent visit to his check-out counter, the owner shared an observation; some parents discourage children from buying such novels.

He wished they felt otherwise. The storytelling in graphic novels is often superb, he explained. The ability to marry words and art takes talent and might inspire readers to try it themselves. The format also builds a reluctant reader’s confidence. Enjoying a graphic novel version of a classic tale today might encourage a child to pick up the original in the future.

Unfortunately, the owner has been hesitant to speak up; he doesn’t want to tell customers how to parent.

Playful learning outlines 5 great reasons to read graphic novels for anyone who might like to learn more about the benefit of illustrated books for older children or is just shopping for new suggestions.

And here’s a link to the Red said what? Pinterest page, which highlights Bubbe’s recent, favorite graphic and illustrated novels: Children’s Books: Thumbs up from a Tween Boy.

Happy Reading!

2 Things We Thought About Before Redshirting Our Son

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By the end of Bubbe’s second year in preschool, my husband Mac and I knew he wouldn’t be ready to start Kindergarten with the rest of his peers.

A sweet, quiet child with a sensitive disposition, our son struggled with skills that seemed to come naturally to many classmates.

Starting just shy of his 2nd birthday, for a few hours each week he worked with a helper teacher to learn how to play in an age-appropriate way during preschool and at home. He also strengthened his muscle tone, developed fine and gross motor skills and addressed sensitivity issues driven by sensory processing with a physical and occupational therapist as well as practiced communication pragmatics and articulation with a speech specialist.

Bubbe made fine progress over time, but mastery in one area was typically followed by a step back in another.

Even though he was tall for his age, had a birthday not particularly close to the school district’s cut off and knew his ABCs and 123s as well as he should, there were enough consistent inconsistencies in his development to explore the redshirting option.

Teachers and service providers agreed; giving our son time to “cook” for an additional school year, a total of 9 months was in his best interest long term.

For me, the decision to redshirt was a no brainer. Prior to becoming a parent, I had the good fortune of teaching elementary school. One professional lesson I learned was that regardless of knowledge, in order for a child to do the work, he first needed to be ready to learn.

Mac wrestled with the idea. He has a “late” birthday and went to Kindergarten on the younger side. Anytime we discussed Bubbe’s delays he’d say, “I hated school. Half the time I hardly knew what was going on. But life’s a struggle.”

“School’s hard enough,” I would argue. “Why make it worse for a child? If we push him through, what will his experience be like by the time he gets to middle school?”

After several iterations, Mac was able to take a step back and separate his experience from our son’s needs.

Since then, we have gone through the process of redshirting our younger son. I’ve also spent the last 10 of my 16 years in education working in early childhood programs. Whether I’m chatting with friends or sitting with parents of young children, the topic of Kindergarten readiness can elicit strong, mixed emotions particularly if the choice isn’t a no brainer.

With this in mind, here are the 2 things Mac and I considered during the process.

Question #1 – Is my child ready to learn?

Not, does Bubbe have the academic knowledge, but is he socially, emotionally AND cognitively ready to learn in a school setting?

At the time of our decision, our child needed consistent adult guidance to get in the mix with peers in both structured and non-structured environments. He didn’t understand how to play cooperatively. His low muscle tone and delayed motor skills made it tough for him to keep up on the playground; he often looked lost and preferred to be alone. Furthermore, Bubbe didn’t have the self-help skills for a child his age.  He couldn’t get dressed without assistance, put on his coat or use the potty.

While our son showed empathy and kindness toward others, his emotional sensitivity and shyness hindered his ability to advocate for himself, ask questions and navigate feelings. His discomfort in crowds as well as with noise and texture made it challenging for him to participate in groups scenarios like classroom station play and birthday celebrations.

We knew he was cognitively able. The “mechanisms of how one learns, remembers, problem-solves and pays attention” were present, but his struggle to move with the pack, manage time, attend long enough to listen to teacher directions and complete a task without help from a grown up emphasized the gap between his potential and performance.

Bubbe did have the academic knowledge. Testing showed he was “smart.” One helper teacher even suggested he might get bored once in elementary school if he waited the extra year.

But because Mac and I could not answer yes with confidence to all 3 components, we chose to wait.

Question #2 – What will happen as my child gets older?

The delay, albeit the right move was not a cure-all.

Despite his academic “smarts” going into Kindergarten, Bubbe didn’t learn to read with fluency until 2nd grade.

In 3rd grade, when the work became more sophisticated, some weaknesses he struggled with in preschool resurfaced. Bubbe ended up needing a little formal help from teachers again.

During our early debates, Mac and I wondered about middle school. How would Bubbe’s delays play out as a tween?

Well, the first year of middle school is half over and so far, the kid’s holding his own. Focus, organization, time management and interpreting complex situations continue to challenge and fuel anxiety. Fortunately, Bubbe is starting to understand his needs and take ownership of his learning thanks to consistent guidance from talented teachers, practice and maturity.

He’s told us being the oldest in the class is “kind of cool” especially to some of the girls. I’ve observed he is one of, but not the tallest boy in the grade as well as noticed some of the peers he started out with are still in his world through activities and family friendships.

Of course we get the occasional, “You left me back.”

When he digs in, the response is the same one Mac and I gave when we broke the news. “Some children start Kindergarten when they’re 4, some start when they’re 5 and some start when they’re 6 years old. Every child and family is different.”

The bottom line? School life would have been exponentially more difficult for our child had we not “left him back.” Bubbe is right where he belongs.

Redshirting isn’t for every child with a special need, late birthday or height difference. Our son has a grade level friend who’s 16 months younger. Even though the boy’s birthday is in the late fall, his mother felt his social, emotional and cognitive skills were on point. She sent him to elementary school when the district deemed him eligible. He too is thriving.

Kindergarten readiness is a stop on a long parenting journey. But I think if we keep perspective, stay objective, focus on learning readiness, advocate and most importantly, follow our gut, we’ll get the timing right.

JOHN PAVLOVITZ SAID WHAT?… To My Son’s Teacher, And All Those Ordinary Superheroes Saving Kids Today

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Each fall, our local elementary school hosts a Halloween parade. The children march around the playground led by teachers, administration and staff. Everyone wears a costume.

The teachers typically choose a theme and dress up by grade level. From the audience, I’ve spotted emojis, cowboys, royalty and fruit. After reading blogger and pastor, John Pavlovitz’s touching tribute to his child’s teacher, this year, I hope they all come as superheroes.

To my friends in education, current and former colleagues and my sons’ past and present teachers–this one’s for you.

Comic books have lied to all of us.
Heroism isn’t capes and costumes.
It doesn’t come from radioactive spider bites or metal suits or gamma rays or distant planets.
It isn’t tricked out all-terrain vehicles, gadget-laden utility belts, hammers from the heavens, or indestructible shields.
The real heroic stuff here on this planet is firmly seated in the chests of the ordinary people who embrace an extraordinary calling; those whose superhuman hearts beat quite differently than the rest of us mere mortals…

Continue to original…

My Father’s Gift

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When my father called to tell me he was having major surgery to remove a malignant mass from his chest, I didn’t hesitate to buy a plane ticket.

“The doctors have to break open my rib cage to get the whole thing out. Safest way to keep it from spreading,” he explained.

“How long’s the recovery?” I asked.

“Six weeks.”

“I want to come down and see you.”

“Okay.” His voice cracked through the line. Then my father, who under reacts in times of crisis and barely smiles for a camera began to cry.

I did my best to console his fears and hold back tears. I failed. We exchanged I love yous and hung up the phone.

Twelve years ago, had someone told me I would be speaking to my father let alone making time to be by his bedside, I would have thought they were nuts.

Divorced from my mother when I was three, my parents managed feelings about their contentious relationship and bitter divorce by throwing me in the middle even long after each remarried and had new families of their own. On our scheduled visits, which lasted well into high school, I figured my father to be a stubborn workaholic. Time at his house was spent getting to know my step-mother. In between those visits, my mother shared more disgust for and information about her ex-husband than a daughter needed to know. As such, I can’t remember a single birthday or holiday spent with my dad. I assumed he was too busy or lived too far away; but it’s likely he was never extended an invitation.

Whether my parent’s choices were driven by self-interest, youthful inexperience or something more, I’ll never know. At that moment in their lives, healthy co-parenting was not an option. To add to the dysfunction was the abuse I simultaneously experienced at the hands of my step-father.

By age 17, my entire being was a giant, rage infested mess masked by sarcasm, perfectionism and dramatic flair. Needing to simplify the noise to ensure survival, I thrust myself into the middle of my parent’s fight de jour over college selection and payment and cut ties with my father.

But skeletons and wounds weigh on one’s spirit. Fifteen years later, I was knee deep in therapy trying to make sense of our relationship. My therapist recommended I write my dad a letter. I was to consider it a cathartic exercise or an attempt to communicate. Sending was optional.

With the pressure off, I put everything out there; the anger and hurt, grievances and resentment, his emotional distance, my abusive childhood and our lengthy estrangement.

Afterward, I thought about my unborn son and what I might say if he one day asked, “Who’s my grandfather?”

Then I dug up my father’s address and dropped the letter in the mail.

He wasted little time. What followed was a blur of email exchanges followed by a planned call. I barely said hello when the words came out.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “My point of view doesn’t matter. You’re the child. I’m the parent and I take full responsibility for everything that’s happened.”

During a time when I was trying to piece together my self-worth, build a meaningful relationship with my spouse and prepare for motherhood, my father’s words were the light in my darkness and the greatest gift.

Whoever my father was or how I perceived him to be when I was young no longer mattered. His ability to take ownership without caveat or blame and express himself with vulnerability and honesty showed me who he was at present. I knew the least I could do was begin to forgive the man and let him in.

A dozen years travel fast. While I’m grateful for this second chance, it’s not nearly enough. Those tears shed over his operation were not about any cancer, but my fear of losing a father I’ve only recently learned to love.

Thankfully, he’s made a full recovery. The doctors cut out the stage one growth and replaced it with a 12 inch scar. We can only hope health and time are on his side.

During our visit, my dad was feeling energized so we took a walk around the neighborhood; no grandkids, spouses or pets. Just us. We kibitzed about his upcoming retirement, the politics of the day and puppies. Being able to experience such a simple pleasure felt, as he likes to say whenever presented with good eats, “pretty damn good.”

Occasional strolls and weekly phone conversations won’t replace the birthday parties missed, lost Christmas Eves or the father-daughter wedding dance we never had, but it gives me great comfort knowing we will mourn those losses and create new memories – together.

Negative Norton And My Family’s Road To A Growth Mindset

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Meet Negative Norton.

Nort was born from a doodle sketched on our CrossFit gym’s white board by Coach Will who happens to be part Physical Education teacher, part aspiring Games Athlete and part Tarzan upon hearing the 9:30am crew kvetch about the workout of the day.

While the teaching coach warmed up the class, Will moseyed over to the board, picked up an Expo marker and outlined a chair frame.

“Looks like a rocking chair,” I said.

“It does? Good.” He addressed the group. “I’m hearing a lot of complaining this morning. Complaining is like a rocking chair; gives you something to do and gets you nowhere. There’s 2 workouts. Time to get ‘em done.”

Schooled by young Tarzan, we shut our middle-aged mouths and carried on. But Will’s rocking chair analogy stuck. I took a picture of his masterpiece and brought it home.

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Negative fumes fueled by complaints, self-doubt, whining, tantrums and profanity pollute my house. And the smog is thickening.

Bubbe often works himself up into a frenzy of I can’t, I’m stupid and There’s nothing I can do I’m just a negative person when challenged by school, home or relationship expectations.

Skootch, who prefers to grin through an existence void of conflict will lash out as a first line of defense when work gets hard or he feels wronged. While a 7 year-old hollering, “Shut the hell off you idiot!” can be comical, it doesn’t benefit anyone.

Mac who prefers to laugh and embrace a positive outlook still beats himself up when he makes a mistake.

I’m far from a stellar role model. Negativity was thrown at me as a child. Mix that with an upbringing tainted by mental illness and trauma and it’s no wonder self-deprecation and snark come easier than silver linings. While committed to breaking the cycle, chasing my children shouting “Rocking Chair” doesn’t encourage self-awareness or offer strategies to promote positive thinking.

Dr. Carol Dweck, author and developmental, social and personality psychologist coined the phrase growth mindset or “the belief you can develop your abilities.” With the understanding that the brain is a muscle we can train and in the spirit of Dr. Dweck’s work, I crafted Negative Norton.

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Each time any one of us exhibits the above behaviors, we must feed Norton a penny. I kept the rate to one cent to avoid going broke and for logistical ease, emptied the pennies from our piggy banks in advance and stored them next to our new house guest.

The reward is two-fold.

Bubbe came up with a tangible one. He suggested if Nort eats less than 20 pennies in the first week, our family would do something fun together. If our negative behavior declined over time, we would challenge ourselves by reducing the penny cap.

Mac loved the idea of Negative Norton but was skeptical. “How do we make it foolproof?”

“We can’t,” I said. But I think the visual and tactile element combined with a consequence and reward will trigger us to stop and think. Self-awareness is the intangible benefit and the first step to teaching the boys their mindset makes the difference.”

Within 90 minutes of Negative Norton’s activation, we fed him 4 times. Our family has been feeding Nort for 5 days now. There are 15 pennies in the jar. On average, he scarfs down 2 coins a day.

Mac and I like having Negative Norton around. The boys want him to move out.

Skootch equates “pennying up” with getting in trouble. “My friends don’t have a Negative Norton. Everybody has tantrums. Bad idea.” He wants Nort to smile and get the money anytime we do something good instead. He’s onto something. Still, our current system is making an impact. “I miss saying bad words,” he recently said.

Negative Norton has been hardest on Bubbe who’s realizing how much he complains. “I need to get them out so I can focus,” he told me. When I suggested positive self-talk, he pretended not to hear me and continued on. “Nope. Useless. Everything I say is negative.” But there’s hope. After making a nice golf putt, Bubbe told Mac, “Dad, I visualized the hole and believed in myself.”

Negative Norton will take up residence on our coffee table for now. There will always be pennies in his jar. The key is to feed him less.

More self-aware, our family is ready for phase two: strategy application. Time to get cracking on Nort’s roommate; smiling, penny loving Positive Pete.

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Why CrossFit Is The Right Fit (Right Now) For My Tween

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Not every child takes to traditional team sports. Our son, Bubbe is one of them.

Despite growing to have a strong arm, solid shot and height, our now 11 year old prefers to play a tennis match over a baseball or basketball game.

My husband, Mac and I have mixed feelings. While we’re happy to see him connect with a game, the man to man style of tennis doesn’t encourage the socialization, camaraderie and team work to the extent we feel young people need.

Since Bubbe was a little guy, we insisted he dabble in a variety of sports, fantasizing that by the time he got to middle school, he would’ve embraced one which fosters self esteem, teaches assertiveness, tests limits and encourages community.

Well, Bubbe made it to middle school. He’s concluded the sports tweens are supposed to love are “not his thing.” And Mac and I are coming to conclusion during this temperamental time when boyhood and adolescence cross, our parental push has done more damage than good.

As the children in our town age, their sports are shifting from recreational to competitive play. More is expected: time, skill and understanding of the game. Our son has been fortunate to have kind and balanced coaches who’ve helped him to improve over the years. Nonetheless, he’s had a tough time keeping up with the pack.

Bubbe is the child who steered clear of rebounds because he didn’t want to get or hurt others, became overwhelmed by the pace of play and felt slighted when teammates didn’t pass the ball. He’s the boy who struggled to stay baseball ready for lengths of time and who, despite finding a glimmer of glory when the coach gave him the chance to pitch, felt defeated when he wasn’t put on the mound more than a few innings. Game after tournament after season our son was the one who came home repeating, “I’m not good enough.”

What’s a parent to do? Sign him up for between season clinics? Tell him to suck it up, practice and pay attention? Make him play?

Mac and I confess we tried a tough love approach. But our son’s tween ego is fragile; the current cracks are deep and require more than a little filler. In an effort to support him, we turned to the material we know from experience can restore structural integrity from the inside out: CrossFit.

Our CrossFit box is not a new environment. Bubbe’s taken plenty of kids’ classes. CrossFit Teens however, is a different animal. The sessions are structured like adult classes. The coach works these young people hard.

Three weeks in, the CrossFit compound is already starting to stick.

Week 1

Bubbe knows what Olympic weightlifting looks like but never touched a barbell; until his first class when the power clean was the movement of the day. Picking up a weighted bar from the floor, flipping it onto one’s shoulder blades and returning it down in a fluid motion requires focus, coordination and guts.

When I came for pick up, I found Bubbe with crimson cheeks and in the zone, cycling through a series of power cleans, burpees and push-ups. At the buzzer, I heard the teacher say to him, “You’re very coachable. Great job.”

On our way out I asked, “What was the best part?”

With his breath caught, the post WOD endorphin inspired chatter commenced. “The barbell. I liked learning the power clean. How much can you lift? What about Dad? What about the coach with all the tattoos?”

That afternoon, Bubbe wasn’t worried about getting hurt, willingly went out of his comfort zone, followed complex directions and after only 45 minutes, felt empowered, strong and connected to a community.

Week 2  

The air was moist and still; the gym hotter inside then out. Bubbe and I read the white board where the coach had outlined the day’s program: medicine ball clean, burpee box jump, slam ball, farmers’ walk and plank holds. I kissed his forehead and left, excited for him and thrilled it wasn’t me.

This time around, Bubbe was in a full blown brow to toe sweat when I showed up. His clothes were drenched, skin caked in chalk and rubber.

“It was really hard, Mom,” he threw his glasses my way and grabbed a water bottle. “So hard I wanted to cry.”

“Did you?” I asked.

“A little.”

“Did you stop?”

He looked up from his drink. “No, I kept going.”

A boy with a sensitive soul who can harness mental strength is one who holds a big heart.

Week 3

I heard Justin Timberlake blaring on the radio before I could see Bubbe. When I made my way to the workout space, he was on the rowing machine pulling like a mad man.

After class, his coach approached me. “I told him to row 350 meters in 2 minutes. This kid went and rowed 400 meters,” he boasted.

Bubbe beamed.

“When Coach said row 350, did you try to beat it on purpose?” I later asked.

“Yeah, Mom. I always try to get to a number and then do more.”

Sometimes, digging deep, beating personal goals and competing against yourself is just as rewarding as getting the rebound or throwing a strike.

Right now, the team sport route isn’t working for our son. Mac and I are grateful CrossFit Teens is there to help mold Bubbe’s character and fuel his confidence.

In time, we hope he‘ll apply the work at the box to the tennis court, classroom, friendships and maybe even the ball field. But more than anything, we hope Bubbe comes to realize he is without a doubt, more than good enough.

Picture Perfect Moments

The mother trailed behind her two girls down the lighthouse pier to the end where the bay empties into the Atlantic. Along the way, she watched her young daughters snap picture after picture on their smart phones. It didn’t take long for her to catch up. “You don’t have to take a picture of everything,” she declared. “Try and enjoy the moment.”

Mac, who was helping our boys and me collect rocks from the jetty below, heard the parent’s battle cry. He popped up from his hard labor, flashed a knowing grin and cheered, “Yes! Listen to your mother!”

The mom gave a half turn and returned the smirk. I couldn’t tell if she felt validated or violated. But as they moseyed away, I did hear her repeat the words – a little louder the second time.

I told Mac to mind his business, but couldn’t resist a response. “And here I thought I was the only one.”

Put down the phone flashes through my consciousness anytime I see it being used to record our every waking event. I think it to strangers and say it to our children and myself.

The televised parade of athletes during the Olympics’ opening ceremony, a tradition I’ve enjoyed since I was a girl seemed stained this year when several nations, in an effort to memorialize their experience, marched into the stadium accompanied by a blur of glowing screens held as high as the country’s flag.

This summer, family members designated Bubbe, “Spielberg”. He borrowed a defunct phone with a working camera to document a trip he took out west with his grandparents. It was the first time he had his hands on a device dubbed as his own and boy, did he go to town. Although it was great to see my son tap into the creative spirit, the child had a hard time letting go so much so that my in-laws sent me videos of him shooting videos.

I become engrossed with moment capturing too. Smart phones make the process sexy, easy and instant. Thanks to modern technology, I have a bulging photo folder of every cheeky smile, wave jump and sand marble run of our annual beach vacation since Bubbe and Skootch were small.

But there’s something satisfying about taking it all in. When swiping through the most flattering filter becomes a nuisance, I shut down the phone and keep my fingers crossed I’ll be able to recall the drippy ice cream faces, bike rides and hole-in-ones after the boys are grown.

I consider such restraint a generational skill. Unlike my children and the girls on the pier, their mom and I grew up in a low tech world; cameras had film, movie equipment was bulky, quality was a risk and we had to wait weeks to see the results. Even well into adulthood, camera viewfinders were small. We had no choice but to absorb the sights, sounds and smells; breathe, wonder and have the experience. And decades later, it’s those undocumented memories I return to when it’s quiet.

Had I stored those memories on the cloud, would I still consider them cherished moments?

If Mac had his choice, our family would implement a no picture taking policy. I prefer a balanced approach. We’ll continue to ban Bubbe and Skootch from tablets and phones while on vacation. If Spielberg gets inspired, he can borrow my camera. And I’ll still quick draw the iPhone when I get inspired by a pretty setting, Mac’s Dangerfield-esque antics and our growing sons.

At the same time, I’ll encourage the boys to join the parade, follow the drifting clouds as they take shape in the summer’s breeze and teach them that the picture perfect moments are not the ones they swipe click, caption and share; but the ones only they can see.

DENIS IAN SAID WHAT?…Mind Time

Denis Ian is a father, grandfather and education activist. He does not appear have his own blog, but I’ve read his piece on 4 different ones so far. And it’s a keeper.

Here are Denis’s thoughts about hurrying up, slowing down, the value of time and the expectations we have for children and ourselves with each passing year.

I’m already anxious about what to expect from Bubbe, Skootch and myself as we start to gear up for September. So thank you, Dennis for this beautiful math lesson.

Kindness Blog

I’m an old father now. Suddenly it seems.

My sons have sons. I own lots of memories. I polish the sweet ones and never dust the ones that hurt.

I mind time now. I didn’t used to. In fact, like lots of you, I was reckless with time. Not any longer.

When I was a boy of about 9 or so, I had the temporary misfortune of being the last to the dinner table … and that meant sitting just to the left of my father. That was like sitting next to the district attorney … or the pope. My brothers loved my dilemma … because that’s what brothers do. It’s in the Irish Manual of Life.

So … there I was … waiting for my moment of challenge. The knives were clanging plates and there were two or three different conversations happening around this table with the fat legs…

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No Peaking Allowed

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The text read, Come to room 307.

I adjusted my Spanx, grabbed the overnight bag and made my way up from the lobby. Behind the door stood two of my senior year gal pals, Shazzie and Pumpkin.

Although introduced in seventh grade and kindergarten, respectively my adult relationship with these ladies had fizzled to comments, likes and emojis. No matter. There was an easy joy about being together again.

We moved through pleasantries and tossed out filters. First order of business: pre-25th high school reunion cocktails. After a few sips, we got reunion ready while discussing work, shoes, travel, preferred products for color treated hair and of course, raising kids.

 “When my son turned three,” Shazzie said, “I told a friend, this boy can’t get more cuddly, loveable, or sweet. He’s peaked. Now, every year on his birthday she calls me and asks, is it true he peaked at three?”

“Well?” I said.

Shazzie pulled out her phone and played the recent I love you, Mom message her hoarse voiced tween left when a sleep away camp counselor returned his phone during a field trip.  “Not yet,” she replied.

We sipped some more, snapped selfies sporting party outfits and solo cups, and made our way to the main floor. I slapped on my name tag and entered the windowless, dim, pint-sized banquet hall. Waiting was a small gathering of some 125 classmates from my rural town. It was as if my mom had dropped me off at the 8th grade dinner dance equip with a cash bar.

And I wondered, had I peaked? Had any one of us peaked?

Determined to find out, I shimmied past the DJ and hot buffet, quickly refilled my cup and began to flutter about the room.

I ran into my old locker neighbor, intrigued by the cross-country mountain biking adventures he shares with his wife, concurred with my former art class tablemate who opened a restaurant after rediscovering his creativity through cooking, and was happy for the classmates who came out, found love and live life open and proud.

I chatted with my elementary school bus buddy who embraced her small town roots, adores fur babies and helps to raise her nephews, admired the crew huddled around a table who, despite time and distance sustained their decades long friendship, told Pumpkin, a working mother who nurtured her artistic talents and built an impressive career in advertising, a girl I envied as a child how much I respected her, and nestled up next to my high school crush; a sweet gentleman close to retiring from a career in law enforcement who looks forward to tending his Christmas Tree farm.

Many of my classmates married; most are raising children, some are nurturing sick parents. They have been graced with experience lines and silver hairs but the essence of who they were as children lives on.

And not one of them has peaked; not the jocks, pretty chicks, worker bees, artsy rebels, drama queens or goodie two shoes. Each seemed content with who they became; aware there’s more growth to be had.

And I, who was remembered for big hair, oversized sweaters and an even larger opinion felt inspired by my first friends.

When the clock struck midnight, the lone security guard directed us to the hotel’s neighboring bar, ushering me back to the 21st century. I thought about my own tween who was due back from sleep away camp the following week and a concerned letter he wrote about his lovie. Please sew Baby Lamb when I get home. I don’t like when he loses stuffing.

Middle school is on the horizon for my boy and so begins the battle of growing up. I can already feel his struggle; the image, fitting in, friendships, the wrestle with self and his place in the world.

I’ll continue to offer the mother to son advice he has come to hear ad nauseum: follow your passion, stay kind, always be yourself.

But from now on I’ll be sure to add, Hang tight. You’ll make it through. Just remember, no peaking allowed.

HS Reunion picture