Category Archives: Parenting

on multi-tasking

Today as I was cleaning up the kitchen, my son wanted to use my laptop for a game on the internet. He’s 9 1/2 and he’s pretty computer literate. He asked my permission and since I had a work-related document open in a word processor, I asked him to minimize it.
Then I followed up with, “do you know what minimize means?”
He said, “of course.” He said something like, “didn’t you know what minimize meant when you were my age?”
And I said, “not like you do–I don’t know how old I was when I learned what minimize meant.”
He asked if I was in school. (I graduated from high school in 1980). I told him that the word has been around a long time as a non-computer word, but he and I talked about it’s origin as a tech-related word. “Computers didn’t always do a bunch of things at one time. You had to only do one thing at a time.” In hindsight I guess I could’ve told him it was more like my cell phone worked, but without all the icons.
(I didn’t make him listen to this reflection, but I’ll let you skim it: I think there may have been one high school in town that had a computer or two, but it wasn’t mine and computing was really primitive compared to what we do today. We had punch cards in college and I typed one long paper on an apple II in the spring of 1985. Not long after that I did some desktop publishing on an early mac, but you had to switch those floppy disks, between the application disc and the data disc, until later when you got dual drives and subsequently a hard drive. At work in the late 80’s to very early 90’s we had an IBM mainframe and later dos PCs. It would’ve been between 90 & 93 when windows first appeared on my desk and I owned my first mac sometime around then. Real multitasking on a computer began happening in my world sometime in the 90s.)

My habits evolved as the tools did.

On the other hand, my son has never had access to a computer that didn’t multitask. Sure he can focus on one thing at a time, but he always has the choice. He has so many more options than I did.

I wonder how all of this will make him (and his generation) different than I am and ultimately how the world will be different? Surely they think differently. I don’t have any earth-shattering thoughts or judgements to pass along. I could speculate, but I’ll save that for another day. Mostly it was just an interesting conversation that got me thinking about him and me and our world.

Homemade applesauce & the ingenuity of a child

Saturday morning (10/10/09), my second grader was pretty bored and a little hungry and said, “dad, let’s make some applesauce out of the apples from our tree that we picked last year.” (We have 14 – gallon zip lock bags in the freezer, that we’re saving for something.) So I did what anyone who reads the owners manual would do… I pulled out THE recipe book “The Joy of Cooking”, my 1984 – 35th printing edition that I received as a gift when I graduated from college and began my journey as a young bachelor with no support from an institutional cafeteria. After a quick trip to the index, I began reading all about apples.

My second grader on the other hand headed for my laptop, pointed the browser toward You Tube and begins his search. Before I finished reading the initial paragraphs about apples, he said, “dad, it takes 80 seconds in the microwave.” “What?” I said as I put my book down and walked in. He’d found a very age appropriate, jumpy, video that wouldn’t have been enough for me, but I thought we’d finish this game on his terms since he started it. I closed my cookbook and returned it to its honorable place of rest. I sent him next door to borrow brown sugar (Props to Mrs. Betty who came through for us) and off we went. We had to defrost our apples in the microwave and peel them while they were still a little frosty. It felt a little like that cold your hands get when you throw snowballs without gloves, so my son put on an oven mitt and soaked it. As we were finishing the recipe, the apples just wouldn’t mash correctly, so I did what any self respecting dad would do and fetched a power tool. His face lit up when I told him we were inviting the blender into our escapade. I let him push the buttons and together we sauced those apples. We had a great time working together and the sauce was suprisingly tasty.

If you’re looking for an applesauce recipe… this one works and if you’re looking for a kid friendly recipe, don’t stand between your offspring and your laptop… You Tube is a great place to start! Here’s the recipe for your collection… Happy Cooking. This video is not us, this is the video recipe my son found that got us started.

The times, they are a changin’

This afternoon I drove past a drugstore that advertised one hour photo. My second grade son read the sign and asked me why they would put that on the building. I explained the concept of having your photos developed in ONLY one hour. His response was, “but that’s a long time.” As I explained that it used to take a week and that one hour used to be fast, I was reminded that I am from a different generation. I don’t guess they’ll put that message on buildings much longer. He received a different message than I did from that sign. In my day we didn’t have printers in our homes and we didn’t know any better. He doesn’t know the feeling of picking a package of prints and not knowing what was on the roll. Those were good times, too.

Serving our Children

I was recently doing some work with a friend and in the course of our conversation he said, “I’m trying to figure out how I can best serve my son.”  That got me thinking…

I’m not sure exactly why the phrase “serve my son” caught my attention, but it did. Celia and I have been in the Nashville area for about 15 years and we have spent a lot of time with songwriters. Songwriters are always listening for their next song. Writers of country music are always on the lookout for “the hook.” That’s a phrase or idea that sticks with a listener (for any of a variety of reasons) enough to write a song around. Maybe I’m becoming a bit of a wordsmith myself or at least an attentive listener. I don’t think I’m looking for the next hook, but I’m paying attention and here’s a little more about what I heard in that interaction.

First, a little background about my friend Nick (not his real name). Nick  is a really bright guy who’s the father of a couple of elementary aged kids. He does great work and he takes the dad role very seriously. He did some work for us about 10 years ago and every year since then we probably work together an average of a day a year. There’s always great conversation and we enjoy catching up about the water that’s passed under the bridge since our previous workday together.

So about a week ago, we’re working together on a project and Nick gets a phone call from the elementary school principal. I like school principals and even call some friend, but it’s hardly ever a good thing for a parent to receive a call from the principal and this was no exception. It seems Nick’s son had been involved in a scuffle at school before the bell rang in the morning. To his son’s credit, he was defending a victim from a bully, but he could’ve made a far better choice about how he chose to get involved. His choice resulted in disciplinary action. How he chose to be involved was far enough out-of-bounds to overshadow the rightness of stepping in on behalf of a victim.

A day later Nick and I were on a phone call following up on our work and I asked about his son. Nick had learned some additional details about the incident. Nick’s son had some schoolwork that he should’ve been working on at the time of the incident. There was a specific pre-existing paren’t-child agreement about the work that was supposed to be in-progress at the time in question. Had the son been doing that work, he would not have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and the incident would’ve been avoided completely. After Nick learned about these additional details, he and his son were on an errand together. Nick left the car to pick up something on the errand. He said that the few moments away from his son gave him some time for Nick’s anger to subside and to allow him to get in a better frame of mind. Nick said that by the time he got back to the car, he had cooled off and had gotten to a place where he really wanted to figure out how to best serve his son. (He didn’t say it with any emphasis, I added the bold letters, in an effort to let you know what jumped out at me.)… how best to serve his son… to me that was a big deal!

If only Nick and I had communicated a few days earlier, I’m sure I could’ve gotten a higher grade on my own parenting performance at a particular “opportunity for discipline” (OFD–discipline is about teaching, right?) that I was presented with this past Thursday. The situation looked something like this: number 2 son (first grade) was performing in a program at school and number 1 son (third grade) did NOT want to sit (still and quietly) in the gym. Number one’s continued requests to leave met our continued parental insistance for compliance and nobody was giving an inch. Number 1 son wanted to go see a friend outside and we wanted him to support number 2 son. As Celia and I wrestled with how best to survive/parent the situation, I’m afraid that my thoughts were not on “how best to serve” my child. I think I’m generally pretty good about playing the long game where discipline is concerned. After a couple of decades of working with teenagers and watching them head off to college to make many of their own often unsupervised choices and even mistakes, I think I parent with a picture of the end in mind, but not that particular day. Our parental embarassment and frustration at the distraction our interaction created for our little section of the bleachers in the elementary school gymnamsium removed any perspective we might have had for the long game. I’m confessing that there might have even been (ouch) a hint of wanting to win this particular showdown, and it didn’t get terrbly ugly, but nobody won.

Up until now, I can’t remember approaching an OFD and asking myself how I could best “serve my child.” I do remember learning several years ago that “spare the rod, spoil the child” might be better thought of as a shepherds’ crook that guides, than as a stick intended for a backside.

Don’t get me wrong, personally I’m all about the concept of service. I’ve taken thousands of adolescents on service events. I’ve washed more feet in worship services than I care to think about, but I can’t remember ever making a connection between “serving my child” and the discipline/art/science/practice/craft of parenting. For the last couple of days, I’ve been reflecting on the connection that Nick made for me. Service… that brings into the process several things: a dose of humility, a recognition that I don’t have it all together, the recognition that we’re in this together and an appreciation that my children have incredible value just as they are (even prior to correction).

Another thing that I walked away thinking about was that Nick took some time away and was giving his response plenty of thought, I mean continuing to wrestle with it. From our limited interactions through the last decade I can tell that Nick has lots of brain power to harness and that some incredible options will come out of his time spent wrestling with it… I want to be parent with that kind of intention.

So now I have a mental picture of Jesus taking up the role of servant as he wrapped that towel around his waist in the presence of a group of disciples who likely sat with confused looks on their faces. I invite you to join Nick (and more recently me) in picking up a towel, wrapping it around your waste, maybe seeing a confused look on your children’s faces and wrestling with the question “how can I best serve my child” especially in a situation requiring discipline.

Enough about me, you talk about me… just kidding, please jump in here and talk about you.

In some twisted way, I think I’m kinda looking forward to our next showdown. Maybe I’ll handle this one a little better. I’ll keep you posted… Ron

Sex Education begins at home

Sex education is happening at my house and at yours too. Are you in the game?

Ours actually started several years ago, but we ramped it up last week. Birds and bees would have been a welcomed launch pad this spring, but on a recent family road trip during spring break my two sons [almost 9 and 7 1/2 years old]  and I ended up in a restroom stall in a gas station that had particularly well decorated walls that looked a lot like the cave writings I have seen on the Discovery Channel. This particular stop was a bit of an extended visit, which could not be rushed; so we had ample time to savor the information posted there. Regardless of how much I wanted to shelter my sons by blocking the information on those walls (often in poorly spelled words accompanied by inaccurate drawings), both of my sons have learned to read and the messages were there in almost 360 degrees for the harvesting.

I guess that restroom stall is an appropriate metaphor for living in the world we parent in. We cannot protect our children from the messages that are out there. Sooner or later, our little angels are going to hear something, see something or learn something that we strongly disagree with. As a parent (or even as any adult who accepts the responsibility of nurturing a child), I can only hope that these messages are appropriately and safely synthesized into a framework of understanding that I have greatly influenced prior to their reception. We encounter new vocabulary about weekly at our house.

I would love to think that I could prevent these occurrences, but I really can’t. Sometimes there is just not time for a pre-emptive scouting trip for every potty stop on this journey. Young digestive systems don’t always allow that time and the messages are everywhere (have you heard about this new thing called the internet? There are virtual restroom walls lurking inside your computer display right behind these words). I guess we could stay home, using only our bathroom and throw out the TV and computer and send our kids to a really, really safe school, but I choose not to live that way. (I will, however, be a little more careful about restroom selection for a while. There is no reason to rush this thing.)

The topic of where and how sex education should happen is volatile, reminiscent of those scenes from an action movie or a western where the bad guys are handling explosives. Whether the setting is a railroad trestle in the old west or a skyscraper in a metropolitan area today, the bad guys have to be careful about how they handle explosives. There’s always the moment where it really looks as if they are going to drop something and end it all. As a former professional in the business of nurture, I have been responsible for formative programs for young people in several different organizations in several settings. Having sponsored several educational events for young people in those locations, I’ve been invited to participate in larger discussions about what, when, where and how sex education should be taught. The discussions that were the most charged were about teaching in public schools. I can remember a couple of messages I received from folks who disagreed strongly with my thoughts. One particular letter I received even called my personal faith into question. We couldn’t even talk about talking about it. That got me started wondering what IT was that we really couldn’t talk about.

Here is what I have gleaned: The real issue is NOT about TEACHING SEXUALITY (plumbing, pregnancy and pitfalls). The real dilemna is WHOSE MORALITY AND VALUES we should attach to the information we teach about sexuality. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who would want to teach sexuality with absolutely no morality attached. That would d be like handing someone a weapon (potentially of mass destruction or at least massive self-destruction) without an owner’s manual. Likewise, most of us are not comfortable with our children learning sexuality with someone ELSE’s morality or values (that differ from ours). So as parents and caregivers we want OUR own morals and values taught. The irony is that no one can teach our morals and values better than we can, but some (many) of us are uncomfortable talking about our sexuality. So we’re left with the task of finding the best “substitute us”.

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, we have to face the fact that we’re out of the garden. Our forefather and foremother ate the fruit from that infamous tree. Wasn’t it the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Is this akin to the knowledge of morality and values? Might that part of our story be connected to this complicated issue? So like it or not, in addition to passing along the information, we’ve saddled ourselves with the freedom and the corresponding responsibility of passing along our own understanding or knowledge of good and evil, of morality and values, about where we personally detect the lines between right and wrong.

In my experience, the church has been a wonderful place for the teaching of sex education, partly because we tend to choose communities where our morals and values align, but the community alone is a poor substitution for our voice. We do participate in this process, whether we choose to jump in verbally or to remain tacit and let our example suffice, we are making a statement and leaving a legacy. Personally, I felt I had to respond verbally to those primitive glyphics on the stall wall and honestly it wasn’t entirely comfortable or clean (pun intended). It was another opportunity to leave my thumbprint on the world by influencing the influencers that live in my own home and hopefully to leave the world a little better, though it didn’t feel much like it at the time. I guess my loudest word for you and for me as parents is that we have to talk (or begin talking) about morals and values and sex in small and appropriate ways by answering questions as they are asked and by seizing teachable moments as opportunities surface.  In my own experience, that’s just some of the best curriculum there is.

That’s my 2 cents, for what it’s worth. Some of these thoughts have been rolling around in my mind since I received that letter of judgement from a stranger over a couple of decades ago. I guess this post is partly my reply to that well-intentioned epistle. These thoughts have been simmering in my crock pot for long enough and I feel a little better now. Mostly this is on my front burner due to my recent visit to that particular worldly gas station. I was thrown back into the fire and I thought I’d take a moment today and write down my reflections for me and for you.

So I encourage you and me to be on the lookout! Let’s tune in and listen to our children’s words and to what’s hidden beneath the words and let’s respond carefully, lovingly and with intent.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.