Come on, fight.

1ihpsdizyfa-martin-knizeIt isn’t often that we ask our children to challenge us, but that’s exactly what I did the other night.

It was around 9:30 in the evening, the small children were in bed and my eldest son was still up playing Xbox.  He had his headphones on and it took me some effort to get his attention- which got me annoyed.  So I snapped at him- telling him to get off the machine  (said with appropriate levels of disdain) and get to bed.

He looked incredibly disappointed, but being the great kid that he is, muttered a reluctant ‘yes, mum’ and took himself to his room.  I went to kiss him goodnight a little while later and sat down on the edge of the bed to talk.  Something about the way he had looked at me, wasn’t sitting right.

I asked him about it and he explained that he had been wanting to connect with one of his friends in Canada for months.  Turns out the two boys had only just been able to find each other on Xbox live, all the way across the world, for the very first time… when I walked past and told him sternly to turn the machine off.

I couldn’t believe it.  I felt so disappointed for him and his friend.  In his eyes, he was being obedient.  In reality, I wish he’d spoken up.  I lay down beside him and explained to him that as long as things are said with respect, we all have an equal voice in our home.

I especially wanted him to know that when something is important to us, we should ALWAYS make the choice to speak up.  Even if it means potential friction.  I shoved him playfully, “challenge me, ok kid?  Do it with love, humour, a quiet word or whatever… just know it’s never wrong to fight for things that matter”.

Whilst I value obedience from my children, I am determined not to raise pleasers or push overs.  I’m always looking for ways to celebrate questions asked, initiatives taken, changes proposed.  Even when my answer is ‘no’ to something, I often commend them for asking.

“No, I will not buy that dangerous sling-shot for you.  But good on you for asking a tenth time.  Loving your tenacity, son”.

I’m not joking, I really say that sort of thing- often with a smile and a playful shove.  And every now and again, I surprise them with an unexpected ‘ok, sure’.  Just because I want them to know there’s always value in asking.  Life doesn’t have to be black and white.  Spending another half hour with his Canadian friend, would have been a reasonable exception to regular bedtime.

As Jack and I spoke about it, an analogy came to mind from something that happened in my own life this week.  I’ve recently started training the Brazilian martial art of Jiu Jitsu; it’s great fun and incredible for both mind and body.

The one thing I’m struggling with however, is the full contact combat.  Being the most inexperienced person at the gym, I’m getting hurt.  A lot.  I would have less bruises on my limbs right now if I’d fallen down twelve flights of stairs.  On roller blades.

Naturally, I’ve become a little nervous.  Then in one of the sparring sessions, my grappling partner made a statement that surprised me: “You’ve stopped resisting.  Come on, fight!”   It was true- I had stopped struggling against him in a subconscious effort to avoid pain.  My aching body had decided that it was easier to fall, than to be thrown.

It sounds like a flawed theory: don’t resist and you’ll spare yourself some pain.  But if you think about it, we do it all the time to avoid conflict.  Go with the flow, it’s not worth the trouble.  It’s easier to put up with it, than to try to change it…

The only problem with this passive attitude is that eventually, we do get tired of getting pushed around.  Be it by your boss, your partner, or the guy you’re wrestling on a matt.  Eventually it’s going to start to hurt anyway.  Something’s gonna have to give.

We need to give our children opportunities to challenge us.  I’m not talking about celebrating aggression.  I’m talking about reminding our kids that they have a voice.  Gone are the days of being ‘seen and not heard’.  He who isn’t heard these days, gets lost.

I grabbed Jack’s arm and twisted it into a playful submission.  “So what are you going to do, kid?  When stuff happens that you don’t like?”

“I’ll speak up,” He shoved me sideways and wriggled out, “I’ll do something.”

Good.  The world needs more people like that.

Play.

scooterIf you search in the dictionary for the technical definition of the word ‘relationship’ you’ll find:

Relationship                                   [ri-ley-shuh n-ship]

The way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected.

On the surface this means that we define our relationships by titles such as ‘spouse’, ‘sibling’, ’colleague’ or ‘friend’.   But what if we dug a little deeper into the way that we connect with each other?

Let me explain.  You may have two good friends, but the relationships you have with each, are likely be totally different based on the way you are connected.  It could be the interests you share in common, the experiences you’ve had together, geographic or situational correlations.… but anchoring all of these, is history.

The memories that we share form the structure of the bridges that connect us.  So if connection equals relationship, then making memories equals building relationships.  It’s not rocket science.

When it comes to our children, I’ve always tried to remember that a ‘great relationship’ with my sons is not a given.  It’s not an automatic result of my title as ‘mother’.  Plenty of men grow up with average or even negative relationships with their mothers.  A great relationship is something that is built, nurtured and earned.  It is not something you wake up with one day accidentally.

Getting it right can feel like a difficult dance.  I hear parents anguish over the right amount of discipline versus the right amount of leniency.  Are we being too relaxed or too stern, too permissive or too structured?  Are we supposed to be teachers, coaches, mentors or friends?

Probably a little bit of all.  But in the end, there’s only one thing that in my experience, trumps everything when it comes to building relationships with our kids:

Play.  

It doesn’t matter what you play.  Climb a tree, build a lego spaceship, chase each other with the hose.  Ride scooters in the street till dark.

Just to be clear, I’m talking about much more than just ‘doing things’ with our kids.  There’s a big difference between taking your kids to the beach and actually getting busy building a sand castle with them.  The only genuine way to connect with a child is to step into their world.  And then maybe when they grow up, they’ll want to be part of ours.

I once heard someone say that children spell ‘love’ with the letters: T-I-M-E.  And with the currency of ‘time’ being at an all time high, it’s what we do with that time that makes it really count.

I begun to do some research on the benefits of ‘play’ for this article, but it just got too boring.  Co-ordination, experiential science and maths, creativity, tactile development, sensory exposure… I mean, yes, all these things are great.  But how about just doing something because it’s ‘fun’ to do together?

I looked outside my window and my sons were playing scooter soccer on the street with friends.  Screw the research; if I ever need ideas on great things to do with my kids, all I need to do is join them. 

Getting on a scooter is scary enough without also trying to manoeuvre a ball towards a goal and avoid getting tackled.  But whatever, I’ll get on scooters, I’ll get grazes and cuts up a tree, I’ll get tackled for a ball, I’ll watch Pokemon and play Minecraft.  I’ll read books that are gross and laugh madly when I step on dog poo.  I’ll sit on the garage floor with chalk and draw bums.

I’ll stop waiting for the kids to grow up, and instead, I’ll find ways to remember that I too, was young once.  I don’t ever want to get so busy being a ‘parent’, that I forget to also be their friend.

It doesn’t even matter if they tell you that you suck on a scooter , or that you kick a ball like a princess.  Trust me, a relationship is building.   And so on the days that your ten year old requires discipline, or your teenager requires guidance… you’ve already built a bridge.

 

When something bugs you

IMG_0329Last week I led my boys through an experiment on the driveway which involved the smashing of an egg to demonstrate the power of the spoken word.  Much like the unrecoverable splat of shell and goo on the driveway, once an insult is thrown, it can never be taken back.

The intended moral of the story?  People are fragile and we need to treat each other with care.  However, as I thought about it some more, I realised that there was a second part to the lesson.  We can’t walk around on egg shells after all.  The world isn’t always a kind place.  We are all recipients of harsh words at one time or another.

We can’t just crack under the pressure each time it happens.

Alright, no more ‘egg’ puns.  It’s getting eggsausting.  For this next demonstration, what we needed was a swarm of bugs.

So one evening during the week, I left the outside light on for longer than usual and once I had a good gathering of moths, geckos and assorted bugs, I called the boys to the screen door.  From behind the mesh, they could see the bugs, but were not affected by them.

I stepped out bravely into the swarm of bugs and begun by making an analogy out of the situation.  Whenever we shine in life (like the light bulb), we are likely to draw some criticism (like the bugs swarming around it).  It’s annoying, but it’s just life.

What do most of us do?  We step right into it.   I invited the boys to step out from behind the safety of the screen door.  Now they too were exposed to the bugs.  We stood there uncomfortably for a few minutes, noting that there is a clear difference between being observant to criticism, and allowing ourselves to be affected by it.

Sure, it’s impossible to ignore what goes on around us.  If people are cruel, unjust or aggressive, it’s going to be something that we notice.  But much like the screen door, we have access to emotional filters designed to manage how deeply we allow things to affect us.

In a practical sense, how do we do this?  The answer comes from knowing WHY certain things affect us.  It’s not necessarily what is said, it’s the stories we tell ourselves about what is said.

A statement is made.  It touches a sore spot.  We feed the statement with other lies, sifting through the dregs of our fears and insecurities, looking to build a castle around what should have only been a brick.

We are natural storytellers and it’s our tendency to feature ourselves as the dramatic heroes of our personal Shakespearean tragedy.  It makes for a more interesting read, right?

But…. what if we are reading the story all wrong?  What if the real message behind each insult was “I’m afraid,” or “I feel threatened,” or “I’m hurt”?  Would it still affect us in the same way?

I invited the boys to make a choice: would they prefer to stay outside swatting bugs, or did they want to go back inside, behind the screen door?  We couldn’t get back inside fast enough.   As we shuffled in, I reminded them that whether it was bugs or insults, we always have the protection of a door, depending on where we chose to stand.

We may not be able to change what is said, but we always have a choice about how we interpret it.

It’s our right to shine brightly, our responsibility not to throw eggs and it’s within our power to close the door when others do.

The Egg-xperiment

IMG_0164

Of all the things that kids do, this has got to be one of the things that annoys me the most: name calling.    In all honesty, I would prefer that they gave each other a shove than called each other a derogatory name.   No, I’m not about to start high-fiving my child for kicking his brother in the shin, but still.  Name calling sucks.

I get it.  Hurt people, hurt people.  We react by using words that are deliberately designed to damage.  With those close to us, we tend to know each other’s weaknesses and so we head straight for those buttons.  We prey on insecurities and throw darts at the very places that are exposed.  It’s cruel, and what’s worse, it can be permanent.

I wanted to find a way to illustrate this to the boys, in order to help them think twice next time they feel like throwing insults around.  At this age, the words they use a pretty mild, but as they grow into creative teens, they could possibly get more aggressive.  Take those same patterns into adulthood and you’ve got a recipe for trouble in relationships, work and in social circles.

Words are either tools or weapons.  Whichever way we chose to use them, once they are out, there is no going back. 

To illustrate the power of words, I decided to do a little experiment.  I asked the boys to come outside with me and line up on the driveway.  I gave my youngest son an egg and on behalf of all of us, I asked him to smash it on the concrete.  He looked up at me with confusion- for real?  I nodded.  Yeah, go for it.

Splat.  We gathered around the broken egg and then I gave them the strange instruction to ‘please put it back together’.  Confused and amused, they squatted down to give it a crack (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

“You can’t.  It’s impossible, mum”.

Exactly.  Some things, can never be undone.  I made them look at the sad pathetic egg mess on the driveway and I reminded them that when words come out of our mouths, it’s very much like the egg.  Once something is said, it can never be retracted.  Offering an explanation or saying sorry might help, but it doesn’t ultimately change what was said.

Therefore, like the egg, it is important that we treat our words with care.  People, at the end of the day, are fragile.  The words we use and how we use them, carry a big responsibility.  We all crave love and acceptance.  Our feelings in a moment of anger, will pass.  The insults that we throw, will not.

There is one more thing.  We live in an imperfect world, and whilst we can try to be kind to each other, there is no guarantee that everyone will always be nice to us.  For this reason, I have decided that next week we will cover the second part of this lesson: resilience.  Because no matter what anyone says to us, we are still empowered with an important choice: to accept or reject anything that might be thrown at us.

To see video of our little Egg-xperiment in nail-biting live action, click HERE.

 

5 lessons from dogs

14034861_10153959771116676_2659613395055749824_nIt was a sunny Saturday a couple of years ago when we decided to drive around to the local dog pound ‘for a quick look’.  Yep.  We all know how this story ends.

We walked into the RSPCA and toured casually past all the kennels… until we saw him.  The last from a rescued litter of six, a little Rottweiler cross Kelpie, lying in the middle of the floor belly up, fast asleep.

The love was instant.  The kids barricaded the kennel, blocking anyone from stealing him, while I went to do paperwork and hand over my credit card.  And so begun an adventure that nobody could have prepared us for.

Charlie, as we named him, has not exactly been the best behaved dog on the planet…. and we’ve been pretty useless at helping him to change.  He was kicked out of puppy school for being too disruptive to the other puppies.  He has chewed through every single left shoe that we own, wrecked our furniture, broken fences and doors, eaten entire pizzas off the counter, killed all our childhood teddies and claimed every bed as his.  And somehow, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here- in my opinion- are the top 5 reasons why all kids need a dog:

1) Someone to care for

Just as we care for our little people, it is great for them to have someone to take care of too.  In our home, we made the decision to divide up the tasks- someone does the food, someone else the water.  Two other kids pick up chocolate treasures in the backyard.  I vacuum the relentless piles of black hair from every crevice of the house.

Many kids grow up with a sense of entitlement.  Scooping up dog poo helps balance that out.

2) A friend

Many a night one of my sons has taken off to his room in a sulk, told off for some misdemeanor or small family crime.  More often than not, I will later find the offender, curled up in his bunk bed with Charlie who is only too happy to sulk in sympathy.  I’m certain that Charlie holds all the family secrets and has heard many a mutinous plot against my unjust dictatorship.

It’s amazing what a great listener a dog can be when he’s getting scratched.  I’m glad the boys have a friend like him.

3) Exercise

Having a dog forces you to get out.  Even if we’ve had a big day at work and school, and everyone is tired, those puppy eyes are hard to refuse.  The boys and I have gotten into the habit of taking a ‘family’ walk with Charlie.  They ride scooters and bikes, while I work my biceps against Charlie.

It’s a habit that started as something that ‘we did for Charlie’, and it has grown into a special time of connection that we do ‘for us’.

4) The habit of sharing

Ok, so I’m sure all the disciplined people of the world will cringe to read this, but when it comes to sharing food, there’s nothing more persuasive than those eyes.  You’re hoeing into your salami sandwich and you just know the world would be a little better if you shared.

I’ve seen my kids share ice-blocks and twiggy sticks with Charlie- and as long as it’s not at the table, not bad for him and not too often, I can’t help but see the sweetness in giving up a little bit of something you enjoy, for someone you love.

And it’s not just food.  It’s couch space, bed space, any area next to your feet ….your favorite teddy that is now a mangled mess.  A dog helps a kid understand that they may not be the center of the universe, and that there’s always enough to share.

5) An example of unconditional love

You walk in the door, and regardless of whether your dog has been lonely, hungry or barking fearlessly at a stick all day, he will greet you with joy.  It doesn’t matter what kind of day you’ve had, your puppy always makes it better.  The kind of frenzied backflips and affection a dog gives you when you return, is the closest you and I will ever get to feeling like rock stars.  A dog’s love is pure and unconditional.

This last week, when Jack was home recovering from his operation, I am certain that Charlie knew exactly what was going on.  He stayed beside Jack constantly, watching back to back Indiana Jones from the couch as my boy rested.  In the evening, Charlie slept on the floor next to him, watching over him without crowding him, but waking to sniff and check on him through the night.

It’s this stuff that makes all the chewed shoes in the world worthwhile.  A list of five reasons, suddenly feels too short.

1795681_10152819234851490_789931193_n

When you’re busy making other plans

john-w-sean-boy-300

There’s a song John Lennon wrote for his son called ‘Beautiful Boy’.  I often play it for the boys during our morning ‘play-list’ (featuring an almost exclusive selection of 70s and 80s hits for their auditory pleasure).  The point is, Lennon throws a line in there that always makes me smile: “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”.  As I sit at the children’s hospital, on a day that happens to be my birthday, I have to chuckle.  The guy was right.

Exhibit A:  my week.

A series of unfortunate incidents (for which I’m entirely responsible), resulted in the loss of my license a few months ago.  Consequently, everything is a little harder than usual at the moment.  We depend on my parents for help, friends and the Uber community for lifts and buses as a last resort.

It was Monday night when the boys and I found ourselves on one such adventure.  Long story short, we needed to get home after sports but I had somehow managed to leave both my phone and credit card in my father’s car.

We had planned to catch an Uber home- but we could not order one without a phone.  So we thought about catching a bus, but realised we had no cash.  We went to the bank to draw money out, but remembered we had no card.  I thought about transferring money to a different card… then remembered I had no phone!

And so begun a two and a half hour creative journey home that included using the McDonald’s free wifi on my laptop, a bus trip, a pit stop for dinner and a 2km walk home in the dark.  Under normal circumstances, the whole thing would have been a boring 10 minute drive home, but because ‘life happened’, it became an adventure.

With the focus of a family of McGyvers, we problem-solved together, shared lots of laughs, mused about life before mobile phones and even had a philosophical discussion on our walk about the plot of ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’.  Who knew that was even possible.

As I tucked my tired boys into bed that night, one of them turned to me sleepily and said, “Mum, can we do that again?”.  It made me smile.  How easy it is to make memories. I wondered how many times I have missed similar opportunities because I’ve been too busy being frustrated or annoyed.

Had I focused on the two and a half hours of hassle, instead of the two and a half hours of connection, the evening would have been quite different.  My mood would have spread like a feral virus to the kids, and we would have arrived home exhausted and cranky.

Same experience, different experience.

As a parent, I often forget that I am the thermostat.  I set the temperature in my home.  My actions, my mood and the very energy with which I tackle each day has a direct effect on my family.   When I am reactive, I become a victim of the circumstances, giving away my position of influence and my duty of protection over my sons.

As it turns out, this was not to be our only adventure this week.  On Friday, on a day that I had planned to take off work to sip birthday drinks with friends by a hotel pool, my eldest son woke up with extreme abdominal pain.  A few hours later I found myself in a leopard print sarong at the children’s hospital, sipping nervously on instant coffee instead of champagne, as we waited for surgeons to take out his infected appendix.

It wasn’t the birthday I had planned.  But as I sit here with three boys watching over their big brother as he sleeps off the anesthetic, I also think of how perfect things are tonight.  My boy is well.  Our family is strong.   Our best plans might often come undone, but it’s always possible to find that there is so much ‘right’, even when things go wrong.

Thanks for the tip, John.

Little Blue Suit

Screen Shot 2016-10-23 at 6.07.30 PMMy eldest son turned 12 last week.  How is that possible?  I used to hear people sigh about ‘how quickly time flies’ and they weren’t joking.  Wasn’t he just born the other day?

When people see me walking around these days, wrangling four boys through the shops, I often wonder if anybody could ever guess the real story.  Would they suspect that several doctors once told me I was infertile, that I lost three babies, that I battled hormones and needles- and my faith– for almost four years before finally holding my firstborn in my arms?

Nobody could guess now, and not many people could guess back then- because we are all great at broadcasting our happiness, but often silent about our grief.  Do we fear judgement, or shame?   Could it be a weakness, to wrestle with our pain?

All I know is that there was nothing weak about fighting to keep my faith for nearly half a decade.  It was the toughest, bravest thing I ever did.  After each disappointment and negative test, after each loss and dead end, it took all my courage to keep believing.

At some stage early in the journey, I bought a little blue baby suit, and it became a totem.  I would lay it out on the bed and imagine what it would be like to dress my child and lay him down in his bassinet.

I know it might sound strange, but for me, it was a symbol.  As long as I had that little outfit, I still had hope.  I was ready for him.

That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of dark days.  Many a time I marched outside and threw the little blue outfit into the bin.  I was done.  This was stupid.  I didn’t care anymore.  And then I’d be outside at 2am, rummaging through the rubbish, desperate to connect again with my little symbol of hope.

I know there are no guarantees in this game.  One of my closest friends is currently going through fertility treatment and I understand.  It has to be one of the toughest roads for a couple to travel on- a challenge against the very nature we were supposedly designed for.  You carry on doing normal things like groceries and birthdays, while you silently rage war against the unknowns in your body… knowing that you also need to be at peace with the very real possibility that you might not win.

My own rollercoaster journey to motherhood wasn’t over at conception.  Even the pregnancy was fraught with complications and I found myself in hospital several times, willing with every cell in my body for my baby to stay.

I remember one such night in hospital, after doctors had prepared me for the worst, holding vigil over my belly into the early hours of the morning, just talking to him- promising that I would teach him to kick a ball, and walk with him to school and dance with him at his wedding.  I fell asleep with the little blue suit in my hands and a whole lot of hope in my heart.  That’s all you have- in the absence of evidence, and against all common sense, there is always hope.

And then one day, twelve years ago- the war was finally over.  There are no words of course, to describe the day he was born.  There is no language to capture the immense gratitude or the overpowering love.  Such cheap words, in the face of so much emotion.

The boys are now big and noisy and gross… but I still sleep with the little blue suit under my pillow.  It serves as a reminder of the gift of motherhood, but even greater than that, the gift of hope.  Regardless of what I may face in my life, all I need is a little something to hold on to.

Next year my firstborn will be a teenager, soon he’ll be a man.  But he’ll always be my boy.  Brought home from hospital in a little blue suit.

I dedicate this post to all women and men courageously fighting fertility battles; you are not alone. 

Dangerous Waters

Screen Shot 2016-10-16 at 4.00.23 PMYesterday we returned to a beach where one year ago, I nearly drowned.  I hadn’t expected the surge of emotion that hit me as I saw that shoreline again.  I have many great memories on that beach, but the feeling of being dragged under, gulping water instead of air, came back to me in nauseating playback.

It had been an average day at the beach, until one simple misjudgment nearly changed everything.  What appeared to be a simple swim across a small trough, turned out to be a fight for life against a vicious current.  There was no way forward and no way back.  Only down.  The mistake had already been made and the very effort of trying to save myself was only bringing me closer to deadly exhaustion.

How could this stupid thing happen?  I wasn’t supposed to drown.  I was supposed to do so much more with my life.  I have young children.  I was filled with anger, fear and grief- all happening simultaneously.  Until I saw the extended hand of a surfer– gratitude.

Yesterday, as I stood on the sand and carefully stepped back into the same water, I did so with respect.  The boys and I had only been playing in the waves for a short while, when the lifeguards activated the siren, signaling for swimmers to move away from the dangerous rip.

What appeared safe waters to everyone, was in fact deeply dangerous.

That night at home, it came naturally to draw a parallel between the invisible current and hazardous life choices that equally have the potential to drag us under.

Danger is often about positioning.  What may seem like an innocent lifestyle choice today, can easily develop into a bad habit  or even worse, an addiction; a sweeping current from which it is almost impossible to return.

Outcomes are determined early; and we often end up paying the price for things we never intended to purchase. 

I asked the boys to help me come up with some examples of choices that might be innocent enough superficially, but could have potentially dangerous repercussions if allowed to drift out of control.

From their mouths:

  • If you make a habit out of eating McDonalds
  • If you keep spending more money than you make
  • If you let yourself get addicted to video games
  • If you make a habit out of lying
  • If you punch your brother in the head too much
  • If you stand within range of snipers too often

The list got progressively stranger, but the point was clear.  Dangerous currents may look deceptively safe on the surface.  The wrong crowd, will probably look like the most fun.  Substance abuse seems like a party, until you wake up one morning, dependent.  A volatile relationship may feel exciting for a while, until you realise you’re trapped in a cycle of abuse.

I wrapped up our chat with a safe swimming checklist, before jumping in on any major decision:Screen Shot 2016-10-16 at 4.03.46 PM

  • Read the signs. While there may be no lifeguards setting off sirens throughout your life, there are usually plenty of warning signs on the beach for those smart enough to look.
  • Watch other swimmers. Take a moment to evaluate the lives of people swimming ahead of you in the same waters.
  • Keep an eye out for the turning tide. Even when things are going well, accept that life is always changing and never predictable.  What worked for you yesterday, may need to be adapted for tomorrow.
  • Know your limits. Knowing yourself allows you to make decisions that are congruent with your values and boundaries.

And finally number five, the big lesson of the day for me: even if an experience leaves you frightened and unsure, don’t be afraid to get back in the water.  You can’t live your life watching from the shore.

Looking for Yellow

Screen Shot 2016-10-09 at 6.23.58 PMIt’s unavoidable.  Sometimes you just have to be the bad guy.

It was one such night and I had sent my second son off to his room with some rather firm words and instructions to ‘think about it’.  By the time I walked in to say goodnight to him, it was clear that he had done exactly that- but in all the wrong ways.

The boy had grown angrier and more upset than when I had told him off initially.  The situation was far worse in his head and I was unequivocally and without question, the worst parent on the planet.  Fortunately, this wasn’t my first rodeo and I was determined to break his foul mood, regardless of what I needed to do.

As my sons know, we don’t got to bed angry in this family.  Not ever.

So I sat down on the floor in the most non-authoritarian pose that I could muster and asked him what was wrong.  He glared at me from the bed and growled- everything was wrong.  I probed further, asking him to tell me what ‘everything’ entailed.  I then listened without judgement while he recapped blow by blow, the entire unfairness of the situation, why this family was the worst ever and why basically everything from global warming to the US presidential election had suddenly become his personal problem.

I nodded, agreed and didn’t argue with anything that he said.  After he was done, I even asked him, if there was anything else.  He frowned, weren’t things bad enough already?  I then asked him a new question: “now that we know all the bad things in your life, can you tell me about the good things?”

He was growing frustrated, so I moved quickly into an exercise that was shared with me once.  I asked him to look around the room and list all the things that were red.  He rattled off a few items begrudgingly.  I then asked him to close his eyes and try to list all the items in the room that were yellow.

He couldn’t of course.  He hadn’t been looking for yellow.  He had been looking for red.  He managed to name one item.  There was a yellow Pokémon card somewhere, apparently.  I invited him to open his eyes and take a second look.  As it turned out, there were many yellow items in the room.  “Anyway, whatever- what’s the point?”, he grumbled.

The point is, boy- that you only ever find what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for what’s wrong, you’ll always find a big list.  If you’re looking for what’s right, however, you’ll also find just as much.

Life is less about what ‘is’, and more about what we choose to see.  Two people could live through the exact same situation, but have a radically different experience.  We’ve probably all heard this before at some stage, but it’s amazing how often we still accept every situation as a set of facts, when in reality, it is always just a set of perceptions.

He’s a smart boy, so the amount of ‘yellow’ in the room was actually a powerful revelation.

He was still moody, and that was ok.  But his frame of reference was challenged and I was able to get close enough for a goodnight kiss without getting swatted away.  That was good enough for me.

As I said their nightly prayer from the hallway a little later (I stand there like a chanting monk so all the boys can hear me at the same time… you gotta take shortcuts where you can in this gig), I included a big list of all the that things we are grateful for in our lives.

And I finished with: please help us to always find the yellow in every day.  Amen.

No matter what

useIt was the end of a big week and I thought the boys and I deserved a nice dinner out to celebrate.  And also there was no food in the house.

Particularly, I wanted to thank the boys for having been so understanding as I have been working through most of the school holidays, and as a result, we hadn’t done anything fun.  Overall, the boys are incredibly supportive of my schedule.  But they are after all, still kids and vacation care had not been as exciting as say, a holiday in Fiji.

So as we waited for our teriyaki chicken bowls to arrive,  I thanked them again for having allowed me a week of focus and reminded them that their help was a valuable part of moving the family towards our goals.  Weary nods all around.  They got it, but they needed more inspiration.  So I decided we would play a game.

I reached for some empty cups and rolled up the dinner docket into a little paper ball.  I turned all the paper cups upside down and showed the boys as I hid the little ball under one of them.

I then shuffled the cups randomly, sliding them quickly around the table as the boys tried to keep up with their eyes.  Each time I stopped, they had to guess and point to the cup hiding the little paper treasure.

They got better and better each time… four pairs of eyes tracking the cup containing the paper carefully as I tried to confuse them.  Our food finally arrived and the giggles died down.  I asked the boys to consider a question carefully- what had they done to pick the winning cup each time?

Their answer:  We just had to keep our eye on it, no matter what.

In the light of the week that we had just had, I smiled and pointed out to the boys that life is no different.  Once you know what you want, you just have to keep your eye on it, no matter what.

Setting a goal is not enough.  You can set a goal, but then spend your time focusing on how hard it seems to achieve, how inadequate you feel and the stories you’ll tell yourself when it doesn’t happen…

So you haven’t actually set a goal.  You’ve just set yourself a disappointment.

Just like the upside down cups, in life, we usually get what we focus on.  Setting a goal, is only the first part.  Keeping your eyes fixed on it, is the real key.

Our week had been a busy one.  It had felt like a whole lot of moving cups.  Busy, crazy and upside down.  It’s easy to get tired and discouraged when you’re chasing something.

Unless you know exactly WHY.  Life is an adventure of shifting treasures.  Whether you’re going for a place on the soccer team, a promotion, or a pretty girl- it’s in our nature to goal set.

Sadly, as time goes on (and we miss some targets), we can find ourselves adopting mechanisms in order to avoid the pain of disappointment.  We offer ourselves lies and distractions, diluting the things that we really want in order to dull the pain of not having them.

But vulnerability can be a gift: it’s alright to want something so badly, that it hurts not to have it.  Far from being a weakness, desire is a position of power.  I handed each of the boys their cups, as I summarised our little game with big lessons.

Don’t be afraid to keep your eyes locked on what you want.    Be brave even, to tease yourself with daydreams, affirmations and hope.  You can’t chase what you can’t see.  The life you want won’t come to you by accident.

It’s a choice of focus; and what you focus on, is in your hands.

 

The ancient art of raising boys, as mastered by none.