Living the Days-After in Dallas

“Mom.” I heard my son’s voice, but didn’t instantly react.

“Mom?” he gently asked, “Did you forget to sign me up?”

With his name absent on the season finale Champs Swim Meet heat sheet, I didn’t blame him for wondering. I’ve forgotten before. But this time, the omission wasn’t my fault or our coach’s.

On another day, this might have fired my ire – the inconvenience, the disappointment and the unfairness of it all.

But not today.

Life’s events of late – with all their death, heartache, strife, emotions– weighed heavier than a heat sheet omission.

Ready to chalk it up to a good life-lesson (sometimes things don’t work out despite our best-laid plans), I reached for my keys to go home. But before I could start to console our way out the door, the meet coordinator swooped in and took care of the oversight.

So, I took my place in the stands to watch.

Sort of.

How could we watch and cheer swimming when a quarter of our downtown was a crime scene? And closer to home, how can we be excited for the momentary when my dear friends are suffering from the untimely death of loved ones, relentlessly brutal cancer, job loss, spousal unfaithfulness, debilitating depression, suicide, … and more. Regular matters seem so insignificant in light of these things.

But, life goes on. Time marches. Seconds tick, minutes pass, hours and days go by with little regard to the things that fill them – whether heavy or light.

Personally, I’ve found it hard of late to get my productivity engine going in the midst life’s heavy. Like running in quick sand, my thoughts struggle to get beyond the heaviness.

But there we sat.

Watching race upon race that brought with them unexpected insight. Here are a few things I saw that offered perspective on living the regular in the midst of life’s hard:

1. Always and regardless of events, people matter. We’ve seen it in Dallas. I saw it play out in regular-life from the stands.

After a confused start and particularly dismal finish by our teen boys’ relay against a team of what looked more like young adults, I watched them hop out of the water and head straight to shake hands. The trading of great job’s and nice race’s took the competition from an up-or-down, fair/not-fair event and made it about the people. I watched the boys on both sides appreciate each other. It was compelling – even a little convicting.

2. Though feelings tempt out thoughts to believe otherwise, we’re not alone. Look up, take note and talk – the person walking alongside probably feels the same.

“This is crazy,” my friend Robin said. “I’m fighting feelings of frustration with the organization of this meet and so much more. Which seems so petty and ridiculous considering 5 people lost their lives yesterday. Perspective, huh.” Yes. He said it; I needed to hear it.

For me, it wasn’t as much about swim-meet-frustration, it was nagging heaviness that was silently stealing the moment. His passing acknowledgment helped diffuse the covert threat. He outed the culprit, helped frame the moment and most importantly said what we all were thinking – even if in the back of our minds. Then maybe we can breath as oxygen-infused authenticity offers perspective.

3. Good is in the midst – as is inspiration. Fred Roger’s reminder never gets old: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

4. People are resilient – resilience is part the package. So lean into it. We could all take a lesson form the cutest little 6 year-old swimming the back-stroke. His tiny body and determined windmill arms looked like a Happy Meal wind-up toy. He inched along the length of the pool, swimming his heart out while everyone else finished. Head bobbing up and down to gasp for breath, he finally made it to the end of the pool amidst the loud cheers of the crowd. Some kids might have cried, given up, been embarrassed. He just got out and walked past unphased. Ready for the next event. I think that’s called grit.

5. Moments matter. It has been hard to allow moments to matter with life’s-heavy loud and proud. But that meet mattered. The participant’s hard work mattered. The race mattered. None of it was life-defining, but it mattered. Regular-life moments in the midst of hard – they matter. And, they might bring with them a richness of their own.

After watching my kid finish last in the event for which he trained all summer, my heart sank as he walked my way. “You okay?” I asked. “I’m great,” he responded. “I know I came in last. But, I shaved 4 seconds off my best time.”

I was glad we stayed.

6. It’s good for life to go on. Heavy life-events happen and must be addressed (the hurt, the fear, the anxiety, …), but they also need to respect the present. Life’s hard just can’t be given any more reign that it already has. Maybe it’s in the life-going-on that life-heaviness doesn’t win.

Perspective.

May we let life’s-hard inform but never define our days, our self-worth, or our outlook.

May we take a cue from the two U.S. Presidents who, despite very different backgrounds and ideologies among other things, stood together at the Meyerson memorial service, grieved and purposed to inspire.

Then, may we do as President Bush encouraged,

  • “reach for the unity of hope, affection and high purpose,”
  • avoid “…judg(ing) other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions,”
  • and “…practice empathy, imagining ourselves in the lives and circumstances of others. This is the bridge across our nation’s deepest divisions.”

A bridge supported by the secret sauce of life: loving others – walking alongside rather than against.

United

Thanks for walking it with me, praying for all who have been touched by tragedy.

-Kay

Kids, Summer, Screens & Keeping the Peace

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A Facebook SOS went out this week from my friend Missy (mom of 4 tween/teens):

I need some help setting up guidelines and restrictions with screens during the summer with my 4 kids. (Screens=tv, computer, phone, video games, etc). Help! It’s especially an issue with all my boys. Any ideas welcome. (I am not super administrative–so I don’t want something that needs me to keep track of too much)!

Apparently, she’s not alone.

According to Common Sense Media, tweens log 4 1/2 hours of screen time a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. For teens, it’s even higher: nearly seven hours a day. And that doesn’t include time spent using devices for school or in school.

The response to Missy’s SOS was significant. Because, during the school year it’s one thing, but now its SUMMER!

When I was a kid, the only screen available was on a box t.v. that had yet to meet a remote control. Gaming consisted of Pong. And handheld-screen devices were few and far-between (remember Mattel’s Electronic Football?)

Today, options are almost limitless – as are threats of unwelcome guests and sites.

So what’s a family to do? – especially when striving to keep the peace.

Well, here are a few ideas spurred by Missy’s Facebook SOS (nice that we’re all in this together.) Top responses basically landed in 2 categories: Screen Control and Screen Alternatives

Screen Control:
Screen Free time.
Some families opt for screen-free days, mornings, afternoons, etc. The Smiths punt all-things screen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Stones put the kibosh on morning-screens. (Though with teens, afternoon might be a better option since the pillow wins most mornings.) The Macks only allow screens after completing listed tasks that range from teeth brushing to chores to creative projects and ends with asking a family member if there is anything they can do for them.

Lots of families operate off of an earned-screen time (doing chores, reading, etc. for equal time on screens), which works well but can be a challenge for the administratively-impaired (see also: homes with lots of kids.)

Limitations/Filters
A cool new device called Disney Circle was widely cited as a huge help among responders to Missy’s call for help. Circle not only limits time on screens, it includes internet-site control – all based on each individual’s boundaries. And, settings can be applied on the go.

Personally, I haven’t tried Circle – but I hear it’s worth its weight in gold (when gold is peace with in a screen-filled home.)

Screen Alternatives:
Screens might seem like the end-all be-all to these tech-savvy kids, but battery/cord-free fun actually does exist.

Board Games. The oldies, but goodies (Monopoly, Sorry, Scrabble, UNO, etc) are still around for a reason. Not only are board games fun (operative word “game”), but they bring with them an opportunity to talk – not just at, but with.

Here are a few games we’ve played in the last week:

  • Splendor (recommended 10+, but fun for all ages especially if team-played with littles)
  • Mexican Train Dominos
  • Patchwork (don’t be fooled by the quilting cover-art, – it’s tons of 2-player fun)
  • Battleship card-game

Helpful hint: for almost any game you can find a YouTube video to navigate the directions.

Bored Jar -a Pinterest fav consisting of a mason-type jar filled with activity-labeled popsicle sticks. We’ve found that limiting activity options to chores makes that jar as exciting as a case of swine flu. So, throw in sticks labeled ice-cream run, game of your choice, or whatever is fun to the kids. One of our kids labeled a stick swim with Brock – which has already been drawn and done. The Bored Jar is like Truth or Dare – if you play, you have to follow through. It’s a go-to spot where a bored kid can whisk away tedium.

Puzzles Sure everyone groans, but only a strong few can resist magnetic pull of an entertaining puzzle. On our kitchen table? Mario & Luigi. After some time on the Wii, they can continue the fun with a 500-piece Mario Kart puzzle. And like the board games, with a puzzle comes a good opportunity for spontaneous, real conversation – and maybe a few fun (or agonizing) memories.

Then one of the best screen-saver options:
Summer Serving Opportunities to serve are almost endless and can be done at any age. Another friend, Courtney DeFeo of Lil Light O’Mine has put together a booklet of ideas (many of which came from kids themselves) for all ages. Ideas range from simple acts (like writing notes to put in an elderly neighbor’s mailbox) to serving at a shelter or to reading at youth center.

See more on serving and ideas here at a 30-minute vodcast (video podcast for those like me who are behind the techno-times.) More on the SaySomething project that is a response to a request/offer later – but for now, hope you enjoy. You can watch or listen:

Opportunities to get eyes off screens (and even off ourselves via serving) abound. The great thing about summer, unscheduled time does too. Who knows, maybe creative encouragement to pull away from the screens might be the best teacher of all that screen-related enticements, though popular, might not be as fun as time with the real people walking alongside (even when the real involves some sibling fighting – and making up.)

Please share what works in your home. And, as always, thanks for walking the road with me.

-Kay

A few end of School-Year Favs

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With May coming to an end and summer shouting a big HELLO :), I thought I’d share a few of my favs from commencement, award ceremonies (I’m not kidding) and EOY carpool contemplation.

Sherly Sandberg’s Cal Berkeley Address:

Today I will try to tell you what I learned in death.

Ms. Sandberg shared for the first time in public what she has learned from the death of her husband last year. She encouraged the young grads that one can thrive in success and in adversity. She included research from psychologist Marty Seligman (from whom we’ve learned a little bit about tackling entitlement via his research on learned helplessness vs. earned success.) “Martin Seligman found that there are three P’s—personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence—that are critical to how we bounce back from hardship. The seeds of resilience are planted in the way we process the negative events in our lives.”

    • The first P is personalization—the belief that we are at fault.

This is different from taking responsibility, which you should always do. This is the lesson that not everything that happens to us happens because of us.

    • The second P is pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life.

You know that song “Everything is awesome?” This is the flip: “Everything is awful.” There’s no place to run or hide from the all-consuming sadness.

…I remember sitting in my first Facebook meeting in a deep, deep haze. All I could think was, “What is everyone talking about and how could this possibly matter?” But then I got drawn into the discussion and for a second—a brief split second—I forgot about death.

That brief second helped me see that there were other things in my life that were not awful. My children and I were healthy. My friends and family were so loving and they carried us—quite literally at times.

  • The third P is permanence—the belief that the sorrow will last forever.

We often project our current feelings out indefinitely—and experience what I think of as the second derivative of those feelings. We feel anxious—and then we feel anxious that we’re anxious.  We feel sad—and then we feel sad that we’re sad.  Instead, we should accept our feelings—but recognize that they will not last forever.

I’m not sure why her speech hit home around here – maybe because several people/families we ADORE have been hit hard with adversity (death, terminal illness, financial hardship, wayward kids, …) – but it’s a good word, regardless. Worth the read or watch (link is above.)

Then LOVED this from Bryan Dunagan, pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church who gave the commencement at one of the kids’ schools?  He shared lots of terrific advice, but this one I found particularly sticky:

Hurry is the great enemy of our day. The Lord never gives us more than we can do. If you have too much on your plate, God did not put it there.

Yeah, that.

He also shared this quote: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

And a few words on one of my favorite topics – comparison – from Middle School Head, Jeff Hendricks who had this to say about awards.

Let me offer a couple words to you. If your response is cynical or critical because your name isn’t called, think about this: Steph Curry was recently unanimously voted the MVP of the National Basketball Association. Was this a negative statement about all of the other players in the NBA? Not at all. … And by giving him the award the voters are in no way suggesting that Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James, or Kevin Durant are bad basketball players and not doing a good job. They are simply saying that in this year, under these particular circumstances, this player stood out to these people who voted.

… In the same way, the awards today are not negative statements about any student; they are simply acknowledgements of notable achievement and effort under these particular circumstances of this year. Today if you come in cynical or critical, I want to encourage you to check your spirit. It may be an opportunity to grow graciousness and joy in your own heart. And think about the ways that you have grown – not how you compare or don’t measure up.

And for those of you whose names are called, if you came in placing too much weight on the awards, remember this: All of our gifts come from God, and today we recognize students in whom certain gifts have stood out this year as they have faithfully developed them. Our focus is about God’s work in you and how we have seen it manifested. The awards are positive statements about your work and character – enjoy them and receive them graciously. But remember that they are not the sum total of your identity.

And finally, from a shotgun rider who survived the year: “It’s so nice to only have to be you” – meaning that there’s freedom in being exactly who the Lord created her to be.

More to come on YOU-nique gifting and purpose soon.

Thanks for walking the road with me. I’d love to hear you found especially inspiring or convicting during your round of EOY ceremonies.

-Kay

HuffPost :) What to do when what’s heard doesn’t match what’s said

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Leaving a graduation ceremony and subsequent reception last night, I glanced at the clock, “Wow, that lasted a long time.”

“I’m sorry,” said my daughter riding shotgun.

“Why are you sorry?” I nonchalantly asked.

Then quickly realizing that I was entering the strange teen-zone where an unassuming question can instantly transform a regular moment into an emotionally-charged field of landmines. “WAIT,” I divert and quickly add before she can answer my why question, “what did you think I said.”

“Well, you said that I talked too long.”

“What?”

“Yeah, that I’m the reason it ran late.”

Huh? “I was only commenting on how long it lasted. I wasn’t saying anything about you.”

“Well, that’s what I heard.”

Welcome to a common field of landmines — the space between what is said and what is heard. It’s been around for ages and is especially dicey during times of stress, certain monthly-occurrences, after a long day and pretty much during all teenage-years and any other times affected by changes-in-life.

How can we navigate these dangerous fields and come out on the other side intact, whole, emotionally stable human beings? Who knows?! Most days are simply about survival.

But in an effort to flourish, here are a few ideas to help communication.

Be aware. There’s a good chance more is being heard than said. Especially on certain days and in certain scenarios that can impact hearing. For example,…

… and for the rest of the story, I hate to do it, but would LOVE for you to click here at Huffington Post. They’re super nice to include me in the blog line-up and (soooooper excited!!! – just sayin) – THEN, if you’re really feeling kindly in the midst of your May Crazies, a little social media (FB, Pinterest, Twitter, …) love on the HuffPost sight goes a long way.

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XOXO!!!

Thanks for walking the road with me.

-Kay