My Blog: Name-Calling

My son and I were talking about someone calling him a name. We’ve discussed this a few different times. This happens to children. Of course, it happens to adults, too.

I told Bryce that name-calling is a compliment and that the boy, saying what he said, was trying to get his attention. He was trying to keep his attention.

I suggested a strategy to which Bryce said, “I like your thinking.” I like your thinking. Six-years-old and he likes my thinking!

Aside from the strategy, Bryce followed the suggestion and the boy immediately switched, became his friend, and made me look like I knew what I was doing with my son!

The point of this post is that name-calling is a compliment. Bullying is not. Bullying is different. Find your words to distinguish them. And help somebody else do the same.

Peaceful Perspective

When a wounded child climbs into its mother’s lap, it draws so much strength from the mother’s presence that its own wound becomes insignificant.  So too with us when we climb into the lap of our great Mother God.  Our crisis soon domesticates and comes into a peaceful perspective, not because it goes away, but because the presence of God so overshadows us.

When I read this in Forgotten Among the Lilies, I thought of Eliot, next to Bryce, slipping at the table one Sunday, nearly falling to the floor but stopping as his ear clipped the chair. Hard enough to sting. Hard enough to crack the little eruption that is a child’s pain magnified by surprise and other people’s company.

I had one of his arms to lift him. Maggie came over to pick him up because he was crying by then. He complained about the pain and Maggie took him in her arms, his head to her shoulder, and convinced him by her hug that he would live through it.

He calmed as long as she held him. Then he cried again, trading his mom for his dad. David, master of redirection with the boys that he is, turned Eliot’s attention with a high-pitched question.

The image of a child in pain. The image of a mother, then a father, and a few onlookers. It seemed like these words were easily seen, like wounds were becoming something else.

In Other’s Words, Pt. 1: Aja Favors

I asked a friend, Aja Favors, to respond to the “current moment” and to reflect upon two of her roles in the world, those of mother and lawyer. I’m grateful for her wise, pointed words.

I’m a lawyer. Not long ago, I received a called from a friend asking what she might tell her son as it pertains to getting pulled over by the police. Her son is a freshman in college.

Before going into my normal response to such questions, I thought for a moment. I thought about being a mom. Even more than that, I thought about being the mom of an African American boy in a city that has been rightly or wrongly renamed “Chi-raq.”

My son is a baby—only nine months old. Still, the question I was being asked begged a response congruent with the mindfulness a young man’s mom might give.

After pausing far too long, I said…

“He should pull over. He should keep his hands on the steering wheel. He should be deliberately courteous and compliant. He should accept the citation (if issued) and go on his way. If they ask to search his car, he has the right to say, ‘no.’ There are a few reasons why they may be permitted to search it regardless. If he is asked to get out of the car, he should do so. And yes, the officers may pat him down if they have a reasonable suspicion that he could be a threat.”

I spouted out those instructions the way I had been trained to. Still, the justice-seeking, card-carrying NAACP member in me wanted to “beat my chest,” and talk about Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. However, the mom in me wanted her son to make it home—to live to tell the story.

As a staunch supporter of “the struggle,” I believe and know that Black lives matter. I live in Black skin everyday. I’ve wrestled to elevate myself in a system flanked with those who have proven to themselves that I don’t deserve it…simply because I’m Black. Notwithstanding that reality, as a parent I believe and know that my son’s life matters.

I know that in order to protect him, in order to continue to lay my eyes on him—he has to be smarter than the system that makes it acceptable for him to be shot on sight, hanged with a trash can liner, or gunned down with his hands up.

He has to be smarter.

Thanks to Wellington Sanipe

Thanks to Wellington Sanipe

I’m not in favor of a world that makes Black men more docile, more compliant than their White counterparts, or more at risk because of their Black skin. But, I am in favor of a world in which Black children outlive their parents—a world in which one can be Black and die of old age and not from a police officer’s bullet.

Admittedly, what we tell ourselves as parents often contradicts what we tell our children. It’s true. I’d tell my son exactly what I suggested my friend tell her son.

All the while, on the inside I’m telling myself, “If anybody touches my child (police officer or common citizen), I will hunt them down. I will be neither deliberately courteous nor compliant. I will be vicious and vigilant. And, yes, at any cost there will be justice.”

20 Things Worth Saying to Our Children These Days

In no particular order:

  1. People die everyday but I want you to live a long, full, gorgeous life.
  2. Don’t believe that there aren’t safe spaces for you. We will find them together, protect them, and play in them.
  3. Slow down and be as small as you can for as long as you can, because I only see big things in you. When those things mature, you will turn the world upside down.
  4. Turn off the TV and listen to the words of Jarena Lee, Ida Wells, Booker Washington, WEB DuBois, Benjamin Mays, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Renita Weems, Louis Farrakhan, Michael Dyson, and your pastor if she or he has courage to speak to right-now-issues.
  5. The news does not define you and neither does the pain that envelopes our people. We include the pain in who we are, but we are more than our pain.
  6. I want the best for you, and though I will make mistakes in pursuing that, I commit to you that I’ll live with you in mind for the rest of my life.
  7. Your skin is precious, so precious that it can get you into as much trouble as death if you’re black, free from accountability for your actions if you’re white. This is still the country we live in.
  8. The unmistakable print of God’s finger is on your life and people may not call it that because of their own faith differences, but know deep down that you were made by the most fascinating Creator to live a most fascinating life.
  9. Talk to your oldest relative about the way they make sense of the bottom parts of life, and then write down what you hear and how you feel and how it makes you want to be better.
  10. You are beautiful, you are brilliant, you are beloved. This a benediction I pronounce over my son and I gladly share it with you for your children, for your revision.
  11. Obey those who have rule over you. This is a biblical warrant, so listen to your parents when we tell you “how to act” in public.
  12. Disobey authorities when necessary for goodness sake and do so for a worthy cause. You won’t be the first to “go down” for justice, and when you do, your blood will join the saving stream of God’s heroes.
  13. Make noise in life and be a bit irreverent because the people who’ll complain about your noise will be those of us who have lost our throats, who need you to inspire us, and who will, surprisingly, follow your lead.
  14. Take the helm of something that stirs the hearts of people, challenges the fixed impressions of others, and helps you practice your best values.
  15. Love the women in the world because they will be more reliable than the men and they will support you harder than the men and in your love, you will continually lift them.
  16. Love the men in the world because your love will correct and heal our broken places, places we’ve spent years covering, hiding, avoiding, and convincing ourselves aren’t there.
  17. I do not want you to die, but you will die as will I. Live with that end in mind, and move the world toward something more beautiful, more compelling, more attractive, and more whole while you’re here.
  18. Give something away and get into the habit of giving. It will save you when the world takes and takes and takes because you will have defined yourself and your needs and your hopes in a generous way.
  19. Be a messianic force for peace, tolerating no violence, even the violence in your own soul because that self-control is the strongest grace, the most Christlike offering you can give the world. It may save us.
  20. Tell me what I should have said and feel free to update me as we go along.

Listen. Obey.

As your mother told you–and as I’ve said to you before–when we put you into the hands of someone else, that’s the person we trust.  So that’s the person you listen to.

Be it your teachers or other relatives, if you don’t listen to the people we give you to, you’re also not listening to us.  And for now, you have to listen to us.  You don’t get to not listen.  And not just because we’re bigger than you.  We actually know more than you.

We know that when you do your own thing, that thing is still so underdeveloped that it makes no sense in the world.  One day that will change.  One day you have more choices than you do time.  One day you’ll pick the menu and the shoes and the time we leave and return.  But you don’t drive.  You don’t know the city’s grid.  You don’t understand the nuances of roasting a chicken, even if you’re a good sous chef.

So, hear me, hear your mother.  And we’ll let you stay with us.  If you don’t listen, you’re only a quick walk from the Swansons, a short drive from either of our mothers, the full house with your cousins and my brother, a spot next to Champ’s cage at your other uncle’s, or slightly longer commutes to your aunts.  I’m sure even Grammie will take you if we call her and say you’re on a flight.  But I’m also certain those lovely people will have similar expectations.  And they–though they may fight me on the point–will not love you nearly as much as me and your mother.

Milestones That Matter Most

It’s not surprising that well-intentioned parents cultivate cognitive intelligence and individual achievements as assiduously as we do. These are, after all, such important markers of success in modern-day America. But our focus on outcomes is leading us to look at milestones all wrong — as a series of boxes and achievements to check off a list on our way to a goal. We focus on our kids’ ability to read when they are at an age when we should be focusing on their kindness and character. We worry about overburdening them with chores because they have to do their homework, when we should be cultivating self-help skills that will make them self-reliant, and sending them a clear, unambiguous message: yes, academic achievement is important, but becoming kind and responsible is, too. These are all milestones we don’t want to miss.

See Christine Gross-Loh’s full piece here.

Parent-Teacher Conference

We went to Bryce’s parent-teacher conference the other day.  After I got over the fact that daycare centers require such things, I felt my chest swelling as his teacher said how well he was doing, how he, as their oldest child, was helping and getting special jobs and relishing them in his own way.  She asked what our concerns were, took notes as we (Dawn really) said what she wanted to them to focus on.  It was brief.  I almost wondered why we had set up the meeting in the first place.  It was short and short things get short-changed in my mind.  It took reflection time for me to appreciate that short meetings can be meaningful, that they can shape the way we approach the long marathon of fatherhood.

After the teacher left, we looked over his binder which captured in pictures and notes and forms his track record over the last year.  I’m not one of those parents—at least not yet—who says, “Time has moved so fast,” because I’ve taken this experiment as slowly as it’s come.  But that book was another reminder of my boy’s growth, of my wife’s growth as a mother, and of my own.  Maybe someone should require Parent-Teacher conferences where us parents are the subjects of discussion.

At Daycare

10 Reasons Why This Picture Pleases Me

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Me & Bryce After Taize

Jon Roy commented on my wall that I must have been pleased by this picture.  I replied that he—a soon to be dad—would soon know the pleasures of which he speaks.  Then I figured it worthy of further reflection.  So here are ten reasons why this photo pleases me.

  1. The person taking the picture was Bryce’s pastor.  David had taken Bryce and Eliot up to the altar when we arrived, oriented them to the grand space, pointed out things, said things I couldn’t hear.  It was splendid to watch him being a father and pastor in that moment.
  2. Bryce got to sing.  It was melodious even if his voice was creating a song different from the one on the page.  He’s not reading music yet, but he’s definitely making his own.
  3. Bryce sat and played and sang and worshiped with his friend and cousin.  When we met for arepas that evening, before worship, the boys sang gleefully (or yelled), their characteristic greeting.  They’re friendship was on display and they got to participate in Taize together.
  4. We worshiped as a family.  For different reasons, I work in a different congregation than the one my family worships in.  It’s always always always a blessing to sit next to Dawn and Bryce, with all that it brings, and respond to God.
  5. Being there was an education.  We had seen one of my greatest teachers, Dr. Scottie May, who taught me the rudiments of what it means to form children faithfully.  Seeing her, and introducing her to my son for the first time, was a gift on many levels.
  6. We were with friends.  To speak of the Swansons as friends is a poor statement because it hardly reflects the deep reality of who they are.  We are relatives in the best sense; we’ve chosen to steadily cultivate an extended family with those good people for more than a dozen years.  I cannot say that about most people in my life.
  7. We had done something twelve times.  Maggie suggested last December that we attend to our joint relationship by getting together at least monthly, eating, talking, and playing, and the habit stuck.  We celebrated last night, against our nutty schedules, and decided that what we had done, in our homes and in other places was worth attempting again.
  8. No one was burned.  We lit candles together, us and our children, along with hundreds of others, and no one was hurt.  We lifted them together, singing about Christ the Light of the World.  Then we went in straight lines to dig our candles in pots of sand around a cross and icons of Jesus.  We almost set a woman’s butt on fire as we walked to the altar, but we made it without incident.
  9. Bryce—and Eliot—had spent 10 minutes in silence during Taize.  This is not something two and a half year olds and three and half year olds do as a matter of habit.  It was an accomplishment in itself.  But it also felt very much like the point of it all; there are reasons to close up, sit on a cold marble floor, and say nothing.  
  10. Walking Bryce to the altar was metaphorical.  The image and gesture of taking him, with our candles, and kneeling before the altar was memorable.  It was one of the moments where, upon reflection, I felt like I had done my duty as his father: ushering him to an ineffable something and letting him respond with awe and blazing eyes.

    Eliot & Bryce after Taize

    Eliot & Bryce after Taize

How to Walk

Among the hardest walkers for me to watch are small children being hauled along by their wrists.  Parents tell me that this is sometimes necessary, but since I have never been a parent I would not know.  I do know that most of the adults doing the hauling do not mean to be unkind.  They are simply used to walking, while the child is not.  The child has only recently learned how to walk, so she still knows how.  She feels the heat radiating up from the sidewalk.  She hears the tapping of her shoes on the cement.  She sees the dime someone has dropped in the crosswalk, which she leans toward before being yanked upright again.  The child is so exposed to the earth that even an acorn underfoot world topple her, which may be why her adult is hanging on so tightly.  But the speed is too much for her.  Her arm is stretched so far it hurts.  She has to run where her adult walks, and if that adult is talking on a cell phone, then really, she might be better off in jail.

Raising Creative Kids

Thanks to the creative and thoughtful Jillian who sent this to me the other day.  Read the full article by clicking here.

Research is demonstrating that children rapidly lose their creative thinking skills as they grow older. Moreover, by the time children reach adolescence, the way they think is largely fixed. So the more you encourage your children to use more of their minds in order to think more creatively, the more likely you are to raise exceptionally creative children.

Here are suggestions for encouraging and maintaining creativity in your children.

1. Answer Questions with Questions.

Children ask lots of questions. As parents, we tend to give them direct answers. “What does ‘invertebrate’ mean?” a child might ask while watching a television documentary. A typical parent response is: “It means an animal that does not have a backbone.” There is nothing wrong with such an answer. It is correct. It provides your child with the information she seeks. But, why not ask: “What do you think ‘invertebrate’ means?” Your child has just watched a documentary about animals and has a lot of context in her mind. Very likely she can put that context together and hazard a good guess. Indeed, she has possibly done this already and is simply seeking confirmation. If her answer is correct, reward her and ask her how why she felt it was the correct answer. If her answer is wrong, reward her and ask her why she thought this was the answer. Then, reward her thinking and explain the correct answer. If you are not sure about the correct answer, see the next suggestion. Encouraging your child to gather information and make deductions based on that information is a form of creative problem solving. Make it a habit!

2. Find Answers Together

As your children grow older, they will increasingly often ask questions that you cannot answer. As a parent, you may occasionally feel the need to cover up your ignorance. After all, your children look to you as the ultimate source of knowledge. At other times one of your children will ask a question in which you believe you know the correct answer, but are not sure.

Rather than hazard a guess at the answer, a better response is, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure. I believe the answer is….” and then add, “Let’s find out the correct answer.” Then do some research with your child in order to find that answer. That research may be a simple matter of searching on the web. But do not neglect other possibilities. Perhaps you have a book on the subject. Fetch it and look it up. Your child might be interested in reading the book. Go to the library. Before the age of the web and Google, libraries were the best information resource available. They are still wonderful places of reference with the added benefit that you often find interesting information that you were not seeking.

You might also try experiments and illustration. When my science loving son asked why, if you drive a car around a curve too fast and lose control, you should turn into the skid, I drew a sketch showing how the different forces were at work in a car accelerating around a curve. This made it very clear.

3. Reward Failure

We all talk about the importance of accepting and rewarding failure in business. Yet all too many parents punish failure directly or indirectly. Your son enters a swimming competition and comes in last. How do you respond? “Maybe swimming isn’t for you?” “I told you that you had to practice more!” “Ralph took second place and he’s two years younger than you!”. Even a caring parent is likely to say something dismissive: “It doesn’t matter. I love you the way you are.”

Sadly, all of these responses are likely to discourage your son from ever entering a swimming competition again. Worse, they might discourage him from trying other things in which he is unsure of his capability.

A far better response is, “I am so proud of you for entering the swimming competition and trying so hard.” And if your son feels badly, do not immediately tell him it doesn’t matter. Instead ask him, “Why do you think you came in last?” This gives him and you a chance to analyse the problem so he can do better next time. Maybe he became too nervous and wasn’t breathing correctly. That’s great! Now you can talk about how he can deal with nervousness and breathing next time.

4. Teach Them to Cook

Cooking and especially baking, is an incredible creative process. Think about a cake. You start with flour, eggs, sugar and a handful of other ingredients. Mix them and bake them and you have a wonderful cake. An ex-girlfriend of mine, who trained as a chemist (but is now a leading virologist), went so far as to explain to my sons some of the chemical processes that occur when cooking.

Once your kids learn the basics of baking a cook, making cookies or frying an omelet, let them experiment. And do not correct them beforehand unless they are endangering themselves, others or your kitchen. If they want to put twice as much chocolate in the cake, let them. If they want to see what happens if they use a brown sugar instead of white sugar, let them. Chances are, they will not ruin the cake. But by experimenting and seeing what happens, they learn a valuable creative process. Moreover, when things go wrong, they can often be fixed. The cake is too dry? Make a moist frosting.

This is creative problem solving at its best!

5. Feed Your Children a Healthy, Balanced Diet

A healthy mind and body feel better, deliver more energy and think better. Moreover, if you get your children in the habit of eating healthy food from an early age, it will form a life-long habit. They will be far less likely to have weight problems or health problems as they grow older. They will look better, have more energy and smell better. And most importantly, in the context of creativity, they will think better.

The amazing thing is, eating a healthy diet is remarkably easy. It is a simple matter of getting a suitable balance of the key food groups while minimising the amount of sugary and fatty foods you eat. Britain’s National Health Service has a nifty diagram of a balanced diet here.

In addition to eating a balanced diet, allow kids to stop eating when they are full and restrict the amount of sweets and non-healthy snacks they can eat (though let them eat healthy snacks, such as fruit, when they are hungry between meals). Forcing children to eat all the food on their plates and rewarding them with a huge dessert if they do so only encourages overeating.