Archive for the ‘Children’ Category
It would be nice if there was an easy way to share our personal setbacks with our children so they could benefit from our experience. Heck, I’d settle for a not so easy way if it was effective.
The reality is that the only way for our children to learn how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back in the game is to get knocked down in the first place.
Last night, I told my daughter Emma about a setback I had my freshman year at the University of Kansas.
I won a Summerfield Scholarship from KU – awarded to “top graduates from Kansas high schools” – based mostly on my ACT scores. I received few letters from colleges or universities prior to taking the ACT. Once I received my scores, the letters arrived soon after.
I never seriously considered attending any school except KU. It was where I wanted to go. It was a family tradition.
My parents, both graduates of KU, were thrilled when I was invited to interview for the Summerfield Scholarship. They were more excited when I was named a Scholar. I was one of the few Atwood graduates to earn the award. I think Harry Wigner did before me. There may have been more Atwood grads to earn the award since, but I must confess I don’t know.
At the time, I did not understand or appreciate the significance of the award.
As happens to many college freshmen, I did not focus on my studies as I should. I was having too much fun being away from home, having the freedom to go out with friends when I chose. I spent too many Thursday nights and Wednesday nights at places like Louise’s and The Hawk.
My first semester grades reflected my lack of focus. Thirteen hours of B and three hours of A. Not bad, but not good enough for a Summerfield Scholar.
What’s more, five hours of B were a complete act of charity.
I went to see my calculus professor about my final exam. As she pointed out my errors, she noticed an error of her own. She had made an addition mistake when calculating my scores from the three part exam. I hadn’t earned a B. My test score was 76% not the 86% she marked on the paper. My overall grade was just over the cusp of 80%. A final exam score of C would knock my overall grade to C, too.
My professor sat at her desk in silence for well over a minute contemplating what to do. Finally, she said, “If you wouldn’t have come to see me, I would not have found my grading error. I’ll let you keep the B.”
I was grateful at the time. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until later.
Shortly after the semester came to a close, I received a letter notifying me that I would not receive the Summerfield Scholarship the next semester due to a low GPA. Losing the $500 dollars was a blow. (A semester’s tuition in those days was $496. The first time I paid, I received four dollars change.) Even tougher was breaking the news to my parents.
It’s not always fun having parents with high expectations.
My parents, perhaps not surprisingly, were supportive and encouraging. Dad made a typical, short and to the point comment. “Earn it back,” he said lightheartedly as if he had complete confidence that I would.
That’s what I did. It took two full semesters but I finally elevated my overall GPA to just over 3.5 – the mandatory minimum for a Summerfield Scholar (it’s even tougher today, the minimum is 3.65). That’s when I fully realized the generosity of my first semester calculus professor. If she had given me a C as I deserved, I would not have raised my GPA over 3.5. I would not have been eligible to be reinstated.
These are the types of lucky breaks and acts of kindness that can change lives.
I told Emma this story because she failed a Language Arts test this week. Her teacher, too, is giving her a second chance. She has the opportunity to take the test again next week. This exam was her first major setback as a student. Sure, there have been times she could have done better. But, on balance, she is a very good student.
It was hard for Emma to ask Joni to sign the letter from her teacher informing us of the failed exam. It was even harder for her to tell me.
It’s not always fun having parents with high expectations.
In a few weeks and certainly months, we all will have forgotten about this one exam. I have complete confidence Emma will do fine on her “redo.” My hope is that Emma’s lasting lesson will be learning to deal with setbacks in school.
As parents, we want to protect our children from heartaches and even minor setbacks. We know what it’s like to fail and we don’t want our children to endure the pain.
But, we can’t always protect our children nor should we try. Our kids can’t learn what they need to know by hearing stories of our skinned knees. The important lessons come from skinning their own.
“Joe, who’s the greatest of all time?”
“Emma, who’s the greatest of all time?”
“Ada Grace, who’s the greatest of all time?”
“I’m not saying. Why do you always ask that question?”
Why indeed. The short answer is Paul Hayden.
Roy Forbisher was born on the banks of Crystal Springs on my grandfather Creighton’s ranch outside Flagler, Colorado more than 30 years ago.
Paul and I spent a week camping on the ranch back in the late 70s. I was 13. Paul was 14.
Our days at Crystal Springs weren’t exactly roughin’ it.
Each morning, we crawled out of our tent, set up our hammocks and had a rest before breakfast.
We walked the mile or two from the campsite to the ranch house to get our day’s supplies. We kept the perishables in the house refrigerator. We loaded up at least enough food for breakfast and lunch.
We’d hike back to camp. Cook some bacon and eggs on our fire.
After breakfast, we’d set up our hammocks and have a rest.
Some days we hiked to Flagler Lake, a mile in the other direction. Other days we walked to the corral to check on the horses. Followed by a lunch of cold cuts on white bread.
Then, we’d set up our hammocks and have a rest.
Late afternoon it was back to the ranch house for supper supplies. Gather firewood. Eat.
Then, we’d set up our hammocks and have a rest.
Some nights we’d take a break from the hammocks to hunt for the bullfrogs who kept us up all night.
Other nights, we’d just rest. Then we’d crawl back into our tent for the night.
The five days on the ranch weren’t as leisurely as they might sound. Setting up the hammocks was tough. For starters, we didn’t really have hammocks.
The process involved tying ropes around trees and towels around ropes. It was hard to get the ropes taut. Sometimes it took two or three tries. Sometimes we’d fall straight to the ground. After an hour or so the ropes would be slack and we’d have to start the process again. It really made a guy want to rest.
It is while lying on the hammocks that Roy Forbisher was born.
Paul told me epic tales of the Greatest Contests held in the spring of each year, after the qualifying rounds in the fall. Paul took me through at least a decade of competitions.
Not everyone had the stamina to compete year after year. But Roy Forbisher and Paul always finished near the top. Not even Mohammad Ali, who always competed, made it to the final rounds as often as Roy and Paul.
The rivalry that grew between Roy and Paul became legendary (at least on the banks of Crystal Springs). Tennis had McEnroe and Borg. Golf had Nicklaus and Palmer (or Nicklaus and Watson depending on your age). Basketball has the Celtics and Lakers. In the Greatest Contest, it usually came down to Forbisher and Hayden.
Some years their battle would rage on for days before the judges could determine who was the greatest that year. Roy Forbisher almost always reigned supreme. He won so many consecutive Greatest Contests that people considered ending the competition altogether. Everyone agreed, Roy Forbisher was the greatest of all time.
Paul and I never talked about Roy again. But, Roy would pop up occasionally in the years since our week on the ranch. Usually, when someone asks, “Who’s really good at…” I’d be reminded of the competitions Paul described and quickly reply, “Roy Forbisher, he’s the Greatest of All Time.”
(I think Heidi Priebe thought Roy was a real person for a few years. But, I’ll let her defend herself.)
My kids ask all sorts of “Who’s the best” questions. My standard reply is always the same, “Roy Forbisher, of course.”
The kids might ask, “Dad, who’s the best at…”
“Roy Forbisher. You should know that.”
“Who’s Roy Forbisher again?”
“He’s the greatest of all time?”
“Greatest at what, Dad?”
“The greatest of all time.”
My girls have become bored with the routine. Sometimes Emma will humor me. She cut and paste a Roy Forbisher Wikipedia page one night and called out, “Dad, look what I found.”
One of the other kids asked, “Is he really a real person Emma?”
“Don’t believe everything you see on the internet,” she replied.
Ada Grace simply refuses to participate.
But, Paul Hayden can hold out hope that Roy Forbisher will live on.
I walked Joe and Ada Grace to school not long ago. As I walked away, I overheard Joe say to a friend, “Who’s the greatest of all time?”
How many of us act in faith? I don’t mean our various rituals to demonstrate that we have faith. I mean a genuine act of faith.
My family spent several days on the beaches of Mazatlan in Mexico this past week. While we were there we witnessed a true act of faith.
A turtle pulled herself out of the water and crawled toward the top of the beach. It did not appear to be an easy journey. She had to stop and rest several times.
As we and forty other tourists, along with several local policemen, stood and watched, it occurred to me that this turtle was engaging in a true act of faith. She was concluding an annual pilgrimage as programmed by nature. She attended to her business oblivious, it seemed, to the humans who gathered to pay homage.
Beyond natures training to lay plentiful eggs to increase the odds of continuing her species, what could this turtle know about the future? I suspect not even nature has informed her that the police would dig up her eggs shortly after she returned to the ocean. We were told the eggs are taken to an incubation center. The hatchlings will be returned to this place on the beach to journey into the ocean themselves. Some might survive and began the ritual of returning to this place to lay eggs as did their mother.
The turtle cannot know these things. She simply does what she has learned to do. She places her eggs in what she believes will be a safe environment. Then, she hopes for the best.
I wondered why so many of us gathered around to watch the turtle in her slow and tedious task. It took more than an hour from beginning to end. Perhaps we are drawn to witness this genuine act of faith.
I began to think that parenting for all species is an act of faith. We draw on the lessons of preceding generations. We do our best to keep our children safe. We nurture them passing on what we know about surviving, flourishing. Then, we send them out into the world hoping for the best.
We do all these things without knowledge of the future. We do not know if our children will experience smooth times or rough. We do not know if they will encounter predators or live in peace.
All we can do as parents is to prepare our children as best we know how.
It never occurred to me I have something in common with a sea turtle. But, to an extent I guess I do. Like parents of all species we act in faith.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is my favorite sporting event. I look forward to the championship tonight.
But, each year, the television broadcasts always leave a bad taste in my mouth. The bad taste has nothing to do with the basketball.
I am reminded each year that Hollywood, Madison Avenue and corporate media executives have no respect for the American family. In particular, they don’t give a lick about parents of young children – or, more to the point, the young children. My evidence: the advertisements that run during games.
People have complained about television ads for years. It’s easy to dismiss these gripers as prudes. It’s easy to say, “If you don’t like what you see turn off the TV.” And, “It’s the parent’s job to supervise what their children watch, not Hollywood’s.”
I agree up to a point. Parents do have a responsibility to monitor and prohibit their children from watching age inappropriate content. That may mean that parents have to give up watching some programs they enjoy. It’s not always possible to parent and watch TV.
For instance, I enjoy satirical programs such as the Simpsons and an occasional South Park. I do not let my kids watch these shows. Not yet. I don’t believe the content’s appropriate.
When they do watch more mature content, Joni and I try to watch with them. We make clear what content we approve of and what we don’t. Occasionally, like all parents, we let down our guard and they see things that aren’t age appropriate. I accept that this as our responsibility as parents.
But, sports programming is a completely different story.
My beef with sports programming is the extreme mismatch of age appropriate content between the sporting event and the commercials.
NCAA basketball games are appropriate for any age. Children can witness wonderful human qualities and emotions – excellence through preparation, determination, tenacity, triumph and disappointment. The tournament is a stage for the human spirit.
But, when there is a time out in the game, watch out. If a parent is not quick to switch the channel or turn off the television, their children will have the opportunity to witness human depravity.
I have become numb to – or insensitive to – the beer commercials. Some I even find funny. I get a kick out of the current Bud Light ads that show a bicycle rider’s hair piece flying into the face of another rider or the art work crashing to the ground. I even can handle the Viagra ads. They are subtle enough to go over most kids’ heads. But, they have raised questions that I would rather not have to answer in the middle of a basketball game.
My biggest complaint is the horror movies that seem to have become a staple of advertising for big time sporting events. During this year’s NCAA basketball tournament, The Haunting in Connecticut was a major sponsor. The ads for this movie are downright disturbing.
A family with three, four or five year old children must be vigilant to protect their children from the screen. I’ve seen the effect in our house watching games with friends. The look on the children’s faces who see these images is not natural. They have a look of pain and fear. The images that flash across the screen convey a type of violence that no person should witness – let alone young children.
I have the same feeling each year – or during the Super Bowl or World Series – when I see the horror movie ads. I feel as if I’ve just been slapped in the face by media executives. The message is clear, “Money is more important than your family.”
I wonder what the conversation is in the advertising agencies that plan these commercials. I wonder if the conversations are as cynical as the results of their decisions. Does one ad exec say to another, “Let’s buy time during the NCAA Tournament. Who gives a lick about the parents who are trying hard to be responsible.” Does the other respond, “Great idea.”
I do not advocate prohibition of horror movies. I only wish that corporate media had more respect. Was capable of more discretion. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. Or, are these executives so obtuse they have no idea what they’re doing. I find that hard to imagine.
As parents, one recourse is to quit watching the tournament live. The technology is now available to watch a delayed broadcast and edit out all the commercials. I suppose that’s an option.
I just wonder why do corporate media executives want to make things so difficult for the American family?
Many in corporate media either don’t understand or don’t care to understand: You earn respect by being respectful.
Based on what I’ve seen the past few weeks, the executives at CBS and its sponsors have earned none of my respect.
av-a-tarˌ [av-uh-tahr, av-uh-tahr] –noun
Hindu Mythology. the descent of a deity to the earth in an incarnate form or some manifest shape; the incarnation of a god.
an embodiment or personification, as of a principle, attitude, or view of life.
Computers. a graphical image that represents a person, as on the Internet.
Emma designed my new avatar. I am using it as my “face” for making comments on WordPress and on Twitter. It’s a little hard to see on Twitter but we can work on that.
Emma imagined this as more of a logo. When the early drafts were developed, neither of us knew the term “avatar.” I had no idea the term originated from Hindu mythology.
This logo/avatar was originally conceived on the beaches of Los Cabos, Mexico. Emma spent time each day etching in the sand. She called me over one afternoon to show me her work.
“This is your new logo,” Emma reported.
I didn’t know I had an old logo but I thought this one looked cool. I asked Emma to turn it into a logo I could use when we got home. I only discovered recently that rather than a logo it makes a decent avatar.
The main elements of the avatar are the same as Emma first sketched in the sand – the C wearing sunglasses, four hairs sticking out in back (I’m not sure what Emma’s trying to tell me. The KU colors and John Cr8on were added when Emma transferred her idea to paper.
Emma loves design. She spends many evenings sketching clothes ideas, making jewelry, crafting greeting cards or creating magazine covers on the computer.
I first noticed Emma’s fondness for design when she was in the fourth grade. I walked into her room one February night and discovered her hard at work on a project of some sort. Colored pencils were scattered about her bed spread. She was folding into fourths a piece of paper from the stack at her side.
Emma loved to doodle and draw from an early age. I assumed she was doing more of the same. It was getting close to bedtime so I asked her to wrap it up.
“I can’t Dad,” she replied. “I’m under a lot of pressure.”
Emma is a normal kid and likes to lobby for a later bedtime but this tactic was new. “What do you mean, pressure,” I asked.
“I have to finish 12 more Valentine’s cards by tomorrow,” she replied.
“I thought you finished your Valentines.”
“These aren’t for me,” Emma explained. “I’m making these for my company.”
Now I was confused. “What?”
She handed me a card from her pile and continued to explain, “I have a card company and I’m selling these to my friends.”
I examined the card. The front was covered in hearts and flowers. The inside included more hearts and a bit of verse. The back of the card is what caught my attention. Centered on the back of the card was a tennis shoe with large laces. The word “Shoelace” arced over the top. The words “Greeting Card” formed a half-circle underneath.
“What’s this,” I asked.
“That’s the name of my company,” Emma responded without looking up.
“Yeah, I have a greeting card company and that’s my logo.”
“That’s really cool,” I said with enthusiasm. Having grown up with a lawyer the next words were out of my mouth before I thought through the implications, “This looks a lot like Shoebox Cards. It might be a copyright problem.” I know. Let the kid enjoy her moment.
“That is where I got the idea,” Emma admitted with some concern.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said trying to tamp down a late night break down. “These cards are really cool.”
“So I can stay up later,” Emma asked hopefully.
“Thirty minutes. Then you’ve got to get some sleep.”
I noticed a new set of cards a couple of months later. And, a new “company” – Heart the Earth. She had tested the idea of Carnation Your World, but that didn’t stick.
Logos appear in many places. Heart the Earth produced our family Christmas letter this year. And, when the kids made me a Father’s Day t-shirt – painted with lady bugs on the front – Emma covered the back with a number of “sponsor” logos just like a road race t-shirt.
Who knows where our children’s youthful interests will lead. As parents, we wonder is this just doodling or the beginnings of a career path.
For now, we just let her have fun. And, I’m keeping my legal concerns to myself.
Parenting today is not more difficult than a generation ago. It’s just different.
Children today are far safer than when I was a child (knock wood). I can’t imagine being a parent with all the safety risks that were tolerated when I was young. Some people say that’s a bad thing. I agree and disagree.
I’ve watched the video “5 dangerous things you should let your kids do” (which is a little too long). To save you some time, the list is: (1) Play with fire, (2) Use a pocket knife, (3) Throw a spear, (4) Deconstruct appliances, (5a) Break the digital copyright act, and (5b) Drive a car.
My kids – 11, 9 and 7 – have done all those things. Okay, we let them drive a go-cart not a car. And, the seven year old has not yet been the driver. The others, check, check, check, check, check.
But, there are many things I did – and enjoyed – as a kid that I would never knowingly let my kids do. It was just dumb luck that I wasn’t seriously hurt.
Just a few things on my “too dangerous to do list” include:
- BB gun wars. I’m okay with the kids learning to shoot guns (Joe got a BB gun for Christmas). But I will discourage them from shooting at their friends. I lucked out when, on a fourth consecutive day of BB gun fights, we decided to wear sunglasses. That’s the day I got hit in the eye.
- Ride bikes without a helmet. I hated bicycle helmets. I rode hundreds of miles with Brad Lewis and Tim Yount and seldom wore a helmet. When we lived in Washington, DC Joni insisted I wear one. I finally agreed. I lucked out again. My first time wearing the helmet I crashed, broke my collar bone and hit my head so hard I was knocked momentarily unconscious. Without a helmet?
- Shoot firecrackers (including bottle rockets) at other people. Loved it. Like to tell stories about it. I’ll even write about it tomorrow. But, it’s probably not a great idea.
- Pull an inner-tube behind a pickup. Again, a lot of fun. It was the best part of a snow day when we were in high school. But, this activity did lead to serious injury when an inner-tube full of boys slid off the road and slammed into a light pole.
- Ride in the back of a pickup, standing up, and throw rotten garden vegetables at the “jousting” pick-up going the other direction. A favorite Halloween pastime. It also cost me a few hundred dollars when I broke the McMillan’s windshield with a not-yet-rotten pumpkin.
- Get in a vehicle driven by Glenn Frame. If you know Glenn, this needs no further explanation. (Just want to give Glenn a hard time. My eyes still get big as saucers when I think about riding with him on country roads.)
I could make a much longer list but you get the point.
I’m sure my parents weren’t keen on a lot of these activities. I’m sure they were nervous and scared about the possible consequences of an accident. But the social norms at the time said, “Don’t be a prude. Let the kids play.” I’m comfortable with social norms that call for more restraint and greater safety for young people.
There is one challenge we face as parents today that our parents did not have to manage. How to teach our children discipline in an era of 24/7 access to everything.
My kids are amazed, and disbelieving, when I tell them that cartoons were only on Saturday mornings and from 4 to 5 p.m. (Does anyone remember Major Astro?) The idea of a new fall schedule of cartoons is a foreign concept to my kids. We used to plan sleepovers weeks in advance around this major event.
The entertainment list goes on and on: 3 channels of television compared to unlimited choices on cable and the internet; no VCRs (let alone Tivo) until I was in junior high; no home video games, you had to go to restaurants such as John’s Dew Drop Inn, and no DVD players built into cars – horror.
Twenty-four seven access exists beyond entertainment. You can get food 24/7, too. Could that be part of the obesity problem?
When I was a kid, my Mom always checked the refrigerator and cupboards on Saturdays to make sure we had what we needed on Saturday night and Sunday. “Closed stores” is a concept my kids have never encountered.
Our kids have to learn a kind of discipline that we never did. It’s possible to buy things whenever we want – if not in a physical store then in a virtual one. It’s possible to be distracted all the time. Who among us has spent more time on Facebook or some other website longer than we intended.
When there is 24/7 access, our kids must learn 24/7 discipline. My parents could set limits more easily because the access didn’t exist.
I’m excited about all the things my children are able to do. I think access is, on balance, a very good thing. But I do get tired saying, “just 5 more minutes…” or “not today.”
I find the most challenging part of being a parent is helping my kids understand grownups.
When we are very young we imagine that grownups are perfect – they know everything and do everything right. Then, at about 14 or 15 we realize that grownups – our parents, at least – don’t know anything and can’t do anything right. It’s the time in between that’s very confusing.
There are traumatic issues to help our children sort through such as when friends’ parents get divorced. Our daughter Emma had to deal with three close friends whose parents split up in one year. When we told her about her third friend she asked, “Is this some kind of a disease? Everyone’s getting it.”
I remember vividly the first time a friend told me his parents were getting divorced. We were standing in my front yard near the fire hydrant that sat in our corner flower garden. “We’re moving,” my friend said.
“What is your Dad going to do,” I asked.
“He’s not going.”
“Why,” I started to ask when the light bulb went off. “Oh.”
From first through fifth grade, it seemed like we lost one or two classmates a year to divorce. Some moved back. Most I didn’t see again.
Divorce is hard to explain to kids. But, I think it’s equally hard to explain why grownups do things we tell our own kids are wrong. We tell our kids to always be a good sport, win or lose. They see grownups who aren’t. We tell our kids to be kind. They see grownups do things that are just plain mean or even spiteful.
I remember the confusion and disappointment I felt when I first saw grownups act in ways I had been taught to be wrong. I went to Norton (or maybe it was Oakley) with my Dad to watch the Atwood Buffaloes basketball team. It was during the glory years of ’71 or, perhaps, ’72. The team was undefeated but lost a close one on this night. The game turned on some controversial fouls – or so I heard people say.
I don’t remember anything about the game. I do remember standing in the crowded gym at the conclusion of the game watching three well respected Atwood men crowd around the ref yelling at the top of their lungs. Someone said that one of the men threw a shoe.
My Dad and I talked about it in the car. I understand better now getting caught up in the heat of the moment. I’ve yelled things at games I wouldn’t normally say. Now that I have kids I try harder to be calm. It’s still hard when Mizzou makes a winning bucket at the buzzer.
It took me longer to understand why grownups would do things that I perceived to be mean or selfish.
I was the youth member of the United Methodist Church board of directors when I was a freshman in high school. I wasn’t really expected to contribute. I was there to learn. And, I did. I began to see both the good and bad of how grownups make decisions.
The board meeting I remember most was marked by a debate over whether to allow an outside group to use the sanctuary for a prayer meeting. The group included former members of our church. Not everyone felt amicable about their departure.
The debate was brought to a close when one board member said, “If they don’t want to be members of our church then they don’t need to use our sanctuary.” The request was denied without a vote.
I remember thinking at the time that the board decision did not jive with the lessons of compassion and inclusion I was taught in Sunday school in this same church’s basement. I still think that.
But, here’s what I also know. The man who said those words I perceived to be selfish in the church board meeting was a good man. He did more for the town of Atwood than I’ll ever hope to do for my town of Longmont. He did many kind and generous things for me and my family.
That is when I began to understand that grownups are complicated. Good people have bad days. Nice people do mean things. Generous people can be selfish.
It’s hard to understand when we’re young. Heck, it’s hard to understand at age forty-four.
I don’t have any good answers for my kids when we talk about grownups’ inconsistencies – including my own. I can see the disappointment in their eyes. I can hear the confusion in their questions. All I can tell them is what I believe.
On most days, most people do their best to do good. But, each of us has days that we’re just not able to be the person we’d really like to be.
We had to fish our dog Scout out of a pond this week.
Well, truth be told, she eventually walked out when she was tired enough.
Joni had taken her running around Golden Ponds – a group of very small lakes a mile or so west of our house. Joni stopped on the running trail to talk with a couple of old work colleagues. The geese on the lake were too much for Scout to sit patiently. She worked her way out of her collar and dived in.
Joni gave me a call after Scout had been in the water for a good fifteen minutes. Scout wouldn’t come out. She came close to shore a few times, we presume to rest a bit. But, the moment she caught her breath she was back out to the middle of the pond to chase the geese. The geese appeared entirely unperturbed.
It’s not the first time we’ve had to fish Scout out of the water – for real.
For nearly two years, we had two golden retrievers – Lady and Scout.
They are sisters born in Rawlins County. A third sister lives across the street and a half-sister two blocks down. There are at least six Rawlins County bred goldens in Longmont.
I thought, contrary to Joni’s better judgment, that two dogs would be better than one. I figured we’d be gone from home much more with our kids being older. And, dogs aren’t meant to be alone.
Things didn’t work out quite as well as I hoped. Joni did her very best not to say, “I told you so.”
We invested in training but the dogs – together – would do nothing but wrestle. Walks were nearly impossible because they spent all their time trying to get close to each other. We couldn’t let them in to the main part of the house because they would crash into furniture, knock over lamps and run the kids over – especially Ada Grace.
Ada Grace is our animal lover. She kept her distance because, together, they were too rough. This is a gal who eagerly swims with wild dolphins and holds caimans and snakes. Any arguments I made that things were okay rang hallow each time Ada Grace asked for the dogs to be taken away.
I was last to come to terms with the obvious. We’re a one big-dog family. We found a friend who already had an eight year-old golden and lots of time to spend training dogs. He eagerly adopted Lady. Joni sees Lady on a regular basis. John, her new master, is a regular at Buzz Coffee where Joni works. Lady is a regular, too.
Scout adjusted to Lady’s absence just fine. We were surprised and relieved. Scout has taken a shine to our cat, Scribbles, who occasionally returns the affection.
Scout enjoys spending more time in the house with the kids. Walks are mostly a pleasure – with the occasional foray into ponds. We shed a few tears when Lady went away but it’s working out as well as we could imagine.
There will be some events we remember forever.
We took the dogs to the Mickey cabin for Martin Luther King Day weekend when they were just over a year old. It was their first winter trip to the cabin as grown dogs.
We headed for the lake as we always do, after we unpacked our car. I took the snow shovel to scoop an area for an ice rink. It was cold that day, less than 20 degrees, but the mountain sun was bright.
The lake by the cabin is typically eight to twelve inches thick from December through March. It might have been thicker on this visit. There’s one area of the pond that has no ice at all. There are two air pumps in the middle of the lake to circulate water to support the fish.
The area without ice was smaller than usual, a testament to the series of very cold days. The water island was populated by a solitary goose.
We got busy scooping snow and skating. There were nine of us there. The five in our family and the four Browns – Tom, Kristin, Madison and Jackson – who joined us for the weekend. We let the dogs run free just as we did in the summer and the same way we let Babe run in the winters when she was alive.
I was still scooping snow when Madison and then Joe started yelling, “The dogs. The dogs are in the water.” I was facing the shore, shoveling snow off our “rink.” I turned around and saw both dogs struggling to get back on the shelf of ice that enclosed the small pocket of open water.
It was immediately clear that the dogs were not going to make it out of the water on their own. One, I think it was Lady, went under for a second or two. The water was very cold.
I acted on instinct. I kept the snow shovel in my hand and headed immediately for the center of the pond. I didn’t really have a plan.
As I approached the open water, I got down on my knees and then my belly. I could see Scout was having trouble keeping her head above water. Lady was thrashing around. They had no hope of pulling themselves up.
The ice continued to support me as I reached the edge. I was beginning to gain confidence that I could do this. I discarded the snow shovel and reached for Scout’s collar. I grasped it. I began to pull. She was halfway back on the ice. That’s when the sheet broke and we both went in.
Things happened fast. I didn’t even think. I grabbed Lady. She was closer now. I heaved her to the ice and she ran. I turned and found Scout and gave her a push, too. She followed Lady in a blur. I made my way to the edge of the ice. I pulled once, twice. The ice gave way both times. On my third attempt, I reached thick ice again. The recent snow gave me a good grip and I easily pulled myself out.
I was in the water for ten seconds at most. Boy, was I cold. I didn’t hesitate. I started back immediately for the cabin. I could feel the chill setting in and I wanted nothing more than a hot shower.
I was feeling a little proud. The dogs were safe. But my balloon was burst the moment Joni reached my side, “ That was one of the dumbest things you’ve ever done. The kids were terrified.”
I made a feeble protest but she was probably right. Still, inside I felt a little proud. In a show of support, Tom gave me a thumbs up.
We did learn some lessons that day and are better prepared. Scout is not allowed near the lake in the winter. Joe insists upon it. He will not even allow her to visit on the leash.
We also checked out the boats and canoes stored by the lake all year round. There are one or two that aren’t chained down. We figure we’ll use those if we need to make a water rescue in the future.
In the end, it worked out pretty well. My “stupidity” did not end tragically. The dogs are safe. And, perhaps best of all, we’ve got another story to tell.
As I listend to my children play with friends in the backyard this weekend, I thought of an essay I wrote back in June, 2005.
Matt Cunningham mentioned this column to me when we had breakfast together recently, too. Matt was on an opposing team in our 3-on-3 baseball league. He played for the dreaded south-side A’s with Doug and Tim.
Here’s what I wrote
Each summer, we parents must figure out what our kids will do during “school hours.” There are many factors to consider: moms’ and dads’ work schedules, children’s interests, opportunities for new experiences, and a chance for kids to just be kids.
Another factor to consider is how we parents can promote democratic skills.
My children will do many of the typical summer activities – attend camps and they will come to Atwood to take swimming lessons. I also am hopeful that we find ways for our kids to have unsupervised play.
Unsupervised play with other children is an environment in which we begin to learn the most basic, and perhaps most essential, democratic skills: agreeing to rules that are fair for everyone, living up to these rules often on the honor system, working out conflicts, and not going home when we’re mad at each other. In short, how to govern ourselves.
I learned these types of skills playing baseball on vacant lots in Atwood. I enjoyed playing K-18 baseball but my favorite memories are of “unorganized” ball. Several of us formed a three-on-three league – no parents, coaches or umpires. Our “home fields” were behind the Christian Church, the corner of 8th street and Highway 36 and the southeast corner of the court house block. Do you ever wonder why the shed on the court house grounds is so dented? That is why.
We had many rules to work out. For instance, what to do when the ball gets stuck in the bush behind the pitcher’s mound at the court house or how many bases does the runner get if the ball rolls across the highway when a car is coming? One player would catch for the other team and call balls and strikes. The catcher had plenty of incentive to favor his own side but that seldom happened. We would argue, yell and sometimes wrestle as a way to sort out our disputes. Still, we found ways to work things out so the game could continue.
Unsupervised play is certainly not without risk. I don’t remember anyone taking their ball and going home in a huff. I do recall helping a friend to Dr. Henneberger’s with a badly dislocated finger. And, there were tears shed when one of us was hit with a ball or skinned a knee sliding into base. But amidst the injury, heartache and fun we learned to govern ourselves.
My children are growing up in a great town (Longmont, Colorado) but it’s much different than Atwood. The streets are busy. The chance of encountering a stranger is real. We don’t feel as comfortable letting our children roam freely as I did in Atwood.
It does feel more difficult in Longmont to let children go without adult supervision. The highly scheduled lives we all lead these days makes it more difficult for children to have time they control for themselves. I don’t ever remember my parents or the parents of friends using the phrase “play date.”
But despite these challenges the need for unsupervised play is no less important than it was when I was young.
It is essential that our children learn to negotiate, to enforce rules and to figure how to get along with others when there is controversy. It is important that they learn to make group decisions without aid from an adult. Creating the space to nourish these skills in our children – and quite frankly among us adults – helps prepare them to be responsible participants in democratic public life.
Indeed, if we can’t count on each other to agree to fair rules and stay in the game even when we disagree – even when we get hurt feelings – then our foundation for public life is shaky.
How ‘bout we all play some ball.
Stephanie Reed, a woman I’ve neither met nor spoken to, gave my family a great gift in 2004 when her book Across the Wide River was published. I recently ordered her second book, The Light across the River. These are fictional stories of the Reverend John Rankin family and the role they played in the Underground Railroad.
Reverend John Rankin is my 4xgreat –grandfather on my mother’s side.
My mother had a keen interest in genealogy. She struck up a correspondence friendship with Mrs. Reed while doing research on the Rankin family. My mom was recognized by Mrs. Reed in the acknowledgements of Across the Wide River. I got goose-bumps when I saw her name in the book.
As a child I did not pay enough attention to the stories my mom told about our family history. These stories take on greater importance, I realize now, when you have your own children. The desire to explain “who we are,” “where we came from,” and “what we stand for,” takes on new meaning.
Across the Wide River came at an important time in my life. My mother died of breast cancer in 2002 the day after my daughter Emma’s fifth birthday. My children will have virtually no memories of my mom. She won’t be able to pass on to my children the stories of her – our – family. The responsibility falls to me and I was less than an attentive student.
Then came Across the Wide River. This book provided me an opportunity I could not have created on my own. Mrs. Reed handed me a strand of our family narrative that I could use to engage my children in learning about family and, more importantly, to provide my children with ancestral roles models.
We have direct descendents who had the courage to stand up against prevailing public sentiment in defense of a greater moral value: Freedom.
Across the Wide River is symbolic of the great power of family stories. As we read and discussed the book together, I could feel my own children gaining confidence to strive to do the right thing. They are developing a sense of responsibility to continue a family legacy of standing up for social justice.
I have never done anything even marginally similar to the heroic efforts made by those who were part of the Underground Railroad. I don’t begin to expect that my own children should or will one day do things that make them historic figures.
But there is a strange sort of comfort, a reservoir of courage somewhere deep within, that springs from the knowledge that someone in your family – even family members who lived more than 170 years ago – successfully confronted more difficult challenges than we will ever encounter.
My daughter Emma talks about an inner voice she hears on the few occasions she’s had to confront a bully in the school yard. She says it’s as if Lowry or one of her 4xgreat uncles is saying, “You can do this.”
Every family has stories of making it through difficult and challenging times. My wife Joni’s parents managed the stress of little income without their daughters knowing the difference and became role models of public service.
Many families are descendents of combat veterans who had to face up to the untold horrors of the battlefield – men and women who returned to their families and communities to build a future.
These types of family stories are of critical importance to next generation and the generation after that. Through our family stories we learn that courage, cooperation and perseverance are not qualities limited to fairy tale heroes. These are qualities that reside within us all to be called on when needed.
Our family stories help us learn that even in the darkest hours there is light ahead.
Thank you to Stephanie Reed for sharing these family stories.