don’t know what you got (’til it’s gone)

jack?! don’t say that. that’s not ok.

those were the words i heard my wife say to my son (almost a year ago)…as we were getting ready to leave my wife’s sister’s house…

we had been over at their place celebrating several cousins’ birthdays (including our own kids) and spending some time together as families, when those words floated up from the basement stairs…

when i approached my wife at the top of the stairs, with an eyebrow raised and a look of like–what did he say?  

she said, i’ll tell you in a minute, let’s just get moving.

well, “a minute” turned into a half-hour and eventually we said “our goodbyes” and packed the kids and all their stuff into the van.  in the driveway, while the kids were tucked securely away in the vehicle, i asked my wife–what did he say?

she turned to me and said, he said that ‘he didn’t want to leave and that he wished he lived here–because their house was so much better than our house.’

there was a moment of silence.

then, i said–really? ok, i’ve got this.

[i said that because i could see that she was at her wit’s end and done with the challenging behaviors that had ‘run her ragged’–i said that, because it was time for me to “tag in”]

then, my wife got into the van and i got into my own car and we both headed home (i had come from work, so we had driven separately)…but, i left first and flew home.  en route, i thought about all the possible ways to respond/talk to my five-year-old son about what he had said and how to communicate just how important it is to be ‘thankful for where we live’ and all that we have (i mean, i had just loaded up a shit-ton of birthday gifts for him and his twin sister, people! come on?!) – but everything i came up with, initially anyways, was either inappropriate or illegal–and could’ve potentially resulted in some sort of serious negative outcome…like losing parental rights.

then, just before i got to our house, it hit me…i knew what i was going to do.

upon arriving home, i went inside and got down to business…i knew i had to move fast because my wife and kids weren’t too far behind me.

so, i went into jack and grace’s bedroom and over to jack’s side of the room — and got to work — completely stripping his bed.  i took off the pillows, the stuffed animals, the bed sheets, the mattress–everything!  as quick as i could, i jammed all of that stuff (including the mattress) into our bedroom and shut the door.  after that, i walked to the kitchen, poured myself a jack and coke, sat down at the table and waited.

well, they came home a few minutes later and were bustling about…

i said nothing.

after a few minutes, grace went down the hall to their bedroom and immediately i heard her call for jack…

jack, come here.

so, jack walked down the hall.

i heard their murmurs–as they were talking about ‘what was going on with jack’s bed?!’ and ‘what had happened?!’

my wife walked down there too, and walked back out to me and said, uh-oh.

i gave her wink and said, yep, why don’t we go down to their room and have a little talk with our children.

when we got to their bedroom, i told them that we wanted to have a little talk with them, but especially with jack (and that grace could listen, because she needed to hear this, too)…they looked up at us, wondering what we were going to say and what all the “fuss was about”…

this is what happened next…

me: hey, bud, can i talk to you for a minute?

jack: yeah.

me: hey, mom told me what you said at your cousin’s house-do you remember?

jack: (silence)

me: did you say something like, ‘you wished you lived in their house because their house was so much better than ours?’

jack: yeah.

me: any particular reason why you said that?

[he shrugs]

me: jack, i just want to say that, while they do have a beautiful house, it’s good to know that we have one, too, you know.  we live in a great house.  one that your grandma and grandpa lived in and loved.  one that is full of a lot of good memories.  i don’t want to hear you say things like that about where we live again, ok?  because we are thankful to have this place–and, we like where we live.

[he nods]

me: could you do me a favor? could you climb up on your bed?

jack: but, my bed is gone.

[the bed-frame was there and so were the wooden slats that held up the mattress]

me: i know, but hop up there anyway, ok?

[he climbs up on the bed-frame]

me: now, it’s going to feel a little weird, but i want you to lean back, lie down on the bed.

jack: huh?

me: yeah, just lean back.

[so he leans back on the hard, wooden slats]

me: (gently) hey, jack, how does your bed feel now?  does it feel good? like something you’d like to sleep on?

jack: (right away) no, it’s not good, it’s hard.

me: (after about 5 seconds or so) i know, why don’t you sit up now.

[he sits up right away]

me: jack, i know it didn’t feel good, but i want you to remember that feeling.  i want you to remember that feeling because that is the feeling of not having anything, the feeling of not having all the good stuff you have–here in this house–ok?  don’t forget about all the good things you have and the great house you live in, ok?

my wife: do you understand, jack?

[he nods]

me: ok, good, go ahead and get washed up for bed.

[while my wife gets him and his sister get ready for bed, i put his bed back together–reset the mattress, the sheets, the pillows the stuffed animals, etc. — after a while, they come back all ready for bed]

me: hey, jack, come back up here on your bed.  i want to ask you one more thing, ok?

[he hops up on his bed]

me: why don’t you lay down and get under the covers, ok?

[he crawls under the covers]

me: now, how does that feel?

jack: good.

me: remember the feeling without this stuff? and now, it feels good, right?

[he nods]

me: don’t ever forget this feeling either–right now–the warmth, the comfort.  it feels pretty good.  that’s the feeling of having what you have.

jack: ok.

me:  good night, son.

jack: good night, daddy.

[i give grace a good night hug & kiss and turn out their lights and leave–two steps out of their room, my wife and i “high five” in the hallway and enjoy some time together (on our own) while our children fall asleep-yay!]

now, what he said wasn’t the worst thing in the world…not even close (take it from me, i’ve heard the worst things in the world:)…and along with that, they (our relatives) do have a truly amazing house, no lie–and, he could’ve been saying that for any number of reasons–maybe because they have a foosball table, new carpet and basement, or any number of other things–and we don’t–who knows?!

but, nevertheless, it was important to us, it was the principle of it all…to help him see that he has a lot to be thankful for, we all do–and sometimes we miss the very things that are right in front of us!

the things that you only see when they’re gone.

so, with that in mind…won’t you, please, have a blessed and happy thanksgiving!

parent fail – good friday

i think enough time has passed…

i think enough time has passed to tell you this story…without it being a complete and total sacrilege…

so, there we were…

getting ready to go to church on good friday…

and we find ourselves in a conversation with our kids, our four year-olds…about Jesus dying…actually about Jesus being killed…

my wife: so, today you’re going to hear about how Jesus died.

me: actually, that Jesus was killed.

our son: Jesus died? Jesus was killed?

me: yes.

our son: who killed him?

me: some people who were not very nice.

our son: were they bad guys? were they bad ninjas?

and that was the end of the conversation…as my wife and i looked at each other knowingly–“well, that went well”…

[and chalked up parent fail #85]

keep striving

“excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.”

-pat riley

in a few weeks, i will begin my ninth year as a high school teacher and my 17th year working with kids (of some sort and in some kind of setting)…

i don’t know how it is with other people in other careers, but in teaching, there is (lurking in the shadows) that ever-present temptation to get complacent or to “phone it in”…i mean, after you’ve been teaching for a while, there are certain things you’ve got down, things you know, like the back of your hand…

but, going down that road is precarious…

at the same time, you can see how it can happen, how all of us can fall into that trap…for instance, when i first started this “herding cats work”, i made great strides right away and really “wowed ’em”…my achievements were shiny and could be seen (by myself and by others)…but, as time went by, day after day, going through the same routines–it made me weary (on occasion) and i’d think, “what more can i do?”…

well, as an answer, i was recently re-inspired by a little japanese man named jiro ono…jiro is the subject of a 2011 documentary film (by david gelb) called, “jiro dreams of sushi”…and the story, his story is completely captivating…

jiro is the owner and head chef of the three-michelin-starred* sushi restaurant called, “jiro sukiyabashi” in tokyo, japan…and there’s five important things you need to know about this guy:

  1. jiro is 89 years old.
  2. jiro works every day.
  3. jiro has been making sushi for more than 70 years.
  4. jiro is widely recognized as the best sushi chef in the world.
  5. jiro still believes his sushi can be better.

[*important detail: michelin is a french company that publishes an annual guide on fine dining and accommodations–and, a three star rating is the highest–in this case, it means “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”.]

the last fact is the most remarkable to me…that, after all this time, after all this work…

jiro still believes his sushi can be better.

think about that for a moment…talk about inspiring!  at 17 years into my profession, i’ve got nothing on this guy…absolutely nothing…yet, there is a silver lining–the strides i make, nowadays, might not be as big, bold, or bright as the one’s i’ve made before…but, they are still significant little steps…

so, along these lines, i’ve tried to challenge myself for the past couple of years…by asking myself one simple question (to stoke the fires)…

how can i better “my last year self”?

and if i had to give an answer to that question right now…it would be…

i don’t know, but i know i can…and then…maybe, just maybe…coming to my classroom will be worth a special journey…

jiro

“always strive to elevate your craft.”

-jiro ono

great expectations

one day, in my first year as a high school teacher, i encountered my principal in the hallway…and she asked me…

so, are you gonna have a team this year?

me: a team for what?

principal: for skillsusa, the state competition our teachers send students to? (at this time, i really had no idea what skillsusa even was–now, i know that it’s a national student organization that holds skills competitions in a variety of trades each year)

me: send students to? in what area?

principal: well, for you, it would probably be ‘the crime scene investigation competition’–where your students would process a crime scene from beginning to end.

me: crime scene investigation?! i’ve never processed a crime scene myself–how am i supposed to teach them how to do that?!

principal: i know, but i’m sure you’ll figure it out (and then she walked off).

[this is how messages get delivered (sometimes) at our school…anyways, you might be thinking…well, you’re the criminal justice teacher, right?! you should know this stuff.  well, one of the things that most people don’t know about criminal justice is that ‘not everyone who has worked in criminal justice has been a cop, investigator, or csi’–in fact, there are literally hundreds of jobs in criminal justice–and the cop, investigator, and csi are just three career designations in a very big pond…in my case, i had a master’s degree in criminal justice and worked in the specialty area of juvenile justice–working in different facilities with kids who got in trouble with the law–not in crime scene investigation]

so, i was left standing there…dumbfounded…thinking…

how in the hell am i supposed to do that?! this has to be some kind of joke?!

so, that year, with all the trials and tribulations a first year teacher endures…i didn’t send a team…

in my second year at the school, my principal asked me once again…

so, are you going to send a team this year?

if i felt like i didn’t have a choice when she asked me the question last year, then i definitely felt cornered this time around–the stakes were higher…it was expected…

so, i said…

yep. 

[with absolutely no idea about how i was going to do this]…

you’ve probably heard the term ‘growing edges’…it’s a euphemism for being pushed to do something you’re not comfortable doing, and on-top of that, not sure if you’re capable of doing it…i like to refer to it as ‘the gauntlet’…the dark passage…will you succeed? will you make it to the other side? or will you go down in flames?

luckily, when she asked me the question this time….i had about 5 months until the competition…and i used every spare moment i had (outside of teaching) to read and learn and talk to people in the field–police officers, crime scene investigators, detectives–about how to process a crime scene…and then i read some more…oh, and then i read some more…

based upon what i learned, i figured it would take a couple of weeks to train my students–my team of three (despite all the promotional stuff we do each year, we typically end up with just a handful of students who are interested in these competitions)…how to do this and how to do it right…what i had come to know was that…while processing a crime scene wasn’t rocket science–there was a right way to do it; and things needed to be done in a correct and ordered fashion…with specific attention to detail and documentation (there was also a significant amount of gear that i had to order to make sure we had all the right supplies to collect the evidence)…

so, we met and trained and went through different crime scenarios that i had prepared for them (outside of the normal class schedule)…

as we trained, i felt confident with what i was teaching them to do…still, there was that lingering question…can i pull this off?

honestly, i was still rattled…i had no idea how they would do when it came to the competition…ultimately, i was just hoping i didn’t embarrass myself…and i didn’t want to let the kids down either…granted, i couldn’t be there to see them compete (none of the advisors/coaches are allowed to watch the contests)…it was up to the students, they were on their own…and the judges (real crime scene investigators and detectives) and that was it…sink or swim…

so, on the day of the contest, i met them outside the main bay of elevators in the conference center lobby…they were told that their competition would be in a room, on the top floor of the hotel, where the skillsusa conference was being held…a crime scene would be set up in that room (and the judges would be there to greet them)…i was not to come up with them…

so, i wished them good luck and sent them up…

[the crime scene investigation competition takes about two to three hours for students to complete]

so, i waited in the lobby…and waited…and waited…

about two 2.5 hours later, the elevator doors opened and my students clambered out with all of their crime scene gear…

i peppered them with questions…how did it go? was it what you expected? what was it like?

they answered all my questions…a few times they mentioned things that could’ve been done differently (per the judges)…and a few times they mentioned things that the judges really liked…

after talking for a while, i asked them…

do you feel good about how you did? about what you did?

they said…

yes.

i nodded and said…

then, that’s all that matters…

i shook their hands and told them to go and enjoy the rest of the conference…and then i told them that i would see them tomorrow at the awards ceremony…we wouldn’t know until the next day how we really did…depending on your scores, you could place first, second, third, or not at all…

i wasn’t counting on anything…

well, i didn’t sleep much that night…tossing and turning…and morning finally came…it was awards ceremony day…

there were hundreds of kids there, kids who had competed in everything from nail care to carpentry, from auto repair to photography…if you can think of a trade, then it was probably represented by a contest at this competition–honestly, it’s a pretty cool thing to see…anyways, all of the kids were seated and nervously waiting for the awards to be announced (so were the advisors)…

i wasn’t counting on anything…

the awards ceremony lasted a good 3+ hours…and as it went on, i would see students from our school get awards …cosmetology, photography, graphic design, and others…it seemed like our school was well represented…as the ceremony went on, i would steal a quick glance at my students (who were seated next to me)…i could sense how tense they were…i was too…

we must have waited for more than 2 hours to hear the results of our contest…and then it came…

announcer: for crime scene investigation (high school)…

third place…

[wasn’t us]

second place…

[wasn’t us]

first place…

[it was us]

he called our name, we won! i just about lost it, i couldn’t believe it…i was jumpin’ for joy…

we just won first place for crime scene investigation, we just won first place in state!

at that moment, the kids went nuts…i was so happy for them, i was so proud of them! i watched them go up to the podium and accept their awards…they had accomplished something great, we had accomplished something great…and as i looked around the great hall, all of my colleagues were looking at me…i could see the respect in their eyes…

unbelievable?!

the kids and i went on to compete in nationals, they didn’t place…but, they showed well and did a great job…in the years to come, i coached three more state championship teams…and i’m always recruiting for the next competition…

to this day, i always think of that first contest, that first title…as one of the most awesome, crazy, proud, freakish, unbelievable and unforgettable moments in my teaching career…

note: for a classic example of “how not to process a crime scene”, take a look at the footage that shows the italian crime scene investigators processing the amanda knox crime scene…completely and totally careless, utterly ridiculous!

everyone wins…

is one of those ideas that’s passed around as gospel among the young people of today…

unfortunately, it’s a lie…everybody doesn’t win…in fact, you might not win anything over the span of your entire life course…that’s a fact…

just the other day…i had a student say…

hey, mr. d., i think we should all get prizes…

[she said this as i was announcing the prize winners for a game we had just completed (the game is called ‘bomb squad’, otherwise know as “jenga”…and we played it for one short class session a week for several weeks)]

she doesn’t realize it, but saying this to me is like throwing me a softball to hit…i’m gonna ‘launch it’, you know…because she’s right in my wheelhouse…

so, i respond…

what do you think happens when you apply for a job?! what do you think happens when you interview for a job?!  you think everyone who applies for a job gets an interview?! you think everyone who gets an interview gets the job?! you think everyone who gets a job gets a promotion?!

this is not just a game, these are life lessons, sister…so, no, not everybody’s gonna get a prize…if you win, you get a prize…if you lose, you don’t…this is training for the real world…

she smiles and nods…and sees my passion…

i can see that she doesn’t get it yet, not completely, anyways–someday she will…

i wish i could say that she was the only student i had that thinks like this…she’s not…in fact, most of the kids that come through my door think this way, they expect to get something…it’s that ‘entitlement factor’ coming through again…

dr. david walsh and dr. leonard sax…two smart guys i respect and look up to…will tell you the same thing about kids today–importantly, it stems from parents and educators and other caring adults “trying to do good”, from trying to build kids up…specifically, kids’ self-esteem and self-confidence (it originated back in the late 70’s and 80’s…and has continued all the way up to today)…but, at the end of the day, what it teaches kids isn’t really something that we want them to be learning…the good feelings that they get when they get something in that way doesn’t build up self-esteem and self-confidence…more like, selfishness and greed…the good feelings that they get when we reward them for absolutely nothing are fleeting and fragile and false…

but, what can you expect from getting something for nothing?!

as i watch the students leave my room…i think about that short speech, which lasted 3 minutes…reflecting on it, i’m pretty sure it was the most important thing i taught them in the last two months (at least)…

we need to bring disappointment back…

it’s something we should be teaching our children (regularly) in our homes and schools across the country!

“when you find your path, you must not be afraid. you need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.” – paulo coelho

my sister, chris

one of the best teachers i know is my sister, chris (always ‘chrissy’ to me)…

she’s a 7th grade social studies teacher near chicago…

it is an appropriate assignment for her as we grew up moving from ‘here-to-there’ every few years as dictated by the u.s. government (my dad was in the air force)…as youngsters, we lived in oregon, utah, texas, arizona, south carolina, japan, colorado, and washington state…

moving around like vagabonds…we, of course, became close…because everywhere we went, it was “just us”…my mom, my dad, my sister and i…for most of my life she was my absolute, #1 best friend (it helped that we were only a year apart)…we had a lot of laughs and adventures together–back then and later in life as well…and while i know this will come as a big surprise to all of you–she was always the brains of the operation, the intellectual one, even from a very young age…maybe it was because she was always reading, reading, reading…man, she always had a book in hand (and still does!)…now, that doesn’t mean that she always got it right…i mean, there was the time when she ripped the side-view mirror off of the car when backing out of the garage, and the time when she burned an iron-shaped hole in her bedroom carpet while ironing a shirt, and the time when she tried to dry her hat off by setting it next to the campfire ring…guess what–it caught on fire!

[the “burning hat camping trip” was an over-nighter at luther heights bible camp–a place (and people) i’ve referenced before in this blog–anyways, the first year that i worked there, one of the counselors quit within the first two weeks of the summer camping season…so, i called up chris at our home in olympia, wa to see if she wanted to come out and fill the open slot…at the time, she was doing something exciting for the summer, like picking raspberries 🙂 …immediately, she agreed to come out to idaho as a counselor…and she liked it so much that we had the chance to work together there for 3 summers…those were good times]…

but, she’s always had a sharp mind, like a surgeon’s scalpel…an insatiable need to know things, an unstoppable curiosity…which, i think, was/is a catalyst for her continued travels and adventures in the world…as an adult, she’s ventured to israel, africa, south america, other locales in the far east…and minnesota (coming here, especially in the winter, is definitely badge-worthy)…israel was/is a favorite of hers, as a college student she lived on a kibbutz there for a while and then returned some 10 more times–over the years, she was able to master hebrew…who does that?!

all of this adds up one very unique individual…with a very distinct perspective on the world…and, for me…what i’ve come to know, what i’ve come to realize is that…she is one of the most unique individuals i know…i always come away from a conversation with her having learned something new…or, thinking about something in a way that i wouldn’t have thought of–had i not had the chance to visit with her…every single time…

she’s also the kind of person who could’ve done anything she wanted to…doctor, lawyer, corporate executive…you name it…but, she landed in education…in the trade of teaching…in the trade of teaching junior high school students no less…and she’s been at it for 14 years now…and most of the parents don’t know just how lucky they are to have her teach their children…but, i do…

i mean, who wouldn’t want that kind of person teaching their kids–helping them use their noggins?!

last year…for her energy, efforts, and creativity as an educator, she received the “highest marks” and “highest rating” a teacher can get in an evaluation at her school, a status that few achieve…

you wouldn’t hear this from chris, of course…because she’s also one of the least flashy and most humble people i know…which is even more of a reason to tell you what she’s about, to tell you what she’s done in the world…to put it down in words, for the record…right here, right now…

here’s to you, chris! i love you, sister!

cheers!

 

 

 

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