We live in a time and culture that’s intense. As a parent, a citizen of the United States, a neighbor, and even an employee, there is pressure. Pressure to perform. Pressure to look perfect. Pressure to be perfect. We see it on commercials, in magazines, and in social media. How many Rodan and Fields friends do you have? We want to stay looking youthful, while making more money, and proving that we are valuable. It’s a hard game to keep up with!

Our children are not immune. If your child attends a public school, then much of the spring is spent preparing for the big T-cap/ TNReady tests. They practice taking tests. Why? So, they too can perform and get those scores high enough so teachers can prove that they also are performing. Students need to get into honors’ classes in school so they can get into more honors classes. Kids need to earn over a 4.0 to get into the right college so they can rush on the lead the perfect life. We live in a competitive society and we start young!

Why do we have such high rates of mental illness and suicide in this country even among the affluent? Since 2007, suicide rates for adults in Tennessee went from 13.7 % per 100,000 to 16.2% in 2016 according the Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. Even more disturbing is that suicide rates in youth ages 10-24 went from a rate 7.39 in 2005 in Tennessee to 10.25 in 2016 according to the TN Department of Health. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and the national rates have been steadily increasing as well according to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We have to ask ourselves why and reflect on best parenting and self-care practice in order to turn this trend around.

The intensity and expectation to perform makes both youth and adults feel inadequate. We feel stressed and we barely have time to slow down and think about best practices. Rushing around, leaving little time for true downtime, neglecting our emotional health, and taking on too many tasks is not producing the type of society we can be proud of. In fact, we are a pretty dysfunctional society if you compare stats to other developed nations. Working in a school and seeing the changes and increasing mental and behavioral health needs, even just within the last 5 years, we can see that kids are stressed.

We are taught that we need perfect. We recognize honor roll students. We hyper-focus on data and testing at a very young age. We celebrate being involved in the most extracurriculars. We want medals. And, we value superficial qualities like clothes, shoes, cars, money, and beauty. And, it’s reinforced over and over again on social media. We are taught to want to look different. Hair dyes, skin products, lotions, make-up, diet products, clothes, shoes, jewelry, shiny things….the list goes on. Many pockets of society are living with a superficial sense of security.

But, based on what we are seeing in schools and what’s happening in our society, we may need to reevaluate the meaning of true self-worth while we still have time to influence our children. We don’t need to be perfect, look perfect, or even act perfect. If anything, we need to relax a little more, have a little bit more fun, and maybe just be a little more imperfect.

It was March 25, 2015 that I had a mind-shift. We went from being a pretty typical American family to having an 8-year-old being diagnosed with a brain tumor 3 years ago. Life came to a screeching halt, and it’s never returned to what it was. And while our brain tumor battle isn’t over and it’s a source of unwanted stress, Brody’s brain tumor was a game-changer too, and in a good way. There are many moments from that spring that I will never forget, and many I wish I could! But there a couple moments that are burned in my brain and that changed me as a person and parent.

The one thing you really want going into brain surgery is for your child to come out breathing. You just want them to be ok. The first moment of absolute clarity was seeing Dr. Savage after the 9 1/2 hour surgery. My husband and I both bear-hugged her when she told us he was awake and talking! Then, walking into the waiting room where our family was the only group left, I burst into tears. When my mom asked what was wrong, I sobbed that I was just so, so grateful. I have never experienced such tears of absolute joy and relief. So, first, being grateful for those around you is really the only thing that matters. The ones we love, our relationships, are truly the only things that matter in the end. If we lived every day showing love and appreciation to these people, we would all live more fully.

Another moment of clarity was coming home for the first time from the hospital. I was rushed and I remember pulling into the driveway in our nice neighborhood where most neighbors have meticulous yards and landscaping. Our small yard was overgrown and needed to be mowed….and I didn’t care. I realized looking at the dirty house and long grass that it didn’t matter. It wasn’t important. Suddenly, all the random stuff that we normally give time and value to wasn’t important at all. Who cares about the long grass, the floors I want replaced, and the dog hairs in the corners? We just wanted Brody to be able to come home, to be able to run again, and for the tumor to be benign. When your child is sick or in the hospital, you suddenly don’t care about those surface-value things.

And lastly, there was one, just one goal, Brody set for himself before his big surgery: he wanted to be able to run again. He didn’t say that he wanted to run track and finish first , play soccer in high school, or finish a 10k. He just had that one goal, to be able to run again period. (Interestingly enough, and unbeknownst to him, many children are not able to run again after being diagnosed with a brain tumor in the cerebellum. So, being able to run again was a really important goal that he intuitively set for himself. ) And, Brody was able to run just a few, short weeks after his surgery, not fast but a jog through the yard one foggy morning. Tears filled my eyes as his simple wish was granted. (And, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Brody continues, at age 11, to not only run but run really fast in track and soccer.) So, really our goals don’t need to be over-the-top and we should let our kids set their own goals.

While we, as parents, want to witness our children excel or even stand out, maybe just running is enough, regardless of how fast they’re going. Sometimes, we are the ones to get caught up. Sometimes, it’s the adults that add the pressure when our child just wants to run. It’s especially hard to check our behavior if it’s something we are passionate about, but our children don’t need the added pressure of having to perform in school or sports. Just let them set their own goals and take some ownership. When we take over and tell our kids what hobbies they should have, what place they should finish, and even what grades they should make, it can cause an internal conflict. Kids can’t always live up to our expectations. So, what can we expect?

I think we expect them to be the nice kid. Keep it simple because so much of life is out of our hands. When we try to be perfect, we will be let down because we are inherently imperfect. With so many things in life out of our control, our manners, our attitude, and our behavior is something we can do. Being nice, showing kindness, practicing gratitude, and giving forgiveness is something everyone can do and feel good about. These values don’t go out of style. And, they will matter in the end because we don’t have to be perfect to be nice.

nice kids




“That’s racism.”

This week’s topic in our ‘leadership’ classes was good citizenship. That’s an easy pillar of character to tie into the history of Martin Luther King Jr. We began by looking at simple examples of actions good citizens would or would not practice. If it’s an action good citizens would do, the children move the snowflake and positive action onto the winter tree. Examples include: loving animals and people, caring for the earth, and loves learning.  (Wouldn’t it be nice if most adults practiced good citizenship!?)

Then, we listened to Martin’s famous, ‘I have a dream’ speech. I gave a short explanation into segregation and the civil rights’ movement as an introduction. Let me tell you the perplexed looks on their little colorful faces! They were confused and also disturbed to hear that 55 years ago, they wouldn’t be sitting next to each other in class or attending the same school. They wouldn’t be sitting together on a bus. And, they wouldn’t be allowed to drink from the same water fountain. In fact, they wouldn’t have been allowed to play together or be friends. They were blown away! Unfathomable!

When I explained that some people used to believe that white people were better than any other people of another race, one little adorable, smart Middle Eastern boy said, “That is racism.” Yes, yes it is. Then, we looked around our melting-pot-of-a-class with around half of the students being caucasian and took a moment to shake hands or give a high-five to someone with a different shade of skin. This is the kind of world I want to live in. And, this is our little reality at Bearden Elementary School.

Even with leaders in this country who are racist and still living in the past, I have hope with the children I work with. When a colorful group of 6 years olds get it and are appalled to think or live otherwise,  I know there is hope in this country. I see these little ‘good citizens’ and know they are wiser than many adults because they aren’t  seeing the color of one’s skin.Today, we honor and celebrate you Dr. King. And, many little souls honor and get it too. Thank you.

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School is in full-swing, and fall is in the air with crisp morning air and football Saturdays. Time flies! In fact, fall break is just a short 3 weeks away. So, as the first interim reports are distributed at school, it’s been long enough to adjust yet we are still figuring things out.

The classroom procedures have been taught. Most kids have someone or something they like to play on the playground. And, we have learned that some of our children’s quirks. If you work in a school, you know that the first month is a whirlwind! Name tags, Open Houses, moving desks, cramming the day with new curriculum, and then also trying to get to know our kids. It’s busy! (for educators and parents!)

It can get so busy that we often forget to recognize the whispers. Sure, we hear the obvious. We hear the children tattling and whining. We hear the fighting. We see the test grades in red ink. We celebrate the goal they scored in the soccer game. Often, we only respond to the loudest and most glaring feedback as parents and educators while overlooking or not noticing quiet signs of growth. With both the good and the bad, it’s easy to overlook the whispers.

What do whispers look like and why do they matter? Well, this year I have met a tiny first grade boy who doesn’t speak….at all. He has not muttered a single word inside the school doors this year so far. In fact, until last week, we had never seen him move his lips or even attempt to communicate. He can and does speak at home but never at school. He’s a selective mute.

This is problematic for many reasons of course. He has to be able to communicate for safety and academic reasons, as well as with friends. So while he’s also slipped through this first part of school, this has become a personal goal of mine, to help this child find the courage to speak.

He’s had the opportunity for the past 3 weeks in my ‘friendship group’, yet hasn’t come around. He comes with 8 other children to my room once a week for 30 minutes. And, he’s my shining star for sitting quietly in his own space. Yet, he needs to be able to also participate in sharing with the group. So, last week before he came, I told him that I wanted his to mouth a couple of words because I knew he could do it (secretly I wasn’t sure he would but I told him I expected him to). The children in this group are working towards a minimum of 5 good choices in which I give them immediate feedback with a check on their paper. If they earn 5 or more ‘checks’, they may play for 2-3 minutes at the end. This little boy hasn’t been able to play so far in the friendship group because he hadn’t made all the choices I needed him to, like trying to communicate. But, this week, I believed he could do, told him I knew he could, and by golly, he was the first student I called on to share how he was feeling.

He chose the happy card and mouthed ‘h-a-p-p-y’! I couldn’t hear his voice but he very clearly articulated the word. I was beyond excited! He was the first child to earn a ‘check’. You might be thinking, big deal? Yes, it was a big deal! He also mouthed, ‘thank you’ when I prompted him to again at the end of the group. A smile was included and that was his choice! It truly was the highlight of my day.

While thinking about my week this week, this moment kept coming back. Then, I also remembered when another student actually took her old school papers out of her folder at home, finally, and did her homework. And, then there was the boy who was so angry and could have easily escalated to fighting another boy yet chose to walk away with me to the hallway. And, another girl who has worked weeks to earn a ‘blue’ on her behavior chart and delivered a signed note from her teacher at Open House that she achieved it. Then, there was the time at dinner when my own son realized and articulated that he has been taking his anger out on me and he’s sorry. These are the whispers I am talking about.

In this society, we want to measure everything. People want to see the the numbers on the scale drop when getting in shape to show they are loosing weight. We want to see A’s on the report card. We wear our Fitbit to track our steps. Shoot, we even measure how effective our teachers supposedly are based on test scores. We measure, measure, measure and we want to see big change fast. 

But, I think we should also listen for the whispers, the little things that are immeasurable. I believe paying attention to the subtle, quiet moments matter just as much or MORE.

So whether it’s simply starting with mouth-ing the words or doing the right thing instead of the wrong, we should celebrate moments that aren’t so loud or that you cannot measure or grade. Even as adults, we need to pay attention to the whispers. Many times, those whispers are telling us a lot more than the noise but we have to listen and wait for them. We have to be paying attention. Subtle, quiet, and humble….good things are happening everywhere.


There are 2 ways in which you can think about life:

If -or -when.

For example (taken from the mouths of babes):

When I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor…. OR….If I go to college….

When I’m playing soccer for West High….OR….If I play soccer in high school…

When I have a family one day…OR…If I get married…

When I become a safety patrol….OR…If I become a safety…

When I make the honor roll….OR….If I make good grades…

The mind can go either way, will you or might you? Sometimes I think my children are a little too confident. Just yesterday, Anna said matter-of-factly that Brody is going to be jealous of her car because she’s getting a jeep. She’s not sure what color yet. She “is going to be a teacher” but she also says “she’s going to be rich because her husband will be a doctor”! 😉 And then there’s Brody who will argue back that he’s going to the rich one because first he’s going to first become a doctor, either radiologist or surgeon. Then, he’s opening his own architecture firm. And finally, he will become president because Trump became President only because he’s rich, right!?

I love it and won’t say that I rule against these plans. Go for it, I say. But not just for these lofty goals, GO FOR IT ALL. I completely love and admire their goal-driven, get-‘er-done mentality. In fact, I do believe this is one reason that my son can live with a brain tumor and excel at life. Brody doesn’t pause to think that maybe this could slow him down or may alter his plans. Nope. He’s got plans and a little brain tumor isn’t going to stop him. Nothing is. In his mind, if he wants it, he will get it. He’s not second guessing himself or wishing he will do something in the future. Instead, he knows what he wants and decides it’ll happen.

Stubborn, that they are. Born that way, with sleepless nights, refusal to crawl, or take a bottle or pacifier. Our pediatrician told us this character trait would pay off, that these are qualities we want in our kids (but at the time, I just wanted a mellow baby that I could put down and that could just chill!). Fast forward and now they are still fairly headstrong and determined.

But, I get it now. Whether is living with a brain tumor diagnosis or just deciding to read 2 novels in a week, it’s just something my son decides to do. It’s him and not me. It’s taking control of his own life and choices, instead of just letting things happen to him. When he makes plans for his future, I thank God. Thank you for letting him live with happiness and hope. Thank you letting him live his life instead of worrying about the worst-case-scenarios. Man, kids can teach us a lot.clowns

When as parents we start to get caught up in worry, I can look at my children as a reminder of today, right now, and what we can control. I asked Brody today, one day after his MRI and appointment, how scared he was yesterday on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being the most scared. This is a child who was terrified of needles when he was a toddler and had to be restrained at the pediatrician. He said he was a 1 yesterday! And when I asked him when he’s been the most scared in his life, he laughed and said he can’t remember. “I can’t remember my whole life!” Then when I pressed him fully expecting him to say when he had brain surgery or found out he still has a brain tumor, he said it was probably “Emerald Lake”. (What!?)

That was the time a couple years ago when we were in Colorado. Bo was driving our rental car up to Emerald Lake, past the point of no return. The mountain bikers looked at us like we were nuts as he kept driving up a single lane, dirt road. It got steeper and steeper with a drop off right on the edge of the road. We were all freaked and that just pissed Bo off. I wanted out of the car and Brody told Nana that he was NEVER coming up there again when Bo turned the car around mid-road with a 15-point turn! That is the time when Brody was most scared!? That’s awesome. 🙂 (But, we got nice pictures like below as a result of the drive!)co

If we choose to live with intention and purpose, then we just move forward. When we live with doubt and second guess ourselves, we are not living our fullest life. (Yeah, sounding a little Oprah-esk, huh!?) Make a plan and stop wishing.

If or when? We choose WHEN.




The 3 A’s

Another memorable school year has come to a close. I’m still pinching myself when I see how much my children have grown this year, not only in inches but in character. Thanks to some amazing teachers who have really gotten to know and value who they are, they have excelled. Anna and Brody seem really comfortable in their own skin. They have lots of close friends. And, their grades couldn’t be better. I celebrate these milestones.

But when I reflect back on the most success that they’ve had, I really think it’s their maturity and sense of responsibility that’s made me most proud this year. I’m not saying there’s not more room for growing :), but I have most impressed as a mother by their acknowlegement of mistakes and gratitude for rewards.

Take, for example, Anna asking to bake another cake and promising to clean the kitchen. Six months ago that meant she threw all the stuff in the sink, ran some water, and left the batter and piles of measuring cups and bowls to soak. But most recently, the poor thing had a huge baking fail. Nothing worked, not even the cake mix. She spent an hour of time and resources working on this half-baked, tie dye cake only to spend even more even more time cleaning up the disaster of a mess. She wanted to do her old throw-in-the-sink-trick. But, I reminded her that wasn’t going to work. So, she proceeded to quietly cry while she unloaded, loaded, and cleaned the entire kitchen. She said she was “so disappointed”. There was no talking back or arguing. She did it and then moved on. (Success!!)

Then there’s Brody who thinks he’s never wrong; it’s always someone’s else’s fault! And being a 10, almost 11-year-old boy, he gets frustrated when he has to do something he doesn’t want to do too. But, I hold my kids to high but reasonable standards and will not accept disrespectful back-talk. Like in life, there are consequences for poor choices. But, he’s a good kid who is human.

So, when he most recently said something completely rude to Bo at dinner about “getting his soccer goal done already” when Bo had spent hours researching and building the thing, Bo was furious. Luckily, he contained his anger but told Brody how mad that made him when he was doing something nice for him. Instantly, Brody knew he shouldn’t have said it and looked ashamed.

He was sent upstairs to start the bedtime routine. When I went into his room to check on him, he was crying. He said that he “regretted saying that”, and I know he did. I told him that we all say things we don’t mean. Then, I simply said he needed to fix this and left. I didn’t tell him what to say or do next. I didn’t continue lecturing. He needed to feel bad and sort through things on his own.

After a few minutes, I overheard him go to Bo in our bedroom. He burst into tears and said he was sorry, and that he didn’t mean it. (Success.)

I really do not believe in making kids apologize if they are not sincerely sorry. But, I also really believe that feeling remorse for mistakes you’ve made and then fixing it is such a valuable life skill. It’s one that doesn’t come easily as our egos don’t want to lose. No one likes admitting that we are wrong.

What Anna and Brody are achieving this school year is humility and responsibility. Every time they have come to me within the past 6 months and told me that they are sorry on their own, I have felt proud. And, when they choose to tell me what they know they have done wrong, I know we are moving towards accepting our faults and becoming better people.

This year in my small group counseling sessions, I came up with 3 simple steps to resolve a problem.

Acknowledge– accept and acknowledge what you’ve done is wrong or hurtful. Say is out loud. Admit it!

Apologize– say you’re SORRY like you mean it. “I am sorry.”

Aim to please– then, decide what you can do to make that person happy. Stop making excuses and think about what will make it right! Take action; don’t just feel sorry. Do something to make it better.

These 3 A’s are just something many people don’t do. But if more people did, think about how much more quickly we could move on and grow. It works. When my children have made mistakes or just been ungrateful and then they realized they shouldn’t have acted that way, they have begun to repair. They have been moving away from the me-world and into the we-world.

As a mother, I appreciate this so much! A heartfelt “I’m sorry” can go a long way. Steps to show you care about your actions make others like, trust, and forgive you. Doing something that makes someone else happy builds closer relationships. We are not perfect and I know Brody and Anna will continue to test limits and make mistakes. But, I feel good about where they are heading, towards a healthy balance of personal wants and the needs and consideration of others.

They get an A from me for being super kids!

Some people never learned to share

One of the earliest and hardest skills for children to understand and navigate is sharing. Any parent who has more than one child understands this well. Sibling rivalry is real! And, poor preschool teachers mediate every day, as little ones expect everything to be about just them. The world revolves around them, and often times family reinforces this at home when the child rules to roost.

A little girl stomping her foot

But, kids need to learn how to balance their own needs with the needs of others and not get what they want all the time, or they grow up always expecting to only get their way. It seems like we are in a stage in this country where many adults are also struggling with expecting to get what they want, not sharing, nor compromising. The notion of ‘my way or no way’ is being modeled by the highest political office in the world. Some adults never learned to share!

I recently saw a post on social media that put things in perspective. Many adults on both sides of the fence don’t get it.


Repeat that again. It doesn’t have to be either/or.  Sometimes we have to share. This is what we used to teach children to do. But, is this a dying value?

We must teach our kids to:

  • share the spotlight
  • share their time
  • share their friends
  • share their resources, toys, and ‘stuff’
  • share their responsibilities
  • share their feelings
  • share their gifts

Too often, the lack of these actions leads to anger and upset. We have to help our kids grow out of this toddler stage of wanting to have everything for themselves, and pointing fingers when they can’t have everything they want. We must continue to teach and expect kindness.  Not sharing leads to a selfish world where greed becomes center stage. We can do better.

There are too many examples where conflicts in school boils down to not sharing. When one person thinks he’s more important than the next, problems will arise. It doesn’t have to be this way in school, at home, or in the world. And, when my rights or actions cause you harm, disrepect you, or give you less of a chance or opportunity, then these aren’t rights that I am owed. That’s not fair. Instead of choosing paranoia, fear, and insecurity, let’s choose to share more and fight less. The pie is actually pretty big and if I have some, there will still be some for you. Let’s share!



#peace  #Muslimswelcomehere #trueAmericans #lovethyneighbor #notscaredofrefugees

Refugee families want the same things you and I want for our families. Click to watch a brave Syrian family living in Knoxville, and the American dream! (And, below is a friend who escaped from Congo, moved to Knoxville with his family, and finished his degree.)






Brody has committed to trying basketball again for the second time, only because we are friends with the coach. And although this may not be his sport or something that comes naturally, he’s trying and seems to be having a decent time. He tries hard, just like he is in indoor soccer too. He’s no natural athlete but for the first time in his life, he seems to be consistently trying or caring about sports. And, that’s cool with us.

As parents, we just want a little friendly competition and exercise with friends. And, I believe it’s good to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. It’s healthy for everyone, kids and adults. So, I am pleased and enjoy watching him care and try. And, most parents I have witnessed in these non-competitive leagues also seem to take the laissez faire attitude to being spectators.

But, the ones who don’t, don’t. Most parents are just there to watch but then there are those that are there to win. The minority who are there to win make it hard to watch. These sideline parents think they need to coach their kid, even though they didn’t volunteer to coach. Yelling from the bleachers, the way they put down their 10-year-old boys is hard to watch. It makes you feel bad to hear, so just imagine being on the receiving end of:

“Get your arms up!”

“What are you doing!?”

“Get your head in the game!”

“Come on…you can do better than that!”

And, the harsh delivery makes these useless words all the more hard to hear. We had a set of parents who decided after the first loss that they were going to switch leagues. And, it was no coincidence that these were also the parents that I looked back at several times as they both yelled negative comments towards their son, who is good, from the sidelines during that one game.Who’s having fun if the sole focus is on winning at this age? Get a grip!

It’s another reason I am more than totally fine not rushing competitive sports in elementary school. Sports should be fun at this age. It’s the adults who can make it less than. Kids under 10 should be allowed and encouraged to try new sports, miss some baskets, laugh at their mistakes, and enjoy the game more than winning. But, it’s disappointing when adults model the importance of winning and having to be the best at all costs.

Our first basketball game was 76 to 4. The other team is a competitive travel team who decided to join this league to show everyone how good they are. Their coach encouraged them not to stop scoring and yelled at them when they messed up 70 points in. And that proves what?…..


This ultra-competitve sports culture in America is just ridiculous. And, it really makes you wonder what’s lacking in the parent’s lives that make them so hyper-focused on their child’s athletic abilities and wins. When parents take the time after the game to lecture what their child should have done differently or why they played so badly, it just makes me wonder if that is really going to motivate the child to do better. What’s the point?

Can we be excited and celebrate when they do get their first basket or goal? Yes! But, we should be celebrating because we see our children’s proud face. So, from here on out, I will continue giving those few parents the look. I will remind myself not be that parent. I will continue to keep perspective and recognize the positives and not the negatives. I will congratulate good losses. I will tell Brody good game when he tries hard, and praise effort. And, I will thank our volunteer coach for his time, patience, and encouragement. That’s what sports should really be about. Most of these kids who are getting yelled out aren’t going to grow up to be professional athletes so chill! Enjoy the game. And, be a good sport. These values carry over to life. These lessons make for kinder, happier, real gamers!

We used to hear a lot about the left vs. right brain. And, it does seem accurate that many people with have a strength in math rather than language, and vice versa. It’s not that we can’t succeed in both but it’s almost like one comes more naturally, and it does. But, what I’m trying to emphasize in children the last couple years is that we have more than 2 ways in which we can be smart.

In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard,  developed multiple intelligence theories suggesting that we have more than 2 areas in which humans are gifted. There are way more than 2 areas of strengths in the brain.

However, in public elementary schools, there is always a push with language (ELA) and math. The majority of the day is centered around these subjects. And while these are very important life skills, we really need so much more to lead a successful balanced. There are a lot of subjects that will lead to amazing careers and life skills that we minimize in school. And, it’s really painful and challenging for children who struggle with math or reading but may be inclined towards nature and kinesthetic learning, for example.

Fortunately, our kids still have music, art, and PE. There’s a push (and law) towards more movement in school. And, they do get some social studies and science sprinkled in there too. But, it’s still very unbalanced . And, I don’t expect that will change anytime soon. We need our kids to read and write. And, we need some basic math skills (although, computers can do most of that work for us)! However, when we look at the climate of this country, I would argue that we desperately need more of these other areas in schools too.

Not only is it discouraging when children struggle with the 2 main subjects, but school is also not fun. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard young children call themselves “dumb” because they don’t get math, or struggle to make C’s and D’s. What politicians decide dictates what we are teaching children in school. The problem is often times, these people (mostly men) come from business backgrounds and have never been educators. Shouldn’t the teachers, the people in the trenches who are in touch with children, be trusted to differentiate and guide their students in many different areas, exposing children to many areas of intelligence and interests?

If they’re not or can’t, it’s up to us as parents to emphasize all the ways our children can be smart. We can encourage them to continue to strengthening this skills outside of school, while also practicing areas of weakness too. For example, the child who naturally gravitates towards experiencing nature and animals should pursue researching and experiencing their area of passion. There’s a small second grade boy in my daughter’s class who is obsessed with sharks. He’s already so much knowledgable than most adults and enthusiastic about sharing this knowledge. This won’t be on the AimsWeb standardized assessment but who cares! He could do something amazing with his passion if he’s encouraged to continue learning about marine biology and the world of sharks. He can add and subtract different species of sharks. He can write essay on sharks. He can and should continue to shine in this area.

Another example is a 10-year-old girl who’s autistic and struggles socially. She is so sweet but fitting in doesn’t comes naturally, despite wanting to. These social skills take some practice for her. However, her ability to identify and verbalize her own feelings is outstanding. She has better intrapersonal skills than most adults as she knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and how she feels. That is an area of intelligence that can be taught and fostered but it doesn’t come easily for many. Think of how many adult friends you have who are depressed and working a job they don’t like. Many adults are still trying to figure out what they want and like, and this young lady already has some of that awareness. That’s intelligent!

Just like my daughter shines in having empathy and recognizing the feelings of others. She’s never been as school ‘smart’ as Brody , but she does well in school because of her work ethic. Math does NOT come naturally to her! But, her intrapersonal skills are impressive. She gets along easily with others and recognizes when someone is sad or left out. She just gets how personal actions impact the feelings of others, and she is kind. This is an area of strength that she’s both gifted in and we foster. Isn’t this skill set as important if not more than math and reading!? Look at our world, with all the hate and dysfunction. We need to value teaching empathy and intrapersonal skills. Research shows empathy and mindfulness can be taught and doesn’t come naturally for all.

It’s important to recognize and praise our children for their strengths. Our son, Brody, is smart, school smart, and he’s tried to point out to his little sister than he’s smarter than her. This is where , as a parent, I point out than Anna is also very responsible. She takes care of herself and others very conscientiously. That’s also super smart! That will allow her to live on her own successfully one day and not depend on others.

They are both smart but in different ways. Brody is that traditional ‘smart’ and I am proud of his good grades. In fact, I admire his ability to memorize things so easily! But, I will also celebrate the ways that aren’t always graded in kids too because these intelligences are just as important! Kids don’t always get a trophy or grade in all the many ways they can be smart but we can recognize and celebrate them anyway.

Parents are the biggest influence on their children. We can humble our children by reminding them to continue growing and learning in areas that don’t come naturally, and also continue pursuing areas that make them great and above average. We all have those areas of strengths and weaknesses. Just because school or society doesn’t respect all these areas equally, we can explain why all these skills can lead to a well-balanced, rewarding, and successful life.

We need to remind children to feel grateful for those areas that don’t take a lot of work, while also encouraging them to not stop trying to grow in those areas that are challenging or just not as fun to them. That’s what I want and expect out of myself too. We are never too old or young to keep growing and changing!



Working outside in the yard today, I happily looked around. We are slowly transforming the little space into a nice little backyard. Bo built this great fence and gate into our new garden area that is thriving. Everything is actually growing so far! The carrot seeds that Brody planted, the cucumbers that Bo planted, and the marigolds grown at school by Anna are all happy. We are pleasantly surprised! So, testing my luck, I have extended this hobby further into the yard as I pass on the flower addiction to Anna (thanks, mom!).

Anna and I picked out flowers to line the garden fence, have planted Zinnia seeds , and mom gave me my favorite yellow rose bush to add to the space for Mother’s day, too. The exposed flowers are risky as Daisy and Rocco have access to this area. So far, only 2 are turning yellow from the dog urine, which is less than expected!

sunflowers 006

The space is really so much nicer or really just happier since we’ve been in this house. It’s nicer to us because we are putting our personal stamp on it. On both the inside and outside, we are making changes and improvements. It dawned on me while working in the garden that in all the homes we’ve lived in since we’ve been married, we have put a lot of time, energy, money, and effort into making small changes to improve the spaces. Not only aesthetically but also practically as we have had to unexpectedly replace a lot in this house within the past 2 years.

You’ve heard the saying that we should leave things better than how we find them, meaning spaces and environment. Or, at least that’s the way I’ve always thought of that quote. In our homes, in national parks or public places, we leave things better than how we found them.

better than

We teach our kids to

  • not litter
  • clean up after ourselves
  • don’t pollute
  • to improve and not destroy

But, today I’m also thinking applying this to people. Not just things but also to ourselves. In life, shouldn’t we make it our goal to leave people better than how we found them too?

Leave all better than how you found it.

The land, the animals, the people.


Blessed are those who give instead of take.

-(me 🙂

We can teach our children to:

  • not gossip
  • only say kind things to others
  • give put-ups instead of put-downs
  • help instead of hurt
  • show love instead of judgement
  • be patient and try to understand
  • listen instead of yell
  • And, we can teach them to do the above for themselves!better than

If we apply this thinking, if we all apply this thinking, we are giving back to the world in such a meaningful way. We can feel fulfilled and proud when we go to sleep. We can know that we are living for God’s will and leaving everything and everyone better than how we found them.


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