Breakfast at Midnight

February 2, 2008

It wasn’t until we were all seated around the breakfast table that we heard the story.

The truth is, I sleep so soundly, that I never heard what had happened.

But Margie did.

It was just after midnight when she woke up to a rather strange night sound.

At first, she could not be sure, but as the clouds of sleep left her mind and she listened more closely, she could distinctly hear the sound of footsteps in the kitchen.

Of course, Margie’s first inclination was to reach over and rouse me with a warning that someone was in the house. But then, she noticed another noise. Had someone just opened the cupboard and got a mixing bowl out?  Now it sounded like drawers were being opened and spoons, measuring cups, and the Bosch attachments were coming out!

What was going on?

Margie decided to investigate on her own. Sliding out of bed, she went upstairs.

The whole of the dining room and kitchen were ablaze with lights. The ongoing sounds of food preparation could be heard as faithful and diligent hands reached for this spice, that bucket of flour, and another scoop of sugar.

“Esther!  What are you doing up?”

Without even a flinch or a glance in the direction of my astonished wife, our wonderful 10-year-old daughter replied over her shoulder, “Making breakfast Mom. I thought we’d have some lemon poppy seed muffins.”

Silence.  Margie didn’t know what to say.

At last, Esther, sensing that something was amiss, turned around and looked at Margie.

“What’s the matter, Mom?”

“Well, it is 12:18 in the morning. I’m just surprised that you are up already.”

“WHAT?  It can’t be!  I set my alarm for 5:30am and it just went off a little bit ago,” Esther returned in disbelief and shock.

“No, really, look at the microwave clock.”

Sure enough, 12:19 glowed brightly on the face of the clock.  With a somewhat sheepish grin Esther set everything down and walked over to Margie. “Well, Mom, I guess I can finish this in the morning. Let’s go to bed.”

We later discovered that earlier that day, her clock had been unplugged by our rather curious 2 year old. Esther had plugged it back in and reset the clock… but not the alarm, which remained stubbornly at 12:00 a.m.

For the past 3 months before the preparations for the midnight breakfast, Esther had taken  over the responsibility to make breakfast each morning. And true and faithful as ever, she had simply jumped out of bed and got to work when the alarm went off.

Margie and I reflected on that experience over the next few days.  What had caused a 10-year-old girl to jump out of bed at midnight, in the middle of the winter and cheerfully go about doing her chores?

Besides the fact that this precious daughter of ours is an angel, we have come to several conclusions:

1.    High Expectations – Margie and I have always made the assumption that our children are wonderful, responsible, and obedient. And we have never let their temporary shortcomings prove us otherwise. We expect the best out of them and tell them so in plain, unmistakable terms. Not only that, but we send that message to them through our actions and by holding them accountable to high levels.  If a job is not done right – they feel our disappointment, “We expected more than this sloppy job out of you.  Will you please do it right – the way we know you can?”  And when they meet or exceed our expectations (as they usually do) we praise them lavishly, “Great job!  You did awesome!  Really, this is incredible!  But, it is nothing more than we expected… we knew you could do it all along.”

2.    Freedom to Rise… or Fall – With that expectation, we give them the freedom to rise or fall, to win or fail, to succeed or wallow in mediocrity.  But, no matter how they perform, they know it was their baby, their stewardship. The tasks and jobs we give them are not just perfunctory jobs to keep them busy. We make sure that they are essential aspects of running the house and keeping this large family alive. Like making breakfast. If we don’t eat, life is pretty uncomfortable.  And Esther knew that. She knew deep inside that we were all counting on her.  Hyrum knows the same thing about taking the garbage out. Joshua feels that pressure when the dishes need to get washed and put away. They all feel the weight of responsibility. They all have their stewardships. They all are left to do their duties as best they can and as they see fit.  They LOVE the pressures of duty, responsibility, and a family dependence on their actions.

3.    Side-by-Side Training – The freedom and responsibility that is heaped on their shoulders is not without training and love. In fact, in the beginning, when they are first given those assignments, we work very closely and repeatedly by their sides. Esther learned to make muffins by helping Margie do it dozens of times, with more and more of the work slowly being transferred to her.  The knowledge to make a perfect pancake from scratch (a feat she now does effortlessly and with great skill) came from working with me repeatedly over hot skillets. Joshua, Jared, and Hyrum handle every aspect of keeping four goats, 25 chickens, and 2 bulls alive and healthy without even a word of supervision from me because we have worked for hours on end in the barn together.  We have found that working closely with our children and slowly transferring duties to them, works miracles that barking orders at them can never accomplish.

As parents, we sometimes catch glimpses of the growth and learning of our children. We find unusual moments when the lessons we have endeavored to impress on their hearts come shining through with a strength and glory that causes our hearts to burst with pride and joy.

Breakfast at midnight was one of those moments for Margie and I.

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A Mysterious New Family Project

January 23, 2008

The past few days have been consumed… completely consumed that is… with a new family project I am working on.

Check that… worked on… as in past tense… as in DONE.

It was 6 days ago to be exact that my son, Joshua, pushed the final button. He has been on me for weeks – no months – to get this project done and out the door.

Now, finally, he is satisfied and the families and children of the world can see what I’ve done.

What is the project?

Well, rather than try and retell all about it here, I’m going to send you off to actual project.

You’ll get the full story there.

But, just so you know it has do with families, raising children, and being a great, wonderful, and fantastic parent!

Gasp! WHAT? From Joshua? Stuff about families and children and parenting? Who would have thunk it? lol

Ok, enough sarcasm about my family efforts… here’s that website…

www.ForgottenFamilyClassics.com

Enjoy!

Oh, one final note, if you like it, I have created 200 coupons that will let you have this bit of magic for free… as in not payment… as in zero dollars.

But, beware! The coupons are only good until January 31!

If you want one… and I still have some… just email me or drop a request on this page. I’ll send it off to you ASAP.

You and your family will be jumping for joy… and your children will be screaming for more 😉

Ok, now you can enjoy my new project.


Stopwatch Parenting

January 10, 2008

“CODE RED!!!!!!! CODE RED!!!!  EVERYONE ON THE COUCH IMMMMMEDDIIAATELY!!!!!”

They couldn’t see my face, but I was smiling.  The top-of-my-lungs shouts continued to echo throughout the house and the yard.

The response was immediate… soon I could hear feet pounding heavily on the stairs, down the hall, across the kitchen and from back in the library.  And the shouting!

“Hurry up guys!  Come on! Dad wants us! This is a code red!  Come on!  HURRRRYYYYY”

Combined with my cries, the ruckus was deafening – and effective.

Within no time at all, there they sat, all 7 of them (Sariah, at 4 months old, as yet has been officially excused from coming on the ‘Code Red’ alert… though I’ve considered modifying that policy… after all can’t one of the older ones bring her in?  hehe).

Faces glowing, chest heaving from the run, feet fidgeting, and eyes twinkling with a mixture of excitement and a tiny sparkle of dread… what was it going to be this time?

Looking down on them, my heart just about burst!  What a wonderful bunch of children I have!

“Ok, everyone, I’ve divided the house into 3 sections:  Section one – library, bathroom, dressing room.  Section two – hall, dining room, kitchen. Section three – living room, office, hall, back bathroom.

“Here’s the deal:  The house is a MESS (pig pen really) and I won’t stand for it another minute! (This with a wink and a smile)  I’m going to set the timer for 25 minutes and everyone is going to start in the library.

“If you get section one done in that time, everyone will get $.50.  If you get sections one and two done, then we will go to the dollar movie tonight!  (This followed by shouts and a burst of excitement… we almost never go to the movies)

“If you get sections one, two and three done in that time, then we’ll add popcorn to that movie. Ready…”

Here I was intrupted by 3 little hands shooting up with questions.

“Do we have to vacuum?”  “No, the floors are OK”  “What about sweeping and mopping?”  “Sweep, yes… mop, no”  “Do we…”  “Sorry time for questions is up… Ready, set, gooooooooo!!!! Clock is ticking now!”

With that, the ultimate home cleaning machine exploded into action.  Away they went with an outrageous flurry and passion to meet the challenge and earn the coveted reward.

Margie and I retired to my office.  With no small delight, we enjoyed the sounds of Esther barking commands, Jared laughing, Joshua hustling about, Hyrum wondering when we were going to eat, and all of the above continually encouraging Isaac and Brigham in their short attention span labors.

“Done! Dad, we’re done!!!”

I looked at the timer – 19 minutes. Their best time ever.  VERY impressive.

“Ok gang. You’ve still got 6 minutes on the clock. I’m going to add 9 more.  If you can get the entire basement done in that time, I’ll give you a double bonus surprise. Goooooo!!!!”

And they did.  But they only needed the 9 minutes.  Total time: 28 minutes to total clean.

“Ok, everyone in the library.  Let’s inspect.  So, this is what you guys call ‘clean’.  Now let’s go through each room and inspect to see if your ‘clean’ matches my ‘clean’.

Going from room to room I had them point out what was done right and what could be improved upon.  For the most part they had done their duty wonderfully well.

During the review of the last 35 minutes of sheer energy and efficiency, I asked my children what had made the difference. After all, this same task, at other times, had taken them more than 2 hours of painful nagging and corresponding complaints.  Yet, here we had just cleaned the house, top to bottom in 28 minutes.  No nagging, no complaining, no fighting, no fussing.

What made the difference?

“It was the stopwatch dad. We were racing against the clock,” said Esther.

“And having a really cool reward,” added Jared.

Both were right.

Consider the Olympics.  When we as humans have clocks ticking and rewards awaiting, we rise up and do miraculous things.

Parenting and family life is no different.  Timing, tracking, rewarding, encouraging, and playing… it all puts the purpose back into parenting and the joy back into family life.

So, is your stopwatch handy?  On your mark, get set, gooooooooooo!!!!!!!


Missing Pants and Real Men

January 4, 2008

With a no small effort, I steeled myself to what would come next.

Looking at the black bag next to me, I knew that my sons would soon discover that our agreement was a serious one.  Though I did not see them, my ears followed them past my office, down the hall, and into the bedroom.

Silence.  Then rustling through drawers and laundry baskets.  Silence… thoughtful silence.

“Dad… mom… where are my pants?  Where is my shirt? I can’t find my shoes! Where is everything?”

I dropped my head and a small, sad smile crept over my face.  This was not going to be easy – that accounted for the sadness, but I felt deep inside that it would solve the problem – hence the smile.

“Son, come on in here,” I called.

I didn’t say a thing as he walked into the office, only pointed to the black bag.  Looking down, there was a flash of confusion, followed by a dawning of remembrance that spread into understanding.

A few days before, we had talked about the chaos of the dressing room.  In our house we have the washing and drier in a large room that also has all of the boy’s dressers.  It makes life infinitely easier on Margie when doing laundry because all dirty clothes, dressers, and cleaning equipment are in one handy location.

But it also means that five boys are constantly coming and going, changing clothes… and leaving enormous messes, compounded by the one location thing.

We gathered the family together and discussed how to handle this pigpen free-for-all.  Mutually, we had agreed that if clothes were left uncared for on the floor, then they would be confiscated… become victim to the magic parenting act of dropping it into a large black plastic bag. The only way to redeem a piece of clothing was to do an extra bit of work around the house or yard.

For the first few days, the fear of losing clothes had kept the room reasonably clean.  But then came that fateful moment when, consciously or subconsciously, they each decided to test the resolve of their parents and validity of the agreement.

“No dad!  I have to have those clothes right now!  I promise, I won’t leave them out again, just let me have them… please!” (this with a deadly charming look of pleading, mixed with pity, mixed with a cry for mercy)

“Does it really matter?  Just give the boy his clothes. Who cares if the room is a disaster zone? That’s just the way children are.  You’re being too tough here.”  These were the thoughts running through my head as he bore down on me with those big brown, sad puppy dog eyes.  It was almost more than I could bear.

But then reason snuck back in.  “If you give in now, your promises, agreements, and authority will be lost for now and maybe irreparably damaged for the future.  There are too many lessons at stake here… far more than a clean room.  Integrity, honesty, the power of an agreement and keeping your word, respect for authority, etc… the list goes one. No matter how tough it is, you’ve got to hold firm on your word.”

“You bet son!  I’d love to give all this back to you!”  (Pause for effect… his eyes glowing in triumph!)  “That is, just as soon as you clean out the car and mop the floor for the extra jobs you agreed to.”

Arrrggggg!  Victory was turned to sulking, frustration, and grumbling.

“Sorry, son.  You agreed and you broke your word.  You’ll have to be a man and keep your end of the bargain by submitting to the punishment.”

And he did.

Since that day, we have had to bring out the black bag on a few more occasions, but it is infrequent and the redemption work is done quickly and willingly.  The room has been upgraded to “moderately clean, most of the time”, and downgraded from a nuclear warfare zone.

But, more importantly, we see our boys turning into men of integrity, commitment and honesty.

And having real men for sons is WAY better than a clean room… and having both is the best of all.


Teach Doctrine, Not Just Behavior

December 14, 2007

Three years without a glitch and now this.Why was he doing it?

It had been over two months now that our son had started wetting the bed. The whole thing was disheartening and puzzling to Margie and I. We talked about it, prayed about it, read about it, thought about it… but nothing seemed to bring us a solution.

To stop the wettings, I had rewarded, praised, threatened, and spanked. Nothing seemed to work.

The effect of this effort was simply more wet sheets, a rather fearful small boy, and two very, very frustrated parents.

I had been told many things by many people about bed wetting… “His bladder must be too small – he’ll just have to grow out of it. That’s what my doctor said.” “He is suppressing some emotional conflict and needs to see a therapist.” “There is some new medicine on the market that helps with this sort of thing. Why don’t you take him to the doctor and be done with it?” “Just ignore it – he’ll get over it eventually.”

Fundamentally, I felt uncomfortable about all of these answers.

You see, I have learned through my personal experience, many success books, and most importantly, through scripture study, that God made us in His image. And that as His children, we are endowed with the power and privilege to be masters over our bodies. At the core of this power, each of us has been given agency – the ability to freely choose our thoughts and actions (though we are not free to choose the consequences of those actions).

Because of that, I had to believe that, somewhere, for some reason, my little 5 year old was choosing to wet his bed. That being the case, he could choose to not wet his bed. It’s a painful, but liberating truth.

And frankly, the “why” behind it all was not that important to me. I also tend to think that we spend way too much time in society today digging into the why, instead of focusing on solving the problem. Was his bladder too small? Maybe, but why did that stop him from waking himself up and walking the 10 feet to the toilet? Did he have “emotional issues”? Maybe. But the power to control our emotions is part of our Godly heritage.

I also know that there is nothing impossible to man when he resolves to do something and is willing to turn to God for help.

So, at the core of my seeking for an answer, I had to figure out a way for him to be motivated to make that choice. Once the desire was there, the “how to” of keeping his bed dry could easily appear.

But how could I increase his desire?

As I prayed about it, I had a series of ideas come into my mind. Here is what I did:

1. Taught the Principle of Agency

My son and I sat down and had a talk – the same talk, repeated over and over again. “Son, did you know that God gave you total and complete power over your body? Let’s see you do something cool… can you raise your hand? Great job! Ok, now try closing your eyes. Awesome! How about jumping up and down on your right foot? See, that’s no problem for you. Ok, last one… can you blink your eyes, swallow, and pat your tummy at the same time? No problem! You’re amazing! And do you know what? God has given you that same control over your private parts. And guess what else? When you are asleep, part of you mind stays awake and can tell you to wake up when you need to go potty. Isn’t that amazing???!!!”

During our second talk along these lines, I could see the lights illuminate in his eyes. He was discovering that he was in control of his mind and body. I could see this truth awaken a sense of power and strength in his mind.

How different is this conversation than what most children are told… you are powerless, you are a victim, you are not in control, the world around you dictates your actions, etc… Isn’t that the principle behind the pop a pill and see a shrink message that so many children get today?

Now before anyone reading this jumps on the defense, let’s be clear about my perspective. I totally believe that God has inspired the creation and expansion of modern medicine. Likewise, I firmly believe that a good counselor can do endless good. These things have their place and space. But I also believe that they should only be utilized after correct principles are taught and children empowered to act and not consider themselves hapless victims of a cruel world.

2. Habitual Skill Training

Even after he felt empowered, I knew my son needed to possess the habitual skill of using the toilet instead of his mattress. So, we turned to my good old, faithful friend… practice.

Every time the bed was found wet, he got to practice at least 10 times in a row doing it the right way. We did this most often in the middle of the night, just after he wet. Yes, it cost me a lot of sleep, but his self confidence – and learning the lessons of agency – were well worth it to me.

I’d sit in the hallway and have him climb into bed, pull the blankets up around his neck, and close his eyes. “Ok, what if you are sound asleep and suddenly you have to go potty… what do you do?” With that, he would throw the covers back and run into the bathroom, lift up the seat and carry out every particular of the practice – even down to flushing.

3. Salting the Oats

The old saying goes that you can’t make a horse drink water… but you can salt the oats.

A little added motivation was needed to get the job done. In this case, it was agreed between him and me that if the bed got wet, then his practice rounds would increase in longevity, eventually getting to the point that he would have to stay home from school all day and do nothing but practice.

4. Finally, Prayer

Each morning, and each night, he and I would kneel down by his bed and petition the Lord to give him the strength to keep that bed dry.

You see, he had to learn that our agency and will power is not enough in some cases… sometimes it takes our all, plus the prayer of faith, with nothing wavering and nothing being held back, to accomplish a goal. Only in this way can we rely on Heaven’s help… and he needed to learn that lesson.

With these five elements in place, we saw a miracle take place. After a few days of this, my son’s heart started changing. The desire to keep his bed dry and prove that he was in control, that he did have agency, and that God would help him, grew in his little heart (not to mention he really didn’t want to spend ALL day practicing!).

As so often happens when you empower another person to rise to their Heavenly Heritage, they take off and soar far beyond your expectations. On his own, my 5-year old son concluded that it would be better to practice BEFORE the bed was wet. And, certainly, if one brief mention of keeping his bed dry was a good thing in his prayers, a stronger, more repetitious petition would help all the more.

So he began. At nights, he got all snuggled up, warm and happy… and then with a gust of energy he would throw off the covers and make a dash for the toilet. This he would do over and over again, bragging time and time again, “I did 16 practices tonight dad – I’m never going to wet my bed!” “I did 20 practices, dad! Isn’t that good, dad?!”

Just before bed, as he knelt down to pray, he would plead with the Lord in loud tones, “Please help me not wet my bed. Please help me keep my bed dry. Please help me go potty in the toilet. Please help me not wet my bed. Please help me keep my bed dry. Please help me go potty in the toilet. Please help me not wet my bed. Please help me keep my bed dry. Please help me go potty in the toilet.” Sometimes repeating it 4 or 5 times.

Rising up he’d say, “God will help me, won’t he, dad?” “Yes, son, of that you can always be sure.”

In the end, we focused on the principles and doctrines behind solving the problem, not necessarily on the problem or the behavior to fix it. It was his own wisdom and insight that took those powerful tools and applied them in a way that worked for him.

Today, we not only have a son that is bed wetting proof, we also have a son that understands things like agency, personal power, faith, goal setting, natural consequences for behavior, and a myriad of other priceless life skills.

Additionally, in the process, the Lord has opened my eyes to a way – a pattern really – that most childhood challenges and struggles can be addressed.

The pattern? Teach correct principles and doctrines and correct behavior is likely to follow.


After the Technique Comes the Concerto

December 5, 2007

“I’m must concerned that he doesn’t like it.  If he doesn’t like it, he will never be any good and feel pushed his whole life. And that is not what piano lessons are all about.”

Joshua’s piano teacher was right.  He wasn’t enjoying it… and he was doing terrible at it.

The sad part was that he has so much talent.  He can pick out songs, has a great ear for tone and pitch, and has an excellent sense of rhythm (unlike his father).

But what he didn’t have was the passion and all the skill and talent in the world doesn’t amount to a hill of beans without passion.

So, why didn’t he… and how could he get that passion?

That was the question Margie and I asked ourselves over and over during the next few days.  When we talked with him about it, he simply said, “I don’t like those exercises she makes me do – they’re not even songs and it is so boring!”

So, how do we make the technical exercises fun and exciting?

Here is where we articulated an enormously valuable lesson of life that Margie and I had both learned, but not realized it.

The answer is: you don’t make it fun and exciting – you just do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Isn’t so much of life like that?  As a mother, does Margie get all jazzed up and excited about changing a stinky diaper?  How about mopping that floor?  Or do I just fall all over myself to do some of my work projects that take away from family time?  No, none of those things are our “favorite, most exciting things” in the world to do… but they have to be done so that we can enjoy the great thrills of life.

The fact is, much of life is boring, mundane, drab, and flat.

It was not an easy conversation for either of us, but before the next piano lesson, I sat down with Joshua, “I know you don’t like those technical exercises, but you know what?  If you don’t do those today, you’ll never be able to play the songs you love tomorrow.  Without the drab and boring stuff, there can never, ever be exciting stuff.  Plus, if you only ever do the ‘fun’ stuff, you’ll never really enjoyit, never really be good at it, and eventually despise it – and I don’t think that is what you want.  It’s your choice, but I think you should hang in there, master the basic technical stuff and see what happens.”

He thought about it for a while and finally decided to drag and drudge his way through.

And he did.

It is now a few months later and the house rings with music.  There is a piano upstairs and one downstairs.  Stop by on any given moment and you just may find his fingers flying across the keys, filling the air with a catchy tune here, or a sweet melody there.

What a satisfying feeling to see that he has learned that life is not all bells, whistles, flash, and fun… sometimes it is just plain hard work, dull, and boring… but well worth it.


The Practicing Siblings

November 30, 2007

Smack!

A brief moment of silence… the deep intake of breathe before the scream erupts, I suspect.

WWWWWWAAAAAAAAA!!!!

Yep. Just as I suspected. Isaac and Brigham are “playing” together.  Sigh… more fighting.

Slowing I get up from my chair in my office. Not too easy to concentrate on digital isolation theories – let alone write a white paper on them – when mournful chaos is erupting in the room next door.

“Ok, boys, what is going on?”  “I-I-I-I-s-s-s-a-a-a-c, he h-i-i-i-t me-e-e-e!” my youngest boy wails.

Unfortunately, the scene is repeated more often then I’d like to admit. It seems that the chemistry between some of my children is just off.  They rather delight in inflicting pain and torture on each other.

It has been a parenting issue that has pressed heavily on my mind, and I have wondered repeatedly what to do. I’ve tried threatening, bribing, rewarding, begging, and, yes, even spanking. But to no avail – they seem as happy as ever to pull off the kid gloves the minute a minor conflict ensues.

About a week ago, during our morning family scripture study a thought popped into my mind. “The fighting has become a habit – a habit born of a lack of skills.  How do you break a habit? You don’t… you replace it.”  The thought was so strong it startled me.  Of course, they don’t have the skills yet – especially since I have not specifically and systematically taught them.

So, that very morning we digressed from the topic at hand and discussed habits and the ruts we often get into out of lack of skills, laziness, or both. We openly talked about the arguing and fighting.  In the end, as a family, we resolved that the only way to restore a higher level of peace and harmony was to replace the habit of fighting with other, more peaceful tactics.  And to do that we had to practice.

So, corporal punishment, threatening, bribing and punishments (at least in its old form) went out the window, and practicing came into play.  Here’s how it works… the second an argument begins (or even before if Margie and I are on hand), the offending siblings are split apart and asked if they are making good choices.

“No”

“Ok, then how could we handle this better?”

A calm conversation follows giving various alternative responses.  Once that is settled, they get to “practice” handling the situation the calm, peaceful and rational way.  Ideally, they get to practice 5 or 6 times… but sometimes parental patience only accommodates once.  Regardless, they practice doing it right.

The result?  Harmony.  First of all, it turns out that being compelled to change your attitude in the midst of a good mad is just about the worst punishment that you can inflict on a child.  Second, real conflict resolution skills are being emphasized, learned, and applied by our children (and, oh, the humility of confession… but also by their parents!).

Is it a lot more work for us as parents?  Yes. Do we enjoy doing it? Not really. Do the benefits far out-weigh the cost?

Most definitely.