Flow With the Course of Nature

As I’ve written before, when I was a little boy I experienced significant night terrors for about two years.

My parents took me to a child psychiatrist who recommended family counseling so we tried that. A behavior modification program was created. Still, the terrors got so bad that I was hospitalized for a week when I was in 4th grade, studied by doctors and nurses to try to determine the root of the problem. One memorable experience in the hospital was when electrodes were attached to my head to study my brainwaves. Nothing significantly wrong was determined and I returned home.

Ultimately, I grew out of the night terrors, but the experience cast a dark shadow on me for years. For instance, I was horribly shamed by it, even into my young adulthood, and never talked about it.

It was my deepest and darkest secret.

But during college I started to make peace with it and even started to appreciate how the experience helped make me who I am. I believe the empathy and compassion I have for children is a direct result of my experience with night terrors, of undergoing counseling as a child, and from the experience of spending that week in the hospital.

These days, I use my childhood experience with night terrors on a nearly daily basis as I mentor children and coach parents. The Haiku I wrote and to which I added one of Fish Astronaut’s drawings above demonstrates that the experience is deeply embedded in me.

Christmas Eve Traditions

I was facilitating a class earlier today on Outschool, an online platform on which I’ve taught well over 500 classes to over 2000 young people since the beginning of the pandemic. I call the class “Friendship & Social Skills” and, put simply, it’s 45 minutes each week in which a group of 10-14-year-olds come together to connect with others under my gentle guidance.

That’s me in the middle, Santa Andy, flanked by my brothers. ~1970
Given it’s Christmas Eve, I asked how many of the four students present today celebrate Christmas. It turns out, all of them do so I asked about their family traditions. Sensing they weren’t sure what I was asking, I explained what a tradition was and gave some examples. From there, they really warmed up. We talked about giving & receiving presents, playing games, eating treats, and decorating a tree. We even took time to talk about Santa Claus, always an interesting topic with kids this age.

I explained how Santa Claus is a big part of my family tradition, both as a child and as a parent. I acknowledged that earlier today I had even checked in on the “Norad Tracks Santa” website to see where he was. Perhaps the students thought it was a bit strange to have a 58-year-old adult talking about Santa. I tapped my heart and told them, “Santa is true to me right here.”

About that, last year, I posted a lengthy story about my personal belief in Santa Claus, along with some photos of my family around the holidays.

Another tradition my family has began when we were in France 11 years ago. It was there that we learned about raclette. If you aren’t familiar, raclette refers to a type of Swiss cheese that you melt in individual slices and serve atop potatoes and other yummy foods.

That’s the raclette grill on last year’s Christmas Eve table.
Our tradition really took hold once we were back in Seattle in 2011. We shared the concept with Melinda’s extended family who we see on Christmas Eve for dinner and gift exchange. It took off after Melinda found a “raclette grill” on CraigsList. Basically, the grill consists of individual paddles in which you place a slice of cheese and then put on a heating element, the grill, in the center of the table. Each person melts their own cheese and puts it on top of their chosen food items.

Yum.

We’ll be heading over to Melinda’s sister’s house in a couple of hours to be joined by Ella, Chloe & her fiancé, Alex, Michele (Melinda’s mom), and Brenda’s family – Brenda, Greg & Perrin. Greg has been cooking a ham, which happens to be really delicious with melted raclette cheese on top. Chloe and Alex have stopped at a French bakery to pick up a couple of baguettes, also delicious with melted cheese. Melinda & I are on potato detail, along with the raclette that I had to track down last weekend.

Given Michele will be taking the entire family to France next summer and we’re having a France-inspired meal tonight, perhaps we should limit our conversation to being in French. That could be a fun, new tradition, right?

C’est une bonne idée, oui?

Christmas Eve, 2012.

A ‘Dear John’ Letter to Melinda (not really)

As many of you know, from July 2010 through July 2011, 13 months, Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I lived in France. As the founders of the Puget Sound Community School (PSCS) in 1994, Melinda and I were ready for a little break and the school was ready to spread its wings without the safety net of its founders. Chloe had just graduated from PSCS and Ella was a year removed from starting high school.

In other words, it was the perfect time for us to spend some time together as a family away from the 24–7 demands of the school.

We settled in the city of Nantes where Melinda’s family had some friends. Freed to do something I enjoy doing (write), I decided I would keep a daily blog of our goings-on for our friends and family back in Seattle. Little did I know that the blog would take on a life of its own.

Little did Melinda know that sometimes I would get a bit silly with my daily entries.

For instance, less than two weeks after we arrived in France we had already gotten into the routine of visiting a bakery to pick up fresh pastries for breakfast. One morning I went on my own to the bakery we had begun frequenting and was charmed by the sweetness of the young woman at the counter.

I requested four pain au chocolat, a delicious flaky pastry with pieces of dark chocolate inside, one for each member of the family. As I was paying, the young woman cautioned me to be careful because the pastries had just come out of the oven and were hot. In fact, she said, all in French, the chocolate might burn my mouth if I wasn’t careful.

I was completely smitten. I asked if I could take her picture for my blog post that day and she complied, although given the quality of my French for all I know I may have asked her what was on TV that night.

I did get this photo and then posted a version of the following on my blog that night. I’m sure Melinda just rolled her eyes.

Dear Melinda,

Yes, it’s true, you and I will always have France. But, you, you have your red wine and your cheeses. Me, I have our baker and her breads.

She tells me to be careful when buying pain au chocolat, that the chocolate is still hot and may burn my tongue. And she tells me this in French. After this morning’s visit, when she let me take her picture, I can hide my feelings no more.

Perhaps it’s rude to announce this like this, but I can’t help myself.

I’m already counting down the hours until tomorrow morning. Will it be a chausson pommes, pain aux raisins, or pain au chocolat?

You will always be my first wife,

— Andy

Creative Dance

That’s Ella, Melinda’s and my youngest daughter, on the right. Posing with her is her cousin, Olivia. When Ella was little, she always wanted to dance.

To nurture her desire, Melinda, signed her up for a class called “Creative Dance” when she was 4 or 5 years old.

At the first session, Melinda and I tried to spy on her without being seen (to see if she was having fun) by peeking through a tiny window in the door. We watched her spin and twirl and move, all with a smile on her face.

Confident that she had had a great time, when class ended we asked her, “Did you have fun?” Her sweet and profound answer was as prompt as it was telling:

“I don’t see how they can call it CREATIVE dance when they tell you what to do!”

Since then she continued to dance, but on her terms. As a teen, she’d close her bedroom door and dance to her favorite music. At parties, she was always found on the dance floor.

She’ll be 25 in December and lives on her own in Seattle. But I can easily imagine her dancing in her apartment or while making macarons at work.

Kind Action : Dance (on your terms)
Book Recommendation : Creative Dance For All Ages

Making a Stop in Angerville?

Most readers of my blog are aware that Melinda, my wife, and I took our daughters, Chloe & Ella, to live in France for a year back in 2010-11. We had been granted a sabbatical from the school we had founded and used the opportunity to provide our family some wonderful experiences in a different country.

Among the things we got to do was travel. In the spring of 2011, we went to southern France and stayed in the city of Nice. Although it’s pronounced like the English word “niece,” this didn’t stop me from telling my family, and on multiple occasions, how nice I found Nice, purposely mispronouncing the words.

Near the end of our year in France, we traveled to Normandy in northern France at the invitation of the Bertail family, people who lived around the corner from us and had become great friends. Melinda and I rented a car for this trip and for the first time in our lives experienced a vehicle with GPS.

Let me just tell you how infatuated Melinda and I became with this nifty little tool. It’s like driving and playing a video game at the same time, which, incidentally, I’m not advocating anyone do on a literal basis…

So, anyway, there we were, driving in Normandy to our destination and up on the video game, err, GPS screen came the word “Angerville,” which turns out to be a small town in Normandy (click on the photo here to see it better).

Chloe piped up from the backseat, “We spent some time in Nice, why not Angerville?”

Good one, Chloe! A real chip off the old block!

Turns out, though, that it never really worked into our plans to make a stop in Angerville. We were overdue and it was getting dark. Still, I kept picturing the four of us next to a sign of the town name, each of us with an angry scowl on our faces.

So, yeah, it’s probably best we didn’t go to Angerville back then. I mean, we probably go there metaphorically often enough, right? Think about it. Wouldn’t YOU rather go around Angerville than making a stop there?

Program your personal GPS accordingly.

Elvis Costello, Tom Waits & Chloe

This was my plan:

Expose Chloe, my daughter, to the music I love when she was very young. Then, when she’s older, she’ll already have a built-in appreciation for fine music, the likes of Elvis Costello and Tom Waits.

She’ll be one of those cool teens!

I even had pictures and magazines placed in strategic locations in the house and bought her an oversized Elvis Costello t-shirt that she wore as a nightshirt along with red socks (angel-worthy “shoes” — get it?).

It couldn’t miss!

But it didn’t work…

She never voluntarily listens to Elvis Costello or Tom Waits. And I’m too embarrassed to say what she does like…

Where did I go wrong?

Well, she’s only 28.

There’s still hope, right?

Right?

Kind Action : Introduce Your Child to Something YOU Love
Music Recommendation 1 : Imperial Bedroom — Elvis Costello
Music Recommendation 2 : Swordfishtrombones — Tom Waits

Take a Field Trip!

Indeed, think back to how exciting it was to be somewhere other than at school on a weekday. You know, when you “should” be in school.

I encourage you to occasionally be inspired by that remembrance. Take a personal day or play hooky. Involve your family.

That’s me in that photo above, taken along the beach in California in March 2010. Melinda, our two daughters, and I had taken a field trip to San Francisco from our home in Seattle, needing to visit the nearest French Consulate in order to get our visas for our year of living in France.

We stayed with Melinda’s cousin’s family, who took us to the beach on a weekday when anyone under the age of 18 “should have” been in school.

The inspiration for this idea comes from Gretchen Rubin’s blog. In the linked post, she shares about going on a field trip as an adult, having been inspired by her 6-year-old.

Kind Action : Take a Field Trip!
Book Recommendation : The Happiness Project

For a little further inspiration, here’s 35 seconds of “charter bus excitement” from a group of kindergartners.

On My Father’s Shoulders

The summer of 1988 is one of the favorite periods of my life. I had just graduated from college and had decided to take a job that had nothing to do with what I’d been studying, but had everything to do with something I loved.

To explain, I have to take you back a few years before that.

Picture a little boy on his father’s shoulders. The little boy asks, “What number?”

The father tells him. And for the duration of the horse race that’s the little boy’s focus, yelling for that numbered horse to run, “Go number four! Go number four!”

I was probably two or three years old, and that’s the way I remember the story being told to me. Years pass and it’s just something my dad and I share, a passion for the horse races.

And in the summer of 1988, I was hired as a statistician by the Daily Racing Form and would be at Longacres racetrack every day, as would my father as part of his side job as a handicapping expert for a couple of national horse racing magazines.

We spent hours together that summer, just the two of us, together, completely absorbed.

Kind Action : Hang Out With Your Dad (or a father figure)
Book Recommendation : Picking Winners
Website Inspiration : Day 130 (7 November 2010) — A Day at the Races

Designer Ice Cream

Since marrying Melinda, I’ve gotten lots of opportunities to learn there are nice things and then there are nicer nice things.

Take frozen dairy products for instance.

I’m from Nebraska. I was born in the 1960’s. My family ate something called “ice cream.” It came in a “carton.” If I was lucky, I got an “ice cream cone,” otherwise I ate it from a “bowl.”

These are terms I know.

Then one day, Melinda took me to a specialty shop that sold something resembling ice cream. It had maybe 10 flavors, all beautifully arranged, not 31 messy cardboard canisters packed in ice and served to you by a pimply teen.

Stymied by not finding “Pink Bubblegum,” I passed. Melinda got a “petit” of two things I cannot pronounce, let alone spell, a tiny dish that cost enough for the two immaculately dressed workers to have to check our credit rating before handing it over.

Whatever you call what they serve, it WAS really, really good (Melinda gave me a taste).

I Gave Up Breathing

(I first wrote this post in response to a Haiku blog to which I contributed poems. Every other week, I received a prompt. In response to the prompt word “wind,” I thought of the drawing above to use as an illustration for my poem, which, simply put, I wrote as a reminder that as people we sometimes get in our own way.)

When my daughter Chloe was in kindergarten, I quickly drew a “Heartman” comic each morning on a Post-it note and put it in her lunch. Because her school had a policy in which students were not allowed to throw anything away, the idea being so parents would have some sense of what their children were and were not eating, most of the comics came home each afternoon.

I couldn’t bring myself to toss them so stashed them in a sandwich bag.

A few years ago, I found them and thought they’d make the basis of a fun blog. All in all, it’s a pretty darn sweet collection of day-to-day parenting. Check out one of my favorite drawings here, from which you can access the entire collection.