Operation: Little Kids

“Being a parent of little kids is sometimes like being a special forces operator.” That’s the way it’s been feeling these last few days.

Of course, we don’t have to apply lethal force in the course of conducting parenting operations; and certainly we are not in harms way (typically) when parenting. So no one is trying to kill us, and we’re not trying to kill anyone.

But there are similarities otherwise.

Sleep. Interrupted or otherwise, often there will not be enough sleep. You have to operate at the highest level possible all the same.

Frequently you will be operating at night. Therefore, stamina is critical.

Non-lethal, hand-to-hand combat might be necessary from time to time. Wrestling or JJT skills can help in this regard.

Attention to detail, ability to quickly adapt, and a sense calm and focus under mounting chaos and discomfort are all very helpful attributes for field operators and parents.

Often times things with little kids don’t go as planned. You might the best intentions and ideas as to how to proceed on a particular objective, and then things go sideways. You have to be able to quickly and complete adapt to move the mission forward, improvise, and make the best of it.

Finally, as in special operations, personal excellence, solid teamwork, and fundamental ability to leave your ego at the door will all help in parenting little kids. Parenting: It’s one of the highest callings there is anywhere.

#dadlife #dadslife #parenting #perspective #worthit

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A.L.L. In and Minimalism Day to Day

When our second daughter was born, we named her Lucia. At that moment we had it “ALL” or “A.L.L.”, which stands for our three children now:  Ana, Levi, and Lucia.

I didn’t recognize this funny little twist of phrase immediately, but my wife did.  She said in fact that she had been thinking that since we tossed around Lucia’s name.  I’d certainly say now, as we settle in after nearly two years with now three little kids, that we have it ALL.    And now there’s ALL the more reason to reflect on our family’s lifestyle, manner of living day to day, and how we all co-exist.

Before baby Lucia was a year old, we moved her into the middle kid (Levi’s) room.  What I refer to as the L Room suddenly got a lot smaller too.  One crib each on opposite walls doesn’t leave a lot of room for furniture.  Good thing we have two tall bureaus for them to house their clothes.  All this shuffle and shrinking has me reflecting on space and stuff and another good reason to embrace minimalism.  What is “minimalism”, you might ask?  You can read a bit about it here, from two of my favorite Minimalists.  But back to it ALL.

Let’s face facts and do the math, as they say:  our family lives in a 1,200 square foot house.  We have one and a half bathrooms, three bedrooms, four closets, and five people, including three kids four & under. Plus two black labs.   Yesterday we were all in the same room together after dinner.  Suddenly the couches seemed bigger, the open space shrinking before my eyes as the two year old followed one of the dogs around.

1,200 square feet means that if we’re wise, we’ll be especially thoughtful about the things we have, and deciding on the things we do and don’t (!) need. If we’re committed to making the most of our little house, it must also be about creating space and solutions take us toward “simpler” rather than “more complicated” on a regular basis.

It’s not easy. The solutions are anything but obvious a lot of the time, and frustrating at least some of the time.  There’s stuff everywhere, in every room, it often seems. So what does living in this space actually mean?

It means the garage has been partially built out and transformed into an office, pantry with deep freezer & second fridge, a laundry room, a storage space, and a kennel. It won’t see a car parked in there for a long time, if ever.

Now that we have it ALL, each of us (especially the two adults in the house) need to be more thoughtful about this basic concept: “What we like” versus “What we need.”

Want an example? It might be fun to have fifteen pairs of shoes (granted, some are twenty five years old), but one doesn’t NEED that many pairs of shoes. Nor shirts, nor jackets, or sweaters.  So I’ve tried to thin the collections.

The key objective and decision factor needs to be, “What brings value NOW (versus the sentimental ‘clinging-on’ of things), what is necessary, and then work to jettison the rest, thus making room from the space left after the non-essential stuff is discarded, re-purposed, given away.

The other key objective is to consciously develop and strengthen the attitude in ourselves and our kids that experiences are more important than having more stuff, and the close corollary: people over things.  Teach your kids early on and they’ll have a better chance at being happier adults.

Then what?  We make a regular review of stuff (difficult but necessary, like trimming the bougainvillea)  and managing/reducing the amount of stuff we have.  Sounds good, right?  But THEN what?  Here’s the really big challenge: Teach our kids the same. Or at minimum, help them develop an awareness early in life that they need to be aware of what they have, what they truly need, versus what they merely “want.”

As we all know, in the end, having it ALL is really just a state of mind.

Far Away Lands, Moving Mountains, and a Cry Down the Hall

An old friend from high school has been traveling and living in Asia, Africa, South America, and even Antarctica, for some time now.  Thanks to social media channels, I’ve been able to follow his wanderings, and be inspired remotely by his adventures, insights, stories.  I love reading his posts, hearing about his latest experiences in other parts of the world. The vagabond spirit within me is stirs every time.

I’ve been an opportunistic traveler all of my adult life.   I’ve visited maybe fourteen countries so far.  Those pleasure/adventure trips lasted anywhere from a few days to at most a couple of weeks.  I was lucky to spend one year living and teaching soon after college in Donetsk, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine [and of late, sadly in the news with the violent civil conflict happening there].

When I think about a life of travel and the call of the road, nearly every time John Steinbeck’s words from his book, “Travels with Charley” come to mind. There he described his wanderlust, how his “toe starts tapping when he hears a train’s whistle…”, or something like that.  Since I read that book some 25 years ago, I’ve felt that simple characterization describes well my own feelings about travel.  I love it. I long for it. It inspires me.

I’ve lately been following the adventures and work of another person I recently became acquainted with via social media. This person started her professional life as a social worker, then turned to entrepreneurship, and finally blended the two skill sets to be a force for meaningful, measurable, positive change.  The first project was borne from time spent teaching and living in Nepal. in the states now, she’s leading an effort to build a solar system to provide reliable electricity for classrooms and a local monastery.

Project Exponential and Khata:Life are two additional manifestations of her drive to change lives for the better. My wanderlust stirs again with thoughts of Nepal, and my soul is sparked by the inspiration this new friend creates.

Then I pause and juxtapose all these thoughts to about four and a half years ago, when our first child was born.  This event changed my life in a dramatic way, and even a little different from the obvious, expected manner.

You see, I became a new dad later in life. While many of my friends were married and having children in their 20’s, kids weren’t in my present nor future at that time. I was married but had no plans for children. That marriage ended when I was 39.

As life (and luck) would have it, I met my second wife soon there after. She knew with certainty that she wanted to have children. The rest, as they say, is history. We started our family four years back. But the wanderlust still bubbles up from time to time. The desire to “change the world” on a massive scale still heats up within me.

And so I find myself, now with three young children – 4 years old, 2 year old, and 1 year old — trying to reconcile my previous, more self-centered life — yearning to travel the world, meet new people, see new things, get in adventures; and also my drive to bring positive change to as many people as possible, willing to drop what I’m doing to help others — with my new, family-focused life.

As I’ve looked into the eyes of each of my children, I’ve NEVER seen the opportunity, nor felt the responsibility, to shape lives for the better as with these three little people.  It’s an awesome, joyous, sometimes frightening prospect:   these little people rely on their mother and me for everything.  And we can’t let them down.

Then it dawns on me.  Being a parent is maybe one of the most inspired jobs anyone can have.  For someone like me, who thought he’d never be a parent, that feeling is intensified. We should think of our role as parents in that manner, and treat it with the hallowed respect and gratitude that it deserves.

The excitement, learning, insights, meeting new people (at daycare, school, playgrounds, etc.), even language challenges (try to understand little kids, as any parent knows, is quite an experience!) parallels in many ways those very similar opportunities that come with international travel and work.

The sleeplessness, the unexpected changes to schedule and activity, witnessing the wonder in the seemingly mundane, even some strange meals (if you’re a parent who eats his kids leftovers so as to not waste food, that can make for odd culinary combinations):  it’s all swirled together in the everyday life of being a parent.

What’s more, I have fresh inspiration as a father, to help other dads be the best they can be for their children.  I’ve quickly felt the desire and motivation to share my insights, my struggles, my support mechanisms, and have found a ready audience in friends, and also via social media channels like twitter.  Indeed, I’ve connected with a whole new sub-set of like-minded folks who seem to appreciate what I have to give, and who also share with me their wonderful lessons on parenting.

And that wanderlust?  I’ve found two avenues to help satiate that need for adventure, new discoveries, and excitement from the road.

First, that same wonder in the mundane one finds over and over traveling to distant lands also exists right in our own backyard, quite literally. And also in the neighborhoods, parks, museums, libraries, playgrounds, etc. that I’ve started to wander in a whole new way, following little people around, seeing the world through their eyes.    As they discover, so do I, the simple joy waiting patiently until you shift your perspective and suddenly think, say, “Look at that!  THAT is amazing.”

And what about the literal call of the road?  New thoughts and plans of exploring the vast and varied lands of the American West — road trips to Yellowstone and Joshua Tree and Yosemite and Bryce and Pinnacles and Redwoods and Crater Lake and…the list goes on…I find myself already plotting the time of year for each destination, the number of days I’ll need off work, how far we will drive each day, what snacks we’ll bring, etc.

I can’t wait to hit the road with my wife and a car full of kids, my stomach buzzing with the excitement and anticipation traveling stirs within.   No doubt there will be plenty of challenges during those adventures. As in life,  the lessons and bonds and new things we’ll see and experience together as a family…well, that’s just priceless, as least as far as I’m concerned.

So as I follow my friends’ lives and the cool places they travel to and good works they’re engaged in, I take heart anew because I know that I too am living the life I’m meant to live.  Indeed, by simply living, shifting perspective to find joy in the now, nurturing and promoting a deep sense of gratitude and finding satisfaction in my every day, I am who I want to be.  Now not just for myself, but for others too.  Especially three little people who are with me on the journey.

Two Examples for GOOD: Using Your Voice, Making a Difference

I’m a BIG fan of twitter.  There are two main reasons.

First, I love the twin effect of having an immediate voice to the world for anything and everything GOOD that comes to mind.  I also love the fact that I find SO much GOOD coming from every corner, including sources I know and of course, many more I don’t know.

Twitter is how I found the following two super-fine examples of good happening in the world.   Together they are a perfect example of the GOOD I’m talking about that I come across every day.

These two individuals are both women and both are Egyptian.

I don’t know if they know one another (via twitter or otherwise), but in my humble opinion, they should.   One is now living part-time in the United Kingdom as well as Egypt.  The other splits time in the United States.

They are two voices that resonate for women, for children, for freedom, for tolerance, for all.

First there is Mona El-Tahaway.  She is a feminist writer and public speaker on Arab & Muslim issues.

Mona has a massive 291k tweets, 208k followers, and 21.2k favorites.

Her twitter handle:  @monaeltahaway

You can learn more about her here:  http://www.monaeltahawy.com/

And you can get a very compelling and engaging voice from Mona’s talk at TEDx Amsterdam here:

Then there is Nelly Ali.  She is researcher who strives (successfully!) to advocate for street kids and thus provide insights on education, society and culture in Egypt and beyond.

Nelly Ali has a more modest 22.5k tweets, 21.4k followers and 5,976 favorites.

Her twitter handle:  @nellyali

You can read more about her, and by her at:  http://nellyali.wordpress.com/

The GOOD is out there.  It’s all about finding it and sharing it.

If any of this resonates for you, you can do the same.  Via twitter, or any other channel that suits you.