Dear Fellow Parents: Feelings Are Not Facts

Parenting is a challenge unlike any other we will ever face. The task of raising a child (or multiple children) from infancy to productive adulthood — with all its ever-changing complexities and day-to-day nuances — can be daunting. Despite these challenges, we press on. Because we love our kids like crazy — and they are worth it. But disturbing trends in modern society add truckloads of undue pressure to this already stressful task. And this pressure comes most often…from other parents.

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How Do You Avoid Becoming a Workaholic?

Some of the jobs I have held over the years have been downright awful. I remember working one summer during college at a factory that manufactured those hard-shelled briefcases (like the ones James Bond would carry). Every day I woke up early, drove downtown, did 8 hours of manual labor at minimum wage, bought my lunch from a dirty taco truck, and listened to my supervisor try to fit as many vulgar terms for female body parts into one sentence as he could — and he was proficient, let me tell you.

Menial jobs like that one suffocated me because I never felt a passion for hauling briefcase parts from one part of the factory to another for weeks on end. I wanted a job I loved — one that I was passionate about. Oddly enough, I have learned that having a job I love can be even more draining than any of the jobs I hated.

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Thoughts on Getting Married Young

I have often thought about how drastically the process of getting married has changed from when my grandparents were young. For one thing, the time between boy-and-girl-meet and boy-and-girl-marry was much shorter than it is today. Back then, it was relatively common for a courtship to last only a few months. Now it seems commonplace for couples to be engaged for years on end. Many people would say that delaying marriage is a good thing, but I am convinced otherwise.

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There’s Been ANOTHER Change of Plan

If you are familiar with the story behind our adoption of Harrison, you will remember that the recurring theme of the entire process was “there has been a change of plan”. Nothing went the way we planned with Harrison’s adoption, and as we set out again on the path of adding to the family, we were taken on another journey that we could never have imagined.

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Raising Confidence

We all want our kids to be successful, to be people who make an impact in the world. No good parent looks at his kid and says, “I just want him to be average,” or “If she could be a follower, I’d be so proud.” Still, the world is full of average people, and society is filled with folks who are followers. At what point do parental desires fail to boost our kids past the
reality that more people are average than are great, and what can we do to make sure our kids don’t fizzle into the haze of averageness?

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2012 Generosity Project

Giving is gratitude in action. This Christmas, I thought it would be nice to try out a little mini-project I’ve been rolling over in my brain for a few years. I call it the 2012 Generosity Project, and I would love it if you would consider being involved.

The idea is pretty simple: as you’re out and about this Christmas season, look for some opportunities to show some unexpected generosity to a stranger. It can be as simple as buying coffee for the next person in line or it can be something more significant like having your kids pick another family at the restaurant where you’re having dinner, and paying their bill. Perhaps you could leave a jar of homemade spiced tea mix (a Gray family specialty) and leave it on your neighbor’s doorstep. The opportunities are endless.

Then, in order to keep the ball rolling, I have made a business card-sized note that you can pass along to the recipient of your generosity in hopes of inspiring them to do the same for others. I’ve also included a link back to this post where givers and recipients alike can tell the story of their involvement in the 2012 Generosity Project. How exciting to read the different ways that people choose to be generous this Christmas.

So what do you think? Are you in?

If so, you can download and print the 2012 Generosity Project card, or if you are interested in playing a bigger role, contact me directly and I can mail you up to 25 of the custom cards I printed up. These are thick, high quality cards, and I will mail them to you for free.

Also, don’t forget to tell your story by leaving a comment below!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Even though your four year old vision of Christmas is Santa bringing you that telescope you asked him for and getting to go sledding at Grandma’s, I hope you grow each year to see that the Christmas spirit really is more about giving than getting. The world has commercialized Christmas, and on some levels I have no problem with that, but if you let the “things” of Christmas overshadow the meaning, then no amount of presents under the tree will bring you the joy that Christmas should bring. Show gratitude by being generous. Read the stories below of people who were generous this year.

One Disneyland Map, Two 10 Year-Olds, No Parents

One of the most challenging books I have read on parenting is Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-reliant Children, by Lenore Skenazy. Modern-day parents live in a world where worrying is billed as one of the most essential character traits of good parenting. Skenazy argues in her book that this obsession with overprotecting our kids is a relatively new development in child rearing — and she challenges parents to take a reasoned look at whether our safety-crazed culture is actually beneficial to our kids.

As I read this book, I began to think about how I might apply the ideas/challenges within it to Harrison as he grows. The central story in Free-Range Kids is one where Skenazy allows her nine year-old son to travel from Bloomingdale’s in New York City all the way home (using busses and the subway system) by himself. As in all alone — with no parents or other adult chaperones. He was nine, and he was flying solo.

This was something that her son had asked to do for some time, so it’s not like she just dropped him off and wished him luck. He knew how to ride the subway, he knew how to read public transportation route maps, and he wanted to do it on his own. People called her the “Worst Mom in America” for allowing her son to do this. Her book is an explanation of the worldview behind her choice to allow her son so much freedom — and it’s very compelling.

Since reading this book, I have been looking for ways to allow my son to experience age-appropriate levels of independence, and you’d be amazed at how hard it has been to fight against the prevailing winds of culture. I recently began to wonder what it would be like to have been in Skenazy’s shoes, how it would feel to actually allow my nine year-old to do something at that level of independence and self-reliance. Then I began to wonder what — specifically — that would look like in our lives. We don’t live in New York, so allowing my son to do what Skenazy’s son experienced would be irresponsible of me. But what would be our New York subway excursion?

Well, I think I’ve found it.

Heidi and I have talked this over and we have resolved that, when Harrison is about 10 years-old, we will take a trip to Disneyland with him and a friend; we will enter the park together, take family pictures at the Mickey-head flower bed, and then we’ll send the two of them off with a Disneyland map and $20 each (adjusted for inflation, of course). They will be free to explore the place that Walt Disney built for kids, as kids.

I’m sure many people will think this is crazy. To be quite honest, I’m not even sure if Disneyland would allow it. But every time I see the picture below of children running through the archway of Sleeping Beauty Castle for the very first time in 1955, I can’t help but hope that Disney still encourages the mixture of wonder and adventure that these kids had on opening day:

Talk about free-range kids. I can only see one adult, and I’m pretty sure he’s a Cast Member, dressed as one of the Knights of Camelot. How many of these kids do you think were abducted, injured, or otherwise harmed?

All we have to do now is wait until Harrison is 10, then we’ll get the chance to put our money where our mouth is. If you are a Disney Executive and would like to offer us a few practice runs over the next few years, we’d be happy to accept. Actually, if you do work for one of the Disney parks, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Does Disney allow self-relient, well-behaved children to explore the park unsupervised like they did in Walt’s day?

As for the rest of you, I’d love your feedback as well:

What are your thoughts on this idea? Would you take this challenge with your kid?

I’m not going to lie, this plan gives my stomach equal amounts of excitement and nervousness. This time we live in as parents is a very untrusting, skeptical era — one that wants parents to control and supervise children at all times. But Mom and I want to push past our worries and allow you to live your own adventure. If we try to make sure that nothing ever happens to you, then nothing will ever happen to you. Live your adventure, we promise to try not to stifle the independent spirit that lives in you as it does in each of us.

Never More Than One Generation Away

Even though I love politics, I have been very intentional about keeping this blog free from the polarizing battles that political discussions tend to bring. But when I sit back and think about important things I want to pass on to my son, I can’t help but feel that avoiding politics outright means I am holding back some potentially valuable lessons. Politics is part of life, so shouldn’t life lessons include politics?

The specific inspiration for this post did not come about because of the thick, acrimonious political climate hanging in the air during the height of this election season; it did not come from an argument I witnessed between the ever-talking heads on the 24-hour news cycles; this post is simply inspired by a quote I read today. It’s one I’ve read and heard before, but today it struck me right between the eyes:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

~ Ronald Reagan

What a powerful and sobering statement! If we do not instill a love for liberty in the lives of our children, we will most certainly be contributing to the erosion of their future freedom and prosperity — to the point of possible extinction. What a dark world it would be to live in where there is no freedom.

What I am beginning to learn as I grow older is that freedom is not the default setting in human nature. We instinctively want to control others and/or have our needs met for us. Just turn on a TV and you will see what I mean. Government keeps expanding, taking over more and more of what we as citizens should want to do for ourselves — feeding and providing for our families, earning a living through some form of ennobling work, caring for the needy in our community, etc. And if the government is not encroaching on our ability/drive to provide for ourselves, we citizens are going to them to demand that they provide for us certain freebies — including everything from 100% student loan forgiveness to the cost for our elective medical prescriptions.

The U.S. government was not created to provide for it’s people, it was created to protect our freedoms so that we could be free to provide for ourselves. Has that idea been lost completely?

Another alarming trend is that people of all political persuasions are increasingly turning differences of opinion into ugly battles, bent on trying to destroy anyone with a viewpoint different from their own. If “Company A” supports “Cause A” and some of its customers don’t agree with it, the modern disgruntled American citizen takes that so personally that he/she begins to form groups, organize protests, and take legal measures dedicated to putting “Company A” out of business. Out of business. Because of a difference in opinion. Is that really what we want our society to become?

We can look with contempt at violent riots in the Middle East over obscure, considerably mild insults, but are we really that far away from those people in the way we react to those with whom we disagree? There was a time when I would say “Thank God we don’t handle disagreements by rioting in the streets, destroying property, and injuring others,” but I’m not so sure I can make that claim anymore because prominent, well-supported groups in the U.S. have begun doing just that.

Living in freedom can be a difficult balancing act, but if we allow hurt feelings over personal differences and politically-charged destruction-minded responses to disagreements to win the day, then freedom is doomed. Living free means allowing others to live free as well. You will never agree with everyone’s beliefs, and not everyone will agree with yours. That’s okay. That’s what it means to be free.

I don’t want my love of liberty to die with me. I want to teach you what it means to love liberty — liberty for yourself, your future family, and for others in your community and around the world. I don’t know what America will be like when you are my age, but the trends I see today concern me. People will tell you that your rights are granted by the government, that the government can and should provide for your needs and the needs of those around you. That’s wrong. Always remember that your liberty, your rights, your freedom, is a God-given gift, and that the government should never be your provider. If you’re ever unclear about the role of freedom and government, take some time to read our nation’s founding documents. They hold a lot of wisdom.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

~ Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence

Tee Ball

This week, Harrison had his very first tee ball game. The fact that he is starting to play organized sports just blows me away. He’s just getting so big. Harrison is the youngest kid on the team, but he seems to be enjoying himself (despite the 108° field temperature).

Here are a few highlights:

Harrison’s team is the Pirates. Hopefully the professional team’s lack of success isn’t an indication of how our season will go.

The starting lineup. He’s on a team of 7 boys and 3 girls, ages 4 or 5.

He’s a handsome kid, no?

His first hit was great! His response time between hitting and deciding to run to first base was about 20 seconds. We’re still working on the hit-and-run concept.

His first position was right field. As you can tell by his demeanor, very few 4 and 5 year olds can hit it to the outfield.

For his second inning in the field, he scored the shortstop position.

Ground ball! Fortunately, our team was pretty good about not “swarming” around the ball.

Now he’s got it and he’s not sure where to throw the ball. First base? Second? Where’s my snow cone?

Dinner, Dogs, and Dinos

It’s not very often that Mom isn’t home for a whole evening, but the annual Parent Tea kickoff for Greatleaps Preschool took her away and gave us males a great opportunity to rock the y chromosome together at our semi-regular “We Are Boys” Night, complete with dinner, dogs, and dinos:

And here are a few photos of the Jurassic Park Train Expedition we built. I’ll be honest, there was some dino-on-snake violence, and the train derailed more than a few times and the dinosaurs feasted on imaginary human remains from the resulting carnage. What can I say? We are boys!

I am in awe that, without any guidance or prompting from me, you intentionally crashed the train and then had the dinosaurs come in and finish off the survivors. I suppose some people would want me to be appalled and take you in for early intervention counseling, but I’m proud. I remember telling Mom years before you were born that I wasn’t sure I wanted a boy. If I could go back in time, I’d slap myself. Thank you for showing me how wrong I was.