Winning Parenting

Three amazing teenagers. How did that happen?!? Parenting tips from the pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Christmas Story

Christmas has been around for a long time. There are a thousand ways of telling the Christmas story, each slightly different because it came from a slightly different time, place and culture.

The oldest stories we can find go back thousands of years, to celebrations of early Europeans who celebrated light and birth during the darkest and coldest times of the year—winter solstice, hoping to bring about the next season when light, growth and warmth would return.

This celebration changed into a time of feasting in Scandinavia when the Norse celebrated Yule starting on December 21. They would light huge logs and feast until the logs burnt out. The best logs could last up to 12 days!

Sometime later, as Christianity was spreading through the world, it brought with it new reasons to celebrate. The celebration of the birth of Jesus didn’t have a fixed day until Christian leaders decided to match dates with the ancient holiday happening during winter and call it Christmas. As this new holiday, a time of gift giving and family togetherness, spread around the world, Santa Clause was born. This jolly man, with his bag of toys, quickly became the story many people told their children about Christmas.

Today, the story and meaning of Christmas is a little different in each part of the world. Here in Australia, our story is quite unique. Christmas is during the middle of summer. We can hardly build snowmen and we try to avoid lighting fires. Families meet together for outdoor cricket, BBQ’s, beach trips, Carols by Candlelight and late night drives to look at houses covered in lights.

No matter where you are in the world, one thing remains the same on Christmas. It is a time of giving. Gifts are given by parents to children. Families pass plates of delicious food. People participate in donating gifts to their community. Churches provide free meals for struggling families and individuals. At Christmas, everyone should feel joy and love.

May you have a wonderful Christmas
   as you share your gifts with others.
May your family be blessed and joyful
   as you share conversation and food.
May you experience peace and love
   as you consider the Christmas story.
And may the Christmas story you tell
   bring new life, meaning and purpose to all.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Naughty List

I was chatting with a grade one boy in the last week before the Christmas holiday.

"How are you today?" I asked.

"Not good," he said.

"Why not?"

"I'm on the naughty list!" He crossed his arms and dropped his eyes to the floor.

"The naughty list? What does that mean?" I asked.

His little head jerked up and he looked at me like I was the most ill-informed person on the planet. "It means I don't get any presents!"

I threw my hands up in the air, “What? That’s not good!” Leaning forward I asked, "Can you change it?"

His eyes came to life, "YES! I'm being really good, NOW!"

I nodded, wisely. "What are you doing different?"

"Not hitting my brother and not yelling at Mum."

I nodded again. "That sounds like a good start. Are you doing good stuff, too?"

Now he nodded. "Yup. I help Mum with stuff and clean up my mess."

I put my hand over my heart and leaned back in my chair. "I can tell you something really exciting!"

"What?" he asked, his eyes fixed on mine.

"You're getting off the naughty list!" I smiled.

"I know." He said, resolved. “But it’s hard.”

“Doing the right thing often is,” I said, “but it’s worth it, right?”

“Yeah,” he smiled. “I can’t wait to get my presents!”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Dakota
 When she wandered into town, she had no name. In fact, nobody had ever seen her before. Until that fateful day in April of 2003, she had lived in the vast untamed forests of Southern Alaska and had no need for town. She was wild and she was free.

Juliet didn’t receive her name until years later, when her story became fully known. On the day she came in to town, tied to the back of work vehicle, she  was just one of the many nameless wolves killed by humans each year.

Hit by a car on it’s way into Juneau as it came around a darkened bend on the densely forested Alaskan Highway – Juliet had yet to receive her name or have her first litter of puppies.

The driver reported the accident but by the time Juliet’s body was recovered, it was too late for the four pups that would have been born just a week or two later.

The winter following Juliet’s death, the people of Juneau began to hear mournful cries of a lone wolf. Hearing howling is a common enough thing in this part of the world, but a solitary unanswered voice – repeated night after night – caused the towns people to talk.

Was this the cry of a wolf without a pack? Was he calling his mate? Why didn't he move on and call somewhere else? Was Juneau special to him for some reason?

There are few places in the world where you can still see wolves in the wild. And even fewer where those wolves feel comfortable enough with their human neighbours to visit.

In Juneau, Alaska just months after Juliet came into town, and just weeks after the soulful searching howls, a large black male wolf, was noticed searching the outer areas of town. The intentions of this large inquisitive black wolf were making people nervous.

Humans have long been afraid of wolves, and for good reason. Wolves are hunting machines and do not see people as friends. What was unique about this large male was he did not seem to see humans as enemies either. They were just people.

The large black wolf was, instead, very interested in the dogs in Juneau. Photographer Nick Jans saw wolf prints while out skiing one day. Hoping to get a good photo, he followed the tracks.

When he found the wolf, it took an instant interest in the two dogs Nick had with him. His dogs were well trained and stayed at his side. They focused on the wolf with every fibre of their being. Nick took a few photos and then headed home. The wolf followed them.

Over the next few months, the wolf occasionally visited their lakeside house. He would walk across the frozen snow covered lake and sit a few hundred metres from the house and watch for the dogs.

It wasn’t just the Jans who were visited by the black wolf. Many other residents of town began reporting seeing him. Most of the encounters happened when people walked their dogs along the lake and outside town.

Some months after their first encounter, Nick and his wife Sherrie were out walking their dogs on the frozen lake when the black wolf stepped out of the trees along the shoreline. Dakota, the Jans’ yellow Labrador broke free from her lead and bolted toward the wolf.

Unable to stop her, Nick and Sherrie watched with fear and then wonder as Dakota slid to a halt and faced the wolf – nose to nose. The huge wolf towered over the full sized Lab. His head easily twice the size of hers. Frozen in strikingly playful poses, the two canines sized each other up.

Then, Dakota turned and bounded back to her owners.

The wolf started spending a lot of time coming over the Jans’ house and watching for Dakota. So much so that one day, looking out the kitchen window and seeing his dusky form on the ice just a few hundred metres away, Sherrie said, “There’s that Romeo wolf again!”

The name spread across town like wildfire. The wolf had been wooing numerous dogs with his prowess and charisma. Everyone thought Romeo was the perfect name.

They had no idea how right they were. His Juliet was in town and he was searching for her. Normally Alaskan wolves have a territory that spans hundreds of miles. Over the years of Romeo’s visits, Nick tracked him repeatedly and deduced Romeo was limiting himself to a territory of just seven miles. He never went far from town.

Some people said this was not good for Romeo or for the people flocking to town to see the wild wolf who played with dogs. Hikers, Campers, holiday makers – they all came to see the wolf for themselves.

“He’s trying to make a pack out of our dogs,” many locals said. “He needs to be taken into the wild where he can join a wolf pack.”

“We like having him here!” Other people said. They had fallen in love with Romeo.

It was a very difficult situation for the authorities who wanted to protect the people but also didn’t want to upset Romeo. Moving him near other wolves could get him killed if they rejected him. Perhaps Romeo was demonstrating a new kind of interaction between wolf and human – a friendly coexistence between species.

Had anyone been able to ask Romeo, he would have said, “Have you seen a beautiful black female wolf? I last saw my wife just near this town. We were out hunting when I lost track of her. I returned to our den and waited. I waited for weeks. She never came back. She was almost ready to have our first family. I tracked her scent to this town. Something feels right about this town.”

Maybe that’s what Romeo was saying to all the dogs he met. Maybe they understood him. Maybe they didn’t. But one thing was clear, all the town dogs and most of the town people loved Romeo.

And Romeo loved Juliet. Enough to give up his life in the wild. Enough to search for her until his dying day. There are hundreds of photos of dozens of dogs that prove, Romeo made lots of new friends. But his heart always belonged to his Juliet.

When the towns people realised that their love story with Romeo the black wolf was over they erected two monuments. One, in the park that Romeo loved, displays an artistic sketch of a wolf above words of tribute:

Romeo's Plaque

The other monument is behind a glass display window in the park office. Beautifully stuffed and mounted, a black wolf – the pregnant female hit by the car that April 2003 day – her name underneath: Juliet.

The people of Juneau loved Romeo enough to honour his memory. Greater love was shown by Romeo who searched with life long loyalty for his Juliet.

If you were to go to Juneau and visit these two memorials, you would become part of the story of the last two wolves in the Juneau pack. And perhaps, your heart would be challenged to show such love and loyalty.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Learning to See

Daniel Kish has been blind for as long as he can remember. He was born able to see but developed eye cancer as a baby. The doctors took out one eye when Daniel was just seven months old. His second eye was removed a few weeks after his first birthday.  

This disease, called retinoblastoma, is a rare form of cancer. It develops in the immature cells of a retina. This means, it is almost always found in young children. 

Daniel grew up without his eyes, but he doesn't consider himself blind. "Many people regard blindness as a tragedy," Daniel says. "But it doesn't need to be." 

"Close your eyes," Daniel says. "Now, imagine that when you try to open your eyes – they don't open. They won't open. Ever again. What are you going to do?"  

Many people who go blind feel stuck. They feel like they are trapped because they can't see. 

"Eventually you'll need to get up, go somewhere, do something." Daniel says, "What if you are handed a stick? You have taken the first step toward freedom."  

Most blind people learn to use a cane to see the world around them by taping and scanning the ground in front of them as they walk. Daniel uses a long cane because it gives him a good picture of what's coming up.  

Some blind people take the arm of someone else and let them do the seeing. Daniel didn't like to do that, even as a boy. "If you grab on to someone, you might just not let go," he says. He decided to learn to find his own way through the world. 

When he was a young boy, a friend loaned Daniel a small bike. He learned to ride it in the hallway of his house. He got very good at riding the small bike. So, his parents bought him a bigger one of his own. It took time to learn to ride the bigger bike, but soon Daniel was riding up and down the street and through the park like any other boy. 

"But, how?!" I can hear you say, "He couldn't see!" 

Well, yes he could. Daniel taught himself to see with his ears. Believe it or not, that's what he learned to do.  

Those of us with two good ears can tell where sound is coming from. If someone calls your name, or even makes a noise, you can point at them with your eyes closed.  

Daniel took this hearing ability a step further. He noticed, when he made a certain noise – a clicking sound – he could hear it reflecting back to him. But the sound that returned to him sounded different than the click he had sent out. 

Some click-echoes came back fast. That object was close. 

Some click-echoes came bake slow. That object was farther away. 

Some click-echoes came back sharp and clear. That object has a solid smooth surface – maybe a door, window, wall – something you can't go through.  

Some click-echoes came back muffled and quiet. That object is absorbent or soft – maybe a tree covered in bark, a person, a bush – something else to avoid.  

And sometimes, the sound doesn't come back. That means open space – a place to ride! 

Daniel learned to see the way a bat sees in the dark, using echolocation. Every echo told him something. Every click Daniel would send out would return from a thousand directions.  Daniel calls it 'flash sonar.'  

Today, as an adult, Daniel teaches blind people how to see. He teaches them how to use a long cane. He teaches them how to click and hear the reflection of that sound so they can see a 3D soundscape of the world. 

Brain doctors have discovered something amazing about Daniel's brain. Using an MRI machine, they have recorded Daniel's brain as he uses flash sonar. Amazingly, Daniel uses the same part of his brain to 'see' with his ears as people who see with their eyes. Other people Daniel has taught to echo-locate have also been studied by these doctors. They also use their visual processing centre to 'see' the world around them. Their brains have learned to see using their ears.  

Daniel is the president of World Access for the Blind. They teach people to see life in new ways. "The brain is like a muscle," Daniel says. "Strength comes from use. We train the brain to access the visual centres through reflected sound instead of reflected light."  

While Daniel doesn't see himself as amazing, he does see the people he trains as courageous. Many of his students have been holding on to someone's arm for years. It is very hard to let go and navigate the world on your own when you have always believed you could not. 

These people are the true heroes, in Daniel's eyes. They have the courage to try. For nearly 20 years, Daniel's organisation has been helping people learn to see in new ways. Daniel doesn't limit this new sight to people who are physically blind.  

"What we hope," Daniel says, "is to help everyone see more clearly to greater freedom!" Some people are afraid to be brave and face problems in their lives. If you can see, Daniel puts a blind fold on you and teaches you to click and use flash sonar. When people realise they can learn to see without their eyes, they become more courageous in other areas of their lives and try to see those problems in new ways.   

One of Daniel's first students was a boy born blind named Juan Ruiz. Juan had already learned to do many things – like play soccer with a ball in a bag. The ball made lots of noise because of the bag. He could find the bag and kick it. When he learned flash sonar, Juan was able to learn to ride a bike. He loved the confidence and freedom that echolocation gave him. Daniel asked Juan to come work with him teaching echolocation to people around the world.  

Juan had an idea of how to get their message out to more people. Go on Television and do something amazing. So, he decided he would break a world record. "Fastest 10 obstacle slalom on bicycle – blindfolded" was his goal. On April 8, 2011 he set the record – 48.34 seconds. Then, two years later he broke his record nearly in half – 25.43 seconds.  

Juan says the most important part of the event wasn’t the records, it was the message he gave in his speech. "This obstacle course is not just poles; it represents a goal, and the bigger our goals, the more obstacles we will face. And, if you should fail, you just pick yourself up and try again. But, at the end we will experience victory!" 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Finding a High School

If you are like my wife and I were when our kids were in Primary School, you are thinking about what High School they will attend. It’s always in the back of your mind because you want the best for them. We sat down together and came up with some tips (in hindsight!) for you. Hope they help!

1. Look for a school that matches your child. If you need specialist help – look carefully. If you need advanced learning specialists – look carefully. Most schools focus on one end of the learning spectrum.

2. Start Early, if you are looking for a particular type of school. If you have certain needs, start applying in grade four or before.

3. Look for social cues. Are they big on clubs? Would your kids be into that?

4. Look for extras. What extras do they offer? Extra curricula, camps, international trips? Are these things within your budget? Are you willing to sacrifice for them?

5. Look for scholarships. Apply for any need or skill based scholarship that matches your child.

6. If you want to go to the nearest state school (as our two boys do) don’t worry too much about applying ahead of time. They are required to take nearby residents.

7. Listen to your kids. They may know what they want. Two of ours did (Maths/Music). One is an “all rounder” (as his brother calls him) and excels anywhere because he sets his own expectations – very high!

8. Finally, it’s more about who your child is than what school they attend. Show them how to be bold and stand up for others. Reward them for asking good questions. Challenge them to have a go, even if they fail. Kids like this lead the pack!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

You go, Supermum!

I am guilty of poor multi-tasking. One day some time ago, my mobile phone rang while I was driving my kids to school. I took my eyes off the road for the briefest moment—a moment that is now burned into my mind—and smashed into the back end of a BMW. I've been told many times that men can't multi-task. But that doesn't mean I can't try, right?

My wife, research has shown, is three times more likely to successfully multi-task than I am. We have three children, all of whom she has carried, birthed and nursed. Due to child in triplicate she has received three doses of various oestrogen strains to her brain that I have not received. I feel compelled to cry out with my kids, “That's not fair!”

I'll tell you how unfair it is. Just staring at the face of her own baby gives a mother a rush of endorphins. How's that for unfair? I have to climb a mountain or build a rocket-ship to get the same buzz she gets from playing goo-goo. Not fair!

Skills that were beneficial in hunt-and-gather societies of the past are still useful to mothers in the modern family. Propelling herself out of bed at the slightest whimper, exiting deep sleep and entering the darkness of night, today's mum weaves her way through unlit hallways, deftly missing couches, tables and random toys underfoot, and arrives at the source of that whimper in record time.

But, if you think that's fast—just watch a mum when their inquisitive toddler picks up a bug from the ground and prepares to eat it. Five times faster than your average virgin, mum saves the day! She vaults fences and knocks aside grown men in her single-minded goal to kill the enemy. The bug is unceremoniously squashed. The child is startled for a moment and then all returns to normal. That is until the next time the world needs Supermum.

While many mothers may feel their kids are killing them, having children has been shown to slow the ageing process. A combination of the hormones of pregnancy and the busy life of raising children floods the brain with all it needs to stay young!

Because of the hormonal gifts given to them through child birth and breast-feeding mums have better memory skills, learning abilities and longevity. So, Mums, because of your choice to have a raise great kids you will live longer, wiser and more interesting lives.

You deserve it! Thanks Mum, for all you do. Keep up the great work!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hey Dad!

It's been said that “a man's work is from sun to sun, but a mother's work is never done.”

Many fathers have stretched the time they work from before and until after the sun makes its journey through the sky.

A young boy, after watching his father leave one morning, asked his mother, “Where does Dad go when he leaves every day?” His mother explained that his father had a job where he got paid for his time. The little boy ran to his room and returned with a handful of coins. He laid them out on the table, saying, “Mum, how much of Dad's time will this buy me?”

Fathers who spend time with their children bring untold blessing into the lives of those youngsters. But, like mothers, there are benefits to the male brain that result from spending time with their kids.

One research program studied marmoset monkeys and found that the male monkeys who were fathers (marmoset fathers help raise the babies) were faster and more accurate at finding containers with food in them. In human homes, the more time a father spends in the house, the less likely he is to be told, “It's behind the milk.” I have become so suspicious of the milk in our fridge that I have been known to check behind the milk before asking if anyone has seen my socks.

In all seriousness, dads, we've got a lot to answer for. We shouldn't be grunting, “I brought you into this world and I'll take you out” unless we are willing to spend time loving and being loved by our children.

Dad, your kids need you. They need you in their lives when they are living it – at home and engaged when they are awake and active. Dads, when we spend time with our kids we give them a good start in life. Your example as a father, a husband and grown man will help them become all they can be.