3 Pillars

This post has been on my mind for a couple years now. It looked a lot different back then compared to what I am about to write.

UBU (You Be You) was an idea that my oldest daughter and I came up with several years ago. It was born from her desire to help people feel confident in being themselves and my desire to encourage her to never stop being the fiercely independent girl (young woman now I guess 😢) that she is. I never want her to lose the free spirit she has in her. UBU would come up from time to time in passing, but really not much more than her asking me when will we do something with this idea. Can we put it on a shirt or do something “cool” like that? Nothing much happened until a couple months ago when I found this really cool local small business that prints designs on all kinds of products. They do it inexpensively and without having to order dozens of products to make it worth you while. I surprised my daughter with a UBU hat recently. It’s “real” now! Kidding aside, although small and insignificant, it was kind of cool to see our idea on a product.

UBU has really taken on a life of it’s own in my mind. A confluence of thoughts banging around in my head have brought it into focus. It’s also expanded rapidly and grew into something much more. Let me explain what is going on in my head.

First, the very clear racial divide our nation faces was brought center stage by the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks. These deaths and all the other information coming out about how difficult it is to live in this country if your skin isn’t white is overwhelming. It also took our simple idea of UBU and turned it on it’s head. For some, UBU is simply not possible, not without the threat of violence and death on your mind. Story after story about black people not feeling comfortable going for a run or taking a walk in their neighborhood sadden me. Reading a story about a black man that purposely doesn’t walk in his own neighborhood without his daughter because if she is by his side then he is “ok” was sickening. So much for UBU.

It is hard to comprehend that in this country, in 2020, we have large groups of people that are disadvantaged because of the color of their skin. It embarrasses me and I feel ashamed. Obviously this is a very complex topic and I am doing my best to work through as much information as I can. I want to figure out how best I can help to change this crisis our country faces. For now, I will read and I will listen.

While our country is playing chicken with what feels like a race war, we’ve had challenges inside our own home with our three adopted kids. I’ve written about them before. I’ve written about the immense challenges they face and the challenges we face trying to parent them. I won’t repeat those stories, but can say I am certain there is nothing harder I will ever do in my life than try to navigate this very complex world of fetal alcohol syndrome and significant trauma. Fortunately, I haven’t had any stories like my daughter yelling “stranger danger” as I try to get her back in our car recently. Unfortunately, what I am about to write is really much more difficult.

I’ve come to the realization that I have to be a much better dad to my adopted kids, to my brain damaged adopted kids. These kids have damaged brains because of what they were exposed to before and after they were born. We won’t ever fully understand the extent of the damage, but we are starting to see some of it play out as we watch our two little biological girls grow and develop very quickly on one end of the age spectrum and my two older biological kids thrive at the other end of the age spectrum.

These kids can be really, really hard sometimes or maybe most of the time. Their behaviors are extremely challenging and very difficult to understand. We go out of our way to make accommodations and do what we can to keep the peace for as many minutes of the day as possible. These accommodations help, but they can’t fix the damage that was done.

They are good kids though. I know their behaviors are not intentional. Unfortunately that doesn’t always stick in my head as the daily grind gets the better of me. As time has gone on and they have gotten older, it is becoming clear they are lagging behind their peers as it relates to school and play. This hasn’t been easy for me to adjust to. I’ve been very fortunate. My older biological kids are “easy”. They do very well at most things. I’m able to push them and challenge them to be better because I know they understand why I’m doing it and I know what they are capable of. I can already see it in my 2.5-year-old too. I haven’t adjusted to the fact that our soon to be 11-year-olds’ play similar to my 2.5-year-old. It’s even harder for me to comprehend that my almost 9-year-old’s play hasn’t evolved in the entire time I’ve known him (5+ years). His play consists of banging two legos or blocks together for hours on end, using very few words. My favorite (sarcasm) is at about 8PM every night he begins pounding on the floor directly about our living room for hours. It can be a lot.

So where does UBU fit in? I realized these kids can’t be themselves without feeling judged either. Judged by strangers, judged by their peers, and although it’s painful to say, judged by me. It may not be verbal, but I know I do it. I know my facial expressions tell them I am trying to figure out why they are acting a certain way when I should simply be ok with who they are and where they are today.

As I continue to look inward in 2020, I realize our UBU idea is a very good one. It is a meaningful one, even if I am the only one that gets something from it. UBU should be practiced and said throughout the day. It is my mantra, I say it often now. Instead of cracking that innocent joke when we see a guy driving by himself in a car with a mask on, I smile and say UBU to myself and my kids. This change in how I think has been a positive one for me. The innocent jokes were never meant to hurt or harm anyone, but I think they were harming my mind. The bottom line is if you aren’t hurting anyone, including yourself, then UBU – always!

As time has gone on something else was taking shape too. The guiding principles I want to live my life by were becoming clear. UBU took me to what I call my 3 Pillars. The name is not creative and I spent no time coming up with it, but regardless let me lay it out for you.

The 3 Pillars help guide me towards living my very best life. They are Accountability, Courage, and Effort (A.C.E). These pillars are surrounded by the Koru. The Koru is a spiral shape based on the appearance of a new unfurling silver fern frond. It symbolizes new life, growth, strength and peace.

Let me define each of the pillars.

Accountability is defined as “answerable for actions or decisions”. As it relates to my life, I break it down further into what I am fully responsible for:

  • Everything I do and say
  • My relationships
  • The roles I’ve chosen to take on

Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens oneself”. This means two very important things to me:

  • Courage to live your authentic life, free of concern of the crowd – I am not a sheep
  • Courage to evolve based on constantly learning and questioning my thoughts, opinions, and actions

Effort is defined as “a vigorous or determined attempt”. This one seems like it is the easiest, but I think in today’s world it may be the most difficult.

  • I will show up and I will do something
  • I will make forward progress, without concern for how much or how little I gain each day

As I explained above, the Koru is a symbol for new life, growth, strength, and peace. I think the Koru is a perfect symbol for how I choose to live my life. I will continuously grow. It won’t be easy and it will take time, but I will continue to grow.

How will I apply what I wrote above? As it relates to the world and specifically the injustices the black community continues to face, I’ll listen. I’ll do my very best to understand. I’ll take what I hear and will find a way to make a positive impact. Maybe that is as simple as educating my kids or maybe there is a larger role for me to play. Regardless I’ll put in the effort necessary to make a difference.

As it relates to my family, I will find a way to meet the very unique needs of my adopted kids. I’ll meet them where they are without judgment. I’ll support all of my kids in whatever way is best for each of them. And when I screw it up, I will try again.

We are living through unprecedented times in our country’s history. Perhaps this is the moment my generation will have that goes down in history. When I look back or talk to my grand kids about this time I want to do so proudly. I want to be able to say I showed up and I tried. I was courageous because I asked myself the hard questions and was willing to answer them honestly. I put away my preconceived notions about many things and began to look at things through the lens of those living it. I want my kids to know I was strong enough to evolve and get better every day.

Father’s day is several days away and on my mind. When my kids think about me, I want them to remember me as someone that always showed up. I want them to remember their dad was far from perfect, but never ever stopped trying to be better. I want them to know I was willing to challenge everything and everyone on my quest to live an authentic life. I want them to know their dad was not a sheep. More than anything though, I want them to know that regardless of what was going on at the time, their dad always had their back and always loved them!

Why do I write this? I write it for my kids. I want them to be able to look back when they are adults, parents, employees/employers and know it’s ok not to have the world figured out. That things can be hard or they can be easy. That ultimately if you have your heart in the right place everything will work out.

#fitlife #fitness #fitnessmotivation #chooseeffort #ivegot2more #accountability #noexcuses #betterthanyesterday #endure #grind #7kids #fetalalcoholsyndrome #blendedfamily #trauma #ubu #coronavirus #opportunity #perspective # lifeskills #responsibility #budgeting # hardwork #sacrifice #portioncontrol #fairness #selfsufficient #covid19 #courage #effort #koru

School’s Out – Teach Life Skills

School is cancelled for at least a month. This is a great opportunity to push the pause button on worrying about long division and geometry (sorry to those I am offending – if it makes you feel better there is a laundry list of topics I could have used instead) and take this opportunity to teach our children life skills.

Obviously what you should teach will vary based on age and sometimes maturity level. Some things that have come to mind in the first couple days with the kids home from school are listed below. It’s a brief list meant to get us thinking about teaching our kids skills that will benefit them their entire lives. Think about those things you struggled with when you got out on your own or learned the hard way a time or two. Pass those lessons on now while you have the time and more importantly their attention. The point is to start thinking about the opportunity we have to teach our kids the skills they will need to thrive (or simply survive) in the world.

Budgeting – I am not sure there is anything more important than financial budgeting. Budgeting gives you control over your finances. It makes every purchasing decision relevant as it relates to your overall financial situation. Budgeting = Discipline; Discipline = Freedom. I cannot recommend this one strong enough.

Hard Work and Sacrifice – Kids need to understand that nothing comes without hard work and sacrifice. If you are willing to do those two things there is not much you can’t accomplish. On the other end of the spectrum, they should be taught what doors close if you don’t work hard in this world. All the things we take for granted are not going to be there if they don’t work hard – everything has a cost. I want to ensure I put my kids out in the world with a strong sense of reality versus a thinking that magically they will have all the same things dad has.

Add Value – Doing what you are told is good, but not remarkable. Doing the things not expected of you is what is important. Those things lighten the load for others and add value in so many ways. I live by the motto “See it – Do it”. Your future spouse and employer will thank me later.

Fairness and Responsibility – This is an exceptional time to discuss how life is not fair. Everybody has lost something at this point. Kids have lost school time, all extracurricular activities, play dates, and on and on. They should be bummed about this. They will likely start feeling sorry for themselves and what they are missing. They need to understand there will be times in their life when things simply don’t work out or go as planned. They need to know how to work through them and it is our responsibility to help them understand they are responsible for how they feeling – no one else. Now is the time to eliminate the victim mentality!

You are not the Center of the Universe (and Neither am I) – This idea seems to be non-existent in our culture today. Kids run the show. They dictate most family activities, meals, and so on. This is significantly more power than a child is capable of handling and we adults put them in that position without thought. Teach kids what they can offer the world, instead of what they can take from it.

Hearing No – They are going to hear no and get rejected often throughout their lives. We have an opportunity to help them work through this rejection by telling them no in a safe environment (ideally with a thoughtful explanation as well).

Car Maintenance – We spend a ton of time in our vehicles and place a heavy reliance on them. We should know how to handle basic maintenance. Things like changing a tire, changing a headlight, and changing the oil come to mind. These improve independence and save a ton of money at the same time!

Grow Something – We don’t understand where our food comes from. It just magically exists at the grocery store whenever we want it. Actually growing your own food, even a small amount, gives you a better appreciation for how amazing the land is and why we need to take care of it. This too is another example where you could be a little more independent and save some cash. I find great joy and satisfaction out of growing things.

Meal Preparation – Another easy way to be more independent and save money is knowing how to feed yourself, and I am not talking about microwave meals and potato chips. Learning how to cook (even just the basics) is a skill that will serve you well your entire life.

Portion Control – From an early age we are told to “clean our plates” and so on. That doesn’t serve us very well as we age, portions grow, and our activity level declines. We should be teaching our kids that feeling “full” is not a good thing and feeling “hungry” is not a bad thing. We should teach our kids that the amount of food they really need is far less than what culture tells them. They should listen to their bodies instead. Oh, and stop with all the snacking.

Cleaning – Leave the place better than you found it. This is a simple one and speaks to responsibility. Take care of yourself, clean up your own messes.

Open Up – Now is a great time to reconnect with your kids. Get to know them and let them get to know you at a deeper level. If you have older kids, I think this is incredibly important. Now would be a great time to talk about the mistakes you have made in your life, the consequences, and how you moved forward. I want my kids to see me as super – human. I hyphenate that word because there are two distinct meanings there. I want them to know I am human. I work hard every day to provide for my family. I have good days and bad days. I swear when I shouldn’t. I overreact. I screw up. But I own it, try to fix it, and move on. I do want them to see me as superhuman though. I want them to trust that their dad has their back and will provide a safe environment for them to grow up in.

We really need to take advantage of this opportunity we have in front of us. We have our kids attention for some period of time and should ensure we don’t waste it. It’s likely the world goes right back to the way it was in the coming months, but there does exist a chance that we are embarking on a way of living we haven’t experienced before. It the latter ends up coming to fruition the more independent and self sufficient we all are the better. Be responsible and be accountable!!!

#fitlife #fitness #fitnessmotivation #chooseeffort #ivegot2more #accountability #noexcuses #betterthanyesterday #endure #grind #7kids #fetalalcoholsyndrome #blendedfamily #trauma #ubu #coronavirus #opportunity #perspective # lifeskills #responsibility #budgeting # hardwork #sacrifice #portioncontrol #fairness #selfsufficient

Trapped

At this point the virus has a lot of us feeling trapped. This feeling is simply perspective though. I am sure other parents with children that have mental, physical, and emotional disabilities can relate to what I’m about to write and add to it. Here is some perspective for you all.

Our ten year old daughter with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) has been a complete mess the last two days. This has nothing to do with the virus or what is going on in the world. She is not missing school or friends. She simply cannot regulate her emotions when she does not get what she wants exactly when she wants it. This has been an evolving situation at school as well, which has led to major battles at home – see some of my older posts (most recently – FAS – The Chase).

I’m not sure if my wife is a saint or masochist – maybe both? She has more patience than I thought was humanly possible. She goes out of her way time and time again to give each child what their needs require. She is truly amazing at being their mom.

As expected, when school was unexpectedly cancelled for the next month, my wife went into planning mode immediately. We know that without a super structured schedule we would be in trouble. The two ten year olds tend to “thrive” (using that word loosely) in a structured environment. They struggle a ton when that structure disappears. We have learned this the hard way during winter, spring and summer breaks.

She set up a very, very simple plan for our FAS daughter. 15 minutes of “work” and at least 15 minutes where she can do what she wants. “Work” over the past two days has consisted of watching two Facebook videos on topics she loves – animals and drawing. This was apparently too much though.

Our daughter has hit DEFCON 4 both days now. Notice I didn’t say DEFCON 5. I reserve that for when I have to chase her through the neighborhood screaming stranger danger (her not me).

Today she got so worked up she gave herself a bloody nose. When she noticed the blood she immediately broke from the melt down and has been mostly ok since. It’s pretty clear this all begins as a manipulation game, then turns into a complete lack of emotional control when she doesn’t get what she wants, which then turns into a melt down. The level of frustration we feel with this complete lack of control is overwhelming.

On the other extreme our eight year old FAS son has no clue that anything is different. You may say, well of course he doesn’t know what is going on in the world, he is eight and has brain damage. That is totally fair, but not what I mean. He hasn’t noticed that his school aged siblings (all four of them) are home every single day. If you lived here that wouldn’t surprise you because you would already know he doesn’t understand days of the week (school days versus weekend days), the seasons (he asked why the pool wasn’t open when there was snow on the ground), or time (he wanted more time in the shower so he asked for 12 seconds). Living with these two is truly bizarre and very difficult to explain most days.

The point is we all live with challenging circumstances from time to time and it’s pretty likely that someone else has it harder than you. Keeping that thought in mind can be of great help when you are having a tough day. Especially if that day is your child basically calling you a kidnapper. If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining!

All that said, I want to get on my soapbox for a second. The real sadness in all of this is my wife and I aren’t the ones truly trapped (although I feel it most days). Those two kids are. They are trapped in their damaged brains every single day with no way out. Maybe medication and therapies can help our daughter control her emotions better, but it isn’t going to be cured. We have lost most hope that our son will ever function without significant help or know the world around him.

They didn’t choose to be trapped. They were put in a cell before they entered this world. The fact there is little to no outrage about the circumstances of this population is extremely sad.

#fitlife #fitness #fitnessmotivation #chooseeffort #ivegot2more #accountability #noexcuses #betterthanyesterday #endure #grind #7kids #fetalalcoholsyndrome #blendedfamily #trauma #ubu #coronavirus #opportunity #perspective

Perspective is Everything

I hope what we are living through ends up being a world that will never be the same.

This virus has brought the world to its knees on all fronts. There are deaths. Containment of the virus doesn’t seem likely in the near term. Limits put on our movements are growing by the day – a full quarantine or even stricter measures seem inevitable at this point. Governments around the world don’t seem to know how to react (I know there is a joke to be inserted here). Markets have plummeted. Grocery stores are being overrun with scared customers, some making selfish and irrational decisions. We all find ourselves living in a foreign world, one we didn’t see coming.

In times of chaos, perspective is vital. Take stock of your current state. Are your loved ones safe? Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have clothes on your back and shoes on your feet? Did you eat a warm meal today (or two or three)? Did you have a hot shower today? Most of us can answer yes to that and if you can then you have nothing at all to complain about.

No doubt the last couple weeks have been brutal and extremely confusing. It will likely get worse before it gets better. It is really important that we keep in mind the severity of the situation is different for everyone. We need to respect and understand this fact. For many, “challenges” have only come in the form of loss, loss on conveniences, loss of entertainment options and all the other distractions we take for granted. The fact we can’t get exactly what we want when we want it is truly a first world problem.

The stress and challenges are much more significant for those that have compromised immune systems. Worrying about being close to any other human at this point seems like it would be very stressful. I think and worry about the single mother and her child. She has to figure out how to work (assuming her employer is open for business) while having her child home due to schools being shut down for an extended period of time. I think about those people nearing retirement age that have lost a significant percentage of their retirement savings. The scariest part today for most is the fact we really don’t know what will happen in the coming months. The impact on this virus has been and will continue to be far and wide. Everyone will be touched by it in some way.

Regardless, we will be ok. We will eat. We will have clothes to wear. The markets will rebound. There is a really good chance what we do and how we do it will be different – and it may be different for a long time. We will adapt. We will evolve. That is what this country does. We will rise to the occasion in the face of this virus and all the fallout it will cause.

The other point of clarity I think we need to maintain is the fact we have not been to asked to sacrifice in any meaningful way so far. Staying at home is not a sacrifice. Generations before mine were asked or told to make real sacrifices. Sacrifices that had nothing to do with not being able to go to your favorite restaurant or the movies. We need to remember that. We need to maintain perspective and push through this with common sense and level heads. We need to help our neighbor in whatever capacity we can and keep moving forward. Eventually this will pass and we will get to look back at how we handled this crisis and feel proud!

A couple quotes that came to mind in the midst of the chaos of the last 24 hours or so:

#fitlife #fitness #fitnessmotivation #chooseeffort #ivegot2more #accountability #noexcuses #betterthanyesterday #endure #grind #7kids #fetalalcoholsyndrome #blendedfamily #trauma #ubu #coronavirus #opportunity #perspective

Coronavirus – Opportunities

As the virus has forced us to distance ourselves from others, it is forcing us closer to our immediate families. Many of the standard distractions and forced time away from one another have gone away. Schools are closed. Many will work from home for an extended period of time. Northern states are still fairly cold, which naturally limits outdoor activities. Hanging out with friends is discouraged. Many public locations are either strongly discouraged or have shut down. The quarantine is real and the length of time we will be told to stay home is unknown. It seems safe to assume we are looking at a month minimum. Watching how events play out in Washington and the Northeast will be telling for the rest of the country.

As professional leagues, colleges and universities, and eventually the public-school systems shut down this week, the lyrics to a song immediately came to mind. I love the meaning of this song and encourage everyone to read the lyrics and contemplate them. The song is Guaranteed by Eddie Vedder. Several lines resonate with me as we face this virus and quarantine.

Circles they grow and they swallow people whole
Half their lives they say goodnight to wive’s they’ll never know
Got a mind full of questions and a teacher in my soul
So it goes

The bolded line is especially relevant as we are forced to really live with our families during this period. Do you really know your loved ones? Do you know what they think about? What they care about? It will be interesting to see what will happen when we are forced to slow down and live in our homes with our families? I’m sure some or maybe most will find ways around this – luckily the virus hasn’t infected the internet – can you imagine the fall out if that happened?

This is amazing opportunity to get to know our loved ones again, or maybe for the first time. We have been forced to slow down. We won’t be racing around from one activity to the next. We won’t be able to keep ourselves busy finding random things to do outside the home. Granted you could choose to find distractions at home. Binge watch Netflix, spend even more time on your phone, and so on. I hope that isn’t the case though.

I hope we take advantage of this time. I hope we talk to our families. Not only talk, I hope we have real conversations. The virus is a nice way to start these conversations. We should discuss the events that have taken place so far and what may happen in the future. We should talk about the things we take for granted each and every day. We should talk about how easy most of us have it in this country compared to the rest of the world. We should talk about how challenging this is going to be for some of our friends and neighbors. We should talk frankly about what really matters in this life and what clearly doesn’t matter. These won’t be easy conversations, but they are worth it.

We are in dire need of a reality check. Imagine if this virus was killing kids and young adults, instead of older individuals and those that are already sick. Maybe that is the lens we should be viewing all of this through. We have an opportunity to evaluate our priorities and focus on what really matters. The virus will eventually pass and when it does we will be left with a choice – live a better life than we did before or go right back to the same life we had before the virus turned the world upside down.

What will you choose?

#fitlife #fitness #fitnessmotivation #chooseeffort #ivegot2more #accountability #noexcuses #betterthanyesterday #endure #grind #7kids #fetalalcoholsyndrome #blendedfamily #trauma #ubu #coronavirus #opportunity