[Suhm-pin]

sumpin

You become responsible forever for what you have tamed.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I know it is coming soon.

It’s simply the natural progression of things.

But I am not looking forward to it.

As of today, November 11, 2016, my five-year old son still pronounces the word something like this

[ Suhm-pin ]

And I love it! Each time he says it I just melt. You see, it wasn’t that long ago that my daughter, who is eleven, had similar words that she had her own unique way of pronouncing. Not any more. I miss them. At the same time, I am proud of the girl she is becoming. On her own. It is beautiful to watch.

But I am also reminded of the enormous responsibility we have before us. We are presented with these “eyes-wide-open” hatchlings who know nothing of what they are about to face. And it seems like just yesterday that we ourselves were in need of taming.

Or were we?

Were we that unruly?

Did we not have more to offer than just obedience?

Was the leash what we really needed?

There are times when I correct my children or students and then I wonder. Why? And am I correcting or am I taming? Yes, we have a responsibility as parents and teachers and adults, to guide children. The world is not easy to navigate. And there is much we can teach them.

But I think we are forgetting one crucial fact.

There is much they can teach us.

Until they are tamed.

And then…

Well, one of the synonyms of tame is broken. Once something becomes broken it no longer thinks for itself. It becomes dependent. Worse yet, it becomes obedient. Is that what happened a few weeks ago? Were many voters in such a state of dependence and obedience that they no longer were able to think for themselves? Have they been tamed past the point of no return?

It was as if folks were being led around on a leash. But they were okay with it because…

Were they even aware?

I don’t fault them.

We let it happen.

Like a mistreated animal, they were sometimes beaten (sexually assaulted women) and other times denigrated (homophobic slurs). Yet this was okay, because their master held the leash. And he would give them a treat from time to time. He really did love them and he couldn’t possibly have meant all those things he said.

And was what he said really that bad? 

Master is always right.

Master has the treats.

Master lets us out.

Master must be right.

Yes, Master must be right!

He is our master and he takes good care of us. He would never let anything or anybody hurt us. He promised.

Those that speak against the Master don’t know him. They wildly run around unleashed and think they know. But they don’t. We remember when we used to run around leash-less. It was…

Actually we can’t remember.

Oh well.

It doesn’t matter anymore now that we have Master.

My son still can’t properly pronounce the word something and I freakin’ love it! I am not ready to tame him just yet. In fact, I don’t think if I ever will be. Because if I do, then he will no longer be able to run free. He will no longer have the ability to think for himself.

And that is [ Suhm-pin ] I am just not ready to have happen.

Who’s In?

whosin

It took all of about 5 seconds. But it has been almost a week now. And as I sit in silence as the sun begins to rise, I think, “this is the moment I want to share.” Because it was beautiful. Because it was powerful. And because it mattered. A lot!

The school day had started and I was simply walking down the hallway. When a young student turned and happened to notice I was behind him. He was at a distance where most children would simply say Hi Mr. Harper and return to class. I would have been have been fine with that. But this young man did something quite different.

This beautiful child turned, walked towards me and opened his arms wide to give me a hug. He didn’t have to. I didn’t ask him to. He wanted to! And it meant the world to me. Not so much because he gave me a hug. But because he knew I wanted one. And because he wanted one too.

Moments like this can’t be planned and they can’t be measured. But we can work for them. And we must work for them. I work with an amazing group of people everyday that do just that. They work for the moments.

But it is hard work. And what appears to be effortless is oftentimes quite exhausting. What I mean is that there are those that we watch and we think that because they appear to, have it all together, everything comes easy to them.

Their class is awesome!

They always seem happy.

Their students adore them.

But it’s not that simple! These folks have to work damn hard. And it is very easy to forget this. We spend much of our time helping and nurturing those that we see in need or those we see that are struggling. And we forget about those that don’t appear to be struggling.

This week let’s take more time to check on these folks.

They are struggling too.

But they continue to smile.

And they are always positive.

And we continue to lean on them when we need help.

But they are human.

And they get tired. And they get angry. And they get down.

But you’d never know it. This week let’s thank them for what appears to effortless. This week let’s thank them for always being there. This week let’s thank them for creating so many powerful moments.

Better yet, this week let’s create a moment for them.

Who’s in?

Missing Socks

missing-socks

I want to start making time to find my missing socks because it pisses me off when I can’t. It doesn’t sound like much. I know. But it bothers me that they go missing. And every morning I waste a few seconds here and a few there hoping that at least one might magically return.

What would my productivity mentors say? Well, they don’t really know that their my mentors. But I look to them for ways that I can be more productive with my time. I am referring to the countless people that share information, tips and ideas about ways that I can be more productive with my time. Or to put in kids terms, use my time wisely. I’m not even sure I know what that means anymore.

In his bestselling book, Good To Great, Jim Collins suggests that we should spend less time making to-do lists and more time creating stop-doing lists. I can dig that. Our lists of stuff to do are just too damn long. And while I am on the topic of lists, do we always have to have one? I know I know. We are all very busy and we have a lot to get done. Or at least we tell ourselves that we do.

But I am starting to realize that we don’t always have to focusing on doing. Because I am starting to realize that not-doing can oftentimes feel quite good. By not-doing I do not mean ignoring and/or neglecting our responsibilities.

What I am referring to is granting yourself time each day or at the minimum, each week, to simply be. To not be working on something that can checked off a list. Plus, I am beginning to find that 2 or 3 things well done can be much more rewarding than a laundry list of assorted tasks that have been checked off.

I spend a lot of time reading articles, listening to podcasts and viewing Ted Talks aimed at helping us become more productive. But here’s the thing. If we are always looking for ways to to better do things then we are doing things. Right?

I mean Getting Things Done by David Allen is brilliant, but it means we always have stuff to do. Do we really? I really want to have time to find my missing socks because it pisses me off when I can’t. But I don’t because I am working my list. Why? Because it’s there. And if it’s there, then it must get worked.

I need to really start thinking about what is essential in my life. What is necessary?

Are there things on the list that…if didn’t get done…nobody but me would know? They need to go!

What are the things that bring me the most joy in life? They need to be on the list!

They should not be added only if I have spare time.

I believe we need to start saving our energy for our passions and the things that matter most to us. Like our families, our friends and our bucket lists. It’s time to get started on this.

No more “getting ready.”

My dad used to always tease me when I told him I was “gettin’ ready” to do something. Because we all know that getting ready to do anything is just a b.s. excuse for I’d rather waste more time doing nothing. And life is too short for that.

As I am typing away at 4 am I can hear the light above the sink humming.The kind that provides just enough light to see but not enough to see well. I hear my heating system turn off and on as it battles to keep the house at just the right temperature.

And right now I am waiting for just the right words to finish this piece. They appear in spurts. A sentence here. A word there. I keep glancing at the tabs I have open at the top of my browser so from time to time I glance up. But I am able to resist clicking them. They’re not on my list.

Ha ha.

What if I took this time to find those missing socks?

Would that be so bad?

I think I can do it.

I’m tired of knowing that that S.O.B. is somewhere in my house just mocking me.

And just like that that I lost my train of thought.

That’s okay.

Time to step away.

Creative flow state can’t be forced.

To be honest I don’t think we really have much say in the matter. We can create favorable conditions in the hope that it appears. But then it just shows up. Unannounced. And when it does we need write like Hell.

I think I’m gonna go look for those socks.

I can finish this blog another day.

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Look For The Moments

one-direction3

He is still afraid of the dark. And at 4 years old that was to be expected. So as the daylight began to fade my son started to get nervous. Nevermind the fact that he was with 40,000 people and his parents and sister. He was still worried.

It was at this point my wife and I began to wonder if we had made the right decision taking our four-year old son to the One Direction concert. We had been preparing him for several months now and we already knew that he loved their music.

My daughter and I had seen them the summer before and we had a blast. But there is a big difference between a four and an eight year old. We thought it would be a fun family event and a nice way to celebrate our anniversary and my birthday, which happen to fall only two days apart. But maybe it was too much too soon for our son who had yet to enter preK.

It was at this point that we were ready to do whatever it took to make our four-year old happy. One Direction had yet to take the stage, but we knew it was only a matter of minutes before all of the lights went out and the show would begin. I decided to try sugar and salt.

So I hurried to the concession stand and got him cotton candy and pop corn. By the time I had come back my wife had cleverly convinced my son that the sky was just one big giant roof. He didn’t turn the food away, but this new way of looking at his surroundings helped to ease his worries.

And then they came on stage and my son, along with 40,000 screaming fans, was mesmerized. We had great seats, but I had to hold him so that he could see the stage and the giant video screen.

After about a half an hour my son began to tire. His eyes began to droop and his head fell more heavily on my shoulder. It was 9:30, way past his bedtime. Once again we wondered if we had made the right decision. Was it worth paying the money for his ticket if he was going to sleep through the concert?

But he never did.

He may have been tired, but he hung in there. There were times when I know he could have drifted off. Right in the middle of the concert. And yet, every time I asked him if he was having a good time, he would tell me yes. After the first fifteen minutes, he never complained once.

And then, towards the end of the night they played The Story Of My Life. My son’s favorite One Direction song. His face lit up and he sang along. With his eyes closed and the most incredible smile I have ever seen on his face. That was why we came! For that moment right there! It was unbelievable. To witness my son in a complete state of bliss was something I will never forget.

Looking back it is hard to believe that almost eight years ago my wife and I weren’t sure if having our son was even going to be a possibility. I had just found out that I had prostate cancer and therefore having another child was going to be difficult. Luckily through the marvels of modern medicine and an incredibly strong and determined wife, my son was born over five years ago. By the way I am 100% cancer free and have been for nine years.

My wife went through a lot so that my son could be here today. And I can never repay her for what she went through to have our son. But I can cherish every single moment that I get to spend with her and our two children. They make life worth living. More than that, they make life beautiful!

Usually I have a takeaway in mind when I begin writing a piece. But this time? I’m not so sure. A One Direction concert, in a packed stadium, with 40,000 screaming fans. What is so special about that? It’s been happening all around the world for the past several years.

Maybe it is this. That too often we worry too much. Was my son ready to attend a concert in a packed stadium that kept him up three hours past his bedtime? At first, we weren’t so sure. But by the end of the night we realized that we had made the right decision.

Or maybe it’s that experiences like the one that my son and daughter had at the One Direction Concert, play a crucial role in their development. They were very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend such an event and years later if they have children they may do the same for them.

But I think it’s much simpler than what I am making it out to be. Too often in life we search for the entertaining, the spectacular, the incredible. We pay good money to go to concerts, watch movies on large screens and visit places far away that we hope will bring us great joy.

And sometimes they do.

But I can promise you. No concert, movie or destination could ever do what my son’s smiling-eyes-closed-singing did for me that cool summer night. And while it did happen at an expensive concert, I bet it could have happened right in my family room. With no more than an iPhone and a comfy cushion.

Don’t stop going to concerts.

Don’t stop going to the movies.

And don’t stop traveling.

But…

Start taking notice of the wonderful moments that life presents you that are right before your eyes. The ones that don’t cost a thing and the ones that don’t require us to leave home.

And then allow the memory of these wonderful moments to sustain you when times get tough. Tuck them away in a safe place. Revisit them as often as you can. But, don’t stop searching for more.

Because I promise that

 

if you can slow down long enough to notice a smile,

 

if you can allow yourself a few extra seconds before letting go,

 

if you can take the time to just sit and watch and notice everyday Life.

 

You will begin to see that it is indeed magnificent.

 

* In the most recent episode of My Bad I got to speak with Dwight Carter. We spoke of fatherhood and the importance of simply being there and being present. Dwight also talks about one of the best nights he’s had in a long time. It wasn’t at a concert and it didn’t cost him a thing.

Click the link below to find out what he did. I promise you it will be ten minutes well spent.

Dwight Carter Episode

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Here We Go!

Here We Go 7

Not that long ago someone accused me of writing blog pieces that were too Pollyannaish. That once in a while I should write and act as if every moment that takes place in my life isn’t beautiful and magnificent.

Fair enough.

I do wonder what that same person thought once I began My Bad. A radio program that focuses on the value of sharing mistakes. Actually, I don’t wonder what that person thinks. But it is was humorously ironic.

I must agree that many of my pieces are attempts to celebrate the beautiful moments in life that often go unnoticed. Others are simply the amazing stories that are taking place right before my eyes. I enjoy looking for and writing about these things because they make me happy and I believe that they make other people happy. Therefore, I am not going to stop searching for them and telling them.

But…

The time has come for me to share other stories. Stories that aren’t so happy, but that must be told. Stories that often go untold. Stories that we want to pretend don’t exist.

I will tell them as best I can and in doing so my intention is not to depress but to inform.

I could continue to dance around the edges and I could continue to lean to one side or I could jump in headfirst. The way I see it, if I can write about all of the beautiful moments that my children and I experience then I must be willing to write about moments that are anything but beautiful. Moments that occur each and every day. And contrary to what we may believe, usually away from the public eye.

It took me having some very intense and heartfelt discussions with the person who is responsible for much of what you read and much of what you listen to on this site, BAmRadio, to realize that the time is now. Errol St.Clair Smith inspired me and truth be told I think I may have inspired him a little bit as well.

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so profoundly explains in her TED Talk, it is very dangerous when only a single story is told. It is time we start having these tough and sometimes uncomfortable conversations. We must do so respectfully and with the intent of learning from and with each other. Pushing each other to think in different ways. There will be times when we inadvertently offend each other. And when we do we must apologize. Not back-away.

I look forward to the day when we can argue one minute and hug and high five the next. We must start having these conversations. They will not be easy at first. And I am quite sure that I will generate many My Bad moments for future episodes. I will make every attempt to listen and learn and move forward. 

I am certain that some of my pieces will offend some people. They will say it is not my place to write about race, or sexuality or poverty because I am white, heterosexual and middle class.

So be it.

No longer am I going to preface my thoughts or my pieces apologetically with phrases such as;

 

I am white

I am middle class

I grew up privileged.

 

I can not change who I am or how I was raised. Nor would I want to. I will apologize when I am wrong. And I will try to apologize when I see injustice and do nothing. But why should I apologize for being me?

No longer will I use the terms African-American or People of Color when I write or when I speak. Whenever I use them I feel as if I being pretentious. As if it’s not really me speaking. So I will use the term black instead.

Over the course of the past couple of years I have been given an amazing platform from which to share my opinions and voice my concerns. And while I have tried to do so to the best of my ability, I believe that there is much more that I can do. There is much more that I can say. Because now there is much more that I see.

So here we go!

If what I share or what I write or what I talk about upsets you or bothers you then

block me

unfollow me

don’t read my pieces 

don’t listen to my show.

I’ll be okay.

But, if you are interested in engaging and discussing and even disagreeing and politely arguing with me. Then please join me. I will not be offended if and when we don’t see things the same. In fact, I hope that we don’t. How boring would that be?

To be quite honest, if I can’t handle a differing opinion or a raised voice now and again then I think it is time for me to put on my big-boy slacks and get some thicker skin.

But for those of you that have been with me and supported through thousands of tweets, hundreds of posts and a handful of radio shows I say this;

I promise I will never stop looking for the beautiful.

But I am going to stop turning away from the uncomfortable.

It’s time that I must.

 

 

The Little Things

glass of water

All I wanted was to finish my last bit of dinner in peace. Resting my head in my hands wasn’t really easing the pain but it wasn’t making it any worse. As my head continued to throb, I alternated between food and water. My family knew my head was killing me and they gave me the space and quiet that I needed.

A few more bites and I would make my way upstairs. The stillness of the room was saving me from this migraine that came out of nowhere. It was one of those headaches where just the slightest noise or the faintest light is painful.

Then out of nowhere, I saw my five year old son coming towards me. He had noticed that the water in my glass was getting low and he didn’t want me to run out.

Watching him wield the water filter so as to top off my glass was a sight to behold. He had to garner all his strength and summon every bit of his coordination to transfer the water from the filter to my glass. But he did it quite well. And it warmed my heart.

The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing small acts of kindness.

Victor Hugo

My son’s small act was unexpected and I’m certain it was not planned. Yet, it will go down as one of the sweetest gestures I have ever witnessed.

Why?

Simply because it was unplanned and unexpected. It was a spontaneous reaction by him. He saw an opportunity to do something kind and bring me joy. And so he did.

If my five year old son can do this then so can I. Acts of kindness don’t always need to be grandiose and they don’t always need to be planned. Just imagine a world, a school, a classroom in which small acts of kindness fill the room like air. That is where I want to be.

As I am lying in bed typing this piece my son has woken up. If I’m being honest, the first thing on his mind was whether or not his iPad was charged. The second thing? He asked me if I was feeling better.

I am.

Much better.

I am sure much of the reason I am feeling better is because I took something for my headache and I had a good night’s sleep. But I’d also like to think that my son’s small acts of kindness helped a little.

Oftentimes we sit and ponder ways in which we can change the world. We think and we think and we think. All the while, the potential for small acts of kindness pass us by. I am not suggesting that we stop searching for big answers. What I am suggesting is that every once in a while we stop, for a moment or two, to do the little things.

Sometimes the simplest gestures, smallest compliments or just knowing that someone is thinking about you can be enough to make you smile for the rest of the day.

Author Unknown

Knowing this makes me smile. Over the course of the next month schools will develop plans, learn new teaching methods and receive professional development on everything from A to Z. And that’s okay.

But I can rest a little easier knowing that maybe the best way for me to make an impact, to cause a child to smile is by simply being aware of what in fact does so.

The little things.

That I Can Do

chess 7

My daughter and I took a “Photo Walk” today. With camera and iPhone in hand we did our best to capture the world around us. Sometimes I see more when I am moving. Sometimes I see more when I am not. We were successful in capturing many of Nature’s majestic beauties. From butterflies to flowers to palm trees to the occasional lizard.

But one scene in particular grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. The thing is, I had walked past it many times before this day. And while it was always worthy of a glance, it had never gotten me to stop and stare as it did on this particular day.

I sat down beside it to get just the right shot. My daughter was forced to wait. Contrary to what the photo depicts, she survived.

The photo of the chess board above was what stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t the size of the pieces that caught my attention. I had seen large boards before. It was the color of the pieces that provoked me (I am aware that they are almost always black and white. But this was different).

All black pieces opposite and opposing all white pieces.

It made me uncomfortable.

To me it represented much of what I see in the media. And believe me, I watch virtually zero television. But I do stay informed.

As a middle class white male I am aware of the fact that the world is very different for me than, say my black friend, who still gets stopped while driving, simply because he is black. I watched Jessie Williams’ speech the other day and was moved and awakened. I don’t have anything profound to say about the speech nor do I feel as if my interpretation of the speech would be appropriate.

Back to the chess board.

I don’t like looking at it.

I don’t like what it awakens in me.

Out of nowhere a voice hollers, “TOO BAD!!!”

I have friends that are racially profiled, I work with children that face discrimination daily and I live in a country in which citizens are subjected to unfair treatment, sometimes resulting in death, simply because of the color of their skin.

But then I read the quote below by acclaimed journalist and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates and I become aware of the fact that I have much to learn.

What we want is a kind of colorblindness. We think that’s the answer. But colorblindness isn’t the answer. Color isn’t the problem. Racism is the problem. And being conscious of racism is the solution.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

The last two schools in which I have worked serve predominantly black students.

I can’t afford not to know. What exactly I am not sure. But I know that I don’t.

So I look for answers by attending seminars, reading books, watching movies and listening to music. And I begin to feel as if I have a better understanding of what it means to be black. As I finished typing the previous sentence, I realized how absurd it sounded. Just because I can bob my head to the same music doesn’t mean that I hear the same song. And I might not ever. And that’s okay. But I should at least be willing to sit and listen.

The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete; they make one story become the only story.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This past year I have gotten very good at shutting my mouth and listening. And learning. I do the best that I can to learn the stories that I know nothing of. I listen to my students when they are angry and I listen to my students when they are mad. I give an ear to parents when they want to vent and I give an ear to parents when they feel that something isn’t fair. I have gone to their homes and I have walked their streets to try and get a better understand of the setting in which my students’ stories take place.

And while I realize there is no way that I will ever know them all, I won’t stop trying. I will continue to listen and learn as many stories as I able.

That I can do.