Mom, A Rock-n-Roll Drummer and a Washer and Dryer

If you had to list out the most tireless and thankless jobs,  Mom would have to be towards the top.  From the day they start ‘on the job’ a mom’s duties are pretty much 24/7.  There is little time for lunch breaks, sick days or vacation, there is no pension, 401K or retirement plan.  Simply put, the job of a mom is one of the toughest.

It got me thinking about my own wife and the mom of my three (or four because she likes to include me) children.  Not only is she the CEO of the house, she provides countess hours volunteering with a variety of charities, is the room mom at the school, serves as the manager of a rock band Audioroad in Austin, Texas, and is skilled with a shovel in the yard.  Tonight after a particularly busy day with sporting events, meetings, school functions and a tick list at the house, she was spent.  Yet at 9:30 in the evening, she borrowed a neighbors truck and took a washer and dryer that was donated clear across town to help out the drummer of the aforementioned rock band who just moved into his first house.  She did not get time and a half, she wasn’t given the following day off and she did it all with a smile on her face.  So I would like to nominate my wife as the employee of the month and raise the level of respect and due justice for moms everywhere with this little video that really drives home the point.  It comes compliments of Mullen, an ad firm out of Boston. It is brilliant.  Thank you for all you do mom(s)!

 

 

 

Run with a Lion this Saturday

Run With a Lion This Saturday

 

Run with a Lion this Saturday

Help Rex beat Neuroblastoma Cancer by Running

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Saturday in Austin, Texas a lot of the community is coming out to run with a lion.  In this case the ‘lion’ is a little boy named Rex and he’s every bit as courageous.

I blogged about Rex and his family back in January (read here). Rex has Stage 4 Neuroblastoma and has inspired an entire community with his fight and resolve during this challenging time of his life.  He’s only one year old.  And on this Saturday, March 22nd he’s turning two.  In celebration of his birthday and to support the Ryan family and others battling his condition, the first annual Run with Rex 5K and Birthday Party will happen!

The event will take place at the Austin State Supported Living Center located at the corner of 35th and Mopac.  The 5K starts at 9 AM with the Kid’s 1K to follow.  There will be lots of family fun, entertainment and the opportunity to help.  I will be the emcee of the event and encourage everyone to sign up, bring the family and be a part of supporting a little guy that needs us all.

For more information and to register for the run visit the Race Registration Site.  To learn more about Rex and his fight against Neuroblastoma visit rexstrong.org

Go Rex!

runwithrex

Kidventure Camp in China 2014

Kidventure-Julong brings our unique camp to China in 2014

Kidventure-Julong brings our unique camp to China in 2014

After 20 years of running a summer camp business, the last place I probably ever thought of playing capture the flag or roasting marshmallows with campers would be in China.  But, life often serves up the unexpected, even if it’s halfway around the world.

Last November, with my wife, Peggy, at my side, I stepped off of a China Air flight and set foot in the Land of the Dragon.  We had been invited to visit a prestigious boarding school called The Julong Foreign Language School located in a quaint village north of Xiaman, China.   For the past few years, Chinese students with the means have been flocking to attend summer camp programs here in America (from Boston to San Francisco to Kidventure in Texas).  They come in search of the chance to further their English, expand their academic opportunity and soak in the ‘western culture’.

From Xiaman, we took a high-speed train north to Quanzhou where the Julong School is located.  A very kind driver met us at the station and drove us through a beautifully idyllic landscape, ever-so manicured and kept.  As we drove onto the school grounds and up the hill towards the administrative offices,  we were surprisingly greeted with a 60 foot tall LED board.  On it read, “WELCOME MR. KIDVENTURE TEXAS OF THE USA”.  I knew at that point that we were definitely not in Kansas.

Julong is like a small university, complete with attractive dorms, neat classrooms and plentiful athletic fields and basketball courts.  Everywhere there are gardens, flowering plants and pathways.  School children dress in athletic suits of varying colors and the sound of younger children singing and older children reciting lessons fills the air at all times.  Students at Julong attend class and remain at school during the week, returning to their homes on weekends.

The day at Julong was spent in meetings, sharing tea and eating.  Meetings in China are rarely about business and much more about getting to know one another and becoming comfortable with those around the table.  Beside a charming lake, we were treated to an amazing lunch, complete with traditional Chinese dishes that I could not identify.  We were toasted (many times) and shown a hospitality and kindness that was humbling, even for Texas standards.

That day, the idea of bringing Kidventure’s summer camp to China was formulated.  Around a traditional tea ceremony with school officials, my wife and my friend, Tommy, drew up a vision for camp in China.  That vision was to build a team of American camp counselors, directors and specialists who would travel to Julong and bring Kidventure camp (complete with tie-die shirts, camp songs, mud-wars and s’mores around the campfire).  Camp would be ‘delivered’ in English with a focus on transposing strong character skills and a healthy value system.  What better atmosphere to accomplish this than camp!?

KVJ LOGOThis coming summer, Kidventure-Julong Camp will take place in the mountains north of Xiaman from June 29-August 3, 2014.  A team of 17 will travel from Texas and bring the joy and adventure of Kidventure to children ranging from ages 8-16.  We’ll play Ga-Ga, learn countless camp songs and run around at night with glow-in-the-dark painted faces.  We will share campfire stories, sack race and build relationships that only camps can foster.   For our Chinese families and their campers, I am sure they will want to further their competency in English as many hope that their children will become more comfortable and familiar with Americans and our customs.  For me, my hope is that a greater understanding of each other will occur over the course of camp.  My desire is that a team of highly energetic and caring  Americans will gather with children from a very different place and both will understand that we are not so different.  For in the world of camp, the language of fun, acceptance and childhood is universal and the opportunity to bring the world together can happen at a place called Kidventure.

 

rexandmom

Always Fight for Them

rexThis past Tuesday evening I entered Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston to visit some new-found friends of mine who have been faced with a tough life challenge. I walked out of that hospital with a newer sense of what it means to fight for what you love.

Rex Ryan was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma Cancer on September 12, 2013, at the age of 18 months. Since then, he has had major surgery,  multiple rounds of chemo, at least 16 blood transfusions and has spent most of his days in Dell Children’s Hospital. He is probably one of the cutest little guys I have ever seen and a real fighter.

I had planned on simply dropping off some food for Rex’s mom Lesley.  Rex was having a pretty rough day before my arrival and Lesley felt like the timing might not be good.  Upon arriving on the 8th floor where Rex had come to occupy, I asked the nurse to please make sure Lesley got the food. Immediately, she moved to Rex’s door.  Shortly after Lesley popped out.  Rex had fallen asleep and the timing was a bit better.

Rex’s hospital room had been carefully transformed into something much less ‘hospital’ and much more like a little home.  There were electric lighted candles, pictures of family and newly gifted stuffed animals strewn about.  The bed had been repositioned and much care had been taken to make the room as loving and comfortable as possible.  Rex laid sleeping on the couch area with a warm blanket pulled around him.  He looked peaceful in the moment on what was a pretty painful and uncomfortable day for him.  Lesley and I talked about his medical schedule, the medications he was receiving and the upcoming procedure that would take place in a couple days. We talked about her husband, Casey and her daughter, Elle,  the travel back and fourth from Austin, sleeping in a hospital and everything in life that has been turned upside down because of cancer.   Simply witnessing your child dealing with so much pain is a heartache no parent ever wants to bear. Yet in the midst of all the struggles and adversity that had mounted on that boy and his family, I was presented with this incredible example of hope and unwavering positive attitude.  Talking with Lesley, you learn real quick that no adversity, when it comes to your child, can not be overcome; that no low blood counts can’t be brought back up; that no cancer can’t be beat; hair grows back, tissue heals, pain goes away and Spring always follows Winter.  Spring always does follow Winter.

I departed from the room as Rex was still sleeping next to a large stuffed animal.  I said goodbye and walked through sleepy hallways and down a quiet elevator. Just before I passed through the doors of the hospital I stopped and said a prayer for Rex.  I prayed for his health, for growing older and for Spring. I prayed for the Ryan family and that they keep up the fight.  The entire experience reminded me that nothing in this world is worth fighting for more than our children and that the most important things we have are always being tucked in by us at night.  Make the most of each and every day and never-ever stop loving them.

Thank you Leslie, Rex, Casey and Elle for inspiring me to be a better parent.

 

 

Ping Pong, Humility and Bigger Life Lessons

The agony of defeat…

Sunday evening I was beaten by my 13 year old boy at ping pong.  He has never beaten me at ping pong. He beat me four games in a row. The bloody aftermath was a lesson in humility and parenthood.

As a dad there is an unwritten rule, an obligation and a genetic directive that drives us to win when playing our sons at a variety of endeavors.  These include age-honored events such as  ’Around the World’, ‘Pea-knuckles’, ‘H-O-R-S-E’, ‘Paper-rock-scissors’, ‘backyard football’, and anything thing that involves rock-throwing, wrestling, or sports-based trivia.  The intense drive to win at these endeavors involves a great deal of pride and some misguided goals at building manhood and toughness visa loss.  In other words, if they are going to pass into manhood, they must first get there through the ‘old man’.  It’s archaic I know, but stay with me.

As a child, my dad loved to play me in basketball.  Granted, he was a skilled athlete in his own right, but I practiced every day honing my own basketball prowess,  constantly focused on the goal of finally beating him and claiming heir to Valhala.  He would toy with me at times, allowing me to close in on a prospective win, lifting my hopes only to lay waste to me, crushing my spirits in utter defeat.  The day I finally won at basketball was a small but significant benchmark.

As a parent, one of our ultimate goals should always be to raise our kids to be better than us.  Not just in games and sports but more importantly in life. I think for me, the idea of competition with my son just provides a platform where he learns how to practice, strive and ultimately win against his dad. My hope is that the same determination and spirit he brings to the ping pong table will be brought in the ‘real world’.  My hope is that he values striving for integrity, character and being a good person as much as he values the games.  There is always a balancing act we play with our kids.  We need to make it challenging for them to succeed, but not diminish their spirit in the quest.

In the coming months it is apparent that my son will be chalking up more and more wins against his father who is watching his son grow from a child to a young man.  Ping pong and basketball are fun, but my hope is that his greatest success in life will be those that define who he is and provide for a better place for those around him.

In the meantime, I will be sneaking up into the game room for some late night training sessions.  I’m certain I am going to have to play the kid again.

 

 

 

Give Your Kid the Greatest Gift This Holiday…Your Time

Peyton, Lou Lou and MacKenna

Time.

It seems like we have less of it with every passing year.  As a parent, time can be our best friend or our worst nemesis and too often we catch ourselves wishing we had more of it.  With the holidays upon us, it seems we’re caught in a million and one directions.  Between cooking, shopping, running around and last minute work deadlines, time is a rare commodity.

In the midst of all this, there are our kids.

This is also the time of the year, we spend lots of energy acquiring and bestowing upon them what we think they want most from us.  Maybe a new game console, that favorite toy or clothing from their favorite store.   Whatever that special gift is, I really don’t believe your kids and mine want anything more than our quality time.  So this year, when tying bright bows around red wrapping paper, take the opportunity to wrap a special card. In it let’s make a gift of a promise to spend more time with the ones who need us the most – our children.  And here’s a few ideas to help you along:

1. “I promise to take you on a ‘Date Night’ two times per month.  You pick the venue and I will give you my undivided attention”.

2. “I promise to start building that tree house you talked about tomorrow.  Just you and me and we’ll build the best one ever”.

3. “I promise to read Harry Potter with you every night before you go to bed.  I can’t wait to start”.

You get the idea.

When all the video games from Christmas have been played out, the toys have lost their luster and the new jeans too small, the one thing that will remain constant in their lives will be you. So together, let’s make sure we make the most of the time that we have and dedicate it to the ones we love the most.

Happy Holidays to fellow parents near and far.  Peace.

 

Give your kids what they need most this holiday….You
yodababy

The Force is Strong in Mom

yodababyThere is a Force.  A balance if you will,  that oversees the universe and keeps our planet from careening off into the fiery gasses of our molten sun.  This Force keeps us grounded and mindful of dirty hands, clean underwear and brushing of teeth before bedtime. This same Force makes us eat green vegetables (cause it’s good for us), is always on the look out for spiders and posesses the keenest sense of smell in the entire solar system.  The Force is mom and without her, civilization might have catapulted to complete and utter destitude long, long ago.

One day out of the year we set aside a special time to honor mom. We bring her breakfast in bed, take her to brunch or present her with flowers and niceties. Yet every day of her life she devotes this amazing and uncanny commitment to her kids and family.  This commitment is so palpable and engrained in her DNA it sometimes manifests itself supernaturally.  Case in point; to this day, my own mother will call me out of the blue just to say, “What’s wrong?” I might not have spoken with her for a week and she calls me when something is actually wrong to ask me if something is wrong.  Some kind of psychic ability is inherent in moms that I just can’t explain.  Think you can get away with lying about washing your hands after she asked you to wash your hands? Forget it.  Moms know that too.

Millions of years of evolution must have given moms these abilities in order to safeguard their young.  Show me the most gentle, docile and sweet-as-pie mom. Now have some stranger endanger or even cross her child and that same sweet lady will go Honey Badger on anyone of any size.  I’ve seen that trigger go off in my own kids’ mom and that is one ‘mamma’, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of!

Yet the greatest thing our mom ever gave us and will always give us is love.  She more than any person in our life, demonstrated that for us on an unwavering daily basis.  She did that by staying up late and night to bake cookies for your class. She did it by giving you the last piece of meatloaf even if she hadn’t eaten yet.  Who else would boil six dozen hardboiled eggs for Easter when she knew no one was eating one.  Who else will remember age in months even when you turn 40 (it’s 480 in case you are wondering)?  Mom will hold a wet wash cloth on your forehead when your puking long after anyone else will.  She will swear you are the best dancer at the recital even if you had two left feet and were placed in the very back row of kids.  She loved you when you were right, she loved you when you were wrong.  For the record, no mother ever started a war or provoked an ‘international affair’ of any kind.

So this Mother’s Day, the sun will undeniably rise, the Earth will remain steady in its orbit and a fresh pair of white briefs will softly cradle your lower torso.  All of these things will take place because of your mother.  And in a world with so much uncertainty and fear, thank God that the Force is on our side.  I love you Mom.

 

 

 

 

A Case for Why Everyone Benefits from Special Needs Kids

“What lies behind us & what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This coming summer my organization,Kidventure, will initiate a summer camp pilot program called Voyager that provides a mainstreamed camp for kids with special needs. It is the result of our desire as an organization to bring the joy of Kidventure and camp to a wider group of kids while providing an appropriate camp setting for each child’s specific needs.

But there is much more to this decision than just that.

I have a little buddy in my neighborhood.  His name is Ryan…

Earlier in life Ryan was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome.  Fragile X Syndrome is a genetic condition involving changes in part of the X chromosome. It is the most common form of inherited intellectual disability in boys. Behavior problems associated with Fragile X Syndrome include delay in crawling, walking, or twisting, hyperactive or impulsive behavior, intellectual disability and speech and language delay.  This is what most medical books will tell you.  What almost all of these descriptions fail to illustrate is what children like Ryan do offer and provide for not only themselves, but for all those around them.

The following is my attempt at redefining Ryan in terms of who he is as a ‘regular kid’ and not one solely articulated  by a special needs label:

Ryan (Ry-an)
Boy, 10 years old. Full of energy and a wild, wonderful spirit.  He has an incredible affinity and love for all things musical.   He is an amazing dancer, who will listen to rock-n-roll for hours on end and move his body in a crowded room like no one is watching.  He loves to play and will initiate a game of football, tag or whatever for the sole joy of sharing time with others.  He is loving and will impart a hug on just about anyone with the capacity to hug back.  He is mischievous at times and possesses this smirk on his face like something is fixing to seriously go down and striking eyes that tell you that he knows just what’s up, even when you don’t.  He’s smart, stubborn like me and one of the most likable kids I’ve ever known.

As humans (particularly the grown kind), we tend to categorize and box things and people into nice, neat compartments.  We utilize formal descriptions, preconceived notions and bias as tools with which to do so.  This is what I believe has happened with the special needs community in great part.  The rise in diagnosis and subsequent labeling of kids with special needs over the past few years has resulted in a collective consciousness that automatically places kids in these boxes and unfairly compartmentalizes them culturally.  But more times than not, if we look beyond the label and diagnosis, we find unique individuals who have more to offer us than we ever imagined. And isn’t that how we all wish to be defined?

As a child, I too spent a fair share of time in hospitals being explained by a litany of medical terms.  While the descriptions and diagnosis certainly aided in caring for me then, they did not define me (nor would I have allowed them too).  Likewise, we as a society must not allow people with special needs to be judged similarly and must recognize the amazing gifts they present us all.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What lies behind us & what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”   Through special needs kids like Ryan,  I have gained a broader understanding for bravery,  a greater capacity for compassion, and discovered new ways in which to view the world around me.  Without a doubt, my life has been enriched.

So rock on Ryan, rock on!

 

 

When 12 Year Old Boys Have Something to Teach You

As parents we work hard to teach our kids to be good, wholesome young people.  We insist they say thank you, clean up after themselves, and promise not to fight endlessly with their siblings, only to be convinced that your parenting skills have fallen on deaf ears.  Then we find out from neighbors, friends and teachers that they have been behaving exactly as we have been trying to teach them all along.  They just don’t do it for us.  At least they are ‘getting it’ outside of the home.

Recently my wife’s brother and his wife had their first child (aah the sleepless nights).  Unbeknownst to me, my mother-in-law had asked all her grandchildren including my kids to complete a ‘Baby Book Form’ that asks the author to complete a set of sentences, providing personal advice and well-wishes for the new baby that will be placed together in one heirloom for so-mentioned baby posterity.  My mother-in-law contacted me the other day to ask me if I had seen my son Peyton’s form that he had completed.  I had not and so she proceeded to read what my 12 year old boy authored for his one month old cousin.

Sometimes in life, between the frustration of being a parent and the inability to convince your child to clean their room, not talk back to their mother, or annoy the life out of their younger sister, you receive a ‘sign’.  You discover that just possibly your own kids not only ‘get it’, but have something to teach you about being a better person yourself.  The following are the responses my boy wrote down for his very new red-headed cousin Zachery:

We’re All So Excited You’re Here

Wishes from: Peyton

I hope you learn: how to play sports and have fun, but at the same time to have sportsmanship

I hope you love: life

I hope you get: your dreams

I hope you laugh: every single day

I hope you never forget: how much your family loves you

I hope you are not afraid : To show off

I hope you ignore: people who try to bring you down

I hope you become: a great person

I hope you respect: everyone who meets you no matter how they treat you

I hope you grow: to be a very kind and responsible person

I hope you remember: that you can come to your family whenever you have a problem

Ok, I was wrong.  He get’s it and maybe in the midst of trying so desperately to instill in him a good heart, an honest approach to life and strong character, I might just start listening to him a little more. Well done son, well done.

 

Be a Parent…You Can Do It