Bringing Home Peanut

We're growing

The McDonell’s are Growing

Last October, my wife and I arrived at an orphanage called Future Hope in Xiaman, China. We had traveled 16 hours with a good friend of ours who introduced us to the orphanage.  Over the course of two days we played, held and cared for some of the most beautiful kids I have ever seen.  Most had medical challenges of one kind or another, most had been abandoned.

On that second day, there was an 8 month old boy crying in the arms of one of the orphanage employees.  He had recently had surgery and was having a difficult time getting along.  Something about that cry or perhaps his need  for consoling drew me in.  I asked to place him in my arms and for next few hours I just held him.  I had a hard time pronouncing his Chinese name so I called him Peanut, because he was just so small.

Sometimes life presents you with something you would never expect.  Sometimes your path in life intersects with something much greater than you could have ever imagined.  It is at these intersections in life that we realize that there is divine reason for being.

One year later, after tons of red tape, paperwork and the help of many parties, I am proud to announce we are bringing home our new son, Peanut.

Two weeks ago we were formally matched with the little boy whose life intersected ours and in hopefully just a few months we will travel back to China and bring him home.   I hope to write more about the journey and share my thoughts about adoption and being a father again. I wish I could share some of the images of Peanut (which he will have a ‘real’ name) but for the protection of him and all kids in care, I can’t.  Although if I did,  you would think he was pretty stinking cute.

For now we will wait and hope the the ‘powers that be’ push his file through quickly so we can bring him here with his big brother, sisters and two really blessed parents.

We’re coming Peanut.

Online Cyberbullying Just Got Way Easier

yikyak2My kids’ school district brought to our attention a specific social media app that has filtered down from college campuses to our High School and making its way to Middle School.  The app can be used to harass other students and staff and in some cases an insidious tool for bullying. Its name is Yik Yak and it could be on your kids device.

 

About Yik Yak

yikyak

From Eanes ISD:
“Yik Yak is the latest in a line of social media apps using location
services to post messages to those around the user. These
messages are anonymous, but they are not untraceable. This app
has had many issues across the country at both high school and
college level. While Yik Yak claims to have set up a Geofence
(blocking cell data) around our schools, there are cases where
students have been able to go out of range to post their messages.
Here are some steps you can take as a parent to identify if this app
is a problem for your child and what you can do to prevent its use.!

If your child has the app, you can search what Yaks they have posted by clicking on “Me” and “My Yaks” inside their app. This will show you what they have posted, but know they can delete their yaks. However, you can see if they have ever posted on Yik Yak (even if they deleted the posts) by checking their “Yakarma” points in the upper left corner. By default, it’s set to 100. If they voted on a y!ak, posted a yak, replied, or shared, the number will change.!”

Next Step

If you find that your kid has been using the app, I would suggest you open up a dialogue and find out why they want to use it. It is probably a good idea to delete the app off their phone. If you don’t see the app, but suspect it may have been downloaded, you can also check in the Updates section of the App Store under “Purchased” on your child’s phone. All apps ever downloaded are stored in there.

A Bigger Issue Is at Hand

But while deleting the app is a fix for the time being, the bigger issue for our kids is that social media and the myriad of tools to utilize it can hurt them (and others).  NOTHING on the internet is really anonymous or temporary.  Another reason why if your not talking to you’re teen on a consistent basis your not doing your job.

One of Kidventure’s goals is to promote positive opportunity for our kids to shine light on the negative stuff that brings us all down. If you want to learn more about Yik Yak and the serious issues associated with its use please read 3 Things Kids Need to Know About Yik Yak.

 

It’s Time We Start

The following post is taken from the Keynote Address to Kidventure employees at 2014 Orientation
time_by_Vive_Le_Rock

 

 

Time is this crazy abstract thing.

It organizes our day and it defines our physical perimeters. It tells us when to wake up, go to work, take a pill and watch our favorite TV show.  Time is evenly divided and partitioned into 24 hourly segments in a given day, seven of which in one week, 365 in a given earth year.

Yet, while we can track time to pinpoint accuracy, what we do in that allotted time is as variable and unpredictable as we allow for it.  Quite the paradox.

Recently, time has been on my mind quite a bit.  Perhaps that is because of the 20 year watermark in both my marriage and company.  Perhaps that is because the jet lag associated with flying back and fourth to China and the effects it has had on my body. Or, perhaps it’s just because I am getting older in time and it’s on my mind.

Nevertheless, each year, I deliver a keynote address to 300 or so employees of Kidventure to mark the beginning (in time) of a new camp season.  Highly motivated teachers, education students, coaches and genuinely great people come together as we kick off the new camp season.  About a week after that address, each of those team members will welcome campers at one of our 20 or so camps as counselors, directors or support staff.  My purpose at this important event is to bring everyone together, to provide a collective purpose and directive for the new camp season and to inspire them to join as one to make a profound difference in the lives of the many children they will encounter this summer.  

Why should this matter?  It matters because time presents us with an opportunity.  I have no control over when the moon rises or when the sun sets, but I do have control over what I make of that time. We can choose to waste time or make the most of time. I can be time strapped, time tested or even timeless. I can be out of time or on time. In other words, there is a lot we are because of time, but your life and mine will not be defined by time. Rather, your life, and you in fact, will be remembered by what we did with time.

Between that moon and sun, I can shape my world and those around me.

EstradaTwo weeks ago, Kidventure lost one of its own to the hands of time. In years, Evie Estrada was 25. He left us at a certain hour of a day at a specific time. Evie served as a counselor and director at Kidventure, a US Marine, a teacher working towards his master’s and a position as Vice Principal. Most importantly, he was a father and a husband. Along with every other director and camps manager this Spring, Evie was training and preparing to lead his camp.  In this case, that camp was Camp St. Theresa.  Anyone who knew him always found him smiling, energetic and ready to play.

In his service to America, Evie fought for our freedom on distant shores.  At home, he fought for children.  Evie’s time was filled with so many endeavors and the kind of endeavors that made those around him great. I choose not to think of the short amount of time that Evie had on Earth, but rather to focus on what he did with that amount of given time. No doubt Evie will be missed, but more importantly, he will be remembered.

Each of our employees at Kidventure is presented with a signed  document outlining an agreement between Kidventure Incorporated and said employee.  Some employees might read that agreement and ascertain that they will be performing a job, for a monetary rate during a specific time.  But, our employees understand that what they are really being given is not an employee agreement , but a unique opportunity.  And not just any opportunity.  I would contend that this opportunity has the potential to alter the lives of people around them, to provide confidence to a kid who fears the world, to give hope to those that are being abused at home, to provide courage to those that are timid and happiness to those who are depressed and sad.  I would also contend that in doing so, they have the opportunity to change themselves just as powerfully.

Time is a crazy, abstract thing.

It marches on without failure and interruption. Somewhere along this vast line of time, each of us have been given a chance to experience life and ‘make our mark’.  We can choose to focus on the time, however little or too much we have.  Or, we can choose to focus on taking whatever time we are given and making the most of it for those around us and ourselves.  We can stop worrying so much about what we can’t control and start doing what we can.  To understand this is to truly understand our purpose and to live it is truly what life is all about.

Parenting’s Familiar Face: Update From China

Old Town Macau

Old Town Macau

It’s midday on a Thursday in Mainland China.  This morning, I took a break from presentations and Chinese style buffets to visit nearby Macau.  Macau is an incredibly fascinating city on the coast that was settled by the Portuguese and released back to China in 1999.  On its cobblestone streets, colonial Portugal architecture dominates the city squares, tight alleyways and roundabouts. Colorful catholic churches lay tucked into nooks and roads with names like Avenida de San Franciso show the way.  It would be easy to forget you are in Asia in the old town of Macau if it weren’t for the smell of fried rice and the constant hum of Cantonese in the air.

Educators in Xhuhai, China

Educators in Xhuhai, China

Last evening, we were guests at a large school in Xhuhai.  There, we were warmly greeted by school officials and Mr. Chen, the principal.  He had earlier requested that we speak to parents about ‘parenting’.   In a large school auditorium we were introduced to about 100 parents and teachers.  With translators at our sides, we spoke with and to parents about the challenges of parenting and about techniques we utilize in our own homes and at Kidventure.  We shared stories, presented ideas and met many wonderful parents.  After several rounds of pictures and a presentation of flowers, we were driven back to our hotel at the end of a long and educational day.  As is the case here in China, our hosts were extremely gracious and very kind.

Tonight we will journey to Jinman University, the site of Kidventure’s upcoming camp in China.  We will present to another audience.  This time we will focus on camp and the opportunities we will bring there.  And while each day here brings totally new and unique adventures for me, I am also reminded just how similar all parents and families are, no matter where they live.  Each struggle to do better for their children and each faces similar challenges and joys.

 

 

The Beginning of a New Adventure: China

Jinman University is the site of Kidventure China

Jinman University is the site of Kidventure China

This Sunday, I will be flying to Hong Kong.  At my side will be my friend, Tommy Broyles, Professor of Law at the University of Texas.  Together, we will be traveling to speak to officials and parents, market and set the stage for bringing Kidventure to China this summer.  To say this is an adventure would be an understatement as vast as China itself.

Kidventure has been invited to bring its unique summer camp program to Jinman University located in the city of Zhuhai in Guandong Province, The Peoples Republic of China.  With an entire American team of counselors, teachers and specialists, we will provide two eight-day sessions of camp to students between the ages of 7-18.

China-Map-zhuhaiFor me personally,  the chance to bring our mission and purpose to the many children in China is absolutely exciting.  For our partners in China, Kidventure provides a new way to approach a very traditional educational system, one that is much more hands-on and experiential.   Together, our aim is to take students out of the classroom and give them opportunities to learn more collaboratively, exploring the world around them and learning in new and different ways.  Secondly, we are trying to raise the idea that instilling  ‘soft skills’ such as strong character traits, confident public speaking prowess and the ability to foster and work in  teams will catapult a sound academic foundation.   We will accomplish both of these goals through our active curriculum.  For example, we’ll teach English through theatre and public speaking through its delivery to an audience.  We will share Western culture through painting classes that study Dali, Warhol and Kahlo.  We will foster problem solving, compromise and cooperation through low ropes courses and we will run through the evening light in American-style Capture the Flag for no other reason than just to have fun.

So, over the course of the week and into the summer, I will do my best to blog about my experiences.  I will try to communicate the uniqueness of China, the personalities of the people, our success and our missteps along the way.  My hope is that the adventure will result in a better understanding of each other and the opportunity for camp to bring the world a little closer.

We’ll talk soon…

 

More Than Just a Camp

kidventure-girl-friends

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Family,

In a month, school will be out and the time honored American tradition of summer will warmly be upon us.  This is a particularly special year for Kidventure as we celebrate our 20th season of summer camp.  As I look back on the past two decades what is most evident to me is that camp has the opportunity to change lives.  Yes, camp is fun, it’s full of laughter and games and spirit, but the real power in summer camp comes when we are able to cultivate a positive change in the lives of kids.

Camp is real. It’s about people and not products.  It’s about giving people the attention they deserve. It’s about being part of an adventure that doesn’t happen on a screen but happens in an active environment that teaches responsibility, character and kindness.  This is what makes Kidventure more than just ‘camp’.

We want to invite you to share that experience with us once again.  We promise to use everything our 20 years has taught us to make a positive difference in the life of your child.  Why, because they deserve every opportunity to be great and they deserve the very best we can give them.

In the Spirit of Children,

Mike McDonell, President

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)!

 

 

 

The Spring's first strawberry is in

Five Reasons You and Your Kids Should Grow A Garden

The Spring's first strawberry is in

The Spring’s first strawberry is in

I have a garden. In it we grow things like broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, strawberries and spinach, to name a few.  My kids help me plant a little something here and cut off some veggies there.  Once when I was out of town on business my three children and wife took the opportunity to procure a rabbit from a nearby general store. I wasn’t real fond of the rabbit (which is why they waited until I was out of town).  Then I read somewhere that rabbit pellets are the gold standard for garden fertilizer.  Now the rabbit has a sweet little condo next to the strawberries.  I feed it some cabbage, cut up some asparagus stalk and it provides me with ‘the gold standard’.  We have a nice relationship now.

For me the garden has served as much more than just a place where we harvest fresh produce.  It’s a place where I can sink my hands in the dirt, look at the world on a much smaller scale and spend time with my family without the trappings of our life and a game controller.  It is a teacher and here are my five reasons why you and your kids should grow a garden:

1. A Garden Teaches Independence
The act of mapping out a garden, planning what to grow and procuring the materials for it is fun, but it also fosters creativity and independence.   Give your kid the opportunity to grow something and the responsibility to care for it.  They will be rewarded by ripe red tomatoes,  carrots they pull from under the ground and the sense of accomplishment that goes along with it.

2. Because Food Doesn’t Just Magically Appear
I think for many people, food has become an enigma.  When you want it, it can appear.  The truth is (real) food is something that is grown, raised and harvested with time, care and thought.  Many people are involved in that process. Not  understanding  this is a disgrace. Growing a garden helps us understand that food is a privilege and that it comes with the help of many things including the sun, water, soil and human interaction.

3.  Patience, Young Padua
Let’s face it, we live in a world where downloaded speeds can’t be fast enough and our attention spans have been reduced to 140 characters or less.  A garden works on its own time, with the elements, biology and perhaps a farmers almanac.  When I sow a seed, I might want it to emerge the next day, but it won’t. It takes time and that time teaches me patience.  Patience allows me the opportunity to notice my world around me, especially my family.

4.   Gardens Give You Something to Share With a Neighbor
I have a neighbor.  He is a plastic surgeon.  He has eight or so chickens depending on the coyotes. From time to time he will bring me a half dozen fresh eggs.  From time to time, I will bring him some fresh lettuce, kale and carrots.  It’s a nice business.  No money is exchanged just some niceties and a chance to connect with those around me.  The garden provides this opportunity to give to people what you have sewn.  My kids see this and I believe it teaches them the value of giving to others.

5.  The Garden is a Metaphor for Life
Our lives are complex and often stressful.  The garden forces us to get back to basics and ‘reset’ things at ground level.  Usually when our lives are off-kilter it is because our foundations aren’t being watered, and cared for.  When we tend to our personal foundations, the rest of our life tends to bear fruit.  In this way, the garden is kind of like food for the soul.

This morning, I visited the garden before I left for work.  I was greeted with the first strawberry of the season!  Both the rabbit and I were keenly aware of its emergence.  By growing a garden, my kids and I (and the rabbit) are all part of something simple but profound.  It’s given us a place to connect and an opportunity to learn about what is most important in life, us.  And that to me is the real ‘gold standard’.

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

The family road trip was always memorable

For Better or Worse: 5 Things Your Kids Will Probably Never Do That You Did

The family road trip was always memorable

The family road trip was always memorable

The other day the phone book was delivered to my doorstep. Remember the phone book? It used to be an essential repository of information when looking up a phone number or address. It was divided by the ‘yellow pages’ and ‘white pages’. I am not sure how and why it is still being produced and I can’t imagine the obligatory personal injury lawyer taking out the back cover ad is actually paying for its production.

Seems like a solid waste of trees to me.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking of some of the things that were part of our everyday life that our kids and future generations will probably never experience. So, I compiled a list of my top 5 Things Your Kids (and mine) Will Probably Never Do That We Did.

1.  Ask for Directions and Use a Map

When we didn’t know where we were going, we had one of three options. We would either pull out a folded map, stop and ask someone or try our luck. The act of asking someone for directions was easy for some and difficult for others. My mother would stop just about anyone on the street.  My dad would usually ask me to go ask someone for him. Today, finding ones way is literally at our fingertips. GPS and mobile navigation provide us with directions to just about anywhere on earth. In fact, turn by turn navigation offers up a pleasant voice ensuring we turn right or left at the appropriate time. I kind of think the act of asking another human for direction is worthy. It provides a connection with a stranger and it forces us to ask for help; a humble endeavor. As for using a map, I am not sure many kids could even orient themselves on a map much less put the thing back together.

2.  Ride in the Car with no Seatbelt While Standing Up

Were our parents out of their minds or did the threat of being ejected through the wind shield at high speeds just not even register on their 1970’s brains? I don’t know about everyone else, but I probably didn’t even know what a seatbelt was until age 14. I found it when digging between the seats of the old station wagon for a lost candy bar. What’s more, my sisters and I would fight for the privilege to lay in the space above the back seat of the sedan where the window came down. Not to be lost, this had to be the most dangerous of all non-seatbelted opportunities. Not much discussion here. Wearing a seatbelt works like not smoking is better for your lungs and jumping off buildings is dangerous to your legs. I wonder if my parents know that?

3.  Checking out a Book at the Library Using the Card Catalogue

Was there ever a more mundane and unexciting system ever created? I don’t think so. The act of finding a book used to be both time consuming and tedious. One would locate the correct card catalogue drawer and thumb through countess cards in order to find the desired book and its location among a corresponding shelf. If we were lucky after that long and arduous fact finding mission, the said book would be resting in the specified location. More times than not, it was checked out or in the wrong place.  Today, my kid simply pulls up iTunes, downloads the book that he searched for in less than ten seconds and Voila! It magically appears on his iPad, all while lounging on the couch. Really? Just try calculating the time you spent in libraries toiling away at the card catalouge or god forbid, cast into the bowels of a university basement pouring over microfiche machine. I’ve done the math. It appears to have been about 9 months of my life.

4.  Camping Out in the Backyard

There was a time when we took to the grass of our yard with flashlight, sleeping bag and a box of Ding Dongs. The sense of adventure, the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of other great campers like Lewis and Clark, Sir Edmund Hillary and Yogi Bear was intoxicating. If we had an actual tent we would ensemble its various parts. If not, we would make do with large boxes, blankets and a favorite pillow.  Forget the fact that modern comforts were only fifteen feet away, camping in the backyard could have been in the wilds of the Yukon. It was heaven. I don’t know of many kids that would campout in the yard.  There’s a lot more entertainment inside the house with Xbox and movies about the outdoors. There’s also a generation of parents that probably think their kids might be abducted by camp robbers, or eaten by a coyote. An unfortunate parental fear of the unknown often prevents kids from exploring their world and garnering the confidence it so readily provides them with.

5.  The Long Distance Family Road Trip

You want to talk about nostalgia, this one is rich with it for me. There is no experience quite like being jam-packed into a station wagon with your family for a healthy trans-country crossing. The magnitude of emotions experienced, the opportunity to be grounded  and placed ‘on silence’,  the threat of a crash and the utter extremes my parents were pushed to locked in a car together can not be measured. Yet, there was nothing more special and memorable that I can remember as a child than a family road trip. Something happens to a family when confined together for long periods of time. They discover that they have to make things work. Today, we have every opportunity to escape from each other, no retreat behind a computer screen, our favorite tv show or on Facebook. Back then the road trip forced us to face each other and make the very most out of the ‘family experience’.

The key to being a wise parent is knowing what to share with our kids from our life experiences. Much of what we did when we were kids was just plain stupid, but so much of it was not only useful, but necessary for us to grow up with a strong foundation. If we are to provide our kids with the best opportunity to be confident, independent, caring, courageous and intelligent, we’ve got to ‘serve them a plate’ of things from our past and the here and now.

So the next time I’m lost, I think i’ll ask my son to ask someone for directions. When he gets back in the car, I’ll make sure he’s wearing his seatbelt and to buckle up cause family life is like the cross country road trip and the pursuit of being a parent is a wild ride.