Things have been crazy, so I think this got a little lost in the shuffle. I got the final cover design for Penumbras Friday and I'm so excited! So excited that I'm going to give away a free advanced copy. If you want to enter, then go to my Facebook author page (Click here). "Like" the post about the giveaway for 1 entry. "Share" for 2 entries. If you tweet or blog about it, that's one more entry for each. Drawing ends March 1st. Please note, this is an Advanced Reader Copy, which means that it's an uncorrected, unedited version. If you don't do Facebook, feel free to download the picture and tweet and/or blog it and then leave a comment below to let me know.
First of all, if you haven't yet, go down and see the pictures from The Little Mermaid. To me, it is pure middle school magic! Also, click here to find out how you can win an advance copy of Penumbras, the sequel to the Kindling.
Now, with that out of the way, I want to address an important and serious subject. Over the years, I have had students I feel very confident will succeed and students about whom I worry a great deal.
There are two or three things that really make me worry. One of the top worries I have is about over-protective parents--a setting which seems more and more to be the default. These parents seem to see themselves as portable shields, designed and required to run interference for, shelter, and protect their children from any disappointment, danger, harm, or even unpleasantness and mild inconvenience. I really believe this sets up the child for a lifetime of serious problems, and that's why I'm writing about it in very candid terms.
Many of these parents have considerable resources and are able to do a very good job of being shields. And that is the tragedy. They shield their children from these things, but in the end, they shield their children from growth, challenge, achievement, and the ability to solve problems.
Life is hard. It is a constant challenge. Most of us have to spend our lives figuring out how to make it work, how to get by, how to solve our problems. The older we get, the more challenging life becomes, and the larger and more complex those problems are.
I've seen this in my theatre program over the years, although I have heard similar stories from coaches and teachers of all disciplines.
I once had a parent call me to tell me their child, who was quite talented, could not come to rehearsal. It was an important rehearsal and I asked why the child would miss. Well, Child didn't feel well. Was there a fever? No, but the child was kind of snotty and the throat was a bit irritated, just didn't feel great. Turned out the child had allergies. I had to explain that the child would need to come to rehearsal. The parent seemed truly stunned.
Another time, a student hurt his/her finger before rehearsal. It was not broken, no medical attention was required. Nothing could be done but wait for it to get better. Unpleasant, even painful, but not materially or functionally not useable. We had a major rehearsal that day, but the parent insisted on taking the child home.
Guess who I can never trust with a major role? I say that not out of malice or pique, but rather because that child is now very weak, not having had chances to push through problems and grow stronger.
Sometimes I see very talented kids who are emotionally weak because their parents have coddled and cosseted them so much, always running interference. These kids, talented though they may be, will never get more than a very minor role because they can't handle the stress. Sometimes the most mild criticism, or even a small snafu like a costume problem will send them off into tears. There is no way that they could handle the stress of a leading role. It would be cruel to them--they would buckle and break under all that pressure.
Ideally, if you are lucky, you have parents who prepare you for this by letting you grow and develop your problem-solving skills. Ideally, parents let you fail and fall. They keep you from serious danger, but they allow you to trip and skin your knee. They don't intervene when a friend is unkind, or when you don't make the team. If you get in trouble at school, they ensure you are fairly treated but don't push teachers or administrators to make changes for you.
If you are lucky, your parents seem themselves as coaches who help you navigate problems, not as shields who will protect you from the problems. The exception, of course, is if a child has some kind of special need, for which persistent advocating may be needed. Even then, I do think that the more autonomous they can be, the happier they will become. I'm not talking about those situations, however.
The flaw with the shield approach is that no parent will be able to protect their child forever from everything. Eventually, problems will break through. And that child, no matter how old, will be ill-suited to deal with them.
Here's the problem, though. When I explain this to people, they nod and agree. What I'm saying seems obvious and makes sense to most parents--and it's easy to spot in other people. However, many of those people who do the nodding then turn around and coddle and shield their child in the most obvious ways.
Of course, as a parent, our instincts are to jump in and protect our child. And there are times we have to. That's our job. So, how do we know if we are being appropriately protective, or too much of a coddler?
I don't have all the answers, but I've been observing parents now for a long time, both as a teacher and as parent, myself. Here are a few thoughts I have, these are symptoms that you might be too much of a shield and not doing enough supporting and coaching. I use these questions to perform my own regular self-analysis. As I wrote these out, I saw a few areas where I need to pull back a bit.
1. Who has the most contact with your child's teachers/coaches/other adults? You, or them?
2. If your child has a problem getting homework done or preparing for a test, is your response to ask for an exception or to help your child see the bad grade as a lesson learned?
3. If you do ask for an exception, who asks--the child or you?
4. How often do you find yourself asking for exceptions to policies (school, team, classroom, etc.)?
5. When an exception is warranted, who does the asking, you or the child?
6. If your child does not get enough playing time in their sport, or a good part in the play, or a desired grade, etc., is your reaction to focus on the teacher/coach/director and their choices, or to analyze what your child may or may not be doing?
7. If a discussion is warranted, will you have the discussion, or will you prep your child to have it?
8. Do you feel that your child deserves the best, regardless of his or her efforts?
9. When your child is upset, do you spend more time giving comfort or more time helping examine the extent to which their actions may have contributed to the problem and looking for ways to prevent similar problems in the future?
10. Do you spend a lot of time managing, directing, or intervening in your child's social life?
11. Do you take personally the amount of friends that your child has?
12. When your child has a social problem, do you assume it is the other child's fault, or do you have a sense of your child's weaknesses and how they might contribute?
13. Do you see your child as a wonderful, nearly perfect gift, or as a lovable but flawed human in need of frequent guidance and correction?
14. Do you feel that your child's success in elementary and middle school is very important and a high priority?
15. Is your job to protect your child from problems or to coach them through challenges?
16. Do you frequently let your child miss or go late to school or other commitments so they can sleep in because they seem a little tired (not talking about being sick)?
17. Do you frequently find yourself feeling that your child is just not valued by multiple people in their lives? Coaches, teachers, etc.?
18. Are people out to get your child?
19. Do teachers, coaches, and others frequently fail to see just how gifted your child is?
This isn't a scientific test, but these are some warning signs. Answering some of them may just mean you are a cautious parent. We all do some of these things at times. I think the persistence of behavior is important. If these things happen a lot, then it's possibly a problem and calls for careful self-reflection.
A key indicator to me is the amount of intervention you are doing and about what. If you have a folder full of emails to teachers asking for exceptions, explaining special circumstances, detailing why something's not fair--the chances are pretty high you are coddling (assuming your child does not have some kind of special need--that is a different story altogether). This is especially true if you are intervening repeatedly in things that don't really matter--or won't in a few weeks or months (eg, playing time in a game, grades on a test, role in a play, mild disciplinary issues, etc).
If you answered in a way that suggests you are spending a lot of time intervening in your child's life, or if you see them as usually being the innocent in every problem, you are probably shielding them too much. You might serve your child well by reflecting on this. Maybe even talk to someone you trust and asking their opinion (be ready for honesty, though).
I know it's hard to allow your child to struggle and hurt. I hate doing it! But they need the experience now if they are going to be happy and successful. Hard times during adolescence nourish the soul, allowing it to grow big and strong.
A butterfly cannot fly without the strength that comes from its long struggle to fight to emerge from the chrysalis. Without that opposition, it ends up weak and stunted, unable to do more than flutter on the ground a bit. Don't rob your child of the chance to fly!
Learn to say, "I'm so sorry. What do you think you could have done to make that situation better?" or "Why don't we talk about some ways you can fix this problem?" or "You need to talk to Coach So-and-so or Mrs. Such-and-Such. Why don't we think of some things you can say." "I know it's hard, and I'm sorry you are hurting. I love you very much. I know you can work this out. Do you have any ideas..." "This was a choice you made, and it brought a consequence. Do you see what the choice was? If you would like a different consequence, what different choice could you make?"
And so on.
Maybe next week we'll talk about when, why, and how to intervene.
Our winter production this year was Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr. It's an abbreviated version of the animated movie. Roughly 120 kids plus stage and tech crew, plus a dedicated and talented core of parent supporters. The parents who did the costumes, props, and set were amazing. I can't believe the quality of their work.
King Triton finds out about Ariel's journeys to the surface and her hidden trove of human stuff and destroys the grotto. While not perfect, this slideshow sort of gives the idea.
One of the challenges of the show was the immediate transitions between the underwater scenes and the ocean surface. My brilliant set guys figured out a really cool solution. It's not painted yet, but you get the idea of how it works.
Every year after each play, I select a picture from the production. That picture is used to make a framed poster than hangs in the theatre (and my office) forever--so it's important to get just the right one. I'm torn between several choices. I'd love to hear your thoughts--which would you choose? Leave your vote in the comments. Note this is purely an advisory vote, it is totally non-binding and I retain full and final say in the ultimate decision :)
I got the final cover design for Penumbras today and I'm so excited! So excited that I'm going to give away a free advanced copy. If you want to enter, then go to my Facebook author page (Click here). "Like" the post about the giveaway for 1 entry. "Share" for 2 entries. If you tweet or blog about it, that's one more entry for each. Drawing ends March 1st. Please note, this is an Advanced Reader Copy, which means that it's an uncorrected, unedited version. If you don't do Facebook, feel free to download the picture and tweet and/or blog it and then leave a comment below to let me know.
This is my amazingly talented niece singing. She's the shorter of the two. I wish I could take any credit at all for her performance, but I can't. She's like her mother and has a beautiful voice. The song is "Pie Jesu" from Andrew Lloyd Weber's Requiem, a really lovely piece.
Sheesh. Growing up, I was not outwardly emotional. As a teenager, I recall yelling and storming a lot but I didn't cry. In fact, I remember thinking that my tear ducts might be defective. I went to church meetings and there would be something really moving that had everyone in tears--except me.
Now, I'm the first to admit I'm not super-macho in a traditional sense. That may surprise some of you since I teach music and direct plays and write books--all of which are traditionally seen as very intense, manly pursuits.
But, these things aside, I'm still a guy and am really not comfortable with big public displays of emotion. In fact, I think our society was healthier when we were culturally more stoic and a little less in-your-face about everything. My mind tells me a little more stiff-upper lip and less Oprah would be good for us.
Unfortunately, there is a catch. A few years ago, for whatever reason, my tear ducts decided it was time to work--and to make up for lost time. So, they rallied magnificently and I have since got my money's worth from them. To the point I now cry at the most ridiculous things and the most embarrassing times. But I can't make it stop!
So, I am uncomfortable with public emotions. And yet, I continue to bawl like a baby at the drop of a hat or any other cliche you want to insert. So, here I am, embarrassed by my continued participation in a behavior of which I don't really approve. But I can't stop.
This past weekend was particularly emotional. We finished the play, which means I'm saying goodbye to some great students, for whom I have developed a genuine affection and respect. That left me rather emotional, although I didn't actually cry or anything. However, on Sunday, my oldest spoke in church. He's leaving for a two-year mission. He started to talk and all I could think about was how he used to run around in the garden with me when he was a baby. I started to cry. Like, the tears were pouring out like I was a broken water main. Worse, I was sitting up on the stand in front of the whole congregation so they all saw. I tried to be subtle, but I don't think I fooled anyone. Unfortunately, I'm a pretty big guy, so most anything I do tends to be, uh, magnified.
Later that day, I got some devastating news about a dear friend--and that set me off again. More tears.
I made it all the way through Monday without any crying, and started work on Tuesday thinking this is all done, all behind me until at least the next play, which won't be until October.
No more tears. No more embarrassing public displays of emotion. I will be stoic. I will be calm and tranquil. Not a blubbering fool.
Well, yesterday, I was teaching my 6th grade chorus class. They are working on a project in groups right now. I put them in their groups, gave them a task to do and then waited for them to finish. It was a short task--about five minutes or so. While waiting, an email popped up and I opened it. Bad idea.
It was a note from a former student that touched me deeply. It was a student with whom I worked very closely, and of whom I was quite fond. Words are powerful things, and the things this student said validated some very specific efforts I have made over the years and simultaneously helped heal some worries/fears/hurts.
I was just a few words into it when my throat got tight and my eyes got misty. "Oh you are kidding me," I thought. "Not now." Alas it was true. The note pierced my newly applied emotional armor, slicing through my stoicism in seconds.
I bit down on my lip to keep it from quivering and looked at the ceiling, willing this to pass.
Right then, at that very moment, my students finished their tasks. 6th graders need constant supervision and instruction. You can't just let them have moments where they are not doing anything. I needed to give them some final instructions and dismiss them.
So, there I am looking at them through blurry, water-filled eyes, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
"O-o-0-kay everyone," deep breath. Look at the ceiling. Pretend to smile. "P-p-p-lease put your, your, your..." another deep breath. I sound like Piglet from "Winnie the Pooh." Could this be any more embarrassing? You can do this, Braden, they don't know you're emotional. Pretend it's hay fever.
I continue: "Put your papers on the p-p-p-piano and then you're..." I remember what the student said in the note and my last reserves crumble and I start crying, full-out crying like a child while my 6th graders stare at me like I'm a crazy man. Why in the world is Dr. Bell crying? He's emotional because class is over? Who cries while dismissing class? I mean, we have a good time in class, but there's no need to cry when it ends, right?
When 6th graders look at you like you're strange, you know you are in trouble.
After several seconds, I'm finally able to muster enough control to say, "You're dismissed. Have a nice day."
Note: If you are looking for thoughtful commentary and theological significance, this is not the blog post for you. In fact, I suggest you run away quickly. If you are easily offended, run away even faster. This is a satirical take on my experience.
I really love being a Mormon for many reasons. My faith brings me spiritual peace, joy, meaning and assurance--and that is no joke. I am a proud Mormon--I love my faith and live it as best I can.
However, there is something else really cool about being a Mormon this time of year. Let me explain.
Mormons don't drink alcohol, coffee, tea and we don't smoke. We are chaste until marriage after which strict fidelity is the expectation. We don't do porn, are supposed to be careful about the media we consume, and do a 24 hour fast once a month, giving the money to the poor.
Being a Mormon, especially as a kid, means constantly saying, "I don't do that," or, "No thanks." I have mostly encountered respect and consideration from people I know, but this constant stream of abstemiousness can be met with everything from pitying looks to outright mockery and peer pressure. And, sometimes one just gets a bit tired of always seeming to be the elderly Victorian aunt of the group.
The point is this: you have to really want to be a Mormon. There is a fair amount of lifestyle discipline that goes with the job. The rewards are substantial and I wouldn't change it, but the pay-offs are intrinsic. There aren't many external reasons for people to say, "Wow! You can't drink? Cool! I really want to be a Mormon too!" I think teenagers and young adults feel this most keenly.
Being a Mormon, one just gets used to being sort of a square fuddy-duddy, a nice and wholesome, but slightly nerdy sort--a dish of store-brand vanilla ice cream.
Except during Lent!
This is one of the few times there are external rewards to being a Mormon (besides the fact that we live roughly 5 times longer than the general population). See, Mormons celebrate Easter and Christmas, but we don't do the ancillary holidays leading up to it (at least as a whole. I have learned that some individuals do this and more power to them). I'm not sure exactly why, although, I suspect we don't do Lent because we pretty much do Lent all year.
So, at this time of year while all my students and friends are giving up chocolate and meat and sugar and everything that makes life worth living, I am eating meat and chocolate and drinking Dr. Pepper.
All of a sudden, without my changing anything, I'm the party boy and wild child! I'm the one plowing ahead with my decadent habits. Tomorrow, I'll sit down at lunch with my leftover KFC while they eat their rice cakes, millet, and plain lettuce.
During Lent, it's the Mormon kids who are giving pitying-but-supportive looks to their peers instead of the other way around. Kind of a strange role-reversal.
For Mormons, wild folks that we are, Lent is practically Fat Tuesday every day. So, Mormons, enjoy being wild--enjoy those Jell-o salads and funeral potatoes. Enjoy that hot chocolate and herbal tea. This is a great time of year to be a Mormon!
To the rest of you, my Catholic and Protestant friends: I'm here for you. I understand being abstemious. I really do.
I'm participating in the blog tour for Tamara Hart Heiner's new YA novel, "Inevitable."
From the cover:
"Visions of death plague Jayne, who thinks watching her boyfriend die is the worst that could happen to her. But when she witnesses a murder, Jayne finds herself caught up in a dangerous world of intrigue and suspense.
As it turns out, she is not the only one doing the stalking. The killer is on to her, and all of her visions of the dying don't reveal how her life will end. Somehow, she must stop the murderer before he arranges Jayne's own inevitable death."
Tamara was kind enough to answer some questions about her work:Q: What's your next project?
A: Well, I'm currently negotiating a contract for my first non-fiction, TORNADO WARNING, a narrative about the Joplin Tornado. Then I think I'll write a third book to my PERILOUS series.
Q: Name 5 favorite movies.
A: Lord of the Rings takes up the first two. Then Return of the Jedi and A New Hope. If you'd asked for six, I'd include The Empire Strikes Back. I mean, really. Is there any doubt that these are the best trilogies thus far created?
Q: What's your favorite love story? (movie or book)
A: Um, um, um... I think we're going to go back to the Star Wars references up above.
Q: What’s your favorite line from any movie?
A: "I'd rather kiss a wookie!" Of course is simply begs for the response: "That can be arranged! He could use a good kiss!" Okay so it's three lines.
You can find out more about Tamara, and her work at the following links:http://tamarahartheiner.com/
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