Independent People Emerge

Artwork from 14.5’s HS art show

It’s something I’ve known for a while but probably didn’t want to admit to myself until I was forced to – and somewhere during the high school art show this week – that moment came:  my kids are truly independent people.

As a parent you watch with some amazement as your children develop personality.  I’m pretty sure the first time we noted that was in a restaurant setting where our kids expressed choices on what they wanted.  You could see it at that moment. Independent people emerging.

This week at the high school 14.5 had a dozen or so art projects on display – and its while I was walking around with her showing me the projects and listening to her describe the assignments – I realized her independent person had fully emerged.

I think the timing was about the same when I realized my older one was an independent person too – but I am pretty sure I never admitted it to myself.

What I mean though is not that I am no longer needed (although that day is coming).  What I see from the girls is they can make their own choices.  They know what they like, and then can express it.

16.5 is an exceptional writer and story-teller.  She can express her thoughts and feelings with symbols and directly.

14.5’s voice clearly emerges through her art work  You can see her expressing herself and her feelings.

Both of my girls are independent people (and they still order what they want when we’re out to eat).

As a parent I have to be amazed and in awe that I can see this.  I think it’s what parents want when they start out – and to see it manifest is rewarding.  Independent people emerged in my house and in their lives.  My hope as a parent is they can nurture their ability to share their expressions and thrive at it throughout their lives.

One day, perhaps they’ll have the honor of watching independent people emerge within their children too….

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Triggers and Reactions

problems-triggers-reactions-understanding-adI guess you never really know what will set you off and how you’ll react to it.  Triggers and reactions are probably near daily occurrences – and some are probably predictable and others can spin you around.

Some are predictable.  For me, walking by a pizza place generally means I’ll be hungry.  Walking by (as opposed to grabbing a slice) is a measure of success in managing the trigger.

Some triggers and reactions are relational.  Seeing a concert (I was at Dead and Company last weekend) usually triggers a party atmosphere where a fun time can be had.  I suppose how much fun you have is a way to measure that trigger’s impact.

Situational triggers and reactions occur as well.  No matter how tired I am when I drag into the gym I get going and the environment gets me through the hour (or so) I am there.  Although the measure could easily be the quality of the workout, I prefer to gauge the success on how I feel three hours later – if my energy or focus is better after the workout.

Other times triggers and reactions aren’t as easily defined.  The measure of success is equally ill-defined.

There are moments I can be thrown back to the morning when my father died by simply seeing an ambulance in front of a house with its doors open.  There are times I can be back on the corner my brother was hit by a car simply driving by a car accident.   Forty plus years later my reactions to these triggers are sometimes a deep breath – but rarely more than the imagery.

Other moments in time have triggers and reactions that are a bit more raw and tougher to manage and measure.  Those are the moments that will one day be a deep inhale – but today can be just about anything.

I’m not sure if measuring and managing those triggers and reactions is the best plan – but it’s what I do and sometimes it’s harder than others.

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Change v. Evolution

Stages in human evolutionA long time ago while sitting in an executive meeting with members of the “C” ring of a large company I heard an executive explain a 180-degree change in course by stating with a straight face, “My thoughts on that have evolved.”  That line has stuck with me for more than 10 years.  I’ve even used it.  This week though, I’ve been holding court in my head in an interesting case of Change v. Evolution.

DOWNLOAD THE SINGLE DAD’S BOOK THE BEGINNING OF THE MIDDLE OF THE END OF THE BEGINNING TODAY.

One of the issues with this debate, the plaintiffs in the case are both me.

I like to think of myself as an evolved person.  As a single parent with two girls I have to be in touch with enough of my feelings to be able to talk to my girls.  Now that one is about to be a teen and the other is holding on to tween, the conversations are very different.  I think I am effective enough though to hold my own with both scenarios.

Then come other aspects of life-when I’m not at work and not at home and have to communicate.  That can be a challenge for me.  I even stopped to get some testimony on this theory today and my thoughts were validated.  I do struggle.  But I think I am better at those conversations now than I was when I was in college or when I was married.

To borrow from the executive mentioned at the beginning, my abilities in this arena have evolved.  When I looked up the difference between “evolution” and “change” it was an interesting read.

Via dictionary.com evolution is a process of gradual, peaceful, progressive change or development.  The same site says change is to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone

By my read, over the course of the (gulp) 23 years since college my ability to communicate has evolved in the truest sense of the word.  And I’d like to think the evolution will continue.    But change seems more immediate and less nuanced.  Yes, in this case life is better with change (and the change agent) that what it would be if left alone.

While man gradually stood through the course of evolution, change (and it’s agents) can be far tougher.  Think back to the change in our history on 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombings.  It’s a sudden shock that alters the reality.

In my house, I try to bring on change through evolution-long and short-term evolution projects.  My kids deserve that, and frankly I can handle that.  Change in the house that comes on suddenly tends to disrupt our house and we’ve had enough of that.

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Strong, Silent + Detrimental

For as long as I can remember and probably longer than that I’ve seen myself as the strong silent type.  Not a John Wayne or Gary Cooper type, but rather the guy who has things under control.  Even when the world was spinning sideways around me, strong and silent and able to manage the environment and what it tosses out.

For most of the last 12 years I’ve had to balance a world of emotions and feelings to be there for my kids-to be their foundation as their world spun sideways.  Along the way, I’ve had to manage my feelings internally while maintaining the “strong silent” veneer and absorbing the feelings around me.

But can all of that “non-verbal” communication also make me seem to be distant and unapproachable?

The answer to that could be yes.

I am not an expressive person when it comes to emotions.  For as long as I can remember I have not been.  I try to let actions though speak the volumes I don’t share-but that silence can also be detrimental.  I remember in college reading a case study in a psych class about the architect Frank Gehry almost going broke because he was not able to share his feelings-and that made him seem aloof to his clients.

While there is more to the Gehry story, being strong and silent may not be a golden look for me.  It’s not a lack of feeling or not understanding the emotions running just beneath the surface.  My issue is more that sharing those emotions leaves me feeling vulnerable-and vulnerable just doesn’t fit with the strong silent veneer, right?

But that may also cost me once again.  Knowing is half the battle.  Thinking less and feeling more is the other half…but for an over thinker and under feeler that may be a tall order.

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Earthquakes to Hurricanes

A week after the big storm is a chance to look back at a tumultuous week-and try to pick out some of the lessons.

It started in a  flat-out weird way with the earthquake in VA that shook up and down the east coast.  I’ve survived similar tremors and quakes while in CA, but in NYC it was a whole new experience.  When I got home, the girls were home with my mom and I asked them about the quake, and got a very tepid answer.  It wasn’t until later in the week-when the conversation turned to the impending hurricane that they said anything real about the earthquake.

As a dad, I was struck, it wasn’t really fear or concern-rather wanting to understand what had occurred.

Then came the storm.  I was very minimalist in my “preps.”  There is already bottled water in the garage, plenty of food is stored and even without power for days I was pretty sure we would be OK. The mother of one of 11.0’s good friends went in the opposite direction.  She was stocking up.

This prompted a lot of questions from 11.0 about why I was so relaxed compared to her friend’s mom.  Now, I have a lot of experience of being out in hurricanes-it was my job for a while to be the guy out in the storm saying it was dangerous, so perhaps I was a little cavalier about it, I don’t know.  But I also wanted to project calmness for the girls-no need to panic.  Know what you need to do and do it-a teaching moment perhaps.

On Sunday morning, as the storm came through 8.5 woke up early and was riveted to the storm coverage.  I was watching our local cable station (and my former employer) News 12 Long Island and it was a mix of good information wrapped around repetition-but  it was impactful  What 8.5 saw though was the impact of the storm far away from where we live and she got nervous.

As the morning rolled on and the rain stopped, I wanted to take a walk around our community to see what impact it had-afterall all we did not lose power, cable or phone service.  So 11.0 and I walked around some while 8.5 stayed behind-I think nervous about going out.

Two new experiences for the girls-the earthquake and the hurricane all in one week.  While it was interesting to see how they reacted to it, the broader take away is simple calm.  Just make it work.

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