How To Turn Feral Cats into Boy Leaders: Step 1

Boy Scouts, leaders, leadership, Boy Scouts America, troop, critical thinking, leading

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of trying to lead 35 Boy Scout tweens and teens through a process to build independence and leadership. I have not, and I do not envy our selfless Scoutmaster. For a lot of reasons, creating a safe place for boys to learn to lead other boys has been a real struggle.

Don’t get me wrong, these are good boys. They’re just, well, boys. And they, for the most part, have not had to be independent, nor leaders. Because well, they’re boys. This is what we know about boys: They want to have fun. They like being silly. They live half their waking lives being argumentative just because. They stink. They have poor executive functioning skills because their brains are still forming. They stink. They have the attention span and memory capacity of a gnat. So really what I’m saying is, it’s like herding feral incontinent blind cats in stinky uniforms.

So how do we transform these smelly beings into responsible, motivated leaders? We don’t do things for them. We don’t tell them what to do. We give them opportunities to fail. We do this while setting them up to succeed. Here’s how:

Visuals: Have clear signage of tasks the boys must complete at each meeting. Take attendance, check. Take minutes, check. You get the idea. Have it visible for them. It’s their responsibility to check those items off. After a while, they won’t need the external prompts anymore. And at no point in time was an adult hovering over their shoulders, “Asking did you take attendance yet?”

Have an agenda and clock visible:
7:00pm Meeting begins
7:05pm Review agenda
7:10pm Complete XYZ task
7:30pm Fun game
7:50pm Clean up
7:55pm Closing
Learning how to manage time is a learned skill. How do kids learn this when the majority of their days have school bells and teachers and parents and coaches telling them when to go where? We give them the opportunity to try managing their own time. But they need to learn to get a sense of time, of what 5 minutes feels like (forever to a boy), what half an hour feels like (hell to a boy). And they will need to learn to eventually speed things up to complete certain tasks within 5 minutes. Assign the leader of the meeting to create an agenda, and stick to it.

Project Management Skills: We tell kids they need to learn how to plan, they need to learn how to do things themselves. Great concepts, I agree. But they don’t even know what that means. The first step is to teach them how to be critical thinkers. Good leaders, smart people–they critically think. What does that even mean? It means knowing what you don’t know, what you need to ask for, what you need to find out. It means being able to see the big picture and know where you are, and how to get to where you want to be. Telling boys “Get me the information I need,” is not specific enough.

At this stage, the boys need to know what they don’t know. So ask them, without giving them the answers. Prompt them with:
-What do you need to know for this task or trip? Let them brainstorm. If they do this long enough, they’ll be able to identify their knowledge gaps. To plan a ski trip, they will learn that they need to know location, cost, availability, transportation, attendees, etc. But there’s a lot of moving parts and data collection to get to the point of determining feasibility.
-What potential problems are there?
-How will you address those potential problems?
-What resources do you have that you can use to get ideas or answers?
-What tasks are involved with executing this plan?
-How will you delegate these tasks?
-What is your timeline for each task?
-How will the leader of this task monitor progress?

Evaluation and processing: Upon completion of each trip/project, review what happened, what went wrong, what went right, and what lessons were identified. These need to be concrete statements. Not just a broad “Great job. You planned well, and we all had fun.” or “That was stressful, you guys need to plan better next time. Start earlier.”

Instead, say things like:
-I see you worked backwards with your time frame to be clear about what things needed to be done by certain dates. So this time you got the deposit in on time. Great work. I see also that there was a time crunch with that one task. Maybe you didn’t give yourself a reasonable amount of time to complete that, and next time you need to provide more time to complete that task.
-I see we don’t get to go on a ski trip as we’d hoped. We didn’t get the information about cost and availability in time. What can we do about this problem next time?
-I see you planned the meals for the camping trip and came in on budget and there was enough food. Great job. I see also you decided to bring watermelons on this backpacking camping trip. How did carrying and cutting up the watermelons work out for you?

It’s important to say these details out loud. We need to give them words to these ideas and actions. We need them to truly understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. We need to give them more visuals, concrete external prompts. We need to teach them how to use tools like simple spreadsheets.

Rinse and Repeat: Sit back and watch them fail. Know they will fail. They will argue. They will look around with blank, zombie stares. They will flail and flounder. And you let them. And you talk about what happened after they feel the natural consequences. And each step along the way, you point out what they succeeded at. Even if that success is that they eventually remembered to use the resources literally in their hands instead of just arguing with each other or offering unrealistic ideas. Even if the only success is that they knew what questions to ask.

Raising children, raising leaders, raising barns–they all take a long time. It’s a process. It takes a village for all three. It takes a lot of patience and stopping yourself from jumping in to intervene to make things happen. It takes a lot of restraint to refrain from screaming, either in your head or at them. Slowly but surely, these feral cats will move from living in these barns to becoming independent leaders. These are the first steps. Lessons on teaching and mentoring leadership skills to feral cats to come in a future essay.

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My Intention

generosity, intentions, interbeing, mindfulness, meditation, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh

Image courtesy of Keoni Cabral on flickr via Creative Commons

I lied. Because I’m a bad liar, I’m admitting it. I said I don’t make new year’s resolutions. So I’ll tell you I decided I have an intention for this year. See what I did there?

I’m dealing with someone who has been acting out, and it’s been progressively getting worse. I ignored it for a long time. Then I started to get angry. I’m not a fan of passive-aggressive behavior. I’m not a fan of unfairness. I’m not a fan of douchebaggery.

I vented to friends. I decided if this person was looking for a fight, oh I’d give ‘em a fight. Do not mess with me or my family. This is not a fight you will win, I assure you.

This person has been in my life for many, many years. There have been ups, and there have been downs. I used to trust this person a long time ago. I used to believe in this person. The trust was broken, respect was lost, and both were replaced by hurts and anger.

Through the years I’ve tried to accept or ignore the person. Some days are better than others. More often than not, I was just perfectly fine with disliking or being angry with this person. But lately, the anger magnified. There came a point where I had to make a decision–stay in the anger and distrust and opt for an ugly fight, or, or, or…

And this is when Life emailed me with two kind messages. Because sometimes I’m a slow learner and I get distracted by sparkly things, butterflies, and being too immersed in myself, so that I miss hints, clues, nudges. Sometimes I need a message to be hand-delivered. One email reminded me to let go of the story line and instead, own my feeling completely. “Let the words go and return to the essential quality of the underlying stuff. That’s the notion of the inbreath, the notion of making friends with ourselves at a profound level. In the process we are making friends with all sentient beings, because that is what life is made of. Working with the greater defilements first is saying that now is the time, and also that our greatest obstacles are our greatest wealth.”  -Pema Chodron.

When I grow up, I want to be Pema. I get lovely notices from her periodically. Only because I subscribe to some list serv, not because she knows I exist. But she’s so magical, I’m certain she can feel my existence. But I digress. The same day, I received yet another email–from another meditation list serv. It reminded me of interbeing, and how we can transform anger and hatred into joy and compassion:

“The flower can only interbe with everything else. … that is the nature of interbeing. To practice meditation is to see deeply the interbeing nature of things. That kind of vision, that kind of insight, will liberate you.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

So I’ve been teaching the Boy not to be a victim of life. I’m reminded to practice what I preach. I don’t want to be stuck in a toxic place or angry place. I am teaching him to empower himself to move on, be vigilant, trust again. I want him to be resilient when trust is broken.

Getting there requires generosity. Generosity of assuming positive intent. That he/she did the best he/she could, and didn’t mean to be an asshole. Believing he/she will do the right thing. Being generous in this way doesn’t mean I need to agree with a person’s thoughts or behaviors. But it does free me from anger and accusations.

To be generous, I need to let go of the words that make up the storyline of how I was wronged in the past, or how I dislike certain behaviors. I need to let that go, and remember we’re all in this together. I need to admit I was in a petty, sullen, angry place. I need to admit I was hurt, and I’m afraid of being hurt again. I was not being generous in spirit nor kind in spirit.

I need to be friends with myself, and be friends with all sentient beings, including this person. We all struggle with our issues. We all hold hurts and fears. It doesn’t matter if I am right, or if I’ve been wronged. What matters is if I offer my generosity and loving kindness. What matters is if I offer my trust and compassion again. True, he/she can break my trust again. And I will sit with that disappointment and hurt and anger and fear. And I will practice letting go of the story line. And I will adjust how I interact with him/her in the future.

My anger was not only about past hurts, but it is also about our interbeing. About how I wanted to change that. How I wanted nothing more to do with this person. But that is impossible, because of the inherent interbeing. Accepting this was the first step to turning the anger into generosity, compassion, and loving kindness.

I need to do this for myself, and for this person. I need to do this because Life keeps offering me the opportunity to learn these lessons. Of staying in this soft spot. This is where compassion and kindness grow. It’s not a comfortable spot, but these are what I want to grow in life. So to continue to grow these things of life, I intend to be generous. Perhaps this person is really my greatest wealth; how generous of this person.

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Vibrations of the Soul

mindfulness, meditation, slowing down

My friends know it’s a rare occasion if they call at the last minute to hang out, and I’m actually available. I lead a full life, and between my work, my kids, their activities, my hobbies, and my social life, I’m always on the go. I’m a high intensity and high energy person as a baseline, so I’ve always been able to manage it all. Until about 5 or 6 months ago. I have felt completely overwhelmed since then. I’m not sure why.

I just know I feel more frantic, more frazzled, more stressed. I feel pulled in a million different directions. I was before, but something about life is different. No, something about me is different. I don’t know what though. I tried tinkering with our schedule, I tried slowing down, I tried prioritizing different things. I still felt like my head was under water more than it wasn’t.

I’ve tried changing things in my external world. And it hasn’t helped. So now I’m changing things internally. I want to be in a different place. Not physically. Although I wouldn’t mind a trip to Lisbon or Australia right now. But I don’t like this space I’ve been occupying the past several months.

So I’m changing the vibrations of my soul. I’m being mindful in how I live within each moment. I’m purposefully, mindfully creating space to do things that fill my soul, that soothes my soul, that calms my soul. I’m meditating more. Running more. Drumming more. Writing more. I’m socializing less. I’m social-media-ing less. I’m breaking up with my phone. Alright, not a real break-up. We’re just taking a break. I’m turning off all notifications other than a true phone call. And to be quite honest I almost always let it go to voice mail (confession: I don’t ever really listen to the message either).

Everything and everyone can and will wait, because making me wait is no longer working. I’ve been putting off self-care for too long. We’re living in this world now where instant responses are expected. Checking for feedback on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Replying immediately to texts. Knowing who just emailed. None of these are real emergencies. I’ll check the emails and texts and social media accounts periodically through each day. But I won’t be at the beck and call of the *ding* or vibration.

I think the constant interruptions, the constant notifications created a frantic-ness to life, cluttering the soul. Someone is reaching out to you, answer or it’s rude! You should know what is going on with people’s lives, it’s the thoughtful thing! Living this way created a milieu of anticipatory living, a part of me always knowing there would be an interruption, someone calling out for a piece of me.

I think my life had turned into a life of reacting instead of acting. My schedule hasn’t changed drastically, but how I am living in each moment within that schedule has changed. I’ve slowed down the vibrations of my soul. Same room, different view. I will answer texts and emails and posts, just not immediately, and sometimes not even soon. My friends will surely tell me what is going on in their lives eventually. I will surely miss a lot of updates, memes and pop culture happenings. And it will all be ok. I’m slowing down in my journey on this one way road. I’m listening to the vibrations of my soul more than the vibrations of my phone.

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Don’t Throw the First Punch, But You Better Throw the Last

fight, kids fighting

image via Aislinn Ritchie on Flickr

Mama Bear, here. My Boy got jumped yesterday. Assaulted by three high school kids on his walk home from school. There he is, 12 years old, minding his own business, walking down the sidewalk of a busy street in the suburbs in the middle of the afternoon, and suddenly he gets clocked in the jaw hard enough that he falls into the street. (He is physically OK)

What. The. Fuck?! So I immediately go into Mama Bear mode. I text several friends because I’m pissed and someone needs to catch the strings of profanity I’m throwing out there. I call the schools in the area (this happened close to three schools) and try hard not to curse. I file a police report. I sign him up for Krav Maga so he can learn to defend himself. Because I tell him he should never throw the first punch, but he needs to throw the last one. He should never start a fight, but he better be the one to end it.

My friends ask what I’m going to do. They ask if I’ll continue to let him walk home from school. I say yes, of course. The kids did not try to rob him. The kids did not continue to beat him up, they fled. The Boy has never seen these kids before, so it’s not an ongoing bullying problem. It was merely a random act of violence. These things happen.

The Boy’s father calls frantic and furious. He offers to take the Boy home from school. I thank him, and decline. I tell the Boy that he will continue to walk home. Because he was a victim of an assault, but he is not a victim of life. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Yes, this is a dangerous world, but there’s a difference between being vigilant and being paranoid.

There’s a difference in shielding the Boy from the realities of life, and empowering the Boy to live fully in life. I’m empowering him. He’s going to learn how to defend himself physically. He’s going to be more vigilant of his surroundings. He needs tangible action items to help him process this trauma. He needs to feel empowered in the face of feeling so helpless during this assault.

What he does not need is to feel his world feeling more secure around him. He does not need his world to become smaller. He does not need someone to drive him home every day. He does not need to go to an after-school program until I can pick him up after work. He does not need these false senses of security. Because the world will continue to be a dangerous place, and bad things will continue to happen to good people.

If I swoop in to offer to intervene in his world, to “protect” him, I’m essentially telling him that he is indeed helpless, that he can’t take care of himself. Or that he can’t be trusted to. No, I am raising resilient children. He needs to learn to take care of himself. He needs to learn to trust himself. He needs to learn that he gets to control his actions after bad things happen to good people. He needs to learn how to empower himself. To truly feel more secure, he needs to learn how to trust and rely on himself. If I drive him home from school from now on, I teach him to rely on others to save him.

He is not happy he’s walking home today. But he needs to get back into the daily routines of life as soon as possible. He needs to get back to the daily living of life, and that includes uncertainty and insecurity and the possibility of bad things. Yes, it hurts to grow and learn and process traumas. I can’t take the fear and anger away from him, but I can be there for him so he can use his words to tell me how he’s feeling and what he needs. I’m shifting my schedule so I can be home earlier, but I will not be picking him up from school. He needs to walk this journey himself. And know I’ll be right at home waiting for him.

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Fashion Meets Poetry Meets Tribe Sister

fasion meets poerty, empowement, beauty

Right now my hair is uber-trendy because I have salt and pepper hair, with an extra side of salt. People pay a lot of money for this look right now. Gray is where it’s at. Until it’s not anymore, and I will once again look like someone’s Asian grandmother because I refuse to color my hair. Well, I tried to dye it purple, but three stylists and one friend talked me out of it because the gray would never release all the color and I’d eventually be stuck with “muddy cat urine color.” What Pantone number is that anyway?

People tell me I’m brave to flaunt my gray hair. I tell them it has nothing to do with courage. Instead, it has everything to do with loving my life and self and getting older. I love getting older. I have experienced feelings and participated in events and met people I never knew existed when I was younger. I have gone places and done things I never knew possible. Oh how beautiful, oh how amazing, oh how magical the world can be!

If you let it. If you can see past the wrinkles and creaky knees and reading glasses, see past the tragedies and heartbreaks and sorrows. When I was younger, I steeled myself against the world, trying so hard to protect myself from these aches and pains. I tried to keep everything out.

I was telling someone today that for most of my life, my friends were mostly men. I thought it was easier and less complicated to be friends with men. They didn’t judge, they accepted me for who I was, they were fun. I thought that women tended to judge, they could be mean, they could be complicated. Women are taught to compete against each other.

And then I started to do some hard work on being vulnerable and authentic. Putting down my armor. Not posturing. Cautiously, slowly, being me in this world. Each day is ripe for opportunities to practice. Some days are better than others. And then one day, I looked around, and my soul was full. I realized that I had surrounded myself with a tribe of beautiful women who are good and positive and caring and flawed. Authentic, kind, strong, beautiful women. I love getting older.

I feel so blessed to be in such good company. I feel honored to call such amazing women my friends, my tribe, my sisters. These women who are patient and kind and creative and wise and broken. These women who inspire me to be a better person. I would never have been able to forge these bonds had I not done the hard work through the years of being vulnerable enough to show my cracks and bruises and brokenness. I love getting older.

And today I met another Tribe Sister. In an instant we knew. There is such a thing as love at first sight. Except we’re both heterosexual. And we haven’t actually met in person yet. These are but minor details. She totally gets this. An ex-boyfriend from college connected us. He is a unique individual with certain standards. So I knew she wouldn’t be your usual gal.

And wow, we speak the same language, the same fire burns within us, we share the same vision of how we will change this world. The force is strong in that one. So I want you to meet her. She is smart and fierce and talented and kind and good and inspiring and wow. She’s a poet, and I want you to know it. See what I did there?

Please meet Lisa Harris. Lisa, please meet my world.

Photo credit: Phil Nwafor

Photo credit: Phil Nwafor

Lisa is a connector, a raiser-upper, a healer. She is a cheerleader, a supporter, a be-loved soul. She is a sprinkler of kindness, a ray of light, a lover if there ever was one. She understands the true meaning of Sistering. We do the work of connecting, we talk about our brokenness, we talk about beauty, we talk about self-love.

Please check her out. Fashion Meets Poetry, LLC is her website (that will be updated by the end of the month to better showcase her workshops, videos, books, etc.) Her book, “Unveiled Beauty” comes out in September 2016. It’s a unique book of her intense, emotional poetry, mixed with fashion photography, using real women as models. The poetry, beautiful. The fashion photography, beautiful. The women of different shapes and sizes and ethnicities, so so beautiful. The book is a true celebration of women. Lisa’s tagline: “A celebration of women ~ All their beautiful differences ~ Whole and broken places” How do you NOT love that?

So this is why I love getting older. This is why I find my gray hair so fashionable even when the next trend takes over. Because I would never have imagined having this kind of relationship when I was younger. I would never have been in a place in my life, in myself, where I could have approached her, where I would have shared myself with her, where I could have held space for her story.

I dare say I would not have been able to have this dear tribe of sisters by my side, if not for the years past and the hard work. So my gray hair is testament to all these glorious years and each of my tribe sisters. I can’t have purple hair, so instead I’ve got a head full of sparkly silver and purple hair tinsel now. True story. Hoping my newest Tribe Sister finds this fashionable. But I know even if she doesn’t, she won’t judge. But between you and I, I think she likes sparkle just as much as I do.

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My Wish For You in 2016

new year's resolution, new year's, relationships

CCO Public Domain; courtesy of Pixabay

It’s a new year. Have you made your resolutions? You know I do not. That’s just not how I roll. Instead, today, I’m reflecting back on 2015. Two friends, in wishing me a happy new year, said they hoped 2016 will be a better year than 2015. But 2015 wasn’t a bad year. It was just another year. Another year full of laughter and tears and joys and sadness–another year full of life.

So it made me think back about how 2015 went down for me. And I realize my memories of 2015 are full of faces. I’m viewing the last year of my life in terms of my relationships. The friends who have shifted through the years between the different circles of my life. The few who live in my inner circle–they’re my Hide-the-Dead-Body Friends. The second concentric circle of friends are close friends I can confide in (but I can’t count on them to definitely help me hide a dead body and get me out of the country before asking me what happened). Each successive circle contains friends of different purposes, quality, trust. Through phases in life, people move through the circles. This is just another cycle of life.

So I think about who I’ve seen less of this past year, who I’ve confided in less, and why. And it’s ok, I still have fond feelings for them. I still love them. They just sit in another circle for right now; it’s not a banishment or a promotion, and it’s not forever. It just is. I’m just taking note.

I think about the friends who I’ve spent more time with, the friends who I’ve opened up to more. And I’m so grateful for them in my life. For the opportunities to practice trust and authenticity. For the love and trust that keeps me upright and strong.

I think about my family, and how raising a hormonal tween boy has just about been the death of me. I think about how my greatest fears for La Chica and her academic issues have not come to pass; how she and I have both done some hard work and somehow things at school have worked out for her. I think about how my relationships with my siblings continue to remain complicated while I try to strive for Grace and Acceptance. I think about my parents and their failing health, and I try not to think about what that really means.

I think about the men I’ve dated in 2015, and my frustrations and heartbreaks. I think about how I’ve wanted to take my ball and go home but I’ve stayed to do the hard work and take risks. I think about how I figured out–one night when a date stood me up–I had gone on 84 First Dates in less than two years. I think about how absurd that is. I think about how First Date #77 taught me things aren’t always what they seem, and to trust my gut. I think about how First Date #83 makes me swoon and reminds me that I’m messy too. FD#83 and I have had starts and stops, and we’ve sputtered along the way, but so far he makes me smile and I make his heart warm.

I realize the Younger Me used to look at life differently. I measured my life through accomplishments, events, successes. Things that demonstrated forward movement, upward movement, or so I thought. The Current Me looks at life through connections, through relationships, through smiles, and warm hearts. So I’d have to say 2015 was a good year full of that.  I wish you a year full of meaningful connections and smiles and warm hearts!

Posted in Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged | 4 Comments

Lessons From Bikram

bikram yoga, mindfulness, discomfort, perseverence

I have learned to never say never. So when I said I would never try Bikram yoga, of course you knew I would. I was in a place of needing self-care, and for some reason, trying Bikram seemed to be the next right thing to do. So I went with my friend who loves Bikram. I survived, and didn’t think it was as difficult or as horrible as I had anticipated.

Because I am cheap, and Chinese, I purchased the unlimited week pass because it was only $5 more than the drop-in class rate. And I went two more times the next 3 days to really get my money’s worth. I absolutely hated the second day. There was heat, there was humidity, there was yoga. Three of the things in life I hate the most. But I paid for it!

The third class wasn’t as awful, but let me be clear it was neither enjoyable nor fun. Mainly because there was heat, there was humidity, there was yoga. Again. Halfway through, I began to panic. Because I wasn’t allowed to leave the room. I had to stay in the stifling heat. Ohmygod how many more poses are there to go? Ohmygod what if I run out of water before we end? Ohmygod what if I pass out now? Ohmygod I am stuck in here and I can’t get out and I may just die and THAT would be embarrassing.

As the perky instructor implores us to focus only on ourselves and our practice and our breath, I am freaking the fuck out. But I implore myself to breathe. To settle into the heat and humidity that is engulfing me, without letting it suffocate me. I try to focus on this goal every minute, renewing it with each new minute. I try to live in each moment to get to the end. I try to stay in the discomfort.

And I notice I am doing more than survive. I know I could have just laid down in Shavasana for the rest of the class or for a break. But I continued to do my best with each pose, despite my panic, despite my dread, despite the discomfort. I didn’t have to. But it was my instinct. To not just stay in the discomfort, but to do my best within the discomfort. If I showed up, if I was already there, I may as well make the most of it, I may as well kick ass, I may as well show Discomfort who’s boss. (That would be me.)

And I know this is why I tried Bikram. Three times. Because it reminds me that if I choose to show up in life, really show up, really step up and be vulnerable and authentic and open; really show up and focus only on myself on the mat, in the mirror, in life; then I need to continue doing the hard work of really staying in the discomfort. I need to continue the hard work by giving my all, truly being vulnerable and authentic and open. I need to continue the hard work by doing the best I can, regardless of how much I hurt or sweat or cry.

I’m reminded I can survive discomfort. I’m reminded I can do more than just survive, I kick ass. I’m reminded I can thrive within discomfort. I’m reminded I wilt in the heat and I can end my week of unlimited classes with a good bargain and a good lesson.

Posted in Empowerment, Meditation, Mindfulness | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments