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Friday, September 30, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

Lion's Whiskers offers this courage challenge: As an opportunity to put your moral courage muscles to work, take a pet peeve and trace its origins.  If you find yourself complaining about hiked gas prices, consider the choices in your life that have made you dependent on your automobile.  When you are annoyed by another's behavior, consider how that behavior may mirror something that you deny, don't accept, or don't like in yourself.  For example, if you find yourself complaining about how long your child takes to get ready in the morning, is it possible that you, too, are not a morning person?  Is it possible that you might need to wake up a little earlier and/or help your child the night before to ease the morning routine?  Perhaps you find yourself complaining about people who ignore local bylaws and don't pick up their dogs' poop, forgetting the times you, too, were caught without a poop bag? 

Tracing your own responsibility for what goes on in the world will help you teach your child to do the same.  None of us lives in a bubble - our lives are connected in an intricate web of decisions and choices.  For a humbling example of how our kids offer us daily opportunities to put this moral courage challenge into practice, read Lisa's post What Goes Around, Comes Around!

Care to share one of your pet peeves and what its origins might have to do with you? 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Rule of Threes

"Third time's the charm," goes the saying. This, in a nutshell, is the Rule of Threes, an almost universal pattern in storytelling. Three wishes, three wise men, three billy goats gruff, three sisters, three brothers, three little pigs - when you begin to notice, you will see threes everywhere in traditional stories.


It is now well-understood that humans are pattern-making and pattern-seeking creatures. This cognitive behavior helps us learn that Chihuauas, Great Danes and Basset Hounds are all dogs, for instance. It helps us with predictions: when the heat and humidity and air pressure build on a summer day we prepare for a thunderstorm. This behavior can also lead us astray, tricking us into seeking significance or meaning in random events, or can give rise to superstitions (such as "bad luck comes in threes.") For good or for ill, we look for patterns.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Three Billy Goats Gruff

Mention the words "courage" and "stories" in the same breath and someone will ask, "Are you going to tell the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff?"

Yes. Yes I will.

This tale from Norway, by the way, is an excellent story to tell by acting it out. If you happen to have three kids you can direct them in a play. If you don't know the story, don't worry - the part you are to play will become quite clear!

On a fine summer day, three billy goats gruff looked up at the hillside across the stream and decided the grass looked very nice over there. So the youngest billy goat set out across the wooden bridge, trip-trap-trip. Beneath the bridge lived one of the ugly trolls who dwell in the mountains of Norway, and he pulled himself up onto the bridge by his hairy hands, his long warty nose all a-wobble. "Who's that crossing my bridge? I'll eat you up!"

The first billy goat pointed his little horns back the way he had come. "No, wait for the second billy goat. He's bigger than I am. Let me pass." And he scampered the rest of the way over the bridge and onto the green hillside.

The second billy goat now stepped onto the bridge, trip-trap-trip. "Who's that crossing my bridge?" roared the troll. "I'll eat you up!"

Monday, September 26, 2011

About Stories

"There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells."

                                                      ~ Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Courage is Not the Absence of Fear

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. ~ Ambrose Redmoon

As parents, we are often faced with the decision to put the welfare of our children above that of our own.  Being a courageous parent can range from rescuing your child from near death or other peril, to fighting for your child’s right to feel safe at school and not bullied, to telling the truth about your decision to separate, to holding your child’s hand at their hospital bedside, to canceling that belated wedding anniversary vacation (the first one in 10 years) due to your child’s unexpected flu bug, to waking each morning early to ensure that you keep your job and your child has shelter, food, and the many other necessities modern life now seems to require.  Any number of opportunities present themselves everyday to us as parents to muster and model the six types of courage.  Sometimes we even fail to recognize what courage it takes to be a parent.  It takes courage to walk through the fears about our own eclipsed needs after deciding to have a child.  To accept the risks associated with loving another human being so fully and completely that they one day walk out our front door with the keys to their own castle in hand (God willing). Courage is telling the truth about who we are, apologizing when we mess up, and loving ourselves and our child in the process. 

As a child and family therapist, I frequently witness the courage and compassion parents have in advocating for their mentally ill child, their child who struggles in school because of a learning disorder, their obese child facing long-term health issues if they don’t lose some weight, or their child banished to the outskirts of social acceptance due to the arbitrary judgment of an individual or group with more social cache.  I see the heartbreak on these parents’ faces when their child is called fat, gay, stupid, or weird.  Then, I witness the tears brushed away and the smile return to greet their child’s gaze with unconditional love.  The child, in turn, is looking for that acceptance as fuel for their own courage to face the battles they must.  Sometimes as parents we feel powerless about what to do to help our child through a tough time.  But it is the decision to keep moving forward, digging together for solutions in the dark, that inspires our children to have faith in the kindness of others, hope for their future, and to develop the necessary courage associated with resilience. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Animals Can Teach Us About Pain

“I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things

“He who fears to suffer, suffers from fear.” French proverb

“There are more things that frighten us than injure us… and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” Seneca

Anyone who has adopted a child in another country knows that obtaining a visa means getting a blood test and any missed vaccinations for the child. My daughter was eight when I adopted her; I went with her to the American embassy in Addis Ababa for a blood test, and the episode turned out to be the first of many frantic and nearly-hysterical encounters with needles. Without going into detail I will just say she had to be restrained. Upon returning to the States, I had to take her for more shots to bring her up to date. I always struggled to decide if it was better to warn her that there was a needle waiting for her at the doctor’s office, or let it come as a nasty surprise. I wanted her to trust that I would be honest with her, that I wouldn’t trick her, and yet the anticipation of the shot produced such distress that it seemed cruel to prolong it by an advance warning.
At twelve, she is calmer and less prone to tears at the doctor’s office. “But it does hurt,” she reminds me grimly.

“Not as much as getting hit by a truck,” I reply.

The answer to this is a glare.

“Well it doesn’t hurt as much as getting hit by a truck,” I say. “And I should know.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Monkey's Heart

Versions of this tale have been collected from many countries, including Korea, Japan, China, the Philippines, Tanzania and Kenya. Details change to suit local circumstances, but the gist of the story - and the payoff - remain the same. I've written before about the benefit of telling trickster stories. Here is a classic example of quick wits and intellectual courage in action.

Monkey loved mangoes, of course. Who does not? And his favorite mango tree had branches that reached out over a river, where a certain crocodile came quite often.

"Why do you come here, lurking and smirking?" Monkey asked one day, hanging just out of reach and eating a sweet piece of fruit.

"I come because one of these days you will slip," Crocodile replied. "And I will catch you and take you to my king."

Monkey laughed, and swung back up onto the branch. "Really? We'll see about that!"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Courage Book Review - treasures from Geraldine McCaughrean

The Golden Hoard: Myths and Legends of the WorldWe rank Geraldine McCaughrean among today's most resourceful and exciting retellers of myths and legends from around the world.  Her vivid writing style makes her treasuries of stories gripping, funny, provocative, fascinating and beautiful.   In these books - The Golden Hoard: Myths and Legends of the World, The Silver Treasure: Myths and Legends of the World, The Bronze Cauldron Myths And Legends Of The World, and The CRYSTAL POOL: MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE WORLD -we have a dazzling variety of traditional tales, all gloriously illustrated by Bee Willey.  There are creation stories and trickster tales and stories of how stories came to be.  Above all, there are hero stories.  These stories of quests and courage show us how people from around the world told their tales highlighting all six types of courage.  Many of them may well be familiar favorites already, or at least ring some bells: St. George and the Dragon, Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow, Midas and the Golden Touch, the Golem, the Tower of Babel, William Tell, the Pied Piper and many others that readers may already recognize.  But there are also tales from cultures whose stories were once considered "quaint" or "curious" by Western readers.  Legends and folktales from New Zealand,  Melanesia, Bolivia, Finland, Togo and many many other places show us what is the same, and what is different, about how cultures portray courage.   I particularly liked the Hittite myth of the goddess Inaras conquering a family of dragons by feeding them until they were too fat to get back into their underground lairs.  As the old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to conquer dragons.  These collections show us that in dazzling, delightful detail.   Great for reading aloud or handing to an independent reader. 

The CRYSTAL POOL: MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE WORLD (Illustrated Stories for Children)
The Bronze Cauldron Myths And Legends Of The WorldThe Silver Treasure: Myths and Legends of the World

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it.

~ Salvador Dali

Friday, September 16, 2011

5-Minute Courage Workout: Fair is Fair!

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:
"That's not fair!" is a common complaint most of us will hear from our child at some point--especially if we have more than one and cake is involved.  Before we can teach our child what fairness is, revisiting the dictionary definition can be helpful.  Essentially, fairness entails decision-making that is free from bias and self-interest.  To be fair is associated with being honest, just, and equitable.  Favoritism and fairness don't go hand in hand.  These are elements of moral courage, and it does indeed often take courage to suck it up and do the right thing!  What is fair does not always feel good or even make sense to a toddler or a teen.  It can be difficult to understand the difference between fair and equal.  Therefore, our children are looking to us to model what is fair to help guide them through those uncomfortable, confusing moments when doing the right thing doesn't feel right.  Highlight the fact that justice is blind, but the scales always balance in the end. Trusting that fact takes practice and time.

Here's a list of 5-Minute Courage Workouts by age range to help you and your child practice fairness.

 Grab Some Lion's Whiskers Today!
  • Toddler:  The next time you notice that you're losing your cool with your toddler because it had been a long day and the tantrums plentiful, put yourself in a safe, quiet time-out for five minutes.  If you employ this discipline distraction technique, having your toddler watch mommy or daddy sit quietly on the kitchen floor or in a favorite chair might suddenly make the concept of obedience and punishment seem fair.  Ensure your toddler is safe and occupied nearby, while you make time-in for yourself and take a few deep breaths.  Tell your toddler "Mommy needs to calm down and take a few deep breaths because I was raising my voice/got mad/or am feeling tired," whatever the case may be.  Modeling this kind of equitable self-discipline might make your toddler feel that the rules are not biased quite so much in your favor as it may sometimes feel to them.   
  • PreschoolerRead Paul Galdone's The Little Red Hen together at bedtime. This tale of an industrious hen and a lazy cat, dog, and mouse might inspire a discussion about the concept of giving versus getting.  Don't be surprised if your child notices or points out the times when you were both the industrious hen and the lazy dog.   Remember that at this age your child probably places no judgement on some of the inconsistencies they notice in your behavior; they're just gathering information about how the world works.   

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Making Soup

When K. arrived here from Ethiopia at 8 years old, I felt she was more than old enough to help cook. (The fact that we had quite a few bumpy months of adjusting to American food is a separate story!) Our first Christmas together, I gave her her own kitchen knife, a short, sharp orange blade with an orange scabbard. Who wouldn’t want to cut vegetables with that?! Sharp knives are the safest knives, and I never felt nervous about letting her cut potatoes or carrots or apples. We are a vegetarian family, so vegetables are the bulk of what we cut. I taught her how to use the peeler and the grater, and the first time she made the dinner salad on her own she was as proud as could be.

In the third grade in Waldorf education, children cook in school and spend a week on a farm, milking cows, harvesting vegetables, pressing cider, baking bread, cooking soup. At this age children begin to recognize that they won’t always live in the family nest; learning to cook assures them that they will be able to feed themselves. K. and I started a vegetarian cooking club in third grade, and we had many wonderful meals cooked entirely by the kids. Now in 6 th grade, K. and her friends often cook weekend lunches on their own. I generally keep out of the way, knowing that the best cooks learn by experimenting for themselves.
 An ideal story to tell in the kitchen is Stone Soup, a story so well known it hardly seems necessary to retell it. But on the chance that there are readers who don’t know it, here it is. This story, as with so many traditional tales, has many variations in the details; each teller adds her own seasoning, as I have.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

You can't test courage cautiously.

~ Annie Dillard

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Birbal Shortens the Road

The emperor, Akbar, was on a journey surrounded by advisors and servants. As it was a hot day and the road was long, he grew impatient and annoyed.

“This road is so long," he complained, as petulant and cranky as only an emperor can be. "Can’t anybody shorten it?”

By his side, wise Birbal said, “I can.”

Everyone who heard him rolled their eyes. “This is the only road – there is no other way,” one man said in a know-it-all tone.

“If he can do it, let him do it,” said the emperor. 

Birbal lowered his voice so only the emperor could hear. “I can do it, but first I want to tell you a story – it’s important.”

“Fine, fine, go ahead, but be sure to shorten the road as soon as you can.”

With that, Birbal started a long and complicated story with many twists and turns and dramatic surprises, keeping the emperor as focused and attentive as a cat watching a mouse hole. In no time at all, it seemed, they reached their destination.

“What? So soon?” the emperor marveled. “I can’t believe we are here already.”

Birbal smiled. “I told you I could shorten the road.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

About Stories

"Life and growing involve meeting one's own fears and doubts, so children should be nurtured to have a belief in themselves. The traditional quest-myth story in which they can identify with its hero or heroine in all the difficulties, dangers, and triumphs of the quest has still much to offer. Myths are primal acts of imagination that allow children to experience realities without being demoralized by them. Myths give children the courage to handle trauma and pain and difficulty and to retain their sense of wonder and value, and, even more, to find their lives significant."

~ Pat O'Shea

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I'm Not Scared, I'm EXCITED!

Like many of you reading Lion’s Whiskers, both my kids started new schools this week.  At my house, surprisingly little drama occurred in the days prior to the first day of school.  Unlike years previous, we had actually completed all the school shopping, the kids had cleaned their rooms, and I knew the exact bus schedule.  I’m wise enough now as a parent, however, to not assume anything about how my kids might react the night before school starts.  The same goes for the night before Halloween and all the costume changes that entails.  The countdown began.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself.  ~ Harvey Fierstein

Friday, September 9, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

Lion's Whiskers offers this courage challenge: Consider a small-as-a-mouse or large-as-an-elephant obstacle in your or your child's life blocking the way to personal or professional success. 

Today, September 9, 2011 is the Indian festival Ganesh Chaturthi!  It is a celebration of the birth of Lord Ganesha, the Hindu God of wisdom.  Lord Ganesha is traditionally referred to as "the remover of obstacles" and representative of prosperity, prudence, and success. 

What is the elephant in the room?  Perhaps removing your personal obstacle will require the social courage to invite a new friend over for a playdate or out for coffee, or to say "Hello!" to passersby on the street today.  This challenge may also require the physical courage to overcome entrenched habits by trying some new foods, flavors, or fitness activity. Or, it could require removing emotional stressors by saying "No" to particular activities, people, or habits that no longer inspire but instead exhaust you.

What's a true story from your life about an elephant in the room or on your path that you've successfully removed? 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Are You the Ant or the Grasshopper? And Which Are You Raising?

A fable from Aesop that has seen a lot of play over the centuries is the Ant and the Grasshopper. The story extols the industrious ant who spends the summer working and storing food, and also points out the improvidence of the grasshopper who fiddles and sings all summer long, ends up starving through the winter and knocking on the ant's door for a hand-out.

Chances are, (if you are American) you're a grasshopper. The U.S. personal savings rate is the lowest among developed nations. Why is that? And what's it got to do with Lion's Whiskers?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being. ~ May Sarton

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Good Samaritan

There are a few ethical principles that have appeared throughout world cultures and religions, and the ethic of reciprocity, or the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do to you) is one of them. I suppose we can infer that the universality of this ethic suggests that it really is part of what it means to be human. The parable of the Good Samaritan is among the most popular in Christianity. It's a story (very very short!) told by Jesus in a conversation about the admonishment to "love your neighbor as yourself." "But who is my neighbor?" asked his listener.

A man was on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a mountain road so steep and dangerous and infested with bandits that it was known as the Bloody Way. This day it matched its reputation. The traveler was attacked and robbed by highwaymen, and left bleeding and unconscious on the side of the road.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

The hero draws inspiration from the virtue of his ancestors. ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On a Journey

"All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town." - Leo Tolstoy

Lisa and I were talking about Steven Spielberg, and that had me thinking about how this great modern storyteller’s work fits Tolstoy’s observation. Stories are about our encounter with the unfamiliar. Either we have gone on a journey and find the unfamiliar along the way, or the unfamiliar comes and finds us where we live, even if we just wanted to stay home and have a cup of coffee. Consider two of Spielberg’s many great films: Jaws, and Schindler’s List.