Welcome! If you are new to the Lion's Whiskers blog ...

Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk.
~ Carl Jung

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Children, Courage, and Adaptive Capacity

The committee defined an earthquake-resilient nation as "one in which its communities, through mitigation and predisaster preparation, develop the adaptive capacity to maintain important community functions and recover quickly when major disasters occur." - National Institute of Standards and Technology, New Study Maps Out Steps to Strengthen U.S. Resilience to Earthquakes

The adaptation projects made possible by the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund will increase the adaptive capacity of wildlife and their habitats to new conditions precipitated by climatic changes. - Wildlife Conservation Society, press release
But the one competence that I now realize is absolutely essential for leaders - the key competence - is adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity is what allows leaders to adapt quickly and intelligently to relentless change. - Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leade
One of the assumptions that underpins Lion's Whiskers is the assumption of a changing world. We all know change is inevitable; what we don't know is what form that change will take, or what the magnitude of it will be. Climate scientists are trying to piece together what they know and predict the effects on the ecosystem; economists and business leaders are studying world markets and trying to extrapolate what will create tomorrow's prosperity; social and political scientists are looking at trends in human behavior and trying to imagine where those trajectories will take our society.

Adaptive capacity is an idea that applies to ecological and human systems, and refers to the ability of that system to manage change while maintaining integrity or without losing function. (Species extinction is one way to manage change - but it doesn't maintain integrity for the species!) How great the adaptive capacity of a system is determines how well it can manage change.

How does this apply to parenting, and to children, and courage? The most fundamental human system is the individual. A person who is rigid physically, emotionally, intellectually - an inflexible person - is not going to adapt well to change. For many people, change is an alarming prospect; yet we know change will come no matter what. Strengthening our courage and our children's courage may be a useful way to develop adaptive capacity. It's also possible that it goes the other way - developing our adaptive capacity may strengthen our courage! Maybe it goes both ways at the same time. Maybe they are the same thing!

We have talked from the beginning about strengthening all six types of courage by trying new things. It may be that the process of trying new things - any new things - counts more than what the things are. Our willingness to experiment, break old habits, question our paradigms, risk making mistakes and greet change as a friend rather than an enemy may help us live longer and happier lives.

This is not about being changed by exterior forces, but changing from within as circumstances (our environment, our social relationships, our knowledge) changes. Nourishing our children's adaptive capacity may be as important as nourishing their growing bodies. Adaptive capacity is now a buzzword in longevity research, sustainability, leadership studies and business. Let's make it a buzzword for parenting, too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Legend of the Banyan Deer

There is another story from India that has some similar features to the Damon and Pythias story. This is another tale of self-sacrifice, a difficult concept for many kids to wrap their minds around. This story is slightly more challenging because it is not a sacrifice for friendship, but rather a sacrifice for leadership, which requires not just emotional courage but social courage as well. I found this in a collection of Jataka tales (stories of the incarnations of Buddha), and it is called The Banyan Deer.
Long ago, there were two tribes of deer, the Banyan Deer and the Monkey Deer. Each of these tribes had a magnificent king, with beautifully branched antlers and bright bold eyes. Nearby there also lived a human king, who loved to hunt. He often hunted for deer, but whenever he chanced upon the deer kings, who were as princely and splendid as he was himself, he would lower his bow and arrow. “The deer kings will never be harmed,” the human king decreed. 

The servants who helped with the hunting found the hunts time-consuming and difficult, and decided to create an enormous fenced park. Then they herded the deer into it, and from then on the human king could hunt much more easily and the servants could attend their other jobs. However, it sometimes happened that more than one deer might be wounded in the chase, or die of fright while running, and so more deer died than were shot. The Banyan Deer King and the Monkey Deer King consulted one another, for this was becoming a crisis.

“Let us draw lots in our tribes, one day among the Banyans, the next day among the Monkeys, back and forth, and who is chosen will go to the gate and be taken, and that way the rest of the tribes will be safe and we will suffer the losses equally.”

The human king was amazed to find a deer waiting at the gate each day, and so it continued for some time. One day, when the lots were drawn, a mother Monkey deer with a young fawn was chosen. She went to her king and begged that she might wait until her fawn was older before she went to be sacrificed. “No!” said the Monkey Deer King. “You must take your turn when you are chosen, just as the others have done.”

In despair, the mother went to the Banyan King, and told him her trouble and begged for help. The noble Banyan King went himself to the gate, and waited for the hunters. But when the human king saw which deer was at the gate, he cried, “No! I have said the kings of the deer tribes must not be killed! What do you do here?”

The king of the Banyan Deer replied, “I could not ask my people to do what I am unwilling to do myself.” 

Such courage and self-sacrifice coming from a deer king put the human king to shame, and from that time he gave up hunting the deer.

Giving up something precious for someone else can be hard. K. and I have a tradition of exclaiming “It’s Lucky Money Day!” whenever we find money on the ground, be it a penny, a quarter, or once a five dollar bill. It used to be finders keepers, but this year we agreed that all Lucky Money will go into a donation jar, as well as the change that winds up in coat pockets and the bottoms of handbags. K. chose the animal shelter where we got our family dog as the recipient for this year. I’ll be curious to see how much Lucky Money we collect. Enough for a trip to the movies? With popcorn? We shall see what could be ours, but what we will give up instead.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I’ve been thinking about emotional courage, and the struggle we have, as parents, to encourage our kids to do things on their own.  Lisa has explained this beautifully in her posts about internal vs. external locus of control.   Ironically, although we want our children to learn to look within themselves when they want to accomplish something, one aspect of emotional courage is having the courage to ask for and accept help.  Yes,  we want to teach the kids is to discern the difference between needing help and not really needing help.  Much of the time, when K. asks for help, she doesn’t really need help, she just doesn’t want to put in the effort or she wants company or attention – she has some other need that isn’t really a need for assistance with the task at hand.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Let's Talk Dirty

I am a gardener. I get dirty. I often wear dark nail polish in the summer to hide how unscrubbably grimy my fingernails have become.

And that’s okay. Dirt’s not that bad.

Becoming a mom for the first time to a little girl who had already grown out of the crawling stage (so I thought) I was rather foolish about some of the clothing choices I made early on. K. was 8 when she came here, and needed her first snow suit. I bought a white one. Oh dear. She goes to a Waldorf school where there are two recess periods a day, in a play yard that is wood chips and mud. They crawl in it, jump in it, roll in it, dig in it – there seems to be nothing they don’t do with mud. I’d meet her at the gate that first winter, and behold a child in a white snow suit that was entirely coated with mud. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Courage Book Review - "I will stir up the waters of the old days and shape the long-ago then into now."

BeowulfToday's offering is a great retelling of Beowulf. This version is subtitled, A Hero's Tale Retold, and was written and illustrated by James Rumford. What is particularly appealing about this retelling for kids is that Rumford tells the story using only words that have entered English from Anglo-Saxon roots. This gives the book something of the gristle and chewiness of the original poem. Words and phrases such as "fire-hearted" "locklike" "gold-shining" and "over the wide whale sea," give this Beowulf real guts. Rumford acknowledges a debt of inspiration to Seamus Heaney's masterful and muscular translation of Beowulf. The illustrations are full of writhing, serpentine forms and dark cross-hatching, making the art both dynamic and somber, much like the story itself.  It sounds wonderful read out loud.

But why, you might ask read this story to kids? What does a monster tale from more than a thousand years ago have for our kids today? Isn't the super-hero with sword and shield a bit too retro in this information age?  Isn't this just something English literature majors have to get through in college?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

Lion's Whiskers offers this courage challenge: Is there someone you need to forgive?  Or that your child needs to forgive? 

Do an activity that may at least start you and/or your child in the right direction towards forgiveness.  For example, write the person a letter (with intention of sending it), send the person mental wishes for well-being, light a candle and ask for the strength to forgive, plant a flower in the person's memory if he/she is no longer in your/your child's life).

Now, it's your turn.  What's a true story from your life of forgiveness, or emotional courage, that we could all benefit from hearing?  What ritual do you suggest when needing to forgive?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fenrir: Big, Bad Wolf

A few weeks ago I wrote about trickster tales, and the importance of reclaiming intellectual courage from the stigma of trickery. The tradition of the trickster is world wide, and many of the stories are very fun.

Some of them, not so much.  Fenrir the Wolf is like that.

The trickster figure may have been a way of explaining why a beautiful and bountiful world contains so many dangers and sorrows. Among the Norse people of Scandinavia, Loki was blamed for some very grim events, including the Death of Baldur (which I will retell in an upcoming post). On top of that, Loki also fathered three monstrous children with the giantess, Angrboda: a horrible serpent, the grim daughter Hel (consigned to underworld, and giving us the word Hell), and the dread wolf, Fenrir. Prophecy told the gods that Fenrir would swallow the sun at world's end, destroy all creation and kill Odin. Bad wolf. Very bad wolf.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~ Helen Keller
One of the stories I have shared with the Lovely K. is that I used to clean my room in the dark when I was a kid. When the mess had become intolerable (to my mother) I was compelled to take action. I would do it at night, with the lights out, feeling my way around my darkened room, picking things up and figuring out by touch and by my visual memory of the things scattered around the floor what they were, and then putting them away. Wondering what it might be like to experience the world without sight was part of the challenge; making a tedious chore interesting was the other part. When I was finished and turned the lights on, it always felt as if I had returned from a journey, and was seeing my world with new eyes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quiet Alertness

Lisa’s list of the 7 Baby Bs may be poignant for adoptive parents to read – it certainly was for me. There is so much I don’t know about my daughter’s first 8 years, let alone her first eight hours, eight days, eight weeks or eight months. Were these 7 Baby B’s part of her life? What if they weren’t? What do I do? Is it too late? If these foundations of attachment are not solid will my daughter develop courage? My own emotional courage as a parent is put to the test in moments such as this.

Upon reflection, however, I remembered an observation I had made some time ago. My mother and sister and I were visiting old colonial towns in Mexico. It was Holy Week, and many families were out and about, watching the religious processions and enjoying their holiday. After a few days it dawned on me that I never saw any children either in strollers or prams, and then it also occurred to me that I never saw any children having fits or hysterics or being scolded, and I seldom saw babies crying. Everywhere I looked, babies and toddlers were being held and carried, either by parents or aunts or uncles or grandparents or older siblings. Now, to be sure, these almost medieval towns were unsuitable for such wheeled transport, and no doubt the cost was also prohibitive for many families, too. But I think, as well, that they just wanted to hold and carry their babies, and I saw a lot of “quiet alertness” in those children.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking."

~Albert Einstein~

Intellectual courage is a problematic type of courage to discuss. Most people can pretty easily understand what we mean by emotional or moral courage, and certainly physical courage is pretty self-evident. But what is intellectual courage? Why do you need courage to think?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Birth Stories

Like most adoptive parents, I have no birth story to share with my daughter. I wasn’t there. As a poor substitute I thought maybe I could share mine with her.

“I don’t remember a thing,” my mother informs me dryly. “I’ve blotted everything out. All of it.”

This is my mother’s standard response to questions about my early years. Don’t get me wrong – there was no trauma, no tragedy, no tumult. I suspect it’s just the accumulation of unremarkable details in a stable and secure environment – the pot roasts cooked, the laundry folded, the hours spent outside piano lessons or dentist visits or dance class, the birthday presents bought and wrapped – that my mother eventually put behind her like an outgrown shell; with that shell went the pearls, too, I guess. In 1961 fathers were not routinely welcomed into delivery rooms, let alone with cameras, let alone with video cameras. For my birth story I have to be content with a minute examination of my birth certificate, the first record of my existence.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Does Size Really Matter? David and Goliath

The armies of King Saul were arrayed in battle against the Philistines, face to face across the Valley of Elah. From among the ranks of the Philistines came a great giant of a warrior, boldly daring anyone among the Israelites to meet him in single combat. This champion was so powerful and terrifying that none among Saul’s fighters were willing to do battle against him, even with the encouragement of a great reward from their king.
David, a teenager, was bringing food to his older brothers in King Saul’s armies. Hearing Goliath’s taunts, and seeing no-one take up the challenge, David agreed to fight. King Saul urged the young man to take his armor, but David declined, meeting the Philistine armed with only his slingshot and a bag of stones – the weapons he used for driving lions away from his sheep.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Journey Our Kids Are On

If you don't know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don't know the stories you may be lost in life. -- Anonymous (Siberian) proverb

A few months ago our Waldorf school hosted a master teacher from Denmark to advise the school on our early childhood programs. In an open forum with parents, this teacher was asked “What is the biggest difference you see between European parents and American parents?”

Without hesitation she replied, “Fear. American parents are full of fear.”

She went on, “Look around you. This town is beautiful. You have natural places and safe streets. This is a perfect place for children. What is there to be afraid of here?”

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chapter One: Jennifer and the Lovely K.

I wanted to share this story first.

My daughter had been home with me from Ethiopia for a couple of months. At 8, she was learning English quickly, and I spent most dinners telling her stories – myths, legends, fables, fairy tales – to fill her ears with words and her imagination with ideas. One evening, with my reserve of stories and my energy running a bit low, I pulled out a few flash cards I had made. Each of these cards bore a sticker with words such as “cooperation” or “honesty” or similar virtues, and I defined the words for her and asked her to think of an example for us to write on the back of the card. We came to the word “courage,” and I gave her a brief description,( although this was long before Lisa and I teased apart the six types of courage.) “Can you think of a time when you had courage?” I asked this child who had lost her family, her country, her culture and her language and still managed to smile every day.