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Author: John

Get Your Children Outside to Play

Get Your Children Outside to Play

A few weeks ago, on a beautiful fall day, my boys and I biked to a local park to play basketball and climb around on the jungle gym. There were other children also outside and I noticed three boys, about 10 or 11, were huddling around each other staring at a cell phone. They were engrossed. As my boys and I played, these older kids remained hunched over this electronic device for at least another thirty minutes. 

This is not what playing outside should look like.

I grew up spending a lot of time outside. I was usually with my sisters or friends, but as I got a older I would occasionally be alone. We would swim, ride our bikes, skateboard, jump on a trampoline, play football, basketball, or capture the flag. We would hike in the creek, build forts, and climb trees. We spent thousands of hours playing outside. 

Kids need to be outside, to play, to run, to explore. As a father of two boys, I know this, but sometimes forget. This fall, I was reminded of how beneficial it is for my kids to regularly play outside. Over the course of a few weeks we hiked, biked, played sports, camped, and experienced some natural wonders. It was tremendously joyful for all of us. As a result, we all slept better, ate better, and were generally in a better mood.

Kids need space to run and explore. Inside they have physical boundaries and limitations. Outside they are free to move their bodies with speed and strength. They can push themselves. Outside, they can touch and break most things without much consequence. Inside the house can feel like a museum filled with crystal vases for a young boy full of energy.

The progress of science has demonstrated many benefits to spending more time being active outside. Daily active play for children improves overall health. There are mental benefits from spending time in nature such as taking a hike in the woods. Moderated heat and cold stress both active different pathways benefiting overall health. Exposure to outside light improves vitamin D levels and helps align us to a healthy circadian rhythm. 

When kids are outside you get to ask them these questions:

  • Want to pick up that stick and break it?  
  • Want to climb on that rock?
  • And jump off? 
  • Want to run and yell?
  • Want to goof off with your friends?
  • Want to jump in that puddle?

Do it! What’s the worst that can happen? Your children may get some bumps and bruises and their feelings may get hurt from time to time. They’ll likely get dirty and occasionally ruin some clothes. A few band aids, some soap, and a home cooked dinner can remedy most mishaps that happen outside.

Inside our house the conversation often goes like this:

  • Stop running!
  • Don’t jump on the furniture!
  • Use your inside voice!
  • Be careful!
  • That could break!

Our world has become too sanitized and controlled. Children benefit from dirt and discomfort. Fortunately, nature provides both.

Our children need to play outside more. Their schedules should allow for regular outdoor play time. The rain, cold, or heat shouldn’t stop them. Kids need to be able to just be kids and being outside is their natural habitat to do so. 

Therefore, go buy your children some boots, open the door, and let them be themselves.

The Sweetness of a Child’s Warm Embrace

The Sweetness of a Child’s Warm Embrace

I am usually the first awake in the house although I am not an early morning person. I get up early to have some time to myself. It’s often the only time of the day where nothing is demanded of me. I can sit, think, meditate, stretch, exercise, read, or write. I’ll spend 15-45 minutes doing one or a combination of those activities and then I’ll begin to prepare the house for the day.

On many days, while I’m preparing for the day, my oldest son, now 7, will wake up. I’ll hear his over sized feet flap around on the floor above as he visits our bedroom to identify our location. If my wife is still in bed, he’ll snuggle for a few minutes. If she’s not, he’ll pivot and head downstairs. As I hear this routine play out above me, my heart settles and spirit warms for what comes next.

What follows is one of my favorite parts of the day. I hear my son leave my bedroom and stomp down the stairs like he’s a full grown man. At this point I stop whatever it is I’m doing and turn to approach him.

I usually stand in the doorway between our dining room and kitchen and wait for him to turn the corner at the bottom of the stairs. There he sees me, 30 feet away, waiting for him with my arms out. Some days if he’s tired he walks, but most days there’s a pickup to his step and he runs and jumps in my arms. He wraps his arms and legs around me and places his head on my left shoulder. No words are spoken and none are needed.

This is when the magic happens.

The rest of the world disappears as our breath slows and unifies. I immediately stop thinking about the busy day ahead and am immersed with gratitude and peace. What a joy it is to be a father. What a gift it is to have another day on this planet to share with my children.

My to do list disappears. Self-doubt, worry, and judgement halt. Time seems to stand still. We don’t have to do, just be.

These moments don’t fix a broken heart when you’re suffering, but they do provide some relief, even if it is temporary. It also places a reminder of hope and joy for what our children may become.

For those that know my oldest, most would be shocked to find that he can sit still and quiet for more than a few seconds. Usually only the moments at the beginning and end of his day start and stop with such calm. These tender moments allow his sweet soul to shine.

After a minute or two of holding my son, I’ll whisper in his ear, “I love you”. 

His response captures me every time. “Me too daddy, me too.”

Often, when my father comes to my house and we take a moment to embrace, I’ll linger for few seconds longer than most hugs usually last. It’s here when I notice his breath skip and his shoulders relax. I now know that this is when his heart and soul are refilled just the same as mine.  

How to Be a Neurosurgeon

How to Be a Neurosurgeon

A friend of mine is in his mid to late 30’s and he just accepted his first professional job.  He didn’t get a late start. He didn’t take time off. He has spent the last 30+ years of his life preparing for his profession. Let me say that again, over 30 years in school learning and practicing his trade.

That seems incredulous to many people.  That’s 18 years AFTER High School.  18 years. For what? To be a neurosurgeon. He has his MD and PhD.

This has included:

  • Four years of undergraduate school with a triple major
  • Eight years in med school getting his PhD and MD
  • Six years of residency for neurosurgery
  • One year of fellowship

He has a family with three kids and he is just now getting started officially practicing his trade.

Think about the value he’ll be able to add to people’s lives. Performing life saving surgeries on the most critical and delicate components of our body.

If anyone was going to touch my brain with a knife, I’d sure want them to have that much training and experience. I’d want the smartest, most well trained, disciplined experts in the world. I’d feel pretty comfortable knowing that they had 19 years of training and experience before touching my brain.  I have no problem with them making loads of money either.

So let’s think about this for a minute. For those of us who are not doctors, that career path appears daunting.

I’ve watched some friends go through the medical doctor training process. The process is not easy, but it’s not terribly complicated.

So how do you think this was actually accomplished?  Many small things done consistently over a long period of time.

In primary education you build a foundation of math, science, reading, and writing.
In undergraduate, you learn you start to focus on biological sciences.
In medical school, you learn about medical care and deeper into human biological sciences
In residency, you learn the specific craft as an apprentice.

But when you break it down and look at what they’re doing each day, we can learn from their path. We can learn about vision and discipline. We can learn about taking the long path to achieve distant goals by taking one step at a time. We can learn about the value of sacrificing something in the present for something more in the future.

Let me repeat, becoming a doctor is not easy. It takes a long time, and requires smart disciplined people to make it through the process. I don’t believe that everyone should become a doctor. If you think this is about how to become a doctor you’re missing the point. It’s a story we can learn from on how we can achieve something that seems distant and hard. It is about taking it one decision after another. It’s about cultivating discipline so we can improve as human beings.

You want to be more flexible and have better mobility.  Our connective tissue takes 210 days to turn over. That’s at least 7 months of stretching everyday.

You want to lose 30 pounds.  That’s 4-12 months of making small consistent sacrifices at every meal.

Say we want to learn a foreign language, become a project manager, or just be a better father. You have to do something everyday to move those forward.

Set a goal, learn what it takes, develop a plan, and then start taking one small step at a time and don’t stop.

Fatherhood is a similar marathon. We all have ideas of what we want for our children when they grow up. We want them to have a strong moral foundation. We want them to positively contribute to this world through discipline and selfishness. We want them to find happiness. Not the fleeting happiness from an ice cream cone, the fulfillment of making the world a better place and by connecting deeply with other human beings.

To get there, it’s a long road that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But it also needs to be viewed through one step at a time. Start by reading with your child, telling them that you love them, disciplining them regularly to learn our social constructs. Be present, not on our phones or watching TV, but there, right next to them. Listen to them. Watch them. Teach them and show them how to set and achieve goals. Teach them and show them how to help others. Show them how to love and be loved.

Raising children to become independent adults requires a lot of discipline and patience over a few decades, not unlike becoming a neurosurgeon. You just need to take it one step at a time.