Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: 1-2-3 Magic

This book works because it is simple, straightforward, and hits at the heart of parents dilemma:

"I love my children, now if I could just like them as well."

I have 4 children under age 8.  I get it.  I love them, I just wish I spent more time playing games and chatting and really teaching and helping my kids rather than lecturing and scolding and correcting and reminding and stopping them all day. 

 - "But it's our duty to teach our kids responsibility, and to get along, and to be nice, and to play fair"  Yeah we all know that, but there has to be a better way.  Kids will grow up, and they'll likely be just fine, but will we miss them?  Will we cherish the memories of daily good times, or just those few fleeting moments or vacations?

1-2-3 Magic teaches the counting system - but only for things you want children to STOP doing.  Stopping something bad takes seconds.  Doing something right takes minutes to hours to days.  So you can't use counting for making their bed, or cleaning their room, or eating their dinner.  You only count for behaviors you want them to STOP.

Next big revelation - you don't lecture.  You don't talk or show any real emotion in moments of discipline.  When they are acting out - you count them.  "That's one."  Then you just wait.  If they honestly don't know what they did wrong, you say one sentence to explain.  Usually they know but they feign ignorance - "WHAT'D I DO?!"

You count, and that's all.  You don't say "That's One!  I told you to stop touching your sister, why do you have to keep buggin her, can't you just sit and eat your dinner like everyone else?  Do you really want to go to your room? (kid continues)  THAT'S TWO.  Don't make me do it.  I will send you to your room.  Do you see your sister bugging anyone?  Why can't you be like her?  Why do you have to make everything so difficult?  Are you trying to drive me Crazy? (kid continues) THAT'S IT.  THREE!  Let's go.  Get upstairs NOW!  I've had it - I've just had it.!"

This book is great because the examples are real.  I could see my kids and hear myself in the different conversations.  It was sad and scary to think of how much time and breath I've wasted lecturing my kids when there was no chance they were going to hear it.

Yes, I started reading this book so I could know whether or not to recommend it to other parents.  Now my wife and I are using it in our own home with our 4 kids.  I don't know what the long term results will be, but I like the change in myself after just 1 week, and just that is worth it.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

This book is pure fun and silliness. 

You can tell Brandon Sanderson had a blast writing this book.  He had the chance to tell a fun story, make up mythical powers and abilities, interject with funny insights or lifelong pet-peeves, and keep me laughing the entire time.

I am now reading this book out-loud to my kids and I'm loving it. It's told from the main characters perspective so he gets to explain as he writes the book why he wrote it, what parts of his writing are annoying, when he's foreshadowing, and when he's leaving a hook at the end of a chapter (knowing that this is torture to the reader!)
The plot is fun, and he's thought of some rather ingenious magical powers.  He's also given people magical talents (which most of us would see as faults) - such as the talent of always arriving late, tripping all the time, or breaking everything you touch.
It's fun waiting to see how each character's "talent" will help them or hurt them throughout the book, and how they're talent always presents itself at the wrong time, or in the wrong way.

Here are a few of my favorite little tangents from the book:

"People can do great things. However, there are somethings they just can’t do. I, for instance, have not been able to transform myself into a Popsicle, despite years of effort. I could, however, make myself insane, if I wished. (Though if I achieved the second, I might be able to make myself think I’d achieved the first….)"

"At this rate, it won't be long before this story departs speaking of evil Librarians, and instead turns into a terribly boring tale about a lawyer who defends unjustly accused field hands.
What do mockingbirds have to do with that, anyway?"

At one point there is a character who can only speak gibberish and he says "Churches, lead, very small rocks, and ducks."
 - When I read this I laughed out loud in the middle of a library.  (He's quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

"Some people assume that authors write books because we have vivid imaginations and want to share our vision. Other people think we write because we are bursting with and therefore must scribble those stories down in moments of propondenty. Both groups are completely wrong. Authors write books for one and only one reason. Because we like to torture people. Now actual torture in frowned upon in civilized society, fortunately the authorial community has discovered in story telling an even more powerful and fulfilling means of causing agony. We write stories, and by doing so we engage in a perfectly legal way of doing all sorts of terrible things to our readers. Take for instance, the word I used above, "propondenty", there is no such word. I made it up. Why? Because it amused me to think of thousands of readers looking up a nonsense word in their dictionaries."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To Spank or Not to Spank

I get this question all the time: Is it okay to spank kids?

Whether or not parents use spanking as a discipline technique has almost nothing to do with the child, or what the child did, or the severity of their action - it has to do with the parent.

This is my response to the question:

Have you ever spanked you're child when you were angry? 
Have you ever regretted spanking, or how hard you did it, or how much? 
Has your spouse or someone else ever reprimanded you for it afterwards?

If any of those are true - you have lost the right to discipline your children with spanking.  You are not punishing them, you are showing them that YOU have lost your self control.  You are teaching them that "When you lose control, I lose control, and because I'm bigger and older, you're getting spanked."

I know.  There is a parent out there who will respond that "when I was a kid my dad only had to look at the belt and I stopped cold in my tracks because I didn't want to get a whooping like I had the last time.  That's how you teach a kid!"
 - I don't think I have any chance of really discussing spaking with that parent.

So my answer is - Yes.  I have seen benefits from spanking.  I have seen kids respond to spankings, and I've seen them grow up just fine, and well disciplined.

I am never going to recommend it - just like I'm not going to recommend a glass of red-wine to every person every day.  Yes, there can be benefits - but the number of people who go too far is not worth the risk of recommending it. (get the correlation?)

So I don't tell parents NOT to spank as an absolute rule.  I tell them to be very careful - once they lose control, once they cross that line - it's no longer spanking, it's abuse.  Punishments only teach a real lesson if parents remain in control, and the children know that part of the punishment is going to be an increased showing of love afterwards. 

If we are heated, angry, at our wits end, etc... - we don't get to spank. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

I have read the Alcoholics Anonymous big book, and multiple other books on addiction.  I have read the entire Holy Bible and the Book or Mormon many times.  I have read the Bhagavad Gita, the writings of Confucius, and many books by other religious leaders and deep thinkers.  I have taken classes from a Zen master, spent hours doing Yoga, sat for long periods in contemplation and meditation, fasted for days, and prayed thousands of times. 

There is a unifying theme: Self discovery, meditation, reflection, inner peace, or in other words: an analysis of oneself.

As I study the "12 steps" I find Step 4 to be the most important, the most daunting, and the most meaningful for life in general. 

Step 4 does not say: "List all the bad things you've done."  It asks you to make a "searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself."  Figure out who you are.  What makes you tick? What failures have you had, and what led you there?  What resentments do you still hold?  Why are they still there after all this time?  What are your greatest strengths, your talents, your abilities?  What keeps you from excelling?

Step 4 isn't just about getting over an addiction, or repenting, or fixing past mistakes.  It's about self-discovery.  This is about answering the hardest question we've ever asked ourselves: "Who am I?" 

Writing out this fearless moral inventory will help you discover your true relationship with yourself, with God, and with others. You will find weaknesses. You will find strengths.  You will also find reasons for both.  You will find heartache and joy, but mostly you will find understanding. 

I began working on this four months ago.  I'm still not even close to finishing.

Today's Self-Contemplation: Why do I connect with certain fictional characters?

Why do I connect so well with Jean ValJean from Les Miserables?  Why did I write a 1400 word essay comparing ValJean to Tevye from the Fiddler on the Roof?  Why do connect with Tevye?

When I read the massive book about King Arthur (The Once and Future King) - why didn't I relate to Arthur, or Merlyn, or Pellinore or Galahad, but rather it was Lancelot who struck me to the bone as if our struggles were identical?

I'm beginning to see the themes:

Val Jean: I have done wrong, and cannot escape it. I want to do good, forever, for everyone. Even if I became as wealthy as a King, I honestly don't think I would spend it on myself - I'd use it to help other people. I can forgive myself, and I can forgive others - but I will not excuse myself or resent the law or accusers when I am in the wrong. When I am wrong, I deserve the punishment. Another person should never have to suffer in my place.
ValJean worked his whole life to love other people, to fulfill his promises, his duties. He found in the end that "To love another person is to see the face of God."

Lancelot: I have this strong desire inside me to be the best - at so many things. Not because I want to be better than others, but because I want to reach my potential. I want to be the best doctor. I want to be able to perform miracles - to be so pure that God could work through me.  But like Lancelot - I know I fall short. I don't even know if I want it for the right reasons. Like Lancelot, I repeatedly question my own motives. Do I want to do great deeds for God? for country? for right? or for my own glory? Lancelot's struggle is my own.  The struggle in the mind to be the best, but not compare myself with others. The struggle for perfection, but for the right reasons. The struggle to figure out what really matters in life and who God really wants me to be.

Tevye: The struggling man trying to maintain tradition and his religion while being accepting of others.  He must accept those who change his faith, who leave his faith, and who even go so far as to persecute and mock his faith. He tries to love all and accept all, but then says "how can I turn my back on my faith, my people? If I try and bend that far, I'll break."
Tevye's family and his religion are the most important things in his life, and he cannot live without them. Like him, I struggle to figure out how to be true to myself, my God, my family, yet be open, accepting, loving, and adaptable.

Hopefully this post was helpful to someone in some way.  Hopefully it leads you to a moment of self-reflection, and eventually, to a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Are There "Levels" of Heaven?

Let's suppose there are multiple levels of heaven.  Would everyone want to go to the top level?

Getting into the highest level of Heaven isn't like getting seats on the 50 yard line at the Super Bowl, it's like being the quarterback of the winning team.
Would a high school quarterback enjoy going to the Super Bowl and sitting on the 50 yard line?
Would he enjoy playing in the game with the most elite NFL players in the world, trying to read the routes, thread the needles, and trying to evade 350 lbs linemen trying to slam him into the turf??

That is how people misunderstand heaven.  
Heaven isn't a "one size fits all happiness."

Heaven isn't just a standard gift that can be given to anyone.  They wouldn't enjoy it.  There are "levels" or degrees of heaven.  Like the Bible describes in 2 Corinthians 12:2 about "the third heaven" - there are different levels and parts, where each of us will be the absolute happiest and most comfortable.

Would you enjoy being on stage in front of thousands of musical theater fanatics to play the role of the Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera?  Would that be amazingly awesome, or would it be humiliating, and the most uncomfortable experience of your life?  Would you be very very out of place singing next to professional broadway singers?

Going to heaven is about being happy, and you will inherit the kind of heaven that will make you happiest.  

What if you didn't make it to the top?  Like someone asking me why I want to become a child psychiatrist making $150,000 per year.
"But you could have been a plastic surgeon making $400,000 per year. You could have been the medical director at the Mayo Clinic.  You could have been more!"
If I never wanted those things, then I'll be most comfortable right where I am.  I think heaven is the same way.  We will know exactly what we could have had, but we'll be exactly where we want to be.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: The Wizard of Oz

Not what I expected.

I've seen the Judy Garland movie at least five or six times.  I've also seen the musical Wicked, and I have all the music memorized.  So I thought I knew the world of Oz, both the original and the revamped version... I was wrong.

Surprise #1: The introduction. The author says rather openly that there is no moral to the story.  No gruesome ending like Grimm's tales, and no educational value other than entertainment.
"The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to please children of today.  It aspires to be a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained, and the heartache and nightmares left out."

Surprise #2: Dorothy is YOUNG, like between 7 and 10 years old.  She is really a very innocent and simple child going through this adventure.

Surprise #3: The Wicked Witch doesn't show up until you've read over half of the book.  She is mentioned earlier, but she doesn't show up in munchkin land at the beginning and try to get the shoes, and she's actually not a huge part of the story.  15 pages after she is introduced, she's melted, and there are still 80 pages of story left.

Surprise #4: The Tinman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion are all developed characters with story lines that continue even after the Wizard leaves Oz.

This is a fun little book.  It's a quick read, kids can enjoy it.  The drawings and pictures are fun, and the author doesn't take himself too seriously.

I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised.