Category Archives: Children

No, you can’t do anything you set out to do, but…

One of the lies that people like to tell kids is “you can do anything you want to, if you really set your mind to it.” This is patently absurd. You can’t flap your arms and fly like a bird – believe me, I really wanted to do that. You can’t look at someone you don’t like and make them catch fire. You can’t make the Earth spin backwards and reverse time. (That’s a good thing, in my book.) This knowledge of your own limits may be depressing, to be sure. But think about it — the set of all possible actions is so incredibly large and dazzling that you should thank the Lord for keeping it from becoming infinite.

Here is the thing that kids should be told, over and over — you can do far more than you think you can. If you do find something you really want to do and that looks like it might be possible, understand that it probably won’t be easy. I am ashamed at the occasions when I have declined to attempt something difficult out of simple fear or discouragement, and yet I have managed to amaze myself time and time again by the things that I did accomplish. Give it a shot and don’t be discouraged by initial failure – that’s the real secret. You’ll be amazed at what happens.

9 days late but worth the wait


Please welcome my newest granddaughter, Sophie Lynn Troll, born yesterday in Santa Maria, California. She arrived at a healthy seven pounds, nine ounces, and twenty inches long. Showing that she shares her mother’s firmness of purpose, she refused to appear simply because some doctor set an arbitrary date; she was eventually convinced that we really wanted to meet her, however. Once with us, she also showed that she shares her mother’s sweet nature and startling good looks.

Swedish custom demands that I point out that her last name is Norwegian, which just goes to show that no one is perfect. :^) She is a marvelous gift and we thank the Lord that she and her mother are both doing very well. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I got a good night’s sleep for the first time in days. Huzzay!

Thrilling turnarounds not reserved for the Super Bowl

Longtime acquaintances may wonder how I, as a San Francisco 49er supporter since 1972, am feeling today in the wake of the Niners losing the Super Bowl yesterday. The response, surprising as it may be to some, is “pretty cheerful, thanks.” I propose a couple of major reasons for this:

1. I was not at all cheerful after the opening kickoff of the second half was returned for a touchdown, making the score 28-6 in favor of the Ravens and making me wonder if the Niners were about to go completely off the rails. They didn’t, of course, taking advantage of a bizarre 34-minute power failure to regroup and turn the game around. They rallied furiously and had the ball inside the Baltimore 10-yard line with four chances to win the game with under two minutes remaining; how can I possibly be anything but thrilled about that? They showed commitment, resilience, and adaptability, all essential qualities for football excellence. Nothing to feel bad about there.

2. I was not as ridiculously invested in this game as I would have been in the “old days”. When the Niners last won the Super Bowl in 1995, I was living in a basement in Davis, California. I was working part-time, drinking heavily when I was wasn’t working, and generally wondering where I was and what I should be doing. I remember feeling that the Niners were the only bright spot in my life. That situation has also turned around dramatically, although it took longer than the second half of yesterday’s game (yes, I hear the jokes about how long that half was, babies born in less time, yes yes). I’ve gotten married, become a parent to four amazing daughters, and come to the Cross. Bad habits take a long time to die (which is why I hate the expression “dropped (something) like a bad habit, its *so* wrong!). My wife will tell you about the early days of our marriage when I would get so stressed watching a Niners game that she would keep the girls out of the room. I have slowly acquired some perspective over the years and gradually made some decisions about what is worth stressing about.

As longtime readers recall, my daughter Liza played basketball on an AAU 13 & under travel team. That team started out as green and inept as you could possibly imagine and eventually worked its way up to qualify for and play at the national tournament at Disney World. They won a lot of games, but my favorite memory comes from the last game in Florida. The girls were trying to protect a slim lead late in the game, but they kept losing players who fouled out. At the end of the last regulation period, they had four girls on the court, led by Liza. They came very close to pulling out the win, but eventually lost the game in overtime. I loved what those girls showed me that game, even the fact that they were sobbing with exhaustion and frustration at the end. (I also love that they were enjoying themselves at Disney World a few hours later.)

These days, I don’t worry as much about who wins; I hope that that my team plays with heart, commitment, and responds well to adversity, as the Niners did yesterday. That seems like a more useful approach to most things in life, to my mind.

I was a rock (but I got better)

I read an article on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times (for some reason, they keep throwing it in our driveway, though we’ve never ordered it) about a family working through grief. [Link:]. It describes the family of Lt. Col. Paul Finken as they try to move forward years after his death on patrol in Afghanistan. Not too many years ago, I would have been impressed and thoughtful about such an article, but probably not moved. On Sunday, I wept openly.

I come from a tradition of stoicism and disengagement, where one appreciates the travails of others but does not connect emotionally, especially not with strangers. It would have been hard to imagine tears rolling down my face as they did on Sunday. That’s the difference that years of living with Karen and the girls has made in my life. Somehow, without knowing it, I made the decision that it was okay to feel strongly about a situation, to empathize enough to share someone’s pain. I have to say that I like the change and I have my family to thank for it.

Bus stop diversity

I took my niece’s boy to the bus stop this morning and we got there a little early. I stood there, enjoying the mild morning and watching the kids interact — these are five-year-olds, so they like to interact a lot when they are waiting for the bus. The moms were off to the side in a small group, chatting and keeping one eye on the kids. I suddenly flashed back to the world of academia I used to inhabit. I wondered what these moms would think of terms like acculturation and liminality. Later, I wondered what would happen if I tried to start a conversation about an article I read on Ars Technica about exabyte arrays. I’m not trying to assign relative value to these concepts, or to judge people by appearances. Mostly I was impressed by the amazing tapestry of this world, where people can share the same space and yet be separated by huge gulfs of experience and concern. But we all have a place here and we would all be poorer if anyone was missing. More importantly, we can all agree that the kids need to get on the bus safely.

Congrats, Katie Menton

When my daughter Liza was eleven, we wanted to find something productive for her to do. One of our friends suggested basketball and directed us to a local AAU club, the Yosemite Badgers. She was about as green as it gets — I remember thinking that she hardly knew which end of the ball to pick up. But they took her in, along with a number of other girls with varying levels of experience, and turned them into a team. They were awful at first, but after a couple of years, they improved enough to get an invitation to the national tournament for their age group. I helped coach that team for a while and I have a lot of fond memories of the girls (and the young women they became).

One of those young women is named Katie Menton and she just finished her career playing for Pepperdine University. She leveraged her talent and a lot of hard work into a dazzling high school career, and then a full scholarship at an expensive, prestigious university. She played well for the Waves and appears in several of the university’s all-time statistical leader lists, but what really makes me happy is that she will graduate this spring and plans to go on to graduate work. She was the last of my “girls” to move on from organized basketball, so I am a little sad, too. It’s been a remarkable ten-year run.

Kids watch everything you do

Lately I have noticed how many people don’t know or don’t care that they are setting a lousy example for their children. I watch parents screaming, cursing, and calling terrible names as if the kids aren’t there. Sometimes the kids are crying and acting upset while this is going on; often, though, they simply watch as if this is a show they have seen many times before. (How much worse is that?) I am tempted to generalize about why adults do this – lack of maturity seems to be a common theme – but the important point is that they are doing serious damage to children. Kids are sharp and observant, even when they appear to be totally disconnected from their surroundings. I have watched my niece’s three-year-old repeat words he heard one time, even mimicking the tone in which it was delivered.

The Bible teaches us how precious children are to the Lord; I believe a lot of people will be facing unpleasant questions at the final reckoning as to how they treated children in this life. Whether you accept that there will be an ultimate accounting or not, please know that children, whether yours or not, watch everything you do, and that you have no right to be surprised when those kids act out later and display their own version of your behavior. I cannot guarantee that setting a shining example of love and courtesy will make children happy, of course — that would be a little too simple, wouldn’t it? But I do believe you can make a positive, significant difference in your life by treating everyone with respect. That is a pretty good practice at all times, but especially when kids are around.