Here’s What You Can Control

Ellie’s face turned maroon.  “I’m angry!,” she screeched.  She was playing a board game with her twin four year old sister, Evie.

Ellie gets intense.  I’d never seen her this irate.  Why was she angry?  No other reason than her sister was ahead of her on the board.   That was deemed unfair.  I calmed her down.  She resumed playing.

The girls proceeded to butcher the game.  I resisted my urge to control and correct.  I let them play on, refereeing only when it was important to call out cheating (as opposed to their misunderstanding the rules).

I glumly thought as they played, “This game is pointless”.  It was rules driven with no autonomy or decision making  … roll the die, count out the spaces.  Roll a ‘six’ on the die, draw a card, do what the card says.  Brainless!  I lamented I was teaching my kids how to follow rote rules that are stupid and meaningless outside the context of a meaningless game.  I was having an existential parenting moment.

Evie was 1 space away from winning.  She had to roll the exact number, one, to finish and win.  She started to gloat.  I warned her, “We don’t celebrate a win until the game is over.”   Two die rolls later, ‘six’!   She pulled a card that sent her back to the beginning.   Evie wanted to quit.  “Evie, we don’t quit!,” I said.  Evie pushed forward.

Ellie went from foul mood to victory dance mode when she found herself beating her sister.  I told her the same thing I’d told Evie, “We don’t celebrate the win until the game is done.”  The next die roll, ‘six’!  Ellie was sent near the starting point on the board.  She flared. “I’m so angry!  This isn’t fair!,” she screamed.

I called the game over.  There was no point moving on.

Ellie emotionally seized up. I asked from her “Give me your eyes,” to get eye contact.  “Give me your eyes.” I repeated.  She looked at me.  I spoke quietly and slowly.   “Do you like how you feel right now?”  Ellie said, “No.”  “What are you feeling?,” I asked.  “Angry,” she replied.

” You have no control over what happens in this game.  You roll a die. You pick cards.  You do what it says. Your only choice is how you respond.”  I pause for a moment.  “If you get angry, you lose.  If you keep control of yourself, you win … regardless of who wins the game.”   “What do you choose?  Be angry and lose or control yourself and win?”   Her face softened.  Ellie relaxed.  She chose to let go of the anger and regain her composure.  She chose to win.

Most of life is outside of our control.  We don’t like to admit this.  We don’t choose our parents, the timing of lights on the way to work, whether we’re susceptible to cancer, who we work for (even when we run our own business), or if cilantro tastes good or like soap.

It clicked for me when I coached Ellie to respond differently to the game.  We can control how we choose to respond. We are responsible to control ourselves.  It’s simple, not easy.  It requires our human brain overcome its lower counterparts (primate, mammal, reptile).  It requires mindfulness, discipline and maturity.  It’s easier for some than others.  It’s possible for most.

The kids’ game I deemed stupid and pointless with rules and structure I begrudged exposed this perspective.  It wasn’t futile after all.  The rules aren’t important.  How we respond to them is.  That is the real game.

This lesson dangled in front of me elusively for decades.  I didn’t grasp it.  It took 45 years for me to see and accept what I own – the way I respond to this game called life.

Maybe my kids can learn this life lesson 40 years sooner than I did.   Of course, this is out of my control.  Patient perseverance as I teach them over and over again … That’s something I’d like to control.   And I can.



Lighting Matches on a Windy 4th of July

I closed the last book. They sat there awkwardly. Some looked at me blankly. Others’ minds and bodies wandered off.  Mrs. Bush said, “What do we say?” The class mumbled, “Thank you … ,” not quite in unison or unanimity. “What dooo we saayy?!,”  Mrs. Bush repeated with greater expectations. The kids screamed, “THANK YOU!”

I was the “Mystery Reader” for Evie’s class. She’s one of my twin 4 year olds.  I read 3 books … two too many for the attention span of ten 4 year olds. They tuned in and out like that one radio station you want to listen to while driving along a far west Texas ‘Farm to Market’ road.  Side conversations, inspections of hair and clothes, and rolling on the floor were intermittent like static cutting in and out along the drive.  Mrs. Bush prodded periodically for politeness to get the station tuned in again. It was humbling being a “Mystery Reader.”

I read books about curious, passionate kids who explore and build things, defining who they are — Ada Twist, Scientist, Iggy Peck, Architect, and Rosie Revere, Engineer.  The characters face and overcome rejection, make mistakes, and persevere.  Their flowers burst from buds.  These are children’s story versions of Anais Nin’s quote, “and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

I read for nearly 30 minutes (again, too long for these kids). Occasionally, I paused pregnantly.  Tears welled.  Breath eluded me, stolen by the gestating hope I carry for my girls to be more brave and strong than I have been.

I aspire to create experiences for my girls that might catalyze curiosity, courage, and commitment. Some are bold. Some boring.  The experiences and experiments are matches I strike in the windy night of life.  Some light. Many blow out.  A few may find a fuse and catch. Fuses burn, fuses fizzle. Some may sizzle slowly.   The gunpowder that is my girls potential awaits the charge.  Me, with anxious anticipation, look to the sky for the colored light and glare while I hold my ears, wary of the blast.

When I finished, one of the boys told me, “That was boring. But I had fun.” Evie climbed in my lap. She hugged me, looked me in the eyes and said , “I love you.” I hugged her back and whispered in her ear, “I love you, too. Be brave. Make mistakes. Learn. Grow.”

She walked away.

I left.

One more match lit on a windy Fourth of July.

Mystery Reader

Lighting up imaginations

Are You Leading Learners? Sink or swim

Embed from Getty Images Ellie stood at the side of the pool.  “I want my floaties!”  I told her she wasn’t getting her floaties.  I needed her to be brave.  She melted down like a Bomb Pop in the Texas summer sun.  I walked to the edge where she stood.  I encouraged her to just […]

[Continue reading…]

Today Is A Good Day for No Words

Three strangers hugging

Reid said, “I normally don’t have a loss for words.”   I replied awkwardly, looking for something to say.   “Today’s a good day for no words.”  Reid was at the Peace Rally the night before.  He drove out of the parking garage, where one of the snipers was setup, 25 minutes before the assault on […]

[Continue reading…]

Are You Free? The Captivity of Choice


I spent 2 days in Huntsville.  Standing on concrete.  Hands through the bars that secure 7’x9′ rooms containing two bunks, a small seat and a steel toilet.  I heard stories from men in their  20s  through their 80s.  Black, latino, white. All putting their faith … possibly in blind desperation … in God.  A Vietnam […]

[Continue reading…]

Are you listening?

View image | Tom told Jim that he appreciated that he listened.  Tom’s past managers didn’t.  Or at least Tom felt that way – which is what matters.  Jim realized he had no choice.  He was new to the job and the technologies involved.  He couldn’t help unless he fully  listened.   He discovered […]

[Continue reading…]

The Top Reason Your 3 Year Old Is Terrible

#185664072 /   She was writhing naked around on the bed.  She was excited with a huge smile on her face.   My heart rate was rising. We had to be somewhere in 20 minutes.  We were running out of time.  She didn’t care. I was frustrated.  She wouldn’t cooperate.  Why would she?  I was […]

[Continue reading…]

Of fear and faith

Do not eat from the tree of knowledge.   The first commandment.  Why?  Because our natural state is one of needing to know.  We need certainty. And when we can’t have it … Which is always, we make a choice.  Fear or faith. We hesitate and doubt in the face of the unknown.  We fear.  Or […]

[Continue reading…]

What are you waiting for?

I’ve been waiting too long.  Since I’ve been over waiting, I’m publishing this without sitting on it or proofing beyond a quick glance over. I can’t remember the last time I published anything.  The longer I go the harder it gets.  The more I wait for.  I wait for a better idea.  I wait for […]

[Continue reading…]

Who Cares About What You Do?


  It doesn’t matter what you do. It matters what you do does. It matters what the impact of what you do has on your Customer, client, friend, son, mother or husband.  The more impact, the better (Hopefully, that impact is positive). You say, “I talk to my wife 6 times a day. I’m a […]

[Continue reading…]