Pastor Scott's helpful thotts

"Well done is better than well said." —Benjamin Franklin

10 Summertime Safety Suggestions

safeSummertime is a lot of fun for families. Schedules tend to be more flexible, there are vacation trips, exciting adventures, and more time to enjoy living. While most of these qualities are terrific, with a change in routine sometimes comes accompanying hazards. We are creatures of habit, after all. We want your summer experience to be completely positive with no mishaps, so here are some ideas to help keep your kids safe. You’ll notice that these approaches will flow seamlessly into the fall after school restarts as well. Read on, and be careful out there!

  1. Set clear expectations
    In his 1962 State of the Union address, President John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” Although Kennedy was talking about the need for strong national defense, the concept applies to effective parenting. Kids occasionally get themselves into terrible situations, and sometimes parents respond with, “Didn’t you know any better??” Well, frankly, maybe they didn’t. The saying common sense isn’t all that commonespecially applies to the juveniles living under your roof. Remember, with youth comes inexperience. It is the parent’s job to anticipate difficult or dangerous situations and establish clear boundaries ahead of time. Remember, a rule that’s not spoken or written is only an idea.
  2. Meet the parents
    This directive is much more serious than Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller’s 2000 comedy by the same name. Perhaps your child has not yet learned the savvy art of being a good judge of character. Hopefully you have! It is naive to assume that every family has the same values that yours does. Likewise, not every parent has the same skill of observation, insight, wisdom, and care as you. Before allowing your child (of any age) to spend time with new friends and their families, arrange an opportunity to meet the parents. That face-to-face interaction will either pacify or validate your apprehensions, helping you decide if your child spending time with this friend and family is beneficial or not. And don’t worry about what the other parents think, because your proactivity simply demonstrates your caring concern and that you expect the best for your child.
  3. Location, location, location
    When we were growing up, there was a 10:00 pm public service announcement on TV every night asking, “Do you know where your children are?” Even as a kid, I thought that was preposterous. Certainly, parents know the whereabouts of their children! But that’s not always the case. The location of that little tyke you brought home from the hospital is always known, of course, because babies can’t get very far on their own. But as they get older, they can travel. At what point does a parent notneed to know where their child is? Ten? Twelve? Sixteen? We recommend that as long as they’re living at your address, for safety’s sake, make it a good practice to know where they are. Always. As your child gets older, put the responsibility of communicating his whereabouts on him. And don’t rely on phone apps like Find My Friends. That’s cheating. Have conversations and expectations.
  4. Safety in numbers
    This concept is so simple, it’s frequently overlooked. Doing chores, walking to the store, swimming . . . everythingis safer in groups. Not only is there safety in numbers, but also accountability. We are strong supporters of family activities. But if the whole family can’t be together, one parent, sibling, or a friend is better than going solo. How many people are needed to create an appropriate safety net? King Solomon wrote, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:11-13). When you think about it, there’s a lot of wisdom there! If someone in a party of three gets injured, one person can stay with the hurt individual while the other goes for help. Three is an intentionally safe number. Oh, and use caution when deciding to leave kids at home alone.
  5. Provide proper training
    As grownups, some tasks have become second nature – cooking with heat, cleaning with chemicals, using power tools, sharpening your collection of ninja throwing stars. In these examples, obviously some training and supervision is necessary for children. But what about folding a camp chair? I’ve come close to pinching a finger clean off on one of those buggers! Never underestimate the importance of adequate training, even for jobs that seem simple. And equally important, foster an environment in which kids expectto receive instruction before embarking on new tasks. This creates a productive and safe relationship in which kids will learn to look for guidance proactively. Of course, alwaysgive the training when asked, no matter how simple it may seem.

The next several tips focus on cybersecurity. In our modern, digital world, it should come as no surprise that kids’ digital devices can unfortunately be a source of dangers, both tangible and intangible. Statistically, your child probably won’t be abducted by a pedophile she met online. But some kids are. Probably your child won’t get bullied online to the point of slipping into a suicidal depression. But some kids will. A loving parent wouldn’t let his child run around with sharp scissors presuming that they probably won’t fall and jab their eye out. Electronic devices have become so prevalent, they are almost invisible. But parents, we must be aware of and controlour children’s digital life. Most kids are quite literally incapable of making good choices about their electronics. Children are by definition immature and inexperienced. So fill that gap by providing the real leadership they require for their cyber world.

  1. Stake your claim
    Think about all the electronic devises and services your kids have access to – phones, tablets, computers, television, internet, etc. If your family is typical, those conveniences were bought and paid for by you, the parent. Yet often, children will claim devices like personal property and become very territorial. Then a weird atmosphere results in which the devices become ‘none of your business,’ and secrecy and danger can result. For safety’s sake, claim your rightful ownership over these devices! Know all your kids’ passwords. Establish clear restrictions. Assert your authority and make sure everyone understands that these devices are your property, on loan according to your terms.
  2. Monitor usage
    In the world of business management, you often hear the adage people respect what you inspect. This is so true! Your child will be appropriately accountable when he knows you will be following up to check devise use. Be aware, there are apps out there that create ‘dummy’ home screens on a phone so the first glance is fake. Going deeper into the folders will lead to a place where another password leads to the phone’s real content. Kids often go to great lengths to maintain their privacy, so parents need to become very tech savvy. There are tools available to help parents control the content of the various devices on their plans. Contact your service provider for details. The important part is to not just make a threat to check, but actually follow up on a routine basis.
  3. Set limits
    We routinely hear stories of students who are allowed to go to bed with their phones, feign going to sleep, then surf the web and text their friends all night. It’s no small wonder students struggle staying awake in class! Parents desperately need to set limits and say ‘no’ regarding electronics. Set limits on how much screen time your kids can have each day. Set limits on when it’s time to put devices away in the evening. Set limits on how many social media apps your child participates in (some kids use up to SIX). We are observing a generation growing up with deficient communication skills and genuinely addicted to their tech. The limits you enforce now will help give your kids a more balanced and successful life later. And if your establishment of reasonable boundaries is met with fits of rage, the silent treatment, or panic resulting from ‘not being able to live without’ their devices, that’s just additional assurance that you’re doing the right thing!
  4. Establish electronics-free zones
    There are two areas in your home that will be instantly improved when declared free of electronics: the dinner table and the bedroom. Mealtime conversation will be better if phones are kept away, but that’s not a safety concern. Electronics in the bedroom, on the other hand, can become dangerous. It has been our experience that typically no good comes from having electronics of any kind in the bedroom. We have known instances of well behaved, mild mannered kids that you would never suspect who ventured into very dark places behind the closed doors of their bedrooms. Shame and embarrassment are dangerous demons to tame. Be the champion of your child’s mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual safety by gifting them with a space free from the peer pressure, intrusion, and temptation of the outside world. Keep the desktop, laptop, TV, video games, phones, and all other devices out in a visible common space so there’s no opportunity for secrecy.
  5. Communicate!
    When considering safety, communication is critical. When everyone in a family is open and honest, it’s much less likely that surprises will occur. Create an atmosphere in which full disclosure is the norm. This is different from interrogation. Older kids especially will shut down when they feel like they’re being grilled. “Where are you going? What will you be doing? Who will you be with? Are you wearing clean underpants?” But instead spend some time together every day talking about recent events, parents and kids alike taking turns. Then after discussing what happened recently, talk about upcoming plans. Parents, talk about your favorite coworkers and why you enjoy working with them. Then allow the kids to talk about their favorite pals, and why they’re fun to hang around. Make it natural! Replacing text messages with real, face-to-face conversations is a great way to really know each other and sense each other’s hearts. Then communication becomes open, honest, productive, and leads to improved safety.

This concludes our four-part summer series. We hope the rest of your summer is safe, responsible, and filled with chores and family! Best wishes to you all!


10 Chores That Benefit Your Kids


Look out parents – summer is here in all its apathetic glory. With classes out of session, extracurricular activities stopped, and required homework and reading suspended, most kids have WAY too much free time on their hands. A great way to keep their work ethic alive and foster responsibility over the summer is to institute some chores. We know, kids don’t like being assigned chores. But parenting is not a popularity contest. Good parents give leadership that helps grow their kids into responsible, hardworking adults. And where chores are concerned, the benefits far outweigh any potential grumbling.

Over the years, we’ve heard lots of twenty-somethings brag about how they neverhad to do any chores while they were growing up. Well, we’ve also known lots of young adults who sadly don’t know how to do laundry or clean a toilet. Reasonable chores are logical and effective ways to help your child learn the basic tasks necessary for making it as a grownup. And let’s face it, during the summer when we’re working and they’re playing, chores help to even the workload out a bit, so everyone can enjoy more free time.

  1. Worker in training
    At what age should a kid be expected to do chores? Well, once a little tot is old enough to take belongings out of the toybox and scatter them around the house, he’s old enough (with some guidance) to pick up the toys and put them back. Toddlers shouldn’t be operating heavy equipment, of course, but there are lots of little tasks that can foster a positive habit of helping: emptying little trash cans into the big kitchen trashcan, using a rag to wipe off doorknobs, making sure decorative pillows are in their proper place. You’ll be surprised at the pride a little tyke can feel in a job well done!
  2. Mail duty
    Whether at the end of your driveway or down the street, kids can pick up the mail and drop off outgoing letters. Of course, use good judgement about the amount of supervision is reasonable for your child’s age when walking near traffic or out of sight around the corner. But once he’s old enough, your child can take over this responsibility entirely.
  3. Pet care
    It often seems that the kids in a family are the ones who beg and beg to get a pet, then mom or dad end up serving as the primary caregiver. Give those chores to your kids! Feeding, watering, walking, bathing, brushing – these are all tasks that kids in middle school and older can handle. Caring for a pet is a great way to learn that love is not just a feeling, but calls for action and responsibility as well.
  4. The dishwasher
    No one enjoys loading or unloading the dishwasher. If someone told you he enjoys it, he is either lying or has some hidden issues to deal with. But just because it’s repetitive and unpleasant doesn’t mean your kids shouldn’t get to experience it. That’s how work is sometimes. Like all chores, show them what to do and explain your expectations, then turn them loose. Consider making a rotating schedule so everyone gets a turn.
  5. Clean the car
    My father always said that a clean car runs better. I’m not certain that’s accurate, but a clean car is certainly more enjoyable! Kids of any age can pitch in with certain aspects of this job, and the older they get, the more they can handle independently. Once they start driving, consider attaching the privilege of using the car to the responsibility of keeping it clean.
  6. Trash
    Certainly one of the most unpleasant household chores, but one that can be handled by late elementary kids and up. Dumping small cans into the big can, taking the bin to the curb, replacing liners, even periodically scrubbing the cans are all good chores that teach the realities of running a household.
  7. Neighbors
    When considering chores for your children, look beyond your own four walls. Maybe a neighbor or family member needs some extra help. Running an errand, caring for a pet, getting the mail, or bringing the empty trashcan back to the house are all simple tasks that can become burdensome if someone is sick or recovering from an injury. Reach out and help your kids be a blessing!
  8. Yardwork
    It always makes us sad when we see a neighbor who hires a lawn service while their multiple, healthy, teenage kids sit inside staring at their electronic devices. When did we get so busy or sophisticated that we can’t care for our own property? Whether the family works together or the kids take it over, get them out there! The littlest kids can pick up fallen sticks or use a watering can. Older kids can handle the whole project. Learning this skill well can even lead to a profitable summer job!
  9. Laundry
    We weren’t being facetious before about kids leaving for college not knowing how to wash their own clothes. We’ve seen this happen many times. At the very least, kids should be helping with their part of the household laundry process – putting their dirty clothes in the hamper, and making sure clean clothes stay put away appropriately. High school kids should take a more active role, perhaps even managing all of their own laundering needs. Imagine the freedom you’ll feel when asked, “Where’s my [insert name of garment here]?” You can say, “I dunno, you’re in charge of your own laundry!”
  10. Bedroom
    Last but certainly not least, the nightmare of many parents – the child’s bedroom. Out of exasperation, many parents take a hand-off approach: “This is their space, and if they want to live in a disaster area, that’s their business. But don’t expect me to ever set foot in there!” The problem with this tactic is that someday, very likely, your messy, cluttered, disorganized kid will have a roommate who will notwant to live in a disaster area. Appropriate bedroom chores now can bless a college dormmate or spouse with future happiness! Should you expect your kid’s bedroom to pass the white-glove test? Probably not. But do consider some minimal expectations and stick to them. A made bed, clear floor, closed closet door, stowed clothes, and absence of dirty dishes is an excellent start.

With all of these chores, it is absolutely essential to attach some consequences. Chores are not suggestions. Once you, the parent, have decided on a plan, it becomes mandatory. Completing the chores as expected earns privileges; failing to meet expectations removes privileges; and chronically treating assigned responsibilities irresponsibly leads to consequences. That is the real world, right there. We can’t tell you what those privileges and consequences should be, but you’ll know what will work best in your setting. Create a chart to aid in understanding and stay consistent. If you make a change, communicate it clearly beforehand.

What about paying an allowance? Well, there’sa loaded question! There are so many approaches to paying kids for their work, we’d rather not make recommendations. But we will offer a few guidelines. First, it’s reasonable to expect a certain amount of work ‘for free’ just by virtue of being part of the family. Do your kids create trash? Play on the lawn? Drink from clean glasses? Well, then performing associated chores is just part of carrying the shared responsibility of living together as a family.Second, if you choose to pay for certain tasks, by all means pay by the job, not by the week. This teaches clearly that income is earned by completing a task well, not by just waiting for a certain amount of time to elapse. Paying your child for having a pulse for a certain number of days is not an effective approach. And third, if you pay anything, it should absolutely not exceed minimum wage. For example, you assign your child to clean the toilets. You hate that job, so to you it’s worth $5 per toilet. Then you discover that he does a really good job scrubbing that toilet in about 10 minutes. Well, at that rate, he’s earning $30 per hour! WAY too much! That price structure sends the wrong message, teaches the wrong lesson, and is disproportionate with reality. Make it $1.25.

So far in our summer series, we’ve talked about quality family time, fostering responsibility, and some ideas for chores. We hope your household is benefitting from some of these ideas. Next week, helpful measures to keep your child safe during the summer!

8 Ways to Foster Responsibility

How did things go with last week’s suggestions on quality family time? We hope you found a few good ideas. If you read the article but didn’t take action, it’s not too late! Review it and make a plan for next week. If you didn’t read last week’s article in our summer series, it’s not too late for that either! This week, the seemingly counterintuitive task of teaching responsibility to children during the summer months.  ( :


Let’s face it, raising kids to be responsible, contributing members of society can be challenging. Sometimes the task feels like rolling a large boulder up a steep hill. Society tends to over-glamorize leisure, and friends often enforce the popular notion that laziness is cool. And that’s when school is in session! Enter summer vacation, and all productivity, effectiveness, and order can be out the window.

Parents, it is to your benefit (and the benefit of teachers who must ‘pick up the pieces’ in the fall) to keep students productive and responsible during their summer break. There will be LOTS of time for fun and rest, but balancing leisure with work is an important characteristic of a responsible human being. Don’t wait! Implement some of these ideas right away, before your child embraces ‘the big lazy.’ You’ll notice our recommendations ramp up incrementally in seriousness, so continuing to the end is not for the faint of heart! ( :

  1. Chores
    If your summer household routine is like most families, both parents continue to work fulltime jobs while the kids lay around sucking up oxygen all summer. Then when mom & dad are done with a full day of work, they continue working to make supper, care for the home, pets, shopping . . . you get the idea. Mobilize those youngsters to help carry the load so everyonegets to enjoy summer break. We have lots of effective chore suggestions, so keep an eye out for next week’s edition of our summer series.
  2. Safety and security
    Assign some tasks involving the proactive care for your home and its occupants. Before going to bed, make sure doors are locked, lights are turned out, and electronics are turned off. Share the responsibility of picking up trip hazards inside and outside the home. Remember that clean vehicles are safer than their cluttered counterparts. Don’t just assign jobs, but instead discuss the importance of household safety and why it’s prudent to prepare for the unexpected. Be careful not to scare impressionable tots while enlisting their help in the safety patrol.
  3. Economics
    Summertime boredom can result in children’s desire for continuous entertainment and self-indulgence. “I wanna go to the movies! I wanna go to the theme park! I wanna go to this restaurant!” The list is endless. The condition is what Jean Shepherd referred to as “the ecstasy of unbridled avarice.” Help your child by having honest conversations about the choices involved in economics. This includes not just finances, but the economy of time and energy. Sit with your child to develop a budget, schedule, and prioritized list. Delayed gratification is a worthwhile lesson to learn this summer.
  4. Make a meal
    Perhaps one night each week this summer, your child can be responsible for making supper for the family. If your chef is very young, maybe it’s build-your-own-sandwich night, but your kid sets out all the ingredients as a buffet. Or takes orders, and builds custom sandwiches himself. For little kids, parents can be kitchen assistants. But once they’re in middle school, give them some instruction beforehand, then turn them loose and see what they can do! By the time your child is 15 or 16, he should be able to handle doing the planning, shopping, and preparation of a simple meal. You might be surprised at what they’re able to accomplish!
  5. Weekly family meetings
    As we mentioned last week, summer break can so easily be squandered unless we are intentional. A great tactic to achieve intentionality is a weekly family conference. Be sure to notrun your meeting like this one from the excellent 1991 film What About Bob?:

Leo:    Family conference! Family conference! (They gather.)Alright, I don’t want any of you letting Bob into this house.

Siggy:  Why?

Leo:    (Incredulous.)WHY??

Fay:     Sweetheart, aren’t you overreacting just a little bit?

Leo:    Good. I’m glad we’re all in agreement. Family conference is over.

On the contrary, a good family conference is an opportunity to listento each family member. Find out what their expectations are for the upcoming week, discussing plans, possible conflicts, and what the individual and group goals are. Working teens should share their job schedules. This is an excellent way to teach strategic planning and the reality that an individual’s plans really do affect those around him.

  1. Prepare the night before
    We find that students who are unprepared for school can find a simple, straightforward remedy in a few minutes of preparation before bedtime. This includes making sure necessary clothes are laid out (or laundered, or located), transportation arranged, expectations clearly stated, etc. Avoid the chaos and confusion that accompanies going to bed with no ideawhat tomorrow has in store. Everyone will sleep a little better knowing what’s over the horizon, and this simple step can teach your student a hugely helpful habit of responsibility.
  2. Good communication
    Although closely related to Tips #5 and #6, fostering good communication is an all-the-time habit. Twenty-first century electronics are causing a phenomenon called ‘cocooning’ where individuals retreat into their cyber-worlds and disconnect from those in the same room – even their loved ones. A generation is being raised in which many young people are severely lacking in their ability to listen effectively to others, and express their own cohesive thoughts. Clearly, the inability to communicate drastically impairs a person’s ability to be responsible.

Parents, exercise healthy boundaries regarding how and when your children (and you) interact with devices. Set limits. Then start filling the refreshing, empty space with purposeful communication. Ask open-ended questions. For example, don’t ask, “Did you have a good day?” (Clearly, the response will be “Yes,” “No,” or more likely, “Uh-huh.”) Try instead, “Tell me all about your day.” And when you get a two-word response, probe for more.

Parents, you need to model great communication with your kids. Imagine your kids surprised you by making your bed while you were at work. You could say, “Thanks, kids, for making my bed.” Which is okay. But imagine instead if you said something like this: “Kids, after a long day at work, it meant so much to me when I saw you made my bed. It makes me feel like you really care, knowing you’d do something so kind, and thinking about my needs while I was at work. I love you so much, and really appreciate your special effort.” Which thank-you would youenjoy more?

  1. Consistent bed time and rising time
    One of the most destructive, pernicious, and irresponsible summertime habits we have observed is the total disregard of any set schedule during the summer. Kids, and in many cases, youngkids, stay up all night then sleep most of the day. For parents who observe conventional sleeping and working hours, their children’s irresponsible schedules can easily go unnoticed. The scriptures are pretty clear that (unless you are a healthcare professional, emergency responder, or convenience store clerk), honorable activities belong to the day, and shameful activities belong to the night. Just to be clear, if your kid is staying up into the wee hours of the night, the chances are enormous that he is not reading his Bible.

As teachers, we see calamitous cases every year where students have had no sleeping or rising schedule expectations over the summer, resulting in a difficult transition back into a normal school schedule. But that is not the motivation for this recommendation. This trend toward an inverse sleeping schedule has been called “vamping,” and it is mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually unhealthy. Teenagers who need 8-9 hours of sleep every day are deprived of adequate rest, supervision, exposure to light, and, ironically, rejuvenating isolation. Vamping is like being forced to adjust to working 3rdshift, for no reason whatsoever other than the lack of self-control and parental oversight.

Parents, your kids need you to take the lead in this! Make clear both your expectation andthe consequences if your instructions are not followed. Find a way to provide some responsible accountability. We hesitate to suggest that you can’t trust your children (noparent likes to hear that!), but in some cases this is true. Studies validate the perspective that digital devises are addicting, and impressionable kids are often overwhelmed to the point where they cannot help themselves to be on their devices 24/7. You must step up, and implement strategies to help your child be responsible with his sleep schedule this summer. Once he’s well-rested again, his non-blood-shot eyes will thank you!

Next week, a creative and helpful list of chores for kids of all ages. Stay tuned!

10 Tips for Quality Summer Family Time

Version 2

Here we are again – another summer vacation. Even though the break has barely begun, we’re already anticipating the students’ return in August. If this coming fall is like others recently, some students will share accounts of summer adventures with friends and family. But most will talk about staying up too late, sleeping away most of the days, and just generally wasting time. These stories always make us sad, because when is there ever a better opportunity than summer vacation to use time wisely?

Parents, we want to encourage you, here at the start of the summer. Take some time to consider really helping your student. Regardless of age, if your child is living under your roof, you have a tremendous opportunity to influence him positively. A great start is simply spending time together as a family. Most younger kids love intentional family time! And, believe it or not, despite their sometimes-apathetic demeanor, most older kids love family time too.

Below we’ve included ten ideas you can easily implement this summer to bring your family closer together. These approaches are easy, work for any age, and don’t require a big budget. All will require your kids (and you!) to put away your smartphones for a while. Although our modern devices have become obligatory, their presence alwaysmakes personal connection more difficult. We also recommend that once you, the parent, have decided which approaches to use, they should be mandatory for the whole family. If the activities you select are worth doing, they’re worth everyonedoing them.

  1. Family dinner
    Without some intentional planning, busy family members can be like ships that pass in the night. Or speedboats! Evening meals are an ideal time to connect, share about the day’s events, and discuss upcoming plans. Go around the table and give everyone a turn to speak. And of course, electronic devices are elsewhere – preferably in another room. If you find it impossible to schedule family dinner every night, commit to several nights each week, and stick to it.
  2. Family date night
    Think of some of those fun, relatively inexpensive activities you may have done as a teenager with your ‘special squeeze’ – bowling, roller skating, movies, drive-inmovies, or dressing up for a moderately-priced restaurant. Make it a special occasion, take some pictures, and, of course, leave the phones at home. If you have multiple kids, find some opportunities for one-on-one time – a daddy and daughter lunch, or mom and son breakfast. Although family bonding is a whole-group endeavor, working on individual links does make the whole chain stronger.
  3. Get out and move
    Find some outdoor activities to do together. Go on a nature hike, play some tennis, go camping, toss a frisbee around, or play a game of croquet in the backyard. There are lots of memorable adventures for a family to enjoy, like renting a canoe, going tubing, rock climbing, or visiting a state park. Dust the cobwebs off those bicycles, pump up the tires, and enjoy a ride together.
  4. Staycation
    Who says family togetherness has to cost a lot of money? Fancy vacations are lots of fun, but families often go their separate ways once reaching their destination. This summer, plan a few intentional days for the whole family to stay home (or close to home) all day. Create an itinerary so everybody knows the plan. Maybe have each family member plan a block of time on the calendar. These days can be so much fun! Include a little bit of ‘alone time,’ because everybody needs an occasional break, even from family. Also, plan a few specific times to check devices, otherwise – no phones (for kids or their parents)!
  5. Projects
    Let’s face it, there are always projects to be done. Rather than unpleasant tasks, make them family goals! Maybe one of your kids would like to have his bedroom painted this summer. Don’t do it forhim – do it with him! Have three kids? Select three planting areas in your yard and have them each design, plant, water, and maintain their own flower bed. Make it a friendly family competition! Projects can be fun, teach new skills, bring a family together, and make great memories.
  6. Family service project
    There are needs all around us, all the time, and compassionate people can frequently offer solutions. What a great lesson for your kids to learn this summer! Think of a neighbor or family member who needs some extra help and find a way to be a blessing. Maybe running an errand, doing some cleaning, cooking a meal, moving some furniture, or just providing some friendly companionship. Mobilize your family to make a difference!
  7. Family movie night
    Our household enjoyed Hutton Family Movie Night™ every Friday for years! We took turns picking titles and ordered pizza or sometimes Chinese food. We looked forward to it every week. The rule was to never complain about someone else’s selection. Although it’s not necessarily a good opportunity for connection, it is a fun tradition for your family to do together.
  8. Game night
    For some reason, family members often drift apart in the evenings. Implement a strategy to intentionally keep your family together. Pull out a deck of cards, a board game, or a puzzle. Take turns planning a scavenger hunt. If your kids feel addicted to video games, have them create a video game tournament and play together!
  9. Read a book
    Choose a book title that everyone will enjoy and spend some time each evening reading aloud. Be sure to take time to discuss what you’re reading. This provides an opportunity to build active listening skills and helps to insure younger family members understand the plot. If your kids are strong readers, allow everyone to take a turn. If they’re not confident readers, however, it’s probably best to leave the reading to the grown-ups, otherwise the event becomes tedious instead of enjoyable. Or find a great audiobook and listen to that. The important point is to do it together.
  10. Family devotions
    Last, but certainly not least, spend some time together in prayer and reading the Word. If you’re not already in the habit of doing this as a family, it can feel scary, but it’s not! Read a Psalm, write down prayer requests from every family member, and talk to the Lord. Start with thanksgiving, then mention the requests. Allow everyone to take turns leading. Do this consistently for a while, and your kids will begin expecting and looking forward to it.

That’s enough to get you started! Take some time to review the list, think about how you’d like your family’s summer to look, and choose a few ideas. Don’t try the whole list all at once, or you’ll overwhelm your kids and yourself! If an idea falls flat with your family, that’s okay. Try it again with a few adjustments or try something different from the list. Or get inspired to invent your own ideas and approaches. The important thing is to be intentional and keep it up! Don’t allow the summer to be wasted on your family . . . it’ll be over before you know it!

Next week, we’ll share some suggestions about how to help your kids grow in responsibilityover the summer.

Disney Springs – my observations


Several years ago I abandoned an attempt to see a movie with my family at Downtown Disney’s AMC Theater. The construction traffic made it almost impossible to get there, then the only parking space I could find seemed miles away from the theater. I have strategically avoided the area ever since.

Well, this weekend I finally paid a visit to the long anticipated, hugely hyped, and rechristened Disney Springs. The reports that it’s safe to return are indeed accurate. To appreciate the near-complete renovation of this 40-year-old shopping and dining area, it helps to understand a bit of its history.

Lake Buena Vista was a community that existed prior to the opening of Walt Disney World in October of 1971. People lived near or ON what would become Disney property. Unlike Disneyland in California that quickly became overrun with competing businesses in the 1950s, a primary goal of The Florida Project was always to keep business ‘inside the gates.’ The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village opened less than four years after the Magic Kingdom to provide a convenient service to locals and park guests, as well as channel discretionary dollars into the Company.

It quickly became apparent that the small shopping, dining, and entertainment district attracted tourists almost exclusively, and was rebranded as Walt Disney World Village. The area kept that name for nearly a decade, during which Epcot opened as the resort’s second theme park.

When Michael Eisner took the helm of the Company in 1984, he immediately embarked on a crusade to maximize the acreage of the property and the latent abilities of its amazingly creative staff. Eisner also renewed with fresh enthusiasm the resort’s longstanding goal of filling the Company’s coffers. He announced a third theme park, Disney-MGM Studios, and a gated, adult nightclub area, Pleasure Island, to compete for tourist dollars with popular venues like Orlando’s Church Street Station. The two projects opened concurrently in May of 1989, and the new district was renamed Disney Village Marketplace, subtly removing Walt’s name from the first Disney business venture in the world to sell alcohol.

The Marketplace enjoyed tremendous popularity through the 1990s, and the Company invested heavily in its expansion. An AMC theater, Rainforest Café, Planet Hollywood, Virgin Megastore, and Cirque du Soleil were added. A ubiquitous merchandise shop was renovated into the gargantuan World of Disney, still the largest purveyor of Disney character merchandize under one roof in the world.

The rapid expansion, however, was plagued by some of the same liabilities that towns experience under similar circumstances – a hodgepodge of buildings, shortage of parking, traffic gridlock, and (a huge no-no in the Disney universe) a badly muddled theme and complete lack of backstory. The area was renamed Downtown Disney in 1997, with the newest section dubbed Westside. Not sure what to call the original section of the property, locals referred to it informally as ‘The Marketplace’ or ‘The Village.’ Although it remained popular, Downtown Disney’s purpose was confusing, signage lacked clarity, and permanent construction walls hid abandoned areas from the public. The management of vehicular and foot traffic for both guests and cast members became more and more challenging.

As Eisner became increasingly embroiled by corporate politics, his pet projects began to take a back seat. Pleasure Island’s quality suffered so badly that the Company decided it could no longer justify expecting guests to pay a cover charge. It operated ‘gateless’ for four years, then shuttered permanently in 2008. In the tradition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’s closing, this left a sprawling piece of real estate sitting dormant in the middle of a valuable and highly visible guest area. But just as some Imagineers focused their attention on retooling Fantasyland, others were reimagining Downtown Disney.

Fast-forward to this weekend. Although signage is unfinished creating some confusion about where to enter the complex, there are additional turning lanes, signals, beautiful landscaping, and a ‘flyover’ entrance bridge that keeps traffic moving, both from Buena Vista Drive and directly from I-4. The two immense parking garages (only one is open so far) are reminiscent of the garages at Disneyland – high ceilings, architecturally interesting, and lots of natural light. An automated sensor system helps drivers know how many open spaces are available in each lane and where they’re located. Elevators and escalators move guests effortlessly forward.

Located between the garages are bus and taxi services. Guests will be directed to a large municipal-looking building, and enter the (faux) historic area of the Springs. Although this area is still shuttered, a Cast Member told me it’s beautiful – a large water feature, designed after actual natural springs throughout Florida. Pine and cypress trees line the bank, and broken bits of blue and green glass are imbedded in the concrete bottom, enhancing the sparkle of the crystal-clear water. Bridges will crisscross the spring to minimize the steps of weary visitors.

Since construction continues on multiple buildings and temporary walls still abound, it was necessary today to walk the long way ‘round. But it’s easy to see how cohesive the whole district will be. Near the spring are the oldest, historic structures of the first inhabitants of the village of Disney Springs. It’s near World of Disney, which has been given a slight Arts & Crafts renovation to help it blend in. My friend, Lon, designed some stained glass insets that are really clever. The surrounding buildings all enhance the look of a century-old town center, that’s been updated with modern amenities while embracing its charming history.

As you move out from the town center, there are different districts. But unlike the previously muddled feel, it makes better sense now. Just as a town would expand naturally, the buildings are newer as you move from the town center. Pedestrian traffic will flow better than ever, once the construction walls are removed. The old Pleasure Island area is incorporated into the whole, with some buildings replaced and others repurposed. An additional bridge overlooking the Saratoga Springs Resort connects previously distant areas of the complex. Cirque du Soleil, Splitsville, and their neighbors are at the farthest point from the town center, supporting the notion that architecture became more modern and kitschy as the community expanded. As before, stage areas for live performances are tucked in here and there, but they seem better thought through and more conveniently spaced.

Renovating Downtown Disney into Disney Springs reminds me of Boston’s ‘Big Dig’ that took place from 1982 to 2002. The massive construction project focused on two elevated highways running right through the center of the city, and relocated them completely underground. In an interview, a construction foreman said that completely rebuilding the highways without disrupting traffic was like performing brain surgery on a patient while he’s awake! Similarly, Disney tackled this large-scale renovation while keeping the area (mostly) open to guests. Financial practicality necessitated working around some preexisting buildings. But the end result, I believe, will showcase Disney at its best.

Disney Springs will incorporate early twentieth-century charm with twenty-first century modernity in a way that appears logical and seamless. The quirky, one-of-a-kind locations that make Disney a magical destination will be woven in with popular brands like Under Armour, Vera Bradley, and Sunglass Hut. With an anticipated 150+ shops and restaurants, Disney Springs will be an enormous outdoor mall for routine and specialty shopping. And best of all, visitors can arrive without aggravation, park for free in a covered garage, and enjoy interesting, unique architecture and gorgeous landscaping in a well-planned, immaculately clean environment, with the customer service they’ve come to expect from Disney. An excellent job; better than I imagined. I am looking forward to returning soon when the walls come down!

Riding the Movies: A review of the recent changes to The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios


Today’s post is a bit of a departure from the norm. This week’s typical “helpful thot” will only be helpful if you are a fan of the Disney theme parks in Florida. But then again, who isn’t?

I am a Disney traditionalist. For me, the mid-90s represent my favorite era at the Florida Parks. I still occasionally feel compelled to start a petition to save Epcot’s Horizons (demolished in 1999) or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (shuttered in 1998). There is always a twinge of nostalgic panic whenever news spreads regarding changes to our beloved attractions. Sure, I know that Walt (THE MAN himself) embraced innovation and envisioned his parks to be forever evolving. And while I genuinely love much of the new (Toy Story Mania, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, the enhancements to my favorite, The Haunted Mansion), I mourn the loss of the old (Aunt Polly’s on Tom Sawyer Island, the Kitchen Cabaret, and the Country Bear Christmas show).

Naturally I was concerned when the MGM brand and the sorcerer’s hat vanished from the Studios (although the removal of the iconic hat is an enormous esthetic improvement for the Park). The Great Movie Ride holds lots of special memories for my family. My son embraced the challenge of watching every film in the cinematic finale. My hesitation remained slight, however, since, after all, neither Disney nor the new corporate sponsor of the attraction, Turner Movie Classics, would want to spend tens of millions to replace dozens of audio-animatronics. I felt secure that this special piece of real estate would remain mostly undisturbed.

A few weeks ago, I read details about the changes for the first time. Prerecorded narration caught my attention. Almost always a mistake, replacing a cast member with a recorded spiel makes an attraction less personal and more boring (for example Living with the Land, aka The Land Boat Ride). My worries mounted as I travelled to the park this morning (June 13, 2015). I was reticent . . . oh yes.

I was pleased to see the exterior of The Great Movie Ride almost entirely intact as I remembered it. The familiar Chinese Theatre façade, the requisite hand prints. The only noticeable adjustment was to the signage subtlety heralding TCM’s sponsorship and a new movie poster. I feel the poster is a nice change – bold, a little art deco influence, and totally in harmony with the theme and era of the attraction.

Entering the queue area, I was greeted with the same décor and encased movie memorabilia. But adorning the walls were many new framed movie posters that (with the magic of LCD screens) frequently changed. The line was moving so quickly, I was disappointed that I couldn’t linger to see each one. A nice touch and easy way to ‘plus’ the experience for the guests.


When entering the main cue area, I heard the voice of Robert Osborne, film historian and host for Turner Classic Movies. After seeing the same movie trailers up on that screen for (literally) decades, it was jarring to see Osborne and other unfamiliar footage. But I liked the approach! Osborne shared interesting background information about the films and actors. The image was bright and sharp. I appreciated that much of the old footage was retained as on homage to the original preshow film, while incorporating it into a fresher presentation. Admittedly, some of those old movie trailers were getting so dated, they almost seemed to be making fun of themselves. To a new generation of movie viewers, it was time for something different to adequately showcase these classic titles and promote them as the timeless gems they are. Again, the line moved so quickly that I didn’t see the entire loop. I’d like to come back another time, pull up a chair, and watch it in its entirety.

Osborne’s narration continued through the ride, but was creatively woven together with the spiel provided by our flesh-and-bones tour guide. These cast members swap their responsibilities (as always) with cowboys or gangsters. The original tour guide returns after the failed attempt to steal the ‘priceless jewel.’ In some of the middle sections, Osborne’s voice has simply replaced another pre-recorded narrator (do you recall, “And what will be your fate?” “A terrifying alien waits to claim its next victim.”) The ride portion of the attraction is nearly untouched, with the minor exception that the opening Footlight Parade scene is left almost completely in the dark.

At the start of the cinematic finale, Osborne appears, rather joltingly, in the most self-advertising, commercial moment of the attraction – unnecessary and over-the-top, but it does tie everything together nicely. The closing montage is completely different – the biggest change by far to the attraction. I feel it is a huge improvement. Although I enjoyed the old finale, it’s been taken up a notch with a digital image, more modern editing techniques, and lots more images included. Again, many of the previous moments remain, but they are enhanced within a beautiful, new presentation. Once more, the ride moved along while movie images were still being scrolled across the screen, and I wished I could have lingered longer to see more.

Suddenly the door latches clicked open, we applauded for our (live) tour guide, and were herded back into the scorching rays of the relentless Florida sun. Overall, I felt the updates were positive. It seems Turner Classic Movies is an appropriate and capable partner that knows how to properly preserve our much-loved memories, while positioning them to be rediscovered by a new generation. There’s still work to be done by excellent cast members. And, most importantly, I left The Great Movie Ride looking forward to my next visit. And that is a sign of a timeless Disney attraction.


Unlikely friendliness


“Good morning, Andrew!” David smiled broadly as he greeted my son. “It’s nice to have you back!”

From the back of the room, Teena redirected her attention away from her work. “Is Andrew here? Oh, good!”

In a few moments, the manager came out from her office and shook my son’s hand. “Thank you so much for yesterday. It really was a pleasure to have you here. We’ll take good care of you today.”

These professional adults totally rolled out the red carpet for my sixteen-year-old son. Andy felt very welcomed and encouraged by the happy reception. Where was this friendly harbor, this bastion of positivity? Was it the magic shop? The candy store? The church office? No, the back-pats and smiles were found at a most unlikely place . . . our local DMV.

Yes, the Department of Motor Vehicles. The location stereotypically known for impersonal service and surly demeanor, impatient customers and uncaring civil servants. But on this day, perhaps uncharacteristically, at least for a while, the DMV exuded friendliness.

How? Let me explain.

On the previous day, I went with Andy to get his permit. We had an appointment. We waited for 45 minutes, he took his eye exam, and we waited for his name to be called for the computerized test.

And we waited.

And waited.

While we waited, we chatted with Teena about her daughter who recently visited from Colorado. We explained how Andy was soon traveling to Tennessee to visit his brother. We laughed about a few things, and noticed David chuckling as he eavesdropped on our lighthearted conversation.

Then the office manager came out to explain the delay. The computer system was down statewide. Closing time was approaching, and it was too late to start a test. But she could make an appointment for Andy the next morning. She apologized.


Andy and I witnessed the tirade. We thanked the office manager for explaining the technical problem, and for making another appointment. On our way out, we waved at Teena and said, “It was nice visiting with you.” David smiled.

On our way to the car, Andy confided, “Well, that was pretty much a waste of time.” I agreed, except that maybe we demonstrated how to show grace under pressure. I thought that would be the end of it – a little life lesson for my boy.

The reception he received the next morning blew me away! At the government office known for giving grumpiness, I got the feeling the employees were accustomed to receiving grumpiness from their customers as well. My son and I chose not to blame someone for a situation she couldn’t control. We didn’t pile the guilt on to someone who already felt badly. We weren’t motivated by a narcissistic compulsion to have the last word, assert ourselves, or be the center of the universe. From our perspective, we merely demonstrated common courtesy.

But apparently courtesy isn’t all that common. All those employees remembered Andy by name, gave him a warm reception, and thanked him. Simple patience and friendliness really stood out.

That’s a lengthy story to teach a very brief lesson.

Can’t we all just be a little nicer to each other? Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt and treat people how we’d like to be treated. What goes around comes around, after all. Wouldn’t everyone like to live in a world where David is happy to see us, Teena remembers us with a smile, and the office manager wants to shake our hand? That friendly world is not beyond our control. We simply have to start the ball rolling with a little common courtesy. Show some friendliness in some unlikely circumstances. Then stand back and enjoy the results!

Memory Care: 8 Steps to Positively Maintain Your Memory


Today in the United States it is Memorial Day. Although it began as ‘Decoration Day’ in soldiers’ cemeteries after the Civil War, congress designated it an official national holiday in 1967. While Veterans’ Day is a celebration of our military heroes, Memorial Day is a more sober observation of those heroes who “gave the last full measure” for our country. We memorialize the individuals who sacrificed for our freedom.

Lincoln would agree that it is “altogether fitting and proper” that we keep alive the memories of “these honored dead.” But as I’ve been reflecting on Memorial Day, what it means, and the significance of keeping memories alive, I can’t help but ponder the pros and cons of our rather selective memories. Memorial Day prompts us to remember people, events, and ideals that should never be forgotten. But sometimes I think we’re guilty of keeping memories alive that would be better off dead.

None of us make it through life without struggles, disappointments, and heartbreak. Low points are a reality of traveling the peaks and valleys of life. It’s good to learn from these dark times, and carry those lessons with us. But dragging past hurts into the future causes the hurt to continue. We need to avoid the counterproductive habit of stirring up memories that can drag us down.

Here are a few examples from my own life, just to make my point. My mother was disabled and my father didn’t make a lot of money, so I grew up on the low end of the socioeconomic scale. Dad was unemployed for part of my formative years, so we rarely ate out or took family vacations. Dad died when I was only twelve years old, leaving me, an only child, to care for my disabled mother. While some of my friends received a car as a graduation gift, I got a card. Because of my mom’s disability, I had to leave college before I finished my degree. Then mom died just two months before my first child was born. My wife and I experienced two miscarriages. Our income has never been sufficient to live in a fancy house, drive fancy cars, or take fancy vacations. I get by on a tight budget, paying the monthly bills requires careful planning, and I have almost nothing saved for retirement.

It’s easy to see how focusing on these facts could drag me down into a depressed stupor! While these statements accurately define much of the reality of my life thus far, I choose to not dwell on these memories. Instead, I much prefer a focus like this:

After giving up hope of having children after many years, I came along unexpectedly and my parents joyfully referred to me as their ‘miracle baby.’ During a time when many of my friends’ mothers were leaving home to find careers, I was lucky to have a stay-at-home mom. I was oblivious about my family’s economic state, because I never felt deprived and Dad made everything fun. The memories we created together during the years he worked at home are an irreplaceable blessing. Through a terrific turn of events, I was fortunate to attend college, where I met my wonderful wife. We’ve raised three outstanding children who impress me every day and have made life fulfilling beyond measure. We have a beautiful home that’s filled with love, we’ve never gone hungry, and through a difficult economy I’ve never had to file bankruptcy and all my bills are up to date.

See the difference? Almost sounds like someone else’s life, doesn’t it? Picking the scabs of bad memories results in bitterness, distrust, fear, sadness, a sense of purposelessness . . . the list goes on. The physical muscles we exercise get stronger, and it’s the same with our emotions and memories. We must increase the reps on the positive and allow the negative to atrophy. As Mrs. Doubtfire said, “The bad times fade away, and the good ones adhere themselves to your memory.” This is not living in denial; it’s living with gratitude and optimism.

Okay, so how do we do accomplish this? Well, it’s not automatic, that’s for sure. It seems to be human nature to dwell on the negative. But we can train our brains to gloss over the junk and emphasize the gold. Here are a few practical suggestions:

  1. Own the junk
    Don’t ignore the bad stuff in your past. Psychologists would call that repression or avoidance. Acknowledge the hurt, unfairness, bad breaks, and sadness. Yes, it happened. Learn what you can, and move on.
  2. Let it go
    Easier said than done, you’ve got to let go of blame, pain, and grief. Give yourself enough time to process, but also give yourself a deadline. There needs to be a statute of limitations on bad memories! You could try a cathartic event, like writing on slips of paper as many bad memories as you can think of, then burning them in the fireplace. As a Christian, I have found handing my past over to God to be very effective. Find what works for you.
  3. Confront the cause
    Sometimes (although not every time) a big part of letting it go is closure. We often revisit painful situations in our minds because we haven’t addressed them in reality. Maybe there’s a person you need to have a conversation with or send a letter to. Or there might be a past situation looming over your head that makes it impossible to forget. For example, a financial embarrassment from a decade ago can seem fresh in your mind if your personal finances are still in shambles. Find the source of the problem, and resolve it.
  4. Plan mental detours
    Your thought life is powerful, and can either help or harm you. Sometimes we have inadvertently worn well-trodden pathways back to the lousiest parts of our memories. In advance, plan a detour! Tell yourself, “The next time I start thinking about [insert negative memory here], I’m going to think about [happy time] instead.”
  5. Redesign your environment
    Perhaps time and neglect have gotten you surrounded by reminders that drag you down. Maybe a friend repeatedly brings up that blunder you made, or a photo reminds you of an unkind family member. It’s time to set better boundaries, spend time with different friends, and reframe a new photo. Fill your life with influences that have you looking up, not down.
  6. Watch your mouth
    Words are powerful. The more we speak them, the more we believe what we say. When engaging in conversation, talk about the happy experiences, victories, and ‘lol’ moments. And, of course, the most critical words to watch are the ones we speak to ourselves.
  7. Start a brag book
    When new parents start their first baby album, they never include unflattering photos of their kid. Only the cutest, most adorable pictures make the cut. Start your own brag book! It could be your computer screensaver with only pictures that represent great memories. Or a ‘warm fuzzy’ box containing thank-you cards, positive reviews, or notes of encouragement you’ve received. I have a folder at work called ‘Stuff My Kids Made Me’ with crayon drawings and love notes from throughout the years. Find a system that works for you and visit it often.
  8. Make some new memories
    I believe many people dwell on their unpleasant past because they have nothing fresh to feel proud or happy about. Go rescue a puppy from a shelter, pay for a stranger’s meal at a restaurant, read a great book, send some notes of gratitude, run an errand for an elderly neighbor . . . there are literally endless ways you can immediately start feeling positive about yourself and find happiness in life. It’s amazing how fast your new memories will begin to overshadow the old ones.

Start today! Clear off those mental shelves of the past, dust off the cobwebs, and start refilling them with positive memories. On this important national holiday, honor the memories of our fallen servicemen. Then take some time for yourself and consider what you memorialize.

It’s all about perspective


I just returned from my local Publix supermarket (“where shopping is a pleasure”). In addition to picking up lunch for my wife and me, I became a participant in an unexpected social experiment that was both educational and, well, near hysterical.

As soon as I entered the store, I became aware of a young tot. Eventually I observed that she was a passenger in her mom’s shopping cart, and around ten months old. She was blonde, dressed in a pretty, ruffled dress . . . and absolutely screaming her head off. I mean, as bad as I’ve ever seen. Red-faced, clench-fisted, with tears and snot flowing in abundance.

Except for occasionally coming up for air, this sweet little moppet screamed nonstop the entire time I was in the store. It was easy to pinpoint the whereabouts of this mother and daughter duo even without a clear line of sight.

Mom was on her cellphone, seemingly oblivious to the high-anxiety ruckus that every single shopper was unable to ignore.

I am a people watcher. When at a theme park, theater, or other public emporium, I enjoy observing the masses, comparing and contrasting their various mannerisms, conversations, interactions, and foibles. Today’s experience provided a bumper crop of insights during Tantrum Day At Publix (as it will surely come to be known).

My biggest observation was the very polarized reactions of the shoppers and employees. The younger set seemed either deeply concerned or highly annoyed. My cashier, a young adult, said somewhat impatiently, “Have you heard the screaming kid? I can’t believe they don’t take her out.”

“Take her out where?” was my retort. There is no place to escape. Besides, I reasoned, when your kid is in the tantrum phase you can forego dining at table service restaurants. But you can’t avoid buying groceries.

Other youngsters, mostly stock clerks and bag boys, appeared genuinely worried, wondering with their eyes and furrowed brows, “Should we call 911?”

Anyone with graying hair, however (myself included), couldn’t help but smile. Several folks let an audible laugh escape. It was genuinely funny.

All I could think to myself was, “My youngest kid will be a senior in high school. These days are behind me! I am so happy!!” Genuine sympathy for the young mother notwithstanding, I felt an odd, cathartic release. And so did multiple other graying parents. Smiles everywhere! Somewhat merciless smiles, perhaps, but smiles nonetheless.

I suspect if the mother had put her cell phone away and at least attempted to calm her kid, there would have been fewer sadistic smiles.

We sometimes use the phrase ‘ages & stages’ when dealing with young kids. But there is no point in time when the ages & stages stop. Our perspectives change as we gain experiences. The disaster of young adulthood may be a minor speed bump later in life. A thrill in high school can become a life-threatening terror to a senior citizen. The embarrassment of adolescence becomes status quo in middle age.

So when others’ annoying screams cause you frustration, just remember that you aren’t in that phase of life. You don’t really know what’s going on. Have some patience, learn from your people watching . . . and smile!

Why do we do drama again?


My students just finished a wonderful production of Bye Bye Birdie. It was a lot of fun, truly. But as anyone with theater experience knows, the last two weeks were demanding and exhausting. Long lists, long hours, long bags under my eyes . . . you get the idea. While carrying rented lighting equipment in from the van, painting retro geometrical designs on the flats, or stapling cardboard onto the wooden frame of our kitchen set, I found myself asking, “Why do we do drama again?” Carefully choreographed scene changes result in gridlock during dress rehearsal, someone breaks our only pair of gold Elvis glasses, and the morning of opening night a third grader asks when the show is. “Why do we do drama again?” The audiences are small, we barely turn a profit, and students complain about their long hours while I’m putting in 14-hour days with no end in sight. “Why do we do drama again?”

That question began to haunt me. Standing in line at Lowe’s . . . trying to wash the bleariness out of my eyes in the shower . . . zoning out while students asked me the same questions over and over and over . . . I wanted to find an answer. I couldn’t think of one for a while. But then gradually, I started to remember that the motivation for investing in a scholastic drama program is (of course) for the students to learn. Duh! Our auditorium becomes an alternate classroom where all sorts of life lessons are learned that aren’t necessarily found in textbooks. In fact, it seemed there were eight big lessons learned from this particular production of Bye Bye Birdie – this season’s answer to the question of why we do what we do.

  1. If you want to find your stuff, put it back where it belongs.
    Seriously, parents, who doesn’t want their kid to learn this lesson? If Alice forgets her petticoat backstage, the costume fairy doesn’t hang it up for her. If the Mayor puts the solid gold key (“so generously donated by the men at the Sweet Apple Brass Works”) in the wrong spot, he won’t have it for the next night’s performance. Everyone needs to be responsible for his own stuff. A place for everything, and everything in its place.
  2. Don’t mumble. What you have to say is important.
    Our local theater group has developed a mantra: EWC (every word counts)! The playwright labored over his precise choice of words, so we need to stick to the script. We need to speak up and project so our words are heard. Spit the marbles out of your mouth, and articulate. That’s a lesson that translates into real life, isn’t it? Young people too frequently feel that their voice doesn’t matter. Incorrect! Let’s learn to speak so the deaf grandmother in the cheap seats can hear us!
  3. If you pretend you’re good at something and having fun, eventually you become good at it, and it is fun.
    This employs a bit of the ‘leap and a net will appear’ mentality. It’s natural to have some stage fright. But if you look frightened, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a big reason it’s called acting! Sure, maybe you’ve never been in a play before. Act like you’re a pro! Maybe you’ve never sung in public. Go for it! As you act the part, your brain will start to believe. And this lesson translates to your first job, a new friendship, a challenging responsibility. This is not lying to yourself, but believing in yourself.
  4. Accomplishments that make you proud require work.
    It’s amazing how many young people seem to think that success is something we stumble into by accident. Or they seem like they don’t care about taking pride in their work. If you miss a bunch of rehearsals, don’t take the time to learn your lines, and throw together a last-minute costume, you’re going to feel badly about your contribution to the show – guaranteed. A healthy sense of pride requires a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it.
  5. People generally don’t want you to point out their mistakes. They want your encouragement.
    During a dance number, Freddy zigs when he should have zagged, bumping into Helen and totally knocking her over. Backstage during the scene change, his cast-mates gang up on Freddy, telling him exactly what he did wrong. Guess what? Freddy already knows he took a misstep, capsizing Helen, partially ruining the song, and embarrassing himself. He doesn’t need someone telling him what he already knows; he needs someone saying it could have happened to anybody, he has the capacity to do the dance correctly, and he’ll do better next time. Wouldn’t life be great if everyone gifted you with the same courtesy and encouragement?
  6. Confidence is not an accident.
    We all know people who seem to exude confidence but are, in reality, incompetent. These people may be skilled actors, but they are employing false confidence. True confidence requires mastery, and mastery requires a wee bit of natural talent and an enormous gob of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. Most people choose not to make that sacrifice, which is why there are so many posers around. But real confidence is unavoidably connected to hard work, and those willing to pay the price enjoy the benefit of knowing they are at the top of their game.
  7. There are times when not showing up simply isn’t an option.
    Sure, we take vacations. We may blow off a little responsibility. There is an occasional mental health day. But there are other times when people are depending on you. Absence (physical, mental, or emotional) would cause inconvenience at best or complete chaos at worst. If Hugo Peabody has a stomachache and would rather stay in bed, he’s gotta shake it off and come do the show anyway. Even the invisible backstage folks need to be there, or else the MacAfee house doesn’t have a kitchen. Everyone is needed! And when you’re part of a group, team, family, or workforce in the real world, there are days when you can call in sick and other days when you absolutely must show up.
  8. Don’t stand in the shadows.
    I am, unfortunately, not very experienced at theatrical lighting design. Try as I do to avoid it, there are sometimes areas on the stage that are unevenly lit and, as a result, shadowy. The limitations of my equipment or expertise prompt me to instruct the students to watch for these dark areas and, if they notice they’re standing in one, to move discretely into the light. Isn’t that true in life? Sometimes we get stuck in a shadowy rut. We need to be vigilant and self-aware, so that we can reposition ourselves when necessary.

As you can see, with a little introspection, I answered the question of why we do drama. So . . . why do you do what you do? What questions might you need to be asking? What benefits result from your long hours and hard work? What vision keeps you going when you’d rather quit? What pride do you find in your contribution? What passion causes you to show up when you’d rather stay home? May you enjoy your own personal drama. And don’t stand in the shadows!