My husband bought me a gym membership for my birthday. There’s a hint of irony wrapped into the gift, as there’s little need for me to workout anywhere other than where I already do – our family’s Martial Arts school with a high-aerobic kickboxing class and Bootcamp sessions using Russian kettlebells under the tutelage of the best – if not the best – and knowledgeable fitness trainers, my husband. What Scornavacco Martial Arts Academy offers far surpasses what any gym could offer – hands down.
The idea of a husband buying his wife a ticket to a year of workouts also exudes a bit of male snobbery or maybe its male control and protection too – although, knowing Brad and his dedication to health, that’s just me reading too much into it. I have flashbacks of my upbringing in Connecticut with trophy wives getting in and out of sleek sports cars and Volvo wagons on the way to or from their personal trainer at the gym. My mom, bless her heart, was never one of those ladies. Her trophy? She earned it at the church and in her real estate office, working her butt off to please the ladies so they’d buy a house from her and she’d have more money to put away for family trips and her daughters’ colleges. One gym membership – and all these imagined apparitions? Yep.
It’s not an ordinary gym membership. We’re talking a sleek, sweet place. The walls are curved. A spa adjoins the women’s locker room. There’s a hot tub the size of our living room. Most of all, and this is what the martial arts school cannot provide, there’s a pool. Three of them. I slid into one of those pools – the 25 meter one with five lanes and water that was cool, not-frigid and not hotel-pool-warm. For the next half hour I was doing laps in the pool of my private estate. There was no one around until a couple guys plopped into a lane next to me, likely training for a triathlon judging by their suits that looked like bike shorts and the fact that they hopped out of the pool every four or so laps to do push-ups. The best feature of this pool was the windows. An entire wall of glass. The Colorado sun streaming through it, and I was in heaven.
So maybe it’s not a gym membership Brad bought me, neither was it a trip down memory lane. I have no idea if the other women in the club were as vapid as I imagined the trophy wives from my childhood to be, and the pool didn’t even come close to the 25 and 50 meter pools that I basically lived in as a kid. Those pools had an overdose of chlorine, multiple coaches barking orders, and cement walls. This was – and will continue to be – an entirely different place altogether. The next step will be to take the pool and move it alongside our Martial Arts school on Sunset Avenue.
“You got to be tough or the world will get you.”
I grew up hearing those words from my father over and over again. He’s a man of sayings. There was the lighthearted one, “you’re alright, half left, but all right;” the thankful one, “great meal Leanne” and the pragmatic one, “I’m not cheap; I’m frugal.” Whether we were alone in the car or with friends at a dinner party, my father found a way to interject one of his mantras into the conversation. Just after my first daughter’s birth, I overheard my dad talking to our newborn by the bedroom window, rocking the crying baby to sleep in his arms. “You got to be tough,” he started. I knew what was coming next, and stood at the doorway, astounded by his persistence.
“You got to be tough or the world will get you.” What does that mean anyway!? To my dad, it means that you’ve got to survive the world no matter what it throws at you. My father lost his parents when he was fifteen years-old. He was in the backseat of the car when it was struck by a drunk driver – so were his twin brother and younger sister, Suzanne. His mom died on the spot, and his father died soon after of heartbreak – the moment when he asked about the status of his wife, and a doctor answered honestly. “You got to be tough,” he learned – and sought to cement that point into the brains of his children over and over again.
While I don’t full heartedly embrace my dad’s tough-mantra, I can’t help but hear it when I run into difficult situations. On the surface, the saying is empty and crass – devoid of context and dismissive of healthy alternatives for moving through emotionally taxing experiences. But I didn’t critique the saying as a child. My siblings and I simply heard it – again and again. We never learned to analyze it; that would have been like analyzing my dad’s arm. His sayings were a part of him – an appendage to life.
When is it acceptable to stop and think about what we hear over and over again? How do we best do this, especially in terms of our own, inner dialogue? Humans talk to themselves, and that inner speech is a powerful tool of self-control. Negative self-talk such as “I’m never going to finish this” or “no one ever helps me” can stop someone in her tracks, preventing her from reaching a dream. Positive talk, on the other hand, can free someone of undue obstacles, offering her an open door into a promising possibility. Psychologists and educators alike have created ways to help people observe and take charge of their self-talk. My father has never had the privilege of working with someone to guide him in this process. I wonder what such a self-talk coach would say to him. What would you ask him?
Being “tough” is my father’s way of being optimistic, but not naïve. You have to know my father to know that he’s not just about “toughing it out.” He seeks support and talks through his emotionally taxing situations with friends and family. He is one of the sweetest people I know. But he’s acquired this saying that he repeats again and again – and, for better or worse, allows him to get through whatever it is that is standing in his way. He recently bought a bike, pedals the few blocks to my sister’s house, and plays with his grandkids in Virginia each day. He just walked a half marathon, and sent pictures of himself in the paper to all his four children. He was beaming with pride. His favorite saying might not capture all there is to know about my father’s zest for life, but it does remind me of something extremely important about parents: they, too, talk to themselves and that self-talk lives on in their children.
So, what is it that you say to yourself over and over again?
Last weekend Dr. Karla and I had a slight, I wouldn’t say disagreement, more like a differing perspective on the popular, well-worn saying, “you have to work smarter, not harder.”
I must say that I am guilty of too-often forgetting that most people do not have my experience and area of expertise, which precipitated the “disagreement.” Not that Dr. K doesn’t (she does), I mean non-educators.
The offending article was from the Atlantic Monthly about what makes great teachers, the “work smarter, not harder” quote was from a successful teacher to his class. Before I begin my explanation let me say that Dr. K is right, we DO have to work smarter and students need to know that often there “is a better way,” and doing poorly usually is not a product of inability.
I agree 100% on the “work smarter” part of the quote. I’m stumbling my way through setting up and improving our school websites right now. I know that “there’s an easier way, I just have to find it.” (I have that quote taped to my computer screen) My last conversation with our web designer confirmed this. She laughed and, after showing me the easier ways, said that I’ll be a pro before too long.
Kids DO have to be told that there is an easier, smarter way–and great teachers show them.
I take umbrage with saying because of the “not harder” part. As I said, I understand the point of the saying but rail against the cliche for the sole fact that we MUST work, and work hard, usually harder than we are working now to progress and succeed.
I say we have to work both Smarter and Harder.
Great teachers show us how to work smarter, how to get results faster, and how to use effective strategies and tactics we don’t know about. We students have a responsibility to also work harder to implement their advice.
“Hard (& Smart) Work ALWAYS Beats Talent
When Talent Refuses to Work Hard”
Be sure to read Dr. Karla’s blog entry about one of her father’s favorite sayings…
“How are you doing in school?” Steve asked innocently.
“Good,” Emma said, looking down at her feet.
Steve was a friend of the family, 50 years-old. Emma was an eleven year-old girl who cried herself to sleep because she was so behind her friends in reading. Steve knew Emma had trouble reading. He knew she had a tutor, was in a special reading group in school, and that she – like his own daughter – was making great strides. He cared about Emma, and hadn’t seen her in three months, as he and his family lived 400 miles away in the fun town of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Steve was curious about Emma at this amazing time of her pre-adolescent life. His question, though, led to silence.
How are you doing in school? There’s so much wrapped into that question. Grades, friendships, a need to fit in, to name a few. There are also personal histories and family expectations as well as personal interactions and a school’s curriculum. I was intrigued by Emma’s answer: a simple “good” followed by silence. She didn’t even keep the conversation going with her eyes. She went somewhere else in her head. To where, we’ll never know. I’ve seen so many teenagers and young children look away when asked such a question.
SMAA’s Powerful Word of the Month is Empathy – an act that requires us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to understand body language, to predict other people’s feelings in advance, to get a sense of additional life circumstances, etc. A great deal of interpretation goes on in the “empathy process.” Just like we will never really know what Emma was feeling and thinking when being asked the question about her experiences in school, we will never know – exactly – what our own kids are feeling and thinking when they come home from school, elated about something new, or just darn sad about something that seems mysterious to us as parents. We can ASK – and it is important to do just that if we are going to strive for empathy as well as work toward an honest, dynamic relationship with our children.
What to ask? There is nothing inherently bad or wrong by Steve’s question, how are you doing in school? The question itself led me to think about other question to ask. Let me share some questions that have worked wonders for me in the past as a teacher, tutor, aunt, surrogate parent or friend – questions that prompt conversation and/or help me “walk in the shoes” of the teens and children with whom I am coaching (academically). With these questions, I am better able to venture into a journey of empathy and healthy relationship-building as an integral part of the learning enterprise.
• If I were a fly on the wall (in your math classroom, English classroom, etc.) what would I see you doing in class?
• Do you think your grades reflect how well you are doing in school?
• Do you think your grades reflect how much effort you put into your school work?
• What classes (at school) do you feel most comfortable in? What do you do in those classes? Tell me a bit about the teacher and the students in those classes.
• When do you feel you are able to do your best work and concentrate best? (e.g. In a particular class? In the morning? After sports practice?)
• What kinds of things distract you in class?
• If your parents (or your teachers) had all the money in the world to build a perfect study space for you, what would it look like? What would be in it?
• Is there anyone in school with whom you feel you can get your best work done? (Not necessarily your best friends – but with whom you can get paired up and work your best?)
• What’s the biggest misperception people at school have of you?
And my favorite…thanks to my husband Brad:
• What’s one thing that people don’t know about you that you wish that they did?
In the case of Steve reuniting with eleven year-old Emma, he may have chosen a question from this list, a version of one of the questions, or an entirely different question that taps into the experiences Steve and Emma already have with each other. Emma, are the kids and teachers at your school getting to see and know the wonderful Emma that I know? Who makes you laugh the most at school? Do they make you laugh as much as I do? What kind of questions have you been asking in school? What have you been wondering about?
There’s a myriad of questions to ask a kid. The child or teen may or may not “open up” right away. He or she may not want to engage in conversation at that moment. Timing and luck has something to do with the art of conversation – as does practice and a genuine interest in the person with whom we’re speaking. We can use dull moments in conversations (or, better yet, times when we’re doing all the talking!) to check-in with ourselves. What are we doing – as a parent, teacher, tutor, friend, etc. – to put ourselves in the shoes of this child?
Let’s Talk About Food pt. 1
Today we’re going to talk about a delicious subject–food. I know, “now you’re talkin’.”
Our Bootcamp classes are all about “ramping up” your metabolism, burning fat, building lean muscle mass and cardiovascular health. But we need to fuel our activity properly…
…Yes, FOOD IS FUEL.
Let me relate a story from late great motivational speaker Jim Rohn about his friend who owned a racehorse, an exceedingly beautiful animal. This horse was kept on the strictest of diets. Everything that the horse ate was closely monitored and kept within certain limits to insure he raced at his peak. The pinnacle of health and fitness…
…But you should have seen the owner. He could barely walk up the stairs at the racetrack without being out of breath and having to sit down immediately. He ate like he was purposely trying to kill himself through food.
That’s called a Disconnect.
Aren’t our bodies worth MORE than a racehorse’s? (at least to us)
Over the years I’ve gotten to know my eyebrows to the hair with all the eye-rolling I’ve done hearing about fad diets and ridiculous weight-loss schemes disguised as healthy eating. I also have scars on my tongue from all the biting of it I’ve done to keep from screaming at people.
In this and the following letters, you might find nothing new under the sun (or you just might). But getting you to follow-through on the wisdom of the ages takes some repetitive pounding over the noggin’ for it to sink in.
Let’s start with the Big Picture and move on from there.
If weight-loss is your primary goal you must memorize and follow the Iron Law of Weight Loss: you must burn more calories than you take in (over time). Weight Loss and weight control is not about fad diets; it is about energy. There is no way around this. More calories burned than calories consumed equals weight-loss.
The Energy Equation
Weight Loss: Calories burned > Calories consumed
Weight Maintenance: Calories burned = Calories consumed
Weight Gain: Calories burned < Calories consumed
I like to put the principle a bit bluntly if not a little un-PC,”There are no Overweight POW’s.” Obviously, longtime prisoners of war are put on severe calorie-restrictions with no chance to cheat on their diets. They ALL lose weight, No Excuses. Now of course just because POW’s lose weight doesn’t mean they are at all healthy. Exactly the opposite. Starvation isn’t good for anyone, this includes insane starvation diets!
So this is Rule #1.
Yes, Rule #2 is to refer to Rule #1!
What this means for you my Bootcamper….
Simple, though not easy.
You MUST learn how to count your daily caloric intake and discipline yourself to do it on a regular basis. Everything starts here.
Fortunately for you Dr. Karla and I are on the verge of having a fantastic resource that will help you available soon.
In the meantime, DO THIS.
1. Write down everything you eat. (EVERYthing)
2. Check the package, or go to mypyramid.gov for calorie estimates
3. Total it up.
Sure this doesn’t mean much without your Daily Caloric Target. I’ll get that to you shortly, but for now use this estimate:
Weight Loss: 12 to 13 calories per pound of bodyweight
Weight Gain: 18 to 19 calories per pound of bodyweight
Weight Maintenance: 15 to 16 calories per pound of bodyweight
Example: A 182 pound person who wants to lose weight would require 2,184 calories each day (182 x 12 = 2, 184).
This should give you some GOOD HABITS to develop and get you started.
I (too) Have a Dream
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday, celebrating the freedom of opportunity and civil equality of all people. MLK Day is a BIG Deal in Chicago, my hometown. In fact, every year at our Speech Contests there was at least one I Have a Dream Speech. I’ve heard this speech more than any other and its message of FREEDOM resonates with me to this day. I just watched it on YouTube again, as I do every year this day.
I too have a dream of Freedom. My dream is to free as many people as I possibly can from the bonds of Negativity, Failure and Despair. Not Institutional Oppression, like Dr. King, but Personal, and at times Self-Inflicted, Oppression.
My vehicle is not the National Stage, but through my martial arts classes, a more intimate environment but a powerful platform nonetheless. It is not one grandiose speech but daily, consistent short speeches to our students and parents. The kind of speeches that do more than inspire, through constant repetition they move students to ACT in countless small ways that make a Big Difference in their lives over time.
Based on the boxes of letters I’ve received over the years, I’d say my dream too has become and is becoming a reality each day.
But my work is not done. Far from it.
I have a dream to free AS MANY PEOPLE AS I POSSIBLY CAN from the bonds of Negativity, Failure and Despair and to live a GOOD LIFE FULL OF PURPOSE.
For that, I need your help.
My Dream is to help others fulfill THEIR Dreams, however big or small, so if you know anyone who would benefit from fulfilling their dreams and living a Good Life Full of Purpose through our martial arts programs, please invite them to come talk to me.
Thank you Dr. King.
What is our mind doing when it selects information relevant to our goal while ignoring a barrage of irrelevant stimuli? What about when driving? When asking a classmate out on a date? When interviewing for a dream job? I often joke that I’m not going to let my daughters drive until they are 22 or 24 years old. It’s not until then that the pre-frontal cortex of their brains will be fully formed. This is the part of the brain that’s job is to sort through multiple bits of information, including internal thoughts and external stimuli, in accordance with a particular goal. It’s the area of the brain most activated when multitasking, planning for and following through with set objectives. Given this biological fact (that, I admit, I am oversimplifying for brevity’s sake), my daughters will be more prepared for taking on the demands of driving when they are older.
The same can be said for dealing with the demands of long-term assignments at school – for figuring out what to do in order to complete a science lab, for example, or a research paper or, heck, even as second graders, to tell stories about their summer on the first day of school. The mental processes at work are connecting past experience with present action and future goals; they are planning, organizing, and managing time and space. These nearly instantaneous processes are seemingly so easy and fluid for some, but a cause of much turmoil and struggle for others.
It’s our job as educators – whether as parents or school teachers – to teach students how to prepare and execute plans for reaching goals. It doesn’t matter if these goals are externally given (e.g. a due date on a homework assignment) or internally driven (e.g. a strong desire to get to a friend’s house). The question is – how to teach these skills. With over 15 years in the education field, I’ve learned a lot of “tricks of the trade.” I’ve also learned that a lot is at stake when someone has a goal in mind. What if you don’t’ reach the goal? What if you don’t reach the goal “in time?” Some of you may flippantly answer, “ah, who cares? Move on.” Such flippancy, however, demands a great deal of self-confidence…or downright denial. Constant struggle, continuous failure, frequent looks of disapproval from people in authority can wear a kid down – and exhaust his parents (and teachers) as well. Most of all, it’s not necessary. There are solutions.
I love new beginnings….especially when I feel safe and self-assured. I am thankful for the times when my curiosity for what-is-to-come prompts me to make new lists, pull out the calendar and envision a new life for myself, my husband, and now my kids, Siena Rose and Petra Lucia. Fear subsides when I – and others – remind me of my past creations, accomplishments, joys. Those are the positive experiences from which any new beginning can start…that have shaped me, changed me, provided opportunities for me. The New Year is often a time of such introspection and goal setting – a time of new beginnings at a time when, thankfully, the days in the northern hemisphere are beginning to lengthen, getting brighter with each start to a new day.
Interestingly, the Powerful Word of the Month, EMPATHY, supports the goal-setting process that comes along at the end of each December. Dr. Robyn Silverman, creator of the Powerful Word program, points out that the best goals are ones that consider other people. She prompted me to consider how meaningful goals are not just SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, & Timely); they also result from thinking through ways the goal itself impacts others and/or in whose support is needed to reach the goal.
This goal-empathy connection is at the heart of parenting. Mr. Brad and I, for example, have goals for our children: grandiose yet general ones such as wanting them to be kind, curious people who can communicate well, and more specific, short-term ones such as wanting to shorten the bed time routine to less than an hour for a week straight without having Siena digress into a temper of yelling for one of us to return to her room. Our children also have and will continue to create their own goals. For Petra, it’s mostly about nursing and sleep. For Siena, it’s largely about play – more time to play and certain friends and family with whom to play. She also wants her treats – lollipops and mints, for example. As a surrogate parent at a boarding school, I also did a goal-empathy dance with the teens in the dormitory, and continue to have my own goals for my college students while also trying to understand how they feel and what they want out of my class with them.
In celebration of the New Year, a ripe time of goal-setting, I invite you to consider the ways in which your goals for your children impact them, and who you need to call to your side to help you in reaching those goals with your children (e.g. karate instructors, teachers at school, the neighbor at the bus stop). What are your goals as a parent this year?
A first step to start fresh and prepare for your parenting goals is to be at peace at what transpired during 2009 – what you did, what you were proud of, what was disappointing about what you did or did not do. Write out your answers and/or speak to a friend about them. Give your 2009 Parenting Year a Name – a theme, a focus, a title. Was it the year of experimentation? The year of “tough love?” The year of reaching out? Letting go? Humility? Self-care? Whatever it is, give it a name. Then, in honor of this Mondo Beyondo exercise, stand up and say it proud, “2009 is my Parenting Year of….” Are you indeed feeling proud – truthfully proud? Are you being honest? A critic, but not the toughest, unreasonable critic out there…not one who unnecessarily discounts your achievements? Welcome a genuine feeling of pride – just like you will welcome into your house when your children walk through the door in 2010.
Karla Scornavacco PhD Ed.