angels in the outfield, giving kids wings

caring adults - building assets for kids

Tru's cheering section laughing

These pictures put such a lump in my throat, seeing all the love & laughter for and from my little guy – with grownups who don’t have to be but want to be part of his life. So much joy. My dad, a pioneer in the field of positive youth development, believed (and spearheaded research to prove) that caring adults – in addition to immediate family – are one of the developmental assets kids need to succeed. “If you’re breathing, you’re on the team,” he often said.

On Sunday, Tru had a whole cheering section at his baseball game. He’s part of a wonderful Miracle League for kids with cognitive or physical challenges. It takes an hour to play two innings and there’s no actual competition. But he thinks hitting the ball off the tee and running the bases is the greatest thing ever. When he crosses home plate and recognizes people he knows and loves in the stands – whom he knows love him – he just lights up. What kid wouldn’t?

Despite cold and rainy weather, he was cheered on by his godparents Michelle and Bill, his beloved “Neen” (Jordan, who was his nanny for his first 3+ years and is still a frequent presence in his life) and her darling beau, Stu. They stood in the rain, whooped it up for him and his teammates, and gave him big hugs whenever he left the field (a common occurrence!) to visit his peeps.

Both Tru and his big brother have had special cheerleaders at almost all of their baseball games this summer. But these caring adults show up for them in other wonderful ways, too and we’re so grateful. When kids grow up feeling safe and supported not just within the walls of their homes but out in the world, it has a lasting impact and boosts their chances of becoming happy and healthy adults down the road. The more caring adults a kid has to count on, the stronger his wings.

So, this is my long way of saying THANK YOU to the earth angels in my kids’ lives – and to all of you who make a point of building relationships with other people’s kiddos. In case you don’t hear it often enough, know that what you do matters. People like you are changing the world, one well-loved kid at a time.

How to find caring adults for your kids

kids with uncle kai

think they like their uncle kai a little bit?

When Brad and I decided to start a family, we envisioned our children having other adults they could trust and feel supported by. So we’ve been pretty intentional about making this a priority. Here are a few ways how:

  • We literally talked to some friends – particularly those with no kids or grown kids – about this desire, asking them to be active cheerleaders for our kiddos if it felt right. Most folks felt honored and welcomed the invitation to play an active role in their lives.
  • When we moved into our current home eight years ago, the selling point was hearing this neighborhood had a Halloween parade and other family-friendly activities – a sign that we’d be moving into a community that cared about kids. It has been a great place for them to grow up, feeling safe and supported. And we try to play our part in that, too. There are often neighbor kids playing in our yard, climbing our trees, grabbing a snack in our kitchen.
  • We try to let those angels in our kids’ lives know how much we and our boys value them. If either kid says something kind or asks about one of their favorite grown-ups, I send that person a text – and it often makes their day.

Got other tips? Got caring adults you want to celebrate – or kids who have stolen your heart? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear your experiences!

 art of choosing beauty : click for details

Quick Video Message: Let’s Make Sparks Fly on 9/12!

I’m totally excited to invite you to a special event!
Want to make sparks fly in your own life and with the kids you love or teach? 
Quick video message above from me, taken on the backyard swing.

To sign up for our FREE webinar via ParentFurther, go here.
Oh! And here’s a past post on why this matters so much to me!
Can’t wait to make sparks fly with you!!

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Sparks Flying: A Special Day, A Special Announcement

I can’t remember what we did for my dad’s birthday last year. Where did we eat? What did we give him? Birthdays are a big deal in our family and I can’t stand that I can’t recall how we celebrated his life that day.

Meanwhile, this birthday – the first without him physically here – will be hard to forget. Today would have been his 66th birthday – exactly seven months after we lost him. Back in October, Ryder asked if we could please still celebrate Papa’s birthday in May. So, today there will be cupcakes and the boys will blow out Papa’s candles. Today, we’ll plant new ferns in my dad’s fern garden. Today, we’ll cry.

And then I’ll board a plane because today I get to give and receive an amazing gift: the chance to carry on my dad’s legacy. For 26 years, he ran Search Institute and lived his passion, paving the way for parents, educators and communities to help kids thrive by focusing on what they’re doing right, vs. what they’re doing wrong. In the last few years of his life, he was  particularly passionate about a concept he called Sparks – the notion that we all come into this world innate gifts and passions. Search Institute’s extensive research shows that when kids are encouraged to define their own sparks and receive support and encouragement from adults in their lives, they flourish in the most wonderful ways and use their sparks to light up their corner of world.

Everyone has a spark. Not everyone knows what it is – yet. I get giddy thinking about the potential here. Imagine what the world could be like and how our collective happiness would soar if we all knew and nurtured our own sparks! To have research and a road map makes it not just a pipe dream, but a true possibility. My dad was giddy about this, too – and we had such fun brainstorming about the future of Sparks and how we could work together to create a quiet revolution. We even dreamed up the office space we’d share; he was set to “retire” this year and this was one of the dreams he’d make a reality.

Late last September, weary from cancer treatments but excited about the future, my dad pulled me aside at a family gathering to tell me he’d had some discussions and mapped out some ideas to have me start working more formally on Sparks-related initiatives. It was a great moment; the wheels were turning, sparks were flying.

It was not to be. At least not in the way we imagined. Unbelievably, I found myself days later, sitting by his bedside and choking back tears, telling him that no matter what happened, I was excited about carrying on his work – but with one caveat: “You still have to work with me,” I told him. “I have to know you’re standing right behind me.” He nodded.

The fact that my first Sparks project starts today – leaving on a jet plane on his birthday – confirms for me that he is here, still doing his thing and making sparks fly. I am so honored to be collaborating with Search Institute, with colleagues he adored, keeping his light alive. Happy birthday, Dad. A happy birthday, indeed.

{Note: for more information on Sparks, go here}


Mom, What’s My Purpose?

{Hugo with his Dad, via Yahoo}

After taking Ryder to see HUGO in 3D last night, I cried all the way home. I had never read the book and knew very little about the film going into it. I had no inkling it would move me the way it did, connect me to my dad, and deliver the sweetest gift a mama could ask for.


Lately, I’ve been immersed in the magic of exploring purpose. My e-course students are digging deep to find theirs in relation to their blogs. I spent a couple of hours this weekend writing and doodling about my own as I follow along with the Hello Soul Hello Business ecourse. I’ve been researching it for exciting projects in the works. I’ve reflected deeply about the ways my dad inspired millions of parents and educators to help kids embrace their own innate sparks.


So, I spent most of the movie with my jaw in my lap and my heart jumping out of my chest, watching this little boy – Hugo – defeat the odds by letting love, passion and purpose guide him through the darkness of his life. He and his loving dad shared a deep fascination with clocks and machinery. After his dad dies in a fire and Hugo’s life spins out of control, his saving grace is his passion for rebuilding a magical machine that he suspects will deliver messages to him from his beloved dad. At one point during the movie, he shows his friend Isabelle the view of Paris at night from the top of a clock tower, telling her he sees the whole world as one big machine in which every single part has a purpose. He says it’s the only way he can explain his reason for being – that he was meant to be here and that we’re all here for a reason.


As Ryder and I walked out of the movie, both with wet eyes, my almost-nine-year-old turned to me and asked, “Mom, what’s my purpose??” It was like a lightning bolt to the heart, to have my own child wonder what he’s here in the world to be and do. As we walked to the car, I told him finding his purpose will be the greatest adventure of his life. It’s why we encourage him to try lots of different things – from choir to baseball to art – so he can begin to realize what lights him up inside. Once he finds that passion, I told him, he gets to use it not only to bring himself joy…but to help others, too.


(Ryder with his Papa last summer}

As we drove home, I told him – through tears – that it’s what Papa {my dad} called sparks:an individual’s deepest passions and interests that give them meaning, focus, joy and energy.” He shared that message around the world, I told Ryder, and is surely so excited that now his own grandson, whom he so adored, is eager to find his. I felt my dad with me, sitting shotgun, beaming as he listened in. Ryder hung on my every word {which is a rarity nowadays} as I told him I wasn’t crying just because I missed Papa, but because I was so happy for the chance to talk about sparks with my boy. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “I get it.” By God, I think he really does.