Learning through Passion (School, Learning, Creativity, Passion)

My daughter loves art.

It manifests itself first through drawing but also through singing, being silly and expressive, doing funny faces and accents, and dancing. The other day, she was practicing drawings from a ‘how to draw’ book, and she asked if she could take it in the store while we shopped. In soccer practices, I sometimes catch her drawing in patches of sand. The pull is constant.

Of course, I have her in a school that allows her to play in her passion often. But it’s still a public school, and, rightly so, she is exposed to a comprehensive education (though it’s a bit 20th century-ish). This includes math, something she is pretty good at but tends to lag in score-wise due to her lack of enthusiasm for it. She says the way they have to learn it is boring. I understand, but no school is perfect, and she needs to apply herself.

Recently, I noticed some change of mine on the kitchen counter while we were housecleaning

Me – “You can have this if you can tell me the correct amount on the first go.”

Her – “Okay!”

She hurried, guessed and got it wrong.

Me – “Okay, you don’t get it.”

Her – “But… can I try again?”

Me – “No. You need to know what two quarters put together are in a heartbeat at this point. You know the answer. You knew it two years ago, and we’ve been over this many times.”

Thus began a conversation about the consequences in life of our choices. I was frank with her as I painted the picture a few years out of her lagging behind.

Her – “Every kid is different.”

Me – “Absolutely, and what is easy for another child may be harder for you. What is easy for you may be hard for them. And, I understand that you love art most of all. But these are reasonable learning expectations, and you are more than smart enough.”

She became teary-eyed as she realized that her guessing approach wasn’t going to help her as a kid or in life.

Her – “I don’t want that. I want to be good at math.”

Me – “What you want in life is what you are choosing. What you want is what you’re choosing. If you want to know what you really want in life, then look at the choices you’re making. We will do some coin counting and then we can do Christmas decorations.”

Her body deflated, a whine came out

Me – “See! You said you don’t want that result in math, but then I tell you we’re going to work on it, and you immediately resist. What you want is what you choose. Fine. If that’s what you want…”

Her – “No, no, no, I want to practice coin counting!”

So, we sat at the dining table with my container of coins, and I put little piles in front of her. It suddenly occurred to me that I ought to work on this in a way that is connected to her authentic self.

Me – “If you get the counting right, you can make art with the pile.”

She lit up.

Her – “Okay!”

For the next twenty minutes, I put out piles and helped her figure out how to count them in different ways, in groups, by carrying the ten forward on paper and just by adding them individually. As she got them right, she laid them down. What emerged was…

A heart
The word ‘Love’
A christmas tree

Love and math together. Go figure.

The reality is that if math was taught in a more creative way that folded into her passion, she would do it enthusiastically. This exercise was a clear example of how it can be.

Since it’s difficult for such a creative approach to happen in her classroom with so many kids to bring up to speed, it’s up to me to put in the time and to find a creative way to go about it.

Our little exercise taught her not only math but that she can link things in life to her passion if she’s creative. It taught me, too, that I need to keep challenging myself to find ways to do this with her and any time I’m involved with kids, which is often as a coach.

Find their bliss and fold everything inside of it. Bring learning to life.

Helping Her Know Herself (Authenticity, Passion, Clarity)

Helping Her Know Herself

Decided to sit down with her and make her annual list of her Interests. It was interesting to watch.

‘Being Happy and Loving’ went right to the top of the list. ‘Skipping’ as number two explains why she was skipping mindlessly in our soccer game yesterday at times while I hollered from the sideline to focus! Interesting that ‘Being Silly’ in the form of expressiveness is so high and discouraged in school. ‘Tennis,’ sadly gets last place but that is because I have just taught her technique. It may rise, over time.

It’s a beautiful list that I will use to support her in living the most authentic childhood. Of course, it will shift over the years. Will be curious to see how it evolves and what is just plain who she is an unchangeable.

After making it, she went from waking up happy to giddy. She wanted to dress up and go out on the town.

The Bigger Plan (Powerful thoughts, Habits, Bedtime rituals)

Last night’s schedule didn’t go according to plan.

She was tired. I was dealing with this poison ivy nuisance. The last thing I wanted to do was go to the roller skating fund raiser night for her school. But I relented. Yes, I can say no, but yesterday her sad face won.

She had fun, and we returned home for dinner and a bit of a TV show that we like to watch together – ‘Impractical Jokers.’

Finally, later than planned, she was in bed with her eyes closed.

I sat down next to her and stroked her forehead.

Me – “Do you feel comfortable?”

She nodded yes

Me – “Do you feel safe?”

Again, she nodded yes

Me – “Do you feel loved?”

Another nod

Me – “Do you feel excited about what’s to come in your life and the life you have now?”

She nodded yes

Me – “Good. Love you. Night.”

Of course, I already knew the answers to those questions, but I just wanted to make another one of the countless imprints we parents make where we affirm that deep sense of being safe and loved amidst the ups and downs of parenting and daily life.

So, I guess yesterday did go according to plan – the bigger plan.

“I can do it!” (Fostering independence, Self-confidence, Risk)


Have been steadily improving things on the home front. Today, I wanted to get some flowers as a finishing touch for the great room. Given that I am dealing with a poison ivy rash from pruning around my tennis court, I wasn’t keen on walking through the store. It’s uncomfortable to have one pant leg fully down. It occurred to me that it might be a good opportunity for a little growth challenge-

Me – “Bellina, I’d like to stop by Trader Joe’s and get some flowers. Can you go in and get them?”

Her – “With you?”

Me – “No, on your own.”

She squirmed.

Her – “No.”

Me – “Why not? What’s the big deal?”

She was visibly uncomfortable as she imagined it.

Her – “It’s just that I’m not really confident about that yet.”

Me – “Thank you for being so honest with me. Look, it’s okay. You can do it.”

Her – “Daddy…”

Me – “When I was your age, I was living in Switzerland taking trams from school to home.”

Her – “Yeah, that was Switzerland!”

Me – “Exactly. I didn’t know the language. I went to kiosks all the time and got candy on my own. And, guess what, if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have gotten that candy.”

She went quiet for a while

Her – “Daddy, if we go to Trader Joe’s can I get some jelly beans?”

Me – “Are you going to go in and do the shopping?”

Her – “Yeah. I’m a little nervous, though.”

We stopped at my parents house and discussed dinner plans. It occurred to me that if she was going to get flowers and jelly beans I might be able to nudge her even further to shop for dinner. We needed three items in addition to the flowers. My Mom thought it was a bit much to ask from an eight year-old.

Nonna – “I’m with you, Isabella. Papa and I can get the things when we go.”

Admittedly, it seemed like a stretch, but I went for it, kept nudging.

The short of it was that she was not at all up for that idea. I figured her concern was handling the money.

Me – “I’ll give you more money than necessary, so they’ll just give you change. If you can’t find something, ask for help. Not getting those jelly beans if they do the shopping.”

That proved to be my leverage. She made a list of the items and an hour later we were at the store. In she went amongst a sea of adult shoppers. This meant her navigating the busy parking lot on her own, too. I watched as she disappeared into the store, a place both of us could walk through blindfold, probably.

For the next fifteen minutes, I tooled around on my phone and listened to politics.

Finally, I turned to see her walking up, pushing a cart! She had rolled a cart through the store. I chuckled.

Her – “I did it!”

She was beaming. I got out and hugged her.

Me – “I knew you could. I’m proud of you.”

She unloaded the items in the cart.


On the way home, I asked for the play by play. Were you nervous? A little but then she told herself to stand tall and go for it. Did you ask an employee for help? Once.

We arrived home, and she was soon bounding on her mini-trampoline. I walked up and used the opportunity to affirm her

Me – “You’re powerful!”
Her – “I’m powerful!”
Me – “You’re capable!”
Her – “I’m capable!”
Me – “You’re resourceful!”
Her – “I’m resourceful!”
Me – “You’re intelligent!”
Her – “I’m intelligent!”

And much louder…

Her – “I CAN DO IT!”

It’s true I nudged and nudged, but she usually ends up accepting these little challenges. This one was quite a tall order for an eight year old, at least for what is normal for her. It expanded her sense of capability and strength in the world.

Me – “You have a house (her room is in the shape of a house). You are an entrepreneur saving money.”

Her – “I can shop on my own. Now all I need is a car, and I’ll be all set!”

I laughed.

Not so fast. You’re still Daddy’s little girl for a good while longer, even if I do nudge you to grow into a more independent person who can prosper without me.

There Is Enough Time (Being there, Quality time)

Her – “Can you come today? Please?”

Cue heartstrings being pulled

Me – “Well, I really need to focus on things that will create the kind of opportunities and experiences I want for you and for me.”

Her – “Please? You didn’t go last year. The year before you went.”

She was talking about a field trip with her school to a local theater.

Me – “Honey, I already spend more time with you than most parents get to spend with their kids. We have soccer practice together tonight, a game tomorrow…”

Her – “Okay.”

She always ends up being a good sport once the bigger picture is explained.

After I had dropped her off at school, though, I got to thinking –

Me – “How long would it really take for me to go see a short play. More importantly, how long is she going to want you to come to events that her friends are at, too?”

So, I drove down to the theater, found my way in and spotted her little head among the sea of young people. Sneaked up next to where she was siting and sat down. Her face lit up. Her mouth opened wide.

Her – “Daddy!”

Definitely worth the trip.

The play was on the story ‘The Velveteen Rabbit,’ a classic tale that I used to read to her when she was very young. Hearing the story brought to life was wonderful.

As to the question of whether I should have been ‘focused’ on work. Well, wouldn’t you know, I learned of four new skilled actors from attending. At least two of them I could see playing parts in my tennis series and really lighting up the screen. We’re trained to think of scheduling and manifesting in a linear manner. The truth is, the Universe needs no such timetables or constructs.

Most importantly, she’ll always remember that I surprised her at the theater.

There is enough time.

Most Important to Remember (Love)

Asked my girl if she saw a recent lunchbox note. The message was ‘Life favors the courageous and the well prepared.’

Her – “Yeah, I read it, Daddy.”

Me – “Do you remember the message?”

Her – “Um… not exactly.”

I kept quiet. Decided that what was important was that she read them and reflected on them for a moment. Maybe I could weave a discussion into our days to reinforce them, too. Before I could finish my train of thought she interrupted…

Her – “But I do remember that it said “Love, Daddy.”

Happens in a Moment (Playfulness, Making life fun, Memories)


Had just finished a lesson and was rolling the balls off court, and she appeared.

Her – “Daddy, can we play that game where we see if we can get it in the basket and we win prizes?”

My first instinct was to be a boring, tired adult and say no, but I decided to seize the moment, loosen up, and enrich her day. It was a good opportunity for the two of us to have some quality time.

Me – “Sure.”

We lined up about ten feet from the basket of balls with a handful of our own balls. I decided to see if I could win things for her.

Me – “If I make this, you get a left foot massage!”

Nailed it.

Her – “Yay! Okay, if I make this, then you get a neck massage!”

Nailed it.

Me – “Bam! Okay, if I make this then the next time I see your shoes out I will accept it, pick them up and put them away myself.”

Missed it.


On and on we went.

In the end, she had won a neck massage and a back massage for me. I had won a list of things for her:

+Play hide and seek after dinner
+Take her to bed in a train (me acting like one)
+Dance to some fun music right before bed
+Massage her left foot
+Massage her right foot big toe
+Wrestle for five minutes
+Wake her up in the morning by standing over her and flapping my arms like a chicken while yodeling
+Give her love-filled good night kiss right above her nose

I headed into shower, and she took out her notepad and scribbled them all down to show me. She wasn’t going to let me forget any of them!

Needless to say, it was a fun night as I checked off all my promises. This morning, she woke up happy and smiling, and that’s what it’s all about. Of course, she reminded me of my duty to act like a yodeling chicken.

Parenting choices that can make all the difference in a child’s day… they happen in a moment.

One Has a Pull (Being present, authentic path, Discovering child’s gifts)

Yesterday, I was studying the forehand of one of my students. He had just had a breakthrough in hitting one of the most explosive and high-level forehands I’ve seen on a young player, and I was watching the video repeatedly.

As she came up next to me, I could tell she was watching my interest in the video. For a brief moment, I thought, “I wonder if I could teach her that. After all, she’s pretty athletic and seems to have picked up what I’ve taught her already.

Her – “Can I show you something?”

Me – “Uh… just a minute.”

I watched it again.

Me – “Wow! Look at that, I said, talking to myself, “Look at the way his elbow follows the hip… it has lag, whips, goes into a straight arm…”

I could see she was wanting my attention but was being patient as she knew I was excited and that I’m a nut about my students when they are making breakthroughs.

Me – “Yes, honey.”

Her – “Look, Daddy. I drew our house. This is the living room. Here is the kitchen. This is us in the bedroom. You’re on your phone, and I’m on the bed.”

They were not drawings to frame. They were sketches. She had done them quickly. But, in that moment, I realized that I was looking at her authentic self expressing itself. Something had prompted her all of a sudden to do this, an impulse, a pull, an interest.

It reminded me of the story of Jane Goodall when she was four. She had gotten lost and the family panicked. A search party ensued for a couple hours. Meanwhile young Jane was in the chicken coop crouching patiently the entire time. She wanted to see a hen lay an egg. When she emerged, her mom, instead of chastising her, validated her Jane’s joy. This was a defining moment in her life and destiny.

This whole story of Jane Goodall flashed in my mind for a moment.

I realized that my daughter, like me, is driven first and foremost, by a creative impulse. Tennis may or may not be a big part of her journey.

So, I took the drawings and enjoyed them and validated her. I saw her.

Me – “You’re a real artist. What prompted you to go through the whole house and do this?”

Her – “I don’t know.”

Perfect. I love it when she follows her creative impulses without prompting. It’s the reason I didn’t get upset the other day when her teachers expressed some understandable frustration that she wanted to do art all day instead of her math.

One has a pull…