Way of the Parenting Warrior

A few of of the boys with Nali, one of our canine Trek staff.

A few of of the boys with Nali, one of our canine Trek staff.

I disappointed my daughter today – her birthday, of all days. I’d promised her a dog after she tearfully approached me saying she missed our old dog that mysteriously disappeared in October. So I showed up early at preschool and took her to the local shelter. I’d secretly been doing recon on one certain dog for weeks and was confident he was still available three days since my last visit. Needless to say he wasn’t. I’d blown it. Someone saw him the day before and his sign read “I’m Adopted!!” I was crushed.

I can’t tell you how firmly my heart was set on that beautiful red chow mix. But Grace’s wasn’t – she had never met him. In her joyous, five-year-old exuberance, any old dog would do as long as we took one home then. I halfheartedly took a pretty, white, husky mix out to the dog run to play. Grace had a blast chasing him, while throwing the ball and Frisbee. He played along a little, but was more interested in menacing the puppy in the run next door and twice snapped his head around, annoyed at my daughter for interrupting that mission. Obviously, he didn’t come home with us and Grace was NOT happy. She stomped, cried, and generally made my life miserable all the way home as I attempted to explain we would try again another day. She wasn’t having it.

Upon reflection that evening, I recognized the mistakes I had made and how to fix them next time. First, I failed to set the boundaries of our visit – that we were looking for a dog, but might not take one home that day. Next visit I will remember to define the parameters ahead of time and come out the shining mom I know I am.

Second, I neglected to be consistent in my words and action. I told her she could have a dog for her birthday. That, to a five-year-old, means “dog on birthday,” so I broke my implied promise. Walking the talk is something I’m usually pretty good at when it comes to following up with consequences. I learned I need to be cognizant of saying what I mean and meaning what I say ALL the time.

Third, I forgot to conduct due diligence to see if the dog I picked as the perfect match for our family was still available. A disciplined check on the internet could have helped me avoid the whole situation. I’ve resolved that being busy isn’t an excuse for important information gathering!

This learning path I traveled falls nicely into our new quarter: The Warrior Leadership skills ask us to align our words with actions, be responsible and disciplined, and to respect limits and boundaries. When we disregard doing so, we fail ourselves and others, unintentionally or otherwise.

Not to worry, Gracie will get her dog, I will get over my disappointment, and the Husky may get another chance without distractions. Who knows? I may name him Warrior.

posted by jleslie in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (2)

Middle-School Motivation

Academic Dean Denise Savidge

Academic Dean Denise Savidge

I’m the “new teacher” at Cherokee Creek. With a bit of trepidation and excitement, I set forth to get to know my students and discover what motivates them to perform.


Motivation…It means many different things to everyone. What works as a motivator for one person is of no interest to another. Some folks are self-motivated, others need the carrot on the stick just outside of their reach to keep moving forward. To some it’s money, to some it’s power, to some it’s prestige. Others haven’t given it a thought because their motivation is just the desire to do something well because it’s the right thing to do.

Most teachers teach just to see a child smile. To make a child’s life easier. To make a difference. Plus it’s pretty comical stuff on any given day, and teachers like to laugh. And middle-school boys keep a scorecard on how many others they can amuse in one day.

In class the other day, I handed the boys a motivation checklist. I really wanted to know what was going to make them produce…What would help them do their best…Which carrot smelled the most delicious to an adolecsent boy. Silly me. They’re not about to let that nut get cracked by simply asking. No, this was an opportunity to ignore the multiple choice answers and make it a fill-in-the-blank adventure. It was a perfect occasion to amuse  and entertain the new teacher. The multiple choice answers focussed on peer praise, prizes, prestige or public recognition. But ours are not fill-in-the-bubble boys. They quickly unraveled the code of answers and decided they had better ideas:

Q – If you really did well on your science project, what would you prefer the teacher do?
A – Keep Quiet!
Q – You are on a roller coaster and a photographer from a newspaper takes your picture. It appears on the front page the next day. What do you do?
A – Sue the newspaper company.
Q – What do you like best about your birthday?
A – That the Good Lord has given me another year.
Q – If you found a $10 bill on the playground and turned it in to the school office, what would you want the principal to do?
A – Give it to ME!

Pity the teacher who asks our students to answer within the box. They’re innovative, creative, amusing and charming young men. It’s been a delightful ride to get to know them.

When are you a teacher and why do you teach? Do you know what motivates the different members of your family? Do they know what motivates you?

posted by jleslie in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comment (1)

Change, Please?

Steven Graduates

David celebrates a student's graduation.

If there’s one things that’s predictable, it’s that things are going to change. And when a change occurs, there is often a transition that follows!

Another predictable thing is that changes create a time in between the ending of the old and the beginning of the new. Cherokee Creek Boys School calls this space a “neutral zone,” a name adopted from William Bridges work on the process of transitions.

We have all felt the “neutral zone.” It can be exciting or confusing. It can feel like chaos or be filled with anticipation. Whatever the feelings are, they are stronger than when things are just routine or predictable. I am a creature of habit as much as anyone, and those feelings that are associated with change sure can make me uncomfortable.

The question I hear (and sometimes ask myself) is: How can I get out of the neutral zone and into the new way of being? Another way of asking this question could be: How can I get past all of these uncomfortable and magnified feelings quickly?

Since change is happening all the time, chances are that you are in a neutral zone in some area of your life right now. What are you being challenged with in the neutral zone? Here are a few questions you can ask to help turn the neutral zone into a place of self-discovery…

What must I put down in order to move forward?

What point of view is shifting?

What is it that I believed that no longer fits me?

Before we are in a rush to the new place, let’s see what can be learned while we are in the neutral zone!

“Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” – Robert C. Gallagher

posted by jleslie in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (3)

The Sounds of Silence

Beth enjoys the sounds of silence on Mooselookmegunic Lake

Beth enjoys the sounds of silence on Mooselookmegunic Lake

At the end of summer I went camping with my two sisters, niece and a friend on Mooselookmegunic Lake (yes, really!) in Northern Maine. After we arrived at our campsite, set up the tents, created our kitchen, collected firewood…we sat! It was stunningly beautiful. And it was blessedly quiet.

Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist, has traveled the globe for more than twenty-five years recording the vanishing sounds of nature. He reports that the average daytime noise-free interval in our wilderness areas and national parks has shrunk to less than five minutes!

I looked at my watch. 3:40pm. Then I stretched out on the rocky beach and listened. I heard the “whoosh” of the wind through the pine trees…the lapping of the lake on the shore…the mournful call of the loons…I was thoroughly relaxed and falling asleep. Then came the ROAR. A huge jumbo jet interrupted “nature’s silence”. I looked at my watch and it was 4:30. It had been 40 minutes of bliss. We were really out in the wilds of Maine!

After a week of listening to nature’s soundtrack, I was starkly aware of how little time I spend in “nature’s silence”. The week had been restorative, as if nerves had calmed and I was in synch. As Angeles Arrien says, I was “in nature’s rhythm, which is medium to slow!”

Cherokee Creek intentionally chose the woods for our campus. Our boys hear birds when they wake up, not traffic. And their days are uninterrupted by television, loud music, cell phones, texting, video games and other technological distractions. Their free time is filled, instead, with time outdoors, play, wilderness outings, reading and quiet time. It is real and true.  Nature calms. Nature restores.

“Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. When you’re in a place of natural silence, you’re not alone, and you can feel it. Whether it’s birdcalls from miles away or the proximity of a giant tree whose warm tones you can feel, there’s a presence. It’s a quieting experience.”    Gordon Hempton

In this autumn season of the Teacher – a time of letting go, introspection and stillness – I am becoming more aware of the beauty of nature and “the sounds of silence.” 

Still discovering what is real and true about the world around me…

posted by jleslie in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (7)

Don’t Slam the Screen Door

Phil guides a student through a building project in the early days of Cherokee Creek

Phil guides a student through a building project in the early days of Cherokee Creek

As a child my family summer vacations were spent with my relatives in a small town in east Texas, far from my home in Baltimore. I have rich memories of fun and interesting times in that environment that was very different from my city life.

I stayed in the old farm house that my grandfather built for his new bride…the house where my mother, aunts and uncles where all born, and now belonged to my uncle. The house had huge twelve foot ceilings, a through hall for ventilation and no air conditioning. As in all houses of this type, one entered and left by the screen door that closed via the spring attached to the door frame. 

Since I was a child, with my own very important agenda, I was always off like a flash throwing the screen door open to enter or leave and allowing it to slam shut by the spring. To tell you the truth, I never even noticed the “slam”, but my uncle sure did. 

After about a week of the door slamming at least a hundred times a day, his nerves worn a little thin. He finally stopped me once as I was charging into the house, and I found myself staring up at him as the door slammed shut behind me. For some reason there was a noticeable nervous twitch in his face as the door slammed. He calmly, and it seemed to me with more control than I thought necessary, told me that he wanted me to hold the door as it closed so it wouldn’t slam. That seemed easy enough to me, so I nodded and told him I would. He was finished with me so I turned to go back outside. 

Racing back outside, I was off the porch and down the stairs before the door slammed. I couldn’t be sure because, as I said, I was a child and had much more important things to think about than doors…and I sure didn’t hear anything.  However, my uncle was out the door in a flash (faster than I remembered him being able to move) with a very interesting red tint to his face. This time he spoke much, much louder….

The point is, I wasn’t “doing” anything deliberately, I was simply unaware… something I have since had the opportunity to observe in other children (including middle school boys!). In fact, these days I have taken my uncle’s role with my own kids. It is always helpful for me to have this memory, as my face gets a little red over something that my surprised child doesn’t even realize he’s done. 

Teaching awareness and sensitivity is one of the nicest gifts we can give to our children. They won’t get it right off…they’re just kids being kids…and, as in all things, the lesson will stick if we are consistent and give it time.


Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

posted by jleslie in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (2)