Brain Equity: Grandpa Pancake’s Tips for Healthy Children’s Brains


Rainbow 2017

These are the opening comments from a speech I made, along with speeches from Mike Halligan and Deb Halliday, for the Montana Young Child Conference in Helena . . . The powerpoints with the “Brain Equity Tips” are toward the bottom of this blog.

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Yesterday, today, and tomorrow have and will include many huge and tragic things happening in the world. There’s been hurricanes, shootings, and many other tragic events that are obviously important and that capture our attention.

But it’s also important for us not to become too preoccupied or obsessed with world events, partly because we have obligations and responsibilities right in front of us that also are immensely important. One of these things is parenting. Another is the formal and informal education of young children. We need to make sure that we’re not too distracted to do these things well.

Also, more than ever, local and national and global tragedies tend to divide us into sides. I’m tired of that divisiveness. That’s one great thing about tonight. We’re all on the same page. We can be together in our commitment to children’s education and well-being. For tonight, let’s bracket some of the huge world events and national events that divide us and may occupy a lot of our psyches, and bring our focus back to the very personal, immediate, and interpersonal process of raising and educating healthy, happy, ethical, and successful children

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I had my own, tiny little miniature, difficult experience yesterday. It was very hard. And I’d like to start this talk by sharing it with you.

I turned 60 years-old.

Don’t get me wrong. It was also a wonderful experience. But like lots of things in life: There was joy and there was horror.

Yesterday morning, I had to say, outloud, “I am 60-years-old.” It was painful. I was with my group of 8 doc students. They brought me pastries. Then, one of them asked, “Is it okay if we ask you your age? How polite. I hemmed and hawed. “Very old,” I said. “It’s big number.” It’s a difficult birthday. I’m 60.”

There were gasps. Seriously. Audible gasps in the room. One student acted VERY surprised. She said. “Oh! I was off 10 years! You don’t look . . . I didn’t think . . . I thought you were 70.”

A few minutes later, another one of them asked if they can call me grandpa pancake.

But we all have our limits. I said, NO. It’s Professor Pancake to you.

Being 60 and being Grandpa pancake, I decided it would be okay for me to begin this talk with an old painful memory

At some point in 1983 I got a new girlfriend. I know you might be thinking, what’s up? Now that John is 60 is he just going to ramble from one personal story to another? Maybe so. Someone gave me this microphone and so now I’m just talking.

Anyway, I got a new girlfriend. The point is that she had a 6-year-old daughter. At the time, I was on the verge of thinking I was pretty darn smart and clever. I was getting my doctorate in psychology. I could do Chi Square statistics in-my-head. Life was good.

My girlfriend invited me over for dinner. She lived at Aber Hall at UM because she was the Head Resident. And her daughter will be there. Kind of a big deal.

Dinner was served. Chelsea, my wife’s daughter, wrote our names in crayon, so we’d know where to sit. John, Rita, Chelsea. So sweet. Then, partway through dinner, I noticed Chelsea had a piece of lettuce sticking to her front teeth. Now, in my family of origin, we had this super-funny joke. Whenever someone got food on their lip or teeth, we’d say, “Hey, you’ve got food in your teeth and it’s making me sick.”

That’s pretty hilarious, don’t you think. So, in the moment of being a spontaneous cool boyfriend, I decided to share my family of origin humor with Chelsea. I looked at her and said, “You’ve got food in your teeth and it’s making me sick.”

You can probably guess how well that worked.

Chelsea started crying. She crawled up on her mom’s lap. Seeing the error of my ways, I got down on my knees and apologized.

This is a prime example of what makes parenting so darn difficult. There are an infinite number of multiple and rapidly shifting scenarios. That makes it impossible to be completely prepared for what happens next. It’s like Alfie Kohn wrote:

Even before I had children, I knew that being a parent was going to be challenging as well as rewarding. But I didn’t really know.

I didn’t know how exhausted it was possible to become, or how clueless it was possible to feel, or how, each time I reached the end of my rope, I would somehow have to find more rope.

The multiple and rapidly shifting scenarios that parents face include everything and anything. When I was the Executive Director for Families First in Missoula, I remember a mom who told me her daughter was pooping in the potted plants in the house. There was the mom whose daughter was afraid of the things that came out of toilets. There was a set of parents whose 10-year-old daughter was running the household. The parents whose children wouldn’t wear socks with seams . . . or eat any food that wasn’t white or yellow . . . or who first began using the F word at age five . . . in church.  Grocery store meltdowns, bad report cards, biting at daycare, not reading well, being too bossy with friends, forgetting homework, resisting homework, becoming school phobic, not cleaning their room, cleaning their room too much . . . you know what I mean, the challenging situations parent face are endless.

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For those of you interested and those of you who were at the Montana Young Child event and requested access to my powerpoints, click on this link: Montana Young Child Helena Keynote 2017

Thanks for reading and thanks for your commitment to the education and well-being of all children.

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4 thoughts on “Brain Equity: Grandpa Pancake’s Tips for Healthy Children’s Brains”

  1. Happy Birthday, Professor Pancake. Thanks for normalizing our struggles as parents and for showing us how to approach them with humor and love. You are an exemplar for us all. Thanks, too, for your part in our next president.

  2. Professor Pancake,
    Thanks, as someone already pointed out, for normalizing our parenting struggles.

    Happy birthday, again!
    You are a Rocking Grandpa, Professor Pancake!!

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