Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Success Follows Failure

My last post covered how my son failed to pass a belt test.  Afterwards, he told us “that won’t happen again” and he’s worked incredibly hard.  Since then he’s passed the tests for his Green Belt (Decided), Purple Belt (Recommended), Purple Belt (Decided) and Blue Belt (Recommended).  As he went through earning his Purple Belt, he learned the associated phrase representing the meaning of the color of the belt:  “Coming to the mountain.  The tree is in mid-growth and now the path becomes steep.”  At Purple, he was half way to earning his Black Belt and was learning expectations are higher and what he’s learning is more difficult.  He also knows he’s now within a year of earning his Black Belt if he perseveres and continues to pass his tests.  It’s not just an idea he talks about now; it’s something he sees he can achieve.  As his parents we see this having a very real impact on his life.

Last Spring Paul competed in two events at the Las Vegas Victory Martial Arts Inter-School Tournament:  XMA Weapons (Sword) and Traditional Forms.  He was holding in third place but then a three-way tie for first eliminated his chance for a medal.  Then he tied for third in traditional forms but after performing again for the tie-breaker, he took fourth and lost that medal too.

While these aren’t failures by any means, to have two medals slip from his fingers was a disappointment for him.  We were so proud of his attitude and for how hard he tried, then for his heartfelt willingness to encourage all of his friends, and to celebrate with the ones who did well enough to take medals home.  We encouraged him to take a break and enjoy how hard he had worked, but with the intent to reset, re-focus and shoot to improve at the next tournament.  In the most recent Fall tournament, he competed in the same two events:  XMA Weapons (Sword) and traditional forms.  This time he tied for first place with his XMA Weapons form and ended up taking second after performing again to break the tie!

His practice of a martial art has also had an impact outside of the discipline itself.  For a second year now, Paul remains on the Victory Martial Arts “A-Team” as a straight-A student.  We certainly have to guide and encourage him to consistently apply himself at school (with the attention span and focus of an 8 year old constantly working to undo his fledgling habits of discipline), but more and more he’s telling us how he needs to apply himself differently or better, or telling us how a particular life skill from Victory served as a reminder to stay on task at school.

Related, he was recently presented with his school’s award for Academic Excellence in All Subjects.  Steph and I looked back to confirm what we thought we remembered, but this is his third year in a row earning this award.  

Now the journey continues, in martial arts and in life at large.  We’re so proud to see our son and his friends who he’s sharing this journey with, as they genuinely work hard and struggle with achieving very real goals—goals that once achieved will have a lifelong and comprehensive impact.

What’s next?  Maintaining the incredible work he’s been doing during the second half of the school year, and the chance to test and advance to Blue Belt (Decided) in just a few weeks, in which “the tree reaches for the sky, toward new heights.”  He’s also been invited to join the Competition Team and is now training for the upcoming ATA Spring Nationals in Las Vegas, where he’ll compete in Creative Weapons (traditional Sword) and XMA Weapons (Sword) form.  You know what he tells us about all this?  “YES I CAN!”  His goal:  First Place.

In spite of the progress of these individual mountain top moments and successes, there’s also been a bit of a mental slump in the overall routine.  A three year goal is difficult to stay focused on for many adults, and it’s a lifetime away for an eight year old.  I’ll write about that next time.

It’s great to be a dad!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Learning From Failure

One of the challenges of parenting is finding ways to safely let your child fail at something so that they learn, grow and improve from it.  When you and your child are surrounded by like-minded friends, those inevitable moments of failure can become wonderful experiences.

In April, all three of us tested for our next belts at our Victory Martial Arts school.  We each tested on different nights:  three nights and three tests, followed by a fourth night where we’d all stand together and tie on our new belts as a family.  Steph tested on Monday and passed, I tested Tuesday and passed, and our son tested on Wednesday.  He didn’t pass.  

He wasn’t alone, as several others failed as well.  Not to diminish what we were doing, testing this time was difficult for all of us.  Steph was working hard to gain and maintain the necessary skills while guarding against re-injuring her knee.  Training to pass her test while in the middle of physical therapy was a challenge.  Her perseverance showed though and she did fine in spite of some real difficulty and pain.  For Paul and I, this was our first training cycle and test as advanced students.  The standard required to be allowed to test is higher, and what’s required to pass the test is also more difficult.

At the end of the evening, our school’s director was fantastic with the kids who failed.  He took time to explain the role that failure plays in life.  It was a great teaching moment.  The kids who didn’t know how to learn from a failure had a glimpse within a very safe environment, how they could apply this experience and continue to grow toward success.  It was very special to see how the instructors and the parents came together to celebrate those who passed, and solidly encourage and support those who didn’t at the same time.  Let me be frank:  this is not a program that finds a reason for everyone to pass.  Everyone doesn’t get a new belt.  If you don’t meet the standard, you have the opportunity to train hard and try again next time.

What made this experience special was that while the kids who didn’t pass were still disappointed, they learned several important things:

First, they can and should be responsible for working to improve themselves for the next time, so they can try again.  Good instruction is provided, but as we know, that’s not all it takes.  Many of these kids knew as they were testing that they didn’t meet the standard to pass.  Some also felt that something outside of their control caused them to fail.  As adults and parents I trust we all know that this is how it is in life.  Sometimes you don’t prepare well enough.  Other times things happen that you don’t or can’t anticipate or control, and these things frustrate your best intentions and desires.  Even so, you can be the victim and blame everyone else, or you can work to overcome the obstacle.  Paul and so many others that night set out immediately to do better and not succumb to the temptation to blame someone or something else.  They strive to improve and perfect the things they can so that when the challenge comes, they’re best prepared to succeed…to win.

Second, there are journeys in life that are just as important as the intended goal at the end.  Running is one of those journeys.  The practice of martial arts is another.  Getting your next belt is always the goal.  Getting a black belt is certainly a goal that many view at THE goal, but working toward the black belt is where most of the learning happens.  Once you earn your black, there are additional degrees of progression.  The journey can end, but it can also continue beyond just earning a belt.  Even if you physically hit a point where the next belt is out of reach, the journey doesn’t have to stop.  The fit lifestyle and the challenges to maintain your health to the best of your ability can certainly continue.  Giving the benefit of your experiences, your wisdom, can (and should) continue as you help those who are at an earlier point in their journeys, or are struggling through something for the first time that you’ve dealt with many times before.  I believe the journey is really the adventure and the goal.  In the case of martial arts, the belts represent signposts or reminders from special points along the way.

Third, there’s still joy to be found in celebrating the successes of your friends and family.  Paul was clearly disappointed but he perked up quickly and continued to cheer for his friends.  At the end, he found as many friends as he could who passed and told them “good job”, gave high-fives and hugs.  As things calmed down though, some of his sadness returned and Steph and I had the pleasure to see him do something that many adults probably wouldn’t have.  He stepped outside with one of his best friends who also failed the test, sat on the curb, and these two amazing boys shed tears together as they comforted and encouraged one another.

What made this most special  for Steph and I was the Belting Ceremony.  Paul sat with us on the floor and participated as Steph and I tied our new belts on, even though he wasn’t receiving one himself.  He stood there with us, and each of us held an end and pulled together.  He told us several times he would never want to miss being there to celebrate with us and help us tie our belts on.  What a wonderful perspective coming from such a young man.

In the end, our son is learning how to deal with adversity and failure in a very safe and controlled environment.  With good instruction, support and encouragement from his family and friends, mixed with his own developing perseverance, he’ll continue down this path.  He’ll be a better martial artist for it.  I think as he applies what he’s learning to the rest of this life, he’ll be a better man.  By the way, watching him do things I’ve never did at his age makes me a better man too.  I’m so proud of my son!

That was in April.  Now it’s October.  We’ve tested twice since then, and next week is the next testing cycle.  So much has happened.  I’ll tell you the rest of the story in my next post.

 It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Family Affair

As many of you know, Paul has been taking Tae Kwon Do for eight months now, and I’ve been training with him for the last six months.  Two months ago, Steph also joined us, making the practice of martial arts a family affair for us. 

Steph’s commitment has been amazing, especially since the beginning of her journey hasn’t been easy.  With bad hips and a bad knee, she found herself unintentionally on the floor several times, but she maintained her “yes I can” attitude and continued to train with the support and expert advice of her physical therapist.  Two months after she began, all three of us went through testing last week to advance in rank.

I need to mention the instructors and staff at Victory Martial Arts - Summerlin.  Without them, this journey toward black belt wouldn’t be possible for Steph or I.  Our son is young and strong, and like most kids, he’ll try anything with a little encouragement.  His mind is sharp and his body is able.  Training is to do something new is always challenging, but his body adapts and grows stronger.  Steph and I “enjoy” all the challenges of middle age, along with a few additional permanent bumps and bruises that always try to assert themselves.  The instructors at Victory Summerlin willingly accommodate us, always adjusting the training to allow older bodies the chance to grow strong and more able.  Somehow they do this without making things easier or cutting things out that others are expected to do.  Then when testing comes, we find ourselves accepting the challenge to do the forms and break the boards just like the young men and women!  Mr. DeSmith, Mr. Guerrero, Mr. Scott, Mrs. Garretson and Miss Bivens:  you inspire us, you keep us motivated, you train us hard, and because of you, we succeed.

Our instructors are like family, but there are others in our Victory family too.  Paul has a wonderful circle of friends he trains with:  some ahead of him in the program, some at the same level, and some coming up behind him.  These young men and women are amazing, and it’s a pleasure to watch them all grow together.  He also goes to school and church with some of these kids, making this circle of friends a part of his whole life.  The same is true for Steph and I as we’ve become close with several of the parents, many of whom have also joined their kids on the training mat (and adding to the ranks of what several of us at Victory, with tongue in cheek, call the “Senior Division”).  We struggle and sweat together in training, encourage each other and our kids, and love it when we find ourselves doing things we weren’t sure we could.  Then we socialize and celebrate together.  There are too many to call out here, but we love each and every one of you!

So the recent testing week was special for us.  After all three of us successfully tested, we sat together as a family and were called up to receive our new belts.  Then we stood in a circle of three, with a hand on the ends of each other’s belts, and at the appropriate time, we all pulled and tied our new belts on together as a family.

The journey continues now as Steph works toward replacing her orange belt with yellow, and Paul and I do the same, hoping to replace our cammo belts with green.  Yes we can!

It’s great to be a dad!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Busy with Belts

October through December were fun and full months for Paul and I!  Paul competed in his first tournament and both of us tested twice to advance to our next belts:  Paul went from orange to yellow and then cammo (recommended), and I went from white to orange, then to yellow.

The Las Vegas Inter-school Tournament

All four Victory Martial Arts schools in the Las Vegas valley came together for a city-wide tournament on October 18th.  With approximately 300 participants and four rings, it was a crowded blast!  Right after the tournament was announced, we asked Paul if he wanted to participate and with his nod of approval, we signed him up for two events:  traditional forms and traditional weapons, knowing these were two events he could perform well in, even if he was nervous.  The goal was for him to do something new, and build his confidence and self-esteem while having fun.  The morning of the tournament Paul went through an anticipated round of nerves, and we had to remind him we expected him to do what he committed to do.  Once he realized he wasn’t allowed to just back out, he began to relax.  Then after a few of his friends arrived, he shook off the nerves, found his confidence and was ready to compete.

Since this was his first tournament, everything about it was new.  Paul had to line up with the other beginner kids he was grouped to compete with (and without Steph and I).  This refueled a few nerves but by that point his enthusiasm and confidence was in control.  As his line walked in, they announced them and directed them to their ring.  Steph, her parents and I had seats at Paul’s ring and the competition began.

He performed his empty handed form as well as he’s ever done it, and made us proud. He did a great job entering and leaving the mat, and showed all the proper respect to the judges.  After completing his form, he sat and cheered for his friends, then prepared to do his traditional weapons form with the Jahng Bong (Bo Staff).  Even though it wasn’t the weapon he was currently training with, Paul chose to use it because he was already comfortable with the form and most other competitors would probably be using the current weapon (the baton-like Bahng Mahng Ee), allowing him to stand out a bit.  As it turned out, he was the only one in his group using the Jahng Bong and he stood out in a good way.

The first real surprise came when the first in his group was called up to perform with her weapon.  Like Paul, she was prepared to perform a trained set of moves (a traditional form).  When she was ready, the center judge told her, “you have 30 seconds…begin!”  She completed her form comfortably in 10-15 seconds and waited at the end for the next command from the judge, only to hear him say, “you still have 15 seconds…keep going!”  It was clear at this point that whatever the kids were going to do, they had to fill the time (or the remaining time) with a creative weapons performance.  It was a surprise for parents and kids alike, but  she didn't miss a beat and finished strong.  I looked at Paul to see if the change was going to trouble him, but he remained excited and confident—I honestly wasn’t sure if he didn’t realize there was a change, or was confident enough not to be bothered by it.  Steph and I had no idea what he would do once he took the mat.  He could perform his traditional form a couple times, traditional form once, then some creative moves, or just wing the whole thing and perform creatively for 30 second.  He did the latter and it looked like it was his plan all along, and his score for this was higher than his empty-handed form!

At this point, he was done with his events and could relax, continue to cheer for his friends and enjoy the rest of the day.  The next event that followed was board breaking and before we knew it, Paul was signaling us and silently mouthing, “I want to break boards!”  So much for the earlier nerves and a lack of confidence!  Since we didn’t register him for board breaking, he wasn’t able to perform, but I suspect he will during the next tournament!  Sometime about mid afternoon, we headed home and that evening he slept like a rock.

Belt Testing and Ceremonies

On October 21st I tested for the opportunity to move from white to orange.  It was an exciting time for me after training for two months.  As mentioned in an earlier post, resuming martial arts training after over 30 years is exciting and quite a challenge.  The mind remembers, but a 50 year old body doesn’t behave quite like the mind may want it to.  The training is challenging and fun and this is a deliberate first step in my own journey toward black belt—a chance to finish what I started so long ago.  I passed my test and what made it most special was having Steph and Paul there cheering me on, and Paul holding up a totally cool sign he made to motivate me.

Two days later it was Paul’s turn.  Steph, her parents and I were there to cheer him on.  With a sign we made for him, and a cowbell to make some noise, we watched our young man approach the challenge as a totally different guy than two months prior when he tested for his orange belt.  With several more months of training under his belt, being selected for the Leadership Program, and being bolstered by the experience of the tournament, he was completely confident.  (When he tested for orange belt, it was quite an effort to keep him calm and cut through his worry.)  He tested very well and passed without any issues.  We’re definitely proud that he’s continuing to advance and enjoy martial arts, but we’re most proud of him for the incredible amount of confidence he’s gained since he began.

The Belting Ceremony (Graduation) was fun and well done as always.  With the school decorated and students in clean, white uniforms, Paul and I were called up at the appropriate times to receive our belts.  Then family members were allowed to join the students on the floor to help remove the old belts and tie on the new.  Stephanie joined Paul and I and with our new belts loosely tied around our waists, Paul and I held one end of each other’s belts and Steph held the other two ends.  When the time came, we all pulled and tightened the new belts!  With the ceremony over, the celebration continued with food and music.

Then in December after another training period it came time to test again.  Paul worked hard toward his cammo belt and I did the same to advance to yellow and we both passed again!  Due to travel I was unable to test with the group I was supposed to , but consistent with our school’s emphasis on family, I was able to test with Paul the evening I returned from my trip.  It made an already special event even more special for the both of us.  Earning cammo, is significant for Paul as it moves him from beginner ranks to advanced.  At this point the learning, rigor and expectations increase for him individually as well as his involvement as a leadership student ratchets up as he starts helping the school’s instructors with the kids’ beginners class.  As for me, I continue to remind him I’m racing him to black belt!

Steph and I owe genuine thanks to our martial arts instructors, Mr. DeSmith, Mr. Guerrero and Mr. Daos.  These three men and our fantastic Program Directors (Mrs. Garretson along with Miss Bivins— both also black belts!) do a great job, as does the rest of the Victory Summerlin team of leadership students and black belts who are always there helping the beginners.  It’s a gift to be able to push kids and adults to their limits in a way that provides an important part of what they need for success in martial arts and in life, while keeping it fun at the same time.  As a footnote, we learned that Mr. Daos was selected to travel and perform with the Marvel Universe Live.  (Now we can say we know Spiderman!)  We’re sad to see him leave so soon, but in his place we gained another awesome instructor, Mr. Scott.  As a family we’ve all already benefitted from his expertise as he moved right in and started instructing as if he’d been there all along.

Steph and I look forward to watching our son continue to grow in the best of ways physically, mentally and emotionally.  Adding martial arts, and specifically the Victory Martial Arts’ program under the American Taekwondo Association, into his life alongside his academic education is truly preparing him for the years to come.  And speaking of Steph, she’s joined us in our journey and is training now as well.  We all test for our next belts in February: came (decided) for Paul, came for me, and orange for Steph.  Victory Martial Arts has truly become a family affair for us!

It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Victory Martial Arts - Leadership Program

Following up from my last post, Paul has taken another step in his development as a martial artist and in his growth as a young man.

Not long after Paul earned his Orange Belt, our Chief Instructor talked to Steph and I about placing him into the Victory Martial Arts leadership program based on the potential he shows in class.  Around that same time, there was a special demonstration and instructional event hosted by the Victory schools here in Las Vegas, featuring several senior black belts from Orlando, Florida (the home of Victory Martial Arts).  During that event, Paul also caught the eye of the visiting leaders and we consented to have them publicly invite him to enter the leadership program.

A week later, at our school, one of the Chief Instructors at our school announced in front of his friends that Paul had joined leadership.  He received a new belt representing his participation in the program (an Orange Belt with a gold stripe in place of the usual black stripe), and a new leadership uniform.  

Since then, he attends an additional 30 minute training session twice a week following the normal Beginner’s class.  It’s fantastic.  In these sessions he trails with the small group of other leadership students in a more difficult, but also more fun, class.  While the practical focus is on more advanced knowledge and discipline, more complex forms and additional weapons, the goal within the school is to develop these kids into martial arts leaders as they work toward black belt.  As Paul continues to advance in rank he’ll attend his usual training and leadership lessons, but he’ll also start help the instructors when they teach the beginners class.  He’ll directly apply what he’s learning as he helps other students.

The character traits taught and fostered through Victory Martial Arts are: Respect, Self Esteem, Communication, Discipline, Honesty and Belief. As important as these are in the practice of martial arts, it’s more significant that the knowledge and practical experience Victory provides for the kids is intended to directly translate into a positive attitude and a lifestyle of action in the child’s behavior and performance at home, in school and eventually in their jobs and all of life.  After only three months we already see these life skills carrying over into the Paul’s life at home and at school.  On a humorous note:  recently we were leaving a restaurant with Paul.  As we reached the door, he quickly turned back to face our server and the folks who work there and in a strong voice thanked them by proclaiming, “Goodbye Sir, Goodbye Ma’am!”, then stepped outside.  It was already habit to be courteous and show respect to those who had just helped (or in this case served) him.  Obviously this wasn't required ore expected but the habit carried outside the school.  We were amused and very proud at the same time.

This has been a great time striving toward a goal as father and son!  We’re less than a month away from testing again.  This time Paul will test for his Yellow Belt and I’ll test for my Orange.  And not too long from now, Steph is going to join us in the program too.  What an amazing addition to the things we do throughout the week to build and strengthen the bonds that tie us together as a family  through shared experiences, struggles, and striving together toward a goal.  In the process we’re also getting more fit, and we’re making some amazing new friends as a family!

It’s great to be a dad!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Our "Karate Kid"

Nine weeks ago my son began taking Taekwando lessons through an American Taekwando Association school called Victory Martial Arts—something he’s been asking to do for almost a year.  Steph and I kept putting it off simply because he’s been playing soccer for three years and at the end of each season he kept asking us to sign him up again.  At the end of last season, he told us he was tired of soccer and wanted to do something new, and asked to start martial arts instead of soccer.  So we signed him up!

As an athlete, I’ve been an “individual sports” kind of guy my whole life.  Maybe it’s fairer to say that I enjoy sports that I compete as an individual in.  Not that I’m not a team player or enjoy the community of team sports, but there’s something about how I’m wired that drew me to cross country running, and in High School, Kenpo karate.  While we encouraged Paul’s participation in soccer, there are all kinds of signs he’s wired the same way I am.  I wasn’t surprised when he grew tired of soccer and was even less surprised when he continued to ask to participate in martial arts.  (He also says he wants to run with me, but I haven’t convinced him to start yet.)

Steph and I are working the life-balance issues with Paul, just as all parents do with their kids.  We have a pretty stable routine that we believe best ensures he continues to do well in school (including getting his homework done in a disciplined manner), but not to squelch time during the week for him to participate in some form of physical activity (sports), and time to just play and fuel his imagination (LEGO, video games, etc.).  He knows school is always the priority, but we want him to have plenty of time to explore the other things that keep a life balanced/full/colorful.  In all these things, he has his circles of friends, and in most cases they overlap, creating a cool, common thread that connects all these major aspects of his life.

I’m pretty sure Paul doesn’t know just how thrilled I am that he’s involved in martial arts.  As I’ve watched him these past couple months, I’m remembering and reliving the thrill, challenges, pain, and excitement of learning and doing new things physically and seeing the tangible achievements (mental and physical focus, balance, confidence, etc.), especially represented by working hard and advancing to the next belt.  This past week, Paul tested for the first time and moved from White Belt to Orange Belt.  He was more nervous than I think I’ve seen him be about anything.  Steph and I worked through it with him as best we could.  Most of the time both of us were at every practice since he joined the school, and one of us was always there.  We were his champions, his encouragers, his cheerleaders when he practiced at home and during lessons.  As with so many things in life though, we can’t do this for him.  When testing time came, he had to take the test and perform the necessary elements in front of other White, Orange and Yellow Belts…and the Black Belts.  Yes, the Chief Instructor has the Black Belts test on the same evening as the junior belts.  The Black Belts were amazing examples for the young martial artists, and the advanced students also championed and cheered the new students as they took these first steps toward earning their own Black Belts.  Even with all the encouragement and practice, several of those testing to advance in the junior belts didn’t pass.  Some of the Black Belts didn’t pass either.  In this they became amazing examples to the lesser experienced athletes.  The parents were well represented at testing too—for the White Belts testing for the first time, all the way up to the Black Belts testing for the next degree!  It warmed my heart to see the amazing turnout by the parents and even other friends, many of whom brought signs and noise-makers to encourage the kids and adult students.

Paul worked through his nervousness and did amazing with his forms (with and without his weapon).  He struggled with board breaking though—the event we knew he was the most nervous about.  Along with several others, on his final attempt he broke his board and the crowd went wild, for Paul and every other athlete who tried so hard!

So, Paul has begun a new adventure in his life:  the practice of martial arts and the pursuit of a Black Belt.  But wait, there’s more.  As I mentioned, I participated in martial arts (over 30 years ago!).  This week I’m going to begin to train again, in a new style and with my son at the same school—Dad and Lad, racing each other toward a Black Belt.  And by racing I mean encouraging each other.  Paul’s excited about this, and so am I.  And since he’s a full training cycle and one belt ahead of me, I’m having fun pointing out that in this this thing we’re doing, he’s beating dad.  He’s already getting used to hearing me say, with a huge grin on my face and a high-five:  “don’t let me catch you, son!”

As always, it’s great to be a dad!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Grand Canyon!

The Grand Canyon really doesn’t need an explanation—the name says it all.  You stand at the edge and look, and it’s self-evident why it’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  A week ago Steph and I, along with her parents, took our son to see the Grand Canyon for the first time.  What an experience.  As we walked up to the rim, his reaction was priceless!

We didn’t descent from the rim during the trip, but you can’t help but admire the views whether it’s your first visit or not.  The scale of the Canyon is almost inconceivable.  One of the best things about the trip itself was the US National Park Service’s “Junior Ranger” program.  When we checked in at the Visitor’s Center, they provided me a book for him with a number of educational requirements that had to be met to earn a Junior Ranger certificate and badge.  Needless to say, Paul was excited as we showed him the book.  Activities were based on the age of the child and broken into categories named after different animals.  For his age, he had to attend at least one presentation by a Ranger, write and draw what he learned from the presentation, and complete four other tasks oriented toward focusing a child his age on aspects of nature and the Canyon itself.  We ended up attending two Ranger presentations.

The first full day we were there Paul selected a presentation about fossils.  At the appointed time, we met with Ranger Mike and took a short walk from the Bright Angel Trailhead to a large fossil bed, probably less than a half mile away.  Along the way we stopped and sat on the rim while Ranger Mike talked about the geologic history of the Canyon and how it formed, the rock types present in the Canyon, and why we’re able to find so many fossils today.  Then everyone was up and walking again and in just a few minutes we were standing in the fossil bed.  Ranger Mike described the five types of fossils we could find, then made it clear to the kids that all of them would find and see an example of all of them.  The parents all seemed just as interested as their kids, but we had a moment of levity when Ranger Mike told the kids, “as our time goes on, if we haven’t seen a particular kind of fossil, you might want to look where the Ranger is standing.”  Kids were excited to know they’d get a hint; parents were happy that our guide wouldn’t let the lesson go too long.  The kids had great eyes though and within about 15 minutes everyone had seen all five fossil types.

At the end, Paul had to answer several questions in his book detailing what he had learned and present it to Ranger Mike to check.  Since Paul had already completed the other tasks, Ranger Mike signed his certificate and presented him his Junior Ranger badge.  Paul was thrilled!

The next day we attended a second presentation on the California Condor with Ranger Ty.  It was as well-done as the fossil class.  We gathered again near the Bright Angel Trailhead at the time of day that the California Condors are known to return to their nests after a day of scavenging.  It was amazing to hear how there were only 22 (or so) of these amazing birds at one point after the population had all but disappeared primarily due to toxins in their food supply.  Through a captive breeding program there are now approximately 400 birds total, spread across several locations, but primarily living in the Grand Canyon.  While they’re still endangered, all the indications are they’re  moving confidently toward eventual removal from the list of endangered species.  Ranger Ty taught the kids (and adults!) how to tell the difference between the California Condor, the Turkey Vulture and the Raven, all three of which are present in the Canyon.  He talked about the history of these birds and used kids to show us just how big they are,standing about four feet tall with a 9-10 foot wing span!  He also explained the breeding and tagging program as well as the role of the Rangers in public outreach to help reduce the toxins that get into the Condor’s food.  Sure enough, while we sat and listened we had the privilege of seeing two California Condors!

To make it all even cooler, just by walking around in and near our campsite, Paul was able to see a make and female Elk, several lizards, squirrels, and a variety of small birds.  He also made friends with a boy with a family camping next to us and ended up putting more miles on his bike in a weekend than he’s put on there the entire rest of the time he’s had a bike.

It was a wonderful weekend of rest, education, and fun for all of us!  I have no doubt Paul will remember his first visit to the Grand Canyon for the rest of his life.

It’s great to be a dad!