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!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Realizing Your Mortality

Readers:  this post covers a heavier issue than usual.  I hope it’s useful to you now or at some point regarding how you may address the issue of mortality with your kid(s) or young people that you might have the opportunity to mentor.  

Early this month my son woke up crying in the middle of the night.  When Steph and I went to his room, he said he dreamt he was “buried in the ground under dirt before it was his time to die.”  He went on to say through his tears, “I don’t want to grow up and die.”  It’s important here to point out this wasn’t a horror movie kind of dream.  He wasn’t buried alive or anything like that.  He said he saw himself as if he was buried after he had died and clearly knew what had happened.

My son turns seven in February.  When I was a child, not much older than he is now, I also became aware of my own mortality.  I can’t recall anything in particular that could have triggered this realization, but I remember there were two related things that struck me heavily at that point in my young life.

First, I realized I was growing older, and as that continued, I would lose interest in the things that I liked to play with and do as a child.  It was obvious to me because I never saw any adults (my parents included) playing with anything I liked to play with or frankly doing anything I thought was fun at that young age.  That made me sad because from my young perspective I had some cool stuff and did some pretty fun things!  Everything about life was an adventure and I never wanted it to end.  But I could see movement toward a time when I wouldn’t enjoy these things.

I think the second revelation was a result of the first. I realized someday I would grow old enough that life as I understood it would end:  I would die.  I think it’s important to say I don’t remember knowing anyone who had died, or even being aware of anyone actually dying, but the simple logic of my young mind allowed me to put the pieces together.  This had a real impact on my life for several years to follow, as I wrestled with what it all meant.  Honestly, outwardly I was a regular kid, but inside I was distracted by my own mortality.

I don’t talk about it often in this blog, but it’s not something I hide either: I’m a Christian and as a result, I hold to the hope hope that when life in this body ends, I don’t simply cease to exist.  I wasn’t brought up this way though, nor did I experience anything akin to a conversion at that young age when I wrestled with the concept of death.  I mention this because as a child in what was practically an unchurched family, my parents didn’t have anything to offer me in the form of an explanation or context—not from a Christian point of view, or any other.  Life was just life.  Apparently you live, and then you die.  End of story.  

I remember at the point the frailty of life gelled in my mind, I was sick with a cold—a cold and nothing more.  But I was sick and as a result, a bit miserable.  In the middle of the night (like my son), and not directly related to being sick, I became aware enough of mortality that I sought the comfort of my parents.  I went into their room and as they comforted me I expressed to them my realization that I would die someday.  Looking back it was a bit of a funny moment, but when I told my mom I knew I was going to die and that it was disturbing me, she responded in an attempt to comfort me by saying, “you’re okay, you’re not going to die, you only have a cold.”  She didn’t understand that I wasn’t talking about having a cold, nor was I worried I’d die from it.  I can’t be critical.  What parent comforting a young child with a cold would ever think the issue at hand was actually the realization that death is a part of life.  I didn’t try to explain my struggle any further, they ultimately calmed me down, and sleep visited me again thanks to a soft back rub and the tiredness associated with the middle of the night.

Thoughts of the reality of my own mortality burdened me though for several years to follow, stealing some of the enjoyment from many of the things that were a part of my life.  It was a nagging preoccupation.  That brings me back to my son.  I remember struggling with the same thing and have worked to encourage his concerns by offering hope that there’s more to life than just life in the bodies he sees.

My son’s struggle with this issue does differ from mine in an important way :  he’s definitely aware of two deaths.  I blogged about losing my dad in August 2012.  My son was old enough to be very aware of what was happening as we visited my dad when he passed away, then during the memorial service in the days to follow, and finally when we interred him at Arlington National Cemetery a few months later in December.  Much less significant, but every bit as much real, we had to put our cat down just before we traveled to Arlington.  My son loved the cat and I’m sure he’ll always consider him his first pet.  

Although these things happened over a year ago, Paul has continued to talk about it regularly.  Not in a bad way, but it’s clear he’s continued to wrestle with mortality, and it seemed to come together in some way when he had his dream.  Since then I’ve worked to encourage him based on my own beliefs, and he seems to be handling it well.  One of the recurring discussions we have when he makes me aware he’s thinking about these things is that while we believe life goes on after our bodies die, it’s okay to be sad when we lose someone here.  It’s okay that we’re sad because we can’t see them like we used to any longer.  It’s also okay that we remember those we love who have preceded us in death.  And as a Christian, we can take comfort in the hope we’ll see our loved ones and friends again some day.  For those reading this who hold an orthodox or reformed Christian view, I’m sure you’re wondering how I’m dealing with the teaching that in death, everyone doesn’t go to Heaven.  I’m doing my best to be careful not to say (or imply) that everyone goes, but I’m also being careful not to lead my son down the path where I shatter any hope.  He’s not ready to have that larger and much more heady discussion just yet.  For now and for him:  all the hope I can offer a child with the stage set for the deeper discussion later.

We often hear the word “closure” associated with the passing of a loved one.  A year later, with all the understanding I can muster after losing dad, I think I’m mostly there.  Not completely, but mostly.  A way I describe where I am in the healing process: the open wound is closed and a scar is forming, but it’s still very tender.  Some days I think my son is farther along than I am; other days I’m convinced he’s not.  I do my best to understand all of this from his young perspective, not to make too much or too little of it all, keep it in perspective, and just be his loving (and living) dad.  My own childhood struggle with the matter of mortality certainly helps me with this.  I know this though:  it’s a privilege to be my son’s dad, and to be by his side as he continues to wrestle with it all.  There aren’t words to explain how special it is to be the man he turns to for explanation and comfort, to share what he’s thinking, and to cry and laugh with about anything and everything.  I get to watch him grow!

It’s great to be a dad!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My First Marathon

Two years ago I never thought I'd ever be able to run a marathon, but after putting several half marathons behind me and four months of dedicated training, I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon!

This is the same event that I ran my first half marathon during, just a year ago.  I completed the training without any issues and on the evening of November 17th I was ready to run, nervous and excited, and joined about 30,000 of my running buddies in the Starting Village as we put ourselves into a proper mental state with each other and with the help of the All American Rejects (who put on a fantastic concert for us!).  Then it was time to get into our corals, hear a wedding performed at the starting line (because it's what we do in Vegas) and the National Anthem.  Finally the gun sounded and we were off.  I set out to run the race in four hours and twenty minutes but ended up finishing in five hours and twenty six minutes.  I'll explain why.

I learned a few things through my training and the race.  First and foremost, a full marathon isn’t twice as hard as a half marathon.  It’s more than twice as hard.  I suspected this was the case when I realized I had passed through the 13.1 mile mark with what seemed like ease, but somewhere around mile 20 I was more than twice as sore as when I had finished the half marathons I'd run before, to include covering 13.1 to 20 miles seven of the last eight weekends during my training.  In the end, I think the marathon is the hardest thing I’ve ever put my body through.

Cramps.  Thankfully I’ve never had abdominal cramps or stomach issues while running.   I’ve had to manage leg and foot cramps after long runs at times but I’ve also never had to deal with them while running.  Until this race.  Between miles 17-18 my right calf cramped pretty hard.  It happened quickly and rather than pretend I could fight it, I slowed to a walk and let it resolve.  It seemed to take forever, but it worked.  I went back to running after it let go and continued on until sometime between mile 22 and 23 when it cramped again.  I slowed to a walk again.  It took longer to stop cramping but I finally picked up a slow running pace once it released.  At that point the front of my thighs were on the verge of cramping (probably the result of compensating for the misbehaving calf) but never did so, so I pressed on and crossed the finish line tired and happy, with a small group of other tired and happy runners.  The time I spent walking accounted for a good bit of the extra hour it took me to finish the race.

Hydration.  I don’t think the cramps were the result of dehydration.  I was well-hydrated, sweated throughout the race and even had to stop several times and take advantage of the portable bathrooms staged along the route.  I don’t believe I was over-hydrated either.  My watch and RoadID fit well and never got tight.  My hands and feet never swelled.

Nutrition.  I’d been training at longer distances with Gu gels and cut up nutrition bars, and if I ate during a training run, I’d carry water (rather than a sports drink).  I’d eat along the way every 45 minutes to an hour with good success.  On mid-length runs, I wouldn’t always take solid food or gels and would run with Nuun in my water bottle instead.  My longest runs made me sore but I never cramped.  With the leg cramps during this race, I have more experimenting to do with long distance nutrition.  I suspect the cramps were the result of not managing my electrolytes well and so an imbalance formed during the run.  (BTW, I’m a pretty salty sweater.)  Based on recommendations from others, I want to try Tailwind and will probably give it a go the next time I train for a long race.

Weather & Clothing.  The weather was perfect.  The temperature at the start was about 65F with low humidity typical of southern Nevada, and just a slight breeze.  Being a night race, the sun was setting as the race began and the temperature gently dropped throughout the run.  I wore shorts, a thin long-sleeved tech tee, with another short-sleeved tech tee on top.  Injinji socks and my Saucony Kinvara 3s on my feet, and no hat or gloves.  As is the norm, I had no foot problems at all (including no blisters).  I never felt too hot, and only got chilly when I was walking off the leg cramps.  BTW, the Kinvaras are now retired with that race bringing me just short of 400 miles on those shoes.  They were fantastic road shoes and I’ll probably replace them with a pair of Kinvara 4s.

My Family.  Training for this race took four months.  I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife and son, who patiently dealt with my (very) early runs during the hot months, then my evening/night runs during my last month of training.  That last month was especially disruptive since runs were longer and often trampled over dinnertime and even my son’s bedtime on occasion.  And then there was the adjusted social schedule with friends and other family members.  I owe my wife and son HUGE thanks for letting me train for, and then run this race.  So thank you Stephanie and Paul!  I love you and I can’t repay you for your generosity and patience.

Now that this race is done, I plan on trying to work more variety into my training:  more general body strength, core strength, and I want to get back to working on the stairs and rowing again.  I’m also going to try to get back to more trail running.

So, will I do it again?  YES!  I definitely want to run another marathon.  The half marathon in Las Vegas is awesome because you spend all of the time on The Strip and parts of the Art District, but the added route for the full marathon is frankly boring, covering two long and straight roads.  I’ll probably continue to run the half marathon here but will look for my next full marathon in a different location: perhaps one of the southern California races in LA or San Diego.

It’s great to be a dad!

(Disclosure:  I was not asked to comment on or endorse, nor was I compensated for mentioning any of the brand products in this post.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Book Review - "Ender’s Game" and the Ender's Saga

Written by Orson Scott Card from 1985 through 1996, I’ve read the four books contained in what is often referred to as “Ender’s Saga” several times.  With the movie version of Ender’s Game now on the big screen, I thought it would be a good time to review the original books in the series.


Ender’s Game (1985)

When Orson Scott Card wrote Ender’s Game, he created a classic for older children (“young adults”) and adults alike.  When compared to most modern action/adventure stories (and movies) the pace of Ender’s Game strikes me as a bit slower.  Even so, there’s plenty of action, suspense and drama as the reader follows young Andrew “Ender” Wiggin through his training the military Battle School in order to make the cut to continue to be groomed for eventual command.

The story is set far in the future, after Earth has recovered from an attack by a hostile species referred to as “the Buggers”; an attack that nearly annihilated humanity.  In an attempt prepared for a future Bugger war, children are screened and selected for battle training in a special schoolhouse orbiting the Earth.  The hope that some will show the right tactical and command skills, and have the overall mental capacity as they move into adulthood to make them qualified and capable of commanding a fleet of warships.  This book focuses on young Ender’s training and testing as a child.  Removed from his family at a very young age, his adventure is often less than pleasant and at times brutal.

Without spoiling the end, events take a dramatic turn late in the book, having a lasting effect on young Ender, and significantly shaping the rest of his life.  This also sets the stage for the subsequent stories contained in what has become known as “Ender’s Saga.”  This book, as well as those that follow, are full of all the good stuff that makes great science fiction--space, ships, a struggle to save Earth, and the hope we have in our youth to move us into the future.  As with all great Science Fiction, Ender’s Game is thick with social commentary and leaves the reader chewing on weighty ethical questions once the story ends.  This is great book for adults, and a wonderful tool for parents to share with their kids when the time is right.  I believe the discussions over the lessons that apply to real life will last for years to come.  Grab a copy and enjoy!

Speaker for the Dead  (1986)

I loved Ender’s Game and was eager to finally read this sequel.  Initially I wasn’t sure how the story would unfold but it took off quickly, building on the momentum created in the first book.  According to Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead was the story he originally set out to tell.  Reinforcing what Mr. Card said, as good as Ender’s Game was, it only sets the stage for this story.

As with Ender’s Game, social commentary is at the heart of this amazing story, and the reader watches the practical results of the now mature thoughts and consequences of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin’s youthful act of xenocide committed against the Buggers.  In an attempt to address, put into context, and perhaps even redeem himself from the savage act of xenocide, Andrew authors two books, “The Hive Queen” and “The Hegemon”, and becomes the first of a non-religious order referred to as Speakers for the Dead. Through these two books, and his words as a Speaker for the Dead, Andrew strives as an adult to limit (if not prevent) any future act of xenocide.  Triggered by the practical calling for a Speaker for the Dead to address the death of several humans on the colony planet Lusitania, we watch a larger story unfold when the resultant moral doctrine contained in “The Hive Queen” and “The Hegemon” play out as decisions are made about how to practically deal with the much more significant emerging conflict between the Human and another sentient race called the Pequininos.

There are very few plot holes, but they’re not of consequence in the end.  They’re easily overlooked and quickly overcome by this amazing story.  If you liked the original story and haven’t read this sequel, please do.  You won’t be disappointed.

Xenocide  (1991)

After the strength of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, I had to see where the story went and decided to read Xenocide even after hearing and reading very mixed reviews for the book.  I’m glad I did.  Xenocide took a slower pace than the previous books and deals with a human fleet sent by Starways Congress toward Lusitania.  Onboard the fleet is a weapon called the Molecular Disruption Device (MDD, or the “Little Doctor”), a weapon with the ability to destroy an entire planet, sent with apparent intent to do just this to Lusitania.  If so, the destruction of this colony world would result in the annihilation of all the human colonists as well as the xenocide of two entire races living only on Lusitania: the Pequininos and a third (surprise) sentient race.  Working together, the three races struggle to find a way to stop the fleet and if necessary, to leave the planet.

Whereas moral and social commentary are usually undercurrents in science fiction, they take a much more significant role in this book as the author examines cultural, racial and even gender biases and preferences in the context of the struggle to preserve life: specifically what happens when the struggle for life and culture of one group puts another in jeopardy.  Xenocide also examines the unique origins and life of Jane, Ender’s faithful companion and an apparently another sentient being (a third species outside of humanity) living within a communications network of devices called Ansibles, spanning the inhabited universe and allowing faster than light communications between the worlds.

This diminished the strength of the book for some, but I didn’t mind as the more traditional elements of science fiction were still solidly present:  the possibility of a sentient life emerging from within the virtual world; an interesting and creative examination of a particle called the Philote; faster than light communication and travel; and time dilation. Some reviews I read expressed dislike for the liberties Mr. Card takes with science, however I enjoyed how he played with physics to enable a continuing and wonderful work of fiction.  He’s no guiltier with his scientific liberties than most who preceded him in the genre.

While Xenocide wasn’t my favorite single book in the series, I definitely enjoyed it as a key part of a broader piece of wonderful storytelling.  While taking a slightly different direction, Xenocide is a logical place and way for the story of Ender Wiggin and the universe he lives in to continue.  Keeping that in mind, I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.

Children of the Mind  (1996)

This book had many similarities to and differences from the first three in the Ender’s Saga.  It’s very different from Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead in that it’s more philosophical, even though it’s much more a direct continuation of the primary story that left off at the end of Speaker for the Dead.  While also different from Xenocide, there are a greater number of similarities with this book than with the first two.  I mentioned in my review of Xenocide that social commentary takes a  more significant role; in this book it takes a primary role.  Children of the Mind is much more philosophical than the books that precede it but Orson Scott Card does a fine job of wrapping up the overall story of Ender Wiggin and those who surround him.

As Mr. Card continues and concludes the story of Ender, he takes the events of the previous three thousand years of history and uses them to pose the very difficult questions we often try to avoid: what is life, what does it mean to be human, what makes us individuals and is the value of an individual life when weighed against a greater population or even the entire species, and what is gender?  His characters wrestle with the difference in value (if any) between life and sentient life.  He also does a fantastic job of posing very significant and real moral questions on a societal level, and works through them (often without providing “the” answer): when should war occur; at what point does the price of employing a weapon of mass destruction outweigh the cost; etc.

My only constructive criticism or observation is about the title.  I’m not sure what other name I’d give the book, but I didn’t feel the story was much about the order called The Children of the Mind.  While they play a critical role in the story, the order itself is only a secondary actor.  It seems the only real tie to the order is that the more heady and philosophical nature of this book suggests we’re all actually children of the mind in one way or another.  Mr. Card challenges us to think about ourselves, humanity, and the world we live in.

I definitely enjoyed Children of the Mind.  I recommend it to readers who enjoyed Xenocide, especially if you want to know how the story of Ender Wiggin concludes.  My only “caution” to the reader is to remember the much more philosophical direction this book takes.  Once again, enjoy!

I recently saw the movie Ender's Game and look forward to posting my review soon.

Based on my fondness for these first books, I'll continue reading in the Ender’s universe, moving on to the four “Shadow Saga” books.  I also plan on reading Ender’s Game to my son soon.

It’s great to be a dad!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Didn't Mean to Scare Him

It’s happened to many of us before, I’m sure.  I was supposed to be a tender moment, and I scared my son.  It was the middle of the night and he was asleep.  He’d been fidgety all night, having dreams, talking in his sleep, and tossing and turning.  At one point it sounded like he might have been awake so I got out of bed and went to his room to see what was up.

He appeared to be sound asleep.  If he had awakened, he was already back in dreamland.  Or maybe he never woke up and it only sounded that way.  I went over and stood by his bed for a while just watching him, gently adjusted his sheet and blanket, then stood a bit longer to see if he would stir.  Nothing.  He was out, and for the moment quiet and still.  So cute and peaceful.

It was time to head back to bed myself so I slowly knelt down on his bed and leaned over to give him a gentle kiss.  This is nothing out of the ordinary.  Every night before I go to bed, I walk back to his room to check on him.  I always give him a kiss and whisper in his ear that I love him, I’m proud he’s my son and I’m proud to be his dad.  This was no different other than it was in the middle of the night.  As I leaned down, just a foot or so from his face, he opened his eyes, saw me and screamed.  I felt horrible!

As quick as he was scared by the presence of someone so close to him, he realized it was just me.  I had also moved my face back from his a bit and said, “it’s okay buddy, it’s just me.”  Recognition set in immediately and I moved back in, now to comfort and hug and hold him.  He latched on, and out of breath, quietly said, “dad, you scared me.”

“I know, son.  I’m so sorry.  I just came in to check on you.  I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Catching his breath, “I know, dad.”

“I really love you, son.  Please don’t be scared.  I’ll always protect you.  I never want to scare you.”

“I love you too, dad.” And he held me tighter.

He quieted back down, faster than I would have thought possible after scaring him so bad.  Within a few minutes he was back to sleep.  I re-adjusted his sheets, gave him the kiss I had intended to give him at first, and whispered my usual affirmation of love to him in his ear.  As I started to move away and off of his bed, on the cusp of sleep he whispered back,  “I love you too dad.  I’m proud to be your son.”

That young and amazing boy broke my heart twice in just five minutes.  First because I felt so bad that I had scared him, knowing there was no way to undue that moment.  Then, with his sweet words of love back to me.  I left his room knowing the last thing on his mind as he went back to his world of dreams was my love for him.

It’s great to be a dad!