Diary of a Minecraft Boy

Once upon a time, there lived a little girl who ate words for her meals and lived off of their sustenance in her imagination.  

She dreamed that one day, her fairytale would unfold as most did; complete with a forest, long swinging hair, a long spinny dress, singing birds and squirrels, a castle, and a handsome knight in shining armor to whisk her away on his mighty stallion.

And they would live happily ever after.

I don’t know all the worlds you live in.

Some days I am confused which ones I exist in.

I’m a writer, occasionally on here and always in my head, a teacher at times, a musician, a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter. But the one realm I am always consciously conscious of is that of being mom.

I have three boys, 13, 10, and 8. It is that eight year old boy whose birthday was October 2, who lives in an imaginary world  that is as vastly dissimilar and comfortingly similar as mine was as a little girl.

To get us all on the same page, or screen shall I say, there is this video game called Minecraft. It is the brainchild of a guy named Markus Persson (his alter-ego is Notch online) who grew up in Sweden, playing first with Legos and as he grew older, video games on his home computer. When he grew up, (super condensed plot line) he created a realm, a world of worlds, called Minecraft. It’s primarily a building game, much like Lego blocks, just in the virtual world. (Also, ironically, Lego now sells Minecraft sets.) 

So Markus’s palace is his company, named Mojang, from the Swedish for “thingamabob or whatchamacalit”.  There are other Swedish things that I quite like. Ikea originated in Sweden, and is a big box filled with all sorts of possibilities, or a never ending maze of hell depending who you are. Spotify, another Swedish export, gives subscribers access to millions of titles of music that keeps me grounded in sound on a daily basis. And I have a real thing for Swedish Fish. Especially the red ones.

There are pieces of memories of my boys that filter through my mind like honeyed sunlight through trees. Some I remember bits of; a look, a laugh, a hug, a place.  And others look like an entire developed picture, the words, scents, faces, feelings all intact.

When each of my boys were young-young, birth to Kindergarten, we would spend much of our time during the days together, running errands, visiting friends, playing at parks, picking up brothers, getting Mommy’s coffee, that kind of thing. 

One particular time of doing some-thing like that, it was just Finn and I, my youngest getting a more patient, calm, better version of who the other two had. (Or possibly just so beyond tired I had no fight left.)

His sweet preschool voice, like his brothers before, would narrate our route, asking questions, pointing out sky, trucks, signs, whatever caught his perceptive eye. 

(It should be noted that most moms are able to find a pretty doable balance of half attentiveness to a child’s running monologue and still appear actively engaged by inserting certain phrases at appropriate times, all while silently creating multiple checklists, mulling over (and over) what someone said to us, and watching traffic like a hawk.)

I was pulled back from one of those times immediately to full attention on Finn when my mind caught up with the vocabulary that he was using to describe his landscape. He was using words like saplings, birch and oak and elements… I would have been unsurprised at more general terms, but the descriptions were so, descriptive.

I naturally assumed being the well read and eloquent person I am,  that Finn had absorbed this new vocabulary from being around his obviously fantastic parent, me. And so, as this story goes, assuming made, what we all know it always does, out of me. 

It only took a short time relaying this story at home to my older boys to realize that it was not me at all who was his brilliant possesser and passer of knowledge, it was Minecraft. His beloved video game. Which I at least comforted myself with the knowledge that I had contributed to him massive uninterrupted playing time.

Sometimes expected change arrives so differently than we imagined that it is a shock to our system. Looking out my window yesterday, I saw brilliant  blue skies and sun, and if I wasn’t aware of the month I was in, I may have mistaken it for a warm summer day and walked outside dressed for 80, expecting warmth, and instead receiving a physical shock as the cold 40 degree fall air hit my uncoveredskin. 

The environment we end up living in often does not at all look or feel like the one we created. We make one world, and then wake up to one that looks kind of like what we planned and created, but doesn’t feel even close to how we imagined it would.

Minecraft is a game of bytes and bits, a game that is based on the look of 1980s computer game technology, but created with 2oth century tools. 

It’s premise looks like one thing, but the real worlds one can create are quite another. 

Growing up, my parents bought my sisters and me an Atari gaming console system. It was the height of video gaming (a concept unimaginable in my parents childhood). My middle sister and I loved it. We had our favorites, Pong, Pole Position, Breakout; but Pac Man (and subsequent Ms. Pac Man, created from the circuitry of Pac) were our definite favorites, most especially on the handheld arcade style game.

But we never had dreams or visions of actually existing through the worlds on our screens. Our world was vibrant colors, ringing sounds, textures and tastes. But the world of my children, in this now, is not only the imaginary living within a screen created world, it’s a virtual reality. 

The player in Minecraft has complete freedom to build and change and develop or destroy their world, no pre-set narrative, only self-directed goals. The story unfolds organically as the player builds his or her world and they can create as elaborate of a scenario as they want.

Minecraft and the open share culture of the game has spawned (that’s a Minecraft joke) spin-offs and riffs all as individual as those who passionately play and share the game. There are books and You Tube videos and Pins all dedicated to the tricks of the trade. 

And new vocabulary has cropped up around the growing gaming industry. I’ve learned in the past six months or so words such as: Hacks, Noobs, Mods, Avatar, Skins. One day, I found out quite by accident while my oldest was starting his own gaming You Tube channel (around Clash of Clans, Clash Royale and some Madden), that my youngest, then 7, had his own You Tube channel.

(Pause as I take a moment to regain my composure.) 

After that, I quickly found, met, and discussed internet safety with my child already obviously light years ahead of me digitally. I watch both boy’s channels to keep an eye on them, (mostly other people) and to enjoy my boys personalities. Haden’s got a great rapport with the camera, and Finn, well, he basically records as he plays a game, hums and makes noises to illustrate what he’s doing. He does the same thing when he plays with his “real” toys.

Minecraft inspires this sort of response. Players create buildings, art, music, YouTube videos, crafts; so it turns out, Minecraft is less a game and more an activity. And when users share the pieces they’ve made, it becomes something more. It becomes community.

And that may well be the part of the technology revolution that some struggle to understand the most. If you decide to write it all off, to cast aside all gaming as time-wasted, brain-cell killing, all the ills of society, and additionally screen time as the downfall of kids these days, and most likely civilization, you miss the point. 

You’re not seeing the Minecraft forest for the Minecraft trees.

I tried to play Minecraft one day, when the boys were first exploring this new world. I sat down, ready to see what they saw. Except I couldn’t. I was so frustrated with my brain’s inability to literally even see the game, that I stopped after less than five minutes; all nauseous and sad and relieved at the same time. I had wanted to connnect with them doing something they really enjoyed doing, that brought and brings them (especially my youngest) such joy. 

There are hidden recipes in Minecraft, like two parts stone + three parts wood=pick axe if arranged on the grid correctly. Elements are made into tools, Survival Mode iswhere you not only live and build but fight off monsters at night bent on destroying all you care about and built during the day, and a Creative Mode where you can spend your digital life in a gaming Eden of sorts.

The boy who loves and lives and breathes Minecraft told his mom very seriously yesterday that he was “more of like a gamer guy than like a sports guy.” 

An his mom replied with a smile and said, “I think that’s awesome that you know that about yourself. Not everyone likes sports, not everyone likes gaming, we are all created so uniquely.” And she thought to herself, how wonderful to both know who you are and still have so much growing and building yet ahead.

So the little girl grew up (super condensed story line) and realized that her world looked a little bit like and quite a bit unlike what she had imagined. There were hidden recipes for things like relationships,and disasters.  Elements made into tools can help you to survive where you not only live and build but fight off monsters bent on destroying all you care about. And those monsters don’t always just stay in the night. 

Most of all she discovered fairytales are just tales, but that if she kept creating, and continued to live on words, that she could build her life in a forest of her choosing, in a castle that holds those she loves.

Swinging hair, a long spinny dress, singing birds and squirrels, well, those were just frosting on her cupcake.

For a fun time and peek into the Minecraft world:  Revenge-CaptainSparkelz

What is the measure of a man in America in 2015?

I don’t know. I am not a man.  Let’s start there.

I grew up with two sisters, my mom and my dad.

Now, at 42, my family is composed of my husband, my three boys ages 12, 9 and 6, and our 6 year old black lab, Rudy (also a boy). And I love football.

Listening to the Brock and Salk podcast this morning, I heard them reference a quote by Jim Harbaugh, formerly of the San Fransicso 49ers.  He is now the football coach at the U of Michigan. The gist of what he said was this;

“(Football is) the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in men, in males,” Harbaugh said.

Well. Jim has never been exactly eloquent, but you don’t have to worry about guessing what he thinks.  There is no subtext here; and while exaggerated for effect, this is just his truth. 

So the ESPN radio hosts posed the question, “What does it mean to be a man in America, in 2015?” This was the most interesting conversation I’d heard in some time on my daily podcast, so I flipped open my I-Pad and touched my Dictionary.com app to give me somewhere to start.

tough(ness)

  1. strong and durable; not easily broken or cut. 

This one gets debated almost every day in my life.  Because I have three boys, of which the oldest usually defines tough as “don’t cry when you get hurt”, and refuses to clean up the wounds on his legs and arms because he wears them as badges of honor.

My middle guy feels everything at a much more intense level and so as you can guess, he feels pain strongly and he cries alot.  My youngest has always endured physical pain like it’s a fly to be swatted and move on.  When he cries, we know he’s injured. Except that recently both of these guys have mastered the ‘fake’ cry. Not cool.

Mark works for our living and I’ve been a stay at home mom, so I’ve been the one to wipe away the majority of tears, kiss the boo-boos and inform my oldest that belittling his younger brother(s) for any given hurt and cry does not make him tougher, it makes him weaker and not only chips away at his strength, but at the relationships he has. He may or may not hear me all the time.

On the other hand, I do not run to every cry. Anymore. Sadly, now, as a jaded mom of three boys, I’ve seen far worse injuries than a cut or a scrape.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t check, or don’t care, (that’s an understatement), it just means I’ve learned to wait a heartbeat, listen, and then judge if this time needs my facilitating, or if this time, they can get up and keep on playing. 

capable of great endurance; sturdy; hardy: tough troops.

As for the times I’m not around and they get hurt, I’m generally ok. I know they are going to get hurts and scrapes and bruises and scars. And I value the time they spend without us around, where they work out problems on their own or together. This doesn’t come easily for me.  It’s not the world I grew up in, and because my boys were each born with and developed their own individual challenges, it has been incredibly hard to progressively send them in to a tough world.  

I know they are boys, not men, however that is our goal, to raise boys who know their own worth, can stand in their identity and treat themselves and others with love and acceptance, to possess an ability to perservere through adversity, injury and brokeness.  Life is tough. They need to be their own kind of tough. More than that, they need to know how to use that strength to notice, care about and do what needs to be done for others who are weak or broken.

not easily influenced, as a person; unyielding; stubborn: a tough man to work for.

As my boys have ventured, or been gently pushed, further from our circle of influence, we have faced the reality that we cannot protect them from everyone.  We can set parameters and boundaries, but the truth is, it doesn’t matter how young or old, mature or delayed a person is in any way, there are going to be people in our lives who are harmful.

I hate it.  I’ve felt my heart break in a thousand different ways watching my boys interact with groups or individuals and face rejection, unkindness and indifference. Helping them navigate realtionships and hurts has been the greatest challenge I’ve faced as a parent, as a person. I’m not an expert -far from- in relationships or emotions, and so I have been facing my own lifetime of vicious inner struggles along with with boys.  And in a way, growing up with them. 

In the act of walking with them, my husband and I see that they are “capable of great endurance.” 

The best thing about not ignorning pain is that helps us figure out who we are.  That we are in control of our emotions, reactions, behavior.  In this way, I am grateful for how hard, how tough, it has been and is to watch from the sidelines as my boys play out their own personal stories.  And grateful they still come back to our huddle.

difficult to perform, accomplish, or deal with; hard, trying, or troublesome: a tough problem.

The flipside of having all boys and being a woman is that there are many times when it is essential that I am not around.  I can feel it gathering like a pile of food wrappers and empty Gatorade bottles behind the couch. (My oldest son sponsored this metaphor.)

That is when I get out while the getting’s good.  And I leave my boys in the company and hands of their dad.  

Mark has always been very involved in all ways with our boys.  That was part of the deal, we both need to be all in to do this thing called a family.  I haven’t always made it easy for him, nor he for me, and kids are wired to make it difficult for everyone, but I’ve most definetly come to appreciate his strengths and perspective, and the equal fun and teaching he brings to being a dad.  Boys need their dads.

He is also human, and I give him much credit for being real with our boys about his missteps and mistakes.  I respect him for his willing spirit to do what he needs to do, and for being the living breathing model of a man that our boys need.

vigorous; severe; violent: a tough struggle.

Why are we even talking about what makes a man in 2015? Maybe we’ve come to the natural beginning of a new era. The previous generations definitions of “being a man” are now cumbersome.

Milennials are coming into adulthood now, and so just as when other eras have hit this milestone, fear and tradition yet again emerge and express time honored words from the elders:

“This generation has no idea what it means to be an adult!  They are lazy, selfish, self-absorbed, have no work ethic, don’t care about anyone else and are the most entitled generation ever!”

The danger of painting a portrait (or maybe I need to say posting an Instagram) of a generalization is that you don’t look any further than the examples that verify your beliefs. Fear can easily make it feel like it’s just safer, easier to blame “them.” Because we have never been wrong.  

Are some of the accusations leveled at Millenials factual?  Probably. And they are certainly amplified due to the crazy fast pace of technology. My Generation (X) though, heard much of the same when we entered adulthood, and it effectively managed to anesthetize an entire generation already overwhelmed with the expectations of those who came before us who “gave us the world”.  

This time around, when I see the new generation entering the fray, I’m less worried and far more hopeful.  I see that their openess holds a chance for real change. The broad unrest in our nation, even today, the message that we are tired of being told how it’s done, and by who, is a rallying cry. And Justice is a cause people will get behind.

tough it out, Informal. to endure or resist hardship or adversity.

That’s why in 2015 we are talking about what it means to be a man. Or a woman. Or a community. 

As interesting as is the conversation Jim Harbaugh spurred, it isn’t so much a characteristic that makes “a real man.” 

It’s action and purpose that defines a man. Aggressive and Passive have had their way for decades, centuries. Instead of all the outside signals that used to alert us to “manliness”, it’s time for, past time for, asking the hard questions. 

Not, how much does he make? What are his career goals? What sports does he play? How does he dress? What make and model of vehicle does he drive? How high in the draft did he get picked?

How about, how does he respond to adversity? How does he talk about other people, especially those different than him, or who can do nothing for him? How does he treat his wife, his children, his friends, family? Who does he look to for advice and wisdom as a man? 

hard to bear or endure (often used ironically): tough luck.

The past half a century has been a rapidly swinging pendulum in the defining of “what makes a man”. I think it may be time to take a time-out. Do you know to stop a pendulum?

The way to end the dizzying swinging of back and forth requires two things, friction and resistence.  When those two elements are consistently at play, the pendulum will slow, until it is still, back at center.

Playing at a ‘perfect’ model of a man created by corporations who want to see you buy their version of manhood, or allowing fear to convince you that one person can’t chage anything isn’t what the world needs to see.

Contintuing to perservere despite the imperfections of life and love, to endure while things are hard, standing up and speaking even when fear shakes you, when we see men acting in these ways in our lives and neighborhoods, and passing on the real lessons they’ve learned to others to build a team that can play the game that is life in America, we will begin to see hope for the true measure of a man.


Man Made DIY-I like how they are keeping the conversation going, interesting, fun, timely.

What Makes a Man-I found this article to be enourmously helpful in looking at the conversation that is taking place among Christians. 

The Man-blog post by a man I know.

Nick Offerman aka Ron Swanson-no modern conversation on manliness is complete without a few insights from Ron Swanson, Pawnee, Indiana.








reading, writing and cookies

The scent of ginger and baking grain drifted into the hallway, wrapping itself around the neat line of five year olds.  The teacher turned to whisper to her class, “I think we’re close, don’t you think?!”  Wide eyes and nodding heads agreed. And then, as we crept into the school kitchen, and spied the oven, our suspicions were rewarded.  The gingerbread man was in the oven! How did he get there? The story must be true!!  I believed.

This past week, my boys and husband followed the annual ritual of back to school.  After the slow pace and loose plans of summer, it always feels like a jump into a cold lake at six a.m.  Suddenly, we are all business and nerves. Backpacks stuffed with supplies to stuff into a desk identified with my boys name neatly written on a long tag.  Lunch requests taken and packed into containers and ziplocs with hope of nourishing their newly tired bodies.  First day of school outfits laid out; ironic shirts and basketball shorts, cool enough to stand out and fit in simultaneously.  Checks written to PTSO, form after medical form for food allergies, bee allergy, and nose bleeds completed and taken to the school nurse, along with Epi-Pens and Benadryl that we pray are never needed.  Bus stops confirmed.  Husband’s schedule entered into my I-phone calendar.  I know I’m forgetting something.

Sixth grade, third grade and Kindergarten.  That’s where I’ll find my three this school year, in their respective classrooms, or in the lunchroom, or at recess on a blacktop not much different from the one I remember from my youth. I catalog all the things I need to do when I get home, waving as I leave each to their own worlds back with fresh from summer teachers and twenty five or so other kids the same age.  I give brave, confident smiles and tell them each, “You’ve got this.  I know you can do this.  You’re great at being a student.  See you in a bit!”  I make it to the van before the tears well up.  Hmmm. I thought maybe I’d done all my emotional work at the end of school last year.  And during the summer.

But just as you can’t plan for every situation that may or may not happen at school, you can’t plan your emotional floods, either.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever have one of those years where I can post a picture of me smiling on the first day of school; exuding a super-cool “Yea, kids are gone!”  I talk a big game when I’ve had plenty of parenting time with my boys.  (Read: get me out of here! Now.)  But I miss them as soon as they are gone.  It’s good for all of us to have places to go, to be on our own.  I know that like I know my abc’s.  It still doesn’t stop this mom’s heart from twinging at the sight of her guys hesitant, unsure smiles as I entrust them to someone else for more hours of the day than I will have with them.

Did I pour enough love into them this summer?  Did the balance of encouraging words and loving responses outweigh the ones I regret?  Did I spend enough time with each of them, on their own?  Do they remember that they are loved no matter what?  Did we laugh enough this summer?  Is their self-worth rooted stronger in the love of their Creator this year?  Because they will have storms.  And bullies.  Jokes they don’t get.  Teams that won’t throw to them.  Cruel words and looks tossed their way.

That day, after I cried in a church parking lot, I drove my empty van to Starbucks.  I wanted to write, so I brought my laptop.  I found I had no words.  And the wi-fi was pissing me off.  So I had my latte and breakfast with a side of rolling emotions and racing, looping thoughts instead:   My youngest is in school every day now.  Half-day Kindergarten, a rarity around here, and I’m thankful for the extra time with him.  He’ll love school and his amazing Kindergarten teacher, and I’ll see him in three hours.  My middle guy is in third grade.  This is the fabled fairy-tale year of coming out-of-our- shell in my family.  His teacher is so calm and caring and great I want to cry.  He’s going to thrive. My oldest didn’t get the home-room teacher he wanted, but after meeting his teacher, I know she is God-chosen.  I didn’t see many of his friends in his class.  Well, this is sixth grade.  They’ll be switching classes three times a day this year, to get a taste for the upheaval of middle school next. He’ll see his friends at recess. He’s going to love this year.  More action, more responsibility, more field trips.

I can’t say that I had any moment of clarity that morning where I knew that “It Will All Be Fine”, like some typography poster on Pinterest.  I’m not sure that being a parent offers that as part of the package deal.  Because I don’t know.  And it’s the scariest part of being someone who fiercely loves your children. But one thing I know from years of back to school days is that the bravest thing you can do is to let them go anyway.  This is the part I never thought about when I desperately wanted children to hold in my arms, or when I held each of their warm bodies close to me on their birth-day.  This was not in my dreamy vision of my boy’s childhood stories at all as I read picture books to them, their sweet arms curling around me.  That someday, I would be left with empty arms.

We weathered the first week of school.  Four days packed with notes and papers and hungry, tired boys. Yesterday, as we ate lunch out in the fall sunshine, I asked my kindergartener what book his teacher read.  With a sly smile, he said “The Gingerbread Man.”  My eyes lit up and I couldn’t contain my excitement.  “What?!  And did you search for a gingerbread man who said, ‘Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man?'”  And then he told me the tale of his adventure.  This.  This moment.  Thousands of these sparkle in my mind, light my soul, and make me laugh out loud with joy at how beautiful these boys are.  And that is something I couldn’t have dreamed of in my crazy-happiest of dreams.

I’m think I’m going to go make some ginger molasses cookies now. I’ve developed a craving somehow. Eat some dough, and bake a few too.  And, if they let me,  I’ll catch my boys up in a tight hug.  I do believe reality is sweeter than make believe.