What it is all about

Yesterday I hung up a flat-screen television and afterwards lay on the sofa with youngest son on my chest, my head in middle son's lap and my legs on oldest son's lap. We watched Ben-10 together.

And that is what it is all about.

Yesterday I walked the dog and took a moment to look at the local windmill reflected in the lake. I was wearing my brother's shoes and my father's coat. I remembered that when I got married I wore the bow-tie given to me by a friend who's young husband died suddenly in a car accident.  The world is throwing symbols at me thick and fast.

And that is what it is all about.

Yesterday we sat down and ate Mexican takeaway at the big, slightly scratched and dented wooden table that Marjolein and I bought because we wanted people to sit round it and talk to each other.

And that is what it is all about.

Yesterday I drove away to pick up my middle son's repaired Nintendo DS. Marjolein found a repairman. Middle son was bitterly sad when his DS broke and he will get it back from Saint Nicholas tonight.

And  that is also what it is all about.

Yesterday my oldest boy sat by youngest and said that youngest could squeeze his hand as hard as he wanted when youngest had to have stinging disinfectant on his poorly toe.

And today will be just as amazing.

And  that is indeed what it is all about.


Ave atque vale


This is hard to write.

A week ago my brother died. He had been ill for a number of weeks with a rapid form of Leukemia and went quietly in his sleep.

There are no words for how I feel, that is something that bulks too large for my skills to encompass, but I can draw some wisdom from this.

The thing I am proudest of doing in all the world right now is that I made a small  aeroplane, red biro on notepad paper, borrowed scissors from the nurse, cut it out and hung over his bed. He had to lie back because of a lumbar puncture he had had and it cheered him up a little. It was a tiny, hopeless little gesture in the face of the towering, dark wave of his illness, but that and sitting quietly with him was all I had.

Sometimes there is not a lot you can do, so just do that.

Somewhere out there you may have the privilege of  hanging up a small, red aeroplane for someone, maybe making a difference, no matter what the odds. Be brave. Seize the day, you may not get a second chance.


Seven (1d6+1) reasons to play D&D with Smart Children

There is a sad misconception that D&D is a refuge for the socially inept. I would say that is probably born of the fact that, as an intensely socially educative game, it enables people who would otherwise fall out of contact to find a framework. You notice them when they are playing D&D when they would normally have scuttled out of sight. That has to be a good thing, liberating and enabling.

I have written before about D&D for kids but since then a few things have occurred to me that have convinced me that everyone who has smart children should play D&D with them...

Some quick generalisations about smart kids. Full of ideas. Easily bored. Challenged by working with others. Tendency to grandstand and demand attention. Outliers from the herd who are challenged to fit in and have a hard time finding peers.

Take a few typical attributes of D&D and see how they can engage and develop your smart child.

  1. It is a team game. When you venture into the catacombs you have an elven wizard (Maria, from your class) at your shoulder, a shaggy barbarian fighter (Joe, who shares your passion for dinosaurs) watching the rear and the stout Dwarven cleric (Luke, Joe's older brother who is very good at math) struggling along behind. Fellow players immediately have common ground and temporarily many shared goals. People who game together develop friendships.
  2. It is a game of the imagination. D&D stimulates and rewards imagination. It presents a living story, a realm of fantasy. Just for once having vivid ideas that do not fit into the day-to-day of school has a payoff. Just for once you can share a world of imagination with others.
  3. It is all about problem-solving.  The goblins are attacking and the mysterious rune-encrusted door will not open. Which of the three gems you have found will fit? How can I swing across the chasm without being shredded by the dire bats? Ideas zip across the table and advice and cunning plans are everywhere. I have never yet run a session where someone did not solve the problems I set them in a way I did not expect.
  4. It demands cooperation. Anyone that has ever played D&D knows that you need each other just as much as the players in any other team game, but with an added twist: each character is different. So each player has a unique contribution, a specific set of skills an capabilities that will not always be fully in play, but which will certainly at some point be utterly crucial. My son plays a rogue, a slight but light-fingered fellow, skilled at opening locks, defusing deadly traps and avoiding danger. The heavily armoured fighter stands between him and the fangs and claws, but waits (far) behind him while he disables the explosive runes on the the door of the treasure room.
  5. It structures communication. D&D has a lot of crucial moments, traps, combat and test of skill in which the whole table of players participates. That means that people have to take turns speaking, listen carefully to what others have said and thing on their feet. It is like being in a meeting with committee rules but without the stifling boredom and frustration. It is highly structured (though chaotic shouting does break out on occasion) and teaches communications skills, brevity and listening. Anyone that does not listen when the dungeon master is speaking may well miss a vital clue, not hear the troll creeping up from behind or the secret door creaking open.
  6. It rewards creativity. It is a game in which almost anything is possible. Though there are rules and limits, (jumping off a high place remains a bad idea... unless you can fly of course..), there is always another way to approach a problem, a wierd, out-of-the-box way of solving it. Creativity is rewarded. The problem-solving part demands creativity, but story-making and world-building do too. You need to flesh out an imaginary character. Imagine how she would talk to the local king, or to the butcher who's wife is a witch. I recently challenged a highly numeric and analytical boy who plays in a game I run to describe what the spell he was casting actually looked like: arrows of fire, luminous serpents? He had to step out of his analytical comfort zone to do it... Similarly, the story-teller at the table often has to concentrate to work out if his character's glittering shurikens actually hit the target.
  7. It is fun. Fun with people who think like you and revel in ideas and cleverness. It is a space in which football, physical coordination and the social pecking order do not count for much, so for the geeky kids it is a heady taste of freedom from conformity.



Sometimes what I need to say seems to obvious. One of the things I am still learning is to say it anyway.

I am a deeply fortunate person. I have a family I love,  a cheerful disposition and there are moments in my day which are eternal, where I am breathless with the glory of the world. I do not feel grateful because there is an obligation or that it is expected. I feel grateful because it is a natural state and so profoundly mixed with what I understand of happiness that I cannot seperate it out.

So I say to my sons "What goes around..." and they answer "comes around" and they know that I mean that the large and small generosity and acts of kindness that others show cannot be repaid, but only transmitted.

My oldest boy biked off to see his good friend home and  got lost on the way back. It was getting dark and everything seemed strange and threatening to him. He did not dare talk to the big, tough-looking teenagers he saw in the park. Fear and embarassment gripped him and held him back from finding help until tears came, until Rosanna came. I have never met Rosanna and I probably will never find her, but she put him back on the right road and guided him home.

Thankyou Rosanna, for sending him home. I was very scared too. May you be helped in all your journeys.

I have laid upon oldest boy a debt of honour. "Someday", I said "you will find someone lost and afraid when you are a big, perhaps tough-looking, teenager. Then you will remember Rosanna and a scared ten-year old." So much of what we say to children fades, but I hope that that will remain.

I do not know you and perhaps I never will. I am writing this out into the strange, busy echo-chamber of the Internet. Wherever you are, I hope that you will always be guided home. If some day a lanky great guy helps you out, it may be that my son remembers Rosanna.


Gentleness is a super-power


There is something that I want to say, somewhat out of the ordinary for this blog, please be patient while I find a way to say it.

I am a scarily cheerful person almost all of the time, particularly on diamond-bright blue-skied winter days like today. Things are actually pretty grim in the Netherlands, where I live, right now. The economy has taken a hit under the waterline and people are losing jobs, businesses and houses. Such times are of course sent to try us and they have one gift to give: perspective, they force you to focus on what is truly important.

I may lose my job.

But, I have a close and loving relationship with my wife and children. I am healthy (though a little overweight right now) and live in comfort and safety. I consider myself fortunate beyond all reckoning.  If was going to have a problem with something I would definately have chosen the economy and work. I am therefore filthy rich in any coin worth counting.

In these times it is tempting to "turtle", pull the covers over your head and wait for it all to blow over, but that is not what we are for. If you do have perspective and strength this is the time to reach out to others. I spent various moments this week with people who are overstretched by their work, put at financial risk, or worse dunked in confusion and sadness by turmoil and tough decisions in their personal lives. There is little you can do but listen attentively and perhaps offer a little practical help and perspective. You can be gentle. So that is what the title is about. Even now, even when money markets lurch around like drunken giants there is no force, no dictum greater than love and the ability to care for your fellow-person.

Gentleness is your super-power. Use it for good.

Use it.


Dungeons and Dragons with kids


I have been running a Dungeon and Dragons 3.5 game for my 10-year old son and four of his friends for the last few months. Though they are all geek-kids with video-game experience and lively imaginations, it is, on occasion, very challenging.


Knights and lego


You must have noticed: I learn a lot of GTD from doing things with my kids. I find children a good model: the main difference between kids and adults being that grown-ups are way better at inventing some specious reason for the daft things they are doing... Read more...