Wednesday, August 23, 2017

End of Summer -- Springfield Father & Grandfather -- Mark Mildren

As a child the parameters of summer were the end of school year and the beginning of another. Summer break began in June, and lasted until just after Labor Day weekend, so August was the third and last month of summer vacation. As I look back upon those years it seemed like summer lasted a long time. When I think of my elementary school years living in Denver, Colorado, they were truly care free for me. I was part of the Baby Boom generation, and it was never so noticeable as it was in my neighborhood. Every house on the block had two or more kids approximately my age. So I had lots of friends to play with.  

The Little Rascal movies could have been based on my neighborhood. We had gangs and club houses that parents built for us. The alley between the houses on either side of the block was the meeting place for my friends and I. From there we hatched many activities from sandlot baseball, to long distance bike rides, playing cowboys and Indians and track and field games. The days began early, around 6:30 a.m., and lasted through the day till dark. We hated to have to come in. I knew it was time, however, when my father stepped out on the back porch and gave his unique whistle, and yelled my name: “Mark Jennings, time to come in!” 

I haven’t heard a father do that in many years. Our neighborhood seemed much more connected than neighborhoods do today. One obvious reason is that people were outdoors more than they are now, and there were no video games to watch, or i-Phones to monitor.

Looking back I am amazed at the freedom my parents gave to me. We lived on the edge of town, and the prairie began at the end of our street. You could look out across it as far as the eye could see. And in the summer we spent a good deal of our time in it. We could ride our bikes far away and be gone for hours and my mom never seemed to worry. Maybe there was less to worry about in those days. Drugs, porn, human trafficking, violence were unheard of then. Life was simpler. I think the 1950’s had to be the golden era of America. Peace and prosperity were at hand.
While my parents seemed to trust that I wasn’t going to get into trouble, for the most part I was trustworthy. I didn’t do anything really bad. The worst thing I did was almost derailing a train! We had been placing copper pennies on the tracks to see what they would look like when the train ran over them. They were flattened good. So we thought we’d put a railroad spike on the track and see what would happen. About five of us sat down on some mounds close to the tracks and waited for the train. As it approached the conductor waved at us kids, and we waved back. Then the train hit the spike. There was a terrible noise and sparks were flying. The train engine carried that spike a lot farther than we supposed would happen. The conducted waved again at us, but it wasn’t quite the same wave he had given earlier!
Somewhere along the way my parents taught me to respect them, as well as some basic values they taught me. I knew they had a certain expectation of me to be good, honest, and obedient to them. And I lived up to their expectations. They trusted me because I stayed out of trouble. Because of that my summers were filled with a modicum of independence and joy.

As school approached it was met with a certain resignation, fear and anticipation. On the positive side I got to go to the "Five and Dime" and get my school supplies--a three-ring binder that zipped up, with pockets inside to stuff papers, a plastic pencil holder, eraser, pencil sharpener, and a box of 48 Crayola crayons. I still love to smell a gum eraser and a fresh box of crayons. The memories come flooding back.

I suppose some of my most vivid experiences from childhood were of summer vacations from school. It was a time for boys to be boys and somehow we began to learn more about ourselves and the world around us. Our imaginations were unleashed in playful and adventurous ways. My parents helped to create this wonderful time by providing a secure environment, some simple ground rules, and probably a more watchful eye than I ever realized! There was always a sense of sadness at the end of summer, but also an expectation of something just ahead. It is so even today as summer comes to an end.

Mark Mildren, retired Methodist minister, is the father of two and grandfather of three. He serves as the faith-community liaison for Good Dads and can be reached for question or comment at

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Good Bye to Summer

Sometimes parents welcome it, while it seems that almost always, children dread it. What am I talking about? The end of summer. To parents, it can signal the conclusion of finding babysitters, refereeing a staggering number of fights, and answering the question, “What can I do today?” To children, it most certainly signals carefree days morphing into those filled with early mornings, rigor, and homework.

As the “golden months” come to a close, making way for the busyness of fall, families often are also left to deal with a myriad of “guilt” or “grief” types of emotions. For instance, if summer didn’t quite go as planned - the trips were canceled, or the family time parents over promised just didn’t happen - guilty angst can creep into a mom or dad’s heart. On the other hand, if the summer was especially sweet, instead of being grateful for the time spent, resentment can set in at the thought of the “back to school” commitments that tend to pull families in a myriad of directions.

How can families make the transition from summer to fall in the best, most painless ways possible? Our family certainly did not perfect this transition, but in the 22 years in which we were annually sending someone “back to school,” we did find some things that helped.

One thing we found that enabled us to run a bit smoother when summer stopped and school started, was the effort of preparing ourselves before we prepared our kids. My wife would laugh and say, “Well, babe! School starts in a few weeks, so time to get the pen, calendar, and checkbook out!” The amount of scheduling, paperwork, and fees that hit parents of only one child can be daunting, but throw some more kids into the mix, and you very quickly can feel buried and broke. We gave ourselves notice to get ready. We tried to look at the budget and make accommodations for the activity, sports, music, and materials’ costs, often for three, teenage boys. Oh, and did I mention lunch money? For three, teenage boys? You bet we had to plan for that one! 

My wife was the master planner when it came to the kids, and would make sure that the huge (but somehow stylish) dry-erase wall calendar with the markers in colors for each family member, was ready to be filled in as soon as the school schedules started coming home. She also set up a filing crate, in which each boy had separate files for the portions of syllabi that didn’t have to be signed and returned to school. Also into the crate went copies of upcoming class project expectations (much needed in order to avoid late night poster board runs!), or team and class phone trees. My wife would tell you that she is a pretty free-spirited, easy-going person, and that is the very reason why she needed systems. It’s hard enough to get back into the swing of school. Most of us parents know it’s even harder when forms are lost and kids miss first practices.

After parents fully realize summer is winding down and fall is just around the corner, it’s time to prep the kids. There are some youngsters who enjoy heading back to school. Having both grown up in the country, my wife and I were always somewhat eager for fall, just to (pre-cell phone and social media) connect with our friends again on a daily basis. But, most kids have a hard time getting back into the routine. It isn’t easy, but aiming for earlier bedtimes as the summer months begin to wane is a great thing to strive for. In addition to that, setting aside some one-on-one time with each child to discuss or address fears or concerns he or she may have about the upcoming school year can be very comforting and reassuring. Especially if they are transitioning to Jr. High, High School or even College.

There are many things parents and children can do together, as well as individually, to send summer off into the sunset well. And you never know...there may be some leftover fireworks from the 4th of July to really make it feel like a celebration. The bottom intentional. Intentionality always seems to open the door to smoother transitions.  Have a happy fall!

Kevin Weaver, CEO of Network211 and father of three sons, lives with his wife KyAnne in Springfield, MO. He enjoys spending time with family, hunting and watching University of Kansas basketball with his boys! He can be reached at

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Making Friends/ Good Friends -- Springfield Dad & Grandfather Mark Mildren

One of the most difficult things a parent has to do is to guide their children through the minefields of life, helping them claim good values, and the skills to succeed in life.  One area of potential difficulty is in regards to friends. When our kids were young we lived in a neighborhood without many children. There was only one home nearby that had two girls near the age of my daughter. I would say that they were living in near poverty. As a pastor, I try to treat everyone equally, and not discriminate against people, but I was concerned about this home. The kids had a single mom, and there was a continuous changing of the men who would stay in this house. We didn’t really want our kids to spend time there, but preventing that seemed like casting a judgment upon them. We preferred the two girls to spend time at our home, where we could supervise them more closely, and hopefully, demonstrate what a stable home and marriage looked like. 

In one episode our daughter came home and talked about some dirty magazines she had seen at her friends home. This kind of confirmed our worries about the environment there. My wife and I were more determined to channel our daughter away from that home, but to encourage her friends to come to our house. Eventually, we moved to another town and things worked out better.

Another move brought us to Monett. We look back at this move and believe it was an answer to prayer for our daughter, and our son. Our daughter fell in with a group of high achieving girls, who were active in school activities, and made excellent grades. Her own grades rose, and she expanded her activities to include cheerleading, drama, and speech and debate. Most of her friends came from solid families that wanted their daughters to excel and succeed. Our son became friends with kids who he still remains connected to twenty years later. As parents we were very relieved to know the crowd our kids were with was a positive one. My wife and I brought together all of the parents of our sons friends to help supervise our children and to make sure they were where they were supposed to be. This let the kids know that the community was involved in their raising.  That may be an advantage of living in a small town.
Sometimes we sacrifice things in our lives to help raise our children. I was offered a move to a much larger church, with a much larger salary, that was about 225 miles away. If I accepted the offer, my daughter would change high schools in her senior year. From my own experience I knew how difficult that can be. So we turned down the offer and stayed until both my kids graduated from high school before accepting another move.  We felt it was important for them to graduate with their best friends.

Parenting is challenging! Sometimes we will face awkward experiences that can be filled with real drama, but when you choose to have children, that comes with the territory. Good parents will be deeply involved in their children’s lives. Good parents will set boundaries and enforce them. We can’t make friends for our children, but we can create opportunities to make friends. 

When I was 16 my family moved from California to Kirkwood, Missouri. My father insisted that I attend our church’s youth fellowship group that met on Sunday evening. I really resisted this, fearing it would be awkward for me. My father prevailed, and I went. My fears were relieved, and the kids were most friendly, and became my best friends in my last two years of high school. My father made the right decision regarding my participation in the youth group. That’s an example of helping our kids make good friends! 

We wanted our kids to know that it was always okay for them to bring their friends to our home. We enjoyed getting to know the friends of our son and daughter. My advice for parents of young children is be involved. Know what’s going on. Talk to your kids about things they’re concerned with. Be wary of potential problems, and steer your kids in the right direction. If you love them and do your best, most likely they will turn out to be responsible people!

Mark Mildren, retired Methodist minister, is the father of two and grandfather of three. He serves as the faith-community liaison for Good Dads and can be reached for question or comment at