Friday, May 28, 2010

I don't know what got into the boy!

Although yesterday was Ainsley's birthday, it was also Graham's graduation from kindergarten. Now, you may remember from year's past my description of kindergarten graduation at SCS. It is over the top. There is live entertainment, a movie, and of course the traditional name calling. It was during the live entertainment portion of the evening that Graham truly made himself known.

You see, the first 30 minutes of the graduation ceremony was a live musical of sorts. Each child had a part and one by one they would step up to the mic and tell the story of their year as a kindergartner. All of the kids did wonderfully and not one of them had trouble with their memorized lines. Whoever wrote the script did a great job as I never felt bored. In fact, it was down right funny and each child brought some great material with them. I can honestly say that, if I had not already, I now have a great grasp of what they did this year, what they learned, and how much fun they had.

The speaking parts where broken up by choreographed dancing and singing parts. It was like watching Glee - the kindergarten version. And this is where Graham came out of his shell. By all appearances it looked as though his singing was right on. It was not what was coming out of his mouth though that captured the attention of the audience. It was his dance moves that kept every one's eyes on him. He totally hammed it up. He invested every ounce of energy into his "moves" and delivered a performance like no other. It was easy to pick Graham out of the crowd. Although all of the other kids were doing the moves, Graham was doing it to the max. He not only had Lynley and I in stitches but the rest of the audience as well. In fact, after the performance, no less than 50 people would congratulate me on Graham's incredible show of dancing prowess.

Who would have known. After all, he is like me - geeky and awkward. Somehow though, he pulled off an enormous coo of coolness.

It was awesome.

I am so proud.

I don't know that I could have done that. However, I don't actually know that he knew he was doing it either.

He was just having a blast.

It was contagious.

As soon as we get the video we will be posting it here and we will let you know.

Until then, you will just have to trust me when I tell you our graduate has some incredible purpose.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Ainsley

Today Ainsley turns five years old. Now, for normal kids, it is simply another nice birthday. For Ainsley, however, this is a huge milestone. The fact, that she survived another year, is simply astounding. Sure, she made it through the year needing some extra additions - some staples on her noggin for example - but she did make it through fearlessly. Daily she continually amazes me with the things she will do. She is carefree and boundless and I only wish I could see life through her eyes.

I have received several messages this week asking how she was doing after her little head injury. Let's see, later that day she was back on a swing. It was not 24 hours after the incident that she was already trying to climb trees. 2 days after the episode I had to stop she and one of her "boyfriends" from giving each other a noogie contest. In short, it hasn't slowed her down one bit. It does seem, however, that several times daily I find myself saying "Stop doing that Ainsley. You have staples in your head" I feel that I need to remind her. Clearly, the rest of her family are the only ones with concern. She certainly does not seem to be bothered by it. She is "staple head girl" hear her roar.

So, in short, I guess you can say that Ainsley is just fine.

Some how.

And now we are back to the reality that some how she made it another year. I might also point out that she did so without any jail time, trips to the police station, or loss of teeth. In fact, she was my only child that made it through and entire year without even a single yellow sticker at school. Yes, she had perfect behavior - all year, every day. Who could have possibly predicted that? Double Wow!

Like I said. It is Ainsley's birthday and she has a lot to celebrate. She did it in style.

Happy Birthday my little fire cracker of purpose.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Win an Apple iPad!

Okay, so here is my best effort at bringing my kiddo's fundraiser to the office and begging all of my friends and work companions to help support the team. If you could help, I would greatly appreciate it. It is inexpensive, for a worthy cause, and you could win some great prizes.

First, as you know Graham and Sydney have both qualified to go the USA Taekwondo Junior Olympics. In fact, their entire team will be going. Here is a great picture of the team:

The Junior Olympics will be in Orlando Florida on June 29th - July 3rd. Graham and Sydney's team have set a goal to raise $6000 to help cover the costs associated with the Junior Olympics. This includes costs for required equipment, competition uniforms, and coaches fees. In order to meet this goal they have created a raffle to raise the necessary funds.

Raffle tickets are $5 a piece and you can win any of the following:
Apple iPad
• Scuba certification for two
Scentsy gift basket
• Movie gift basket
GSX parents night out for a month
• Dinner for two at Hoffbrau

Please email me at if you are interested in purchasing a raffle ticket. Let me know how many and I will get back to you with your lucky raffle numbers.

Finally, we are also looking for corporate sponsors for our team. If you would be interested in sponsoring the team we have a variety of sponsorship packages available from $100 to $5000. Your support would help make the difference and I can guarantee that you will get some tremendous exposure (shirts, billboards, uniforms, print and radio media). How would your company like to be known for sponsoring a national champion? It is a win-win situation for everyone. Please contact me if you are interested by email or at 817-846-6085.

Today's purpose comes in the form of a threat from some very talented twerps.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

He is my son

I am capable of doing one thing at a time, doing it well, and then moving on. Much to Lynley's chagrin, this is just how I am built. It is all fine and dandy if you are a multitasker. I can do that as well but, when you get right down to it, at my best, at my most efficient, I do one thing. Over the years I have gotten much better at multitasking. In fact, at any one point in time, I am juggling 5 or 6 projects. However, that has been a long time in coming and, if I had my druthers, I would still be doing 1 thing at a time.

Last weekend we kind of had a surprise national qualifier for the AAU National Tae Kwon Do Championship. The AAU is another national Tae Kwon Do organization. It competes directly with USAT which is the sponsor of most of the tournaments we normally play. In Tae Kwon Do there are these two major groups vying for international dominance. The sparring rules between the two groups are different but essentially everything else is the same. It is kind of like the NFL and the old USFL, one will eventually dominate but, until then, we have a choice.

Regardless, last weekend we had the opportunity to compete in the regional qualifier in Addison. We felt that given Graham's performance in the last few tournaments it might be good to get some more sparring under our belt.

It was a good idea.

Graham dominated all of his bouts. By the end of the day he would fight 3 times and win each handily. He won gold and earned his spot at the National Championships in Fort Lauderdale.

So, what happened?

It wasn't complicated. It fact, it was just the opposite. Graham was told to do one thing. That was it, over and over, and that is exactly what Graham did. He spent every moment of the fight repeating a cover punch, kick, clench routine.

Over and over. Cover punch, kick, clench. Cover punch, kick, clench. Cover punch, kick, clench.

He blew the competition away and don't think they were pushovers either. With the exception of the gold medalist from the USAT Texas Championship, his competition on Saturday was equal or better than any we have been up against.

He was the difference. There was no hopping around like a little bunny rabbit. There was no cluelessness. He was on a mission and he knew exactly what to do. It seems as though, as Graham has advanced and gained more skills, he has just become more confused. With all of his newly found weapons he just never knew what to use. He couldn't do the math on the fly and figure out which combination to throw.

So, we erased all of that. Adrian gave him just one thing.

His mind cleared and he dominated.

Now, I don't know how Graham will fair at the National Championships or the Junior Olympics given the level of competition at those levels. I honestly don't know whether he will be able to get away with throwing this simple combination over and over. However, it certainly was nice to see him back in his element. And, I can tell you this for sure, I would rather see him lose due to being out played rather than because he spent 3 minutes hopping around the ring waiting to be kicked.

In the end, it was very easy for me to understand. His mind is simple, just like his dad's.

He can do one thing at a time, he can do it very well, and then he can move on.

It is the intensity, the focus, and the singularity of purpose which makes the difference.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Another nightmare

Yes, I know, that is hardly the way to start a diary entry. However, I can assure you it wasn't a very good way to celebrate a Saturday afternoon either.

We had just gotten back from the AAU National Qualifier in Addison. It had been an exciting morning at a qualifier for the Tae Kwon Do National Championships. But, the results will have to wait until tomorrow.

None the less, Graham and Sydney were playing inside. Lynley and I were on the back porch putting together a grocery list and Ainsley was about 25 feet away swinging on the tree swing. Even though Lynley and I were working diligently, we had a pretty good eye on Ainsley. Honestly, we had little choice. On every upswing Ainsley would call out "Mommy (or Daddy) watch this!"

Next, we saw her swing down, we heard the sound of a melon crack, and we saw the swing come back up without her on it. All of a sudden she burst out screaming. Lynley and I were already running down the stairs from the porch. By the time we were half way there we could see the blood on her dress.

That was fast. Where is the blood coming from?

Ainsley stood up. The back of her head was soaked in blood and, I kid you not, there was a stream of blood literally shooting from the back of her head.

Lynley stabilized her and her head to keep her from moving. I shot back up the stairs to grab towels and the phone to call 911. Within seconds, I was back with a towel. It took less than a minute for the first one to soak through with blood. I got her another one and Lynley increased pressure.

Ainsley was awake, alert, and no doubt terrified. Lynley had always told her that if she wasn't more careful she was going to crack her head open and that was Ainsley's first question. "Mommy, did I crack my head open?"

As Lynley applied pressure and first aid. I barked orders from the 9-1-1 operator. "Don't move her." "Keep her still." "Apply pressure." While doing this, Graham and Sydney became aware that something was terribly wrong. They started balling and crying. I asked them to go outside and flash down the fire truck and ambulance. We could hear the sirens getting closer. In the meantime, I locked up the dogs and opened all of the doors to provide the fireman and EMT's fast access to the backyard. Within a minute they pulled up. As they prepared I gave them the background.
My daughter Ainsley, age 4, fell backwards off the swing onto the dirt. Significant bleeding from the back of her head. She is alert and conscious. She has not passed out. She has not thrown up.
There was a flurry of activity. I then went back into the house to make sure Graham and Sydney were okay. I gave them each things to do.

Graham go put on your shoes.

Sydney change clothes.

I will be up for you in a minute.

"Daddy, is Ainsley okay?"

"Honey, I don't know but she is awake and talking. That is a good sign. Say a prayer for her and lets let the emergency workers do their job."

I gathered up everything I thought we would need at the hospital. I called my mother to see if she could come watch the kids. I went back to check on Ainsley and give her a reassuring smile. The EMTs worked methodically and deliberately to slow the bleeding and secure Ainsley's neck and head.

Ainsley was scared but she remained responsive and alert.

After the bleeding had slowed (or stopped) they wrapped her head tightly and loaded her on the backboard. Then they loaded her on the gurney. As they did this, I went to check on the Graham and Sydney. They were in hysterics. I told them that if they could stop crying and put on a brave face they could go out and see Ainsley. They quickly muffled there cries and I ushered them outside. Ainsley was still obviously scared but I think seeing her brother and sister did everyone a world of good. The kids went back to the house with DeeDee, Lynley went to grab her shoes, and I walked with Ainsley as they rolled her out to the ambulance. Lynley hopped on the ambulance. I gave Ainsley a kiss good bye and told her I would see her very soon.

I grabbed my keys and took off. In fact, I had left the house before the ambulance. On the way, I made phone calls to Mimi and Papa and to a good friend that was a surgeon. I will tell you that I was in shock and could not figure out why there was so much blood. It was good that I had called David. He quickly got me the facts I needed to know and I was then ready to care for Ainsley and my family.
  • Lots of blood was normal - head bleeds profusely (and her case, shoots blood).
  • Injury on the back of the head was better than the sides - skull is tougher.
  • The fact that she was awake and alert was a very good sign.
  • Eyes and pupils responsive was a great sign.
  • No nausea and no vomiting another good sign.
  • The fact that she did not pass out was also a great sign.
I felt much better. This could be just a scratch. This could just be some staples in the head and a trip back home.

That was the first moment I realized that this might all be okay.

Thank you David.

I beat the ambulance by about 20 minutes. In the meantime I was texting with Lynley. She was getting more confidence as well. All signs in the ambulance was that this may not be so bad. We would still need and x-ray and maybe a CT scan but this was continuing to look better.

They quickly ushered us back into the ER. The only problem was that we found ourselves in the room in which Sydney was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. That left us a little uneasy. However, the fact that Ainsley has doing well and there weren't doctors and nurses swarming all over her gave us some more confidence.

In all, it would take several hours. Ainsley would receive several staples to close a 1 centimeter hole in the back of her head but, thankfully, everything else came back good. No fractures and no apparent internal damage.

Thank you God.

I got my purpose back in one piece.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A great night for neuroblastoma

Good morning! Well, last night was a late night. I did not get home until midnight. I had the privilege of attending a fundraising dinner to benefit neuroblastoma research in Dallas. My job during the evening was to speak about neuroblastoma and try to paint the picture of some of the problems that our children face. To be honest, although time was tight, I really enjoyed the opportunity to stand up and practice my speaking skills. I was only given about 15 minutes to speak which, with my favorite subject, was a challenge. How do you cram everything you want people to know in such a short time?

While it was important to let them know the basics about neuroblastoma, I really wanted them to know the reality of the disease. What exactly is the treatment like? What does achieving a remission really mean? In a disease without a cure, when do you really win? Can you?

As you can probably tell, it was a pretty depressing talk. But, I think I did lay a pretty good foundation to argue that these kids desperately needed a cure. I then went on to show that there was no profit incentive for pharmaceutical companies to make drugs for pediatric cancers and provided a litany of examples of promising drugs with activity in neuroblastoma that were dropped because of the lack of a billion dollar market.

I closed by sharing some of my favorite statistics which showed that the government was not the answer either. I shared the NCI's annual budget of $4.6 billion. I also showed how those dollars were divvied up. I showed how breast cancer received a $580 million chunk of the pie and how prostate cancer received a piece worth almost $300 million. Those numbers really stood out after I demonstrated that all 12 groups of pediatric cancer comprised of some 50 different classes of childhood cancer shared in a total of only $190 million. Yes, the math was not in our favor and it became clear that the answer was not the government.

That left only one solution, the people in that room. If anyone was going to create change for these kids, it was going to be the people in that room.

Was it one of my best speeches. Probably not. That was a lot to cram in 15 little minutes and, frankly, much of what I would have loved to say was left on the cutting room floor.

The goal of the evening was to raise about $30,000 to help fund a clinical trial.

After all of the counting was done, it looks like some $170,000 was raised.

Now, I am certainly not saying that it was my speech that had anything to do with the success. In fact, I am guessing that it had a lot more to do with all of the friends and family of the Malones than it had to do with anything I said. I was just extremely honored to have been a part of such an incredibly wonderful night for neuroblastoma.

It was a true example of how a few people can make a huge difference in the world of neuroblastoma. It just takes action.

Now comes the hard part of put those dollars to meaningful purpose and action.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Another day off

Good morning. Well, welcome to the end of the school year where everyday is an excuse to do something outside of the realm of learning that requires your parents to take a day off of work. Did that sound bitter? I don't mean to sound bitter. In fact, I am quite the opposite. I relish the opportunity to spend time with the kiddos. In fact, I can't think of a better example than Graham's field trip to The Ballpark in Arlington. The problem is managing 3 kiddos who each have a series of days like this. It happens all at once and, the next thing we know, during the last couple of weeks of school we have to schedule off roughly 8 days of work. It isn't the fact, that we "have" to spend time with the kids. I love that. It is the pressure of work and not being able to fit it all in.

You know me and Lynley as well, family always comes first (don't tell our bosses.) It becomes significantly harder when we have spans like this. Today is Sydney's Field Day, a day of fun and games up on the field at the upper campus. For Sydney it is great. She gets to run and play with her friends. We get to watch and supervise. The whole thing ends at noon when they will be dismissed. It makes for a fun short day for them but leaves no work time for us. That isn't bad right. Suck it up Mark. But, did I mention that Tuesday I took the day off to spend all day with Graham at the Ballpark. Oh, and on Friday we get to repeat the whole field day process with Ainsley. If that were not enough, next week we have kindergarten graduation, individual awards ceremonies for each class, Ainsley's Birthday party at school, and Graham gets an additional day off from school because he will be a kindergarten graduate.

Wow. Do the math. It does not leave much time for work.

I know I sound whiny. I don't mean to. It is just a very busy couple of weeks professionally and it looks like with all of the school activities I will get to very little of it. On top of all of that, I am receiving nasty grams from my mother-in-law now because I am not writing enough in my diary.

For me this is a mental issue. How do I enjoy all of the time I want to spend with the kids when the pressure of work and the guilt of not being there will be hanging over my head. Am I man enough to handle it?

I sure hope so, otherwise, what is the point of being there.

On another note, my trip to the ballpark with Graham was excellent. We both had a great time. I got to chaperone Graham and his two friends, Hunter and Bryce. Graham had an absolute blast but will also tell you that he did not understand a word the tour guide said. In fact, if you asked him who played in the stadium he may not be able to answer the question. The tour itself was good and very interesting. My little piece of advice though - Don't go on a game day. On game days you don't get the complete tour and you don't get to see some of the best stuff.

Also, Day 3 of bullygate was much better. Lynley wrote Mrs. Holder and the issue has been escalated to the counselor. The issue seems to be that the little girl just doesn't understand the impact of her behavior. According to Mrs. Holder she doesn't believe that the girl has any idea of the turmoil she is causing. She doesn't understand how much she is bothering Sydney and it is Mrs. Holders belief that she would cease if she truly understood. True, but I wonder if that is not how all bullies think. After all, isn't that one of their major issues, an inability to empathise and put one in another's shoes? Regardless, with only a few days left of school and with the fact that the girl will not be returning to SCS next year it is probably a non issue. Between now and then they are watching her closely and it is probably a relatively safe environment for Sydney to learn to work through the issue.

Like with the pressure of not being in the office, there is not always a solution but there is a silver lining. Sydney will learn to master her fears and I will get more time with my purpii.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Well, a few of my fears were realized yesterday. Day two of the anti-bullying program did not go as swiftly. Sydney was pushed out of the line by the girl twice and apparently she also twisted her arm. Sydney elected not to talk to the teacher for fear of retaliation but we are yet to get to the real root of what she fears. She is trying to lead us to believe that she is fearful that the girl will tell Mrs. Holder about an incident that happened almost a month ago. The problem is that the incident does not seem like that big of a deal and, frankly, I don't believe that anyone would care. Regardless, the girl is holding it over her head and Sydney is fearful of it. I just don't get it. There must be something more at play, and if there is, we are having no luck at getting to the bottom of it.

Lynley is drafting an email to the teacher and we will do our best to get to the bottom of this today.

On another note, the Dudester and I are going on a field trip to visit the Ballpark in Arlington, the home of the Texas Rangers. I am the official class photographer. I know, a little disappointing. However, I will do my very best to get some good candid shots of the kids. I am incredibly busy with work but I am genuinely looking forward to this little opportunity to bond with Dudely. It ought to make for a truly fun day.

Some days purpose is bittersweet.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Quick and Decisive Action

I had several emails and phone calls asking about what happened with Sydney on Friday. Thank you for your concern. There is good news to report. Before school, I went in to speak with Mrs. Holder. I did not want to interrupt her from preparing for class but, I did want to let her know that we did get to the bottom of the issue and that we would need to set up some time to talk. She encouraged me to spill the beans right there.

I did.

We talked very quietly and quickly. I explained the sequence of events that had led up to the most recent events. It turns out she was aware of some of the most recent issues but was not aware that this had been going on for so long. She was extremely concerned and encouraged me to bring these issues forward the moment they arose. I explained that we were just as much in the dark until the night before as she. We were aware that there were some problems with this little girl. We just did not realize the extent either.

She thanked me for sharing with her and gave me some assurance that she would watch over the situation. Like everyone one else, I thought about her most of the day. I wondered what would transpire and how it would be handled. When I picked up Sydney from school I was about ready to burst.

Sydney told me that both of them were talked to individually. Sydney told me that Mrs. Holder told her what a wonderful and sweet little girl she was and assured her that she was safe. We do not know what transpired in the discussion with the other little girl but I can tall you that Sydney said the girl was very sweet to her the rest of the day. She also said that she would not come near her at the lunch table. Sydney gave every indication that she felt both safe and secure which is, I guess, about as good as can be done in this situation.

I took a very deep breath.

Now, I don't know what will happen over the next two weeks as we finish out the school year but I have complete faith in Mrs. Holder to handle the situation. She has a ton of experience and seems to have an excellent grasp of exactly what needs to be done for each of her students. I am confident that she will get Sydney through this and she will do so in a way where everyone learns from the situation.

In all, it was a great start to the weekend.

My purpose is safe.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A bullying victim?

Strangely, over the last two days I have received comments from no less than 2 of Sydney's teachers regarding her demeanor. Yes, this is the same girl who is our straight A student and the same one that routinely receives excellent marks in her behaviour and work ethic.

So, what has happened?

First, the comments came from Mrs. Parks, her spanish teacher. On Wednesday, Sydney put her head down on the table and refused to participate in class. Odd? I agree. Almost immediately, I confronted Sydney to find out what was going on. She was pretty tight lipped about the event. In fact, she would not tell me what happened. When we got home I told her to go up to her room to think about it and that she could leave when she was ready to talk to me about it.

It was amazing how quickly that worked.

Sydney explained that she had been punished when other kids around her in class were misbehaving. For reasons that would not become entirely evident until the next day, she just shut down. At this time, she explained that she was mad and that this was her method of silent protest. We discussed the proper way to handle the situation and that it was necessary for her to talk to her teacher about her feelings. We left the conversation both feeling better and I had assumed we had resolved all of the issues.

I had been led to believe that anyway.

Yesterday, I talked to Mrs. Parks to ensure that we all had an understanding of what transpired and to ensure that Sydney had talked to her. As I was doing so I was also approached by Sydney's homeroom teacher that explained that she too had witnessed Sydney having a tough week. She explained one episode where Sydney was left in tears.

All was not as it seemed. Sydney tried to explain away her behavior as being from tiredness. Afterall, she had not slept well this week. I took that with a healthy dose of salt. Later, when Lynley arrived home from work I gave her the lowdown and left her to her own feminine devices to get to the bottom of the issue.

There were about 30 minutes of talk.

In the end, it looks like Lynley might have discovered the culprit. While we knew Sydney was having trouble with one of the girls in her class we did not understand the depth of the issue. However, we know now that she is clearly the victim of classic classroom bullying. One of the girls in her class is constantly upsetting her. The girl kicks Sydney under the table so often that she actually has a multitude of scabs and bruises along her shins. The girl has told Sydney that if she tells on her that she will lie and say that Sydney has been kicking her as well. On most days, the girl will also squish the food in Sydney's lunch box making it inedible. She has also been known to steal and destroy Sydney's homework. In addition to these physical symptoms, it seems that much of her bullying is psychological. It is clear that Sydney is feeling tortured and her classroom behavior can all be tied to incidents with this other little girl.

Hmmm, I wonder if her new found interest and intensity in sparring could be tied to this as well?

I have to be honest. My first instinct is to tell Sydney to take her out. Although she is much bigger than Sydney, there is no doubt that Sydney could flatten her. And, honestly, that is about the only thing that ever worked for me with bullies. Talking to the parents or the teacher only seems to end up in retaliation and further abuse. None the less, I also know that telling Sydney to "take her out", it is not the "right" thing to do.

I still wish she would.

Regardless, we will be meeting with all parties involved today to see if we can't come to a resolution. I will tell you though.

I will NOT allow this to continue.

That is my purpose we are talking about.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Repeat performance, really?

We are nearing the end of the school year so there are all kinds of ceremonies and events to participate in. Their are a litany of activities planned and a whole host of excuses to be off of work to attend the festivities. Yesterday was the start of these little escapes. Kindergarten Field Day was the adventure du jour. With Lynley and I both having busy schedules, we elected to share in the festivities by performing a choreographed mid morning switcharoo. She attended the morning events and I got the afternoon ones. I must say, I was a bit lucky. With their day ending at approximately 12:15 I had the remainder of the day to focus on some one on one boy stuff. While I was hoping for some meaningful time to be spent together, we were limited. I had a conference call and he had a deep seeded need to watch Scooby Doo. All was not lost though and we were still able to grab a full hour of bonding.

Sydney's Field Day was originally scheduled for today but given the anticipated rain it has been reschedule for next week. This is somewhat disappointing as Lynley could not reschedule. For me, though it was a breath of fresh air during a week that has me filled to the gills as is.

Last night's Tae Kwon Do was a repeat of Monday's team practice. Sydney was fierce. It shocked everyone including the members of the gallery who could be heard chattering about her new attitude. It was great to see. Graham saw an improvement as well but something is still not clicking. As I said we are waiting for the switch to flip in his brain. It could happen any minute (or month). Regardless, we are continuing to work with him hoping to find a way to communicate to him what he needs to do to accomplish his goals.

Well, it is another busy morning and I must be off.

There is a mountain of purpose to climb.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Back on the right track?

Wow, I received plenty of email yesterday. Thank you everyone for your thoughts. The good news, I think, is that we are at least temporarily back on track. Last night we met with Adrian and discussed our concerns about Graham and Sydney. The good news is that Adrian appears to be seeing the same issues that we are. It is good to know that we are not completely blinded by the unreality in which we live. Their sparring skills have definitely deteriorated over the last few months and, as Adrian has pointed out, it looks like it is due to a sheer lack of worthy competition - competition from those the see as equals. They spar all of the time but the problem is that they are spending none of it with worthy adversaries. Their is no competition at their level within the team and even the teams we practice with are pretty sparse.

This issue is complicated by the fact that those that are above them in expertise go extraordinarily easy on them. In the end, they don't get challenged. They never push the envelope on their skills. It just seems to go on automatic pilot - no intensity and no drive. This is exactly what has happened and this is exactly what we see in competition.

So, how do we fix it?

Well, we came up with several plans, some of which I mentioned yesterday. However, as is usually the case, once we got more brains around the subject we came up with some truly brilliant ideas. We came up with challenges and competitions between Graham and Sydney to help them get to the next level. First off, they now have a weekly competition amongst each other. Whoever works hardest and gives the best effort during sparring over the week will win an all expense paid date alone with either Mommy or Daddy. We will also be awarding effort for each practice with smaller things like picking out the dessert after dinner.

The second thing we did was that we met with the higher belts and asked them to bring up their level of play against Graham and Sydney. Essentially we asked them to fight as hard as they could against them. No, we did not ask them to kick as hard as they could or to make as many head shots as they possibly could but, we did ask that they bring full speed and intensity. It is ultimately this challenge that will make them better. They will fail - a lot. After all, they are fighting bigger kids with several more years of experience. However, if they learn to fight with that level of intensity, it will push them ahead more quickly.

The new rules began last night and I can tell you both kids fought better than I have seen in months - probably ever. I can also tell you that if they had fought with that level of intensity on Sunday they both would have won easily. Don't get me wrong, last night they both lost the matches with the more experienced fighters but they did score on them. Furthermore, as the bouts went on, they got better and better.

The change in intensity fueled Sydney but for Graham it was more difficult. He fought through a bunch of fear and tears. However, he did make it through and although their was significant whining he still ended up doing better than I remember. It is hard to make that sweet heart mad but that is exactly what he needs right now. He needs to get angry. He needs to want it. This is the key to flipping the switch in his sweet little brain.

In the end, it was a great success and I have never been prouder of our kiddos. Better yet, they both came home reinvigorated and excited about Tae Kwon Do. I saw the fire in their eyes for the first time in quite awhile. Both were ready for more.

We will still be giving them a break and cutting back on their practices over the next two weeks but it was so wonderful to see them beaming with excitement. Yes, it looks like things may be getting back on track.

Like purpose, it just takes a little direction and determination.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A disappointing success

Well, if anything, you have known me to be pretty straightforward and honest about both the good and the bad. So, here goes. First, for the good news. Graham qualified in sparring to go to the US Junior Olympics. The bad news, however, is pretty voluminous. As much as I hate to admit it, Graham qualified entirely by luck. As much as I love him, I was disappointed. It was better for Sydney, but not by much. In the end, Sydney would come home with 2 silver medals and Graham would leave with a silver and a bronze.

I know, I know, it doesn't sound that bad. But, trust me, I am his father and I love to brag about my boy. This was just not something to be proud of. If I am being blatantly honest I will tell you that I have never seen Graham or Sydney perform worse in competition.

So, what happened?

Well, first off were Graham's forms. He would perform them on 3 different occasions. Graham has performed this particular form for the last 9 months. To say he has done it 1000s of times is a literal statement. He has won a gold medal with his form no less than 5 times. However, yesterday, on all 3 occasions, he did it incorrectly. It looks like nervousness was proabbly the culprit. Twice he botched it almost entirely. The only good news about his form was that the things he did actually remember to do, he did with perfect form. In fact, had he remembered all of his form he would have won handily. From a technical aspect, he was far superior than his competitors. This is the whole reason he was able to hold on to the silver medal. Although everyone got through the form with all of the correct moves they did not have Graham's level of technical perfection.

At least, that is all I can gather.

Graham's sparring came down to what I have been concerned about for the last few competitions - a complete lack aggressiveness. He hops around chasing someone until the kick him. They kick and score. He kicks and misses. Then he hops around chasing them until they kick him again. The process repeats. Not once did I see one of the 3 defensive moves that we have been working on and not once did I see any of the offensive moves that we have worked on. It isn't as though this is new. I have seen him make all of these moves in competition before. In fact, his past successes have been a result of these moves. My point is that he has gone in the wrong direction. He is worse, by far, at sparring than he was 3 months ago.

Worse yet, I have no idea what went wrong or what I can do to help get him back on track.

As a father, I actually kind of like this. This is an opportunity to spend some quality time working with him. This can be a huge positive. We can really bond over this and work together. The problem though is two fold. He is already overburdened with Tae Kwon Do. Although he loves it. 6 to 8 hours per week in 4 team practices, 1 or 2 classes, and private lessons leave him not wanting to practice much at home. Second, I am no expert. I don't know what to do to help him.

The good news is that although he is tanking right now, he absolutely loves it.

So here is our plan. We are going to cut out some practices during the week. I am going to meet with Master Adrian and Paul and work out a practice regimen at home where he and I can bond doing it together. In this scenario, we can give him personalized one on one attention. We can still meet the goals set by the team but we can also, I think, help him make some leaps and bounds forward. Hopefully, we can get it clicking in his brain.

It is worth a shot and at the very least, if I do my job as a dad, I can use this experience to bring us closer together than ever.

Sydney? Hmm. I don't know. She is a different animal. I think she is burnt out. She needs a different kind of motivation and there is not nearly enough room today for us to develop a plan for her. It will require more thought. Physically she can deliver but attitude is limiting her effectiveness. Her issue is between the ears. We have to deal with her game mentally and, unfortunately, I will leave that discussion for another day.

In the end, although the kids seemed to have fared pretty well in such a large competition, they really were at their worst. However, there is a silver lining. This challenge can bring us all closer.

And that is what purpose is all about.

Friday, May 7, 2010

TKD National Qualifier

Well, here we are. The Friday before one of Graham's biggest weekends thus far. On Sunday (yes, Mother's Day) he will be competing in the national qualifier for the Junior Olympics. This is his last opportunity to qualify to compete in sparring and I can already tell you by looking at the competition that he has his work cut out for him.

I love Graham and he has all of the makings to excel in Tae Kwon Do but this year the competition is truly an uphill battle. He is at the bottom of his age group and, God love him, he just hasn't really developed that aggressive side. He wants the medals that loom at the end of the journey for the top 3 competitors but I don't know if he truly realizes that he must go out there and take them for his own. That mental switch is always slow to flip. At every tournament Graham eventually figures this out. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to come until the second round. He has developed a pattern of loosing the first round handily, waking up and then coming back to dominate the second round. The question always is: did he do enough to make up for the deficit? At this level of competition, the answer will almost always be no. In order to qualify, Graham will have to come out fighting in the first round. We will see if we can get his mind wrapped around that.

I would be severely remiss if I did not also mention that Sydney will be competing as well. Thankfully she qualified for the USA Tae Kwon Do Junior Olympics with her performance at the Texas State Championships. However, a good performance here will help her with seeding at the big event in Orlando. For her, the challenge is always overcoming her fears. She has the mental skill set to win. If she can channel some aggressiveness she should fair well.

Both have the opportunity to medal in forms. We are grooming them to medal at the Junior Olympics so this will be a good test of their progress. Both have the skills to win. It all comes down to mastering their nerves and focusing. We will see if they can control their demons.

I love it. Tae Kwon Do is such an excellent tool for learning self awareness. Regardless of what happens, they will come out with some incredible experience and they will learn a lot about themselves.

They are learning to master their own purpose.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My frustration with 3F8

People often ask me, "Which is better, 3F8 or ch14.18?" The answer is always a tricky one. To this day, my answer is mixed. Sometimes I believe that 3F8 is better and sometimes I know ch14.18 is better. In fact, I even know when those times are. Right now, I can end all debate and tell you without a doubt when 3F8 should be better and when ch14.18 is better. Unfortunately, as you will see, although I am technically correct, the answer still provides you little direction.

First, I should tell you that the entire basis on which my antibody revelation is built upon is theoretical. It is my belief. However, I think I can make a pretty clear argument. So, here goes.

I believe more antibody is better than less. We already know from published research that both ch14.18 and 3F8 are dose dependent. In other words, the more antibody you get the better effect it has. We have seen this in "petri dish" science but it has also been reiterated in animal studies and early phase kiddo trials. We know that, at least up to the points that we have been able to safely test, that more dose appears to be more effective.

My "theory" is that, along with a higher dose, more doses is also more effective. This has not been studied extensively. However, I can tell you from personal communication with doctors from Sloan that, up to a point, this has been their experience as well. Bottom-line, overall, kids that get only a few rounds of 3F8 don't fair as well as those that receive 6, 7, 8 or more.

Could this be because those that only receive a few rounds aren't exposed to enough antibody to get the job done. Quite possibly, and that is the answer that, for the time being, I am sticking with.

So, if you buy into that theory, then the answer should become clear. With all else being equal, the antibody that you get the most of is probably the better one. As of this date, you can only receive 5 rounds of ch14.18. With 3F8 you can receive as few as 1 or as many as 13 (or more in certain situations) With ch14.18 you are pretty much guaranteed to get your 5 rounds unless there is some kind of strange toxicity. However, with 3F8 you are not. 3F8 has the HAMA problem. HAMA is Human Anti Mouse Antibody which is an immune response to 3F8 which prevents the antibody from doing its job in humans. Unfortunately you never know when (or if) you will develop a HAMA. It could be the first round it could be the last. You may just be able to receive 2 rounds or you may be able to receive more than 5. However, it is an unknown. ch14.18 has a similar response called a HACA, however, it is generally less severe and occurs far less frequently. And, unlike the HAMA with 3F8, I have never heard of it preventing further treatment.

So, in the case of a patient that is going to HAMA before round 6 ch14.18 is the better antibody. For those that won't HAMA, the correct antibody may be the 3F8. The problem is that you don't know which group your child will be in. Furthermore, given the fact that we know that the ch14.18, when given with IL-2 and GM-CSF in the post transplant setting, increases 2 year survival by about 20%, it is a big gamble. It is risky to try 3F8. You are gambling that 20% increase in survival on my "theory" that more is better by hoping that (a) you will not HAMA before the sixth round and (b) that I am actually right.

It is a stretch.

Now, many are going to argue that 3F8 is a better antibody than ch14.18 because it is more immunogenic, because of its come off rate, or because of 10 other theoretical arguments. I will be glad to argue all of those until we are blue in the face but the thing I think we should all remember is that in human beings with neuroblastoma both have had very similar response rates. If one is better than the other it surely isn't showing itself in the patient responses. And, if it isn't, do the theoretical arguments really matter at this point anyway?

Now, why am I frustrated? Because of the HAMA! 3F8 is the only antibody that we can get more doses of at this point and it is also the only "worthwhile" option for patients looking for antibody post relapse (ch14.18 is not available currently to this population). Furthermore, I am extremely tired of seeing kids either HAMAing early or receiving unnecessary chemo to prevent the HAMA.

I wish there was another answer.

I guess that is what continued purpose is for.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wall Sits - the ultimate in twerp behavior modification

Good morning! Well the Dungan's have successfully slipped back into the reality of regular school. After a week of standardized testing and a weekend full of tomfoolery, I had my doubts. Somewhat surprisingly they are not fighting amongst each other. In fact, yesterday, they were down right cordial. It is amazing how effective group punishment works. If one of them fights, we punish them all.

Yes, that is our favorite punishment, wall sits, good for both correcting behavior quickly and Tae Kwon Do fitness.

It does not take too long before they learn how to work with each other to solve their problems. The tattle tailing quickly subsides and, all of a sudden, we have conscientious and well-behaved children.

It is a fine line, though. If we give them too much power of collusion they could rise up and overthrow the parental dictatorship. For now though, it is working effectively both at curbing fighting and preparing them for this weekend's upcoming USA Tae Kwon Do National Qualifier.

Sometimes purpose also comes in the form of punishment.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Salt mines

Good morning! This weekend was a busy one. Would anything less surprise you about the Dungans? No, probably not. The weekend was jam packed as usual though. When we weren't off having fun, Lynley had us buried in the salt mines. It started Saturday morning, I was relegated to digging up and fixing some broken sprinkler lines. Yes, it would have been nice if the sprinkler head had been the culprit or the little pipe that screws into the main line but no, I had two separate pipes actually break. Ironically these are the same pipes replaced by the city when they dug up our yard to fix a main break. Regardless, I got to grunt a little and was even rewarded with a trip to Lowe's. Of course, Lynley also made me go to the flower section but that is not really the point. I didn't pay much attention to them anyway.

These little chores were followed by a quick lunch and a trip to watch the GSX black belt testing. Having never been to one we really did not know what to expect. I mean, we have been to color belt testing before but this was something truly unique. Sure the forms presentations were interesting and all but I think we were all blown away by the one step defenses, the sparring, and the board breaking.

The one-step defenses were cool in that, at this level, the black belts are taught how to disarm attackers with weapons. It was amazing to see their speed and effectiveness at disarming someone with a knife or a gun. Yes, a gun. It was really something to behold. At that level they definitely have the skills to do it. I just wonder if confronted by that situation if that is what they would truly do?

As you know, we see sparring all of the time. In fact, Sydney and Graham are participants 4 times a week. We know the veracity of the black belts. We see them in practice and in competition. Our eyes have been trained and at this point it takes a lot to impress. However, their were many newer faces watching the belt tests that had not seen it before. They were blown away. You could see it in their expressions and by the flinching that was going on in their seats. What impressed us was something that we had never seen before - 2 on 1 and 3 on 1 matches. It was amazing to watch those trying out for 2nd and 3rd Dan fend off groups of black belts. This is the type of stuff that you see in the movies all of the time but this was real life. I don't know how else to say it. It was really cool.

The board breaking was exceptionally "cool" as well. We witnessed most of them perform 5 different breaks back to back. This included breaking up to 5 boards with a single punch, flying side kicks which included a leap over two people, a blind folded break on a target that was above head hieght, and a leap off of a stack of mats, then off of another person, to break a board that was some 9 foot in the air.


This was not just belt testing. This was entertainment and frankly some better performances than I have seen of television.

That was definitely the highlight of the weekend. The remainder of the time was all buried in chores. On Sunday we were back at work. Lynley dragged us to no less than two nurseries and Garden Ridge. The kiddos had me hanging a new swing from the tree and Lynley had me delivering truckloads of donated goods to the Team GSX garage sale. We are in the process of raising $6000 for the team to go to the US Junior Olympics. We have to cover fees for our coaches, new uniforms, and new electronic chest gear that are required this year (they are $500 a piece). Finally, at about 7:20PM Lynley allowed us a break for dinner and bed.

It was a busy, busy weekend. But, in true Dungan fashion, it was also a lot of fun.

It felt purposeful.