Stepping Back Can Help Our Kids Take Steps In the Right Direction
By Scott Beller
DCG Director of Communications and Daddying Editor
By the end of June, my kids were already “bored.” They’d only been out of hybrid school for a couple of weeks and, according to them, they’d exhausted every possible option for fun. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, and not a single friend available to do "nothing" with.
You know that faint tingling of parenting anxiety you feel when it seems your kids have no plan? No direction? This is a post that, by the end of it, I hope will quell your urge to immediately snatch their reigns and crack the whip.
Yes, parental guidance is a good and often necessary catalyst. But sometimes what’s best for our kids is to give them space and time to find their own way. I say, let them be bored. That usually helps ignite their natural, creative abilities.
It’s summertime, after all. It won’t hurt to let them solve boredom issues themselves. Of course, that bit of daddying advice didn't quite cut it with my wife.
Our original plan to fill time before sending the kids off to sleepaway camp in mid-July was to hit the beaches of North Carolina's Outer Banks, but our place to stay was no longer available to us. So, now my girls were completely unscheduled. Still working from home and painfully aware of the kids’ inactivity, their mom and I felt that parenting anxiety growing.
We needed a Plan B. We had to get out of town.
A quick search on Airbnb produced a few Mid-Atlantic beach vacancies, but the price tag on available options surpassed even that of the “Rain Man Suite” at Caesar's in Vegas. On to Plan C, we went. We decided to reverse course and head inland to a spot not far away from home in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.
Culpeper, VA, would be our getaway.
As luck would have it, this family road trip would be made all the more special since we would finally have an opportunity to dine at my nephew Colten’s restaurant, Grass Rootes, a rustic, farm-to-table establishment where he and his wife Charline are co-chefs and manage the entire kitchen operation.
Dinner at Grass Rootes was easily the highlight of the weekend. Not only because everything we ordered from the eclectic menu was prepared to absolute perfection, but also because the occasion offered me a firsthand glimpse into the life Colten and Charline had built for themselves, as well as gave me a better understanding of and true appreciation for the work it took for Colten to finally realize his dream.
It's taken time for him to find what he was meant to do. And by all accounts, it was well worth it. With his permission, I’d like to share with you just a little about how he arrived.
The last time I’d spent a significant amount of time with Colten, who is the stepson of my stepbrother John Barham, was about 17 years ago. His mom Shannon (John’s wife) got Virginia Tech football tickets and asked if I could take Colten and a friend of his to Blacksburg for the game. As a Hokie alum, I eagerly accepted. I also thought it would be fun to show the boys around campus and grab a bite from my favorite pizza joint there (Backstreets, fyi, and, no, I don't think our meal there had anything to do with Colten eventually becoming a chef! That trip did, however, give me some insight into the respectful, easy-going yet fun-loving young man he was).
A few years later, at 19 years old, Colten got in his car, pointed it westward, and moved from Virginia to Colorado. It was his getaway. There he found work with the Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC). He worked 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, for a conservation crew that was contracted out through the U.S. Forest Service. He got every other week off, so moonlighted as a cook at a small bar and grill in Durango, CO.
After a few years living and working around the Southwest and also the Northeast, he moved back home to Virginia. Without a formal culinary background or training, Colten’s first serious cooking gig was as a bakery assistant and sous chef for Eileen's Bakery and Café in Fredericksburg, VA.
“That’s where I fell in love with it – or at least the hours and the people – and I slowly learned more skills while I was there and also working for some nice places in DC, like Yard Bird and The Cantina. My Nana and [stepdad] John were two huge influences when I was very young and learning to cook. They were both great cooks and instilled in me the idea of what makes ‘good food.’”
From there, Colten went on to manage a few mom-and-pop, casual and fine dining places. Then he and Charline, who has an extensive restaurant background and a degree from a Florida culinary institute, found each other working at Grass Rootes.
The next time I remember being with Colten was at my mother’s funeral in September of 2019. Mom was the one who kept me connected and updated on news from John, Shannon, and their boys. All grown up, he introduced me to Charline and told me a little bit about where they lived and their restaurant.
There wasn’t much time for me to completely catch up on all that had gone on in Colten's life during the intervening years since our Blacksburg trip, but he shared enough for me to recognize there had been some bumps in the winding road he’d traveled to Culpeper. Some he dodged. Others he didn’t.
“Of course there were some legal and addiction issues I had to overcome and cope with in between all those hills and valleys. But I guess that makes my story more interesting,” he told me when I recently asked him about his journey. “I got into some legal troubles after I came home from out West, but my addictive tendencies have been mine since I was young. And, yes, the struggles and defeats do make the wins that much sweeter.”
Along the way, as we all do, Colten received support from family and friends. His mom Shannon, stepdad John, and other family members like my mother (his Granny) Mary, have always made it clear that they would be there for him. But they’ve also given him the freedom to be bored, get restless, explore, make his own choices, and recover from his mistakes. And, ultimately, make his mark.
Colten found his way, step by step and in his own time. The success and happiness he has achieved are a true testament to his patience, persistence, self-discipline, and hard work – not to mention involved, supportive parents, who have encouraged all those things and given him the courage to fail in the process of discovering what makes him happy.
I’m proud of him. And I’m so glad he found that happiness, love, and success cooking with Charline in Culpeper.
Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, and also Editor of the Daddying blog, DCG's Director of Communications, and a big fan of Charline's Cajun Seafood Pasta at Grass Rootes. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 25 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.