Raising a busy kid in the old Eastern Europe - Some parenting tips from George Nikolov’s journal

When my daughter, Rose, was born, I was hoping for a calm, easy baby, but she was anything but. I know how challenging it can be when you have a child that is a whirlwind of energy. George Nikolov had a son just like that, and ABV Publishing wrote a book based on his journal about how he parented his son, who ended up becoming a world champion in Ju Jitsu.

What we learned while publishing a children's book based on George’s journal

George, a lifelong teacher and educator in Bulgaria, along with his wife, had taught many students and influenced their community for years, advising parents on various parenting topics. Then, a surprise baby boy arrived.

Born on a summer day coinciding with the final medal ceremony of the Moscow Summer Olympics in the USSR, George saw this as a good omen – their son arriving just in time for the medals.

By 9.5 months, their sleep-deprived and exhausted son started walking. George and his wife, feeling like zombies, envisioned him as a future athlete, perhaps even an Olympic champion.

Raising children is no easy feat, but raising a child with boundless energy can be overwhelming. As the boy grew stronger and more active, George and his wife found themselves startled, shocked, and outside their comfort zone. Their parental frustration mounted. George kept a journal for 15 years, often questioning why their pedagogical approaches weren't working. He'd write in despair, unsure of the path their fearless and perpetually bruised son would take.

In the 1980s, Bulgarian parents took pride in active children, especially boys. Roughhousing with a giant stuffed bear, sparring with relatives and friends – this was how a healthy boy was supposed to behave. However, being the child of two educators, the parents expected their son to be constantly reading. George, despite seeing his son's physical potential early on, harbored academic plans for him.

Despite loving reading, their son had little patience for quiet activities. This lack of patience extended to the musical instruments (a piano and an accordion) they owned. Sitting still drove him stir-crazy, leading him to prefer activities like leaping over furniture, climbing trees and street signs, or exercising with an expander.

Not only was the son energetic, but he also displayed a wide range of interests. To his parents' frustration, however, as George recounts, the boy was inconsistent, trying and dropping different hobbies quickly tiring of them after the initial excitement.

The only constant interest for George's son was physical activity. He loved being strong and fit, often flexing in front of a mirror or showing off his pull-ups in the neighborhood.

After George's passing, ABV Publishing had the privilege of working on his journal. Based on this journal, they published a story retold through the eyes of George's son, a now-established Bulgarian athlete, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion, and successful coach. The book, titled "Born for Medals: How I Was Getting Ready for the Top," is a children's book (ages 5-8) illustrated by the talented Bulgarian artist Elina-Melina Bondokova and available on Amazon.

George lived to see his son win his first medal during a junior wrestling competition. He wrote of his immense pride that day, filled with happy tears. His energetic son was an achiever, his muscles working hard to secure his first medal.

Many more medals followed, thanks to constant training and practice, as well as the unwavering support of George and his wife. Though they didn't always understand their son's drive, they never gave up on him. They encouraged him to try his best in his various interests and hobbies, including judo, karate, and fishing.

The story of the Olympic medal omen became a family tradition, often finding its way into the boy's dreams where he envisioned himself standing on the highest platform of the podium, raising the Bulgarian flag. This blend of "aiming-high" pedagogy, typical of the educational system where the two teachers were trained, and a touch of superstition about good omens, helped this energetic boy stay out of trouble. His energy was channeled productively – his extra energy was spent at the gym.

He didn't become a teacher, musician, or professor, but he developed his natural potential to the fullest, reaching goals in his area of greatest interest – physical activity.

Parents and educators can utilize our book, "Born for Medals" (also known as "The Medals") in several ways. Children can read it independently; the text is easy and fun, suitable for a "My-First-Book" experience. However, the text is presented in cursive to maintain the style of George's handwritten journal, and young readers might not be familiar with cursive yet. In this case, we recommend helping with the text or encouraging the reader to guess the text based on the illustrations on each page.

Another way to "read" with an energetic child is to follow the illustrations and tell the story of a busy boy growing up in 1980s Bulgaria. This would be a perfect opportunity to ask children to add their own stories and pictures.

Since the book's subtitle is "How I Was Getting Ready for the Top" and ends with the question "How are you getting ready for the top," parents, guardians, and educators involved in rearing busy children might find it useful to end the read-aloud session with a discussion about the child's plans and dreams. At this point, the child's dreams may not overlap with those of the adults in their life, but it will be a great moment for us, the adults, to learn as well, to accept the differences, and be okay with them.

Even when he was very young, George's son would dream of being on top, of being a champion. His dreams came true, why wouldn't the dreams of your little busy ones come true, too?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal

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