Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Epic Adventures in Parenting

A new blog is afoot! Check out the newest dives, free-falls, and plunges at EPIC ADVENTURES IN PARENTING.

It's been a pleasure to write and hear back from all you "daddy divers."

All the best.

Ephie

Friday, December 30, 2011

True Christmas Spirit

            “How many cookies have you had!?” I asked abruptly.
            Celia pulled her hand back from the big colorful plate and looked at me seriously. “One.”
            I chuckled, looked at my friend, and raised my shoulders. What do you say to that? “Okay, go ahead.”
            Granted, at that time she may have only eaten one, but judging by the sugar coma she had an hour later, I’d say she probably ate half a dozen by the end of the party.
            Christmas is a joyous time for our household. We have many traditions and throw some great parties. Even though we didn’t make a single dessert of any sort, we ended up with mountains of treats in the house, expanding our bellies and transforming our children into hyperactive bees.
            Back in the day, my parents’ gave us dozens of memorable traditions around Christmas – crafting gingerbread houses from scratch, caroling to friends the night before, opening presents one at a time so everyone could appreciate them, a large buffet of food to share with friends, lots of singing and family time. It makes sense that I’d want a lot of the same experiences for my own kids.
            But recreating experiences for our children is always sure to be only partially successful. Those who were the kids before are now the adults, and they somehow seem to spoil everything.
            We did make gingerbread houses on the morning of Christmas Eve. My brother showed up with the baked gingerbread, and we involved our kids as well as we could, creating delightful little cottages with bright trimming and a skier daring to swoosh upon one rooftop. We ran out of frosting so my mom made more, using raw egg whites.
            Later that evening we had a grand old time dragging our kids out in the snow for Christmas carols to a few friends’ houses. But my brothers both skipped out to work at their restaurant, and instead of the big feast we’ve shared with other families for the last few decades, my kids got hungry so intensely and drastically we had to pack up and go home for a quick meal, and then bedtime.
            Christmas morning I felt queasy, but we packed up the kids and headed to the grandparents’. There were carols, presents, and a breakfast feast, but by noon I was feeling wiped out.
            “I need to lie down,” I told Michelle.
            We packed up the kids and headed home so everyone could take a nap. I snuggled into pajamas, and slept instantly.
            The food poisoning really kicked in when I woke up. I sent Michelle back to the grandparents’ with the kids and lay on the couch clutching my stomach for the rest of the day. The whole time I sat in the living room, all the bright new toys stared at me.
            How did we end up with so many toys this year? I thought we were being more careful not to succumb to the consumerism our culture pushes on us – so what happened?
            I guess, if we trace the lineage of each toy, they all make sense in their own way, but I started feeling a bit like a Christmas scrooge on that couch – belly aching, missing out on the big Christmas feast, all alone, and surrounded by a bunch of plastic meaningless “stuff” that’ll eventually take up space in some landfill.
            But then I closed my eyes and reflected on what Christmas is all about – the birth of a special child to a homeless family, living life on the run, in fear of their life and living in abject poverty. Not a fluffy red-garbed elf.
            A little perspective does wonders to a persons’ spirit. I suddenly felt utterly thankful for my two little ones, my loving wife, and palatial home.
            So, with my belly aching and my heart full, I sang one last Christmas carol before taking another nap. Christmas didn’t go as planned, but at the end of the day I’m thankful I did get to feel even a tiny bit of that true Christmas spirit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Next Chapter

            Last night my three-year-old daughter had a fever. The house had entered that parental moment of peace when all children were sleeping for over two hours, and I rubbed my eyes as I looked at the clock.
            I heard a creak, and turned to see my little one walking down the stairs. “Daddy, I didn’t want Ratatouille,” she said to me with groggy eyes and bright red cheeks.
            “Okay, sweetheart,” I said, putting away my laptop, wondering what kind of crazy dream she must have been having.
            She erratically clomped down the stairs and into my arms. I felt the heat emanating from her as I held her on my lap for awhile.
            I dislike giving my kids over-the-counter fever medicine. Who knows what sorts of crazy things it does to their internal organs? The NY Times just reported that if you give your kid too much acetaminophin they’ll be three times more likely to have asthma. But I succumbed and gave her a full dose of ibuprofin before taking her back to bed.
            “Daddy, don’t leave,” Celia said to me groggily.
            Usually, my response would be to tell her a story or sing a song before leaving, but this time my heart went out to her, and I lay with her until she slept. The medicine took thirty minutes to kick in, so she quietly held my hand as I gazed up at her glow stars, thinking and praying.

            I’ve been particularly thankful for my children these days.
            A lovely-spirited Spanish woman has been living with us for almost half a year now, caring for our kids and fighting court battles over custody of her two youngest, with the threat of being deported hanging over her head. We have been grateful for her thoughtful energies in our household, while at the same time being torn up about her situation.
            It makes me appreciate every moment with my kids, seeing this dear person get so few of them with hers.
            As I lay there, I thought about my kids, and about the changes we’ve seen in our lives over the last year. We moved to Montana from Vancouver, Canada almost a year and a half ago, and although we’d been tempted to move back many times, we were still there, in a small town and a big house.
            Figuring out how to support the family was the biggest concern I dealt with over the year – going from one contract to another, nothing ever feeling secure, nothing ever quite paying enough, and then two months of absolutely nothing. As the debt started to pile up, for the third time in my life, I shook my head and wondered if we would have to move back to a bigger city to make ends meet.
            I think it’s particularly hard for a father to deal with those kinds of stresses. For Michelle, it seems like she gets more stressed when the kids are sick or she didn’t get enough sleep. Those things don’t bug me as much. But the looming weight of supporting my family, and the others we’re hosting, is a goliath burden constantly clouding my vision.
            Especially in the midst of financial stresses, it had been a default for me to direct huge energies outside of the home. But then, I would always be pulled back when I saw my kids at the end of a long day and they’d be absolutely thrilled to see me.
            “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” both Joshua and Celia would scream joyfully, arms raised, running with enthusiasm painted across their faces.
            And then I’d hear the story of the day.
            “There’s a toy stuck in the toilet.”
            “Again!?” I’d gasp, looking over at the bathroom and seeing the familiar hand-colored sign of warning not to enter.
            When the plumber pulled out the little black matchbox car he asked me, “Would you like to keep it?”
            “I guess so…” I shrugged my shoulders.
            “Are you kidding me!?” Michelle rushed into the room. “I never want either of my kids to come anywhere near that disgusting thing! Throw it away!”
            I nodded my head. Common sense rules again. And then I saw the bill. Eighty-nine bucks.
            “Well,” I said to Michelle with a wry smile, “That’s the most expensive toy we’ve ever had in the house! And we just threw it away!”
            Michelle laughed with me. What else could we do? With no income coming in, many big bills looming over our heads, and no idea how we’d make it, all we had was faith that God would take care of us and a sense of humor. I think it was a combination of both that pulled us through.
           
            I heard Celia start wheezing softly, and I carefully crept out of bed and into the hallway. The hum of the forced-air heater turning on accented the cold night air. I looked at the clock. Michelle would be home soon. I breathed deeply and tidied up around the house.
            With Christmas right around the corner, and the end of the year coming, I was feeling particularly thankful for our lives. Our loving family. Our supportive community. Our awesome home. And in the midst of looming worry peering at me just around the corner, I took a deep breath and realized how thankful I was.
            Sometimes everything in life feels just right – it’s easy to wake up in the morning and be excited for the day. But I think we all need the kinds of times where it takes more effort to make it all work. It makes us appreciate what we’ve got, and recognize all the goodness shining through the cracks of our broken lives.
            As I begin to write again after a six-month break, I feel like we’re also beginning the next chapter of our lives. A new year bringing new contracts, new directions, new stories. I look forward to discovering where the story will take us next.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The New Baby and Joys of Language

            “Daddy! Look! It’s the kitty!” Celia excitedly picked up our black cat. “Kitty scratched me and it was bleeding,” she said to no one in particular, and part of me wondered if she was, in fact, addressing our household cat. Finally, it was confirmed.
            “Kitty, can you say ‘bleeding’?” Celia asked.
            I laughed, then thought to myself, it kind of makes sense. Kids mimic what their parents say as part of their language development, and I’ve been saying that phrase a lot to Celia recently. A few weeks ago I asked her, “Celia, some cats are wild, but ours is domesticated. Can you say ‘domesticated’?”
            “Do-meti-cated.” Celia said proudly.
            “That was pretty good,” I patted her on the head.
            I’ve used her mimicry to our family’s advantage. One day I secretly took her aside and said, “Celia, the next time your mother gets angry, say this to her, ‘Mommy, are you having a fit?’ It’ll make her laugh. Can you say that?”
            When she did actually put that last one into practice, it had the exact intended effect. Michelle was starting to get upset, and I whispered to Celia, “Now’s the time! Ask Mommy if she’s having a fit.”
            Celia walked over to Michelle and asked, “Mommy, are you having a fit?”
            Michelle suddenly laughed and turned to me, “You told her to say that, didn’t you!?”
            I laughed. It was too obvious. I couldn’t help but grin at the well-planned success of our mission. Kids are little sponges sucking up everything we say and teach them. I am continually delighted with Celia’s gentle, unpredictable, and charming spirit.
            Yesterday, my sister-in-law finally gave birth to a little baby boy. Everyone showed up and crammed into their house to see the little guy. The whole way over, as over a dozen of us marched from the grandparents’ house with pancakes and sausages, Celia kept declaring, “We’re going to see the baby! We’re going to see the new baby!” She was one of the first to kiss the little guy.
            I held him, a light little feather, in my hands and marveled at the miracle of life. This little fella came from nowhere – and suddenly there’s a brand new soul to enjoy. Child-rearing is probably one of the most difficult, but also most rewarding, things a person can be involved in.
            And let’s face it, it’s not often in an adult’s life journey that we get to come across the delightful nuances and unpredictable applications of our language. Not to mention hearing things such as the wonderful sage advise from Sesame Street’s Ernie: “Never ask directions from a two-headed clown.”
            Nope. I don’t think I’d know about that one without my little ones around. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Baby Kisses, Boys and Girls

            The parenting books say that a good precursor to potty training is to let your child watch you use the toilet. I suppose it helps them get the general idea, and inspire them to try it on their own someday. So, occasionally, when I’ve already got Joshua in my arms, I’ll pop into the bathroom and pee while he cranes his neck down to see what exactly I’m doing that’s making all that interesting noise.
            Of all the times I’ve done this, yesterday was the first time I allowed him to hold something in his hands.
            It was the baby monitor.
            And yes, it took a plunge.
            I’m quite amazed, really. Celia hasn’t learned to throw things until the last couple of weeks, at two-years-and-eight months, and Joshua isn’t even one yet. I even held him as far away as possible, so that there was no possible way he could possibly throw it into the toilet, of all places.
            In shock and with a sense of urgency, I awkwardly leaned over, still peeing and holding Joshua on my hip, to retrieve the monitor out of the toilet. I instantly thought about how absurd I must have looked before examining the destroyed $45 electronic device and thinking, “Another one bites the dust.”
            Having one child is a pretty big surprise. Having two kids is, in some ways, an even bigger surprise, because we figured we knew what to expect with the first one. When Celia was eleven months, she loved reading books, playing with dolls, and sitting in people’s laps. With Joshua, it’s a completely different ball of wax.
            I think what fooled us is that all kids develop similarly – learning to walk, learning to talk, learning to stack blocks. But it’s where they differ that throws me for a loop.
            Joshua is definitely a boy. He loves playing with cars and trucks and anything mechanical. He loves looking at whirling fans, and running around with sticks or anything long and hard so he can hit things with it. He is riveted by percussion. He doesn’t have much patience for books. And as I discovered yesterday, he can already throw as well as his big sister.
            I was telling our friend, a naturopathic physician, about Joshua’s throwing skills, and she made everyone in the room stand up and put their arms at their sides, palms facing forward. I was surprised to see that the arms of every female in the room were significantly further away from the body than the arms of the males. This, she explained to me, is why males are generally better throwers than females.
            “So,” she explained, “It’s built in that females will ‘throw like a girl’.”
            Ah ha.
            It’s been surprising and enjoyable to watch my kids develop differently. Joshua is now walking, although still unstable, but it’s opened up a whole new world to him. I simply love watching the world through his eyes. He grins from ear to ear at the simplest things, and it lights up my day just being near him.
            I love his kisses, which are basically big open mouthed face plants. Eleven-month-old baby kisses are one of the best things in this entire world. I’m looking forward to getting another one, just as soon as I get back to the house.
            As far as the other challenges with raising a boy, I’ve already given up the idea of having a perfectly clean, controlled home. And the way we spend money on diapers, I’m not overly upset about losing a $45 baby monitor. This is all part of the adventure of parenting.
            My son is at a wonderful age, where all of life is fresh and interesting. Before I had kids it was easy for me to take things for granted, and get sucked into routines. Now, I find myself fully engaged, fully aware, and fully immersed in this thing called parenting.
            And that makes me fully engaged, aware, and immersed in this thing called life.