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.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Date Night and the Prayer of St. Francis

            “I don’t know why you’re taking so long,” I said to Michelle, and walked out the door. It was a vigorously windy night and the moon beckoned me to gaze at it until I needed to put a jacket on, then sit in the van thinking until she finally emerged from the house.
            We don’t have date nights nearly as often as I had originally wanted. Before having kids, I figured we should get out once a week. Now, with two kids and the realization that it’s $50 to $120 when you factor in the babysitter, I’m thrilled if we get out once a month.
            We drove downtown, but didn’t get out of the car for well over an hour. We had so much “stuff” to deal with – three days of child-rearing erosion – I was asking for more empathy and she was asking for more understanding.
            Ironically, it was just last week I was sharing with Michelle the Prayer of St. Francis, one of my all-time favorites. The key line I’d highlighted was in the second half, where he prays that he may be able “to love more than be loved, and to understand more than be understood.” If every relationship in the world took on that motto, the world would be a better place.
            One of the deepest desires we all hold is to be loved and understood. Yet, if we go into a relationship with that as our goal, we set ourselves up for failure. We become self-focused instead of reaching out and striving to understand the other first. These types of relationships develop routines and monotony, strangling the human spirit. Slowly, over time, the relationship will build a mine field of quiet frustrations, disconnection, and boredom.
            It is absolutely critical to love and understand the other first, before ourselves. This will lead to fruitful, long-lasting relationships, where desire to learn more about the other always uncovers new mysteries and adventures in life. Plus, it helps when the other person isn’t in a great place, and needs some extra support.
            It turned out, on that windy night sitting in the mini-van hashing out our feelings, that neither of us felt understood. We both felt burdened and tired (no surprise there), and needed some time to know the other cared.
            Thankfully, we had just enough time to listen to each other, meet up with friends, and dance for a few songs before we got the call from the babysitter with a shrieking baby in her arms, and hurtled back to the house.
            Date nights are important. I’ve always believed that. But what lies behind date nights is even more important – our marriage relationship. If Michelle and I aren’t doing well, nobody in the family will do well. It’s absolutely critical that we guard and protect our marriage, and care for the other deeply.
            When all is going well in life, this can already be a challenge. When two kids and life’s messiness wear at the system, it can sometimes seem impossible.
            But it’s not.
            It’s always possible.
            It just takes that little extra effort, especially when I’m feeling tired and ready to relax, to keep my mind and energy guarded and remember that my goal is to love Michelle first.
            To ask her how she’s doing.
            To sometimes kick her out of the house so she can simply get out.
            Away from the kids.
            Get some perspective.
            And come back refreshed and ready to tackle all cries and messes with vigor.
            And hopefully, maybe, if I’m doing it well, she might do the same for me too.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Unexplored Bits

            Bedtime for Celia has disintegrated. What was once a stable, regular, reliable routine has now faced complete deconstruction by my daughter’s brilliant and hyper-aware two-year-old mind.
            It’s shocking what she’s aware of. She had me laughing for almost an hour one bedtime when I’d tried to avoid reading her a particular book that Michelle said she didn’t care for. It’s called Millions of Cats, and I suppose Michelle didn’t like that all these millions of cats kill each other near the end of the book.
            I had a huge stack of books next to our bedtime story chair, and I pulled the first one off the top, “Would you like to read Dr. Seuss’s ABC’s?”
            “No,” Celia said definitively.
            I set it aside and reached for the next one, “How about Peter Rabbit?”
            “No.”
            I slowly lifted each book and read the title before tossing it back onto a second pile. I saw Millions of Cats at the bottom, and disguised it by reshuffling the pile and throwing all the titles I’d already read on top of it, so that it was completely out of sight.
            I got through the stack of two dozen books and said, “Well, I suppose I can go to the bookshelf and get one. Which book do you want to read?”
            “Millions of Cats!” Celia declared.
            I laughed, and laughed, and while I read her the story about the old man who went out and found millions of cats, which in the end all killed each other, I laughed some more.
            Maybe at the heart of the two-year-old mind is an inquisitive desire to explore all the unexplored bits of life. I can just imagine what she was thinking: “The book that Daddy’s avoiding? That’s the one I want to read.”
            The challenge is, her new explorer energy has taken her not only on fantastic learning sprees, it’s also encroached into her bedtime, and we’re not exactly sure what to do about it.
            In the past, if she was resistant to going to bed we’d sing her songs and help her calm down. If she got out of the bed, we’d put her in the crib and let her “cry it out”, which usually took a couple of minutes at most. But now her little brother has the crib, which forces us to figure out alternative solutions.
            It all started to get more difficult a few weeks ago. She would climb out of bed after we’d turned out the lights and gone downstairs. We went through many phases in trying to deal with the behavior – discipline, showing her angry faces, then being straight-faced and simply putting her back without a word. We even developed an underhanded form of bribery: “Big kids get treats, and big kids can put themselves to bed. If you want any treats, you need to show us you’re a big kid.”
            Every time, the change in tactics seemed to have the intended effect, but never for more than a few nights. Which brings us to last night.
            Celia had her excuses – a cough keeping her awake, achiness all over – but really, she was just trying her best to stay up. Her bedtime is supposed to be 8pm. By 9:45pm Michelle and I had a “loud” conversation at the dining room table as Celia sat at the top of the stairs.
            “What do we do with her?” I asked.
            “You know, I think she needs to learn to put herself to bed,” Michelle said loudly. “That’s what big kids do. They don’t need parents to put them to bed at all.”
            “Well, that’s true,” I said. “I suppose we’ll just have to let her figure out for herself that if she doesn’t get her rest she’ll be tired and get sick more often.”
            Celia came downstairs. We ignored her and I continued, “One thing’s for sure, I’m not going to put her back in bed again. She had her last chance with me. From now on, she’s going to have to learn to put herself to bed.” I nodded at Michelle, then turned suddenly, “Oh! Hi, Celia.”
            Celia tried to climb into Michelle’s lap. Michelle said, “If you’re going to choose to stay up, that’s your choice, but you don’t get to be with us. You can sit at your table over there.”
            As Celia sat quietly at her little table, I thought, “Perhaps she’ll get bored quickly.” But then, my brother and his girlfriend showed up with a bottle of good wine.
            At first they gave her attention, then we explained the situation and we all politely ignored her until finally, at around 10:30pm, Celia stood up and went back to the stairs. “Good night, Mommy. Good night, Daddy. Good night, Uncle Abe. Good night, Auntie Caitlin.”
            We all said goodnight and continued our conversation. Michelle and I quietly gave each other a high five with big, goofy grins.
            I don’t know what we’re going to face tonight, but I’ve decided I’m not going to struggle with her. If she wants to stay up, hopefully, she’ll figure out sooner than later that it won’t do her much good.
            I feel like I’m in a parenting crap-shoot. We’re figuring things out as we go, with no idea of how well it’ll all work. I like the fact that we’re giving her some freedoms to figure this stuff out on her own. If it’s done well, I think she could have the ability to grow up into a mature, self-disciplined person who doesn’t need anyone breathing down her neck to help her make the right decisions.
            There’s always the risk that it won’t work, and we’ll have created a monster. I suppose only time will tell.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Tenacious Twos

            We ran circles around the yard with two soccer balls and Joshua happily yammering in the middle with a third ball, the one with a leak, that he would climb onto so that his belly was on it and he could put out his arms like he was flying. Celia kicked her ball over to the compost pile, which thankfully mostly consisted of freshly cut grass, because she promptly changed course and plopped herself directly into it.
            I stopped dribbling and watched my kids for a moment, enjoying the sun on my face and feeling thankful to be out of the office for the day. Celia was picking up dead grass from the pile and slowly covering her entire body with it. Joshua saw me looking at him and gave a bright-eyed giggle before crawling over to me.
            With Michelle off exercising, it struck me that I’d better start cooking dinner.
            “Celia! Let’s make dinner!”
            Celia pulled herself out of the grassy mess and ran inside as I closed the door.
            “What do you want for dinner?” I asked her.
            “Lunch!” Celia declared.
            I laughed. Celia grinned at me, not knowing what exactly she’d said that I thought was so funny, but proud that she’d managed to do it again.  
            “Alright. I’ll make a parmesan béchamel sauce with pasta like I did for lunch. Only this time I’m going to use mushrooms! Are you going to help?”
            “Yes!” Celia was bouncing and eager.
            But mere minutes later both kids were wailing at me, wanting to be picked up, given attention, cuddled and coddled and loved. For awhile I’d pick up one of them, but then the other would get jealous. Cooking with one arm is tough enough, but with two arms occupied, it was hopeless.
            I mused to myself, “How exactly does one cut a mushroom with one arm?” I began to appreciate one-armed people in the world, and tried to figure out what possible strategies and methodologies would be most helpful. I thought back to the popular book from the 1920s called something like Cooking Techniques for the One-Armed Housewife. That could be very helpful indeed.
            I finally gave up and put Celia in front of her favorite cartoon, Dora the Explorer. With one kid out of the room, cooking became manageable, and I was able to finish and plop Celia’s food in front of her before she complained of hunger. Every time I’ve let her eat in front of the TV, I feel somewhat guilty, but the practical side of me is so thankful at how easy it is.
            I watched Celia happily eat and thought back to how wonderful she’s been this week. “Maybe the “terrible two’s” are over for her?” I mused. Or maybe they never existed at all.
            Michelle and I were talking about it, after a man I’d met playing soccer said his kid was in the terrible twos from two till four. Michelle said, “You know, I think it’s not properly labeled. It should be called the ‘tenacious twos.’ That way, you still think they’re doing great when they’re exploring life’s boundaries.”
            I wonder if, rather than the kids being so terrible, we look at it as an opportunity to use proper parenting techniques to help them get out of the phase more quickly. Michelle and I were discussing it last night, and how our goal has been to focus on how good Celia is, not how bad.
            There was one day where she wanted to build a fort out of cushions. I had to work, and Michelle was exhausted from a night of waking up with Joshua too much, so instead our two-year-old was put in front of the TV. Within twenty minutes, she had ripped important papers, pushed her brother and peed on the floor.
            Michelle called me, exasperated, and told me what had happened. I said, “Well of course! Nobody made her fort with her! You’ve got to get her out of the house and do something positive. Now.”
            Michelle hung up and did exactly that, and they all had a marvelous day at the end of it all. But it could have easily gone the other way. When a kid is acting up that much, it’s tempting to want to punish and reprimand them, tell them they’re bad, and make them want to express themselves in a way that will be responded to – more negative behavior.
            It’s up to the parents to break this cycle. And more often than not, when we do break it, the negative behavior vanishes. At the end of the day, Celia really is a good kid, and wants to do the right thing. It’s our job to help her live up to that, and to not get too picky about the little things.
            This morning, I was rushing the kids out the door to take Celia to daycare, and my brother’s dog came running out to greet us. He was confused, because we were already in the car and just rolled down the windows to say hi instead of petting him. My brother made him sit as we drove off, and Celia said, “Daddy! He’s like, ‘What?! I haven’t eaten yet!’”
            I smiled and furrowed my brow. Why the heck did she just say that? It seemed so odd, coming from the mouth of a two-and-a-half-year-old. But then I thought back to the last few minutes and realized, she was just repeating me! I’d said that very thing right before her, but my muddled early-morning-brain had already forgotten.
            I laughed and said, “You know Celia. That’s probably true.”
            I was struck that she’s a little sponge, soaking up everything we send her way – the words and sentences, as well as actions, attitudes, perspectives and habits. All that we’re doing right now, whether it’s our reactions to her, or our ways of showing affection, are being noticed.
            She’s recently started the nasty habit of getting out of bed at bedtime. At first, we made a big deal about this, and gave her stern faces and fiery eyes when we put her back in bed. But then, Michelle and I talked about it and realized, that’s not going to help. We need to be straight-faced, no emotion showing, and quietly put her back. If it takes ten times, we do it ten times, but eventually she’ll sleep.
            We tried it, and have had enormous success. The first night, it did take eight times, but after that it’s never been more than one or two, and now, every time we put her back in bed, we tuck her in nicely, give her a kiss, and say we love her. We didn’t wait for her to grow out of the bad behavior, we broke the cycle ourselves with our calm, rational, loving actions.
            When she acts poorly, or however she acts, it’s in our best interest as her parents to not get angry or do anything aggressive. We’re the parents here. We need to be in control, calm, and loving. All the negative behavior and emotion that comes out of her needs to stay with her. And so far, when we do it this way, we’ve found that she grows out of it much more quickly.
            I was telling Michelle that these are wonderful days. We need to cherish them, because they pass quickly. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the crying, midnight wakings, and negative behavior, and want to get the whole thing overwith. But it’s a delightful time in the kids’ lives and in ours. We need to appreciate it today.
            My friend’s mother just passed away a few days ago and it reminds me that life is precious and short. Kids are only kids for a short while. Tenacious or terrible, I’m going to cherish whatever it is my kids are going through. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Younger Brother Blues

            I’m amazed how time has slipped by. Nearly a month has passed since my last entry, and it’s hard to say exactly what happened. These days I finish work and want to squeeze in a few hours with the kids before we rush them off to bed. We wrestle and dance and dream up new adventures, mostly inside up till the last few weeks, often involving some stuffed creature or other who needs to be rescued.
            Celia and I will dash from one room to the next as Joshua tripod-crawls after us with a huge grin on his face and the occasional squeal of glee. Turn my back for a minute, and Celia may be “hugging” her little brother, or worse, kicking him. Joshua’s head has a ring of black-and-blue bruises circling all the way around, but those mostly originate from self-inflicted walk-attempts. For the most part, he seems to truly enjoy Celia’s rough antics, whether it’s because he’s a boy or simply a younger sibling, I may never know.
            If I start dancing with Celia, Joshua shrieks and scrambles up my pant leg bouncing and calling out, “Aaaaah!” until I hold him in my free arm. If I’ve engineered a towering fortress out of couch cushions for Celia to land her flying horses, who will show up and want to tackle our tower but Little Brother.
            It seems he’s always discovering un-baby-proofed locations, always fitting something new into his mouth, and always banging his head against something undeniably solid. And although I distinctly remember Celia getting into pickles at his age, either my memory gets awfully foggy in parts, or this little boy of mine is even more of a handful as he tries to keep up with his older sister.
            When Celia was his age, she couldn’t get enough stories. We’d sit her down with a pile of two dozen books from the library and quietly read through all of them in one sitting. Joshua can barely make it through one. But turn on that bathtub, and no matter where he is in the house, he’ll be hopping up and down at the edge shrieking happily within seconds. And leave a door or drawer open a crack and he’ll open and shut it until either his fingers get crushed or his head hits an edge.
            I remember Celia at this age crawling into things, getting stuck, and crying till rescued. Joshua seems to crawl into precarious situations as well, but instead of calls of help, we hear first the tell-tale “Thud!” of his head hitting the ground, then the cries.
            If I had to pick a genre of music that best describes life as the younger brother, I’d definitely pick the blues.
            There do seem to be benefits to being second-born. He’s never short of entertainment, and he seems to be learning all sorts of developmental traits from his big sister as he tries to keep up. He’s much more patient than Celia ever was. I imagine it’s because he’s always playing second to his big sister – if there’s a new object in the house Celia could wear it into the ground before Joshua finally gets his turn.
            Overall it’s not so bad, but I’d still pick the blues. If not for the undeniably less-privileged place his sister puts him in, then it’s for the bruises that compete for space all over his temple. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he’d been in a huge accident or something.
            But I do know better. He’s totally fine. He’s just got a case of the Younger Brother Blues.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kids From Across the Earth

            I heard arguing upstairs and went running.
            Before the argument it had been a relatively peaceful evening. Little three-year-old Lukas, the oldest of the two kids we’d helped fly back from Japan, was visiting our house, and he and Celia seemed to get along beautifully. His gentle spirit and inquisitive nature gave anyone around him a pleasant and calm experience. I wondered what they could possibly be arguing about.
            Celia yelled, “No! It’s my car!”
            Lukas nicely repeated her, “My car.”
            “No!” Celia yelled more adamantly. “It’s MY CAR!!!”
            “My car.” Lukas nodded his head and looked out the window at our family mini-van parked below.
            I laughed, “Celia. Lukas speaks Japanese, remember? He’s from Japan. He’s just learning English, and so he’s repeating everything you say. Of course it’s your car.”
            Celia looked at me and I watched her frown disappear as understanding sunk in. I patted them both on the head and left them upstairs.
            Having a few Japanese kids around has been lovely, but it also has driven the point home to me about the big mess over there right now. How many children are now orphans in Japan? What’s going to happen to them? For that matter, how many new orphans are there all around the world over the last few months?
            I had a moment where it suddenly hit home to me, for the first time ever, just how serious those questions are. Michelle and I had had a conversation after snapping at the kids. We’d asked ourselves how we’d feel looking back twenty years from now at how we’re parenting the kids today, and it had encouraged us to do the best job possible.
            It struck me that every single day is important in parenting. Not a day goes by that our role as parents becomes unimportant. And then it hit me. There are literally millions of kids in the world today who simply will never have a parent. Ever.
            I broke down into tears.
            Later we were at an international cultural festival, and one of the children’s tables had an activity called, “Letters of Hope.” The idea was to get kids to write letters to needy kids in other parts of the world.
            Michelle and I stood looking over the table before one of the kids’ letters caught our eye. He was about eight, and from Vietnam. His letter, written in big letters with a Crayola marker, said:
            “I was an orphan in Vietnam until my mom came and adopted me. Now I am happy. You can have hope.”
            I looked over at Michelle. She was crying.
            She said to me, “I think we need to adopt.”
            I nodded my head.
            It doesn’t solve the fact that there are millions of kids out there who have no parents, but perhaps we can do something. Perhaps.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Broken Planet

            A friend of mine found himself stuck in Japan with his wife and two little kids, far too close to the nuclear radiation, and with far too little resources to remove themselves from the situation. A whole bunch of us pooled in our money and time, and even got the story aired on the news, till finally, with much happiness, we welcomed them off the airplane to Montana.
            My friend breathed a sigh as he stood in front of the news cameras and said, “This is the first time in two weeks that I feel safe.”
            I gave him a hug and thought back to the last couple of weeks. Every day I would wake up thinking of all the people affected by the disasters over there, including my friend, and I would feel shaken up. What if it were me in his situation? Or what if something like that happened here in my backyard?
            I have to admit that I’ve been feeling pretty negative about the situation in our world recently. I keep hearing about different kinds of devastations and injustices, and wonder at what kind of place I’m bringing my kids into. Will they have a decent life for themselves? Will they even be safe? It wears me down thinking of the vast amount of things I want to shelter them from. It makes me thankful that our lives seem “safe” and happy for the moment.
            My children’s unappealing antics seem much more playful and endearing when I look at my life from this perspective. Every day since the Japanese earthquake and devastation I’ve found myself looking at both my kids and appreciating them deeply.
            Little Joshua, not so little anymore, but still my Little Boy Blue, is just learning to stand, and loves to crawl over to wherever Celia is so that he can scramble all over her and “wrestle”. Typical younger brother, he seems to be able to take an awful lot of bruising before he cries.
            And my sweetheart Celia, two-and-a-half and already preparing for her next birthday party. I was explaining the Japanese situation, and how my friend’s kids were born in Japan, when I asked Celia, “Do you know where you were born?”
            I’ve told her many times that she was born in Vancouver, Canada. I was curious what she’d say. We’ve been in Montana for half a year now, so maybe she’s starting to think she was born here. But my guess was that she’d say either Vancouver or Canada. Her response surprised me.
            “I was born on the moon!” Celia bounced up and down happily.
            “Really!” I gawked at her. Where do kids come up with these things?
            “Well, my little Moon Child, that explains all sorts of things!” I smiled and picked her up.
            Maybe that’s just the sort of perspective I need to have in all of this. A child’s optimism. Who knows what will happen in this world. The next earthquake or man-made disaster could happen right in my own backyard. But don’t worry. We’re from outer space. We’ll be okay.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuclear Meltdowns

            Across the ocean on an island not too far away, Japan is having a nuclear crisis. Not only are the Japanese people in upheaval over the tsunami devastation and radiation dangers, radiation has already made its way across the ocean to Alaska. Canada and continental USA are next.
            Of course, the American media is saying it’s nothing to worry about, but really now, how much we can trust them? We certainly haven’t been able to trust them in a wide range of subjects, and a tiny bit of digging will show many other news sources (mostly from other countries) that are saying significantly different things.
            So, iodine is sold out around town, around the country even, and I have to admit that we’re partly to blame.
            I don’t think I’d have taken the risks so seriously if not for having kids. The thought of anything going wrong with my kids is enough to spur me on to a great many precautions in life. I’ve had daydreams where I’ve lost one of them for one reason or another, and just the thought of it shakes my soul. Already, they are so deeply a part of me, I couldn’t imagine life without them.
            Meanwhile, our daughter has been having nuclear meltdowns of another sort. Ever since losing an hour for daylight savings, she’s been on edge – as if that hour was absolutely critical to her well-being. She’s been more prone to hit her brother, more fussy about her food, and more quick to cry. However, she did surprise me last night for a completely different reason.
            Michelle and I have been slowly explaining to her what’s been happening in Japan, a little at a time. Sometimes I think she understands, and other times she’s got her mind on other things. I don’t want to scare her with something she can’t do anything about, so I haven’t said too much all at once. But I also want her to know that the world can get pretty ugly sometimes, so she’s not shocked by it from an outside source.
            What surprised me was last night at the dinner table, out of the blue she said, “Let’s pray for the children in Japan.”
            I instantly started to cry, and said, “Okay, you start.”
            Celia remained quiet, so Michelle piped in, “You can start by saying, ‘Dear God’.”
            “Dear God…” Celia said quietly.
            “I pray for the children in Japan,” Michelle said slowly.
            “I pray for the children in Japan,” Celia repeated.
            “Keep them safe,” Michelle said.
            “Keep them safe,” Celia repeated.
            Michelle paused, then said, “Amen.”
            “Amen,” Celia said, then happily went back to her food.
            I sat quietly and wondered, “Are the prayers of children more powerful than adults? Does God listen to kids more?” If so, I hope that prayer made a difference. Those kids in Japan are going to need all the help they can get.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dedication

            Sunday morning we woke up with great expectation – Joshua was finally going to be dedicated and blessed in the church service. Every culture seems to have in their roots some form of welcoming a child into this world. I’m sorry for those who’ve lost that.
            In our tradition, we welcome them into the community with blessings and a covenant, much like in marriage. There was a ceremony in the church service where first me and Michelle promised to care for Joshua and raise him well, then our wider family made the promise, and finally, the whole church community. Afterward, people shared blessings, and the elders prayed over him.
            It was a touching ceremony, and most people were crying, including me. It gave me a profound sense of appreciating what a gift this little child is – and also what a wonderful and great responsibility.
            At one point, the analogy was given: If God somehow caused a new baby to mystically appear in front of us, with all sorts of lights and music, and said, “Take care of this child. He’s special.” You can believe we’d all do our best to do just that. This baby came to us through his parents, but it’s the same thing.
            I looked at my son, squirming in my arms, and thought, “You know, he’s right.” This little boy is utterly special – a huge gift, a big blessing, and an honored guest. I feel so privileged to be his parent today.
            I hope that feeling lasts.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Nine-Month Pain-In-The-Back

            Joshua turned nine months old yesterday. As if to mark this grand occasion, I got a massive spasm in the mid-back that immediately incapacitated me and sent me hobbling off to the chiropractor.
            As I sat in the waiting room, I had an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. When Celia had turned nine months, I’d done the exact same thing. She had crossed that invisible line overnight, suddenly becoming too heavy to lift in the same way. My body had protested by cramping up in the mid-back and forcing me to bend my knees when lifting her for months afterward. I’d told myself that if I were to be so blessed as to have a second child, I wouldn’t let it happen again.
            I sat in the waiting room and laughed. How foolish of me, to think that learning lessons the hard way and using common sense would be enough to prevent me from repeating the injury. It’s all a part of the initiation rites into the Secret Society of Fatherhood. It’s got to happen with every kid.
            I’m starting to think the nine-month mark is pretty significant. Joshua seems to be truly opening up these last couple of weeks. He’s crawling, exploring, eating by himself, and I swear he just said, “Da-Da.” It’s like he’s a flower that’s been growing and growing, and is just now starting to bloom.
            But unlike a flower, the kid is starting to weigh a ton. And where a flower likes to be planted in one location, the little guy always wants to be picked up and carried everywhere we go. In fact, with all this teething he’s been going through, he’s particularly needy. As soon as he sees me or Michelle he instantly crawls over to our legs, paws his way vertically till he’s awkwardly teetering on wobbly feet gripping our pant legs ferociously, and then he whines uncontrollably until he’s finally lifted.
            Carry him we must.
            Carry him we do.
            And carry ourselves off to the chiropractor.
            The inevitable cycle of life for a new parent. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Back to the Guest Room

            A night-and-a-half ago sometime between 3 and 4am I groggily gathered up my pillows and staggered downstairs to the guest room. I’d had enough.
            Joshua has been teething again. This time it’s four teeth, all on top. The real kicker is two of them popped through, then somehow had the nerve to wiggle back inside the gums again. I didn’t know new teeth could do that.
            His gums are puffy and awful looking, and it must feel terrible because he barely seems to be able to sleep. We’ve kept him drugged up on one form of medication or another for the last week, but I wonder if they’re even working. The kid is miserable.
            It doesn’t feel like that long ago that he had colic, and was even more miserable, but when I look at the calendar and realize he’s turning nine months tomorrow, it’s actually been four months since then. We’ve had four months of grace. Boy, did it fly by quickly.
            Someone told me recently that if an adult were to go through the pain of teething, we wouldn’t be able to bear it because it’s so horrible. I wouldn’t know. Probably the only thing that gives me encouragement is he won’t remember any of this. I even told him as much as we were sitting at the table. He had a wild look in his eyes and an edgy whine that felt like it could take off uncontrollably if not consoled into submission.
            “Don’t worry Joshua,” I patted his back and spoke soothingly, “You won’t remember any of this.”
            I turned to Celia across the table, “Celia, do you remember when your new teeth were coming in?”
            “Yes, Daddy,” Celia rolled her playdough into little balls.
            I laughed. “Well, Joshua, your sister is unique. You won’t remember this.”
            God, I hope he doesn’t. In fact, I kind of hope that I forget too. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Decision

            Joshua crawled across the floor to see what his sister was doing while I sat on the sofa and watched them play. His technique is relatively new and somewhat awkward – the right leg is often quite straight, and used as a pivot to bring the left leg under to spring him forward again.
            It seemed like he was on the cusp of crawling for over a month, and now that he’s picked it up, every day he adds around ½ mph to his crawl-speed. It already seems like he can fly across the room about as fast as anyone.
            We’re suddenly reminded about baby-proofing. All the plants, wires, precipices, and cat food are now dangerously positioned and in need of new coordinates.
            Thankfully, having an older sibling does make it easier. When I’m absolutely pooped and sitting on the sofa, Joshua has someone playing at his level who seems awfully interesting, and who will do a pretty decent job of keeping him out of trouble – that is, when she’s not hitting him, pushing him, or taking things from his hands. Overall, the two kids play quite well together, and it gives a parent a chance to catch his breath.
            As I breathed deeply and watched Joshua crawl on top of his sister I thought, “Having kids was a big decision.”
            In an instant I suddenly thought of the massive lifestyle I’d given up when I had kids – the late nights out, the raucous parties, the hobbies, travel, and extra stuff I could spend money on. And then it hit me – I’m going to be a dad for the rest of my life (God willing). It’s not just a big decision. This is the decision.
            Having kids changes your whole life. Forever. That’s it. It’ll never go back. So, you’d better get used to it. Welcome it. Or you’ll be fighting it for a really long time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bold Reality (a poem)

Wild passionate thoughts
            carelessly winging through
                        my life
knock over a few dreams
            and my daughter
                        on their way
wreaking contaminated questionings
            and visions of the
                        improbable,
birthing a desperate desire
            to somehow, one day,
                        arrive.

Where exactly is uncertain, and
            even less certain
                        is how
but arrive I must,
            so I delicately embark
                        but quickly
go nowhere, and somewhere,
            just definitely not
                        “there”.

How will I know when I
            get there – this fabled
                        legendary place
except to somehow feel certain
            of all – content and
                        at peace
and perhaps more stuff, less
            diapers, more security
                        and friends
which is odd because although
            clearly passing and
                        secondary
these somehow pop into the
            mind’s schemes
                        and dreams
as if they do belong there.

Too precious to squander, but
            too unknowable to grasp,
                        I allow the
uncertainty to delay action,
            raise doubts,
                        and
convince me to at least
            be present to
                        the present,
where I can hug my daughter
            change some diapers,
                        and kiss
this bold reality on the lips.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Modified Lullabies

            It was getting close to Celia’s bedtime when she said to me, “Daddy, you go to sleep over here.” She pointed to a pillow she’d carefully placed on the living room carpet. I lay down and smiled as she brought over a blanket to tuck me in.
            They say that part of a child’s development is to reenact normal circumstances from their day. They play “Mommy and Daddy,” “Cooking” and even, in this case, “Nap time.”
            Celia patted my head and started to sing, “Lullaby, and goodnight, in the sky stars are bright…” She finished the song as I smiled at her. Her singing has been improving, and I loved hearing her version of the songs. There were moments when she obviously didn’t know the vocabulary, which always made me smile.
            “Aren’t you going to sing me another song?” I asked.
            “Yes,” Celia said, but then stood quietly.
            “What song are you going to sing?” I asked her.
            Celia remained quiet.
            “Rock-a-bye Baby?”
            “No.”
            “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?”
            “No.”
            “How about Jesus Loves Me?”
            “Yes!” Celia lit up. I’d been singing her the song for a few weeks now, and I’d never heard her sing it.
            “Jesus loves me this I know…” Celia sang happily.
            I pretended to fall asleep as she sang.
            When she got to the chorus, instead of singing, “Yes, Jesus loves me,” she sang, “Yes, Jesus loves you.”
            I laughed. “Celia, that’s a lovely version of the song!”
            Celia smiled with me. All this time I’d been singing it to her, she’d mentally figured out that if I was singing “Jesus loves me,” then she would have to sing, “Jesus loves you,” if she was to be singing it to me.
            On the one hand I marveled at this brilliant little two-year old who’d come to such conclusions. On the other hand, I felt great cheer at the unexpected unique perspective she brought with her.
            I’m amazed at how wonderful it is to be involved with my daughter’s development. We certainly have a lot of fun.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentine's Chaos

             “Don’t take me out on Valentine’s Day.” Michelle sipped her coffee and gestured abruptly with her hand. “That’s the busiest restaurant day of the year.”
            I nodded my head slowly. This was not unexpected. Michelle had told me the same thing the last two years as well. “Okay, I’ll cook you dinner.”
            “What are you going to make?” Michelle seemed interested but hesitant.
            “How about Chicken Cordon Bleu?” I smiled. Always a winning dinner for a date night.
            “Too much time’s required. You’ll have to cook after work. Cook up those elk sirloin steaks in the fridge.”
            I frowned. Chicken cordon bleu sounded more romantic than elk.
            Not that I’m a serious subscriber to Valentine’s Day, but it does seem like an opportunity to be romantic – a much needed interlude amidst baby bowel movements, bawls and broken sleep cycles.
            I took a deep breath and nodded my head. “Sure, honey. I’ll cook whatever you want.”
            The next day I pulled out a special wine I’d been saving for six years – my favorite Italian wine, eleven-years-old and perfectly aged for a romantic night.
            I rolled up my sleeves and mentally went over all the things we needed to do to make the night perfect – clean the kitchen, tidy up the house, feed the kids, put them to bed, put on the romantic music, open the wine, prepare the first course, heat the grill for the steaks…
            “Okay.” I stood with hands on hips, ready for action. “Let’s feed the kids and put them to bed so we can eat.”
            Michelle shook her head at me, “I’m hungry now. Let’s eat now.”
            “What!? With the kids?!” My eyes were wide.
            Michelle looked at me with “those eyes,” the kind that say, “I’ve just had the longest day of my life,” or perhaps, “Do you really want to disagree with me today?”
            I started cooking.
            I uncorked the wine and pulled out the expensive wine glasses.
            I put on some relaxing piano jazz music.
            I quickly scooped up all the toys from the dining room and tossed them into a basket in another room.
            A quick wipe of the table, a flip of the steaks, and two candles.
            We were ready.
            The elk was succulent and eager to be eaten – I was shocked it was actually wild game. The salad was scrumptious, and the potatoes were prepared to perfection. The wine was even better than I remembered it. The candles gave the room a lovely glow.
            Meanwhile, both kids sat at the table flinging food, moaning, crying and making a general all-purpose ruckus. At first, I thought I’d ignore them. I raised my expensive wine glass to Michelle and smiled. She toasted me back. Then Celia lifted her dirty water cup and said, “Cheers!” loudly, trying to clank it with ours.
            “How was your day?” I asked soothingly.
            Before Michelle could answer, Joshua started to cry and Michelle leaned over to pick him up. His hands were covered in the dinner mush he’d been eating, and proceeded to cover Michelle’s shirt.
            Celia said, “Daddy! I want more elk!”
            I sliced her off a bite-sized piece and put it on her plate. She gobbled it down, then spat out a chewy part. “Yuck! I don’t like that part!”
            “Ouch!” Michelle said as Joshua pulled her hair.
            I instantly had one of those “eagle’s eye” moments. I caught a glimpse of what we must look like from afar – a Valentine’s Day Fiasco – and burst out laughing.
            “You know, Michelle,” I smiled at her, “This is utterly ridiculous.”
            Michelle pried Joshua’s clenched hands from her hair and looked at me quizzically.
            “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
            In the end, Michelle and I left half our dinners on the table as we put our kids to bed, and when we returned the ambience suddenly felt appropriate. But for that one moment of chaos, I knew deep down that even though what we’d experienced was far from romantic, it was utterly worth the effort. Maybe not sentimental, but definitely one of the most memorable Valentine’s Days I’ve ever had. Who could ask for more than that?

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Ballet and Bad Timing

            When my mother invited me to take Celia to the children’s ballet with her, Celia had been talking about ballet non-stop for so many months I instantly knew there was only one right decision.
            “Of course!” replied.
            We put the date in the calendar, but didn’t tell Celia. A few times now we’d psyched Celia up for something only to find on the day that it didn’t work out. In those moments she would erupt into enormous wails and tell us how much she wanted to do “such-and-such” in-between the sobs.
            The timing was perfect. Celia’s bedtime was at eight o’clock, and the ballet was to start at seven, so we figured we’d catch the first half, then leave at intermission. The date was set. We knew our plan.
            When the big day arrived we told Celia after she came home from daycare.
            “Ballet!” Celia exclaimed and ran upstairs to her bedroom. She stripped off all her clothing, put on a tutu and began to dance in front of the mirror. This is, actually, a fairly regular activity for her, but in the context of the evening’s events, we were excited for her.
            We showed up early to make sure we would have good seats, only to discover that the ballet started at eight o’clock, not seven!
            I stood in shock. My mind raced.
            Finally, my mother said aloud what I had been thinking, “What should we do?”
            My dad instantly piped in, “Let’s get a refund and go home.”
            I shook my head. I watched my daughter run around on her tip-toes around the foyer with a tutu over her winter clothes.
            “We can’t leave. We already told Celia.”
            My parents turned to look at their granddaughter bubbling over with excitement and nodded their heads in agreement.
            It was tempting to become negative in that moment.
            What an unfortunate turn of events – Celia would watch the ballet, but what sort of shape would she be in by then? Her head is usually on the pillow by eight. How long would she last? I surmised she’d be asleep on my lap within two dances.
            The tickets had been $22 each, even for her, I am shocked to say, though she sat on my lap the entire event. And although it’s not that much money when you look at the big picture of what’s most important in life, we’re living pretty tight right now, so I couldn’t help but wince to think that Celia would probably be asleep and miss most of the performance.
            All these negative thoughts swirled through my mind before I resolved myself to think positively.
            “Well, Mom. Let’s figure out what to do for the next hour.”
            My mother thought for a moment, then tracked down one of the organizing ladies behind the event and explained our predicament. The woman said, “Why don’t you take her backstage?”
            My eyes lit up. What a brilliant idea!
            Within moments Celia was backstage meeting all the girls as they tried on their different costumes and stood still while their mothers’ applied their makeup.
            I watched Celia go up to a teenager and touch the fabric of her outfit. The girl smiled as she bent down to talk to Celia. I shook my head in amazement. This was far greater than we could have planned.
            Celia did break down by nine o’clock, but only after meeting several of the ballerinas backstage and watching numerous dances. Overall, a fantastic night out.
            I am amazed at the power of positive versus negative thinking. It is so easy to get wrapped up in negative thinking when things don’t go exactly as planned. The negative seasoning flavors the whole event with a bad taste. But when we choose to be positive, the results can oftentimes surprise us.
            A wise man once told me, “Pay attention to interruptions. Those are often the most important moments of life.”
            The evening events weren’t exactly an interruption, but it most certainly wasn’t what we’d planned, either.
            And I’ll bet it was an evening that Celia will remember for a long time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bouncing Baby Breakfast

            I’m not exactly a veteran parent yet, but still, you’d think I would know better than to feed my son in a bouncy chair.
            It started out okay. He was so hungry that he kept perfectly still and eagerly opened his mouth for a new bite as soon as I finished feeding him the first one. There was a part of my brain that told me it wouldn’t last. “Take him out!” the coherent part of my brain said to me. “It won’t last!”
            But my foggy soggy pre-coffee morning brain argued back, “That’s too much work. Look, he’s fine.”
            When he started bouncing, believe it or not, I kept feeding him. He’d bounce a few times, then pause as I gave him another bite, at which point the bouncing would resume.
            Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. I wasn’t even watching him – just scraping the sides of the cup to feed him more of his breakfast mush. Then, I’d hold the spoon out and say, “Want some more? Here’s some more food?”
            The bouncing would stop momentarily, then resume again with even more vigor.
            When he’d eaten nearly all the food I’d prepared, I looked at him to see how he was doing, and saw, as if for the first time, what I’d created.
            Food was everywhere. All over Joshua’s face, hands, up his nose, even in his eye. It covered his toys, his clothing, and the bouncy chair.
            I gaped at him with an open mouth for a moment, then I started to laugh.
            Joshua smiled back at me and bounced even more vigorously.
            I laughed and laughed as he bounced and bounced.
            Not the most brilliant parenting move, but certainly a memorable one!