Thursday, January 13, 2011

Road Trips and Resolutions

            The week before Christmas no single day has enough hours for all the shopping, errands, social events, and taking care of basic human needs of any one individual. My family participates in numerous feasts, caroling door-to-door, and gift exchanges which every year we promise to keep minimal but always end up huge anyway (a brand new dishwasher for my parents is definitely not keeping it “minimal”!).
            This year was particularly jam-packed, since we woke up early the day after Christmas and packed the van to the ceiling for a twelve hour road trip to a Vancouver wedding. I was semi-curious and mostly apprehensive about how the squeezed hours crammed together in one small confinement would pan out.
            The long stretches of wailing required constant problem-solving, a simpler task with Celia, who could be consoled with an iPod playing the Wiggles, compared to Joshua, who didn’t seem like happiness was within his grasp for hours at a time.
            “My mother had it so much easier,” I said to Michelle as the baby shrieked and she looked at me with weary eyes.
            “What do you mean?” she asked.
            “They didn’t even use seatbelts then, let alone car seats. When we were babies she even breastfed us while driving!”
            Michelle shook her head. We both agree that our knowledge of how car seats save lives prevents us from doing that, but in all honesty, I did feel tremendously jealous of my mother’s generation in that moment. Ignorance is bliss. More deadly, but definitely more blissful.
            We tried quiet. We tried loud. We tried vibrating him. We tried leaving him alone. We tried feeding him (with Michelle craned over the car seat awkwardly for the most ridiculous nursing posture I’ve seen to date). We tried entertaining him. In the end, the only thing that made him stop crying was to stop the van and take him out. Not a great way to make up lost time on a road trip.
            The ten-hour trip turned into twelve-and-a-half going there, and even more coming back. Joshua cried so much he lost his voice. Celia and I took it better than Michelle. Celia had her headphones and her Wiggles. As for me, I do this guy-thing where I just shut off the part of my brain where the crying sits, and my mind wanders to other things.
            Poor Michelle.
            I was daydreaming about a recent movie I’d seen when Michelle said, “I think I’m going to cry.”
            I looked at her startled. My mind snapped out of it’s holiday and I heard the screaming of our son again. “Um… why?” I asked foolishly.
            “He’s so upset. I wish I could do something to help him.”
            I instantly felt like a big jerk. How easily I seem to not care about people, even my closest loved ones! I nodded my head and took the next exit for an overdue break.
            The trip wasn’t all bad, mind you. We had delightful moments of peace where both kids slept and we gazed into each other’s eyes (albeit briefly) and said, “We have it so good.” We reflected on our favorite moments from Christmas – mine was realizing how my daughter’s favorite gift was a tutu while my nephew’s favorite gift was pirate swords – the gender differences are already emerging!
            Michelle was grateful for living in Montana and being able to sleep in our own bed but still spend Christmas morning with the whole family. We reflected on our blessed lives as we made our way slowly up to Canada.
            Attending a wedding with children is not so much about enjoying the ceremony but showing support by simply being there. Because let’s face it, neither Michelle nor I were able to sit through half the ceremony with our squirmy kids. Even so, I was glad we made it, not just for the wedding, but all the countless friends we spent time with over the next twelve days.
            I enjoy living in Montana, but I admit that moving to a new place has been lonely. In Vancouver, where there are literally dozens of close friends who did their best to spend time with us, I was reminded that I am loved and supported.
            In some ways it makes living away from all those friends all that more painful. But it also helps me back here in Montana, because I know I’m actually not on my own. Sure, I can’t hang out with them or give them big hugs from seven-hundred miles away, but I do feel reassured.
            Already the reality of life is setting in again. Bills are arriving, and the Christmas hangover has begun – “We spent how much money!?! On what!?” I’m starting to feel stressed, and it’s helpful to pause and remember highlights from the trip.
            The most memorable moment for me was sitting out on the front porch on our last night smoking a Cuban cigar with a few core friends. Not because the cigar was so amazing (although it was), but because we took that moment of quiet to listen to each other. My friend Joyce asked everyone what their New Year’s Resolutions were.
            Not surprisingly, none of us had any to start with, but as people started to share, we all came up with good ones. I don’t usually make “resolutions,” because I believe that we need to be discerning about positive direction in life every day, but it was good to put words to where my heart was leaning for growth this coming year, and to hear my friends do the same.
            I think resolutions are intended not so much to make us feel guilty if we don’t accomplish them, but to get us thinking about what it is we really want in life. If we don’t put words to what our heart has been telling us, how will we be reminded what direction we should be heading in when things get messy?
            Raising kids is like that a lot of the time. Sometimes I find myself coasting in my role as a dad. And it’s so easy to do. We develop our routines and our systems for doing things, and as long as nobody complains, we keep at it. In these moments I find I need to shake my head, turn to my kids, and pour renewed love and energy into them.
            At the end of a long day I may be tired and they may be perfectly content to let me be, but if I smother them with attention, not only does it bring light to their faces, it cheers me up considerably too. I hope I can set aside my worries and stresses long enough to dive fully into fatherhood. What’s the point of being a dad if you don’t do it well?

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