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papa sense

husband, dad, teacher, writer. i am a stay at home dad using family,friends and intuition to make sense of this world. these are my reflections.

Happy Friday – Enjoy

I posted this video on my personal Facebook page last night. We have watched it a couple dozen times since – I hope you enjoy.

Also, check out today’s post on Rocket City Mom.com by clicking Here. It’s my “Mixed Tape of Parenting Edition”, today’s song is “Green Gloves” by The National.

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From The Vault “I Just Had An Epiphany”

**This was written one year ago. Fresh material to come Thursday.

I had an epiphany, yes an epiphany. ( I can’t write that without thinking of a former student of mine. We were in a school meeting discussing his progress, I started the meeting by addressing the fact that his attendance was affecting his grades, when, he stopped me, with a grin and a finger on his chin and said ‘I just had an epiphany.’ His eyes squinted and cast my way. ‘A what?’ I said, wondering where this word came from, and why was he saying it in a low tone like a godfather gangster discovering his best friend had ratted him out. My student was confused, he thought we were friends because I respected him, he didn’t understand why I would uncover his four-days-a-week absences in the meeting, he thought I was turning on him, so he turned to me and shared what he thought was a decisive way to express that our bond was broke -that he had an epiphany. It got kind of weird when all he would say was “I just had an epiphany” with a shake of his head. We moved on. Man, I love the teenage mind.

My epiphany had to do with legos. The girls got a box of legos for christmas. Now, I don’t remember playing with legos when I was younger, I’m sure I did, but I was more of an action figure kid. He-man to be exact. My lego epiphany? They come with directions. There are things that you are ‘supposed’ to make with the pieces. I think I knew this, but thought you just ‘built stuff’ that the box suggested. Wow, there are step-by-step directions to make specific things. We made a car, helicopter, and house, but after a while, I missed my flying house with skis, and we quickly disassembled our fleet, better said, Haze and Mae weren’t too into the uniformity either, or they didn’t have the patience to search out specific pieces and put them in the exact place they were to go, according to the directions that is. So, we used the helicopter propeller as a steering wheel for our ski ship.

There are ‘direction people’ and there are people who prefer to be directionless. Now, directionless does not mean lost. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker “Not all who wander are lost”. Or all who ‘wonder’ either. Then there are people who use directions in some situations and don’t use them in others. And even more people, like me with the legos, who don’t know that directions exist. I have never been a fan of categorizing humans into one of two ‘camps’ that they can’t get out of. Once you are a direction person – you are always a direction person, in some people eyes. (A few other ‘types’ of people – people who floss/people who don’t, people who look at a map/people who ‘will remember when they see it’, and people who stand in line patiently behind someone who’s having a hard time deciding between cone or dish/people who push them out-of-the-way/or a third group of people who know what ‘people who act like they have a hard time deciding between inconsequential life choices and make a production out of their ordering to prove their complex understanding of the mundane’ look like, and skip them in line) No, not a fan of breaking us down like that.

I enjoy using the directions at times, and creating our own lego universe other times. If you use directions, cool. If not, cool. If you’re like me – you’re even cooler, but are you happy with what you made? Does it matter what the end result looks like to others – as long as you enjoyed the process and appreciate the outcome? Do you put your creation in a shrine or break it in pieces the moment it is complete (I’m looking at you Haze) and put it together another day? The thing of it is – we are all using the same pieces, just mixing and matching them in different ways to form objects that appear different when assembled. When broken apart in all there separate little pieces – they are the same. I will not judge or criticize what you make with your legos, or how you make it, as I would like the same from you. And please – don’t throw your legos at me (I’m looking at you again Haze). See, you may not know, but this is the century of the lego. People will be making lego everything, and I am preparing you for the reality that we all view our legos differently.

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Post-Break Trial Run

The alarm sounded, I snoozed, it sounded again, and I arose to make my way to Mae’s room. No surprise, she was cuddled deep within her blankets asleep. I sat on her bed; she clutched her covers tight and rolled over. I rubbed her back acknowledging that it’s tough getting back into routine.

“It’ll be good to see your friends!” I said, leaving her room, hoping she was awake.

After getting ready I peeked into her room to, thankfully, see a tossed-haired child pulling up tights and choosing a skirt.

We made it to the breakfast table.

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“Where’s your binder?” I asked anxiously after noticing it wasn’t in her backpack.

“I don’t know.” Came through a half-full mouth of cereal and sleepy eyes.

“We need to find it. Can you remember where you left it?” Panic setting in a bit.

It’s only a binder, but not knowing where it was brought haste to an otherwise smooth morning. I thought I had got everything ready.

I looked in cupboards and under couches, while shouting out the minutes we had left before needing to leave. Then, I remembered her binder was at school.

“Mae, guess what? Your binder is at school. We’re good. But, you really need to get going honey, seriously.” I said shooing her to the bathroom.

We made it to the backdoor.

“I want to wear my new shoes. I can’t find the other one.” Mae said on the floor of the laundry room, with one shoe on – the wrong foot.

“We don’t have time, get your jacket on, we’re going to be late.” I said.

We made our way into the cold and quiet morning. En route to the bus stop we talked about our trip home and the friends she was excited to see.

No one was around.

Then, a car stopped next to us, rolled down their window, and said “School starts tomorrow.” I nervously laughed and said thank you.

“Dad! I could still be sleeping.” Mae said.

“Me too.” I shot back.

We all need a test-run right? Tomorrow should be smooth.

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“When Your Head Gets Twisted and Yer Mind Grows Numb.”

A giant spoon entered our kettle on Friday.

I spent the day with Haze, reading updated reports on my phone as information about a shooting, in a town I never heard of, splashed the top of every “feed” I subscribe to; making their various “pings” and “dings” rhythmically in my pocket.

I glanced at social media outlets where I met suppositions and ‘so sad’s’. In a few hours friend’s status updates of questioning and anguish turned to anger. Anger that spun in a million directions; back out at one another, laws, and the shooter.

I get that; I understand updates of grief and love, the ones about gun control, anger, irrational statements, and overly rational statements. Yes, my mind was twisted as I went about my day with Haze, but quick glances at words gathered in sentences to report the situation didn’t stop my daily flow.

After putting the girls to bed, Robin and I sat on the couch and watched the news of the day. I didn’t bother worrying about the scrunch of my face, or the sounds of my tears as they flew down my face, without the ability to pace, getting stuck in my throat with the sickest of taste. Words earlier read digitally, gave way to images of hurt, loss, and confusion that punctuated the day. It was now obvious why people were reacting intensely, but their statuses, tweets, and my news app updates couldn’t deliver the sights and interviews now searing my eyes.

Robin and I had our “How could it? What if…” discussion. We reflected on other tragedies in the world, daily injustices, war, and a myriad of “stuff” that breaks down our faith and hope in humanity.

Then, I turned to what comforts me, other than Robin, family, and friends, in times when confusion abounds and answers aren’t readily found – Music.

The following poem read by Bob Dylan “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” has less to do with Woody as an individual, and more to do with all of us as humans. The poem speaks to the human condition, something we all share.

No matter the differences in how we handle tragedy, we’re tethered together by a thread, the thread of what it is like to experience being a human. Your, my, and everyone else’s views of events may not muster the same feelings and reactions, but they lead us all needing and searching for the same thing – Hope.

It may just be a ‘Word that maybe you said or maybe you heard. On some windy corner ’round a wide-angled curve. But that’s what you need man, and you need it bad. And yer trouble is you know it too good.”

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You Learned What? At School?

“But dad, that’s what he said. It’s real, seriously.” Mae said “seriously”, well, super seriously, and walked away in a huff. All because I wasn’t supporting something a classmates said he believes. You would have thought she was 16. Instead of listening to, and believing, her all-knowing-and-most-powerful daddy, she said she thought he was right, and I, by default, was wrong. On top of that pile of moldy cheese I was trying to digest, she wasn’t just disagreeing with me, she was upset I didn’t believe him. What? She’s 5!

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Ah, school, where people from all walks of life come together and learn about the wonders of the world. A place where our kids develop the skills necessary to survive in society, skills that we aren’t equipped to teach them ourselves – see my math scores. It’s also an environment where they experience realities, thoughts, and ideas that they may not be exposed to at home. Ones that may run contrary to ours. Dun, dun, dun.

After the initial blow, the one that sent me reeling and realizing that I didn’t handle the situation the way I will, I was reminded why we think it’s important that the girls are around ideas, beliefs, and situations that we may not provide. We want them to become individuals who listen to other people’s perspectives, ask lots of questions, try out different identities, and ultimately decide for themselves how they’ll approach the world.

Of course, I would like them to share our beliefs. Yes, it rattled me when I felt like I didn’t have control of what she was hearing. But, I’m glad that she shared her thoughts with us. School, like anywhere else we aren’t right by their side, is full of people presenting their views. The earlier we expose our kids to the differences that exist between people, teach them to appreciate those differences,not fear them, and create an atmosphere where they are unafraid to ask questions, I think the better off we’ll be. This isn’t easy.

Last night, my knee jerk reaction was to reject an idea that someone else told her, one that didn’t align with our perspective. It’s then, after talking to two of my brothers and Robespierre, that I realized the hypocritical nature of that response. Our goal is to create thinking and respectful individuals who will consider all angles of a situation and make informed decisions. By rejecting, instead of asking further questions to help her think about what she heard, I risk her viewing the world as a contentious place with people vying for her to be a member of their “team”. Instead of a place where we can find common threads and weave together solutions that will keep us all comfortable. I prefer the latter.

Oh, “Pollyanna” Andy is back.

*I’m not speaking about teachers, or other adults at school, sharing their personal views – that is another discussion. I’m discussing what her, and someday Haze’s, classmates talk about during lunch, recess, and other in-between times during the day. All of which are, more than likely, mashed up versions of things they overhear at home.

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Waiting Outside Our Bedroom Door – Thrift Store Find Part 5 of 5

He patiently hangs around outside our bedroom door, waiting to greet us as we make our way to the kitchen for breakfast. I look forward to rounding the corner into the hallway to meet his smiling face and balanced ball. I can’t help but smile back.

Some days I imagine him tossing me the ball with a quick “here”, I catch it on the backside of my hand, flip it up and meet it with a hacky sack kick right back into his resting palm. He winks and nods with approval.

He’s our defender, keeping a watchful eye on the front door and across the living space to the girl’s rooms. In a moments notice he could leap off his plaster backing and protect our home. Or, if I heard a bump late at night and caught a glimpse of a shadow, taller than 45 inches, I could pull him off the wall and wield him against the intruder. I envision he would hold on tight while I swung him photo-82towards the burglar and at the last moment, just before impact, he would extend his leg to deliver a knock-out blow. He’d then pull his body fully out of the frame, give me a high-five, do two celebratory flips, and find his spot back on the wall.

Robespierre can’t stand him. I’m not sure why I love him. But, he stays. I brought him home for $3.

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Johnny the Elf

I hopped out of the car with stealthy ninja skills and slipped into the Hallmark store. I was on a secret mission. In reality, my clumsy push through the door and tripping over the entryway carpet sounded my arrival.

“Do you have, the, um, ‘Elf on the Shelf’?” I inquired in a hushed tone in the event a ‘believing child’ was in earshot; expecting I’d be led to a back room where the elf exchanges take place.

“Yes, right over here.” A store clerk replied leading me to the front of the store.

On the way back to the register I flooded her with questions. How do I introduce him? Can they see the box? Where should I put him? How does this work? She handed me the box double bagged, said ‘read the book’, and wished me a nice evening.

When I got into the car Mae said, “What’s in the bag?”
“Um, a present for your Uncle C.” I said.
“What is it?” She naturally fired back.
“A surprise.” I said.

Her questions fed my skepticism, how is a child this curious going to believe the story of the elf?

As I suspected, when they found him the next morning Mae declared, “He’s not real.”

All I could think was ‘You’re right.’ We read the book and hoped that our elf, Johnny, would do the rest.

They gave suspicious glances at Johnny and grilled us. I was frustrated, but I understood that an elf showing up in the house was a tough sell. Maybe, they were picking up on my feelings?

Then, it happened, I overheard Mae talking to Johnny about her Christmas wishes. Soon after, Haze declared it was his birthday, they were fully invested, and Johnny was a part of our family.

Watching Mae and Haze talk to, draw pictures for, and enjoy Johnny exemplifies the innocence and trust that children have. It reminds me that my cynical worldview is not theirs, and perhaps, I could stand to learn something from their innocence. Especially during this special time of the year.

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Wordless Wednesday – Thrift Store Find Part 4 of 5

chotch

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The Phrases that Shouldn’t Phase Us

“Are we there yet?” Mae said, an hour into our six-hour trip. The words aren’t
hers; they’re passed down from generation to generation of youngster wanting to
drive their parents batty with their blindness to the passage of time and space.

With Haze parroting everything Mae says, the phrase, at every turn, became
a cacophonous echo bounding through the mini-van while I navigated my way
through exchanges and around rages, not mine. Well, not all.

And yet, it’s comforting to hear Mae and Haze say these words. They joined
the ‘things you need to say if you’re a kid’ club.

If there were a list for the club, these phrases would be at the top:

“But she/he gets one”. If I had a dime for every time this was said after gymnastics,
I’d have enough money to buy, and move, the freezer full of goodies from the entry
way.

“I think so?” In response to being asked if they did something, anything. Like flush
the toilet before a five-day road trip. I’m not sure why I ask, “Did you…” anymore. I
end up double-checking to make sure they did the activity I asked about. If I didn’t?
We would have to take out loans to pay our electric bill.

“You said if I…you would…” This is usually a complete misinterpretation of a series
of events we plan for them. But, there are times a “fact checker” has affirmed that
Mae was correct, I said that if we found every plastic bead on the floor I’d zap
myself into outer space and live there. Boy, did I disappoint them.

As much as these phrases may crawl under my skin, I realize their necessity. If kids
didn’t see things as unfair, we couldn’t teach what’s right. When we question their
completion of a task, it affirms that they have a duty and obligation to others. And,
it’s good to be held accountable for promises, though I wish they weren’t so excited
to see me live on the moon.

“Are we there yet?”

As parents, never, enjoy the ride, no matter how repetitious those bumps are.

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From the Vault: 11.30.11 “Enjoy Them While They’re Young”

Until after the New Year I will be posting twice a week, Tuesday’s Dad’s View article and Wordless Wednesday.

If I’m “inspired”, and have the time, I’ll throw a post at you on an off day.

Enjoy the Holidays. Here’s a post from one year ago today. I didn’t clean it up – except for capitalization and a few hundred words – interesting to see how my writing has changed.

Enjoy them while they’re young.

If I had a nickel for every time this was said to me as I walk around with the girls, I would never have to think about losing one every time I used a quarter to plug the meter in downtown florence. (see yesterdays blog post). I’m at the shopping mall, gas station, park, anywhere, and inevitably someone looks at me, mostly with a dreamy look as if they are so pained by what became of their kids, as if  they’re trying to vaporize and enter my body, to hold those little hands one more time, and they say, with a shake of their head ‘Man, enjoy them while they’re young’. I typically laugh and say ‘They get older? Not these ones, the breeder promised.’ Perhaps, it isn’t fair to say that they are ‘pained’ by the fact that their kids grew up, but that they are thinking back to a time when their kids were innocent, believing, and otherwise looked to them as if ‘there were no others’, and then puberty hit, influences outside of parental controls took center stage, boyfriends, girlfriends, parties, choices, decisions, and the eventual move out of the home. Perhaps, it isn’t all that. Perhaps, they’re looking at a picture in time when they were happiest. Or, they are looking back and wishing they could have a do over. Or, and this is the last perhaps, perhaps, they are simply made happy by the sight of young children and want to make sure that you appreciate the time that you have with them. Perhaps, oops I lied, it is a favor that all parents who have older children give to parents with younger children, a reminder to slow down and enjoy this life, not just their lives, but the life that you have. Not only should we enjoy ‘them’ while we are young, but we should enjoy ‘us’ while we are young. A side note: no one has ever stood next to me in a public restroom while I changed a wiggling, screaming, poopy handed baby’s diaper all the while doing my best owl impersonation to keep the other child’s hands out of the urinal. ‘No, those are not real cakes’. and said ‘Enjoy them while they are young’

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So, all these ‘enjoy them while they’re young”s have got me thinking. Thinking about: the enjoyment of life in general, about sharing happiness, and about how we go about expressing our joys. People say ‘enjoy them while they’re young’ as if there is a lifetime of agony after the first 10 years. People don’t stop and say ‘Man, you look happy. I remember how much I enjoyed my kids at that age. Life’s transitions and stages are awesome. I’m so happy today’. No, in fact many people would think that someone saying that is either obnoxious or on some really good medicine. But, we do seem damn good as a country, society, culture (whichever way you want to slice it) in expressing our sorrows, our outrages (mostly manufactured to prove to any doubters what side we are on), disappointments, and otherwise the things in life that have kept us from happiness. We seem to take comfort in the struggle of life, and look at times when we are ‘doing well’ as lucky or ‘times of good fortune’.

First off, the word lucky should not apply to how people get to where they are in life, unless you truly were lucky – like won the lottery. You are not lucky to have a job, you are not lucky to have children who are polite, you are not lucky (or shouldn’t be) to go visit a doctor, luck didn’t influence your abilities. That term, ‘lucky’, is a way that we have found to let people believe that we were not in full control of obtaining or becoming the things that we have or are. If we know someone may not have it as well as us (in any respect) we chalk it up to luck, we feel compelled to squelch what we have done, or how we feel, in order to, well, I’m not sure what we are trying to protect or why we do this. I understand being humble, I’ve never been a braggart, and I don’t believe in making people jealous of what I have in my life. Because, I certainly wouldn’t want them to feel sorry for me either. I try not to live a life where I view others, who show their pleasure in life, as being obnoxious. They are happy.

Are we afraid of expressing happiness? I don’t mean all together, but I feel myself withdraw from expressing how cool my life is right now (when my life is cool right then) more than I find myself holding back sharing disappointments when they happen. Have you ever had a friend tell you how tough things are for them? Yes, we all have heard it and said it. Have you then been afraid and held back on expressing honestly, when you are doing well, how well you are doing?

When someone tells you how well they are doing – how do you respond? What do you think? Yes, perhaps I’m prattling on about the negatives here as well, but I’m trying to understand why we fear feeling proud and happy.

Perhaps we fear over expressing, or expressing, our joys because we are fearful of what we enjoy.

Our daughters remind us to look at the parts of life that we may lose touch of as we age. That is why people tell you to ‘enjoy them while they are young.’ Maybe they are telling you to enjoy having a daily reminder of how wonderfully fantastically awesome life is, and you just helped them glimpse at that reminder once again.

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Not ‘Just Another’ Day

“That’s right! You don’t have school tomorrow!” I said excitedly.

It was Sunday night, Amelia’s lunch was packed, and we were winding down watching football when I remembered that she didn’t have school on Monday.

The girls would be back together on a weekday, wonder twin powers activate.

But, instead of a unicorn and waterfall, they decided to transform into a tornado and bull. The day, which I excitedly planned for, ended up exhausting, testing, and pushing my patience to panic mode.

Instead of playing, they squabbled. Rather than asking for fresh cookies, they whined for more nutella. And, instead of being okay that we missed our oil change, they cried, exclaiming that oil changes are their second favorite thing to do. Second?

I can’t say I was a non-factor in our “lets just forget about that” day. I was out of rhythm. I’m used to a new pattern with Hazel, a slower and mellower pattern.

When Hazel plays alone, she doesn’t usually get hit by her stuffed animals, telling her what’s for lunch doesn’t come with outside influences as to its desirability, and she makes choices alone.

I fed into power struggle after power struggle. By five o’clock we were all defeated. I started dinner, Hazel went to her room, and Amelia went outside to play with a ball.

When I saw Amelia, alone with the ball, it clicked. I had a hard time adjusting to the side step from our newly established, but firm, daily routine. I was muscling through the day without recognizing that it was a special one.

I went outside.

“Is this what you wanted to do sweetie?” I said softly.

With a huge smile she nodded yes. Hazel joined us and we ran around throwing a ball and giggling.

We all have expectations and can get caught up in the predictable nature of life when it is consistent and less chaotic. I learned to stop on our special days and be more spontaneous. It isn’t just another day; it’s a day off. I need to remember that.

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Home is Wherever I’m With You.

When we found out that Robespierre’s job may move our family “down south’’, we were anxious, excited, and curious. As much as we enjoy adventure, we loved our home in Wisconsin and leaving wasn’t easy.

Wisconsin is where we were born and spent most of our lives, it holds memories that are sewn to the roots of our family trees, and it’s where people and places were forever etched into our personalities.

I’m sure many people have similar feeling about the location where they grew up and share a deep affection and unquestionable positive attitude about the place they call home.

So, while anticipated, it was still shocking when “Ya’ll want another push?” came naturally from Mae’s mouth as we glided on our porch swing. When “it” met our ears, our feet planted in the ground, we quickly glanced with wide eyes at one another, and in unison said, “What’s that?”

“Ya’ll want another push?” This time she giggled. I think she picked up on the fact that she was speaking different from we do and more closely to the way of her friends. We looked away, smiled, and said, “Yes.”

I peeked at Robespierre and mouthed, “It happened.” She nodded and said, “I know.”

It’s the quintessential southern colloquialism that we were waiting to hear from our daughters, “ya’ll”. A realization that they’re growing up, calling home, and planting roots in a different part of the country than we did. That single ‘word smash’ brought to the forefront that, while we may not be, they are from ‘around here’.

The prospect of Haze and Mae not knowing the Wisconsin that we do makes us sad. We want them to know the place that we call home. Then we recognize that our Wisconsin is their Alabama and it’s our job to fill this space, whatever its name, with positive memories and experiences. We’ll explore, create traditions, and share our lives in this home. And, no matter where home is, if our kids want to come back to it, then we’ve done a good job raising them.

*Post title taken from a Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros song “Home“. We had it on repeat before we moved.

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Wordless Wednesday Guest Photographer

Photo Credit to Haze Age 3

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I Was Given the Belt Off of Sandy’s Waist

We were in our hotel room getting “dressed up” for our anniversary dinner when I realized I forgot my belt, the accessory that ties an outfit together.

Robin’s quick thinking had me picking up the phone to call the gift shop.

“Do you sell belts?” I said.

“Let me check.” Said the woman on the phone. “Yes.”

With an hour to get ready I ran to the main level of our hotel.

When I arrived at the gift shop Sandy showed me to the belts, two to be exact, ugh, they were XXXL, three “X’s” and an “L” too big.

Instead of leaving disappointed, we spent ten minutes working to “shrink” the belt.

We were close to executing our plan when two managers walked in and asked what we were doing. We were explaining the situation when manager #1 interrupted, “It’ll look goofy, fray the belt, and not work.”

We stopped and teased about using my tie as a belt, ala Fred Astaire, while manager #2 gave me directions to the nearest store. My doe eyes must have revealed that I had no intention of ‘going over the railroad tracks and taking a left before Arby’s’, because manager #1 interjected that they might have a uniform belt that I could use.

With a smile and “great idea” they disappeared.

Ten minutes later they came back without a belt but with another plan. They were going to go to the store for me.

I couldn’t let them, they insisted, I thanked them and declined. I was leaving when Sandy said, “You can wear mine. It’s my husbands.” Before I knew it, Sandy’s belt was in my hand, everyone was smiling, and we went on to look stylish while sharing a special night together.

When we got home, I shared this story with Mae and Haze in hopes they’d understand the importance of helping strangers.

Sandy’s belt reminds me, especially during this heated election cycle, people want what’s best for one another. Perhaps, we will work together to fashion a 3000-mile belt for 300+ million people and tie our “outfit” together.

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My Compliments to Those Who Can Take Them

“She’s beautiful.” Person “X” says about child “A” – I cringe. Not because I disagree or don’t like compliments. In fact, as bashful as I act when someone says something kind, I still need validation and it’s nice knowing someone appreciates what you do. However, I cringe because I don’t know what to say/how to react when someone says kind words about our children or something I’m wearing.

When I hear “Your daughters are beautiful/pretty/funny”, my instant thought is “I know.” That can sounds vain, but I don’t intend it that way. What I mean is “I know that she is beautiful.” Saying thank you seems out-of-place. Yes, I have something to do with their awesomeness, but so do many other people. Saying thank-you for who they are seems odd to me. Should I say “I’ll tell ‘em.”?

It’s the same if I’m wearing a shirt that compels someone to say “Nice shirt.” Again, my gut tells me to say, “Yah, I like it.” Why would I say thank you? Aren’t they complimenting the shirt?

I think about this more than I should. If I say what I think I should, I say “thank-you”, and I feel untrue, like I’m passing off their compliments. If I say, “Yah, I know.” I fear that people will think I’m pompous and/or rude.

My Papa Sense tells me:

I’m thankful that I have the time to consider trivial matters regarding the word exchanges between humans that occur constantly. Regardless of the “there could be worse/or better things to have to think about” it’s still something that crosses my mind regularly and makes me uncomfortable.

It’s easy to respond to, and accept, criticism. We can all think of ways to improve what we are doing or who we are, but compliments seem to make people uncomfortable – I don’t think it’s just me. I want our girls to stop and relish the times that people notice them and not take it personally when someone pushes them to become better at something. Perhaps, we shouldn’t tell the parents their kids are beautiful, we should be telling the kid? Just don’t talk to my shirt – that would make us all uncomfortable.

I like to hear these kind words – I just don’t know how to react. How do you respond?

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Wordless Wednesday Special Halloween Edition

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I Want What She’s Got

“Why does she get to be in the paper, and I don’t?” Chopped out of Amelia’s mouth while looking at a picture of Hazel, in all her butterfly getting glory, on the front and 5th page of The Madison Record.

“The article was about her.”  I said, trying to be matter of fact, with an understanding that seeing sister in the newspaper added to her what-are-they-doing-when-I’m-at-school paranoia.

“You should be happy for your sister.” I said. “Let’s get in the car.”

“Well, I’ll be in the next one and I want to choose the picture,” Amelia said. “Daddy, can I see your phone.”

I believed her, a quick wave of the hand and Yoda I would have thought she was.

“Amelia, there’s an editor and they…” I tried and stopped.

While we wound through the parking lot I looked in the rear view mirror and caught Amelia’s gaze falling out the window. She had gone from “fired up” to processing “Why her and not me?” It was a moment of growth, coming to terms with disappointment, and learning how to handle envy.

“Are you alright Amelia?” I said. She didn’t flinch. We went to a few stores before making our way home, she was not herself.

When we got home, she hopped out of the car, flew into the house, and while I was busy carrying in our procurements, I glanced over and noticed her busy at the kitchen table. I let her be. Fifteen minutes later, with her hands behind her back, she said, “Do you want to see something?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, but you have to sit down.” She said while pulling pieces of paper stapled together (a newspaper) from behind her back. “Here, let me read it to you. It’s my newspaper that I’m in. It says “I am happy for my sister to be in the newspaper. We should be happy for people, especially family members, when something good happens to them. I hope I can be in the paper some day.”” This all written in five-year-old cursive (loopy lines). Sometimes our ‘parental words’ are heard, or is she working a sophisticated angle to get what she wants?

It Worked.
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A Surprise Attempt in the A.H. Era

“Just go. We’ll be fine. Your family will love it.” Robin was urging me to travel to see family in Colorado alone, like, all by myself. Fortunately, she understands that it’s healthy and wise to get out of familiar settings and recharge, or perhaps she noticed that I’ve been a bit edgy and need a break.

I was set to buy a plane ticket and head to the Rockies for relaxation when an idea came over me, AHA, I’ll ask my mom to fly in and watch the girls, act like I’m leaving for Colorado, come home from the airport with my mom, scare Robin, and spend our first weekend together without the girls in the A.H. era, that’s ‘After Haze’.

Packing for the surprise.

I was ecstatic and everything was set. Except, evidentially I didn’t appear excited enough and Robin grew suspicious. Uncharacteristically she checked our credit card statement where she saw my mom’s name on the plane ticket, this prompted a text stating her confusion, I came clean, and the surprise was blown.

What does ‘excited enough’ look like? I thought I was acting like ‘me going to Colorado’. Should I have been packed already? Made plans to see a football game? Talked about it incessantly? Would those have been my ‘more normal’ behaviors? Yes.

At first, I was upset that the big surprise was found out. Then, a new feeling came over me, comfort.

See, Robin knows me well enough to sense when I’m ‘not being myself’. Would I have liked to surprise her? Yes, but her taking note of who I am, how I act, and continuing to pay attention to the subtleties of my character after 16 years of being together is pretty cool.

It’s easy to lose track of our significant others in the hustle of life, and we do. Kids, work, relatives, and friends keep us busy. Our heads go down and we ‘act’ forgetting to stop and ‘take notice’.

We are set to leave Madison for an undisclosed location next week to celebrate our ‘dating’ anniversary and to ‘take notice’ of our lives. Why doesn’t she believe that we’re headed to Nebraska?

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A Quick Story of Solidarity sans the Papa Sense.

“But I don’t want to play that game.” Mae said after entering, surveying, and witnessing kids engaged in mailing food to chickens at our children’s museum.

“Well, there are lots of other places to go Mae. It looks like they’re having fun.” Admittedly, it was a feeble attempt to get her to join the other kids.

Haze was already busy getting her smock on and fishing for “the big ones” in the water trough. Mae stood there, frozen, using the family stare, seemingly stuck in disgust at the game the other kids were engaged in. As if “Monkey Ball Wall” reigns supreme. It was one of those moments I wish I could crawl into her head, walk down the hallway, and see out those peepers. Was it the following?

Mae’s Brain:

‘Hmmm, they play this game? I didn’t start this game. I don’t know the rules. I don’t like how he brought the egg to the mailbox and then back to the chickens, chickens don’t eat their own eggs. This game is ridiculous. Nobody told me we were playing this today. Wait, ones coming by me. “Eh” (Hide behind dad), maybe he’ll go into the doghouse with me and pant for biscuits while wearing a tie. (Smile and look around to see Haze) What’s sister doing? Huh, wait, why is she playing in the water. I’ll go over to the cow, yah the cow. What? There’s a kid up there? Uh, now, I’ll try to leave, yah let’s go in the block area. (Heads towards the door, realizes I’m not following, and dashes to the doghouse yelping ‘Come on Haze’, hoping we’ll follow.)

Haze’s eyes followed Mae; in an effort to join her sister she tripped down the stairs, stutter-stepped back and forth after remembering to hang her smock, then zigzagged through the mailbox-food-chicken kids to finally reach sister. Falling to her knees she panted the word “Sister” staring at Mae with serious eyes. Solidarity. They asked me to come in, so, I barked, ate biscuits, and soon after we went to catch sharks on the riverboat. Not another thought was given to the fowl mailers.

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The In-Between Spaces

Every Friday parents are invited to our daughter’s school to eat lunch with their children. Living close to the school, being at home with Haze, who misses her sister, and wanting to spend time with Mae, make it a nice way to round out our week. Plus, Fridays are ice-cream day – hard to pass up.

Haze and I sit with Mae as she laughs with friends, eats lunch, and carries on as a kindergartener does during unstructured time. I know that she enjoys seeing us in her day, but outwardly it doesn’t appear that she is overwhelmed with joy as she enters the cafeteria. Other than a smile, “Hello” and a “How’s your day?” she’s mostly interacting with her friends, being goofy. It felt as though she could take or leave us being there.

Then, one Friday morning I said, “Mae, we aren’t going to come to lunch today.” I thought she’d shrug it off and move on.

“What? Why?” came out of her mouth in a desperate tone that surprised me.

“I, well, we are going to go to the “Y”.” I said, still baffled that she cared so much.

“Oh.” She said as her head dropped to shoe-gaze.

“Honey, do you want us there?” I said.

“Yah, I like it when you come.” She said looking up.

“Oh, okay, we’ll be there.” I couldn’t have said anything else.

There are things that we do with, or for, people and we don’t know the impact we are having on them. Without an “It’s great to have you here.” or a “Thank you.” it can be difficult to gauge the importance of our actions. I know that our lunches are nice, but I didn’t know how much they meant to her. I get it now, she doesn’t, or shouldn’t, need to express her gratitude for every event we attend or help we lend, it is something that she accepts as usual, and that is more gratifying than tears of joy falling from her face while biting into a school lunch and looking solely at us. That, well, that would be weird.

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No. No. Yes. No. and Yes.

“No.” I said it without thinking.

“Why? Dad, I really want to.” There was a touch of whine to her plea that jammed my heels to the bedrock.

“Please, don’t ask again honey, I said no, that swing is too small for you.” I replied a bit firm for the occasion, which elicited a turn of the head, sniffle, and cry. I kept pushing Haze in her swing, while planning my next move with Mae. Leave her alone? Go over to her and explain why that swing isn’t age appropriate? Again. Or, gasp, admit that perhaps I didn’t even think about saying yes, put all five years of her giggling body into the bucket swing, awkwardly push her, and maybe, just maybe, laugh at her bent limbs and squished bottom.

Why couldn’t she sit in the bucket swing? Why did I shoot a “no” without thinking? I don’t have a good reason, or answer. I get caught saying “no” to our girls when they form a request that doesn’t fit into the parameters of the plans I have or the vision I hold. I, for whatever reason, think that by saying ”no” to a certain percentage of their requests (72%), no matter how insignificant the inquiry, I will teach them that they don’t always get what they want, and they will come to appreciate what they have. Yes, a bit of a hard bench. I am learning that saying “no” too often is potentially as, or more, negative for them as/than saying “yes” all of the time.

It was early in our girls lives that my wife and I decided we were going to stay strong if we say “no” to the girls, follow through if we make a promise of yes, and every so often let them “talk us into” something that we originally weren’t going to do or let them have. Sounds like a good plan right? Well, I’m afraid that in the midst of busier schedules, them, and us, aging, shorter attention spans, and the need to feel control in certain situations, I have started firing “no’s” with little thought to what I am saying “no” to.

“Can I have a popsicle?” “No.” “Go outside?” “No.” “Say hi to my friend?” “No.” “Pass the beans?” “No.” A bit of a dramatization, but it is creeping in more and more. I need to be careful that I don’t fall too deeply into this pattern, or I’ll become stiff, stuffy, and not the guy to come to for a yes – or anything.

After stopping, looking at the world from her eyes, and realizing the ridiculousness of needing to control every situation, I picked her up, plopped her in, and it was every bit as delightful as it should have been to start with, then, she wanted a push, the push wasn’t done right, she didn’t want me to push Haze at the same time, she wanted an underdog, and fussed when I explained that she may go flying out if I tried to give her one in the teeny-tiny bucket swing. Where on earth did she acquire the need to control a situation?

It goes without saying that we’d do anything for our children, we want them to be happy, thrive, and have a childhood filled with excitement, accountability, understanding, appreciation, and love. There are times we have to say “no”, but balanced with the right amount of “yeses”, I think they’ll get that we’re listening. And, I’ll try to stay away from the “maybes”, if they stay away from the “sures”.

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The Old Perspective Shift

If you are new to my site, every Tuesday I post my “Dad’s View” column that runs Saturdays in our local paper, The Madison Record.

Prior to becoming a parent I couldn’t have imagined doing, thinking, or caring about what I do now. Certainly, I understood why people obsessively read food labels, have a brand preference for wipes, and rate gas station bathrooms along their travel route. But, that wasn’t me. I bought food that was on sale, um, didn’t use wipes, and rolled the dice when making pit stops.

It was with “pre-kid” eyes that I first stopped with a neighbor to watch commuters make their way into, out of, and around our kid’s school zone. I wasn’t fully aware of why I was staring at traffic; I was only mesmerized, like staring at a hill of ants you run over with the lawn mower.

It was the third time we paused at the corner of B. and M. Road to observe car flow, that I realized what I was doing, I was concerned about the safety of our kids, and not just our kids, but the drivers as well. I winced when cars peeked onto M. road to “blindly” head east, gave a glare when people pressed the pedal to 45 mph as they crossed the imaginary line where the 25 mph sign stands, and scoffed at the lack of respect for a cross walk around a school zone.

I understand being in a hurry, taking calculated risks as a driver, and otherwise believing what “I” need to get to be important. I don’t completely fault the drivers; the situation they have to pass through is a difficult one. Pile that on top of the normal bustle that exists on blurry eyed commutes to work, and something is bound to happen.

Blinded by the light.

I wouldn’t have taken the time to understand the difference between Pampers and Huggies as a 16 year-old, and I don’t expect that people are going to share the same concern that I have for the potentially dangerous intersection of B. and M. Road. My vision has changed, what’s important to me is new. Sixteen year-old “me” is laughing at thirty-six year old me while speaking out about the “stupid dress code” at school. Having kids, getting older, sure shifts priorities and perspectives.

* in the original print version I included the full name of the streets.

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“It’s my FB page, and I’ll do what I want.” Really?

“It’s my FB page, and I’ll do what I want. It’s Mine.”

Even prior to passionate people becoming political pundits with the presidential parade passing by, I saw this phrase popping up on social media outlets. It’s with the election looming that I have noticed it more. Friends, family, and lurkers expressing their right to say what they want in the name of “my page is my page”, sometimes it’s followed up with an “if you don’t like it defriend me”. I have a negative reaction when I read it, especially around so many “friends.”

I have strong opinions, I don’t always articulate my thoughts the way I would like to, I enjoy discussion, I kind of like arguments, from time-to-time I look up from my phone and ask Robin “How can so-and-so even think this way.”, I laugh at jokes about candidates, and I scan my Facebook feed to see who is saying what about who in-between pictures of vacations, kids, postings of inside jokes, and rants about super hero movies. I’m no guru, but I like social media.

I struggle when people declare “myspace” on Facebook, especially when followed up with “leave if you don’t like it”. I understand what the person is trying to, or outright, saying. Basically, I’m done being polite and hiding my thoughts, lets discuss. I commend those friends of mine who do have open, thoughtful, and patrolled discussions. But, they aren’t typically the ones giving a “kiss off” note to the world about their view points.

It’s interesting where we choose to show certain aspects of our lives: There are stories/perspectives in this blog that I’d have a hard time sharing in person. I post pictures on Facebook that people, other than family members, may care less about – they may have even stopped caring. I try to stay out of on-line discussions that ignite my fuse to an emotional response I wouldn’t have in person, and there are statements I wish I would have made differently. I could say “take it or leave it”, but I write/show it because I want you to share in it.

Nothing is solely mine or yours. Everything affects everybody and touches their lives. “What if we do it alone in a padded room?” I feel that we are missed, and therefore still affecting those who know or care about us.

Expression of any kind, even attached with uncontainable qualifiers like “offensive”, is excellent. Express to enlighten and bridge gaps, not to further divide. Express to evoke a response. Yes, shock people. But, drawing a line in the sand and declaring something is yours does nothing to further humanity, instead we get a bunch of head-nodders or emotional arguments with little substance. I’m in no way saying that people shouldn’t say, write, draw, or dance the way they want – please. It’s just not your space, it’s all of ours, and people are affected by who we are.

As adults, writing our sibling’s name on the door with an “X” through it while singing nasty songs about them loud enough to hear through the walls isn’t, well, it just isn’t cool.

Perhaps, something to consider is why we feel compelled to react this way. Have others slammed us for being ourselves? Do we read words in a post without remembering who wrote them, what their tone sounds like in person when playing badminton at family BBQs?

My Papa Sense tells me:

A little ranty, preachy, and uncharacteristic post. I don’t want our kids to feel the need to knowingly isolate themselves because they have been made to feel isolated. I want them to know that the world isn’t against them, differing points of view are important, their words and actions affect others, and if they feel compelled to say “the hell with you” that perhaps they should rephrase their thoughts. Not back down from their beliefs, but respect the fact that we are all walking through this web together.

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“Really spacey and introspective today. Please try again when my eyes make contact with yours.”

I didn’t hear what she said. I tried nodding and smiling, but she kept looking at me. My head’s been stuffy, I’ve been staying up too late, and fill in the blank with every other excuse as to why I was “spacing out” rather than processing the words coming from a stranger’s mouth. I knew I couldn’t just say “yes”; because what little I did hear, along with the look on her face, told me an actual thought-out response was in order. Ugh.

“What’s that?” I said sheepishly.

“How old is she?” She said; I thought there was more. The “she” was our three year-old daughter, and I now wished my sheepish response was a bite of venom. How old is she? Look and guess, can’t you see I’m a bit out of sorts, does it really matter what her age is? Why are you feeling it’s important to ask me this question? Leave me alone, get away, and 27, there, she’s 27.

“Oh, she’s 3. A tall three at that.” I said with a fake nervous laugh, pat of the head showing Haze’s height, and shuffling feet. I might as well have been in an Ice Cream truck with tinted windows. I walked away holding (grabbing) Haze’s hand and went somewhere else where we wouldn’t be bothered.

Spacer. She comes by it honestly.

On the way home I played the situation over again in my mind, and realized how I must’ve been perceived. I wondered how many of the “words” I thought actually came out of my mouth. No, pretty sure I said, “She’s three” and moved on. I’m usually a pretty friendly person, I like to talk to people, and kids are a gateway to meeting new adult friends, but then there are those days that I, like all of us, am not quite myself and want to be left alone.

I feel bad when I have these encounters; I wish I had been more myself. I hope the person that witnessed it doesn’t make determinations of who I am based off of a quick exchange, but I’m guessing that she knows half the town and already put out an APB on the unfriendly guy with the cute, and tall according to his awkward response, kid.

My Papa Sense tells me:

How many times have you found yourself in public completely lost in thought, trying to come to terms with a “life event”, or wanting to be alone but you have to be out of the home because of someone or something else? Missing your cue to step up to the ticket window, get out of a shopping carts way, or answer a question from a stranger. Wishing you could wear a shirt that says “Really spacey and introspective today. Please try again when my eyes make contact with yours.”

How many times do you get upset because the person in front of you is holding up the line, won’t move out of your way, or tell you where they got the organic mustard?

We are all sharing this space, and there isn’t a single day that we will all be at our peak level simultaneously. I try to remember where people may be at in their day, in hopes that they will do the same for me. Although, I know I make some pretty harsh judgments as well.

I’m guessing that we don’t make assumptions based off of one encounter – funny – there’s that whole “first impression” line. I live like that sometimes and it makes me angry. Like we’re all auditioning for something. I want our girls to know that they don’t always have to “be on their game, giving it their all”, and I don’t want them thinking “You never know who’s watching.” It stiffens our natural motions while moving through our day as emotional beings.

Most of us are busy and too spaced out to know or care what anybody else is acting like. I’m sure that the woman who asked about Haze’s age was in her own post-three-year-old-meltdown stupor and felt compelled to speak to the person next to her. She just happened to ask the overly self-aware dad – little did she know she broke my writers block.

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So Be Your Name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

The girls and I went to Disney on Ice last Thursday night. We had an excellent time eating swirled colored ice, cheering on fairies, and getting lost in the wonderful world of Disney. It was 9:00 when I exited the show with Haze sleeping in one arm and Mae holding my hand as she slugged alongside me expressing everything that was upsetting her. She did run for her school’s yearly fundraiser that morning, so she had a sore leg to stand on with her expressions of discontent. They fell asleep on the way home, I carried them inside, we went to bed, and dawn greeted us in the blink of an eye.

crashed

The next day, Mae had a half-day of school. A neighbor and I decided it’d be a good idea to take the kids to the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. We spent the afternoon holding butterflies, digging in sand, and enjoying the outdoors. All this fun was woven between four hours, five meltdowns, and the draining of my patience. By 4:00 we were at the far end of the park and it was time to go. Wishing I hadn’t stubbornly thought, “my girls are going to walk” when we passed by the wagons earlier, I alternated carrying one of them on my shoulders while the other one “expressed their dissatisfaction” with walking.

We were tired, we were drained, and even though we shared great experiences, laughed, and loved our time together, we wanted to complain about everything and nothing all at once. We got home, made pizza, watched a movie, and didn’t say much to one another until the next day.

We’re active people and we want our kids to be the same. But, how much is too much? There’s an obvious difference between being active and running yourself into the ground. As Seuss so succinctly put it “Life is one great big balancing act.” I am still learning that lesson, but taking notes and observing the signs that will hopefully result in a well-rounded, active, and well rested family

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wordless wednesday

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What’s She Really Trying to Say?

After hugs, kisses, bye-bye-toodles, and snagging a flower from the bushes in front of Mae’s school, Haze, riding in a bike trailer that I can push, and I typically walk down the Greenway. It’s a nice ½ mile addition to our morning stroll, and by then my coffee is in full-effect.

It’s when we get to the greenway that Haze invariably asks if she can get out of the trailer and then, with a sweet-squinty-eyed look, says “Uppy?” And every time I explain to her that she can either walk or ride in the trailer, but she can’t get up in my arms – she’s a tall 3-year-old. This has been going on for weeks, and although she asks at different points on the trail, she still attempts to get me to bend over and carry her home. But, I haven’t and she cries. What I have done is learn the mystical powers of worms and caterpillars.

worms, caterpillars, crickets, and grasshoppers.

All Haze needs to calm a crying jag is an inch long wiggling creature from the grass. It’s magical. The moment we find a “crawler”, she gets back in the trailer, closes the flap, plays with and talks to her worm – calm as can be. I ponder buying a dozen night crawlers to always have on hand, but I wonder if that would defeat her intentions.

At a young age we learn to ask for what we need. We may not always say directly what we desire, but we know what we want. When Haze says “Uppy”, does she know that it’ll increase my intensity to search for her inch-long friends? When she gets out of the trailer, sees my eyes roll, and gives me her smile, does she really want to say “Dad, can we look for worms instead of boringly walking down this trail while you talk to our neighbors.” I’m starting to think so.

I feel it’s our job to teach our girls how to effectively get their needs met. That lesson isn’t about giving them what they want, but listening to what they are really trying to say.

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Being Content With the Process

I watched a documentary about esteemed Japanese sushi chef Jiro Ono, called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. The movie weaves through Mr. Ono’s life history; his passion for sushi, relationships with his sons, and food critics thoughts on his work. There were several items that attracted me to the film: lengthy moments of little speaking while watching him concentrate intently on something that’s seemingly so simple, his lifelong dedication to following the same patterns daily, and the respect that people have for him.

Who could roll sushi their whole life? The question echoed in my mind as I watched the film. It isn’t sushi I’m asking about, but how could someone dedicate his or her life to one thing so specific. He’s placing a piece of tuna on rice – I know there’s more to it than that. Can he really make it better each time? Is that possible? Food critics and patrons of his restaurant swear the food improves each time they go. How? Seemingly nothing has changed.

photo credit: cafelala.blogspot.com

I look for the “next thing” to grab on, or turn, to when I get comfortable. When I’m seemingly in life’s groove, I feel the need to shake it up and move in another direction. Being “comfortable” doesn’t relax me.

I think that being challenged means changing my course, not perfecting my present craft. I’m starting to think that’s a flawed view.

Mae is in school, Robespierre works out of the home with weekly travel, and Haze and I are at home. Well, more than at home; we are downtown, up the street, playing at parks, watching butterflies, learning our letters, and, well, you get the picture. Saying we are “at home” is limiting, but for all practical purposes it’s Haze and I spending the day together, it’s great, buuuuuut, we are thinking about me getting a job, sending Haze to pre-school, and “shaking up” what’s a comfortable/predictable existence.

Why?

I don’t have a clear answer, and I’m not sure what I want to do, if, of course, I’m fortunate enough to get a job offer. What’s difficult for me, aside from thinking about how it would affect Mae, Haze, and Robespierre, is, why do I want to do it, what’ll be the benefits, and is this a matter of wanting to “get good” at something else, rather than perfecting my current craft. What is my craft? Writing? Being a stay at home parent? Thrift store shopper extraordinaire?

As I process this information, and digest Jiro’s life, I realize that when confronted with the discipline aspect of anything that leads to growing deeper, I haven’t had the patience to stick with the plateaus. I’m afraid that deciding to work out of the home again is an attempt to “quick fix” stagnant waters, rather than digging deeper into my writing, understanding the impact I have on Haze, or otherwise making my tuna on rice better than the last one.

My Papa Sense tells me:

I’ll rub my face and stare into space often while pondering our future. I’ll think too hard and consider too much. I understand that this isn’t the weightiest of decisions to have to make on the surface, but it adds to the pile of “who I want to be” that gravity pulls on as we age.

We want our girls to see that we’re ever evolving, that life is about living and discovering all we can to make ourselves better, and improve the quality of life for those around us. I want them to push themselves to levels they may not think they can reach, but be comfortable honing aspects of their lives that fulfill them. We want them to be content being, not always searching.

We don’t know what Jiro is thinking as he molds his meals, but what we see is a look of determined peace in his eyes, I’m guessing he’s not content with his product, but with the process.

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wordless wednesday

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An Ounce of Prevention

I tried to tiptoe around the house while looking for Amelia’s unicorn pillow pet, she can’t sleep without it, but it wasn’t found and I landed back on the merry-go-round. Hazel heard me stomping, I’m not light on my feet, called for me, I paused, and opened the door.

“Yeeees. Goodnight.” I say in-between the quick opening and closing of her door.

“Daddy, wait, daddy, I want to tell you something…” Hazel sleepily beckons from bed, as I try to close the door, again. Hearing this, Amelia creeps out of her room to ask for a cup of water, more snuggle time, wonders if I found “uni”, and inquires how much I love her.

“I’m going for your water, not tonight, not yet, and to the furthest moon. Now, please get into bed. What Hazel?” mutters mechanically out of my mouth as I make my way back to Hazel.

“Daddy, I want to tell you something…” Hazel tries again, this time her eye’s spaced out searching for those moons I told Amelia about.

“Goodnight Hazel, I’ll see you in the morning.” I close the door, hear a few whimpers, and she’s asleep.

I get Amelia her water, we share a long hug, good nights are said, three times, and shortly after I close the door she’s asleep. Or so I think. A half-hour later she pops up at the feet end of our couch, I give a slight chuckle, and whisk her off to bed – for the last time.

It wasn’t “for the last time”. She came out, we hunted for and found “uni”; I knew she couldn’t sleep without him, why didn’t I look harder from the start?

Bedtime with kids can be a dance. They, like adults, need time to unwind, but there are nights that we simply want to tuck them in, have them close their eyes, and sleep. The more we rush them to the Sandman, the more resistance we get, the later they stay up, and greater frustration is felt by everyone.

What’s that adage? “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” True enough Mr. Franklin.

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wordless wednesday.

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Step Back Dad, She’s Got it Covered

Mae, our kindergartener, has split her days getting to school between walking and riding the bus. Yes, with the help of a sweet neighbor girl, she is occasionally taking the bus to school. I’m having a hard time justify it, given the fact that we live 3/4 mile from the school, but it’s another step as she seeks out, and becomes comfortable with, her newfound independence.

It is on these walks to-and-from the bus stop that I pry for a piece of her day, asking and waiting for any tidbit of how kindergarten is treating her. How’s the food? What games do you play? Grasping for a glimpse into her “new” world.

Today, she shared that a few of her schoolmates pulled a book out of her hand when she was reading during quiet time. My instincts to protect her kicked in, I fought them off, wanting to see the situation for what it was, a bunch of goofy 5 year olds learning how to act, and not distorting that picture with images of John Bender grabbing “Goodnight Moon” and ripping out the pages.

After she finished with her story I had to ask, “What did you do?”

“I took my book and kept reading.” Casually flowed back to me as her and sister hand-in-hand crushed rocks and gathered red clay on their new shoes.

“Well, did the teacher see?” Just curious.

“She was at her desk.”

“Do you think you should let her know?” Now, this is where I stopped myself and realized that is not how I want Mae to handle situations, but before I could retract and go another direction she said “That’s not really what I’m into”

“Not really what you’re into?” I could not have been prouder or felt less needed, it was as if she had the situation figured out. She’s decided that she’s not “into” telling the teacher about something that her friends do that slightly annoys her. That’s what they were, friends of hers having 5-year-old fun during reading time. Nothing more.

Step back Dad, she has it covered.

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Big Sisters are Amazing Teachers

This is the picture I saw when I came in the room while Mae, 5, was explaining to Haze, 3, where milk comes from. This one will be kept.

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Ah, it’s something I guess

We sit at day break with our legs crossed and mind’s wondering.

Who will flinch first?

Morning’s dance, setting the tone, of who will hang up and who answers the phone.

Go away.

I don’t want to talk, the words are all stuck, and I’m trying desperately not to say fuck.

Especially to you.

If you’d leave I could get my thoughts where they belong.

Never mind how.

Your ears are younger than my pain

Your mind naive it can’t understand the rain

Clouded thought images, they are mine, only drawn in crayola when I was nine.

Yah, those ones you picked up and discarded, in a single swiping motion like the tail of a horse, my life scrawling reduced to a fly, a heap of memories, my snap shots.

I saw them, you set them on banana peels, after awhile your egg shells and coffee grounds dripped on top.

I wanted to grab and crumple them up, stuff them deep down in my pocket.

I knew I could.

But the next image was already created by your crippled wood emotions.

I knew I was different, they told me that at school.

I played the part to stay out of your way.

Turn around and run?

I stayed to touch your thermo infused hatred, it was the only warmth I knew.

Waiting patiently for your eyes to align and focus to return, you’d see me again without the burn, we wouldn’t tremble when someone reached out, the ringing couldn’t echo over our shouts, we’d answer when they called for us.

Speaking with tall backs and concrete tones.

Together

in the same room

not shivering alone.

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Leaving A Mark

“Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Here we go.”

After that, all I hear is the hum of a simple machine meeting ink and then making it’s way to mark my flesh. That first pin prick piercing my skin is like a mid-morning jump into Lake Michigan on a misty may morning, jarring. Then my endorphins kick in, I consciously decide to relax my body, close my eyes, thoughts wander, waves of pain come and go, and for the next four hours I am alone. Uttering only brief statements like “Yah, I’m good.”

Getting tattooed is fulfilling. From the first idea of what image or words you want, to choosing an artist and a spot on your body, setting a date and time that seems like it will never come, and then the moment arrives and your body is etched with an indelible image. My tattoos have a wide range of meanings, from representations of moments in my life, to lyrics from favorite songs, and pictures that I think look “cool”.

One thing I enjoy about tattoos is that they catch people’s attention – conversation starters. Unlike Mae, who takes every opportunity to share her thoughts, feelings, and ideas with neighbors, family, and people at the post office, I can be reluctant to share “who I am”. I understand that she is a child and fortunately has fewer inhibitions, “Yes, Mae that is a booger on his nose.” but I hope that part of her remains, it’s a quality I admire. She proudly displays her accomplishments, let’s people know how she’s really feeling, and isn’t afraid to express her point of view.

My Protector.

I’ve gone through waves of sharing and holding back in my life. My teens and twenties were marked with periods where I wanted people to know everything about me – quickly. Then my thirties came and I have held back a bit, I became more selective about who I share what with and why. Only making sense of the fact that this is when I got most of my tattoos. Perhaps, I wasn’t sure how to express who I was through conversation anymore so I decorated my body with parts of me that I want people to see and ask about. A thought, feelings, interpretations, likes, and dislikes all rising to the surface of my flesh for the world to see.

My Papa Sense tells me:

Our daughters may not tattoo their bodies. Each of us expresses ourselves differently. As long as Mae and Haze are comfortable with who they are and what they stand for, it is only important to us that they share themselves with others, how they do that is up to them. I hope Mae continues to feel confident enough to outwardly express her views with words. I hope that if Haze is shy, it may just be a three-year-old phase, but if she is, I hope that she finds art, writing, or any other way to show the world that she is a conscious participant and has a voice.

It isn’t always easy, especially while getting to know people later in life, to know where to start. I have slowed down and I am learning to let people get to know me gradually – understanding that relationships are a process of growing, not a race to understanding. But, I am glad that I have a few conversation starters up my sleeve to give me a jump-off point when I can’t find the words.

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Getting Ready to Be Ready Gets in the Way.

I write a column, “Dad’s View”, for our weekly local newspaper “The Madison Record”. Every Tuesday I will post here what ran the previous Saturday. Spankin’ new posts on Thursdays.

Getting Ready to Be Ready Gets in the Way

It was Sunday night and we were busy laying Mae’s clothes out for the week. I know, a weeks worth of clothes resting on the top of her wooden easel waiting to fall to the floor with the slightest bump, to then be perceived as dirty, picked up, thrown in the hamper during my manic cleaning-sprint around the house, and washed again – it seems ridiculous and self-defeating.

But, we are trying to stay on top, be prepared, and think that we are one step ahead of tomorrow. Lunches packed and labeled the night before, notes tacked to the cork board with a myriad of colors highlighting their importance, and mentally washing Friday nights dinner dishes on Tuesday.

It’s all happening. Head-spinning-thought-bouncing-breath-quickening-anxiety-flying planning.

And, planning is necessary. Preparing today for what you may encounter tomorrow is something that I have always taken seriously. But how much is too much? If the lunch that was prepared on Monday for Wednesday is taken on Tuesday and Thursday’s lunch was going to be Wednesday’s left-overs, who is eating what when, and can you imagine what the refrigerator looks like.

Adjusting to a new schedule brings out the “best” in all of us. It appears that when faced with change, we either become withdrawn, over-compensate, or are lucky enough to have a personality that allows us to “roll with the punches”. I react the first two ways, and thankfully my wife is one of those “roll with the punches” types of people.

There is a middle ground in all of this, a place where no one is scrambling (at least daily) yet needs are taken care of. It is my hope that as we progress through the school year we will understand what is important NOW, and what can wait until tomorrow. If we don’t change, I fear that all of our running around and planning will foggy our vision of what is happening at any given moment. I fear that we may lose sight of enjoying a time in our lives that demands attention and absorption. A time we will never have back.

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She Can Vote, and I Can’t?

“Really? She can vote and I can’t? Here’s my license with my address. It’s the same as hers.” I was impatient and not too excited to have to speak to the woman behind the woman checking in registered voters.

“Sorry sir you will have to register.” She said somewhat sympathetically while my lips pursed and eyes cursed.

“Sooo, can I vote today?”

“Um, no.”

“Seriously, this is ridiculous.” my face fully flexed as Robespierre finished up and filed the girls outside.

“Do you want to take it home and mail it in. I mean with the girls and all.” Danced kindly from a strangers lips to my fireball ears.

“No, I’ll explain to them why this is absolutely ridiculous.” chopped out of my mouth as I scribble-wrote my information.

This is not a political statement; I am not going to argue the merits of same day voter registration.

No, that was not the only thing that was “absolutely ridiculous”. What was ridiculous was the fact that I didn’t listen to Robespierre when she wondered why I didn’t have the same registration card that she did. I was upset that I couldn’t vote, and felt that it was absurd that people can’t register on the same day they vote. But, it infuriated me that I didn’t know the laws. I was ignorant to what I should have had knowledge of.

She Can Vote, and I Can’t

Yes, I was disappointed with myself, and I showed my discontent for the “man” the “system” because they weren’t allowing me to do something I wanted to do, but I didn’t know what I should have done. I pride myself on having the “old” ducks in a row, and now they were helter-skelter dashing everywhere.

I finished up the paperwork, took a breath, looked at the woman behind the desk dashing and ditting on her Ipad, smiled, and apologized for taking out my anger out on her. I then found the other woman, who was a bit more suspicious and put-off by my display of displeasure, and apologized to her. They both smiled. I left.

My Papa Sense tells me:

I want our daughters to be accountable, and understand the rules and laws that govern our society, schools, and homes. No matter what we may think of those rules, it is our responsibility to work within them, or intelligently argue to have them changed. It does no good to display anger at those who are simply “carrying out orders”, we need to reach to the people who can change what we may view as “ridiculous”, and plead our case. We can do this at the ballot box, after we register.

*There is obviously a discussion to be had regarding people who have “carried out orders” in history, but for the sake of this post, the women who I encountered were not directly tied to what I viewed as nonsensical.

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Sounds. Sometimes, lots of times, I need to close my mouth.

We sat down at the kitchen table for lunch as we do everyday, well, most days. There are times when I take advantage of food’s ability to stop all conversations and abuse its power to solely connect with a human for 20 minutes while they feed their face; on occasion I intentionally skip snack to ensure we all sink into solitude. Or, I give Haze and Mae applesauce and cottage cheese with the understanding that they will mix the two; giving me at least another five minutes to, yah, you know, check Facebook.

Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy eating together and the conversations that take place around our dinner table will only get better as the kids age. Starting the understanding now, that meals are gathering times for the family, is important for us, but lunch is one of those in-betweens that I am less bent on making a “moment”, leaving it as more of a pit stop in the day.

It was today, that while we sat in our ever-changing spots at the table, I looked over and noticed a mole on Haze’s shoulder. It reminded me of Robespierre (who I think enjoys her “blog” name a little too much), I stared with no real thoughts going through my head, just observing a single indelible dot where someday a suit jacket may dart. I looked up again, with a glazed over gleam and gazed at Mae with half opened eyes (doing some serious thinking), I was stopped by the part in her hair, a pony tail that she put in “all by myself dad”, and wondered who’s ears she heard through. (If you haven’t made it a regular practice, stare at only your ears in the mirror for a few moments.) I broke the jaw grinding silence with a goofed-out face and noise, compelled to remind them I was there.

“As I was saying”

I talk to our kids a lot. If not calling for supper, I’m explaining the art of wiping, asking for the little screwdriver to get to a battery hole, pleading for “things” to “please” stop, sharing my view of Seuss, expressing my insane love, or gasping in grunted growls after pulling the wagon up the street.

Communication is imperative, it goes without saying, but sometimes I need to close my mouth. I get tired of hearing myself speak, so, I can only imagine what they feel on those days when maybe they didn’t sleep well, or just aren’t in the mood to be around people.

Closing my mouth is fine, and I have discovered the beauty of silence as I’ve aged, but as a parent, I struggle with what I should curb out of their daily diet of daddy’s diatribes. If I think something – I have the desire to share it, if I know something – I want to explain it, and if I have a question – I want to ask it. I must stop taking every opportunity to speak, or risk our daughters will stop listening.

My Papa Sense tells me:

Our kids know and learn through more methods than listening. Perhaps, it’s not what I need to cut out of my verbal communication, but what I need to model and show in different ways. Maybe I have to let them ask the questions before explaining the theory, and have them approach me with an issue before jumping in to be referee.

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One year ago today.

I wrote the following post one year ago today on my other blog “idiosyncratic wind”.  I will have new, fresh, and super awesome  material Thursday.  For now, enjoy the long-winded musings of a year ago.

a new picture for an old post

The other day I was in my office while the girls were playing in their playroom. By the way, what makes this room I am in an office? Is it the computer? Or the fact that saying I’m “in my office” sounds more professional than saying I’m “in my re-created dorm room”. Really, that is what it is – lava lamp and all.

Mae and Haze were playing ice-cream truck, and I knew something was coming; they were getting along too well, laughing a bit too much, and sharing everything – it was a matter of time. Sure enough, Growl. Wrestling. Crying.

“Mae, What is going on?” poor Mae, she can talk, Haze can’t, she gets all the questions and the lions share of the blame.

“I, well, I…she was taking my purse”

“and what di…” she jumped on my “…d you do” – it has been asked enough.

“Well, she took my purse and I got it back.”

“Did you hit her?” (What a dance this is, huh.)

“Yah, but only cause she was growling at me”.

“Go take a break” and then I turn to Haze “Are you okay sweetie?”. I laugh so hard while I write this. I’m sure over my shoulder Haze gives a bit of a grin through the tears at Mae as she makes her way to her room – turning back to me with her lower lip quivering. I’ll work on this…

We get out at least once a day, and much to the chagrin of my minivan passengers (all eleven when you count hippo, Destiny, and Shadow – riding shot-gun – Haze and Mae in the middle – and doll 1, doll 2, Jack the bear, Oscar, bunny and some other brown bear with a name in the far back. I’m sure there are some stragglers that Mae hasn’t taken the time to belt in safely) about 75% of the time we are going somewhere during the day I listen to talk radio. I span the dial without one “voice” specifically engaging my thoughts: NPR, ESPN, local left and right, and national left and right – is there a middle anymore? Anymore? Talk radio seems to calm my passengers and offer me the opportunity to hear an adult voice with an adult point of view during the day – not that they make any more sense than Mae, Haze, and the goofy kid at the children’s museum that brings me fake food, but I can drift off in thoughts that someone outside my immediate sphere has created. I do like to listen to hosts who run contrary to my view of the world. I enjoy getting worked up and talking to someone who can’t hear me. “What’s that daddy? What does it mean to “live in reality”” she’s listening again? “Oh nothing Mae, just talking to the guy on the radio.” “But he can’t hear you. That’s pretty weird dad” “I know.” she used to say the same thing when I would talk to other drivers – I don’t do that as much anymore.

Yesterday we went to the children’s museum downtown. Our first stop was “the spring”, where we fed the geese, pigeons, ducks and fish our left over breakfast sausage (mmm), learned to say “get, get, get” to the approaching birds (h. was darn good at this), and sweat our brains out on a “nice” walk that ended at the museum. While at the museum I filled up on plastic potatoes, eggs, and corn, Mae and Haze played with other kids, and we fished for squid on the riverboat.

On our way home “we” were listening to ESPN radio. The show was “the herd” with Colin Cowherd. He generally has an interesting slant on sports, people love or don’t like him, and he, self-proclaiming (not a word but it works) gets to the heart of the matter and doesn’t spend too much time dinking around. He was talking about instant replay in baseball. Not a new topic by any means. He believed, or was saying he believed, that we should get over the “human error is necessary to the sport” way of thinking and embrace technology. Part of his rational was the fact that people pay incredible amounts of money to see the game (he shared that his friend with three kids and a wife paid $500 to see the red sox play the royals – $67 for tickets x5, $40 for parking and $100 for food. ouch.), and that the outcome should be correct – he claims they owe it to the fans to get it right.

As far as I am concerned he couldn’t be further from reality. People watch sports because it stirs us with emotion. We live and die by our team’s performance. We also live and die by the calls that the umps, refs, and other officials make. We love heckling a ump after a bad call, we love to argue with other fans about bad/good calls, we love to claim that the only reason we lost was because “the ump had his head in his rear” – we enjoy feeling that we have a say in the game. If you take that away, and get closer to perfection, you take away a large chunk of sports fans emotional release – the reason we go to games, concerts and movies – to escape. If our escape resembles the perfection that is asked of us at our jobs, by our children, or other avenues where admitting weakness is forbade – what do we have? It takes away our ability to argue, complain, and shout – and sometimes laugh in a setting where it is acceptable. Yes, we can still do those things at games when our team over/under performs, but there is something about releasing your aggression on a third seemingly helpless party. It couldn’t have been my team that lost or was beat by “those” guys – it was the umps.

This style of thinking creeps into many areas of our lives. Listen to the radio, read opinion columns in the paper, or eavesdrop at the supermarket. Couldn’t have been my kid or my parenting – must have been the teachers, couldn’t be my lack of performance – my boss is a jerk, couldn’t have been the fact I didn’t check my blind spot – stupid car. That’s my favorite – blaming inanimate objects. We have all done it. Stub your toe on a chair “stupid chair” and kick it for good measure.

Blame. We used to refer to it at school as the “blame game”. We would teach the kids to look at themselves, their role in a situation, and what they can change rather than blaming someone else for what happened. A great concept. One I agree with. We can lose far too much time looking to whom we can blame for our situations.

But, you know what? Sometimes there is someone to blame and they shouldn’t get away with what they have been/are doing because we are too afraid to look like “complainers”. “Toughen up” they say. “Go get your own if you want it”, but how can I when you are holding all the pieces – and not just the pieces but the game board, box and receipt to take it back.

Damn. It is okay to say “You know what – you. You are to blame for this situation” whatever it is. Don’t get lost in the blame, but make sure that we all know whom it is. If I were the government I would be lobbying like hell to keep instant replay out of baseball. People need that release. An appropriate third-party in a mask to unleash our frustrations on. I believe that we need to accept our role in situations and decide how “we” are going to proceed, but we need to get together as humans and decide what we are really arguing about. What has really created this divide in the nation (right/left) or the divide in the world (religion)? These seem to be the avenues that “they” have left us to decide who our team is. “They” are the umps and claim that every call is perfect – for their fans. “They” have instant replay, but don’t slow it down for us. “They” re-write reality and expect that, as fans, our undying allegiance staves off questions. Wait. “We” are “they”.

What are we doing? I don’t live in the clouds or claim to not play into sides, but I get frustrated that people have limited themselves to the color of a jersey. Time we start heckling the refs a bit more. Don’t give them the ability to look at a replay and be “perfect” – let’s hold us to our initial call, examine the reason for the call, and make changes if necessary. I am certain that this would evoke more confidence in people. We would all be, well, fallible – perhaps we could then be more understanding. It appears when we are able to expose our weaknesses – we can grow. We wouldn’t expose our weaknesses if we didn’t understand that there was a greater “thing” we could become.

…After 3 minutes, and Haze having calmed down, I let Mae out of her room. I asked them to hug and make up. Mae Said “sorry”, Haze said “sorry”, Mae explained to Haze that she doesn’t have to be sorry, and I stepped in to tell them to get ready for nap. They both looked at me. I should have been wearing my black and white shirt.

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