Mondays at the Bus Stop

I decided to take 15 minutes out of my work-at-home schedule to walk with my daughter to the corner where the school bus stops for our neighborhood kids… just to soak up the scene as they started their day. What I got was a nice dose of Monday smiles, jokes, and optimism for the day ahead, not what adults tend to dwell on with the beginning of a work week. My favorite little-person opinion was: 

Do you know why I like Mondays? Because I wake up and my hair is curly, I get to have P.E., my homework is easy, it’s sunny, and we get to have family home evening tonight with all the family. I like that.

10 Thanksgiving Discomforts Worth Keeping

Thanksgiving is a tradition I don’t want to change much at all over time. It’s simple. It’s sweet. It brings family and friends together to appreciate blessings and catch up on each other’s lives. I remember as a kid the ride to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s home to share this dinner and social time with relatives. I remember graduating to sit at the big-kid table. Such a mark of maturity, that table.

These are the memories and feelings – awkward and wonderful – that I think my kids should get to have too. It’s only fair. And it’s part of Thanksgiving culture that I think should never change. Just try and see if you can go without these uncomfortable aspects to a great traditional holiday:

  1. Uncles bugging their nieces and nephews about dating and growing pains
  2. Striking up conversation with cousins not seen for a long while
  3. Being judged based on your dark-versus-white turkey meat preference
  4. Taste-testing someone else’s dish that you are pretty sure won’t be quite what you’re used to
  5. Loading your plate with a good variety, yet not appear to be overdoing it
  6. Indecision with so many different flavored pies
  7. Fighting off after-dinner drowsiness
  8. Watching girls tackle boys in a cold-weather family Turkey Bowl football game
  9. Suddenly realizing that burning-lung feeling after jogging 30 yards in a cold-weather Turkey Bowl football game
  10. Days later, rediscovering joints you forgot you had because of a cold-weather Turkey Bowl football game

Yes, as uncomfortable as these things might be, they’re essential ingredients of a great traditional holiday for dads and kids. As important as pumpkin pie itself!

What’s your essential, uncomfortable Thanksgiving-with-the-family tradition?

I Can’t Hear Myself Eat

Noise around the dinner table is pretty common in my home. Often I hear my own mother’s voice in my head as I ask repeatedly for my kids to chew with their mouths closed. Mom used to ask the same of me and my five sibblings. Repeatedly. So I guess I’m just getting paybacks.

I suppose it can be seen as a compliment to the chef in our home. Every now and then the food offering is so good that little animals attack. They devour with determination, looking up only occasionally to challenge each other for what remains as second helpings. They smack. They slurp. They burp. They spill. They ignore the spills. They ignore the arms reaching across their plates as neighboring animals draw more food offerings close to hand. Sometimes forks lose their helpings and stab those wayward arms. Then they grumble. Or grunt. Or simply stare at the arm until it moves away. Then they shovel some more. And slurp. And burp.

Sometimes I calmly stare down the little animals until they notice and I gently remind them to mind their manners. We really need to learn to be more civilized or we’ll never manage in a public reastaurant.

Other times I just stare at my plate until the little arms move out of the way. Or give them a little jab of encouragement with my fork, followed by a grunt and grumble of my own.

Slime, Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails

What My Boys Are About

Smores and snails

Melted marshmallow on chocolate and the sensation of snails leaving slime trails and droppings on the hand are some of the best reasons boys love the outdoors.

My wife sent me a picture from her cell phone to mine a week ago. When it opened I had to laugh. Seeing five snails crawling on Zach’s hand … well, what’s the first thought that comes to your mind? That’s just what came to mine: “Typical boy.” Accompanied of course with a smile.

When I got home later that day, Allyson asked me what I thought of the picture. “It’s great,” I said. “That’s my boy.” Curiousity brings some excitement to a growing kid’s life.

“Did you look closely?” she asked. “What else do you see on his hand?”

I cocked my head slightly. “Uh, I don’t know,” I said, opening up the message again. “Looks like snails, slime, and little trails of dirt.”

“That’s not dirt. It’s poop. They pooped all over his hand and he just stood there,” Allyson said, visibly shuddering. “So gross!”

Me, I smiled again, even broader than before. Yup, that’s my boy.

There’s something there. Something to make a dad relive for a moment the same curiosity he had discovering what made living creatures live, move, slime, and leave gross things behind. Made me wish I was there to have a few crawl on me too. That’s a kind of slime that’s good for guys to have every now and then.

Why I Blog About Fatherhood

Okay, I’ll admit it. I just turned 40 years old this year. Those of you in my age range and older will know there are two facts of nature now playing heavily on my mind: grey hair and losing things.

The grey hair I don’t mind so much. It’s the misgivings of things I’m missing that worry me, particularly when it comes to my family. Kids just don’t stop growing and time just doesn’t stand still to let me live longer in great moments with them. I realize that I have to afford myself time to ponder and appreciate what I have while it’s here and on my mind… or it can slip away and may lose its meaning.

So, since the clock’s not going to go backwards, I figured I better force myself to put to words what I’m learning as I go through fatherhood. Hopefully you as readers can relate with some of this and contribute thoughts of your own. I invite you to do just that – submit comments and memories of your own to keep the conversation going. Discovering fatherhood is something this world could use more of, don’t you think?

Presence More Than Presents

As one might guess, sociology studies find evidence to support the importance of fathers in their children’s lives.

One report has some points worth noting:

  • Regarding the quality of relationships between nonresidential fathers and their children: the closer the father-child relationship — not just the amount of visitation — the better children were doing.
  • Regarding stepparent-stepchild relationships: many stepfathers can establish a close relationship with their stepchildren, and when they can do so, it can be beneficial for children.

* Penn State (2007, June 12). Fathers Have Great Impact On Their Children’s Lives, Even When Not At Home. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2007/06/070612143301.htm

Pumpkin Hunting

One Tradition Worth Keeping

hunting for pumpkins at Stocking Farm

Autumn is always good to me. Cool, crisp air. Harvest scents. Canning for the winter. It all reminds me of life on the farm, the great sport of high school football, and three months coming with great holidays and feasting. That feasting begins with pumpkins and Halloween candy. And annual rituals like picking through a pumpkin patch do much more for my spirits than sorting through grocery store bins. How else can you picture exactly what faces belong to each shaped gourd?

Despite much anticipation for this annual tradition, I nearly missed it this year, due to work and other obligations. But when it came time for everyone to get into the car and go, I had decided it was family time and the other things would just have to wait. I’m glad I made that choice.

We timed our outing to coincide with Snohomish County’s farm festival, which offered much more fun than just picking pumpkins. Oh yes. We got to enjoy smelly cattle stalls and milking bays, cold hay rides, horses, barn rope swings, and newborn calves. Watching my kids wrinkle their noses, yet and “ooh” and “ahh” at the sight of wobbly day-old calves, was one delight. While another was simply letting the sights, sounds, and smells of dry milk formula and feed grain bring back memories of caring for animals quite some time ago.

What a different place in my life was that simple time on the farm. We had chores and responsibility, animals needing our care. Day in, day out, it was a way of life my parents chose for us, and a good way for us to be raised.

There I was, surrounded again by the sensations of the farm, taking me back. I thought of a saying: “You can take a boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.”

And then I thought, “It’s a good thing I chose to make time again this year for pumpkin picking with my family.”

Close Calls

Four millimeters saved a girl’s life this week. That and clear-headed thinking and courageous actions by friends and trained professionals responding to her needs. The knife pierced her neck and torso, reaching her heart just shy of certain death.

How this kind of thing could happen to a 14-year-old at a nearby high school was bound to be a discussion between parents and children later that day. And as I watched my oldest three daughters surround our family computer reading the story, I thought, “It could have been Hannah; she’s in high school. It could’ve been Bailey or Kyra in middle school.”

How do families deal with these troubling thoughts? What of the students that experienced it firsthand? Are they angry? Are they forgiving? What of the hundreds of other students? How do they reason out why they could escape the close call, the graphic scene, and the troubling aftermath, simply by not being at the wrong place at the wrong time? Do the students that came to aid the victims relive the experience? And how are parents (of the victims, the rescuers, and the alleged attacker) coping with their thoughts?

Every day this week I’ve learned a little more of the story about the girls that were assaulted in their high school bathroom and narrowly escaped death. I can’t help but replay the events in my head wondering what families do to regroup, pray, comfort, and just be there for each other. How troubling it is to stop and see that tragedy could happen anywhere – inner cities and rural towns alike. Small scale or large.

Yet I know that miraculous recoveries also take place.

I’m blessed to be married to a survivor of Cokeville, Wyoming – May 16, 1986. My wife, Allyson, along with two of her siblings and the rest of the elementary school were taken hostage by a crazed man and his wife. With assault rifles and a shopping cart full of explosives and gasoline, their plan was either to make millions of dollars ransoming the entire school of children and administrators in the small town or to “save” them all from an evil world by blowing them to heaven (ironic). In the end, he and his wife were the only two to die after the explosives were accidentally triggered. The room full of people was set afire, but the hostages were all able to escape, protected somehow from a blast that ascended straight up into the ceiling rather than directly out into the crowd. My wife has told me of her feelings being dropped by a teacher from a classroom window as smoke billowed out, ducking and running for safety towards police cars and panic-stricken parents waiting across the lawn. Bullets exploded repeatedly from the fire, so, to her, that meant the crazy man was shooting to pick them off as they ran away. She zig-zagged as she ran for cover, stopping to rest down the street, then taking her brother and sister to a neighbor’s garden faucet to hose off her sister’s burned arm. Her mother, like all other parents, searched desperately to find them for some time in the melee.

In my mind I’ve replayed my wife’s experience and that of the helpless parents during and after the event. What did her dad think far off on the dairy farm when he heard what had happened? What extreme fear and then flood of relief did my mother-in-law go through? How did children recover as the apparent danger was extinguished and shock subsided? I can’t help but wonder and thank God they were protected. Otherwise, my family wouldn’t be the same.

When traumatic events occur without cause and reason, so many can be affected and in countless ways. Especially when great loss is the outcome. Yet loving parents, children, and townspeople can come through closer than they were before.

Which is what I hope is happening to Snohomish.

The Inconvenience Didn’t Matter

Years ago when my wife and I were newly married poor college students, I did a stupid thing.

Her sister was getting married in Portland, Oregon, and we were scraping by with a 15’x20′ studio apartment and minimum-wage jobs a thousand miles away. Together we saved enough money to get cheap flights to attend the wedding. Saving to fly was a better choice than driving since we didn’t own a vehicle we could trust to go longer than 100 miles one way. I made my great mistake right before the wedding ceremony. Cleaning out the trash from our luggage, I threw our return-flight ticket stubs into the wastebasket with other paper. This was before the days of electronic ticketing and the convenience of printing/reprinting tickets. And well before apps on a mobile device could save my bacon.

The realization of what I had done didn’t hit me until we were at the wedding reception. The happy couple was smiling and dancing in the center of attention, but I was sitting at a table, racking my brain on where I could have put the tickets when I packed our things for the flight home. I broke the news to my wife sitting at the table with me. Classes were starting again for us in less than 48 hours, and we were stuck in Portland.

Our conversation centered on what few options we could find. “How much would it take to get new tickets?” Allyson asked. “More than we can afford” was my reply. “Did you call the hotel about trash collection? Maybe the tickets can still be found,” she suggested. “I suppose it’s worth a try,” I replied. But my call to the hotel manager turned up no positive results.

It was then that my dad did something that still amazes me. (Yet, it shouldn’t.) “How about if I drive you two back to school?” he asked. “Your mom and I have already talked it over. We want to help.”

He and my mom had been sitting across the table from us as we discussed our few options. I sat there stunned. How could he do that? There were so many reasons why he shouldn’t. He had obligations on the farm. Their home was a hundred miles off our direct course back to college. The thousands of miles would tax him physically. All to make up for my stupidity?

No way, I thought. It was my mistake and I was going to pay for it. I was responsible for the situation and how to make it right. But I had no other options. We gave in, offering to pay for the entire amount of gas required for the round trip. He made us settle for owing him for half the cost.

When we arrived at our home 15 hours later, all we could offer him was a scanty meal and a night’s sleep on our couch. He only slept a few hours, then said he’d feel better getting home sooner. So back to the car he went for another 11 hours on the road.

We thanked and hugged him, and we’ve thanked him more times since then. That’s about all we can do. His love and effort to help us are worth more because we can’t really pay him back completely. He tells us he was glad to do it. And knowing my dad, I know he’s right about that. I just wish I hadn’t inconvenienced him and my mom so much. But I wouldn’t trade the memory of how my dad showed he truly loves helping his kids.

Daddy-Daughter Photo Shoot

Making a Star

Josie's 8-yr-old photo collage

A 30-minute photo shoot brought out my daughter's fun personality for both of us to enjoy.

My father used to have daddy-daughter dates with my sisters, treating them to a night out of fun. I’ve tried this myself from time to time.

You’d think with four daughters of my own that this should be a frequent occurrence. But, as usual, in my schedule I need to make time for these things or plenty of other events can push aside opportunities for one-on-one time. Meanwhile, I struggle to come up with activities that my teenage girls would think are cool and entertaining at their level, not mine. Not so with an inquisitive eight year old. Just about anything dad thinks would be fun is worth her time as well.

I was especially pleased last month when Josie turned eight and I happened upon an idea to just grab a camera and give her time in the spotlight. I gave her a day’s notice so she (and her mom) could get her ready for the photo shoot with just the right dress and hairdo. But in the waning twilight just after I finished work we jetted off to the local park and got as many shots in as we could. I gave a few ideas of poses here, and better backdrops there, and then she pretty well took the rest in hand. She had a way of tilting her chin down and looking through her long eyelashes at the camera (which frankly has me worried about what magic she’ll work at dating age), so I just kept calling for her to look up and to show what teeth she has left. (A month later and we still don’t know when those front ones will plan on arriving.) To me, it was hilarious and memorable.

So there you have it – a simple and fulfilling daddy-daughter date idea. So long as she thinks it’s cool.