Category Archives: Uncategorized

Where in the World Have I Been?

earth

I know, I know. Start a blog. Get all enthusiastic about it. Make a list of goals to write so many entries a week. And then nothing. Nothing. Not even a blurb about, “Hey, I’m gonna be gone for awhile”. Just gone.

I tend to be a person that is present with whomever I am with. If you are one of my friends and you happen to live near me, then we are the best of friends. You come over for dinner all the time, we sit together at church, we see each other on holidays. But, if you are one of my friends from a long time ago and we no longer live near each other, then I doubt you are reading this because we haven’t talked in, like, ten years.

Since school ended I have not been in front of the computer with any regularity and have therefore neglected the friendship I had with Writing. She and I used to hang out during the day and banter about this or that funny and ironic thing. We would discuss the complexities and inconsistencies of our lives and how best to express them in sentences. We were funny and inspiring and on the whole pretty good for each other. Until… I left. I left to travel for awhile and seek adventure and Writing has been quietly punishing me with guilt and a pile of observations that I should be recording.

At the end of April my wife and I decided to take Maya to England as a last homeschooling hurrah. We visited London for three days and then spent the rest of our time in Oxford with my wife’s sister and her husband. We had a fabulous time and I was impressed with how much of history Maya had retained from our two years together at home. If you have never been, you must absolutely try to go to the British Library where they keep on permanent display some of the greatest treasures of human history. Maya stood face to face with the Magna Carta, Leonardo Da Vinci’s personal journals, Galileo’s letters to home about his impending trial, the Guttenberg Bible, and dozens of incredible artifacts from the greatest people and events in the world. It was amazing and Maya was impressed. Oxford made for a more relaxed England experience as we took our time walking around the college town and Blenheim Castle. It was all quite fabulous and it never rained, a near miracle in England.

Once we returned and finished school we were off to Destin, Florida for my wife’s parents 50th anniversary. The whole family was together for the first time in years and we spent a week at the beach. We returned from Florida and my dad came to visit three days after. We spent a weekend on our sailboat with amazing weather and a lot of wind. My dad taught me to sail as a child and now it was my turn to return the favor to him.

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Yes, I know. Bastards. Why do you get to travel and sail. I have no answer to that other than we may find ourselves working for Walmart in our Golden Years.

As for the sailing part of our life that is a subject I have not taken up on this blog although you will find a few scant entries on birdsforsail.wordpress.com.  We live in the middle of the United States. Kansas. It is not the most obvious place you could imagine a family dreaming of casting off into the great unknown, or rather, known, as it is these days. Unless the global warming predictions are way off, we don’t plan to live by an ocean any time soon. But we do dream from time to time, and we have found quite a large lake nearby from which to dream on, and so we have and do dream of a different life. I don’t know where this dream of sailing away will take us, but it will take us somewhere we have never been, and that is enough to add adventure to our life.

And so… here we are. Or more succinctly, here I am. I am back with Writing. She is ever present like air, but not always at the forefront of my mind. I hope that will change, and soon.

Steve

The ED Challenge

ed challenge

Jeannine over at Highchairs and Headaches recently posted that she had been suffering from the whole mommy guilt thing. She came up with ten funny reasons why she rocks as a mom and I hope they had the intended effect of reminding her of how hard she works. Well being a dude, I don’t suffer from mommy guilt. I do suffer from ED, or environmental dystopia, which is a term I just made up. It describes the feeling that I am in a place that is not functioning properly or a place that I clearly am not welcome. This could describe my house on some days, the park on other days, or taking three children grocery shopping. Being a stay at home father is not the most common occupation in these parts of the woods, and many people look at me with a sidewise glance when I am out and about. And in times like those I need to remember why I chose to stay home with my kids instead of work a job like every other single man on the planet (or maybe it just feels like that sometimes). So here are my ten reasons:

  1. I actually enjoy it.  Contrary to what my face may be expressing on certain occasions, I do enjoy being home with my kids. I love to watch them play and make up games and jump on the trampoline. Their energy and laughter remind me that life is for the living so let’s go live it. I can’t tell you how many people, both men and women, but mostly men, have come up to me and told me how they don’t know how I do it. Really? Is staying home with your kids that much harder than being stuck with your co-workers all day? I don’t think so.
  2. I make fresh bread.  I’m not exactly sure how this relates to staying home with my kids, but I think it’s part of what makes me rock as a husband and dad so I will just throw it out there. I make French bread, bagels, sandwich bread, pancakes, and a host of other freshly baked goodies just for fun. And my kids love it. They clap and smile and giggle when I throw a hot loaf of French bread on the table as a side to dinner. A little butter and salt and a glass of wine and life doesn’t get much better.
  3. I play games with my kids. Ya, I don’t really like to play games. But I do, over and over again. Did you know that if you simply turn the pile of Candyland cards over when you are finished that you will get exactly the same outcome? I do. If you are the first one the get past squares 48 and 49 on Chutes and Ladders, you will most likely win. I lose at all the memory games, I think. And I don’t even try at twister any more. Still, I play on.
  4. I raised all three of my children from infancy. I didn’t become a stay at home dad because I got laid off or was in between jobs. My wife and I chose to have me stay home. I have for the past 11 years done the daily work of keeping the family life thriving and organized, as much as those two things can coexist. Obviously, I didn’t personally breast feed my kids, but I did watch. I am hoping because I am her husband that doesn’t creep anybody out because we all know breast feeding boobs are amazing. Aside from that, I have done it all.
  5. I cook all the meals. I like to cook, I’ll admit. I cook almost every night of the year and often for friends we have over. I read the most recent recipes, shop for the ingredients, experiment with new types of food, visit the farmers markets, buy cheese online–the whole thing. And I never tire of it. It’s like sex, but with food. And if I didn’t stay home, there is no way I would have the time to cook like I do. My kids eat food from all over the world because I bring it into the house. They are versed in curries and spices and flavors and textures from every culture worth cooking.
  6. I clean the whole house. Yes, the whole house. My wife likes to do the large projects like Spring cleaning the closets, but I do the day to day everyday. The kids will pick up their rooms and put their clothes away, but the cleaning part I shoulder on my own. Like cooking, this may not seem to directly relate to my ED problem, but for me it is a part of the whole attempt to care for them. I don’t think children thrive in chronic disorder so I try to keep it to a minimum so they have the time and place to be kids.
  7. For a man, I’m pretty damn patient. Small children require a lot of patience because they are often really annoying. Sometimes I get too angry, sometimes I  have a glass of wine, but mostly I just grin and bare it. When they were younger I was never alone. I cooked dinner while they sat next to me in a highchair, they unfolded all the laundry I had just put away, and they were constantly at my feet in the bathroom (yes, I sat down all the time). Now they still want my attention, just in different ways. How far can they test the rules, how they attempt to talk themselves out of a punishment, and how they can try to use their parents against each other for their own personal betterments are just some of my personal favorites right now. I am aware that I am not their mom meaning that I know I am not a woman. The genders tend to deal with problems in different ways so I try to lend a softer touch to issues I feel like smashing. I don’t, and never have, for the record, smashed anything. Patience.
  8. I love my wife. I really do.  I think in the whole parenting thing it is easy to lose sight of the one thing that made us parents in the first place. My wife and I have been married for over twenty years. Yes, twenty years! That’s a damn long time. And while not all of it has been smooth, we have done everything in an attempt to love each other and the family we have created. Our kids see that and know that we love each other, and more than anything else, besides the fresh bread, it is our relationship that will guide them into adulthood.
  9. I love my children.  I’m kind of embarrassed that it took me this long to say this outright. Maybe I thought it was assumed the whole time but, sheesh, number 9 on the list? Well, I do and I think they are some of the coolest people on the planet.
  10. I am a stay at home dad.  I know at this point this may seem obvious so why say it, but it’s not easy doing something counter to the general culture. When you first meet someone new, the inevitable question is: So, what do you do for a living? When I tell other men that I am a stay at home dad, if the crickets weren’t chirping there would be a literal silence. They just don’t get it. Women think it’s fascinating, and I appreciate that, but it is so because it is unusual. It takes some guts to do something unusual.

So there it is. My ten things. I feel better already and think my ED may be clearing up.

Her is Going to Love This!

sock monkey

I like to, as much as I can, let my kids choose for themselves. I feel like my job as a parent is to provide a boundary for those choices, a predetermined set of things that they can pick from to give them the sense, and hopefully eventually the discipline, of choosing their own life and having a say in their own destiny.

Now, if my kids were to read this, I think they would call bullshit on this. But since only two of the three know how to read, two don’t know my password (I think), and I don’t allow them to cuss, I don’t think they’re going to have that opportunity. I’m sure they experience my parenting as a relentless attempt to do the exact opposite of what I just so nobly described because I am constantly and persistently involved in their lives, but that is my job as a parent isn’t it? And, sometimes I just get bored and I like to mess with them. Still, overall, I think it’s for their betterment.

My kids need boundaries as much as I do. I mean, if I didn’t have any boundaries, I would be a drunk, 300lb, clown who makes balloon animals. Yes, I know that is weird, but I am simply trying to make the point that I would be a mess without boundaries. As it is, I am proud to announce I am not 300lbs so I do have some restraint. My children, on the other hand, without restraint would be booger eating, feet stomping, screaming, dirty, little Wal-Mart bastards. I must draw the line somewhere so I refuse to let them eat their boogers. Pick all you like but the minute it goes into your mouth, beware because my vomit is close behind.

I say all of this simply as a preface to say that I allowed my youngest child to pick out a present for his Mother with as little coaching as possible from me. I wanted to see what was actually in his little heart. What would he pick out, looking through his five year old eyes and without interference, for his Mom? I took him to Target to find out.

We walked in the store and immediately he went for the dollar section. Now I’m not against a bargain basement gift for my wife, but she is, so I quickly steered him away from the cheap lotion and scrubby sponges. We walked towards the clothing section and he started to suggest a few clothing items that Mom might like: a sexy nighty (I hope he suggested that item because it was pretty, not because he was unknowingly awake), a SpongeBob tee-shirt, and bright pink shorts. Referring to my comments above, I started to limit his choices.

Naturally we moved over to the toy section. “Would Mom like this?”, he asked, holding up a Barbie doll. I am sure that one of the reasons I married my wife was because I intuited that she had never ever in her life liked Barbie. “I don’t think Mom likes dolls anymore”, was my gentle reply hoping I didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for this present adventure. We walked down another isle when he stopped dead in his tracks. He had found it and he knew it.

“Her is going to love this!”.

I looked up and there it was. The perfect amalgamation of my desire to provide a set of choices and his five year old mind: A sock monkey. Yes, a sock monkey. I knew the moment he said it that this was the gift that would delight both the giver and the receiver. He would be overjoyed to present this to his Mom, and she would be genuinely surprised and know the joy of receiving a gift that was given with the whole of his heart. It was perfect.

We purchased the sock monkey and promptly went home to wrap it. Now, at five years old, he understands the idea that giving someone a gift is supposed to be a surprise. Feeling like he fully grasped that idea and wanting to add extra tension to the element of surprise, right before she opened her gift he blurted out, “It’s not a sock monkey, Mom!”. I am sure in his young mind he thought such a statement would only add to the tension of the moment and the eventual surprise. It didn’t add to the surprise of course, but it did add something to the moment. It added the hopes of a five year old that he would truly and joyfully surprise his Mom.

She was surprised. She  loved the sock monkey and it has taken up a permanent position on the dresser in our bedroom. It sits there staring blankly up at the ceiling fan as a daily reminder that our children love us with a childlike love, as they should. Our sock monkey reminds us that although our youngest is five years old now, he is still young and small. The knuckles on his hands are still indented like all young children’s hands are.

As our children grow and become better at choosing for themselves and others, there are two things that will endure in our house; the sock monkey and his misuse of pronouns. The phrase, “Her is going to love this”, has also taken up a permanent residence, but in our family lexicon instead of the dresser. We all say this phrase now when we know someone is really going to like something, and it all started with Sawyer because him loved with his whole heart.

 

Lighthouse Nomination

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One of my favorite blogs, Highchairs and Headaches, recently nominated me for the Lighthouse Award which is given to blogs that inspire. I am honored not because I feel like such an honor is due to me, but rather because I like Jeannine’s blog so much for her honest, humorous, and sometimes sarcastic take on parenting. One of my favorite posts by her is titled Cuteness Overload and I will think a lot less of you if you don’t like it as much as I did, which is a ton.

Having said that, inspiration is a squirrely thing. I am unsure how exactly the things I say inspire but I will avoid the rabbit hole of self doubt and simply say thanks to all who care to read the things I say. We all like to be liked.

The Lighthouse Rules state:

  • Display the Award Certificate
  • Write a post with a link back to the blogger that nominated you (I hope it works. I am a cyber ignoramus)
  • Nominate other bloggers and inform them
  • Share three ways you like to help others
  • Have fun (This last one is a little cheesy but I will go with it)

So here are the three ways I help other people:

  1. I have dedicated my entire existence to three ungrateful, constantly hungry, noisy, and occasionally smelly people. I’m not saying I’m Gandhi, but that’s mainly because I’m not from India.
  2. The other day I made fresh French bread for someone’s birthday. You know who you are, and I rock because of it.
  3. When my daughter failed her math test as I was writing this and started to cry, I consoled her. And then I made her take it again.

Here are some other awesome blogs that I follow and due henceforth nominate:

Frank’s Place

Looking Glasses

Bemuzin

Check these out!

I understand that the accompanying photo with my last blog entry may offend some, but it made me laugh so much I just had to add it. It was, contrary to this award, not intended to inspire you.

 

Yes I Keep Going to Church Even Though I Know it Sucks

yes i attend church

I didn’t grow up in church. My family was composed of atheists and I don’t care’s and the subject was never even a consideration in our house. My great grandmother went to church, but she was old so that was normal. My uncle attended for awhile but it was never discussed at our family gatherings. My babysitter took me a couple times when I was six or seven, but all I remember of it was sitting in the pews listening to some guy talk for an hour. Boring. It is still, on occasion, boring.

Why did I start going? Oh, something about the meaning of life blah, blah, blah. I was caught up in the drama of it all: angels and demons and cosmic battles. I was young and they had free cookies and it was an instant club for me who at that age was socially challenged. They became a second family to me and eventually, because my first family sucked, my primary family. I followed in their footsteps to become a pastor and at the wise old age of 22 I became the leader of a church plant to a different state. I was 22! I mean seriously, who let me do that! I was in no condition to lead people on such an ill advised adventure. Jesus himself didn’t really get going until he was in his 30’s and considering the huge discrepancy between Jesus and me, I think someone should have had a few doubts about that one.

Since then and through many other failures, for 20 years on, I have attended church, even though it sucks.

I obviously received a lot from church and the people in it so why do I think it sucks? It sucks because of all the fucking people! It’s like church was created for all the messed up, socially awkward, boundary challenged, ass backward people. People I would never personally hang out with come up to me and shake my hand and ask me how my children are doing. “Why do you care, you’re weird!” I shout on the inside, and politely respond that my children are well. I’m not going to totally question the wisdom of The Big Guy here, but sometimes I look around the church and say, “Really, really?”.

Being part of a church is like being part of the Griswold family; some of the people make you laugh and the rest are just strange (unless I happen to attend church with you in which case, of course, I like you). You still have to hangout with them though, and this is the part that makes it feel like a real family.

In a real family you can’t choose who you hang out with. We all get thrown together in a small house and have to relate with each other day in and day out. We can’t simply ignore their phone calls or smile politely and say we are busy when we are not, at least until after we move out.  We have to learn to understand them, work at knowing them, and when that inevitably fails, simply be gracious. Real families that work are a lot of work.

Really, what bothers me so much is that I am just like my church compatriots. I am an awkward, boundary challenged person who needs the support and insight of other people to help me navigate the waterways of my existence. I am the one who comes up to other people and inquires into the lives of their children. I am the hypocrite in the corner, I am the two faced liar, and I am the judgmental asshole in the back row (and I cuss sometimes).

Yes, I attend church and it sucks. It sucks because it challenges me to be a better person. It sees all of my faults and still lets me in the door. It tells me the truth with courage and love and bad breath. And it is so hopelessly human that I can’t help but see myself in all of the lost souls around me.

Yes, truth be told, I suck too.

How to Wear Pajamas All Day Before You Retire

pajamas at walmart

Ostensibly the idea to homeschool my kids was to give them a better educational experience, and to wear pajamas all day. I have succeeded on both accounts. I believe my daughter has had a more dynamic and personal education. I have also managed to live a life where I am not required to get dressed for anything. In addition to these two amazing accomplishments, I have succeeded in reeducating myself not only in who my children are as people, but what transitive verbs are and why they are important. I don’t actually care about transitive verbs even though I use them all the time, but I do care about my children and only use them some of the time, but I don’t tell them that. I just call it doing chores.

Homeschooling my oldest child for two years now has taught me that educating children is hard. I’m not going to go into the whole teachers rock kind of thing because honestly some of the public school teachers I have experienced suck. They’re horrible at what they do and when it is your child who is in their class you feel like accosting them with a dull pencil and eraser; I’ll let you imagine how that would go down. Having to be a parent and a teacher is hard and considering that the salary is nothing and I have to put up with a lot of shit, I feel a little underappreciated.

I must be attracted to thankless jobs because between marriage, parenting and teaching I get nary a thanks out of it. It may come as some surprise, but my daughter does not bound out of the study everyday and say how grateful she is that we covered the volume of a cube. My five year old does call me “the best cooker” for the meals I put on the table which makes me feel good, but it is without the appreciation of what it took to make that meal. He just likes the way it tastes. But I digress…

What I have learned is that spending copious amounts of time with your children does not mean that you know them. Nor does it lessen the feeling that time progresses and some things are lost to that ever proceeding tide. It does, however, occasionally add to the feeling that I am trapped in a very small space and I cannot get out, but that is in my lesser moments. Spending a lot of time with people I cannot physically get away from tends to make me a little crazy on certain days. Still, time in itself does not lend knowledge about anything, except the knowledge that time in itself does not lend knowledge about anything. That’s it. Beyond that, I have to try to know who they are as they grow and change seemingly, and thankfully, before my eyes.

Being given the opportunity to homeschool my daughter, I have tried to know her for who she is and not for who I want her to become. Of course I have dreams about who she can grow to become, but if I fail to listen to her own dreams I have simply understood myself and what I want for her, and mistake that for what she wants for her own life. As a parent, this distinction is critical for me. I am not a person with a heavy load of expectations of others, but I do have a lot of hopes and if I am not careful my hopes may transubstantiate into expectations. I’m all for miracles, but that is one miracle that may do more harm than good.

Aside from the embarrassing fact that reviewing the fourth and fifth grades has done wonders for my personal education, I am mostly grateful for the time that has given me the opportunity to know her better. She has decided to return to the public school forum next year and I am in support of her doing that, but I will miss her. She will be gone from the half of my day that I have the most time to spend with her. Next year she will be one of three voices getting off the school bus competing for my attention and I will have to portion out my time equally and fairly as all parents do. We will adjust.

Maybe the hardest part about her going back to school is that I will have to permanently retire my pajama uniform. I envision folding it up neatly and setting it on the shelf in my closet. I will dress myself for my new vocation which has yet to be defined, and walk out of the house with a renewed sense of physical freedom. But I will also long for the days when she sat next to me for hours on end, in our pajamas, together.

I think I will try to talk my youngest into staying home…

On Why You and I Are the Perfect Parent

Steve's Phone 029

I am ready to receive the hate mail. I don’t mind the nasty comments. Being great at something does bring out the jealousy of others so I am prepared for the onslaught; bring it on. I can’t help it and I’m tired of hiding it so here it is: I’m the perfect parent.

I know it’s a little hard to hear. We are all trying so hard to attain it and to finally find someone who has reached such lofty levels is hard to bear. But there’s good news. The good news is that you are too.

How did I finally attain the nirvana of parenting? How is it that I have come to such an elevated status you ask? I started to read the posts of all the other parents out there who are trying really hard to get it right and I found that I am just like they are, or you are, and therefore I must have reached the highest level a parent can reach; the level of someone who cares to try. Since this is the highest level that I have ever seen any human being attain, it must be human perfection.

Yes, I know, the little voice creeps up and says “Yes, sometimes I do a great job, but not always.” We already know that people! It’s not possible to always do a great job. That is not what defines perfection as a parent. Perfection as a parent is to love your kids and do everything in your ability to pass that love onto and into them in a way that they have the best chance of understanding

Idealistic perfection is a figment of our imagination. It is unattainable. Unattainable. Unattainable. It does not exist.

I have finally grown tired of the daily grind of guilt and inadequacy when it comes to parenting. The only thing that feeling guilty has ever done for me is make me feel guilty. That’s it. It hasn’t made me a better person. On the contrary, the feelings of guilt and inadequacy have made me a worse parent by muddling the moments I spend with my kids. It clouds my true joy and makes me grumpy.

We are loving our children and they feel loved. That is what’s happening. We are doing great and awesome things with our kids. We look at them and listen to them when they speak. We hold them and comfort them when they are upset. We counsel our children when they are confused about how to negotiate a relationship with a friend and we have the wisdom to tell them something of real value. We consider their physical health and well being and stay up all night just to watch them breath. We protect them from harm as best as any parent can and ask them questions that will lead them to a better understanding of their own safety. We watch out for their latent talents and hidden gifts and drive their butts all over town to lessons and book clubs and sporting events so that they might find the joy in who they are as much as we do. And we do all of these things and dozens more every day. Every day! For years on end.

Come on people, we’re perfect parents!