Archive for the 'Kids' Category

Twenty-three nineteen

He’s lying down, fighting the rip current of the sleepy high tide. Kai tells me he thinks he knows what ‘the opposite of breaking’ is, “It’s like Facebook or Twitter.”

I tried to make the connection, thinking he might have some insight into something deep. Smoke bellowed from my ears, “What do you mean? I don’t understand.”

It’s a website where you post your thoughts and feelings.”

“Oh. Yeah. Kind of.” I was thinking he meant means when he said is. He said he thought he knew what the opposite of breaking is. He’s so literal and I know that. But it still shocks me when he’s so extremely literal. “I thought you meant you knew what ‘the opposite of breaking’ means.”

“Oh, I don’t know what it means.” he said.

“Yeah, me either.”

“Then why did you name it that?”

“Because I don’t know what it means.” And I don’t. I don’t know what word is the opposite of ‘breaking.’ “Maybe it means fixing, but not really.”

And then he said something so profound and deep, so abstract and so incredibly literal, all at the same time. He said it in such a way as if a question can be stated as if it is a matter of fact, “Or bending.”

. . .

So, who can bring the monster world to its knees merely with their mind powers? Kids. A child, or an artifact from a child, is deadly to the monster world and warrants a scrub-down, otherwise known as: Code Violation 2319.

Seconds From Disaster

The past few nights I’ve been working on an epic post, working through way too much stuff in my head over way too much time and I’m seconds from crashing all day long. Tonight was a pile up.
Continue reading…

Are We Not Men?

The smell of evaporating rain on the summer-heated asphalt conjures ambiguous flashbacks and less-than-vivid feelings from my childhood, pretty much all summed up into one memory of laying in the middle of the double-yellow street, on a blind corner, in front of the house I grew up in. Somehow I’m not dead. I remember watching steam rise and swirl around me as the rain fell, creating more steam. The street was almost too hot for my skin and I would tolerate it as long as possible, then run to the back yard covered in grit and tiny pebbles and jump in the pool. Repeat.

My dad was not around much when I was a kid. Maybe he was, I’m not sure. That’s really not the point. The point is that he left no strong impression in my mind for better or for worse. I don’t remember him being around. He liked to work. He was always working on the deal of the century. Although, nine times out of ten or eleven he was home for dinner. Most of the time he got home just in time, I think. I wish I had more powerful memories of my dad, but they are just not there. The memories I do have paint him in a very passive and in-the-background light; always reading the paper, or absorbed in something other than what was happening. Not angry, not excited, not engaged. Sure, I have some fond moments with him, but those are from my teen years after the divorce. Everyone loved my dad. He was really good at giving everyone else the best of himself. He would walk into a room and not one person would not notice. He could be considered a genius by those who measure such things. I don’t know if I ever fought for his attention. I probably did. Perhaps we just get used to things. I was always more concerned with explaining to my mom how this or that Lego spaceship worked with all its escape pods and detachable rovers and mission-specific vehicles. The older I grew, the more frustrated and angry I became as I realized how she seemed to increasingly not pay attention. Then I had my own kids. Knowing what I know now, she was most likely trying to hold everything together and had very little left over for the non-critical things.

Recently, I had a chance to hang out with my littlest sister. I haven’t seen her in over two years and only once or twice in the previous two. She just graduated from college. We talked and laughed and reminisced and had an awesome discussion about how somewhere along the line, our awareness of the world around us became larger than our creativity, or our perceived capacity to be creative. At that moment, whenever it happened, we stop believing. Mostly in ourselves. As if we traded our imagination for the voices that would tell us, “That won’t work.” “That’s not a good idea.” “You can’t do that.” I shared with her my short story concept about a time machine… about always living in the past or waiting for the future to happen, thus completely missing the present. My dad missed her graduation. So did I. It’s funny how physical proximity and time as investment collateral can be a valid excuse by which we gauge how “worth it” something is. If the only truly eternal thing in this universe is people, then why do we write them off so easily? The fact that my sister graduated from college is huge. I didn’t. Neither did my other sister. Yes, I feel bad about missing it. I’m off the hook though, you know, because we live so far away and it’s expensive to fly and life and stuff. My dad is not. He could have been there. He chose otherwise, or probably more aptly let the choice for him to not be there be made for him. I love my dad. I miss him. My mom has always said he’s got a big heart. He’s a glorious asshole.

I used to think my dad was invincible. That illusion crumbled over 10 years ago. It was nothing dramatic. At least, not as dramatic as it could be or sounds like. He no longer represented the ideal man to me. I just realized one day that my dad made some choices and mistakes that he never recovered from, or never figured out how to get out from underneath. I don’t know. Maybe he likes his life. When I realized I did not want to be like my dad, that’s when my adventures in growing up began. There was no one in my life I wanted to be like. I was newly married, with an infant son, and a full-time job. And suddenly I had no time left for making spaceships.

I talked to my counselor today (back story). He listened to me tell my stories from the past two weeks. Stories of kids running away, father & son breakfast times, losing Lego pieces in the car, and the “quarter incident” at the grocery store. Then he punched me in the face. Twice. Metaphorically, of course. Over the past three months we’ve been talking about and working on what my role is, both as a father and a husband. Today was two fistfuls of both. I can’t recall the exact phrasing he used, but the following is what I got out of what we talked about.

Guys, here’s some free advice: if you’re living for the approval or praise of your wife (or anyone), stop it. It will undermine every decision you are required to make. It will be evident to your kids that your authority can be shaken, because they’ll know you can’t do anything without her. This is not a “tyrant” or “boss” kind of authority; rather, the kind that lets your family know you are provider, protector, teacher, and counselor. It is the kind that defines your presence as peace-giving and definite and not feared. This is the kind of authority your wife considers security. Second-guessing yourself is like drinking poison that hollows you from the inside out, especially when it’s centered around self-preservation and shielding from criticism from someone else, assumed or actual. Obviously, making sound decisions is important and should be revered to build and maintain trust so that we can be what we’ve been entrusted to be. Like it or not, carrying the title “husband” and/or “father” is not just for tax breaks. And don’t be a dumb-ass (read: passive, uninvolved, too tired, over-worked, etc…) forcing her to wear your boots to carry you both through life’s shit storms. It’s hard enough to navigate when you don’t have all the answers; don’t make it harder by making your wife/partner your obsession and your enemy. She needs you. You need her. She is amazing and it’s a miracle she chose you to be with. She’s your best teammate. Treat her like the incredible person she is by being the man you are meant to be. It’s time to stop being kids in our parents’ shoes and start being adults who can wear kids’ shoes. Here’s a great article about this, in better detail. The Art of Manliness is a great site in general.

Freebie #2: As parents, our kids need to see mom and dad as a united front and that there’s no chance for a “divide and conquer” strategy to gain any ground (either planned, reactionary, or otherwise). We gotta be ready for this. It happens. We do it to ourselves, our kids do it to us. Not out of a sense of malicious intent, but out of a reaction to any number or combination of things.

Bonus, maybe: Simple is not easy. These are very hard patterns to break. We have suitcases of garbage from our past that can affect and thwart our abilities to do what we need to do. Combined with your wife’s own case(s) of crap, we’re lucky anyone makes it out alive. But I’m not talking about dealing with the past. This is about starting right now, today, choosing to be active and present; choosing to give all we have to each moment we have. Our kids are not going to be four again. They’re not going to just sing as if no one is watching for much longer. They are not going to be eight again and be willing to tell you what they’re thinking, wether you asked them to or not. They are not going to be eleven again, wanting to explain how that Lego spaceship works, or what story idea is floating around in their brain.

As I drove away from my counseling session, wiping the blood from my nose and trying not to aggravate my new fat lip, I started thinking about role models. I was thinking of what I look to for examples and how there’s no shortage of role models, just a severe shortage of decent ones. Even now as an adult it is tough to find a voice not celebrating the stereotypical “guy” who only watches sports, can’t wait to drink beer, and has no clue what the woman who has pledged herself to him actually wants, as “the life.” I don’t know what the word for being sad and mad at the same time is… maybe it’s smad. From Dexter to Abraham Lincoln, from Superman and every other super-hero to late night talk show hosts, from The President to Jesus to rock star song writers and every protagonist from every movie ever made… they all want to tell us or show us how to make life work. That somehow they have the answer. And they can’t all be right, can they? I mean some combinations are deadly. On a more personal note: there’s my dad who pretty much traded us in for a new family long after my sisters and I “grew up,” who can’t stop trying to escape the present, teaching that when life gets broken, go get a new one. And you’ve got my amazing friend Carvis whose bio-dad who only knows him by silently lurking on his blog for the past eight years only to surface and defend himself after an angry post about Father’s Day (which consequently, was not about him), teaching that if you can justify what you did then no one has the right to be mad at you. And then there’s Bill Cosby who’s pretty much everyone’s pipe-dream of a dad, teaching us that television might be the best source for finding answers. Not to mention God, which we all fall short of living up to — I don’t even know how to pull that one in and still make sense and carry this post through.

Then I realized that all we get left with is the classic Frankenstein Syndrome. We become monster. Not as a role model, not on purpose, but as a result. We are demo. We break and get broken and try to find “experts” to fix what’s wrong and before you know what’s happening, your head is cracked open and a crazy doctor is pulling stuff out and cramming other stuff in and trying to tidy up the mess.

The Monster

Do not, through inaction, succumb to the Frankenstein Syndrome.

We become bits and pieces of all kinds of theologies and methodologies and flat-out lies fist fighting with undeniable truth and promises of grace and hope… all mixed up, leaving us for the most part numb and dumb; unable to make critical, life-long decisions; creating havoc everywhere we go when all we really want is to feel loved and accepted, but have no idea how to solve this problem and so we plow through people and ourselves and end up back in the hands of some other whacked out scientist repeating the process.

Then I remember my kids and my wife, and I start praying for God to disassemble me and extract all the parts he didn’t put in, and add back the parts that are missing, and nurse me back to the man I was created to be. And let my scars remind me of what life would be like without him, and let my dependence on him power my confidence in the effect of my presence in my kids’ lives, and let his grace sufficiently enable me to fulfill my responsibility to my wife and our family and to not end up cultivating a bio-hazard dumping ground.

Disturbia

The other night we took our kids out on a date. Kai had a rough evening, we were all hungry, and the “neighborhood grill” seemed to suit our fancies.

As parents of young children, Jen and I try hard to cultivate in them the things we value; the things we’ve learned (usually the hard way). I pray my daughters will know their worth. That they will stand up for themselves and others and not put up with being treated as objects. That they realize who their mother is and wish most to be like her. That they will seek and crave kindness and gentleness in boys and will spot the punk-ass ones a mile away and steer clear. That they compare every guy they meet to me and the way they are treated by me. That they will be empowered to fly without the chains of oppression so many women get trapped in. I want my son to grow into a man that honors people, respects them, fights for justice and knows grace — both how to extend it and receive it. That he will have respect for the world around him. That he won’t make my same mistakes. I pray he treats girls with a protective, virtuous heart, and that he will be an example of goodness for the guys he’ll spend his time with. He and I have this ongoing debate over what the most important thing is in the universe. “People are.” I tell him, “Everything you can think of will always break down either to the benefit or to the distress of people. Otherwise, nothing in this universe matters.” It’s fun to see him propose alternatives to hold that #1 Most Important spot, and then watch his eyes both sink and gleam in the same instant as he answers my questions about that thing when he realizes I’m right.

Oh, so many things I hope and pray for my kids.

So, back to the other night at the restaurant… This is a difficult story to tell. I’m still disturbed by what happened, yet so torn about feeling the way I do. Trying to work it out… So here goes:

I needed to take a detour on the way to our table. I had some “stuff” to “work out” and needed a quiet place to “sit”. Shortly thereafter, this guy walks into the restroom and chooses the urinal directly in front of the stall occupied by myself. Now, time out: I don’t make a habit of paying much, if not any, attention to people when they are indisposed, just as I was. Ok, time in: This guy’s behavior was so odd to me I couldn’t help but rack my brain trying to figure out what was going on. Lifting his head up like he was inspecting the ceiling, he kept holding his non-occupied hand up to his nose as if to either cram something way in there, or dig deep to get something out. But there were sounds. Like sharp sniffing sounds, but more like a reverse sniff, like a burst of air going out. I was baffled. I didn’t want to believe any of the options I suggested to myself for what that could be. And a facet to the disturbing-ness of this whole experience is my own predisposed acceptance of what might be happening if only he looked the part. This whole post would be naught if he looked like someone who might be inclined to perform cowboy blows in public. I hate that I think that. I hate that I was so shocked by this guy’s behavior. A stocky, tall man, older, clean-shaven with steely, short hair and semi-modern squared-off glasses. On sheer stereotypical appearances, I’d say this guy was a mid-40-something, white, Republican banker/respectable white-collar business man. Yet there was this odd disconnect. At one point during his stay, he turned around and tried to look into my stall as if it had just occurred to him that someone just saw what he did. A few minutes and a handful of those bursting noises later, he left. There was no washing of hands. So anyway, about half a minute later I realized those sounds were from him spitting loogies on the wall. I could see them dripping down! Dripping off the plexiglass covered advertisements onto the urinal’s plumbing and then onto the urinal itself. Nasty, phlegm-infected, upper-middle-class slimy spit.

One of the things we try to teach our kids is respect. Respect for other people’s property and respect for their time and work. I know there are people in the world who couldn’t care less about anyone but themselves. I know that. Read some earlier stories here if you need to be assured that I know people can be horrible. I know there are people who go out of their way to cause trouble. But seeing it happen right in front of me in such blatant display by someone who under just about any other circumstance I might actually try (or think I need) to look up to just shook me at my core.

When I got back to the table with my family I saw this guy sitting at his table with his guests, smiling and ordering food and getting served by the very establishment he completely disrespected, as if he did nothing wrong; sitting next to his wife or girlfriend or co-worker or sister, who knows. The point is that he looked so… so not like someone who would hock loogies in a restaurant bathroom like some mid-pubescent teenage boy with a drunk step dad from a broken home all angry about nothin’ and confused as all hell about everything, or like some deep southern trailer dweller in a NASCAR muscle shirt and some green Crocs, wearing a “#3” ball cap sponsored by some trashy beer brand who couldn’t give a shit about the poor sap who has to clean the bathrooms cause that would actually be a better job than the one he’s got. And, yes, I did just write that. Because I’m so pissed at myself for thinking if he were like that, then I would have expected it and I could move on with my life boxing people up for the stereotypes they dress like, or sound like. Then I’d be able to keep my safe, clean distance from people and pretend that goodness is abundant and things will be so easy for my kids cause they’d just have to remember to avoid “people like that.”

This is where the music changes and you’re not sure if something good or bad is about to happen. If I had super-powers, one of which being telepathy, I so would have beamed my thoughts to this guy in migraine proportions. To what end though? For what reason? What good would it have done? Why was I so upset by that whole ordeal? What. Because there was no justice? Because someone will have to clean up after this pig? I think I’m so disturbed by this because I unwillingly let people shock me. Because I’m a salesman’s dream. Because I’ll almost always seek out the good in people and pretend the bad is not so bad, and if the good is not so good, I’ll pretend for that too, despite how clear the Bible is when I read these words:

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.*

You see, if I accept that… If I truly and whole-heartedly buy into the fact that us humans are pretty much doomed and our only chance at redemption is God’s grace, then my world changes. I grew up believing in God and Jesus; believing the Bible and “trying to be good” but this is different for me. This is the real life application that youth group night couldn’t touch. Accepting those words in context of this guy and my own prejudices and self-righteous judgements mean that I fall under those words too and have no place to think in my mind those thoughts I wrote just then. Then I am forced to extend grace to this guy and I have no other choice than to see him as human in need of that grace. And it forces me to consider that same grace extended to me. It forces me to put my own self under my own microscope. And it frees me up completely to be able to look my son in the eye with rectitude when I tell him “People are the most important things in the universe.”

* emphasis added.

I Heart Radio

My son and I were on our way home from a grocery store run a while ago and he was letting me know how much he wanted to see the movie Independence Day. During our conversation I was reminded that I first saw that movie on July 4th in the theater back in 1996 with a friend. I told Kai, “My friend won tickets to the premier on the radio! Isn’t that cool?”

Astonished, he asked, “They had radio when you were younger?” [pause, while I try to interpret what the hell I just heard] “Oh, yeah… ‘the weather today is sunny with a chance of rain'” he proceeded to spout in a mock old-man-nerdy voice. Then he asked if they also had echoing sounds like: “Car sale on Sunday ( ( Sunday ( ( Sunday ) ) ) )!”

Malakai is nine years old; I’m 30-something; Radio has been around for over 100 years. Perspective… I feel better now. I was sharing this story with a co-worker during our carpool one day and he said something that put it into an even better perspective, “Things change so fast these days that his understanding is probably skewed about how long things can take.”

Thank you, Chad.

In the second half of the 1800’s through the turn of the century, a handful of scientists and inventors were all working on creating the technological pieces that would soon make “wireless telegraphy” a viable, practical commercial reality, originally for the benefit of ships out at sea. Among them were: James Maxwell, David Hughes, Thomas Edison, Heinrich Hertz, Nikola Tesla, Alexander Popov, Guglielmo Marconi and Reginald Fessenden.

There’s some dispute over who actually invented radio as we know it today, but we all know Tesla was a freakin’ genius; Edison already has that whole light bulb thing; Marconi established the world’s first radio station on the Isle of Wight, England in 1897 and has been called the Father of Radio; and Fessenden, the Father of Radio Broadcasting who on Christmas Eve in 1906, used a synchronous rotary-spark transmitter for the first radio program broadcast, from Ocean Bluff-Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Ships at sea heard a broadcast that included Fessenden playing “O Holy Night” on the violin and reading a passage from the Bible. This was, for all intents and purposes, the first transmission of what is now known as amplitude modulation or AM radio.

I’m smart… I can find stuff on Wikipedia.

This has nothing to do with Independence Day but we now have a plethora wireless technologies like FM, Wi-fi, 3G, HD Radio and online virtual radio stations that don’t really exist. And you can download for free the “I Heart Radio” app for your mobile wireless devices (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) to pick up digitized broadcasts of radio stations around the country!

Now, if only I could install the I Heart Radio app on my boom box.

Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah (Means I love you)

For their birthday parties, we brainstorm with our kids to determine what the theme of the party will be. We’ve done little mermaids, transforming robots, race cars, [insert Disney marketing machine madness here], etc. But this year, I suggested to Zoë a space/martian princess idea after something Malakai said about Mars one night during dinner. She loved it. She started planning out which dress/costume she’d wear and she wanted to have purple hair. The following image is the base I used for her invitations that she handed out to all her classmates and sent to our family members via not-email. Continue reading…

Beauty Runs Deep, and Apparently… Green.

Last week, Jen picked up (rented, for free) some movies from our local library. Libraries rock. One of the movies was a DVD of “The Incredible Hulk.” No, not the Ang Lee theatrical version (2003), and no, not the Louis Leterrier version with Edward Norton (2008). We’re talking the dynamic duo of Bixby & Ferrigno here, the early years…

I sat down with the kids and they watched it with me. They loved it.

During the second episode, The Hulk saves the blonde co-star from peril just after he rips apart a house and he’s carrying her in his arms “sideways” (like how my daughter always asks me to carry her up the stairs at bed time) and she’s just starting to come around from being passed out. She looks up at The Hulk (knowing already that he’s really David Banner) and has a soft look in her eyes; he’s looking down at her with his cromagnon uni-brow and that familiar blank expression.

The Hulk: Saving the Girl.

The Hulk: Saving the Girl.

My five-year-old daughter says with the deepest sincerity, “He’s handsome.”

Now, she’s very sensitive and it took every fiber in my core to keep from bolstering out hysterically until I realized that she was dead serious. As a general rule, Jen and I try real hard to not taint our kids minds with our own jaded perspectives and experiences. It was awesome to see in her face and hear in her voice a pure un-sarcastic thought about beauty. She has nothing to base her perspectives on that would disallow such honesty to shine right through. That’s what I got from her statement.

I told this story to Jen in Zoë’s presence and like me, Jen had to fight hard to hold back bursting out with laughter. That is until she saw Zoë’s sincerity too. Then Jen had to translate for me what her comment actually meant. You see, being not a female, I am somewhat ill-equipped to grasp such things on my own. “A person becomes beautiful when they take care of someone.” Jen’s explanation of what went on in Zoë’s mind blew me away. You see, at only five years old, my daughter has the capacity to see right through the outer appearance of a creature (or monster) like The Hulk and see his actions of love for the woman he saved, and to Zoë that’s what made him handsome. She saw his heart and applied that to his appearance and she did not see a monster.

Imagine if we could all find this sort of honesty and truth with ourselves and with others at the level of innocence found in a child.

Physics, Laws of Motion, and an Uncanny Little Girl

The other day, about a week ago, My five-year-old daughter was discussing with me how she was glad to not have to go back to dance class anymore. She liked it, but was ready to move on to something more, better, or just plain different. She was good at it. Very deliberate with her positions and appropriately aware of her ability.

I was trying to be encouraging and suggested that maybe taking dance again later would be cool, to which her expression was similar to that of someone who had just walked into a freshly used bathroom.

Trying to not lose the conversational moment I suggested, “ok, well, maybe you could play soccer or baseball?”

Then she comes up to me and leans in like she’s gotta tell me a huge secret and tilts her head down and lifts her eyes up and somehow makes them bluer and bigger and brighter than normal and she stares right into my eyes and with a hushed, whispery voice says with a no duh kind of tone, “Or golf.”

Yeah. She’s five… and hilarious! We don’t watch golf. I don’t play golf. We don’t EVER talk about golf.

Figure that one out. :)

Signals, Noise and Pattern Recognition

Today, my baby girl looked at me and said, “da da da …”

She is our third child and she’s about 5 months old. I’m still amazed at the way language skills develop and I don’t care what scientific studies of children and linguistics say that dictates what she said was a natural progression of assimilating the sounds she hears every day and that there’s nothing terribly significant about her sounds other than she’s experimenting with her ability to make noise…

If she wasn’t staring me in the eyes and smiling when she said it, I might credit it to her natural development. But I heard it loud and clear—more than once; she called me by my name. And this event is still a miracle, even the third time. And this is my present from God today.