Tag Archives: Parenting

To War and Back Again

Oh, my heart just aches sometimes.

Josiah and I went to war tonight.

“Please leave the door open.” Slam.

“Don’t touch that.” Poke.

“Sit down and finish eating.” Wail.

“Hold still please.” Kick.

Finally, barely fed and crammed into jammies, we slowed down just enough to read Christmas stories by candlelight, because my wife does many things well, but none better than planning perfect moments for the joy of others. So, we lit candles, spread a blanket on the floor, and read about a little girl whose father was off to war, so her mother cut apart her wedding dress to make a Christmas dress and doll for the girl, and then the two of them went into the woods at night to chop down a tree for the church pageant. Yeah, I cried a little.

And then I scooped up my boy, took him into his room, and shut off the light, forgetting to turn on his nightlight first. The room fell pitch black.

And in the perfect darkness, the rain dripping from the roof, he laid his head down on my shoulder, sighed deeply, and without words he declared his unconditional surrender.

I sang his lullaby to him in the darkness:

Lay down your head, Josiah
Lay down your head, though night is falling
The Lord protects his children through darkness
The Lord will guide your steps in the light

Long ago lived a boy named Josiah
He heard the voice of God in the night
Long ago the boy named Josiah
Led God’s children back into the light

So raise up your head, Josiah
Raise up your head, though night is falling
Hear the voice of God in the darkness
And lead his children back into the light

When I wrote it, Gretchen’s first comment was, “Wow, a little word of prophecy there, huh?” Maybe so.

I don’t know what’s ahead for Josiah and I, how many more times we’ll go to war and declare peace, or how much higher the stakes will get. I’m sure that there are nights coming when peace will cost significantly more than a song in the darkness. I don’t know how many moments in life we get like tonight, when you lift your son up, and he lays his head on your shoulder, and you try your best to weep softly so that you don’t break the magic of the moment.

He has both strength and tenderness, and I pray to God that both of them survive my parenting. I pray for wisdom and patience, to know when to be just and when to be merciful. I pray for strength that lasts through the day until I get home at night, so that he doesn’t always have to make his feast with the sparse remainder of my daily bread.

I pray that as he grows, he will look more and more like Jesus, and you can keep your damn bumper sticker. I mean that in all of the gritty ways. I pray that he learns when to braid a whip, that he has the strength to stand guard over an outcast woman and stare down an angry mob, that he speaks with fire and truth, that he spreads out a banquet for the friendless and unlovely. Most of those things, he’ll have to figure out on his own, because I don’t know how to do them.

I pray that he becomes a better man than I am.

God, you have blessed me through him. I hope that you bless him through me.

May we find peace at the end of every battle, and love, always love, no matter what.

josiah-and-daddy

Little Miss Manners

“Unggh Unnnnnngh!”

“Sophia, use your words. I don’t respond to grunts.”

“Momma?”

“Yes, Sophia?”

“Juice Please!”

“Here you go.”

“Thank you.”

(Dance break!)

This brief display of manners has been brought to you by 2 years of relentless consistency on the part of my wife. She has insisted, from the time Sophia started to be able to use words, that she use the words “Please” and “Thank You” with every request. We’ve reached the point where Sophia will do it about 30% of the time without being prompted, about 95% of the time when reminded, and about 5% of the time it results in a full raging meltdown of indignation. It’s not just her eyes that are Irish.

All of this please-and-thank-you-ing has gotten me to thinking about manners. It seemed odd to me that we were investing so much energy (consistency really is exhausting) in a few words of social convention. I mean, manners are nice and all, but they’re just the little polite handshakes of social interaction. Can’t we wait until later to let her learn some of this?

My wife is a pretty smart gal. In addition to that, she has a very astute sense of intuition, and will often do things that “feel right” to her, without having to know all the reasons behind why. In the 10 years that I’ve known my wife, I’ve learned that it’s usually best to assume that she’s right, and that I’m not on the ball enough to know why yet.

While my wife and I are building an intelligent and creative little girl from scratch, I’m also in the processes of assembling a linux webserver from scratch. It’s the long-term solution to last week’s tragic blog meltdown. Building a webserver from scratch involves a lot of typing things like "./config --prefix=/usr/local --use-bindings" into a text interface, which the magical computrix machine then executes for me. Most of the really important things I’ve learned in my life happen while I’m building linux installs for webservers. Well, OK, just one thing so far, but still.

Manners matter because they recognize the freedom and dignity of the person you’re talking to.

When I ask my wife to pour me a second cup of coffee, she has the freedom to do it or not do it. I am asking her to yield whatever she had planned to do with her time for a few moments, and to honor my request. By recognizing her freedom, I preserve her dignity when I add the simple word “Please”. My wife is not a servant, she is not a slave to my demands. She is a free person, and any act that she does on my behalf is done on the basis of that freedom. That’s what I mean by dignity. When I say thank you, it is a second recognition that whatever act she just performed was not compelled, but was a gracious act on her part.

My linux server has no dignity. It has no freedom. It simply executes whatever command I give it. To use “please” or “thank you” with my commands would be an absurdity. It’s not performing a gracious act, or a kind act, when it executes my commands, because it has no other option. There’s no basis of freedom out of which it does what I ask.

By insisting that our daughter use the words “please” and “thank you”, my wife is, of course, teaching our daughter that the people around her have freedom and dignity. She is teaching her that the things done for her are gracious acts of kindness, and not the automatic responses of life-like robots. My daughter may not understand any of this yet, but the most important lessons are often absorbed before we ever understand what they mean. The choice to be a grateful person, respecting of the dignity of others, is one of those lessons.

Also, we do it because it make the other parents at Gymboree insanely jealous.

20 things I now know, that I didn’t know the first time around

  1. There’s nothing that comes out of a baby that won’t wash off your skin.
  2. Crying is normal. Very, very normal. It’s not always your job to fix it.
  3. At every baby shower, there was always someone who thought to give us diapers. I laughed and laughed at that person, thinking it was the lamest gift ever. Thank you, diaper lady. Bless your 50 year-old been-through-this-enough-times-to-know-what-I’m-doing soul.
  4. I know why the word “Peace” is so often found next to the word “Quiet”.
  5. Children are born scientists. They run their own experiments to see how the world operates. My job involves knowing which experiments are likely to maim her, and heading those off.
  6. There are different degrees of “Clean”.
  7. Some days, you can literally see their brain grow. One minute, they don’t understand the concept of mirrors. An hour later, they have lined up all their stuffed animals in front of the full length mirror, and are holding a fashion show with mommy’s jewelry.
  8. Wednesday morning reading group at the Burbank Public Library is the last bastion of sexual discrimination in parenting roles. I’ve been a regular now for 2 months, and every mom there still keeps an eye on Sophia to see if she is actually an abducted child being read to against her will by a crazy man. I try to ease the tension by making small talk with her in a loud voice. “Ha ha! Look Sophia! Isn’t it fun to be reading in public with your daddy, which is me, who is fully employed and not at all creepy! Ha ha!” It doesn’t seem to be working.
  9. She doesn’t need my help as much as I think she does. She needs to fail at things, and that’s part of my job too.
  10. Babywise. It works.
  11. Parenting is a team sport.
  12. The 14-year-old unskilled extortionist next door gets $8 an hour for watching TV and eating my microwaved corn-dogs while our daughter sleeps. That, my friends, is a sweet gig.
  13. Your relationship with your own parents enters a new and strange phase when they become grandparents. You realize that they were making it all up as they went along, and they realize that you now know that, and everybody hopes that you can keep up the charade long enough to get the next crop of kids out the door.
  14. Sometime in your parenting career, you will find a half-eaten, slobbery animal cracker in your hand without having any idea how it got there. You will shrug, and finish the animal cracker. See #6.
  15. Being a dad has brought out the best and worst parts of my character.
  16. Giving children choices seems to be all the rage these days. Here’s the deal – kids don’t have any clue what to do with choices. They are confused and frustrated when you give them 6 options for dinner. You’re the parent. You decide.
  17. If a dad dresses his daughter, and takes her out into public, and somebody comments on how cute she looks, dad will dress her in those exact same clothes from then on. We fear fashion failure.
  18. Don’t join a battle of wills that you are not prepared to win.
  19. If someone comes to your house, and sits on your couch, and reaches into the cushions and pulls out a half-eaten apricot mashed into a Lego, if that person asks, “How did this get here?”, that person is not a parent.
  20. I don’t own her joy. Children do wonderful things. They sing songs in public. They wave and smile at street people, who wave and smile back. They play with anyone who brought a toy to the park, without caring about their country of origin, or what language they speak. They play the blinking game with crotchety old men on benches in the mall, and get them to stick their tongues out. None of this belongs to me. Children are a gift from God, given to the whole world, under the care of parents for a few brief moments before they burst gloriously into their own light.

All of this is good stuff to know, since we’re now gearing up for round 2!

big sister now

The Uncoolest Cut of All

I had a moment.

It was one of those moments where you can see into the future.

And the future is sassy.

bath timeThree or four nights a week, I do Sophia’s bath. The main goal of bath time is for Sophia to move large quantities of water from the tub out onto the floor of the bathroom. Her mother and I, in our infinite wisdom, have seen fit to give her several brightly colored plastic toys, such as cups and buckets, that serve to greatly amplify her ability to move that much water. Every once in a while, she pauses just long enough for me to quickly scrub down some part of her with soap, then she’s off again making a tub-tsunami.

One of her favorite bath-time games is “Ducky Bombs”. This is a very complicated game, which I will try to explain simply, so that you can understand the subtlety and complexity. Sophia pics up her rubber ducky. She holds it high over her head, and looks expectantly at daddy. Daddy then, in a very loud and very, very silly voice, yells out, “DUUUUUCKYYY BOOOOMMMMBS!” This is Sophia’s cue to thrown the rubber ducky down into the water with as much force as her little 1 year old arms can muster (hint: a lot of force. A surprising amount of force. Like she’s a robot-child or something). When the ducky hits the water, daddy does his very best explosion sound, and we both fall over laughing. Rinse. Repeat. Maybe 5 or 6 hundred times in a single bath.

So, I say this just to let you know that bath-time is silly time, completely unrestrained, joyful play time. One of the other games we play is called “Putting things on my head”. Again, within this game there is a subtle interplay of meaning and motion to rival even the oldest Noh play. Basically, it works like this: Sophia takes something, and puts it on her head. Sometimes, she can’t quite figure out how to get it to stay on her head, so daddy puts it on her head for her.

She loved this game. She would play it endlessly, with anything that was within her grasp. She even got the shampoo bottle to stay on her head for a second or two, to our great delight. For a while, this was her favorite game – even more than ducky bombs, if you can image such a thing! Then, suddenly, two nights ago, something changed, and I saw into the future.

We were doing bath time. We were playing “move the water out of the tub”. We were playing “Ducky Bombs”. We were playing a new game that she just made up, called “I pull the drain plug out and daddy has to put it back in 50 times”. Then, I reached into the tub, grabbed a plastic fish-cup (the red one), and I put it on her head.

Everything stopped. My daughter looked at me, fish-cup still on her head, and said, “Dad, that is so lame. I mean, who puts things on their head anymore? I’m 14 months old now, you know, not some little baby who likes to put things on her head.” The fact that she said all of this with just a look in no way diminished her ability to clearly communicate her meaning.

Suddenly, I was transported 12 years into the future, and I was standing in the doorway to her bedroom holding tickets to go see a band that had stopped being cool, like, weeks ago, thinking how I was the awesome dad that was going to drive and chaperone her and her friends to the concert, and she’s thinking about how she’s going to have to explain to her friends that the mildly retarded ape-man in the front seat is just the chauffeur, and in no way actually related to her.

I, of course, will not be allowed to speak during the evening.

A Valuable Lesson

Vandals!

I work in a small office in North Hollywood. We source and custom fabricate vehicles for the film and television industries, as well as operate a race team. Today, I was walking by the front door and noticed 2 kids standing on the sidewalk outside, in front of one of our transport vehicles: A custom-built Freightliner Semi Truck we use to transport our race truck. Their back turned towards me, they seemed to be hovering over the front fender of the truck, paying close attention to something.

Then I saw it. The overspray from a paint can.

I burst out the door, and collared the kid holding the paint. His friend wisely hot-footed it down the road at an estimated 130 MPH. My fresh catch started to squirm and get free of my grasp, asking me “What the #%$% are you doing?!?!”. I just hauled him inside the office and locked the door behind me.

I sat him down in the main office, and said, “You know what you did. I know what you did. Now you get to make the only decision you’re going to make for a while: Do you want me to call the cops, or do you want me to call your mom? Choose wisely.” (I actually said this, and almost laughed out loud. C’mon – who quotes Indiana Jones movies to 11 year-old vandals?)

He replies, “No one! I don’t want you to call no one!”

“Kid. I told you your only options, now pick one.”

“Fine. Call my mom.”

“Cool. Now give me the number once. If it’s the wrong number, or no one answers, I’m calling the cops. No second chances.”

He recites a phone number. He recites it slowly and perfectly monotone. I know it’s the right number…

I call his mom. She’s a single mother, and she’s at work in Los Angeles. There’s no way she can leave work and come pick him up. She’s very apologetic about the situation, and agrees to pay for the damages. Fortunately, we have a guy who works here who paints/fabricates/stuff here in our shop, and he’s able to remove the paint without much effort…She’s thrilled, and thanks me profusely. I recommend that she send her son to our office/shop next week for a few days – we’re gonna have him work it off. She agrees, so next week we’ll have another employee. The kid spoke to his mother on speakerphone (by this time, every employee in the office is hanging around to see the outcome) and she laid into him. Honestly, if I was that kid, I would have rather dealt with the police than his mother….which brings me to something else…

The entire time I was dealing with this, I was actually very nervous. I only realized after the fact, that my hands were shaking. I know what that kid was feeling. When I was his age, I was doin’ my fair share of vandalism. And stealing stuff. And crashing stolen cars. And eventually, seeing the inside of a Juvenile Detention Facility. (The facility linked is brand new – I stayed at the old one.) I remember EXACTLY what it feels like to be collared; nervous with terrified anticipation, and completely paralyzed with the fear of the punishment my apprehender would bestow. Remembering the rumors you heard from “friends” about their experiences with The Law. Knowing there’d be no more Nintendo, playtime, friends, desert – or in my case, good ol’ fashioned freedom. Not grounded, mind you. But locked-the-eff-up.

I feel your pain, kid. I really do. I know how badly you wish you could turn back time – just for an hour. With just an hour of your life back, you could have refused your friends taunt to spray metallic gold Krylon on the side of someone’s vehicle. I know you’re on your way home now, and you’re breathing fast and shallow. You are trying to calm yourself down by scripting the scolding you’ll receive from your mom; convincing yourself that You’re wondering if the people that caught you are really going to make you work in their shop for a week.

Well kid, they are. You’re going to scrub and sweep and polish and clean and dump garbage until you go crazy. But you know what? it sure as hell beats crying yourself to sleep behind a locked door on a metal bed, feeling like you’re a million miles from home. I guarantee it.

Three Things I Thought, But Did Not Say, To The Cranky Old People At Islands Casual Dining Establishment, This Past Saturday

One) Yes, I brought my 10 month old daughter into a casual dining establishment to eat, and yes, she does travel with a lot of accessories, including a stroller the size of a hummer. I apologize if my fumbling navigation through the main traffic area of the restaurant interrupted what was obviously a deeply meaningful, special meal out for you both. At 12:30 in the afternoon. On a Saturday. In a mall.

Two) My daughter is one of the most joyful people I know. She laughs and smiles, and it causes the sun to shine brighter, and birds to sing in perfect, 4 part choral harmony. I’ve seen her turn ex-convicts and hardened IRS auditors into cooing and gushing buffoons with just one gap-toothed grin. So, please understand, when she stands up on my lap, and looks over the top of the booth at you, and smiles and laughs, she’s not trying to insult you. I only say this because, well, you looked insulted. These are her happy noises. If you would like to hear her full gail, 5:30 PM raging meltdown, so that an accurate comparison can be made, I can arrange that. And let me just add, as a side note, that if you are incapable of experiencing joy at the simple laugh of a smiling child, then something is seriously, tragically broken inside of you. You should maybe get that looked at.

Three) Dude. We’re at an Islands. I can understand how you might be deeply offended if I plopped my daughter down and started feeding her mashed squash and Cheerios while you were enraptured by Thomas Keller’s brilliant culinary offerings at the French Laundry. But come on – Islands? The waiters are wearing Hawaiian shirts and trying to get you to buy fruity passion tea drinks. Their specialty is called the “Big Wave Burger.” If a dad and his daughter can’t have a messy, laughing, joyful lunch together here, then the world has gone mad.

So, cranky old people sitting across from me at Islands, I’m sorry that you missed out on catching my daughter’s infectious joy, which is her mother’s great gift to her. My gift to her, on the other hand, will be writing pithy sardonic blog diatribes.