every once in a while you need to challenge your children — in this case, i mean — challenge their understanding of how the world really works (at the core) and keep it real.
this was one of those times…
a few weeks ago, there was a storm brewing inside our house…and it had the normal warning signs…the rumbling, the growling, the flashes of lightning on the horizon, and the general feeling that something big was going to erupt — and erupt soon.
the reason for the ominous weather was pretty simple — it was because my wife was upset. note: she’s not prone to this, takes a while to get her there, but it was too much. *thinking back on this event, i’m literally surprised that she didn’t throw down some serious lightning bolts right then and there [i could swear her eyes glossed over with that milky-white haze you see happen when storm (from the x-men) lights up the sky — boom!]
regardless, she was upset because our kids were disgruntled and complaining about everything (it was non-stop) — and so then, as you would expect, it happened — my wife burst😊and shared with me, in an edgy-hushed voice (upstairs while the kids were downstairs), why she was so frustrated…she told me that she couldn’t believe that the kids were so unaware and most importantly — so unappreciative of all that we (but particularly she was doing for them) — this list is not comprehensive but it included: laundry, organizing friend visits, getting them to school, cooking a good dinner, and setting up the elf on the shelf every night…
after our conversation, i knew i had to do something…so, i went downstairs and called the kids over…when we were face-to-face i gave them a play-by-play of all that mom had been doing around the house and said, you need to go upstairs right now and tell her that you’re thankful for all she does for you…they nodded and were beginning to turn to go upstairs when i said, and there’s one more thing (my own storm was getting whipped up by now), do you think the magic elves come in at night and really bring you all this shtuff?! *in my head it sounded more like this, do you think it’sthe flyin’ fuckin’ magic elves?! — but, i didn’t say that out loud…
[now, i know what you’re thinking — you didn’t— but i’ll tell you, oh yes i did! it was on now, and mom needed backup — and mom wasn’t the only thing that was going to burst, we were going to burst some worldviews here and now…had to do it (and our kids are in fifth grade, it was time and it was the time!)]
after i asked them that question, they were like: uhmmmm…
so i asked them: who do you think does all this stuff, really?
(after a pause) they said: you guys?!
me: yes, but primarily it’s your mom — look, this stuff doesn’t just happen, it’s not magic — it’s because work is getting done. you need to see that, be appreciative of it. so, go thank your mom.
this thanksgiving we drove out to my sister’s place near chicago — my sister is the aunt our kids refer to as “auntie-chocolate” because of her undying love of chocolate goodness and how she readily & regularly shares that with our kids. anyways, it was good to be together — and have some food & fellowship. we had all decided on an “italian meal”– becausei’m the only one who likes the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc. — so, we had pasta & meatballs, veggie lasagne, mascarpone with flatbread, salad, bread, wine, and a little lefse thrown in for good measure – to celebrate our norwegian roots 🙂
we also enjoyed playing games, relaxing, and watching some football — and some futbol (the world cup was on, of course!)
unfortunately, our trip was cut short because my daughter came down with influenza — the first sign was a really high fever that spiked on friday afternoon…so after some back-and-forth, we decided to head home and deal with the sickness at our own place and with our own doctor…being sick is no fun, but sometimes it’s more bearable when you’re in your own bed.
so, we packed up and headed back to our place in minnesota — during “the packing up time”, the departure (and saying goodbye to their beloved aunt), and for the initial part of the ride it was clear that my son was very bummed out and disappointed that we had to leave early — even though he understood the reasons why. it was clear that he felt that way because he let us know, by telling us — he’s a very verbal little dude 🙂
then, he said something awesome…
he blurted out, i wish we didn’t have to leave, but at least we get to see the Ohio State – Michigan game now.
[if we had left the next day, like originally planned, we would’ve missed it]
my immediate reaction was sheer joy (and ranks up there with the time(s) my daughter answers the question: where do you want to go to dinner? with this standard response: buffalo wild wings, gotta get some wings! — and i know i had a perma-grin on my face for the next 70 miles of our drive. i was like, yeah, that’s my boy — love it — cue the mic drop, the walk off home run, etc. — my work here is done! 🙂 but seriously, right before he made that comment i was thinking about how i would talk to him about how plans change and how things might not always work out the way we want (like having more time with his aunt in this case)…he’s the one (out of our two kids) who has the hardest time with disappointment (and change) in life…but, he worked his way out of it on his own…and that was the really awesome thing about this moment!
prior to this fall…it had been hard for me to see God, the higher power, the ultimate goodness — in the day-to-day — it was a significant non-God phase for me…where i definitely felt the absence of the Holy Spirit…but, then something happened…
and not once, but twice…
here’s the first thing that hit me…
it came out of the blue…two friends/families we’ve gotten to know through our kids’ friends randomly coordinated a double-sleepover for our kids, jack & grace. and they did this so that my wife & i could have an overnight together (without our kids around). when i first heard about the offer (through my wife) i was so overwhelmed by the gesture that it nearly knocked me off me feet. i had that reaction because it had been 10 years since we’d had a completely solo overnight without our kids!let me say that again — it had been a decade! pretty wild. have you ever been given a gift like that?! if you have, you know what i’m talking about — when it happens, it rocks your world (in the best possible way)…it was very generous and thoughtful — and my wife and i made the most of it! thank you, tanya & gretchen — for that little (but big) act of kindness — we are grateful for the gift you gave us — 100%! while i know there are those who may use this term to reference different experiences — in my world, what happened to us is what i’ve come to call being God Smacked — to be loved with such a force that it bowls you over, right then and there! 🙂
*in retrospect, the most ridiculous part about this whole thing was my thinking as we were getting to know these friends a year or two ago – i was like, i’ve got my friends, i don’t need new ones, i don’t need to get my friends through my kids, etc…but then, i came to know them and like them (for sure) and pretty quickly overcame my silly resistance towards these new friendships — even before this amazing gift!
**this event also ignited a memory — and i had flashbacks to when the kids were first born (we had twins) — and at that time, so many friends and family members showed up and loved us — and helped us through those early days…we wouldn’t have made it to today without that kind of love…
i was on “solo duty” (watching the kids on my own) for the night, because my wife was out having some fun with her girlfriends. i thought about making dinner (for a second), then decided we should stop off somewhere to grab a quick bite (there were a few things on the schedule for the night–dinner, homework, showers, etc.). and, my students at the high school had been on my case about the fact that i hadn’t yet been to “cane’s chicken” (like in a relentless, merciless way, like there was no other place on earth to think of getting some chicken)–so, i thought we should try it out.
after picking up the kids at school–that’s where we headed, to cane’s chicken. and, after navigating the winter wasteland of the twin cities area, we made it there. as i approached, i could see that the parking lot was jammed with vehicles–including the drive-thru line, which wrapped around the entire establishment. and, of course, the drive-thru line was where i was headed. i mean, i’m on solo duty, here–got to get this show on the road–no time to go in, sit down, and have a normal-paced dinner with my children.
so, i pull into the parking lot and make my way towards the end of the drive-thru line. as i cruise in, i see a red car parked to my right, as if the driver is waiting for something, but it’s not clear what (at least not to me and at that moment); so i cruise by it (her) and we exchange a quick glance and i settle into to my spot at the end of the drive-thru line. within 2 seconds, i hear a horn blast from behind me and i look around. then, i look at my side mirror. i see the woman in the red car “flip me off” and mouth some swear words at me.
my kids are aware of the horn, but can’t see the woman who is upset — so, I tell them “the woman behind us is unhappy” 🙂
then, i sit back for a moment.
i pause and think.
i’m agitated and annoyed that she’s pissed off at me.
i consider staying in the spot.
it’s what i would’ve done in my younger, more immature days (a couple of years ago 😉 )
[but seriously, it is what i would’ve done before. i grew up fighting. but, over time, i’ve tried to work on that response, that reaction–pick my battles, you know. sometimes i’m successful, sometimes i’m not–sometimes i realize that i still need to work on that shit (but, that’s a whole ‘nother story for whole ‘nother time)]
regardless, it’s not what i do now. at this moment–i don’t escalate, i don’t fight.
[it’s not what i do now because a thousand traffic incidents flash through my mind in a millisecond–times where people have cut me off–and i see myself, my reaction. and, it’s exactly like hers!]
so, i tell my kids, “she’s upset because i cut her off, though i didn’t mean to.”
and then, i do something i’ve never done before. i pull out of my spot in the drive-thru line and slowly go around the entire building. i circle back to the end of the line and come to the spot right behind her.
well, the line moves forward (slowly). after some time, we finally get to the speaker box and place our order. two chicken strip meals for the kids and the “big box” for dad. as we get past the turn we can see the woman in the red car in front of us. she is at the window where you pay. the kids and i are talking a little bit and we’re happy to be getting closer to getting our food. then, i notice something. the woman in the red car is talking to a cane’s employee and gesturing back at our vehicle…it seems like they’re in conversation “about us”. i mention this to the kids and the kids are wondering (like i am) what this could be about. i’m thinking, now what, is she taking up the incident with the staff?!
eventually, she rolls forward to the “pick-up” window and i pull forward to the “pay window”. i roll down my window and reach out to hand the worker my cash for the order. as i’m halfway there, he stops me and says, “you don’t need to pay for your food, she did” (and he points to the woman in the red car in front of us). i’m incredulous-what?!
the worker and i exchange a brief rundown of the situation, then i immediately put my hand up and wave a “thank you” to the woman.
she waves back.
with all five fingers this time 🙂
we get our food, head home, and enjoy some “really good chicken” (the high school students were right)–but, i’m fuckin’ jazzed–i can’t believe what just went down in the drive-thru line.
i know it’s such a little thing, but it’s fuel for life–it gives me hope, you know.
those were the words i heard my wife say to my son (almost a year ago)…as we were getting ready to leave my wife’s sister’s house…
we had been over at their place celebrating several cousins’ birthdays (including our own kids) and spending some time together as families, when those words floated up from the basement stairs…
when i approached my wife at the top of the stairs, with an eyebrow raised and a look of like–what did he say?
she said, i’ll tell you in a minute, let’s just get moving.
well, “a minute” turned into a half-hour and eventually we said “our goodbyes” and packed the kids and all their stuff into the van. in the driveway, while the kids were tucked securely away in the vehicle, i asked my wife–what did he say?
she turned to me and said, he said that ‘he didn’t want to leave and that he wished he lived here–because their house was so much better than our house.’
there was a moment of silence.
then, i said–really? ok, i’ve got this.
[i said that because i could see that she was at her wit’s end and done with the challenging behaviors that had ‘run her ragged’–i said that, because it was time for me to “tag in”]
then, my wife got into the van and i got into my own car and we both headed home (i had come from work, so we had driven separately)…but, i left first and flew home. en route, i thought about all the possible ways to respond/talk to my five-year-old son about what he had said and how to communicate just how important it is to be ‘thankful for where we live’ and all that we have (i mean, i had just loaded up a shit-ton of birthday gifts for him and his twin sister, people! come on?!) – but everything i came up with, initially anyways, was either inappropriate or illegal–and could’ve potentially resulted in some sort of serious negative outcome…like losing parental rights.
then, just before i got to our house, it hit me…i knew what i was going to do.
upon arriving home, i went inside and got down to business…i knew i had to move fast because my wife and kids weren’t too far behind me.
so, i went into jack and grace’s bedroom and over to jack’s side of the room — and got to work — completely stripping his bed. i took off the pillows, the stuffed animals, the bed sheets, the mattress–everything! as quick as i could, i jammed all of that stuff (including the mattress) into our bedroom and shut the door. after that, i walked to the kitchen, poured myself a jack and coke, sat down at the table and waited.
well, they came home a few minutes later and were bustling about…
i said nothing.
after a few minutes, grace went down the hall to their bedroom and immediately i heard her call for jack…
jack, come here.
so, jack walked down the hall.
i heard their murmurs–as they were talking about ‘what was going on with jack’s bed?!’ and ‘what had happened?!’
my wife walked down there too, and walked back out to me and said, uh-oh.
i gave her wink and said, yep, why don’t we go down to their room and have a little talk with our children.
when we got to their bedroom, i told them that we wanted to have a little talk with them, but especially with jack (and that grace could listen, because she needed to hear this, too)…they looked up at us, wondering what we were going to say and what all the “fuss was about”…
this is what happened next…
me: hey, bud, can i talk to you for a minute?
me: hey, mom told me what you said at your cousin’s house-do you remember?
me: did you say something like, ‘you wished you lived in their house because their house was so much better than ours?’
me: any particular reason why you said that?
me: jack, i just want to say that, while they do have a beautiful house, it’s good to know that we have one, too, you know. we live in a great house. one that your grandma and grandpa lived in and loved. one that is full of a lot of good memories. i don’t want to hear you say things like that about where we live again, ok? because we are thankful to have this place–and, we like where we live.
me: could you do me a favor? could you climb up on your bed?
jack: but, my bed is gone.
[the bed-frame was there and so were the wooden slats that held up the mattress]
me: i know, but hop up there anyway, ok?
[he climbs up on the bed-frame]
me: now, it’s going to feel a little weird, but i want you to lean back, lie down on the bed.
me: yeah, just lean back.
[so he leans back on the hard, wooden slats]
me: (gently) hey, jack, how does your bed feel now? does it feel good? like something you’d like to sleep on?
jack: (right away) no, it’s not good, it’s hard.
me: (after about 5 seconds or so) i know, why don’t you sit up now.
[he sits up right away]
me: jack, i know it didn’t feel good, but i want you to remember that feeling. i want you to remember that feeling because that is the feeling of not having anything, the feeling of not having all the good stuff you have–here in this house–ok? don’t forget about all the good things you have and the great house you live in, ok?
my wife: do you understand, jack?
me: ok, good, go ahead and get washed up for bed.
[while my wife gets him and his sister get ready for bed, i put his bed back together–reset the mattress, the sheets, the pillows the stuffed animals, etc. — after a while, they come back all ready for bed]
me: hey, jack, come back up here on your bed. i want to ask you one more thing, ok?
[he hops up on his bed]
me: why don’t you lay down and get under the covers, ok?
[he crawls under the covers]
me: now, how does that feel?
me: remember the feeling without this stuff? and now, it feels good, right?
me: don’t ever forget this feeling either–right now–the warmth, the comfort. it feels pretty good. that’s the feeling of having what you have.
me: good night, son.
jack: good night, daddy.
[i give grace a good night hug & kiss and turn out their lights and leave–two steps out of their room, my wife and i “high five” in the hallway and enjoy some time together (on our own) while our children fall asleep-yay!]
now, what he said wasn’t the worst thing in the world…not even close (take it from me, i’ve heard the worst things in the world:)…and along with that, they (our relatives) do have a truly amazing house, no lie–and, he could’ve been saying that for any number of reasons–maybe because they have a foosball table, new carpet and basement, or any number of other things–and we don’t–who knows?!
but, nevertheless, it was important to us, it was the principle of it all…to help him see that he has a lot to be thankful for, we all do–and sometimes we miss the very things that are right in front of us!
the things that you only see when they’re gone.
so, with that in mind…won’t you, please, have a blessed and happy thanksgiving!
yesterday, we said goodbye to one of the most important people in our lives…our day care provider…
given the impact this woman had on our lives, i am re-posting (below) a post i shared more than 3 years ago…
everything in this post is still true today…or, more true…meaning, you just need to “times” all of the good shtuff i said below by ten thousand (x 10,000) and then you’ll be close to just how much my wife and i love and appreciate her, our day care provider…
note: in the first version of this post, i didn’t give out her actual name–for privacy reasons–but i’m gonna do that now…because if you’re out there (in the twin cities)–looking for a place for your kids–look no further, sign up today!!!
thank you, stefanie berge/sharon (owner/operator of tender heart childcare) you’re the best around!
to see what i’m talking about, please keep reading…
before i was a teacher, i worked with kids in many different settings…coming through a gauntlet of years in youth work & (now) teaching, it takes a lot to impress and inspire me in this field…
but, i have been truly impressed and inspired over the past 3+ years…
with our in-home day care provider…
and yes, i said in-home daycare provider! …in-home daycare programs are often regarded as marginal, “fly-by-night” operations that may be alright in an emergency….but not as a “serious long-term consideration”…because people think that “they’re just not as good as centers” or a mom/dad staying home with their children…nor are they viewed as “safe places”–you get the feeling that this is one of the most horrific decisions you can make for your children–tantamount to sending a kid cross-country on an orphan train (esp. from my parent’s generation) …like your kids will end up abducted, abused, neglected, abandoned, in the emergency room, dead in the street and on the nightly news if you leave them there!!! i heard the world saying, please report to the shame corner and turn in your parent card, now!
…this is not the case with our person, sharon–yes, her name has been changed to protect the innocent–or in the many cases of parents who use amazing in-home daycare providers each and every day…anyways, my wife did the first drop-n-go routine, through a river of tears (mind you, this is a person who cries over the voice🙂 and i did the job three days later…and this is what happened…
i entered the house, took off my shoes, and proceeded downstairs to find my children…i was excited to see them…arriving downstairs, i made eye-contact with my son and daughter…they recognized me and smiled…but, they weren’t that excited to see me…they stayed where they were–by the side (son) and in the arms (daughter) of sharon…i thought, what the hell is this?! i’ve been your father for nine months–you think that was a piece of cake–i was there when you were colicky, when you wouldn’t sleep, when you had that “projectile shit”–the rapid fire, .50 caliber shtuff that ‘took out’ the nursery room door–and this is how you repay me…how dare you?! i mean, i had envisioned my children running from sharon, bounding towards me–their father–with outstretched arms (press play on can’t hold back by survivor)…but, it didn’t happen…so, i made funny faces, talked to them, waved for them to come to me…but still, they stayed with sharon…so, i hiked back upstairs, put my shoes on, went out to the van and grabbed the wonder bar…so-to-pry my children off of their in-home daycare provider!
…since those early days, we’ve seen and heard all about the amazing things they’ve learned from sharon…sign language, “how to wear a helmet with style”, music, how to pronounce their “t’s”, please and thank-you’s, “how to help”, potty training–you name it…she is unbelievable …so, let me just take this moment to say…thank you, thank you, thank you, sharon…for teaching our kids, for loving our kids like that…i am impressed and inspired…you’re the “+1” to my wife and i, you’re the best around…
i have a language problem, and anyone who knows me knows it’s true–it’s no secret…it’s been something i’ve been trying to work on since we’ve had children–and there was one day, in the not too distance past, when i knew–things had to change…here’s that story…
it was a day after many long weeks–we had sold our house and just moved into a new house–and at the same time that we were dealing with that major life transition, my wife and i were trying to keep up with our kids and our jobs…anyways, one day after work, i picked up our kids from daycare and headed home–they were tired from all of it, too…and it showed in their behaviors, as they were crabby with each other and with me for the whole ride home…
[author’s note: when we got home my kids were demanding snacks and juice and having to go to the bathroom and 100 other things…meanwhile, i was running through a mental checklist in my brain of what we had in the liquor cabinet, because daddy was going to need some “juice”, too! 🙂 ]
so, here’s what went down on that fateful day in october…
jack: daddy, i have to go poopy.
me: go ahead and head into the bathroom, i’ll be in there in a minute.
he goes into the bathroom and gets to work and i get grace some juice and a snack…
jack (after a few minutes): daddy, i’m done!
daddy (walking towards the bathroom): o.k., i’m coming.
jack: can you wipe me?
i say this as i turn towards the toilet paper holder…unfortunately, i don’t see any toilet paper on the holder…i look to the basket where “backup paper” is kept and it’s empty, too…then, i hear my son’s voice again…
jack: can you wipe me, daddy?
me: yes, jack.
then, i hear my daughter crying for more snack from the other room…and i shout to her…
me: in a minute, gracie.
feverishly, i start going through the cabinets, looking for the almighty tp…it’s not looking good, i can’t find any…and i hear jack again…
jack (impatiently): daddy, i need to be wiped.
daddy (more impatiently): i know.
frustration is mounting on all sides when i go to the last cabinet…no dice…no toilet paper in there either…and that’s when i say it, that’s when i swear…
i realize i’ve said it “out loud”, but it’s too late…because jack speaks up again, to my chagrin…and this is how it goes…
jack: fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck! fuck!
me: no! no! no! no! no!
eventually, i locate some tp in our bathroom and use it on him and get them their snacks and juice…and eventually, everything settles down…
but, deep down, i know that parent fail #76 just happened…
in the months that followed, i tried, really hard, to regulate my language…that experience was enough to startle me into some efforts for better behavior…i mean, having my son mimic me like that, like a little mockingjay–what the fuck?! 🙂
then, recently…i was startled again, when i heard my daughter say…
oh my God!
when i heard her say that, i stopped right in my tracks (again, i was making them their after day care snack) because she said it like an expletive–not in a praise to the Almighty kind of way…
here’s our exchange…
me: hey, now…we don’t say that.
gracie: oh, o.k.
me: we say, “gosh” or “golly”, right?!
me (not really wanting to ask): where did you hear that?
jack and gracie are silent and then look at each other…then, gracie sings…
oh my God, i’m coming home.
at first, i don’t get it and am a bit confused…
me: what? wait?! from the song we play?!
[we have an i-home where we play all kinds of music, and what i realized–in that moment–was that she was referencing a song called, “Oh my God, I’m Coming Home” by the christian musician david crowder.]
after a short conversation about the differences between singing it like the way he does and using it in everyday life as an expletive, my kids go off to play and think/say nothing of it going forward…
but, i’m still worked up about it, i’m still ticked…mostly at david crowder…mr. pop-christian musician...in my mind, i envision confronting him and throwing down…damn you, crowder, damn you!
since the most recent incident, i have mixed up the playlist…and substituted in–“Mama I’m Coming Home” by ozzy osbourne…
during one day in march, i took my kids to the mall to run around (because it was cold out)…and once they saw the toy store it was all over, game over…
or maybe, it was game on…
once we crossed the threshold of the store, all i heard was…
i want this, i want that…
from superheroes to legos to games…it was a non-stop barrage of begging and pleading…then, after an hour there…i pulled them away, and we went to another store…there were some toys there, too…and it began again…
i kept thinking…
what happened to my sweet children?! where have they gone?!
i fought off those punches, too…and left the mall…without buying them a single thing…as we left, they were whining and unhappy–and i was smiling and happy…even though i felt a little bit like the bad guy…and even though it wasn’t an easy or fun thing to do…to repel those requests…it’s not…it’s not the peak of the mountain for a parent…but, a little rise, a hilltop, when it turns out…and i’ll take it!!!
i mean, they must have asked me for a toy at least 1000 times…and i must have said “NO” in equal measure…
but at the end of it all, the score was…
daddy 1 – 0 jack & grace
it may not seem like much, but it was a huge victory…and a bigger one for them (later in life)…
now, don’t get me wrong…i’ve been “played” before (like a fiddle in the devil went down to georgia)…manipulated by my four year-olds…lost out to their wishes and will before (it’s crazy how early they learn those skills–how early we learn those skills)…but, i keep trying…and on that day in march, i thought to myself…i won this round–we won this round…
all along, as they were working me over…i kept hearing that voice in the back of my head…it was the voice of dr. david walsh, parent and child expert…encouraging me, reminding me…
we say “no” to our kids because they can’t say “no” to themselves–in doing so, someday they will be able to!