Tag Archives: parenting

(The Father of) The Mother of Dragons

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My friend Jack and I are standing in my front yard talking about The Big W’s – Weather, Work and Wives – when Quinn runs up and slams into my legs, a big smile painted across her face. I assume that she probably wants to tell me about a bug she saw, a rock she found or a bird she heard – these are the ecstatic ramblings of children long before the boring gray fuzz of adulthood has tainted their world view.

Jack bends at the waist and slaps his hands onto the tops of his knees and, in a sing-song voice says, “Why, hello there, princess!” Quinn looks up at him with a furrowed brow then looks over at me and I can hear her thoughts, Why is this guy talking to me like I’m a baby animal?

How are you doing, Princess?”

“I’m, uh, fine?” and she says it like a question.

“You are beautiful, Princess! You are just beautiful, aren’t you?”

I cringe at the buttery compliments.

Quinn looks up at me. “Dad?”

“Yes?”

“Are, uh, princesses… uh, real?”

“Yes.”

“Like… on this planet?”

“Yes.”

“And they’re alive right now?”

“Yes.”

These are the three qualifiers Quinn uses in order to distinguish when and where a thing took place. She understands that things could have existed BEFORE now but exist no longer – like dinosaurs – or that things could exist outside of this country – like things in Africa – or that things could exist outside of this planet – like the sun and the moon. What she’s really asking is, “How accessible are these things to my reach?” How accessible are princesses to me? That’s the real question.

Can I be one?

Jack answers for me. “Of course they’re real! There’s one standing in front of me right now! A pretty princess! That’s you!” I cringe again. The last thing I want is my daughters to associate with characters who get trapped in towers, are afraid of spiders, and constantly require some form of assistance.

That is no one to make into a role model.

These ideas of “princess” are not inherent from birth. These ideas are fed into our daughters. We show them the pictures. We show them the movies. We glamourize the idea and the lifestyle. They are magical and beautiful and they don’t have bad hair and they never wet the bed and they don’t have to have jobs or work and everything is wonderful and their lives are perfect and how does it always end for a princess?

Happily Ever After.

And in all fairness, why would you not want that? I’m half tempted to throw a dress on myself and march around a castle while tethered to the sexual whims of some hunky prince in order to forego a few of the greater responsibilities of my standard adult life. Don’t judge.

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We may not intentionally give our children this idea that they should actually dream to be a princess (I would never!). We may not intentionally feed this lie to them (They’re just movies!). We may not intentionally form them to believe this (Do you want to be a princess for your birthday?) but there are lessons in repetition and our culture helps shape that which we are.

It shapes girls through childhood with fun movies. It shapes ladies through their teen years, which we then couple with beauty magazines. It shapes women through adulthood, which we then couple with pornography. And they take all this baggage into the work force, which we then couple with an antiquated and slowly dying cultural idea that men work and women stay home and then we wonder why women make, across the board, slightly less in the workforce.

Perhaps we’ve spent decades telling girls that they deserve slightly less. Perhaps we’ve spent decades convincing ourselves that they deserve slightly less.

And maybe we all, on some level, believe it… even if we say we don’t. Perhaps there is a part of us all that still believes they are the fairer sex.

How do we know if we believe this? Well, if a man tells you that his wife works full time and he is a stay-at-home dad, what is your first, internal, gut, emotional reaction?

Your very first reaction is probably, like mine. “Wow, that is a-typical. I wonder what that’s like?”

I have full acceptance of it – no judgment – but there is this part of me that acknowledges that it is somehow out of the realm of what we typically understand to be true.

And herein lies the problem. Because we, as individuals or as an entire culture, can simultaneously acknowledge that it is okay and “progressive” for a woman to work and a man to stay home while also understanding that part of us finds it to be outside the norm.

And so if you also think it to be outside the norm, it is because you believe (or have been told to believe) that, like me, women have a specific place and men have a specific place. If your first thought is “That is unique,” then you too are trapped in this way of thinking even though you don’t think you’re trapped in a way of thinking.

Culture has also made you and I, as men, believe certain things without our knowing that we believe them.

Scary.

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Perhaps we re-educate our daughters on what it means to be a woman. Perhaps we re-educate our girls on what it means to be a princess.

Perhaps we put Jack’s princess to rest.

Or better yet, perhaps we kill her completely. Perhaps we just let her starve to death in the tower as a lesson for not having the get-up-and-go to rescue herself. Rapunzel, you had hair. You could have crawled down yourself. Cinderella, you could have left. There was NOTHING tying you to that house. Those people hated you. Ariel, you doctored your birth form and gave up your entire world for a guy you just met simply on the hope of Happily Ever After.

These. Are. The. Lessons.

Settle for less.

Wait for help.

Change who you are.

And if you make twenty cents an hour less than men doing the same job, maybe that’s just your place. After all, that’s what we’ve taught you.

Perhaps feminism wouldn’t have to exist if we raised our daughters believing they were bad asses from the very beginning. Perhaps our daughters would never ask, “Am I good enough?” if we stopped telling them stories that highlight all the reasons why women aren’t good enough / pretty enough / strong enough.

Perhaps we start telling them stories about women that are leaders instead of women that wait for leaders.

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Quinn looks up at me, a revelation dawning across her face, “Dad, am I a princess? Is this true?” Jack has planted the seed.

And now I must garden.

“Well, let’s see… do you have a crown?” “No.” “Do you have a scepter?” “No.” “Do you have a castle?” “Uh, no.” “Do you own any lands? Is your mother a queen? Do you have servants? Do you settle disputes amongst your countrymen?”

“Uh, no. I don’t do those things.”

“Then you probably aren’t a princess.”

Jack says, “Why would you tell her that?” and I say, “The same reason I tell her that she is not God nor an earthworm.”

“Dad? Is, uh, Cinderella a princess?”

“Yes, she is.”

And in that moment I see the light in her eye. I see the draw of The Princess. I see that my daughter wants it because, at her core, I think most little girls do. And that’s okay too. But how do we separate all the terrible trash from the good stuff? How do we tell them that it’s okay to be a princess and it’s okay to be pretty and it’s okay to dance and fall in love but… there is more. That is not all. The princess you know is an incomplete story. Because she is an incomplete character.

She is flat and brainless and you are not.

In her question I see an entire culture of beauty pressures and weight problems and negative encouragement and impossible goals and cosmetic surgery and feminism and macho bullshit swirling in a tornado, trying to rear its head, trying to sneak into Quinn’s ears and her head and her psyche, trying to poison the vision of who she is. Trying to mold her (and I mean “mold” both in the sense of “forming shape” and also as “an organism that slowly eats away and decays”).

Maybe that voice in our culture is impossible to stop. Maybe it’s a hopeless battle and all of the body image shit that bathes and berates our females is impossible to hide from.

But maybe not.

Maybe we just need to alter the messaging a bit.

I squat down onto one knee, proposing an idea.

“Quinn, you know what? Princesses are real. There are princesses on this planet right now. On this Earth. And you know who the best one is?”

“Uh, Cinderella?”

Me, “Nope.”

“GREAT GUESS, PRINCESS!” That’s Jack.

“The greatest princess of them all is a woman just like you named Daenerys Stormborn. And she is the Mother of Dragons.”

“DRAGONS!? SHE HAS DRAGONS!?”

“Oh, yes. Three of them.”

Jack, “I don’t think you can tell her that.”

Me, “You think I should stick to Cinderella and her transforming pumpkin-carriage as the barometer for reality?”

Jack shifts his eyes, “Uh, what?”

“THREE DRAGONS!?” that’s Quinn in full excitement.

“Yeah. And you know what else? She flies around on them.”

“WHAT!?”

“And they breathe fire.”

WHAAAAAT!? FROM THEIR MOUTHS?!

“Bingo.”

Can I see a picture?!”

I pull out my phone and, thanks to Google and the wonderful CG team at HBO, I show her a picture of a very real looking Daenerys riding a very real looking dragon that is breathing very real looking fire.

“OH. MY. GOODNESS.”

“Can I tell you something else? She is a very. Powerful. Warrior. She is strong and she is brave and she stands up for people that are weak and she stands up for people that don’t have a voice. She is a hero. What do you think about that?”

“THAT IS REALLY KEWWWL!”

“Yes, it is. I agree. Now then, what do you think? Would you rather be Cinderella with her glass slippers going to the dance or Daenerys Stormborn with her dragons, breathing fire and battling the wicked?”

“I want to be Dan Harris!”

“I thought so. Remember, being pretty is nice. But being smart, brave and kind – being a leader – this is who you are. This is what’s really inside of you. Capiche?”

Capiche!

Quinn smiles and runs away. I stand up and smile at Jack, “Sugar and spice and everything nice only goes so far. Sometimes you’ve gotta pour a little whiskey in the soda if you want it to bite back.” Jack smiles in a way that makes me think he does not agree.

And that too is okay.

I acknowledge that someday Quinn will grow up and will most likely seek a spouse. And when she does, I want her to choose someone that she wants to be with. Someone that accentuates her happiness and helps to highlight her charm.

Our culture has a loud voice. And that voice tells us that spouses complete us. The voice tells us that our spouse is our other half.

But I say no.

I say we are complete people before we meet one another. A person does not complete another person. A person adds their brew to the mix. They bring their own ingredients and they help create a spicier dish but they do not complete the recipe.

Marriage does not complete you anymore than having children completes you anymore than having the proper job completes you anymore than having the right pair of pants completes you.

You are you.

You are you regardless of who you’re with.

Quinn doesn’t need someone to complete her. She can choose to be with someone because she loves being with them. Because their company is delightful. Because they find happiness in the other’s presence. Not because they will give her Happily Ever After.

Quinn comes running back, wrapping her arms around my leg.

“Daddy?”

I place my hand on her forehead. “Yes, Breaker of Chains?” Quinn squints at me. “Uh, those dragons… are they real?”

Ah, I knew that one was going to come around.

Sometimes, as a parent, it is our job to build up our children and raise them to be the best version of themselves that we believe they can be. Sometimes it’s our job to protect them from all the flying bullshit in the world – at least for as long as we can. Sometimes it’s our job to remind them to think for themselves and to question the status quo. Sometimes it’s our job to tell them the very hard truths of life.

And sometimes.

Sometimes.

It is our job to lie.

“Yes. The dragons are real. They are the last three in the world. And Daenerys has them and she flies around on them, fighting evil. And you, Quinn. You can fight evil as well.”

“I’M GOING TO!” and she turns and runs off into the yard, where I hear Rory and Bryce laughing.

Sometimes lying is good.

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Discovering Rainbows: When your children turn to memories

Sometimes, when we speak to children, specifically those under the age of 3, we find that there is something of a communication barrier.

Sometimes it’s because the words they use contain different meanings than the words we use. For example, when my children say “yesterday” they don’t mean “the day directly previous to today.” Instead they mean “any period of time that came before my last sleep.”

Dinosaurs were yesterday.

Sometimes Rory says that I’m being a bully. But he doesn’t mean “someone that pushes smaller people around” he means… well, he actually means exactly that but the heart of the matter is quite different. He doesn’t like being disciplined. So when I give him a time-out for hitting his sisters, I am, effectively, being a bully.

And then there are times where things are not understood because they are taken out of context.

One day I’m at a friend’s house and Rory turns to one of the girls there and says, “My dad says that we should eat blood.”

And then all eyes slowly shift towards me and I smile sheepishly and stupidly because, well, yes. Actually, as a matter of fact, I did say that.

But my context… was a little different.

Jade and I had recently visited Ireland where they have black pudding. Black pudding is made by taking animal blood, mixing it with oats and spices, forming them into patties and then frying them. Ultimately they look and taste a little like breakfast sausages. So I was telling the kids about this. I was telling them about the time daddy ate blood. And I was telling them that people do this. And I was telling them that they could do it as well.

So yes, I was telling them that they could eat blood.

Conversations and words are strange things because ultimately, words are just empty containers – empty cups – and each of us gets to choose what we’re going to fill them with. Knucklehead can be aggressive or endearing. It’s just an empty cup until I fill it with intent.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Sometimes, however, we can’t understand children of that age because, well, we just literally can’t understand them. Their lips and tongues and brains aren’t quite functioning at full capacity yet. Their words sound mushy and drunk.

Like today when Bryce said, “Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

I hear these words escape her mouth and they’re said with such conviction that I’m certain they mean something. Certainly she’s saying something. For Bryce it seems that she has full intent but no cup and her words, rather than being neatly contained, are just splashing all over the place.

And so we try to interpret.

“Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

I’m sitting in a chair reading a book when she says this. I’m in the other room. There’s a wall separating us and my location in space has my back positioned to her. Ironically, you’ll just love this, my book is about finding happiness in the minutia of life. So it makes sense that, reading this book, I turn my head a quarter of an inch in my daughter’s direction and I say, “Oh, yeah. Neat. Okay,” and then go back to reading.

Rather than finding joy in my daughter, who is discovering and interacting with the exciting world around her – rather than connecting with a human, a child that came from me, no less – I choose to bury myself further in my own thoughts.

Because that’s what kind of person I am, I guess.

Because actions do speak louder than words.

Because even if we say, “I’m not like that,” our actions show us who we are. It’s so funny how, more often than not, our thoughts and our actions do not align. Our thoughts speak to ourselves (no one else can hear them) and our actions speak to others. So if we think one thing but do another, it creates a rift in our reality. We begin to think that we are someone that we are not. Or, worse yet, the world thinks we are one way while we think we are another.

There grows a haunting disconnect between that which we think we are and that which we actually are.

If I think I am the guy that gets up and engages with my children but when my children speak out to me, I pay them lip service in order to make them go away so that I can indulge in whatever it is I’m doing… who am I?

I give her just the absolute most minimal attention possible to hopefully satiate whatever want she has in this moment. Because I’m sure it’s nothing.

And then Bryce says, a little more enthusiastically, ““Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

“Nice. Nice. Yes. Yes. That’s very wonderful, isn’t it?” Look! I’m paying attention to you, Bryce! I’m giving you words.

I am giving Bryce empty cups. My words are cups but I have filled them with no intent at all. She is asking to be fed with attention and I’m just pushing empty plates at her.

“Nice. Nice. Yes. Yes. That’s very wonderful, isn’t it?” Whatever, whatever. Please leave me be. I’m reading a book. You are a babbling child who is almost certainly making a mess out of chocolate cereal at my dining room table. What do I have to say to appease you?

Or… what do I have to say to silence you?

Or… best yet… what do I have to say to make you go away?

Because you are bothering me and I want to be left alone.

What are we really saying when we say the words we are saying.

Sometimes I don’t understand what my daughter says because she’s three.

Sometimes I’m thankful my daughter can’t fully understand what I’m saying because she’s only three. Thank you, Bryce, for not understanding that I’m pushing you off.

Daddy. Darezah aimbow in our-owse.”

Alright. So this problem is not going away. I’m actually going to have to engage. I shut my book and I set it down and I stand up and I walk around the corner and I see Bryce sitting at the table with, wouldn’t you know it, a mess of chocolate cereal in front of her. Wonderful. Guess whose cleaning that up?

“What is it, Little Ohm?” This is a character from a movie I saw once and for some reason I started administering the name to Bryce.

“Look. Darezah aimbow,” and she points. And I look. And I see nothing. I see nothing and I just think to myself, of course.

“What are you saying?”

“Darezah aimbow. Dare.”

“There’s a rainbow?”

“Yah.”

“In our house?”

“Yah.”

Where is this rainbow?”

“Dare.” She points. I still see nothing.

I sit down next to her at the table. I lower myself several feet. I squint. I lower myself further. I try to relax my eyes. Still nothing.

“Are you a freaking psychic medium?”

“Yah. Dare.”

I squat down lower. I bring my eyes to her level. I tilt my head like hers. And I follow her finger and I see… a rainbow.

In our house.

And it is a simple thing. But it is also a beautiful thing.

“There is a rainbow. Look at that.” I sit in silence and stare at the thing for a moment. “It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yah. Vewy pwetty.”

“Yes. It is vewy pwetty, isn’t it?” And then the two of us just sit and watch it. We just… enjoy it together. Like a piece of art in a gallery. We just sit and watch the rainbow, the silence periodically broken by the sound of dry, crunching cereal next to me.

“I wuv you, Daddy.”

It’s out of nowhere. Out of the blue. It has no greater purpose. No shadow intent. She isn’t trying to get something out of me. She isn’t trying to do anything. It is a cup that is filled with cold and refreshing water. The perfect amount. At the perfect time.

Where do I fit in this picture? How did I help create a being like this? They arrive here perfect and then we just start to slowly mess them up.

“May I have a hug, Bruce?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, Daddy.”

She puts down her spoon, delicately and intentionally balancing it inside the bowl, steps forward and hugs me. And she holds it. And she squeezes. And I can feel her smiling. When she pulls back she gives me a kiss on the cheek and says, “I love you, Daddy.”

Oh, it’s funny what a little perspective will do to your life. It’s funny that if we stop looking at things the way we see them and start looking at them the way someone else sees them, we actually get to experience life in a richer capacity.

If we open our ears and hearts to others, we get to see the world in a multitude of ways.

We can be both here and there. We can see things as adults. We can see things as children. And if we join together and sit down, we can somehow see the world as both. It’s like the 3-D glasses. You get to see through two lenses at once. And everything pops. Everything is brighter. More intense. More saturated.

I glance back at the rainbow and see that it’s fading – almost a gray color now. And I think about how fleeting all things are. The sun, nearly 100 thousand miles away, cast its light in just this way, to reflect just perfectly through that window, that someone built in that way. All of that coupled with my daughter standing in this room at this time (making a mess from her chocolate cereal), facing the proper direction as she was the exact height at this time of her life to see this miniature spectrum.

And she saw it in this tiny little window of time where it was available to her. Just a few moments in the late afternoon.

This special thing happened.

And then it was gone.

And we couldn’t get it back. So hopefully we enjoyed it.

“You want some cereal, Daddy?”

I nod. “Yes, please.” And she feeds me one small piece of chocolate cereal at a time. She drops a marshmallow on the floor, says, “Oops,” and then picks it up. It’s now covered in dust and hair. She balances it back on the spoon and says, “Here.”

I reach out, dust it off and bite.

The rainbow in our house is gone.

And then the cereal was gone.

And then Bryce left the table.

And then years passed.

And then Bryce left the house.

And then it was just me sitting in a chair with a book, remembering the time that I got to share a rainbow with her. Hoping that I enjoyed it.

Because this memory is all I have left.

 

 

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THE CAVE: Getting lost in the darkness of a failing marriage

“You’ve been married for eleven years?” someone asks me.

“Yeah. Eleven years. It’s a long time. We’ve been together for fifteen.”

What? Did you get married when you were twelve? How old are you? You’ve been married fifteen years? What’s that like?”

I suspect that they anticipate me to tell them that marriage is beautiful and wonderful and that I’m married to my best friend and everyday is a marvelous adventure.

But I don’t.

Instead I tell them the truth.

“What’s it like? It’s, uh… Marriage is like this dark cave. And when you get married you both go into the cave together. You take hands and you step into the darkness. That’s the unknown – this new part of life. You walk next to each other for a while and then one day your hands get sweaty and so you let go of each other but it’s all good because you can still hear them next to you. You’re still talking and you know that they’re there. It’s dark. It’s black. But you know they’re next to you.

And then one day you’ve talked about everything and so you get kind of quiet and you decide that just spending time in one another’s company is enough. And so you just keep walking in the dark, next to each other, in silence. And it’s okay because you know that they’re still there. You can still hear their footsteps.

And then one day you ask them a question. And you get no response. And you realize that they are gone. You realize that you’ve gotten separated. You’ve drifted apart. And you are alone. And somewhere, they are alone as well.

You call out to them. You shout their name and you get no response. And so you go looking for them because you know that they’re there… somewhere. You know that somewhere in this cave they’re wandering around. They’re doing their thing and you’re doing yours.

You call for them and in the distance you hear them. And you keep shouting and you keep calling and you keep walking and you try to get back to them.

And you hope that you find them.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Some people are walking in the cave and they’re like, ‘I’m done walking in the dark with you.’ And those people turn around and they walk back towards the light. Sometimes they walk back towards the light and out of the cave together. And sometimes they do it alone.

And sometimes that’s okay.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

One day you wake up and you’re thinking, ‘This is not the person that I married. This is not the person that was standing next to me at the altar.’ And, if you’re self-aware enough you may realize that you are also not the same person that was standing at the altar and that your spouse is experiencing you in an entirely new way.

You’ve both changed. You’re both completely different people. And then you wonder if you can keep making it work. Because those other versions could do it… but you’re not sure these new versions are a fit.

How do you put together a puzzle when the pieces keep changing shape?

Now drop kids into the mix. Oh, shit. Things are getting complicated.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

You have a dream of having a career. A specific career. And so you educate yourself in that field. Maybe you go to college. Maybe you go to a tech school. Maybe you read books and watch YouTube videos. However you prepare for it, it is, at its core, a preparation. An education of self.

So then you get that job and then the industry changes – new technologies or practices emerge. So your boss sends you to receive additional training. You learn new ways to process information. You learn new techniques. The career field changes and so you must adjust.

So we apply hours and weeks and sometimes even years and sometimes even decades of preparation to a job (say hello, doctors!) and yet, when we discuss marriage, when we prepare to live with another person full time and make life changing decisions with them… we… do… nothing…

The church that married Jade and I encouraged us to take three 30-minute classes.

90 minutes of training for the task at hand is not enough.

I’ve been married for just over a decade and the training I’ve received on-the-job has not been nearly enough.

But marriage is not like a job. You just get thrown in first day with no idea what you’re doing and nobody encourages serious training. Nobody tells you to re-educate yourselves after five years or ten years. Nobody tells you that your marriage career is going to change and you’re going to have to make it work or get fired. And if you suggest education – if you suggest marriage counseling you get this taboo sense that something is wrong with you.

You know that feeling I’m talking about. That unspoken weirdness that everyone thinks but does not speak. This idea that is perpetrated in our culture that marriage counseling is for the weak and broken and… my personal favorite…

If you have to go to marriage counseling you weren’t meant to be.

Because if you have to ask for help it is because you are stupid. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that everyone else knows how to do this? Don’t you know that it comes easily and naturally to everyone else? Marriage is simple and straight-forward and if you need advice it is because the pieces do not work together and there is no hope anyways. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that it’s better to live miserable little lives than it is to seek counsel? Don’t you know that?

What if we applied that logic to other areas of our lives? Son, if you need to ask a question in class, you probably just aren’t smart enough to begin with.

If you need to look at the recipe for how to make chili, you probably weren’t made for chili. Sorry. It’s delicious but you don’t get any. Shoo-shoo, Oliver Twist.

Listen. Seeking education does not make you stupid or wrong. Seeking education makes you self-aware. Education and intellect craft a stronger individual, crafts a stronger family, crafts a stronger culture, crafts a stronger world.

Do not allow the uninformed to inform your thinking.

Do not be engaged and dissuaded by a society that has a 50% failure rate in marriage.

Set your own rules. Live by your own standards.

Education is not a swear word.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***

I’m broken.

That’s a fact.

I’ve got a bunch of baggage that I carry around with me everywhere I go. I’ve got baggage about my family. I’ve got baggage about my parents. I’ve got baggage about my faith. I’ve got baggage about my body. I’ve got baggage about my personality. I’ve got baggage about my grades and my IQ and my creative abilities. I’ve got pride issues. I’ve got insecurity issues.

And my wife gets to adopt them.

And I get to adopt all of her bullshit.

And then we have to figure that stuff out together.

We say things we don’t mean. We do things we know we shouldn’t. We raise our voices and we walk away from conversations and sometimes we hurt each other with nothing more than our intent.

Thank GOD people have not heard some of the stuff I’ve said to my wife in the heat of an argument. Shit has come out of my mouth that I think about today and cringe. I have said things to her for no other reason than to hurt her. And that speaks to who I am (or hopefully was) as a person, at my core. At the time I would have said it was her fault. It’s her fault for being a specific way and I was just bringing it all to light and if it hurt her it’s because it was true.

These are the words and thoughts of someone that is selfish and arrogant.

The vows tell us that we’re going to be together through sickness and health, for better or worse but what they don’t tell us is that it’s sometimes going to feel like you’re dragging along a dead marriage, fighting uphill to make it work. They don’t tell you that there will be periods of time – not just days and weeks but entire months – that drag on through the gray drizzle of time and you’ll wonder just what is wrong with your spouse because it’s not you. It’s not you. It’s never you. It’s always them. Making mistakes.

“I’m trying. You’re not.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Getting married is like a light to all of your shortcomings as a human being. Your spouse will illuminate all the problem areas. It’s painful and it’s terrible and it hurts to look at yourself and see all the flaws. And it’s just so much easier to turn your face to one side and not look at that pile of problems that create you, as a person, and it’s so much easier to deflect blame to the other.

It is so much easier to look at someone’s shortcomings and it is so much easier to nurture resentment for a million little things and a handful of big things.

It is so much easier to judge others.

And it is simple to judge our spouse.

And so you choose.

Those three thirty minute classes didn’t prepare us for cancer at 26. They didn’t prepare us for lay-offs. They didn’t prepare us for invitro-fertilization. They didn’t prepare us for twins. They didn’t prepare us for a miscarriage. They didn’t prepare us for the day-in-day-out minutia of life and they didn’t prepare us for the fact that Jade likes things done a certain way and I like things done a certain way and those ways typically are not the same but are, more often than not, quite opposite.

Those classes didn’t prepare us for anything.

I wish I could say that everyday Jade and I choose to hang onto each other in the darkness of the cave but the reality is that we don’t.

Sometimes we are cold and calculating.

And sometimes we are terrible.

And cruel.

But we try.

We choose.

We choose to continue to stumble blindly through the dark, seeking each other.

And sometimes we choose to talk about walking back into the light. Sometimes we talk about what a divorce looks like.

And sometimes we have fun together and we find each other and we remember why we do this. We remember why the search is worth it.

We remember that we love each other and that our family is amazing and that we’re very lucky and it is only our own selfish shortcomings that are destroying us and we realize that if we can choose to be better people, we can choose to be the best for each other.

And when our spouse shines a light on our problem areas – our selfishness, our arrogance, our pride – we can choose to get angry that someone noticed our darkness… or we can thank them for being close enough to us to point out our flaws. And then we fix them together.

“But, man…” I conclude. “Marriage is really hard.”

The guy across the table looks at me. I notice he doesn’t have a ring on his hand. I wonder if he’s thinking about proposing.

“But it’s also amazing. Marriage is beautiful and wonderful and I’m married to my best friend and everyday is a marvelous adventure.”

 

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HUG CONTEST

I’ve got this thing that I do.

At night, after I’ve got the kids in bed and settled down, books read, conversations had, questions answered, minds settled, I announce a Hug Contest.

One by one, they each get to give me a hug and then, at the end, I announce a winner. And yes, I announce an actual winner. I tell one of them that they gave the best hug. I try to mix it up but I also try to be fair because, honestly, not all hugs are created equal.

When we started doing this, Rory was more of a quantity over quality type of guy. He would jump at me, throw his arms around my neck and squeeze so hard that I would begin to see black dots in front of my eyes. I would fall to the ground, he would wrap his legs around me and wheeze into my ear while straining, “Is… this… a… good… hug?” Instead of answering, I would tap out.

Bryce is always a welcome competitor afterward as she likes to gently but firmly wrap her arms around my neck and squeeze. It is as though she often times actually embodies the hug. Becomes the hug. Her hair nuzzles up against my cheek and tickles my nose.

Quinn likes to mix it up – she’s kind of a mixed martial artist in that capacity. Little bit of technique from here, little bit from there, put em all together and what have you got? I never know what’s going to come at me. Sometimes it’s quite nice. Sometimes it is exceptionally painful. Sometimes she takes the Rory route, sometimes she takes the Bryce route and sometimes she just gives me a quick squeeze, almost an accidental brush-by and says, “How was that?” like she’s gaging my reaction in order to perfect the technique.

But here’s the thing about naming a winner in a Hug Contest… more important than the execution of the hugger is the need of the huggee.

Sometimes I want a warm hug. Sometimes I want it to linger. Sometimes I want Rory to put me in a rear chokehold until I black out. The kids are aiming at a moving target but they don’t know it. Which is great because they just try their best every single night.

And every night there is a new winner.

And the winner is always so happy. The winner always goes to bed smiling. Because the winner won.

And the best thing? Even when you lose, you’ve still gotten a hug.

I started by just rotating winners and that worked for a bit. Rory, Quinn, Bryce, Rory, Quinn, Bryce. But it quickly became too predictable, even for a three year old. I wanted to keep them on their toes. I didn’t want them to think that they were trapped in a thankless system where they just won every third day.

So then I started actually judging them. And then I told them why. I would tell them why they won.

So then. Quinn had proven herself victorious in the Hug Contest two nights in a row and then Bryce had won the following evening which ended with Rory saying, “I never win!” and then on the fourth night, just as I was getting Quinn into bed, she says, “Can we do the Hug Contest tonight?” and I say, “Sure! Let’s do it,” and then Rory says, “I want to be the judge,” and I say, “You want to be the judge in a hug contest that you’re competing in? Do you know what conflict of interest means?” and he says, “No.”

So I tell him that he can’t be the judge and I tell him this because I know. I know. I know what this little scoundrel is thinking. He’s thinking that if he is the judge then tonight he could rig the competition in his favor. He will nominate himself as best hug giver. He will reap the plunder.

But I’m a parent.

I’m smarter than that.

I’m smarter than him.

And so I say, “No. Sorry, man. You can’t be the judge. You can’t do it. Not if you’re in the contest. It wouldn’t be fair,” and he says, “PLEASE!?” and I say, “No, dude. It isn’t fair,” and he says, “Ug, doood.”

And so we round robin this thing and at the end I’m feeling quite loved and quite wonderful and I tell them all, their six eyes staring at me, “You guys… this is a first time ever, history making event, in the annals of Hug Contest history…”

They wait with baited breath.

We have a three way tie!”

I applaud and then Quinn says, “Yippie!” and Bryce echoes her and Rory moans. “But who won?” he asks and I say, “You all did!” and he says, “I want to be the judge,” and I say, “You want to judge?” and he says, “Yes. I want there to be a winner. Not a tie,” and I say, “Alright. Let’s all give Rory a hug and he can decide who wins. A second Hug Contest in one evening! Another history making event!”

And Rory gets serious and he says, “No. No dad. I don’t want to,” and I say, “You don’t need any hugs?” and in my head I think, How convenient. You don’t even need to see the competitors. You already know who the winner is. You’ve got a lot to learn about being shady, bub.

And so I say, “Okay. Let’s hear it, Rory. Who’s the winner? Who is the winner of your Hug Contest? Who… have you named winner?”

And Quinn and Bryce and I sit and stare at him as he holds a finger to his lips. He says, “Hmmmm…” and really mulls over the options. Decent form, I think. He’s obviously fooling the little ones but not me. I’ve got your number, pal. You think you’re being shady? I invented shade. I am the tree that casts it.

And then he smiles, completely aware that now is the moment he is unveiling his master plan. He looks at me and says, “You are the winner, dad! You give the best hugs!”

And then my heart breaks. And then my stomach turns inside out. And then my eyes begin to fill with tears.

Ah, shame. Guilt. Stupidity. Give me your best because I deserve them all. I am insignificant and putrid and vile. I am disgusting and full of loathing. I am selfish and stupid and, worst of all, obtuse and ignorant.

Aren’t I a humble parent? Aren’t I a humble person? No. Not at all. You think you know so much but you know nothing, Johnny Snow. You see the worst in people. You expect people to act selfishly. You anticipate people to act in a specific way. You think you are better. And this is one of your greatest faults.

The mirror is a painful place to look. Oh, there’s a shortcoming. And another. And another. And another.

It is one thing to look at yourself, examine yourself, and come to terms with certain facets of your personality, slowly turning them over and slowly revealing them. There is something soothing in that process – the process of growth, which we are all on over many, many years.

Oh, but the pain of having a child reveal the entire ugly picture of yourself to yourself, all at once. It’s like the coroner pulling back the blanket on the corpse of a loved one and seeing them diseased and rotting. But it is not a loved one. It is me. And it is not my rotting skin but my heart.

I leave their room with my head down, the weight of my pride dragging me to the ground.

 

 

 

***Subscribe for updates. New blog every Wednesday – friends, family, life, death, kids and adventure. And on Mondays we’re currently releasing a fiction in 10 parts called The Spiraling Cornucopia of Pale Lavender. Part one linked to the left and the intro is linked here. It’s a tale of evolving consciousness through many different plains of reality. If that sounds weird enough to check out, you should.

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Code 5 Quinn-pocalypse

I’m walking out of my house – I need to run to the grocery store to pick up some waters. It’s a quick in and out job. Super basic. I’ll be gone ten minutes. Max.

I hit the door and drop down the porch steps and I’m almost to my car when I hear Quinn behind me. She does this whine – it’s full of panic and concern. This tone that is like eeeeeeehhhhh! It’s a noise that sounds like she’s on the edge of a full nervous breakdown. Her voice wobbles and quivers. “Daddy! Wait! Wait! I didn’t give you a hug and kiss!

I can hear her shouting this from the living room. “Yeah! I’ll be back in just a minute! One minute! I will be right back, I promise!”

NO! HUG AND KISS! EEEHHHHH! PLEASE!

I keep walking. She’s on the porch now. Squealing. Now she’s running down the steps. Running towards me. I keep walking. “I will be right back, Quinn! You will see me in two minutes. I’m just buying a water.” And then my internal monologue kicks in, which goes something like this: What is wrong with this kid? What have we done to this child to give her such separation anxieties? This noise that she makes is killing me. It is driving me up the flipping wall. I wish she would just relax. Her panic is so dumb. And so senseless. I’m going to be right back. Why isn’t she listening to me? If she would just stop making these stupid whining noises and listen to me, she would know that I’m going to be right back. Why is she wasting my time?

This is the routine whenever either Jade or I leave the house. Every time. Every single time there is a fantastic meltdown over hugs and kisses. If you do not properly connect your lips with Quinn’s lips and give her a very proper hug that has a fairly specific form to it, then you are dealing with a Code 5 Quinn-pocalypse.

This is not, like, a thing. This is A Thing.

I’ve driven away before. I’ve been like F it. This is ridiculous. I’m leaving. This must stop. I get in my car and drive away. In my rearview mirror I see her standing at the very edge of our yard, waving her arms and jumping up and down and screaming, “HUG AND KISS! HUG AND KISS! DADDY! PLEASE! HUG AND KISS!” and I have no idea how long she stands there and does it for.

To remove all sugar coating and to be as primitive about it as possible – it is annoying and it gets under my skin and it drives me crazy because it doesn’t make any sense to me and, if I’m being completely honest, the vast majority of the time that I give her a hug and kiss, I do it as quickly as I can and just roll through the motions so that I can get to wherever it is that I’m going.

I brush her off.

And I’m not just brushing her off like she’s blathering on about how she wants mac and cheese for lunch but we just ate breakfast so please give me a second to finish doing the dishes but I’m actually brushing off her affection.

And so I’m standing on my front sidewalk and I say, “Quinn, yes. Hurry. Please. Hi. Hug and kiss. Okay. We’re done. Thank you. Go back inside. I’ll see you in a hundred and twenty seconds. Goodbye. Finally.”

And she says, “Okay! See you in a minute! I love you!” and then she runs back into the house.

And then I’m standing on my sidewalk and this feeling of… it was a light bulb turning on over my head. It was a feeling of illumination. I had a moment wherein I saw the darkness and I saw that I was swimming in it.

I was engulfed by it.

And I didn’t know it.

What has happened to me? What am I doing? What is wrong with me?

My child. She has come to me to see me off. To show me affection and admiration. She has come to me, small and powerless, to say I love you and I will miss you while you are away. You will only be gone for two minutes. But in those two minutes, I will think of you and I will wish that you were here. And I want you to know that.

And this is, apparently, just too fucking insignificant for me to waste my time with.

Sometimes I catch sight of myself and, for all the good I like to think that I do, I realize that I am still just a selfish piece of shit that knows nothing about humility.

 

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First World Problems

Sometimes too many words are just too many words so I’m going to keep this one short.

While visiting Nicaragua I heard a man say, “If you can fix it with money, it’s not really a problem… if you can’t fix it with money, then it’s a problem.”

Really simple words that have stuck with me for the last six months and have given me a simple clarity to most of my everyday issues.  I hope you can take a moment to meditate on that phrase and then go have a GREAT WEEK!  See you next Monday!

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/101108613″>First World Problems</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user3183899″>John Brookbank</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Bedtime Stories: Chapter 2

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I ask Rory to step into his pajama bottoms and I say, “What is our bedtime story about tonight?” and he says, “A dragon!” and I say, “Good choice.  What color is the dragon?” and Rory says, “Red!”  I say,  “Wow.  And what color are his eyes?” and Rory says, “His eyes are pink,” and I say, “What else do we know about him?”  Rory thinks and then says, “He has wings!”  I say, “So he can fly.  Yeah.  I like that.”

Quinn says, “He has little wings!” and I say, “Little tiny wings?  On a great big body!?  That’s funny!” but Rory says, “NO!  BIG WINGS!” and then Quinn says, “YEAH!  BIG WINGS!” and I say, “Okay… here we go then…”

I say, “Once Upon a Time… there was a great big Red Dragon and… what was it doing?”

Quinn shouts, “FLYING!”

“Once Upon a Time… there was a great big Red Dragon and it was flying along, soaring through the air.  It flew over the countryside and over homes and cottages and villages and castles.  It flew over rivers and it went anywhere it wanted to go because it was a dragon.  Then, as The Red Dragon was flying over a pasture, it saw a field full of… sheep.

Rory says, “And two elephants.

Quinn says, “And two hippopotamus.”

“GREAT!  So The Red Dragon is flying over a pasture and he sees a field full of sheep and two elephants and two hippos and The Red Dragon swoops down and picks up one of the elephants in its great big claws and carries it away back to its mountain cave far above the clouds.

Rory stares at me with his mouth hanging agape.  I say, “Do you understand how big that dragon is?  It picked up an entire full grown elephant and then flew away.”

Rory says, “Bring my elephant back, DRAGON!” and I say, “We’ll get to that…”

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So the next day The Red Dragon is flying above the pasture and he sees the two hippos and he swoops down and he picks one up and he carries it back to his mountain cave far up in the sky above the clouds,” and Quinn says, “That’s my hippo!

I say, “It sure was!  And now it belongs to The Red Dragon!  I hope someone rescues them!  So… the next day, down in the pasture a couple of people are walking along, tending their sheep.  Who is walking along?” and Quinn says, “Miss Brittany!… and Nadia!… and Ben!”

SIDE NOTE: Miss Brittany is a good friend of ours, Nadia is her daughter and Ben is another friend.

I say,  “Miss Brittany and Nadia and Ben are out walking in their pasture looking for their missing elephant and hippo–”

“It’s my hippo,” Quinn says.

“Yeah, sorry… Uh… Miss Brittany and Nadia and Ben are walking in their pasture looking for the missing hippo and elephant that respectively belong each to Quinn and Rory… when suddenly… a great big shadow falls over them.  What was it?”

Rory whispers, “…..draaaaaagon……”

“Yeah.  It was.  The Red Dragon was back.  He swooped down again and he grabbed one of the sheep and–”

Quinn interrupts me.  “No!  Not a sheep!  A horse!”  I say, “But there are no horses on this farm.  We’ve already established this.  There are a ton of sheep, a couple of elephants and a pair of hippos.”  Quinn says, “They are not sheep.  They are horses.”

“Fine.  We’re replacing all the sheep with various brands of horses.  The Red Dragon swoops down and grabs a horse in its claws and lifts it into the air but that horse is Miss Brittany’s favorite horse and so Miss Brittany shouts… what did she shout?”

Rory says, “Give me that horse back, DRAGON!”

I say, “That’s right.  And what is the horses name?” and Rory says, “That horse’s name is Maximus!

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“ALRIGHT!  Miss Brittany shouts, “Give me that horse back, DRAGON!  Give me back Maximus!” and then she quickly gathers Nadia and Ben into one arm and she jumps into the air and she grabbs onto the horse’s tail and she gets carried away as The Red Dragon flies higher and higher and higher and the ground slowly drops away below them.  They fly higher and higher and higher–”

Rory takes up the chant, “–and higher and higher and higher and way high UP into the SKY!  ABOVE THE CLOUDS!”

“You got it.  The Red Dragon is taking them back to his cave high up on the mountain above the clouds.  That’s the plan anyway.  But Miss Brittany keeps shouting, “Let go, Dragon!  Let go, Dragon!” and so finally The Red Dragon does.  He opens up his claws and let’s Miss Brittany and Nadia and Ben and Maximus fall.  They all plummet through the air, falling faster and faster and faster, head over feet and above them all they can hear is the booming voice of The Red Dragon laughing and laughing and laughing– BUT THEN!”

Quinn gasps.

“Another dragon… Quinn, what color is this dragon?” and Quinn says, “I don’t know…” and I say, “Any color you want,” and she says, “Oh, ok.  PURPLE!” and I say, “BUT THEN!  A GREAT BIG PURPLE DRAGON SWOOPS IN OUT OF NOWHERE and saves them.  He picks them up in his claws and places them on his back and says, “What are you doing here?” and Miss Brittany says, “The Red Dragon stole my friend’s elephant and hippo–”

Quinn says, “Oh yeah!  My hippo!”

“–and we’re trying to get them back.”  The Purple Dragon says, “I know where The Red Dragon lives and I can take you there,” and so he flies and flies and flies higher and higher and higher into the sky and above the clouds and to the mountain cave where The Red Dragon lived.”

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Rory says, “Is it a red house?” and I say, “But of course.  The Purple Dragon lands on the edge of the cliff where The Red Dragon’s Red House is attached and The Purple Dragon says, “I’m sorry friends, but I can go no further because I am too big to get through the door.”  You see, The Purple Dragon was enormous.  He was easily two or three times the size of The Red Dragon.  I mean, he was crazy big so he tells Miss Brittany and Nadia and Ben that he’ll just stand outside and keep guard while they go in to find their missing elephant and hippo.  So, they leave Maximus sitting outside as they turn and enter The Red House.  They open the door and you know what they see?”

Quinn says, “I don’t know…” and Rory says, “What?” and I say, “It’s a big cave that stretches on and on and on and gets darker and darker and darker.  But far away they can hear their elephant and their hippo.  What does an elephant say?”

The kids each make elephant noises.  Quinn’s kind of sounds like a crying monkey.  Rory’s sounds like a donkey that’s been kicked in the testicles.

“Miss Brittany leads the way into the darkness until…… they can’t see anything anymore….. now, Rory, Quinn… both of you shut your eyes.”  Both of the children do so.  “Do you see that?  That’s what it looks like in the cave.  It’s so dark they can’t see anything… so they just follow the noises of their beloved animals on and on and– WAIT!  What’s that?

Quinn says, “WHAT!?” and I say, “THERE!  In the distance!  A light!  They rush onward to the light and it gets bigger and brighter and bigger and brighter and they find…. what is it?”

Quinn says, “Baby Dragons……..”

“Yeah… well, sort of.  They find a great big glowing egg that’s as big as our house.  A dragon egg!  It’s glowing and it looks like a lightbulb but when they touch it they find that it isn’t hot.  THERE!  Behind the egg!  It’s the elephant and the hippo!  They found them!”

Quinn says, “YAY!” and Rory is completely asleep now because I think he forgot to open his eyes.

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“Miss Brittany hops on the back of the elephant and Nadia and Ben both jump on the back of the hippo and then BOOOOM!  The giant glowing egg cracks open and then EGG-SPLODES into a zillion little pieces that fly everywhere and they hit Brittany and Nadia and Ben but they’re okay but out of the giant egg crawls…”

Quinn says, “A baby dragon….”

And I say, “TWO baby dragons.  They’re twins.  Just like you and Rory.  So the Little Girl Baby Dragon chases the elephant and goes chomp-chomp-chomp!  And the Little Boy Baby Dragon chases the hippo and goes chomp-chomp-chomp!  And Brittany kicks her heels into the sides of her elephant and she shouts, “Let’s ride!” and she disappears into the darkness with the Baby Dragons right after her.  Now remember, these are baby dragons but they’re very, very, very big!  Their egg was the size of our house so these baby dragons could eat a whole elephant!  Miss Brittany rides through the darkness and on her neck she can feel hot breath chasing just behind her and Nadia and Ben ride through the darkness and they can feel hot breath just behind them and everyone can hear the chomp-chomp-chomp getting closer and closer and closer and then in the distance they can see the light!  They can see the exit!  They race towards it and they burst into the sunlight but The Purple Dragon isn’t there to let them down from the mountain cliff!  The Purple Dragon is up in the sky wrestling and fighting with that naughty Red Dragon!  The Baby Dragons run out of the cave – chomp-chomp-chomp – and our friends are all trapped!  CHOMP-CHOMP-CHOMP!”

Quinn says, “Daddy, stop chomping on my ear,” and I say, “Oh.  Sorry.  Okay.”

“The Purple Dragon says, “JUMP!  JUMP AND I’LL CATCH YOU!  TRUST ME!” and so Miss Brittany and her elephant and Nadia and Ben and their hippo and Maximus all run towards the edge of the cliff and they fall and fall and fall and fall and fall and The Purple Dragon tries to break free from the much smaller but still very scrappy Red Dragon but can’t!  Our friends continue to fall, end over end, head over feet, over and over and over again.  They break through the cloud cover and the ground is getting closer and closer and closer!  The houses and the castles and the roofs are getting bigger and bigger and The Purple Dragon is still wrestling with The Red Dragon.  The Red Dragon laughs, “HAHAHAH!  HAHAHAHAH!  AHHAHAHAHAHAH!” and then, with a loud CRASH everyone smashes into the ground and dust and dirt flies everywhere and the earth cracks and there is nothing but silence.”

Quinn stares at me.

“The Purple Dragon and The Red Dragon stop wrestling and they just float in the air and stare downwards and The Red Dragon says, “Did they die?” and The Purple Dragon says, “That was a long fall…” and down on Earth… Brittany’s eyes slowly open… and slowly…. slowly…. everyone stands up.  You see, everyone had bits of dragon egg stuck to them from when the egg exploded… and everyone knows that as long as you hang onto a piece of a dragon egg, you can’t die.”

Quinn says, “Ohhhhhhh…”

I conclude, “That night, all of our friends had The Purple Dragon over for dinner and, Quinn, do you know what they ate?”

Quinn says, “They ate eggs.”

And I say, “That’s right.”

 

The End.

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Bedtime Stories: Chapter 1

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Every night before going to bed my children ask me to read them a book. Sometimes it’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, sometimes it’s “Curious George”, sometimes it’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, but as of late I’ve become bored with reading and reading and reading the same stories over and over and over again and so I’ve decided to write new stories for them.  We gather on their bed or on the couch and I say, “What is tonight’s story about?” and they give a simple suggestion… and so it begins…

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I’m sitting on my couch, my oldest daughter on my left and my son on my right.  Both of them are curled up in their favorite blankies, both of them staring at me with wide eyes and big smiles.  I say, “Once Upon a Time… there was a Little Boy and a Little Girl and they were brother and sister.  And one day, they were walking along a street when they noticed that they were passing a very old house that nobody lived in.  Nobody lived there.  It was completely empty–

(Sometimes you have to hammer a point home because they’re so young).

–but, even though it was completely and totally empty and no one lived there, they heard….” and this is where I look at them because they help me tell the story.  It’s kind of like a choose your own adventure for them that I make up as I go.

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I look at Quinn and I say, “What did they hear?” and she whispers, “I don’t know…” and so I look at Rory and I say, “What did they hear?” and he says, “They hear a ghost… and a ghost says, “ooooooo-oooo-ooooOOOO!“” and I say, “Actually, what they heard was………..RAAAAR!!” AND I SHOUT AND LUNGE TOWARDS QUINN AND SHE SHOVES HERSELF BACK INTO THE COUCH AND PULLS THE BLANKET UP OVER HER HEAD AND SAYS, “Don’t do that!  You scared me!”

“And so the Little Boy and the Little Girl were afraid and so they ran home to their Mommy and Daddy… but the next day they were walking past the house again and…. what did they hear?” and Rory says, “A ghost!  And a ghost says, “ooooo-ooooo-ooooOOOO!” and I say, “RAAAAR!” and I lunge at Rory and he drops his blanket to the floor and his eyes well up a little and he says, “You scared me, Daddy,” and then his little bottom lip begins to quiver and I feel pretty bad…

I continue, “So the Little Boy and the Little Girl were scared and so they ran home to their Mommy and Daddy but the next day they were walking past the empty house again and what did they hear?” and Rory says, “They… heard…. ghosts….. and a ghost says, “Ooooo-ooo-oooOOO!” and I say, “They heard a noise that sounded like this, “Ooooo-ooo-oooOOOOO!” and the Little Boy and the Little Girl turned towards the empty, abandoned house and they started walking up the sidewalk, towards the front door.  Click-clack-click-clack went their feet up the sidewalk and reeeeeee-reeeeeee went the squeaky front steps and then knock-knock-knock went their tiny little fists on the door and then eeeeeeeeeeeee went the door as it swung open and inside the house… what did they see?

And Rory, in fully obsessed form says, “A GHOST!” and I say, “They saw a white sheet floating in the middle of the room… and then another… and then another… and then another and then do you know how many ghosts they saw?” and Quinn says, “Eight” but my story was much bigger than that so I bent her choice a little with my own and I say, “100.  They saw 100 ghosts floating around and dancing because they were having a Ghost Party.”

It’s at this point that I make a beat that sounds like a cross between ghost noises and dub-step music just to add to the general ambience.

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And then–

RAAAR!” I SHOUT and both kids jump and Quinn covers her face and Rory says, “What is it?!” and I say, “It’s a monster and it’s coming down the stairs!  It’s coming to the ghost party!” and then in my scratchy monster voice I say, “I’m a monster that lives upstairs and everyone is afraid of me because of the way I talk and RAAAAR – I’m just so alone and lonely and I don’t have any friends.  There’s a party happening down here in my own house and no one invited me and now my feelings are hurt.”

And then I turn to Rory, stare him in the eyes and say, “Will you be my friend, Little Boy?” and Rory say, “I will be your friend.  Yes, I will be your friend, Monster,” and I say, “That is very nice.  Can I have a hug?” and then Rory comes in close and hugs me and says, “I love this Monster,” and I say, “I love you too, Little Boy.”

I turn to my daughter and I say, “Little Girl, will you be my friend?” and Quinn stares me dead in the eyes and says, “No.  No, I don’t want to be your friend,” but Rory quickly interjects and says, “Be our friend!  Be friends with us!” but Quinn holds her ground, “No… I don’t want to…”

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And the story continues, “So the Little Girl left the house and she shut the squeaky door behind her and she stepped down the wooden steps and she walked down the sidewalk and she went all the way back home to her Mommy and Daddy and–”

“But… where is the Little Boy?” asks Quinn.

“Oh, he stayed in the house with the monster and became the one hundred and first ghost of the party.”

The children both look at me and so I say, “The… End.”

Rory says, “That Ghost Party is fun,” and Quinn says, “Does the Little Girl see her brother again?” and I say, “No.  He stayed in the house to play with the monster and he never came out,” and Quinn asks, “Does the Little Girl see her Mommy and Daddy again?” and I say, “Yes.  She goes home and she lives with them for a very long time,” and then Quinn says, “What do her Mommy and Daddy do?” and I say, “They just work regular nine to five jobs,” and Quinn says, “Oh.  Ok.”

 

The End.

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Crumbling Castles

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I play rough with my kids; really rough.  Horseplay, in my house, is not only accepted, it is encouraged.  I love sitting with them and reading books and cuddling up to tell them stories but one of my favorite things to do is to chase them through our home, tackle them, tickle them and then drag them kicking and screaming back to me as they try to escape my clutches.  I hang them upside down and howl.  I pin them to the ground and growl in their ears.  I crawl across the floor like a primitive man pretending to be a primitive horse, snarling and thrashing after them.  I pick up pillows and I throw them at their fleeing backs.  Hard.  I hit them behind their knees with said pillows as they run, knocking them to the floor.  Usually they’re fine but sometimes they bang their hands / arms / heads / faces against the ground.  This is the cost of horseplay.

They run and laugh and squeal and scream and hide and then beg me to keep chasing them.  If I get tired they slowly approach me and say, “Get… my… fooo-hooot….” and then they wiggle and waggle their ankle at me just out of reach.  It goes without saying that I’ve been kicked in the teeth and headbutted more than once.  Last month my son stuck his finger knuckle deep into my eyeball… twice.  That is not an exaggeration.  My eye was pink and blood shot and everything went fuzzy for several hours.  It was both painful and horrifying.  Sometimes I lie on my back and my daughter jumps off the couch and gives me two knees to my ribcage, causing me to spit out a harsh, “WHOOF!”  This is also the cost of horseplay.

My children love me and I love my children and we know that we are just playing and we’ve had many conversations about Good Hit / Bad Hit and how a Hi-5 is a Good Hit but slapping someone when you’re angry is a Bad Hit and… children just have a very interesting way of not only absorbing information and processing it but they’re also amazing at outputting certain… enlightenments, I guess is a good word… that hit you in the gut harder than their tiny fists.

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Two days ago my daughter walked past me and I stuck out my foot and tripped her.  She stumbled, once, twice, caught herself, turned around and gave me the stankiest eye I’ve ever seen.  It cracked me up.  I thought it was absolutely hilarious.  Further, I thought that SHE thought it was absolutely hilarious… which is why I do it whenever I get a chance.  I thought our little game was like, “I pick on you in an endearing way and you think it’s playful and funny and it’s our quirky little relationship,” but, my wife, who apparently doesn’t “get” the thing I do with the kids, she says to me, “You’re so mean to the kids,” and I say, “Mean?  Mean?  What is this, mean?  Oh, give me a break.  I’m not mean.  I love them and I’m playing with them!  They love to play!” and she says, “No.  You pick on them.  You’re That Guy,” and my stomach churns because, to me, there is no worse insult than being called That Guy.  It could mean any number of horrible things but, whenever someone says it, you know exactly which one they’re talking about.

I say, “I am not That Guy,” and my wife, refusing to back off her horrible, stupid opinion, says, “Yes you are.  And you’re hurting their feelings.”  Yeah, right.  Didn’t she see how I was laughing when my daughter stumbled?  Didn’t she see how funny that was?  I push myself off the couch and lie down on our floor, calling my daughter over to me, “Quinn!  Quinn… C’mere a sec…” and Quinn approaches me and I pick her up under her arms and lie her down on top of me, belly to belly so we’re eye to eye.  She doesn’t flinch and she doesn’t fight it and I say to my wife, “Yeah, she looks really afraid of me…

I turn to Quinn and I say, “Quinn…” and my three year old daughter says, “Yes, Daddy?” and I say, “Is Daddy mean to you?” and Quinn, without skipping a beat says, “Yes,” and I literally feel something in my heart pop and snap like a crusty bungee chord.  I want to put my daughter down and run away, hide in a closet, shut off the light and live the rest of my days in complete hermitude.  Quinn, unaffected, continues.  “You tease me… you tease me a lot,” and I just stare at her, into her eyes and I wish I had one of those weird whipping devices that the albino in The DaVinci Code had.  I need it.  I need to use it on myself.  I am a horrible person.

However, since I don’t have that archaic whipping device, I decide to torture myself by just pressing on.  I need to hear it.  I need to hear all of it.  I say, “Does Daddy hurt your feelings?” and my daughter, instead of saying anything, she just sticks out her bottom lip (NO!  NO!  NOT THE QUIVERING BOTTOM LIP!  GIVE ME THE WHIP-THING!  NOT THE LIP!  NOT THE LIP!) and she just nods, her eyes wide and sad and… they’re just so… SAD!

I gulp hard and try to decide how much I hate myself right now.  Is it like an 8 or a 9?

My daughter, apparently recognizing my weakness, decides to deliver the coup de grace with the most despondent phrase I have ever heard a three year old utter.  She says to me, “You hurt me.  You hurt my feelings.  I take my feelings…” and then she reaches up and pretends to pluck something out of her hair before shoving it behind her back, “…and I hide them away.  I hide my feelings away from you.”

No, no, no, no, no, no, no!!!!!!!!!

I feel like I’m going to puke and then pass out.  This vision and view of the world I had in front of me is crumbling and blowing away before me like a castle made of stale bread.  I grab her gently by the shoulders as my eyes begin to fill up with tears of remorse and stupidity and selfishness and I say, “Quinnie, Daddy is so sorry.  Daddy is so sorry for hurting you,” and she looks at me and then says, “Ohhhh-Kaaaaay,” and just like that, I am forgiven.

Kids are incredible.  What a lesson in humanity this three old just schooled me with.  “Hey, Dad!  KNOWLEDGE BOMB!”  KER-BOOOOOM!

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My daughter gets up and scurries away, leaving me feeling broken and alone.  I call my son over, deciding to get all the dirty work out of the way at once.  If I’m going to be emotionally flogged, let’s just be sure to break me completely…

“Rory… hey, Roar.  C’mere a sec…”  My son approaches me and flops down onto my chest, knocking the wind out of me.  He laughs and pretends to bite my chin.  “Yaaaahhhhsssss?” he says in some weird Southern drawl and, like tearing off a Band-Aid, I respond quickly with, “Is Daddy mean to you?” and, in matched speed he answers with, “Nope!” and I say, “Are you sure?” and he says, “You’re not mean, Daddy!” and I say, “Do I hurt your feelings?” and he says, “NO!  You don’t hurt my feelings!” and there is a little wash of relief that pours over me.

Good, good, good, good, good…

I say, “Okay.  Thanks, buddy.  I love you.  Go play,” and I stand him up before  shutting my eyes to recount this revelation as he begins to walk away but… too soon.  He doubles back while I’m not paying attention and drops both knees into my abdomen, his laughter the only sound breaking through my pain.

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It’s just another reminder that, no matter how many parenting books you read, seminars you attend or videos you watch, there is no right way to raise children because each and every child is so completely and stupendously different.  Just because you have two children (and this goes double for twins) doesn’t mean that you have two of the same child.  They are people, like you and I, each with their own sets of bends and interests.  Each has their own sets of needs and desires and wants and what hurts the feelings of one may actually be the fuel that powers the second.

My children never fail; they are unceasingly unapologetic in their quest to build me into a better man, father and human.  They constantly remind me how far I’ve come but are sure to keep me humble by reminding me how far I have yet to go.

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No Concern of Danger

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I’m sitting at a friend’s house, at a Superbowl party.  The game is on but, like most people at Superbowl parties, I’m not really watching it.  Like most people, I come for the queso and stay for the deep fat fried turkey.  Everywhere I look are close friends, good acquaintances and strangers who, judging by their honest faces, have the strong potential to someday be either.

The man next to me, Curtis, is one of my closest friends and is currently holding my youngest daughter on his lap, letting her spittle and saliva run over his thumb and down the back of his hand.  This is the sign of true friendship.  At my feet his daughter, three, plays with my twins, also three.  I am grateful to avert my eyes from The Big Game to focus instead on their little one.  Rory picks up a green truck and begins to slowly push it across the polished wooden floor, making noises that sound like the imaginary driver is grinding the imaginary clutch.  I slide off the couch, reach forward, grab him by the foot and pull him to me.  He squirms and laughs and fights me off and says, “NO!” but I say, “Play with me!” and I take the green car and he crawls away.  I roll it across the ground and Rory retrieves it for me.  I give him a hug and kiss him on the cheek and say, “Thanks for bringing this back.  I love you…” and he wipes off my kiss and runs away.

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Later, I’m standing outside as our host lowers a turkey into a deep fat fryer.  The oil rises, the turkey sizzles and the smell of cooking bird immediately fills the air.  The Host clinks his beer against my coffee cup and says, “I hope I don’t burn my house down,” and I silently nod in agreement.  The front door opens and Rory pokes his head out, looking from side to side.  He lays eyes upon me and says, “Daaaaaaad?” and I say, “Yes, Rory?”  He walks out the door, leaving it hanging open, walks down the steps, makes his way across the driveway, approaches me, standing toe to toe with my person, looks up into my face and says, “I want a cupcake.”

A reasonable request.  I say, “Okay… let’s go get you one.”  He leads me back across the driveway, up the steps, through the door, past the TV, to the table and points at a tray of frosted pastries.  He says, “That one.  The green one.”  I grab it, put it on a plate and, just as I’m getting ready to cut it up for him he says, “No… I can do it.  I can eat it.  By myself.”

He’s growing up and it pains me.

Sitting down on the floor I convince him to let me hold the cupcake and feed him because it’s so messy.  When we’re finished, his lips, chin, teeth, fingers and hands are covered with green frosting.  Without thinking he wipes his face on his shirt and asks for another cupcake, a request which I deny.  Instead I take him into the kitchen where I begin to press a wet a paper towel against his face and hands.

How much longer will this be acceptable?  When will he push me away, embarrassed?

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The game ends and the slow murmur and shuffle of people gathering their items begins; jackets, car seats, tupperware, car keys.  My wife puts shoes on the kids and packs Bryce away while I wander through the house aimlessly, saying needless good-byes to people.  We both thank our friends for hosting the party and then walk out the door, into the light drizzle.  In my right hand I carry Bryce’s car seat and in my left hand, Rory and I grip each other tightly.

Having to have parked on the street, we make the long walk down the driveway of the gated community, through the gate, and into the wet street, the neighborhood being one of these places that simply doesn’t have sidewalks.  The van is about a block and a half up and the street is fairly isolated so there is no concern of danger.

The group of us walk and talk and we praise the children for playing nicely and for sharing and for being so good.  We walk and talk and say that we had so much fun.  We walk and talk and I turn around and say, “Here comes a car,” and all of us push to the side of the road until it passes.  We continue to move towards our car, twenty feet away, so close, which is nice because I’m starting to feel the weight of the baby seat on my right arm.

Rory begins pulling at my hand and I say, “Rory, we’re walking in the street.  You need to hang onto Daddy’s hand,” and he says, “I don’t want to!” and I say, “You have to,” and I say, “We’re almost to the car,” and then I turn around and see another automobile coming towards us.  I holler behind me, to Jade, and say, “Another car, step aside,” and we push ourselves towards the side of the road, in between two parked cars.

Rory tries letting go of me again and I say, “Rory, stop it,” because now he’s just being naughty and he knows that he needs to hold my hand.  He jerks once, twice and then screams, leaning backwards.  I say, “Rory.  Rory!  RORY!” and then he gives one final scream and then everything else happens fast.  Too fast.

Rory jerks his hand free from mine and I feel him slide out of my grip.  His little body stumbles backwards, foot behind foot.  The dark road suddenly goes bright with headlights and I cry out and Jade shouts, “RORY!”  He takes two more steps, out past the parked cars, into the street, and my stomach turns into a knot.  I reach out but he’s gone, too far away.  I drop Bryce and try to move but I know I can’t make it in time.  He steps on his shoelace and his body tumbles to the ground.  The car – a large black SUV – comes up on him and my breath catches in my throat.

Rory shuts his eyes and I want to but can’t.

The SUV blasts past him no more than a few feet away.  If he hadn’t stepped on his shoelaces… if if if… the possibility hangs in the air like a vampire.

I take three large steps towards my son, grab him by the collar and lift him into the air, his feet dangling, and I forcibly drag him back to the curb while he still, to my great amazement, continues to attempt to pull out of my grasp.  I drop him on the hard concrete, squat down, grab his face in my hands and squeeze his cheeks so he can’t look away from me.  I say, in the absolute angriest tone I can fathom, “Rory!  You do NOT let go of Daddy’s hand when we’re in the street!  You were almost run over and KILLED by the car.  That car almost RAN YOU OVER.  You almost DIED.  You do not ever, ever, EVER let go of my hand EVER AGAIN.  Do you understand me?!” and, instead of confirming with me he simply begins to scream and pull at my hand saying, “LET GO OF ME!  LET GO OF ME!”

I grab Bryce and begin to march to our van at double speed, dragging him behind me, scared, angry, furious.  I open the back door and say, “Get in your seat,” and, instead of listening, he says, “NO!” and so I pick him up, throw him into the car, crawl in after him, pick him up and throw him into his car seat.  He screams, demands candy, which totally baffles me, throws his hands in the air and screams again.  I thrust his arms through the straps of the car seat and say, “Candy?  Candy!?  You’re not getting candy!” while in my head I’m just thinking, “Thank you God thank you God thank you God that I get to buckle him in tonight kicking and scream I love him I love him I love him…

On the way home all I can think about are small coffins and cemeteries that I can’t bring myself to leave.

I almost lost him.

I could never forgive myself.

We get home and I put pajamas on Rory, put him to bed, kneel down next to him and whisper prayers in his ear, prayers that only he can hear.  I say, “Dear God, thank you for Rory, thank you for giving him to me, thank you for protecting him tonight.  Thank you for everyday I have with him.  Thank you for blessing me with another night with this beautiful little boy,” and I pull back and I look upon his face and I see him in a new light.  I see how blue his eyes are.  I see the swirls of designs in them.  I see how little and how white his teeth are.  I see the perfect gaps between them.  I see his blonde hair, pieces sticking up in the back, his little fingers poke over the blanket and I see that his fingernails are filthy with perfect dirt.

Everyday with my children is a beautiful gift that makes me sick with despair and anxiety.

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