Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Some mornings are simply better than others. The birds chirp mellow, smooth, instead of high pitched and whiny. The coffee smells sweeter, infusing the air with the perfect hint of hazelnut, no more, no less. The bed feels warm, like a cocoon, enveloping me in its warm embrace. The children sleep in, so there are no interruptions, no screams, no yells, nothing at all. Just the sound of silence, and the steady breathing of my wife beside me as I hold her closely.

Some mornings I am in my thoughts, concentrating on what’s to come instead of on what has been, focused on the next thing. I am attuned not to the coming rain but to the storm clouds that are gathering, studying them for signs of early spring, or fading glory, or everything else and nothing else all at once. I stretch out my hand to feel the rain I know is coming, to embrace the coming downpour in ways I never have before. I flinch at its cold presence mingling with my own, and I close the window.

Some mornings there’s Ed Sheeran singing in my ear, reminding me that everything should be all about the rhythm. I sing along to the beat, knowing how close the lyrics are to my own life, to the words that would be in my head even if I wasn’t listening to it. I’m reminded that life, while solitary, is a shared experience, that others are listening to this same song right now, or ruminating on it in their minds, or lost in their dreams of it. Or songs like it. Or thoughts like it. And I smile.

Some mornings I am just so grateful for this life, for this ability to awaken again, to welcome the sun, the sound of the chirping crickets, the cold floor under my feet as I stand. The bed looks forlorn without me in it, with my wife still there steadily breathing, still fast asleep. I tuck the abandoned sheets and covers in around her, a poor facsimile for the warmth of myself, but it’s what I have to give when I have to be up and moving. When the night turns into day and I’m left staring at the thin line.

But some mornings… some mornings I can stay there with her. I can hold her closer than my own skin and our breathing naturally synchronizes. Some mornings I can imagine forever.



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“Casual match in a very dry field. What could be the season’s yield?” ~Suzanne Vega

heavy_rain_001The rain is coming down. First fast. Then furious. Then so blindingly swift it ceases to be rain, but instead becomes a curtain of water shielding me from the outside world. I don’t reach out to touch it because I don’t like being wet. I don’t like the knowledge that comes with feeling wet more often than not. And even though I know when it’s coming nothing ever makes it any better.

There is this Enya album called A Day Without Rain, and it brings me back to Ireland every single time I play it, back to the lush verdant green fields, and the endless days of rain keeping them that way. I guess it’s a tradeoff then, when I think about it, how the brilliant green doesn’t come without the steady downpour. But that day without rain, it’s precious. It gives us a chance to actually enjoy the brilliant green for what it is, not for how it’s obscured in the downpour.

I called my dad this week. That in and of itself doesn’t really qualify as news, except that it’s the first time I’ve spoken with him since his stroke, which was two months ago. We fell back into those patterns, not unlike riding a bike. We pedal one foot at a time, the rotation moving us forward in incremental steps, but we never truly go forward. We just go around in circles because that is our dynamic. It has always been our dynamic. I don’t know if I expected it to be different since his own life-altering experience.

a-father-is-a-man__quotes-by-frank-a-clark-16Strike that. I did expect it to be different and I was absolutely devastated when it was the same. Something about arriving back in the same place we’ve been so often before made my soul ache, made my spirit break into a million disparate pieces. If hope truly is the thing with feathers, then the conversation grounded me in a way that few things ever have in my life. It was like I was waiting, looking up at the sky, hoping it would stay dry, but like clockwork the clouds came and unleashed the rain. (more…)

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Every day I return to this place, and I exhale as I round the final curve and drive down the hill. I crane my head to the left to catch my first glimpse of our house, lonely out there in the field, waiting for us to move in. But there is still time remaining to get it ready, even though the outside is intact. Most days there are subtle changes that give me renewed hope that it will be our home soon.

Until then, of course, we are still here, in a place that can at once be both hostile and welcoming, depending on who’s home at the time. And I hold my breath after that exhale because in only moments after seeing our new house taking shape I can see this driveway, and I turn in. I have no idea what will await me here, but this is not home. We merely live here.

Someone once said that home isn’t a place, that it’s the people we love, and I find that to be partially true. My heart is with my family, so wherever they are is where my heart resides. But home is not as simple as heart. A home is an amalgamation of the two: heart and place. A physical place is necessary because it provides a context for interaction between family members. Because it gives a hearth, somewhere to come back to, a common ground that welcomes with open arms.

That’s why this is not home, and why this will never be home, even though my family lives here right now. That’s why I exhale when I round that last corner and drive down that hill, because they are doing so much more than just building a house out in that field. They are creating a home where we can grow as a family, where we can return after our long days and feel whole again.


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pop_Birds_Nest_Minnesota_1When I first found out I was going to be a father I had a ton of questions. Unlike motherhood, impending fatherhood doesn’t come with a training manual (or a dozen), so it’s easier to freak out for incoming fathers. I know I freaked out, but after the initial daze that came with getting the good news I knew I had to figure out what kind of father I wanted to be. Then I had to dig deep and determine what kind of father I was predetermined to be.

You see, this thing called fatherhood is just another nebulous term that we can treat any way we want. For some it means being heavily involved in their children’s lives, while others think it’s meaningless, those kids just a few in an endless assembly line of kids they don’t plan on being anything to or doing anything for. The vast majority of guys out there are somewhere in the middle, trying to figure things out as they go.

So, getting back to this whole predetermination thing. There’s something about nature vs. nurture, and how we turn out being one, the other, or some mix of both. I knew that my father wasn’t there for me when I felt like I needed him, and I knew I wanted to be different with my own kids. Did my father’s absence mean I was already destined to be an absent father? Or was it up to me to remember what he did and use it as a guideline of what not to be?

Then I asked myself “Can I do this?” Which means, could I be a solid father? Could I be someone they would look to down the line and say, “Yeah, that’s my dad. He helped raise me right. He was always there for me.” A friend of mine lost her father a couple of years ago, and the first thing everyone said who posted on her Facebook page when they found out was that he was not just a decent man, but a devoted husband, and a wonderful father. If I died tomorrow I would want that to be my epitaph. A decent man, a devoted husband, and a wonderful father.

And the answer was YES. YES, I can do this fatherhood thing. No, I won’t turn out like my father was. I can be my own man, and even though I have my own demons to fight, I will keep fighting them so that I can┬ábe there for my children. Now it’s 10 years into this thing called fatherhood for me, and while I know I haven’t been perfect, I have definitely been what my children need, what I expect from myself as a father, and a helpmate for my wife in this parenting gig we created for ourselves.

But it’s not all about reflecting on what’s gone on so far. It’s also about dealing with each issue one day at a time. It’s about having fun with my kids, but also about teaching them life lessons, sometimes hard lessons, that they’ll remember. I want them to grow to be independent young ladies who will look back on this as the crucible from which their lives sprung like flame, touching many lives with their own.

Maybe it’s true what my mother said so long ago when I asked her what it was like to have kids. She told me it’s the most amazing and the most petrifying thing at the same time. And I agree now. I’m so worried I’m making the wrong decisions sometimes, but I do my best for them always, and I hope that’s enough. That’s all we can do, right?


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screen480x480School vacations are always challenging, trying to find a way to fill the void of time that would normally be taken up by school and school activities. It’s a special kind of cabin fever, and I get it. The kids are used to being around their peers; they’re used to a routine that accounts for nearly every minute of the day, from 9:00 am until 3:30 pm, and frankly, so am I. Having so much time with their grandmother during this week has led to some bruised feelings, and I have to admit, a little more screen time than I’d like.

So I got home yesterday at 3:30 and both girls were on their iPads, Lexi engrossed in a youTube video all about Minecraft, and Madeline in what must have been her umpteenth episode of Inspector Gadget. I told them their screen time was up. And Lexi went ballistic…

Me: How much screen time have you had today?
Lexi: I don’t know.
Me: Well, when did you last do something that wasn’t screen related?
Lexi: Um, I don’t know.
Me: How long is this episode?
Lexi: Well, most of them are, like, 30 minutes.
Me: And how many episodes have you seen today?
Lexi: I don’t know. Like five of them.
Me: Don’t you think it’s time you turned it off? Five episodes is 2 1/2 hours.
Lexi: But I love it sooooo much! I don’t want to turn it off!
Me: Finish this episode and then turn it off. It doesn’t matter if you want to.

At which point my beautiful child’s face contorted into what I can only guess is what the devil’s face would look like. I fully expected snarling and spitting, not unlike from a rabid dog, at any moment. Eventually, though, she cooled down and we were able to talk again like normal human beings. It helped that by then she had turned her iPad off and it was sitting in the chair in the other room, charging for whenever it was going to be used next. She was hoping sooner, but I knew it would be later — much later.

Lexi: So what do I do now?
Me: You have a million things you could do. Find one.
Lexi: But I’m sooooo bored, and I don’t want to do anything.
Me: What if I told you you could have your iPad back again?
Lexi: Can I?!
Me: No. My point was that you aren’t too tired to stare at that screen so how could you be too tired to play with your toys or play with your sister?
Lexi: Daaaaaaaaad! You know what I mean.
Me: Yeah, I know that you’re completely obsessed with Minecraft and those videos, and you need to find time for other things in your life. Things that are real. Things that you can do with other people.
Lexi: Maddie can play Minecraft with me,as long as she doesn’t wreck my stuff. I spent a lot of time building everything in my world.
Me: That’s not what I meant, but it proves my point.

She proceeded to lay down on the couch and began humming some tune I can only imagine is prevalent in Minecraft.

Me: So you’d rather stare at the wall as if you’re watching paint dry than find something constructive to do with your free time?
Lexi: Why would anyone sit and watch paint dry?
Me: Again, you totally missed my point. Find something constructive to do.
Lexi: What do you mean by constructive?
Me: Anything. Like building a fort, or playing with your ponies, or helping your sister put together a puzzle, or reading a book. Anything!
Lexi: But I don’t want to do any of that.
Me: So you’d rather watch paint dry. Okay.
Lexi: I don’t care about paint drying! No one’s painting anyway.
Me: I’m sure someone’s painting somewhere.
Lexi: Daaaaaad.
Me: Seriously, though, Lex, you’re not getting your iPad back until you’ve done at least three creative or constructive activities as approved by me.
Lexi: I’ll just lie here then.
Me: I’m thinking I might just designate some days as iPad free days. And no, it doesn’t mean you an order whatever apps you want for free. It means you won’t have the iPad for the entire day. You’ll have to find something else to do with your free time.

And I meant it then. I mean it now. Sometimes I think that “with great technology comes even greater responsibility.” As a parent I need to make sure my child is a productive member of society, and having her nose in a screen all day long won’t help her get there. We’ve already limited her screen time to 2 hours a day, but instituting these iPad free days will make it even more of a focus, a focus on getting creative and constructive.

Lexi: You mean I’m going to have to come up with stuff to do?
Me: Yup. That’s exactly what I mean.
Lexi: Can you just wake me up when it’s the next day?


Chatting With Lexi Archives

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warning-Only-ChildI talked to my sister on the phone tonight. She is in Grand Rapids for the night, but she will be someplace else tomorrow. I am where I am going to be for the foreseeable future. And that’s okay. She is one of those fly-by-night sorts that I envy but that I could never be (and I mean that in the most literal of ways, I assure you). Don’t get me wrong, I used to be one of those people who packed up at a moment’s notice and headed elsewhere, but I think I’ve mellowed as I’ve aged. I know my hair has certainly mellowed. When I was younger I could grow an afro like nobody’s business, and now, after a year’s growth, it still doesn’t look like much more than I missed a couple weeks’ worth of cuts at the barber shop.

But anyway, I talked to my sister on the phone tonight for the first time in over a month, and while that’s unacceptable it’s certainly understandable given our crazy schedules, and our attempts to reconcile them with each other. Luckily we hit on it tonight, or at least she did, because I was just sitting here exhausted, writing, and she called my cell. Because I have a new phone it kept vibrating and I had no clue what was going on (now I know), but I called her back and we had a wonderful conversation. We were able to do that because I am not an only child.

Only children are odd, but not in an odd way. They’re odd because I don’t understand them, how they operate. My wife is an only child, and I tease her about it often, but it’s real, the struggle of only children. They will never know the joy of riding on a long trip with their siblings and playing the license plate game, sharing Twizzlers, or saying, “Are we THERE yet?!” at the top of their lungs trying to outscream each other. Only children spent all of their time either being spoiled or being told to appreciate what they have. There were no hand-me-downs, no arguments about who gets to sit in the front seat, no plethora of birthdays to remember, and no getting jealous over nonequivalent Christmas gifts.

Which is funny, because for some reason I’ve always been attracted to only children. Maybe it’s that I’ve always felt it was a challenge because their parents have invested so much in them and only them ,that the vetting process would be worth the hassle in order to say that, “yes, I’m the ONE who your ONLY daughter wants to be with.” And just reading that out loud I can see where that would seem incredibly shallow, but that’s now how it’s meant. You see, I’m not an only child, so I don’t know how the other side thinks, and I do my best to figure it out on a daily basis.

Oh, and it’s my oldest brother’s birthday today but for the life of me I don’t know how old he actually is, so I’m feeling a bit inadequate as a brother, even though we didn’t grow up together so maybe I shouldn’t know. Perhaps it’s just the expectations of society that make me feel so inadequate, but I did wish him a happy birthday. Maybe I’m covered. That’s the other thing about having siblings, though, that there are more expectations, more nieces and nephews, even more birthdays to remember, the pressures of being the best brother, uncle, cousin, and everything else that comes along with not being an only child. But I don’t think I would trade in all of that for the chance at being the only one, because I love my siblings, and I wouldn’t even know what to do if I didn’t have them.

I am not an only child, but it’s okay if you are. I don’t judge only children. They’re just different from me, and that’s okay. But I’ve never been an only child, so if you are, please bear with me. I’m a work in progress.


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got-respectToday was an exercise in patience, and not like forcing my brain to control my mouth, but like lifting heavy objects to keep myself occupied, to thwart my anger. I don’t know what’s been happening lately, but little by little I’ve been losing my little girl and gaining a premature teenager, with all the angst and agita that comes with it. It all came to a head today.

We were at the hairdresser’s, who also happens to be a friend of mine, and all my ladies were there to get their hair washed and cut. Of course that means there are in-between times, when two out of the three are sitting there waiting. And you know how it is; the waiting turns to restlessness, the iPad gets taken away, and the real fun starts.

Lexi: But how come I’m the only one who gets my iPad taken?

Me: Because you’re the one who wouldn’t listen to your mother when she said it was your turn to get your hair cut.

Lexi: I was almost done!

Me: It doesn’t matter. It’s not about “almost.” It’s about doing what she says when she says it.

Lexi: I shouldn’t have to do what she said, what you say. I should be able to do what I want.

Me: We’re the adults. We’re in charge of you. You should listen to us when we tell you something.

Lexi: Why should I have to listen? I’m allowed to stand up for myself.

Heidi: This is not standing up for yourself. This is being rude and disrespectful. We’re your parents. When you get a job and pay your own way in this world then go ahead and make your own rules. These are our rules, and you will follow them.

Lexi: Hmmmmph.

Me: And you can cut it with the attitude. You’re not getting your iPad back right now. Be lucky your mother is letting you earn it back through good behavior. If it were up to me I would take it for the whole day.

Lexi: But it’s myyyyy iPad.

Heidi: Actually, Alexa, did your money pay for it? Are you the one who worked hard all week to get a paycheck to purchase it?

Me: This is not about you being allowed to stand up for yourself. This is about us doing what’s best for you, as your parents. If you’re disrespectful you should have a loss of privilege. And you’re not making anything better for yourself with the way you’re acting right now.

Lexi: I just want to be able to make the decisions for myself.

Me: You’re nine years old. Maybe you think you’re going on 30, but you don’t want to force that time to pass. You want to enjoy being young because it only happens once. Do you know how many children don’t have what you have? And you’re so ungrateful for it that you’re going to pout because we took away your iPad?

Lexi: Well I can’t wait to be an adult so I don’t have to listen to anybody else.

Me: You always have to listen to other people, Lexi. That’s how your mother and I make decisions that are best for you and your sister. We listen to each other and we make decisions together… for your own good. And all we ask for in return is some appreciation for what we do for you. You’re being incredibly ungrateful right now.

Heidi: Take time and think about why what you did today was wrong, how it was disrespectful to your father and me, and to Miss Debbie and her hair salon. You won’t get your iPad back for the rest of the day, but be lucky you even have one to lose.

Lexi: Hmmmmph.

Me: You’ll understand one day. But until then you’ll have to work harder on being grateful and appreciating what you have. Otherwise you just won’t have as much anymore. There are so many things you have that you don’t need, that we give you because we’re kind and generous, because we want you to have opportunities to express yourself. But they’re not necessities, and if you don’t appreciate them you won’t keep getting them.

Heidi: And Lexi, if you act like that ever again we won’t go to the nice hairdresser who does a great job on your hair and doesn’t hurt you while doing it. I’ll keep bringing Madeline here and I can take you to someplace where somebody isn’t nice like that. Is that what you want?

Lexi: No.

Me: So how are you going to be?

Lexi: I’m going to be respectful of other people and their stuff.

Me: And you’re going to say it less sarcastically?

Lexi: Huh?

Me: I’ll take it.


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