A Day at the Ballpark or A Day of Ball in the Park?

I’m not sure if you feel it but it’s there for me. The feeling that doing more is better. It’s always been there, even before fatherhood.

A fellow pre-school parent seems to be packing in the weekends like she may be on her deathbed and her only goal is to check off the boxes next to the must-experience list she’s made for her kids.

So now fatherhood, and I want to compete for the title of most adventurous family. But some days, we don’t get beyond the backyard.

This past weekend was a mix of either extreme. Saturday was a complete play day while Sunday was packed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

I brought the family to a baseball game on Sunday after attending a fall festival, and as anyone who has spent the day with two kids under five, that could be compared to a day-long trek through the woods wearing a 30 lb. pack. Maybe it energizes you full of life, or maybe the life is sucked out of you.


Saturday was a day of various jobs around the house, getting rid of the excess and hanging out with the kids. And honestly, I’m not quite sure which day the kids enjoyed more. The stay-home leasure day and the tour of events seems to be an deadpan tie.

My point is don’t run around for the kids’ sake. Sure, I do believe that opening them up to a variety of experiences is beneficial and healthy but so is the simple and mundane tasks of a few house chores, a run to the grocery store and some backyard baseball.

I swear at the ages of one and five, my kids are in the present moment so much that if you ask them what their favorite food is, they’ll respond with whatever is on the plate in front of them. The question is where are you?

Is your focus on the plate in front of you? Or is your focus on getting the next plate while you’re currently enjoying the one in front of you?

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:31-34)

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If the Problem Isn’t the Problem Then What is?

Screaming about not wanting me around at the breakfast table, and then continuing to say Daddy help me over and over as we were approaching t-minus ten minutes before departure to morning drop-off.

Antagonizing his one-year-old sister with mussing her hair and picking her up until she screams with frustration.

Lost keys. Missing shoes. Arms wrapped tight unwilling to let go at daycare drop off. A hand digging in her own diaper early in the morning when it desperately needed changing. And by desperately, I mean poop-filled.

All of these problems are enough to make me want to scream at times. And I have to admit I have. I can be one of those brute force you-better-stop-it-right-now kind of dads. Sometimes. Sometimes I can playfully laugh off the innocence of kids expressing their independence or exploring the world.

Sitting in church, the idea was presented that the problem is not the problem, but it’s how you approach the problem. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out the problem of how to stop my five-year-old son and one-year-old daughter from fighting over snack. (Each had a different dried cereal and each wanted to dig their hands into each others.)

I can’t say I handled the above snack situation real well, so I decided to try handling a different problem not as how I wanted to react, but rather by responding in a manner that turned the “problem” into something else.

Every Monday night, I have a 7:30 meeting, and my wife puts our two kids to bed. On this particular evening, my son and I were wrapping up an impromptu sorting of his approximately 200+ marble collection when it was time for me to head out.

marbles

He then proceeded to turn it into a flick-the-marbles-down-the-hall game as I hugged him good-bye. Marbles began flying everywhere across the hall and into the guestroom and bouncing off walls. My problem alarm started sounding inside my head.

But rather than say, “don’t” or “that’s not how marbles are supposed to be played,” I used a string to make a circle across the hall and turn it into a game. He didn’t really buy the game idea, but he continued to enjoy flicking the smooth pieces of glass everywhere.

I calmly walked away thinking to myself, “He’s having fun, and they’re just marbles. Let him have a good time entertaining himself with them.” (You could say I didn’t lose my marbles.) “We can pick them up together later, or I’ll just do it.”

I let it go and really didn’t even think about it again, until my wife mentioned the marbles when I got home. And guess what? My son picked up the marbles.  Without even being asked. Without. Even. Being. Asked.

What I perceived as a problem didn’t even become a problem. Our problems are of our own making, and I chose to not make this one a problem at all.

Kindergarten: Sending My Boy Off into the World

My son hasn’t exactly had a sheltered stay-at-home upbringing. He’s been in full-time daycare since his 13th week of life. He’s been given two working parents that enjoy their jobs, and I also believe the foundation of the Bible-based pre-school has been beneficial to all of us.

But when I walked him to his kindergarten classroom door, I couldn’t help having that feeling of wishing I could have stayed home with him more. He is now entering more of his own world, a world that he may or may not always choose to share with me.

The photo I snapped outside of his decorated classroom door show him with one hand in his pocked, a fresh new Spiderman backpack over one shoulder, being held with the hand outside of his pocket, across his chest. My God, he looked like he should be “the cool kid” in a high-school stance or something.

Kindergarten

On one hand I had the feeling of shouldas, wouldas and maybe couldas, but on the other, I was proud. Here was this boy going from a small pre-school room to a large elementary school. He gets to experience more and learn more.

His world is opening up, and I get to see him grow. I get to see how this first five years of love, nurture and discipline have suited him for kindergarten. My wife and I have worked hard to give both out children a foundation to be strong, loving and independent. To trust but also ask questions.

I can only hope that we have provided a solid beginning that Proverbs 22:6 refers to. Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. 

There’s a lot of pressure on parents to aim for perfection, but there is also a lot of pressure on kids, too. How do I know that I’m providing the beginning that is best for him? From the school we chose to two working parents to the amount of play dates and extracurricular activities he is enrolled in.

There are two things that help comfort me with these questions:

  1. He is being schooled 6-8 hours a day (if you count the before & after school activity club.) But at home, he is still being home schooled. He is still learning his primary perspective on life from my wife and I.
  2. Speaking and networking with other parents helps a lot. Asking how they are doing it? What did they do (if their kids are already in high school or out of the house)? Form friendships with parents that we cross paths with from his pre-school and kindergarten.

And one of the most important things to remember is that a parent who cares and spends time with their kids is going to raise kids that are more prepared for life than the ones who are raised the opposite.

The Ultimate Test of Spiritual Fitness: Family Tent Camping for Five Nights

We emerged from the seven day family road trip that involved five nights of camping in the Blackhills of SD, and the only person with clean clothes remaining was my wife.

An hour on the road with a five and one year old can seem like a half-day. Snacks are crucial, but can give way to jealousy and screaming in the seat.


I would be lying if I said there wasn’t moments when the music needed to be turned up over the crying. Or moments where I used the, “I’ll pull this car over” bit.

Or there was the moment when I looked up at the Milky Way at 2:30 a.m. begging for some sleep after my two year-old daughter woke up with inconsolable night terrors for the second night in a row. Did I mention we tent camped?

And while I’m at it, I’ll mention the seafood boil dinner that brought consistent visits by bees and flies. 

All of these moments were trying but not necessarily bad. Tough? Definitely, and there were times of frustration, but I found myself thinking about the Shakespeare quote, ” nothing is really good or bad in itself—it’s all what a person thinks about it.” So let’s focus on the good times. 

There were the moments of majestic views from Needles Highway, a buffalo herd so thick over the road we sat and waited for almost 20 minutes. I will remember catching wild rainbow trout shortly after sunrise with my daughter.

So we have the attitude string to play. What happens is neither good or bad. It simply is. Don’t sweat the small stuff and all that jazz. Am I going to choose to let this moment affect me or am I going to stay spiritually fit.

There was laughter. There were tears. The family vacation was the way it went, and the memories I have will last a lifetime.  And the fact is is that I got to do it. Many people wish for such opportunities. 

May you remain in the get to attitude. 

Taking Time to Take A Nap

The day was a Saturday prior to an business trip. There was packing, prepping and organizing to do, not to mention family time that I wanted to soak up prior to departing.

But I decided to nap instead. My 16 month old daughter seems to be a little anti-nap when it comes to Saturday. She’s still at an age where she needs them, but she sits up and cries when we put her into the crib. So I held her while we slept.

This moment brought me back to a time when she’d sleep on my chest as a newborn infant, but my mind kept trying to pull me back to to-do lists and other things I should be doing.

But then I thought what option is more important than helping this toddling daughter of mine feel comforted and catch up on some sleep myself. The world slipped away and that hour-and-a-half felt like a day within a day. I drifted in and out, reclined in our Lay-Z-Boy and felt the weight and peace of my growing daughter.

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Every so often, I’m able to step outside myself and experience thorough gratitude, and this moment was just that. It would be five days away on business from my wife and kids, and I enjoyed the silence and warmth of her body in my arms.

We live in a face paced world, and I’ve always had the mindset that getting more done is better. Or that I need to do something just to do something. Add to the list, cross things off, get it done. It’s so easy to be sucked into such a mindset and such a pace that can continually make me feel like I’m on a treadmill while losing position.

It’s like muscle memory. If I don’t run for weeks or haven’t picked up the guitar in longer, my muscles forget what it takes to perform. Relaxing is a muscle. If I don’t keep it strong and remember to just be okay with sitting (or napping) for even just 30 minutes, life can get exhausting.

God wants us to rest. All major religions have a day of prayer or a day of rest, such as a Sabbath.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn fro me, for I am gentle and humble in your heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 28-29 NIV)

 

It’s almost embarrassing that I have to consciously apply myself to take a rest at times, but just like hard work, hard rest pays off.

Additional Reminders to Trust My Kids

My now-walking one-year old went for the cupboards under the kitchen sink. Soaps, garbage and a specific no play zone, I put my foot it front of the doors and said no, explaining that she can’t play in there.

The defiance stage has kicked in, so a mild tantrum ensued. And then of course, as I stepped away to prep something around the kitchen, she went back.

She’s quick, too. I watched as she opened the door and unveiled a fruit pouch top to throw away in the garbage. She nelt up and set it in the garbage, and then made her high pitched ooooha noise in approval as she looked up at me, as if to say, I just had to throw away some garbage.


The surprise and awe could have brought the palm of my hand to my forehead. I didn’t even think she knew the garbage is stored under the sink.

My wife and I work hard to model good healthy behaviors, but I still find myself doubting my kids’ decisions or motives. More often than not though, my kids surprise me with their actions taken.

This morning my wife and I were getting ready to meet friends for a play date. My five year old son was playing in his upstairs bedroom with his sister. And with her being one, I’m hesitant to leave the two of them together alone for very long.

This particular moment was maybe approaching 15 minutes, when I heard screaming from her.

The urge to shout at my son and ask what is going on up there surged, but I held back. I did skip steps as I went upstairs. Working to act casually, I strolled into his room and asked what are you guys up to.

She was still crying a little at this point but it had downgraded from the scream. Turns out my five year old son had only taken a small choking hazard of a toy away from her, and she was of course not very happy with him.

This moment served again to remind me that my kids can be entrusted to make good choices. He was only protecting her with the training I had preached since bringing a sleeping newborn home. And she was just helping to throw away garbage as she had probably seen us do hundreds of times.

God willing shall I continue to trust them, remembering these moments as they grow.

Trust Children When Engaging in Risky Play

Helicopter parents. We all have seen them at the playground, hovering around their child’s rear end as they climb a ladder. Or constantly reminding their child to be careful at various platforms throughout the jungle-gym.

I’ve been there. The last thing I want to experience is my son or daughter getting hurt, and it’s only parental instinct to want to protect them. Playgrounds offer a chance to explore, push limits and learn to interact, often without the boundaries of adults, depending on children’s age of course.

There is a nature center I visited recently where the rock has been sculpted and formed as the play area. There are caves, a climbing wall and various cliffs that can be scaled and stood upon.

But before entering any sort of elevation, if you want to call it that, there is this sign:

Let go

This is a tough thing for a new parent to learn. Again, I’ve felt the fear of my son or daughter hurting themselves, especially the first born. As a new parent, I knew absolutely nothing.

But what I’ve slowly come to realize is that this sign is true. As my baby girl, our second child, was learning to explore the playground, she approached a step head first. I began to make a move forward to stop her, when she stopped just in time, turned around and inched herself backward.

My five year old climbed up a side of a cliff and sat there. Legs dangling down and enjoying the view. Fortunately I wasn’t around when he decided to stand up and jump off. The ledge was probably four feet. And for a five year old, that would be like a six foot tall man jumping off a seven foot tall ledge.

The point is to trust, let kids learn their own boundaries and grow. Pushing my own fears on my kids, whether that’s about falling or acceptance by childhood peers, need to be kept where they belong. To me. A goal of mine is to allow my kids to develop and grow with their own fears, rather than share mine with them.

Giving the Gift of Free Choice–Or At Least that Perception

Defiance lerked around every corner when my son was in what I called the terrible threes. (Which in my opinion are much worse that the so-called terrible twos.) Everything seemed to provoke a stand off.

Brushing teeth, getting into the car, getting dressed or asking to leave the sticks and rocks outdoors could all cause a fight.

I remember sharing with a co-worker of an above example of this. Her response was, “At least your son is still young enough where you can pick him up and bring him to the car.”

While I definitely used this advice more than once, it would never feel good, for me or my son. Say it was the car battle, we would both end up upset, bothered and irritated by the time the wheels were rolling. Not a way for anyone to go about their day.

Then I started deploying options. “Would you like to walk to the car or be carried to the car?” Simple, straight forward. We are going to get in the car. But he at least was able to feel some power or control in the situation being able to decide how he would get there.

Reading Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, I was reminded of this when they describe boundaries as giving others free choice. They say our real concern with others should not be, “are they doing what I would do or what I want them to do,” but rather, ” Are they really making a free choice?”

choices_which way to go
Giving my son the navigator seat while in a canoe. 

They go on to explain how if children are forced into a yes, then they can become externally compliant, which seems to conjure up an image of a robotic, cordial walking dead for me.

As a father with the goal to grows spiritually, I hope I can give my kids choices and ultimately empowerment. Let’s face it we all make choices everyday, but my goal is to give my kids the ability to make choices based on their internal desires, rather than external people, places and things.

Let’s face it, many choices need to be made for them to keep them safe. But there are ways we as parents can help give them the gift of choice. What to wear, healthy options to eat, how to get to the car, or how they want to spend playtime?

Keep it simple, especially for my one year old. “Would you like to get up or down?” Choices. Because someday the choices will be based on peer pressure and cliques, rather than what her mother or father advise.

Watch the Struggle and Watch Growth

My kids are now five and 15 months. No matter how hold they get, it is hard to watch them struggle. Whether it’s using a fork to eat raspberries or working their way across the monkey bars, I have this fatherly urge to jump in and help them along.

I’m a fixer. This is what dads do, right? I’m here to help, love and support. But what if all this helping is actually doing harm.

There is an on going debate in the world of raising chickens whether a farmer–backyard or commercial–should jump in and help the chicken hatch.

I’ve read that helping the chicken along can actually cause death, whether that’s by ripping off skin with the shell or taking over for mother nature and not building the perseverance needed to break through the shell.

And let’s face it. Doesn’t breaking through the shell define so much of childhood, whether that is the first three years or the teenage rebellion?

My one-year old needs help in the water. It’s safety. She’d crawl in head first without even being aware of the consequence. But there are times where I should let her work on zipping away at her shell.

A Helping Hand

My five year old pushes her buttons, until she screams in fury. Typically, I jump in and help her, reprimanding her older brother about space and respect. But after reading about the chicks hatching out of their eggs, I wonder if I jump in a little too soon.

She’s coming into her own, and her own involves a big brother to navigate. Lord knows she is going to need perseverance to draw boundaries with him.

Let’s take shoe tying as an example. My son isn’t there yet, but let’s just say that every time he was to get frustrated, I jumped in and said, “here, let me help by tying these for you.” Would he really learn to tie?

Humans learn by trying and failing. Getting frustrated and pushing through. Asking for help after surrendering defeat. These are all natural ways of growing.

There is a balance I’m working toward lately, and that is to support my kids when they are struggling or going through a hard time. I care, and I want them to know I’m here to help guide them through their struggle. But I’m not here to make their struggle any easier.

Life is a struggle at times, and the sooner they accept it or even embrace it, the better off they may be.

Many backyard farmers watch their chicks struggle to get out of their shell for over 24 hours. I’m sure that can seem like a lifetime when you want your chicken to hatch. But if it wasn’t for the 24 hours or more of struggling to get out, they wouldn’t have the strength or confidence to grow into a healthy chicken.

Falling Down is Learning to Walk

Later this month my daughter will be 15 months old, and we are waiting for her to walk on her own. My thoughts swing from wanting her to be my baby forever to wondering if there is a developmental delay.

According to babycenter.com’s Baby Milestone: walking writeup:

“Most babies take their first steps sometime between 9 and 12 months and are walking well by the time they’re 14 or 15 months old. Don’t worry if your child takes a little longer, though. Some perfectly normal children don’t walk until they’re 16 or 17 months old.”

So she may be on the tail end of “most” babies, and I’m not (overly) worried, but the important part is her willingness to fall down.

fallingdown

May we all learn from the youngest among us. Babies fall down hundreds of times as they learn to walk, but how many say, “Forget it. I’ll just crawl for the rest of my life.”

None. Unless of course there is an underlying developmental issue. Babies keep pushing through until they get it.

Whether you are in sales, engineering, farming, a full-time stay at home dad, making your way through school, or even if you’re taking on a potential hurdle in retirement, keep the walking baby in mind.

We can all benefit from keeping the walking benefit in mind. Fall down on your face. Get back up. Fall down on your butt, get back up. Repeat ad infinitum until you’re able to chase or be chased.

May there never be a time when you feel like staying down after falling. But let’s be real, there are those times. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. My daughter does that, too. Just reach out, let me know what you are going through that compares with learning to walk.