Teaching Worry & Hurry

“Come on. We’ve got to go. We’re going to be late,” I stress to my son as I’m trying to get out the door, drop off at pre-school and get to work by 8:45 a.m. Fatherhood has transformed me from a crawl-out-of-bed-thirty-minutes-before-I-need-to-leave kind of guy to the father who loves to be the first one up, savoring the quite house during morning meditation. But I still often find myself rushing to get out the door on time.

Same can go for trying to keep an evening schedule of dinner, play, bath, books and bed. The other day I was able to leave work early to hand off the baby, so my wife could go to the doctor. I then picked up my son, and he wasn’t in the front door long enough to change from rain boots before he decided we needed to be back outside.

I enjoy the moments when I’m able to take his lead and look at the world through his eyes. God, please allow me to keep this ability for as long as I live.

park

To take these moments and let the grown-up responsibilities of the world fade away. That to me is the gift my son can give everyday. If I keep me eyes open.

The other day we were able to venture to one of the nearby parks. Again, my son’s choice. We had a solid hour before we needed to return to heat up dinner (homemade chili that we had frozen from a previous week). The air was crisp surrounding my fleece but we were fast walking and jogging in excitement for the park.

The park was quiet and soggy. We had the entire place to ourselves. My son took his routes around the equipment while I did box jumps on a bench. I pushed him on the swings. We hunted worms–both drowned and wriggling–in mud puddles.

Hunger started calling me to head home, so I have him the necessary but vague warning that we were going to head back soon. I find it key to warn young minds of upcoming transitions as not to send them into a temper tantrum shock when I “rip” them away from their current play. At the age of four, my son has an admirable attention span that competes with my overactive brain, so it becomes a game of manipulation to exit the park.

Tim Ferriss interviewed Derek Sivers, most noted for his creation of CD Baby, where Derek describes educating his son’s attention span. Derek talks about playing with his son at the beach for hours and hours. Now, I don’t have hours and hours to just float around with my son, but I do try to give him a solid chunk of free play between the end of the work day and the bedtime routine.

I believe free play is good for anyone, especially the young mind, but everything must come to an end. This exit was assisted by the fact that my son had soaked his butt going down the slide, and did I mention we needed light jackets? The guidance I use when the time comes to transition is to reward. Never be afraid to bribe. A little chocolate can go wonders.

My experience is to slow down and let it go. If my son wants to jump on the playground as he exits pre-shool and before I shuttle him home, why should I rush him. I’d rather put off dinner that fight about rushing home.

Because in the end, to where am I rushing off?

That Little Chap Who Follows Me

Despite all effort to stray, I found myself naturally mirroring my dad’s reactions, words and wrestling moves once I became a dad. This isn’t a bad thing. My dad was a good father, a provider who worked hard to give his family with three kids a good life. And for that I’m thankful.

But there are always things that I said I wouldn’t mirror. Like kicking a shoe or hollering when frustrated. Like focusing on what wasn’t being done–picking up the jacket, putting away toys or behaving at the dining room table–rather than what was being done.

There is something that each generation teaches to the next, whether the display is positive or negative.

I have flaws. And I don’t want to bare them to my son. I remember looking up to my dad as if he held the keys to the world and could get in the driver seat, floor it or turn the action around any time he wished. Why would I want to take that from my son, or better yet, why would I want to take that from my ego so soon?

Is there a benefit to showing my son that I’m not perfect at a young age? How would he see himself if he sees me admitting that I am a broken human being, but I am okay with who I am? Would he get to a stage of comfort sooner than the age of 34, like his father?

This anonymous poem cross-stitched by my mom wraps it up for me:

littleman who follows me

As long as I model this poem over half of my time as a father while continuing to strive for better, I’ll consider myself a success.

How Do You Want Your Children to See You?

I started my spiritual journey to build a relationship with God when my wife was about to enter her second trimester. I had to. Nothing else was satisfying. I had a good job, a beautiful wife, house and the whole bid,  even a baby on the way. From the outside, things looked put together, but I was falling apart on the inside.

Let me rephrase that:  I can only look back and say that I was chosen. The looming pressure I put on myself in becoming a father, and years of self medicating found me full of fear and riding a rollercoaster of emotions.

People who had been there before me said I had a God-sized hole in me that only He could fill.

As I was making my way into a new life, a close friend that I looked up to said for me to picture God as how I would like to be seen by my son. My son was approaching a year at this time, so the answer was easy. I wanted him to see me as stable, loving, trusting and forgiving. I wanted my son to see me as someone who cared and supported, yet wasn’t a softy or push-over.

This friend of mine, a spiritual guide if you will, opened my mind to this idea. I was able to relate. Of course I didn’t want my son to see me as a scared recluse whose primary emotion hinged on anger. I knew how I wanted to be seen, and therefore I could relate this same vision to God. He is stable, loving, trusting and forgiving. He cares and is definitely not a pushover.

I also think of this as I am asking God to work through me when I am with my kids. How do I want them to see God? There is only way I can consistently set aside anger, jealousy  and fear. I must ask for Him to remove these defects of character.

Like when I am running late and I just can’t get my pre-schooler to budge off the front steps. Anger starts to boil inside of me. “I can pick you up and put you in the car,” is what I start to think. But then as I begin to act on this, I’m suddenly reminded to respect him. I sit down with him. I try to teach that being a little late isn’t the end of the world–although punctuality is something I strive for–I would rather focus on the how I get out the door rather than the when.

I would rather go out the door together as father and son, rather than enemies. I would rather pretend to sword fight with sticks on the way to the car, rather than fight with each other.

Spilled Milk and Bike Accidents

Things can be going along exactly to my plan, and then boom. A fresh cool glass of milk is spilled at the table. The kind of spill that reaches the center leaf and drips through the cracks of the wood. Boom. And we were just sitting down to the just plated dinner.

The spill isn’t my fault. I’m not going to say it’s been years since I spilled milk but longer than I can really remember. This is my pre-schooler’s fault. I told you this would happen. I could see it coming, and he put his cup right in the line of his serving arm. AAAAAAaaaaaah!

milkI can take this in two directions:  1. Get pissed. Angrily grab a towel and rapidly mop. 2. Calmly wet a towel and involve my son in the cleanup.

A few years ago option number one would easily have taken rank. Now a days, I see the value in how situations are handled, rather than trying to have the situation go the way I envision. Mistakes and blunders are going to happen as long as I’m living, but I expect perfection. That’s part of my problem. And things get real tense when I expect my pre-school-aged son to perform at perfection.

The other day I asked him to come in for dinner. He was just finishing up with his first ever successful pedal ride on a two-wheeler with training wheels. He stepped in the front door, thought about dinner and proceeded to head back out toward the bike.

How could I blame him? I had as much pride for him as he was wearing on his sleeve. I stepped away to ask for guidance on how to handle the situation. When I returned and told him it was still time to head in, he was climbing aboard the saddle. He’s what you call “strong willed.” I could see this was going to be a battle, so I backed off and reminded him to at least wear a helmet.

He stormed out after ripping the helmet out of my hands in a I’ll-show-you-action known so well to parents whose kids start thinking dad doesn’t know anything. I felt that he was going to have a fall, but there was nothing I could do.

My wife went out to coax him in the house when before I knew it I heard the bloody scream. He was sitting on the sidewalk in front of a tipped bike, and I could feel the rage rise in myself. He didn’t listen. His helmet wasn’t buckled. And now dinner is delayed. I could have raged.

What’s more effective, getting pissed and rushing my son into the house? Or waiting to compose myself to show compassion and love to my son in his time of need?

When I step back and look at the spilled milk or the scraped knee, what is the difference? Is there a difference beside one is white and one is red?

I find again that the situation has a much better outcome with myself and those around me when I ask God for help to focus on what is really important. A little spilled milk or a bloody knee is something that I get easily upset over. Why is this happening!? But if I display a Fatherly tone to the situation, the situation that I can’t really do anything about, what am I teaching my son?

By The Bottle

Ah, the decision to breast or bottle feed your new baby. A quick online search, your child birthing class or a hospital tour will place the benefits of breast feeding directly in your face, to the point where the mother (and even the father) may feel shunned if they were to feed the baby formula.

I have no say what-so-ever about what mothers should do. I’ve experienced breast feeding from the side-lines, and I’ve seen the challenges and frustrations a new mother endures because of the sheer pressure to get her baby to ingest lactation. I’ve also seen the connection, love and peace that a new baby and mother can experience during a cohesive breastfeeding session.

And when I see that, jealousy occasionally surfaces because my nipples are useless. The contentment that comes from an infant feeding is something I long to provide, so I was humbled when I was able to give my almost three-week old daughter her first bottle of breast milk.

bottles

I love babies and kids. Maybe I’m not your stereotypical manly man. Maybe I’m just a dad who loves his God-given job. One of the things I love most about babies and kids is the sheer emphasis they have on what they are feeling or experiencing in that moment. When my four-year-old is upset, he is passionate. When his face lights up in accomplishment, the joy radiates throughout the room. And when the infant is feeding, I can feel the gratitude for the nourishment.

Being able to give my baby girl that gratitude filled my soul. After all I’m a guy, and I like to play the provider role. But holding her in that moment and nourishing her with mamma’s milk out of a bottle is the closest thing I’ll ever experience to breast feeding.

And now if you’ve chosen to bottle feed or maybe your partner has had difficulty with lactation, consider yourself lucky. Share the responsibility in being able to provide your baby the nourishment he or she needs.

I know a dad who takes pride in the fact that he was the one to get up throughout the night to give his new baby boy bottles.

This closeness, being able to provide and the gratitude given off from the baby is what I have to focus on because feeding is a lot of work. (A huge shout out to those mothers who are on the two hour around-the-clock feeding schedule.) Make sure the milk is just the right temperature. The appropriate nipple for the age of the baby needs to be on the bottle. Then there is holding the baby at the correct angle, making sure burping at the right times is executed properly, and that there isn’t too much or too little milk going in (although the baby is usually pretty good at telling you this).

And remember, through all the burp rags, Boppy pillows and diapers, you are communicating your commitment to your child. Even if you feed your baby just a few times per week in their early months of life, your baby connects with you as a father and is getting to know you, just as you are getting to know her.

Your Children are Designed for You

Your children are designed for you. Not by you. Beyond putting a seed and egg together, you really don’t have much to do with it.

Sorry if this bursts your ego. There is something bigger than you that put your son and/or daughter together for you. And He has been doing this for 200,000 years, since humans have inhabited this planet.

Bill Bryson sums in up neatly in his introduction to A Short History of Nearly Everything when he says:

“Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely–make that miraculously–fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stuck fast, untimely wounded or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result in you.”

This entertaining science book details everything from atoms to earth quakes to evolution.

And while I think that child of yours is a miracle, I must stress that he or she is a miracle of God. In James Emery White’s A Search for the Spiritual he mentions the work of astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle who determined that if you would compute the time required to get all 200,000 amino acids together for one human cell to come together by chance, it would take about 293.5 times the estimated age of the earth.

These chances are so against the odds that this game of life, if you call it a game, must be held together by someone larger that creation itself. The Anthropic Principle mentions that the wold is uniquely suited to human beings. If the mix of carbon and oxygen weren’t just as they are, the earth would not be able to contain human life.

And thank God Jupiter is conveniently placed between Mars and Saturn otherwise our planet would be bombarded with asteroids and other space material.

These facts and ideas that have been put in to place only lead to me to one place. God. He is the designer behind all of creation. And those children of yours, no matter if they are biologically yours or are in your care, are yours to be nurtured. After all, they are here for a reason.

The reminder to myself is to let me son and daughter find this reason for themselves. For I already find myself dreaming up reasons for why they are potentially here. (Great architectural achievements, top athletics or saving the world from disaster.) But what do I know? I have no idea why they are here. They have already taught me things like patience, understanding and truer meanings of unconditional love. That in itself is enough. They’ve already bettered my world

They are here for a reason.

Just like you are here for a reason.

The Ending of Paternity Leave

The end of paternity leave is a double-sided coin. Today, the Friday before I go back to work, I see the past week and a half as a blessing. Talk to me tonight and I feel that feeling of time as sand slipping through my fingers.

Time off to get to know my newborn daughter and serve my wife as she recovers has been a blessing. Focusing on the solution, I’ve gotten to nap “skin to skin” with my daughter on my chest. I swear there is some kind of drug that is delivered to my brain when we do this. I have also been able to:

  • give her baths in the sink
  • hold her while she naps for endless hours
  • watch her face contort in never ending emotions
  • see her enjoy sucking her hands, even if they miraculously find their way her mouth by accident
  • catch her smile in her sleep
  • see her enjoy gazing around propped up on a pillow
  • hold her “skin to skin” (did I mention this already)

Of course there is a part of me that dreams of Iceland’s max paternity leave of 91 days or Norway’s 70, or even Spain’s 28, but again, I stay grateful for the 2.5 weeks. I’m also taking a few days additional days here and there.

It’s almost as if I wish I could just freeze time and cuddle with my newborn daughter forever, but there is also something satisfying about spending the day with adults and working toward something constructive to earn a living.

She is just perfect in my eyes, as they say God sees me. So if God does in fact see me as perfect (I’m glad someone does because I sure don’t), and that he does have a plan laid out for me. Tomorrow that plan is for me to go back to work. My newborn daughter will still be in the comfort of her mother’s arms for the remainder of my wife’s FMLA. I’ve learned to balance work and home life and say to no extra curricular activities, so I can be here for my family.

My role is to serve whether I’m at work, home or in the community. And with this mindset everything is a gift. I’m lucky to have a job and be able to provide for my family. The other side of the coin is that my infant baby is being taken from me for 40+ hours a week. But that type of mindset only leads to resentment.

As long as I continue to look for Him in earnest, he has plans for me. And these plans are for prosperity, not disaster. I’m paraphrasing from Jeremiah 29:11. This gives me comfort as I take each day as it is given and work toward what he has me doing. He also has plans for each one of my family members.

saddleup bag

So I will saddle up, march on, head back to the salt mines as they say, and bring my full self to my human duties, as an employee, as a friend, as a husband and father.

 

You Don’t Have to Eat

Transitions can be difficult for anyone, but they can be catastrophic to the world of my pre-school aged son. He will be four May 1, and my wife and I can never anticipate how dinner will go. There is no signal to help us anticipate.

My wife and I have instilled the dinner ritual at our house, as this is the one main hour of family time where we are all the least distracted by devices, toys or chores. We also have tight budgets and enjoy home cooked meals. So it’s time to sit down, and my son is deep into fantasy sword play or running around the back yard. Here we go.

We prepare his food, separating the ingredients as much as possible, so everything is cool enough to eat right away should jump immediately into his chair. Yes, jumping right up into the chair does happen. This usually occurs when he is not strongly encouraged to join us. He’s what you could call “strong willed,” and it’s best if the decision is his. But if we get the I-can’t-hear-you-because-I’m-too-busy-playing routine, we know things could get ugly.

FoodPlate

I know three year old bodies have different food needs, and after all, he does eat every three hours or so. So dinner time is more about being together. We use Maryann Jacobsen’s suggestion in Ending Mealtime Battles Forever With These 5 Simple Words:  “You don’t have to eat.” And this does work, but I feel like he’s also defiant to the point of holding out simply because of a power struggle.

My wife, God bless her, usually rolls with it until I end up threatening to take away the toy that is getting his attention. A threat can also turn this struggle into a pure hour of unadulterated screaming. By my son. Mostly. It dwindles as we try to at least get him into his room, so my wife and I can gather our thoughts and consider reheating our food. Thankfully, these battles of screaming really only happened for six months on and off around his third birthday. We have seen him recover quicker as he ages emotionally.

We (okay, credit again goes to my amazing wife) focus on the good by praising the nights when he casually jumps into his chair and chows down, sharing events in his day, making up stories for laughs and throwing out random questions. Focus on the solution, not the problem. We also have great success enjoying our food when he chooses not to join us at the table, so that he is attracted to the family dinner rather than have the event be forced upon him.

I tell myself we are building a foundation. Modeling the importance of gathering around a meal, sharing stories, providing each other with eye contact are all things that nurture the well being of our children, and let’s face it each other as well.

If you see food as a spiritual act, and after all it is, then modeling the importance shouldn’t be difficult. It’s only my impatience to get him to join us that can force the power struggle. I’d say four out of seven nights a week is a success.

Strength from A Daughter’s Face

Where does your energy come from? Whether you’re nursing a newborn or wrangling through homework with your middle-school student, how do you manage to be there for your child or children?

My daughter was scheduled to be delivered Thursday, March 24 at 8 a.m. by C-section. She decided to suprize us early by sending my wife into contractions at 3 a.m. and to the operating room at 5:30 a.m. I don’t have to tell other dads out there how miraculous your wife/partner is during delivery. If you’re not a believer in God before witnessing such a feat, I’d gamble that such an event will turn you on the spot, or at least make you think twice.

An understatement would be to say that my wife was nervous about the delivery, or as she put it:  surgery. I must say that the C-section delivery was no less miraculous than a vaginal delivery.

We expected to have a girl. My wife likes to plan so we asked the ultrasound technician to point out the sex. I already have a son, and so the news of expecting a daughter came as a mixed bag. I knew what it was like raising a boy. I’m not saying a didn’t want a girl, but I was able rough house with my son. We could have similar “boy” interests. I wasn’t real pumped to fill a play room with Barbies and dolls. We’ve come a long way with with gender equality, but as unfortunate as it is, women have to endear so much more. Plus, somewhere deep inside of me as I looked at the big picture, there were the facts of how menacing boys can be to a young woman. I couldn’t think too far down the road. Fears. All fears.

Then I met her. My daughter stole my heart when they handed her to me. Tears welled up inside, and I could feel the radiant feminine beauty of her being. I never once wished for anything else.

I don’t have to tell you newborn babies are tiresome. They are demanding. They expect to get fed every two to three hours. Their dirty diapers are in the double digits. Now, I went into this knowing what to expect, so maybe that was it. Maybe it was the fact that my new born daughter was such a peaceful pea pod with a hunger signal that was the puckering of her mouth. But the energy I felt when I looked her in the eyes came from somewhere else.

I was exhausted. My wife was on a pain management routine and bedridden. We had been up since three in the morning. But when I stared at this baby face of beauty, God sent His Spirit to fill me with service. I was at my wife’s side, willing to do anything for her and our new baby. And I had nothing to do with it. I give Him all the credit.

God fills me up with this Spirit to do the next right thing. When I ask him where I should be, He steers me to wiping down the bathroom when I want to sit down. He drives me to give words of strength to my amazing wife when we’re both ready to collapse. He walks me through cleaning the kitchen when dishes are piled and I’m ready to scream. As long as I keep asking this question and wait for the response, He guides me with a light of inspiration on what to do next.

Keep in mind this is never really what I want to do. I want to get a bunch of work done to stock pile money. I want to plan the next house project. I want to exercise my body to stay fit. I want to practice the guitar or sit and read. But many times, God says to put others in my family first. My time will come. Those other things–and they are just that–will come.

Bedtime Book Stew

I’m proud of my four-year-old son’s library. He has about 200 books on his shelf plus a rotating allotment of 15-30 library books at a time. These range from board to picture books. So I was livid when every volume was piled into a stew of toys and art supplies. The topping was his full-sized bedding layered on the heap, mattress protector included.

After an already 30 minute negotiation to put pajamas on so the bedtime reading could commence, I saw the pile and could have lashed into obscenities and even a swat or two. Except I’m working to better myself and model character only God could bring to the table. I expressed my disappointment and exited the room.

Five days ago we brought our newborn  daughter home. I’ve heard the transition out of being the only child can be difficult, but I survived, quite alright and even prideful if I do say so myself. The first night we went home my son did this same empty-the-book-shelves stunt. Last time, grandma and I jumped in quickly to rescue the situation and shelve the abandoned material. This time, I didn’t have it in me. And I wanted to take this opportunity to teach.

First, I enlisted the help of a Power greater than myself and knocked on his closed door to offer a water bottle. As I entered he humorously launched a woven basket onto the pile. I last my hand out and caught the folded baskets and told him, “I don’t want you throwing these around.” I added that his action showed me that he can’t keep such toys and books in his room.

I exited again.

I had to regain myself before I really did loose it. This was too much for a tired dad whose exhausted wife was was dozing in bed with the infant. I sat on the couch and surrendered. I closed my eyes and asked for help. Then my son came down and asked me for help. I firmly said no. “You took the books off the shelf, and now you can put them back.” He was crushed when I followed it up with the fact that we weren’t going to be reading books tonight. Bedtime stories are our bond, our nightly relaxation and time of discussion. I was crushed, too. But the lesson needed to be learned. There are consequences to every action.

I told him I’d help with the sheets but that he was on his own with the books and toys. The task was overwhelming even for an adult. I slowly gathered the sheets and made his bed, and then asked him to find me once the books were back on the shelf. To my surprise, he started applying himself to the task, one book at a time. Sure, after about 15 minutes of working, he became distracted and started finding “new” toys to play with. So I entered, redirected and kept trudging the road of fatherly coaching, rather than fatherly scolding, giving him a hand to move things along.

Eventually, the books were in organized enough–sure there were sections of the bookshelf stacked vertically–to commence the bedtime routine. He asked if we could pick out books, and I told him a firm but disappointing sounding, “no.” Anger erupted in him again with kicks thrown in. I held firm and asked him if he remembered why there would be no books, and that I was sad about not being able to read to him, too.

We commenced with prayer, and “cuddling” which involves me laying in bed next to him. There are consequences to every action. Although he may have succeeded in stretching the bedtime routine beyond two hours, I feel that he will think twice about piling the books and blankets into a stew to stall again next time. Or at least will understand that a consequence comes with every action.