Letting Go, Letting God and Letting the Baby Eat Her Socks

My life is busy. Two kids under the age of five, a full-time job, a wife with a full-time job and all of the grown up responsibilities that come with running a growing household.

I could easily say I’m tired. I can easily say I’m tired. Everywhere I look there is a floor that needs to be wiped, a pile of clothes to be washed or some sort of toy to be put away. But today I didn’t do any of that. At least at the normal after-work chase-my-tail-just-to-keep-up maintenance pace I operate from getting home until the kids are in bed.

I laid down in the middle of the toys, with the dirty dishes still on the stove and on the table, and played with my baby girl. She just rounded the corner on five months. I read her a book while she stretched her arms to bring the board-book pages to her lips.

She sat propped in a Bumbo seat eyes wide, exploring the world with amazement. She would endlessly knock over the stuffed blocks I set up as she worked her limbs to explore what exactly these blocks are all about.

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Okay, I did get up once to bring something into my bedroom, and by the time I had returned she had flipped to her stomach, grabbed her pair of socks and was giving them a taste. How quickly things can happen. I was grateful it wasn’t the art supplies my four-year-old had brought home.

But I’ll never get over the amazement and wonder for life kids have. Untarnished by the car’s make and model we are driving. Amazed by the first car wash, and immediately saying, “let’s do that again,” when the wash is finished. Completely accepting of the clothes they wear (at least until their about four or so).

The words of Jesus in Matthew 18:3 (ISV) says, “I tell all of you with certainty, unless you change and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom from heaven.”

Because when I was laying on the floor with my baby, or reading a new batch of library books with my four-year-old son or even staring into my baby’s eyes as I change her, I find these little children are the closest to God I’ve ever been.

Yes, they can also drive me to the gates of hell at times, but that is if I don’t change. If I change, and look at the world through children’s eyes, humble, forgiving and with amazement, I can feel the presence of God. I can even let go of the fact that the dishes are piled at the moment. I’ll get to them later, when the baby is sleeping.

 

Sharing Toys, Tattling and Supporting Kids to Traverse Their Own Battles

The number one rule at my son’s pre-school is:  “Do everything to the glory of God.” I could get used to this one pretty easily, as I am a man of faith and put effort towards working this rule in my own life.

He’s been attending this school for about 18 months, but I’m just now starting to get used to their second rule: “no tattling unless someone is getting hurt.” I wondered how do they expect this young kid who blows up over getting the wrong kind of cereal to ever solve problems independently.

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Over the course of getting to know the teachers and hanging around for a solid five to 10 minutes during drop-off and pick-up, I see this rule in occasional action. During one particular pickup, I witnessed a boy push a girl over while they were both standing. Her impulse was to run to the teacher and tattle. The teacher calmly comforted her until she was willing to approach the boy.

The victim of this pushover collected herself after roughly one minute and went over to the boy and expressed herself in words how this hurt her. I recall him trying to deny that he in fact pushed her, but guilt was pouring from his nonverbal cues. (Pre-school kids may be able to lie out of their mouth but their little bodies always give them away.)

The educator then coached the boy to say I’m sorry, and the girl said I forgive you. Now, he was taken aside after all this to discuss the situation further with the teacher, but this entire scenario went completely against everything I had previously been taught and how my immediate reaction would handle things.

I would want to jump in and say that the pushing behavior is unacceptable and punish the boy, but what does that accomplish? Further tears? Gratitude for justice? Empowerment?

If my goal as a father is to empower my son and daughter, I realize that there is no better time than now to start practicing this. Practice now when a grown up can hover in the background to guide, rather than practice when the grownups are peers.

Let’s face it, how does running and “telling the teacher” work in business? How does tattling work in the neighborhood? In family?

I find that I grow the most by taking time away from the difficult situation to meditate, pray and be with God. Then I can receive guidance for the next right action to take, whatever difficult conversation that needs to be. And usually it’s the conversation I most fear.

It’s taken me over thirty years to have the courage to have these conversations. I spent most of these years cowering from others. That is not what I call spiritual progress.

So now, when I walk over to the neighbors and my son comes running to tell me how his friend ripped a toy from his hands, I tell my son to work it out. I simply say take turns, and let him work through the situation on his own. Yes, I am hovering in the background, holding myself back from jumping in, but I can at least hope that I’m doing everything I can to build a strong foundation.

Family Road Trip: It’s the Journey Not the Destination

I’ve heard the saying, “It’s the journey not the destination,” I don’t know how many times, but it’s still a conscious effort for me to put into practice.

I like to check things off the list, tell stories about accomplishments and work for the bigger, faster, stronger American way. However, the older I get the more I start to realize that once I check the accomplishment off the list or get the bigger promotion, there is always one more thing.

My family and I recently packed up for the weekend to drive four hours and seven minutes, according to Google Maps, to see my newest niece. Granted, driving with a four year old and a five month old adds a little bit of time, so we were happy to make it in six, or seven plus on the return leg.

I easily found myself defaulting to push through the trip, but you can’t keep pushing when your infant daughter is screaming to be breast fed.

So we stopped various times to have lunch, play at the park and enjoy a Norwegian restaurant with the best pie in the midwest. And I found that there were times on this stop where if I let go and realized how small I was, looking out at the raging freeway or the relaxed locals on the swings, that we were right were we were supposed to be.

My four-year old easily enjoyed the journey, getting out of the car and making a quick friend on the old-school wooden teeter-totter, the kind that smack you in the ass if you’re not careful. His newfound friends even wished him well and said come back soon as we packed up to get back on the road.

We found things to laugh at, like this tarp rigged trailer flapping in the headwind:

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To get the full effect, you’ll have to see the video, but one minute I was griping about how we should have departed earlier to get home before dark. The next minute, we were rolling about this rigged trailer’s tarp flapping in the wind, enjoying the journey.

There’s a certain humor to life and the fact that we aren’t in control. When I really think about it, what do I have control of exactly? It’s easy for me, and in fact my default is to want to check things off the list and get stuff done.

But what I often find is that rather than revel in the thing that was checked off the list, I push myself to look toward the next thing. What’s the next mile marker, how many miles left to go and what needs to be done when we get there.

How does this affect my family? How can I enjoy just rolling along the highway and flapping in the breeze?

 

In How Many Days Am I Going to Die?

I love the questions my son comes up with. I also like asking him questions in response to questions. “Why is the chair squishy like that, dad?”

“Well, why do you think?” is a standard response he receives from me. And it’s not that I am trying to be difficult or as some would say an ass. I can actually see his brain thinking about what we are talking about. Even if he doesn’t come up with an answer, I feel it helps him be curious about the world.

curiousgeorge

God, I love that about him. Wide open and curious.

So I’m cleaning up the kitchen, and my four-year-old is waiting as patiently as he can to play when he randomly asks me, “In how many days am I going to die?”

There was no answering back with a question this time. My survival brain reacted quickly with a “very, very long time. Many, many, many days,” answer as I thought to myself NEVER.

He was satisfied, and responded with, “I’m still growing. I won’t die because I’m still growing.” Where does he come up with questions like this?

I look at this three foot tall boy who follows me and my heart swells with gratitude. I believe young children, and especially babies, are the closest thing to God that there is. Such words of wisdom coming from his lips and he doesn’t even realize it.

Even the world famous book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  says to begin with the end in mind. Now, I don’t really think my son was envisioning his grown up life when he asked this, but he didn’t seem to be anxious about death. And let’s face it, a four year old doesn’t have a grip on mortality. But maybe, just maybe he was thinking big picture.

I’m in my thirties and have only begun to feel the awareness that I will die some day. And you know what, it’s been one of the biggest motivators for me. To plan more, save more, put in more effort, let go more and enjoy just being here now.

Let’s face it. I’ve experience and done things where I should have in fact died. But I’m still here. God has kept me around for a reason, a reason I’ve yet to fully grasp. Just the idea that I should be dead, and that I will die some day, gives me the freedom to aim toward the most important things to me:  relationships.

Being present when I am with my kids is the most priceless gift I can give them. And parents out there, you know that a plastic motorcycle, a toy doll or even an ice-cream cone, lights up the kids’ faces for a little while, but the joy quickly fades. (Often into a glucose-crashing tantrum.) It’s the moments spent to and from the ice cream or playing with the toy that are really valuable.

I hope I can continue to grow spiritually and mentally, so I can continue to exercise being present. After all, I won’t die if I continue to grow right?

Incentives, Threats and Bribes for Doing Things My Way

“I’ll give you a snack if you get in the car.”

“Come to the dinner table or there won’t be a bed time snack.”

“Stop whining or you can get your pajamas on and get ready for bed.”

Anyone with little kids will tell you the power of bribes and threats. After all, there are certain things we must do in life:  work, eat, sleep and brush your teeth for starters. Incentives, threats and bribes help the family system move forward to achieving these goals.

There are even times where I am so fed up with my four-year-old’s whining that I ride the fear-inducing edge of an undefined threat, such as “I’m going to count to five, and if I get there, you’ll be sorry.”

This is a healthy amount of fear to get my pre-school aged son to obey, but does the delivery of such stern fear plant resentments in him? I don’t think so. Real young children are the closest thing to God there is, so loving and forgiving.

My goal as a father is to support my children’s development, so they can go out into the world with a strong foundation and stay true to themselves.

Most likely they will stray a little. Isn’t that human nature? Isn’t that the story from the beginning, from Genesis’ Garden of Eden? God lays out his suggestions, and we have to experiment with our own free will. At least, that’s what I had to do. Eventually, I came around and surrendered to His will.

As far as being a father to young children, they are already tuning me out and excising their own decisions-making. The only thing I can do is guide and model my behavior that I work to align with God’s will. Guide, model, reward and bribe.

I believe trust builds trust, so when I ask my son if he brushed his teeth and he says yes, I believe him. Even if I know he didn’t brush (I didn’t hear the water run and he never even set foot in the bathroom), I will say okay, I believe you. It’s usually only a minute or two until he admits he was “just joking” and didn’t actually brush hist teeth.

His inner guidance led him to the truth. There was no need for me to threaten or bribe.

The Free Range Kids movement has merit in my eyes because it puts kids in drivers seat, as long as they are developmentally ready. If my son and daughter are self-reliant, they can make decisions that are responsible, or at least appropriate for their age, and I don’t have to be the helicopter parent.

Lately I’ve been asking myself how these bribes and threats support self-reliance. Yes, honor thy mother and father, but shouldn’t the mother and father help build decision-making skills? Maybe it’s not quite time for my kids–at the ages of four years and four months–to walk home from the park on their own, but who’s to say my son can’t pick up his crayons after a color session on his own.

There is something to be said about positive reinforcement, rather than discipline. So as positive reinforcement, he will get a little extra treat for snack time.

 

 

 

A Solo Business Trip with Miles of Gratitude for the Little Things

I’m traveling for business and enjoying the people, topics and food at this conference surrounded by intelligent, business-minded, fun people from various parts of the world. However, my heart sank when I got on video chat with my four year old, and he asked, “Where are you, daddy?”

 

You talk to pre-schoolers about anything outside the present moment, and I swear it doesn’t even make a ripple in their brain. My son can really only focus on the present. I love that about him and try to model this for myself at times. 
I miss the everyday little moments as I am 1,400 miles away, thinking about the time getting the kids ready for school, changing diapers, making meals and instructing around the house. 

It seems as if I am wired at times to want what I don’t have. The wiring used to have me chasing the fear of missing out, or FOMO as was recently acronymed by a coworker. We both agreed at how unhealthy that can be. Why do you think that one of the fastest growing genres of books is “living your best life?”

And there is a reason that the number one best selling book of all time is the Bible. We are seeking creatures. And if I am not aligned with God, I am going to have a strong drive to seek something “better.”

How quickly life changes and how quickly the kids would adapt to me not being there. I’ve been gone five days and I’m wondering if the young ones have already forgotten. Sure, maybe they’d think about me, remember vague ideas of me from pictures but at their young age, they would never really remember me. 

Tears welled in my eyes and my heart ached several times thinking about missing a portion of their lives like this. Yes, I know, get over it. It is only four five days, and I feel grateful for having the opportunity. But this week is another reminder for me of just how fleeting time can be.

I hear from parents with adult children, “It goes fast, let me tell you.” This reminds me to cherish the moments, be present and stay grateful.