There Goes The Neighborhood:  Come on Over

A half-dozen liquor bottles were in view on their three-season porch, cigarette smoke wafted and the f-bomb was was dropped at shouting volume while I played in the backyard with my five and one-year old. There goes the neighborhood.

The next-door neighbor of mine for the past nine years sold his house. Then the rental sign went up, and the new neighbors just moved in.

My son wanted to “see” where the noise was coming from. Rather than peer over our fence, we introduced ourselves. Only the grandpa came to greet us, and he appeared genuinely warm through red eyes. He even has a grandson on the weekends who is the same age as my son.

The grandson was encouraged to come out, and he hit it off right away with my son. I’m a pretty understanding guy, and I understand the drive to indulge. I also understand the insanity that can proceed rounds of drinking. There are also certain behaviors I’d rather not expose my kids to at this age, but I said yes when my son asked if the grandson could come over and play. You could also bet that they were within my view the entire time.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” says Jesus in Mark 12:31. But these aren’t the neighbors that I want to love I think to myself in response. I was hoping for a quieter family, with two kids the same ages as mine, maybe even going to the same school. Heck, throw in a dad that I can relate with and invite over for BBQ.

He wants to teach me something else. Sure, these neighbors act differently that I choose to in my life now. They even look different than my family. So in order to help me find what He may want me to learn with this change, I think of what I’d like my son to learn.

Learn to respect people. Learn boundaries. Learn that underneath various shapes, sizes and colors, we are all really after the same thing. Learn to hand over the fear. We can love our neighbors without being close friends.

The thing with fear is that it is learned. My son wasn’t afraid of the f-bombs, the smoke or the drinking. Kids aren’t born afraid of people who look different than them. Even when you think your son or daughter isn’t watching, that’s probably when they are watching the most.

Honestly, I didn’t really want to go outside of my privacy fence to introduce myself. But I hope I my kids learned something from the action. I know I did.

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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.

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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.

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.

Coaching from My Four Year Old on Detachment from My New Car

I’ve been car shopping for months now. My reliable 2003 VW Jetta is tight to say the least when a family of four needs to jet around town. Sure, it’s manageable, but if we want to go out of town and enjoy the outdoors, we needed something a little bigger. That and the list of repairs well exceeded the value of the car.

So I fell in love with the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. The style and space of a large SUV but close enough to the economy of a Jetta that I validated the larger vehicle. After all, I strive to be conscious of our worlds natural resources. Plus I look cooler in this than a minivan.

The sticker price, and I’m shopping used here, was more than I had ever spent on a car in my life. But Consumer Reports voted this vehicle as the best used SUV car buy, and the space sure was something my family can utilize comfortably.

The day finally came and it looked like we were going to land this car before a spring break road trip to a northbound hotel, when the car had to go into the shop for break work. Just in the nick of time, with bags packed ready to head north, the car came out of the shop. We loaded it up and took it 2.5 hours north.

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Boy the ride was smooth. The sound system is unbelievable. Gas mileage lives up to expectations, and we were able to fill it comfortably with our bags and gear. How quick it does fill up. This car is so nice it barely feels like it should be mine, ‘er ours.

I must admit my pride was boosted a little, driving around in its midnight black paint job, leather seats, quiet electric motor and all. And a few comments from a neighbor and in-laws didn’t help either.

And then my son says, “It’s pretty much the same as your other car.” He points out that it still gets us on the road from here to there. I almost threw in a counter but, but, but argument pointing out the size and luxury. However, I decided to agree.

It says in the bible, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV.)

And then I was completely locked out of the car. In this case it was the computer and electronic components that destroyed. The rear hatch malfunctioned and locked all the doors with a continuous pulsing sound that drained the battery. I was pissed, frustrated and ready to return the car.

But with much reassurance from family and my son’s words in mind. I say to myself it’s just another car. Thank you, son, for reminding me of what matters most. It’ll come back from the shop with a new tail gate in a week and I’ll have a new outlook toward my sweet new family car.

An Eye for An Eye vs. Turning the Other Cheek

There are many things I didn’t prepare myself for when I became a father. Among these is the great wonder of what I did with all of my free time prior to children.

I also didn’t prepare myself for the fact that children can bring the worst out of you. But the idea that I am focusing on is that I can stop certain behaviors from moving down generations.

There are certain things that I know I said I would never do that my dad did. Now, my dad is a very good man in many ways, but we all have flaws. Whenever I would be upset at a friend, my dad would say don’t get mad get even.

This “tooth-for-a-tooth mentality” built up many resentments within me over the years. I never really sought revenge but rather wished ill will towards people who I felt had done me wrong. What kind of good does that do?

And just yesterday, I’m in church hearing that I should love my enemies, especially my enemies. For everyone loves their friends and family, but how many people can say they love their enemies. Simple basic Christian stuff, right? Sure, but far from easy.

A recent example of this that comes to mind is the representatives from Charleston who forgave the assassin after the Charleston Church shooting in June of 2015. Here are church members who lost loved ones in an act of pure hatred, and they are forgiving the shooter.

I can only hope to model such behavior some day. I know I am no where near capable of this at this time, but I can sense the concept that forgiving others is relief to ourselves. There is something about freeing up my headspace from those negative thoughts.

We are currently experience a strong test against listening in our household, both with our pre-schooler and the almost one-year old. And when I’m in the throws of such defiance, I am one to hold threats like, “please do not talk to me like that or you will need to go to your room.”

This came up just the other day when my pre-schooler was in my face and antagonizing the baby. I had asked for space and he continued.

Drawing the line, I carried him upstairs after numerous threats. I’m pretty sure he wanted to see if I would in fact follow through. (History shows that I can be a pushover a times.) So I did. I set a timer for three minutes, and he took time in his room to think about listening.

I made sure to provide a loving boundary rather than a stomping foot of judgement to make my point. He is obviously not my enemy but there are definitely times where fatherhood can feel like a battle. And in those times, be sure to love your enemy.