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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Boys, Knives, Rules & School

At drop off this morning, my son and I debated about bringing a wooden souvenir knife to school. I said it was against the rules, and he said he’d keep in in his backpack where no one would see it.

knife

The debate ended in sadness and a couple of tears as he placed the knife back into the car, and I felt a ping of regret wondering if I should have looked the other way to let him find out on his own.

How often have the rules been explained to you and wondered how to get around them?And when should a father just let his son push the rules to find out the consequences on his own? I’m with him, not against him. And by forcing him to put this toy knife back in the car, does he see me as protecting him from getting in trouble or as the enforcer of the rules?

I don’t recall a weapons policy in the the parent packet sent home with my kindergartner, but I’m guessing toy guns and knives aren’t allowed. Basic knowledge, right? Especially, “in today’s world.”

It’s disappointing to me that my five-year-old son comes home within the first month of school and has had two “lock-down drills.” I’m glad the muscle memory prep is there should such a horrid situation occur, but I’m sickened that this is even something they have to think about and prepare for.

The drill involves hiding behind the teacher’s desk, and if all of the students don’t fit behind the desk, they need to hide where they can’t see the window in the door. That way “the intruder can’t see anyone,” my son explains.

In a world of hiding from intruders, the logic of bringing a toy knife to school doesn’t seem very bad. Seems logical. Boys will be boys as they say. Take the toy weapons away, and they will find things to make “weapons” out of, whether that’s sticks, paper or their fingers.

This would be a good foray into a, “back in the day” story. A co-worker of mine made a Facebook comment recalling gun-safety training training that was given right at school. And guns were kept in lockers until classes were out.

He needs to make his own mistakes, especially if they are going to sink in and really be life lessons, but fathers are here to guide. I chose to guide him in the responsible direction and be the enforcer, rather than leave it up to school administration. Better than than having a suspension on his kindergarten record. And if that’s not enough for you, here are six other stories of students being suspended over toy guns (and even one incident is the act of shaping their hand into a gun.)

My opinion is that toy guns and knives are harmless when provided with guidance. “No shooting Nerf darts at people,” for starters. Focusing on respect, love and understanding overrides the natural impulse to “win” and shoot people. Start with conflict resolution, emotional awareness and forgiveness.

The muscle needed forgive those who trespass against us needs to be exercised and modeled. And trust me, your kids are watching.

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. 

Ninety Percent of My In-Person Time with My Kids is Happening Now

Raising young kids takes up time. Lots of time, as an understatement. So much time is spent feeding, changing, cleaning and playing with them that when I rented The Force Awakens from the library, the DVD was never even inserted before the week loan period expired.

Time. We are here for a short time. You hear it all the time. But recently a blog title Wait But Why popped up in front of me with an article titled The Tail End.

He uses visual charts to display how many months, days and weeks are given to a person who lives to be 90. The charts also display things like how many more times he will see The Red Socks play or how many more chances he will have to swim in the ocean or eat pizza.

The thing that stood out to me was his stat that by the time he left for college, he had used up the 93% of his in-person parent time.

This stat applies to me in the fact that I’m 37 and the majority of my in-person time with my parents has been used up. But applying this to the time with my own kids, this big picture perspective makes me want to spend more time with them.

Time with the kids

My wife and I do a good job putting the kids before dishes, reading to them every night and taking things slow on most weekends.

This idea that 90% of the time I’m going to have with my kids in-person is happening right now makes me want to shut off the phone more, drop what I’m doing when they ask for something, and play. Just follow them around and play. This precious time–as stressful and chaotic as it can be at times–is just that:  precious.

My son is five. My daughter is one. We are in the thick of raising two kids. In the thick of constantly running the dishwasher, tears being shed regularly, short nights of sleep. Sweeping the floor at least five times a day, wiping butts and the inability to have a grown-up conversation for more than a minute and a half.

But we’re also in the thick of the 90% of our time with them. God help me be present and content with our time together. And thanks Tim Urban for writing The Tail End.

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.

2008_toyota_highlander_hybrid_dashboard

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.

The Power of Reverse Psychology

There is some innate force inside us that doesn’t want to listen to direction. Or maybe it is just me and my genes, but I like to find things out for myself. I’ve also noticed my four-year old going against what I ask in what seems out of spite.

I’m sure your kids always listen, so please send me your tips. If they sometimes don’t, well maybe you want to try a little reverse psychology to get things moving along a little easier for all.

Blame it on Adam and Eve. They didn’t listen either. Maybe its the serpent devil speaking to my son. Let’s face it. There is a bit of good in the worst of us and bit of bad in the best of us.

One thing I have noticed though is that as fathers (and mothers) we can use our kids’ desire to go against what we say to our advantage, at least while they’re young.

My son has this habit of whining and often screaming when rinsing his hair of shampoo in the bath. It’s unpleasant for all involved, and no matter how much I tell him it’s okay or to shhhhhhhh, he continues the stream of angst.

Father Through Me

Then just yesterday, I heard my wife speaking to him while rinsing his hair, and their wasn’t a sound coming from him.

She was making various voices, pretending to be an audience watching the hair rinsing. Members of the audience were hoping to hear and see my son scream. And there he sat resisting. Going against what “the crowd” wanted him to do.

“I want my money back,” shouted one of the onlookers in what sounded like an Irish accent. “He’s not screaming. I thought we’d get to hear him scream.” Against the will of the people, my son showed them that he wasn’t going to listen and give them what they want.

And I think my wife enjoyed the process just as much. (My wife does some great European accents.) I know I would have enjoyed the bath that much more since there wasn’t a screaming bloody murder contest going on.

So next time, try it. I’d say take advantage of it as long as you can. My kids are young, and I plan on milking it as long as I can. Soon, they’ll probably be reversing reverse psychology, and trying it out on me.

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.

 

That’s Nice. My Pre-schooler Has a Powerdrill! Put It Down. And Now He Hates Me.

My four-and-a-half year old son is as independent as it gets, unless we’re visiting extended relatives that are new to him every time we visit, every couple of years.

So he’s rummaging downstairs in our unfinished basement. This place is full of treasures to a boy his age and full of junk waiting to be thrown or organized by me.

There’s nothing too toxic down there, so I hadn’t thought much about it. And there is a designated office space where he can drive Matchbox cars. But then he turned the corner and my wife could see (and hear) from the top of the stairs that he is playing with my power drill.

head-construction-cordless-drill-41209

The battery was charged and he was revving it full bore with the Phillips-head screw driver spinning on the end, and my wife kindly asked him to put it down. And then I reacted with a shout, “What is he doing! Hey, put that down!”

Yes, it was abrupt of me, but I’m trying to keep his safety. (Maybe I could do that by putting my tools away.) So I wanted to get my point across, and I snapped a little at him to do just that.

He came up sniffling, with tears in his eyes. A mix of remorse, shame and probably anger fueled the protective surrender. I’ve been there. I’m in trouble, so I’m going play I’m sorry. But the truth is in hindsight, there is a more impactful way of handing the situation.

As my intelligent wife points out, you can get the same result through a loving, caring conversation, too.

So why do I yell? When I really think about it, I want him to feel bad and not pickup the drill next time for fear of more yelling.

This particular study by the Journal of Marriage and Family says 90% of Americans utilize “psychological aggression” in disciplining their kids. And these are parents with kids under the age of two that have used at least one episode within the last 12 months.

The article goes on to focus on the effect in adolescence, causing the young teenager to feel rejected or that their parents don’t like them.

Now, relating such feelings toward God, I can tell you that I gave up on that relationship quickly when I thought he didn’t like me. I have to ask myself, would I want my young adult child (who I can’t even imagine as a teenager at this time) to turn away from me as I turned away from God.

I can tell you my life didn’t go very well when I tried to run it on my own, so I now work to keep a relationship with God.

Mirroring this to the relationships I hope to have with my kids, I hope they see me as someone who does care. So maybe next time, instead of snapping at the use of a power drill I could walk down the basement and explain, in a caring a loving way, what the tool is and why it is a grownup tool. God willing.