parenting experience

Nature’s Way

My wife was the first one to notice. A bird had built a nest in the wreath that hung from our front door. Actually, it was two different birds, as thereFullSizeRender (21) were two types of eggs in the small stick structure–two speckled brown and four light blue.

The boys were fascinated for a day or two, but quickly lost interest as the eggs just seemed to become another adornment in the wreath. They were not intrigued by the gestation period the way I was. Throughout the spring, I looked out the small window of the door, down into the nest, with the excitement of a toddler on Christmas Eve. I placed a step stool against the inside of the door and checked periodically on the egg inhabitants. The mornings were simply a chance to make sure all the eggs were still there, but the evenings afforded more interaction with the mama bird.

It became part of my nightly routine: put the dogs to bed, set up the coffee pot, check on the birds in the nest. At first, the mama could sense me staring down on her, and would fly away. But I quickly learned to position myself to the side of the window.  Once I mastered this, I could marvel at the mother bird’s determination to protect her offspring. Her head was on a swivel, moving side to side to ensure her babies were safe, and the porch light added a warmth that she seemed to welcome. After a minute or so, I would leave my perch and quietly walk to the comfort of my bed.

Then, one day in mid-June, I looked out the window in the early morning and found that there were no longer eggs, but a mass of fuzzy creatures, bizarre in their ugliness and shape. I laughed at my ignorance. Why would I assume the birds would hatch looking more like, well, birds? In addition, not all the eggs hatched. Someone told us that the one mother bird probably removed the other mother bird’s eggs from the nest. My first reaction to this was, how cruel, followed quickly by, this is nature’s way. And only three of the four blue eggs hatched–again, the way the natural world works.

The boys now had a newfound interest in the nest. I would catch them standing on the bench on our front step, peering down at the trio, trying to make out where one bird ended and another began. I watched them bring their friends over to spy on the latest stage of development.

As for me, I was somewhat put-off that the birds were so indistinguishable. Then one day, about a week after their birth, I noticed something that FullSizeRender (22)amazed me; each worm-like mass had a tiny yellow triangle towards its top. They’re beaks! I thought aloud. Again, I was surprised at my ignorance. Yes, Michael, birds have beaks. You remember kindergarten, right?

After that, I was hooked. I gazed down at the nest several times a day, watching these beaks turn into birds. I stared in wonder as each bird developed its head, focused its eyes, sprouted its wings. The wreath wriggled with constant movement, as the mama bird flew back and forth with food. I had gotten good at watching her flight patterns, and could see her occupying various branches on the pine tree near the front pathway. I even took to speaking with her. “It’s okay, mom. I’m not going to harm them.”

During those few weeks, I made several observations. There was an order to the three birds. The one towards the front was in charge.  He watched over the other two, he opened his wings first. The one in the middle followed suit, and the one towards the back seemed to develop more slowly and tentatively. Also, the perimeter of the nest was comprised of their waste–did the birds know to do this instinctively? And the mother bird visited the nest less often. I surmised that this was her way of getting her young to be more independent–forcing them to fly. However, she was never far away. I could spot her on various limbs in the trees nearby.

 

Metaphors abound in nature. One can find lessons and connections between nature and our human existence almost at every turn. Poets have mused about this for centuries. People learn to take comfort in the beauty–the daffodils that sprout after an interminable winter, the caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly, and understanding in the tragedy–the thousands of sea creatures that feed off a dead whale’s carcass, the need for predators to stalk their prey in order to survive. Indeed, nature is humanity’s greatest classroom. Yet, we seem to ignore it in our day-to-day lives. It takes a tremendous effort to get us to notice things. To appreciate them. The arrival of this nest prompted me to rediscover the array of birds and wildlife that surround our home. We live in a beautiful area ensconced with trees, streams, a pond, walking trails. We are very fortunate. And, sometimes, we look up from our phone screens long enough to spy the blue heron’s wingspan as he ascends into the sky, the camouflaged frog springing in the tall grass, the design on the turtle’s back who has appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, after a summer storm. Nature has its reminders, its lessons, yet there are perhaps too many for us to fully appreciate. So, when the world offers you a nest of birds–a literal bird’s eye view, one can fully embrace the mundane miracles that surround us.

FullSizeRender (23)As the birds became more active, so, too, did the interest from our dogs. Huckleberry, a hound rescue, and Rosie, a black Lab, started to spend more time near the front door. When Huck finally put his paws on the door and started clawing towards the wreath, we knew it was time to cordon off the front entrance. I set up a makeshift barrier of old puppy gates, and moved the bench. We had stopped using the front door months ago, so that was no hassle. Yet, the dogs’ newfound discovery made us worry. The three birds had come so far, we didn’t want to now be responsible for their demise.

And just as I learned to talk to the mother, I did so with her three young. “Good morning! How was your night? It’s okay. You’re safe.” My greeting was met with a frightened fluttering of wings and a bobbing of heads. Their reactions made me realize they were almost ready to leave the nest. These birds were now full-fledged. It was time to fly.

I watched one hot morning as the first bird–the front bird–moved up the wreath and attempted to flap his way out into the world. “Come on buddy. You can do it.” And he did. He teetered. He dipped. But then, he flew. High enough to disappear into the trees, joining his mother, I hoped. “Goodbye!” I called after him. “Good luck!”

The second bird was gone by sundown. No one watched her departure, but we were confident she was somewhere right above us with her family. The last bird, the tentative one, was struggling. Whereas the other two became emboldened with each passing day, this creature remained stagnant.

“Do you think she’s okay?” my wife asked at dinner that night.

“Yeah. It just takes some longer than others. She just needs a little more time to gain confidence.” Again, I could not help but think of the parallels between animals and humans. Everyone is different. All in due course.

The next day, she was still there. But she had managed to climb out of the nest and up into the faux leaves of the wreath. When I approached to check on her, she seemed skittish and panicky. “You can do it,” I said. But I had my doubts. I cursed the notion of survival of the fittest. Two out of three isn’t bad, but it doesn’t seem fair. Nature has a way–this now refrain popped into my head, and I wasn’t certain if I thought of this as a positive or a negative. A way of fulfilling or eliminating. Time would tell.

When I checked at bedtime, she was still there. Alone. “You can do it,” I whispered.

In the morning, I forgot about the nest until I was leaving to drive the boys to camp.

“Guys, shhh. I want to check on the bird,” I said in a loud whisper.

“I’ll do it,” said Hayden (10). He hopped on the bench. “Dad, it’s empty!”

“She may be hiding up inside the wreath,” I said, moving nearer to investigate. After a closer look, I was confident. “She’s gone,” I shouted. “She made it! I was worried about her,” I finally admitted.

As we walked away towards the car, the two dogs came bouncing around the house, hoping to join us for the ride. This had started to become part of our morning routine. But something else had gotten their attention in the Pachysandra that bordered our front path.

“What’s Rosie doing?” asked Owen (11).

“She’s after something,” I said, unaware.

“Oh, no!” yelled Hayden. “The bird!”

“Rosie, NO!” I screamed.

Confused, she looked up, with tiny feathers protruding from her closed mouth.

“Drop,” I hollered. “Rosie, drop!”

Rosie obeyed and a little creature tumbled out. It seemed to take a moment to regain form. But there, on the path, was the bird.

“Bad dog!” Hayden yelled. Tears had instantly shot into his eyes once he realized the worst, and Owen was in the driveway crying to himself.

“Is she dead?” Owen asked.

“No,” I said. “She’s just scared. Labs are retrievers. They have soft mouths.” I was grasping at hope here, not sure if I was making that up or not. “Get the dogs inside.”

While the boys did as I asked, the bird zigzagged her way under a bush. “Aww, birdy. Sorry about that. Are you okay?” She seemed weak, yet I wanted to be optimistic. I took the gates from the front door, and now made a barrier around the bush. If she did not progress by nightfall, she would probably die, I thought.

The ride to camp was somber. The boys stifled their tears, and I defended their canine sibling.

“Guys, Rosie was just doing what she was supposed to do. Dogs sniff out other creatures. Labs are hunting dogs. So are hounds. It’s in their nature.” Then I attempted to convey that birds, like all beings, need to quickly adapt or they will not survive, but as I began this line of thinking, both boys looked more distraught.

“Do you think she’ll live,” Owen asked.

“I do. I do,” I said. And I almost believed it.

“Should you move her?” asked Hayden.

“I might,” I said, but I really didn’t want to. “Well see.”

We pass a dead raccoon in the middle of the highway. “Whoa! Look at that.” Owen says, matter-of-factly.

It’s funny, I think. Roadkill doesn’t affect us. The bird that flew into our widow and died last month didn’t bring us to tears. We squash mosquitoes with glee. We fish in our pond. But certain lives affect us more. When you watch something’s life from creation to independence, you feel a connection, a bond. As a family, we felt this bond with these birds, on our tiny thumbprint of land that we call ours.

When I got home, I saw that she was tucked under the bush, up against the house. Her head was hidden in her wing. Is she giving up? I wondered. 

I kept the dogs away from this area and went about some yard work. She remained in her spot.

Before I went to pick up the boys that afternoon, I discovered her near the edge of the path. I was excited for her. “Good job. That’s it. You can do it.”

As soon as they get in the car at pick up, I give them a report. “Boys, she moved away from the house. She might even be gone when we get home.”

“If she’s not, you’re gonna have to move her,” said Owen.

“Okay! I’ll move her if she’s still there,” I said begrudgingly.

Once home, Hayden bolted up the driveway to check on our friend. “Dad, she’s still here. You’re gonna have to move her.”

“Okay. Okay,” I said. You’re the adult, Michael. They’re watching you.

With a surprising grace, I bent down and gingerly cupped the tiny bird in my hand. She was so light. So soft. The boys looked on suspiciously.

“I got her, guys. Don’t worry.”

I walked over to the shaded edge of our property where the dogs could not access. I found a spot hidden among the tall perennials. The grace I had moments ago was gone. Although my hand was inches from the ground, her landing was not soft. I had hoped she would flutter more when I opened my palm. There was little movement, and she fell over as I placed her down on the top of the small slope near the trees. I propped her up, but she was listless.

“Dammit,” I muttered, but the boys had already gone inside to get out of the June heat.

“Is she okay?” one asked.

“Yep,” I lied. “I’m just going to bring her some water. Come have your snack.”

By the time I came out with her water, minutes later, she was slumped over, dead.

“Shit!” I said, then I looked up apologetically, imagining her mother witnessing this scene from one of the many familiar branches she had stood upon these last few months. “I’m sorry,” I said to the trees, “I tried.”

That was a Friday. We were going to the beach for the weekend, and before we left, I checked on the bird one more time and pretended she was fine. I lied to the boys and told them she was doing well. They did not seem eager to check on her. Perhaps they did not want to confirm their doubts. By the time we came home Sunday, there was no trace of her. It was probably a nice surprise for the cat next door, or one of the many creatures that visit our property unbeknownst to us.

FullSizeRender (25)Weeks later, this small death has remained on my mind. A silly little bird, and I can’t seem to shake it. We live in a world where the atrocities dominate our attention. Murder, hate, destruction is at every turn. I’m still reeling from the horrific events at the nightclub in Orlando, and there have been at least five monstrous acts since then. My boys are still quite naive. We try to address concerns they may have, but we don’t actively seek current events to teach them how wicked the world can be. If they ask, we’ll answer, but they’ve made it into double-digits pretty unscathed.

I was so moved by the reaction of the boys when they discovered Rosie with the bird. They were crying before I could even piece together what had happened. I was relieved that their sadness was so palpable–honest and pure. And, oddly, I am jealous. In middle-age, I can barely shed a tear when moved to do so. I did not cry when I found the bird dead. Nor, did I cry over the recent loss of one of my favorite neighbors, or the many experiences that are worthy of tears–many tears. Is it human nature to become numb? Do our senses dull to the point where what was once tragic is now merely trite?

In the end, I guess the realization is I want to feel more, react more, notice more. I am humbled that raising these boys has allowed me to see things fromFullSizeRender (24) other, younger, perspectives. To grapple with innocence and naiveté in all its forms. To assist them as they navigate the truths of the natural world–death is a part of life. Nature takes its course.

Nature has a way. Everyday, creatures are born and they die. Beings thrive or succumb. Innocence is preserved or abandoned. Mothers and fathers do their best to protect and empower. And nature teaches us all the while. For those who are willing to look, to watch, to wonder.

 

Elf You!

This post originally appeared on December 5, 2013.

elfIt happened again this morning–another reminder of how I am depriving my children, something that I’m sure will leave an emotional scar for decades to come. You see, our house is elfless. You read that right. We do not have an”Elf on the Shelf” (brought to you by Hasbro…batteries not included). Sorry, certain marketing gems bring me back to the commercials of my childhood.

Anyway, there we were, getting ready for school, the boys eating breakfast at the kitchen counter, when a neighbor dropped off her two kids for my wife to put on the bus. “Now, Adam, don’t forget to have a good day at school,”she calls out to him as he bounces through the kitchen. Then, she turns to us and says, “Blinky had to make a special trip to the North Pole to give Santa a report.” The boys and I exchange confused looks. Pam says, “Oh, you have an elf.” “Yep,” she says, smiling, although I can’t tell if her look is one of rejoicing or regret. “He’s helping Santa keep a close eye on them.” We all laugh nervously–my wife and I with the fear that our boys will ask why we don’t have an elf. Thankfully, they don’t. Yet, as we continue with the morning routine, I feel a bit sad for them. They are excluded from this new holiday tradition. We are completely disconnected from the elf craze. This is what it must be like for my Jewish friends who did not grow up with Santa, I think. Lucky them!

I am kind of a curmudgeon when it comes to Christmas. I hate all the hullabaloo about shopping and buying presents, of giving and getting gifts. “We have to get Soandso a gift because they get us one.” “Another pleather wallet! You shouldn’t have, Uncle Marty.” Really, you shouldn’t have. It’s worse with my own kids, who start making preliminary Christmas lists in June! I think they’ve made six this year (so far). I’m such a Grinch that I look forward to the day when they no longer believe in Mr. Claus. Then, I won’t feel bad about shooting down their wish lists. Now, we have to invent stories about why they couldn’t get a thousand dollars worth of Legos from Santa.

I enjoy family get togethers. I like the idea of decorating a tree and eating Christmas cookies, but the whole consumerism thing gives me a headache as thick as Target‘s Christmas catalogue–which arrived before Halloween. And that’s why I was actually glad when we dodged the snowball of Elf on the Shelf. It has gained popularity just as our sons’ belief in Santa is waning. They are seven and nine for Kringle‘s sake. My wife almost caved last year, but I begged her not to give in. Thankfully, she was strong. But it is awkward for us when others mention their elves. Anyone with younger kids, toddlers and such, HAS to have one, like my poor neighbor this morning, whose son is in kindergarten. If our kids were younger, we’d have an elf. And I’d be in HELF–Elf Hell.

I don’t think American culture needs any more encouragement when it comes to celebrating Christmas. As a matter of fact, I wish there was a little more coal handed out. Plus, I’m bothered by the whole “Watching You” concept. It’s bad enough to invent the omnipresent eyes of the invisible Santa, but now to have one of his minions looking in on you, well, in that case why not just call him Big Brother? Sorry to be such a downer, but you can’t convince me of the value of this. Parenting is just one idle threat after another–I don’t need a plastic pixy to do my dirty work. Just as I try to stay away from Black Friday sales–which are still going on a week later, I might add–I try to avoid all things elf.

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But I did have fun on my way to work. I fantasized about what I would tell the boys if they do ask why we don’t have an Elf on the Shelf. “Mommy’s allergic.” No. “They cost too much money.” Nope, they know how much they cost because they’re on display in every toy and card store. “They will leave poop in the house.” Definitely not. Knowing my boys, that would make them want one even more. Finally, I fantasize about having a conversation with them where I explain how we can’t get an elf because we have two new dogs under the age of one. Huck and Rosie would attack the elf, and could possibly even kill it, I explain. Next, we would all imagine the elf torn to shreds–its pointy nose and impish smile chewed to bits. Then one of the boys would ask if elves bleed, and I would nod yes. Their eyes would widen, as they hug me and thank me for saving one of Santa’s helpers. Then they would go to their rooms, clean them without asking and see all the toys they already have. “Dad,” they would holler, “come here, quick!” I would run upstairs to find them finishing a note to Santa that reads: Christmas List–Revised (in my fantasy, they know what revised means). “Here,” they would say (in my fantasy, they would speak in unison). Then, they’d hand me the piece of paper, which would state: “All we want for Christmas is peace on Earth.”

My boys…I shake myself from the fantasy just as I am pulling into the parking lot at work. I feel good. I’m oddly proud of my sons for wanting world peace. I remind myself to enjoy Christmas with them this year–it’s probably Owen’s last year “believing”.

And then an image pops into my head that warms my heart: It’s of our two dogs lying by the fire Christmas morning, gnawing on the last remnants of an elf ear . Ahhhh. Don’t you just love the holidays?

Photo credits: Michael Kappel

 

“Alright, Mr. Demille, I’m ready for my…armpit fart?”

Huffington Post. THE Huffington Post. It’s the calling card that every blogger aspires to receive. If you are featured on the Huffington Post–you’ve arrived.

I have not been featured on HuffPost, as they say. Oh, I’ve submitted posts. I’ve tweeted them. I’m friends with HuffPost Parents on Facebook. I’ve done the sort of thing that most daddy bloggers have done, but still no bites.

So, imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, I received an email from a producer of “Tell Me Why…,” a video segment on HP featuring kids asking and answering questions. It read:

Hi Michael,

I’m a producer at HuffPost Live and I produce a segment each week called “Tell Me Why” where we invite a kid to come on and ask a question or explain something he or she is passionate about.  
We’ve covered everything from String Theory and Evolution to Space… but perhaps one of our favorite episodes was one about Boogers 🙂  I just saw this post about your son’s “to do” list, photo (40)which brilliantly ends with armpit farts.  We’re hoping to pick up where we left off with boogers, and discuss farts on “Tell Me Why” and I wonder whether you think your son may be interested in joining.
A strange request, I know… but I look forward to hearing from you, nonetheless!
All best,

Well, I called Claire right away and she could not have been nicer. The premise was pretty simple. They would Skype with Hayden and talk to him about armpit farts. We didn’t even have to leave our house. I set out to convince my eight-year-old that this was a grand adventure.

First, I inquired about his talent. “Hey, do you still know how to do armpit farts?” I asked as we walked from the bus stop. He proceeded to do a lopsided chicken dance with his hand inside his armpit: (place tongue one inch outside closed lips and blow)–yeah, that sound. Feel free to make that sound for the rest of this post.

Then, my other son, Owen (9), joined in on the action. “Dad, I can do them with my knee!” And he did. Right there in the driveway. He sat down and flopped one leg in the air with his hand cupped behind his knee. “And some kids can do them with their neck,” which he then attempted, unsuccessfully.

At bedtime that night, I showed the boys some “Tell Me Why…” video clips from HuffPost.

“That’s weird,” said Hayden.

“Wouldn’t you like to be in a video like that? It would be like being on TV,” I say wide-eyed, channeling my inner Willy Wonka.

“No way,” says Hayden, scrunching his nose.

I look at his brother, Owen, who is more of a natural ham–always performing for audiences both real and imaginary. “How about you, Owen? Would you do it?”

“Maybe,” he says. And I think I can convince him. I don’t push too hard, for fear I might lose. I’ll continue to goad tomorrow, I think.

I come downstairs after putting the boys to bed.

“Honey,” my wife says, “this is so exciting! The Huffington Post…” and she doesn’t even know how to classify it. It is then that I reveal my trepidation. “Yeah, I’m not sure. Is this really how I want to be recognized by Huff Post?”

I think about how I’ve been trying to work over the boys, to enlist them in my quest for publication. Then, I think about how this really has so little to do with me, or my blog, or what I’m attempting to do as I tap away at this keyboard, putting words down to capture my experiences.

And that’s just it. This is not MY experience. This is my son’s experience. And even though I am proud of the collection I have captured on this blog for three years, a sinking feeling begins in my stomach. These boys are no longer toddlers, they are not cute props, but individuals. My boys, and my blog, are changing, and I need to be more mindful of their rights, their boundaries.  As they get older, I am feeling I have less of a right to tell their story, as they are telling more of their own.

I am embarrassed. I feel a bit ashamed that I am trying to pimp out my son’s penchant for all things fart on a national platform. I envision a video feed popping up years from now, when one of the boys is running for president of a class or the country:), a video of them demonstrating the art of armpit farts on the Huffington Post. A video that went viral, that has more hits than Grumpy Cat or “delirious boy riding home from the dentist” combined…

I resolve not to push my boys to do this. If they’re not interested, then it’s not happening. This is their decision. This is THEIR life.

**********************
“I’ll pay you,” I say, desperately.

“What?!” says Owen. Yes, Owen. I’ve decided to put the full court press on him. There’s no way Hayden would do it. I’ll see if Claire would be cool with Owen filling in for him, even though it was Hayden’s drawing.

“I will pay you. Twenty dollars to do the segment.”

“Twenty bucks!”

“Yep. But once I call this lady, you can’t back out.”

I don’t even recognize myself. I smell the desperation in my plea. Inside, I’m panicking–but what if this is my only shot? What if this leads to more features on Huffington Post? A spot on the Today show. A three book deal with movie tie-ins. Happy Meal toys of the family Grinch…

My thoughts whirl. I’m such a sell-out.

I give him a few hours to think about it–to spend the money in his head.

After dinner, I try to mask my eagerness. “So, what do you think, buddy? Will you do it?”

“Nah,” he says.

Dream deferred.

And with that, the wind is let out of my sails. I am deflated. For one brief shining moment, there was Armpit-fart-alot.

But, truth be told, I was also relieved. If my quest for a gig with HuffPost had already made me act like this, I could just imagine what I would have been like during the actual interview.

I call Claire and let her know that the Trainers are a no-fart for her upcoming segment. Again, I am struck by how nice and approachable she is. For her, it’s just another day producing for one of America’s largest news outlets. But for me, it’s the silencing of the knock of opportunity.

Yet, in the end, I was relieved. One of the primary goals of my blog is to make sense of my world in a way that makes me a better father. I want to understand my past and make sense of my present, so that my family will have a better future. I want my boys to be proud of me and what I have created. What I will continue to create–for me, for them, for us.

 

 

 

File Under Funny: A Twig Grows in Blue Bell

photo (53)My second-grader, Hayden, came home from school on Friday with a twig sapling to plant in the yard, in honor of Arbor Day. He put it on the patio table, essentially making it the dogs’ toy of the minute. All weekend, he inquired about when we would plant his “tree”. Finally, I broke the bad news. “I think the dogs ate your tree, buddy.” He handled his disappointment quite well.

Today, Hayden walked in with yet another stick sapling to plant. “What’s this?” I asked excitedly. “Mrs. H let me have the class tree.” “Did you tell her what happened?” “Yeah, and she said to take this one.” “What did you say?” I asked, reminding him of his manners. “I said, ‘I guess that’s why they call it a DOGWOOD TREE.'”

If this tree grows to maturity, Hayden will be 105 years-old. Best of luck, Twiggy.

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Swimming in Loch Ness

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I try to be very calm in my approach to life–at peace with the world, aware of the positive forces in my presence, appreciative of the beauty and joy that surround me. But try as I may, the anger seems to dwell just below the surface. On the outside I am tranquil, but on the inside, I am one negative encounter away from reeling. Emotionally, I feel like I am floating along on a raft in the warm water on a sunny day–on Loch Ness. The surface is smooth, it beckons me to relax, but the prehistoric monster lurks just beneath, waiting to rear its long neck and swallow me whole. Curse you Nessie!

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The reminders of this struggle bombard me daily.

After school, I happily make the boys a snack, glad to have this time to unwind with them at the kitchen counter. THEN, I spy some jerk out the window speeding down our street. I immediately seethe, envisioning myself chasing down the car, climbing on the hood, stomping in the roof, and yelling:

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At a recent basketball game for my 9 year-old, I try to be supportive of all the kids–even cheering when the other team sinks a great shot. But there, on the bleachers, is one dad–only one–who keeps barking at his son for all the wrong things he is doing. I try to ignore him, but his negativity gets the best of me. I fantasize about walking over to him and screaming: 

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Ahhhh. The rage subsides, but it leaves a sting.

These dream-like confrontations make me feel better momentarily, but then deflated in the long run. I cannot be so confrontational in life–even if only in my mind. Too often, I feel like I got my approach to parenting not from Dr. Spock or Dr. Phil, but from Dr. Banner–you know, David Banner, aka The Incredible Hulk (Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.)

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But, every so often, the world teaches me a valuable lesson about this struggle. Such a reminder occurred the other day when my boys were sledding in the fields behind our house.

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I wait for a groan, but I’m met with  enthusiasm.

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It was idyllic. The dogs frolicked through the white, powdery trails, and I could hear the boys’ shouts of delight as they raced down the hill. The air was crisp and the sun danced through the barren branches. I became more elated with every step.

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As I made my way out of the woods, I saw that more kids had joined my two–about seven in all.

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I wanted the dogs to remain off leash, so I continued to watch the sledding action from afar. Owen (9), was now attempting to ride his snowboard–something he has adapted to quite nicely. As he came down the slope, I noticed he fell right after he passed two older boys–middle schoolers, perhaps.

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No parent likes to see his kid fall, but I was proud he got up right away to try again. My radar was raised, though: “Who are those kids? I don’t recognize them.” I watched him trudge up the hill for another attempt. The same thing occurred–he cruised down the trail effortlessly, only to fall immediately after he passed the two boys, who erupted into some kind of shout when he tumbled. My mind raced: Those #@!@##$$#@%! They’re making Owen fall. They’re teasing him and making him self-conscious, and then laughing when he hits the ground. JERKS!

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I decide I will get closer and yell at them. Something like, “Yo, knock it off! At least he’s trying. I don’t see you two making any attempts! Leave him alone!”

I rehearse my diatribe in my head, reminding myself not to call them any names, and then I get distracted by one of the dogs–it seems Huck has chased after a deer.

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By the time Huck comes back, Owen has switched to the sled again, and seems content. I call over to them, trying to detect any stress in his voice. “You guys ready?”

“No, Dad! Can’t we stay–just a few more runs?”

“Okay!” I am relieved–and those two punks should be, too. Lucky to be spared of my wrath.

On the walk home, the boys are cold and snow-caked. They each hold a dog leash while I carry the sled and snow board. I try to get a sense of what happened with the other boys.

“Did you know any of those kids?”

“No,” they reply.

“Were they all nice?”

“Yeah,” they say.

As if I just thought of it, I say, “Hey, I saw you fall a couple of times when you were on your snowboard after you made it all the way down the hill.”

“I know. Those guys were trying to teach me how to stop,” Owen replies.

“How. To. Stop?”

“Uh-huh.”

“They were helping you?”

“Yeah, but it’s really hard to learn how to stop. Every time I tried, I’d slide out of control, and we’d just all crack up.”

“Oh. Well, that’s cool. I’m glad they could give you some tips.”

They were trying to help. They were teaching him. They were laughing WITH him.

SIGH.

Water splashes me from Nessie’s tail as he swims back under the surface–I’ve spared you THIS time, it seems to say. But what about next time? I think.

nessie.13

**************

Why do I constantly see the conflict in everything?

When it comes to parenting, there is a fine line between protecting and over-protecting our children. I am aware that I must teach my sons to address their own conflicts in life. I cannot fight their battles for them. But more importantly, I want to instill in them a sense of awareness: not to view the conflict in everything, not to feel constantly embattled.

The best way to teach this is by example. If I continue to allow anger to thrive, I will never be able to fully enjoy where life is leading me.

I want this sledding incident to serve as a reminder for me. I want to recall it the next time I am quick to judge a situation.

 But most importantly, I want to find a new lake to rest on–one that doesn’t house monsters–real or imaginary.

Take that, Nessie!

nessie.14

MEET THE CARTOONIST: Jimmy Murphy
When he’s not performing Shakespearean Sonnets at The Great Wall of China, Jimmy Murphy draws everything from the creatures that haunt his imagination, to the ones that haunt his 9th grade reading curriculum, to the squishy noseless people like those seen on this website [figure1]. Although not yet at the peak of his popularity, artistically or high schoolistically, this fourteen year-old has been drawing since he could hold a crayon–the first recorded drawing being a rainbow–[figure 2]. Jimmy’s artistic influences include Shawn Coss, Gris Grimly, and himself. He enjoys reading a good book, ranting about things he hates, raving about things he likes, sleeping, and can be endlessly entertained with a label-maker [figure 3].
[1] Jimmy.1 (1)      [2] Jimmy.2        [3] Jimmy.3 (1)

Now Apologize!…To Yourself

I just found this gem when I was cleaning out the mail cubby. Back in the fall, our second grader, Hayden, was sent home with a note from the principal. Seems he had pulled his pants down during lunch to show his friends his new Star Wars underwear (so he says). As part of his punishment, we made him write apology notes to the lunch lady, his teacher, and his friends at the lunch table. That night, as I went to collect the notes and put them in his backpack, I found this:

photo (47)

Once again, seeing things through the eyes of a child is so enlightening. When’s the last time you said sorry to yourself? I don’t think I ever have. Never too late to start, though.

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The Bitter Pill of Aging

Two dollars and forty-nine cents. That’s all my most recent depression cost me. Lately, I’ve been down. The reason? I’m starting to feel old–I mean FEEL it.

Ever since I turned forty, my stance has been, “I love getting older. It gives me more of a perspective. More wisdom.” But now that I’m forty-four, I’m not so sure.

I dodged feeling sad last year when my eye sight changed. Maybe because they now call them “progressives” instead of “bifocals“, and technology has erased any trace of a line within the lens, my shift in eye sight seemed like just the latest change to my prescription.

And despite the fact that my now-favorite co-worker Bev called me a baby on my recent birthday, I feel I can’t hide from this aging thing any longer.

And that’s why I ended up buying this:

photo (41)

I only take one prescribed pill a day, but I also take some vitamins and supplements, like fish oil to fight high cholesterol. And sometimes I’d forget to take my medicine, and a few times I took it twice. Other times, I would mess up and mistake a vitamin for my prescription… I was careless and clueless.  I’ve needed this for about five years now. I knew it would help me avoid any mix-ups. But I put it off. Getting a pill dispenser meant I was old. O-L-D!

Yet, the reminders just kept coming.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to some younger teachers at work, both in their twenties, and I started to say, “Just wait until your middle-aged like me.” And I had a mini-panic attack. As the words were about to roll off of my tongue, I realized that I had never actually called myself “middle-aged”. My lips became stuck and I  actually stuttered when I started to say mmmmmiddle-aged. Awkward.

Another day, while food shopping, I had to crouch down to get a box of crackers on the bottom shelf. My left knee locked and pain seemed to cement my leg in this position. I could not stand up. I could not straighten my leg. “This is it,” I thought, “I will now have to live in aisle five for the rest of my life.” Luckily, the hurt subsided. But since then, I avoid any crouching tiger positions–although there’s no avoiding aisle five.

Then, I decided to grow a beard for Movember to promote men’s prostate health–and it came in mostly white! One of my students even called me Santa Claus. “I think you mean Santa’s younger, skinnier brother,” I replied.  I wanted to shave it off right away. Damn you beard-for-a-good-cause.

And last week, I had my first migraine. I used to be one of those people who could say, “I don’t get migraines.” Oh, yeah, old man, well now you do. A friend told me that her doctor said that migraines can come on during shifts in one’s life cycle. “And, you know, maybe you’re getting them now because…” Pause. “Because I’m mmmmmiddle-age!” I yell back at her. “Well, maybe,” she says softly.

Then there are the boys. My sons are getting so big. Too big. I know they’ll be taller than me by middle school, and lately they walk around the house like they are auditioning for the role of sullen teenager on next year’s answer to Modern Family. They are content to play on their own. They watch TV and wrestle. I’m more of the guy who brings them Chex Mix or announces when dinner will be. My babies are now young boys–nine and seven.

Recently, several friends have announced that they are expecting. Great news. Yet, soon after learning it, I found myself sad. I’m done having babies. I no longer spend time in the rocker dozing with a drooling child snug in my neck. Everyone uses a toilet successfully (for the most part). Nothing in my house says “Fisher Price“. I am barely able to carry the boys in my arms–not that either of them begs to be lifted. It’s going too fast!!

I knew it was bad, when last week I actually toyed with the idea of having another child. I have adamantly held firm to the idea that two kids is plenty for me. Being one of seven, I like the balance and order that two children (seemingly) affords. Pam and I have always talked about adoption, though, even before we had the boys.  All week, I daydreamed about having a baby in the house. I mused about having a girl this time, and furnishing the now-guest-bedroom with borrowed items from friends and neighbors.

But then I did the numbers. Our youngest is seven, we’re forty-four, I haven’t had to get up at 2 a.m. for a feeding in 5 years. And I would be sixty-two at little Charlotte‘s senior year Back to School night. I’m already tired–now Lottie was beginning to exhaust me.  In the end, reality won over fantasy. Yet, one thing became clear. One of the reasons I’ve been feeling old lately is because it seems as if my kids don’t need me like they used to. They are more independent and I’m a little lonely. Sure, I’m their chauffeur, their human calculator at homework time, and number one fan at Saturday soccer, but it’s not the same as cradling someone you love in your arms, or holding someone’s hand just because, or singing them to sleep.

The other night, when I was being drill sergeant in the bathroom about brushing teeth, the boys and I were thinking of words that rhyme with “brush”. I said, “hush”. Then, I began to sing Hush little baby don’t say a word, papa’s gonna buy you a mocking bird...  Hayden looked at me wonderingly. “I used to sing that song to you when you were a baby,” I said. He nodded, toothpaste foaming in his mouth. A few moments later, when his older brother had left the bathroom, he tugged my arm and whispered, “Could you sing that song to me tonight in my bed?” “I sure can,” I whispered back.

And that’s exactly what I did. I curled in next to him and sang him that song, then a few others from my repertoire from his younger days: “Molly Malone“, “Feed the Birds“, and “Shenandoah”. I think he was asleep after two songs, but I didn’t care. I wanted to linger. Then, I crept out of his room and down the stairs. In the kitchen, I went to the cabinet and opened the W on my pillbox. More certain about things than I’d been in weeks.