30-Something Dad, Round 2

My blog is much neglected over the last 9 months. And I don’t care, stuff happens.

I’ve actually started about 10 different posts that never got published, one for every month I’ve been “silent” I suppose. I would be struck by random inspiration and start to type, and then lose interest and abandon the effort. The story of my life for the last little bit.

You see, I started this blog as a way to jump-start my life. I thought that if I embraced who and where I was whole-heartedly and energetically, I might actually convince myself that my life was just as good as I thought it should be. That was a fail. In order to blog successfully, you have to be pretty narcissistic. You have to believe that your life is interesting enough for people to want to read about it. And I haven’t found myself to be particularly interesting for a while, therefore developing a major case of blogger’s block.

But lately I’ve been doing some self-reflection and I’ve come to realize something: when your life sucks, change it. Despite my best efforts to avoid it, I’ve been caught in the trap of suburbia: fit in, fit in, fit in. Well I don’t fit, no matter how hard I try. I’m not suburban. I don’t care about buying shit. I don’t care about the latest, greatest new chain restaurant. I don’t care about having lots of money. I don’t care about being fashionable, etc., etc., etc. I’ve known this for a long time on an intellectual level, but somehow my inner psyche didn’t connect with that and so subconsciously I’ve been stressing about the fact that I just can’t make it work. I’m done with that now. My psyche has seen the light.

So, welcome to 30-Something Dad, Round 2 where, for better or for worse, I’m just going to let loose to say whatever I want, shoot from the hip, and document my ongoing journey back to just being who I am. If you are enjoying yourself, continue to follow my blog. And if not, then shut it…’cuz I do what I want.

Rejecting Sainthood

Me with Artemis and Apollo

Me with Artemis and Apollo

On Saturday one of the priests at our church received a call from woman that she knows who had come to the heartbreaking decision that she was no longer able to care for and support her 15 month old twin children. Her home was unfit for habitation, her water and electricity had been shut off for over a month, and she was just unable to provide what these children needed. So she made the best (and most difficult) decision possible and allowed her children to go into the care of someone else. On Saturday night they stayed with a family from our church.

We learned of the situation on Sunday and in order to assist we collected some of the clothes that Peanut had outgrown and found some of Bubba’s toddler clothes in the garage and took them over to the family that was fostering them, along with some toys and a spare high-chair. We felt good that we had been able to help these precious children who were in desperate need of some compassion.

On Monday morning, we received an email from the Children’s Minister at our church that the family that had taken the babies over the weekend were unable to keep them for an extended period of time and so other accommodations were needed ASAP. And Wifey felt a stirring to take them into our home.

I said no. We already have 4 children and barely manage to keep our sanity as it is. Nor do we have a vehicle large enough to transport 6 children, all of whom are in car seats. And, to be perfectly honest, it is my Spring Break and I’ve been looking forward to some down time before a hellish couple of weeks when I go back. Plus, we’d promised to have a great week with the kids taking day trips and doing a lot of fun activities which we couldn’t do if the twins came to stay. It just seemed really inconvenient and impractical and I didn’t want to do it.

Wifey graciously accepted my decision. If we were going to do it we both had to be on board. And she agreed with all of my reasons. But I could tell that she wasn’t convinced, and the more I thought about it, the more unsettled I became. What if they couldn’t find another home and they had to be moved day to day? Those kids didn’t need that after the trauma that they were already experiencing. And we were certainly already equipped with almost everything we needed to care for toddlers and what we didn’t have the church would provide. And it seems selfish to not be willing to help so that I can take more naps. My one hold-out was our promise to the kids. So I decided to leave it up to them. I explained the situation, making sure they understood what they would be giving up, and gave them a few minutes to think about it. They seemed to be struggling with some of the same reservations and feelings that we were. They wanted to help out, but were they willing to sacrifice this special week? Finally, we asked for their decision and they both emphatically said that they wanted to help the twins. I was so moved by their generosity, and so proud!

But I was still unwilling to fully commit. So we offered to take them as the option of last resort. If NO ONE else was willing or able, we would take them. We furiously cleaned the house in the off-chance that they were coming, and as we readied our home, both Wifey and I became more and more compelled to just take the plunge. When we finished up, we called the church to check the status of volunteers. There were several families that were able to help for a few days, but no one who could take them long-term. That decided it. We wanted them to come live with us until a permanent home could be found. Sure it would take some sacrifice and quite a bit of rearranging, but we knew it was the right thing to do. So an hour later we opened the door to two of the most beautiful, precious and sweet children that you could imagine (we’ll call them Apollo and Artemis). And despite a night of little sleep and overall controlled chaos, I know we are blessed to have been chosen for this task.

Naturally, since making the decision, we have been inundated with praise about how wonderful and brave we are and have even been called saintly. But it makes me uncomfortable that people react in this way. Perhaps for the non-religious, such an act does seem to be saintly. We are putting ourselves at great inconvenience for some kids we’ve never met and for absolutely no personal gain…other than warm fuzzy feelings that is. But we don’t see it that way. When we were struggling to decide whether or not to open our home, what kept nagging at us was this verse “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). The Bible is full of calls to care for orphans and makes it a top priority for every Christian. So it isn’t really because we’re so saintly that we do this. It is because we are called to do it specifically by God. We’re not saints, we’re just Christians. Regular people following the example of Christ.

Last night our priest stopped by to drop off some final supplies, and before leaving she said that we were role models. Now THAT is a label I’m willing to accept. I pray that by our actions we can inspire others to give more deeply of themselves in service of others, following the example of Christ. I am inspired by my children who were so willing to sacrifice of themselves, and I am proud to set the example for them that even when difficult, it is paramount to assist those in greater need. I think that more Christians need to be willing to give what they have and beyond with the faith that God will support those that follow his commands.

A saint is someone who rises to the top among his or her peers by going above and beyond in service to God. I pray that by our actions we are NOT saints, but that we fit into the crowd of other Christians who are all doing the same.

Bubba Lays an OVO

On Friday my parents took me and the family (minus Peanut) to see Cirque du Soleil‘s show OVO, which is currently playing in town (watch the preview above for an overview).  The show is presented in true circus style, under a the big top, and was one of the most amazing performance experiences that I have ever…experienced.  The acts, the costumes, the music, and the performers were all mesmerizing and top-notch.  We all walked away in awe.

Bubba and Sissy at OVO

But the most wonderful part of the evening wasn’t the performance.  It was watching Bubba watch the performance.  He was enthralled with every single aspect.  As each new character emerged, he would point wildly and jump up and down in his seat.  Several times I looked over to see him standing in front of his chair, as if to get just a few inches closer to the stage.  While Sissy had a hard time figuring out what bugs the various performers were supposed to represent, Bubba never even had to think about it.  He knew what each of them were based on their often abstract costumes and stylized movements, sometimes even before Wifey and I had figured them out!  During intermission he ran around just outside the tent, so excited to go back in and see some more.  For a full two hours after the show was over, he just kept going on about it, reliving every last moment.

As an artist, the fact that Bubba was so moved by this performance touched me in a way I can’t describe.  Several times my eyes filled with tears as I watched him immerse himself in the experience.  We try, as parents, to let our children find their own passions.  While we certainly are very involved in the arts, we try not to be overbearing with a push that they be invested in them as well.  We allow them to explore a variety of interests and encourage them to try their best in everything that they attempt.  Because of this, it is even more special for me that Bubba was so impacted by this performance.

If you have the chance to see OVO, I highly encourage you to DO IT!  And if you have the chance to take a child, don’t miss out on the opportunity.  You won’t regret it, and it may even be one of the most memorable moments of your life.

The Balancing Act

Since I decided to try to post at least once per day, naturally I have gotten completely distracted by other things.  I have never been one to spend a great deal of time online, especially since my Blackberry allows me to check my Facebook from my phone.  But starting this blog made me curious about other dad blogs, which led me to other blogs and websites in general.  This coupled with a recent decision to integrate more technology into my classroom and a newfound obsession with Twitter has led to me spending an unhealthy amount of time cruising the net trying to connect with other educators and trying to find Web 2.o tools that can impact my instruction in a meaningful way.

Let me interject here that I am a full-throttle type of person, meaning when I decide to start something new I tend to jump in with both feet and take it to an extreme.  The downside to this personality trait is that I also tend to crash HARD.  If plans don’t work out in the way that I imagined they would or if too many roadblocks get in my way I lose hope and steam and often abandon the effort altogether.

This trait also has other repercussions, most notably that it drives my wife crazy because my tunnel vision detracts from my involvement in the lives of my family.  I will spend every spare moment engaged in whatever project I am working on and it will take a force of nature (or my wife’s exasperated scolding) to snap me out of it.

I want to be awesome at all things that I do.  I think that working hard to do the best that you can do is an important lesson to instill in our children.  It is important for my kids to see that I am a lifelong learner and that I am always striving to improve.  It is important to my marriage that I feel successful in my professional life so that I am happier overall and am bringing positivity and internal peace to the table.  But how can I manage my time so that neither my personal nor professional life suffer for the other?  To be the best I can be at work I have to dedicate personal time to improving my teaching practices and connecting with other professionals.  To be the best husband and father I need to be able to dedicate my time at home to my family.  And I can’t keep staying up until the wee hours of the morn to try to squeeze both in because then I am too tired to function successfully in both areas.

The solution isn’t as simple as “just prioritize” because both sides feed each other.  I can’t put off all of my professional planning until summer break because I must be consistently evaluating and improving or face having wasted an entire school year.  And I can’t just settle on mediocrity in both areas because that would make me miserable and would set a terrible example for my children.

If I had more time in my day or only had to work 4 days a week I would be more able to fit everything in (or maybe not), but as both are highly unlikely I don’t know how to find the balance.  So, what’s the answer?  Is there a solution?  Are my personal standards naïve?  Or am I just missing something that will make everything fall into place?

Enlighten me dear readers!  How do you find balance?

What Am I Thinking?

"That other bald one looks like she’s plotting my demise. I need a good defense strategy"

Since we haven’t invested in that Your Baby Can Read program, I think you can safely assume that The Baby has yet to develop the skill to articulate her thoughts. So, here is your chance to weigh-in. What is the thought running through The Baby’s head in this photo? The best response wins a shout-out and the photo’s caption!

Update: Congrats Jill on the best (and only) caption suggestion!!!!

Three Little Bears Sitting on Chairs

When Sissy was a toddler and Bubba was The Baby, we began a bedtime ritual that lasted for several years. Every night I would gather the kids into my lap, and we would read Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon. I don’t remember reading this story as a child, but in adulthood it has become one of my favorite books…and not just to read to my kids.  I’m mean it ranks up there with The Grapes of Wrath and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay for me.  I love the rhythm of the text, Clement Hurd’s beautiful illustrations, and the way the two combine to engage the reader.

We read the story so many times that my children at 2 and 3 could recite the book in its entirety.  There was nothing more moving than listening to their tiny voices speaking the story along with me as I read it from the book.  On several occasions, we even just spoke the story without even opening the book!  I’m not entirely certain when we stopped reading it every night, but I believe we just started supplementing other stories once my children were old enough to start showing preferences of their own.  Eventually, our tattered copy got mixed in with the host of other books that my children own and the routine just faded from our lives.

Until Peanut stumbled across the book just the other day.

She is in a wonderful phase right now where she wants to read the same books over and over and over again until you begin to doubt everything that you know to be true about the world.  We’ve actually started hiding some of her favorites, lest we suddenly snap and rip them apart, throwing them into the air with maniacal glee.  So when she dropped yet another book in my lap shouting “boo, daddy, boo!” my initial response was to toss it across the room.  But as my wrist was just about to spring, my eye caught sight of the cover and I stopped mid-throw.

“BOO, DADDY, BOO!!”

“Alright, Peanut, I would love to read you this book.”

So we sat down, and we read the book.  She listened intently, laughing at the pictures and pointing out the animals that she knows and repeating her favorite words.

“Cah-oo, mooooo”

“Kee-ee!  Mah-oo mah-oo!”

“Nigh nigh.”

As she experienced this book for the first time, I relived all the times that I had read it before.  All the sleepy nights we sat together, reciting it as a family.  All the snuggles and hugs.  All the times we whispered “hush.”  Midway through, I realized that I wasn’t even reading the words on the page, but was reciting it as it resurfaced from the recesses of my memory.  I looked over at my wife, and we shared a heartfelt smile of remembrance.

So we’ve reestablished the Goodnight Moon bedtime routine with Peanut.  For the last several nights we have sat together in the chair in her room and read the story while snuggling close and rocking back and forth.  I am so excited to be able to share this experience with the next pair of my children.

Do/did you have a bedtime ritual with your kids that you treasure?  Do recall with fondness a routine from your own childhood?  Did you have a favorite book that you liked to read as a child or with your children that you still remember?  I’d love to hear about your own experiences!

“Goodnight stars.  Goodnight air.  Goodnight noises everywhere.”

Glengarry Glen Rose

Daddy and the Big 3 at Dinosaur Valley State Park

Wifey has been itching to get out of town for a couple of weeks now, and today she planned an afternoon road trip to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, TX.  To be honest, I’ve been dodging the road trip since she started wanting to take one, mostly because a car trip to the grocery store with our kids is a trying experience, so the idea of spending an hour or two in the car with them seemed to be a less-than-fun prospect.  With a newborn that cries without ceasing a lot of the time, a toddler who hates to be confined, a 5-year-old that can’t control THE VOLUME OF HIS VOICE, and a 6-year-old whose entire life is an Oxygen Network drama, I was sure that I would not survive such a trip.  Or at least they might not survive it.

But today my wife finally completed the sale (further securing her position at the top of the leader board, btw) when I agreed to this excursion.  It would take us 2 dreaded hours to get there, leaving us an hour or two to explore the park, after which we would stop for dinner at a local eatery before getting back in the car to make the return trip.  For those of my more math deficient friends, that is at minimum 4 HOURS in the car with the kids.  I made sure we took every possible precaution against carmageddon by feeding all 4 kids before leaving (The Baby included), taking plenty of snacks to appease any hunger that might arise, bringing the iPod loaded with our kid’s favorite tunes (and buying all the necessary adapters to plug it into our car stereo), and finally drugging the kids with Dramamine to ensure a quiet ride. 

Except I didn’t really do that last one.

The trip there was much better than I had feared.  We jammed hardcore to the sounds of Journey, The Knack, Pat Benatar, Pearl Jam, Katy Perry, and The Black Eyed Peas (video of Bubba singing Teenage Dream soon to be released).  Wifey and I enjoyed the scenery, the older 2 played car games, The Baby slept nearly the entire time, and Peanut was precious and happy.  We arrived at the park around 4 in the afternoon, leaving us about an hour and a half to explore before dark.

Dinosaur Valley State Park was fairly lame.  To be fair, we didn’t have the time or ability (with 2 babies in tow) to hike any of the trails, but the 2 scenic points were mediocre at best.  The first had quite a few dino footprint (the selling point of the park) but they were pretty hard to see and not well-marked, and we had to cross a slightly treacherous little river stepping rock to rock to get to them.  The second was supposedly a scenic overview of a valley filled with various fossils/footprints, but I can’t verify that because the overlook was barbed-wired off so we couldn’t get close enough to actually see into the valley.  This information did not appear on any of the literature by the way, nor was there any signage in the park to let visitors know that the overlook was closed.  BUT, despite the lameness of the park, we had a good time climbing rocks, crossing rivers, hiking paved-trails, and spending time together.  We ate a good dinner at Hollywood & Vine, a surf-club inspired hamburger joint that was very satisfying and reasonably priced.

Our journey home was less fun due to general exhaustion around, which led to a screaming baby, an intermittently screaming Peanut, an antagonistic Bubba and an overly sensitive Sissy (who began to cry over our cats because we gave them away…a year ago).  But Wifey and I turned up the music to drown out the chaos in the back half of the van and eventually 3 of 4 monsters fell asleep and the last 1/4 of the trip was very pleasant.

Everyone survived our first road trip as a 6-top, and we had fun and learned nothing.  It was a success of a day!  Good job Wifey!