Category Archives: Essay

The Art of Manliness

The house has been clutter free for two and half weeks! No, I did not ship the boys off to boarding school. I just happened to listen to a podcast (Number 214 from the Art of Manliness) with author Caroline Webb who wrote the book How to have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform your working life. It was a fascinating interview that touched on a lot of great ideas and changed the way I run the house and how I approach each day. Here is what I learned.

The rule of three. Not three strikes and you’re out. Rather, pick three things, yes, just three, that you want to get done in a given day and focus on those things above all others.  There is a good chance you’ll be so productive you’ll be able to do more than three things, so you should. The key is to not be too ambitious. For example, if you’re going to tackle cleaning the oven then don’t also put down washing the windows. On a given day I may have the following: clean bathrooms, sweep/mop floors, write

I always try to get some writing done during the day and by putting it on the list I am sure to at least get in thirty minutes to an hour.

Set your intentions. Think about what you are ultimately trying to achieve, and, for lack of a better term, write a mission statement. This seems like a rather odd thing to do for us stay-at-home types, but amazingly it makes a difference. It does not have to be anything fancyjust what you want to focus on an ongoing basis. I wrote mine in about five minutes and posted it on a note card by my desk.

Keep the house uncluttered and clean, be a writer. Model how a Christian man should act by living for Jesus, acting in his image and being selfless. Along with Erin work to provide for our family and bring a united front for the welfare of the household.

Plan for the fires. Not the kind were you get to roast s’mores but the ones that always seem to pop up when you have children. You do this by taking a moment to troubleshoot at the start of the day. For example, when one child has an epic meltdown as we are trying to leave for school I am simply going to go sit in the car and say serenity now, serenity now, over and over while sipping my coffee.

Do something physical. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Run, walk, hike bike, burpees, jumping jacks or yoga. Something to get your heart rate up.

Positively prime your mind. Think of positive outcomes more than negative ones and your mind will start associating more positive thoughts with the things you need to do. For me, that means to tell myself that there is enough time in the day, which is something I have always struggled with. Since I’ve put this plan into action, however, I have been working very hard to ignore the parrot of negativity squawking on my shoulder and have been telling myself I do have enough time. Time for at least ten minutes of exercise, time for the run I have planned and time to get everything done on my list. Its taken a bit of effort but it is certainly paying off.

There is no foolproof plan to making life run perfectly smooth and perfect isn’t fun anyway. But this is the best I have found thus far and the best part is that it is straightforward and simple. Having to stick to only three tasks a day helps me focus and not get too overly ambitious. I have found that I am far calmer because the house is not cluttered and the laundry is all put-away, and I am able to finish my list each day. I have found that I have extra time to get more things done than I had planned. I feel more accomplished at the end of each day.

Erin also feels calmer and I like to think the boys do as well. They certainly are not beating on each other as much as they were before I started this. But that could just be a coincidence.

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Grand ambitions & wayward dreams

This may not happen to all stay-at-home-parents, but for me, by the time August rolls around my goose is cooked. I have run out of ideas and the energy to get the kids out of the house for an adventure. The boys seem to think that bickering and fighting is a great way to pass the waning days of summer while I stare at the calendar like a kid waiting for his birthday, fantasizing about all that I am going to get done and be able to do once the boys are in school. I know this will be the case because during those long last weeks the days are never ending, just like when I was a kid in school staring out the window of a stuffy classroom.

Before the school year started I made a list of goals, like put the laundry away right away, keep up with the clutter that materializes on every flat surface, have dinner prepped before the boys get home, go paddle boarding, exercise every day. I saw myself doing yoga in a clutter-free house, because the kids were out of it all day and I had all the time in the world.

We are now three weeks into the school year, and my grand ambitions are mostly wayward dreams–even though I’ve been writing out a list of daily tasks each morning and I tell myself I am going to stay focused and get these things done. I do fairly well until high noon and then, due to what is clearly a time paradox which disrupts the space-time continuum, time speeds up and I turn around to see that I need to meet the kids at the bus stop soon. My list is only half finished. I just don’t know where I went wrong. But it is such a nice day outside maybe I’ll go out and lie in the hammock for a bit. I need to take some time for myself anyway. You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself; now, where did I hide those bonbons?

Slow Down and build a fort

This month I was going to write about the lack of civility and manners in our society and how we as parents need to step up our game when it comes to teaching our kids what is proper and what is not. Then, the kids had a snow day, and by the time I sat down to write my article, tackling such a serious topic was just not appealing.

 

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Snowbank snow fort

The boys were outside just after six in the morning and really only came in for short spurts the rest of the day. Their first order of business was to task me with building a fort in the snowbank left by the plow. Now, when it comes to projects like these I tend to go a bit Tim Taylor and they usually end up taking me twice as long as I thought they would. This snow fort was no exception. Why, I thought, should I make a fort that you have to crawl on your belly through when I can use some of that old plywood we have as a roof? I laid the boards on top of the snowbank and began to dig. Unfortunately, I got a bit over zealous and dug too much snow out, causing the plywood to be unstable. Not wanting to let down the boys or admit defeat, I scrounged around for more scrap wood and moved onto plan B, then to plan C, then to plan D. I eventually remembered some long poles I had lying near the scrap pile so I kicked around in the snow until I found them. A little sawing here and there and we had a winner with plan E. The boys then spent the rest of the day playing in what is arguably the best snow fort I’ve ever built.

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The “Snow Hut”

Thanks to the internet you can spend a lot of time looking at all the different kinds of forts people build to get ideas for your own. Then you can go out and build one for yourself. That is what the boys and I did. It was a good reason to get outside and get some exercise in what has previously been a nearly snowless winter.  It is a nice escape from the stress of life and when it’s done you always have a place to get away to. Building our fort has developed a new type of creativity in the boys. They now notice their surroundings in a different way and are always on the lookout for a good fort locations. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment, even if as the adult, I’m doing a majority of the work.

The whole time I was building the fort in the snow bank I was thinking how lucky I was to get to do this. I would have been perfectly happy sitting by the fire reading or writing my article on civility.  Once again it’s a lesson learned from our boys. Slow down and seize the moment. For soon the snow will melt, the boys will move on and I’ll be left with only my memories. But I certainly won’t have the regret of the time I didn’t build them a snow fort after the biggest snow storm in two years.

 

 

 

 

 

Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day

Do you ever feel like a failure as a parent? I do. More often than I would care to admit to myself or to others. I feel this way not because our boys are incarnations of Junior from the movie Problem Child, but rather because at times I act like a complete and total arse.

As a believer in Christ I am taught to love as God loves, to freely give grace, that fear and love cannot commingle, and that our tongues, though small, can steer our lives, as a rudder steers a ship, usually directly into the rocky shore. I try to remember all these things but in the heat of it all, I often fail.

As parents we seem to think that other families have it all together and we’re the only ones who yell too often or get mad at such insignificant things as spilt milk. All the while the parent standing next to us is dealing with the same thoughts. Social media only compounds this problem with the majority of posts being about the good times in our lives. You don’t read about the time your child yelled at you that you loved his brother more than you loved him, and how heart wrenching that was to hear. Nor do we tend to see posts that say little Bobby told me I was “the most rottenest dad in the whole world,” today. Instead we see the puppy the Smiths got for Christmas or the cute thing little Sally said. We are lulled into the false sense that everyone’s life, except ours, is all smiles, ice cream and beautiful adventures to places near and far. Thus, we walk around thinking that neighbor Sue has it all together and our family is crumbling at our feet.

I think part of the problem is that we as parents think we need to be the ones always doing the teaching. When the fact is we can learn a great deal from our children, if we would just slowdown and take off the blinders.

We learned this first hand recently when both our boys taught us that material things don’t really matter. They each did it in their own way, but each was a powerful statement in its own right. Another lesson, Luke has been trying to teach me is that it is good to take the long way and enjoy the little things. In other words, it is good to lollygag. These lessons helped me to realize that instead of approaching situations as a slobbering yelling monster when something goes wrong or annoys me, I need to take a step back, say a little prayer and then approach the situation as if someone has just cut me off in traffic. Sure I am annoyed, but the driver’s actions have no bearing on the remainder of my life­–In most cases the remainder of my drive. I’m painting with broad strokes here, but it is a good way to try to think about things in the moment. It is a good way to not feel like a rotten parent after you have calmed down.

In the heat of the moment though it is much easier to turn into the arse then it is to spread grace, hold your tongue or think in terms of getting cut off. Because of this Erin and I have been trying something new. When things are starting to really heat up we take a cue from Austin Powers and repeat, out loud, “Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day,” repeatedly until the situation is diffused. It is a distraction technique. A sleight of hand, just like we use on our children. It just happens that it works wonders on adults as well.

 

A cocktail of love, faith, prayer and determination

Driving the boys to school the day after the election, Noah remarked,“Dad, next election I’ll be 11 and in 5th grade.” I shuddered a little at those words. How on earth can four years seem as if they will be here tomorrow?

I am standing on the playground of the Shelburne Nursery School on a hot July day in 2012 watching Noah play with his soon to be classmates and trying, unsuccessfully, to quell the despair and anxiety that is engulfing me. How, I wonder, will I be able to continue as a stay-at-home-dad for the next four years? Though this is not a new role for me; I’d been at home since Noah was two weeks old. Yet, I am spiraling downward, franticly trying to come up with ways that I could go back to work. The previous January my father had passed away, in May we had moved from Utah back to Vermont. I was back in my home state, but everything had changed, I’d changed. I kept imagining an ink black tunnel with no end as my only path.

August 31st of this year I stood at the end of our road and watched both boys climb onto the school bus and wave as it pulled away. Noah was starting first grade and Luke was starting kindergarten. My daily companions had moved on. The time had disappeared before my eyes and I wondered, and still do, if I had taken full advantage of the gift that I had been given.

The first two weeks of school I had an unshakable feeling of being uncomfortable. As my father would say, I was out of sorts. Out of sorts with the monumental change that had just taken place. Slowly that feeling began to subside and over the last couple of months I have mapped out a haphazard rhythm in an effort to make my days and weeks more productive. At first I worked on my list of projects that I had been saving specifically for the school year. That list, though, has been whittled down to a mere nub and I am beginning to wonder how I will fill my time after all my normal house duties are done. I suppose I could be productive and shop around the poetry manuscript that has been sitting on my desk for the last two years. We don’t have traditional TV, so soap operas are out. If they are even still on. Recently, I picked up a little work helping an arborist, it is physical work, gets me outside and I get to learn a new trade. Which is good given, that after seven years of being home I don’t feel like I have any marketable skills.  Winter, however, is not an arborists busy time and I am not looking for full time employment or even part time. Just something to fill the time and add a little to the bank account.

It has certainly been anything but easy these last seven years. With a cocktail of love, faith, prayer, determination, medication and counseling I finally have come to the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Not because the boys are in school but because I have finally become comfortable and accepted the role that God has put me in. Up until recently I never allowed myself to just be a stay-at-home-dad. I always tried to attach something more to it, whether it be blogger, artist, poet, designer, runner. I always needed, or thought I needed, something more. The truth is I don’t need anything else. It is imperative that stay-at-homes have hobbies but we also need to realize what our calling is. The future, as always, is uncertain. There is always a chance I could slip back into the darkness of four years ago. However, with my change in perspective I am choosing not to live in fear of that happening. Instead I am going to embrace what I know in my heart to be true. That being a stay-at-home-dad is exactly what I should be doing.