Category Archives: Quietly Making Noise

These post originally appeared in the Charlotte News, Vermont’s oldest nonprofit newspaper.

The nuances and memories of life

I reached into my pocket as we stood in the security line at the Orlando airport. My hand closing around my Swiss Army knife as a wave of regret and sadness washed over me. That morning, at the hotel, after using the knife, I had forgotten to put it back into the checked baggage. This was the knife that had been given to me by my friend’s mother shortly after he had been killed in a car accident. It is just an object, I told myself; losing the knife doesn’t degrade his memory.

I’m a sentimental person and there was a time when losing something like the knife would have devastated me. It was not until after my father passed away and we moved back to Vermont that the grip of material possessions began to lessen. I want to show the kids that material objects are not what keep the memory strong. To this end, I now try to only hold on to the things that I can use or I try to turn non-useful items into something useable. Not long ago I had the copper printing plate from my grandfather’s business cards and his money clip turned into a belt buckle. But completely giving something away can be hard. It took me a month to muster the resolve to give away two of my dad’s polo shirts that I had not worn in over a year. I am sure there are other things tucked here and there that should probably be given away or tossed out, but I cannot think of any off the top of my head. Which brings up the point. What good is that cherished object if it is sitting in a box in the basement and you only remember you have it when you come across it while looking for something else? If you didn’t know it was there for the past year, then chances are you’re not going to miss it next year.

I have a lot of mementoes of my dad. My most cherished are his fountain pens. I love to use them and know that his hand once held the same pen. But what brings me the most joy, and at times sadness, are not the mementos themselves but rather the nuances and memories of life. How I write some of my letters the same way he did or my movement up the stairs, reflected in the window, that are his movements. When I listen to Jazz or am sitting by the fire reading a book on a Saturday morning and I can see my parents doing the same in their living room and feel myself there. Turning down NPR when I pick up the kids at school so that it is not so loud that people outside the car can hear the broadcast triggers the memory of all the times Dad would pull up to the curb when I was in high school with NPR that loud, and how embarrassed I was. These are the things that I hold onto with all my might. All the mementoes could vanish and though I would be sad and I would miss using them, the memories are not going to disappear with them.

Twenty years on I don’t need a knife to remind me of my friend. When a song comes on the radio, he is there. When I see his favorite color, I remember him. This is what I want the boys to learn. That a memento may seem like the most important thing in the world but losing it is not the end of the world. You still have the memory.  Dwelling on the loss of the object is what clouds the memory and causes it to fade—
not the actual loss of the memento itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Planning your Microadventure

 

The best way to have a microadventure is to plan one, not just in your mind—you need to write it down on the calendar.  This is imperative because if you are anything like our family, if you don’t plan it, then it usually doesn’t happen. Here are a few ideas to help you get your planning started.

1-3 Hour Adventures:

The Co-Housing section of the Town Link Trail: A crushed gravel path that winds its way through forest and fields. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed. This is a great path for riding your bike or even pushing a jogging stroller. Keep your eyes out for the otter and the nesting Canadian geese that call the pond along the trail their home.

Williams Woods Natural Area: A one-mile loop through what may be the best remaining mature clay-plain forest in the Champlain Valley. The trail starts out on a boardwalk and then transitions to an uneven surfaced trail with large clusters of tree roots that twist together over the damp ground. Stop for a snack at the far end of the loop where you can look out over the open area of Throp Brook. Dogs are not allowed and bug spray is a must.

Plouffe Lane: Don’t let the red gate deter you; it is simply a formality. Open it up and drive into the small parking area. Just below the parking area at the bottom of the hill there is a picnic table, a great place for families to have a picnic and let the children run around. The meadow trails fork here, one going up the hill and passing a bench that is a good resting spot and affords a nice view of the Green Mountains. The trail continues into a back field and loops back onto itself. As the trail starts to curve back around, you have the opportunity to slip into the woods and follow a nice path down to the lower field trail.

More information about these trails and others, including directions to the trailheads, can be found at Trailfinder.info.

 

Day Adventures:

Split Rock Mountain: A ferry ride across the lake and short drive brings you to the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest and it’s approximately 11.5 miles of trails that provide access to many locations including the shores of Lake Champlain. The trails travel through a variety of terrain and forest types and offer a unique opportunity to experience the “wild side” of the Lake Champlain Valley. Views of Vermont, Lake Champlain, and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks are available from several overlooks along the trail system.

More information at http://tinyurl.com/7xuy6o2

Moosalamoo National Recreation Area: With more than 70 miles of trials, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, it is a magical place to explore. Visit moosalamoo.org for more information.

Swimming Holes: I grew up swimming in crystal clear rivers that tumbled out of the mountains of my home town of Danby. There were rock slides and large boulders to warm yourself on a lazy summer afternoon. To this day, a river is my favorite place to swim. A Google search will point you in the general direction of a hot summer day adventure.

Overnight Adventures: There is no shortage of campgrounds in Vermont or New York. Nor is there a shortage of cabins if the thought of sleeping in a tent with your two-year-old makes you want to curl up in the corner and cry. If you would like to step out of your comfort zone or don’t want to pay for a camp site, then you can venture into the Green Mountain National Forest where visitors can camp anywhere (unless the area is posted as closed to camping,) while staying the recommended 200 feet from roads, trails, and bodies of water to disperse impact.

With a little research there is a microadventure that can fit your schedule, budget and comfort level (though it is good to step outside of your comfort zone.). The following tips may help in your planning.

  1. Perfect isn’t fun. The point is that you get outside, unplug and spend time together as a family.
  2. Be flexible. You may want to get to the top of the mountain, but the kids may want to throw leaves into the stream.
  3. Let the kids lead.
  4. A packed backpack that weighs equal to or less than a quarter of the hiker’s body weight is ideal.
  5. Travel distance rule of thumb: a half mile per day multiplied by the youngest child’s age.
  6. Make sure you have something to spark curiosity (a bug net, field guide, magnifying glass, or binoculars).
  7. I always carry a first aid kit, bug spray, a space blanket, headlamp, matches, warm clothes & wind rain protection and duct tape.
  8. Carry snacks and water for every adventure no matter how short.