Tag Archives: Children

I’m supposed to be the adult

Luke and I are in the basement playing with the wooden train track he and his brother constructed a few days earlier. One section continually falls over and I move some pieces around to make it more sturdy. Luke warns me that Noah is going to be really mad. I don’t listen. I should have.

Early one morning a few days later, Noah comes down into the basement to play trains. Immediately he sees that the track has changed and begins to cry. It is the latter part of the school week so his coping skills are low, and to compound the situation his mom worked late the night before and was not able to be home for bedtime. The latter always upsets the balance of the house. I quickly offer to help change the track back, but it’s too late. He no longer hears me and begins to take out his frustration by wreaking the track. I take Luke upstairs to have breakfast. Noah follows crying and tries to rip up some of Luke’s schoolwork. I lose my cool, snatch the papers out of his hand and yell at him.

I’m supposed to be the adult in this situation, but I’m not doing a very good job of holding it together. My coping skills erode by the end of the week as well it seems. Getting upset with Noah and yelling accomplish getting my heart rate up, causing Noah to dig his heels in more, and scaring Luke, who at this point is covering his ears and hiding behind the plant in the corner (something I did as a kid when there was yelling). If I’d just taken the papers out of his hand and said nothing and gone about the morning, the situation would have defused a lot faster. That’s not what I did and now I feel horrible that Luke is clearly scared and the morning has crumbled so quickly. However my stubborn prideful self causes me to stand my ground. I should just stop and give Noah a hug and admit I lost my temper. That’s what will work, but instead I continue to be an ass.

I called my mom to see if I had tantrums that were as colorful as Noah’s are. She said she couldn’t remember, though she did say that I stood at the top of the stairs and screamed when I was mad.

“We just ignored you when you did that,” she told me.

Recently my wife and I decided to have a code word for those times when one of us is getting out of line. Coconuts, is what we are supposed to say, the idea being that this will cause the other person to take a step back. It has been working with mixed results. What we really need to do is re-read the book called If I Have to Tell You One More Time. In it the author talks about how bad behavior is often just attention seeking behavior, which is what was clearly going on with Noah on this morning. In hindsight I should have just started putting the track back together the way he had it.

The remainder of the morning is a roller coaster but I manage to keep calm and use phrases like­–When you leave your bike there, then I am not going to help you put it away. Emphasizing the when and the then (we also learned this from the book) lets children know what the consequence will be and gives them a chance to make a choice. This works better than giving a command.

By the time we head off for school everything is back to normal.

 

 

 

 

 

Lost and Found

I spent a good portion of my twenties wishing I was doing something else or was somewhere other than my current situation. I would think to myself, If I could just get to this point, I would be happy. If I just did this more, I wouldn’t feel this way.

In 2008 I was hired as the graphic designer for a living history park. I can honestly say that I loved going to work. We had only planned on staying in Utah for three years but since I had found a job that I actually enjoyed we decided to stay longer. Then, on a Monday two weeks after Noah was born, my boss called me at home and asked me to stop into his office when I got to work. When I got there, he told me they were going in a different direction and they were letting me go. I knew I’d been doing a good job, but just like that it was over. I went home, and after some soul-searching my wife and I decided that the most logical thing was for me to stay home with Noah, even though this was not part of our plan.

I thought that I had figured it out, that with the job at the living history park I was finally able to define who I was. Then the job was gone and I felt lost and completely uncomfortable in being defined as just a stay-at-home-dad. At first I tried to do some freelance design work. Then I began writing this blog but soon became more concerned with how many people were viewing it and how often I was posting, and it became more stressful than fun so I stopped. After so much time spent on the computer writing, I drifted into painting, which led to printmaking, which led me to turn our shabby garden shed into a shabby but functional art studio. Every month or two I would freak out and exclaim that I could no longer do this and I needed to get a job. Then I would come to my senses. I looked into being a volunteer Chaplain at the VA but found that, unfortunately, the time commitment was too great. I looked into ski patrol, but for the same reasons I decided against it. My painting turned to sketching and then to watercolors, which were easy to transport when I was out with Noah. I would try running now and again but it never stuck. So I stayed with the art, even though what I put on the page or the canvas never looked like I had planned it to. I did a lot of journaling for myself and the boys, and spent a lot of time putting my sketches onto my blog and looking at other people’s sketch blogs and wishing I was as good as they were. Then my dad’s cancer treatment stopped working and his health deteriorated fairly rapidly and I wrote poems nearly everyday to cope with it. After he died, I stopped sketching and soon journaling but the poems continued, for a while. Then it all stopped. It was all just too hard.

We moved back to Vermont and I again tried freelance graphic design only to discover that I really did not like being a graphic designer anymore. I was really struggling with the loss of my dad, the move, the stages the kids were in, and who I was. Then I began to trail run and it felt right, so I kept at it and that helped release some of the pain and frustration I felt and the extra pounds I was carrying. Yet something was still missing. I wanted to be writing more. Then I would remember the stress that having the blog caused me and I would think, I’ll write when the kids are in school and I have more time.

This past winter I began journaling again and I started carrying a small notebook in my pocket again. I got rid of all my old ideas that what I put in the small notebook had to be good, and I just put everything into it, thoughts, things I would hear, descriptions of people, the start of essays, poems, and random notes. Then I decided I would start writing for this blog again on a regular basis. I came up with a posting schedule and I developed an editing system. I read a book about writing called Writing Down the Bones and it opened my eyes.

When I recently agreed to write a monthly column about parenting for our local paper, it occurred to me that God had a plan that was not anywhere near my plan, but it was obviously a better plan. As hard as it is to stay home at times, it has allowed me to try all these different things with little risk. We have a greater freedom to spend time together as a family, and my writing has given me a creative outlet and a way to capture the little moments in life that are often lost to time. Running allows me to satisfy the adventurer in me and gives me time to clear my mind. I’m no longer looking for something else or thinking if I just do this I’ll feel better. I finally feel comfortable in the definition of who I am: a runner, a writer and a stay-at-home-dad riding the coat tails of his boys’ imagination.

The Mission

My brother, Tycen, is six years older than I am, and for obvious reasons, he did not want me tagging along with him and his friends when we were growing up. One summer day, though, he had no choice, and so I found myself crawling down the middle of a cold river fully clothed and pretending to be on a military mission.

Tycen and his friend, Josh, had a ‘“mission” of high importance planned for the day Mom told him he had to watch me. My brother had been fascinated with the military since he was young, and in turn so was I. (Unlike me, he turned his fascination in to a twenty-plus year career.) Undeterred by my presence, he told me to go get ready. I asked what the mission was but they told me it was top secret. I went and put on my Army fatigues.

We quickly moved across the openness of the backyard to the cover of the pine forest planted by our neighbors’ ancestors years before.  As quietly as two teenagers and a eight-year-old can, we moved along the hillside making our way down to the back of the neighbors’ pole barn at the edge of the forest. Here we paused to check the area for hostiles. One at a time we darted across the open lawn, jumping over the bank and sliding out of sight on a cushion of rust-colored pine needles. Once we regrouped, we proceeded the last twenty yards to the river.

Where we entered the river marked a fairly dramatic change in the landscape, and the last easy access point. Upriver the land came down gently to meet the banks and you could see the bridge where the road crossed over. Downriver hundred foot cliffs rose up from the water’s edge on the right and on the left was a steep embankment, covered in stinging nettles and thorns, that led to the back yards of the houses along the road. The river was strewn with rocks ranging in size from pebbles to boulders. We waded into the cold rushing water up to our ankles, and I was briefed on what the mission was. We were going to crawl down the river approximately a half mile to the local swimming hole which was known as The Dam. I protested about the crawling but only briefly. With that Tycen and Josh lay down in the water and started crawling. Luckily the river was deep enough and the current swift enough that I mainly floated using my hands to propel and at times steer me along.

We floated through a narrow tranquil pool that had a strip of sandy beach between the water and the nettles.  A little further down the river, the water moved in a tight frothing ribbon closer to the base of the cliff, then disappeared over a waterfall. We slipped out of the water and made our way along the shore, to the edge of a twenty-foot high horseshoe-shaped waterfall.  Tycen scouted around to see if there was an easy way for me to climb down but it was determined that was not an option. I would have to jump.

“Once you hit the water,” he told me, “swim as hard as you can to me. Your pockets will fill up with water and it will feel like your shoes are pulling you down. Just swim as hard as you can to me.”

Then he turned around and jumped off the water fall. I stood dumfounded for a moment. Then I saw him pop out of the water and swim to the edge of the pool below. I took a deep breath and jumped.

The section of the river after the waterfall and before The Dam has faded with time. But my first trip down the rock slide into the clear pool of The Dam is one of my strongest childhood memories.  The Dam was the place to swim; it was the place that you got to go when you were older.  Just a short walk up the hill from the center of town, it was tucked below an abandoned house and accessed by a steep narrow trail that opened onto wide area of rock that had been formed into something akin to stadium seating. On the far side, a cliff, covered with moss and a few scraggly pine trees, rose out of the pool. The downstream section of the pool was shallow. The upstream section was eight to ten feet deep, ringed partially by a ledge that reached four to six feet above the water.

The rock slide at The Dam is its main attraction. About a hundred feet in length it takes you from the top of a fairly steep pitch and propels you down off a waterfall into the clear pool below where the current pushes you towards the shallows. We stood at the top of the slide, and my brother again gave me the same instructions about swimming. Then he sat down on the sun warmed rocks  and  eased himself into the slipstream of the river. I waited until he had swum to the shallow end, and then I sat down and slowly slid my body in to the water. I felt the current begin to take me, and then I was rocketing downward. I saw my brother on the far side of The Dam watching intently, and then I was airborne for a moment before splashing into the water, feeling the current pushing me down. I opened my eyes and looked around the underwater world.  Feeling the weight of my pants and shoes pulling at my legs, I pushed towards the surface and began to kick with all my might.  It seemed I had such a long way to go but then my feet touched the rocky bottom and I turned around to look back at what I had just done.

Mission accomplished.

Those Darn Squirrels

My parents had a handful of bird feeders when I was growing up and with feeders come squirrels. When my dad would see a squirrel, he would open the back door and shout, clap his hands and stomp his feet until the offender ran off. It worked, for a little while.

One of the boys’ favorite books is called Those Darn Squirrels. It is about an old man who loves his birds and comes up with elaborate ways to keep the squirrels away from the feeders. Not wanting to continually open the window all winter and fancying myself as resourceful and frugal when it comes to things like this, I decided I would come up with a way to keep the squirrels off of our feeders using what I could find around the house.

Of the six squirrels that materialize out of the woods every time I fill the bird feeders there are three that are more determined to get an easy meal and continually come back after all the seed on the ground has been eaten:   Spot, who has a patch of missing fur on his right hind leg; Tiny, who is the skinniest of all the squirrels, though skinny is a relative term; and Bully, who chases off all the other squirrels if they get anywhere near the feeders when he is eating.

Between two slender ash trees that we can easily see from our living room window I stretched a cheap red rope with blue speckles, the kind you find at your local hardware store. From the middle of the taut rope I hung our three bird feeders, two with seeds and one with suet. I hoped that the feeders being four or so feet away from the trees would deter the squirrels. It worked for about an hour. I had some PVC pipe lying around so I took down the rope and ran it through the pipe. My hope was that the pipe would turn and the squirrel would fall to the ground. This worked for about a day until they realized that if they ran fast enough they would not fall off.

My extensive observations of squirrels’ eating habits have shown me that they are not picky animals, but they do have their favorite feeders, mostly due to ease of access. The three stooges’ feeder of choice is the wooden one that is shaped like a house. They climb down the rope that the feeder is hanging from, grip the triangular wire that comes out of the top of the feeder with their back legs, drape their fat furry bodies down across the roof and hang their heads over the side and proceed to gorge themselves. To try to thwart these marathon binges I placed some PVC pipe on the vertical rope and found a handful of random sized screws and screwed them into the bottom side along the lower edges of the feeder’s roof, so that their points stuck through the wood into the air, much like the bird spikes you see on the sides of buildings in the city. I rehung the feeder and the boys and I watched with anticipation for the first squirrel to climb onto the feeder and lie down and then quickly jump off. Soon Spot made his way up the tree across the PVC pipe and down onto the feeder. He lay down oblivious to the screws and began to fill his belly. Squirrels 4, humans 0.

Not satisfied with eating all of the bird seed and most of the suet, one day Tiny climbed up to our wind chimes, hanging on a different tree some distance away, and chewed off one of the chimes. He watched it fall to the ground and then scampered off. He returned a short time later and repeated the process. He did this throughout the day until the wind chimes hung lopsided and useless from the tree. I had mistakenly thought that the chimes were attached by small hooks but soon realized that Tiny had systematically chewed through the tiny ropes that held them. Apparently he disliked the sound the wind chimes made.

I finally broke down and purchased a couple of those plastic disks to hang above the feeders that contain the seeds. I took down the house-shaped feeder and put up a tall cylindrical one that we have. The plastic disks worked until the squirrels figured out they could weight the rope enough so that all the feeders slid together. Now they just climb down to the suet feeder and eat the suet or they climb from the suet feeder over to one of the other feeders and eat the seeds. It seems I’ve been bested by the squirrels, just as the old man was in the story. I guess I’ll just go back to sticking my head out of the window and whooping, and clapping my hands, continuing the family tradition.

First Day Skiing

Drips and small puddles of coffee, dirty dishes, homemade energy bars cut into squares but left in the baking dish; all of this has been forgotten on the counter. There are pajamas on the floor by the fridge and a couple of backpacks lying in the living room, along with an assortment of outdoor clothing of varying sizes. Had you walked into our house on the first Saturday of January, this is what you would have found. It looked as if we had been kidnapped.

The large yellow backpack, once used for Search and Rescue, stuffed with helmets, kids boots, lunches, and extra clothes stood tall in the trunk of the car overlooking the jumble of boots, poles, skis and anything else that did not fit inside of the bag. I checked the contents of the trunk three times before we pulled out of the driveway, touching every item as I did so and opening the backpack just to make sure the boots that I already knew were there were actually there.

Luke and I are dropped off at the lodge so that we can get to his lesson on time and Erin and Noah go park the car. I heft the backpack onto my shoulders, drape my ski boots over the backpack’s straps, heft my skis onto my right should and grab Luke’s skis and my poles with my left hand. There should be parenting classes on how to get your family’s ski equipment from the car to the lodge. Luke, as he normally does, settles into a saunter despite my quick pace. I stop and turn around to wait a few times sighing as I do so; it is futile, as it should be. He just wants to take in all the new sights and sounds around him. Inside as I get his ticket and find out the details of his lesson Luke slowly turns in circles wide eyed at lodge’s surroundings—the low ceiling, long cafeteria tables, flimsy green plastic chairs, people of various sizes and ages, the metal stove resting on the old stone hearth, wooden cubbies crammed with dirty winter boots and crumpled ski bags. I put on Luke’s boots and he walks around on just his heals, a mischievous grin upon his face. Noah gives him a hug and out the door we go to our lesson.

We meet our instructor and then walk over to the mighty mighty rope tow. Luke’s balance is excellent but his focus is not with all the new sights and sounds of the ski area. This is further hampered when he sees Erin and Noah riding up the rope tow for a quick run before Noah’s lesson.  Noah has no interest in stopping to talk or even to say hi. He just points his skis down the hill and goes. By our third time getting on the rope tow Luke wants to try to go up by himself. He communicates this with much pointing for he has flatly refused to talk to in front of the instructor.  After three unsuccessful attempts he decides he’s had enough and rides up with me.  By the end the hour it is clear Luke has lost interest and we head to lodge for a snack. Halfway there Luke stops and lies down in the snow with a large grin on his face he makes a snow angel, then gets up and continues on his way.

After our snack we go back out to the mighty mighty and Luke tries again to ride the rope tow by himself without success. Soon he has grown bored with the gentle slope here on the beginners hill and starts negotiations to ride the chair lift. We settle on him having to do five more pizza wedges to show us he is at least getting the hang of it. He sets to the task with an intense focus. It is clear though that he is getting tired, and as we try to direct him in the direction of the lift, he gets upset and points to a lift in the opposite direction, the lift that goes to the very top of the mountain. I tell him we can’t go on that one and he starts to whine and carry on. If you can’t listen now then we won’t go on the lift at all, I tell him. He walks away and makes another snow angel then comes back and all is right with the world again.

Noah’s class is about to ride the same lift so Erin rides up with Noah and I ride up with Luke. As we shuffle onto the loading ramp, I ask the lift operator to please slow the lift down.

“I can’t slow it down, sorry, but I’ll stop it if something goes wrong,” he replies.

I take a deep breath, stoop slightly and wrap my arms around Luke and look over my shoulder. As the chair approaches I hope for the best. With a grunt I lift him off the ground and we flop onto the chair and are whisked into the air. I lower the bar but keep my arms wrapped around him, my fear of heights and irrotational thoughts getting the best of me.  As the unloading platform draws closer, my mind is slightly panicked. Will I have enough leverage to lift his nearly fifty pounds from this angle? What happens if I loose my balance? Will my hernia survive this?  I am concerned about all these things because I want Luke to have a good time. I want him to want to come back and do this again.  Erin and I have been looking forward to this day for so long and I don’t want something to go wrong that will turn Luke’s thoughts of skiing from fun to horrible. Just before we reach the platform I manage to calm my mind. I simply stand up holding Luke under his arms. Then I let the back of the chair push us along the platform and down the ramp. Stopping promptly at the ramps base I shuffle awkwardly out of the way.

I position Luke between my legs and have him hold onto my poles that I am holding across my thighs. Our skis are pointed down hill and we are off. At first he does well mimicking the angle of my skis, but soon he is leaning back and when I tell him to lean forward, he hangs off of the poles, his feet barely on the ground. The further down the mountain we go, the more his attention disappears.  Teaching is over for the day but we decide on one more run so that we can end on a high note.

“Go fast,” he says as we begin our decent.
With the cold winter wind in our faces Luke lets out yips of joy as we pick up speed. He tries to make parallel turns between my legs, giggling and spraying up snow as he does.