Passive Protest

Essay, The Charlotte News

How do your children show their displeasure? Perhaps they run off and hide, fall to the ground kicking and screaming, stomp their feet or yell at you. If your children are anything like our boys they have done all of these things, sometimes in a single tantrum. Noah, who is five, also employs what I have come to call the passive protest. While the aforementioned actions can be extremely embarrassing in public and contribute to hearing loss, it has been my experience that the passive protest is by far the most exasperating of all the ways children can show their displeasure.

Once a protest has begun Noah will stand rooted to the spot where he became annoyed. It does not matter if that is in the middle of a room, or the middle of the sidewalk, he simply refuses to move. He will stand there with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. If I try to ask what is wrong he will scrunch his face up even more, pull his shoulders up to his ears, stare straight into my eyes, and say nothing. If I try to move him he will go limp and crumple to the ground.

For the longest time I would use threats of the loss of toys or playing with friends and when these failed I would just scoop him up and carry him out to the car and put him in his seat. Then I’d go back for whatever else I needed, his coat, his shoes, or his little brother Luke. Saying I was going to take something away posed another problem in that I would often forget about it five minutes later. To Noah’s credit, though, he will often remind me of what I said. After a particularly long string of protests I got so fed up that I walked out of the room and literally hopped up and down and roared, looking very much like Yosemite Sam without the chaps and ten-gallon hat and thus learned that you can in fact get hopping mad. After this wonderful display of total loss of control, I decided that I’d better come up with a new approach. Now I meet silence with silence, save for the occasional warning, and if the situation calls for it, the removal of the current favorite toy, at that moment, for the day. The one thing that I don’t do is use the I’m going to leave you here threat, even on the days when I would really like to. Not, because I think it is cruel to say that to your child but because the one time I did say it, Luke broke down into a sobbing, fear-filled frenzy over the fact that we were going to leave his brother who, as he repeated many times, is part of the family. Having a sobbing child and a silent unmoving child is extremely counterproductive. Like all aspects of parenting how I deal with a situation, as well as how the kids deal with it, is always changing. Often our coping ability hinges on how much sleep either party has gotten and how many days in a row my wife has been working. For the most part though the meeting silence with silence seems to be working. I just continue to plod along, and when things get really bad tell myself that other parents must be going through this sort of thing as well.

As frustrating as these protests can be, I am secretly impressed with how strongly the boys hold to their positions. In the age of bullying, extreme peer pressure, and a divided society having the tenacity to stand up for what you believe is right or against what you believe is wrong is something that should be fostered. Figuring out how to do that without becoming a complete pushover is the real trick to all of this.

This essay  was  written for the Charlotte News’s Humbled Parent Column

Lost and Found

Essay

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.

I Got Me A Sugar Momma

Essay

Back in 2005 I purchased a Subaru Outback Sport.  It was red, I was single and it only had fifteen miles on it.  I never thought to sit in the back seat.  That little car took me to and from the mountains on the snowy back roads of Vermont, hauled me, my mom, two bikes, and several dozen small cans of real Vermont maple syrup across the country on my move west.  It propelled Erin and me to many National parks and out of the way places throughout Utah and Wyoming. It has carried skis, bikes, search and rescue gear, sod, groceries, furniture and crystal glasses, Leunig and our little family all around the Salt Lake Valley and beyond.

I had been aware of the lack of space in the back seat of the car for a long time, but since I was always the driver or in the front seat I did not worry about it too much—until we placed Noah’s car seat in there and it was clear that our family had almost outgrown my beloved car.  A short eleven months later that time has come, we purchased a larger car seat and after some grunting, swearing and sweating I got it installed into the back seat of the car.  There was only one small problem.  The only way to get Noah into the car seat was from the opposite side. The door frame was too small for him to fit into, unless we folded him in half. Taking a 20+ pound squirming child scrunching yourself down, so you can both fit in the door, and that sliding/ knee walking across the back seat to place said child into car seat is not an enjoyable experience. Taking them out is even less so.

We switched cars and weighed our options.  I needed the all-wheel drive car more than Erin did as well as the car that could carry Leunig and Noah at the same time.  My car was a standard which Erin was not very excited about driving.  When she asked me to park the Subaru on the flat part of the driveway I knew this was less than an ideal situation we were in.  It was decided that the next day Noah and I would go look at cars.  That is all just look, to get an idea as to what would be best.  We looked, we drooled, I asked lots of questions, and then the salesmen asked if we wanted to take a test drive.

I wrestled the car seat out of our car and into the new car. The back seat was like a banquet hall and the salesmen who was the about the size of the BFG said he could sit in the back seat with the front seat all the way back and still have room to spare.  The car also had a moon roof; I have always wanted a moon roof.  As a perk if you got the moon roof the car came with a back-up camera. This seemed strange to me and I asked the salesmen why this was; he had no idea.  Then it occurred to me that moon roofs are flashy. My guess is mostly men want them  which can be a hard sell to their wives, but if you tell your wife that you get a back-up camera with it she is more likely to allow it because of the safety factor.  The designers at Subaru are clearly very clever and married. After the test drive Noah was asleep and I was ready to sign on the dotted line.

That evening the entire family was back to check out the car.  Soon I was cleaning out my car. As I crawled around pulling out various odds and ends I was hit with a bit of sadness.  I had purchased this car on my own, no co-signer, no having my folks look at it before I signed on the dotted line, nothing like that.  They would give me $400 for my trade in and I just prayed it would start when they went out to inspect it.   Since this new car had lots of room and a moon roof, the sadness did not last very long.  As we came up to stoplight on our way home later that night, Erin looked at me and said, “Wow you really do have a sugar momma.” I looked around at my new car, at Noah sleeping in the back seat banquet hall and up at the moon roof, and knew she was right.