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Posts Tagged ‘Fatherhood’

alaska wisdom learned the hard way

When you’ve just retrieved your retainers from the -50 car, where they have been all day, don’t put them in your mouth until you have warmed them up.

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excavating Christmas

After several moves in the past year or two, we have ended up with a couple of unheated storage units haphazardly packed with everything from caribou antlers to furniture, drafting tables to fishing nets, sewing fabric to tarps (brown, not the classic Alaska blue variety).

Of course, mixed in with the above, is box after box of who knows what. (I know what, but given this is a “G-rated” blog I can’t say).

I might add, none of it is mine.

Except maybe those caribou antlers. And maybe the fishing nets……. Oh, the drafting table might also be mine. And that tarp sure was handy last time I went camping.

Anyways, on this not particularly cold Saturday (about 0 degrees Fahrenheit) I was charged with the task of extracting the Christmas decorations from those storage units. Not an easy task.

Accompanying me on this expedition were the intrepid Jolie and Ali, renowned explorers of the subarctic. Of course, neither of them brought hats or mittens and ended up spending the bulk of the time in the running car while I entered the realm of the lost and forgotten.

Before going on, I should add that when it comes to Christmas, I consider the Grinch and Scrooge as great failures. Once great fighters for the cause, they succumbed to temptation, celebrated Christmas and led many a young recruit away from crotchety obscurity.

May they be crucified upon Christmas trees.

Back to Saturday.

While I dove bravely into the storage units, mumbling about how the temperature inside the units was a good ten degrees colder, and the boxes and artifacts a good ten degrees colder still, the girls sat in the car arguing.

After 30 minutes of shifting boxes around, it came upon the midday clear, that Christmas sucks and I was cold.

Actually, after thirty minutes of listening to the girls fight while I froze trying to get “their” Christmas decorations out, I lost it. Let’s just say, if Santa was indeed watching there is one not so little boy who will be getting coal in his stocking for Christmas.

By the time I was done with my rant, it was clear to not only the girls but to anyone within a mile that we wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas again until they had children of their own if they so much as uttered another word against each other.

Returning to the storage units, fully heated, I extricated the green and red tubs of Christmas décor, and lodged them ever so gently into the car.  (Sarcasm.)

About this time, a light went off in my head, causing me to duck and whirl about in surprise. (Those lights don’t go off very often, and always catch me by surprise.)

My Christmas shopping dilemma was solved. The solution was right in front of me, in those storage units. Inside, box upon box of forgotten possessions sat, waiting to be rediscovered………. under the Christmas tree.

I can wrap those boxes, stick them under the tree, and we can rediscover lost treasures!!!

It’s free!!!!

It’s easy!!!!

The kids will love it, after all, the one time they emerged from the car long enough to peek into storage they were trying to grab on to anything that looked like theirs to take back home. This way, they can have it all!!!

And talk about boxes of stuff. Jane will get more presents then she ever has. Boxes and boxes of fabric, sewing patterns, unfinished projects!!

Yeah!!!!!

I’ll let you know how it works out- I will save myself days of shopping agony!!!

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Come to think of it, just guessing, I may need a place to stay for a while after Christmas.

After arriving home, and unloading the precious cargo, my two little helpers and I headed inside, me to thaw out, them to pick up the house before we could unpack the Christmas goods.

It took another day, but eventually they did just that. And, for the most part, they took my threat to cancel the next 18 years of Christmas seriously.

By Sunday night, the house was clean, the tree was up, and the kids were excitedly watching Christmas movies.

And I, believe it or not, had enjoyed it. It is, perhaps for a long time, the first time in recent memory that I enjoyed the process of decorating for Christmas.

It may have been the excitement of the girls, or just the process of spending a weekend with them, and at home, that wore down my resolve.

Or perhaps it was frostbite.

Or a thawing of the discontinuous permafrost between my ears.

In the end, the process of excavating Christmas had proved to be as much internal as external.

And in a year of change, why not one more?

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This morning began like most Saturdays.  I woke up early and got on the computer meaning to write but ended up only surfing the web.

Jane was out of town, so today it was my task alone to wake up our two girls; Jolie to attend art class, Ali to accompany me on my errands.

I woke them up a full hour before art class, certainly enough time to get ready to go somewhere.  I hopped in the shower, not expecting them to be ready when I got out but hoping they would at least be out of bed.

That part of the plan worked.  They were both up and about when I got out of the shower.  Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, they exchanged blows, over what I am still not sure.  As near as I can tell, Ali initiated the contact with some kind of push or shove to Jolie, who then retaliated with a harder than intended (or so she claims) jab to Ali’s stomach, knocking the wind out of her.

I had to sympathize with Ali, getting hit in the stomach hurts.  And I could tell she hurt, both her feelings and physically.   So, once I got Ali settled down I set about lecturing them on hitting or the physical expression of anger, on each other, and how it is simply not allowed in our home, or anywhere.  I followed up with a demand that they apologize to each other.

I left them upstairs, going downstairs to assemble the remaining gear before we left home.  By this time we were borderline on being on time to Jolie’s art class.  I could hear them speaking, supposedly apologizing.   In my mind, however, I envisioned them exchanging high fives and slaps on the back, celebrating another delayed departure.

“Way to take one for the team Ali!!!”

Ali “Did you have to hit me so hard?”

Jolie “Sorry.  But it worked great.  Maybe we should do it again before church tomorrow.”

Ali “NO!!!  I get to hit this time!!”

Yes, there is clearly a conspiracy in our house to prevent timeliness, regardless of the pain or suffering it causes.

Which brings me to the question, why don’t my children care about time or being late?

I consider myself fairly strict, not having much tolerance for bad behavior.  But somehow I have been ineffective in teaching my children the importance of punctuality.

The root of this, I’m guessing, is my disregard for time.  Time,  like money, is a modern invention of convenience.  Society tends to value both in terms of quantity, not quality.  Isn’t it, after all, the quality of time that we value?  Time spent with children, or family, in the beauty of wilderness, or hard at work on our life’s passion?  And isn’t money about quality of life, not more material possessions?

How do we teach or children to value money, not for the power or goods it gives them but for the opportunity it gives them to spend more time with family, or explore their spirituality, to show compassion, to expand their actions to things that may matter beyond the grave?  And how can we teach them that if they aren’t careful time will become money’s mistress, and in turn will do money’s bidding?  And when this happens time is lost for them, and can only be reclaimed through difficult and life-altering decisions.

I surmise that my children read my disregard for time and money, and know time isn’t something I’m going to come down hard on them for.

What I will come down hard on them for is disrespect.  What I apparently have failed to teach them is that by being late you are showing disrespect to the people you are meeting with, working with, or learning from.  Their time is as precious as ours, and should be treated accordingly.  I don’t expect the 4 year old to understand this, but the 9-year old most certainly should.

Despite this belief, I still find it impossible to be on time.  When I’ve got the kids, with Jane or alone, we will be late.  If I’m with Jane, with the kids or alone, we will be late.  When I am alone, then I may just be on time, though nothing is guaranteed.  Jane seems to have the same problem, albeit reversed.

I’ve resolved this is because each of us, while also being incredibly stubborn, is a contrarian.  Mix the 4 of us together, well, you get the picture.  For example:

Me; “Jolie, hurry up, we are going to be late.”

She slows down.

“Jolie, now!!!! we are going to be late.”

She slows down, more.

“NOW!!!!!!!”

I didn’t know it was physically possible to move that slow.  Glaciers have nothing on her. In fact, there has been more than one occasion where I wonder if any glaciers will still be around by the time she gets dressed.

Reverse psychology is hard to use when in a hurry, or when you are angry, as has been as effective as Dad throwing a fit.  Believe me, I’ve tried both, to no effect, unless it was increased slowdown, which I wouldn’t have believed possible if I had not witnessed it with my own eyes.

Then again, it could be that the tardiness is a reflection on our marriage, which is in many regards egalitarian.  Talk about complete confusion.  In general, there is no leadership.  Correction, there are multiple leaders, which goes back to the contrarian issue.

There are many ways to skin a cat, and I promise you in our house it will be done in four different ways.  Each effective in their own way, but chaos when combined.  Not that we’ve skinned any cats.  Together or separately.  Except for a polecat, but that is another story.

And so, despite my philosophical leanings and anger over being late, it may be that allowing our individual personalities to exist intact may be more important.  After all, as Evelyn Waugh so aptly put it “Punctuality is a virtue of the bored.”  I might also add, “of the employed.”  But again, that is another story.

I’ll try to explain the importance of individuality the next time I’m late to a business meeting.

Of course, the theory that Jolie and Ali are conspiring is still valid.  It bears watching, especially as their intellects and  interests develop into more complex things than the desire to see Dad’s face turn red.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Around 5pm yesterday afternoon Ali decided to test the seismograph at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with her head. Jane and Ali were at a meeting at Ali’s “pretty school” (preschool). Ali was running around in her socks when her feet suddenly exchanged places with her head. The meeting of skull and concrete floor resulted in just what one would expect, screaming and tears, but luckily no broken skin. Jane loaded up the car, meeting over, and headed home.

I arrived home at 6:30 with Jolie meeting me at the door to tell me Ali had just thrown up on our bed. I went ahead, came in, took off my boots (it was -40 something below) and went to find Jane and Ali. They were sitting upstairs, Ali wrapped up in a towel, conscious but listless. Jane explained to me that Ali had hit her head, had fallen asleep in the car, had gotten home and vomited, and was in general pretty much out of it. My first thought was head injury, or concussion. (I guess I watch too many contact sports.)

We went into parental crisis mode following the 2nd Child Rules.

1st Child Rules would have taken us directly to the ER. 2nd Child Rules result in a more seasoned approach. Jane headed to the Internet, to verify concussion symptoms and to confirm when you needed to be alarmed. I held Ali for a while so that I could see her firsthand. During that time she vomited again, and I returned her to the shower to get clean, again, stopping long enough to change a few of my own clothes that had fallen in the line of fire. Jane confirmed our alarm, and we decided a trip to the ER was in order.

Meanwhile, Jolie began to panic. Jolie is pretty sensitive, and can pick up on the tensions from us. As soon as she sensed our concern, and realized that Ali as more than a little sick, she went into tears.

“I’m scared.”

“Ali is so special, I don’t want her to be hurt.”

“I love her.”

We called our friends Laura and Scott, who agreed to watch her so we didn’t need to drag her into the ER with us. Poor girl. And what a great big sister.

We quickly dropped Jolie off, and headed to the hospital. I tried to keep Ali talking to me, but she kept nodding off. Nodding off may be a misnomer, it was more like fading in and out. We got to the hospital relatively quickly, navigating the ice fog and cold temperatures as fast as we could.

Before I go on, let me reflect on our first and only ER experience with one of our children, Jolie. When she was about 2 she had a fever spike, and we rushed her to the ER. The service was terrible, the nurses gruff, the doctor a young rooster that had something to prove (still does, in my opinion). They diagnosed it as an ear infection, then decided to go ahead and check for a bladder or kidney infection just in case. That meant a catheter. Not pleasant. Eventually, the fever broke due to alternating ibuprofen andTylenol , and we went home. But not before Jolie developed a healthy fear of doctors and of hospitals. And I can’t say that I blame her.

This time, the service and treatment were the exact opposite. The receptionist was friendly and helpful, as was the triage nurse. We were checked in quickly and without fuss. Ali was seen by a doctor and ER nurse right away. The diagnosis, concussion. Then the question came down to whether or not to give her a CAT scan to check for any internal bleeding in her skull. The doctor left it up to us.

About this time a billing agent came in. Again, nice, professional, and friendly.

“Do you have insurance?”

Just like 45 million other Americans, I said, “No.”

Meanwhile, a parallel discussion was running through my mind. “Do you want my extra kidney now, or can we take care of that later?” “Later would be fine, we generally don’t like to maim people in front of their children.” Back to reality.

“OK”, and she left to get some paperwork for us. She returned and had us sign a form stating we were financially responsible for the bill. She obviously wasn’t watching me when I signed “George W. Bush”.

We had rolled the dice, hoping to make it a few more months without insurance, trying to get some money built-up to be able to do so. When I left my previous job, I had been paying just under $900 a month for coverage. For a high deductible plan through a private carrier we were looking at $400-$500 a month. I have no idea what this trip to the ER will cost us, maybe $2000-$3000. That’s anywhere between 2 and 4 months of insurance that we’ll be putting off. On the other hand, if we had the insurance we would still be paying everything plus the insurance due to the high deductible. Frankly, you can’t win for losing.

It is sad to say that when we had to decide about the CAT Scan the expense entered our mind. Eventually, we resolved if we went home and something went wrong, we would never forgive ourselves for not having the scan done. So we decided on the CAT scan.

About that time Ali threw up again, and then the x-ray teach walked in to get us. I went with Ali, to hold her hand as they did the scan. She immediately began to perk up, even smiling for the tech. By the time we made it back to our room and Jane, she was almost back to normal.

Which is exactly how the CAT Scan turned out.

With that, we were sent on our way home.

But not before Ali threw up again. Something for the hospital to remember us by, I guess.

We did sleep a little better last night knowing that the CAT scan came out normal. But not much. Between checking on her constantly through the night and trying to relax from the evening’s worries, we didn’t get much rest.

This morning, she was still moving slowly, but during points later in the day had to be reminded to stop chasing the dogs and dancing. It’s hard to keep lighting in a bottle, after all.

All in all, Ali seems to be headed back to normal.

Normal.

What a wonderful thing normal can be.

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I woke up and got moving early (for me) this morning. I got on the computer, checked the headlines, answered an e-mail or two, deleted all the spam, and got Jane (wife) and Jolie (8-year old) up to go to work and school, respectively. Normally it works the other way around, I get them out the door then get on the computer for a few minutes. OK, it may be longer than a few minutes. It used to be I never worried about checking the news. But ever since 9-11, when I walked into the doors at work to be met by my boss with the news that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Towers, followed a few weeks later by a similar meeting where I learned a client and friend had died in a plane crash, that now it is rare occasion that I step out the doors without checking the headlines.

So today I was up early, which not only gave me time to read the news but also to fix a hot breakfast. Jolie had been asking for an egg-muffin, a fried egg and cheese on a English muffin, so I decided to make her one this morning. As a bonus, Jane also got one. I was going to wait until later when 4-year old Ali got up, then I would make her and I each one.

All of this would have been well and good, but as of last night we had decided the girls needed to share a bedroom so that we could make the 2nd bedroom more of a playroom. So Jolie, in what I’m sure was her quietest, most considerate, sisterly way went into the shared room to get dressed. And emerged, with Ali fully awake. So much for letting the little sister sleep, who also happens to be fighting off a cold.

I set to work making Ali’s and my egg muffins. Note, I asked if she wanted one before making it for her. Not because I needed to know, but because I wanted to use her answer against her when she refused to eat it.

Janie and Jolie got out the door, so Ali and I set down to eat.

“Its too hot Daddy.”
“No it’s not, it has been cooling while I cooked mine.”
“No, the bottom is too hot.”
“OK, while just turn it over and wait for a minute.”

I proceeded to eat mine, which came off of the stove after hers.

“Ali, eat your muffin. It isn’t too hot, see I’m eating mine.”
“Its too hotttt!!!”
“No it isn’t, mine was done after yours and it isn’t too hot.”

Repeat the above three lines at least twice more.

Following that, I resorted to feeding it to her. She always feeds herself, except when I’m present. For some reason, I have to feed her. And I acquiesce. Maybe because I’m a wimp. Maybe because I spoil my kids. Maybe because we may not ever have another child and feeding her is as close as I’ll ever get to feeding one of my babies again. So, when she graduates high school, and college, and again at her wedding, and you see me feeding her at each of the celebratory dinners, please take pity and don’t embarrass her, or me, especially me, by asking why.

So, I picked up the muffin and moved in for the kill. Finally, after some coaxing, she took a bite.

“It’s too cold.”

Pause here to avoid any irrational but entirely justified acts of parental desperation.

Breathe deeply.

And again.

Alright, I’m back.

There are a few more instances of contrarianism gone awry in our household. I’ll begin with Ali, then end with Jolie. Note there are no stories here about Janie or I being contrary. Neither of us are. The trait skipped our generation entirely, landing squarely in the personalities of Jolie and Ali. It is entirely the grandparents fault, though no doubt they won’t admit it. They are contrarians after all.

Like the egg muffin, Ali has taken to disliking certain foods, at random times, and with no regard to what she ate and liked days or even hours before. Her dislikes also have no regard to flavor, texture, or appearance. It all has to do with a 4-year old’s attempt to establish her right of refusal. I’m alright with that, the girl needs to establish her own likes and dislikes. However, it makes it increasingly difficult to prepare meals for the whole family.

One of her latest victims is the hapless bean. Not green beans, but baked beans or kidney beans. We eat a lot of chili in our house, with kidney beans, so it makes it hard to feed her from the same pot. So, in a fit of exasperation, I applied my slightly skewed but effective sense of creativity and a dash of dishonesty to get around the impasse. Diplomacy, I think is what the politicians call it. Anyways, the negotiation went like this.

Ali, “I don’t like beans.” Add some cheese and crackers to that whine and we could have a party.
Dad (me), “They aren’t beans, they are frijoles.”
“Frajoles.”
“Frijoles.”
“They look like beans.”
“That’s right, they look like beans. But they are frijoles.”

She then proceeded to pick up her spoon and feed herself the whole bowl, and like it. Actually, I fed her the whole bowl, but she did like it.

Next up, mushrooms.

“I don’t like that pizza, it has mushrooms.”
“They aren’t mushrooms, they are toadstools.”
“Toadstools?”
“Toadstools.”
“They look like mushrooms.”
“They do, but they are toadstools.”

Once again, she picked up her pizza and gobbled it down. Or maybe I cut it up and fed her. The point is, she ate the mushrooms toadstools.

Now Ali goes around telling people, “I don’t like beans, and I don’t like mushrooms, but I like frajoles, and toadstools.” In her mind, I’m convinced, she knows that frijoles and mushrooms are just beans and mushrooms, but because we changed the terminology she won enough concessions to go ahead and eat them. Which, I think, is what diplomacy is all about, skewing the truth until everyone looks like a winner. Even the contrarians.

A final story, which happened yesterday, about Jolie. The stories above may give the impression that Ali is our contrarian princess, but in reality I think she would have to get up pretty early to outdo Jolie. We have to deal with each of them differently, Ali has to emerge with the appearance of winning, ie, diplomacy. Jolie will listen to reason. Eventually, if Jolie and I talk long enough I can convince her that being contrary isn’t always the right or healthy choice.

Do what I say, not what I do. I mean what your grandparents say, but don’t do. Or something like that.

Even with all that reasoning, Jolie’s nature still comes out. At church yesterday, our friend Jeff was leading a story for children, which we do early in the service. For the story, the children are invited to the front of the sanctuary. The topic of the day was choices, and how they affect others and the world around us. In order to convey this to the children, Jeff was having them gather on one side of the podium or the other based upon their answer to a question. One question was, “Would you rather win a race alone or finish it together with a friend?” Some kids went left, others right.

After a series of questions, Jeff asked “Would you rather have a piece of cake every night for a week, or have it all gone at a big party?” The kids parted. Jolie moved dead center and remained. Jeff queried her as to which way she was going to go.

“Neither, I don’t like cake.”

I can’t think of a better response for a crowd of Unitarian-Universalists, who know more than thing or two about being contrary.

Except me.

And Jane of course.

Though I wonder about her sometimes.

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Last Valentine’s Day I was asked to give brief description on love and fatherhood. Below is my attempt to summarize such a complex relationship, as it occurred to me in that moment of time.

This is a story about love

A father’s love,

And betrayal,

The betrayal of time.

From the time of my daughter’s births,

I have sheltered them

Swatting away the worlds concerns,

Like mosquitoes on an Alaskan evening.

But a curious thing happened along the way,

The little girls learned to crawl,

Then to walk,

And finally to run.

And the concerns of the world

No longer held back by my embrace

Sneak in

And begin the maturation of my little girls.

And a father,

Left with empty arms,

Struggles to maintain his course,

His purpose.

Like my father before me,

Time, the betrayer

Sets up a stoic indifference

A wall between loved ones.

Unlike my father before me

I see that wall

Feel it in my soul,

Ache under its growing weight.

And resolve to tear it down,

And expose myself to the pleasure and heartache of watching them grow

Of them experiencing success and failure, elation and pain

Experiencing life.

I’m powerless to stop it,

The betrayer is beyond my grasp

But I will keep my embrace open,

I will shelter them when I can.

Provide them respite from a world

And time indifferent.

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