Family Life

My House is Trashed

We try really hard to keep a clean house, and it doesn’t seem like our effort is enough.

It doesn’t matter that we clean the house every day. It doesn’t matter that we give the girls rules about picking up after themselves. Toys are still EVERYWHERE, sprouting up from the tile floor like weeds after a big rain.

I’ve watched this problem closely because–well, because it annoys me–and I think I know what the problem is. Kids lose interest in their toys. It’s that simple.

I try to get the girls hyped about these toys, and it never seems to work. I want them to enjoy these toys as much as they did on the day they were unwrapped at Christmas or at their birthday party.

It only seems right. The toys haven’t changed. They aren’t broken. They are the same toys as they were on their first day out of the package!

(At least if they played with the toys, I would have some proof that they belong here and they’re not just trashing my house.)

Then I look at my own life as an adult and realize that I’m pretty much the same way. I’ve lost interest in almost everything that I’ve ever bought.

There was a time where I thought that this iPad and the Bluetooth keyboard that I’m typing on right now were really awesome. I was excited about life because I had these cool new things. Now I completely take them for granted. I could point at any object in my house, and the story is the same: it was really cool, and now it’s just okay.

Are people damned to lose interest in it all?

There has to be a way out of this. Because it seems like we’re all doomed to be disappointed with life here.

There are extreme examples of this, stories that we can all tell. Stories of spoiled brats who take it all for granted. If you have good friends around you, they’ll call you out if you get too spoiled and bratty.

I don’t think this is the real problem. There’s a more subtle version of dissatisfaction that can take over your life. It can clog up your thoughts and weigh you down.

For example, right now I’m really disappointed in my front and back yard. For whatever reason, the summer grass didn’t grow in evenly, and it looks rough. There are rangy patches of yellow brown grass that seem to be devouring the green. It’s hard to be proud of my yard when I swing into the driveway. I keep my curtains closed so I don’t have to look out at it. On my worse day, I’ll obsess over the grass and feel sorry for myself.

Rev Run posted on Instagram last week something like this: “The things we take for granted are the answers to other people’s prayers.”

Could my yard be the answer to someone else’s prayers? Of course. Grass? Dirt? Rocks? It doesn’t matter. There are countless number of parents around the world who dream about just having some wide opens space their kids to run and play. Far away from crime, war, and famine. My yard is paradise for them.

So why can’t I enjoy this yard as my paradise, even with its imperfections?

Get it together.

My sweet Stella has a hard time keeping her cool when she’s frustrated or when things don’t go her way. She’s only 3 years old, so none of this is a surprise. But when the tantrums hit, they hit HARD.

I try to be a good dad by getting down on her level and then patiently remind her not to be upset, but to take a breath and be patient with the situation…that kind of stuff.

I tend to feel good about myself when I act this way. I’m cool, calm, and collected. If a stadium of parents were surrounding me in that moment, they would lean into each other and nod with approval. Yes–that dad is one cool dude. Then we would have break-out sessions where I would give lectures on parenting through difficult times. I’d sign my parenting books and things like that.

But that will never happen because I’m only cool like this only half of the time. Not even that! Maybe 1 out of every 4 tantrums do I play it cool. The rest of the time I pitch a fit too. I lose my control. I bark at her and act disappointed.

My emotions are raw and real–but they don’t help me or my little daughter. It’s just two people pitching a fit. Except one person should know better.

Zoom out a little bit, and I realize that I’m just like Stella when I get frustrated or things don’t go my way. I don’t cry or roll around on the floor, but that’s what I’m doing that in my head. I get consumed by the situation and forget how wonderful life is around me. I can hear a dad voice speaking to me in those situations: “Don’t be upset… take a deep breath… be patient with the situation…”

If I listened to this voice, I would see how wonderful life really is. So what if can’t find the stylus to my iPad. So what if I have to go back to Home Depot to get a different paint brush? These are AWESOME problems to have!!

The only resolution here is to at least try to get better at this.

If I expect my kids to play with their old toys, then I need to enjoy my old stuff. I need to be proud of my shirts as I iron them and then hang them graciously in my closet. I need to feel special when I slip on those fancy Johnston and Murphy shoes, just like I did that first time I tried them on in the store. Those shoes felt magical then. Why would I deprive myself of that same joy every morning when I lace up my shoes for another big day?

Everywhere I look is something that should be appreciated again. Not just the material things. But I need to appreciate friends, family, loved ones. This city, this state, this nation.

I don’t think this is only about being consistent–telling my kids to act certain way only after I’ve proven to myself and everyone else that it can be done. It’s so much more than that!

This is really about deciding to be happy. It’s about being grateful for what you have, and to keep calm amidst the storms of life.

Up. All. Night.

Sleep depravation does strange things to a man.

Sleep depravation does strange things to a man.

Over the past couple of weeks, I feel like I’ve been pushed to my limits to take care of my sick girls. I’m also become more aware of how I’ve taken comfort for granted.

Back in Phoenix, it was midnight runs to the 24/7 pharmacy for medicine, Gatorade, and saltine crackers for a sick Candyce and Norah. Then sleeping on a cot in the corner of my own bedroom so that I could stay away from the sick ones, but still be close enough to care for them if their stomachs rejected the little food and fluid that they brought down. It was changing out puke buckets and scrubbing toilets.

Here in California, it’s been more vomiting from both Norah and Stella, but the worst has been ear pain. These ear aches are horrible because your child wanders into sleep for just a few moments before they’re jolted back awake by the sharp pain deep within their ear. It’s hours of tears and screams.

Through all of this, it’s interesting how uncomfortable a parent is willing to be in order to make sure their sick child is comfortable enough to fall asleep. I’m sure part if it is because parents love their kids, but it’s a lot more about what does it take to get your own head back on that pillow. A little sacrifice now means more sleep later. I got through the blazing heat of the 65 pounds of blankets that were heaped onto my legs because my stillness meant that Norah could fall deeper into sleep. Later that same night, I fell asleep sitting up in a chair because it soothed Norah’s ear to be upright. There is nothing about falling asleep in a chair that is comfortable.

Finally on Christmas Eve we had a silent night. It was magical to wake up on Christmas morning fully rested. In the few days after Christmas, it was all well.

But Stella has acquired a nasty habit of getting really angry at night. I’ve found that the only thing that calms her down is to walk her around the neighborhood through the dark of the night. It’s bizarre to go from being happily asleep in my own warm bed to getting out onto the street in yesterday’s clothes with a baby on my back, both of us wrapped with a down comforter to keep off the December chill. An hour later, Stella is finally asleep and I’m ready to climb back up the stairs and slide back into a cozy bed.

Even still, sometimes all that attention is not enough. Stella falls asleep for just fifteen minutes and then she’s up again and angry at the world. So for the past two nights, Candyce, Norah, and I relocated in the middle of the night downstairs and all fallen asleep on the couches. At least there we’re away from riot that is Stella.

Last night was round 3/4/5 of sickness was last night. Candyce and Norah got a cold that made it hard for both of them to breathe. I flopped out of bed and explored the closets of the house to find a humidifier.  Luckily it worked quite well. I woke early in the morning with a thick coating of dew on top of my pillow and blankets. That’s bizarre. This whole thing has been bizarre. And it doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

Lucky for me this is all happening on vacation. Yeah, it’s not ideal, but at least it’s not interrupting work the next day. I’ve been thinking too about how life has been different without the comforts that I took for granted before these rounds of sickness hit my family. Comfort is good, that’s why we reach for it. But too much comfort makes you a less compassionate person. Inevitably it turns you greedy too. It’s not enough to sleep in a warm bed within the shelter of a home, it has to be a super nice bed within a super nice home in a super nice city.

At this very moment, I feel very lucky just to have 30 minutes of solitude where I can write a blog.

01/02/2013 Update

New Year’s Eve —> New Year’s Day was not fun. I took turns taking care of Stella (teething) and Norah (ear ache) until 5:30 in the morning.

“Hold You Me”

Since becoming a father three years ago, I’ve struggled to write about the beautiful and profound shift that has occurred in my life.

It happens like this. At least twice a month I sit down to write a blog about some meaningful part of my daily life as a dad, and I end up getting frustrated twenty minutes into it because the words that type don’t do this subject justice. I want to share a glimpse of the magic of fatherhood in at least one blog post, but as sentences turn into paragraphs, that magic gets lost inside of sentimental storytelling.

I don’t publish these blogs not because I’m afraid to be soft, but more because the stories end up reading like every other story I’ve heard parents share with other parents my whole life. Stories about the innocence of children. Stories about skinned knees. Stories about tender kisses and hugs.

Why is it this way? Why these same stories? Becoming a parent changes your very being, so it shouldn’t make sense that something so epic could be distilled so perfectly into short, sentimental stories. But somehow they do.  The story is just a drop of water, but it is the essence of a great ocean. This is why parents share these very familiar stories, because behind every one of those simple stories is a profound relationship with another soul.

Last night Norah woke up twice before midnight crying about her legs hurting. Both times I sprung out of bed and quietly but quickly walked down the hall to comfort her before she woke up Stella. Both times her face was wet with tears. She twisted around on the bed, reaching back to grab her calves and repeating the word “Hurt! Hurt! Hurt!” Both times I prayed over her legs and asked Jesus to take away her pain. I rubbed her legs and feet. I sang songs to her. Somewhere between the second and third song, she stopped sobbing and joined in during the few words that she understood. Slowly… very slowly… she drifted into sleep. After a few minutes of deep sleep, it was okay for me to tuck her blankets and return to my own bed.

On the third outburst of screaming, I told Candyce that I was out of ideas and that it was her turn to try to comfort Norah. Five minutes later, Candyce came back into the room and said with desperation and defiance: “Norah told me she doesn’t want me there. She wants you to help her.” So here I was, my third trip down the hall to comfort an agitated little three year old in the middle of the night.

I did the same thing. I prayed. I rubbed her legs. I sang. But after she fell back asleep, I decided to stay put, to keep holding her close and let myself drift into sleep.

I woke up four hours later to the sound of my cell phone alarm. It was time to get up for a full day of important meetings, maybe the most important meetings that I’ll host this year. I still had so much to prepare for in the two hours before the first meeting. But I pressed snooze anyway, not because I was dreadfully tired, but because it afforded me another few minutes to cherish the sweet sweet little girl whose warm breath fluttered on my cold cheek.

The two years of graduate school was punishing for me, mostly because I had to steal time away from my family for class, meetings, homework. Class. Meetings. Homework. Then I came home to a loving but tattered little family. Norah took it the hardest. Her little heart was raw, and it showed up sometimes in bad behavior, but mostly in tears. I did my best to make time for her every day, but some weeks and months were impossibly busy.  It’s a terrible day when you are too busy to see your own child.

On those difficult days, I would wake up in the middle of the night and give Candyce a kiss on the cheek. Then I’d walk down the hallway to find a sleeping Norah. I laid next to her, scooped her into my arms, told her how much I loved her and then fell back asleep. I would be gone by the time she woke up, off to fight another day. My hope was that even if she were not alert to the fact that I held her that night, maybe her little heart, her little soul would somehow feel closer to her Dad.

You hold your child because you think they need you. And in for that abrupt moment, that’s true. But the truth is that you hold your child because you need them.