Lego time

“Dad, will you please help me build my Lego airplane?”. It was a very simple request by my nine year old son as I walked by his room last night. I paused before responding, thinking of the kitchen that needed tidying and laundry that needed folding before I went to bed. But, instead of using those excuses, I decided that it was a perfect time for some father-son Lego building. The chores would have to wait. As I entered his room his face lit with a smile and I knew that I had chosen wisely.

The Lego plane he was building had a booklet of 51 steps for it to be fully assembled. Yeah, fifty one! To complicate matters slightly was the fact that he had taken apart all of his (previously-assembled) Lego kits and separated all of the bricks by color in their own plastic bins. So, for each step we had to open the plastic box (he’s very organized!) that corresponded to that brick’s color and find it. Think “needle in a haystack” for every single brick.

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But, I had checked my attitude at the door and, instead of feeling frustrated at how long this was taking, I cheerfully worked with him on this project. What was interesting was how he started talking while we were working together, sharing his thoughts about school, friends and other stuff that was important to him. It reminded me again of why I choose to be a StayAt Home Dad: for a moment like this where I can simply leave everything else for a while and devote my entire attention to my child. No distractions.

After well over an hour of this easy-going time together I gave him a warning that it would be time to clean up and go to sleep in 15 minutes. Instead of the usual complaining and delaying, he nodded. When the time came, we worked together to quickly put the hundreds of Lego bricks away in their proper boxes. He didn’t complain even one time that the airplane wasn’t finished. Instead, he thanked me for spending so much time with him and requested more “Lego time” with me for the next day (today). After he crawled under his covers and we prayed together, I leaned over to give him a hug and kiss. He surprised me by not letting go of me as quickly as he normally does and told me, “I love you, Dad. Good night.”

I gently closed his door and stood there silently in the hall, wondering why I had even paused at his initial request. The chores were going to have to get used to waiting. This kind of quality time was far more important.

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Dads for Breastfeeding

Earlier this week, Pope Francis made news when he declared that women should breastfeed their children in church. (see: Pope promotes breastfeeding in church) Apparently this set off a variety of responses supporting and condemning his suggestion. I have been blessed to be a father six times over the last 18 years and my amazing wife has breastfed all of our children. While I’m not a lactation expert or anything like that I’m certainly thankful that my wife chose this for our children. Studies have shown the benefits of breastfeeding (to both child and mother) and I’ve also observed first-hand the indelible bond my wife has formed with each child. A nursing baby is truly one of the most beautiful acts to witness in all of nature. The look of both mother and child as they gaze into each other’s eyes is priceless. There’s nothing more pure and innocent in this world. It’s truly one of the few things my wife does with/for our children that I cannot even begin to replicate in my role as stay at home dad. I can feed our 7 month old baby girl the breast milk my wife lovingly expressed for her but it’s not even close to the same as when she’s with mommy. And I’m 100% okay with that. That’s the way it should be.

And, there is nothing remotely wrong or weird about it.  With all of that being said, I’m glad that the Pope took the opportunity to publicly address the “issue” of breastfeeding in public places like church. I guess I don’t understand why it’s a big deal. With our first child, born back when we were much younger (23), my wife would retreat to the cry room at church to nurse our daughter. After a few times doing that she began to wonder why that was necessary and decided to nurse right in the sanctuary, only covering with our child’s blanket. Unless you knew what was happening you’d never be able to tell what she was doing. There was, simply, nothing inappropriate about doing that in church. Over the 18+ years of having kids my wife has nursed in the sanctuary at many churches and it’s never been a problem. Sometimes, if the baby is being a particularly noisy or active eater, she has opted to go to the quiet room but only as circumstances dictate. If there’s any place on earth that should be receptive to naturally meeting the needs of children I would think that it would be a church. I have yet to observe a time that a baby nursing has been “sexy” or “inappropriate”.

We recently returned from a trip to El Salvador with our baby. She nursed multiple times each day, including while visiting Mayan ruins and during the wedding ceremony and reception dinner/dance.

Our baby nursing at Mayan ruins in El Salvador.

Our baby nursing at Mayan ruins in El Salvador.

And not one single person cared or objected, if they even noticed at all. We had been told ahead of time that women in El Salvador don’t cover up when nursing. For one thing, it’s so hot that it might be uncomfortable for mother and child. But, I believe, the bigger issue is that Americans are so hung up on their own perversions. We’ve managed to sexualize the human body so that even something as beautiful as a breastfeeding mother is somehow inappropriate. In case you didn’t realize it, women were created with breasts to feed their young. I’ve been to the zoo with my children many times and have seen animal mothers nursing their young and not a single zoo patron complained. Same goes for field trips to a dairy farm. Yet, if a mother wants to nurse her baby in public she better go somewhere out of sight or cover up or feel the wrath. I just don’t get it.

As a dad of children ranging in age from 7 months to 18 years old, I’m glad that my kids have all seen their siblings nurse. Even though some of the older ones think it’s “gross” or “weird”, it’s my hope that by the time they become parents they will understand how natural and beautiful it truly is for both mother and child. Every time they make a negative or disparaging comment about nursing I immediately refute it, reminding them that each of them also used to nurse once-upon-a-time. I have to admit that I’ve grown so used to my wife nursing that I don’t usually bat an eye when I’m out in public with my kids and another mom sits down on a bench and starts nursing her baby. The only time that I was caught off guard was a few years ago while at a local park with two of my kids and our dog. We met a lady wearing her sleeping baby while playing fetch with her dog (multi-tasking mama!). While our dogs were playing and we were chatting the baby woke up and the lady lifted her shirt and started feeding her baby. The contented cooing that ensued was music to her ears. What impressed me was how natural it was for her to do that without feeling ashamed or embarrassed by my presence. We continued our conversation as if nothing was wrong. Which was the case. It would be wonderful if we, as dads and moms, could pass along to our children, who could then pass along to their children (and so on) that breastfeeding is a good thing, to be cherished and celebrated. It’s not awkward or weird. Moms should feel free to feed their babies wherever they are: church, park, mall, movie theater, restaurant, pool, school events and anywhere else. As dads, we should do everything in our power to support and encourage mothers who are breastfeeding. We should also encourage a positive view of breastfeeding among our children and other adults.

Breaking Dad

San Andreas site in El Salvador

Mayan pyramids at San Andres site in El Salvador

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a month since my last blog entry. There were so many things that I wanted to write about here but it seemed like every time I thought I was going to have a few minutes to sit down and type something else needed my attention instead. I guess I made the choice (multiple times) to spend my time with my family instead of with my keyboard typing out my thoughts. I’m not going to make any promises to “do better” this year or blog a certain number of times each week or month. Ultimately, I choose to hug my sleeping baby a little longer instead of laying her down in her crib. I’m experienced enough to know that such times will be gone all too soon.

So, on to today’s blog of “Breaking Dad”. I chose that title because my wife and I recently returned from a week-long trip (a “break”, if you will) to El Salvador to see a colleague of my wife get married in her native country. My mom flew to Washington from Wisconsin in time to celebrate Christmas with us and do some other sightseeing in the area before we departed on our trip a week later. Here’s the kicker: we only took one of our kids with us. That left my mom in charge of our other four kids, ages 14, 12, 9 and 3. It was the first time in over three years that we had traveled as a couple without all of our kids. Traveling with only our seven month old baby ended up being pretty easy as she slept for most of both of the flights on our way there. Once at our destination, we were able to really have a nice break from the busy-ness of our daily lives. We opted not to have international minutes on my cell phone and there was no internet in our room. It was weird. And nice. We kept in touch with our kids and my mom using FaceTime from the free wi-fi in the hotel lobby. But the rest of the time we were able to relax and be on vacation.

Our first meal in El Salvador was memorable in that it was the first time we ever ordered room service. And it was our 21st Anniversary to boot! During our time there, we took a couple of sight-seeing tours to see excavated Mayan ruins and pyramids (see above photo), followed the Ruta De Las Flores (Flower Route) through several small villages, watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean and celebrated the wedding of our friends. My wife got to sleep in almost every morning and very soundly at night as our baby snuggled me all night (I chose a room with two double beds for that very reason). Even though I couldn’t sleep in like them I was able to enjoy the beautiful view out our hotel of city of San Salvador and some of the surrounding volcanoes/mountains…and the peace and quiet. We were able to reconnect with one another again without the distraction of “real life” – kids, jobs, cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc. Yeah, we had our baby along but it was so different than the regular routine that it was no big deal. In fact, having just Baby J with us was rather fun. One day my wife put her in the baby carrier on her back while we walked around some of the streets near our hotel and they received many comments of surprise and astonishment.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for weddings. I’m an incurable romantic at heart and I get teary (and even cry!) at weddings. This wedding was by far the best one we’ve ever attended. The outdoor mountain setting in the late afternoon, bilingual service, the vows, the pastor’s message….all of it. Simply. Amazing. And then the reception, dinner and dance. I won’t go on and on, but if you’ve ever been to a Latin American wedding you know what I mean. The food was great. But the music. Dancing. Mariachi band. The people. What a great afternoon and evening, celebrating life, love and happiness. Not just the newlyweds, but all of their family and friends as well. The bride was from El Salvador and the groom from Pennsylvania (in the United States). So even though there was a little bit of a language barrier we all were friends for those few hours, celebrating together.

After the wedding was over and we had returned to our hotel, I left my wife and baby in the room and went to the lobby to chat with our kids. After we had finished my mom texted me to say that the kids had all been doing really well during our vacation. In fact, they had been “very helpful, cooperative, and talking in nice inside voices. Their behavior has been really good, and most of the time, maybe 90% of the time, their behavior has been excellent..”. Wait. WHAT?! Whose kids was she talking about? I have to admit that I felt pretty proud of them when she told me that they were helping out around the house, often without being asked. (Can I get an AMEN?) After all, when I’m home they often give me no end of grief when I ask them to do even one chore. Maybe all my hard work in getting them to help out around the house was starting to pay off. At any rate, I’m counting that good report as a small parenting win and another positive reinforcement that what we’re doing is producing positive results in our children.

We left the 90* sunshine of El Salvador on Wednesday afternoon and arrived in chilly and rainy Miami that evening. And after getting rescheduled on a direct flight to Seattle the next day we arrived home at about 11:30 pm, tired and ready to be home. But the mini-vacation we had together with our baby went a long way in helping this dad to relax and recharge a little bit. In the few days that we’ve been home again I’ve found myself being a little more patient with my kids than I might have been before the trip. So, a huge THANK YOU to my mom for stepping up and helping with the kids so that we could not only celebrate the wedding but also have a relaxing time together.