Princess Training

A few weeks ago my three year old daughter wanted to wear a pink princess dress to church to show her Sunday school friends and teacher. Even though it was a little too large for her I figured it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Pick your battles, right? Besides, it was actually cute seeing child #5 rock the same dress 15 years after Grandma made it for my eldest, who is now 19. She even brought along Peanut Butter, her new doll that was wearing a matching pink princess dress (also handmade by Grandma years ago). They looked adorable in their matching outfits.

The first surprise of the morning happened when I went to buckle her in her car seat. Apparently, three year old princesses go commando. I asked my 9 year old son to run and grab some drawers for his sister and he complied immediately. My second surprise was the discovery, after we were already at church, that my son had inadvertently grabbed a tank top instead of undies. As we walked to her classroom I tried to impress upon my daughter the importance of sitting like a lady so that no one would see her princess privates. She giggled at that and agreed. I mentioned to her teacher what had been left behind that morning and went to service. Apparently the full moon warning didn’t get passed on to her teacher for the second service. My third surprise of the morning was when Teacher Daisy laughingly explained her discovery to me after class when I went to pick up my daughter. During storytime my princess and some of her friends decided to lie on their backs and raise their legs in the air. Seems as though the two adult teachers (both cool moms, phew!) were the only ones to notice Princess Panty-less. The kids were oblivious. (Double phew!)

I’ll admit to having a flashback to a similar incident involving our oldest daughter when she was about three and an only child at the time. She also managed to make it to Sunday school wearing a dress with no drawers. And my wife and I were even volunteers in that class. I guess we (I) didn’t fully learn the lesson to always check under the hood, so history repeated itself 16 years later. It’s been worth a chuckle every time I’ve seen Teacher Daisy at church. Kind of our inside joke.

And speaking of inside jokes, did you catch the latest news from Down Under? It was all over the internet recently. Seems as though the lovely Kate Middleton found herself in a rather embarrassing situation while on a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand with Prince William in April. Let’s just say that, thanks to the updraft from the nearby helicopter (from which the royal couple had just disembarked), a photographer shooting the official event captured a royal full moon. Reports indicated that apparently this wasn’t the first time something like this has happened with this particular princess-to-be. (I’m not obsessed. Just find this to be hilarious.)

So, I guess that the end result, or the bottom line, if you “will”, is that I need to take back my apology to Teacher Daisy. I guess I wasn’t such a bum after all. It seems as though my daughter was dressed perfectly to be a princess thanks to the cheeky example from Down Under!

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Fight Like A Girl: A Matter of Perspective

Monday night I opened up the laptop and sat down to write a blog entry. I’d been kicking around a few ideas for a good rant. I thought about writing my thoughts about the terrible shooting in Santa Barbara, California last Friday and the related issues of misogyny, mental illness and gun control. I also considered going off about my lousy backyard neighbor whose puppy escaped his yard and attacked several of my chickens in my backyard earlier in the day. I even considered unloading some thoughts about parents who shout and scream at their children in public as their form of discipline. Yet, nothing really worked for me as I sat there. My heart and mind just weren’t in it. Instead of trudging onward I closed the laptop and went to bed. As I laid there, I realized what I needed to write about; what was bothering me. It was the status update of my friend, AJ.

Well, results of Frehley’s MRI last Friday have shown that the tumors are continuing to grow…. It was our last visit at children’s hospital today, there is nothing more they can do on a medicine point of view. We will truly miss the oncology team at Childrens, they have been our saviors for the last 2+ yrs. They did say they may come for a home visit. As of today we will discontinue chemo meds and continue with just keeping Frehley comfortable. Lisa is taking the summer off of work to be with Frehley, She is doing ok….. we are working on a bucket list of things to do this summer. We will keep you posted on all our adventures. We continue to be in awe of all the support we receive from our friends, family and community. Please STAY STRONG FOR US we are going to need it.
Frehley is his 11 year old daughter. For more than two years she’s been bravely fighting a brain tumor. Her family and friends have rallied around her as she has received many treatments. Her friends started a Facebook page called “Stay Strong Frehley“. T-shirts were sold with the slogan “Fight Like a Girl” across the front. She even got to meet her idol, Selena Gomez. All in an effort to give Frehley encouragement and strength in her battle. While I’ve never met Frehley, I can tell you from following her story these last few years that she is one tough kid. Along with countless others, I’ve been praying for her to beat this. But, barring a miracle, she’s not going to win this battle. I cannot begin to imagine the wide spectrum of emotions AJ and his wife, Lisa, are experiencing right now as they are coming to terms with the fact that there is nothing more that can be done medically for their daughter. For me, as a father of six, I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I guess it took reading this terrible news about Frehley to shake me a bit, to help give me a little perspective. Those other blog topics can wait. They’re not really that important. I can write about them another time, if at all. But, for me, what really matters right now is thinking about what’s important in my life. It’s far too easy to take things like health and loved ones for granted. Sure, we’ve all lost loved ones, maybe even watched them die. We’ve all experienced times of sickness, maybe even extended sickness. But, for the most part, we’ve recovered and moved on with life. It would be easy to get depressed thinking about how sad it is that this young girl is going die way before her time. Instead, I’d like to challenge each of you, including myself, to use Frehley’s story as inspiration and motivation to shake out of the day-to-day routine and refocus yourself. Live. Love. Laugh. Appreciate. Make a family bucket list and start crossing items off as you make memories together.
While I’m not going to pretend to be close friends with AJ and his family, I can assure you that I’m going to continue praying for them as they go through this difficult time. Please note that I asked for and received permission from AJ before sharing Frehley’s story with you. Please share this story with others so that Frehley and her family may be encouraged. I’m sure that they would appreciate knowing that you’re staying strong for them, as well.

Water into Wine

I witnessed a crime before it happened but I didn’t do anything about it. Okay, maybe I’m getting the cart a little ahead of the horse, but not by much. Let me explain. On the way home from a doctor’s appointment I stopped at a market to pick up some locally-grown apples and pears. As we (my two youngest children and I) were driving out of the parking lot I happened to notice a man standing next to his car opening a bottle of wine (probably purchased at this market). What made this unusual sighting almost criminal was the empty water bottle sitting on the roof of his car next to where was standing. It didn’t really hit me as to what he was doing until I was almost a block away waiting to turn into traffic. Putting two and two together, I surmised that this guy was going to get behind the wheel of his car and drink from his water bottle while he was driving. Only he wasn’t going to be drinking water. This realization made me really mad as I immediately thought of my childhood friend Beth, who was killed by a drunk driver when she was only 12.

Sitting at a red light a couple of blocks later I thought about going back to confront the guy before he started driving. I decided not to go back for several reasons: he might already be gone; he could react violently and maybe pull out a gun; I had two young kids in the car with me; I had a lot to do in the next 2 hours before heading to the airport to get my brother; blah blah blah. But it didn’t feel right. As I thought about it more on the rest of my drive home I started to question why I chose to not say or do anything…and what that might say about me. I consider myself a person who is able to distinguish right from wrong and who is action-oriented. If I’m at the park with my kids and some teenagers come and start behaving obnoxiously or inappropriately, I don’t hesitate for a second to speak up. I do what I need to do to protect my kids. This situation was no different, really. While I didn’t technically witness any crime being committed, that man’s actions could have potentially injured others, including my kids. And yet, I was silent. Inactive.

I posted this scenario on my Facebook page and talked about it with my brother later on that afternoon. I think the consensus among them was that I should have intervened discreetly. Simply drive by him a second time, take a picture or video of him and his car and license plate, drive away and call 911. Inform the police and let them choose to get involved or not. It’s times like this where I find myself being more reflective as a parent and a human being. I’m not beating myself up over this situation but I’m learning from it. Hopefully it will better equip me for action down the road. What would you have done in this situation?

(This happened about six months ago and I wrote this post that evening but saved it as a draft…until now.)

Funerals Are Fun

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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen several friends post on their blogs or Facebook pages about funerals and it caused me to think about my own experiences with them over the my 41 years of life. For me, funerals are fun. I mean, if it wasn’t for someone dying, I love enjoy going to them. Before you think I have some sort of weird and darkly morbid personality, consider my reasons for such a statement. First, it’s a family reunion of sorts. Nothing brings family together like a wedding or funeral. It’s an unfortunate chance to see and visit with many relatives who live in other parts of the country. In most of the funerals I attended in small towns in Wisconsin the actual ceremony was followed by a meal in the church’s fellowship hall. It was then that the gathered family (and friends) started to reminisce about the good old days with the dearly departed. Which is my second point. The sadness of death becomes a celebration of life as people share why or how they remember the “guest of honor”. I’ve learned so much family history from just listening to long-lost uncles from Milwaukee or Manitowoc tell their stories, each one trying to top the other. The amount of laughter was almost inappropriate considering it was at a funeral. I guess it was an early lesson about how to remember that a funeral doesn’t have to be a sad and somber time if you can use it as a chance to tell the story of the one you loved and miss. By the way, I don’t mean to diminish anyone who is sad and somber at a funeral. People grieve and mourn in different ways and speeds.

Third, you get to see how many lives are impacted by just one person. When my dad died seven years ago, I was amazed and a little surprised by how many people showed up for the visitation and funeral. I expected the family and friends…but I was blown away by the number of people who knew my dad professionally through his career working as a city employee in the public works department. Several guys came through the line and shook my hand, telling me that they never worked with someone who had such integrity. Others praised his tireless work ethic. Even former neighbors that hadn’t seen him in 20+ years showed up and shared nice memories of him. During the luncheon that was held after the ceremony, there was a microphone available for anyone to share a memory about my dad. It was moving to see people stand up and tell how he had impacted their lives.

Fourth, one word. HUGS! In case you missed it, I’m a big hugger. Literally and figuratively. I suppose it took the deaths of the two most important men in my life, my grandfather in 2005 and my father in 2007, for me to realize the power and importance of human touch, particularly the hug. For some reason, people don’t approach tall guys like me for hugs very often. But, hey, giants are people, too! Hugs are good for the body, mind and soul. Don’t wait for a funeral to give someone a hug, though.

Finally, funerals are inspirational. Hearing the stories and seeing how many people are impacted by just one life inspires me to be a better person. It makes me consider what I’m doing with my life and why I’m doing it. And any time I take to look inward and reflect for a few minutes is time well spent. It also gives me a chance to look around and see how many blessings I have in my life and to remember to not take them for granted. After all, you never know when your time is up, so say what needs to be said and live your life!

Guns For My Kids

When my wife and I had our first child back in 1995 we agreed that our kids wouldn’t have guns. Toy guns or real guns. In fact, we agreed that our house would be gun-free. It wasn’t that big of a deal to me, even though I grew up in a house with cap guns, BB and pellet guns, and larger guns locked away somewhere. Both of my grandpas had guns and so did my uncle. I passed the Hunter Safety course in 6th grade and knew how to handle a gun and how to shoot it. Interestingly enough, with all that exposure to guns during my childhood, I managed to never shoot anyone with anything worse than a squirt gun. Reality is that guns really didn’t play a huge role in my life. I didn’t grow up hunting although my dad did allow me to shoot those pesky starlings in our backyard, even though we lived in the city. I became a pretty good shot with my pump-action BB/pellet gun. But that was the extent of my “hunting” experiences until I shot my first (and only) deer in 2005. The following few hunting seasons provided good exercise but no deer. 

 

So, fast forward to now, May of 2014. My son is 9. Up to this point he’s had an assortment of water guns, Nerf guns, marshmallow guns and other toys like that. But not a real-looking toy gun like my cap pistol from childhood. As fate would have it, two boys are moving in the house across the street from us and my son has become good friends with them. These boys have cap guns and my son requested that we get him one so he could play along with them. After a brief conversation, my wife and I agreed and I bought them for him at the store yesterday. First of all, I didn’t even know that they still made cap guns, so it was a total flashback to my childhood to find them again. And that smell…same as it was 30+ years ago. Ha. My older girls, especially my oldest, was somewhat stunned that we’d “caved” and allowed guns in our house after so many years of not allowing it. (Although, it’s not like my older three girls asked for them at all.) What was especially interesting for me was how important this was for my son to be allowed to have a toy gun. I guess he didn’t expect that we’d agree to it. 

Last night, as he was getting ready for sleep, we were talking about guns since I told him that I would show him how to load and use the cap gun after school the next day (today). I used it as an opportunity to begin to teach him about gun safety and that even though it was a toy, it looked real. So, he needed to only play with it at home and never take it to the store or out in public because someone might see it and call the police and he could get shot if the police thought it was real. I hope I scared him straight with that. I followed that up with a conversation about the importance of NEVER touching or looking at a gun that a friend might try to show him if he’s a friend’s house. Instead, I told him to run away screaming for help to get the attention of an adult so that no one would get hurt. We’ve all read far too many headlines about kids that get shot when they’re just “looking” at their parents’ gun. 

When my wife and I were first married, before we had kids and while still in college, we earned extra income by staying with some kids while their parents went on vacation to places like Cancun or the Bahamas. It was good money and we got to stay in some really nice houses. One family that we stayed with had three boys. The middle boy, Lucas, was the “curious” one, always pushing the limits, checking to see where his boundaries were with us. So, it came as no surprise when Bryant, the older brother, told me that Lucas was climbing in the closet that was supposed to be off limits. When I checked it out, sure enough, Lucas had crawled up to the top shelf and was digging through the boxes up there. Why? He was looking for a key. Not just any key, the key to his dad’s gun safe. And he found that key pretty quickly. Thankfully, I was there to confiscate the key and keep it out of Lucas’s hands, but that really made an impression on me about keeping kids safe from guns. The dad has assured us before their trip that the guns were safely locked away and that the kids had no idea about how to get inside it. Which was why he thought it was fine to keep several boxes of ammo on that top shelf near the key. UGH! 

Now, I don’t begrudge anyone their Second Amendment right to bear arms, but with that right comes a lot responsibility. Chief among that is that safety is the top priority. It was pretty clear that the dad was out of touch when it came to his son’s curiosity about guns and his son’s ability to access the weapons. My buddy who took me deer hunting back in 2005 has two daughters in high school now. He has always had guns in his house. Locked safely away from his kids. But what he did differently with his girls was to teach them how to handle and use guns, starting when they were very little. When I asked him why he did that, his response was so that they would learn to respect the power of the gun while not being afraid of it. So that they could safely handle and dismantle any gun that they might encounter in their lives. In essence, he was empowering them with knowledge that could save their lives. 

I’m not delusional enough to think that getting a toy cap gun is going to change my children into psychopathic monsters as adults. However, I’m kind of glad that they have them to play with. Not because I love the smell of the burnt cap shot (I do, but that’s not the point) or the time they spend chasing each other around with that loud “bang-bang” filling the air as they pretend to shoot each other. It’s because I can use it as a chance to teach my kids some important life lessons that should serve them well as they grow.

Honestly, Do The Right Thing

While at a local park last week my three year old daughter learned the hard way why it’s best to leave her toys in the car. Not even 15 minutes into our time there she had her purse full of goodies (lip stuff, a wooden fan and some hair things) stolen. She had set it down while playing on the swings with her friend and it was gone when she looked for it again a little later on. I’m assuming that another chid took it out of curiosity or envy. That doesn’t bother me as much as the idea that her parent was willing to basically condone that behavior by allowing the child to keep the purse that didn’t belong to her. If my child had done that, you can bet that she would have returned that purse the moment I discovered what she had done. Along with an apology. I’m a good teacher when it comes to apologizing. Lots of practice. Just ask my kids. Or my mom.

A friend of mine, Adrienne, posted on Facebook last week that the cashier at the gas station accidentally put her $45 in the wrong pump. No big deal, except that the person who benefitted from that mistake gladly pumped the extra gas before taking off. $50 of gas for only $5! Merry Christmas, right? Thankfully, my friend kept her cool with the cashier (way to go!) and eventually got reimbursed, so at least her story has a happy ending. During the two and a half years that we’ve lived here in Washington my wife’s car (a small SUV) has been hit three times by hit-and-run drivers while her car was parked. And there was not even as much as a note left. Just the calling card of the hit-and-run artist. I could go on and on, as I’m sure all of you readers could as well, sharing stories of times that we’ve been wronged, victims of other people’s inability unwillingness to do the right thing.

So, what’s the big deal? Why is it important to be honest and do the right thing? Does it really matter? I would argue that it does matter if we live lives of integrity and honesty. In general, as a society we depend of the decency of others in order to make it through our daily lives. Following traffic laws is a pretty easy example. Sure, I go 27 in a 25 zone (not in Fircrest, WA or Rosendale, WI, but that’s another story!) or slightly over the posted speed limit when I’m driving. But I stop at red lights and stop signs and such. You get the idea. And, for the most part, so does everyone else. And as a result, we can get around without too many problems. But I’d rather focus on the opportunities we have, as parents, to show our children how to live and how to do the right thing. After all, they’re always watching us, whether we like it or not.

One time a few years ago while out to eat, my son took his water cup up to the soda fountain to get more water but came back with a cup full of lemonade. Instead of looking the other way, he and I went to the cashier and he explained what had happened and paid for his drink. Once we got home he paid me from his own money for the drink. He no longer swipes drinks from the soda fountain unless it’s been paid for. Lesson learned. There have been numerous times over the years that I’ve been a Stay At Home Dad when I’ve received too much change back (on the rare occasions that I pay with cash) and I always give it back. Even if that means hauling the kids back into the store if I don’t catch it right away. There was one instance, back in 2003, when I was early in my SAHD gig that I bought two items on my way to the airport to go out of town for five days. Problem was, when I got to the airport, I looked at the receipt and realized that I had only been charged for one of the items. The day after I returned, I brought the items and the receipt (along with two young kids) and explained to the customer service rep what had happened and wanted to pay for the item. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that she didn’t know how to do that; that I should just keep the item for free for being so honest. I insisted that I rightfully should’ve paid for the item in the first place and didn’t want to contribute to price mark-ups to make up for stolen items. She shook her head and got her manager, who exclaimed that she had never seen anyone ever! return an item trying to pay for it. After several minutes of furious typing something into the computer at the checkout they finally took my money. I still think of that experience every time I wear that Packers hat or my kids toss that talking Packers football. While it did cost me a few bucks, doing the right thing wasn’t too painful or costly. But that’s not always the case.

A few months after moving here I took an out of town guest and some of our kids to play in the snow at Mount Rainier National Park. While leaving the mostly empty parking lot I managed to back into the rear quarter panel of an unoccupied car that was parked in the lot. It would’ve been easy to check it out and leave. But that thought never crossed my mind. Once I calmed my kids down I wrote a note with my contact information and left it on the person’s car. Later that evening I received an email from the car’s owner. She was very upset (understandable) and a little bit rude to me about my accident. I kindly responded that yes, I did hit her. But she should be thankful that I was raised well by loving parents who taught me good values. So, instead of leaving the scene I owned up to my mistake and did the right thing. I explained that we had been hit-and-run victims multiple times in the first four months of living in Washington, so karma clearly wasn’t working for us in that situation. While it was an expensive mistake to make, the fact that I was able to keep my composure, be honest and do the right thing in front of my children was a priceless lesson for my kids to learn.

Every day we’re faced with situations that are often unpleasant and sometimes even out of our control. I’d encourage you to try to be honest and do the right thing. Even if your kids are not there to watch you, chances are that someone else is. Besides, it feels good. So just do it. (Sorry, Nike.)

Good Bye, Dad. See you in Heaven.

Holding Dad's Hand

My dad passed away seven years ago today. It’s hard to put into words how much I miss him or how often I think of him. Like all of us, he was not a perfect person. He was flawed. Yet, I knew without a doubt that he loved me and was proud of me. How did I know that? Because he got pancreatic cancer that ultimately took his life. But, in the six weeks between his cancer diagnosis and his passing I was able to spend a lot of time with him. At that time I lived two hours away, so I was able to make frequent day trips with my two year old son (pictured) to visit him. y dad was about 10 days from his death, and his body was being ravaged by the effects of the cancer. His skin was turning orange. He lost so much weight that he looked like a concentration camp survivor. And his once-sharp mind was failing, leaving only fleeting moments of lucidity. It was so hard to watch this man I loved all my life suffer while there was nothing I could do to help him. It was during one of those visits at the Hospice facility that my dad had a brief but oh-so-meaningful conversation with me.

He awoke from his sleep and smiled upon seeing me at his bedside, not remembering that I had been there for several hours already that day. I didn’t know if he was going to talk or go back to sleep, but he spoke, asking about how my family was doing. After my reply he proceeded to tell me that he was very proud the man I had become; of my choice to become a Stay At Home Dad six years before. He continued to tell me that he thought I was a good husband and father and that he was pleased with me. This was new to me, as he had not been very verbally supportive of either my college major (Elementary Education) or my career change (teacher to SAHD). He finished by looking me in the eyes, pulling me in for an embrace, and whispering faintly into my ear, “I love you, Carl.” It was the last meaningful conversation I would have with my dad.

Nine days later, on the evening of May 12, my mom called to tell me that the Hospice staff had called her to let her know that they didn’t think my dad would live much longer. Since the next day was Mother’s Day, I was already planning on driving up to see my mom (and dad). But, after her phone call, I left a bit sooner, arriving at the Hospice center around 11 pm. I entered my dad’s room to find my mom and younger brother (and his wife and young son) already there by his bed. We exchanged hugs and kisses and chatted for a few minutes. After a couple of minutes of silence, we decided to sing a few hymns that were among my dad’s favorites, as music had always been a big part of his life. Once the songs were sung, my brother left to take his family back to my parents’ house so they could sleep (my brother would return). My mom and I sat quietly on either side of my dad’s bed, each of us holding one of his hands as he lay in an unresponsive slumber, the silence only broken by each of his labored breaths. We knew that his time was near. As it was already well past midnight by this time, I quietly noted “Happy Mother’s Day” to my mom.

A little after t 1 am that night I noticed that my dad’s breathing had slowed considerably. I held my mom’s hand while we both held my dad’s hands and said a quick prayer, asking God to take my dad home soon so that he wouldn’t suffer any longer. Minutes later, while we were singing a solemn “Amazing Grace” between tears and deep breaths, my dad breathed his last breaths and entered his new home. It was the most sacred and solemn moment of my entire life, to be with a loved one, praying him into the Kingdom. I take great comfort in my faith, believing that I will see my dad again, only this time it will be in Heaven and he won’t be suffering. Later that day, while talking with my kids on the phone about what had happened during the early morning hours of Mother’s Day, one of my kids said something that changed my perspective about the sadness of him dying on Mother’s Day. “It’s okay, Daddy. Now Papa gets to spend Mother’s Day with his mommy in Heaven.”

Good bye, Dad. See you in Heaven.