The Hills are Alive…With the Sound of Munich

It’s Monday morning and we’re on the 8:12 train, heading for the Austrian Alps on our way from Salzburg, Austria to Venice, Italy. My 14 year old daughter (E) and I left Seattle, Washington, last Wednesday and still have over two weeks left on our European vacation. Here are a few of the highlights/lessons learned from our first five days.

  1. It’s always best to be patient and polite. Despite a multitude of travel problems getting out of Seattle (cancelled flight, missed connections, no electronic ticket, long wait on hold…) I was able to keep my cool and not get frustrated at the people or circumstances. It was a good opportunity to extend grace to others even when inside I felt like releasing a Walt Whitman-like “barbaric yawp”.
  2. #1 is easier said than done, especially when you’re really really tired and just want to sleep somewhere that is comfortable. But we did it.
  3. American “passion” for the World Cup is nothing compared to the “PASSION” of Europeans. Yikes. They’re simply mad about it here. Cup Crazy. And it doesn’t matter if their team is any good, as demonstrated by the large crowd of people in London-Heathrow who gathered in front of the TVs to watch the U.S.-Germany game on 26 June. We arrived at our hotel in Brussels just before the start of Belgium’s last game and could hear the cheers and groans of the fans from our room. The loud cheering and horns just after midnight were a little annoying but an indicator of the passion they have for their team. The fever is everywhere. We spent two days in Germany and one in Austria and saw signs, posters, shirts, hats and more all over the place. I guess the only thing I could compare it to is the fervor of NFL fans for their teams, but on a national scale. (Bears fans, think about how you would’ve felt if you’d beaten the Packers in the NFC title game in 2011. Or how you felt in 1985.)
  4. There are a lot of really nice people out there who are willing to talk and visit. We’ve met so many people in just five days of traveling. Thanks to the 10 1/2 hour delay in Seattle we chatted with several fellow passengers who we wouldn’t have known if our flight had been on schedule. A kind lady on the train to Munich sat next to me and helped translate the announcements and even helped us find a hotel upon our arrival. Turns out that she’s a Literature professor at Shenandoah University in northern Virginia, back in Germany for some research this summer. While in Germany I met some people from Australia and some from Bulgaria. I learned that I’m terrible at deciphering accents. Except for American accents. Which leads me to my next point.
  5. Americans are obnoxious tourists. Case in point: while at a small bakery/café in rural Austria on Sunday, the loudest group was a table of five Americans. Completely unaware that their obscenity-laced conversation was dominating the entire room. Come on, people. We can be better than that. I’d expect such self-absorbed behavior from middle schoolers, not from grown adults.
  6. I’m tall. No. REALLY TALL! So tall that lots of people feel the need to point it out to me. I’m not remotely bothered by it. More entertained. At the train station in Cologne a guy who came around begging for money proceeded to dramatically point out how tall I am. Yeah, I’m 5’20” and I wear clown shoes. Move on.
  7. I wore a Packers football shirt on our trip to see castles in Bavaria. It was fun to see so many people say “Go Packers” upon seeing my shirt. Met people from Madison, Waukesha, Waupaca and Appleton. One guy from Atlanta, older and retired, asked me where I was from in Wisconsin. He knew Neenah (the city where I grew up) and all the cities in the Fox Valley…even Little Chute, Kimberly, Kaukauna and Combined Locks. Apparently he did a lot of business up there back in his day. What a small world. Then there was the guy from the suburbs of Chicago who saw my shirt…but what could he say? Turns out he’s a really nice guy (despite his taste in football team) and we had a pleasant conversation on our hike to the bus stop from the castle.
  8. I can understand why a lot of Germans settled in the Midwest when they came to the United States years ago. The rolling countryside of Bavaria is just like what you see in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Seeing the green fields, cows and barns seemed just like “home”.
  9. The public transportation here in Europe is amazing. We’ve taken trains everywhere and it’s been terrific. No hassles about parking. I can read or blog (like I am now) or enjoy the scenery. There is always a nearby WC for when nature calls. And you can rest. E has discovered that sleeping on trains is a great way to fight jet-lag. You just can’t do that if you’re driving. Too bad we Americans are so obsessed with our cars. And I’m certainly guilty of that.
  10. Solar power. I wonder how much less reliance on fossil fuels we would have in America if we put solar panels on top of our buildings? It’s so common here. There were even solar farms with hundreds of panels in dozens of rows. The technology exists. Why don’t we use it?
  11. Europeans seem to get a lot of lifestyle exercise. Our legs are already sore from all of the walking we’ve been doing and we’ve only been here for four days. A ten to fifteen minute walk is not considered a big deal over here. Maybe I should try to implement some of that mentality in my own life. Build in extra time for walking. Or biking. There are also a lot of bikers, including parents pulling young children. Even in the rain.
  12. A good breakfast is a very good thing. We’ve enjoyed the fresh fruits, pastries, eggs and sausages every morning so far.
  13. I can understand more German than I thought I would. My Spanish minor from college isn’t helping me much, but there are quite a few words that I pick up from time to time when hearing German announcements or reading sign
  14. Rude cell phone users know no nationality. They’re everywhere. Trains. Cafes. Shops. Hotel lobbies. Sidewalks. Bus stops. Even castles and gardens. The lady in the train compartment with us is now on her third call. Seriously.
  15. Speaking of cell phones…it’s been nice not having cell coverage here. Unplugged vacation (at least during the day) is quite a throwback. While having a smart phone is nice it’s been pleasant to use it just as a camera during the day. I will admit that there have been multiple times that I would’ve googled something to find out more about where we were but couldn’t since I have no coverage here. Yet, we still managed.
  16. Don’t buy stinky cheese and then put it in your backpack. Even if it’s wrapped and double-bagged in Zip-Lock bags it’s still going to stink. It was going to be my lunch today but I don’t think my fellow passengers on the train would be very happy if I opened it up. Although, if that lady next to me starts on her cell phone again…
  17. I really love history. I knew that already but it’s being confirmed on this trip. And, it appears that E loves it as well. She impressed our tour guide (who happens to be a history professor in Switzerland) with her knowledge on our trip to the castles in Bavaria. While over half our tour group rudely talked during his short historical presentation (on the train to the castles), E was really into it and he was pleased. So much that on the way back after the tours he came over and spent a lot of extra time telling us more details and sharing interesting tidbits with us that the rest of the group didn’t hear. Which reminds me, history is fascinating when presented properly. It’s too bad that so many people hate history because of the boring way it’s often taught in schools. Hearing about how King Ludwig of Bavaria sold his kingdom to King Bismarck of Prussia for money to build his famous Neuschwanstein Castle was incredible. But, that’s not all to the story. It gets better. Yet, we only learned that information because our tour guide happens to love history and shared his passion with us. Without him, we wouldn’t have known that, to this day, King Ludwig is still despised and hated by the people of Bavaria. And that his castle, made famous by Walt Disney, is a symbol of greed and selfishness to the locals while a beautiful tourist spot for almost everyone else. Also, in the nearby small town of Füssen there is a statue of the uncle of King Ludwig who removed Ludwig from the throne. Every day a new wreath or crown of some sort is placed upon his head by the local people, as display of their affection for him, even though these events all took place over 125 years ago. Now, THAT is history coming alive.
  18. I miss my family. Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving this trip and the break from the daily responsibilities of being a Stay At Home Dad. But, seeing little kids with their parents makes me miss my own kids that are at back in the States. I especially miss the snuggling and cuddling of my little girls, ages 4 and 1. But, then I hear the same cute kids fussing, fighting or screaming and I don’t miss them quite as much. I really appreciate FaceTime. It’s nice to see my family for at least a few moments.
  19. Of course, visiting so many romantic spots here makes me miss my own true-love, but I doubt anyone wants me to go on about that. If they’re reading this, I’m sure my own kids are losing their appetites at the very thought. I love her and am thankful for her hard work at home to care for our kids (with the help of her mom – thanks!) and to fund this trip.
  20. Finally, I’m reminded of the importance of this one on one time with my daughter. She’s really a great person and I like being around her. The memories that we’re making on this trip are priceless and precious. I’m looking forward to what the next two weeks holds in store for us.

Check out many more photos of our trip on the Big Cheese Dad Facebook page. Watch for daily additions to the Europe Trip 2014 album. We’re going to be in Italy for the next week, followed by a few days in Paris before finishing our trip in London.

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Big Cheese Takes Flight

Over the next three weeks you’re going to notice a bit of a change in my blog. I’m off for nearly three weeks in Europe with my sharp Little Cheese, aged 14 years, but not on a wood plank! Many thanks to Mrs. Big Cheese and MIL Big Cheese for watching the Cheese Curds in my absence. We are whey excited to visit Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France and England. Watch this space for updates of our European vacation.

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Yeah, that’s my head hitting the ceiling. Pretty much the way it always is on airplanes.

Psych! After over 90 minutes on board, waiting for some mechanical issues to be resolved, we deplaned and are in the gate area. Still in Seattle. The good news is that the problems were discovered on the ground as opposed to in the air. Pretty sure we’re going to miss our connecting flights to Brussels later this afternoon.

 

A Chance To Pay It Forward

Oren

I started blogging about nine months ago. During that time I’ve shared a lot of stories about my family and how being a full time Stay At Home Dad has challenged me to be a better man, husband and father. I’ve blogged about some of the triumphs and some of the failures that I’ve experienced as a parent. I’ve written about some current events and even shared the story of the Frehley, the eleven year old daughter of my friend AJ who has inoperable brain cancer. Frehley’s story really gave me pause, as it is a parent’s worst nightmare, to see your child get sick and hear the terrible words, “There’s nothing more medically that we can do other than to keep her comfortable.” Well, unfortunately, at the end of May, the founder and creator of a dad-blogger group/community that I’ve been a part of was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. My friend, Oren Miller, happens to also be a SAHD. He has a wife and two young children. The “normal” life expectancy for his diagnosis is roughly 12 months. That hit home for me in a big way. Here’s a guy who gave up his career to be Daddy and, barring a miracle, his children are soon going to be without their Daddy. Just typing that makes me choke up at the very thought.

So, why am I telling you this? Here is an opportunity for you (yes, YOU!) to get involved. Oren and his wife, Beth, have not asked anyone for help. In fact, shortly after receiving his devastating news, Oren wrote one of the most beautiful and moving pieces I’ve ever read. It is because of the love and courage that Oren has always shown – even in the face of such adversity – that one of the guys in the Dad Blog group thought it would be cool if our group of roughly 800 guys could raise $5,000 to send Oren and his family on a nice vacation this summer. That goal was reached within 12 hours. So, the bar has been raised several times and now donations have surpassed $25,000, with a new goal of $35,000. This money is going to help pay for Oren’s medical treatments, to put some money away for his kids and to help pay for some memorable family experiences this summer.

Often there’s a stigma attached to people who ask for help or need help. Let’s put that aside and realize that this is simply a chance to make a difference for a hurting family. Even if you don’t know Oren personally (I haven’t met him, but I’ve still been impacted by his friendship and leadership), chances are pretty good that you have a friend or relative who had cancer. Maybe you could make a donation as a way to honor the memory of that loved one. Or, maybe, just do it out of the goodness of your heart. Every bit helps. In this case, the GiveForward site has generously offered to donate an additional $25 for every blog about Oren that links to his donation site, up to 40. That’s an additional $1,000 just for taking the time to write. Think about how much more we could help if we actually got involved. Don’t be afraid to step out and give. There’s this phenomenon that’s commonly called bystander apathy.

This  phenomenon refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. –Startups and Burritos blog

If you’re willing to step out from the crowd and share your blessings with Oren and his family please click here to donate at the GiveForward site. If you’re unable to give financially at this time, I know that Oren and his family would welcome any and all prayers and healing thoughts. As always, please share this with others who might be willing to help make the magic happen.

50 Things That Are More Offensive Than Nursing In Public

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I find it hard to believe that American society still has such a hang up when it comes to the rights of mothers to nurse in public. As a father of six children who all were nursed (some still are!) by my amazing wife, I have always been and always will be a huge supporter and defender of the rights of women to publicly breastfeed. Breastfeeding has been in the news again because Facebook recently relaxed its ban on breastfeeding photos and also because a 25 year old woman graduating from college had the audacity to discreetly nurse her young child durning the commencement ceremony. To fight back, I respectfully (and sometimes disrespectfully!) give you my list of 50 Things That Are More Offensive Than Nursing In Public.

  1. People who give you unsolicited parenting advice.
  2. Using phones for pretty much any reason at the movies, but especially talking.
  3. People who can’t park their cars between the lines in parking lots.
  4. People who talk about politics or religion and then get mad when you don’t agree with them.
  5. Parents who bring their sick (feverish, coughing, sniffling, sneezing, wheezing, hacking or fluid-dripping) child to the park or indoor play area.
  6. People who complain that McDonald’s food isn’t healthy. You’re at McDonald’s. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
  7. Drivers who don’t signal their intentions. Use your stinking turn signal already!
  8. The one-upper. You know, that co-worker who always has a story to top the one that was just told.
  9. Moms that dress like teenagers when out with their teenagers.
  10. Garbage dumping on social media. Marginally outdone by #11.
  11. Drama-seeking and Vaguebooking on Facebook. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
  12. People who pay for groceries in pennies. Or a check that they have to hand-write even though the machine will do it in 1/10 the time.
  13. Loud cell phone talkers. Particularly annoying on airplanes, buses and subway trains.
  14. The SBD. Silent But Deadly farts. Might be the guy sleeping next to you on a plane or the person who just exited the elevator.
  15. Left-lane cruisers. Oblivious. Almost always a middle-aged woman in a Prius or Subaru Outback.
  16. Saggers. You know, mostly teens who wear their pants around their knees. No one wants to see your boxers.
  17. People who show up in the Express Lane at the grocery store with a cart that exceeds the 15 item limit by about 30.
  18. Guys who talk about their Fantasy Football team. No one cares. Really.
  19. People who smoke while hiking so others following them get to smell smoke instead of trees, flowers or grasses. Not that kind of grass!
  20. The Duck Face. Just. Don’t. Unless you’re really a duck. Then it’s fine.
  21. Open mouth chewing of food, gum or toothpicks. Don’t even get me started with chewing tobacco and related spitting.
  22. People who abuse handicapped parking tags and plates.
  23. The word MOIST.
  24. My kids that leave one square of toilet paper on the roll but don’t change it because it’s (technically) not out.
  25. Drivers who don’t stop at stop signs. The California roll…
  26. Cyclists who ignore traffic laws and get mad when drivers don’t see them or (nearly) hit them.
  27. Public urination, particularly when the individual is drunk.
  28. Karaoke night. Exacerbated by alcohol consumption and/or false sense of one’s ability to carry a tune.
  29. Texting while driving.
  30. Holding your phone to your face while driving so that nearly half of your vision is blocked so that you nearly run into a father and his child who were walking in the crosswalk. (True story.)
  31. When people overuse the phrases “I know, right?” and “I’m just sayin'”
  32. Drivers who pass a car on the highway, cut in front of them in order to immediately take the exit. Bonus for doing that to a semi-truck.
  33. People who use their cell phones at the dinner table and say, “Oh, nothing. I’m just eating dinner with so-and-so.” Makes your dinner company feel mighty important.
  34. Heck, people who always take calls even if they’re in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with you.
  35. Talking loudly at the movies. Heck, doing anything other than watching the movie. Except breastfeeding, of course.
  36. Drivers that are in such a hurry that they pass around stopped cars and narrowly miss hitting pedestrians in the crosswalk where the other cars were stopped.
  37. America’s obsession with the Kardashians.
  38. People who comment “Blame Obama” for anything online. Same for those who comment “Blame Bush”.
  39. Hit and run jerks drivers.
  40. People who are oblivious to anyone around them. For example: stopping to text while in the middle of a busy sidewalk or blocking the aisle with your shopping cart while texting.
  41. When the person in front of you in line at Subway has a list of subs greater than two. Of course there are complicated toppings for each one.
  42. Neighbors who throw loud parties late into the night (technically early morning) in a residential neighborhood. On a school night. And then proceed to have a loud and obscenity-laced discussion about who makes the best f-ing chili.
  43. Short people who request exit row seating on airplanes.
  44. People who recline their seats on airplanes without looking back or giving any kind of warning and crushing your kneecaps.
  45. People who take to Facebook and spoil movies or tv shows.
  46. Mosquitoes.
  47. Drivers waiting to turn left who don’t pull forward when the light turns green.
  48. Fake accents. Unless you’re really really good at it, you sound like a fool, y’all.
  49. People who use the phrase “Mr. Mom” to describe Stay At Home Dads. Try Dad. It’s shorter and more accurate.
  50. Anyone who gives a nursing mother any grief about her decision to feed her child the most natural way possible. If you don’t like what you see then turn away and look somewhere else. And keep your negative thoughts to yourself.

If you agree that women need to feel empowered to nurse in public please share this list across social media platforms. I’d love to be a small part of the growing support for all moms (and dads!) to care for their babies as they see fit and without public scorn.

No Thanks, Hallmark

Sunday marked the 20th time that I was fortunate enough to celebrate Father’s Day as a father. It also marked the lamest Father’s Day that I can recall. But that’s okay. I’ve come to accept that reality. All day long my Facebook newsfeed was filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of friends writing beautiful posts that honored the men in their lives as wonderful and amazing fathers and husbands. Many of my friends in the blogging community wrote marvelous pieces about their own dads in the weeks leading up to this Hallmark holiday. If you’ve read my blog you know that I’m not much of a fan of these contrived holidays that try to guilt people into buying Mom or Dad expensive stuff or cards as the way to express their love. Instead, I’m all about actually telling your loved ones how you feel and spending time with them. Gifts are not necessary if you’re showing your loved ones how much you care more than just one day a year!

That said, I think it’s nice to recognize moms and dads and to make them feel extra special and extra appreciated for all that they do for us. Again, it’s not about the commercialization of it, but rather about meaningful and purposeful interactions. The commercial lead-up to Mother’s Day is all about giving Mom a break, pampering her with a trip to a spa, showing her how much she means to her family. By contrast, it seems as though Father’s Day is all about Dad spending time with his family. Grilling. Going to a ball game or the beach. Hanging out at the pool. Doing “manly” stuff with the family. What’s interesting to note, though, is how we Stay At Home Dads are treated on Father’s Day. For many of us, Father’s Day is just another day. We still do our regular day-to-day things. Cooking. Cleaning. Laundry. Childcare. Same old same old. My wife remembered that it was Father’s Day shortly after we woke up and wished me a happy Father’s Day while waving our one year old’s hand at me. My other kids each verbally told me the same when they saw me the first time that morning. But that was pretty much the extent of any “celebration” at home. Lots of people at church wished me a happy Father’s Day and said some very nice things about me as a person and as a father. And then it was back home, where I fed the kids lunch, changed more diapers, unloaded the dishwasher and finally sat on the sofa, holding my baby in my arms as she fell asleep for her afternoon nap. My wife arrived home from work mid-nap so we chatted for a little bit, which was nice, considering it’s not often that all the kids are quiet at the same time and we’re awake and able to converse. Once my baby awoke I loaded and started the second load of dishes in the dishwasher. Then I made a spectacular dinner of cedar plank grilled Alaskan salmon and noodles to go with freshly-picked sugar snap peas from our garden. As we were eating our dinner the kids were discussing the tasty salmon.

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This is really good. Almost as good as a restaurant. Don’t you agree?

My wife actually indicated that it might have been even better than any salmon she’s ever had from a restaurant. It was as close to a compliment that I was going to get, and it made me feel so much better. Of course, running through my head moments later was the long list of stuff that still needed to get done before I went to bed. Among them was unloading and reloading (for the third time in 24 hours) the dishwasher. Putting away the dinner leftovers. Doing the hand-wash dishes. Tidying up the rest of the clutter on the main floor. Oh, and helping my daughter put the finishing touches on her World War I diorama. And, I really wanted to find some time to write since it had been a week since my last post. I was actually starting to resent the fact that no one was making a big deal about me today. I working up some seriously (self-) righteous indignation about my “perceived” injustice of this lame Father’s Day. It was after helping with the diorama that I showered my baby and then snuggled her to sleep on the sofa (again). Since I was immobile then, I checked in on Facebook. I read a thread to a group of SAHDs, some of whom were also having to cook and clean and take care of their kids on this Special Day. Then I read a post from Chris Routly of Daddy Doctrines blog, a fellow SAHD and blogger, a guy I’m fortunate enough to call a friend. Here are his words, used with his permission.

Just want to wish all of you, my stay-at-home-brothers, a huge Happy Father’s Day. I hope you’ve been spoiled and showered with encouragement and recognition for the important role you play.

That said, I know that for many of us, today is a bittersweet day, where what we contribute EVERY day of the year is mostly overlooked while we see dads get honored for being breadwinners and providers, not for their ability and willingness to put the needs of their child before their own. For some of us the only difference today was we maybe got a card, but not a lot of specific thanks of recognition. Somehow many of us still ended up cooking and cleaning and minding the kids.

And so I just want to let you know that WE all see what you do. WE appreciate your hard work and sacrifice and the often thankless nature of this role you’ve taken on.

The truth is, we’re a lucky bunch. Many, many working dads look forward to Father’s Day not so much for a gift or a steak or maybe a little action between the sheets, but because it means he gets to unabashedly delight in his kids for a day.

Us? We get to do that every day.

Happy Father’s Day, brothers.

There is was. TRUTH. PERSPECTIVE. I needed the reminder that I don’t do what I do for the recognition from others. Not even my own family. Yet, I do it for my family. It’s the role that I chose 14 years ago and choose to continue to choose now and for the foreseeable future. I am blessed with a hard-working wife who has a great job which allows me the opportunity to be home with our children. I get to be active and involved in the lives of my kids. I am exponentially closer to them because I’m a SAHD than I would be if were going off to work every day outside of the house. And the reality is, I do delight in my kids every single day. We laugh and love all the time. I am constantly entertained by them and their silly senses of humor. So, Hallmark can keep its cards. I don’t need any card or t-shirt to tell me that I’m the “World’s Greatest Dad” or “#1 Dad”. Nope. All I needed was right in front of me the whole time. I just wasn’t seeing it properly. Snuggling with my baby like that while she napped was exactly where I needed to be at that moment. Truly, I’m blessed beyond belief to be called “Daddy” by my six wonderful children.

Five Days in June

At 7:29 am, on June 5, 2013, our sixth child entered this world and officially became a part of our family. Five days later, almost to the minute, our oldest moved out. What happened in between was a flurry of emotions and pomp and circumstance. Literally. That fifth day in June, a Wednesday, was our oldest daughter’s last day of school at Stadium High. She was excited to be finishing this chapter of her life even though she didn’t have definite plans for her future. But before her final day could even begin my wife began having contractions at 4:30 am. She woke me at about 5:00 to inform me of the immediate change of our plans for that day…and if I wanted a shower NOW was the time to take it. After getting dressed I helped her pack the bag for the hospital, alerted my sleeping mom (who had just arrived the previous day from Wisconsin) and escorted my wife to the car for the drive to the hospital. That drive to the hospital was supposed to take about 12 minutes. It took us closer to 30 minutes because I had to pull over every 2-4 minutes so she could get out of the car and endure the next set of contractions. I’m pretty sure her shrieking really freaked out some guy sitting quietly at a bus stop about 20 feet away during one of the stops. Being a doctor herself, my wife didn’t want to go through the “normal” route to Labor & Delivery, instead choosing to park in the doctor’s lot and walk through the basement to the elevators. Several contractions and concerned looks from hospital employees later we found ourselves at the L&D desk. After a few minutes in the waiting room, where we shrieked out another family, we finally got roomed. Baby J didn’t wait very long to make her appearance once we were settled there. In fact, the doctor on call barely made it back to the room to catch her. Even though I’d been blessed to be a part of five other deliveries, I teared up when she was born and thanked God for the health of mother and child. There is something truly beautiful and miraculous about childbirth. Amazingly enough, this was the first and only delivery in which it was only the two of us in the room with our new baby (and medical team, of course). For each of the other five births we had a gallery of family and friends in the delivery room with us. Pretty sure one of them was standing room only. So, there was something particularly tender about sharing this moment with just my wife and our new baby daughter.

Baby J only a few minutes old.

After a few minutes of gazing at this new child, I called home to tell the good news of Baby J’s arrival. I texted a picture of her and our almost three year old was rather unimpressed with the “cheese” on her new baby sister. We assured her that it would wash off and that made her feel a little bit better. The rest of the morning was spent resting in the room, recovering from the early start and the physical exertion of shoving out delivering a 10 pound baby! After lunch, my oldest (remember, she was at school) texted me, wondering if I was going to pick her up at 2:15 as usual. Since her school was visible from the hospital, I told her that I could drive the few blocks to get her but that she’d have to come back with me to the room. She was excited to meet her baby sister and pleased with the knowledge that she would be the first sibling to make her acquaintance. Her friend Blanca wasn’t too upset to be along for the meet and greet. By about 4 pm we had been given the clearance to go home, so we slowly made our way back down to the car and packed our baby in for the much shorter ride home.

Bringing Baby J home to meet the excited family.

We were greeted at home by four extremely excited siblings and two equally excited grandmothers. It was certainly fortuitous timing that they both arrived (one from Wisconsin and one from Florida) the previous day in advance of my oldest daughter’s Saturday graduation. It’s mostly a blur for me, but I know that we ate an early dinner before departing for my daughter’s softball game about an hour later. It was kind of odd to be watching her play not even 12 hours after watching my baby make her grand entrance. I’m pretty sure I slept well that first night. Thursday and Friday passed without major events. In order to give my wife and baby quiet time together, I took my toddler and our visitors out for much of each day to see some of the local sights. I felt a little bit guilty, that somehow I was neglecting my duties as a SAHD, but my wife assured me that peace and quiet were much appreciated so that she could nurse and nap, uninterrupted. I guess the biggest event was the gradation dress rehearsal for my oldest at the Tacoma Dome. We were spoiled by the presence of both grandmas, who took over cooking, cleaning and childcare while they were visiting. That allowed us to focus on bonding with our new baby. I believe I bonded with her a few times in the form of her napping on my chest while I napped on the sofa. Even now, she’s still Daddy’s girl. Don’t tell my wife.

Saturday was sunny and warm, perfect weather for an indoor graduation ceremony. We arrived at the venue all dressed up and ready to cheer on our graduate. After finding 10 seats together (no small task) we sat down, unprepared for the emotions that were about to seize us. It was quite surreal for me to watch my oldest walking with her friend into the arena while holding my three day old baby almost literally in the palm of my hand.

The graduate holding her baby sister

The graduate holding her baby sister

It was like two worlds colliding. Both filled with so much hope and excitement yet at such different places in life. At some point during the ceremony I made eye contact with my wife and noticed that she, like me, was quite teary. For me, it was a combination of relief and pride and hope. Relief that our daughter had graduated. It’s no secret that her math class (which was needed for graduation) was a major challenge that wasn’t fully resolved until a few days before graduation. And pride. Pride knowing that our daughter had made it this far and pride in successfully raising and guiding a smart, secure and talented young lady to this point in her life. And hope. Hope for her future, as uncertain as it was a year ago. Hope and a belief that she would successfully find her own way in life. After the graduation ceremony we took lots of pictures and then went out for dinner at our favorite local Mexican restaurant to celebrate our daughter’s accomplishment.

Since both grandmothers were in Washington at the same time and our oldest daughter was still “home”, we were allowed a special baby dedication ceremony at our church on Sunday morning. It was a special opportunity for our church family to meet our tiny bundle of joy and rejoice with us. After church was over we said our goodbyes to Florida Grandma and her husband and returned home for more rest and relaxation for mom and baby. I took my mom (Wisconsin Grandma) and three of our kids to Northwest Trek wildlife park. We had a great time learning about and observing the many animals. Perhaps the highlight of the visit was my almost three year old losing her Croc shoe in the water of the bobcat exhibit. It was retrieved for us by a park ranger and returned with the warning, “This should be sterilized before anyone touches it.” But, I digress. While we were at NW Trek, our graduate was busily gathering her belongings and packing what she was taking with her in some large canvas duffel bags. Her plane was scheduled to leave the next morning. It was getting real. My oldest was moving out. There was no stopping her. No last minute change of heart. I don’t even remember what her “last supper” was but I do know that we finished off that evening with s’mores over the campfire in the backyard fire pit.

We hit the road relatively early on Monday morning to get my oldest daughter and Wisconsin Grandma to SeaTac Airport on time. I was determined to not lose it until she left. I almost made it. As I was unloading the last of her bags on to the curb I could feel the tears start to build. We posed for a couple last pictures together before she headed into her future.

So long. Farewell.

So long. Farewell.

It was not lost on me that I dropped her off at almost the exact same time that her baby sister had been born five days earlier. As I pulled away from the curb my emotions washed over me like a wave crashing on the shore. I pulled off at the end of the drop off area and cried. Just. Cried. Through the tears I had the presence to thank God for allowing me to be her Daddy for those first 18 years. And now, with her leaving the safety of our home, I was releasing her into God’s care. While I know that she’ll always be my little girl and that I’ll always be her daddy, there was such a fierce emotion that was released when the finality of her life at home came to be a reality. After a few minutes I had gained my composure enough to drive home where I held my baby and kissed her head.

Short Shorts and School

Recently in Montreal, Canada, an 11th grade girl named Lindsey Stocker was suspended after her teacher enforced the school rule about her shorts being too short and she refused to comply with it. After she was suspended she posted flyers around the school that read:

Don’t humiliate her because she is wearing short. It’s hot outside. Instead of shaming girls for their bodies, teach boys that girls are not sexual objects.

A photo of Lindsey Stocker in the offending shorts.

This story is very interesting to me because people have taken it in a variety of directions. There are people who support her and feel that she was brave for standing up for herself. There are people who think she’s a spoiled brat teenager who needs to follow the rules. There are people who agree with her but also understand the idea of saving the short shorts for places where it’s more appropriate. There are people who feel that this type of school policy feeds into the rape culture of today. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As a SAHD dad of six children and a former 7th grade teacher I can understand and appreciate many sides of this complex issue. I have five daughters. The older three, now 19, 14 and 12, all have their own sense of style and fashion that I, a 41 year old dad, don’t always understand. I have encouraged each of them to dress how they want as long as it’s appropriate for the situation. That gives them a lot of power and control over their wardrobe choices but also places some responsibility on them as well. Just because they could wear something doesn’t mean that they should. I was able to relate to them many instances from my short five year career as a 7th grade teacher when the wardrobe choices of students, both girls and boys, interfered with their education. If a girl is constantly tugging on her skirt or shorts to pull them down then she’s being distracted from concentrating on her studies just like if a boy is pulling up his pants so they don’t show his boxers. I want them to dress comfortably so that they can focus on their education and not their clothing.

Fair or not, another reality of school, and life in general, is that people will judge you by what you wear. Sure, there’s a wonderful saying to not judge a book by its cover and it’s true. Yet, at the same time, people all have their own preconceived notions and life experiences and they use those things to interpret what they see every day. It’s not always fair or accurate but it happens. I tried to dress professionally when I was teaching. Sure, I could wear jeans and a t-shirt every day, but I chose to wear khakis and a collared shirt and often a tie. Did that make me a better teacher than those that didn’t dress up? Certainly not. But it worked for me. I guess my former students would have to weigh in if they felt the appearance of their teachers made any difference in the quality of the education they received. Back in the 80s and early 90s I don’t recall any of my teachers wearing jeans or t-shirts. But by the late 90s and early 2000s that was more the norm at my school in Wisconsin. What’s it like now? My limited experiences in my kids’ schools shows a variety of attire among the staff, some that I would consider professional and some that are borderline unprofessional, if not downright sloppy.

While I appreciate that this young lady is trying to fight for her right to wear whatever she wants I think that she’s misguided in her efforts. A lot in life is about timing. It seems like she chose the wrong time and place to express her displeasure with the school’s dress code. Instead of disrespecting the teacher and administrator by refusing to comply with the established code she could have voiced her displeasure before it got warm and she wanted to wear the short shorts. It seems as though she was prepared to go into battle over this issue because she printed and posted the signs quickly after the initial confrontation. Instead of going into this with a mindset of I’ll show them she could’ve asked for an appointment with the administrator at her school and had a legitimate discussion. It wouldn’t have made for such a sensational story or gotten her the 15 minutes of fame with the media, but maybe it would’ve helped foster some actual policy change. Or at least saved her the humiliation of being on the wrong side of the dress code.

And speaking of the school’s dress code, I was reminded of a very heated staff meeting we had at my school when the principal dared to bring up the topic of the student dress code. People that I respected and considered friends were on opposite sides of the spectrum. Some felt that kids should be able to wear whatever they wanted while others felt that there was need for some modesty and consideration for others. After about 10 minutes it was obvious that there was little common ground and the issue was basically left unresolved. What that experience taught me was that even though there was a dress code in the student handbook, there were plenty of teachers who would refuse to enforce it and simply look the other way. Why did that matter? Imagine if a student came to my class in 4th period and I noticed that the shirt had something inappropriate on it that violated the dress code. If I bust that kid for not complying and he tells me that the teachers in his first three classes didn’t care…what kind of a message does that send the students? It’s confusing at best and downright impossible to follow at worst. As a teacher and as a parent, I’ve learned that my kids will thrive when I’m consistent with discipline and clearly communicate my expectations. When I fail to do those two things then I’m inviting trouble.

Finally, while I can appreciate that this young lady wants to make this suspension about rape culture in school and how this needs to be turned into a discussion about how to educate boys to not sexualize girls, I think she’s wrong. I agree that those are huge problems in our society that need to be dealt with immediately. But that’s unrelated to her suspension. She was suspended for not complying with the school’s established rules and disrespectfully disobeying when given the chance to make it right. It’s unfortunate, because those issues are important and must be dealt with sooner than later. The recent killing spree that left seven people dead in California should serve as a wake up call about how important it is to deal with misogyny in our society. Women are too often devalued and looked at only as sexual objects, a message that is promoted through television, movies, magazines, video games, the porn industry and many online groups. That thinking must change. But I don’t see how a high schooler defiantly wearing short shorts to school promotes that change.