Finding Nora

My oldest daughter, Nora, age 19, is no longer with us. Not that way not with us. Just not here.

My three redheads just before Nora left with her guitar for Toowoomba

My three redheads just before Nora left with her guitar for Toowoomba

I brought her to the airport in Seattle on January 20th and watched her saunter off through security to her airplane that would take her first to San Francisco, and then across the Pacific to Sydney, Australia. Her final destination was Toowoomba, Australia. To get there she flew from Sydney to Brisbane and then took a bus to Toowoomba. (Go ahead, say it out loud. You’re guaranteed to smile. It’s a fun word to say.) She’s on a semester-long quest to find out how God wants to use her and her amazing musical talents. She even started a blog to share her journey with others. You can check it out by clicking this link to Nora’s Blog. Here’s a quote from her first entry.

I’m part of a program for the next five months called “Music and Worship Discipleship Training School” (DTS). The DTS is run by Youth With A Mission Toowoomba (YWAM). For the first three months of the DTS, we’ll be studying the Word and diving deeper into a multi-faceted understanding of God. The remaining two months will be spent serving the city of Toowoomba as well as going with an outreach team to evangelize and be the hands and feet of Jesus in Southeast Asia. My DTS consists of 34 students from all over the world and 24 passionate leaders who give generously of their time and resources to teach us. I’m blown away by the fact that our leaders took up unpaid positions just because they genuinely care about us and want to spread the word of Jesus.

Youth With A Mission believes in championing young people everywhere. Orientation weekend was so great because I was able to connect with all of my fellow classmates and learn about the various cultures represented here in Toowoomba. Our leaders have emphasized that God doesn’t called the qualified; rather, He qualifies the called. No matter what place we come from in society, whether we have a degree or not, God qualifies us to do His good works. We can glorify Him in any job, any country, and in all circumstances. 

I’m guessing that some of you are wondering why I’m putting such religious stuff in my blog about being a Stay At Home Dad. Well, I’m not trying to push anything on your or preach. Nope, I’m just a proud papa sharing some really great news about his oldest kid. As a parent, and specifically as a SAHD, I’ve spent countless hours with Nora since she was born almost 20 years ago. I’ve had moments of success and moments that were learning experiences of how not to parent. We’ve shared thousands of laughs, many tears and many more triumphs. As the eldest, Nora was the one who blazed the trail for her five siblings. And by blazed the trail I mean bore the brunt of my parenting learning curve. Yet, miraculously, it appears I may not have screwed her up as badly as I thought. She’s a pretty awesome person and is following her heart and her faith by going to Australia. I’m grateful for the young woman she has become and excited to see what will be her next step after this semester. If you’re of the praying persuasion please keep her in your thoughts and prayers these next few months. I’m sure she would be encouraged by a positive word on her blog as well.

Ultimately, what’s really enjoyable for me as a parent is to watch my children grow and become more independent, knowing that I played a significant role in their development. Sometimes I get to see it when my youngest (19 months old) listens to me and doesn’t reach into the toilet while I’m rinsing her soiled cloth diaper and sometimes I get to see it from half a world away when my eldest (19 years old) is attending school in Australia. It puts the daily ups and downs of parenting into a little bit broader perspective, especially if you’re a parent of only younger children. What you’re doing now is worth it! Keep it up! G’day, mate!

Moments before Nora left for her journey to Australia

Moments before Nora left for her journey to Australia. Time for one last selfie!

PS-If any of you are interested in sending a care package to Nora, the only address I know for Australia is:

P. Sherman

42 Wallaby Way

Sydney

I guess you’d have to contact her through her blog (or message me) to get the actual one.

20 Things Only Dad Can Do

Recently a mom posted a list of 15 Things Only A Mom Can Do and I read it, fascinated to learn that I’ve been living a lie as a Stay At Home Dad for the last 13+ years. According to her blog, I’m actually a mom. Who knew? But, thanks to her entertaining and enlightening post, I was inspired to come up with my own list for dads, some serious and some not. Since there is no “sarcasm font” please know that I’m not trying to incite any Mommy Wars here, just trying to show that we dads are not getting our undies all in a jam over her humorous list.

20 Things Only Dad Can Do

  1. Spider control. There is a distinct shriek that beckons me to grab a tissue and come rescue my family from the menacing arachnid.
  2. Pee while standing. No comment about the aim or drips. Sorry.
  3. Lift and lower the toilet seat. Amazing. It goes up and down. Just don’t leave it up if you have a wife and/or daughters. Or a potty-training child. Or a walking toddler. Just put it down already!
  4. Plunger duty. I said duty…he he.
  5. Set and empty mouse traps. They’re not so cute when they’re scurrying across the kitchen floor…or when they’re caught.
  6. Gross out the kids by telling them their mom is hot. Gratuitous PDA or butt grab is optional, but(t) effective.
  7. Make Daddy cookies. Maybe that’s just me and my kids. And here’s the secret ingredient: The Mixing Dance.
  8. Remember useless sports stats, teams, plays and players from 30+ years. But forgets what his wife just told him five minutes ago.
  9. Get in trouble for saying “we’re pregnant” too soon. Or at all. Or to the wrong people.
  10. Get in trouble for making his wife pregnant. Usually uttered during the throes of labor pain, something along the lines of “You did this to me!”. And, no, he cannot imagine what the pain is like.
  11. Gain sympathy weight during his wife’s pregnancy. But then has trouble losing it since he’s not the one who actually gave birth. Oops.
  12. Be supportive of his wife (and any mom) if she chooses to breastfeed. If the Pope agrees it must be good, right? Besides, NIP is protected by law and not offensive.
  13. Nut shot empathy. There’s an involuntary cringe and leg crossing whenever he sees someone’s twig and berries receive a direct hit. Could be an athlete (in real life or on TV) or a fellow dad at the park.
  14. Take 15 minutes to drop a deuce. It’s his throne. Leave him alone. Don’t bother him like in the movie This Is 40. And don’t try to talk to him in there.
  15. Teach his son public urinal etiquette. Ladies, you want no part of this unless you’re prepared to explain why and how a trough might be used in a restroom instead of individual urinals.
  16. Daddy donut dates. Doesn’t help with #11 but that time spent with Dad is so worth it.
  17. Be the Father of the Bride. I know I’m going to cry if/when any of my five daughters get married. I look forward to it all the same.
  18. Be praised for being involved and engaged as a parent when Mom isn’t there. Something Moms have been doing for years, usually without recognition. Let’s encourage all parents to be involved.
  19. Be asked by strangers if he’s babysitting his own children! Nope. It’s called parenting.
  20. Tell terribly unfunny jokes. No one laughs. Except him. Yet, he’s unfazed because there’s a chance the next one might be funny. Or someone will laugh out of sympathy. Or pain.

There you have it. I hope #20 didn’t apply to this post. Unless you’re my wife or kids, in which case I’m certain they’re no longer reading, because I’m not funny. Just ask them. Add a comment below to tell me what you thought or if I missed something. Really, though, if you found yourself laughing or even smiling a little while reading this please do me a solid and share it with others who might benefit from a chuckle or two.

Less Cheese in 2015

280.

If that was my score in bowling I’d be thrilled. But, since that’s the number I saw when I stepped on the scale at the YMCA today, I’m not exactly thrilled. IMG_8416I’ve never weighed that much in my entire life. Since I’m not blind I know that I’ve added several (dozen) pounds over the last few years but hadn’t stepped on a scale in a while. Heck, my own 10 year old son even told me (in November), “You look like Mama when she has a baby in her tummy. Only you’re not pregnant, Dad.” Gee, thanks, son! I’ve allowed my once bean-pole skinny self to slowly transform into a 6’8″ version of Homer Simpson, only not quite as yellow.IMG_8426

Same hair, though I’d like to believe I’m a little bit smarter. I guess know that it’s time for me to take a serious look at myself and begin the process of getting back into shape. Even though I have lots of excuses like the arthritis in both knees and left foot, messed up (interior meniscus, who needs it?) right knee and other ailments that come and go with being 42, I need to get over myself and shred some cheese this year. Instead of some nebulous plan that involves eating less and exercising more I’ve decided to go public and make myself vulnerable and accountable to you, my dear readers. Here’s my plan as of now, January 3, 2015.

  1. Stop drinking soda. Again. I quit it for 16 months from January 2013-May 2014. But then I was weak when Mt. Dew began to sing its Siren song to me again. No more. Too many empty calories from the nectar of the gods.
  2. Drink a gallon of water every day. I’ve been doing that for about a month already and it’s been going well. Only, there’s a serious side-effect of drinking that much water. You have to pee. A lot. (God bless you pregnant ladies and your squished bladders.)
  3. No more junk food stashes in the car. As a Stay At Home Dad one of my many roles is taxi driver. I like to eat while driving. Not conducive to losing weight. I’m going to pack healthy and delicious snacks like fruit, nuts or Mountain Muesli bites for when the urge strikes. No more of those peanut butter M&Ms or random donut stops. Now, if only my car would stop driving to all those donut shops.
  4. Daily exercise. I used to be pretty good about taking my dog for a 1-2 mile walk every night. Surprise surprise, I wasn’t very consistent with that this last year. My goal is to walk with my dog for 400 miles this year. Already have over two miles done. Speaking of walking, when I was in Europe this summer with my daughter I actually lost some weight despite eating really well every evening. Why? We were doing so much more walking than here in the States. I need to step my game up.
  5. Monthly challenges. I’m competitive by nature. Just ask my kids if I show them mercy on the air hockey table. I’m going to channel that into following some of the monthly challenges that I find online. My challenge for the month of January is the burpee challenge. Until a couple of days ago I had never done a burpee in my life. After this 30 Day Challenge I will have done over 1,300 of them. I know I won’t win any style points but I’m hoping to win the battle of the bulge. 30-day-burpee-challenge-chart
  6. Get more sleep. I naturally don’t require a lot of sleep. I’m good on 4-6 hours every night. I like the quiet of the night when everyone else is asleep. It’s my only “me” time that one of my kids (or wife) isn’t asking me to get them something. It’s also a dangerous time to have some Oreos and ice cream or chocolate or potato chips right before bed. I’ve read studies that have even shown a link between weight gain and lack of sleep.
  7. Eat better and wiser. Force myself to eat a healthy breakfast each morning. Hm…maybe if I sleep more I’ll wake up earlier and eat better instead of grabbing something unhealthy as I begin the morning school taxi service. Again, if I have healthier fruits, veggies and other snacks out during the day my kids and I will automatically eat better. And, since I’m no longer 18, I need to be smarter and stop taking seconds! Or thirds! One reasonable serving and be done. Let it digest. There’s plenty in reserve.
  8. Continue to be active with my family. More outdoor family activities. We love to kayak on Puget Sound, ride bikes, explore caves and hike at Mt. Rainier National Park. Explore new things to do and places to see. Less screen time and more outdoors.

My goal for the end of the year is to lose 30 pounds, which would put me at 250. I would love to exceed that by additional 10-15 pounds. I haven’t seen less than 240 in years. Maybe a decade. Yikes! I imagine that I would look and feel a lot better. Maybe my snoring would decrease (or disappear!). My balky right knee might be slightly less balky given the reduced load. I wouldn’t have to grunt every time I bend over to pick up something. I could be more active with my children. I’m sharing this with you in the hope that this “public” knowledge of my plan to “get lean in 2015″ will motivate me. Nothing like a little accountability to help push me in the right direction.

What about you? What is your plan to make positive change with your health for this year? Anyone else need to lose some weight? Who wants to join me in the 30 Day Burpee Challenge? It’s not too late to join as I’ve only done 15 over the first two days. Thanks for reading and I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

Dads Behaving Dadly

At the National At Home Dad Network Convention in Denver last year I met many fellow Stay At Home Dads from around the country. Two of the guys that I met, Al Watts and Hogan Hilling, shared their dream about a book they were writing together. They were soliciting submissions from dads who were willing to share stories about being dads. At that time I hadn’t really written very much since my college days. I hadn’t even started my blog yet and, to be completely honest, wasn’t sure if I had anything to offer them. Well, I started my blog a few weeks later and realized how much I enjoyed writing about my life as a SAHD of six kids. Then, shortly after the calendar flipped to 2014 I received an email from Hogan asking if I’d consider submitting something to their book project. I still didn’t know what to do as I didn’t think my writing was really worthy of consideration. After a few months of mulling his offer over I got over my own insecurities and emailed him my blog post from February, entitled Bad Dad: Seeking Forgiveness. Amazingly, I received word that they liked it enough to include an edited form of it in their book. I was going to be a published (contributing) author! Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would ever happen. Yet, they sent word that the book was going to be released in June.

Dad book cover

Dads Behaving Dadly: 67 Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern Fatherhood is a collection of stories from dads around the world. But they’re more than just stories. They collectively show how modern dads are dealing with every day life in a more hands-on manner than ever before. Gone are the days where dads went off to work and returned home to read the paper while having a mixed drink before dinner was ready. This isn’t your grandfather’s book. From the very first entry clear through to the last one I was moved by the honesty and raw emotions in this book. Be warned. Have a box of tissues nearby. This isn’t a collection of feel-good stories that paint an unattainable picture of the perfect father. These 67 stories run the gamut of real-life experiences: the joy of birth and the agony of miscarriage; depression; divorce and blended families; parenting wins and parenting fails. The book stands on its own as a great representation of what it means to be a father in the 21st Century. As I read this book I was amazed by the many great things my peers are doing in their families and was inspired to be a better husband and father as a result. This is not a book just about SAHDs. Many of the men who contributed to the book work outside of the house. The common thread we all share is being a dad. While I’m proud of the overall book I’m humbled and honored to be a small part of it as a contributing author. It’s truly a dream come true to see my name in print.

book page

I bought several copies when Dads Behaving Dadly was released earlier this year and have been giving them away as gifts to family and friends. If you’re looking for a gift for any dad (or dad-to-be) this would be a fantastic idea. It’s available on Amazon (click here to order) for $17.28. (Free shipping if you have Prime membership.) This past weekend the New York Times published a wonderful article about the brotherhood of the Stay At Home Dad. Their reporter/photographer was at the convention in Denver this September to interview several of the conference attendees and book contributors while we had a book signing. The photo below appeared in the NYTimes and showed me signing the book. I was in the New York Times! How cool is that?

That's my bald dome in the lower right signing the book.

That’s my bald dome in the lower left signing the book. Hogan is in the middle and Al is next to him.

With Hogan at the book signing.

With Hogan at the book signing.

I'm honored to call these guys friends. They're also SAHDs and contributing authors to the book.

I’m honored to call these guys friends. They’re also SAHDs and contributing authors to the book.

Since I have enjoyed this book so much I want to give you, my readers, a chance to win your own autographed (yeah, I’ll sign it!) copy of this book. Simply enter through this Rafflecopter giveaway. Contest ends at midnight on December 1, 2014.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Please share this post with anyone you know who would benefit from and be inspired by a fantastic book about modern fatherhood.

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Disclosure: I was not paid or compensated by Hogan or Al in any way for this post. The views represented are 100% mine.

Sometimes You Need A Jellyfish

I’ve been a parent for almost twenty years and have read hundreds, if not thousands, of books to my six children over those years. My wife and I have placed a high value on reading to our children so that they can not only learn how to read but also to love to read. Our personal “library” of children’s books is large and includes classics like Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Gorilla, 10 Little Rubber Ducks, Dr. Seuss, and many others. As a Stay At Home Dad I make it a priority to bring my kids to the library so that they can choose books for themselves. It helps to give them ownership and builds excitement and anticipation for when we return home and snuggle up on the sofa to read together. We can travel to many wonderful and exciting places through the pictures and words in those books. There’s nothing quite as sweet as the feeling of your children nestled into your lap, heads resting against your chest as they contentedly connect with the book.

Despite all of these lovely sentiments and feelings surrounding reading to my children I have one major issue. Some of the books that we own or check out from the library are really poorly written and/or illustrated. I’ll admit that my formal education is not in Art or Literature or Writing. The extent of my education in those areas came from a few School of Education courses while I was in college. I guess my “qualification” to write a book review comes from a limited formal background combined with pretty extensive field (or couch) experience as a parent. Like most parents, if the book I’m reading to my kids is hard to follow or uninteresting for the kids it’s going to be even harder to read with much feeling or interest on my part. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Barbie and Clifford books.)

What if I told you that there’s an opportunity for you to get your hands on a fantastic new book that’s not even yet published? Would you consider supporting such a venture? It just so happens that my friend and fellow SAHD, Christopher Routly, is back at it again with another book. Last year I met him at the National At Home Dad Network annual convention in Denver, Colorado and I was thrilled to win a paperback copy of one of his children’s books, The Animalphabet, which he authored and illustrated for his own two boys back in 2012. I liked his colorful and vibrant illustrations and, upon bringing the book home, my kids agreed. Well, this time around, in his yet-unpublished book, Sometimes You Need A Jellyfish, Chris has taken a simple and slightly silly sounding statement from one of his kids and created a picture book that tells the story of two brothers who are packing for a trip. One of them packs a jellyfish and the story goes from there. Chris was kind enough to send me a link to a digital copy of his book and a few things about it caught my eye. First, his illustrations are engaging, colorful and simple. The text flows nicely between the brothers while sneakily introducing new vocabulary to the unsuspecting reader. Do you know the proper term for a group of jellyfish? I didn’t. But it’s in the book. (Bloom, in case you’re wondering.) Sometimes You Need A Jellyfish is also uses humor to draw in the reader. I showed the book to both my four year old daughter and ten year old son and they both loved it. When asked why he liked it so much, my son said “I think it’s pretty cool that he wrote a story about what his son said. And I liked the part about having a jellyfish clean up your messy room. That would be fun.” My four year old mostly laughed and giggled and said that it was silly…before requesting to read it again. It’s one of those books that I would enjoy reading right along with my kids. Even multiple times in a row!

Jellyfish

What’s especially cool about Chris’s book is that it’s not even published yet. It’s pretty much ready to go to the publisher but there’s one catch. Money. (It’s always that, isn’t it?) This time around Chris wants to raise $10,000 to properly launch his book. He actually made a short video about his book and related fundraising campaign. Please take a moment to watch it. He explains it far better than me. Plus, there’s some nice music in the background of the video clip to cheer you up. Interestingly enough, after reading the book and watching the short video my son asked if he could donate to Chris’s book campaign from the money that he’s saved from allowances and doing extra chores. I’m also making a contribution. But, here’s the deal. It’s not like you’re just giving Chris your money and you get nothing for it. There are rewards for making a contribution. In essence, you’re pre-ordering the book since most of the rewards include getting a signed hard-cover copy of the book. It’s not often that one gets a chance to help “kickstart” a project like this. Please, check out Chris’s video about his book or his blog, which is Daddy Doctrines, for more information.

Finally, don’t just take my word about this book. Check out a review from another friend named Chris, who is also a SAHD and blogger at DadNCharge, living in Philadelphia, PA. Neither one of us was compensated in any way (now or in the future) for our reviews. We’re simply passing along an opportunity to help launch a wonderful children’s book while simultaneously encouraging Christopher Routly to keep on pursing his passion for writing and illustrating children’s books.

Do you play basketball? Tall Tales from the world’s tallest SAHD

“Do you play basketball?” is probably the second most common question I’ve been asked in my life. I guess it’s just part of the territory that comes with being a giant in the eyes of most other people. I’m 6’8″ tall. 80 inches. 2.03 meters. “Five-foot-twenty” if I’m feeling snarky when asked the most common question. This is my 14th year as a Stay At Home Dad and the one year anniversary of being a “dad blogger” and I’m laying claim to the dual titles of “Tallest SAHD” and “Tallest Dad Blogger” in the world. I’m friends with a couple of SAHD/DB guys who are 6’7″ but have yet to meet a guy who is taller. Please, prove me wrong. (Actually, don’t. I like my self-proclaimed titles!) At any rate, now that I’ve established my stature for you, let me tell you about some of the joys of being tall that you might not have ever considered.

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I didn’t fit under the eaves at this tourist spot in Germany, much to the delight of the rest of my tour group.

How tall are you? Seriously. I get asked this question a lot. Maybe not every single day, but a lot. Complete strangers will see me and and feel free to inquire. I’m not ashamed of my height. In fact, I love being tall. But, could you imagine if people felt compelled to ask or comment about other bodily traits as freely as they do about height? How much do you weigh? How short are you? How big are your feet? Oh, wait, I get that last one a lot as well. Size sixteen if you’re wondering. It’s not that big considering how silly I would look with tiny feet. Makes going as a clown for Halloween much easier. I remember when I was 18 and at Opryland USA, a now-defunct theme park in Nashville, Tennessee, having my first experience of a complete stranger tapping me on the shoulder to ask about my height. I ended up chatting with the elderly couple for a few minutes while we waited in queue. Afterwards, my friends who were there with me (we were part of a Spring Break trip for our high school symphony) were incredulous about that exchange. Little did I know that it was the first of thousands of such experiences. It even transcends languages and cultures. Just this last summer, while on a three week trip to Europe with my daughter, a man came wandering through the platform in the train station in Munich, Germany, asking everyone for money. When I responded no (pulled the “I don’t speak German” excuse) he moved on but a moment later came back to me and gestured wildly about my height with a silly grin on his face.

Do you play basketball? Not every tall person is also gifted with coordination. Or a competitive nature. Or coordination. Or desire to play sports. Or coordination. But, yeah, I do play basketball. And thanks, to my older brother who was always older (duh!) and a little taller than me (at least until I was 16 or so), I developed a decent outside shot. Which means I’m that big man who thinks he should step outside and shoot three-pointers instead of staying in the lane close to the basket where I belong. I really do enjoy playing basketball. But, due to a back injury from 7th grade football, I couldn’t play competitively in high school. In fact, I never played any sports in high school. Yet, while in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I played pick-up games several times a week with and against many of the guys who were on the Badgers basketball teams (men and women) as well as football players. I love to play hoops. I even used to be able to dunk before I got arthritis in my knees and left foot. One time I even broke both my arms after making a dunk. (I’ll have to blog about that. It’s a good story.) But, back to the question. If you ask me if I play basketball, is it okay for me to ask if you’re a jockey or if you play mini-golf?

School. Just because I’m tall doesn’t make me blind or deaf. I especially love walking into schools with my kids. The reactions of the other kids is hilarious. They see me and immediately start to point and then realize that might be rude. So, then they start to whisper to one another. He’s soooo tall! How tall is he? Is he (name of my kid)’s dad? Look! He had to duck under the door! It cracks me up because middle school kids are many things, but quiet isn’t usually one of them. Even high school students have weird reactions. Years ago I was a football game, waiting in line for concessions behind two girls who were getting their food. Upon completing their purchases they both whirled around quickly and started to walk only to notice that I was standing there. Instead of saying “excuse me” or something like that one of them exclaimed “Holy S#%& you’re tall!” and then ran off. I looked at my buddy and we both laughed it off. I’m mostly immune to it now, but if you’ve never walked next to a freakishly-tall person before you’d be surprised at how many people point and gawk at you as if you had a unicorn horn protruding from your forehead. Before my SAHD career I was a teacher. During my first day teaching 7th grade, a girl name Celia, a self-confident redhead, proclaimed that I looked just like the BFG. Since I hadn’t read the classic book by Road Dahl I didn’t know that the BFG was a “Big Friendly Giant” and that she meant it as a compliment.

How’s the weather up there? Yeah, that’s original. How’s the weather by my armpits? I’ve been tempted to spit and say it’s raining. But, I’m not mean. When riding trains and buses in which I need to stand I am reminded that being tall can have its advantages. In many of those instances there’s a slight breeze of fresh(er) air that I can enjoy because I’m literally a head taller than everyone else. I remember a bus in Rome this summer that had one of those air vents on the ceiling and I got to stand directly underneath it. Actually, it was because of the extra few inches of that vent that I was able to actually stand up straight without hitting my head. Headroom is really a major issue for us tall people. When I’m driving I have to lean forward sometimes to see if the traffic light has changed since my eyes are much closer to the roof of the car than you normal-sized people. Doorways. Standard door frames are 80 inches. Yeah, I’m 80 inches tall. Without shoes. So, I pretty much have an automatic head-bob whenever I walk through a door. I’d rather bob and look silly than not bob and whack the top of my head. One time, about 10 years ago, I was bringing a basket of laundry to the basement when I forgot to bob. I literally scalped myself on the exposed beam. After spending a few minutes on the floor I finally stood up and saw a nasty collection of skin and hair that had previously been on the top of my head moments earlier. I wish that was my only story of head whacking on door frames or beams.

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Standard “legroom” for me when riding in an airplane. This was before the person in front of me leaned their seat back.

Public transportation. Not designed with the freakishly tall in mind. Buses. I cannot sit on a standard school bus and face forward. The length from my hip to my knee is usually greater than the distance to the back of the seat ahead of me. Coach buses are not much better. And those seats recline. And you’d better believe that I’m calling shotgun if we’re taking a car somewhere. Unless there’s a bench in back that offers more leg room. And don’t even get me started on airplanes. Headroom? No. I usually have to walk to my seat hunched like Quasimodo so I don’t whack into the EXIT signs or overhead storage doors. I will always check to see who is seated in the emergency exit row seats and it seems like it’s almost always people who are short. And by short I mean anyone who is less than 6’3″. There should be a rule that tall people get the exit row seats before anyone else.

Yeah, I know I could pay extra so that I could get that seat. But, I’m too cheap. Besides, it’s fun to sit on the aisle seat with one leg blissfully stretched out into the aisle…until it’s rammed at full speed by that bloody beverage cart. Excuse me, sir, please put your legs under the seat in front of you. How much time do you have? Since my leg won’t fit under the lowered tray table I have some rearranging to do. And those bathrooms. Do you have any idea how hard it is to try to pee standing almost sideways because some genius engineer thought it would be a brilliant idea to have the bathroom ceiling slant like that. And no, I can’t sit. My legs are too long to fit with the door closed. Good thing I don’t need to go #2.

Theme parks. I waited with one of my daughters to go on a ride several years ago at the Mall of America. I think it was called Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but I’m not sure. Don’t even know if it’s still there. At any rate, for this particular ride, you had to sit down and a harness of padded metal bars came down over your shoulders and locked into place. Only, not for me. My torso was too tall. The bars hit my shoulder and there was no way for me to slouch down so the harness would fit. In countless roller coasters I’ve had the pleasure of contorting my legs uncomfortably so that the lap bar would hold me in place. None of that is as terrifying as riding a roller coaster and feeling the need to duck every time the coaster goes into a tunnel. Even though I know it’s not going to happen, it feels as though I’m going to get my head whacked off when the track goes under and through the wooden trestle. You better believe I’ll keep my hands in the car at all times. It was also pretty uncomfortable to ride some of the small kid rides at DisneyWorld with my daughters when they were younger.

Hiking. You want me to be the leader. Not because I’m blessed with some superior skills. Nope. One word. Spiders. Okay, maybe two words. Spider webs. I clear the path of all spider webs. I catch the ones that most of you miss. You know, the big ones that drape across the trail between trees, about 75″ above the ground. I call that eye level. Nothing quite like walking through the woods and having to wipe off spider webs from my face and head. And, no, it doesn’t taste like cotton candy. On the other hand, spelunking may not be the best activity for me. I recently went with two of my kids to Ape Cave, a lava tube near Mt. Saint Helens in Washington. At several points during the hike I realized that I almost didn’t fit through some of the openings in the rock. I’ve been in other caves that had similar pinch points and/or low ceilings, which are far less forgiving than wooden door frames. I think caving is cool (cool, get it?) but I realize my limitations.

Around the house. I’m your go-to guy if the lightbulb needs replacing. Or you need something from that top shelf. Or anything that would require a ladder or step-stool. Just call the tall guy over. He’ll be more than happy to assist you. I normally don’t mind helping you vertically-challenged people out. Just don’t be offended if I ask you to get something from a lower shelf, okay? I will admit that painting can be pretty fun because I don’t need a ladder to reach the ceiling of standard rooms. That said, I once broke a ceiling light fixture with my head. I mean, who puts a light directly outside of an elevator? I ducked my head to exit the elevator only to raise it into the fixture. Granted, it was on a cruise and not at home, but, still. If I recall, the cruise staff were pretty impressed by how I broke the light and several even posed for pictures with me. Counters are too low. Kitchen and bathroom. Cutting food for meals means that I either sit on a stool or risk making my lower back sore from bending over so much. And yes, like many tall people, I have back and knee issues. It’s the blessing and curse of being tall. My wife, a physician, says so sympathetically, “The human body wasn’t designed to carry such a large load.” Um, thanks, honey?

In the bedroom. Not like that. Don’t be rude. I’m talking mattress size here. At 80″ tall I’m too long for a King size bed, which is also 80″. Instead, we have a California King, which is 84″ long. And we still don’t tuck in the sheet on the end so our feet are free from pinching. You can imagine the fun whenever I sleep in a bed not my own. I barely fit diagonally across a queen. Standard twins are a joke. The funniest was just last year when I volunteered as a cabin leader for my church’s week long junior high camp. Thanks to a triple mattress stack I was able to hang my feet over the end of the bed despite a short footboard. A close second was our wedding night. We were gifted a stay at a lovely old B&B mansion and were excited to check out the in-room jacuzzi and King size bed. Only the jacuzzi wasn’t really long enough to actually get my whole body in the water and the beautiful “sleigh” style bed frame meant that it wasn’t long enough to sleep in. No big deal, it was my wedding night, after all. (nudge-nudge, wink-wink…)

Dating. When I was in high school I was researching for a report at the local library. (For those of you not old enough to remember, before the internet and Google and computerized everything, students had to actually go to a library to do research. We used things like card-catalogs and actual books and note cards. And microfiche machines.) While I was quietly minding my own business an elderly man (guessing mid-70s) approached me and looked me up and down and leaned in real close and half-whispered to me, “I suppose you go for tall girls, right?”. I kid you not. I didn’t know this guy and he was really asking me about my preference for tall girls. I think I stammered some sort of “Yessir” response that was enough to send him on his merry way, chuckling to himself for being so clever. I also recall the awkwardness of dancing with girls who were not very tall. At one camp in particular, a week-long co-ed camp for high school seniors-to-be who were interested in becoming teachers, there was a dance on the last evening. Of the nearly 100 attendees that week there were only about a dozen of us guys. Talk about the odds being ever in my favor! Needless to say, I had girls asking me to dance with them. And anyone who knows me knows that I can’t dance. I’ll try. I’ll embarrass myself. But. I. Can’t. Dance. But I can slow dance. That’s relatively easy and hard to mess up. Except if the girl is 5’1″ and the guy is 6’6″. (I grew 1 1/2 inches in college.) Then it’s a little on the weird side. Tough to dance without looking inappropriate. I love that my wife is 5’11”. Interestingly enough, people that knew her before we started dating thought that she was tall. Until they met me and saw me next to her.

Guess what? I'm in the very back row!

Guess what? I’m in the very back row!

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One of these is not like the others!

Pictures. I’m always in back. I could probably wear only underwear and no one would ever know by looking at 95% of all group pictures in which I’ve been a participant. (Why can’t I write like I talk and not care about using a dangling participle?) “Line up shortest to tallest” is the easiest directive for this guy. Walk to the back and laugh at everyone eyeing up who is taller/shorter. I’ll be in back. Always. I also sometimes forget just how big I am compared to “normal” sized people. Just last month at the NAHDN Convention in Denver I had the opportunity to mingle with over 100 other SAHDs from around the U.S. and Canada. My buddy Chris (SAHD and blogger at DadNCharge) is 6’7″ and we decided to take a picture with our friend Lorne (SAHD and blogger at Raising Sienna) at the request of his family. Lorne isn’t tiny as much as Chris and I are really, really tall. We literally dwarfed poor Lorne. After more than 20 years of being so crazy tall, I guess I sometimes forget that I’m probably the tallest person most people actually know. Sure, you might see a random really tall person somewhere or on TV, but to actually be right next to that person and interact with him/her is a bit different.

I hope you don’t get the wrong message about being tall. I absolutely love it. Sure, there are challenges in being crazy tall. I didn’t even discuss stuff like buying clothes, driving cars, finding “hidden” junk on top of people’s fridges, accidentally crashing into others with my long limbs, having tall kids, and the expectation of leadership just because I’m tall. It comes with the territory, I suppose. As a people-person I love that my height can serve as an ice-breaker and I often see the humor in such encounters with people I might not otherwise interact with. (I left it dangling!) I know that this post was really long, but, considering the source, you would’t expect anything shorter, right?

If you made it this far and found this post even remotely entertaining and worth your time, please consider leaving me a comment, liking it or, gasp, sharing with your friends. Thanks!

Happy Birthday to Me! (42 Things For Which I Am Thankful)

It’s almost 1 am here in Washington and my four year old is still going strong thanks to a long late-afternoon nap. If you’re a parent you know the double-edged sword of such a nap. My wife told her that she could watch a movie if Daddy stayed downstairs with her (um, thanks?). She unloaded the dishwasher and practiced writing her name (part of the deal) and ran to the sofa, requesting me to get Netflix on for her viewing pleasure. While she’s snuggled in her sleeping bad watching My Little Pony I decided to make some late-night Mt. Dew lemonade out of these here lemons. Oh, and it happens to be my birthday today. Thanks, Mom, for having me on this date in 1972, just a few miles away from where I now live. Crazy how life works like that! Back to my lemonade. I’m going to try to stay awake to compose a list of things for which I’m thankful, one for each year I’ve been alive. The order is going to be pretty random as it’s now past 1 am.

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Just past midnight birthday selfie. That’s our family’s birthday hat. (Obviously.)

Forty-two things for which I am thankful.

  1. My parents. Duh. They had me! Thanks.
  2. My wife. She’s put up with  loved me for over half my life.
  3. My children. All six of them. They fill every day with so much love and laughter.
  4. Being tall. Usually a pretty good thing. Except when I hit my head on a door frame. Or take out a light fixture on a cruise ship.
  5. My English teachers (I must be tired) who told me that I wrote well and encouraged me to write. Even if it took me over 20 years to heed their advice and start writing regularly here.
  6. Netflix. I’m too tired to actually parent right now. Thanks for the small break.
  7. Headphones for my iPhone so that I can listen to my music instead of the awful music and dialog of My Little Pony.
  8. Sunshine. You won’t hear me complain about the sun and heat (even now in mid-September) because I know the cloudy and rainy season is coming soon enough.
  9. Rain. Seriously. I don’t have to shovel it like all that snow that I had to take care of when we lived in Wisconsin.
  10. Football. I know, there’s been a lot of bad press lately about some awful actions by some players. But, I still love to watch my Green Bay Packers. Glad my kids like to watch with me as well.
  11. Christmas music. Guess what I’m listening to right now? Pentatonix PTXmas. Amazing any time of year.
  12. Trains. Just heard one blowing its horn. Reminds me of growing up in Neenah, Wisconsin, and hearing trains at all hours of the day and night.
  13. My bed. Where I should be now. It’s so comfy and warm. And long enough for me. Unlike this comfy sofa.
  14. My sense of humor. I crack myself up daily. I’m hilarious. Seriously. (See what I did there?)
  15. My church. I look forward to going every Sunday and am so glad that my kids also are excited to go with me. Speaks volumes about the kind of community and ministry there.
  16. Leftovers for dinner. That means that we are so blessed to be able to have extra food from a previous meal. It also means that they kids are guaranteed to complain about the menu of “leftovers for dinner”.
  17. The dishwasher. It was broken for six weeks when we first moved here almost three years ago. Enough said.
  18. Dishes, pots, pans, or knives that can’t go through the dishwasher.
  19. FaceTime. It’s not the same as in-person, but it’s a great and affordable way to catch up with family and friends.
  20. Indoor plumbing. I cannot imagine how horrible it would’ve been to have to use an outhouse every day. I mean, where would I find any private time to read? (I’m laughing. Told you I was tired.)
  21. Camping. Ususally at a state park. Although, my son is currently in our large family tent just outside our house. For the 10th night in a row. Accompanied by our dog.
  22. Sleep. Yeah, I went to bed. Well, fell asleep on the sofa while my child watched My Little Pony. Woke up at 4:39 am and trudged up to my comfy bed for two more hours. Hopefully the crink in my back and neck from sleeping on the sofa goes away in a day or two. At least I made it halfway through my list of 42 before crashing.
  23. Reliable transportation. I take it for granted that my car will start every time I turn the ignition. Except that one time that one of the kids left some of overhead interior lights on overnight.
  24. A pile of laundry that needs folding and a dish full of dishes that needs to be loaded into the dishwasher. Even on my birthday, I’m thankful for these things because that means we are blessed enough to have a dishwasher and clothes washer/dryer.
  25. Safe travels. Driving my daughter to school this morning we saw an SUV blow through a stop sign at about 35 mph. Had we been about 5 seconds farther along on our way to school that vehicle might have ended my life. Thank you, Jesus.
  26. The National At Home Dad Network (NAHDN) and the upcoming convention in Denver later this week. Looking forward to seeing my fellow SAHD brothers again. The support and friendship from that group of guys this past year has been nothing short of amazing. My only regret is not knowing about such a network for the first 12 years as a SAHD.
  27. Mountains. I love going to the mountains for recreational purposes. I also appreciate their beauty on clear days as we have a beautiful view of the Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound from our house. I love how the rising sun wraps them in a blanket of pink.
  28. Siri. Yeah, that sometimes annoying iPhone/iPod voice. She’s hilarious. Especially when she mistakes a request to play Jingle Bells and states, “I’m sorry. I’m not familiar with Vagina Bells.” Actually, neither am I.
  29. Good health. Ever since I was a child I’ve been blessed with a strong immune system. Even now, as a long-time Stay At Home Dad who gets exposed to all sorts of germs and such I seldom get sick. I joke that I have a deal with God. In exchange for not complaining about caring for or cleaning up after my wife and kids when they are sick, I don’t get sick.
  30. Computers and technology. Sometimes it seems like we depend on them too much, but overall I enjoy having them in my life. And I’m not even that tech-savvy. I’m sure I’m just using the tip of the technological iceberg, but it sort of works for me.
  31. Credit cards. Really. I use them for most everything that I don’t carry much cash around. So convenient.
  32. Airplanes. Making long-distance travel so much easier. Even if I often feel like a sardine squished in my seat I still don’t mind it.
  33. America. Or ‘Murica. Despite being a flawed Republic with a messed up political system that can’t get out of its own way, there are still a lot of great things about our country. We enjoy a lot of freedoms and privileges that the rest of the world envies.
  34. Being a SAHD. Despite basically working 24/7/365 I love my job. And, for the love of everything, don’t call me “Mr. Mom“. Really. It’s not as funny as you think.
  35. Words With Friends. Scrabble. I enjoy playing word games. Keeps my brain working. I think.
  36. The Bible. God’s word. I’m constantly challenged and encouraged by His words. They’re just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago.
  37. Music. I love to sing, play/perform and listen to music. Still cannot dance. And I’m okay with that.
  38. Facebook. Yeah, they keep making those annoying changes. Why can’t we just go back to the 2007 settings? Really, though, I enjoy keeping in touch with all of you. Okay, maybe not all of you, because of the weird metrics that screws up my newsfeed so that the sponsored stuff gets shown more. But you know what I mean. The love I’m feeling today from all of the birthday greetings is so uplifting. Yeah, that was a little cheesy, even for me. I really do appreciate the friendship,networking and support from social media.
  39. Netflix. Thanks for the quality shows to watch when I’m cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry after everyone else is asleep. Did I mention that I finally watched LOST last December? Only a few years too late.
  40. The silly humor that my kids inject into my daily life. Like my 10 year old son. This morning he came into the kitchen (while I was making his lunch sandwich) and sat at the table. He set his iPod down and asked Siri, “What is my name?”. Her reply made me laugh until I cried. “Your name is Cornelius. But since we’re friends, you asked me to call you Junio Ten Why Cheo.” WHAT?! (I might still be a little slap happy from the lack of sleep. But that was crazy.)
  41. Perspective. Counting my blessings instead of my shortcomings. Over the last year or so I’ve known far too many people who have gone through some tough times, losing loved ones to cancer, car accidents, and other causes. Life is too fragile and short to focus on anything else.
  42. Friendship. Not just the virtual kind but the people I see in real life. Just this summer I was able to reconnect with a few friends that I had not seen in years, in one case it was a friend who I hadn’t seen since 1991. Even if I have not seen my friends in person I love being able to call or virtually reach out, knowing that our friendship remains. And, I do not mean to ignore the new friends I’ve made since moving here almost three years ago. My life is so much richer for knowing all of you.

I look forward to whatever God has in store for me this coming year. In parting, I leave this passage I just came across last night while finishing my Bible study. I hope it encourages you as much as it did me. It’s from Isaiah 43:1-4, paraphrased by me.

This is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze…Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you.

If you’re bothered because this is a “religious” quote from the Bible, I would encourage you to reread it, but this time think of it as a father (or mother) talking to his (her) child. The love that drips from that passage is what I’m striving for with my own family. While I’m certainly not perfect, I am trying to be the best husband and father that I can be for them.

Back to School Blues

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Today is the big day. It’s been written on our family calendar for months. It’s a day of anticipation and dread. It’s the first day of school. As a Stay At Home Dad it means the return of taxi driver to my daily routine. As well as alarm clock and lunch-preparer for my kids. Today is a day that I both dread and celebrate, but not for the reasons many parents do. As a former student (a long time ago) and former teacher (not as long ago) I loved the first day of school. There was a sense of optimism and possibility and freshness. A new year with a new teacher and mix of old and new friends. Getting to see friends and colleagues again after the summer break. It almost made the chore of getting everything ready worth it. Almost. After all, it was still school. It also meant the end of staying up late and sleeping in. Playing at the park, hiking at Mt. Rainier, going to week-long camp, and vacationing in Europe, to name a few. Doing nothing and enjoying it. Replaced by getting up early (rude alarm clock) and homework or lesson planning and correcting papers.

What I don’t understand, though, are the parents who are celebrating that their kids are finally out of their hair. Fruit of the Loom (makers of fine underwear) even started a #TGIBTS (Thank Goodness It’s Back To School) campaign to capitalize on this sentiment among parents (although it was aimed at moms). It makes me sad that there are some moms and dads who genuinely celebrate the absence of their kids. I’m going to miss my kids while they’re at school. It’s going to be quiet(er) with only a four year old and one year old at home all day long. What ever will I do with all of my newly-found free time? HA HA HA! As much as the teasing and such between my kids is a little bit annoying, I love having them at home. They bring so much joy to my life on a daily basis. I’m going to miss the fun that we have just doing life together. Yet, I love that they get to go and learn and be with friends and teachers and experience things that I cannot give them. I loved being a student (even though at times I had to work hard) and had a lot of fun in school. While I wasn’t a fan of the significant homework and studying in high school and college I understood it to be a part of my “job” as a student. I hope that my kids will view their educational opportunity in the same way. If anything, I celebrate the new and fun things that my kids will learn this coming year.

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The only bit of dread that I have is in wishing I had done more with my kids during their time off. Did we do enough fun stuff to make up for the days where we did basically nothing? Did they get to do something memorable enough that they can write about it for their first assignment in English class? Will they look back on their Summer 2014 as fondly as I do? I hope that they each can answer yes to all those questions. But, in the minds of my kids, I’m sure they’re probably already starting the countdown. 180 school days to go. June 11, 2015 can’t come soon enough.

Newton’s Laws of Parenting?

Before I became a Stay At Home Dad I was a teacher. I taught fifth grade for one year and then seventh grade science for five more years. I absolutely loved my teaching job as I was paid to get hormonally-challenged 12 and 13 year olds excited about science. Why would I love that? Because I got paid to blow things up and/or light stuff on fire. Okay, there was also a lot of actual scientific stuff but that’s not the point. Despite my love for fire (safety, of course!), my favorite unit of the year was the six weeks we spent on Physics, studying Newton’s Laws of Motion, among other things. I’m guessing that many of you are having trouble reading this because your eyes are starting to glaze over at the mere mention of science. Please, stay with me. I promise I’ll try to make it fun. You might even recall learning about Sir Isaac Newton, that famous guy who is credited with “discovering” gravity when he observed an apple fall from a tree. Sadly, it didn’t actually fall on his head like those Saturday morning cartoons portrayed it.

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He also contributed mightily to the Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century in the fields of mathematics, physics and philosophy. You might also remember learning about Newton’s Laws of Motion. Words like inertia, force, mass, acceleration, rest, motion, action, reaction. I’ll wait for you to rub your eyes. Ready? Here’s where I hope it gets fun. It dawned on me recently that Newton’s Laws of Motion could easily be applied to parenting, especially if you happen to have teenagers in your house. So,buckle up! (Yeah, that was a nerdy Newton reference. Seat belts.)

Newton’s First Law, also called the Law of Inertia. Simply put, a body at rest stays at rest and a body in motion stays in motion, unless acted upon by another force. This could be renamed the Law of Sleeping In. Or the Law of Not Helping With Chores. Or the Law of Netflix. If you have teenagers in your life then you know that asking them to do anything before noon during the summer or weekend is pretty much not going to happen. Unless it’s something that they want to do, in which case they can be up and at ’em by 7 am or earlier. Trip to Six Flags leaves at 6:30 am? No problem. Could you please take out the trash by 8 am? No way. I’ll be sleeping. The motion part of this applies to toddlers/preschoolers. Once they’re awake it’s GO TIME! There is no slowing them down. They run (or crawl) everywhere. Sit down to eat? Maybe for a couple of minutes but they’re going to be squirming the whole time. Stop playing and go use the potty? Not a chance. And don’t bother trying to get them to wash their hands. And don’t get me started on bed time. Ha! Of course, Newton understood something that we as parents often forget. We have power. Use the force! (Wrong force, but I had to drop that in there.) Amazingly enough, we can help direct our children to change what they’re doing through a variety of methods, hopefully more creative and kinder than using actual force. Unless you lick your hand…it’s a joke my 10 year old taught me. Be the force that changes lives for the better.

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His Second Law states that Force = mass x acceleration. You unknowingly apply this truth whenever you drive your car or even toss a ball to your child. If you want your car to go faster you need to press the gas pedal giving it more force. If you want to throw the ball down the hall so your kid has to go farther to retrieve it so you can play several turns on Candy Crush (shame on you, pay attention to you kid!) then you know that you have to use a small ball (less mass) and throw it with enough force. Hopefully you have good aim. But how does this apply to parenting? It doesn’t. It’s about motion. Kidding. Really, though, I like to think of this as showing that you don’t always have to use a lot of force to be a good parent. Sometimes being strong and forceful isn’t what’s needed. Maybe your kid needs you to lighten up a little bit and change the pace from the usual big bad wolf parenting that’s easily assumed. Run around with them. Have a sense of humor. Keep them on their toes. Be quick-witted. Push them to succeed without being oppressive. It’s a delicate balance that may need to be tweaked daily. If you’re too heavy-handed in your approach then you might force your child away. By the same token, you can draw your children to you (think of it as a reverse force or gravity) if you’re full of love and joy and patience.

The Third Law is the Action-Reaction Law. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” It’s rocket science. Really. Balloons whooshing through the air if you let go of the untied end after blowing it up. It’s that toy that you see with five steel balls in a row suspended by string. One of my favorite toys from my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. This one is pretty easy to apply to parenting. Ever try to tell a toddler or teenager “no”? What’s the usual response? They do the opposite. Please don’t eat the dog food. Chomp. Chomp. Please set the table. Please leave your brother/sister alone. I suppose it’s all part of the push for independence in our kids. At some point they’re probably going to have to make decisions on their own and they won’t always be the ones we would choose for them. But, here’s the thing. As parents, we can help guide the direction of our young “rockets”. They don’t have to be like the aimless balloon going crazy all over the place. With some self-control and perhaps a fair amount of tongue-biting we can help give some direction to our children, starting when they’re young and innocent and continuing on all they way into their teenage years and beyond. My oldest is 19 and moved out two days after graduating from high school about 14 months ago. Yet, my parenting with her is not finished. She still calls and texts me (almost daily!) to ask for advice or simply to talk. Just because she’s not living at home now doesn’t mean my job is finished. My influence may not be as evident with her now as it is with my toddler, preschooler or my school-age children still at home, but it’s still significant. And all six of my kids are watching my actions just as much as I’m watching their reactions. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, our actions influence the lives of our children.

I hope my nerdy application of Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion to modern parenting was as entertaining for you as it was in my mind. If you like my action here, please give me some reaction by commenting, liking or sharing this across social media.

Hiking with my son on Mt. Rainier

Dad, can we go to Mt. Rainier on Saturday? With that simple request by my 9 year old son the empty calendar for Saturday became full. My son knows that I love to go to The Mountain and that his older sisters don’t particularly care to make the winding two hour drive from our house. In essence, he was asking to go hiking with me for the day. After getting the blessing of my wife (who would be in charge of four kids while we were gone) we looked at our hiking options. In the two and a half years that we’ve lived in Washington we have been to Mt. Rainier close to ten times, and always to the Paradise area on the south side. With this in mind, my son asked if we could hike to Camp Muir, which is the basecamp hikers use when trying to summit from Paradise. It’s a hike that takes at least 5-6 hours and requires a fair amount of skill and experience, not to mention better equipment and preparation than what we currently had. It’s also a roughly 5000′ elevation climb. So, a little disappointed, he agreed to consider less strenuous options. I suggested a combo mountain bike and hike option only to get it quickly rejected because he wanted to hike in snow. That meant we were going to have to go to either Paradise or Sunrise, the trailhead area on the north side of Mt. Rainier. 

We finally agreed on a moderate hike from Sunrise to Berkeley Park, an 11.3 mile round trip hike that should take about 6 hours to complete. We packed our backpacks with sunblock, hats, sun glasses, water bottles, cameras, food, and sweatshirts (just in case). The forecast was for sunshine and 80 degrees at Mt. Rainier. Despite not getting to sleep very early, we both woke up ready to go on our adventure and were out the door by 8:30 am. Not super early but (hopefully) early enough to beat the crowds and get a parking spot. About 45 minutes into our drive my son realized that he had forgotten to bring his backpack. I teased him that I’d only asked him to bring one thing and that he forgot it. He laughed and I told him that we’d figure it out. It wasn’t a deal breaker. He kindly offered to carry my backpack, or to take turns at the very least. 

After a pit stop about 20 minutes shy of our destination we entered the official boundary of Mt. Rainier National Park. We were getting so close. Then we stopped. A line of cars with no end in sight. I almost turned around to go to the Paradise entrance, probably at least 45 minutes away. But I didn’t. I actually relaxed and was patient. My son, C, hopped out of the van and walked ahead a little bit and returned 5 minutes later to tell me that the line was going to move faster because a second ranger station had opened to admit cars. Woo-hoo! Sure enough, a few minutes later we were on our way to Sunrise. There’s always something spectacular about driving through the curvy and tree lined roads and getting that first up-close view of The Mountain once you leave the wooded area. This was no exception. 

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Mt. Rainier as viewed from the road on the way to Sunrise.

Once we parked and used the restroom we headed to the Visitor Center. A park ranger there suggested a better route for us that was almost as long but was sure to have more snow-covered parts of the trail. My son was ecstatic. We decided to follow the trail from Sunrise to Skyscraper Peak. About 8 miles roundtrip, 4.5-5 hours of hiking, 1700′ elevation gain. Yikes. Since it was already noon I suggested that we eat lunch before embarking on our adventure. I quickly made some PB&J sandwiches that we wolfed down with some fruit and water. I found an extra backpack, hat and sunglasses for my son to borrow. Only, he refused to wear it because it was pink. So, naturally, I rocked that pink backpack. No big deal. We applied sunblock for the first of three times and took off. The first mile was somewhat crowded because it’s a popular ridge trail that’s pretty easy to follow while still yielding some wonderful views of The Mountain and the surrounding area. We saw families, older couples, obvious tourists and even a group of guys wearing dresses and brightly colored leggings with their hiking boots. My son, C, can walk faster than me so he was in the lead. He passed all of the people efficiently and soon, after about a mile, we were clear of the groups of people that had been clogging the trails. A short while later we came upon Frozen Lake, a beautiful lake that remained partially snow-covered for our visit (July 26) despite it being warm and sunny. This was our first water break. 

Frozen Lake

Frozen Lake

A few hundred feet later we came upon the first snow that we could actually touch. C was in heaven. He bounded over to the snow, ran up part of the hill, and slid down part of it in his shorts

Snow!

Snow!

Slip sliding away!

Slip sliding away!

We moved on after that, following the trail about another half mile, to a major trail intersection. At that point we were both pretty warm and so we took a short water break again. Once we determined our trail we were back at it. Only this time the terrain was more barren than previously. Lots of rocks and a dusty trail. Getting warmer. But, ahead, I spotted a large snow patch. So did C. So he ran ahead and I knew exactly what was in store for me. Once I got in range he started launching snowballs in my general direction. Thankfully, his aim isn’t great yet. I lobbed some back at him with equal “success”. What he didn’t notice was the lady walking from the other direction (his back was to her since he was trying to pelt me) who tossed a snowball at him. Like my wife, she had good aim and connected with her target. He whirled at her and (thankfully) barely hit her leg. We all laughed as she and her husband continued on in the opposite direction of us. After a few more minutes we arrived atop a ridge that opened into a green valley with sounds of running water and green grass and wildflowers. A stark contrast to the rocky wasteland we were leaving. After crossing two more small snow fields we made it to a small creek with some rocks next to it where we could rest a bit, reapply sunblock, and eat some of the fruit I’d packed. From what I could tell we had probably another 1.5 miles to go until we reached Skyscraper Peak. 

My boy on the path

My boy on the path

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that I have some physical issues that can make walking and running difficult at times. My right knee is arthritic, swollen and damaged, as I tore my meniscus in 2011. My left foot and ankle are also bad, filled with arthritis, swollen and weakened. My son knows this and knows that sometimes I just need to rest a bit longer than him. It also prevents me from walking as quickly as him. It’s not something that I complain too much about and I try to live my life as normally as possible and suck up the pain as best I can. Thankfully, on this hike, my physical ailments were not hindering me too much. Just before we resumed our hike three people coming back stopped by us to rest. They told us we had probably another 45 minutes to reach the peak. And that the trail was about to get a little bit more challenging with an inclined snow-covered trail section followed by a steep climb to the peak. I figured we’d be fine since the people telling me this information were older than me and appeared to be in roughly the same shape. Slightly thicker in the middle than we should be but still game for a hike. As we walked on a NPS ranger was coming toward us and stopped to talk. He noted that neither my son or I were wearing hiking boots and warned us of this extremely dangerous upcoming part of the trail that was snow-covered. We thanked him and carried on. I was wondering to myself it was going to really be that bad or if he was just being extra cautious for our benefit. About five minutes later some people coming down the path toward us made me reconsider just how really dangerous this hike was going to be. An obviously pregnant (probably 7-8 months by my guess) lady was walking with a few others. I used that as motivation. If she can haul herself and the child in her belly up this trail I can do it too. No problem. SUCK IT UP, CARL! Then, just around the bend and across the field, lay the danger zone. We looked at our options and carefully walked across. I thought of my own father, who, while hiking with my older brother and me on Mt. Rainier in 1985, was petrified to cross a similar snow-covered path on our hike. My brother and I were so bemused by his fright that we gleefully pelted him with snowballs, eliciting the hoped-for yelps to STOP IT! But, I digress. Back to the present hike. While there was certainly danger, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the ranger had made it sound and the pregnant lady had crossed it

Crossing the dangerous snow-covered path.

Crossing the dangerous snow-covered path.

The final 400' ascent to Skyscraper Peak

The final 400′ ascent to Skyscraper Peak

Once safely across we could see our final destination right in front of us and Mt. Rainier and Emmons Glacier behind us. The only “problem” was that it was about 400′ elevation change to get to the top of Skyscraper Peak, at 7079′ above sea level. Of course, C took off jogging while I trudged on. This apparently entertained people descending from the peak. They informed me that the smile on his face was priceless, as he as grinning from ear to ear while scampering up the steep terrain. When I was about halfway up I heard a shout of Hey Dad, I made it! Why are you taking so long? Hurry up. At least he didn’t call me old man. After what seemed like forever but was really 15-20 minutes of I think I can, I think I can, I think I can I finally made it to the peak. I summited my first “mountain”! Seriously. How cool was that? We found some rocks in the safety of a small plateau area to sit on while I rested. My heart was beating like the Energizer Bunny on steroids. I could literally feel it pulsing and slowing as I took more sips of water and at a clementine. Another hiker (who had already been there when we arrived) opened a bag of M&Ms and started eating it. I was insanely jealous of her wise decision to bring candy to reward her ascent. Although, my orange was pretty tasty. Right. Of course my boy wanted to go back down after just a couple of minutes. My response elicited laughter from the other adult hikers. I worked way too hard to get up here to leave right away. And I wasn’t even trying to be funny. After checking out the stunning view from atop the peak we took the obligatory picture and began our return trip to Sunrise.

Atop Skyscraper Peak! Elevation 7079'

Atop Skyscraper Peak! Elevation 7079′

View from Skyscraper Peak back toward Sunrise.

View from Skyscraper Peak back toward Sunrise. The snow-covered path is the smaller oval  of snow in the middle right of the picture.

I’d love to say that the return trip was a breeze. It wasn’t. It was brutal. Hot. Tired legs. Water wasn’t cool any longer. Warm water just doesn’t refresh as well. Did I mention I was tired? It was still fun to be with my boy and to talk while we hiked. He, too, was a little slower on the return trip. Maybe because I was going a tiny bit slower or because of the different direction we were going, I don’t know. For whatever reason, I noticed the wildflowers more on our return trip than before. Despite such harsh conditions and a short growing season they thrive in this environment, bringing beauty and diversity to the area. My favorites are ones that remind me of the Truffula Trees from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax

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At this point we had been hiking (or resting) for over four hours. Both of us were exhausted, physically and mentally. And we still had about two more miles to go. Crossing the same small snow fields on the way back yielded no more snowball fights. C told me he was too tired to throw anything at me, which was slightly comforting. My knee was starting to protest but I gave it the silent K treatment.  We got back to Frozen Lake, which meant we had exactly one mile to go. This time, with a few clouds having moved in, Frozen Lake was even more photogenic. 

Frozen Lake

Frozen Lake

Finally, more than five hours after beginning our hike, we arrived back at our van at Sunrise. We both gulped some cold drinks from the snack bar and quietly climbed in for our drive back home. C had a contented smile on his face. As we talked in the van he expressed how proud he was of himself for doing such a big hike. I admitted that it was the longest hike I’ve ever taken in my life. He asked if we could bring Mom along next time so that she could see how beautiful it was up there. He also claimed dibs on the first shower once we got home.