We’ll Always Have Paris

Have you ever run into a friend from your past in an unexpected place? Maybe you went to an amusement park or concert and saw someone you went to high school with and one of you commented about what a small world it is. Try this one on for size. Walking from our hotel in a random neighborhood in Paris, France, my daughter and I ran into some friends that we went to church with nine years ago when we were living in Mason City, Iowa. Stunned doesn’t begin to describe what we were all feeling after I greeted them from about fifteen feet away by saying loudly, “I go all the way to Paris and who do I see but the Muyskens family?”. After all five of them (parents and three daughters) whirled their heads to see who just called their name out in Paris, we exchanged hugs and excited “What are you doing here?” silliness. Duh! We’re all on vacation. Yet, here we both were. I’d kept in touch with Dennis and Susan over the last nine years since we last lived in Iowa. The last time I saw them was in 2009, when I took my oldest went back for a weekend with one of her best friends there. While we remained on friendly terms (exchanged Christmas letters/photos) ours was more of a Facebook friendship where we kind of kept in touch but that was about it. And then, this.

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A chance meeting in Paris. They had literally just arrived that morning after taking an overnight direct flight from Minneapolis, Minnesota. They were on their first outing from their hotel, trying to find the nearby Metro stop. Only, they had gone the wrong direction (toward us). Likewise, my daughter and I had just found our hotel after taking the overnight train to Paris from Milan. After our showers we decided that we were hungry and the hotel clerk said that there were restaurants to the left or to the right from the hotel. We opted to go to the right since that was the direction of the Metro stop we would need later to go to the Eiffel Tower. It was at the corner of that street, a block from our hotel, that we chanced upon our friends. Since we were all hungry we decided to grab lunch together at the cafe which was across the street. What followed was a lot of head shaking and What are the odds?! moments. It was great to see my friends again. It’s amazing how quickly kids grow up when the last time you saw them was nine years prior. The Muyskens girls were just finishing 1st, 4th and 8th grades back in 2005 when we moved. Now the oldest is a college graduate, looking forward to teaching art in the fall. The next daughter is in college, a double major (bio and chem) looking at med school. The youngest is a junior in high school. Crazy! Of course, it goes both ways. Susan was my daughter E’s preschool teacher for two years. Of course, E, at age 14, didn’t realize that this was the famous Mrs. Muyskens from preschool and was even more shocked when I told her that fact. 

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Since we’d had so much fun catching up at lunch we decided to accept their kind invitation to tag along on their trip to the Eiffel Tower. (It’s what we’d planned to do anyhow, but better with friends!) I think it was especially nice for my daughter to be able to have this fun time with three other girls roughly her age instead of just me. We get along well but I’m sure she enjoyed the time with other teens. At any rate, the tower was huge. Bigger in real life that I thought it would be. So interesting to finally see such an iconic European structure. We had hoped to go to the top but the lines were about 3 hours long. No thanks! But walking underneath it was also pretty cool. Thinking about how it was built and all the iron needed to do it. What an engineering marvel. After a delicious ice cream/sorbet break and some cartwheels and bridges in front of the tower we meandered found some other impressive buildings – palaces and cathedrals and such – and just enjoyed our unexpected afternoon together. Seriously. If either of us had left our hotels 30 seconds sooner or later we wouldn’t have seen one another! 

At about 5:30 local time, which was 10:30 am Minnesota time, we decided to have dinner together before heading back to our respective hotels, as some of the Muyskens family were starting to feel the effects of jet-lag. After dinner we navigated through the Metro to the stop near our hotels. When we got to our parting spot we stopped to say good bye. Only this time my daughter had made three new friends so the “kids” also participated in the good-bye hugs. Being the clown that I am and not wanting to dwell in the sadness of the farewell moment too long, I spontaneously said with all the dramatic flair I could muster (which isn’t much, I might add), “We’ll always have Paris!“. It received the desired reaction and we left. Our separate European vacations forever entwined by a chance encounter in the City of Light. Au revoir!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Princess Training

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

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

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

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

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

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Fight Like A Girl: A Matter of Perspective

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

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

Water into Wine

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

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

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

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

Funerals Are Fun

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

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

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

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