I caught my kid…being good!

As a parent, and specifically as the at home parent who is with our children the most during the day, I am constantly trying to get my children to be more helpful, kind and considerate. Often, it can seem like I’m speaking Greek to them because, like most kids, they can fight and with and irritate one another, despite whatever I say or do. And then something happened over the weekend that helped assure me that my words are heard and that my efforts as a parent have not been entirely in vain. I caught my nine year old son being good!

Actually, I didn’t catch him being good. I just heard about it from my friend Austin, who is a pastor at my church. He stopped me in between services on Sunday morning to tell me how much he enjoyed chatting with my son the previous day while I was playing trombone with the worship team during our two hour rehearsal Saturday afternoon. It was news to me that Austin and my son had chatted at all, since my son had planned on reading his new favorite book series (Series of Unfortunate Events). Austin told me that while my son was quietly reading in the mezzanine he (Austin) was in and out of the large room, getting things ready for the 6 pm service, when all of a sudden my son appeared (Austin had been working with his back to my boy) and asked Austin if he needed any help. Even though he didn’t need the help, Austin graciously brought my boy to the kitchen and had him wash some dirty dishes that would be needed later. They talked while washing dishes and doing other tasks once the dishes were done. Austin complimented me on my son’s behavior and willingness to offer his help without being asked or prompted.

I was floored. Sure, there are times that my son willingly does his daily chores and sometimes even offers to do things without being asked. But, for him to do that somewhere other than at home made me think that he’s really beginning to understand; that my parenting is making a positive difference. It was one of those moments that will encourage and inspire me to keep on parenting even when it seems like my kids are not listening to me. After church, I gave my son a big hug and told him how proud I was of what he did the previous day to help out Pastor Austin without being asked. Once we got home, I made a point to tell my wife about his helpfulness in front of him so that he would hear (again!) how pleased I was of him.

Breaking Dad

San Andreas site in El Salvador

Mayan pyramids at San Andres site in El Salvador

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

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

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

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

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

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