Sunday, August 24, 2008

It’s not a job…it’s an adventure. But is it a “sacrifice?”

This is a post that I started red hot, and didn't get to finish at the time, so I apologize up front for the fact that it won't go near where I had hoped in terms of scope or distance.

It’s been a good month for us here on Oahu, and while things have been as crazy as ever, we’ve had a lot of real good days. Preschool goes well and the twins really like going. They spend a lot of their time away from school talking about going back to school. Also, while we are only three weeks in, they are now able to come home and talk to the rest of us about what they ‘did at school today’ which is a really fun wrinkle to our conversations.

The Bear is adjusting as well. She misses her brother and sister terribly at times when they are at school, but has been somewhat consoled by some of our activities together-playgroup and library time, plus the occasional “Madeline” cookie from Starbucks. There’s three in the pack, and she gets to share two of them with the twins, and she likes that. The time at the library has been particularly fun for her, as she gets to run around, sit in all the chairs, read all the books she wants, play with all the stuffed animals she wants, and take dives into the huge stuffed doggie that they have on the floor. Honestly, the thing looks so fluffy that I want to dive on it. Perhaps someday…It’s been fun to see who she is on her own though.

The potty training has been good overall. They still have accidents, but in general, they tend to happen at home or on the way to places, rather than while out in public, which is a good thing. There are steps forward and there are steps back. To be frank, the child who is most motivated right now is the Bear, as she’s got “I-wanna-be-a-big-kid-it is” something fierce. And we let her practice, and she occasionally produces results. It’s endearing in a way that almost slows me to look past the fact that she has learned how to remove her clothing, and her diaper, even when taped and turned around, pretty much at will. Almost. I won’t go deeper here except to say that the messes the wife and I have cleaned up are Jackson Pollack-like in their scope and delivery.
All in all, August has been a good month for us as a family.

There have been two pieces of conversational note that have gotten themselves stuck in my craw. The first is a comment that was made to me by an acquaintance, a relatively new one, who, upon learning that I was a stay-at-home dad, made the comment that, “Cool man. Must be nice not to work.” He followed that up with a litany of praise for how I’ve beaten the system, and can just “chill with your kids all day.”

Now, he’s a younger guy, and it came off to me as the kind of thing that a younger guy who doesn’t really know what he’s saying, might, and in this case, did say. I did notice a young mother, who is also an acquaintance eavesdropping on us, and the angle at which her eyebrows raised at that comment has perhaps not yet been analyzed by our top mathematicians.
I smiled at him and said, “I’ll tell you pal…I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve been a lot of things from Postal Worker to Vice Principal to Garbage-man. I’ve never worked harder in my life than I do as a stay-at-home parent.”

The other mom quietly let out a “Damn right,” and went back to pretending to ignore us.
The young man with whom I was speaking then jumped into a whirlwind of activity asking about what it was like to be a garbage-man, and if I’d ever found anything cool or any dead bodies or anything. He’s a nice kid, and I decided not to trip him as he got up to go tell someone he’d met a guy who was a Garbage-man. Well, maybe I didn’t decide to not to as much as I missed, but who’s to say?

Now, I’ve spoken in this space a number of times about the nature of work and how I see the “work” I do now at home and with my kids, and in fact the work of all stay-at-home parents in a very different light now that I’m doing it. I won’t rehash those same stories, except to add that this kid, and the drama of the last month with preschool and all the other transitions have led me to recall the old Armed Forces slogan: It’s not just a job…it’s an adventure.

And I really think that’s true. When one thinks about the nature of adventure, it’s really a trip into the unknown, and I’ll tell you this gentle reader, the kids and I rarely end up doing exactly what we’ve planned, or at least we don’t do what we planned how we planned it. And some of the results are often a lot of fun. Some of them result in me nearly getting into fistfights at the State Library, but that is another story, also told here previously. (See January. I still want a piece of that guy)

We had a bit of an adventure today, and this one was completely unplanned. After morning swim lessons, dropping the wife off at work, and then heading towards the Discovery museum, we got stuck in traffic, and ran out of time for that activity, so we headed to the Zoo.

And we ended up having the best day there that we’ve had in quite some time. Sun bear was back from vacation, and the Tigers are expecting, and even though we recently lost the Meerkat, everyone is moving on in a positive manner.

This is one of those posts that I started and didn’t get to finish when it was hot in my heart. But, short story is that they were great. The kids talked all day at the Zoo about how they couldn’t wait to tell their friends from school about the thing that they saw at the Zoo, and just in general, they were a lot of fun to be with. From start to finish, they were fun. I could expound, but I’m tired, and I want to post this before I leave for Ohio in a few days.

The “sacrifice” bit was going to be a statement on a comment that someone made to me recently about how the life that I have chosen is a sacrifice. That I’ve given up something to be where I am.

They meant it as a compliment, and I took it as such, but at the end of the day, I think that the days that we spend on this Earth are not measured by anything other than what we were able to do to care for the people we choose to be with. I’ve chosen to care for my family. To me anyway, that’s no sacrifice. It’s a gift.

This would all have been far more eloquent had I more time. Perhaps I’ll be able to hammer out some good stuff on my trip, and maybe make some headway on the novel.

Thank you for all your support.

Monday, August 11, 2008

To Seek the High Call of Friendship

My wife was in a sorority during our college years. They were a local group, unique to our school. Their motto was: “To Seek the High Call of Friendship.” They were a great group of women, and we remain friends with many of her sisters to this day.

I always thought that was a magnificent sentiment: Seeking the High Call of Friendship. To me, friendship has always been a High Call, and one that in its own way has defined the kind of person I want to be. I imagine that one’s ability to be a good friend is a statement on the kind of things that hold true value.

So, what is a friend? Are friends friends forever? I think everyone has had friends that were friends of convenience-people who were there at the right time, and then never there again. I do not mention that in a negative manner in any way, as I suppose there are levels of friendship.

There are people in your life that you’d hop on a plane for, and some that, in all honesty, for whom you probably wouldn’t.

A few weeks ago, I was driving with a couple that we have become friends with here on Oahu, and they made a comment that “guys don’t make friends after college.” I thought about that one a lot. Outside of my wife, the best friends in my life are my pals from college, and a few from high school. There was a truth in that that gave me pause in a way that I did not expect. High School and College were not particularly pleasant years all the time. High School in particular, especially my last year and a half there, dealing with my Father’s Cancer and death, were dramatically hard in a way that touched my relationships for ten years after the fact. I’m not proud of that. I drove a lot of good people away from me because I was broken in a way that I would not understand for several years, and only after finding the best friend I’ll ever have.

But, as we get older, and life makes all mellower and more apt to connect with the shared experiences of our youth, what does it mean to be friends? In the era of Facebook, where all the social divisions that separated us during school seem to be absent, what does it mean to be a friend?

I had a buddy from High School visit the island this week, and though I’ve not seen him in several years, I was cranked to reconnect with him and hang out. We walked all over Waikiki and Honolulu, and dropped way too much cash at the best Sushi restaurant on the planet, “Sushi Sasabune,” on King Street in Honolulu. Seriously. It is amazing, but I digress.

It’s awesome sushi though. I had a blue Shrimp.

It was great to get together, and we talked about a lot of things, our lives, our families, our friends, friendship in general. He told me about the projects that he’s been working on and some recent personal challenges, and I talked about this blog, which he’s read, and the novel, and the music I used to do and stuff like that. We fell into a familiar banter quite easily. It had been a real long time, and I was impressed with how easy it was to just hang out and be friends.

In the end, I wonder if, at this point in my adult life, friendship is really just an agreement to give a damn about one another. At the end of the day, by the time we reach this age, there’s probably not a lot of people in our lives that are not there without our knowledge or consent.

I’ve not lived in my hometown since 1996. But I still care about what happens there. I choose to. I’ve not seen some of my classmates since 1991, but I still grieved the fact that one of them lost his brother in the Iraq war. I remember watching the entire program that Dan Rather produced where he read the name of every casualty of the War up to that point, until they read his name.
I sat there, for 41 minutes until they said his name. I hadn’t thought of that until my friend visited yesterday.

I’ve had a lot of good friends in my life, and some who turned out to be disappointing. I imagine that is pretty much the case for everyone reading this: We’ve all had people show up just when we needed them, just like we’ve probably had someone really let them down by not showing up at all. We’ve all probably made that decision to tell a friend something they didn’t want to hear, but it was the right thing to do. We’ve all probably been friends with that person who was more important to us than we were to them, and if we’re honest, we’ve probably all been on the other side of that one. But in the end, whether it is 20 minutes, or 20 years since you’ve last connected with a friend, I think what the measure might be is, will you show up? Even after years, I think that shared experience of having been friends at one time just might lend itself to being friends again: just gotta decide to give a damn. Or to start giving a damn. Or, get Sushi.

So, with the explosion of Facebook, and the fact that huge numbers of past friends from both High School and College are there reconnecting, it would seem to me that the High Call of Friendship is certainly in the air. It’s been fun to hear from people and find out what they have been up to. It’s kind of cool to think about the fact that even from several thousands of miles away, I’ve been able to learn more about what people are up to then I have in years.

I hope it lasts. Being so far away has had its positives and its negatives in our life as a family. There are days that I feel very isolated way out here in the Pacific. Guess that’s one of the things that made my recent visitor so welcome and our visit so rewarding-just like that, we fell into a conversation that we could have started 10 years ago, and hadn’t missed a beat. Because we chose to. It was good stuff.

I wonder if that’s possible within one’s own family. Hope I find out someday, but that is perhaps a topic for another day.

For the now, I"ll make that choice every time to give a damn.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

That Twinkle Again

As a guide for new readers: I’ve got twins: the boy and the girl who are going on four. They have a little sister, the “Bear” who is going on two.

Today was the twins first day of pre-school. I’ve been talking about it with them, our friends, and in this space for several weeks now. To say that it’s been a major date on our calendar is a whopping understatement. And then, today, here we are.

The kids woke up a bit earlier than normal today. Our alarm was set for 7am, and they were up having their morning playtime by 6:45. We set into our normal morning routine and were in the car by 8:01, with my goal having been 8:00. We had a cushion, so I was happy with 8:01. It only takes 6-9 minutes on average to get to school, so I knew we were in good shape, and would have time to take some pictures.

The kids were excited. We talked on the way over about what school was about, and how to greet the teacher, and that kind of stuff. The parking lot was full of mini-vans and parents in various stages of emotion, and cameras galore, all capturing kids in various stages of emotion themselves. As we all made our way in, the twins did pretty much what I expected them to do, which was put their stuff in their cubbies, and go to sit on the rug by their teacher with nary a thought about me leaving. I told them to “be good and I love you,” and was out the door, pushing their now caterwauling little sister away from the school.

This caterwauling, I must admit was unexpected. Now, I’m not certain what set the little Bear off; it may have been her siblings going somewhere without her. It may have been she wanted out of the stroller, which is pretty common these days, as she’s got “Big-kid-itis” something fierce. I’m not entirely certain it wasn’t a little of both, and that got me thinking what this change really might mean for her. It’s not the first time I had considered that, but with just she and I flying solo, I was able to really focus on that aspect of it for the first time.

I think it may be a good thing for her development, and a potentially challenging thing for their relationships, as this is a “big kid” experience that she can’t really emulate, as she’s been trying to do of late. She tries to use the potty, change her own clothes, refuses to wear diapers, wants to eat in a big kid chair, all at once sometimes. The twins will be at school having experiences that are still two years away from where she is right now. With all of her time of late having been rather tied to what they are doing, now that I think of it, this may be a bigger transition for her than for them. They will be moving away from the day-to-day life we’ve been having, and she and I will have to adjust. This is not to say that the transition for the twins is any less tumultuous: I think it is quite significant. I just had not been able to see how the change would hit any of us until it had done so.

I took the Bear to the YMCA Playmorning program, which is basically an hour of open play followed by a brief circle time. It’s near the pre-school, so it will make for a convenient activity for us on days where I’m not serving as parent helper. She would not ride in her stroller as I had hoped: “No ride” she said. “Walk!“ And, so we did. Perhaps that should have clued me in to what is to come with her. It was a day.

We went to this program quite a bit last year, and were pleased to see some parents and kids that we knew as we arrived. She ran into the room, which is filled with stuff to play with, and then looked around for her brother and sister, calling for them for a few seconds, and then, realizing that she was on her own, set to playing and having an absolute blast both solo and with the other kids.

I, on the other hand had no idea what to do. Typically, I’m keeping my eyes on all three of them at once; “head on a swivel: technique I used to preach to both my soccer and lacrosse teams in the old days. I wouldn’t sit down, as each kid was in a different corner, so I was always on my toes and looking about. Now, um, well, not so much. She went and played. I sat down at the craft table and made a Popsicle stick teddy Bear. She did her thing. She played and checked up on her now and then.

She did something very interesting though, and I’ll be curious to see if it continues: every now and then, she would come find me as if to check up on me. She would come over and kind of rest her head on my leg, look at what I was doing, and then go back to her playing. She played with some of the boys by the cars, and spent a large percentage of her time playing with some of the older girls in the kitchen set area. But she would pop in from time to time and tilt her head at me and say “Hi Daddy!” Then she’d laugh and bop away. There was something in her manner, or maybe it was that unexpected twinkle in her eyes, that reminded me of my father.

I remember Dad acting similarly when I was a kid, at a family party, or even just a long day or the end of season “birch beer” party at the swim club, he’d pop in, check that everything was alright, and go back to where I couldn’t readily see him, but from where, I am now sure, he could monitor everything we were up to. Dad always had that twinkle. She was checking up on me, and truth be told, I’m not sure I didn’t need it.

As I’ve written about here before, I left what I used to do to do this thing with my kids…and as they get older, that thing changes whether or not I’m ready for it. Having worked with kids at every grade level in school, I have to force myself to not over-project and over-analyze what they are doing and who they are. It’s a lot easier to do when they are someone else’s kids.

The Episcopal Bishop of Hawaii gave a sermon a few months back that I really grooved on. I do not know the basis of his research on the points he made, but I found them to be thought-provoking and will share them with you in that manner. He talked about he had read a study that discussed what parents of varying cultures wished for their children as they grew up. He talked about how Asian parents wished for their children to be “successful.” He talked about how American parents wished for their children to be “happy.” He talked about whether or not those were attainable goals for parents. Then he talked about how this study spoke of European parents, Finnish parents in particular (I should have taken notes) and how their wish for their children was for them to be “good.” He talked about how he thought that might be the most achievable goal, and said a lot of other smart things that I don’t remember, but I know that I share a similar goal. I hope my kids will be happy. I hope they will be successful. I want them to be good. I pray that they are good. But they are still developing and growing. It’s hard not to take their success and their failures as anything less than a performance review as a parent, but I know that there’s a lot more to it than that. I guess now that they are all heading towards being big kids, I should let them check up on me. It’s been an odd few days. I was essentially just “there” at Playmornings with the Bear, and that level of the Familial Mathematics was odd for me.

But, if I’m going to be honest, I’m only now finishing this on Wednesday August 6, a full day after their monumental first day of school. Truth be told, as I look towards tomorrow, I’m going to take the Bear to the library story time, by ourselves for the first time. It’s been a big adjustment, and one that has tapped into not only my own sense of self worth and value as a parent, but our sense as a family of what we are working towards and where we have come from and to, being "way out there" as has been said recently.

I’d like my kids to be “good.” And, I’d like them to look out for one another. Just check the recent "Turd" entry to see my thoughts on that.

While it’s only one day, I’d like to think that I saw some things about who my kids are and who they might be.

Honestly though, I never thought I’d see that twinkle again.