Grab A Hand

father-son-holding-handsI’ve been volunteering at my kids’ school as often as I can. My mom did such an incredible job of this when my brother and I were kids that she modeled it well. I consider myself fortunate that I have the flexibility to volunteer and I know that the window of opportunity for this is much more limited than most of us really consider.

Last year, my oldest son signed up for running club at the school. It’s an after school program that encourages fitness but also rewards kids for pushing themselves. The gym teacher who runs it gave out little colored running shoe keychains to mark accomplishments that the students had made in their own progress.

My oldest is fairly cerebral and would much rather read a good book or play a video game than throw a ball. He’s found some activities that he likes and we’ve done our best to encourage them. So, when he expressed his interest in this, I jumped at the opportunity to encourage him by not only signing him up, but by volunteering myself to be a part of it.

Over the years, I’ve watched those who have gone before me in their parenting styles and skills. I’ve done my best to glean good practices from them that I have seen and mark those other practices that have not proved to be quite as effective. One of the practices that I’ve seen work so well for parents of multiple children is “dating” their children. This just involves taking them out one on one to do special and fun things together.

The things that I’ve chosen to do with my kids haven’t been grandiose or extravagant. Sometimes it’s just a trip to Home Depot or Goodwill. Involving them in the most common tasks can easily help them to feel important and involved. Activities like this running club have proven to be super beneficial for my relationship with my son as well.

The other day, after the club had finished and we were all walking back from the field to the gym, my son walked alongside me and grasped my hand. At that moment, I felt like the child as I glanced around to see whether or not anyone else was looking. I wasn’t embarrassed to hold my son’s hand, but I was surprised that it didn’t seem like something that was even on his radar. We walked back to the gym, hand in hand, talking about the day and his run. As we walked, I took a mental snapshot, capturing that moment in my brain because I knew that moments like that were fleeting and I wouldn’t have them forever.

I was so thankful for that moment. I was thankful that I had established a relationship with my son where he felt comfortable, even in 4th grade, grabbing his dad’s hand with his peers all around him. I was thankful that the affection that I’ve tried so hard to pour out on him was coming back to me. Not that I poured it out to get it back, but the return was an added benefit. I was thankful that it gave me a glimpse of the future relationship between my son and I, when we move from being father and son to being friends.

It was only the grabbing of a hand, but it meant a lot to me. These are the moments that legacy is made of, how we are remembered and how we remember. They happen when we least expect it and they certainly can’t be contrived or created. I’m hoping for many more, but I won’t try too hard to make them happen, I’ll just seize the opportunities, make myself available, and hope that they continue to come towards me.

Slowing Down

2015-07-24 09.39.48I am in constant need of reminders, be they subtle or not, to slow down and enjoy life and its little moments. I have heard the phrase on many occasions that we are human “beings” rather than human “doings” and every time that I hear it, it jolts me awake to the point of realizing that things are passing me by and I’m missing them. I need to be reminded that there is only one day like today, it will never happen again, I will never be able to relive it or recapture it, I will never be able to come back and pretend that I’m Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” replaying a day endlessly until I finally get the desired outcome.

Recently, I was on vacation with my family. We didn’t go anywhere exotic, unless you consider Connecticut exotic. We took nearly two weeks to spend time with our family. Over the course of those nearly two weeks, my wife and I attended both a wedding and a funeral, two life events that are almost certain to jolt you awake from any slumber of complacency that you might have been enjoying.

As we spent time at my in-law’s house, I realized that the daily routine that my kids had adopted at our house in Virginia had easily been adopted in Connecticut. They woke up and ran downstairs to sit in front of the television, ingesting all that Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and the Disney Channel had to offer them. If there was no intervention, they could have easily stayed put like that for the entire day, allowing their brains to be numbed and melted by whatever meaningless drivel and fare that was being spewed out from the flat screen television.

At one point, I can’t remember which of us, my wife or I, had gotten fed up and turned the television off. The kids who are smart, creative, and funny, somehow forgot that there was a world outside of television. They had forgotten to use their imagination to find a world outside of one that was created for them. They had forgotten what it was to discover, to learn new things, to try new things, and it was most likely a result of me forgetting the very same thing.

The TV went dark and they began to complain about there being nothing to do.

It’s a dilemma that every parent who loves and cares for their children eventually faces. This parenting thing isn’t for the weak of heart, but for the courageous, the brave, and, sometimes, the stupid. In those moments as parents face those dilemmas, they need to think fast on their feet, generating new ideas and plans at the drop of a hat as they do their best to fend off the impending boredom that is sure to face their children (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

The sun was shining outside and there was a whole stack of paper in the printer, so, I thought, it seemed the perfect time to build paper airplanes. After all, their father was a paper airplane champion, to the point that I had been banned from the last day of my 7th grade Spanish class in our third floor classroom after having been involved with what my 7th grade math teacher had deemed “the beginning of World War III.” On the second to last day of school, I joined a few of my friends to fire paper airplanes out the third floor window of the classroom when the teacher’s back was turned.

I imagine that as my math teacher, as he stood three stories below, may just have heard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in his head as he watched the onslaught of paper airplanes descending upon the courtyard in which he stood. Needless to say, my friends and I, although expert airplane builders and flyers, were not welcomed back to our Spanish class for that last day but instead were forced to walk the school grounds picking up trash to pay for our transgressions.

But I digress….

As I recounted this story in my own mind, I grabbed some paper and began to fold and fold and fold some more. I helped my older two children as they followed suit, showing them the intricate folds that were required to construct our very own flying machine. The excitement was palpable as the folding came to completion and we ran into the driveway to test out these flying machines that we had made.

For the next hour or more, we stood in the driveway watching these airplanes zoom and swirl, spin and plummet. We laughed, we ooohhhh-ed and aahhhh-ed at the flight paths of these airplanes that had been created by our own hands.

We grabbed more paper and made more, altering the design here and there to see the difference that it made in the flight of our planes.

In those moments, those simple and innocent moments, we were all experiencing pure joy. It didn’t require electricity, it didn’t require a controller or joystick, it just took some paper, some time, and a little patience and imagination.

I was reminded once again that I can prepare and plan all I want to create an experience for my children that I consider to be awesome, but some of the best and most memorable moments and experiences are the ones that just happen, the ones that spontaneously emerge from “boredom” or from a fast from television.

I wondered to myself how I could rediscover this same joy and simplicity in all of the things that I do. In disconnecting, I found myself more connected. In being “bored,” we all found ourselves completely swept away in the excitement of the moment.

I think I’m going to have to find a copy of Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” and try this again. Maybe a little background music will add to the excitement of the moment. Either way, I know that I’ll be capturing a moment, a moment that I’ll never be able to find again.

8

100_1983My oldest son is 8 years old today. It is yet another sign that the world isn’t slowing down. He’s actually the last of the birthdays in my immediate family. Starting on September 20th and ending today, my three kids and wife all have birthdays in that time frame. So, after having a Jedi party where we made lightsabers and trained in the Jedi arts yesterday, we’re done with birthdays in our house until mine comes in the Spring.

I vividly remember that day, becoming a dad for the first time. We were living far from family in Asheville, North Carolina. We thought that our baby was coming on Friday the 13th, but he waited about half an hour too long. My poor wife had been laboring since the early morning hours of the 13th, so it was a long labor.

We didn’t know that it would be a boy, but we were so excited when he came. He was a little jaundiced, so we had to put him under a Bili Light for a few days. We called him our little “Blue Light Special.” He was, and is, a cuddler. He loves to snuggle and cuddle and I’m not sure what I will do when the day comes when he’s too big to do that.

The first two years of his life, it was only him. I did my best to savor every moment. We probably have more pictures of him than either of the other two kids. Seems first children always get the special portraits, all of the attention, the new presents, and less hand-me-downs.

It’s when you have multiple children that you begin to appreciate just how time flies. I look at my son and am not scratching my head wondering how eight years went by so quickly. I look at my daughter and I DO wonder how three years has gone by so quickly.

The busier we get, the faster time flies, at least, that’s how it feels to me. It’s always key for me to look back at those pictures and remember. They bring me back to a different place and a different time, even though it was just a few years ago. Life’s pretty different now than it even was eight years ago.

Over the years, people have told me again and again how fast time flies. They have told me that I would blink and my children would be heading off to college. I’ve done my best to heed their advice and seize every moment, being around as often as I can, capturing the simple, silly moments, the stuff that memories are made of.

Yesterday, I was Jedi Master at a birthday party for my eight year old. Someday soon, he won’t have big birthday parties anymore. Someday soon, I’ll have to grill him to try to find out what’s going on throughout his days. Heck, I kind of have to do that already.

So, I’ll savor these moments. I’ll play the Jedi. I’ll stop what I’m doing a little more frequently. I’ll close my eyes and remember those days gone by. I’ll make memories in my mind, capturing those moments as best as I can.

But I’ll also think about what will be. Every chapter that ends is the beginning of something else. One day, we will look eye to eye and I will learn even more from him, probably more than he has learned from me. One day, I will move from father to friend. One day, we will share more than ice cream, candy, or cake.

I don’t want that day to come too soon, so I’ll just sit here right now and squeeze that little boy. I’ll take every hug that I can. I’ll savor the fact that he’s still not big enough to be embarrassed about kissing his Daddy on the lips. These are the moments that bring a smile to my face, and I’ll savor every one!

Happy birthday, buddy!

Dancing With A Princess – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Wanda writes: It almost goes without saying why this would be a favorite for anyone to read or re-read again and again. What a gift for a parent to figure out so soon how fleeting these precious moments with our children are. If we are blessed to be in a loving family, we pray that there will be many more moments to share, but also realize that we can’t ever let them slip away. It will be a shared memory for the parent and the child each time they hear a special song and dance a different dance, but one thing stays the same: she will always be your princess.]

I have a two year old princess.

After my second son was born, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never have a daughter. I had dreamed of having a daughter for most of my life. I never really told anyone that was my dream….if you talk of your dreams, they won’t come true, right? I would welcome whatever child God brought me, but inside, I was wishing for a girl.

I love my boys with all of my heart and I have a special connection with both of them, but there’s just something about a dad and his little girl that is incomparable to any other relationship in the world. No matter how old she gets, she will still be my little girl, my little princess, my Cinderella.

Whenever I can, I try to seize moments that are in front of me. It’s too easy to let them slip by and then lose the opportunities, so I do my best to grab them when I can. That’s just what I did the other day.

I was working from home, sitting at my computer, and thinking about the new Steven Curtis Chapman album that had come out. It reminded me of a song that he had written called “Cinderella.” The song is the story of him watching his little girl grow up, progressing through until the day that she gets engaged and married. The song came out long before I had a daughter (4 years to be precise).

At that moment, I stopped what I was doing and grabbed my daughter. I looked at her and told her that we were going to dance. She seemed reluctant, probably not realizing that US dancing meant ME swinging her around in my arms. I turned on the song and we began to dance, swinging and spinning all around the room.

As I listened to the words of the song, singing along, I was overcome by the emotion of the moment. Right before my eyes, my daughter will grow up. Will I capture the moments that can easily pass me by? If I don’t, everything will be just a flicker, a fleeting moment, a blip in time.

We danced all around the room and we both laughed. She, unlike me, was not overcome by emotion. I held my little girl tighter as the power of the lyrics seized me in that moment. I didn’t want to let her go. I wanted to freeze that moment forever, indelibly marking it upon my brain, never to be erased.

Every birthday party, every tea party, every tear shed, every skinned knee, every important event in her life will be before my eyes in ONE MOMENT……and then they will be gone.

Sure, it makes me sad to think about that, but I would rather think about seizing those moments, grabbing a hold, and making memories as best that I can. I want my daughter to know how important that she is to me, how precious she is in my sight, and how to expect to be treated by the man that God brings her way someday.

In those moments, I danced with Cinderella, and we had fun. I can’t wait to do it again, and I know it will be sooner than later.

Embracing the Moment

It seems that so much of what I learn in life comes from my children. They are constantly teaching me things and as I listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before me, I look to my children to offer the opportunities for growth. It’s not so much that they intentionally do things to make me grow, but if I pay attention and look at what’s going on, I realize that the opportunities are bountiful.

While I was going to school and trying to juggle life with kids, a full time job, and school, I had to slow down and stop so many times to take a breath. I realized that I was wishing things away that I would be wishing back in no time at all. I mean, how many times have you heard someone say when watching their kids graduate from high school, “They were just in diapers the other day?”

My kids all still like for me to lay down with them at night. I remember doing that while I was in school and just waiting for the song to be over so that I could move on to “more important things.” One night, after laying with my kids and then sitting at the computer typing away for hours, I think it finally registered to me that time was fleeting and short, that these moments would not last forever. In no time at all my children may be wanting me to drop them off down the street from where they’re going for fear of embarrassment. They may not hug and kiss me goodbye, they may have a harder time saying. “I love you” when they walk out the door.

So, I’ll embrace these moments.

The other day, my boys were playing a video game and they were wondering how to get some of the extra characters. I gave them my words of wisdom and then went about doing other stuff. A little while later, I heard one of them say to the other, “Daddy was right.” Those words will soon be hard to come by from the mouth of those boys as they arrive at that place that it seems every child must come to when they know more than those who have gone before them. Until that day, I’ll savor the moment.

The older that I get, the more I realize how important these moments are to seize and savor. In fact, it’s moments like these that I probably remember most from my childhood. It’s not the calculated moments where things were planned out and executed to perfection, it’s the moments that were spontaneous, where moments were seized and opportunities were taken. Those moments are the ones burned upon my brain.

I am far from a perfect father, but I hope that my children will remember these moments, the simple moments. I’ve often marveled at how, at the end of the day, my children will often point to the simple moments of a day as their favorites rather than the grand and exquisite moments that took time to plan and prepare. It’s a good lesson to me, a reminder that simple can be better, that the best laid plans may not have the impact that we think that they will have.

Moments are meant to be seized. I miss some and capture others. My hope and prayer is that the ones that I capture are the ones that can make memories that will last a lifetime. Those moments are the moments for which I am grateful.

In Summer

Summer. Long days full of all kinds of activities. Running through the sprinkler, swimming in the pool, riding bikes all over town. Nights spent catching fireflies or playing flashlight tag throughout the neighborhood. It seems that so much of the spirit of youth can be captured in memories and thoughts of summertime.

I remember summer days when I felt that the world was completely open in front of me, waiting for me to wrangle it and make out of it whatever I wanted. I remember days spent collecting cans and bottles to redeem for a nickel a piece. That was my first unofficial part-time job.

While some people can’t stand the heat and humidity, I’ll take it over the cold any day. There’s nothing like sweating so much that your clothes soak through. Then, you step into the oasis of an air conditioned room, covered by cool, refreshing air that restores and rejuvenates, preparing you to once again face what once seemed oppressive as you walk through the door into the outside world.

When I was young, the summer seemed to be a “pause” for me, a time to stop moving forward in rat-like fashion and collect my thoughts, regroup, pull myself together. It almost felt like a “timeout” from life while I had a little fun. Somehow, I’ve managed to maintain a little bit of that feeling as I’ve gotten older.

Obviously, things change. It’s not like one can just stop showing up to work in the summer months and expect to remain gainfully employed. But it’s not so much about the time as it is about the attitude as you go through the summer. Work goes on, but it doesn’t seem to feel quite as hectic and urgent as it does from the months of September through May. Responsibilities are still there, as are deadlines and goals, but somehow the urgency of certain things doesn’t feel quite as…….well, urgent.

Laying with my 7 year old the other night, he hugged me and I told him that there would be a day when he wouldn’t want to do that any longer. He just kind of smiled at me with that look that said, “Whatever you say, Daddy!” I hugged and kissed my father until the moment that he breathed his last breath. I can only hope that I can instill in my children the same affection that my mom and dad instilled in me.

But lying there with my son was a reminder to me of how fast time goes. I don’t expect that he’ll want me to lay with him as he drifts off to sleep when he’s fifteen years old……and if he does, there might be a some people who just think that’s weird. The moments that are before me are unique, ready and waiting to be seized. After all, those moments won’t be there forever.

Yet, somehow on summer days, especially when we are young, we feel that those days will last forever. Although they don’t, we can seize every moment and make a memory out of as many of them as we can. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my summers. I want to do whatever I can to make sure that my kids can make the best memories possible with their summers as well.

So, while I can’t play hooky from work for the next two and a half months, I can breathe a little bit while I go about my day. I can start a little earlier and leave a little earlier, seizing those moments that will melt away like the popsicles in the summer heat. I can kick back and watch my children drink in the innocence and joy of the summer. Sure, you can call it living vicariously through them, but if I’m ever going to live vicariously through my children, I think the summertime’s a good time to do it!

A Sweet Look

My mom used to tell me the story of a time when I was fairly young and she and I were at the grocery store together.  I was old enough to be able to speak and converse with my mom, but the memory is foggy in my memory, at best.  According to Mom, there was a baby in the cart in front of us that I apparently thought was cute.  I just stared and stared at that baby and finally said to my mom, “Mommy, when I lookanne_geddes_preview_21 at that baby it just makes my eyes want to cry.”

So many times over the years, I’ve encountered babies or children that had that “cuteness” factor that evoked a similar sentiment to what my 3 or 4 year old self verbalized to my mom so many years ago.  None of those even held a candle to the feeling that I get when I look at my own children.

Every parent thinks that their kids are cute, I think it’s a requirement of parenting.  Even in the awkward stages of the teen years, parents can probably still find something about their kids about which to dote (especially moms).  I am no exception to the doting, especially as all of my kids are under the age of 10.

Since my first child was born, I have made it a point to go into my children’s rooms and just look at them.  I will often whisper endearments in their ears or quietly pray over them.  Often, I will just stand there and stare, marveling at God’s creation and the humility of being a part of it, even to the point of helping in the re-creation of life.

So many times over the last few years, my children have provided therapy for me without even knowing it.  I have laughed.  I have cried.  I’ve been frustrated.  I’ve been afraid.  They always managed to find themselves at the center of so many of those emotions, but the ones that are the most memorable to me are the ones in which I’ve experienced joy, even being overcome with tears of joy.

In those quiet moments in their rooms at night, after they have fallen asleep, there is something peaceful about listening to their breaths. In and out.  In and out.  Sometimes the breaths get louder…..even to a snore, but it’s always so peaceful.

I recount the day and all that took place within it.  I think about their smiles.  I think about their achievements.  I think about the pride I have in calling them my sons and daughter.  I think about the humility and responsibility required for parenting.  I thank God for the gift that he’s given me and entrusted me with.

I would love to have a conversation with my 3 or 4 year old self to find out just what it was that I saw in that baby so many years ago.  I imagine that if we talked, I would tell my older self that the sheer beauty, innocence, peace, and joy that I found in that baby’s face was enough to overwhelm me with emotion.  My older self would probably tell my younger self to just wait until I had kids of my own…….

Taking those moments at the end of the day to look in on my kids adds joy to my life but it also helps me to regain perspective.  What a blessing that they are, in their wild or crazy or happy or sad moments.  I think I will always look at them and just the beauty that I see in them will make my eyes want to cry.

Dancing With a Princess

I have a two year old princess.IMG_4140

After my second son was born, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never have a daughter.  I had dreamed of having a daughter for most of my life.  I never really told anyone that was my dream….if you talk of your dreams, they won’t come true, right?  I would welcome whatever child God brought me, but inside, I was wishing for a girl.

I love my boys with all of my heart and I have a special connection with both of them, but there’s just something about a dad and his little girl that is incomparable to any other relationship in the world.  No matter how old she gets, she will still be my little girl, my little princess, my Cinderella.

Whenever I can, I try to seize moments that are in front of me.  It’s too easy to let them slip by and then lose the opportunities, so I do my best to grab them when I can.  That’s just what I did the other day.

I was working from home, sitting at my computer, and thinking about the new Steven Curtis Chapman album that had come out.  It reminded me of a song that he had written called “Cinderella.”  The song is the story of him watching his little girl grow up, progressing through until the day that she gets engaged and married.  The song came out long before I had a daughter (4 years to be precise).

At that moment, I stopped what I was doing and grabbed my daughter.  I looked at her and told her that we were going to dance.  She seemed reluctant, probably not realizing that US dancing meant ME swinging her around in my arms.  I turned on the song and we began to dance, swinging and spinning all around the room.

As I listened to the words of the song, singing along, I was overcome by the emotion of the moment.  Right before my eyes, my daughter will grow up.  Will I capture the moments that can easily pass me by?  If I don’t, everything will be just a flicker, a fleeting moment, a blip in time.

We danced all around the room and we both laughed.  She, unlike me, was not overcome by emotion.  I held my little girl tighter as the power of the lyrics seized me in that moment.  I didn’t want to let her go.  I wanted to freeze that moment forever, indelibly marking it upon my brain, never to be erased.

Every birthday party, every tea party, every tear shed, every skinned knee, every important event in her life will be before my eyes in ONE MOMENT……and then they will be gone.

Sure, it makes me sad to think about that, but I would rather think about seizing those moments, grabbing a hold, and making memories as best that I can.  I want my daughter to know how important that she is to me, how precious she is in my sight, and how to expect to be treated by the man that God brings her way someday.

In those moments, I danced with Cinderella, and we had fun.  I can’t wait to do it again, and I know it will be sooner than later.