I know it’s rare that we catch our aging in progress; it’s difficult for us to notice the process taking place. There’s often a moment of sudden, painful clarity.
The above quote was one of my moments.
“You should talk to one of the old guys,” I believe is what I said just before the fatal blow to my youthful pride. In the middle of a conversation with military coworkers, I thought of myself as roughly their peer, in age and experience. One young woman informed me ever so gently that this was not the case.
I joined the Air Force early, at age 17, which required a parent’s signature to approve. So I have often been the young one in any group. Once that changed, the reactions shifted to “whoa, I didn’t realize you’ve been in the service that long.” Even those eventually ceased.
I’ve already done my 20 years. Two days from now, I will finish my 22nd year of active duty. My hair is going gray (so my daughter likes to remind me), I sometimes limp, and I serve on a no-running profile, so age has taken its toll.
Speaking of the daughter, one of the surprised reactions I get is at the fact that I have two teenaged children. Maybe most folks have better sense than to start so young, or maybe there’s still a touch of “I didn’t know you were that old” left.
But today after flying for twelve hours, I got my own surprise reaction when my daughter’s Facebook profile revealed she is engaged to her boyfriend of over a year.
Now this is nothing out of the blue–they’ve been talking and plotting for quite some time. But a distant concept that “someday soon after I turn eighteen I plan to marry him” is different than a public proclamation of “this is happening.”
I will turn 40 just before she turns 18, so it’s not like I can say I’m still young. I’m just not old enough for this quite yet.
After its reign of terror through Hollywood, the music industry, and the Cincinnati Zoo, 2016 struck one last, very personal blow.
Bring on the new year, this one sucks.
…but maybe not too fast. There are only so many more moments left, like snowflakes falling on a warm winter day, melting and vanishing before they touch the ground.
“I can’t take the Dude outside to play at the park,” Teen Son declared. “There’s broken glass everywhere there.”
Apparently some kids got a hold of a microwave and decided the appropriate thing to do was shatter the rotating glass plate on the public use cement patio behind our house. I sighed in frustration, bemoaned the wicked deeds of “darn kids these days,” and decided to call the housing area manager since the park isn’t actually my responsibility despite its proximity.
Then, a few hours later, my daughter tells me there’s glass in the front yard. “No,” I reply, “it’s at the park, in the back. Isn’t it?”
“Well I think there’s glass out front too.”
I investigate to discover the remains of a Vlasic pickle jar, not five feet from my front door, shattered on the cement walkway to the sidewalk. Chunks and shards sparkle between blades of grass beside the cement.
I’m out there sweeping and picking up shards in the dark with a flashlight, listening to my middle son describe what he saw, and thinking about the conversations I need to have with some neighborhood parents.
“[Kid 1] had the jar, and he wanted to break it. So he put a bunch of rocks in it and shook it really hard. But it didn’t break.”
ok, so first I need to make sure some parents talk to him about how dangerous and dumb it is to break glass in your own hand.
“Then [Kid 2] said he’d help. And he took it and smashed it on the cement.”
Then I need to discuss the fact I don’t want a sea of glass shards outside my front door.
“Yeah,” Teen Son adds, “those were the kids who broke that stuff in the park.”
Maybe I should take a closer look.
We check and discover not just a microwave but an assortment of kitchen items turned refuse. Plastic cups and jars, and a blender–plugged into the patio outlet and seemingly used to blend aluminum cans.
I don’t know any way to explain that to parents other than “So, boys being boys, it seems the kids decided to blend some cans and break appliances in the park patio, and that seems not too safe.”
Maybe it’s a form of karma. I broke bottles on train tracks and threw florescent tube lights like spears. I even punched one once–yes, that ended poorly. I was friends with the kid who tried to build bombs in his garage, so maybe my parents thought, “Well at least David isn’t blowing anything up.” Or maybe they didn’t know the full scope of my nefarious activities.
Now I can imagine what a number of homeowners must have felt back then at finding shards of glass scattered on their curbside. I didn’t think of it then, but I get it now. So I expect the neighborhood kids will be mad that someone talked to their parents, and they’ll probably be upset about being grounded (or whatever form of discipline if any they receive).
I don’t care.
I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of parents would rather be aware of their kids’ behavior, however blissful ignorance might be. If you catch my kid shattering jars on your front door (or throwing light-spears or lighting things on fire or planning to build a bomb), I’d love to hear about it. I’ll probably thank you and apologize, blushing profusely.
Then my kid will come clean up the mess. I might even hold the flashlight.
“I want to be a vegetarian.”My daughter surprised me with that declaration a couple days before her 16th birthday.
I paused a minute to let the whole “sixteen years old” thing sink in, because I don’t want to agree with it. But I have to accept it.
Back to the issue of food:
She saw a video showing some horrific examples of mistreatment and animal cruelty as part of the process by which all this mass-produced food appears on supermarket shelves. I don’t know that the video was the only factor in her decision but it clearly played a key role.
But there’s a problem. I’m a big fan of burgers and bacon and salmon steaks. If I can choose only one, meat lover’s is the pizza to order.
So her statement caused some consternation. Would meat in the house lead to fights over inhumane treatment of animals? Would she adapt to a healthy and nutritious diet, and not just junk food and non-meat? She does sometimes call a pack of Twizzlers lunch.
How far did she intend to take this?
Thankfully my wife and I also (mostly) choose our battles wisely. The girl wants to dye her hair blue and red in sections? Great. Have at it. This is not worth a fight. She wants black finger nail polish? Okay, I don’t like how that looks, BUT since she’s not showing any signs of anti-social behaviors or self-loathing and emotional issues that sometimes might accompany the darker color choices, it’s not worth fighting about.
She usually seems pretty straight-laced morally even if her socks are intentionally perpetually mismatched. A good head-on-her-shoulders, even if she makes blonde jokes at herself. Concerned for others, reliably making good decisions, and responsible enough that others are willing to trust her—so it’s not just parent bias talking.
Plus, at her age, we’re slowly becoming more like advisors and facilitators than direct authorities and overseers. Within two years she becomes an adult, able to make her own decisions and responsible to face the consequences. That’s not something we want to take 0 to 60 in one birthday.
And I need her to know that whatever she’s feeling, whatever she’s thinking, whatever she’s worried about, she has a safe place to come and discuss it. Shutting her down just because I don’t share her convictions will teach her to clam up and go elsewhere.
So instead of “What are you thinking?! Bacon!!” we discussed “Where do you want to draw the line in your diet? You need sources of protein, that’s my first concern, so where will you get those?”
And instead of bringing home a bunch of meat and ribbing her (pun intended) about how good it tastes, I bought the snacks I wanted for me and the rest of the family, then sought out some extra items that suit her current dietary plan: mixed nuts, a box of breakfast bars, some dried tropical fruit.
In this case, we got off easy. She intends to eat seafood. Sorry, fishies, you shouldn’t be so tasty. She is also fine with dairy products, even though there are certainly some examples of cruelty in that industry. So this change is fairly minor.
I’ve told her in the past that as our oldest, she’s unfortunately stuck with parents who have never done this before. We’re calling audibles and making this stuff up on the fly.
I feel like this is one I don’t hear often enough, and a good one to fall back on:
“I’m eager to hear what’s on your mind. I may not always agree with you. But I accept you and love you.”
Today we learned (once again) the perils of permitting a 4-year-old to play the iPad.
All three of our boys love Terraria. The teen works with his friends to take down bosses and sometimes permits middle son to help. Middle son proudly informs us all what accomplishments he’s made and sometimes even succeeds in making the teen jealous. And our wee guy runs around telling us that he wants whatever cool things we happen to have (and squealing with infectious delight at whatever he finds).
And all three express their creativity in unique ways, whether it’s a large structure full of traps and lava to grind up monsters into gold coins, a strange combination of clothes and items to give their character a funny appearance, or a silly house built into the sky.
But the happiness could not last…
I stepped out of the bedroom to discover my middle son sitting on the couch heartbroken and my little guy hiding in his big sister’s bedroom awaiting the trouble he knew he was in.
Alas, no amount of defensive armor or powerful magic gear will protect against the mighty delete button. Somehow, he purged my middle son’s primary character. Dozens of hours of advancement and effort, permanently gone at the touch of a finger on the iPad’s surface.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the little one did the right thing once he realized he’d done wrong. He went to his older brother, apologized, and confessed what happened–without anyone telling him to do so.
We discussed the consequences of what happened. After the initial emotion, they calmed down and made up. And then we formed a plan to help make sure no similar accidents happen in the future. I spent some time playing to help my son find a few of the items he lost, and his new character is caught up pretty well.
My wife commented that life sure is different for our four year old compared to what she experienced at that age. There wasn’t any “Johnny deleted my saved game” or “Sarah’s saying mean things over Xbox Live.”
But age-old principles still apply. When we do something wrong, we own up to it and make it right.
This reminded me of a phenomenal post on Penny Arcade, a (frequently vulgar and crass and rude) web comic I follow, written and drawn by video game aficionados. The artist spent an evening doing a presentation and Q&A for his local Parent Teachers’ Association. It’s a long but well-written discussion about rules for game time and social interaction.
If you’re a parent whose knowledge of your kids’ hobbies is “they play the Minecrafts and Call of Duty on that Game Box One thing,” then this is definitely for you. But if you’re like me and my wife, and have struggled with questions like “how much game time is too much” and “what can I let the kids do online” then that link gives some great insight.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences too. What has changed the most in your opinion since you were a child? What would you add to Mike’s thoughts in the Penny Arcade link?
It’s Mother’s Day, and today I find myself considering the suffering that entails. It’s not an original thought, certainly. But it is one that touches me personally.
Childbirth seems to be the physical earthquake that leaves a lifetime of emotional aftershocks. Motherhood and sacrifice appear inextricably linked–so much so that it becomes all too easy to take for granted.
Our plans for my wife’s special day fit into a crowded schedule at work. Sunday turned out to be the one day she’d have me all to herself, the one day I could get the kids out of her hair for some length of time. I worked a full week and then some. And Saturday’s duty came with bad news.
My wife was about to find out Saturday night that I would have to depart first thing in the morning on Mother’s Day for a few days’ trip off island to avoid an inbound typhoon so that my unit can still perform our missions for the United States even if our home station is socked in with weather.
There’s no doubt in my mind that–though undeniably and appropriately frustrated–she would give me a hug and kiss, tell me she loves me, make sure the kids did the same, and settle in for a few days alone with four kids in the house awaiting the storm’s arrival and departure. Four kids–three of them battling a bit of cough, congestion, and fever. Four kids who get a lot of their, let’s say, “charm, creativity, and character” from me, much to my wife’s chagrin (and occasional delight).
That I don’t have to worry or question her commitment astounds me, and makes me all the more grateful to this wonderful mother of my children.
We luck out, and discover that we won’t have to leave quite so soon. Mother’s Day is back on.
It strikes me that I’ve spent more of my life in the military than out of it, a threshold I crossed a couple years ago, in fact. The pressures of sudden schedule changes and cancelled plans are nothing new. And I’ve had it incredibly good over the years compared to so many of my peers in the service. So I am not complaining or seeking pity here. That said, the life we’ve chosen sure comes with its share of challenges.
My own mother spent hours listening to me play piano. We shared interests in music and creative expressions. I gained her laid-back “Type B” personality and sensitivity where my older brother and my father both loved history books, strategy games, and argumentative debates. Mom feared my soft-spoken personality would get crushed by the bullies and jocks of high school. She often wondered how I was doing and worried whether I’d be safe and out of trouble in my first few years away from home.
Being a parent now, I can see how there’s always a level of care and maybe even fear about your precious little ones. It’s a program running in the background of a parent’s mental computer, a constant blip on the radar. When I think of how mothers bond with their babies even before they’re born, I know my experience only scratches the surface of that attachment and concern.
Over the years, my mother (and father) bore the near-constant separation of military life with the bittersweet mixture of pride and longing one might expect. My family and I have been stationed in Japan for the majority of my 20-plus years of service. Through it all, Mom dealt with the painful distance between her and her grandkids on my side with what grace she could muster. Modern tech comforts like Skype and MagicJack make things a little easier.
Tomorrow I’ll wake up at 0-dark-thirty to get ready for a few days away from home. And I’ll make a phone call back to the States to thank my awesome Mom and wish her a happy day. Then, while the kids are still (hopefully) asleep, I’ll thank my wife for her own awesome mothering and slip out the door.
The Air Force has been focused on “resiliency” over the last few years, trying to educate and help its Airmen find ways to bounce back from stressful situations and potentially overwhelming experiences in their lives. I wonder if they’ve considered everything moms go through, and what makes a mother get back up and press on each time life brings another wave of hurt or weariness.
Seems to me there’s a lot we could learn.
To my mother and my wife, who have made so many sacrifices that I’ve seen and probably many more that I’ve overlooked, thank you. To them both, and to the many women out there who do the same for their loved ones, their biological children, or those they’ve adopted literally or figuratively as their own:
You are awesome and the world is a better place due to your part in it. Your sacrifices matter, and your profound love is appreciated.
I call this blog Literary Karaoke because I realized that my writing – like many other things I do – is good enough for people to enjoy it for free, but not necessarily good enough to make a living.
I play piano really well, but I fall into that same category. And I also draw a decent picture… decent enough that people like my artwork, but not so much that I can hang up my military hat and draw a paycheck. (See what I did there?)
Let’s add another thing to the list: Cakes!
Good enough to please our 8 year old birthday boy… and that’s what counts.
He’s the middle child. Technically he’s one of two middle children, but our oldest boy (12 now) and teenage daughter (14 last week) are usually teamed up. So the Angry Bird lover is the one who most often gets excluded, and exhibits the “middle child” symptoms the most.
We aimed to make today special – he got to have one of his friends over for cake, ice cream, and a movie. He got a present from a friend of our oldest boy. He opened gifts from his grandparents, and I surprised him with a Lego set my wife and I had hidden away.
We ate a cheap decoy cake while the cake I made was cooling in the fridge.
But then his friend gets a knock on the door in the middle of the movie. Other neighborhood kids want the friend to come out and bike around the housing area or whatever. And this friend’s logic is, “Well, I have already seen this movie, so…” and he walks out.
Pretty crappy, if you ask me.
At the same time, it’s a hard life lesson. Sadly, all too often, people don’t care about you except for how you benefit them. “I’ll come over for the cake and the ice cream until something more interesting comes along.”
My son didn’t seem to mind, but I still brought him over and let him curl up on my lap to watch the rest of the movie. He snuggled up and fell asleep. It was a rare moment, especially considering how he keeps getting older. (Why don’t they just stay at that perfect cute age of…well, not growing up so fast?)
After the movie, he got up, built his Lego set (which was promptly destroyed by the 2 year old), and played on his scooter outside for a bit. And I decorated the cake with his favorite bird, his favorite color, his favorite frosting, and some surprise treats in the form of Angry Birds gummies around the edges.
Because I want him to know that no matter what the world says or does, no matter how often they’re content to take what they want from him and then set him aside, there’s one thing he can count on.
Mom and Dad think he’s amazing, and there’s always a special place for him here.
Today I have a tongue-in-cheek parenting survey for you, dear reader.
My daughter (13) and son (12) begged me to let them go over to a friend’s house to play XBox and watch Disney shows like Good Luck Charlie and Dog with a Blog (which, I guess, is a thing dogs can do now).
Is it wrong that I mainly said yes in order to keep the vultures from swarming over the snacks I was bringing into the house, so that I could eat the first of the snacks?
Or is it pragmatic and wise, when dealing with ravenous teenagers?
On top of that, I had a splendid distraction this weekend. My brother, my sister-in-law, and their two sons came out from Chicago to visit my family for a couple days. It’s a roughly eight-hour drive with two small children under 3, so… kudos to them for their bravery!
Friday night, we went to eat Chinese food at a nearby restaurant. We turned around for one moment, and their older child prepared himself for battle using the ancient technique of “crab rangoon war paint.”
We survived the dinner (although our youngest scattered enough fried rice to feed an army), and then we had a nice trip to the park at sunset.
The kids played some basketball with their uncle, and then everyone meandered over to the swings. My youngest and my brother’s oldest both made a beeline for swinging children, as if they wanted to get kicked. Disaster was averted. At some point, my brother commented on how parenting at this age is pretty much 24-hour suicide watch. He has a dry sense of humor that gets me every time.
Saturday involved a pleasant visit catching up and sharing terrifying parent stories (many of which involved poop), followed by ice cream at Dairy Queen.
Prior to the visit, we discussed plans or lack thereof. My brother mentioned our visit in 2007, and how he and my parents had a variety of plans to make the most of the time. I don’t remember it, but we must have shot down a good many of those plans based on a desire for “nothing complicated.” My brother was single at the time, and admitted over the phone, “I had no idea why you guys were so set on simple plans.”
Now, with two small children, he laughed and said, “I completely understand. I had to learn the hard way, I guess.”
So we had simple plans, and it was enough. We enjoyed a lovely dinner with a friend from the Wordsowers writers’ group here in Omaha, and then they visited our church service on Sunday morning before heading back to Chicago.
My brother asked, “Do you agree with this statement? ‘Having children is both the most rewarding and most difficult experience in my life.'”
Of course I agreed. So has every other parent he’s asked.
We had a great time, and enjoyed sharing in each other’s joys and difficulties as parents. Challenging, yes… but one we gladly accept.
Time flies when you’re having fun… or raising kids.
I recall looking down at a crying pink mass of baby as a brand new dad, unable to fully grasp all the changes about to take place, wondering how much I didn’t know, unsure of how I would become the father my daughter deserved.
Then, in a hesitant and uncertain effort to help keep Deborah still while the nurses cleaned her up, I gingerly took hold of her hand. And she wrapped her tiny finger nubs around one of mine and held tight. And her cries started to quiet down.
That was over thirteen years ago. “Almost fourteen,” Deb would say.
She soon became a big sister to our first son, Jonathan. When we discussed baby names for boys, I thought of David and Jonathan in the Bible – the friendship and closeness they shared. While I know that a parent is not always able to be their child’s friend instead of disciplinarian, I still focused on the hope that my son and I will enjoy a healthy relationship as he grows into maturity.
A few years after Jonathan, Justin was born, his name meaning “Righteous” and “Justice.” And two years ago, we welcomed Judah into our family, whose name means “Praise.”
Life easily becomes a blur of day-by-day responsibilities. Exhaustion sets in, and by the end of a busy day, it’s too easy to get caught up getting the kids to bed and catching a breather before going to sleep to face the next day. Individual days often go by slowly, working at the office or in the home, taking care of dinner and the children’s needs, trying to carve out family time, finishing all the chores and responsibilities, and ushering kids to bed.
But the years flash by when we’re not paying attention.
About a week ago, Deborah was playing Rock Band 3 and some of the various Guitar Hero games. And I discovered she had switched over to Hard difficulty. The jump from Medium to Hard is significant as it incorporates more buttons to press, more notes to hit, and all at a faster pace. Yet she was performing songs smoothly, something of which she never used to be capable.
We played some songs together, challenging each other to see who could get the best performance. She kept up and beat me several times. Then we switched to Street Fighter, and once again I was surprised to find that she put up a fight. In fact, unless I was playing one of the two characters I’m best with, I was really working hard to win.
If you’re not familiar with the old-school Street Fighter games at the arcade, whenever a second player puts in a quarter and starts a game against the current player, a message pops up with a shout saying, “Here comes a new challenger!”
That’s what I was hearing in my head as Deborah defeated me a few times.
I can’t wait to get out of my cast and take her on in basketball, which has rapidly become her other favorite game.
Jonathan is no slouch, either. But his strengths are more mechanical. He loves building things, whether with Legos or with various electronics he takes apart (with supervision). Yes, he loves destruction too. He regularly surprises us with new constructs, and briefs us on the multiple special features and components he builds in to each one.
His favorite video game is Plants Vs. Zombies, but he still has that problem-solving mechanical eye when he watches me play. I was working my way through the new Tomb Raider, and at several points where I would be stuck considering how exactly to solve a puzzle, he walked in, looked it over, and pointed out the solution as if it was the most natural and obvious answer. Humbling, for sure.
Justin’s biggest strength seems to be living up to his name, as the family “Fairness Police.” Maybe it’s middle-child-syndrome rearing its ugly head, but Justin definitely protests any imbalance in chores or in rewards. He balances that with giving the most hugs ever (like constantly), so I guess it all works out.
Even Justin has some mad skills with his favorite games. We recently loaded Sonic Dash onto the iPad, and Justin started playing it with glee. It took me several days to get to the point where I could even match his high score, and honestly, that’s probably because I used the coins you earn in-game to upgrade scoring abilities. Justin hasn’t played in a bit; I’m afraid to see what he’ll do with the new powers in game.
Judah is still pretty young, so I’m not sure what skills he’s going to demonstrate. He sure loves to dance and sing to music – fitting based on his name and based on his parents’ musical abilities. He absolutely loves to sit at the piano with me and play (read: pound) notes… but that’s probably true of any two-year-old.
I don’t yet know what to expect from him. However bittersweet it may be, I know that the years will go by in a flash, and in no time, he’ll be showing us where his strengths lie. I want to say I can’t wait to see it, but “almost fourteen” years have flown by already.
I can wait and take it slow, one challenge at a time.