On Parenting

Caroline : a short film about love, misunderstood.

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A few years ago, my wife and oldest son left me and my two youngest at the time home for 265 hours. I had a stable job, was on vacation from school, and help from various friends. My wife was coming home soon.

When she finally did make it back, I was sitting on the balcony of our 7th floor apartment, trying to process the time. Here’s a piece of what I wrote:

If you know {a single parent}, show ‘em some love. Make them dinner, wash their dishes, or babysit their kids. At the very least, by their coffee because I promise, they drink more than you. A beer wouldn’t hurt either:)

If you are one, you’re my hero. (via).

This film has all the same feels. Only worse.

This film is terrifyingly brilliant. I literally feel the heat, the fear, and the panic in the little car, and I cannot help but ache for everyone involved.

The mother loves her kids, no doubt. But she’s stuck. No babysitter, no grace from work, and three little kids who need their mother to work, pay the bills, and rush them to the bathroom.

The spectators want to care for the kids. Because they’re good and decent people. Yet, they don’t see the whole and perfect picture.

The child loves her mother.

And everything is absolutely not okay.

Ugh.

How many situations like the above could be avoided if we all acknowledged the single parents around us and gave them an extra helping hand? How many children would be saved in the process?

If you know a single parent, show them some love. Make them dinner, wash their dishes, or babysit their kids. At the very least, by their coffee because I promise, they drink more than you. A beer wouldn’t hurt either:)

If you are one, you’re my hero. Sincerely.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Short FilmsOn Parenting : Single Parents

The film Caroline is produced by ELO films, a “co-writer / director duo Celine Held & Logan George. Their work as a team has premiered in competition at Cannes Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, and at South by Southwest. They were named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s ’25 New Faces of Independent Film’ of 2017” (via).

You can see more of their work here.

Without Fear: What Adults Can Learn From Young Explorers

 Image by @storyanthology

Image by @storyanthology

“Almost nothing was known about how children even explored the world,” Roger Hart explains in interview with Alix Spiegel, “and then I came across a book on baboons. And I realized that we knew more about baboons' everyday behavior than we did about children's behavior outside of school.”

So, in the 1970’s, Roger Hart set out to learn more about children’s behavior by filming them in their natural habitats and away from their parents. “There were 86 children between 3 and 12 years of age,” Hart explains, “and I worked with all of them, all of the waking hours for two and a half years, I was with them. They were my life, these kids,” and they took him everywhere.

He mapped their exploration, adding descriptions such as, “frequent paths, not used by adults.”

“They had more than the run of the town,” he explained, “Some of them would go to the lake, which would be on the edge of town, and the lake, you'd think, would be a place that would be out of bounds” because the parents weren’t motivated by fear. There was no talk of abductions, stranger danger, nothing. So the kids wondered and played all over town.

Not so today.

“{S}everal years ago, Roger went back to the exact same town to document the children of the children that he had originally tracked in the '70s, and when he asked the new generation of kids to show him where they played alone, what he found floored him . . . The huge circle of freedom on the maps had grown tiny.”

Even though the town was exactly the same physically and demographically, even though “the town is not more dangerous than it was before” and that there is “literally no more crime today than there was 40 years ago” parents are operating according to fear, and kids are staying closer to home.

The modern life, according to Ralph Adolphs, a professor at Caltech who spent decades studying fear in the human brain “is constantly triggering our fear in all kinds of ways that our natural world didn't.”

News reports that depict violent scenes and soundbites of murders, of men and women describing atrocious moments of violence and fear, and the many other images and ideas of horror throughout the world constantly surrounds us. “And Adolphs argues that because of our wiring, we are just not set up to ignore it,” which distorts our experience of the world and activates “our fear when we don't need it.”

We’ve become overly fearful and extremely protective, even as adults, with our maps of exploration growing smaller and smaller. Geographically, and intellectually.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” Mark Twain writes, “and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Luckily, the youngest of us have not learned to be fearful or bigoted yet. May we all learn a lesson from these young explorers and their adventurous spirit.

Kids do not want to be contained.
They are built for adventure.

You can watch more young explorer videos here or listen to the full podcast from above, here.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Short FilmsOn Parenting : Favorite Podcasts

Let's go rock climbing!

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Zion has been begging me to take her rock climbing because "she's the best rock climber in the family," and she isn't lying. Most of it has to do with her being fearless, but she's also just really good at it. So today, after weeks and weeks of her begging and pleading, I took her to the gym, fit her into a miniature harness, and sent her up the wall. She was so pumped, so excited, and so eager to show off her skills. 

Then she failed. 

About half way up, she got stuck, then tired, then scared. "I want to come down," she said, and was slowly lowered down. She was so disappointed.

Eden was next and she made it slightly higher. Then she too wanted to come down. 

Now I had two girls who had failed. But both wanted to try again so we gave high-fives, gave a few climbing pointers, then sent them back up. And this time, both of them made it all the way to the top! Eden even started to cry she was so happy and proud. After I hugged them and kissed them and told them how proud I was of overcoming their fears and working so hard, I started thinking about school and assessments and those all consuming and toxic grades I'd entered earlier in the day.

Suddenly, I wished I could take my students rock climbing because, What if schooling was like rock climbing? What if instead of grades for what was accomplish and known, students got second chances, third chances, and forth and fifth chances? What if instead of teaching by standing at the top of the mountain, pulling and cajoling and threatening students up the steep and daunting cliffs, we stood behind them, sending out words of encouragement and guidance ("now grab the green hold with your left hand . . . good!") and assured them that if they fell, we'd be there to catch them?

I know almost every teacher or parent has heard something like this before and have all come to the same conclusion: it sounds great but it's impossible. What teacher has the time or the effort to allow kids to fail and try, fail and try, fail and try? And quite honestly, what kid wants to try this hard on a subject they hate? The answer to both those questions is, "not many." 

But I also know the system is broken and needs fixing. That students have stopped trying on assignments they think are too difficult because, "{they're} gonna fail anyway, so why try?" and that many of them have given up hope of ever succeeding in school. "It's just not for me," they say.

And they may be right. School, as they have traditionally understood it, may not be for them. But learning is. And that is the cardinal sin of education, students are terrified to try and learn because, as Carol Dweck calls it, they have a "fixed mindset." 

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People in a fixed mindset "believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits" (via). And years of schooling, of grades, telling them over and over that they're not smart, that they won't get it has cemented the idea that talent alone creates success. And some kids have it, while others don't. 

People in a growth mindset, however, "believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point" (via). They care more about the effort, the hard work, and the process, not the product. 

Schools and grades, by and large, support a fixed mindset; rock walls don't. They encourage the process more than the product, and they teach service.

The main reason why I was able to take my kids climbing today was because one of my students is a certified belayer, and he offered to take my kids. 

More times than not, kids in schools today are told that they need to be there so they can go to college so they can get a good job so they can live a decent life. School is all about serving they self. There's even a banner in my school that reads, "Do it for you," which might be the worst reason for attending school I've ever heard.

What if, instead, students went to school to not only learn their gifts and talents, but to learn how to serve and give back? What if kids and students were given ample opportunities to serve others, not just themselves?

It sounds daunting, if not insurmountable. It sounds like rock climbing. 

And that excites the hell out of me.

On Discipline : Beyond Consequences

Growing up, I often heard stories of how biblical shepherds handled sheep that constantly strayed – they would break the sheep’s legs.

Then, because the sheep could no longer walk, the shepherd would carry it on his shoulders until it healed. During this time, a bond of trust would form between the shepherd and the sheep. Once healed, the sheep would no longer leave the shepherd.

So, when my mother told me not to borrow her bike and I did anyway, she tried to break my legs.  

My bike was fine, but hers was better, and the road to my friend’s house was long. So long in fact that it took thirty minutes for her to catch up in the car. It took her less than three minutes to bolt from the car, stuff her bike into the undersized trunk, yell, “WALK HOME!” and whip the car around and through the oncoming traffic.

By the time I made it back to the house, the cool of the evening was beginning to settle in and I had some pretty fantastic excuses worked out.

I walked through the front door, parched, and ready to wash myself of blame and trouble. She too was ready, “Go to your room,” she said, “Wait for your dad to come home.” When she didn’t glance up from her floured tabletop and rolled out dough, I knew I was in trouble.

The hours between then and my dad’s pickup bouncing over the curb were forever. The hour it took for my father to slowly open the door and sit on my bed was even longer. The talk, however, was less than a minute: “No TV, no friends, no phone, for two weeks.”

“TWO WEEKS!” I yelled.

“Yes, two weeks,” my dad said, even though it was summer, beautiful summer, when kids should be out with their friends, riding bikes, fishing in small ponds, building forts, and getting into simple mischief.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Not only was I confined to the acre and a half of my parents’ property, I was to memorize Bible verses, read books on the Lord’s second coming, and “think about what I’d done.”

Taking the bike was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” because it was just one of a hundred times I was disrespectful, disobedient, and selfish, and I needed to learn my lesson. I needed to have my legs broken.

As a child, my mother didn’t yell and scream when I misbehaved, but she did place the responsibility for punishing a disobedient and defiant young boy upon his father. She had a hand in creating the consequence, but he was the one who enforced it, who sat with me in my anger and tears. He was the one who talked me through it, who listened to my weak negations, and who patiently, with tears in his own eyes, refused to budge or relent but affirmed that I would indeed be grounded for two weeks.

He was also the one who took me fishing.

About a week into my grounding, I was sitting in the backyard, reading, when my father came home from work and asked if I wanted to go to the river for the next week. I still had to read and memorize, but I could do it from the camper, after running bank lines and trotlines and swimming in the great currents of the northern Mississippi River. “Of course!” I yelled.

“Great,” he said, “then pack up your stuff. We’ll head out early tomorrow morning.”

I slammed my book shut and ran inside the house; my dad grabbed the tackle box and lifted me to his shoulders, just like a good shepherd should.

The next morning, we left early.

The five-hour drive to the campground was spent hearing the same old stories of when my dad was a kid on the river. How he and his friend caught a huge snapping turtle with only a net, how he spent a summer shingling the roof of his parent’s cabin, and about the time he and his friend built a bonfire so massive that it caught the attention of a barge passing by. He told me about the propane tank.

It was he and his friend’s first night away from the cabin and they were a bit scared of the dark, even though neither one would admitted it, so they threw log after log upon the roaring flames. When they found the tank buried beneath a pile of driftwood, they threw that on too. Then quickly forgot all about it.

Minutes later, it exploded, sending sparks and wood and teenage boys flying in all directions. No one was hurt and Dad chuckled as he told it, just like he’d done the dozen or so times before, which made me laugh and smile too because I loved that story.

Then, we were there. As we crested the bluff, my dad stopped, “Oh no.”

“What?” I asked.

“It’s flooded.”

The river must have just recently receded back to its normal levels because the road was covered with a layer of deep, sloppy, river mud. “Well,” my dad said, slowly pulling forward, “if it doesn’t rain the rest of the time we’re here, we should be okay.

With each nightly downpour, our fear that we’d never make it out grew, and with each passing day, my dad prepared to get us out of the mess and safely home by shoveling as much mud off the road as possible then haul and spread gravel from a nearby gravel pit over the road, all without a shovel. 

And never once did I doubt that he could, that he would, and that we wouldn’t make it home safe.

But then, a prison work crew showed up to fix all the picnic tables. When they paused for a quick lunch break, my dad asked one of them if he wanted some of our fish. The man looked at my dad and said, “You better as’ the boss firs’.”

“I did,” my dad replied, holding up the plate of freshly grilled catfish, “he said it’s okay.” The man looked around, at his other inmates, the river, then back to the plate, “Well,” he said, “You got any salt?”

Over the next thirty minutes or so, the dozen or so inmates finished off all the fish we’d caught the previous four days. I watched from the camper, hidden behind my book, but reading nothing. One man, with his mouth full, shook his head, “Shit. Dis is better ‘en my chicken,” and I knew he was telling the truth because my dad grew up on the Mississippi river, fishing, working, and learning from his parents, and he knew how to grill catfish.

Before leaving, the crew grated the road for us, laid down new gravel, and lined the old picnic tabletops under our camper and van. When it rained hard on our last night by the river, my dad slept soundly. In the morning, instead of clearing the road or heading home, we went fishing and my dad told stories of when he was a young and imperfect son.

My dad didn’t have to break my legs for me to learn how to trust him. Nor did he have to yell and scream and rain down punishments for me to respect him. He just needed time with me, to take an interest in me, and to show me that he just because my behavior was inappropriate it didn’t mean I wasn’t wanted, or loved.

Instead of creating consequences, he created memories. And in the following years, whenever I would get into trouble or found myself stuck, it was my father I went to, who I met for coffee or called on the phone while wandering the dark streets, searching for answers. Because he was the one who took me fishing.

So when “G” said, “Fuck this shit!” in front of the entire class, when he jumped up from his chair and started walking out of the room yelling, “this is bullshit!” I didn’t walk him to the office or write him up or chase him down the hall, yelling and screaming and threatening detention, suspension, or failure of the class. Instead, I let him go and thought about fishing with my father. When the bell rang, I went to principal because, like me, “G” didn’t need to have his legs broken. Nor did he need me to carry him. He just needed someone who’d be willing to sit with him, in the muck and the mire, and hear his story.

“I want “G” to spend the next week with me, during lunch,” I said, “Is that possible?” She was a bit skeptical.

“Please. Don’t write him up, just let me spend time with him.” And because I’m fortunate to have supportive bosses, she said okay.

The next day, with a ham and cheese sandwich and a few freshly cut vegetables scattered on my desk, I waited for “G” to show, but he never did. When I saw him in the hallway, I asked him about it, told him he wasn’t in trouble, but that I just wanted to talk and hang out with him for a bit. He said he’d come tomorrow.

When he showed up, I asked him how he’s doing. “Not good,” he said. Then, he told me about his family.

“My dad came in my room and asked where Mom is” he says, lounging in the cold desk, arms crossed, “and I didn’t know if I should tell him or not. Next thing you know, we’re sitting in the car for three hours. I call my mom and she says she’s at the movies but there aren’t any cars in the parking lot because there isn’t any movie showing. My dad starts crying and my little brother starts crying and I’m thinking, ‘What’s going to happen?’ Mom didn’t get home till 3am.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, knowing where this was going. He looks up.

“Hearing your parents argue is the worst. Having your ten-year old brother cry in your arms isn’t what anyone wants.”

He fights back tears. Because he’s tough.

“Mom’s crying, Dad leaves, and nobody knows where he went. Three days pass and no sign of my dad nowhere. Until the Fourth of July.”

The bell rings and “G” gets ready to go to class. “Thanks,” I say, “Thanks for sharing.” He nods gently and heads to class.

The next day, and for the four days after, he comes back.

He tells me how his parents almost got back together, but then, on a trip to the beach, they got into another big fight and he, his little brother, and his mom had to walk home in the rain. He talks about how she eventually moved out and how difficult it was because she still lived in town, with another woman.  

He tells me that was when he finally broke down and cried because the next morning, when he woke up, he found his dad passed out on the couch, “No one should have to experience this,” he says.

“G” used to be a “good kid,” a star athlete, and a decent student. Now, he doesn’t understand why he is so angry all the time, why he can’t control his temper.

“I used to be that kid thinking life would be so easy. But that just makes it harder.”

We sit in silence for a minute.

“I just want to beak down and cry,” he says “but it’s too late to be crying over something that I can’t fix. Life isn’t easy, and it never gonna be.”

“I’m sorry,” I say again, thinking of my dad and the river and wondering if and how I could lift “G” to my shoulders, because so much of his life seems bent on breaking his legs.

The bell rings, and I still don’t know what to do.

Later that day, another teacher writes “G” up and doesn’t want him in their class because he’s disrespectful and curses and needs to be taught a lesson.

He asks if he could spend his detention with me.

A week later, when he needs help with credit recovery for science class, he comes in during lunch and we work through the material together – neither of us having a clue what is being asked but finding, and sometimes guessing, the answers together.

Later in the quarter, he writes a poem about how the Fourth of July used to be the best time of year, until Mom and Dad argue, a little brother cries, and a family falls apart, and I find myself trying to fight back tears, to be tough like “G”.

Then he writes a powerful short story about his parent’s, his mother, and the day he found out she was leaving her family – her “G” - for a woman she met at work. He writes an essay on the power of music and another on anger and how it fuels his life but ruins his days, and I smile.

“G” hasn’t stopped cursing in class, but he is trying, he is showing up almost every day, and he is working on what he can – even if it might be “bullshit”, and that makes me smile. Because that means he’s healing.

I know I’m not “G”’s father or his shepherd, but I am his teacher. And when we had lunch together, when he told me about his life and the things that matter most, I listened. When he asked me if I could relate, I told him about my failures as a son, a father, a teacher, and a husband. I told him he wasn’t alone, in his failure or his pain.

I wasn’t able to take “G” fishing or carry him on my shoulders, but I do think I was still able to help him heal, if only a little,  because whenever I walk home from work and a car honks and honks and honks, I know it’s “G”, driving with his girl, just wanting to say hi.

And sometimes, it’s the best part of the day.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Education  :  On Parenting

Because they call me Dad : A Fireside Sunday

      Photo by  @storyanthology

     Photo by @storyanthology

I could have taken a nap. I could have read a few more pages of In Cold Blood or got busy with any of the other millions of things I can get busy doing. I could have spent a large chunk of the day writing. But I didn't. Because my wife thought we should make a fire.

And as often happens, she was right. 

Snow fell from the trees and landed in our laps and dinner and our kids laughed those long and deep laughs that warm the soul. 

We sat together as a family.

Elias spit raspberries. 

I can't help but constantly feel guilty for not writing more often, for not "pursuing the craft" because I know full well, if this is ever going to happen, it won't just fall in my lap (I already said enough about that).

But then we have a day like today and I'm reminded there isn't room. Nor do I want any. Because Eden "loves the mornings" and Zion asks if she can cuddle and help make breakfast. And I get to be there. 

Because they call me Dad.

And because my wife asked me to build a fire.

So we did.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Open Thoughts  :  On Parenting

"Who did you serve today?"

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A few months ago, we started a new family dinner ritual. For years we would go through the typical, "What was your favorite part of the day?" or "What did you learn today?" and for years it bothered me - because all we're doing is talking and thinking about ourselves. And that seemed fully unsatisfying.

So we started asking the question, "Who did you serve today?" And unsurprisingly, at times, the answer was difficult to find, which was fine, because it lead us into discussions about gifts and talents and the purpose of living. Because whether we think about it often or not, our family has been gifted a great deal. We all have healthy minds and strong bodies, we are all talented and unique in our own way, and we have enough things to help us easily and comfortably survive each day.

Yet we are using these gifts and resources most often to serve and glorify ourselves. Which is sad. But not all that shocking.

In schools across America, signs advertise, "Got to college, so you can buy this" - a fancy car or luxurious vacations, commercials and advertisements encourage us to drive nicer cars, buy better appliances, and add more accessories to our phones, homes, and wardrobes. We are constantly evaluated by our personal achievements, the number of likes and followers we have obtained, and the depth and weight of accomplishments we're able to add to our resumes. 

Yet, suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, "with increases in every age group except older adults."

I often wonder if it has less to do with happiness and more to do with purpose. Because once you've bought the nicer thing, gone to the exotic places, and slept with the prettiest people and your still empty, what then? 

"How was your day," we ask, I ask, because we love our sons and daughters and we want to know how there day really was. Because we love them. But how much more important is it for them to consider how they helped make someone else's day? How they used their gifts and talents and time? Was it to serve others, or themselves? 

"Who did you serve today?" we ask, and sometimes the answer is "nobody." Other times it's a friend or family member (often Zion's is helping Mom with Elias). Always it's a reminder that today we were given chances to use what we've been given to help others. 

Did we?

"Yes," Judah says, "I shoveled the neighbors walkway." And I smile. "Awesome," I say, giving him a high five, "well done buddy. Well done." 

He takes a bite of his chicken, a smile hidden behind a pile of A1 sauce. 

And I swear, in that moment, it's the best damn smile in the world. 

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  BIG ME : little me On Living

 

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Hunting for more than a Christmas Tree

Headed into the mountains today. I carried the saw and he found a stick. The girls threw snowballs that left tiny diamonds on their dollar thirty-seven cent gloves from Walmart, and we carried home a tree. 

 Photo by @storyanthology

Photo by @storyanthology

Before leaving, we had a short talk. “Why are we doing this?” I asked.  

“To get a Christmas tree!!!” 

”Nope. That’s what we’re doing, but why are we doing it?” 

“To celebrate the birth of Jesus!” Eden yelled.  

Nope not that either. 

 photo by @storyanthology

photo by @storyanthology

I have a few family and friends who don't celebrate Christmas. No Christmas trees, no Christmas lights, Christmas music, no nothin.

Because Christmas isn't about consumerism.

Because Christmas isn't about stockings or presents or all the other things they don’t want life  and family to be about.

And I get it. 

Completely.

Which is why we hang garland from the windows, bake Christmas shaped cookies, hang stockings above a fire, and why we drive forty-five minutes on a Saturday morning to hike in the frozen snow in search of the imperfect Christmas tree that we’ll decorate our tree with popcorn, lights, and ornaments.

Because, Christmas trees and Christmas lights and all the other Christmas things we do are simply the things we do, not why we do them.

So we head to the mountains so we can be together, as a family, because “what is today not about?” 

“Ourselfes,” Zion says the loudest. And I don’t have the desire to say, "ourselves" because it’s glorious.  

And because we’re on our way to the mountains, in all of our imperfections, as a family. 

To celebrate Christmas.  

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Christmas Thoughts :  On Parenting

 

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The Mountains Never Lie

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But this picture does. Completely. Judah even picked up on it, "What's so great about cranes?" he asked. But he didn't see what I saw: a little cropping on the left to cut off the construction, a kneeling down to place the bush in front of the house, and of course, a clever little title about fresh mountain air on a crisp fall day with the family.

Never mind the highway behind us or the golf course to the far right. 

You don't see those things, only Judah and I do, but in recent days I've begun to wonder if, over time, he won't see them either. Rather, when he stumbles across this picture, I wonder if he'll only see the blue lake and towering mountain. If instead of talking about the construction that surrounded this picture, he'll recall surprising his auntie at University, picking out pumpkins at an old pumpkin patch farm, and playing UNO, in a cabin, long after Dad wanted to go to bed. I wonder if, when he looks back on this weekend, he'll remember the singing to our family's favorite tunes, reading Harry Potter in the front seat of the van, and watching tumble weeds bounce across the windy roads. Because, at the end of it all, the crane doesn't matter, and his mind will subconsciously crop it out.

However, when I look back on this weekend, I will forever see the cranes, the squeaky breaks that I can't afford to fix, the meals we had to budget, and the gas we had to syphon from some car in the middle of the night because we couldn't afford to fill our tank. But so what. It was worth it. And I'd do it again next weekend if I could.

Judah wasn't sheltered from those things, he was there with us, listening to our conversations and having to hear "no, we can't afford that." He even held the hose to the car while I sucked the gas out, but I don't think he'll remember those moments, and if he does, he will for sure remember them with a different tone, just like when I was his age my dad lost his wallet during the first few days of our two-week journey out West. I remember him losing it, looking for it, and I vaguely recall a discussion between him and Mom as to how to handle it. But that's it. What I remember more is the camping, the hiking, evening fires, eating every meal, sleeping warmly, and playing cards with my family. Whatever happened to the lost credit cards and driver's license, I've never known; how Dad payed for everything never crossed my mind, because it never seemed to cross his. And we had a great time.

By the way, Judah and I never syphoned anyone's gas, so relax. We did, however, pee behind the KOA cabin instead of walking to the bathroom. Which isn't even close to the same thing.

On the drive home, with The Lumineers blaring, I had some time to think about the weekend, and one of the thoughts that crossed my mind was this: what if kids collect memories of family and security not because they're sheltered from the harsh realities, but because they experience them with their parents, along side their parents, watching and evaluating, and then responding and feeding off of how they respond. 

What if Judah and Eden and Zion hear, over and over, "we can't afford that" but still experience a great time with rocks, simple lakes, and free parks? What if while they color and draw the scene that passes outside their window, they overhear Mom and Dad discussing - arguing even - budgets and plans and schedules, then watch them kiss and laugh and reconcile? Doesn't that teach them how to argue? How to work through conflict? And how to find the simple joys amidst life's many limitations?

Doesn't that teach them how to be human?

I think so. I think it teaches them that Mom and Dad are fallible, that we make mistakes and seek forgiveness, and that we don't need money or gadgets or things to enjoy life and each other. I think it instills a sort of subconscious safety-net for their fragile minds that reminds them that no matter how much they fail or struggle or fall short, we're still here, that we're still a family, and as such, we're gonna go camping. 

In the future, if and when my kids do look back and remember the cranes, I don't want won't lie to them, I won't tell them they're not remembering it clearly or that they just need to remember the lake and mountains and "forget about the cranes." Because they were there. They were part of the scenery, part of the adventure, but we enjoyed the mountains and pumpkins anyway. 

Because that's what families do.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  The Mountains have a Way  :  On Parenting

 

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Before bears hibernate and the kids move out

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My friend recently asked, "How's the house coming?" "Slowly, but deliberately," I told him, but that was only partially true because, in all honesty, it's not really going. In fact, it's crawling. Our lamps don't have shades, our kids are sleeping in sleeping bags, and up until yesterday, waffles were made by eyeing the measurements for ingredients - thanks friends for sending us measuring cups!

We don't have much, but we have enough. The desire though, to buy and build and make a home, to design rooms and decorate walls is infectious and, at times, pretty consuming.

It's how we spend our evenings, our weekends, and where we devote our thoughts and dreams until, suddenly, we stop it hits us; we're running out of time.

A few years ago, October 1st became a family holiday weekend, and with most of our kids never having see an American Fall, we planned to continue the tradition this year. But then the van needed work, the cupboards ached to be filled, and the pile of ungraded papers jeered and sneered and sat. So, on the Tuesday before we were supposed to go, we cancelled.

That night, standing outside the van and camper we'd just dropped off at Josey's parents, we argued about the week, the cancelled weekend, and why we even moved back to the States. We had hoped and dreamed for more family time and simple adventures together. Not garage sales and weekend projects. 

In an instant, under the dimming sky and beside a row of towering evergreens, I suddenly changed my mind. "Let's go," I said. "The camper may not work, but we have a tent, blankets, and a van that can get us there. Let's just go."

That quickly, the plans were back on. But by the next morning, once again, I had my doubts.

Then, this song came to mind:

What I love about this song is not the lyrics or the immediate significance, but the memory I have of when I first heard it. I was around ten and my dad had taken my brother and I fishing to some northern lake. We stayed in a truck camper, watched the Chicago Bulls win the NBA Finals over the Los Angeles Lakers in a bar that over looked the lake, and for the first time, ate hash browns and eggs, "a fisherman's breakfast." 

I remember asking what a silver spoon was and, even at the age of ten, feeling the weight and significance of wasted time and, more importantly, not being able to get it back.  

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw, I said, not today
I got a lot to do, he said, that's okay
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed
Said, I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him

"Yeah," I told myself, "we need to go camping."

By Thursday night, we were huddled and cuddled in a small cabin just outside Casper. Because the cupboards can wait; making a life and spending time with our kids can't. 

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Yet, somehow I still wasn't convinced. Every time I filled up the van, whenever we paid for our campsite or loaded up on PB&J's, hot chocolate, and dried oatmeal, I felt guilty, nervous, and overcome with doubt. "Is this wise? Am I doing what's best for my family?" Because right now, there is nothing saved for them. No college fund, no two months security savings, and no promise that if the van breaks down I can afford to get them home without calling family for help. 

Shouldn't we have just stayed home?

When we pulled into the campsite, "Beware of the Bear" signs were posted and stapled everywhere and each campsite came with a "Bear Box" - a metal box with a small lock meant to keep the bears at bay because, "Bears are scavenging for their last bit of food before they hibernate." 

Whenever bears are mentioned, even if it's in passing because one was sighted almost ten years ago, every sound, every gust of wind, and every movement in the dark is a bear coming to feed on me or my children. That night, I slept with the axe nearby. By 3:30 I was up and building a fire because I can only assume they're terrified of fires. If not, I don't want to hear about it. Leave me my simple comforting lies. 

My family wouldn't knuckle the sleep from their eyes for another four hours, so I had some time alone, in the dark, with my axe, coffee, and wandering thoughts. And, once more, I mulled over our decision to leave for the weekend. 

What's one weekend away? Does it really make a difference? 

What's one weekend at home? Does it really matter if we're home or not?

I had no answers. Just doubts. And something was wrestling over there, by the tent, but no worries, it's just Judah going to the bathroom. 

"Morning buddy," I say, adding a few more logs on the fire.

"Morning" he mumbles, heading back into the tent. 

And the doubts continue, Do my kids even notice? Do they even care? 

The answer would have to wait because Elias was starting to fuss and Josey could use a morning of sleeping in and the sun was about to rise, so why not go for a walk?

A half hour later, Elias and I made our way back to the campsite and were greeted by laughter, simple morning conversation, and the snap and crackle of a newly enlivened fire.

We made breakfast, drank hot chocolate, and cuddled under blankets. We talked of bears, why evergreens are called Evergreens, and wrestled with what would happen if our thumbs fell off?

Seriously. What would happen? 

For hours, Judah and Eden lined up matches all along the rim of the fire pit and watched as the heat finally won over and set the little red tips on fire and Zion climbed WAY TOO HIGH up a nearby tree because, this is what happens when we get out into the woods and away from home, we find ourselves in spontaneous and unpredictable moments, moments always hoped for and cherished as a parent. 

Then it was time to get more wood.

"Dad," Judah said while I stacked a small pile onto his outstretched arms, "Don't forget we need to cut a pile to leave behind."

I hadn't forgotten and was hoping neither had he. Ever since our trip to the Great Wall, It's been a short tradition, leaving behind a "bless you" gift, and has become a staple of our camping adventures. When we returned, arms full of wood to leave behind, our campground neighbor walked over, "to see how many kids you have." he said.

He was a friendly man, as most campers tend to be, and he was out camping with his son. "I wanted to leave three days ago," he says, "but my son wanted to stay a few extra nights, so we stayed." He nods at his son who is a freshman in college and busy tearing down their tent. "I tried camping with them as much as I could," he says, reaching out and tugging Elias' thick onzie, "but I regret not doing it more." 

We talked for a bit more about the weather, the fishing in Wisconsin and how we both would rather fish in Canada. Then, he bids us good luck in the coming storm, and heads back to his son, Chrysler minivan, and their long ride home. When they pulled out, he waved, and I felt a little sense of relief. 

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Maybe we are a bit reckless in going to the mountains when our lives are in chaos, maybe I should have stayed home, worked on the house, and saved money on gas and simple cabins, but we didn't. Instead, we went to the mountains, and I think I'm okay with that because, when it's all over, when Judah, in eight short years, is on to his freshman year or Elias is packing up to move across the world, or my girls no longer fit in my lap and ask for morning hugs, I don't want to "regret not doing it more." I want to be confident that I did my best, that I soaked up every moment and minute I could, and that I worked hard for my kids to always know that they came before things or jobs or financial security. I want them to know that when life was hard, Dad made time for them, and that he took them camping

I want, "{they'd} grown up just like me" to mean they've become collectors of memories, not things. That pockets full of pinecones and shoes full of burrs are more precious than rooms full of furniture or bank accounts full of cash.

In the future, if I have to apologize to my kids, I want it to be because we built too many campfires, spent too much time counting the stars, and collected too many lakeside rocks. 

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How is our house? It's empty.

How is our life? It's chaotic.

But how are our hearts? They're full. Because for a long and beautiful weekend, we had nothing but each other, the mountains, and a collection of simple moments that will last a lifetime. We had am eight hour car ride in a seventeen year old van where, with the snow swirling outside, my kids sat in the back and talked about whatever kids talk about. 

Our hearts are full because we have each other, sweet friends, and few distractions. 

Although I'm never really quite sure if what I'm doing is what I should be doing, I do know I can never go wrong with investing in life with family because I wasn't put here to make a living life. I was put here to make a life - for me, and my family. 

And sometimes, that means coffee in the mountains, instead of breakfast at home.

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For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  The Mountains have a Way  :  Get Out More - Tetons, 2017

 

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Exhausted. Together.

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Last night was our first night in our new home. We've been slowly moving in all week, but with Judah away for a two-night school trip, we decided to wait till Friday for the official ceremony.

The first night felt like camping; the first full day felt like the very opposite of camping. It felt like work. Hard work. And a whole lot of selfishness.

Just before Judah left for Malo Camp, we sat them down with ice cream and thanked them for their flexibility and easy attitudes because, truly, they have been pretty great. They've moved from room to room and house to house all summer long, they've shared a king bed since school started, have had to brave new schools, and are now moving away from Grammy and Pappa's house and all that they know. Life has been a shaken rug for them, and they've endured it and embraced it with smiles and obedience, even though, at times, tears run from their eyes. 

But this morning, I didn't care about any of that. All I cared about was getting work done and working hard, with a good attitude of course. Judah had other plans, and from the beginning, he and I butted heads. By 2pm, I had had enough.

Ever since this house became an option for us, I've looked forward to the day we would move in. I envisioned us sleeping on the floor together, watching a movie and making a memory, and I fantasized about the good time we would share making this place our home. 

I envisioned a blog post about family and beauty of creating something together. When it became abundantly clear that it wasn't going to happen, I found my spirits flailing, my temper shortening, and Judah sitting next to me while I drove to Home Depot, listening to me yell about respect, role of family, and the characteristics of men. When he started to cry, I made things worse. "Stop crying," I yelled, "You are a ten year old boy, you don't need to cry about consequences that you rightly deserve" (I don't write these words proudly, just honestly).

He choked back his tears and tightened his jaw as I pulled into my parking spot. "Stay here," I said, "And when I come back, I want to hear an explanation for your actions." I closed the door then poked my head through the window, "And I don't want to hear, 'I don't know.'" 

What I really wanted to do was spank his little butt until this attitude left or cowed into submission, but I knew that was wrong and probably wouldn't help. An afternoon of hard work, however, could accomplish much the same, so I bought him a pair of gloves and a long scraper, and by the time I got back into the van, I was a bit calmer and Judah had an answer: he was tired from Malo Camp.

"So Malo Camp is to blame for your attitude today?" I asked.

"No," he said, "I'm just more frustrated than normal, because I'm tired." He looked me in the eye, "Don't you act different when you're tired?" and my heart sunk. 

Since school started, we've been non-stop, working late evenings, living in two homes, wrestling with new schedules, bills, and emotions of moving, new schools, and life. We are exhausted, and I have been more than just a little impatient and "different." 

"Yes," I said, feeling like a bucket of ice water had just been dumped on my head, "I do." Then it was my turn to apologize. 

Some of the best memories I have growing up are from the times when I got into deep and serious trouble. Some of my worst memories are from those times as well, but looking back now, as a father, I can give a bit more grace to my dad for not always acting and doing the right and perfect thing (hopefully, someday, Judah will too). However, the times where my dad did take the time to be with me and not merely punish were the best. I remember splitting wood, working in the garage, and going fishing with my dad as all part of my punishment, and I could not be more grateful for those times because not only did they teach me how to work hard and endure, but they also taught me that my dad loves me, that he likes me, and that he truly and sincerely does care and want what's best for me. 

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So I put Judah to work scraping the back room of our new home. Beneath a sort of padded flooring is tile, and for almost five hours, Judah scraped and pulled and cleaned the floor while the rest of us worked on the house. Whenever he asked me for help because a particular section was too hard I told him he had to find a way, "This is your job. It has to be done." And for most all of it, he found a way. Until the end. Which was what I was waiting for. Because it's what my dad taught me. So, for the last bit, we worked together. Me scraping up places where the previous contractor thought it best to lay way too much glue, and Judah clearing away and pulling up pieces of flooring. When it was over, we high-fived and took a break, together. 

When Judah's aunt came into the room and congratulated him for all his work, he smiled his bashful smile and said, "Dad helped me too," and my heart was restored. The lessons from my father had passed to my son.

It's a pretty easy habit to get into, pushing everything and everyone away whenever things get hard. Because that seems to simplify things and makes them controllable. Which us why I found myself today, more than once, wanting to push Judah away and not be around him, because I was so friggen frustrated with his attitude and selfish demeanor that I just couldn't handle it! 

When I did this at first, our relationship and his attitude didn't improve, it only got worse.

My dad understood this when I was a child so he hung out with me, worked with me, and fished with me. He wasn't this way all the time, but he was this way enough of the time, and that was enough, and it's still enough. Those moments, more than any others, have lasted time, distance, and hardship. Not the great and perfect days, but the imperfect ones, the ones where Dad shrugged of the weight of disappointment and frustration in me and simply loved his son anyway.

Today, for Judah, I hope my scraping away a dirty floor was enough, even though it doesn't feel like it.

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :   On Parenting  :  Fatherhood

 

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