I Rule Kindergarten….(repost)

We decided to drop our 5-year-old off at school this year. I wish I could say that decision was made for noble reasons. Honestly, we did this because if we drop him off at school we get an extra 45 minutes in the morning. I wish I could also say we used that 45 minutes for noble purposes; to cook a hearty breakfast, prepare Evan for the day ahead, maybe a few thoughts for the day and a brief time of silent, contemplative prayer.

Here is what actually happens.

The alarm goes off…again. Our bed explodes in a flurry of activity — sheets and covers go flying, legs flailing as we realize we have 2o minutes. We grab our son and dress his limp body. Will he be too cold? too hot? None of that is as important as our ultimate goal in the morning — get that boy in the school door by 8 AM.

You see at 8 AM the door closes like the gate to a maximum security prison. This electronic alarm sounds, and if your child is not in the door by that time, you are LATE. This “being late” means very little to our son, he moves to his own, slower beat.  But to parents, the stigma of being late, seeing the little eyes on the other side of the school door looking back at us, as if to say, “poor, poor little boy, if only there was something we could do, but there is a great chasm between us” is more than most grown-ups can handle.

So we drop something frozen in a toaster, grab a sip to drink, brush teeth, find shoes, and finish it off with a coat. My wife and I run from room to room, throwing various items at our son followed by instructions. “Evan, put this on!” “Evan, take that shirt off and put this on!” “Evan, your coat, your coat” He is unaffected by all of this, no concern, no need to rush. Children are the only creatures on earth where the urgency of a situation actually causes them to move slower.

Eventually, we grab everything that he needs, I carry him to the car, strap him in, and we head out.

The time: 7:50 AM.

We play a game on the way to school. No, it’s not “eye spy with my little eye”. Our game is called, “help daddy  find an opening in the parade of cars the size of a Chevy Malibu.” He loves it, he’s very good at it now. Eventually, we find an opening and dart in to the line of traffic.

The time: 7:54 AM

Navigating this stretch of road to the school is more of an art form really. You have to time the lights, follow close to the car in front of you, but not too close. It involves a lot of strategy, and talking to the windshield. Then there is the volunteer guy directing traffic. I am convinced he is out to get me. He holds out his hand and traffic stops.

The time: 7:57 AM

We turn on to a side road and then into the parking lot of the school. We are met by a line of cars anxious to enter the turnabout and drop their child off. I can see the faces of the moms in their car windows. From the looks of their hair,they just woke up also.  They look terrified and frantic.   As if they realize they might be late, and they did not dress appropriately to enter the school office and sign their child in. I scan the parking lot, and decide that our best chance at getting in would be to park and run for the door.

The time: 7:59 AMdoors

“Unbuckle your belt and grab your bag son.” The urgency in my voice shakes him to action. We jump out together, and I yell, “Runnnnnn!” We start running, as I throw his backpack on his little body.  The volunteers standing outside put up one finger, and yell, “one minute, hurry, hurry!” With those words I grab Evan, lift him off the ground, and start running. The volunteers start walking in, reality turns to slow motion, and it is just the sound of my out of breath body, the steps of my shoes on the concrete, and the sight of that door, that is now starting to close.

We get to the half-open door, and after considering all of my options, I decide for the sake of honor and good parenting to gently toss him in the door. The floor is slick in there, and the treads on his shoes don’t hold.  He slides a good 5 feet, stops himself at the wall, and looks back with a smile and thumbs up…the door closes, the alarm sounds.

Uncontrollably, I raise my hands in the air, striking the “Rocky Balboa” pose when he runs up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.. I look at the elderly volunteer next to me and yell out, “that’s right, that’s what I’m talking about!”. My hands are still raised as I dance around the door. She smiles nervously at me, and enters the building.

I skip back to the car, still hopped up on adrenaline. Along the way, I pass mothers wearing pajama pants and their husband’s coat walking the trail of shame with their child to the office. I try to make eye contact and give them a look that says, “don’t give up…you don’t have to live life this way.”

As for me, I drive home with a new outlook on the day. Sure, for a few moments the thought creeps in that tossing your child in a closing school door like a game of cornhole and then celebrating is probably not the most healthy area of my parenting. I convince myself I’ll try harder tomorrow.

The next day — wake time: 7:32AM

Time to shine.

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Parents: Read BEFORE your next Family Dinner.

As all parents of young children, my Wife and I  look forward to the possibility of sitting down to a dinner free from yelling or fighting, or falling off chairs, or crying about food they don’t like, or allowing noises to escape their little bodies at inappropriate times.

This hope begins every night at our house…. with a prayer….family-dinner

It’s quiet, almost peaceful around the table as our 3-year-old settles in…. hands together, eyes closed, preparing her thoughts internally before she voices her prayer.

“Dear Jesus, thank you for this day…and thank you for…. I hope you had a good day today….”

I open my eyes to watch her and I am immediately drawn to our 5-year-old watching the food on her plate. Her finger heads toward the mashed potatoes.   I open my eyes wide in her direction.

“Please be with everyone who doesn’t have any food….”

Our 5-year-old inserts her finger into the potatoes and licks them clean. I point my eyebrows at her and mouth the word, “STOP”. She puts her hands back in her lap. Our 7-year-old, eyes squinting in prayer, grabs his cup for a quick drink. I grab his hand and motion for him to set it down.

“Thank you for our house and our toys and our grass….”

In the meantime the 5-year-old bows her head…. and starts sucking up grapes from her plate. I snap my finger at her and she looks up at me, cheeks bulging. By now the 3-year-old, growing tired of her own prayer, has picked up a green bean, and continues to pray as she chews. My wife stops her in the middle of her snack break and asks her to finish the prayer.

“Help Adeline and Evan to be nice to each other”….

I hear tapping…. why is there tapping??? The 7-year-old is now unconsciously playing drums with his spoon. Seeing I am distracted, the 5-year-old reaches for her milk, only to be blocked by my wife.

“Thank you for my precious mommy…. I love her so much, and thank you for Daddy, and Evan, and Adeline. And God, just…. thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross….”

For a moment, a holy hush descends on the table. My wife looks at me, I grin at her as tears well up in her eyes.

At the same moment, a cartoon-like noise escapes the body of one of the children on my left. Everyone looks up like a startled brood of chickens. The 7 and 5 year olds smile and start to laugh. Penny gives them each a look and they hold their cheeks down, as if that will stop the inevitable.  The 7-year-old, locked in a silent but violent laugh, slips off his chair and on to the floor. The 5-year-old, spits milk out of her mouth and joins her brother under the table.

Penny looks over at me, our eyes meet, and I burst into laughter. My Wife now stares at me with wide eyes, fighting back the smile that is overpowering her face.  We shake our heads and close our eyes.

“And God, thank you for this food….AAAAAMEN!”

 We didn’t want to laugh. In the moment we felt like struggling parents losing another battle to make our kids a little more “Von-Trapp”- like.

But we laughed, because as much as we love discipline at the table, we could not fight the infectious laughter of three children living through this learning process with all the joy, craziness, and bodily noises they had in them.

In some strange way, there was something sacred about that night with our three kids.  Sacred in a way that made us stop and mentally record such moments, before we come back to the table one day and find well-behaved young adults in their place.

Summertime Part III: Banana Seat Vengeance

With the ending of summer, I decided to do a series of posts reflecting on what the summer months taught me, that my years in school never could. If you missed the first 2 posts in this series, you can read them by clicking here and here.

 

Matt lived one block over, was 4 years older than me, and made my life, the lives of my friends, and anyone he happened to trip over walking down the aisle of the bus, miserable.  He sat in the back and barked orders to the minions who danced around him ready to do his bidding and execute his judgments against the common people.

I hated Matt.

I used to watch him in action; squeezing my friend Aaron’s neck until he cried and then laughing at him the entire bus ride home. I wondered what his parents were like….if he even had parents. I wondered if he ever cried at night? What made him tick? What made him explode with such fierce anger?  Where did he get all that leather and those AC/DC t-shirts?  

One afternoon, at the start of summer, my older sister and I were arguing,  which transitioned nicely into wrestling. She pinned me to the floor and then finally let me go and stormed off to her room, leaving me fighting back tears as I cursed her name.

I ran outside and stood in the garage, kicking random objects and telling my sister things I could never say to her face.  I kicked the tire of her bike and mumbled, “stupid sister” under my breath. The bike was pink and white, with white handle grips, and pink and white streamers that poured from the ends of the handle bars.  Pink, purple and white polka dots decorated the banana seat and a white plastic-weaved basket sat on the front.

My sister needed to pay….and the bike was right there.

131922802_schwinn-vintage-banana-seat-bicycle--classic-pink-bike-

I ran inside to my parent’s desk drawer found the plastic container, pulled out a couple of items and slipped them in to my pocket.

I stood in front of her bike and stared at the tires. I rehearsed in my mind the crime I was about to commit….I took a deep breath….and knelt down.

Hours later, I was inside watching an episode of The Great Space Coaster when I heard Jennifer screaming. I jumped up and looked around. My dad came running down the steps and looked at me for an explanation. I gave him a look that said, “honestly Father, I too am puzzled by the cries of distress coming from the next room….shall we go inquire about it together?”

We ran outside and into the garage to find my sister kneeling by her bicycle that now had 2 flat tires.  She was crying as my Dad explained to her that the tires could be fixed in a few days.

My Dad looked at me, calculating my response to his gaze so as to determine if I had a part in this injustice.  My look back said, “Oh Papa, surely you don’t believe that I would stoop to such a level and deprive my eldest sister of the joy that comes from riding her bike in the warmth of summer?”

“What did you do??” my sister shouted at me through clenched teeth. “It wasn’t me” I screamed back.” “yeah right!” she said.

And that’s when I played the best card in my hand.   Years of injustice and abuse were about to be made right with just a few words.

“All I know is that I saw Matt walking by our house just a little while ago, and he was staring into the garage.” “Maybe it was Matt.”

“What a jerk” she yelled as she ran into the house crying.  “Who is this Matt kid?” My Dad asked me. I looked at him as if to say, “dearest Father….I am not one to bring accusation against my neighbor unjustly….how can you now ask me to…”

“You are not in trouble, just tell me….”

I spelled his last name slowly and clearly.  “I’m not sure, but I think he lives on Karen Drive” I said.

With that my Dad walked in to the house to find a phone book.

The next day my friends and I were riding our bikes down Karen Drive, and we passed by Matt’s house.  He was outside staring into his mom’s car, holding the light while his Mom’s boyfriend worked on the alternator. He looked up to see who was riding by and I locked eyes with him. Even with a dirty face I could easily make out the dull bruise on the side of his face. He stared at me for a moment, and then looked back down at the alternator.

That summer I learned that while I say I want justice, too often I am perfectly willing to settle for vengeance.  Justice is the long hard earthly fight that ultimately cries out to the God we believe will have the final word and make all things right.  Vengeance is the cheap imitation that is more about me than about making right any wrongs.  Left in my hands, vengeance gives me the power to “win” for the moment even if I must use injustice to do so – be it with the bully on the block or the gossiping, scheming, know it all in the next cubicle.

I never told my sister that I was the thumb tack terrorist until about 15 years later. I guess there is always time to make things right. Matt, I can’t imagine  you are reading this, but I’m sorry….please forgive me….wherever you are.

Summertime Part II: When I Learned about Sex….

With the ending of summer, I decided to do a series of posts reflecting on what the summer months taught me, that my years in school never could. If you missed the first post in this series, you can read it by clicking here.

I can’t remember which summer it was that my Dad decided he needed to talk to me about sex. But I do remember a point in my life, just before I jumped into the rapids of puberty, when almost overnight the girls I played with went from being long-haired boys, to females, and eventually to women. Their eyes took on color, their faces took on structure; where once was a simple human form, now had curves and dimensions. It is a strange thing to go to bed one night with girl friends, and wake up the next day, surrounded by potential girlfriends.

Recognizing the times and the seasons, my parents decided to orchestrate “the talk” with me under the guise of a father-son fishing day. We woke up early on a Saturday, and made our way to the state park. After an hour or so of fishing, we put the poles back in the car, and decided to go for a hike. Ten minutes in, we found an outcropping of rocks overlooking a bend in the creek, and agreed to sit for a while. A few minutes passed with small observations about the creek and comments about the poor fishing. Finally my Dad began the conversation with the words, “so….you are getting older now….and….I wanted to talk with you for a few minutes about sex….”

RockCreek

For the next several minutes I sat and listened to Him talk, explain, warn, and define. It was an open and frank conversation filled with fascinating answers to questions I did not know to ask yet but certainly appreciated the heads up. It wasn’t that I needed him to tell me what sex was, as much as I needed him to fill in the gaping holes left from culture, television, church, and the discussions that went on in the back seat of the school bus. What I needed was someone to explain the framework, the context, the plan and purpose of sex. I needed to hear that it was a gift, and that every good gift has been given by God and meant to be enjoyed. That the physical and spiritual are inexplicably intertwined so that one will always affect the other.

As we talked it suddenly dawned on me the number of adult figures in my life I was convinced had already had sex – teachers at school, Sunday school teachers at church, my school bus driver with the missing front teeth, that man with the cane living two doors down who yelled at us for walking on his grass…..THE PASTOR AND HIS WIFE?!?!?

This is what summer is all about….discovery, rites of passage, insider information that suddenly changes your view of the world and reconciles in your mind what your body has already started telling you. I may have been educated during the school year, but I learned so much during the summer.

And just like that, the talk was over. We walked back down the trail, found our way to the car, and headed home. I felt older, as though I was on the inside of a secret society, possessing information that could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. I walked past couples holding hands and I nodded to them, a smirk on my face, as if to say, “I know….I know….” At the time there was absolutely nothing more I could do with the information I had been given, but it was good to know and I was sure it would come in handy some day….like Monday in the conversation happening in the last seat of the school bus.

Letter to my Children: It’s not Boring….It’s Summer Vacation. {Repost}

Dear Evan, Adeline, and Malina

You are about to enter in to an amazing time of year….summer vacation. The days are long, the weather is warm, and the bedtime is negotiable.  You will soon have even more time to play and explore, and hopefully….time to be bored.

I used to love summer vacation so much when I was a kid. Every day I would walk outside to find friends riding bikes, playing ball, or chasing each other for no particular reason.  Some days we would play all day, moving from sport to sport and backyard to backyard.  But other days, I couldn’t find any of my friends around the neighborhood, and so I was left to being bored.

But in being bored a world of opportunity opened up for me.  I didn’t realize the that what I considered boredom was actually freedom. Freedom to make up alien worlds and fight bad guys, freedom to ride my back with the wind at my face. Freedom to push down a row of corn in order to create the perfect hiding spot.

storm

You will probably come to me one day during the summer and complain that “you’re bored” and have “nothing to do”. Just know that your Mother and I will not try to “script” every moment of your summer….create a schedule for you that constantly keeps you moving from one planned activity to another.

I know that you (like me) will not like it that much at first .  When you’re young you spend lots of time running from boredom, only to look back years later and long for one of those long, uneventful days.  But in your boredom you may have the privilege of standing before a summer thunderstorm as it rolls toward you, or spread out in the grass, lay on your back, and stare up at the sky….realizing how small you are in this great big universe. In your boredom you may just learn more than you every could in your busyness.

It’s not boring kids….it’s summer vacation.

Love,

Your Dad.

Mother’s Day Monologue: Hell is Real.

I had the privilege of serving as Pastor of a church in Lexington, Kentucky for several years.  Each Mother’s day, instead of an official sermon, I would write and perform a monologue. Reading through an old moleskine recently I found my notes and thought I would post the yearly monologue here.
[An elderly man walks on stage with a cane in hand. He is in his living room. He sets his cap on a stand, drops his cane in the holder by the door, and shuffles to the tweed couch with a crocheted afghan draped across the back.  He slowly bends over, and feeling for the landing below, gently lowers his frame down on the couch.]

[he stares off into the distance as though looking back through time….and then finally, slowly begins to speak in careful, thoughtful tones.]  I remember when we took our firstborn Son to church on mother’s day 35 years ago.  Oh my wife and I had been trying for 20 years to be obedient to the Lord’s command to “go forth and multiply”….but it seems like God thought it might be more interesting to wait until we reached our 40’s to become parents.

Which wasn’t necessarily a bad idea….by the time you reach your 40’s some things just aren’t as big a deal as they would’ve been in your 20’s or 30’s….you’re not as interested in impressing others with your parenting skills and you start to be thankful for what really matters to a new parent in their 40’s, namely, that being a new parent in your 40’s has not killed you yet.

Our first Mother’s Day at church came when our son, Michael, was 2 years old. Now due to an unfortunate baking  accident, my wife was wearing a wig at the time.  We were sitting in the middle of the crowded church listening to the Minister talk about Mothers and about how “HELL IS REAL!”  It seems it did not matter what the sermon was on any given Sunday, he could always bring it back to the fact that, “hell is real!”

This Mother’s day he was talking about the story of the birth of Moses. How Pharaoh had condemned all of the Hebrew males to be killed to reduce their numbers. Jochebed gave birth to Moses and hid him for three months to try to protect her boy from the world around him – a world that didn’t care a lick about him. To everyone else he was nothing but a slave child….but to Jochebed….he was her boy.

Well as the story goes, she realizes she can no longer hide Moses, but she wasn’t done protecting him either.  So she made a basket, put her son inside, and took that basket to the river….and gently let it go.  The basket floated slowly from the river bank, spinning as it gradually picked up speed….and then disappeared round the bend.  And Moses’ Mother experienced what I reckon every Mother goes through when you’ve done all you can do to protect your child, and yet there comes a time when you simply must let them go….and trust that God is somehow in the middle of it all.

Well the preacher went on talking like this and our boy was getting restless.  You see we didn’t have a nursery back then….kids were expected to be in church and listen no matter how old they were….So that they would also learn that “hell is real” I suppose. Well our boy was not going to sit still any longer. He climbed on to my wife’s lap and started pulling on her necklace, he then moved to her dangling ear rings, and tried to grab for her eyebrows.

Now if my parenting skills were keener back then I would’ve taken the boy from her, but right about the time I though of it, our son’s little hands moved up my wife’s face until he came to her hair.  He yanked that wig as hard as he could and pulled the side of it clean round to the front and over her face.  My wife started to flail around as though she were drowning. She tossed our son at me as she got her head together.  You could hear gasps and giggles rising all around us.  It was about this time when the preacher cried out from the pulpit, “and make no mistake about it my friends, hell is real!” Through grated teeth my wife whispered sharply at me, “you don’t have to tell me hell is real….I just experienced it!”  “Honey, I’m sure no one noticed” I whispered back.  “Why didn’t you just hand him to me if you couldn’t control him?”

Needless to say it was not the most uplifting Mother’s Day service….we left quietly….my wife put that wig away and never wore it again.  But make no mistake about it, Mother’s are the protectors of the family. Seems my wife would go through any pain, put up with any discomfort, rejection, and sorrow, just as long as our son didn’t have to. Sometimes I think the title, “Mother” is given out a little too easy these days, but my wife….she earned it.

moses' mother

Course there came a time when we had to let Michael go, not because we wanted to mind you, but because he insisted, and an 18-year-old can wear you down….but my wife….she never stopped watching….even if it was from the sidelines. And our boy, well he went off and lost his head as far as we were concerned. Did all the things you don’t speak about in public places.  I can’t tell you how many times I would pass by our bedroom and hear the muffled cries of my wife praying for the our Son, praying that he would be protected, that he would remember how much he was loved, and that he would realize he could always come home….still trying to protect him, as she watched him spin around, pick up speed, and disappear around the bend, into a world that didn’t care whether he lived or died. You see to everyone else our son was just another man lost in the world….but to us he was our boy.

She’s been gone for 10 years now….my wife….and each Mother’s day I like to gather with friends and family to honor her memory and tell the story of her life. My son picks me up so I can go with him to church and I….[The ringing of a rotary phone interrupts him and he reaches to answer]….Hello?….oh morning Michael….yes I’m ready….just waiting for you….well that sounds nice….I hope we can get a table….course we could if you would keep your preaching short this year like I told ya….I can’t help it I get as restless as a child anymore….ok….I’ll be on the porch watching for you…[Places the phone back down on the receiver]….Guess I better get out there….Happy Mother’s Day.