Monday, November 14, 2011

The bedtime routine . . . anything but "routine".

One of my favorite times of the day is the children’s bedtime.  That is not to say that I like them best when they are sleeping, rather, I enjoy the sweet family time we have during the closing parts of the day.  Unfortunately wrestling two small children into their beds before they believe they are ready is very similar to wrangling cats.
            They both have a routine that if one element is found to be off, will start the process over.  They brush their teeth (this is obviously a mommy and daddy requirement), climb into bed with all their appropriate toys (this includes an array of stuffed animals, princesses, superheroes, books, swords, wands, and tiara’s among other things), read a book (my son has recently started reading to us), sing a song (nearly every night is “Jesus loves me”, which I am thankful for as I hardly know the words to any other songs), and our nightly prayers.
            My son likes to start asking questions as we herd him off to bed.  I like to believe that he is an inquisitive soul and he is pondering the meaning of the universe at this time.  However, I have a sneaky suspicion that this is simply a delay tactic.
Nonetheless, this time brings up some interesting Q & A sessions.  Most recently, our son was talking about some of his friends and the names of their parents, which raised an interesting question in my mind, does our son even know our real names, so I figured I’d ask, “What is mommy’s name?”
            “Mommy” he responded matter-of-factly.
            “I know that is what you call her, but what is her real name?”
            He looks skyward for a moment trying to recall a name that I might have used in the past and after some thought, he excited says, “Babe!”
            Laughing and realizing that he may not have heard our names too often and curious what he thinks my name might be, I ask, “What’s my name then?”
            With less thought, he simply said, “Honey.” 
I guess it could be worse, right?
            My daughter on the other hand seems to enjoy the music portion of the routine.  She loves to sing (often making up her own words to her own tune).  Both of the children have a little radio in their room that plays nice child friendly bedtime music on a nightly basis.  Recently though, my daughter has started asking me to dance with her before we lay her down to sleep.  “One dance daddy, one dance,” (probably another stall tactic, but I’ll go for it every time).  She stands on her bed as I stand on the floor or I simply hold her and we sway back and forth to the music (if I am in the mood for some adorable laughter, I’ll throw in a spin or two).  After we’ve laid her down and said our prayers, just before I close the door, I’ll whisper, “Hey baby girl.”
“What?” she’ll say with a hint of excitement.
“I love you.”
“I love you too daddy.”  How can it get any sweeter than this?  This routine has literally has brought tears of joy to my eyes.
When the children are in bed, it becomes mommy and daddy time.  We do what most parents do at this point of the day . . . we go straight to bed, but first we brush our teeth, sing a song . . . 

My daughter . . . the Princess!

“Daddy, I a princess,” my daughter says in her excited three year old voice.
            She doesn’t have to convince me.  I have believed this since the day she was born.  In fact, when my wife was pregnant with our daughter, my greatest fear was that she would have me wrapped around her little, princess fingers . . . which has proven to be totally true and an accurate concern.  However, her view of her being a princess and mine are different, I mean, my peasant mind could not fathom the duties and responsibilities or royalty, right?  She has totally embraced the idea of a princess gown and tiara (which she calls a “crown”) as the defining characteristics of a princess, while in my mind, she just IS my princess.
She has started insisting on wearing her dress up princess costumes all the time.  The people we run across at church, restaurants, or the local grocery store actually make the situation even more difficult to manage as she is consistently hearing, “Oh, isn’t the little princess so cute!”  To which she gives a big grin with squinty eyes, tilting her head to the side in an effort to feign bashfulness, and will often end in a twirl.
She loves to dress like a princess so much that she doesn’t want to be seen until she is in full princess regalia.  One recent morning, I was coming down the hall as my wife was assisting her in putting on her full princess gear.  I was met with, “Daddy, No!  Don’t look!  I not ready!”
Now this wasn’t because she was indecent, it was because she wasn’t perfectly dressed in her beautiful gown.  In fact, she often can’t decide on which princess outfit she should wear, so what should any self-respecting princess do in such a conundrum?  Why she wears them all, of course.  It not unusual to see our little princess wandering through the house with a white gown, covered by a red sparkly dress, covered by a pink tutu.  Try telling her that it’s too much or it doesn’t match and suffer the princess wrath.
Recently, we forced her to wear some of her normal three year old clothes (this wasn’t to prove a point, it was simply because those dresses had to be washed or they would probably start twirling on their own) and she went into a depression.  As I walked into the room, I said, “How’s my little princess?”
Only to be met with, “I not a princess,” followed by a sad and disappointed sigh. 
“But you have your crown on.” I responded, trying to bring her out of her funk, it didn’t matter, she knew better . . . she is royalty after all. 
There is a bridal shop we drive by several times a day with beautiful gowns in the window and every time we drive by she says, “I want to get married.”  Now she has no interest in boys at this age, it all dates back to a conversation when her mommy told her she could wear one of those dresses when she got married.  We’ll have to coach her on the real meaning of marriage as she grows older, because all it means now is that she gets to wear a beautiful white gown and look like a princess.
No matter how far away a wedding day may seem, it is too soon for this daddy!  My daughter doesn’t need a white dress to be a princess in my eyes . . . but then, I clearly have no understanding of the true duties of royalty.                   

Friday, August 5, 2011

Another family dog? Not so fast!

We love dogs. I’ve had a dog for most of my life and we’ve had a dog in our family our entire marriage. Our kids know nothing else than having a four-legged friend padding around the house. Years ago, before children and the business that surrounds them, we fostered dogs in our home. We would go to the local animal shelter, adopt a dog, spend the next several months training it and finding it a permanent home. Each one of those dogs is a pleasant memory.

However, we had two children. Our son is now entering school in the Fall and our daughter is an adventurous two year old, going on 15. The time we had to commit to fostering dogs was limited and therefore, over time, we narrowed our family down to a one dog family. Although, if you ask our dog, Tucker, he would probably say, “Dog? What dog? I am the oldest son.” And that sums up our love for dogs.

Recently, my son and daughter both have been clamoring for another dog. In fact, they want a “puppy”. Several thoughts crossed my mind as the chant for a puppy increased in volume and regularity.

My first thought was, “do you have any idea how much work a puppy is? They chew everything, they aren’t housebroken!” The answer of course is, no, they don’t.

The second thought I had was, “I finally have gotten the one dog we have broken it in.” It has taken nearly eight years, but he is now the perfect family dog. He sleeps when he is supposed to sleep, he eats what he supposed eat (which is NOT the furniture), he relieves himself where he is supposed to relieve himself. So I was obviously in no hurry to respond to this request, a request that would ultimately turn my world upside down.

But as if the pointed ears of a wandering puppy could hear my children’s cry, one morning as we are preparing to leave for church, we find a beautiful white coated, blue eyed female puppy sitting on our back porch, looking hungry and thirsty. You might believe my first feeling was empathy and concern, but I am going to be honest with you, I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I thought it was a joke.

You can probably guess how this story goes from this point forward. My wife, who has a huge heart for dogs, gave the puppy food and water. When we returned from church, that puppy sat at attention on our porch as if she was dutifully guarding our home in our absence, growing the fondness my family was already feeling for her. Except for Tucker, who tends to great all dogs with a level of disdain, as if he himself is not a dog. But I know better than the rest of my family on this one, I know this was all puppy manipulation.

As my wife is packing to leave to visit her parents for the week, she sends me a text, “I am worried about the puppy, he is destroying the screen on the window and chewing an electrical outlet.” Who is left to deal with this cute little menace? You guessed it. So, if you are looking for a cute puppy that needs a home, contact me soon. I am not sure how tolerant daddy will be when this puppy starts trying to eat my tractor.

Why won't this car die?!?!

My car is dying. In fairness, it isn’t my car. It is my wife’s car. Or maybe I should put that in the past tense; it was my wife’s car. In fact, to be clear, it was my wife’s college car. This 1997 Chevy Cavalier now has legendary status in our family, it can survive anything. In fact, to my dismay, it survived being picked up and tossed by the recent tornadoes. Of course, it landed wheels down and showed little damage. She just brushed herself off and kept on running.

Unfortunately for the car, she isn’t my favorite. In fact, she isn’t even close. You might ask, “Why do you drive this antique with nearly 200,000 miles on it?” Well, I made a commitment. I once said, as long as it runs, I’ll drive it to avoid a car payment. Let this serve as a word of caution - I said that five years ago.

How did I end up driving this car in the first place? Well, as in many families, our circumstances dictated the type of cars we purchased and drove. When we got married, I was driving my dream truck. It was big, manly, and a stick shift. Unfortunately for that truck, my wife couldn’t drive a stick shift. Additionally, at the time, I had a job that was quite some distance from our home and big, manly, stick shift trucks don’t generally get good gas mileage, so it had to go.

The next circumstance was that we had children. Apparently, somewhere in the marriage and family instruction book it requires previously rugged outdoorsman to purchase powder blue minivans once they have families. I must have missed that day in class and I never received the manual, but his is what I am told. So we bought the minivan and I’ve must tell you, nothing screams TOUGH like a minivan with automated side doors.

So, getting rid of my truck that only I could drive and trading it in for a minivan, which was for my wife to drive, left me with the car.

Just so you understand, I am a big guy and the Cavalier is not. So getting in and out of this car is somewhat like watching the clowns pile out of the compact car at the circus. Let’s just say it is not the most comfortable car. But after a couple of years, I made it my own. Unfortunately, this story gets worse. About two summers ago the air conditioning went out. I took it into a mechanic to see how much it would cost to get it fixed, “$1000” the big, greasy, tough guy behind the counter said in a tone that suggested he wondered why a big guy like me would be driving a girly little circus car. It seemed a little high, so I took it somewhere else to get a second opinion, “$1200”, the woman behind the next counter said with a look in her eyes that suggested she thought I was less of man because I wanted AC in my little toy car.

The price clearly wasn’t going to get any better so I pondered my options, do I put a $1000 air conditioner in a car that was only blue book valued at $600 or do I simply sweat through the summer? Being the cheap guy I am, I decided to sweat it out, I could use to lose a few pounds anyways.

Well, that was two summers ago and I am midway through my third summer in my little antique girly car with no air conditioning and despite all the pounds I sweated off and despite of the judgmental glances I receive at the stop lights, I’ve grown fond of my little car. I own it now, it is no longer my wife’s college car, it’s mine. But she is fading, she creaks when she turns, she starts slower, and little warning lights are coming on all the time. Maybe it is in this year that I turn 40 that my own aging has given me sympathy on all things aging and loyal over time. When she goes, she will be missed. At least until I get back in my dream truck!

Tucker, the Family . . . Hummingbird?!?!

I am fascinated by hummingbirds. You may question the depth of my manhood when you read that statement, but in fairness, have you ever looked closely at one of those crazy birds? They seem to be more closely related to a bug than a bird. My wife recently put out hummingbird feeders (ultimately they are plastic containers that look like apples filled with sugar water) and to my astonishment, the hummingbirds came. But they didn’t just come for a quick sip of the sweet sugar juice, they came to chug it! One hummingbird in particular seems to visit all day every day, not sure how that little guy holds all that juice, but I assume he has to make many trips to the hummingbird men’s room.

My son has grown attached to this little guy and decided to give him a name. Now, for those of you who don’t realize, an animal takes on a whole new meaning in a family when a child is able to name them. Since I had never heard of anyone naming a hummingbird, I anxiously asked my son what title he had in mind for this thirsty little bird.

“Tucker,” he answered excitedly.

“Tucker?” I asked.

“Yes, the hummingbird’s name is Tucker,” he responded, full on confidence.

“But the dogs name is Tucker,” I told him in an effort to point out what seemed to be a painfully obvious duplication and a possible point of confusion for our canine family member.

“Yes, I know.” Okay, deal done, the hummingbird is now Tucker, so much for my son’s creative genes. I guess we can catalog that name in with other originals he has come up with like, “dog” for his stuffed dog, “horse” for his stuffed horse, or my favorite, “lion” for his . . . you guessed it, sock lion.

Despite my son’s lack of imagination in the name creation category, my fascination with this little bug . . . or bird, continues. So, why am I so fascinated with Tucker the hummingbird? Well, it’s not the name, although I am fascinated with what my son thinks will happen the next time he yells, “Tucker, come here!” I am fascinated with this little bird because he is simultaneously moving faster than my eye can see and sitting perfectly still, hovering next to the feeder as if it was an ornament hanging from a invisible string.

As I attempt to dissect this fascination, and simultaneously watch as my son attempts to call the bird to light on his finger, “Here Tucker, Tucker. Land on my finger, Tucker,” while the dog looks on in total confusion (I can only imagine what is going through his mind, “On your finger? Really?”), my mind wanders to the fact that this bird is like most of our lives. The world around us is moving, changing, and evolving at a speed that we cannot even see and yet our lives sometimes seem to be firmly planted at a standstill. Or maybe it is just the simple idea that we have a hummingbird and a dog both named Tucker. I wonder which will try and get on his finger first . . . this could be fun.

Friday, July 8, 2011

An open letter to the REAL "Unsung Heroes".

As some of you know, my wife recently nominated me for the Sears “Unsung Heroes; Dads Making a Difference Contest”. Amazingly, I was selected as one of 10 finalists in the contest and we were placed on Facebook to have “fans” vote one of the dad’s as most deserving and to receive a grand prize of $30,000 toward a community build project.

While I am most proud of being a husband, father, and in general, a “family guy”, the title “Unsung Hero” made me feel a little uncomfortable. I have never viewed myself as a “hero” in any way, shape or form. The truth is, I am simply a product of my community. We have a rich history of legendary figures who have served our community and country in many ways; they have fought wars, served as spiritual warriors, built community, raised families, and have been beacons of light for all of us to see. By living in a community that is full of unsung heroes, it serves to inspire us all to be better, to give more support, and to serve more often. This spirit of service is not exclusive to one individual or group of people, but a spirit that is instilled in the very fabric of our community. It is not the exception, it is the norm.

This spirit was never more apparent than it was on April 27th and the days immediately following those devastating storms. That night our emergency services and first responders worked in circumstances that were simply overwhelming, with devastation across our entire county, roads impassable, 911 emergency lines full, our local heroes went to work, pulling people out of crumbling homes, risking their own life and limb to help those in need. Unfortunately, the extent of the crisis was far beyond what our emergency services could respond to and that is when we watched as neighbors, in the dark of night, crawling through rubble, cutting trees, and moving debris to help those in need.

We watched as farmers used tractors to clear debris off of roads, businessmen picked up chainsaws to cut trees off of houses, and elderly women walked miles to offer warm meals, hugs, and prayers of comfort. Nobody was untouched. Nobody was unmoved. And nobody sat still when they had an opportunity to serve. This is the spirit of our community, this is home.

I am proud that my wife thought so highly of me to nominate me for this honor, possibly the best Father’s Day present of all time. I was surprised and honored to be selected by Sears as a finalist, but most of all I am humbled to be a small part of this community of unsung heroes.

So, I’d like to dedicate this column to you and say “thank you” to everyone who supported our efforts to win this contest and bring this $30,000 home to Bradley County, but more importantly, thank you for what you do every day, serving your neighbor, supporting your friends, inspiring those around you, and acting as the REAL unsung heroes.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Of Mice and Men and the battle between

My daughter is a huge mouse fan. In particular, the legendary mouse going by the moniker “Mickey”. However, a recent family encounter with a mouse was not nearly as sweet and cute as the aforementioned cuddly cartoon critter. No, our story of mice begins with me sitting on the couch watching television one night when the little fellow stuck his head out from behind the television stand. Cautiously, he moved out into the open to check out his new neighborhood. Now this wasn’t the friendly theme park mascot that my daughter is so fond of, no, this was the mouse that eats into your cereal boxes and makes a nest out of your favorite sweater.

As I watched our little visitor scamper around the floor boards looking for crumbs, I was already drawing up my battle plans for the next day. This mouse had broken into my fortress and because of his trespass, I declared war. I planned on making quick work of this little rodent and claim my crown as the defender of my home.

The next morning I visited one of our local hardware stores and immediately went to the “pest” aisle. I couldn’t help but imagine my daughters disappointment if she could only get a peek inside my head at the plan I was devising for this little fellow, but like a good father, I shook that thought out of my head and purchased the old fashioned, tried-and-true, snap trap.

I entered the battleground and found his most likely route of travel considering the sighting I had the night before. I set the snap trap and started to place the bait in position. My bait of choice is peanut butter as I’ve actually had more success with it than using the traditional cheese. As I placed the peanut butter, I accidently triggered the trap, which immediately earned its name and reputation by snapping down on my thumb causing significant pain (and an equal amount of embarrassment) . . . mouse - 1, daddy – 0. My daughter would smile.

Finally the trap was successfully, if not painfully, set and positioned. Now all I had to do was wait patiently. The next day, anxious to see the bounty of my strategic planning and positioning, I took a quick look at the trap. Unfortunately, what I saw made me realize I was battling no ordinary mouse. This mouse was clearly battle tested and wise to the ways of the snap trap. But not only was the trap not triggered, the peanut butter had been licked clean. Finally, adding insult to injury, the little rodent left evidence that it was him that had stolen by the bait. I’ll spare you the details of the evidence, but let’s just say it rhymes with “house scoop”. Yes, he essentially took my bait and left a signed statement on how he felt about my battle plan . . . mouse – 2, daddy – 0. My daughter would now be laughing.

Unfortunately for our arrogant little visitor and two of his friends, a series of four traps, set with staggered bait of peanut butter, cheese, and honey was too much to resist and I was rewarded with the sound of victory late one night, a loud “SNAP” from behind the piano as I slowly slipped into a hazy dreamland of dancing mice with a smile on my face.

So what would I tell my daughter about this battle victory? Like most good daddy’s . . . nothing, of course, but if I am ever forced to tell this tale to my rodent-adoring daughter, I’ll tell her this, I’d be happy to go visit Mickey at his house, but he’d better not come looking for crumbs at ours. daddy – 3, mice – 2, FINAL score