Tag Archives: Parenting

Hodgepodge and Miscellany

It’s been a while since I wrote anything really substantive in this space. That’s not an apology so much as an observation. Things have been busy. I’ve been busy. I probably could have made myself blog more than I have, but if I’m forcing myself to do something I don’t like…well what’s the point in that. If I’m going to do things I don’t like, I’m at least going to get paid for doing them.

But there are a few things I thought some of you might like to know. First, Thing 1 and Thing 2 are out of our house once again and working toward a more permanent placement with some relatives. They packed up everything last week and headed out of state. The odds are decent that I won’t see them again, at least not for a very long time. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t cry when they left. But I would also be lying if I told you that I wasn’t at least a little glad that they’re gone. Between their school schedule, and trying to spend time my wife and our baby, things were stretched a little thin for us. I’m looking forward to having a little more free time to write.

Speaking of writing, I’m working on a new story which I think is going to be titled, The Death and Life of the Human Electrode, which is about a homeless superhero. And I’ve got one out for beta reads right now called In the Shadow of Doubt which is about faith and giant spiders and a tribe of squirrels that lives in a world-tree.

In other news, the parenting adventure continues. Baby AJ is now mobile. Which means you’ve got to keep an eye on him, because if you don’t the next think you know you’re hearing the thump of the trash can in the kitchen and when you get there he’ll be eating used coffee grounds right out of the filter. Really.

Also, he likes dog food for some reason. I’ve tried to convince my wife that this is a possible way to save money over all that expensive formula and baby food she keeps buying, but so far she’s not going for it.

Here is a video of him wearing pants on his head:

 

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Of Fatherhood and Futility

I don’t know how to start this.

Well, there. At least that’s something written. Maybe the rest will get knocked loose now.

The problem I’m having is that sometimes I have so much to say I don’t know how to make my ideas into words. Oh for the days when the words dance in my mind for hours on end begging me to tweak them here, prune them back there. But sometimes my thoughts are too big and complicated and messy to fit together properly in words.

But maybe lets start with this: I’m going to be a dad and I’m mostly okay with that.

A few weeks back I made a post about how I was freaking out, scared out of my mind that I was going to somehow do something wrong, screw up my kid’s life, but now I feel like the freak-out phase is finally coming to a close. I’m not sure “confidence” would be the right word to describe my feelings about fatherhood. Probably “resignation” hits it on the head a little better. I’m realizing that whether I’m ready or not this is something that’s going to happen, so I’m resolved to be as ready as I can be and praying that God will take up the slack.

That is of course assuming this kid ever gets here. These last few weeks have been really rough on my wife, and by extension they’ve been rough on me because there’s nothing I can do to help her. Part of the problem is that for the longest time we weren’t sure when the baby was coming. Of course my wife has an official due date, but because of her diabetes the doctor has been planning on taking the baby early, and due to the high risk nature of her pregnancy for that last couple months we’ve been on tenterhooks thinking, “What if its this week? Or the next?” Which after while turns into, “Is this kid ever going to come?”

I have this vision of my wife in bed two years from now, her belly horribly distended, unable to move from her bed, and the doctors telling us, “We’re going to give it just one more week and see what happens.” There’s a story in there somewhere.

But now we’re locked in for a date early next week, so most of that anxiety has gone, and left me with the mental energy to worry about other Things. Thing One and Thing Two to be precise.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that me and my wife were foster parents for nearly a year, and we had the great privilege to open our home to two wonderful kids who for the sake of anonymity (and let’s be honest here, also because it’s kinda cute) I have referred to as Thing One and Thing Two.

I haven’t written about them in a while, partly because I didn’t know what to write. See, a couple months back Things One and Two went back to live with their mom. Now you’d think that having two kids that have been in your life for the better part of a year would be an emotionally troubling experience, but the truth is that for a while I didn’t feel much of anything.  In a way I was happy for them. I saw how much they loved their mom, and what’s more I saw how much that she loved them. Truth be told I’ve never seen a woman more laser-focused on anything before in my life.

She got herself a job within a few weeks of being back on the streets (no easy feat in this economy) and worked really hard to find a place they could all live together. To tell you the truth, she almost put me to shame with her passion and focus. And I thought to myself, “If she can be so driven and work so hard for her kids what more could I hope for? Sure she’s made mistakes, but now that she’s got a chance to start over again she’s gonna make the most of it.”

Only from what I can tell, that isn’t what has happened. Once the kids were back with her things started to fall apart. First it was little stuff, stuff you could write off to her scattered brain or quirky personality. But then the problems escalated. She lost her job. She’s become more and more difficult to contact. And whenever Thing One’s friends from Boy Scouts go to visit they bring back reports of strange goings-on at the house.

And part of me just wants to scream, “What are you DOING? I know you love these kids. You had a choice and you chose to bend over backwards to prove you could be the right kind of mother and now you’re letting it all fall to pieces. Don’t you understand these kids need stability? Can’t you see that the road your on is eventually going to land you back in jail and them back in foster care again?”

And the thing is, I love these kids too. I wasn’t a perfect foster parent, but I did what I could to give them some semblance of stability. But I’m afraid it wasn’t enough. Nothing I tried to do for them is going to survive in the maelstrom of their mother’s collapse. Instead they’re going to be left to build a life on a foundation of shifting sand, led by the example of a mother who can’t maintain any semblance of consistency, tossed from home to home like unwanted baubles. And how are they supposed to grow up into proper young men with a life like that? HOW?

I’d better stop writing before I start crying. I just had to get some of that off my chest. I don’t know if it matters that I’ve written it down here, that I’ve sent it out into the world, this bundle of my thoughts, flickering and weak like the flame of a candle. But that’s what I do. I write. I share. And every day I face the fear that nothing I do will ever have made any difference at all.

My Son…

I can’t wait for this kid my wife’s carrying around in her belly to get here. I can see the day in my head. It will be a great day, a joyous day. It will be the day that people finally stop asking me if I’m excited about being a father.

Because here’s the deal people. No. No I’m not. I’m not excited at all. I’m terrified.

This is a child. An actual human being. A messy, complicated, screwed up person. And I’m the one who’s supposed to be there for him? To teach him how to live? To give him the cognitive and spiritual tools he’s going to need to succeed as an adult? I’m the one he’s going to look up to and think, “Some day, I’m going to be like that“?

No. No no no NO NO NO.

Screw. That.

I mean, I get by, okay? I like to think maybe I have a handle on some stuff in my life. But I’m still learning, still growing. There’s so much I don’t know about how to be the kind of man I should be. How am I supposed to help my kid turn out okay, when I haven’t even turned out okay myself yet?

And you know the weirdest thing? When I talk to actual parents about my concerns they’re all, “Don’t worry about it. You’ll figure it out. It just comes naturally.”

Are you KIDDING me? Because I’ve met your kids, and let me tell you something, just because they’re not torturing puppies and making bombs in the basement does not mean they’ve turned out okay. (Actually, strike that last one. Bombs in the basement wouldn’t be so bad. I wanted to build bombs when I was a kid. It shows a certain level of scientific curiosity. Also, I wish I had a basement. Basements are cool.)

I want to raise a son with a work ethic, a son with an inquisitive mind, a son with a kind heart. A son that will one day be a good dad when his turn come around.

So don’t tell me it comes naturally. I’m not the wisest man in the world, but thus far in my life I’ve found that nothing worth having comes naturally.

Lately I’ve been reading the book of Proverbs in my Bible, and while I’m in awe of the wisdom recorded there, for me as a father there’s a tremendous fly in the ointment. Because each new section of the book begins with the phrase “My son…”, and I know who wrote the book of Proverbs, and I know how his son turned out. The wisest man on the earth wrote a book specifically to teach his son how to be the man he should, and that son turned out to be one of the worst kings the nation of Israel had ever seen.

And I’m supposed to do better than that?

So no, with all due respect, I’m not excited. And I’m not going to assume fatherhood will “come naturally”.

I’m planning. I’m reading parenting books, and psychology books. And I’m trying to become the kind of man I would want my son to look up to.

I know there are no certainties in life. I know that at some point he will have to make his own choices whether for right or for wrong. But God help me if I don’t do everything in my power to set him on the right path.

The Trying of Your Faith

Over the few short years of my adult life the single most important thing I have learned is that there are only three ways to get good at something: practice, practice, and practice. Unfortunately, just knowing that you have to work hard to get good at something, doesn’t make the actual process of working and practicing any easier.

Which is why, not more than a few weeks ago I was pulling my hair out with frustration at not being the foster parent I really wanted to be. I was coming unglued inside, wondering if I had made the right decision, trying to figure out what had happened to my formerly tranquil life. In short I was in short supply of patience.

Probably my least favourite verse in the Bible is the one that says, “The trying of your faith worketh patience.” It basically means that if you want to have more patience you have to endure lots of things that make you impatient, which is why when I was coming up my dad always told me, “Son, never pray for patience.” And though there were plenty of things my dad told me that I might not have heeded as much as I should have, that one I followed.

And now I’m sorely in need of patience and I’m getting it the only way you can get patience. Practice, practice, practice.

But the good news is, the trying of your faith does work patience. Or, to put it differently, there’s only so much hair you can pull out before you go completely bald.

Which is why I’m happy to announce…drum roll please…the return of my sanity!

Okay, so maybe that’s just a bit more dramatic than necessary, but it’s true. Things have really been looking up over the last few weeks. My nerves haven’t been as frazzled, my patience has not been wearing as thin, and on the whole me and Ashley and the kids have just been happier.

I think it helps too that we’re all finally figuring out our roles in the household. For instance, I am figuring out that I can tell the kids what to do, and the kids are figuring out that it’s really a good idea to listen and obey.

There are still issues to work on, still things I need to strengthen in my life to become the man and the father I would like to be, but at least now I feel like I’m on the right track.

I still worry whether the things I have tried to teach Thing 1 and Thing 2 will have any real and lasting impact on their lives, but I can say without question that they have had an impact on mine. I feel surer of myself, more confident that I can be the father I need to be to nurture my own child into the person he ought to be when the time comes.

Because, like everything else worth having in life, being a good parent doesn’t come easy; it takes hard work and practice.

And thanks to Thing 1 and Thing 2 trying my faith, I’m that much closer to where I need to be.

The Parent’s Guide to Writing or: How to Learn from Someone Else’s Mistakes

Parenthood.

Whoo boy, parenthood.

You know it’s actually not that bad. If you can get over the shower knob never being turned off. If you can withstand the constant stream of nonsense coming from the back of your car. If you can get used to asking, “Are you wearing underwear today?”

If you can do those, and approximately a hundred other things that I’m too tired to think of right at this moment, you’ll be fine.

But truthfully, kids are a hoot. Yesterday one of our’s looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Is this a dream?” And naturally I told him yes. And then he said that it wasn’t because you couldn’t bump into people in dreams, and proceeded to body-check me to prove his consciousness.

You can’t argue with that logic right there.

But having kids is more than just fun. It’s educational.

See I have this theory. I have lots of theories actually. But the one I’m going to share with you today is this: Kids and adults aren’t all that different. Adults just want more expensive toys. That whole business about “growing up”? Totally bogus.

There is no point in your life when simply because of growing older you magically become more responsible, or have better self-discipline. Case in point: the kids want to put off doing their homework. I want to put off mowing the lawn.

And it’s these similarities that fascinate me. Because everyone accepts that parents are supposed to train their children to be responsible, to work even when they don’t want to, etc.

But there’s a reverse of that too. While we’re training our children we learn things about ourselves. In correcting their mistakes, we’re more likely to see our own shortcomings in a new light.

After all, I can’t very well tell my kids to pick their clothes up off the bathroom floor if I’ve got three pairs of underwear wedged behind the toilet for some reason. I can’t make them brush their teeth every morning without realizing that I’ve still got bits of that burrito from two days ago lodged in my molars.

In other words, in correcting their problems I’ve become far more likely to correct my own shortcomings.

And I think something similar happens in writing too. As writer’s we’re told to read, read, read, in order to hone our craft to the place where we want it to be.

It seems only natural that associating ourselves with great works of literary art would help us in our aspirations toward greatness. But I contend that there is a place for bad writing in the writer’s library as well. In fact it may be better for us as writers to study what others do wrong, than to try to emulate what they do right.

After all, there is no better way to rid yourself from infodumps than to read a story with one on every page. And if you ever pick up a book that opens right into backstory without any context to the characters current situation that’s probably going to make an impact on how you view backstory in your own fiction.

Bottom line, negative lessons are far more powerful than positive lessons. And critiquing the mistakes others make can reinforce those mental muscles that will help you cut the fat out of your own writing.

By all means, read good books. But make some time for the bad ones as well. They have a lot to teach if only you will listen.

And now if you will excuse me, I need to go retrieve some…personal items from behind the toilet.

To Live Would Be An Awfully Big Adventure

This is it. This is the day I’ve been waiting for.

I feel like I’m an astronaut in a windowless capsule, plummeting down into an alien world. I don’t know what I’ll find when the hatch opens. Will the natives be hostile? Will they want to speak to me at all? What if it takes so long to understand their language that I offend their culture forever with my bumblings.

Okay, let’s back up. A word of explanation is in order I suppose. Where to begin? Ah, I know.

I’ve always wanted to be a father. I mean maybe not always. I’m sure there was a time when I was lying on my back in some cradle somewhere staring up at one of those ridiculous mobiles that I wasn’t thinking, “You know, fatherhood sounds like a pretty good gig.”

But for a majority of my life I’ve had a desire to raise children. Even before I wanted to be married, I wanted to be a father. After all, girls might have been icky, but adoption was still a very real option.

Fast forward a few years, and now I am married. And wouldn’t you know it, I married a woman who wants to be a mother. And I mean really wants to be a mother. She’s dying to take care of kids. So much so in fact that for a while she took a job at a daycare that forced her to work eight hours a day without a break in violation of state labor laws.

But the hitch is, we haven’t been able to have any of our own. We’ve conceived few times, but so far nothing has stuck. Add to that the fact that babies seem to be falling from the sky at the church we attend, and I think you can understand the position we find ourselves in.

But my wife and I aren’t the kind of people to sit around and wait for something to happen. So when she said, “Let’s sign up to be foster parents,” I shrugged and said, “Sure.”

Fast forward through us driving for an hour every week to take a three hour class for eight weeks and us jumping through all the hoops for our home to be certified, and we come to today.

If everything goes according to plan, today is the day we’ll receive our first placements. Plural. Brothers.

Part of me is excited. Part of me is screaming, “What are you thinking!? You don’t know the first thing about these kids. What if they hate you? What if they want to run away? What if you end up making things worse?” Part of me is trying to contact the mothership. That part of me is a little weird.

But I know my heart. I know that the debt I owe to my own father is incalculable. And I’m thinking, maybe, just maybe, I can make that kind of difference in someone else’s life.

I don’t know how long they’ll be with us, what they’ll be like, what their real parents were like…nothing.

I’m about to embark on a grand adventure. It’s a pass or fail test with two real human lives on the line. I’ve prayed for the wisdom to make the right decisions and be a good leader. I’ve prepared the house for their arrival.

Really, the only thing I can do now is hang on and get ready to splash down into a new world. The next message you review will be transmitted from the planet’s surface. Assuming I survive this.

Because of Allen Brewster

The first real book I have a clear memory of read was a children’s chapter book called The Strange Thing that Happened to Allen Brewster. It was about a kid who turned into a plant.

Better than it sounds. Trust me.

I’d like to think that this book is part of the reason I turned out the way I have both as a writer and as a reader. For one thing it was deep. I distinctly remember the scene where Allen’s grandfather is talking to him and he holds up an apple and he asks Allen what it is. Allen naturally responds that it’s an apple. At which point, Allen’s grandfather turns the apple and shows him that it’s really only half an apple. “What you see is not the same as what is,” the grandfather tells Allen. Deep stuff for a six-year-old.

It was also, unusually dark for a children’s book. Allen ends up turning almost completely into a plant. He stands out in the sun for hours on end and the roots in his feet start to grow down into the earth. In the end, Allen himself is saved, but his mean teacher who also takes the formula is implied to be stuck turning into a plant for good. The final page of the book is a picture of a tree with the terrified face of a woman forever trapped in the prison of her own body.

And I loved it.

I think somewhere in the back of my mind I’ve always been measuring my fiction against the standard of The Strange Thing that Happened to Allen Brewster for my entire life. Or maybe not.

But I do believe that stories can change kid’s lives. Maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about parenthood after my wife’s miscarriage last year, and a big part of that is trying to figure out what kinds of stories I want my kids to consume. There’s a part of me that wants to expose them to movies like The Secret of Nimh and Jan Svankmajer’s Alice fairly early on. And of course I want them to read The Strange Thing that Happened to Allen Brewster.

What about you guys? What book made the biggest impression on you as a child, and would you want your kids to read it too? Drop a line or two in the comments section and let me know what you think.