Tag Archives: children

A fledgling leaves the nest

He left for his final training run here in Oregon around 10:30 a.m. I teased him about the intense heat. It’s supposed to be 97 degrees today, a slight downturn from yesterday’s 101.

Last night I made him some sockeye salmon on the grill, and last week we went for a Father’s Day hike up to just one more of the many beautiful places here in Oregon.

Part of me wants all of these memories to stick with him through the next four years of college. So that he longs for this place like a small ache.

We’re far from an empty nest with a 16-year-old high school junior and an 11-year-old headed to junior high. But the very first to fledge is leaving this week.

We have a week to get used to this idea, as his mother and I drive him across the country to his old high-school haunts and the college where he will live for the next four school years.

We’ve had 19 years to get used to this idea, but we spent them living instead of worrying about this day.

As I reflect on our life with him, I’m struck by a number of things. That children improve your lives goes without saying. But the joy they bring really is immeasurable.

We had our challenges. All those transitions. From nursing to solid foods. Preschool. Kindergarten. All day school. High School.

Cole was born in Hawaii, where we spent most of his first year. Then we moved back to Oregon.

We spent the next three years traveling to places like New Zealand and Bosnia, and then added a little brother to the mix.

We spent the next two years in Oregon where I was studing journalism. We added a little sister to the crowd, then we moved to Montana.

All through these transitions. Cole was either experiencing them or helping us through them with all the grace and agility of a first born.

After another move to Alaska and yet another to Chicago, I started to make promises that we would settle in to allow him to finish high school with his friends.

I was unable to keep that promise in the end, and still, with more grace than I had any right to expect, he finished his senior year across the country back where we started this adventure.

A final fishing trips with him before he sets off.

Joy, grace, laughter, tears, these are a few of the many things I have felt or experienced during the last nineteen years with my oldest son.

I know I’m losing him now for a little while as he makes a transition that I can’t accompany him on. I know that he’ll be busy forging a new life for himself, and I’m excited for him.

May the same joy and grace you have brought to my life also inhabit the new life you build for yourself.

God speed you on your way and bring you back around from time to time, my son.

An alternate universe in each of my sons

The 303 train from Chicago to Blue Island broke down last night, leaving me stranded in Chicago waiting for a later train.

Unfortunately, that meant I’d miss my son’s track meet.

He sent me this text just as my train pulled up to the Vermont Street stop where I park my car.

Carson RunsWhat’s unique about this text, is that it stems from a conversation we had last night while sitting around a small table at Chipotle.

It’s been a long two-weeks of sickness around our house, with everyone dealing with a combination of allergies and head colds, with a little strep throat thrown in for good measure. We needed to buy Carson a pair of running shoes for his track meet on Friday, so I made an executive decision to eat out, which is rare for us.

Continue reading An alternate universe in each of my sons

The Two Graces

http://www.columbusmuseum.org/blog/collection/the-two-graces/
The Two Graces – Oil on canvas – by Odilon Redon

This is one of those weeks or, rather, two-week stretches that we don’t have any time designation for, but you learn to dread them when you’re not in the midst of one of them.

My wife worked 10-days straight at a mismanaged Starbucks, and it left some scars.

The younger kids had a half day of school on Friday, and they made plans, but the oldest had school all day, so they had to cancel their plans, which made for a miserable dinner table conversation on Thursday.

There are nights where our robust family dinner-table discussions descend into a circus only Fellini could appreciate.

Lest you think we’re any more put together than you are.

Continue reading The Two Graces

When the characters in your imagination meet their movie versions

http://wallpaperweb.org/wallpaper/games/harry-potter-and-the-sorcerers-stone_29750.htm

My daughter still wants me to read to her every night.

It is one of the great joys of my life.

She’s a great reader, tied for top in her class and competitive in a way I didn’t really expect, always asking to go another level up.

She likes the way I do the characters, with accents and growls and stutters.

We’ve moved on from her toddler books into the big world of pop cultural literature. When we moved recently, I found myself with two boxes of books to donate to Goodwill. When I opened the box to peek inside, I found all my favorites there. “Goodnight Moon,” “Curious George,” “Go, Dog. Go!” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and many more.

These books are books I’d proudly keep on my shelves next to my Hemingway, Vonnegut, Maclean, Harrison and Bulgakov.

Continue reading When the characters in your imagination meet their movie versions

Man 101: How to be a hypocrite

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Most of our dinner table conversations are good.

My kids amaze me with their global prowess, though my wife will complain that we spend too much time talking sports.

With three boys to two girls, I’ll admit that sometimes we do take over the conversation a bit.

Tonight was not a good conversation. And it’s my fault.

I brought up my son’s basketball practice after he started talking about going to play for the local Catholic school.

He talked about playing football for the local Catholic school.

Continue reading Man 101: How to be a hypocrite

Dinner Table Conversations: Philosophy, Physics & Religion

Sometimes the questions make me swallow hard.

It’s a way for me to process them before I attempt to answer.

Being a dad is not the easiest job I’ve ever had.

That was working at Burger King when I was 16.

Tonight started off with politics.

Continue reading Dinner Table Conversations: Philosophy, Physics & Religion

The kids are alright, until they’re not

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There are many stages in parenting, and I have no idea which one I’m currently in. 

I despise parenting advice, so this isn’t advice, in fact, don’t take it as advice. It’s just an experience I’ve had recently. Take it for what it’s worth. 

When your children are born, they are very needy, and your entire life is given over to them. 

Well, your wife’s entire life is given over to them. If you’re a dad, you try to help out where you can, but the blowouts and the, um, feeding, tend to fall into mom’s lap, generally. 

When they get a little older, they gain some independence, and this is both awesome and terrible at the same time. 

They can hold their head up on their own, they can roll over on the bed, which means you don’t have to wake up panicked in the middle of the night fearing your child has expired from sudden infant death syndrome. 

But they can roll off the bed too, which means you suddenly have some freedom, but you also have a different kind of responsibility too. 

Then they learn to walk, and this is exquisite, because you don’t think you can carry them through that Saturday Market one more time. 

And it’s awful too, because now they can run out into the street or disappear in the grocery store. 

For every ounce of independence they gain, parents get a change in responsibility. Children learn things very fast. Their brains are capable of these massive influxes of information. 

As adults, we are losing brain cells and starting to slow down a bit. This has always been a strange dichotomy to me. 

Then there is this interesting moment where your children are old enough to have really intelligent conversations at dinner and where you go to museums together and enjoy good food. 

As a father, you look around at the dinner table at night, and you’re really proud of this little family you helped create. They’re smart and funny and fun to be around. 

And it’s so brief. 

If and when you recognize this moment, it’s too late. You’re already at the end of this golden age. 

Our oldest son became old enough to babysit when we moved to Montana in 2007. This was a righteous blessing for us, since we hadn’t really had a nice hour or two away from the kids in years. 

By the time we moved to Alaska in 2009, the kids were old enough to cook for themselves and generally police their own lives, which gave us a little more independence. 

And then we moved to Chicago in 2012, and we spent the first two months really enjoying each other’s company. Of course I can only speak for myself here. But it’s really true. We had nice meals out in the big, oak-lined backyard. We watched fireflies at night and my wife and I sipped on ice-cold, bone-dry rose while the kids cleaned up the dishes. 

We watched movies together on the really hot days. We went to the beach together and spent Sundays exploring Chicago’s many food choices. 

And then that moment came. 

I was sitting at dinner, and the kids were asking deep questions about world affairs and politics. I felt like the king of the castle. 

Everyone was happy and smiling. It was perfect. 

And then it was gone. 

It might have flickered a little through the winter, there were a few moments here and there, but when the spring rolled around, the kids were gone. 

Off to spend the night at a friend’s house or hanging out at the mall. Skateboarding with the crew from down the street, or flirting with the neighbor girls. 

Even the little one, the joy of my heart, is often gone away to some friend’s house when I come home from work. 

This same one used to run at me full speed whenever I got home. I had to institute a no-hugs-until-I-took-my-shoes-off rule. 

When we go on adventures on the weekends now, the boys automatically opt out, and if I force them to go, they will find a way to ruin the entire experience. If you think teenage girls are moody, I have two boys who say it’s an equal opportunity emotional roller coaster. 

Yes, yes, I realize this is all part of growing up. I understand that this happens. I just wish that I had paid attention enough during the times when everything was perfect. I wish I didn’t just recognize it that last time. 

As I said, I have no idea what stage I’m in currently. Maybe there are a few bad ones before a good one rolls around again.

And this is not advice, merely one man’s experience. Take it for what it’s worth. 

But if you look around your dinner table at night and see your kids elevating the conversation to new levels in an artful way or challenging you with good questions, stop and relish that moment for a bit. 

Because chances are you’re already close to the end of it. 

Peace

The complex world of the bully and the bullied –

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The only time I ever dreamed of being on the radio was when I was going through my “Northern Exposure” phase, and I thought that of all the jobs I’d like to do in a small town, radio host seemed the most logical.

But that was until I decided to be a newspaper reporter, because radio and television reporters get all their news from newspapers, right?

So it’s still strange to me to be on the air at WBEZ, strange enough that during an hour-long conversation on WBEZ’s the Afternoon Shift with Niala Boodhoo today, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket, and when the conversation shifted to a caller, I stole a peek at my phone to see that my wife had called.

I quickly texted her telling her to quit calling me while I was on-air. It was the second occurrence in two weeks, but it’s really my fault for taking my phone in the studio at all.

She typed back: “Sorry, but I just got a call from Carson’s school. Some kid hit him several times. He is ok, and the kid is suspended.”

Now I’m professional enough to maintain my composure, especially in a situation where I might have to answer another question from the host, which is exactly what happened a minute later. But it was really hard to last the rest of that segment.

Bullying is a big deal to me.

I think it’s partly because I’ve written and read some horribly sad stories on the subject over the course of my career.

And maybe a little bit my own experiences.

My middle son is the most like me of all my kids. Except perhaps for the fact that he’s truly tiny, while I at least had enough pudge to keep me from breaking bones when I fell down.

I hate the thought of bullying, because the circumstances can be difficult to figure out, and solutions can be even harder to find.

When Cheryl asked him what happened, he said it was no big deal. He told her it’s a kid who has problems and doesn’t realize he’s hurting people when he’s just trying to be funny.

But the principal was concerned enough to call us when the teacher noticed marks on Carson’s face after the boy slapped him and then hit him in the head with a box.

I grilled Carson after dinner, trying to solve the problem, which is what dads do.

But sometimes solving the problem can be difficult, especially when the problem is hard to define.

What do you do about someone’s kid who has already had in-school suspension for the same behavior several times this year, and who probably faces the real possibility of expulsion if the suspensions continue? And this would be school number two this year.

There are several proven methods of dealing with a bully, time-tested methods dads have turned to for years and years.

  • The strength-recognizes-strength approach – parents often spend a lot of money on martial arts lessons for kids – to no avail
  • How big is his dad? – This is used to determine if the kid can be threatened into treating your kids better
  • The I-can-run-faster-than-whatever-is-chasing-me approach – Keep your milk money and flee, use books as counter measures
  • You make up in intelligence what you lack in strength, use your strengths against his weaknesses.

These little rules can work in a multitude of situations, but they won’t solve everything.

Case in point, our oldest boy was once bullied by mean girls who would smack him on the back with their lunch boxes. He’d come home with welts and stories about how teachers just couldn’t believe girls would do such things.

Bullying is getting harder to deal with, because it’s getting more complex. Add texting and social media to the mix, and you might not even notice the bullying that can occur.

Carson told me this kid has problems, and that it’s no big deal. But this is what Carson does. He brings puppies home, and he feels badly for people who don’t fit in. Sometimes he lets those people run roughshod over him.

I worked hard not to get bullied when I was a kid. Still, I couldn’t always avoid it.

I was a master of avoidance and placation. Skills born of necessity.

But one time a boy in my 6th-grade class handed out Lemonheads to several of us. I’m pretty trusting, so I took one and went and sat down.

Nothing seemed out of place, but some students started to complain of stomach aches, and soon there was a lot of commotion going on outside the classroom, and I ended up talking to the principal and several police officers.

They asked me if I felt sick at all. And they asked me if this boy had ever given me other candy.

The answer was no, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a bully who constantly tried to push you down in the hallway or trip you during school concerts.

When I found out he had coated those Lemonheads in some white powder, likely a combination of foot powder and something else, I actually felt sorry for the kid.

Yes, he had tried to poison me and several other students. Yes, he was a bully. But now his life was pretty much over. He was expelled from school and would end up in juvenile detention for most of the rest of his school career.

I could handle the tripping and the shoving. I certainly didn’t need my dad’s help with that. But I was helpless when handed poisoned candy from another kid.

And that’s why bullying is complex. It can be as simple as a random test of strength, or it could result in a mass shooting.

The way your kid responds to these things could have ramifications in the future. And it sucks to have to think about that.

All of these things flashed through my mind when I got that text from my wife while I was on the air today.

And there really is no easy resolution. Yes, we’ll follow up with the principal. We’ll talk to our son and go through scenarios that he’ll likely ignore when the next thing comes around.

And even though it makes me angry that some kid would hurt my kid, even if he thinks it’s in jest, a small part of me feels sorry for him. In the same way I still feel sorry for that kid who tried to poison me all those years ago.

His life was impacted by that bad decision, as lives are, but it cost him an awful lot, and I came through it alright. The possibility that I wouldn’t have turned out alright exists too.

I wonder where he is today.

Facebook allows me to look in on some who bullied in my school days. They are dads now, having to deal with their own sons, who are either bullied or bullies. And I wonder what it’s like from their perspective. Do they have the same rules or a different set?

I still would rather my son be bullied than to be a bully. I think being bullied can build resilience and problem solving skills. Though not always.

I’m not entirely sure what skills, if any, that bullying builds.

As always, in parenting, there are more questions than answers here.

Tim

A Cat-Hating Confession

 

I know it’s strong language, but I hate cats. I have since the first time a mottled Persian scratched my arm, delivering thick, red welts causing me to itch feverishly for an hour.

I hate the way they look at you from across a room, sizing you up and making a judgement about you. Mostly, I hate the fact that they have a physical effect on me. The watery, itchy eyes, the sneezing and poisoned red welts their teeth and claws leave on my skin. 

It has not been all bad relationships. We had a Manx named Bear who lived outside on our property in Salem, Oregon. He was such a fascinating, ghostly cat to watch. He hunted both night and day, his black form like some jungle-embedded character in “The Things They Carried.”

We had another cat named Kiska, and no matter how hard I tried, it was impossible to completely escape her antics. 

But mostly I just hated cats. I never touched them. If I went to visit a friend who had cats, I’d take allergy medication first and avoid their couches and cloth chairs. I’d usually sit awkwardly at the kitchen table, which is some form of cat communication for, “please come sit on my lap, because I’m obviously lonely.” Or, more likely, “Ah, you cat-hating bastard. I’ll just curl up on your lap until you’re so uncomfortable you have to leave.”

The day my daughter discovered she was allergic to dogs was a tragic day. We were in the process of buying a car, and the salesman had two dogs in his office. Gabrielle was immediately drawn to the calmer, friendlier Labrador, and as she touched him, she instantly broke out in hives. 

Cheryl rushed her off to a grocery store to buy some Benadryl, while I negotiated with the confused salesman.

She was despondent. “You mean I can’t touch puppies anymore?” she whined all the way back to Anchorage. 

For several months now, I have told her we’d do an allergy test and find out what kind of pets she might be able to handle. She has made no secret of the fact that she’d like a guinea pig, one of the most allergy-causing pets known to man.

Cats have always been out of the question. As dad, I just won’t suffer the creatures in my house. Gabrielle sometimes talks about getting a cat when she’s grown up, but she’s been mostly content to talk about turtles or guinea pigs in the future. 

Then a couple of weeks ago, this big, English Blue showed up outside our house. He’s a stunning cat. Wide faced with a muscular body and a bluish-grey coat with yellow-green eyes and an overly friendly disposition. 

We laughed as Gabrielle had the time of her life playing with her new friend. For the first week, she refused to touch the cat, even when he rolled in the grass and presented her with his great belly to rub in the sunshine. 

She was terribly afraid that she’d be allergic to her new friend. Then, she touched the cat and she touched her face and her eyes without realizing it, but nothing happened. 

There were no welts or itchy, watery eyes. There was no sneezing. Soon she was holding Oliver, as she calls him. 

And they have spent every day playing in the backyard as spring makes the slow transition to summer here in Anchorage. 

Entering week two, Cheryl and I wondered when the cat would return to its home. After a few more days, we decided to buy a small bag of cat food and a water dish, because it’s the neighborly thing to do, right? 

When I get up for work in the morning, the big blue is there at the back door waiting for me. And when I get home, Gabrielle is smiling at me in the driveway, and Oliver is stretching in the sun or hiding from the wind at the base of the stairs. 

We discussed turning the cat into the animal shelter on the off chance that someone had lost the cat, but this big guy has been fed well, and his disposition leads me to believe he had a decent family caring for him. 

More than likely he was abandoned in our neighborhood. 

My ice-cold resolve against having a cat has thawed like this year’s breakup. Which is very strange for me. I want to simply not feel anything for this cat, to disregard it and let it go on its way. But watching him play with the kids or hunt birds in the backyard has been completely entertaining  to me.

Today, for the first time in many years, I touched a cat. I reached down and took his big face in my hands. I wanted to verify the color of his eyes. He closed them with some unexplained pleasure at human touch, and I was forced to knuckle him around the ears for a while before he opened them again. 

I walked inside and washed my hands immediately and felt a bit guilty about the whole exchange.

My disdain for cats has largely to do with my suspicions that they think themselves superior to us. The argument that dogs are, by nature, loyal and lovable and completely understanding of their position in the grand pecking order, has held a lot of weight for me since I experienced life with our dog Skipper growing up. 

I hate how cats have infiltrated every aspect of society, and I despise the memes that are unavoidable now. 

Why on earth would I want to pretend to own a cat, when I’m simply providing food, water and shelter to something that if it were bigger, would dearly love to eat me?

But then how do I reconcile the fact that my hero, the man for whom this blog is named, the great Ernest Hemingway was, if I may, worse than any alleged ‘cat woman’ television comedies could conjure.

The man had as many as 57 cats living with him in Finca Vigia. To this day, the polydactyl cats of his Key West home have federal protection. Boise, Princessa and Friendless are all immortalized in “Islands in the Stream.” 

How could so intelligent a man, so brawny and masculine in word and action, be so fascinated by cats? A man like Hemingway, it would seem, might find himself more at home as lord over many dogs. 

After two weeks of watching Oliver worm his cold little heart, if indeed he has one, into our family, I think I understand Hemingway more. 

You don’t watch dogs. You rarely talk to dogs, unless you’re barking orders at them. Theirs is a one-sided companionship. Complete and faithful, dogs will not hold your gaze or engage you in an intellectual, if one-sided, conversation. 

If watching cats is a measure of intelligence, then Hemingway was smarter than most men that I know. He purchased high-end cats from catteries, he collected rare and desired specimens, and according to family members, he viewed cats as he did the rest of nature, a thing to be studied, to know in life and in death, to hunt and to be hunted. 

Surely it was the basic intelligence of cats that drew the great author’s attention, for 57 cats can no more provide companionship than could 57 wives, each vying for one person’s attention. But in despair and loneliness, as he often was, it may have been the cats that saved Ernest from an earlier version of his eventual fate. 

Perhaps it’s Alaska or my perception growing brighter or dimmer with age, but I don’t despise Oliver. He’s in the shop laying on a mattress and staring out the window even now. In the morning, he’ll crawl up next to the barbecue with a view into the kitchen window where I’ll be making tea. He’ll whine for an hour until the kids get up and pay him attention. 

But therein lie the limits of his predictability. 

The rest is just strangely fluid movements you could never hope to guess. Soon I’ll probably be talking to the big blue. If I could ever get that lonely. 

It’s amazing how life changes you little by little. I’m enamored of many things in life. Cats were never one of them. 

Perhaps even that bastion of my former pantheon of hatreds will crumble. 

Comfortably Disappointing your Children and Other Lessons

Life has a penchent for providing serious disappointment. We are optimistic beings from birth, losing it gradually to the process of life. 

Today I came home to find my middle child balled up on the couch wearing his University of Montana Grizzly helmet and holding a picture frame full of photos of he and his best friend from Missoula. 

I didn’t need to ask him what was wrong, I already knew. 

We recently decided to put our first home, the Missoula house, up for sale. I think the kids secretly held out hope that we might go back to that paradise that is northwest Montana. 

Transition is tough. Just when you think you’ve settled into whatever you’re currently doing, old feelings come back to haunt you. We’ve seen this with the kids several times over our last year-and-a-half in Alaska. 

When I was laid off from the newspaper, we argued about whether or not to tell the kids about it. But having me around the house more often than not didn’t seem that easy to hide. 

We decided to manage the disappointment, hoping that it would provide some kind of strength conditioning for the kids. Remember, they don’t come with a manual. 

They came through the layoff and a move of thousands of a miles to a land like Narnia frozen in perpetual winter. They’ve been disappointed. They’ve been rewarded. They know what to expect in a world that is often full of both. 

So tonight I didn’t try to fix my little guy. I let him spend a few minutes mourning the knowledge that we wouldn’t be going back to Missoula or living in that house again. 

He’s become a resilient little guy over his 10 years. And I love that about him. 

He took the helmet off and put away his picture frame and came to the dinner table with a smile and told me all about his day. 

I don’t worry about him facing those tough times that will inevitably come his way in the future. He’s got a few calluses built up.