Something funny happens to us as our children grow up. They suddenly transform from these tiny, crying infants into these small human beings and somewhere along the way they become our friends. You’d think that would be normal: our children becoming our friends – but I think it’s more profound than that. There is a deeper meaning going on here.

Think about it. Look out at the animal kingdom. The animal parents that rear their offspring do it to the point where they should be capable of going off on their own and then it’s out of the nest.  The simple goal is to protect and nurture and teach and then move on to rear another generation (or if you’re an opossum – probably to become road kill).

I would guess it’s a statement towards the complexity of our minds.  Sure, we protect and nurture our children when they are very young (and to be fair – also sometimes when they’re older) – but the teaching is where we really shine.  We do not just teach our children how to find food or how to use the bathroom or how to avoid speeding automobiles.  We go beyond the life lesson’s that will allow them to grow into adults of their own so they can have their own children.

We teach them manners – because good manners are supposedly a sign that we’re fine upstanding citizens (supposedly being the key word).  We teach them about the “no thank you” bite.  We remind them to place their napkin in their lap and to say please and thank you and how to say grace and that it is impolite to leave the table until everyone is done eating – which can be a tough one to learn for a 5-year-old impatient to get back to playing.

We teach them to enjoy the simple things in life because sometimes there is nothing more important than the simple things.  We teach them to ride a bike – even though we know how scary it seems and how much scraped knees hurt – because we also know how great the wind feels blowing through our hair.  We teach them to fly kites.  We teach them to skip stones and how to find a book in a library (you can never have enough knowledge).

We teach them how to stay sane in this crazy world – that reading a book before bedtime can be more relaxing than watching television.  We teach them that dancing can be stress relieving in so many ways and that they should know at least one joke and to be able to tell it well because the importance of making someone smile is big.  We try to help them understand the difference between needs and wants because sometimes what we want isn’t what we really need and they need to know how to be okay with that.

Just think about the things we teach our children.  Really think about the lessons we teach them every day in the hope that some of them will stick.  We teach them not only to tie their shows but also how to tie a tie.  We teach them how to wrap birthday presents.  We teach them to draw and paint and sculpt and write sonnets.

We teach them to explore.  We show them how to tell time with a traditional clock (be prepared to explain why some clocks don’t have a second hand).  We try and teach them to be good sports and to be respectful to everyone they meet.  We teach them to read maps and novels and trashy gossip magazines in the proper setting.  We do our best to teach them to clean up after themselves and to turn off all – well maybe, most – of the lights before leaving the house.

We sometimes have to throw a little fear into our lessons by showing them what could happen if they neglect to follow our instruction.  My son James knows that if he doesn’t brush his teeth they might fall out and he’ll talk like the old farmer we met at the petting zoo (I didn’t tell him he could get dentures – better to have him have that fear so he keeps brushing).  We’ve also taught them to cough into their elbow like Dracula so that they don’t make everyone else sick and then, of course – there is that whole “holding hands while crossing the street thing” and I don’t even want to get into the consequences of not following that rule.

But we also teach them things that are harder to quantify – and therefore they are much harder to teach.  We try to teach them to deal with loss, rejection, and disappointment.  We try and teach them to truly listen to what other people have to say.  We hope they become independent and confident and that it’s okay to ask questions (and that there is no such thing as a “stupid” question). We try and teach them to love and forgive.

I know as a father there are certain things I want both of them to learn.  I want them to know how to score a baseball game and hit a curve.  I want them to learn how to safely build a campfire and put up a tent.  I want them to know how to change a flat tire and how to change the oil in their car.  We hope they know how to use a fire extinguisher – wait – do I even know how to do that?  Oh yeah, the instructions are printed on the bottle.  I’d also like them to know how to cook and how to parallel park without breaking a sweat.

I’d like them to be cultured.  I’d like them to know how to properly eat with chopsticks and how to use an Oxford comma.  I hope they can open a bottle of champagne better than I can (or a bottle of wine for that matter).  I hope they can sing at least one song well and that they know how to dress for the occasion.  I’d love for them to learn things I don’t know such as a second language or how to do a somersault.  I want them to constantly seek answers and to never stop questioning authority.

There is so much we want to teach them – so much we feel we need to teach them and time moves so damned fast.  They grow up in the blink of an eye and even human children get to the point where they need to fly away – we just get more time with them than most animals – and all we can do as parents is hope we were able to teach them the important things – because we will never have taught them everything.  There will always be mysteries they will have to learn on their own – and I know all too well the fear of looking up for my mom or dad when confronted with something I cannot figure out and seeing that they’re not there – but then I reach into that toolbox and I find the right lesson and I use it to find my own answers.

We teach them so much more than how to just survive – we teach them how to find meaning in this life.  The biologist will tell us that it’s our role to survive until we become adults and then pass along our DNA to another generation but there is so much more to life than that.  We live in and incredible world full of incredible things and I want them to learn about all of that stuff and it is during these important lessons that they become more than just our offspring – they become our pupils and our co-explorers and our foils and ultimately our companions and our friends.


“Get rhythm when you get the blues”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: I guess I finally have something to do with my mandated 30-minute lunch: write a blog entry.  I guess I have a lot of things to get out and I don’t mind sharing.  You’ll find me to be an open book.  I hope people read these posts because they come from the heart and I think (key word: think) they offer some perspective on life.]

I think human beings – like all living organisms – rely on the rhythms of life.  Johnny Cash once sang: “Get rhythm when you get the blues” and I think it’s true.  On a very basic level you have circadian rhythms which are just the natural rhythms of life: waking and falling asleep – the 24-hour cycle of darkness and light.  All living animals follow this rhythm to a point and we humans have even given it a name – we call it our biological clock.

I think some of us take it to another level, however – creating our own rhythms – and we do so because it is comforting to follow a routine.  It can become something to cling to when life becomes difficult or scary – just as a child hangs onto a favorite blanket or stuffed animal.  When something upsets the balance of our lives we grasp at what still seems normal – and the routines we create are the patterns that represent safety because no matter how much we’re buffeted around – we can always go back to something we know.

I would also venture that some of us are more dependent on these rhythms than others.  I know I am very dependent on them.  I wouldn’t call myself emotionally fragile – but I would say that emotionally I can be touchy in the sense that it doesn’t take a lot to throw me off.  I sometimes feel like a top – if everything is just right it spins and spins and spins – but any little deviation – even the vibration caused by someone walking a room away can cause that top to go out of balance and skitter away across the floor.

Tuesday and Thursday have always been the days I pick up the kids from daycare and that is a good example of the artificial rhythms we create.  I can remember all sorts of little details about every daycare provider we’ve used over the past several years simply because each one created a unique rhythm for how my evening would go two nights every week.  It’s funny because I would go out of my way to stick to certain patterns: the route I took and so on – because I found comfort in it.

I remember we had a daycare provider out in Muskego – and on my drive – which was a long drive – I’d always pass a little bar and grill and they would always have a signboard out front – the kind where they handwrite the daily specials and as I’d pull up to the stop sign I’d always look over to read the sign.  It became automatic – like a station on my way to picking up the kids.

I’ve had quite a bit of personal turmoil over the past couple of months and life has suddenly become more than just a little bit scary.  I’ve seen everything I thought I knew turned upside down and the spinning top that represents my life has not just been knocked off balance – it’s been knocked off balance and kicked under the couch.

Our kids went to Park’s Edge Preschool for nearly a year-and-a-half.  It’s over in Hales Corners – just down Forest Home from Golden Chicken – and for the first several months of my current struggle the routine of picking them up became something I looked forward to more and more.  I would leave work at the same time and drive the same route – even though I had options to change it up.  I took comfort in traveling the same roads and passing the same landmarks.  I’d watch an old building being torn down and then a new one going up in its place – seeing the progress with each journey like an extended time-lapse.

I’d park in the same spot and enter through the same door.  I’d look forward to seeing the staff and the teachers – familiar faces who knew who I was – even if they didn’t “know” me.  James was generally playing out at the back field towards the end of their time at Park’s Edge – so I would walk downstairs to his quiet classroom and retrieve his backpack and his blanket from his little plastic tote with his name on it.  I’d then go back upstairs and buzz myself into Lydia’s room.  It seemed like she was always sitting and listening to a book when I’d get there and I’d call her name and she’d turn and the room would be filled with her little voice yelling, “DADDY!” and she’d run up to me.  I’d collect her things and her teacher would hand me the report about her day.  There would be a quick goodbye and we’d leave – walking the long way through the narthex (the preschool is in a church) to leave by the side entrance.  Lydia would go down one side of the railing and I would go down the other and then she would push the button to open the door – except the outer door was never turned on so I’d have to help her open that one.  We’d then walk to the car and I’d ask her if she wanted to walk back and get James or whether she wanted to drive – it was generally 50/50 – but one way or another we’d make it to the back field to get James and he’d hop into the car – usually excitedly telling me about his day – and we’d head home – again traveling the same route through the park.

About a month ago we changed daycare providers as we were able to get them into an in-home daycare.  This was a good thing on many levels – and I love their new daycare – but that last Thursday I picked them up at Park’s Edge was tinged with sadness because the whole time the thought was running through my head – this is the last time I am doing this.  This rhythm – this routine – that has sustained me through some very hard times is coming to an end and I will have to create a new routine to take its place.  It made me feel very lonely and vulnerable.

I think I even went through a sort of withdrawal.  I missed the faces and the other sights and sounds and smells that were particular to that daycare.  I even missed signing them in and out or the way the person working the front desk would always so goodbye to Lydia – and sometimes Lydia would even say goodbye back.  I missed walking up the front steps – glancing at the cornerstone and I know I might sound silly or even a bit strange – but these things comforted me.  I missed walking through the small cemetery with Lydia as we made our way to the back field – the gravel road rutted and worn.  All of these things provided balance to my life when everything else was so out of balance.

I’m becoming okay with our new routine – I haven’t quite got there, yet – but I’m working on it.  I’m trying to figure out what route feels the best.  I’m still getting comfortable with picking them up at a new place.  There are some things that never change – like the joy in their faces when they see me and the joy I feel when I see them.  It’s starting to feel normal and what’s funny is that the days of Park’s Edge already seem like distant memories – just as the routine before Park’s Edge eventually faded away.

It’s just that life is never easy.  It is big and complex and ever changing – some of those changes being bigger and more profound than others – and I think we need some parts of our lives to stay the same.  I know I do.  They become like life preservers that we cling to – a little feeling of safety – a remembrance of when things weren’t so turbulent – and hopefully a reminder that life goes on – for while my kids have gone through several daycare providers – there are some constants that have remained the same – specifically that I have two incredible kids who I love very much – and who love me very much.

“A Requiem for Summer”

“A Requiem for Summer”

I live up the road from Canterbury (if you’re not from the area it’s a local elementary school) and one of the things I look forward to each spring is the beginning of the little league season because I love the fact that every night during the week there is so much life down on the baseball diamonds. I see the cars drive down our street like a parade. I hear the shouts of the children and the cheers of the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles. I love walking down there with my kids. We always stop and watch.

This year had a little added meaning because my son played for the first time. He loved his first experience with little league and I got to find out firsthand what it was like to be one of those parents who I had always heard cheering. It was a lot of fun – but over way too fast.

The one thing that gets me every single year, however, is when it’s all over for the summer. It’s such a hard edit from the possibility of spring to the harsh reality that summer is already halfway over. The juxtaposition of the crowded baseball diamond – the kids in their bright uniforms – the sound – the joy with the empty field – weeds already beginning to poke up from the hardened dirt is difficult for me.

I’ve always been both sentimental and melancholy – and maybe those two things go hand-in-hand – but I already miss the seemingly endless procession of cars. I come home from work and I listen for the sounds of the game – but they’re no longer there. We’ll walk past the baseball diamonds many more times this summer – we’ll probably do it tonight – but we’ll just see a dusty field of dirt and all we’ll hear will be the echoed sound of our own voices.

The lawn chairs and blankets and parents pushing strollers are gone until next year. The excited kids crowded onto the aluminum bench – chattering away with their friends have gone quiet. The parking lot sits empty – waiting for minivans that will no longer come.

James played his last game on Sunday. His season went so quickly. It literally feels like just yesterday he had his first practice. He was so tentative at first but as the season went on I saw him become more and more confident. I already miss watching him play – his little sister, who was my constant viewing companion this year, sitting on my lap.

When his game ended on Saturday the field was still full of life – like it was simply waiting for the next game to begin – but when I drove past a few hours later it was completely silent and empty and I’ll admit I had to fight back a tear or two.

I don’t know. I guess it’s symbolic. It’s a reminder of the passing of time. It’s a reminder that one more season – one more summer – one more year is in the books. It’s a reminder that we’re already playing out the string on the summer of 2015 and soon the weather will start getting cool (did it even get hot this year?) and the leaves will change color and fall.

It’s a reminder that there is no guarantee of a summer of 2016 and there is always a fear that maybe I didn’t appreciate it enough. Maybe I didn’t notice the green of the grass enough or linger long enough after the game to take in every last shred of the experience.

Time is a cruel mistress. When you want it to pass quickly it never does – but when you want to hang onto it – when you want to slow it down so you can savor the moment – it speeds by so quickly that it feels like it was gone before you even felt it.