Miscellaneous, Parenting

The Daddy Box

Today is set aside to honor and to remember fathers. I tell my boys each year that on this day I don’t want them to make themselves scarce, or to wait on me hand and foot – I want to spend the day with them and do something we all want to do, and to enjoy being a dad. Where we go and what we do is up to them (within reason). This year they’ve opted for one of two choices – canoeing, which is something we do once or twice a summer; or if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor fun going to see a movie we all want to see.

I hold no particular memories of Father’s Day with my dad. Certainly I gave him cards and the occasional gift and a phone call in the years when we were speaking – but none of these occupy any particular real estate in my mind and recollection. Dad and I had a very strained and even non-existent relationship for many years. Even after we reconciled, ten years prior to his death, things weren’t always smooth sailing. Dad even, while upset with me for not being able to visit him for more than a month, told me a story one day that ended with him saying he likely was not my biological father, and couldn’t possibly be. I look too much like him and other men in the family to truly believe that, and yet for some time I wondered if it might indeed be true. I never pursued it, but for a while I wondered. Ultimately, though, I resolved in my mind and heart that he was the only father I’d ever known – that I was a grown man, with a family of my own, and didn’t need to go in search of my identity. I knew who I was, and that was what was most important.

My father passed away two years ago. I think of him every day and miss him very much. When he died the assisted living facility that he called home for the last eight years of his life boxed up his belongings for my brother and myself. There wasn’t much, and like my recollections of Father’s Day in relation to my dad, his belongings didn’t occupy much real estate. The clothing Dad left behind was either donated or discarded – his few other meager items divided between myself and my brother, and a hat for each of my boys that Dad wanted them to have one day.

I keep a small decorative box in a drawer of my dresser of those things I chose to retain. It measures perhaps 10 inches by 10 inches. It is nowhere near full. A few photographs, his comb, a pen he kept in his pocket daily, a small notepad he wrote in, his wallet, and his watch. After 83 years of life Dad left very little behind. None of it is valuable to anyone but myself, and yet it is the only tangible link I have to my dad other than to look in a mirror. I don’t have a shirt I can put on to imagine it being a hug from dad now that he’s gone…I don’t have anything he ever made for me to hold in my hands, imagining his touch as he crafted the item. I have, for the most part, only memories – and not all of them good ones.

Several years ago now I realized a long-held dream and became a father myself. A wonderful little boy came along who still amazes me to this day with his kindness and compassion and ability to make me smile and laugh. Another boy, who I cared for as an infant and then had to love from afar but never considered any lesser than my adopted son is in my heart returned to my daily life where he remains to this day, filling me with awe at his strength, resiliency, and courage. Both boys call me ‘Daddy’. I didn’t ‘make’ either one of them, in the biological sense. Their looks, their physical traits, their DNA come from other places and other people. That does nothing to detract from my love of them and commitment to them. I didn’t give them life, I just get to share it with them. I do give them what I can – security, stability, caring, compassion, the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years, and a deeply rooted desire to be a better parent to them than I feel my dad was able to be to me in my childhood. What they give to me outweighs anything I ever do for them.

Earlier this year I had to give them difficult news – that being that my husband and I had decided to divorce. They took it with some difficulty, for their own reasons. People say, and have said, ‘children bounce back’ and ‘children are resilient’ – and yet I still spent many sleepless hours thinking about the fact that I didn’t ever want them to HAVE to bounce back from that if it were at all preventable. In the end, though, it became a necessity, for the good of everyone involved. The boys have questioned the ‘why’ and offered their own ‘what if’ in the process, and I’ve told them both they did nothing to cause it, and therefore there is nothing they can do, nor should they try, to fix it.

A few days ago one of the boys gave me a ‘gift’. It wasn’t wrapped, nor did it have a fancy bow on it. He didn’t have to shop or order it online. It had no price tag attached to it, and yet the value of it, to me, like the few tangible remembrances I have of my dad, is immeasurable. It’s a single sheet of paper, with pictures and words on both sides. The pictures on the front side of the paper, one labeled good and the other bad depict my soon to be ex and I on one side (the good) with the words ‘will you marry me’ and on the other side (the ‘bad’) saying ‘We’re getting a divorce’ with two boys flanking us. In the lower right corner of the paper are the words ‘next page’, instructing me to turn it over, where I found, just above two small drawn faces topped by curly hair, the following words:

‘Meaning we were sad and still are but whatever makes you happy makes us happy and what makes you sad makes me sad.’

In a different spot in my bedroom I have another decorative box, larger than the one housing the last effects of my father. It’s rectangular in shape, perhaps 15 inches by 30 inches, hinged like a suitcase with a clasp to hold it shut. Inside the box are construction paper Father’s Day cards, small rocks, art work, school projects, questionnaires they filled out about what I look like and what my likes and dislikes are, letters to Santa Claus, a couple of shirts, and several other items that the kids either gave to me or represent a special occasion we shared or something we worked on together. I call it the ‘Daddy Box’. It, to me, holds something beyond the memories we have thus far made, for which there is no box large enough to hold them all. It holds things we created together, things that we both touched and held; the tangible evidence of a fraction of the love I have for both of them that they can perhaps one day hold in their own hands and reflect upon the day we made this or that, or the times I helped them button up that shirt, or the day we walked on the beach together and they picked up a small rock and presented it to me as if it were a diamond.

Today I’ve added an item, the sheet of paper described above, to the ‘Daddy Box’ in the hopes that my son will know, one day when I’m gone, how precious this was to me and how much comfort it gave to me to know that one of the things he has, whether it’s through any influence of mine upon him or not, is the ability to see beyond his own needs and wants – to hold the happiness of another up before him and offer compassion and understanding to them, despite his own feelings. It’s gestures like this that give me an inkling of the man he will hopefully become, that both of them will hopefully become, and the fathers they may one day be to children of their own.

I hope they both create a ‘Daddy Box’ of their own. I hope they one day experience even a small portion of the joy and happiness with and from their own children as I do with and from them. I hope that their ‘Daddy Box’, as well as I’m sure my own will, becomes two boxes, then three, and on and on.

But more than that, I hope theirs are filled with as much love as mine is for both of them.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

 

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Parenting, Reading

It’s Worse Than You Think – Cautionary Tales From Childhood – In Recognition Of Halloween

I’ve been, since age 5, an avid reader. Once I discovered the worlds that existed inside books, they have been my constant and steadfast companion. I most always have a book that I’m in the process of reading, and when I don’t….my life seems thrown into a chaotic miasma that I need to quickly find an escape from by simply picking up another book. My childhood memories are filled with colorful tales from glossy storybooks.

A great aunt of mine had a full set of hardcover books with the written counterparts to several Disney film adaptions that I used to pore over when we’d visit her. There were many photos from some of the live action films or drawings for the animated films, and even though I knew the endings to the stories (The Wonderful World Of Disney was Sunday night must-see-t.v. in my childhood, and at the end of the school year my elementary school had a film day with offerings such as Old Yeller and the like), I still read them – at least the Disney versions of them.

I’ve retained many of my childhood books over time. Some I had, when I became a parent, hoped to pass on to my own kids to read and enjoy themselves. Unfortunately in the age of video games and mutant teenage sponge wizards the books I enjoyed so much in my youth (The Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, The Great Brain series, Matthew and Maria Looney’s adventures, etc.) hold little interest for the boys. No matter – they should find and read things they, themselves enjoy.

There have been, however, stories that they’ve enjoyed that are universal and long-lived. Stories that have been in existence for generations before the boys or myself or even my grandparents. Stories that, over the years, Disney and Pixar and DreamWorks have adopted and adapted, sanitizing and whitewashing what, if you read the original source material, are some pretty horrific tales.

Many of these are what are known as Cautionary Tales. Stories that were written not only to entertain but to inform and teach someone about a potential danger they could encounter.

Cautionary tales involve three essential elements:

  • A ‘taboo’ – some place, act, or thing that represents danger to a person.
  • A disregard of the taboo/danger – violation of the warning that has been handed out.
  • A horrific fate/conclusion – often quite grisly in nature.

The concept has been replicated time and again through the years in a variety of mediums. From the original folk tales verbally recounted to the written word being used as a method of recounting these stories to the ‘School Scare Films’ and ‘Army Training Films’ of the mid-20th century that warned young hitchhiking boys that ‘homosexuals were lurking on the highways to offer them rides and corrupt them’ and cautioned young soldiers that ‘fast and easy women would give them social diseases’. Youngsters were warned of the dangers of drug use and disobeying their parents.

Even the film ‘Gremlins’ is a cautionary tale, in which are laid down three very precise rules to be followed (without deviation) by the owner of a Mogwai – with the accompanying warning of dire consequences if you did not follow these rules -and the ensuing mayhem when the rules were (as expected) not followed.

As I said, my childhood is filled with many memories of these cute, cuddly tales with fleeing princesses finding friendly, hardworking midgets to shack up with and puppets who come to life as companion to a lonely old man who not only has an insect problem, but the insect talks and wears a top-hat, and all sorts of other squeaky-clean enjoyment to be derived from them.

What’s even more fun? Reading the un-sanitized versions of these tales as an adult and realizing what the real story was and the ‘lesson’ it was supposed to teach. When all the singing animals and flying throw-rugs and dancing dinnerware are removed, what you are left with are some pretty horrifying and often tragic tales.

If you’d like to investigate some of, in my opinion, the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) examples of this…I highly encourage reading the original Pinocchio story, the original Little Red Riding Hood story, the story of the Pied (which means multi-colored, by the way…it has nothing to do with pastry) Piper, and Cinderella. You’ll find far more blood, gore, and mass-kidnapped children than Disney will ever show you. Another example is the book ‘Struwwelpeter’ by Heinrich Hoffmann. In this book, originally published with the sub-title ‘Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures with 15 Beautifully Coloured Panels for Children Aged 3 to 6′ – the stories center on such toddler-centric tales as ‘The girl who played with matches and burned to death’, and ‘the boy who sucked his thumb too long so a scary man with giant scissors cut his thumbs off’.  Just imagine conveying that one to your 5 year old just before you turn out the lights and close the door for their young mind to mull over until they fall asleep – if they can. Makes an episode or two of The Walking Dead before bed seem not quite so terrible now, doesn’t it?

There are also loads of good websites to check out as well. I have listed a few below:

http://www.ancient-origins.net

list25.com

and a pretty entertaining article from ET Online, called Peter Pan and 6 other beloved Disney movies based on dark horrifying books.

There are many others to be found in your favorite internet browser. If you really want a good scare for tomorrow night – read a few of them. They’ll put a chill in your blood if the change of seasons hasn’t done that already.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Halloween full of spooks, specters, and spirits.

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Parenting

Things I Plan To Do When My Kids Are Adults

I’ve often told my kids I’m ‘keeping track’ of things over the years.

They don’t really ask what for.

They likely should. :0)

I have a plan. True, I have to wait MANY years still before I can put it into motion, but it will be worth it.

This is a list of things I’m going to do when my kids are adults.

  1. When at their house, I will wait until they go into the bathroom and close the door, and then start a conversation with them from the other side.
  2. When asked over for dinner, I’ll sit down, look at the food, and say ‘I don’t like this…can I have peanut butter instead?’
  3. When in a store, I’ll demand that they buy me something and if they don’t, I’ll tell them they suck.
  4. I’ll stay at their house overnight and come out of my room fifteen to twenty times to ask them vital, critically important questions, like ‘How far away is Detroit?’
  5. When they aren’t looking, I’m going to sneak into their cupboards and eat their food.
  6. Every time they think I’m leaving I’ll just go outside and come back in again and complain about having to go outside.
  7. If we are together in public and they see someone they know, I’ll keep saying, ‘CAN WE GO NOW? WE’VE BEEN HERE FIFTEEN HOURS! I’M BORED!’ while they talk to that person for ten seconds.
  8. When at their house I will randomly drop things on their floor and pretend they aren’t there/I don’t see them.
  9. I’ll burp…or fart….a lot….and laugh.
  10. When they introduce me to their friends, I’ll say ‘the darndest things’; like, ‘Is that a wig?’ or ‘You smell funny.’ to them. Everyone appreciates that kind of ‘unfiltered honesty’….don’t they?

 

Well, not really. I’m not REALLY going to do this stuff….

Except maybe #5……and #1……

Okay, I’m TOTALLY going to do #1….

I’ve earned it.

:0)kids-teamwork-taping-parents-to-wall-working-together-tape-as-revenge-digitally-manipulated-35266438

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Parenting

‘Because I Love You’

I’m one of those parents who, when faced with the eternal question of ‘WHY?’, for a long time reverted back to the old standby of ‘Because I said so.’

It’s clear…it’s concise….it establishes boundaries and sets limits and supports the rules.

It’s also, many times, an unclear message to my kids. It’s not the real reason for the rule being enforced or the boundary being established or the limit being set. I don’t know everything. I don’t want them to feel the house is a dictatorship. I don’t want to lessen myself as an authority figure over them, but I also don’t want them to feel they never have a voice in the house, and their wants and needs are not important to me, because they are.

Sometimes, sure, it IS just because I said so. It’s because the explanation is far too lofty and sophisticated for a young mind to wrap itself around. Or it’s because I’m tired and don’t have it in me to listen to the argument, or it’s something they’ve asked and been given an answer for a dozen times already, and I don’t want to debate, nor argue, and to say ‘because I said so’, then that will, as they say, be ‘that’.

At other times, though, it’s for reasons other than the above. Sometimes it’s because I’m in charge of their safety and well-being and have lived through similar scenarios with less than favorable outcomes, and I want what is best for them. It’s because I watch them and listen to them, and do my best to remember every single day what’s important to them, or frightening to them, or apt to have a long-term effect they hadn’t counted on, and having lived five times as long as they have, I have wisdom and experience that they can’t possibly have garnered in nine years of life.

It’s because I love them.

Every single day brings a test to a limit. “Why can’t I stay up until 10 on a school night?” “Why can’t I have more candy?” “Why do I have to brush my teeth?” “Why can’t I play an M rated video game?”

The answer to these questions and many more isn’t ‘because I said so’, it’s ‘because I love you.’ It’s because they need a good night of sleep, and too much sugar isn’t good for them, and they shouldn’t develop cavities, and don’t need to view wanton death and destruction as a ‘game’.

It’s because I love them.

Yeah, I know, they still ask ‘why’. They still try to argue and bargain and debate at times. But unlike prior times when they got ‘because I said so’ as an answer, and it invited arguments of ‘you don’t know everything’ and ‘you don’t want me to have any fun’ and ‘you’re just mean’, it’s having a very different result. It’s still a work in progress, but when they ask the inevitable ‘why’ in terms of things that are decisions made in their best interest…and get the answer of ‘because I love you’….there isn’t an argument they’ve come up with yet that trumps it. They want my love. They want signs and reassurances of that love. I want to give them those things…to not only talk the talk but walk the walk as a parent. Anyone can say ‘I love you’, and that’s important, but showing it is equally as important.

They may not like the way they get those signs of my love for them if it conflicts with a burning desire to sit in front of a television all day long, or dine on nothing but Sour Patch Kids and Root Beer, but when confronted with my love for them as the reason for not being allowed to do that, they at least have a reminder that I don’t make all the decisions I do to inflict pain upon them. I make many of them, most of them, for a very good, very heart-felt, very caring reason.

It’s because I love them.

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Parenting

The Translator In The Ears Of Kids….

I often times think that children are all born with a translator somewhere in their ears…or they pick them up somewhere…because what you say and what they apparently hear are two very different things (which obviously is your own fault).

I’ve figured out a few of these things that they hear differently than you say (which obviously is your own fault), and for anyone new to parenting or considering parenting, this might help them avoid some frustration.

What you say:    ‘Go outside and play’
What they hear:  ‘Go outside for four seconds then come back in and complain for the next hour about the long, miserable, torturous eternity of four seconds that you’ve been away from your video games’

What you say:     ‘Time for bed’
What they hear:  ‘Time for you to run around the house like a lunatic and tell me what an awful person I am’

What you say:     ‘Take a bath/shower’
What they hear:   ‘Get naked and sit on the floor going through your trading card collection while water runs down the drain for the next twenty minutes.’

What you say:     ‘Please don’t come in and wake me unless it’s an emergency’
What they hear:  ‘Of course you can come in at 4am with your tablet and wake me to enter a password.’

What you say:     ‘Please don’t leave your clothes on the floor’
What they hear:  ‘Today no clothes on the floor…tomorrow the entire world is your underwear drawer once again.’

What you say:     ‘Goodnight’
What they hear:  If you’ve been saving up forty questions about the deeper, more intricate complexities of episodes of SpongeBob, NOW is the perfect time to discuss them!’

What you say:     ‘Please put your stuff away’
What they hear:  ‘
Please move that pile of stuff from one side of the table to the other side of the same table’

What you say:     ‘No, you may not have a snack it’s too close to dinner’  
What they hear:  
‘Go to the kitchen and sneak something…I’LL NEVER, EVER FIND OUT!!!!’

What you say:     ‘What are you doing?’
What they hear:  ‘Sound does not travel in this house so go ahead and say “nothing” because I really only asked to hear my own voice fearing I might have forgotten what I sound like in the forty-six seconds since I last asked you what you were doing when a strange noise sounded like something I should look into at which time you also offered the non-committal “nothing” as a response’

What you say:     ‘Time to turn off the t.v.’
What they hear:   ‘Go turn on the other t.v. that has your video games attached – I only meant THIS t.v.’

What you say:      ‘I want you to play outside today’   
What they hear:  
‘By play outside I really only mean the time it takes you to walk over to your friend’s house across the street and invite yourself in to play video games at THEIR house because that’s so much better than playing video games at our house’

What you say:      ‘I don’t think a cell phone is a good idea for you yet’
What they hear:   ‘Clearly I’m brain-dead and know nothing and of course you having a 500.00 cell-phone when you can’t even remember to pick up your underwear off the floor daily is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT and you’d never misplace it nor destroy it however accidentally.’

These are really just the beginning, the ones I’ve become the most familiar with and feel it my solemn duty as a parent to pass this on to others.

You’re welcome.

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Parenting

Writing Prompts For Kids

If your kids are anything like mine, at age 8 and 9 when you ask them how their day was, you get a short and sweet answer.

‘Good’.

Kids this age aren’t terribly articulate unless you prompt them.

Either you can develop a list of questions to dig further such as:

  • What was good about it
  • Was anything bad about it
  • Did anything make you feel sad or disappointed
  • Did anything scare you
  • Did anyone hurt your feelings

One way to get kids a little more willing and able to express themselves and their feelings is to ask them to write about them. To sit them down with pencil and paper (two tools out of the stone age that we actually still use) or even with their tablet or pc, and give them a writing prompt.

There are several websites that have great writing prompts for kids. Topics range from ‘If I Were The President I Would….’ to ‘I Am Afraid Of……’

Or, if you have specific things you might like to have answered, you can choose your own writing prompt with nothing more than a piece of paper and a printer using a clever font and some clip art to disguise that it’s really just you asking the question. It might help kids talk more about a death in the family, incidents at school, how they feel about adoption, if any kids they know are using drugs, and just about anything else you might like to know. At a certain age they will get hip to it, of course, but it’s at least a way to get younger kids to express themselves and their feelings beyond the simple ‘good’ answer.

You can also prompt them to engage in creative (story) writing rather than expressive writing.

Some of the sites I’ve used to find some writing prompts for my more reluctant reader are below:

https://www.superteacherworksheets.com/journal-prompts.html

https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/story-starters/

http://journalbuddies.com/creative-writing-2/creative-writing-prompts-for-kids/

And lastly for those parents of technology-inclined kids, there’s even an iTunes writing prompt app for iPads:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/writing-prompts-for-kids/id533233202?mt=8

Happy Writing!

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Parenting

My Most Firmly Held Belief

In the past few weeks both my boys have asked me questions about ‘God’.

I’m not surprised by their curiosity, whereas they have friends who attend church and are at an age for ‘Confirmations’ and such to be discussed amongst their peers.

One of the boys has asked me if I think there are people on other planets, and if God put them there.

The other boy has asked me what ‘religion’ he is.

When we were being interviewed for approval to adopt a child, we were asked our views on religion, and how we would ‘introduce it’ to a child should we be approved for adoption. I am not sure there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to this question, so I answered according to my feelings at the time. I’d wait until the child was old enough to have some grasp on religion, ‘expose’ them to it in some form, and then let them make up their own mind as to what they believe and what they wish to practice.

I still feel this way.

That said, I have to stay true to what I believe and try to present both sides of the coin to them. I consider myself to be more ‘spiritual’ than religious.

The second edition of ‘Spirituality For Dummies’ (By Sharon Janis) defines spirituality as follows:

“Spirituality says that even if you think you’re limited and small, it simply isn’t so. You’re greater and more powerful than you have ever imagined. A great and divine light exists inside of you. This same light is also in everyone you know and in everyone you will ever know in the future. You may think you’re limited to just your physical body and state of affairs — including your gender, race, family, job, and status in life — but spirituality comes in and says “there is more than this.”

I have also heard it quoted (and used this quote myself) as being ‘Religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell…Spirituality is for those who have already been there.’ (Vine Deloria, Sioux)

I think that faith and spirituality are both very personal things. I don’t think that any one person should tell you what to believe just as they should not tell you what faith to follow. I think that’s up to the individual. I know, personally, people who have given up their faith and begun to follow another. I know people that seemingly have no faith at all, but don’t define themselves as spiritual either. I firmly believe that people should choose what feels right for them….be that faith, spirituality, something else, or nothing at all.

Spirituality calls upon people to find greater meaning and purpose in their own self and their own existence. It promotes the belief that you should have respect for everyone, not just God or the others who believe what you believe. Spirituality is about transformation and evolving…psychological awareness and growth. It says, to me, that we are not just what we have done, but what we can do…what we are capable of doing and being, exhibited and influenced by all that we have learned along the way in our lives. It says to me that we are on a constant journey of experiences and interactions, and what matters is not just the stops along the way, but the destination we arrive at at the end of that journey.

In answer to the question about life on other planets, I explained that ‘it all depends on what you believe’ – religion tells us that God created us in His own image…that He created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with people. Science would indicate that just as our planet revolves around the sun at a distance sufficient but not greater than to sustain human life, and therefore there must be other planets in the universe where the same is true. Either you accept that the view of religion is true, or…you wait and see if science is correct.

In answer to the ‘what religion am I’ question, I said, ‘I know that you’ve not been exposed to much religion thus far in your life. If you’d like to learn more about certain religions, we can explore those together, and then after some time you can decide for yourself what you’d like to believe. No one, not even I, can tell you what religion you are or ought to be. That’s up to you. Whatever you decide is up to you, and fine with me. Even if you decide that no religion is for you. I want you to feel and believe what you think is right for you.

As a parent, I always hope to have answers for my kids, or at least be able to point them in the right direction. When it comes to ‘what makes the sky blue’ and ‘why is the dog’s nose wet?’…I’m aces on that one. The subject of religion shows me two things…it shows me that my little boys aren’t so little any longer, and the questions are going to get tougher as they grow.

It also shows me that I need to hold firm to my beliefs in order to show them what a sense of conviction looks like and model ‘belief’ in something – and at the same time ‘let go’ of their beliefs. They will form their own opinions and views. They will develop their own moral code. They will decide what’s right for them. I can’t make those choices for them. That isn’t my job.

I have to simply hold on to my firmest belief of all – that the boys need to be whoever they are meant to be, and I just need to always love them no matter who that is.

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