Growing Pains

One of my sisters said something to me once and it has stayed with me all these years. My sister Maylyn and I were taking about whether my children had chores and I told her they had none. She chuckled at me and warned me to give them some. At the time I think I felt like I just wanted them to be kids and I was fine doing most things so it didn’t matter much to me. She, I think, had lots to say on the topic but she kindly listened, talked about how things work in her home with her family and we left it there.

Well my boys are slightly older now (almost 10 and 8) and most recently, my mind has clicked into them doing chores; not so much for the chore itself but for their participation in keeping the family running. So what are their chores you ask:

1. Each Friday before the cleaning ladies arrive, they have to strip their beds of their sheets and such; placing them by the washer so that things can be cleaned.

2. They do have to take the clean dishes out of the dishwasher and put them away.

3. I taught them how to sort their clothes and now they do it so that they can be cleaned.

4. I used to rotate and put away their clean clothes. Now they do it on their own…well the putting away part anyway!

5. Now that the summer garden is in, they do have to water the tomatoes and peppers

6. Pick up after themselves and return things to their place when they’ve finished playing with it.

Now for all that is good with this, boy do they fight about some of these items. My youngest doesn’t get why he has to, as he says “clean his room when we have people do that for us.” So they do it because I insist.

I had to start a rule, you can’t have your breakfast if you didn’t empty the dishwasher.

If I see your stuff laying around…well I just throw it away. They have lost toys and a shoe or two around that one.

The growing pains are for all of us:

They have to remember to do their chores, I have to remember to remind them to do their chores, I have to inspect for the completion of chores and most importantly, I have to fight back my urge to control how they go about completing the chore.

All in all, I don’t understand why I am still tired.

I thought this was supposed to get easier as they got older!

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Hair here

Ok, let me start with some truth…

I love that my boys are bi-racial. I think deep inside I always knew my children would be. And as they are growing up, I’ve grown to appreciate all the nuances associated with their being bi-racial. However, the one thorn in my side has been their hair.

Let me discuss their journey:

First, I just opted to cut it off. Every other week the three of us went to the barber to get our hair cut together. We were sharp. We looked clean cut; 3 peas in a pod. But over time I began to dislike the look on them. It made them look older than what they were and it prohibited the full appreciation of their thick but curly hair.

Then I let it grow to mini-Afros. Long enough to see the curls and texture but not so long as it became unmanageable. That approach worked well for one son…he rocked it! But for the other…the look never worked!

One day I was watching a movie with the boys and in the movie was a bi-racial little boy who was probably around 12 years old. His hair was so long and so curly and so perfect. Immediately I convinced my boys they should never cut their hair again…let it grow out and it will look like his I encouraged…and so that’s what we did. Nobody told me that without touching it it got long, it got dusty, it got matted, it got knotted and it looked nasty.

So recently I found the cure…a hard brush. Each morning I spray some water on it, add some leave in conditioner and us some Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Cream…then I take the brush and I brush it back…and viola! The curls stay all day and as the hair drys it doesn’t look dried out and brittle. Their hair is soft to the touch and the curls stay formed all day long.

I mean so what the boys are 8 and 9 years old. So what they have school photos with their hair matted and looking crazy. So what they went for years with Daddy being totally lost for how to take care of it…we have the solution now and it is working and they now look great!

Stinky

I love to sit back and watch my children. Often when I do this sort of thing they get nervous and will ask me why am I looking at them. The truth is in those moments what I am really doing is reflecting on how much they may have grown, changed, developed, etc. To them I know it means nothing but for me it is absolutely amazing.

For a long time I never understood why they called it “the miracle of childbirth” but when you consider how many cells and organisms are constantly at work, for them to really come together perfectly is actually a miracle and so when I am watching my children, it’s almost as if I can see all that happen and often I am grateful, but sometimes I am amazed and frequently I see the humor in it all.

But lately we have crossed into a new space that I wasn’t quite ready for. My older boy is gonna need to start wearing some deodorant. Lately, I find myself catching scents of him that aren’t always the sweet little boy he was. Sometimes, he flat out stinks!

Yes I have stepped up his shower game, reminding him to pay extra attention. I stick my head in the bathroom while he is bathing and yell “and don’t forget to clean under your arms!” Side note: he would probably die if he knew I was telling you this. Yes, I subject him to random sniff tests and in casual conversation I even tell him how much he is growing and changing and how he’s gonna have to start doing some big boy things like deodorant and washing his own hair in the shower (I just stepped him and his brother up out of kiddie shampoos into a separate shampoo and conditioner. And having to find a moisture rich shampoo for bi-racial boys with curly hair was no easy feat I might add)…but I digress

The point I am making is he just 9.5 years old. He seems to young to have to start being focused on these things…yet I have absolutely no recollection when I myself started making the transition!

And so as I watch him my mind wanders to Dear God, what will be next! And instead of being amazed and excited for him…I grow fearful for myself.

I am not ready! I am not.

You better watch out

This week has been interesting.

For starters, as is tradition for us we started playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. We listen to Christmas music all day every day through New Year’s Eve. Sounds crazy…nope, that’s just how we do it in our house.

But here is what is interesting:

The boys decided they will take turns loading and unloading the dishwasher.

They also decided they would help as we prepared the yard and the grass for winter.

This morning they asked if they could learn how to do the laundry and they even folded their own clothes and put them away.

One volunteered to help with grocery shopping while the other stayed home to help clean

And then it hit me…

Santa Claus is coming to town…and they need for me to tell Santa that they have been good boys in order for them to get presents!

So right when I started to believe that they were finally reaching the point of recognizing that I could use some help around the house…the truth hit me like a ton of bricks…these turkeys are working to get good Christmas presents!

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!

My sentimentality

I don’t know why. I don’t know what it is either. Lately however, I have been asking the boys questions about their mother.

Once I asked them why they hadn’t asked to talk to her in a while. They shrugged their shoulders.

Another time I asked whether they wanted to talk to her and my oldest asked why?

Most recently we were talking about her again and I reminded them that if they ever wanted to talk to her, they could. My younger asked me “does mommy have our phone number?” I told him that I believed she did…because we haven’t changed our number and she always calls us at this number.

He thought about it for a minute and then responded “well then she can call us!”

And with that…I am making a decision to leave it alone.

I won’t bring it up again.

Parenting Tips

One day when my boys were around 4 and 5 years old, I happened into a casual conversation with my mum about parenting.

My mum casually asked me what I thought of being a father and whether it was as I imagined it would be. 

I shared with her how parenting taught me a lot of things:

A) it constantly reveals to me the inconsistency in my own behavior

B) it constantly makes me aware of what I say, how I say it and why I say it

C) Many of my selfish thoughts and desires have slipped away because I am constantly focused on someone other than myself…and that feels good

D) Many of the things I thought would drive me crazy (e.g. noise and mess) really don’t bother me at all

E) I was surprised at how much a child’s inability to show gratitude at a young age unnerved me

At that time my mother expressed of all my accomplishments and of all my achievements, seeing me as an active, hands on father was the one thing she was most proud of.

I took that to heart for anyone knowing my mother would agree…that was a huge statement for her to make.

My mother died in January of this year.

What I miss most is the weekly conversations we would have where we talked about the boys and the phases and behaviors they would exhibit and how I really felt about them. During those conversations I could sort out how I responded verses how I felt and she would give me her parenting advice as a grandmother…which of course was nothing like how she behaved as a mother.

I haven’t been able to share those thoughts with her since January…and each time I reflect and think about wanting to call her I am struck with how private and intimate those “casual” conversations really well.

I miss them. I miss the ear she so willing lent and I miss her laughter about the topics. The laughter that always assured me this was part of the process and that in the end, all would be just fine.

Those talks were a huge part of my week…and I’ve yet to fill the space they filled…and the freedom they provided.

I hope she’s watching and can read my mind! LOL 

Road Trip

For the July 4th holiday, we decided to take a road trip to Nashville, TN. Why is this important…well because it was our first family road trip…ever. Naturally, I was nervous about how the boys would do as the ride was 8 hrs long. At any rate, I loaded the car with everything we needed and we hit the road with millions of other families.

While driving, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce the boys to the best road music of all time. Thus, I, via Spotify, started them on the classics like James Taylor and Jimmy Buffet. They were unresponsive. Not their taste exactly. But they humored me by allowing me to sing every word to every song and never once did they tell me to shut up…what good boys they are.

While in Nashville (which I hated BTW) we went to the Patsy Cline Museum. Now don’t get me started on my Country Music Divas! I love them, their heartbreak songs and the feeling I get of their yearning for something different or better when hearing their voices. Needless to say, I was excited to be able to go and figured the boys would just have to endure.

Boy was I wrong! They listened to some Patsy Cline music while there and loved it. Apparently, the song Walkin After Midnight was a favorite of theirs. Who knew…given all the crap they like that Pasty Cline would be a hit.

Well, of course I am one to take advantage and so on the ride home, I played my Country Diva Spotify play list and we sang and talked about Patsy for the first half of the trip home.

Two days later, I come walking down the stairs of my home, walk into the family room and what am I greeted with…my boys sitting on the sofa singing their now favorite Patsy Cline song. Patsy Cline…unassisted, unprompted, and totally unexpected.

Who knows…maybe they hear the longing and wishing in her voice just like I do.

Go Patsy! Good music never gets old.

Oh, in case you’re wondering…the road trip went just fine.

Happy Papa Day!

So it’s Father’s Day and I wanted to do something special for Papa and so decided he’d be most surprised if he saw it here.

Papa, I wanted you to know that I see how hard you work each and every day to provide an excellent home for our boys.

I appreciate all your efforts to create home cooked meals daily. I see your efforts to provide all the comforts and stability of home and I recognize all that you do that one day they will be very grateful for.

Even though I don’t always say it, I see how engaged you are with their education and with their extra-curricular activities and I must say it does feel nice to share the load.

I wanna tell you I recognize how patient you are with them, even when I sense you want to run from the room screaming.

Your efforts to not only be Papa but to be a friend and confidant to them makes for funny moments between you three that will become the memories for which we are all most proud.

I see you in them. I see all the dreams you work to build in them and I see all the hope you have for them as you constantly work to expose them to things, to give them a global view of the world and as you teach them to trust their own opinions and thoughts.

So on this very special Papa’s Day, I wanna tell you, in case you were wondering, that as far as Papas go…You Rock!

Happy Papa’s Day

Bike Riding

The boys are 7 and 8 years old and this past Christmas Santa decided it was time for them to learn how to ride bikes. About 2 years ago we purchased these attachments that would convert our bikes into tandem bikes. They were called co-pilots and would attach to our adult bikes so that the 4 of us could ride together. In the beginning it was cute but I quickly realized the co-pilot wasn’t teaching the boys to balance and in the end I was lugging an additional 80 pounds behind me whenever we rode. So, partly out of frustration and partly because it was time we started the process of teaching them to ride their own bikes.

Secretly, I was worried. I was worried because for one of my boys, nothing ever comes easy. He’s generally not well coordinated and has what I call low-dexterity. This makes the concept of peddling difficult for him to grasp. It also makes his writing messy, learning to play the violin tough, and leaves him quite uncoordinated when it comes to sports. I wanted this to be a success for him but secretly I worried it would be tough and he would shy away from it for good. 

My other son is generally the opposite….and I worried his success would leave his brother deflated. 

Boy am I glad I was wrong. The one I was worried about took to it quickly. Yes, he had to give himself some pep talks but he got it. He was committed to learning it. He got past his nerves and after about half hour he was able to do it. He’s still learning and can’t ride very far but he did it. For encouragement I would give him a thumbs up sign, comment to him on how much fun it is to ride and quietly tell him in his ear that I was proud to see him stick with it until he got it.

The other…the one I assumed it would come easy for…it didn’t. He cried and whined all the way through it. Can he ride a bit, yes, but it wasn’t the great time I assumed it would be for him. He had to work hard to get it and for a kid who grasps most things easily, this put him outside his comfort zone. I had to force him to keep at it. I had to ignore his whining and push him to do it. I had to caution him to not ruin what should be a fun experience. 

One week later, when asking the boys if they wanted to go practice riding their bikes again…guess which one was not interested!

Reflection

On January 16, 2017, very early in the morning, I got a call from the hospital and was able to listen to my mother take her last breaths. It was a horrible experience. A feeling of helplessness I never before experienced. Yes, my world is not the same and in many ways, I am still searching for my way back from this devasting truth.

But that is not why I write.

I write because the one thing I remember most vividly was how my children took the news of their “Granny” dying and of how they were impacted by her death at her funeral.

First, I did try to keep them abreast of what was going on and why I was rushing back to NY to see about Granny. One child was stoic and the other emotional. 

After her death I did call them and talk to them directly about Granny dying. I answered all their questions. I told them I was really sad; so sad that I cried and that it was ok if they felt like crying too.

I also told them how Granny loved them and how we will always have photos and memories of Granny to look at, laugh about and talk about.

When they came to NY, I did shield them from the business and process of death. I just didn’t think they needed to be aware of all of that; but I did think it was important for them to be at her funeral and for them to be able to say goodbye the same as everyone else.

While most of that day, while organizing and planning the entire thing, I don’t really remember. However, the one thing that is burned in my memory was that I could offer them no words of comfort. 

What hurts me the most was that this pain, I could not make better for either one of them. My hugs, my kisses, my reassurances that all would be ok was not what they needed. 

And so with one in my lap and the other at my side, we felt the pain of saying goodbye together. We sat there and we cried together. 

Time will have to tell if that was enough.