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Monday, December 27, 2010

Dancing with the Stars

With so many children in the home I often come upon scenes that unexpectedly delight me or confuse me or do both. The other day someone was playing Christmas music on the stereo. It was loud and filling the house with joy or with irritation depending on the mood of whoever was hearing it. I came around the corner to find my five-year-old standing on an ottoman, facing the stereo, leading the music. His eyes were closed as his arms swung out the beat. There was a bounce in his knees as he directed. I know better than to think he is going to be a great director someday, but it was good to seem him enjoying the music so thoroughly.

My fourteen-year-old daughter was teaching that same five-year-old how to dance. She first showed him the "old-fashioned" way with one hand on the waist and the other held out. They bent back and forth a minute in mock dance. Then she showed him how most kids dance slow dances today--basically a bear hug. He loves his sister and made the most of it. Then, suddenly, he pushed her away and showed her his dance--he pinched his nose with one hand, held the other in the air with a finger pointing, and then wiggled his hiney as squatted  to the carpet and rose again. The '60s are the days of antiquity to him so where did he come up with that.

This morning I got up early to enjoy some peace and quiet while studying and writing. To my great dismay my twelve-year-old daughter appears rather suddenly with a DDR dance pad in her hands. She looks at me and points at the TV quizzically. Her meaning was all too clear. She wanted to use Dance Dance Revolution to exercise. This wouldn't be so bad except that she would be set up and dancing to rock music right in front of me--and it is only 6:30. Next thing I know my ten-year-old plunks down next to the fire next to me. He rubs his eyes as he attempts to wake up. It slowly becomes clear to me he isn't up by accident. He is up for the sole purpose of exercising with his sister. He has been on an exercise kick lately. What is with my children? I would go somewhere else, but the house is cold and I want to stay by the fire. So now they are chattering happily as they stomp out the rhythm to "Won't You Take Me to Funkytown." Sigh, I suppose if I didn't have any children I would be enjoying the peace and quiet I had first sought this morning. On the other hand, if I didn't have any children I wouldn't be listening to happy chatter and happy feet that belong to me right now.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Boomeranging




    I went boomeranging with some of the kids again today. We own three acres out back of nothing but weeds. The weeds are in their short grassy stage now and so it is a perfect place for boomeranging. Throwing boomerangs is fun enough by itself, but I have added some extra sugar by offering my kids  a small sum of money for each catch they make. This would be a perfect way to go broke for someone of small means like myself except that boomerangs are hard to catch—at least the boomerangs I throw are. I have seven different models of boomerangs and each has a unique flight path and difficulty level. Some can be gone nearly 15 seconds before (if) they return.

    Tonight when we arrived in the field we found out quickly that the sun was directly behind the returning boomerangs. I threw one that came back to me perfectly. I saw a glimpse of the  'rang as it spun in on a perfect trajectory for my face just before the sun swallowed it. I held out my hand in front of my face and reflexively closed my fingers around it as it smacked my palm. Talk about a lucky catch.

    We decided to throw the flying ring for awhile to give the sun a chance to move a little. This was a lot of fun except for the frustration level the youngest two children added to it. Little Glory and Story are excellent for retrieving errant throws and they do it without slobbering. However they like to retrieve on their own terms. Four-year-old Story will run full speed after the ring and then stop ten feet from it. While we all wait impatiently suddenly he does the Frankenstein walk and approaches with maddening slowness. Finally he squats down and pounces on the ring. When he finally picks it up he naturally looks at the person the farthest distance away who he has no possibility of reaching with his throw.

    “Throw it to me,” I yell since I am closest.

    He ignores me.

    “Story! Throw it to me!”

    He turns toward me grinning. “You get a dollar if you catch it,” he says. He looks at me and launches the ring, but it flies off at a right angle to both of us where no one is standing. “Whoa,” he laughs and trots after it. I trot after it too and we grab it at the same time.

    “Let me have it, “ I day in all seriousness. He won't let go and we start a tug-o-war. I am 250 pounds. He is 30 pounds. I can't use my weight to my advantage without hurting him and so this is a very difficult task to get the ring. I finally win when I tickle him. With the ring in my hand I feel like a starving man who had to wrestle with someone for the next bite of food. I feel horribly impatient, but luckily he thought it was all great fun.
    After twenty minutes or so we decide to try the boomerangs again. We start off with the Aspen. This is because it is relatively light which makes it easier to throw and not as scary to catch. I can sometimes throw the Aspen perfectly enough to catch it without moving. But often enough it lands in front of me or behind me and Jory and Lory chase back and forth trying to be in the right spot to catch it. Jory tends to judge more accurately and gets some skin on several without being able to catch it. He knows enough to respect the boomerang when it is coming too fast. The other night the Yanaki hit in the stomach and knocked him down. He came up gasping for breath. I thought he was overplaying it until he pulled up his shirt and I saw the red welt across his stomach. Ouch.

    After a good twenty throws he has managed to nab a couple out of the air with panache. Lory has considerably more trouble, but finally she reaches up and gets her fingers around the spinning wings. The look on her face was pure joy. She screams and hops up and down while spinning around. She runs to me and throws her arms around me. It is a sweet moment.

    After a while we switch to the Erang. This is a bigger boomerang that flies much farther and usually comes in much faster. Both kids are wary of this rang and back off on many catchable landings. After more throws they get a little braver and are rewarded with a cut and a bruise, but no catches. On one throw the Erang came in so low that Story, who was sitting on the ground next to the gear had to flatten himself out. The Erang whizzed by a couple of feet over him. I'm glad he is paying attention. I am offering $3.00 for an Erang catch so they try a little hard. Finally something clicks in nine-year-old Jory's head and he snatches the Erang out of the air. I heard the thud of wood against bone, but he shrugged it off. Then he catches it again. And then again. Seeing bankruptcy on the horizon I cut him off from the promise of more money for more catches. Jory is satisfied though. He has just powered up in skills and ability. It is probably five more throws until Autumn pulls in the Erang. She squeals and dances another victory dance and gives me another hug.
    The sun is touching the western mountain tops now. The red cliffs in the East are glowing bright. Someone's dog is barking insanely somewhere toward the middle of town. The scent of burning weeds tickles our nostirls. We are hungry and happy as we gather our gear up and head back to the house. Even then we spread out and toss the flying ring back and forth as we go.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Defying Gravity

The family pattern today for married couples seems to be "two-income, two children." "Two-income, one child" is common also. There are a couple of comic strips I follow where the cast of characters is Mom, Dad, and one child. In both comic strips Mom and Dad each have full-time jobs out of the home. In both comic strips there have been references to how difficult it is to survive financially and there are dreams that have to be sacrificed. I can't quote the sources or numbers, but I have run across magazine articles and heard reports on how much it costs to raise a child today. When I look at the numbers and then look at my eight kids I realize that I must be very rich indeed to see them so healthy and happy because I am reportedly spending a fortune. What concerns me more is that I am doing this with only one income. My wife does not work outside the home and I earn what I would think is a very middle-class income.

I am a little confused at the disparity at what I see in our culture and what I am experiencing. My children have a secure home. They are healthy. They are comfortably dressed. Two are attending higher education. They are all happy, hopeful, and active. Perhaps I am missing something here, but is there something more I should be wanting for my children?


Perhaps I need to look at this differently. There are plenty of things that my children do not have. Maybe I should make a list:

  1. They do not have their own bedrooms (except one who somehow scored one, but that is a new development). But when I walk by their rooms at night and hear them telling each other stories or listening to Books on Tape I am actually pleased at this inconvenience.
  2. They do not have a Playstation 3 or even a Wii. Seeing them build creations with Legos, drawing pictures, riding bikes, or reading books takes the sting out of this.
  3. They mostly do not wear new clothes. Except for the odd infusion of new underwear and socks hand-me-downs have been the name of the game for 24 years. And yet my children have always gone to church and out on the town with confidence. Good looking second hand clothes seem easy to come by. As the kids reach the teenage years and desire something new they have done very well in earning enough money to buy clothes of their choosing. Perhaps I am hard-hearted, but teaching them the value of a dollar and responsibility does not make me feel bad.
  4. Most of them have never been to Disneyland yet. On the other hand they have been to so many beautiful and fascinating places around the Western States that Disneyland would just be another place and nothing so extraordinary. I find that Disneyland is more a place I want to take them too than a place they are dreaming of going.
  5. They have to plan on paying their own way through college. No one in my immediate or extended family has ever had a parent pay their way through college. As much as I would like to help (and I would) I don't feel guilty about teaching them to work for scholarships and expect to get jobs and work their way through college.

The list of what I have not given my children could go on much longer than you would care to read, but it would make no difference. I am a firm believer that it is a very short list of necessities that makes all the difference in a child's life or, in my experience, eight children's lives and that this list requires far less money than the little that supports our home.
  1. There needs to be secure shelter, enough to eat, and clothing to wear. Far less needs to be spent on these things than most think to make children feel secure and happy.
  2. There needs to be a foundation of love and support in the home to build a healthy self-image in children. This takes lots of time from both parents and is something that many don't “spend” enough on. Money is not required.
  3. They need to learn to love learning. This is the parents' job and no other. Schools, public or private, are just support structures. Money is not required.
  4. They need to learn how to work hard for worthy goals. Money is not required.

According to what is written about American life today I am in very sad shape. There is only one income in our home. The one income there is does not bring in enough money. I have too many children. My home is too small. My cars are too old. And yet, just as the bumble bee defies gravity and flies, my family defies the “cultural norms” and is happy, hopeful, and productive. Yes, I have my worries. There are dreams I have given up. But I know there are two-income homes out there with far greater worries than mine. And the lost dreams? I am seeing dreams that I never knew I dreamed coming true that make the dreams of my youth seem trivial.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Of Life and Lessons

Traditionally it is mothers who are responsible for teaching children. If someone has good manners, is gentle, has good personal hygiene, knows how to give gifts, is courageous, and knows how to love another it is because they had a good mother. So what is left for us fathers? Traditionally our major responsibility is to provide financially or physically for the family. Put this way being a father sounds far more like a support role than anything else. The mother's role has far more effect on the real quality of a child's life than anything the father does.

So how does the fact that there are more women in the work place than men today affect the future or our children? It seems like something has to give somewhere. Either women have to work extra hard to fulfill their role as nurturers, or fathers have to step in much more on the “nurturing” role, or children are just going to have to do without the nurturing. I fear that the third option is winning. This does not bode well for the world.

There are many cases where option 1 is in play. Working women all over the world do step it up and give as much nurturing as they can in addition to their jobs or careers. But as wonderful as a woman can be, she is still just a human being. The decrease in the amount of time she spends with her children and the increase in the fatigue she feels cannot do anything but decrease the amount or quality of nurturing she can give her children.

Is there no chance for option 2? None. Zip. Nada. Oh, fathers can have a huge effect for good in a child's life. My father was a wonderful example of hard work and service. By example he taught honesty, faith, and perseverance. But as mentioned he did all this by example. When I stole the candy bar it was my mother who took me back to the store to make things right. When I broke the windows in the empty house next door it was my mother who instilled respect of the law in me. It was my mother who taught me how to live clean. It was she who taught me how to interact with young women. It was she who encouraged me to try out for sports and for band. Why was it my mother who did all these things? Frankly, it was because she was one who was there when these things needed to happen. My father was off earning a living for the family or was just not tuned in to these needs in my life.

I love my role as a father. I love spending as much time as I can with my children. We go for walks. We go for hikes. We go on trips. Each of them comes to work with me on their own day or days during the week. I like to think I am good for my kids in one way or another. However, in those infinitely important little areas that have so much to do with the inner quality of a child's life I am blind, inept, or just misguided. For instance, recently my six year old daughter was in a position where her underwear was sticking out above the top of her pants. We were in the privacy of our own home and the opportunity was there so why wouldn't I give her a wedgie? Without a second thought I grabbed and gave what I thought was a gentle tug. Gentle or not the deed was done. The effect was completely different than I expected. She didn't yell, “Daaaad!!” She didn't run to tell her mother (thank heavens). Instead my little six-year-old looked me directly in the eyes as she reached down and made adjustments. The look in her eyes was definitely one of disapproval, but it was that edge of disappointment that struck me so forcibly. She was disappointed in her father for treating a daughter of God so ungracefully. Then she turned and walked off without a word. The look she gave me haunts me and shames me to this day. Her mother would never have done such a thing.

It wasn't long after “the wedgie” that I again showed my ineptness. I was at the shop where my thirteen-year-old daughter was helping me that day. To test the video and sound on a computer I was repairing I went to YouTube and clicked on the first video I saw. It was one of those videos where someone is speaking directly into a stationary camera and all you can see is there head. The head I saw was of a very fat girl. Her face was round and her fleshy cheeks pushed up toward her eye-sockets making her eyes look small, dark, and beady. Her nose turned up so I could see two dark holes and her mouth was large. She looked mean and animalistic. Then rock music began to play and she started singing along. The music was hard and rhythmic and her facial expressions followed along. The sight was frightening to me. Alarmed I said, “She is ugly! She is ugly!” My daughter came over to look. I was certain she would be alarmed like me and agree. Instead she said, “Dad.” She said it softly and I heard disappointment in the word. The word—how she said it—stung me. I wanted to honestly explain that I thought the girl was trying to be ugly, that the title of the video set me up, that . . . , but I stopped before I began. My daughter had looked and seen a child of God. Her father had spoken ungracefully and unkindly toward this child of God and in doing so had let his daughter down. Her mother would not have done that.

I will try to do better as a father and a human being to be a strength and a better example to my children. No matter how much better I do, though, so much still depends upon their mother.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Private Moments

In the movies that feature large families such as in “Cheaper by the Dozen” there are often key scenes that emphasize the chaos that can occur with so many children. In truth these movies aren't far off the mark although they tend to make the chaos more humorous than it actually seems to be in a real-life. These movies also often have key scenes where a parent has a meaningful moment alone with just one of the children. In a large family these private moments can have a deep meaning and be as pleasureful as a hot bath after a week of camping. What adds to the pleasure of these private moments in a large family is that these private moments can randomly happen with any one of so many children. With each child being so different each of these moments has its own flavor, smell, and texture—each a peculiar treat.

It wasn't too long ago that I started my own computer services company. By “company” don't think anything grand—this was pretty much a one-man band. At one point, when it looked like my business was going under, I was blessed with an opportunity to accept the contracts to install networks at a chain of tire stores around the state. This was a great opportunity and one that I had to accept for survival. The problem was that I had little experience in installing networks. A greater problem was that I had no partner to help me with these installations. Without a partner I would have had to turn down the contract. In desperation I looked around for someone affordabble who could help me. I had two sons in college who could do the job very nicely, but they couldn't take full days off from school. My focus then fell upon my thirteen-year-old daughter. She was already helping me on some days in the shop and she showed a precociousness with computers. She willingly accepted my invitation to accompany me on these installations.

I was worried at first about what the men working at these Big O Tire centers would think when their installer showed up with a thirteen-year-old girl as an assistant. It certainly wouldn't look very professional. This turned out not to be a problem. They accepted her right away and often gave her pet names such as “trouble.” I think they were charmed seeing this young woman pulling computers out of boxes, setting up workstations, assigning ip addresses and configuring network printers. They treated her with respect.

Over the course of two months my daughter accompanied me on twelve installations around the state. We would start very early in the morning in the van with a ladder strapped on the roof and the back stuffed with tool box, cable, fish tape and other needed accoutrements. Clorinda would study math, science, or literature on the way to the job. We had the opportunity to discuss algebraic expressions, vertebrates, and verb phrases on these mornings. Once at the jobs we would dive into a routine that we developed that worked very well for us. She would find an appropriate place with power and an internet connection to set up and configure the computers while I started scoping out the cable pulls and cutting cable. Sometimes I would find her surrounded by computer equipment squished between racks of tires. Other times she would be on the floor of the manager's office next to boxes of financial records. These places were always a bit dirty with rubber dust covering everything. Clory's hands would turn black and, when she peeked at me from over the top of a monitor I would see black smudges on her face.

When the time came I would call Clory to help me pull the network cables through conduit, across drop ceilings, or under floors. Often she would squeeze inside a cupboard where the cable entered or exited in order to reach it. Her legs would be intertwined with the ankles of the salesmen who were taking care of customers at the desk above her. In one BigO she negotiated the six-inch top of a wall for thirty feet with a drop ceiling below on one side of her and racks of tires on the other side in order to get a cable to the other end of the room. She was able to use steel rafters as hand holds to steady her. There were moments when we were actually able to work together putting the RJ-45 connectors on the end of the cables. This was careful work as we had to put the color-coded wires in the right order (white-green, green, white-orange, blue, etc. ), snip them to the right length and then crimp them securely. When we plugged them into the cable tester and all the lights lighted properly we would look at each other with happy pride.

At the end of the days we would finish labeling the cables, gather our tools and cable, and tiredly strap the ladder back onto the roof of the van. With a two-hour drive home ahead of us we would find a Sizzler or a Pizza Hut in which to relax and eat. After washing the blackness off our faces and hands we would meet at the table and chat aimlessly, yet delightfully, while we ate our food. As I looked into her bright face and gray-green eyes and bask in her subtly animated personality in spite of the hard day's work I figure what a lucky man to have such an experience with a child of mine.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Captain of the Ship

As the head of a large household I feel I have a responsibility to younger, less experienced fathers to give them the guidance they need to be effective leaders. One of the most important things to remember as a man in today's world is that a man in his home should be like a captain aboard his ship:
  1. He should be in complete control at all times. He doesn't have to be a Captain Bligh about it, but if a ship is to be kept in top shape and off the dangerous, rocky shores the captain must demand complete obedience to his ever command. Of course if he merely suggests that everyone is in bed by 9:00 with lights out at 9:30 and yet everyone still stays up until 11:00 most nights it can't be said that he isn't in complete control.
  2. He should have the utmost respect from each of his crew members. Of course there will be incidents such as when his six-year-old daughter, who had heard him scream, “Shut the door!” for the millionth time this winter when she stuck her head back into the room from the freezing outside and retorted, “If you care about the door so much, why don't you marry it!” But she did say it with respect.
  3. He should be treated like a god and any trivial, personal habit ought to be ignored. I can, however, overlook the fact that all my crew looks at me whenever there is a strange smell in the room even though there is no proof that they should be looking at me.
  4. He must demand that they respect his personal space to keep a proper distance between the officer and the enlisted. I will tolerate standing on my feet to dance, holding onto my fingers so that they can walk up me and flip over backward, climbing onto my lap, and jumping onto my back after family prayer only for a three or four more years before I get tough.
  5. It can be assumed that he does everything perfectly. This should never be questioned. When his eight-year-old son responded to his captain's “That's not too bad,” after digging a perfect hole to plant a tree with, “Yeah, but it's not too good either,” he wasn't actually finding fault.
No, any man who doesn't lay down the law with an iron hand in his own home does not deserve the sweet hugs, and kisses, and the love of his crew.