Perfection

About two weeks ago, one of my daughters and my two sons began mentioning this idea of theirs to open a restaurant. Now, given the fact that this particular daughter is 9 years old and her brothers only 7 and 4, I was naturally curious as to how this plan would proceed. Apparently, this was to be a roadside restaurant, sort of in a lemonade-stand design: People would drive by, see the sign, and then, hopefully, stop and order something.

Just to give you a mental picture of the “town” we live in, it’s called Coldwater. Doesn’t exactly imply a thriving metropolis, does it? Also, considering we actually live approximately a mile off the nearest main highway, the likelihood of much traffic in our neck of the woods is fairly slim. The enthusiasm was so high between the three of them, though, I decided my best course of response to whatever they told me they were going to do would be to smile and nod affirmatively, as long as it didn’t have anything to do with power tools, the killing of animals, or a start-up cash loan.

Of course, the 4-year-old lost attention fairly quickly once the other two actually began to actually hammer bits of wood together for signs, but the other two stuck with it. Soon, I came home to discover, sitting in the yard, a couple of kids’ lawn chairs, a wooden pallet, some assorted cinder blocks, and painted wooden signs advertising the new establishment. Granted, they still hadn’t solved the dilemma of not having any actual food for their restaurant, but problems of this nature are relatively minor to aspiring elementary school-aged entrepreneurs.

No one actually stopped at the new roadside attraction the first day, but I was told there were some curious looks and plenty of smiles from those who drove by. They were proud of their work, and I was proud of them for putting the time in, even if I knew there wasn’t much way they could succeed. That night, as the sun was setting and my daughter and I were heading inside, I noticed one of the signs had a strange word written on it – skare – so I asked her what it meant.

“Oh, that says ‘Come On In To The Old-Time Square.'”DSCN1201

“Oh, okay. Um…”

“Did I get a word wrong?”

“Um, yeah. That’s not how you spell square.”

“How do you spell it?”

“S-q-u-a-r-e.”

“Well, what did I spell?”

“I guess you would pronounce that scare.”

And then, my daughter laughed, said, “Oh, well,” and went on inside our house.

I just stood there, dumbfounded. Even at 9 years old, I would have been absolutely mortified if someone had pointed out one of my mistakes like that. I would have been completely distraught at the fact that people had driven by all day looking at it. And I would have worked until the daylight was gone trying to fix what I had done wrong.

And my daughter just said, “Oh, well…“, and didn’t give it another thought.

Now, this particular incident has caused me to reach two very distinct and different possible conclusions: Either I have taught my daughter that it is okay to make a mistake and that she needn’t beat herself up if she gets something wrong or I have not taught my daughter to strive for perfection and she does not care enough about doing a good job. The former of these, I can live with; the latter … eh, not so much. In fact, that would be something I would want to rectify immediately.

Therein lies the rub, though, so to speak. I have struggled with perfectionism for as long as I can remember, and I certainly don’t want my children to grow up afraid to try different things because they might get something wrong. On the other hand, by virtue of them being my children, I have a burning compulsion for them to be the best possible human beings they can be. So I don’t want them to settle for “Oh, well…, but I also don’t want them belittling themselves constantly and killing their self esteem.

I suppose there is the possibility here that God is trying to teach me through my daughter to learn how to move on from mistakes and not worry so much. I also suppose the possibility exists that this is a wake-up call to me to teach and preach a better work ethic to my children. The actual answer probably lies somewhere in between, and, unfortunately, finding it will be a largely imperfect process.

Oh, well…

One Year

DSCN0805It seems like it should be a bigger deal than this.

One year ago today, my daughter went under the knife for open heart surgery. She was just shy of being seven months old. She had a ventricular septal defect, which is a fancy way of saying “hole in her heart.” We took her down to Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt May 5, discovered there was a mix-up and the surgery had been moved to May 6, lost our minds for a few hours, showed up again the next day, and handed our baby girl over to a team of extremely skilled surgeons who were given the task of patching her up.

I’m not going to lie and say everything about the road leading up to the surgery and that day itself wasn’t difficult. Because the heart defect was basically stunting her growth and because she was too stubborn to take a bottle, she had to have a feeding tube stuck up her nose for several days prior to the surgery. Another tube, this time of the drainage variety, was inserted into her chest once the surgery was over. She spent about a day in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and she barely moved the entire time she was there.

All I can seem to remember clearly, though, is this: She had open heart surgery on a Tuesday and was sitting up in her bed by Friday.

The year following that surgery has been a blur. My daughter has filled out, mainly because once her heart defect was repaired she10300113_10154138292315217_5804047300102415917_n could actually nurse properly (She was having trouble breathing and nursing at the same time.). The scar on her chest has already faded quite a bit, and there’s nothing about her that would indicate anything had ever been wrong with her. These days, we just live life with her like we do with our other four children. We don’t even have anything really special planned for today.

On the surface, then, this day doesn’t seem that different from any other. We’ll always know it is, though. This will always be the day God answered our prayers and made a way for our daughter to be whole again. And that is something this family will store in their hearts forever.

So maybe it is a big deal after all.

Falling Away

I sure do love me some March Madness. Wall-to-wall basketball for the better part of a month. If it’s not being played, it’s being talked about. Nobody mailing it in, every team playing their hearts out because they know it’s win-or-go-home. The best time of the year to be a basketball fan, hands-down.

freakout_1_-_1.0_standard_500.0I used to devote hour upon hour to watching every second of basketball I could during the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. I obsessed over my bracket every year, cursing the names of every losing team that made me look foolish for picking them to win. Much to the chagrin of nearly everyone around me, I was a Kentucky boy rooting (for no particular reason) for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Yelling at the television, throwing stuff, biting my nails… Yep, I was that guy.

I say all that in the past tense because I’m not really that guy anymore. I mean, I still watch quite a bit of the tournament, but I don’t feel very emotionally invested in it anymore. I still fill out a bracket, but I don’t really care what my overall record is once the dust is settled. Not only do I not root for the Tar Heels anymore, I don’t throw my support behind any particular team these days. I still care … but, then again, I don’t care. Know what I mean?

Maybe my slow fade from tournament junkie to semi-casual observer started several years ago when I read Alexander Wolff’s Raw Recruits during the breaks in a lengthy trial I had to cover for the newspaper I was working for at the time. Or maybe it began nearly 12 years ago, when my wife and I welcome our first child into the world and our lives and priorities got turned upside-down. Or maybe it was when I realized I was finally older than all of the players (and now I’m actually older than a lot of the coaches,too).

Whatever the case, I found myself sitting down to fill out a bracket this year and suddenly realizing I had no idea what I was doing. Even stranger, I wasn’t really bothered by that. I’m certainly not criticizing anyone still knows the starting five of every team or dresses up in their favorite team’s gear just to watch them on television. If your heart still lies there, I think that’s awesome. Somewhere down the line, mine sort of moved on … and I’m not entirely sure that’s such a bad thing.

All my life, I’ve heard that God will take things out of your life if He doesn’t think they’re fruitful. I’ve always envisioned that as Him having to pry whatever it was I was holding onto from my clutching, angry fingers as I kicked and screamed through the entire process. Whatever it was, it would be something I desperately didn’t want to give up, and He would cause me great pain and discomfort by taking it. After a while, with this mentality, it’s easy to start thinking that Christianity is less about joy and freedom and more about sucking all the joy out of life in an effort to conform.

As with most things in life, though, God needs to change the heart before he change the behavior. Had someone come to me and said, “Hey, you’re really obsessing too much over basketball. You need to stop watching so much.”, I probably would not have responded in a very compliant way. Stretched out over time, though, I saw my time going to other things – writing, kids, friends – that made me happy in my heart. And while I never lost my love for the game, I did lose that feeling that I had to be plugged into it constantly during tournament time.

There are certain things we’ll have to give up in life. For example, if you’re an alcoholic and you’re destroying your liver with booze every night, you will have to give up drinking. Something will have to move the heart away from the liquor store, however, before the body will follow. So from ending sports obsessions to chemical addictions to ingrained behaviors, the same madness is at work. The good thing is, it’s not just limited to the month of March.

Guest Blogging

Many moons ago, when I decided I didn’t want to be a newspaper reporter anymore, I met Kristin Hill Taylor. Kristin replaced me at the paper I was leaving, and she proceeded to do such a great job that most people probably forgot I was ever there. These days, though, Kristin is a stay-at-home mom, publicist, and writer, whose blog – 152 Insights To My Soul – can be found here. She and her husband, Greg, are the parents of two beautiful adopted children, Cate and Ben, so obviously parenting is a high priority for her.

This week, Kristin’s blog is featuring real-life stories from dads who have struggled with the notion that their children need to be perfect. More information on the book that inspired this current thread – No More Perfect Kids, by Jill Savage and Kathy Koch – is available there as well. Kristin was nice enough today to let me share some of my struggles with this issue, so I’ve included the link here. And be sure to check out all the things she’s written. It’s good stuff.

http://www.kristinhilltaylor.com/2014/03/no-more-perfect-kids-building-faith.html

Play Day

I haven’t written anything here in a little while, but, believe me, it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. I’ve been pondering some heavy topics lately, and they aren’t exactly easy to put into words. You know, typical depressed male with the big 4-0 bearing down on him kinds of things – missed chances, insecurity, etc., etc. And to those of who so graciously responded to my post about the book idea, I promise I haven’t forgotten you. Real life just keeps getting in my way.

Of course, my lack of productivity here has been driving me nuts. Some people maintain blogs to show off their families or share their hobbies or just to (gasp) have fun; I have one to validate my very existence as a writer. I’m supposed to be coming up with a to-do list every day this week, but I’ve been slacking on that because I hate setting a goal and not reaching it. I feel as I need to be accomplishing something every moment I’m awake, whether that’s educating myself with a magazine article, getting in better shape by riding my bicycle, or learning a new song on the guitar.

Today represented one of my most anxiety-enducing scenarios when it comes to meaningful use of time: Watching the kids by myself. You would think a father of five wouldn’t be frightened by the prospect of babysitting his own children, but I always get a little nervous when it’s just me. I don’t like just messing around with them. I feel as if I should be creating those Hallmark commercial father-child moments. Or I should at least be helping them with their homeschooling. Or making them a sandwich. Heck, something.

On this particular day in western Kentucky, temperatures were mild and the sun was shining for the most part. My 1-year-old daughter was in a happy mood, and my other four were chomping at the bit to get outdoors. Now, I had already taken off work early to watch them (My wife was taking my mom to a doctor’s appointment, and we didn’t have another sitter available.), so I was already not getting something done somewhere else. Heading outside would effectively bring to an end any hope of educational activity inside today, which really didn’t matter because I didn’t have anything planned anyway. Could just fooling around, running around the yard on a February afternoon be worthwhile at all?

Turned out the answer was a resounding yes. We basically all played hooky together; they were getting out of school, and I was getting out of work. We played this weird variation of tennis in the driveway. We shot some hoops. I went on a bike ride (which I’m sure I will be paying for tomorrow). In the indoors department, I got to put my 4-year-old son down for a nap, and I got to read a book to my youngest. I really didn’t do much of anything, at least not in the traditional working sense. I did accomplish something very important, though.

It is so difficult for me to realize sometimes that what seems like doing nothing in my mind is actually necessary in some way. Sitting down and watching a television show usually seems like a waste of time to me, but there are times when the body just needs to stop. I don’t think my children learned one school-related thing all day, but they taught me that sometimes the dad who is supposed to be breaking his back for them all the time just needs a play day where none of the “important” stuff matters. Time is a worthwhile thing; my use of it today was certainly not wasted.

Real life kicks back into gear tomorrow. Threat of severe weather, regular eight-hour work day, kids likely cooped up in the house, books and laundry and dishes to clean. Good thing we did all that important stuff today.

Getting On With It

For a while now, I’ve been reading what are known around here as “chapter books” out loud to my children before they all go to bed each night. We don’t manage to hit it every night, and some nights we get more reading in than others, but I’ve found they greatly enjoy the activity, even if they don’t all necessarily understand everything that’s being read.

I guess I should clarify that these are fiction books. I’m not opposed to reading non-fiction stuff with the kids, but my children all lorseem to have insatiable appetites for made-up stories and adventures. One of our biggest undertakings was reading the entire Chronicles of Narnia series, by C. S. Lewis. That sort of segued into reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and now we’re biting off probably our toughest challenge yet, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Being the proper British chaps that they were, there’s a certain kind of stiffness and matter-of-factness that runs through even the fantasy works of these two legendary authors. A word of caution: If you were a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s take on The Fellowship of the Ring and you haven’t read the book yet, be prepared for a shock to your system. All those characters you saw constantly in peril on the screen spend pages and pages and pages in the book just walking around. I heard someone peg this in a Tolkien documentary recently when they said it was as if Tolkien didn’t exactly know where his characters were going either.

narniaIn reality, though, a great deal of time is spent in both The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia reading about characters simply slogging forward. I think about Lewis’s The Silver Chair, where Eustace Scrubb, Jill Pole, the Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum, and Prince Rilian, the heir to the throne of Narnia, wander around for a good deal of time in the dark. What else were they going to do, though? They couldn’t just not keep going. That was the only option they had.

I certainly don’t know if this was their intent, but I’ve come to believe both Tolkien and Lewis were using these seemingly dull passages to reflect an important fact of life: Sometimes there really isn’t anything you can do except just go on. The end you anticipate my appear totally unappealing (Think Frodo and the trip to Mount Doom…). You may experience pain and discomfort along the way. You may even feel like turning around and going back to where you came from. In the moment, though, you know you have to see things through and proceed to the next step.

As I’m typing this, local forecasters are warning we could experience a harsh winter storm this weekend. I appreciate their efforts to make people of aware of this potential threat, but they’re also (perhaps inadvertently) scaring the living crap out of everyone. I keep wondering if I’m prepared well enough. Then I realize it doesn’t matter if I’m prepared well enough or not; if the storm is coming, it’s coming. It’s not as if I can run away from it and hide somewhere.

I know this might not seem encouraging on the surface, but if you are standing today, you kept going. And if you’re concerned about tomorrow, just realize you had to come through something just to get to the place where you could be worried about the next thing. Maybe Tolkien or Lewis didn’t know where their characters were going, but they followed them until they got there. I’m starting to think if I keep wandering through my pages I may get where I’m supposed to be one day, too.