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…

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Raison D’être

I was a tumor … or so I’ve been told.

A chance meeting with one of my neighbors today revealed this to me. He knew my dad when I was born, and that’s what my dad had told him when my mom was taken to the hospital the night of my birth. See, my parents didn’t know I was coming, and not in the sense that I was born ahead of my due date.

They didn’t even know my mom was pregnant.

There were circumstances that made this not so difficult to believe at the time, but the fact remains I went through the entire Reason for Existencepregnancy without anyone checking on how I was actually doing in there. In my lighter-hearted moments, I joke that this explains why I’m so screwed up in the head now, but the truth is I’m amazed by the whole story. Granted, probably not as amazed as my parents 40 years ago, as my neighbor told me he received a call from my dad that night that began with the words, “You’re not going to believe this…”.

I called the meeting today a chance one, but the more I think about it I’m not so sure. I’ve known that story for a long time (Well, not the tumor part. That was new.), and I’ve learned to embrace it in times of struggle. I’ve had so many days of feeling lost or inadequate or just plain embarrassed to be here that I’ve thought on more than one occasion that I had to be some sort of mistake. If that were true, though, how do I account for the miraculous way I wound up here in the first place?

So in my frustration today, I decided to go for a walk. A little ways up the road, I ran into a neighbor, and he told me I was a tumor. And I was glad he did.

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.

Good News

It was 9 o’clock Monday night, December 23, and I wanted to have my hands on a keyboard. I had some great news to share, and I wanted to let everyone know as soon as possible. At least, my brain wanted that. My body, on the other hand, was not nearly as enthusiastic about turning on the computer after spending a large chunk of the day in the car, so I put it off.

And now it’s Thursday. Sometimes you gotta strike while the iron is hot.

vch_building-roof_line37So, if you will, allow me to back up and tell this story from the beginning. I’ve written here before about my daughter Sara’s heart surgery she had to have back in May of this year. My wife and I took her back to Monroe Carell, Jr., Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Monday for a follow-up. We had one goal in mind: Our doctor would say Sara was doing well enough that we wouldn’t have to bring her back for another visit until sometime next year.

We had reason to expect a good report. She had been gaining weight like crazy since the surgery, and she actually ended her first year weighing more than either of her two sisters did at the same age (Not bad for a baby who had dropped to the fifth percentile on the growth chart at one point.). She was nursing better, not panting for air, and not constantly crying whenever we drove anywhere with her. In short, she had been like a different child.

Still, the heart is not exactly something you can see and check up on yourself, so there was a degree of nagging uncertainty. When our local pediatrician discovered the heart murmur that led to the discovery of the ventricular septal defect that had to be repaired during the surgery, my wife had taken our daughter in for what she thought might be an ear infection. Sometimes you just never know what a doctor will find.

So, of course, on Monday, Sara proceeded to scream like a banshee anytime anyone touched her, which made her echocardiogram a highly enjoyable experience, to say the least. This type of behavior can also cause a heart valve to show more leakage on the tests than it actually is experiencing, so we weren’t sure what to expect when our doctor came in to see us.

I feel like I’m rambling at this point, so I’ll sum up quickly: No leakage in the right valve, less leakage in the left valve than our last visit, everything looks great, see you in two years.

That’s right. Sara is doing so well at this point that we don’t have to go back for another follow-up until 2015. The hospital doesn’t even make appointments that far out, so we’ll have to remember to set one up in the future. That kind of news the day before Christmas Eve makes for a very Happy Holiday indeed.

And that’s my good news. Sorry, the body is telling me to wrap this one up. I think the mind agrees this time.

Sorry, Kid, You Blew It

Well, Sara, you made it. You managed to survive your first year of life. You certainly made it interesting, what with the pneumonia and the ventricular septal defect. You were a tiny little thing before those doctors worked their magic on your heart. Now you’re sporting the oh-so-fashionable baby fat rolls. Well done, little sis.

You came through your open heart surgery in May with flying colors.sara cake In fact, you may have come through it a little too well. I mean, who has their chest cracked open and their ticker tinkered with on a Tuesday and is sitting up in bed greeting visitors by Saturday? If they had done to me what they did to you, I’d still be laid up in a bed somewhere. That just ain’t right.

Most people have told me this was because babies and small children are more resilient and heal faster than adults. That may be true, but I think there’s more to you than that. I think you had the hand of God on you the whole way. I think you’re a tough little stinker who wouldn’t be kept down. I think you have a life full of unbelievable things ahead of you.

The only this is, you’ve made it kind of tough on yourself from here on out. I mean, you survived major surgery. What do you think your mother and I are going to say when you tell us you can’t pick your toys up or you’re too tired to take out the trash or not strong enough to help pack in the bags of groceries? “Whatever. Do you know what they had to do to you when you were around seven months old? You’ve made it through a lot worse than this.”

Yep, you’ve set the bar pretty high. After watching you grow this first year, though, I have no doubt you can handle the expectations. I’m in awe of you every time I see that scar running across your chest. If we get down the road and you feel like your dad is expecting too much out of you, just know it’s because I’ve already seen you do amazing things. And you managed to do them before you could even say your first word.

So I’m sorry to say this, but, kid, you blew it. The world of ordinary is no longer a possibility for you. Maybe one day you’ll understand why, but until then…

Happy birthday, Sara.