Saturday, December 26, 2009
After weeks of asking, "How many days till Christmas?" and cheering at decibel levels inversely proportional to my answer, my children finally got to enjoy the coveted day.
Halfway through her dissemination of stocking goodies throughout the living room, Ashlyn had already posed the logical next question: "Daddy, how many days till Easter?"
So much for kids being all about the now.
I didn't know the answer at the time, but now I do. Curiously, on Christmas Day this year, it was an even one hundred. And in case your kid asks you the same thing, here's your answer: http://daysuntil.com/Easter/index.html.
Happy holidays! And happy waiting till the next one.
Friday, December 25, 2009
"That's my Ashie Nunga-Punga," I said. "Aren't you freezing, Ashie-Loca?"
"I'm wearing my birthday suit because it's going to be Jesus' birthday!" she explained, cheesy grin smeared across her face.
How's that for a WWJD moment?
I spend a lot of December wondering how much of our Christmas chaos might make the Birthday Boy roll over in His manger or grave--if He were still in either.
But this nunga punga thing? I think He'd kind of like it.
For a morning, a day, a season, or more if we dare, maybe He'd rather have us dance in the buff, out from under all the crusty layers we thought could hide what we thought needed hiding. Maybe He'd dig that more than all the other stuff we've come up with to honor His incarnation. Maybe when it comes to hiding the real thing, less really is more.
Maybe my barely prancing Ashie-Loca is on to something.
So happy birthday, Jesus. Here's to naked celebration that lasts even longer than your birthday party.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Winding up the mountain, we were talking about how different kids spend different amounts of time in Kindergarten, depending on how ready their parents and teachers think kids are for 1st grade. "Some kids do one year of Kindergarten and some do two, Melía. How many years do you want to be in Kindergarten?" I said.
Part of me wants to normalize redoing Kinder if necessary. The twins are on the young side, after all. Another part of me says this to lay down the gauntlet and see them go for their studies as ardently as they go for playing dress-up.
"But bwown-ups choose that."
"That's right," I told her. "Good remembering. " I had made a point of saying that this decision is not up to the 5-year-old. "But if it were your choice, how many years would you want to be in Kindergarten?"
"Do you know how many years I would want to be in Kindergarten?" she asked, making sure I still understood the question.
"How many, Melía?" I asked. I'd have put my money on "one." What kid isn't eager to be as grown up as possible as early as possible?
"Six years!" she said, exuberant. ("Tens of thousands of dollars' worth!" my Daddy-ears heard, despondent.)
But sticker shock aside, here's giving thanks for one great Kindergarten and for at least one girl who's not in a frantic hurry to grow up.
At least not today.
Friday, November 6, 2009
“While you’re sleeping, don’t forget how much I love you, Melía,” I told her.
(She hears this many nights, along with other valuable admonitions, such as, “Don’t eat yellow snow, Melía.” Some things just bear repeating.)
“I will not forget, Daddy.”
“But if I do forget, that’s OK. Because I will remember it again later.”
This rings in my heart like an eschatological prophecy of a time of trouble. She won’t forget, she assures me. But growing daughters and flawed fathers being who we are, it won’t be long before she will.
What will get in the way of the love? I wonder. Curfew? Homework? Careless words? Wardrobe? Other men? All of the above?
But my little prophetess assures me that the time of trouble will outlast neither my love nor her knowledge of it.
Lord, when she does forget, please remind me that it’s OK. We do that. We lose sight of what we've been standing on. Things loom larger than people for a minute. Ego pounds impatiently at the front door, and Love slips out the back.
But it is OK. Later, she will remember again.
Monday, October 12, 2009
So Pepper "Loveball" Bennie, sneezy orphan Siamese kitten, moved from the San Bernardino City Animal Shelter to the San Bernardino Mountains, a move up in the world both in the mile of elevation she gained and in the tonnage of love she now bears. She joins my wife and me as one of the few who know the joy and the torment of living with our three daughters.
It’s hard to know whether it is ignorance or ignoring of the signs of feline displeasure that leads kids to love a cat in ways that push the limits of the animal’s endurance. Melía holds her for durations that would try even a dog’s patience. Eager to enrich the kitty’s life with adventure on the day she arrived, Ashlyn tried throwing her for distance. Brielle still pleads not-guilty for holding her captive in the treasure chest all day yesterday while we were at the fair.
We always hurt the ones we love, don’t they say?
Maybe a week after we got Pepper, Melía asked me this:
“Daddy, do you love the kitten?”
Let me defend myself before I tell you how I answered. I’m really clear that “love” is this holiest of words that has been profaned by overuse. Call me a snob or an idealist or whatever you must. But for me, true love is a sacred act of will that I define something like M. Scott Peck does in The Road Less Traveled: “the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
Love is God.
And if I teach my kids anything about anything, I want it to be This.
So I'm all cautious about my answer, which, I was certain, had the heinous power to distort her idea of love for eternity.
"Not as much as I love you, my Melía," I hedged, circumspect as all get-out.
"What?" she asked, appalled at how the soul of any sentient being could be anything but filled with love for her kitten. "Why don't you love our kitten, Daddy?"
"Well, it's just...." I was tempted to bust out my arsenal of words that mean love but don't mean Love, words like cathexis and affinity and like a whole bunch. But I was smart enough not to. "I do love the kitty. But it's a different kind of love than how I love you. A much smaller, much less important kind of love than I love you with, Melía, because I love you so MUCH."
Was that a sign of relief I saw on her face? "You do love our kitten, Daddy. But a diffwent kind of love."
Relieved? Yes, I think she was.
But still a little worried about my soul.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Someone had gotten more of something than someone else, and Brielle did not like it. Not one bit. She wailed her way down the hall into the great room.
"It's OK, Brielle," I said, ever trying to turn down the volume on the girly drama in my home.
But the volume went up instead. (You'd think I'd have learned by now.) She deflected my poo-pooing response to her protests with fresh vocal vigor.
I winced and waited for the swell to roll past. When it did, she unveiled the why of her righteous indignation:
"It's not fair. And it hurts my heart when it's not fair!"
I loved her more than ever.
As a kid, the closest I came to going postal on my teachers was when they answered a complaint about unfairness with the truism, "LIFE isn't fair." Great. Just be in bed with the injustice, I would have told them if I'd had the words. Be part of the problem. Resign yourself.
I still feel that way. And though I have the words now, I also have the discretion or fear or prudence or whatever you want to call it to bite my tongue and simply resent the speaker. Too often, I choose cool contempt for the person over hot attack of the problem.
As an adult, I've learned more about the shades of justice. I've learned that equity is different from equality. For everyone to get the chance they deserve, some need more help. And when they don't get it, I still get angry.
Life is not fair; my teachers were right. But is the good-kid thing to do about it to shut up and take it?
Or to scream?
Brielle, may your heart never stop breaking when it senses injustice. Like you did just now, may you have the words--and the courage--to assault it wherever it lingers.
God knows you have the voice.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
I cupped my hand under Brielle's face, pouring out apologies nearly as fast as her chin spilled blood. The drops were splashing now as they plopped into the swelling red pool in my hand, which sloshed as we cried our way across the sand toward the lifeguard tower.
We'd just been killing time on the beach, pausing our walk for some gymnastics while we waited for Melía to catch up. The somersaults went great, and led naturally into the headstands. I spotted Ashlyn's feet for her headstand, then spotted Brielle for hers. And when I did mine, helpful girl that she is, Brielle spotted me.
I didn't get the memo.
So that when my heel kicked up, Brielle's chin was waiting to greet it. I heard a sharp snap as the foot bone connected to the chin bone, separated by way too little soft tissue, and pounded her teeth together. It was a scary enough sound that the scream that followed it gave me a measure of relief.
At least she was OK enough to scream.
We walked across the sand, Brielle wailing, her Daddy wailing louder but without sound, sober sister Ashlyn in tow.
I wonder now, why was I making such a point of catching the blood? All those blood-borne pathogens trainings? Or a helpless father doing the only thing he could think of to feel slightly less helpless at that moment. Catch blood, and apologize ad nauseam.
"I'm so sorry, Brielle. I am so sorry. I didn't know you were back there. I'm so, so sorry. I was not careful enough. I should've looked back before I did my headstand. I'm sorry, sweet Brielle."
Through her sobs came this gift:
"It's OK, Daddy. It was an accident."
And it is OK. Now, at least. An hour in the ER, 3 stitches, a pop-sickle and a DQ ice cream cone later, she was sewed up and feeling little pain. Yes, the water slide plans for the next day were off, and I'd found another way to sabotage swimming lessons. But mostly, she was fine.
Me? I'm still a little traumatized. I hate it when, after quantities of energy, bribery, coercion and scare tactics spent on stopping my children from hurting themselves, I hurt them myself. And then all I can do is catch blood and say I'm sorry.
But in the trauma, I'm thanking God for lifeguards and doctors who can do more than that. For wives who watch shots and stitches go into their brave daughters' gaping lacerations--and still love me. I'm thanking Him for popsicles and DQ that bridge trauma to treats, and for healing--of chins and hearts.
And I'm thanking God for little girls who forgive faulty fathers even while the wound is still dripping.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
"He's a hundred," she said.
"Even older than that, sweet Brie," said I.
"Yeah, He's a thousand."
"Even older than that. Infinity."
"Yeah, He's infinity, 'cause that's the number that you can't count to."
Also at issue this morning, on the other end of the spectrum, was how old we are. I must have started it when I said, "Ashlyn, you're my sweet, good Ashie-baby."
"But I'm not a baby for real life," Ashlyn countered.
"No, you are a big girl. But you are still my baby."
Ashlyn's eyes widened. "Actually, everyone is a baby."
"Yeah! Everyone is a baby. Even you are a baby. Because we are all little--kind of little--and only God is big."
A big thought for a little Ashie-baby. One this Daddy-baby needs to remember.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Last summer, the girls took their first professional swimming lessons. They LOVED swimming lessons.
This spring, my folks gave them all the birthday gift of another round of lessons, complete with leads printed from the Net on where they could take them. I've been planning on setting it up since school got out in early June.
But first I had to clean out the closet (which was at one time an office) where the printouts had buried themselves since being gifted. That occupied the first four days.
Once found, I set them out to call the next day. They sat out not quite long enough for me to call, but long enough for six small hands to disappear them into the rubble.
The next next day, I extracted my leads from among the piles of sorted stuff I'd removed from my blindingly sparkly clean closet (which has renewed its ancient claim to officedom), and from the piles of spent drawing paper to which my little swimmers had helped themselves.
That done, I found myself on Friday, July 3, when USA celebrated the foreshock of its 233rd birthday, and no one was in business.
No worries. Sunday night, I planned for them to start Monday after work. I built it up, had Mommy send the bathing suits with them to childcare, mentioned it at random times just to get a huge "Yay!!" out of them.
I called from work the next day and got the dirt on the lessons. I had the date wrong.
Darn. They'd have to start the next week. This would not go over well.
When I picked them up, the news was greeted with cries and screams, barely mitigated by my consolation offer to take them to the creek to swim on our own. I explained that I'd messed up on the date and that it was too late to start lessons this week. I was sorry, but we'd do it next week (i.e. "a million years from now").
Another week of planning and hoping--the girls anticipating the highlight of their summer education, me exploiting their anticipation to gain compliance and mood lifts when needed.
Yesterday was the big day. I had the times, I knew this was the session start date, and I'd get them there at 2 o'clock--opening time--so I could sign them up for the best time slot.
It's just that they were having so much fun that morning pretending to be pets inside those Tupperware storage bins. And I was having so much fun figuring out online if I could save money by cutting my home phone line. It was 2 now, past lunch time and they were asking for Rice Krispies in bowls just like pets eat their food.
That would be fast.
But somehow it was not fast, and when we got down the mountain to the pool at 4:29, the swim class coordinator tried to be nice as she explained that we had a snowflake's chance in a hot place of snagging a spot in the 4:30 class, the last of the day.
At 4:40, the girls were still in the bathroom helping each other put on their bathing suits. Normally I'd be itching for them to finish the job and get the hot-place out here to start the lesson. But yesterday, I considered letting them play at changing for half an hour (an easy amount of time to kill with such a task) and then telling them they were so slow they'd missed the lesson.
But I didn't.
Instead, I muffled the self-loathing tantrum that was going on in my head, told them the truth, and apologized. Again.
"We'll start tomorrow, girlies." They didn't even cry this time. And that was worse, because it gave me mental space to imagine what they must have been saying:
Daddy is lying again.
Another plan thwarted. Another promise broken. Another hope dashed. Another doubt planted.
They stood there, sweet and stoic, as I signed the paperwork and forked over the cash for lessons that really, truly would start tomorrow (i.e. "sometime slightly sooner than a million years from now, but at 5 p.m., still way too far away from today"). I knew it was for real this time. But the doubt in the air squeezed my throat tight.
I compensated with the increasingly lame creek idea, throwing in an ice cream cone this time. No protests. No complaints.
But no delight either.
Today, I had an afternoon meeting. My wife took them to swim lessons. She drove 40 minutes from work up the mountain where a friend was watching them, hussled them into the car and down the mountain, out of the car, across the parking lot and into the bathroom to change. They were in the pool for their 3:30 lesson at 3:31.
When I saw them afterward, they were bubbling with stories about what they'd done in class.
"Daddy, I floated on my back--withOUT any help!"
"Daddy, I jumped in by myself!"
"Daddy, I put my head under the water!"
After celebrating with them for a few minutes, Ashlyn added another boast. "And Daddy, we made it on TIME to swimming lessons today!"
"That's awesome, Ashlyn." Finally, someone had gotten these sweet little fish to the pond. Go Mommy.
"Um, Daddy, I have an idea." Ashlyn was bright-eyed. "After today, Mommy should drive us to swimming lessons."
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Melía tells us she loves us a lot. Scores of times each day.
And at least as often, we tell her that we love her.
We quite enjoy it, although it might get kind of nauseating after awhile if you were here listening.
"I-love-you-so-much-you-are-so-cute, pweety pie," she'll say to me, rapid-fire. Kisses--wet, wonderful and splattered all over my face--come with the deal.
"I love you so much, my mini-Melía. You are my wonderful, sweet, beautiful princess daughter."
"I love you so much, Bo-Bo." (Bo-Bo? Don't ask me.)
This kind of dance goes on throughout the day, from the first hello in the morning, to the final good-night in the evening. (And on to the five or six loving good-nights she manages after that, before we stop responding.)
But one day, in the midst of one of these syrupy sweet conversations, she asked,
"Daddy, what does 'love' mean?"
I know now that I answered way too quickly, considering that this may be the most important question in the universe. The fact that I don't even remember my answer shows how profanely hasty I was to field this holy inquiry.
But I must have said something like, "Love is sharing, and being nice and good to people, helping them, even when they are not nice to us." (Accurate, but so blasé. I should have spent days pondering it, like I'm still doing with the "When will God rest again?" question.)
What I do remember is her response: "Oh, that's fun!"
I buy that.
Is love easy? Rarely.
But when we manage to pull it off, is it fun? Absolutely, my mini-Melía.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Driving down the mountain toward Vacation Bible School one afternoon, Ashlyn asked,
"Is God resting today?"
"Wow. That's a great question, Ashie-love. Um, Jesus says in the Bible that God is always working--listening to us, helping us, taking care of us. God doesn't really get to rest. He works every day."
"But He did rest one day!" Ashlyn cried. She must have thought I'd forgotten.
It should be said that infant Ashlyn was our angel baby, because she actually did the only two things babies really need to do: eat and sleep. She is still rather adept at this pair of simple pleasures.
She relishes her grub with commentary worthy of the top foodie magazines (at least the ones read by preschoolers). The first time she ate kiwifuit, at age two-and-change, she said, "Yum! Kiwi tastes like canteloupe and grapes." (And it does. I'd never thought of it, but I couldn't beat that description now.)
And even though she precedes them with tormented screaming and insanity, Ashlyn is our one child who still does naps. We've long known known that her crescendo of ferocity is just the storm beform the calm. Just this week, she confessed to her appalled sisters, "I do like naps."
Ashlyn plays hard, eats well, sings loud, fights strong. And she rests.
Was she looking for divine company now on this late afernoon, Someone as passionate, alive, brilliant and busy as she, Who also knows when it's time to stop?
"Yes, Ashie, you are right. The Bible also says He rested for a whole day when he was done making everything."
Exonerated, but no more satisfied than I with the paradox in the air, she paused. "Daddy, when is He going to rest again?"
Delighted, I laughed aloud.
"Daddy! When is He going to rest again?" She was urgent now, demanding to be taken seriously. And I was taking her seriously. It was just such a beautiful question that my joy at being related to her and the depth to which she had stumped me only knew how to come out as a giddy giggle.
"I don't know, Ashlyn. I'm just laughing because that is a very good question. It is such a good question that I think I will think about it for many days before I try to answer it. That is one of the best and hardest questions I have ever heard in my whole life. I'm very proud of you for asking it."
When will God rest again?
When we stop screwing up? When life stops giving us owies? When the human experiment is finally over and we're living out its happy ending in Paradise? Or will keeping Paradise Paradise take more God-work than ever with us on board, like a parent trying to keep the house tidy with a herd of small children on the loose?
Lord, you're the God of rest. You know--the One with the easy yoke and light burden. The One who made it a rule for us to chill every seventh day. (Great idea, BTW.)
You're the God of rest. But when will you get any Yourself?
Ashlyn and I want to know.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Brielle was reprimanding me for my use of corporal punishment.
"You hit me!" she accused.
"No, I did not 'hit' you. I swatted you."
This is the term Rachelle and I settled on years ago for when we...uh...when we hit our children. The distinction is important, mind you, for several reasons.
1. Our swats are always open-handed. Hits, not necessarily.
2. Swats are dealt in cold blood, strategically. Hits tend to be crimes of passion.
3. While both are intended to manipulate behavior, the girls' hitting usually seeks selfish gain while ideally, we parents swat with disinterested, didactic motives. (I said "ideally.")
If that last one was the hardest for you to swallow, you've got five-year-old company. Brielle didn't buy it either.
I told her, "Hitting is when you want to hurt your sister because you're mad at her. Swatting is when I want to teach you because I love you."
"No, swats don't teach me ANYTHING! They only teach me to hit other people and be mean to them."
I don't recall how the rest of the dialog went. I only remember wondering if she'd been reading some anti-spanking parenting books--and wondering at what a point she had. When I swat, am I helping the child extinguish an antisocial behavior, or does she merely internalize my example of violence for dealing with others?
I don't know.
Pacifist though I am, I have not yet sworn off swats. I gave one to each of the twins just before kissing them goodnight in the wake of this lovely exchange between them:
"You aren't my friend."
"You aren't my friend."
"You aren't my stister."
"You aren't my stister." (sic)
I swatted and lectured both of them on what a special, precious gift they had in each other and how out of a hundred babies only one gets to have a twin and how they would be friends and sisters forever and how it was NOT okay to say such mean things. They cried pitiably for three minutes, their smarting skin either competing with my speech for their attention or underlining its urgency.
Then they buried me--and shortly thereafter each other--in hugs and kisses.
It was just the way a good spanking should go.
Little as I enjoy dishing it out, I think physical punishment is underrated. It has a primal zing that can shake us out of our false self to realize that moral failures actually cause pain, that ethical lapses lead to suffering. There is an immediacy, a relevance to a swat that talks and time-outs can't touch.
That said, the quote I heard came from an NPR source's commentary on the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on detainees in Guantánamo, and how they've been around for hundreds of years. One interviewee was convinced that the torture-like techniques have survived through time because they are so effective. A dissenter said this:
"These techniques have survived because it's easier to hit a person than outsmart them."
Underrated and inevitable though corporal punishment may be, and even though I swat, not hit, I'm here confessing that in disciplining my angel combatants, I've been caving too often to what is easy to do. The rod is as old as time and as natural as sneezing, and to a degree it works.
But thanks to this interview, I'm going to work harder than ever on doing less swatting--and more outsmarting.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
It didn't take excessive persuasion. But healthy girl that she is, she was helping me justify the purchase as we pulled out of the drive-through.
"Daddy, this strawberry shake is good for you--a little bit good for you."
"Well, yeah, it does have some good things in it, like protein, and calcium, and a little bit of vitamin C and fiber from the strawberries." (OK, so it is a VERY little bit of these latter--but part of the beauty of this shake truly is how many real frozen strawberries they blend in. You really must try one.)
"I know," she said.
She does, too. We often talk nutrients--and lack thereof.
"But it also has a lot of---"
"Sugar," Brielle finished my hackneyed critique for me. "Yeah." A wistful sigh.
"It has a lot of fat too," said I.
"A lot of people like to be skinny," mused Brielle.
A brief fear that our nutritional conversations had begun warping her body image poked its nose into my chest. "Yeah, they do, Brielle." I clung to matter-of-fact-ness.
She took the topic elsewhere, mercifully. "Pregnant ladies are fat and skinny."
"They're skinny on top and they're fat in the middle. Because they have a baby inside their tummy."
I breathed a couple gentle laughs.
"I wonder how God puts the baby inside their tummy." (So much for merciful topic changes.)
"You wonder what?" I asked, feeling suddenly desperate.
"I know God puts the baby in their tummy, but I wonder how He does that."
I considered going there, but decided quickly that I lacked the time and preparation to do so competently. (OK, and I lacked the guts too. But honestly, if holding a cell phone to one's ear is illegal while driving, shouldn't having "the talk" with a 5-year-old be too?)
"That's pretty crazy, huh? We'll have to go to the library and get a book about that."
So...any great book ideas, dear friends? Seriously.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I knew this was a good thing the first time I heard it, whatever she meant by it. At first I guessed she was saying that her love for me was greater than my love for myself.
True enough, I thought. Maybe her intuitive little heart had sensed my bent for self-loathing and wanted to tell me she saw a more lovable soul here than I saw in myself.
But only a few nights ago did I figure out what she was really trying to articulate.
"I love you more than you love me," Melia said.
I laughed and argued back, "You are very sweet, but I don't think so, because I love you soooo much!"
"I know, but I love you MORE than you love me." She was sticking to her guns.
And it cracked me up. "I don't know, my Melia...."
"Don't laugh, Daddy. I'm serious."
This only made me more giggly, but she was adamant now. "Don't laugh at me, Daddy! I'm serious!"
Finally, I shut up and let her love me.
Monday, April 13, 2009
If recent posts about Ashlyn's demonic outbursts have led anyone to believe she is anything less than an angel from God, please, do not be deceived. For 23 hours and some 19 minutes a day she is a dancing, shimmering dewdrop of heaven.
Just a tad messier.
Exhibit A. A couple nights ago we were fixing to bed the twins down when Ashie struck up this chorus: "I love you, Daddy! I love you all the colors of the rainbow." (A giggle here. She was serious about the message, I think, but still my silly Ashie, delighted at the funky factor of her metaphor.)
She spread her arms, looked me in the eye, and crooned, "I love you, and I want to paint you all the colors of the rainbow." (More giggles, although here she may have been speaking literally.)
I feel the love. It is wonderful. She is my Ashlyn angel, as always.
And, just in case, I am moving the markers up a shelf.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Getting ready for a day at Disneyland, such craziness earned her a two-ride timeout. While serving this timeout, I insisted she go potty now so she'd be ready to party on ride #3. It’s our Disneyland tradition to clear the bladder before the day begins. She insisted she did not need to go.
So committed was she to being right about this that she sat on the john and held it, refusing to pee lest it give me any fatherly sense of having been right. (And how loathsome that would be!) I told her she had to either pee or remain seated (as in “Permanecer sentados, por favor”) for five minutes, whichever came first.
She opted for none of the above, hopping off the pot and announcing, "I’m NOT going to go potty." I plopped her back on the can. She slid off. A few cycles of this, including one which baptized half of her dress, and I was nearly done.
I returned the seething princess to her throne once more, and told her she had to start her five minutes over again. I shut the stall door more solidly than necessary and then tried to appear cool as dudes entered and left the men’s room.
Somewhere around then, Ashlyn screamed, “You’re a stupid boy, Daddy!” and descended from the commode.
That was it.
I snatched her up and carried her out of the restroom fireman-style, flailing and shrieking (Ashlyn, not me—yet). I felt the toilet water soaking into the right shoulder of my shirt as we walked through Ariel’s Grotto, where wide-eyed children awaited the arrival of Ashlyn’s favorite princess. Up the stairs toward the exit I stomped, enjoying a pause in the screams as Ashlyn eyed the magical scene from her upside-down vantage point, intrigued or embarrassed or both.
Once out of princess view, she resumed her tirade with fresh vigor, screaming the four-year-old equivalent of profanities at me as we worked our way toward the park gate. If she didn’t love her Gweppy so much, I swear she’d have insulted my mother.
“We are leaving Disneyland, Ashlyn. Little girls who act like this cannot be in Disneyland. We are going to the car.”
Halfway out, I tried letting her walk, since my carrying seemed to be irking her more. She thanked me by sprinting away from me, crying, “Help! Help! Help!” I seriously wondered if I someone would confiscate the child from me. (At least I could hope....)
“Ashlyn, STOP!” I barked in my most business-meaning bass tone. Mercifully, she did.
I carried her the rest of the way to the tram, trying to sound like a responsible parent as we got our hands stamped on exit, explaining to Ashlyn our reason for leaving with feigned calm. She wiped the hand stamp off and kept screaming.
I remember saying, “Ashlyn, you are a good girl. But good girls can turn into bad girls. And I love you too much to let that happen. I will not let you turn into a bad girl. I will help you be the real Ashlyn, the good Ashlyn.” Who knows if she heard it. But I still mean it. That love and that fear coexist every day I see her like this.
She screamed on the tram ride, sitting as far away from me as I would let her. She ran from me again as we got off the tram, and I laid into her again about never EVER running away from Daddy. I sat her down on a planter at the base of the mammoth Disney parking garage, and growled warnings about swats and extended time-outs if she ran away again.
The wait was on.
I pulled out my phone and began this post while Ashlyn’s screams turned to fussing, which turned into sulking, which turned into silence.
The sun shone through scattered clouds.
Minutes later, Ashlyn was digging in the planter for roly-polies. She found one and brought it to me.
"Daddy, I found a roly-poly!"
“That’s cool, Ashlyn.” Those things are nasty, actually.
She dropped it. “Oh no! Daddy, please help me find my roly-poly!”
I dug it out of the dirt and was her hero. “Thank you, Daddy!”
We chilled there for awhile, bonding over bugs, talking as if neither of us had been monsters just 15 minutes before.
It was better than Disneyland.
Finally, I got back to the unfinished business. “Ashlyn, why aren’t we going on rides right now?”
“Oh…’cause…I’ll tell you why. ‘Cause…I’m playing with roly-polies.” (Duh, Daddy!)
She was right, of course.
I did review some other reasons for her fate of sow bugs over Space Mountain, lest she be overly happy about the whole punishment. The conversation worked its way through my hurt feelings at the mean words she’d said. She quickly apologized in a tone that was sincere enough to count, but also connoted some amount of “That was so half an hour ago, Daddy.”
We moved on to the fact that even after all this drama I still required that she sit on the potty for five minutes, or go pee pee, whichever came first. She went in happily and as I expected, drained cups of urine from her little bladder. I finished with a fatherly reminder of how much more fun we’d have had if she’d done that the first time I asked.
We grabbed a sandwich and met the rest of the happy throng back inside the park. She was kisses and hugs and I love you’s for the rest of the day.
And we lived happily ever after. Or, till the end of the day. Whichever came first.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Not that the terribles are even about being two. Brielle began hers around 18 months. Ashlyn's were at their nadir when she was three. Melía is mostly sweet, but at odd times over random issues, she draws her line in the sand and we all suffer needlessly.
The terribles are probably more about just being human. Pursuing the fantasy of independence. Trying to live out the myth that if we had it, we'd be happy. Sounding our angst over the torment of not being our own gods.
A couple of nights back Ashlyn was doing this expertly.
She talked a lot of trash, most of which transcended language (unless you can help me spell a prolonged shriek of rage). But the line that bounces around in my mind’s echo chamber was no more and no less than, “I don’t love you anymore.”
It was surreal hearing this from a four-year-old, let alone one throwing a two-year-old fit. Where does she get this stuff? How could such a little one take so skilled a stab at Achilles’ unsuspecting heart?
She missed, mind you. But not by much. If I had believed her, she would have had me.
“You don’t have to love me, Ashlyn. You just have to obey me,” I replied.
I believed my own words as little as I believed hers.
Indeed, she does not have to obey me. Endless options await her beyond the narrow path of Daddy’s will.
And don’t tell her this, but given the choice, I’d take love over obedience any day.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Melía had logged a lot of hours in church programs by Saturday evening, and for a girl who loves to interact so much that she won't even watch movies, she'd been extremely good about it.
But midway through the evening, she was cradled in my arms and ready to make conversation.
"Are you God?" she whispered.
"No, silly Melía. I am not God."
"You are like God. Did you make yourself?"
"No, God and my mommy and daddy made me." (So far when I 've said this, no one has asked, "How." Mercifully.)
She decided to have some more fun with this, saying, "You are God!"
"Silly sweet Melía, I am not God."
"Pretend you are God," she conceded.
I started to kiss her all over the cheeks and hair, saying, "I love you, Melía. I love you, Melía."
"No, pretend to be God," she said again.
"I am." I went back to my face-kissing.
"No, you're not," she giggled.
"Yes, I am. This is what God is doing right now. He's loving you."
It kind of blows my mind to consider that every child makes that request of her parent. Every baby looks to his father and mother to play that impossible role. "Pretend to be God," their hearts cry out.
I think I got it right in that moment, for once. It's harder of course, to play the part of God with fidelity when the girls are screaming and fighting and whining and hair-splitting.
Is it harder for God to play Himself at the times when we're doing the same? Or is mercy-triumphing-over-judgment the only role He knows?
God, give me grace to portray You with some semblance of accuracy. May Melía know by my example that whatever else You may be doing, above all else You're loving her.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
It is a well-established fact in our home that I, as father of three princesses, am a king.
So it shook me this week when Ashlyn, sprinting back in forth in front of the gym instead of walking to the car as requested by the king, sang, "You're not the boss of me! You're not the boss of me! You're not the boss of me!" And so on.
She was obviously just messing around with this choice phrase inherited from big sis, who had the great fortune to pick it up at school for handy and frequent use with both of her sisters. But never before had any of them had the audacity to say it to either of the ruling monarchs. (Never mind whether or not said monarchs have said it to each other.)
It was a playful caricature of defiance. (Which I kind of like as a name for the rock band my girls will doubtless found someday.) So I wasn't really mad.
But neither did I have the strength to leave it alone.
"Actually, Ashie-love, I am your boss. You're a princess, and I'm the king."
Without a beat of hesitation, she replied, "No. God is the King. And you are a prince."
OK, so she had me there.
I laughed, stumped for a moment, and scooped her up to plop her in her car seat. I'm actually still stumped, although I did eke out something lame about how God was King but He'd told me to be a good prince/king/boss to my three princesses. It was technically correct, but nowhere near as well-put as her line.
Sometimes the four-year-old argument is much more elegant than its 35-year-old rebuttal.
And sometimes, I need reminders that though my kids are under my command, in a larger sense, we're fellow subjects of the same King, brothers and sisters with the same Big Daddy.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Eleven days ago, my brother became a daddy. Lovely baby Jenna burst in on the world a few weeks early with so little labor that her mommy forgot to get her epidural. (Isn't that what happened, Kim?)
We got to see her when she was only hours old, and the three girls who used to be the "babies" of the family were STOKED.
There's something about that perfect tinyness that captures their imagination. After we'd adored my niece as long as new Mommy could take it, we made the reluctant retreat down the elevator and past the gift shop toward the chilling car.
Melía asked, "But baby Jenna is not going to be a kid today? Is she?"
"No, Melía. Not today."
It's going to go too fast, my newly daddified little brother. But thank God, not THAT fast.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
The other night, sitting around the little Tinkerbell dinner table, seated on her tiny Tinkerbell chair, my mini-Melía was singing. The song was simple--almost too simple to write about.
"I love Brielle! I love Ashlyn! I love Mommy! I love Daddy!"
But if that's not worth writing about, what is?
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Ashlyn: We're going to celebrate Valentime's Day! Are people going to come over to our house? We need everything Valentime's day!
(I think she thinks this is a majorly celebrated holiday like Christmas. We do celebrate, but to her chagrin, there are no pipers piping or pear-tree-perching partridges here on any sort of twelve days of Valentine's.)
Daddy: You know what we need on Valentine's Day, Ashie?
Daddy: (attacking her cheeks) Kisses and hugs!
Ashlyn: (with wriggling protest) No, we need other things...like sharing. And caring. And not fighting.
Blessing be upon whomever brainwashed this into her--even if it was the Care Bears. The kisses and hugs are nice, but this Valentine's day, what we need even more are the love gifts that my Ashie asked for--in this Bennie family, and in the human family.
So here's to having "everything Valentime's" that we need. Sharing, caring and peace to all of you!
Saturday, February 7, 2009
It snowed a ton last night. It was beautiful enough that after church, the girls violated their tradition of wailing in protest when our answer to, "Where are we going now?" is "Home."
(It's a happy home, really. Mostly. It's just that, not unlike their Mommy, they really like to go and do. And go and do some more.)
But "home" was an acceptable answer today, because there was half a foot of snow to come home to, the first since Christmas Day. It took an hour to track down the snow suits, get the mittens on, find Ashlyn's left boot, take them both off and put socks on, and get out in the fluffy white stuff.
We made a snow man, sat and dined on snow from the porch table, buried a doll inside the snow man to hide it from a bloodthirsty King Herod, and then buried the twins themselves. They stayed buried up to the neck until Ashlyn assured us that Herod was no longer a threat. "Jesus killed him," she said.
"No, Jesus did not kill Herod," I told her.
"Why?" asked Melía.
"That's not how Jesus rolls. He doesn't do the killing thing. He does the loving thing."
"Oh," said Melía.
Maybe it was connected or maybe it wasn't, but some time later, Ashlyn observed this:
"Jesus can see us, but we can't see him. That's magic."
"That's right, Ashie," I said.
"That's not magic," Brielle said. She is quite the demythologizer these days.
But magic or no, Ashlyn was on to something significant, I think. I find fault with myself or with God for my failure to see what I think my eyes of faith should. Maybe it's enough just to be seen.
When you tell my dad, "It's good to see you," he's going to tell you, "It's good to be seen." And he's right.
What if I settled down comfortably into the knowledge that whatever I see or don't see, God sees me? What if that paradox moved from my pile of annoyances to my temple of cherished mysteries?
What if it is magic?
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
She'd had pancakes sprinkled with chocolate chips for breakfast. And now she was laying into the continental breakfast the church had served up: hot chocolate and chocolate doughnuts. (Ever eager to contribute to a child's joy in the Lord--and to parents' prayer life--those church folk are.)
Both breakfasts had left her with chocolate on her delightfully round cheeks, which are tempting enough to chomp into even without such sweet frosting.
"You have chocolate cheeks, Ashie Lulu! I'm going to BITE those chocolate cheeks!" I growled with ferocity and opened my mouth like a lion.
"No, you're not." She regarded my gaping jaw placidly. "Because you love me."
Alas, she's right.
But love or no love, those Ashie-cheeks can be so dang tempting.....
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
This Saturday morning she was singing for no one in particular, there in the echo-friendly entryway of the house our friends were brave enough to share with us for a night.
The tune was epic in length, but spinning over the tile beside the staircase, she flung out this phrase that stuck to my heart:
"Jesus, help me to be a princess. Even though I already am...."
That's what I'm talking about.
Royalty by birth, with humility enough to ask for what she boldly knows is already hers. Guts enough to seek help being her truest, her princess self. Hunger for majesty, thirst for nobility.
And yet satisfied.
Monday, February 2, 2009
About three days a week, I run out of my office as the bell rings, hoping to beat my 3,000 students out of the parking lot so I can pick up Brielle before 3:00, when I have to start paying for after care. After I've hugged her, celebrated homeward-bound kindergarten artifacts, and talked her into sitting in her car seat, I pull out to the edge of the street and hope the sight of moving traffic scares her into buckling her car seat more than my nagging did.
On a good day, she reads me one of her little picture-guided books on the way and I get to hear about what she's learned, and maybe even a song.
At the twins' preschool, I take Brielle in and we wade through four-year-olds who've just woken from a nap. I find and squeeze Melía, who helps me find the hiding Ashlyn, who's dressed in some sort of costume. Melía joins Ashlyn in her hiding spot. I tickle them both till they come out. I goad Ashlyn to lose the dress-up gear.
It's snack time now. While waiting for them to eat, I collect artwork from one cubby, blankets and sweaters from another, peanut-butter-scented princess boxes from the lunch rack. And with any luck, two children.
With lots of luck, I emerge with all three.
We work our way down the hall, girls stopping to see what the babies are doing, reminisce about bygone days in younger classes, beg for ice from the ice machine. One gets out to the car, another decides she needs to go potty. They all get outside, and Daddy remembers he didn't sign them out. Back inside, another decides she's ready for a pitstop too. Daddy wonders what happened to his nap time.
It's usually a good 90 minutes between my quitting time and the delicious moment when all four of us are crammed into the battered green Accord.
To make things interesting today, between Brielle's kindergarten and the twins' preschool, I had to swing by Rachelle's work to snag a third carseat. Walking toward Mommy's building, Brielle eyed a set of temporary mobile home offices on a construction site.
"Are those choo-choo trains? Is this a train station?"
"No, but they do look kind of like trains. Those are mobile homes, Brielle. The call them 'mobile' because they are moveable. 'Mobile' comes from the same word as 'move.' Mobile, move, mobile, move. Auntie's house is a mobile home, but it is double-wide. See how skinny those mobile homes are? They are single wide. Do you know why they make them so skinny? That's so they can fit on the back of a truck and drive them on the roads to wherever they need them. Cool, huh?"
Brielle had listened politely to my lecture on manufactured housing nomenclature, etymology and transport. And she had one conclusion:
"I think this is a train station."
Monday, January 26, 2009
I picked up Brielle from school and she had this righteous shiner. It was on the same eye that attracted a log while sledding last January. This time she'd just been walking to music class when there was a sudden disagreement between her foot and the curb, and her right cheek ended up in the middle of it.
At the sight of the scraped bruise, I gave her the sympathy I genuinely felt, although she was pretty well over it. Once in the car, I decided she was big enough, humorous enough and over it enough to engage in her first round of the standard game I was raised with whenever we had a gnarly run-in with anything inanimate, in which said obstacle becomes the object of the parent's feigned concern. Let's call it, "Compassion for Cudgels."
Here's how my version of it went today:
"Brielle, that looks really ouchy. You must have hit that curb hard."
"It's a good thing your face is so strong. Is your face stronger than the cement? Did you break the cement?"
"No, Daddy, I didn't. The cement was stronger than my face. The cement broke my face."
Asked and answered.
And then, "Dude!" (I've never heard her say this before. I have officially imitated Crush from Finding Nemo for her one too many times.) "How do they make cement? I know they must use trucks to make it."
Yep, my little grommet is definitely over it.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
More likely the latter.
Or so I thought until tonight, when Brielle again renounced the characters to whom she has devoted hundreds of her hours--and our dollars. "Anyway," she said, her sigh dripping with nonchalance, "I hate all the fake princesses."
You'd think this would be a moment of triumph for me. The princess mania, with its focus on foofy adornment, aesthetic perfection and all things sappy, has been one of the few items on my Daddy-of-daughters gripe list. Just last night I was coveting the manly toys that my friends' sons were playing with, imagining how much more fun they must have playing trucks and tools with their little dudes than I have changing Disney doll dresses with my dudettes.
No more castles or balls or pumpkin-carriages or cheesy princes charming? That's what I'm talking about!
Or so you'd think I'd think.
But in a bizarre twist of fate, this morning's princess repudiation did not bring on the elbow-pumping, "YES!" it should have. Instead, I caught myself swallowing a lump in my throat.
Is this what it feels like to see her grow up too fast?
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Tuesday nights, I come home late. Melía knows this, and waits up for me. Every Tuesday.
This Tuesday, the moment I closed the front door, I heard her suck in her breath all the way down the hall. It's the same noise her mommy makes when something destructively messy is about to happen. Or when she's really excited.
I stepped into the hallway, tentative, knowing what I'd see, but pretending not to know. She was out of her bed--grounds for a time-out after she's been put down--and squatting in the hallway outside her door, wide-eyed and beaming like I'd just come home from Iraq or something.
I stalked her, trying in vain to open my eyes as wide and blue as hers, singing, "I'm gonna catch you, you better run. I'm gonna catch you, here I come" (as made famous on Noggin by Laurie Berkner).
Normally Melía RUNS from this. She loves to run, especially from Daddy. Most fun for both of us is the instant when I catch her, scoop her tiny frame up in my arms, and kiss her tummy.
But tonight, she just said,
I stalked closer in mock menace, wondering when the regular game would take hold. "I'm gonna catch you, you better run. I'm gonna catch you, here I come!" I sang, upping the intensity of my threat.
"That's OK," she said again, motionless. "Because I want you to."
Of course, my arms melted around her. I kissed her cheeks, her hair, and the bare forehead that now shines below her self-styled bangs. I put her back in her bed, and before I could say bedtime prayers, she told me once more. "It was OK that you catched me. Because I wanted you to."
Here's to daddyhood and daughters--to the chase, to the flight and to the times when more than anything else, she just wants to be caught.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
"Daddy, how do you pray in your heart?" Ashlyn asked.
There had been a lull in the bickering and fighting in the back seat of the Accord, partly brought on by Ashlyn being on time-out. (Yes, time-out CAN work in the car.) It had been just delightfully long enough for her to forget the fight and pose this question, seated there between her momentarily silent sisters.
"You just think about the things you want to say to God," I answered.
"I'm going to do that right now," she said.
"Cool," said I.
And she did. "I'm done doing that," she announced, half a minute later.
"What did you say in your heart to God?" I asked, ever the voyeur.
"I said, thank you for dying on the cross, and thank you for loving us, and thank you for all the stuff you give us. Amen."
"That's awesome, Ashlyn. I bet God was so happy to hear you say those things to Him in your heart."
"Yeah," she giggled, as shyly as Ashlyn does anything. "I can pray in my heart."
Brielle weighed in now. "I can't pray in my heart. But I can pray in my brain."
"Those are both good," I said.
Monday, January 19, 2009
I'd warned Brielle that the bath would be over if she fought with Ashlyn one more time.
I hated to do it. But I hate breaking promises even more. So I did.
I grabbed the soap, and washed her hastily. She wriggled and cried. Eager to get her out, I slapped shampoo on her hair and scrubbed it over her scalp and wet locks. It dripped into her eyes. She shook her head and screamed. And screamed.
This is what she screamed:
"You don't care about me! You don't care about me! You don't care about me!"
Except that, knowing how slow I am to get things (she has heard Mommy try to communicate with me), she helpfully repeated this something like a dozen times--for a total of three dozen.
There are two possible responses to this.
The one I normally advocate is an acknowledgment of the speaker's feelings, respecting the fact that her words reflect reality as she perceives it. One might paraphrase the child's feelings in order to validate her viewpoint and confirm that one has heard and understood her. Diplomacy.
Then there's the response I chose: "That is a lie, Brielle. And it is a mean lie. I care about you too much to let you fight your sister. I told you what would happen if you fought with Ashlyn again, and I care about you too much to tell you I'm going to do something and then not do it."
I don't know if I responded well or not. The words she spoke seemed so opposed to all that I'm about that I didn't have what it took to just leave it alone. Maybe my defensiveness made it all about me, which demonstrated her point.
But what haunts me more is the source of such talk. Really, where does she come up with this? Is she repeating what she's heard others say? If so, where has she heard this stuff? Movies? School? It's certainly not a game we play here at home.
And how much does she mean it? Is she really feeling uncared-for in this moment? Or is she already advanced enough in the way of the Guilt Jedi to be laying this on with strategic intent?
Is this just the primal cry of every heart when we've fought in the tub, the soap's in our eyes, and judgment has been passed against us? On even the best days, is it the cry of our worst fear?
Sunday, January 18, 2009
The rest of us were boarding the minivan for the quick run home from grandma's Friday night.
But not Ashlyn.
She had a song to sing. And with a song, a dance.
She wiggled her way around the Odyssey at least enough times for its gray walls to come a tumblin' down, singing,
"The BARE necessities. Don't forget your worries and your strike!"
Around the rear bumper she sped, half-running, half-boogying, throwing the full weight of her little chest into the emphasis on "BARE." Almost colliding with the front fender, the modified lyric from The Jungle Book came back like a Zen mantra, over and over with each lap around the vehicle. "The BEAR necessities. Don't forget your worries and your strike!"
Her literal wording may have upset Walt Disney's original message. But her performance--free of cares beyond the moment, true to life's essentials of song, dance, passion and childlike power--clearly captured what Baloo was trying to tell Mowgli.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Melía was going through the motions of bedding down last night--a prelude to her hour of requests, potty breaks, talking to self and to knocked-out twin sister, playing and patiently enduring the silence before sleep sneaks in and takes her away.
With no visible provocation, she announced:
"I love God and Satan."
I was disarmed, not sure what to say. I'm not sure now what I did say. Maybe I said, "You do?"
"Yeah," she said, pleased with herself. "I love Satan!" She giggled, aware of the scandal of these words, but sticking to her guns.
Knowing Melía's heart, I sensed this declaration--dark as it may have sounded from other lips--was worth celebrating. "That's good, Melía. Do you think God loves Satan too?"
"Yes!" said Melía.
"No, He doesn't," Ashlyn protested.
"Really? I think He does love Satan. Because Satan is His child, and even though he does bad things, God loves him anyway, just like He loves us when we do bad things," I said.
"Yeah!" said Melía.
"Everyone is His child," said Ashlyn.
Amen and amen to living in a universe run by Love big enough to encircle the old friend-turned-enemy who crucified Him.
And amen to living in a house with little hearts big enough to get it.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I wish I could remember how this conversation began. What Melía said captured me so much that I forgot what led to it. Or maybe I didn't really start listening soon enough.
Despite these fresh efforts to tune in to my children and meditate on their words, my listening still kicks in too little and too late.
We'd just pulled into the gym, this time with all three girls and car seats crammed into the back of the Accord. As always, none of the girls was in a rush to jump out.
For a change, neither was I.
Melía had asked me some kind of "Know what?" question, and I was having fun answering this rhetorical by guessing what she was going to say. I threw out a couple bits of random silliness and a couple serious attempts at intuiting what she was getting at.
I was having fun at my own game.
But that was enough, she decided, and told me so:
"No, Daddy. If you are telling me I cannot tell you."
Her reprimand reminded me to do what I already know to do. "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," as I teach my students, in the language of Stephen Covey's Habit 5. Stop operating on what you think people are going to say, and let them say it.
Shut up and listen.
Thanks for the reminder, Melía Grace. I'll try to do that--and sooner next time.
"...O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love."
(From the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi)
Monday, January 12, 2009
"I know what my favorite space picture is." She was giddy. I hadn't even begun to ask questions about the day. "It's called called 'Oh-Daven.' It's a group of stars."
"Yeah, Oh-Ryan. And inside it there's a giant black hole. Astronauts can see it." She couldn't talk fast enough now. "And God and Jesus are going to come out of it!" Her grin was about the size of the great hunter's belt. "And that's why it's my favorite!"
Not a bad reason to choose a space picture.
Maranatha, come Lord--by whatever path You choose, whatever time You know is best. (But sooner is definitely better.) And however, whenever that is, come now and restore my childlike excitement about how perfect that day will be.