This is good; this is bad

My birthday started out wonderfully. Dreamlike. A movie scene after the couple finally gets together and there’s a montage of scenes with the happy couple going on a variety of dates. Smiling and snuggling and laughing. But like every movie, this too must end. That afternoon my father-in-law was working on a remodel project and I helped him move a dresser upstairs. It took much longer than expected, and by the time we finished it was birthday party time. I rushed to tell everyone to leave where they were and meet at the restaurant. As I watch my father-in-law drive off, I turned the key in my Jeep, and it wouldn’t start.

Phone is dying. No one is answering their messages. Jeep won’t budge. I’m left alone to sulk in my broken ‘how much is this going to cost’ Jeep for almost an hour. By the time we made it to dinner, I wasn’t… delighted. I made a valiant effort to put on a good face.

I don’t even try to fix it till after Christmas on a bitter cold day with all four kids (two foster) in the house. Couple the guilt of leaving my wife to tend the flock with my having to get tools and parts back and forth across town. The sun goes down just as I get the new starter home. My shivering makes it difficult to get the cords connected and bolts in place with ease.

But, and it’s a big but (that’s a kid joke right there), we replaced the starter last year and the whole cost was covered under warranty. No $150 for a starter. Do-it-yourself free labor. 

I come back inside while she’s trying to get dinner ready, the house is still a mess from Christmas, and the kids have lost all sense of sanity. Nothing seems to be going right. So, what does one do to get a few happy endorphins to feel better? Turn to Facebook.

I try making a post complaining about the hard day, but be funny at the same time so people don’t think I’m just whining. There should be a word for this. Something similar to Vaguebooking or HumbleBrag. It’s wanting sympathy with a mixture of my passive aggressiveness and desire to be liked. Complainedy? Comedy complaining. FunnyFuss? HumbleGrumble? HumorMoan? I’ll get my people on it and have something soon.

Thing is, it takes me an hour to type up this simple post because someone cries or hits or screams or draws on the table. The moment it’s posted, my dad texts back about me successfully replacing the starter for free and says “Life is good!!!!!!!!!!” This is not how I currently feel or the words I used in my WittyPity post. But an hour ago Life Was Good for a brief second when the Jeep started up on the first try. But not the next minute when I walked in the house and kids were crying. But life was still good. Life was also bad.

Being stranded in a dead car on your birthday is bad. It’s OK to want sympathy. This is where a “helpful” person would say to you, “Well, there are people out there who don’t even have cars to break down.” I don’t really like this advice; it dismisses my pain in the moment and doesn’t get my car running either.

The starter was replaced under warranty (this is good). I’m on my back under the car in 20 degrees and no light (this is bad). The car starts (this is good). All the kids are upset and screaming (this is bad). Dinner’s ready (this is good). Kid throws dinner on the floor (this is bad). It’s bedtime (this is good). Bedtime takes an hour (this is bad).

It can be both. It can be both at the same time. I remember feeling relieved when I first understood the concept of the difference between joy and happiness. You can be a joyful person without being happy all the time. I can be sad and have underlying joy. I can have good and bad moments. Life is good AND life is difficult and hard and tiresome.

When a bad thing happens, it’s cathartic to call it what it is. Dismissing and ignoring can make it worse or cause you to bottle up emotions.

Husband advice: this is where your wife comes home and complains about a rough day and instead of trying to fix it, let them talk and then you say “that sounds like a really rough day. How ‘bout some ice cream?”

Never be afraid to call bad what it is. Never neglect to recognize good when it happens.

And be who others need you to be in their moment: Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Parenting is Hard

“Adulting is hard.”

No. Shut up. Parenting is hard. Adulting is nothing. Nothing, I say!

I’ve been an adult without kids AND without money, or any prospects. Still, it was nothing compared to this madhouse. I’ll concede adulting without kids can have it’s tense moments. We were living in Florida by the beach during most of that time – (it’s already sounding better). Did you have a bad day? Things not going great? Someone yelled at you at work? You can just…. leave. Just like that. “I need to get out. Let’s go to the beach.” And you go. Gone. Like a boss.

But now we’re parents. During our last vacation, we stayed at a VRBO house a few blocks from the shoreline. I had visions of using the bicycles provided and cruising down to the water whenever we felt like it. But where does the baby ride? Can one backpack hold all the sunscreen, snacks, diapers, hats, toys, towels? What if our daughter freaks out at the big street and refuses to cross? We managed to get in one short bike ride to a park by one of us driving there and the other riding a bike. Then swapping on the way back. Basically the same thing, right?

In our first years back in Nashville, there would be a random Tuesday night where my wife would say something like, “I’ve been wanting to go to the mall for a jacket.” Or whatever. And we’d go. Across town! With a strong probability that we’ll spend all this time and walk away with nothing besides a coffee. And it’s totally cool.

But now we’re parents. Last night at 7pm we debated whether we could make it to Walmart and back for a few school supplies, but quick enough for bedtime. And without losing our minds. It’s literally the closest store to our house, only a few minutes away. And we really don’t know if this is going to work out or not. (Especially challenging since we have two foster kids with us now. They’re not any worse, it’s just all the issues of one child – times four.) We go.

Obstacle 1: Sharing. We decide not to use the new handheld scanners because that’s asking for an argument on who gets to hold it. Result: success.

Obstacle 2: Right inside the door – Halloween costumes are out. I say, “If we have time, we’ll take a stroll through on our way out.” The children seem pleased with this compromise. Result: deferred.

Obstacle 3: Opinions on school supplies. It’s just a sticky notepad. We don’t need tears cause you wanted purple. So I take the older kids to walk around while she takes the baby and gets the list. Result: success (point deducted for baby whining when we all walked away).

Obstacle 4: Potty. OK. We’re all going. I don’t care if you don’t need to. Girls together. I take the boy. The stalls are occupied. And will be. No one’s moving. Like a standoff. There’s another restroom in the back of the store. Result: deferred.

Obstacle 5: Walking through the entire store. My plan is speed. If I walk fast enough (and they follow) we can avoid all the eye candy. Everything is eye candy. Everything is touchable. And we’re off! Weaving in and out of aisles and racks. Going off course to avoid having to stop at all. I can hear “Look at this!” sounds in the distance, but I will not be deterred. Result: success.

Obstacle 6: The family restroom lock doesn’t work. I choose to guard the door while sending the girls within eye-sight to the electronics section. Things like cameras and tablets are usually locked down, so we should be safe. Result: success (point deducted for not washing hands).

Obstacle 7: Confidence. This was probably my fault. We’ve been here for 20 minutes without a meltdown or argument, so our walk back to the front was much slower. I get back to the wife, and I’ve lost a kid. Eye candy! He got stuck in the toy aisle. Not far away and he already looked scared like he was in trouble. I’ll take it. Result: success (point deducted for losing a child).

Obstacle 8: Clear instructions. So as I promised, I’ll let them browse the costumes. I sent them ahead to kill time. But I didn’t clarify what the word “browse” does and doesn’t mean. We finish the school supplies and stroll back. By the time we make it, the boy has found a knight costume and he’s in full regalia, battle ax in hand. Result: fail.

We checkout and everyone gets a bag to carry. We make it to the car and home in a reasonable amount of time. All in all I’d give us a B+.

If it really was just parenting, that would be fine. You do homework, you play, you snack, you go to bed. But it’s doing homework while the baby is throwing his food he refuses to eat. Food he loved last week. It’s snack time, but they all want a different snack and I’m trying to sort through bills and remember to email the teacher. It’s playtime, but having to be referee and negotiator when “I called it first!” while prepping dinner. Or it’s bedtime and the baby is not sleepy and the other needs a drink of water, and has to use the bathroom, and didn’t get a hug, and had a bad dream. You haven’t been in there long enough to have a dream!

See, it’s not the parenting part alone, it’s household management. This should be a degree in college. Get an MHM Degree. Masters in Household Management. If this was actually a class, I might be interested. I admire the ones who seem to have this mastered.

BUT – and it’s a big BUT (a line they would laugh at) – the fact they would laugh makes it all worth it. It’s the giggles and sweet moments. The thank you’s that surprise you. The fact that parents remember being frustrated at the playground, but all the kids remember is it had a pirate ship and so they play pirates for the next three days.

Most parents needs validation from time to time that what you’re doing is hard. I catch myself trying to talk about my hard day to someone and it all sounds superficial and petty. “Really? You had to make cookies and do bath time after Wednesday night church? Wow. That must be so hard.” But it is! Stress is stress, whether you’re meeting a deadline at work or it’s the second dish to be broken this week.

My advice to myself: Take a breath. Keep perspective. Don’t make the little things into big things. Soak up the good times. Put everyone to bed happy, including yourself, and give yourself grace if tonight it didn’t happen. Remember your principles. Take time for yourself. Be thankful in all things.

It’s worth it. Parenting is hard. And you’re doing great.

Karma and the Law of Reciprocity

Karma, as we generally understand it, does not exist. How many times does it take to learn that it’s not going to happen? We’re tantrum-throwing children, stomping our feet screaming, “BUT?! I did good! Why is this happening to me?!”

It appears the stomach bug is making the rounds in our house. The baby had it on Sunday (all overnight of course), then my daughter on Thursday. Hers was actually overnight as well, but chose to go to the bathroom on her own, record the time, 1:30am & 4:15am, and let us know in the morning (have we raised the perfect kid?) Then my wife on Saturday.

I guess that leaves me….(dun dun duuuun!!)

Friday was a lovely day and she took the kids for a walk on the greenway, patting herself on the back for getting everyone some exercise and fresh air. Then the next day, barely able to sit up without getting dizzy, she jokes that this shouldn’t be happening cause she was trying to be healthy. And I totally get it. Instinctively you anticipate a reward for doing well. I suppose this is how we were raised: punished for poor choices, rewarded for good ones.

A couple weeks ago I had a similar reaction. School’s were still cancelled for snow. I made it into work early, got some stuff done, went to take my Big Brothers Big Sisters “Little” to lunch, ran into a guy I hadn’t seen in a while who was going through a tough situation and I hope I spoke some words of encouragement to him. On my way back, a car appeared to have broken down right in front of me and the guy was trying to push it across traffic into a gas station. I put my flashers on and helped him push it across. (You haven’t truly exercised till you have pushed a car).

This is where I beam with pride in my day’s accomplishments and wait for it to start raining money and candy from the sky.

I’m waiting…

Any moment now, I’ll get a surprise bonus.

Maybe they’ll call about that contest I entered.

I’ll settle for no traffic on the way home.

Still waiting…

Sadly, the rest of the night was pretty standard. Guess it could have been worse, like some kind of anti-Karma!

A couple years ago I had worked overtime a couple nights for a big project and had just wrapped up on a Saturday. I left to go unwind with friends at a restaurant. While taking the exit on a freshly drizzled off-ramp, I lost traction and flipped my truck. Um, dear Karma, you got it backwards. I worked hard and you forgot to reward me.

I do believe in natural consequences. Unfortunately, it seems negative consequences are more common than positive rewards.

Something inside us thinks that the world somehow owes us for doing a good deed. It’s only fair that I should be treated as well as I have done.

The Law of Reciprocity “basically says that when someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return.” Maybe “Law” is too strong of a word. If it were a Law, I suppose when I helped the guy push his car over I could’ve waited around for a little tip in return. But maybe it inspired him to do something nice later on that day. Maybe.

I typically feel great when someone does something nice for me. But not always. A compliment could make me feel awkward and shy. Someone paying for my meal could leave me feeling cheap or lower on the totem pole. I remember on a chorus trip, our director stopped the bus to ask a guy on the side of the road for directions. He insisted on showing his appreciation with a little cash, the guy tried to refuse and quite frankly appeared insulted by the offer.

So the cosmos doesn’t automatically reward us for positive actions. And people won’t necessarily return our good deed with one of equal or greater value. So why keep fighting the good fight?

You may still get a reward, just in a different form. Contentment. Satisfaction. A clear conscience.

This is how the golden rule got its gold.

Not: Do to others so that they will do the same to you

Not: Do to others as they have done to you

Do to others… whether or not they do, even if they don’t, even if they don’t deserve it, as if what they do doesn’t even matter… Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Whether you are rewarded is not the point. Whether you have been treated well thus far is not the point. Your goal is to be kind, be generous, be loving, regardless. This is true selflessness. It is not about you, it’s about how you are to others.

 

Relive or Move Forward

For a number of years, I have been posting the same Facebook status on February 2nd. It’s a quote:

When Chekhov saw the long winter he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among you and basking in the warmth of your hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.

Then I post it again on Feb 3rd. Then again on Feb 4th. And so on until it’s not funny anymore.

If you haven’t caught on, it’s a quote from the movie Groundhog Day posted on Groundhog Day. The movie is about a guy who’s stuck reliving the same day over and over again. So, see what I did there?… with the Facebook status…?  It’s hilarious, just trust me.

It begs the question about what would it be like to relive the same day over again? Maybe more specifically, if I could choose to relive the same day over, would I, and why? It an interesting mental exercise that’s given me a few ideas to munch on:


I’m not sure I’d want to relive a day

Feb 2nd this year wasn’t necessarily the best day. I was very busy, especially the pressure of making sure I posted my annual Facebook status (whew!). We had a big project roll out at work. I had a chamber lunch I was in charge of leading. BBBS gave us tickets to a Predators hockey game, so went with my “Little” but missed out on going home. The severe storms coming through didn’t help. Then the baby had a rough night sleeping.

If I were to be given the opportunity to go back and relive that day, I don’t think I would take it. It was fine; it wasn’t disastrous. But there’s nothing that I feel compelled to go back and fix. Nothing worth experiencing again.

Happenstance

My dad isn’t necessarily known for wise proverbs, but one frequent phrase I remember more than any is, “that’s life.” Maybe it was more like, “well (chuckle)… that’s life, son.” As annoying as it is to hear when you’re a teenager, unfortunately, there’s wisdom in those two words. Life is going to happen whether you like it or not. If you attempted to relive a day, mishaps you didn’t anticipate might occur, and they probably will because… that’s life.

As fun as it is to think that you could go back and re-do a day better, who’s to say that you won’t stub your toe getting out of bed this time around? Then that stupid toe is driving you crazy, hijacking your ability to perfect your former actions. (I specifically use ‘stub your toe’ in honor of my wife who… how should I say this?… has poor pedal extremity spatial awareness.)

It’s never as good the second time around

You know when you get this delicious, juicy, perfectly grilled bacon cheeseburger, and it’s so good you go get a second one. We’ve all done this, right? And the first bite of the second one is great, but by the time you finish, you feel miserable (but still a happy miserable.) It’s rarely as good the second time around.

The restaurant that was good, but now you’re sick of. The movie that was hilarious the first time, and moderately pleasant the second. Most things have an expiration date, or at least, limitations on the number of uses.

You don’t know the alternative outcomes

If I had to pick an event to relive, it may be when I attempted to give my now-wife our first kiss. I’ll spare you the details unless you want to know, but it could’ve gone better. BUT WHO KNOWS?! It was early in our relationship, maybe going back to try again would throw off the line of events to follow, i.e. the Butterfly Effect. Many great stories are told emphasizing the strange path that took them to an unforeseen but positive conclusion. Maybe it would be better, maybe it wouldn’t. Even in the worst possible scenario that you’d like to go back and change, you could feasibly come up with an outcome that would be even worse (as horrible as that might be.)

So on that high note…


Stop looking back

Of course, this concept is all fantasy. The past is going to stay right where it is and nothing can change it. Looking back and worrying about what happened is worthless. A small amount of time to evaluate mistakes can be helpful, but dwelling on it is ill-advised and wasteful.

Make it right

Some of my best consumer experiences have been when someone took a bad situation and went above-and-beyond to make up for it. If yesterday was bad, you have the opportunity to not only overcome, but capitalize on a chance to turn it around.

If you really screwed up, don’t let foolish pride get the best of you. There is a certain wholeness that can only be found through an apology.

Don’t leave it to chance

Few of us realize how much power we hold to make an impact. We have the capacity to make a difference in our own lives and the lives of those around us. Allowing days to pass us by without appreciating this ability is pure waste. Forget yesterday and take advantage of the clean slate in front of you.

Moving Forward

Life is not a pencil where you can erase your mistakes or a computer where you can go back and edit. It’s more like a pen. When you write, if you mess up, there’s nothing you can do about it. But you keep on writing because the story isn’t finished yet. And the best stories are full of ups and downs. Learn from mistakes; cherish awesome days.

Mercies are new every morning.

Dad Revelations: Grace

The floors of our house were thin ice for a while. Our daughter has been getting upset easily – she’ll go from 0 to 100 in a second. Mostly just typical kid tantrums. I’ve been less patient. Once in a blue moon will I have such a bad day that I take it home with me. Those days have been happening more frequently. My wife has a lot on her plate and it’s usually the external forces that will set her off: hunger, stress, lack of sleep. When you have a baby, those things seem to pile up.

In times like these, your first instinct is not to think it’s all just you and the mood you’re in. The first thing is you blaming them for how they’re acting. I give my daughter no wiggle room. If she doesn’t do it the first time, then she’s being deliberately disobedient. If my wife is bothered by anything, then I’m annoyed that she’s annoyed. I blame her; she blames me…

and that’s how the fight began. Just kidding. Kinda.

Then later through a Facebook conversation I realized that I have a double standard with my family. My wife casually made a self-deprecating comment, “no one mistakes me for being a perfectionist.” All in good fun, but I took offense to the idea that someone else would be critical of her.

Compare that to all the times, the day before even, where I’m personally critical of her. Typically it comes across as me having expectations of her that she doesn’t meet. I set the bar high. In my subconscious I expect her to be happy, fed, productive, helpful, etc. The same goes for my daughter: polite, well-behaved, focused. Humans just don’t work like that.

I have no idea what they went through today. You’ve had those days that a snide look, a snarky comment, or a long meeting just sets you off? Well, how many times did my wife lose sleep for a crying baby? How many times did she get taken off track today cause he was fussy? There are the postpartum issues that make a mother feel inadequate, judged, or an all out failure. Can I even put myself in the shoes of my daughter who has seen a change in neighborhoods, schools, churches, friends and now a new brother? I diminish her feelings of loss and use the old-school “get over it” technique.

Still I have busy schedules, work drama, or car issues that I carry home and expect them to understand my dilemma. Why can’t they just give me a little grace?

Why can’t I see that all they need is a little grace?

Truth is this blog has taken me over a month to finish because every time I want to publish it we’ve had another dramatic episode. And if I wrote it with this polished solution, I’d feel like a hypocrite knowing that I haven’t perfected it yet. But hey, could you give me a little grace? No one’s perfect, right?

I can’t help but think of God’s grace for us. We have no right to stand in His presence, yet grace covers us. In fact, we expect it of Him. I’m OK cause I know “His grace reaches me.” Jesus came to display it in action. Time and time again showing grace to those who least ‘deserved’ it (note: you won’t ever deserve it, that’s why it’s grace).

So here He is: our model, our example, our blueprint. Take a second to compare the unwarranted grace you’ve been given and try, just try to do the same.

Rewritten: I need to take a second to compare the grace I’ve been given and try to do the same.

“But I’m right, and they’re wrong.”

“But I’m not being understood.”

“But they’re being critical.”

“But they’re disobedient.”

“But they started it.”

Yeah. So? Wouldn’t you want grace extended to you? You think they should because you know exactly what you’ve gone through. The bad day you’ve had. But they’re not going to understand, even if you try to explain it. In that case, show them grace. Don’t expect it. It’s vital from both directions.

Grace shouldn’t be given only when it feels justified. It’s an unwarranted, unexpected, unselfish gift.