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I came home from work the other day to an empty house. My wife was at work and the kids were with friends until later in the evening. I walked in to a house devoid of the commotion, chaos, and calling out for something to drink, or eat, or to help tie a shoe that typically echoes through the living room. There was peace and there was quiet, which was nice, but something was missing.
As a dad of two girls, my house and my immediate vicinity usually sound like the front row at Maple Grove Raceway if they were racing Airbuses on vuvuzela night. There is a constant din to parenting that is almost impossible to escape. It is the roar of the banging, clanging, crying, whining, thumping, bumping, belching, and crashing our kids can create that wasn’t there when I walked in to the house.
Besides instructing our kids about the basic fundamentals of getting through the day without eating things off of the floor and why coloring the dog with permanent markers is not allowed, parents have the unenviable task of entertaining our children. In spite of the massive collection of toys in our house, parents are called on to be domestic social directors. From sun up until sun down, we do our very best to make sure the docket is full of meaningful activities for our kids to be a part of outside of banging on pots and pans and watching the Dora DVD for an 67th time. We do our best to fill the days scheduling play dates, soccer practice, t-ball, and karate, trips to the library, and planning vacations. Our kids’ calendars are filled to make sure they have the “proper” mental stimulation their developing minds apparently crave according to talk show hosts and celebrity authors.
But sometimes your library card goes missing (probably hidden by the tiny person tugging at your jeans) and a rainy day has canceled practice. It’s those times, when your child looks up at you with those eyes that say ‘Ok, now what Dad’; you need to rely on your ability to improvise.
The night before my youngest daughter was to sit in front of a priest to divulge all of her sinful ways to ask for forgiveness for her first Penance, I sat down with her to practice the Act of Contrition. The Act is a part of the seven Sacraments both of my daughters are learning in church. It’s the script, which if said correctly, helps to wash away any transgressions of the canonical 10 Commandments of God (or any other of the 335 Commandments parents tend to keep and add on to).
The Act of Contrition starts out with, “Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…” It then moves in to loving God, asking for his forgiveness, saying ‘Amen’ and then waiting for the priest to make with the absolution. It is vital, according to her teacher, she know the Act word for word which is why, I knew we needed the practice after Emma began with, “Oh my God I’m hardly sorry for having off-end-den thou”. The last thing I wanted was to have my daughter sit in with the priest and not know the words that would help release off of her conscience, the sin of fighting with her sister (Parent Commandment #21).
Time has a way of catching up to us.
And not only does it catch up but it flies right past us. One minute we’re young, able to function on less than 3 hours of sleep after drinking for 12 hours straight and the next we can’t get out of bed after 8 hours of sleep without wincing at the pain shooting from our backs. That full head of hair is replaced by a scalp that looks like the top of a globe. Vibrancy, flexibility, and a thirst for adventure all take a back seat to your knees cracking any time you bend them and doing whatever you can to pencil a mid-afternoon nap in to your day.
The other weekend, my wife and I went out with friends of ours for a night on the town. Unlike our typical dinner out and home in time to fall asleep watching Saturday Night Live, we were going to bar hop, drink too much, and stay out later than normal. By the second bar, I had seen more neck tattoos than on a marathon of Miami Ink, my beer was lukewarm, I was tired, and ready to go home.
The flames of youth I thought I could reignite with an alcohol accelerant and the spark of local bars never happened. I realized I am much better suited to a decaffeinated coffeehouse. It was clear, that youthful portion of my life had passed me by.
But that’s life. While I’m prone to delusions of grandeur and irrationality, even I have accepted certain aspects of my life are finished and best left to the past or nostalgic conversations. I have accepted, my current state will eventually end as well and I’ll enter in to whatever the next stage of life is (I’m praying it doesn’t involve yelling at kids who walk on my front lawn quite yet). I’ve come to grips with being bald, wearing a knee brace for even meaningless physical activity, and the pains of waking up in the morning. I’ve reached a point of recognition that all of the moments in our lives are brief. These moments are not sustained by longevity which is why, given the opportunity; we tend to wax rhapsodic about them long after they have passed us by as a way to remember.
“Emma, would you please put on some clothing.”
This phrase is uttered by me usually three or four times a day. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me when the 7 year old feels the need to come down the steps before her shower, completely in the buff, to tell me about something that happened in school 6 hours prior, although why I bought her a bathrobe puzzles me.
I know why she is standing on the bottom step with her hands on her naked hips in semi-model pose. My kids are not shy about their bodies. For the first fifteen minutes before a shower, one look up my steps will garner you candid access to a burlesque show headlined by a 10 and 7 year old who are laughing, shaking their rear ends, jumping off of my bed, and commenting to each other how good they look in the nude.
Last year, I sat down with my kids to write some new lyrics to the 12 Days of Christmas. The lyrics, originally written down around 1780 in England don’t quite stand up to the test of time. If you don’t believe me, find me 8 Maids a Milking and I will gladly concede the point.
Plus, I don’t have time; in the midst of the holiday season, to try and explain the difference between a French Hen and an American Hen. It is an endeavor I’d rather not undertake (rumor has it, the French Hen was too scared to lay any eggs…ZING!).
So once again, I pried my kids away from their iPods, the TV, their music, and fighting with each other (my 10 year old assured me that she and her sister were able to pay attention to all of their electronic stimulants when I asked her to turn at least one of them off) to sit down with their Dad to once again rewrite the 12 Days of Christmas.
Last year we had turkeys sweating, people drinking, and muffins. I wanted to see if another year older would add a little more perspective about the holidays and change the silliness of the answers. As you’ll see…not so much.
I don’t pray. I used to but that was a long time ago and was typically for selfish reasons. Passing a test, not letting my Mom find out I did something wrong. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I sat on the edge of my bed with my hands folded in prayer. I find it to be a useless endeavor. As this world so horribly points out, despite mass praying every day, death, disease, despair, corruption, famine, suffering, and the Kardashians are still with us despite how much any of us pray.
Instead, I let events and situations fall where they may. I put my faith not in to an invisible omnipotent deity rather I put it in to science, facts, proof, and that we will eventually figure out we don’t care about celebrity reality shows.
Nothing is too early for my kids. They could go to bed after midnight and be up at the crack of dawn. If I made them lunch at 9:30 in the morning, it wouldn’t be early enough. It is never too early for candy or to go to Grandmom’s house, or to ask me for a soda.
While I begrudgingly wake up with them (by ‘begrudgingly’, I mean they jumped directly on to my midsection with knees and elbows prone for attack) and if they are on their games, I’ll make them lunch before 11am, in my eyes, most things my kids do is much too early.
Case in point, the other night.
It was Wednesday, I was off, and the kids and I were eating the mish-mash of leftovers I cobbled together from the refrigerator for dinner. Wednesday nights are my chance for me to talk to my kids. The TV is off, I don’t answer the phone, and we eat microwave heated food and we talk.
I come from a long male lineage of ‘Do It Yourselfer’s’. The men in my family were (and are) apt to spend an entire day, risk major blood loss, and use words that would make a mechanic blush trying to do something rather than make a phone call and pay the skilled professional for 30 minutes of his time. Learning these time honored traditions of rotary sawing, pipe tightening, and rewiring has become a rite of passage for us. Instead of being handed a spear and being told to go kill a lion, you got handed a socket wrench and were told to take the head off of the flat head V6 in the garage that hadn’t run since Carter was in office.
As a kid, I stood in silent awe of my father’s aptitude for being able to fix things. The man didn’t know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without my mom’s help but if the washing machine needed a new belt for the motor, he could have it torn apart in a matter of minutes. If our car needed a new carburetor, if the downspout was down, if there were a leak needing to be contained, my Dad was your man.
I found out he learned much of his domestic mechanical engineering prowess from my grandfather. My grandfather was a mechanic by trade but moonlighted on Saturday and Sunday afternoons as a general contractor for his family. My Dad would stand behind my grandfather, staring over his shoulder, watching and learning how the red wire meant the wire you didn’t want to touch (why they didn’t turn the electric off first I have no idea). It was apparent that all of these lessons my Dad learned from my grandfather were best taught by my Dad looking over my grandfather’s shoulder.
A friend of mine and fellow blogger, Abby Green at Abby Off The Record wrote a post about the rules she never thought she would ever have to make as a mom to enforce with her two boys, “Rules I Can’t Believe I Had to Make”. I urge you to go read her stuff. It’s good. Really good.
What Abby got me thinking about were the rules I’ve had to make for my two girls. Are there different rules for girls? What rules have I had to make? Not surprisingly, I thought of a few. Big thanks to Abby for letting me “borrow” her idea for my own post.
Before my mom left my house and my wife and I alone with our newborn baby for the first time, she left me with this, “Remember, as long as she is fed, clean, and loved, she (and you) will be fine”
A simple rule for new parents scared out of our minds that we might break our daughter like she was a DVD player. I took and used my mom’s rule and for the first few months of my daughter’s life, it worked like a charm. Then something happened. My daughter began walking, talking, and finding things other than her feet or looking at herself in the mirror interesting. In the blink of an eye, the rule my mom so succinctly imparted on her way out of the house only a few months ago, didn’t mean squat. Feeding them, keeping them clean, and loving them still were important but so was keeping her from eating CD cases and walking down the cellar steps by herself. I needed a new set of rules.
The prerequisite ‘keep them safe’ rules came in to play of course. Don’t eat *fill in the blank*, Don’t touch *fill in the blank*, Don’t run with *fill in the blank*, Stay out of the *fill in the blank* were all instituted by the time daughter number 2 came. But before her and now well after, there have been a cavalcade of rules I found myself implementing. Some of them universal to all kids and some of them quite gender specific. Some of them I have made out of necessity and others were created by virtue of having two small girls running around my house.