Adventures in Fathering

Four out of five, because it’s impossible to get them all together…

When you take over as a full time parent, people always seem to have expectations for your success or failure. Dads are particularly singled out with these expectations, but not in the way one might think. From what I have experienced, the male of the species is expected to do a lot less.

I get compliments all the time about my kids. I suppose I could just chalk it up to how good they really are, and beautiful, and smart. But most of the compliments seem to be aimed at me. But I am only half of the reason they are how they are, if that. Would people compliment my wife like that? Would they compliment her if she had to wrestle all five of them through a church service? They tell me I’m doing so well bringing them week after week, would they do the same to her?

The double standard seems to assume men aren’t as capable of parenting as women. Fathers are inept creatures, barely able to juggle one child, let alone five.

Frankly the assertion makes me laugh. Yeah, my kids are a handful. They are constantly moving, vibrating really, and sometimes they make noise at inopportune times. They treat me like a jungle gym. They stand firm in “no” and make me drag them by the leg into certain places. But it isn’t hard. It’s exhausting sometimes to be sure, but not “hard”.

I love them. I love the challenges they bring. I love watching them make connections and grow and learn. I love that they force me to be strong and active. I love that they ask complex questions and make me think. If I was not actively involved in their lives I dare say I would atrophy.

I pity the men out there who don’t have kids, or at least act like they don’t. I pity the men who don’t know their kids well enough to know what discipline works for what kid (hint: they are individuals, every one is different). I pity the men who never engage with their kids, physically or mentally, for they will grow olds quickly without the exercise.

Most of all I feel a bit grumpy towards the men who fit the stereotype of inept and aloof. They are the reason for so many misplaced compliments towards men like me. They are the reason I will get five compliments to every one my wife gets. They are the reason my kids never get told how awesome they are, everyone is too busy being surprised by me.

Next time you see a lone father (or mother) with well behaved (mostly) kids, compliment all of them.

They’ll appreciate it.

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The Beautiful Life

“Expedition Happiness” Watch on Netflix. Or don’t.

Sometimes when I read blogs or watch documentaries all I can think is “How do these hipsters make it look so easy?”

I don’t know what kind of world these people live in, they are always young, always attractive, frequently childless, and always seem to have an endless stream of money. They seem more like fictional characters than real people. You have to wonder what they do for a living, are they ever stressed? Do they get bored? Do they fight? Where is the ugly in their life?

Sure, sometimes the bus breaks down, the visa gets denied, or the cake in the oven falls. But these people always seem to handle it with a smile. Or at the very least they look gorgeous while crying.

Well, that ain’t my life.

I get sick. Nothing productive happens for days at a stretch. My kids make giant messes, animals get into my trash, my trailer sometimes smells like something died in it.

People thrive on positive. We love comedy and run from tragedy. We live vicariously through these adventurers and beautiful hipsters. We don’t like our conventional lives, so we read about theirs and forget our problems for a bit.

But who’s to say your conventional life is ugly? Who’s to say you aren’t living a beautiful life, even if it isn’t quite the adventure these people seem to have? Life is a gift, even with its warts and wrinkles. Life is beautiful even with the sickness and the smells.

You don’t have to read blogs or watch fru-fru documentaries (both of which I do. Too much.) to enjoy a beautiful life. All you have to do is start enjoying yours.

Epiphany

Do you ever feel like you don’t know what you feel? Like you just have a blockage somewhere and you wish something could come along and clear out the pipes of your soul?

I don’t know if I have ever used the term “emotional constipation” on this site, but it is a phrase which occasionally pops into my brain. This constipation frequently occurs when I have nothing to worry about.

Anxiety is like fiber in that it really pushes all that emotional crap out into the world. It’s an extroverted emotion that wants to display itself and be the center of attention.

Peace on the other hand… Peace just likes to be. When I am at peace I tend to hole up and be insulated. I need no one to share with, no one to dump on. When life is stress free, nothing moves.

Stillness can be great, don’t get me wrong. But my natural inclinations are towards worry, so when nothing is moving I feel like a marble on a tabletop. I just roll wherever I am tilted.

This leads to conflict, I don’t know what I am feeling. Am I at peace? Am I secretly anxious? What should I be? Then I get meta-feelings about my feelings. Or non-feelings. Whichever happen to be occurring at the moment. Then I get all clogged up, not knowing which way to go.

How do I solve this blockage? Simple: stress. Writing, reading, sex, painting, singing, praying, a walk, running, weight lifting, forcing myself to do something intense, anything which puts a load on my body or my mind to the point where it just can’t hold anymore.

Some people need peace and quiet. I need a challenge.

Control Freaks

There is a cold that seeps in slowly, down to your bones. You may not even realize it’s there until you’re snapping at loved ones or unable to sleep. You won’t always see its full strength, sometimes you can keep it in check. Sometimes it will scare you with its intensity.

Anger takes many forms. Sometimes it is righteous, but more frequently it is not. Often times anger is just a sign that we are a little too concerned about the amount of control we have over our lives.

We are anxious creatures, always wanting to have everything in line. Certainly some people aren’t as concerned about having all their ducks in a row, but I dare say the vast majority of us like to have our routines and our schedules and our predictability.

I am one of those people. I operate best when I have a written schedule and predictable hours. This is however not the existence I have chosen. Nor has it been the life chosen for me.

I worked in wildland fire and now my wife works in wildland fire. This is not a predictable line of work at all. I now stay home with five children. Control over every minute detail is impossible with little ones. Many of not most days it seems Chaos is the supreme ruler of the house.

My three year old wiped my phone completely clean. Squeaky clean. Nothing that wasn’t in the cloud was saved. I lost it. I yelled so much. I couldn’t handle the fact that my life (and by extension my three year old) was not totally in my control.

My wife has been having some (completely normal) growing pains starting this new job. Money is tight (as usual). The truck struggles to get up the hill from town (duh, it’s a 35% grade). The van has a coolant leak (super slow). The trailer gets kinda messy (seven people in 200 sq ft).

There are many things for my anxious mind to latch onto. So many things to spin me into anger. I can’t seem to get anything together. One day I keep my cool, the next I’m bickering over some dirty dishes.

Our pre-marriage councillor was the first person to point out to me that I liked control. It had never occurred to me before. But man was he right, feeling out of control is the number one reason I spiral into an anxious and contentious mess. I tend to pick a lot of fights when I feel out of control, even with myself.

I think God has put me exactly where He wants me. He knows exactly the kind of crucible needed to make me trust Him, or die trying.

Knowing Who is ultimately in charge is not a fun lesson to learn. Especially when one is a control freak like me. I am a hard headed sinner indeed.

Tight Spaces

A trip to get internet…

When you live in a tiny space, you tend to know well your living partners.

Every cough, every fart, every bump into the wall. Every single time they go to the bathroom (where is that WD-40?). You hear all the quarrels, all the laughs, all the times they play a little too rough with the cat.

There is a certain level of intimacy that you simply don’t get in a sticks and bricks house. There are no rooms to lock yourself up in, nowhere for the kids to hide. You go outside for alone time, or you kick them out. Or you simply hide in the van. Or you get over it and accept that these are in fact your children and you will never escape them. Much of the time though, someone’s going outside.

You get creative in the marital department. It’s really not much different from when we were co-sleeping with toddlers and newborns. We have curtains and did I mention that van? We even have a tent if we need a “night out”.

Tight knit spaces seem to make for tight knit families, at least at the ages they are at. We’ll see how it goes in later years…

Seasons

This is my third season.

In fire, we describe a firefighter’s experience level in terms of “seasons”. A typical season is six months long and can be quite arduous. Sometimes the season is busy and physically demanding, sometimes it is slow and mentally exhausting. Sometimes it is a bit of both.

This is my third season as a stay at home dad. So far I find that parenting is a lot like that as well.

My first season began in Truth Or Consequences, NM. My wife handed me the keys to our truck and trailer and said “don’t destroy our house.” She went off to fire boot camp and left me to find a camping spot for five kids, two cats, a dog, and me. I never felt so free and optimistic. I was newly unemployed, and she had no job prospects, but I felt like we were finally headed in a good direction.

That first season we stayed with family in Virginia. She worked 60 hour weeks and I battled family disagreements, juggled school and play, and tried to keep seven people fed well. It had its problems, but for the most part it was easy. I felt like I accomplished something. I felt that I had it under at least some control.

Then came the second season. After a fire season in New Mexico, we returned to our home in Florida. I now had to worry about more than just a couple rooms and a trailer. I had an entire house to care for. I stumbled. I failed. I succeeded in some, I completely missed the mark in others.

It wasn’t completely the role reversal we were going for, and I almost wonder if that is part of where the struggles came from. I still worked. I still tried to take on more than I could. I let some things slide and over focused on others.

I didn’t even realize my failures.

Now I am in my third season, the beginning clearly marked by a new living space and a stable schedule. I have only 200 square feet to care for, not nearly the same distraction as 1800. I have been given an opportunity to make a good season.

This is going to require focus and determination, two things which don’t come to me easily. I intend to learn in a small space what I couldn’t in the impersonal space of extended family’s houses or the “large” overwhelming space of an entire house. This tiny space doesn’t require too much work, unlike the tiny people in it. They are going to be a main focus this time in a way they weren’t in previous seasons.

If I can’t handle this, I definitely can’t handle a “normal” living quarters.

Settling

Third time is the charm, right?

This is the third season we have done the “pull a trailer across the country and live in it for half the year” routine. One would think that this would mean a smooth move in.

Despite having quite a bit less stuff crammed in this year, we seem to have finally sorted out what comes and what stays (except cups. Completely forgot those.), settling in is not without its struggles. This trailer was not designed to be lived in, so storage for things like pots and pans, or for seven people’s worth of food is almost non-existent. Perhaps by the end of this season I will have my pantry sorted out.

And an odd thing happens every year. Those little people who didn’t take up much space take up more space. It seems the reduction in stuff has been offset by an increase in flesh. And noise.

If all of that wasn’t challenging enough, let’s add 9,000 ft to the equation. Last week at this time we were sitting at a 18 foot elevation, you could practically swim in the air. Up here just getting out of bed can make you breathe heavy. I know I’m not that old! This means headaches and irritability and the need for a nap halfway through the day. And that’s just the adults.

Shortness of breath is a terrible thing for anxiety by the way. It’s like a panic attack without the panic. Which in turn leads to a panic attack. That was fun.

The kids seem fine. They love it here, especially the snow, which for Florida kids is a complete novelty. Even in the cold, they spend most of the time outside, building forts and climbing things. This is great for us, because they sleep. Oh man, do they sleep out here.

If you ever want your kids to sleep, send them outside.

And take away their internet. You will notice a slow down in my posts these next few weeks. This is due to super spotty phone service on this side of the mountain. This is bad. And good. Bad for blogging, good for forcing one’s self to make the most of life. Especially kids. They could spend entire days sucked into a screen if you let them.

Which means they don’t sleep. And sleep is good…