Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer Adventures

Back from vacation, our summer adventures continue. This is where the Daddy Life earns his chops - a summer of long days and nothing on the schedule. File these ones under: things I should never forget.

Making pancakes on Mom's first day back at work.

Exploring our new love for tying knots.

Helping Dad with the splitting and stacking. 

Two big kids crammed into the bike trailer. 
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July in New York

We just completed a three week vacation across the country to visit the grandparents in New York. The flights were hard. I get little or no exercise. The children are sometimes intractable. But my takeaway this morning, after 6 hours sleep? I love this trip. And the kids love it too. What a great way to build our family memories and future adventures!

We split our time between Long Island, Baekeland Camp in the Adirondacks, and this year we added New Jersey to see Auntie Margaret and her new husband. We also slipped out to the Hamptons for a beautiful weekend with some of Linden's robust cousins. 

I rigged a sailboat one day and actually got up the nerve to sail! But generally, vacation does not afford the Daddy such luxuries. The kids take attention, and work, supervision, energy, etc. It's pretty similar to my job at home, except that Linden was around 24/7. And Ama is a huge help. We mostly just increased our family time together. 

The kids played together, of course. But they also found time away from each other, building relationships with family members and pursuing their own interests. Jude made a great friendship with his cousin Lukas while the two of them went off on a summer camp adventure. And Ada had a weekend alone with the grandparents!

I have a some final thoughts that prompted me to post. Before our trip, I could not predict how this vacation would play out. The kids have been scattered, dissatisfied, and a little difficult. I think I was surprised by their resiliency and bravery in the face of new challenges. Jude learned to dive from a diving board, paddle a canoe, make friends, conquer fears, and ride on a tube behind a boat. Ada learned to eat clams ("too tasty!"), swim on her own, ride in a boat, sleep in a hotel room, and make loon calls. 

We had fantastic weather, good fortune, and great food. I am happy to be home. But this year I did not allow my own restlessness get in the way of a good vacation. 
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Friday, June 8, 2012

An Open Letter to the Cooperative Preschool, or How I Killed the Chick

Greetings, all. The following is a long winded explanation of my recent failure with the preschool chick. 

I’ve spent the better part of four years now juggling the happiness of my small children. There are so many little joys along the way; those moments that light a child’s face and also light a fire in your own heart. These pieces of magic, this fire, these sparkling eyes; even these are not enough to keep a person happy and settled. There is a delicate balance of self, a personal division between the child and caregiver. It is a juggling act I have not mastered, only watched in amazement.

For this reason, my hat is off to the preschool moms that I watch every day, balancing the emotional lives of their children with rigors of everyday life. I think most of them even take showers before coming in. I have made this comment many times – I find working with other parents in our co-op setting very humbling, because they seem to remain such effective and focused people.  

I never consider what our life might be like without the Co-op Preschool. Not that I take it for granted, but it was a gut decision. The boy was six months old, and I thought to myself, “Maybe we should find someplace for him to GO and DO and BE around other kids?” I had tried the Parks and Rec, the Library groups, the Stay-at-home-Dad meetups, but I felt that my child needed something with more genuine interaction. And so, one February we went to the Co-op open house. Jude was six months old, and started when he turned one. I always say that we found Co-op, but the Co-op really found us.

But back to the reality at hand. We have had a lot of change in the Cornett household this year. We moved houses, the children are growing and changing, and our parenting is changing too. I’ve got to keep ahead of these guys. Last week at the Library a woman observed my children for awhile and then remarked to me in a stern voice, “Your children are really very smart. You’re going to need to challenge them.” It was a warning, not a compliment.

This is something else to love about our co-op preschool community. No one would ever say this to me. There is no measurement, or ridiculous pressure about kindergarten preparation. It is also true that no one would point out when one of my children is at one end of the bell curve for his tantrums, his rough play, or his reluctance to wash his hands. As one parent said to me, “It’s just not very Co-op.” I think it is in this setting that I have finally understood the word community. It means accepting everyone at exactly where they’re at. It’s like understanding that the world is a varied and diverse place.

My children do have a unique set of needs for their development. Linden and I study, and consider, and try new things to build confidence and growth for our little ones. Last winter we ran across an idea in a Positive Parenting book about building “an increased sense of significance.” I can’t tell you what changes this phrase has brought about. It turns out that much of Jude’s misbehavior can be circumvented by giving him opportunities to DO and BE things by himself. Put on his own clothes. Make his own breakfast. Plant his own seeds. And then the next and logical step is that he is interested in doing things for OTHERS. The kid is honestly very helpful. He sets the table, carries the laundry, chops the carrots. He is increasingly assisting in the care of his sister. When Ada’s two-year-old stubbornness begins to arise, I can always count on Jude to explain to her why she has to wear a jacket today.  

We don’t have any pets in our house, but this spring has begun the year of the chicken. Grandma has a nice place in Vancouver, Washington, and she has been considering chickens for some time now. Several forces have been converging to make this happen. And then the preschool got their eggs in the incubator. Marcia said they needed a home, and I thought they might be added to the yet-to-be-started  Grandma flock. Only three chicks hatched. We offered to take them.

Last month I began building a coop in Grandma’s backyard. I did some research, cleared some space, bought some materials, and got after it. I’m really not much of a carpenter, but I do like a good project. Construction gives me a sense of accomplishment, and so I began to build a first-rate chicken house. Grandma got her own small flock of 8 chicks, which were far too stinky to be kept in the living room so they were soon relegated to the garage with some lamps on them. Jude was in charge of counting them, several times a day. With Grandma’s eight and Co-op’s three, the total would be ELEVEN. “Dad, what’s eight plus three?” ELEVEN.  

I thought this would be one of the things that gave Jude and Ada a sense of importance. The chicks were coming HOME with us. We were going to bring them to Grandma’s house and watch them grow and feel that connection to our co-op community, the backyard chicken coop and the eggs on the table. My kids were excited. But then Riley’s family is moving to a house with an actual chicken coop, not one that I am building on Fridays. [ I worried about this, but only in the sense that my children would be disappointed. I should have been worried about the weak ones here. I should have been worried about the chicks.]  At any rate, I came up with a compromise; we would take ONE chick up to Grandma’s house. Riley could take the remaining TWO chicks home to his own house. Jude had only one requirement. He wanted THE ONE WITH THE SHARPEST CLAWS. Eight plus one is NINE.

Last Thursday was the Day of the Chick. It was also the day I came down with a raging 24-hour stomach flu that kept me up all night and calling for shift coverage in the morning. I dragged myself and the kids to school for Bike Day, and then crawled back home to sleep off the morning. I made sure to wake up in time to do a few small tasks of CHICK PREPARATION before returning to school for the kids. I found a box. I filled the bottom with newspaper and yard debris dirt. Then I went to the garage and pulled down my shop lights with aluminum reflectors. I fitted them with 100 watt bulbs to keep our little chick friend nice and warm. And then I went off to school. I might have had a mild fever. Chicken fever.

I felt a pang of guilt on the day that we removed this little chick from her sisters. I couldn’t get a hold of her, and one of the shift Dads had to do it for me. She CHEEPED loudly and nestled in to the little box for warmth. We got a little cup of chick food and put it in the box. She tried to flap up and out, but we covered her with Jude’s warm coat and loaded her into the car. Jude wanted to play on the grass, but I warned him that we had a RESPONSIBILITY to get the chick home, set up in the house where she would be WARM. He agreed, and we raced home, making chick sounds in the car, all four of us, and giggling.

Home to our new house, we found a spot for little chick in the living room. Let me say here that the plan was to keep our little chick for ONE NIGHT, and then deliver the chick to Grandma’s house first thing on Friday. Jude and Ada helped me prepare the spot. We found an extension cord and plugged in our lights, but the chick kept CHEEPING and JUMPING so we covered the box with various materials to keep her from running around the living room. I was concerned that she would be too cold, without the body heat from her chicken sisters. Eventually, we settled on covering the box, and lights, with a blanket. This was not my finest hour. Jude sat down in front of a show, and I packed Ada off to her room for a nap. I returned fifteen minutes later to check on the chick. There was no more CHEEP CHEEP CHEEP coming from the box.   

It was this moment that I realized something about parenting. It is not for cowards. When you start bringing home baby chicks, it means we’ve moved up from the minor leagues and into the big game. We’re talking about life and death now, with winners and losers, joys of victory and real tragedy. We’re talking about dreams lost and rebuilt, the buoyancy of life, and the thrill of the game. This is suddenly a very different level of play.

Jude was in the room, and wanted to see, so we both examined what remained of the chick. She was dead, and there was nothing to do but give her a short funeral in the backyard. Jude came out for this warily, but I dug the hole and we said nice things about her and how sorry that it didn’t work out and next time we’ll be more careful with little animals. We also made sure to point out that it was an accident, and all Dad’s fault, and that it was okay to be sad, and that we’d have to tell Grandma that we weren’t bringing her a chick after all. Eight plus zero equals eight. “Now can I go back to watching Wild Kratts, Dad?”

There is no question that I am having a hard time with this. There was something about the sudden and surprising death of this little creature that brings to mind the fragile and innocent lives of my own children. Every day I am charged with the health, hygiene, activity, and upbringing of the Jude Chicken and the Ada Chicken. Some days I feel woefully unprepared for this task.

It is with my deepest regrets that I report this story to you, my co-op community and friends. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic, or self-centered, or just silly. I know that you all respect and support me, and will probably not call me “Chicken-Killer”, at least to my face. The accidental death of one of the pre-school chicks [THE ONE WITH THE SHARPEST CLAWS] does not reflect on my parenting, or my commitment to our children, or our community. Writing this letter to all of you has given me some chance to deal with my own chicken guilt. Needless to say, I am very, very sorry about what happened. Please accept this ridiculously long letter as my sincere apology.

Let me just conclude with this. To those of you families with outgoing pre-schoolers – it has been an absolute pleasure to be parents with you in our cooperative setting. To our teachers, thank you thank you thank you for inspiring my children to learn new things about the world and themselves. And to the rest of you, it looks like you’re stuck with me for the next few years of cooperative parenting, child rearing, and animal husbandry. 

- Daddy Ben

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spring Showers, 2012 Edition

Alternative title: When It Rains, It Pours.
I have a bad habit of taking pictures of myself like this at weddings. Just thought I'd share my current self portrait. It seems like a fitting picture for this Daddy Life post - a bit of an update, rehash, but also a self examination of where I'm at this spring as the Life rolls every onward!

April Showers
It was a busy month. Sometimes living this Life means exotic travel to faraway places like the Jersey Shore and the Atlanta Airport. We took the kids on vacation to Florida to see their great-grandmother and learn to swim in her pool. Success on both fronts. Following this, Margaret and Rich had a fantastic wedding in the Garden State, and we did our job by getting no sleep and missing our children. A win win!  

What have I learned about my children this spring? I've struggled with this one thought that keeps pestering me. I love to take my kids out into the world and show them things. And they are happier staying home. This isn't always true, but I have learned to temper my ambitions for adventures and action. Children really are creatures of habit, right? How do I reconcile this?  By providing BOTH the routine and comfort of home with the spice and challenge of adventure. And then I have to remember something else. When everyone is crying, uncomfortable, fighting, whining, hungry, and willful, I MIGHT NOT BE HAVING A VERY GOOD TIME. But chances are, they won't remember it that way. 

I see my role as that of the shepherd. My job is to shepherd everyone along, give them food and clothes and opportunities for challenge, and expression, and building self-esteem, and becoming people. I do this for Linden, too, in a different way. I shepherd her along, a little less willingly (on my part), but I send her on her way with a few things she needs to keep the flock together. This is the essence of the Daddy Life. We don't all have to get everything we need, but we all have to have some of what we need. Or the whole thing falls apart. Ezekiel 25:17. I'm trying. I'm trying real hard here, Ringo.

Old House, New House
The new house off of Patton Road in SW Portland has been dubbed NEW HOUSE, by the kids. I don't think they remember much about OLD HOUSE, but it doesn't matter because we sold OLD HOUSE, aka FAIRVIEW to a nice young couple this month. Not a moment too soon. 

The kids are exploding to fill the space of New House, into the garden with watering cans, upstairs and downstairs, all over the driveway, and into the creek. They love it here, and I love it here. The weather turned to beautiful this week, and we throw open the doors and spill out into the outdoors. Two raccoons came with the house, and I can't tell if they are residents or just neighbors. The landscaping is blooming, the weeds are growing, the garden is sprouting, and I bought a lawnmower. Twenty years we'll be in this house. Nineteen and two thirds to go. 

  • My running continues, somewhere between not enough and too much. I've been training for a one mile race, which is TODAY. Wish me luck!  I'm hoping to run under 5 minutes. The real goal is to continue running without injury.
  • My weight is up, and the liquor cabinet is looking empty. These might be related, but I think it has more to do a lifestyle in which I am home all the time, therefore I cook large meals for my family, therefore I eat these meals several times a day. It's a glutton's dream come true. 
  • The New House has afforded many more opportunities for small house projects, and I have developed a new strategy for productivity. Fifteen minutes. Anything I can do in fifteen minutes is fair game, during the child-caring hours. Which usually means anytime during the day. You'd be surprised what happens when you chunk up a project into small pieces.
  • Chickens. The HOA in our new neighborhood specifically forbids poultry. But my mother is a lukewarm enthusiast of backyard chicken raising. It seems like forces are converging to make a small flock of chickens appear at her house on Salmon Creek sometime next month. So I've undertaken the  design and construction of a small coop for her. Any advice is much appreciated. 

Life Philosophy
I think I'm moving from a philosophy that valued peak experiences into something more serene. Does this just come with age? I seem to need less of the heights and troughs, and more of the daily joys that come along with living the Daddy Life. Lord knows there is enough drama around here. 

All the best to you, my three readers!  Keep on keeping it on! 

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Truth Comes Out

Jude: Mom, are you going to take a shower?

Mom: Yes, I have to take a shower before I go to work.

Jude: But Dad never takes showers!  He just sticks his head under the water for a minute so his hair isn't stupid.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Proof is in the Potty

Jude turned three-and-a-half last month, and it feels like a light switched on. It was right around the time of what I am hopefully going to call the LAST TANTRUM. The tantrum to end all tantrums. And let me tell you it was a snot-slinging, fist swinging, kid screaming doozy. Of course we were at a friend's party, and I carried him out howling. A very nice woman out walking her dog offered to called child protective services.
We had gotten a little lazy over here at the Daddy Life, and forgotten what was possible. And then, shortly after this last gasp of desperate unreasonableness, Jude was potty trained.

"Potty training" doesn't seem like the right term here. We just let him wear underwear on days he wasn't at school, and then reminded him to go. I think Nini probably started it over a weekend visit. He had one accident, and then that was it. We got him brand new underwear, of course, which he loved, of course, just like in the books we've been reading to him for the better part of TWO YEARS. But we never pushed it - that was our plan. Jude is a stubborn little guy, and he does things on his own time. 

But that is not all, oh no, that is not all.

I was frustrated by some of Jude's recent behavior, but also frustrated by my own parenting. It was starting to seem like I spent more time threatening and complaining than guiding and supporting.  This led me to pick up a book, Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen. I was reading it one day to Jude, mostly as a joke. "It says here that I should not be dressing my children after the age of 2," I reported. "It empowers them to greater feelings of significance." It dawned on me that I spend a good 10 minutes every morning trying to get clothes on this boy, but abruptly dismissed the thought.

The next day Jude announced that he would be putting on his own clothes. Pants, socks, shirt, jacket, everything. All in one day. And now the wardrobe changes are coming fast and furious. One night we had a party, and Jude changed clothes 5 times, to the amusement of our guests. I absolutely love it. A greater feeling of significance, indeed. 

So, tantrums, potty trained, and dressing himself, all in the last month. I'm starting to feel pretty good at my job around here - although, it sounds like Nini had a lot to do with it.

HOW TO POTTY TRAIN, an interview with Jude

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Liar Liar Pants on Fire

Amidst the chaos of a move, the dry bright days of a Portland January, and the constant negotiation of my toddler life, this task of parenting has gotten more complicated. I have been musing about this BIG IDEA for the past few days, so perhaps I will write about it.

We are living a toddler/daddy life at my house. By this I mean that the world my children experience is one that is constructed by me and my fatherly perspective on the world. I have recognized this as a unique thing, different from mothers and grandmas and the often feminized world of child rearing. Jude and Ada are being raised by their FATHER, for good or ill. There are values that I hope to foster, and I feel the weight of responsibility for demonstrating these values and passing them to my children. I'm obviously working in the dark here.

One of the simplest and most straightforward lessons to come up lately is about truth and lies.  TELL THE TRUTH, DON'T TELL A LIE seems like a no-brainer. The big problem here is that Jude lies all the time. And by extension, so does Ada. Jude will lie about having a dirty diaper, or how many cookies he ate off the counter, or whatever. I can still tell the difference, obviously. He might tell lies, but he's not very sneaky. Ada just lies because she likes to say NO a lot. "Ada, do you want another bite of yogurt?" NO. , and then BITE A YOGURT, PLEEEZE. She's a polite liar. 

But lying is wrong, right? Small lies can turn into big problems. (Believe me about this one.) In an effort to model this, I have taken an almost manic approach to telling my kids what is happening in their lives, even when they don't like it. I've noticed that my wife takes this same approach, though we've never discussed it. The theory is that maybe the truth will hurt, but its best to get the bad news over with.

Example. Maybe Ada is going to Grandma's house for a sleepover and Jude is staying home. This is NOT likely to be met with cheers and applause by Jude, who loves days at Nini's house. I could just keep this information to myself, maybe gloss over the details. I could cover up a bit, avoid the subject, feign ignorance, or any of the above. To me this seems like lying. And yet we do this in the adult world all the time. Enter the WHITE LIE, stage left. Isn't this a slippery slope? If I tell a lie to avoid the tantrum today, what will be waiting for me tomorrow?

I have little patience with a model of child-rearing that "protects" children and their fragile childhoods from the rigors and pitfalls of life. This is an unfortunate trend I find in the preschool set -  My children are obviously curious about the world, why would I conceal it from them? We would not tell lies about science or history, so why gloss over the fascinating details of human sociology? The highs and lows, joys and tragedy, isn't this the human experience?

Until now I have avoided raising my children within a religious framework. Am I really the moral compass for these children?  I want them to think for themselves and ask their own questions. What am I left with, classical philosophy? Plato and Aristotle are not going to cut it with my guys. If not me, then who? If not now, then when? How do I teach my kids that it's wrong to tell a lie?
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