Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

“I’m so humble, it’s crazy. I’m like the Kanye West of humility.” – @AnnaKendrick47 tweet 4 Nov 2014

My wallet is more Hoarders than Mise-en-place, full of just as many memories as items of practical use. Among the bank and insurance cards, there is a note from my son scrawled in blue marker that reads (with an inverse P) “Sheq I ♥ You” and a mini-letter that my Mom snuck into my belongings when I first went off to college, always good for getting choked up, “I love you more than words can tell. My oldest son who was once so shy that he wouldn’t leave my side. You have grown up and become a fine young man. Thank you for being you! I’m proud to call you my son”. Others can have their streamlined wallets and flat pockets, but I prefer the Oompa Loompa look if it allows me to carry precious people with me wherever I go.

But also buried in my wallet is a token of a different type. A grayed parking garage ticket from the Woodland Hills Cheesecake Factory stamped 9/27/03 PAID: $5.00, overlaid in bold faced red crayon print, a loud reminder from my past self that “I AM AN IDIOT!!” I AM AN IDIOT!!

We were in the valley that evening to celebrate our good friend Wednesday’s birthday. Jaime and I were just six months away from being engaged, but you never would have known it judging from my behavior and her justified disgust. I am not the most self-aware guy even now, but over a decade ago I was certainly blind to the sheer intensity of my own faults. We had gotten into an argument of some sort walking back to the car, flustering me greatly. As a result upon getting into the car I was unable to locate the parking ticket provided to pay the attendant. There was a sign up that noted loss of a ticket would result in paying the maximum garage price, and as we were in L.A., this was an unreasonable sum for borrowing some concrete real estate for a couple hours.

So I did what any hot-headed, arrogant, complete jerk would do. I quite naturally assumed, genuinely believed and was outrageously adamant that this was NOT my fault. Clearly, the parking garage attendant had neglected to give me a ticket. I stormed over to the poor fellow who appeared to be a immigrant from either the Indian subcontinent or Asia-Pacific, but I couldn’t tell you definitively because I was clearly not preoccupied in any way with this gentleman’s humanity. I absurdly bullied this man with a lie I believed and did not relent until my parking had been validated, though my version of events had not. I found the actual ticket in my car later that evening much to my dismay.

What had I done? What kind of man treats another human being that way? How could I expect to be in a relationship with this woman I loved when I could not look past myself to listen to her advice? Advice which had been loud and clear in both speech and body language in that garage.

I could not. So I wrote myself a note on the fabricated ticket I paid $5 and took someone’s dignity for and decided to carry it around for the many times I need to be reminded of my great tendency to get in my own way, despite the best intentions of those around me willing to help. This week was one of those times.

You would think, especially seeing as I officially lost the first 17 disputes of our marriage as confirmed by Google and phone-a-friend tactics, that I would have wised up to the reality that not only is my beautiful wife a good-willed person, but she is most often right. Both first-born siblings, she was the first to regularly call me out on the use of what she deemed “big brother facts”, the times when elder siblings use their aged status as pretext for fabricating all manner of knowledge in order to increase or maintain status over younger siblings. She would have none of my confidently asserted falsehoods, for she too had played that hand.

But approaching 10 ½ years of marriage, I still can act quite the fool, as evidenced at least three times just this week:

Sunday evening – Against All Odds: Wham! Lamb! Thank You Ma’am

With my brother-in-law Robert in town for a visit, we settled in for some Catan on our well-worn board. Early on I felt confident of my positioning, with settlements on all five resources and a couple of prime probability real estate properties including an “8” Wheat hex. With the first Development Card action of the evening Jaime deployed the robber though not to the Wheat of higher probability, but instead blocked accumulation rights on a less probable “9” Sheep patch.

Jaime chooses to block a less probable hex, and of course makes the right decision relegating me to last place

Jaime chooses to block a less probable hex, and of course makes the right decision relegating me to last place

I literally asked her, “Out of curiosity, why did you place the robber there?” Insinuating the Wheat stoppage would be better game strategy, after all “No Wheat Means Defeat.” Jaime was unfazed and said she felt like blocking the Sheep. I made an offhand comment that it was a move I wouldn’t have made. Insert foot in mouth here.

As fate would have it, that Sheep would remain blocked for the majority of the game along with a plethora of “9” dice rolls. Without an ability to collect Sheep I had little D Card prowess, thus unable to deliver my Sheep from the thief. Meanwhile, my vaunted “8” Wheat produced a grand total of three rolls throughout the entirety of the game, solidly cementing me in last place while Jaime and Robert vied for the title. In retrospect, I should have asked my wife, “Out of curiosity, with your brilliant unorthodox strategy there, should I just retire early to bed? Because you have effectively and preemptively shut me down. Well done.”

Tuesday morning through Wednesday morning – Out in the Cold

Even after a decade of living in cold weather climates, I still have a tendency to act foolishly when it comes to the bitter winter months. My wife of more practice and wisdom often tries to help my ignorance, which I then foolishly ignore.

Monday was my 32nd birthday, Jaime and Robert tag teamed to prepare fish tacos and mint chocolate chip/chocolate/coffee milkshakes affectionately referred to as Dead Frogs. We then went out to see Selma capping a lovely evening. Earlier in the day, Jaime had gifted me a nice shell jacket, which is basically shorthand for something you could wear in the Fall on its own merit, but should practically be used as a layer in winter months. But because it was new and I am an idiot, I thought “Hey, why not wear just this?”

Jaime of course, quickly caught my mistake and warned me it was cold out. I big brother fact-ed that it was indeed warmer out, based not on any meteorological evidence or research, but more on the feeling I had that I wished it was warmer out. While I did not freeze, I certainly was not comfortable at various points in the day, which easily could have been avoided. Rather than immediately admit my mistake, I elected instead to focus on the relatively little time I had to spend outside.

Even better, the temperatures dropped into the single digits overnight. Sometime in the early morning hours, Jaime whispered. “I hope our pipes don’t freeze.” I immediately responded that they would most certainly not, for just last week the temperature hovered at zero for a day or so and the house had handled things just fine. Predictably by now, I ate a large helping of humble pie for breakfast upon waking up to find toilets that would not flush due to frozen pipes. Cue flashback of parking garage ticket.

Friday night – Don’t Bring a Baby to a Gunfight, Please

So even after I thought I had re-learned my lesson, Jaime and I were lounging on the couch last night putting the kids to bed when she stumbled across one of those terrible Buzzfeed car wrecks that you cannot not click on.

This one was a series of pregnancy announcement photos with the tag line, “Some things you can’t unsee.” Aside from one strangely mesmerizing photo of what appeared to be a pregnant mom draped in a white satin curtain flowing in the wind, atop a horse somewhere in the Shire, there was all manner of pictures I wish I could remove from my memory. Not the least of which was a picture of a man pointing a gun at the photographer while reaching around to caress the pregnant belly of his lover. This was so alarmingly bizarre that when a second photo later in the collection showed a similarly dressed bare bellied mom-to-be with her admiring gaze on her man and her hand on a firearm in his waistband, I could not reconcile that this could possibly be two different couples. I said as much. Jaime countered and of course was correct upon review.

So what have I learned?

Being wrong is a part of life. But the manner in which I am frequently, confidently and immediately wrong, especially in interactions with my loving and patient wife is something I am dedicated to improving on. As much as some of the above may seem trivial or laughable, the fact that my behavior has been consistently poor in this regard over the span of a decade is not funny. It does not amuse me when upon finally apologizing to my wife for not listening to her, she is able to matter-of-factly state that she is used to my foolish attitude and actions.

Jaime deserves better. My children deserve better. Our son Shepard who wrote me that little note in my wallet is now 5 years old. He crawled up on my lap at one point while writing this. He is watching how I treat my wife and taking notes about how to value the thoughts and input of women, of his mother. Much the way his younger brother Miles will as well. My daughters Clara and Lucy are also watching, looking to see how it is they should expect to be treated by men in their lives. If I hope for better behavior and action for my sons, in their interactions with women and significant others someday, I must model it for them. I cannot simply hope to change. More so, I cannot only hope my kids will see my foolishness for what it is, folly and not a blueprint. They will repeat and replay whatever it is I show them.

Often before the kids leave for school we review our family rules. Rules I unapologetically lifted and revised from friend Bret Wells of the Missional Wisdom Foundation. “Pay attention. See Jesus. Be Jesus. Do not be afraid to mess up. When we mess up, we help clean up.” The monastic wisdom gleaned from the Rule of St. Benedict teaches the need to listen to the people we live with, that life together is an opportunity for the presence of God to be made manifest. As Joan Chittister continues in her book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, “Not to listen then, is not to grow. But more than that, to be unable to listen is to be unable to give as well.”

I pray that I can pay attention to my wife, see Jesus in her, be Jesus to her. To model this for my children.

But prayer without action is empty, so In an attempt to clean up my own mess, I am trying on a new philosophy of saying yes. Much to my initial chagrin, Jaime proposed completing a video workout together. Whereas my Seasonal Affected self would much prefer to only bundle up and eat chocolate, I agreed. In so doing, I discovered that apparently jogging a 5K once a quarter does not translate into physical fitness. After 20 minutes of a rather basic cardio workout, plus a push-up challenge I was so physically spent that I had to lie down for the next 20 minutes in order to avoid vomiting. I’d say it was embarrassing, but the glowing look in my lover’s eyes communicated, “I am being heard.”

Maybe there is hope for this idiot after all. I certainly have more to give.

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

– Kahlil Gibran “The Prophet”

On August 7, 2009, our son was very nearly born in the back of our Ford Explorer during what my wife refers to as “the worst hour of my life.” After an hour of unexpected stop and go traffic during what should have been a twenty minute drive to the hospital, Jaime was exhausted after completing the most difficult phase of labor in the back of our SUV on her hands and knees, bracing herself on the support of her arms amid intense contractions as the vehicle could only inch ahead. My intrepid partner was worn down. In desperate whispers she asked for either drugs or death as a substitute for the pain. I remember looking back at my wife in the rear view mirror with tears in my eyes, feeling entirely helpless as I could not comfort her in her agony and I could not push through the wall of traffic blocking the last mile to Yale New Haven Hospital. Prayers were plead for immediate deliverance and mercy, but God knew that the sorrow being carved into our being that hour was necessary in order to forge a well deep enough to contain the boundless joy that Shepard Lincoln Fisher was about to bring into our lives.

The traffic miraculously parted like the red sea and we arrived to the hospital just minutes before our son was born. We were rushed into Labor and Delivery where we were informed that while our baby was about to arrive, our doctor was not yet present. Foreshadowing the relational nature of the child that was about to enter the world, nurses from different practices and offices quickly formed an alliance to become our delivery team. Even in his first moments, he was able to bring about unity through a time of suffering, leading to the selection of the rather intense middle name Lincoln. His first name, Shepard, had come to us with great resolve shortly after we found out we were having a boy. We were not sure how we would spell it and had not officially decided on it, but I remember praying that God would send us a special soul capable of exemplifying Kingdom leadership in a world and church so frequently found lacking. Wouldn’t you know it, but almost as if sealed for this purpose, the young man was born with a heart shaped birth mark on the top of his forehead. A Harry Potter of Love, destined for a story worth telling.

Shepard sucks people in with his friendly big blues

I do not know what my son will become, but I already know he has the gift of love and I know he is already a tremendous blessing to all those he encounters. Shep acts as the official town greeter, frequently offering unsolicited hellos and smiles to friends and strangers alike in an attempt to brighten their day. He has proven himself truly a shepherd in his constant care and compassion for the family flock; he keeps tabs on everyone’s current location either in or out of the house and does not like to leave anyone behind. Shep often feels lost himself when someone is missing, especially if he is without the company of his sisters. When I must leave for work, Shepard is the one who will run out onto the porch with smiles, blown kisses and waves with shouted requests that I have a good day and that I say hi to the “woo-woos” (fire trucks) for him on my way to the office. He is so empathetic, that he frequently elects to punish himself when big sister Clara gets in trouble, just to demonstrate sibling solidarity.

As soon as he started talking, the little guy could often be found giving unprovoked and incessant hugs while telling us “I wuv you.” One of his first sentences was an exclamation of “I happy!” When Shep wakes up in the morning or from an afternoon nap, he just wants to bury his fuzzy little blond head into your chest for a while to snuggle himself fully awake. He is always quick to follow up a denied request with a doe-eyed “pwease” and genuinely says “thank you” after any form of compliment or gift, frequently making me laugh when his gratitude is contextually unexpected.

Shep and Mom: Two Peas in a Pod

Just like his momma, Shep Shep has a gift for smiling bigger than you would think his face would allow and as a result brightening an entire room. Just like his momma, he would rather be playing outside “barefeet” than staying indoors. And just like his momma, his has an incredible ability to watch something a few times or even just once and be able to replicate the action with uncanny precision. This can be cute and impressive like when at a very young age he would build very tall block towers, when he potty trained at 18 months, or when he seemed to figure the tricycle out before Clara. Still impressive, but less cute when he grabs my keys, opens my driver’s side door and places the right key into the ignition with confidence. Also, just like his momma, Shep also has an incredible sixth sense for sweet treats, one time deciphering that we had hidden a cookie in a brown bag at Panera and wildly celebrating with fist pumps and shouts of joy while pointing at the bag before we even revealed the secret. It is also not uncommon to think you have been successful in sneaking a bite of ice cream from the freezer, only to hear Shep’s little pitter patter coming around the corner only to be found out by his finger pointing directly at your stuffed mouth while curiously asking, “What’s that? Can I have some?”

Of course as our boy nears the Terrible Twos, he is not without a defiant streak which we are working on with him. I do not think it is at all humorous when he does not immediately respond to my commands, but I’ll admit I have to try hard not to laugh out loud when I ask him to take another bite of dinner and he says stuff like, “No thanks Daddio. I’m all set.” I know this stage is fleeting and that much will get more complicated from here, but for now I am thoroughly enjoying his floppy self and his audible gasps of excitement for life. And when times get tough my boy, I’ll keep singing to you every night, “You cannot lose my love” and I’ll keep praying that I can be a better follower of Christ, so that you might have an example to grow beyond. As someday you will again be asked to lead toward unity through suffering and sacrifice, and your unique gifts of love and shepherding the flock will be needed in His service. But I know you will succeed, because God has plotted your path out before you, even when you were in the womb. You were marked for this my son and I am proud of you. Happy Birthday Shepard.

Happy 2nd Birthday Shep!

Last Friday evening, the Department of Children and Families honored Adolescent Social Work visionary Ralph Zona for his 36 years of service to the State of Connecticut and his work with over 600 youth from the city of New Haven. The Department has made many well publicized mistakes over the years, but Ralph’s life of dedication and sacrifice for our teens and their resulting success is an example of the work that is done far more often but rarely appreciated.  Ralph has always been outspoken about the flaws and failures of the bureaucratic system, but never let that system interfere with his tireless advocacy for his kids. For that he deserves to be recognized.

Born and raised in the Greater New Haven area, Ralph began his social work career in 1975 at what was then the Department of Children and Youth Services in New Haven. He was promptly assigned a now unthinkable 122 cases of foster care children over the age of 12 who were placed in foster homes and group homes across the state. Ralph recognized that many of the adolescent youth in foster care were not being adequately prepared for their transition into independent living and in 1978 decided to create the first Life Skills classes for the teens out of the New Haven office. The program evolved into Community Based Life Skills, a statewide service that has become a cornerstone of the DCF Independent Living program and the DCF Adolescent Policy. A policy that Ralph actually had a large hand in creating and that was originally drafted with adolescent youth present. This was to ensure that the real experts, the kids themselves, were involved in the process and able to provide a clue to those of us who only work in the world they live in.

Ralph noted that much of his success can be contributed to thinking outside of the box or at times in his words “outside of the planet.” Ralph’s good friend and Adolescent Services co-conspirator Bill Pinto noted that Ralph was “never afraid to send 7 billion letters to anyone who would open them” to seek support for their unconventional ideas. Among those who did consistently respond to Ralph’s letters over the years to serve the orphans of our society were UConn men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun and NFL Hall-of-Famer Joe Namath. Ralph’s “crazy’ ideas manifested in his long time coordination of the ConnectiKids Golf Tournament which raises money for kids in foster care. He created Big Brother and Big Sister programs which matched young men and women in congregate care settings to mentors from the Yale University football team and Albertus Magnus College. In the early 1980s, Ralph began organizing Holiday parties for foster children and helped arrange Statewide Youth Conferences into the 1990s.

But above all else, Ralph’s legacy will be the Department’s emphasis on post secondary education for our youth. While other adolescent workers were just trying to survive along with their kids, Ralph was a trailblazer that preached the importance of higher education to his teens as a ticket to a better life and the end of generational poverty. Ralph ran statewide college fairs and advocated that his kids dream big and work hard. With Ralph’s help, kids on his case load graduated from Yale, Harvard, the Berkeley School of Music and nearly every public university in the state of Connecticut.

The highlight of Ralph’s retirement celebration was the return of one of his former foster care youth, Crystal Astrachan, who spoke about Ralph’s substantial influence in her life and offered some words of advice to the rest of the social workers in the room. Crystal is herself a 2004 graduate of Yale University and currently a Manager of Business Development at Connecticut-based TicketNetwork, one of the fastest growing companies in the nation. As Crystal began to tell her story and of her appreciation for Ralph, her eyes welled up with tears and she could only continue with a hug of strength and support from a friend and fellow ex-DCF youth who also formerly worked with Ralph and who is now a domestic violence victim advocate.

Crystal collected herself and spoke about how she was hesitant to get to know Ralph after being let down by so many adults in the past, but that she slowly learned to trust him when it became evident that Ralph actually cared about her well-being and that his involvement in her life was more than just a job. Ralph was there to see her graduate from Yale in 2004 and as a token of her appreciation Crystal shared the secrets of Ralph’s incredible success as a social worker, which serve as a lesson for us all.

I’d like to thank Crystal for sharing the text of her speech with me and for her permission to use her words here. Here’s what she believes set Ralph apart:

Ralph was there for us. He was not interested in using us to advance his career or get recognition for his work.  He genuinely cared about our development and success. Our happiness and achievements were his profits.  I’ve learned that this quality in people is rare.

Ralph was happy. Because Ralph was fulfilled in the act of his work, he did not expect to receive any personal benefits from his clients. This was comforting, since I had grown up seeing adults use their children for their own benefits and also had been a victim to this type of treatment myself.

Ralph was professional while still being human. He did not lean on us for emotional support or treat us like his friends or colleagues. He let me see that he was a real person with a life outside of work. He always told me about his wife and children and what they were up to.  His openness made me feel as if he were just a regular person – not just a DCF employee.

Ralph works with integrity. He is honest, reliable, consistent, and never made a promise that he did not keep.  Through Ralph’s actions, I learned that he was someone I could trust.

My dreams were always within reach with Ralph. During high school, I realized that I had an adventurous side and sought opportunities to combine travel with education and service. Ralph never made me feel that I was asking for too much. It would have been really easy to tell me that he could not get me the funding or approval to go to Mexico to study Spanish or to go to Honduras to volunteer. But Ralph knew that my passions for international travel, service, and education were important to me and he supported my goals.

Ralph did not sweat the small stuff. As an adolescent, I did some stupid stuff, but he kept perspective and knew that hiccups here and there are normal parts of development.

Ralph fostered independence. He was able to see that I made good decisions for myself and was there to guide, rather than tell me exactly what I was supposed to do.

Crystal continued by saying, “I believe that every foster care child has the potential to make their life better while in (care). Like all other children, they need support, guidance, and encouragement.  I consulted with my friends who lived with me (in foster care) and others who were in foster care. We are all in our late 20s and early 30s today. We got in touch with our adolescent selves, and, in our teenage voices, we wanted to tell you what we need from our social workers.” She then presented a list of seven needs of youth in foster care which could easily serve as the defacto “Manual for Working with Teens.” Again I express my gratitude to Crystal for sharing, here’s what the former foster youth collectively advised:

1.       Give to us without expecting anything in return, we may be too hurt and angry to express appreciation when you are helping us, but trust that one day we will remember that we had someone who gave to us this way.

2.       Help us feel that your job as a social worker is more than just a job for you.  Call us just to say hello.  Return our calls so that we don’t feel forgotten.  Be happy to see us. Be proud of us.  Make us laugh.   

3.       Never tell us how to feel about our situations today or how we should deal with the pain from our past. Let us be sad sometimes. Understand when we withdraw or act out.

4.       Give us room to mess up and make mistakes, for our mistakes are simply opportunities to learn and grow. Teach us how to forgive by forgiving us.

5.       Don’t make us feel as if we are a burden.  Show us that our presence is a gift.  Teach us that we, like all other children, deserve to be cared about and treated well. Before we (came into foster care), we may have learned through the actions, lack of action, or words of other adults that we are not worthy of attention, love, and caring – and that our needs should never be made a priority. Show us that this is not true through your actions, which will help us to make good decisions about the people we choose to have in our lives.

6.       Challenge us.  Ask us these questions: “What are your dreams? What is your purpose? What are your talents? How can you utilize your talents to help others?” Let us know that you are there to help us reach our goals and we will feel empowered.

 7.       Don’t just help us with our “self-esteem”. Help us with our “other-esteem,” which is how we feel about and relate to others. Help us understand how we are needed in our communities and our worlds to make a difference and how purposeful our gifts can be. This will help us to heal and fulfill our desires for interconnectedness and community that we long for. You, social workers, have this gift. Share it with us.

After Crystal finished her speech, it was now us social workers with the tears welling up in our eyes. I hope her words will be taken to heart and wanted to share them here to inspire all of us in social services, in teaching, in childcare, and those of us who are parents as we try to encourage the kids in our lives to find success, happiness and community.

Ralph addressed us as well after Crystal’s speech and humbly attempted to summarize his career in social work. He noted that in his nearly four decades of experience, it seemed 40 percent of kids in care will not find success in the system not matter how good their social worker is, the trauma they have experienced is simply too great. He also reported that it seems 40 percent of the kids will find success no matter how bad their social workers attempt to screw them up or get in their way, they are just too resilient. Which leaves 20 percent on the fence that we have a chance to make a difference with. Ralph said he believes that if over half of this 20 percent can also find success, then a social worker can be confident they did well and hoped his overall success rate was over 50 percent. If Ralph was in need of any validation of a job well done, he only had to look out on the sea of appreciative faces including family, co-workers and former youth, all of us inspired to follow in his footsteps. Thank you Ralph and best wishes as you begin a new Chapter.

“Santa Claus is coming to town! Santa Claus is coming to town!” At least, I think he is…

Christmas is a week away. Clara is now three years old, Shepard is sixteen months and next month a new child will be away in a manger putting any thoughts of a silent night well into the rear view mirror for the foreseeable future. But the idea of having three kids age three and under is not the primary thought occupying my mind this Holiday season (I’ll deal with that in January). Rather, it is the realization that three years into this journey of parenting, the white elephant in the room remains what to do with Old Saint Nick.

Jaime had a classic Santa experience believing until around age seven or eight. She has fond memories of believing in a larger than life figure who displayed extravagant generosity and being comforted that someone was looking out for all the children of the world, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. When Jaime figured the ruse out, she wasn’t upset, but instead delighted in assisting the faith of her younger siblings.

I, on the other hand, was that kid on the playground who was telling your kids that Santa was a hoax resulting in angry phone calls to my parents about how I was ruining the magic of Christmas. You see, my father had been a true believer in Father Christmas. When he found out the whole thing was fake, he felt deep in his soul that he had been lied to and when he recounts that moment, one can still hear the pain in his voice. I imagine his childhood anger dwarfing Miles Finch’s fury after being called an elf by Will Ferrell. What really got my dad going was that his own parents had deliberately duped him. He vowed that day he would never lie to his own children in such a manner. So, naturally I shared my father’s disdain for Kris Kringle as I was never given a chance to believe anything but anti-Claus propaganda.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitter about my own childhood Christmas experiences. We had a great time and I don’t feel I lost anything by not believing in the jolly benefactor in the red suit. We still had presents under the tree, still opened stockings, still belted out “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” But I want to believe there’s a third way. Something beyond deliberately lying to my own kids on the justification that the entire culture does it and therefore it must be okay, but leaving room for childlike faith to soar and grow in the goodwill of mankind, the supernatural, or both.

Presumably, the argument could be made that the whole Santa production is really for us parents and the enjoyment we receive from manipulating our children and then vicariously experiencing their wonderment. I don’t buy this theory entirely though due to the sheer number of folks who pleasantly recount their credence in the charm of the North Pole. Plus, if it were really all about Mom and Dad, it wouldn’t make sense to forgo all the credit for the awesome gifts and transfer the gratitude to an anonymous bearded senior citizen.

Then there’s the whole religious element. The origins of Santa Claus include a mix of semi-Christian mythology and history, but gradually he has become, at least to some degree, a symbol of the commercialism of the season. Some even protest Papa Noel as an anti-Christ figure, the icon of secularism that threatens to swallow the birth story of Christ. Even though Santa is an easy anagram for Satan, I don’t subscribe to any ill-will toward Mr. Claus and dismiss claims such as these quite easily; perhaps because my particular faith tradition was more concerned that December 25th was being celebrated as Jesus’ actual birthday without any “Scriptural authority” or common sense (shepherds don’t typically hang out with their flocks outdoors in the winter).

For a while I thought perhaps I could take an M Night Shyamalan approach to the whole Santa dilemma. You know, pull a “Sixth Sense”, never actually speaking about the guy, but not denying my kids the experience of believing. Then when they figure it all out they could look back and realize I had never actually said Santa was real. They could then replay their whole childhood looking for the red doorknobs that would have tipped them off sooner to the secret of Santa. But while I believe myself to be decently clever, my kids are pretty smart cookies and I recently had to resign that this plan is not feasible in the long run.

So back to the drawing board. But speaking of cookies, I am completely down for eating a plateful of warm chocolate chip cookies with a tall glass of milk each Christmas Eve. So count me in… for now.

Three years ago today, Clara Jane Fisher, literally burst into the world. I suppose we expected her to gradually emerge like a normal newborn, but with an innate flair for the dramatic, her entire little body flew out in one final push.  I distinctly remember Nana’s gasp of “A whole baby!” upon witnessing Clara’s arrival. Three years later she still has people excitedly exclaiming due to her unpredictability and sheer cuteness. I distinctly recall falling in love when she smiled at me just minutes after she was born. And although she lived her first day without a name, labeled as “Baby Girl Fisher” in the hospital, Clara Jane has lived up to her name and demonstrated on a daily basis that it is clear that God is gracious.

Clara has always seemed to be ahead of the game, and this has brought about some quotable quotes and great memories. Like the time 18 month old Clara informed me in the middle of the night while attempting to change her diaper, “Dad, I want a choice.” Of course, I told her no, but who has to tell an 18 month old she doesn’t get a choice anyway?

In part because she is verbally and intellectually advanced, she often has hung out with older children, and attempting to watch her socialize with the big kids has often been humorous. One of my favorite stories occurred while at a park in Cheshire when Clara was just shy of two years old. A boy around four or five years old was playing with Clara on a merry go round when he said to Clara, “Have you seen this movie called Casper the Friendly Ghost? Remember the part where the uncle gets sucked into the vacuum cleaner and he says ‘This sucks!’?” The boy laughed hard and without skipping a beat Clara bent over laughing and responded by pointing to her feet before she giggled, “I wear socks too!”

The kid is full of enthusiasm, just like her mom, and often makes us laugh. Like the time at 21 months when driving from Connecticut to New York to go camping, that we made a pit stop in Massachusetts an hour into the trip and immediately heard Clara’s victory cry of “Camping! We made it! I did it! Yeah!” with hands fully extended into the sky. In the weeks leading up to her birthday, Clara was super pumped about having a “Bayou Birthday” in a tribute to Princess Tiana of The Princess and the Frog and literally took to jumping for joy when telling others about her New Orleans themed party and the planned menu including gumbo and beignets.

Sometimes it is her unexpected skills that bring us joy like the famous “moonwalk” video taken at 15 months. And given her dancing and the fact that she is my genetic offspring, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the following conversation we had just last week:

Clara: What should we name the new baby?

Me: I don’t know. What do you think we should name it?

Clara: How about Michael Jackson?

Me: Who told you to say that?

Clara: Nobody. I just made that name up myself.

Her wit has always impressed me as has her logic, far beyond the capability of the average toddler, as evidenced by this exchange in a Department store around 26 months:

Clara: “What’s that? Movies?”

Me: “Video games.”

Clara: “Can I play video games?”

Me: “Maybe when you’re older.”

Clara: “Can I be older?

So clearly, we have our hands full and it is just the beginning. Luckily, she takes great pride in being a big sister as evidenced in her leadership in naming the still unborn third child, but she wasn’t always so eager. When Shepard first arrived in August 2009, her first words upon seeing him for the first time in the hospital were, “That’s okay.  I don’t think I like this one. We’ll come back another time.” Never without an opinion.

But perhaps my favorite part of our little girl is her spiritual nature. She often will run over to Jaime and I when we are praying together and form a huddle by grasping our legs. It is a common occurrence these days to hear Clara pray for “the new baby, this home we live in, (and) this wonderful meal we just had.” Once at 26 months, I witnessed her pretending to dribble and asked her if she was playing basketball. Clara replied, ““Yeah. I love basketball. Everybody loves basketball. Daddy loves basketball. Nana loves basketball. Jesus loves basketball. Mom loves basketball. Everybody loves basketball.” Yep, everybody does love basketball and Jesus is a part of the family. Can you believe this chica even asked me at the age of 24 months, “Dad, what is your foundation?” I’m pretty sure she didn’t quite comprehend what she was asking, but it challenged me nonetheless.

Clearly, I would die for this young lady and am preparing to do so on a daily basis as is my duty as a father. After becoming a father to a girl, Bryan Douglass encouraged me to read Meg Meeker’s “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” which I did and also highly recommend. Dr. Meeker writes, “Love isn’t just about feeling good. It’s about doing what you don’t want to do, over and over again, if it needs to be done, for the sake of someone else.” This seems to sum up love, life and parenting. Perhaps more poetically, as Switchfoot sings, “If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love. If it doesn’t break your heart it’s not enough.”

And so, I am preparing to fight for her and to show affection to her, even and especially during the awkward teen years. I am preparing to make the tough decisions that will not earn me immediate respect, but will protect my little one, even and especially as she becomes not so little. All in hope that through the mountaintop experiences and valley lows, that a strong woman in the Lord will emerge ready to exhibit the unique blend of a tough mind and a tender heart, an independent thinker willing to trust and depend on God alone. I love you Clara Jane. Happy birthday.

For those of you who know her, feel free to add your own favorite memories in the comment section.

P.S. Also thanks to Mark Wade for the picture directly above. Check out his photography at http://bluemarblephotography.smugmug.com/

Dad Time

Posted: September 18, 2010 in Family, Kids
Tags: , ,

Dad Time. Defined as the period, no matter how long, in which Mom is not present and Dad is left with the kids. Inevitably, Dad Time invokes incidents that simply do not occur if Mom is present.

For example, there was the time I was attempting to transfer six month old Clara from a pack ‘n play to her crib, in the dark, but did so by picking her up upside down and then holding her away from my body while trying to figure out what happened to her head. You can imagine Jaime’s reaction when she walked in at that exact moment to witness her baby dangling by her legs, fast asleep.

Or the time just a few weeks ago, when just moments after Jaime left the house, I underestimated Shepard’s crawling speed, then underestimated his ability to pry open doors, and then watched helplessly as he found a bottle of Pine Sol and with break neck speed untwisted the cap and let the the bottle’s contents fly onto the kitchen floor while he giggled with delight. No joke, the way he put the Pine Sol in a headlock and twisted off the cap while releasing the bottle to the ground in one motion would have made Jason Bourne jealous. Boy, did it smell clean in the apartment that night.

Jaime is away for the weekend at the Ganderbrook Ladies’ Retreat in Maine, which means I have had the kids to myself for a couple days and fortunately for the kids there are no great stories to tell. But just a couple days of Dad Time reinforces both how much I love these kids and how grateful I am that my wife is able and willing to stay home and raise them.

Clara, Shep and I visited Sweet Treats on Center Street yesterday to pick up some candy (also a part of Dad Time) and the store manager commented how fast the time goes by with little ones. She had a look of longing in her eyes that suggested she wished she could return to such a time as I am currently enjoying. Just an hour before, the cashier at Walgreens noted she wasn’t even sure if she could remember her girls, now 11 and 6, ever being as cute as Clara. I don’t think she meant to say Clara was especially cute, as much as she was trying to lament the fact that she simply doesn’t have clear memories of her children as toddlers. These interactions made me appreciate my blessings all the more.

So not to brag, but in hopes that I will someday remember, Shepard is incredibly cute at 13 months. He just learned how to walk and his gait-in-progress reminds us of Jack Sparrow looking for the last of the rum. He frequently comes up behind us while doing the dishes just to snuggle the back of our legs, complete with a humming sound effect to express his love. And there can be few things better in life than to return home from work to your son ecstatically flipping out with excitement upon your arrival screaming “Dada!”.

Clara continues to be a trip at nearly three years old. She did an amazing job as flower girl in Ty and Andrea’s wedding over Labor Day weekend. I think it may be impossible for a Dad’s eyes not to well up with tears when you see your beautiful little girl go down the aisle, even if she’s only two and just the flower girl. After she very seriously and thoroughly placed the flower petals on the aisle she came back to hang out with me near the back of the venue so as not to cause a distraction.

I fed the kids animal crackers to keep them quiet and when I found a sheep cracker I pointed it out to Clara. Clara then picked up a rock and informed me that I should have the sheep stand on the rock. I complied. Then she instructed me to have the sheep drink water from the rock. This took me aback, because as many Bible stories as we have read to her, I don’t ever recall telling her about Moses and the water from the rock in Exodus and I couldn’t think what may have possessed her imagination to think that a rock could produce water.

I began to think that perhaps out of the mouth of babes I was to receive an inspirational message from God or some type of instruction. I eagerly awaited what she would say next as I envisioned myself as a sheep in need of both God as my rock and foundation and Jesus as the living water foreshadowed in those Exodus passages. Clara then squinted her eyes and cocked her head appearing ready to deliver a profound insight. And then she asked me very seriously, ” Now, Daddy… Do you have to go potty?” Good stuff.

Well, Jaime is due back in a few hours, and while I have successfully kept the kids alive, the house is a wreck. Dad time.