Posts Tagged ‘Shepard’

“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!

A San Diego native, I have never seen anything like this. I was somewhat comforted Thursday morning when Jaime, a long-time New England resident, conceded that she has never seen this much snow, and wondered out loud if we had unknowingly been transported to Buffalo or perhaps Alaska.

As it turns out, no one in Connecticut has ever seen anything quite like this. The snow began falling again last Wednesday night at the rate of 1-2 inches an hour and by the time the flakes stopped Thursday morning, the 15 inch measurement brought Connecticut’s total accumulation for January to 59.8 inches! The five feet of snow shattered the previous record of 45 inches in the month of January set in 1945, with four days yet to go in the month.

In the midst of the unyielding snow storms, my wife and I have been preparing for the birth of our third child and our first home birth. Our first two children were born at Yale New Haven Hospital, but after Shepard was nearly born in the car on the way to the hospital the last time around, we were excited to pursue our longtime goal of a home birth and have the midwives come to us.

Oh, it all seemed so simple at the time we made the decision. Our first two were born on beautiful and warm late summer/early fall days, and the thought of a winter arrival this time around seemed quaint. We would fill our oil tank and run our heaters until our 1910 apartment, sans insulation, reached a temporary but toasty temperature to welcome the child. The labor would occur quickly and without complication and life with three children would get off to a nice start. I would take off at least two weeks after the baby was born to assist both mom and kiddos #1 and #2 with the transition to a family of five. Yep, the plans looked nice all drawn up.

But nothing this time seems to be going according to my plan.

Let’s start with the snow. First snows are always somewhat magical and this month started out in enchanted fashion. The snow was soft and plentiful, floating down in big sparkly flakes. I took Clara out in the middle of a snow shower on the evening of January 7 when the ground was already covered in a blanket of frosty white. We had fun traipsing toward the backyard leaving footsteps in the virgin winter cover.

January 12 was a day to remember as my 28th birthday brought over two feet of snow and a resulting paid day off from work. Granted, I did spend hours outside shoveling ourselves and neighbors out of the overnight snow pack, but it was a good day. Our Maxima was so completely covered by the snow drift that when Clara came out to assist the clean up effort, I was able to help her sled from the roof of the sedan down the windshield and hood of the vehicle and then down the hill into our backyard without ever having the sled touch the surface of my car. Good times. Another highlight was teaching Clara that snow of the fresh white variety is edible and watching her test this out for herself (below).

But then it got messy. First came an ice storm which covered the existing snow walls and landscapes with two solid inches of ice creating a deadly beautiful scene. The ice put a choke hold on the trees and our homes while glistening in the morning sunlight. The added mass of the frozen water began to cause branches to snap off and fall in the roads.  Massive icicles over six feet long attached themselves to our house and were the death of our rain gutter which came crashing down two stories under the weight.

Then the ice was covered over by another two snow showers. As we ran out of places to shovel the snow, I was reminded of my friend Jason Stewart’s recent description of falling snow as relentless beauty. It was that unrelenting nature that helped me welcome age 28 by overworking my rotator cuff from unnatural movement related to repeatedly scooping pounds of snow and catapulting it over my head to the only places the snow could still be piled. By the time this last storm’s carnage was manifest, the snow pile up in our front yard could have buried Yao Ming.

Every intersection has become blind due to the snow barriers and all streets have been narrowed to the width of a single car due to the insurgent precipitation. Perhaps most worrisome to us, should the baby decide to come during one of these storms, would the midwives be able to get to us? I played a decent center field in my day and feel confident about catching the kid, but would prefer not to break out my glove. Even if the storms passed, as our town appears to be under siege from a near-permanent parking ban, will there be a place for the midwives to park upon arrival?

As if the snow is not a formidable enough obstacle, our family has been hit with consistent illness throughout the month. First Shepard and then Clara came down with an RSV-like respiratory infection and we were advised that such an illness contracted by a newborn would likely be an automatic hospitalization for the little one. We began considering splitting the family up postpartum and having Jaime rest and take care of the infant over at Nana’s house while I would take care of the sickly elder siblings in our apartment until the tide of infection should pass. But in between storms, Jaime’s due date of January 21st came and went with no sign or contraction of a baby.

Jaime’s pregnancies with Clara and Shepard both went beyond their “due” dates by a couple days, so we were not alarmed when the 23rd arrived without a baby, but decided it wouldn’t hurt to get a check up with the midwives when the 25th came around without so much as a labor pang. At the exam, Jaime was informed that apparently our due date had been revised to January 26th after the last ultrasound performed by our previous practice, and that in the process of switching to our current midwife/home birth practice this information had somehow not been relayed to us. We were relieved that the baby was not yet “late,” but I admit I was a little perturbed as I had planned my paternity leave off the due date being the 21st and had already begun my limited leave of absence with no child yet in tow. I attempted to get over it and chalked up the miscalculation and mishandling of information to something that must happen when you have three kids and not one (or two) and attempted to embrace my new reality of plans being readily flushed down the toilet in favor of chaos. I reset my anticipation clock and again prepared to wait.

I have been leisurely reading through Ann Lamott’s Traveling Mercies over the past six weeks and have found the title chapter to be especially insightful. In the essay, an acquaintance of Lamott’s is complaining about her recent run of bad luck when she runs into a gentleman who works with the Dalai Lama. The gentleman then shares his perspective that, “when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that it trying to get itself born – and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.” In light of the incessant blizzards, the relatively serious household illnesses and a miscommunicated due date, I decided that something big and lovely was indeed trying to get itself born. In this case, not much metaphor deciphering was necessary, obviously it is a big and lovely baby. A child in God’s hands, waiting for the right moment to arrive.

I felt strongly this said arrival would occur on Friday the 28th, if not before. Then when contractions did finally begin on the evening of the 28th, I felt certain that our son or daughter would be born on Saturday the 29th at the latest. We took the kids over to Nana’s house for a sleep over, we cleaned and prepared our home (again), we walked on the treadmill at Planet Fitness, we relaxed, we rubbed big toes, we waited and waited. We still are waiting. And the longer we wait, the greater my realization that I have no control here. And perhaps, this, my consistent desire for control, has been the obstacle that needed defeating, above the snowstorms and the illnesses. Perhaps now the baby can be born, perfectly as possible, unlike anything I’ve seen before.

As we were leaving Chili’s this afternoon, Jaime commented, “I cannot believe this is the third time that someone can ask me when my due date is,  and I can tell them yesterday.” Both Clara and Shepard arrived two days after their “due” date, Clara on a Sunday evening and Shepard on a Friday afternoon. Yesterday was the due date for our third child and in anticipating the arrival of kiddo number three, a.k.a. The Player to Be Named Later, I have been reflecting on our first three plus years of parenting.

One of our favorite things to do with the kids is read to them and I thought I would share my top 10 children’s books recommendations (thus far) in Letterman fashion, for anyone looking for a good read to share with your own little ones, grandkids or perhaps to pick up from the library in route to your next babysitting gig. The picks below are my suggestions for kids zero to three and for the most part do not include the stuff you probably loved to read as a kid, but instead are meant to shine light on some possible new favorites.

10.     “Rabbit’s Bedtime” by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (1999)

Given to us as a gift by Yale New Haven Hospital when Clara was born, we read this book to her every night as an infant; that is, until she grew to love it so much that it became overly-stimulating and had to be removed from the bedtime routine in lieu of watching “Praise Baby” DVDs. Wallace’s construction paper cut-out art is simple yet inventive and makes me wish I had thought of it first. The story follows a typical day in the life of a child and ponders what was good about today.

9.       “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!” by Mo Willems (2003)

One of many great picks introduced to us by Fairy Godmother Wendy, this book is highly interactive as the bus driver gives your child the responsibility of preventing an overly ambitious pigeon from driving his bus. Kids love telling the pigeon “No!” But be careful, the pigeon can be pretty persuasive as evidenced by Clara’s consistent caving when the pigeon offers a bribe of five bucks. I have to admit that I also love attempting to give the pigeon my best Brooklyn accent.

Willems’ illustrations are nothing to boast of, but you have to admire the Sesame Street writer’s persistence as he was repeatedly rejected as a children’s author before publishing this Caldecott Honor book in 2003. Willems has gone on to produce a growing number of titles, but in the ever-important child potty training genre, his “Time to Pee!” is my favorite.

8.       “I Love You The Purplest” by Barbara M. Joosse, illustrated by Mary Whyte (1996)

Joose tells a story of a mom and her two boys who are vying for her love and attention. While spending a day fishing, the mother makes sure to compliment the very different natures and skills of both her sons. When being tucked in, the boys ask, “Who do you love best?” Mom wisely and descriptively answers that she loves one of her sons the bluest and the other the reddest. I think I may have enjoyed this one more than the kids as it does a nice job of describing a parent’s love. Whyte’s watercolor illustrations nicely compliment the tone of the book.

7.       “Henry Hikes to Fitchburg” by D.B. Johnson (2000)

This New England flavored story was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” and is an ode to simplicity. A brown bear named Henry and his friend decide to meet up in Fitchburg, a town 30 miles away. While Henry’s friend spends a few days completing various chores and journeyman tasks in order to earn the train fare, Henry elects to hike the distance, stopping to examine nature and eat wild honey along the way.

The review in Publisher’s Weekly sums up the plot nicely noting that Johnson’s book weighsfast-paced urban existence against an unmaterialistic life in the woods. Both bears make it to Fitchburg, but Henry’s friend wears a blank stare, in contrast to Henry’s bright-eyed, curious gaze.” The review suggests the book for ages 4-8, but it’s hard to argue that an introduction to the value of nature can come too soon. However, should the message prove too complicated, the illustrations are fantastic (I especially enjoy the depiction of Henry rock hopping across the Sudbury River contrasted against his friend carrying wood, as the bears are shown walking in different directions despite moving toward the same overt goal).

6.       “Ella Kazoo Will Not Brush Her Hair” by Lee Fox, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas (2010)

I’m a sucker for creatively rhymed narratives that are as much fun for parents to read as they are for children to hear and Ella Kazoo fits the bill. Beyond a humorous take on the mom-daughter fight over hair brushing, the book is an undercover study in synonyms including the words mane, tresses, locks, frizz and mop as alternatives for Ella’s hair. Plus, I always like an unexpected turn and when Ella refuses to listen to her mom, her hair then refuses to listen to her and takes on a persona of its own, requiring parent-child collaboration to thwart. Perhaps most importantly, the book maintains its fun upon repeated readings, which won’t be true of all of your children’s favorites.

5.      “Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash” by Sarah Weeks, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott (2002)

Short, simple and constructed with bouncy rhymes, this book details Mrs. Nelly McNosh’s weekly ritual of hanging up her laundry to dry. After the shirts and socks go up, Mrs. McNosh gets a wrong number and hangs up the phone (on the line) followed by hanging all sorts of other things including the mail, a kite, bats (of the flying rodent variety), and her turkey dinner, before finally washing herself and resting at the end of the day laying in a hung up recliner. Little ones love that they are in on the joke, recognizing that these things shouldn’t be hung up outside and that Mrs. McNosh seems to be hanging up everything in reach, including the wildlife. We’ve checked this one out three times from the Wallingford Public Library.

4.      “Hippos Go Berserk” by Sandra Boyton (1977)

When Clara was about to turn one, I stopped by a Barnes & Noble in West Harftord looking for a book or two for birthday presents. I am a slow poke of a shopper, but based on title alone, I knew I had at least one book selected when I spotted a board book version of “Hippos Go Berserk.”

“One hippo all alone, calls two hippos on the phone,” leading to a hippopotamus party of legendary proportions. Even an unknown beast joins the fun and wait staff hippos are hired. When all 45 party animals cram into a small house, “All the hippos go berserk!” The party then dies down and the hippos leave in the order they arrived by means of a Conestoga wagon and a helicopter among other vehicles, until there is once more a solitary hippo living in the memory of the shindig. Constant rhyming makes reading so fun that math-haters will barely notice all of the addition and subtraction knowledge being subconsciously forced upon the children.

3.      “Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story” by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Janie Bynum (2003)

“Porcupining” not only rhymes but the central plot is built on bad puns, so you know it has to be a good book for kids and adults like myself with underdeveloped senses of humor. The story opens with Cushion the porcupine, pining for love inside a petting zoo where there are no other porcupines and everyone else seems to have a mate. A banjo-wielding Cushion decides his best bet is to serenade some of the single ladies of different species. But while his heart is well-intended, Cushion demonstrates why he’s single when he belts out to a sow that although she’s fat he’s still interested and likewise would be willing to get with a beaver gal despite her “bucky” teeth. Predictably rejected, Cushion finally meets up with a hedgehog named Barb with a similar hard-knocks love history and their relationship is on point. Another fun one to read as the narrative includes many of Cushion’s attempts to impress the chicks using his voice, meaning the reader gets to invent the melodies and inflections. I always opt for a good country twang with decent reviews from the kids.

2.     “The Napping House” by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood (1991)

It seems this title is a classic among librarians, but it missed my radar growing up in Southern California. A child and a grandmother are sound asleep and snoring on a dark rainy day as the household pets get in on the snuggle party one by one before a wakeful flea does nap time in and the slumbering characters awake one page at a time. A helpful Amazon review praises the book for being, “cumulative, predictable and engaging.”

Points are awarded for the husband-wife teamwork here, but it must be said that Don Wood’s illustrations are what make this book come alive. In each successive frame, we see the individual animals and people physically moving in the direction the narrative is heading while Mr. Wood brilliantly phases the light into the story with each page turn until “no one now is sleeping”. For extra credit, the setting of the book also appears to be based on the Wood’s actual home as shown in a photo of the couple on the back flap of the book jacket.

1. “Ballyhoo Bay” by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Derek Anderson, (2009)

I can take little credit for finding this book, as I obtained a copy for free inside a Cheerios box a couple years ago. Maybe it’s the overarching theme of social action and environmental protection, or perhaps it’s the combination of my affections for the beach and art, but Ballyhoo Bay takes the cake.

Mira Bella, teaches art classes including “etching and sketching to grannies and kids and undersea sculpture to swordfish and squids.” Beach animals and people alike are working on found trash art, paintings, paper-mâché projects, and penciled self-portraits under Mira Bella’s tutelage until word comes that Ballyhoo Beach is to be developed for penthouse apartments and a casino. Mira Bella builds political resistance as the grannies and sea creatures march on city hall and sway the town council to preserve the beach instead of selling out to the builders. The planned beach art fair is allowed to go on as planned and the sun sets over the ocean and on the book with the exclamation that  “truth is beauty” and “both saved the day.”

Perhaps the most fun book to read in our collection and Anderson’s illustrations cause me to want to call dibs on him in case I get around to my goal of publishing a children’s book. I also love that our Cheerios version of the story is bilingual adding some Spanish flavor to the story and causing me to imagine that despite the protagonist’s strongly Italian name, that the setting is my beloved San Diego.

I was going to include an honorable mention section, but I’d rather hear from you what you have enjoyed reading to your kids and your top picks for best children’s books.

Last year, I began dwelling on the Biblical theme of light and dark and increasingly became convinced it may be the central literary theme in the Bible as well as the primary metaphor through which we might be able to place this life in context. Living in an entertainment-driven society, this topic takes on highlighted importance as the interaction of light and dark as narrative is ubiquitously recognizable in pop culture and current events. Of course, my meta-awareness of this motif could just be an example of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (which occurs after one first learns of a subject and then repeatedly encounters that subject shortly after discovering it).

The January 7, 2011 episode of the Colin McEnroe Show on NPR covered the topic of the planned publishing of a revised version of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in which offensive language including the “N” word will be eliminated. McEnroe introduced the show by noting the censorship is troubling and stated “Twain intended for us to pass through darkness to get to the light.”

This came on the heels of the December 22, 2010 NPR Morning Edition segment entitled “Music We Missed This Year.” Highlighted in the piece was 29 year old jazz trumpeter Maurice Brown whose record “Cycle of Love” I purchased after hearing the following:

“Well, The Cycle of Love for me,” he says, “is my interpretation of the different stages we go through on our quest for true happiness, you know?” First, he says, we embrace a big change, and then life goes well. Then we face a choice, he writes, “between light and dark.” Later, we find out we never really had a choice at all. It sounds a little like the musician’s own life.”

I submit this sounds not just like Brown’s life, but a strong summary of Life, yours and mine included. So where does this come from? What does choosing between light and dark mean? These questions inspired the title of this blog and much will be written on the topic. But today, let’s gain some insight from an exegesis of John 18:1-6 (HCSB):

“After Jesus had said these things, He went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, and He and His disciples went into it. Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with His disciples. So Judas took a company of soldiers and some temple police from the chief priests and the Pharisees and came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

Then Jesus, knowing everything that was about to happen to Him, went out and said to them, “Who is it you’re looking for?”

“Jesus the Nazarene,” they answered.

“I am He,” Jesus told them.

Judas, who betrayed Him, was also standing with them. When He told them, “I am He,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.”

John’s narrative of Jesus’ betrayal shadows the story of the betrayal of God in Genesis 3. To begin, both scenes are placed in gardens in which God often meets with man. In Genesis 3, God seeks out Adam and Eve in the wake of their sin and God asks “Where are you?”. In John 18, it is now Adam and Eve’s descendants seeking out God. Yet, where Adam and Eve hid from God out of their shame in the Genesis account, Jesus, whom John clearly and repeatedly identifies as the Light in the first chapter of his Gospel, rises to meet the darkness-filled mob and God is again the first to speak, “Who is it you are looking for?”

There is inescapable irony here, as in the middle of the night, the religious establishment believes themselves to be the bearers of the light. They are literally carrying lanterns and torches in an attempt to shine light on their perception of Jesus as an evil and dangerous blasphemer. But Jesus did not hide, and when he answers “Ego eimi” in the Greek or literally “I am”, all the power and light of the burning bush in Exodus 3:14 is brought forth and the apex of human history is underway as the Christ has resolved to officially fulfill his mission to meet the darkness in mankind and overcome it (John 1:5).

In the Old Testament context, to name something or someone was to gain control over it, so God giving his name in Exodus 3:14 to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” tells us as the reader a little something about Who is in control. Jesus clearly invokes that Exodus interaction here, answering, “I am”, but does so with a twist as He simultaneously announces His authority and yet will allow Himself to be captured, thus indicating the Passion to follow is indeed His plan.

I have always been fascinated that Jesus’ statement “I am” was so powerful that it knocked the soldiers backward onto the ground. However, I have also been curious why such a strong image would be left out of the synoptic Gospel accounts if true, especially since Mark seems to have geared his entire account to show the power of the Messiah. Like your mom told you, good things come to those who wait, and I love when God illuminates a Scripture through illustration years after I first pose Him a question.

Last Friday, Shepard the early riser made a foray into our bed before sunrise. The young man appeared to think himself wide awake and was thus climbing all over my head as I attempted to wake myself. At seventeen months old, my son is fascinated with the two small IKEA lights that are screwed into the wall above our bed and was using my nose as a stepping stool in an effort to turn those lights on. Not desiring any more feet to face interaction, I decided to help him out and sat up to turn on the master switch. I flicked the lights on without considering the ramifications and like dual laser beams, light shot directly into the little guy’s face. He immediately crumpled into the fetal position and dove under the covers. Quite simply, the transition from dark to light came too quickly and powerfully for him to adjust to while remaining standing and inadvertently I received a visual of what Saul must have looked like on the road to Damascus when he met the Light in Acts 9:3-4.

Given John’s obsession with the Light/Dark theme in his Gospel, I don’t believe it an accident that he alone includes this fact as I believe he is attempting to show the moment when the soldiers own darkness is exposed. Just like Shepard, who quickly recovered and giggled in awe at the power of the light but stood right back up to face it, the mob stands back up to Jesus and continues with their mission. And just like Shepard believed himself to be awake before being blasted with the light, the soldiers’ own physicality betrayed their self-perception of being alert and righteous men.

Even more amazing is that immediately prior to the events in John 18:1-6, the Synoptic accounts (Luke 22:40-46 for example) tell us that Jesus’ disciples actually were sleeping. This sets up an incredible juxtaposition, as Jesus finds Himself between His own physically asleep disciples and the spiritually asleep mob. Both parties have failed Him as their Creator, and the only thing distinguishing the disciples from the soldiers is their knowledge of their fallen state in relationship to the Lord. Jesus then simultaneously and briefly like the Green Flash became the Sunset for his Disciples and the Sunrise for all humanity moving from the spiritually enlightened to the spiritually dark and void, a bookend to the Creation Story and a fulfillment of the prophecies about Him.

Where in Genesis 1:4, God originally separated the light from the darkness, the true light now had fully come into the darkness of the world as outlined in John 1:4-5, 9-11. Additionally, while we often search the Scriptures for Jesus as both the literal and symbolic fulfillment of the Scriptures foreshadowing the Messiah, it seems to have been overlooked that the soldiers’ actions in John 18:6 may be a literal fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy upon seeing the infant Jesus in Luke 2:28-35 when he speaks that the child would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” and that He was destined to “cause the fall and rise of many in Israel.”

The Biblical narrative of Jesus Christ does appear to intend for us to pass through the darkness to the Light. While we have an option in how we respond to God, it appears Maurice Brown may be right in that there is no choice to get away from Him. Regardless of whether we hide from Him or seek Him out with less than upstanding intentions, He is there to encounter us, to ask us where we are, and to prompt us with the question of who it is we are looking to for fulfillment.

In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” The Light is here. It’s time to get up. Lord, help me get up.

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.