Monday, October 12, 2009

The Slower Moments

Normally, when I sit to write my weekly Dadlosophies post, I have a specific topic in mind. Maybe it's the state of my minivan, the materialism and expense of modern-day birthday parties, or the discouragement of discovering that the second sock I just spent twenty minutes looking for was hijacked and made into a hand puppet days earlier. To be sure, when you're a dad (or a mom) there's no shortage of material. But today, as I sit at a local coffee shop, sipping my $2.39 cup of mediocre coffee and listening to a CD by someone who sounds like a graduate of the Bob Dylan linguistics academy, I have no particular topic on which I feel the urge to expound. Instead, I just want to share a little about my weekend. After all, while fatherhood is certainly a fast-paced existence--full of dips, climbs, zigs, and zags--it also has its slower moments; times when, if you're lucky enough to catch yourself and realize that you need to soak them in, make for the simple but special memories that make all the challenges of parenting worthwhile.

My two oldest children spent last Friday night at their grandmother's. My wife's mom is always great about wanting to spend time with the kids. Occasionally, when she's feeling really bold, she'll invite the two older ones to sleep over. It's always interesting to notice the transformation that just twenty-four hours can bring. My mother-in-law never fails to pick the kids up in her usual, "Oh, aren't we going to have so much fun at Nana's house" demeanor. There's talk of the popcorn they'll pop, the movies they'll watch, the park they'll go to, and so on. The kids cheer and jump up and down with excitement. My mother-in-law smiles with delight at the joy on her grand kids' faces. How could such happy people ever have anything less than non-stop fun? Then, less than a full day later, my mother-in-law returns, her car riddled with McDonald's fries, her hair slightly less kept than the day before, and the words can I please have a sedative? written all over her face. Meredith and I emerge from the house to see Nana unstrapping two angry midgets who have taken the place of the delightful children who left the day before. Tears and yells abound as the two continue their heated exchange over a Happy Meal toy, each desperately trying to be the first to present their case to mom and dad that the toy is rightfully theirs. Sometimes we convince Nana to stick around for a while. Other times, she doesn't even turn off the car.

But Nana's continual willingness to voluntarily be alone with small kids for extended periods of time--while a fascinating study in human behavior--is not the main point of this article. No, I want to focus on the time I got to spend alone with my youngest, Carson, on Saturday, and the time I spent with my family on Sunday. Carson is only two years old, but he's old enough to feel left out when the older ones get to do things he's not yet ready for. So, to make Carson feel special, Meredith and I took him to a family festival in Atlanta Saturday morning. It was cool for Meredith and I to have some time with just Carson. Sometimes, the little guy gets lost in the madness of the Howard household, so it was nice that he got to be the center of attention for a while. The highlight, for me, was walking beside a pony while Carson took his first ever "horsie ride." My little guy grinned from ear to ear as he rode round and round, his tiny legs barely spread wide enough to straddle his mighty steed. It was awesome seeing how happy he was and hearing him say "nice orsie" over and over again as he pet the pony's mane. Later that day, Carson and I sat on the couch together to watch a college football game. I don't even remember the score of the game; I just remember I couldn't have been more content. I was right where I wanted to be. Sitting on my couch, my little buddy snuggled up to me in his baseball cap, my arm around him while we watched the game. Sure, he was there largely because he wanted some of the chips I was eating, but so what. I could tell by the look on his face every time I squeezed him close and told him that I loved him that he was kinda glad to just be close to dad too.

By Sunday morning, the Howard household was back to normal. Emerson and William were home. Despite the hectic pace of getting ready for church, we all made time to sit and have breakfast together at the kitchen table. William chose that moment to display his newly discovered talent: the ability to cross his eyes. What made William's performance even more hilarious was how badly it freaked out his mother. Once William knew he had Meredith on the hook, he refused to let her go. With every "Hey, Mom, look at me," that William threw Meredith's way, he elicited screams, cringes, and comments like, "William, stop it before you ruin your eyes!" Meanwhile, Emerson, Carson, and I couldn't help but die laughing at the sight of Meredith squirming uncomfortably as a giggling William continued to shoot her cross-eyed looks.

Later that afternoon, while Meredith and Carson napped, Emerson and William helped me clean up their toys. Then Emerson asked me if I would teach her to play chess. I'm no chess guru, but I know enough to show a six-year-0ld the basics. So, for the better part of an hour, Emerson and I played chess. The TV was off (when it comes to my daughter, football has to wait). The sun was shining through the windows to the kitchen. We could hear a few birds chirping outside. Work that needed attending to sat untouched the entire day on my desk in the office. All in all, it was a great day.

Life's crazy. As a self-employed freelance writer, it's easy for me to let work and the pursuit of an income crowd the time with my family. School activities, daily errands, and trying to keep a house full of rambunctious little people in relative order, could easily keep Meredith and I going non-stop. But you know what? Sometimes, you just need to stop anyway. If you're waiting for a convenient time--or even a practical time--to stop and take a break to enjoy special times with your kids, then you're likely to miss many of the priceless moments you could have experienced. Most of the really awesome memories I'll enjoy looking back on later are just simple things. They're first-time "horsie" rides, cross-eyed looks over a couple of scrambled eggs and a pop tart from the other side of the table, and a beginner's game of chess on a Sunday afternoon. Thank goodness for the quieter, slower times. Feel like you need a break from the craziness of work and the daily routine? Block out a day just for the family. Make the work, the cleaning, and the errands wait while you laugh together in the living room or at the kitchen table. Trust me, the craziness of life will be waiting for you the next day when you return.

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