Monday, May 31, 2010

Choosing Number Four

As anyone who's read my blog is aware, my wife and I have three kids. Our daughter, Emerson, is now seven years old. William will turn five in the fall. And Carson, the youngest, is on deck to turn three this summer. Since 2003, Meredith and I have lived in a continuous mind scramble. I can vaguely remember a time when Meredith and I used to engage in adult conversations. We'd talk about religion, politics, our plans for the future, and what we wanted to do on a Saturday night. Over the last seven plus years, such conversations have become rare, surrendering to discussions about what diaper cream is best, whether or not we have enough butt wipes to last the weekend, whose turn it is to clean up the night before's bed-wetting catastrophe, and who's next up to wipe the poop covered backside of a recently potty-trained pygmy. We occasionally still argue about money, time, and whether or not I'm working too much. But, thanks to seven years of sleep deprivation and the ongoing depletion of brain cells that is parenthood, Meredith and I have also lowered ourselves to fighting over whether or not Carson should wear his Incredible Hulk or Lightning McQueen jammies, who put the Blue's Clues towel in the wrong drawer, who placed the tube of Desitin next to the toothpaste (yuck!), and who should have done more to keep half-eaten Dora the Explorer yogurt tubes out of Daddy's brief case.

Yep, parenthood has been a tiring adventure thus far; and we're still early in the game. I can't count how many times other people (even other parents) look at us with our three young kids and ask, "How do you do it?"

"It takes prayer and a lot of team effort," one of us will usually respond. (It also occasionally takes alcohol and prescription drug use, but we tend to keep that part to ourselves.)

Therefore, it's no wonder that many people's eyes bug out and their jaws drop open when Meredith and I tell them that we've decided to have a fourth child. THAT'S RIGHT! WE'RE GONNA DO IT ALL AGAIN! (Anyone got the number of a good psychiatrist?) Like Kevin Bacon in Animal House, we're willingly dropping our pants, bending over, and repeating the words "Thank you Sir, may I have another," as the paddle of parenthood whacks us in the fanny one more time. When people look at my exhausted expression like I've lost my mind, I simply tell them, "Look, as challenging as raising kids can be, we love being parents. There's no greater joy in our lives than our kids, and we both agree that we want another child. Besides, once you've been hit in the head enough times with a baseball bat, how much will you really feel it if someone else shows up and takes a few swings with a crow bar?"

Only this time, Meredith and I are going a different route. After much prayer and discussion, Meredith and I have decided that it is time to act on a dream we have had since before we were married: We've decided to adopt. This past week, we learned that we have been officially accepted by an agency that will help us adopt a little girl from Ethiopia. Why Ethiopia? There were various reasons why we decided to go international for now (I won't get into them here). As we researched and learned more, Meredith and I decided that Ethiopia not only has a great need, we believe it presents the best scenario for our family as well.

Why a little girl? We already have two awesome boys and a beautiful daughter. We would love a second daughter as well. Emerson is also longing for a sister. She's excited about us adopting. Her only request was that it not be a boy. "We've got enough boys," she asserted, "if it's another boy I'll just die." William has also gotten used to the idea of a little sister, although originally, if the child wasn't a boy, he asked if we could "sell it on eBay and get a dog?" As for Carson, he just wants someone in the house to be younger than him. As long as he can have that and remember to poop in the potty instead of his "big boy" underwear, he'll be happy. (Sometimes he doesn't even need the 'pooping in the potty instead of his underwear' part.)

Adoption is a long, challenging process. I won't get into all the details here, but let's just say that my wife has said several times that "adopting a child is a lot harder than having one biologically." And this is a woman who has undergone three C-sections and a two week stay in the hospital due to complications after the birth of her first child. It's worth all the hurdles you have to jump. After all, you know that your child is waiting for you in an orphanage somewhere in Africa--just waiting to come home. Whenever the paperwork gets burdensome or the personal intrusions into our lives become a little offensive, I try to remember that, out of all God's children, only one was begotten: Jesus. The rest were all adopted. I think about the "adoption process" God had to go through and how long and drawn out it sometimes was. But it was worth it because he loved us so much. He didn't love us because we were perfect, had no issues, or because there were any guarantees that we would turn out to be well-behaved kids (we aren't). No, he just CHOSE to love us. He CHOSE to want us. He saw that we needed a dad. He longed to give us a home. That's what adoption is about. When people ask me, "How can you love an adopted child as much as you love your own?" I just say, "Because we choose to. And besides, once she's ours, she IS one of our own."

So pray for the Howards as we set off on this new adventure. It's challenging, emotionally wrenching at times, and often frustrating as we wait for the process to unfold. It's also expensive--very, very expensive. In the coming weeks, I will be announcing the beginning of my new blog focusing on our adoption journey. Keep an eye out for it. Hopefully it will be a fun, informative, and inspiring read. I will also be posting links like the one below for any reader who might be interested in helping us finance our adoption. Perhaps you're not someone who feels called to adopt or who can't adopt right now; but you'd like to help an orphaned child reach a loving family. Please consider donating to our adoption cause and helping us bring our daughter home, at least with prayers or comments of support if not financially. Anyway, we'll keep you posted. And, yes, even though I will be starting a new blog, Dadlosophies will continue as well. Look for my next dadlosophy next Monday: same Dad time; same Dad web address.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekends Without Tarzan and Jane

This morning, as a sit at my computer to write my weekly dadlosophy, I find myself suffering from a bout with writer's block. It's not that my kids suddenly stopped supplying me with material, it's just that I haven't had a moment to think all weekend. When you're a parent, weekends belong to kids' activities. Rare are the Saturdays when you can sleep in or have nothing to do but watch a ball game in the afternoon. If you do watch a sporting event, it's usually because you're sitting along the sidelines of a little league field and cheering your tiny athlete on from the comfort of your fold-out chair. There are birthday parties to attend, soccer games to coach, recitals to be at, and--in the case of this past weekend--Girl Scout ceremonies that demand your parental presence. Once your kids get old enough to become involved in sports, piano lessons, dance, or a barrage of other activities, make no mistake, your weekends are GONE!

Sometimes, when I have a rare moment to fix my mind on something other than trying to figure out who spilled juice on the living room floor, stopped up the toilet with an Incredible Hulk action figure, or left a melting ice cream sandwich in my sock drawer, I'll think back to what weekends were like before I had children. Like an old-timer recalling Sunday afternoons in Mayberry, I'll reminisce about a time when I knew who the players on my favorite sports teams were or could tell you what movies were playing at the nearby theater. I can vaguely recall a time when date night didn't involve leaving the house before six o'clock so that we could be finished and home by 10 p.m. to relieve the babysitter. I remember when Meredith and I used to double-date with other childless couples and conversational topics like baby bowel movements, leaking nipples, and the best ointment to apply to a butt rash never came up. (Except for one really awkward conversation in 2001 that resulted in Meredith and I never going out with that couple again.) And, of course, there was the post-date sex. I can still picture those days when romance and atmosphere mattered. My wife wanted a connnection. She wanted me to sweep her off her feet. Fulfilling sex required feeling and foreplay. Now, foreplay consists of rushing to get your clothes off as fast as possible so that you can finish before a child wakes up and appears at your bedroom door demanding a glass of water.

Yet, for all the ways we parents have had to modify our concept of a weekend, the truth is that most of us wouldn't want to go back. Oh sure, we often look back on our pre-kiddo Saturdays and talk about how nice it would be to have a weekend where all we did is veg, cheer on our team, hit the restaurant of our choice, and perhaps enjoy a little romance that doesn't involve phrases like "Are you almost finished, I think I hear the boys?" and "No, we can't play Tarzan and Jane, it will wake the kids." But like those high school days we often enjoy reliving through old stories or brief reunions with friends, we really don't want to do it again. Not if it means risking never having what we've got today: our spouse, our children... our life!

So I'll gladly sacrifice my weekends to the gods of soccer and Girl Scouts. I'll forego Friday nights having a drink or two and cutting up with childless friends in favor of ones spent getting to know fellow parents over a slice of pizza at a first-grade birthday party. It's all part of this stage of life. It's parenthood. Regardless of how hectic they are, my weekends are exactly what they are supposed to be right now. My advice to other dads who are where I'm at? Take a deep breath, remind yourself how special this time with your kids is, accept the fact that you may have to DVR the big game, and enjoy yourself. And don't worry. One day, maybe you can play Tarzan and Jane again.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Jedi Knight of Motherhood

It's now just after 8:30 p.m. on an unseasonably chilly but comfortable May evening. It's Mother's Day; the day we devote to expressing our special love and appreciation to those amazing women who devote every ounce of their being to making their house, apartment, condo, whatever, into the loving safe-haven their children will always remember as home.

I'm sitting out on my back deck as the sun gives way to dusk with just my laptop and my thoughts. Not surprisingly, I find myself thinking about my wife, Meredith, who is the wonderful mother of my children. Meredith never ceases to amaze me. She endures the sleep deprivation caused by the late-night cries of an awakenened child. She often stops what she's doing to answer the call of a two-year-old who's proudly pooped in the potty and insists that mommy be the one to wipe his little fanny. She prepares breakfast and lunches for our three children (hopefully having washed her hands thoroughly after that fanny-wiping episode). Then she fills her day with family errands, battles against ever advancing piles of dirty laundry, proofreading first-grade homework to ensure that its done correctly, and cleaning dirty dishes that seem to grow miraculously on their own out of the bottom of our kitchen sink. Oh sure, I do my part to help out, but my household efforts and stamina pale in comparison to Meredith's. She's a tutor, a maid, a manager, a chauffeur, a pharmacist, a child psychologist, a crisis-control specialist, a chef, a cheerleader, a bodyguard, and--during those times when the kids seem to be holding my sanity for ransom--a hostage negotiator. No doubt about it; in our family, Meredith is the hero and the glue that holds the Howard household together.

Mothers are an interesting creation. How God managed to fashion something so beautiful and feminine, yet so strong, tough, fierce, and occasionally terrifying out of one little rib I'll never know. My wife is a gorgeous woman with a smile and laugh that could capture any man's heart. But mess with one of her babies and you'd be better off mooning an unchained pit bull from three feet away. She's the protector; the gatekeeper between our kids and harm. God help the saturated fat that tries to sneak its way past her into our children's diet. I challenge anyone to find even an inch of skin on one of our kids that hasn't been slathered in sunscreen between May and mid-September. She's the Jedi knight of motherhood, wielding band aids, tissues, sandwich bags of cheerios, teaspoons of children's Tylenol, and packages of pull-ups with all the skill and mesmerizing speed of a maternal lightsaber.

I guess that's true of most mothers. Like Meredith, they can be stern and the disciplinarians when they have to. But even the lectures, time outs, refusals to give in to a child's request, and occasional spankings are always out of love and the deepest affection. There's a reason country music singers feel compelled to sing about "Momma." It's no wonder that Mary is mentioned in Christmas carol after Christmas carol while Joseph sits in heaven eternally thinking to himself, "C'mon, even the ox and lamb got a shout-out in The Little Drummer Boy." Everyone knows that Mom is the star of the show. Dad is important, for sure. But he's not mom. No one is.

Sometimes at night I'll tuck my children into bed while Meredith cleans up after dinner or just takes a much deserved break on the couch with her big bowl of popcorn, a glass of her favorite wine, and one of her reality TV shows. Emerson, my oldest, is usually okay with it. She's kind of a daddy's girl so she doesn't mind spending the last few moments of the day with me. She tells me a little about her day, reads me a book (now that she can read she likes to read to dad rather than the other way around), kisses me goodnight, and tells me that she loves me as I get her into bed.

My boys, on the other hand, are another story. Just the other day I heard on the radio that the South ranks as the nation's number one region for "Momma's boys." If that's true, William and Carson will only serve to solidify that ranking. Every time I tuck William in I have to endure a barrage of questions like, "Where's Mommy?"... "Is Mommy going to come tell me goodnight?"... and "Will you ask Mommy to come lie down with me?" Whenever I offer to be the one to lie down with William, he always asks, "Why? Did Mommy go to the gym?"

The scene is practically the same with Carson. He cries as I walk or carry him to his bed, the phrase, "I want Mommy," repeated over and over. When I finally get him calmed down and at least tolerant of the idea that Dad is the one putting him to bed, I sometimes will whisper in his ear, "Carson, do you want to hear a secret?"
"What?" he whispers back.
"I love you," I say.

He then usually smiles, leans close to my ear, and softly mouths the words, "I love Mommy" (except for once when he said, "I love chocolate"). Oh well, you can see where I rank on my sons' parental spectrum of affection.

Thus, this post is simply a "thank you" to my wife on this most special day for moms. Thank you Meredith for being a great mother and a sensational wife. Thank you for being a best friend and a partner in raising our kids. The love our children have for you and the devotion they feel toward you is a testament to what a wonderful mother you really are. I'm honored and fortunate to be your husband. I'll most likely never rank quite as high as you do. After all, no one kisses a boo-boo or makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich quite like Mom. As dad, I'm stuck playing second fiddle. But that's okay. What father can possibly rank as high as Mom if she's really doing her job right? I just hope that one day I can consistently edge out chocolate for second place.