Sunday, October 24, 2010

Life's Hectic--Take a Break

Life's hectic. There's work, life's daily odds and ends, marriage, and--if you are as blessed as Meredith and I--the parental bliss of children all requiring an adult's time and energy.

As a freelance writer, I'm constantly either engrossed in a project or immersed in the pursuit of the next available job. I don't have the security that comes with knowing an employer is depositing a paycheck every 2 weeks. Nope, I don't make any money until jobs are done. Oh, and did I mention that there are no jobs unless I go out and round 'em up? Given that my family has grown accustomed to eating, living in a house, and using electricity pretty much every day, you can imagine how much work and the pursuit thereof can--if left unchecked--totally dominate my schedule.

In addition, Meredith and I just learned last week that we have officially been approved to adopt twin boys from Ethiopia. They're 4 1/2 months old and handsome little guys (nice to know they'll fit right in). But with all the joy and excitement that comes with knowing our family is about to expand, there also comes additional worries about finances, the future, and how to be a dad to five children. At times, I'm tempted to feel overwhelmed. One minute I'm looking at my new sons' pictures and thinking, "This is SO cool!" The next I'm sitting on the corner of the bed, rubbing my temples and trying desperately to go to my "happy place."

Just the other day I experienced such an anxious moment. I was working from home, running late on a deadline and thinking about the huge check I was about to write for our adoptions. The instability of our finances and the uncertainty of our future combined with the demands of work almost left me paralyzed. "What's the use?" I thought. "I just can't do it all. There's no way."

That's when my 3-year-old, Carson, came wandering into the kitchen where I was busy writing. Holding a half-eaten yogurt tube, he shuffled over to the table, totally oblivious to the fact that Daddy was working and had a few things on his mind.

"Daddy," he said, "will you swing me?"

At first I didn't answer, my mind was too busy dividing its time between focusing on the project at hand and worrying about where all life's twists and turns might be taking me.

"Daddy, will you swing me?"

"Huh, what's that, Buddy?"

"I asked you if you will swing me?"

Feeling a bit frustrated by the interruption, I looked up from my laptop, removed my glasses, and was about to politely inform my son that Daddy was very busy and that I might have time to push him on the swing later. Only, when I glanced down to see my little man looking up at me with a ring of yogurt around his lips, something in me clicked. Despite all the work to be done and worries I could choose to dwell on, I knew in that instant that the absolute best thing I could do was get up from the table, give my son a hug, wipe the yogurt from his grinning mouth, and take fifteen minutes to push him on the swing.

And that's what I did. I made the work and worries wait. It was a beautiful day outside. The sun was shining and the early fall breeze was blowing just enough to cause a few of the leaves above us to drift down from the multi-colored tree tops. My two older children were in school, so there was no one else there. It was just me and Carson.

With every "Higher, Daddy," that came from Caron's mouth, I pushed a little harder. I thoroughly enjoyed the morning with my son. We talked about all kinds of things. I tried to explain as best I could why birds fly, why dogs bark, and how come Mommy won't let Daddy talk whenever The Bachelor is on. Conversely, Carson explained to me why Iron Man is so cool, why he wants to be Lightning McQueen when he grows up, and why he thinks it should be socially acceptable to pee in one's pants if one is engaged in a fun activity and doesn't want to stop to use the bathroom.

After the swinging was over, I still had (or, should I say, made) a few minutes to spare. Carson and I walked around the yard, looking at leaves and bugs, kicking the soccer ball, and talking a bit more. All my attention was on my son. It was awesome taking a few moments to listen to what was on his little mind, talk to him about the simplest of things, and just connect with my little buddy.

When the fifteen minutes was over, we went inside. Carson gleefully returned to what he'd been doing, and I went back to my work. But my attitude was totally different. Instead of feeling stressed or anxious, I felt at peace and happy. The moments with my son reminded me that my life is going just fine. I'm married to the woman I love the most in the world. My children love me and are happy and healthy. And Meredith and I are about to fulfill our years-long dream to adopt. Sure there are some unknowns. Aren't there always? But, overall, my life is pretty awesome. Truth is, most of the time when I get anxious it isn't because of any actual problem. Rather, it's because I'm not trusting God enough to take care of me and my family--even though He's never failed to do so. (Go figure.)

I share this simple account simply to make this point: Life will always be hectic. You have to MAKE YOURSELF TAKE A BREAK! Slow down and spend some simple but meaningful time with your kids in the backyard. We run ourselves nuts, bouncing from job to home and to activity, after activity, after activity. Why? Because we're concerned about the future? Because that's the way our culture tells us parenthood is supposed to be done?

Yes, we need to be responsible, work hard, and do our best to provide for our kids' futures. But what about today? If we're waiting for the schedule to let up so that we can play with our kids or talk about why Iron Man is cool, then guess what--you're going to be waiting a long time. Maybe too long. Maybe so long that, by the time you decide you're ready to take a break and push your kid on the swing, you'll turn around to find that he or she has already grabbed the car keys and is out the door.

Slow it on down, guys. There's likely a little boy or girl looking up at you and saying, "Daddy, will you swing me?" He or she might not be saying those exact words. In fact, he or she may not even be asking the question audibly. Maybe they're asking it with their eyes. Maybe they're asking it with that picture they drew for you at preschool. Maybe they're asking it as they kick a football or play in the sandbox all by themselves, hoping Daddy will emerge for even just a few minutes to throw them a touchdown pass or assist them in building the world's greatest sand castle.

Yes, I've got a lot to do. I've got responsibilities that require me to work and market my business. I've got bills that need to be paid and financial concerns that sometimes weigh on me. But I've learned that I will always have responsibilities and things to be concerned about. I owe it to my kids--and myself--to put them aside for a few minutes every day so that I can play a quick game of baseball, push someone on the swing, or marvel at a trick one of my kids has been practicing just so they can show Daddy. If we're not careful, we parents might get so distracted by the fact that life is hectic, that we forget to enjoy the fact that life's pretty good too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Big V

In a couple of weeks, I'll turn 42 years old. I have a beautiful wife and three awesome kids. Add the fact that Meredith and I are currently in the process of adopting one (possibly two?) children from Ethiopia, and I will soon be the father of four.... possibly five. Yes, I said FIVE!! How can we afford it? Well, for starters we'll just have to draw straws to see who gets to go to college. Blue straw, you go to a state-supported university and pursue a career. Red straw, you learn to wait tables and say things like, "Thank you, please come again."

But seriously, given that our soon to expand family seems to be nearing completion (although with the Howards you never know), I finally had to acknowledge that the time had come for Kindred to take a huge step. Knowing that we would still want to have sex but not wanting to cast our own production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Meredith and I decided that yours truly should get the Big V--a vasectomy! And so, last Friday morning, I dropped my daughter off at school and set off to the doctor's office to break ties with my little swimmers.

Why a vasectomy? Well, there's a few reasons. First and foremost, a vasectomy is a lot safer and offers a much easier recovery time for a man than other procedures offer for a woman. Plus, my wife has already experienced three miscarriages, carried three children to term, and undergone three C-sections; so any suggestion by me that she be the one to undergo surgery could very well have led to a physical assault and the implanting of a large object up one of my bodily cavities. Thus, I decided to do the considerate (and safer) thing; I agreed to the vasectomy.

Just in case you're wondering, vasectomies aren't fun. In fact, I'd put them right up there with that exhilarating prostate exam your doctor performs every time you go in for a check-up. You know, the one where your physician puts on a latex glove, douses his finger in petroleum jelly, then tells you to bend over and "try not to move." He then proceeds to ask you how your weekend was while going the wrong way up what God definitely intended to be a one way street. All the while you're trying not to sing like Julie Andrews and praying it will soon be over.

Anyway, my appointment started out easy enough. I filled out the normal paperwork, answered the normal questions, flashed my insurance card... all the usual stuff. Then, the doctor came in. He asked me a couple of questions to make sure I understood the permanency of what I was about to do. He then told me to disrobe from the waist down and promised he'd be back soon.

There I was, lying on the table, my little buddies left hanging. I felt like a sentence with dangling participles. Then, without a word, a nurse walked in carrying a tray of surgical instruments. She set down the tray, marched straight to the table, grabbed my special places, and began spraying them with something cold. "Whoa!" I thought,"How about a little conversation first, Honey. At least tell me if you like moonlit nights and walks on the beach." Then, once our 'first date' was over, the nurse told me to wait on the doctor who would be in shortly. (Like I was going anywhere.)

I then proceeded to lie on the table for over thirty minutes waiting on the doctor to arrive. At one point, a tiny Hispanic woman I'd never seen before walked in the room, looked right at my testicles and said, "I here to get cotton balls." She then rambled something off in Spanish while searching the cabinets above me. Looking for her supplies, she seemed totally undaunted by the fact that my little Taco Bells were jingling just a few feet away. Trying to play it cool, I just hummed something while wondering to myself where a guy goes to apply to get his dignity back.

Finally, the doctor arrived. Of course, thanks to modern medicine, I didn't feel any of the cutting. The tugging and squeezing, however, were another story. At one point, I thought the doctor was under the impression that he was rolling dice in Vegas. I kept expecting to hear him yell, "C'mon seven!" at any moment. A couple of times, my toes curled up so tight that they could have broken a drum stick in half.

Still, overall, the procedure went well and only took about ten minutes. No unusual side effects. On the up side, getting the Big V at least afforded me a built in excuse to lie on the couch all day Saturday watching college football. Sure I had to do it with a bag of ice on my balls, but hey, no scenario is perfect.

And so I've crossed over. Meredith and I have closed the door on having biological children. Any future kiddos will arrive via adoption. Yes, it was a big decision and one we didn't make lightly, but it was the right one for us. We've been blessed with beautiful children. But there's a whole world of kids out there who've already been born but are in desperate need of a loving family to claim them, love them, and call them their own. As we prepare for a soon-to-be-taken trip to Ethiopia, we realize that this isn't the end of our new parenting adventures. Nope, it's just a change in course.