Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spirited Kids: You Never Can Tell

Allison and Emily hosted Abigail and Sarah
on a play-date earlier this week.
I've always said you never know what around the corner in life. And there are a lot of corners when you’re navigating the trenches of parenting. The parenting class I’m taking is the best investment of my time I've ever made. And still, you never can tell.

The class rocked this week. We had a guest speaker for the evening.  Besides having four grown children of her own, she’s is a parenting coach who has spent her career dealing with difficult children. She refers to those kids as, “spirited children.” 

After spending an hour talking to us about why children behave the way they do, she opened up the discussion for questions—a parenting coach specializing in children’s behavioral issues offering her insights and knowledge for the asking.   We fired away.

Among the many great talking points we hit, one that struck home was Sensory Integration.   Allison’s kindergarten class shares space with a class of first graders.  According to Kelly, it’s usually pretty chaotic. One day while Kelly was volunteering there, she noticed that after getting an assignment, Allison became very fidgety. At one point she slid off her chair and sat on her knees next to her table as she worked. 

I described this to our guest speaker and asked what it suggested to her.  She replied that it suggested that Allison’s brain was trying to modulate her sensory receptors, and she was probably trying to ground herself. That gave me something to think about next time I see her getting squirrely.

We learned that giving kids a high-five is more than just having fun with them.  Brain research has shown how it affects some neural pathway. You have to admit, it does feel good to high-five someone.

We learned the difference between Authoritative Parenting and Authoritarian Parenting which is basically keeping kids on track rather than pouncing on mistakes.  We learned the tenets of Intentional Parenting and the importance of modeling desired behavior.  

She demonstrated the proper way to give instructions: rather than call out from the other room or while we’re doing something else, close the distance and get on eye level. Seems obvious but we all know the reality of being distracted and trying to multitask.  And we were given handouts that outlined what types of behavior and capabilities we can expect at what ages.  I was scribbling notes left and right.

Our guest speaker also talked about adjusting our expectations. She pointed out that adults don’t always do the right thing; we lash out when we’re mad; eat things we know we’re not supposed to; make irrational decisions.

She asked how we would like it if we were working on our computer and someone walked up and shut off the monitor and gave us an order. That’s what it’s like for kids at times.  She also pointed out that when adults get frustrated or need a break from our surroundings, we can usually leave the room and go regroup, while kids are usually stuck, be it at a daycare or school or even home. 

I walked out of class feeling great about all the new information and insights I had gained. And then came the morning. The girls didn’t want to get out of bed. They didn’t want to get dressed; they didn’t want to put on theirs shoes and coats; they didn’t want to walk up the hill; they didn’t want to ride the bus. I was mentally exhausted after the first hour of my day.

Wednesday was more of the same.  Out of pure frustration, Allison got docked an allowance we haven’t even started yet and a play date--before she even got out of bed.  Emily was making wardrobe changes two minutes before she was supposed to leave for school.  When I called home in the afternoon all I could hear was Allison wailing in the background because she wanted quiet while she did her homework and Emily was talking too loud.

Kelly and I huddled in the family room that evening. She’s with the kids 24/7. I know the toll it can take. The parenting class has helped me make sense of our situation. For example, when kids are going through a phase in which they’re developing new skills, they sometimes take a step backwards on things they already know how to do.  The important thing to remember is, there are many phases of development, so what’s driving us crazy now will eventually give way. To be replaced by other challenges, I’m sure. So we reminded ourselves of the things learned in parenting class and we tried to focus on the bigger picture.

When the alarm when off on Thursday morning, there was Allison, fully dressed, including her coat and backpack. I was in the office while Emily was snuggling with Mommy.  Allison had even poured herself a bowl of cereal and was eating breakfast as she roamed around. You never can tell. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sip-N-Savor Sunday

I had a full slate on Sunday.  There was a lunch outing scheduled with John and Kirsten at a location still to be determined. That would serve as a warm-up to the Sip-n-Savor event at Chateau St. Michelle later in the afternoon.

The kids were on a sleepover. There were no barriers to getting outside.  I had to kill my plans for yard work the day before. At least I had an excuse that time.  With the kids out of the house I find it hard to pry myself off the couch. At one point when the Grandfather Clock chimed the hour, I remarked to Kelly, “Damn, that’s loud.”  I seriously need to decompress.

Finally, I went out to tackle the ugly mess along the side between my house and Flora’s.  By then I was directly in the path of the sun.   Besides being too hot, I just wasn’t’ in to it and so I lamely called it quits after about an hour.

John got us tickets to the Sip-n-Savor through his wine club membership.  Normally, we go there first and then have dinner at The Keg.  Alas, it was Sunday; the end of Spring Break; the kids were due home at six; and everyone had to be either back at school or back to work the next day.  So we decided to do lunch first and then the wine event.

We changed our routine even more by cruising up to Totem Lake to lunch at the Olive Garden.  Olive Garden is not normally on our radar; in fact, it had been several years since the last time I’d seen the inside of one; down in Southcenter.   Totem Lake is the site of our infamous 1997 visit during the summer John and Kelly were getting in shape for the Seattle to Portland Bike Ride.  They had been out on a major training ride earlier in the day and were ready to eat their hands by the time we got to Olive Garden.  And we had to wait and wait and wait some more.  

Some things never change.   Here it was 1:30 on Sunday afternoon and we were put on a waiting list. I don’t get it: the most Americanized version of Italian food I’ve ever eaten anywhere; at inflated prices no less, and people flock to it in droves.

After about a five minute wait we were seated.  To my disdain the cheapest thing I saw on the menu other than the all-you-can-eat soup/salad/breadsticks, was the cheese ravioli for $13.99. Eight ounce glasses of mediocre wine were selling for $10 and up.  All four of us went the soup/salad/breadsticks route. I skipped the wine in favor of a diet soda.

I’m cool with being late to the Sip-n-Savor events. They run for two hours but we’ve always had enough within about ninety minutes.  So I like to come in after they’ve started in order to avoid the big line at the door. And wouldn’t you know it we were a half hour early on Sunday.

John and I bellied up to the tasting bar and bought four pours for ten bucks. The guy doing the pouring was actually pretty cool-he lacked the usual attitude I’ve come to detest from Chateau St. Michelle employees. He even gave Kelly and Kirsten a free pour.

The line to get in the banquet room grew, snaking its way past the tasting bar and out to the gift shop. John had procured wrist bands for us earlier, so he jumped the line and was in.  The rest of us shuffled to the back and inched our way forward.

The wines were paired with snacks that included popcorn, corndogs, mac & cheese; pizza; a cheese dipped in coffee; and lemon cookies for desert. They had issued tickets for the food but the people pouring at the various stations didn’t seem to care if you turned in a ticket or not.  Likewise, they didn’t care if you came back for thirds on the wine.  There are just too many people to keep track of, so people can get their buzz on at these things.
The first pour of the day was a sparkling wine. That put me in the mood for some more. After we made the rounds to the various tasting tables, I lobbied that we leave, go pick up a bottle of bubbly, and drink it back at our house.   Kirsten had already bailed for some fresh air.  John and Kelly circled back to their favorite tasting tables for a last round. 

Cheapo that I am, I skipped the winery to buy a bottle of Cook’s at our local Chevron station while John made an appointment to get the air conditioning fixed on his F-250. The kids came home with Grandma.  We all sat in the living room and chatted.  John and I split the bottle of bubbly that he had bought on his way out of the winery.

After everyone went home and the kids were in bed, it was time to wind down for the night. I had half a mind to open my bottle of champagne but if experience has taught me anything it’s that when it’s over, it’s over.  And it was over.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Saturday And Other Variables

Yes, we really did party at a Senior Center.
It took most of the week but at least Emily and Kelly recovered from the stomach virus that took them down on Monday.  So much for Spring Break.  Saturday was one of those days in which going in I had a plan; I was going to work on my house's curb appeal.  Only problem was, I had not considered all the variables of my life.

Take for example, the birthday party that Allison and Emily were invited to on Saturday. First off, I thought it started at two in the afternoon. I don't know where I came up with that time but I was wrong--it kicked off at ten in the morning. Not only that, the party was in Lynnwood.

Nothing against Lynnwood; I grew up a couple towns over; in Brier, and went to high school in neighboring Mountlake Terrace. Still, it's a kind of a haul from Bellevue to go to a party, especially considering the guest of honor is a classmate of Allison here on the east side. The reason for the relatively remote location was that this was a pool party.  That created another variable: I figured I'd be needed to don the swim trunks to help supervise my kids.

Allison's classmate, William, turned six years old. Nobody
seemed real happy about having to pose for this pic.
As it turns out, this wasn't just any old pool party.  Lynnwood is home to a miniature water park. Shades of Great Wolf Lodge: it has a long, winding tunnel for tubing; a big bucket that fills up with water every few minutes and dumps over the top of a jungle gym; and has features that accommodates all ages and abilities. Other than being a fraction of the size of Great Wolf, it's also a fraction of the cost. The hosts covered our entrance fee but if we had paid, it would have only been about three bucks a head.  That's a three hundred dollar savings over Great Wolf. That fact alone served to effectively put the kibosh on my obsession with the Great Wolf Lodge.

Pool aside, this is not the Lynnwood of my youth. I used to pedal my ten-speed down to the Fred Meyer's, which kind of anchored the town. Pedaling along 44th Avenue West these days will likely get you killed, and the Fred Meyer store is a mere spec on the cityscape.

Things got lively as more guests arrived. This is Carly,
she's only three years old and adores Allison.
My parents used to take us out to eat at a joint called, Royal Fork.  Think, Old Country Buffet.  Royal Fork is long gone, as is The Cranberry Tree which is where Mom and Dad used to go when they wanted to kick things up a notch and maybe have a cocktail.

All of my visual references were obsolete. I barely recognized my surroundings.  Lynnwood suffers from Urban Sprawl.  Kelly's only been up that way a few times and she completely lost her bearings.

It seemed kind of funny that the party for this kid who was turning six years old was held in a Senior Center. It was however, conveniently located right next door to the pool. The Guest of Honor was William; a Korean boy with two older brothers who are teenagers. His mom is named, Sally, and she is one of the nicest people I've ever met in my life.

After lunch and the kids started
loosening up, the smiles started coming out.
Despite the scattering of school chums in attendance, William's family outnumbered the guests. Aunts and uncles and cousins and I suspect that was Grandma I saw too.  The whole entourage showed up loaded with cameras and food.  There was a half dozen Costco pizzas for the guests and a sheet cake with race cars on top. The real treat was the large pans of noodle dishes they brought. I was saving myself for my own after-party at Dick's Drive-in but I gave in to the homemade Korean cooking. That was outstanding.

As we entered the party room, Allison grabbed my hand and said, "I'm scared."  Only one other classmate, Elizabeth, was there when we arrived. We chatted with her and her dad.  Allison and Emily stuck close until Rachel showed up. Then Carly arrived just as the kids were sitting down to eat.  I pulled up a chair for her next to Allison and the energy level immediately began to rise. Soon there was Kalie and Brandon, and Allison wasn't scared anymore.

Emily playing with her friends.
After an hour of socializing at the Senior Center it was time to hit the pool. Sally offered me a wristband so I could go in the water but I declined. A part of me really wanted to go--I could have grabbed a tube and rafted through the tunnel; did that ever look like fun, my thought however was that this was for the kids. And there was a good chance that if I went in, Allison and Emily would want me to take them down the Lazy River and push me under the giant bucket and generally distract them from playing with their friends.

Honestly, I had more fun sitting on the metal bleachers than I would have being in the pool. For one thing, Kelly and I chatted with Rachel's parents. They love to go camping and have what they call a tent trailer which I always refer to as a pop-up camper.  The idealist in me can visualize all the fun we could have over a weekend in Carnation or out at Denny Creek.  The realist in me was screaming that it's the worst idea ever. The OJ's parents are campers too and have tried to get us involved; even Uncle Eric and Auntie Kathy camp a few days every summer. I think it's only a matter of time before Daddy-O's gang makes some memories; however short lived, in The Great Outdoors.
William's mom, Sally, takes Allison down
The Lazy River.

The other great thing about staying on the sidelines was watching Allison and Emily at play. My two little socially inhibited little girls continue to make strides.  Make no mistake: they still pretty much shut down in public. They had posed with William at the beginning of the party. Nobody in the frame looked happy.  Later on after everyone loosened up, the photos began to reveal smiles.

Sally got in the pool and took Allison down The Lazy River. Emily spent some time in the hot tub by herself. She sat in a corner watching all the kids. I saw her smiling.

Usually I talk about how much like my mom Emily is but in this case I saw myself: keeping an eye on the proceedings, taking it all in, at the same time enjoying some alone time. Then again, my mom was like that too, so maybe the real revelation here is how much I take after my mom.

After the party we stopped at Dick's.
This is not something I take lightly. As a parent I'm always reflecting back on my own experiences as a child. Strangely; perhaps, is how I learned from my parents.  Take my mom for example; she used to drive me crazy with all her big talk about wanting to do this and wanting to do that, and she never did anything. If it didn't fall in her lap, it was too hard. For crying out loud, she talked herself out of learning to cut hair, which was her childhood dream. I always sensed there was a lot of untapped potential within my mom, but for a lot of intangible reasons, she always gave up before she started.

Consequently, I learned more from what my mom didn't do with her life. Her fear of engaging motivated me. Back when I was transitioning from being a baker to becoming an accountant, there were a lot of times when it seemed like it would have been easier and much less humiliating to give up.  Going back to school revealed all my flaws and shortcomings.  I wasn't as smart as I thought I was, wasn't as good at a lot of things as I thought I was--but at least it showed me who I was. I made the decision to stick with it and go down swinging--if I flunked out then I would accept my fate.  And I was happier getting an honest assessment of my abilities and how I stacked up rather than living a lie. Since then I've been on a quest for life long learning.
Allison kicking the ball around
at Newcastle Park.

Which brings me back to Allison and Emily. They are shy, I get it--but I'm not going to give them a pass. I love getting them out in the world. They need even more exposure to social situations.  If we keep it up then sooner or later; probably later, they will become adept enough to where they will be comfortable to at least talk to people.  Maybe someday I'll even find myself competing against them in a Toastmasters speech competition. On Saturday afternoon I was just happy to see them splashing around with their friends.

One imprint my mom did leave on me was Dick's Drive-in. I freely admit that I am unable to objectively judge the quality of their food. My mom used to feed me Dick's burgers when I was eating in a high chair, in our house in Ballard.   They are ingrained in to the fabric of my DNA.  Since moving to the east side of Lake Washington, we occasionally make runs across the bridge just for Dick's.

A warm and lovely Spring afternoon at the park.
A few years ago a Dick's opened in Edmonds. There was no way I was going to miss stopping by, being that I was in Lynnwood. Allison wanted chicken nuggets. Dick's of course, doesn't serve chicken nuggets. She settled for fries and a shake. Emily put away a cheeseburger. Here's one family tradition that will definitely get passed down through the generations.

I had half a mind to visit my mom's grave on the way home and maybe the old Brier Grocery to buy some candy. The Korean food, the warmth of the pool area, and the carbs from Dick's, were working against me, making me sleepy. The kids watched "Frozen," for the second time of the day while I napped in the recliner.

The kids have actually outgrown the toys at Newcastle.
Emily is across the way talking to Allison.
The afternoon sun was bright and warm. The kids wanted to go to Newcastle Park.  There were a lot of people out enjoying the weather.  A large group was in the picnic area and the smell of grilling food mixed with the warm, fresh air was pleasing.

We kicked the ball around before heading to the play area. I pushed the girls on the swings while Kelly stood by with Charlie on his leash. A couple boys about 10 - 12 years old were screwing around; standing on the metal roofs of the play structures. They ran and jumped from one roof to another. One of the boys missed a landing. One second he was standing there bragging about how big he was and the next thing I knew he was sitting on the roof holding his leg and bawling his eyes out. Blood was streaming out of a nasty looking gash. Kelly walked over and told him to put pressure on the space above the wound to stop the bleeding. This was going to take stitches.

Now I only push them part-time, as they have learned
to propel themselves on the swings.
His family came running over. They lifted him off the roof. Luckily for everyone, the kid was part of a large group.  Four men started carrying him to the car. We got out of their way. This of course prompted many questions from Allison and Emily.

Grandpa swung by later on to pick them up for a sleepover. Of course the first words out of their mouths was to fill him in on what happened at the park. Then with their Frozen DVD in hand, they got in Grandpa's car and headed out. Kelly and I drank a bottle of Flume Blanc.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

As The World Turns

The cousins at Northwest Trek, on Monday.
We kicked off Spring Break with some twists and turns: there was a trip to Northwest Trek on a gorgeous afternoon; there was parenting class; and then Emily puked in the middle of the night.

I've been aware of a nasty little gastro-intestinal virus that's been making the rounds.  Uncle Eric came down with it and missed three days of work.  Aaron got it too, and puked so hard he busted some blood vessels in his cheeks. What was unbeknownst to me however, was that somewhere along the way Kelly picked up Uncle Eric's symptoms.

She soldiered on to Northwest Trek anyway, nausea and all.  Auntie Kathy joined in with Aaron and Ryan. It was easily the most beautiful day of the year, with temperatures reaching in to the low seventies.  We're still using the pass we bought last year that gets us along with our guests in to both Northwest Trek and the Point Defiance Zoo.

 Meanwhile, I had been at work all day and out of touch. I thought all was well on the homefront as I breezed in to parenting class. This week's topics were, over indulging your child and dealing with your child's anger.

Riding the tram through the nature preserve.
The over indulging part really hit home in the sense that it's so much easier to give in so the kids will stop whining. Anything just to get them to shut up. Obviously, a parent is not doing anyone any favors by caving in. We talked about The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment of the late 1960's and the long-term benefits of teaching  children the benefits of delayed gratification.

I'll never forget the time when Allison and Emily were three years old and I made them root beer floats one morning to take in the Jeep on their way to preschool. That's called sending the wrong message. I knew that even then but I did it anyway.

A herd of Bison catch some rays.
What became apparent to me during the class was the need for Allison and Emily to take on some responsibility.  Kelly's been after me to come up with a "chore chart." This aligns exactly with what the facilitator was saying during class, that kids need to know that they are part of the family and that all family members have a job. It could be something as simple as sorting their own laundry, or making their bed, or keeping their toys picked up. So that's something we need to formalize.

The other part of that equation is doling out an allowance. Just as being a family member requires having a responsibility; it also entitles kids to an allowance that's not tied to doing chores. By the age of six most kids are ready to begin learning about fiscal responsibility.

These two were sick later on.
There were some protests among the group. Some thought that allowances should be earned. A stay-at-home mom countered that argument by saying even though she doesn't have a paying job, she needs money for groceries and on top of that she deserves the occasional manicure and to be able to buy a smoothie once in awhile. I took her side.

As for dealing with children when they are angry, I didn't really learn anything groundbreaking.  The biggest thing was reinforcing the importance of not allowing the child's anger to ignite that of the parents.

By the time I got home, Kelly was clearly not feeling well. Allison and Emily were full of energy. It took a bit of doing to get them to lights out. There was no indication that trouble was brewing in Emily's guts.

Allison and Mommy take a break along a trail
at Northwest Trek.
It manifested at 4:00 AM. She called for Mommy as she staggered down the hall, puking as she went, to the bathroom. Bodily fluids were coming out of both ends for a couple hours. Emily took my spot in bed with a waste basket at her bedside. I didn't sleep a wink.  Allison slept through it all.

I notified work that I would be staying home so Kelly could get some rest. She was providing care and comfort to Emily despite her own misery.

By mid-morning Emily was walking around carrying the waste basket with her. She took it downstairs and camped out on the couch with Allison.  Whatever it was seemed to have run its course, leaving her with a pounding headache and a sore tummy.  Kelly got some sleep in bed while I dozed in the living room recliner with a blanket over me like an old fart.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Saturday's Happy Wanderings

The beginnings of our Happy Wanderings
started with lunch.
 After a long week in the cubicle, Daddy-O needed to know there is life out there. Allison and Emily were on a sleepover. It was a rare day of tending to my own well-being. That led to some happy wanderings.

It was a classic Spring afternoon in the Pacific Northwest; gray skies, mild temperatures, and the air fragrant with the season.  A three mile walk around the neighborhood cleared my head.

A sprinkling rain started coming down.  Nevertheless, I spent a couple hours working on the front yard. Forget the gym, there is nothing like the full body workout you get from grubbing out weeds, raking, pitchforking, and pushing heavy wheelbarrows. Plus it just felt good to be outdoors.

Lunch at Thai Castle was a winner.
After a hot shower and the last of the wine from Friday night, I was feeling rejuvenated.  It was time for lunch. Kelly's sister had recommended a little hole-in-the-wall joint on Coal Creek Parkway next door to QFC called, Thai Castle. We decided to check it out.

I'm guessing the woman waiting tables was the owner. She was quite a character with her flowered hat and her banter. When we ordered Chicken Pod Thai she screwed up her face and suggested prawns instead. According to her, chicken is the Americanized version of Pod Thai; that in Thailand it comes with prawns. We took her up on it and also ordered Spring Rolls and curried chicken with rice.  Everything was a winner.

After lunch we wandered in to Pete's.
Next, we wandered over to Bellevue to snoop around Pete's Wine Shop. As it turns out, Pete's hosts a free wine tasting every Saturday afternoon. I was full from lunch which was making me drowsy. Consequently, I didn't really feel like standing around pretending to discern the nuances of the different varietals.  The crowd was interesting though, a lot different from the Sip-n-Savor groups I've mingled with at Chateau St. Michelle.

Compared to the winery, the crowd at Pete's was older, grizzled, and more in to the wine than making the event a social occasion. I had a couple pours then gave up to meander down the aisles. I've taken to trying wines recommended by Pete's employees.  Besides that, the staff at Pete's are nice, easy-going folks--not the Nazis at Total Wine and not snooty like at Chateau St. Michelle.

Daddy-O checks out the goods at Belle Pastry.
As  you pull out of the alley were Pete's is located, you can get on to Main Street. From there, crossing Bellevue Way puts you in what's known as Old Bellevue. That's where my new favorite pastry shop is: Belle Pastry.  It's been there forever but it was our first visit.  Yes, I like the charm of George's Bakery, in North Bend; and I like the offerings at The French Bakery, in Crossroads Mall.  Belle Pastry combines the quaint charm of George's with the sophistication of The French Bakery.

The shop is long and narrow, with battered hardwood floors. The tables and chairs have seen better days.  The staff was young and hip.

Saturday afternoon at Belle Pastry.
Slices of cake topped with lemon filling caught my eye.  Kelly had designs on a chocolate covered macaroon cookie. Vanilla lattes to wash it down. The place was humming with business. We sat in a corner and watched the passer-byes on Main Street.

The rain was coming down hard as we left. If I was feeling drowsy at Pete's, I was downright sleepy by the time I walked out of Belle Pastry. Kelly and I both remarked how the coffee wasn't reviving us.

Back home, I took a nap. God only knows how much time passed.  I woke up when Kelly popped in and asked, "Are you ready?" A couple seconds later the doorbell began ringing incessantly. That could only mean one thing: the kids were home.

To recap: I went for a walk; worked in the yard; had a glass of wine; went out for Thai food; wine shopped and enjoyed a couple tastings; then topped things off with pastries and a latte.  I don't know that I ever did that much in a day before having kids.

My purchases from Pete's Wine Shop.
Allison rushed down the hall and threw herself against me, wrapping her arms around my waist. Her and Emily rolled up sleeves and pant legs to show off their scrapes and bruises from crashing on their bikes. Within a couple minutes Emily had brought out a book to read to Grandma while Allison began drawing. Life was quickly back to normal.

We let their bedtime slide an hour since they're on Spring Break. Even so, they were both energized. After brushing their teeth they both said they were hungry. And so it was toast with peanut butter and honey before they bunked in together in Allison's room.

As much as I enjoyed the day, I miss Allison and Emily when they're gone. The little break in the action from parenting is nice but it's not my reality. I'm all-in as their Dad.

Kelly and I took a pass on opening any wine. Instead, it was popcorn and diet sodas in front of the TV. I called it a night feeling as good as I have in a long time.




Saturday, April 5, 2014

TGIF

After a long and busy week of work, a glass of
wine in the late afternoon sun.
When I was a little boy I don't ever remember thinking, I can't wait to grow up so I can sit in a cubicle all day calculating things like Construction Support Overhead and forecasting how Contributions In Aid of Construction will relieve pressure to raise the CSOH Rate. Such glamour.  But hey, it pays the bills. And besides, as it turns out it's interesting. Whooda thunk it? Nevertheless, TGIF.

I had my forty hours in by Wednesday. Thursday was a sixteen hour day. My boss swung by my cube on Friday and told me I should take off ASAP to go enjoy the weekend.

Why would an accountant at the local utility have to log such long hours? We are required to close the books every month in four days. Day 3 is where I do my heavy lifting. Of course, we lost an hour when the accounting software crashed. We lost another hour when we had to stop to run some reports for the Tax Department so they could start their quarterly tax return work. There were extra entries to book. And so it went....

Standing by our new Azalea bushes that we planted
last weekend. 
Kelly brought me breakfast on Friday. We sat in the lobby, by the fireplace with McDonald's coffee and Sausage McMuffins. That's when she told me the girls were going on a sleepover.

Let me get this straight: It was Friday; my boss told me I was free to take off whenever; the kids were on a sleepover; and to top it all off, the sun was shining. What did I ever do to deserve this?

I was home by 4:00 PM. Had not seen my house that early since my days in Treasury.  Kelly suggested we stand in the front yard with a glass of wine and catch the late afternoon sun.

This is how I like to live my life; engaged, all-in.  When I'm working hard it makes afternoons like Friday extra special.  It was lovely.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Outlaw Angel

My Outlaw Angel.
Lord knows Allison can be difficult.  And yet she’s made me stronger.  Allison is my outlaw angel.

For starters, Allison has a mind like a steel trap. I remember early on, how she used to examine the locking mechanism of the playpen and figured out how to open the gate.  Nevertheless, sometimes Emily is first at accomplishing things.  I saw her walk first and I saw her swim before Allison.  That’s because Emily has more perseverance than her sister.  I've always thought Allison was ahead of Emily in both emotional and physical development.  She was born with a full head of hair while Emily was bald; Allison was the first to come off baby formula; the first to try and walk, the first to ride her bike without training wheels.

The beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Back to that steel trap: most of the time when you talk to Allison it’s not clear if you’re getting through to her. But her mind is like a sponge.  The other night she was testing me without me knowing I was being tested. When she told me she didn't want to go to Seaside, I countered by telling her fine, she could stay with her Auntie Kathy.  Allison pounced: “You promised you would never leave me behind!”

She had busted me in a lie. Yes I did, in a vague moment of which the circumstances elude me now. I remember concluding that she needed some reassurance. I’m finding that Allison constantly needs assurance that she’s loved, wanted, and belongs. When she feels lacking that assurance, she tests. 

She’s tested my patience, my resolve, my very will to live.  Allison can be relentless. I give her credit though, for forcing me to grow up emotionally. She’s compelled me to dig deep within myself and to reach out.  As I said earlier, I’m mentally and emotionally stronger because of her.

A moment in which Allison needed some
reassurance.
Parenting class this week was devoted to anger—parental anger.  Where it comes from and strategies for defusing it were discussed. This is one of my pain points.  The meat of the class was the section on how to address your kids when you’re mad at them. In a nutshell: use “I” messages not “you;” get to the point, stay in the present; no threats or violence, allow space for them to make things right; and restore good feelings. Like most parenting strategies, all that is easier said than done.

Of course the best strategy is to not get mad at all.  Not bloody likely I know, but I’ve found that when I’m getting my workouts and my walks and adequate sleep that is not marred by my body having to deal with alcohol in its system, I have much more capacity to deal with adversity and challenges.

Checking out The Santa Train a couple years ago.
When the conversation opened up for people to share experiences, I talked about being an immature parent by threatening my kids with boarding school, and how Bush League it is to make such empty threats. How could I let two little girls get me so sideways? For me, it’s been a journey to growing up emotionally.

We go through periods in which Allison gets out of bed in the middle of the night to wake me up. She used to jab me awake but when I complained she switched to running a finger down the middle of my back.  I’m not sure that was any better.  My radar has learned to listen for the sound of her feet hitting the floor. The point is, when she comes in, she whispers to me: “Daddy, I had a bad dream.” I take her by the hand back to her room, tuck her in, kiss her on the cheek and tell her I love her.  “I love you too,” she always replies. And then she sleeps the rest of the night.
A little one-on-one time at the park last summer.

The whole renegade persona was a figment of my imagination. One time recently as we drove through the neighborhood I offered her the chance to sit on my lap and steer.  She was too afraid of getting caught by the police. Last week as we drove up to the mountains, Allison basically freaked out when Emily unbuckled her seat belt for a second.

She wrote this card for me earlier this week.
Lately she’s been asking me questions about what if kids went to work so parents could stay home. On Saturday night she was asking me again. It then occurred to me that what she was proposing was that she go to work so I could stay home. I gave her a big hug and told her to let me do the working and that she should do the playing. I could physically feel her body relax when I said that, like a weight had come off. She was truly concerned about me.

I came home for lunch a couple times this week.  Allison knew I was coming. She drew cards for me on both days, put them in an envelope, and left them on the floor just inside the front door.  She wrote, “I love you so much.  Love, Allison.”