Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Monkey's Birthday

Oh we are getting closer to real time here...only about a seven weeks behind.  The Monkey had a birthday in November, and he asked for a pirate birthday cake, and the QB, as always, was ready to oblige. 

She had a lot of fun putting this together.  I think the inspiration for the cake came from here:

The cake was a big hit. 

Notice the aweseome wrapping paper employed on the gifts in the background--Sunday comics and brown packing paper..we were running a little low on real paper.  But I don't think the Monkey minded much.

The football was for him, but it has been the Monkey's little brother that has played with it the most.  Just about every day I come home to find him in the living room with the ball in his hands.  He holds it up and says, "down, set, Hut," and then runs around the room. Sometimes he stops and says "kick" and tries to kick the ball, but he hasn't figured that out quite yet.

This Lego ship was big on "wow" factor but since its an advanced set, he hasn't played with it much--er, what I mean is, I haven't sat down with him to put it together yet.  We've got about 1/3 of it done.  My goal is by the end of the year to have it built with him.

This bicycle we got in the back alley about two months ago. It belonged to our neighbor's son who didn't ride it very much.  He (our neighbor) regularly places gently used kids items in the alley that his family no longer needs, and we are the regular recipients of the gesture.  The bike's chain was rusty and the bike needed a cleaning and an inner-tube change, but since Mr. Baseball got a new bike for his birthday I was able to part-out his old bike to get this one working.  Then I washed up the frame, adjusted the handle bars, put on new grips, added the training wheels and the final touch was to put some Armor-All on the tires.  The best part about it is that a week later the Monkey surprised us all by hoping on his old bike (that no longer had training wheels on it) and riding it across the yard.  The training wheels are now collecting dust in the garage, and if we can get some warmer weather, we'll be riding for sure.

A few weeks after the Monkey's birthday, Grandpa Franklin came into town for Thanksgiving. He was scheduled to come for Mr. Baseball's baptism, but he was sick that weekend so he used his credit to come for for Turkey Day. Among other places, we took him to the Ranching Heritage Museum.  The boys love the train (and I think it's my favorite too.)

Grandpa striking one of his famous poses.

And then shortly after Grandpa left, the Monkey came down with chicken pox.  If you look closely in this picture form his preschool Christmas performance (taken a week after he cleared up), you can still see a scab on the side of his neck.  Besides a lot of pockmarks and one tired day on the couch, you wouldn't have known he was sick.  It was his brother's that got the worst of it. But that's for another post.

The Monkey loves preschool (he goes twice a week).

Sorry about the grainy photographs.  That's all my camera could manage from a distance in the light of the chapel. Stay tuned for a Christmas post in the next few days.

Lubbock Soccer: Or parenting 001: remedial fatherhood

The Monkey played soccer this fall. He had two practices a week and games every Saturday at the expansive Earl Huffman soccer complex in North Lubbock. He played for the "Texas Boyz," (sic). He talked about it for months and was very excited to finally get to play.  The three-times-a-week schedule was hard for him to get used to (he regularly broke down in tears about getting his gear on for practice before finally deciding it was okay and then running out to the car fully equipped and happy to be going).

 Lubbock is definitely a baseball town, but soccer holds its own, particularly in the "hyper-competitive parents" column.  These are four-year-olds remember, but I definitely saw one coach turn so red with frustration that he had to remove himself emotionally and physically from the game by sitting the entire second half at the top of the bleachers in order to stay calm (apparently he'd been kicked off the field the week prior).

I heard a parent say: "Hey Ref...those boys are pushing!  That's illegal! They're playing dirty!  That's +*&^%$ ridiculous. Come on! Watch the pushing...(then, to her son when  he comes to the sideline to get some water: "Hey, son, don't let them play dirty. Push 'em back!)

 A few other choice lines, all spoken through gritted teeth, or hollered through cupped hands or otherwise spat out of parents mouths who were disgusted by their four-year-olds' apparent lack of motivation, attention, determination, fighting spirit, or whatever:

"Watch the ball!"

"You better get up and play if you know what's good for you!"

"You gotta attack that ball. Are you kidding me?"


"Get your head in the game now, or I'm pulling you out!"

And then this particularly painful moment:

"What is your problem?!?" (Spit literally flying from coaches mouth as he held his son's shoulders in his hands...At this point the assistant coach speaks up and tells the head coach to calm down, and several parents murmur that the coach needs to calm down, and I raise my voice and say "Coach, he's only four," and without turning around the coach says, "He's my son, I'll take care of him." And his son his crying at this point, holding both hands to his mouth. The boy runs back on the field.

 And I think that is the saddest part about the entire situation.  Almost without exception, the coaches I observed on both sides of the field were kind, patient, and encouraging to everyone on their respective teams--everyone except their own sons.  In fact, it became easy to see which boys belonged to which coaches.  More than once a coach turned to his son on one side and ripped into him with something similar to the comments above only to turn to another boy on his other side and pat him on the back and send him on his way with some words of encouragement.

There were certainly plenty of coaches who were kind and encouraging all around, but too many were too hard on their own boys.   and it wasn't just coaches.  Many parents on the sidelines were just as guilty and just as likely to ridicule their own sons and cheer on someone else's son in the same breath as the coaches were. It got to the point that we didn't want to come to games anymore.

After games and practices I found myself in conversation with the Monkey, asking him what he thought about the way some of the parents and coaches talked to their sons.  He never seemed too bothered by it, except to say that he was glad we didn't talk to him that way, but he also seemed to be buying into the criticism he heard levelled at some of the other kids.  "So and so really needs to learn to listen," he would say, or "so and so doesn't pay attention very well."  We talked about the point of soccer (to have fun and learn to play as a team and have fun and follow directions and get exercise and have fun) and about how some kids are still learning some of the basics and about how sad it was that some parents took the game so seriously.  But we left it at that and now I think--no, now I'm sure I should have done more.  Too many parents, including myself, stood by and let the shouting and harping go on unchecked week after week.  I didn't approve, and a few times I spoke up a little to those around me, and once to the coach himself, but for the most part I just kept my mouth shut and made sure no one shouted at my own son.  But in my silence, in all of our silence, we were perpetuating a winning-is-everything culture that distorts the purpose of youth sports and sets ups a generation of boys to base their self-worth on their dexterity with a ball and whether or not their dad is shouting at them. 


John Gottman  (marriage and family therapy guru) says that the key to a successful married relationship is to outnumber negative comments with positive comments 5 to 1.   So what is the key to a successful father/son relationship? At least that--maybe more.  There is this one important difference.  A married couple may grow apart, may separate or divorce, may start a new life apart, but a father/son relationship is forever. Couples can "fall-out-of-love," but it takes a lot for son to give up on his Dad (in fact, I'm not sure a son can give up on his Dad.  Even an absent or abusive father still has a profound influence on how a son sees himself and the world). A father wields what a writer friend of mine called "mythic" power over his sons.

Whether we want to or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we are willing to do anything about it or not, our sons live for our approval and much of their self worth, their ability to navigate the world, to accept their own sons, will be learned as they grow in our shadows--for a son always lives in his father's shadow. And it is up to fathers to either bring light to their sons' lives in the form of kindness, patience, understanding, comradery, and humility, or to make it ever darker through anger, unreal expectations, spite, aloofness, and pride. 

I think the boots-on-the ground answer to the soccer issue is this: if I want things to change, I've got to volunteer--yeah,  that's probably it.  Isn't there some line about being the change you want to see in the world?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Photo dump: Fall 2011! The Haboob, and Mr. Baseball's Baptism

 This is what it looked like outside our front door at about 5:30 pm on Monday October 17.  I had decided to leave work a little early and had walked in the door about three minutes prior to taking this photo.  The QB had just taken her mom to the airport. The sky had been blue and the wind brisk, but we had no idea this was coming.  In about a minute the neighborhood turned martian and stayed that way for twenty or thirty minutes.  As you can see in the photo here, though I didn't notice it when I took the picture, my car window is cracked open and the next morning when I got in it to drive to school, I found a thick coating of red sand all over my dashboard, steering wheel and seats.  Lovely.
Besides the haboob, Mr. Baseball's baptism weekend went off without a hitch and we were very glad to have family in town.  The week was kind of crazy with family trickling in and then trickling out between Wednesday and Saturday, but we enjoyed the close quarters (there were 11 of us all together in our house at the high point) and the chance to spend time with family we don't get to see very often. 
 Papa Fitz flew in on Wednesday. Nana, Grandma, two sisters (amy and Aubrey), and one nephew (Kimball) flew in on Friday; Papa and one sister flew out on Saturday, Grandma flew out on Sunday, Grandma flew out on Monday, and the Amy and Kimball flew out on Tuesday. 
The entire trip almost didn't work out because of a variety of logistic and financial issues (and Grandpa Franklin got really sick and wasn't able to come), but in the end just about everything went smoothly and we are very grateful to everyone who helped to make the trip happen. 

 These three boys, separated by three-year increments from one another, all lined up in front of us, smiles and curls and one squared-shoulder suit--they're almost too much to consider.  When Mr. Baseball was born, I thought about the 18 years that lie ahead of us, his formative childhood to which God had handed us the keys and said "drive safe," and "Bring him back in one piece," and it all seemed impossibly long, a drive with a destination so far in the distance as to not even register on the mind, but in a flash 8 years is gone. 

I am too hard on him, too expectant of him, and too skeptical of him. When he was younger he used to be quite good at throwing tantrums, and falling apart when things didn't go his way, and I always read his behavior as selfish.  But as he's gotten older and we've talked through some of his outbursts I've discovered that his anger has always been more directed at himself  than anyone else, that he feels failure keenly and that he takes criticism as a reminder of the perceived failure he is already aware of.  He is a kinder and more sincere child than I think I will ever understand and my only hope is that I can stumble through parenthood well enough that when he's finally an adult, he'll accept my apology in spite of everything.

Christ went to John the baptist to be baptized for two reasons. First: to fulfill all righteousness (it's a commandment, after all), and second:  to "showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them." (2 Nephi 31).  I'm grateful to the Savior for his example of perfect goodness, and I'm thankful to Callan for being Callan. We don't deserve him.