Category Archives: Awesome Children

Ups and Downs

I’ve posted about my word count tracker and daily / monthly / yearly goals in the past, but I haven’t provided an update on that in quite some time… probably because I’m disappointed at the low numbers and slow progress. 

Life has been an airplane in severe turbulence for the last two weeks – rapid descents, attempts to climb out of the bumpy ride, moments of radiance above the storm before another cluster of dark clouds obscure everything else.

I know, everyone has results, or excuses–one or the other, rarely both.

My 18-year-old daughter, our oldest child, just got married a week ago. I’m a jumble of equal parts happy celebration and hopeful concern. The Bee heard all our warnings and listened to all our worries. But she remained determined to move forward, and we decided it would be better to stay supportive and connected than to resist and watch her do whatever she pleases without us being a part of her life.

She and her husband just left the island yesterday to head back to the States, where he will probably enlist in the Air Force soon after their return. That’s awesome and provides some certainty of security. 

Our first of four leaving the nest is, naturally, a painful but necessary process. Wifey and I are working through the emotions and adapting to a new normal.

As I typed this, I was sitting at the base exchange getting ready to sign a bunch of copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Military Families Edition, in which I am a contributing author. I asked for permission to sign and place an origami bookmark in the two or four copies I expected them to put on the shelves–instead, they decided to order 40 and prepare a display. It’s a cool thought that something of my work will be out there for others to see. 

On top of that, they’re crafting plans for a book signing or at least a meet-and-greet with interested customers. As the manager put it, there’s a community connection and an increased value in “I shook this guy’s hand, I talked with the lady who wrote this story.” (There’s another person on Kadena who contributed, so we’re trying to get both of us into the same place at the same time.)

Signing books at the Base Exchange 

The salespeople in charge of books provided enthusiastic help, placing bookmarks, lining up copies for signatures, and snapping pictures for some eventual publicity. They might even work out a radio spot.

Going from celebrating a wedding, to saying farewell to my daughter and her husband, to experiencing a form of success and publicity as a writer–it’s more chaos than a kindergarten class high on candy and Kool-Aid.

A couple days ago, I drove the newlyweds out to a shopping area so they could get some Indian take-out (my daughter’s last chance to eat at her favorite restaurant on Okinawa) and Japanese candy for relatives in the States. “I’ll just hang out at Starbucks while you do your shopping,” I told them. After all, that writing word count was still looking pretty bleak.

“You could come with us to the candy store when we’re waiting for the food,” she suggested. 

It hit me that pretty soon I’ll have all kinds of time to sit in coffee shops, alone with my writing. I wouldn’t get another such opportunity to have time with my daughter for… well, we’ll see how long it ends up being.

Stickerpics with me third-wheeling
Word counts are a tool, a motivational aid meant to track progress toward the overall goal of completed writing projects. But the word count isn’t the be-all/end-all of writing, and writing isn’t everything there is to life. (It hurts a little to type that.) 

What matters more is the conscious choice about what I’m doing with my time. Word counts can help reveal when my efforts are slipping or when I’m succeeding, but sometimes it’s okay to see that string of zeros. Other things are more important. 

Uprooting and Taking Root

I posted this on the new Military Community Writers page, which is a new blog for military-affiliated writers to share experiences, stories, advice, and encouragement. Active duty members, Reservists, National Guardsmen, veterans, retired service members, government employees or contractors connected to a military environment, and dependents of any of the above–all voices are welcome.

Here’s my voice for today:
When we prepared to move back to Okinawa, my kids were dealing with the all-too-frequent hardship of leaving behind their friends. I wrote this free-verse poetry, thinking of the advice I’d rather not give them, even if it applies:

Push those roots down

But not too deep

Widespread roots come up easy

Ripping away some clods of dirt

Leaving a scar on the surface

Which quickly covers over

With new grass


Deep roots don’t come up

Without violent force

Strong hands grasping,

Crushing, straining

Until everything breaks free

Deep roots leave a hole

And a damaged plant


Found a new place for you

A familiar spot to settle in

The ground is soft and moist

The air warm and damp

You’ll grow well here

So push those roots down

But not too deep.


Now, three years later, my daughter is preparing for a new life, marrying the man she loves before he goes off to Basic to join the Air Force. He arrives in a week. They leave a little over a week after that. She’s already packing and planning, excited to see him, worried about forgetting anything essential.


Didn’t I once tell you

That shallow roots were best?

That loose knots untie easier, 

And the hope of what’s ahead

May even shine far brighter

Than the light we leave behind?


Well, I’m sorry, but I lied to you

Or–more truthful–to myself. 

Because there’s no untangling

These roots dug in my heart. 

Only forceful application 

Of a weeding tool or spade

Can separate this budding rose

From all this dry-packed dirt.


And though it feels to me right now 

Like no amount of time gone by 

Will sweep away the scar of absence,

This I also know: 

That neither shall the passing years

Diminish your past presence,

Nor steal the treasured memories

Nor smooth out laugh lines by my eyes

Nor turn the gray hairs back to brown.


And if in my heart there shall remain 

The hole where once you grew and flourished,

Then know that always and forever

There’s a place for you and yours

A welcome mat laid at the door

Even if your stay is brief,

And arms extended to bring in

The luggage you now pack to leave.

Too Young For This

“You are one of the old guys!”

I know it’s rare that we catch our aging in progress; it’s difficult for us to notice the process taking place. There’s often a moment of sudden, painful clarity. 

The above quote was one of my moments. 

“You should talk to one of the old guys,” I believe is what I said just before the fatal blow to my youthful pride. In the middle of a conversation with military coworkers, I thought of myself as roughly their peer, in age and experience. One young woman informed me ever so gently that this was not the case.

I joined the Air Force early, at age 17, which required a parent’s signature to approve. So I have often been the young one in any group. Once that changed, the reactions shifted to “whoa, I didn’t realize you’ve been in the service that long.” Even those eventually ceased.

I’ve already done my 20 years. Two days from now, I will finish my 22nd year of active duty. My hair is going gray (so my daughter likes to remind me), I sometimes limp, and I serve on a no-running profile, so age has taken its toll. 

Speaking of the daughter, one of the surprised reactions I get is at the fact that I have two teenaged children. Maybe most folks have better sense than to start so young, or maybe there’s still a touch of “I didn’t know you were that old” left. 

But today after flying for twelve hours, I got my own surprise reaction when my daughter’s Facebook profile revealed she is engaged to her boyfriend of over a year.

Gah!

There is a ring in the middle, among the pearls.

Now this is nothing out of the blue–they’ve been talking and plotting for quite some time. But a distant concept that “someday soon after I turn eighteen I plan to marry him” is different than a public proclamation of “this is happening.”

I will turn 40 just before she turns 18, so it’s not like I can say I’m still young. I’m just not old enough for this quite yet.

After its reign of terror through Hollywood, the music industry, and the Cincinnati Zoo, 2016 struck one last, very personal blow.

Bring on the new year, this one sucks. 

…but maybe not too fast. There are only so many more moments left, like snowflakes falling on a warm winter day, melting and vanishing before they touch the ground.

One AM Christmas

As is our custom, each member of my family opened one Christmas present on Christmas Eve, a little pre-celebration or appetizer for the main event. We did this fairly late in the evening, after a drive to purchase a festive meal of curry from Coco’s and to look at Christmas lights.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

So it was pretty late when we decided to watch Middle Son’s chosen gift, the Tim Burton movie, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Not exactly Christmas fare, perhaps, but it’s one he wanted and half the family hadn’t seen it yet.

By the time the movie ended, it was about 1 AM. I’d blame military life and the chaos it sometimes brings, but the fact is we’re pretty much night owls when our tired bodies can put up with the strain. Wifey stays up all hours of the night, and so do I if caffeine and work commitments permit. The teens will try to watch movies at midnight if they can get away with it.

So everyone came to the same conclusion: It’s already Christmas “morning” at this point. The allure of a pile of presents under Christmas lights proved too great to resist… Except for 6-year-old Dude, who was passed out during the early part of the movie (where I admit I also stole a nice catnap).

Once he woke up, groggy and stretching, we asked him if he wanted to open presents. Silly question, of course the answer was yes.

The author, caught by his traitorous wife in a Scrooge moment

This year’s haul was pretty good for all parties.

We set out to make it special for everyone–knowing the cost associated with that–because it’s likely the last Christmas with all six of us together under one roof as one family. Despite any contrary advice or warnings received thus far, Teenage Daughter has an unwavering resolve to move out shortly after turning eighteen and marry her boyfriend, who will probably join the Air Force at that point. (The good news is he’s a pretty decent individual.)

Wifey’s love language is gift-giving, and this year she definitely hit several home runs. Her influence shows strong in our daughter, who also came up with several “OMG it’s perfect” reaction gifts.

My 34-ounce French Press gift is already in use this morning as I make eggs, cherry pancakes and corned beef hash. Teen Son got a much-desired Study Bible, a couple of anime movies, and a giant-size Uno card deck, a game he loves playing with his friends or with our little Dude. Teen Daughter got a collection of art and makeup supplies along with a laminator for photos she intends to print. The Dude and Middle Son got a nice collection of toys and movies they love. Wifey made off with a movie and some high-ticket beauty supplies she probably thought I’d never buy.

Sadly no one thought much of the gift of sleeping in. My work schedule builds in a habit of rising early even if I want more sleep, and Middle Son is a natural early bird. Things could be worse… We have a relaxing yet full Christmas schedule today. A chapel service, a large but non-traditional celebratory meal, an evening visitor, and some live streamed Christmas music on Facebook… And probably more I’m forgetting.

As a touch of holiday cheer, I’ll post some of the Christmas music on my Facebook author page if I can overcome my technological limitations.

Speaking of gifts, Diffraction, my fantasy novel, is free on Kindle through the end of Christmas Day.

I hope your holidays are bright and full of good food, fellowship, and fun.

Memory Lane

After a week under the weather, and in an effort to get past the bit of flu / cold / plague still lingering in my gut, I went for a brisk walk today. 

It’s 72 degrees and sunny. I have sunglasses, music, and a mug of coffee… plus I need some exercise anyway.

I walked past the house we lived in for eight years last time we came to Okinawa. It was alright when we moved in with a 4 year old daughter and almost 3 year old son. By the time we moved out, with four kids and two of them in double digit ages, it wasn’t quite so suitable. 

But it had a grand tree my oldest kids loved to climb. Perhaps somewhere on a hard drive, but definitely stored in my memory, is the image of my son’s grinning head popping out of the top boughs of the tree (a good twenty feet up). 

It also had a small hill down which the kids would ride their Tonka truck. They even tried “Okinawan sledding” by sliding down on flat cardboard. (I may also have tried these activities, but I can assure you they are not meant for grown-ups.)

The house is right across the street from a school with a huge playground. And as I crossed the street, three young children dashed across the open grass toward the swing sets and slides, laughing just like my littles used to. 

 

The place most of my kids will remember as “the park” when they were little.
 
I remember making that trip with the kids, to chase them around the park in games of “Monster” –which was basically ‘tag’ with a lot of roaring and other noise, and it usually ended with me laying vanquished on the ground, a victorious child trampling on my back.
Kadena is a large base, with many different housing areas. When I was first stationed here, after my wife and I married, we moved into a house just on the other side of the same park. I walked past that house today too.

The whole base is full of memories. There’s hardly a road I can drive–or in this case, walk–down without thinking, “That’s where so-and-so lived.” I walked past the house where my oldest son’s best friend lived… past the house that once belonged to the alcoholic mom with the adorable but crazy toddlers… past a home where my wife (then just a friend) house-sat for an older couple while they were on vacation… and several homes of church friends or former co-workers… places where we’ve enjoyed Sunday afternoons of food and fellowship, or Thanksgiving dinners, or Christmas season get-togethers.

19 years ago today, I went for a walk with my then-girlfriend. We were both stationed here on Kadena, living in dorms by the gym. We would walk for hours, chatting, saving geckos in the streets during the day and star-gazing at night.

 On that day, on a small concrete bridge where we liked to sit and talk, I paused to tie my shoe. 

Then I produced the ring I had worn on my pinky and popped the question. “Will you marry me?”

I waited until April 2nd so she wouldn’t think it was a gag.

That was half my lifetime ago. Half my life, more or less, on this island and stationed at this base. Half my life spent with the lovely woman who said yes… and I’m glad I can look back with fondness, not regret.

Thanks, Jami, and my awesome kids, who have all put up with so much over the years.

Meat is Murder but Fishes are Delicious

“I want to be a vegetarian.”My daughter surprised me with that declaration a couple days before her 16th birthday.

I paused a minute to let the whole “sixteen years old” thing sink in, because I don’t want to agree with it. But I have to accept it.

Back to the issue of food:

She saw a video showing some horrific examples of mistreatment and animal cruelty as part of the process by which all this mass-produced food appears on supermarket shelves. I don’t know that the video was the only factor in her decision but it clearly played a key role.

But there’s a problem. I’m a big fan of burgers and bacon and salmon steaks. If I can choose only one, meat lover’s is the pizza to order.

So her statement caused some consternation. Would meat in the house lead to fights over inhumane treatment of animals? Would she adapt to a healthy and nutritious diet, and not just junk food and non-meat? She does sometimes call a pack of Twizzlers lunch.

How far did she intend to take this?

Thankfully my wife and I also (mostly) choose our battles wisely. The girl wants to dye her hair blue and red in sections? Great. Have at it. This is not worth a fight. She wants black finger nail polish? Okay, I don’t like how that looks, BUT since she’s not showing any signs of anti-social behaviors or self-loathing and emotional issues that sometimes might accompany the darker color choices, it’s not worth fighting about.

She usually seems pretty straight-laced morally even if her socks are intentionally perpetually mismatched. A good head-on-her-shoulders, even if she makes blonde jokes at herself. Concerned for others, reliably making good decisions, and responsible enough that others are willing to trust her—so it’s not just parent bias talking.

Plus, at her age, we’re slowly becoming more like advisors and facilitators than direct authorities and overseers. Within two years she becomes an adult, able to make her own decisions and responsible to face the consequences. That’s not something we want to take 0 to 60 in one birthday.

And I need her to know that whatever she’s feeling, whatever she’s thinking, whatever she’s worried about, she has a safe place to come and discuss it. Shutting her down just because I don’t share her convictions will teach her to clam up and go elsewhere.

So instead of “What are you thinking?! Bacon!!” we discussed “Where do you want to draw the line in your diet? You need sources of protein, that’s my first concern, so where will you get those?”

And instead of bringing home a bunch of meat and ribbing her (pun intended) about how good it tastes, I bought the snacks I wanted for me and the rest of the family, then sought out some extra items that suit her current dietary plan: mixed nuts, a box of breakfast bars, some dried tropical fruit.

In this case, we got off easy. She intends to eat seafood. Sorry, fishies, you shouldn’t be so tasty. She is also fine with dairy products, even though there are certainly some examples of cruelty in that industry. So this change is fairly minor.

I’ve told her in the past that as our oldest, she’s unfortunately stuck with parents who have never done this before. We’re calling audibles and making this stuff up on the fly.

I feel like this is one I don’t hear often enough, and a good one to fall back on:

“I’m eager to hear what’s on your mind. I may not always agree with you. But I accept you and love you.”

The Terror of Terraria

Today we learned (once again) the perils of permitting a 4-year-old to play the iPad.

All three of our boys love Terraria. The teen works with his friends to take down bosses and sometimes permits middle son to help. Middle son proudly informs us all what accomplishments he’s made and sometimes even succeeds in making the teen jealous. And our wee guy runs around telling us that he wants whatever cool things we happen to have (and squealing with infectious delight at whatever he finds).

And all three express their creativity in unique ways, whether it’s a large structure full of traps and lava to grind up monsters into gold coins, a strange combination of clothes and items to give their character a funny appearance, or a silly house built into the sky.

But the happiness could not last…

What could this mean? Clicking "Yes" always seems to work well...
What could this mean? Clicking “Yes” always seems to work well…

I stepped out of the bedroom to discover my middle son sitting on the couch heartbroken and my little guy hiding in his big sister’s bedroom awaiting the trouble he knew he was in.

Alas, no amount of defensive armor or powerful magic gear will protect against the mighty delete button. Somehow, he purged my middle son’s primary character. Dozens of hours of advancement and effort, permanently gone at the touch of a finger on the iPad’s surface.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the little one did the right thing once he realized he’d done wrong. He went to his older brother, apologized, and confessed what happened–without anyone telling him to do so.

We discussed the consequences of what happened. After the initial emotion, they calmed down and made up. And then we formed a plan to help make sure no similar accidents happen in the future. I spent some time playing to help my son find a few of the items he lost, and his new character is caught up pretty well.

My wife commented that life sure is different for our four year old compared to what she experienced at that age. There wasn’t any “Johnny deleted my saved game” or “Sarah’s saying mean things over Xbox Live.”

But age-old principles still apply. When we do something wrong, we own up to it and make it right.

This reminded me of a phenomenal post on Penny Arcade, a (frequently vulgar and crass and rude) web comic I follow, written and drawn by video game aficionados. The artist spent an evening doing a presentation and Q&A for his local Parent Teachers’ Association. It’s a long but well-written discussion about rules for game time and social interaction.

If you’re a parent whose knowledge of your kids’ hobbies is “they play the Minecrafts and Call of Duty on that Game Box One thing,” then this is definitely for you. But if you’re like me and my wife, and have struggled with questions like “how much game time is too much” and “what can I let the kids do online” then that link gives some great insight.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences too. What has changed the most in your opinion since you were a child? What would you add to Mike’s thoughts in the Penny Arcade link?

Tahwaria

My four year old has a new favorite topic of conversation… one shared with my nine year old and my teenage son: Terraria. (Or Tahwaria, as the four year old says it so very often.)

  
For the uninitiated, it’s a game available on PC, on consoles like XBox 360 and PS4, and on mobile devices like Kindle and iPad… and probably some others. 

So, discussions with our little Dude now center around important Terraria facts: 

Do you know about Wepis? (Lepus)
He is BIG. And he is a BOSS. And to fight him you need a subishis wooking egg. (suspicious looking egg)
His face looks funny. But he can’t kill me though. WAIT. WHAT? I DIED.

Armed with a wooden sword, ax, and pickaxe, your tiny character lands in a sprawling world full of dangerous beasties. You build a home for the character that serves as your guide, and then explore and expand from there. Finding and defeating powerful boss monsters unlocks new aspects to the game along with more assistance from the folks who want to “settle down” in your growing complex of houses. There’s a definite RPG side to the game as you find or craft better armor and more powerful melee, ranged, and magical weapons.

Like a two-dimensional Minecraft, this game usually encourages creativity and constructive cooperation among my kids and their friends. My four year old can play around and build things or dig for shiny metals. My nine year old can fight enemies and explore the dangers of the world. And my fourteen year old coordinates with his friends to take down the massive world boss monsters in order to unlock new types of materials. There’s also the option to turn on player-vs-player and fight it out with your frenemies.

The game isn’t perfect. A recent update or perhaps an inherent glitch caused the loss of my character and a few weeks’ worth of progress. Cloud saving might have prevented that, but some reviews on the iTunes Store implied that even cloud saved characters can sometimes encounter similar problems. Device issues can also cause trouble. The Kindle my nine year old uses somehow purged itself of all data, and he lost everything he’d done. 

That said, the game is addicting and interesting enough that both he and I find ourselves starting over, lamenting what was lost but enjoying building a new world nonetheless.

The kids also play with me sometimes, mocking my lack of progress and my general noob status. “Oh, you’re making items and armor out of iron? That’s cute. I barely remember ever needing that. Did I show you my rocket launcher, my space armor, and my machine gun?”

One day soon, I’ll catch up to them. I just need to find some more tungsten ore for that sword I want to make…

Lightsaber Hugs

Today when I left home for work, my three year old shouted, “Bye Daddy, I love you!” And of course that melts my heart. I offered him a hug, and he paused, then said, “No.”

He bent over, grabbed his toy lightsaber, and held it out. “Lightsaber hugs,” he demanded.

“What? You want me to hug your lightsaber?”

“Yeah.” Yes, of course. Why wouldn’t you hug a lightsaber?

So I did, and as I drove away, I thought about those strange, unexpected moments I’ve experienced with my kids.

My daughter, at about that age, playing with a telephone toy and declaring, “Mommy, I have to make a cone fall!”

My eldest son, leading the effort to dogpile on Daddy, laying straight across my back with his arms at his sides, then going limp, declaring, “Dead fish!” (This was followed by a stack of dead fish when the other kids joined in.)

My middle boy, who would charge into me and then rub his head back and forth while gently punching my stomach… “What are you doing?” I asked. His answer? “I’m bestroying you!”

Nose biting… my infant daughter would smile wide and nom the tip of my nose. For whatever reason, she’d always look off to her right when she did it. This was a habit that somehow carried over to my other children, each of which have bitten my nose.

Punches in the fat… the middle boy loves to push a fist into my stomach every now and then, perhaps as a reminder to work out and eat smarter than I normally do.

Our three year old loves to yell at everyone, proclaiming a rule against flatulence by declaring, “No Peeping!”

The eldest boy discovered he could climb the walls in doorways and hallways like a ninja… fitting since he’s the one who decided that when he grows up he wants to be “a rock scientist… Ooh! Or maybe a ninja!” And now our middle boy has learned the same trick.

So what’s the point of this post?

Basically kids are awesome, but sometimes we have to take a minute to remember it.

What experiences do you have with the ridiculous antics of children? Let me know in a comment, please. I’d love to share in the joy.

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Sleeping In… NEVAR!!

What to do with a little man who consistently wakes up at 6:30 AM… even on the weekends!

Today’s answer was to give up, get out, grab coffee, and bring home breakfast for the family.

Our little dude is still on Central time, I think, while we are visiting Washington state. So his wake-up is timed for 8:30 back home, which is pleasant and generally reasonable (unless you ask my teenage daughter).

I heard him sniffling and making some scared noises when I woke up, so I checked on him to see if he was ok. Tucked him in, laid down next to him for a minute, made sure he wasn’t upset. Then I hugged his brother, and left the room.

Seconds later, I heard the “thum-thum-thum-thum-thump” of toddler feet jogging (clearly wide awake) down the hall toward the play room full of toys.

No hope for sleeping in, I decided it was a good time for a pajama-clad trip to a coffee shop (first things first) and then fast food breakfast. We hopped into the van as the first touches of sunrise lit the sky.

We got coffee at Dutch Brothers, where I made a smooth impression by knocking over their cup display at the drive through window with my side mirror.

We grabbed some McD’s for the Mommy and the brother staying with us (the two teenagers are sleeping at Grandma’s). Then we got a Jack-in-the-Box sammich for the kindly Uncle who has welcomed us into his home for the week-long trip.

I filled up the gas tank, coordinated a bit with my Chief back home, and got back to the house to dig in to some yums.

All the while, the energetic Dude sat in his car seat, chatting with me, cheering and clapping at our success, and watching the brightening morning sky with wide eyes.

8:45 AM and we’re off to a good start.

Maybe I can get a nap now.