October 7th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
Most of my ideas about parenting come from the Bible. The latest one is from the life of Eli. Eli was one of the last of the Judges – an executive office of the nation of Israel, which was then a theocracy. Sort of a Priest ruler. And sometimes even the military leader. All this is beside the point. Eli had two sons, who also served as priests. These sons were corrupt. From their position of authority, they stole from and took advantage of the people they were assigned to serve.
It seems for many years, Eli did nothing about his sons. The section of the story which speaks of Eli addressing the issue with his sons begins, “Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing …” Very old? Why didn’t Eli say or do anything before he was very old?
Years later, after Israel had become a monarchy, David sat on the throne of Israel as its second king. One of David’s sons, Amnon, rapes his half-sister, Tamar, and casts her aside. She publicly mourns this hideous crime committed against her, and enters the house of her brother, Absalom. “So, Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house.”
What was King David’s response? “When King David heard about all these things, he was very angry.” That’s it. That all it says. If one reads on, the text reveals that Amnon was left to live his life freely in the kingdom … well, until his brother, Absalom, kills him. Would Absalom have killed Amnon if David had done something? Would David have always had Absalom’s heart if Absalom had seen his father act? Instead, Absalom murders his brother and eventually carries out a coup against his father.
As I father teenage kids, there is great temptation to be scared of my own kids. As they begin to separate, I fear rejection. What if something I say leads to their rebellion? They seem so annoyed – maybe I shouldn’t bother them. What if I lose them.
Of course, we must be careful. We need to be patient, long suffering. One of the most important skills to master is parenting teenagers is biting your tongue. Yes, all this and more. But I must try to never be scared of my kids.
The lesson of Eli is this: Do not fail to act upon something you know to be right because you fear the loss of your child. There are more than one way to lose a child.
August 8th, 2015 § 2 Comments
It was all going according to plan … and yet, driving away, all I could hear were the sobbing cries of my wife and daughter.
Last Friday, we handed our foster child over to his family. After months of steps, moving forward and back with his parents, out of nowhere, his grandparents were suddenly approved for a temporary placement. A month ago, all we knew was a looming court date. Then one morning, my wife gets a call from the social worker about the possibility. Two weeks later, we were dropping him off. Just like that. After ten months of holding, kissing, changing, walking, playing, feeding … it took all of thirty minutes to say, “Good bye.”
I know it sounds embittered. I can only tell you that we are not. Was it too abrupt? Yes. Would a different timetable have helped? Probably not. Did we want to keep him. Yes and no. You see, there in lies the complexity. We all – but especially my wife – loved this boy like our own. Unreservedly. Almost immediately, my wife dropped her guard and opened her heart. He was hers. It’s exactly what he needed. A real mom … well, while separated from his real mom that is. It’s what made him chunky and smiley. Can any real mom want to give that up?
All the while, we spent eight hours a week with his real parents, doing everything we knew to help them get their son back. Praying. Encouraging. Hoping. Coaching. When together, we longed with them that one day their son would be returned to them. We exhorted them, even pleaded with them to do all that was mandated.
Paradoxically, the only way to do this was to work ourselves into wanting to keep him while remaining unwavering in our commitment to return him. My wife did this. She did it well – just like we’d planned. And by so doing, she guaranteed for herself a broken heart. And in a way, this broken heart is her last generous gesture … a parting gift given to a boy who will not be forgotten.
July 3rd, 2015 § Leave a Comment
I’m always working on myself. Mostly, I’m not content with who I am. Come to think of it, I’ve never been content. Whether it was spending countless hours on the basketball court to get my jump shot right or burning out the blow dryer to get my mullet into that feathered perfection, I’ve always worked hard at becoming a better me.
If this sounds like a confession, it’s because it is. I have to clarify because our culture loves self-improvement. Get educated. Get ahead. Get thin. Get healthy. Get married. Get financially independent. Get happy. Work, work, work. More, more, more. In a world in which busyness doubles as significance, not only is my malady easily hidden, it can be re-appropriated as something positive. “That guy … he’s a self-starter.”
Yes, there is a fine line. It takes a keen eye to spot that line and rightly identify what lies on either side. Activity driven on by quiet desperation can be passed along as good ole fashioned hard work. And we can justify laziness with being comfortable in our own skin. Walking that line of a healthy self-love requires the sort of honest assessment and a “hell with the world” commitment to finding our proper bearings that is rarely even attempted.
Just the other day, I may have found my inspiration. In an exasperated attempt to help one of my kids understand something, this question crossed my mind: “Do I dress up my discontentment with my kids with flowery nonsense about believing in their great potential?”
That’s not to say I do not believe in my kids great potential. God knows I do. And of course I’m not saying I shouldn’t instruct and correct. But when I feel the nearness of that familiar darkness, the closeness of the despair that gets my gut turning a desperate pace, I think I work on my kids the way I’ve always worked on myself.
Maybe the love for my kids will get me over the hump to actually love myself.
May 14th, 2015 § 2 Comments
You’ve heard of the projectile vomit. Last week, I had a run in with its uglier cousin, the projectile diarrhea. We had one of those fierce stomach viruses rip through our family. Yes, all you imagine and more. No one got a pass, not even our nine month old foster child. Who knew so much could come out of so little a person?
At the rate and volume he was pumping, the super absorbent diaper had no chance. If anything, the diaper acted as a diverting obstruction adding pressure to the flow. Like a thumb pressed over the nozzle of a hose. Every few hours, it was as if a canister of yellow paint detonated from his butt. Splat. It was everywhere.
One time, after an initial blast, I picked him up, hoping to create a little room between the nozzle and the diaper. I waited for the real eruption that didn’t come. “Are you done?” Rookie mistake number one. Of course he wasn’t done.
I put him on the changing shelf of our Pac ‘n Play. The initial shot was substantial but contained. Feeling optimistic that I’d be getting away with a standard change, I proceeded to clean and remove. What I did not do was place a new diaper underneath to overlap as I removed. Rookie mistake number two.
As I reached over for a fresh diaper, I felt something hit me in my lower abdomen. Not hard but with weight and force. Before I could react, there was liquid splatter at my feet. It was what getting hit by a large, very fragile water balloon might feel like.
“The hell?” When I looked down, I saw that diluted, curdling yellow paint. When I looked up, I saw the nozzle stairing back at me like a barrel of a gun. The thing might as well have been smoking. My wife, who saw me get blasted from the kitchen came running with … not a towel, but her phone, which she couldn’t use to take a photo because she was laughing too hard.
When I peered past the nozzle, to look my assailant in the eye, I swear the kid had a smirk on his face.
February 12th, 2015 § 5 Comments
If ever you’ve wondered whether or not you could love a child, not your own, don’t. The answer is you can. Definitely. Our foster child has been with us since October. We’re at about the four month mark. And I can tell you without a doubt, I love this boy. Initially, the fact that he was someone else’s kid was the backdrop of all our interactions. I was a caretaker in a “place holder” kind of way. I understood this. No, I more than understood it, I relished it. In doing so, initially, I kept a certain distance between us. That’s all changed now.
The shift can be measured in any number of ways, but one clear metric is the number of times I kiss him. The first month, I don’t think I kissed him once. The thought was, “I wouldn’t want some dude kissing my kid.” This baby has a father and he, not I, ought to be kissing him. Right. This knowledge kept me guarded in my interactions with him. Remember his place; remember my place. That’s all done now. I’m kissing him all the time. When I get him from the crib – kiss. When I put him down – kiss. Holding, bobbing – kiss. Walking – kiss. Kiss here. Kiss there. Can’t help myself. And I’m Korean. I’m genetically predisposed to disdain public displays of affection. But this kid, he’s turned me into a gay French dude at fashion week in Milan. Kiss. Kiss. More kiss. I haven’t kissed so much since … well, since my own kids were babies.
So, yes, definitely, you can love a child, not your own. As I write this, I realize I need to amend this declaration with this caveat: Yes, you can love a child, not your own, provided you love the child well. My calculated interactions turned to uninhibited embraces through the hard work of 2 AM feedings, diaper changes, soothing inconsolable cries, through sacrifices. By labor, I grew to love. By doing, I began to feel. Love as a whole is not what we’d like it to be – an effortless response to a bottomless reservoir of passion. It’s not so simple, not so one-dimensional, not so linear.
And maybe we ought to esteem this sort of love – the kind that begins with our hands, and runs through our heart, and ends with a kiss.
January 12th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
I’m pretty sure I fell asleep standing up. In my forty-five years of life, it was a first. I was holding our foster child in one of those front packs, gently bobbing to keep him asleep. It was early evening. A college basketball game of no consequence was on ESPN2. Bobbing. Watching. “Who’s even playing? I care less and less about basketball.” Bobbing. Patting. More watching.
And suddenly, I was falling forward. That internal equilibrium thing got triggered and fired a signal to my legs. A couple frantic, instinctive steps kept me from face planting atop our coffee table. More importantly, it kept me from inadvertently body slamming our five month old foster baby. Thank God for that equilibrium thing.
When I came to my senses, I realized I had done one of those violent, dozing head jerks except I did it with my whole body. I can use some more sleep.
Foster parenting has cost us a few things. Time is scarce. Meals are interrupted. Plans are adjusted. Of the different tolls the little man has levied, sleep has been the big one. I am learning anew the value of a good night’s sleep.
The other day, I was thinking of our tendency to believe that there will be a payoff. I want to tell myself, “It will all be worth it in the end.” I dream this kid will be a good man someday. And that maybe he’ll be the trigger that re-writes his family story. Change the trajectory of his generational line. Of course, I’ll learn something invaluable. This whole thing will do something in our family, in the hearts of our kids that cannot be done any other way. It’ll all be worth it. The payoff is far greater than the cost.
I don’t know. Maybe none of this happens. Will I then look back and think, “What was that all about? What a waste.” Is sacrifice only worthwhile if as a result something more is gained? I thought I’m dying either way. All my trying, I cannot keep. My life will be spent. Maybe the payoff is in having a say in where it will be spent. Maybe the payoff is in the dying for something … someone other than myself. Maybe the payoff is at the end of this life the falling asleep will come without the violent jerk.
November 3rd, 2014 § 2 Comments
There’s this little Mexican kid keeping us up at night. Over the last month, barely conscious, I’ve stumbled into his room every night to quell the little man’s demands … well, really, it’s just one demand. His 1 AM call. The drink of choice: Enfamil Gentlease. I summon every bit of my badly diminished capacity to mix a bottle in the dark as the kid extends me zero consideration. It’s full “fire drill” until he’s stuffed shut with a nipple. Finally, a breath. And on some nights, even a thought: “What in the world did I get myself into?”
A few years ago, my wife and I decided to look into foster parenting. Long story. The short of it is that we believe in God. Although I’ve purposely tried to keep this blog free of religious language (Maybe I’ll explain why in a future post), just about every thought has been inspired by our faith. This faith has us trusting that more than anything else, God is love. And this love extends beyond what we feel. It certainly encompasses our feelings, but it’s also an act … something of volition. A workable definition of love can be To do something for another’s good.
What in the world did I get myself into? We got ourselves into love. Not the happy intoxication, but the dazed sacrifice. And truth be told, I didn’t get myself into anything. Myself would have strenuously opposed this. God got me into this because he loves this precious little boy. Move mountains for him. He loves the boy’s parents. And he loves us.
This week, a friend asked me, “Do you love him?” In some ways, not anything like my own. In another way, I don’t know if I’ve loved anyone more.
August 27th, 2014 § 4 Comments
We’ve all seen this. And mostly, I’m guessing it’s fairly innocuous – especially, if it’s inconsistent with the rest of a given child’s experience. It does however illustrate how caring, thoughtful parents can for the sake of expediency turn to “techniques” that harness negative motivations.
A mother who’s obviously had a long day makes her last stop to pick up a prescription at one of those mega drug stores. On display next to the pharmacy is a rack of stuffed animals. While waiting for the prescription to be filled, her three-year old daughter rummages through the stuffed animals and settles on a pink pig. The mother happily allows for the distraction thinking, “Ah … a moment to myself …”
After a short wait, the prescription is filled. Already concerned about the groceries warming in the car, she tells her daughter to get moving. The call to move is ignored. In those five minutes, an unbreakable bond has formed between the girl and the pig. She’s not leaving without the pig. The girl is told in no uncertain terms to drop the pig and follow. Once again, the mother is ignored. Instead of compliance, she gets,
Mom, can I have this?
No. Honey, we need to go. The ice cream is melting in the car.
But mom, I want it.
Having neither the time nor the energy to reason with a three year old, the mother rips the pig from her daughter’s hand, grabs her by the arm and begins to proceed to the door. The little girl goes limp – the dreaded “dead weight” move.
Exasperated, the mother turns to the threat of abandonment. “Okay, I’m going. Bye.” She turns and begins to walk away. Of course she’ll glance back, but she knows she has to sell the abandonment to get the result. Before she’s out of sight, her daughter will cave. Has to. There’s too much a stake. “Hell with the pink pig, I need my mommy.”
For a child, abandonment is on a short list of the scariest possible things. The terror of it will garner immediate results, but at what price? Like I said, good chance this one is mostly innocuous. Mostly … I think. Couldn’t be sure, so we decided early on that we’re never going to do it. The commitment we made stems from our belief that the source matters. The thing to which their actions can be traced lies in that mysterious place where self and life are realized. Yeah, I think it’s worth it … think we’ll be taking the long road.
May 21st, 2014 § Leave a Comment
An honest look at myself, all 5’9″ 145 of me, and I knew a basketball player wasn’t coming from me. No. Nor a football player. The apple falling from this flimsy tree was going to get his shot in baseball. Most likely, as a middle infielder. Hit for average; flash a little leather. So, although my sport was basketball, the game to which I steered my son was baseball. Bought him a glove, taught him to catch and throw, and got him into Little League.
It was all going to plan. He was the best player on his team. No, really, I’m being objective here. A solid, if not a power hitter, but more importantly he fielded his position well. Toward the end of the season, he even turned a double play – snagging a line drive and flipping to second to nail the runner straying off the bag. After the last game of the season, with visions of Davey Lopes dancing in my head, I asked,
So, how’d you like baseball?
Eh…it was okay.
Just okay? You played really well. It was fun, no?
Yeah, I guess.
Do you want to play next year?
Mmm … no, I don’t think I really want to do this again.
Just like that. So long, Davey Lopes. As we exposed our kids to various things, we told ourselves we weren’t going to push. We felt those parents shoving kids into everything, riding them hours on end to squeeze prodigiousness from an average fruit was borderline abusive. No way we were going to be one of those parents.
A year later, we had our older two in a community swim league. Sure enough they took to it like ducklings to water. By the end of the eight week season, our son and daughter were making great improvements in their strokes and competing admirably in their events. At the end of the swim season, with visions of Natalie Coughlin dancing in our heads, we asked,
So, how’d you like swim?
Yeah…it was fun. I liked it.
Cool. You two were sure good at it. It was so fun watching you compete.
So, swim team next year?
Mmm … I don’t know. Maybe. I’m not sure if I want to do it again.
What! We realized right then that if left to themselves, they were going to choose the path of least resistance. As parents, we have to be careful not to force our children into stuff because we need for them to excel for our benefit. At the same time, it is our responsibility to teach diligence, hard work, discipline, and commitment. If we allow them to quit anything they don’t “like” then they’ll imagine a world revolving around their whims. Comfort and pleasure will be dials on their compass and quitting will be a solution to difficult problems.
The deal was they were going to swim for at least two more seasons. We told them that once they had put in some good work and developed in the sport, they would be free to make a decision on whether or not to continue. If at that point they realized that swimming just wasn’t their thing, then fine.
Today, they are, all three, excellent competitive swimmers. I think if you asked them, they would each tell you that they are grateful for having been pushed some.
February 26th, 2014 § Leave a Comment
A man gathers and gathers, but cannot stop the slipping through the fingers. Like one piling a mound of sand …
The migration out to the ‘burbs is in search of a better life. More space. Less crime. Empty sidewalks – nowhere to loiter. Keep the kids out of trouble, in the classroom. If you have the means, you do it: You make the sacrifices for your family. On paper, it computes. So, I have to believe as my Father pulled up to his little castle in his brand new Cadillac Sedan de Ville, as he drove down the descending driveway past his plum tree, his heart was filled if only in fleeting moments with the sense that he had gathered a good life for himself and his family.
But life is not lived on paper … as we all know. No sooner do we step back to admire, we notice the slipping away. Unforeseen – virtually, unknowable things. He couldn’t have anticipated it, but the move was rough for his boys. In those two years in West LA, me and my older brother had found a place for ourselves. A role in the script. The move took us from that … that colorful complexity of Cameron Crowe to the vanilla simplicity of John Hughes. It’s not that we weren’t called “chinks” in LA, it’s just that everyone else was called something too. And somehow that made us laugh as much as fight. With the move to the ‘burbs, we went from seeing ourselves in the cool afro’d kid, riding shotgun with Spicoli to being Long Duck Dong. And none of it was funny anymore.
The “slipping through the fingers” happened with my parents too. Liver cancer was found in my Father less than a year after the move. Just when all seemed to be gathered, life itself slipped through his fingers. Two years later he was gone, and with him the future my Mother and he must have held somewhere in their hearts.
And all this in search of a better life. A better life? What exactly is a “better” life anyway? Is it in the gathering … this and that, oh, and that other? The wanting and the having? If the distance between us could have been removed, what would he have told me about life … about what he saw as he stood at the end of it? As it slipped through his fingers, I think he got a real good look. And so without bitterness, in the darkness of an early July morning, he quietly surrendered.