Archive for June, 2009

My job

I’m tough on Eli. That’s my job as a dad, to set boundaries, to provide direction, to enforce rules. Sure, I play with the boy, and we cut up every day, but often I’m more the disciplinarian than the buddy.

It’ll be evening, and I’ll tell Eli it’s time to brush his teeth, and he’ll skip right past the bathroom and giggle. I’ll say I mean it, that he needs to walk his five-year-old self into the bathroom right this instant, and he’ll come in. But then he’ll start talking loudly or hopping while I brush.

“Eli, where does crazy energy belong?” I’ll ask.

“Outside,” he’ll reply, a little dejected, toothpaste dripping down his chin.

He’ll behave for a few seconds, but then he’ll try to tickle me or decide he wants to fill the sink with water.

“That’s it,” I’ll blurt out. “If you can’t stand still while I do this, I’m going to have to put you in time out.”

And then he’ll be good. Time outs scare the boy straight.

Monday, I dropped Eli off for the first day of Skyhawk camp, a week-long class for basketball, soccer, and baseball. Eli stayed close to me when we first arrived. He didn’t know any of the other boys and girls, who each dribbled basketballs while waiting for the class to start.

Without a ball, Eli couldn’t join in. So he and I stood and watched and waited. That’s also my job as a dad. To hang around in situations like that. To just be there.

After a few minutes, camp began. The coach beckoned the kids, lined them up to shoot hoops, and redistributed the basketballs. Eli got a ball this time, and I watched him wait his turn, make a basket, and get in line again.

Soon, a boy’s turn came around who didn’t have a basketball. “Can this young man use someone else’s ball?” the coach asked.

None of the kids twitched except Eli, who raised his arm. “He can have mine,” Eli said.

That small gesture, my boy speaking up like that in front of strangers, my boy gladly sharing, got me right in my gut. And I was profoundly proud.

Eli’s not perfect. I know that. But he’s generous and kind and good most of the time. And I need to tell him—and show him—that I get that.

As a dad, that’s my job, too, maybe my most important one.

Exactly right

Wet dogs, drunk rednecks, a middle-aged woman two sizes too big for her bikini stuffing trash into an overflowing garbage can.

This was our neighborhood park on Lake Austin. This was Sunday afternoon.

We were there, three men, two women, and two kids, the men in slacks and shirts with buttons and collars, the women in pretty dresses. We looked suspiciously respectable.

In 100-degree heat, we’d arrived at the park for Drew and Teri’s wedding with me, ordained as a minister by Brother Kevin at Universal Life Church .NET, officiating. When we pulled into the crowded parking lot, I overhead a long-haired guy, who was loading something into his truck and who was also probably polluted, yelling something about getting his “fucking shit.” Getting his fucking shit. I started doubting the decision to have the ceremony at our park.

Undeterred, we wandered to the end of the park—past families picnicking in the shade, past teenagers kicking a soccer ball, past a couple of drunk gals floating on air mattresses in the water—and stood under two enormous Cypress trees, each at least 100 years old, with the lake serving as a backdrop.

Outside an occasional boat zipping by, the spot was serene. Perhaps the park would work after all.

I welcomed everyone and muttered something about us gathering to celebrate a wedding.

Then Eli, now five years old, spoke about things he loves: chocolate, soccer, Grammy, Papoo, race cars, Slade, his dogs. I asked him if he loved his cat Snurp, too. “Not really,” Eli replied.

Then I sermonized about chicken fried steak, Battlestar Galatica, slow dancing in the kitchen, and the Colonel, Teri and Drew’s cat who was old, sick, and bald when Teri rescued him. During my talk, a jet ski blasted by, shattering the serenity just as I got to the sappy part about staying together till you finally go to sleep forever.

Then Teri and Drew shared succinct, well-crafted vows they’d drafted over breakfast. They made a beautiful couple standing under the trees, Teri in her black and pink polka dotted dress, Drew smiling sincerely.

Then Teri and Drew exchanged rings as another jet ski screamed past.

And then, by the power vested in me by the state of Texas and the Universal Life Church .NET, I pronounced them married.

And that was the service: short, imperfect, beautiful, and exactly right.

On the way out of the park, Eli jumped off the boat docks into the water a few times; Clif, the photographer, stepped in dog doo; and I spotted another jumbo-sized woman in a skimpy bikini.

Then we drove up the hill to our house for barbecue, corn on the cob, beans, and potato salad on the deck. After that, we ate ice cream and popsicles.

And that—the food, the company, the sticky evening—was exactly right, too.

The good news is I’m pretty sure I’m wearing pants again

Oh, yeah, the blog. It’s been a month since it was updated. Poor blog.

A couple of weeks back, I started to write a post one morning at home, but then I remembered I needed to check in on work and then Slade started crying and then Eli needed something to eat and then it was afternoon and I hadn’t showered. Or brushed my teeth. Or put on pants.

And that was my life life for almost three weeks, at home with the kids, trying to work remotely on projects with scary deadlines, not updating the blog, forgetting to wear pants.

Playing stay-at-home dad was an adventure (read: grease fire). But I survived without getting canned or putting my head in an oven or accidentally blowing up the house. So I can’t complain.

Plus, I have a newfound appreciation for you stay-at-home parents.

As to the rest of the last month. . .

Eli graduated from preschool. My pal Rick, a stay-at-home dad himself, says preschool graduation is an oxymoron. He’s right, of course. And the ceremony was certainly silly. But it was fun, too.

eli graduation

eli graduation may 2009
 

My parents visited in May, took care very good care of the boys, fixed the house, and then left. Eli asks daily when he gets to see them again. Slade, all of six months old, fussed for the better part of two days after the grandparents returned home. I suspect he’s already decided he likes Grammy better than his old dad.

I played triathlete.

tri3

 

Sally kissed a camel at a petting zoo. That’s right. A camel. My wife smooched one.

055

sally slade johnson city zoo

 

We soaked in Lake Austin most weekends. We like to complain about our neighborhood, but then we cruise down the hill to this:

lake austin 2009

 

And we realize we have it good.

I bet you do, too.