Friday, May 11, 2012

Why I Love My Kids

I have the luxury of truthfully admitting that I fell in love with both of my children within eighteen seconds of meeting them. I will never forget the moment Erilyn opened her eyes (what a beautiful moment) or the words Olivia first spoke to me ("When did you get a life?"). In vastly different ways these girls won my heart--one with a look and one with a quip.

But it has evolved infinitesimally since those two moments. I look forward to two events each day on my way home from work. They do not happen every day, but when they do, I cherish them.

The first is Erilyn's eyes lighting up when she recognizes me, and then the feel of her little vice-grip arms latching around my legs. The smile on her face and her up-stretched arms as she frustratedly grunts "UH!" and waits for me to lift her into my arms where I am occasionally rewarded with the "best hug yet". This is a wonderful experience.

The other event is more intricate, for it involves Olivia. I consider myself lucky if I get a conversation with Olivia that turns toward the serious. Some days she just doesn't want to talk. Other days? She doesn't close her mouth. I would like to share two events from this past week that made me proud to be her Daddy.

Both Tuesday and Wednesday, after supper, Michelle had to go to work and I was left with the two girls at dinner, chit-chatting. As I'm cleaning up, Olivia exclaims something along the lines of "Oh! You put the syrup on the pancake, the butter on the syrup, the knife to the butter, the hand to the knife, the mouth to the hand, and the pancake to the mouth. It's a circle!"

"What?" I ask.

"Never mind, Dad. It's a Robert Munsch book. You wouldn't get it."

And you know what? I didn't. I recognized Robert Munsch's name, but for all my English-teacherness I sure thought he was the author of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie". He isn't. That would be Laura Numeroff. I'm not familiar with Munsch's books. Olivia says his name as if it ends with an exclamation point: MUNCH!

The next night at dinner, she hops up and leaves the table. She doesn't eat much, really. So dinner is, for her, boring. She's not eating, she's just sitting there. So she hops up and comes back in the room (after my repeated cries of OLIVIA!) holding an abridged, illustrated children's copy of Little Women.

"What are you doing?" I ask.

"Reading this book, Little Women by Lousy May Alcott. It's really good."

She plopped down at the table, and began to flip through the pages. She took careful, deliberate care to read aloud each picture caption.

"Jo and the Laurence Boy meet!" she says.

Then, after a moment, she says,

"Daddy, why is a girl in a book about women called Jo?"

I'm pretty sure I wrote an essay in college about this same topic.

Those are my girls! Heaven help me when Erilyn learns to talk.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

How to Be a Good Parent (and Aunt) (and Grandmother) 004

I need to take a moment to process today, and I process best through writing. First, it has been a week of words with Olivia. She was sent home from school one day this week, lots of e-mails, disobedience and trouble. My sister, Kayla, volunteered to take her to the Children's museum this morning to give Olivia some one-on-one attention and to give us a little break.

The morning went quite well. Michelle and Erilyn and I worked hard out in the yard, sweating and gardening and mowing. Michelle and Erilyn came in to take a shower around 1:30, and I stayed out to work in the garden. I had just finished weeding the huge thing, and I had settled in on removing two ant hills that had formed on and near my cucumber mounds. Since I'm peculiar, I don't use pesticides or poison in the garden. So I removed these ant hills by shoveling the entire mound up and carrying it to the woods, thenceby disposing of it. I was on the last shovel full of the second mound when I slung the shovel over my shoulder and dropped a glob of ant hill down my shirt. Frantically trying to remove the ants and their hill from the back of my shirt, I hear Michelle tapping on the window. This is the second or third time she's tapped, and I know she's ready for me to come in and get dressed to go to town.

Wait a minute! I'm about to say. I have ants all over my back!

But I can tell by her voice something is wrong. This is the voice mail my father left us:

"Olivia and Kayla were in a bad accident. Call me quick."

Have you ever had a panicked-ridden fifteen seconds of waiting for someone to pick up your call? That was today.

They were both OK, but it was a long car ride to Easley. A woman pulled out directly in front of Kayla, and Kayla T-boned the woman at 45 mph. They were both wearing their seat belts, all six air bags deployed, but neither Kayla nor Olivia lost consciousness. In fact, Kayla said that she was dazed from the impact of the airbag to her face, and before she shook out of it Olivia was in her lap from the backseat screaming,

"Aunt Kayla, smoke! Wake up, get out of the car!"

I don't care how bad my kid was this week. I've got one heck of a daughter.

The dust from the airbags scared Olivia more than the crash. Kayla had to kick her way out of the car (which was totaled), and she got Olivia across Hwy 123 to the parking lot of a Firehouse Subs. Kayla told me Olivia was freaking out until she saw Kayla was bleeding. Then Olivia calmed down and said, "Aunt Kayla, don't panic. You are bleeding. I think you will be OK, but I don't want you to freak out."

Way to be there for the adult, kid. Like I said, she's one heck of a kid.

Further impressing is that Olivia knew both her birth date and address. "Well, I don't know my address, but my street number and highway is ***"

"Sweetheart," the police officer said, "that's you address!"

The woman from the other car was taken to the hospital as well (in fact, we saw her and her husband there. They were very concerned about Olivia.) It was not Kayla's fault, and no bones were broken, but we took them to the hospital for check-outs.

And while we were there, there was a woman in the waiting room. She was trying to talk to Erilyn. (My mom and dad were watching her while Michelle and I were back with Olivia.) My mom had a weird feeling and took Erilyn over in the corner, away from the woman. At that moment, the police officer who worked Kayla's wreck comes in. My dad waves at him, "Hey!" Then, he notices his gun is out.

The woman sitting by where my mom had been takes off running. Seven other police, their guns out, storm into the emergency room waiting room. My mom hides Erilyn under a chair and blocks her with her view.

The police arrested the woman and took her away. Olivia and Kayla's X-rays came back, and there were no broken bones. It had been one long, crazy ride, but we are all home now, and safe.

And thank God above for good parents, daughter, aunts, grandparents, police officers, doctors, and friends. Some teacher at Olivia's school was in the parking lot of Firehouse Subs (don't know who yet) and she gave Olivia a stuffed bunny. Olivia has held onto that bunny for dear life.

We may have nightmares. We may have one strong daughter. We may have trouble getting her to be at ease in a car, but we have a daughter who is alive and happy.

And that makes me more thankful than I've ever been before.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How NOT to be a Parent 004

So I was seriously considering skipping this post this week. It is the opening day of our musical and I have so much going on it isn't funny. I was thinking I'd jump back on the Good Parent/NOT a Good Parent bandwagon next week, but last night spun me right into reality:

This week's post was going to happen. And it was going to be about me.

Last night we had a family affair. Olivia decided it would be advisable--nay, wonderful!--to cut Erilyn's hair. She snipped about two inches off the front, where the last little bit of her dark baby hair was holding on to her bangs. It was just long enough to pull back behind her ears before, now it is too short.

How NOT to be a Good Parent

The worst part? It was on my watch.

See, I thought I was being a GOOD parent. I've been gone so long for musical rehearsals, last night I got home around 7:00. Michelle was still out taking kids home on the church van, so I was going to watch the kids and cook dinner.

They were playing so well in the playroom. Yes, they were making a mess, but I really thought I was watching them. I even crept into the kitchen and peeked through the window into the playroom to watch when they got quiet. Because in my house, quiet means trouble. But there they were, sitting and playing Barbies. Being great sisters. Right?

Not really. Sometime between my spying and their playing Olivia found a moment to steal scissors and snip, snip, snip. We weren't able to be there for our Olivia's first haircut, and now we've missed Erilyn's too.

I couldn't even extract a good hair clipping from the floor, because, after striking Erilyn's do, Olivia lit in on all her Barbies.

So, Olivia is not allowed to be unsupervised any more. At all. I suppose this is a good rule, but it sure doesn't take back our sadness. Because not watching your children closely enough, and letting them rob you of wonderful memories, is a great way to NOT be a good parent.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Death and a Wedding: My Weekend in Notes

Some of you may have been wondering where I went toward the end of last week. I've been very habitual in the production of my How-to and How-Not-to Parent blogs, but I missed the Thursday edition last week.

I'd like to take a moment and explain why.

Thursday began as any day: I woke up, woke up Olivia, made coffee, woke up Olivia, made my breakfast, woke up Olivia, made Olivia's breakfast, woke up Olivia, took a shower, dressed myself, brushed Olivia's hair, pulled Olivia into the car, and dropped her off at school. Then, I headed to Furman University for the Upstate Consortium for a professional development seminar. The good news: I got to spend a couple of hours at home before coming back to school for musical rehearsal. The bad news: that was my only break for about three days.

After one of the most frustrating musical rehearsals of this year, Michelle and I packed the kids off to my parents' and went on a field trip to see Les Miserables at the Peace Center. We have about twenty students with us (and two other teachers), and despite a twelve minute technical error that stopped the show, IT WAS INCREDIBLE. Pardon my caps, but it was awesome. Then, because Jean Toole is awesome, she secured us a backstage tour by an electrician after the show.


To keep this as brief as is possible, I'd like to mention three interesting facts and move on: 1.) Over four miles of cabling are used in the show. 2.) There are over 5,000 costume pieces, including 80 wigs. 3.) They change the lightbulbs every 3-4 months. The total cost of LIGHTBULBS: $25,000.

That, and the fact that they had stopped the show for a technical difficulty every night at the Peace Center made me feel much better about Cinderella. However, as we were leaving the stage, texts began coming in that a fellow English teacher at my school had died of a horse accident earlier in the evening.

The bus ride back was not pleasant. All I am going to say on this note is that Pam Scott had some students that loved her on that bus. I also owed her a piece of chocolate for covering my class earlier in the week while I went to a doctor's appointment. It was with me on Thursday, but I never went to work to give it to her.

Pam Scott, Liberty High School English Teacher
Coworker, Friend
I hope she's enjoying something better than chocolate right now.

My life kept churning, though. And the next day landed me at the wedding of a beloved friend, Nathan George. As sad as the previous day was, and as tired as I was (we weren't home from Les Miz until almost 1:00 o'clock in the morning...that's late for this twenty-five going on forty father of two. What would Eric Cromer think?) the wedding was spectacular.

I have to spend the last few moments of this post recreating one of the most spectacular events I've seen at a wedding in years. The ceremony was beautiful and meaningful, filled with family blessings and prayers of support and the whole atmosphere screamed that the couple was already loved and in-love. The h'orderves were kickin'. (Whoever invented bacon-wrapped barbecued shrimp on a skewer: Thank you.) Seeing some of my old friends was special, how we've all moved on separate paths, but mostly connected along the lines of ministry and Wesleyanism. Some were married since I'd seen them last, some were pregnant, and somehow I was the old dad in the room. But I think I laid it down pretty fresh on the dance floor. Thanks, Michelle DeRossett, for turning away long enough for me to jive like it was 2007. You are my only love.

But the most spectacular event of the entire wedding came later, on the dance floor. A song came on, Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The dance floor lit up. Despite the fact that I did not, everyone else there seemed to know this song. And by the second chorus, I knew it too. Suddenly the wedding, spectacular up till then, seemed like something scripted from a Hollywood movie. I can't capture the emotion here, though I am going to try.

Thad, Nathan's younger brother, was there in his grey-vested groomsman suit, no jacket, with a shock of red hair shagging back around his neck, looking the picture of Thomas George (his older brother) from our freshman year together when he red shirted on the SWU soccer team. There was Thad, clapping and spinning around in a circle, everyone singing the words about home being "wherever I am with you," and Nathan and Lauren, his bride, looking the picture of love. Then, the magic happened. I asked them if it was planned and they all shrugged and said, "not at all." The song kicked into the last run of the chorus. Nathan and his brothers,and their wives--the close family--moved into a circle, arms locked around each other's shoulders, and began dancing in a clock-wise circle, legs kicking in and out. The groomsmen and outer-level of friends began dancing counter-clockwise in a circle around them, and the other guest stood around this circle, clapping and singing. When the last Ho-oo-me  came across the speakers and everyone lifted one finger and looked at their loves and smiled--that was real.

I know what it's like to get married: a blur of color that ends with two kids and a cardboard box of orphaned kittens. So I thought maybe Nathan would forget this moment (though I don't see how) and I wanted it committed to the written word. I think the most spectacular part was that some of the immediate family had not been dancing until it came time for the intimate family circle. It's like they knew they needed to be there and everyone else knew they did not. I feel like everyone connected, and I just couldn't imagine a better way to kick off your marriage, or a better way for me to end of heartbreaking, exhausting week.

Congratulations, Nathan and Lauren. I've got a feeling you're going to go far and be happy on the way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to be a Good Parent 003

For this week's post, I am going to attempt to make up for my previous slams against my mother, Janet DeRossett. Occasionally, when I am feeling nostalgic, I write in a rambling Microsoft Word document labeled Memoir. I write down these snapshots of important moments in my life, the little mosaic pieces that are now the mural of who I am. I went back to that document and pulled a story from my childhood, which I will share with you below.

(It is what it is.)

My mother with my cousin Kellie in 1994

My relationship with my mother will always be a peculiar one, though it is now perhaps better than ever (grandchildren will do that, you know). But the following story is the summation of the relationship between the sensitive child I was in my youth and the mother who helped raise me to be a man, despite the fact that she often (to me) seemed determined to keep me a child forever:

We were in Wal*Mart in Easley, South Carolina. At the time, it was the only Wal*Mart around. I was perhaps six years old. I wanted a small toy truck. She told me she’d come back and get it later. I don’t know why. I shudder to think that we didn’t have the three dollars it cost locked away in our checking account, but I have no clue. Perhaps you assume that she told me she'd come back as a ploy just to shut me up, but it is not true. Because, sure enough, she went back to get it perhaps a week later.

The problem is, she brought home the wrong toy. And I can’t even remember what I originally wanted, now. I only remember what she brought me: a Cookie Monster concrete mixer that really tilted its dumper.

I was so angry at her for bringing me the wrong toy. I can remember shouting and yelling in the kitchen in our house. I can remember being so, so angry. This was, in my opinion, the first time I came face to face with a monster that would haunt me for years—even now as I write this it lurks warily in the back of my mind —that  quick temper that would one day cause me to shatter over half of my wedding dishes in one single blow, and would that day cause me to shout and shout at my mother right in the face of the nice thing she'd done for me.

Some weeks later, though, I can remember playing with that little dump truck in our old dirt driveway. I had a cup of water from the kitchen and was making concrete out of mud. I enjoyed the toy. All that anger, and I still enjoyed the toy. I loved the toy.

I did a Google search for that toy about a year ago. I can't find anything that looks like what I remember.

I think I wrote my mother an apology letter. If I never did, I’m writing it now. Because one sure-fire way to be a good parent is to love your kids and keep your promises and endure their evil tempers. And, because I lost that little dump truck.

And I’ve never forgiven myself for that.