Friday, September 28, 2007

Something Breaks Through

Today I sat in a school assembly and heard students speak of their time this summer helping with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. I witnessed high school boys who were moved by what they saw and compelled to share it with us with raw emotion.

It reminded me of Melissa Fay Greene recounting when the HIV/orphan crisis broke through to her. It was a summer Sunday morning in 2000 while reading a NYT article. Melissa was never the same again and the course of her life was changed. So it will be for these boys.

These things that are somehow at a distance - the stuff that we hear about but don't witness for ourselves, the stuff that is all important but gets thrown out with the daily paper - when it does get through to us there is an irreversible direction about it. Once it has touched us, there is no going back.

No one says it better than Sarah Groves in her song about her experience in Rwanda.

I saw what I saw and I can't forget it.
I heard what I heard and I can't go back.
I know what I know and I can't deny it.



And so it is for me. I know what I know and I can't deny it. There is no going back.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pledge of Allegiance

As I have watched F.G. and K.D. learn English, I have been reminded of that time as a child when your brain can absorb new information at a remarkable rate. Our kids go to a children's program called AWANA at church on Wednesday nights and a part of the program involves learning the Pledge of Allegiance. We taught this string of unidentifiable sounds to them - think of republic, indivisible, liberty, and justice. It amazes me that they can remember it.

Here is K.D. saying the pledge. I told K.D. to wait until the red light came on before he started to say the pledge. If you watch carefully, you might be able to pick up on when he noticed that the red light is on.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Games We Play

I find raising a gaggle of kids to be deeply satisfying, but there are plenty of things about it that I could do without – like brushing the teeth of younger kids. This is just one of the mundane chores that CrazyMom and I don’t feel particularly drawn to. Because of this, there is a little game we play. Here are the rules:

1) If it legitimately appears to be your turn to brush a child’s teeth, you can’t pass the buck.

2) It is your turn if subtle circumstances indicate that it would make “more sense” for you to do it rather than the other parent.

3) It is legal to manipulate such subtle circumstances, but only in ways so that the children will not notice. Of course, the spouse should notice, otherwise it is not much of a game.

Here are a few examples of how we play the game.

CrazyMom and I are running the boys through the bathtub and K.D. is waiting for his turn. I go over and begin to shampoo Little Foot’s hair. Just when the suds reach a maximum and are all over my hands, I say, “Hey, K.D.! Why don’t you brush your teeth while you are waiting?” K.D. notices I am busy and so he asks CrazyMom to help him brush his teeth. CrazyMom gives me one of those furrowed-brow-you-are-so-pathetic looks, but just for a moment so as not to violate rule #3.

And don’t think that it is just me that does the manipulating. When I get done with breakfast and head upstairs to brush my teeth, CrazyMom will say to K.D., “Why don’t you run upstairs with dad and brush your teeth?” She wins the game here because it makes “more sense” for me to brush his teeth if I am going to brush mine anyway.

I just showed this post to CrazyMom and she said there is no game and I am just trying to get out of brushing K.D.’s teeth. No wonder she has been giving me all of those furrowed-brow-you-are-so-pathetic looks whenever I would win the game. Here I just thought she was a poor sport.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jesus Loves What?!?

“What is this word, dad? It says Jesus Loves . . . something. I can’t read the last word,” said Little Foot.

I was in the car with Little Foot and F.G. on the way back home from Out-Of-Our-Way Christian Bookstore. Little Foot was trying to read the words on his new $9.99+Tax-Jesus-Loves-Something water bottle that he just bought with his own money.

I admit that I did not really care what the water bottle said and was more interested in getting home. My mood was already slightly fowl since I was running an errand that I did not want to run. Before we started home schooling, CrazyMom would run errands during the day. Now errands get done in the evening and I can’t quite figure out how to get out of doing them.

Little Foot persisted and finally F.G. decided to try to help out, but she could not read the word either.

Meanwhile I was reflecting on how Out-Of-Our-Way Christian Bookstore had caused me to be on this errand. CrazyMom had taken the six kids to their store so F.G. could buy a Bible. F.G. really wanted a Bible with a buckle and found one in her favorite color – orange. But when Out-Of-Our-Way Christian Bookstore imprinted her name on it, they messed it up. Too bad it was the only Orange-Buckle Bible in the store and too bad that F.G. would no longer settle for any one of 1,000 other Bibles in the store. So a return trip was needed to pick up the Special-Order-Orange-Buckle Bible.

Now over half way home from Out-Of-Our-Way Christian Bookstore, the water bottle finally made it up to me and I read it out loud.

“Jesus Loves Kimberly”

My son had just purchased a $9.99+Tax-Jesus-Loves-Kimberly water bottle. The slightly fowl mood in the car went quickly downhill. Knowing that I had fulfilled my fatherly duties by taking two kids to Out-Of-Our-Way Christian Bookstore where they could get what they wanted and knowing further that my car was not going to turn around to go back to the store, I began crisis management.

“Little Foot, what we can do here is this. We will take the $9.99+Tax-Jesus-Loves-Kimberly water bottle home and next time that CrazyMom goes to Out-Of-Our-Way Christian Bookstore she can trade it in for a $9.99+Tax-Jesus-Loves-Little-Foot water bottle,” I said trying to sound comforting, reassuring, and firm all at the same time.

Tears were coming.

“Are you with me here? We can trade it in for another one next time mom goes to Out-Of-Our-Way Christian Bookstore. She was there at Christmas and now again in September. I am sure she will be back before next Christmas.”

The tears arrived.

I got off the highway and completed two left turns in traffic to get back on the highway going the other way.

When we got back to Out-Of-Our-Way Christian Bookstore, the two girls behind the counter and a lady making a purchase thought the incident was “cute” and “funny”. We went back to the rack with all of the $9.99+Tax-Jesus-Loves-Somebody water bottles and had to look at every water bottle before we could be sure that they did not have one with Little Foot’s name on it. Fortunately, there was a generic “I Love Jesus” water bottle.

Clearly CrazyMom would have cared what the words were on the bottle and read them before setting out for home and avoided this whole mess. Clearly the moral of the story is that I am unqualified to run errands. Now if I can just convince CrazyMom.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Who are these kids?

The children we have in our home now are completely different than the ones we brought home from Ethiopia. Now I can see how CrazyMom and I were a little irrational during the child selection process. When we were pouring over a photo list of kids, we assumed that the expression captured in the photo reflected in some way the personality of the child. Then when CrazyMom and I saw a 20 second video clip of our children, it felt like we knew them. F.G. was soft spoken and shy; K.D. was nonverbal and mischievous.

Well, we were wrong. We did not know we were wrong when we picked up the kids in Ethiopia because they were still like they were in the short video clip. But half a year in America has changed all of that.

It reminds me of the age old debate of nature vs. nurture. I can’t tell for sure if our kids’ personalities have changed or if their true personalities are now emerging. Either way, F.G. is clearly not soft spoken and shy and K.D. can talk your ear off.

Another thing that has either changed or emerged is that both F.G. and K.D. are real jokesters. On a trip this summer CrazyMom and I were helping manage the food line at my sister’s house as nine kids went through. After the kids were taken care of, the adults went through and got their plates of food. As we finally settled into some chairs outside ready to enjoy our first bite of food, K.D. came busting out of the house yelling.

“Mom! Mom! Me spilled my food!”

CrazyMom groaned and began to set her plate down when K.D. laughed, said, “Just kidding!” and disappeared back inside.

We were shocked. It was the first of what has now become normal behavior.

Then the other day CrazyMom sent F.G. down to the basement to get some potatoes. F.G. came back and said she could not find them. CrazyMom explained again, very carefully, where the potatoes were. A few moments later F.G. was back unable to find the potatoes. A little annoyed, CrazyMom set off to get them herself and as she started down the stairs she found the bowl of potatoes concealed a few steps down. F.G. thought it was so funny that she got a bad case of the Uncontrollable Giggles.

The lesson is obvious. You can’t really know the personality of a child from a 1” by 1.5” photo and a 20 second video clip. It is only later, under a different set of circumstances that one gets to discover who a child really is.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A New Marriage Low Point

CrazyMom and I have reached a new low point in our marriage.

I wanted to ask CrazyMom if she had remembered to take F.G. to the doctor that day. Since she had missed several appointments lately, I thought I had better follow up on this one.

Entering the kitchen I found CrazyMom cooking dinner and answering the question of a child. Behind that child was another child politely waiting to ask CrazyMom a question. Behind that child was a third child politely waiting to ask CrazyMom a question.

As much as I wanted to ditch in line, I knew it was not the example I should set. Instead, I went back to the office and sent CrazyMom an email.

When I checked my email later, sure enough, there was a response from CrazyMom. Turns out she had not taken F.G. to the doctor because she had cancelled the appointment.

While it was great to get my question answered, an internet relationship is not what I am hoping for. We will certainly have to continue to find ways to connect with each other in the real world.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hair

One nice thing for dads living in America is that there are pretty low expectations for us in caring for the hair of our daughters. If I do my girls' hair and it is done poorly, others smile and are impressed that I tried. I am even seen as a great modern day dad. If my wife does a great job with the girls' hair, nobody is impressed since she is doing what moms ought to do.

Well, I have on occasion fancied myself as a modern day dad and I have, on occasion, done my girls hair. I can do pony tails, mostly symmetric pig tails, Laura Ingles braids, and the easy headband.

Then came F.G. There is no way I can do anything with her hair. Now that her hair has grown out some, she wants things done to it. It involves gels, oils, rubber bands, stretchy thingies, and a whole host of other materials that I don't work with. But above all, her hair requires skills that are far beyond my capacities.

The good news for F.G. is that CrazyMom is here. CrazyMom braided F.G.'s hair the other day for the first time. I don't know how she did it without taking a class, but she did. I tried to braid a patch and F.G. let me know in no uncertain terms that she would not need my services anymore.

It is a good thing I still have my day job.