Made of Dust

An imperfect guy who likes to write

Summers of Stay-At-Home Dadness

He looked at me, big-eyed with 1/4 of a grin that was progressing towards full on smile. I was just waiting with all seriousness to see what his response would be.

He and his family had just joined us for dinner. We were going through the ‘What have you been up to lately’ chit chat that is standard for us whose lives are full of youth sports and PTA meetings, affording few get-together opportunities.

We had traded the updates back and forth and were concluding with Becky, Joe’s wife.

My wife, Amber, had the last volley, bumping it over to Becky. “What’s new with you, girlie?”

A drawn out “Wellllllll….. you know…” as she tilted her head, blinked a long, slow blink and looked directly at Joe as she finished in a sigh.

“I am watching all these kids now, plus my own…it’s a lot…I’m just really tired…like every day.”

All of the attention went from anticipating a typical return on the routine question, to anxiety of how Joe might react having the question nonverbally deflected to him.

I think the three of us not named Joe were curious of just how crisis might be adverted.

It was clear in her response that she had some stress from dealing with kids day in and day out.

It was even more clear that she felt like perhaps it was not appreciated or possibly not acknowledged by Joe.

Joe’s grin seemed to be altering towards a smirk and his wide eyes shifted to more of an “Oh brother…” eye roll.

Joe is an astute fella, read the room correctly and immediately adjusted facial gestures to that of an “Oh come on now”. A guy confused as to why his wife would have subtly suggested his cynicism for her frustration.

Joe and Becky are a beautiful couple, inside and out. They are a tremendous and loving family who, by any standard, are successful in marriage, in parenthood and just overall winners in life. They are dear people and very good friends of ours.

I’ve been around this type of conversation enough times to know, as had Joe obviously, that you simply do not respond or you respond affirming your spouse.

Joe chose not to respond and just sit there with a friendly, confused look and let the room take it for what it was.

Good move Joe. Good move. Personally, I would have gone choice B; over exaggerating my appreciation for her struggle, then argued with her later about putting me on the spot. Lol

I’ve had the very experience Becky was referring to though.

When Amber was working, before we had kids, I spent summers taking coursework and preparing curriculum for the next school year.

I enjoyed other activities, like going fishing, water skiing, hiking, projects around the house, woodworking, staying up late watching movies, sleeping in most days. It was nice.

The first kid changed most of that. The second and third one ended it.

I was stay-at-home-dad for the summer months.

2012 was the final summer that it was just me and the kids. We had 3 daughters at that time, 7 yrs and under. Amber would be home for good the July of 2013.

It was TOUGH. If I wasn’t changing the poopy diaper of one, I was beckoned to the bathroom to wipe the butt of the other while lugging another around on my hip.

If I wasn’t preparing the bottle to feed the one, I was replacing the batteries in the other one’s toy and trying to ignore the tantrum of the third.

If I wasn’t cleaning up the crayons on the wall, the play-doh smashed into the carpet, or sweeping up food morsels around the house, I was desperately hunting for pacifiers in couch cushions, keeping dog food out of the baby’s mouth, or making sure one didn’t stand on the other one!

I was a mess.

Gym shorts, no underwear, barefoot, hadn’t shaved, brushed my teeth or even put on deodorant. My t-shirt collar all stretched out and coated with a combination of meals I had prepared that day, boogers, snot (kids and dogs, not mine), and tears (kids…and likely mine).

Nap time from 1:30 to 4:00 couldn’t come fast enough each day.

Until 1:30, I’d daydream of all I would accomplish during naps. The possibilities excited me! I could shower, read a little, watch a show or maybe have a snack without grubby little hands fighting for space inside the bag.

Nah. Even when it did go smoothly and the tiny untrained humans were peaceful, nap time always went way too fast.

Most days I’d eat and shower, but there were usually other things going on to fill the rest of the time. Whether it was school work, mowing the grass, paying bills, scheduling appointments…

There were just always more “other” things that had to get done.

Once up from nap, it was back to preparing, feeding, cleaning, diapers, messes….

Often, especially when Paige was still young and Aubrey was new, I’d get them into a show or DVD of some sort and I’d go hide in my bedroom.

That’s where Amber would find me, face down into a pillow with my arms and legs sprawled out.

Think “snow angel”, but face down. Instead of snow, a warm pool of agony, frustration and exhaustion.

Listen, I love kids.

I teach for crying out loud. However, leading a room full of 30 other peoples’ children was somehow much less stressful than watching my three all day long.

I don’t know why that was true, but for me it was.

I’d be asinine not to mention the blessings of being with my kids all day. So here’s the first 3 that came to my mind:

#1) I’m blessed to be a parent at all, a privilege many dream of. Beyond that though, the blessing of resources permitting a situation where I can be at home with them.

#2) There seem to be an infinite amount of times each day my heart melts as they see, play, and fumble through their day.

In one moment they are driving me bat-shit crazy, and in the next I fight back tears of pride and want to hold them up as if they were Simba.

#3) At some point, kids do realize what all we are doing for them. It’s not often, but occasionally they verbalize it, draw it, or if we’re really lucky, act it out as they role-play unaware we’re even watching them.

There are so many more perks of being at home with my crew, but since the critics already know all of them and more…the purpose here is to bring to light the challenges.

My job as a teacher is exhausting mentally. I sleep well during the school year.

I’ve also had physically challenging jobs in my life. Working on roof tops in July or warehouses pulling orders of heavy reels of wire.

I’m just saying stay-at-home parents deserve a lot less of the satire you see in sit-coms, the side-mouth wise cracks from familiar faces and the sarcasm of spouses. Al Bundy made it famous.

Being a stay-at-home parent can be brutal emotionally, psychologically, as well as the physicality and non-stop action that often prevents you from even eating a meal that isn’t just your kids’ cold french fries or veggies they ignored.

Nothing says ‘parent’ like slamming what’s left of your kid’s bite marked sandwich and washing it down with what’s left of their juice box.

There is the stereotype coming from “the working world”, but especially among men of the working world…that stay-at-home parents have it made. Their lives are somehow easier.

I for one, almost went nuts each and every single day during those summers. It was not easy. Ask my co-workers and see if they remember how excited I’d get for the school year to begin.

When Amber made the decision to come home, it changed everything. I’ve written about that before and will again I’m sure. But it dramatically changed our summers for the better.

We now have four kids and with two of us home in the summer, we can divide and conquer most tasks and responsibilities, and still have room for fun.

This isn’t about our situation though. I just wanted to acknowledge any parent who stays home with their kids.

Nobody but you can really know how much of yourself you sacrifice, but I got enough of a taste to know it’s bitter sweet. We love our kids, but good grief they can take a bunch out of you.

Culturally, staying home is not fully respected. There is a stigma. You get looks when you tell people you are a stay-at-home parent. You sense lots of corner-of-the-eye looks and whispers when you enter a room.

As a teacher dad with a working wife, I would get asked “What do you do during the summers? You have all that time off.”… I’d look at my 3 daughters and look back at them and say “What do you think I’m doing all summer?”

I even had one person consistently remind me each summer that I should find a second job. No reply for that one.. just shake my head.

That comes from a couple of different places. Jealousy. Ignorance. Pettiness. To name three.

There are also insecurities to deal with, even when they aren’t passing judgement, you suspect they are.

Again, I just want it to be known, there are people who “get it”.

To all you who stay at home and feel unappreciated, disrespected or otherwise unsuccessful;

Keep your head up…or if you are like I was, head to your room and assume the “face-down snow angel”. Either way, keep doing what you do.

It IS NOT easy. Your sacrifice IS noticed…..and it ABSOLUTELY MATTERS!!

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For A Girl

The words hung in the air, drifting just out of my reach. If I could have, I’d have snatched them out of the air into my fist and stuffed them deep into my pockets to hide the implication.

“She is really good. She plays like a boy.”

Two women standing before me, paused with a quick glance, then continued their conversation without drawing attention to the golf ball of a comment which I had just smashed into the water hazard with a noticeable and awkward “Ker-Plop”. Continue reading

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A letter to Avery Lynn

* This was originally written in 2011. While the setting and the weather were much different today, the sentiment of the letter is exactly the same.
*We’ve added 2 more daughters since I typed this out. 2 more people to share Avery’s story with. 2 more sisters to adore her and celebrate each important milestone with.

 

 

Avery,

Looking out the window today, some might say the weather is fitting for such an anniversary.  The dark clouds have rolled in, emptied themselves and have taken the day away from us.

The yard is soggy, the grass, flowers and trees that were so close to full bloom for the spring are now left damp, cold and drooping.  Weather says there is more to come tonight and so the dreary day is forecasted into a dreary night.

That’s what some would say.  It’s not, however, what your sisters, your mother and I are saying.  We look out of the window today and see another day filled with hope, a day where the closeness to God, which you delivered for us, can never and will never be forgotten.

Today’s rain reminds me of the refreshing encouragement that God gives to us.  The clean and untainted spiritual blessing of the Holy Spirit brightly penetrates even the thickest of rain clouds.

Your passing is a hand on the small of my back that is always guiding me toward God.  Your passing introduced me to a whole new understanding of life and death and an appreciation for both.

This is only one reason of many that I will never remember your death with emotions of sadness.  Everyday I thank God for your mother, the strongest woman I know.  I thank God daily for Paige and Aubrey, as well as the newest addition soon to arrive.

Avery, I also thank God for you.  I will never forget the four hours we spent in that hospital room….just your mother, you and me.  There was something so divinely special about those moments. It was as if Jesus Himself, along with familiar angels were gathered around us.

I cannot even begin to express the encompassing love, mercy and grace your mother and I experienced in that room with you.  There just aren’t words.  It was real though, very, very real.

Occasionally when someone asks how do I know there is a Heaven or a God, I don’t say it to them because I know they’d never understand, but Avery it’s because of you.  It’s because of your death I tasted Heaven.

I’m sorry for selfish reasons that you didn’t live. Strange as it may sound, I am not sorry you died.  I’m confident you’re happy where you are and likely have a far better understanding of what all took place and why it took place than your mother and I do.

Truth is we feel blessed to have a daughter preparing for our arrival on the other side some day.  There is simply no better place for my daughter to be.

Paige and Aubrey are with me and I’m openly happy to admit that I enjoy their presence in my daily life, but setting aside human pride I must also say it is the second best place for them to be.  This is second best for all of us really.

Someday, a long time from now I know we will be all together.  Call me delusional or disturbed, but it does excite me thinking about that day.

No Avery, today isn’t gloomy for your earthly family…. We celebrate today knowing full well you exist.  You exist in a reality far more special and real than the one we belong to.

We also know that you are aware of us, we’ve been reminded many times, many ways.

We will meet someday in Heaven.  I don’t know that you are a baby there.

At times I like to think you as a bundle of joy for our grandparents and other loved ones who moved on.  Other times I like to think of you as a fully matured being, a young woman, that is preparing for us and will be able to greet us when our veils are lifted.

In fact, I have often dreamed and fantasized about what you and I will say to each other when we first come together on your side of reality.  I fully expect you will know me and I will immediately recognize you, we will be brother and sister in Christ.

Before we speak, I know there will be a long awaited embrace and my first words to you are likely to be “Thank You So Much”.   Heaven was already a place worth living to get to, you being there has only made it that much more desirable and real.

Today we enjoy the life God blessed us with and we celebrate the even better life you have in Heaven.

We know what the weather forecast is, but to be honest….today is one of the most beautiful days of the year.

We sang Happy Birthday at your headstone and know you are enjoying our praise for God in your honor.

Under the direction of your big sister Paige and little sister Aubrey we made you a birthday cake.  Yellow cake, chocolate icing and lots of sprinkles on top….even had your name on it.

I’m sure the celebration you enjoy in Heaven is far greater than this, but we didn’t want your birthday to pass without our own little celebration of what you mean to us.

Lovingly,

Your proud father

 

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Jesus Walks into a Bar

“Jesus walks into a bar….” sounds like the start of a sketchy joke.

What would Jesus do if you invited him to have a beer at your grill-out, the local pub, or sporting event?

Many would say Jesus wouldn’t condemn you, but he wouldn’t tolerate it either. They’d have you believe He would refuse a taste and probably share a parable about why nobody should.

I used to think that. I know my fellow faithful are probably thinking that I changed my opinion to fit my love of tasty brews. It’s actually the opposite.

The more I studied, the more I understood that many people conjure up their own messages, or worse…listen to some other person preach their interpretation of what the Bible says of the modern world.

Having a few beers, glasses of wine, or my tumbler of Kentucky bourbon is no more a sin than eating more than your share of Doritos.

Yeah, I said it. They are either both sins or neither one is. I side with neither.

Mom Loves Her Wine

I attend church regularly, listen to Christian programming, and read lots of Christian authors. I do daily bible study and frequent journaling. I’ve read the entire Bible only twice, but have read certain books, passages and all of the New Testament many times.

There is not one single verse, not one word Jesus spoke, or any of his disciples books that say drinking is a sin. Not one.

Do you know what Jesus’ first recorded miracle was?

He was at a wedding and his mom was upset the party had run out of wine. She begged her son to take care of it. Like all sons who have a mom nagging them, He did. In fact, his wine was better than the wine that had run out. (John 2:1-11)

The man has supernatural powers that raise the dead and his first miracle was to keep the wine flowing at a party. I love it.

To many, drinking means getting drunk. To others, drinking means having a few beers while watching the Bengals fumble away another playoff.

Many Christians will beat you over the head with their Bible or brow beat you with condescending looks, judgmental demeanor, and passive aggressive “jokes”. Jesus had more problem with folks like them than he did anybody else.

Are You Ready to Party?

I was at Ohio University on Halloween when I was 18. Athens goes WILD…

Me in my OU dorm room, “The Hair Years” (i.e. 1994)

UpTown, as they call it, fills with people (mostly 18-25 year olds) and they have some of the craziest and most creative costumes you’ve ever seen. They party in the street.

These kids were having more “fellowship” than what I’ve seen in most churches. They’re meeting new people, laughing, reminiscing with old friends, and just having a good time. No REAL harm was being done in that moment.

That was the scene when I noticed a sign nailed to a 2 x 4 that somebody was holding. It read “R U E“? (The E was painted red.)

I chewed my cheek as I stared at the sign and the group gathered below it. I tried to think what it might be trying to say. While I contemplated, I noticed people began to throw things and yell at these people as they moved past them in the middle of the street.

The sign people were standing in the middle of the street, already packed shoulder to shoulder with ghouls, blues brothers, and hot nurses.

I was conflicted. I didn’t know why I felt bad. I sort of hurt for the sign people once I realized they were warning all of us about End Times and our salvation (Are You Ready?). But I also felt bad about the disruption they were causing. Most were there to just have a good time.

Now I look back at that situation and think, “That is exactly the kind of behavior that turns people off to Christ.” We should be welcoming people, not guilting or “convicting” them into submission.

I’ve known far too many who were “saved” under pretenses such as these…yet all of them eventually left the church.

Heart Conviction

Using fear tactics or guilting people into things may get them to do it…but has their heart changed? That doesn’t work and for good reason. That’s not how God intends for us to grow His Kingdom.

Genuine conviction is a call for a change in your life, and it begins in the heart.

It is stirred somewhere deep in reflection between an individual and their creator. He might certainly convict you to refrain from alcohol, not to eat too much, not to stare lustfully at a magazine, or any number of other things we humans indulge in. Especially if they keep you from His purpose for your life.

Those who have been victim to guilt or fear driven strategies from other people typically don’t stick around. They have such a negative experience with it that they may never come back and have potentially shut the door on a relationship with Christ altogether. That should upset every Christian.

To non-believers, those “sign people” stood out as confirmation that, in fact, Christians are judgmental and obsessed with telling others they’re going to Hell.

Obstructing people, being in the way, using fear, even guilting people…is not love.

It spreads a message alright. A message that Christians are stubborn, annoying, and self-righteous. I know lots of people that are okay with this. I am not.

Jesus was a master of drawing in many that others called “lost”. Not religious folks, not “clean” people…but the sinful, the street thugs, prostitutes, criminals, and other outcasts in that culture. He didn’t draw them in with a picket sign, a bull-horn or by obstructing their activity.

Sober, Fat, and Addicted to Porn

I think that the Christians today who used to drink but stopped when they “found the Lord” come in a variety of types. There are those that probably had a problem. They have legitimate reason to celebrate sobriety.

I also understand the argument that your decision to drink as a Christian may subliminally give an observer (potentially alcoholic) the freedom to go ahead. I’d argue that this is true with everything.

Won’t eating the extra large piece of cake in front of the diabetic tempt them to consume a life altering, perhaps even fatal, bite? It very well could lead to them binge eating junk as soon as they are alone.

Won’t viewing a TV show with partial nudity give a porn-addicted man the open door to his own despair?

Christians shouldn’t gossip, eat too much, boast, covet possessions, lust, lie, cheat or steal. What church isn’t filled with these people?

When we do these things in front of people who have compulsions related to them, aren’t we encouraging them in the same way? Even if we are doing it unknowingly?

When the overweight pastor reaches for seconds on sister Betty’s fried chicken, isn’t he influencing others who struggle with health to reach for it as well? I know a lot of overweight pastors. I’ve been to enough church buffets to see plenty of obese congregations. You think obesity doesn’t wreck lives, relationships and connection with God?

I’m not calling people fat. I’m just saying eating more than a serving of ice cream (1/4 cup) and drinking a few beers are no different. At all.

Drunkenness is a sin, the bible is clear on that. In the Bible account of Noah, he is found by his sons, naked, drunk and asleep in a tent. He wakes up angry and curses his son…He clearly had a problem. When aware of other people’s struggles, of course we should act accordingly. Don’t have a beer in front of Noah.

The problem is that being unaware is inevitable. You always run the risk of tempting others.
That is unless you plan on:
eating nothing…
drinking nothing…
watching nothing…
saying nothing…
doing nothing…
What joy you would be for others to be around. Good luck growing the Kingdom.

Bengals, Barstools, and Jesus

As I studied the Bible I also realized that the few times alcohol is actually mentioned, it is a mixed bag of celebration (weddings, Jesus meals) and those hardship stories and warnings about the dangers of being drunk and damages of over-indulgence.

The act of drinking itself is not a sin. It is the mind altering effect, the aftermath, the consequence of too much, the potential distraction, that is where sin lives. That can be the result of overindulgence in many things, not just alcohol.

“Jesus walks into a bar……and?

………….buys everyone a round.”

He certainly wouldn’t march in there with a “R U E” sign. He wouldn’t tell them they are all going to hell. He wouldn’t even quietly judge them.

No, I believe he’d pull up a bar stool and start a conversation. Maybe something like, “Why can’t Marvin Lewis figure out the challenge flag thing? I remember this one time when I challenged the pharisees in the temple……”

Intrigued, the man next to him, takes a sip of his free beer, leans in and listens.

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Headless Chicken

“You just grab it at the neck, step on it there and jerk your hand up real quick like this here, see?”

Before I could process the instructions that had just been grunted at me, I stood in total horror as I watched a headless white chicken begin to sprint in wide circles, flapping it’s wings as though it were about to take off on an adventurous flight.

My brother stood close by looking at me and laughing, but then became distracted when a fowl came close enough for him to give chase. Continue reading

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A Titanic Revelation

She sat there in the passenger seat of my car for what felt like several minutes of thoughtful pause.

I don’t think she knew how to respond. Had he just said “I love you” for the first time? Do I say it back? I’m sure these thoughts were two of many reeling through her mind in those brief seconds.

“I love you too?” She responded with that girlish chuckle that I still recognize today.

We had just been on a date. Not our first, second or third…but about nine months of dates later. Continue reading

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Something’s Gotta Give – Choosing Your Sacrifice

I occasionally catch someone roll their eyes, comment under their breath or even directly to me, that we are lucky. Now and then, someone will say something like, “Well, you all can do that because Amber’s at home”, or “Well, you don’t have to worry about that because you have Amber” or “She’s got plenty of time now that she’s home”.

I won’t argue that we are lucky in that we had opportunity. I won’t argue that we are lucky to have been in a position to do what we chose to do. But really, luck has very little to do with our lifestyle. Continue reading

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I Voodooed Grandma for Christmas

Saturday morning cartoons and the smell of sausage frying in the kitchen were disrupted by a very loud thump, thump and thump.

There she laid at the bottom of our basement stairs. Writhing in pain with one hand up by her face and the other pinned under her crumpled body. She was laying perpendicular to the steps, facing us awkwardly, her face to the side and pressed flat against that cold cement floor.

Our eyes met, she immediately saw the panic in my face as I instantaneously recognized the pain in hers. Continue reading

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Patriotic Jesus

I’m a Facebook junkie, I don’t even care to admit it. I’ve written another blog about my love for it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things I see there I wish I didn’t. There are of course. Specifically, it isn’t Facebook that annoys me. But like everybody else, it is the posts of certain varieties that leave me shaking my head.

There are certain friends, acquaintances and family members that I’ve just grown accustomed to the type of posts they make. Most are funny, insightful and positive. But then there are the ones frequently spewing negativity.

You know the type…and if you know you are the type, it’s okay. I don’t judge based on Facebook posts and I love you anyway. God gave me thumbs and so I scroll on by. I certainly hope you do the same when I post rants about my Bearcats, humblebrags about my kids, or the latest Advocare products I want you to know about.

The ones that never stop disappointing me on Facebook, though, are my Christian friends and family who share political insight, share articles from CNN or Fox News and expect the world to nod their head in agreement at them.

I’m not nodding. Not that they know or care…but I am not nodding. Continue reading

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Uranus is Gassy, It’s Science (Part 2)

I want to predicate this by saying I typically write more emotionally and seriously. If you didn’t enjoy last week’s Part 1 of Uranus is Gassy, then save your time by not reading this week’s continuation. Part 2 here focuses on inappropriate boy humor that I have encountered in the classroom. I apologize to any who find it distasteful and urge you to come back for my other blog posts, which tend to be more serious. Continue reading

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