I imagine, like most parents, we give our kids opportunities to earn money doing odd jobs around the house. We encourage hard work and reward it with financial compensation. We’ve even given opportunities to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams by helping them pursue babysitting jobs, painting pet rocks and yard work gigs.
But the other day, our G-man (8 years old) ventured out on his own and imposed a legit “big brother tax” on his little sister. I glanced into the TV room and noticed Willow (6 years old) had her piggy bank on the floor so I asked her about it. She responded “I had to pay G a dollar for a shoe shine.” I said, “Wait, you had to pay him a real dollar for an imaginary shoe shine?” Turns out, the answer was yes.
I was emotionally conflicted at that point. On the one hand, G definitely took advantage of his gullible sister with the big imagination for his financial gain and that is definitely a no-no. On the other hand, as a dad and big brother myself, I was a little proud. In the end, I made him give her the dollar back and we had a talk about how he should not manipulate people and that it is wrong to do what he did. Then I gave him a high-five, in my mind.
The other day, we went out to eat lunch with our 8 year-old son, G-man. All the other kids were busy doing other things and it was a good opportunity to spend a little alone time with him. We took him to a little cafe here in town called La Madeline, or as he called it La Madames. He ordered a bowl of pasta and was super stoked because they had all you could eat bread and butter. That kid loves him some bread. After a bit, a gentleman walked by and asked him why he wasn’t in school and then laughed after being told that we homeschool. A few minutes later he came back by and ribbed G a bit more about something or other. After he left, G looks at me and says “I feel like that guy is sweatin’ me.”
I’m not sure where he learned that line, but that dude was definitely sweatin’ him.
Our oldest daughter, Peanut, was showing interest in our waiter at Cotton Patch last night. Apparently he had an earring and that’s all it takes for her. She said “It’s like that star filter that you can put on pictures in Instagram. He’s like just a normal looking dude and then he turns his head and I see his earring and then all I see is stars.” Oh dear.
We started back to school last week, wanting to get everyone back in a rhythm before going all-in this week. It is tough on all four kids but it is also a bit tough on mom and dad too. We have to find our groove too and just like for the kids, it isn’t super fun getting into that groove. We have to reform our habits and our days are more defined and less free. For folks like us, that’s the biggest challenge. The actual teaching and instruction is not too bad, it is the fullness of the days that grates on our spirits. And so we adjust, just as they will.
We don’t do this because it’s easy. We do it because we believe in it. We do it for the dinner conversations about continental drift and Pangaea, about how they are learning to borrow when doing subtraction and about the great books they got to read. It is fun, it is hard. It can be both and we love it.
The plain and smiple truth is that I’m not much for cooking. I certainly can do the basics, things like pastas, grilled cheese and even hard boiled eggs (with a little assistance from Google). But, I have always had a part of me that wanted to do more in the kitchen.
I think part of that reason is that my brother loved to cook. He was in every way, a fantastic, passionate cook. He loved everything about it and his home was full of cookbooks and Saveur magazines that helped feed his passion. I have many memories of him, as a young teenager, getting up early and helping Granny make her buttermilk biscuits and red-eye gravy when we visited her. As an adult, he loved re-creating our Granny’s buttermilk biscuits as a way of staying connected to his past.
This afternoon, as my wife was preparing our Thanksgiving feast, I decided to jump in and help where she would let me. She put me on pie crust duty for the mini-pies we were making. As I sprinkled the flour on the counter and began rolling out the crust, I looked at my hands. I could not help but think about how often Ben must have done the same things with his hands. They would have had flour or some seasoning or another on them and that would have been a happy place for him. And there it was, a brief moment of connection, of understanding, of love.
I will never be the cook he was but I am going to keep trying. I loved feeling him with me there, in that moment.
This has been a tough year for me, one of my hardest in fact. Losing my brother so suddenly has sent me reeling in ways that I could not plan for or anticipate. Grief is a strange thing in that way. As I am climbing out of the depths, I have decided to spend more time actively focusing on the best things in my life, both big and small.
To start out, I thought I would go with a super big thing and write a small thing about my wife and our partnership. You see, our marriage has been full of minefields, storms, chaos and shadows. But all that has seemed like nothing to fear, because i have her.
As we approach our 15th wedding anniversary, I am struck for the millionth time how perfect she is for me, and thus, how perfect our partnership is. I do not use the word “perfect” in the sense that she or our marriage are without fault, because that would not be true. But, for me and what fuels my heart and soul, she truly is perfect.
There is this song by Andrew Peterson that i have heard many times called “Dancing in the Minefields.” Tears stream down my face every single time I hear it because of how the lyrics reflect my heart for her. Here are a few of the verses:
Well, “I do” are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard
Is a good place to begin
‘Cause the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price
For the life that we have found
And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storms
And this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
So when I lose my way, find me
And when I loose love’s chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith, till the end of all my days
When I forget my name, remind me
‘Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man
So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadowlands
Till the shadows disappear
‘Cause He promised not to leave us
And His promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby, I can dance with you
So let’s go dancing in the minefields
Let’s go sailing in the storms
Oh, let’s go dancing in the minefields
And kickin’ down the doors
Oh, let’s go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh, this is harder than we dreamed but I believe that’s what the promise is for
So, through all the loss, the doctor’s appointments, the financial struggles, the daily frustrations and madness, there has also been so much wonderful. Being with you is the easiest thing I have ever done because you chase away my shadows and we just dance. Forever and ever, amen.
I can’t shake this phrase today in thinking about my brother. As adults, we were not as close as we would have preferred. Living so far apart made that difficult but, I thought we had more time to grow close once again. We were as different as brothers could be. I’m tall, he wasn’t. He was an artistic creative soul, I am more logical. I have a beard, he struggled to get a soul patch going. My favorite hobbies are indoor things, his were mostly outdoors. But in all of these things, we still had so much in common and I thought we had more time to explore those things.
I thought we had more time. Those 6 words will haunt me as they will many others who were in his life. But we don’t, and I don’t. All I can do now, is wrestle with this beast that I’m so unfamiliar with and learn. Learn what losing Ben will teach me. To love much more intentionally. To live more free. To create without fear. To be humble and honest about my failings. To see beauty in all of God’s creation. You see, all these are areas he excelled in and so he still inspires me, as a big brother should.
Bear with me as I may use this forum to share some of my grief but also to look forward.
Peanut began to show an interest in art when she was seven or eight years old. She started by tracing line art drawings that we would print out for her. She then progressed to doing more and more complex art of her own, mostly using pencils, pens and markers. As she matured as an artist, she began working with paints, pastels, charcoal, mixed media nod even a little bit of sculpting has been thrown in for good measure. As parents who are not artistic ourselves, we have just stepped back and watched in wonder as she has continued down this path. This type of pursuit of an interest is precisely why we chose to homeschool in the first place and we have provided her with the space and time to go where it will lead her.
And so here we are, six years into the “hobby” and I don’t think we can still call it a hobby any longer. She “arts” every single day and continues to push herself to try new techniques, methods and styles. Will this lead to a high paying career one day? I don’t know and I don’t really care at this point. Because what art and her pursuit of it has done is teach her to be disciplined, to be courageous and to put herself out there in ways that we never envisioned.
She has been a part of a homeschool art studio for about a year now and they submitted pieces to be judged as part of the 40th Annual Lubbock Arts Festival. They were competing with more than 50 local area elementary, middle and high schools and as a group, they took home three Honorable Mentions and one Best in Show. That Best in Show award went to our Peanut. She submitted a painting that she did in acrylic paint called :A Deer in a Forest.”
We are ecstatic for her. Her piece was one of the few paintings that was submitted and that really helped her stand out among all the other artists. She showed courage to work in suck an unforgiving medium and to put it out there to be judged. Those things are not easy for eighth grade girls and we couldn’t be more proud of her.
A love of reading is one of those things that we as parents desperately want to impart to our kids. Whether we have achieved that is still a work in progress. However, pictures like these, of our seven year-old G man at the library seem to have us at least pointed in the right direction. Now, I’ am debating on whether I should warn him about those crocodiles (or are they alligators?) chomping on his feet. Oh well, at least he’ll go down reading.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n every family with multiple kids, there has to be at least one. You know who I am talking about. The one that craves the attention. The one that can look mom straight in the eyes and tell a fib. The boy who cried wolf. The one that’s a storyteller.
We certainly have one of those. In our family, the storyteller is Gideon. He is seven years old, has super cute dimples and also has practically zero impulse control. Let’s just say, he’s a hot mess and a work in progress. He challenges us daily as parents and frankly, sometimes we just want to dropkick the kid. He really should come with a warning label and this was never more clear than a few weeks back, after dropping him off at Sunday School. You see, we should have warned the teacher of his stories and his uncanny ability to make you believe every word that comes out of his mouth. But we didn’t, and the results were hilarious.
I was waiting in the crowded hallway outside the kids’ classrooms. waiting for Andi to pick up the boys. Out she comes, laughing while Gideon is following close behind with a sheepish look on face. I thought nothing of it since that is pretty much his default face when we are out in public. Then come his teachers and they looked at me and said, “Oh, you are looking good for someone who died two days ago.” Um. Thanks?
What in the world did they mean by that? Well, apparently our storyteller wove a real doozy for them. At the end of class, they asked the kids if they had anything that they needed to be prayed for and when nobody spoke up, Gideon raised his hand. He proceeds to tell them that his dad had died two days earlier of cancer and that he would appreciate their prayers. So, being good Sunday School teachers and also good human beings, they surrounded him with the other kids and they all prayed for him in his time of great loss. Fortunately for him, dad was standing right outside in the hallway, waiting for him to come out of class.
As was said so eloquently in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet.” This was definitely a story to remember but it was just one of many from our storyteller.