Sunday, February 27, 2011

Moving Through Life

I’ve mentioned it before, but my whole life has been migrant.  I was born on a military base, grew up in an active duty military family, went to college and joined the military.  All I’ve ever known is moving every 2-4 years, with very rare exception.  Through the years, I’ve always had folks I’ve met “locally” tell me they can’t imagine how hard it is to constantly move from place to place and never put down roots.  I know what they’re asking, but honestly, I can only imagine what their lives are like, never moving and having to live in the same place without moving.  Sometimes I know I desire the chance to see what it’s like to stay in one place for a long time, while some of my stationary friends desire the experience of my adventures, always seeing new places.  In the end though, I can only imagine what the difference is like.  I can’t really appreciate staying still it other than academically.  As an adult, this lifestyle comes with its own excitement and frustration, but it’s always boiled down to a part of the routine of my life.  Having grown up this way, I’m sensitive to ensuring my son is best able to deal with the stresses moving puts on him as a little guy.

We should move this Summer, sometime in the next six months.  Steph and I are already talking about it with Paul.  We moved the first time with him when he was one and a half and he has no memory of it.  This time, he’ll be four and a half.  He has a small circle of friends here.  He knows what it means to get on a plane and travel, but we’ve always returned to Germany--the only place he thinks of as home.  We’re already anticipating him asking to see his friends or to visit places here in Germany once we make our “permanent” move.
Steph and I have started doing the same thing with Paul that my parents used to do with me: taking about the pending move as an adventure.  He hears us talk with each other and with him about the amazing chance to get to see another new place, more cool stuff and to meet new friends.  We don’t talk about who and what we’re leaving behind, especially from his limited perspective.  When I was small, moves seemed so final, but life became an adventure and we still get to experience quite a bit of it through airplanes and automobiles.
After spending my entire life in military service, I’ve learned the world is small and getting smaller every year.  We have friends we continue to cross paths with because we’re assigned together again, or simply because we visit one another.  Paul will continue to see many of them too, and unlike my young life, there’s a good chance we’re only an assignment or two from retiring and truly settling down.  Paul will still have the greater part of his youth spent living in one place, with all the associated pros and cons.  As for us, we won’t mind taking him back to see the places and meet the people we’ve enjoyed over the years.  The adventure will continue!
It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Get The Wax Out Of Your Ears

Like all healthy kids, my son has made the transition from infant to toddler, and now to four year old child.  No more toddling.  Now it’s all about racing, running, crashing.  Everything is fast, furious and exciting, only punctuated by a wipe-out, or a nap when he literally runs out of energy and makes a rapid transition from active to sleeping.  It usually takes about a minute once he gives in.

Along with those changes comes wax in the ears.  As the oldest child in my family, I remember hearing my parents routinely tell my sisters to “get the wax out of their ears.”  More and more often I hear myself saying similar things to my son, especially when I have to stop him from whatever he’s doing and make him look at me as I say, “listen to me.”  It seems about half the time I tell him this, it’s to stop him from doing something I know will lead to injury.  I may not be the smartest guy around, but the wisdom of 47 years definitely trumps the zeal of four.
My son, again like all kids, gets the wax out, acknowledges what I said, and the all too often lets what I told him go in one ear and out the other--something else I remember hearing my parents say to my sisters and I.  As all parents know, this comes with some measure of frustration as you strive to strike the balance between the strictest of enforcement and prudent liberty that follows the warning.  
One of those acute moments of frustration happened the other evening.  My son was all spun up and bed time was approaching.  (By the way, I’m convinced “spun up” is a statement of middle-aged denial.  It’s how we gently admit that we don’t have the strength or energy we used to have, especially when it’s obvious as we watch our kids.)  I marshaled him into the bathroom to brush his teeth.  The blur of motion and energy continued as he climbed onto the small stool in front of the sink.  Then came the series of warnings:  stand still or you’re going to fall off the stool and hurt yourself.  Are you listening to me?  Stand still.  He responded with an “okay”, then continued to dance around.  Mere seconds later one foot comes off the stool and Paul hits the side of the sink with his cheek as he unintentionally took an eight inch step down.  Ouch.  For Paul there was a stunned moment, then tears fueled by pain.  And for me, frustration.  I was torn between two simultaneous desires.  I wanted to hold and comfort him, and ensure he was okay (which I did).  I was also angry and wanted to scold him for doing the very thing I just told him not to do, for the reason he was now crying--injury and pain.  (Which I also did after I was sure he wasn’t injured badly.)  In those moments, I reminded myself that my job was to lovingly comfort and teach my son, and to reinforce what he chose to dismiss.  Even though I was frustrated, it wasn’t lost on me that to a great extent this specific instance of the problem was self-correcting.  I warned him he could get hurt and told him how to prevent it.  He listened and applied that guidance with all the wisdom of a four year old and chose to dismiss what I said.  His close encounter just seconds later with the sink and the resulting sore cheek made it clear what the consequence of not listening were.  And although I was angry, I had the awesome role of holding and lovingly correcting my awesome son.
I would never wish pain on anyone, especially a child, but this life comes with pain.  I think we need it for a variety of reasons.  At times it provides contrast to pleasure and ends up enriching the good things we enjoy.  At other times it reinforces the cost of unwise action.  Even then though, I hope when pain comes, at worst it’s only a shadow and caution for the wounded of the worst things that could happen.  One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, wrote that “pain is God’s megaphone.”  I think he was right.  And at times like this one in the bathroom, although undesired, it clearly serves as dad’s megaphone.  I never had to raise my voice; my son understood (at least for a little while) my caution to him was out of love.
The rules are the rules, parents must be obeyed, but some things just have to be learned through experience.  Authority matters, but learning comes through words and deeds.  The real world exists in the middle and in the fine tradition of parenting, we strive to set rules in a loving environment that are reasonable and enforceable.  Paul needs to learn when we tell him something, we mean what we say.  But we also need to let him grow through experience, often associated with the risks of scraped knees, bumps and bruises.  Apparently this is especially true with boys.  This frustration, and at times the associated’s real, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
It’s great to be a dad!