We Have a Reader

Backdrop: Wyatt’s two schools – Ravenel Elementary for kindergarten and Jackson-Via Elementary (woot jackrabbits!) for first grade – have both had these ramped-up 100 Book Challenges. Each night, the school sends home an easy-reader for Wyatt to “read.” (the quotation marks are because in the early days, it was us reading to him). Much of this has been of the “See Jane Run” variety, mind you. He’s progressed some these days, but still…

So, that is the necessary background for the following dialogue. However, when the question first came, I made no connection to these educational rituals.

seth (out of the blue): dad, have you read 100 books?
me: yeah, I think I’ve read 100 books.
wyatt: when?
me: well, just over my lifetime.
wyatt (unimpressed): hmm. I read 100 books in kindergarten.

Jump Little Children

I love my boys, these scruffy, loud, belligerent, tender, wild-eyed, questioning, always questioning, imaginative, sword-wielding, lightsaber (or lightsaver, if you’re Seth) slinging, bloody-nosed, scratched up, sweaty, pounding, breaking, crashing, spilling, creating, somersaulting, (have I already mentioned loud?) boys. I love ’em, I do.

Wyatt has entered that I-want-to-be-like-dad season. Yesterday, we gave our old cell phones to the boys, one for each of them. I thought they were perfect to serve as Star Trek communicators, but then they had no concept for anything Star Trek. My, how our public schools are failing us. Anyway, Wyatt immediately stuffed it in his pocket and said, “Dad, I’m carrying it just like you.” A couple minutes (and a couple imaginary phone calls to some fellow named Jake) later, he said, “Mom, sometimes daddy goes out on the deck to talk.” (I do, he’s right) So, Wyatt proceeded out on the deck where he stuck his left hand in his pocket, cocked his head to the right in order to scrunch the phone closer and chatted away as he paced back and forth across the deck. Who do you think he’s seen do just that? Pops.

On some recent dad-time with my youngest (the one mid-air above), Seth asked, “Dad, why don’t we see God?” His father’s son, he is. How do I explain to a five-year-old the complexity that, in one sense we can’t see God the way we see everything else – yet in another sense, God might just be the absolute plainest thing to see in all the world. God is all around us, in every conversation, in every hint of joy and passion and hope. In every hand we touch. In every star-littered sky that makes us stand, riveted, gaping and staring at the wonder surrounding us. And God is there, every time our heart breaks at injustice. God: right in front of our eyes, right at the edge of our fingers, right at the center of our heart.

Wyatt and Seth are watching me. But, truth told, I’m watching them too. Here’s what I see: Wyatt and Seth believe more than I do. They trust more than I do. They laugh and dance and sing and imagine and live more than I do. This image of my boys jumping (or in Wyatt’s case, about to jump) offers most of what I see in them. They are alive. They are hopeful. They play hard and cry hard and hope hard. They live full-throttle, leaping at life.

Jump, boys. Jump.

If you need an appropriate soundtrack to accompany this post, you may begin here.

St. Nick

This week, our house has been filled with much conversation around St. Nick. Wyatt asked Miska point blank: is Santa real? Miska’s normal deft response (well, what do you think?) didn’t deflect as it has every time in the past. No, Wyatt said, I want to know for real – is he?

Unfortunately, this conversation proved fateful for a few other children. Miska told Wyatt and Seth to keep this inside information to themselves, since some kids still believed in Santa. Let’s just say our boys are not ones to keep the lid on potent info.

Tonight, I had a long talk with Seth because he had been complaining, repeatedly, that he was only getting two presents for Christmas (and I’m not even sure how he came up with that number, but given the moment, I wasn’t about to respond by telling him that he was probably landing more).

Me: Seth, you need to learn to be thankful for what you have, all the good things you are given, instead of complaining because you don’t get more.

Seth: (beginning to sob) Now, I’m going to be on the naughty list.

Back to the point, this whole Santa thing been interesting. On the one hand, I want Wyatt and Seth to know mom and dad will never lie to them. And – coming from my own hangups, I don’t want to give them any reason to someday wonder: well, if Santa Claus isn’t real, what other outrageous tales (i.e., the outrageous gospel) are bogus?

However, on the other hand, there is something about the wonder and mystery of belief in things like Santa that I very much want them to hold on to. I hope for Seth and Wyatt to have the imagination to have faith in their deep suspicion that there is something (someone?) magnificently good in this world. I want their hearts to continue to know, often against the odds, that the insanity around us (the greed and violence and selfishness) is not the way their world is meant to be. Wyatt and Seth are beginning to understand that a jolly fellow in a red suit won’t be coming down the chimney. But, if I have anything to say about it, their hearts will grow more and more alive to mystery and hope.

On Fatherhood

Have you heard me say it? I love being a dad.

Being a father touches my deepest hopes (and, truthfully, triggers some of my darkest fears). I want to love these boys with my full self, to give them all my heart, to see them and know them, to help them see their true name, to help them make their way in this screwy world.

Last week, Wyatt pulled up his courage and walked into his first grade classroom by himself (some early trauma his first week of school had made this quite an ordeal). I sat in the car, watching him trot down this sidewalk, backpack bobbing up and down – Wyatt strolling like he owned the school. I was so proud of him, and I was sad – before long he won’t want me to walk him to class (which, I guess, is a good thing – dad dropping him off in 10th grade might be odd).

Today, Seth turned 5. I love that little buddy of mine. Yesterday, I took him to the Timberlake drug store and soda fountain downtown. We went into the 1950’s style establishment and made our way to the back where you can still sit at the counter in vinyl-red covered spinning stools. Seth ordered a chocolate coke (yup) and an oatmeal cream pie. I loved sitting there, chatting with him, enjoying his wide-grin. When we were walking downtown, Seth did what he usually does – he slipped his hand in mine, easy and natural. And we just walked and talked. I hope we always walk and talk, until I am too old for either.

Being Dad

Being a dad is one of the things I love most. I’m taking one of the boys to breakfast and then hiking tomorrow. Tonight, my other son crawled up and laid on me while we finished a movie (Camp Rock – and not as bad as I expected, truth told). Those are the kind of moments that make a life.

Of the three or four things I’m desperate to do well during my days (and honestly, there are only three or four), being Wyatt and Seth’s dad is one of them. And, honestly, I want to do better. I want to see them more and give them more and love them more. So, I’m thankful whenever I run across another man who makes me want to be a better dad. John Blase is one of those guys. Read his post, Of Blood and Fairies – you’ll see why.

Words from the Diamond

I’ve mentioned I’m an assistant coach for Wyatt and Seth’s t-ball team, the fightin’ Tarheels. That means I get to be on the field during the game, coaching the tikes. It’s quite a privilege. When they are batting, I might be at first base. When they are fielding, I might stand near second. I couldn’t possibly tell you every off-the-wall thing said to me by these kindergarten ruffians between pitches, proof positive that their mind is absolutely in a different orbit. Merely a sampling:

“I want a mustache.”

“I got five dollars for my teeth.” (with wide, toothless grin)

“I have an imaginary friend: Dennis.”

“You’re scary.”

“Mrrmmmppph…..Elephant” (with glove covering face, apparently to serve as an elephant’s trunk)

Coach, Asst.

That’s right. Watch out, umpires. I am now the official assistant coach of the Central-Clemson Rec League’s Fightin’ Tarheels.

Wyatt and Seth are playing their first year of t-ball, and they landed on the same team. At the first practice, I joined up with management.

I had thought most of my duties would be spent teaching the artful slide into home, demonstrating for aspiring pitchers the wizardry of the spit ball and tweaking that elusive perfect batting order (do we want to keep the clean up hitter in the 4 slot even though he can switch hit and we might could mess with the opposing pitcher’s psyche better elsewhere?).

However, to date, most of my coaching has included encouraging batters to actually face the pitcher, cajoling fielders to stand up and stop digging tunnels in the dirt, tying shoes and opening snacks. You gotta start somewhere.

I do plan to work a scene so I get tossed from a game. What kind of coach would I be if I didn’t have that under my belt?

However, I could more easily foresee a scenario where a small mob of parents toss me. In this league, before we place the ball on the tee, the coach actually pitches (it’s a soft underarm loft, from like 10 feet away) three balls for each batter to attempt to hit. In the first two games, between me and the head coach, we’ve beaned five players. It’s harder than you think pitching to tikes whose reflexes are…well, developing.

Grooming a Coffee Buddy

Today, Seth and I had the run of the house for a bit. Miska was out, and Wyatt was at school (and since it’s Friday, Wyatt was no doubt counting the seconds ’til he could dash out of his kindergarten classroom and to Mad Science Club where, as he likes to say, they “make lasers that kill people.”)

Seth and I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood and see what’s up. It’s a gray, cloudy day, a little on the cool side. Great day for a walk. Seth filled me in on all his preschool gossip, and we took a different route to see this new house they are building in our hood. When we got back, we had a little chill and decided to make coffee. We ground up some beans (Mexican, shade grown), and sent the brew to steaming.

You might think that in the two coffee sentences above, I invoked the editorial “we,” that the coffee was really just for me. You would be mistaken.

Seth is fast becoming a coffee fiend. Seth, you will remember, is four.

He’s made friends with all the coffee crew at church, and frankly he no longer needs mom or dad to get his fix on Sunday. Any time we have coffee going at the house, he fully expects his share. And on days when no coffee is going, he’s as quick as anyone to suggest that perhaps a fresh pot is in order. Did I mention he’s four? I do hope his pediatrician is not reading…

Seth is even taking on the whole aesthetic of the thing. Today, he took issue with the fact that I had a handmade pottery mug while he only had a standard issue from Pier One. I guess we know what he’s getting for his birthday.

Wisdom would suggest that a preschooler would essentially like coffee because their version is more like a dessert, a little joe with mounds of sugar. (in fact, when I was a tyke, my Aunt Betty made me “milk coffee” – 1/3 coffee, 1/3 whole milk, 1/3 sugar – what’s not to love?). We never do coffee Aunt Betty-style, but it is definitely not the coffee of purists. Today, our creamer was Cinnamon Hazelnut. A few sips in, though, Seth said, “This is too sweet. I want more coffee.” My friend Nathan Elmore (previously referred to in this blog as “the coffee snob”) would have beamed.

I can’t tell you the joy this moment gave me, sitting at the table on an overcast day, a quiet house. Through our back windows, we see the quiet woods. And we drank coffee. Together. Just my son and me. There will be many more moments like this, I can promise you that.

A little tip: Crema.co Coffee Subscription: 80+ coffees from small batch roasters.

Winter Joy

Around here, it happens only slightly more often than leap year: snow.

Last night when Miska told the boys there was the possibility of white weather, Wyatt informed us that when he grows up, he wants us all to “move to Florida where it snows all the time.” We tried to let him down gently and move his compass either further north or further west. The boys stayed up a little late and went out on the back deck trying to feel and catch the first flakes dropping from the sky.

This morning, we woke to a wide blanket of snow, the leaf-bare trees draped by white velvet. It was beautiful. Of course, Wyatt and Seth insisted on sprinting outside, needing (for the first time) their gortex winter ski gloves. Giddy with excitment, Wyatt blurted out, “This is the best winter ever.” Outside, Seth jumped in head first, the first to make a snow angel, the first to test our makeshift rubbermaid sled, the first to make a snowman.

Today, feeling snowflakes on my tongue and hearing Seth’s raucous laughter as he slid down the hill…Today, enjoying Wyatt’s wide eyes as he crafted the perfect snowball and concocted his best odds at launching it square between my eyes, my heart opened. I felt God alive in my boys. I watched and learned. Now, I repent of my callous heart that is often slow to be given to the moment, enraptured with the passion of where God is stirring life.

It takes me to a portion of Steinbeck’s The Winter of our Discontent Miska read to me last night:

I guess we’re all, or most of us, the wards of that nine-teenth-century science which denied existence to anything it could not measure or explain. The things we couldn’t explain went right on but surely not with our blessing. We did not see what we couldn’t explain, and meanwhile a great part of the world was abandoned to children, insane people, fools, and mystics, who were more interested in what is than why it is.

joy / winn