April 17th, 2013
One of the benefits of working from home is that I have a great view of Kansas from my desk. While I work, I have seen sunrises, snowfall, birds, rain, ice, and all sorts of wildlife. I heard this verse of Home on the Range the other day, which reminded me of this:
“How often at night when the heavens are bright
With the light from the glittering stars
Have I stood here amazed and asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours.”
One time, I asked Jacob if I should wake him up at night to see the stars. He said an excited yes! So when it was dark outside, I woke him up, carried him outside, and held him while he looked up. He said a long, breathy “Wooooow!” Then he went back to bed, curled up with his butterfly, and fell asleep smiling. Every so often, we repeat this little routine.
There are many opportunities in life to just stand somewhere and be amazed. You don’t have to be in Kansas. Children know this. The rest of us just have to notice.
March 27th, 2013
“God hates people that are…”
I heard a sentence that began that way on an interview with a protestor outside the Supreme Court yesterday. It is a deeply sad, and deeply wrong, statement.
If someone reads the Bible, and can come up with a word, any word, that completes that sentence, they’re doing it wrong. If someone thinks that there is anyone God hates, then I have this to say: No. Just… no.
I saw an article today, taking pages and pages to assess what the “Christian response to gay marriage” should be. I don’t need pages. It’s very simple. It’s this:
God is the God of love.
That is all. Where people are doing good, there is God. Where people care about each other, there is God. Where there are flowers blooming and trees shading and birds singing, there is God. Where people marvel in the beauty of the landscape or of another person, there is God. And where people love, there is God.
There is too much hate in the world already. Instead of adding more, let’s celebrate compassion, devotion, and peace. People that say that God is the God of hate look at the spring landscape and see only last year’s thistles.
One day soon, I hope to see everyone’s hearts set free. What a day of joy that will be! And I hope, too, that those that hate will find the peace of freed hearts, freed from hate and from fear.
March 14th, 2013
Today the outdoor temperatures got to nearly 75F/24C. The boys had this idea to go play with their “streams”.
Here’s one of the cleaner moments:
I had set up an old pipe and a hose, with the water coming slowly out of the pipe onto a little mound of dirt. They can then use their fingers to make channels in the dirt for the water to flow through. They’ve found that sticks can become bridges, making a hole in the earth makes a pond, and, oh yes, it’s quite muddy and a lot of fun.
Oliver at one point realized that he could splash the mud all around quite nicely.
And he wanted to make sure I took photos of his hands.
They could have played out there for hours, I’m sure. When it was time to clean up, they enjoyed seeing the mud come off their sandals, arms, hands, and feet.
It was a perfect use for the first really warm day of spring.
February 12th, 2013
“Dad, can I bring my mudball inside?” – Jacob
“Ooo, dad, I need a mudball too!” – Oliver
You’d have to have been there to see how excited Jacob was about his mudball. We had been out hiking down by the creek a day after a rain, and he, well, made a mudball and carried it around with him. I’m not used to finding mud all that exciting. To me, mud is something that my car can get stuck in, that my boots can drag into the house, that needs to be suppressed by a little gravel on top.
But to Jacob, he was holding a ball of excitement, of adventure, of discovery. And Oliver wanted in on the fun!
Jacob wasn’t thinking about consequences of bringing a mudball indoors, because he didn’t need to. He wasn’t visualizing the damage it could cause, the time of cleaning it up, or even the fact that a mudball doesn’t really stay a mudball permanently. He just wanted to carry his ball of excitement with him.
Being a parent means being a teacher, an example, and a leader. It is fine for Jacob to not think about the consequences of bringing a mudball into the house at age 6, but part of my duty as a parent is to make sure he thinks about consequences by the time he gets behind the wheel of a car. As we grow up, we are shown, taught, and prodded into thinking about consequences of our choices: getting good grades in school, thinking about the impression the clothes we wear to a job interview might leave, worrying about what people think about us when we talk in front of a group. We take on real responsibilities when we leave childhood, and the consequences of our actions become more significant.
But where’s the “off” switch? Shouldn’t there be a way for us to wonder about bringing the mudball indoors, too?
There was a time in our lives when we didn’t care one bit about whether we were wearing fashionable clothes, making a good impression, or doing things the “right” way. After being in the mindset of taking careful responsibility over life for so many years, it’s hard to re-discover that earlier time.
A colleague forwarded a little speech about Thanksgiving. It contained, “Those who live in thanksgiving daily have a way of opening their eyes and seeing the wonders and beauties of this world as though seeing them for the first time.”
This is something children know how to do, and we adults have often forgotten, because we are too busy worrying about dirty floors and stained curtains to see the potential for fun in mud.
I am convinced that, just as important as being responsible, is learning how to let go, to let our hearts feel peace and joy as if a child. We can’t open our eyes and see the wonders of this world if we’re too busy worrying about convincing someone else to vote for our preferred candidate, about saying things perfectly, about being right.
There’s beauty in that daily commute in a car or subway. Look around, and you might see kids with their noses pressed to the window, even if it’s mostly black tunnel outside. There’s wonder in that business flight, in the mud, in the doctor’s office waiting room.
When I see people using insults in a discussion thread on the Internet, I am saddened, because it means they have lost sight of the wonder of being able to communicate with and understand a person thousands of miles away, instantly, and are more worried about their position looking good, or are unable to see the beauty in a person that thinks differently.
I once had this conversation with Jacob in an airplane, probably surrounded by people impatiently waiting to turn on their electronic devices:
“Jacob, we are in the air!”
“Jacob, we’re flying!”
“Dad, I don’t know that I’ve ever been a butterfly before!”
I hope we can all find ways to be a butterfly more often.
February 4th, 2013
I’ll forgive you for not noticing the bus full of pirates at the Superbowl. Because, well, unless you saw my 6-year-old, you have a pretty good excuse for missing it. I’ll give you the Goerzen Superbowl play-by-play, just to make sure you’re caught up. It involved pirates, cops, tractors, cookies, a card game, and yes, even troubles with HDMI.
We were invited to a Superbowl party, and were going to bring a party snack. The boys love to help cook, and I try to give them choices. I started naming off potential snacks, starting with healthy options. They listened attentively, until I mentioned cookies.
“COOKIES! ***COOKIES!*** Yes, cookies!”
This reaction was, I must say, not exactly a surprise.
Then I asked them what KIND of cookies. Jacob immediately knew what he wanted, so of course Oliver took a minute to come up with something else. No matter; we could make two kinds of cookies. Jacob, of course, picked a kind of cookie that needs cherries, while Oliver picked one that needs chocolate chips. Thus they both had opportunities to “have a small taste” of ingredients while we prepared the batter.
And so make cookies we did. Plus a loaf of bread. Anyhow, once we got to the party, Jacob and Oliver saw a huge tub of Legos and were at it in a flash. One of Jacob’s friends was pretending everything was a tractor, but it wasn’t long before Jacob started in on his evening’s project: building the largest bus he could build.
He was pleased when he got 4 lego people into it. Even more happy when he got 10 into it. And by the time he figured out how to get 35 into it, he was quite proud of himself indeed. Oliver, meanwhile, in classic little brother fashion, tried to corner the market on surplus lego people. He appears to have the hardline negotiation skill down already, and perhaps is appreciating the value of artificial scarcity in the lego market <grin>
Eventually the bus seemed to hit the limits of engineering and joint strength, and Jacob gave up for a little while. He had a cookie and some carrots, commented on the exciting game of Uno going on, (“Who is the loudest?” “All of them!”), brought me some carrots, and periodically commented that “The ball team is ahead of the SF team. Sure is. They have more points!” (This from the “BAL” and “SF” text on the screen.)
And then he went back to playing. And here’s where the pirates come in.
Jacob’s new bus had a lego flag that he decided was a pirate flag. So the bus was a pirate bus. He built a platform out the back for them to use to “steal things”. So his pirate bus went around the lego area, stealing this from one pile, stealing that from another, until it got almost as long as his first bus.
Pretty soon, along came a police boat to chase the pirates. But the police boat appeared to suffer a humorous series of logistical failures and never could quite disrupt the pirates. But never mind that, for little brother Oliver was getting bored with the lego mountain he was building and decided it would be more fun if he would disrupt the pirates. An opinion that Jacob quite strongly disagreed with.
When it was time to go, Jacob tried to extract a promise from the party hosts to not let anyone take apart the pirate bus until next time we would be there.
Then this morning, Jacob and I had a discussion about pirates.
“Dad, are pirates real?”
“Yes, Jacob, they are.”
“Do they steal things?”
“Yes, but they are far away. There are no pirates here.”
“Are there pirates in Kansas?”
“No. There are some pirates in Africa though.”
“Oh. What state is Africa in?”
“Africa is so far away that it isn’t even in a state. You’d have to take a boat or a plane to get there.”
“Or a train!”
“Nope, a train couldn’t get across the ocean. It’s too wide!”
“They’d build a bridge!”
“It’s too wide for a bridge. It’s more than a thousand miles!”
“WOW – a thousand miles! Great! OK dad, it’s time for me to get on that school bus!”
January 21st, 2013
Today in the USA is Martin Luther King, Jr., day. But sometimes these holidays get confusing for a 6-year-old.
I asked Jacob the other day if he knew what holiday was coming up. He thought about it for a second, then declared it would be St. Patrick’s Day. He was excited because St. Patrick’s Day is green.
When he realized that it was really MLK Day, he was disappointed. “That day isn’t green.” So I said, “Jacob, how about we celebrate pretend St. Patrick’s Day on Monday?” His face lit up, he got a huge smile, and said, “Oh yes! Great idea, dad!” Oliver got all excited about it too.
I was already planning on us doing some cooking, and thankfully had green food coloring already. So I sort of discarded my plans so each meal could have something green in it.
When the boys woke up this morning, I wished each of them “Happy Pretend St. Patrick’s Day!” We all wore green. Jacob put his shirt on backwards so the side with more green would be facing front.
For breakfast, our green dish was green crepes with a succotash (based on baby lima beans and corn) filling. The boys were excited to discover that the crepes could be green on one side, and green and a little brown on the other. Jacob was unsure of the succotash idea, but after having a few bites, declared it “excellent”.
After breakfast, we made bread. They loved watching the green food coloring disperse in the water. We checked on how green the dough looked periodically. We watched how it was rising and whether it was staying green. And we checked in on it backing, as the crust turned from green to brown. We discussed green bread over and over. Important questions were asked and answers were attempted.
And then, of course, the moment of truth – removing the loaf from the pan.
The boys jabbered excitedly that there was some green peeking out. While we waited for it to cool, we went out to the creek. The creek is dry this year, so we got to walk in it. Jacob used his stick to make a line behind him. I asked him, “Is that a line so we can find our way back?” “Oh! Uhm. Yes!” And then he added arrows so we’d know which way to go.
Jacob stopped every 20 or so feet to collect pretend train tickets from Oliver and me. Oliver eventually grew tired of this, so Jacob started collecting Oliver’s ticket from me. They climbed on some trees, managed to find some mud, drew outlines of train cars in the dirt, and then followed Jacob’s line back down the creek bed. They pointed out any green things they saw.
Then we went back to the house, took off our warm coats, and cut into the bread.
Can you imagine the excitement?
I hadn’t realized “green” is a flavor, but it must have been somehow, because those boys absolutely loved this green bread. When we got out the jam, Jacob realized that it was red on the green bread, and that now his bread was Christmas-colored.
All sorts of green bread discoveries were made, but the best among them was that if you hold a slice of green bread up to the bright sun, the sun makes it glow green and it looks like a stained-glass window.
Sometimes a few drops of food coloring can add a ton of excitement to a day.
December 28th, 2012
Sometimes an attic is all it takes to delight children.
This afternoon, the boys and I made cookies. Jacob has been talking about setting out milk and cookies for Santa Claus for several days, and of course the fact that we had made cookies reminded him of this – as I figured it would. So after the boys got into their pajamas and all ready for bed, we set out milk and cookies for Santa.
The boys have always known that Santa is pretend, but love the stories and traditions anyhow. Never mind that Christmas was 3 days ago, and they’ve already opened their presents. It’s SANTA! It’s magic! It doesn’t matter!
I asked Jacob, “Would you like me to pretend to be Santa tonight?” A big grin, then “Oh yes, dad! Do it!”
So after I read them their bedtime story, sang them a song (Jacob chose a Latin hymn – that’s my boy!), and tucked them into bed, I pretended to be Santa. I went back downstairs. I drank the milk and ate the cookies. Then I went to my small future present stash, selected a few small items, and put them under the tree. I gave it a few minutes.
Then I crept up to the attic. I snuck along the wood floors quietly, until I was above the boys’ room.
Then I jumped. And I scraped a wood chair along the floor. And then I yelled out – “HO HO HO! Merry Christmas!” I had a brief conversation with Rudolph, then made some sliding noises. I was silent for a few seconds, then made some more noise and said, “Wow, Rudolph, Jacob and Oliver left some great milk and cookies! Let’s go deliver the rest of our presents!” And made some vague sleigh taking off from the roof of a house noises.
I crept back down the stairs. I put my ear to the outside of the closed door to the boys’ bedroom. I heard Jacob excitedly jabbering, “He said milk and cookies! He liked them! He really liked them! Ooo butterfly, he was here!” (Butterfly is a stuffed, er, butterfly that he sleeps with.)
I gave it a minute or two, then I went in. “Jacob, did you hear something?”
“What was it?”
“Well, it was a loud thud! I sat straight up like this. [ he demonstrates ] Then I heard ‘ho ho ho’! And ‘milk and cookies’! And I was excited like this!” [ more demonstrations ]
“What do you think happened?”
“I don’t know! Dad, what did you do?”
I told him. It only increased his delight.
“Did it sound like Santa’s sleight landing?”
“(annoyed) No, dad. It sounded like a crash. (brightening) And then Santa coming down the chimney with presents! Oh, it is so exciting!”
(We don’t have a chimney)
It was still magical, even though he knew exactly what happened.
For his part, Oliver slept through it all. He will still discover the empty plate, empty cup, and slightly less empty area underneath the tree. And neither boy knows about the thank you note from Santa yet. I anticipate smiles in the morning!
December 22nd, 2012
Jacob (and Oliver too, somewhat) has taken quite the interest in Christmas music this year. Perhaps it’s singing in the choir at school, or perhaps it’s just him getting older, but in any case, Christmas music fascinates him.
And no song more than Jingle Bells. I have recordings of it by several artists in different styles, and he has his favorites and often wants to hear them – again and again.
The other night at supper, he said, “Dad, can you sing Jingle Bells in German?” Kind of a random question. I normally try to keep books and devices of all sorts away from the table, but my son had just asked me to sing. In German. I don’t believe that had ever happened before, so I wasn’t going to say no! I got my tablet, pulled up Google, and found some German lyrics. Not exactly a translation, but it fit the tune, so that’s what counts.
So I started singing, and when I got to the chorus, and sang Oh, Glockenklang, Glockenklang both boys bust up laughing. They thought Glockenklang was a hilarious word, and loved to hear it. Oliver requests I “sing Glockenklang” every so often now. He has this eager anticipation when he does it, as if he knows I’m going to be hilarious — so much so that he almost starts laughing before I even say a word.
Then yesterday at breakfast, Jacob requested more German songs. I finally got a couple of hymn books (one of which, Gesangbuch mit Noten, really is a German songbook). I sang some songs in German for the boys, while they enjoyed their blueberry crepes. Sadly Stille Nacht and O du fröhliche did not prove as hilarious as Glockenklang, but they got impatient as I looked through the idnex between each song, saying “Dad, just sing more German! Don’t look at those pages!” So I guess it was a hit.
I’m not sure where this sudden fascination with German music came from, but it appears to be leaving me hungry.
While driving around, Oliver requested I sing Glockenklang in the car. I said yes, despite not remembering even one German word to that song except for, well, Glockenklang. So I just filled in with some random German words I do know. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to have memorized the rest of it either.
The other day, we went to the annual Christmas concert at the local high school. It was perfect for the boys – various styles of music, an interesting old auditorium, nobody was going to care if they weren’t perfectly quiet, and the price was right, too.
The band played first, and both boys sat there, paying great attention, soaking it all in. They loved the cymbal crashes and Jacob seemed to dream of playing the chimes and bells. At one point, I whispered to Jacob that I could feel the timpani on the wood floor in the auditorium, and he tried it, and made his “Hmm, I just learned something interesting!” reaction.
As is tradition, the concert concluded with singing the Hallelujah Chorus – and anyone in the audience that wants to sing is invited on stage to join the choir.
I remember being in high school for that concert, and after practicing it in school, the great fun of being joined by many powerful voices from the community all around me on the risers. So this time, while my parents stayed with the boys, I was one of the many that went up to join the choir. It was no less thrilling all these years later. Ending with “Forever and ever, Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Hallelujah!”, and feeling it, right then, put a huge smile on my face.
December 21st, 2012
A couple of weeks ago, I walked in to a nice, sit-down restaurant, with a smile on my face. It’s the kind of restaurant with folded cloth napkins on the tables. “Table for three, please” – as Jacob and Oliver were with me.
This much isn’t unusual. I have periodically taken them out to eat for quite some time, and they enjoy it.
But there were a few unusual things about this particular day. I suppose the main one is that they had just been doing this.
Yes, painting your own face can be a lot of fun. And also serious business.
The boys and I were in Santa Fe, NM on a train trip. It had been a year since their last train trip, and that’s longer than they are typically used to. I’d taken Jacob on a train trip with just the two of us before, but this was the first trip with just the two boys and me.
And one of the places we visited was the excellent Santa Fe Children’s Museum. It may be the best children’s museum I’ve ever seen. Not the largest, or the flashiest, but that’s part of the reason I say “best”. They had chimes (and many other percussive “instruments” to produce different pitches, including mounted hubcaps and varying length wooden planks). They had a great magnets table with washers and nuts, so children can build their own bridges, stairs, etc. using magnetism. A giant bubble table, tunnels to crawl in outside, etc. A great place.
And, apparently, the thing they were really known for — I did not know this in advance — is the paint your own face station. Jacob and Oliver really got into it. Oliver informed me he was a lion and I heard “ROAR! ROAR!” periodically all afternoon. Jacob asked me to help paint a J, and the spirals, on his cheeks. After some careful thought, he informed me that he was “spiral man”.
Next to the paint your own face area was a clean your own face area. Most kids were being helped to clean their own face by their parents on their way out. Jacob and Oliver protested that plan, so I figured, if they want to enjoy painted faces all day, why not?
And this, of course, led into lunch with self-painted faces. Nobody at the restaurant commented, but the owner had a huge grin when he saw them. (It was a Mediterranean place, and I’m sure the owner would have commented had there not been a language barrier.) Incidentally, the boys became quite the fans of souvlaki.
Later, as we walked around Santa Fe Plaza and another museum, they drew smiles all over the place. Several kind people asked them, “Did you enjoy the children’s museum?” Yes, everyone in Santa Fe seemed to know precisely where kids with painted faces had been that day.
Santa Fe is an amazing and beautiful city. It was warm and friendly, and the architecture and layout was fun to see – and pedestrian-friendly. We walked past the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi several times, and went in once. For some reason I could never fully explain, I could often smell their incense even a block or two away. It added to the crisp wintry feel of the plaza.
The point of the trip wasn’t Santa Fe, though. It was Jacob and Oliver on Amtrak, which is the thing they were really most excited about – of course. They were excited as usual, and despite the fact that the train comes through this area only at around 3AM, were plenty excited to be on the train. And, in fact, didn’t fall asleep again until about 5 due to the excitement (though they did an excellent job of being quiet). Of course, 6AM was “morning” so they were wide awake by then.
Jacob had been planning what he’d eat on the train for days already, and had announced he would be having French toast for breakfast and pizza at lunch. He was a bit disappointed to see that French toast wasn’t on the menu this time, but pancakes saved the day.
While waiting for the dining car to open at 6:30, we went to the lounge car for awhile. I had brought along various things for them to do on the train, of course, and among them was a notebook and some markers. Jacob loved drawing suns and stars, and sometimes writing short notes. He gave notes to several friendly people that happened to be visiting with us on the train. Oliver enjoyed it too, but he was more intrigued by the cheap set of multi-colored post-it notes.
There were two happy, and somewhat tired, boys getting off that train in the middle of the night when we returned.
Categories: Family, Travel
December 15th, 2012
At times like these, it is easy to think of the world as a cold, evil place. Perhaps in some ways, it is. I saw this quote from Fred Rogers floating around today:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
Sometimes I think that Fred Rogers’ wisdom is so often under-appreciated. What he says is true, very true.
I know what it’s like to fear for my child’s life. And sometimes the shoe has been on the other foot, when I have been one of the helpers.
Many of you know these last few months have been the most difficult in my life. And despite having gone through the deaths of three relatives, nothing has quite compared to this.
I can not even begin to express my gratitude for all the care, compassion, and love that has come my way and towards the boys. People I barely knew before are now close friends. Random strangers have offered kindness and support. I have never before needed to be cared for like that, and in some ways perhaps it was hard to let myself be cared for. But I did, and all that caring and generosity has made an incredible difference in my life.
Most of us don’t see our pain on CNN or BBC, but that doesn’t mean it’s less real. And it doesn’t mean there’s nobody that cares. Open up to others, let them care for you. Things can and do get better.
The people in Newtown did nothing to deserve this. No matter what evidence is found, they will never get an adequate answer to “why?” Children have been frightened, families torn apart, lives ended, for no reason at all.
But they will survive the terrible pain. In time, they will find happiness again. And they will feel love and compassion from people around the world — something to sustain them in their grief. I am certain of this.
I recently read this quote, part of a story about a dying cancer patient:
“Don’t forget that it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day.”
Yes, the world is still a good place.
Categories: Family, Society