Tag Archives: parenting
As Debbie was helping Simon and Ollie with their homework I’m just getting around to posting these photos I took of Sam the day before he he drove back to Iowa to finish his last semester at Grinnell. The small framework we set down as parents hopefully helps them maneuver in their path they are carving out for themselves.
And so it finally happened. Summer released it’s strangle hold on southern California. Saturday morning Ollie and I were surfing in swim trunks, under a sunny bright cloudless sky, but I noticed an unclarity- a color shift- with the water, announcing fall needs to be let in.
Empty handed, the book I was looking for not on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, I step off the escalator onto the ground floor. Confronted by a strategically placed table display of small pumkins and spiced potpourri I became faced with a certain fear and loss. A loss of summer and other things perhaps on this the last day of the baseball season where I try to reconcile loss with gains and consider a winning season.
Sometimes reconciling loss with gains will make you go crazy.
Surfing is partially about texture. It’s about feeling. Feeling stripped down to the basics- you’re wearing baggies and a leash you’re tethered to your board. Smelling wax, salt water splashes in my face as Theo, Ollie and I make the long ass 1/2 mile paddle out to Tunnels and experience a true Hawaiian 6′- 8′ session. On the paddle in, my arms feeling like old dry rubber bands, flanked by my boys giggling, pulling on each others and my leash asking for a tow in, asking what’s for dinner. Back on the beach someone asks if there were waves out there. I say, “Yeah, we got a few.”
We take the road back instead of the beach our feet walking through mud puddles, pavement and pine needles. I’m pretty proud of these guys.
Sam and his friend Cole left before dawn yesterday to drive back to Grinnell. He’s starting his senior year of college and it’s always sad to see him leave. Walking home from dinner last night I told Sam that we didn’t really get to surf together that much and that I wished we had gone to the Apple Pan together or a burger and beer at Father’s Office. That kind of talk just started getting me depressed and I was glad it was nighttime and it was dark because I was fighting back a few tears. After he left both Debbie and crawled back into bed. I had trouble falling to sleep so I read from “The Martian” by Andy Weir. It’s a great book about what it takes to survive on another planet. In the pre dawn light of our bedroom I thought about what it takes to raise our boys- when to set them out in the world and what to send them out with.
We’ve been doing this camping trip since as long as I can remember to celebrate Sam’s birthday. This year the birthday boy was in Chicago celebrating his 21st year on this planet with his girlfriend and was unable to make the trip. It’s been a bumpy year and hard to get away but once your there and sitting around the campfire listenening to John talk about UFOs, eating chili verde, coooking up pound after pound of bacon and watching everyone grow up amonst the big trees you realize that it’s worth it.
Like I do everyday, I shut the alarm off at 6:45 am. I opened the blinds to check on the hummingbird nest outside our bedroom window. The eggs hatched 2 days ago and we were all looking forward to seeing the babies. This morning, the mother was not in her nest but zipping around it in frantic patterns. Walking into the kitchen to turn on my espresso machine I thought that something didn’t feel right with the nest all weekend.
As the water was warming up in the machine I walked outside and watched the mother. She would sit on the nest for a few seconds then get up and circle it nervously. I got closer and climbed up a big wooden ladder to get a better look. As I got to the top the mother landed on a nearby branch and we looked at each other. Her breast was rising and falling quickly, her heart beating so fast, I swear that she had a sad look on her face.
As I leaned over, I saw ants crawling into the nest and only one baby. It was dead. I went back into our house, walked upstairs and got under the covers with Ollie.
I said, “It’s time to get up and go to school.”
Ollie asked, “What time is it?”
I told him, “It’s 7:00, you should get up now.”
Driving the boys to school, I thought about the hummingbird, how she built her nest from pieces of spider web, twigs, and cloth and how we watched it get bigger and bigger and how two tiny little eggs appeared magically- almost unbelievably and how she sat on her nest day and night in the wind and rain and how our lives went on inside our house.
After drop off, I walked into our yard and looked around for the mother but couldn’t find her anywhere. I dug a small hole under the sycamore tree, got a pair of clippers from the workshop and climbed the ladder one last time. I cut the branch the nest was resting in and as ants crawled over my hands I picked up the baby between my thumb and index finger and put it in the hole. As I was burying the baby hummingbird I got a text from Sam saying he just landed at LAX from Chicago. On the way to the airport I thought about Sam coming back home for the summer, how Henry is living with Debbie’s mother, thinking about the Beatles song “This Bird Has Flown,” but mainly I thought about what kind of dad I’ve been and what I’m going to tell Simon about the hummingbird.
This morning, I climbed up a big wooden ladder to peer into the nest. Right before Mothers Day a hummingbird started to built her nest in the crook of a flimsy bamboo tree branch outside our bedroom window. For days I watched her scavenge pieces of cloth, twigs and what looked like broken egg shells as she rhythmically stacked and circled the debris then tucked them all in tightly with her beak till the nest started to take form.
Last Thursday we had a thunderstorm with lots of wind and rain. I watched the hummingbird sitting on her nest while the branch bobbed up and down like a small ship in a big rough sea. As I watched from the bedroom window I felt sorry for her and wondered how the hell her eggs would stay in her nest if the wind continued and she wasn’t sitting on top of it. The next day I considered securing the brach with guidelines to keep the nest steady but decided my meddling might scare the hummingbird away and abandon her eggs.
I’m questioning her placement of the nest. It’s next to our boys’ basketball court/ backboard and grey wall where I shoot portraits. It’s near where we hang our laundry to dry, our outdoor shower and I’m going to need to be careful bringing out and putting my surfboards away. It’s a well traveled area and I’m trying to get the hummingbird used to my presence. We do a lot for our kids and put up with a lot of bullshit. Lately, there are so many decisions we make trying carve out the best path for them. Having five boys ages 8-21 we know and understand that they all have different needs and some of our decisions are not too popular with them but we try to keep a sense of fairness and stability that’s universal. I’m understanding that as parents we never really cut the rope and let them drift away. There’s always a thin line that connects and binds us whether they like it or not. Even as a son, watching my parents get older knowing that our plce in the world can never change and that binding, that material that keeps us a family may perhaps even become thicker and stronger with age. I guess in a way we never stop sitting on the nest.
In the car this morning I heard Back on the Chain Gang on the radio. I love the way Chrissie Hynde sings those lines, “I found a picture of you…oh oh oh oh. Those were the happiest days of my life.” I’ve got boxes of pictures of Debbie mostly polaroids, mostly pregnant, some standing in to test the background, light and exposure. The Pretenders song is about getting back on your feet after a loss- loved one, of freedom who knows- maybe it’s a song about Sam Cook. Yeah, this year has been a struggle with lots of things but Debbie has held me together and without her I don’t know where we would be.
Sometimes it’s hard to hold onto things and they just slip away. Stored in our basement, covered in dust, there was a bottle of 1982 Chateau Montrose it’s label molding with time. It’s the last bottle from an incredible year. It came from a time from when we didn’t have kids, and had a bit of money to spend on first growth Bordeaux wine. Also in our basement is the tricycle which all our kids rode on, a play wooden refrigerator and stove which I made and various pairs of training wheels from our boys bikes which they won’t ever need again. It’s about timing. This bottle should have been drank a few years ago and I wanted to save it for a special occasion. I brought this bottle up from the basement one night when our friend Bruce was over and we were having brisket Debbie looked at me and gave me a look that said, “Really?”
Sometimes, when you are on the roof or the basement there’s a feeling you get. You are in a place that isn’t used too much and doesn’t get much traffic. The kids love going to these places. There’s a different point of view I suppose but there’s also a feeling of danger- like I shouldn’t be here. I suppose It’s the in between areas that we live most of our lives.
Yesterday, Henry said to me, “Dad. I don’t take no for an answer.”
I thought about what he said for a second and told him that there are certain times when you need to take no for answer. I said, “When someone says no about their bodies you better listen to them.” Henry didn’t know what the hell I was talking about probably because what we weren’t talking about didn’t pertain to someones else’s body but at sixteen It’s good to drop that line of thought in whenever you can…Which got me to thinking what he said.
What we were talking about were rules. Henry, probably like most kids, might have a problem with the word “No.” It limits them and sets boundaries for them.
We are raising a culture of kids who not only won’t take no for an answer but are reluctant to use the term, “I don’t know.” They’ve heard it countless times, “I don’t know is not an answer.” Especially, when you have a phone in your pocket which can give you the answer in a second.
We are all on an equal playing field when it comes with retrieving answers in the world. As parents might be giving our kids too much freedom- too much power to say “no” or “I don’t know.”