10 Ways to Tell If Your 3 Year Old Daughter is a Hipster

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  1. She only eats locally-sourced vegan fruit snacks.
  2. She sings nursery rhymes off-key ironically.
  3. She doesn’t play house; she plays grad-school-barista-who-lives-with-her-parents.
  4. She starts hanging out with the bearded 3 year old boys at daycare.
  5. She won’t watch Sesame Street because it’s “too mainstream”.
  6. She has an affinity for vintage technology (Mom and Dad’s old cell phones).
  7. She often steals your black-rimmed glasses even though she has perfect eyesight.
  8. She initiates dance parties to her younger sister’s musical toys.
  9. She quotes Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, then insists that you’ve probably never heard of it.
  10. She defines fashion as skinny jeans, thrift-store shirts, and a hand-knit hat.

I am a Snowman

This past weekend, my girls wanted to go out and play in the snow. We were at our in-laws for a Christmas get-together and my wife’s sister and brother-in-law offered to take the girls out for us, so my wife and I could snuggle in the warmth while they played in the cold.

It was a tempting offer. I am no fan of the snow, and my wife hates cold with a red-hot passion.

But then our oldest daughter asked us to come help her build a snowman.

We went out.

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A week or so ago, we finished our secret Bible study in Gary Thomas’ book, Sacred Marriage. According to Gary’s final chapter, “God’s design for marriage helps us confront our fundamental weaknesses, one of which is selfishness.” He says that marriage is a perfect laboratory for learning to overcome our tendency to be selfish.

I agree with Gary wholeheartedly. Marriage is a great way to learn how selfish you are. But if marriage is an undergrad course in selfishness, parenthood is the grad level.

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Kids are wonderful little takers. Babies never change their own diapers. Toddlers never cook their own food. Preschoolers never do their own laundry. Take, take, take.

Well, that’s not entirely fair. Kids do give things too. They give things like warm feelings, love, and snotty tissues (or they simply use your shirt as a tissue). But for the most part, they take more than they give, and they complain when you aren’t giving enough.

So if you think you have your selfishness under control in your marriage, maybe it is time to get pregnant just to learn how far you really are from perfect.

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If you stop reading now, you might walk away thinking that I don’t love my kids or that I resent them for how much they take. Please don’t stop reading now. I love my kids fiercely, second only to how much I love my wife. And for all they take, my love for them insists that I have more to give, and I am overjoyed to do so.

So when our oldest daughter asked us to come help her build a snowman, we went. And we had a lot of fun.

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After all, love is focused outward, and parenthood is all about love.

Mrs. Eiffel

In honor of the Death Day of Gustave Eiffel, the man behind one of the most famous structures in the world, I was going to do a big long post about the Eiffel Tower. Instead, my research led me to Mrs. Ericka Eiffel, the woman who married the Eiffel Tower.

Wait, what?

mrs_eiffelYes. In 2007, San Francisco native Ericka LaBrie had a commitment ceremony to the famous Paris landmark. After the ceremony, she changed her last name to reflect her new relationship (Why didn’t the tower become LaBrie Tower?). And here’s the kicker: she’s not crazy.

Ericka Eiffel is an accomplished archer (as Aya La Brie) who served in the US Air Force. She just feels attraction to inanimate objects.

As an evidence of truth being stranger than fiction, in the Air Force Academy, she defended herself against a sexual attack with a japanese sword, but then received a medical discharge for PTSD after she refused to stop sleeping with the sword. Regardless of any attraction she felt to the sword after that, I think even I would have slept with a weapon if I had to watch out for sexual attacks. That’s understandable.

Less understandable is her twenty year relationship with the Berlin Wall (the relationship ended when the wall was torn down), which is now the subject of a musical production. After that relationship ended, Ericka met the Eiffel Tower and history was made.

I could probably rant about how modern times have completely disintegrated the traditional understandings of relationship and gender, but I’m not going to. I can’t say that I understand Mrs. Eiffel’s relationship. Not only because I’ve never felt an attraction to an inanimate object to rival the feelings that I have toward my wife or children, but because I would feel wrong in judging a person who loves something which, by definition, cannot love you back.

There are no benefits to Ericka by being married to the Eiffel Tower. I’m sure the landmark isn’t sharing its bank account. I’m pretty sure it has never given her a Christmas present. And let’s not even get into any jealousy issues that might exist since the Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognizable and most visited landmarks in Europe.

Nope. Instead of judging or being weirded out, I’m going to admire Ericka’s commitment and love. Because true love has nothing to with what we receive, and everything to do with what we can give. I just wish we had better examples of this truth among traditional relationships.

Racism, Grace, and a Shrinking World

The world is shrinking. No, I’m not talking about physically shrinking (although if the universe is expanding at the rate science believes, statistically our world IS shrinking in proportion to the universe).  I mean that technology has effectively closed the communication distance between people.

For instance, if in the distant yesteryear, you said something that could have been construed as inappropriate , the only people who heard your gaff were the people in the room. Today, people say things on Twitter and can offend millions within seconds.

This past week, PR exec Justine Sacco was sacked following this tweet:

Justine SaccoObviously offensive. What could have possessed her to write such a thing? Especially given the fact that she works in public relations? My wife and I still puzzle over it.

And then, Steve Martin came across as a jerk in this tweet:

steve_martin_tweetPeople viewed his answer to the question (Is this how you spell lasonia?) as making fun of names in the African-American community.

In both cases, the tweets were deleted shortly after they were written and their writers apologized. Steve Martin, in addition to his apology, has explained the context of his joke and I’m sure that his image will sustain no permanent tarnish. But Justine Sacco doesn’t have a Hollywood history of comedic gold on which to fall back. She’ll probably pay for her mistake forever.

After owning up for his mistake, Martin said this:

“Comedy is treacherous. I used to try out jokes in clubs and the audience’s feedback would tell me when I had crossed a line, or how to shape a joke so it is clear,” he said. “Today, the process is faster. It’s your brain, a button, then millions of reactions. But it’s my job to know.”

In this shrinking world, perhaps our grace should grow with the size of the audience. In the past, an offensive mistake would require an apology to only the room that heard it. Since the room today includes everyone everywhere, I propose that our forgiveness grow in size, if not in proportion (still covering everyone). Because one of these days, we are going to say something unintentionally offensive, and we are going to need that grace and forgiveness for ourselves.

A Gift of Something Completely Different – Slightly NSFW

In honor of Christmas, I’ve decided to give you the digitized version of a report I put together in 3rd or 4th grade. It is entitled, “Famous Americans”.

I think you’ll find it enlightening. Also, I apologize in advance for the NSFW (Not Safe For Work) nature of one of the Abe Lincoln pages.

Enjoy!

That Elusive Christmas Spirit

when_my_heart_finds_christmasI must have been a sophomore in high school, because I think my brother was a freshman in college, leaving me alone in the house. It was a night without homework, but I had some chores to do. Feeling in the festive mood, I popped in Harry Connick Jr.’s When My Heart Finds Christmas CD and sang along as I did the dishes by hand. I couldn’t explain it, but I felt the Christmas spirit as strongly that night as I remembered from my earliest yuletide memories.

Strangely, that night wasn’t in December or anywhere near Christmas.

I think it was sometime in September. But that night felt like Christmas to me. The Christmas spirit is a fickle thing.

When I went to college, Christmas was still special, because it was something to come home for, but it was nothing compared to the joy and expectation of my youth. Then after college, when I joined the ranks of the toiling masses of retail workers, whatever was left of the Christmas spirit died.

Sure, Christmas was still a special time. My wife and I sharing our holidays as newlyweds, the challenge of finding just the right gift and seeing her face light up as she opened it. Christmas was certainly special, but the season no longer held the sustained tone of joy and impatience as it had when I was younger.

If anything, those first few Christmases were even less joyous for my wife. She also worked in retail, but being in management she worked longer hours and dealt with angrier people than I ever had to handle.

But then something happened. We had kids.

And now that they are old enough to understand the holidays a bit, I can see the Christmas spirit making a comeback in my house. It may be true that it’ll never be the same for me again, but watching my daughters’ light up with our tree is close. And that’s good enough for me.

I am looking into grad school.

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Most of the major events of my life have happened by chance. I’m not complaining about that. I like my life. It suits me.

When I was considering where to attend college, a full-ride scholarship to Western Michigan University fell into my lap courtesy of the US Army. When I decided I wasn’t cut out for military service and considered switching schools to pursue a degree in camp ministry, a friend informed me that WMU had a similar degree, so I stayed. When I graduated and no longer desired a job in the leisure industry, I decided to get any job available, which led me to a local movie rental store. As I was buying a red shirt for the movie rental job, I was offered a seasonal job in the mall, which I accepted. And after deciding that I didn’t want to remain a mall worker indefinitely, I found part-time work at a bookstore, because I love books.

That was almost a decade ago, and though my role has changed over time, I’m still at that bookstore (and I still love books).

Sure, I did some things quite intentionally. I got married and started a family. My wife and I bought a house. I started writing.

But vocationally, my life has been subject to some precarious whims. And like I said, I like my life, but I’m starting to want something more.

I’m thinking about going back to school, pursuing a degree that will help me write better and maybe get me into a publishing job someday. To be specific, I’m considering an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in creative writing (fiction and creative non-fiction).

As I may have mentioned, I love books. I love working around them and selling them and writing them, but I would like to be more involved in production of them. My Bachelor of Science in Recreation doesn’t really qualify me for that, nor does my illustrious blogging career. I am in need of some formal training.

Or, at least I think I am. There are a lot of things to consider. Will I have time? Will I be able to afford it? Will I be able to get into a good program? Do I even need an MFA to get a job in publishing?

Anyway, I have to start somewhere. If I want to advance my career, either at the bookstore or into a publishing job, I need to start being intentional. It’s time to get answers to my questions.

I’ll keep you updated.

Dear reader, do you have any thoughts about MFA programs?

An Alternative to Telling Kids That Santa is Fake

There are two main camps when it comes to children and Santa Claus. As parents of two little girls approaching the age of understanding morality, my wife and I have some decisions to make with regard to which approach we’re to take regarding the Jolly Fat Man.

One popular approach is to tell children that Santa Claus is real. That there really is a generous, overweight gentleman who commits light B&E (Breaking and Entering) in order to give gifts to children. That he does this for children all over the globe in one night and that he is even more attentive than the NSA at knowing whether kids are naughty or nice.

It’s a fun approach to take. Kids get to believe in the magic of the holidays and they have a solid motivation, at least for a little while, to behave as though someone will reward them for good behavior. Hollywood has certainly made a lot of money by encouraging parents toward this magical line of thought.

The other popular approach is to rob your children of magic. Tell them that there is no Santa Claus. Let them be the ones to break it to their friends that Santa is a fraud and that their parents are manipulative liars.

On the plus side, you will be raising a child who may embrace a world rooted in cold fact. Maybe they’ll become scientists and cure cancer and make a lot of money to support you in your old age. On the negative side, this isn’t any fun and your kids will make their friends cry.

So what is a parent to do?

Here’s my thought. My wife and I are going to try for some middle ground. We’re going to tell our kids about the historically venerated Saint Nicholas. After all, he was a pretty cool guy.

Here are a few fun facts about Saint Nicholas:

  • Because of the miracles that were attributed to him, he’s also known as “Nikolaos the Wonderworker”
  • He was a secret gift giver who put coins into shoes that had been left out for him.
  • According to legend, he thwarted the plot of a murderous butcher by bringing three people back to life after the butcher had planned to sell their bodies as meat.
  • Legend also tells of three poor girls who would have ended up in prostitution, but for the fact that Nicholas dropped dowry money down the girls chimney where it landed into some socks that were drying on the mantle.
  • And Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children, pawnbrokers and students.

True, we probably won’t tell our girls about the murders or the possibility of prostitution right away. But by focusing on a person who actually lived and breathed, the person who inspired the many traditions that Hollywood hocks, perhaps my wife and I can encourage the truth while retaining some of the magic. And if we really wanted to get crazy, we could even visit some relics of Nicholas at Saint Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church on East Paris Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan (just down the road from Baker Book House).

So, let’s hear it for the real Saint Nick!

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The Keys to the Rental Car

My car is in the shop for a few days, so I’m driving a loaner. The guy at the rental place told me that I’d get two keys for the car.

DSC01440But I didn’t expect them to be secured to the same key chain without the possibility of getting them apart.

DSC01441I guess this way, if I lose one key, I get to pay to replace both. Well played, Enterprise. Well played.

Hearing my words in a cuter voice

As my children grow and master their language skills, I’m learning a lot about them. It’s possible that I’m learning even more about me.

For instance, our girls often repeat things that they hear us say, especially around the dinner table. And a lot of it is cute. My eldest has started praying for our meal, usually starting just after I do, thus bringing my prayer to a screeching halt so she can ask God for a few things. It’s adorable.

But she also yells at the dog a fair amount.

Cole, in his younger, cuter, and much less annoying days.

Cole, in his younger, cuter, and much less annoying days.

“Cole, go eat your food!” she says.

“Cole, get down!” she says.

“Cole, go lay down!” she says.

All the while, my youngest is just shouting the dog’s name.

“Cole! Cole! Cole!”

It must be a bit confusing for him, hearing his name called by one and getting yelled at by the other, all the while waiting not-so-patiently by their chairs for bits of food that will surely fall to the floor. After a few minutes, I get up and chase him to the basement or behind a gate, where he’ll whine until he is let out to clean up the crumbs.

But before I get up, as the girls are yelling at the dog, I realize that they learned this behavior from me. They yell at Cole because I yell at Cole. And I am reminded all over again that I am a parent, some kind of role model to these people who share half of my DNA. How they act and what they say will be heavily influenced by how I act and what I say.

I’m thankful that the worst thing they yell is for the dog to go eat his food, and I’ll be careful that they don’t learn anything worse from me. I’d rather see them co-opting my prayers than yelling and fighting any day.