And Now… A Great Moment in Parenting

My oldest daughter, Elora, occasionally suffers from abdominal migraines. For the longest time, we didn’t know what they were. She’d break out into spontaneous sweats at the oddest moments–usually when she was at her most calm and reading in bed. Many tests and doctors later, it turned out her stomach was just having a headache.

If she takes her pills every morning and every night, the migraines disappear. But she’s 9 and taking pills isn’t something she’s used to and it was getting to be a habit of hers to miss the morning pill in favor of getting to school on time or eating breakfast. Then the TV show Once Upon a Time came along. Elora watched the pilot and was hooked.

Elora’s bedtime is 8pm, right when Once comes on. I got the idea to bribe Elora, telling her that if she could take her pill every morning and every night without fail, then on Sunday she could watch Once live before going to bed. She agreed and for several weeks she took her pills successfully like clockwork. Until yesterday.

Elora admitted to us during dinner that she’d missed that morning’s pill. The mood at the table dropped. My wife and I both know how much she loves the show and we didn’t want to make her miss it… but we gotta be good parents. So, I came up with an idea. A way for Elora to still feel the consequence of having missed her pill (besides the obvious one of a potential migraine), but also get to watch her show.

Elora recently learned how to clean the bathroom after we made her do it every day for a week as punishment for a crime far worse than skipping a pill. She’s become a real pro at it. I told her if she cleaned the bathroom that night–put things away, scrub surfaces and the toilet–then she could watch the show on Sunday. Missing one pill isn’t that big of a deal. It’s missing several over the course of a week that can negatively impact her health.

Elora thought about it a minute and made her decision.

“No,” she said. “If I clean the bathroom then I’ll just think it’s no big deal in the future if I miss a pill. I can just clean the bathroom to make up for it. I need to remember to take my pill.”

This is why this is a great moment in parenting: because Elora parented herself. Erin and I tried to give Elora a way out. She didn’t take it because her self-discipline was more important to her than what she wanted. Man, how old was I when I learned that? 18? 19? 30? She’s friggin’ 9. It’s not just about pleasing us any more or not getting in trouble. There are things that are important to her.

I think most parents are like me and probably fear the teenage years. That’s when The Turn happens–when the innocence falls away and the anger and incorrigibility starts. Kids act more for themselves and angering their parents through defiance isn’t something to fear–it’s a motivator. Elora gave me a lot of hope last night that the good kid at the center of her being–the one who volunteers in the autism class during recess and tells boys who want to be her boyfriend that she’s too young for that nonsense and who has never once fought with her younger sister with special needs–isn’t going to be lost. I have no doubt she will struggle through adolescence just like her mom and I did, but I think she’s got a good chance of making a better go of it.

If not, I’m sure there will be other TV Shows we can hold over her head.

15 Years Ago Today

A still from the segment on "Rescue 911" that featured Dad's story

Today marks the 15th Anniversary of my father’s death. This is insane because I was 19-years-old when he died. (I’ll wait while you do the math.) I’m fast approaching a time when it will be longer since he’s been gone than the time I had with him. And yet, in a lot of ways, it feels like his death was just last week.

Coincidentally, I wrapped up my latest revision of the manuscript for my memoir today. (I’m not yet ready to talk about WHY I did another revision, but suffice it to say that this is a significant day for more than one reason.) The one passage I think I’ve struggled with the most over the course of my many, many rewrites hasbeen the one where I describe my thoughts and feelings immediately after finding out Dad had been killed.

For those of you that remain unaware (and, as often as I freely talk about it, that’s almost hard to believe), my father was killed in an armed robbery at his store 8 years after surviving a previous armed robbery. At the same store. Sometimes, lightning does strike twice. (Especially if you sell guns.)

Getting down on paper the various odd, monumental, despairing, uplifting, cynical, hateful, joyful and, ultimately, peaceful things that went through my head that night has just been an absolutely huge challenge. How do you take people on that journey with you? What words could possibly communicate those feelings? It helps that my memory of that night is about as clear as any memory I have, but still… it’s been a challenge.

I was in a unique situation when it happened. I hadn’t actually seen him in the flesh for 10 months.  I was serving as a missionary in Arizona, off in my own little world of cacti, no grass and a big, hot sun. When the call came in, I had just gotten home from a long day of knocking on doors and riding my bike and looking ridiculous with my helmet and tie ensemble. I couldn’t have been more shocked by the news–nor less surprised.

Dad always said he was going to die relatively young. He insisted he wouldn’t get to see all of his sons reach maturity. I’m the oldest of my four brothers and the youngest of us when he died was 9. (Hi, Tyler.) Everybody thinks bad things happen to other people. I grew up thinking we were the other people. It was kinda true. That’s a lot of what the book is about–what Dad knew and how that changed the way I saw the world and how much of a gift it was when he was finally taken from us. A bad thing does not always equal “a bad thing.”

There’s a hope and a responsibility that comes with knowing, and I’m glad Dad had the wisdom to tell us what was coming. My life hasn’t been the same since, but I can’t honestly say it’s been for the worse. Dad’s death marked a moment in my life when I stopped being who I was and became someone else entirely. We don’t get many moments like that, but when they come–however they come–they are an opportunity, I think. To grow, to change, to reassess, to gain empathy and understanding and experience. I hope I’ve taken advantage of that opportunity fully. I think that’s pretty much the point to life in general.

I’ll go visit his gravesite later today. I know he’s not there, but that’s as good a place as any to reflect and remember. And to be grateful.

Giving Not-So-Freely

There’s a gas station on my way home from work where, 90% of the time I go there, someone asks me for money. Yesterday, it happened again. This time, I was the only one at the pumps The old black man in a wheelchair and army jacket was far away, up against the outer wall of the mini-mart. I’d never seen him before–it’s never same person twice, but it’s alwayssomebody. 

I cursed myself for not making eye contact for fear he would ask me for that which I’d worked hard for (well, worked for anyway). Assuming someone is a beggar is a pretty rotten assumption to make. It wasn’t until I put the pump back on the handle and turned his way that I realized what I thought was the grunting of a crazy homeless man was, in fact, him asking me for “spare change.” I told him I didn’t have any, which was a lie.

Let me back up. My policy is to give when people ask for it, if I have it. The guy near the McDonald’s two weeks ago got two bucks off me. I emptied my pockets for the woman at the grocery store a month back. I was glad I had more quarters than I thought I did. It’s the right thing to do and it sets a good example for my daughters. It’s not my place to judge anyone’s situation. If someone asks me for help, I give them the benefit of the doubt and give what I can. No, I’m not rich. Times are pretty tight right now and it’s been an unusually bad year, financially speaking. But I do what I can.

Sometimes, I like to do a little more than just give money. If you have a sickly look and stumble towards me before asking, I’ll usually put a caveat on my gift. If you tell me you won’t use it for booze, then you get the money. I’ll take your word. Most everyone makes the promise, but not all. Once, this one guy said, to his credit, “Nah, man. That’s alright.” And he walked away.

But it seems my generosity does have its limits. There’s something about not being able to go to certain places without the bother of someone asking me for what’s in my wallet. When I can count on it happening, it feels intrusive. I get irritated. I get impatient and I won’t make eye contact with people when I pump gas at that one station. When the man in the wheelchair asked me for money yesterday, I was bothered enough by it that I completely forgot I had change in my pocket. I didn’t have any bills in my wallet, but I could have given him my change if I’d been less focused on getting home quickly and how bothersome it was to not be able to pump gas in peace . Sure, I didn’t have much. Maybe 25 cents in pennies and nickels. But it was better than nothing. Which is what I told him I had.

Then, I got back in my car, cued my shiny new iPod back up, and drove away. I felt pretty darn wealthy in that moment and I didn’t like the feeling. At all. Next time, I hope I do better.

What about you? What do you do when someone asks you for monetary help?

New Music – November, 2011

I buy a lot of new music. Well, as much as my budget will allow. I buy music for the feeling it creates within me and the thoughts it inspires. You should know I have no musical talent. When I say I play music, I literally mean I’m hitting “play.” You should not take this to mean that I don’t know what I’m talking about. My taste rules. Here’s what I’ve picked up recently:


Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto – Coldplay and I have had an on again/off again relationship over the years. I’ve never understood the hate they engender, but there is a quality to some of their songs that does tend to grate on me. Translation: they can get whiny. I’m happy to report that with their latest effort they’ve gotten decidedly more cheery. There’s a real joy that permeates Mylo Xyloto. Unfortunately, I’d say this is their weakest effort melodically. With the exception of Every Teardrop is a Waterfall and the Rihanna part in Princess of China, it’s hard to identify a standout moment. There’s no Viva La Vida or Clocks or Kingdom Comehere. All that said, I play it through about once a day. I like cheery. Grade: B-

Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song – This band came out of nowhere for me. Lead single Colours does a neat trick where certain words get repeated like they’re stuck in a grove on a record and it never gets not fun. Every track sounds like a single from a different era of music, but all filtered through Grouplove’s particular sensibility. A fun, fun record that I could not recommend more. Other standout tracks: Love Will Save Your Soul (Elora’s current favorite song), Itchin’ on a PhotographTongue TiedGrade: A-

Angels & Airwaves – Love Pts. 1 & 2 – It’s hard to not love AVA. They rock, but their message is all positive. If you need darkness and sadness in your music, best to move along. These guys are looking to inspire you and they will. not. stop. until they do. This two-part release suffers from a bit of sameyness, but when it works, it works. Single Surrender is a stand out, as are tracks The Flight of Apollo and We Are All That We Are. Honestly, there’s so much here that I’m still digesting it. I admire it more than love it right now. Grade: B-

Mates of State – Mountaintops – I love Mates of State, but this record just kind of fell flat for me. They’re a husband and wife duo, and, honestly, sometimes I wish the dude would just shut up. His voice can get super annoying, but usually the melodies win out. I loved this record the first two times I heard it, but after that I’ve been getting diminishing returns. Sad, that. Stand out tracks include: Palomino, DesireGrade: C


Mumford & Sons – Hold on to What You Believe  Not a single so much as a new song I grabbed off their new live album. They lyric is what sells it for me, which includes the lines Hold on to what you believed/In the light/When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight. As a person of faith, that’s a powerful message. It doesn’t hurt that the song is pretty awesome.Grade: A

The Rifles – Long Walk Back – A fun stomper/hand clapper that will make you get up and move your feet to it’s rootsy backbeat. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with this one. I’m not a huge Rifles fan, but this is what great singles are made of.Grade: A

R.E.M. – We All Go Back to Where We Belong – This is R.E.M.’s final single and while I appreciate the appropriateness of the lyric, the Burt Bacharach horns and vibe makes this song feel out of place with the rest of their catalog and not a great capper to a fantastic career. I’m even one of those weirdos who thinks late period R.E.M. is pretty great and I can’t really recommend this song to anyone buy die hards like me. Grade: C+

Real Estate – It’s Real – Real Estate is the new IT band. A mix of surf and indie sensibilities, this is the kind of music that just puts me to sleep but that gets hailed by critics as amazing. I don’t get it. Grade: C-

Fun. – We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monae)  I don’t know how this isn’t all over the radio. Maybe it is, actually. I don’t listen to the radio. One of the catchiest singalong choruses to come along in a while. It’s kind of dumb, but I can’t deny how great it is. Grade: B+

Have you heard anything great lately? Tell me about it!