Father, Husband

Leaving the birds in the nest

There’s an important joy corollary (joy-ollary?) to baby birds peeking out of the nest and then them coming back into the nest to snuggle. It’s being able to leave them in the nest.

When our kids are young and first mobile, we spend most of our time keeping an eye on them, because they don’t know enough about the world to take care of themselves. Every stray Lego, every staircase, every pullable tablecloth is a hazard that they can discover through experience or through coaching — and we’d prefer to coach them than to take them to the emergency room.

As they grow older and more self-sufficient, we struggle with the helicoptering. Can we leave them at home for 5 minutes for a run to the pharmacy? Can we give them time on the Internet without supervising every video and website? Can we trust them to be home alone all evening? The ponderables pile higher and higher. The answers require trying and holding our breath.

But as parents’ kids pass hurdle after hurdle, the parents discover new joys. The joys of going out on a date night. Of not puzzling over the logistics of which parent will be Home In Time. Of realizing that Finding a Competent and Available Babysitter has been downgraded from a major crisis to No Longer a Thing to Worry About. It’s the joy of reclaimed time for ourselves. Being able to leave the birds in the nest while we go grab a worm for a few hours is a joy unto itself.

 

Father, Son

Back to the nest again

If there’s joy in your baby bird peeking out of the nest, then there’s even more joy in the homecoming when they look back inwards and snuggle back in.

When they do, it can be a trickle of information, or a flood. The chorus might be “Yeah,” “Uh-huh,” and “I guess.” Or it might be a blow by blow description of whoever was there, whatever they learned, and the activities they took part in. Or both, depending on the subject.

It’s also pure improv time for parents. Do you need to be encouraging and supportive? Angry on their behalf? Reassuring and matter-of-fact to counter disappointment? Eager and animated to share in their excitement? Calm and logical to help them process? None of it’s really written down in our non-existent Parenting Handbook, so we turn the empathy dial up to 11 and hang on for the ride. And try to remember what we craved at that age when we looked to our parents for help.

Most of our answers are right, anyways, so the pressure to parent is entirely self-imposed. And it’s all swept away in the joy of the return home – a special joy that’s magnified by its rarity.

Father, Husband, Son

Baby bird peeking out of the nest

The first sleepover. The first sleep-away camp. The second. The third.

As a parent, one can’t deny the fear and dread that comes with seeing your child taking on some measures of independence. There’s something about them walking away for that bus ride, for that camp registration desk, for that assigned cabin, that makes ever parent want to run over and hug them tight. Parent brains can come up with the worst extreme case answers to “what could go wrong.”

But the fear and dread gets overshadowed by pride and joy. Pride that your son or daughter has reached this milestone. Pride that they can function on their own, and be trusted to make decisions and take care of themselves. Joy that they’ve found new friends, new hobbies, new passions for life that they’ll pursue. Joy at their joy.

It’s a far cry from our original duties of keeping a constant eye on a walking toddler who’s exploring a dangerous world of sharp corners, hot stoves, small inedible objects, and gravity. But it’s a welcome one. And it makes you appreciate your own forays out of the nest long ago.

Keep peeking out of the nest, little birdies, because we know you’ll spread your wings and fly some day… but not forget where the nest is.

Father, Husband, Son

Family laughter around the TV

It’s surprising these days how much active fun can be had by getting the family together in front of the television.

Growing up, we’d gather around the TV to watch favorite weekly sitcoms together. Even though some of the jokes went over the heads of us kids, enough landed for us all to share the experience of doubling over with laughter from a good one.

Back then, as it often is now, screen time usually translates to “vegetation” down time. Brain off. Go away, and leave me here to drool. Many an hour has been lost to insultingly dumb shows, solo Xbox/PS/Nintendo gaming, or a diversion on a pocket screen. That’s a fake joy of stasis that can wear off quickly. Unless… you’re not watching alone, and you’ve got something good to watch. Then the equation changes.

First of all, the amount of streaming content available now – be it favorite classic movies like Naked Gun or Airplane!, or binge-watchable fun shows like The Good Place – means that the family can experience (or re-experience) great entertainment. We’re no longer trapped to the NBC Thursday night lineup. We can find good things to watch together.

Then there’s multiplayer video games. “Super” Nintendo games like Mario Party, Smash Bros, or Mario Kart get the whole room engaged. And, Jackbox has a bunch of hilarious party games (Quiplash, Drawful, Patently Stupid, to name a few) that have players doubled over with laughter at what friends (or kids!) in the room come up with. It’s astonishing how many evenings were livened up by a quick electronic game on the big screen.

There’s joy in shared experiences for any family… even if together in front of the TV.

Athlete, Father, Leadership, Marketer, Musician, Runner

Showing you still know how to do it

Ever find yourself in a situation where you have to tackle a specialized task, and flex muscles that you haven’t used in a while? And imposter syndrome starts to set in?

Maybe it’s helping your child with his algebra homework.

Maybe it’s cooking or baking a complex recipe for company coming over.

Maybe you’re taking the field/pitch/gym/rink as an athlete for a sport you abandoned years ago.

Maybe you’re up in front of others and you have to convince them that you know what you’re talking about, like teaching a class, leading a group exercise, or presenting at an event.

Maybe you’re showing off a talent of yours in a performance, like singing or dancing or acting, but it’s been a long time since you last took the stage.

It’s like riding a bicycle – once you learn how, you can always do it… right? You know that you know how to do it. Well at least, you knew how to do it, once upon a time. You’re pretty sure you can do it again. All the evidence shows you can do it. And yet, deep down inside, there’s a tiny but convincing voice saying oh my god what are you thinking you haven’t done this in forever how dare you think you can do it again oh god oh god this is crazy you know you can quit now and you won’t be embarrassed this is nuts stop stop STOP…

There’s joy in re-discovering that yes, you can still do it.  And in the satisfaction of telling the tiny but convincing voice of your lizard brain to shut the hell up.

Father, Musician

Admiring perseverance

Sometimes we run into people or things that should be more flexible, but instead become obstinate obstacles. We can accept them as they are. Or, we can decide to do something about them.

Case in point: my 9th grader received a vibraphone rental for Christmas this year. However, being a cheap rental, it did not come with an adjustable height frame – a problem for my 6′ tall son. Grandpa to the rescue!  But… not without lots of experimentation and failures. The holes drilled in the stilts weren’t wide enough. When they were wide enough, they didn’t deal with the curve of the frame. Then he stacked them to get the height right… but the adjustable pedal couldn’t reach the ground. I was about ready to give up and lobby for acceptance. Instead … we got this masterpiece:

There’s joy in seeing others persevere to overcome an inflexible obstacle.

Athlete, Father, Friend, Husband, Marketer, Musician

Self-care and recovery days

There’s a lot on the calendar some weeks. It could be fun stuff like holiday celebrations and gatherings of friends. Or it might be a nonstop schedule of family chauffeuring. Sometimes it’s long hours at the job for a crunch week.  Sometimes it’s an array of previous commitments (choir rehearsals, weekly basketball, networking events) — chosen responsibilities that individually are worthwhile but eat up a lot of combined time.

Even for those of us who love being active as much as possible, over time all that activity adds up, like sleep debt. That’s when self-care comes into play. It’s up to us to take care of ourselves so that we don’t devolve into a harried state that prevents us from enjoying our chosen activities.

Over time, we learn where our limits are. Over time, our limits start to pull in. Over time, we begin to recognize when we need a power nap, a day off to vegetate, or a quiet weekend to recharge our batteries.

Be joyful whenever you have the luxury to take that hour, day, or weekend of self-care to recovery.