Fan, Father, Human

The relief of bad news

Nobody likes getting bad news. But sometimes bad news is a relief, because it’s not worse news. And bad news gives us an opportunity to count our blessings.

Your pre-teen wakes you up in the middle of the night because he’s feeling sick, and then vomits. But he made it to the bathroom toilet — five years ago, that would have been on the carpet. Ten years ago that would have been all over his crib. This is an improvement!

You take him to the doctor and find out he has strep throat. That’s bad news… but it’s great news, because that means antibiotics can cure him. And, it’s not the flu, which would have taken him out for much longer… messing up weekend plans and quarantining the house, not to mention probably getting the rest of the family sick.

There’s often a counterpoint that turns “regular” bad news into good news, without being disingenuous. Favorite team didn’t advance in the playoffs? Now you can enjoy the playoffs without worrying about your team winning… or just reclaim the time you would have spent watching. Work project didn’t go as planned? Cut your losses, learn what went wrong, and make plans for next time. Didn’t get the job/date/part/promotion/win you were aiming for? You know there will be other opportunities down the road, and with that experience under your belt you’ll be even more ready for them.

The song, written by Eric Idle, was taken from the controversial 1979 film The Life of Brian - which was banned in Norway and Ireland

Cynics may decry this look-on-the-bright-side attitude as a foolish kind of forced optimism. But consider the alternatives. Complain? Curse the world? Silently suffer? Spend your time worrying what will go wrong next? Throw a tantrum? Bemoan your luck? Become paralyzed with indecision on how to react?Some mourning for What Can Not Be may be called for, but then you have to move forward.

So make the best of it, and seek those hidden pockets of joy. It’s how we survive and press on to the next challenge. We don’t have to find a silver lining on every dark cloud. But, wouldn’t it’d be foolish to stand in the rain with a closed umbrella?

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.