The Many Hats

I have a difficult time keeping track of all the hats I’ve inherited.

For example, I wake up as a father, but must smoothly switch over to my manager hat at work. And then revert back to father and husband when I arrive home.

At times, I wish I could focus on one role, perfect it, before being asked to fill another. But there’s no time for that because I’m a teacher each Sunday while trying to be a friend to someone who needs that part of me, at that moment.  And that doesn’t cover the times I’m supposed to be a brother. Or son-in-law, coworker or neighbor.

Too many hat and accompanying responsibilities to keep track off.

And not enough time to transition from one to another. Occasionally, I’ll catch myself trying to manage my children when I should walk through the door as their father, not their boss.

Juggling different hats isn’t easy.

Yesterday, I scheduled a day off work to accompany my daughter on a school field trip. I boarded a bus full of fourth and fifth graders and sat next to the window because Luca likes the aisle seat. The cushy vinyl covered seat grinds into my knees because this bus was not built for anyone over five feet tall. But none of that matters because there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Having the opportunity to spend a few moments with my daughter without distractions is rare.

Without seatbelts to keep us attached to the bus bench, every bump in the road sends us bouncing up and down like the gopher in Caddyshack.

We eventually made our way to the riverbank where two women taught us about the life cycle of salmon. We learned about the five varieties in salmon found in the Seattle area (Coho, Chum, Pink, Sockeye, and Chinook). The kids were able to walk near the river’s edge and see a group of Sockeye swimming near the shore. The children talked in hush tones as to not frighten the fish. Even the adult chaperones were mesmerized.

Before we boarded the bus, we had lunch. Luca and I sat on a log and ate our lunch. I drank my Diet Coke and Luca munched on her salt and vinegar chips. There was so much lush scenery to take in that we didn’t say much to each other. But every so often, I heard a notification that an email had arrived.

That dang beep entices me to remove my father hat. It will be a quick switch, I tell myself. Just one email and I’ll tune back in.  Luca won’t notice.

But I fought the urge and only pulled out my phone to capture the picture below from where we were sitting. Small gusts of wind sent leaves raining down from the giant maple trees. The sun began to poke through the tree trunks as we finished our lunch and walked back to the bus.

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It’s not always possible to keep hats from overlapping. There are times when personal life will interfere with work and vice versa.

But yesterday was a good reminder that I’m a father first. And on those occasions when I get that right, all the other hats seem to fall into place.

Watching Our Boxer Grow Old

I don’t have to look down near my feet to know my dog is there. I can hear her ears flap when she suddenly decides to wildly shake her body. When I turn down the music I can hear her take deep breaths. I can even smell her. But not in a bad way. Elka keeps herself very clean, but she has a unique scent that tells me she’s my dog.

It’s been this way for nearly 10 years.

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I don’t have to look down because she’s always been there. Sometimes she curls up next to Kim’s feet, and that’s why I keep her circular dog bed next to my desk.

I’m having a difficult time watching her grow old.

I’m having a difficult time writing this as I imagine our home without her.

As much as I enjoyed her as a puppy, she’s an even better adult dog. I love how she nudges my right hand off my mouse when she wants food. Or when she wiggles her butt and tiny tail when I arrive home from work. Or return from taking out the trash. She’s also developed an uncanny knack for photo-bombing any picture taken on her property.

I love the deep sigh she lets out just as she’s about to doze off or how her stomach always stays warm. I love that.

I’ve noticed how much she’s slowed this past year, yet it didn’t hit me until this morning. 

She knows on Sunday she’s on her own for three hours while we’re at church. I knew she’d be curled up in a ball on our couch upstairs, but decided to call her name from the garage. She hadn’t been outside all morning. But she didn’t run towards me like she normally would if she were being invited to go for ride.

I had to call her a few times before I heard her roll off the couch and slowly make her way down the two flights of stairs to me. Her hind legs have lost their spring, and she no longer darts down the stairs three at a time.

She came around the corner and stopped when she saw me. She knows to go outside and take care of business. Most days she’ll walk right past me and return within a minute or two before heading back up the stairs to her warm spot on the couch.

But today she stopped and looked at me.

She looks as regal as she did five years ago. Her dark brindle coat still shines as do the white patches on her chest and paws. Only the grey around her whiskers gives her age away.

I don’t know how much longer we’ll have her. We understand boxers have a relatively short lifespan. She’s still sweet as can be. Still patient with four noisy and occasionally aggressive children. They love her as much as she loves them. Even when Anna puts underwear over her head.

I’m not certain she was trying to tell me something today. She could have sensed the light falling rain which she despises. Maybe she didn’t need to go outside. But I felt like she was trying to communicate something to me. As if she wanted me to understand that she’s no longer the same dog that slept on Kim’s lap during the drive home from the breeder. Maybe it’s something simple.

That she’s still our dog.

Just older.

The Queen Size Bed

On the way home from Chipotle tonight Lincoln dumped a 20 oz. soda on the floor of our Honda Odyssey.

“Lincoln, why didn’t you hold your drink!?”

“Hold ON TO IT next time!!”

What were you thinking??”

He’d placed the cup in the small cup holder in his booster seat, and it came out as I turned a corner. The van was dark and I couldn’t see his face back in the third row. Did he hear me? Did he care? He doesn’t say much.

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The kids were strapped into their seats and couldn’t reach the cup on the floor, and I couldn’t easy pull over. So we drove home while the soda sloshed back and forth on the floor.

After we arrived home, I went inside to grab a towel before heading back to the van. And that’s when I noticed Lincoln. He was still in his seat. The others had gone in the house. He sat there alone in the dark not sure what to do or say. He held his Nintendo and looked down. He finally looked up, and I knew immediately that I’d overreacted.

This is one of those times as a parent I wish I could take a mulligan. If I could rewind the last 20 minutes of the drive home, I would act differently. Maybe I would think before opening my mouth and realize my 6-year old son has felt sick since last night. Of course he didn’t want to the soda to spill so why make him feel worse than he already does?

When I pulled Lincoln aside a while later and told him I was sorry, he didn’t say much before skipping upstairs.

Later tonight I went upstairs to find Luca, Lincoln and Anna on our bed with Kim. I joined them, and we laughed together while the kids had a discussion about their anatomy which lead to more laughter. Kim wants a king size bed so all six of us aren’t all scrunched together.

I felt bad about what I’d said to Lincoln and especially the tone I used. But he was too busy telling stories and giggling to act concerned when I sat down next to him. I ran my fingers through his blonde wiry hair. I kissed his warm forehead, and he looked at me. He didn’t have to say anything this time because his green eyes told me he’d forgiven me.

Maybe one day, Kim will get her king bed. But tonight our queen was the right size.

Go Fly a Kite

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The sand squished through my toes as I walked across the beach at Ocean Park. The waves crashed against the shore in a violent show of force.

Whenever I see natural power of this magnitude it makes me feel insignificant. Like I’m this small being watching a show put on by a higher power.

I walked right up to where the waves thrust up the shore. The water is cold and the sand begs you to reach down and pack a sand ball between your fingers. The sand seldom cooperates. It oozes through my hands, and I throw what I can towards the seagulls. Like a kid who can’t quite pack a snow ball fast enough for the passing bus.

There’s something about the beach that makes me feel alive. Could be the cool air. Or lack of cell or internet service.

I slowly unwound the string attached to the kite we brought along. Just the right amount of tension between the wind and string. It wasn’t long before the kite was just a dot in the sky. The kids took turns holding the kite’s handle, careful not to float away.

Flying a kite is a lot like raising kids. There’s tension and balance. Occasionally pulling hard in one direction can keep your kite off the ground, but you don’t want to do it often. With every foot of string you feed the kite you also relinquish a measure of control, yet there’s a sense of accomplishment when the kite is high into the sky and the spool is empty.

Kim took the above picture of me managing to pilot the kite without nose diving it into the ocean. I don’t believe your mind can feel stress while the rest of you flies a kite. Give it a try.

If The Van’s A Rockin

I waited in the van with the kids tonight while Kim went inside the library to return books.

And the second Kim closes the door, all hell breaks loose. Not with the kids, mind you, but with the only adult left in the car.

I remove the CD from the player because if I hear “All the Single Ladies” one more time I may poke my ears out with a pool cue.

“What should we listen to now?”

The kids know the drill.

“That one song with the whistle! Yeah, and turn it UP LOUD!”

Before you can say, “you should have put a ring on it” I’ve got Paradise City blasting through the speakers in the Odyssey.

They can barely wait for the whistle part which comes in at 1:20 in this video

They go crazy. Seat belts fly off and we’re dancing around the van. And then, without missing a beat, Lincoln rips off this lyric:

“Take me down to the Paradise City where the grass is green and the girls are pretty”

He’s only six year old. And he nailed it. Word for word.

“Dad, here comes mom!”

The high fives will have to wait for now.

There are Days

There are days that start off poorly and only get worse.

The days I can barely get out of bed because I played basketball till midnight foolishly assuming I still have the energy and body of a 20-year old.

The nights when baby Kai sleeps in 20 minute increments between yelling and wall kicking. Perfect_Pushup_2

The evenings when my kids petition for a new dad because the incumbent won’t let them eat popcorn and “Gogurt” for dinner.

The afternoons when I become glued to my computer and fail to help Kim around the house.

The nights I stay up way too late watching six episodes of SportsCenter followed by a 30 minute infomercial for the “Perfect Pushup”.  Maybe if I was as ripped as this guy my kids would finally flush their floaters.

There are days where I put my headphones on to drown out a fight that started when Lincoln’s game of Super Mario was interrupted by a belch to the ear delivered by his sister.

There are days when the day’s work gives me a headache, and I walk in the door and crash on the couch without any regard to what Kim went through that day.

I’ve had nearly 12 years to work on becoming a better husband. I’m like the baseball player who can’t make it out of Double A ball because he can’t hit lefties.

Students have earned advanced degrees in far less time, so why does it feel like I’m still stuck in remedial fatherhood much of the time? I should have learned my lesson on the midterm that whites and colors don’t mix. What do you mean Luca doesn’t need another pink t-shirt?

Many times, fatherhood feels like a pop quiz where the kids are asking the questions based on material I had no way of studying beforehand. Occasionally I learn as I go along. Other times, I pencil in “B to all fifty questions and call it a day.

Yet I keep plugging away.

Because there are nights like tonight where I’m given the opportunity to take my son upstairs to his bed. He’s flops like a warm rag doll over my shoulder as I head up the stairs. He looks so peaceful tucked into his bed. I stand back and look at him and think to myself how lucky I am to have such a great kid.

Maybe I’m the father that finally hits stride in his mid 40’s without the performance enhancing drugs.

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Lunch with Anna

This past week I mentioned to Kim that I didn’t know Anna as well as her two older siblings. I know what Nintendo games she likes to play. I know she loves macaroni and cheese and which Smurf is her favorite. But I don’t really know what makes her tick. I want her to feel comfortable talking to me. By default she goes to her mom. Maybe she gets lost in the shuffle. Luca is our oldest and is involved in many activities. And Lincoln is my oldest son who enjoys working with me around the yard. I need to find some common ground with Anna and go from there.

So I decided to look for an opportunity this week to spend time with Anna without the distraction of her siblings.

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Today, the opportunity arose where I was able to take her to work with me. I moved her car seat over to my car and left for Redmond. I knew I had about 40 minutes in the car with my youngest daughter to talk about whatever she wanted. I adjusted the rearview mirror so I could see her face in the backseat. She gave me an awkward smile framed around her cute blond hair.

I started by lobbing a few softball questions like what did she enjoy about pre-school. I know. What a lame cop-out question.

“But dad, aren’t you going to turn on your music?”

“Nope, I want to talk to you”

It doesn’t take long for me to realize that Anna would make a great politician. She answers the question she wishes I had asked.

Anna isn’t sure what to make of all this attention being paid to her by her father, and that makes me sad.

As we near my office she begins to open up a bit more.

“If Grandpa and Grandma take us to Disneyland again, will you give me some gum so my ears will pop in the plane?”

Her questions surprise me. But all of them make me smile. I have a bright and inquisitive 5-year old daughter whom I want to know better. I realize that it takes time. I can’t rush it. But I don’t want to be one of those fathers who puts work ahead of his family and then tries to build a relationship with his children when they are teenagers.

For lunch we walked to one of the many cafés on the Microsoft campus. Anna orders a slice of cheese pizza, chocolate milk, and a cookie. She was reserved, and maybe a little intimidated at the sight of so many strangers. She sat next to me and asked a couple of questions.

“Is this what big people do when they go to work?”

“Why does everyone carry a computer to lunch?”

I wasn’t sure I was making much progress. We finished lunch and began walking back to my office. As we crossed through several parking lots and busy streets, Anna took my hand and held it tight.

And she didn’t let go until she was safely back in my office.

As I tucked her into bed tonight, I asked if she had fun at my office today. She glanced to make sure Lincoln and Luca were listening before replying, “It’s the best time I ever had going to work”.

That made me smile all night.