Waiting For Love

After 27 years and 10 kids, it has been determined that KJ needs some female type surgery. They say it’s not dangerous, a fairly common procedure, but as I sit here in the waiting room, it feels like anything but common to me. I met all her nurses and doctors before she went in, and they seem quite competent. But there is a sterile, mechanized feel to the whole thing. They have a video screen on the wall which tracks the “progress” of the surgery, complete with color coded lines indicating “operating room in….operating room out….recovery room in”….the same type of screen used to track luggage at the airport or itemize my purchase at McDonalds. They page you every so often with a call from one of the nurses in the operating room. I just got a call from her nurse named Molly…”things are progressing well..it will be another two hours or so”. I’m grateful for their attentive care, and their impressive talents and training, the results of which will bless KJ’s health. But there is no way they can know how important this woman on the operating table is to me. They can’t know that she is the center of my life, that it’s hard for me to leave her when I go to work in the morning and I cant wait to come home every night to talk to her. They don’t realize that she is my best friend, my closest and really only confidant, my sweetheart and lover for over 27 years, the mother of my children (and the center of their worlds as well). They can’t tell that she is everyone’s best friend, a literal “Mother Teresa” to countless souls. But I know…and God knows…so I sit here and wait, praying for the doctors and nurses to have God’s guidence as they care for my
darling KJ. I long to be with her again.

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The Fighting Sullivans

There is an old WWII movie called the Fighting O’Sullivans, where I think seven brothers all go away to fight in the war, and the family is so proud of them, as they should be.

Well, my boys like to fight too, but not for a good cause. They are usually fighting amongst themselves over selfish reasons. It does not make me proud. In fact, I hate it. It drives me crazy, because I can’t stand contention. I’ve found that at certain ages (13 to 17 or so), my boys have very little personal discipline and even less patience with one another. They’re swept up in the modern day habit of becoming almost instantly irritated at anything that gets in their way, and the thing that irritates them the most is each another. It can be discouraging at times. My natural inclination is beat them into submission, but even I realize the irony in that tactic. So I usually just try to separate them, or shush them up. It’s not easy, though, because I’m outnumbered, and while I’m chasing one to try and separate them, the other one is running away yelling insults at his brother. I can understand why wild animals sometimes eat their young. If I was a silver back gorilla, I would beat my chest, bare my teeth, and slap them around a bit. They would then run away whimpering, and peace would soon descend upon the forest. But I am not a gorilla (even thought I am the oldest male in our band and I do have tips of silver in my hair), so I will stick to my separation strategy until the boys grow out of this phase or move out of the home… whichever comes first.

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Just Shy of Perfection

Today is a red-letter day in our family.

My six year old daughter, #10, is shy. Painfully shy….but only with adults. At home with the family, she is animated as can be, singing, dancing, dressing up the dog, sorting things into piles while playing school, playing with her siblings or friends, etc. But when an adult comes over, she clams up, and sometimes makes herself scarce. For whatever reason, it takes her a long time to warm up to big people. Luckily, she’s had great teachers at school and Church who let her be herself, and have given her time to flower at her own pace. But there is one thing #10 has never done….participate in the annual children’s primary program at Church, because it requires the kids to all go sit up on the stand in front of the entire congregation, collectively sing songs, or individually reciting short scriptures or give brief talks. She has every intent of doing so, practicing with her peers for weeks, learning the songs and her parts, but at the last moment her shyness gets the best of her and she decides she just can’t go up with the other kids. But today, the date of our annual children’s primary program, was different. Sort of….she was planning on being involved right up until the car ride to Church, when she announced that she would not be participating. I played it cool, telling her it was up to her. But when it was time for the kids to go up, she marched right up with her friends! She sang the songs with gusto. She recited her memorized part “If we read them they will help us in our lives” (referring to the scriptures) with a big smile. And we smiled back, pleased that she had made a courageous decision, had overcome her fear, and that she could, in her own way, testify of the value of the scriptures in our lives. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a strong mind”. 2 Timothy 1:7 Way to go, #10.

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We Were First

KJ and I recently returned from a much needed 10 day getaway in Hawaii. Now normally, it is really hard for KJ to relax when we are away because she worries about the kids, but something magical happened on this trip….she didn’t worry! Our younger kids were under the able care of our new daughter-in-law, and KJ was able to really relax the entire trip. We swam, snorkled, played tennis, spent and entire day at Pearl Harbor, shopped, slept in, took walks on the beach, dined together, and talked the whole time without one interruption. I’ve always been madly in love with KJ, but this trip reminded us that before there were kids, we were first.

We were first, before: diapers, sleepless nights, catching vomit in your hands before someone throws up in the car, piano lessons, homework, baseball practice, soccer practice, football practice, play practice, ballet practice, fixing bikes, sharing our bed with sick kids, scary dreams, late nights, overnights, arguing, fighting, late night trips to the store because “I’ve got to have this in the morning”, fundraisers, dog pee in the carpet, job charts, cub scouts, boys scouts, teaching 15 year old’s how to drive, teenage auto insurance rates, that stupid recorded message from the school that says your child (which one) missed school, calls from the police (just two), prom dresses and tuxedos, ACT tests, college applications, mission papers, wedding preparations, and so much more. WE WERE FIRST!

But the most exciting part of the this wonderful vacation, was the excitement and anticipation we both felt as we headed to the airport knowing we would soon be home with our amazing, wonderful family.

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The Tattoo

Sometimes kids ask hypothetical questions of parents, just to test the waters. Questions like “What would happen if I came home with an earring?” (To which I would warmly smile, and say… “Nothing much, I’d just rip it out of your ear, leaving you with a jagged, bleeding ear”.) I’ve been asked questions like this for years, and they usually mean nothing. But when #2 recently asked, “What would you do if I got a tattoo, Dad?” somehow, I knew he was serious. Now, before I go on, you need to know a few things. #2 is 23 years old, a returned missionary who goes to Church every Sunday, pays his tithing, and holds a temple recommend. He’s a loyal son who loves his family, holds down a responsible job, and has a bright future ahead of him. “Why would you want a tattoo?”, I calmly asked. “I just want one, I think they are cool” he says. He goes on for several minutes explaining to me why he wants a tattoo. I counter with several reasons why he should not get a tattoo (Church leaders counsel against them, they are permanent and you’ll regret it, they look really stupid when you are old and wrinkly, people will judge you, etc.). “But I want one”, he says, explaining that he has always had a bit of a rebellious streak (true), has always been an individual (true….like the time when he was 11 years old, and dyed his hair white the day before he and I were to speak (Bishop and son) at the stake priesthood preview), and he couldn’t care less if people judge him (true again). I told him to really think it through, and to resist the urge. The next week he calls me on the phone. “I did it” he confesses, with a nervous tinge in his voice. “You did what?”, I ask. “I got a tattoo…of a heart…on my arm”. I could tell, he was wondering if I would lose my temper, if I would blow up and get mad, if I would disown him. What to say? What to do? I could tell he had really done it, that he was not teasing me. I said a silent prayer, then asked “Why did you get a heart instead of a dragon, or an eagle…or at least a lizard?” I asked, mostly to let him know that I was not going to kill him, that he was still my son, that I would not judge him, even though he knew I disapproved. “I’ll be right over to show you!” he says. It was all red and swelled up. He said it hurt so bad he passed out when he got it…literally (he said they didn’t know what to do with him…that they had never had a guy pass out before). “Do you like it?”, I asked. “Yea, I do”, he said. “But don’t worry, now that this is out of my system…I’ll never get another one”. “I’m glad to hear that”, I say. And I’m glad to know, too, that even though he now has a tattoo of a heart on his arm, he still is a good boy, with a bright future….and a good heart.

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Ballet Dad

KJ called me on the way home and asked me to pick my six year old up at ballet. “I’m on it” I told her. “Do you know where the studio is?” KJ asked. “I thought you wanted me to pick her up at ballet?” I said. “Her ballet lessons are at the studio” KJ patiently replied. “I knew that” I assured her, so off I went.

Now, I’m an engaged Dad, but I’ve not been too involved in the ballet thing. I guess what I’m trying to say is my only interaction with it was at the one recital #10 had last spring. That evening the theater was hot, dark, and filled with 863 little girls. Luckily, all of them were blond except for #10, who has beautiful dark hair, so it was easy to find her on the stage. She had cute little bunny ears on her head, and a bunny tail on her tutu, or whatever the heck you call what they wear. None of the other bunny dancers had a clue what to do, but #10 was right on cue, clearly the natural leader in the bunch. I was proud of her.

So anyway, I arrived at the ballet “studio” and opened the door, where I stopped dead in my tracks. There was a hard bench on the side of the small room, and several moms were sitting along the bench, each with a toddler or two laying on the floor in front of them or half way on their lap. Some of the kids were coloring pictures on the floor. I quickly surveyed the room….all the little girls in the room were blond, so I started to panic. “Where was #10? Did I go to the wrong studio?” I heard some music coming from the back room, so I stepped over two or three little kids, and walked through the hall. The door was shut. “Should I go in?”, I asked myself. “What was on the other side of that door?” I imagined opening the door and immediately being engulfed in the middle of some elaborate dance routine. I decided to wait out in the front room with the moms and the little kids. I tried to act nonchalant. I was the only man in the room. I think they were staring at my protruding belly hanging over my belt. Ok, it’s not that bad, but I’m sometimes self conscious about it. I sucked in my gut, and prayed #10 would come out soon. And she did! She jumped into my arms, and I walked out as quickly as I could, stuffing her (gently) in the back seat of the car. I don’t think I recognized anyone in the parking lot, but I can’t really be sure.

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Just Go With It

The newest (and final) Harry Potter movie comes out this weekend, and my kids are excited. And why shouldn’t they be, they’ve grown up with this movie franchise and the young actors that star in the movies. Last Christmas my 18 year old (#5) got a bunch of HP action figures as his main present! So I should not have been surprised last Friday night when I came home and heard KJ announce that #5 and #8 were going to have a Harry Potter movie marathon that night. Sure enough, a few minutes later they walked in the door with a couple of pizzas and a 12 pack of Cherry Coke. To be honest, it didn’t sound like too much fun to me, but then I got to thinking….how many times will I get to bond over decent entertainment with my 18 year old, 12 year old, and 6 year old, all on the same evening (yes, as soon as the boys walked in with the pizzas, #10 announced that she wanted in on the HP marathon)? In five weeks #5 will be on his mission to Denmark. #8 is already starting to hang out with friends more often than hang out at home with us. And even though #10 will be with us for a while, there aren’t a lot of activities that bond these three specific siblings together for an activity. So….I popped open a soda, grabbed a piece of pizza, and sat on the floor next to the kids. After all, “it does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live”. Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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We’re All Children

This is a first for me, but today’s post is in the form of a short video, which reminds us we are all children of a loving heavenly father.  Click on this link to view (2 minutes 55 seconds) http://www.youtube.com/embed/JOrcqqpHCt8

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The Art of Shopping

Last night KJ went to dinner with friends, and because school is now out, everyone but #10 had flown the coop to hang with friends.  #10 and I ate the lovely dinner that KJ had prepared before leaving, then we looked at each other and thought “now what?”.  I suggested we go on a ride, and off we went.  It was windy and kind of cold, so I did what any self respecting bored dad with one kid would do…..we went to Walmart.

Now when KJ goes to a store, any store, its all about efficiency, which usually requires that we “split up” so we can cover ground faster.  However, #10 and I have a shopping agreement.  When we go to a store, we saunter.  We take our time… and generally savor the fact that we are not buying anything.  She likes to look at all the pretty colors, the animals, the frilly dresses.  I like to look at the books, the man things you might find in a rich man’s garage, the electronics, etc.

Well on this particular night, we ended up in the bicycle section.  #10 wanted to try all the bikes, starting with the pink ones.  She rode each around the store, having the time of her life.  All the other parents stared at us, but we didn’t care.  Watching her tool around in these little bikes with training wheels I realized that she didn’t have a bike at home, only a tricycle.  On her next loop around the bike display I suggested, “Hey, why don’t we buy this bike for you”.  Her eyes lit up, “Really, we can buy it!”   I guess she hadn’t really experienced me buying her anything besides a berry smoothie at Costco or a crunch wrap supreme at Taco Bell.  “Sure” I said, “Today is special”.  And with that, she rode the bike right out the door….and into my heart.

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God Was Our Matchmaker

I never was much of a lady’s man.  Skinny and bucked tooth in high school, I was
the kid who girls liked “as a friend”, but not as a hunk.  I was voted best personality in my senior class, but rarely dated.  Girls talked to me about their problems with their real boyfriends.  I think you get the picture.

When the gospel came into my life at age 19, it gave me new
perspective, purpose, and unspeakable joy.  Almost immediately I began sharing the gospel with family, friends, and co-workers.  Consequently, I spent lots of time with the full time missionaries.  Since most of my old friends became former friends, the missionaries became my new friends.  I was soon called as a stake missionary, formalizing my bi-weekly splits with the missionaries.  The gospel gave me
confidence as well as peace, and all I wanted to do was share it with
others.  Sixteen months after my baptism I entered the MTC in Provo, bound for the Netherlands Amsterdam Mission.  The “Best Two Years” was more than just a
movie to me, but an  amazing experience that has blessed my life ever since.

Like most returned missionaries, after arriving home I
quickly found employment, enrolled in school, and started looking for a
wife.  I lived in Oklahoma, and we had a fledgling young single adults group, but I dove in head first.  There were five (count them, five) young single adult girls in my stake.  I wanted to fall in love and get married, and I was told by my mission president that
you fall in love with girls you date, so I decided to start dating.  I began with a shy red head, and after realizing that wasn’t going to work, went methodically through the remaining four girls.  This process took about eighteen months, and after cycling through the bunch, and having no additional prospects, I was about to start on a second round of dating with the same pool of five girls, when something miraculous happened.  God sent me a woman.  It wasn’t exactly like what happened in the Garden of Eden, but almost.  She just arrived on the scene, beautiful, pure, and prepared.  Her arrival was heralded in the form of a phone call, which came out of the blue one night.

“Hello, is this Elder Patrick FMK?” she asked.  “Yes”, I answered, not recognizing the voice
on the other end of the line.  “This is Sister KJ, from the mission…..do you remember me?”  Remember her!  Sister KJ was the most beautiful, impressive sister in my mission,
WAY, WAY, WAY OUT OF MY LEAGUE.  Of course I remember her.  But why was she
calling me?  She told me that she had been at mission friends that evening, and they were showing slides from the mission, and up popped my picture.  “Whatever
happened to Elder Patrick FMK” they all asked.  No one seemed to know, speculating that I likely still lived in Oklahoma.  But Sister KJ got a distinct impression that night.  “Contact him”, which she did that night by phone.  So here we were on the phone.  She asked about my life, and I asked about hers.  She wondered if I would transfer to BYU, and if so, “perhaps we could go on a date”.  “Why would she want to date me” I wondered.  Perhaps….perhaps….perhaps she was interested in me, not as a friend, but as a possible suitor!   A few days later I got a letter from her, which helped illuminate what I would soon discover was her marvelous personality and joy for life.  I wrote back.  She called.  I called back.  One day she said, “I’m saving up to come visit you”.  I realized then that she
really was interested in me, and I immediately bought her a plane ticket to
come visit me.  This was October of 1984.  She came for a three day visit, where we talked, laughed, met my family, and fell madly in love.  She went home telling her family that she was engaged.  I actually proposed to her three days later (she’s always been a forward thinker).  Ninety days later we were married in the Salt Lake Temple.  Crazy, huh.  So crazy that it just might work.

Now, twenty-six years and ten kids later, we’re still madly in love.  In a world filled with online dating and love coaches, I still think God is the best matchmaker of all.

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Planning our First Wedding – Or I’ll Beat You to Death If You Don’t Depart

I’m really excited for the wedding.  #3 and his fiance are so in love, they can’t even function.  But if they don’t get married soon, I think it will be the death of all  of us.  First, it is a long distance engagement.  Good in lots of ways….well, good in at least one way.  But challenging in every other way.  Because the communication goes from the usual one on one, to the unusual one-to-one-to-one-to-one-to-one-to-one to-one.  Let me explain.  From bride, to mother of the bride, back to bride, to groom, to mother of the groom, to mother of the bride for clarification, and then back to bride.  Which is where the process repeats itself, infinity.  I’m pretty confused at this point.  The other day I saw two boxes of invitations, each box with a different address for the reception.  Date and time were the same, just different locations.  Very interesting, said I.  Interesting is a code word I use for expensive.  But no matter.  I’m just really excited for the wedding.  Even if there are nine bridesmaids and nine groomsmen.  After all, it’s a party, isn’t it?  The reception hall will seat 300 people.   The MOTBAG (mother’s of the bride and groom) are planning to invite 400.  This would not be a big deal in a traditional Mormon wedding reception, where guests walk through a line, and then are gone before you can say nutcups.  But this reception will include a full Polynesian dinner (which I am really looking forward to, except for the part where I have to cook and entire pig in my back yard the night before), and the program will include Polynesian dancing by the bride, groom, and several family members.  Interesting! And fun, no doubt.  I can’t wait to get my slap dance on.  But how will we squeeze in the extra 100 or so guests?  Interesting question. Perhaps we can send them the invitations with the wrong address?  No, that won’t do, that won’t do at all, we’ll fit them all in, big, medium, and small.  Sorry about that last line.  Sometimes when I’m under stress, I resort to my childhood, and Dr. Suess was my favorite author….because… he just made so much sense, you know.  Anyway, if the royal couple could trim their list down to a meager 600, we can certainly get by with half of that, can’t we?  At least it will be an interesting challenge!

(Although this post is based on real events, I could not be happier for my son, his beautiful fiance, and her amazing family! KJ and I feel truly blessed to have them in our lives.)

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5 Things I’d Tell a New Father

My friend Eric texted me yesterday, asking if I would be willing to share with him the five things I would tell a new father.  He said he was asking a few other “seasoned Dads” for the same advice in preparation for a Church lesson he was going to teach on Sunday.  Here’s my list:

1. Build a relationship where wisdom can be transferred.  This becomes even more crucial as kids get into the teenage years, but it is important to work on from the beginning. Without this relationship, it won’t matter what you know or what you say…it likely won’t be received or accepted.

2. Play with your kids. Do things they want to do, not just things you want to do.  That means tea parties sometimes, or throwing the baseball in the back yard when you just want to sit down and rest after a hard days work.  Kids only want to play with you for a few short years, so you need to take advantage of it while you can. 

3. Get in the habit of talking to and listening to each of your children.  Make time to do this each day.  Some days will be crazy, but do the best you can. 

4. Live and love the Gospel.  Make it evident to them that you call upon and rely upon God everyday, so they’ll know whom they can go to for solace and strength.  Being human, you may at times disappoint or fail them, despite your best efforts.  But when you point them to God, they can connect with the true source of their happiness, now and in the future.

5. A family is a laboratory for learning how to live. Do, learn, repent, forgive, repeat. Allow your kids to do the same.

I haven’t been perfect at doing any of these five things, but as someone once said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you learn to do it well”.

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And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

Today my five year old daughter, number 10, is not feeling well, so I’ve stayed home to take care of her while the rest of the family goes to Church.  She’s not deathly ill, just recovering from a cold and still has a cough, so we’ve been able to enjoy each other’s company.  I made her a waffle (hand torn in pieces, no butter, just a little syrup).  She drew me a picture of a really cool rainbow.  She made me hug the dog…something I don’t usually do.  She was sitting at the kitchen table drawing a picture, when she saw me come out of the bathroom.  “You didn’t wash your hands, Dad” she says.  (I had…really!).  “Yes, I did.” I said.  “Let me smell them” she demands.  I clearly didn’t pass the smell test, so she said “You’re going to get sick, you know, if you don’t wash your hands”.  So I went back in and washed them, this time with lots of soap, so I could pass the smell test.  We sat in the living room and watched The Testaments movie.  “Jesus prayed a lot” she observed.  Towards the end of the movie, I got a little misty eyed, so she said, “Don’t worry, Daddy, Jesus will come back alive”.  “I know, sweetheart.”  And I’m so glad she knows as well.

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My New Year’s Resolution

I’m pretty proud of myself.  For over four years now, I have exercised each and every January 1st, usually for 20 minutes.  Yes, it’s hard, but I love the feeling of endorphins running through my body as I experience what real exercise is like.  Many have asked, how do you do it?  I don’t know….it’s tough, but I just get on one of my wife’s many piece’s of exercise equipment, and I JUST DO IT!  It helps if you watch TV while you exercise.  Luckily, there is usually some kind of bowl game on January 1st, so I tune in to that.  I usually am wearing whatever I wear around the house on New Year’s day, like a pair of sweats and slippers, so it can get kind of hot while riding an incumbent bike or a eliptical.  One year… (man, this is so bad) I forgot to bring some water to put in that little cup holder thing.  I got SO THIRSTY, I mean I was parched!  But I had to keep going.  I think you can tell that I’m not the kind of guy who goes back on his commitments…so I just stayed on that machine until my 20 minutes were up.  It felt good, you know?  I guess that’s why I like New Year’s resolutions so much.  You just feel so good for sticking to it, year after year after year.  And next New Year’s day, I’m thinking of actually exercising for 30 minutes.  Non-stop.  Not even to go to the bathroom.  Who knows what could happen in the next few years….I mean the sky is the limit.  That’s what I like about new beginnings…..it’s like you are starting all over again. A whole new you.  What am I talking about….a whole new me!

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High on Wisdom

There are several rites of passage for a kid, most of them highly anticipated: Losing your first tooth, having your first sleepover, getting your driver’s license, experiencing your first date. But for a Mormon boy approaching age 19 and preparing for a 2 year church mission, there is one dreaded experience that nobody likes….the extraction of wisdom teeth (Yes, I did use the word “wisdom” in the same sentence with “19 year old boy”). You see, a missionary can be sent anywhere in the world, including many places where you can’t even find peanut butter, let alone an oral surgeon. So this week KJ accompanied our 18 year old son, #5, for the fateful experience. Now, you need to know up front that #5 is generally a jokester. The last time he said something in a serious tone was in eighth grade when he was having an appendicitis attack. As I recall, it was something like “my stomach hurts”. So after his four wisdom teeth had been extracted, and as he was “coming to” from the anesthesia, we learned first hand what happens when you give sedation to a person who naturally possesses unusually high levels of serratonin. Enter a combination of Conan O’Brian and Mother Teresa. “Hey everybody, I just really want to thank all of you for everything you’ve done for me. You guys are the best!” And speaking to the remaining six or seven patients as he is leaving the office, “Hey everyone… you have nothing to worry about…. you’re in good hands, these guys are professionals. Merry Christmas to all of you…I love you all!  The office staff and patients weren’t sure what to say or do….so they just stared at him as he was guided out of dentist’s office by an amused but slightly embarrassed mother.  Now, I know that every successful missionary needs to learn to love those he or she serves, but we figured this was just a little bit over the top.  However, when I took him back two days later for a check up, the ENTIRE STAFF was lined up waiting to greet him in the lobby, including the doctor.  Everyone wanted to take care of their new best friend.  I guess it’s true what they say…people don’t care what you know unil they know how much you care.  I guess even the greatest wisdom is best when it is delivered with love….lots and lots of love.

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Something Funny

The life of a successful blogger is not easy. It’s filled with intense pressure to perform. After all, I’ve got over 10 people following this blog, and I can’t let them down. KJ has been on me lately to write another post. But not just any post, but a “funny post”. “Write something funny” she says, as if doing so would be as simple as drinking a glass of water, or turning on the TV. Funny is so…..subjective. I mean, I laughed until I cried watching the scene in Elf where Buddy burps for 60 seconds straight. I laugh out loud every time I watch the scene in Hairspray where Korny Collins accidently smacks Amber in the face….I know it’s coming, but it cracks me up every time. And the scene in The Sandlot where Squints fakes his drowning just to get a kiss from the lifeguard is one of the funniest in all moviedom. But not everyone appreciates the same kind of humor, so how can I write “something funny” that all my adoring fans can appreciate? It’s almost overwhelming. And when you add in the fact that this blog is really supposed to be about parenting in a large family….well then it can’t just be funny, it needs to be something funny about family life! Pressure. As Steve Martin said, comedy is not pretty.

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Grateful for a Good Day

Thanksgiving was a special day. For one, it was Thanksgiving, which, in my opinion, is a day to give thanks. I know that may sound strange, but that is just the way I feel about it.

Another reason it was special was because it was KJ’s birthday. Now, a man can have a birthday on Thanksgiving day and never give it a thought, but when a woman’s birthday falls on Thanksgiving day, it presents a quandary. Let’s face it, generally speaking, a mom gets to rest on just two days of the year….her birthday, and mother’s day. So if your birthday happens to fall on Thanksgiving, you get ripped off. I would have offered to handle all the cooking and cleaning for the day, but I know (from past experience) that doing so would not have produced the desired effect of relaxation and peace of mind for KJ. Luckily, I was successful in talking KJ into letting us go out to dinner for Thanksgiving, thereby eliminating any need for her to work on her birthday. Although it was different, it was fun, and we all had a good time. And when we got back home, the kitchen was clean and there were no dishes to do, which was a bonus.

Another reason why it was a good day was because, for the whole day and evening, there were no fights amongst the kids. Oftentimes, on a holiday like this when we are spending the whole day together, there is at least one big blow up. But this day, just peace, and it was wonderful. KJ said it was the best birthday she’s had in a long time. Another good reason to give thanks.

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A Different Kind of Family

This last year has brought several changes to our family. Although #1 and #2 still live at home, working and/or going to school full time or both, we rarely see them, so it sometimes feels like they are not here. #3 came home from a two year Church mission in Chile in February, but fourteen days later #4 left on a his mission to Italy. But the biggest change took place in late August, when both #3 and #5 moved out to go to college in another city. All of a sudden our big freaking family was boiled down to a very respectable four kids. It was wierd. And uncomfortable at times. We weren’t used to this dynamic. The three “little” boys had now become, for the most part, the three remaining boys, along with their “baby” sister who was no longer a baby, having started kindergarden the same month. One night we called the kids in for family night and #6 asked “What’s the use….we’re not even a family anymore”. We explained that we are indeed still a family, although a family in transition. He was inwardly mourning the loss of his older brothers, and at the same time somewhat unsettled with his new role of being the “big” brother (a strange notion for a kid who is 6’1 and growing taller every week). This sentiment, combined with my own feelings about our transforming family, gave me cause to refelct on the nature of families. They start with two people who are so in love that they can barely function, but that is where the similarities end. Some have babies right away, others never do. Some families have twins or triplets where the cries of babies are heard 24 hours a day almost, and others are haunted by the deafening silence of infertility. Some enjoy the miracle of adoption, some parent alone, and some raise grandchildren. But all are families. All provide an opportunity for love and service and love and fighting and love and forgiveness and love and fun and love and heartache and love and incredible joy. And sometimes, they provide an opportunity for adjustment and transformation as they fulfil the measure of their creation.

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A Shoulder to Lean On

I recently went on a trip to Las Vegas with my 11 year old son.  On Sunday we caught a cab to the local LDS meetinghouse to attend church.  When you’re used to going to church with your entire family in a familiar ward, going somewhere else really heightens your senses and causes you to pay attention to things you might not normally notice.  We arrived early, and  sat on the back row, knowing we would have to make a quick exit after sacrament meeting to get a cab back to the hotel so we could check out and make our flight home.  Soon I became aware of a young missionary behind me and to my left.  He was standing by the door of the chapel, and it was clear that he was positioning himself there to greet those who would soon be entering the chapel.  The members began arriving, but instead of the normal greeting and handshake, people were giving this Elder hugs, pats on the shoulder, and genuine smiles of greeting, especially from the youth of the ward. His smile was as big and as bright as the Las Vegas strip. It was clear that they loved this missionary, and he them.   I lost track of him once the services began, but later saw him as the deacons assembled to pass the sacrament.  There he stood, in a reverent row, side by side with all the deacons assigned to help in this sacred ordinance.  This was when I witnessed something I’ve never seen before.  A pudgy, somewhat awkward looking young deacon standing next to him placed his hand on the shoulder of the missionary.  It was only there for a moment, but it seemed to symbolize so much; friendship, acceptance, common service, a shoulder to lean on.  As I sat there, with my own arm around the shoulders of my 11 year old soon to be deacon, I couldn’t help but hope there would be someone my young son could look up to, to emulate, to befriend in his future priesthood service to the Master.  Almost immediately my thoughts went to another son of mine, thousands of miles away on a mission in Italy.  I knew from his letters that he was performing the same kind of loving service that this young missionary in Las Vegas was giving.  I said a silent prayer thanking God for strong but young shoulders on which to lean, shoulders that willingly provide friendship to the lonely, awkward, struggling and strong, whose only common bond is their desire to learn of and follow the Savior, Jesus Christ.

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On Hugs and Body Slams

There is nothing more therapeutic, more healing, than the hug of a small child. It’s so sincere, so enthusiastic, so non-judgmental, so spontaneous. It can set the world right and give much needed perspective at the end of a long or challenging day.

I think of George Bailey’s character in a moving scene from the classic “It a Wonderful Life”, when at the end of the worst day of his life, and while weeping uncontrollably, George tries to console himself in the tight hug of one of his young children. The child is oblivious to the pain his father is feeling, but the comfort George is receiving from this hug is extremely clear to the viewer.

Most of my kids have been really excited “when Daddy comes home”, greeting me with peanut butter stained hugs, sloppy kisses, or at least a hearty “Hi, Daddy!”. But my youngest daughter, now five, went through a stage where she was very shy and often became easily embarrassed. Not really knowing how to deal with those feelings, she sometimes hid or turned away when I came home. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but I felt a real “hug deficit” during this time which was tough to deal with. I found I had to get my “fix” on the rare occasions when she would fall asleep on the floor before bedtime, and I could pick her up and hold her tight for awhile before I carried her to bed. (Note to any well meaning psychiatrists of therapists who might read this….this was a short lived phase and there are “hugs-a-plenty” these days).

Big kids don’t like hugs that much, especially boys. As a matter of fact, they are downright embarrassed by them. But don’t let that fool you, they still need to feel loved and experience some form of physical touch from a parent. The question is, how? I’ve found two techniques that work well. The first is a time tested ritual called back scratching. Whether it comes from the Mom or the Dad, it a physical way to say “I love you”. Laugh if you want, but kids of all ages (boys and girls) love it. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The second technique is a form of male bonding called “wrestling”. You might think this an odd way to show love to a 13 or 14 year old, but its not to them. They love to “size themselves up” against their Dad, the Alpha dog of the family. Even if they don’t win (and you DON’T let them win until they are strong enough to give you a real challenge), they can see their strength and ability increasing over time….a good feeling for a boy. These matches always end with big smiles and genuine compliments from each opponent. And by the way, when it becomes obvious that a boy is becoming stronger than me, and wrestling looks like it might cause an injury (usually around age 16) I concede to their “man-like” strength and we suspend all future wrestling matches. This is a big moment for a boy. It usually becomes a journal entry for them. And as for me…..I happily tuck my tail between my legs and go back to scratching backs.

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I Blog, Therefore I Am

I suppose its time I explain why I started this blog. It is not for fame or fortune (obviously…unless I can talk some advertiser into paying millions to reach my eight followers). It is not because I necessarily feel I have great wisdom to share (there are tons of parents who are more effective and successful at this game than I am). The real reason I blog is to ensure that my family, and mostly my kids and future grand kids and beyond, might know me as a real person, might remember me, might benefit from my life’s experiences. Let me explain….

My parents died when I was young. They were young, too. I was barely 12 years old when my Dad suddenly died of a heart attack. He was 42. He looked like he was taking a nap in the casket. My youngest sister was 6 years old at the time…..she doesn’t even remember what he looked like, what he smelled like, his personality. Short of a few family stories and a few precious pictures, we have nothing to document his life. The only real evidence that remains are his 7 children, and our fading memories of him. We are now all older than he was when he passed away. We will not live forever, and when we are gone, his life, for the most part, will be forgotten. My Mother was 47 when she passed away. I had just turned 21. The only physical remembrance I have of my Mother is a small, handwritten birthday card she gave me for my 21st birthday…no journals, letters….just this note and a few pictures. How thankful I am that she didn’t go to Hallmark. I keep this birthday card in a lock box with my most important documents. My parents now have 26 grand kids and 8 great grand kids, none of whom they have ever met. Despite our best efforts to keep our parents memories alive, and to create a memory of their lives for our children and grandchildren, it is a losing battle. Without a written history, without journals or letters or the like, most of us will be forgotten just a few years after our death. It’s a pitiful way to die…..again.

So….I’ve started a blog. It’s not much, but it is something….something written, something that can be referred to, something that can give context to a life. It may not capture the sound of my laugh, but it shows that I did laugh, and enjoyed life. It doesn’t give me immortality, but it can allow me to influence my children and grandchildren for generations, if I write thoughtfully on important and timeless topics. And ultimately, for me, the most important topics in life surround the things I love (and miss) the most….my family….past, present, and future.

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If I Had a Time Machine

Sometimes I wish I had a time machine so I could go back in time and do things differently (I always laugh when I hear people say they would never change anything they’ve done in their life….like they’ve never made a mistake or learned from a bad decision?).  I would change a lot of things.  For one, I would have  gotten braces when I was a kid instead of waiting until I was 30 years old.  Its bad showing up in 7th grade with braces, but at least tons of your friends have them as well.  When you’re a grown man and you show up for work sounding and looking strange and spitting all over your clients, its a more difficult transition.  Here are a few other (marriage/parent related) things I would do differently if I could go back in time:
– go on an exotic honeymoon to Hawaii or Europe instead of a 3 day honeymoon in our hometown.
– start a savings account for each kid when they were born and put some manageable sum like $10 per month in it, then each year take the balance and buy gold and silver rounds with it.
– pay each kid (when they are 12 years old) $100 to read The New Testament cover to cover during their 12th year.
– pay each kid (when they turn 13) another $100 to read The Book of Mormon during their 13th year.
– pay each kid $20 if they run for a school office in 7th grade. Pay them $50 bucks if they are elected to that office.
– not make such a big deal about long hair.
– teach my boys how to play guitar at 12 instead of 16 when they think they can be a rock star.
– have all my kids take tennis lessons

There are real and valid reasons why I would do these things differently if I could go back in a time machine. If any one cares to know a specific reason, just write a comment and I will explain.

Another day, I’ll list a few things I wouldn’t change. So get excited for that.

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The Age of Independence

It’s taken me a while to figure this out, but there comes a time when kids need more independence (yes, I know I’m a slow learner). I don’t mean it would be nice if they had more independence…they need it like a starving man needs food, or a fish needs water, or a baby needs a diaper change. Generally, this need for independence manifests itself through the intense need to spend time AWAY from home and WITH friends. For many parents, this would not be a big deal, but in our family we’ve always spent a lot of time together, (which up to this point had been quite enjoyable) so we fought to hold onto this “quantity” family time, which as it turns out, was not a good idea. Unfortunately, it took me three kids and scores of unnecessary battles before I learned this.

Anyway, the magic age where kids need more independence is 14. Your nose will give you a clue about six months in advance because he/she will start to smell funny. We call it the teenager smell. It’s usually a combination of body odor, greasy hair, and bad breath from Doritos and Ranch dressing, but it could also include a mix of dirty clothes (which they are wearing) and Axe deodorant. After the smell comes the loud voice. It’s like they suddenly went deaf so they have to talk real loud because they can’t hear themselves. Interestingly enough, they are oblivious to this, which you will find out when you ask them to stop yelling and they scream back “I’m not yelling!”. With this kind of behavior, it’s ironic that any parent would not let their kid spend more time away from home, but like I said I’m a slow learner. Anyway, I continued to resist, and the more I resisted, the worse things got. It was an unpleasant experience for all of us.

I’m happy to say that in time I learned my lesson, and our family is the better for it. Now, as each kid reaches the age of independence, I gratefully allow more time with friends while at the same time offering less unsolicited advice about their lives. The boundaries of safety are still there (curfew, phone calls to check up on them, visits when they come home, etc.) but they know they are in charge of many areas of their life, and are generally grateful for this added independence and increased responsibility. And, as a special bonus, when we are having “family time”, they enjoy it more and are more enjoyable to be around. I’m glad they were patient with me until I came to my senses.

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Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Love is a funny thing. Everybody wants to feel loved, but when you think about it most of us are really lousy at giving it. We often dish out what we think is love, but its not always received as such. I read a book once called the Five Love Languages (a good book which I recommend) which said there are five basic ways people feel loved, but I really think there are more like 50 love languages. I know that my wife and kids each have a different love language. For example, the most romantic thing I can do for KJ is to clean the kitchen or mop the floor. Her love language is “acts of service”. It took me a while to figure this out, but now that I know I’m a stud muffin with a really clean house. The tricky thing about love languages is, if you show love in a way that doesn’t resonate with a person’s love language, it can come off as rude, or maybe even insulting. This reminds me of a Valentine’s Day many years ago. It was about 5pm and one of my coworkers asked me what I was getting KJ for Valentine’s Day…..I didn’t even realize it was Valentine’s Day (we’d been married about five years at this point, so don’t be too harsh on me). Anyway, things were real tight for us money wise at the time, but I still ran to the mall on the way home and bought her what I thought would be the BVPE (Best Valentine’s Present Ever)…..a really big chocolate chip cookie shaped like a heart! It was very cool with pink and green frosting. It looked so good I could have eaten it right then and there. I grinned all the way home knowing that this present would make her so happy and remind her what a romantic and wonderful husband I was. But TO MY GREAT SURPRISE, KJ didn’t seem that excited about the gift, although she was pretty excited until she opened the box. That seemed strange to me, since chocolate chip cookies are one of MY favorite things to eat. So you see, love is a funny thing…..although not always a laughing matter.

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Visualize Disaster – It Works!

When we had a household of little kids (7 kids age 11 and under) things were fun but crazy.  Little kids are always playing with things, exploring things, building things, making things, or coloring on themselves (my kids were creating “tatoos” way before they were popular).  In this swirl of activity, and despite my wife’s best efforts, we often had toys on the floor, kids half dressed, and left over lunch on the table when I came home from work.  Heck, I kept a yard rake in the coat closet so when someone rang the doorbell, I could rake up the toys in the entry area and living room and stuff them in the closet (rake and all) before opening the door (do you think anybody caught on to my trick?).   KJ and I both like a clean house, but she likes a CLEAN house and I like a STRAIGHTENED house, and sometimes those are two separate things. Knowing this, I came up with a mental trick which prepared me to walk in the home each night ready to positively contribute to my family.  After I pulled the car into the garage, but before I got out of the car, I would close my eyes and visualize the worst possible scene of disaster I could imagine.  I imagined dirty diapers in the sink on top of stacked up dirty dishes, breakfast cereal in the dog’s food bowl, the dog drinking out of the toilet which had strange floating things in it, kids standing on top of the counters playing freeze tag, the baby sitting in the corner with his hand in a jar of peanut butter, and KJ sitting on the couch talking to a buff, handsome man with flowing blond hair and his shirt unbuttoned to his navel.  Once I had a good mental picture of this disaster, I would walk into the house.  Immediately a smile would come across my face as KJ greeted me with a kiss (which she always does).  There might be a few dishes in the sink and a toy or two on the floor, but to me it looked like heaven on earth, my port in the storm of life.  I read somewhere that the most important real estate we’ll ever own is the four inches between our ears, and if we are good stewards, we’ll do all we can to protect and care for that investment.  I think that sounds like good advice.

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Sports as a Parenting Tool

Lots of parents are leary of too much TV for their kids, and I feel the same way.  We have two TVs in the house, and both are “panel locked” so they can’t be turned on without the remotes, which we hide so well that half the time we can’t find them when we want them.  This generally doesn’t cause a problem, since in my opinion 95% of the shows on TV are not only craptastic but downright evil.  The big exception is sports.  Not all sports, and not 24/7 sports…. but just all true sports in moderation; college football, NBA (entire season watching our favorite team, plus the playoffs), MLB (playoffs and world series only), tennis, the Olympics, and world cup soccer.  The main reason why I like TV sports is because it is one of the FEW thing that brings our family together…where we sit in the same room, watching the same show, talking and yelling and laughing about whats going on in the game.  Some would think this a trivial excercise, or a waste of time, but I find it to be an amazingly effective way to bond with and teach my children life principles.  For example: Being physically and mentally prepared for a game shows in the players performance, just as physical and mental preparedness for school (homework, plays, concerts, sports) or work (being on time, having a postive attitude) affects our day to day success; When a team (family) works together for a common goal, they are stronger than the sum total of each individual member and they rejoice as a team in their common success; Life isn’t always fair (referees, umpires, players) but complaining or fighting about it just makes the situation worse (technical fouls or penalties); Having the right attitude and work ethic is often more important that being blessed with brains or talent; Its good to respect and learn from your coaches (parents) even if you don’t always agree with them; AND, its OK to dump Gatorade on your coach’s head when you are winning, but it shouldn’t happen when things are going bad.  Time will tell if these lessons get applied, but at least my kids will have a sporting chance.

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On Being a Stealthy Parent

Parenting is funny. I don’t mean funny haha (although sometimes it is), but funny odd. When you have little kids, its a lot of work physically, but emotionally it is easy. When you have older kids, it is much easier physically (no running around picking up after them, taking them to the bathroom or getting them a drink), but more challenging emotionally. The main reason for this is that older kids are embarrassed by their parents, or at least mine are. So if you want to spend time with your older kids, you have to be sneaky and do it in a way that they think will be fun, or at least tolerable. This usually surrounds food or spending money or both, but if you are aware, you can have a high value interaction with an older kid without damaging your budget. Such was the case with #2 last night. He’d been hanging out at the house all night because his best friend is on a cruise with his family (Question: Why don’t we go on cruises, Dad? Answer: Because all you do on cruises is lay around and overeat, and we can do that at home without experiencing the sea sickness.) So when #2 surprised me with “Hey Dad, can we go get a shake?” I thought I’d jump on the opportunity to have a private conversation with him. Once in the car I had to pick my words carefully. “So, what type of girl would you like to marry?” (#2 is 23 years old, has returned from a 2 year church mission, and is in his second year of college). “What do you mean?” he asks. “Well, its good to identify they type of person you want to marry, so you’ll know her when you meet her. Do you want to marry a blond, or a brunette? Do you want a girl with ambition, a girl who is nurturing, spiritual, funny, smart?” I explained. “Yes….all those things.” he says. “That sounds good,” I said, “but people don’t always come in packages like at the car dealership (I’ll have the SLT package…Slim, Lovely, and Tenacious). “What if you fall in love with a brunette like I did?” Silence. He could have been thinking about what I had just said, but I may have also just run out of time on the conversation meter. My window of opportunity had just closed. After all, there is a diminishing return on most things, including a conversation with your Dad. But I had planted a seed….I had taught a principle….and the beauty of it was, he never saw me coming. I smiled as we finished our shakes in silence.

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How It’s Going to Work

You have to be careful when you blog about personal things, especially when those personals things are your kids! So here is how this blog is going to work. I’ll talk about personal things, but I won’t identify anybody by name. Instead I’ll just refer to my kids by their birth order number (please don’t be offended by this…I know they have names and I use them frequently while at home, just not in the blogosphere), and I’ll refer to my wife by the initials KJ (short for her real name, Kupcake Jambajuice). So…now you know.

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My First Confession

I have a confession to make.  I got in my car to pick up my 15 year old son (#6) at a friend’s house who lives nine miles away (why do friends have to live 9 miles away?).  Any way, there was a paper on the seat of my car which, as it turned out,belonged to my five year old daughter (#10) from her first week in kindergarten this week.  A cute picture of a little girl (presumably a self portrait) with her mommy and daddy, along with her name scrawled on the top of the paper.  My wife, KJ, would likely save this sweet remembrance in a shoebox, or a file, or at the very least in her underwear drawer.  But I tossed it in the garbage can in our garage.  I didn’t do it because I’m heartless, or because I don’t care, or because I don’t think the picture is precious.  I did it because, stored in various and sundry places throughout our house, under beds, in the garage, in the loft, in the basement, are hundreds if not thousands of similar papers from  school.  They’re not organized in any systamatic way–you actually couldn’t even say they are organized at all, just kind of loosely collected in boxes and baskets and containers.  Some of those same containers also have things like old cassette tapes, school pictures,  or ancient bank statements in them, all jumbled together.  I think you get the mental picture.  Anyway, I threw this little paper away because in my almost 25 years of parenting, I’ve never had occasion to reference one of those papers.  I’ve just not done it, ever.  Some parents make cute scrapbooks with these types of papers, and I think that is great, but  that has not been the case in our family…..so I made an executive decision, and threw it away.  What’s the big deal, anyway…..I know my daughter will produce scores of papers like this next week, and the week after, and the week after.  But the first papers….the first week of kindergarten….I guess that is kind of special, isn’t it?  Well, come to think of it, I didn’t crumble it up in the garbage can, I just sort of tossed it in as I was driving out of the garage.  I’m sure if I hurry down and get it now, no will even know I threw it away.  I’ll have it framed tomorrow.

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