Decisions

In life, the average person makes thousands of decisions a week. Some may be as small as deciding between lasagna and meatloaf while in the grocery store. Others are much more significant, such as deciding when and how to purpose to that special someone in your life. In my own life, I have made some wonderful decisions. Such as getting my real estate license at the age of nineteen and purchasing a home at rock-bottom prices in the beginning of 2014. I have also made a few terrible ones: Choosing to build a home at the beginning of 2007 and believing I could ride out the recession with the aid of credit lines, for instance. Even in the aftermath of the worst decisions, however, you can usually find a silver lining. When the bottom dropped out of the real estate market and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at an all time low, I was forced to take a job. The first shift work I had done in the better part of a decade. Believing this to be rock bottom, I convinced myself that the job would only be for three months, six tops, and that I would soon be back at the top of my game selling real estate full time. What came next was total devastation. Short sale on the house, sold the BMW, hung up the recreational pilots license, bankruptcy, and finally, though not immediately, my fiance’ terminated our relationship. But, had I not ended up in what seemed like dire straights at the time that I did, I would not likely hold the position I do today, with a job that I love earning an above average wage. I also would not have been able to write the remainder of this post.

Two years after all this transpired, I got back together with my ex-fiance’, and we, once again moved forward in our relationship.

In opposite directions.

As some of you may remember from my first post in this series, she and I had a pregnancy “scare”, which ultimately ended our relationship and drove me to what has become the best decision of my life: Getting licensed for foster care. And, a decision I was nearly (and sarcastically) committed for making as a single man working a graveyard job, when I was matched with a beautiful set of eighteen month old twin boys. In over my head, tired beyond belief, and run nearly to the point of failure on several occasions, only to suffer, a year and a half later, with a period of a couple months where reunification was back on the table and I was being asked to work with one of the parents on a plan for transitioning the boys back to their biological parents. But after this long and arduous period, parental rights were terminated and, a couple months later, the twins were cleared for adoption.

I remember those couple of months as being the most emotionally trying time in my life. I wasn’t eating, barely sleeping, and unable to muster the faith to ask God for peace. What I did do was far worse. After the boys were asleep in their beds, I would drink and pray. But my prayers were not for peace. They were threats. Threats regarding the things I would say and do if after putting them in my life, He were to choose to separate them from me. These threats would usually end in tears as I contemplated this reality, followed by a series of apologies and pleas for forgiveness for my complete and utter lack of trust. Asking Him to make some allowances for my attitude, given the circumstance.

I have always believed that I had the ability to affect change based upon the strength of my own will and my determination to succeed at a given task, but even I could not ignore the extreme coincidence of having had everything in my life drive me to a singular purpose, which would conclude exactly the way I had envisioned, where the boys entered the system precisely the moment I was concluding my licensing requirements, and, now, two long years later, almost to the date, I will walk into a court room at the end of one path, and walk out at the beginning of the next, with two boys entirely my own, with my own name.

My own family.

Even in my most arrogant times, I could not deny the hand of God in these, otherwise, impossible odds. Believe me when I tell you this. Getting licensed for foster care has completely changed my life, not to mention the lives of two little ones who have reached a place deep withing my heart that I never knew existed, and turned my entire world upside-down. This has been the most difficult two years of my life, and I would do every second of it over again in a heartbeat.

One other addition that I’ve failed to mention is that, as of about four months ago, I took in another child. An eighteen month old girl, who speaks at a kindergartner’s level. She is sweet and beautiful, and, while I don’t yet know how long our journey together will last, I do know that it will be an adventure that weaves itself into the very fabric of my being and binds us even tighter as a family. I had intended to keep this story-line about my journey from a prospective foster parent to adoption, with the boys at the center, but I can’t help but see how much they’ve grown and accepted our newest addition into our odd, unconventional family, and how much we’ve all grown together because of her. So, I only think it’s fair that she be included in our story, until the time comes for her to be reunified with her birth family or move into a forever home, and if that forever home happens to be mine, I can only imagine what the next years will bring.

‘Til next time…

 

The Good Stuff

My Mother, who for as long as I can remember, has catalogued the lives of my siblings, as well as my own, through the once-thought miracle of photography, giving us the ability to relive every childhood memory in vivid clarity. Birthdays, Christmas’s, school plays, sporting events, the list goes on and on. This never seemed all that important until recently, while changing out photos of my boys with updated ones from our most recent summer.

If there’s one thing that the last two years has taught me, it’s that parenting is messy; but, that it’s the chaos that makes a house a home. And I don’t just mean the Fruit Loops under the living room sofa or the feint odder of urine from an ill-timed trip to the potty. I mean the imperfect way in which life creates organically perfect moments. Moments that seem insignificant at the time, but later represent memories that, when reminded of, bring a sense of completeness and warmth; But, with that comes, also, a somber reminder of the truth of how fast it all goes.

One of my boys will position himself in such a way that if he thinks I’m about to get up from the couch, he can quickly throw a leg over my shoulder and hitch I ride to wherever I’m going. I cry a little each time, often exhausted from the previous graveyard shift, and the mere idea of pouring juice for what feels like the thousandth time that morning seems nearly soul-crushing, even without the added forty pounds. At least until I remind myself that tomorrow, he may be too big to enjoy these shoulder rides from Dad. Or worse, decide that I don’t enjoy them and simply stop making the attempts altogether. Either way, they will be over way too soon and I will never be able to go back and relive these moments.

When the two of them first arrived, nearly two years ago at the time of this writing, one of my boys had a cold. To manage the irritation of his symptoms, he would tighten his upper lip around his front teeth. That face became his distinguishing gesture. And, for a time, was one of the only ways I could differentiate between the twins. That is until my family and I began mimicking the face and both boys would mirror the expression for effect. This simple expression was one of our earliest interactions. One of our first family memories. And that experience is now gone, other than for one photograph my mother happened to catch of both boys making this face at the exact same moment, side-by-side. Absent which, even the memory of that may have been lost forever. A memory which, at the time, seemed insignificant. Until one day it no longer happened. It had been replaced by new interactions and new expressions.

When I think back over the amount of work the past two years have been, it’s easy to understand why some people choose not to participate in the parenting ritual, electing instead to avoid the added complication altogether. The truth is, I can hardly remember what my life was like before I had children; Truth is, I seldom ever want to remember. Because, for all the self-centered occupations I found myself once engaged in, a million tiny moment of connecting with my children have replaced them. And, years from now, lying awake in bed at the end of my life, those are the moments I am going to reflect on in remembrance of a life well lived. And I’m going to miss the weight of my growing boy pressing down upon tired shoulders, egger for his ride to the kitchen. I’m going to miss them spilling juice all over the kitchen floor because they’ve reached the age where they’re wanting to be more self-sufficient. It’s tiresome, but pales in comparison to the joy of watching them grow and learn and thrive. Or, feeling the frustration of arguing with their newly forming opinions of how things should be run around the house, but smiling inside as new facets of their personalities begin to emerge with each assertion.

Because those tiny moments, that is the good stuff. That is what makes life worth living. One day I may again fly airplanes and ride motorcycles. I may travel for business conventions and get fitted for a Brioni or Tom Ford Bespoke tailored suit. Or maybe not. I knew what this venture would cost me, and I have never felt like anything less than a con-artist, trading fate my meaningless pass-times and possessions for the simple joys that being a dad has given me.

For me, becoming a dad took planning and patience as I learned to navigate the unorthodox and emotionally taxing journey through the foster care system. But, even now I can’t see my experience as anything less than blessed. The number of things that had to line up for me to enter into the licensing process and exit out the other side at the exact moment my boys entered into the system; And now, to be staring down the finish line, only months away, with adoption paperwork only weeks from being filed with the state. Even for someone as self-assured and confident (bordering on cocky) as the culmination of my choices have led me to be, I can’t help but feel humbled by the experience and recognize the evidence of divine intervention at work. As though every negative experience in my life were all engineered to drive me to the point where I was ready to burn the ships and forge a path through terrain I’d never imagined for myself.

Two years ago I opened my heart and my home to twin 18 month old boys and the two of them saved my life. For all the successes and failures in my adult life and the amazing things I was able to accomplish and experience, none of it meant anything to me beyond the initial thrill accomplishment brings. I struggled at times with depression. I smoked, drank, and sought the wrong company in an attempt to dull the reality that there was more to life, but it seemed to allude my grasp, and no amount of power, influence, or money ever brought me any closer to attaining it. I was never suicidal. To quote Raymond Reddington from the hit TV show, The Blacklist, “Suicide is an act of terrorism, perpetrated on those closest to you…” But, I definitely wasn’t fulfilled. To quote a friend of mine’s recent and insightful assessment of my state during the time leading up to this decision, I was “cabin-fevered by my current life.”

I would never put the responsibility for the burdens I carry or the demons I face on my children. They are most definitely not responsible for my happiness. But they are absolutely to blame for it. The void that I felt has been filled with an abundance of chaos, which is both messy and unpredictable, but somehow fixed things in my life I never knew were broken.

So as a parent, unqualified to offer parenting advice to anyone: Be present; Be in the moment. The days are long but the weeks are short and the months fly by. Before you know it, they are gone and can never be recaptured. Don’t take a single second with your children for granted. No amount of money can rebuy the time you’ve lost trying to put them in a pair of Jordan’s.

Until next time…

 

Pendulum

The past six months would have been an emotional ride for anyone, such as myself, who has less than a fleeting and casual relationship with his emotions. Something akin to two strangers on a commuter train exchanging eye contact for a moment too long. That awkward awareness of the other one’s presence and a need to break the silence, but, choosing instead to repress the urge. Perhaps settling for an affirming nod in exchange for some hope that you won’t be robbed at knife-point the moment your feet land on the cool tarmac, just outside the purview of the other passengers aboard the train. But guarding oneself and repressing emotions have no place in the heart of a parent; instead, these are replaced with hope, fear, and a feeling of utter helplessness and panic.

You see, over the last six months, I’ve been engaged in somewhat of a zero-sum game. In order for me to win, someone else had to lose. The only comfort I can take in the hardness of my heart towards this reality is in believing with ever fiber of my being that my winning was the only way I could protect the children in my care from an uncertain future. A future in which their trust, that I worked so hard to gain, is shattered in what would amount to being the only abandonment they would likely remember. If you recall, they were only eighteen months of age when they entered the foster care system, and they’ve now been with me close to the same amount of time.

It’s been nearly eighteen months since they arrived, scared and confused. Fifteen months since the night terrors they suffered stopped recurring. Twelve months since the first time they acknowledged me as Daddy. Since that time, they have grown from size 4 toddler shoes into size 11 little kid shoes. Moved from diapers to big boy underwear. From potty chairs to potty trained (at least during the day). They say more words every day and express themselves in new areas of exploration, learning to dress themselves, feed themselves, and wash themselves. They love Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol and have recently developed a passion for everything Superhero related. Namely, Spiderman and Ironman. And they chase each other through the house making web shooter sounds and balancing themselves in the mid-air of their imagination with flight stabilizers in their imaginary Ironman suits. They are everything I’ve ever wanted for them. They are happy, healthy, and well-adjusted children. Just kids allowed to behave as kids. Free from the fear that everything they’ve come to know and love could be ripped out from under them at a moments notice.

But I have been living with that fear day and night for months. Allowing my new and unwanted emotional companionship to swing me from the heights of fatherhood to the depth that blacken souls with murderous intent, willing to go to any length to ensure that your protection remains intact. Only to settle into the worst feeling of all. The feeling of powerlessness to influence circumstances far beyond your control. Waiting far from patiently as decisions in court are continued for reasons that both haunt and terrify you. Brushing up against your biggest fears that reunification is going to happen, simply because State legislation mandates it, without the slightest concern for what happens next.

When children reunify with their birth parents, that may be the greatest gift to a broken family struggling to be once again made whole. I, myself, have seen this play out to great success and could not be more supportive of that outcome for those families. In other cases, this outcome becomes traumatizing, and the children re-enter the system again. This time a little angrier, a little less trusting, and a lot more fearful. There was a time when children would get removed from homes for unmitigated concerns and the parents would have little to no chance of regaining custody of their children. Today, the pendulum has swung in the other direction, where the primary goal is reunification. Not from an ideological perspective but from a legislative one, in which little room is made for the circumstances of each child as individuals. If the parent(s) does X,Y,Z, than the court rules in favor of reunification. If not, they move to terminate services for reunification. Why is it so cut and dry? Because there are thousands of children in the foster care system and that is the only way to get cases moved out of the way so that the State can handle the influx of cases coming in. It’s an imperfect system full of wonderful people trying desperately to do what is best for everyone, drowning in a sea of legislation, red tape, and paperwork, with one hand tied behind their back. It may likely be the most underpaid Government job in existence and no one leaves it completely unscathed.

The foster parent has both hands tied. And both will be tied as they watch the children they have bonded with, cried with, laughed with, and bled with, get strapped into a County vehicle and driven off to uncertainty without so much as the promise of weekly or monthly visitations. It is, without a doubt, the worst and most difficult part of being a foster parent. Second only to being reminded that this is what you, in fact, signed up for. That the 24 hours a day devoted, not only to the care of a child, but, also, to the needs outside of those necessary to a child’s mere survival — the reading of books together at night, the countless meals prepared, the trips to the park where you begin to see their confidence soar, the dozens of required and unexpected Doctor’s appointments, visits from Social Workers, program facilitators, and an onslaught of additional strangers who wonder through your home, from licensing to adoptions, many of whom become friends through it all, but can offer very little comfort where final decisions are concerned. Add to that the continuing education requirements and inspections necessary to remain licensed, as if everything else weren’t tiresome enough. All this, every day, without so much as a pause button — may offer them little more than a reprieve, and you can still lose them eighteen months later, due to a decision made by a Judge who doesn’t know them and is bound, at least in part, by cookie-cutter legislation.

This has been on my mind every waking moment for the past eighteen months, far more intensely for the past six. So much so that I didn’t know what to write about in this blog anymore. We’ve had amazing experiences as a family, and I can’t wait to share them with you, but they are constantly overshadowed by a cloud of uncertainty and fear.

But this is not a sad post.

Because two weeks ago the Judge ruled to terminate services. A decision that had been postponed four times, each one bringing additional anxiety, fear, and frustration with it. We are not out of the woods yet, but this was a huge milestone moving us one step closer to adoption. And, while I know that what is great news to me comes at a loss to someone else, in time, I think that even the family of these two boys will see that this was for the best. In time, they will get to watch these boys grow up, play sports, learn to play an instrument, excel academically, and learn to become men who protect each other and those around them. Who become contributing members of society and break this wretched cycle once and for all. You see, my intention has never been to take children by way of a hostile take-over. My goal was to be a dad. To raise children as my own. But my goal doesn’t exclude the birth family from being a part of that. I have been blessed with tremendous resources, and I intend to deploy those resources in the service of two toddlers whose names I cannot yet share with you. My goal is not to erase their past or to blot the names of those blood relatives from their family tree, but to graft in a new branch and to nourish the soil in the richness with which I’ve been blessed.

I look forward to working with them to agree on a continued roll in the lives of these children. But that chapter is still unwritten. Before that can happen, there are still two monumental court hearings that have to take place and a minimum of six month time in limbo, but we are so much closer now than we were. And that ruling marks the first true peace I have felt in months.

The boys are appropriately none-the-wiser.

Until next time…

Mindfulness

“The price of parenting is self-sacrifice, and rent is due every day.”

I’m starting this post with that rehashed quote – originally written to describe the price of success – partly because of the amount of time that has passed since my last post was written, and, partly, because the day-to-day living of that truth has left me, at times, with very little left in the metaphorical tank for the maintenance of personal hobbies and selfish pass-times.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to share a little about the past six months since the twins 2nd birthday, and offer an approach to parenting (or, surviving the rigors of parenting) that I have recently discovered. Something which serves to make the mental strain of working two careers, managing a household, and raising two toddlers as a single dad possible – without completely losing my grip on sanity.

In the past six months, we’ve knocked out potty-training during the day. The high chairs have been replaced with a small table in the kitchen and two matching “big boy” chairs. The cribs are now toddler beds, and their shoes have grown from a size 6 to a size 10. They are comfortable in 3T clothing and look even more comfortable in a lot of 4T items. Weighing in at nearly 40 LBS each, they have discovered the joys of swinging their weaponized aluminum bats at anything thrown their direction and prefer to spend their free-time chasing a soccer ball and eating. When indoors, they divide their time between playing with their “bye-byes” (their word for cars and trucks) and exploring content on their Kindle Fire Toddle Quieting Devices, so long as dad remembered to return them to the charger during the dreaded nap-time.

My favorite time.

And, not because I get some much needed “alone time”, but because those are the times I, too, get to sleep before my next graveyard shift. I’m still getting about as much sleep during the work week as I used to get in two average nights, but that has become an accepted new-normal.

Yes; admittedly, there are moments that produce stress fractures in my stoic façade which summon abrupt, poorly thought-out responses to both major and minor annoyances and/or inconveniences. I’m human. A fact never clearer than when reflected in the innocence of your children, responding to their own struggles in a manner they’ve methodically crafted in your image. For better or worse, they take on characteristics forged by example so much faster than those laid out in instruction, spitting in the face of “Do as I say, not as I do”. In many ways, they are the truest reflection of who you truly are. A struggling adult trying desperately to keep his $#!% together. And that thought is the bridge to the title of this post: Mindfulness.

Mindfulness: “…the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” (Definition courtesy of Mindful.org)

In parenting terms, it’s not allowing the stresses of day-to-day living to cause you to lose sight of the beauty and joy of the experience of watching your children explore the world with untarnished, non-cynical eyes with all of its vast opportunities available to them.

Or, put another way: The ability to put up with incessant noise, complaining, and neediness for hours-on-end, without losing your mind.

It’s not new, although it has recently seen a tremendous uptick in popularity. I am not the inventor of the concepts and practices of Mindfulness or the author of a single one of its thousands of supporting texts, manuscripts, blogs, or medical journals, praising the effects and benefits of the daily practice of Mindfulness.

To demystify the term, to the extent of my understanding, it is the simple practice of taking a few minutes out of each day to sit quietly and silence the “ego” (inner-monologue) and inner-critic. To let go of the million and one thoughts being juggled, needlessly creating stress, anger, anxiety and depression. It’s the practice of bringing your mind inward to the physical space you’re occupying in that present moment, focusing on what the body is doing as you breathe in a deliberate, conscious breath, noticing the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen as you consciously exhale. As thoughts begin to re-enter your mind, acknowledging them, labeling them, and then drawing your attention gently back to the breath.

It’s the practice of being present in the moment and taking the fangs out of the voices in your head.

I’m not going to get into the specific how-to or why-to of Mindfulness Meditation, because there are a lot of free resources available from far more qualified writers who have already done the research and produced those types of guides. What I am going to suggest is this: The book, “10% Happier”, by Dan Harris, has an accurate and realistic title. There is no magic pill; No pseudo-scientific key to happiness and fulfillment; No spiritual enlightenment or philosophical self-awakening.  It is simply the act of silencing an over-active mind for a few minutes a day to gain some much needed perspective and reorder priorities. Letting go of the little annoyances you can’t control or change and allowing your mind to be a casual observer of itself, just long enough to get a sense of what’s gnawing at you, weighing you down, and robbing you of your happiness at that moment. Allowing your mind to take a break from the 24/7/365 juggling act and your body to systematically relax the areas where you tend to carry stress.

I promise you it will help you stay more present with your children; Teach you to respond rather than react to outside annoyances and inconveniences; Obtain more restful sleep during the short opportunities you have to do so; And, help you feel less overwhelmed. That is it. I’m not claiming any of the additional thousand +/- benefits claimed by scientific study, philosophers, or religious practitioners, who use it to become one with (fill in the blank), attain spiritual enlightenment or transcendence, etc., etc.

It helps me relax and reset for 10 minutes a day, which helps me feel about 10% calmer and happier throughout the remaining 23 hours and 50 minutes of the day.

And, it’s a much safer and healthier alternative to alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and, this should go without saying, drugs.

 

Continue…

The Big 2

May 3rd, 2016, at 7:08 and 7:09 P.M. That was the exact moment in time my boys entered the world, and there is no gift I can give them that could compare to the gift they gave me. You see, one more week marks six months since we entered each other’s lives, for, what I can only pray will soon become permanent.  Six months of fatherhood; Six months of memories, many of which have been some of my best; Six months of feeling terrified by the question of whether or not I’m going to be enough for them and be able to give them the lives they deserve.

The childhood they deserve.

The love, discipline, and instruction they will take into manhood.

A lot of weeks have felt more like a trudge against waves of exhaustion, than a triumphant victory march toward the winners circle. But, a trudge I have thoroughly enjoyed, and, after six long months that have gone by way too fast, I have never felt more at peace with where we have arrived together. As a family.

My family.

Me and my boys, their new grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, and, of course, friends. So, today, I would like to write them the birthday message they can’t yet understand:

My beautiful boys,

It’s hard to imagine a time before you and the thought of living without you brings almost crippling fear and anxiety that I struggle to find words to describe. We have been on a roller-coaster ride of emotional turbulence for some time together. I hate that you can’t share your feelings with me, or talk about the dreams that wake you up in tears, from time-to-time. I wish there was something more I could do to comfort you. The thought of you feeling any sense of abandonment or hurt, is the hardest part of being your dad. But, even the hardest part of being your dad would be a million times better than the easiest part of losing you. I can’t wait until those fears have been alleviated through the process of adoption, and all I’m left with are my wishes and intentions for your future.

Those wishes are, simply put, that you grow up to be honorable men, who always put each other’s needs ahead of your own. That you always have each other to lean on, even after I’m gone. That you remain the one true constant for each other that you have been since the moment of your shared birth.

You are two now; I don’t want you to have to grow up a second faster than you are, because the adults in your life aren’t sheltering you from the storm, into which you were born. Watching you run through the grass and throw sticks, just to see how far they go, is what I want for you, right now. Eventually, you will carry responsibilities, and it will be my job to prepare you for that. But, for now, your job is to run and play, laugh and get dirty, splash in puddles wearing rubber galoshes… Or, your best dress shoes. Because whatever you can destroy through the process of being two, is only material and can be replaced. There is nothing you can spill, rip, smash or stain that could ever make me love you less, and nothing that can be bought that could ever make me love you more. You are perfectly imperfect and that’s all you need to be.

I am so proud of you and amazed at how much you’ve both grown in such a short time. It’s exciting watching you try out new words, and I will try my best to make sure the words you learn from me are ALL okay for you to use. I hope you never learn the definition of a double-standard from watching me. Thank you both for your grace with me, and your patience as I learn how to do this whole parenting thing as a single man. There are so many great things I received from my mother, your grandmother, that I will likely fall short on providing for you. But, I spent the first six years of my life without a dad, and I hope I can, at least to some extent, make up for it by being a dad and a positive male role-model for you.  And, I promise to make sure you never have a boo-boo unkissed, a tear unwiped, or a need unmet.

Your laughter is the first thing I wake up to and your diapers, the first smell. Thank you for bringing both into my quiet, clean house, and for making it your home.

I love you to the moon and back!

Always and forever,

Dad

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BOYS!

Continue…

Easy Silence

This morning, after cleaning pancake syrup from the various nooks and crannies of a pair of highchairs, of which there are many, I moved to the bathroom and worked up a lather of shaving soap and began to strip away a three day scruff. Looking down, two toddlers stood pantomiming the process in wide-eyed wonderment. I took the brush and painted their little faces to match my own.

In the background, Easy Silence by The Dixie Chicks emerged from a lengthy shuffled playlist, with the words, “Children lose their youth too soon. Watching war made us immune. I’ve got all the world to lose. But I just want to hold on to the easy silence you create for me. It’s okay when there’s nothing left to say to me. And the peaceful quiet you create for me. And the way you keep the world at bay for me.”

Why, you might ask, would a man have a song like this in his playlist? I’ll tell you why. Years back when I was engaged to the only woman I’ve ever truly been in love with, she shared this song with me. Telling me that this was what she felt I made for her. That I was the eye of her storm. Her place of refuge and safety. But circumstances being what they were, I think I eventually became the storm and drove her to seek refuge elsewhere.

Years later, when we got back together, she told me that I never stopped making her feel safe, we had just moved in different directions. How true that statement has become. But now, standing in the bathroom with two small children, the three of us looking like we’d just entered a pie eating contest, I began to realize the simplicity of the lyrics and wonder, How do I protect these boys from the raging storms of life, while preparing them for it?

You see, as a single man, I have been blessed with an ability to create whatever I wanted out of life. If I set my mind to it, I could do or be whatever I wanted to be…within reason, of course. But, as a parent, going about the task of parenting alone, I have discovered that, while it is possible, it has consumed every minute of the day and drained me of every ounce of energy. And still, some days are better than others.

That is not to say that I regret my decision. Just the opposite, in fact. Every day I spend with these boys strengthens our bond and fills me with purpose. It’s just that everything that is involved in caring for children is a whole lot more than my imagination could have prepared me for. Even as I write this, I’m reminded of the constant cloud of fear I’m surrounded by, listening to the congested coughs in the next room over, preventing the boys from obtaining the restful sleep they so desperately need. Wondering if I’m doing enough to help them recover and prevent it from developing into a worsening condition. Worrying about whether or not I’m giving them the nutrition their bodies need to grow, if I’m doing enough to prepare for their futures, and if the maple syrup I see clinging to strands of blonde hair, while we shave together in the bathroom, makes me a bad parent.

These boys are strong, both physically for their age and emotionally, having dealt with cold, hunger, and abandonment from a young age; yet, they are still babies with their innocence firmly (thankfully) intact. And it is my job to protect that innocence. To be the eye of their storm. Knowing fully, that one day I will have to allow them to step into it and become that for themselves, so that they can be that for their wives and their own children. I know that my job is to prepare them to be that. To grow from strong boys, dependent on others for their care, into strong, dependable men.

And that can only be done through example.

One of my challenges is in the fact that, during the week, much of my parenting is done on between three and five hours of broken sleep. This makes for lessened patience and energy. In addition, I manage a household, one shift of a department during the night, and a real estate career during the day. Something has to give, right? It does. In the following areas: My health, diet, sleep, hobbies, and in socializing with other adults. This won’t always be the case, but, for now, it is absolutely the case. I have lost close to 20 pounds, most of which — anyone who knows me would say — is weight I can’t afford to lose. This is partly because I feed the boys and eat what is left over and partly because I have no time to hit the gym. I also spend most weekends at home alone with the boys. We try to get out and do things as much as we can, but after going on almost a full month of fighting coughs, colds, and the flu, most of our time together has been spent indoors. Where my weekends used to be golfing and riding motorcycles, now they are spent wiping faces and places. I feel fortunate to say that I have friends who have gone out of there way to spend time with me in ways which include my children, but others have not. They are still friends, but this may be a forced separation into two distinct groups: Friendships I continue investing into and friendships that slowly disappear.

Recently, I was forced to reevaluate a number of friendships for an entirely different reason and decide if there was any value in fighting to maintain those relationships. Decidedly, there was not, and my energy has been redirected into things that do still hold value. Such as my remaining friendships, my family — without whom none of this would have been possible — and the various avenues in which I generate income. In time, the gym will factor back in, as will hobbies and alone time, but for now, this is my priority.

All of this is to say the following: Regardless of the energy I have or what may be crashing down on my own head, the image I present in the face of it all, the way I react to circumstances out of my control, and the way I treat the little inconveniences that, on little to no sleep, feel very much like the straw preceding the straw that broke the camel’s back, are what my children see. And what they see shapes who they become. For this reason, I lose not one second of sleep over the friendships I have lost. I simply do not have the energy to worry about anything I cannot directly or indirectly control.

This willingness to abandon control over that which is out of my control, along with the emotional and mental fallout which that abandonment has surely brought, is the only way I can effectively control my own behavior; And in turn, teach my boys how to control their own behavior. All that we cannot control represents the storm around us. What is left either becomes the storm or is quieted through willful, careful, and concerted effort that is made to appear effortless to those in proximity to you.

Here is an example to illustrate my point. When I was learning to pilot an airplane, how much control do you think I had over my environment and circumstances? I wasn’t causing the plane to fly. I barely understood what was keeping the damn thing in the air. Something about air moving at different speeds over a foil creating lift, etc., but, what little I did control, was the difference between success and failure, flying and falling, literally, the difference between life and death. My passengers, once I became licensed, sat in complete confidence in my ability to take off, navigate, and land the craft they had willingly strapped themselves into. But my efforts were not what made those things happen. I merely exerted minimal inputs which translated into a response from a much larger force. I managed the systems necessary for this object to defy gravity and to function according to the laws of aerodynamics. And, since I’m writing about it, you can safely assume that I managed to do this successfully.

Someday, when my children are managing the empire we have amassed, however large or small, you can bet it will be due to the abandonment of what cannot be controlled and the management of what can. The intentional choice to manage and influence that which is in your control and abandon that which is not is the beginning of personal power. Only when you can manage the storms that rage internally, can you have any positive influence over the storms that rage externally.

In conclusion, the answer to the question I raised earlier is, simply put, I can’t. Not perfectly anyway. But parenting, I’ve learned, is at least in part, managing to remain consistent in the face of a million tiny successes and failures. Finding a balance between protecting and instructing children, helping them navigate through life, leading them by their tiny hands until they learn to do so on there own. And then pray they can find their own way forward from there.

 

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Like A Boss

I believe that a man should manage his life in much the same way he would manage a business; more specifically, a corporation. Gone are the days when a man’s life was run like a ship captain on the open sea, acting and reacting to the perils of hostile waters caused by unforeseen weather patterns. Today’s modern man has to prepare, anticipate, plan, and execute according to his goals and appetites; his needs and the needs of those he is directly or indirectly responsible for. In the spirit of this statement, one could say that I am the CEO, COO and CFO of Me, Inc. I answer to a Board of Directors consisting of two 20 month old boys, who happen also to be majority shareholders, by default, with a vested interest in the successes and failures of their executive leadership. To this end, I am also the janitor, chauffeur, tutor, and chef.

A man without a plan is destined for ruin and a company without leadership will certainly fail. A sole proprietorship has far more latitude in the way it operates. For instance, a sole proprietor may choose to take a sick day, just because. He may choose to commingle funds from his business account with his personal account. He may choose to sell a company asset to pay for a new toy, and while any of these practices may be considered poor business management, there is no accountability for these actions beyond their impact to the individual’s bottom line. In a corporate structure, an individual commingling funds between accounts may very well be guilty of embezzlement and any action he takes is strictly scrutinized by a Board of Directors. He is held absolutely accountable for his actions by his shareholders, to say nothing of the IRS and SEC, etc., who are tasked with corporate oversight and accountability.

In the world of business, I have always had my act together commensurate to my positioning on the arc of a very steep learning curve, but on a personal level, discipline has lacked in the areas of personal finances, diet and exercise, and housekeeping. Put another way, as a business professional, I handled my affairs like a boss. In my personal life, I handled my affairs like a man with six months left to live, who would certainly be outlived by the consequences of his poor planning and decision making. This reality was a force to be reckoned with, once confronted with the responsibility of raising children as a single man. Suddenly, it wasn’t just my health effected by the dietary choices I was making; it wasn’t just my money I was accountable for managing; it wasn’t just the cleanliness of my home I was responsible for maintaining. Most importantly, it wasn’t just me who was privy to the undisciplined example I was setting. But, like all challenges in life, they bring about much needed change in individual areas of weakness, complacency, and procrastination. This has been no exception.

I feel fortunate to have developed the practice, early in life, of seeking out information that interested me and implementing it until it perpetrated lasting effect on my actions, and, eventually, my habits. This constant reinvention has allowed me to shape and mold my life into the image I’ve created, both internally and externally apparent. Recently, this practice has forced me down the path of transforming my personal life until it reflected my business life and, as a result, my personal finances are now budgeted out twelve months in advance, planning for bills, everyday spending needs, goals, and periodic responsibilities. It has also forced me down a road toward eliminating debt and becoming self-insured, rather than credit-dependent, in the event of an unforeseen financial crisis. I now have a plan for funding goals exceeding one year, out as far as five, ten, and twenty years. Why? Because the well-being of my children cannot be contingent upon the fickle and unstable nature of the economic climate or political landscape as it relates to my current professional life. If left to chance, I will have made very little provision for retirement or the creation of net worth, let alone wealth and self-sufficiency.  In short, I will have provided no legacy for my children.

Of all the things a man should seek to provide for his children, legacy should be chief amongst them. In this way, a boy learns what it means to become a man and put away childish things. Without legacy, what influence does a man have when presenting the importance of education — financial and social intelligence, manners and gentlemanly conduct, integrity and work ethic — to his children? In the absence of such things reflected in their example of a man, there is very little in the way of contrast for a boy to challenge the short-term appeal of professional snow sports, booze, and promiscuity (for example). In the absence of these things, “Do as I say, not as I do,” simply does not carry any weight.

In stark contrast to the way people shy away from doing business with a crooked enterprise, children grow up to model whatever standard has been upheld during their development with very little exception; although, exceptions do exist, in both positive and negative examples. But leaving this to chance is a wager a foolish man makes on the future of his legacy and the advantages he can hope to provide to his children. A wise man forecasts, prepares, and implements disciplined effort in the execution of his plan, adjusting where needed along the way, and then teaches his children how to do the same through instruction and example. Giving them a clear picture of what to emulate and what to root out. Of equal importance, giving them the tools necessary to emulate that example.  Tools that are smelted in the forge of self-discipline, delayed gratification, and personal sacrifice.

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For My Boys

First and foremost, you need to know that I love you. Everything else pales in comparison to the joy of having you in my life. Second, you need to know that Gladiator is the best movie ever created. Followed closely by Brave Heart and the Godfather Trilogy.

Now, with the important things out of the way, you should spend your life in pursuit of one goal: To exemplify manliness in all it’s forms. Not just to be a good man, but to be good at being a man. In pursuit of this goal, I have gathered mentors and teachers, devoured literature in every form, and spent my life refining my character through a battlefield of internal conflict and insecurities.

“Vincit qui se vincit” is a Latin phrase which means, “He conquers who conquers himself.” You are what you are, right now. The past is vanity and the future is yet unwritten. A life is not defined by one mistake, but by what one does in light of his mistakes. Be men of action. Mindlessly drifting through complex thought has its place in philosophy and self-discovery, but action rules the day in the battle for self-mastery. You are the sum of your actions, not your intentions. Be mindful, however, of your thoughts, for they will surely become the fodder for the canon of your actions.

I have waded through the thoughts and actions of great men, both known and unknown by the fickle mistress that is fame. My life has been a refinement of these thoughts and the development of my own, and I have put together this text which, for me, has proven to be true to life. Much of the following text will be famous quotes interlaced with my own, far less famous thoughts. Read these, but decide what is true for you. You are your own men.

Lastly, there are three traits I despise in a man. None of which are deserving of respect: Dishonesty, Complacency, and Laziness. All three make for useless men; all three will destroy your chances of moving through life without victimizing others or becoming victims yourselves.

And you are not being raised to be victims.

Personal responsibility

An act of kindness is better than a thousand heads bowed in prayer. I believe in God but not in the notion that God is walking you through this life on a plus/minus system, waiting to reward or punish you based upon how good or bad you’ve been. I believe there are natural consequences, both good and bad, for the decisions you make and the actions you take or do not take. I believe there is a devil, and that devil should know your name and fear you. Never debase yourself to the place where organized religion lives. The place where God is responsible for everything good in your life, and the devil for everything bad. This idiocy is devoid of personal responsibility. If you can not take responsibility for your own decisions when the result of those decisions are negative, then you will never be able to take joy in your own successes, both large and small. Believe that everything is your fault. Bad things happen and it is your job to overcome them. Above all else, avoid entitlements. The world owes you nothing, boys. If you want something, take it. Use every legal means at your disposal, but go after everything the world tells you you can’t have. Remember to always play the hand you were dealt like it is the hand you wanted.

Trust

Be weary of the religious man, who cloaks his intentions with the veil of “God’s Will”. Often times, these are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They disarm you, and take no responsibility for the wake of devastation they leave behind. Guard your thoughts and tell no one what you are thinking. When you pray, pray silently. The devil can hear your prayers too, and he doesn’t always appear wearing horns and a pitchfork. Often times, he presents himself as everything you have ever wanted. Be cautious of generosity and the free lunch. People are not against you, but they are for themselves. To this end, choose your friends wisely. Better to have four quarters than a hundred pennies. Know that sometimes the person you would take a bullet for can end up being the one holding the gun.

There are five things that are difficult to get back: A stone after it’s thrown, a word after it’s spoken, an occasion after it’s missed, time after it’s gone, but the most difficult of all is trust after it’s lost. A man’s trust is a valuable thing. If a person cannot be trusted, they have no use. Be men of your word. Your word is truly the only thing that is all yours alone.

Self-reliance

Never change yourself to make someone else happy and never engage in conflict that is not your own. A lion does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep.

Never help anyone who does not want it. It will be used against you. Trust me on this. Pay little attention to the opinions of others. Remember, you will never reach your destination if you stop to throw stones at every barking dog. When you care about what others think, you become their prisoner.

Don’t waste words on people who deserve your silence. Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all. Train your mind to be calm in every situation and never raise your voice. Instead, improve your argument. Become a master at setting healthy boundaries and learn how to say “no” without feeling the need to explain yourself.

Stop being distracted by the things that do not bring you closer to your goal, whatever that goal may be. Some people will choose to hate you. Make sure it’s because hating you is easier than beating you.

Get off social media. It serves as a soapbox for the ignorant. Successful people do not waste time worrying about what other people are doing. Stop explaining yourself. People only understand from their level of perception. Do not compare yourselves to others. Things are seldom as they seem. To live for the approval of others is the lowest form of human existence. Said another way, if you live for the praises of men, you will die by their criticisms.

Don’t ever let the same person waste your time twice. And never stay committed to a mistake, just because you spent a lot of time making it. Don’t waste time hating people. Either choose to love them, or choose not to care at all. Hate is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Do not waste energy on revenge. To be good at revenge takes sacrificing your conscience, morality, and integrity. Instead, move on. Indifference is often far more effective at twisting the knife than retaliation.

Outside events have no power over you unless you give them power by allowing them to occupy your mind. Rather, we create our own reality through our own perception. The choice for how you respond is always up to you. Will logic or emotion prevail? When you cannot control what’s happening, control how you respond to what’s happening. That is where your power lies.

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. Remember this: A mistake that is made more than once is a decision. When somebody shows you their true colors, believe them the first time.

Live life as though it were rigged in your favor.

Read every day, but at some point it will be time to stop reading other people’s books and start writing your own. Today is always the day. Don’t put off starting your life for some later time or event. The world is changed by your example, not by your opinions. At any moment you have the power to say, “This is not how this story is going to end.”

Cancel out negative thoughts; not with positive ones, which serve only to draw attention to what you lack, but with productive ones. Focusing on positive thought is, in itself, a negative experience and embracing negative experiences is, in itself, a positive experience.

Relationships

The most important thing I can tell you on the subject of relationships is this: You teach people how to treat you, based upon the things you are willing to tolerate. Disrespect should never be one of them. Consequently, your happiness should never depend upon someone else. Very little is needed to be happy, everything you need is already within you. Within the quality of your thoughts. If someone treats you like an option, help them narrow their choices by removing yourselves from the equation.

Remember that apologizing doesn’t always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. Sometimes a relationship has more value than your ego. It’s okay to choose to disagree. People are entitled to their own opinions, and you don’t want to surround yourself with drones. Men sharpen men through conflict. Value this truth and never be afraid as a reasonable, thinking person to re-evaluate your own opinions when presented with new information. Avoid taking too strong a position. Instead, listen to everything, evaluate the information, and make a decision, giving yourself enough room in your decision to adjust accordingly to unforeseen circumstances.

When you announce your position, you become a target. Better to stay silent and let your enemies take shots in the darkness of their own ignorance.

Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you into trouble. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. Be careful of men whose words don’t match their actions.

Be an encourager. The world has enough critics already. Never judge another because their sin is different from yours. Remember to be fair. A fish is a brilliant swimmer, but if a fish is judged on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Talk to girls you believe to be out of your league. You might surprise yourselves.

Finally, stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Work

Find your passion and figure out how to get paid for it, but remember: You can’t have a million dollar dream on a minimum wage work ethic. You can either experience the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The choice is yours.

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. Take calculated risks. Be prepared to work and achieve on your own merits; The world doesn’t owe you anything. If you want to be successful, stop asking people for permission and do what you know needs to be done. Success isn’t owned. It is leased, and rent is due every day.

Continuous improvement is always better than delayed perfection. Champions don’t show up to take what they want; they show up to give everything they’ve got. Trophies are won at practice; they are just picked up at competitions.

Always keep your relationships, bank account, and next move private. Your success is a product of your habits. A thousand productive habits done over time is the only way to build lasting success in all aspects of your life.

Learn the art of delayed gratification. Debt is slavery when not used to leverage assets but, instead, used to purchase liabilities. Read The Richest Man In Babylon and start paying yourself first. Then give every dollar you earn a job. Your money works for you, not the other way around.

Be a boss. If you cannot climb to the top of your chosen corporate ladder, design and build a better ladder. Then own the view.

Character

Consistency, loyalty, and respect. Pursue these things. Be strong; not rude. Be Confident; not arrogant. Be kind; not weak. Be humble; not timid. Be patient. It takes six months to build a Rolls Royce and thirteen hours to build a Toyota.

Never speak out of a place of anger, jealousy, hate, insecurity, or ignorance. It is far better to remain silent at these times. How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes? Show people respect, even if they don’t deserve it. Not as a reflection of their character but as a reflection of yours. Take care of others, but remember that sometimes you have to walk away from people. Not because you don’t care, but because they don’t. Never gossip. Ever. Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.

Never let the influences of the modern world dictate your morals and who you are. Protect that which is weaker than you. The measure of a man is not in how he responds to those above him, but in how he treats those who have no power over him or ability to further his interests. Adversity is not the truest test of character; power is. On the subject of power, know this. Obsession with power has been the downfall of many a once moral man. If allowed, its pursuit will poison your mind and destroy your soul. Power should be wielded by those who use it to raise up those around them, not hold them down. If power is used in that way, you should despise it and undermine it at every turn. Unchecked, it becomes tyrannical, building its empire upon the backs of slaves. And in those times, it is your job to fight.

Summary and Final Thoughts

Never hit anyone unless they are an immediate threat. And then hit them to the ground, with enough force to neutralize the threat. No more; no less.

Learn to wet shave. It’s a manly tradition. Shave with the grain on the first pass.

Nothing looks better than a well-tailored suit. A well-tailored suit to a woman is like lingerie to a man.

When you talk to someone, always look them in the eye and greet them with a firm handshake.

Play, lift, run. Use your body every chance you get.

Brush your teeth before you put on your tie. Never wear a clip-on tie.

Pay yourself first. A small amount of your paycheck should always go immediately into your savings account.

If you aren’t confident, fake it. It will come.

You can tell the measure of a man by the things that bother him.

Be conscious of your body language.

Always stand to shake someone’s hand.

Never lend anything you can’t afford to lose.

Ask more than you answer. Everybody likes to talk about themselves.

Keep a change of clothes at the office.

Buy high quality. Buy right; buy once.

Manliness isn’t only the ability to take care of yourselves, but the people around you also.

Go with the decision that will make for a good story.

When you walk, don’t look at your feet. Look straight ahead.

Find your passion and figure out how to get paid for it.

No matter their job or status in life, everyone deserves your respect. Never tolerate disrespect from others. Remember, you teach people how to treat you.

Everything is your fault. Always take personal responsibility. Bad things happen. It’s your job to overcome them.

The first one to get angry loses.

If it needs to be done, do it. Complaining never solved anything.

Never stop learning.

Always go out in public dressed like you’re about to meet the love of your life.

Never change yourself just to make someone else happy, unless that someone is you.

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

Luck favors the prepared.

Women find confidence sexy as hell.

Do whatever you want in life, but be the best at it.

No one dies wishing they spent more time at work. Enjoy your life.

Talk too much and they’ll think you are a fool. Remain silent and they become curious.

Care about what others think and you will become their prisoner.

You will never reach your destination if you stop to throw stones at every dog that barks.

Train your mind to be calm in every situation.

Go after everything you’ve been told you couldn’t have.

A ship is always safe at shore, but that is not what it’s built for.

Don’t waste words on people who deserve your silence. Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all.

A clever person solves problems; a wise one avoids them.

Never take anything for granted.

You earn your trophies at practice. You just pick them up at the competitions.

When you build in silence, people don’t know what to attach.

Never tell people what you’re thinking. Stay low-key. Not everyone needs to know everything about you. Stop telling people more than they need to know.

Dressing well is a form of good manners.

Be careful who you trust. Sometimes the person you’d take a bullet for ends up being the one behind the gun.

You can’t win in life if you are losing in your mind.

No matter what the situation, never let your emotions overpower your intelligence.

Learn to say “No” without explaining yourself.

Live life as though everything was rigged in your favor.

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.

No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future.

Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.

The key to success is playing the hand you were dealt like it’s the hand you wanted.

Ask yourself this question: What would I do today if I knew that I could not fail.

Truth is like surgery. It hurts but it cures. A lie is like a pain killer. It gives temporary relief but has lasting side-effects. The truth is rarely pure and seldom simple.

In order for someone to insult you, you first must value their opinion.

Be selective of who you allow in your world. It is better to have four quarters than a hundred pennies.

Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.

Never beg anyone to be in your life. If you have to, walk away with your self-respect intact.

When someone shows their true colors, believe them the first time.

Trust the journey, even when you don’t understand it.

Don’t judge people because their sin is different from yours.

You are a product of your thoughts. What you think, you become. It all begins and ends in your mind. What you give power to has power over you, if you allow it.

Shape your world or someone else will.

Things always seem impossible until they’re done.

Move on. Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself.

Keep control. Don’t give away your power.

Embrace change. Welcome challenges.

Stay happy. Don’t waste energy on things you can’t control.

Be kind. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone.

Take risks. Take action.

Live in the present. Don’t dwell in the past.

Accept responsibility. Learn from your mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a stepping stone to success.

Enjoy alone time. You spend the most time with yourself. Like the person you are or make changes until you do.

Be prepared to work and achieve on your own merits. The world doesn’t owe you anything.

Have staying power. Don’t expect immediate results.

Evaluate your core beliefs. Modify them as necessary.

Spend your mental energy wisely. Don’t waste time on idle thoughts.

Cancel out negative thoughts. Not with positive ones, but with productive ones.

Learn to tolerate discomfort. Accept your feeling without being controlled by them.

Reflect on your progress. Always be setting new goals.

The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.

Stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

You are responsible for your own happiness.

You set the tone for every relationship by showing people what you will and will not tolerate. Don’t let people take you for granted.

Exist on your own terms.

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An Unexpected Gift

Since I began this journey, I have written posts born out of emotions such as frustration, anger, regret, sadness, etc. But the other night I got to experience something I hadn’t before, and it broke me in a way I haven’t been in years. It was at the Christmas party, put on by Social Services, and contributed towards by members and organizations within our community. Admittedly,  I had reservations about attending. I’m embarrassed to say that I believed these kids were probably run through a line where they received a cheap toy and a cookie; A charade of sorts so that people could throw money at a problem and ease their consciences, without ever needing to dirty their hands with the day-to-day grind of actually helping a child in need. I believed this long before the thought of becoming a foster parent ever crossed my mind. I honestly don’t know where I acquired such an ignorant mindset, and what I found there was anything but what I described above.

For starters, one organization alone had donated $10,000 in gifts. Additionally, others had donated hundreds, and the community contributions through the adopt-a-family program were anything but what my imagination had fabricated. They donated wonderful gifts. Children with nothing were given bikes, action figures, dolls, jackets and shoes, just to name a few. My twins were met with warm faces from different people who had in one way or time been involved in their lives, all excited to see them and watch them open and enjoy their gifts. All of which, by the way, were high quality and purchased by people who wanted nothing more than to light up the eyes on a child’s face. The donor’s names, no where to be found on the packaging. Given anonymously, from a place a true kindness.

As I sat there, grateful I hadn’t shared my cynicism with anyone else and could just choke on my ignorance privately as I watched my own children light up with each gift their names had been hand written on by some caring stranger, a little boy sitting across the table from us said something that broke me on a deeply emotional level.

This boy, no older than five or six years of age, anxiously clamored for my attention. I looked up and met his bright blue eyes, beaming with excitement as he held a batman action-figure and matching bat-mobile. What he said to me next changed my life. He said, “Look at what someone got for me. I didn’t get forgotten.” He grinned from ear-to-ear and added, “This is exactly what I hoped for.”

(I didn’t get forgotten.)

I gotta tell you, if you’ve never seen a grown man cry, that little boy would probably tell you it’s not a good look. As I choked back an audible outburst of emotion, the face of that little boy beginning to blur, I rubbed my eyes and showed more interested in that boy’s gift than I had ever shown for anything in my life. And still, I could not match his excitement. Somebody changed that boys life that day. They made a child feel remembered and loved and that experience changed my life forever. If I could have brought that boy home that night and raised him with my twins, I would have leaped at the opportunity. I wish I had been the person who had taken the time to buy and wrap that gift. I really wish the person who did had gotten to experience the joy on that kids face alongside me.

Before we left, I asked a social worker a few questions and learned about the three full days it took to wrap all those gifts, and prepare this event. I have never felt prouder to be a small part of something so big in my life. Both of my boys received a blanket on the way out that had been handmade by someone who had taken the time to hand-make dozens of them, and I looked once more across a sea of faces. Foster children from infants to early teens, social workers and community members, foster parents and biological parents, all in the same room with one, singular goal in mind: To put a smile on the face of a child. A goal they met with each and every child in attendance.

At the beginning of this text, I began by describing the various emotions that have birthed these posts. This post was birthed purely from the joy on the face of a little blue-eyed boy holding a batman figurine amazed that someone had taken the time to remember him and give him the one toy he’d set his heart on. It was birthed from the shame of my own cynicism. It was birthed from a broken sort of humility, grateful to a community who stepped up for children they may never meet, to put a smile on a face they may never see.

May God bless each and every one of you this Holiday Season.

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Toddler Facts!

While it is widely believed that toddlers are best equipped to survive when in captivity, conventional wisdom suggests that they rarely remain subservient to their captors. When scientists observed a focus group known as parents, over 99.9% reported that at some point in the rearing of toddlers, there had been a drastic shift in the dynamic of power, wherein, the toddler demanded and the parent responded. These responses ranged from preparing meals to the toddler’s liking to wiping fecal matter from the toddler’s behind in an attempt to remove the presence of an offensive odor the toddler neither notices nor minds.

As a result, various books have been produced over the decades written by experts ranging from clergy, wherein shaming said toddlers became the mainstay for parents to guilt their child back into submission, to philosophers. A rare breed of narcissistic navel-gazers who express their feelings in terms of colors. Engaging in full-fledged negotiations with the toddler at his eye level, later to discover they’d been robbed of their inner peace and dignity, left only with the fresh scent of patchouli oil.

While both views have merit in some parallel dimensions, where panda-tear latte’s are served with every meal, there are really no 100% effective methods of re-calibrating the balance of power. Instead, there are a list of truisms that seem to reverberate across the board in this particular focus group. Understanding the facts surrounding toddlers is the first step to gaining insight into their tactics. They are as follows:

  1. Your toddler likely has a close connection with his more primitive animal kingdom counter-part, the monkey. Never is this more evident than at nap time, when placed inside his enclosure, which resembles a prison in every aspect minus a secure ceiling. That singular omission will cost you much of your sleep. The walls of this enclosure are generally polished to a slick sheen; this will slow your toddler, not one bit. The power to weight ratio of a toddler is 6:1. This finite math suggests that, even at full extension, a toddler can lift himself, using his heel as a lever-point, up and over a wall, taller than he, in just under seven seconds. Times vary based upon the weight of the diaper he is wearing at the time of escape. For this reason, it is not advised that you change your toddlers diaper upon request, as it is likely a tactic to lighten his load for a faster escape time and would, otherwise, remain perfectly content to sit in its contents.
  2. If your toddler throws his food, this means he has had enough of your sub-par cooking for one meal. This does not mean he is full, nor does it excuse you from your kitchen duties, as you will now be expected to clean up after him in preparation for his next meal. In addition, never should you think for one second that whatever you were planning on eating that day is suddenly yours. Even if the amount proportioned for your toddler, which was the exact same thing, was just swept from the floor, indistinguishable from what used to be a remote control (or clicker for anyone with a grandtoddler at home). On the contrary, any bite you consume will likely cost you dearly during the negotiation tactic known as The Tantrum. You may choose to ignore this tactic, but this will likely only prolong this tactic indefinitely and annoy you without recourse. More often than not, you will cave like the Minnesota Viking’s stadium lid, sacrificing the majority of your own meal into topping-off your little bottomless pit. For this reason, toddlers are often referred to as America’s #1 diet and exercise program, turning P90X into T24/7X, now available at beachbody.com.
  3. If there is a single dirty spot or item in the house, it will be found and spread across all surfaces, starting with his cleanest shirt and freshly washed hair. From there it will be distributed in the following manner: Dry-clean only fabrics, electronics priced highest to lowest; finally, anything with sentimental value will get what remains. If they can’t find a dirty substance, they will manufacture one. For this reason, many parents have found that keeping a basin of rancid water in a small room at toddler level for easy access is the safest way to control the distribution of toxic waste. In this scenario, the above items will merely be collected and thrown haphazardly inside, making them easy to find and fun to retrieve for the whole family.
  4. Nothing shows off your personal class and sophistication like foam bumpers on the corners of your handmade cherry furniture. Where carefully placed items of value were once displayed, remote controls, cell phones, keys, wallets, open-top beverages, tissue boxes, and various electronic devices now lay. This not only keeps everything of meaning to you in one convenient space, it also motivates your toddler to monkey-climb your shelving to obtain these items. In fact, the simple act of placing an innocuous item, such as a half-drunk, cold cup of coffee on a high shelf, will immediately invalidate whatever distraction you previously gained with the $500 in colored plastic noisemakers, currently strewn across your living room floor. Those are garbage now, and your coffee is suddenly your toddlers sole purpose in life. Put it in a tippie-cup, you say? Go ahead. He won’t want it anymore, and will, instead, occupy his every waking minute focusing on removing the lid.
  5. Disposable income with toddlers will, most definitely, be converted into disposable diapers and wipes. An investment without a return, despite the fact that deposits are made routinely, usually upon the fastening of the final snap of a onesie or the securing of the final strap on a car seat.

The above is not an exhaustive list, by any means. Nor does it offer you a single solution to these problems. If I had the answers to these problems, I would not be writing this blog to you. I would be in robes on a mountain in Tibet. But, solutions aside, the toddler, with his messes and constant need for every ounce of your time and energy, is still, far and away, the most wonderful thing you could ever have your life turned up-side-down for. I have been blessed with two. A CTRL-C, CTRL-V of one another; yet, somehow, completely unique to themselves. Two identical individuals with two sets of needs, wants, and desires.

It makes life fun and sleep scarce. If I were to leave you with one piece of advice it would be this: Your stuff is unimportant and replaceable. The time you spend (jokingly) in servitude to your toddler(s) will quickly be your favorite thing in the world to return from work for. Otherwise, you would just point the nose of your vehicle North and drive until the engine consumes the final drops of fuel in the tank. From there, you would walk further in the same direction until you collapsed in exhaustion.

Then you would crawl.

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