on bedtime routines
July 7, 2014, 3:52 am
Filed under: Stuff | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

it was nearly bedtime and she wasn’t back yet.

i nervously looked at the clock, debated calling, but instead convinced myself i could do this, even if it was a half-hearted effort. Bella was 2 years old. up until this point, her bedtime routine consisted of mom cuddling her until she fell asleep. i had tried a select few times to take on the role, but if my daughter caught wind i was trying to put her to bed to the exclusion of mom, all hell would break loose. you can say i should man up and do my job as a father. you’d probably be right. so that’s what i decided to do that night, more out of necessity than grit and determination. My wife was out with a friend she hadn’t seen in years. i know, right. how selfish of her!

i hummed and hawed and postponed and let the girls stay up later than they should have been until the moment came when i knew i could no longer postpone the inevitable. i could see the look of distrust in her eyes when i carried her to the bedroom. my oldest went to bed in no time. we were visiting grandma and grandpa’s house, and she had played herself out. Bella just sat on her bed and waited, refusing to lay down or close her eyes. refusing to give in to the tyranny and injustice about to happen. refusing to cooperate with her dictator father trying to corrupt her evening routine of mommy snuggles.

the crying started lightly when i firmly told her it was time to sleep. the screaming started when i tried to cuddle with her. not wanting to wake my eldest, i picked up Bella and headed to another room, still determined to make this young person like me, feel safe with me, be willing to give in to something new. the screaming grew louder and more desperate. Bella has a stubborn streak like no other. it will serve her well someday, but as a child…i was at a loss for what to do with this. if you met Bella today, you’d quickly learn this hasn’t changed. some who know her parents would say she comes by that honestly. they would be correct.

i tried cradling her, rocking her, laying her down in a different bed, leaving the room, rubbing her back…with each new effort, the crying intensified until it was a window rattling scream. so i picked her up and as i grew deaf in one ear, walked circles in the dark, at my wits end, wondering why i had been duped into thinking i could care for this little life. i was convinced in that moment she hated me. maybe she did. maybe my own self-esteem was so shattered i just couldn’t see this is part of parenting. but i was doggedly determined even as i felt defeated. i had started this, and i couldn’t quit now.

i kept hoping my wife would walk through the door and rescue myself and Bella as she had in the past, calming the cries of my Bella and allowing me to wallow in self-pity and drown my sorrows in TSN sportscenter.

but she didn’t rescue us this time. the time ticked on, and the crying and screaming intensified. my mother in law came to check on me a few times, making sure i was alive but knowing i needed to do this. she probably wondered what i had done to her precious granddaughter to torment her so. but she knew better than to ask in that moment what was going on.

i started singing. over and over, the same few lines, made up and sung to another popular kids song i stole the tune from.

“I love Bella, yes I do. I love Bella, how about you?
Bella is so beautiful, Bella is so smart.

I love Bella with all my heart.”

it took a long time, what felt like an eternity. in truth it was 1.5 hours. i must have sung those two lines 1000 times in the span of an hour. at first, the impact was not noticeable. slowly, she calmed little by little. it might have been simple exhaustion rather than the song that began to calm her cries. i like to think the latter. either way, the screaming gave way to sobs. the sobs gave way to gentle cries. the gentle cries gave way to deep, heavy breathing. and then she was asleep.

1.5 hours of screaming, crying, hitting and feelings of failure and embarrassment came to a conclusion in this peaceful moment. i was exhausted. tired and grumpy, having shed many tears in that 1.5 hours myself, all i wanted to do was put her down and go to bed myself. but i couldn’t. i just kept staring and holding her, my arms numb from carrying her so long, but feeling closer to her than i ever had. it felt like a battle of wills in which neither of us won, but we both submitted. i gave in to her, not by relinquishing to Missy as I always had, but by not quitting and taking the easy way out, by standing with her in her fear and uncertainty. she gave in to me, realizing i wasn’t going anywhere and that she could be safe in my arms.

she still screams at me sometimes, usually for my dumb jokes and dying when we play Nintendo. but we are close now. something broke that night. she woke the next morning and hugged me like she always had, but it was a longer hug, one that said to me that she trusted me now. maybe it’s all my imagination, but i believe it’s true. i started putting her to bed more often after that. she still didn’t like going to sleep, but now it was not a matter of screaming distrust at her less than present father. it was a matter of stalling your daddy who was wrapped around your little finger. to this day, she will snuggle in close and try to make me play and laugh, postponing bedtime in any way she can. and i’ll usually give in for a little while because i remember the days when to step into mom’s territory would not be so fun and exhilarating. it took one determined battle, but something broke that night. i became a better father. and i’ll never forget the moment. without it, i don’t believe my girl would trust me the way she does now.

the hardest moments in life are often the ones that make you grow the most. my daughters love for me is a testament to that. my love for her will never be any more or less after that night. but it is deeper and i understand fatherhood better than i did before. it gives my a glimpse of what my relationship with God has felt like many times. i kick and scream. i still am. but Abba still holds me, singing that silly verse over and over again because i refuse to believe it. maybe someday, i’ll give in the way my daughter did with me. hopefully sooner rather than later.

my deepest condolences
June 2, 2009, 11:45 pm
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i’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.

someone i am not close to, but knew from way back, lost their 3 year old son to cancer a few days ago. i cannot comprehend what that would feel like. some people can, but i can’t. my wife lost her younger brother when she was 8 years old. he was 5. 5 years old. 3 years old. in these moments there are no answers. a young child. so innocent. so naive. so beautiful. and life is gone. there is nothing you can say. nothing you can do. no right way to feel. no possible way to move forward. in all that happens in this crazy messed up world, there is not much that shakes me as much as the death of a child. it is one of the few moments where i really wonder, “where are you, God?” 

i went home after finding out about this and found my wife and daughters had gone for a walk. i knew where they would be, so i hopped in my car and made the short drive down to the park, where they go every day the weather will allow. most days, i would go home and sit in the quiet, maybe read or play online poker until they got back, but today i needed to see them. my heart lit up at the sight of my daughter running back and forth from the bottom of the slide to the top. before i even got out of the car, i could hear her laughing. i made the short walk over and as our eyes met, she yelled ‘DADDY! i’m so glad to see you.’ and there was nothing she could have said that would have sounded better than that. i kissed my wife and knelt down to see my other daughter asleep in the stroller, her deep and heavy breath fighting through the summer heat. she was at peace, and as i felt that breath as i leaned down to kiss her, i was so thankful. images-2makena had never flown a kite before, and so i drove home to get her kite as the wind had picked up. i knew she would love it. she is always so adventurous, so excited to try new things. flying that kite was easy as anything that day, as the wind would pick it right up off the ground and take it wherever it wanted. any other day, i would have held the string tightly as makena held the handle, to ensure it didn’t blow away. and i did for a minute, but gave up soon as i realized it stopped me from being able to watch her. and so i let go and watched. i watched her run with the wind blowing her hair into her mouth and the kite going higher and higher. i knew she wouldn’t be able to hold on if the string got out too far, but it didn’t matter. because she was so happy. so alive. and i needed alive in that moment. because death is terrifying. and a 3 year old boy had died that day. and i was wondering where God was. and i needed to see life. sure enough, she let go and the kite went soaring across the field and into an old ladies house. the string was tangled in her tree, and she was annoyed, but i didn’t care. i know that makes me a rude neighbor, but my daughter was so happy in that moment, i didn’t care. i needed to see her alive. and i hope i don’t sound heartless, speaking of a moment with my daughters that will forever remain with me while someone else has lost someone so dear to them. because it breaks my heart to know the pain they are going through. i just so badly needed to see some beauty in that moment of feeling totally broken and helpless. because if that did happen to my daughters…i would be lost. i wouldn’t know what to do. 

life isn’t fair. and someone can be alive one moment. and they might be gone the next. and we feel powerless. we feel hopeless to control the steady march towards death. most days we manage to ignore it. we push it beneath the surface and pretend we are invincible. we pretend time will never catch up with us. and then a 3 year old dies. and time stops. and we wonder, “where are you, God?” and that’s okay. it’s okay to ask those questions. i have to believe that God is okay with that. if i really wanted to be cliche, i could tell you the story of the footprints on the beach. or i could call up this distant acquaintance who just lost their 3 year old, and tell them, ‘he’s in a better place, now.’ that might be true, but i think those christian cliches mean little in the face of tragedy. but i do believe God is with us in the midst of that pain, stupid footprints story or not. and so if, God forbid, i ever lose someone the way these people have, please don’t hit me with christian cliches. because i might punch you. right in the mouth. because i am wondering today where God is in the death of a 3 year old, and i don’t have an answer. and neither do you. i can’t see him. i can’t understand why he let’s this happen. and i’m angry. and trivial words spoken with positive intentions can’t stop the pain of those who have lose someone. but i believe God can. and i believe he is there in the wreckage of life. and as people on this broken earth, we can’t offer much.

but we can sit. and wade through the pain alongside them in silence.

gus and the flower
April 30, 2009, 8:25 pm
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for hallowe’en a couple years ago, we bought our daughter a skull on a stick. before you call child protection services, i’m not trying to get my daughter to be fascinated with death. she picked it, out of all the hallowe’en toys. and while we thought it strange that a 1 and 1/2 year old would want a skull, we bought it for her anyway. she loved it. she would take it to bed with her, in the car, in the bathtub…it was her sidekick. she could speak fairly clearly at this point, but for some reason she couldn’t pronounce ‘skull’ properly. she kept calling it ‘gus’, and so to this day when she sees a skull, she calls it ‘gus’.

3076_165994730410_857240410_6676519_2495433_n2i got a tattoo the other day, a huge skull with a rose growing out of its mouth. i thought i looked pretty tough. who wouldn’t be intimidated by someone with a skull tattoo? i know i am, even though i have one. they pretty much scream out, ‘i will kill you if you make eye contact with me’. not that i am stereotyping people with tattoos at all. i mean, they are all lowlifes and sinners, but other than that…so i felt pretty tough with my new forearm tattoo. nobody had better mess with me, because my skull tattoo has given me power beyond measure. until i got home…

my daughter ran up to me and said, ‘oh look, it’s gus and the flower.’ 

that took some of the steam out of my toughness train. what looked really tough at one point now reminded me of springtime blooming and my old school bus driver. i don’t think he was named gus, but he reminds me of what a gus should look like.

tattoos tell stories. and while you might not understand why someone would desecrate their body so, every tattoo tells you something that’s beneath the surface. something deeper in this person’s heart and soul. sadly, too many people’s souls are filled with weird tribal art that means nothing to them, but other than that…

i got my first tattoo the day i turned 18. i had just graduated. i made the appointment months in advance in anticipation of this day. my parents were strongly opposed, so i knew i needed to stay in cognito on this quest towards tattoodom. the design was brilliant…or so i thought at the time. it was a bat logo from a band that i loved. AFI… afi-badges-s1i still stand behind the fact that they were a great band, and maybe still are. not really my cup of tea anymore. but it is a pretty dumb tattoo if you simply judge it by its appearance between my shoulder blades. but if you look deeper, it describes a huge part of my life. music. cheesy pop punk riffs that made me feel like i mattered on some level, like nothing had before. traveling to see bands like AFI, deathbystereo, Good Riddance, Layaway Plan, Choke, Moneen, Face to Face, Gob, etc…these bands were what i lived for. it is where my greatest friendships were formed. not sleeping for 40 hours straight in order to follow a band (death by stereo) through the prairies. cramming 15 bodies into a 4 person hotel room the night before warped tour in minneapolis. eating gravy with the loaf of bread i stole from home in grafton, nd because i had no money to buy food, but poured what i did have into gas money to go to a show. 341 productions. the old fire hall. goodsampark and means split tapes. the adrenaline of hearing the perfect beat. the smiles on the faces of those moshing/dancing/whatever you want to call it. music is where God found me, or where I found God, depending on how you look at it. it’s where i grew. it’s where i matured (somewhat). music was everything to me, and still is to a certain extent. and so this dumb little bat tattoo that resembled my crush on davey havoc’s (lead singer) great singing intertwined with gut wrenching screams looks stupid. but it resembles so much more. it resembles a time in my life that shaped me into who i am today. a time of pure joy. a time where i found real joy and purpose in life.

and so now i look at my new tattoo and don’t really miss the tough guy feeling i had. i simply smile when thinking of my daughter’s beautiful face and the excitement with her declaration of my gus and the flower tattoo. because it’s not what the tattoo looks like that’s really important. it’s what’s behind it. it’s where the meaning is found. i’ll take that beautiful image any day over intimidating old ladies in the grocery store.

although, maybe i can still do both…

‘move over grandma, that’s my last package of farmer sausage. i have a skull tattoo.’