Family Observations

Coordinating ambitions and abilities

A barely controlled, continuous stumble might be the best description of my son’s exit from the house as he went to meet the school bus one recent morning. Somehow he managed to make the momentary adjustments to his center of gravity necessary to maintain an upright position.

The school bus passes our house, then turns around to come back and pick up the children. When the bus passes, he still has plenty of time to make it out to the street before the bus returns. The problem is when he feels hurried, most of the coordination leaves his body. When that happens, gravity is not his friend.

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Volume 7, Issue 4, Posted 9:09 AM, 02.17.2015

Helicopter parent or slacker dad?

According to Merriam-Webster, the term “helicopter parent” was coined in 1989. Helicopter parents demonstrate an overprotective or excessive interest in the lives of their children. No one wants to be a helicopter parent. If you doubt that, go to the next PTA meeting, and ask one of the parents if they think they are a helicopter parent.

Then run.  

The question is: what constitutes overprotective or excessive? Some people are fortunate enough to have a toddler to whom they can give a box of blocks, and the little guy will happily entertain himself for hours. Others have toddlers that will ignore the blocks and go on a quest for something more dangerous. My son was the latter type. 

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Volume 7, Issue 3, Posted 9:40 AM, 02.03.2015

The adventure of a mutt

“A designer what?” I asked my wife who was telling me about the puppy our friends brought home shortly after we had adopted our dog.

“A labradoodle is a designer dog,” she explained.

I remembered designer jeans from the 1980s. Those were a terrible idea. I wondered if a designer dog was an equally bad idea.

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Volume 7, Issue 2, Posted 9:53 AM, 01.20.2015

Christmas Plague of 2014

The sound of coughing began to fill our house on the Saturday before Christmas. My son had caught one of plethora of viruses that was passed from child to child at school the week before. When I returned from church Sunday afternoon, he was sitting at the kitchen counter in his bathrobe, hunched over a glass of fruit juice.  

“How are you feeling, little guy?” I asked. 

“I’m sick,” he replied, stating the obvious. 

There was no question about it. He truly was sick. If it had been a Sunday night before a school day, I might have examined him more closely. Those who have school-aged children are no doubt familiar with the end-of-the-weekend virus that strikes Sunday evening, and is miraculously healed by noon on Monday. It is a virus that is almost never accompanied by a fever, so the rule is, only when a fever is present is it cause for sleeping in Monday morning. 

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Volume 7, Issue 1, Posted 9:50 AM, 01.06.2015

Santa, then and now

The Santa Letter was a magical thing when I was a child. The rule that he had set at my house was you could ask Santa for one thing. That meant you had to be very careful to make sure it was the one thing you most wanted. No one would ask for a new coat, or a sweater. That was the kind of stuff your parents or grandparents would get you. That was the stuff you needed, not the stuff you wanted. The Santa Letter had to request that one toy that would make your life complete.

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Volume 6, Issue 25, Posted 9:36 AM, 12.09.2014

Learning New Methods

“Dad, can I have some help with math?” asked my son. 

I love it when my children ask for help. It lets me know that I am not like that old computer that is sitting in the basement, waiting to go to recycling. I do not want my children to think that I need to be taken to recycling just yet. 

“Sure,” I said, sitting down next to him. My son was in third grade, so his math should have posed no challenge. He was holding his head in his hand, staring at a sheet of numbers. 

“Let’s get started,” I said, trying to sound as excited as I would be if we were working on discovering the equation for the Theory of Everything. To my surprise, he started drawing a series of boxes with diagonal lines. 

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Volume 6, Issue 24, Posted 10:04 AM, 11.25.2014

Enough for everyone

“I can’t find the brownie mix,” my son called from the kitchen. He wanted brownies and decided he would make them himself. I was proud of his initiative. 

“There are two boxes in the cabinet above the coffee maker,” responded my wife. 

A few seconds later he called back, “They are not there.” 

My wife knows that children are incapable of looking behind the front row of groceries in the cabinet or refrigerator, which is why you always have to put the full gallon of milk behind the nearly empty container. If you do not, your refrigerator will soon be filled with nearly empty milk containers. “I put them in there yesterday. They might be behind something.”   

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Volume 6, Issue 23, Posted 9:54 AM, 11.11.2014

Dining Out

I took my son out to eat, and he actually enjoyed it.  I do not mean that I took him for a chicken nugget meal, or a double cheeseburger at his favorite fast food restaurant. We went to a restaurant with no drive-up window. It was a restaurant where you sit down, someone takes your order, then returns some time later with your meal.

When we arrived at the restaurant we were told it would be 20 minutes before they could seat us. For a moment I had a PTSD response. The last time we had to wait to be seated the whole family was out. There was bickering, and tears, and looks from other adults without children that said, "Why can't you control those children?" Granted, that was several years ago, but at that moment, it felt like yesterday.

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Volume 6, Issue 22, Posted 9:37 AM, 10.28.2014

Fashion Choices

There was a time when I was a slave to fashion. Something happened during my freshman year of high school. Jeans and T-shirts were no longer enough.

My high school years were in the decade of Miami Vice. I had a closet filled with linen and 100 percent cotton pants, shirts and jackets. This drove my mother crazy until she decided that if I wanted to wear cotton and linen I had to iron my own clothes. It was a small sacrifice in my mind. I could walk down the halls at school and everyone would notice my impeccable taste.

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Volume 6, Issue 21, Posted 10:01 AM, 10.14.2014

Morning Routine

When Benjamin Franklin rose in the morning, he would wash, address the “Powerful Goodness,” and ask himself, “What good shall I do this day?”

The author P.G. Wodehouse would immediately go to his back porch to exercise, then make his breakfast. While he ate, he would read an adventure or mystery novel.

Other than being successful in their fields, these two men had something in common. Children were not part of their morning routines. If children are part of your morning routine, either Wodehouse’s or Franklin’s routine might sound like heaven, even if Franklin did rise at 5 a.m. every morning.

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Volume 6, Issue 20, Posted 9:54 AM, 09.30.2014

College Prep

“Where do you want to go to college?” I remember people asking me this question when I was a junior in high school. I had a couple of ideas, but I was not quite sure. I was very surprised when people started asking my daughter the same question when she was in eighth grade. She had not given much thought to what she wanted for lunch. How could she be expected to know where she wanted to go to college?

When she said she was not sure, she would often get the response, “You need to start thinking about it. It is not too early to start building your resume.” Every time she mentioned an activity she was involved with, people would evaluate it in terms of how it would look on a college application.

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Volume 6, Issue 19, Posted 10:02 AM, 09.16.2014

I'm Not Cool

I am not cool. If you have children over the age of 12, you know that it is impossible to be cool after you have children. They will remind you of this if you try to act like you are cool. 

I have come to this realization through a number of observations. One of the signs that I am not cool is that I talk on my cell phone. If you removed the function that allows you to carry on an actual conversation from the cell phone of most teens, it might be months before they discovered they could not talk to someone. Your cell phone is for texting, taking selfies, getting online, tweeting, or anything other than talking.

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Volume 6, Issue 18, Posted 9:51 AM, 09.03.2014

Lawn Care

"What's wrong with dandelions?" began a post I made to Facebook extolling the virtues of this miracle plant. They grow well in most soil types, are drought resistant, have lovely blooms, and are even edible. If I could create a hybrid that did as well as the dandelion, I would be rich.

All of that was intended to be to tongue-in-cheek, yet the photos of yards, white with dandelions gone to seed, explaining, "This is what's wrong with dandelions," let me know my humor had struck some raw nerves.

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Volume 6, Issue 17, Posted 9:50 AM, 08.19.2014

Your child is gifted

"My child is gifted." This phrase was repeated by a number of people at an informational meeting for parents of children entering a new school. If my memory is correct, the first question asked was: "My child is gifted. When will we know about her placement in classes?" 

Of course, not every child met the district standards for "gifted", so other parents had to think of an appropriate way to preface their questions. "My child already knows how to play an instrument," or "My child reads a lot," or some other statement to indicate, "My child is special," came at the beginning of many questions.

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Volume 6, Issue 16, Posted 9:45 AM, 08.05.2014

Conversations with your teenager

On the way home from school one day, my daughter said, “Why do people like to watch sports? I think sports are boring.” 

An alarm rang in my head. She just asked me to explain something. This was an opportunity to have a real conversation. I had to be careful. It was like having a butterfly land on the palm of my hand. If I tried to grasp tightly, I would crush this moment. If you have had teenagers, you know you cannot schedule opportunities for real conversations. They just land, last a few moments, then fly away.

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Volume 6, Issue 15, Posted 9:44 AM, 07.22.2014

Observations from a normal family

[The Observer is pleased to introduce our newest columnist, Father RJ Johnson, the pastor of Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake. His column, "Family Observations," will focus on trying to maintain sanity in a world that pretends perfection is possible. Father RJ has been a priest for 16 years, living in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Virginia before coming to Advent in 2010. He has a son and daughter – which he refers to as a "matched set" – a wife, a dog and a cat.]

In a culture that often turns self-promotion into an art form, people are sometimes surprised when I say I am thankful to have a normal family. In our culture, people are often striving to have an exceptional family. From the perspective of a pastor, a normal family is a great blessing. I have seen other pastors who have tried to make sure their children are exceptional and the pressure often warps them. I have seen people in other professions work very hard to produce exceptional children, and the results are about the same.  

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Volume 6, Issue 14, Posted 10:16 AM, 07.08.2014