Friday, December 9, 2016

Toddler Mondays

My son has an intense dislike of round breakfast cereal. He will not eat it, and finds the thought of even touching it to be repulsive. Once when we asked him to clean up some plain Cheerios that he had knocked out of his sister’s hand, he retrieved a napkin so that his hands wouldn’t touch them as he picked them up and deposited them in the garbage. This is important because it provides the foundational irony for the following story.

It was a typical Monday morning. My wife was in the bathroom getting ready for work and the kids were eating breakfast while I was making sure everything was in my work bag. Suddenly, our rather large dog walked into the living room and proceeded to deposit the contents of her stomach on our carpet. My verbal reaction was loud and immediate, which drew a “What’s wrong?” from my wife in the bathroom. As I turned to address her question, my son declared that he wanted to “see dog throw-up first” and in his haste to dismount the bar-stool chair feel onto the handle of his sister’s ridding toy sustaining a rather painful injury to his rib-cage.


This turn of events caused me to stop my explanation mid-sentence and rush to my son’s aid who was sobbing on the floor. At this moment, my daughter decided to take advantage of her brother’s unforced error and broke out in a run for the puddle of half-digested dogfood. As she was the only member of the family who was fully dressed for her day, I could foresee her slipping in the mess thereby necessitating a wardrobe change. While still cradling my weeping son, I began loudly instructing her to “stop right there and don’t touch anything!”

My wife - having determined that whatever situation was occurring in the living room had escalated exponentially – ran out of the bathroom toward the exact same spot. I then switched from talking down my daughter to warning my wife not to come through the bedroom door (as the digestive incident had occurred between the two rooms). Suddenly my son’s despondency began increasing and I feared that either I was squeezing him too hard or his injuries were far worse than I initially thought.

I was finally able to make out enough of his words to realize that he was no longer upset about his fall. Instead, he had become inconsolable over the fact that everyone else had gotten to see the dog vomit before he had. To be fair, this was his second bodily-function disappointment of the week as he had been out of town with my wife when his sister pooped in the tub. He requested that I Facetime the aftermath and was rather crestfallen to learn that I had already removed the offending turds.

After some time, I was able to ease the pain of missing the premier and he calmed down on the promise that he could see the dog vomit next time. Meanwhile, our dog had begun her own recovery procedure leaving behind a large discolored spot in the carpet. I retrieved the carpet shampoo device from the garage and began the process of extracting what was left. As a consolation prize, my son requested to see the contents of the machine’s “recovery tank” before I emptied it. It was only then that he found himself able to finish his breakfast.


Thankfully the dog hadn’t consumed any Cheerios or else someone’s meal might have been ruined.    

Friday, December 2, 2016

Toddlers & The Meaning of Christmas

Our church has an annual tradition of collecting new toys for underprivileged children in a nearby county. This wonderful program helps to ensure that the parents are able to provide Christmas gifts for their children regardless of their current financial situation. In the past, my wife and I had picked out the toys ourselves, but as my son is turning 4 soon we thought that it was time to incorporate him into the process.

So, after several conversations preparing him to pick out toys that were not for him, we ventured into our local Toys-R-Us. While there were some momentary lapses, we were both very proud of how well he did accepting the fact that we were doing this for the benefit of children that we would never meet. We even had some mild success asking him to place the toys in the church’s collection box so that he could see the process through.

It was a few days after this, while he and I were in the car together, that he broached the subject of the donated toys again. He seemed somewhat confused that any boys and girls would not have presents at Christmas since Santa delivered everywhere. I carefully explained that while Santa left each child a large, unwrapped “Santa gift”, the parents and grandparents like buying gifts too but sometimes just cannot afford it. Therefore, the toys that we give would be to supplement the work of Santa.


Since my unassailable logic was obviously having a profound effect on his impressionable young mind, I began to wade into deeper waters. I reminded him that as Christians, we are called to be the “hands and feet” of Christ. I pointed out that one of the most tangible ways to show Christ’s love was to help those in need.

Obviously on a theological roll, I reminded him of the joy he felt when people he loved gave him things and how we should take any and every opportunity to share that joy with others. How Christ was Savior to the meek and marginalized; the poor and the destitute; the outcasts and the has-beens. While we didn’t possess the resources to make every child’s Christmas better, we did have the resources to make every Christmas better for one child.

During my soliloquy, I would occasionally glance in the mirror to watch his face and that is when I knew beyond a doubt that we were through the looking glass. While others might have dismissed such profound ideas as too lofty for a three-year old to absorb, I could see in his eyes that despite all odds I had reached him. I couldn’t wait to explain to my wife that it was my brilliant oration that had led our son to the true meaning of Christmas and inspired what would become a lifetime of serving his fellow man.  

Several moments of silence passed between us before our eyes met in the rear-view mirror and with a contemplative look he said, “Dad?”

“Yes Son?” (mentally preparing to deflect the forthcoming praise and admiration from my firstborn)


(glancing back out his window) “Grandma goes to that carwash sometimes.”

Nailed it. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

An Open Letter to Franklin Graham




 On November 10th, Franklin Graham posted his reaction to the Presidential election on his Facebook page. My response to his reaction appears below.



Mr. Graham,

                    With all due respect to you and the Protestant authority your surname grants you, I think that you are inflicting irreparable harm upon Christians and the reputation of the Savior we claim to represent. You began your essay with a question, “Did God Show Up?” as if his ability to be present in people’s lives was predicated upon the balance of power between two American political parties. Let me pose a rebuttal question, “What Makes You Think That He Ever Left?” At what point did the God who created the heavens and the Earth become cowered by the balance of power in modern America? At what point did Jesus - whose entire ministry took place in the shadow of Roman imperialism - become too squeamish to operate in our nation?  

I say this because your words have inexorably linked the will of Christ with the actions of Donald Trump and his administration. That is dangerous not because of who he is, but because of what politics is not: a surrogacy for Christian discipleship. Politics is an intrinsically secular and self-serving extension of American democracy. To attribute the actions and words of a politician to God is nothing short of blasphemy. Yes, our faith will affect where we fall on a few issues, but I dare say that most political issues don’t have a clear faith component. For example:

Corporate Tax Rates?
Immigration?
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing?  
Congressional Term Limits?
Asian Trade Tariffs?
Gun Control?
The Defense Budget?
Healthcare Costs?
Standardized Tests?
The Opioid Epidemic?
Capital Punishment?
Agricultural Subsidies?
Social Security Reform?
Banking Regulations?

All that I am saying is that it is perfectly reasonable for American Christians to come to different conclusions on the issues without having their faith publicly questioned. That leaves us with homosexuality and abortion; two theological minefields that we have been unable to reach a consensus about as a religion much less a country. If I am Catholic, the very act of taking birth control is a sinful medical intrusion into the reproductive process while a Protestant might only define abortion as the selective termination of a viable pregnancy with no extenuating circumstances. Homosexuality is equally as murky among believers who are still grappling with the idea of nature versus nurture.

You said that “God’s hand intervened Tuesday night to stop the godless, atheistic progressive agenda from taking control of our county” which leaves the reader with a few possible scenarios:

1.      God’s hand only intervenes on certain occasions and the Trump/Pence ticket was worthy of such a celestial intrusion where the Romney/Ryan or MacCain/Palin ticket was not.
2.      God intervened in this election because Christian families and churches prayed about it more than they did in 2008 or 2012.
3.      This is the first time a “godless, atheistic progressive agenda” has attempted to take control of the country.

As an added bonus, your statement carelessly labeled the 65 million citizens who cast their vote for someone other than the Republican nominee as going against the very will of God. Instead of simply disagreeing with their political conclusions, you have chosen to dismiss them redundantly as “atheistic” and “godless.” Is it really so improbable that a fellow believer found themselves unable to cast a vote for Donald Trump? Will the Day of Judgment be a long line of Americans attempting to explain their support of Gary Johnson, Hillary Clinton, or Dr. Jill Stein?

The God I love is not restricted to arbitrary labels like conservative, liberal, Republican or Democrat. At the risk of sacrilege, I would even venture to guess that He isn’t even an American. The God I love does expect me to conduct myself with faith and grace, especially in dealing with those I disagree with. The God I love would never equate contemporary political affiliation with eternal sacred worth or casually invalidate the faith of another person because our ballots were not identical.

You ended the commentary by declaring that, “My prayer is that God will bless America again.” What does that even mean? Has your God been withholding his blessings from 319 million people until the Electoral College would allow Him to resume dispensation through Donald Trump? Did your God need the permission of a political party to touch the hearts and lives of his children? Does your God require His ministers to endorse political candidates while utilizing Facebook to denounce “secular media”?  

Jesus conspicuously avoided political commentary over the course of His Earthly ministry, perhaps you should do likewise.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Thoughts on Toddler Parenting

Verbal Communication

My son’s speaking voice now rapidly oscillates between its only two settings: alarmingly-loud and obstinately-hushed. The former is the default and utilized for everything from conversation to announcing bowel-movements while the latter is reserved for times when verbal communication is requested by an adult.

For instance, if my phone were to ring while we were in the car together he would begin requesting a snack at an ear-splitting volume. If we were at home and I was asking him what he wanted for dinner he would simply mouth the words while exhaling. I am eagerly awaiting the onset of normal human speech.

My daughter is just beginning to speak and her favorite word is “no.” This is probably due in no small part to its ceaseless use in her presence. Previously foreign phrases like, “No! Stop relocating dogfood to the toilet bowl!” become alarmingly commonplace.


Mealtime

My children’s eating habits have diverged dramatically over the past year. My daughter will eat anything. Her entire philosophy could be summed up as “I’ll have what you’re having.” She is so concerned with missing a side-dish that she spends more time on plate surveillance than eating. Even while chewing, her eyes constantly scan the area in front of her dining companions to ensure that she has not been shortchanged.

Heaven help you if contraband garnish or a clandestinely-applied sauce is discovered. She will immediately raise an accusatory figure toward the perpetrator’s plate and exclaim “dat!” until shame compels you to offer her half of the last crescent roll that you had hoped to consume unnoticed. Leftover night is a culinary massacre because once she has pilfered and pillaged everyone else’s meal we have to watch her shoveling handfuls of deconstructed meatloaf pancake applesauce spaghetti in her mouth.

My son, meanwhile, has narrowed down his nourishment to three meals: chicken nuggets, peanut butter & jelly, and “I’m not hungry.” (To be fair, there may be other dishes he would eat but he was talking so quietly we could not hear him) Even within that narrow framework, acceptable presentation is an ever-moving target. Should the nuggets be whole or sliced into portions? Do we preemptively de-crust the PB&J or allow him to dramatically discard it later? Even a properly-plated acceptable entree risks contamination from an objectionable side-dish. In these cases, the PB&J is unilaterally rejected based upon its association with English peas.



Punishment 

Punishment is also becoming more complicated by the day. For whatever reason, toddlers are given the ability to discern inconsistent consequences long before they can understand the concept of developmentally-appropriate repercussions. This means that any deviation based upon a child’s age risks putting the entire system of justice on trial. “How come she gets to (insert infraction here) and I get sent to my room?”

As much as you wish an in-depth lecture on cognitive milestones would settle the issue, you are left with vague claims of authority based on nothing more than your status as a parent. The daddy-knows-best platform has been roundly rejected by focus groups for centuries, but I have yet to discover a viable alternative.

Punishment is also one of the most polarizing issues faced by parents today. Like political ideology, a complex issue tends to be broken down into two diametrically opposed subgroups which promise the exact same dire outcome for those who disagree:

Spare the rod, spoil the child – Corporal punishment is Biblical, ethical, and effective. There is a direct correlation between the morality of a society and that society’s willingness to spank a child when warranted. Abstaining from corporal punishment with a child will force them to become disrespectful, irresponsible adults destined for prison.

Bear the rod, see you at trial – Spanking a child is a barbaric, psychologically-damaging act that erodes the trust between the vulnerable and their caregiver. Enlightened minds will tell you that spanking a child leads to emotional distress and is nothing more than a tantrum by an adult. It models violent behavior that will invariably create an adult destined for – you guessed it – prison.    

As best I can tell, the prudent measure is simply to utilize what works for you and your offspring while befriending a criminal defense attorney as a hedge. Your child’s aforementioned concern with fairness means that subsequent children will cite precedent when judgement is rendered so there is additional pressure to make the right call the first time.


This all becomes a moot point because the only thing my kids are more passionate about than even-handed justice is immediate leniency. My son will insist that his sister receive swift and decisive punishment up until the moment that it is rendered, whereupon he will advocate on her behalf (she’s a baby). If my son is placed in timeout, my daughter will immediately begin lobbying for clemency by asking for him and trying to free him from his room. Perhaps I can take comfort in the fact that one day they will be each other’s greatest allies at their parole hearings.