Category Archives: Feed the Muse

The Type of Father My Children Have

talkingaboutmenshealth.com
talkingaboutmenshealth.com

I’ve heard it said that the greatest compliment you can pay someone is to trust them with your heart. I suppose that is true because the things that matter most reside there.

“Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”

That trust level goes so much deeper when you have children. They occupy such a big piece of your heart that, at times, it seems as if it is so full it will burst. So when and if you choose a partner in life, choose wisely. There are many types of fathers (and mothers) in this world. Unfortunately, there are:

  • those who never wanted to be fathers so they shirked the responsibility,
  • those who are present financially but absent emotionally,
  • those who never spend time with their child,
  • those who are abusive physically or mentally or both,
  • those who are self-absorbed and put their wants first, and
  • those who believe the job ends when their child reaches adulthood.

Then there is the type of father that my children have:

  • the one who talked about his children long before they were born,
  • the one who prayed for them during many years of unsuccessful infertility treatments,
  • the one who read and sang to them while they were still in the womb,
  • the one who fought back tears as he held them for the first time,
  • the one who stayed up late to rock them and sing to them when they were infants,
  • the one who patiently put their socks on for the fifteenth time because, “they’re just not right, Daddy”
  • the one who read books to them until they fell asleep (he was usually the first to go),
  • the one who checked and double checked the room for monsters,
  • the one who played endless games of Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Go Fish when his favorite team was playing on TV,
  • the one who sat through hours of dance recitals to watch his daughter dance for two minutes and then gave her roses afterward,
  • the one who trimmed his daughter’s bangs because they were too long (that task was stripped from him immediately afterwards),
  • the one who drags them out of bed in the morning with a tickle and a hug,
  • the one who occasionally goes in late to work because he wants to take them to school,
  • the one who attends all of their sporting events and cheers so loud I banish him to the outfield,
  • the one who takes his daughter to the annual daddy/daughter dance and makes her feel like the most important little girl in the world,
  • the one who taught them how to swing a bat, catch a ball, throw a pass and shoot a basket,
  • the one who takes the time to appreciate the beauty of a sunset with them,
  • the one who spends hours putting toys together on Christmas Eve, cursing late into the night and early the next morning, determined that it be functional by the time they awake,
  • the one who coaches their teams and participates in fundraisers,
  • the one who taught them how to ride a bike and tie their shoes,
  • the one who reminds them to say the blessing before a meal (even in a restaurant),
  • the one who religiously saves for their college tuition,
  • the one who is sometimes hard on them because he wants them to do their best,
  • the one who insists on them saying “sir” and “ma’am,”
  • the one who teaches them to be a good person by example,
  • the one who loves them beyond measure,
  • the one who would give his life for them.

That is the man I married. I hope all the fathers had a wonderful Father’s Day.

A Longing Fulfilled Is the Tree of Life

PraiseGod-300x225I read a poem titled Dreaming by Barbara Crowe on a blog I discovered today. I had to share because it reminded me of the hope my husband and I felt as we were planning our little family. We would talk late into the night about the children we would have someday. What would we name them? What would they look like? What traits would they have? It was our favorite topic of conversation.

We were so full of hope only to be continually let down. After a year of trying on our own we sought help. We went through dozens of unsuccessful fertility treatments and were finally left with the diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” There was no medical reason we could not have children. We were heartbroken.

There were so many people in this world that didn’t want to be parents and yet had no difficulty conceiving. There were also many who didn’t deserve to be parents, neglecting, abusing, or even worse, killing the sweet little life that was entrusted to them. We wanted children. We would be loving parents. We would never harm them. We would give them a wonderful life. Why couldn’t God see that?

Despondent, we gave up and resigned ourselves to a life without children. Six months later I became pregnant without the assistance of fertility medicine. We had a little boy and I will never forget the moment they placed him on my chest. His lips were so red they appeared to be stained with lipstick. A milky white substance covered his body and his dark hair was matted against his head. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

“If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood in this frame.”

He was a fairy tale come true. He was, and still is, my perfect little boy.

The words written on a card from a friend summed up my feelings perfectly. I believe it’s a Japanese proverb and the words have stayed with me since:

“Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick, but a longing fulfilled is the tree of life.”

A year later, we wanted to give him a sibling but suffered the same agonizing process as we had before. Years of fertility treatments with no results. Presented with the option of more aggressive treatments, we opted instead to be thankful for the blessing of the one child we had. Nine months later my daughter was born.

She wasn’t the little “Snow White” I expected. She was a bluish-grey and my heart hammered in my chest as I said, “Something’s wrong with her!”

I held my breath and prayed for her life as they whisked her to a table and cleared her lungs. When she was able to breathe on her own I finally exhaled.

The extended family in the waiting room was anxious to hear the gender of the baby, but my husband just shook his head and brought my son in the room instead. He was four and a half years old at the time. We had talked about giving him a baby brother or sister since he was old enough to understand the words. It hit me then, that he’d waited most of his life for this moment. He had spent the last nine months watching my belly grow with amazement, talking to it, singing to it, and rubbing it affectionately. He had wanted a baby brother…until just two weeks before. He changed his mind. He wanted a baby sister instead.

He stood next to her bed and my husband said, “Meet your baby sister.” He looked up at my husband and grinned. Then he hesitantly put his hand toward her to touch her. In that instant she reached up and grabbed his little finger. Newborn babies aren’t supposed to be able to do that are they? It was a sign that this moment was extraordinary. My son caught his breath, turned to look at me and said, “Oh Mama, I love our little baby so much!”

I was overwhelmed with emotion, as I am now, retelling this story. I was a witness as my son experienced love at first sight and I said, “I know exactly how you feel, Buddy.”

Both times my husband and I tried to take matters into our own hands, to control the creation of life, only to be thwarted again and again and again. It turns out that some things cannot be planned or rushed. They happen in their own time and only with hindsight will you understand why. It took over three years of trying for both of my children to be born and it turns out that God needed all that time just to make them. They are that special. They love to hear that, by the way 🙂

Pets Have a Way of Wiggling Into Your Heart

Today marks the 9th anniversary of the death of our beloved Scout.me and scout

I remember the day my husband brought him home. I awoke to the jingling of a bell. My husband stood at my bedside with a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. He slapped his thigh and said, “C’mon boy.”

That was the moment Scout walked, or rather lumbered, into my life. His massive paws were too big for his body and made him a little clumsy. The moment that adorable brindle boxer puppy with floppy ears and big brown eyes looked up into my eyes I was smitten.

“Happy birthday Baby,” my husband said.

“Oh my God! He’s adorable! What should we call him?”

“I’ve always liked the name Scout.”

scoutScout eventually grew into those monstrous paws and tipped the scales at eighty-five pounds of solid muscle. With his bulk and brindle markings he was sometimes mistaken for a pit bull and people would shrink back in fear. I have to admit there were times when I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sight of him too. He had this annoying habit of pawing at my bedside in the middle of the night. Still groggy from sleep I’d open my eyes to see “The Batman” silhouetted against the nightlight.

After recovering from a mini heart attack, I’d realize it was just my big goofy dog asking to go outside to do his business.

He certainly could seem menacing from afar but one look into those big brown eyes and there was no mistaking the sweet soul inside.  When asked if he’d attack we’d just laugh and say, “Oh yeah, he’s a ferocious guard dog alright.  If anything, he’ll just lick you to death!”

Scout was unaware of his mammoth size. He thought he was a lap dog. He often crawled in my lap, or at least tried to, especially when I was getting ready for work in the morning. Putting on makeup with a beast of a dog trying to cuddle with you and lick your face was quite a challenge.

I’ll never forget Scout’s first experience with the lake. My husband tried to coax Scout to get in the water with him but he just looked on from the shore, too scared to venture in. Scout paced back and forth as my husband waded deeper into the water. Scout couldn’t be persuaded to get in the water so my husband went under to see what he would do. Scout immediately jumped in, dismissing his fears, and swam to “save” his buddy.

One afternoon my husband was sitting next to Scout, repeatedly blowing in his face. Each time Scout glared at my husband as if to warn him to stop. But my husband loves to pick so he kept at it. Scout finally had enough. The next time he turned to my husband he opened his mouth and placed his massive jaws over my husband’s face. Of course he didn’t bite down but he was sending a very clear message. “Look buddy, I’ve had enough. I love you so there’s no way I would ever hurt you, but don’t tempt me.”

If you believe a dog doesn’t have personality, well then you’ve never loved one. Scout was the manifestation of Scooby Doo, just as goofy and lovable. It was as if he jumped out of the TV screen and wiggled his way into our hearts. In fact, he turned in circles until he found just the right spot, as all dogs do, and nestled there forever.

Reflecting on the Brief, Yet Bright Life of a Childhood Friend

Detail of sandbox with toys
Detail of sandbox with toys (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The loss of life at the Boston Marathon terrorist attack has me reflecting on my first experience with loss. His name was Timmy, and like the eight year old boy at the Boston Marathon, his life ended way too soon.

Timmy was my childhood friend. He was the brown-haired little boy who lived across the street. He was the boy with the sandbox, the biggest, coolest sandbox in the neighborhood. I ventured into his backyard every chance I got, not only to play in the sandbox but to spend time with him. There was something special about him. He had an energy about him that, to this day, has me wondering if some people light up the lives of others so brightly that their own light burns out prematurely. At least, that is the way I remember Timmy.

I didn’t even know he was sick until he died. As I recall it was leukemia (a strange new word for me then) that claimed his life. I’m sure his body had shown the effects of the disease but that’s not how I remember him. I suppose children have an innate ability for seeing straight through to the soul of people, bypassing the exterior and all the stereotypes that come with it. They haven’t developed the prejudices that inevitably come later in life. All they see is a friend, no ethnicity, no religious affiliation, no political viewpoint, and no disease; just a friend.

The world, my little world as I knew it then, fell off its axis when I learned he had died. It stopped spinning and my mind picked up where it left off as thoughts churned in my head. How could he possibly be gone? I had just played with him. He was only four. Only the elderly die and they die peacefully, in their sleep after a long and eventful life; a life well lived. Don’t they? Isn’t that how it works? How could one possibly cram all that living into just four years? It didn’t seem fair.

That is when I learned that life is not fair, that we’ll all experience, to some degree, heartbreak and tragedy. If Timmy could die at such a young age, what about the other people I loved? My parents had to reassure me that they weren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. But how could they possibly know? They couldn’t.

I cut out Timmy’s obituary from the newspaper and placed it under my pillow. As I lay in bed that night I worried about my family. I worried about my friends. I worried about all the other unforeseen events that could happen in this frightening new world. But most of all, I missed my friend. I just wanted to go to the sandbox and play with him. How could I have known I would never see him again? Eventually, I cried myself to sleep.

My parents didn’t allow me to go to the funeral. I’m not even sure that I knew enough to ask to go to it. They said his casket (another new word for me) matched the French Provincial style of my bedroom furniture. I suppose they hoped it would give some sort of comfort or allow me to feel that I had somehow been a part of the funeral by knowing that.

I went to the sandbox after Timmy died. Other friends from the neighborhood had gathered to play. His little sister, barely able to walk and talk, kept asking, “Where’s Timmy?” Someone spoke up and said, “He died.” I’m certain they didn’t know exactly what that meant since I was struggling to grasp the meaning of it myself. I remember seeing his mother wipe away tears as she looked on. I’ve often wondered how difficult it must have been for her to see life go on as usual, as if Timmy had never existed. I’m sure it must have looked that way but I was profoundly affected by his death.

The question that his little sister asked has stayed with me my entire life. What happens to us when we die? My faith tells me that this life is like a hallway or perhaps just a doorway for someone like Timmy. It is something we must all pass through to reach a place more beautiful than we can ever imagine. It is a place where the heartbreak of losing someone is replaced by the joy of seeing them again.

I don’t remember if Timmy’s family moved away or if I just stopped going to the sandbox. It just wasn’t the same. The light that burned so bright and beckoned me to play was gone. Timmy wasn’t there.

Where’s Timmy? Some day I’ll know.

Writers: What was your first story?

Once upon a timeThe first story I remember creating came after my first nightmare, or rather, the first nightmare I remember. I’m not even sure how old I was, maybe 4 or 5? I must’ve fallen asleep while one of my parents read Goldilocks and the Three Bears to me because my nightmare was a twisted version of that fairytale.

Illustration by David Merrell
Illustration by David Merrell

Mama Bear and Papa Bear had captured my parents. They were restrained outside the bears’ home with thorn bushes. I looked on from a secret hiding place in the woods as they lit a fire underneath a giant black cauldron. Flames licked at the sides and steam rose from the center of the cauldron as my parents struggled to break free. That is where my nightmare ended.

I woke up in a panic. To a young child their parent is everything and both of mine were about to be boiled like lobsters. I calmed down once I realized I’d been dreaming but something tugged at me. I suppose this was the moment my internal storyteller was born.

What offense had my parents committed to deserve such treatment? Had Mama Bear and Papa Bear suspected my parents of eating the porridge, breaking the furniture, and destroying the neatly made beds? Or worse, was it something I had done? Where was Baby Bear? Had I done something to upset him? Were my parents paying the price for failing to discipline a naughty child? How could I save them?

I couldn’t recall the events in my dream that led to my parents being selected as dinner. All I knew was that my parents were in danger. I had to rescue them. I had to finish the story and it had to be brief; after all, my parents were about to become the main course for two ravenous bears.

Somehow I knew Baby Bear was the key. I searched and found him wandering in the woods alone. He was lost and scared. I gave him a cherished toy for comfort. It was a little crocheted doll that my grandmother had made for me. He seemed to understand the value it held and hugged me. We arrived at his home just as my parents were being lowered toward the boiling water.

Mama Bear and Papa Bear were overjoyed to see Baby Bear. After learning I had rescued him they decided I wasn’t a naughty child after all and released my parents. Porridge was warmed over the fire instead of my parents and we all sat down for a scrumptious meal. Mama Bear and Papa Bear swapped stories with my parents and after a while Baby Bear rubbed his eyes and yawned. Seeing that he was tired, I walked him upstairs and tucked him in bed. He fell asleep with my cherished doll held tightly to his chest. I was the heroine of the story and everyone lived happily ever after.

I have created hundreds of stories in my mind over the years. I don’t know why this one has stayed with me while others have faded. Maybe it’s because it was my first story. Maybe the simplicity of it makes it easy to remember. Maybe it was the thought of losing my parents. Who knows? I’ve discarded so many stories over the years because they were “too this” or “too that.” Maybe it’s because this one, at the time, felt…just right.

Do you remember your first story? I’d love to hear it.