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I and I

In balance

Having a child introduces many interesting dichotomies into a parent's life. Some are silly, like being responsible for raising someone that you want to kill a few times a week. They make time stand still with their tantrums but grow up in an instant. Others are more difficult. The one I struggle with every day is between work and home life. Right now it is my responsibility to financially support my family and to that end, I go to work every day and try to succeed and advance, to provide a secure future for them (of course there's more to work than this, but this aspect is most pertinent to our discussion). So after a full day of work, I'm supposed to be able to flip a switch at 5:00 and go into home mode, back to being a full-time parent. Of course it's not that easy, because I get involved in something that my brain wants to keep working on, I carry things with me without meaning to. After spending a little time with the kids, my perspective begins to reset and I remember why I was gone all day, what it's all for, and I go on with my night. In the morning or on Sunday nights, it's the same switch being flipped the other direction—one minute having breakfast with my family, the next a man of industry out the door. Like the pain Wolverine feels when his claws extend and retract, each of these transitions take its toll on me, not to mention each time Veronika says "Papa, you were at work so long."

The one that's been puzzling me the most lately is about identity. I've been feeling pretty creatively sapped lately and most of my efforts end in discouragement—I take a lot of pictures and am encouraged by the results until I wander onto flickr before bed and find that three of four people in the world are professionals; I try to coax out a few words about Bob Dylan but can never seem to satisfactorily convey my feelings about the music. I haven't been reading or writing or playing or making anything. In the back of my head, I know that this is because of Ivan's age and that it was the same with Veronika for the first year or so, but I can't stop the creative compulsion, which brings me back to identity. Being a parent is an all-consuming job, no question. It wouldn't be right any other way. But the conundrum is that part of being a good parent, in my estimation, is maintaining a sense of your individual self to be an example for your children, who are gradually becoming individuals themselves and taking your lead in understanding what that means. Parents live for their children but in the end cannot be completely defined by them because eventually they too must return to being individuals, before God if nowhere else (faith being another uniquely individual quality). I don't think this desire of parents to be something other than parents, if only for an hour a day or a night a month, is always based in a selfish (though much needed) wish for rest or relaxation. Sometimes it's about your individual self yearning for a healthy restoration of balance so you can be the kind of parent (and person) that you want to be for your children.

As my birthday arrived today (twenty-seventh), I thought about the past year and the next few and realized that I hadn't thought of myself in that way for some time, as having an individual life that progresses distinctly in time from that of my family, that's how wonderfully and inextricably linked it all is. All of this duality is not about feeling divided but about understanding the whole more completely and knowing how to regain balance. And when I finally think I've got it down, everything will shift again and I'll be back here trying to work it out.

January 26, 2007 | Comments (1)

In the Stable

You never know what you're going to get with children's books. We get a lot of books from the library, usually that Veronika has picked out, so 8 p.m. often finds me in her bed, reading new books aloud while she finishes her sippy cup of milk. Sometimes the message takes a weird turn that you're not comfortable endorsing. Other times the plot leads you to darker places than you want to visit with a three-year-old before bed. The most common downfall is inoffensiveness—to spend so much time tiptoeing around the safe zones of our modern culture that the story ends up bland and ineffective. On the other hand, books will occasionally surprise you with a glint of good humor or sweet sincerity. Christmas books are even more unpredictable, as publishers, faced with the frightening prospect of mentioning religion, do everything possible to distract their readers from the elephant in the room. If not for the secular Santa Claus, they would be in a real pickle.

This year brought the best and worst children's Christmas books I've read, the latter of which is Froggy's Best Christmas. If the title wasn't enough to whet your appetite, picture this pitch: a young frog wakes up from his usual winter hibernation to celebrate the most important Christmas tradition—getting a Christmas tree with friends. That's pretty much it. Christmas is about decorations and friendship, kids! I guess I shouldn't be surprised, because throw in presents and you've got our society's Christmas in a neat bundle. A few days later, my crotchety old man heart was warmed by a quiet little book that gave me a new perspective, Christmas in the Stable. In it, a mother tells her daughter the story of Christmas (sure, without mentioning any names, but I can forgive them that) and the daughter, not yet understanding the concept of "long ago," imagines it happening on a farm near her house. The story is simple and well-told but what made it stick in my mind was the illustration of the absolute still and wonder of that night. After shelter was found and the baby was born, all were left in awed silence. I suppose all of those verses of Silent Night from my youth should have made me consider this possibility earlier, but for whatever reason, it never took. Lying there with Noni, I was engulfed by the thought of such profound silence in the face of such a momentous occasion, "in the fury of the moment" as the man says, and for a few seconds all of the thoughts in my head were quieted by the power of that image.

For the rest of the season I hoped for a few more of those peaceful moments of contemplation. Who would've thought that a parent of two young and currently very noisy kids would wish for some peace and quiet for Christmas, right? I got a lot of great things for Christmas and had a lot of fun but that feeling never returned, for which I am partially to blame, no doubt. The new year came in a rush and left me coughing in the dust of the starting line. Though I've never been a fan of resolutions, I found myself longing for the energy to at least resolve.

As always, my patience was just a little short. This past weekend I feel like I finally caught up with the rest of the world's ambitions for 2007 by (surprise) leaving it all behind and finding my own peace and quiet at home (well, not literally). So while it rained outside and everything piled up on my to-do list, I found the inspiration I was looking for in a familiar place. I may even read a book of my own this year.

January 16, 2007