S Just Got Real

This is one of those days where if you don’t laugh you’ll cry. We’ve got dog poop. Toddler poop. Fussing. Crying. Attempted dogicide by toddler. Licking, peeing, whining. Haven’t even had time to put on a shirt yet.

Just now John pointed at my chest and said “titty,” then at my navel and said “boss.” After that, he held up his milk to the dogs and said “Good morning! Cheers! Potty!”

God, give me patience today.

A Prayer and a Song

No way around it. This was a rough morning. John has been having problems sleeping all the way through the night again, and the past few nights has woken up at least an hour before my alarm goes off. Considering I don’t really sleep enough anyway, this is not a particularly good thing. We’ve been sitting down with him and giving him a drink, eventually getting him back to sleep. Also, we’re weaning him off his pacifier, which is like coming off heroin for the poor kid. All of that added up to a 0330 wakeup today, and a very tired mama and daddy.

We decided to try a different tack this morning, and we gave him his drink, then made him get back in bed. After a few minutes, the crying began, and persisted for some time. He’d start alternating between throwing a fit and yelling for “Mama!” or “Daddy!” Then he would get out of bed and come to our room. We’d ask him what was wrong and each time it would be something different (he knows he isn’t supposed to get out of bed unless something is wrong).

The first time he came out of his room, it was just a lot of crying, and Jen put him back in bed.

We laid there for a few minutes, waiting for him to stop crying and fall asleep. He eventually opened the door and Jen asked him what was wrong.

He came into our room clutching the back of his diaper and saying “peepoo.”

Jen checked his diaper and there was no peepoo, but several saturated gallons of pee in his diaper. Jen changed him and we let him lay in bed for a little bit before we took him back to bed. I said a little prayer and kind of stroked his hair for a few minutes. He seemed sleepy so I took him back to his room.

He started crying right away and I came in and laid down again for a few minutes. Then I started getting ready for work. It was a little early, but also too late to go back to sleep. We heard him start yelling again, “Daddy daddy DADDY!” The funny thing about it was that he was clearly sleepy.

Then he opened his door and came out. I told him he needed to get back in his bed and he did, fussing all the way. A few minutes later he opened his door again and said “boogers.” He came into our room grabbing at his nose. I cleaned it with a wipe and then put him back in bed again.

A few seconds later he came to the door again and I told him he needed to get back in bed again. He said “turtle. My turtle!” and was very upset.

I laid him in his bed, and placed his stuffed turtle in his hands. “Here’s turtle,” I said. “Now you need to go back to sleep.”

We started playing music in his room last night for a little background noise, and just then I Will Not Be Moved by Natalie Grant came on. I told him to listen to the music and stroked his hands and feet (he’ll put them in front of you and say ‘tickle’). He quieted, and then I started to walk out of his room.

“No no no!” he said, and I walked back over to his bed, telling him it would be ok, but he needed to go to sleep.

I held his hand for a minute and prayed over him again, this time just thanking God for the blessing that he (John) was, and towards the end of my prayer In The Hands of God by the Newsboys came on. John was silent, looking at me. His eyes started getting heavy, and I whispered “just listen…”

He fell asleep seconds later and I stood there looking at his little face. So peaceful…and without his ‘fier.

I thanked God for him again, and then realized I was going to need some caffeine desperately or it was going to be a hideous day.

44 ounces of Diet Dr Pepper later, I’m sitting at my desk, and hoping Jen got at least a little more sleep. I think I’m gonna go to bed early tonight. John does seem to be detoxed from his pacifier (mostly). So that’s good….

Strength in Weakness

There are sections of scripture that are troubling to me. Not because I don’t understand what the writer is trying to convey, but because I do–and it goes against everything I’ve learned over the course of my life. Take 2 Corinthians 12, for instance.


In verses 9-10, Paul talks about boasting in his weaknesses; even delighting in them. That was hard for me to understand, because I think it’s more natural to be ashamed of the ways we are weak. It’s hard for me to imagine feeling delight at my lifelong struggle against food addiction, the desire to binge drink, or my occasional struggles with lust (in the form of wanting to look at inappropriate things). Not that those are my only weaknesses: just what I struggle against most frequently.

Maybe what Paul is trying to say–according to my Life Application Study Bible–is that when we are strong in our abilities or resources, we are tempted to do God’s work on our own. That can lead to pride.

For me, that means if I was talking to someone about resisting the urge to empty a 12 pack or click on the wrong web site and saying that it was easy not to do it, or that I could resist because I was strong I would be full of what my son calls “peepoo.”

I am able (mostly) to resist these inclinations and others because God gives me that ability. Left to my own, I wouldn’t even try to resist. So if I accomplish something in spite of the things I struggle with, it means so much more. And only then am I strong.

It’s interesting how that works, because it shouldn’t. I guess God knows more of my strengths and affinities than I do. Where I see a weak pile of desire, addiction, and sin, God sees something else. And in spite of my own callow nature he is somehow able to use me, and my weaknesses.

That’s pretty amazing.

The End is the Beginning

We had a concert at FCC Wednesday night, and I was hoping it was going to be well attended because I figured if it was we (Yuma) would be more likely to have other shows come to town. I did a few easy things to help promote the event, but in the end the event was very poorly attended.

I blamed myself to an extent, because while I have no official position at the church I did have some very strong promotional inclinations I didn’t follow through on because I didn’t want to step on toes or make waves. Next time, I’m just going to do what’s necessary and risk breaking a few toes.

Regardless, there were probably only fifty or sixty people in our sanctuary, and at first it bummed me out. The cool part was that five of them were myself and my family, including David. I didn’t think the concert made much of an impression at first because all he said was that it “sure was loud.”

And at the time I was mainly thinking of the impression the band made on me with songs like:

and this:

For me, the show did exactly what it was supposed to: it made me feel a little closer to God than before I walked in, and took me to “that” place where worship and praise and Jesus all collide with the raw heart of a supplicant. It was awesome and moving and I made sure to tell the singer later how he’d kicked me in the nuts at least twice.

Then today happened. I had a whole day with just me and the boys, and for part if it I took David to the water park at the Fun Factory, and while we were driving around, we listened to the CD I’d purchased at the concert called “The End is the Beginning.” David said the title track was his new favorite song.

I love that his first concert was a family event at his own church (for the record, my first concert was Poco, at the Del Mar Fair when I was a kid). I love that Jen and I were there, and that today he asked if we could listen to Cloverton. He was singing along to The End… and also

So in the end, I’m glad Cloverton played our church, even if I am bummed that hardly anyone turned out to support it. I guess that tells me what age group most of our congregation falls into. In any case, the people who came were blessed, and I’m thankful for it. I hope we get other concerts; I’m looking forward to networking and trying new things. We shall see…

Of Record Boxes, and Forgetting the Boogeyman

One of the first things I remember is that my oldest sister’s first husband went to Viet Nam when I was really small—probably not much older than John is now. I don’t really remember very much about him. I think he was lucky in one sense, in that he didn’t have to fight. I’m fairly certain he brought home some things from the war anyway, though, that likely didn’t make things easier for him and my sister. He ended up surviving Viet Nam and dying in a car crash when he got home. I remember him carrying me around, and every now and then he would hold me while we ate something together. Life is so strange sometimes.

If I remember correctly, he served as a clerk of some kind. Maybe a driver, much like Radar on M*A*S*H. I’m not sure whether it was before he left or when he got back, but he gave my older brother Tim a box of 45rpm singles and a couple of those disks you had to put on the record player to play them. I didn’t think much of it at the time. The record box certainly didn’t look like much. It was made of peeling, paper covered cardboard with some paisley-looking squiggles on the sides and the bottom. The black top—also covered with paper—was secured to the box with a shiny chrome or aluminum clip. It was in sorry condition, but my brother loved it.

The singles were all oldies, ranging from 50′s artists like Ricky Nelson, Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry (I used to know all the words to his masterwork of innuendo, “My ding-a-ling”), and many others, to early 60′s music, like Dion and the Belmonts, and Tommy James and the Shondells. The original version of the song “Last Kiss,” by the Cavaliers that Pearl Jam would later cover was in there, too, along with another car crash anthem “Tell Laura I love her.”

My brother would play them for hours on end, and I grew up with the sound of oldies in my ears, along with the country my mom would play (it wasn’t until much later I would be introduced to rock by my older sisters). Yet while I heard these types of music it would be pretty fair to say they went in one ear, and out the other, without making much of an impact—at least at first. They were just pleasant noise.

I’ve mentioned on several occasions the difficulties I’ve had over the course of my childhood with my brother, but in all fairness, he’s pretty much responsible for helping me through one of the toughest times of my life, as well, and I’m fairly certain he doesn’t even know he did it.

What happened was that I was always a scared kid, jumping at shadows, and almost anything else. I would watch the tamest cartoons you could imagine–mostly because they were funny, but also because they weren’t scary. I knew there were darker, more adult forms on entertainment out there, but I was most definitely not interested, at least not until a little before my ninth birthday.

Sometimes my sister’s would spend the night at my house–mostly for holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. One time they were there, and watching a movie on TV in the living room–a rebroadcast of The Exorcist. I remember walking into the room just as the camera zoomed in on Linda Blair’s pasty, peeling face and yellow, demonic eyes.

It scared the crap out of me, but it was also somehow fascinating. I think that was my first
look at anything in the horror genre, which to this day both repels and excites me. It wasn’t long after that I got hold of my sister’s copy of Stephen King’s Night Shift and read a short story called “The Boogeyman,”which terrified me to the extent that I could no longer go to sleep at night without first inspecting my closet for demonic, child-killing monsters. And then I couldn’t close my door. Like the people in the story, I had to leave it open–just a crack.

Every now and then, my older son has problems sleeping, similar to mine when I was his age. Sometimes he wakes up from terrible dreams, and then is afraid to go back to sleep again. Maybe night terrors or something. I don’t know. I feel bad for him, but it happens rarely, and he seems to get over things pretty quickly after having a sleepy day.

Hopefully, it will pass. Where was I? Oh, yeah.

I began to read other stories along the same vein as the King piece, and they were all scary, but it was The Boogeyman that stuck with me the most, and very soon I began to develop a very serious case of insomnia. What happened was that every time I would begin to fall asleep, I would see (or think I saw), my closet door begin to swing open, and a slimy, clawed hand scratch its talons along the surface. The first couple nights, I just lay there, too afraid to sleep.

The third night, I crept into the kitchen, figuring that I could find something with which I would be able to defend myself from the claws–somehow, a kitchen knife seemed like just the thing–hey, I was a kid!

So while I stood in the kitchen, searching the silverware drawer for a weapon, I heard my brother’s voice curse softly from the garage (his main hobby when I was little was buying junk cars, fixing them up, and selling them. He did this from when I was 8, until I turned 18). Then another curse, and silence. A few seconds after that, Del Shannon’s Runaway began playing on the record player’s single, battered speaker.

I found a steak knife that looked reasonably well-edged, and sat in the chair by the door to the garage. I listened to Runaway, and then Chuck Berry came on after a couple seconds more cursing (those little adapters for the 45′s were a bitch) by Tim. I ended up sitting there listening to music, and my brother’s swearing at various car parts for the better part of an hour, and eventually went back to bed, falling asleep softly humming Ricky Nelson’s Garden Party to myself.

The next night, I crept into the kitchen again, and took up my position in the chair, listening for about an hour, and eventually going back to bed, singing softly to myself, and once again falling asleep. And again the next night. And the next.

After about a little less than a week, I was able to procure a small transistor radio from my dad’s collection of junk that I would play quietly next to my bed when I hit the sack, and after only a night or two, I didn’t even look at the closet anymore.

Maybe it will be something like that for my son. I sure hope so. Sometimes, it helped me just to know someone else was awake in the house. Maybe that was it this morning. I got up at 4 for work, and he was awake, having had a rough night. I told him he should go back to bed, and he did, after a few minutes. Someone else was up, and he went to sleep pretty quickly after that.

I got to that point after a while.

But it all started with those old records in the garage, and listening to my brother’s cornucopia of profanity. I didn’t even know I liked music before that. And while I will always have some degree of difficulty with my brother, I will also always be grateful to him for helping me find music, and stop worrying about the boogeyman.



Egg the Fat Kid

I usually try not to respond to or write about things out of anger, but just this one time I’m going to make an exception. My friend Justine shared an article a little earlier that was about the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch and why he “hates fat chicks.”

The article explains:

“He doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people,” Lewis said. “He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing. People who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the ‘cool kids.’”

It made me remember my high school years, when I was definitely not one of the cool kids. We were not well off at all, and my clothes were never designer, and sometimes not even new. It shouldn’t have mattered, but kids can be more cruel than the Marquis de Sade so it ended up kind of making things harder.

I was bussed from Santee to Grossmont high school, and I remember how crappy the kids from that neighborhood were to those of us who could not afford the trappings of wealth many of them could, and who didn’t look the way cool or attractive people were supposed to.

That was me for sure. Overweight by the in-crowd’s standards. Average-looking at best. Generic or used clothing, for the most part. The “fortunate” kids were always kind enough to let me know where I fit in the scheme of things.

There was one time in particular that stuck with me–well, two. The first was one day early in the school year. I remember getting on the bus and feeling like the clothes my sister had purchased me looked pretty good for a change, and my new Payless shoes looked just like Adidas. I thought it might make a difference.

I remember one kid when I got off deliberately stepping on my shoes and making them dirty, while another berated the “Kmart specials” I was wearing. I was utterly humiliated.

The other time I was getting out of my car at the Parkway Bowl theater about a year after my mom died and I was wearing this rugby shirt I liked a lot and a pair of actual Levi’s I’d purchased myself. A carload of high school boys (football players, by their jackets) drove up and yelled “egg the fat kid,” which they proceeded to do. Thankfully, their aim was much worse than their probably beer-impaired judgment, and they only hit me once, right on the chest of my rugby shirt.

Egg the fat kid, indeed.

So when I read that article Justine posted, it made me think of the careless cruelty of my peers when I was the age of many potential A & F customers. I so wanted what they had, because I thought I’d fit in. Maybe even get popular friends.

The friends I did have had nothing to do with how I dressed or the how much weight I carried. They still don’t. Maybe that’s why I never really cared much for brand clothes as an adult.

It might be worth adding that by all accounts, the A & F CEO is supposedly a bit of a troll in addition to his PhD in douchebaggery. It seems evident he is attempting to make up for whatever he feels he missed out on in his youth.

He’s going to fail, and no matter how expensive the clothes are he wears, in his heart he will always be the fat kid, or the poor kid, or the kid with buck teeth. There is only one way to find healing for those kind of wounds, and it is not through wanton buying sprees and callow and superficial attitudes toward people who don’t meet some arbitrary fashion standard.

If it weren’t for Jesus, I would still be trying to meet those standards and trying to please people who didn’t like me for who I was, and would never love me for who I wasn’t. It was and remains ridiculous.

I’m writing this on my phone and I can’t see all the stuff I’ve written further up, so let me just say in conclusion that I have never been in an A & F store, and thanks to this article, I never plan to be. it sounds like I wouldn’t be welcome anyway.

This CEO (who shall not be name dropped by me) can go take a flying uh…leap at a rolling doughnut.

Picnic in the Kitchen

Often when a holiday approaches that results in a gathering of family, it occurs to me that it sucks my kids will never know my parents. It makes me doubly glad they have my wife’s mother and father, who are without question astounding examples of showing people the love of Jesus rather than just telling them about it. I am also fortunate and blessed to still have my sisters–who the boys doknow–but it is still not the same as grandma.

As the years pass, I find I remember less and less about my mom and dad. That also sucks, but it is understandable, because time takes its toll. At first, it’s like the edges of an old photograph first losing corners, and then beginning to turn inward. Culminating with the image peeling and wrinkling from the face of the photo paper, like a kid peeling a skin of Elmer’s glue from his palm. And then there is only a ghost of an image left behind.

That’s what many of my memories are like, especially of when I was small. But every now and then something extraordinary happens. My swiss-cheese brain will fire this little capsule into my memory–a little pocket of sight, smell, and sensation.

That happened at church Saturday night, and I have no idea why. I was listening to Alan’s sermon, but my mind began to wander, as it sometimes does. I started thinking of some old cassette tapes I’d been listening to that my sister gave me. They’re mostly my dad’s recorded narration of various things he filmed on an old Super 8 movie camera that didn’t have any sound. Instead, he would carry around a satchel with a tape recorder and a hand mic inside.

Over the past week, I’d been listening to his dry monotone give a litany of names and places that meant little to my 45 year old self (except the Disneyland tapes, of course). Along with the tapes, I also received some previously unknown information regarding my dad and my brother that sort of brought a lot of dark shadows from my past into the light of day.

I’d been mulling over those details for almost a week, and had no idea what to do with them. I still don’t. I found myself combing through my mental archives looking for something to dispell those details—either something to make them not true, or something good about those many years gone into the ether. Or maybe something to help me get my head out of my ass and stop feeling sorry for myself.

I listened to another tape, and on it I could hear my own voice at about 3, I think, along with the voice of my mother. Apparently, I’d turned off my dad’s tape recorder while on a ride at Disneyland and she’d had to turn it back on so he could resume his monotone.

It was so strange to hear my own voice, and juxtapose that with how my son’s voice sounds now–like when he comes running into our room to let the dogs out of their kennel and says “Hi, boys! Hi, boys!”

And to hear the voice of my mother, clear and without the haze of pain, and painkillers, and cancer. Truly amazing. It made me remember being Tommy again—someone I could hardly remember.

So what happened was that something Alan said made a spark plug fire in my head and I remembered sitting on the kitchen floor with my mom when I was really small.

We’d have these picnics, she’d call them. We didn’t do it all the time, and I don’t really remember why it did happen, but what she’d do would be to spread out whatever she’d put together for us to eat and we would sit there cross-legged and have our lunch. It was always lunch. Sometimes there wouldn’t be very much to eat at all, but I remember sitting there on the floor and looking up at her, and just feeling…safe, I guess, which was something I did not always feel. I loved those times—those picnics. She had this little radio on the desk next to the telephone, and country music would always be playing.

I remember smiling a little bit in church when those thoughts and images flashed through my head. I could feel my wife’s hand on my neck and I thought about how interesting it was how the mind works—how often it is the simple and most basic things that make the biggest impression. Here I am, forty years later thinking about white-bread bologna sandwiches (or maybe it was peanut butter and jelly) and sitting on a small oval of carpet in the kitchen at 9141 Prospect Avenue.

I hope my kids have memories like that. I hope that one day my boys think of me playing video games or having Nerf Wars or playing “gotcha now” and maybe they’ll smile a little while they sit in church with their wives. I guess the best thing I can say or do is work toward making those kind of memories. I need to work harder at not trying to impress, or shock-and-awe, but just enjoy the kids as they are, no matter how times might seem.

Maybe we can sit on the floor and eat sandwiches on a Friday afternoon, or run wild in the castle at West Wetlands. All I know is time is no one’s friend, and there’s no better time than the present to get started.

In any case, I’m grateful for that memory. And with mother’s day coming up, I will be thinking of my mom for sure. I will remember country music in the kitchen in the morning. I will remember looking up at her blue eyes and thinking they were beautiful. I will remember the love she had for the grandkids she was able to know, and know in my heart she would have had the same love for mine.

Moms are awesome, and mine was, too.