The 10 Memes

We began dinner as usual.  We said our prayers and gave thanks and then, the cliche’ “tell me about your day” move.

“So how was VBS?” The boys were at Vacation Bible School this week.  And this, much like school, is difficult to gauge what experiences they are really having.

“It was good,” Liam said in between bites of BBQ slathered pulled chicken sliders.

“What made it-”

“I know, I know, Dad, what made it good.” Liam interrupted.  Obviously my elaboration scaffold was beginning to transfer.

“So what made it good?” I had to get it in there.

“Well, it’s kind of crazy but its fun.”

Ben piped in, “yeah, kids are running around everywhere.”

“Okay,” I inserted trying to get the image of a wild pack of kids rampaging around the church out of my mind.  “So what are you learning about?”

“Ummm…you know, the Bible, singing songs.” Liam threw out, obviously wanting this daily interrogation to end.

A look of excited remembrance popped on Benjamin’s face, “There IS this really cool thing the do to teach us about the Bible. It’s called Wild Bible Adventure.”

“Oh, yeah,” Liam said, attempting to steal the spotlight as well as lick the BBQ from the side of his hand. “It’s when they have us act out parts of the Bible.  It’s really interesting.  Like today, we go to be the Israelites and we learned about how God sent bread from heaven.”

“Yeah,” Ben cut in attempting to regain his story, also while licking BBQ sauce but from the sides of his mouth.  “They gave us Chex mix and this marshmallow birds.”

“Tweets!” Liam excitedly interjected, “Ummm, I think that’s what they were called.  I couldn’t help but chuckle as the image of God sending Tweets and Retweets down to the hungry, desert-bound Israelites.

“I think you mean Peeps,” I clarified.  I didn’t want to but Liam was giving me the look of “Help me out here, Dad,” and I couldn’t let him down.

“Oh yeah! And then yesterday we learned about how the Israelites got out of Egypt.”

“How did that happen?” I probed, now I was licking BBQ sauce off my fingers.

“God sent the ten memes,” Liam innocently and assuredly responded.

As I let this wash over me, my laughter bubbled into a hearty guffaw.  The image of God trolling the Pharaoh on social media was too much.  In Liam’s understanding of the Bible, God sends annoying memes to get Pharaoh to let his people go and when his people need some food he sends down Chex mix and tweets about it.

I needed that laughter.  With all the horrible content being spewed by a man who thinks he’s god all over Twitter and the internet and anger being bred and spread all over the country, I needed to be reminded that these memes and tweets have no real power.  That love always has and always will prevail, and a good laugh along the way helps, too.

In-dependence

“Can I help you with that lid, Benny?” I ventured watching as my youngest son took a metal spoon to a metal pull-top lid, trying to pry it free.

“No, Dad, I got it,” he grunted a few moments before triumphantly liberating the seal tin top.  “See!” he grinned, half-proud, half-surprised at his feat.

Later that morning, I asked if he needed me to get his green sandals, the one with the “cammo strap”.

“No, Dad, I’ll get them.”

As we were leaving for the day, he was walking to the car, shuffling through the grass while carrying his stuffed animals and cinch bag to my car, hands full and barely gripping onto his water bottle and snack.

“Ben, let me take something,” I ventured again.

“Nope.  I got it!” a slight smile peeked from the look of pure concerted effort he was putting into the task.

I stopped in my tracks, watched his not so little body balancing, compensating, adjusting as he made his way to the curb.  I watched as my not so dependent boy made his own path into the day.  I marveled at how independent he’d become.

Later that night, as I came in with his brother from walking our dog, Lilly, there was Ben fully changed into his PJs.

“I went, I washed my hands, and I wiped,” he proudly announced.

“I hope not in that order,” I quipped, still marveling in his independence.

He giggled as I walked to meet him at the bottom of the stairs.  “Time for bed, Boo.”

He looked up, his face was losing that cherubic innocence and his eyes were filled with his individual and unique spirit. I smiled down at him, marveling and mourning his developing maturity.

“Daddy,” Ben chimed.

“Yeah, Boo?”

“Can you carry me up the stairs?”

“Yes. Of course.”

And as I picked up his still so little frame and slumped him over my shoulder, I could feel him relax, rest and retreat into the crook of my neck.  His breath swept over the side of my face as he released his yawn, like it was written for a movie.

Maybe he wasn’t so grown up yet.

Catching

“Dad,” Liam began with that tone I knew so well, that tone that meant he wasn’t very thrilled about something. “Dad, when is baseball season over?”

He’s become more strategic in his strategies, less obvious, but I can still smell the tactic from a mile away.

“We have two games this week and then the tournament next week,” I replied, matter-of-factly, best to let him take the lead.

He was lacing up his shoes as if it he was 5 again, one lace over the other. Stop. Loop the lace under and pull through. Stop.

“Do I have to play in the playoffs?” Make a loop.  Hold.  Grab the other lace. Hold.

Nope. You are not pulling me down that road.

“Do you want to play in the playoffs?”

” I guess…I don’t know…” He mumbled. Wrap, pull and done.  He took time standing as if he were his stiff jointed Papa and started meandering towards the ball park. His younger brother, Ben, skipping and hopping and sauntering with the level of energy befit of any summer-time child. Liam, however, seemed to get more and more tired as the field approached. Whether it was the long summer day sun or the lack of excitement for the game, I couldn’t tell but I did know that this boy was not chomping at the bit to take the field.

The game started and unfolded. His team had scored early and through a combination of strike outs, chance pop fly catches and a few plays by our head-above-the rest first baseman,  we had kept the opposing team to a shut out. Though from the look on Liam’s face and sauntering manner he entered and exited the field, you would not know it. But when the final inning approached and the head coach asked for volunteers to play catcher, Liam, after six games of disinterest and laissez-faire, surprisingly piped up with a firm by quiet, “Me!”

During our next at bat, while I was out coaching at third base, I watched as he donned the catching gear.  I have learned with Liam that he needs to venture out on his own, still connected but independent. I wanted badly to help, do the fatherly duty of strapping in his shin guards, the same type of gear I had once put on and taken off countless times over many summers. I knew this was an arena best left to him to explore on his own. As I came in to help transition our players from batting to fielding, I beamed at my guy, dressed head to toe in the over-sized gear. The shin guards and chest plate hung on him like a toddler dressed in his parents clothes.

“Are you ready, bud?” I asked, giving him a playful slap on the top of his helmet.

He glared and splayed his hands out to the side, “Daaaaad…” The look on his face made me want to swoop him up in a bear hug and stuck a knife in my side at the same time.  A look of 8 year old indignation congealed before he turned on his heal and marched toward the plate.  It was the biggest spark of life I had seen from him in the game.  What Liam could not control, though, was that while our team was in the field, I had to back up whoever our catcher may be.

The score was three to zero and we were playing the final half inning to secure our second place seed by ousting our tied-for-second seed opponent. For a park district baseball, league, it had its fair share of drama.

We walked the first two batters and throughout Liam made only small stabs at trying to catch the pitcher’s delivery. I could tell he was scared but still brave enough to crouch-slash-kneel behind the batter and attempt the recoveries.  With the next two hits and walk, the score was now three to one and the bases were loaded.

I ventured a bit of coaching. “Liam, if the ball is hit, you have to stand on home plate and catch the ball coming to you or go get the ball and touch home plate.”

Liam turned to me wide-eyed, yet with an air of urgency.  “What’s the score? Do we get to bat?”

I gave my canned coaching response. “Don’t worry about the score, just worry about home plate.” But as I watched Liam dig in the balls of his feet and raise to a now proper catching crouch, I could see the determination, henceforth undetectable, rise to the surface.

“If the ball is hit anywhere, pop up and stand on home ready for whatever comes next. I’ll tell you if you need to get the ball and tag home.”

He nodded, locked into the game. This was the most in-game coaching he had let me give thus far.

As the pitch came in and the resulting “ping” of an aluminum bat rang, Liam shot up and stepped to home.  The ball had been driven past our shortstop and stopped by our left fielder. Two runs had scored and the game was now tied.

Liam turned once again, wide eyed but determined. “Dad, do we get to bat?”

I could have countered with another coaching cliche or have been annoyed that he hadn’t been paying attention to the game thus far, or the other games thus far, but the look on his face gave me pause.  He wanted to win. He wanted to know what was at stake. He wanted to be prepared to help his team.

“This is it, tiger. We don’t get another at bat.  We have to hold them here. If we do, we tie and we stay tied in the league at second.”

Again, he dug in, raised his mitt and bobbed on his feet. The next batter struck out and I could hear the deep breath being released as the next batter approached.  Again, he dug in, raised the mitt and bobbed.

I didn’t care what happened next.  I cared that he cared.  I don’t need him to be an all-star or even just a star.  I just want him to explore different activities and experience what they have to offer.  Baseball is unique.  It’s a team sport yet still relies on a lot of individual accountability.  Even the most complicated of triple plays might only involve a little more than half the team and that is on the high end of simultaneous team work.  I want him to know what being on a team means. To be both highlighted and obscured, to do what you can for the benefit of your squad and to celebrate in each other’s contributions and victories. And here he was, once a shade above boredom, now with a racing heart and team-driven determination.

Ping! the sound of impending doom.  A squibbler to the first baseman, fielded and tagged. Out. I looked back and there he was planted on home plate, glove out and ready.

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March 31st, 2017 – Finis

The End.

Great way to start something is to end something.  I have a lot of endings happening such as the end of break, ending a really good book, the end of this March writing challenge, and others as well.

True endings aren’t real in life, though, are they? It’s like the tried and true story of the pebble in the water.  The pebble is thrown and it ends up in the water. That is not the end of the pebble though.  We all know it’s the ripples that go on.

Endings have a way of freeing us to new beginnings.  The ending of break means coming back to students with a fresh perspective and maybe some new ideas.  The ending of a book means the beginning of a new one. The ending of a writing challenge…well, that just frees up an hour of my life each day for a new challenge.  Maybe the Keep-Your-Place-Clean-and-Stay-Ahead-of-Your-Laundry-So-You-Don’t-Have-to-Spend-All-of-Sunday-Night-Folding-and-Ironing-Challenge.

A good friend once told me “You can’t start reading the next chapter of you life if you keep rereading the old one.”  That’s a tough lesson.  So much of our life is spent in reiterations of past behaviors.  Plowing grooves in the ground as we keep walking the same path through new situations.  We can’t allow an ending to lead to new beginnings unless we allow that ending to change us, to forge a new path, better, more enlightened than before.

So in this ending of the Slice of Life, I think to myself, how did it change me?  How was life different? The most apparent is appreciating life through the eyes of a storyteller.  Finding the magic in the minutiae, the daring in the dull, mystic in the mundane, that is why I love this challenge.  I want to continue to see life vividly, seek moments that move and inspire.  So I can either end this March challenge and begin April the same as I did February, or I can allow April to be new, informed by the lessons of March.

See the world as a wonderful creation, see yourself as a piece of human history, which is rooted in storytelling.  Find the awe in your day and share it with someone.

Finis

March 30th, 2017 – The Best Kind of Rainy Day

Spring Break – a great time to get out with the kids, play at some parks, and soak in the…rain? What?  Rain?  Seriously…all day…and I am with two boys ages 4 and 6? Ergh…

I don’t know when it started, I don’t know if it was a request or if it was an idea, but at some point in the last few years I became a master creator of coloring pages.  Utilizing Microsoft Word and Google Images, I can cook up a custom made page to suit any need. I’ve created jungle landscapes with animals of a child’s choice, underwater scenes depicting sharks, jellyfish and the cast of Finding Nemo. My crowning achievement was a gingerbread house with Santa and his reindeer flying in the background, a T-rex taking a bite and Spiderman hanging from the eaves of the roof.

So of course as the morning rituals came to a close and the “what’s next?” vibe hung in the air, I suggested coloring.  They were all in as they usually are.  Lately, I had introduced the boys to Mario Kart.  Now, I’m not at all a video gamer. I own a Wii for reasons a normal gamer would scoff at but one of the games I own is Mario Kart.  As my oldest began asking more and more about video games and was even using a Wii in his gym class to play Just Dance, I had little qualms about exposing them to Mario Kart, a fun, light-hearted racing game.  Little did I know that this would be a full on obsession.

“Can we print Mario Kart pictures?” Liam jumped out of the gate.

“Yeah, like Luigi?” chimed in Ben.

“Or Bowser! Mario, yeah, you have to have Mario!”

“King Boo!  I want King Boo!”

The creative synergy between my two sons and my ability to make it come to fruition resulted in 17 pages of Mario Kart inspired coloring.

“Let’s make a track.” said Liam, realizing how cool this was to him as he was saying.  The smile spread wider with each syllable.  “We can put it on the floor.”

“Or we could hang it on the wall…” I replied, casting out the bait for what I could see as being a whole day event.  Rainy day, solved.

It was on. We had printed a color sheet of all the Super Mario characters as reference for color and we hung that on the wall.  We called it the Mario Kart Project and I added DLB Studios to the sheet along with the project title.  We were now an official creative firm. We colored all 17 pages, ate lunch, made a quick trip to get some supplies and then Liam set to creating the track, while Ben and I handled other matters.   By 3:00 We had an L shaped track hung, 4 characters placed on it, all with backstories and what power-ups they possessed or were about to fall victim.  We took our final snack break, made plans for the future of our track and celebrated our progress with a few races on the actual game.

Rain, rain, don’t go away, please come back another day…

 

March 29th, 2017 – Early Morning Riser

Almost all of my posts this month have been at night, and they have been later at night.  But I’m not a night owl.  Not by any means. I am a morning riser, an early bird.  I savor the quiet moments when the world is still asleep but the morning star is about to rise.  I have a simple ritual to my day.  I make my coffee (it’s own little ritual as well), read and then write.  I don’t write for the Slice of Life Challenge in the morning.  No, I write for myself.  Maybe its a journal maybe its a writer’s notebook, I don’t know, and really it doesn’t matter.  I write whatever it is that comes to my mind.  I must do all this, coffee, read, write, before I start my day.  Its a way to let the new day slowly infuse with me, like tea in hot water…though I don’t know if I’m the tea or hot water.

I’ve seen both sides of the early morning hours.  In my early twenties, I saw the early morning as a final destination, walking home from a night out with friends. We would marvel at the hush about us, the absolute calm.  In that quiet, we owned the world.  We were the wide-awake dreamers, the sun gatherers, the shadow catchers.  Now, in my mid-thirties, I see early morning as a genesis, the onset, not walking home, but waking it. I marvel at the peace and serenity that each new day brings.  In this quiet, I own the world.  I am the shepherd, the sentinel, the watchman.

The coffee is made; now it is time to read and write.  It is time to welcome the new possibilities in this tranquility.