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Highlight Reel Parenting

Yesterday I posted about the perils and tribulations of raising teenagers, with my usual “flair” for vulgarity and abject generalizations (and maybe some sarcasm).

“Hey parents of young childrens: let me be bluntly honest with you, teenagers are huge assholes and it’s terrible parenting them. Have a blessed day! #yolo”

I’m assuming that most people who know me, know that while what I said is true, it’s also not always true, that it was said partly for comedy and partly for truth.

Clearly not every moment of having a teenager is the worst thing ever, nor are they always huge assholes. My point in posting what I wrote (is that redundant? I think that’s redundant) is that too often I feel parents aren’t being truthful about what it’s really and truly like to raise children.

Let me explain.

I knew raising kids could be wonderful, beautiful, revealing, amazing, and adjectives! Those stories are abundant. They are everywhere. They paint a blissful picture of eternal parental bliss! The angel child who loves God and their parents and skips and hops through life to a successful life full of cherry blossoms and ridiculous amounts of money and McMansions.

I was unprepared for how tiring, harrowing, exhausting and defeating raising a child could be. No one ever told me that there are times you physically want to hurt your child. That there are times when you are weak and you will say things you cannot take back. That the lovely and sweet infant you cradled, nurtured, and kept alive will look at you with burning hatred and vitriol and say such frothing, mean-spirited, and hurtful words that you’ll wonder if you need to call an exorcist. That you will question every decisions and choice you’ve ever made in your life. That you will feel helpless and worthless and worn down.

Would knowing this change my decision to have children? No (I don’t think. Maybe. No, no. Definitely, no. Probably no. I don’t know). But it would have tempered the rosy fairy tales of the idyllic parental idealism, that while true, create a pedestal too high for anyone to climb.

Is it fear that saying such things aren’t “edifying” or “good” or “faithful” or “Godly”? Is it fear that others will judge you and your parenting? Or is it that I’m the only parent that feels this way? Or perhaps I’m not raising my children well and God is punishing me?

Life is already difficult and isolating without us hiding our struggles from one another. Fear protects us from nothing but the chance to make this life, in the moments we have, with the people around us, right now, more meaningful.

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*Spark

“It’s not the spark that caused the fire
It was the air you breathed that fanned the flame
What you think you’ll solve with violence
Will only spread like a disease
Until it all comes ’round again
Was John the only dreamer?

Sleep with one ear close to the ground
And wake up screaming
When we lay our cold weapons down
We’ll wake up dreaming

Obsessions with self-preservation
Faded when I threw my fear away
It’s not a thing you can imagine
You either lose your fear
Or spend your life with one foot in the grave
Is God the last romantic?

Sleep with one ear close to the ground
And wake up screaming
When we lay our cold weapons down
We’ll wake up dreaming
Only love can turn this around
I wake up dreaming
Everything we’ve lost can be found
We’ll wake up dreaming”

* from Drunkard’s Prayer, by Over the Rhine

This song speaks better than my own words can…….have a listen to it sometime. It may speak to you too.

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36 Reasons To Be Happy To Be Turning 36 Years Old

  1. My Wife. I’d be a bastard if I didn’t start there. I know my wife well. The idiosyncrasies. The hurts. The passions. I’m not naive, and we’re not perfect; but there couldn’t be a better companion for me in the world.
  2. My kids. I’m a husband and a father — my kids are foremost on my mind 75% of my day. It’s my duty and responsibility, and I love them enough to die for them.
  3. Parents. Obviously without them I’d not be turning 36. My parents are fantastic, amazing people — they support my crazy, hair-brained ideas, quirky creativity (if you can call it that) and love me (and my family) unconditionally.
  4. My sister. My sister is awesome. Growing up we were friends. Though our interests didn’t always mesh, I still somewhat seek her approval (ssh … don’t tell her — oh wait, she can read this). I respect her immensely — she’s funny, fun loving, more compassionate than anyone I know, creative, and intelligent (like shamefully intelligent; whatever that means).
  5. My friends. All of you, out there, buzzing around. I love each of you. My friends keep my from imploding. Keep me motivated. Spur my creativity, ideas, love and compassion. Now give me work so I can feed my family (kidding, sort of, but not really)
  6. Sus domestica. Pigs — need I say more (bacon, sausage, ham, pork chop sandwiches)
  7. Whoopee Pies. If you’ve not had one (or heard of them), I’m sorry — this Amish made treat is something special, the closest you might get is the Oreo Cakesters (but think of that 15x larger with 3x the filling …. mmmm)
  8. Stove top popcorn
  9. Coffee — nothing makes a morning alive like warm, fresh roasted coffee, finely ground — aroma fluttering throughout the house.
  10. Photography — maybe one day I can do it (more) professionally — sadly its an amazingly expensive career path (a good lens for $1600-3000 — yeah, 1 lens)
  11. Philly Cheesesteaks
  12. Comedians without whom I’d find little humor in life; Jim GaffiganDemetri MartinMitch HedbergBrian ReaganMike BirbigliaLewis BlackPatton Oswalt, et al.
  13. Music. I honestly have no idea how I’d live without music; maybe its my failed attempt at being a musician (in college was on the cusp of signing with Tooth And Nail; but we all decided to go the boring route of jobs), but it fills me with joy, sadness, contemplation — literally scores my life.
  14. Popping bubble wrap
  15. Movies/Film — not nearly as pervasive as music, but films help me escape but also explore my life and my place in the world
  16. A truly great slice of pizza
  17. A cold Coca Cola when the weather is humid and the lawn mowers outside are the only sound in the air
  18. Costco. Impossible to spend less than $100 there. And churros. CHURROS. $1, yes please.
  19. Vices — red wine, good Scotch/Whiskey, robust beers, a smoke of my pipe; things I know aren’t necessarily good for me; but I’d rather be content than overworked, hyper-concerned about every little thing
  20. The smell of freshly printed brochures (design nerd, I know)
  21. Indian food (my favorite ethnic food)
  22. Expensive electronic toys that I break and/or become obsolete faster than cheese
  23. Remembering that it’s Saturday when you wake up early; and going back to sleep.
  24. Arrested Development.. Best comedy show (hours of enjoyment). Go, watch it now.
  25. Young’s Double Chocolate Stout
  26. My church. I’ve been a Christian my whole life, but I’ve never left more apart of a community and more genuine in what I believe than I do in my life right now. They’ve also allowed me explore my photography (and creativity).
  27. The butterflies right before the plunge down a rollercoaster
  28. Finding that perfect pair of shoes
  29. The soft texture of a dogs’ ear
  30. The inter-webs — great resources, information, communication and distractions; I’m not sure I’m better for it, but there’s no going back
  31. A long, full nights sleep on a cozy winter day.
  32. Donuts — only Dunkin Donuts
  33. Work. I love what I do (about 96% of the time). I know there are many people who can’t say the same thing, and I feel fortunate for that.
  34. The relief after a good bowel movement (too much information? you know you feel the exact same way)
  35. the Cincinnati skyline
  36. The eternal and epic battle of the Unicorn lords versus the Pegasus underlings
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Pumpkin Picking

DAY 21:
Not much happening today. The cabinetry is all installed, except the doors and the shower “cubby” area (next to the door). The sink basin should arrive tomorrow and hopefully the remaining “touches” will be done by Wednesday or Thursday. One can hope.


The weekend was good. The kids thoroughly enjoyed spending time with their grandmommy and granddaddy, as they always do. Friday mom and dad spent the day with Abbie at her school, taking her to lunch, then out for ice cream after school, and indian food at Baba for dinner.

Saturday we met the Kershners at Iron’s Fruit Farm for hayride to a pumpkin patch, and picked some pumpkins and gourds. Afterwards we all ate some of their wonderful cider donuts and some fresh apple cider.

That evening Sonya and I were able to get out of the house for a date; a rarity these days (with no family in town and a limited budget to pay not only for a sitter, but to go out and do anything besides sitting at a bookstore, sipping watered down flavorless coffee). We went to The Cheesecake Factory; an insanely busy place, wonderfully decorated, and a menu that was a long a novella. Yum. We then caught a showing of Garden State at the quaint Esquire Theatre in Clifton.

Garden State was quite good. Not superb or an all time classic, but certainly more than adequately surmised the empty dull and lifeless state most people of our generation seem cull themselves in — no emotional attachment to anything, life without passion or feeling, over medicated, under observed, happening without interference. Static.

Sunday I played at CHPC, while everyone else went to Four Corners. I’m unsure where God will lead my worship participation at CHPC — I hope and pray that will more to a Saturday service and become more effective and immersive as a contemporary service. We shall see.

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The Curse of Class Pictures Past

DAY 18:
The walls are painted (this very light “frost” blue). Right now the cabinetry is being installed. We are able to use the toilet and bathtub. Last night I took a bath (no shower curtain) in the dark. Surprisingly calm in the shadows of felt sight, that light can itself be a distraction. Hopefully the weekend we’ll get a shower rod and curtain.


Abigail got her school pictures. Her eyes are closed. Very closed. And she’s not smiling, but more grimacing. These are her pictures, wallet sized, 5×7, 3×5. 25 or more pictures of Abigail looking less than flattering. Rather funny really. Maybe we can have a redo. I know when I look back at my school pictures, I often get peeved at what I look like or what I’m wearing (my oversized tortoise shell frame glasses). I can’t imagine how Abigail and her perfectionist brain will handle looking back at these closed eye pictures. Fingers crossed for some solution.

Soon this site will be “official” – www.armstrongcircus.com – but right now is an ugly IP address. Perhaps we can sell t-shirts, bumper stickers, noise makers, underwear, pens and coffee. You\’d buy some, right?

My parents are in town for Grandparents Day. A big shebang at Abbie’s school. I hope they get a good feel for the school, not simply that they have been tremendously blessed by giving and support, but they’ve been incredible stewards by achieving standards of excellence – I sound like a brochure. Sonya and I are thoroughly inspired by the school, we just want mom and dad to realize it\’s not prestige we care about, but the best education and environment for Abigail. Having money or donations doesn’t mean you can manage it – find the best teachers, have the best infrastructure or curriculum or faculty, etc.

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Day 12

DAY 12 (or something)
The tile is grouted and done. Looks beautiful. There is a toilet in a box in the hallway – just teasing us. I would assume it is a low flow, which means I will be clogging it daily.

Last night our small group went over meditation (in Celebration of Discipline). The modern church has abandoned nearly all of the disciplines (or at least does not instill their importance or practice). How often have you heard about how to fast, how to meditate, how to be in solitude, simplicity or confession? The church seems to focus on prayer and service — those things which require quiet, calm, time — counter to our culture.

I need to find a time to be in solitude and meditate.

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Day (whatever)

DAY (whatever):
No work done today. The tile is setting. We’re so close the finish that waiting now is annoying. I just want to take a shower in my own house — going on week 3 with just a toilet and the kitchen sink.

Today I set up my drumset upstairs for Elliott. He’s been wanting to play drums since he sat on the kit at church. Well, he’s in heaven now. Quite good rhythm and control.

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Day 9

DAY 9:
The bathroom should resemble an actual bathroom by the end of today.

I miss Saturdays. What they once meant. Getting out, seeing the trees and towns nestled in the back roads of rolling hills, relaxing on the couch with a book, doing nothing but breathing deep and letting time continue without a fight.

Now Saturdays are nothing if not a chore. Something to survive though, watching the minutes and hours pass. Fingers crossed. Kids hitting each other, annoying each other, screaming, hitting, crying, whining. There are things to be done outside, inside, hours to recover of lost work. Work. Chores. Work. Food. Hit. Scream. Timeout. Another terrible cold coming on. It\’s the fruition of a life flowing with too much and bubbling over. Melt down. But we do it quite well.

I had lunch with Abbie yesterday. As I rounded the corner, toward her classroom at the end of the hall, I saw her sitting at the small table they have set out in front their room door. She was crossed legged. Tense. Like a few years ago. The anxiety was back again. Shivering and contained in the pressure of her little body. Even with the smile wide on her face she was paralyzed.

Butterfly. She had to write butterfly — two times. The pencil strangled in her grip the letters were shaking and random. It was nearing lunch time, the kids were lining up. Her intensity grew and whimpers started to squeak out.

She finished up, cryptically writing the last “butterfly”.

Then it released. She was ok. The class was still there. They hadn’t left her behind. I don\’t know how to help her anxiety, when I don’t see it. Thankfully I was going to lunch with her and saw it.

Like so many times when she was 3 and 4, sitting at the kitchen table with a crayon in her hand, starring out the window, her mind bombarded and battling itself — the journeys it took to whatever fantastic and horrible voyage. Daddy will be taken away by and eagle who will drop him into the ocean and a shark will eat him. The purple bears in the trees that will come out at night and be in her room. A plague, trapped in her head. Fear twisted around her body.

We saw a child therapist for a bit and he helped us identify the issues, work through them with her and she improved quickly. For over a year she was able to express the fears, anxiety, without burying them. Sonya and I both suspected that the newness, the stress of a new school, or learning so much – coupled with Abigails need for perfection and rules – that it might come back.

It has.

I talked with her yesterday, at Chipotle for dinner, about how she must be very afraid her class will leave her behind, and she\’ll be all alone in a new school. She told me about how one time she went to the nurse to get some new underwear (her habit of holding in her poop because she\’s afraid to go and the class disappear). Well, the class did leave. They were gone. I can’t imagine how scary that was. But she told me some older girls took her down to the cafeteria.

Now it’s our duty, as parents, to find where this fear of being left is coming from, allow her to reveal her deepest fears, embrace them and encourage her to be brave and direct her to the truth. Reassurance.

Parenting. Too much for us to handle, but by the grace of God.

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Day 8

DAY 8: Notoriously absent of any workers today. I was hoping they would be finishing around the tub and prepping for the tile. But, alas, 12:15pm and no one here.

I want to be able to take a shower in my own house sometime. Been nearly 2 weeks now. Again, thank God for friends.

Today is our busiest day of the week.

7:30am: Sonya takes Abbie to school.
8:30am: I take Elliott to school, then come back here to work.
10:00am: Sonya goes to Abbie’s school for “reading time”
11:00am: Sonya picks Elliott up after her reading time.
3:00pm: Sonya goes to pick up Abbie (*Elliott is full blown exhausted at that point).
6:00pm: Sonya leaves for her therapy session.

Insane time. At least we’re not bored. I suppose.

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Pink Day

The coffee is brewing, the final Sumatra beans roasting, the dishes put away and I’m dressed and ready to leave. Not even 7am yet. Quiet. Calm. Today is Pink Day, so wear pink.

I need to remind myself to finish this estimate for a client (keep forgetting, or putting it off rather) and I need to start putting to “paper” the ideas in my head for this new client logo.

I came down to find a small basket in the middle of the family room floor. Just like yesterday morning. Oliver. Our odd cat. All our cats are odd in some manner. Socrates plays fetch and will “talk” with you and suffered from some odd illness when he was one that has left him nerve damaged. Chloe just sits and stares at you, like a statue on the library stairs, has enormous eyes and heart murmur. And our newest, Oliver. He loves to move things at random.

For a time if was our entry way rug. We watched him drag this heavy knitted rug up the stairs then under our bed. For weeks he did this. Now it’s this basket. He’s been watching too much While You Were Out (Evan’s funny) 

Time to wake Abbie up. She usually wakes after I have roasted the coffee. She tells me she can smell it from upstairs, which means she knows I’m up and that it’s ok to come downstairs. Prayers for the day: focus, peace, effectiveness, grace, patience.

++++++++

Damn pink day. Abbie is quite opinionated when it comes to her clothing. Insanely particular. Add to this her need (to obsession) to keep things “the same”. So, it’s pink, she picked out her pink button down shirt and pink skort. We have 4 minutes to go so it’s time to get dressed and go. She flips out. Rips off her shirt, says it feels funny and goes into full blown melt down. Lovely. She’s topless and shoeless and screaming. Needless to say, she was in the car with no shoes and a shirt forced on. Unhappy. But the message was through.

Sometimes you have to do things you don’t like. I hate trash night. Hate it. But I do it (and have been doing it for 25 or so years). I love driving through the thin capillaries of our city, avoiding the clogged veins of highway and patter through towns and squares that outline the city. Peace.