Dec 22, 2017

Majestically Natalie

Ain’t no thing like me except me
- Rocket Raccoon, Guardians of the Galaxy

For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
- Mike the Mouse, Sing (and Frank Sinatra)

I went back this morning and read the last birthday blog that I had written for Natalie. It was the Tomboy Princess, and I wrote it eight years ago. It was very interesting to see how much things haven’t changed with Natalie, and how things have changed very much. Since I have neglected writing about her for so long, today - her 14th birthday - seemed like a good time to rectify that situation.

Trying to describe Natalie is like trying to describe the taste of Butterbeer.  (Yes, the Harry Potter reference was intentional.) That wonderful drink that has been brought to life at Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter brings such complexities. There is shortbread, butterscotch, caramel, cream, cream soda. But even throwing all of that together doesn’t really paint the picture. Trust me.  Go try to make your own using one of those "Butterbeer just like Universal!" recipes and realize none of them work.  Where was I? Oh yeah.  Natalie is like that. Any attempts to describe her actually miss because they limit her. Pointing out a certain quality makes you think the opposite quality is not there. But that assumption would be false.

For example, Natalie claims to not like talking to people. She will often ask me to order for her because she doesn’t want to talk to the waiter. But, she gets upset when Gabe doesn’t say hello to the teachers in carline. And she will straight up respectfully disagree with a teacher in front of an entire class without a second thought. How can a person be so timid and so bold? Because she is Natalie.

From her arrival in this world, Natalie has done things her own way. Actually, from before she arrived. She was situated breach in her momma. The doctor tried to get her to flip, and it appeared like she had the day before her arrival. When we got to the delivery? She had rolled back around, just to be ornery. As a baby and toddler, she was fiercely stubborn and independent, and unbelievably clingy. This has been her M.O. for her entire life. She combines so many things that seemingly should never match. She is brilliant, but has trouble memorizing lists. She is highly opinionated, but also follows inexplicable popular trends. She is an artist in drawing and baking and singing and violin playing, but she will go long stretches not wanting to do any of them.

Natalie realizes all of this and doesn’t really care. She actually embraces it. She openly will say she is awkward and joke about her gaffes. She plans on doing color guard next year in high school, but then will describe how she sees it going. She will begin the performance, only to have it stopped a few minutes later. The director’s perch is on fire, kids are laying on the ground bleeding, people are impaled with flags, she is standing over by the dumpsters. The directors are yelling, “Natalie stop! You have run horribly amok!”

I have never really met someone who appears to be so comfortable in her own skin. Being her parent, I have heard those moments where she is doubting herself. But most of the time she is proud of who she is. She celebrates herself in her entirety. That is a lesson I have never learned.

This picture is something that fit my daughter perfectly: majestically awkward. Not everyone is the same. The world needs graceful swans and powerful eagles and awkward flamingos and shuffling penguins. I love how Natalie recognizes this need and even revels in whatever form she takes. It is little wonder she is drawn to exceptional creatures: unicorns and mermaids. She is Natalie - take it or leave it. Thankfully, more people want to take it. Those over the years who have left, they have missed out.

As my sweet girl has grown into a lovely lady, I am routinely taken by surprise by her beauty and poise. She will come out of her room for school, wearing a very fashionable outfit and wearing it well. Her new haircut only has served to enhance her natural beauty and accelerate her maturity. I will just smile at her and say, “You’re pretty.” Some people would demurely turn their heads. Others would try to refuse the compliment. And some others would soak it in. Natalie goes her own route. She pulled her head back so she creates a double chin, makes a dumb facial expression, and gives herself buck teeth. Then she squawks, “Thanks.”  That’s just like Nat. She takes a tender moment and turns it on its head.

Natalie also has developed a very strong view of the goings on in the world. She is a strong proponent of women’s rights - even getting into spats at school defending her position. She believes that everyone deserves to be treated well, regardless of beliefs or coolness factor. She doesn’t stand for mistreatment and injustice of herself or anyone. This has led her into conflicts with teachers and students, but I would rather her stand up for her convictions than go the easy path. I doubt most fourteen year olds have enough awareness of the world around them to even think about these issues, let alone have strong opinions on them.

I have strong dreams and desires for all of my kids. With Natalie, I’m so extremely curious as to where she will end up when she is grown. I would not be surprised at all if she ends up famous, changing people all over the world. I also wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up living on an island, running a little surfboard and coffee shop. She would fit either track well and would keep on being her unique and awesome self. I know one thing for sure: she will do it her way, like nobody else can.

Oct 17, 2017

A Sick Silence

No more games, I'm a change what you call rage
Tear this muthafudgy roof off like two dogs caged

I admit it is ironic to begin this with an Eminem quote, but it accurately describes how I am feeling this morning. As we all are probably aware, the topic of sexual harassment has been at the forefront of our country’s attention recently. First, we saw the powerful Hollywood magnate Harvey Weinstein taken down by the sheer magnitude of his behavior towards women. Then we saw the rise of the “me too” awareness campaign - as women everywhere tried to show just how widespread this behavior has become.

There have been the expected responses. We have had media outlets seeing an opportunity for clicks, leading to them generating as many tie-in stories as possible. We have seen the contrarians seeing an opportunity or clicks, leading them to throw up their attempts to diminish the validity of the topic. I’m never surprised that some troglodytes emerge from the woodwork at these moments, just to prove there still are backward thinkers around. We also saw the usual mass of people freak out who, up until this particular news broke, were perfectly fine letting Weinstein continue to mow his way through the female population of Hollywood. That is always amusing and annoying - celebrities tripping over themselves to condemn a person that most of them knew was doing something wrong.

This whole song and dance is so common, and such an easy red herring. People love jumping all over the (mostly) liberal celebrities who now must express outrage at a big-time Democratic donor. We see posts and blogs and tweets shooting at how both sides handled it. The battle builds so much that it is easy to forget WHAT exactly the argument was about. You know, like the whole National Anthem kneeling fight. The saddest part of that whole kerfuffle is that the extremely important issue that started the protests (systematic racial discrimination and mistreatment) is completely ignored.

Well I am not going to let that happen. The issue is out there, so let’s deal with it. There have been some really thoughtful pieces out there on the topic of sexual harassment in the last few days, and I don’t pretend to bring anything revolutionary to the table. But I’ve been trying to be more consistent in voicing it when my righteous anger is stoked. This offering doesn’t get any clever allegories or poems. It is about as straightforward as can be.

The status quo in this country is that women are routinely marginalized, harassed, and demeaned. They make less money. They have more difficulty climbing the work ladder. They consistently have to deal with guys who believe it is in their rights, as men, to say and do whatever they want to women. These men are protected by their status in their company, church, community. Women have gotten to where they feel they have to just accept this as the way things are. And the only time something is done about it is when things are grievously out of proportion to “the norm.” I have no doubt that Harvey Weinstein would still hold his position if it were not for the sheer volume of accusers. Even still, the more extreme accusations are met with some doubt. Rose McGowen’s claim that Weinstein raped her was uncomfortably ignored or refuted in favor of more exciting names on lists.

This is WRONG. The “good old boys’ club” mentality is wrong. The “dirty old man” mindset is wrong. The “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” exchange is wrong. The “how far will you go to get the job” question is wrong. The “little bit of humor” excuse is wrong. The “she was asking for it” defense is wrong. It is all wrong. It was wrong back then; it is wrong now.

Of the Highest Value
It is wrong that my thirteen year old daughter had to sit in her health class last year as the teacher taught the girls what to do to avoid rape and never even mentioned to the boys to, you know, not rape people. It is wrong that she was ridiculed and attacked for speaking up about that unfair standard.

It is wrong for my brilliant wife to have to be talked down to by male doctors just because she is a woman. It is wrong that when she walks into a patient room she is assumed to be a nurse. It is wrong that patient’s father’s say how cute the female doctors are. It is wrong that she will make less money because of her gender.

It is wrong that my female coworkers have to consistently deal with high school and college boys hitting on them during classes and events online. It is wrong that these boys think they have to right to write sexual comments to them, just because they are women.

It is wrong that women are taken advantage of at car dealerships and repair shops. It is wrong that attractive women are treated differently than other women.

It is wrong that females in journalism - especially sports journalism - have to not only prove their skills and knowledge, but also show off their legs, cleavage, rear ends, and voluminous hair. It is wrong that still after all of that, they still have to hear how cute and funny it is to hear a woman talking about pass patterns.

It is wrong that a woman wanting to break into movies or music or the entertainment industry in general has to at some point take her clothes off to get a job or advance her career or be taken seriously.

It is wrong that women are not believed when they tell people about this harassment. It is wrong their character and clothing and choices come into question instead of the person who really did something wrong. It is wrong that women know that it is so difficult to actually get anything done on this front that they don’t even bother. It is wrong that this is so prevalent that I would be hard pressed to find a single woman who could say “not me” instead of “me too.”

I would hope that we all can agree that this is wrong. I would hope. People do not deserve to be treated this way. Women do not deserve to be treated this way. This is something that should be universally fought against - something we can all agree on for once. Which is what makes this next part so painful to me.

There has been one group that has been largely silent through this, one disgustingly and disturbingly quiet group. That would be Christians, especially men. I have seen only a smattering of Christian men standing up and joining in the chorus of those crying out, “This is WRONG!” There have not been a series of tweets from Christian leaders decrying this behavior. Did Franklin Graham echo the sentiments of how women should be treated better? No. But he did use his twitter account to again promote Donald Trump - another ADMITTED sexual harasser. What about the former reverend and governor Mike Huckabee? Did he use his status to stand up for women? No. But he did make a completely classless joke via Twitter about Harvey Weinstein piloting Flight 666 the other day. You don’t like the most traditional elements? What about Joel Osteen? Did he speak out? No. Steven Furtick? No. Matt Chandler? He talked about domestic violence, so he gets a half point. Tony Evans? David Jeremiah? Chuck Swindoll? Charles Stanley? Andy Stanley? Craig Groeschel?  No. Let that soak in for a minute.

I’m guessing some of you are pretty uncomfortable right now. Some of you are probably pissed off at me that I am pointing this out. Don’t give in to the temptation to attack the messenger. Think about it. Why is this the case? Why would all of these church leaders who have such a massive influence over the evangelical masses in America not take a stand on this? Why would so many Christians follow their example and stay conspicuously silent? These are very very uncomfortable questions and the answers are even worse. These are the answers I came up with. And none of them are pretty.

  1. They don’t believe this is actually happening. Sadly, I think there is a potential for this to be somewhat true. I used to go around to churches and talk to them about internet safety and purity and I’ve had church leaders tell me to my face that there isn’t a problem at their church - an hour after a different leader told me about multiple incidents that happened THAT week. The Church has been known to jam its head into the sand on issues. But I find it very difficult to believe that as a whole the Church doesn’t believe this is happening. And IF this is actually true, then things are much worse than anyone could imagine. 
  2. This is traditionally a liberal/Democratic issue and something they don’t want to align with. I think there is a lot of truth to this. Having spend as long in the Church as I have, I have seen many issues that were discarded because they were promoted by the wrong party. We live in such a divisive society right now that people feel they have to take stands based on party affiliation. The big problem, to me and a lot of other Christians, is that it isn’t so simple any more. There are issues that I care about on both sides of the aisle. And this is one of them. To reject an issue just because it is from a donkey instead of an elephant is unacceptable. 
  3. This strikes to close to home to the biblical patriarchy, male leadership, and biblical roles of manhood and womanhood. Personally, I think that this carries a lot of weight with a lot of people. They are concerned that taking too strong of a stand on the issues of female objectification and sexual harassment could lead to attacks on the entire issue. Ok. I can see that there would be concern there. But does that mean we continue to stay silent on a very disturbing issue? This has been a major issue for the Church for a long time - from Copernicus to slavery to tax reform. If Christians are truly supposed to be promoting the tenants of restoration and unconditional love and grace, how can they turn a blind eye to an entire GENDER being marginalized and debased? In addition, being a leader doesn’t mean being a pig. A man does not have the right to act in this manner regardless of his status. Isn’t that the very thing brought to light by the Weinstein incidents? A man in authority using his authority to demean others. There you go. If you want to be a leader, men, you should be the FIRST to lead the way on this attack. Show your sons the right way. Lead society away from this behavior. 
  4. They don’t want to pull on this string because they know it will be disastrous. I have a queasy feeling that this plays too much of a role in why there has not been a wider Churchwide response.  As we are already seeing, this snowball is turning into an avalanche in the entertainment community.  An Amazon Studios exec has been fired due to his sexual harassment issue.  More and more stars are coming out and talking about what happened to them by people not named “Weinstein.”  Heads are going to roll on this. You can’t take a stand on something like this and then not do a thorough examination of your own house as well.  What would that show? I am quite confident that there are a massive number of stories that could flood out from churches where this kind of behavior was the norm. But, I think this goes even further than just the fear of pastors losing their jobs.  I think it goes right to the very top. A very large number of evangelicals threw their lot in with a professed sexual harasser.  I don’t think you need me to remind you of the multiple quotes from President Trump over the years that indicated that he practiced this kind of behavior. What happens if the Church takes a stand against this? How can they say this behavior is unacceptable and then turn around and support someone who practices it?  Things can unravel quickly.
  5. They don’t think that there is anything wrong with what is going on. Of all of the reasons, this is the most stomach-churning, but the one I am the most confident actually contributes to at least some of the stonewalling going on. I would be willing to guarantee that in churches across the country, there are members who are sitting there saying, “Look at how sensitive people are. Back in the old days, this was just normal behavior. Women knew that this was just guys being guys. They didn’t get offended by it.” This guys may be deacons or prominent church members or even staff members. It is the same truth associated with why churches have been hesitant to speak out about racial equality, to speak out against white supremacy.  The ugly truth of the situation is that there are too many racists, too many misogynists sitting in church pews for the Church as a whole to take a stand against behavior like this. It is a horrible reason, but one that I know exists. I know because I have heard it in churches since I was small. I have seen it happen as long as I’ve been in church.  

I know that some people will be furious at what I am saying here. They will say that this is not the venue to air these grievances. They will say that I have no right to attack the Church like this. To that, I say that this is the perfect time to address this.  Let’s shine a white hot spotlight into the dark corners of the Church. I am not attacking the Church out of hate; it is out of love. I want this behavior eradicated. I want the people who claim to follow Christ to actually look like Him. What did Christ look like? How did He treat women? He was revolutionary in his treatment of women. In a culture where women were seen as property, He gave them value as a person. In a time when women were ordered around, He spoke gently and kindly. In a world where women had little hope, He gave them a vision of a place where they would stand tall. Don’t you DARE tell me that Jesus would look at the way women are treated in this world, by our churches, by our men, and nod in satisfaction.  “Yes. This is exactly what I envisioned.” That is not the message of Jesus Christ.  I am ashamed of the fact that the Church has turned a blind eye to people who need it the most. I am disgusted that the quietest group of all should be the ones leading the way. I am sick over the silence that shows that the Church is more of the problem than the answer.

Oct 2, 2017

A Fruitless Discussion

Can we sit down together and talk
About the thing that has us all in shock.
I think that something must be done
About the situation with the guns.
All this violence, all this death
All these innocents and their final breath.
I have to believe that this was not the intent,
This can't be what the founding fathers meant.
All this tragedy, this harm
Was what they meant to "bear arms?"
Oh here we go ahead, dear Lord
This argument makes me so bored.
Every time someone gets nicked
The whole issue gets politicked.
I'm an American, you Commie pink
I can't believe that you think
You'll ever take my guns away.
You will die that very day.
I need my guns to protect what's mine
And hunt the ducks and deer so fine.
I understand, I really do
I don't want to take them away from you.
I just want to ask, between you and me
When was the last time that you did see
A hundred deer storm from their den
So you needed bullets that never end?
Those founding fathers couldn't know
How damaging these guns could grow.
I don't care what you try to say
You're trying to take my guns away.
Guns don't kill people, people do
That's a maxim that is always true.
They also use poison and use knives
Do we ban those to save some lives?
If I really want someone to die
I don't need a gun to kill that guy.
That may be true, but let me be clear
We have a situation here.
There are too many shooting sprees
To even count, unless more than three
Lives are taken in the event.
Even you have to consent
Things have gotten quite out of hand
Some types of weapons must be banned.
I will not agree, you can't make me
Now go away, go hug a tree.
I've had enough of this dumb talk
Excuse me now, I'm going to walk.
Oh here we go...
I'll start with it; it's not the first
But it was certainly one of the worst.
Back in Nineteen Ninety Nine
It's kind of where we draw the line
When this type of thing became much more
When it could happen right next door
Sixty shootings in the three decades before
In the next two decades, almost three hundred more
Blame Marilyn Manson for those two
And the Matrix also added too.
See, these things have always been around.
They were just kept more underground.
They didn't have the internet
To get the people all upset.
We've done this one, don't waste my time
I won't discuss Columbine
If that was the one and only school
Where this happened, I'd accept your rule.
But there were more, and offices
And churches and even parties, yes.
They weren't all affected by movies
Or crazy music. Can't you see?
These were expected, in this land.
Not everyone has nice things planned.
You've got some people filled with hate
And others who got spurned on a date.
They stole the guns or found them hid
The guns didn't do it - the people did.
Virginia Tech in Two Thousand Seven
Youngstown State in Two Oh Eleven
And Illinois, and Arkansas
And Alabama - they all saw
College students on their campus
They shouldn't have to deal with this.
Universities? That's your plan?
The most liberal bastions in the land?
They are out of control at every rate
And have been - remember Kent State?
That was back in sixty six
Colleges can't be thrown in this mix.

Aurora's movie theatre
That guy was crazy, I'm quite sure
Arizona's congresswoman then?
That doesn't count - 'twas a politician.

In DC at the Navy Yard?
Within our own military guard?
And twice at the Army's Foot Hood.
You cannot tell me this is good.
The military is what you show?
You can't use them, don't you know.
They're trained to kill everyone
And you will NEVER get their guns.
Sandy Hook Elementary
Try to explain that one to me
Little kids.  That's just wrong
You can't keep your stance for long
Never happened, don't you see?
It was a media conspiracy.
There is no proof, go check online.
You must be out of your mind.

The Charleston church is another one
Some maniac who has a gun
Or what about in Ferguson? 
Minnesota? What can be done?
 I knew you'd try to throw in race.
Which is the answer in each place.
That part of our society
Speaks only violence, can't YOU see?
They live like thugs, they get lazy
Right and wrong gets quite hazy.
It is the culture that needs the flack.
It is expected - I mean, they're black.

How about San Bernandino?
Muslims.  You know how they go.
What about the one in Orlando?
Gay people.  If someone has to go...

What about Las Vegas then?
I doubt even you can begin
To justify what happened there.
I'm sure that by now you're aware.
The details still are coming in,
But what we've heard is very grim.
Over five hundred hurt as they tried to hide
Nearly sixty people have now died.
The guns were purchased legally
The plan was carried out easily.
How can you possibly try to say
That all of this is still okay?
It was so tragic, I agree
You won't find arguments from me.
The guy was evil, what can I say?
His dad a criminal back in the day.
But it was hidden deep inside
From even his family he could hide.
So how were we supposed to know
Just when this nutter was gonna blow?
Even with some stricter laws
Nothing about him gave us pause.
So, no, we shouldn't limit guns.
We'll talk again with the next one.

Data on history of mass shootings in America were obtained through
Stanford Mass Shootings in America, courtesy of the Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries

Sep 26, 2017

Top Ten List: Gabe's Tenth Birthday

In honor of our baby boy, Gabe, turning TEN years old today, here is the TOP TEN THINGS ABOUT GABE!!!  From our home office in Sioux City, Iowa.

From when we first found out about his impending arrival, Gabe has been a surprise.  We thought we were done with our family. One boy, one girl. Everyone was potty trained.  It was time to get going on the next phase of life.  SURPRISE!  Here's Gabe! From that point, he has kept surprising us.  Kids one and two took after me: dark hair, dark eyes, tallish.  Gabe popped out with blond hair, green eyes, and a shorter stature.  SURPRISE! As he has gotten older, he hasn't ceased to surprise us.  The other day, he was playing Minecraft on his computer and wanted to install a texture pack. (I don't know what it is either; just follow me here) I was in the middle of something, so I told him he would have a to wait a few minutes.  "Oh I know how to do that."  SURPRISE! Sure enough, he came running back in a little later.  "It worked. Thanks." Yep. He downloaded and installed a texture pack into a folder that it took me a good half hour to locate when I was installing some stuff for him. The things he can do on an iPad would impress an Apple Store worker. He has a mechanical and technical mind.  Oh, and math? This kid has always just had a knack for math.  When he was SEVEN, he heard me talking to one of my Kaplan classes and said, "I've always wondered what X meant."  So I explained some rudimentary algebra.  He nods and says, "Ahh that makes sense." Then he punched out several examples. SURPRISE! It is like watching a flower bloom and then bloom again and again - creating something very surprising and intriguing.

Most kids love sweets. Gabe is not most kids.  Most kids are amateurs when it comes to competing with Gabe about sweets. He will weasel his way into a shake or a smoothie or slushie at any restaurant that has them. It used to be, "Well he probably won't even eat his dinner. So it is cheaper for him to just get a shake." Or, "Well he doesn't really like soda, so it should be okay." Now it is just that he wants the shake. He can consume a shocking amount of candy - and he always goes for the bag that has the most. There have been times when we are getting road trip candy where he will stand there for ten minutes, trying to decide what to get based on which bag is bigger. Then he will say, "I really want to get Skittles, but there is more in this Starburst bag. Dad, if I get the smaller Skittles, can I get two things?" Next thing I know, he has his own stash of candy in the car - which he WILL eat before we get where we are going.  AND then he will ask Josiah for some of his because "mine is all gone." Ice cream, popsicles, cookies, cake, pie, hot chocolate. Gabe loves all of them. It is a good thing he didn't get my metabolism, or he would be in bad shape. (A circle.  HAHA. Bad shape - circle? Get it? Never mind.) It is funny how different the kids are with their candy too. So Gabe will eat all of his Christmas/Easter/Halloween candy as fast as you'll let him. It may last a couple of days. Josiah is a candy hoarder. He eats a little of it, then figures he will stretch it out. The problem is that he forgets it is there and it ends up sitting around for months. Natalie will hide hers in her room like a squirrel and then it is just gone one day. I have no idea how long it takes her to eat it. So Gabe will wolf his down, and then go hunting for more. Where will he find it? In Josiah's stash. He isn't dumb, that Gabers.

Gabe is like every other ten year old. He still is understanding how he should relate to other people in this world and a lot of the time he has a very self-centric view of life. But, there are times when I am stunned at how much compassion he has for people. The flood here in Texas, the one in Florida, the one in Puerto Rico? They have been very hard on this little guy. He doesn't like the thought of people he knows (and doesn't know) suffering. He was extremely distraught when he thought his cousin Toby down in Florida was in danger from Hurricane Irma. This has been a characteristic of his from when he was young. When he sees someone on the side of the road asking for money, he wants us to help them. If he sees a dog outside that doesn't appear to have an owner, he is completely beside himself with worry that it will get hurt. If someone does get hurt or sick, he worries about them and wants to be near them. Perhaps this is even more apparent to me due to how he has handled my Rheumatoid Arthritis. When I am having a hard go of things, Gabe doesn't like it. He doesn't want me to have to do things that will "hurt" me. I've seen him crying when I'm in pain because he doesn't want me to be hurting. If I am disciplining one of the other kids (or the dogs), Gabe is very loudly interjecting himself into the situation trying to stop me. He gets angry when someone is perceived to have wronged Josiah or Natalie (or Heather and me). All of my kids have a strong sense of (what they interpret as) justice. It is truly one of Gabe's most noticeable qualities.

Gabe has always liked to flip, run, and jump around. Back after I had first started staying home with the kids, Gabe was a finky not-quite-two-year-old. He would bounce on the couch, and I would tell him to stop. One time, he bounced too far and smashed his mouth on the end table, slamming his teeth into his lip. AAAAAAGH!!!!! I freaked out. He was screaming and I was terrified. Heather was in Med School and unreachable by phone. In his young life, he has had more eggs on his head, cuts, bruises, and bumps than the other two combined.  It isn't klutziness as much as just playing hard.  But he doesn't shy from it. Instead, he keeps on going and trying new things. For a year now, Gabe has been taking karate.  He loves it and is really good at it.  He's up to green belt and loves going to class. I love seeing him in this completely foreign element and succeed. His teacher loves him and uses him for examples a lot because Gabe is so serious about learning it. "Let's have Mr Gabe come up here to help me demonstrate this." Then the teacher punches Gabe in the face a few times with a new move the kids are learning.  Then Gabe doesn't let him keep punching him. He just laughs and starts blocking the punches. The parents will be out in the lobby grimacing and going "oooohhhhhh" on some of the pops. Gabe just grins, adjusts his mask, and takes his stance again. As a hopelessly unathletic and klutzy lummox, I appreciate his willingness to be so active time and again.

People have always wanted Gabe to talk to them; Gabe has not always wanted to talk to them. They have gotten frustrated with him and thought he was being rude or was shy. They'll say, "He's a quiet kid." Heather and I look at each other and roll our eyes. Gabe is NOT quiet. He has NO problem talking and talking and talking. But you have to earn that. I remember when my mom first understood this. She was frustrated that he didn't click with her like his brother and cousin had. One time she was listening to him play. He kept coming over to my mom and saying things about toys or books, but usually it was lost in the noise all around him. She bent down and heard him and looked at me. "He talks, but he wants you to listen." Yup! You got it. She earned it that day and it changed their relationship. Gabe was always tough to leave in nursery. The first few weeks of school in the younger were nightmares. And if doesn't trust a teacher or an adult, he will NOT interact with them. I always want people to realize that if Gabe is wanting to interact with you, you must be pretty special. When he and his Uncle Mike first connected it was over video games (naturally). Gabe realized that they could speak the same language and from that point on became Mike's buddy. I see this as a positive trait. He doesn't give himself away easily. Too many people do - I know I did all the time, desperate to find love. Gabe isn't going to be the person who has tons of ex-girlfriends. He is careful and guarded.  BUT....

Once Gabe decides that you are worth his love and attention, you will get as much as you can take and more. He loves very deeply and intensely. I am so lucky to know what that feels like. Gabe adores me and it is such a great feeling, to know that he sees me as a safe person. I remember growing up and not having that feeling with my dad at all. We weren't safe and I couldn't just completely deflate around him and relax. So I'm glad Gabe and I have a different relationship. Sometimes this love will overwhelm a person - "love you to death...literally." His brother Josiah is often the recipient of this love. Gabe thinks Josiah is absolutely incredible and wants to spend every possible moment with him. For a sixteen year old who has never been a huge fan of physical contact, this can definitely be too much. But that intense love for his brother is a beautiful thing to watch - until it crosses to fighting. I was surprised just how hard it was for Gabe when my mom died. He STILL will start crying about her, saying he misses her. He has been this way with his friends at school and his cousin Toby. When Gabe loves someone or something, he LOVES it with all the effort he can generate. I don't like imagining my kids growing up because I don't want them to, but sometimes I think about how lucky his wife will be when that day comes. She will have someone who loves fiercely, passionately, deeply. He may not say it, but there is no doubt about it.

My kids are all funny. They kind of are forced to become that just to survive in our house. I'm kind of a smart aleck (#ShockedFace) and I have encouraged them to be most light-hearted and not take themselves so seriously. Gabe has learned this lesson very well. He tells a great story - again, when he wants to. He does some good imitations and has some witty comments. One of our favorite videos of little Gabe is when he impersonates a eight year old Josiah's faces. (Josiah hates this video - but it is pretty dead on accurate.) He picked up on this thing that Donald Trump would do where he points with his hand and says, "Bing." Every so often, when someone is making a point, Gabe will just do it and say "Bing." He makes silly faces, silly voices, and silly songs. And he also is quite a fan of potty humor, much to his mom's chagrin. He is quick to laugh, which lights up his whole face. Being funny is important to our clan, and Gabe both brings humor to the table and appreciates what other people offer.

It took me until I was in my late thirties to understand how badly I had let my intelligence BE who I was. I saw myself as the smartest person in every room. If I didn't see that as the case, I would either have to tear down the other people in my head or find a way out of that situation. I banked so much of my worth on my intelligence. Gabe is smarter than me - I have no doubt of this. He has always had this look about him, where he is analyzing and sizing up the situation. He already is well on his way to be a successful litigator - at least I hope that all of the arguing he does is actually a work-study program. I mentioned how his math and computer skills are way above average. But the crazy thing is this has never been something that he uses to build his identity. It is almost like he doesn't care. It is more like, "Oh, I'm in gifted. Cool. So these are my friends, we went to recess, I built this on Minecraft." I want him to appreciate his gifts, but I don't want him to believe that is all that brings him value. I have wanted that for all of my kids. I'm glad that they have good solid brains, but I want them to use them to do worthwhile things. I want them to be defined by the impact they leave, not their IQ.  Gabe, fortunately, already has more of a handle on this than I ever did.

Sometimes we will eat dinner in the living room and watch Psych on DVD. Or we could be watching a movie, or all playing on our devices. You never need to look far to find Gabe. He is probably tucked in as close as possible to someone. It could be me or Heather ... or Josiah (more often than the rest of us). It isn't Natalie as much because she stays in her room a lot more. Gabe always wants to be right there, as close as he can. He will lean up against me and eventually I'll feel his legs worming their way under my legs until he's woven himself all up against me.  He has always been a cuddler. He loves sitting with people and sharing their space. If there is a couch or loveseat with two people on it, there is enough room for Gabe in the middle. He wants to sit in the middle whenever we go to a movie or game. He wants to have someone sit near him in the car. He wants someone to sit in his bed with him at night. These desires aren't out of fear or immaturity - he just really wants to be around his people. It has not been hard to identify Gabe's love language. The nice side benefit of this is it that it has allowed me and Heather to enjoy the feeling of having a little boy longer, since he still will allow us to snuggle him and hug him.  Even today at lunch at school, I didn't want to embarrass him when I was leaving, so I half hugged him and started to go. He looked up at me and said, "You can hug me dad. It's okay." So I did. Now, the dogs are not always to happy to be hugged and cuddled by Gabe's intense nature. But we like it just fine.

Even though Gabe is slow to open up to others, other people are quick to want to be around Gabe. We've taken to mimicking Robert Barone with "Everybody loves Gabe." The kids all will play with him on the playground. The cousins all want to see what he is doing. One time at one of Natalie's performances at school, if you looked in the back of the cafetorium, you would see Gabe sitting there with his iPad, surrounded by a gaggle of kids who didn't even know him. He has a magnetism about him. People are drawn to Gabe. It makes for a strange combination. Gabe is hesitant to open up to most people, but he is quickly surrounded by people. When he does find someone, he invests deeply in them - often to the exclusion of the other people. Yes, it will be interesting to see how Gabe navigates the minefield of relationships and friendships over the years. For now, though, it is sweet to see how want to be around him. He has grown so much. Even if it is not his comfort zone, he isn't aloof with people. When I saw him at school today, once again he was surrounded by a bunch of boys from class - a new set from last year who barely know each other yet. Girls would walk by and say hi. Kids not even in his class told him happy birthday. The really neat thing (and it is something I hope he continues with as he gets older) is that Gabe doesn't seem fazed by it.  He isn't strutting around like he's all that because he is smart or popular or cute or funny. He is just Gabe. The world swirls around him and he just does his own thing. Sometimes I'm envious of how comfortable he is in his own skin. But I also thank God that Gabe is made that way. He is a very special, surprising, wonderful kid.  And now he is double digits. A perfect 10!

Sep 25, 2017

Let's Play Pretend

Let’s just play pretend for a short minute.  Let’s say that there is a company out there named Company A.  It is a good company.  It has a long history of success and it is highly respected in the industry.  It’s had its bumps and bruises over the years, like any company.  But it has survived, thrived, and become a great place to work.  

Now, things got a little rocky with Company A a few years ago.  There was a lot of discontentment in the company about how things were run.  It seemed like some people wanted the company to get more progressive and some others thought the company should stick to what made it so successful. (There were many more underlying issues, too, but you could boil down the overall problem to that big difference.) When the last CEO was going to step down, this all came to a head.  The two camps clashed over who the new CEO should be.  One camp thought that the CEO should come from within, like it almost always had - ironically it was the group that was advocating more change that wanted to hire the more traditional choice.  The other camp thought that Company A needed to go outside to get a CEO with fresh ideas that was not colored by the company’s biases and history. In the end, the company chose the outsider as the CEO.  The decision left the company very split and created aftershocks that were very troubling to the workers and other companies in the industry.

So the new CEO took over and immediately started shaking things up, as he said he would.  He fired a lot of the middle management and filled those positions with people he knew, as he said he would. He overturned some of the policies that were in place, as he said he would.  He didn’t connect so well with a lot of the workers, which wasn’t surprising since he came from a completely different background.  As you would expect, a lot of the people at the company were not happy with things. They didn’t want this CEO in the first place.  But this is how business goes.

Then things started to get a little weird…

The CEO started to do some things that - completely independent of what he thought about the future of Company A - were very disturbing.  There was another company next door to this company - we will call it Company M.  They were in the same industry, but nowhere near competitors.  The CEO got angry because Company M next door didn’t have as nice of landscaping and so a bunch of the squirrels from their property kept getting across the property line.  The CEO demanded that Company M build a giant fence between the two companies so the squirrels couldn’t cross over.  The facts that these squirrels could climb the fence, dig under the fence, run around the fence, find places where the fence was broken, or catch a ride with people going from Company A to Company M made no difference. Neither did the fact that the second company had absolutely no plan to build the fence anyway.  

The CEO wasn’t content to just act combative with the company next door.  There was another company on the other side of town that was run by the halfwit son of the former owner, who also wasn’t too bright.  We will call this Company Nutso.  They fancied themselves as a competitor of Company A.  To anyone observing this posturing by Company Nutso, the entire proposition was sheer lunacy.  Company A was the best widget maker in the whole city. What Company Nutso made was barely considered widgets at all.  Rather they looked like something a group of preschoolers would create when given the materials to make a widget.  They would be thrown together, covered with clumps of glue and sparkles.  Flames would be drawn on them with crayons.  The R would always be written backwards.  But Company Nutso kept insisting they were amazing at widget making.  Company A’s CEO didn’t leave these ridiculous comments alone.  Instead, he kept wildly freaking out and would tweet out comments on the company twitter account taking shots at Company Nutso.  He kept threatening them and insulting them.  However the CEO didn’t consider the fact that, while Company Nutso was atrocious at making widgets, it was simply fantastic at raising fire ants. They had enormous fire ant hills all over their property.  These ants would obey every command and could worm themselves into everything. And they would frequently unleash these fire ants onto other companies’ properties - just to cause mischief and mayhem.  Even though it seemed like a bad choice, playing with fire ants, the CEO just couldn’t stop himself.  

His refusal to work well with other CEOs and companies within the industry was quite disturbing. During the annual convention for major companies in the widget industry, the CEO did everything he could to irritate all of the other CEOs.  He said that he would not continue to work together with Company E and Company F on their joint widget improvement projects.  He insulted just about every other CEO.  He skipped out on meetings he was committed to and even was seen pushing another CEO out of the way in a group photo.  Most baffling, though, was his bizarre interactions with Company Red’s CEO.  They seemed to hit it off very well, to the point that some speculated Company A’s CEO would rather be working for Company Red.  The worst example of this related to the WidgetMAX.  Company A had created WidgetMAX in conjunction with Company E and Company F.  They were planning to roll out WidgetMAX in thirty days and everyone was working very hard to make sure there were no problems with the launch.  But the CEO told Company Red all about WidgetMAX as well as several journalists that were at the conference … and some waiters, valet drivers, maids, and even a traveling minstrel.  In fact, the only people he didn’t talk to about WidgetMAX were the CEOs of Company E and Company F.  By the end of the conference, most of the other companies were considering severing ties with Company A.

But this wasn’t all.  The CEO seemed to completely lose his sense of reason when he got angry.  A perfect example of this was when he started attacking the local high school’s football team because he didn’t like the way they walked into the stadium - a stadium built by generous donations from Company A. He railed against the players in meetings and flew off the handle because he didn’t think they were being respectful with their entrances. He cursed about several of the players and insisted they should be cut by the team.  This had absolutely no bearing on how Company A actually ran, mind you, but the CEO just couldn’t bear the slight.  He didn’t limit his outrage to the football team. He also got into a fight with the local high school’s basketball team.  They were a little hesitant to come to Company A’s factory for their annual tour and career day, due to the well-documented friction within the company. The CEO once again used the company’s twitter account and publicly withdrew the invitation from the team.  He also would use the same twitter account to make random verbal assaults on people that worked at the company, that lived in the town, that worked at other companies.  He demanded that people who didn’t even work for Company A should fire employees or shut down their own companies because they didn’t agree with him.  He kept tweeting out violent cartoons and comments about the person that he defeated in the CEO vote. Anyone who questioned the CEO's behavior, decisions, fashion sense, or dessert options would immediately be besieged by an onslaught of insults and threats -- more often than not on the company twitter account.

As long as the CEO was doing a good job running Company A, it could all be justified.  At least that was what a lot of workers were saying.  But he wasn’t even taking care of Company A.  He frequently bailed on important planning and strategy meetings to play golf.  Even though Company A was cash-strapped and in great debt to several banks, the CEO kept taking expensive trips using Company A’s resources.  He frequently made comments about Company A that were not even true. He routinely attacked the publication team that put out the monthly newsletter, saying that they were lying about what was going on in the company.  There was a group of employees from the mailroom who had taken to creating an unofficial newsletter during their lunch break. They would write it on paper towels from the employee bathroom and stick copies up around the building with tape and used gum.  The CEO began referencing these paper towels as the real company newsletter and even transferred some of the mail clerks to run the publication department.  At one end of the major production facilities for Company A, there was a large hydroelectric dam that generated power for the entire complex.  There had been several problems caused by the dam.  Leaks had sprung, flooding some ares of the complex.  It shut down productivity for that entire sector for months, costing workers their jobs.  In response, the CEO threw a picnic for the workers in that sector and thanked them all for coming.  He then bragged about how many workers showed up and then mumbled something about the allure of a really good potato salad, took a selfie, and went to the bowling alley. Several of the engineers who built and maintained the dam came to the CEO with concerns that the dam was possibly unsafe.  It was older and needed some upkeep.  It also was overworked and would benefit from some alterations to the energy use policies in the company.  The CEO refused to listen to the engineers and fired them. He replaced them with some guys who liked model trains and used to dress up as engineers who didn’t believe in the fact that dams could fail.  He got rid of the employee training team and hired someone to head up training that had spent her career to that point as the owner of a bookstore.  He even sided with a group of workers who wanted to publicly fire and banish anyone who had green eyes.  And to top it all off, he hired his children to serve as CFO, CIO, and COO - even though their experience to that point had been shopping for clothes, watching television, and caddying at the golf range.

Now, at this point in our pretend story, don’t you think that the company should possibly rethink its decision to bring on this particular CEO.  We haven’t even gotten into how he ran the company. The policies he enacted within the company seems irrelevant, truthfully.  All of the hostility that led to his hiring wouldn't even be involved in this decision.  The employees from both side of the divide should take a second and look at how things are going and at least ask if this is the person to be in charge. Instead of defending these increasingly ludicrous behaviors, instead of trying to justify everything this CEO did, employees who really care about Company A should take a pause and seriously perform a quality control check, right? How is this a beneficial direction for the company?  How far will the CEO go?  At what point do the workers do something?  I don’t care if a group of workers felt that this CEO candidate was more concerned with their welfare at the outset and even agreed with some of the measures taken within the company. There still should be some part of all of this that makes THAT group go, “You know?  This CEO is a little unhinged.  Maybe this isn’t the best dude to be in charge of my life and livelihood.”  It becomes about much more than the internal mechanisms of the company at that point.  This CEO is ruining the reputation of Company A.  He is destroying everything that Company A has stood for over the years.  The question isn’t if he is causing damage; it is how much damage he is going to cause before he quits, gets fired, or finishes his contract.  What state will Company A be in by the time that happens?  Right?  

"The president is the CEO of the country.” 
Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations
May 14, 2017