2010 – A Decade in Review

I actually intended to post this prior to the new year, but the holidays were hectic and I’m only now sitting down to my keyboard. As we moved through Advent and into the Christmas season this year, I was largely oblivious to the fact that January 1 would not only roll over a new year on our calendar, but a new decade. I usually go about setting at least cursory new year’s resolutions for myself (I’m still deciding what this year’s will be)…well, except for one year when Karen and I were entirely oblivious to the fact that it was even New Year’s Eve…but a new decade seems much more significant when you think about it. Then, I read another blogger’s post in which he recapped the decade, and began thinking about just how much has occurred in our life over the course of ten years. So, inspired to do the same, here’s a glimpse into what the decade of 2010 held for us. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was life-altering.


Karen and I were “living the dream” in 2010. We were four years into our marriage, young professionals in a nice apartment in the city where we met in grad school. Karen had moved away from teaching middle and high school and was a professor, and I was writing while not in my day job in the non-profit world. We did theatre together. Not everything was perfect – not by any stretch. And certainly we were spread thin financially at times. But I look back on those days now, with the freedom and creativity that we had, and I miss them.

Me and Karen, living the dream


Our oldest daughter joined us unexpectedly in 2011. We were in labor for 24 hours prior to a C-section delivery. Our friends were praying for us, Karen’s mother came and stayed with us for nearly a month. I remember how my world changed – I literally saw things differently when Karen told me that we were expecting – and how speechless and stupid I felt when my daughter’s cries first echoed from the delivery room walls. The night before we went to the hospital, I remember sitting in our living room with Karen and her mom and reading Salinger out loud because we chose one of our daughter’s middle names from his story, “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.”

It's a Girl! A balloon from our first baby shower.


My focus shifted from writing (I still haven’t finished the novel with which I was so nearly finished when our first daughter was born) to the web. As I was pushed out of my first career as a result of legislative changes, I began to make my hobby into a living. With our daughter only just a year old, we moved to New England so that I could return to school in Boston. We had determined that there are two types of education: really cool education in things that matter, and education that earns a living. We both had a lot of the first, not as much of the second. The goal was to remedy that situation.


One of the high points of our life in New England was a job that I had with a group that used theatre programming as a treatment modality for adolescents who were on the spectrum. I lead a team of other clinicians, and this became my ministry. I loved every second of that job…I couldn’t wait to go to work. I have missed it painfully ever since.

2014 – 2015

It was surprisingly more difficult to rebound in my new career in New England than we had anticipated. The company I was with wasn’t working out, and we needed some freedom. We packed our lives once more and moved into a house that we still owned in North Carolina. We would spend the next two years fixing up that house and getting it ready to sell while I was freelancing and Karen was teaching as an adjunct. Our daughter was just coming out of her love for Thomas the Train and moving into Wild Kratts (animals are still her fascination). These were great years for me professionally, but I lost so much focus spiritually. I longed to be as firm in my faith as I was when I was in seminary, but I was working such long weeks. My relationship with our daughter was strained during this critical time, as well. As successful as I was professionally in those years, I wish I could go back and reclaim some of that lost time.

Interest in Daddy's work


Surprise! Our second daughter joined us unexpectedly (see a pattern here?). A highlight of this time was having both sets of parents with us, overlapping for a few days, to help with the baby, all together in our home. As stressful as it was (you’d think that we would have a grip on things having had one child already), having our family together was priceless. We had been praying to return to New England during this time also, and, shortly after our second daughter was born, I received a sudden offer from a company in Boston that was just what we were looking for. So, with our new daughter not quite a year old (seriously, do you see a pattern?), we packed and moved in a month, back to New England.


Along with getting used to winters here again, we also began to get some answers to our oldest daughter’s academic struggles. The diagnosis of Nonverbal Learning Disability answers so many things, but has been so difficult to absorb. We’ve entered the new decade attempting to navigate this, with all of the logistical, financial, and emotional difficulties that it brings. Before I set those New Year’s resolutions, my goal for the new decade is that our daughter is equipped with what she needs to have a successful and happy life, and that we are able to grow into being the parents that she deserves. I love that little girl so much, and previous resolutions seem so empty now….

On New Year’s eve, Karen and I watched a movie. She fell asleep on the sofa, and I poured a glass of wine and did something that I hadn’t done in many years…I watched the ball drop. I used to be into this tradition, and it seemed so flippant now. I feel my age, more weary than I should feel at times, and, to paraphrase a Wall Flowers song, I haven’t changed, but I know I’m not the same.

I hope that your new year…and your new decade…is blessed in whatever life sends your way. Who knows what adventures I’ll be able to write about in 2030? Time will tell…

On Shopping and the Value of the Mundane

An image of winter gloves, used under Creative Commons.I’ve been shopping for a new pair of gloves.  This is a deceptively difficult thing to get right. When you live in New England, you don’t own just one pair of gloves, because the mid-weight gloves that you wear in December are useless in January and February. Having the right gloves at the right time of year is very important.

After Karen and I had been married for a couple of years, I joked that I was a master of the suburban jungle. We fell into a rhythm of grocery shopping every Sunday afternoon. This sounds mundane, but was something that I enjoyed. Our rhythm is no longer the same with two children, and this is true not only of grocery shopping, but of many other aspects of life.

Even within these interruptions, however, one adapts. We used to have these little outings as a family. Again, nothing huge, and often mundane….trips to a local store to pick up some items that we needed, then eating out. I love those excursions, even when they are something as trivial as shopping, perhaps for the right pair of gloves.

When our oldest daughter was younger, I took her for “cookies and milk” every weekend. This was an inviolable routine. Even when traveling, we made time. Even if it was as simple as grabbing 15 minutes at a coffee shop (which it frequently was), I made the time. As life progressed, this, too, began to happen less and less frequently, a fact that she has lamented to me recently. Now I find myself digging for ways to accomplish this simple act amidst all of the work that I have to accomplish, all of the daily life commitments that come with family…almost none of which, it occurs to me, involve leaving home.

This was a utopia long-predicted and, now that we have it…for all of its telecommuting benefits…I can’t help but wonder what we’ve relinquished. Years ago, when I was in grad school, I recall sitting upstairs in my favorite coffee shop, when a classmate walked in downstairs. I began to IM him (remember AOL?), and realized the absurdity of such an action. I walked downstairs and said hello. That was a precursor to today, as the absurdity of that moment becomes commonplace when we use Slack to talk to a co-worker who is only a few feet away.

Of all the face-to-face interactions that we abdicate, it is the interactions with my children and family that are most painful. As crazy as it sounds, those random weekend shopping excursions held something that just doesn’t spark when we have those same items delivered by Amazon. The convenience of having such a plethora of options for a new pair of gloves is somehow not worthwhile, because the substance of doing the activity together, even when it’s only shopping, is more important than the outcome of the activity.

That idea, though, is counter-cultural in an age of scientific pragmatism. We are, after all, only data, right? And thus intrudes a cognitive dissonance into my life. I love shiny new toys. I love that I can have groceries delivered to us on Sundays if we are overwhelmed with daily family responsibilities. I miss the act of intentionally doing those mundane things together, though. I miss it deeply, because it now happens so rarely. And thus, so do our connections with each other.

Except virtual connections. Those will never go away.

For whatever they’re worth.

Image attribution: Keith Williamson under Creative Commons.

That Little Tree

Small ceramic Christmas treeThat little tree.

I remember it in my childhood bedroom. It carried the soft glow of Christmas from the rest of the house into where I slept. My mother had crafted it carefully and lovingly, intending it to be a gift to me, in a ceramics class that was her creative release. Though not inherently worth any money, it’s a fragile little tree, and I’ve always handled it with the utmost care. The memories that it carries with it, the intention with which it was created, endow it with a value far beyond any monetary appraisal.

I have carried that little tree with me everywhere I have lived since. I pack it away with special care at the end of each season, and I unpack it again when the temperature begins to fall. Perhaps because it always had a special place in my bedroom all of those decades ago when I lived in my parents’ home, it has always lived in my bedroom since.

I remember every detail of the Christmas decorations in our home. There were flickering lights, music almost constantly, and gold garland hung with artificial apples that framed our living room. I particularly remember one circular, flickering Santa that somehow gave the softest presence to a room when it hung in the window, overlooking a snow-covered lawn. The decorations mattered less than the feeling of a solid foundation to which they contributed. My family always loved Christmas, because of the central part that it represents in the history of our faith, as well as the generosity to which it gives occasion. Of all the holidays of the year, this was the one to which we gave the most energy, and so the close of each year was a special, peaceful, even holy time. I’ve carried that into my adulthood, not only as a nostalgic recollection, but as a practice.

Or, at least I have tried.

I wonder how these same sorts of memories are being formed for our daughters, what will stand in the fronts of their minds about Christmas when they are my age. At least during the Christmases of my youth, the opportunities, it seems, for the formation of important memories were carefully crafted. I’m not sure that we accomplish that. With the number of times that we have moved over the past few years, the pace of life that is at times unmanageable despite or best efforts, I fear that this intentionality slips from our grasp, however good our intentions.

Perhaps, though, I’m mistaken. Perhaps those opportunities for memories as I grew up were not crafted at all, but are the sorts of experiences that create wonderful memories on their own, however unplanned, facilitated only by the fact that I am fortunate enough to have a stable nuclear family. Should that be the case, then the opportunities for these foundational memories are simply present for our children, and I can only hope to make them as positive as I can.

When our oldest daughter, now six, was three years old, she gazed with fascination and a certain degree of longing at that little tree. I promised her that, when she was grown, she would inherit the tree. She spoke often of that promise for a while, though she doesn’t really mention it of late. I wonder what that tree will mean when I pass it on to her?

I wonder if I can influence that meaning at all.

Cheating the System

Cheating at the Sneaky Snacky Squirrel GameWhen I was in middle school, I was (and this will not exactly take you by surprise) a bit of a nerd, not exactly popular in social circles. My best friend was three grade levels older than me, and also not exactly the most socially mobile. We partook of the sorts of things that you might guess, perhaps stereotypically, would interest us…Dungeons and Dragons, chess, fantasy and science fiction novels, and all of the imaginative escapism that went along with them. The issue was that, being older and more experienced at things, my friend nearly always won every game that we played, and I was still immature enough that this really bothered me.

Our families were both heavily involved in the same faith community, and that was the beginning of the age in which the youth group was a heavily prioritized aspect of church culture. I remember one evening in which some church function was occurring, and we were the oldest youth group members present. While the adults had dinner and talked about…boring adult things…and the younger children played games appropriate to their ages, my friend and I were playing a board game. I couldn’t tell you which one (although we were particularly given to Axis and Allies at the time). I was losing, and so I took the opportunity to alter the odds in my favor when my friend wasn’t looking. I just wanted a chance, after all, and was quite tired of losing. He, of course, noticed immediately upon returning his attention to the game, and things erupted into a quarrel.

I only remember two other incidents in which I cheated on something, both involving quizzes and spread between my late middle school and early high school careers. The point is, the older I became, the less palatable cheating became to me. The same faith in which I was participating the night that I cheated on that board game necessitates that truth is more important, that cheating is (as much as this would frustrate my friends ascribing to a philosophical post-modernism) wrong.

Our daughter is old enough that she is beginning to grasp board games more effectively. On the evening that I write this, she and I were playing a simple game involving spinning an arrow and placing plastic acorns into cardboard tree stumps…you get the idea. Of course, one of the options that the arrow can land on with each spin is the “you lose all of your acorns” option. I was the first recipient of this unfortunate spin, and used the opportunity to show good sportsmanship by giving away all of my acorns. Then she landed on the same option a turn or two later, and was significantly more reluctant to give away her acorns.

So, I compromised. She gave up half.

This actually worked, because, the next time she landed on the harbinger of acorn loss, she hesitated, but gave them all away, working on copying my sportsmanship. This was great until she landed on it again. And then again. That was too much.

So, I compromised. I nudged the arrow to the next option over, much to her satisfaction. Then, a few turns later, I did it again.

So, I suppose I cheated.

I’m not entirely certain whether this will have a negative impact on how our daughter views games or competition or any of the other developmental processes associated with these sorts of activities. Or, perhaps the event will be inconsequential for her, lost in the mists of memory. For me, though, I’m quite taken with the amusing fact that I cheated.

What’s different is the motivation. When I was young, on those three occasions, I cheated to further myself, to compensate for self-esteem issues, to look better in the eyes of others. When I cheated tonight, there was no self-serving incentive behind the act. Rather, the impulse was to protect my daughter from a cold fact that she shouldn’t have to experience quite yet, the fact that life can, indeed, be that unfair.

I cheated because she doesn’t need to know that yet, because she doesn’t understand the concept of cheating yet, and because maybe at least her first exposure to it, if remembered at all, will be a positive one.

I cheated in a good way, if that’s even possible.

I’ll try to do better in the future.

The Spirituality of Freshly Cut Grass

I mowed the lawn this weekend.

Wow, Dave. That’s…um…amazing. Thanks for the Earth-shattering news. 

I know, I know. But, wait for it…

You see, the thing is, I haven’t done this since before I left my parents’ place to head off for college. Since I launched into the life of a student, professional, and otherwise participator in the adult world, I’ve been either a dorm or an apartment dweller. No lawns to mow, no real maintenance at all, as a matter of fact. Which is actually just as well, because, while I know my way around power tools and have helped build more than a few sets for more than a few shows in my life, I’m actually really not all that handy around the house. Building a facsimile of the real world to stand on a stage, while allowing your skills to develop with woodworking, is actually quite different than building or re-constructing something for the inside of your home.

My dad tried his best when I was young. I hauled wood for our wood burning stove, I even tried to split it on occasion. When I was very young, I went around the house with a set of plastic toy tools to accompany him on whatever small thing around the house needed to be repaired. I would screw and hammer pretend items as dad did the real work. By the time I was in college, I could assemble furniture. That, however, would remain the extent of the handy-man skills that I needed until last week.

The thing that I had always been good at around my childhood home, though…the weekly chore that my dad always felt comfortable giving to me, was mowing the lawn. I studiously observed his teaching me about the techniques with both a riding lawn mower and a push lawn mower than he used to take care of our lawn, which came in at just short of a full acre. Unlike most of the other things that I observed, though, I grasped the practical applications of this. As horrible as I am with mathematics, I grasped the geometry of establishing the angles of mowing, the framing of the area of the lawn that you’re working on and the careful progression inward, making the square always smaller until it does not remain, and you can move on to the next area. Starting and maintaining the mower…there’s a trick to all of that. Handling grass that has grown a bit too tall without stalling your mower…there’s a trick to that, as well. I knew those tricks. I actually took pride in the fact that I had learned this from my dad, that I could contribute to the household in that way.

I suppose it’s like riding a bike. When Karen and I moved into this house upon arriving in North Carolina, we had to purchase a lawn mower. I called my father to get his advice on which one to purchase. We unpacked it, set it up. I was looking forward to taking care of our lawn. A great deal of the rest of the home improvement that needs done to our house I’ve been irritated with, but this…this I hadn’t done in so long, and I was almost thrilled with the anticipation of caring for a lawn again. Starting the mower was a spiritual experience in its own right. I remembered all that my father taught me those years ago. I handled it well. I contributed in the best I way knew how.

The beautiful thing is…I get to do it again next week.