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Two of A Kind – Workin’ on a Full House

23 Apr

I only started really listening to country music during the summer between high school and college, mostly because a country station was easiest to find while driving all across the state of Wyoming for my summer job – but it also started because I had recently broke up with a girl who liked punk rock and so I decided to get as far away from that genre as possible. One day driving on a particularly lonely stretch of highway (there are plenty of them in WYO) the sultry smooth voice of Mr Garth Brooks came on and I had to turn it up.

She’s my lady luck – Hey, I’m her wild-card man wafted thru the pickup cab… I didn’t pay close attention to the song at first and I couldn’t resist trying to imitate that croon as loudly as possible. After a while I paid more attention to the words and started to wonder what that life would look like. I had no desire to have a full house, a “big” family, and certainly a full house would qualify as big. I grew up with one sibling, most of my friends were part of a 4-person family, so it seemed natural to lean that way. And even though I was surprisingly content with one kid after we had Nolan, The Mrs and I also agreed that a family of four had a nice fit to it. You guys know the rest of that story.

Fast forward over a decade and here I sit on a couch that has juice or maybe even a couple of snot stains on it, among a living room littered with toddler toys and baby bouncers, three kids quasi-peacefully sleeping upstairs. That song’s title has become my reality. I have the perfect full house, Kings over Queens, with a couple jokers (dogs) as a kicker; it’s a hand that is tough to beat. In fact I’d imagine most people wouldn’t bet against it. And that is fine with me.

The most asked question we have heard over the past few months is simple: “Soooo… what’s it like having 3 kids? How is that going?”. The answer is actually also very simple, if surprising – it is awesome. I am serious.  In some ways having 3 kids has even been easy. Yep, I said it. Easy. But it is true. In so many ways having 3 is actually easier than having 2. The Mrs often said after Tad was born that going from 1 kid to 2 was like “getting kicked in the face”. How very apropos. What we realized after having a third kid is that the increase in difficulty starts to reach an asymptotic level – the work increased but not as much as it did from 1 to 2. And there are many days when it really does seem easy to have 3 kids demanding our attention. You can go ahead and call me crazy. In all honesty I can not imagine my life without our crazy ragamuffin crew, and for a variety of reasons.

Don’t let me fool you, it is not all sherbet and unicorns. There are plenty of days, and nights, when the work gets to an overwhelming level and there are times when the screaming can suck the energy right out of you. We have plenty of evenings when we are simply thankful to make it to bedtime but more often than not we’ve learned to sit back and enjoy the moments we get with all 3 kids.

As much as you hear how unique you are as you grow up, there is something that is really stupefying when you realize how different your kids are. I mean, I can’t be the only one that was surprised when my second son acted nearly opposite as my first son, can I? No? Bueller….Bueller? Ok so maybe that is all on me – but wow, how crazy is it to see how different your children are? We have one with an incredible imagination, another with the wanderlust of a nomad, and a third that has a heart-melting smile. I’ll let you decide who is who. To observe how each of them is constantly growing, evolving, and learning is rewarding, satisfying. It is often the fuel that keeps waking you up and pushing you forward.

But it doesn’t stop there. Watching the way they interact with each other is an absolute blast in itself. Not even kidding, there are times it is even humorous to watch the boys fight it out over a toy. That sounds bad but I think it is part of being a parent. I don’t want them to fight – and I stress to the boys in particular how they will be the only two who truly give a crap about each other in years to come – but there are times when it is just funny to see how they try and enforce their will on each other. Nolan approaches it softly. His heart is such that he doesn’t really want to hit his brother, so he just gets very tense and shakes his clinched fist very close to his brother’s back. Every once in a while he’ll make a connection and immediately look at his mother or I to see if A) we saw it or B) what the consequence will be. Tad on the other hand has no issues with physical confrontation. He’ll smoke his brother with a bat, stick, rock, fist, truck, or whatever else he can reach in the moment. Go figure, right?
However the best interaction to see as a parent is how both boys treat their baby sister. It is heart melting. Each of the boys like to get right in that poor girl’s bubble and love on her with hugs, kisses, pats, or other forms of “love”. Sometimes that love manifests as head butts, bear hugs, or dog piles. Poor Elise. But it’s all in love. It’ll be up to Josie and I to make sure that love continues, but it is good for the heart to see it start so early.

Having 3 kids has been fun. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, now that it has been given to me. It hasn’t been easy, but it hasn’t been as much of a challenge as we expected either. We aren’t being kicked in the face. Some days we are actually thriving. This full house… I’ll keep it around.

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And A Fire-Breathing Dragon

9 Jan

I often talk about parenting as being a humongous puzzle. You are continually moving pieces around, flipping them onto different edges, often shoving them into spaces that they aren’t meant to be in, and always looking for the missing pieces. And at the end of the day, you’re always just puzzled. (HA! Dad jokes for days!)

One of the most debated parenting strategies in the ever changing puzzle that we face today surrounds electronic usage. When do you allow it, how much do you allow, what do you allow them to watch? Every parent struggles and debates on what stance to take on this and the Mrs and I are no different.
As many parents do, we started using an electronic device (her phone) just to keep Nolan occupied when he was feeling especially ornery in a restaurant or when – let’s just be real – we simply needed a break. He took to the movies on YouTube pretty quickly and we could always find a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or other acceptable similar episode to keep him quiet and happy for ~30 minutes. After a while this evolved into Nolan doing his own web surfing on YouTube which can be unnerving. Our feelings were and still are that he deserves some leash and trust as long as he shows he deserves. I can only recall twice when we have asked him to watch something different, or have just changed the video he randomly browsed to. He is 3-1/2 remember; he looks at the thumbnail previews for toys he knows from movies he loves. He doesn’t venture much outside those lines. I am confident of this because I review his viewing history often and I can quote a lot of the lines from the videos he watches over and over and over and over and over… and over… and over again.

This past weekend we were hanging around in our bedroom constructing our most recent IKEA expense, and Nolan was quietly and contently browsing his recent favorite topic: toy reviews. The kid will watch someone unwrap and talk about a toy for HOURS if we would let him. It is crazy! If you haven’t ever seen one of these, here is one that I hear Nolan watching all of the time (don’t watch all 10 minutes, or even 2 minutes): Lots of DinoTrux Toys!
It has even gotten to the point where when he plays with his own toys he talks in the same tone and inflection as these reviewers…. Hey, if you ever questioned the impressionability of a kid. Josie and I continue to be amazed by what Nolan has – and I don’t use this term lightly here – learned thru these videos. Skills he has picked up vary from songs to how to work a certain toy to just how toys could possibly interact.

Suddenly Nolan bolts upright on our bed, his attention torn away from his current YouTube video.
“Dad, Dad… Dad. Dad. Daaaaaad!”
“Yes Bubba?” – I had tried responding after the first Dad but he insists on at least 5 times saying anything regardless of your acknowledgement or not.

“I wanna make a video. Can we make a video?”

Absolutely, kid! The next half hour epitomized the reason that you become a parent. Watching him just naturally talk about his favorite toys, to himself, on his little tablet made my heart swell. The look of pride on his face as he talked about the features of each toy was unmistakable and deserved. He totally rocked it. He gets so excited that his words garble together and at times become nothing short of jibberish – sorry bud, but you come by that honestly.
And instead of me trying to put in words how amazing my kid is, you can just watch it for yourself. My absolute favorite part starts at ~ 1:30. I can assure you, I no longer have any regrets over allowing Nolan to use electronic devices. Watching his imagination explode and his creative side expand is worth far more than whatever harm someone may argue is being done. And a fire-breathing dragon.

Three’s a Crowd (Part 1)

5 Jan

By now anyone who knows the Pickle Jar knows that we are a crazy, fun, chaotic family of five. Three beautiful children tag along with us wherever we journey, no matter what we do to shed them off our trail. If they were investigative agents… well they wouldn’t be very good at covert operations but by God they stick to you like bloodhounds on a scent. What most people do not realize is that being a family of five was not our plan. I can say that most people don’t realize this fact with confidence due to the comments we get when we are out with our crew. It ranges from the blunt “Why would you have 3 kids under 4 years old?” to the more subtle “Ohhh you guys are busy!” and everything in between. Be warned: I am about to lay a story flat out on the table. If you believe in TMI you must not have kids or you’ve somehow managed to keep them from eating their boogers, their brother’s boogers, or feeding their brother their own boogers.

To refresh my three kind readers, pregnancy is not a friend of the Pickle Jar. And as much as the Mrs. enjoys being pregnant (let me emphasize that she doesn’t) the deliveries are even more non-enjoyable. In each of our boys births there was something that went awry, mostly surrounding the fact that they were each born 8-weeks early. During Trevor’s delivery we went from potentially transferring both mom and baby to a larger hospital, to talk of a life-flight ride, to an emergent c-section surgery to reach our baby whose heartbeat could not be found en utero and included a special incision during the surgery that forever compromised the ability of the Mrs. to grow babies. Top that off with an hour-long transfer of Trev to the nearest Children’s Hospital while leaving Josie in recovery, and we had no warm and fuzzies feelings left over about delivering babies.

It is said that given some amount of time you forget the pain and trouble of a delivery and it allows you to open up to the idea of more children. We didn’t even give that a chance – three months after our second preemie baby was born I surgically altered my body to eliminate the possibility of having more children. From our perspective we had played the lottery and won big with two, (literal) million-dollar babies who were happy and healthy and kept us always on our toes. We had fought through intense adversity to get these little boys home and no worse for the wear. It felt more like roulette to entertain the thought of more kids. And so we settled in to life as a family of four. Four. Family of four.

Anybody out there like statistics and odds? Me too. Let’s digress and take a minute to play with numbers. We were told that the odds of a successfully tested vasectomy failing after the second “all clear” test is somewhere near 1:100,000 – particular to the methodology the doctor used.
The odds of you being bitten by a snake/venomous creature is 1:83,930. The odds of you dating a supermodel – 1:88,000. Odds of striking it rich on Antique Roadshow – 1:60,000. Odds that you will be audited by the IRS – 1:175. What does this all mean? You have a greater shot of being bit by a venomous creature, dating a supermodel, striking it rich, and have almost a 10x time risk of being audited by the IRS than that certain medical procedure failing. To be blunt, you have more of a risk of a condom failing and you have far greater risk of a tubal ligation yielding a pregnancy. There…it’s all on the table.

For those of you keeping score at home, we have a scorecard full of difficult pregnancies, preemie babies, prolonged NICU stays, and one tested permanent prophylactic. So it isn’t a far leap to imagine the shock and surprise we had coming to us that random Friday night in March 2016. The Mrs. had been feeling a little odd and one evening as we were headed home she dropped a bomb in the car – “Do you think I am pregnant?”. My answer was pretty adamant: No, no I do not, no that’s not possible, no way Jose. In any case we dropped by the grocery store for one of those magical sticks and 15 minutes later we had our unexpected answer – we would be a family of five. The emotions we went thru that night were insane. Everything from hints of joy to overwhelming fear raced through our minds. At one point as I was innocently putting away groceries in the pantry, the Mrs. stops in her tracks and bluntly says, “Do you have the strongest motherf-ing sperm in the universe???”. I thankfully had no answer.
We were not prepared and not ready to have another baby. We were still, as my wife puts it, “getting punched in the face” by our two crazy boys. A third kid? What, how, why…We had given away most of our baby toys, gotten rid of almost everything that had been outgrown. What just happened!?
The night we found out and the next couple of months were taxing on both Josie and myself emotionally and physically. Oh, and this reminds me to clue you in to another reason we were not planning on having another child:
That extra incision I mentioned a little while ago? In the operating room they referred to it as a T-cut, or a perpendicular cut in the uterus that (surprise) looks like a T. At this point in our story we could dive into hoop stress and how a transverse incision effects the integrity of the uterus and it’s ability to grow a baby to term, but I’ll spare you. The point is that this little incision meant this pregnancy – like the two before it – was going to be a wild ride.

to be continued…

 

Hi(atus) Again… It’s Me

26 Dec

They say that words written onto an internet page are as good as being carved into stone. I couldn’t agree with that statement more than I do tonight as I realize that it has been nearly two full years since I updated anything on this blog. Not to say that I’ve been lounging around naked in a bean bag chair eating Cheetos (to borrow a Ron White quip), but it is still a little disappointing that it has been this long.

It will be nearly impossible to chronicle all of the happenings of the past two years, so I will attempt to sum them up in the next sentence. Hang on to your hats..
Trevor Aaron was our second son to be born 8-weeks early and need an extended stay in the NICU before joining us at home where we settled in to the routine as a family of four only to be roused from that dream by a surprise (can’t put enough emphasis on surprise) pregnancy test in March 2016 that declared we would be a family of 5 made up of 3 kids the oldest of which was 3-1/2 yrs old when our princess Elise Ann was born in October – though not 8-weeks early she still managed to conjure up her own memorable entrance to the world.

Whew. I might have a future in word-smithing after that spectacle, yeah?! There you have it. In between raising an independent toddler and trying to keep the middle child alive – by the way, he was literally born to be a middle child, hindsight being 20/20 – we have somehow added to our chaos a beautiful baby girl. And it is on that note that I decided a proper journal of the adventures of the Pickle Jar needed to be revived. Some of the events we have lived through I will back track and pick up, some will remain only a memory in our mind that brings a smile to our face and hearts.

2016 has been one of the most incredible years we have ever been through both personally and professionally. Looking back I regret not writing down those memories onto the stone tablets of the web. Looking forward I see plenty of stories that will have to be written out to be believed. Like the time the boys had a sword fight in the living room with wine glasses. Or the time the boys helped me change the oil, and I looked down to see nothing but Trevor’s stocky legs sticking out from under the van. Or the time(s) we found the boys in the driveway in nothing but diapers/unders talking to strangers who were out on a walk. Or the time The Mrs caught Trevor literally hanging from the dining room light fixture. Or the time….

dillkids

Dedicated

25 Jan

Alright everybody, buckle up. Here is a groundbreaking statement that I have never, ever said before: As parents we often have zero clue what we are doing.
Wait — I say that all the time don’t I? But it is so true. We constantly dance a fine line between over-bearing or lax and between too detrimental or too nurturing.  At the end of the day you just want to look back and feel comfortable that for that day you made more “correct” decisions than questionable ones.

This past weekend we had the opportunity to act on one decision that we feel will have ever-lasting benefits for our child. We had the privilege to dedicate Nolan at our church! With many of our closest family members standing beside us, we promised to do our part to instill biblical values and morals in our son and push him to know and love both God and others. It was a fantastic event and something that will be a great memory for both the Mrs and I for many years. The charge to raise your child in a Godly manner is not an easy task. It is hard enough to keep ourselves in line, let alone be the Christ-like role model and advisor for Nolan. But we’re up for it and with our family’s help I know we can succeed.

Here’s the simple truth though — it doesn’t require a formal event to dedicate your child to be raised in a Godly home. And just because we went through such an event doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing for the next 18+ years. No, no, no. We’re in for the biggest fight our of lives and many of you are sailing the same seas beside us. Raising children is not an easy task (duh), but to try and instill values in them that aren’t always the easiest to understand or most accepted by peers just ratchets up the challenge. Dedication is simply defined as a commitment to a task. By going through this dedication all we have done so far is said “We’re making a commitment to this incredibly difficult task”. There is nothing magical here, just simple devotion to achieving a result. We made a plan, we set goals, and now we will work our hardest to reach them!

One of most helpful notes I took from the short message our pastor gave yesterday — while we were all trying to keep the children from mutilating the cupcakes — was the reminder that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. I couldn’t agree more. I have never looked back at my parenting skills and said ‘Joel. You da man! You are God’s gift to parenting!”. No… far more often I look back in border-line remorse as I wish I could have taken advantage of more opportunities to spend time with Nolan, to teach him something, or just handled a situation differently. But that is ok because I know I am not perfect. The greatest part about what Josie and I have promised to do for Nolan is that we don’t have to be perfect. Perfection comes only from God and his never-ending, unexplainable, all-encompassing love that He has for us and for Nolan.

I’ll leave you with one quick passage, another takeaway from yesterday’s ceremony, and a favorite of mine from Deuteronomy where Moses is transferring on to God’s people some commandments specifically about raising children. It has been inspiring to me as we have started on this journey and something I took to heart:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Normally I try not to get too deep into my personal beliefs because that is not what this blog is about. But today.. it kind of is. This is all about being a parent and doing what you feel is the very best for your child and that is exactly what we were able to do this weekend. My intention with writing about this is not to push you or shame you into doing things the same way we did. My intention actually is to get you thinking about what you are dedicated to in raising your child. What are your hopes, goals, and dreams for your child? I’ve laid ours out pretty simply and now I feel there is some accountability to see it through. It’s not that we weren’t before but after this weekend there is no doubt: We’re dedicated!

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