Moving In

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Amongst this mandated COVID 19 social distancing, we are doing quite the opposite at home. Since we are officially homeschooling due to schools being closed for the remainder of the school year, my wife decided to rearrange the furniture in our children’s toy area. Jess did a great job and we now have a classroom area as well as designated play area. Jess was so inspired that she decided we needed to move more furniture upstairs. “Lets move the girls into the same room.” We had talked about this before so it seemed as good a time as any. 

Several hours later we moved a bunk bed, a twin bed and rearranged multiple pieces of furniture in the girls former and new room. The outcome was one room with both girls and a guest room/office/future nursery. The nursery part will not be needed anytime soon. 

The girls were so excited! You would’ve thought we told them we were going to Disney (which is currently closed). Both girls kept coming into the room to sneak peaks at what was going on. They were planning what they would do first when the room was complete. “We can sit and read in the corner” said, Claire. Cecilia wasn’t as excited—it was her room we were rearranging. Once Cecilia saw the big bunk bed her face lit up, “I sleep upstairs?!” Cecilia wants to sleep on the top bunk. Unfortunately, Cecilia can only go up the stairs—like one of those cows kids used to prank school by walking them up the stairs of the school building (I am told cows can’t walk down stairs). 

Our daughters excitement was really fun to experience. It was nostalgic in some sense. I remembered when my brother and I got bunk beds. Similar emotions and thoughts went through our minds as our parents set the bed up. Here we are now. My wife and I watching our babies take this new step towards becoming big girls. 

I don’t know if I like it, but I can’t help and smile as I experience this. 

The paradox of our families joy and children’s excitement in conjunction with the craziness of what is going on in our country and the world does not escape me. Outside people are sick, dying, losing their jobs, businesses are closing and everything in between. At home we are smiling, and enjoying this wonderful moment of two little girls moving in together. 

There is much to be depressed about right now. Yet, there is so much to be grateful for. So much to smile about. 

Working From Home

COVID 19 has struck and many of us are working from home for the first time. I don’t know about you, but this has definitely been quite the experience for me. Heres a short video on my take so far. Please stay safe!

Six Years In

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The last six years have gone by so fast! It is hard to believe that six years ago my wife and I had a baby girl that would change our lives. That “baby girl” is now six years old (Claire) and we have a two year old (Cecilia). Life is simply awesome. There have been challenges for sure. However, most of these challenges are insignificant compared to the blessings we have received from being parents. 

I try to reflect on life as much as possible. We all know from experience that if you don’t pause and take time to reflect you let too much go by. Whether good or bad we need to process what life throws at us.

Here are six things that I have learned on this journey so far:

Just Let it Happen: Honestly, this is one I am not exactly comfortable, nor good at. If you have read any of my posts you know that I am a bit of a control freak and “letting things happen” is not necessarily part of my mission statement. Six years in I have learned that you just have to go with it sometimes. If the six year old decides to make you dinner you really shouldn’t blow up on her. Sure the kitchen walls are no longer the color you painted them, but it’s just paint…right? The two year old decided to potty train on her own and is super excited that 25% of her “deposit” made its way into the toilet. Maybe the other 75% will come out of the carpet…eventually. 

No Perfect Moment: I’m still waiting for that perfect moment when I do something super fatherly that my children are transformed by and respond, “Daddy, you were right. You are so amazing!” What I have found over and over again is that every moment counts. My daughters will become great, and develop virtue moment by moment. So will I. Little by little we move in the right direction. All those little moments I chose to love, respect and not be overwhelmed by the minutia of parenthood will create a life filled with moments that when stringed together paint a beautiful story. 

Speak Clearly. Pause. Repeat. Any Questions? My six year old tests my patience. Every. Single. Day. Often times my frustration is my own fault. I assume my daughter knows what cleaning up her mess means. I assume that she understands what eating all her food means. I assume she understands that quiet time literally means you don’t make a sound. We all have expectations for our children. This is a good thing. However, I have found I don’t always communicate this well. Six years in I am learning to be a better communicator. Speaking clearly and in simple terms is a must. Pausing to let the child process is a must. Having the child repeat the information back to you is a must. Asking them if they have any questions is a must. Get the point? Well…I don’t always get it and that leads to a frustrated child and father. 

Waste Time with Your Children: This is something Pope Francis once said to fathers in one of his addresses. The whole idea was to understand that being with your kids doesn’t have to have an agenda. It doesn’t even have to be “productive”. Just be with them. The Popes statement has stuck with me and really has helped me to see time with my kids in a different light. The games my kids play are not always fun, they don’t always make sense and that is okay. What matters is that I just spend time with them.

Change in Priorities: It is no secret that having kid’s makes you look at things in different ways. This is necessary. Money for my wife and I has been one of the things that we are looking at in a different light. We made the decision before we had kids that we would not send them to public school. There are many reasons for that which I will not get into here. The point is that sending our kids to a school we have to pay for is hard. Money that we could use for paying off debt and other items goes towards our kid’s school. It is a worthwhile investment for sure! However, this investment changes the way we operate. Whatever your priorities are they require change. That change can sometimes be uncomfortable, but in the context of my kid’s current education it is well worth it. Claire has learned so much from being in a Montessori school. The learning and experiences she is having make this a solid, set in steel priority for us—no matter how much it hurts.

Traditions Matter: One of the things I dislike about our modern secular culture is the lack of adherence to traditions. There are so many amazing traditions both religious and non-religious that we seem to have just pushed aside. Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up in a household with traditions. This makes it difficult to pass or establish any with our kids. However, we have a few that we have implemented: celebrating the kids Saint Feast day, celebrating their baptism dates (and future dates they received their sacraments), praying as a family, Advent Tree, reading books before bed, and playing lots of board games. These are just some. Traditions anchor us. They are moments with meaning that remind us of who we are, where we have been and where we are going. 

This list could be a lot longer. All in all these have been the six best years of my life. Lots of surprises, frustrations, laughs and some tears. All incredible. 

Board Games – 5 reasons why you should play with your family.

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One of my absolute favorite things to do with my family is play board games. Im not sure when or how I was introduced to board games, but I love them. There is something so exciting about sitting around with my kids and introducing them to a game that they want to come back to over and over again. I love hearing, “awww…just one more game daddy?” 

I know I’ve got them hooked. 

My wife and I have more board games than we can count. I’m not sure how this became the go to gift for us, but it has. Every birthday or Christmas someone gets us a new one. We don’t mind it, but storage is not as readily available for these rectangular friends as it used to be. We still figure out a spot for them and keep on playing. 

We first introduced our oldest, Claire, to board games at the age of two. Having her mommas brain allowed the kiddo to pick up rules pretty quickly. We have a Disney version of Shoots and Ladders that she got the hang off right away. As the years have gone by we have evolved to more complicated games that require strategy. Some of these games are pretty complex (for example, Settlers of Catan) however it all depends on your kid. We know Claire can handle complexity so we introduce her to more complex games. Cecilia is not quite there but she picks up on the excitement in the air and “plays” with mommy or I. 

Playing board games have many advantages. Here are my top five reasons why you should play board games with your family. 

1.) Strategy: Board games require you to use your brain. Strategy is something that even the most basic of games require and this can only occur by thinking. I love seeing my daughters rethink their strategy because the plan they thought was going to work is now not a possibility. This fires up those synapses and the the brain tries to figure out a new solution. Your kids learn via board games to think in a way that most classroom activities cannot teach. 

2.) Winning and Losing: Personally I think we are living in a candy-ass culture that is absolutely out of touch with reality—especially when it comes to what is “fair”. Young people and grown adults pout over not getting “what they deserve”. Board games have clear winners and losers. This is very important. I love seeing my daughters confidence grow when she wins. I also love it when she loses. I love it because it gives my daughter the opportunity to grow in virtue, temperance and just being a good person all around. Letting our children learn from their loses is one of the best things we can help them with. Board games create a simple environment that can teach winning an losing. I think this is really important. If your kid doesn’t win a race or soccer game there are some real emotions attached to that. Personally, I believe that playing board games preps our children in an objective way that helps them to deal with their emotions and ultimately come to grips with the reality that sometimes you win some, and sometimes you don’t. 

3.) Being patient: Daddy really struggles with this one. I have a very strategic mind which means I calculate moves two to three steps ahead. My wife takes forever, which leads me to say unhelpful things such as: “are you still playing?” “Do you need an assist?” “Hey, we want to put the kids down to bed before midnight”. My daughter Claire will usually respond with, “Daddy, be patient.” Claire has some of her daddy’s genes because she gets very excited especially when she sees that the next move could bring about a win. She will often times go out of turn and celebrate victory a little too soon. We have to remind her that it wasn’t her turn and this frustrates her. Daddy usually responds with, “Claire, be patient.”

4.) Quality Time: I know there are lots of ways of creating amazing moments for quality time. For us playing board games is one of those ways. When ever we finish playing a game there is this sense of bonding that has occurred. We immediately begin talking about that awesome move someone made, or how close so and so was to winning. There is a real satisfaction that comes about from playing board games. It is palpable and you know it has filled up your family’s quality time tank.

5.) It is fun: Yup, this is probably the top reason why you should play board games. They are just plain ole fun!  

To close out this post I wanted to share some of our families favorite games. We definitely have some individual and family favorites. These are a lll games we play with as a family. Claire is now 6 and can handle all of these. As mentioned before, Cecilia (2 years old) “plays with mommy and daddy”. Cecilia doesn’t quite have the capacity that her older sister had at two years old. It is what it is, but Cecilia can spin things, roll the dice and move pieces. 

Here’s a list of our favorite games to play as a family: 

UNO, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Candy Land, Monopoly Jr, Sequence (kid version), Old Maid, Jenga, 5 Second Rule, Mexican Trains.

The Last Few Months: Pt. 2 – A New Job

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Two months ago I left my job in Youth Ministry. All of my adult life I have worked in ministry. I am part of a very small group of people that will ever be able to say that. A ministry job is unique in many ways. There is the typical workload, worries and “gotta get it done” activities that all jobs have. However, there is this deep human element that quite literally touches the soul. There is a level of intimacy that is built with people that goes so much deeper and farther. I really loved it.

So why did I leave you ask? Two reasons: 1) God said so. 2) I hit a financial ceiling.

As I referenced in my last post we’ve been doing lots of discerning in our household. The jobbie job discernment started about two years ago. Ministry was going great! My assistant had completed a full year and wanted to stay (thank God!). She is a go-getter and because of her, we were able to expand our ministry in a new way. All of our programs were doing well, families were happy and students were growing in their faith—all things that a Youth Minister hopes for.

One day I found myself hearing God say, “It’s time to move on.” Now, this wasn’t an audible voice. It was more of an interior thing. I wont go into too much detail here, but being someone who seeks to do Gods will you start to understand how God speaks to you. God definitely speaks to all of us. Unfortunately, many of us don’t pay enough attention to recognize the way He is communicating. I have not been perfect at this, but once I recognized howGod spoke to me it became very easy to recognize whenHe spoke. I’ll write more about this some other time. For the sake of this story, God spoke and in typical biblical fashion, I responded with, “no, Lord! You must be mistaken.”

Everything was going so well. Why would it be, “time to move on”? Again in typical biblical fashion, I ignored the voice of God and continued to do what I thought right. **Note this never ends well. **As the weeks went by I continued to get this sense from God that it was time to move on. Finally, I stopped fighting Him and began a discernment process. Discernment has many elements to it, but for the most part, it’s a consistent process. Here is one of my favorite sites that show you a step-by-step process for discerning.

Once I began discerning it was very clear that God was right—it was time to move on. Part of it was God telling me that I had done all that I could do.  This was incredibly humbling. Essentially, I had taken this program as far as I could. I was blessed to see this and accept it. Sure, I could have ignored it and continued in ministry. I am sure there would have been some continued success. However, when God says its over its over. There are so many examples in history of what happens when a person refuses to listen to God. Essentially, God stops blessing that person and their ministry suffer because of it. I love my church and our youth program too much to let that happen. So this is reason #1 for leaving ministry.

Reason #2 was financial. For me ,it has never been about the money. However, when you have a family it is about money. My pastor paid me very well—I know for a fact that I was one of the highest paid Youth Ministers in my region. However, I had hit a financial ceiling. My salary was not going to get any higher beyond a cost of living increase. This was not due to my church being cheap. The reality is that most Catholics don’t tithe (give money to the church). They are the cheap ones. This lack of giving severely limits what a Pastor can do financially. Even though our parish is super amazing and generous there is a certain amount of money available. The other thing to keep in mind is that all professions have a financial ceiling. I hit mine.

As our family continues to grow and new needs arise (not of the vacation home, or yacht kind)we require more money. My wife works part time and we want that to shrink to ¼ time. That means I need to make more money and you can’t do that if you cant go any further financially.

Recognizing that I was called to leave ministry was part one of the discernment. The second part was figuring out what I was called to. That also took some serious discernment. My skill set was uniquely used in ministry. As I began to discover what my skill set translated into in the secular world the title, “Program Manager” kept popping up. So I looked into that and recognized that it synced up with what I did in ministry. Currently, I am not working as a Program Manager but that’s my goal.

I eventually got a job that I never thought I would do—which is the same thing I said about youth ministry. There is lots of room for growth both financially and intellectually. I am really enjoying it and I love the mission that I serve. Switching careers is always a challenge. I am excited to see where the road will take our family, but for now, I want the next couple of months to be a little more predictable and a lot less chaotic.

Daddy needs to chill out a bit.

The Last Few Months: Pt. 1 – Another New School

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The last few months have been filled with tons of discernment, choices, and changes. Our family has been moving at the speed of light, or at least it seems that way. Claire is now going to first grade and Cecilia turned two.

This past year Claire was having an amazing time at a small (3 student) Montessori school based in a private 20-acre farmhouse. The teacher has over 30 years of teaching experience and is an incredible and Godly woman. Claire fell in love with the place and in a short year had learned to read, write, and do pretty complex math for a 6-year-old. Claire picked up a plethora of other advanced learning like anatomy, science, rhetoric, and logic. I’m not sure if the logic stuck. Unfortunately, her teacher had some health complications and ended the school year early. The real kicker came when she told us she would no longer be able to do full-time school. We were crushed. Claire cried a lot.

In Claire’s 6 short years of life, she had switched school three times. She was not pleased.

After lots of praying, research and back and forth we narrowed our school search to two. One school was right at our price point and the second was not going to happen money wise, but we still wanted to check it out. We visited both schools. The more expensive choice was a Montessori school. If you don’t know about Montessori schools they are pretty amazing. Check them out here.

We applied to both schools and asked for much needed financial aid. We expected the Montessori school to call and ask if the amount we wrote down was a joke. Actually, we were so convinced that we were not going to be able to send Claire there that we submitted all the paperwork for the other school we first visited. After a few days, we heard back from the Montessori school and they accepted our proposal for financial aid.

I was stunned.

I asked my wife if she had written the numbers right. We called and clarified. We spoke really slowly, and loudly to make sure there was no misunderstanding. The secretary confirmed that they had accepted our amount. I literally placed my hand behind my back to catch myself as I sat down on the couch. I could not believe it. The school has a barter system built into it, so the school uses the skill set of the parents to get school business done. The landscape business owner cuts grass and weeds and gets a discounted rate.  Part of the application asked what skill sets we had. I imagine my wife will get a chance to use her nurse powers and I’ll do something as well.

We are pretty pumped about this school and so is Claire. Since Montessori learning is very hands-on and has specific physical elements they use for teaching students, Claire was really excited to see that most of those elements were present in the new school.  We are excited to know that since this school goes all the way to high school level Claire may not need to ever switch schools again. Mom and Dad just need to keep increasing their incomes to make that happen, which will lead to our next post. Stay tuned.

 

Saying Goodbye to our Pet

 

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Last pic of our buddy Rocky

 

A few weeks ago we had to put down our lovable dog Rocky. We had Rocky for 8 years. He was a great dog. 

Rocky started losing weight pretty rapidly. Our first visit to the vet revealed that he was having heart issues. I took Rocky home and began a wet food diet to get him to eat, which worked. After a few days, he started to swell up like a balloon. His sides were huge. Apparently, this is due to the heart not working properly and causing certain liquids to not leave the body.

My wife and I knew that Rocky was nearing his end and so we started talking to Claire about it. Claire, I believe, has a certain understanding about death. I don’t think she fully grasps the totality of it, but she knows its a going away of sorts. We had several conversations with Claire to prepare her for the inevitable. Claire seemed to get it. There were a few moments of sadness and one time where she cried a little. 

I took Rocky to the SPCA for one last checkup and the vet confirmed it was time. Rocky would not get better and the combination of his age and condition did not justify the cost of treatment that would give us a few more months with him. I scheduled Rocky’s appointment to euthanize him and went home. It was one of those weird moments that you never expect to have to do. “What time is best to kill your dog?” “Hows Tuesday?”—It was weird. 

When I got home I told my wife the news and she was very upset. Jess has grown up with animals all her life so losing one has always been difficult. We spoke with Claire and told her that she had a few more days with Rocky and then she would not see him again. I’m not really sure what went through Claire’s head, but you could tell there were conflicting ideas. In some sense, she wanted to spend time with Rocky, but she also wanted to go and play—her normal thing. On the last day, we had Rocky, Claire had to go to school so I had her go say goodbye to him. Claire hugged Rocky and gave him one final treat. Then we went to school. Claire wasn’t upset at all. 

After dropping Claire off at school I took Rocky to the SPCA. For the most part, I was fine, but once I walked into the room and we laid him on the tabletop where they would administer the meds I got choked up. The vet was really great about explaining everything and making sure I was ok with every step. The vet asked me if I wanted a few minutes with Rocky and I said, “no I’m ready.” I placed my hand on Rocky’s head and stroked it. “He’s in a better place now”, said the vet as he checked for a heartbeat. 

It was over.

I left the SPCA sad, but once I got into the car I realized this was necessary. Rocky had been miserable the last few days. I went home trying to guess how Claire would react once she got home and didn’t see Rocky there. Would she cry? Be angry? Possible responses to her questions ran through my mind. 

I picked Claire up from school and told her Rocky was gone. Claire was sad but she was ok. Surprisingly, Claire was totally fine as the days went by. I figured Claire would be ok after a while, but I never expected it to be this fast. My wife and I were definitely more emotional than Claire. As we prepared for the inevitable loss of Rocky in our mind all we kept thinking about was Claire and here she was moving on with ease. I am always amazed at how resilient kids are. Thank God for that.