Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Gift

I know many adults who share stories of going home for the holidays and noticing that they suddenly regress to old behaviors. I am one of those adults and this is one such story.

Setting the stage: the Cronin family has several Christmas-time traditions that are important to us: a sibling gift exchange, reading the Night Before Christmas, gift opening on Christmas morning, a big breakfast, family pictures, a big Christmas dinner, etc. As our family has grown and we’ve added in spouses and partners we’ve chosen to make some changes in order to best meet all of the needs and wants while still fitting in nearly all of our traditions. In short, we moved Christmas Eve to the 23rd and Christmas to the 24th. A primary challenge, however, is that most everything takes place from the afternoon of 12/23 to the early afternoon of 12/24…it is a lot to get done in 24 hours or less! Put this together with the events of our journey to Duluth and the stage is set for this story (see post “Knowing”). Oh, and I was still on a narcotic pain medication from surgery two days ago…

For a long time in my family I have taken on a role of keeping things moving along so that they would get done. I have an ability to see how all the pieces can (“should”) come together so that all of the plans will happen within the desired timeframe. In years past, this was not too difficult a task because we had a lot of time and if the gift opening took a bit longer than usual it was no big deal because we would just move everything else to later in the day. In our current reality, however, we do not have a lot of time and moving something to later in the day is really not an option.

The “drama” (my drama, really) begins at about 6:40 am – we “have” to get over to my sister’s house (just across the yard) and be ready to start opening gifts by 7 am. Well, as I said, it is 6:40 and my wife and kids and my parents are all just barely getting moving. I find myself prodding folks along; feeling stressed and tense; and beginning to get aggravated…on Christmas morning…about beginning to open Christmas presents “on time”. “I” finally “get” everyone at my parents’ house to a point where I believe they will be ready soon so I head over to my sister’s house with my camera (another role I play) to be ready for taking pictures as my girls come in. When I arrive I find that the adults at my sister’s house are also not “ready” . This reality hits me square in the face, and I don’t like it. And so, my stress level and my aggravation increase.

At last, everyone is “ready” and we can begin the orchestrated (in my mind, anyway) event of gift opening. We start with the kids (my niece ZaTanna, 14, and my daughters Mary Jane, 3 ½ years, and Rebekah, 4 months) on the stairs waiting to come in to where the tree and gifts are (a tradition that started with me and my siblings) – pictures are taken…by several of us. Then the children are invited down the stairs and into the living room to see what Santa has left for them. Then begins the gift opening…and me trying to direct (i.e., control) who opens how many gifts at a time so that we (I, really) can be sure that Mary Jane doesn’t lose interest and that all gifts are finished being opened at the same time. Keep in mind that there are 10 adults, one teenager, one preschooler and an infant in the room…and so my stress-level and aggravation continue to rise. Do you have a feel for it?

Somewhere, amidst all of my stress and aggravation, I realize that I assume all of these traditions are important and that they must happen – but I don’t check that out with myself or anyone else to see if it is true or not. I also remember, again, that I really do not like to be the task master. Nor is this role best suited for my talents and strengths. I would much prefer to focus on the experience of being together and capturing some of the joy and love with my camera. ;Yet I find some sense of comfort in taking on this role. As if ensuring that everything is moving on schedule is somehow going to make everything safe and okay. Perhaps this is one way for me to cling to the familiar; to avoid dealing with change and the reality that I cannot control the experience I have or that my family has.

Do I really even want to control that experience? I’m really not sure that I do. And yet trying to control it is my default position. Perhaps this is my real Christmas “gift” this year: an opportunity to look at the drama I play out while at home and to choose whether or not I will keep playing it out. I choose not to…and I make that choice with some fear and apprehension – and some relief and excitement.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Are we there yet?

It was a pretty rough morning. There was a lot of stuff to get done and ready so that we could leave to go to Duluth for the Cronin family Christmas. Maaike and I were both quite stressed and aggravated…of course, it didn’t help that I had had knee surgery yesterday and was on a narcotic pain killer. I was pressing the issue of wanting to get to Duluth as soon as possible, so I got up early (Maaike had been up very late the night before wrapping gifts and getting things ready) and finished packing and getting things pulled together so we could leave. By the time we left, about an hour later than planned, I was, well, to be honest, I was pissed and my knee hurt a lot. And I was not looking forward to spending the next few hours in a car. <A bonus piece of advice for readers: DO NOT ride in a car for several hours within the first five days of knee surgery. Really, just don’t do it!>

After about two hours on the road we are about half way to Duluth – it is normally just a 2 ½ hour trip. We decide to stop for a second time so that Rebekah could nurse and I could stretch my knee and try to get the swelling down. My knee was really hurting and I’m hungry…and grumpy. Maaike nurses Rebekah and gets spit up on. I believe it is important to add here that Rebekah’s spit ups are often two or three times the volume of your average spit up. So, Rebekah needs a new outfit and Maaike now has a wet shirt. We are finally on the road again after 30 or 40 minutes.

About 20 minutes after we get back on the road I start to hear some soft singing coming from the back seat. Then a pause and, “Are we there yet?” In the midst of all this craziness, despite all of my frustration and grumpiness somehow Mary Jane did not realize that she was “supposed” to be grumpy, too. How could she be singing with her barbies and playing happily? And how could she possibly not know that we are most certainly not there yet? “No, honey,” I reply, “we still have more than an hour to go.”

Now, being in the foul mood I was in, I assumed that MJ would respond the same way I would have. But she didn’t. “Oh, okay.” Was all she said. And then she went back to playing with her barbies and singing to herself. It appeared that Mary Jane was in a place where she was simply accepting what was going on around her. She was in a wonderful mood and was determined to have fun both on the way to Duluth and once we got there. What Mary Jane taught me again today is that I always have a choice about how I will respond to the people and events in my life. Things may go the way I have planned and they may not. People may be “nice” and “cooperative” and they may not be. I cannot truly control any of that. What I can control; where I do have choice is in how I choose to respond.

I want to choose to sing and have fun…no matter what is happening around me. Thank you, Mary Jane, for the lesson and reminder!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My part...just my part

I had surgery today on my right knee - a torn lateral meniscus. As knee surgery goes, not a big deal. The procedure was done in 30 min. When I woke up I a bit disoriented (I heard myself saying "Where is Mary Jane? Where is Mary Jane?" She was, of course, with our friends Kim and Cindi and their boys Zander and Rowan...yeah, disoriented) but that passed relatively quickly and I was in pretty good spirits. Though I had a hard time believing they had actually done the surgery because I couldn’t' remember anything and my knee didn't hurt (thanks pain meds!). Maaike and Rebekah brought me home without incident and got me set up on the couch with my leg propped up, per doctor's orders. All this was just fine.

The challenging part came in a few hours later after all of were at home together for a couple hours. Rebekah and Mary Jane both wanted attention and Maaike was trying to get dinner ready and prepare things for us to leave early the next morning to head up to Duluth for the Cronin family Christmas celebration. As I lay there on the couch, drugged up and somewhat uncomfortable, I realized that I was believing that I was being lazy and that I should be doing more to help Maaike…after all, the reason we were leaving so early the next morning is because I wanted to get to Duluth as early as possible. Then it occurred to me: my responsibility is to do my part. That is all; just my part. Sometimes my part will be “big” and sometimes it will be “small,” but what is important to remember is that the only thing I am truly responsible for is my part. Today my part was to recover from surgery.

What would life be like if I were to focus my energies on simply doing my part? How much freer would I be? Freed from excessive obligation, responsibility, duty, etc. And how much more happy and effective?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Being here is enough

I've noticed that when I start the day off getting things done I often get into a "doing" mode and I need to consciously choose to get out of "doing" and into "being." Today was no exception.

We had quite the day today. We successfully ran errands to four different places between 9:30 am and 12:30 pm today - I am quite impressed with all of us, especially because we didn't have any major meltdowns!

After our very productive morning we arrived home, ate lunch, and started to watch a movie for "rest time." About 30 min into the movie Mary Jane announced that she wanted to take a bath with the rubber duckies she had been playing with. And so, into the bathroom we went. After a few minutes I found myself thinking about all of the things I could be getting done (and really want to get done) if only Mary Jane could play by herself in the bathroom without me needing to be right there with her.

I'm not sure what it was that snapped me out of my thoughts, but all of a sudden I realized that I am sitting next to my precious little girl while she is playing a wonderful (and very cute) game with her rubber ducks, kicking and splashing in the water, blowing bubbles and having conversations...and I was missing it entirely because I was focused on what I could be getting done instead.

The truth is, there are a lot of things I would like to get done around the house, and outside the house, too. But in that moment I was sitting in the bathroom with my little girl. It really makes no difference at all what else I could be getting done. And so I chose to let all those other things go and just enjoy being with Mary Jane. It was fantastic.

...and it lasted about five more minutes until I started drifting off again. Then I chose again to be present with Mary Jane. I think this is the lesson for me today: being present is a matter of choosing over and over again to simply be here, now. Perhaps it will be different in the future. But for now, I will practice choosing to be here, now.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Trying too hard...

So I am posting Monday's post on Tuesday night. In part because I forgot until I was crawling into bed and in part because I was having a really hard time coming up with my "lesson of the day". As I reflected on the happenings of Monday I realized that I was trying too hard. I had begun to put pressure on myself to find some amazing nugget of truth, some wonderful story to share with a great lesson to teach and amaze.

The truth is, it was a tough day, especially for me and MJ and I'm not sure about the "lesson for the day." What I know is that I did my best, apologized when appropriate, and we ended on a good note.

I'm choosing to believe that is enough.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, December 17, 2010

Keeping priorities

We learned last week that we badly need new tires on our Saturn (the car Maaike now commutes in). This is in addition to needing snow tires for our Subaru. Given some of the travel plans in the next couple of weeks, we wanted to get the tires soon...but I just wasn't "making" it happen. Then an email from Maaike this morning really set me off (I'll spare you the details, but it really was an innocuous email) and I started believing that I HAD to do something about it right that minute and I had to get it right. Despite a rather snotty response to the contrary, I picked this demand that I take care of the tires today, right now up and I added it to the other "duties" I already had going this morning as a full-time dad.

Now, I want to take a step back and say that Rebekah (4 months old) woke up at 6:45 am today, rather than her usual 8 to 8:30 am. By the time I saw Maaike's email it was 8 am and Rebekah was already getting tired and ready for a nap (although, I didn't notice the cues that this was the case). I spent the next frustrating 45 minutes trying to search online for a place to get tires while also trying to keep a tired baby from fussing.

I don't remember the actual moment it hit me, but at some point I realized that Rebekah was fussy because she was tired and needed to go to sleep. The next thing that hit me was that I had traded my first priority for a secondary one. My primary responsibility is to care for these two amazing human beings. Period. Everything else is secondary. Now, we do need new tires, and this is a matter of safety and, therefore, a part of caring for my girls. However, the process of getting the new tires is not as time sensitive as was Rebekah's need for a nap.

What I learned again today is that there is no need to panic and leap to action, save for the obvious emergency situation. The way I want to approach my life is by staying present with what is at the moment and to re-evaluate as new information becomes available. The benefit of this approach? In this situation, a happier, more rested baby and a less stressed-out, frustrated daddy!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Be" the parent

I believe that it is important for me, as a parent, to treat my children with the same respect that I would treat anyone else. This means telling the truth, listening to them when they speak (or coo, as is the case for Rebekah at 4 months), and not manipulating them in order to get what I want.

What I learned today is that I also picked up somewhere along the line that it is important for me to be a friend to my children. The problem is that when I look at myself as a friend to my children, I put myself in a position to fall victim to the same dramas that I play out in all of my friendships. Most specifically for today's lesson, my "I'm not worthy" drama comes up regularly. When I'm worried about whether or not Mary Jane or Rebekah believe I am "worthy" of their friendship then I am not focusing on what my actual role is as a father - to love, nurture, teach, correct, discipline, play with, be goofy with, etc. Of course, the truth is, as I was reminded yesterday (see post "Innocent affirmations"), my "worth" is never in question in Mary Jane's mind let alone Rebekah's.

Back to today's lesson: Rebekah hadn't nursed since about 2:30 am. No big deal, because I'll just give her a bottle when she wakes up. MJ and I had a good morning doing this and that and I half-applied my lesson from yesterday (see post "Agendas") and drank my protein shake first thing. When Rebekah woke at 7:45 am I "knew" she was going to be really hungry. I was a bit nervous when MJ asked to give Rebekah her bottle, but said okay. The short version is that I didn't heat the milk up quite enough so Rebekah didn't drink it very fast and MJ eventually lost interest in feeding Rebekah. Then Mary Jane turned her focus to watching a movie...her very persistent focus.

After several reminders from MJ that she wanted to watch a movie and several attempts from me to get her to understand that hanging over the arm of the sofa chair repeatedly saying "Rebekah, Bekah, Bekah" is indeed very distracting to her baby sister. I finally had enough.

"Mary Jane. If you ask to watch a movie one more time you WILL NOT watch a movie this morning" I said in a stern, fatherly tone that felt surprisingly natural. Her shift was immediate. She "got" it. All of a sudden I wasn't just a playmate. I was more than that. I was also her dad and I was willing to set down some guidelines regardless of how she may respond. What I learned today is that I do believe that it is important for me, as a parent, to treat my children with the same respect that I would treat anyone else. AND I believe that what my children want from me more than anything else is for me to BE the parent - and ALLof the parts that go with it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I had an agenda for the day today: workout at the club and run an errand to Target and Home Depot. MJ had an agenda, too: just be and see what the day brings. Then choose what I want to do with it.

The morning started out with MJ wanting to be with mommy constantly (to the point it was difficult for Maaike to get ready for work). I got focused right away on trying to help Maaike leave on time and then it was dishes and then moving some things around in the kitchen. It was 8 am by the time I finally ate - way too late for me and so at this point I was hungry and agitated. What happened is that I got caught up in "doing" rather than "being." I did not take care of myself with respect to the little things (i.e., eating breakfast). So when it came to doing something for myself specific for myself, I thought I had to "make" getting to the club happen, "for me". I forced it and we were rushed, I was tense...and at two different times MJ asked, "Why are you frustrated, daddy?"

When I refuse to accept what is happening I miss out on whatever it is that life is offering AND I sacrifice my freedom of choice and submit myself instead to the demands of my agenda.

How many times throughout my day do I do this? Have my set agenda in mind and then react poorly when my agenda does not match up with reality? What if, when I come upon an unexpected turn of events, I were to pause for a moment to see what life is bringing me instead of thoughtlessly fighting for MY agenda?

How much more connected will I be with my wife, my children and anyone else with whom I get to interact? How much lighter will I feel? What other possibilities will I uncover? I don't know the answers, but I just got myself excited about doing some research to find them!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Innocent affirmations

Tonight was parent observation night at Mary Jane's dance class. As is often the case, we were pushing it up to the last minute to get there at 6 pm, so I dropped MJ and Maaike of at the front door and then parked and came in with Rebekah. By the time I walked into the dance studio the instructor, Ms. Karis, had already started her check-in with the girls. As I walked in I heard the following did all the other parents:
Mary Jane: "I have a home stay daddy!"
Ms. Karis: "You do!?!"
MJ: "Uh-huh."
Ms. Karis: "What do you think of having a home stay daddy?"
MJ: "I love being at home with my daddy."

And this at the end of three pretty challenging days with me and MJ going head to head several times each day. There really is nothing like the love of a child!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


You likely have a definition in mind for "freedom"...or at least a sense of it. My definition of freedom was enriched today, thanks to my 3 1/2 year old. "Freedom" now also includes the following:

The freedom to ask for exactly the help I really want: We had just arrived home and I was getting the baby settled when I hear, "Daddy, I'm pooping!" shouted from the bathroom. About two minutes later comes, "Daddy, wipe my butt!"

The freedom to choose what I think and what I believe: While watching "Bedtime with Elmo" I got to see Elmo and Abby sing, "Just think some happy thoughts and put 'em in your head...and remember this cause it's really true, what you think is up to you."

The freedom to be myself with no reason, justification or explanation: We were playing baby dolls and it was "night time" so we were laying in the guest bed with our baby dolls "pretending" to be asleep. MJ says, "Why are you moving so much?" I reply, "To get comfortable. Why are you moving so much?" MJ says, "Because I move alot. When I have to move I move alot. Thats just how I do."

The freedom to try things out and explore: I was watching MJ and Maaike dance and got to see MJ's abandon and willingness to simply move and try things - without constraint of needing to get the movement "right" or whether she "looked good" as she danced.

What will life be like if i choose to live in this freedom? I want to find out!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, December 13, 2010

It is about choosing...

...and choosing and choosing and choosing.

Today was my first "official" day as a full-time dad. It was one of those days that reminds me that I always have a choice: I can choose to accept what is happening or I can choose to pretend that it isn't happening and try to make it different (or some variation on this theme). Remember, this is my first day as a full-time dad...

Mary Jane (MJ), my three-year-old woke up at 6:20. Not unusual for her, and certainly not early for her, but I hoped she would sleep to 7:00 today. Rebekah, my four-month-old, was also up early which is unusual for her (she'll often sleep until 8:30 or 9:00). No big deal, though, the early morning went quite well with us having first breakfast and playing without incident.

I put Rebekah down for her first nap and MJ and I decided to get the exersaucer out for Rebekah. After cleaning the exersaucer it was time for morning snack: yogurt. Unfortunately, MJ and I botched the hand off and the yogurt ended up all over the kitchen floor...and the freshly cleaned exersaucer.

Rebekah didn't want to sleep much in the morning and so rather than a 1-2 hour nap, she slept only 40 min. No problem, I thought, I'll just roll with the punches. An hour later, Rebekah is hungry again. Feed Rebekah and start to get MJ's lunch ready and put Rebekah down for a second nap. Everything is going okay now.

After lunch is "rest time" for MJ and I tell her I'm going to take a shower while she watches her movie (The Wizard of Oz - her current favorite). I'm just about to step into the shower and MJ comes in: "I hear Rebekah!" she says. Quickly get dressed again and go down to get Rebekah. After 20 or 30 min I finally get to take a shower (Rebekah is now in the bouncy in the bathroom. Just as I am finishing my shower, I hear screaming - MJ fell down the stairs! I run out of the bathroom to get her (she is fine) and console her. I'm dripping wet holding a crying three-year-old and trying to keep my towel from falling down. After a couple minutes I set MJ back down. "My dress is wet" she says, confused. She thought it got wet somehow when she fell down the stairs! I explain that it is wet because I picked her up while I was still dripping wet from the shower. We head downstairs to get both of us some clothes and to put her dress in the dryer. Rebekah is still in her bouncy upstairs. After about 3 minutes I hear Rebekah "talking" (she doesn't like to be left out), so I leave MJ sitting at the bottom of the stairs and run up to get Rebekah.

Finally, we are all dressed and MJ has calmed down again. I notice that I am getting irritable and realize that I have not had much protein today. I leave MJ and Rebekah in the living room playing Barbies while I go into the kitchen to make a protein shake. I put the milk and powder in the mixer and, I thought, closed the lid. As I start to shake the mixer something cold and wet sloshes onto my face...the lid wasn't closed! So now there is chocolate protein powder all over me and the kitchen floor (fortunately, we had moved the exersaucer into the other room by this time so it did not get hit again!). So now I get to Swifer the kitchen floor for the second time in three hours.

It is now about 1:30 pm.

The rest of the day went quite well...other than that MJ hit her head once on a door knob and twice on the wood frame of the couch while we were wrestling. Here's a picture of the three of us sitting on the couch:

It occurred to me during afternoon snack time that the reason I was so exhausted by 3:15 pm is because being with two little, beautiful, intelligent, growing human beings requires a level of giving that I am simply not accustomed to. As a full-time dad my job, literally, is to provide for these girls in every way that I can. And so, I get several opportunities throughout the day to choose: will I choose to accept what is happening or will I choose to pretend that it isn't happening and try to make it different? I choose YES!, this is it. I'll take it for what it is. After all, the protein shake was all over my face, no matter how much I wanted it to be different!