Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dad's A-Z: E is for Energy Level

Off the Grid

I have this distinct memory from when Lukas was just an infant.  He was maybe 5 or 6 months old at the time and was lying on his back on his changing table. He was in a very happy mood.  This was probably because he had just pooped,  peed, or more likely had a serving of warm milk from Mom's vending machine.

Yes, that picture of him in and of itself would have been a memory to treasure.  But honestly, I must have seen him on his back a million times on that changing table. Often through blurry eyes.  No, this time was different.  As he lay there this particular time, Lukas was swinging his arms and kicking his feet very animatedly.  And very quickly too.

VERY quickly.  Think Hummingbird.  I was surprised we could even still see his hands and legs they were moving that fast.

It was at that point that I looked over at Mrs. LIAYF with what I'm sure was a look of astonishment on my face, and said "You know....we are going to have to keep up with that soon enough!"

We both laughed.

Fast forward 4 years.  Lukas is now running circles around his mother and I.  Literally.  We were out for a nice walk last weekend and Lukas was running around us as we walked.  He was also spinning in circles with his arms out to his side as he was running circles around us.  It was definitely not an atypical scene around here. If we could only find a way to harness this goldmine of power we'd be rich.  Rich I tell you.

And even if we didn't become rich, at least we could hook him back up to the grid and sell back the extra power. We could certainly use a few extra Washington's each month to help foot the water bill around here. Or the food bill.  Or the Lego bill.

That he is running circles around us is not surprising really.  After all,  Mrs. LIAYF and I are both looking at our 30's in our rear view mirror now.  We are not as energetic as we used to be for sure, but this kid is certainly full of it.  Yes, I mean energy.  Oh, and sweetness too, he's full of that.  He is an awesome kid and we extremely lucky to have him in our lives. But he IS hard to keep up with.

Not too long ago Mrs. LIAYF even made comment.  "Where does he get all that energy?"

Even though I knew it was a rhetorical question, I think I responded with an "Are you kidding me???"  Then a "He just slept for 12 hours!"  followed up with a parting "And he will be taking another nap soon  enough."  All this with a smile on my face.

I think I averaged about 5-6 hours a night this past week.   So yeah, maybe it's not age at all.  Maybe I just need to get to bed earlier.  Catch a few more Z's.  Then surely I will be able to keep up with Lukas, right?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

But surely it may close the gap, or at least slow it's expansion somewhat.  One can only hope.

What about you readers?  Do your kids run circles around you too?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dad's A-Z: D is for Dirt

Got Dirt?

If it wasn't for dirt, Lukas may never have been born.

Allow me to explain.  It been16 years ago now - can I just pause here to say "Wow, how can it be 16 years already"? - when I was shooting pool at an Olympia, WA tavern after a long day of working on my farm (Yes, I used to be a farmer - The thing about the long hours: Not an exaggeration).   Well, I was about to put a dollar in the Jukebox when a very attractive barkeep pressed in front of me and said something to the effect of "It's time I played some real music!" before inserting a coin into the machine.

I might have audibly groaned at the time.  You see, I was convinced that she was about to choose a Country song.  And I wasn't a big Country music fan at the time.  But like I said, she was pretty, so I didn't press the issue. 

Then, when the music started, she just turned and gave me a smile.  She had a gorgeous smile. Scratch that, she HAS a gorgeous smile.

By saying if it wasn't for Dirt, I mean, of course,  the epic album titled Dirt by Seattle Rock legends Alice in Chains. The song  Mrs. LIAYF selected that  night was Rooster, off of that album Dirt.  I still can't hear it without thinking fondly of that fateful night.  Our first date was a week later.

So yes, if it wasn't for Dirt, Lukas may have never been born.  But I'd like to think it would have happened anyway.  I would have thought she was a knockout even if she had played Allan Jackson or George Straight.

But could this be the reason why Lukas is now so enamored with dirt?  Specifically piles of dirt?  The aforementioned Mrs. LIAYF and I recently bought him a brand new shovel of his own.  A real shovel (kid sized) with a sturdy metal spade.  We did this because he loves to dig so much.  In the DIRT, of course.

I might have lamented the Big Dirt Pile that hung around our place too long, but Lukas loved it.

In fact just last weekend he was a huge help as we planted out vegetable and herb boxes.  His was the herb box, and before we planted there he spent quite a while digging through the dirt in search of worms.  This brought back fond memories for me of digging worms as a kid, to use while fishing for trout down on the farm.  Lukas is just about the age where a fishing trip would be in order too so this dirt digging was good practice for him.

He found loads of worms too.  It was great watching him pick them up, name them, and deposit them in a corner of the box he declared was 'Worm City'.  If I remember correctly there was Dug, and Brandon (his best friend at pre-k), and Squirmy, and Squirmy 2, and Squirmy 3 among others.  The Squirmy brothers were especially active too, thus the name.  I have a theory that this is due to all the caffeine in the Seattle soil.  His box was probably the equivalent of a quad shot Mocha for those worms.

Then again, he may just like dirt because he is a 4 year old boy.  I would imagine dirt is not too far down the list from Lego's on most boys favorite toys list. Come to think of it, I had a pretty good time playing in the dirt myself.  Maybe it never gets old.

It's unfortunate that Dirt gets a bad rap most of the time, but around here we dig it quite a bit.

How about you readers?  Do your kids like to play in the brown stuff?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dad's A-Z: C is for Confidence

The Cape is great for Confidence Building
I have mentioned here before that I didn't have a whole lot of confidence in myself growing up.  Although I was at the top of my class academically, albeit small in size, and fairly decent at sports - attending such a small school I was able to play on the varsity basketball, football, and baseball teams - I never developed the sense that I could be a leader among my peers. That I could overcome whatever adversity might come my way.  The effects of this has lingered with me in one form or another throughout my adulthood.

 I'm not exactly sure why this was.  Maybe it's just who I was, and to an extent probably still am. I did mention in a previous post how my moving up a grade in elementary school and into the same class as my brother may have affected my confidence growing up, but I'm sure there were more complexities involved.   I tended to avoid conversations about difficult topics with my parents, but probably needed to have more of them.

Now, that I am in my 40's, all grown up, and am a parent, thankfully I feel much differently.  Now, I am perhaps at times too confident that the decisions I make are the right ones when it comes to my parenting choices. That's why it's great to have Mrs. LIAYF at my side.  We can check each others logic, and also support each others actions.

But whatever those parenting choices entail because of my own experiences I want to be very careful to do whatever I can to make sure that, unlike me, Lukas grows up confident in himself.  I want him to know that he is a hard working and intelligent boy who can make sound decisions in the face of adversity.  To know that things will certainly not always go his way, but that he can think on his feet and mitigate those circumstances.  To know that he has a good head on his shoulders and that even though it may be extremely difficult at times, that he has the confidence in himself and the courage to do the right thing and make good choices.

How do I accomplish this?  I certainly won't do it alone.  Mrs. LIAYF is a hugely positive influence in Lukas' life. Likely more so than me.  So far together we have simply tried to reinforce in him on a daily basis that he is a good boy, who works hard towards his accomplishments.  When things upset him, we talk to him about what's causing that and help him work through how he can make himself feel better about the situation. We also positively reinforce when he thinks through a situation and makes a sound decision.

But most of all we let him know that he is loved, and that we will always be here for him when he needs us.

Of course, I am not 100 percent sure that all of the measures we are taking will have a long term positive impact on Lukas' confidence and self perception as he grows into a young man.  After all, he is our first child and is still only 4 years old.  What do we really know?

But it feels right.

And with plenty of love, encouragement and support, he will turn out just perfect.

Of that, I am confident.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dad's A-Z: B is for Books

I debated a while over which way to go with this one.  I could have just as easily gone with Bicycle for this post.  That's because, as I posted here about a year ago, Lukas is already a pro with his two wheeler.

We started with a balance bike at 2 years old, then at 3 and a half it only took him 10 minutes to learn to use the pedal bike without training wheels.  If you have a toddler, I would highly recommend you start with a balance bike. We go out riding along Alki Beach in Seattle quite often and it was amazing the comments and looks we would receive trailing after a 3 year old who was pedaling along on a tiny bicycle.

But instead I decided to dedicate this Dad's A-Z post to Books, which are a huge part of Lukas' life.  Mrs. LIAYF and I started collecting books for Lukas before he was even born.  I even started to read to him each night while he was in utero.  Most often this was the classic Father/Son story 'Guess How Much I Love You'.  We had done a lot of research during the early stages of the pregnancy and believed that reading to him even before he was born would help him recognize our voices right away once he was born.  It worked.

From there we kept collecting books for him from used book stores, thrift stores, yard sales, and from gifts he had received.  We tried to be selective, looking mostly for books which were classics, award winners, or ones with exceptional illustrations.  And, even though we knew he couldn't understand us early on, we would still read multiple books to him on a daily basis.

I wrote a post back in July of 2010, called The Count where we tallied up the number of books we had accumulated at the time.  Amazingly it was over 250.  And we have collected hundreds more since then.

Lukas loves all these books.  Early on he started responding more and more to the chapter books with stories.  He obviously was understanding much more than even we realized.  Now he has a terrific memory for these stories.  We will pull a book off the shelf that we haven't read in well over a year and he will remember it line by line.

Even though we have such a large collection of kid books, Mrs. LIAYF is currently reading Lukas the complete Wizard of Oz series in digital format, a brand new medium to him, thanks to her Kindle.

(Classic @Seattledad tweet:  I wonder if my grandkids will ask me one day "Grandpa did you really once read of off really thin sheets of wood?")

I'm not sure what he thinks of digital books, but he is really enjoying the stories.  They are already on book number six.  Right now though his favorite book is indisputably  The Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary. It's not a story book, but it combines his two favorite things right now, Legos and Star Wars which go together nearly as well as chocolate and peanut butter.

Obviously, Mrs. LIAYF and I are doing all we can to foster Lukas' love of the written word.  After all, we live in Seattle which is the most literate city in America.  The fact is, we have to be readers here since we spend nearly six months a year inside and out of the soggy rain.

No doubt Lukas will be reading chapter books on his own soon enough and will be padding that statistic.

But, no matter what form his future collection consists of, we are certainly happy that we are fostering his love of books.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dad's A-Z: Astronaut

I've seen a few other bloggers posting this month in the Blogging A-Z challenge, but by the time I checked out the details and realized it was an April challenge, it was too late for me to actually sign up and follow the rules.

I do like the concept though, and so thought I would try my own version of the challenge, with my very own rules.  Why? Well, because who doesn't like to play by their own rules?

As my post title would suggest, I have decided to do a Dad's A-Z project where each post would relate to something about my experience being a father to Lukas.  Pretty cool, right?  Hey, just roll with me on this one please.  Anyway, another guideline I have chosen to ignore from the original challenge is the part about completing it within a month.

If you've seen my recent productivity reports you will understand why.  Given that, I thought a less ambitious goal was in order.  I wanted one that would still hold some significance though, so I chose June 17th since it was 4 days after Flag Day.

I chose 4 days since I have been blogging here for 4 years which is very significant. So my goal is to complete the Dad's A-Z Challenge by 4 days after.....wait, I just realized that June 17th is also Father's Day! That's quite a coincidence, and one that works out perfectly for my challenge.  Awesome.

To start out with, A stands for Astronaut

 Lukas has been convinced since he was 2 years old that he is going to be an astronaut.  Some kids love cars.  Some kids love trucks.  Some love construction equipment.  Lukas? He loves rockets, and space.  Mrs. LIAYF and I thought that this may have been a phase that he was going through, but his enthusiasm for them have not waned in the past couple of years, but only gotten stronger.

In fact, he has long held firm to the notion that he wants to be the first person to set foot on Mars.  Yes, that is quite a lofty ambition, but when you are 4 years old the world is full of infinite possibilities and few dreams should be discounted.

Therefore Mrs. LIAYF and I often take the time to encourage him and let him know if that's is what he really wants to do he can work towards being an astronaut when he is grown up.  We let Lukas know that astronauts are very hard working, mathematically oriented people.  And that if he wants to go to space, he will need to work hard, concentrate, and listen to his teachers in school.  He seems to get that concept, which no matter what he ends up doing in life, will certainly serve him well.

But for now, he can just be a boy who loves space, and rockets, and the notion that he will be able to climb beyond Earth's  reach one day.

Sure, it most likely will not happen.  But being his Dad, and knowing how hard he works at getting things right, I certainly wouldn't put it past him.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It Wasn't Hunger

Note to Self: When your kid tells you his stomach hurts first thing in the morning, you shouldn't dismiss it as merely hunger.


Yesterday, during morning rush hour, I did just that. I didn't matter that Mrs. LIAYF and I had just fed Lukas a small bowl of Greek yogurt and a pancake, he seemed like he was doing fine so I dismissed his claim.  I figured he was just misinterpreting his body.  I told him that it was okay, and that he was probably still hungry.  I then proceeded to hand him a granola bar over my shoulder while driving.  He didn't take it, but just whimpered a bit.

Then I looked back, and saw that he was covered in vomit.  COVERED. Copious amounts of it flowed down his coat, onto his pants, the car seat, and sadly also the prized Star Wars book he was reading.

We were 4 blocks from his school.  I was already late for work.  I had no change of clothes for him.  I didn't even have anything on hand to wipe him down with.  How FRUSTRATING was this?

Not very frustrating at all, actually.  

I could have easily let events like this get the better of me, and I had a lot of people express sympathy about the morning I had after the fact, but there's something about seeing your child in such a vulnerable position which instantly alters your mindset as a parent.  In this case, here was my 4-year-old son, looking at himself with a look of utter disappointment and defeat on his face, with his lap full of the previous contents of his stomach.  I felt so bad for him.  Me? I was fine.

I took a small breath, looked at him, and without hesitation said "It's going to be okay Buddy." before pulling the car to the side of the busy road.  Once there I carefully unstrapped his seat harness and lifted my dripping boy out and set his feet down on the wet pavement.  Like I said, there wasn't anything to wipe him down with in the car, so while assuring him it was an idea worthy of a superhero, I removed the cape he put on before leaving the house and used it to scrape and rub him down.

He seemed to calm down, and save for having to get back into the still wet and sticky car seat, he didn't protest too much.  The great thing was, he trusted that I would take care of him.  And I did, which felt good.

I called work to let them know I would be late, then I called Mrs. LIAYF and let her know that we were on our way home.  Working from home, she had an extremely full schedule that day but once we arrived home,  a bath and clean clothes were the first order of business.  She took care of this while I scrubbed down the seat and washed the cover, his clothes, and also his cape.

The whole episode was of those moments where I felt like a pretty competent parent. I was able to make him feel both better and loved, under difficult circumstances.

And as I was about to finally leave for work Lukas turned to me and said "I'm sick, so I get to watch videos all day right?"

"I think that would be okay" I responded, running my hand through his hair.  "I have to go to work now, but Mommy will take good care of you".

And with that I was off to work, where a lot of people, hearing why I was late, were about to express sympathy for the morning that I had had.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jokers To The Left of Me

We stopped at Zippy's in Seattle for burgers, shakes, and onion rings after work on Wednesday night.  (Although somehow yours truly ended up with a Young's Double Chocolate Stout instead - not sure how that happened)

Zippy's is the kind of joint we love to eat at. Complete with Pac-Man and Pinball machines lining the walls, sparkly red plastic booths complete with tables made of Formica to eat at, and a sound system spitting out classics by the likes of Johnny Cash and GNR.

But another big part of the allure of eating there is also all of the pictures on the walls.  Old pictures, many black and white with signatures and short notes scribbled on them adorn the walls.  There are pictures of old restaurants, cars, storefronts, and of course, plenty of old advertisements.

When we first arrived, we had a good time relaxing and chatting with each other, mostly about Lukas' new LEGO Idea book.  But once our greasy fare had arrived we began to look around at all the interesting characters in the restaurant, and also at all those pictures.

It was then that Lukas called out in an excited voice "Look, it's the JOKER!"  He has got some kids and he is making a Pirate walk the Plank!"

Mrs. LIAYF and I just laughed when we saw what the Joker was up to.

"Don't worry!" Lukas continued.  "Batman will get that JOKER!" 

If you remember, this is the kid who has never been to a McDonald's. He had no clue who this red headed character really was.

It was at this point I asked him if the Joker was a good guy or a bad guy.  "He's definitely a bad guy" Lukas concluded.

Mrs. LIAYF and I just looked at each other, smiled, and kept the secret to ourselves.

Well, I guess Billions and Billions of victims can draw their own conclusions on that one. And, although we didn't see him show up to take care of this Joker, perhaps Batman prefers his burgers cooked fresh, and served with a touch of ambiance.

"Hooray for Batman." I offered.

Heck, he might even own his own burger joint.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Moon Tree 2G

Sadly, it is fact that there are no trees on the Moon. Especially not large Fir Trees.

Well, at least this is what I'm led to believe by all the evidence that currently exists.  But who REALLY knows there aren't any?  Have we taken pictures of every inch of the Moon's surface?  I actually don't know the answer to this, but I am guessing that it's a big fat NO.

We landed men at the Sea of Tranquility over 40 years ago and there certainly weren't any there (that is, if we actually landed there and the whole thing wasn't just mocked up at an L.A. sound studio  - Capricorn One ring any bells OJ fans?).   I mean, for all we really know there could be an old growth forest, complete with spectacular and unimaginable creatures with very large feet and brown hair covering their entire body sitting just over some unexplored ridge. Yes, I am saying there may be Wookies on the Moon.

Okay, so there is a pretty high probability that there are no trees on the Moon. I'll concede that.

But when Mrs. LIAYF and I  heard this cool story about a Moon Tree at the State Capitol in Olympia on our local NPR station a couple weeks back we knew that we needed to take Lukas to see it.  And as we passed through there this past weekend Mrs. LIAYF suggested it was a good time to do just that.

Not the surface of the Moon.

As the story indicates, the 40 ft tall Douglas Fir is a Moon Tree because as a seedling it traveled on Apollo 14 to the Lunar Orbit back in 1971 and circled Earth's satellite 34 times!  It's also interesting to note that, barring a return trip to the Moon in the near future, once all of the current living Lunar astronauts have passed away, the Moon trees will be the only living things left that have visited the Moon.

That's pretty cool.

After a quick iPhone Google search helped us locate the tree we parked our car that sunny afternoon and made our way across a large lawn and up to the well traveled Douglas Fir and explained to Lukas, who is pretty crazy about space, and planets, and rockets just what it was he was seeing.  He was duly impressed.

On the surface it seemed like an ordinary tree, but knowing where it had been, it was quite the majestic sight.

Then, Mrs. LIAYF came up with another great idea as she suggested we collect a souvenir.  Not just any souvenir mind you but one which, if we treated it just right, might actually yield us a 2nd generation Moon Tree of our very own.

He's thinking of throwing this at something.

With that we collected a few of the prized Fir cones.  We're not sure yet where we will plant any seedlings that they may produce, but we do know a couple of things.  One, that Lukas is very excited about the prospect - who knows, perhaps he will one day take some of it's seeds to Mars.

And two that where ever it grows, this certainly won't be just another tree.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Egg Hunt Hunger Games

Lukas (green sweater) should have turned and found the eggs on the perimeter.

"Oh Look, there's an Easter Egg Hunt at the community center this morning.  That should be fun."

Those were our famous last words, as we finished up our late breakfast this morning and decided to head out to our local venue to happily gather a few eggs, meet with some friends of ours, and soak in some rare Seattle sunshine.

Little did we know the carnage that awaited us.  When we arrived and surveyed the scene, which consisted of hundreds of kids in the 4-6 age category alone, clamoring for position to gather what they could of what seemed like less eggs than the total number of kids, we should have know that for most there wouldn't be a happy ending.

What transpired was nothing short of the opening scene of The 74th Annual Hunger Games.  Not the opening scenes of the movie, but rather the actual games within the movie.  Not to be a spoiler, but that's where, when the horn sounds all the kids race to the center to pick their weapons and supplies, and half of the kids immediately get slaughtered by the other rampaging contestants.

During this egg hunt when the horn sounded - check that, before the horn sounded because quite a few of the kids got a jump on the competition - those hundreds of kids descended on that field like a swarm of locust, leaving little unscathed in their path. 

There were kids obviously better prepared than we were with light and easily maneuverable pails, kids plastic grocery bags, and even optimistic kids with large plastic garbage bags.  Lukas?  He had a his very nice woven and lined Easter basket.  It was nice to look at, but not optimal for carrying while gathering eggs.

Shortly after I took the picture above, he got knocked over as the screaming hoard made it's way through the field.  Mrs. LIAYF rushed out to pick him up, grab his hand, and help him search.  But alas, there was little left.  They ran all the way to the end and found only one egg.  And they were some of the lucky ones.

As I made my way out to find them, it was like walking through the remnants of a freshly fought battlefield.  There were dozens of crying and wounded kids being led away by their consoling parents, their baskets empty. Only a precious few had baskets filled with plastic booty.  Needless to say Lukas was a bit upset himself at the result of his 'Hunt'. Mrs. LIAYF and I consoled and reassured him that we would reward him at home for his effort. 

But then, about an hour later an announcement came over the loudspeaker.  "Line up now for the Adult Egg Hunt".  Adult hunt?!, I thought. Then it hit me that THIS was the time for me as a father to provide for my family.  To gather some eggs and make my son happy.  And I'd do it no matter what!

I quickly started over to the line up, where well over a hundred other parents were gathered as well.  But as I was making my way over, I heard Lukas from behind me.  He was coming to go with me.  I hesitated, as this would certainly slow me down and take away any advantage my quickness would lend me against the other mostly middle aged participants.  But I couldn't say no.

As we were lined up along the fence before the start I had Lukas in front of me holding the basket.  I thought to myself that this simply would not do.  So I picked him up, all 40 lbs of him and made a seat with my right arm for him to sit in front of me.  And then we were off.  Carrying him it seemed like I was competing in one of those odd ball Worlds Strongest Man competitions.   Strategy had to be my friend as I spied a grouping of eggs about 20 yards ahead.  That was my goal.

I sprinted out there as fast as I could with Lukas on my arm in front of me and immediately picked up 4 eggs.  "Yah! We are doing it!!" Lukas called as I tossed them in the basket.  Then as I raced to another patch a few yards to my left and gathered up a few more before another woman could get them, Lukas laughed with joy.  "Daddy's doing it!" He called out, laughing and enthusiastic.  I raced around for a few more seconds with him and picked up another lone egg.

By then the hoard had moved down the field though, leaving us with our decent spoils.  I put Lukas down and held his hand as we walked back to the blanket where Mrs. LIAYF waited.

In his other hand he held that woven basket, filled with just enough treat filled plastic eggs to sustain all of us for the rest of the afternoon as we happily picnicked in the rare Seattle sunshine.

Happy Easter everyone.