The Turnabout Intruder

It was bad enough with Star Wars.

The boys saw a scene from the Original Trilogy on a television, watched for a moment, turned to me, and asked, “Why are those clonetroopers shooting good guys?”


But then, yesterday, the seven-year-old and I are talking about aliens, in reference to the movie Megamind, which has one character, Megamind, who is very clearly and alien, and another, Metro Man, who looks like a normal person, despite both being from other planets. So I’m explaining the diversity of aliens in science fiction.

And then there are the aliens that look almost like humans, like Mr. Spock.

“Who is Spock?”

Knowing that he’s seen the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie, I try to explain which one Spock is.

“Is he the one who was always kissing the girl?”

Um, yes. Yes, he was.

The next generation thinks that stormtroopers are good guys, and that the guy on Star Trek who’s always kissing a girl is Mr. Spock.

Angels and ministers of grace defend us…

Nature, Nurture Or None Of The Above

To be fair, it’s happened before in good ways.

But Thursday morning before the launch, as Finn and I were facing off and I found myself entering terra incognita of child discipline with a mad, hurt, yet staunchly stubborn and defiant seven year old in front of me, the thought entered my head, “This child is so much like me.”

It’s a weird feeling.

By nature, he’s not like me at all. He’s not mine. He inherited nothing from me. Genetically, he doesn’t have my stubbornness any more than he’ll ever have my nose.

By nurture, yeah, he’s starting to be a little bit like me. You can definitely tell where I’m starting to rub off a little on both of the boys. The little things make me smile — like hearing them tell a “One-hundred-and-one” joke like we do in the improv shows. The big things make me really happy, though — you can tell there’s an increased love of narrative that I think is really cool. And, Heather says, they pray more, and more personally, because of me. And, yeah, that means a whole lot. A whole lot.

But then there’s another category, the none-of-the-above comparisons.

You become friends with someone because you find things you have in common. At the beginning of a dating relationship, you’re amazed at all the commonalities — “You like movies!? I like movies! And, hey, we’re both bipedal mammals! How amazing is that!? Clearly we were meant to be!”

But you share those things not because of any shared background, but because you both just happen to have taken different roads that ended up in the same place in those areas.

Caden and I have a few of those, but, to be honest, any commonalities with Caden are more with an idealized version of me than with the real me. I wish I were as free-spirited as he is, able to enjoy life the same way, as gifted at encouragement as he just naturally is. I tell him I’ll do something, and get around to it a few days later, and am greeted not with a “finally” type of response, but with “Good remembering, David!” I wish I could master that outlook.

Finn and I, on the other hand …

I saw him standing there in front of me last Thursday, and could put myself in his shoes, standing like that in front of my own dad. Stubborn, proud, desperately wanting to be as much in control as I could be. I wished I knew how to tell him that. It also made me put myself in the shoes of my dad a couple of decades ago. I have a few things in common with him, too.

I also see myself also in Finn’s cleverness. He’s competitive, but he loves figuring out how to work the system, to find the loopholes that give him an edge. Like me, he’s an odd blend of introvert and extrovert. He’ll not speak to a schoolmate in public because he doesn’t know what to say, but he’ll do a chicken dance in front of friends at a Havoc game.

It’s fun. I had no idea what it would be like having kids be a big part of my life, and that’s been one of the biggest surprises — that one of the most challenging and most rewarding parts of it has been discovering just who these two guys are as people. They have their own personalities, vastly different from each other, but each with so many things that warm my heart and probably more than a few things that try my patience. But they’re both just so wholly and fully and uniquely them.

It’s a cool thing where my commonality with their uniqueness gives me a perspective that Heather doesn’t have; it lets me feel like I actually contribute something.

And knowing that being around me has an impact on them; seeing how they are shaped because I’m in their life, is one of the most rewarding experiences and yet heaviest burdens I’ve had.

The Good Of The Juan

The envelope was smaller than it should have been.

Normally around this time of year, I get an envelope from Compassion International with an update about my sponsored child, Juan., with a new picture and his family and school situation.

This year, the envelope marked “Information About Your Sponsored Child” was smaller than it should have been. I worried. I opened it up, and there was only a single sheet of paper inside. Oh no.

It was bad news, but not as bad as it should have been. Juan had stopped attending the Compassion student center, and so was no longer participating in the program, and his sponsorship had to be ended.

I really don’t remember how long ago I started sponsoring Juan; I would guess about six or seven years. I wish my story were that I was a better person, but the truth was, I went to Family Christian one day and they were running an offer were you got a good coupon if you signed up to sponsor a child, so I did.

Juan is 15 now. He lives in Guatemala. He struggled in school; as I understand, last year he was still only in second grade. We wrote back and forth a few times a year, not as frequently as I should have. I thought it was sweet that, long after the divorce, he would still ask me if I knew how Nicole was doing. He was a good kid, and I wonder what happened. Of the options, I would like to think he had to dedicate more time to the needs of his growing family.

Compassion, of course, encouraged me to begin sponsoring a new child, and even found one similar to Juan to suggest.

Instead, however, I’m going in a different direction this time.

My new child, Hansell, is less than a month younger than Finn. (His birthday is the day before mine.) Like Finn, he’s in second grade, and his performance is above average. He has one sibling, and they live with his mother and stepfather. I wanted to find a child similar to Finn, in hopes that they could become penpals and learn about each other. It would give the child another link beyond just my sponsor letters, and help Finn learn more about life outside the United States. Hansell lives in Nicaragua, where Flint River sends mission teams, and Finn and Caden have participated in fundraisers they’ve done in the children’s program at the church to support the trips, so there’s even a connection there.

I’m excited about it. I hate that Juan left the program, but I want to make the most of the opportunity by starting over in Compassion a little wiser and more experienced about how to go about it so I can be a better sponsor this time.

I’m always very reluctant to push charity causes — I believe firmly that charitable giving is best when it’s given to a cause that the giver is passionate about. So I’m not going to encourage you to support Compassion if it’s not something you are interested in;particularly since it’s a cause that really needs not only money but time to show love to the sponsored kids, even it if’s just the occasional letter. If you are interested, however, I’ve found it to be a good program, and would encourage you to sponsor a child.

Kinda-Review: Green Hornet (In Which I Become An Old Fuddy-Duddy)

I wanted to go see Tron again.

Heather was going out for a girls’ night with some friends, so the boys and I were having a guys’ night — dinner and a movie. There aren’t many kids’ movies out right now; and they’d pretty much seen them, except for Yogi Bear, and I do have some standards.

I’d seen Tron thrice before, and the boys had seen it twice. They’d seen Green Hornet once before, and I’d not seen it at all, and Finn really pushed for Green Hornet (because he wanted me to see it) over Tron.

I normally would have balked at the PG-13 rating — the recommended age is older than both boys put together — but their granny had already taken them, and all involved swore it wasn’t that bad. So I’m not going to be exposing them to anything they haven’t already seen. Well, OK, then, Green Hornet it is.

I should have stuck with Tron.

The thing that I’ve been wondering since then is whether it was really that reprehensible, or whether it was just my perspective was different watching it with the boys. What would I have thought if I was watching it by myself?

And it was reprehensible. The “heroes” treated each other badly. They treated women badly. Their language was awful. They fought police and put them in mortal danger on a lark. (And these are the good guys.) They were cavalier about destruction of property and endangering bystanders. Arguably, they had no redeeming traits at all. Sure, there’s a “redemptive” level of “helping others,” but it’s really far more about their own self-indulgence; their “help” is self-centered, dangerous and largely unproductive. Even their climactic battle, presented as being important, is ultimately pretty whimsical.

And I’ll admit a further bias that, while I’ve never been a huge Green Hornet fan, I felt like the movie was disrespectful to the original source, which is something that’s a big turn-off for me in movies. If you want to remake  a property, remake it in the spirit of the original. If you want to make something in a different spirit, then use some creativity and do it with your own invention instead of someone else’s.

So I can’t swear that I wouldn’t have enjoyed Green Hornet if I had seen it by myself, but I would imagine probably not. (Adding to this theory — I’ve never seen, nor had any desire to see, any other Seth Rogen movie.)

But it’s another piece of evidence for the state in the growing case that being around the boys is making me an old fuddy-duddy. Exhibit #193 — Last week, I was at the comic book store, picking up my weekly comics. (A good exhibit for the defense, let the record show.) Caden wanted a book, and I grabbed a Star Wars comic off the shelf because it featured on the cover a large number of Clone Troopers, which Caden loves. (I’m not sure whether the prosecution or plaintiff arguments are supported better by the fact that part of me finds it wrong that their post-prequel upbringing makes them think stormtroopers are good guys and not care about Han Solo.)

Flipping through it, I saw that it showed Anakin, sans a good chunk of his arms and legs, dangling from the ceiling, having his cybernetic systems replaced. Later in the book, and somewhat subtly, a minor character’s head is visible mid-frame, having been removed from its proper place via lightsaber. Is this appropriate for a five-year-old? How am I supposed to know? Is it any worse than the last Star Wars movie, which he’s seen?

And I found myself thinking a weird thought, that I never thought I would think.

And let me point out, I think it should be optional, I think you should be able to publish whatever sort of comic book you want, but I think there should be a way of knowing what comic books are appropriate for what audiences.

But, dadgumit, I miss when books were approved by the Comics Code Authority.

Pirates! Pizza! Presents! Party!

Once upon a time, a year or so ago, one of my coworkers — not Heather — was talking to me about planning a birthday party for her son, who was turning 4.

And, as a single guy with no kids for whom that whole world was alien, it seemed insane.

Fast forward to this past weekend. I’m at KidVenture with more kids than I can count building a cake wearing a pirate bandana. What brave new world is this, that has such parties in it.

It still seems a little insane. The party probably cost more than all the presents put together. Caden could have asked for something that cost that much for his birthday, and been told it was way too much. The cake alone probably cost more than any single gift, and — and I can’t stress this enough — came with instructions. The cake cost that much, and didn’t even come fully assembled. I had to build the cake in situ.

On the flip side, the cake was, as Heather put it, “a birthday miracle.” I won’t tell the story behind it, since she blogged it better than I could, but it really was a little slice of happy ending. The look on Caden’s face when he saw it was wonderful, but it didn’t do justice to the look on his mom’s face when she brought it out of the grocery store.

And the party was a wish fulfillment for Caden. He loves dressing up. LOVES dressing up. He comes home from school, and immediately changes into a ninja or Iron Man or a clone trooper or something. It’s like what they say about Batman — Batman is the reality, Bruce Wayne is just a costume. Caden’s in costume when he wears civvies to go to daycare. That’s pretend. The real Caden is a superhero. All he wanted from Santa was a sword. And armor. And two shields. And lately, the real Caden has been a pirate. Iron Man and the clone trooper have been getting short breaks as the pirate becomes the normal go-to.

So Sunday night, Caden got to dress like a pirate, and be on a pirate ship, and have rings and gold coins and eye patches and other treasure and share his booty with his friends. So, yeah, maybe the money would have bought a bigger and better toy or something, but buying Caden the Pirate a night on his own pirate ship was kinda priceless.

As the party got closer, we began to worry. The snowpocalypse was upon us, and we were afraid it would come before the party was over, or, more to the point, that other people would be afraid it would, and decide not to come lest they be trapped. We watched the radar with bated breath.

And then, right as we were setting up, the phone calls started coming. And every time it rang, our hearts skipped a beat. Here comes the first person to send regrets. But that first call was for directions. Others were similar. There was one regret, from someone who had to be in Birmingham that night; completely understandable. But the place ended up being packed. I’m not sure about Heather, but the number of kids was quite adequate for me.

For me, it was an interesting experience. For the kids, I’m part of their life. But this was a new thing, being the guy there setting up the cake and thanking people for coming. And it wasn’t an entirely uncomfortable fit, really.

So, yeah, fast forward to now, and the whole kid party still seems kinda insane. But, you know, that may not be a bad thing.

Another Sunday — Sojourn VII

This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

With Christmas approaching, the lesson I taught the kids this past Sunday at Sojourn was about joy, in honor of the third week of advent, and about Gabriel appearing to Mary, and about the fact that, with God, all things are possible.

Heather’s boys, Finn and Caden, came to hear me teach for the first time this past Sunday, and that was really cool. I think it may even make me better at doing this. When I started doing Sojourn Kids storytelling, I struggled with being able to read my audience. Doing improv or giving lectures, I’m pretty decent at reading the audience and reacting accordingly. When I started working with kids, it was like a blank wall; I couldn’t read them, so I couldn’t tailor what I was doing. The boys have given me a better feel for that, and having them there Sunday was a great metric. Renae, the Sojourn Kids leader, commented that she thought I’d really been doing better lately as well.

But, getting back to the actual lesson, there were some entertaining parts, like when one of the kids and one of the teachers acted out Gabriel’s appearance to Mary — angels run around in circles more than I would have expected — but, for me, the biggest take-away was in the part about how all things are possible with God.

To help engage the kids, I made signs saying “It’s Not Possible” and “It IS Possible” and then asked the kids if different things were possible or impossible. I started with general stuff, and ended up asking whether they thought it was possible or not for me to do certain things, picking some unlikely-sounding examples, like floating in mid-air. Almost all of the kids picked “not possible,” even though they were all things that I’ve actually done. I used it to make the point that we can do things that we may thing are impossible.

But it drove home just how blessed I am; how many things that seem, particularly when you try to explain them to little kids, like they should be impossible that I have had the opportunity to do. God’s let me do some awesome stuff, and it’s easy to overlook how blessed I am. And, in part, it gets back to what I wrote last week about children’s perspectives — they help us see how amazing things are that we take for granted.

How about you? What things that a pre-schooler would think are impossible have you had the chance to do?

Regrouping Subtraction

Math is hard.

That’s what I learned Tuesday night. It didn’t seem that hard. Basic subtraction. What’s 56 minus 7? Easy, right?

But what I was reminded of is that it’s easy only because I’ve been doing it for the better part of three decades until it’s second nature. I no longer think about why 56 minus 7 is 49; I no longer mentally work the problem, at least not slowly enough that I recognize what I’m doing. I see the problem, I know the answer.

If that weren’t the case, it turns out, it would be tougher. If, for example you were a second-grader learning these things for the first time. If the only way you could do it was to know why it works the way it does, if there was no second nature.

It’s very fun to me how good it has been for me getting to know Heather’s boys and becoming closer to them. They, quite literally, make the world a different place. They remind me constantly that even though it seems like we’re in the same places, doing the same things, they live in a world that is entirely different than mine. And it makes me realize how much my own world is really just what I make of it.

They live in a world in which much less is taken for granted. If something happens today, that doesn’t mean it will happen tomorrow. And you can’t just assume that something will happen a certain way the first time. They haven’t seen that, they haven’t experienced it, they haven’t built those expectations. They also haven’t seen things thousands of times until the wonder has worn off. They live in a world that’s much fresher, much more exciting, at times much scarier, but much more colorful. They also, ironically, in some ways, live in a world that’s much more matter of fact. Things that adults wouldn’t know how to make sense of they take in without breaking stride. When you don’t have expectations, a dozen surprising things might happen to you in a day, so what’s one more? Something that’s a big deal to an adult might be no more or less unusual to them than the fact that you don’t go to school on Veterans Day. “What? Why not? What does that mean? But why are we off school for that?”

It’s good to be reminded of the wonder of Veterans Day. It’s good to be reminded that things that seem like big deals to me really aren’t. It’s good to be reminded not to take things for granted. It’s good to be forced to stop expecting to see the things I always have, and start looking at what’s really there.

On the other hand, it’s not necessarily as much fun having to relearn math.

It’s simple. Like I said, I don’t have to think about 56 minus 7. I just know it. Even the basic explanation is easy; if I have 56 of something, and take away 7, I have 49 left. But that’s too time-consuming, to count down every time. And it’s not what the teacher wanted. She wanted regrouping tens. You don’t have enough ones in the ones column to subtract the larger number, so you take some from the tens column. Again, simple. But only because it makes perfect sense. It involves making sure there’s an understanding of the relationship between the ones column and the tens column. It involves making sure there’s an understanding of what happens when you “regroup” from one to the other. It involves making sure there’s an understanding of how many ones you have if you regroup some ones from the tens. It involves making sure there’s an understanding of how many tens you have if you regroup some tens into ones. And it involves making sure there’s an understanding of how you put all of that back together to get the final answer. Like I said, math is hard.

We used scratch paper. We got out the pennies and dimes. We worked the problems; talked about what we were doing. I think he got it. Mostly. Enough to get through the night’s problems. I suspect he’ll need a refresher before it’s all over. But that’s OK. He doesn’t have to master it in one night. There’s time. Step by step.

But, you know, I suspect I learned as much about subtraction that night as he did.