Tag Archives: children

A (humorous) meditation on death, loss, and fatherhood at two in the morning

It sounded like a cross between gagging for air and a forced, scratchy cry. My wife and I immediately jumped out of bed, sprinting towards the baby’s room. We flung upon the door and snapped on the lights. My wife pulls my son out of the crib. Normally a heavy sleeper, he is completely motionless.

“No no no no no no no no no no no no no no,” we stammer continually. I force my finger into his mouth, trying to detect any sign of breath. His eyes flicker open and he cries once, more out of annoyance than anything else.

“Oh, thank God,” I say, breathing in deeply. He wriggles in my wife’s arms, elated that both of his parents wanted to play so badly, they had waken him up (rather than the other way around).

“Want to stay up a bit with him, just to make sure he’s okay?” my wife asks. I nod. We take him back to our room, where he crawls over us, clapping and laughing.

I have had several brushes with death before. Once, while swimming in the ocean, a massive wave overpowered me, and the undertow dragged me across the sand, holding me under the water and unwilling to let go. I finally popped up for air and staggered to shore, bruised and cut. Another time, while hiking up a waterfall, I watched my friend lose his grip and slide uncontrollably towards the bottom. We watched helplessly until he thankfully caught hold of a root sticking out of the waterfall’s rocky face, from which he climbed back to safety. Another time, I collapsed while hiking up a hill towards a Buddhist temple in Korea. My mind realized as my whole body contracted into a ball, tingling and unable to breathe, that perhaps I might die. I was oddly at peace, but remembered that I had just started dating my first girlfriend (and future wife) two weeks ago, and she would be furious that I died while away and that maybe I should fight for life instead of giving up. Lucky for the both of us, I was spared.

This brush of death (or the perception thereof) was something wholly different, a completely new monster. I have rarely felt such a mind-numbing, awful terror that gripped my brain and heart and lungs with so much ferocity. At the birth of my son, I wondered if I would ever be one of those parents who would jump into a burning building to save his child. The thought seemed so foreign, so difficult to comprehend. At that moment; I got my answer. I would have done anything to hear my son cry again, even take my own life. There was no question.

I contemplate this new feeling, equal parts awe-inspiring and terrifying. My wife and I are silent as my son climbs on our legs and arms, a solemn assembly of parents who had just experienced (if only briefly) our new, absolutely worst nightmare.

Then we heard the sound again, loudly, outside of our window. We looked at each other.

“A cat!” we hissed together. Relief floods into our faces, then embarrassment. My son giggles, as if to gently laugh at us. The clock reads 2 a.m. I’m just glad it’s the weekend, because (as predicted) my son decided to stay up for two more hours before going back to bed.

“Oh, my son,” I whisper into his hair as I hold him close. “I’m so glad you’re okay. You have no idea. But seriously. You need to go back to bed.” He patted my cheek condescendingly, then crawled away to play with a ball of yarn.

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We are all a bunch of babies

Parenting, I admit, has made me incredibly jaded.

Specifically, parenting has made me jaded towards children (babies, especially). But it has also made me jaded towards humanity as a whole, too, which is a feat considering I had managed to maintain a cheery, upbeat attitude towards humanity until now.

Actually, let me back up a bit.

Our culture tends to fetishize children. We ascribe a certain type of wisdom to children, one which can pierce through the guile and treachery of adulthood, revealing the heart of the matter. We argue that they are pure and innocent, that they are wildlife preserves that deserve the most utmost protection from anything nasty, even though the very world we’ve brought them into is the epitome of just that sometimes. Our Church culture, especially, promotes this fetish, mostly because of scriptural stories of Jesus saying we should be like little children, that heaven is made up of little children, and just in general being very protective about little children.

Now, I’m not saying that Jesus didn’t like children. I’m pretty sure he loves all of the children, like he says. But now that I am dealing with a child every day of my life, I have begun to wonder how Jesus actually thinks of us.

I cannot wait until my child grows up. I do not understand how parents can look back on these years with any kind of affection or wonderment (maybe I will later, but I cannot see it now). These past three months have been one of the most difficult months of my life. I rarely get more than four hours of sleep. My train of thought is generally interrupted at least once every thirty minutes by a wail that could chill the blood of a Nazgul. There are large stretches of my life where I am at the mercy of this baby, feeding him (and thus rendering myself useless; it is incredibly hard to do anything without hands), changing him, dressing him, bathing him, playing with him.

Meanwhile, this child could be termed as ungrateful, if he could even feel the difference between ingratitude and gratitude. Babies are a bundle of nerve cells and a very strong, healthy id. Everything the baby does involves him communicating to me that he wants something and he wants something now. He will scream until he gets it. And sometimes he doesn’t want anything. Sometimes, he is just tired, and all he does is scream. He can’t seem to calm himself down; I need to step in and soothe him and reassure him, and even then, he will struggle in my arms and scream at me as if it is all my fault. But eventually, he will calm down, and he will smile and coo at me as if the past hour scream marathon never happened.

There are many times in the day when I will stare into the eyes of my son. I love him fiercely, something that hurts physically sometimes, as if all the emotion in me is squeezed tightly in a vice. I will defend him to the death, if I have to, and perhaps my love will even reanimate me as an undead ghast in order for me to continue protecting my son. It’s that strong.

But there’s always this underlying baseline of frustration. My son begins to scream. I call out to him, let him know a bottle is forthcoming, and he only screams harder. Sometimes, he’s too busy screaming to even notice that I am trying to feed him. What a baby.

Yes, I stare into his eyes and think, This is how God sees us. We are a bunch of babies, a pack of humans that are bundle of nerves and very strong, healthy id. We scream and cry and howl and that’s all we do. I’m sure of it; we are a bunch of babies. And therein lies the predicament God finds himself in. “Come, let us reason together,” he says. Instead, we just scream at him harder, because there is no reasoning with a baby.

Babies are rarely cute. Well, my baby is cute (this has been empirically proven), but most babies I just don’t find that cute anymore. Maybe it’s that lingering baseline of irritation. Maybe constant exposure has taken the shine off of it. But babies are not cute. Babies are infuriating. Babies are ridiculous. But, very importantly, babies represent potential. Unlimited potential.

I’m excited for when my baby grows up. Then I can say, “Come, let us reason together,” and he’ll say, “Just keep the heals coming dad, then we’ll talk,” because we’re playing games. We can talk about religion. I can tell him about my experience and tell him about folklore and language and he will understand. Someday, he will be my equal and peer. He will develop from a screaming id to an adult, with passions and interests and sorrows and joys. We will share them together.

Within us lies a powerful potential as well. God did not create us with the intention of using us as his mere playthings, and I don’t think he really desires us to stay babies. He wants us to be like children, because children hold potential. They are a wellspring of opportunities that unfold slowly over time. God wants equals, peers which he can share creation with. He wants us to reason with him, to converse with him. He wants us to understand as he does. The problem is, we’re sometimes too busy screaming to realize that. But that’s okay; he’s patient. He can wait. He realizes that sometimes all you can do is wait for your child to stop screaming and notice that the nourishment is already there.

There will be 7 billion people on this Earth by the end of the year. 7 billion mouths to feed, 7 billion mouths screaming at God for something. God resides in yonder heavens on a golden throne of holy fire, but sometimes I wonder if every now and then, as he sees us, wailing miserably and selfishly, he feels like he’s in hell.

I am only just beginning to understand you, o Lord, as well as my own imperfections. Forgive me of my screaming and tantrums, for I know now what I do sometimes. Hopefully, it’s a phase, and I’ll grow out of it.

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Succession

Recently, my wife inherited her grandmother’s knitting needles and supplies. The matriarch and guardian of the Nielson Clan Secret Knitting Technique found it time to pass on this ancient practice to a worthy successor. As the only Nielson left with a passion for knitting, my wife now finds herself the one who carries the torch.

I exaggerate slightly when I talk about this recent transition of power, but in reality, it’s a very real thing. Her grandmother taught her how to knit in a special way that required less movement and knitted more efficiently. Whenever she knits in public, people comment on the unique aspect of her knitting style. This knitting technique very much is part of the Nielson family tradition, and as the one who has carried on the tradition, there was something intensely emotional and almost spiritual — even solemn — when my wife opened up the box and found a neatly wrapped satchel of fine, quality knitting needles.

A similar feeling coursed through me when we brought my newborn son over to my parents’ house for the first time. The baby started crying, and my mom jumped up and clapped her hands. Returning from the bedroom closet, she wrapped my son in the baby blanket she had knitted for me when I was born; it was quality knitting, and looked almost brand new. It was almost surreal; 26 years after its first use, it had found its way back into the next generation of the family.

As we move through our hyper-commercialized digital age, I wonder how this idea of succession within the family of concrete, physical objects will occur. You simply cannot manufacture these types of moments. Had my wife’s grandmother said, “I notice you enjoy knitting like me; let me buy you some knitting needles from Walmart,” I could guarantee my wife’s eyes would not swim with tears. Nor could that electric thrill run up my spine and scramble my heart had my mother pulled out any old blanket she got for sale from the local fancy department store. Money cannot purchase these inheritances; their worth is slowly accrued through the excruciatingly slow and demanding process of time, a test of patience as well as the enduring legacy of the item.

Will my son ever have the experience that I experienced, and that my younger brother just recently experienced, stumbling upon my father’s old vinyl record collection, shifting through the musty box, pulling out the faded covers and wondering what kind of person my dad had been in the past as a young adult in the 1970s? Or will he find a forgotten USB stick with my mp3 files that he can’t even play because the technology’s so outdated? Will we have vintage computers built specifically to play the old music of the past? Will I have anything of worth to pass down to my son, or have I, too, fallen into the trap of our troubling disposable consumerism with its siren song that temporary and cheap is better than an object built to last, well worth its price?

Our economy and society’s spending habits are powered by our desire for instant gratification. All of the furniture I own is not designed to last; at my parents’ home, I prepared my son’s bottles on the dresser my mother used to change my diapers on. But I really wanted a couch, you know? Even if it means my son may never lay his son next to him on it in the middle of the night in hopes of getting him to sleep like I do now. It’s a bittersweet feeling.

Someone on Google Plus recently wrote that he had deleted all of his mp3 files and moved everything into “the cloud.” I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit sorry for him; how will he pass his music down? I have no idea if my son will be able to play my old Goo Goo Dolls CDs that I’ve kept all these years from my high school times. I don’t even know if he will like them. I don’t know if he will listen to Black Balloon and let the music wash over him, or listen to Iris and think about his crush. But maybe if I keep these outdated physical relics with me, even if they don’t really serve any purpose now, there might be a chance.

Perhaps the greatest irony surrounding this is that the relics we do leave behind usually takes the form of our trash. Plastic bags and plastic wrapping and plastic shells that hold the things we actually cherish and love and use long often outlast what we actually purchase. I don’t have a good, quality pocket knife that I could use to show my son how to whittle sticks like my father did, let alone pass it down to my son. For the fifteenth time since my son’s birth, I vow I’ll get one soon. Meanwhile, I carefully repackage my high school yearbooks, letters from my mission, and my college sketchbooks. I have a pencil case that my mother bought me when I was 12. I’ve used it all this time to store my charcoal sticks. When my son turns old enough, I will show him how to sketch with charcoal, how to carefully blend the shading in with your fingers, and then gift him the case.

It’s covered with pictures of Dragonball characters. I smile as I hold it in my hands, slowly turning it over. I can’t wait.

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Sometimes a Curse Is a Blessing

In Radiant Lights, Haunted Nights, a collection of Jewish folktales edited by Joachim Neugroschel, a folktale chronicled by Y.L. Kahan titled “Sometimes a Curse Is a Blessing” tickled my fancy. I hope you all enjoy it as well!

There was once a couple who lived in a village, and they had no children. One day a rabbi came and he wanted to spend the Sabbath there. The master of the house and the lady of the house showed him a great deal of respect, and they served him good food and drink. Then, on a Sunday morning, the host gave the rabbi a generous donation. The rabbi blessed them, wishing them disturbed nights and disturbed meals. And then he set out again.

When he was gone, the hostess dashed after him. “Rabbi, were you dissatisfied with the alms? Is that why you cursed us?”

The rabbi laughed: “I gave you a blessing so that God would give you children. In a house with children, there are disturbed nights and disturbed meals. Sometimes a child cries at night, and his parents are disturbed. And sometimes a child throws down a glass, and so a meal is disturbed. And these are purely blessings when you have children.”

I hope I can remember this sage advice when the baby arrives. And for you existing parents out there, count your blessings!

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The Burning Palace

Tashrak, a pseudonym for Yisroel-Yoysef Zevin (1872-1926), adapted Buddhist tales into a Yiddish tradition. In one of the collections, “Five Stories about Buddha, the Indian Prophet”, he tells a story called “The Burning Palace.”

A rich man lived in a palace. The palace was very large but also very old. The walls and the columns were rotted and the roof was very dry. One day, while sitting there, the rich man smelled smoke. He dashed outdoors and saw that the entire building was ablaze. The man then remembered that his children were playing inside the palace, and he shuddered.

The terrified father stood there, not knowing what to do. He heard the children running about indoors and jumping and shouting merrily and cheerfully. He knew that if he told them the palace was on fire, they wouldn’t believe him. They’d think he wanted them to play outdoors. And if he dashed into the building and grabbed just one child at a time, he’d be unable to save the others, who’d scoot away from him and be lost in the flames.

Suddenly the father had a wonderful idea. “My children love toys,” he mused. “If I promise them some beautiful playthings, they’ll obey me.”

He now yelled: “C’mon children! Look at the lovely presents your father has brought you! Why, you’ve never seen such wonderful toys in all your lives! Come out as fast as you can!

And lo and behold! Children came running from all parts of the burning palace. They were mesmerized by the word “toys,” and their good father had brought them some marvelous playthings. But the children then ignored their presents, they gaped at the fire and they realized what great danger they had been in. They thanked their intelligent and loving father, who had saved them from certain death.

The prophet is well acquainted with human children, and he tells them that if they are good, they will receive good things, and that is how he saves them from evil.

And there are times when the children see the great danger that the prophet has saved them from, and they praise his name.

I am not a parent yet, and so I wanted to ask parents out there — is this good advice at all? On the one hand, I can see how this form of — well, for lack of better word — bribery could help, but in the end, it could also backfire, right? What do you parents think out there?

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Oh Say, What Is Truth?: Marriage and Childbearing

I’m taking a sociology and philosophy course right now in school. I had several people in my church give misgivings about taking philosophy – apparently, the discipline can shake your testimony and turn you into an atheistic, flaming liberal. However, I’ve found my philosophy class to be incredibly enriching to my religious beliefs and hopefully can continue to pursue learning about such an interesting and varied field. Sociology, however, rocks my testimony to its core. I have since then come terms to the constant assailing on what I used to think as fundamental truths – in this time of uncertainty, this I know – God is real, and somehow, Jesus performed some sort of miracle that has cleansing, healing power. All the rest – all of the commentary, the folklore, the myths, the pithy sayings, the unchallenged assertions – is burned away like dross. In this way, I feel my testimony is now stronger than ever. I live in an environment of uncertainty, but of two simple truths, I now know more than ever. I need not base my belief on faith-promoting rumors but on truth.

However, my social mores have been attacked once more by the cold, unflinching discipline of scientific inquiry and statistics. This time, it concerns the family. My wife has never been too keen on having children any time soon. In our marriage, it has always been me that brings up the prospect of children or how we should raise them or when we should start considering child raising. And I attended some of the most liberal sexual education courses in high school ever. I saw a video of a head crowning during a birth. I learned how to put condoms on bananas. We even tried to see how many hands we could fit into a stretched condom (answer: A lot). We had these baby dolls to carry around that would cry if you did anything wrong, and then wouldn’t shut up until you rectified this (it revealed a surprising number of our classmates as potential child absuers. Scary). None of this has ever deterred me from abstinence until marriage or the desire to have babies.

But then I took sociology. Forget sex ed classes. Teach kids sociology and they will be scared straight.

Concerning the effect of children on marriage:

“Many in the U.S. grow up embracing the notion that having children brings one closer to one’s spouse and helps hold a marriage together. Actually, the data shows otherwise, in that, at least for the wife, the fewer the children the happier the marriage (Ross and Van Willigen 1996). The aforementioned researchers found that, ‘…children increased anger more for mothers than fathers and each additional child in the household increased the level of anger. Two major types of stressors included economic strains and the strains associated with childcare.'”

“Not only is it true that the fewer the number of children, the greater the level of marital happiness, all else equal, it is also the case that the less involved with children the couple is, the greater the level of marital happiness. The nature and degree of such involvement changes predictably over the life course – and along with it, marital satisfaction. Keller (2000) and others have charted how marital satisfaction starts off high (before the birth of children), takes a dip when children are born, reaches a marital low during the children’s teenage years, then rises back to a high level once the grown children have left the household. Non-parents and empty-nesters, he notes, enjoys the highest level of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning divorce laws:

“..the more lenient the divorce laws, the higher a country’s over all level of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning women working out of the home:

“Although some pundits have noted a correlation between women’s participation in paid employment and a higher divorce rate, researchers examining the actual dynamics within marriages find that the more equally shared the housework, over all, the happier the marriage (Hochschild and Machung 1989). And as may not be surprising, at least up to a point, wives working in paid employment hold greater leverage for negotiating an equitable sharing between themselves and their husbands on the chores front. So in a roundabout way, women’s greater paid labor participation has actually enhanced, rather than detracted from the over all rate of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning the effect of gay people parenting:

“Although there has been much consternation over potential harm to children raised in gay families, Golombok (2003) and colleagues, as well as Lambart (2005), find children raised by gay parents to be as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as their peers from heterosexual couple households. Actually, when difference between hetero- and homosexual parenting practices are found, the gay parents’ practices tend to be superior. Johnson and O’Connor (2002) found gay parents to be more responsive to their children and more child-oriented. Some critics worry children raised by gay parents will, themselves, somehow be forced into growing up gay. Bailey et all (1995), however, found 90% of sons of gay or bisexual men self-identified as heterosexual. And Golombok and Tasker (1996) found the large majority of female children raised by lesbians self-identified as heterosexual by their young adult years.”

And for the politically conservative:

“Another key reason for the trends of increased childlessness, delayed childbearing and the bearing of fewer children is policy decisions by American voters. With the ‘smaller government is better’ ethos that prevails in the present-day U.S., childbearing is, for all but the wealthiest or poorest, an act of financial self-destruction. What few provisions there are in the way of medical care and childcare are erratic at best and whether fine or poor quality, markedly expensive…

“With the lack of governmental provisions for health care and childcare, the U.S. is one of the most (financially) punitive nations on earth in which to raise a child.”

Now, I do not post these statistics to drag everyone around me down to hell. Quite the contrary. We must admit as a Church that divorce is a problem. Child abuse – verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually – is a problem. Keeping young people in the Church as they leave homes, get married, and contemplate families of their own is a problem. Truth, we are taught, are things as they really are, and we need to examine our social problems within the Church and the larger society in general as they really are, and not simply hide behind pithy sayings, comforting platitudes, or useless, folksy sayings. And I don’t want people trying to counter this information with circumstantial “well I know some families are happy and so this information must be untrue.” If you wish to counter these statistics, I implore you to dig up studies of your own – peer reviewed and accepted by the discipline’s community. I am not concerned with comfort when seeking truth or trying to convince myself out of a pickle. Realizing truth – things as they really are – can help us face the roots of these social evils and eradicate them, rather than treating symptoms haphazardly while never striving to understand the real reasons. To do less than that would be to fulfill Marx’s scathing indictment against religion as an opiate of the masses.

When we have widespread problems amongst society as an aggregate, there are serious structural problems that cause and perpetuate this problem. In the political, social, and economical environment we live in, how prudent is it to teach young married couples to have children right away? Can we truly condemn gay people as a whole as abominable, when they turn out to be better parents than us? Is this no different than Jacob’s Nephite society, who widely considered the Lamanites inferior when the Lamanite culture actually treated their families better? What cultural factors are contributing to high divorce rates, high rates of unhappiness within marriage, and why has child or spousal abuse not been stamped out within our population? And most importantly, which of these cultural mores we hold as sacrosanct concerning the family are rooted in gospel doctrine and theology and which are rooted within unchallenged, misguided, or ignorant cultural ideals or misinterpreted religious thought?

All quotes taken from Sociology: A Critical and Contemporary Perspective by Scott Lukas, MaryKriss Mcilwaine, Sue Dowden, and Chien Huang.

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Chapter 8 in a new light

When I left on my mission, Preach My Gospel was brand new. I have pictures in my mission album of the last day of the MTC, when they put out a box for old materials to be recycled, overflowing. They handed us the fresh manual, kicked us out the door and wished us luck in the field.

Consequently, I hold that manual dear to my heart. I’ve since then retired my old mission PMG and started working on another fresh one, and have found how useful it is even after the mission, especially chapter 8.

Chapter 8 was boring to me on the mission – How Do I Use Time Wisely? Mostly, it involved details on how to conduct a weekly planning session, a daily planning session and making goals. There’s a very spiritually packed section on accountability, and some good quotes about goal making, but overall, I breezed through it when it came around for study once more. I admit this with shame.

Since I’ve been married though, I started reading through it once more. I’ll admit; our scripture study has been sketchy, especially when it comes to studying together. Dantzel’s family would select a child, and that child would read a portion of the scriptures out loud for the whole family. With my family, we read in a circle, verse by verse. Both seemed less effective for two grown adults. This doesn’t mean we never talked about the gospel; we talked about the gospel a lot. But as far as a sitting-down-for-scripture-study couples study, we didn’t have any habits established.

Additionally, our planning was sporadic. Most of the time, we would plan to attend events only a couple days before, or decide what we would eat or where we would go or what we would do that evening at that very moment. This lead to many rash decisions (such as eating out, going shopping or watching television all night). As I’ve been transitioning from an hourly wage job to more project-based freelancing work, my awareness of goals and how I spend my time have increased (also, playing certain video games have also piqued my interest in goal setting, but that’s another post).

I suddenly saw Chapter 8 in a new light. Replacing “missionary” or “companion” with “wife” suddenly made this chapter painfully relevant. Replacing “investigator” with “child” made it family oriented. Of course, it can’t translate perfectly, but why not plan for a child’s baptism, confirmation, priesthood, temple ceremonies, future activity in the chuch, etc.? It would make raising children less ad hoc and frightening, and give you a plan on how to tackle parenthood.

Why not have weekly companionship planning sessions with the wife? Why not have a weekly companionship inventory with her? After all, the idea of “discuss[ing] any challenges that may be keeping your companionship from working in unity or from being obedient” sounds like a good idea for any marriage. “Resolve conflicts. Share with your [spouse] what you think his or her strengths are. Ask for suggestions how to improve.” Those all seem important for a marriage, and sound like it would help keep a relationship healthy and on track, not to mention nipping any problems in the bud before they blossom into something out of control.

On my mission, my mission president told me that Preach My Gospel should be in every home, and that after my mission, I should continue to study from it consistently, if not daily. I now understand why. Focusing on the basic, fundamental principles of the gospel not only ground us, but build a base for us to launch into deeper gospel thinking. Reminding ourselves of the true principles of the gospel and remembering that anything outside of it is essentially commentary keeps us from deviating from the pure gospel. And, of course, there are all kinds of goodies in here, from how to study the scriptures more effectively to sections like chapter 8, which make future parenting seem less daunting. This is a comforting thought.

Moral of the Story: Read Chapter 8 of Preach My Gospel, if you want some good information on how to organize your life and live effectively in a family unit. Also, I am the only blog to use “companionship inventory” as a tag in the WordPress blogosphere. Shameful.

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