Thursday, October 4, 2007

Killing Fish

Not purposely of course, but that's what happened. Karma I suppose.

So two weeks ago, I thought I would be a good dad and teach my kids a valuable lesson about responsibility and have some fun doing it. We headed to the pet store on a Saturday and came back home with two male beta fish. They each had their own bowl (the fish, not my daughters).

The girls were quite excited and we talked about the rules for the fish.

1.Feed them three pellets of food every morning and every night.
2. Don't move the bowls.
3. Don't do anything with the fish unless mom or dad were there.

Caroline named her fish, "Toto" and Bella named her fish "Dorothy." Bella said she knew it was a boy fish, but said, "I am going to pretend its a boy."

For two weeks the kids were great with their new pets. They asked permission to feed the fish, even asked permission to look at them in their bowls sitting on the kitchen counter.

Then the phone call came last night. I was finishing up at work when Daina said, Caroline's F-I-S-H is D-E-A-D.


Caroline had yet to notice. Was my four year old too young to deal with this? Would Bella tease her that her fish had lived and Toto was now dead? So I stopped by the pet store, picked up another male beta fish and made a quick exchange when I got home.

"Look Caroline," I said, "Your fish is getting really colorful, you are doing a great job taking care of Toto." All was well in the world. It was a small white lie.

I woke this morning to Isabella's sad face. "Dad, my fish died." I watched as she tried to grasp what had happened. Bella asked if Dorothy was in heaven, if the angels were going to come down to get her? I told her yes and we said a prayer. I'm so glad she has such strength to ask hard questions, and that she knows the important questions to ask.

Guessing I will be picking up another male beta tonight on my way home.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Isabella started Kindergarden today

And I can't wait to get home to hear her stories. All I can do not to leave work early. Think I will!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Why do you live in Iowa?

Why do you live in Iowa? How did you end up there? I get asked that a lot. Especially by people who think Iowa is nothing but corn fields, pigs and interstates that take you other places, better places. We often get confused for Idaho, to which I say no, Idaho potatos, we have corn.

I think Iowa is the kind of place you only come across if you get off the interstate. If you are brave enough to get off that interstate of life and let something become a part of you without even knowing it is happening.

My wife and I decided on Iowa rather suddenly. She had a job interview in Des Moines at the local hospital just before she graduated. On a whim, we drove to Iowa on a Staurday night in the fall of 98. From Misouri at 10 p.m., arriving at 3 in the morning. I can't tell you which Motel 6 we stayed at, or how long we were lost on a then undeveloped Grand Avenue West. We liked what we saw. They actually had buildings and a downtown area, and a sky walk and everything was clean, and the air was fresh.

We talked to people we met at Racoon River Brewery. Young people who were excited to be here but couldn't sum up the reasons why. We were sold. We moved to Des Moines two months later after my wife finished school.

We had made a mistake, or so we thought. The winter was down right brutal. Twelve feet had piled up at one point and we thought we were crazy. As did our friends. We figured we would stay in the apartment a couple of years, save some money and move elsewhere. A great job made me stay and buy a house. And have Bella. And somewhere inbetween, eight years, three kids, two jobs and a second house that is surrounded by corn fields and pigs we are home.

We are the rare exception. People that come to Iowa for a better life. The state struggles to keep young people here. Young people encouraged to leave by the unknown, people to young to realize they have it all right here.

Iowa will teach you patience, as in, you better be creative if you want to be entertained. People in Iowa tend to find ways to entertain themselves. I have become more creative, I have become more innovative, I have gained a lot of weight.

I believe that no where on earth can you make new friends as quickly as you can in Iowa. I am not talking about people you know, or spend time with. I am talking about people who in a short time you are willing to share your deepest fears, your greatest moments and your life's journey.

Iowa should be known as the neighborly state. People reaching out to help each other. We don't even have to ask. People calling to see if we need help with the kids, can we do anything for you, bring you antyhing. Can we pray for you?

Sure we have snow in April, and the winter can be down right brutal. Nothing is perfect. You can be watching the season finale of Grey's Anatomy (pick your show) and the news will interupt to tell you that a building that has been abandoned for over 20 years, in some town you have never heard of is on fire. There are no injuries or deaths, but the News Chopper has some excellent footage. 15 minutes later, you get back to your show already in progress. The leads for fivc o'clock news often starts something like, "Our top story tonight, 'How to get rid of crab grass' We'll have an in-depth look.

Dave Matthews has a lyric that makes me think about my family and this wonderful state we call home. He sings:

Turns out not where but who you're with that really matters,
and it hurts not much when you're around
and if you hold on tight to what you think is your thing
You may find you're missing all the rest

I have thought about leaving Iowa, but for what? I've been all over the states and I'm not missing much. The people I love are here, and those that aren't sure love to visit.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Isabella Quote

So the other night, Isabella managed to negotiate her way into sleeping with mom and dad in our room. Sometime in the middle of the night, Bella woke up and went to to her own room.

In the morning, my wife asked, "Bella, why did you go back to your bed?"

Bella's response, "Because dad snores and bad smells come out of him!"

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Dear Isabella,

Dear Isabella,

I just woke you up from a good rest to give you an eye drop again. I know its 3:30 in the morning but that's what the doctors told your mom and me to do. I know you're tired, put your chin up, tilt your head back. You won't need another drop until morning. I love you too.

You see Bella, when you were born; the doctors told us that there was something wrong with your eye. And while I never considered it "wrong," your mom and I knew that it was different than our own eyes. Your mom and I had some big decisions to make on how to treat your eye, decisions we knew might bring us to where we are now, giving you eye drops at 3:30 in the morning.

Your mom is the engine behind your right eye. She makes the phone calls, schedules appointments, does the research, finds the best doctors in the world to make your eye stronger. It wasn't easy you know. It's been hard on you and hard on us. There were a lot of people that doubted our decision making. Doctors, so called "experts" that said:

"The eye is not worth saving"
"She'll never have any useful vision from that eye"
"Patching won't be effective"
"She'll be legally blind in her right eye forever"
"If it was my child I wouldn't do it"

I heard that so much I started to think they may be right. Your mom cured me of that thinking though.

Dr. Jonathan Holmes at the Mayo Clinic told us there was a 5% chance that you would be able to have useful vision from your right eye. And for us, that was enough of a chance to move forward.

Since you were three months old you have worn an eye patch about 3.5 hours per day in an effort to improve your vision. This has been a part of your life, you have known nothing else. As a baby I remember marching around with you singing "Joshua Giraffe" for hours on end trying to get you to see from your right eye. Cheering every time your right eye noticed me, noticed something, noticed anything.

The amount of patching you have done amazes me. I did the math: 3.5 hours a day for 5 1/2 years works out to 7,026 hours of patching in your lifetime. 292 days of your life, just short of a year, you have spent patching. I don't know anyone that can claim that kind of commitment about anything.

You probably know the other details, eye drops of all kinds to reduce glaucoma pressure, a cornea transplant, and three Ahmed valve shunt surgeries to relieve your glaucoma. The cornea rejecting, getting better, stabilizing. Countless exams under anesthesia, your first at Mayo Clinic on 9/11 as planes stuck the World Trade Center.

Through it all, you have been an angel. You have been wonderful. You have made this easy for us to do. The tough work has been on your shoulders. You rarely complain - you just do.

People always tell me, "Josh, I don't know how you do it, I'm not sure I could handle that." And I think if they had to deal with something they would be able to, they just haven't had to make that kind of a choice.

We had a choice Bella. The choice was to make choices for you because you were too young to make them for yourself. When you have kids someday, and one of them has a problem, you will just do what you have to do, and you won't think about whether or not you can handle it. You will just take on life as it comes and do the best that you can.

Your mom and I had two paths to go down. Doing nothing certainly would have been easier for selfish reasons. We knew that "doing whatever it took" would lead us to frustration, sadness, disappointment, madness and even second guessing. But it has also brought us joy with every small victory, for every low pressure reading, for every time your vision improves.

Some people think your mom and I have to make a lot of sacrifices to preserve vision in your right eye. Getting up at all hours of the night, driving you to doctor appointments in Omaha, sleeping in hospital recliners, flying you back and forth to Baltimore, having the Walgreens pharmacist know me by name may seem like too much for most people. For me, I can't imagine it any other way. Any sacrifice we make pales in comparison to what you go through every day to see better

You have defied all the odds stacked against you.
You alone have proved the experts wrong.
We are blessed to be your parents.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Big Wheel Olympics

There are the four major sports, throw in NASCAR if you think driving fast is a sport, and there are the X-Games. These are great for adults and the teenagers who are into these things. There exists though, nothing at all for the five and under group. A competitive event involving big wheels was inspired recently by my three year old Caroline.

For Christmas, all Caroline wanted was a big wheel. Though, she called it "a bike with a big wheel on the front" we knew what she meant. So Christmas day, there it was, adorned with a bow under the tree. She was very excited. Since there was snow on the ground most of the winter though, Caroline had to settle for practicing her big wheel skills in our cluttered basement. Part obstacle course, part demolition derby. It worked.

Its March, the snow is gone and the weather is ideal for big wheel riding. The other day, my wife took the kids for a walk to the "water park and the flower park." Now, they don't really go to a water park, there is a water tower there, and its not really a flower park, although in the fall, the weeds grow tall and sprout colored flowers. Nonetheless, this is their favorite destination. Caroline decided she wanted to big wheel it to the water park flower park which I thought was too far but she was determined. I figured at some point, Daina would be pushing a double stroller with three kids and holding the big wheel with the other hand. I was wrong.

Caroline pedaled the entire way to the water park flower park and back on the big wheel. The entire way. This may not seem all that impressive. I thought it was a pretty good feat, maybe a half a mile round trip. I had to know for sure.

After church on Sunday, we drove to the water park flower park and reset the trip odometer on the car. We drove back to the same route they had walked. I even got in trouble with Daina for driving on the walking path, but I needed this to be accurate.


Two miles. Unbelievable. I have a hard enough time running that distance, and yet there she was after she had pedaled with her little legs for two miles, running to the back yard to play some more.

As a child, Caroline's preschool asked us one word to describe Caroline. My wife and I agreed on the word "Determined"

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Beep Beeps

My son Drew is obsessed with cars, vehicles, anything with wheels and in motion. I will find him in the morning, standing in his crib, looking out the window onto Florence Drive where cars are driving back and forth. "beep beep, beep beep" he affirms with his pointer finger aimed at the street.

The best way to get him ready to go anywhere is to tell him we are going in the beep beep. Driving through town, on busy streets, the chorus of "beep beep, beep beep" from the back seat as Drew delights in a simple ride with Dad to the hardware store.

And when I actually beep the horn in our car, he bursts out in laughter. He finds such joy in traffic, in carbon monoxide producing vehicles. Probably a future Repubilcan.

When I was a kid, my parents would pack me and my sisters in the car and drive to Tamarac, FL to visit our Grandparents. Tamarac was a city full of old folks communities. Not nursing homes, but two bedroom houses, all painted white with a community pool where 80 year old ladies screamed at you if you splashed, and the old men playing shuffle board scowled if you made too much noise playing the game.

On the way in the car, my father would honk the horn at random old people, people he didn't know, and for fun, he would put his head out the window like a dog and yell, "Hi A Lady!" as my sisters and I would wave at them with great passion. The old timers, confused of course, would wave back, not knowing who was honking, waving and yelling "Hi A lady!" I am sure that they didn't want to be rude, so they played along.

So now, I have taught this game to my daughters. They get mad at me when I don't honk at someone. Even when traffic is stopped, even at red lights. They don't really understand the true reason for the horn, they do think its funny to wave at people they don't know. Like they are getting away with something. I guess that's why I enjoyed the game as a youth. Getting away with something while my father cheered us on.

So while Drew certainly doesn't understand the game, he really enjoys all of the beep beeps.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Learning how to tie my shoes...

My Grandpa Fleming taught me how to tie my shoes. I must have been about five years old, but basically the same age as Bella is now. Part of her weekend homework was to start learning how to tie her shoes so I was happy to pass on the knowledge.

I actually don't tie my shoes correctly. When Grandpa Fleming taught me, he taught me the right way, which involves some tricky move with your thumb after the first bunny ear. He called me on it too, told me I was doing it wrong. I told him that it worked fine the way he taught me, and with a double knot it never untied. He wasn't thrilled, but I guess he thought he had done enough.

You may find it an interesting exercise, right now, to bend over untie your shoe and then retie the laces back the way they were. As you are tying your shoes, think about how you would explain this to a five year old. Could you write it down? Could you verbalize the process? This proved more challenging than I thought it would be.

Make an X, pull through hole in bottom of X, tighten knot, make a bunny ear, leave a tail, wrap around the other lace, make a hole, push lace with thumb through hole to make a second bunny ear, leave a tail and tighten. Got it?

Her little fingers made the laces seem oversized, and little things such as where to pinch the laces and with which hand and with which fingers was something I had not factored into my approach. She has the X part down, but she never quite mastered it last night. However, after showing her the first time, she did start to get up and say "I am going to show Mommy." I had her wait on that.

So now, not only am I teaching Bella how to tie her shoes, she gets to learn how to do it the wrong way. I guess I'll tell Daina that as long as its effective I have done enough.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Isabella's Contact?

Its funny what seems important to a parent means very little to a child. Daina and I have been talking about the various options for Isabella's eye treatment. Long story short - her shunt is moving towards her eyeball (not a good thing) and we have to watch it to make sure it doesn't move any closer. At some point, she will need to have it moved. She also needs to have strabismis surgery at some point, this will straighten the eye causing it to be less "lazy." The strabismis sugery is complicated by her cornea transplant and glaucoma treatment. Hey, nothing's ever easy nor is it cut and dry.

So Bella is going to start kindergarten in the fall, and Daina and I have always assumed that we would put a brown contact on her eye, to make it look like the other eye. We, as parents thought it would be important that she have this done before preschool.

When Daina asked Bella about getting the matching contact, Bella said she didn't want it. That having her eye the way it is makes her special, and she likes being special. She has no idea just how wonderful her way of thinking makes her special above anything else.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Phone Conversation

Daina: I had to spank your daughter today
Me: Who, Bella?
Daina: Yes, and you know I oppose spanking
Me: What did she do?
Daina: She mooned Caroline!
Daina: Its not funny
Daina: That's not what little girls should do!
Me: LOL, where did she do it, at Happy Joes?
Daina: No, in the family room
Daina: Did you teach her that?
Daina: Maybe she learned it from TV
Me: LOL, no!
Daina: Probably from her friend _______ (left blank to protect the mooning 5 year old friend)
Me: Tell me what happened. LOL
Daina: We were in the family room and she mooned Caroline, I asked her where shelearned it, and she wouldn't tell me. I told her she had until the count of tento tell me where she learned it or she was getting a spanking. And she didn'ttell me. So she got and spanking and had to go to bed.

I think I am going to go home, and if the kids aren't around, I am going to moon Daina.

Advice from my father

As my children continue to grow faster than I can keep track of I am reminded of wise words my father spoke to me. We were talking about how quickly Isabella (now 5) was growing, progressing, discovering, and I felt lost. Too much time spent working on a job I would leave, too much focus on things so unimportant I can't remember what they were. My dad said...

"Take mental notes of all the moments."

Great advice. But for me, only great in theory. I rarely find myself with the ability to sit back and remember their youth passing in front of me. Isabella learning to run before she walked, Caroline's first temper tantrum (one of many more to come) and Drew dancing to Kid Rock's Bawidiba (Bawitdaba da bang a dang diggy diggy diggy said the boogy said up jump the boogy) and playing air drums with his fat little forearms. These are great mental notes, things I am glad to remember.

But I have forgotten a lot. And hence the need for this blog.

So, Dad if you are reading, great advice. I will continue to take mental notes, but now I will give my brain the ability to be capable of more. I hope to collect stories of this life, of my wife and our children who are shy, determined, happy, emotional, curious and beautiful all at the same time.

I used to write a journal when I was in highschool. I enjoyed the experience, yet would find myself reading it months after, being embarassed about what I wrote and tearing out the page confessing my love for some girl I don't remember. Now I am too old to be embarassed about much of anything. Pride when you are a husband and a father should be put to the side. I should listen to my own advice sometimes. Here's to not hitting the delete button months from now.

My father gave me some other really good advice on my wedding day. "Smile and nod." I'll save that for another entry.