Love Trumps SCUBA

During a celebratory dinner last night for the successful conclusion of a conference I was working on, it came up that I used to SCUBA dive. While I would prefer not to use the verb phrase “used to”, the last time I went SCUBA diving was when I visited Belize in 2003. It is really hard to say that I still dive when it has been eleven years since my last sub-aquatic experience. There are multiple reasons for this, but the primary cause of my lack of diving is that my wife does not dive.

So when it came out that I do not dive any longer because my wife does not dive, that was met with a bit of derision from a few of those that I was celebrating with. “How could you stop doing something you love just because your wife does not do that? You should always do what you enjoy regardless of your partner.” Now, this is not the first time I have been met with such a reaction; and most often this seems to come from women. And despite me efforts, I feel that I fail to ever adequately explain why my lack of diving, or any other activity that I once enjoyed as a single male, is okay.

If I had to boil it down to be as clear as I can make it, I would say that I love my wife, and being with my wife, more than anything else. While the joy and wonder of experiencing an underwater realm of continuous mystery, movement, and magic is great…it does not compare to the joy and wonder I get from being with Momma S. The thought of going on a tropical vacation and choosing to spend an entire day separate from her (regardless of the reason) is not worth it. Add to that the fact that we have two all encompassing boys, there is just no chance. Not only do I not want to be apart from Momma S; but, to do so would mean that I am then leaving her with both boys. For those of you who may not have children, trust me when I say being left alone with the kids while your partner goes out to do something fun is not exactly a “great time had by all”. Not that we are not willing to do this. I know that Momma S would support my diving, and that I would support her should she want to adventure off on her own to do some photography or visit the spa…but the reality is, we prefer to do it all together.

I don’t SCUBA dive now; but I will. There are years ahead of us, and once K and M are old enough to join me on those mysterious and magical sub-aquatic adventures, Momma S is going to love the time alone at the spa or wandering around a new town taking pictures and reading travel magazines at a quite outdoor café. But until that time, we are going to be together. And you know what, it is really not a sacrifice at all; cause there is nowhere I would rather be than with my wife…kids and all.

An Unexpected Conversation

I was waiting for Momma S to get M down for the night and playing some games of tic-tac-toe with K.  I took a break to get a glass of water and when I came back into the living room K hit me with:

– I don’t want you to get dead.

– (stunned silence) What?

– I don’t want you to get old or hurt and be dead.

I immediately pulled K into a huge bear hug and whispered into his ear that I am right here and not going anywhere.  I asked where is this coming from?  Did you talk about something in preschool?

– No.  I just don’t want somebody to hurt you or for you to get old and be dead.

– I don’t think anybody is going to hurt me; but as for getting old…that just sorta happens.  You can’t stop it.

– But your old and if you keep getting old you will be dead.

– Yes.  At some point I will be dead, but not now and not anytime soon.  But getting old is part of life.  How old were you last year?

– 3

– And how old are you now?

– 4

– And how old will you be after your next birthday?

-5

– See, you are always getting older and the same thing is happening to me.  Every year I get older and some day, when I am really old, I will die.

– Can’t you just stop having your birthday?  That way you don’t get older.

I guess that was the end of the conversation.  As I brought out a humorous retort at how some people try to stop celebrating their birthdays but keep getting older, he cut me off by shoving a book at me and demanding that I read it to him.  But in all honesty, I was really touched by this moment.  K and I have our ups and downs and Momma S is the icing on this family cake, so for him to share this with me was something unexpected and extra special.  I love K so much, and that giant bear huge I gave him after he informed me that he did not want me to be dead was the high point of my day.

A Bunny Conundrum

“How many Easter Bunnies are there?  Is it the same Easter Bunny here as there is in Sweden?”  These were the two questions that greeted me this morning as soon as K woke in our hotel in Skagen, Denmark.  Now, these questions should not have been too terrible to field if it wasn’t for the recent conversation between my wife and I regarding the Easter Bunny…or the lack there of.

Of course there is a Santa Clause, of whom we visit yearly, write letters to, and allow to enter our home at night to eat our cookies and leave presents.  But for the Easter Bunny, we had not put any stock or common folklore of her for our kids.  For some reasons, the bunny just did not hold the significance of Ol’ St. Nick.  We love the Easter egg hunt and have participated in one every year that K has been around.  We really enjoy the celebration of spring and renewal, which is what Easter represents for me and have chosen to follow along with society in celebrating the seasonal change with candy and eggs.  But for some reason the myth of the bunny has not been a conscious part of this.  And just last night my wife and I talked about our lack of bunny lore and felt that it was no big deal.

So when K came out of his room this morning asking about the Easter Bunny I did not know what to say, so I did the only sensible thing a father could do…”Go ask your mother.”  Her response, “Um…yeah its the same Easter Bunny.”  And now family nomadic now believes in the Easter Bunny and through out the day we have been piece-mealing our particular belief system into place for both M and K to enjoy.

And here they both are, finding the eggs that the Easter Bunny left for us…even when visiting Skagen, Denmark.

K on the Hunt M on the Hunt

Family European Vacation Pt 2: Dinkelsbuhl and Environs

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This is the long awaited sequel to European Family Vacation Pt 1: Bavarian Alps.  We are out of the highlands and down in the lower Bavarian farm land.  Our center of operations was the delightfully medieval town of Dinkelsbuhl.  And … Continue reading

Family European Vacation Pt 1: Bavarian Alps

Blink.  It is gone.  As the summer begins to set, memories of its rise fade away.  As I scan back to late June, K excited about going to castles in Germany, M only concerned with playing with his older brother’s toys, and momma S returning from a work trip to Berlin just to pack again for our family vacation; I know that my account here will not be complete.

We arrived in Munich and immediately drove out to the Bavarian Alps.  Our first destination was the town of Mittenwald.  A cute mountain town, one in which we failed to spend any significant amount of time in unfortunately.  Of the three days we spent there, the only thing of note we did was take a cable car up to the snow-topped mountain overlooking the town.  Up through thick mist of drizzle and rain into swirling snow…all with only our rain jackets for protection.   The pictures at the base of the Mountain indicated that it would be very sunny and pleasant, without any snow.  Despite out climatic miscalculations, it was pretty fun to have a snowball fight with K in the middle of summer.

The majority of our time in these mountains was dedicated to driving back and forth across the German and Austrian borders exploring castles.  The two of most note included the incomplete fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Germany and the romantic Ehrenberg Ruins near Reutte, Austria.  While Neuschwanstein has grandeur uncontested by many other castles, it seems to lack soul.  The castle was a whimsy for an eccentric king, one that never was completed, never used as it was intended, and certainly never used to defend the land.  Ehrenberg in contrast is a variant garden of lush overgrown boulders on the sheer sides of a strategic choke point through the mountains.  This is a place that you can still feel the importance of the castle that once stood there, see the care that went into its construction and repair over the centuries of warfare and siege that is witnessed, all to protect the fertile valley below.

If in the area, especially with kids, try to hit the sommerrodelbahn in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  They converted the old Olympic luge course into a summer fun ride that K could not get enough of this…nor could I!  We also visited the Marchenwelt Bichlbach Tier & Speilpark outside of Bichlback, Austria.  It appears to have once been a zany traveling menagerie run by gnomes that stopped beside the rode at the foot of a mountain and never got moving again.  The place was a bit creepy, a bit surreal, but still entertaining if you can overlook some of the animal conditions.

Woe is the Adult Me

Today I found myself at a little girls birthday party.  The party was fun and as it was winding down S and I were set to collect the boys and make our exit, but instead we were invited to stick around for a small BBQ with a few other families a bit later that day.

Awesome!!  First, I love BBQ (or really any dinner party type thing); and second, I really want our family to become more social.  K is doing a great job at moving beyond his rottweiler stage (see The Rottweiler at Home), so we are ready.  Well, at least we thought we were ready.

Everything was going quite well, between the birthday party and the BBQ, the place cleared out so we were there to help prep and watch the kids.  Soon, I find myself happily chopping away at some herbs in the kitchen chatting with our gracious hosts; but, this left S supervising our very mobile, independent, and fiercely opinionated 17 month old M.  As you can image, this took S out of the adult conversation and experience.  K was doing a great job playing with some of the older brother’s toys, so that was not a problem. Six o’clock rolls around and food is still nowhere near to being ready.  Well, M is typically finished with his dinner and about to enter bath and bed mode by this time, but we work with it and raid our host’s frig for some tasty leftovers.  First barrier dealt with.

Then the other guests arrive, and we realize that we are definitely wearing “American Casual” when we should be attired in “Euro BBQ Chic”.  Well, we are sorta used to that, besides one of the guests informed me that he had wanted to wear shorts too, but that his wife would not allow it.  This fashion thing (or lack there of) seems to be a reoccurring theme for us, someday it would be nice to be trendy…but that is just not going to happen.  ’90s grunge is way too ingrained in our blood.  But, now I am feeling a little young as all of the other kids that have arrived all immediately took off to the basement (parent-free) room, and I am there holding M, who is desperately trying to vacuum the floor with a light-saber and pull the ears of our host’s small dog.

Then we discover our next challenge.  All of the kids who have come are in the basement and K wants to join them.  Actually, one of the older kids, a very sweet boy from the “big school” invited K to join them.  Halfway down the stairs the boy stops and says, “Well, they are playing a pretty aggressive game.”  Not quite understanding him (I was thinking twister or a bit of rough-housing pillow fights), I continued to take K into the parent-free zone and we met by an enormous TV where a boy was guiding a well animated Batman into sewer mayhem…and the Dark Knight is indeed a bit dark.  Of course K was mesmerized and objected strongly to my suggestions that we return to the upper levels.  Eventually, I got him out of the basement, but now we was sad that he could not be part of the older kids and watch the “movie”.  And on top of that, M had reached his point of over saturation.

It was a quarter to seven, M should have been bathed and into his last bedtime story by now, K would be following shortly.  Instead, we are in the middle of a boisterous and crowded kitchen, under-dressed and with two boys that are either in the process of, or about to, crash on us and the BBQ had not even fired up yet.  Oh woe is the adult me.  We paid our regrets, packed up our boys, and got home to bath M and find some decent leftovers for K and ourselves.

It is now nine o’clock, both boys have been fed, bathed, and are asleep.  Outside the sun is still shining and we can hear the neighborhood kids laughing and playing in the field behind us.  But alas, S and I are tired and spent and will find something mindless to do for the next hour or two before we too decide it is now late enough for us to go to bed as two respectable adults.

A lesson in making friends from a three year old

Yesterday I was walking with K to go see if there were any pinecones ripe for picking in the forest.  On the way, we passed a small playground that was bustling with kids.  The hunt for pinecones was off as K now focused on playing with these other kids.

The playground was a simple structure consisting of two tire-swings and a slide all on a sandy area.  It was surrounded on all sides by small apartment buildings and had an adjoining grassy area where a couple of fathers were out BBQing.  There were about ten kids on the playground or the surrounding area, mostly all older than K, and all of them were Swedish speakers.

During our first weekend in Sweden, K and I took a similar walk where we found a playground with kids and K insisted on going in to make some friends.  Then too none of the kids spoke English and K’s attempts to engage were rebuffed.  I remember watching him try and try and feeling heartbroken when the other kids kept refusing to play with him.

As we approached this playground, I was preparing myself for another sad experience and told K that he could go on the slide a few times, but that we could still go into the forest to hunt for pinecones.  He said no and insisted on staying.  Once we made it to the sandy play area, K got a bit shy and hesitant and instead of encouraging him to go and engage, I was suggesting that we could simply keep going on to the safety of the forest.  K still refused.  He stood there and watched the kids play.  Off to one side there was a wooden beam that we started to walk along, balancing and going back and forth.  After a few times of doing this, a young boy, who I later learned was six years old, came over to initiate contact with K.

The boy came up and asked a few things in Swedish that I could not make out.  K got very shy and put his head down and didn’t make eye contact.  I used my limited Swedish to introduce ourselves and explain that K did not speak any Swedish.  The boy went away.  Again, I asked K if it would be better to go into the forest and hunt pinecones.  He continued to refuse; so we walked up and down the wooden beam some more.  The boy came back.  He tried again to ask us a few questions, to which I shared more information about K.  The boy stuck out his hand to K to shake and K did not respond.  I explained to K that this boy was trying to be his friend and wanted to shake hands.  K tentatively reached out and they shook.

Immediately K lit up and started talking to the boy.  The boy couldn’t respond but said something about his cycklar (bicycle).  He then led us off to the side to look at his bicycle and K was happy as could be to look at it, ring the bell, and make comments about it.  By this time, the boy’s older sister joined us and she was able to speak a little English, so between the two of us we were able to translate a limited conversation between the two boys.

Soon, the boy was running off to get his helmet to show K how well the bike rode.  K ran after the boy as they rode/ran circles around the play area.  Obviously K could not keep that up for long, so he stopped; but the boy kept riding until he had to go with his mom and sister somewhere.

But no K was ready to engage.  He walked right up to two other kids playing in the sand and started to dig alongside them.  But, soon they left him and did there own thing, but K was okay just digging.  I had drifted off to the side to sit and watch from a distance to allow K his space.  Soon there was another little girl, probably a bit younger with K, whom K was trying to chat up.  She had a startled look about her and once she realized she could not communicate, she took off.  But K would not leave it at that.  He began to chase her.  Okay, some kids love to chase, but the scared look on this little girls face belied the fact that she was not exactly a willing party to this activity.  The look of fear might also have increased because by now K had acquired a stick (standard play equipment for any little kid), so he was chasing her…while running and swinging a stick around.  She bolted off the play area and took off the over the grassy field toward one of the BBQ stations.  K was right on her heals.  I was also fast in pursuit as I see impeding disaster about to take place.  The knots of parents and community adults socializing outside started to take notice of one larger little boy swinging a stick and chasing after a fairly visible scared little girl…and international incident was on the brink of erupting.  But, the girl safely made it to the adult and other kids near the BBQ pit.  K slowed on his approach and I was able to catch up and offered to hold the stick.  K joined the group of older kids that the little girl was hiding among.  As soon as K joined, she took off and as K was about to run after her again, I was able to entice K to stay and talk to these other kids.

Again, no English, but I was able to help facilitate a little conversation with my Swedish.  The other adult helped a little bit too.  But soon K and I were drifting back to the playground.  This time, I was more insisted that we leave, but K still would not have any of it.  So he sat in the dirt and began digging again…and no kids joined him.

At this point, I really want to leave.  I was feeling very frustrated for K and sad that all he wanted to do was play with these kids but could not.  Wanting to save him from this rejection and awkwardness I was arguing with K why we should leave.  My wife, a very brilliant lady – especially regarding young kids – informed me that at K’s age, he does not have the same perception and feelings that I do.  He was not feeling awkward or uncomfortable, he was probably perfectly content sitting and digging in the sand by himself.  On the other hand, I know that he wanted to play with the kids, so who knows.

Just before I was about to pull the plug, another little boy from K’s preschool arrived.  They knew each other and could communicate and so for the next twenty minutes K was able to play with a friend before we really had to leave.

For myself, I am still trying to reflect and learn from this experience.  I realize that I need to be careful about not superimposing my own feelings and anxieties on my son, and to trust him that he is okay if he wants to stay and continue to play, even if none of the kids are engaging with him.  I also had a chance to observe some of the cross-cultural theory I have studied in practice.  Dr. William Gudykunst has developed the Anxiety/uncertainty management theory, which essentially states that in a cross-cultural interaction of ones anxiety is too high, they will freeze, shut down, or flee the situation; but, once there was been some positive experiences, the anxiety will reduce and the person will begin engaging.

This experience was a textbook case of this.  K wanted to engage, but froze up when we got there.  It was not until the very nice six-year-old boy came to engage K and shake his hand that K felt comfortable enough to engage.  And then he engaged…and even when his efforts were rebuffed, he continued on and did not give up.  A good lesson to relearn, and made even more real by the fact that just as we were about to leave, the six year old boy returned and immediately jumped on K’s tire swing with him to play.  And when we did finally leave, this boy seemed sad that he was losing a play partner.  Well, I suppose we will be back so that K can keep working on making some new Swedish friends.