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Category Archives: vacation

Life Is An Icy Highway!

Traveling home from Buffalo with the kids a couple of weeks ago, we encountered a weather mass that was heading northeast from Texas. With it came an onslaught of snow and ice. As we headed south on I-71 and approached Cincinnati, the snow became increasingly heavy. The interstate eventually narrowed down to one lane going 25 mph as everyone followed a salt truck that was doing its best to keep the road open. During a span of an hour we witnessed no fewer than fifty cars, pickups and semi’s that had gone off the road and into the median or into a ditch. It was at that point that I had pretty much given up on attempting to make it all the way home to Nashville and began planning on stopping at Florence, KY for the night.

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Photo by my daughter Alex

Despite the storm, there were a surprising number of cars on the road and thanks to their treads maintaining a lane or two, we made our way through downtown Cincinnati. As we drove over the Ohio river, the snow suddenly let up and the roads appeared relatively clear. There was still a thin layer of snow on the roads, but there were three to four lanes open and things seemed to be picking up. With renewed faith I decided to forge forward while the kids slept.

There are moments in your life when you are thrust into a mode of intense focus and anxiety. During these moments our ability to maintain calm and reason are truly tested and we’re forced into a state of survival. As we approached the I-71 / I-75 split, we all encountered one such moment. Without any notice our Jeep began to slowly spin. As we became close to going horizontal in relation to the interstate, we began to slide over from the far right lane toward the center median eventually crossing all four lanes. The screams of the kids became muffled as I found myself immensely focused on the fact that I was slowly losing control of the Jeep. As I shifted down I recognized we were now traveling on a sheet of black ice which had been covered by a half inch layer of snow. Having lived a good deal of my life up north, I had a good sense of how to steer out of a spin in snow, but knew that when you’re on ice, nothing is guaranteed.

By the grace of God I was able to keep the Jeep from completely spinning out of control. I then slowly redirected us into a forward path and continued on doing my best to keep an eye out for other cars. Despite the rows of slushy yuck that divided the lanes, we were able to make our way back over toward the right hand lane. By the time I got to the third lane over, another car to our immediate left spun out of control and slid directly in front of us. As it glided by, I Our Jeep while visiting family near Rochester, NY.couldn’t help but think how much it resembled a figure skater eloquently making her way across the ice. It then careened off the right hand shoulder and into a field at which point I proclaimed, “Who’s up for a night in a hotel?!”

Once the kids got a hold of themselves and realized we were safe, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief and headed for the nearest Holiday Inn.

Life can sometimes feel like a highway with an occasional sheet of ice. We’re traveling on at a nice little pace when suddenly we lose control and start to spin out. Like most drivers, we panic and overcompensate for the misdirection which only make things worse. Not unlike the steps you take to regain control of your vehicle, the best course of action is to not panic and keep yourself focused on where you want to go, slowly regaining traction until you’re back on a solid path. No matter how hard we work to have everything neatly planned out, we’re all going to hit an ice patch from time to time that sends us into a state of anxiety and panic. This is true whether you’re divorced, married, a veteran of life or just striking out on your own. Rarely if ever is overreacting the right thing to do. Slow, steady adjustments can typically help you regain traction and get back on track. It’s not always easy when you’ve got kids screaming in the background (whether in a car or a restaurant), but after navigating through a few patches of ice, you start to get the hang of it.

Easier said than done I know, but the reality is that life was never meant to be a smooth ride start to finish. We need to learn how to navigate through the ice, rain, mud, gravel and washouts. And the only way to do that is to just keep moving forward with a strong sense of direction and an ability to not overcompensate when we start to spin out of control.

So whether on the road home or the road of life, may the road always rise to meet you and may you find safe travels ahead!

 

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Left Wing, Right Wing, Chicken Wing!

Congratulations. You made it through the holidays and 2012.

As many will attest, the holidays can be a stressful time. It’s perhaps one of the most stressful times of the year, particularly if you’re divorced with kids. As a single parent you wear the stress of many people, not just
end-of-2013-start-of-2013_shutterstockyour own. Along with the joy of dealing with the solitude when you don’t have the kids, carrying the full load when you do have them, finding time to shop for presents and then wrapping them, juggling schedules, school breaks, stretching finances; everyone around you is equally stressed out creating levels of anxiety you never dreamed existed.

The kids of course are experiencing a great deal of their own stress. In many cases it means the majority of their vacation is spent on the road, visiting more than one family, adjusting to a major holiday without mom and dad together and dividing what time they do have between both mom and dad. In some cases it also means trying to understand why mom and dad may be getting along but aren’t together as we do our best to create a harmonious environment to ensure their holiday memories are good ones.

There are family members who are stressed because they don’t understand your situation necessarily and don’t know how to act around you. There are others who; despite your reassurances that everything is fine; ask you 76 times if you’re “really” alright and worry about how you’re handling it all or how the kids are coping.

6a267e83118d66269156e45fd180e4b2-dog-feels-bad-for-knocking-over-christmas-treeAt work; staff and clients are stressed out as everyone is trying to get things done before the break and their moods are swinging back and forth as they deal with their own multitude of home holiday stresses which of course filters its way to your office.

The checkout girl at Kroger glares at you when you have the audacity to ask for paper instead of plastic because SHE’s stressed from all of the overtime hours, the kid who just dumped a dozed eggs all over aisle 9 and not being able to find the little bar thing that separates everyone’s groceries on the conveyer belt.

And let’s not forget the dogs who are picking up on everyone else’s stress and acting up because they’re level of anxiety is at an all time high with the damn tree and presents they’re not allowed to pee on or tear up; all the strangers who come by, having pictures taken with some stupid little elf on their back, the UPS guy ringing the doorbell every 30 minutes and having to spend more time outside or in their crate so that they’re not tripped over.

Then to top it all off the world was piling it on as well. You carried with you the stress of a potential fiscal cliff
and stared a fading NHL season square in the eye. (You may laugh, but NHL fans were struggling with both the nhl_lockout640_640lock out and the fact that people didn’t care.)

From right wing politicians to left wing hockey players and owners fighting, foreign nations in civil conflict, school shootings leaving us all emotionally drained and then of course people arguing over gun laws. I swear, just thinking about it makes me want to check some whiney congressman (or woman) into the boards with an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.

But hey! You made it. It’s all history and somehow 2013 started off with some lights at the end of the tunnel. Despite a few bumps in the road and a few dollars missing from your paycheck, everyone made it to the other side. Family visits are over, presents are opened, lights are taken down (or at least turned off), hockey starts in two weeks and D.C. will live to fight another day.

So grab a Molson, order yourself a dozen chicken wings, put on a pair of underwear that Santa stuffed in your stocking and pat yourself on the back. As you do, look back at the past year and recognize all of your
accomplishments. Think about everything you experienced, everything you felt and everything you’ve learned.

Stop for a moment and consider how much stronger you are and how far you’ve come. You’ve answered a lot of questions and overcome a lot of issues. New ones will arise of course, but you’re better equipped to deal withPresident Obama Hosts Congressional Leaders To Discuss Fiscal Cliff them. You have a better sense of who you are and where your life is headed. This will be a year of continued growth and understanding; a year of discovering new strengths and abilities. You’ll learn a little more about who you are and what you’re capable of. Of what you’re deserving of and what you need to be happy. And come next Thanksgiving, you’ll find yourself even better equipped to navigate the stresses of another holiday season.

For now look at the new year as a fresh canvas. A chance to spread your wings just a little wider and let your breaths be just a little deeper. It’ll be tumultuous at times no doubt, but you have new tools and skills to carry you forward. Time to pick a new north star and start dreamin’.

In the words of Cakehole Presley, “Choose your spot, grab a rock and hold on.”

 

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I’m So BORED!!!

I recently reposted a newspaper clipping on the LAADD facebook page that spoke to a child’s inability to deal with boredom and not knowing what to do or where to go when they had down time. It seemed appropriate to me only because I had just endured a summer in which my kids required a lot of hands on management as my ex-wife and I juggled life and child care.

When you’re a parent I think it’s natural to feel like you need to provide your children with plenty of different experiences. I know my ex and I make a point of exposing our kids to a lot of different places and activities. Our first born was out of the house and introduced to the outdoors and the community no more than a week or so after being born. We’ve always done everything we can to give the kids a sense that the world is a place to explore and enjoy and make a point of providing them with opportunities to experience people, places and nature first hand. And yet, as freelancers, our lives and budgets sometimes dictate that responsibilities are what they are and the kids are required to entertain themselves.

And so comes summer. Life for a parent doesn’t stop when school lets out. We still have jobs and deadlines. There’s no final bell ringing and you never see staffs running out of the building throwing their employee manuals to the side dancing ala High School Musical. (Although that would be pretty awesome). But the reality for most people is, we have to figure out what to do with our kids for a span of 8-10 weeks. When I was a kid it meant playing with friends in the neighborhood, riding bikes, pick up baseball games and watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. But that was 35 years ago. Our society today seems hell bent on making a parent feel guilty if their kid isn’t involved in at least 5 extra curricular activities at a time and playing soccer or in their first dance recital by age three. And of course for summer, there may be a plethora of camps to choose from that are supposed to help provide parents with child care while offering kids something fun do to. But the truth is they’re typically scheduled mid day requiring us to drop the kids off at 9 and pick them up at 1 or 2 which is REAL convenient when you have a real job, but then that’s a whole nother post.

Getting back to summer. As the summer was coming to a close, I myself marveled at all that the kids and we as a family had done. There were horse camps, fashion camps, soccer camps and school summer rec camps which included field trips to a water park, the zoo and public pools. We also made a few road trips to go tubing, fishing, swimming, and smoring, (um … it’s a word.) And yet, as the out of school fiasco came to a close, there were rumblings of discontent with summer being labeled as a boring uneventful 8-10 weeks.

Um, what?

My mental, emotional, financial and physical exhaustion would suggest otherwise. OK. So did we go to Disneyland? No. Did we take a 2 week road trip to Yosemite? No. Did we break bread with the Dalai Lama? Did we swim with dolphins? Nope. (A lot of Carp maybe, but sadly not dolphins). Regardless, from my perspective, all things considered it had been a pretty cool summer break filled with a lot of cool experiences, plenty of diverse activities and most of all a lot of family time. And to me that’s what was most important; especially now that we were fully entrenched in a two home family, the fact that the kids had a lot of time with both their mom and me.

I was so taken aback by some of it and the fact that, even after all of the efforts my ex-wife and I had put in to ensuring our kids had a great summer, there were still those who felt it wasn’t enough. My response? I suggested we all go out for dinner to celebrate the end of summer. But before we did, everyone had to write down their top 10 favorite moments of their vacation. We all then sat down together, including my ex-wife, at what has become our “celebratory restauran,” and recanted all of the events that shaped the summer.

My goal was to refresh everyone’s memories. By reminiscing and laughing as we thought about different things we did and reminding each other of certain moments many of us forgot about; perhaps we could refocus on all of the great family time we shared. We’d be able to recognize the efforts that went in to making sure everyone got to their camps on time and realize just how much was accomplished during the past few months. I also wanted to have a chance to remind the kids how fortunate they were to have the opportunities they were provided.

Once we’d gone through our lists and began remembering all of the events that had taken place in a the span of a couple of months, my ex then suggested the kids pick out one or two things that we’d like to try and do NEXT summer. So everyone thought a bit and wrote down a couple of summer vacation goals. So rather than them being things we didn’t get to do THIS year, they became things we’ll get to do NEXT year.

And it all seemed to work. As everyone read through their lists, it was obvious we had each forgotten about a few things. By the end of it our middle child had amended her own list which was now her top “25” favorite moments. Even our oldest, who came to the table with an attitude about the “lamest summer ever,” left laughing about some of her favorite moments from the summer and excited about next year’s break.

So let’s think a second about what it mean to entertain our kids. Do we hold some amount of responsibility to provide our kids with activities and experiences? I think to some extent we do. But I also think we have just as much of a responsibility to make them aware of what it takes to create those opportunities. That life isn’t just a
big carnival every day. As Laurie Helgoe Ph.D. writes in her book, “Introvert Power,” we as parents have just as much of responsibility to teach our kids how to enjoy solitude and down time. That we need to teach them the joy of quiet and the ability to sit alone in a room and read a book and feel as much enjoyment and
fulfillment as when they’re out on the lake tubing. I agree with that. Life is about balance and understanding that we work hard, play hard and should also relax hard.

Whether you’re married or divorced, you have a life. A life filled with responsibilities, pressures and deadlines. Keeping our kids entertained should not be one of those pressures. After all, we aren’t cruise directors. At the same time we should show our kids that despite the negative aspects of life, it can be fun and we owe it to them to show them the value of cutting loose once in a while. And of course we owe it to ourselves to take a
break and enjoy this time with them as well.

Is it easy to go overboard in our attempt to keep up with the Jones’s? Yup. Do we occasionally let guilt push us over the limit sometimes? U-huh. Do we suffer from our own peer pressure to entertain our kids with a trip to Disneyland? Sure. I think that’s a lesson for all parents. At some point, we need to recognize that it’s o.k. to say no and teach our kids the art of not only entertaining themselves but by making a point to add responsibilities to the list of summer “fun” things to do. Again, it’s about balance. Easier said than done sometimes, especially when your kid is proclaiming out of sheer agony how “BORED” they are. But that’s an opportunity for us to teach them how to become “UN-bored.” Give a man a fish, teach a man TO fish, yadda yadda yadda; Go mow the neighborhood lawns to help pay for our trip to Florida.

I can only hope that as they get back to school and share their summer experiences with their friends that they’ll realize even more just how amazing the past several weeks have been and be reminded of how fortunate  we are to, above all, still be a family.

 

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20,000 Dollars!

20,000 dollars.

A dear friend of mine posted a story on facebook that valued a father’s efforts at about 20 thousand dollars. This included his manly duties of barbecuing, mowing the lawn, coaching and fixing things around the house. value-propositionThe story itself was somewhat shameless in its lack of a true understanding of what being a dad today has grown to mean and could easily have been written circa 1950 ala’ Leave it to Beaver. But I won’t waste my time dissecting the overtly stereotyping nature of the piece nor its over generalizations as I normally shy away from being so negative. But honestly, it was somewhat laughable.

The story did raise an interesting question however. How do YOU value yourself as a father? Another dear friend of mine told me to take a look in the mirror tomorrow morning and recognize what I’d accomplished over the past year, when time and time again, I had every opportunity to let adversity get me down. Divorce and the events that come with it can easily crush you. They can make you bitter and angry. That anger can consume you if you let it. Or, as I’ve witnessed with many dads, it can encourage you and exhibit strengths and powers you may have never known existed.

We all make choices on a daily basis that determine how we will be valued by our children. Every moment we’re faced with questions of how we’re going to prioritize the things in our lives and where our children fall on that list. It may be getting to work late to make sure a kid gets to soccer camp. It may be putting down the laptop to answer a question or demonstrating restraint from shouting at your kid out of anger. But every moment is an opportunity to put some coinage in the piggie bank.

Anyone who believes we’re valued as fathers by how often we mow the lawn is truly missing the point. As parents we all have opportunities to demonstrate true value through the simple act of showing our children by example how to handle everything that life throws at us both good and bad. We are more than just handy men. We are mentors, therapists, chefs, doctors, chauffeurs, teachers, friends, coaches, carpenters, architects, advisors, policemen, big brothers, and sometimes just dad. But regardless of what role we happen to be playing at any given moment, by just being a dad, the value of our time is infinitely higher than that of any handy man or gardener. (please take no offense if you happen to be a handy man or gardener … just making a point)

I think what was missing the most from the story I read was the lack of understanding that each family is defined so differently. The role of father is uniquely defined from home to home. In some homes the father’s role is more traditional where he works away from home 9-6 and mom makes the meals and maintains the house and kids. But more and more dads are playing an equal role in maintaining the home front. Just take note the next time you buy groceries at how many dads are carting 2-3 toddlers around. In some instances the dad is able to be there day to day. In some homes it’s week to week, in others month to month. For still others, like our military families, dad may be gone for months at a time. But however their actions are defined, their role is no less valuable than anyone other’s. Whether you’re there unplugging the toilet or on a six day business trip, I don’t think it’s fair to estimate a man’s worth as a father by how often he punches his time card.

The other truth the story ignored is that in some homes the lines between mom and dad are getting somewhat blurred. Now, I’m not about to turn this into a comparison between moms and dads. Because the truth is, there is no constant here. From home to home the roles differ. Everything I’m saying holds true for both moms and dads. But the title of the blog is “Life as a Divorced Dad” so … you know, I’m somewhat obligated to focus on the dad thing. (If you’re a mom, feel free to insert “mom” anywhere you see the word “dad.”) But back to what I was saying; our value goes beyond the time we put in. There is an innate connection between father and child that is immeasurable. There is a deep rooted truth to being a dad. A bond, a connection, a tie that can’t be broken by any event whether it be divorce, deployment or even death.

Let’s face it and be honest here. Not all dads are created equal. We all have our failing moments, some more than others. But like it or not, whether you’re a dad who’s there at every recital or one who sees your child once every six months; the reality is you’re influencing and affecting your kid’s growth and development every day by your actions or sadly, non-actions. That’s a truth that can’t be denied. Alive or dead, our fathers influence so many of the decisions we make on a daily basis from what we put in our bodies to how we manage money to how we react to our own children.

But today, let’s not reflect on our lacking moments, or on what we failed to accomplish. Rather, as my friend suggested, let’s look in the mirror and reflect on all of our accomplishments. Let’s look at all of the hurdles we overcame, all of the triumphs and moments we know our kids will look back on years from now and hold dear to them. How many seeds were planted, how many times did you pick yourself up when you didn’t think you had another ounce of anything left in you? Think of all the hats you wore this past year. Remind yourself of the victories large AND small. Consider the times your value increased simply by being there to reassure your son or daughter that you were with them even if only in spirit.

Think of the lunches and dinners you made, the bandaids you applied, projects you helped finish the night before they were due, the miles you put on the car driving to and from dance class, the soccer games you coached, the pounds of popcorn you popped on movie nights, the 500 diapers you changed, or your long distance phone bill, the grounders you hit, the bed time stories you told, the rules you reenforced, the gas bubbles you patted out, the fireflies you helped catch, the number of times you “ruined their lives,” the Christmas eve shopping emergencies, the 2 a.m. feedings, the swim lessons, the 6 a.m. jogs with your eight year old, snow days, sick days, birthdays, holidays, field days, field trips, trips to Build a Bear, the lake, the beach, hiking, biking, sledding, hugging, reading, loving.

You’re a dad. Regardless of how involved you are in your child’s life. You’re their dad. The only true dad they’ll ever have. You know it, they know it and the world knows it. And every waking moment of your life and their life, you are connected by an undying, unbreakable, unstoppable bond that even the grave can’t take away from either of you. That’s a truth you can’t put a price tag on.

20,000 dollars? Paleeeeaasse!

 

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774 miles, 13 hours, 3 kids, 1 Jeep!

774 miles, 13 hours, 3 kids, 1 Jeep.

My head spins just thinking about it. But we did it. Not once but twice in one week as we traveled up to the finger lakes to kick off summer vacation. I only attempt these trips knowing that my kids are accustomed to longer distances. As soon as my oldest was born, my ex-wife and I were hitting the road. We’ve been traveling long distances ever since and as each child joined the caravan, they became more and more accustomed to sitting for long stretches. Based on history, knowing that some great moments are just up the road is more than enough incentive to keep on truckin’.

The funny thing is, we typically can’t drive five miles at home without a meltdown of some sort, and yet on the long trips they typically do great. But even this trip was a record for us and I’m still astounded that we made it home without having to drop someone off in Columbus or Cincinnati.

I remember when I was a kid (he said in his best old man impersonation) we didn’t have car seats, or laws about sitting up front. We also didn’t have DVD players, streaming video and i-pod touches. We rode on the hump, laid in our dad’s lap as he drove, sprawled out in the back seat, played road bingo and punch bug. Dad typically pulled over several times threatening to throw us off a bridge which garnered 20 miles or so until the next round of back seat anarchy.

But now, even with the restrictions of car safety legislation, the kids (and parents) have tools that make the trip a little easier. So as I packed the car for our trip north I thought I had it covered. Snacks, drinks, DVD player, i-pods, headphones, books, games, you name it we had it. Then it happened. As we pulled out of the drive way we realized the DVD player wasn’t working. On top of that my car charger was AWOL. That meant no movies and I had maybe 2 hours before I’d hear, “DAADDD!!! My I-pod is dead!”

A wave of panic rushed through my veins as I tried to assess the potential damage and come up with a plan B. Meanwhile by the grace of all that’s holy, the kids all fell asleep within the first 30 minutes which bought me a couple of hours.

I heard a couple of yawns and saw some stretching going on which let me know I’d soon have a lot of requests coming my way. That’s when I heard one of the kids ask, “Can we watch TV on your phone?” I hadn’t even thought of that! Fortunately I had a full charge and the Netflix app ready to roll on my i-phone. My car stereo has an ‘aux’ plug that allows you to listen to your phone through the car speakers which is an added bonus! And so it was that we managed to make it through the first 1/3 of the trip virtually unscathed. From there we picked up another charger and suddenly the DVD player was a forgotten memory as my phone, little screen and all, became the center of entertainment.

As I mentioned we’ve been road tripping for a long time. So my kids are accustomed to long stretches in the car. We started with little 1-2 hour trips and worked our way up. Now it’s my kids, all 10 and under, who are typically the ones who don’t want to stop. When we stop to gas, they just want to go to the bathroom and get food through the drive-thru so we can keep on moving. Pretty amazing actually. When everyone’s doing well we will do that, but I’ve learned that sometimes we all need a break from the journey and will stop for a longer break while I recharge and the kids decompress.

And then we’re off again.

Traveling with kids can be a challenge as we all know. The trick is to do as much preparation ahead of time as you can. And not just in terms of entertainment and snacks. Mental preparation is almost, if not more, important. Acknowledge in your head from the very beginning that there are going to be trying moments and plan ahead how you’re going to handle them. Promise yourself you’ll keep a cool head and recognize that it’s the circumstances that are causing the issues. That’s not to say you won’t have your moments of “don’t make me pull over!” which you will, but the more you can prepare yourself the more enjoyable it’ll be for everyone. As the dad (or mom) you set the tone.

Some tips.Make sure snacks, drinks, etc. are within arms reach as you won’t have someone next to you to help. Have a “take turns” plan of action for movies, tv shows, music etc. At the same time, depending on how many kids you have, don’t be afraid to double up on DVD players. Borrow a neighbor’s DVD player to give the girls one to watch Barbie on and the boys one to watch Thomas the Train on. It’s more effort, but makes for a much smoother ride.

Above all try to remind everyone about the north star; the goal, the prize! Talk about it with the kids mid stream. “What are you looking forward to most when we get to the lake?” “How many fish are you going to catch?” “Are you going to go tubing this year?”

As frustrating as traveling with the kids can be at times, not once have I ever regretting the trip. The bonding that takes place is irreplaceable. The time spent focused on the kids is priceless. Even the trip itself becomes an event you conquer together. The important thing is that you’re spending time as a family. The trip itself is really only part of a much more important journey. It’s that thought that keeps me throwing the kids in the back seat and taking off for adventures that otherwise would be time spent watching too much Disney. (no offense Mickey).

Every mile is a memory. Every memory is one more opportunity to remind the kids of how important they are and how important your relationship with them is. That in and of itself is worth the trip.
 

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