3 Things I Learned From The Pains Of Childbirth: A Husband's Story

“Is this really what it feels like?” I asked. I was seated next to my wife on the floor during our childbirth class. A clothespin was clamped tightly to my earlobe. We were three minutes into a five-minute exercise designed to teach all the husbands what it feels like to experience labor pains. A red-hot piercing sensation was shooting up my ear, into my brain, and out my left nostril.

The nurse answered me.

“Not quite. To accurately simulate the pain, you would need about a thousand more clothespins. And they would be attached to a different part of your anatomy.”

Image * I'll allow you to use your imagination.

I heard one guy whimper. Meanwhile, I was breathing like a trucker with thirty miles to the next rest stop after some bad sushi.

Hoo hoo. Hee hee.

It wasn’t helping.

I glanced at my wife and instantly took pity on her. In a few months she would be delivering our first child. A boy. A direct descendant of yours truly, the guy with the giant melon. If a rubber mallet and a Tootsie roll pop had a baby, it would look like me.

I vowed to be there for my wife when the time came. Supportive and unflappabale.

Fast-forward to the delivery room.

My wife was writhing on the bed. She was going for a “natural” delivery, but nothing seemed natural about it. There were lots of wires and needles and smells and sounds. Doctors and nurses were coming and going. The entire room was a buzz of activity. And me?

I was…

How do you say…


Just. There.

Guys are problem solvers. We fix things. It’s what we do. But in that moment my wife was in excruciating pain and I was completely powerless. I wanted to help, but my idea of bringing a pickup truck into the delivery room, attaching a come-along to the front bumper, then tying the other end to the baby’s shoulders was quickly shot down. Something about HIPPA laws, I guess.

“Come here.”

Gabby motioned me to come to the side of the bed.

“Give me your hand,” she said.

My wife needed me, and this is how I could help. I held out my hand, ready to share a tender moment. To soothe and comfort her during a difficult experience. To whisper in her ear and stroke her hair and tell her it would be all right.

To be there for her.

So Gabby took my hand.

Let go of my pinkie.

And with my remaining fingers nestled in her palm, she squeezed my knuckles like she was cracking three walnuts. If my fingers had been made of charcoal briquettes, every contraction would have produced a pile of diamonds.


My body tensed. My eyes rolled into my head. I nearly lost control of my bowels. I retracted my ring finger from the bunch to try and save the others, but she just said, “No!” through gritted teeth and brought it back in again, the wedding ring digging into the other knuckles and grinding the joints.

I pulled the finger loose once again, and she angrily said,

“What are you doing!?”

I looked her in the eye and said,

“Honey. It really hurts my knuckles when you squeeze them together like that.”

The entire room fell silent. Machines stopped. Like in the movies when you hear the sound of a record scratching. I looked up and saw all of the nurses staring at me. They were all wearing surgical masks, but their eyes bore an expression of surprise mixed with outrage.

Then I looked toward Gabby. She said nothing. She didn’t have to. Every muscle of her face was contorted into a look which said, “I’ll let go of your fingers just as soon as I see you pass a fully-formed watermelon out your butthole.”

So I gave her the finger.

The ring finger.

Looking back, I can see that I learned many life lessons in that one simple moment, and not just the fact that I am an idiot with the pain threshold of a six-year-old. While I cannot claim to follow these truisms on a daily basis, I share them here as a refresher course for all of us, husbands and wives, who strive for a better marriage.

  1. Never underestimate the power of empathy: Sometimes life throws you problems you can’t solve and pain that won’t go away. Unless your spouse asks for your advice, don’t give it. Instead, just hold her hand and ask her to tell you more about what she’s feeling. You would be surprised the miracles that can emerge from simply saying “that sucks” and offering a hug.
  2. Compromise is not a dirty word: I once believed that a perfect marriage was one filled with win-win outcomes where no one had to sacrifice anything. I now realize that was a complete myth, like gluten-free pastries that actually taste good. But that doesn’t mean that marriage is a contest of wins and losses where husbands and wives count victories in hopes that it all balances out in the end. Quite the contrary. Marriage is husband and wife fighting tooth-and-nail against human nature, battling selfishness, pettiness and complacency. Sacrificing self to discover the joy born of a generous spirit.
  3. Embrace the pain: Since the day our first child was born, we have endured many trials in our marriage. Inconsolable babies. Sleepless nights. Solo parenting. Business travel. Lost income. Loss of loved ones. Dreams on hold. Dwindling quality time. The invisibility of motherhood. The anxiety of fatherhood. Miscommunication and misunderstanding. For all of this, our bond is stronger than before.

How do I know?

That day in the delivery room, my wife squeezed my hand as if life depended on it. Because life did depend on it. A child was born from her pain.

But something else happened, too.

My knuckle swelled up to the size of a pomegranate. Hurt like the devil. To this day, eight years later, I still can’t get that ring off my finger, no matter how hard I try. It’s stuck.   Always there for me.  A constant reminder that sacrificial love changes us all for the better.

If we let it.

What (not) To Say When Your Second Grader Drops The F-Bomb

Do you have kids? If so, you know that bedtime can be both magical and maddening. Some nights, the kids are sloshing water all over the bathroom floor, spraying toothpaste all over the vanity mirror, and yelling so loud that the neighbors come outside to scan the clouds for tornadoes.

And other nights, it’s really bad.

Last night was one of those rare evenings where the stars align and the kids are listening to your every word. On these occasions, I gladly park my keester on the toilet and converse with them while they wash up.

As Jake exited the tub, he said, “Daddy?”


He looked me right in the eye and paused. The air was pregnant with childhood curiosity. I prepared my explanation for why the sky is blue. Or what makes a true friend. Sharing my wisdom, father to son. Then he blurted out,

“What does ‘F—k’ mean?”

This was no politically correct “f-word” or “fudge”. He came out with the queen mother. Straight outta’ his seven-year-old mouth. Enunciating.  Like he was auditioning for a role in Wolf of Wall Street.

wolf of wall street * Fun Fact!  Wolf of Wall Street contains 506 F-bombs.  That's 2.81 per minute!

I panicked. My mind raced.

Holy S#^!! Where did he hear that? Who did he hear it from? He definitely will not get to hang out with that kid again. What should I say? Should I punish him? Or give him a definition? If so, do I give him the verb or the adjective?

Instead, I said,

“I need to ask your mother.”

His eyes widened.

“What? You don’t know what it means?”

I saw this as an immediate shot at my credibility.

“No son, I know what it means. I just need to ask your mother how best to explain it.”

I’m not helping myself here.

“Just tell me!”

I thought about explaining the verb. Using this as an opportunity to have our first true discussion of where babies come from. Then the hand of God reached into my mouth, took out the words, “when a man and a woman love each other…” and replaced them with.

“Do you want an ice cream sandwich?”

Crisis averted.

Apparently, my wife heard the whole conversation. Rather than rescue me, she suggested I have a little sit down talk with my son about words that Dannemillers use, and words that we don’t use.

The whole debacle reminded me of an incident that happened over ten years ago. Gabby and I were doing a year of mission service in Guatemala. My home base was a school that helped kids, adults, and some volunteer pastors finish their grade school education. Though the school taught classes in both Spanish and Quiché, I never learned to speak more than seven words of the complex Mayan language, so I didn’t have much conversation with the wonderful women who kept the school and the kitchen humming.

During my last week there, I gathered all of them together to thank them and ask if I could take their photo. As is typical of the Quiché women, they obliged, but stood stoic. No smiles. Very serious.


I wanted to say, “cheese” to get them to grin, but queso doesn’t produce the desired result. Then I remembered someone telling me that the word güisquil (pronounced wis-KEEL) is an acceptable option, since it’s a common vegetable in the region.

So I steadied my camera and shouted, “güisquil!” The women fidgeted nervously, but didn’t say the word. And didn’t smile. I upped my energy and shouted,

“Say güisquil!”

Again, no one said the word. Some started looking at each other quizzically. One woman started to smile.  Another giggled.


I’m breaking down their walls, I thought.

So I shouted “güisquil” about a dozen times more, really loud. And by the end, all of the women were laughing like I had never seen Mayan women laugh before.


Great photo!

Later that day, my Guatemalan supervisor pulled me aside.

“Hermano Scott, that was interesting. What happened with the picture today.”

“Yes. I was happy they all smiled,” I said.

“No, hermano. I was talking about what you were shouting during the photo.”

“Yes. Güisquil. That’s what you say for a photo, right? Güisquil. The vegetable.”

Image *  A photo of the veggie.  Trust me, you'll wanna come back to this in a second.

“Yes. In Spanish it’s a vegetable. But in Quiché, it means… um… how do you say…”

He was a bit flustered. His voice became a whisper.

“It’s a bad word.”

I whispered back. “Bad word? Like how bad?”

“The worst.” He leaned in closer. “It’s the really bad word for a woman’s…”

Then he looked me in the eye and pointed toward his zipper.

OK people. Think of the worst word you can think of to describe the female anatomy. No. Not that one. The absolute worst word.

Now imagine shouting that word over a dozen times. At the top of your lungs. Outside. In the middle of the day. At a school for children and pastors. In front of your spiritual advisor. With nine pure-as-the-driven snow women trying not to faint in front of you. While serving as a missionary.  For Jesus.

I think I need an ice cream sandwich.

I was mortified. The good news is, they didn’t revoke my laminated missionary wallet card. And they didn’t kick me out of the school. Because they know that words aren’t inherently bad.

They’re just words.

Even so, I’m not going to suggest Jake re-enact a scene from Goodfellas for the elementary school talent show. When we discussed it later, he asked,

“Well Dad, why are some words bad, and others are fine? Even if they mean the same thing? That’s dumb.”

I had to agree with the kid. It’s all very arbitrary. Makes no sense at all. Words are just words.

We’re the ones that make them bad.

Whether we are speaking the words, or simply hearing them. We load them with judgment. We stuff them full of meaning. We turn them into something they’re not. And when they are hurled at us like weapons, we soak them up like the parched earth absorbs the rain. Only the words don’t nourish. They tear us down because we believe them to be true. They turn into a story we tell ourselves.

But they’re just words. And it’s our choice.

It’s like I told Jake (after consulting with my wife). Any word can be bad if it’s said with disrespect. So we must say things that reflect who we are, and who we aspire to be. Using our words to build people up. To uplift and restore.

And, if words come your way that intend to tear you down, know in your heart of hearts that you were made for more. Strong enough to say in your inside voice,

Fuuuuuuuuuu gedaboudit!

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The Facebook Lie We All Believe

What is your favorite parental duty? 

Maybe it’s teaching your child something important, like riding a bike.  Or fishing.  Or perhaps you relish the chance to impart wisdom about the world?  Serving others side-by-side with selfless abandon.


I like eating my kids’ leftovers at a restaurant. 

It’s a dad’s job.  Sheer bliss for a guy who loves kid food.  I once had corn dogs for every meal of the day.  At age 37.  My personal theology states that each time Audrey fails to finish her chicken finger basket, an angel gets its wings.  All in the spirit of teaching the kids that food is not to be wasted.

Unfortunately, there is an unwelcome corollary to this fatherly task.  And I’m not talking about the shameful feeling you get after eating your own Dairy Queen Blizzard and then downing the two Peanut Buster Parfaits that you forced your kids to order. 

It’s eating leftovers at home.

I have a slightly irrational fear of food gone bad, so anything sealed in Tupperware can be intimidating.  Even if it’s only been in there for a day or two.  On top of that, as a dad, I am often required to build a meal from random items to help make room for the next batch of food.

Case in point: Today’s lunch was a virtual tour of the world, consisting of two tablespoons of taco meat, some BBQ pork, Cajun potato salad, and a fortune cookie. 

You want fries with that?

I took my meal into my office.  There, I browsed Facebook while I stuffed my Facehole, praying for a peaceful resolution to the United Nations conflict erupting in my lower intestine.  As I scrolled through my newsfeed, I saw a beautiful photo of a recipe my friend was making for dinner.  Fresh salad, broiled chicken, baked apples, and a broccoli rice casserole that would make any church potluck jealous. 

The picture was perfect.  The chicken glistened like Fabio’s chest at a romance novel photo shoot.  Steamy and golden brown.  The salad looked like it had just been plucked from an exotic rainforest garden.  The casserole was cheesy and bubbling. And I’m convinced the apples had been photoshopped to resemble Beyonce’s backside.

I knew that no chef in the world could make food that looked so wonderful.  It was pure fantasy.  But that didn’t change this simple fact:

I now hated my lunch.

My potato salad was a bit bland.  The taco meat wasn’t “taco-ey” enough.  And my fortune cookie didn’t even contain a real fortune to guide my future.  It just said “you have a deep interest in all that is artistic.”

You don’t know me, Confucius!

But it didn’t stop there.  I scrolled through more posts.  People on vacations to exotic destinations.  Families dressed to the nines for a photo shoot.  A beautiful couple standing outside their new home.  Remodeled bathrooms and kitchens.

I looked at myself.  I was sitting in my messy office eating leftovers from a plastic plate.  My jeans were ripped. By accident.  I was sporting paint-splattered Crocs and dress socks.  I had a runny nose and a used Kleenex in my left shirt pocket. 

Then, I started to reflect on my relationships.  Gabby and I have hardly spoken in a week due to sheer busy-ness. I still haven’t read Audrey the horse book like I’ve promised for the last two days.   Jake was hungry last night, but I put him to bed without a snack because I was too lazy to unwrap a cheese stick. 

A cheese stick?!  Really?!  Who am I?

It’s in these moments where we move past hating our lunch straight into hating our lives.  We feel inadequate.  Staring at sanitized lives on our computer screens where no one is clicking my “like” button. 

And we’re not alone.

A number of recent studies have found that passive viewing of Facebook content can decrease life satisfaction and increase feelings of depression. Research suggests that the more time you spend browsing social media content, the more likely you are to fall victim to a phenomenon known as “social comparision.”  By itself, this wouldn’t be bad.  But the phenomenon is compounded by the fact that people tend to share information that shows them in the most positive light.


I checked my own timeline for a glimpse of my real life.  Sitting like a slug on the couch.  Feeling insecure about an upcoming business meeting.  Saying something stupid and hurtful to my wife.

Funny.  Didn’t post any of that.  Must have forgotten.


We share the joys of life.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.  Good news brings smiles to faces.  The problem comes when we start comparing everyone else’s highlight reel to the cutting room floor of our own lives. It doesn’t help that we tend to “friend” people who are very much like us, so we mistakenly believe that our comparison as a valid one.   

Newsflash: it’s not.    

Unfortunately, that highlight reel we see becomes the benchmark for our own expectations.  And these unrealistic expectations pervade every waking moment of our lives.  And when my life doesn’t look like the pictures, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut.

But it’s not Mark Zuckerberg’s fault. 

It’s mine.

My overblown expectations create a voice in my head, and it screams at me.  Day in.  Day out.  And I judge my worth by whether or not my life measures up.

And it can’t.

Because dinners burn in the oven.  Kids get sick on vacation.  Stuff breaks.  Husbands and wives argue.  Junior loses the big game.  Mom loses the big job.  Dad loses his keys.  And his cool.    

It’s called life. And it happens to all of us.

But that voice in our head still screams.

       You’re flawed.

       You’re broken.

       You’re not enough.

Wanna’ know a secret?   

We’re all just fighting for something we already have.  Like looking for the pen that’s tucked behind my own ear.  I scan my page for “likes” in hopes of finding a sense of peace.  To drown out the voice in my head.  My voice. 

But I’m looking in the wrong place. 

The approval I seek already exists deep inside me.  It was put there by the one who made me from the dust of earth.  Created in His image.  Perfectly flawed.  Wonderfully wounded.  And, as inferior as I may feel on the outside, the Almighty loves me to the core.  The corn-dog-eating, cheese-stick-hoarding, Croc-wearing, snot-nosed, narcissistic child of God.

And there is nothing I can do to change that.  

But I can change something.

I can choose to be the voice that uplifts.  The God-voice for others, to help them see their own beauty within.  To drown out the voice of expectation and inferiority. 

And I can choose to listen.  To hear that voice.  His voice.  A faint whisper.  Ever-present.  Saying,

You are worthy.

       You are enough.

             You are loved. 

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Week Sixteen: "Fishing for Ice Cream"

Last week, I shared the story of Gabby’s girl’s weekend and my ridiculous attempt to keep everything in order without my wife around.  You may have noticed that the kids were scarcely mentioned in the post.  This was intentional, as I was afraid to share what I had done with them in the event that anyone at Child Protective Services reads the blog.

It was my job to keep the kids occupied so Gabby and her friends could enjoy as much uninterrupted time as possible.  My first thought was to build them a “fort” out of clothespins, blankets and a puppy crate and fill it full of fruit snacks and ring pops.  This way, I could (humanely) sequester them for a couple of days under the guise they were having fun.  Unfortunately, I could never get Jake to consistently pee on the newspaper, so this plan was a bust.

My second idea was to loan them out to the Nashville Police department.  They often need loud noise makers to flush out kidnappers and other ne’er-do-wells from their bunkers.  Jake and Audrey both did well in their first audition, but were ousted in the final round for asking too many irrelevant questions. 

I was quickly running out of options. Our Year Without A Purchase rules state that I could not buy any trinkets to keep my children entertained.  This means I would have to rely on my own ingenuity and items already in my possession to do the job.  

Our first trip away from the house was a disaster. I drove around aimlessly waiting for fun to smack us upside the head.  And, due to my horrible planning skills, I left any of our fun possessions back at the house.  I tried to improvise with what was on hand, but a five-year-old girl can only play with jumper cables and car jacks so many times before the novelty begins to wear off and whining begins.

We went to a couple of parks and had fun playing on the playgrounds, but two hours later, the whining started again.  I called the Nashville Police and put the kids on speakerphone, hoping they would reconsider.  They just hung up on me.  Then, a revelation.

Commence “Operation Frozen Treat”

Our rules do include a provision to purchase food, so I whipped the car into the Sonic drive-in and ordered a menagerie of frozen delights.  A slushee for Jake, a caramel sundae for Audrey, and a Butterfinger Blast for yours truly.  My research revealed that the frozen cream and sugar act as a mild sedative, transforming loud Banshee screams into a perfectly acceptable conversational tone.


* ice cream: the miracle drug

I know the parenting mantra.  Ice cream should be reserved for special times.  Important, momentous occasions.  So, I confess that we had ice cream four times in a 48-hour period.  I’m not proud of it, but it’s amazing the things I learned about my kids when they were chatting and stuffing their faces with crap-tacular goodness. Case in point:   I learned (upon visiting a Sonic that backs to a cemetery) that Audrey would like to be buried in a heart-shaped coffin with a headstone shaped like a horse.  And Jake only wants to be cremated if it doesn’t hurt.  Audrey assures him it’s painless, because when you die your skin falls off.  And skin is the part that feels hurt.  So they only burn your bones.  But when you go to heaven God gives you new bones and new skin, too, unless you want to use your old skin you brought from Earth.

My research also suggests ice cream may be a hallucinogen.

On Saturday evening, as my wife and her friends were enjoying a free hotel night purchased with my frequent traveler loyalty points, the kids and I shared ice cream sandwiches and played board games.   It was a delightful time.  They were enjoying each other’s company.  No one was crying.  Even if they lost.  There were patches of silence while the kids sucked on their fingertips trying to lick away the chocolate sandwich glue.

Finishing off her pinkie, Audrey cut through the silence and blurted out,  “Let’s go fishing, Daddy!”

“Honey, it’s 7:00pm.  It’s almost bedtime.”

“But fish don’t sleep.”

“Not fish bedtime.  Your bedtime.”

“Can we go tomorrow?”

I thought about this.  Fishing does sound more interesting than playing in the park.  But the last time I took the kids fishing, we all got sunburned, I got a hook stuck in my shoulder,  one pole ended up in the pond, and all of us were crying.  And this was just the first half-hour.  What’s more, we only have one tiny fishing pole in working condition.  The other has a rod that’s been snapped in half and a reel that needs some major re-engineering.  We call her “The Widow Maker.”


* the "Widow Maker" and Lightning McQueen

“Sure!”  I answered.  “Let’s go fishing!”

“But we only have one pole!” Jake can always kill a buzz.

“That’s OK.  I can work on the other one.”

“Awwwwww!  Can we buy a pole for me?” Audrey asked, remembering that hers was the one still soaking in the pond at Bowie Park. 

Obviously, she doesn’t read the blog.

“Not this time.  We’ll share.”

The next day after church, I packed up the kids, our two shoddy poles, and drove to the Little Harpeth River. Our good friend, Dwayne Smith, even gave us some left over night crawlers from his own recent expedition.  We looked for a spot to fish, walking past a group of teenage girls swimming in the frigid water.  We walked past a somewhat creepy guy standing watch over the swimming girls and playing fetch with his two rambunctious dogs.  Finally, we found an open spot.

The kids and I spent considerable time wading in the shallows of the river.  With all of the bugs and rocks to check out, Audrey quickly forgot she didn’t have a fishing pole.   We were all skipping rocks and enjoying a new experience.    I then moved on to fiddling with my broken reel and casting an occasional line.  I coaxed both kids to fish for the better part of an hour.  The current was moving pretty fast, so every cast made it look like the bobber was being dragged under by Jaws himself. We caught nothing, but the kids loved it. They reeled it in with gusto every time, excited at the possibility of landing Nemo.

Audrey  took a break from fishing and went back to skipping rocks.  In an attempt to find the perfect stone, she slipped, fell into the river up to her shoulders and came out shivering.  By this time, we were all soaked and chilled.

Standing next to me, Audrey politely asked, “Can we go back to the car and warm up, Daddy?”

Recalling our Bowie Park fishing expedition, I thought it best to quit while we were ahead.

“Sure.  Let’s go.”

I looked down river.  Our tackle box, clothes and bait were about twenty paces away over some jagged stones.  Jake was standing very near all of the gear.  The bank was steep, but there were some branches and rocks immediately to my right which looked easy for Audrey to climb.

“Here honey.  Let me help you up.”

I pushed Audrey’s tiny hiney up the eight foot incline.  She clawed her way to the top and looked down at me.

“Alright Audrey.  Stay right there.  I’m going to walk down and get Jake and we’ll meet you up top.”

“OK Daddy.”

I made my way to Jake and all of our gear.  Two minutes, tops.  He was surprisingly compliant.  He immediately reeled in his empty hook, and I gathered all of our things.  We meandered up the steep bank and came to the grassy clearing.

“OK Audrey, let’s go.”


I looked to my right, twenty paces, expecting to see Audrey.  She wasn’t there.

I looked up and saw a kid’s birthday party going full swing at the picnic pavilion roughly 100 yards away.  There were bouncy castles and balloons all over the place.  I scanned the crowd for a tiny, wet girl in a white flowered bathing suit.  


I looked all around me calling her name as loud as I could.  I expected to hear her call back, “Right here, Daddy!”

But her call never came.  Instead, my voice got louder and louder.  I paced along the path beside the river.  My tone more anxious.  I looked at Jake and it was obvious he was scared.  His smile had transformed into a look of pint-sized panic.

“Where is she, Daddy?”  I could see tears forming. 

Then I thought of the fast-moving current and the steep bank.  What if she fell down the bank after I turned my head?  What if she waded back into the water and slipped?  She doesn’t swim!

I ran to the river bank and looked down.  I saw no signs of her.  But what if she got trapped under the water?  Under a rock?  She wouldn’t be on the surface!  I ran along the bank yelling her name.  I looked for a pale object under the current.  Parents at the birthday party were looking up now, sensing something was terribly out of balance. 

Jake stood motionless.  Whimpering.

I was about to dive into the water when my thoughts drifted to the creepy guy with the cute dogs.  Audrey loves animals.  I thought of every stranger danger cliché in the book.  Is this how it ends?  Dear God, no.  If I dive into the water, I am wasting precious seconds when someone could be walking off with my child.  If I go in search of her, I am wasting precious seconds when my daughter could be trapped under water. 


I started running toward the birthday party.  I was about to yell, “Has anyone seen a little girl in a white swimsuit?!  Did you see where she went?!” I looked to my left and saw a girl running down the path toward me.  One hundred fifty yards away.  Her awkward, distracted, beautiful gait telling me my fears were unwarranted.  I dropped to my knees, threw my head back, and covered my face.  Didn’t want Jake to see the tears of relief that were coming.  It was only thirty seconds.

But it felt like a lifetime.

When she finally reached me, I scolded her with a giant bear hug.

“Where did you go?  I was so worried we had lost you?  I told you to stay right here!”

“I wanted to go back and pet the puppies.”

“I’m sure you did, honey.  But you didn’t tell me where you were going.  I thought I had lost you.  Worse yet, I thought you might have fallen in the water and drowned.”

Her eyes got big.  She said nothing.  She just looked at me and saw the relief in my face and knew. 

We walked back to the car in silence.  Halfway there, she grabbed onto my leg with both arms.  I walked with a happy limp the rest of the way.  When all the gear had been packed into the trunk and everyone was strapped into their seats, I heard Jake call out from the back seat.

“Can we have some ice cream when we get home, Daddy?”

The mantra plays in my mind again.  Ice cream is reserved for special times.  Important, momentous occasions.

And none is as special as this.

Because, unlike my brief, panicked moments with Audrey that stretched into forever, in our day-to-day lives time passes us like a raging river.  We feel like we have a lifetime to spend with those we love, but soon it will feel like only thirty seconds.  Life is precious gift of God that I often waste on worthless worry and the pursuit of perfection.  . 

So here's my prayer today.  Let there be many moments in life that sound the alarm.  A wake up call that stirs my soul.  Because I'm tired of sleepwalking through the simple pleasures that make life worth living. 

Like one more scoop of ice cream.

Week Nine: "The Worst Parenting Advice You'll Ever Receive"

Hey parents out there.

Yeah.  I’m talking to you.  The ones who said you would never let your kids eat McDonald’s in the back seat.  Or listen to kid music.  Or do that cliché’ discipline tactic where you yell, “I’m going to count to three and then I’m going to (insert horrible, irrational, overblown punishment here).”

Well, stop scrubbing that ketchup stain on the upholstery, mute “The Wheels on the Bus,” and shut you’re your big yapper.  Because I have something to say and you’d better listen up.

I’m serious.

Turn the music off.

Now.  Don’t make me say it again.  I’m going to count to three, and it better be off or you’ll never have candy ever again.  For the rest of your life.  Never.  I don’t care if the whole world blows up and the only food left is candy. You’re not eating it. You hear me?

One…  two…

OK.  That’s better.  Now that I have your attention, I’m gonna’ lay some wisdom down on you and not even charge you for it.  Here goes.

Stop protecting your kids. 

You heard it right.  Stop. Protecting. Your. Kids.

Before I start sounding like an overbearing know-it-all, please realize that I am actually talking to myself.  Any resemblance to your own neurotic parenting style is purely coincidental.

This past week brought a perfect storm of challenges to the Year Without A Purchase.  All of them child-induced.  And all had us questioning whether this whole ordeal is making us bad parents. 

For starters, Jake’s tennis shoes are on life support.  The soles are ripping off, and the side is developing a gaping hole, as if my son has the feet of an 87-year-old man with huge bunions and an extra pinkie toe protruding out. 


He asked, “Can I get some new shoes after school today, daddy?”

I replied, “But son, you HAVE other shoes.  The black ones.”

“But I don’t like those shoes.”

“You don’t have to like ‘em.  The job of shoes is to protect your feet.  These are shoes.”

 “But they aren’t the right shoes.  They are summer shoes.”

“Summer is coming fast.”

“Not until June.  June 21st.  You said so.”

Even though my son remembered the correct date of the summer solstice like he was channeling Rainman, we did not reward him with a new pair of sneakers.

Besides the shoes, the zippers on both his backpack and lunch box broke this week.  The school requires an insulated pack so kids don’t eat room-temperature turkey sandwiches and turn the place into a salmonella factory.  His is barely functional.   He wants to leave it half-zipped until it finally falls apart.  Luckily, we have another one he can use.  The problem?  It’s a lovely paisley-floral print.

I hope he’s ready to set some new first grade fashion trends.

As for the backpack, it’s a goner.  But we have a backup.  Gabby got it at a trade show over twenty years ago.  How do we know the exact age of the pack, you ask?  Because it has the date written right on it.  1989.  I stuffed it full of his school gear and laid it in the hallway.


He asked,“What’s this?”

“It’s your new backpack, son.”

"But I didn’t pick it.”

“I know.  Mom did.”

He pointed to the clover-like graphic between the words "Yak-Pak" and asked, "What's this funny shape?"

"I don't know."

After twenty questions about the coolness of the pack and the definition of the word “new”, he lost interest in arguing the point and changed the subject.

But the topper this weekend was the March Madness basketball tournament.  No, not the one that generates squillions of dollars of revenue and makes Vegas oddsmakers giddy.  We’re talking about the no-holds-barred basketball slug-fest at Montessori Academy in Nashville.  The one pitting first-grader against first-grader to establish worldwide bragging rights for generations to come.  NBA scouts in attendance.    Corporate sponsorship deals going down in the hallways.

Or so you might think if you saw me yelling like an idiot in the stands.


As a fun way to celebrate the end-of-season tournament, the other kids’ parents had purchased these really cool red camouflage Air Jordan socks for their players.  Gabby and I struggled with the decision.  Do we get some for our kid?  Sure, we have $13.  We don’t want him to feel left out.  But it’s not part of the standard uniform. 

So Jake wore white.  The only one. 

We carried around some heavy guilt over these decisions.  I asked myself, “Is this cruel?  Have we gone overboard?”  I didn’t respond to either question.  I’m not sure I want to know the answer.

Because we’ve all lived through childhood and know how cruel kids can be.  We’ve all shed tears after taunts, left feeling inadequate.  You didn’t have the latest shoes or the latest style.  You looked different.  Acted different.  Laughed different.

And it sucked big time.  We all wear the scars.

So the question is, if you have the ability to buy a few things and protect your child from this heartache and choose not to, are you the one doing the scarring? 

The answer is, “No.”

Stop.  Protecting.  Your.  Kids.

By protecting our kids in this way, we only help perpetuate the idea that what you own is a measure of who you are.  We cover them up with so much shiny junk that it’s virtually impossible to see the person inside. 

And we drown out the God-voice inside each and every one of them.  The voice that says I’m uniquely and beautifully made.  The voice that doesn’t hear the put-downs and taunts because it’s too busy shouting,

“I love you”

“I made you.”

“You’re more than enough.”

When we protect our kids in this way, we deprive them of disappointment.   Disappointment that forges faith in something bigger than today.  Bigger than the present or the presents.  A resolve that bubbles up from deep within, making us stronger day-by-challenging day.

Because Jake got used to his summer shoes.   His friend Yusuf said his backpack looked like a “leprechaun bag,” but went on playing with him anyway.  And by the time the next basketball game rolled around, stubborn stains, stinky kids and laundry schedules had all the other players in mis-matched pairs once again. 

I realize that we may be simply justifying our own lunacy.  Rationalizing away the guilt of watching our kids struggle.  

Or maybe…

Just maybe…

We’re taking their lives out of our own hands and placing them in God’s. 

Back where they belong.

Week Eight: "The Better Half"

Not buying stuff forces you to focus on other things.  For a moment there, I was focusing on stuffing my face with as much junk food as it would hold.  A single step on the YMCA scale told me that my energy was misplaced.  Perhaps I could find it in the same place I left my self-restraint. Time to refocus on the important things.

Last week, Gabby and I vowed to eat dinner as early as possible, so we would have some quality with the tiny people in our house before we finally put them in their cages to bed for the night. After all, this year is about building connections, and we should start with those closest to us.

So last week we sat on the couch as a family every night and read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe cover-to-cover.   You see, we’re still keeping our kids in the dark about this whole Year Without A Purchase thing.  So Jake and Audrey don’t know they’re “deprived” yet (a minor miracle), but the Scholastic Book Fair at school might blow this whole thing wide open.  We hoped a little C.S. Lewis would be enough of a draw to make them forget about any other literary works they might desire.


* a typical storytime, minus Gabby

It worked!  Each night, Gabby would chide me when I forgot to use my lion voice, the kids would beg for “just one more chapter”, and we would torture them with a cliffhanger.  When we finally finished, we got to discuss the deeper meaning of the book.  It’s amazing the concepts a young mind can absorb.

I upped the ante on “togetherness” the very next day when I picked Jake up from school.  I had to run some errands, and used them as an excuse for us to spend some one-on-one time with him, just chatting.  He independently strapped himself into the car seat.  No help needed.  Another sign that we are one step closer to the days when I will be a social anchor around his neck, holding him back from fun with his friends.

But innocence remains.  We jumped out of the car and he grabbed my hand as we walked into the post office.  I smiled.


* enjoying it while it lasts

Our six-year-old sports statistician was grilling me about Kevin Durant’s shoe size when we were quickly interrupted.

“Hey buddy, you got a second?”

I looked down and saw a man sitting on the curb.  His eyes were tired, like half-drawn mini blinds.  A woman sat beside him with her head in her hands.  I got that familiar feeling.  A body split in two.  One half wanting to hear the man’s story, and the other wishing I had chosen the other entrance.

The sliding doors opened, but I didn’t slide through.  My other half wanted to, but my better half was attached to a six-year-old compassionate anchor who knows the meaning of the word “ignored.”

Quality time.

I turned toward the couple, “Sure. What’s up?”

The woman started coughing into her lap, deferring to the man.  He explained, “My wife and I sell papers.”  He gestured to the lanyard around his neck, displaying a badge that says he works for “The Contributor”, Nashville’s homeless newspaper.  “We’ve been really sick, so this morning we went to the clinic.  The doctor says we both have pneumonia.  By the time we got back, there were no more papers for us to sell, and we don’t have enough money for rent.  Can you help us out?”

I let go of my anchor, but stayed in place.  Because my anchor knows that I have money in my wallet.  And I would much rather my better half explain to him that we should help people no matter the circumstance, rather than have the other half explain the meaning of the word “cynical.”

My better half reached into my wallet and pulled out the only bill there, while the other half wished that ATM’s spit out cash in much smaller denominations.

I said, “God Bless” as I handed him the bill.  He thanked us profusely, and I quickly blurted, “No problem.”  Unable to fully accept the gratitude knowing the turmoil I felt inside.

Jake and I talked a bit about the couple on the way home.  Always the fact-finder, his questions were mostly about details.  “What’s pneumonia?” and “What’s rent?”  I answered with the best Webster’s dictionary response I could, happy to be having a good conversation with him.

That night at dinner, as we rounded the table with our Thorns and Roses discussion, Jake chimed in.

“My turn!”

“OK buddy, what do you want to start with?”

“A thorn.”

“So what’s your thorn for today?”

“We didn’t get to go out at recess because it was raining.”

“And what’s your rose?”

“We got to help people today.  They needed money to pay for their house and we gave it to them.”

Quality time.  Well worth the effort.  An opportunity to reconnect.  Because they say “integrity” is what you do when no one else is watching.  I say “teaching” is what you do when your kids are close at hand.

And my other half is doing the learning.