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Posts Tagged ‘Raising Kids’

The Guilted Parent

Life offers us very few guarantees. We would like to thing, for instance, that all our efforts at our career would guarantee us success and wealth.  Or, that the time we invest in spiritual pursuits would insure us against troubles and pain in this life.  Or, that the investments we put into the lives of our children would promise us perfect kids who become perfect adults and in return raise perfect grand kids.  But there are no guarantees.

The problem lies in our constant search for those guarantees. We want a secret formula: put this into your life or your kids and this will be the result.  We want magic talismans: quote this Bible verse, pray this prayer, do these spiritual things and this will be what you see.  So, we run from book to book, conference to conference, in an effort to find the magic bullet that will kill our fears about the future.  While self-education and awareness is wonderful, there is no formula, talisman or bullet that will guarantee us against failure and disappointment.

No where is this more evident than in the frantic efforts of many Christian parents. Believing that a child enters the world tabula rasa (with a clean slate) upon which the parent can determine the outcome of a child, these parents go through all sorts of spiritual and mental contortions to do so.  The problem arises when a child does not “turn out” as expected.  This places a considerable amount of guilt upon the parent (and sometimes the child as well).  The rest of the Christian community looks upon the wayward or prodigal child and blames the parent for doing something wrong or not doing something right.  There is not a lot of grace or mercy available for parent and child.

It is faulty think that says the parent can always produce the child. It is a lie that guilts a parenting into believing that good “christian” parenting will produce godly children.   There are instances that we are all aware of where even under the best parenting and spiritual guidance a child has self-determined to go his or her own way completely contrary to how they were raised.  At the same time, there are plenty of instances where a child has come through and come out of a background that is filled with all kinds of social and spiritual problems and obstacles to be a success materially and spiritually.  This defies the psychological determinism that plagues so much of our Christian philosophy and theology about parenting and families.

It is the lie of psychological – or spiritual, in this case – determinism that has produced all the Christian formulas and programs available today. They each offer their own guarantees to raising successful kids as if child-rearing and child-training were a trouble-free, risk free endeavor.  In a B.F. Skinner-like approach, a Christian parent can produce godly children as if they were planting a garden or training a family pet.  One only needs to throw in a few well-placed Bible verses.

Thus, Christendom has produced the guilted parent; an impossible weight of legalism towards the parent-child relationship. It is as if the Bible was a parenting manual filled with formulas and spiritual laws that, if carefully followed just right, would produce guaranteed outcomes.  Thus, if the child did not turn out “right,” then it can only mean that the parent screwed up somewhere and did not follow exactly the prescribed formula or spiritual law.  The guilted parent syndrome is not helped by the “testimonies” of successful and winning parents who have raised obedient, respectful, compliant children who live faithful Christian lives with no missteps or disappointments.

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Edsel, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I have known parents who have carefully read and faithfully followed all the advice of Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Yet, despite all their frantic and careful studies, they had a child(ren) who seemed determined to live a life completely opposite of their parents’ values and lifestyle.  I have other friends who systematically followed all of the rules from Growing Families International and their Growing Kids God’s Way curriculum with seeming success, until one of their children did not seem to respond to their carefully crafted efforts.  Both of these parents were at a loss and suffered under a load of guilt and shame for the outcome of their kids.

It is interesting to note that even in Scripture, some of the most successful people of God were followed by ungodly children. At the same time, some of the most wicked characters in the Bible produced righteous children who did incredible things for God.  Finally, if one were to measure God’s success as a successful heavenly Father based upon the actions and activities of all of his children, by the measurement of the material commonly marketed to Christian parents today, he would be a failure!

This has been our experience within my family. My wife, Kelly, and I are well-educated (both with Masters Degrees).  We have read the books, watched the videos and listened to the speakers.  Despite having our home full of books and constantly reading to our children, we have two children out of our four who had a very hard time learning to read and so don’t like to read.  Imagine this from a child who has a father with a personal library that numbers over 3,000 volumes.  Doesn’t make sense according to the formula we were given about helping our children become “readers.”

We also have always been involved in church, spiritual pursuits and openly talked about spiritual things with our children. We read the Bible, prayed around the dinner table, regularly included prayer for missionaries and surrounded our lives with very spiritual people.  We have not done this perfectly, but we have done it to the best of our capability and knowledge we had at the time.  Nevertheless, we have one child who has chosen to live a lifestyle with a set of values that are completely contrary to how he was raised.  Again, this doesn’t make any sense according to what we have been told all these years.

As with so much of our modern Christianity, and much of humankind’s approach to God in general, we have reduced life with God to a formula rather than faith. Like the legalistic religious rulers of Jesus’ day, we have made our own set of laws about parenting that are too heavy for many to bear.  We leave those who are not able to perform according to these rule and regulations outside “the ark of safety” to drown in their guilt and shame.  But Jesus came to introduce a different way.

Living according to these “Christian parenting laws” only proves our failure. The apostle Paul reminds us that “the Law brings death” – and that can apply to just about any spiritual law or legalistic religious system.  Only faith in what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection can bring life to parents who have children who are spiritually and morally wayward.

  • It is a faith that believes that his grace is sufficient for all our sin and their sin.
  • It is a faith to believe that the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ is still able to work in their lives and return them to the heavenly Father’s household of faith.
  • It is faith that believes that God graceful and merciful intervention can make up for all of my – or anyone’s – parental mistakes and short-comings.
  • It is faith that believes that the spiritual seeds that were planted at one time in a child’s heart will one day mature into a harvest of righteousness despite what fruit or weeds might be apparent there now.
  • It is faith that believes that God’s love as heavenly Father is greater and more abundant than my earthly parental love.
  • It is faith that believes that God accepts me even as a mistake-ridden and faulty parent to my children.
  • It is faith that believes that just as God’s unconditional love accepts and embraces me; it will also accept and embrace my child no matter where they may be on their own spiritual journey.
  • It is faith that believes that the same God who is our righteous and holy judge is also our merciful and loving counselor.

It is time to set the guilted parent free. It is time to replace formulas with faith.  It is time to reject psychological and spiritual determinism with a trust in God’s power to do what we ourselves cannot guarantee; which is children who worship and serve him.  Let the guilted parent be set free.

These thoughts came about as I finished reading “The Myth of the Perfect Parent” by Leslie Leyland Fields in Christianity Today (January 2010, Vol. 54, No. 1).  There is a follow-up interview with Donald Ratcliff by Katelyn Beaty that the reader may want to see.  Some of the terminology and ideas that are in my Blog came from Leslie Fields article.  Follow the link to see the complete article.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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This is for all my friends who are parents.  While it is written from the mom’s perspective, even dads can appreciate this humorous perspective.  [author unknown]

When I was younger, I remember receiving the inevitable homework assignment to write an essay on “something I am thankful for.”

Then I’d spend a lot of time sitting in my room trying to figure out just what in the world that could possibly be, and I’d end up writing down everything I could think of from God to environmental consciousness.

But after having children, my priorities have clearly changed:

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful to have been born the USA, the most powerful free democracy in the world.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for Velcro tennis shoes. As well as saving valuable time, now I can hear the sound of my son taking off his shoes — which gives me three extra seconds to activate the safety locks on the back seat windows right before he hurls them out of the car and onto the freeway.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for the recycling program that will preserve our natural resources and prevent the overloading of landfills.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for swim diapers because every time my son wanders into water in plain disposables, he ends up wearing a blimp the size of, say, New Jersey, on his bottom.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for fresh, organic vegetables.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for microwaveable macaroni and cheese — without which my children would be surviving on about three bites of cereal and their own spit.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for the opportunity to obtain a college education and have a higher quality of life than my ancestors.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful to finish a complete thought without being interrupted.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for holistic medicine and natural herbs.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for pediatric cough syrup guaranteed to “cause drowsiness” in young children.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for all of the teachers who had taught, encouraged, and nurtured me throughout my formative years.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for all of the people at Weight Watchers who let me strip down to pantyhose and a strategically placed scarf before getting on the scale each week.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for the opportunity to vacation in exotic foreign countries so I could experience a different way of life in a new culture.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful to have time to make it all the way down the driveway to get the mail.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for the Moosewood Vegetarian cookbook.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for the Butterball Turkey hotline.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for a warm, cozy home to share with my loved ones.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for the lock on the bathroom door.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for such material objects as custom furniture, a nice car, and trendy clothes.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful when the baby spits up and misses my good shoes.

BEFORE CHILDREN: I was thankful for my wonderful family.
AFTER CHILDREN: I am thankful for my wonderful family.

[author unknown]

Sharp Edges Sign

Sharp Edges Sign

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Monday A.M.
Dearest: Sleep late.  Everything under control.  Lunches packed.  Kids off to school.  Menu for dinner planned.  Your lunch is on a tray in refrigerator: fruit cup, finger-sandwiches.  Thermos of hot tea by bedside.  See you around six.

Tuesday A.M.
Honey: Sorry about the egg rack in the refrigerator.  Hope you got back to sleep.  Did the kids tell you about the Coke I put in the Thermoses?  The school might call you on this.  Dinner may be a little late.  I’m doing your door-to-door canvass for Breast Cancer Research.  Your lunch is in refrigerator.  Hope you like leftover chili.

Wednesday A.M.
Dear Doris: Why in the name of all that is sane would you put soap powder in the flour canister!  If you have time, could you please come up with a likely spot for Chris’s missing shoes?  We’ve checked the clothes hamper, garage, back seat of the car and wood box.  Did you know the school has a ruling on bedroom slippers?  There’s some cold pizza for you on a napkin in the oven drawer.  Will be late tonight.  Driving eight Girl Scouts to tour a meatpacking house.

Thursday A.M.
Doris: Don’t panic over water in hallway.  It crested last night at 9 P.M.  Will finish laundry tonight.  Please pencil in answers to following:
1. How do you turn on the garbage disposal?
2. Why would that rotten kid leave his shoes in his boots?
3. How do you remove a Confederate flag inked on the palm of a small boy’s forehead?
4. What do you do with leftovers when they begin to snap at you when you open the refrigerator door?  I don’t know what you’re having for lunch!  Surprise me.

Friday A.M.
Hey: Don’t drink from pitcher by the sink.  Am trying to restore pink dress shirt to original white.  Take heart.  Tonight, the ironing will be folded, the house cleaned and the dinner on time.  I called your mother.

[author unknown]

Dog Guardians

Dog Guardians

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Following are answers given by elementary school-age children to the given questions:

Why did God make mothers?
1. She’s the only one who knows where the Scotch Tape is.
2. Think about it. It was the best way to get more people.
3. Mostly to clean the house.
4. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How did God make mothers?
1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.
2. Magic, plus super powers, and a lot of stirring.
3. God made my mom just the same like he made me. He just used bigger parts.

Why did God give you your mother and not some other mom?
1. We are related.
2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people’s moms like me.

What ingredients are mothers made of?
1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
2. They had to get their start from men’s bones. Then they mostly use string. I think.

What kind of little girl was your mom?
1. My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
2. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
3. They say she used to be nice.

How did your mom meet your dad?
1. Mom was working in a store and dad was shoplifting.

What did mom need to know about dad before she married him?
1. His last name.
2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer? Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your mom marry your dad?
1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my mom eats a lot.
2. She got too old to do anything else with him.
3. My grandma says that mom didn’t have her thinking cap on.

What makes a real woman?
1. It means you have to be really bossy without looking bossy.

Who’s the boss at your house?
1. Mom doesn’t want to be boss, but she has to because Dad is such a goofball.
2. Mom. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.
3. I guess Mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than Dad.

What’s the difference between moms and dads?
1. Moms work at work and work at home, and dads just work at work.
2. Moms know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.
3. Dads are taller and stronger, but moms have all the real power because that’s who you have to ask if you want to
sleep over at your friend’s.

What does your mom do in her spare time?
1. Mothers don’t have spare time.
2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What’s the difference between moms and grandmas?
1. About 30 years.
2. You can always count on grandmothers for candy. Sometimes moms don’t even have bread on them.

Describe the world’s greatest mom?
1. She would be able to make broccoli taste like ice cream.
2. The greatest mom in the world wouldn’t make me kiss my fat aunts.
3. She’d always be smiling and keep her opinions to herself.

Is anything about your mom perfect?
1. Her teeth are perfect, but she bought them from the dentist.
2. Her casserole recipes. But we hate them.
3. Just her children.

What would it take to make your mom perfect?
1. On the inside she’s already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.
2. Diet. You know, her hair. I’d dye it, maybe blue.

If you could change one thing about your mom, what would it be?
1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I’d get rid of that.
2. I’d make my mom smarter — then she would know my sister did it and not me.

(author unknown)

Never Having Kids

Never Having Kids

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They say dreams have meaning; whoever “they” are anyway. I do not remember most of my dreams.  As I have grown older it seems that my dreams repeat themselves.  At least, I seem to, in the middle of a dream, be aware that “I have dreamed this dream before.”  They also get more weird.  When I wake up, I have a very foggy impression that I had a weird dream again but for the life of me cannot remember any details.

Colin Almberg and Mt. Hood, July 2003

Colin Almberg and Mt. Hood, July 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

It is much more fun with my youngest son, Colin, however. He has a habit of dreaming out loud.  Since I am the night owl in the family and do not have to get up early for any job, I am frequently up very late.  So, I often hear my son talking in his sleep.  Whatever he is dreaming about seems to be very lively.  Like one of his Gamecube games, they tend to be very interactive.

One particular night, as I passed his door as I was shutting down the house lights and getting ready to go to bed, I heard him loudly talking, almost yelling. Concerned, I peaked into his room.  He seemed to be upset about something and was mumbling loudly.

“Perhaps it is a nightmare,” I thought to myself.

Out of genuine parental concern, I attempted to gently wake him. Without touching him, I whispered forcefully, “Colin!  Colin, you all right?”  This seemed to do the trick as he sat up in bed startled.  But then I knew he still was not in the real world when he declared, “I’m going to build you a mansion!”

“What?” I answered, quickly realizing how stupid it was to attempt to talk to a middle-schooler caught in dreamland.

“I’m going to build you a mansion,” Colin said.

Suddenly, my parental concern turned into, “Oh.  This could be fun!”  So, changing gears, I decided to enter “the rabbit hole” with him.

“You are?” I asked him.

“Yup,” he reassured me rather groggily.  He flopped back down onto his bed.

Wondering if the fun was suddenly over, I prodded with a question.  “How big is it going to be?”

“Big!” came the sleepy but assertive reply.

“That’s cool!” I said.  “Can it be near the ocean with a view of the mountains?”

He sat up again as if to think.  He rubbed his eyes, “Sure.  But it can only have six bedrooms.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to not sound too disappointed.  “Well, I’m sure that will be plenty for visiting family and the grandkids for the weekend.”

He laid back down again.

Wondering if my fun was over, I prodded again by asking, “How soon do you think you can have that done?”

Suddenly, Colin rolled up on on his bed and put his feet on the floor.

“What?” he asked.

“How soon can you have that mansion done?” I repeated.

His head jerked up toward me with a surprised expression, “What are you talking about?”  There was still sleep in his voice but the dreamland wistfulness was certainly gone.

“The mansion you said you were going to build,” I told him.

He got up and started out of his room.

“You’re crazy,” he said.

“What?!” I protested.  “You were the one who offered!”

As he left his room, I asked, “Where are you going.”

“To the bathroom.”  And he disappeared behind the hall bathroom door.

I smiled.  Kids are so much fun.  They have such great dreams.  Here, at least, is one dream I am hoping he has that will come true someday.  That would be way-cool.  Sweet dreams, my youngest, son.  Sweet dreams.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Bottle feeding: An opportunity for Dad to get up at 2 am also.

Defense: What you’d better have around de yard if you’re going to let the children play outside.

Dumbwaiter: One who asks if the kids would care to order dessert.

Family planning: The art of spacing your children the proper distance apart to keep you on the edge of financial disaster.

Feedback: The inevitable result when the baby doesn’t appreciate the strained carrots.

Full name: What you call your child when you’re mad at him.

Grandparents: The people who think your children are wonderful even though they’re sure you’re not raising them right.

Hearsay: What toddlers do when anyone mutters a dirty word.

Impregnable: A woman whose memory of labor is still vivid.

Independent: How we want our children to be as long as they do everything we say.

Look out: What it’s too late for your child to do by the time you scream it.

Prenatal: When your life was still somewhat your own.

Prepared childbirth: A contradiction in terms.

Puddle: A small body of water that draws other small bodies wearing dry shoes into it.

Show off: A child who is more talented than yours.

Sterilize: What you do to your first baby’s pacifier by boiling it and to your last baby’s pacifier by blowing on it.

Storeroom: The distance required between the supermarket aisles so that children in shopping carts can’t quite reach anything.

Temper tantrums: What you should keep to a minimum so as to not upset the children.

Top bunk: Where you should never put a child wearing Superman jammies.

Two-minute warning: When the baby’s face turns red and she begins to make those familiar grunting noises.

Verbal: Able to whine in words

Whoops: An exclamation that translates roughly into “get a sponge.”

(author unknown)

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Six married men will be dropped on an island with one car and three kids each for six weeks.

Each kid will play two sports and take either music or dance classes.

There is no fast food.

Each man must take care of his three kids, keep his assigned house clean, correct all homework, complete science projects, cook, do laundry, and pay a list of “pretend” bills with not enough money.

In addition, each man will have to budget money for groceries each week.

Each man must remember the birthdays of all their friends and relatives and send cards out on time–no emailing.

Each man must also take each child to a doctor’s appointment, a dentist appointment, and a haircut appointment.

He must make one unscheduled and inconvenient visit per child to the Urgent Care.

He must also make cookies or cupcakes for a social function.

Each man will be responsible for decorating his own assigned house, planting flowers outside, and keeping it presentable at all times.

The men will have access to television only when the kids are asleep and all chores are done.

The men must shave their legs, wear makeup daily, adorn themselves with jewelry, wear uncomfortable yet stylish shoes, and keep fingernails polished and eyebrows groomed.

During one of the six weeks, the men will have to endure severe abdominal cramps and back aches and have extreme, unexplained mood swings but never once complain or slow down from other duties.

They must attend weekly school meetings and church and find time at least once each week to spend the afternoon at the park or a similar setting.

They will need to read a book to the kids each night and in the morning, feed them, dress them, brush their teeth, and comb their hair by 7:00 a.m.

A test will be given at the end of the six weeks, and each father will be required to know all of the following information: each child’s birthday, height, weight, shoe size, clothing size, and doctor’s name. He also must know the child’s weight and length at birth, time of birth, and length of labor; and each child’s favorite color, middle name, favorite snack, favorite song, favorite drink, favorite toy, and biggest fear. He also will know what they
all want to be when they grow up.

The kids vote them off the island based on performance. The last man wins only if he still has enough energy to spend quality time with his spouse at a moment’s notice.

If the last man does win, he can play the game over and over and over again for the next 18-25 years, eventually earning the right to be called Mother!

(author unknown)

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You count the sprinkles on each kid’s cupcake to make sure they’re equal.

You have time to shave only one leg at a time.

You hide in the bathroom to be alone.

Your kid throws up and you catch it.

Someone else’s kid throws up at a party. You keep eating.

You’ve mastered the art of placing large quantities of pancakes and eggs on a plate without anything touching.

Your child insists that you read “Once Upon a Potty” out loud in the lobby of Grand Central Station and you do it.

You cling to the high moral ground on toy weapons; your child chews his toast into the shape of a gun.

You hope ketchup is a vegetable, since it’s the only one your child eats.

You can’t bear the thought of your son’s first girlfriend.

You hate the thought of his wife even more.

I Wish

You find yourself cutting your husband’s sandwiches into cute shapes.

You can’t bear to give away baby clothes – it’s so final.

You hear your mother’s voice coming out of your mouth when you say, “NOT in your good clothes!”

You stop criticizing the way your mother raised you.

You donate to charities in the hope that your child won’t get that disease.

You hire a sitter because you haven’t been out with your husband in ages, then spend half the night checking on the kids.

You use your own saliva to clean your child’s face.

You say at least once a day, “I’m not cut out for this job”, but you know you wouldn’t trade it for anything.

(author unkown)

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The youngest of our children is a precocious boy. We did nothing to make him that way.  He just came from heaven that way.  As a family, we are learning to deal with it – with him.  This makes life more than interesting on more than one occasion.  On top of that, it has allowed me to learn some great lessons as a father.

His name is Colin. Pronounced like “callin’ home the cows,” not “colon.”  He hates being called a body part, especially the colon, and has no knowledge of former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Plus, he has the honor of having two middle names after his grandfathers Charles Stalnaker and Clyde Needham: Colin Charles-Clyde.  Perhaps his nomenclature played upon his early psyche to produce the character in him, but I rather believe God was in a rip-snorting sense of humor the day he came to us on January 15th of 1996.

One particular time in my fatherhood formation involved his duty to pick up dog duty.  We have never owned a dog or cat because of his allergies and asthma.  However, we were renting a house from some friends and offered to watch their dog while they were away for a year.  A parent should always know that there is bound to be adventure when you mix one Doberman-Labrador dog with a 9-year old boy.  Our desire to help our friends muffled our parental warning system apparently.

Of course, as is always the case in any family’s acquisition of a new puppy or kitty, 0ur children were excited to finally have a real pet.  Up until this time, the only pets they had known were a series of short-lived rats and one Siberian dwarf-hamster.  Having a pet larger than a desert plate was a thrill for them.  Cleaning up after something that created poop larger than soy beans was to be another matter entirely.

My youngest soon became “the poop buster”.  Any time the backyard where we kept the dog needed policing of dog waste, he was called upon for his assistance.  I would jokingly call, “Who ya’ gonna’ call?”  And he would smile and answer, “The poop buster!”  This worked well for quite sometime.  But, admittedly, dog poop patrol does get old.

Here lies the advantage of living in the upper Midwest.  A dog owner has a 6 month reprieve from picking up dog crap in the yard.  We lived in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where the Red River Valley descends into temperatures rivaling eastern Siberia in the winter.  It is flat as a table top.  The wind hardly ever stops blowing.  The snow that accumulates is of the freeze dried variety.  And the temperature is almost always below Zero Fahrenheit thanks to the valley’s ability to suck the air right down from the North Pole.

Thus, in the winter months, the family canine pet is only allowed out very briefly to do its business in the backyard snow bank.  Without any prodding by the pet owner, the half frozen pet scrambles back into the house as soon as the deed is done.  Our Doberman-Labrador mixed dog was short haired and had a disdain for the snow and cold that rivaled my wife’s.  When it hit -30 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, one almost had to pick up the dog and throw it outside to get it to go and do its latrine duty.  This must be done before every bodily orifice is frozen shut.  Then the pet must be allowed in to thaw and the procedure tried all over again.

The plus side to this for the pet owner is that no sane person will bother with the gastronomic remains of the pet until the Spring thaw, which would not be until March or April.  Until then, the owner can be completely satisfied to know that everything will remain where it is in its freeze dried condition until more moderate climates return.  Meanwhile, the pet piles will accumulate under layers of snow.  Any lemony patches of snow will soon enough be covered by blankets of white.  The effect is that the pet owner need not look out at a back yard littered with dog duty.  Nature has performed a wonderful service by covering up the dirty deeds in brilliant white.  It is, however, simply amazing how much one pooch can poop over the course of a winter.

Colin and Ron at Neskowin Beach, Oregon

Colin and Ron at Neskowin Beach, Oregon ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

When Spring did arrive for our family, we were surprised at the amount of dog doo left on the ground once the snow retreated.  One could barely make it out the back patio door and off of the deck.  It took careful tip-toeing to make it around in the backyard.  One miss-step and the consequence was an aromatic disaster as well as denial of re-entry back into the house.  Crossing our backyard was like trying to cross the Korean demilitarized zone littered with its land mines.  Nearly impossible.  According to my wife, if you stepped on one, you were on your own until it wore off or you thoroughly cleaned it off.  Meals could be pushed out the back patio door for you.

Finally, the inevitable day came where the job of thoroughly cleaning the back yard was necessary.  The yard needed its first mowing.  I will admit that it did occur to me that perhaps the mower would be a good way of picking up all that crap.  Upon further reflection, however, sanity returned and I decided that my lawn mower and that many poop mounds was not a good combination.  So, I called to my youngest son, “Who ya’ gonna’ call?”  “The poop buster!”, came the reply, though admittedly not with a lot of enthusiasm.  Seems pet care was starting to where on all of our family.

I recruited him and his sister, Juliann, to help me clean up the dog messes in the backyard.  We worked hard at it.  We had the proper store-bought pooper-scooper instruments and made great headway real fast.  When it was almost finished, I left them to complete the job while I went to get the mower ready.  Now, any parent knows that unsupervised children rarely accomplish anything on their own except for getting into trouble.  I, apparently, forgot this momentarily when I left them alone.

Frustrated at how slow the job was going, Colin complained to his sister that there had to be an easier way to do this job.  She suggested to him that, since they were mostly freeze dried from the winter, it would be easier to just pick them up with his fingers and put them in the bucket.  This bit of pure logic struck him as obvious.  However, somewhere in the recesses of his small developing mind a voice must have whispered a message of doubt.  Or, maybe it was just the “eww” factor.  So, he abandoned the pooper-scooper for a stick he found and attempted to roll the Almond Joy sized doggy chunks into a position to get them in the plastic bag lined bucket he was using.  The inefficiency of this method did not go unnoticed by my brilliant child.

Soon he abandoned the stick idea and bravely went with his sister’s ingenious idea of using his fingers.  Lo’ and behold!  Such speed and efficiency.  This could change pet and pet owner relationships forever!  Or, it could get you into a bit of trouble with your mother.

I returned to the back yard after spending some time getting the mower out and ready.  I was surprised to see the wonderful progress my two youngest children had made.  As I congratulated them and cheered them on to the finish, I noticed the odd way (apparently for older brains, anyway, it was odd) that my son was picking up the dog logs.  Curiosity got the better of me and stupidly I asked, “Colin, what are you doing?”

Rather testily he replied, “I’m picking up dog poop like you told me, Dad.”

Assuming he missed the real point behind my question, I asked more directly, “I see that, but why are you using your fingers to pick it up?”

“Juliann told me to.  It’s easier this way,” he replied as if I couldn’t see the brilliant conclusion he and his sister had come to on their own.  However, a glance over at Juliann revealed to me that she was still using the pooper-scooper.  I looked back at him and smiled.

“He is my son,” I thought.  “I’m going to have fun with this,” and returned to the house to find his mother.

I found my wife, Kelly, perched comfortable on the couch with a book and cup of hot tea.  To get her attention, I asked her, “What are you doing?”  After twenty-plus years of marriage she knows this game and gave the usual reply, “Painting the ceiling.”

I asked, “Did you tell Colin that picking up dog crap with his fingers would make the job easier?”  (I know.  I was baiting her.  I’m a bad, bad husband.)

“No!”, she replied, somewhat offended that I would even think such a thing of her.

I said, “Well, that’s what your son is doing out there…picking up dog poop with his fingers.”  I then disappeared into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and watch the events unfold in the backyard out the kitchen window.

Entering the kitchen, I heard behind me my wife exclaim, “What?!”  And before she was even outside where my son could hear her she started calling Colin’s name.  Very loudly.

To understand what happens next, one must understand my wife’s aversion to any animal waste of any sort.  She cannot tolerate it on any molecular level.  This is why our rat and hamster cages were weekly cleaned and thoroughly disinfected with professional cleaners.  Soap and water was never enough.  I, on the other hand, grew up with a menagerie of animals – dogs, cats, pigs, goats, ducks, chickens – and animal manure was something healthy people just lived with around them.  It boosts the immune system.  That’s why farmers and ranchers live such long lives.  Everyone knows this except my precious wife.

Kelly has a natural gag reflex when it comes to the smell of freshly trod upon dog poop. The hint of the smell will send her running into the house and lighting every scented candle we have available.  So, you can only imagine her reaction to finding out that our prized youngest son, our last son, was violating every code of cleanliness according to my wife.  She would have to do something fast before he would be relegated to a life of going about claiming, “Unclean!  Unclean!  Beware, I’m unclean!”

Once she reached the patio deck she had my son’s attention and probably the neighbors’ also.  “You get right in here, young man!  This instant!  What do you think you are doing?  You don’t pick up dog poop with your fingers!”  She said this as if it was a matter that everyone would understand.  But, alas, my son gets his intelligence from his father not his mother.

Colin protested, “But Juliann said to.  It’s easier and faster that way.”  He was obviously dumbfounded by his mother’s lack of understanding the profound logic of his actions.  “I only pick up the dry ones with my fingers, not the juicy ones”, he protested.

“Eww!  Gross!  I don’t care what your sister told you!” she declared.  “That stuff is filthy and will give you diseases.  Get in the bathroom right away!  And take off your shoes!”

Once in the bathroom, our son was made to wash his hands with hand soap and then Pine-scented Lysol several times.  Judged thoroughly clean and safe once again, his mother warned him to be careful about how he handled animal excrement.  He was sent out with the yellow rubbers gloves she uses to clean the bathrooms.  I returned with him to the backyard where he, Juliann, and I soon completed the task.  I then went to bring the mower around to the backyard and instructed the two of them to get our collections into the garbage cans on the other side of the house.

This should be the end of the story. It is not.  I had more lessons as a father to learn that day; instructions in Fatherhood 101 that I apparently had missed with my first three children.  I didn’t know that I didn’t know so much as a father.  But I am learning something new every time one of my kids gets up in the morning.  It’s truly amazing how much there is to learn in one’s short lifespan as a parent.

We had used plastic bags to line the buckets that we used to collect our doggy stool samples.  All that was left was to tie up the tops of the bags and take them to the garbage bin at the side of the house.  Meanwhile, I pushed the mower to the backyard.  Before starting it, I returned to the kitchen to get another cup of coffee to have with me when I took breaks from mowing.  While in the kitchen, I heard a large “Thud!” on the rooftop and then what sounded like pine cones dribbling down to the gutters.  I quickly returned to the backyard deck.

“What was that?!” I exclaimed to my two youngest children staring up onto the roof.

“Dog poop,” came the reply.  It was said as if I had missed something so obvious that I must be daft.

“What?!” I asked but not really asking.  It came more from an inability to process the information I was just given.  Older brains, it turns out, are less able to manage such simple data points.

“What did you two do?” I queried.

“I didn’t do anything,” Juliann said.  “Colin tried to throw the bag of dog poop over the house.”

“Why?!” I asked.  Again, this was not a question.  My old, wrinkly brain was just not able to process what I was just told.  I looked at Colin.  Probably from his point of view, it was one of those slack mouthed, dumbfounded stares that parents give when their brains are short-circuiting from trying to figure our their children’s behavior.

His answer was simply, “I didn’t want to walk all of these bags around the house.  So, I thought I would just throw them over the house to the garbage can.  The first one didn’t get very far.”

I looked at him. I looked at the size of the bags.  I looked at his scrawny arms.  I looked at the height of our roof.  I looked up into the sky.  I looked back at him.  Obviously, I was missing something.  Or, God was getting back at me for the fun I had at my wife’s expense earlier.

Stating the obvious loudly enough for our next door neighbors to hear, I said, “You can’t throw them over the house!  For the love of Pete, just carry them around to the garbage can.  NOW!”

He and Juliann scurried off with a few bags and I grabbed a few and followed them.  I wanted to ensure that no more monkey business ensued between the backyard and the 30-yard trek to the side of the house where the garbage can sat unreached by the moon shot over our house.  I then returned with Colin to the back yard where I boosted him up on the roof from our deck to clean up the mess he had made.

Looking sternly at him, I told him, “You pick up up every one of those dog biscuits!  Do you hear me?  I don’t want them clogging up the downspouts the next time it rains!  You get every one.  Now, here’s another bag to replace the one that broke.   Try and pick up the broken bag so that you don’t spill any more doggy do’s out of it….That’s it…now, pick up the rest scattered on the roof and in the gutters.  And don’t miss any!”

As I stepped back to get a better view of him, my young precocious son asked, “But what am I going to pick them up with?”

I smiled and said, “Use your fingers!”

I’m sure I learned some valuable lessons from my son that day.  It’s just that, for the life of me, I don’t know what they are.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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