Gratitude for my Parents

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude about. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


I talk about my parents occasionally on the blog, but their presence is in every post. It shines through the help my parents provide to make each post possible. My mother is especially supportive, she provides many of the pictures seen on the blog and the time watching Jai so I can write.

So for today, I wanted to express my gratitude for my parents who are huge cornerstones in my life. I find writing posts such as these to be extremely difficult because it’s hard to encompass all that I love and appreciate about my parents in a succinct way. The English language is flawed in many ways because there aren’t proper words to express the depth and breadth of my appreciation.

I will try my best despite this shortcoming.

My Mother

My mother is my biggest fan. She’ll be the first to tell you that. Which I think tends to be the case for a lot of mothers. I know that I am a fan of Jai and when he starts doing cooperative group activities, or activities in general, I will be one of his greatest fans.

Her mantra for me growing up was that I could do whatever I wanted to do, so do what I love. I stumbled along the way, my diagnosis catching me off guard and I took a couple of detours, but I am finally doing what I love: writing on a near-daily basis for an audience.

The only reason why I am able to do this is my wonderful and supportive mother. Jai is a handful now that he’s a toddler and sitting down during my peak energy hours to do my writing is near impossible because it coincides with his most active play time. She makes the journey several times a week to watch Jai for a few hours while I write, do extra work, or clean without worrying about him getting underfoot.

Some days just having her with me helps keep me from feeling lonely or depressed, so her presence is soothing to me even as an adult.

But that’s not the only thing I appreciate about her – without her, I do not believe I would be successful in my health journey. She is my running and accountability buddy. On the days she is unable to make it out to meet me for a run, I am not motivated enough to go by myself. I know I need to work on that, but I really enjoy meeting up with her in the mornings to chat about all sorts of things. I find that I look forward to these runs, even if we’re doing the really long one for the week.

She’s always been my inspiration for a variety of things in my life: she went to college while I was a teenager, so I was inspired to go; she started running many years ago to get healthy, so I decided I could do it myself; she’s showing what it takes to be an awesome grandparent to Jai, so I hope I can follow in her footsteps if he starts his own family someday.

My Father

My dad and I are alike – we look similar, we have very similar personalities, and we have the same sense of humor. Because of this, we have that unique connection that comes from parents with children who are little clones of themselves. I understand him and he, for the most part, understands me.

Growing up I have a lot of fond memories of time spent with my father. We would go to to a local lake and stick our feet in the water for fish to nibble our toes. When he had a motorcycle, I remember him taking me on mini-day trips around the state where it was just the two of us.

He encouraged me to climb the trees in our yard, helping me get started on one particularly difficult tree and the two of us spending time up in it chatting away. We would wait until my mom would come out and check on us and then play pranks on her while she was on the ground. She did not appreciate it, but the two of us giggled until the tree shook.

As adults, we aren’t climbing trees anymore, but I enjoy the days where we sit on the back porch and sip Scotch while grilling or having a fire in the firepit. In those moments we can talk about everything and anything – and I enjoy hearing how much he loves spending time with Jai when the topic comes up.

I appreciate how seriously he takes being a grandfather to Jai. I knew he would love being a grandfather, but it’s a lot of fun seeing how he plays with Jai. I have very similar memories of play with my father when I was younger, so it’s like watching the past. Jai adores my father and always asks to see him when he’s gone more than a week without seeing his Grampy.

 

I recognize how lucky I am to have both of my parents in my life, especially now that I am getting older. I know that having one or both parents is a luxury at my age and I try to not take that for granted, especially considering how supportive they are in my life. It’s hard for me to demonstratively express my gratitude and appreciation for them, as I feel embarrassed sometimes over such things, but I am trying to be more active so they are aware of my appreciation and Jai learns that showing gratitude for those closest to us is important.

Because of how things worked out this year, I will be spending the Thanksgiving holiday with my parents and I hope to express the gratitude shared in this post with them over supper.

How have your parents helped you grow as a person that you are grateful for? What would you say to them if given a chance? Leave your stories and thoughts in the comments.


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Featured photo credit: Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash


Prepping for Pre-School

Jai is going to be two soon. I still can’t believe it.

What that means is that we have another year before we need to consider enrolling Jai in pre-school. The cultural narrative is if he isn’t already enrolled in a quality pre-school before being born, I might as well accept the fact that he’ll never get into college.

I exaggerate but I do have that fear.

Ash and I looked at a couple of local pre-schools but to the extent of checking out their programs online. We haven’t visited, we haven’t contacted them, we haven’t really discussed our options other than: should we?

For a person who likes to be on top of everything and stresses out when I’m not, this “lack of planning” is a new feeling for me. Part of me is concerned that I am not concerned and another part of me isn’t ready for the idea of sending Jai way for portions of the day to be under a stranger’s care.

I am torn between being more proactive or just waiting until I absolutely have to make the decision to enroll him, around age 4.

Jai may make that decision for me: if he isn’t ready developmentally to join pre-school before 4, then I don’t have anything to worry about other than getting him into a decent program when he’s ready.

Right now, because I have a year to go before he can even be considered for pre-school, even part-time, I am not stressing too much. But I do need to start thinking about it because of applications, enrollments, and other deadlines that come up fast.

I also have to consider: what does he need to know before he steps into the classroom? And how can I, as a parent, work with his future teachers to provide him with all the tools he needs to get the most out of his education?

To be clear, this post isn’t about the first day of pre-school or finding a pre-school to send a little one. It’s about what I can do for Jai before I send him to pre-school so he’s prepared when the time comes. I will cross the bridge of the “do I send him at 3 or do I send him at 4” when I get to it.

This is something I can work on now.

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Camping with Toddlers

Summertime meant camping when I was a kid.

Camping was always fun: sleeping outside, getting as dirty as can be, and eating all the sugary food my parents packed but normally never ate at home. I met so many different people when I camped and was introduced to new things. When I was a toddler I wasn’t into soda (“too peppery” was my response according to my mom), but a kid named Chris from a campsite over reintroduced it to me and I became a fan into adulthood.

I learned how to play pool from another set of kids on a different trip and made friends with some raccoons that invaded our campsite on yet another. One trip saw us sleeping in the car one night because it rained so hard our campsite flooded.

Camping was such a fun part of my childhood that right after Ash proposed I added a bunch of camping supplies to our wedding registry. He was never a big fan of camping, but he’s such a good sport that he went along with my interest to get back into camping once we were married.

We went once.

It was an ordeal, something to discuss in a future post, but it took us six years before we’d attempt it again. The takeaway from the trip: it was fun but extremely eventful. Fuel for family stories for years to come.

Jai’s First Trip

Once I got pregnant I knew I wanted to take my child camping as soon as they were old enough. I know we could have taken Jai right after he was born if we were super dedicated campers, but we’re not. We’re extremely casual, but not to the point of an RV or camper.

I decided that once Jai was able to walk it would be a good time to go. Unfortunately, his birthday is at the end of the casual camping season here and he didn’t start walking until he was 13 months. So we’d have to wait until spring/early summer to try our first trip.

We planned a trip for early-June at a campground not far from where we lived. Ash, Jai, and I went with my parents which helped the trip go smoothly because Jai had some adult available at all times to take him for a walk or follow him around the campsite to make sure he was safe.

Overall, the trip was a huge success with Jai in love with the outdoors (more than before). Able to spend 48 hours outside, including sleeping out there? All the dirt I can play with? All the walks I can take? We have a fan. He was slightly grumpy for a few days after we returned that I suspect it had to do with the fun ending and no longer having 24-hour Grampy access.

Admittedly, it was an easy-going trip because we only got a few sprinkles, four adults to watch him, and a relatively private campsite for the few crying sessions. I know not all of our trips will go so smoothly, but it was a fantastic way to jump back into the yearly trips with our little one.

Planning Ahead & Quick Tips

What helped the trip go smoothly was all the planning ahead we did.

I looked for camping lists and cobbled together my own list to bring everything we could possibly need. I also tried to keep the list to the bare minimum so we didn’t overstuff the car. I remember having to squeeze in next to coolers and tents in a much smaller vehicle as a child. It was fun, but as I got older it was hard to stretch out on the longer trips to campsites.

While we didn’t know what the site was going to look like ahead of time, we were able to confirm water & power hook-up and there would be bathroom facilities close by. We wouldn’t need to lug water for cleaning back to the site and we also didn’t need to stress over making our own bathroom.

We also made sure to check for activities at the location. Where we camped was near the Appalachian Trail, so there were easy hikes, falls, playgrounds and other activities to keep Jai occupied if there was a need.

Other things that helped the trip go smoothly:

  • Making use of plastic totes to hold camping supplies and food. Allowed me to move the food back into the vehicle with ease at night to prevent bears and other pests from getting into the food.
  • Air mattresses. We’re causal campers, so lying on the ground isn’t appealing, and we wanted to make sure Jai was comfortable. As he gets older we can let him have the pleasure of sleeping directly on the ground for a night.
  • Bring “special” toys, but keep the toys to a minimum. I have a child backpack filled with trip toys and activities that are only there for trips like this. By keeping them set aside, they are always “new” and exciting to play with, though he never once cracked into that backpack during the trip. Why? Because he wanted to play with all the dirt, sand, and twigs he could find.
  • Accept the dirt and settle for wipes. We kept the trip short (which was equally helpful) so the need for a bath or shower was minimal. Jai loves his nightly baths, but because there was so much to do during the day, he didn’t miss it when it was bedtime due to exhaustion. Camping is such a wonderful opportunity for them to get dirty without repercussion. A quick wipe before bedtime was enough to make me feel better about his cleanliness.

I created a packing list to share from our trip. Download your copy below.

Camping with Toddlers Packing List

Possible issues or concerns:

  • Sleeping at night. He slept just fine at night, which was good, but the major concern we had was him being in the tent alone (we stayed close by at all times with the door in sight). It was harder for him to fall asleep at night because there was no way to dim the tent and he could easily hear us just outside. Keeping him up later wasn’t a real possibility for us because he was already hitting his threshold and I didn’t want him to be overtired and unable to sleep.
  • What to do in case of rain or stormy weather? We didn’t have bad weather during the entire trip, but I suspect if it got really bad, I would have sent Ash home with Jai while I held down the site until it was time to strike camp. This may not be a luxury for everyone camping with toddlers, but we kept it in the back of our minds in case something happened.
  • Wildlife encounters. There was a real concern for bears while we were camping with signs posted all over the place warning campers about leaving food out. My mom caught a raccoon looking for scraps at night, though there was absolutely none to be had (we packed everything away and into the vehicles). I think we would have stayed in the tents until it was safe to leave if there were any major issues.

Overall, there wasn’t any major issues or concerns for the entire trip. I think a lot of it had to do with staying flexible and not stressing over anything.

Keeping it Fun and Flexible

The most important thing is to keep it fun and flexible.

If possible, select a site that is within driving distance of your home. It relaxed us knowing that if Jai did not enjoy his time, we could drive him home so he could sleep in his own crib for the night.

By keeping it flexible, it kept our stress level down and therefore his stress level down. We had no set plans beyond making and striking camp. If we were going to spend the entire day at the site watching him play with dirt, then we’d find something relaxing for the grown-ups to do while he did that.

I certainly enjoyed this aspect of it because it allowed me to take a 72-hour break from my social media and electronics. I still checked stuff from time-to-time for professional reasons, but I took a temporary electronic detox (again).

It was important to me that his first trip be uneventful and fun, which I believe we were successful in doing. We are going to try to take him out a couple more times this year before the end of the season to keep him used to the idea and help get him excited for next year. I anticipate each year will grow more and more exciting for him as he gets older. I want him to look back on these trips with the same level of fondness and nostalgia as I do now.

How early did you take your little one out for camping? How well did that go? What suggestions or stories do you have to share? Leave your comment below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Guest Post: Being a Grandfather

Being a father means that someday you will potentially become a grandfather. I asked my dad to give some of his thoughts on what it was like to become a grandfather. He very graciously gave some of his time to provide me with these wonderful, thoughtful, and sweet answers.

Read his thoughts on being a grandfather below.


On Fatherhood

Before I was a father, I was anxious about whether my child would be healthy and whole. Another big concern I had was if I would be a good Dad. I knew I was going to make mistakes, but I didn’t want to make so many that my child would be scarred for life. To deal with this concern, I resolved to apologize to my daughter for failing her no matter the cost to my pride and no matter how old she was at the time.

From an early age, even before she could remember, I apologized to my daughter. It was important to me to model behavior that showed respect for her person because that was something that was missing from my own childhood. I suppose I wanted to be able to guide her as best as I could, and when I made a mistake, I would admit to it so that she knew she could trust me.

Another important rule for me was to be truthful. I determined to not lie to my children, no matter what. It was disgraceful to hear parents lie to their kids. So I saw fatherhood as a huge responsibility but also one of great joy.

For me, fatherhood has been both one of the most rewarding joys as well of the most heartbreaking in my life. Heartbreaking not because my child failed me, but looking back with 60+ years of maturity, I see where I could have done better. Unfortunately, a rewind button doesn’t exist because I wish we could replay all the fun times and get better guidance to watch out for in the pitfalls of life.

I think I had more fun playing with my daughter as she was growing up because I got to watch her discover new things as the world opened up to her!

Some of my favorite experiences ranged from having tea with her while talking about Ms. Bissy (an imaginary character she created) to feeding fish with our feet in the water so they could nibble our toes. I loved making her laugh so hard she would have a coughing fit and her Mom would yell at me for it. She got me back because I got so terrified when teaching her to drive that I would plead, quietly, “get over, get OVER, GET OVER!”  as she inched closer to the shoulder. She would laugh at me in those moments and be proud of the extra gray hairs she added to my head on those days.

I enjoyed sharing my twisted, quirky sense of humor with her and her to encouraging her to laugh but she turned it against me on countless occasions. She bought herself an Xbox and asked me to play co-op in Halo. Not knowing the game, controls, concept, etc., I couldn’t understand why I kept dying. There weren’t any enemies visible. No rifle fire, no grenade, nobody around…and yet I was dying – blood on the screen. My daughter, who was playing the game behind me, kept beating me to death! My wife finally said, “It’s your daughter doing it!” I turned around and she busted out laughing. Score one for the kid!

I have regrets, but through the great joy of having her and entering her world through play,  I’m grateful for the privilege to be a part of her life.

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