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Fat again

So, it happened. The thing I promised wouldn’t happen happened. The thing I swore I wouldn’t become, I became. I was another short-term success story. I’ve read that as many as 80% of people who have substantial weight loss gain it back within two years. Count me as one of the 80%. I got fat again. There are a lot of reasons it happened. Injuries, change of jobs, and grief are the top three candidates.

In case you missed it, this is how I went from Fat to Fit the first time:

In 2012 I dropped about 70 pounds. I followed a very simple formula: exercise more and eat less. I used the Lose It app on my phone to track every calorie burned and eaten. I learned a lot about portion size, and saw big changes from making little choices like fruit instead of hasbrowns at breakfast and broccoli instead of fries at dinner. I started exercising more, starting with the elliptical machine, and working my way up to jogging. I started my program in January, and in June 2012 I ran my first 5K in 36:00. In 2013 I stopped tracking the calories so comprehensively, but kept making good choices, and kept running. In June 2013 I ran another 5K in 26:28, which earned a trophy for second place in my age group, and remains my personal best. I added longer distances, including two five miles runs that I completed in under 50:00. In 2014 I slipped a little, but somewhat intentionally. I went to the gym a little less frequently so I could spend more time with my preschool daughter, but in May I completed my first half marathon. At that point it had been two and half years since I embarked on a new fitness journey. I felt good, and believed that I had made changes in my life that would be permanent.

Then it all came apart.

Injured at the Bix7 in July 2014.

One catalyst was an injury I suffered at the 2014 Bix 7 in Davenport. This is a huge event, one that is a part of the culture of the Quad Cities. Everyone who runs in this area has run the Bix. It counts as the National Championship for 7 mile runs. It features two large hills. On the second one, at about the 3 mile mark, a muscle in my calf popped. I couldn’t finish. I went to the doctor and he didn’t seem to think there was any structural damage. So I laid off of it, and let it heal. A couple of weeks later, I would run again and start to feel good, then it would pop again. So I would wait a few more weeks, and try again, only to hurt it again. So then I waited a month, got in worse shape, and tried to start again. It would be going well for a few weeks and then pop! After about six months of starting and stopping, I settled on stop. Also in July 2014, I started a new job. I went from being an associate pastor to the solo pastor. This meant more responsibilities, more preahing (thus less blogging), more stress, and more demands on my time. It became harder to get to the gym – or at least easier to find other things to do, especially one I was discouraged from being out of shape.

My memory of when a 3-mile jog was a light warmup weighed heavily on me. I became discouraged by how far I had fallen. I blogged less. Again, there were a lot of reasons I strayed from this blog. One was that my creative outlet was being met by preaching every week. I was prolific on this blog when I preached about once a month. When I started preaching 48 times a year, I found less time, and less creative need to write here. Second, I focused more attention on the Pulpit Fiction Podcast. Since 2013, my partner Eric and I have released over 300 episodes. I focused my social media attention on the podcast first, my new church second, and the Fat Pastor third.

The real reason I stopped blogging was simple. I was embarrassed.

Over the course of 2015, I slowly gained more weight, and worked out sporadically. After two years of finding a way to get to the gym, I found plenty of excuses to stay away. And for me, it all flows from regular exercise. When I’m exercising regularly, I eat better. I sleep better. I study and preach and write better. When I wasn’t exercising regularly I ate crap. The route from my church to home passed a Hardees, a Wendy’s, and a Taco Bell. Taco Bell is my personal Satan. On any given day you could see the passenger seat of my car littered with brown paper bags from fast food places. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have a Wendy’s lunch and a Taco Bell dinner (Mexican pizza, two soft taco supremes, and sometimes a Meximelt too). While I was already falling down this spiral, my Mom died.

This sent me reeling in ways that I didn’t even notice at the time. She died in August 2016. I spent the next year in and out of depression-like symptoms. I had low energy, so I wouldn’t feel like working out. I was depressed, so I sought comfort in bad food. I felt terrible, so I would punish myself with self-hating thoughts. I hated getting dressed because none of my clothes fit. No, I didn’t hate getting dressed. I hated myself. I would think to myself, quite often, “I hate myself.”

This death-spiral continued until I had gotten up to 360 pounds (30 pounds more than when I refocused on my health in 2012). My whole body hurt. I was out of breath all the time. Simple tasks like picking something up off the floor were difficult. After walking up the stairs to my office, it would take me a couple minutes to catch my breath before I could say hi to the secretary. Tying my shoes was difficult, and would leave me gasping for air and muttering to myself, “you are a piece of shit.”

The Challenge

One day in August my friend texted me a challenge. He saw that I had posted something no Facebook about being frustrated with my fitness and health. He proposed  challenge. We would both work on getting healthier, and whoever lost more weight by Thanksgiving would win. We exchanged some baseline information, getting details about where we were physically. When I told him where I was, his response was, “Jesus Christ, you’re going to die buddy.” He was right. I was going to die. That is where I was heading, and I knew it. At our official start to The Challenge, I was at 358 and it took me 16:00 to run a mile. The memory of the 8:40 pace for a 5K mocked me.

A few days after we got started, on the anniversary of my Mom’s death, I was at 360. I was on the treadmill, struggling to jog for a minute without stopping. Sweat pouring down my face, legs in pain, air hard to find, I cried. I cried as my heart raced, and for a moment I thought I was going to drop. And then it happened. I wanted to.

The grief.

The shame.

The pain was too much to bear, and I thought to myself, “You are going to die right here on this treadmill.” And I let out an audible response: “good.”

I didn’t die. I finished my mile a few seconds faster than the one I had run two days earlier, which was a few minutes faster than that first one. Four days later I was back, and ran it 20 seconds faster. I was sore, there was pain. I started doing more elliptical machine to alleviate the stress on my legs. As I grew faster and stronger I started feeling better about myself. I started tracking my calories again. Profits at the Taco Bell dipped in September. Then one day I looked at the floor of my car. It was littered with VitaWater bottles, the ones I would buy after every workout, instead of paper sacks.

This morning I weighed in at 318. I’m winning The Challenge (We bet dinner. He’s buying regardless. Winner gets to pick the spot). I’ll let you know who wins at Thanksgiving. Here’s the thing, I’m winning no matter what. This has never been about a number, or a weight, or about fitting in my clothes again. I feel so much better. I’m not in pain all the time. My heart doesn’t race any more – except for when I kiss my wife. I feel stronger, more patient, and more efficient. A few weeks ago my family went to a State Park. I was able to hike and climb and play with my girls. My daughter has noticed that I’m in a better mood and not as tired. It’s about making life-giving choices.

Today I was running a 5K on the treadmill, my third this week. My goal in August was to do a 5K in under 36:00 by Thanksgiving (which was the time of that first 5K back in 2012). As the mileage was ticking up toward 3.1, I realized I had a chance to beat that goal a few weeks ahead of schedule. I had to keep up my pace for one more minute without stopping. Sweat pouring down my face, legs in pain, air hard to find, I cried. I cried as my heart raced, and for a moment I thought I was going to drop. And then it happened. I pictured my girls. I decided to run toward them.

The joy.

The love.

The grace of God washed over me, and I thought to myself, “Finish this for them.” I turned the pace up on the treadmill a little faster, and I finished it in 35:40.

My friend John quite possibly saved my life. He got me going. He helped shake me up, and gave me something on which to focus. I don’t really care if I win The Challenge, because no matter where I am at Thanksgiving, I know that I won’t be finished. I stopped believing in “Before” and “After” a long time ago. There is only “Now,” and a future with me in it.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.” (Frost)

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She told him about means kids at school, and this was his amazing response

It is a moment I dread. My sweet, innocent, kind little girl comes home and tells me that someone at school was mean to her. I know it will happen someday, and I also know that my response would not be as cool as this guy’s. Khari is a rapper with a youtube channel, where he calls himself a “poet and published author.” His videos seem to have a largely positive message. At least a couple of his videos, “Through Thick and Thin,” and “Wonderfully Made,” are inspired by the beauty of his full-figured wife. The video below, he made for his daughters. It is everything I want to tell my girls. I hope that no one is ever mean to them. More realistically though, I hope that when someone is mean to them, they will know that they are loved.

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The Gospel According to Pixar: Finding Nemo

Dear Daughters,

On your first day of Kindergarten I wore sunglasses. It was a sunny day, but that is not why I wore the shades. I wore them because I didn’t want you to see. I didn’t want you to see the redness in my eyes or the tears flowing down my cheeks. Your mother and I walked behind as you and your sister walked together, hand in hand, toward the school. It looked so big, and you looked so tiny. Your head seemed to barely peak over the top of your backpack, which was wider than your body even though it carried only the lunch I had just made for you.

You walked to the big lot where all the other kids were waiting. Other parents. Other sunglasses. I wasn’t embarrassed of my tears. Everyone who knows me knows that I a crier. You even know it, but not today. I didn’t want you to be thinking about my tears. You had enough to deal with. You found your line. We gave you hugs and waited for your teachers to come. And she did. The line of kindergarteners started to move. Some of the parents walked with their little ones. It was a first-day exception to the rule that I was not aware of. I didn’t know that we could walk in with you. So Mommy asked. She bent low and said to you, “Do you want us to come with you or do you want to go alone?”

“I want to go alone,” you said. And into the deep blue you swam.

Into the deep, fraught with dangers on all sides, you ventured. There, kids could be mean to you. There, teachers could crush your spirit. There, cafeteria chaos loomed. There, I would not be able to scoop you up if you called out, “Daddy uppy!” There, into the deep you swam. There you ventured out, wanting to go alone. Needing to go alone. It is possible to be both overjoyed and terrified at the same time. For in that moment I was joyful that you were ready. I was so proud of my brave, independent, smart little girl; and I was terrified for my precious, vulnerable, sensitive little girl. So I waved, and I watched you as long as I could. Then you were in the building, and somehow I went about my day until it was 3 p.m., and I found that you had survived.

Finding Nemo is about a Dad, Marlin, trying to find his son, Nemo. Along the way Marlin bumps into Dory, a wonderfully optimistic fish with an extremely short attention-span. She reminds Marlin that when things look difficult, the best thing to do sometimes is “just keep swimming.”  Most of the story of the movie is of their adventure. They engage much danger along the way, encounter strange creatures, and develop a lasting friendship. Meanwhile Nemo is made a pet, trapped in a tank in a seaside Dentist’s office. Here, Nemo makes some unlikely friends, draws on his own courage and teamwork. Eventually, Marlin and Nemo are reunited, and through the power of teamwork and positive thinking, they are freed from a fisherman’s net.

It is a wonderful adventure, but it is easy to forget how it all started.

I get Marlin. Here, on Nemo’s first day of school, he is rightly worried. Maybe he goes overboard, but I understand his desire to protect his son, and I cringe at Nemo’s open defiance. Marlin knows that the deep blue is a dangerous place. He knows that something as simple as touching a boat can get you killed. I struggle with the same emotions as Marlin. I think every parent does, and I don’t expect it to get any easier. The dangers just seem to get bigger as life goes on. In the end, all I can do is trust.

I trust that the things your Mom and I have taught you can hold true even in the midst of hardship. I trust that you feel my love and my presence even if I’m not there at your side. I trust that there will be others that care about you that will guide you on your way. I trust that there will be friends who will love you for who you are. I trust that your own strength and resourcefulness will surprise you when you need it. Above all, I trust that the same shepherd who guides and protects me through the darkest valley is the same shepherd who will watch you too. If I am to claim faith in the Scriptures, and find solace in words like the 23rd Psalm for struggles in my own life, it means I have to find solace in them for you as well. Even though you will walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. For the same rod and staff that protects me, protects you as well. Surely goodness and mercy pursues you as relentlessly as it pursues me, too.

Holding onto this is the only way that I can let go of you, and letting you go is precisely my job as your father. The only way for you to become the amazing women that God has created you to be is if I allow you to venture. I have to allow you to get lost, to play in the rain, to have your heart broken, to scrape your knee. You both have so many gifts. You have incredible kindness and curiosity. You are ferocious and gentle. You are passionate and loyal, and sometimes agonizingly stubborn. So go out into the deep blue.

Explore. Fall. Imagine. Sing. Bless. Feed. Dance. Play. Read. Love. Fail. Forgive. There will be hard days, and sometimes the best thing to do is just keep swimming.

Through it all know that no matter what, I will pursue you with as much goodness and faithful love as I can.

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Finding Nemo Meme

in this family, we love

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For as long as I am able, and for as long as you want me to

carry“Will you carry me to bed?” she asks.

“Of course,” I say. I set aside the laptop, and get up off my chair. “One, two, up,” I say as she leaps up into my arms. I hold her close, smell her hair, kiss her head.

“Wait a second,” I say as I realize something. “Weren’t you just in the bathroom brushing your teeth?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says sheepishly.

“And you came in here to ask me to carry you to bed?”

“Yes.”

The bathroom where she was brushing her teeth is across the hall from her room. She was literally 15 steps from her bed when she finished rinsing. I was sitting in my chair, down the hall, in another room.This meant she walked an extra 40 feet or so to come get me to carry her to bed instead of just crawling in herself. I chuckle, and as I squeeze her through the door, he legs hits against the frame.

“I’m sorry sweety, are you okay?” I ask her as she falls into bed. I can tell it probably hurt, and I feel terrible that I banged her into the door. “I’m not sure I can carry you any more, you’re getting so big. You don’t fit through the door.”

Now she’s got her head buried in her pillow and she doesn’t respond as I  go and get her little sister. I pick her up from in front of the sink, carry her to her lofted bed and gently toss her in. She giggles. Then I notice that her sister is still laying with her head in her pillow. Then I notice her shoulders shuddering. It’s the telltale sign of sobbing. Now I’m afraid that I really hurt her leg.

“Are you okay? Did I really hurt you?” I ask as I lower myself to her bed and place my hand on her back.

“My leg is fine,” she says through her tears.

“Then what’s the matter?”

“You said you can’t carry me any more.”

I carry my daughters a lot. I think they know that there is a rare occasion that I deny scooping them up into my arms. I know it’s a sure way to get a big hug, and usually more. “I’ll carry you, but I get tired, so you have to kiss my cheek to give me strength,” I tell them. In the morning, I’m a rickshaw as my sleepy daughter gets ready for school. Every morning I can judge how well she slept by how much I have to carry her. Sometimes it’s just from her bed to the bathroom. After some late bed times, it is to the bathroom, then back to her room, then to the kitchen before she can bring herself to use her own legs. I never mind. Like I said, it’s a great way to get some cheek kisses. My little one and I have a whole routine that is like our own secret handshake, except with ear lobes and noses.

As she sobs into her pillow I realize the mistake I made was not in being careless with her body. It was being careless with her heart.

“Oh sweetheart,” I say. “I can still carry you. Of course I can still carry you,” I say as I turn her over and scoop her into my arms. The tears slow.

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I should have said, ‘I have to be more careful with you,’ I just felt bad that I banged your leg into the door. Next time we’ll just have to go in sideways or something, okay?”

She smiles and nods and squeezes me a little tighter. I look her in the eye and say, “I will carry you for as long as I am able, and as long as you want me to. I promise.”

It is a sincere promise. I will carry her as long as I am able and as long as she wants. I know that eventually one of those things will come. Physically, there is sure to be a time when I cannot carry her. She will become a grown woman. I will become an old man. To be honest though, the ability to carry her is one of the reasons I workout. In our last house, the ability to carry them both up the stairs without getting winded was a highlight of my fitness level on par with finishing my first 5K.

I know that there will be a time when she may be physically small enough for me to carry her, but she will not want her Daddy to do such childish things any more. I seldom tell her to “grow up” in admonishment. I know that she will. There will be a time when I put out my arms, and count, “one, two, up,” and she won’t leap into my arms. There will never, however, be a time when I won’t be willing to try.

This is my promise. For as long as I am able, and for as long as you want me to; I will carry you.

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The Dad Life (2:04 is me, to a T)

It’s the Dad Life, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other.

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I’ve gained 10 pounds, and I’m okay with it.

20140203-095440.jpgAfter spending a year losing 80 pounds, I have spent the last year putting back on 10.  And I’m okay with that.  I was extremely proud of the transformation I experienced in 2012.  From seeing the scale tip 329 to weighing in at 249, I changed more than my body.  In fact, the transformation I experienced was never about my body alone.  It was about how I felt and how I lived.

My joy came from more than a before and after photo.  It came from knowing that my life span had probably been significantly extended.  It came from the energy with which I woke every morning.  It came from being able to run a 5K in under 27 minutes, and dreams of finishing a marathon that suddenly seemed within reach.  It came from living a more disciplined life, one that was full of more healthy choices, and habits that were life-giving. Above all, my joy came from my daughters, one of whom told me, “I’m glad you are healthier and your belly is smaller, but don’t make it go away completely, I like a little softness to snuggle.”

before between after stillMy fitness journey has been well chronicled on this site.  I started this blog in October 2008, when I tipped the scale at 301 pounds.  I said from day one that the journey was about more than weight, but it was that moment staring at a milestone I never wanted to cross that pushed me to start – and name – this blog.

Since losing 80 pounds, I decided to keep calling myself the “Fat Pastor,” because I knew that fitness wasn’t a destination to reach.  It is a life.  The name of this blog reminds me every day to make fit choices.  And that’s why I’m okay with having gained back 10-15 pounds over the last year.  In my mind fitness is not linked directly to my weight.

Some might think I’m just making excuses, but at some point over the last year, I made a conscious decision – not to gain weight back – but to spend less time at the gym, and more time with my youngest daughter.

Without going into too many details, my wife went back to work part-time this September, and I was left with a choice.  I could work out while my daughter was at preschool two times a week, or I could bring her to the gym with me two days a week, and allow the nursery care there to take her.

Another way of putting it, I could have:

  • Two days a week at the gym, two mornings with my daughter.
  • Three days a week at the gym, and zero mornings with my daughter.

It was an easy choice.  For the last year, I’ve spent two mornings a week with my three-year-old.  Sometimes she goes with me to visit shut-ins.  Sometimes she comes with me to the office.  Most of the time, she sits in my lap, on my chair.  She watches cartoons. I read.  She rubs my cheek.  I smell her hair.  At random times we are interrupted by spontaneous tickle fights, or overwhelmed by a sudden need for a bear hug.  We play Uno, or Memory. We put together puzzles or read books.

So yeah, I have put on a few pounds.  My 5K time has gotten a couple minutes slower.  The size 36 pants I got last spring have stayed in the closet.  But every Sunday night I would kiss her goodnight and ask her, “Do you know what tomorrow is?”  And she would smile and shout, “Daddy-Daughter morning!”

I wouldn’t trade those 10 pounds for anything in the world.  I can get back to running more often.  I intend to get refocused this summer, and I hope to run a marathon in September.

Pretty soon she is going to go to school all day, and we won’t have Daddy-Daughter mornings any more.  We’ll have Saturdays, but Saturdays are family days.  For Daddy-Daughter mornings, this was it.  This was the only year I could spend this kind of time with her – probably forever.

For me, fitness is about choices.  It is about making healthy, life-giving choices.  My body has a little more fat on it this April than it did last year, but I’m pretty certain that I’m as fit as I’ve ever been.  

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I’m not babysitting, I’m her Dad.

20140203-095440.jpgMy wife has a part-time job, and my hours are very flexible.  This means I spend a lot of time with my two daughters during daytime hours.  We go to restaurants, grocery stores, nursing homes, and the office.

Both of my daughters are adorable and engaging.  They smile and wave at people.  They tell people things like, “Your shirt is pretty.”  This means that I have many conversations with strangers that I otherwise would not have.

Usually this is quite fun.  I like meeting new people, and I love how my girls brighten people’s day.  There is one conversation though, that gets on my nerves.  On a fairly regular basis, someone will ask me something like, “Are you babysitting today?”

Once I actually said, “No.  I’m her Dad.”  The woman looked at me a little puzzled, as if I didn’t understand her question.

What I wanted to say was:

No. I’m not a babysitter.  A babysitter is someone who occasionally watches a child, often for money.  A babysitter has temporary hours, and goes home.  I am her Daddy.  I cut her umbilical cord and handed her to her mother.  I never breast fed her, but I spent many long nights holding and feeding her.  There were a few months when there was no one on earth that could put her to sleep faster than me.  I changed diapers, wiped butts, and cleaned up puke.  I was at the helm of The Great Poopy Disaster of 2011.  The last time she had a stomach virus, the only place she wanted to sit was my lap.  I had to change shirts twice.  I once got a little bit of her poop in my mouth.

“I made up a song about how strong and smart she is, and sing it to her at night after carrying her to bed. Every morning before she gets out of bed to start school, I hold her.  I hold her and I pray for her and I kiss her sleepy head.  I know that in my arms she is safe, and I contemplate just staying there safe and warm forever.  Every morning we eventually get up, I cook her breakfast, pack her lunch, and kiss her goodbye when her ride gets here.  I send her into the world and pray to God that I sent her with enough love to get her through the day.

“I can make a pretty tight pony tail, paint a pretty neat fingernail, and I’ve taught her how to catch and throw a softball.  She’s my doctor, my hairstylist, and my makeup artist.  Sometimes she picks out my tie.

“We built a Lego Jabba’s Palace, and we’re working on the Rancor Pit.  I’m currently leading the best-of-101 game Stanley Cup air hockey series 23-17.  I took her to her first hockey game, her first Major League baseball game, her first ballet, and we have already set a date for December 18, 2015.

“The last snow day we had together, we turned on the TV a total of zero times.  I help her with homework, and taught her M&M math.  She told me when a boy hurt her feelings at school, and when her best friend was mean to her.  She has wiped many tears on my shirt.  My kisses work to heal boo-boos.

I’ve messed up plenty.  I’ve been the cause of more of those tears than I wish to admit. I get too angry over little things.  I get frustrated because she just won’t listen.  I wonder why she doesn’t seem to understand the phrase, “you need to hurry up.”  Sometimes I’m too busy, or too tired, or too selfish.   I’m not a perfect Dad, but by the grace of God I’m trying to be.  She teaches me everyday about the power of grace and forgiveness.  Being their Dad is the greatest, and most important thing I’ll ever do.

“So no, I’m not babysitting.  I’m her Dad.”

But usually I just say, “Yeah, Mom is working.  Aren’t I lucky?”

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Mystery Menu Dinner Party

The kids had to fill out the full menu before being served.  The plate of Jello-O, spaghetti, pudding, and animal crackers with no utensils provided a lot of laughs.

The kids had to fill out the full menu before being served. The plate of Jello-O, spaghetti, pudding, and animal crackers with no utensils provided a lot of laughs.

Last week we celebrated my daughter’s seventh birthday with a Mystery Menu Dinner Party.  It was a huge hit, and parents have been asking me about details of the party, so I thought I’d share.

The concept of a mystery dinner party is simple, and can be adapted in a lot of different ways.  Each guest is seated and given a menu.  Before anything is served, they have to order every item in a three-course meal.  In the kitchen, I had prepared 9 foods that most kids enjoy.

  1. Macaroni and cheese
  2. Spaghetti
  3. Pizza
  4. Garlic bread
  5. Gold fish crackers
  6. Corn
  7. Jell-O
  8. Pudding with cake
  9. Animal crackers

As you can see, all of this food is easy to make and pretty popular with kids.  The trick of the meal though, is in the ordering.  Guests have to order everything – including utensils.  We provided drinks, napkins, and a plate for each course.  The knife, fork, and spoon were added to the menu.  Then, all 12 items were given code names.  Macaroni and cheese became “Yellow elbows.”  A fork was “Farmer’s tool.”  Spaghetti, corn, and Jell-O were “Wigglies, nibblies, and jigglies,” respectively.

Each guest had to fill out the entire three-course menu at the start, so the kids were surprised by what they would get for each course.  Since even the utensils were a mystery, this caused some pretty good hi-jinks.

Since most of my daughters’ friends are pretty well-behaved, well-mannered kids, I had to tell them this right before we served the first course, “Today you are allowed to eat with your hands.  You might make a mess.  That’s okay.  You can have as many napkins as you want.  It is likely that sometime tonight you will get a plate of food with no fork.  The point of the dinner is to have fun, so if you are really unhappy with what you have, we can give you a fork.  We just want everyone to have fun, and be silly.”

These were the first two plates served of the first course.

These were the first two plates served of the first course.

During our party, one little girl’s third course was a plate of goldfish crackers, a knife, a fork, and a spoon.  That gives you an idea of what her other courses were.  She had a blast.  Another boy struggled to scoop up his Jell-O with a butter knife.  His giggling didn’t make it any easier.  One little girl told her Mom afterwards, “We got to eat with our fingers!” Her Mom told me she couldn’t stop talking about the party for the rest of the night.

Really, there are no limits to what is possible.  The hardest part of the night was the actual plating.  With just my wife and me, it took a little while to plate all 10 kids.  Another helper or two would have been good.  There are great opportunities to adapt the menu for themes like Halloween, Superheroes, or Christmas.  I’m considering coming up with an adult version – with the right friends.

Star Wars Mystery Menu

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Sometimes the best way to dance is to just put your feet on Daddy’s, and hold on.

Dancing on Daddy

 

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When I stopped teaching my daughter to fear

spider meme

I’ve killed my fair share of spiders.  I’ve never been one to consciously support stereotypical gender roles, but I fell easily into the role of family spider-getter.  There is a little kind of spider that seems to thrive in our bathroom.  They appear on a pretty regular basis.  With  legspan about the size of a nickel, they are harmless little creatures.  This week, something pretty amazing happened.

“Daddy!” my six-year-old daughter screamed.  “Come quick. There’s a spider.”

At hearing such a cry, most Dads would grab a magazine or tissue.  Instead, I wished I could remember where I had put my magnifying glass.

“It’s so cool,” she said, as she sat and watched it crawl along the wall and spin its web. Mesmerized by the work.

Not too long ago, this scenario would have played out much differently.  When my daughter was much littler, she had no particular fear of spiders, but by the time she was four or five, she was terrified.  Given where our spiders like to hang out, this posed a problem at some very inopportune times.

“Daddy!” She would scream. “I have to go to the bathroom!”  Long potty-trained, I wasn’t sure why she was screaming this at me with such ferocity.  “So?” I would ask.

“There’s a spider in here!”  So I would go in, armed with a tissue, and “take care” of the problem.  I would explain, “These spiders are harmless.  They won’t hurt you.  There’s no reason to be afraid,” as I squashed the little guy into oblivion.

Then I realized something.  My actions and my words were incongruous.  My words were saying, “Fear not.”  But my actions were saying, “This spider must die!”  She heard my actions much louder than my words.  By killing the spider every time I saw one, I was reinforcing the idea that the spider must be eradicated.  It must be feared.  So I did something strange.  I stopped killing them.

“Daddy!” she would scream, “There’s a spider.”  So I would go in, and explain to her that there was nothing to fear.  “That little guy is harmless, I would say.  He eats mosquitoes, which are annoying.  I’m not going hurt him, because he’s not hurting us.”  She was not happy with my decision, but eventually the power of nature’s call would overcome her fear.  As she did what she had to do, she wouldn’t take her eye off the little spider. 

This scenario repeated itself several times over the course of a few months.  Eventually the fear was gone, and it was replaced with curiosity.  Until one day she found herself excited to see a spider.  Well, maybe not excited, but at least intrigued.

Yes, this is a story about my daughter and spiders, but I feel like it is so much more.  Too often, when confronted with something different, our default reaction is fear.  What if, instead of fear, we respond with time, care, and compassion.  When curiosity or empathy replaces fear, maybe there is room for something more, like learning, relationship, and friendship.

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