For Whom the Belt Tolls

I hate belts. If you know me, if you really know me, then you know this about me. I only wear belts if it’s absolutely necessary. Why do we do this to ourselves? In the name of fashion? It’s a noose for your hips; a tourniquet on your waist restricting the blood flow to the lower extremities. When I’m forced to wear a belt, I feel like my body has been sentenced to death by prolonged hanging and strangulation.

On that note, I hate buttons and fasteners and zippers too—anything that makes my pants a fixed, stagnant size. I am, after all, still a growing boy. I may be done growing vertically, but I’m certainly still growing horizontally, especially in parenthood, and so, I need some extra growing room. In fact, there are many days when a pair of pants may fit me in the morning but become too small after the spontaneous buffet luncheon. To my wife’s chagrin, I am often secretly not even wearing my trousers buttoned. I just allow the organic tension and traction of my gut to secure the pants to my bum. And when we’re at home… forget about it, all bets are off—belts are off.

This is why I was so excited when elastic waistbands came back into fashion. Elastic hasn’t been in style since I was about five-years-old. But they’re so much better, literally. The only thing that could be better than elastic waistbands is no waistbands. Bring back long tunics and casual cassocks for the common people. Way more practical and efficient.

Seriously, it doesn’t make any sense. The force of gravity is constantly trying to pull your pants down, and what do we do? We try to unnaturally fabricate a futile denim infrastructure to rebel against the laws of physics. Let’s just design better clothes. If it were socially acceptable, I would simply cut out a head hole in the middle of my bedsheet and wear that as a kind of minimalist poncho. It’s super economical. Plus, I’d be ready to take a nap anywhere. It’s like a Snuggie, but better.

So, I say, if life’s got you in a stranglehold, if you feel like the breath is being choked out of you by seemingly random and arbitrary circumstances and social norms, then I say, release those bonds! Let every chain be broken. Cast off all that hinders, entangles, and ensnares. Like a Greek athlete of antiquity who competed completely butt-naked, lay aside every weight and encumbrance, and run with endurance the race set before you (Hebrew 12:1)!

Well… Maybe keep some clothes on. I’m not a nudist, just prejudice against the pant patriarchy.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friends’ were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

Falling with Style

The first time I went skiing was also my last. It was a youth group ski trip. Cliché, I know. And yes, this is another story of me nearly dying in (West Virginia). I’ve never been very adept at those balance and coordination-type activities. Also, who came up with skiing in the first place? Oh, I know, here’s a great idea: why don’t we lock and strangle our ankles to these impractically large planks and then zoom down these snow-covered deathtrap hills while holding treacherous pointy spears?

I didn’t even own any snow gear, so I had to borrow a hodgepodge of items from several people. My outfit included the brightest-luminescent-yellow-green snow pants you’ve ever seen. I looked like some kind of road hazard sign out on the slopes. People actively avoided me—I assume because they thought I was letting visitors know which parts of the ski slope were closed for maintenance. Do they have slope maintenance? Do janitors mop hilltops?

One of my friends, who was far more experienced in this sadistic sport, graciously took me under his wing. He tried to teach me the ropes. Then he just left me to hang myself with the rope. Clearly, I was a lost cause. I guess they call it the bunny slope because a cluster of bunnies had all gathered around to watch in curiosity and delight at the giant lime puff flailing about in the snow. After practicing my face plants a few hundred times (my nose felt like the forgotten popsicle left in the back of the freezer after last summer’s cookout) we decided it was time for me to try skiing, or belly-sliding, down one of the actual slopes.

We navigated our way onto the lift, and then my friend told me where to descend. He explained that I was getting off on the easy, beginner slope, while he was going to go to a more advanced one. “Here Finley, this is a green circle slope so you should be fine.” I’m sure you can guess where this is going. It wasn’t a green circle. It was a black diamond. I must have gone down the wrong side or something. I don’t know why they put those mountains so close to each other. And I thought going down was supposed to be the easy part.

I quickly realized that this whole skiing thing wasn’t going to work. I wouldn’t survive. So I changed techniques and just allowed myself to roll down the mountainside like a neon cream puff which was discarded into the garbage after melting at the church potluck picnic. I felt the embarrassment of a snow owl turn its bulbous eyes away in shame at the sight as I bounced and thrashed and floundered my way to the bottom.

I was a cold, lonely tumbleweed blowing in the wind.

Later, my friend confessed that he realized his mistake and was genuinely worried about me. He thought I died and was asking everyone if they had seen a guy who looked like an intoxicated Elton John impersonator hanging off a cliff.

Sometimes, life can be unexpectedly challenging. Perhaps you too have found yourself standing on the precipice of a black diamond slope and staring into the belly of the beast. You didn’t choose these circumstances, but here you are, and now you must decide: do I take a leap of faith and venture out into the abyss, or do I plop down on my bum and make snow angels until I die of exposure to the elements?

Choices. All you can do is choose how to respond to life. If you can’t ski down the mountain, then slide. If you can’t slide, then stroll. If you can’t stroll, then roll and tumble. Just keep going. You’ll make it, and you’ll be better for it.

As for me, next time I’m going tubing. Sounds more my speed since I can sit the whole time. I have this life dream of eating a donut while sitting in a rubber donut tube and being pulled around by a snowmobile doing donuts. Dream big.

If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Noodle Polish

We tried out a new Japanese restaurant this past week. Perhaps I should say faux American-Japanese because we all know it’s not really what they eat in Japan. In fact, one time when we had a foreign exchange student from Japan visiting he really wanted to go to an American-Japanese restaurant because he couldn’t get that kind of food back home. But that’s another story.

This story. This story is about the creative depths of a toddler that transcend all logic and known knowledge about the universe and reality.

As we finished our teriyaki chicken and soba noodles, our pint-sized person was displaying some particularly peculiar behavior. She selected a pristine and perfect noodle of choice, and she delicately dipped the noddle into teriyaki sauce. Then she methodically and artfully began to paint her nails with the gluten string and black goo. And I thought I had years before I had to worry about my rebellious teenage daughter with her black nail polish, gothic “nobody-understands-me” phase.

Yes, after completing her meal, our toddler had decided to treat herself to a little spa day right there in her highchair. I was equally bewildered by her creativity, mesmerized by her skill, and proud of her proclivity to repurpose and recycle. Reduce that carbon footprint y’all.

I was also curious as to whether we could start a business and market this new product. They make edible arrangements and even edible underwear. So why not edible nail polish? Especially for young kids—they always be chewing on their germ-infested fingers anyways.

So, as you get ready for the day, ready to face the world and its judgments, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Express yourself girlfriend! Boyfriends too! Let your imagination empower you to stand against challenges with courage and creativity. You do you because what the world needs is more people who are actual real people and not the fabricated façades that we manufacture in response to social media, pop culture, and peer pressure. In other words, don’t pretend to be Japanese chicken when you’re really from Salisbury, Maryland. Is the chicken local? How local? Can I get some basic background information and family history? Were they a graduate of Purdue Perdue U?

This world is but a canvas to our imagination. – Henry David Thoreau

I’ve Gotta Foodie Feeling About This

We had some friends from out of town visit with us this past week, and it was awesome. It was awesome because our friends are awesome. But it was also awesome because when people visit it means that we eat out at all the best spots. Hi, my name if Finley, and I have a very intense, emotional relationship with food.

When friends and family are around, what do we do? We eat. And we usually eat way more than what’s normally socially acceptable. It’s like we’re making up for lost time or something. Most activities revolve around eating. As soon as people arrive, we start making plans for eating. If there’s a time we’re sitting around just doing nothing (probably, because we’re at the dining table having just finished eating) then someone usually recommends getting something to eat. And we always have to have dessert—even though we typically don’t have dessert—after every meal. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Anyways, one evening we went out for dinner at a local favorite bar-b-que spot. The next morning, I woke up with a meat hangover. To counteract the effects, we then went to an artesian bakery for breakfast. You know, because breakfast is supposedly the most important meal of the day (according to breakfast cereal companies that advertise sugar-infused, syrup-coated wood chips for children).

Yes, breakfast is so important for eating all the right foods: like cake. That’s why we eat things like fried flat sweet dough (pancakes) and bald cupcakes pretending to be healthy by calling themselves muffins. And if you’re less pretentious, you just go ahead and eat birthday cake for breakfast because, yolo, right? (Actually, I believe Jim Gaffigan has a whole spiel on this if you want to look him up.)

After the pork belly bloat, then came the carb coma. All in all, it was a rather delightful time with our friends.

But after meals like these, things do tend to get a little fuzzy… like a self-administered anesthesia to help me sleep my troubles away.

However, I may not remember everything I ate this weekend because I passed out sometime between bread pudding and third dessert, but I do remember the way it made me feel. At first, euphoria and delight, followed by guilt and indigestion. I realize that after eating ten pounds of food, my body literally weighs more, but still, it feels like moving requires the effort of a competitive weightlifting event. It’s like my insides have turned into a waterbed filled with cement and cotton balls.

So, the point is: as in food, such is life. Remember that the way you live your life has a meaningful impact on others. So be kind. Do good. What’s the point in being mean, hateful, and angry? Life’s way too short for that nonsense. Treat others the way you want to be treated. I want to be treated to a tasty ice cream treat. Please buy me some ice cream. Let’s all just try to be decent human beings. Don’t be hideous.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

– Maya Angelou

When Life Feels Constipated

Living life with a toddler is a daily adventure. No shortage of blog post topics. The other day, she was sitting on the potty when this little exchange occurred.

She strained, “Ugh, it’s not working! It stuck. There’s a hino-cheer-us in there!”

“Oh,” I replied. “A rhinoceros is stuck in there?” (I believe this is in reference to a children’s book in which a rhino gets stuck in a tree—because that’s totally normal.)

“Uhuh,” she nodded, and then she looked down into the toilet bowl. “Where are you poopie? It’s ok. Come on out!”

I said, “Yeah, ya rhinoceros, get outta here.”

When I was a kid, like around seven or something, one of my teachers told me, “Finley! You’re slower than molasses coming out of a constipated cow!” I didn’t even know what molasses or constipated meant. I just shrugged and took it as a compliment. Now that I know what she actually meant, I still take it as a compliment.

Sometimes, life just feels like one big, boring waiting game. Like standing in the longest line ever at a Department of Motor Vehicles located inside of the newest ride at Disney World. Or waiting in the drive-thru outside of a Krispy Kreme on free-donut day and the apocalypse is scheduled for tomorrow. I hate waiting. It gets so frustrating. This is why we invented fast food and Internet right? I shouldn’t have to wait for anything.

But maybe there’s something essential about moments of waiting too. Waiting teaches us that the whole world doesn’t revolve around us and our itinerary, like how I need to speed up and cut this person off in traffic so that I can hurry up and wait at the next stop light. Waiting slows us down and gives us the opportunity to reflect on the world around us, like who is the fella with ostrich feathers in his hair and all the other weird people standing in this line? Being bored and waiting can help us to learn how to think, plan, and be creative.

Maybe waiting isn’t something to be avoided at all costs. Maybe waiting is a time that can be embraced and even cherished in our modern lives of frenzy and frantic. Maybe there’s an art to actively waiting.

So, the next time you find yourself stuck in a line or stuck on the toilet or stuck waiting on life to start, just remember to find ways to redeem the time. That and drink some prune juice.

I should really set a calendar reminder to delete this post before my daughter is old enough to be embarrassed by reading it…

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

– attributed to Anne Frank

Being a Foster Dad

Being a foster dad is awesome; an incredible blessing everyday. Truthfully, being a father in any capacity is a great gift and joy. One of the things that I love most about being a dad is all the things I get to teach my kids. Things like:

  • Teaching them how to be self-sufficient and solve problems on their own like when something goes wrong with the plumbing and good ole’ dad needs to fix it.
  • Or teaching them how to be inquisitive and proactive like when we need to watch YouTube tutorials on how to fix the plumbing when our first fix didn’t go so well.
  • Or teaching them how to be wise and humble like when we need to look up and call a real plumber to come fix the bigger mess that I made before the entire house floods over.
  • Also, teaching them how to match their clothes in the morning like how stripes and plaid go together because they both have lines in them, duh.
  • Also, also, teaching them how to eat a balanced diet like a lunch of pickles (vegetable), mac n’ cheese (grain and dairy), and spoons full of peanut butter right out of the jar (protein and fat). I can even teach them the value of recycling and conservation by saving leftover food in your hair or pockets for later. For myself, I grow a beard to reap the rewards of a nice little flavor-saver. Mmm… my mustache still smells and tastes like garlic knots.
  • And of course, teaching them more about their own selves and how to make various bodily noises and flatulent imitations.

With all these things and more, fostering brings a different kind of special to the mix. I am so deeply in love and in fondness of the little two-year-old girl we have. She may have other parents, but I am her daddy and she is my daughter—my little moon. And nothing will ever change that.

She may not have my eyes, but she has my every admiring glance and smile.

She may not have my ears, but she has my full attention and adoration.

She may not have my nose, but she has my sense of wonder and adventure.

She may not have my complexion, but she has all my hugs and kisses.

What she does have is what is most important. She has my heart. She has my mind. She has my soul. She has my very life, and I would gladly give it up for her.

She also seems to have my uncanny ability to make realistic fart raspberries on demand.

“It is not flesh and blood, but heart which makes us fathers and sons.”

– Friedrich von Schiller

Howdy Do Moon

Lessons from “An I CAN READ Book”

Our tenacious toddler goes through these bedtime story phases. One week it’s all about the Seuss. The next, she’s got to have more Elephant and Piggie. Another week: can’t get enough of that Hungry Caterpillar or Goodnight Moon. But lately, it’s been a Little Bear obsession. She’s got a fever, and the only medication is more Little Bear.

Many of these books are cute and charming. Some of them are just silly. And then some, I’m like, “What the what? How did this get published, and who buys it?” (Well, I guess we do since it’s in our home and I’m reading it.) And then sometimes, sometimes, we read a story, and I’m just thinking, “Oh, well that’s interesting… there must be a moral here somewhere…”

The classic tale of “Little Bear Goes to the Moon” is one such book.

So, basically, the story goes that Little Bear makes himself a space helmet (out of a cereal box or something) and decides that he wants to fly to the moon. He naturally and perceptively deduces that: (1) since birds can fly, he must be able to fly too, and (2) if he can fly, he must be able to fly to the moon. The logic is clearly irrefutable.

Little Bear goes on to inform his mother:

“Maybe some birds fly to the moon, I don’t know. And maybe I can fly like a bird,” said Little Bear.

“And maybe,” said Mother Bear, “you are a little fat bear cub with no wings and no feathers. Maybe if you jump up you will come down very fast, with a big plop.”

Wow, mom! Thanks a lot for believing in me! We all know what it’s like to have our mothers call us little fat bear cubs. Well, at least I do. The struggle is real.

“Maybe,” said Little Bear. “But I’m going now. Just look for me up in the sky.”

“Be back for lunch,” said Mother.

– Else Holmelund Minarik, 1957

Cut to commercial break. The nail-biting drama, right? Will Little Bear ever learn to fly? Will he make it to the moon? Will he make it back for lunch in time? What is for lunch by the way? I’m hungry.

So, maybe, you too can soar on the shiny, sparkle wings of your pegasus dreams. I don’t know. Unless you try, how will you know? And maybe we are all just little fat cubs with no wings and no feathers who will come down with a fast, big plop. But so what? At least we fracture our tail bones trying.

Like the saying goes, “Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you’ll still land somewhere among the vast, empty, dark void of the vacuum of space where there is no air to breathe and no one to hear you scream.” Wait, that doesn’t sound right or encouraging. Why is that a saying? Maybe I misremembered something… Was it shoot from the hip if you want to hit a bull in the eye, or don’t go flying for at least thirty minutes after eating…?

Anyways, maybe we try something that’s impractical or unrealistic. Maybe we fail. But maybe failure isn’t this thing to be avoided at all costs. Maybe failure is a great teacher. Maybe we become just that little bit better version of ourselves. And maybe we can just simply say to all the haters and doubters that, “Yeah, maybe I won’t succeed… But I’m going now. Just look for me up in the sky.”

Also, if you’re wondering whether or not Little Bear makes it to the moon and back in time for lunch—I’m not going to spoil it here. Go to the library. Read a book; don’t be a blubber-footed booby. And be back home in time for lunch. Your mother worked really hard to prepare this meal for you. Now eat it while it’s still warm, and you better be grateful or else I’ll turn this car around right now!