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!

A Perfect Fit

I never knew toddlers could be so sarcastic.

This past week, our rambunctious not-quite-two-year-old tried on Mommy’s shoes (again). She successfully slipped her tiny twinkle toes inside the front flap and then began to teeter totter around the living room floor. She looked like a miniature retiree in over-sized slippers shuffling towards the kitchen for some chocolate pudding.

I looked at her, wide-eyed and mystified, and I asked, “Little moon, who’s shoes are those?”

She replied with the confidence of a honey badger, “They mine. My shoes!”

“Umm… Are you sure? They look a little big.”

“It not too big. It perfect!” She continued to wobble around like she was running a three-legged race with just herself.

“Sweetie, I think those are mommy’s shoes.”

“Nope. They not mommy’s shoes. They my shoes. They fit perfect. Perfect!” And then she giggled, clapped, jumped out of the shoes, and frolicked off towards more silly shenanigans.

Moments like these, I can’t help but be star-struck by the wisdom of children. They have a sort of knowledge about the world that is pure and simple—an innocent intuition and insight about reality. Here’s the thing: too many of us, too many times, are way too preoccupied with how well we “fit.” We want to fit in to society. We want to fit in with our jobs. We want to fit in with our families, friends, and even strangers. We often don’t even feel like we fit in with ourselves.

But who cares‽

Why does it matter so much what other people think (not to say that things don’t matter at all)? Don’t let others tell you who to be and how to be (not to say that other opinions or advice don’t matter at all). You do you. You are the only you after all, and no one can do you better than… well, you! Maybe if we all just spent a little more time being true to ourselves and truly good to others, then the world itself would fit just a little bit better. There’s so much about you that’s already perfect just the way it is. Maybe we just need to realize that we’re already a perfect fit.

Also, in general, you probably shouldn’t wear other peoples’ shoes. It’s only cute when a toddler does it. But again, don’t let me tell you how to live your life.

This Little Piggy (as retold by Dr. Fin)

Or: How changing the system must begin with changing the self

Once upon a time…

There was this one little piggy. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking: “another story about swine?” I’m not exactly sure what it says about the human condition that we return to piggly wiggly allegories time and again. Perhaps, deep down, we’re all really anxious and insecure about our place in the cosmos—feeling like predestined bacon trapped in pens awaiting our fate. Either that, or we’re just not very creative.

Anyhow, this one little piggy went to the market. I’m assuming they went shopping, but maybe the “market” is a euphemism for the slaughterhouse. Wow, this nursery rhyme got rather dark rather quickly.

Now, there was another little piggy who opted to stay home. Good for him or her. Smart choice. You never know what the “market” means nowadays.

Then, this third little piggy had roast beef. OK, wait a second, what‽ Since when the heck do pigs eat beef? Look, I know that pigs are omnivores and all, but seriously, when’s the last time you saw a pack of wild hogs hunting cattle? That would certainly be something for National Geographic to document. Does this mean that pigs are at the top of the pecking order at farms? Like, do the cows live in terror that they may one day become roast beef for a ravenous little piggy just so that the porker can then, in turn, become part of a Grand Slam breakfast platter? Gives a whole new perspective to the whole Animal Farm scenario.

But, of course, the fourth little piggy had none. Because the other one ate it all? Or maybe it was a peaceful protest against eating other animals. Gandhi pig?

And, then, inevitable as the love-bugs stuck to your car’s front hood, the fifth littlest piggy went “Wee, wee, wee!” all the way home. Afraid for their life or bubbling with the joyous thrill of life? You decide. Choose your own pig-themed adventure.

The End

Morals of the story:

  1. Don’t trust the “market.”
  2. Don’t mess with a hungry piggy.
  3. Do be the change that you want to see in the world; unless your ideas about change are terrible and would just make the world worse. In that case, refer to morals one and two: don’t.

Why Nebula is the Best Character in “Avengers: Endgame”

*SPOILERS*

Well, at least one of the best characters but that doesn’t make as good of a headline. Does anyone read anything online that doesn’t use extreme, absolute terms like “best,” “worst,” or “Trump?” Maybe I should title this blog post: “What Trump Really Thinks About the New Nebula-Russian Oil Hack Deal in North Korea.” Would that get more views?

Obviously, there’s a lot of great character work in Avengers Endgame. Each main hero has their shining moments. But by the end of the movie, Nebula was surprisingly the character that I found most compelling. About the only thing I could have asked is that Nebula should have been used more in the final battle. A video essayist who goes by the moniker Nando v Movies has done a fantastic job of exploring that concept so I’ll leave it him to tell you more about Nebula needing a closing confrontation with Thanos.

Nevertheless, I believe she has perhaps the most meaningful and powerful story arc of all the characters. And this is why:

Where is Nebula?

When we first meet Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy she appears to be a fairly simple villain as a henchperson of her adoptive and abusive father Thanos. She seems more machine than woman—cold, calculating, compassionless. But throughout the movies, we learn about the suffering she’s endured. Thanos would horrifically replace a part of Nebula with advanced biomachinery every time she failed in some way. All this, in his warped mind, to improve her—make her stronger, faster, better. In spite of all the trauma, Nebula, like most children, was willing to do anything to please her father, desperate for his approval. So this is where we first find Nebula, a person torn apart and reassembled, constantly reminded of how she’s not good enough.

Who is Nebula?

But: by the time Endgame rolls around we’ve seen tremendous growth from Nebula. We get to learn who she truly is. Like everyone else, she yearns for connection, belonging, and purpose; for a family. I loved all of the smaller, quieter character moments in Endgame like towards the beginning when Nebula is playing paper football with Tony Stark. As with all of Thanos’ children, we see how her life, childhood, and innocence were all stolen. She’s never really had fun. But she has grown and is growing past her past.

This newer Nebula taking shape is clearly juxtaposed in the movie against the former version of herself. Her past self, both literally and metaphorically, comes back to haunt her—tormenting her, torturing her, and even cannibalizing herself for parts. Reminding her of who she was: nobody. The two Nebula’s, old and new, struggle against each other. The stakes: her very identity.

I’ll do you one better, why is Nebula?

We see even more clearly how far Nebula has come when presented face to face with her old self. It’s like when I wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror: not a pretty sight, sometimes I frighten myself. The old Nebula is still a prisoner to an abusive cycle. The new Nebula, despite being captured and imprisoned by Thanos, is actually free. This is why Nebula is so great.

Her life was stolen, her body objectified, and her humanity stripped. But the whole time her limbs were being replaced, it seems, she was slowly replacing the parts of her that really matter: her heart and her soul. Through the friendships she’d make and the purpose she’d find, Nebula became far greater than Thanos’ intent. She became better—not a better machine or warrior—but a better person, eventually even a hero. An Avenger. It was the relationships she formed with others like her sister Gamora that helped bring healing and redemption.

And at the end, the endgame of Nebula’s arc, to complete her transformation, she must kill her past self (again, both figuratively and literally). Dead to the old self. Alive to the new. It’s a powerful image and an even more powerful concept. Just like an actual astronomical nebula—a beautiful, shining, colorful space cloud—Nebula becomes truly radiant. Like a gallant parade of unicorn flatulence stretching out across the vast expanse of reality after interstellar taco night.

Here’s the lesson we can learn from Nebula: we are not just our past pains or past mistakes; we are who we choose to be. Neither trauma nor failure have to define us, control us, enslave us. We can grow. We can be better. It is the voice of lies that tells us we’ll never be good enough as we are. But the truth is, who we are is breathtaking, and who we can be is even more. We need not be prisoners to the past any longer. We can become new. My, oh my, look at your fine nimbus and blush. Your light is brilliant, so shine. You too can be a massive, gorgeous unicorn fart floating among the heavens.

“…[she] is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

My Delightful Joyride Trailblazing John Denver’s Country Road

So, we saw the new Marvel movie this weekend: Avengers Endgame. And it got me thinking… Wow, what an accomplishment for all those involved—this whole interconnected, cinematic phenomenon all started elevenish years ago. What was I doing eleven years ago? What do I have to show for the past decade?

Well, I was in college. And I suppose that when I wasn’t goofing off, I was probably in a class or something. But more specifically, for some odd reason, superheroes punching aliens made me recall a particular incident from a particular adventure that I went on during my Freshman year.

A friend from my dorm and I decided to go on a road trip during a school break: up through the Midwest to Canada and then back down through New England. We were driving my car, and I didn’t own a GPS. This is also before the whole smartphone revolution. So we were doing old school MapQuest printouts and even older school actual road maps to navigate our way across the northeastern region of the United States.

One night, late—like approaching midnight—we were lost. Well, I won’t say lost. I’ll say we simply didn’t know where we were or where we were going. Anyways, somehow we ended up on this backroad in the middle of must have been nowhere, driving through the thick, dark mountain forest of a state that perhaps doesn’t always have the best reputation for being a safe place to get lost in. But so as not to offend anyone, let’s use an alias and call it the Back Woods of the Smaller Skintag Version of Virginia Located Westerly.

All of a sudden, a dim light appeared in the distance: a partially lit motel sign with forbidding dead branches hanging around the property like a cloud of spikes and splinters. Yes, whatever you’re imagining right now, that’s about right. This was the Bates Motel, the Hotel California, the opposite of the light at the end of the tunnel. Look, I cannot possibly express how eerie the atmosphere and just plain creepy the building was.

The parking lot was absent of cars, but the open sign was flickering on. I looked at my friend. He was known as a military, survivor-type on our hall. He wore an army-issued jacket, combat boots, and in his pockets were knives. Why someone needed to carry so many knives with them, I’ll never know (actually, in retrospect, perhaps the greater danger was sitting beside me the whole time). But as I parked, I looked at my friend with bewilderment and trepidation, and he spoke up first, “I’m not going in there.”

As I stood in front of the door, I weighed my options: is it better to die from exposure, lost in the woods, or to be murdered by some motel manager maniac? Before I could really think it through, I was turning the doorknob. The door creaked open, and inside I could see shadows crawling on the walls as just the vaguest sense of any light source penetrated through the bleak darkness. Seriously, no lights were turned on. Sitting by a bar counter, a gruff voice behind a burning cigarette asked if he could help me. I thought, “probably not, I’m just fine, thank you and good day sir, I’ll be going now…”

I could go on, but not to make things overly dramatic, I did eventually get some semblance of directions to navigate back to the highway. Obviously, I’m still alive. Anticlimactic much?

I guess the point of me telling this story is that sometimes the journey of life can take unexpected turns. Sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes we’re surrounded by what seems like infinite darkness. Sometimes, we come face to face with our nightmares.

But don’t let those realities stop you from taking the journey, from living life. We can never prevent all dangers and disasters. Trouble is inevitable. Safety is never guaranteed. But if we let fear consume and control us, then what’s the point of being alive at all? Don’t just exist. Live. And maybe carry a pocketknife or two.

The movie was pretty good by the way (especially for fans). You should go see it—and think about where the last eleven years have brought you.

Hey Diddle Diddle (as retold by Dr. Fin)

Once upon a time…

Two wee, little diddles…

Wait, what’s a diddle?

Ok… just let me look it up. I shouldn’t have looked it up. There are several definitions here. Who has time for this? Just pick one definition for words people. What’s with all this confusing nonsense of some words having multiple meanings and some meanings having multiple words? First definition: to cheat someone out of something. Oh, I know another word for that: taxes. Second definition: to pass time aimlessly. I guess I’m diddling right now. Third definition: never mind, don’t look it up, you don’t want to know and neither do I.

Anyways, there was this cat with a fiddle who was a diddler. But that doesn’t make sense because a cat who fiddles is rather impressive. That would get all the hits on YouTube; even give Grumpy Cat a run for his money.

Then this cow jumped over the moon. That’s so cliché nowadays. Cows always be jumping over moons, don’t they? You want to impress me, try to kitty fiddle diddle over the kiddie muddle puddle three times fast. And then jump over the International Space Station.

Next, some little dog laughed to witness these sporting shenanigans (I guess the cow was training for the Chick-fil-A Hunger Games). Because why not have a dog giggling with hysteria in this tale about diddle, fiddling cats and Olympian high jump heifers?

And the dish ran away with the spoon. A tale as old as time. Forbidden love. A classic retelling of Romeo and Juliet. What’s in a name that which we call a dish by any other name would still be a plate that we eat off of be it plastic or fine china? For never was a story of more woe than this of Cuisinart and her Sango.

The End

Morals of the story:

  1. Words are confusing because they’re mostly descriptive rather than prescriptive. How are we supposed to communicate with anyone? One says a dish and spoon could never work out. Another says that the labels of dish and spoon are just social constructions imposed upon us by the cutlery-patriarchy. So, I guess, just say what you mean and mean what you say, or something… or if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say I told you so, or never mind, on to the next one.
  2. Don’t just diddle your life away waiting for something amazing to happen like an athletic bovine show. Do something with your life. Now. Take up fiddling or pottery. Just be careful that all of your ceramics don’t fall in love, elope, and bankrupt your business.

The Crucible of Potty Training

My wife and I were recently in the throes of potty training with our charming toddler. And like travailing the thick jungles of an uncharted rain forest, navigating the new land or Toiletdom has been interesting, to say the least. Like a good movie, it’s been full of suspense, mystery, drama, and intrigue. There have been unexpected turns, plot twists, and shocking character developments. The potty pangs are real.

But each day we kept going and did not give up, and neither did she. As we cheered on our child and celebrated each triumph the days got better and dryer. We would remind her over and over again, “You can do it!” And then, when finally the floodgates of her bladder opened up to descend into the bowl of destiny she squealed with delight, “I did it!” Her glimmering glee as she mastered the potty has been truly inspirational.

Perhaps you are enduring the refining fire of a similar forge. Do the days seem dire and the universe ungovernable? Is your patootie simply pooped in more ways than one? Are you in the midst of an inauspicious space as you seem to have had yet another accident in the underwear that is your life? Then let me take a moment to encourage you to take heart.

If you feel like life has dealt you handful of gerbil droppings, then throw them away, that’s gross. If you feel burdened and overwhelmed by all the worries of life, then don’t hold it in, that’s not healthy, just let it all out. If you’re straining with too many demands, then don’t push too hard, just wait, eat some prunes, and try again later. Does everything seem to be full of poop? If it’s brown, flush it down. Just like our toddler, you too can wave adios to your troubles, and say “Bye, bye poopie!”

You can do it. You can succeed in this next challenge of life training. You can overcome the rump scoundrels that cause mental constipation, emotional diarrhea, and spiritual incontinence. You too can proclaim from the misty mountaintops, “I did it!” Yes, yes, you did indeed.

As In Life, Such Is the Potty

Oh what ominous porcelain peak that lurks before me?
A forbidding cliff, a fearsome instrument of torture I’m sure.
Must I ascend this frosty alp, this saucy summit?

My bawdy bowels tremble.
My delicate derriere is in dread.
My keister shivers at the touch of the dead cold ceramic.

Oh hindquarters, don’t fail me now.
Take courage and sit strong!
You wayward whoopsies don’t miss the mark.
As posterior plumps on exterior of the galvanized gourd,
Please don’t slip and be sure all exits remain interior.

Behold, this throne of smelly terrors once my bane,
Now subjugated to my will is but a hollow seat.
My caboose celebrates in serendipity!
I’m a big boy now.