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As you might (or might not!) have noticed, I’ve taken a break from blogging – about an 18 month break, leaving your Facebook news feed more room for funny cat videos, Trump memes, selfies, and whatever else brews your coffee. From time to time I thought, “I should probably blog about something,” but there was always something else to do or think about. Perhaps it’s time to fill you in on some of the highlights of the last year and a half. Think of this as our Christmas letter…in October. Just go with it.
Jenny, after five years and countless hours of work, has finished UTA nursing school and now works as a full-time RN. She’s a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital and works with my sister in the same unit. Lisa even trained her for one shift, but I don’t think they had time to cover Lisa’s patented “Jive Talking” dance. Labor and delivery is a lot to learn, especially as her first nursing job, but she’s working hard and doing great. In about a month, she’ll get signed off to handle patients on her own. All hail Nurse Jenny!
After 6 years in our house in Euless, we sold it in March to a nice couple with a little girl who wanted to put her in a good school. For five months, we downsized into a small two-bedroom apartment nearby while the boys finished their school year and M/I Homes built our new home in Grand Prairie. The building process might earn a separate post someday, as it was fascinating but quite stressful. Finally we closed and moved in August. We love how the house turned out. It has all the space we need and more, and it’s right by Joe Pool Lake with untouchable Corps of Engineers forest to our north and west. I’ve already spent many happy hours watching sports and playing games in the media room. Plus we finally have space to host events again.
Things are great with me. I’m still dispatching for SWA on the night shift and helping out with on-the-job training and overseeing the midnight workload. We’re getting several new midnight desks this year and next, which will help spread out the work better. I’m still thankful to have a wonderful wife and sons and extended family and good health. I’m still trying to run three times a week to stay in shape, only now in our new neighborhood instead of the park I ran through for years. It’s been fun to figure out new routes to cover the mileage I need for each run.
Sleep, I’ve found, is severely underrated. I didn’t fully appreciate sleep as a younger man. Being well rested makes it so much easier to deal with the stresses of parenthood, work, and people who make you mad. So I’m trying to be more intentional about getting enough sleep. Sometimes that means missing out on some things, but it’s better than being irritable all the time and falling asleep on the way home from work in the morning.
The boys are also doing great. They love the new house and being closer to Jenny’s family and Lisa’s family. Cousins Reagan and Reid are half a mile away, so we see them often. The boys both have excellent teachers and enjoy their school. Brenden has started tumbling lessons as of a month ago, which teach him some body control and also give him a solid workout. Brenden is in second grade. Jonathan is now a kindergartener. (!) In a decade they’ll be driving and chasing girls. Ok, Jonathan might be chasing girls before then, but still.
That’s all for now. I’ve given up on using this blog to deeply analyze the world’s problems, convince all of you to change your minds on some crazy topic, or solve the mysteries of the universe. Those things can be nice, but they wheeze on my Zen, and these days I’m more into Zen than crusading. If I keep blogging, it’ll be more about just us and what we’re doing. If we interest you, stay in touch!
YES, I am still around, just haven’t felt as talkative lately. Here are some updates.
Brenden has become conscious of the fact that school, home, and other venues have a power structure and that he is generally at the bottom. Like his father, he doesn’t really like this arrangement. So for a while he kept butting heads with his teacher (refusing to work, playing around and acting silly) and with us (refusing to follow directions, threatening to move out, etc). Our initial hard-line approach didn’t work and seemed to make things worse. I became overly harsh and critical. I didn’t really like who I became when he decided to act up. Something had to change.
We switched back to more of a Love and Logic approach, which takes more thought but works better for him. We’re trying to give him more choices so he feels like he has some control over his life. We’re trying to be more loving and positive, which really seems to make a difference in whether he wants to cooperate with us. We’re rewarding him and Jonathan for good behavior at school. Good news from their teachers earns them marbles, and we take them to do something fun each time they fill their marble jar. So far, these changes have made a big difference in his behavior and his attitude.
Life in Dispatch is going well. We are scheduled to move into our beautiful new office across the street in May, giving us a tornado-resistant facility with lots more space, better equipment and support, and a slightly shorter commute for me. During a long stretch of time off, I set a personal record with eight overtime shifts in a row this month in between all my Olympics watching and facility activities. I also passed my ninth anniversary in the Dispatch office.
Jenny is now in her second semester of UTA nursing school and continues to do well thanks to her intelligence and hard work. She has two clinicals this semester, psych in Bedford and med-surg in Mansfield. Like last semester, she is really busy but keeps pushing through. Two weeks until Spring Break!
We replaced our bathroom countertops and sinks in November with solid surface, sand-colored counters and white sinks from Lowe’s. I am very pleased with the results. Our next project is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday of next week: refinishing the boys’ tub and surround. The tub is chipped, the tile is white with weird brown speckles, and the caulk is terrible. Miracle Method, the company that refinished our kitchen countertops, will redo the tub and tile in solid white. Except for replacing the carpet after we move out next summer, this should be our last major project for the interior. We are thinking about having a few trees removed or trimmed in the front yard, and we’ll replace the side fences at some point as well. I feel good about leaving the house better than we found it.
Brenden turned five this week, so it’s not a bad time to reflect on some lessons I’ve learned from being a dad. It’s hard to say whether fatherhood matched my expectations. When Jenny was pregnant with Brenden, I focused on preparing for life with a baby, which is MUCH different from life with two preschoolers. We still make plans for the future with them, but so much of fatherhood now seems to be able surviving each day without having to visit the hospital or the liquor store.
Here are a few things I’ve learned, or at least reinforced:
- Nothing in my life has driven me insane like my children have. When they are being difficult, they seem to bring out the worst in me, and I hate that.
- Few things in life have made me prouder than my children. Watching them make progress in the pool, seeing them treat their friends and cousins kindly without being prompted, hearing them say they love me, and getting enthusiastic hugs when I come home fill my heart with pride and wonder.
- It’s fascinating to see reflections of me and Jenny in them. Brenden got my stubbornness, love of data, comfort with routine, distaste of last-minute changes, and affinity for video games. Jonathan got Jenny’s gentle and kind spirit, creativity, and love of people.
- No matter what I do as a parent, many people are going to disagree with it. Maybe I’m doing things differently from the way they were raised. Maybe I’m not following their favorite parenting book or guru. Maybe they are afraid I’m going to horribly corrupt my kid or give him autism or spoil him or send him straight to hell or jail or dozens of counseling sessions later in life. But there are only two people who get a vote in how we raise our kids: me and Jenny. All other opinions are advisory only.
- Spending money on your kids is much more fun than I expected.
- It can be difficult to know how far to push your kids and when to step in and help. One good example is video games. Brenden loves to play, but many of the games he likes are challenging, and he often gets frustrated or intimidated after dying just once or twice. Then he comes to me or Jenny begging for us to take over and get him through the level or past the boss. On one hand, I want to say no because the only way to get better at something is to keep trying and thinking when things get tough. On the other hand, he’s five years old, and it isn’t realistic to expect him to be able to ace a game that challenges even a lifelong gamer like me.
- From time to time a vision pops up in my head. Jenny and I are around 50 years old. The boys are away at college, making the house ours once more. We share a bottle of wine and quietly ponder whether we did the best job we could with them, whether they turned out okay. We relax a bit once we decide the answer is yes.
- It wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized how embarrassing it could be when your kid acts up in public. (Sorry, Mom!)
- Even though I knew parenthood would significantly affect most parts of my life, thinking about all the different ways still amazes me. Without kids, we would drive different cars, live in a different house, travel a lot more, spend more time with friends, have more toys, spend our free time differently, and make numerous other changes. Although we make many sacrifices for them, I don’t begrudge those sacrifices. They are part of my new mission in life, the mission to give these two crazy boys everything I can give them to help them become men. As difficult as fatherhood can be, I derive great satisfaction from being their dad.
- I knew fatherhood would be a lot of work. I don’t think I realized how much fun it would be, how they would make me chuckle almost every day, and how much Jenny and I would enjoy laughing about them together.
I was apprehensive about becoming a parent for a while. If I could have learned some of these lessons in advance before the boys arrived, the prospect would have been more appealing and less scary. But that’s not how life works. Instead, I got to earn these lessons the hard way, and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity.
Over the weekend, to celebrate the end of the spring semester (sure, it was actually before Jenny’s finals, but who’s counting?), we flew the boys down to South Padre Island for a couple of days on the beach. Here are some of the highlights:
New Love Field Terminal
As I’d hoped, our flights used the beautiful new terminal at Love Field. It is truly a great improvement over the old terminal – much brighter, more open and spacious, and many more choices for dining and shopping. Once most of the Wright restrictions disappear in October 2014, Love will become busier and more important for connections, and I really think travelers will enjoy the new facility.
Although Brenden wanted to get the orange and black Dodge Challenger, we rented a Honda Civic instead. (Sorry, buddy) As expected, it was a great car. It drove well, handled our two huge suitcases, provided a comfortable ride, and got great mileage, probably 30-40 mpg. My favorite feature was its real-time MPG indicator that gave me instant feedback on how much fuel I was burning. If all vehicles had that feature, I think
most many of us would drive more efficiently.
Black Dragon Pirate Cruise
On Saturday, which coincidentally turned out to be Pirate Day, we took the Black Dragon Pirate Cruise from Port Isabel. It’s a 75-foot replica pirate ship complete with a crew of pirates who put on a show as they sail guests around the bay. The boys enjoyed it, especially Brenden, who had a nice sword fight with the first mate and won a pirate water pistol in the end-of-cruise dance contest. Much of the pirate banter went over their heads, and Jonathan got restless from time to time, but we thought it was fun. The water gun fight and sword fighting lessons were probably their favorite part.
Sea Turtle, Inc.
Sea Turtle, Inc. is a small rescue and rehab organization based on South Padre Island. We toured the site and saw numerous sea turtles ranging from youngsters smaller than a salad plate to five-foot, 180 lb. beasts. All of the permanent residents have been injured or deformed somehow and are unfit to live in the wild, but the organization also works to nurse injured turtles back to health and then release them.
We went to the beach a total of three times during our brief stay. Our hotel had some noisy guests and other issues, but it was cheap and within walking distance of the beach. The early-season cold water limited our time in the ocean, especially for “I’m ccooooowd!!” Jonathan. So they spent more time playing on the beach, running buckets of water from the ocean to the sand, digging holes, making sand angels, and burying their feet. We stayed off the beach when the sun was high and used rash guards and plenty of sunscreen, so the boys escaped without getting burned.
Before flying home, we stopped at Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville. Despite Brownsville’s small population, its zoo offered a surprising selection of animals, including a Komodo dragon, at least ten giraffes, a rhino, a bald eagle, numerous snakes and lizards, a pygmy hippo, tigers, several primates, and free-roaming peacocks. The boys’ favorite part was probably the playground, which gave them the chance to burn off some energy and run around freely. They get frustrated on our vacations because we have to manage their activities so closely in many locations (don’t jump in with the endangered sea turtles, don’t jump off the pirate ship, don’t ride on the baggage carousel, etc.). They love being able to do as they please for a bit.
We had our share of challenges, including a highly inconvenient poop accident, hotel guests who chatted loudly outside their room for hours every night, a mattress that creaked like the sinking Titanic any time we moved, random meltdowns over silly things, bedtime drama, and the typical battles that occur any time we take them to a sit-down restaurant. But the boys had a blast overall, and we loved seeing them have such a good time. We have no current plans for our next trip. We might try something quick late this summer, but Jenny will be very busy with school this fall, so we’ll have to see what her schedule is like.
Here is our photo album from the trip: South Padre Island May 2013 Photos
We’ve been busy at the Box house. Here are some of the recent highlights.
- I was off work all last week, and I was determined to be productive rather than good off the whole time. It worked. I polished the car, decluttered our bedroom, gathered clothes for Goodwill, mowed the yard, replaced two normal switches with fancy fan controls, dropped one of the fans and destroyed a fan blade, and completed my annual cockpit time.
- I also de-babyfied the house, getting rid of Jonathan’s old crib and mattress, the high chair, the booster seat, several toys, and all our baby gates. The bottom floor of the house looks strangely different without all the gates, much more open. I dig it.
- Last Saturday was Jenny’s birthday. My main present to her was watching the boys so she could go be alone and play for a while. She spent Friday shopping in Canton (I’ll take babysitting over Canton any day!), spent the night at a hotel in Farmers Branch, read a ton, got her nails done, and took a nap. The boys and I ate donuts, played, and went to the gym. Then the four of us went out to PF Chang’s for dinner Saturday night.
- Another thing I love about my wife? She doesn’t whine on every birthday about how she’s getting older. Instead, she’s just thankful for another year.
- We spent Easter with Jenny’s family. First, we went to their church for an egg hunt and worship. Their church is very small, which was odd for me, but has good people. The pastor is an old friend of Jenny’s, about my age, and one of the funniest pastors I’ve ever heard. After church, we enjoyed a tasty lunch at her parents’ house and celebrated Jenny’s birthday.
- That afternoon, Jenny’s dad and I picked up a patio table and chairs from Lowe’s for our backyard. I’ll cover them in a later post with pictures after we get the patio umbrella set up.
- I passed my annual competency check at work, so I get to keep my job. The big change this year is that designated check dispatchers are giving the checks rather than managers. My examiner started a few years after me but is really sharp and did a fine job. I didn’t apply to become a check dispatcher. It would have felt awkward to be in a position of authority over my peers. I already do that to a lesser degree when I’m training someone, and it’s something I tolerate rather than enjoy.
- After spending over a week on normal person schedule, it was really hard to switch back to midnight schedule earlier this week when I had to return to work. My body just didn’t want to stay asleep during the day. It’s getting better now, though.
- I’ve started lifting weights three times a week. Now that I’m getting into that habit, I’m enjoying it more and getting stronger. Our gym also has a core class that I hit once or twice a week to work my abs, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Plus I’m hitting the weight machines and even tried a barbell class. Don’t expect me to transform into Arnold, though. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.
- Next month, we’re planning to take the boys down to South Padre to play on the beach for a couple days. Jenny will be taking a class this summer, and we wanted to go play somewhere between semesters. We might try some dolphin and/or sea turtle activities while we’re there as well. Southwest now has a nonstop from Dallas to Harlingen that looks wide open, so we’re all over it.