Words are a passion of mine. Some people love to build great temples and buildings with their bare hands and mighty tools. My grandfather used to tell me that the most satisfying part of being a concrete man was that he could see what he built at the end of the day. His labor was rewarded with something tangible. Something real. Words are the same for me. When I write or read a perfectly organized and poignant sentence, there are few things I enjoy more. A perfect sentence shouldn't just say the premise, but saying it in a way that also scratches at that creative element of the self that rarely gets moved throughout the day. Sure, the most important part of a word is the essence of what it communicates; the actual thing of it all. But, what fun is it just living within the singular purpose of something? It's maddening and constricting.
There are days that I dream of moving to Montana and purchasing a cabin with countless acres and spotty electrical service just to write words and sentences that matter to me. It is a dream that those words may matter to others as well. But then I think, "I bet that's exactly how the Unabomber's dream started as well. You're playing fast and loose with your already frail sanity, Loucks." It always starts off innocently enough, I'm sure. But then when you realize that your dreams are far too closely paralleled to serial murderers, it's time to enter back into the real world. And quick. The world of mortgages and people and problems and kids is where I belong.
We are now finished with the third day of my wife and son's trip to Romania. I'm happy to report that my two oldest children who stayed behind with me are both alive and well. Some would even argue that they're happy, though that argument would likely have some objectionable holes in it. Without my wife, happiness is a virtue that we have all sought to attain only in small blessed increments, not in sustained moments. She is the glue, we are her popsicle sticks.
Yesterday was grocery shopping day. I picked Dino-boy up from the babysitter's house and Nora up from her after-school program. Immediately the complaints started pouring in:
"Dad, I'm hungry."
[we'll go to a restaurant and eat...]
"Dad, my legs are hurting. I think I'm growing too much. Can you do something about that?"
[yes, I can fix anything, I'm your dad. We fix this specific problem by not complaining about it anymore. It's holistic therapy. I read it on the internet...]
"Dad, Dino-boy won't sing the right words to the songs. Make him stop."
[I like it when Dino-boy sings. Let him sing the words he feels are the right ones. Stop stifling his fun, Captain Misery McComplain Pants...]
"Dad, my stomach hurts because I haven't eaten in a long time."
[she had, in fact, eaten that day... I think...]
We made a quick stop at a restaurant and headed to the grocery store. Dino-boy has been infected by a love for Taylor Swift songs as of late. He can't get enough of them. Because I'm dedicated and working extra hours for my "Father of the Year" coffee mug, our car rides have been filled with frivolity and T-Swift listening parties. After we parked and the radio was shut off, apparently the song "22" was still playing in Dino-boy's heart because he kept going with it. Loudly. We walked into the store and he's still singing, wearing his Dino-cap, because he's now the Singing Dino-boy. Then an older lady with bangs from the 80's looks down on me in pity. I smile politely back at her and she says, "Do we have an upset one here?" She mistakenly thought that the Singing Dino-boy was actually the upset and crying Dino-boy. Perhaps because his singing sounds remarkably similar to an out-of-tune and out-of-work lark with a slight lisp. No, ma'am, he's not crying or whining. That's just how he sings! Unfortunately for Dino-boy, he's inherited an awful curse. He is a part of a long line of music lovers who can't carry a tune in a bucket. But, darn it if it stops us from trying.
A little later we were doing the ceremonial "walk-down-each-aisle-in-the-grocery-store-even-when-you-only-need-a-few-things-because-there-MIGHT-be-something-you-forget-because-you-didn't-make-a-list," and we were getting close to the live [and tremendous sad looking] lobsters. My kids love those lobsters and have yet to figure out that they are (1) sad and (2) someone else's food. For Nora and Dino-boy, it's like a small trip to a zoo. A few aisles away from the lobsters and Dino-boy proclaims loudly, "Daddy, something really smells like crabs!" I knew what he meant. You now know what he meant [for those not following, he meant 'lobsters' but said crabs, stay with us.] But, apparently, the three guilty-looking college coeds near us did not know what he meant. They heard 'crabs' and started laughing and looking around. I looked at them and shook my head. I played it off with a, "Haha, kids say the darndest things," and mumbled under my breath, "stay in school and make good and healthy sexual decisions." For a brief moment, I thought about singing for them a song from "True Love Waits: the Musical" that my youth group put on in the late-90's. There's hand motions, box steps, and the whole shebang. But, I didn't feel like the Dino-boy was an adequate backup singer [and we only had one shot and doing it right] nor did I really have time for such life lessons. I can't be sure because I haven't checked the security camera footage, but I'm guessing when I walked away, it looked something like this:
I am finding that the secret to getting things done at night is to forego sitting down. It's not rocket science. If you just keep moving and doing, it'll be far easier than giving yourself a few minutes of rest and then starting to do something again. For me, it never turns into just a few minutes of relaxation. If I sit down, I turn the motor off. I tap out of productive living and work into more of an amoeba-state that doesn't communicate much and eats whatever it can find nearby. Before I sat down to relax for the night, I put the groceries away, swept and mopped the kitchen floor, did two loads of laundry, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed the carpet. The kids even helped... by going to bed. But, before Nora went to bed, she begged me to write a note. She told me that she had something she needed to write down and keep with her. After she was asleep and I was able to relax, I read her note. Here it is:
For those that can't read the handwriting of a kindergartener, let me translate for you [I asked for her help]:
Things you are good at:
Dad you are good at taking care of children.
Finn you are good at cheering.
Mom you are good at love.
I am good at writing.
I miss my wife so much. She's my best friend and my partner in life. She has learned to manage all the ugly parts of me and I have learned to be less ugly because of her. Yesterday, however, without the safety net of my wife and familial glue, my daughter told me that I'm good at taking care of her and her brother. All my insecurities were met with a crushing blow of defeat by the misspellings and grammatical errors of a wonderful 5-year old. Honestly, I work hard at being a good dad. Good parents don't happen accidentally. Like any other life discipline, it takes time and energy that you don't always want to exhibit and give. There are days when I'm not a terrific example of love and grace and mercy but, above being a great writer or effective pastor, being a caring and engaged dad is something I really want to be. I went to bed with a smile on my face and thanking Christ for such a crazy, beautiful, and lovely life.