The Ends and the Means

When we bought our first house, we bought it as-is. We knew that included the broken glass in the back door. We just counted that as part of the price. But someone we knew gave us different advice: she said we should wait a little while, then claim the window as damage on our new home insurance. 

Clearly, her plan had advantages. It had taken everything we had to get in the place. It was a miracle that we had been able to cover the bare concrete foundation with cheep flooring. To say the money would have helped is an understatement. And anyway, insurance companies are rich, right? They could hardly need it as much as we did.

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Being The Bad Guy

At our house, I’ve always been the bad guy. To be more precise, I’ve been a lot of bad guys. Sometimes it is just part of me, like when my hands became the Flying Tickle Spiders. Other times I’ve needed extra props, like the brown blanket for the times when the Muddy Hole Troll tried to trap my children in his muddy pit in a terrible plot to keep them filthy. In lightsaber fights, Sith Seth has always been the one threatening destruction and calling good little Jedis to join the dark side. Then there have been attacks from the electric Volt-ure who zapped children (disclaimer: no real electricity was involved) and the Alien Chef who has tried to make them into sandwiches between the beanbags. Our house has been a dangerous place. 

The thing is, all my terrible plots have ended in failure. I guess I’m not really that great at being an evil mastermind. Somehow, the children have always found a way to defeat me. Which is fine. Actually, I’m happy. I want the bad guys to lose, too. Yes, our house can be a dangerous place, but it is only silly danger, and my children can fight my evil plots with complete confidence of eventual victory. We just have fun together, and I hope they remember that. But I hope they remember more—I hope they hold on to that feeling of confidence, of knowing they will win eventually. They are growing up now, growing beyond the games and closer to the reality of the world, and here’s the thing: the world is a dangerous place.

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When I Lived In A Barn

I wasn’t born in a barn, but I did live in one for a while. My parents had bought some land in the country, and the barn went up fast. Construction of the house was slower, so we lived in the barn while it was being built. There was no insulation, and in most of the internal doorways we hung curtains instead of actual doors. I remember shaking my shoes out before I put them on in the morning to make sure there were no scorpions inside. I also remember being happy. Yes, we were roughing it in a lot of ways, living without a lot of normal conveniences, but life was good. When the house was finally finished and we moved in, it was nice to have fancy things like doors, but it didn’t change the basic dynamic that was already well-established: my parents had created a positive atmosphere, and that was the air I grew up in—it didn’t matter if I was breathing it in a barn with scorpions or a house with doors.

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The Day I Should Have Kept My Mouth Shut

I was in the passenger seat, and my friend was behind the wheel. At least, I wanted him to be my friend, if I could manage it. He was new on my dorm at university, and I was keen to be on good terms if at all possible. The trip was long enough for good conversations, but they weren’t happening the way I expected. My best questions were being answered with a few short words, and my most interesting conversational topics were slipping away like so many wet bars of soap. The trip had hardly begun and I was already struggling for something to say. Silence grew in the space between words. Suddenly, an inspiration: I saw a funeral home. 

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Sometimes The Best Way To Support Me Is To Thwart Me

Growing up, I was part of a Boy Scout Troop that met in an old converted house. I have a lot of good memories associated with that building, some of which stand out so vividly that I can almost smell the musty walls again—like the time the Scoutmaster told me that I had failed my Board of Review and would not be progressing to the next rank. Meanwhile, my friends passed. I can still taste the embarrassment of that moment, but today I count it as a good memory, along with all the victories and laughter of those years. The fact is, I earned that failure. I went in overconfident and underprepared, fully expecting to be the best of the bunch by just showing up. When they asked me about the things I was supposed to know, I didn’t. So I really did fail, and they let me. They could have bailed me out and given me the rank anyway to spare my feelings, but I’m glad they didn’t.

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A Real Acrobat

When “The Greatest Showman” came out in 2017, our daughter was five years old and especially impressed by a song that was sung with perfectly choreographed aerial acrobatics. When that same song came on during the credits after the film, her hands shot up, ready to dance, so there was no choice, really. I picked her up high, spun her around, and realised suddenly that the two of us had just twirled our way into a moment that would haunt me with happiness forever after. 

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The Fisherman’s Advice

Evidently I don’t have a strong stomach, because the last time I went fishing at sea I got sick. I know fishing trips are famous for being exaggerated, but I’ll be honest with you: there was no storm. It was a normal day, with normal waves, and we didn’t even go far out to sea. Still, as the boat continually shifted, my insides rebelled against me in slow motion. It was getting harder and harder to focus on my fishing line or the conversation going on around me. I felt bad. All I wanted was for the floor to stop moving—was that so much to ask? Thankfully, I was with an experienced fisherman who gave me helpful advice: “Look at the shore,” he said, “it will give you a reference point, and help you be able to roll with the waves.” I could tell he knew what he was talking about, because he had no trouble at all moving confidently around the constantly rocking boat.

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The Dog Knew Better

I grew up beside a mountain in Alabama, with a dog. If you want a happy childhood, that’s a good start. Sometimes the dog and I would go up the mountain, just us, with no particular destination in mind. There was always something interesting up there—little run-off streams and rock outcroppings, sunlight through leaves and the awareness of being among innumerable living things. We stayed together, but not too close. The dog and I were interested in different things, probably because I couldn’t smell as well as she could. Still, we stayed within sight, and if I decided to explore in a different direction all I had to say was “Cinnamon, I’m going this way” and she would change course without complaining. I guess there were smells to discover anywhere we went.

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Yes

You wouldn’t notice it, if you walked by. It’s just a tree, next to an old house on a university campus. There’s a nice view from the hill, so you’d look at that, not a random tree. But I go there for the tree. To me, that tree, with the ground under it, is sacred.

Twice, I sat at a table under this tree. Twice, I set the table up and decorated it and prepared it for a surprise and a question. Twice, I worked up my courage to ask a question at the table under the tree, and both times I heard the same answer, the answer that changed my life:

Yes!

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Kicking In Doors Is Harder Than It Looks In The Movies

The door was stuck.

My two sons (3 and 1 at the time) had locked themselves inside the bathroom, and the stakes were high: the younger one had an ongoing problem where he would hold his breath and pass out if he got too upset. He got upset a lot, but one of us had always been there to bring him back around. What would happen if he passed out inside the locked bathroom..?

“Don’t worry, boys, we’re right here”

I used my happy voice, and tried to explain to the older one how to put the key in the door and turn it. It didn’t work. A few more tries, knowing that there was only one other option. 

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