Lessons on Life from Watching My Son Paint

220px-WatercoloursMy son, my five year old, is in love with water colors.

He sits at his little table, blank page before him, and carefully swirls his brush in the water dish like a chef carefully mixing the batter that will be baked into something good.

And then he dips it in his desired color, the edges of the paint container stained with a menagerie of other colors, and goes to town.

A swish. A splash. A dot.  It’s kind of like what I imagine watching Jackson Pollock paint would be like, but he does it with his tongue out, concentrating. He’s intense.

And then, poof, it’s done.

And I peer down on his page, and he’s only made a small dent on the white space, sometimes no bigger than three nickels worth of area. And yet, “I’m done!” is his proud pronouncement.

And onto the stack it goes. A fresh sheet of paper comes out, and creation begins again.

I’m consistently impressed with how much he lets the canvas speak around the paint.  Or, perhaps, it’s how loudly he lets a little paint speak for itself amidst the blank space surrounding it.

And I can’t tell if it’s because I’m his father or because there’s actually something there, but I think it’s stunning.  And not just the art, but the whole process.

The careful attention to detail.  Knowing when something is done, even when it doesn’t “look done” to any other eye.  Not being concerned that the paints bleed together, imagining that this kind of blending and imperfection is part of the process.

Watching him paint is a study in what it means to be OK with what you produce in life. To call it quits when you’re done.  To not worry about the details, or even the critics, and let something be fully itself.

It’s a study in both minimalism and maximum attention.  He’s not interested in filling the canvas. His concern is to watch and see when it’s completed.  This is at odds with so much in our world today that encourages us to pack every. damn. moment. full of meaning and activity and productivity.

But sometimes the canvas can speak.

A calendar full of unmarked space is not the marks of a boring life.

A few strokes of color are sometimes all that you need to be full.

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Why I Sing To My Boys

jason-rosewell-60014Most nights, as the lights go out, my boys will request that I sing them a song.

Not just any song, mind you, but from a catalog of random songs that I’ve sung to them since I first rocked them to sleep the day they were born.

We’ve added a few over the years, but most of these were, from the start, their songs.

The old Civil War era song Cindy Cindy tops the list.  They especially love the verse:

I wish I was an apple

a’hangin’ on a tree

and every time my Cindy passed

she’d take a bite of me!

And then there’s the hymn Abide with Me, a lullaby for the very young, or the very old, to entrust them to the Divine.

They’re also a big fan of I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, which tests my ability to remember multiple verses in a row at breakneck speed.  The faster the better.

And then a little socialist, hippy tune I picked up from my summers romping through Pennsylvania, Calling All the Children Home by John McCutcheon.  They especially love this one because I’ve included their names in the final verse, and they claim I wrote it just for them.

But here’s the thing: I don’t sing to them to get them to fall asleep.

I sing to them so that they’ll sing.

I sing to them so that they know that men sing, and sing well, and sing in public, and sing tender songs as well as fun songs.

Their mom sings to them, too, of course.  Lullaby by the Dixie Chicks is what they ask from her most. And they love it.

Because singing with your children, to your children, not only teaches them that it’s OK to sing, but it also teaches them the amazing thing that happens when you sing to and with someone else: a special bond is formed.

And what has happened because of all this singing?

My five (almost six) year old sings to himself in the shower, and it’s great to hear from outside the door.  He knows the joy of song, and acoustics, and is figuring it all out.

My four year old sings along with every song on the radio, and listening to his voice is one of the most amazing things because it’s so neat to hear him pick up notes and complicated lines at a young age.  He’s learning to try, at least.  And that is something that can’t be taught overnight…it takes a while.  Years of singing.

They ask me to put on my records, and they sit and listen to whole albums.  They not only know how to listen to music and sing along, but they’re starting to appreciate music.  They’ll listen to a song and give an opinion now.

And in a culture where music and the arts are disappearing from classrooms in deference to STEM curriculum, I want them to get this in their bones now so that they’ll be able to do it on their own later.

But, also, I sing to my boys because I like singing.  And just like any parent, I want to share the joy of the art with them, so that they can know what it truly is to be human in this world of growing automation.

I sing to my boys…and you should too. Whether you have the vocal chops of a lark or a loon, sing. Teach them to sing.

Because to be human is to sing.  And it is divine.

For Alistair, On Your Birthday…

Hey Buddy,

You’re three now. That means lots of things, not the least of which is your continued education regarding toilet hygiene…gotta perfect the potty, dude.

But for your dad here it also means you’re getting too big pretty fast. I’m impressed by your brains…only 3 year old I know who loves puzzles and games like you do. And while I’m not impressed by your temper, we’ll eventually learn to harness that for the good of the world.

But even though you’re only three, I want to clue you into some truths that I think you should know, and that even adults often forget. Ready?

You’re beautiful and broken. Like we all are. You don’t need a trophy for just existing, but know that I’m proud of you every time you really try, especially when you try stuff you’re not good at and keep with it. You don’t have to be perfect, just try to be present. And you never deserve better than anyone else, but you never deserve to put up with crap, either. Love others and love yourself and get out on the field. Got it?

Speaking of sports metaphors: the world needs compassionate people more than it needs athletes. Not that you can’t be both, but if you asked me today what I hope for you it would be, more than anything, that you are kind. This broken world needs healers, not winners. Because when you heal, everyone wins.

Also: you get to be yourself, buddy. Other than respectful and kind and loving, I want you to let your creative self run wild in this world. I’m not always gonna love your hair color, but good on you for using it while you have it (a mistake I made).

But don’t get all worked up about your looks. Love your body, but don’t worship it…no one else is.

Don’t let your ego run away with your heart.

Don’t let your brains run away with your sense of humor.

Crude jokes don’t make you funny.

Sit beside people sitting by themselves. They often make the best friends.

The only person you can make fun of is yourself. Everyone else is off limits. And don’t make friends with people who make fun of others…eventually they will make fun of you.

Feel the feels, but don’t always let your emotions plot the journey. Center yourself, big guy, in a love that is bigger than yourself, in a peace that permeates all things.

Addiction runs in the family, so guard yourself on excesses. The world will not help you here…it will always push you toward more of most everything. But none of it will make you better, only blurrier or bigger or badder or madder.

Pray with your shoes on. Be willing to be the answer to people’s prayers, and be willing to do the work to get to the places where the need is great.

Vote your heart and your conscience. Don’t fall for Party traps and false dichotomies. Pay attention to how the candidates look after the least of these in society. And if no one is looking after them, you should…and then run for office.

Oh: and any candidate who claims to be “Christian” is probably just after a vote. Be wary of people who fly that flag too high.

Half-priced hang-gliding lessons aren’t worth the savings. Just remember that.

Give your life away continually to things that are deserving of it: good causes, loving people, a life of service, a partner or family.

But then again, don’t think that you need to get married and have kids to live a full life. Plenty of things in this world deserve our hearts, so don’t fold to the status quo of societal pressures.

Oh, that reminds me: the status isn’t quo. Make that your mantra.

Today you’re three. Tomorrow you’re thirty. I know how this works. So I’m going to start telling you all this now in the hopes that you might learn it all early.

And always remember: I am glad you exist.

Dad

Cold Coffee Confidential

Making homemade cold coffee is easy peasy lemon squeezy. There are only a few reasons I can think of for why you wouldn’t.

1) You hate saving money ($3.50+ for over-iced, burnt-flavored water)

2) You hate cold coffee (in which case we can’t be friends)

3) You’re intimidated and don’t know where to start.

For reasons 1 and 2, I can’t help you, and you are possibly beyond help. But if you suffer from that last one…I got you, buddy.

Cold coffee is just a few steps (and 26 hours) away. That’s the only downside: you need some lead time. But all good things require some lead time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, your garden doesn’t just pop up in a week, and your dreams don’t just come true in the snap of your fingers…if they do, dream bigger.

Alright, here are the esssential steps:

1) Grab yourself a large container. If you have little Hobbits in the house like we do, best to make it kid resistant (aka it bounces not breaks).

2) Get 6 cups of cold water. Not hot water, cold water. Hot water has already gone through some heating elements which changes the flavor…you don’t want that.

Ignore the bag on the table.

3) Pour water in the container, and scoop 5(ish) heaping tablespoons of ground coffee in there. Add more or less depending on the roast and how you like your coffee. And pro-tip: I always suggest you grind your own coffee, hot or cold.  It just tastes better.

Notice the pinky finger position…critical to a spill-proof pour.

4) Make sure the grounds get wet. Really wet. Like, no-hope-floats wet. Stir it, shake it, get it mixed.

Note to self: return those library books.

5) Seal it up and put it in a safe place…like on your counter. Don’t overthink it, you Enneagram type 1’s.

6) Wait 24 hours and be productive with your life.

7) After 24 hours, grab yourself a pitcher and a small wired sieve and pour it through, catching those grounds. Pro-tip: coffee grounds can be reused in tons of ways. If you’re like, “What kind of wire-sieve are you talking abou?” just look below and take a gander at ours.  And if you’re like, “Uhm, that’s a strainer, Brown,” well you can keep your opinion to yourself.

Also: if you’re pretentious you can use cheese cloth (lookin’ at you, Ina…just joking, I love you and all your Hamptons awesomeness).

You say strainer, I say sieve.

8) Stick the filtered cold coffee in the fridge for at least two hours to chill through. If you were really smart you would have made some coffee ice cubes with yesterday’s hot coffee. Did you think of that? Never too late, friend.

9) Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

It’s as easy as that folks. And really, it doesn’t take 9 steps, I’m just imagining you’re a simpleton. Which actually, I appreciate in directions. Please always assume I’m dumber than I am because you’ll be correct half the time.

Got a good recipe? A better one? Share it below. We beg, borrow, and steal in this life.

And when it comes to the kitchen, just remember what my Dad always said,

“If you can read, you can cook.”

So get (cold coffee) cookin’!

Ingredients

-6 cups water

-5(ish) heaping tablespoons of coffee grounds

-Time (26 hours)


Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Buttheads…

They were buttheads.auntiebuttheads_Large

Really; no two ways about it.

I was lifting, minding my own business, and they were chatting.  Just out of high school maybe?  Maybe rounding out their senior year?

Doesn’t matter.  What matters is what they talked about.  Well, actually, that didn’t matter much, either.  You’ll see why.

BH 1: (arm curls) You know, I want to go to our High School reunion to see just how far Jake didn’t go.

BH 2: (mirroring arm curls) Yeah, people change their senior year, you know.

BH 1: They do change…

BH 2: I was a late bloomer, that’s for sure.

BH 1: What are you drinking this weekend?

BH 2: Well, I had a 24 pack but I drank it all last night.

<I’m going to pause at this moment to let that last line sink in.  Because when he said that I looked over at him and snickered…and got noticed for eavesdropping.  But, really, this kid drank a 24 pack last night? Yeah right.  My thigh is bigger than his waist. Obviously the lie of someone who has NEVER drank 24 beers in a night…Ok. Back to the programming>

BH 1: Yeah. I got a six pack at home.

BH 2: What you drinking?

BH 1: Bud Lite.

BH 2: Yeah, I like that.  Or some Corona.  With lime and salt.  The good stuff.

<Again…the labeling of Corona as “the good stuff” deserves a pause>

BH 1: I like Heineken.  That stuff is strong.  Heineken, though…that’ll make you sleepy, you know?  I drink that and I’m all like “Man, I need a nap…”

<At this point I wanted to interject and tell the BH’s that actually it’s not Heineken, but rather just alcohol, and over consumption, that makes one tired.  And, really, they shouldn’t be drinking at their age anyway because, well, it didn’t appear that they were chock full in the braincell department as it was, and thinning the herd wasn’t doing them any favors.  But I just kept quiet.  Lifting quietly so as to hear the continuing idiocy.>

BH 2: Heineken is no good, man.  You gotta try Platinum.  That stuff is great.

<Oh Lord…>

BH 1: (Switching to bench press)Yeah.  Say, what’re you gonna do now, man?  I’m gonna do manual labor.

BH 2: I don’t know.  I might be a physical therapist.  Or maybe business.  You know, ’cause I’m really persuasive.

BH 1: You are, man.  You like to kiss ass.

BH 2: To get ahead you have to, man.  I’m good at it.

BH 1: Yeah, you are…

BH 2: You know?  I can bull with the best of them, too.  I can sell water to a well.  I can sell ice to an Eskimo…

<And this all is to be lauded?  At this point I resolved myself never to let Finn, at least to the best of my ability, think being shrewd is better than being noble. Seriously.  Oh, and to let him know about the dangers of underage drinking.  And that Corona is not “the good stuff.”>

BH 1: Yeah, you’re going to be a yuppie.

BH 2: You know it.  Can’t wait. (Switch bench presser and spotter)

<Actually, we should take a moment of silence in reverence for something absolutely original.  No one has ever said, “You know it. I can’t wait” in reference to their future as a yuppie.  Usually, when it dawns on you that you’re a yuppie, you start to grow a mustache and pledge allegiance to PBR as an attempt to claw your way into hipsterhoood.>

BH 2: You know what else?  I can get girls to do anything for me.  It’s like a super power or something.

<Good Lord…>

BH 1: I feel bad doing that, man.

<Ah! A bright spot>

BH 1: Unless I’m drunk.

<Ruined it>

BH 1: Then I’m all sorts of smooth talking and can do it.

BH 2: You know how many girls I have bringing me food?  Like Amy brings me food every day.  Every. Day.

BH 1: Amy?  She’s the ugly one, right?

<Really?>

BH 2: Naw; she’s not so bad, dawg.

<Do not say “dawg.”  You cannot say “dawg” with any sort of credibility, future-mr-yuppie.>

BH 1: Whatever man.  Alright, I’m done.  You?

BH 2: Yeah. Cool.

Butthead 1 and Butthead 2 went to parts unknown.  Probably to sweet talk some not-so-bad girl into buying them burritos.

Here’s what I learned about our friends:

They’re too young to be drinking, do not drink honorable beer, think being a “good businessman” means swindling people and kissing butt, want to see how far their classmates fall, and use women for food.

Oh, and they can each curl 30lbs and bench 120lbs.

…and the one is a “late bloomer.”

Fascinating, really.  Like watching hamsters in the wild: they’re as useless as when they’re caged.

Sigh.

Mamas (and Papas): Don’t let your babies grow up to be buttheads.

 

The Thing that Happened When I Sat Next to The Reverend Jesse Jackson in a Sauna

I’ve been meaning to post this for about a month now, but I mentioned it in a sermon recently, so I figured now would be the timealg-sauna-jpg to do so.

I need to preface this post for those not in the “know” about sauna etiquette.  And, believe it or not, it has less to do with what you wear in a sauna, and more to do with what you say in a sauna.

And here’s the rule: say nothing.

An exception can be made if you came into the sauna with a friend and you are continuing a conversation from your workout, but by and large you say NOTHING in a sauna…especially to people you don’t know.

“Why?” you might ask?

Because no one goes into a sauna thinking that they’ll have to talk to someone.  By and large they’re just trying to sweat and survive…especially if the sauna is of quality construction.  All saunas should test your ability to breathe.  If they don’t, you have a crappy sauna.

So, anyway, here I was all toweled up in the sauna, and I had arrived at the sauna with some of my fraternity brothers…as we get together every so often to drink beer and sweat.  It’s a vicious cycle that we all convince ourselves cancels the other out.

We’re good at self-deception.

Anyway, turns out the Reverend Jesse Jackson was also in the house, and while MLK day was just around the corner and I had about a million questions that I wanted to ask him about MLK, I said nothing when he opened the sauna door.

I wanted to ask him about marching, about where he would be the next day, about what it was like to work on the front lines of equal rights, about how he’s managed to keep his hair.

But I said nothing.

He sat down next me.  I said nothing.

A rather large person came in to share the space, and so everyone had to adjust on the bench, which meant that I was about a foot away from the right Reverend.

And I said nothing.

He got up and started doing push-ups in the sauna, which made me want to crack the joke that he was doing “Rainbow Push-Ups” (a joke a fraternity brother also thought of and cracked when he left) as an homage to his organization the Rainbow Push Coalition.

But I said nothing.

Why?

Because those are the rules.

And I imagine the Reverend Jesse Jackson wants a place where he’s neither a reverend nor Jesse Jackson.

We all long for those places.

So I just sat and sweated.

And even when one of my fraternity brothers, who had left to get a drink of water, came back in and said loudly, “J**** Christ it’s hot in here!” and everyone looked at the Reverend with horror on their faces, he followed the rules.

He said nothing.

Because that’s what you do.

So, what happened when I sat next to The Reverend Jesse Jackson in a sauna?

We both said nothing.

‘Cause that’s what you do.

It’s Fun To Stay At The…

Finn was born.

For those of you just tuning in, Finn is our son.

“Finn” is short for Findley.  But really I just wanted to name my kid after a Jimmy Buffett song, and “Finn” with two “n’s” was as close as I could get.

So Finn was born and we moved to a new neighborhood.  This all happened in three days.  After three days I hear resurrection happens.

Or, as in this case, after three days you collapse in a mess and go, “What the hell, man?!”

Having a baby and moving in the same weekend was a bad idea.  Filing that away under “Mistakes of 2013.”

But as we moved to a new neighborhood, we had to join a new gym. Plus, I have to be able to carry that kid long distances, so it’s time to get back on the workout wagon.

If you’ll remember, our old gym was full of Trixies and Bros, which made people watching a lot of fun.  The conversations (if you want to call them that) had by the water fountain at that gym were intellectually stimulating in the way that the Teletubbies are intellectually stimulating: it’s god-awful but you can’t look away.

We’ll see what this new gym brings.

In searching for a gym near our new place, Rhonda and I decided to go back to an old standby in the “now-we’re-married-and-have-to-do-married-things” playbook.

We joined the YMCA.

On the tour we noted the dated pool, pock-scarred racquetball courts, and complete maze of a building.  It was as if a crazy person designed this place.  Hallways lead to nowhere, and that nowhere is the yoga studio tucked in the southwest corner.

We peeked our heads in and saw men and women in the dark lying prostrate, stretching things with candles by their heads.  It looked unsafe.

But the cardio room was newly re-done, and the weight room wasn’t completely full of meat-heads (which means that I can probably lift there during slow times).

So we took the plunge.

This morning was my first morning to head there.  I pulled out of our garage only to be met by the huge garbage truck in the alley.  As I began to back out the alley the other way, a truck looking for scrap metal pulled up behind me.

And there I was, stuck between two necessary professions and going nowhere.

Obviously a metaphor for my life…

After 10 minutes of following the garbage truck down the alley as dumpsters, boxes, and the occasional sofa was tossed into the belly of that beast, I was free on the road.

Except that road was Montrose.  And it was backed up from the freeway entrance.  Plan B, cut down to Irving Park, and then sit there as it’s backed up…from the freeway entrance.

The freeway is badly named, by the way.  It’s not free at all.  It sucks away your life as hours tick by all the while you’re waiting to enter the race.

Another metaphor for my life…

Finally I passed the freeway, turned in by the Golden Nugget (that’s a breakfast place with an unfortunate name), and came to the mechanical gate of the Y.  There’s a minivan in front of me, so I practice my morning meditation and wait.

The silhouette of the woman in front of me is one of sheer panic.  Her trashcan-size purse is being ruffled through as if she’s searching for ticks on a dog, and items are flying everywhere.  Then she just turns the whole thing over, making the messy contents contained in the bag fall on her floor.

Which makes her unbuckle, and begin sifting through her floor.

And what’s she looking for?

Her ID that will let her in the gate.

I turn up Billy Joel.  It’s my only saving grace at this point.

And as I’m on my third round of repeating mindfully, “Three, two, one. One, two, three. What the hell is bothering me?” I hear a tap at my window.

It’s her.

“Uhm, I’ve forgotten my card.  Can I use yours to get in?”

I abandon my running vehicle, go up to the box and slide my card.

As I’m getting back into my car I notice she missed the entrance window, and the bar is falling back down.

And why did she miss it?

She was putting on her seat belt.  To go to a parking space in a largely deserted parking lot.

Another life metaphor staring me in the face…

I get back out, swipe the card, and in she goes.

As I follow her in through the gate, get out of my car, and lock my door, she comes up to me and says, “Thank you so much.  It’s been a rough morning.”

Yes, yes it has.

And as I head into my workout, I look back at that gate and start praying that I can get back out of the lot.  Because although it’s fun to stay at the YMCA, I’ve had my fill of wasting time…