Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Several options were bandied about on Sunday evening and we finally settled on the idea of heading up to the finest studio in town: Wal-Mart. I’ve heard it said that when you’re desperate you’ll eat just about anything…and I suppose we were desperate. I wrote down the phone number and pledged to make the call as soon as the studio opened on Monday.
My expectations were extremely low based on the phone calls to reserve a photo session. It took several tries to even get someone on the other end of the phone line and when she picked up the phone I could hear a screaming child in the background. She sounded haggard and worn as she quickly stated her long winded spiel: “Thank you for calling PictureMe studios at WalMart on 4th Street, this is Lori, can we take your picture today?”
Poor Lori was already having a bad day, and I could only imagine what our crew of 7 would do to her fragile psyche. This was shaping up to be a disaster. Lori made it worse when she declared that the only time open that day was a 1:00 pm slot…smack dab in the middle of the boys feeding (Titus) and napping (Samuel). The problem with messing around with the boys schedule is that they always pay you back by messing around with your schedule later.
But again, we were desperate. “1:00 is perfect, Lori,” I muttered helplessly into the phone.
We didn’t have much time to prepare our beautiful selves for this photo shoot. To make matters worse, my family didn’t come to Texas anticipating the need for extreme color coordination. When Lover and I arrived at the Fetherlodge to round up the troops for our lunch break photo session, we noticed that we were sporting a hideously clashing kaleidoscope of colors. This was not acceptable, because when we take Fetherlin Family Photos we do it up right.
In the past, we’ve done FFPs featuring a carefully coordinated black and khaki theme. That FFP session ended with my sister Suzanne literally laying on my back as I laid in about a foot of snow in our front yard. Needless to say, we never invited that photog to snap our family again.
We’ve done an FFP with white shirts and jeans in the front yard. One year we had a red/denim/plaid themed FFP taken on a farm-like property. We’ve even done a well orchestrated blue/brown theme that featured our family (including Lover but pre-kids) putting our heads in a circle and taking a shot of us as we all lay on our backs.
These FFP sessions are just always awkward, though. We did an all red shirts Christmas FFP when I was about 10, and I managed to ruin every picture with a wild eyed smile. Those were the days when there was no digital display to check the quality of the picture…and we were using the self-timer to capture our smiling mugs. So I could get away with anything! But now, technology makes it so tough to mess around during family photos. Yet another reason to long for the good old days…
Snap back to reality…we’ve got very little time to get coordinated. Lover was literally THROWING clothing around the house to come up with items for my mom and sister. I convinced my dad to wear a hip, western themed pearl snap number that was WAY out of his normal comfort zone. Necklaces were callously tossed aside in favor of different baubles and we combed water into Samuel’s hair so that he would look semi-presentable. Incidentally, we settled on a “brownish/reddish” theme for the special occasion FFP.
We piled into the two cars to take us up to the studio and once there we walked across the bake oven asphalt parking lot and into the store. Our first order of business was to change Samuel’s diaper, so Lover scurried away to the disgusting Koala Bear changing station in the bathroom to freshen the little man. The rest of us nervously waited outside the tiny studio, not sure what to expect, but afraid of potential meltdowns from the boys (or me). I love looking at FFPs, but I really don’t enjoy the process of taking the pics.
Our photog, Lori, was finishing up with a customer when Lover got back, so all seven of us made our way into the approximately 8x8 foot studio. As she began to set up the background screen and prepare the seating for us, my mom was desperately trying to wipe the drool off Samuel’s chin before it hit his shirt. Her valiant efforts were encouraged by my dad as he offered up his best handkerchief for the dirty work.
And then it got awkward.
DID SAMUEL JUST POOP AGAIN?!
FOR THE LOVE!!!
A wry smile crossed the 2 year old’s face and one whiff of the tiny studio’s stale air confirmed the worst: a second dirty diaper in the span of about 5 minutes.
Since we were already crushed in the studio, and Lover was out front talking to Lori about the photo packages we would order, I decided that we had to get this diaper changed IMMEDIATELY.
On the table covered in greenish carpet that normally served as the seat for portrait subjects of all ages, my son’s diaper came off and the room filled with toxic fumes. As my sister Suzy supplied wipes, I took care of the diaper “insult” with several deft moves and got his shorts back on quickly.
And then Lori came back around the corner with Lover, who gave me a wide eyed look as she took a whiff of the foul odor. I gave her the subtle confirming nod and then tried to keep things moving along without addressing the obvious issue that was literally hanging in the air.
“Where do you want us, Lori?”
I’m sure you’ll agree, dear reader, that aside from Titus deciding to wear orange when we clearly said "brownish/red", this was another successful FFP.
I realized that at the end of the day, you can brush your hair and spit shine your faces, you can color coordinate perfectly and pose sublimely, and you can capture the PERFECT moment of joyous family interaction.
But the beauty of the family journey is actually the stuff that you can’t see in the picture.
I got to see my sister gamely take on her role as an aunt to our boys. One night she read Sam a stack of 15ish books before bed. She gave baths to the boys and fed Titus rice cereal and got it all over herself and Titus. She played in the backyard with Sam and laid on an air mattress while he did WWF dive bombs off the office chair onto her legs.
I got to see my Mom and Dad embrace their role as grandparents as they took Sam to the zoo on what must have been a 100 degree day. They gamely participated in a WILD 2nd birthday party for Samuel that featured more balloons and crazy children than our living room has ever seen. Dad worked with Samuel on his words and encouraged him as he learns to express himself. Mom carried Titus around for so long that her arms must have gotten sore.
We all laughed and played games and ate great meals and talked about the past year…the painful experiences and the joyful. The confusing and the confirming. We prayed and joked and asked questions and sat quietly watching the boys.
And when the three of them left earlier today to head home to Colorado, the house was strangely quiet. Sam woke up from his afternoon nap and excitedly said, “Nana! Papa! Sisi!” He explored the empty guest room with an inquisitive look on his face and I gently reminded him that we'll have visits with them again.
He grabbed some of his new birthday toys and started playing, then randomly shouted "DUCK!" at the top of his lungs.
Another perfect picture.
Friday, July 30, 2010
You thought that after a 2 month hiatus I had “dropped off the blog earth”.
Ready for justifications and excuses? The hiatus from the blog was due in part to the time I spent changing lives, diapers, channels and time zones. That is to say that I spoke in several settings (summer camp and church), have two healthy boys, enjoyed the World Cup and got to do a little traveling to visit family.
There are really no legitimate excuses, though. In the end, life is about finishing what you start, and while it was tough, I have managed to scratch and claw my way back onto the “blog earth” once again.
Should I make up for those two months with a lengthy manifesto? I spoke with one of my readers that advised me to consider “micro-blogging”. You know, fewer words require less commitment from the reader.
In the future, there may be some quick hitters headed your direction, but for today I’m taking this ship the exact opposite direction.
Dear reader, saddle up your horses…we’ve got a trail to blaze.
The last blog post that blessed your life was from May 31st…and the World Cup started less than two weeks later. If you are even a marginal soccer fan, which I hope you are, you are well aware that the World Cup is only the most important sporting event known to man. As such, when it arrives every four years I am filled with great anticipation and unmitigated glee.
So it is my pleasure to present to you the following recap of my life, told through the lens of the past six World Cups.
The first World Cup that I remember took place 20 years ago. The summer of 1990 found me as a flat topped 10 year old getting ready for 6th grade. We lived in Africa and I went to a boarding school in Cote D’Ivoire. My friends from my dorm would gather with me and watch as our adopted team, The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, took the tournament by storm. Their aging star, Roger Milla, was our hero. We learned his celebratory dance at the corner flag and would copy his moves on the field. Cameroon was ousted in a close game against England in the quarter finals, and so we jumped on the West Germany bandwagon (remember, this was BEFORE the fall of the Berlin Wall…I feel old). Klinsman and his band of West Germans won the final in a nail biter over Maradona’s Argentine squad, and to commemorate the occasion I purchased a huge, hard cover picture book that detailed the outcomes of every game that I still have to this day.
Four years later the World Cup moved to the United States. I had just completed my freshman year of high school and watched in awe along with the rest of the U.S. as police pursued OJ Simpson in the white Ford Bronco. That chase took place at the beginning of the tournament and was a harbinger of crazy stories to come. The United States squad, featuring fellow red-head Alexi Lalas, was not expected to make much noise at the tournament. However, against all odds the team managers to slip past heavily favored Columbia due to an unfortunate own goal from Andres Escobar. Escobar was killed in Medellin shortly after the team got back to Columbia.
The tournament (and everything else in life) took on life and death meaning for me as 14 year old. I visited my boarding school buddy Matt Clason and we watched the dull final game together in Wisconsin. Romario and Brazil ended up beating the Italians when Roberto Baggio missed from the penalty spot after 120 scoreless minutes. In all reality, the highlight of that trip wasn’t the World Cup final – we were actually more excited to see Kirby Puckett smash a home run into the upper deck of the Metrodome. We got on TV with our “Hit It Here, Kirby” sign, featuring a huge target for Kirby to hit. Getting on TV was about as cool as it got for us those days.
I don’t remember much about the 1998 World Cup. I know it was hosted by France and won by France in a surprising 3-0 result over Germany, but the rest of the details are fuzzy. I had just finished my freshman year at Wheaton College and was home in Colorado for the summer, but I literally don’t remember watching one game. My best guess is that I was still bitter at soccer after some really frustrating experiences playing high school soccer. Plus, I was busy finding myself as a college student, so I probably didn’t have much time to watch soccer.
2002 found me back in Colorado as a college graduate. The World Cup was hosted by two nations, Japan and South Korea. The geography made for a wicked 12ish hour time difference and I remember a lot of the games were played in the middle of our night time in Colorado. I was a brand new youth pastor with unbridled energy and actually went to the homes of youth group kids to watch games with 2:00 am start times. We would often pick up BOMB burritos at 7-Eleven and consume them with no fear of the horrible morning repercussions that were headed our way. My sister was an exchange student in Ecuador at the time, and we donned our yellow jerseys and traipsed over to a friend’s house to watch Ecuador games on cable since we didn’t have cable at our place. Those were the days! The United States had a great run in that tournament and actually beat arch-rival Mexico in the round of 16 before being eliminated by eventual runner-up Germany.
In 2006, the tournament was held in Germany, and I watched several early games with my father-in-law and rooted hard for Cote D’Ivoire. I had married Lover in November of 2004, and she did a lot to help me in my role as a youth pastor. That summer we took the youth group kids on a mission’s trip to an Indian Reservation in Wyoming right in the middle of the World Cup. This created a huge gap in my memories of the tournament because we didn’t have TV access for quite a few days. I did get to watch an epic Germany vs. Italy semifinal game by myself in a hotel room in Denver while the rest of my family went to an art show, and I was sad to watch the Germans (my favorite non-US team) lose in such stunning fashion. And I’ll never forget the France-Italy final that I watched with about 20 stud high school soccer players that were part of an upcoming trip to Thailand. The now infamous image of Zidane bowing out of the final after the Materazzi head butt was a shock to everyone.
And so, in early June of 2010, the sixth World Cup that I could remember was about to commence. I was so excited for the World Cup and the US team carried sky high expectations as well. The first game on the US schedule was against a powerhouse England squad, and I felt like the best way to commemorate the Saturday game was to order a cookie cake for us to consume along with friends.
And then it got awkward.
When I called to order the cookie cake from Wal-Mart, the helpful lady on the other end of the phone line asked me if I wanted it to be decorated. Feeling a rush of patriotic pride, I asked her to ice the cookie cake with the words “GO USA!” She said this would not only be possible but would only set me back $8. I was shocked. Who knew cookie cakes were so cheap?
With both boys in the car when we went to pick up the cookie cake on Friday night before the big game, Lover decided to run in quickly and pick up the decorated treasure. Upon arrival in the bakery section, she stated her name and described the cake she was looking to retrieve.
The hapless bakery clerk returned minutes later with a confused expression on her face.
“There’s no cookie cake here under that name.”
Lover quickly called me, and we went over the details of the order. I was adamant that the cookie cake was there. I had confirmed the order and knew that we were at the right place at the correct time.
Lover pleaded with the bakery clerk to go back and look one more time, just in case she had missed it. “It’s a cookie cake…D-A-V-I-D. It says Go USA!”
The clerk came back a second time and said once again that there was nothing like that in the bakery. She said that the only item she saw back there was actually for someone with the last name Gousa, and she apologized that they didn’t have our order.
“Gousa!?!?” Lover yelled. “That’s our cookie cake.” I think that poor bakery clerk is still confused.
Do you get it?
Think about it...
GO USA is gousa...gousa is GO USA!
Massively relieved, we kicked off the United States World Cup run in grand style and watched a ton of games throughout the tournament. We loved the USA vs. Algeria game and shared the anguish/hope/disappointment/ecstasy with the rest of the nation as Landon Donovan came through late in the game to provide the game winner.
And when it was all said and done, Spain shed all its baggage and finally won the coveted trophy while the Netherlands added another notch to its “Lovable Losers” belt.
My predictions for the 2014 World Cup to be held in Brazil? I’ll be a little older, hopefully a little wiser, with perhaps a little red-haired princess added to our brood, and most likely a few pounds added to my waistline. At this rate of one blog post every 2 months, I will have made about 24 additional posts to this blog.
There will probably still be a confused bakery clerk in Texas and my sister will still be gallivanting around the globe on some new adventure. Those 20 high school soccer studs that I went to Thailand with will be in their late 20s, and BOMB burritos will probably be recalled by the FDA because of their toxic qualities. Oh, and I’ll probably be chanting “Gousa” along with the rest of you.
I’m struck by how much life has changed since I was a 10 year old kid in West Africa dancing like Roger Milla. Twenty years later I find myself with a wife, 2 little red-headed boys, a mortgage, academic degrees, a life insurance policy, and an old VW with no air condition. These have been good years and I am constantly amazed to see the ways that God has blessed the journey.
And you thought soccer was boring…geez.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Clutching our "Free Small Handspun Milkshake" coupons, we parked near the JCPenny door and scampered inside with the double stroller. We wound our way past painfully empty stores and "who thought this was a good idea?" kiosks scattered down the middle of the mall. Sam and Titus were unusually calm and quiet as we meandered through the echoing halls.
We waited in line for our milkshakes (Lover got a peach flavored one and I chose cookies and cream) and then continued our walking tour of the mall. We came across a group of kids having a grand old time on the children's rides, so we dug through Lover's purse and found $.75 to cover the cost of the riding horse. Didn't those things used to cost a quarter? Evidently, "times is hard" for the children's rides...
We naturally assumed that riding the horsey would be the best way for Sam to celebrate our trip to the mall. Naturally, we assumed wrong.
And then it got awkward.
Sam started kicking and screaming in terror when we tried to place him on the mechanical horse. You'd have thought he had experienced a severe traumatic fall off a horse or that he was bitten by a huge stallion at one point...the poor kid was just petrified. Having put the quarters in the machine and determined that we would get our money's worth, we quickly decided that Lover should get on the horse WITH Sam to make the ride more bearable.
We kept walking after the horse ride and just a few shops down the hall we came across this
scene on one of the mall benches. I am SO angry about the timing of this picture, because it looks like the couple on the right side of the bench is just sitting near each other. But make no mistake: they were MUGGING each other just before I snapped the picture. It looked like we were back in Paris at the Metro stations where PDA is standard operating procedure...I mean, these kids were just making out like no one was around. Meanwhile, the poor sap on the left side of the bench just sat there listening to his headphones. Painfully awkward. My guess? He had to go to the mall with his sister and hang out while she played kissy face with her 9th grade boyfriend. It would have been legendary if I could have gotten a good picture of the amorous festivities, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.
We enjoyed the rest of our walk and made it back to the car for the ride home. As we drove home, we went down Judson Road and saw that it was lined with American flags in honor of Memorial Day. I thought about my friends and relatives that have served our country and realized that our whole trip to the mall was just a small glimpse of what Memorial Day is all about.
Sam needed to know that his momma was there for him on the horse...she was on his side and she protected him from what terrified him. It's good to know that you've got folks that are WITH you...that you can lean on.
I thought about the silly bench couple that couldn't keep their hands off each other and I remembered how it felt to have a ridiculous crush in middle school. It's good to know that you've got folks that are WITH you...that you can lean on.
Incidentally, I lucked out and ended up married to my middle school crush...and as we drove home with the boys sleeping in the back seat, I thought, "It's good to know that you've got folks that are WITH you...that you can lean on."
Thursday, May 27, 2010
And then it got awkward.
A few days after we got the Geo back, I noticed that my 1996 VW was not kicking out the cold jets from the air vents. This was, to put it mildly, horribly frustrating. "NOT AGAIN!" This is merely the latest in a long string of maladies suffered by the Passat. For instance, the passenger side rear door has no handle and can't even be opened from the inside. It is stuck shut forever. The driver's side door does not open from the outside, so every time I want to get in my car I use my keys to roll down the windows (cool VW feature, I know) and open the door from the inside.
The Passat in Better Days
The trunk locking mechanism doesn't work, so if I want to haul stuff I literally have to put my back seat down and stuff items through the small opening. The windshield has a huge crack in it, the paint on the top of the car has started to peel off, and the nearly 160,000 miles on the car are embarrassingly evident.
And don't even get me started on how annoying it is to shove a car seat (with a JUMBO fat baby in it) all the way across to the passenger side of the back seat from the driver's side rear door...once I shove the boys into their seats in the back, we roll through town with steamy Longview air blasting our faces. Three glistening gingers riding in a little white Passat...quite a scene we create.
I've learned to deal with these little annoyances and we've made the decision to stick with this car until it dies (even though we saw a classy little scooter for sale on the side of the road today). The Passat is certainly not perfect, but it's paid for, and it gets us from Point A to Point B. So it's a "working broken" car, and for now it'll have to do.
This idea of the Passat being a "working broken" car resonates with me because my life could be described in exactly the same way..."working broken". And if we were honest, we'd probably agree that the description fits all of us. And sometimes, car repairs can be a great metaphor for bigger "repairs" that need to be made.
One of my co-workers, Natrone Means, recently suffered a car repair episode with his jeep. The car repair hit at the exact time that Natrone decided to make a major change in his life for the better. He's got a "crack in his windshield", but he's moving forward. Couldn't be more proud of him for taking the steps he's taking.
My car repair issues have come to a head recently, but they've actually been developing slowly over the past few years. And like I said, the car still runs and can get me from home to work, but there are a lot of parts that don't work. My life is the same, and there are a lot of unhealthy issues that have developed slowly over the past few years. When did I start eating so poorly and watching endless hours of TV? What made me think that it would be okay to not spend good time in God's Word on a regular basis? How did it become so easy to disconnect from what's going on in my own family when I feel worn out and tired? Why do I feel so inconsistent in every area of life (work, church, home, etc)?
These "life repair" issues have caused a lot of self-examination and with the help of an excellent life coach, I am trying to make some significant changes. But I'm quickly realizing that no matter how hard I try, I'm always going to be "working broken". You can try and try, but you can't ever fix everything. This reality drives me a little bit crazy.
The kids are always going to wake up early and interrupt my time with God, and no matter how cute they are in some moments, they're just as annoying in other moments. I'll have a miscommunication with Lover and feel like we're not on the same page, and then a few moments later I'll look at her and wonder how I got so lucky to end up with her. I'll eat too much, work out too little, and feel terribly out of shape and then someone at work will ask, "Have you lost weight?". I'll ignore people that could be great friends and isolate myself because it's easier, and then feel frustrated when I don't have good relationships...and then some old faithful friend will call just to see how I'm doing.
It's a big, messy, awkward pursuit...and I am becoming more confident that in the midst of my broken approach to life, God is working. And His work is always good, despite how awkward it may seem.
So the VW keeps rolling.
It's gonna be a scorching hot summer.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
She did a great job setting up the cookout and I made it home from work just in time to welcome folks to our home. We ended up having 4 families show up (along with their 10 kids) and the hot dogs and hamburgers were flying off the grill. The ladies gathered on the lawn and several of us manly men ended up standing out by the fence watching the kids run to and fro.
And then it got awkward.
As the kids ran past us for the umpteenth time, several of us caught a whiff of a foul odor. Suspecting the tiny culprits prancing at our feet, we went into full detective mode. The ladies joined us as we sniffed bottoms, did visual checks, and asked if kids had made poo poo. After a minute or two of searching, we found nothing.
I continued to stand and talk with the dads while Lover rejoined the ladies in a conversation circle. I began to suspect that one of the two Mormon lawyers standing near me was the guilty party. Maybe the potato salad was the cause? They were both wearing sunglasses and seemed possibly guilty of the offense.
At one point I muttered something about "perhaps a cat was back here" as a way to let the guilty party off the hook. The smell was overwhelming and in the sweltering heat it was just getting worse and worse.
The party ended when the kids hit meldown stage, and everyone left and agreed that we should do this more often. It was a great evening and Lover and I cleaned up and came back into the comfort of air condition and laughed as we talked about everything.
We couldn't stop laughing about the mysterious, awful odor and we went to bed feeling like we had made great progress in building new friendships. It was encouraging to take a step outside of our comfort zone and invest in the people surrounding us. I thought that night about how it literally does "stink" to build new friendships...it just takes time to get to a place of comfort and ease. In the meantime, it's hundreds of starts and stops ("So, what is your favorite music?"), misunderstandings and miscommunications ("So, what does it mean that you're the bishop of the local LDS group?"). It takes a ton of work...but we believe it's worth it and so we put up with the initial "stench" because we feel the reward will be sweet.
The next morning, I was sitting on the couch with Titus and it hit me:
That stink wasn't the Mormon lawyers. It was me!
We had recently noticed some fireants crawling near Sam's sandbox and were understandably worried that they would bite him if we didn't get rid of them. I had a potent powder (smelled like rotten eggs spiked with sulfur) that dealt with ants, and I spread it all around the sandbox and surrounding areas. The stuff was just toxic.
After a few days of the sprinklers running in the backyard, the powder was no longer visible. And the evening of the bbq came and I thought nothing of it...
But it reeked. And we all smelled it.
And I'm sure all of the dads think it was me.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
By way of introduction, I have a charming wife I call "Lover", and two wonderful little pale-skinned, red-headed boys (Sam and Titus). These are the primary characters in my pursuit of life, love and happiness. There are many others that will participate in this story, and each of them are vibrant and colorful characters that bring a host of quirks and imperfections to the table.
And my introduction? Well, I'm learning to find beauty in the awkward pursuit. It's the best way I've been able to come to terms with this journey that is NEVER perfect and ALWAYS awkward. The rest is just details...