Full Circle


I used to have a battered cardboard box that contained the evidence of my youth. A period that not only seems a lifetime ago but a span of years that as an adult I have tried hard, with limited success, to distance myself from.

bury my heart
Seemed like a good idea at the time.

In this box were dogeared photos of youth wearing unfashionably outdated clothing that were complimented with similarly unforgiving hairdos. There were report cards tattooed with the red ink of numerous teachers swift pens. Awkward drawings of dinosaurs and athletes as well as the scattered seeds of a future poet written on double lined paper. There was video footage of my father in Thailand during the Vietnam war and a much younger version of myself in diapers on the Air Force base back in the States just to name a few of the items.

Just before discarding the artifacts I took one last look through the box. I discovered a graduation card from my father that I had overlooked upon first glance.  By the time the card had been written my parents had been separated for nearly six years.

“You’re the man of the house now,” he told me one sunny afternoon while my siblings and I cried and pleaded. From our perspective it came out of the blue but in hindsight it was a rather obvious destination for my young parents marriage.

I opened the card and read it.

My advice to you is to find a job you enjoy doing because you will be working for the rest of your life.

Sage advice from a man who spent the better part of his life working in factories in Sidney and Harrisburg.

I realized today while folding laundry that I have in fact taken his advice. For the last five years I have been a stay at-home father. It is similar to other occupations in that there are good days and bad days. But it is different from most occupations in regards to a number of aspects.

034To begin with I love the people I work for. I mean that more than words can express. It’s perfectly alright that my 10 year finds it necessary to thread chewing gum around her fingers which are dangerously close to her long curly hair while I write this. That does not diminish my love. Nor does my screaming 1 year old who is hollering simply to see how much volume her little body can produce. I swear I saw a potted plant start to vibrate off a book shelf when she started yelling.

Another thing that may be a bit different is that I spend my sick days and vacation time with the people I work for. They see me early in the morning with sleep still in my eyes and late at night when even a cup of coffee can not prop open my drooping eye lids.

They see me twist like a pretzel and breath while I do my morning yoga routine. They hear me exhale loudly when my favorite team loses, again. They see the twinkle in my eye when I flirt with their mother and I can’t help but chuckle when I see them want to melt from embarrassment.

I chase the people I work for with a vacuum cleaner during chores because I think their reactions are funny. I recoil at the amount of earwax that is harpooned from their ears after a bath. I teach them how to cook and how to stand in the batters box and face a fastball. I tell them jokes that sounded funnier in my head and laugh at their jokes though at times they lack a good punch line. I give them advice they don’t want when they need it least and simply hug them when they need it most. 040

I have begun to realize of late that I have been very fortunate in this journey through existence. I met and married an amazing woman who values having a parent at home while our children grow up. As an individual who has never enjoyed clocking in for an orthodox 8 hours I have been very lucky to have the ability to be on call 24/7 instead.

It has not been an easy path, but then again, what road is not filled with obstacles at some point? The true blessing I suppose is that this is a route of my own design.

The Calm Within The Storm


There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm” ~Willa Cather~

070A shower is a rare commodity in my world. The children are regularly cleaned of course with a bit of saliva on the end of my thumb or in a bathtub full of dirty water. . . .how do they get so dirty!? As a parent of four young children a hot shower is an oasis of calm. A sanctuary in which I get to take a moment for myse. . . . oh, who am I kidding? I scrub like a madman, half asleep, hoping that the house is in one piece by the time I get out, that is if I shower at all!

Luckily for me my children have the foresight to document their berserk behavior while I am out of the room. Thus the photos that accompany this piece. I found them days later when downloading pictures.

I am a natural introvert. I prefer some semblance of order and schedule. That is not my life though. The landing gear was torn off this jumbo jet when I became a parent! I say this tongue in cheek of course. Being the father of four healthy, creative and hilarious children has been one of the best things to happen to me as a person. Their inquisitive nature has forced me out of my comfort zone, on an hourly basis! Their gentle nature and warm smiles have forced me to exam my own lack of patience at times. Their whirlwind energy has forced me to recognize that on occasion the calm within the storm is simply knowing it will pass.072

I have to admit that recently I have learned more, as a parent, about myself than at any other time in my life. Not all of it has been pleasant. I have had to confront some very difficult aspects of my personality and then have had to decide whether I am going to address them or not. I have chosen the more difficult road of engaging my bad behavior in an effort to be a better parent. I can only thank my children and the relentless energy they bring into my life for this self-examination. Oddly enough I have come to the conclusion that though they are constantly on the move physically and emotionally that they are actually the calm within the storm.

075

I have to remind myself at times that we are fully able to switch roles on occasion as student and teacher if I am humble enough to learn the lesson.

 

 

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Being Present


Jack Frost
Jack Frost

All is full of love. All around you.” ~Bjork~

Jack Frost paid a visit this morning. It is cold here. Near 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The trees, naked for lack of leaves, moan in protest as they sway in the winter wind. Aside from an occasional crow or vehicle sputtering by they are the only ones willing to break winters loud silence. The cold takes your breath away. My beard has frost in it and my fingers are red and numb after taking care of the animals with my oldest daughter. She is bright and beautiful as the morning sun. In truth she shines brighter than the sun who rarely shows itself during the long northern winters.

At night when it is time to lock the chickens in their coop I venture out by myself. I stop every night after they are safe behind their walls and I search the sky for the stars and moon while breathing in the cold winter air. Trying my hardest to be present and thankful for my life. By all accounts it is a beautiful existence.

My little sunshine
My little sunshine

The past year has been trying. A number of deaths, some close , some distant, all very painful. Chasms in the family tree that seem like the mouth of a great canyon opening to swallow logic. Bills to pay or more appropriately juggle and still through the rapids of life I find myself searching for the calm waters rather than enjoying where I am at. In fact as I write it reminds me of a Wendell Berry quote, a man and poet whom I respect very much, he said,”the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet and learn to be at home.”

Tomorrow is a reality for some yet an illusion for others and to think that we ourselves dictate the pace is purely the mythology of ego. I say this not as someone who is more enlightened than you the reader, because I am not. I say this as someone who is making a concerted effort to exist in the moment. I can see the great migration taking place all around me. Pushing onward toward the time clock to pay the bills, rushing in a frenzy from here to there, in all truth no where. Nose down we plow ahead forgetting the beauty that surrounds us every waking moment.

023 That is one of the things I find interesting about homeschooling and being a parent. It is also one of the things I find most difficult. I am speaking of providing a healthy day to day existence when stress and anxiety are at its peak. I have no real answer or solution I suppose. I find people rarely want to discuss this side of life. So, in an attempt to find a remedy, I am making an effort to be present. It is the best I can do for myself and my family.

I am trying to eat healthier to respect my fragile vehicle. I am focusing on my yoga routine and breathing. Just breathing. I am allowing myself to be vulnerable and wrapping myself in the warmth of my children’s laughter. It will pass me by far too quickly. It already has. I am sincerely trying to find the pleasure in their childish arguments and tantrums because someday I will miss those moments dearly. I meditate on their filtered voices as I hear them telling off color jokes to one another upstairs while I am downstairs, what I imagine must be the child’s equivalent of a Richard Pryor joke because someone dared to use the word “turd” out of ear shot of old Dad.

I am trying to capture photographs in my mind of each of my children at this very stage in life. My oldest daughter who is creative and forgetful. Possesses a humor far beyond her years and an empathy I would be proud to display. My son whom I wake with before the sun rises so that we can spend our weekends at hockey practice together. Both of us members of the gym rat clergy. Still, he is one of the gentlest young men I know and that makes me proud. My youngest daughter who speaks for all of us with her wide smile and sensitive eyes, her eternal youth and tiny hands, her desire to drink straight from the source of love. My wife, my lovely wife, eight months pregnant with our fourth child. On occasion through the chaos of life we are able to find a quiet space and look into each others eyes, her fluid and alluring brown eyes, and we hold one another hands. In this silence, this silence of winter, I am reminded of how much I love them all and that life is cyclical. All the pain of those around me will pass but so will the pleasure so I must try harder than ever to be present and inhale deeply the sweet scent of my beautiful life.

Kellen Thomas or Eloise Fey? We shall soon see!
Kellen Thomas or Eloise Fey? We shall soon see!

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Defining Family


Exif JPEGMy parents separated when I was 12 years old. Eventually as my father drifted out of my life so did his relatives. In turn my mothers side of the family was reasonably involved in my day to day life. They were and still are a rather eccentric bunch but I can proudly say that they are some of the most interesting people I know.

They do however have problems just like any other family. Though it is unfair to solely focus on their negatives as they do have a number of positive traits it is those negatives that tend to have the deepest claws and seem to take forever to remove from deep within ourselves as maturing adults.

The extended family reminded me of the clans from the old country. Constantly at war with one another. Creating alliances out of a mutual dislike rather than genuine friendship and then when illness or serious cause for alarm would arise everyone would rally against the common enemy only to fall back into rituals of bad behavior as soon as the storm had passed.

I remember very vividly sitting around a campfire with my cousins and my own brother and sister discussing the sad state of affairs within our family and finding it difficult to relate to such behavior. Fast forward twenty years and here I am in the same turbulent waters.

My goal with this piece is not to specifically call anyone out because truth is I am far from perfect myself. But rather to define what family truly is and how I am attempting to remedy this situation.

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under one roof.” Richard Bach ~Illusions~  

As a single person I was far more willingly to put up with the bad behavior of others. As a parent of three young children I am far less willingly to do so. The delicate balance, that which Somerset referred to as the “razors edge”, is the ability to discern ones own prejudice in comparison with that which is truly harmful. We all have conflict or arguments among family members. Overreacting to naturally arising frustrations is a negative in and of itself. But eventually when bad habits are displayed for years, decades even, and they begin to affect the mental health of ones household it is time to put the false notion of family aside.

The difficulty that I am experiencing is that as a homeschooling family the family structure is extremely important. I have lost count of all the homeschooling books that I have read that speak of having a grandparent share a hobby or an aunt spend a day with your children. For some of us that is simply not a reality.

Though children should not be involved in the direct confrontation of adults for any reason they do recognize something is wrong when Grandma or Grandpa no longer stops by. When aunts and uncles no longer visit. When their birthday is ignored while other children in the family have very public celebrations. They quickly catch on when conversation is cut short in regards to missing relatives. They recognize the awkward hostility when relatives meet in public places. They are sensitive to the sadness that develops when adults feel the need to remove toxic relationships from their own lives.

So how do we define family when our family is broken? If we continue to nurture negative relationships we are teaching our own children a very unhealthy lesson, are we not? We are teaching them that abuse and disrespect are acceptable ways for family to treat one another when resurrecting the notion that blood outweighs all else. This is simply not true.

It is painful and even frightening to admit that ones family does not provide a solid foundation in their own lives. But when one begins to recognize the bond that exist among families with similar values a level of strength, understanding and true appreciation begins to bloom.

Within family structures there is a tendency for familiarity to breed contempt. I would hope that it is obvious that I am not addressing the trivial frustrations that exist within every family structure but rather the deep rooted multi-generational behaviors that destroy trust and most importantly love. Your family , your children , are at the mercy of your decisions to a certain extent. When it comes to creating a supportive , nurturing , caring and loving network one must make the right decision, not the easy one.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .