Saturday, October 30, 2010

Notes on the Void

The void. Well, to be comepletely honest (no lying here), the void has been an ever-decreasing space. Not because life is any easier than it ever is--always the thoughts about finances, bumps in the road, future plans, Tyler's nap schedule and butt rashes, etc..--but there's been this sense of a STORY. Do you know what I mean?
Like this: a story has to have its ups and downs, and I think a lot of us get trapped into thinking that the chapter we're living in the present moment is the last chapter--like that's the end of the novel right there.
But the truth Jen and I have been embracing is that a novel is a lot biggger than any single chapter. And a life--a full story--is so much mnore than a hard moment or two. (Or three.)
In other words, I have been praying and seeking Christ to help me see the story, and not the chapter. And it's working.
So the void, in that sense, is not really a void at all. For a void is vast darkness, and in every story, vast darkness is never really present. It's more the pockets of blindness we face, before realizing that the light had never really left us at all; it was just shining from the pages of a different chapter--one we haven't yet written, or one we've already read.

Friday, October 29, 2010

This Ancient Game of Bowls

Yesterday evening, after Jen and I had given Tyler and five diggers a bath, I left our home on 1 Lesley Avenue to walk to the old church hall at St. Oswald's with a neighbour of ours named David.

A bit younger than my own grandfather, David is a kind man who walks with a cane, hefts a big smile everywhere he goes, and says that his main rule for living is the Golden One: You see, Luke, I treat everyone the way I'd right liked to be treated, mate. That's all it is.

And in David's life—along with his wife, Jill, and their daughter Gemma, who live two doors down—the Golden rule is indeed alive and well. Already, they've taken delight in Tyler, bringing him toys, inviting him over to feed their bunnies, and dropping off other odds and ends (including a delicious teddy-bear shaped cake for Tyler's birthday last weekend).

A lot of guys in my age group go out drinking at the pubs. But somehow, getting a tall pint (or two, or three) just never really feels like my cup of tea, so to speak. The loud noise, the effects on the wallet (thinking constantly, is this really a good use of money?), and the general sense that time might be better spent is usually triggered.

So it was that when David invited me to join the Fulford Bowls Club, I jumped at the prospect.

The church hall at St. Oswald's is much like many church halls in America, I suspect: decor from the 1970's, a bit of a musty smell, and its walls seem to wear the memories of a thousand different games and activities played by people of a hundred different ages.

Last night, after our ten minute walk to the hall from our homes, David and I walked in to find four men and four women already intent on their game of the bowls. I immediately noticed that "crown of wisdom" each soul there wore. Their white hair seemed more a promise of good stories and lives well lived than a disappointment. I felt, immediately, a sense that this would be a great Thursday night activity.

For two pounds, we bowled for two hours. Halfway through, we stop for tea and biscuits (I ate two of each)—and stories. I spoke with Ken, once a British soldier who was at Normandy and met many of the 101st Airborn from America.

I met Henry, whose wife passed on 12 years prior, but whose smile remained.

I met Arthur, a man of few words who—one could easily tell—was the Keeper of the Bowl, so to speak. His was the duty to setup, ensure accuracy, and lend advice to the American newcomer to their game.

The object of Bowls is to get three of your large balls (each containing a bias, or heavy weight on one side) as close to a small ball (the jack) as possible. The jack is on one end of the long green mat, and you and the others gentlemen stand on another end and pitch balls and remark over one another's technique.

And I loved it.

I love it.

Walking home with David, I asked how long he had been coming to bowl at the church hall. "Oh, about 15 years, I'd say." Then, he looked at me out of the corner of his eye. "You like it, then, ey?"

"I love it," I replied.

"He smiled his massive smile and said, "You took to it like a duck to water."

And it was everything in me to not say, "The bowling was a hoot, but you and the others were what really made the night—your stories, your wisdom."

Even though we only lived two doors down, like a kind grandfather does, he watched and waited while I got inside our little home, excited to have found a new social group to hang with every Thursday night—even if they are twice (or three times) my age.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On Money

Money? Whoa...whoa. Hold on just a moment. I thought this blog was about literature, England, writing, stay-at-home-daddying, faith, inspiration...any of a number of other assorted things that can be discussed, but not money.

Why money?

I guess the simple answer is that it has been coming up lately. A lot.

We recently attended a church service where the pastor preached a message imbued with the notion of the "prosperity gospel." And it stuck to me like moldy jam.

Thing is, our world is involved in a love affair with money. And I get it. I do. It wasn't long ago--when Oprah had aired a segment on the book The Secret and was telling everybody to make dream boards and cut out pictures of their dream houses and paste them on, the cars they wanted, the designer kitchens and clothes and everything else--and I made one. I admit it.

On mine, I had pictures of my novels with the words "The International Bestseller" on top, and a big, beautiful home, and all kinds of other "stuff."


So I know what that's like--to chase down the American Dream that everybody's screaming at us to go after. Fo goodness sakes: buy a house, buy stock, buy properties, buy a nice car, buy a nice shirt, buy a nice aftershave, buy a nice computer, buy a good insurance policy, buy a good wallet to house the good money that you need to GET MORE OF!

The funny thing--the really funny thing--is: why?


I mean, if we really pasue for a moment and try and articulate thoughtful responses for these seemingly endless demands hurled at us from a culture media-frenzied enough to beg for more people telling us what we need to achieve the American Dream, then we may come to some startling conclusions.

Startling Conclusion #1:

Are people really happier when they own more stuff?


I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all here (and of course, I know basically next to nothing. Or, perhaps a better way (a more poetic way) to phrase it is to borrow and paraphrase Isaac Newton's words on the matter of ignorance: knowledge and wisdom are the ocean, and I have played with a few grains of sand. So, what I'm doing here is maybe playing with a few grains of sand).

Okay, Okay. One grain of sand.

In my limited experience of life, I haven't found anyone who is happier because they own more stuff. In fact, I've observed the inverse to be true. The people I've met who have many properties, cars, extra rooms, etc., seem to have a lot more stress and worry in their lives. It seems like they often discuss what is going on with all of the "stuff" they have, and think about how they can gain more "stuff."

That doesn't sound much like freedom to me. Though the possession of money parades itself around as a way to achieve freedom and a better life, its masquerade quite possibly disguises its real intention and masterful ability as an overseer.

In short, I haven't met very many people who own tons, and appear free. Most often, they live as indentured servants to their own stuff. Their stuff comes to own them more than they own it.

Startling Conclusion #2:

The Lie of Ease. I'll be honest here. I didn't want to live without a dryer this year. I knew ahead of time that I would be the stay-at-home parent, and I had visions of my little man spilling yogurt all over himself, or oatmeal, or juice, or any number of assorted foods and other beverages. I thought to myself: Self, there's going to be a lot of laundry this year. Thus, in our first week here in York, I called Comet (I guess a sort of appliance store in the UK) and ordered a 200 pound (currency, not weight) drying machine.

Job well done.

So I thought.

But then we started getting calls about problems with our USAA credit card. The order didn't go through, and instead of getting the dryer, we handled the mix-up ("Yes, USAA Customer Service, we are living in the UK, etc..") and decided not to buy the dryer after all.

Initially, I thought it would be really tough for us.

But it's not.

Instead, it's gleefully freeing.

Okay, maybe I added the "gleefully" part a bit on the hyperbolic front. But it is freeing. Really. We usually do a wash at night, and then drape our underwear, socks, pants, and other such items over the radiators before we go to bed.

In the morning, it's like teh Santa Clause of the Laundromat came: dry clothes!

It started me thinking on the lie we often here when it comes to having more money so that we can purchase more things so that we can have more time to relax. However, instead of relaxing, we often spend the time fixing, venting, exchanging, or trying to figure our said things.

Case in point: how many people do you know who haven't spent hours and more pored over their technologically brilliant flat-screen televisions and computers and all the rest, trying to figure out just where the heck the "on" switch is?

The great lie is that having more, and better, stuff doesn't always make out lives easier or more relaxing. Indeed, it can often have the exact opposite result.

Startling Conclusion #3

We all die.


Even me?

Yes, Luke.

But WHY!




So, if we all die, we've got to ask ourselves a hard question about money. What's the point? It's kind of like a kid at a playgroup. (I only feel entitled to make this analogy because I've clocked quite a few playgroup hours in the last three weeks.)

In a playgroup, there are always those kids who want to slowly but steadily gather as many of the toys as possible to their general spheres of dominance. Even if that kid's mom or dad says something like, "Honey, ten more minutes and then we've got to go," the kid will still relentlessly (and perhaps even more strenuously) try to get as many toys as possible.

But the thing is--and what I really want to stay to that kid--is this: "Buddy, you're leaving in five minutes! Then, those toys that you spent so much of your playtime hoarding are gone. We're putting them back in the closet for more kids to get in the next playgroup. Why not find a toy or two you like and actually play with it!"

(Whenever I try to say that to said kid, he usually repsonds, "You're not my Daddy!!")

(Okay, I've never actually said that to a kid. Probably wouldn't.)

Simple analogy, perhaps. But really, think about it. Why spend your life gathering a whole bunch of toys when some grwon-up, at some point when you really can't expect it, is going to yell out, Okay, toys in the closet, playgroup is over!"?

Why spend our lives trying to gather more and more when the reality is: how much can we really play with?


Startling Conclusion #4:

Other people need it.


I mean: need it.

I'm not espousing any ism here, I'm just trying to think clearly and simply. If you're sitting at a table with four other people, and you've got a full, bar-b-q chicken, three ears of corn on the cob dripping with butter, peas, mashed potatoes with gravy, a tall glass of milk, the gallon of milk nearby, fresh bread, and summer squash, and the other four are slwly grinding their way thoguh day-old bread and water...what do we do?


We don't need to call it any sort of theory of govering, or talk about forms of government, or theology, or anythign else.

It's a simple question for us all. What do we do.

And the answer is pretty simple as well: we share.

We don't interrogate the other four people, asking questions like, "Now, why don't you have more food yourself?" and "Did you ever, at any point in your life, have more food? If so, what happened, why, and how are you to blame for no longer having said food?"

Nope. We just simply share.

After all, we couldn't eat that feast ourselves anyway.

I guess the point with this rather long, long (long), long blog today is a simple one. We know we all want money. Everyone on television tells us we should more money. Our friends tell us we should get more money. Our families tell us we should get more money. Heck, strangers even tell us we should get more money.

The question I'm asking, then, is a simple one:


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Have to Go to the Bathroom? Sorry, You Need a UK Bank Account to Do That...

(Note of Preface (not that it matters to the blog, however): I currently have seven assorted truck stickers attached to my person as I type these words).

Not long after we arrived in the UK, Jennifer and I planned on opening a bank account here. Not only would it save us those annoying fees charged by our US bank for using our cards abroad (1% of every purchase, plus any charges deducted by vendors here...), but we knew it would be a way to feel settled and begin to come to a comfortable way of knowing that this is our new home for a few years.

However, we were unaware that in order to do just about anything in England, you need a UK bank account.

For instance, on our second day in the land of the Queen, we stopped by three cell phone stores. Our thought was that we'd "pop" in and get two phones so that we could begin communicating with one another while Jen was off at the University, and make any other calls to people that we'd meet here.

There would be no popping in to get anything of the sort.

The somewhat-zoned-out gentleman who spoke with us (while pop-rock music about a guy doing something to someone blasted through the T-Mobile store), essentially said the following:

"Sorry, mate, you can't get a contract account without having a UK Bank account."

"Really?" I responded. (Now that I think about it, really is not a very good question. Did I suddenly expect said gentleman to think for a moment, turn down the rock-pop (or was it pop-rock?) music, and say, Oh, actually, no. Now that I think about it, you can get phoens on a contract plan if you want today?)

"Yes, really, mate," He replied.

"Okay," I said (but really what I said (wihtout really saying it) was: That's ridiculous! Really? We can't get phones without a UK bank account? But we just got here!)

"Okay," the gentleman replied (but really what he said (wihtout really saying it) was: Silly Americans! Silly, silly Americans!)

The other two cell phone stores were a replay of this first (though with admittedly softer pop-rock and rock-pop, though its presence was still made known).

Easy enough dilemma, right? Simply open up a UK Bank account.

However, (as we learned by going to Barclay's bank and then HSBC) opening up a UK Bank account is no small matter.

Us: "Hi, we'd like to open up a UK bank account today."

Them: "Wonderful! [large smile] Do you have your visas?"

Tyler: "Uptrucks! Uptrucks!"

Us: "Yes, we've got our visas right here."

Them: "And of course you have an electricity or gas bill addressed to you at your UK home with both of your names on it and your full UK address, right?"

Tyler: "Uptrucks! Uptrucks!"

Us: " We need that?"

Tyler: "Green uptrucks! Yellow uptrucks! Red uptrucks!"

Them: "Yes."

Us: "Oh."

Tyler: "Cookie."

And this scene replayed itself at both banks.

However, easy enough solution, right? Get an electricity or gas bill.


Gas / Electricity Company: You will receive yoru first bill wihtin the next three months.

We found the dilemma repeat itself when we tried to get internet for our home, as well.

Thus, we resorted to something called "pay as you go" whereby one needs to "top up" all the devices you use after using them for a little while.

We don't yet have a UK Bank account, but rest assured, that glorious promised land is coming our way shortly. After we achieve victory in that great struggle, so we hear, The Queen will be set to knight us.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Staying Disciplined as a Writer

Until I became a stay-at-home dad, I couldn't write every day. I would continually promise myself that I would write everyday. I promised to wake up early and write before heading off to see my 7th graders. I promised to write every day during the summers. My first year of teaching--a long while ago, in Connecticut--I refused to get a television because I had promised myself that I was going to write every day.

And I didn't.

So it's somewhat of a mystery why now that I am pretty much constantly with my two-year old man, I have been writing more than I ever have before.

Between the diaper-changing, playgroup-attending, voice-over bulldozer/digger/dump truck-creating, there has been time to sit down at my mini-computer (an e-book, they're calling it, or so said the online advertisement at the website where I purchased the thing) and cruise.

Much of what I'm writing probably isn't very good.

It may well be that a lot of what I am writing isn't very good.

But nonetheless, I am writing. During Tyler's naps--after releasing my bladder, which is usually quite full--I pop into our little study which is about the size of a single bed, and I write.

I guess I can attribute the recent chnage to two things:

1) If I don't write, what else is there to do in an empty house while your toddler sleeps besides cleaning?


2) Watching a two-year-old experience life in all its surprises, dissappointments, and joys wakes up something inside me that longs to experience everything anew again: through the characters I create, the worlds I envision, and the way words on the page feel always like new beings that didn't exist before a small breath of hope filled them.

Tyler is probably going to wake up at any moment, and today we'll take the 10-minute walk over to Fulford Library. We'll return a few books, get a few new books, sit for story-time with Andrew, the new librarian there whose zeal for stories and for kids is unsurpassed, and we'll giggle.

Tyler may throw a tantrum or two; he may take a toy or a book that doesn't belong to him; or (worst case scenario), he may have explosive poop and I'll have to do a standing-up-diaper-change in the tiny bathroom there.

But, whether all of these things occur or none of them occur, I know that when life quiets down, and my son falls asleep dreaming of diggers and dumpers, I'll write.

Perhpas staying disciplined as a writer isn't that different from being a stay-at-home-parent. There's no way to wake up and say, "I don't feel like it today."

If there is a dirty diaper, it's got to be changed.

Wakey-Wakey oatmeal must be made.

Juice bottles must be bequeathed.

Noses must be wiped.

Naps must be taken.

Baths must be given.

And, in perhpas too close a manner, as a writer:

Sentences must be crafted.

Words must be cut.

Paragraphs must be grown.

Scenes must be developed.

Ideas must be hatched.

Titles must be given.

Books must be created.

Maybe real freedom isn't in thinking that all of this is ever really a choice; perhaps, instead, real freedom lies in embracing the not-so-glorious steps along the path as a parent or a writer, and watching--one glorious day--what you have helped to grow into a beautiful story, a beautiful life.

Monday, October 18, 2010

On Reading a Classic Yorkshire Novel While in York

I had never picked up Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, nor did I ever realize that its setting is the moors of Yorkshire, until we moved to York.

While perusing the tiny, tiny (slightly larger than a walk-in closet, yet beautiful and filled with delightful librarians) Fulford Library that is a short ten minutes from our home, I spotted the Bloomsbury-reissued novel. I picked it up, read the back, and decided that I needed to read this one.

Now that Tyler's in the midst of today's nap, I have just managed to finish it. I'll be completely honest: for the first 150 pages or so, I found myself thinking, I can't quit, even though the book feels slow and tiresome, and even though Heathcliff is intriguing, he's just so cruel that I almost don't care to find out what happens to him.

And then, something happened to me. Bronte's book grabbed my heart at page 151 and wouldn't let go for the rest of the ride. Catherine Linton, the tragic Hareton Earnshaw, and even the sullen, bitter Heathcliff suddenlymesmerized me, and I had to find out the denoument of their lives.

And, when I reached what I'll call THE KISS--where Catherine Jr. arises from the state of despair at her enslaved fate to help Hareton, a young man destroyed by being despised, with a kiss on the cheek that would have seemed impossible to give--everything breaks loose.

I saw the power of a single act of love in the midst of pain, agony, and revenge. Wuthering Heights, the place itself, became thenceforth lit up with the light of redemption--found among two characters who had both been wronged beyond the rational soul's willingness to forgive or forge ahead.

And yet they do.

Catherine Linton and Hareton Earnshaw become a physical way of seeing the power in releasing the pain of the past--and all the bitterness that it always entails for us as humans--and instead embracing the power of the present.

Looking out upon the York where I now set my feet, pushing Tyler in a stroller to its local playgrounds, libraries, and fields, I see that the choice Catherine and Hareton make is also the choice that I must make--every day of my life that my eyes open to see the world yet agin.

It's a choice you probably need to make every day of your life, as well: to see the past for what it is, yes--to sift through its pain and residue--but to choose to no longer afford it rights to avenge itself of your present.

So speaks York (and Emily Bronte) to me today.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Library Walks

A few days ago, Jennifer and I brought Tyler into the City Centre, as it's labeled all around Fulford Road with great arrows on blue traffic signs pointing the way to the pedestrian path along the River Ouse.

It's about a 40-minute walk to the city centre library from our home on Lesley Avenue, and we've learned that if we have enough "digestive biscuits" (seemingly the equivalent of a graham cracker in the States), then Tyler will be able to sit for just about the whole walk.

Jen and I talked about dreams, hopes, fears, and joys here in York, while Tyler punctuated our conversation every now and then with "More cookie! More cookie!"

We saw people of every nationality and social class walking. Old white men with white hair and beards walk; young Asian students walk; middle-aged moms with their kids in tow walk; business men in fancy suits discussing fancy things on their way to fancy lunches walk; Palestinian women walk; Nigerian boys walk--everybody seems to be on the sidewalks, walking to or from the city centre, all the time.

The library walks Jen and I have taken with Tyler are beginning to feel less long, more natural. En route, we're starting to notice things about ourselves and the new world we're living in that having a car might have easily prevented. Instead of honking at the driver ahead for making a left turn without using his blinker, we notice that we're saying hello to people we see on the sidewalks of our life here.

So the library walks into the city have been great.

The library walks home have been in somewhat of a different hemisphere.

They consist of Tyler saying, "All done walk! All done walk!" and then pushing his torso up and out of the stroller in such a fashion that we wonder if we have strapped him in at all. Breakdancing his way up and down, up and down in the stroller, we rush across crosswalks, past afternoon saunterers, and around bicyclists.

Get home! Get home!

We employ all kinds of tactics: Bob the Builder when we get home! Bob! Trucks when we get home! Trucks!

Meanwhile, we watch as the English toddlers and their English moms comfortably and calmly stroll along the sidewalks. Their toddlers don't seem to know this same breakdance that Tyler has learned. And yet, they've had a couple of years' head start of learning to walk long walks to get places rather than zip there in a fast car with music and air temperatures and everything else controlled.

We've been into the city centre a handful of times now, and each time the library walk home becomes a little less like a visit to the dentist's office, a little more like routine.

Maybe a handful of times more, and the walk home will be just as soothing as the walk in.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Looking for Warm? Not so Fast...

It's essentially impossible to get warm water in our little home on Lesley Avenue. Unlike the apartments we've rented in America, where the hot water is always ready, and we could turn on the beautiful handle, then add a bit of cold and get warm, here, we first turn on the water-heating mechanism inside of our boiler-system-thingy.

The water heats up, and then we can get hot (really, really hot) water. However, when we try and turn the handle for cold water, the stream rushing from the faucet simply turns cold.

Try again: hot on (scalding hot), cold faucet on...warm?...nope. Cold.

So, we've started to learn to live with the extremes of the water, and I'm starting to give up trying to find a nice warm water flow in which to wash dishes. Instead, this morning, as Tyler played with a large digger--trying to stuff a lego-man we affectionately call JO-JO MAN into the driver's seat of said digger--I simply let my hands get a bit burned as I washed the dishes.

It made me think of the conversations Jennifer and I have been having lately. (At night, once Tyler is down for sleep and we're sitting on comfy chairs in our little living room.) We've been talking about what she's studying, and it's pretty hard stuff to stomach.

27 million slaves worlwide exist today.


And that's a low projection, because it's difficult to know how many slaves are out there that haven't been found, or whose dire enslavement is kept a secret from authorioes and activist groups like Kevin Bales' Free the Slaves.

Many of the 27 million slaves are victims of sex trafficking--something many of us would rather not think about, let alone learn about.

But during our conversations, I realized that here I am, a 29 year old man who considers himself a pretty progressive guy, who listened to NPR to and from my teaching job back in the states, who reads progressive material and tries to engage with culture without being overtaken by it, and yet I had never heard this fact until Jennifer started researching.

The quandary I came to is simply this: how is that possible? How is it conceivable that such tragedy can exist in our world and yet awareness of it can be so scant?

We carried our conectures one step further to look at the idea of American Christianity. Jennifer and I have been a part of great churches in the U.S. These churches have certainly taught us much, and helped us grow and learn.

And yet.

We started to wonder if it's right for a church to seek so much safety. To steer clear of issues that should beckon the very heart of the church. I have yet to hear the word "slavery" mentioned in a sermon, and whenever we've heard talk of fundraising, it's usually in conjunction with a refurbishment or a remodel of the sanctuary, the parking lot, or missions work. Don't get me wrong, it seems most churches give to cuases that are beyond themselves, of course, but how much?

When I read of the way Jesus responds to those in need in the gospels, it seems his point is to heal out of his great love or great pity for a person. Tony Campolo makes the claim that when Jesus says, "Greater works than these will you do" regarding the miracles, Jesus really means that our collective love will be able to do even more.

So it is becoming harder and harder to see that if the status quo of our world is going to change, the church must certainly change. There are certainly groups--like Sojourners in DC with Jim Wallis, and others who live in communities that seek social justice and community-growth and change, like Shane Claiborne--who are doing it. But on the whole, it seems like we've accepted the fact that warm is okay.

Warm will do.

But it won't.

As long as we consent to live thinking that small change is sufficient, and that maintaining the status quo is fine when it comes to a world so much bigger than ourselves, we're already in dangerous territory.

Jennifer and I are still learning about the tension of consumerism, ownership, and giving, freedom. We've got tons more to learn. But the more I hear about the tragedy of slavery in the world today--and that amidst so many other crises--it becomes harder and harder to substantiate a way of life that calls for no wide-scale changes, and seeks instead to help us own more, own more, own more.

I worry that most of us may find that we end up owning lots, but sadly realizing it all only makes our hearts a bit warm.

Perhpas there is more heat to be had by taking other paths, other journies.

Bye, Bye Poopie

Lately, Jennifer and I have been waking up to the melodious sound of Tyler's voice saying, "Bye, bye poopie!"

He stands in his crib at about 7 a.m. and shouts the previous phrase in order to rumble us from our sleep. Jennifer and I slowly regain consciousness and prepare ourselves for the morning diaper change.

Usually, it's a big one.

To be more honest (and more blunt), calling it a "big one" is somewhat of a euphamism. It's more like an explosion, whereby all of the foods that were eaten yesterday have a massive party inside my son's intestines and then push and shove to make their exit from his 35 pound body as fast as they can. There's no British cordiality here--everyone is just rushing for the nearest exit as fast as they possibly can.

And the result is the massive exodus of poop.

Jennifer and I steel ourselves for the task ahead, and meanwhile, Tyler begins saying, "Mommy, Daddy, wake up! Mommy, Daddy, wake up!"

I think about how it must feel. Imagine having a huge, wet load of poopie sticking to your butt and having a diaper press it even further and closer to your skin... Perhpas that's not the sort of think you'd like to visiualize, and I'll admit that it's not in my book of Fun Things to Dwell on while Passing the Time. However, since being a stay-at-home-dad, it's hard not to dwell on such things.

When Jennifer and I finally enter his room, his face lights up, and I can tell he's thinking two things:

1) My Mommy and Daddy are here! They love me!


2) Somebody get this poopie diaper off of me now!

The scene will replay itself tomorrow morning, of course. And I'm being honest when I say that although it's not always the easiest way to wake up, it has become the most authentic for me. To think back to waking up to a buzzing alarm when the only thing I had awaiting me was, well, getting myself ready, I feel a surge of life course through me to realize that this tiny little boy is waiting on us to help him get ready, to help him learn about this thing called life, to show him the joys, the pains, the ups and the downs of living.

And I wouldn't trade anything for this journey.

(Even if it does mean a poopie diaper every morning, and a few in the afternoon.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Bladder and the Soul

There's a funny correlation, I've noticed, between the stamina of my bladder and the strength of my soul. As a stay-at-home dad, I've had to master the intense desire to urinate more frequently than I ever thought possible.

In our little home on Lesley Avenue here in York, the bathroom is upstairs, at the top of a rather precarious staircase in which each step seems to have been built with the intention of developing a game to see how much of your foot you can get on the actual step itself.

Thus, when Tyler and I are downstairs playing with tractors, diggers, dump trucks, cement mixers, excavators, skid steers, tipper trucks, fuel trucks, big rigs, and other assorted vehicles within the larger TRUCK family, it gets pretty hard to run upstairs and urinate while he's playing. After all, there are a whole host of dangerous things he could get into downstairs in the few minutes it would take me to relieve myself.

For instance, he might climb up on the armrest of the sofa chair (as he did the other day, while I scooted into the kitchen to wash our breakfast bowls) and try to climb up onto the indoor window ledge (he had almost made it when I lunged to get him back to safety).

So, as we play with the variety of trucks, I continually tell my bladder the following:

"Bladder, you've got to hold on a bit more, okay buddy? You can do this. I know it's hard, but just take a deep breath, and relax and much as you can."

To which my bladder usually responds, "Are you kidding, Luke? I mean, seriously, are you kidding me? How am I supposed to take a deep breath and stay calm? I wasn't built for those things!"

To which I reply, "But you can still do it. I know you can. I believe in you. I believe in you, Bladder!"

Meanwhile, the trucks rumble with Tyler's voice-overs, and my bladder holds like the Hoover Dam.

It's only an hour later, when I am finally able to bring Tyler in with me, or put him down for a nap and I can urinate, that I realize something: learning self-discilpine in this regard is also teaching me how to believe that the pain of urgent desires pass.

The desire to get back the things we let go when we were in America is fading.

Slowly, we are learning how to live without a car, a drying machine, a microwave, and a television.

And during the withrawal--as we can still remember the ease of using those possessions, and I can easily recall the comfort of peeing as soon as I feel the subtle hint--I can feel my soul grow.

Little by little, bit by bit, the difficult journey of my bladder increases the stamina of my soul.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Our First Week in York

Ever see the movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with Steve Martin and John Candy? That's a little how our trip to get to York, England went.

We took off on a Virgin Atlantic Flight leaving from Logan Airport at 7:45 pm. I don't know what type of plane it was, although admittedly, this would be a really great spot to write, "on a 769 jumbo jet" or something like that.

Instead, this description will have to suffice: the plane was really, really big. It was big enough to fit probably six goats head-to-tail width-wise, and maybe 42 crocodiles head to tail length-wise. If that seems hard to picture, I guess another way to describe it would be to say that we sat in the middle of the plane, and it felt like a long walk to get there.

After dumping two huge, overweight bags at the check-in luggage location (they were about 70 pounds each), we managed through security with Tyler, taking off his shoes, our shoes, belts, hair ties, any metal chips unknowingly inserted in bags, liquids, gels, gel-liquids, liquid-gels, mousses, and pretty much anything that could shake.

Tyler stayed awake for the first three hours of the seven-hour ride, and then slipped into good sleep for the final four. When we landed, it was raining.

Then it rained after we left London Heathrow Airport and caught a taxi ride from a dyslexic cab driver who confessed that he only got his license because his wife helped him with the test and materials. (Direct Quote: "I can't read much, but I know what most of these road signs say and all that.")

Our dyslexic driver dropped us off at Kings Cross Station, where we bought two one-way train tickets to York, a two-hour ride away. Tyler slept through the entire train trip, and Jen and I dozed while listening to two American businessmen say things on their cell phones like, "I'll fight the good fight for you on this one, Jimmy, but there's just no clause in the contract" and "Here's what we're gonna do--we'll rework the overview so that it reads like it does now, but we'll slide out those clauses and they won't even notice..."

When we arrived at the main train station in York, it was raining.

It rained as we ordered a much-needed cup of coffee. When I asked for cream with the coffee, the server, a young guy named Paul who had obviously exceeded his quota for caffeine, all too kindly asked me "whipped cream?"

To which I replied, "Do you have any regular cream?"

To which Paul replied, "Yeah, mate, it's regular cream but it's whipped-like. Would you like that in your coffee?"

I eventually declined the whipped cream, went for milk, and then Paul helped me see how my order could be cheaper by going with a combo meal (we had also gotten a chicken salad sandwich and chips).

I went for the combo meal, said goodbye to Paul, and then Jennifer, a sleeping-Tyler, and I proceeded to ride the elevator at the train station up and down, up and down, up and down. Someone had told us the exit could be reached by riding that elevator, though we could see no exit.

Finally, we saw it.

Outside the station, it was still raining.

We loaded our bags, our sleeping son, coffee with milk (no cream) and ourselves into a taxi and rode to the York Priory--the hotel where we'd be staying for two nights until the lease on the little home we rented would begin, on October 1st.

The first day and night, it never stopped raining.

We ate pizza from a place called ISTANBUL GRILL near the hotel, and we got library cards at the main library that first day.

That night, Tyler struggled to fall asleep, as did I.

That's not being completely accurate; the truth is: I wept. Not because I was sad to have left America, or that it rained so much in York (which it did, and would), but because I felt struck by fear in the deepest possible way.

Fears plagued my mind: What have we done? Are we crazy? Is Tyler going to be okay here? Can I even do this thing called stay-at-home parenting? I taught 7th graders and high school students; and I can play goofy games with my toddler...but parenting all day, every day? Can I set good boundaries, change massive amounts of poopie diapers, create good patterns and routines, stay structured for naps and meals, and still manage to let the words of the Muse flow through me? I can't! I'll be terrible at it!

At this point, my weeping became more intense, I woke up Jennifer, and told her all of my fears.

She proceeded to calm me down, tell me that I would do fine, and help me find some hope to hold onto.

I stopped crying, thanked her for her help, and then she fell back to sleep.

At which point, my fears attacked me again, and I woke up Jennifer.

Hopes, fine, relax.

Jen fell asleep.


Woke up Jen.


I fell asleep.

In the Promised Land of morning that following day, the sun winked at me through the clouds, and I knew things were going to be okay.

I knew that Jennifer was doing important work to by pursuing this degree as she researched how to stop sex trafficking. I knew that I would be a decent stay-at-home dad, and I knew that we'd both hit our lows, but that we would stand back up, dust ourselves off, and remember to reach for hope once more.

And then it started raining.

In the days to come, we moved into our little home at 1 Lesley Avenue, walked everywhere and exclaimed to ourselves how different life was without a car and a dryer, bought the essentials, and got soaked.

Then, in a reprieve like no other, for the past three days the rain has ceased. Completely. The sun delves into our little home each morning to bid us wake up, and Tyler scampers up the nearby playground, then runs across a huge field minutes away from us, holding hands with a four-year old girl named Holly who is his hero because she, too, knows the theme song for Bob the Builder.

Jennifer begins her research program on Monday, and Tyler and I have a playgroup that we've joined, which has 13 mothers and their children, and one other stay-at-home father.

The other Dad's name is Chris, and when I first met him, he wore a shirt that read: "Stay Calm and Carry On." When I asked him about it, he said it was what Churchill told the Brits during the war.

Good words, I thought.

Good words, I believe.