Category Archives: First Draft Father

Have We Turned Our Children Into the Antagonists?

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Some days I can feel the blog post writing itself.

The tension has been building for quite a few days now: the battle for lunch.

I’m honestly not sure how much food goes into Ethan’s mouth these days. He’s not starving. For every ten things he throws on the floor, one or two end up in his mouth.

I swear he plays with me.

I’ll give him a few apples, tentatively testing him out. Will he eat them? Will he throw them?

He pounces on the first pieces, shoving them into his mouth and chomping into them. My guard drops. All clear. I give him the bowl of apples. It’s something we’ve been doing for a while now. This is nothing new. He gets the bowl and is able to manage his own meal.

However, this past week has been different. Now he takes the bowl and holds it off to the side that is furthest from a parent, lets it dangle over space for a few seconds, and then sends it cascading down in an explosion of fruit, vegetables, or bread—depending on what we’ve given him.

As I scamper to the floor to pick it up, I’m scolding him: “We don’t throw food!”

It doesn’t matter. Whatever the next course is, he tosses that as well. One time he yanked on a suction cup of beans and ripped it free, sending the beans to the four corners of the kitchen and onto his own head.

He’ll toss his forks and spoons. He’s figured out how to smear his sipper cup on his tray in order to create a pleasing puddle of milk.

The other day I’d had enough. I waited until I knew he was hungry for lunch, and I gave him three food options. He tossed or attempted to toss all three. Instead of keeping up the battle, I pulled him out of his chair and shooed him out of the kitchen.

“All done! All done! Go play.”

This was not what he wanted. He walked up to his high chair with his hands up and wailed with big tears streaming down his flushed cheeks.

I put him back in the chair, offered him the same three options—food that I know he loves—and watched him swat it all away again.

I set him down again, and this time he roared with the same mess of tears.

It’s just a phase. I know it will switch again. But it’s hard to avoid the narrative of battling Ethan, trying to make him eat lunch.

Writers tend to look for conflict. That’s where the stories are. The intrepid protagonist battles the antagonist in order to accomplish a worthy goal or to learn something life-changing.

Feeding my child isn’t anything heroic, but it’s an important part of his day. It’s not like he should skip lunch every day or subsist on Cheerios and juice boxes—the things I suspect he’d prefer.

But I don’t want to frame my daily interactions with my son as a conflict where he’s the antagonist and I’m the protagonist. I don’t want our relationship to become adversarial, even if the majority of the “fight” is in my head.

I didn’t want things to get blown out of proportion. We sat together on the couch with a few of his favorite toys and re-centered ourselves. In reality, we’re on the same side. It’s just that Ethan is still figuring so many things out. He’s learning how to eat meals, what’s a game and what isn’t a game, and how to tell us he’s “all done” with certain foods.

He has so much to learn, and the ways I frame our interactions as “struggles” or “battles” isn’t helping me figure out my role.

I don’t think I did anything differently that day. He eventually ate something for lunch. All of the change took place in my own mind.

That, and I finally gave him a bowl of Cheerios.

Every Parent Needs a Little Distraction

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Ethan dashes out of the living room, and I already know where he’s going.

Even though I’m sitting next to him, looking right at him in fact, he feels the need to visit the oven in the kitchen. He messes with the nobs on the stove because he knows that I will most certainly come and get him.

While I’m worried about flammable gas, he’s interested in playing a game of tag. I drag him out of the kitchen, and he drops to the floor in protest. If he’s particularly moody, he may find things to toss in between the bars of the rabbit cage like thin blocks or coasters. He may whine or cry if I put up a gate to keep him out of the kitchen.

Sometimes it feels like things are just escalating and escalating and escalating. More often than not, he suddenly stops and snaps out of it. He grabs a stuffed animal or a train, and begins to amuse himself as if he hadn’t just been involved in a life and death struggle to get into the kitchen.

A simple redirection is enough to bring him back from the brink most days. He’ll just see something else and all has been forgiven. His memory is short like that. I’ve caught myself still gritting my teeth and hunching my shoulders up in tension, while he’s happily moved on.

I’m starting to learn that I can help with these redirections, ending a battle of the wills with something far more interesting. A train game or a climb up the steps is often far more welcome than repeatedly pulling him away from the oven nobs.

It’s a simple concept that I’m surprised it took me this long to learn. While there are some conflicts with Ethan that are inevitable, such as feeding him lunch, many tense situations can be artfully defused with a little creativity.

By the time he’s down for his nap, I step downstairs and take a deep breath. I can relax. I’m able to focus. I’m not trying to juggle laundry, cleaning, dishes, a work project with a tight deadline, or a phone call with him getting into stuff. I’m not trying to figure out which of his favorite foods will be thrown on the floor. I’m not barricading parts of the house from him.

I sit down on the couch with my computer, open up a document, and then look across the room.

I see his new train set, mostly in tact but with a section of track and the locomotive missing.

I see his drum and shaker toys strewn across the floor from our jam session.

I see his beloved blue bunny stretched across the coffee table next to the Goodnight Gorilla board book he’d been flipping through.

In a flash the morning battles have left my mind, and I’m left with every sweet memory. I see him running around the room and giggling as I bang on his drum. I see him holding blue bunny, sucking his thumb. I see him stacking blocks on the table and clapping his hands when he’s done.

I see how all of the little conflicts get blown out of proportion. How sometimes I just need a little redirection to draw myself away from the battles.

I see his menacing and beloved shark puppet on the couch across from me where he’d just shared juice with Ethan before nap time, and I start looking forward to the afternoon. I miss Ethan, but I don’t want the nap to end quite yet.

Don’t Confuse a Bad Day at Work with a Bad Child-A Work from Home Warning

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work-from-home-parent-childFor all of the advantages that working from home with children can bring, there are some downsides. Here is one that came up recently…

I recently had a really frustrating experience on one of my work projects. It caused a lot of aggravation as a client blamed me for his own shortcoming on a project. I was steaming with frustration, imagining snarky comebacks I could write over email. I’d had it.

I’m not going to stand for this! I was DONE.

At the same time Ethan began to pester me about crackers and juice and turning the stove knobs on and opening the trash can and picking him up and playing with his toys in just the right way.

I’m not going to stand for this! I was sooooo DONE.

I snapped at Ethan with a chorus of “No’s” as he whined and hollered from one room of the house to another.

Of course he was frustrating me, but in reality, he just needed a little attention or redirection to another activity. Most mornings I can just point out his beloved blue bunny or set up a train and he’ll forget about the things that made him so upset. I usually have the emotional and mental resources to handle small things like this, to see what’s going on and work with him. However, that morning something was quite different. I was already exploding with frustration, and I just needed something else to really set me off.

When I finally talked through the situation with a fellow colleague the next day, I gained some valuable perspective and calm over the work situation. It really wasn’t as bad as I thought. If anything, it just felt bad. However, for a 24-hour period, I was stressed and annoyed, and of course it doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to know that it would surely impact the way I interact with Ethan.

That’s one of the downsides of working from home with kids running under foot. When a work crisis or conflict erupts, you can’t always lock yourself in an office to process your thoughts by yourself. You’re slipping right from conflict at work to a war over eating vegetables or wrangling a writhing child on the changing table.

I just wanted some time to process things in a little peace and quiet, but working from home means you can’t always control the flow of conflict and disruption. Even if you wait until nap time to check email, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to process a bit of bad news before your child starts to bellow for you.

I’d still take the advantages of working from home over a drawback like this. Nothing is ever perfect, and I’m sure the grass is always greener. For every morning where I wish for a bit of peace and quiet, I also get to spend quite a bit of time with Ethan throughout the day—time that I’m sure commuter parents envy.

We would all do well to keep these challenges in mind as we plan our work schedules and career paths. Some conflicts are simply unavoidable. We may have to just buck up and bear it, remembering that our children do not cause our work problems, but our work problems can cause problems for our children.

How to Meet Your Writing Goals in 2014

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new year writing goalsEach morning my alarm goes off or, more likely these days, our toddler goes off. Each morning, I face new challenges to meet my writing goals.

The sweet mornings where he would just play while I wrote are just about done. Now he’s walking over to me with pots and blocks and stuffed animals. Sometimes he wants me to interact with him. Some days he just wants me to hold the pot in a very specific position that cannot be altered or he’ll collapse to the floor in tears.

The new game that kills any productivity is what I call the trash dash. He lifts the lid on the trash can, watches me rise from my desk, and then dashes past me to slam his fingers on my unprotected computer that is perched precariously on the edge of my desk.

There are a few programs that haven’t quite been the same since he got to the keyboard without me.

I’ve generally given up on trying to get writing work done while Ethan’s awake. If I dare to work on anything, the interruptions are constant unless he’s gotten into the recycling in the kitchen. He has shelves full of PVC-free, phalate-free, and sustainably made toys, but he really just wants the empty plastic OJ bottle.

Some days I let him have it.

Despite these challenges, I’ve managed to complete quite a few writing projects over the past year. I’ve hit some low points and celebrated some high points, but when the dust settled, I’d met all of my major book deadlines.

I’m sure everyone has their own secrets when it comes to writing, but here are 3 simple tips for meeting your writing goals in the new year.

 

You’ll Meet Writing Goals That Matter to You

There is a world of difference between a writing project that I think people will find interesting and one that matters to me AND that people find interesting. If I’m just motivated by “popular interest,” then there’s a good chance I won’t get past day one.

However, if I’m writing about something I’ve been praying over, talking about, doodling notes on, and even outlining, there’s a good chance that it has enough of my interest to last longer than a one-page fling.

My challenges over the years have been figuring out the writing topics that matter to me and how to make those topics interesting to a wide spectrum of readers. I think a lot of writers fall off the tracks right here when they settle for something that is popular but isn’t necessarily of personal interest.

We see a writer who has enjoyed some success and so we imitate their style or copy their topics. Some writers just flat out copy. Ahem.

Don’t give up on finding your own topics, your own voice, and your own angle. You’ll enjoy writing far more when you start to rule things out and focus on what truly motivates you and on sharing something that comes from who you truly are.

 

Imperfect Writing Is the Key to Practicing

I rarely feel good about my writing after a first draft. Oddly enough, the longer I write, and I’ve been blogging since 2005, the more drafts I seem to require. At the very least, I’m hoping that means I have higher standards and am getting better at revisions.

Sometimes I need to know when to abandon ship and to admit that all is lost on a blog post or idea for a book. I’ve learned that I just need to chalk each “failure” up to practice.

However, more often than not, I regularly find that ideas need time to simmer before they’re ready for a final draft. Other times, I need to rethink how I tell a story, which details to include, or how I want to introduce the article.

Returning to a writing piece after a night’s sleep often helps.

Every professional writer starts with rough drafts, and the sooner I cozy up to that idea, the better off I am. I have a lot to learn, and while I can grow quite a bit by learning from other writers, the most important thing I could imitate from other writers is an unflinching acceptance of my “bad writing,” and re-categorizing it as a “practice” draft.

 

Develop Regular Writing Habits

One of the more painful conversations I have with people who want to write more regularly has to do with writing habits. This is what sets apart an aspirational writer from a person who actually writes, and it always requires some sacrifices.

I don’t know how anyone can meet any kind of significant writing deadline without habits or routines. I live and die by a schedule of sorts, and when I deviate from it, it’s really rough to catch up.

Specific goals are great, and having one or two in mind this year will really help. We all need them eventually, but habits and routines will accomplish them. And if I don’t have goals, habits and routines will at least create some space for writing that will help me sort out the next step. In other words, habits are way more important than goals.

There are a thousand reasons why I can’t write every day. A habit and routine prevent me from even asking, “Should I write now?”

If I have to ask myself that question, I’ll find a reason to put it off. The same goes for monks and any other Christian who prays the daily office or divine hours. If you are trying to find time to pray, you’ve probably already lost. If you know when you should pray, you’ll most likely take time to pray.

I just need to know that my day begins when I shower, eat breakfast, pray, and then start writing. It’s an unavoidable chain of events that lead to each other. By the time I’m at my desk I believe that my destiny has been written in stone because my habits and routine have set this course already.

I work on something for a client, I keep track of Ethan when Julie leaves for work, Ethan goes down for a nap, then I work on something for myself, and then I get back to work for a client either during his nap or when Julie gives me a break.

The only way to succeed at writing a book or maintaining a blog is to make time to write every day, and the best way to write every day is to develop a routine that you violate on pain of death. If chocolate helps, give yourself some rewards when you’re starting out.

But don’t worry if you’re counting calories…

The beauty of a good habit or routine for writers is that the routine itself becomes the reward.

When I get done work for a client and something for myself by the time lunch rolls around, I feel good knowing that I’ve earned a little money for our family and kept my own career as an author moving forward. It’s rewarding to know I’ve done good work.

Best yet, if I can keep at my writing every day (with Sundays off), I’ll eventually create something really big—like a book. And there are few things in my work more satisfying than uploading a book file for an editor or printer.

I love the way I feel when I’ve completed a book, and that keeps me working on the day to day writing tasks that make it all possible.

 

Jumpstart Your New Year with These Writing Books

Creating Space: The Case for Everyday Creativity: A short eBook for $.99 that will encourage you to explore your creativity and to treat it as a gift that needs to be shared.

A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book: A simple and comprehensive introduction to nonfiction book publishing that has been endorsed by leading literary agents such as Rachelle Gardner and Chip MacGregor.

First Draft Father: Totally in Control and Out of Control

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Ethan has hit the 16 month mark, and now I’m finally starting to realize what parenting is going to involve. Patience, bribery, repetition, and persistence are a few words that come to mind after an epic battle over dinner yesterday.

I’ve long since given up on trying to avoid the word “no.”

Opening the trash can, dropping toys in the rabbit cage, opening the rabbit cage, eating poop from the rabbit cage, pulling the rabbit hay bag out of the bin and dragging it across the living room, assaulting the rabbits with his drum sticks, knocking books off my shelf, chewing on the moisturizer tube, ripping his bib off mid-meal, scattering uneaten food onto the floor: these are all worthy of a hearty “No, No.”

I try to add nuance or diversion when possible.

“Hey, where’s your elephant at?”

“I think I see a bag of blocks we can play with!”

“Let’s play with your wooden balls and platform!”

Having said all of that, it’s kind of amazing how we’ve managed to train him to do stuff now that he’s charging around the house and asserting his will.

When we need him to drop his dear lovey bunny in the crib before heading downstairs, I taught him that the bunny is parachuting down. We stand next to the crib, I shout “parachute bunny!” and he can hardly contain his excitement over dropping the lovey.

His favorite blue bunny stuffed animal can be left on the couch with zero drama if I just hold him next to it and tell him bunny needs to sit down.

Julie has worked on teaching him sign language while eating, and we’ve been working on the sign for “more,” which kind of looks like giving yourself a fist bump. Ethan’s version is clapping his hands. It works. When he wants more of anything, he starts clapping his hands, which is way cuter than him reaching and shouting “UUUUGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!”

He knows that hay belongs in the rabbit cage after working on that one for a while. I’m pretty sure he ate hay every day until that clicked for him and he started dropping it in. He has also learned that the rabbits will eat the hay if he gives it to them, so there is a pretty amazing incentive now to hand it over.

The clean up song is also a kind of magical spell that has turned putting away beloved toys into an exciting game. Mind you, we need to get him out of the room immediately before he starts decimating things again. But still, rather than prying toys out of his little hands and sending him into hysterics, he’s participating in clean up more or less.

I don’t really want to talk about what happens when we try to dress him or change his diapers.

Some “meals” leave me wondering if he actually swallowed anything, while other meals last an hour as he devours everything on his tray.

These are wild, unpredictable, exhausting days.

Some mornings start way too early, and Julie and I drag through the day. If Ethan wants to play with me, I sometimes lay on the floor next to him and let him drop stuff all over me.

Sometimes I sit down to write and my mind is a bleary blank. Where did my ideas go?

Then I hear tiny hands clapping as Ethan waddles into the room saying, “Da? Da?”

I follow him to the kitchen. He flings his body onto the fridge.

This is his new way of asking for juice. He sucks it down and then looks up to the shelf where we keep crackers. I don’t budge, waiting for the signal.

He points at the crackers, slaps his little hands together, and says, “Da!”

Learning to Play in the Dirt

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I used our massive garden spade to dig into the potato box with there was nearly two feet of dirt piled up, and Ethan wandered between his sand table and my side. The air was chilly, and I tried to move fast because the wind was whipping in from the west and rain clouds threatened.

We needed potatoes for dinner. The seed potatoes I had put into the ground last spring had sent out a series of smaller potatoes that were under about a foot of rich compost.

I piled dirt on each side of a hole as I dug down in search of potatoes that were roughly the size of a lime, some larger, some smaller. Ethan was primarily taken with his sand table, but when he caught sight of the loose soil on the sides of my hole, he realized that this was something for him.

He carried his sand toys over and began flinging dirt around. He didn’t make too big of a mess. He mostly moved it around a little bit. I piled potatoes off to the side, but it took far longer than I would have liked. I needed a place to put the dirt I was digging out. Instead I just added it to Ethan’s ever growing pile.

He didn’t mind.

In fact, Ethan began to carry sticks over and stuck them in the dirt like little pennants marking his time there.

Then the sticks evolved into shoving his hands into the dirt. He was a little confused at first. The wet compost was clumpy and heavy. In fact, it was so clumpy that he picked up a perfect ball of dirt and moved it toward his open mouth.

I caught it at the last second. I didn’t have time to remove my dirt covered gloves, so I swatted it out of his hand. He stood there shocked with dirt all over his sweat shirt.

Where had it gone?

He still has a few things to learn about playing in dirt.

I’ll be the first to admit, it wasn’t the most relaxing time in the garden. With people driving home from work in our alley, I had to keep track of his location as he wandered around while I sought out potatoes.

Some day soon he’ll start digging in our garden with us. He’ll be pulling carrots out, yanking green beans off fence, and even helping me dig out potatoes. Maybe I’ll even stick him in the potato box and turn him loose.

However, I can’t do that until he learns the difference between dirt and the potatoes we dig up in the dirt.

God Never Predestines Us to be Bad Parents

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When I started out as a freelance writer in 2009, I believed that God had a plan for me. There was a course for me to follow. God knew where he wanted to take me in my career, and that I just had to faithfully pursue the work before me. If I did the work, things would work out.

After two years of that, I arrived at a painful reality: I had accomplished exactly what I deserved.

Every day of those two years felt like this huge crisis of faith. I was trying to obediently step into God’s plan for my life, but I hit roadblocks everywhere and was close to giving up on my “calling” as a writer.

I’ve written before about how my theology has evolved. I believe that God wants to partner with us through the Holy Spirit, that God can guide us, and that God has given us special gifts we can use. However, I’ve given up on the mysterious master plan of God for myself.

This leads to some tension. While I used to be less proactive with my work as I waited by faith for provision, these days I’m sometimes too proactive to the point that I don’t live by faith as much as I should. We swing back and forth in life as our beliefs shift, and we over-correct. I can live with that.

Today I’m trying to balance what it means to be both active and responsible while also trusting in God’s guidance and power for each day. That is especially true in parenting.

I’m no longer just trying to focus my energy on working hard each day. I’m trying to balance being a good parent to Ethan with being a good professional writer. Both are important callings, but the urgency of writing can pull me away from Ethan if I’m not careful.

I used to look back at the stuff that didn’t work out with “sovereignty hindsight.” It’s this theological way of “living by faith” that is really just lazily blaming God for all of the stuff I messed up.

“I didn’t sell that book proposal, I guess God didn’t want that to happen…”

Perhaps I failed to work on developing networks or rushed my proposal to my agent too fast.

Perhaps I should have been asking more people for spiritual direction or professional insight.

Then again, maybe a hard year or two is EXACTLY what any new venture brings about.

Sovereignty hindsight removes our responsibility and makes our failures part of God’s mysterious plan, absolving us from making changes.

While I don’t think I’ll do much of anything worthwhile apart from God, I also can’t throw up my hands and say, “Well, if things don’t work out, it must be what God wants.”

Parenting these days is a series of small decisions that will shape the future. I’m working from home because we really want Ethan to have quality time with both of his parents. It’s not the most convenient thing some days, and when he delays his nap by a few hours, I have to weigh the benefits of meeting a deadline vs. spending time with him as he hands me his stuffed bunny to play peek-a-boo.

Some days I need to work for a little while, and he has to figure out a game of his own. He’s often willing to wander off and occupy himself with a shape sorter or some of Julie’s literary theory books. At the very least he’ll play a game that involves me sending a car flying to the other end of the room so he can retrieve it and repeat.

However, if I keep sending him away, there will be consequences. Just as the missteps of my early freelancing days set me back, the times I neglect our relationship may add up. If Ethan grows up feeling distant from me, I can’t just act like the distance in our relationship is part of a plan that God KNEW would happen.

God knows I have a choice each day.

I can choose to sleep in or wake up early.

I can choose to dig into my work or read an article at Fast Co.

I can choose to play with Ethan or try to meet a daily project goal.

It’s always a delicate balance, but I never want to act like any outcomes in my life are foreordained, just as I don’t want to dive into each day apart from God’s influence and power.

God is present in the moment without predetermining what that moment has to be.

God can guide us.

God is both all-powerful and full of possibilities.

Each day we stand on the edge of great triumph and great failure. There is so much at stake. THAT is why we need to live by faith. THAT is why we need the Holy Spirit. THAT is why we cry out to our Father in heaven for his presence and trust ourselves to his loving care.