Thursday, December 25, 2014

Easy Does It

     For the first time in over twenty-five years one of my works appeared in print (not counting reports I prepared for work) when my prior Rock Fever essay was picked up in part by Honolulu Midweek's Metro periodicals supplement for inclusion in its December tenth issue. (See the online version here). There was even a nice mentioned of it on the issue's front cover. Thank you Editor Christine O'Conner! God bless you a hundredfold! 
     In response to this blessing I submitted a poem (something I rarely write) called Point/Counterpoint in which I contrast mostly “Life is tough” quotes with (easy) responses. Here's a sample of one of twelve four-line stanzas plus the closing line:

The system rigged!” (A little contentment)
You should report him!” (A little mercy)
Who'll know the difference?” (A little integrity)
Why even try?” (A little responsibility)

(It doesn't take much to make things better, just a little bit of this and a little bit of that)

     One of the wisest observations/principles I've ever heard (from a pastor) was that how we choose to perceive something, thus shall it be for us, such that if we choose to believe, “Oh, life is so difficult and tough, I don't know how I'll ever manage or endure!” then life will indeed be very difficult and tough.  But if we instead choose to believe “This isn't so bad. I can get through this without too much strain or trouble,” then life will be much easier even if circumstances haven't changed. 
      Age and experience helps with selecting positive perceptions as I've seen with my kids and Braden in particular. When forced to look up a word in the dictionary, he used to get so upset he'd hiss and stomp and veins would bulge out with purplish ridges on his temple and forehead. He's since gotten better but still shows some resentment at times. 
     I myself used to detest fixing our car or taking it in for repairs or dealing with minor household maintenance issues such as dripping showers, malfunctioning toilets, or peeling paint. But years of raising our kids and addressing health issues have led me to conclude that these people-related things are the important “real” issues, not the minor material annoyances, so that when now faced with the latter, I don't get nearly so distressed as I once used to. After all, if a nuisance broken thing hasn't hurt anyone, is affordable to fix, and once repaired can be forgotten, why stress unduly? As life's full of such unavoidable burdens we may as well accept them with quiet aplomb rather than let them ruin our days.
     Based on this simple choice of easy vs difficult, then, I'm saddened that so many choose the latter and its concomitant discontent, unhappiness, jealousy, and anger versus the former with its attendant contentment, trust, perspective, and hope. Even among Christians and pastors I see this lack of faith, understanding, or perception  whenever I hear one confess, “It's tough” over relatively simple matters such as forgiveness, spousal relations, child rearing, work, integrity, or faith. Jesus said His yoke is easy to bear and His burden is light. It's not as if He's asking us to cure all the world's ills, die on a cross, work without food, shelter, or rest non-stop for days on end, or add more hours to each day. To the contrary, based on personal experience, He tends to prompt simple and easy things that lead to rest and fulfillment and provides more than ample time, resources, and energy to do them.
     It's our choice then, easy or difficult? For me, laid back lover of the simple life, the choice is easy.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Discipline—Part III

     There were a couple of fun kids camps approaching during a recent holiday weekend that Braden was excited about: An overnighter at our church and a two-nighter immediately following at Mokuleia. He's a calm sort that checks his emotions for the most part, but sometimes when he knows that he's got a fun, worthwhile (to us) event coming up that we're likewise looking forward to and that we'd be loathe to cancel, the sin that resides within him (and that resides in us all) tempts him beyond what he can bear and causes him to act rude, disrespectful, and aggressive toward his innocent, perfect family members excepting (for the most part) me. 
     To our pleasant surprise, then, Braden was a picture of kindness leading up to The Weekend, but just two days prior he sassed Deanne repeatedly as Deanne snapped back displeasure. 
     As mentioned in my prior Discipline essay, Deanne's not the most disciplined of disciplinarians so I told Braden, “Time out and you better quit now!” finger poised as if to pick my nose. He stomped away, foot falls slamming with such violence that had our football-sized cockroach co-tenants not stampeded clear, there'd be blood (or more accurately cockroach goo) splattered everywhere like Pulp Fiction. I might have let that pass, but then he muttered audible (but indecipherable—lucky for him) invective under his breath, kind of like Fred Flintstone after a dressing down from Mr. Slate, as if daring us (me) to do something about it. I said, “Okay you can't go Friday night.” I felt so relieved that that was settled that I might have smiled (not that I enjoy disciplining, I just hate anticipating further misbehavior.)  
     Braden walked away post-haste before he did something costlier, his breath labored as if he were doing a burst-the-water-bottle muscle man stunt. He hadn't a water bottle handy (or the muscles necessary to over-inflate it), however, so the only thing that appeared on the verve of bursting was his head, purple as a blood blister on a big toe caused by kicking a nearby ottoman after yet another stupid U.H. football play. Not that I watch or care about such games or take out my latent hostility or disappointment on inanimate objects. No, I take out my latent hurts and hostilities on animate objects such as football-sized cockroaches. Love killing them!
     On Friday afternoon, the three kids and I were outside exercising. Penelope, who would be going to the overnighter (but not the two-nighter 'cause she's too young) was riding a scooter around the driveway minding her business when Braden seeing her indifference to his plight took it as a personal affront, a teasing that she, but not he, could go. So he started taking up a lot of space as he bounced a tennis ball on my old Prince Graphite tennis racket and kicked Jaren's soccer ball through the stratosphere when it dared come too near him. 
     “Stop it!” I said, amazed that he'd act up with me sitting right there. “Okay Pene and Jaren you guys can go in.” 
     Pene put away the scooter and disappeared. “Can we play golf?” Jaren asked me.
     “Okay, I'll meet you out front,” I said.
     Jaren and I play putt-putt on our tiny, lumpy front lawn on occasion. While doing so on this occasion (to get away from Braden), I heard the sound of a skittering stone on concrete coming our way from the back of the house. I looked and there was a stone by the living room tottering on edge and up the drive by the garbage bin stood Braden displaying alpha male dominance gestures so I chuckled at his antics and let pass that the stone incident was caused by an “accidental slip” while playing Gorilla. 
     Back to the Masters Championship battle for the green jacket over which all rode on my final putt, I heard a larger, noisier stone come skipping down the drive toward us and this time it passed our level and stopped almost even with our mailbox a few feet away. I backed away from the ball to gather my thoughts to the astonished gasps of the crowd. Up the drive, Braden now stood flexing and heaving defiant like the Incredible Hulk. So I said, “Okay, you can't go to camp this weekend.” 
     Two nixes over three days is much for any teen to take and in his fury Braden whimpered super-nova hot tears, making “It's not fair!” type squeaks. 
     “Get your hat and walk up and down the street until dinner,” I told him, not wanting any broken windows (least not ours). 
     Deanne once asked are we (you) being fair sending him walking up and down the street? I said we (I) let him drink water and use the restroom. When he hikes with Boy Scouts, it's way tougher and longer and he considers that fun. I even told him he can invite Abe (a Boy Scout neighbor) along and they can both blow off steam together, might do them good. (But he has yet to avail himself of that opportunity). 
     He returned from his walk displaying much better submissiveness to the true alpha male in our household (my wife) and has been a fine young companion to me on Costco trips and other stressful outings ever since.
     Being human, though, he weeks later defied my direct order to Leave Penelope alone! (They were fighting over a book.) As he left her room he issued a final threat to her so he got grounded and had to miss working on a plutonium atom (model, not the radioactive isotope) with classmates. 
     Deanne said what's he to say (as a reason for not going)?
     I said the truth. I'm sure they'll understand—if they're lucky. They can brag who has the strictest Dad. 'You think that's bad?' I mocked, 'My dad once sent me to bed without dinner.' 'That's nothing, my dad whips me with his belt every night.' 'Boo hoo, all I got was stale bread and water for a month, just for not fixing my bed.' It's all blather. The silent one's the one that's got it bad. He's the one whose parents don't care, aren't around, allow him to do whatever he wants, and never disciplines him. I'd be very concerned about a boy like that. No, they'll understand Braden's time-out just fine.”
     More recently, during a time-out of Braden's when Deanne inadvertently (foolishly) “rewarded” him with a candy-bar, which I found out about only after he had devoured a few nibbles, I said, “He can't have that. Braden, throw it away in the trash outside,” (because we had already emptied the house rubbish for the day and didn't want basketball-sized cockroach co-tenants emerging after a night of over-indulgence—at least not in our unit), “and don't eat any more!” He left as instructed and on an impulse I stood in our darkened bedroom and supervised (spied on) him. There he was in the dimly lit carport by the garbage can. He looked at me! (I ducked away foolishly behind the curtain). He lifted a hand to his mouth, chewed in haste, not seeming to enjoy himself, then opened and closed the dumpster lid, and left the suspected crime scene.
     When he entered the house I asked, “Where's the candy?”
     “In the dumpster,” he said.
     “Go get it,” (I'd make a great attorney.) He made a motion to leave, so I figured he must have eaten only some of it—smart move. “What were you doing out there? I saw you bring something to your mouth.”
     “I ate some of the candy.”
     “Okay, you're in time-out another week.”
     Tough love? Perhaps. But having a child grow up bad is much tougher. At least in my opinion.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

God's Faithfulness

     I felt blah recently. Didn't look forward to much. Searched for interest in tired Honolulu (see my prior Rock Fever essay). Found no relief in sight. 
     Until I looked outward.
     I'd resisted getting involved in our church's programs for the homeless mainly because they seemed so sterile—everything was done in-house with very select clientele consisting of mostly families with children. Braden and Penelope, along with a few other church youth, have been active with meal preparations—not a tall order because they serve about only twenty or so clients once every other month.
     When Braden was a Cub Scouter, I went overnight camping with him—great, memorable times, but as he got older, so did my back, and as he needed independence, I let him go on his own. Our church has always sought overnight hosts to oversee the housing facility during their guest families stays, so with a recent change of heart and of seasons in our lives, I decided it was time to sign up for one night if Braden could tag along with me, knowing it would again be something memorable and that the older and busier he gets, the less chances we'll have for such overnight sleepovers alone together.
     Since signing up, here's what's happened: 
     A high school classmate who lives down the street from us invited me as I walked to work one day (she was walking her dog) to a mini-reunion get-together with other Hilo High classmates (about a dozen or so) to play poker and craps, eat, and talk story. They meet bi-monthly at one of our classmate's condo. Deanne and I won't be able to attend this go-around because it's too near Christmas but perhaps another time. (As we've got a limited social calendar exclusive of kids, we find all such adults-only get-togethers engaging and special.  Plus, it'll be nice to see how everyone's doing as we didn't get to talk much at our last big class reunion.)
     Thanksgiving Eve I dreamt about a long time friend from a mostly singles church now defunct (though a few spin-off churches survive) in which he gave me the cold shoulder. That's all I could recall. So the next morning I called and left a message asking, “Is this still Bob Tobin's number? This is Tim. Remember me? Have plans for today? Wanna drop by? If not, I've got a bunch of stuff I'd like to drop off if you're interested. Please let me know...” 

     Ever since I first met Bob over twenty years ago, he's lived alone, surviving off his deceased father's social security checks, renting a room in an austere Section 8 Ohana house (a second house on a cramped lot, old and decrepit), and living frugally because he shuns an excess of worldly possessions (he gave away a portable stereo I once gave him and a nice Taylor guitar to a “needy” friend), and because he's got so little and feels incapable of holding a job due to mental health issues. And yet despite all these hardships he's one of the most generous, humble, funny, and all-around good-guys I've ever met—an angel come down from Heaven for me on occasion (though he'd never guess), and a steady influence though we've seldom interacted since I married. 
     I once spent an evening with him swimming the length of Ala Moana Beach Park in the dark and hanging out at his place afterward. I felt safe during the swim because although I'm only a mediocre swimmer, he's a good one and would have saved me if a shark bit me or I panicked or caught the cramps or some combination of the above, however improbable that might be. Before setting off, it was so dark that in order to swim straight and not end up beached on the reef outside or shallows inside, we had to select the lights of a tower in Waikiki that was situated down the middle to guide us. As I swam the tepid waters with nary a ripple under starry skies beside Bob on my right who took the more dangerous side I thought, “This is awesome!” No feelings of self-pity or remorse that I hadn't something better to do crept in like they had in the past. Swimming Ala Moana Beach Park in the dark was a first, and as I've always been a lover of firsts, it was ample—a fine way to spend my birthday.

     He soon called back and said he was going to his brother's and that we could drop by anytime before four if we wanted to. Our landlord had given us a huge Costco pumpkin pie, keeping a fourth for himself; we kept another fourth and gave the remainder to Bob, along with a pint of Penelope's home made fresh cranberry relish, fruit from our landlord's prolific tree, frozen brownies (leftovers made from a mix long ago) and a quart of ice cream given to us weeks earlier by a neighbor. I had Braden come along and Bob and I shared a joyful, laugh-filled reunion. He said he'd give the cake and ice cream to fellow residents in his compound that weren't going out. Though seeing him was sad in a way, reminding me of how old we're getting (he's developing a paunch, my hair's whitening), our time spent reconnecting (I told him about my dream, he laughed) became a high point of the day. 
     A few days later while walking home to cool down after a work-out run, I saw a neighbor weed-whacking her lawn. I'd seen her and her teen daughter before working their yard off and on and wondered about the absence of the man of the house who'd been there before. As I drew near, she turned her trimmer off to do some other chore and I doffed my cap and asked, “Do you want my son to come help? You don't have to pay him.”
     She said, “I'd love to have your son help. Of course I'll pay him. I've been looking for a yard boy. That would be such a big help.”
     “He's only fourteen. He doesn't know a thing. I'd feel bad if you pay him. Just give him some cold water is enough,” I said with a laugh, I was so pleased. She insisted on paying and asked to send him right over so he could help rake the cut grass. When I got home Braden was bathing, so I had him rinse off, get dressed, and put on sun block, then we walked over, me instructing, “If she tries to pay you, refuse. If she insists say, 'You can give me half.' If she still insists, you can take it all.” 
     When we got there, we exchanged introductions and she shared a little of what she's been trying to do to pretty-up the place. I left the two of them, returned home, and within ten minutes, Braden appeared, so Deanne and I asked what happened? He said, “She said she had to take her daughter somewhere and I can come back next Saturday at eleven to start.”  Saturday, he went over for a couple hours and got paid twenty dollars—the maximum reasonable sum I felt appropriate. I later checked the bricks he laid below-grade in a row to border a hedge and thought he'd done well enough for the time spent. And she invited him back so she must have deemed him worthwhile.
     Now in describing what happened above, I don't mean to suggest that there was a quid pro quo such that because I did something “good”, God rewarded me with these blessings. To the contrary, a couple of trials have also come our way in close succession. While Deanne drove us early one weekend morning to see the dentist, our car got side-swiped by an SUV. No one was hurt, praise God, and the damages were minor, but dealing with the insurance companies, repairing our busted mirror, and restoring Deanne's confidence have all been downers to varying degrees. The dentist's visit was to follow-up on a health issue concerning Braden that will require even further follow-up with a specialist. We'll take him first to see our pediatrician who's a super diagnostician with a reassuring demeanor and ready candor.
     No, God's faithfulness to me means He's always there for us, even in the midst of trials, blessing us with life, love, health, provision, and growth—physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and otherwise. Further, by blessing others, we receive an even greater share of life's blessings—peace of mind, perspective, caring, joy, and happiness. For it's no secret that it's better to give than receive.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cooks in the Making

     The only time I ever said it was when my family and I visited Norm ten years ago when his kids were ages ten and nine. They were bright, well spoken kids, able to relate well with everyone in our family—confident and independent. 
     One day during our stay, Norm stepped out to run errands, Kathy hadn't yet gotten home, and their two kids went into the kitchen to prepare a snack of instant ramen. They went about it so nonchalantly, asking who wanted; boiling water; julienning vegetables and beef; stirring them in with noodles and seasonings; and tending the heat, that it was obvious they'd done it many times before. 
     On a cold evening when we got to babysit I requested that all the kids put on a skit for Deanne and me. We learned from the performance a bit about the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs.  Braden was conquistador Hernando Cortes riding in on steed Stephanie; Darren was narrator and stunt double Cortes who beheaded stuffed animal Montezuma II. (Fact checking this essay, I learned Montezuma II probably wasn't beheaded. But it made for compelling action, a climactic ending, and who cared?) 
     Later that evening I told Norm and Kathy, “I wish our kids grow up just like yours.” They deflected the compliment, said ours (ages four and one) were just as remarkable in their own ways and Norm said he wouldn't be surprised if ours surpasses theirs in many other ways in the not-too-distant future. I expressed doubt as theirs had the benefit of superior “smart genes”. (Norm and Colleen are both engineers.)
     Ever since, burdensome though it has been at times, we've taught our kids to cook—a skill that doesn't require inherited smarts (or especially smart parents). 
     I started Braden off measuring oatmeal into boiling water (he'd spill; I'd snap at him); cracking raw eggs; stirring powder milk (“Don't leave lumps on the bottom”); making egg and tuna salad; slicing fish cake and spam for fried rice; and grilling cheese sandwiches on a skillet, spreading yogurt spread on both sides of each bread slice first.
     As the years passed, he learned to open cans; grate cheese, carrots, and potatoes; slice tomatoes; dice onions; brown ground beef; and follow recipes. 
     Deanne taught him to bake. Cornbread and scones from scratch and brownies from cake mixes are now his snap specialties. Deanne only twice allowed him to make entree’s (she rarely allows me to, for that matter), however, main courses won't be a problem as he has the necessary hand skills, the know-how to find and follow recipes, and the cook's/chef's end product mind-set. This past Thanksgiving he sauteed celery, carrots, and spices, stirred them into a greased casserole dish of packaged dry bread cubes, and baked them 'till the vegetables were just a bit crunchy, just the way I like my stuffing. Penelope, also in on the cooking act, measured sugar, apple juice, spices, and chopped walnuts into a pot of fresh cranberries, tended the stove, and thus earned full credit for preparing the yummy relish. It is our intention that by the time they leave home, our kids will not lack good healthy eating for want of cooking skills. 
     Which contrasts sharply with the mother of a friend from Texas. Naomi said that when her dad proposed to her mom, his mother-in-law-to-be said to him, “Give me two years to train her. She doesn't know a thing. After that she'll be ready to be a good wife for you.” He said “I can't wait that long,” and they married post-haste. True to her mom's word, Naomi's mom never cooked—all they ate at home were take-out, sandwiches, cold cereal, canned goods, and frozen dinners; never repaired a fallen off button; never cut her kids' hair; and never drove—all because, “She never learned how.” It's amazing to me that she got away doing so little on Naomi's family's small working farm (they later raised imus—“livestock, not pets,” Naomi's dad insisted). I met them once at Naomi's wedding where they were quiet and formal, quite the opposite of what I'd expected based on hilarious family photos (Japanese cowboy dad, rocker son, all-American squeaky clean daughter, and Japanese Roseanne Barr look-alike mom) and Naomi's lively and vivid stories of their upbeat lives (her dad drove a hearse—low miles, always driven slow and easy, affordable, powerful engine, well maintained, clean, and roomy), which conjured visions of All in the Family—type loud and raucous free-for-alls (never a dull moment in the Hasegawa household). It was obvious that Naomi had had a happy childhood so I've wondered at times at her eager desire to move to and settle in Hawaii. Perhaps because Texas was too large (she stands five—foot—one) and/or because in Hawaii she blends in well with her surroundings looking very, very local (though she's still got a bit of that Texas twang).