I have been learning lessons from my son, re-adjusting my perceptions, so that instead of anxious about his antics, they can bring me a sense of calm. My shoulders used to bunch together-muscles knotting into a clenched fist-whenever I heard the crash of a toy bin being upended; all I could envision was the potential mess. I used to take a few unsteady steps backward, an uneasy retreat, when I caught a glimpse of a mud-caked Finn running at me; all I could see was the clean-up. I used to escape from the room when Finn turned on his music, quickly distancing myself from the noise, as he started to screech and gyrate his body wildly to the tune; I could only imagine the impending headache. But all this has changed, well, mostly. He hasn’t stopped doing these things; rather my reactions have slowly been altered.

Put down that camera and play in the MUD with me.
Those that haven’t tried being a stay at home parent for any length of time are completely clueless-yes I said it-but all those that have will tell you-if you have the ears to listen; it is fucking hard. And if you have heard your spouse or friend utter these words, than feel glad, for those that find it hard are those that are putting out the most effort. It is less difficult when I choose to let the television, or the iPhone, or any other electronic device do the minding –and there are times when this is an absolutely necessity to prevent murder or suicide-but I have resolved to search for other ways to engage, less passive paths to entertain, and a more tactile method to educate.

Ice and Tractors
Every day Finn insists on playing the same games, implores me to push around the same toys, and asserts that we should converse with the same dinosaurs; it seems that consistency rather than variety is the spice in his life. I try to bask in the glow created by the mutual experience, enjoy the togetherness, no matter what the activity. But there are times that I need to avoid situations that are so mind-numbing, that they make me pray for some alone time, so that I can bang my head against a concrete wall.
It is a challenge to get him to try new things, and occasionally the tantrums these suggestions elicit make me feel like the exercise wasn’t worth the headache. But I find that the more inventive I get, the greater the chances are that he will react differently, and the more likely he is to add a fresh line of dialogue to Tyrannosaurus’s lips. I feel triumphant if we make it through a full day without television, euphoric if I’ve managed to coerce him to go outside for a couple of hours before dinner. I find that the lower my expectations are, the greater the mental rewards, and the better I feel at the end of the day.
So out of this came an epiphany of sorts, one that forced a re-interpretation of the facts. At the age of three if he is creating a mess-he is learning; if he is covered in mud- he has been engaged heavily in outdoor play; and if he is screeching-he is interacting with the music. These are all things that he should be doing, things that he needs to be doing, if I want those neurons in his head to be firing effectively. And so I muster as much enthusiasm as I can harness, and help him dump toy bins on the floor; dress myself in clothes that are ratty and worn so that I can join him in the dirt; and I have even learned to let go of my own inhibitions about my inability to sing, and belt out an out-of-tune lyric: because it is these things that are truly essential to his growth.
I have learned to embrace the chaos; learned to love the mess.
But I draw the line at finger-painting with feces. We use chocolate pudding.

Chocolate Pudding


Food Fight

Food has become an issue.

I understand dislikes of certain tastes, aversions to odd textures, but an all-out rejection because of appearance seems foolhardy at best. My parents are quick to remind me of my own ‘pickiness’ when I was growing up, and I certainly remember disliking a huge category of food, but I think that I at least tasted most things before rejecting them, in fact I have vivid memories of being forced to do so. I have come to believe that my own discerning palate might have stemmed more from a desire to assert my autonomy in a household with four overbearing brothers, than any real detestation of certain dishes; but regardless of my own history, as a father, I try to make efforts to broaden my son’s meal choices.

Eggs and Toast
Finn was actually a really good eater as an infant; two hours after he was born by midwives in our living room we were all sharing large plates of East Indian food. He might not have participated directly in the meal, but since my wife hadn’t eaten during the fifteen hours of labour-which had began at one in the morning and ended at four in the afternoon- I contend butter chicken was the first flavors that hit his lips, even if it was filtered through my wife. This should have been a good base; my parents still haven’t tried butter chicken, at least not voluntarily, so it would have been a broader base than I ever had as a child.

Finn eating Beets

There was also an uncomplaining eight month stint as a vegetarian, and after he was all too happy to gobble down most kinds of meat, with a true Albertan’s preference for ‘cow.’ But now, at the age of three, he has developed a keen eye for what he doesn’t like; so much so, that he doesn’t even have to bring it near his mouth to know with utter conviction that it will taste ‘awful.’
My wife is far more easy-going than I, more willing to trust his instincts and not willing to go through a grueling process of pleading before flipping a grilled cheese sandwich, or peanut butter and toast, onto his plate. But lately I have started using a trick, something that all smart parents have in their arsenal: the bribe. For him, and my wife for that matter, the best temptation is ice-cream, and so it goes.
“If you take one mouthful of mushy peas there might be ice-cream after supper,” I slyly remark.
“The vanilla white kind, with brown yummy choco specks?” I hear the euphoria in his voice.
“Maybe,” I try not to commit.

Ice Cream!
This sometimes works wonders, with him finishing his whole plate, and sometimes just gets a new food into-and then instantly spit out of-his mouth. I am content if he is willing to try a new flavor, and I try to honor his decision if he asserts that he truly doesn’t like it. And he ends the meal with a bowl full of ice cream.
My wife is impressed when I have managed to get him to try-and sometimes even like-a few things that he has hastily dismissed; and an impressed wife is rare enough that it too has to be cherished.
I thought I had this thing beat-or at the very least had a strategy when I hit resistance-and felt proud that I had a son willing to try new things, one that would grow to understand the merit in variety, and might even strive to discover new dishes.
I felt so good about it the other day that I flipped him his favorite go-to meal, one that has stood the test of time and has been a staple in our house: the grilled cheese sandwich. I created a large pool of ketchup beside the golden pieces of toast-melted cheese oozing out of their side-and set the plate in front of Finn.
“Okay I’ll eat that Dad, but there better be white ice cream with brown specks after,” he commands with hands folded across his chest.

 Finn collecting eggs

I grew up in an era when Sunday nights were all about one television show: The Magical World of Disney. My four brothers, as well as my Mom and sometimes even my Dad, would gather around the black and white 23” set to revel in the antics of a funny looking mouse and his rowdy group of friends. Now that I have a son of my own, I often feel nostalgic about that time we spent as a family mutually enthralled by a single show, undistracted by cell phones or internet. I decided it would be a great idea to institute a night of good wholesome entertainment with my three year old and wife; an evening where we could all bask in the artificial multicoloured glow of our monstrous 42” LCD boob tube.

I ardently believed that this could be a night of education, as well as togetherness; so I decided the theme would be Nature, and would revolve around two excellent sets of BBC DVD’s that I had purchased years ago: Planet Earth, and Life. David Attenborough narrates the former with a studious drone, but since the latter is a US version, it is the ubiquitous voice of Oprah Winfrey who provides the audio commentary. All episodes are under sixty minutes, making them easily digestible, and reducing the chances of my toddler becoming distracted or annoyed.

The first night was a huge success, and instead of weekly installments like I had planned, Finn begged for this to become part of our regular nighttime routine. I quickly embraced this idea, for it would mean a break from our evening ritual of playing a game Finn had affectionately dubbed Bash, and which usually left me and my anxious wife exhausted. Bash is an outdoor affair, played on our back lawn, and it consists of both my son and I running in a well-trodden circular path in opposite directions. When our bodies intersect, we ‘bash’ into one another; and when this happens it is my job to pick Finn up and fling him into the air as high as my strength will allow. (My wife refuses to watch us play this game because of the panic that wells up as my son flails upwards-kicking and flapping his limbs-and for the terror she feels during the agonizing milliseconds it takes before gravity again takes hold; his body suddenly propelled downwards, back towards the Earth, and into my outstretched arms.) 

So the replacement of a hyperactive activity with that of a mellower one was something that I could happily adopt. My desire was that these shows could help connect Finn to the Natural world, inculcate a love for its myriad forms and multitude of species; create a longing within him to get out into the wilds of Sooke. Of course, I recognized that television could only be a starting point; it wouldn’t ever replace the necessity of getting your hands dirty.

Luckily only four driveways away the VanBeek’s have a mini farm: three horses, four bunnies, squawking geese, egg bearing and meat ripening chickens, a gaggle of goats, and usually a handful of turkeys. This gregarious family has generously allowed my son and I full roam of their property; instead of chasing us off with a large broom, they have invited us in. Hospitable and understanding, forgiving me even when I lose control of my brother’s Chihuahua/Shih-Tzu cross and I’m forced to shout and run as it chases some of their wandering fowl, they regularly pause from their daily chores to give us some of their time and periodically manage to produce gifts for Finn.

Finn with Sara VanBeek

And so it is with great wonder and excitement that Finn explores their working farm, the smells and sounds recorded by his impressionable mind. And I happily explain to him the difference between rabbit feces and chocolate chips, horse farts and goat spray, and the connection between the sudden disappearance of the noisy turkeys and our delicious Christmas meal.

Finn and Dylan with the goats

It may not be exactly the magic of Disney that he is getting, but as I scrub the goose pooh from his palms I can’t help but think that his education is a little richer and more realistic than most things that Uncle Walt decided to depict; although I’m not trying to disparage singing warthogs and penguin waiters, those have their place too.

Post Script: Goose poop can easily be removed from hands, especially when compared to slug slime, but I recommend not mentioning this fact to your wife as it might beg the question: were you really supervising him that well while he played in a large field of animal excrement?

Sooke Summer 2012 iPhone 042Being a parent can be hard; in fact it usually is, but I find that life in general isn’t a series of easy decisions, ones that I can make without much thought or angst. Having a child feels like an extension of having a life, an important part of being alive-I’m not trying to imply that everyone should pro-create-but for those of us that do, most have discovered a new realm of living; opened up by being completely responsible for a little one. Well, half responsible.

I find ordinary decisions being coloured by my role as a father, from what I eat, how much television I watch, and even the language I use. I have always appreciated a carefully placed swear word, a cleverly appointed expletive that can add spice-or punch- to a mundane sentence. So how do I elicit that pleasure now?

Like so much in parenting it is as much about the habits that you leave behind, the old skin that you have to shed, as it is about the new things that you take on. I have developed the Daddy persona, something I bemoaned when I watched such daring and raw personalities adopt them-like Eddie Murphy’s transformation from a foul mouthed and homosexual Mr.T into an annoying and pesky donkey.(Pre-child I don’t think I would have even used the word pesky). But if life is driven by evolution than I guess this is inevitable and something to be embraced rather than fought against. I always shake my head when I hear people say they wish they were eighteen again; I remember that stage as a time of promise, but it was also full of angst and I was desperate to be an adult and begin a life of my own choosing. Sixteen years later I’m still searching but at least I have a son now to help point out my way.

Before him I used to spend time and money getting to places I thought of as worth going to; whether it was the mountains, the movies, concerts or theater, I was constantly on the go. Finn has shown me how to slow down, how to appreciate the splash of a puddle, the feel of a slug in your palm, the pleasure of a walk in your back yard. With unrestrained joy he applauds and revels in the simple wonders that are so abundant when your eyes are open to them; and because of him my eyes now are. 

I’m sure there are non-breeders that can find purpose and direction internally, but for the rest of us we need to divide, have children, to uncover many of life’s mysteries. I salute their strength, learn from their determination, and catch myself whenever I feel a flicker of envy at their lack of roots, their freedom. For all the speech sanitation, the adventures that never leave the backyard, and the entertainment derived from a four page book; I wouldn’t trade it for the planet.

As we sit and play with Playdooh for the five hundredth time that week I smile inwardly at the way he rolls the mash-able substance into fifteen snakes. Chuckle as he asks me to make him just one more frog, and happily comply. For all those things I gave up-or shed-so much more has been gained; in fact I didn’t realize how constrictive my beliefs had been until they were gone.

Finn’s snake slithers off the table and hits the floor; Bronco-a Chihuahua/Shih Tzu cross- grabs it with his tiny jaws and trots off.

“That dog is a f*&%ing one,” Finn asserts as he watches his tail wag its way into the distance.

“Yes he is Finn,” I reply calmly, “yes he is.”

PS: I am not an advocate for foul mouthed toddlers-but I have been advised to not react too strongly if you hear a child use the lingo of a pirate, or the obscenities of the French.

X-ray close up

A few days on stool duty is enough to drive you mad. You are alternately happy to hear that your son in preparing for a bowel movement, and terrified that the jagged hook he has ingested might get stuck while getting eliminated. My wife has warned me not to be tempted to tug or pull at the hook, if it isn’t fully clear, she then proceeded to describe her fears of it pulling something vital out with it.

Pushing those images from my mind, I wait for Finn to finish his business. I then clutch an oversized popsicle stick in one hand, and break apart whatever has plopped into the shiny porcelain toilet; Finn cheers me on. We both share the hope of catching a glimpse of the shiny brass hook; the X-ray had shown without any ambiguity that it was in there, so I squelch any doubts of the importance of doing this, and try to ignore the feeling of humiliation. I can’t help but thinking that if I had been a ‘better’ parent, he wouldn’t have swallowed that jagged hook in the first place.

Finn looks onto the proceedings with glee, oblivious to the scenarios that run through my head, and the threat to his life that this situation represents. I know with ardent conviction that I love him more than myself, couldn’t imagine my life without him, but this knowledge only makes my worry sting all that more keenly.

“Did I poop it out yet Dad?”

“Not yet, maybe next time.”

“Can I have a candy?” he asks with a cheeky grin.

“Sure, you can have a candy.”

We are beyond that stage of toilet training when bribes of candy are the only thing standing between feces on the floor, and shit in the toilet. So we no longer use sweets to prompt his relieving himself on the throne, but under the current circumstances, I don’t have the heart to refuse his request.

At the hospital I had been told to wait seven days for the hook to work its way to freedom, and if it hadn’t by then, to bring my son back to the ER for another X-ray. I hoped that Finn’s bowels would make a return visit unnecessary, but this time there was no prize in the crackerjack box.

Each preceding day as I wait, I go through the normal motions of our life, pretending that everything is normal-my wife is usually off at work while I play and entertain our son-but my senses are heightened, my emotions closer to the surface, at the back of my mind I’m constantly wondering how many more hours I have with my son: one thousand? one hundred? one?  I make a conscious attempt to savor the moment, participate fully in each game as we play, and I try not to alert my son that I’m worried that something disastrous is imminent. Could that object be doing irreparable damage, and is Finn only a moment away from collapsing in pain? It is a great effort to maintain the belief that there will be a positive outcome, but I have to-not just for him-but for my own sanity. I observe as he gambols around, there is no indication that the sharp spike that he has inhaled is causing him any grief, but can I rely on that as a sign that he is in the clear?

“Dad, run with me,” he cajoles in a frenetic state.

“Okay son.”

Seems fine to me

Joyously running

At night when I curl up to him, for I’m the security blanket that he insists he needs every evening, I cherish the moment. I realize that it won’t be a lot of time before he is demanding that I leave his bed, with the same vehemence that he now demands that I stay. I have become accustomed to his small warm body close-by, the sound of his quiet snore, and I wonder if I have come to rely on the presence of these things, before I will allow myself to drift off into unconsciousness. But with that hook still circulating through his body, I now imagine the possibility of him not being here, of no Finn to cuddle up next to at all. My eyes moisten as I push these morbid thoughts away from my mind. 

Seven days trickle by and it is time to return for another X-ray.

With sweaty palms and inflated fears we hear the result: the brass hook is gone, disappeared, no longer inside him. Despite my wife and my own best efforts, it has slipped past us; probably lodged inside a compacted piece of pooh, or secreted in the explosive blast of diarrhea.

Relax, breathe easy-I hear my mind whisper-and let down your guard; well at least until the next holiday.

Captain Hook parading as Batman

Captain Hook parading as Batman



Why is it that there is a greater occurrence of tragedy on days that are holidays? Is it that we are so full of angst about being surrounded by our larger family that we let our anxiety distract us from situations that we would normally have under control?

Five minutes before my wife was to return home and ferry myself and my three year old off to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, Finn stuck a large brass hook- his self-proclaimed pirate hook that he had been carrying around and using as an artificial appendage for the past hour- into his mouth.

Finn is a very large fan of the T-shirt, in fact on most days he chooses one of the three or four that meet his approval, and are on constant rotation in his wardrobe; and that is all he wears, no pants, no underwear and rarely socks: just a T-shirt. But on this very special day I had him neatly buttoned into a pristine white collared dress shirt for the first time in recent memory-for that matter in any compartment of memory-however it was layered over top of a bright red T-shirt that was covered in Bears, but that is a minor and unimportant detail; for he unquestioningly looked dapper. And it had taken the small bribe of only one Hershey’s kiss to get him clothed in this way. I felt unduly optimistic about the red sweater vest that I had laid out on the couch. A Facebook friend of mine had just posted a picture of his toddler, neatly dressed in a sweater vest, and I felt sufficiently goaded to attempt the same with my cherub faced drool monster. But this is when the mere struggle turned into more of a fight; I soothingly cooed at him as I did up his pants,and wasn’t paying enough attention to notice the fact that the large brass hook he had been fondling-One with a threaded needle point end; One large enough to hang plants from your ceiling or coffee mugs in your cupboard-had just entered his mouth. He was crying because he was being clothed, but anyone with a three year old knows this isn’t anything unusual, and most have been similarly conditioned to not respond to a manipulative snivel. But suddenly he was choking; and in a painful flash- one with incredible clarity-I instantly realized what it was that he was gagging on. 

I instantly flipped him over and jammed my finger as far past his jaw as possible; I could feel the winding threads and sharp pointed end of the hook sticking towards me, and with a prayer and a loud expletive, I depressed it into his tongue in an attempt to get a grip and pull it back out the way it had gone in. The semi-circular hook had passed his tonsils, but this prickly part remained at the back of his throat, and I prayed to all the Gods in every religion I had encountered in my life, to allow me the ability to pull this jagged hook from my child’s mouth. Finn let out a jarring scream and a gob of blood leaked onto my hands. Panic set in and my body began to vibrate. Finn became more hysterical as I tried even harder to coax the metal intruder from its horrific jam.  Blood was intermingled with saliva and snot, and it was running out of his mouth onto his crisp white shirt and pooling onto the floor. With great urgency Finn fought me off, and the thick wads of curdled blood made me relent; recoiling my finger and re-assessing the situation.

 Once my finger was gone, Finn swallowed, and in a renewed panic I pried open his jaw and reached inside but the hook was gone. I released my hold on my son in shock and he stopped crying. With wide eyes that expressed hurt and fear he retreated into a corner, protectively hiding behind a pair of bar stools and staring out at me. Reality seemed to crumble; I live in a society that emphasizes worst case scenarios, and I imagined the lethal things this hardware was doing to my child’s throat and stomach.

My primary concern was that he was Okay and so I apologized to him for forcing my digit into his mouth and asked if he was alright. He stared at me without replying, but his face had softened, and other than the blood smeared across his chin and staining his white shirt, he appeared to be fine; weathering this much more gracefully than I.

My wife was supposed to be home any second, so I began to coax Finn from the corner he was cowering in, and a few sympathetic words brought him into a tight embrace. I whispered as I clutched at him lovingly, “I’m so sorry Finn, I just wanted to get that hook out, I won’t put my finger in your mouth any more.”

I carried him out the front door and sat in a chair that was in the carport. Before I could formulate a plan, my wife pulled up, and as the gravel crunched beneath the car tires I ran up to the vehicle and shoveled Finn into his car-seat.

“Don’t ask any questions,” I uttered with as much calm conviction as I could muster, “just drive to the nearest Emergency room, now.”

I felt my world falling apart, my reality eroding away as I struggled to push any negative thoughts to the periphery. We tore down the asphalt and I clutched at my cell phone, deciding it best to call 911.

  About half way to the hospital an ambulance met us, and I accompanied Finn into its square metal belly. He was leery of the nurses, but he was alert and responsive. Our attendant became more worried about me, as my heart raced and my face went pale describing the incident; Finn reached out to console me with a hug as he saw my concern.

My wife drove our vehicle, following us the rest of the way to the overcrowded hospital.

After a few more embarrassing explanations, and one condemning look that assured me that I was not going to win any parenting awards, we made our way to the X-ray room. The digital X-ray showed that the hook had made its way into Finn’s belly-it was a stark and solid reality-clear and bright amongst the faded white of his bones. We were given a few cardboard receptacles, a handful of oversized popsicle sticks, and told to monitor the situation.

“It should come out, and with any luck not tear anything in its path,” the sympathetic doctor reported, “but if you don’t see it embedded in his feces in about a week, please return.”

I cradled my son, attempting hard to stay calm, and pushed away all images of the metal in his digestive tract. I thanked the doctor, stepped through the large sliding glass doors, and was punched in the face by the cool evening air; I felt certain that I deserved this and thought I could easily win a medal for world’s worst father.

Finn angled his head upwards, I looked down into his vulnerable face, and he uttered the first words since the start of this debacle, “I think I am all right now Dad.” 

The knot of tension that I was carrying in my shoulders relaxed, my body gave way as I began to laugh; his courage far outstretched mine.

I squeezed him tightly, my love for him so immense; suddenly feeling so thankful.

I heard one last remark as I stumbled outside into the darkening Thanksgiving night, “Why is it always crazy in here during the holidays?”