Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Stupid Kids Ruined Everything

A few months ago our family endured an experience that will forever live in infamy, now an inextricable part of Hall family lore that Aimee and I will tell until we die, and maybe even after that. My daughter Jillian, then two and a half, spread diaper content all over the room while she refused to nap. This was all accomplished while she remained in the crib. And you needn't underestimate the phrase all over the room; when I came into the room she was literally painting the walls with it. This diaper content was on the walls, on the crib, on the crib mattress, on the mouse pad that was on the desk across the room, on the nearby rocking chair, all over the carpet, and defying the laws of physics, under the crib. I was rendered speechless as I gazed upon the scene, not comprehending how to process the moment or what to do about it. I had never encountered such a disgusting scene in my entire life, so I needed a moment to step out and gather myself to decide how to go about restoring order. I rinsed Jillian off as thoroughly as is legal, trying to keep her filthy hands out of her mouth. Being somewhat of a neat freak, I had to completely subdue my repulsion at the incident and accept that I was going to be disgusting after this too.

After her thorough scrubbing I left Jilly in the bath for approximately three hours while I went to work (don't worry about her - she'd move into the bath if she could). For a moment, I fantasized about the few blissful months of my life when I lived by myself, a period of uninterrupted tidiness and quiescence. (Other men fantasize about beautiful women and a life of luxury; I fantasize about cleanliness and time to myself.) Having cleaned up every inch of the room and disinfected myself, I reflected on the previous several hours of what should have been abject misery. I found that I hadn't worked in that cesspool grudgingly, with no self-pity, and even the disgust had mostly disappeared. This episode helped me realize that I'm thoroughly a father now, that all of the lessons and examples of what it means to be a real man and a good dad had embedded themselves in my character.

In my view, there are two basic options to responding to how you're raised: adopting those principles or rejecting them. My home was a big family in a small house; none of my parents or siblings are particularly demure or unopinionated, the TV and music devices constantly played, and something was always going on. Many people growing up in those circumstances seek that out the rest of their lives, but I developed a longing for quiet and solitude. From my teens onward, I dreamed of becoming a translator of ancient documents, scouring dusty texts in a locked basement somewhere. My other dreams situations were a permutation of this scenario, where I could be around other people at my leisure and of my choosing. Time and again God has shown me that is not what He intends for me; I have something to offer others and those same people have something to offer me.

More recently I had another moment of duress which eventually resulted in my edification. I was experiencing a high degree of stress in virtually every component of my life - at work, domestically, with my church duties, with my health, and trying to decide upon future endeavors - and found myself with precious little patience or anything else left to give. One afternoon after yet another soul-sucking day at work, I came home to a messy house with a lot on my mind. Not long after, my toddler and my baby began shrieking in unison (a condition I refer to as the Lynnwood Children's Chorus). Neither of the two could be consoled by conventional means despite our best efforts. I wanted to scream, if nothing else to show my kids how annoying they were. I was on my last nerve and Jillian and Jason were relentless in their attempts to deafen us. I walked into my room to collect my feelings and strategize what the next step would be; it was in this moment that I decided to take charge and at minimum spare Aimee some of the agony. I grabbed both of the kids and made them come into my room where we all laid down. While they continued to scream, I calmly read to them and held them closely.
Instead of being annoyed and frustrated with them, I wanted to soothe them and bring them some peace. I pulled them even closer and continued to read and sing to my kids until one of the rarest of domestic miracles occurred: they both fell asleep at the same time.

Only in the aftermath did it dawn on me what had occurred. In the moment, my feelings were set aside and I just gave what I had to my family. My children were granted a little bit of peace as was my wife. As a Christian I strive to be more Christlike, to apply the principles of scripture and do my part to become worthy of the Lord's blessings. That day, Jillian and Jason gave me an opportunity to serve and realize that I have at least in part become the person I have always hoped to be.

My family has always inspired me and given me reason to do and be better. One word that isn't used often to describe Aimee is heroic, but it should be. She once told me that she didn't have those mood swings like most pregnant women which is accurate; it's more of a constant state of nastiness and displeasure. Aimee on the whole is an excellent person, admirable in countless ways. But I've never been more impressed with another human being as I was each time she gave birth to our children. When she bore Jilly (it minimizes Aimee's role to say "when Jilly was born," like it just sort of happened during a commercial break), Aimee kept her wits about her all throughout labor. Deprived of food, drink, and sleep by the illogical rules of the hospital, Aimee remained polite, considerate, and focused only on her baby. When she gave birth to Jason, this time outside the hospital and without the aid of medication, she showed a toughness and determination I had not seen in her before. Both times I was moved by the tremendous character of my wife, reminding me how much God has blessed me in letting me be a part of this family. I felt it keenly a month ago when Jason first really began smiling and I wanted to know how to make him smile. He isn't quite ticklish, he doesn't like being whooshed around, so then I stuck my tongue out at him. He smiled! I kept doing it and he kept enjoying it. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, seeing my baby smile and knowing that I was responsible for it.
Getting married and having kids changes everything. Free time evaporates, cash flow shrinks, quiet disappears, and stress abounds. My family is messy, in a housekeeping sense and otherwise. My peaceful, predictable life is over, but I couldn't be happier about it. Aimee, Jason, and Jillian have given me a far better life.

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