When you realize you’re ‘just’ a dad

She wanted a Hatchimal (like, a deluxe one), but I’m not spending $60 or whatever, so I made her this out of newspaper, masking tape, and wood glue (decorative elements credit: Rory Ellison — which looks more like the Joker than a Hatchimal, but is cute nonetheless).

I remember reading an interview (which I can’t find for the life of me) a long time ago with Guy Kawasaki, one of Apple’s original evangelists (in the marketing sense). The interviewer asked him to tell the audience a little about himself. I was expecting some bloated answer about Silicon Valley entrepreneur extraordinaire, blah, blah, blah, but his answer was short and shocking.

“I’m a dad,” Kawasaki said. 
Straight face. 
End of sentence.

I was reflecting on this the other day. I’m in a season where I’m trying like crazy to answer my vocational calling in midlife (or, maybe, slightly pre-midlife). I feel like I’ve wasted some time (give or take a decade or so) and have all these lofty plans and schemes and goals to catch up and ‘make my mark’ (whatever that means) in the short amount of time I have left.

(Listen to that… Me, me, me.)

Anyhow, I was reciting these things to myself the other day when one thought led to another and then another (as they do) and I eventually found myself thinking about how my daughter is doing in school and her upcoming play date and how I wonder if she’ll remember to bring home her water bottle today and…

Holy hell…

After all these lofty goals and expectations I have for myself and ego ideals I strive to match up to...

I’m just a dad. 
Period.

Now, that’s a big JUST. It’s, like, everything. Maybe I should put quotes around it…

I’m ‘just’ a dad. 
(There, that’s better.)

I wrote the other day about how many past lives we have. As I reflect on the concept now, I realize there were really only two lives: Pre-kiddo and post.

No matter what kinds of awesome things I may think I’m up to for my own sake, truth be told that all of it boils down to one thing.

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On keeping moments for yourself and putting your digital social life in perspective

Photo by Gilles Lambert

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my daughter after she got off school. Naturally, she did something astoundingly cute, so I unconsciously surrendered to the automatic reaction of reaching into my pocket and pulling out my phone to take a photo.

I took the picture. Opened Instagram. And then I hesitated.

See, I’ve written about this kind of thing before, but have lately fallen back into old habits. I’ve long used social media as a personal scrapbook. Photos of family, scenery, and special moments filled my feeds. But this year, I’m taking my life back from social media (well, at least some of it).

I want to keep more moments for myself.

I mean, seriously — why do we do this?…

Why do we put out our most sacred personal moments on social media to be judged, criticized, and scrutinized by other people?

Why should that fleeting moment with my daughter — a moment I’ll never get back — be a source of stress as I mentally churn over what filter, hashtags, and caption to use?

How could I subject the significance of that sacred moment (and countless others) to the preferences of others — many of whom I either don’t know, will never know, or would prefer not to know?

It’s amazing what we’ll do for a brief dopamine fix.

Now, we need to be gentle with ourselves when it comes to this. Yes, social media is inherently an egoic activity. We do it for attention, status, and confirmation (no matter how ‘authentic’ and ‘raw’ we say we’re being on there). It’s easy to virtue signal against it all day.

But the ego is an integral part of the human experience. We just need to be aware of what’s going on and own it.

I’m going to give you a quick look at how I’m going to try to handle social media this year. But I’m trying not to be too dogmatic about it. If I slip up and post a photo of my daughter holding a puppy or a selfie with a Chicago hot dog (yes, after almost two years of living here, I’m still a tourist), I have to chalk it up to being human.

  • First of all, I’m trying to pound into my own brain that I am the product on social media. Whenever I go online, it’s largely a business transaction. So I may as well use it to further my work as a freelance creator (or whatever you call what I’m doing here with this blog and whatnot). I mean, the .com should tell us something. It stands for ‘commercial’. It’s a commercial medium, not a scrapbook. I don’t fault people trying to sell things in an ‘authentic’ (whatever that means) way online. I follow several coffee shops, tiny home builders, authors, artists, musicians, etc. (and love the ads on Instagram — seriously, they’re so good).
  • Any family photos and videos that I take, I put into an iPhoto folder that I only share with close family and friends. These people don’t care about my blog or the work I do in the world. All they care about is my cute kid, my gorgeous wife, and my scruffy-yet-adorable dog (if I do say so myself).
  • As I said, I still slip. There are some personal/family moments that I can’t resist sharing on social. But I keep them on Facebook and Instagram stories (separate from my Instagram static feed, which I want to keep focused on blog/Patreon stuff).
  • I turned my Facebook page private and keep it as a curated personal scrapbook of sorts. I actually like how they provide a space to do this. Plus, Facebook is very much pay-to-play for business purposes and I don’t have the time or money to do that at this moment.
  • Twitter is a tricky one. I went through and deleted all of my old tweets (there are a plethora of apps with which to do this, just search for them). Twitter is so political, it’s toxic. I’ve also unfollowed everyone who triggers that primal urge to hate (you might know what I’m talking about). I don’t know if I’ll ever tweet much — I may even delete my account altogether. The jury’s out.

I hope this helps provide a new perspective on your digital social life. Claim those sacred moments back and share intentionally. If you understand the internal and external dynamics of what’s going on, you can hopefully get the most out of it. Social media doesn’t have to be a horrible, toxic thing — well, maybe just enough to enjoy:)

Enjoy that? To keep this blog going, take a second to support my work on Patreon (while enjoying some spiffy perks along the way)…

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The talking snake

Photo by Patrick Boucher

My daughter got her first storybook Bible for Christmas...

We’ve been hesitant to get her one up until now because we’re particular about the kind of thing she learns about (yes, we’re those parents). We’d rather God not be a depicted beyond reason as a patriarchal, caucasian, lightning-wielding bearded dude (nothing personal against this archetype, but that’s actually Zeus — and Zeus is different).

Our pastor finally handed one down to us that we liked, so I’ve been excited to start reading these stories to Rory before bed (and am learning a ton myself, to be honest). The other night, I read her the one about Adam, Eve, the apple, snake, and tree — you probably know the one. After reading it, we had an interesting little conversation about it…

Her: Dad, the part about the talking snake isn’t real, right?

She’s five, so I could’ve totally gone the old-school route. I could’ve told her that everything in this book is literal fact and that if she doesn’t believe 100% of these stories, she’ll risk eternal damnation.

I mean, really, I hesitated when she asked her question. Like, why is she putting me in this position?? But I answered in the most truthful way I could think of, going against generations of cultural Biblical conditioning (I felt the weight of my deviation down deep — it was crazy)…

Me: Well, no… I mean, not really. See, these stories were written a long time ago. They’re stories, poems, and letters about what people thought about God at the time. But just because they maybe didn’t actually ‘happen’ doesn’t mean they’re not ‘true’. They meant very true things to the people who told them.

Her: Yeah… That makes sense. Okay, next...

Me (to myself): Really?…

I don’t know. Maybe I’m setting her soul up for eternal damnation, but I sure hope not.

My prayer is that she grows up with a much looser and more awe-inspiring notion of the divine than a lot of us did.

Not Santa Claus. 
Not Zeus. 
Not a textbook or an encyclopedia.

But the everlasting poetical mystery of God.

We’ll see where this takes us.


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The grace-driven Santa

Photo by rawpixel

He’s making a list and checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and…

Ugh… It’s such a weird way to manipulate the behavior of our kids, isn’t it?

Now, before I start, let me say that I’m a big fan of Santa Claus. When I see Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I get an instant hit of the warm and fuzzies. I grew up with the Santa tradition and to this day, I carry the fondest memories awaiting Santa and his sleigh on Christmas Eve.

But when Santa remained real (in a literal sense) to me, I definitely lived with a healthy fear of ending up on the naughty list. And, truth be told, I equated the Santa story with the God story. I wanted to stay on that ‘good’ list. And it helped calm my insecurities when I’d spot kids who I deemed to be on the ‘bad’ one.

Thank goodness I wasn’t one of THEM (or was I?!).

In all honesty, with our daughter these last couple of years, we’ve perpetuated this good/bad Santa. Why? Because it works! Want your kid to stop being a little sh*t? Tell them Santa Claus is going to find out. The behavior changes — immediately.

But here I am this season with another go-around. And I have that feeling in the pit of my stomach that just doesn’t sit well. From what I’m seeing now, there are three problems with the traditional Santa story…

  1. There comes a time when kids catch on to this tactic. And with my daughter — at five years old and already browsing the internet — this time is quickly approaching (damn you, Google, and your highfalutin information!).
  2. Unlike my childhood growing up in a conservative rural town, my daughter lives in a giant city. Kids who are less fortunate and don’t get presents for Christmas are a very real thing to her.
  3. (The biggie, for me — as I alluded to earlier:) Thinking back, as harmless as it seemed, the legend of the good/bad Santa definitely added to the binary polarization of my world. There were the ‘good’ kids. And there were the ‘bad’ kids. Hopefully, they enjoy the coal in their stocking (and even maybe an afterlife of eternal torment and damnation).

My daughter doesn’t get off so easy. Living in a big city with WiFi and having a dad who thinks deeply (too deeply?) about these things — the traditional Santa just won’t cut it.

And so, what to do with the Santa story?

How can we keep the magic of Santa alive while tying in the unconditional grace of the divine?

(She’s already equating Santa to God — she told me.)

This year, we’re going with the grace-driven Santa...

Here’s the narrative we’ve pieced together (roughly). Remember, I’m just stumbling my way through parenthood — by no means am I an expert. But maybe you can institute some elements from it in your home:

No matter what people tell you (or what Mom and I have told you in the past), Santa doesn’t discriminate based on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (since everyone is a little good and a little bad). There is no ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ list.

Mr. and Mrs. Santa ask their elves to make gifts for every kid. It’s just that Santa has a hard time getting to some of them on Christmas Eve. And there are some who have gates too high that are locked too tightly for even Santa to get through.

It’s an imperfect system.

But really, the gifts are the most boring part about it. The best things are (1) the anticipation of Santa on Christmas Eve and (2) helping Santa out by holding his jolly spirit in your heart when giving gifts and lending a hand to those who he might not be able to get to. We can carry that Santa spirit with us all year.

I have no idea if it’ll stick. I’m well aware that no kid gets out of childhood unscathed, but if we can keep the damage to a minimum, we’ll be happy. And if I can help her dance with the ambiguities of life while getting a sense of God’s grace through the symbolic grace-driven Santa, well, maybe that’s a story worth telling.

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Let’s raise kind kids

Photo by Jenn Evelyn-Ann on Unsplash

There’s such an intense laser focus in parenting culture and education today on kids being ‘smart’.

My daughter is in kindergarten at a very progressive and creatively-driven micro school and she’s already getting overbearingly evaluated and passively ridiculed for not being able to check all the boxes of our left-brained culture and education system.

I saw two kids the other day wearing shirts that said, ‘Smart kids will rule the world.’

Now, that’s great. I’m all for smart. Yay for the scientific method and math and reading and all of the smart things.

But I’d note that smart people already rule the world. You could say that Donald Trump is ‘smart’. I mean, Wharton is a great school. No slouches get in there (though it does help to have a rich dad like Trump).

From what I can tell, you can throw a rock and hit a ‘smart’ person. But to find someone who is kindly and wise (note: different than ‘smart’) takes serious searching.

I’d argue that our world is more measured and rationalistically parsed out than ever. But look where it’s gotten us, internally. The anxiety, depression, bitterness, division and hopelessness in the human condition hasn’t lifted one bit.

Let’s support the ‘smart’ kids and let them be smart. But what’s lacking so much in this world isn’t smarts — it’s things like empathy, heart, caring, generosity, curiosity, and selflessness.

Smart is an easy-out for any system because it can be measured. One kid is smarter than another because she learned how to write by age three vs. the ‘slow’ kid over there who’s still struggling with the concept at six.

Box checked, noted, and measured. An immediate boost in social status for both child and parent (and the system maintains its relevance).

But when one big kid is helpful on the playground to smaller kids — when she takes the time and expends the vulnerability to make the new terrified kindergartner feel welcome and loved — her work goes largely unmeasured and thusly unnoticed (maybe she gets a pat on the back from a discerning teacher, but that’s about it). And so she moves towards becoming a recognized and measured ‘smart kid’ as the kindergartner is left there feeling alone at the teacher’s side while all the other kids play in small clan-like pods around her.

Looking ahead to a world full of our grown kids, I’d rather my neighbors be kind and wise than smart and intelligent.

As a parent, this is our battle. Raising kind kids in a system and culture that just wants them to be smart using a very questionable measuring stick for what it deems ‘intelligence’.

And so, I say, challenge accepted. We must raise kind kids to really change the world.

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I am the lava monster

Photo by Daniel Ruyter on Unsplash

You’re the dad.
That one.
The one at the park with your kid and wife.
You leap from platform to platform.
You climb with great speed up the ladder.
And slide with deft down the twisty slide. 
All the while
Shouting with glee.

I’m the lava monster, yaaaaahhh!!!

Us other dads have clearly been outmatched.
We have never been
Nor will we ever be
As fun or as lively
As you.

We look at each other
Hands in our pockets. 
Some of us try to step it up. 
We run a little.
Some of us clap.

But we all watch…

Watch as you fly across the zipline.
Feet kicked up high.
Will it hold?
Or will it snap?
Sending you to the earth
Knocking the wind out of you
And bringing the lava monster
To its demise.

Your dockers and wingtips are like a professional dad uniform.
Amazing, the support they provide
As you jump off the top level by the steering wheels and drums
Landing far below.

That one was a little much.
Pretty sure that was against park rules.
Other kids are copying you now.
Mothers are angry.
And I see it might have hurt your right knee a little.
But victorious you rise
Arms outstretched and hairy belly shamelessly revealed
To all the dads who bow at your feet
As you shout Braveheart-style…

I am the lava monster! Yaaargh!!

Now you’re on the see saw
Having so. Much. Fun.
Bouncing higher than ever.
Face red.
Smile beaming.
I’ve never seen a see saw move so violently.
Your little girl flew off.
I think she might be hurt.
Nope, she’s good.
You leap off and run to the rope ladder web thing
Where you scale to the top
So fast
So fast.

You run up the twisty slide.
Pretty sure that’s another infraction.
Other kids follow your lead.
More angry moms.
More angry moms.

You are that dad.
You are the lava monster.

Now my little girl is asking me
Daddy, can you be the lava monster?

No, honey, I can’t. 
There is only room enough for one at this park.

She’s disappointed, I know. 
She turns away and stares at you
As you spin around on the spinny thing
Maxing out the weight limit.

Bold move, friend.
Bold move.

You shout and you growl and you spit your fire
Just like a real life
Lava monster.

Other dads are starting to leave now
Clearly defeated
Clearly outmatched
Clearly out-funned.

Sweat oozes out of every pore of your brow.
Your work clothes aren’t the breathable type.
They might be great for selling insurance
But not for owning the role of
The lava monster.

You’re spent now.
Good show, old sport.
I want to walk up and shake your hand.
Good match. 
But that might just be weird.

You gather your clan.
Jump in your van.
And off, you speed.
Another day won.

It’s just me and my daughter there now…

I am the lava monster!!!!! Yaaaargh!!!!

And she says it…

Dad… Stop acting weird.


Jonas Ellison is a writer who blogs about his life over at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily-ish missives and musings at JonasEllison.com

Ninjas and ponytails

A girl-dad story

Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

I played Ninja’s at the park with my friends today, Daddy.

Oh, really? That’s great. Did you know that Daddy used to be a Ninja?

(Trying to strike up a conversation about my martial arts background so as to impress my 4-year-old daughter as I braid her hair before bed.)

A real ninja?

Yyyyyeah, a real ninja.

(Some hesitancy in my voice knowing that I trained in Aikido, which is about the least bad-ass martial art out there. We didn’t wear ninja uniforms. We wore baggy black pants that resembled skirts. Although, on second thought, that’s kinda bad-ass in and of itself, it’s too complex of an angle to take with a preschooler…)

What kind of ninja, Daddy?

Well, I was more of a samurai than a ninja.

(Trying to back-pedal and justify the skirts — the hakama — because they’re part of Samurai culture, but it’s not really working.)

Oh, well, I’m a ninja. And I hit real.

Weeelll, Rory, we don’t hiiiit. *Dad voice*

(I wanted to say how, instead, we blend and redirect, but — never mind. I’m so not-cool right now. I start to realize the stark reality that my dadness has killed every last shred of whatever coolness I had before.)

We hit, kick, and run away. Like, yyyyah!

Wow, Rory, that’s pretty powerful. A lot of fury there. That’s good. You’re just playing, though, right? You don’t actually hurt people?

(My coolness is done. Gone. Ugh…)

Yeah, it’s a game. But it’s a game that I win.

Oooh… Okay?

I’m a hard ninja.

A hard ninja?

Yeah, like a rock. Hiiiiiyyyah!

(Wow. A hard ninja. So boss. I’ve never been this cool.)

Right on. Which color pony tail do you want? Pink or blue?

Pink.

You got it.

Thanks, Daddy.


Jonas Ellison is a writer who blogs through his life over at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily-ish missives and musings at JonasEllison.com

Creativity: An easy kill

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Dad, look at me.
Dad, look at this.
Dad, watch this.
Hey, Dad.
Hey, Dad.
Hey, Dad. 
Look at this, Dad.

This is my life right now. My daughter, as you may know, is four.

She’s all about showing off. She wants approval. She wants attention.

All.
The.
Time.

Everything she creates is a display. Every heart she draws. Every little doo-dad she cuts out and pastes to another doo-dad (yes, we have a lot of doo-dads in the apartment right now). Every new dance move. Every cool stunt she learns. She must showcase it to us, right away.

Nothing is more important than immediate approval of her self-expression.

Yes, it’s adorable. But damn, it gets really overwhelming and outright annoying at times — especially when I’m tired or stressed or wishing I was doing something else (these are the real feelz, as a parent).

It’s during those times that I see how easy it would be to unconsciously murder her creativity. Absolutely slaughter it.

Telling her to knock it off and sit down so Daddy can do this really important thing has bumped right up against the inside of my lips a number of times. I don’t think I’ve blurted it yet, but I’ve come really damn close.

Shut up. Sit down. Stop showing off. You’re not that big of a deal.

At four, coming from your parents, this is the world.

Listen… We’re going to mess our kids up. At least a little.

And they’re resilient. 
We have to be kind to ourselves as parents.

I’m not saying you should drop your entire life and never draw boundaries with your kids. But when you do, may they be boundaries drawn with care and expressed with love. It’s a fine line, but there is a subtle difference. You know in your heart how to draw that line.

Killing a kid’s creativity is so easy to do.

So easy.

I just hope to keep that little creative flame alive inside that little girl as long as possible.

Or, at least until she can tend to it herself.

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No, not the leaves

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

In Chicago, leaves are everywhere right now.

My neighborhood is composed of a grid of tree-lined streets, so autumn does a number on us. People don’t even bother to dispose of the leaves until the trees have rendered themselves completely bare.

That time is now. The soundtrack of the neighborhood consists of leaf blowers, rakes and shovels scraping against sidewalks, and the wrestling of plastic and paper lawn bags.

As I was walking the dog with my daughter (I often wonder if the dog is actually walking us, but that’s for another post), I saw a lawn crew out in front of a house the next block over with a truck bed full of leaves. I mean, this truck had makeshift particle board walls on each side of the bed about seven feet high and it was filled to the brim, bursting with leaves.

“Look, Rory,” I said. “See all those leaves in that truck? Crazy, right?”

Suddenly, I noticed a look of deep concern on her face. Which was odd. (Because I was expecting something like, Wow, Dad… But, no.)

“Why are they doing that?” she asked.

“They’re picking up all of those people’s leaves.”

“But why? That’s not very nice.”

Ok, now I started to see what was going on. She continued…

“It’s not nice of those people to take that person’s leaves. Those leaves don’t belong to them.”

See, Rory is a collector. When she sees a stick that catches her eye, it’s harder to pull her away from that than it is the Elsa doll at Target. And her leaf collection is impressive. We have dry leaf particles in every crease and seam of every chair and sofa in this house.

So in Rory’s eyes, these people weren’t providing a service, they were burglarizing that person in broad daylight.

All of a sudden, I felt horrible. I mean, really… Why get rid of the leaves? Why isn’t that family in that house out in the yard laughing and playing and rolling around in them? Why aren’t they collecting them as they should — as Rory does?

Why dispose so hastily of something so special?

The value of a thing really does lie in the eye of the beholder. And when you’re four, the simpler and closer to the earth it is, sometimes, the better.

One of the many things I pray doesn’t change much as she grows older.

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Let me lollygag

Walking the dog
around the block
takes me ten minutes
takes you an hour.

You pick up sticks, rocks
pieces of plastic that resemble toys
bugs, leaves, marbles
all of it, fair game
for your collectability.

My adult brain fights this.
It wants to go
go
go
Keep moving. 
Get there on time.
C’mon, kiddo.

But you’re crouched down 
in a perfect 
ergonomically correct
squat
as you gape over the object
in your tiny grasp.

Your eyes like galaxies
they beam at it.
Wow, Dad…
Can you hold this?
And this?
And this?

The stick family
piles up on the front stoop
one family member after another
filling up a warm corner of your mind.

No, I said. 
But part of me now sees
how I’m ‘correcting’ the 
inquisitiveness 
behind those eyes.

Let them lollygag.

Lollygagging is beautiful.
It rails against the clock
and says
time is for me
time to wonder
time to explore.

Your dinner party be damned.
Your lame adult deadlines
are nothing to me.

I am free of this.
I was born free of it.
Please don’t numb my curiosity.

One day you’ll wonder why I don’t stop
to smell the roses
or why I’m so busy 
chasing that carrot 
that you chase.

You’ll wonder
why I don’t ask questions
or why I can’t enjoy the simple things.

I am, Dad. 
I do this naturally.
Please don’t train me
away from myself.

Let me lollygag.
And I’ll take you places
you’ve never seen before.

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Knuckles

I’m feeling quite sentimental today.

School just started this week in my neighborhood. Since I typically walk the dog in the morning, I get to navigate through streets flooded with parents and kids scurrying toward the big red brick building that takes up so much of their lives.

It’s charming to see the fanfare that is back to school week. But on a couple occasions, I’ve witnessed the terror — especially for the little ones — that this time of year holds: A parent or two walking hastily down the street with a somber, robotic, even an enraged expression on his or her face as their 3, 4, or 5-year-old kid screams at the top of their lungs, I don’t wanna go!!!!

It’s enough to make me want to curl up under an existential blanket and hide there until Rory turns 10 (they’re usually over the dread by then, right?).

This hits home for me because, a year ago, when we introduced her to a new school back in Nevada, she cried every single day at drop off for five months.

Five. Months.
Every. Single. Day.

Do you know how heart wrenching that is? A couple times, as soon as I got home, I sat down with my face in my hands and bawled.

What kind of monster am I to just take my only kid to a building full of strangers and abandon her there? One time, I just took her back home with me. I didn’t have it in me that day.

Looking back, I know it’s absurd to feel such guilt (and I knew she was totally fine as soon as we left — at least that’s what the teachers told us), but it kind of makes sense. Our kids want to be around us. They want to be home. And we should be so fortunate. Because one day, they’ll be 16. And we’ll be wondering why they never talk to us anymore.

Rory started preschool today. At a new school. In a new city. With new faces. And new surroundings. It’s a big day. A day that takes as much spiritual fortitude as a parent can muster.

I know it’s cliche, but they do grow up so fast. I took the photo above because it’s about the last part of her that’s still a little baby. Those indented knuckles. Like tiny little craters on a soft, peach fuzzy moon. Her little fingernails with nail polish chipped from digging around for sticks and rocks in the yard.

When we took her to school, she walked right in. Smiled. Waved. And she was off.

Hold on, Father Time.
Give me a second. 
And never let me forget to enjoy this.

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Reason #52,765 that kids ruin us as parents

Photo by Fineas Anton on Unsplash

You might have read the story, but we’re moving to Chicago in a month (read it here if you haven’t read it yet and are curious why). Which means my wife and I had to go out there a few weeks ago to find a place to live. Which also means, we had to leave Rory at home with her grandma (because house hunting with a 3 year old in tow sounds harmful to anyone’s health, including her’s).

If you read my story, you know that Chicago is a big deal to us. It’s where we fell in love. Every year we talk about moving back there. You may hate Chicago, but to us, Chicago is — to quote the late, great Frank Sinatra — our kind of town.

I hadn’t been back there for an extended stay (we drove through a few years ago on the way to somewhere else, but that doesn’t count) since we moved away 7 years ago. Not only that, I haven’t been on an extended trip anywhere with my wife alone since Rory was born, almost 4 years ago.

Needless to say, I was extremely excited to go on this trip. To fly out with my lovely wife to the greatest city in the world (yes, I’m sticking to that) to hang out with old friends, new friends, and find our new home. I was kid-in-candy-store ecstatic to go on that trip. Counting the days. Building it up to myself. Gushing to friends about it. Alex and I both were.

And then came the day before…

Holy. Shit. 
I was depressed.

Like, SUPER low.

I couldn’t help but prematurely start to miss Rory. Like, reallyreally miss her.

Alex and I were packing our clothes the day before our flight. We were both moving around slow. Shoulders slumped. Not saying anything. We both had that far-away look in our eyes.

I looked at her, paused, and then said shit, are you feeling this too?

Yeah! It’s horrible!

Ugh… The entire trip, we were having a good time and loving it, but we both carried a bit of heaviness and anxiety from missing our little drunken sorority girl (it’s how I’ve scientifically labelled this stage of her life at age three and it totally fits — she regularly slurs her speech, falls down a lot, has been known to wet the bed and vomit unexpectedly, strips naked at random moments, throws violent temper tantrums, and smothers us with kisses, all of which can and has happened in the same night).

We’d Facetime with her at night. After a day or so, she started openly missing us. She’d say are you guys going to pick me up right now?

No, honey… 4 more sleeps…

Her blue eyes would fill with tears and she’d start sobbing.

Ugh… Heartbreaking…

At least she missed us. I guess that’s a good thing.

Kids… Do they ruin us? Yes. They sure do.

But missing her that deeply showed me a love that was so intense it physically hurt.

It didn’t stop me from having a Chicago hot dog, though. Because for these last 7 years, I’ve longed for one of those too.


Hey there, my name is Jonas (yes, like the Weezer song). I’m a spiritual counselor who writes shortish preachments in Higher Thoughts on the daily.

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About this whole ‘unconditional love’ thing

Image: Jez Timms

The phrase unconditional love is an overused, often misunderstood one that many of us find fuzzy at best.

No, I haven’t gone door to door or done any surveys. I just know that it’s never quite made sense to me and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’ve heard the phrase time and time again, but it’s never really clicked.

When Rory was born, I thought it would click. I thought I’d finally understand what unconditional love meant.

But I soon realized that this may not be true.

Why? Why was this simple concept so hard to understand?

I now see that I was looking at the definition of love the wrong way.

The problem was, I long held the subconscious belief (I know it was subconscious because, if I would have dug this belief up and exposed it to the light of my conscious awareness, I’d have dispelled it) that love meant never getting mad at someone.

So, we had our daughter, and in true fashion, I’d eventually get mad at her.

I knew I loved her, but this subconscious belief made me think that maybe it wasn’t unconditional. Because if it was, I’d never get angry with her. Right?

But just the other day, it clicked. Consciously. I finally got it. (Yes, I’m quite slow…)

It hit me that Rory could stoop to the lowest of the lows in life. She could steal from me, try to beat me up (though I’d totally take her in a wrestling match), lie to me, steal from me — whatever — and as angry as I’d get at her (and I WOULD get angry, for sure), I’d still love her as much as I did on the first day that I looked in her eyes and saw God staring back at me.

In true guru fashion, my daughter taught me this (hey, ADD moment here, but is the word taught in daughter — almost)…

Unconditional love doesn’t mean not getting angry at someone. In fact, getting angry at them is often a sign of a love that runs deep.

The love is the basis of it all. If I didn’t love her, I wouldn’t care what she did. I wouldn’t be effected by her decisions or actions because I’d not be emotionally invested in them.

But I am. And my love for her is infinite. 
I’d even say it’s unconditional.

Damn… She painted on the wall again.


Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

To subscribe via email to his updates and exclusive content, click here.

Princess rules

Image: Ashton Mullins

We have a Shih-Tzu Terrier. Her name is Dagny. We walk her three times a day because she won’t poop in our back yard. She has to be walked in order to poop.

So, when Rory is home, she sometimes likes to go with. As you may know, walking with a 3-year-old is always an adventure. It takes about five times as long because we have to make a number of stops along the way to pick flowers, squat down and look at bugs, and collect rocks and sticks (and yes, I always end up carrying them).

Right now, I’m trying to get her to cross the street quickly. Our neighborhood is quiet, but I want to get her in the good habit of looking both ways and hurrying across instead of just hanging out in the middle of the street, spacing out.

In typical dad fashion, I tried the direct approach first. “C’mon, Rory! Let’s go!” Or even a more subtle, “Let’s go, kiddo.”

We’re at the stage where her little ego is setting up camp. Any kind of rule/regulation is met with defiance and the complete opposite of the command.

So, I’ve learned to gamify it. Now, we stop, look both ways, and ‘race’ across. Yes, I let her win. Because I’m a softy like that (for now). She’d get so stoked on winning. She’d raise her hands like Rocky and let out a victory cry.

But then, after a few races, she did the cutest damn thing…

She crossed the other side of the street first with me a couple steps behind. I consciously gave off the appearance of defeat and was awaiting another victory cry. But her bright blue eyes scanned mine and detected sadness (I’m a really good actor). Instead of shouting, “Yaaay!” like usual, she proclaimed what I now call the ‘Princess Rule’ (because she was wearing a princess dress at the time).

“We both win!”

My heart melted. We both win. Yes.

I took her hand and we both did a huge victory shout. “Yaaaay! We both win!”

On that day, this little girl stepped into non-duality and grace. Instead of teaching her some bullshit adult lesson of, ‘there’s always a winner and a loser’, I embraced it.

“Yep. You’re right, kiddo. We both win. Isn’t it more fun this way?”

Princess Rules. Maybe we need more of these for a happier existence.


Jonas writes microsermons and meditations here in Higher Thoughts on the daily. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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It’s all anxiety-management

Some parenting and life stuff

Image: Kelly Sikkema

So, parenting lesson*#4876:

Parenting is 98.769% about anxiety-control. If you deal with your stuff, the kid part often works out on its own.

Your kid isn’t a container that you dump your unhealed anxieties into. Life is complex. We all have our own stuff to work through.

Giving a kid our stuff in addition to their stuff gives them double-stuff to work through. And at such a young, precious age, they easily get overwhelmed.

And they freak out. In the middle of Target. With every mom in town circling you with their shopping carts like a fight in the alley in 5th grade after school.

I’ve also found this to be true with bosses, friends, exes, grocery store cashiers, bartenders, baristas, bankers, and pretty much everyone else.

*When I say ‘parenting lesson’, I’m talking about a lesson that we parents learn from our kids, not something that we teach to them.


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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Healthy boundaries for harmony

Image: Tim Trad

One more show, Dad.”

(She’s petitioning pretty hard, but it’s cute, so I’ll let it go.)

“Okay, Rory… Fine.”

(Show finishes.)

“One more show, Dad.”

(Hesitating) “Okay, fine…”

(Show finishes.)

“Just one more show, okay, Dad?”

(Getting really damn frustrated, but there’s JUST enough time if she watches one more show for us not to be late. Hesitating a lot…)

“Fine, Rory, but that’s IT, OKAY?”

“Okay…”

(Show finishes.)

“Just one…”

(Interrupting her) “No, Rory, that’s it. We have to leave right now.”

“But I have to change my dress.”

“Okay, hurry.”

“But I have to get my waaaater.”

“Here… Here’s your water. Let’s go.”

“But you said I could have a cookie.”

https://gph.is/2ehdjcB

This is what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. I let people slide because I hate confrontation. I let them push the envelope waaaaay over to the other end of the table.

Then, when things go awry, all of that tension escalates into a huge fireball of anger. Because then, I’m not just mad at the situation. I’m shaming myself for being such a pushover. I’m pissed at them for putting me in the position of having to say yes to their ridiculous demands. And all of the other layers of complexity that have been stacked on top of said situation due to my passivity.

(If you’re not more self-aware after raising kids, I have to ask where you’ve been the whole time.)

Draw healthy, calm, reasonable boundaries. Yes, with your kids, but also with your boss, your roommate, your mother-in-law, your husband, and yourself.

Notice I didn’t say firm, rigid, unrealistic boundaries. Doing this will set you up for a life of disappointment.

Determine your ‘do not cross’ line in advance. Leave room for some leeway (yes, life happens). And hold to it. If you have to hold the line, you’re better off doing it before the anger builds. You’ll be able to do so in a calm, assertive way.


Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.

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It helps to know it’s just a storm

Image: Medena Rosa

My daughter is teaching me so much about how the human psyche works…

First of all, as some of you know, she’s three. She’s the sweetest, most loving girl with a huge heart.

But sometimes she throw hellacious tantrums. 
Usually in public.

The perfect storm of anger and humiliation swirls into a screaming, urinating, rolling-around-on-the-floor fit of rage.

Being that she’s three, we’ve had some practice in this arena. Over the last couple years, we’ve tried most everything to make her stop in the moment. From bribes, to yelling, to talking calmly, to Santa Claus threats, and more.

But much to our chagrin, we’ve finally come to swallow the bitter pill of accepting that no matter how worked up we get, nothing stops her in the moment when it comes to these emotional flareups.

Except one thing, which we discovered accidentally through physically throwing our hands up and walking away to save our own sanity when she was doing her thing.

Yes, ignoring the tantrum (after making sure she’s in a safe, secure place, of course) is the very best option when the little lass turns demonic.

It’s fascinating how her emotions come on and build just like storms hitting the shoreline. Once the storm hits, the best thing we can do is hunker down behind shelter and let it pass. Then talk about it afterward when the winds die down.

Trying to stop the storm once it arrives is absolutely futile. Yelling and railing against the rain is, in our experience, as fruitless as doing the same to a toddler. All it does is add undue stress and anxiety to an already emotionally laborious event.

But as soon as it passes, just like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, her little tear-reddened blue eyes sparkle from behind her smile. And she’s an angel again. She tells us she loves us, gives ample kisses, and tells us how bad it is to get mad and say ‘potty words’.

And just like that, clarity has returned to a temporarily blustery mind.

This is not just a post about being a parent. This little insight can help anyone of any age deal with their own emotional blizzards.

Knowing strong emotions are just like storms allows us to hunker down and let them pass without excessive damage.

What if, during a howling rain storm, you didn’t realize that it’s just a storm. What if you didn’t have the insight that this thing will pass? What if you believed you had to make the storm stop? What would you feel when you realized that you couldn’t make the storm stop? How despairing would that be?

But what if you realized (like you do) that it’s just a storm? Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing personal. Just head down to the cellar, light a candle, fire up that kerosine heater, and read a book until it passes, right? No added stress than there already is. You might get a little wet and your fence might blow down, but other than that, you’ll be fine. And the sun will shine again.

This is how it works. We all seem to be uniquely predisposed to what sets off these emotional storms. For you, it might take the world falling apart. For me, it might just happen when someone puts cheese on my hamburger after I specifically told them, “No cheese, please.”

How’s the weather looking in your world?


Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.

To subscribe via email to his updates and exclusive content, click here.

How To Survive Toddler Interrogation

A wild ride through the verbal pyrotechnics and public awkwardness of questioning by a 3 year old

My daughter, Rory, is age 3 — going on 13. Yes, she’s a threenager. As cute as she is, she’s testing her little boundaries as never before and is bumping into a lot of proverbial walls, but she’s finding her way. Rory’s been using words for some time, but she’s now grasping more complex verbal maneuvers. In her mind, they’re honest inquiries; but in my mind, they lean more towards awkward public questioning and even hostility-inducing provocations.

As I stand there amidst the puppy dog stare of my little girl after asking me something so absurd — so disconcerting — I often realize there is no answer. Just a moment of silence with an accompanying frown as my mind searches for answers, but all that comes out is an awkward chuckle and a ‘silly kid’ eye roll to any passersby.

The questions at home are fine. I can shrug them off or go down whatever rabbit hole she wants to go down when it’s just us. No harm, no foul. What’s tricky is when she pulls hapless victims — complete strangers — into her web of verbal influence.

Below are some of the situations I’ve found myself in, bumbling in public in the face of her — shall we say, interesting — questions, and the tactics (if you can call them that) I’ve used to diffuse them.

Pronouns

I remember the first time she got me in public. It started out harmlessly enough with the botching of pronouns. We were in line at the grocery store (always an adventure with a toddler) when she pointed to the gentleman in front of us and asked, “Who’s SHE, Daddy?”

I didn’t peg him for a friendly, kid-loving man. He was an older gentleman, dressed professionally, with a staunch look on his face. I could tell he heard her and the vein that began protruding from the side of his bald head showed he wasn’t finding humor in it it. (Yes, we live in a quite conservative little town.)

Initially, I went with the tactic that was most natural. I ignored her.

Just don’t lock eyes with her and she’ll let it go, right?

Wrong…

She asked again (pointing, of course, to make this confrontation even more inescapable).

My second line of defense was redirection, “Hey, kiddo, what’s your favorite thing to do at school?” But I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was not letting this go. This guy somehow looked familiar to her and she wasn’t going to drop it until I reminded her of who she — sorry, he — was. But we didn’t know the man. And he was starting to get antsy.

I was trapped. I had to tackle this head-on, “HE’S the nice MAN in front of us, Rory.”

And that ended it. Confrontational fire, extinguished. She was fine, back to twirling her hair and looking at the balloons.

Pronouns + Fashion

One day, after splashing around and swimming at nearby Lake Tahoe, we all headed back to our spot on the beach to take a load off. More and more people had arrived and it had gotten quite busy. We were in close proximity with a woman who, I’ll admit, was wearing a large, obnoxious hat. It was a large-brimmed sun hat to which the woman had hand-fashioned a long, draping mesh neck flap.

My wife and I were soaking up some sun when I peak over and notice Rory, squatting over her sand castle with her gaze fixed on this woman. I knew it was coming and there was nothing I could do to stop it. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, she pointed and nearly shouted, “Mommy, why’s he wearing that silly hat?”

Double-whammy. Got her on the pronoun and followed it up with a blow to her fashion sense.

Again, instinct took over and I went with the usual tactics — ignore (which never works, apparently), redirect (nope, doesn’t work either), and then, finally, address her error directly. “That nice LADY is wearing that hat to keep the sun off her face so she doesn’t get an owie,” I said. “Isn’t she smart?”

Like before, that did it, and she went back to building her sand castle. Crisis averted.

Pronoun + Friendship

The pronoun is a bugger to this day. Most people are fine with it, but that doesn’t make it any less awkward for me. One day, we were at the park flying her new kite. I was extremely disappointed because we’d had wind all day, but as soon as I got our new Air Foil kite in the air for the first time, the breeze mysteriously died.

So there we sat at our park bench, defeated, packing up the afternoon’s scheduled entertainment, when Rory stopped in her tracks, pointing to the lady on the bench right next to us and asked, “Daddy, is HE your friend?”

Zinger. And I didn’t even see it coming.

It was catch-22. A yes or no question. If I answered “yes,” I’d be forced into that awkward smile and wave (especially since I kinda yelled at the lady’s dog minutes earlier for chasing my grounded kite). If I answered “no,” I’d risk blatantly offending the poor woman.

In a split-second, by following this question deeper, I was faced with a moral dilemma. I began to wonder, Shouldn’t I be telling my child that we’re all friends? This thought was followed up by, Maybe it’s not true — perhaps all of humanity is enemies innately pitted against each other. Maybe I’ve been lying to her all along by telling her to love and be nice to everyone?

Her inquiry was straight-up Jedi. I was mentally paralyzed. I didn’t even know what to do, so I resorted to grabbing her (nicely, but firmly), putting her in the wagon, along with the unravelled kite, and fleeing the scene. Well done, Dad…

Pronoun + Age

Yes, we’re still on pronouns here, but in this case, she added one of the most delicate social faux pas in our culture today: age. We were at the grocery store again — this time in the produce section — in which case Rory pointed to a man next to us and asked, “Daddy, is SHE your grandma?”

He couldn’t have been older than mid-forties.

I felt my heart sink. There was no running or fleeing from this one. The man and I were shoulder-to-shoulder. As Rory asked the question, he looked up directly at her. Again, he was an older gentleman who had a no-nonsense look about him.

There was a long, awkward pause. He was silent. Rory was silent. Their eyes were locked. You could pierce the tension in the air with a toothpick. I had no idea what to do.

A moment or two before I lost all bodily function, the man dropped his tomato, threw his head back in the air, and let out the biggest guffaw one could muster. Tears began streaming down his cheeks and his face turned beat red. I thought I might have to run for the defibrillator when his laugh slowed down to a friendly chuckle.

“Why, you got yourself a firecracker there, young man,” the gentleman said to me, playfully poking her in the chest. “You got me good there, cutie. Ha!”

It was the outcome I least expected. We had dodged a bullet, and apparently made someone’s day.


Kids are crazy. They’re insane. They have no filter and they aren’t scared of much of the social conflicts we are — kind of like that one friend from college but a lot cuter.

We must keep in mind that we’ll look back on these moments one day with a smile. These are the days. The best thing we can do is saddle up, hang on, and enjoy the ride. Just don’t forget to laugh along.

And if the hapless victims of these shenanigans from the general public don’t get the joke, well, I say that’s their problem.

Brain Freeze is a series of stories by parents that celebrates the candid moments in which their children ask the most unexpected questions. The series is sponsored by Chloe’s Fruit, a brand of frozen treats made from only three ingredients: fruit, water, and a touch of organic cane sugar. Follow Brain Freeze for more stories, and sign up to receive coupons for Chloe’s in your inbox.

Spiritual sloppiness

Image: Timothy Meinberg

The other day, I wrote about yelling at my kid (if you didn’t see the post, you can check it out here).

Note: For those of you who responded with kind words of parental support — thank you. I know I’m not alone, but it was nice hearing it:)

I was having a field day with myself all day. I had a million self-critical words pouring through my head…

How could you yell at a poor, defenseless little girl? Your one and only daughter?

This is how ‘daddy issues’ start, dude. Better get that therapist on retainer now.

But the big one was this…

Huh. You call yourself ‘spiritual’. How can you get away with being such a fraud?

One thing I’ve noticed is, problems arise when people say ‘this’ is spiritual, but ‘that’ isn’t.

Spirituality is not the same thing as perfection — whatever that even is. 
Spirituality is not held to the ‘righteous’ or ‘happy’ or any one character trait.

Spirituality is living the entire spectrum of emotion with awareness.
Spirituality is the violent alchemy that happens in the crucible when the impure gets melted down into the pure. 
Spirituality is an undercurrent, not what arises on the surface. 
Spirituality is a process — a binding and loosing of beliefs. 
Spirituality is a journey — a constant evolution of the Soul.

Spirituality is a continuous uniting of the human and the divine.

For some reason, we came up with this rule that said spiritual people don’t cuss, yell, fart, or do anything out of character.

I can see how this view can turn people off to their spiritual potential. They go through something even as mild as I went through the other day (something all of us parents go through at some point) and they think — Whelp, that’s it. I’m a heathen. Might as well throw in the towel on this whole spirituality thing.

No…

Spirituality is messy.
Spirituality is wrestling with the stuff. 
Spirituality is being open and honest about ones flaws and foibles.
Spirituality is a constant loop of forgetting and remembering.

Spirituality is the dance — all of it — good, bad, and everything in-between.

Sometimes we trip over our feet. Sometimes we do the funky chicken with our fly unzipped. Sometimes we get carried away and get a little ‘inappropriate’.

But as long as it furthers our spiritual dance moves, all is not lost.

Now, I’ll step aside while you bust a move.


Jonas writes short stories and preachments about spiritual, whimsical, creative matters on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing here.

Let it be messy

Image: Ricardo Viana

I yelled at my adorable daughter this morning. This was not a little yell, it was a big one. I straight up went off on her. And I feel like the worst dad ever.

Some of you have seen my daughter on the blog here. She’s adorable. Wait, here’s a photo…

At three years old, she’s quite — shall we say — defiant at times.

You can see it in her eyes when she gets in, what I call, the no-zone.

Let’s get ready for bed… 
NO!

Have a couple more bites of your dinner… 
NO!

Put. The knife. Down…
NO!

At that point, she’s locked in. EVERYTHING is no.

Wanna go ride a pony?
NO!

A rollercoaster?
NO!

A magical unicorn through a field of gumballs?
NO!

Well, this morning, she slipped into the no-zone again. It all started when she needed to get dressed for school.

It was a standoff. And the nice, relaxed approach wasn’t working. Yes, I tried.

Suddenly, something switched in me and I turned into a damn fire breathing dragon. I picked her up and put her in time out. Briskly.

She walked out seconds later, tears rolling down her cheeks, screaming I don’t WANT to, so I picked her up and put her in time out again. “Get back in your damn room,at the top of my lungs, I yelled.

In the moment, a higher part of me knew that what I was doing was wrong and totally out of character, but my ego had already dug it’s heels in.

Finally, my wife had to intervene. She shot me that look that says, have you lost your mind?

(Any girl-dads in the house know what I’m talking about?)

Ugh…
That. Look.

Rory eventually regained her composure. Her sparkling blue eyes returned from their puffy redness. I apologized for getting so mad. She said, “That’s okay,as she kindly put on her clothes and went off with her mom to school, blowing me a kiss as she was whisked away on her wagon.

She seemed fine 15 minutes after it happened. But although it went down 8 hours ago, I still feel horrible and want to vomit.

I made an ass out of myself in front of my wife and kid. All because my ego couldn’t stand the friction of a 3-year-old child’s expected defiance. Usually, I’m able to compose myself in these situations. But today got me. Got me good.

I’m processing this all right now, as I write this. Here’s what I have so far:

Sometimes you gotta let things be messy.

When shit is hitting the fan, sometimes it can’t be cleaned up right away.

There’s sooo much virtue in knowing when to just walk away and let it be messy for a bit. In being cool with running behind and accepting the fact that your day isn’t going to go exactly as planned.

Nothing is worse than acting out of alignment with what you know is right. Rushing in and employing frustration and anger to clean something up while in this state of spiritual misalignment will only result in an even bigger mess. Guaranteed.

Like the great, wise Kenny Rogers said,

Know when to hold ’em, 
Know when to fold ’em, 
Know when to walk away, 
And know when to run.

(Did he have a 3-year old at the time he wrote that? Must have.)

Let it be messy for a second, hour, day, year — whatever. 
Breathe.
Come back with a clear head. 
Let it be. Time does amazing things.

And if any of you know how to snap a kid out of the ‘no zone’, I’m open to advice.


Jonas writes short stories and preachments about spiritual, whimsical, creative matters on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing here.