December 20, 2017

Note: Last week, I led out in staff worship at my school. Since it was the week before Christmas break, I wanted to help foster a festive feeling in my fellow faculty. The short essays focused on the connection between the Christmas story and the modern-day Christmas experience. Hope these pieces find some resonance.

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” Luke 2:4

Some may find the Christmas story to be rather unrelatable, what with its virgin birth, mangers, and myrrh. But as someone geographically located in the middle of two sets of families, I can appreciate a good story about inconvenient travel.

According to Google Maps, one can hop on the Yitzhak Rabin Highway in Nazareth and start the 97-mile journey to arrive in Bethlehem. It’s a 2-3 hour drive depending on traffic. By comparison, it’s a 491-mile southbound trek along the I-5 to my parents’ house and a harrowing 874-mile adventure northward along I-5 and Highway 97 to my in-laws  in Washington. It is not for the faint of heart, and we’ll be flying north this year. But when we do hit the road, we’ll typically spend 2-3 hours stopping for false potty alarms, using the potty for its intended purposes, and pulling along the roadside when one of us didn’t go potty at the last highly-convenient rest area.

Of course, even with these challenges, I can’t complain or really compare. We haven’t ever made the journey on foot, like Mary and Joseph back in the day, making the trek upward to the 2,350-foot mountain town of Bethlehem. And since my daughter and son were born in September and July, respectively, we haven’t had to travel while Sara was in the full stages of with-childing. However, I am aware this pre-natal challenge would be tough. In the summer of 2009, Sara and I traveled down Highway 1 while she was a mere 7 months pregnant. Not having seen the sights along the California Coast, I suggested that we hike around Big Sur. Although the online review assured me that the trail was easy, it apparently didn’t account for pregnant women and idiot husbands. I wonder if Joseph ever got a death look or two like I did that day. Maybe things would have been better if Sara had been riding on a donkey.

In reading Luke’s narrative, I was rather surprised to find that, just like on that fateful day in Big Sur, there was no donkey. The clip clop clip clop of small donkey’s hooves has been such an indelible part of the story to me, I double-checked Luke 2, scoured Luke 1, and perused Matthew’s account just to be sure. No donkey. Stunningly clipless and clopless.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a donkey. Donkeys were like the Toyotas of Middle East transportation, while horses and camels were like the GMs and Fords. A poorer person would take a donkey as opposed to a horse. But although Jesus was an advocate for the common person, the donkey tradition didn’t seem to develop due to a focus on economy.

There is in fact a record of Jesus riding on a donkey, just out-utero as opposed to in. According to John’s account, “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it.” Then a crowd gathered with palm branches shouting “Hosanna!” and declaring him king. This scene was a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy:

“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”

Apparently, a king riding on a donkey was not a particularly unusual habit for the Jews. Judges and 2 Samuel both talk about royal households with such aspirations. However, despite this kingly endorsement, a donkey still doesn’t seem particularly fitting for a king. It doesn’t have the gravitas of the horse.

And therein lies the point. While today, we would still associate a horse with the charge of war, most wouldn’t necessarily associate a donkey with peace. Especially when you consider the hostilities between Democrats and Republicans. But the Israelites did, and so this may explain all the clip clopping associated with the Christmas story. Kings who rode on horses showed that they were ready for war, while the donkey kings were signifying peace.

So we cannot be certain that Joseph held himself steady as Mary struggled to mount up on a small donkey. We don’t know that small donkey’s hooves clip clopped a rhythm as Joseph hummed the Shema to his son. We have no surety that Mary patted the faithful donkey’s head, taking in its colors and textures so she could make a straw-stuffed likeness for the baby jostling inside of her.

But I’d like to think that Jesus came at a time to catch the right type of transportation. One not nearly as convenient as some. Not a horse-drawn carriage, or a Mustang turned Uber, but a donkey that symbolized a most stubborn hope. The hope of peace. A true holiday aspiration for all travelers.


I love that my kids have a sense of humor. I guess almost every kid does. And although my kids laugh at passed gas as much as the next guy, they also find the funny in so many other ways. This week, the silliness came in spades, so I thought it would be great to remember a few of these moments.

Episode 3

Sometimes I like to pun with my kids at the dinner table. You know, like normal dads do. So I asked Alice the following question: “What kind of hat does a grizzly wear when it goes to Mexico?” Alice was a little stumped, so I gave some clues. “What do you call a hat that someone might wear in Mexico?” That’s when Elliot jumped in.

E: A som-brero?

Me: Yes! So what would you call a hat that a grizzly might wear?

E: A som-bear-o!

That was probably the first time that Elliot really got a pun, and definitely the first one he has gotten before his sister. He seemed pretty proud of himself, or maybe that’s just me projecting.

Episode 2

This week was parent-teacher conference week. In between my meetings, Sara and I met with Alice’s teacher. We let the kids wait in my classroom. I set them up with the scratch paper to draw on, not thinking what was on the other side.

When we returned, Alice was very excited about showing me the paper. I assumed she had made an interesting drawing of a Catstronaut or a fox, but instead she was showing me a page with writing on it. Apparently, I had given her some of my extra literature worksheets. She had taken the time to fill out answers to the questions from one of my sixth-grade books. Here are some examples:

Question 2: Why was Neftali so nervous about talking to Uncle Orlando?

Answer 2: Because he was a Minion.

Question 12: In the final scene of this chapter, the author ends with these dramatic words from Neftali: “Nor will they silence mine.” Based on this scene and your reading, write down a specific prediction.

Answer 12: The world will turn into a paper towel dispenser.

This is the kind of thing that I loved to do in middle school (and probably the main reason why I was so popular then). I would still do it now under the right circumstances. Aside from her absurdity, I was also impressed that she seemed to have a basic understanding of the questions.

Episode 1

Sara recently purchased two giant beanbags for the kids. They like to move them around the house and jump on them. On this particular Saturday, Alice had the idea of acting like something falling into something else. For example, a raindrop falling into a puddle, with the beanbag being the puddle. She did a few herself and then asked for suggestions. So then I just started giving her these weirdly specific scenarios. We did them rapid fire, one after the other. Elliot was extremely delighted by her theatrics, and he eventually joined in on a few himself. She never once hesitated. She asked for more and more until we had probably done at least 30. Most of them just involved her using a loud voice and falling face first, but there were a few that stood out. Here are a few of my favorites:

A baby falling into a toilet

This sounds darker then it was. She just fully committed to the urgency of the moment and then her brother joined along. The fall and the screams for “Mommy!” were pretty great.

A hairdryer falling into a bucket of orange juice

This one was one of Alice’s suggestions. The sound effects of the hairdryer were pretty great to start, and then she ended with the line “These are definitely clogging up some of my systems!”

An alien falling into a high school Spanish class

Fortunately, my daughter doesn’t know much about immigration, since I intended this to be about a space alien instead of the pejorative term used to describe someone from another country. Alice walked over with making loud noises while gesticulating like a disco enthusiast on a caffeine high. Then she fell on the bean bag and proclaimed, “Hola!” Like she saw all the kids staring at her and wanted to try and act all casual.

So there you have it. Just an attempt to make something that could be ephemeral into something memorable. Like when the world becomes a paper towel dispenser, dispensing three sheets at a time.



April 13, 2017

Rainbow soap suds streamed down the Toyota Sienna’s windows as my son and daughter squealed with delight. We were in the car wash. It was out of necessity. There was a stretch of I-5 where I thought I heard rain under a cloudless sky. I’m pretty sure the pitter pitter pat was bug bodies colliding with my windshield. The three of us sat transfixed as the soap and spray washed it clean.

The car wash is one of the most underrated family destinations. It doesn’t cost too much, lasts longer than most Disneyland rides, inspires a sense of awe, conserves a significant amount of water and time, and actually cleans your car.

This car wash did not disappoint.

“Our car is the funniest of them all!”

“It’s a thunderstorm!”

“I almost tooted.”

There was lots and lots of laughter. They were locked in on the sights and sounds.

After the car wash, we were happy and we knew it. But instead of clapping our hands or stomping our feet, we played some improv games.

Last spring, my in-laws came over and I drove my daughter and niece back from a zoo trip. We played a game where each of us thought of one word and then we made up a song. It was so much fun. I can still mention the words “Cat Dog Company” and bring a smile to my daughter’s face.

I was a little unsure of how Elliot would react to this game, but he participated and thought it was really hilarious. Alice did a nice job of adding in some of her own lyrics and explanations. We played at least three rounds, but I can only remember “Moon Puzzle Truck” and “Doughnut Tree Fox.” We referenced songs and other stories. We tried to establish themes. It was a moment of pure joy.

As we approached home, Mr. E. started to get a little cranky and sensitive. So I busted out the ice cream sundae analogy. This analogy is a somewhat manipulative idea that somehow resonates with the logic centers of my children’s brains. I started this with Alice years ago, and she was very helpful in explaining it to Elliot.

The basic idea is that all of the good things of the day are like the sundae ingredients. Bananas might be a cheerful wake-up. Ice cream might be keeping one’s pull-up dry. Whipped cream might be a positive experience at the pet store.

But Mr. E. was ready to top off his sundae with tears and anger. That’s when I told him about all the good parts of the day. Then I explained to him that ending our awesome trip with arguments would be like putting a worm on top of our delicious sundae. This seemed to make sense to his 3.75-year-old brain. He stopped instigating a fight with his sister.

We sang more Moana songs as we headed up the mountain. When we pulled into our carport, everyone was happy. Five potty stops and over nine hours of bonding gave all of us increased confidence as travelers. If I were a Scientologist, I bet I would have leveled up.

We emerged from the trip with many a happy memory. The successful adventure had given us a certain shine, like a car being bathed in rainbow foam.

Serendipity Doo Dah

April 12, 2017

I like efficiency. It brings me much joy when I can wash dishes while listening to my favorite podcasts. I love it when my students use their post-recess moments to finish assignments or study for quizzes as their classmates filter in. I’m in a state of ecstasy when my flight lands ahead of schedule and the car rental line is short.

When I became a parent, I had to give up my membership in the efficiency union and fully embrace the character building and teeth grinding of the inefficiency club.

Drives that used to take 7.5 hours suddenly expanded to epic quests lasting 9-10 hours. There were stops due to carsickness and clean up. Meals went from in and out adventures to drawn-out negotiations. And then there were the potty stops.

Before we left on our journey, I made sure that Elliot sat on his rightful throne. But not even an hour into the trip, nature called on line one. “I need to go potty,” he stated. I sat bolt upright as I had to fight feelings of PTSD from the night before.

We were on the outskirts of L.A., near Arcadia. Usually, I don’t like stopping anywhere near L.A.. It’s usually not very efficient. But then I noticed a PetSmart right alongside the road. “Let’s use the bathroom there,” I said. This was instantly met with cheers, because the pet store might be my kids’ favorite place in the world. I clearly defined time limits. There would also be no purchases and certainly no adoptions. After using a remarkably clean bathroom, we looked at fish, birds, and snakes. We also met an adorable chinchilla and guinea pig. We even found some cats. Alice was particularly amused by Bob. This got our trip off to a good start. I definitely recommend the pet store potty.

And we were off. I figured we could at least go non-stop until lunchtime, but I was wrong. Elliot needed to go again. Fortunately, we were quickly upon the Vista Del Lago Visitor’s Center near Pyramid Lake. I had seen this building before, but never stopped. Upon hearing the name “Vista Del Lago” through the GPS, the kiddos christened it the “Mr. Gelato” visitor’s center. There were displays of animals, short videos, a light-up map of California, and an impressive interactivity that illustrated the water cycle. Unfortunately, there was no gelato. However, once again, there were clean bathrooms. We went in with full bladders and left with so much more.

For stop number three, we ate lunch at Panda Express. This added nearly an hour to our time, but the kids both ate well and for the sake of efficiency, I was able to fill up gas.

Based on the events of the previous night, I was positive that Elliot would fall asleep in the car. His bladder had other ideas. Just as his eyelids were getting heavier, he needed to make another stop. I pulled over at the rest area with two main goals: empty the bladders while avoiding dog poop. Much to Elliot’s disappointment, there would be no wrestling on the grass. Therefore, missions accomplished. While rest stop restrooms lack the cleanliness of a visitor’s center and the cuteness of a pet store, they do make for a fairly efficient stop.

We were on the road again and fatigue was setting in. So I guzzled down some Mountain Dew while on my way to potty stop number five. So much for efficiency records. In spite of all these stops we were just a little more than an hour off schedule. This made me rather happy.

For an extremely inefficient trip, I thought the stops were quite serendipitous. Everything seemed to show up at the right time. Elliot and Alice notified me ahead of time, so pants remained dry. They broke up the trip nicely so it wasn’t a nine-hour sitfest.

A couple hours out, I had a decision to make. We were about to head into the teeth of rush hour, as we approached around 4. My Waze app was giving me mixed messages, but ultimately it wanted to send me through Bay Area traffic. I did not agree. Instead, I stayed on I-5 and headed north past Stockton and through Rio Vista. I slowed down to about 40 mph just outside of Stockton, but that lasted for only one or two minutes. Eventually, we picked things back up to highway speed. Soon we were on Highway 12, racing by windmills, looking at grassy hills, and speeding over an undulating highway. The kids both loved the bumps. It was like a roller coaster. In fact, Alice wanted to drive back just so we could experience the sensation again.

Somehow we pulled into Napa without any major arguments, iPad time, or naps. We did have plenty of the Moana soundtrack, as well as soundtracks for The Sound of Music and Annie. That’s how we solved a problem like a road trip. Not quite the hard-knock life one might have expected.

Alice and Elliot made me so proud. I almost thought about taking them out for ice cream before they had dinner as a reward, but that wouldn’t have been very efficient. Instead we stopped for one of their favorite activities.

The Rule of Three

April 11, 2017

The trip had the makings of a disaster. 500 miles. Two kids. One dad. Vegas didn’t like those odds. Too many variables. Accidents—both automotive and excretory. Carsickness. Arguments. Improper caloric intake at restaurants. Low blood sugar. Fatigue. Speeding tickets. Car trouble. A Trump presidency. VERY BAD!

It looked even worse when the three-year-old decided he would wake up three times the night before. Usually I’m a sucker for numerical parallelism. This time, I may have wept. The first occasion: conscientious urination. Sara and I trained Elliot for this over the course of the last year, so I should have known it would come back to bite us. It’s like we raised Jason Bourne. It didn’t help that I was in a deep sleep when I heard him scream, “I need to go potty!” The ultimatum was unspoken. Help me or I will ruin your life, and the life of your family. I realize I am part of this family and will therefore cause self-inflicted wounds. However, I do not care. I showed off my dad skills by making the two unpardonable midnight potty sins. First, I turned the bathroom light on, which resulted in my son acting like he was the Wicked Witch melting under the oppression of incandescence. The second was zipping his belly in his pajamas after the deed was done. Remarkably, he went back to sleep relatively quickly after having given me the gift of adrenaline. Moving on to round two.

I was in some highly satisfying stage of sleep when I heard his cries again. I stumbled toward his room, only to hear a plaintive pronouncement. “I can’t find my turtle!” My initial mental response was something that was thankfully not followed with spoken word. Let’s just say there would have been a few unnecessary modifiers for “turtle” thrown in there. I calmed down and went to find my phone, deciding not to turn the lights on and summon Elphaba. As I flashlit the room, I was confident that I would find the turtle. While I searched, Elliot wailed away about its demise as if that plush reptile was the only thing holding back the apocalypse. I looked under blankets, under the mattress, inside pillow cases, inside closet doors, and under curly-haired screamboxes. Nothing. Eventually, I wandered the house until I went into Alice’s room and found two turtles. His and hers. One was wearing a dress, and since I didn’t have the energy to be open-minded at 4 a.m., Elliot got the fashion-neutral turtle. He calmed down, only to awake a few hours later around 7, needing help with the potty again.

Alice woke up earlier than expected as well. This was especially surprising when you take into account that I kept her up near 10:00 trying to help her complete her schoolwork. This was the schoolwork that I diligently had her pick up on Friday but completely forgot about until I was packing up her stuff that night. I suddenly had empathy for the parents I tend to judge with incredulity.

So this was the brew bubbling in the cauldron the night before the biggest solo-parent trip of our three little lives.



Traveling Man

December 19, 2015

Elliot has miles to go before he sleeps. He and his giraffe binky have ridden in a black minivan for nearly three hours. They have sat in traffic together along with his family, immobile for nearly an hour as helicopters circled overhead. Apparently, someone has been shot while driving on this highway that Elliot is now traveling on. Because of this, the highway has turned into a parking lot. But Elliot does not know about the near brush with danger, and at this point, neither do his parents. They will read about it on the Internet later that night. In the moment, Elliot is much more concerned about his poopy pants.

Elliot is taken out of his car seat at the airport. But only after his father unloads all six bags onto the luggage cart. His mother remembers to top off the baggage with Elliot’s car seat, and pushes the wheeled pack mule along. Elliot walks with his sister, Alice, reluctantly holding her hand. His dad drives away, off to park the car and sprint back to the ticket counter. Elliot is unaware of the challenges that his parents face. He is sad, because it is cold and he wants to run around independently through the darkness, strangers, and impatient drivers. His blue Converse All-Stars are saying let’s go, but his folks are saying no.

At the ticket counter, Elliot is playing on the cart. He sports a red and blue checked flannel. He is sad when his parents eventually separate his patriotic-colored arms from the object of his affection.

Elliot is quiet through security. Even when the TSA-agent makes him put his binky through the scanner, his brown eyes shed no tears.

Elliot arrives at his gate. His mother goes to change his pants, minus the wipes that were checked at the ticket counter. After his son’s less-fragrant return, Elliot’s father goes to hunt down a moca for his wife and trap a pretzel with cheese dip for himself.  Seeing they have a power play situation, Elliot and Alice decide to get wild, writhing on the floor and dancing with flailing limbs, respectively.

After a few wild minutes, Elliot is ready to board the plane. He repeatedly says thank you to the ticket agent as Alice hands over the tickets. He runs down the walkway, ready to navigate a sea of foreign legs, until his parents both yell at him to stop. To their surprise, Elliot complies.

On the plane, Elliot’s eyes dart around randomly. He asks a few questions. He requests a Fruit Leather. He slams his small body into the back of his seat, startling the passenger behind him. However, he is mostly quiet. He doesn’t cry during takeoff.

About 30 minutes in, Elliot grows uncomfortable in his seat. He requests his momma’s arms. She lovingly obliges.

It is over two hours past Elliot’s bedtime. He has not napped today. His father braces for a meltdown with fear and trembling.

Elliot remains calm. His eyes grow heavy. His mother turns him in towards her chest and he snuggles in. Soon his breathing is heavy. His jaw is slack. The eyelids drop down.

Elliot’s father looks carefully at his son. He looks at Elliot’s curled-in fingers. His pinkened cheeks. His dark sweaty curls. He remembers the nights and mornings when his boy fell asleep in his arms. He smiles as these memories seep back in.

Elliot slumbers deeply. He sleeps to the end of the flight and a little beyond. He has performed well. He has traveled many miles. He has traveled through time.







Dear Diary

June 13, 2015

Today, I did what only the bravest of parents dare to do. I cleaned the minivan. As a result, I will most likely have nightmares. Perhaps I will drown in a tub of Cheerios and Goldfish. Maybe the mysterious stain I worked so hard to scrub out will come to life and rub me out of existence, elbows first. Or peradventure I will be lost in an endless forest of my daughter’s sweaters and kindergarten artwork.

I had put this task off for a long time, which made it all the more harrowing. Part of my procrastination had to do with the fact that even the most thorough cleaning could only provide a temporary respite. Order would eventually yield to entropy.

But nevertheless, on a hot June day, I found myself with a Shop-Vac ready to do battle with cracker crumbs, sticky wrappers, crayon fragments, and who knows what else.  I threw open all the doors, emptied the trunk, disengaged car seats, and committed like Daniel Day-Lewis.

For a few seconds I became the last milkshake-drinking president of a left-footed gang from New York. Until I heard footsteps.

It was Alice. She had come to help.

Normally, I really do like spending time with my daughter. But I was on a mission and a five-year-old kid does not correlate with an increase in efficiency. Stickers, yes. Efficiency, no.

But since she was so eager, I relented. Well, sort of. First I tested her enthusiasm. She really wanted to vacuum, so I gave her some pre-vacuuming tasks. Carry in your 18 sweaters. Take in your tupperware containers of currently-evolving ranch dressing. Scrub down the seats with some of your brother’s wipes. No, the unused ones.

If she were competing in a Little Miss Minivan competition she would have survived the “Transportation of Wares” portion without much distinction. However, she rocked the “Wiping Down Surfaces” section, getting bonus points for her enthusiasm over the luster of the freshly-scrubbed interior door handles. Her comment actually inspired me to take a crack at the layer of dust that had blanketed the dashboard.

When she finally got to the “Vacuuming” portion, she was a house of fire. She maneuvered skillfully from front seat to back. She switched from the “scraper” to the “tube” with ease. Cheerios hiding in their bunkers were sucked up in bunches.There were a few work stoppages. She ran in the house to get us a drink of cold water. I showed her the buttons on the driver’s seat, and she delighted in moving it back and forth, forth and back. She chided me for throwing away her prized painting—two purple flowers on a white background.

Eventually, she finished the mission by hopping in the trunk and vacuuming up pine needles from Christmas. To clarify, the rest of the car had been vacuumed since then, just not the trunk.

I was stunned by the fact that she may have actually helped with efficiency. I probably wouldn’t have taken a break to play with the driver’s seat, but while she was vacuuming the trunk, I was wrestling with the car seats. While she wiped bench seats, I vacuumed out the toughest of crevices.

When we were all done, we were both beaming. I told her how much I appreciated her help. Then something came over me. Maybe it was the ranch dressing fumes.

“I think I’ll remember this moment,” I told her.  “Someday when you get older, you may not always want to do chores with your dad.” Not sure why I needed to be such a downer. I sometimes suffer from early onset nostalgia.

We talked about the possibility that she might be different than the average teenager. She seemed optimistic, but wasn’t making guarantees either.

“Maybe you should write this down in your diary,” she said, “so you won’t forget.”

Somewhere in our much more pristine Toyota Sienna, a few snacks are still hiding out. A raisin here. A piece of kettlecorn there. Stuck. Immovable. Like a moment lodged in a daddy’s blog.