The Making of Tents and Beds

The Making of Tents and Beds

Each night for the past three nights I have had to make my bed before climbing into it. And by “make my bed” I mean gather sheet and blankets from the floor to re-position them on and re-tuck them under the mattress. This is due to the fact that my children have deemed my wife and I’s bedroom as the ideal location to pitch a tent. And it is – the ground is soft and level, free from rocks. It has some higher shelter already provided. It’s near a source of water, restroom facilities, and even a shower. And our sheets seem to be just the kind of lightweight material needed to provide temporary lodging.

However, while I respect their creativity and resourcefulness, I told my wife last night that I was going to rip all the covers off their beds each day so that they have to make their beds each night before they go to sleep. She wisely said that would just mean more beds for me to make each night. And even if I were to set that plan into motion, it would require removing the dream tents that three of them have on top of their beds. And that’s to say nothing of the forts that currently fill the basement. All three levels of our house bear evidence that my children seem to be overcome by the need for protection upon protection. Shelters within a shelter. Walls within walls. Maybe they know something I don’t.

I guess these are good life skills to have. If trapped in the wild with nothing but couch cushions and sheets, they will be able to construct low clearance shelters and roofless fortresses with keen and well-honed dexterity, provided there is no crosswind, inclement weather, or sloping terrain. So, in the interest of their future preservation, I will let my room serve as their campground. But maybe they can add “leave no trace” and “making the bed” to their set of survival skills.

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An Uncontainable Wave

A child just waved at me. I turned from my work to look out the coffee shop window and saw his face looking back. His mom pushed a stroller carrying his sister while this young boy held one of the handles. He walked sideways, as children often do, moving forward because they must, but still wanting to be distracted. His expression was one of joyous shock as a near smile captured his entire mouth. There was a light in his eye – a sense of anticipation and excitement that seemed to involuntarily flow out his arm into a methodical wave that could not be contained. He was in a parade of one, calling others to share in his happiness.

I think his mom had just bought donuts next door.

On Fish and Picky Eaters

“Give a man a fish, and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and feed him for a lifetime.”

Unless this hypothetical “man” is a four year old. Give a four year old a fish, and spend the next hour in the futile act of convincing him to try it, only to erupt in anger and proclaim that he can starve for all you care. Beyond potty-training, the plight of the picky eater may be the most exasperating part of parenting. The definition of frustration should be “to devote time and money to provide nutritious and delicious food for your offspring, intended to be enjoyed during a Rockwellian dinner scene, only to have your own food grow cold as you turn spoons into airplanes that cannot land on their tongue runway because the tightlipped trap door keeps closing at the last second.”

If it was some sort of prison slop, I could understand the decision of my toddler-turned- air-traffic-controller to declare his mouth a no fly zone. But this fish is delish. Salmon, marinated and grilled to perfection, surrounded by a sweet potato slathered in butter and vibrant zucchini and squash. The colors alone demand to be tasted. Yet they are refused, grounded on their plate, no matter how much I extol their taste and ability to make small boys grow strong like superheroes.

Instead it’s the evening before the following days’ grocery run, when the freezer is called upon to send in reinforcements, that the plates are cleaned and seconds called for. The dull brown hues of fish sticks and tater tots make his mouth water, if only because they act as B-52s loaded with ketchup that are voluntarily flown, rapid fire into his mouth. I feel for the haddock, shredded and breaded into embarrassing strips, when it could have been formed into something so much more beautiful and appetizing. Something my son would surely reject as disgusting.

Maybe my wife and I bring all this upon ourselves. If the masses call for nuggets and French fries, who am I to interfere? It’s one less battle and one step closer to that Rockwell image, even though I can’t imagine Norman painting a tater tot. Maybe Marie was on to something – just let them eat cake. In fact, it could be that she was misquoted; maybe she wasn’t talking about her subjects, but her three year old. “I’m tired of arguing about it; if she doesn’t want the foi gras, just let her eat cake.”

Yet, when I am tempted to throw in my napkin and just stock the fridge with lunchables, I remember the encouragement of Robert Farrar Capon:

“There is always the hope that they will, late or soon (be prepared for it to be late), actually sink their teeth into mushroom, parsnip, Swiss chard, or celeriac. Be bold, therefore. Feed them, yes; but do not cook for them. Cook for yourself. What they need most of all in this vale of sorrows is the sight of men who relish reality. You do them no favor by catering to their undeveloped tastes. We have not acquired our amplitude for nothing. No matter what they think, we know: We are the ones who have tasted and seen how gracious it all is. What a shame if we were to hide that light under a bushel. On the subject of vegetables, therefore, I urge you to please yourself first, last and always. Until they awake out of their youthful and dogmatic slumbers, even lettuce is too good for them.” (Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection)

At some deeper level the fight is not just about nutrition but the wonder of the world itself. It is about the miracle of taste buds and their ability to savor something formed out of dirt, sun, and rain. To reject the majority of food is to unwrap a gift from your Maker and say you don’t like it before you’ve even tried it, and such impudence cannot go on unchecked. So with every bite I take, I will hold before my son the light of enjoying creation as a gift manifested in endless variety and flavor, and he can hold his nose and beg for hot dogs all he wants.

Death by Baked Potatoes

Having children has a way of revealing the selfishness in my heart like few other things can. God has used them in big and small ways to help me see that I am not the center of the universe and that love for others often finds its expression in denying myself for another person’s good.

Now, this is going to sound really lazy, but I can remember thinking often that baked potatoes were not worth the work. They’re good, but they’re not good enough for all the calories you burn just to make them edible. When they come out of the oven and are placed on your plate, they’re not even close to ready. There’s a lengthy process involving multiple knives and spoons, butter, sour cream, salt and pepper, and maybe some cheese or green onions before that potato is ready to be enjoyed. It’s a first world problem, I know, but it was still the way I felt about baked potatoes, so I avoided them.

Well, I’ve grown out of my laziness a bit, and I really have no issue prepping my potato for consumption. But now my responsibilities for potato preparation have extended to my children. If I thought one potato was bad, four or five can be brutal. But it all serves to reveal my laziness and selfishness and impatience, and hopefully it’s an opportunity to crush those sins one baked potato at a time.

Seven Ate Nine

This afternoon while driving with my family, I was prompted by a now-forgotten comment from the backseat to ask my children, “Why’s six afraid of seven?” It’s a classic joke, and I was pleased when none of them had heard it before. Now I could be the one to introduce this comedy gem so they could someday join in childish joke-swaps with their BFFs.

I delivered the punchline flawlessly: “Because seven ate nine.”

“What?” came a chorus from the back.

Assuming they simply had not heard me I repeated louder, emphasizing each word: “Because seven ate nine.”

It turns out that they had heard me just fine the first time and remained confused after try number two. So my wife and I launched into an explanation of the homonyms “eight” and “ate,” and how six now stood next to seven with a bit of trepidation  having just watched him devour his other neighbor. Actually we more or less said, “Because seven ate (chomp, chomp) nine.” Of course whenever a joke has to be explained, its comedic value is reduced by at least half, but we had to try.

We received two responses. The nine-year-old said, “I don’t get it,” and the five-year-old, who can always be counted on for an honest opinion, simply stated, “That’s not funny.”

Rough crowd in the Town and Country today.