It wasn't that long ago when Dylan's hand was this size against mine, palm to palm. Now, only little Katie, my youngest, has a truly tiny hand when compared to mine. Looking at this image fills me with a certain sentimentality that's both melancholic and happy. It reminds me of how quickly time goes by.
Looking back on 2006, I have mixed emotions of incredible intensity. I'm reminded of how quickly a stable-seeming world can turn completely on its head and how everything important to you can be lost in a moment. On the other hand, I know that you can endure. And through enduring you can rise above the tribulations and, at least, catch hold of hope once more.
So what about 2006? It boils down to one thing for me - the kids are doing well. They are healthy. They seem happy. They are growing more and more every day -mentally, emotionally, and physically.
My "mission", if I ever had one, was always to protect, provide for, and nuture my family. Protection is a simple concept. As a big, strong guy, I need to offer a shield for my little ones from potential harm. (Of course, I've also mentioned on my blog how harmful I believe overprotecting one's kids can be. Kids need to be exposed to a certain amount of risk so that they can learn. For example, they need to be able to ride their bikes fast, but with a helmet.) The big thing I've had to learn about in 2006 is that there's both physical harm and emotional harm in the wide, wide world. I'm only used to thinking about the physical kind. As I've grown emotionally myself, I've done as much as I can to protect them from emotional harm as well.
Providing is also a straightforward idea. The kids require food, clothing, shelter. I think an overlooked aspect of providing is that kids also need the intimacy of a close and available loving parent. As an example, it's one thing to sit down at a table with a meal to eat. It's an entirely new (and better) sort of providing to sit at a table with a meal and loving, engaged conversation. Providing at this higher level naturally leads into the third aspect of my mission as person - nuturing.
Nuturing, however, is a word that's a little tougher to define. My desk dictionary here says "to support, encourage and educate, as during the period of training or development; foster; nourish". This is really where I try to focus energies and thoughts about parenting. And I think this attitude of nurturing seasons most of my other projects as a parent. It's really hard for me to explain this idea, but it involves a degree of mindfulness about how I spend time with them.
That's not to say that I do this perfectly. I'm actually lousy at it and I fail frequently. But it's constantly on my mind and important to me. Here's an example - every year, the older kids and I take a dad & kid trip together for a long weekend. I initially did this simply because I wanted to ensure that none of the kids felt lost in a crowd of three other siblings. However, I also wanted to build in opportunities for lots of conversation so that they could learn about my values and that I, in turn, could learn about the things that they enjoy. In a sense, I wanted to make sure that I was not one of those dads who never knew his kids favorite color, music, or flavor of ice cream. I also wanted to build cherished memories that'd last a life time.
This time we have together is very finite. It's like a jar full of marbles. As each day goes by, we take a marble out and throw it away. Soon, the jar will be empty.
So hang upside down from the jungle gym, Katie, and make those muscles strong. I'm here to catch you today. And one day, when I'm not there, you find that all that play made you strong enough to hang in there on your own.