New Year’s Reflections 2019: For Auld Lang Syne

 

I haven’t written much in the past few months. Each time that I’ve tried to sit down to write, I found myself at a loss for words. Mostly, I’ve lacked inspiration. This year easily ranks among the most difficult in my life. It caps off a roller coaster decade filled with ups and downs.

Suffice it to say, when the clock strikes midnight, there will be no love lost for 2019.

In no particular order, here’s a short summary of the past ten years: I’ve welcomed my son into the world and two nephews to boot, completed law school, earned an advanced doctorate in law, moved to and lived in a foreign country, traveled the world multiple times, adopted a dog, moved home, moved to Wyoming, moved to Arizona, got married (8/15/09 but close enough), got divorced, saw my career develop, stopped attending church, saw my physical and mental health decline, gained weight, lost sleep, and saw the decade cap off with my Grandpa’s passing on August 2, 2019.

Along the way, I’ve also met scores of people from all over the world. Some are like family. All of them are good people. Folks that are passionate about their work. Some passionate about their faith. Others passionate about their families. To a person, these people have affected my life in positive ways and have inspired me to try and be a better person even when that didn’t seem possible.

While I cannot say that the decade has been a total bust, I think it’s objectively fair to say that it was a difficult one. Highs and lows. Not just little dips: soaring highs and shattering lows. It’s a small miracle that I’ve made it through. In retrospect, it’s easiest for me to think of the 2010s as a hurricane battering the little ship that I call life. Now, as I come into port for 2020, I’m a threadbare schooner, wood split in places with a broken mast. A new year, a new decade are most welcome for my money.

Still, a friend made me think about today and about the importance that I’m placing on a year that reads 2020 rather than 2019. According to her, “it’s just another night and a new year.” No big deal.

So why is a new year so important? To me? To us? To the majority of the world that’s celebrating as I type? My friend is right on some level. Just another day/night. There’s nothing magical about the date January 1. Nothing substantively will change in my situation from Dec. 31, 2019 to Jan 1, 2020. But I think the importance of a new year is less about the date on the calendar and more about the chance to hit reset.

A new year brings an opportunity to set in motion all of the goals a person can set for the year. It allows us to assess where we are as people over the next 365 days. It’s not the date that matters. What matters is the mindset we carry forward into a new year, and by extension the fact that it matters how we approach life as a new year kicks off. As a bit of caution, it seems pretty obvious to me from the past ten years that negative thoughts begat negative outcomes. Pessimism becomes the enemy of progress because it is self-sabotage from the outset. Nothing guarantees a bad year quite like making up the mind that it’s going to be a bad year.

It’s also unnecessary.

If I’ve learned anything from my tumultuous 2019, it’s that hope is the critical element of being happy in life (aside from God himself). When we lack hope, we lack that piece of us that makes us look forward to tomorrow. Hope is our internal motivation. It’s the reason we endure the troubles of a decade, fall asleep, and awake with the expectation that a new year will be better than the year and decade that has passed. (And while we are on the topic – how in the world did ten years fly by so quickly?)

So, in response to my friend, I think a new year is important because it reminds us to hope. Hope is important because it’s the means by which we wake up and do it all again no matter what life deals our way. And the motivation we have through hope is what keeps us living life rather than merely waiting around to die.

With that, here’s to 2020, friends. May the best of your 2019 be the worst of your 2020.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne.
 
CHORUS
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

Courtesy of CNN.com

Children at Play

We took Clark to the park today. The playground equipment had all the usual trappings of a large park in the center of town, including scores of parents, kids, and pooches out for their afternoon walk. 
 
Amid the chaos, we discovered the slides fairly quickly. Clark and Gwyn spent most of the time going up, and down the slide head first. No worry given to broken necks, or petrified father watching from the side. Only the occasional mischievous glance, and the squeal of joy at landing in the wood chips beneath the slide. 

 
It’s a remarkable thing to see a child at play. Engrossed in the moment. Utterly fascinated by whatever it is that captures the attention, and imagination of a young mind. 
 
But what I envy most is Clark’s ability just to be. To enjoy. To play. Some nights when my mind races with things to do, with the things that I didn’t get done, with the typical cares of life that keep one awake late into the night, I wish I had his young heart, and innocence – things forever etched on the face of a child at play. 
 
I suppose that’s something I can’t get back. And yet, I can’t help but pray it’s something he never loses. 

Christmas Follies


Clark pitched a fit this evening. Being somewhat of an expert in fits, I can say with some certainty that this was, in fact, a royal fit – complete with waterworks, wailing, kicking, and clawing down the aisle.

All of the above wouldn’t have been so bad, had it not been right during the middle of the Christmas Eve service at church.

My wife Gwyn was set to play the piano for the annual Christmas Eve Service at Brown American Indian Baptist Church. Or as we call it in our family, simply “The Church” – as if any there were any other.

Assuming the best, we didn’t account for Clark’s…malcontent when separated from his Mother. Much to our chagrin, screaming could well be an understatement to describe what he did in that small, wooden chapel.

Being the lone parent without obligations in the annual Christmas program (spare the duet I had lately agreed to sing with my sister), defeated, I loaded him into the car and drove home. After he calmed down a bit, I was fortunate to have distracted him with Veggie Tales for the remainder of the evening.

I was inclined to be upset, but I snapped a shot of the scene above and the frustration I felt melted away.

It occurred to me, even Jesus was a toddler at one point. And as parenting goes, I’m sure Mary and Joseph had their share of embarrassing evenings with young Jesus too. It’s just sort of what toddlers do. Even Divine ones.

And so, I fired up Clark’s favorite Veggie Tales and proceeded to get some of the food ready for our family’s gift exchange tonight. Better to productive than mope at what I missed.

All told, I think things worked out for the best.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Kids and Accidents


There’s no more frustrating place for a parent than the emergency room of a hospital.

While participating in the ‘hanging of the greens’ this morning (a fanciful phrase for decorating the church for Christmas), Clark hit his head on one of the speakers.

Not being the festive sort, I wasn’t there. But my wife called in a panic and mentioned that Clark had fallen down some steps, and clipped his forehead on the corner of a speaker, leaving him a bloody, wailing mess. She also mentioned the need for stitches, and I was out the door within the moment.

I arrived at the ‘urgent care’ not long after she did to the sight above. His wound didn’t bleed much. But he had a deep gash and seemed, understandably, crankier than usual.

The waiting room was filled with people. Some with coughs. Others with aches. None seemed to have the obvious urgency that Clark’s cut had. And yet we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

A full hour.

In retrospect, I realize this wasn’t very long. But I couldn’t help feeling my blood boil for every able-bodied person that walked past my son’s bleeding forehead.

In the end, he only needed a couple of stitches. As of this afternoon he’s back to his old, mischievous self.


But still. There’s no more frustrating place for a parent than the emergency room. And it’s not that other patients were there. Or the wait. Or the skill of the doctors and nurses, who were all top-notch, and wonderful to a person.

It’s the feeling of helplessness that you have when there’s nothing you can do to make it all better.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Change and Childhood Treasures

The window of my office here in Ross Hall overlooks the main quad of the University of Wyoming Campus. Outside, I can see students and faculty alike, bundled up in winter coats, gingerly making their way along the paths slick with snow. The campus is quiet and calm.

I don’t know when the seasons changed here in Wyoming. But somewhere between July and now, we passed from summer to fall, and from fall to winter – all with a graceful, imperceptible ease. Even as the seasons have passed with a steady resilience, it seems somewhere in the past eight weeks or so, my own life has transitioned from that of a part-time consultant, to a full-time professor with roster of nearly 100 students.

It’s a strange thing to see how much life can change in so small a span of time.

On the home front, our son Clark turned two on October 15th. In his two years on the Earth, he’s lived in three states and two countries. And while he won’t remember it, he has traveled more in his two years of life, than I have in the first thirty of mine. All of which reinforces the fact that we live in a very different age than the one I grew up in.

I marvel at this far more than I should. Growing up, I can remember digging holes in the yard at my Grandparents’ house, and pretending that my G.I. Joes were engaged in an intense guerrilla conflict. Clark is more interested in his iPad and Netflix options than in actually playing with the toys he has. And yet, when we take him to the park, as in the photo above, his eyes come alive with the magic of falling leaves, and small branches that are ripe for the picking. Every child has his treasures.

I wonder too about the kind of world he will inherit. Election Day is tomorrow and our Nation is on the cusp of making a significant change in direction. The Washington Post puts the Republicans chances of taking the Senate at 96%, while Rachel Maddow warns voters to ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid’ of this possibility. All of this, of course, ignores the simple reality of our system of checks and balances, and the fact that our government will remain divided regardless of which party controls Congress.

Even so, I wonder what policy changes are on the horizon and the practical implications they have for my son’s life as he continues to grow in knowledge, strength and maturity. I can live with the Government making mistakes that can effect me. That’s the cost of living and doing business in the world’s leading democracy. But when it comes to governmental mistakes that can effect my son, I find myself much less forgiving.

Still, like the seasons here, change is coming, and I hope this new generation of leaders is equal to the task. I don’t know that America can weather another election cycle of malaise. Hope seems like such a quaint notion these days. Perhaps change will be the better course.

In sum, I suppose our lives here are very much like those of Americans all over. We are in the midst of change and transition with a guarded optimism for things to come. ‘Trust but verify,’ as Reagan used to say.

I have a lot more to add about my work, book reviews, and parenting, but these will have to wait for another day. For now, I hope it’s sufficient to know that the “Pax” is back – at least once per week.

The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

GOCP

Christmas has come and gone here in the ‘ole Fodder Family boarding house. The home place was filled with presents and people, making it difficult to imagine that not so very long ago we celebrated with only six members in our immediate family (In order of age: Grandpa, Dad, Mom, Me, Andrea and Chelsey). This year our ranks ballooned to ten (Grandpa, Dad, Mom, my wife Gwyn, Me, Andrea’s husband Jacob, Andrea, Chelsey, our nephew Garrett, and our son Clark). 

Despite the blessing, in the weeks preceding Christmas, I found myself more disposed to reside on Mt. Crumpit than Whoville. For those who know me, this is an odd departure from the natural state of things. I wouldn’t fancy myself a Buddy the Elf. But insofar as elves have counterparts in their human cousins, well, I’m at least a George Bailey after his brush with Clarence the Angel. 

I think what changed for me this year, aside from the obvious pitfalls of relocating to a new state and welcoming a newborn into the world, was the added pressure I felt to make Christmas as idyllic for Baby Clark as I remembered it being as a child. I realize now how irrational this was. Even if all were calm and bright, Clark wouldn’t have remembered it anyway. He snoozed soundly through most of our gift giving.

Still, as a new father, I thought a lot about what I needed to do to make Clark’s Christmas extra special. From balancing our finances, to selecting the perfect Christmas music (Bing Crosby and Michael Bublé), to purchasing the appropriate “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament (Baby Block ornament), I tried and failed to plan every detail of the holiday. And when plans went awry, as they inevitably do with my family, my nerves quickly followed suit. 

I think my efforts to micromanage Christmas stemmed from an idealized memory of Christmases past – a strange specter of all of the best Christmases lumped into one. The result was that I tried to impose a litany of unrealistic expectations on my son and everyone else. See below:

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As the unfortunate photo above shows, no self-respecting dog should ever have to wear a Santa hat. And no one should have Christmas dictated to them. 

In retrospect, my shenanigans aside, we had a grand Christmas.

Our family was together. We are all in good health. We celebrated the Lord’s birth with our perfect baby boy and my rambunctious, smiling nephew. Even materially, I can’t complain about my new Keurig Coffee Maker

Next year, I will aim to put the Ghosts of Christmas Past to rest. 

Fatherhood: First Impressions

Baby Clark

This past Monday, on October 15, 2012, after a protracted, thirty-hour labor, Gwyn and I welcomed our first-born son into the world. Clark William Fodder was born at 9:52 AM here in Tucson, weighing in at 7 lbs on the nose. It’s strange to think of instantly loving a child, but the parenting instincts really kicked in without a problem. A few years ago, I called children parasites, as of Monday I called this one my “little buddy” and my Son. Naturally, much has changed in the past week. 

As a quick example, it’s about 12:30AM on Sunday night as I sit down to write this. Clark is snoozing in his bassinet, a structure I am very much tempted to call a crate à la our Pooch Alexas. Though the hour draws late, it’s really only the beginning of my night. In a surprise to no one but me, late nights over the past week have delayed my ability to do much of anything. So many friends and family had warned us about the coming dearth of sleep but I stubbornly assumed that any spawn of mine would prove the exception rather than the rule. The result of tempting these fates is that Baby Clark seems to have inherited, in manifold, my penchant for late nights. This party is just getting started.

Clark’s typical “night” includes waking up around 11PM/12AM for dinner. After 10 to 15 minutes of feeding, he falls back asleep for an hour or so, before waking up for yet another meal. The scenario repeats itself until around 7AM when he finally drifts off for good until breakfast around 10AM. Sleep for me and Gwyn occurs between feedings, leaving us in a zomboid trance most of the day, mindlessly wandering between Clark’s crate and the kitchen in search of coffee (brains!). 

The Mayo Clinic actually offers a number of helpful tips to soothe the disconsolate newborn, but at 4AM our ability to think rationally is usually fairly well gone. I find that I’ve developed a number of superstitions to help me cope with the uncertainty. My ritual when putting Clark to bed includes gently placing him in the bassinet and gingerly walking backwards as if the slightest wrong move might trigger the baby bomb’s explosive mechanism. And when Clark successfully remains asleep, James Bond has nothing on this sleep deprived father. 

I’m not sure that my rituals help but like so many tricks of parenting, they impose a bit of order on what is in reality a muddled process, adding structure to something that is utterly beyond my control anyway. This is the hardest part of being a parent really. Nothing and everything is simultaneously within my control. As first-time parents, there are any number of things that could go wrong at any point and none of these exigencies are within my ambit of control (illness, acts of god, diapers that don’t quite keeping exterior clothing dry, etc.). And yet all of the choices related to Clark’s rearing are within my control (selecting a pediatrician, purchasing a safe car seat, buying a different brand of diaper, etc.). It’s really a maddening dichotomy when you think about it.  

The crux of what I’ve learned in the past week is that the only way to navigate the contrariety of Fatherhood is give it the old college try. Do the best you can. Give it a go. “Keep Calm and Carry On” as the meme says. But don’t get caught in the lie of believing that there’s a best or even better way of doing things. For every opinion given, there are completely different schools of thought that say the opposite. So, just pick one. Everyone who has ever parented a kid and whole segments of the population who haven’t, seem to have theories about the best way to swaddle a newborn. Accordingly, there are no less than ten different websites selling wares meant for swaddling newborns, with each company claiming to sell the best product for swaddling (and let’s be honest, the Miracle Blanket is really the best product on the market). Yet, the same act can be accomplished by a bit of folding trickery with a receiving blanket, $10 for a pack of 4 at Target. There’s no right way. Just your way. 

Anyway, in case you missed the lead I just buried, the point is just that there’s really no right, better or best way to rear a kid. This realization makes me appreciate the decisions that my own parents faced when I was a child. And in retrospect, I have to say that most parents (mine included) end up doing a pretty good job – even when they’ve had to turn chicken shit into chicken salad.  

And so, with already 6 days on the job and roughly 6,564 days until Clark turns 18, as the hymn says, time is now fleeting, the moments are passing. Here’s hoping that when the bell tolls, we’ll have done a pretty good job too.