Tonight, my wife and I were invited to the home of some friends of ours for dinner. They have three kids (4, almost 3, 18 mos) and another on the way. They think they are as crazy as they sound, I think. Our two kids are the same age as their two oldest, almost exactly, and for sure our son and their oldest son are best friends, like peas in a pod (below are Obi and Levi during the 2014 Christmas program at our church).
When we arrived, Levi, their oldest (above right), was at the door, jumping up and down. He was excited for Obi, our son (above left), to arrive. And off they ran, to engage in whatever fantasies 4 year old boys are accustomed to, you know, like being bald eagles or Batman or whatever. As we prepared homemade pizzas, we talked about how our first children have already benefited from their birth order. We bemoaned the fact that we just don’t have time to teach our younger kids the things that we had all the time in the world to teach our first. For instance, Obi knew the alphabet (not just the song, but could identify the letters out of order) at 15 months old. Guinevere, our youngest, can’t identify the letter A or the color green, and she’s three next month.
At times, the volume in the dining room was so high that as I talked, I couldn’t hear myself, let alone pay attention to the words coming out of my mouth. That’s what it’s like being a parent of small children, especially when there are five kids 4 and under eating in the same room. We agreed tonight that having kids is killer for relationships…like, a killer. Having toddlers in the house means that you are pretty low on the list of people that other people want to hang out with.
Eventually, we talked about our time in Jordan, about patronage and honor and shame and some really real stuff. It was nice to share these experiences as our kids played/ran/screamed/cried around us. But, as is also always the case, time was of the essence. There is a witching hour for small children, a fine line between riled up and over tired that you have to pay attention to. And, reluctantly, we rounded up our small clan and headed out around 8pm, despite my son’s pleas to stay and play. Conversations, no matter how rich and good, are not as important as what the next day looks like if your kids don’t get the sleep they need. Parenting reality check number 3 of the evening.
Tonight, however, did not end in a sigh of parental relief that the kids are finally in bed, at least for me. No, I put my sons pajamas on and tucked him in, then I headed out to meet a new friend for drinks. Essentially, I took off the dad hat and put on the Jeff hat.
Jeff, also my friend’s name, and I went through the same ritual as before with our (previously mentioned) friends, establishing a conversational rhythm, albeit with less chaos. We talked about high school and Peoria, about trying to ride a bike in Peoria, and music. We talked about how people from Peoria who have never lived anywhere else don’t understand how great Peoria really is.
I have much more in common with our friends with kids than I do with Jeff…at least it seems that way to me. There’s something about being parents that creates a ‘knowing’ in conversation. Life, as a parent, is much more than culture and being cool. On the flip side, I still share a lot in common with Jeff.
As I think about it, my life is a lot like a Jackson Pollack painting – it only makes sense if you take all of it in and let it be what it is. There’s no form. There’s no clear picture. It’s just a bunch of different colors splattered on a canvas that is beautiful when you take a step back from it.
Because sometimes life is chaos.
Sometimes I’m straightforwardly a dad, but that’s rarely the case. I’m thankful I’m not just a dad, but also a husband, a student, a musician, a friend, a cyclist, a writer, a waiter, and a teacher. I’m never just one of those things. And that’s the beauty of the picture that is being painted that makes up my life. And also yours, if you’re lucky to have beauty and chaos as a part of your daily routine.