James’s Blog: Outsmarted.

James’s Blog:  Outsmarted.

“Dad, I’ve just realised something,” said Imogen.

She’d been thinking, you see.  It was her mother that put her up to it.  Imogen had informed me that Ruth had told her that I wasn’t very good at making beds.  It’s a fair cop, guv.  But that earth-shattering revelation had caught her imagination.

“What have you realised?” I asked, as though I was interested.

“Mum’s good at the stuff that you’re bad at, and you’re good at the stuff she’s bad at.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s how marriage is supposed to work.”

I sensed an opportunity to turn the tables on my wife.

“Out of interest,” I went on, “what is it that mum’s bad at that I’m good at?”

Imogen thought for a second, but only for a second.

“Being the best dad in the world,” she said.

Smooth.  She managed to palm me off while protecting Ruth’s infallibility.  Not bad for a five-year old.  I felt quite proud of her, outsmarting her old man.

It makes me think of Abraham and Moses, the flawed saints, taking God to task for His behaviour.  The passages where they argue with God would be controversial and tricky enough if it weren’t for the fact that they also appear to win.  We can get ourselves into all sorts of theological tangles over those passages, at least until we realise that He – being God and all – doesn’t need to justify Himself to us, and we should just let Him get on with being God.  He’s good at it.

The point is, I believe that He must have felt a sense of fatherly pride as his children went toe-to-toe with Him because they believed in people.

Over the years it’s been normal for my three boys to team up to try and take me down, but I’ve always been stronger and more cunning.  However, as I watch them fill out and creep up, I know my days are numbered.  Indeed, I suspect that when I’m in my dotage, I’m going to spend a lot of time being tipped out of my wheelchair.

I also think of Jacob, wrestling God to a standstill and extracting a blessing for his troubles.  As Jacob limped away from the scene of the battle I like to think of God in heaven, nudging the angels.

“Did you see my boy go?  Did you see him?  What a fighter!”

Sometimes God tests us purely to give us a chance to make Him proud.  I think that’s a healthy way to view things – those test are not occasions to let God down, but rather occasions to bring a smile to His face.

James’s Blog: Based on a True Story.

James’s Blog:  Based on a True Story.

“Good morning sports fans, I’m Rex Steele…”

“…and I’m Chuck Chuckerson!”

“…and welcome to today’s event in the Parent Olympics! Who’s competing today, Chuck?”

“Well, Rex, today we have James from Canterbury! He’s a writer and stay-at-home dad with five children, though he’s only got a couple of years experience in today’s event. Remind the viewers at home what today’s event is, Rex!”

“Today’s event is the Post-School-Run Restoration, Chuck! The event begins when the parent returns from dropping his children off at school, and tidies up all the mess that has been made in the previous hour!”

“Sounds exciting, Rex! Now, am I right in thinking that James has already got the post-breakfast kitchen under control, so he’s going to concentrate on the upstairs?”

“That’s correct, Chuck! James has only been doing this event for the past couple of years, so he’s still something of a rookie, but I was talking to him yesterday and reminded him that he has potentially another thirteen years of this event ahead of him, and that he should be an expert by the end of his career!”

“I expect he found that encouraging, Rex!”

“He sure did, Chuck! You can see that the bruising around my eye looks a lot better today!”

“Ha ha! Good times! WHOA, I’m going to cut you off there, Rex! James has just arrived home from the school run, and we’re off!”

“He’s straight upstairs, and it looks like he’s heading for the bathroom! A good place to start, Chuck?”

“Good enough, Rex…And he’s stepped on a soaking wet flannel that’s been left in the middle of the floor! AMAZING! Can we get a slow mo replay, on that Rex?”

“No we can’t, Chuck! And WHAT A PRO! He’s picked up the flannel and placed it by the sink! Now, what is that in the sink, Chuck? Some kind of exploded insect?”

“No, Rex, that’s TOOTHPASTE!”

“And on the mirror and walls?”

“That’s toothpaste too!”

“WOW! Those children sure cover all their bases! And what’s James doing now, Chuck? Talk us through it!”

“Well, Rex, it looks like he’s using the children’s flannel to WIPE UP the toothpaste!”

“The flannel he just found on the floor? The one that they use to wipe their FACES?”

“That’s right, Rex!”

“Ha ha, FANTASTIC, Chuck! He’s really using his initiative there!”

“Now he’s on to the bedrooms…wait, hang on. He’s just noticed something, Rex!”

“Look at that, Chuck! The toilet roll holder is empty, I repeat, the toilet roll holder is EMPTY! Man down! MAN DOWN!”

“Thankfully, there’s a fresh roll right there on top of the toilet. It won’t take James long to change it, but one wonders why the child who used the last of the roll didn’t change it afterwards!”

“Not really, Chuck. It’s a well known fact that children believe that changing the toilet roll causes their eyeballs to EXPLODE!”

“Job done, Rex, and James is on to the bedrooms…WHOA! Did you see that! He just ignored the bedroom belong to the teenage boys and moved straight to the bedroom of the younger kids!”

“That’s right, Chuck. That’s his experience kicking in – he knows that there are some battles not worth fighting.”

“And he’s in the bedroom now and…LOOK AT THAT! What is all that stuff? I see Lego, Playmobil and Thomas the Tank Engine toys everywhere, Rex! EVERYWHERE!”

“That’s right – and don’t forget the Shopkins and Barbies, Chuck!”

“Wasn’t this room completely tidy when they went to bed the night before? Those are some seriously dedicated children, to have managed to get out so many toys in such a short space of time!”

“And he’s moving toys round, he’s tidying up, he’s…he’s dancing around the room? What’s he doing, Chuck? He’s got no time for this!”

“He just stood on some Lego, Rex!”

“Ah, OUCH…and now he’s on to the beds. Is that…yes…I can see that one of the beds has not been made! One of the beds has NOT BEEN MADE!”

“And that’s despite the child involved being told a MILLION times to make his bed, right, Rex?”

“That’s right, Chuck, but science has proved that the louder and more often you tell a child something, the less they hear!”

“How does that work, Rex?”

“I don’t know, Chuck, but it does! It’s science!”

“Now James is moving away from the beds…he’s not made the bed, Rex, he’s NOT made the bed!”

“Uhhh, no, I think you’ll find that he has, Chuck!”

“Ah. Bed making is clearly not his strong suit, then!”

“It looks like it, Chuck! Now he’s almost home free but…what’s that! My WORD! Have you ever seen anything like that, Chuck?”

“James has seen it, Rex, he’s seen it! It’s some pyjama bottoms HANGING from a bookcase! Look at his face, Rex! Look at it!”

“Ah, yes, it’s his signature expression, the ‘What the Dickens…?’!”

“He’s wasting time, Rex! He’s got to keep moving!”

“Yes, he’s got the pyjamas, Chuck, and what’s that? They’re COVERED in food from LAST NIGHT’S MEAL!”

“Straight to the washing basket with them, Rex! This is the last stretch! James is almost in the clear!”

“This is a good run, Chuck! He’s not had to deal with some of the more time-consuming challenges like Furniture That Has Been Mysteriously Moved!”

“Or Who’s Been Fiddling With The Thermostat, Rex!”

“Yes, he’s at the washing basket, and he’s putting the pyjamas in! This is going to be a good time…BUT WAIT! What’s that? Why’s he hesitating, Chuck?”

“Has he? Yes, he has! He’s seen some WHITE washing in the DARK washing basket! What a nail biting finish!”

“Yes, he’s pulling out the offending item, Chuck! And I can confirm that it’s some dirty underwear! I repeat, there is DIRTY WHITE UNDERWEAR in the dark washing! MY GOODNESS, Chuck! What a last minute twist!”

“And…he’s put the dirty underwear in the right basket, Rex! STOP THE CLOCK!”

“And that’s it! James has finished! What’s the time, Chuck?”

“Oh, it’s good, but it’s not his best, Rex! And look, you can see the disappointment on his face! It might have been a different story without the errant pyjamas and the careless underpants!”

“Never mind, Chuck, he’ll have another chance tomorrow, when he has to do it all over again!”

“That’s right, Rex! And don’t forget to tune in later for more exciting events from the Parent Olympics!”

“This is Rex Steele, signing off!”

“And this is Chuck Chuckerson, saying, have a fine day, sports fans!”

James’s Blog: What’s a Father to do?

James’s Blog:  What’s a Father to do?

Being a dad is tricky, and I don’t always get it right, so when I do it tends to stick in the mind.

One Australian summer’s day, at the local pool, a young Calvin came to me with a two dollar coin that he’d found. “What should I do with this, dad?“ he asked, and in a moment of inspiration I replied, “Well, what do you think you should do with it?” Read more

James’s Blog: Hide & Seek with God.

James’s Blog:  Hide & Seek with God.

The best time to play Hide & Seek with your children is when they’re old enough to be a bit creative with hiding places, but still small enough to be able to contort themselves into all kinds of sneaky nooks and crannies. If they’re too young, they’re often easy prey for even a semi-competent Seeker. Read more

James’s Blog: My Family and Other Disorders.

James’s Blog:  My Family and Other Disorders.

In this past week our son Parker has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, except it’s not called Asperger’s any more. It’s called Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), except it won’t be called that for long. They’re changing it to Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) because, I assume, that Conditions are less offensive than Disorders. Read more

James’s Blog: A Letter from God.

James’s Blog:  A Letter from God.

A little while ago, my three-year old daughter told me that she wanted to write a letter to God. I wrote, while she dictated. It wasn’t a very long letter, more of a note, concerned primarily with finding out if God owned a) a cat and b) a space hopper. We put the letter in an envelope and that was that. Naturally, being me, I sensed a teaching opportunity, so I decided to write a reply.

Dear Imogen,

Thank you for the letter that you wrote to me. I loved to receive it. I do not have a cat, but I do like cats. I love everything that I made. I do not have a space hopper, but I don’t need one at the moment. Perhaps if I do, I could borrow yours? I love you very much & thank you again for your letter.

Love God.

Apart from the dubious theological statement that God likes cats, I thought it would be a nice moment for Imogen. I put it in an envelope, and a couple of days later ‘delivered’ it. Imogen was fascinated at first, but after I had read God’s reply to her she became quite frightened. I believe the correct phrase is ‘she freaked out’. My parenting skills leave a lot to be desired.

On reflection, it makes sense. God is very much a part of our family life, so Imogen is aware of Him, but she is only a child after all. She has never seen God, and is not explicitly conscious of Him working in her life. The transition from God being an abstract idea to a concrete reality that could interact and intervene was probably a bit too much for her at that moment. We all have a crisis point where we have to decide whether or not God is that real, and I probably brought it on a bit early…

Still, to be able to talk about God and to be willing to talk to Him, but to be surprised and terrified when He decides to talk back? I can understand fear as an initial response, but eventually we have to decide to either walk away or be all in. Hanging around the fringes, still afraid, doesn’t help anyone.

James’s Blog: Five Children.

James’s Blog:  Five Children.

Ruth and I have five children, which is about six more than four children. It wasn’t such a big deal in Australia, where immigration was the only thing that offset the negative growth rate, but in the UK a large family makes life complicated. People react to our situation in a variety of ways. There are those who display shock or pity, and those who respond as though we’re breaking some unspoken rule.

It’s possible to view children as a burden; a drain on the resources of the planet. The doctor who helped deliver our fourth took me to one side after the event and suggested that we had enough children now. He told me that our carbon footprint was big enough. He had a point, but the cynical part of me sometimes wonders if what people really mean to say is “If you don’t stop having children I might have to change my habits as a consumer.” There are those who view children as a resource, potential or otherwise. If you follow the news you may be aware that China is softening it’s one child policy as a result of studies predicting that the country will face a workforce shortage in the future. Children, for me, are neither a burden nor a resource. They are an expression of hope.

If Ruth and I do our job well then we’ll contribute five more people to this earth, who will take the best of us and run with it. Hopefully their character and deeds will more than offset their environmental impact. We are now the parents of a teenager and, if my maths is right, we’ll have at least one teenager in the house for about the next fifteen years. Teenagers are, generally speaking, hard work to have around, but some days I look at Calvin and feel fit to burst with pride as I see the man that he is becoming. Here’s to the next fifteen years.

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