Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas with a Crank

So I interrupt this dialogue (although it's not yet much of a dialogue) on compassion and grieving and more "important" issues, to just share a little frustration on a situational level. I've received some notes and comments here or there from curious "insiders" asking... "so how are you really doing?" or something along those lines. And as I say to all of those people, "What you see on the blog is what you get." Seriously... what do I have to gain here by pretending I'm doing better than I am? By giving God more credit than He deserves for what He's doing in this particular "healing process"? It's not to keep or please an audience, that's for sure... In fact, "analytics" tell me that more people read when things are really bad, than when things are good. (The old "train wreck" effect... Kind of like how people always hit the brakes when driving by an accident on the morning commute, even when their lane isn't really affected.) No... there's nothing to gain, in this venue, by pretending I'm doing better than I am. I know... it's weird, but I'm really doing this well. It's like some people are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like there's no way I could really be doing this well, considering... Especially during the holidays...

**THUD** (That's the other shoe dropping.) (It's a big thud. I wear size 14's.)

Okay, so maybe that's a little over-dramatic. But in all seriousness, the last two days were definitely the hardest 48 hours I've endured this holiday season.

The summary is that TJ and I are now back at home at 432 Butterfly, having cut short our stay in Ohio for the Aschliman Family Christmas. The entire weekend was basically one giant "melt-down" exibit. Sure, there were times when TJ was okay... but the literal majority of the time was spent "managing" him... Either reprimanding him for making one of his cousins cry, or trying to console him in his own teary fit, or just cuddling him in his sweet little neediness. He was over-tired, over-stimulated, poorly-nourished... and... well... in my opinion... he just needed his Mommy.

After a 2+ hour struggle to get him to settle down and "get control" this afternoon at around nap-time (which I lost, by the way... my first ever such defeat... EVER...), I made the call to forego snowman building time this afternoon and dinner this evening and church with the family tomorrow, and we just called it a year and headed home. Christmas dinner at my parents is seriously an annual event of epic proportions. Perhaps my favorite meal of the entire year... and I'm a "foodie"... a culinary enthusiast. We're talking king crab legs, marinated petit filet mignon (my dad does better steaks than Ruth's Chris), some sort of greens salad with cranberries and walnuts or something, maybe au gratin or baby red-skin potatoes usually, some great wine, and my mom's specialty-- home-made tiramisu to finish it off. It seriously broke my heart to leave before dinner tonight. It's the family event of the year.

And poor TJ missed the snowman-fest this afternoon. Each of the boys (he has 3 boy-cousins on my side) got a snow-man kit for Christmas-- a plastic carrot-nose, a scarf and stocking cap, and button-char-coalie looking things for the eyes and smiles. They were going to put them to use this afternoon, as my parents had 3 inches of fresh pack-able snow on the ground.

Yes... He was that bad. Bad enough to miss all of this. If the dozen-or-so spankings didn't hurt his little rear end enough (remember, I view spanking as a "last resort"), certainly the damage he did to himself throwing his temper tantrums (he bruised his wrist at nap-time today, banging on the door, the floor, and his daddy) will be a stout reminder to him in the morning of his struggles. I was seriously brought to tears of frustration and helplessness several times. My poor family could only stand by and listen from afar as I tried to console, scold, reprimand, punish, or otherwise extend grace to a horribly behaved 3-year-old. Again... he was over-stimulated, over-tired, and oh... by the way... I was trying to get him to lie down in the 4th different bed this week.

How can I NOT begin to really doubt myself? How can I not sense that this is somehow unraveling? How can I not come to the sudden understanding of my own limitations as a father and as a person and realize there's just no way I can "do this". How can I not at least start to wonder if I'm ruining the life of this little child? The weekly travel my job requires... The commitments I try to keep up with... But seriously, do I say "no" to a family Christmas? Do I quit my job or simply tell a customer "no, I can't make it this week, ask my competitor to take my place"? Do I tell my church, "sorry... can't serve... find someone else"? Do I run the risk of literally driving myself insane and cut out my work-out or "quiet" times? (If you suggest a simple "yes" to any of these rhetorical questions, please don't you dare say so out loud... You can't possibly understand the depth of the conviction of my priorities... not that any of these compares to the priority I put on my son... But herein lies the crux of the rhetoric.)

You see, my friends... Family life was simply meant to be managed in partnership between a husband and wife, at least as my my own personal experience has revealed it. I could use this as an opportunity to get on my marriage/divorce soap-box, but I've already been there and done that. (See "Choices"-- posted September 11, 2008 on this same blog.) I learned early on that I cannot be a mommy to TJ. I can only be me-- his Daddy. I cannot be Leslie. Though, as I've mentioned before, she has indeed left parts of her with me-- some of her discernment, her personality, her quiet strength... all these things and more will always be a part of me (which is why she will always be "my better half"). But even in my best moment as a man and a father... even in my best moment when I'm wielding the weapons she left me with before leaving this life... I am still only a fraction of the parenting machine we were together.

I confess, as I drove back toward Chicago this afternoon, (after all his obstinance at bed-time and nap-time at Mimi and Papa's house, TJ fell asleep in his car seat-- not 10 minutes into the 3.5 hour drive back home), I was frustrated. Defeated. Full of doubt. I would have been angry, had I been able to muster up the strength. But I was just spent. I asked God, similarly as I have before... "Certainly, Lord... This cannot be more pleasing to You than the way it was before... When we were a 'whole family'??!!! Certainly, this is not Your better judgment... to have her be with You, and not here!? Certainly, TJ needs his Mommy... I need my wife and my partner... more than you need her there...??!! HOW IS THIS BETTER!!!?? HOW IS THIS YOUR WILL??!!"


A very dear friend of mine turned me on to a Christian singer-songwriter named JJ Heller. JJ sings a song-- presumedly to her son or daughter, or at least through the voice of a parent to his/her child-- called "keep you safe". My friend says this song has always brought me and TJ to mind. It goes like this:

Quiet your heart. It's just a dream. Go back to sleep.
I'll be right here. I'll stay awake as long as you need me

To slay all the dragons and keep out the monsters. I'm watching over you.

My love is a light driving away all of your fear.
So don't be afraid. Remember I made a promise to keep you safe.

You'll have your own battles to fight when you are older.
You'll find yourself frozen inside. But always remember...

If you feel alone, facing the giants, and you don't know what to do...

My love is a light driving away all of your fear.
So don't be afraid. Remember I made a promise to keep you safe.

This song is beautifully sung and written. I used to envision myself singing it to TJ... or maybe God singing it to me. It has just been lately-- in the midst of bouts with the "Terrible Threes", similar to what we experienced this weekend-- that I've learned to listen to this song with a new outlook... Namely... That God is singing this song to TJ.

You see... This weekend is only a reminder. A gut-check. Am I really trusting that God has me planted firmly in the palm of His hand? And, if in my wreckless abandon, it becomes too easy to just take that leap of faith-- (After all... what, at this point, do I have to lose?? My life? What life do I truly have left to live, compared to that which I've lost?)-- what about when it comes to TJ? Do I trust that God has TJ's best interest in mind? Do I trust that He will provide for TJ? Even in the face of the full understanding of my own inadequacy as a single parent? If God is God-- Lord of my life-- then He is Lord of TJ. If He is providing to meet my needs day-by-day, then certainly, He will provide even more fully for TJ. "Let the little children come unto me..."

Again... I hear the words... whispers evolving into booms like thunder... "In your weakness, I AM MADE STRONG!!!"

God, bless my child. I am incapable of loving him and caring for him and guiding him and nurturing him the way Leslie would, if she was here. But You took her from us. Certainly, You will provide in her absence...? But how!? In faith, Abraham laid Isaac on the altar. In faith, I give TJ to you. Teach me, Father. And where I fall short... show Yourself strong.


Anonymous said...

Hey Tyson

In no way will I give an answer to any of your questions. Just know from one single parent to another that you are not alone in your struggles. All that you shared (okay minus that awesome sounding meal) is very familiar to me and my children are out of the Trying Three's. :) I don't believe you were looking for affirmation with your post but here it is anyhow. Hang tough, Dad! You are doing a great job and teaching invaluable lessons even though the consequences sometimes suck for you as well. Praying tonight for renewed strength for you; peace and calm for little TJ's heart and God's love to pour over both of you in the coming days.

ann said...

Praying for peace, and familiar beds for all.

Bri said...

Oh Tyson. I will be praying. I am the mom to a 2 year old and I know the behavior you are talking about.

I have been reading for a while (I found your site through Drew & Bekah Moser).

I am so thankful that you are sharing your pain, personal grief and suffering, with all of us. Your words, your faithfulness is truly a testimony to how all of us should trust in Christ.

Thank you for sharing, Tyson.

God Bless.

everydayMOM said...


I hope today was a better day for you and TJ. Praying for you all...

Auntie Gayle said...

Beautifully said,Ty. There are those times when parenting just sucks but thank God, the good times usually outweigh the bad. Sorry you had to call it quits on your family time but it probably was the only thing you could do...unless maybe giving the kid some drugs... just kidding! I've been behind reading the Blog so I just want to comment on the previous exchange between you and my marvelous sister. I think I was the one in the family who didn't learn how to keep in her emotions--as hard as I might try. Just ask Vic sometime how she and Bec used to torment me until I had one ranting, raving, kicking, screaming fit. (and I was much older than 3) It was their favorite evening entertainment! Anyhow so glad you encouraged her to let 'er rip! There just are times when it needs to come up from the depth of our souls no matter how ugly it is. The book Vic referred to is Gerald Sittser's book, A Grace Disguised. I did not give it to you because I didn't want to assume it would be helpful and figured you had been given a pile of books. It is a powerful, honest book on grief that I highly recommend. As you're thinking about what is helpful in the midst of deep grief, I have a suggestion. Start with what is NOT HELPFUL! I know that all of us want to say and do the right thing but if we just knew what is NOT helpful, that would probably be a good start. I have made a few notes myself during this grieving process. The most helpful thing for me has been for friends to just reflect my feelings, not give advice or assume anything and accept that there are times when I just don't want to talk about it. Keep looking UPWARD, dear Ty. We love you! Auntie Gayle

Jennifer J said...

Thank you for your honesty, your humility and the tenacious trust in God, our Father.

jennifer j

Holli said...

i've been a silent reader for a while but just want you to know there are still a lot of us out here PRAYING for you and your family!
and the way you feel inadequate is how most moms feel every so often... even when there are two parents doing their best!
Keep on Keeping on! God's best is always the best but not easily understood!

Catherine said...

I am so sorry, with my whole heart. I don't even know you, and maybe you will be comforted to know that I had the heaviest burden placed on me regarding your name Friday evening. I didn't know what to do in response, but dash off random little e-mails with the names of fellow comforters. I didn’t even know what to pray, but somehow I knew you were in for a hard time and I did ask God over and over again as I fell asleep not to press you any harder than necessary in the mystery of His plan. I thank you sincerely for your transparency in this post because you affirm my understanding that I really was overhearing God’s own concern for you, “my servant Tyson,” and not just exercising a fevered brain late Friday evening. That affirmation is a wonderful gift you’ve managed to give someone else, even in your pain. Bless you for that. His economy is working!

The other piece of comfort I can think to offer is my strong testimony – across so many families – that God DOES bestow His miraculous mercies on the lives of these young boys with one parent. How many lives have I offered up to him, in solidarity with a single mother who had your same concern. I could tell you so many stories of times, years later, when I was overcome by tears or unable to sleep a wink because of some fresh evidence that He heard our importuning pleas for this particular son all those years before. I have dates marked on my calendar denoting these outbreaks of Providence, and those dates are as precious to me as birth dates and other milestones must be to a biological mother. When I walk through my neighborhood, I will sometimes walk across a particular piece of pavement that is forever endowed with the memory of something a child said to me that made me know He is still in His heaven watching out. He loves these vulnerable ones more than we ever could, and all will be right in TJ’s world, in due time. I’ve seen far too much empirical evidence in my life not to believe that with you. These days are hard, but you will yet say that you have lived to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

shalome hoffman said...

You & TJ have been heavy on my heart these past few weeks, as the holidays are here. We keep praying for "peace that passes all understanding" to encompass you and surround TJ. We'll continue to lift you up to the almighty for strength and clarity of mind, and for TJ to find comfort and courage from having you as his daddy!

Jyeshe said...

Well, what a bummer! That stinks that you guys had to miss out, but way to understand what was really going on the TJ. You are a good Dad. :)

anne said...

The thought that comes to me is this. You are aware of the struggles in TJ's life right now. You can't change all of them - but because you acknowledge them - and because TJ will grow up being allowed to acknowledge them - there is a much greater liklihood that they will become opportunities rather than pitfalls. Almost always the most damaging thing is not what happens to children but the denial of what happens to them. Keep being honest and it will bring lots of healing to both of you. God be your strength. Anne

kim p said...

Still thinking of you and praying for you and TJ. I pray that God provides for each of your needs through this Christmas season.

Jennie said...

Tyson you are doing an awesome job. Macie is only a few weeks younger then TJ so I thought I would share our day yesterday. It was time for lunch but I had a crabby girl on my hands. After a lot of crying and not knowing what to eat, Macie decided on cereal. She took the box of granola and dumped it all out on the kitchen floor. She then sat and ate while I stood not knowing what to do. After a few bites she cried and had a tantrum while making granola angels all over the floor. She got an early nap after that. This age is difficult. Hang in there. You are doing a wonderful job. I pray for patience and strength for you! There will be many more difficult days but you and TJ will make it through this. You are such a strong man of God!

The Burkholders said...

Hey Tyson

Just wanted to let you know, you have been on my heart quite a bit. You bring back alot of memories from reading your blog ( I feel like I am talking, but then i realize its not me because you use words i can barely pronounce:)) . One thing i always highly disliked ( but realize people ask because they care ) hearing, "How are you doing?", it drove me nuts....I am not a good communicator but if you ever want to talk don't be afraid to give me a jingle.i have your phone number but didn't want to call you unless you wanted to talk. Hang in there Tyson, God is faithful.

Jay and Megan

Sarah said...

Please buy me a box of tissues for Christmas, Tyson.

I'm not a single parent and I have many of your thoughts...often. I think the real key is that the only perfect parent is our Father in Heaven. The rest of us are sinful, mostly well-meaning, loving people. But none of us can do it well alone, or with a human partner. We can only parent well with God's grace, instruction and strength.

Being a mom is so significant to me because it draws me to my knees daily. God gave me 5 blessings to care for...but how? I can only do it well when I ask Him for help, wisdom, knowledge, answers, grace, extra love. And being a parent helps me love my God even more, with the extra understanding of how the children I love so much are still sinners like me.

Tyson, you're on the right path. You can't go the wrong way with God as your navigator. Just keep asking, and He, your wonderful Father, will give you all that you seek.

Great pep talk for me, too.

Carmen said...


Both of my children were more challenging at 3 (and 4) than they were when they were younger, especially if we were around people. Just do what you think is right at that moment and don't doubt yourself. You are a wonderful and strong father.

Happy holidays!