The Bug's school had an assembly last week. Many parents stuck around for the early-morning ceremony (outdoors). Beginning with the highest grades, one student from each class was called up by the principal -- in front of the whole school -- and given an award .. for demonstrating some virtuous characteristic the school espouses.
When the principal got down to the kindergarten classes, she called the Bug's name.
He went up there and chose a gift from a variety of prizes set out on a table. I couldn't help but feel proud.
In 6 weeks, the Bug will be six years.
Rad regulars may recall the Kids' First co-parenting classes I attended (court-ordered) .. where this instructor with a PhD in Child Development told me (when I asked) that the first *6* years are the most crucial, developmentally. After that » "Ya still gotta do maintenance," he said, "but the bread is done baking."
Knew then & there I had to focus .. to do a good job, nurturing him, 'til at least his 6th birthday. Made it a priority. So I've been eye'ing this date (6 weeks away) for some years now .. 5.11 » 5.12 » 6.0.
[ Great classes, btw. 8 weeks of Saturday mornings at Chapman. May be the best $300 I ever spent. At least the first tme. ]
And don't think I haven't taken some serious shots along the way. Tho it's funny .. cuz these challenges are what forced me to steel my determination. (I'm sure they were intended to have the opposite effect.)
Hate to admit it, but I don't think I woulda been as good a dad without this nuclear adversity. I mean, as attentive. As interested. As dedicated.
I didn't take a single week for granted. No, sir. Cuz I was always having to fight .. to stay in his life. And I could no longer afford a lawyer after the first year or two (.. uh, cuz they are very expen$ive & I spend a lot of time in court.) All of which is stressful.
Plus, the courts use TIME-WITH-DAD as one of their main critera for determining cases where the mom petitions to move-away. So maximizing our time together took on a whole new meaning (legal). I score BIG numbers in crucial 'time-with-dad' category.
The move-away becomes increasingly traumatizing as they grow. So it's like playing beat-the-clock.
••• today's entry continues here below •••
So anyway .. back to the Bug's award ceremony .. and his school (.. which is a new experience for me/us). As you know, school at the lowest grades is a lot about crowd control.
And I can see how a prime objective is to get the kids to conform & comply .. something I understand a little about .. having spent 6 years in the military.
And no doubt these are necessary objectives .. and the teachers are of course experts in this area. And they have at their disposal a vast array of tools .. most of which come in the shape of a carrot, tho some look more like a stick. (He knows what they are and talks a lot about them.)
But I don't want his sense of self-esteem to start being linked too strongly to external value systems. So I told him on the way home later that same day .. that I was VERY proud of him .. how he was called up .. in front of the WHOLE school .. and given an award (.. for 'Team Spirit,' I think).
But I added a little later .. that even if he never got another award .. I would STILL think he was the coolest kid ever .. cuz I KNOW him better than the people at the school do .. and I would STILL think I was the luckiest dad in the whole world .. cuz I was lucky enough to have the coolest kid.
Now you might think this expression of unconditional love would've meant something to him. And maybe it did. But it was clear he was far more enchanted with that little prize he picked off the table when the principal called his name. =)
So maybe I'm too late. And I definitely need to improve in this area. But I keep trying to convey the message .. in many different ways .. that I love him .. for who he IS (.. not what he DOES).
We had our first little heart-to-heart last week .. on the way home from school. Not that we haven't had heart-to-hearts before, but this was the first time I actually had to *think* about my answers.
Before this, the answers were always obvious. Now however, he has started asking complex questions, while sharing things that were on his heart. Of course, this was yet another opportunity to build him up (.. which I'm actually pretty good at).
[ I learned how to build someone up from watching the Dog (.. in Hawaii). He is a master. The Dog, a Jersey boy, no less, is an expert at knowing how to make you feel good about yourself. Even better than aged tequila. =)
Maybe this is why is he's the only person I've kept in touch with .. of the many people I met in the military. Others, it seems, are experts at tearing people down .. criticizing, fault-finding, blaming. Where do they learn these skills? ]
So with birthday #6 approaching .. I'm feeling pretty good about things. I mean, he is pretty cool. He laughs easy & often. I'll spare you the gushing. [ And you know I could do it. =) ]
If I were to drop dead tomorrow (.. a notion some might find promising), you'd find me with a smile on my face .. knowing he at least had a fighting chance at a happy life .. and that I'd done my best (.. under less than ideal conditions).
Knew I could focus for 6 years .. cuz the Navy taught me how » one day at a time. (My enlistment lasted 6 years. 2190 days. Six trips around the sun.)
Tho, with the Bug, it has been one WEEK at a time. The end of every week is chalked up to another small victory. Uno mas.
I never really knew from week to week if this would be our last. Just when things began to settle » bamm! Another accusation.
Closest thing to a living hell I know of. The uncertainty of the thing you care most about. And it's out of your hands. You hope the people out there are smart enough to see thru.
I do not do well relying on mere hope. It's not in my training. So maybe my distress is more severe than others. But there is something about being a parent enables you endure whatever might come down the pike .. for long as it takes.
[ If it doesn't kill you, that is. But that price is not an impediment. The parenting instinct actually seems to supercede the instinct for self-preservation. Remarkable. Interesting. ]
But I did everything I could. Including writing my senator, congressman & contacting the press. Included photos of the Bug. Presented the facts clearly as I could. Expressed my reasons for concern. I may not have legal training, but THIS is something I can do well. Certified mail. Multiple times.
When you can no longer afford an $attorney, you must become creative in fighting for your son. And you Rad readers have been supportive the whole way. (You know who you are.)
So far, the Bug hasn't missed even a day of school, nor has he been late. Not once. Nor have I been late for a school pick-up. (Kindergarten gets out early, half-day.) Knock on silicon. I take him to school 3 days a week.
Every Friday we celebrate the end-of-the-week by stopping for brecky at a diner .. where the whole crew now knows & expects us.
They give him crayons and a paper kid's place-mat, which contains several ticktacktoe grids. I let him beat me. He gets all excited. His whole face lights up when he wins. "Ticktacktoe, dad!" as he draws a line thru all three X's. (Bacon, eggs & pancakes for $3.99.)
He loves everything Star Wars. Actually the Clone Wars .. the animated version. Anakin Skywalker is his hero. Yes, he owns a light-saber. Never much into Star Wars myself.
I asked what he would do .. when Anakin was injured, and his padawan (apprentice) is told she should leave. "If I was a clone," he said, "I'd go. But if I was a Jedi, I'd stay." I thot that answer v. cool. Already he has started formulating simple if-else logical espressions. =)
He also loves In-n-Out (especially their french fries). But then, who doesn't?
I read to him every night .. even if only for a few minutes. Sometimes he falls asleep in my arms. That's the unbelievable-best. I can hear the way his breathing changes as he drops off into neverland. Precious.
"That's the end of the chapter," I say. "Should I keep reading?" If he's awake, he'll say, "Yes."
My biggest disappointment .. comes whenever I arrive to pick him up for another week of visitation, and notice he has grown .. by seeing a little more maturity in his face. Or him standing noticeably taller.
Doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, it hits me hard. Ouch. Cuz I wasn't there .. and that time is gone forever. No second chances at those misses.
I have no defense against that heaviness. Very unnatural feeling, being separated from your children. Suks. It's out of my hands. Nothing I can do .. except try to cram a whole week's worth of love + affection + fun + laughs into the few days I have him.
Disappointment also comes when I can't afford to take him to places like Disneyland & Cirque de Soleil. But everybody I talk to says things like, "I can't afford to take my kids to Disneyland either," and "Who can?"
Feeling satisfied. A little beat-up, yeah, but lots of satisfaction.
Don't wanna be superstitious about celebrating BEFORE I reach my goal, but maybe I am. Am I tempting fate? Wouldn't be the first time.
Neverttheless, the race has been long & hard, and I can see the first major mile marker. (It's right there.) The most important one .. from what the experts tell me.
Screw superstiton. I bought the champaign. Bread is almost done baking and it's lookin' pretty good (.. despite all the krap he has been thru). No small feat. Something inside is celebrating already.
He still has all his baby teeth.