My point, if I have one

Gift Giving Guide for Men of a Certain Age
December 3, 2012, 7:21 pm
Filed under: Inspired Woman Articles

Good_HintingFor those who may have any doubts about the saying, “it’s the thought that counts,” I invite you to attend church the Sunday after Christmas. You will see men wearing ties that were clearly picked out by a loving child or grandchild, and will rarely, if ever, see the light of day again. Church is a great “catwalk” for ties with wild floral prints or little tractors. Truth be told, we enjoy showing off these ties – once or twice – and only at church.

If you are no longer a child, however, buying gifts for the guys in your life can be daunting. And the older we get, the daunting-er. Youngers guys might be a little fussier, especially about gadgets and technology, but they don’t have as much stuff, so you have a decent chance of guessing right. Older guys are actually less fussy, but they have more stuff, and to make matters worse, you’ve used up all your best ideas over the years.

For the purposes of this article, let’s assume your guy isn’t one of those easily impressed, easy to please types that will get a thrill out of any shiny new gadget. Let’s assume you’ve pulled some hair out over this guy. Don’t be discouraged. Just keep these guidelines in mind and you’ll be fine.

Guideline 1: The thoughtful gift card.

What is the opposite of “it’s the thought that counts?” Gift cards, right? No one has ever said, “Oh how thoughtful!” to the giver of a gift card. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can give a gift card or gift certificate that will be appreciated. The key is to be specific. You may not know anything about his favorite hobby to show him you care about helping him enjoy it. Personally, I like to support small, local businesses, so a gift card or certificate from a local specialty shop is perfect. Online specialty stores can be good, too but the older the guy, the less appealing online shopping may be.

An example of being specific is that a sporting goods store might be a safe choice, but even better would be a specialty shop that focuses on just one activity, like a golf pro shop, gun store, fishing tackle shop…you get the idea. A good bet is any place that offers custom services, accessories or instruction. The older the man, the more specific you need to be. They not only have everything, but they also know everything (even if they don’t) so they’re probably just going to get the newer version of something they’ve worn out. Don’t worry…they are impressed that you are thoughtful enough to enter just a little into “their world.”

Guideline 2: NEVER offer to shop with him.

Some people like to give a gift card or cash and then offer to take the person shopping. These people are not men. Men are hunters, not gatherers. We go into the woods, kill our prey and drag it back to the cave. We shop the same way. Even armed with a gift card, guys know what they want and where it is. The entire shopping episode will be over in minutes. Don’t be offended if your thoughtful, specific gift card does not result in a day of browsing through all the choices offered in the shop. If he’s going to hang out there, it will be to shoot the breeze with the guys in the store, but not to browse. You have not given him a day at the spa. You have given him a spear, and he knows how to hunt.

Guideline 3: Give him a nudge.

Young guys are ready to challenge the world and try anything, so they’re easy to nudge. Buy a young guy a cowboy hat and he’ll go riding; maybe even buy himself a horse. Buy him a bow and he’ll climb a tree and shoot a deer. As guys get older, though, they get set in their ways and it’s harder to nudge them into anything new (long-time wives already know this). So try this:

If he’s a hunter, talk to his hunting buddies and find out what they think he’s missing out on. Maybe if he you gave him a duck call, he’d try ducks instead of just pheasants.

Books or magazines might be a good way to nudge him. If he loves the Discovery Channel, get him their magazine, or Popular Science. Ditto for History Channel. There are at least one million different magazine titles for every living human, so if you try hard enough, you’ll be able to subscribe him to Left-Handed Monkey Wrench Collectors Quarterly.

And finally, consider renovating one of his favorite but long-forgotten items. There’s probably some old “junk” in the back of the garage or attic that you could polish up or even have professionally reconditioned. Golf clubs, tennis racket, telescope, or any dust-covered item that looks like he once gave it a good try is a good candidate. If it looks like it was top quality “back in the day,” it’s something he’d like to get back to, with a little nudge from you.

Guideline 4: Ask

Not all guys are big on surprises. You know your guy. If he’s the type, just ask him what he wants, and go get it. You may not be able to relate to this, but trust me: if he hasn’t bought it for himself  but still wants it, he’ll be thrilled to get it. If you’re lucky, you can drag a few different ideas out of him so he won’t know which one you decide to give.

My point, if I have one, is that it’s the thought that counts. You just have to know where to direct your thoughts, and I hope these guidelines are helpful.

See you in church.


My Wife Inspires Me
March 27, 2011, 8:09 pm
Filed under: Inspired Woman Articles

Note: this was written for a challenge called “Who Inspires You?” by the Inspired Woman magazine. I’m very proud they selected it for publication in the February/March issue.


Art & Soul

My wife, Kim Eslinger, is an artist. I don’t simply mean that she creates works of art, which she does, but she is an artist because of how art is in her and how she sees art all around her and how her many expressions of art come from a place so deep inside her soul. Her passion for art and for life and for love simply spills out of her and is absolutely, irresistibly contagious. She’s like the Pied Piper, but with brushes and pencils and crayons, rather than a pipe.

Kim’s passion for art comes with a price, which she is more than willing to pay, and I have to tell you about that to help you understand why she is so inspiring to me.

As I am writing this, she is doing homework. Or maybe she’s correcting someone else’s homework. She is a full-time teacher and nearly a full-time student. For several years, she has been working to finish a degree that will make her a better teacher. The scene in our living room right now is a replay of hundreds of similar evenings: I’m watching football; shes doing homework. I’m watching golf; she’s correcting homework. I’m watching the news, folding laundry, reading, fixing something, breaking something…and she’s doing homework AND correcting homework, and maybe developing some new curriculum. I’m going to bed, she’s “almost finished” with the homework. Midnight is an early bedtime for her. This is Kim at home.

Kim at work is no less resolute. Until recently, she was teaching three different classes at two different schools: an art careers class and a technology class at the middle school, and a digital design class at the high school technical center. That meant three sets of lesson plans, three bundles of homework to correct, and an “office” in the trunk of our car (then our living room, then back to the trunk). I often thought that if her art career students had any idea how hard she worked, they would never choose a career in art! This year, she feels like she’s catching a major break because she’s teaching in only one classroom.

It’s easy to question whether anything that requires this much work is worth it, but she gives it little thought. It’s just something that has to be done to keep her job. I know better, though. Nothing as mundane as job security can account for such a determined, tenacious pursuit of her goals. This is her calling. She’s always had a gift for teaching, even though I don’t think she recognized it as readily as everyone else.

In the earlier days of our marriage, Kim worked from our home as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. She’s a very talented artist, and in those days, she also entered art shows regularly. She typically made a good showing with her illustrations of horses, carousel horses and wildlife. She misses that part of her creative expression, and hopes to return to it when she finishes this degree. We both look forward to that, yet I can’t help but wonder if she would have discovered her teaching gift if not for the need of a steady paycheck.

Which brings me to my next point of inspiration: how teaching just naturally flows from her. One day, she started a summer art camp in our barn. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? No? Well, it’s not like it just popped into her head. She was temporarily working for the after school “BLAST” program, doing arts and crafts with kids until their parents came to take them home. She created a problem, however, when the kids didn’t want to go home. Their parents recognized the value of what was going on there. They liked what they saw, and asked for more, not after the school day, but after the school year. Thus was born the Art Barn Art Camp, a successful little business she’s been running for several summers. By “successful,” I don’t mean that it makes much money. It makes her happy.

It would be a mistake to view Kim simply as a driven career woman, although she certainly is driven. For her, the late hours and extra workloads are not the kind of recipe for success you see in motivational books, or magazines for career women. It just comes down to her incredible passion. If she’s going to teach, she’s going to learn all the tools. If she has to drive all over town to find her students, well, fill ‘er up and let’s go. If she’s going to invite dozens of little kids to learn about art in a barn, she’s going to drag them through the woods to hunt out “art supplies” and she’s going to turn the slope in our backyard into a water slide (and be the first one to slide down it) and she’s going to inspire a slew of volunteer teenage staffers to become artists and teachers just like her. It’s all pretty much by accident; the by-product of her passion for life, for art and for kids.

So now, as I finally get around to finishing this little writing project a month after starting it, she has completed the last of her classes and aced the last of her tests. She’s ready for the cap and gown. REALLY ready. And this time, she is determined to walk up to the podium and accept her diploma in person. I made her miss her last graduation (25 years ago) by scheduling our wedding that day. (Hey, she didn’t tell me!)

My wife inspires me. She inspires me to recognize art in the world and people around me…even in myself. And now, with the burden of college coursework lifted, I get to see what comes next. I don’t have a clue what it will be, but it’s a good bet that it will be another inspiring work of art.

My Better Half
September 7, 2010, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Inspired Woman Articles | Tags:

An Exploration of the Five Stages of Marriage

In a short while, I will have been married exactly half of my life. Both numbers–my age and my marriage–are pretty big: 50 and 25. To make me feel REALLY old, that’s a half-century of life and a quarter-century of marriage.

Does that make me an expert on life and marriage? Yes. Of course it does. Why not? There are people on FOX and CNN every day claiming to be experts who are clearly clueless. Why not me?

It’s important for me to begin with a disclaimer: these thoughts are from my uniquely male perspective. My wife may see things differently. (If you’re paying attention, you have just learned something about my secret to marital bliss. I never attempt to speak for my wife. In fact, it’s good advice to avoid speaking for yourself, too, but I’m going out on a limb here for the sake of helping others. I will undoubtedly regret it.)

That said, I think it’s important to understand marriage as a series of stages, rather than go down the typical “tips and tricks” route you might find in a dog training article. There are five stages of every long-lasting marriage. This was scientifically proven in a scientific marriage laboratory. At least, I think it was marriage they studied. Anyway, it’s important to know which stage you are currently in so you know what to do and what to expect in the future. Kind of like the way Lance Armstrong can keep pushing through his intense physical pain while climbing mountains because he know the mountain stage will end soon and he can move on to the intense physical pain of a different stage.

Stage One: Denial
Technically, this is the pre-marriage stage. I’ve seen commercials on TV in which a young woman announces to her friends that she is engaged, and they all scream, giggle and cry. Men just cry. Guy friends don’t take engagement news as good news. As they see it, they’re losing a buddy. That’s why we generally don’t tell our friends we’ve popped the question, and deny it when accused. Women, beginning minutes after they are born, dream in great detail of their perfect wedding day and the white-picket-fenced bliss to follow. With men, it’s more like just a haunting feeling we’ll end up painting a damned fence someday.

Women do not experience this stage. Contrary to denying, the average woman will announce her engagement to everyone she knows and several people she does not know, sometimes before telling her future husband. This stage has a definitive ending: the wedding day. I have no advice for men in this stage. Just survive it.

Stage Two: Anger
This is an excellent stage, despite the negative sounding name. She gets angry at him for his lack of passion about such important details as choosing linens and silverware. He gets angry at her for expecting him to read her mind. Then they both realize how silly they are being and then the excellent part of this stage happens. I can’t describe that because this is a family magazine. This is definitely the most passionate, exciting stage, and typically takes place in the first few years of the marriage, or in some cases, several decades. My advice: don’t fight it…enjoy it. The most important thing to know, however, is that you must have a short memory. No grudges…making up needs to be truly making up, and marks the absolute end of the anger. Period.

Stage Three: Bargaining
Marriage gets complicated when kids show up and you have to deal with house and car payments and distractions of that nature. Successful couples are successful bargainers. “I’ll wash the car if you’ll do the laundry” is not a good bargain. “I’ll do the laundry and wash the car, you go relax” is a great bargain. You should never strive for balance, because when the bargain is fair, both sides feel shorted. Better that each person feel smugly “ahead” of the other.

Of equal importance is to feel and express appreciation for the other person fulfilling their end of every bargain. A word of caution, though: if you get too good at this and begin to experience something like total bliss, you risk losing the spark from Stage Two, which can be running concurrently with any stage. You never want to get TOO good at getting along.

Stage Four: Depression
I wish I could tell you there will never be a sad day in your marriage. (Fortunately for me, I’ve never had a sad day or any reason to be depressed during my own marriage, but I’ve heard it is quite common to experience low times.) I think the important thing is to commit yourselves to be depressed together. As you face the fact that “6-pack” now describes your diet more than your abs, you realize how lucky you are to have a spouse who loves you despite the fact that you are no longer appealing to anyone, including them. My advice for this stage is to begin a new diet and exercise plan based on an unrealistic expectation of regaining your youthful beauty. That won’t help, but it will keep you busy until you move on to the final stage of marriage.

Stage Five: Acceptance
All couples BELIEVE that they start with this stage. Almost immediately, they accept that they have made the right choice in a life partner and that they will live happily ever after. In fact, this stage comes much later. When you accept that you are not perfect and your life is not perfect, yet things are pretty darned good anyway, you have reached Stage Five. You accept her, she accepts you, and you each accept yourselves. Combining this stage with some of the better elements of the Anger stage is a great recipe for success.

Well, there you have it. Proof that 25 years is not nearly enough to make an expert of me. Chances are, you’ll forget all this (if you’re lucky, anyway) so let me just say one thing you really should remember: Whatever stage of marriage you’re in, keep going. It’s a journey that’s worth every step, including the painful ones. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Fight for it at all costs.

My point, if I have one, is that I’ve lived half a life married and half a life on my own, and while I have no complaints about the unmarried half, there’s no doubt in my mind that the married half has been my better half.

Fit, Even If It Kills Me
January 1, 2010, 4:14 am
Filed under: Inspired Woman Articles | Tags:

“Would it kill you to go outside and move around a little bit?” asked every 1960s mother of cartoon-watching kids (like me). This was back when TV first began killing children in earnest, but it’s a proud tradition still carried out by today’s mothers of video-gamers. The answer, I have come to believe, is “yes, it might kill me.”

My fitness story is one of pain and injury. If “no pain, no gain” was true, I would be heading for Vancouver this winter to win all the Olympic events. I’ve had enough pain for that much gain.

My fitness experiences can be broken down into four distinct genres, each with its own hazards.

Good Old-Fashioned Hard Work

My first clear memory of feeling fit is back when my parents slaved me out to our family farm for summer work. There’s nothing quite as effective for turning 100 pounds of baby fat into lean muscle mass as picking 100 pound rocks from a field in 100 degree heat. I was doing the job of a front-end loader. About a week after returning home, when the swelling went down, it felt great to be in shape.


For me, competing in sports returned the most fun for my fitness investment. That’s why adults use sports so effectively to trick kids into fitness. Of course, today’s youngsters start working with a professional trainer at age two. I generally didn’t start training for a sport until the day practice started. Thus the term, “hell week.” My sporting years were, sadly, all too brief. I played football until I had a neck injury and concussion, I wrestled until I dislocated a disk and I ran track until it aggravated my back injury. Glory days!


The biggest enemy of fitness in adults is adulthood. When you become an adult, there are fewer sports to be involved in, and no coaches screaming at you to keep going. That’s when you become a “weekend warrior” in the great outdoors. I hunt, which is great exercise involving strenuous walking while carrying a heavy weapon and staying out of range of the Vice-President. I also enjoy cutting, stacking, splitting and burning firewood. This, too is great exercise, and the only hazards are chainsaws, axes and fire. But weekends are not enough, even for warriors. Without consistent exercise, you risk injury. For example, you might tear your ACL on a family ski trip simply because you remember how easily you could charge moguls when you were younger. I’m not saying it happened to me, but it could happen to anyone. Trust me on this.


The least desirable way to get and stay fit is by exercising. I’m referring to exercise “As Seen on TV,” where you can look great for only five easy payments of $29.99. The greatest hazard of this form of fitness is that you may die of boredom. My advice on exercise equipment: buy the device that hold the most laundry. That’s what my Nordic Trak® is doing right now.

My point, if I have one, is that fitness hurts, but it’s worth it. I know, because I’ve tried that weekend warrior thing, and it just isn’t enough. I’ve gained weight, lost energy, don’t sleep well, and, yes, I have just as much pain not exercising as I had when I was in shape. Guess I’m just injury prone.

So now I have to get fit, and it won’t be easy. According to a height/weight chart my life insurance company sent me, I should be at least 6 inches taller. I guess I’ll hit the Nordic Trak® again…as soon as the sweaters are dry.

The backward-ness of relationships
September 8, 2008, 3:49 am
Filed under: Inspired Woman Articles

When we were young, my big brother and I had to share a bed. One night, he put his arm on “my side” of the bed, so I bit it. I didn’t just nip it like a puppy. I clamped myself onto his arm like a snapping turtle with an unhinged jaw and didn’t let go until my dad turned on our bedroom light. Things didn’t go so well for me in the moments that followed, but I got some satisfaction knowing my brother experienced more pain than I did. Plus, he kept to his side of the bed after that. We get along pretty well these days, so I guess he forgave me.

The fact that we could put this incident behind us is not just “a guy thing,” as much as it is “a brother thing.” He knew he was (and still is) stuck with me as a brother. Just knowing we had to share that bed, that house, and that family again tomorrow and every day meant we really had no choice but to forgive each other day after day and get on with whatever would come next.

There was a boy a few blocks away who used to stand at a distance and watch our neighborhood guys play ball. Being decent kids, we didn’t beat him up. Eventually, we asked him to join us. It wasn’t that we were such great kids, reaching out to the outcast like in a Disney® movie. We just needed more guys on the field and he looked kind of stupid standing there by himself. He and I hit it off even more than the others and became pretty good friends for a few years. But then one day, for some dumb reason, I did beat him up. I had never hit anyone before, which was a big part of why I did it. I wanted to know what it was like. I’m not proud of it, and I wasn’t even proud about it then. I felt terrible before I completely clenched my fist.

Surprisingly, our friendship didn’t end then and there, as it probably should have. He, too forgave me. Maybe it was a guy thing, I think a big part of it was that he was stuck with me as a neighbor, and, if either of us was going to get to play ball, we had to find a way to get along. As with my brother, if we were going share the neighborhood and our childhood, we may as well forgive each other for these kinds of things and move on. Even now, decades later, I see him around town occasionally, and we seem to be on good terms. Go figure.

Over the years, I’ve even managed to make friends with people who were not stuck with me for any particular reason. We became friends because we chose to, based on our common interests. Despite the fact that I never bit or hit any of these people, all but a few of those kinds of relationships have ended. Evaporated, really. Nothing in particular started them, and nothing in particular ended them.

This is the backward-ness of relationships. The ones you are stuck with require the most work and cause the most pain, yet these are the ones that last the longest. Wouldn’t it make more sense that the “ideal” relationships, built on shared interests, should be the ones that work best and last longest?

Again, I don’t think it’s “a guy thing,” even though women do seem to put more effort into those “BFF” (best friends forever) kinds of relationships. It just seems to me that the relationships you’re stuck with are the meat and potatoes of your life, and the ones you choose are more like dessert. The simple fact that you are stuck with your relatives forces you to try a little harder to make things work. You know they will be there tomorrow whether you like it or not, so you may as well work it out, forgive each other, and move on. Dessert is an important part of the meal, but you can live without it now and then.

I’m never one to say things like, “there are two kinds of…” or “there are ten steps to…” So I won’t say there are two kinds of relationships – the kind you choose and the kind you’re stuck with. There is at least one more kind, and it’s a hybrid of “choose to” and “stuck with.” They call it marriage.

Before I got married, I chose to be in a relationship with my girlfriend. Now she’s my wife…I no longer think of it as a choice, and neither does she. I don’t want that to sound like a bad thing. Yes, we’re stuck with each other, but we want it that way. As long as we both refuse to see it any other way, we know tomorrow will come, and we’ll still be related. We may as well forgive each other and get on with it. After all, thanks to us, our kids are stuck with each other as relatives forever. I guess we owe it to them.

Forgiveness doesn’t just heal broken relationships, it also heals the broken people that are in every relationship…each one of us. Is that guy thing? I know I can speak for most guys to say we need forgiveness as much or more than we need to forgive. My point, if I have one, is this: We need relationships because we need forgiveness…both to forgive and to be forgiven. We’re stuck with that, so we may as well deal with it and move on.

Our Deprived Youth
July 31, 2007, 4:08 am
Filed under: Inspired Woman Articles | Tags: , , , ,

Kids today are seriously deprived of what they need to grow up right, and it’s mostly our fault. What they are deprived of is deprivation. Just as necessity is the mother of invention, deprivation is the mother of boredom, which is the father of curiosity, which is the second cousin of mischief, which is kind of an aunt on the other side of the family you’d rather not visit.

I suppose I can’t speak for girls, since I’m quite certain I’ve never been one, but most boys and probably a lot of girls would be better off with less, not more. But rather than a lengthy dissertation with lots of impressive psychobabble, I’ll just prove my point with a few examples of things today’s kids lack almost entirely. These are simple things we have taken away from our kids, or worse still, replaced with something far more complex:

Vacant lots

When I was a kid, there were several vacant lots near our house. ‘Vacant” is a description adults came up with, but the boys in our neighborhood knew these lots contained a lifetime’s worth of adventure. One of our favorite activities was digging “foxholes” from which we would wage mighty battles, throwing clods of dirt and/or mud at each other. Luckily, none of us could aim well, because getting hit was painful, and would end the game.

These so-called “vacant”  lots were especially fun for boys armed with slingshots or cheap bows and arrows. As with the dirt clods, we couldn’t aim well, so the snakes, gophers and birds of this habitat were frequently startled, but rarely harmed.

Today, there are few vacant lots. Our neighborhoods are filled up and fenced off, and the edges of town get developed at incredible speed. Houses pop up almost overnight in every available space. Shame on us and our booming economy.

Unorganized sports

Perhaps we should have known our vacant little paradise couldn’t last forever. One day, some silly adults decided to make something useful out of our vacant lot, so they bulldozed a huge level spot in it and put up some signs: “Free” skating 6:00 – 8:00, Hockey 8:00 – 10:00. This was July. And besides, all skating is free, isn’t it? We couldn’t wait for winter to try out our new rink, so we got to work staking out some bases and started playing baseball. It was like that movie where the players just magically walk out of the corn…kids magically showed up with gloves and bats within minutes. Kids we didn’t even know. It was actually a very pretty good ball diamond, except when the wind blew the loose dirt into our eyes and noses, which was nearly all the time.

But the best thing was, there were no uniforms, no scheduled practices, and no adults to tell us what we were doing wrong. The teams were different every time…usually an unfair balance pitting big brothers against little brothers. But there was always one or two “big kids” willing to join our little guy team and give us a fighting chance. When winter finally came, the same kids showed up at the rink; again without schedules, without uniforms, definitely without pads, and in many cases, without skates. And most important again, without adult supervision. We didn’t need adults, even though many of us didn’t even know the rules. We knew what we had to: at the other end of the ice were two big rocks. Between them, a pillow-padded kid. Slap the puck between his legs or between his eyes.

I’m not sure why parents feel the need for kids to be involved in such “big production” sports, with coaches, camps, uniforms, rules, scores and other such useless things. Maybe we’re trying to recapture our own youth and “do it better this time” or maybe we believe that they, like us, think it’s important to have some kind of edge over the competition. But that’s the problem: kids handle competition quite well without any help, and without any edge. It’s when we raise the stakes too early that things tend to get ugly.

“The farm”

My dad grew up on a farm in southwest North Dakota. Our family used to go “back to the farm” on weekends quite often, especially when Grandpa needed help planting and harvesting. I had mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, picking rocks or bales out of a field in the sweltering summer sun was no picnic. On the other hand, hmmm. What was on the other hand again? Oh, yeah…blisters.  I can’t say I always looked forward to it, but Grandma’s cooking and spending time with my brother or cousins exploring the sandstone buttes made for some great memories. We made our own fun. I can’t say I envy my dad’s generation, or his dad’s, growing up out there in the open spaces, but as second-generation weekend-only farmers, we gained a lot from living a little of their lives.

Most kids today do not have a farmer in their immediate families. I remember being jealous of the “city kids” who did fun things on the weekends, like stay in town with nothing to do. But I knew a lot of other kids who spent weekends at the farm of their family’s roots. With North Dakota losing hundreds of farms every year, there will be even fewer connections to a farm for kids in the coming years. It’s no small loss for them. They may never know the sting that comes from sweat, dirt and blisters on a sunburn, or the unbridled thrill of riding an unbridled calf.

Jumping through the sprinkler

When is the last time you saw a kid jumping through a sprinkler? Far too many homes are equipped with underground sprinkler systems that automatically start at 5:00 a.m., which is a time when it is never hot and there are never any kids around to jump through the spray. It’s a simple pleasure for the kids, and a great way for parents to water the lawn and get the kids out of the house in one stroke. There were actually a lot of cool games, pun intended, that are at risk of being lost to posterity for lack of anyone handing down these wet traditions. The water-based variations of “Ollie Ollie In-Free” and “Red Rover, Red Rover” were surely better than the original games. And for kids lucky enough to have next-door neighbors the same age and long enough hoses…oh, don’t even get me started.

Just a quick note about drinking from the hose, as long as we’re almost on the subject: Spiders don’t really make their homes in there, so you won’t get spider babies living in your stomach if you drink from the hose, which is (as we all know) the best tasting, coldest and most refreshing liquid known to kidkind. Just beware of your older brother’s whereabouts. One quick flick of his wrist can send water blasting out of your nose, ears, eyes and toenails. So don’t repeat that old  hose/spider wive’s tale to your kids, and if you see a boy sneaking up on the spigot while his little brother or sister is taking a drink, don’t shout at him, just run for the video camera.

My point, if I have one

We work awfully hard to keep our kids safe and create a fair, nurturing environment for them to grow up in. No, that’s not a bad thing, but in our zealousy to provide so much, we’ve provided too much, and taken away all the fun that goes with life’s natural mysteries and risks. We’re like a mother bird who pushes our babies out of the nest onto a gentle slope a few inches down to an artificially padded ground. They may land safely, but our kids will not get the adrenaline rush they can only get from doing something truly stupid. Something so stupid that for a moment they think their very life is threatened, or worse yet, that their brother will tell Mom.

Maybe “nothing” is the best thing we can give kids to do, and give them lots of time and space to do it in. I’m not a professional, so you probably shouldn’t take my advice on this, but don’t you think it’s time you pushed your kids out the door and made them go on an unorganized, unsupervised, unjustified adventure?  That’s where the memories are…on the lot, in the field, behind the barn, in the spray. Just don’t let them see you following in the minivan.