Comfort in the Stories We Tell

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All was dark; all was not bright. But in the darkness sat a boy named Walter, and his pet alligator named Frank.

“How long have we been sitting here?” Questioned Walter into the void. He knew Frank was somewhere near him.

A low rumbly growl came from nearby, “A long time, Walter.”

“Frank, why is your breath so bad?”

“I haven’t been able to brush my teeth since the lights went out.”

“Why do you think the stories stopped?”

“I think Wyatt’s dad has forgotten about us.”

For a period of time, my bedtime routine with Wyatt included stories about Walter and Frank. Until one day… those stories stopped. I’m not sure why I quit telling of their adventures with their mighty robot. Or why I quit expanding the weirder aspects of their universe, with characters such as the ninja dolphins.

All of that changed the other night, as I put Wyatt to bed. I pulled Walter and Frank from the darkness. Starting the story just as I did above.

  • Turning the creative lights on once more.
  • Firing up the mighty robot.
  • Adventuring.
  • And, as always, concluding with milk and cookies provided by Walter’s mom.

There is comfort in the stories we tell. And there is no need to leave anyone in the dark, most of all, Walter and Frank.

From Across the Net – “When Parents Feel Like We Are Mostly Failing Most of the Time”

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Appreciated this piece from Tim Challies. Especially liked his list of principles, he has been pondering, towards the end of the article.

As parents in this digital world, it’s like we have planted ourselves and our families on a beach. Though the water is rising, we have convinced ourselves that we can somehow hold back the tide. But inevitably it just keeps creeping higher and higher up the beach until our best plans, like feeble little sandcastles, are swept away. There seems to be a kind of inevitability about it, that before long we’ll all always be staring at our devices. In fact, it seems like our devices have wills of their own, and this is exactly what they want. They want to dominate our lives. They want to be our main thing.

You can read more here

Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash

From Across the Net – “An Unexpected, Overlooked Benefit of Friendships”

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I appreciate this post by Tim Challies on friendship. There is nothing like a friend who can tell you to snap out of it and quit being a jerk.

Photo by Anoir Chafik on Unsplash
“We ought to pursue friendships not just for what we can gain from the relationship, but for what we can give.

Often the best way to gain objectivity is to appeal to a friend for an outside perspective. It may be that each of us appeals to a personal friend or that together we appeal to a mutual friend. But either way, a close friend is able to listen, to evaluate, and to offer guidance. Some of the best counsel I’ve gotten from friends is of the “you need to stop being a jerk” variety. Friends have helped me better love those I love most.

You can read more here

In the Shadows of Fortnite

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Last November, Tabitha and I were struggling through the Fortnite craze with Wyatt. At the time, I penned a blog post that opened with this:

“I feel caught between being a parent and a gamer. Caught between my son loving Fortnite and me seeing the game for what it is, exploitative. I find myself fighting the urge to erase the game from my house. To pretend that Fortnite does not exist and funnel Wyatt towards games that are not built upon:

  • The addictive free-to-play foundations of games such as Candy Crush and Clash of Clans. Games that are built to encourage consumers to spend real life money to advance/keep playing. Pay-to-win, children!
  • Female characters designed to be objectified/sexual eye candy.
  • A non-stop gameplay loop.
  • An in-game store that creates an artificial need to buy skins (think: clothing/costumes) and items that will expire within an arbitrary time limit.

I can feel my parents surging within me, screaming, “JUST PULL THE PLUG!” But I’m trying to push through that deep rooted feeling. I’m trying to like Fortnite for my son; I’m trying to parent through it.”

I wrote much more than what I’m sharing above. The Fortnite post was up, on this site, for a couple of hours until I removed it. Not that I disagreed with anything that I had written, but I realized that the game had changed.

There comes a point, in parenting, where you need to work through things on your own. I realized that I was painting myself, as a parent, into a corner. Failing to realize:

  • That my attitude towards Fornite might change in the future.
  • That one day Wyatt might discover my blog and read what I have written about him.
  • That I want to be careful with how I represent my son online.
  • That some things are best worked out as a family. Privately.

Yes, we struggled as a family through Fortnite. I know many of you did. But me writing that unpublished blog post made me re-think how I blog about myself and my family. Not everything that happens in our homes, with our kids, needs to end up online.

BOY DAD

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I am a boy dad. I thank the Lord for the gift he has given me in my son, Wyatt. The gift that sees that a boys energy and curiosity is normal; The gift that allows me to say that yes, boys are different than girls.

Photo by Yuval Levy on Unsplash

Two years into our marriage, Tabitha and I were driving up Palomar Mountain. I wanted to show her where my Grandpa Ayers used to take my brother and I camping. As we wound our way up the mountain, Tabitha started to feel sick. I wrote it off as car sickness at the time. Elevation + switchback roads = car sickness for some. What I didn’t know, is that on that trip to visit my parents in Southern California, Tabitha was pregnant. I was going to be a dad.

Parenting Wyatt has forced me to wrestle with many things in my life.

My Past

My upbringing of growing up in a home where my dad was home 2 days and then gone 2-3 days. I just wanted him home. I wanted his presence. I wanted him without the zombie schedule truck driving demanded.

I am thankful that God brought other men into my life to fill this need. Men like my Grandpa Ayers. He stepped in, for my brother and I, and showed us what it meant to be men. Whether he was reading us Bible stories or telling tales around the campfire; Whether we were hiking with slingshots, flying RC planes, or playing Chess. Grandpa was that escape, for us, from the feminine world of my mom.

I realize now that both my parents did their best… and I’m thankful for the time I had with my Grandpa.

Who I Am As A Husband

There are many stories that I could write here. But the clearest one that comes to mind is of me sitting on the couch, watching TV, while Tabitha is getting herself and Wyatt out the door for the day. Tab was teaching at the time. Wyatt would spend his days with my mother-in-law. I didn’t do a thing, as I watched The Today Show, to help Tab out the door. We were supposed to be a team, and I was failing.

God knew what I needed. Looking back, I am thankful for us having issues with breast feeding. Thankful for the formula, which I once thought was expensive, that allowed me to take on late night feedings. I miss those times of bleary-eyed snuggling. Him watching me, with those blue eyes, in the darkened living room.

Being a dad has forced me to find maturity as a husband. Praise God.

Who I Want To Be As A Dad

At the end of the day, I want to be a dad who:

Listens – I wanted to be able to talk about whatever Wyatt is into, even if that means talking about Pokémon like a scholar.

Plays – Having a family game night, playing through a video game co-op, I want to play with my son.

Reads – Whether reading the Bible or work of fiction, I want my son to hear my voice/see that men read aloud. I miss hearing my Grandpa Ayers read Bible stories.

Prepares – I want to have those difficult conversations. I want to be a dad who talks about puberty, sex, and dating.

Photo by Enea Rezhda on Unsplash

I am a boy dad. I am thankful for my son.

However, I’d be happy being a girl dad too. 🙂

A Weekend of Learning to Play the Pokémon Trading Card Game

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Pokémon TCG

Wyatt and I took a trip to our local game store, Three Suns Unlimited, this past weekend. I have been meaning to learn how to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game for awhile now. I figured Pokémon would be a great entry level collectible card game for us to learn. After asking the ultimate parent question in this scenario:

“What do I need to play this game?”

The knowledgeable store staff directed us to a Pokémon Sun & Moon Trainer Kit. Priced at $10, the Trainer Kit comes with everything you need to learn how to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG). The kit includes:

  • A full 60-card deck that you split into two to play two player
  • Playmat (with rules on it)
  • Damage Counters (cardboard tokens)
  • Condition Markers
  • A Game Coin to flip to determine who goes first
  • And 2 Rule Books to teach you how to play your first game step-by-step

Our first game of Pokémon TCG.

Once home, we pulled out the instructions and got to playing. I was impressed at how easy the game is to learn. We ended up battling our Pokémon against each other in more than a few matches over the weekend.

Side Note: I was amused that one of the game’s rules is having to shake hands with your opponent prior to playing. This brought about a great opportunity to teach Wyatt about how men shake hands. Not too soft. Not too hard. Firm and determined.

Ready to play.

As a real man, I can admit that I got my butt kicked multiple times this weekend by a growing boy and his Pokémon. I am pleased that $10 provided the entertainment it did while allowing me to connect with Wyatt more. We’ll continue to play, refine our skills, and figure out the luck of the draw nature of the game. Who knows, maybe we’ll be ready to battle Team Rocket in the future… if we ever meet them.

Adoption Update – National Adoption Month 2019

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November is National Adoption Month. In church, we’ll typically show a video or two that highlight the need for adoptive families for children in foster care. Online, say on social media such as Facebook, you may see graphics highlighting the need like the one below released by Buckner International:

Tabitha and I are in the midst of the adoption process, as you may well know. A process, that we are finding, is filled with weeks and even months of silence. I was recently about to email our caseworker to see if her email address was working when she suddenly made contact. Our caseworker wanted us to know that she is still looking for us and has not found any potential matches.

If you look at the graphic above, you’ll see that there are 452 kids waiting to be adopted here in Longview. But note my previous paragraph, specifically the part where no match has been found for us, even though there are a supposed 452 kids waiting. I can’t help but get a little passionate. You’d think out of that 452, which are JUST here in Longview (not across the State of Texas even), there would be one child for us.

Having attended foster/adoption classes and being certified to adopt, I realize that there are many variables in this equation:

  • Siblings Groups
  • Level of Care (we are certified for basic level)
  • Special Needs (Behavioral, Physical, Learning, Risk Factors, Emotional, Medical, Developmental)

But at the same time, I bristle a bit at the above graphic. I understand that it communicates that there is a need for families. At the same time, the longer we spend in this process (which to be honest, hasn’t been super long, only since May), the more I see that the need is not so much for adoptive families but for families to support the system through foster care.

I would hope that during National Adoption Month, that you would indeed see that while the need is great, the need is also complicated. These kids are immersed in a complicated system… What drives me nuts is that I know that Tabitha and I can provide stability. We are here to fill that need in a child’s life. There are just so many variables, so many factors, between us and our potential son or daughter.

I am amazed that the system works.

I am discouraged over finding no one on the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange.

I am hanging onto the hope that the God who nudged Tabitha and I down this path is bigger than all of variables.

The End of a Father / Son Tradition – Pokémon Sword and Shield

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The release of Pokémon Sword & Shield today, on the Nintendo Switch, marks an end of an era for my son Wyatt and I.

Pokémon Sword & Shield

We first started playing Pokémon games together with the release of Pokémon X & Y–he had to have been in kindergarten, although I’m thinking more first grade.–. Armed with our 3DS systems, we’d encourage and compete against each other while playing through our separate games. Spending evenings battling each other to see who had the strongest Pokémon. I’d like to say that I won most of those matches, but I’d be lying. Wyatt is one tough Pokémon Trainer to beat.

I’ve been playing the Pokémon games since the original Pokémon Red & Blue debuted in the United States in 1998–crazy to think that I’ve been playing the same series for over two decades!–. I have owned and put time into:

  • Pokémon Red
  • Pokémon Diamond
  • Pokémon Platinum
  • Pokémon Black
  • Pokémon Y
  • Pokémon Moon

Across all of those hours spent catching Pokémon, I somehow never managed to complete a single game. Playing with Wyatt gave me the competitive edge I needed to push through. Pokémon Y was my first Pokémon game to see through to the credits. I thank my son for the accomplishment of FINALLY finishing a Pokémon game. All I wanted to do was crush a little boy’s dreams by finishing the game first, typical dad stuff, right? (Wyatt won, btw.)

We moved on and battled through Pokémon Sun & Moon. At some point, hours upon hours into the game, I gave up. Wyatt went ahead and finished the game. He then completed the follow up, Pokémon Ultra Sun, by himself. We still battled in the evenings. Nothing like Pokémon fighting between a father and son.

Pokémon Sun & Moon

With the release of Pokémon Sword & Shield, Nintendo has shifted the main series from the 3DS to the Nintendo Switch. In our house, we have a single Nintendo Switch console. I think that it is silly to buy another system just for the privilege of being able to play a Pokémon game. I will miss the memories and competition between Wyatt, our Pokémon, and I. Never forgetting the lesson that:

Kids have a ton of more time to play video games than a working adult. Never compete against a kid when time is required, Bryan, you’ll lose!

Coming to the end here, I am reminded of how long I’ve been playing video games with Wyatt. How I only have 8 years left with him until he graduates from high school… I hope we continue to play games together in some fashion; I can’t wait to show and introduce him to more.

An Unofficial Revival of Boys Club

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Wyatt wasn’t having the best of days yesterday. A combo of East Texas allergies and a knee injury at homeschool co-op had him snuffling/limping about. Tab ended up going to church alone to teach the kids (normally I tag along and help her). This Wednesday night though, I got to stay home with Wyatt and have a bit of an unofficial Boys Club revival. Two guys. All alone. What are we to do?

First, we kind of geeked out over a Star Wars trailer breakdown:

Second, we watched the Untitled Goose Game Gameplay Trailer. Wyatt just laughed. “We need this, dad.” I love listening to him laugh his deep belly laugh.

And then third, we played some Fortnite. I am still not a huge fan of the game. But recent changes have made the Chapter 2 update revolutionary for me (which means I’ll actually play with Wyatt now). The shooting, which always felt off/not good, feels dialed in now. I can shoot with the best of them and actually rack up a kill streak. Wyatt and I have consistently placed in the top ten playing duos. We even achieved our first Victory Royale over the weekend. Oh yeah!

Victory Royale!

Playing with Wyatt last night, I realized that we haven’t had a lot of one-on-one time lately. As we played Fornite, he talked. I learned about the video games kids at church are playing:

“Dad, so-and-so and so-and-so play Halo, but they aren’t allowed to play Fornite, isn’t Halo more violent?”

I smiled.

There is something about getting to hang out with him, one-on-one, that is super special. Tabitha is probably smiling as she reads this. At one point in my life, when she would leave, I’d put Wyatt to bed as quick as I could so that I could have some “me” time. God and the passage of time have worked to change me.

Was reading an article the other day that got me thinking about setting aside time to just spend with Wyatt. I liked this point:

Taking them out for breakfast. One much-loved tradition in our family is taking my children out for breakfast on Saturday mornings—one of them each week. It’s a tradition I have lost and revived and lost again and revived again. It is a tradition worth maintaining. The $10 or $20 expense and the time it takes pales in comparison to the investment in their lives. I will never regret our breakfast daddy dates.

Daddy dates. Going to think more on this one.

How do you make time to connect with your kids?

How did your parents make time to connect with you as a kid?

Let me know in the comments below.

Friday Night Movie – Iron Man

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Friday nights have become movie nights in the Hall household. We’ve been slowly working our way through the Marvel movies.

  • Iron Man (2008)
  • The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  • Iron Man 2 (2010)
  • Thor (2011)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
  • Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
  • Iron Man 3 (2013)
  • Thor: The Dark World (2013)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
  • Ant-Man (2015)
  • Captain America: Civil War (2016)
  • Doctor Strange (2016)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
  • Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
  • Black Panther (2018)
  • Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
  • Captain Marvel (2019)
  • Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Over the years, Wyatt and I have watched the first Thor and Captain America movies together (content-wise, these are pretty clean). This past summer, we watched Infinity War prior to watching Endgame. And then over the past few weeks, we’ve watched Far From Home before looping back around to watch Spider-Man: Homecoming. We have been all over the place! Tonight, we go back to the beginning with Iron Man. Thankful the local library has a chunk of the Marvel films to check out.

What’s your favorite Marvel movie? Have you gone back and watched any of the early films recently? Let me know in the comments below.

Adoption Update – I feel so frustrated

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Leaving church Sunday, someone walked up to Tab and I and asked how the adoption process is going. I replied, “I feel so frustrated.”

Photo by Park Troopers on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, we were sent an email from our adoption caseworker. The email contained a picture and a brief description of a little boy who is/was up for adoption. We were told that our home study had been submitted and to email our caseworker back if we were not interested. We didn’t email back. 🙂

Weeks went by, the deadline for caseworkers submitting interest in this little boy came and went. I followed up with our caseworker to see if she had heard anything, nope. Silence.

Another week went by, we received an email from our caseworker saying that we had not made the initial selection process. I felt gutted. So many questions filled my mind:

  • Were we not picked because of hold old Tab and I are?
  • Were we not picked because of the age different between Wyatt and this little boy?
  • Why?!?

I knew I couldn’t dwell in the land of why too long… so instead I kind of shut down.

It’s been about a week since we found out that we weren’t selected. This morning, I feel like I am waking up from a haze. With my mental fog clearing, I can tell that I’ve been distant with those I love, mourning someone I will never know.

There is something about a picture and a description that opens your mind to possibilities and dreams. Excitement about what could be is good; checking out when things don’t go as planned, not so good. I am learning through this adoption process. Learning about:

Trusting God when things don’t make sense / have gone off the rails

Strengthening my own personal mental armor / being stretched

Yes, I am still frustrated about the adoption process. But I realize that the word “process” is key. The process, the journey if you will, is helping prepare Tabitha, Wyatt, and I for the day we change from a family of three to a family of four. While my pessimism towards the process tells me that that day could be awhile off, I have to admit that I have no clue / it’s all out of my hands. Next week could bring a new email, a new child to dream about and consider.

Daily, I have to give this process to God. Let go. Let Him do His thing.

Until next time,

Bryan

 

 

Switching things up

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I had been meaning to talk with Tabitha about our evenings. I felt like we, as a family, had gotten into a bad habit of not interacting / watching television every night. Some of our passivity I understood, the Texas heat zaps you. Summer needs to end! But I felt like we could be more purposeful with our time.

Tabitha ended up approaching me first with the idea that we needed to turn off the TV. I had to have surprised her when I agreed. We then sat down and hashed out how our evenings will look moving forward. During the week:

  • Boardgames
  • Drawing lessons
  • Playing
  • Reading aloud
  • Family Devotions
  • Anything else non-electronic we can do together

We agreed to reduce our family television time down to one night a week. The weekends, we decided, will be more lax with screen time. Sunday afternoons are tailor made for movies and/or video games.

The Game of Life – Pirates of the Caribbean edition… Tab and I picked this up at Walt Disney World on our honeymoon. Game features ship-to-ship battles and a solid piratey theme. Makes the regular version of Life seem boring.

Loot

Somehow we ended up with a pirate themed game night. Loot (the card game above) was different.

Our first week was a success! We set aside a night for family devotions (10 minutes); we dove into some different boardgames (evidence above).

I picked up the first book in John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series to read aloud with Wyatt. We read two to three chapters a night before Wyatt heads off to bed for his own reading time. I’m trying to introduce him to new authors/series to feed his voracious reading appetite. Wyatt has also always loved Tab and I reading aloud to him (I hope this never ends). If I have learned anything as a dad, you can share your love of reading with your children. Just gotta read!

This week, I’m looking to try out a new devotional book for our devotional time: Marty Machowski’s Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What do your evenings look like with your family? Does the TV reign supreme? Ever thought of shaking things up? Let’s talk in the comments below!

From Across the Net – “The best parenting decision I ever made”

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Love this. Reminds me that I need to start up Boy’s Club again with Wyatt. Be purposeful.

When I was growing up a man in my church gave me perhaps the greatest gift I have ever received…weekly, uninterrupted, quality time. Mr. Zechman was a busy guy. He had four busy and successful daughters of his own. He was involved in our church and community in all sorts of ways. He had a demanding job and was a public figure in our town. He was the kind of guy who should not have had time for a goofy ninth grade boy like me. And yet he made time.

You can read more here

Spider-Man

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Marvel's Spider-Man

Spider-Man is a game I kept waiting to see fail. And yet, every story beat pushed the game to new heights. Had my wife and son not been sitting with me, when I finished the game, I think I would have cried. May’s talk with Peter, at the end, almost did me in. One of those moments, as a parent, where you know you have done a good job raising your kid.

Can’t wait to pick up the DLC and continue Spidey’s adventures!

Developer Insomniac wisely chose to focus the game not on Peter’s romantic pursuits but more on the qualities that enable us to relate to Peter Parker.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit

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You ever play something that just hits you wrong?

My wife and I are in the process of adoption. Don’t Nod Entertainment’s The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit reminded me of our foster/adoption training classes. A chunk of the stuff that parents get their kids taken away for = present in this game. As is:

  • The parent who is trying and failing to succeed/live life.
  • The kid who is alone, even though the parent is physically present (drunk/passed out), and has to take care of himself.

The superhero story veneer and child-lens softens the blow of what is a super depressing and potentially abusive situation. I’m thankful the game didn’t last long. Sad that kids have to deal with stuff like this when all they crave is stability and love.

Snowman showdown.

Never know what is going on inside a home.

Outside of his drinking, the dad in this story clearly cares. Check out the treehouse!

Because.

Never quite figured out what happened to the mom.

Seriously, I’m good.

From Across the Net – “What Does Your Dad Do?”

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This one is worth the read. Reminds me that the more I’ve learned to see/love my dad for who he is, the better my relationship with him has become.

Photo by Revolver Creative Company on Unsplash

My dad was a truck driver. Gone for a few days; home for a few days. A hard worker.

In an exhausted world that measures our worth by our performance; I want to learn to ask better questions. After all, what we do is not always an indication of what we’re like. Our output and achievements are not a reflection of our inner heart and character. Outward success does not necessarily equate to generosity, wisdom or courage.

You can read more here

Adoption Update – Level One A

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I was telling Tabitha last night that if adoption were a video game, we have finally reached the first level. The tutorial and character creation process were the initial first steps:

  • PRIDE Training (40 hours of state-mandated classes)
  • FBI Database Fingerprinting
  • Fire Inspection
  • Health Inspection
  • Home Study

With our home study approved, we are now certified by the State of Texas to adopt. We can now put in interest requests through the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange (TARE); we can also now go to meet up events (where you can interact with kids available for adoption) as well as have our caseworker alert us to children available for adoption who are not listed online.

The adoption process is weird. A mixture of buying a home and speed dating. Level One A, of the adoption game, looks like:

  • Looking through pictures of children in an online database
  • Going to a meet up event
  • Our caseworker notifying us of a potential match

After initial inquiries are made, which includes our caseworker “selling” another caseworker on our family via telephone conference (home buying), we then enter the speed dating phase. Level One B includes:

  • Our family driving to whichever region the potential child is located in and then going on a day outing with the child.
  • The following weekend, a follow up over night visit (probably in a hotel room, especially if the child lives out of town) with the child.
  • The following weekend after that, a day trip/overnight visit again?
  • Eventually these visits shift from being on neutral ground to the child coming to our house.

The biggest hurdle of Level One A is going to be finding a match. We have to agree on the match; our caseworker has to agree on the match. Already, we are learning that:

  • It’s good to have a caseworker who says no and is looking out for our family (versus just trying to place a child and move on).
  • That descriptions of children, on TARE, do not include all the details. Sometimes even surprising our caseworker…
  • That there are not a lot of younger kids (ages 7 and younger) up for adoption online.

Bottom Line: We know that God has a child in mind for us. We just have to wait, trust, and talk, as a family, through the adoption process.

I’ll keep y’all updated. Maybe not so much in this Level One A stage… but more IF we make it to Level One B. Prayers are appreciated.

Bryan