Lessons Learned by a Dad of Four

I know, I know … it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to this blog, and many of you have been wondering, ” So Steve, why aren’t we hearing more from you about your newly expanded family and those sweet, cherubic children of yours?  When are we going to see more pictures and hear more about their humorous escapades?”  My typical response to this is, “I’m getting around to it, mom – be patient.”

All Four Kids
The Rempe crew, welcoming baby Matthew from the hospital.  (Note the princess dress.)

The truth is, the reason I haven’t written more about the madhouse I share with four children four and under is … well, I live in a madhouse that I share with four children four and under.  That is to say, waking moments at home tend to be spent (a) getting the kids to do something they don’t want to do; (b) getting the kids to stop doing something I don’t want them to do; (c) cleaning up after the kids following my failure to accomplish (b); or (d) recovering from my efforts on points (a), (b), and (c).

Yes, this is an exhausting stage in life, and one that doesn’t lend itself to evenings of quiet reflection in the parlor while sipping on a spot of Earl Grey and typing out thoughts on the ol’ Smith Corona.  At this point, the closest thing to a private study is my little cubicle at the office, where – if I’m lucky – I’m able to squeeze out a few moments a week to write once the day’s work is done, fueled by sugary beverages that allow me to ignore the lack of sleep I had the previous night.

This is not to complain, though.  Sleep deprivation aside, I love the life and challenges that come with being a dad of four.  And I readily acknowledge that when it comes to the challenges of parenting, my wife deals with much, much more than I do, and for longer periods of time.  (Although, in my defense, most of my friends of similar age have long since seen this effort-intensive period of child rearing fade from the rear-view mirror.  To which Beth would probably respond, “Well, stop giving me children.”  Fair point.)

Indeed, flying in the face of that old axiom, this old dog has actually learned some new tricks when it comes to parenting small children.  So, should any of you find yourselves raising a pack of little ones, here are few life lessons learned from this daddy of four.

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The Sign of the Van

I grew up two blocks from the corner of Grinn and Barret, which, looking back on it, seems a propos.

Along the road of life, there are sign posts – landmarks that tell you where you’ve been, where you are going, and just how long you’ve been on this crazy trip.

A couple of weeks ago, I passed a couple of those signs.  The first one said, “You Are Now Leaving Cool-Hipster-Parentville.  Thanks for Visiting!  Please Drive Safely.”  That sign was soon followed by another: “Welcome to Minivandom! Enjoy Your Stay!”*

Yes, the Rempe Family has made the move to the giant people-hauler as our primary mode of transportation.  It was a move made out of necessity – the old crossover (which was not a minivan, I continue to assert) was only built to allow three car seats.  (Actually, I’m pretty sure it was designed for two, but dad managed to squeeze all the kids into one row.)  With Rempe Offspring #4 (hope we can come up with a better name) due in less than two weeks, the time had come to get a more accommodating vehicle.  And when Beth nixed the idea of loading all the car seats in the back of a new pickup truck, the decision to cross into the Land of the Van was made.

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Preschooler Art: An Appreciation

Okay class, settle down.  Let’s get started.

Welcome to Art Appreciation 101 – An Introduction to Preschooler Art.  Today we will be looking at “mixed- and multi-medium expressionism,” an exploration of the many and varied artistic approaches that can be undertaken by a single artist.  Our case study for this session will be the young, upcoming artist Grace Rempe.

For starters, we need to acknowledge that Ms. Rempe’s art is quite controversial in certain circles.  Some critics have argued that many of her pieces (or, “projects,” as Grace likes to call them) consist solely of small objects taped or glued to pieces of paper or slightly larger objects.  Others have claimed that her art is acquired taste which is somewhat obtuse and hard to digest.  (Her younger brother Samuel is among these critics, having tasted and attempted to digest several of the artist’s works in the past.)

I would posit, however, that such analysis fails to take into account the subtleties of Ms. Rempe’s work.  Imbedded in her work is a celebration of the ordinary – an exaltation of the mundane.  In it, Grace displays the beauty implicit in everyday objects, and does so in a way that challenges societal conceptions of attractiveness and desirability.

Let’s examine a number of the artist’s works more closely.

Untitled, acrylic on canvas, circa. 2013 (Rempe Family Gallery, Virginia)

Slide number one is an early untitled piece.  Here, the artist issues a statement on conformity and segregation in an abstract, geometrical style borrowing from the art deco tradition.  Lines are straight and unyielding, yet the bleeding colors indicate the inability to restrain creativity, stretching beyond the intended confinement to other elements.  One can almost sense the tension as the cool blue, green, purple, and gray colors reach beyond their borders toward the more dangerous reds, oranges, and pinks.  Even at an early age, the artist is showing a willingness to challenge authority and upset cultural norms – themes that recur in the artist’s later work.

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An Announcement from the Blog

There comes a time in any marriage where a couple would be well-advised to sit down and evaluate what it is that is working and what isn’t working in their relationship; to determine what they do well together, as well as what it is that could stand attention.

So, as my lovely wife and I celebrate five years of wedded bliss, we look back at our lives together, and see a fantastic journey that includes many laughs, a few tears, and three wonderful kids who have changed our lives immeasurably for the better.  And despite the many sleep-deprived nights, metric tons of dirty diapers, and constant din that comes with having three active young children, I think most everyone who knows us would say that when it comes to producing offspring, we have done quite well.

What we aren’t very good at, apparently, is family planning.  Which is to say …

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Sailing the High Seas (Midwest-Style)

The following is the next installment of what is now the woefully, embarrassingly out-of-date travelogue of the 2013 Rempe vacation.  In today’s episode, we ferry ‘cross the Mersey Lake Michigan to visit the land of a thousand cheeses, and seventy-or-so cousins of Scandinavian descent.

Lake ExpressWhen it comes to traveling across this great country of ours, there is no shortage of modes of transportation available to the sojourner.  Each has it’s own particular charm and/or appeal.  There is, of course, the car – the very symbol of American independence – riding the highways and byways of the land and experiencing roadside America up close and personal.  There is the airplane – the fruit of Orville’s and Wilbur’s collective labors – which shortens travel time and offers the unique view of the land from 30,000 feet above.  There’s the romantic notion of “riding the rails” and reminiscing about a bygone era when the “iron horse” connected coast to coast.  (As Kipling famously wrote, “East is East, and West is West, and the twain runs on the twacks.”)  There are those who prefer to traverse on two wheels, with the wind in their faces and bugs in their teeth.  And, in some places,  there is the option to ride the waves, sailing across the country’s lakes and waterways.

Now, when traveling with small children, these options are reduced.  Motorcycling is right out – there’s no good way to put five people, no matter how small, on one bike, and even if there were, a bit of the biker mystique would certainly be lost in the process.  Flying is possible, but the thought of having to check three different car seats and at least one stroller in order to subject total strangers to my amped-up children in close quarters (not to mention the cost of doing so) usually causes me to break out in a rash.  The train is a great option – provided you’re going where the train is.  (They tend not to take detours to your aunt’s house.)  So, when all is said and done, we usually end up loading up the family car and pray that we can make the whole circuit without busting a fan belt.

However, when the opportunity to actually combine modes of transportation avails itself, it’s hard not to jump at the opportunity.  So when I learned that there was a ferry that ran from western Michigan to Milwaukee, I couldn’t say no.  (Also, there is the added benefit of not having to drive through Gary, Indiana, and not having to experience rush hour on the Dan Ryan Expressway.)  So with Wisconsin in our sights, we headed out to Muskegon to catch the Lake Express.

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Feeding My Addiction

Set scene: a dimly lit hallway in an elementary school on the edge of town.  It is evening, and the only visible sign of life is the janitor at the far end of the hall, whistling to himself as he prepares the old building for another school day.  Suddenly, a figure emerges from the shadows, carrying a worn leather briefcase.  He shuffles toward the one classroom that has light emanating from below the door.  He pauses to look at the initials scribbled crudely on the piece of notebook paper taped to the door – “F.F.P.A.”  He slowly opens the door, peers in, and announces his presence.

MAN 1: Um … hello?  Is this the right place?

A voice from the other side of the door replies.

MAN 2:  What are you looking for, my friend?

MAN 1:  I’m looking … for help, I guess.

MAN 2:  Then you’ve found the right place.  Come in.

The man enters the room.  As he steps into the light, he is revealed to be a man of middle-age.  He looks as if he might have been somewhat athletic in an earlier place in time, but those days are past.  The hair is a little grayer, and the stomach a little more pronounced.  He is sporting the stubble that comes from three days without shaving, and his bloodshot eyes reveal a lack of sleep.  The old, stained sweatpants bespeak a general disregard for cleanliness, let alone fashion.

MAN 2:  Please come join us.  Take a seat.

Inside the room, a half-dozen individuals sit on folding chairs arranged in a semi-circle.  Those assembled are also male – mostly in their 40s, although a one or two appear to be somewhat younger.  Several are wearing old football jerseys from years past, of players who were once heroes and legends, but have since faded into the woodwork of time.

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On the Road (or “The Tao of Travel”)

It has been said that the longest journey begins with a single step.  (I believe it was either Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu or the dad from the ’80s sitcom “Growing Pains,” I can’t remember which.)  In the case of the Rempe tour of the Midwest, it started with a few steps to the car, followed by nearly 12 hours of driving across six states (seven, if you count the two separate incursions into West Virginia).

The Rempe clan (sans photographer father) preparing to embark upon our journey.
The Rempe clan (sans photographer father) preparing to embark upon our journey.

There is a travel axiom that goes something like this: it is precisely at the psychological “point of no return” that you remember all the things you meant to pack, but didn’t.  For us, that point was somewhere around Rockville, Maryland; and the missing items were Caleb’s toilet seat, jackets for the boys, bibs, and a number of other small items meant to make the long drive a little more pleasant.  Fortunately, all of those things were either replaceable or insignificant, so we continued forward, hoping to land in our first destination (Fort Wayne, Indiana) at a reasonable time.

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