Dear Jack: You Made a Real Cobra Head Necklace and Wore It to School… So Yeah, That’s Pretty Awesome.

7 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

Unlike Indiana Jones, you are clearly not afraid of snakes.

Last week, you found an old key chain I brought back as a souvenir from Thailand, when I was in college. I had bought it from this man who professionally hunted and skinned snakes. He used the leftover heads for key chains.

Realizing you could disconnect the crystal arrowhead necklace that you got at Ruby Falls during Spring Break, you then replaced the arrowhead with the snake head.

In your own initiative, you had created a cobra head necklace and decided to wear it to school.

As you were leaving that morning for school, I assured you that you’d be the only boy in America to wear a real cobra head necklace to school.

No, this story doesn’t end with me saying that your teacher told you not to wear it to school anymore. You totally got away with wearing the head of a poisonous snake to school.

You came home and bragged to me, “Daddy, on two people thought my cobra snake wasn’t real!”

Coincidentally, just a few days later on Sunday, I had put your sister down for her afternoon nap and decided to take you to play in the creek at Brenthaven in Franklin.

As we were walking across the bridge over the creek, you and I both noticed something we assumed was a rope that had surfaced on a rock, in the middle of the stream.

But as we made our way closer, I announced to you with both caution and joy, “Jack, that’s a real snake!”

I tossed a few pieces of mulch at it- but it never budged. Then I tossed some rocks at it- it still never budged.

Finally, I found a stick long enough to pick it up with. It was obvious the snake was not only dead, but it had been dead there overnight.

You pointed out to me that its tail looked like it had been chewed up. My theory is that a neighborhood dog found the snake and broke its neck by slinging it like a whip, then the snake crawled onto the rock to die.

Turns out, it was either a venomous Cottonmouth or a harmless Brown Watersnake.

But since it was definitely dead, I let you throw rocks at it. I’m pretty sure you’ll remember that day as a highlight of your boyhood.

So yeah, you’re not afraid of snakes.

Love,

Daddy

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How My Stupid 2003 Selfie in Bangkok Foreshadowed the Appearance of My Campbell’s Soup Doppelganger in 2012

I spent the summer of 2003 teaching English in Nonthaburi, Thailand at Global English School; basically in the heart of Bangkok. That was before the days of Facebook and digital cameras. So I used disposable cameras to document my experience serving as an ESL teacher that summer.

As I was packing up during my final days there that July, getting ready for my next semester back at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, I felt the need to use up the last few shots on the roll of the last disposable camera.

Even though this happened pretty much exactly 14 years ago, I still remember it clearly. Perhaps I was even inspired by Zach Braff, the star of one of my favorite TV shows at the time, Scrubs.

I took a stupid selfie with that last shot on the disposable camera. Again, Facebook wasn’t a thing back then. So really, who would even be seeing the photo?

Until today, I forgot about that picture. But as I was thinking about my goal of meeting my doppelganger, who currently can be found on the cover of the package of Campbell’s Go Southwest Style Chicken with Quinoa soup, it hit me:

“Hey, my stupid 2003 Bangkok selfie is eerily similar to how my doppelganger has the same hairstyle and is looking to the side, with his mouth open.”

In other words, I did “the Cambell’s Go Southwest Style Chicken with Quinoa look” first, back in 2003. It would be nearly a decade later, in 2012, that the Campbell’s Go campaign would take place, and my unknown twin would do the much more famous version of the look.

However, I’m sure that when I got back from Thailand in the summer of 2003, my sister happened to see that silly photo I made of myself.

Perhaps it made it only that much easier for her to spot the package of soup at the grocery store and send me a picture of it, sincerely asking if that was me on the soup package.

I know this all might sound like I’m obsessing over finding and meeting my doppelganger, but that’s because… I am.

Dear Jack: I’m Feeling Guilty About Rushing Through Our Daily Routines

3 years, 11 months.

I’m Feeling Guilty About Rushing Through Our Routines

Dear Jack,

Last night I had a dream in which I could see myself rushing through our bedtime routine; which is pretty much what happened in real life last night.

In my subconcious, I guess I felt bad about not living in the moment enough.

Sometimes I wish we lived in some village in Thailand where we owned very little material things and had more quality time as a family.

On my conference call with Kirk Cameron yesterday, he referenced this guilt we have as parents in knowing the paradox of balancing a demanding schedule with quality family time.

So while I’m not being hard on myself, it is a real and legitimate issue than I am forced to think about.

Even today on the drive to school, I rushed us out of the house, rushed us down the Interstate, rushed you into school; only to forget your stuffed animal in car.

I left your school with you crying and was still a few minutes late to work anyway.

For my lunch break, I drove back to your school, just in time to deliver your stuffed animal to you for your nap time.

I’m Feeling Guilty About Rushing Through Our Routines

I know this is a normal feeling, but it’s really on my mind right now.

Granted, we’re in the process of selling our townhouse, moving our stuff into storage, and buying/building a new house.

By default, life is chaotic for us right now.

And your Mommy and I are actually planners! We are extremely aware of doing our best to ensure as much quality time together as possible.

We’re so extreme we don’t even have cable TV or smart phones or pets; and yet still, there’s that instinct for me to rush through our routines.

Maybe somehow this will get better once we move into our new house, I don’t know.

I don’t want to get in the habit of camping out in the future when the reality is, you’re growing up right in front of me.

Also on my call with Kirk Cameron yesterday, he spoke about the importance of not depending too much on our children’s teachers or coaches or even church leaders to raise our kids; that ultimately, if a child has parents who love each other and set the example, that influences a child more than anything.

So while life is not as easy I as I wish it could be, we’ll do the best with what we have and hope you turn out alright anyway.

I’m pretty sure you will.

Love,

Daddy

shoes family

dad from day one: Jack’s First White Christmas

Week 6.

During my first summer teaching English in Thailand, I took a week-long vacation to the magical island of Koh Samui, as referenced in the movie Meet the Parents (“Jack speak-a Thai?”).  While there, I went to a highly promoted (via hand-painted street banners) Muay Thai boxing tournament.  Inside the dimly lit warehouse-style building on the outskirts of legitimate commerce, I felt like I was part of the movie Bloodsport staring Jean Claude Van Damme.  Afterwards, as a souvenir, I cut down one of the street banners advertising the event and hung it up in my college dorm at Liberty University the next Fall.  Everyone who saw it laughed at the poor English translation: “Super and Real Fight”.  I mean, it was a real fight, and I would say it was super as well, but for the fight to be super and real in the same adjective phrase just sounds funny.  And that is why I couldn’t title this entry as “Jack’s First and White Christmas”.

In preparing our move from Nashville, TN to Fort Payne, AL (which is located between Birmingham, Chattanooga, and Atlanta), my wife (who is from Sacramento, CA) had asked me if it ever snowed in Alabama.  Though the words “snow” and “Alabama” seem like they don’t go together at all, though do. Just like a lot of people don’t realize that Alabama actually borders the Gulf of Mexico and has several beaches, like Gulf Shores.  I told my wife to expect it to snow a few inches, up to three times a year.  And sure enough, as we woke up around 6 AM Christmas morning to feed and change Jack, we looked out the window to see large snowflakes falling steadily.

A couple of hours later, we drove 0.7 miles to my parents’ house to spend the day with them and my sister and her husband.  Turns out, the snow didn’t stop falling and the temperature remained low.  So the seven of us ending up staying the weekend together, being that the roads were iced over.  One of the gifts my parents bought for Jack was a really cool wagon; ideally for when he gets older. However, when we started getting ready for bed on Christmas night and we were deciding where Jack should sleep, since we hadn’t packed his travel crib, I said, “Well, what about his wagon?” Not many people can say that their first Christmas was a white Christmas and that on top of that, that they slept in a wagon.  But I guess it’s not all that strange, being that we were celebrating a holiday where a baby boy slept in a manger.  We didn’t have a manger for Jack, but we did have a wagon.

Jack is swinging Christmas morning before we left for my parents' house.

We got snowed in.

Jack's presents from his parents.

Jack's presents from the family.

The Four Generations of Shells: Baby Jack is the only Shell boy to carry on the family name.

So Maybe I’m Allergic to Peanut Butter… in Large, Consistant Amounts

But not allergic to peanuts themselves.  Noted, I’m no doctor.

One of the darkest places in life for me is when I am throwing up- which only happens a few times each decade.  It’s that feeling of inescapable depression, like being a notches away from a sickly death- a hellish gravity so overwhelming that I tend to wonder if I will wake up as a ghost like Bruce Willis and not realize I’ve been dead the entire movie.  Usually I try to keep things a bit classier when I write, but in this case there is really no way around the fact that over the weekend I spent the hours from midnight until 4:30 AM constantly vomiting, only interrupted with sporadic periods of rest on the bathroom rug.  I understand that some people have never gotten food poisoning.  As for myself, I can easily think of my three worst occasions: The Central Park drive-thru in 1990, the shady Chinese buffet restaurant in 2007 (back when I still ate pork and shellfish), and the apple & peanut butter incident of 2010.

I don’t know; maybe getting food poisoning every couple of years is like getting stuck by lightening more than once in a lifetime.  Or maybe my digestive track is just ultra-sensitive to any food that is slightly less than proper and sanity.  But what I do know is that I am unable to digest slightly massive amounts of anything- even if it hasn’t been setting out in a Chinese buffet for three hours unattended. What clued me into my possible allergy to large, consistent amounts of peanut butter was my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup overdose of 2003, when I consumed 36 of them in less than 24 hours: I had just came back from spending a summer in Thailand where both peanut butter and rich, American chocolate are rare finds.  I experienced a major depression for the following two days along with a mild rash on my left wrist for the next six months.

Last week my choice snack every day was an apple with three tablespoons of peanut butter. So good- and seemingly healthy.  But I guess by Day 6 of this treat, which I made my lazy dinner Friday night, was just enough peanut butter in a week’s amount of digestion to throw my digestive track into shock.  Because this was the first time that after I puked up all my food from that evening, I puked up a thick yellow substance, then a thick green substance, then blood- and that pattern repeated a few times before I finally fell asleep until late morning. Eventually though, every single trace of peanut butter was erased from my body. Now, a few days later, I was able to eat my first meal with meat (tilapia, okra, and salad), though my voice is raspy from all the ralphing and my ribs hurt any time I cough or sneeze.

To my understanding and according to my self-diagnosis, I have survived yet another case of food poisoning- and surprisingly this time it didn’t involve a restaurant, but instead a good snack.  I’ve eaten a lot of peanuts in a week’s time and never had anything like this happen.  There must be something about the simple process of smashing the peanuts to turn them into butter than makes them slightly toxic to me.  Sure, I didn’t experience any of the typical symptoms of peanut butter allergies like swelling, but I just think it that peanut butter is smart enough of a food to hurt people in its own sneaky ways.

Lesson learned: From now on I’ll go light on the PB.

What Makes a Person “a Bad Parent”? (Being Your Child’s Friend Instead of Their Parent, Setting No Expectations, Not Being Consistent)

We all recognize the phrase; so now I’m going to talk about it.

One of my favorite TV shows to zone out to is Wife Swap.  Yes, it’s extremely over-the-top, it’s purposely corny, and the families they find to be on the show are never the least bit normal.  But I guess what intrigues me most about the reality show is that typically by the end of the episode, there are mutual accusations from the parents to each other to the effect of: “You’re a horrible parent!”  Of course, the word “horrible” can be replaced by “lazy”, “tyrannical”, “unfit”, or any word that I can not quite make out because the censors have bleeped it out.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about what makes a bad parent, whether it’s on the news, on a blog, or as a facebook comment.  It seems that in the likeness of someone “pulling the race card”, a trendy low-blow is for people to call each other a bad parent, sometimes finding a minor exception in another person’s otherwise “good parenting” record.  But sometimes it really is true- the person actually is a bad parent. So for the next venture for my accidental series What Makes a Person? , I asked for feedback from my facebook friends to try to help pinpoint what truly makes a person a bad parent. The actual feedback can be found underneath the picture of the Super Nanny at the very bottom of this post, but ultimately if I were to summarize it all, it amounts to this: “A bad parent is someone  who is not positively present in their child’s life, nor do they set expectations or follow through with discipline.”

Interestingly, most people didn’t bother mentioning child abuse, since that has nothing to do with parenting, but instead refers to a person who has psychological issues that need to be dealt with.  Obviously, abusing is not parenting. For most people I asked, it appears that when they think of “bad parenting”, what comes to mind is naturally “the lack of parenting”.  And a major part of defining the word “parenting” is discipline. So in order to explore the topic of bad parenting, it’s important for me to explore the evidently common occurrence of the lack of discipline in modern day parenting.

Recently I made a $10 bet with someone about how I will discipline my son when he is old enough to need it.  The bet is that I don’t have in it me to spank him, especially when he looks up at me with sad eyes and a quivering lip, knowing he deliberately disobeyed me.  But I do have it in me.  Call me old fashioned.  I take it as a compliment.

I have a large amount of experience in dealing with kids: I worked two summers as a camp counselor, two summers teaching English overseas in Thailand, and two years working in an after school program.  As much as I enjoyed it and found that I had a natural ability to mentor and teach children, when it came to disciplining students, this is what often went through my head, “Man, if that was my kid being disrespectful and acting out like that, they would be getting spanked by now.”

It’s becoming politically incorrect to spank your children; because of the extreme of actually abusing a child.  Super Nanny tries to lead by example in teaching us the new, trendy “time out” method.   So maybe I wasn’t raised politically correct because I was definitely spanked when I disobeyed as a kid; though not many times, because I got the point pretty quickly.  I’m old fashioned, so I take this verse in the Bible very seriously: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24).

I would imagine there are people out there who would say I am a bad parent for endorsing spanking instead of the much cooler “time out” method.  So to some people, I am a bad parent.  To others, I am being a good and responsible parent by carrying out discipline in the home.  And this divide of opinion shows how truly complicated the term “bad parent” is.

Children crave structure; no doubt about it.  They want to know what is expected of them.  They need to see discipline (whether it’s spanking, time-out, being grounded, etc.) actually carried out, not just simply used as a threat.  I am a good communicator.  Therefore, I will clearly communicate behavioral expectations I have for my kids; just as I will also clearly communicate my love for them and encourage their creativity, hobbies, and playtime.  I definitely understand the difference between being a kid’s parent, not their friend.

The way my parents raised me was very effective.  They were, and still are, ideal parents.  I want to duplicate the way they raised me.  And though they may have thought they didn’t know what they were doing at the time, they did indeed know what they were doing; they just didn’t know that they knew.

When I am at restaurants and grocery stores, I am always extremely observant of families with children.  These days it’s quite normal for kids to make a scene by having a temper tantrum when they don’t get exactly what they want, yet I still find well-mannered families in public that appear to be having fun.  So there are still kids who can behave in public. That’s what I want.  I look forward to doing what it takes to lead a happy, old-fashioned family.

Ultimately, this isn’t about whether or not parents should spank their children or even about discipline; because personally I truly don’t care about the issue unless it involves my own kids.  (So I sure hope that doesn’t become the distracting focus here, with people having a blog comment war on the topic of spanking.) The question I am seeking to answer is simply “What makes a person ‘a bad parent’?  Here’s what I came up with, based on observation, common sense, and help from my facebook friends:

Rules in Being a Bad Parent

1. Do not set expectations for your child.

2. Do not follow through with discipline nor be consistent with your words and actions.

3. Do not praise your child, pay attention to them, or spend time with them.

4. Let them decide for themselves the difference between right and wrong; Don’t force your own religious beliefs on them or live your life consistent to your religion.

5. Don’t worry about embarrassing your kid, speaking condescendingly to them, or calling them names, especially in public.  Because they will get over it.

6. Make sure they always like you, because most importantly, your job is to be your child’s best friend.

I think that I’ve always been a dad, I just didn’t have a kid until now.  I crave to raise well-mannered kids that are cool.  And though I have technically zero experience in that field so far, I can’t wait to prove it can be done.  So, Super Nanny, I will not be needing your help.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on John Mayer, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

Nick Shell It’s time to help me with another future website post. Answer me this: What makes a person “a bad parent”?

Wednesday at 6:52pm ·  ·  

    •  

      Jessica Y:  being irresponsible in front of your child. such as drinking, doing drugs, cussing out other people. basically setting a bad example fro your child. we all want our children to grow up better than we did so as a parent we should show them how to be better. 

      Wednesday at 7:02pm ·  ·  1 person
    •  

      Lee Ann L: I am more strict, so I think letting your child run wild is one. In the store or wherever. Keep an eye AND a hand on your child when they are little. Maybe that is just annoying to me, but letting a wee one walk yards ahead of you were they could easily get into traffic is life threatening. Personally, I do not think Marc or his ex OR her husband were good parents. I don’t really want to get into it here, but being too lax is part of it. UGH! I can feel my stomach acids flowing. 

      Wednesday at 7:08pm ·  ·  1 person
    •  

      Cyn Z:  Putting yourself before your kid(s). 

      Wednesday at 7:12pm ·  ·  2 people
    •  

      Hjordis C:  Child abuse and neglect! 

      Wednesday at 7:13pm · 
    •  

      Diana T: Just not accepting them for who they are. They’ll do things in their own time and on their own terms and love means accepting that no matter. 

      Wednesday at 7:15pm · 
    •  

      Crystal A:  I agree with Cyn and Hjordis. The two biggest things to me is putting yourself before your kids. Neglecting them and abusing them. They are a gift from God. We will raise our children to be the future. So we must take great care of them. 

      Wednesday at 7:16pm ·  ·  1 person
    •  

      Ferne E: I think a “good parent” is a person that takes an active role in their child’s life. They celebrate their successes, but bolster their confidence when they fail. A good parent encourages their child to explore their strengths, but to work even harder to overcome their weaknesses. They teach their child to love others and love themselves. A good parent puts their child’s safety first above being their friend. I’d say a “bad” parent would do the exact opposite. 

      Wednesday at 7:17pm ·  ·  3 people
    •  

      Crystal A: I love Bens answer. We must take an active role!!! 

      Wednesday at 7:18pm · 
    •  

      Bethany S:  I agree with Jessica that being irresponsible is something that makes you a bad parent. I think that there are many other things also that can make you a bad parent. Abusing or neglecting your child can make you a bad parent. Allowing someone else to abuse a child can make you a bad parent. Not raising a child to know God should be considered in the “bad parent” role according to the Bible. We should be an example of God that shows them how to be more like Him. 

      Wednesday at 7:19pm · 
    •  

      Alissa K:  being selfish with time, money, anything. 

      Wednesday at 7:21pm · 
    •  

      Krystin P: I agree with everything above. Another “bad parenting” habit is not being consistent. When your child doesn’t know where their boundaries are, they will be one of those out-of-control, trantrum-throwing, self-centered brats. And there is no one else to blame but the parent that did not train up the child right. 

      Wednesday at 7:22pm ·  ·  1 person
    •  

      Laura K: i teach mine to NEVER judge others and they wont be judged. to love unconditionally and to put others first. i do admit that they get their way sometimes but they know when i mean business… its my way! 

      Wednesday at 7:44pm · 
    •  

      Steven H:  Some one who isnt willing to sacrifice everything for the better of their children. i.e. — “since we had little jane i NEVER get to go out clubbing with my girls and i hate it. oh i only got 10 dollars and i need cigarettes and baby formula…. maybe her bottle will last her till tomorrow i need my smokes.” honest things i heard people say when i bagged at foodland. 

      Wednesday at 7:49pm ·  ·  1 person
    •  

      Sara H: Selfishness. You have to have a life and a relationship with your spouse outside of parenthood BUT you must always make sure your children are aware of how utterly important their happiness and sucess is to you. *dislaimer* I’m not a parent yet but I had great parents! 

      Wednesday at 8:00pm · 
    •  

      Laura T:  A bad parent is someone who is not there for the child either physically/mentally and emotionally……a parent who does not discipline their child or hold them accountable for their actions….a parent who does not have time for their child or puts their needs ahead of the child’s….you have to be a parent first and friend second…you ever watch “The Nanny”? OMG I can’t believe that parents let their kids get so out of control and they are ruling the roost. 

      Wednesday at 8:16pm · 
    •  

      Michelle C:
       

      Now, I can only speculate as I don’t have any children of my own yet, but my husband and I have decided that we are both too selfish with our own spare time that we are not ready for children. 

      This is actually kind of tricky because you do…See More

      Wednesday at 8:58pm · 
    •  

      Felisha H: A bad parent to me, which I don’t have children yet, but as I see it a bad parent is someone who is too much of a friend to their child instead of a leader. A good parent guides their children through life and brings them up to be good adults. 

      Wednesday at 9:16pm · 
    •  

      Jeremy D: A bad parent is one that dosen’t live a Godly life before their children and instruct them in the Word. Lord, help us all not to cause a child to stumble or be led astray. 

      Wednesday at 10:28pm ·  ·  1 person
    •  

      Sarah I:  Since I am at the same place in parenthood as you, Nick, I can’t really say much from a parents point of view yet, but as a teacher I would say that a parent who fights all their kids’ battles for them rather than equipping them with the skills to deal with things on their own is not good. A parent who spends all of his or her time trying to shelter children from consequences is not incredibly healthy. 

      Thursday at 3:45am ·  ·  1 person


Some Picture Examples of the Weird Houses I Dream About

From “mirror mazes” to “crazy mansions”, it’s often the wacky building itself that is creepy with its peculiar layout, strange placement, and whatnot.

In between bad dreams and good dreams are the ones that are just plain weird.  And while all dreams we have are a least a little strange, some of them specifically can not be classified as negative or positive; for me, I’m specifically referring to the dreams where I’m at an odd location.  It could be a dream taking place in the Swiss Alps (I still remember a dream I had in the 10th grade where I was greeted by a mountain goat on the top of a mountain in Switzerland- it wasn’t significant in any way, but I will never forget the randomness of it) or a remote village in Thailand that I barely remember driving through on a motorcycle from back in 2004.

But I would have to say the most subtle weird dreams are where I am in an unusual house, where it is so odd it’s almost spooky.  Like when I dreamt that 250 townhouses in the development were all attached: The only way to get to mine in the middle of them all was to crawl through hundreds of other people’s living rooms and kitchens, because evidently there were no front and back doors on everyone’s townhouses anymore- just two hidden exit doors for the entire 250 connected homes.

When we think of “spook houses”, our minds often go to some cheesy place we pay $10 to visit around Halloween called Slaughter House! where ultimately a subpar Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and gorilla with a chainsaw (with no blade) jump out at us in the same quarter of a mile stretch.  To me, those obvious caricatures of villains are not scary, because they’re so predictable and anticipated.  Take away the men in costumes, the motorized mummies that pop out from the wall, and the eerie sounds effects streaming from an iPod somewhere.  What’s left is a building.  That, to me, is where the potential lies for spookiness.

And I’m not even taking this to the extreme of an old abandoned house that is rumored to have spirits and ghosts.  I simply mean that the place has a weird layout in which the exits are not obvious.  It’s the idea that I could be lost- and I guess for me, being lost in a strange place is still scary, despite the fact I’m no longer an 8 year-old boy.

If you’ve ever dined at a Buca di Beppo restaurant, you know exactly what I mean: all the kooky black-and-white photographs on the wall, the spumoni type colors of the interior of the walls, the random LP records glued to the ceiling featuring unheard of Italian singers from the 1950’s.  The place is a maze; the first couple of times I went to the restaurant, I got lost finding the restroom, but I had trouble finding the table where I was sitting.

Much less scary than the reality of demons dwelling in abandoned buildings or even the cheap thrills of popular Halloween spook houses, there will always be the kooky and creepy dreams where I’m in a weird house and I don’t know how I got there.  And as for Buca di Beppa- though their Italian food is good stuff, man, their restaurant buildings give me the heeby jeebies.