Will we ever know the answer?

chores_galoreForget about questions like, ‘what is the meaning of life’ and ‘what happened to Al Capone’ or ‘do all dogs go to heaven’? Can anyone answer the ancient and still troubling question that has baffled parents for centuries – Why don’t kids do their chores?

As a former kid myself you would think that I have this one figured out but sadly there appears to be a mental block that occurs around the time you turn twenty-five, have a wife, a house and a kid or two (or more). This mental block prevents us from understanding why kids ignore doing chores.

Is there also a mental block with logic that is ‘pre-installed’ in a child that tells them that keeping their room clean is pointless because the room will get trashed again anyway? Why would I sweep the floor if everyone is going to drop stuff on it? Isn’t the idea of taking out the trash antiquated in a ‘green’ world?

When I say things like, “You need to get your chore done,” I wonder if what they’re really hearing, ‘It’s a beautiful thing when our house looks and smells like it’s inhabited by a pod of hippos.’

How exactly does the simplest of instructions get lost in translation?

Some examples….

Can you clean your room please = Can you pile more laundry in the corners please it’s more appealing than your real rugs.

Do the dishes please = Lick your plate and your fork and stick it back in the cupboard.

Mow the lawn please = Take a nap; you look really tired from your long day of skipping classes.

Vacuum the carpets please = I haven’t seen you playing video games lately. Are you okay?

Wash the windows = Go hang out with your friends they need you more than that pet you haven’t fed in three weeks.

Scrub the toilets please = Let me give you five dollars. You deserve it for breathing.

Somehow kids have this peculiar and abnormal belief that parents have magical powers. Our magical powers include magical brooms, dustpans, dusters, sponges and vacuums under our spells that clean the house when we are out earning a living, running them to sports camps and practices, attending all of their school activities and cooking food to make them plump and content.

The only miracles and special powers that I have access to are the ones are restraint, long-suffering. These powers have kept me out of the headlines and off the evening news because there are times when I’m on the threshold of self-medicating myself and smoking a tailpipe until I’m out of the “Keep Calm – They Didn’t Do Their Chores Done Again” zone.

At what point do we as parents say, ‘I’m sick of being your live in maid. I’m sick of doing what I’ve asked you a million times to do. I’m sick of trying to teach you to be tidy. I’m sick of worrying sick that you don’t understand how this will benefit you.’

There are no easy solutions that I am aware of. We have been fighting the good fight for so long it no longer feels like a fight anymore it just feels like a joke and we are always the punchline. So until I find an answer to this tired old question I will be cleaning and tidying up after these blasted kids, just like every other underappreciated and tired parent who has ever lived on this earth.

Signed
Another disgruntled parent

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Because I’m Daddy!

Hat’s off to DJ LV for turning Pharrell’s hit “Happy” into his personal salute to fatherhood. Dad’s get a bad rap for a million things from not being a handyman to being an all-out deadbeat. But there are some guys out there trying their absolute best to be the best.

This one’s for you dad’s. And if you’re not so happy with your fatherly skills right now, it’s time to step up your game!

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No matter what you do you matter

My father was a teacher and a genealogist. My mother was a teacher and a seamstress. To
make ends meet my parents cleaned commercial properties. They emptied trash bins, they polished ash trays, and they scrubbed toilets, mopped floors and cleaned windows. From dawn until dusk my parents worked – hard. The only moment my parents were not working to earn a living, they were working to keep our house in order, our yard immaculate and their children scrubbed and respectable.

I grew up around kids whose parents were lawyers, doctors, businessmen and women, dentists. They were people from every walk of life, both blue-collar and white collar and in my crazy, egotistical and naïve mind I duped myself into believing a dirty little secret: my parents weren’t as cool as your parents because my parents don’t have cool jobs. Our family is not as cool as your family because we don’t have cool things like yours does. I’m embarrassed to bring my parents to school for “Career Day” because who wants to hear about scrubbing toilets?

Every evening while my friends were sitting down to a meal of lasagna and breadsticks or pizza for dinner we were lining up at the stove to get a helping of soup or fried mackerel, rice and brown gravy. While my friends were getting bikes and video games for Christmas under a bright tinsel tree me and my siblings were unwrapping clothes from the second hand store and toys with some other kids name on them.

Oh wretched life! Woe is me! Is there no justice in the world?

Every day I looked at every way to blame my parents for not being good enough workers who made good enough money to give us good enough things until all I could ever think about was all the ways that we just weren’t good enough.

Then Samoa happened.

And reality took a step back and kicked me right between the eyes.

My view of the world changed. My thought process was reformed. Not because my parents were suddenly millionaires and the stars were suddenly aligned for our family but because I stopped thinking about what we didn’t have as a family and concentrated instead on the things that we had in abundance.

I am embarrassed to think about the thoughts and emotions I had as a child. Even writing this post makes me recoil, my insides revolt to think that I ever felt and thought those things about parents who did everything within their power to give me a happy life.

In Samoa I was surrounded by families who were by every westernized definition of the word, poor. But they were happy and often content. Yes they longed for a better life but they did the best they could with what they had. Children ran about in threadbare clothes if they were available, barefoot and bursting with glee because they had families that loved them, they had enough food to fill their bellies from crops and livestock they grew and raised on their own.

As a teenager in Samoa I still had juvenile spats with my parents and I still had the teenage angst and the requisite chip on my shoulder that comes naturally to teens but my people and my birthright changed my perception of what matters and how my parents mattered so much more than what my childhood inexperience and idiocy once told me.

Societal stigmas from my childhood lied to me and I believed society because that is all I was willing to see, hear and learn. The culture and society of my youth, my Samoa, carved out those cancerous stigmas from the inside, purged them from my soul and replaced them with a genuine love for my parents, my family, my people, and my faith.

The lessons of my childhood and a portion of my youth have taught me in adulthood that the only stations and castes in life are the ones we create for each other. I am still burdened by my childhood thoughts even after all these years because if I had it in me then as a child to condemn my parents for being poor than is there somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind a place that is always going to place labels on the people in my life?

I don’t think so. In fact, I know so.

There is hope.

Hope comes to me whenever I feel the wrenching in my heart when I see an old soul sweeping up trash at a grocery store. Hope beckons to me whenever I quietly and privately shed tears for my parents who have passed on but whom I’m reminded of often when I see a woman rationing out a meal for her children or a man stalwartly walking along the side of the road to catch a bus in his white shirt and tie with the weight of the world resting on his brow.

No matter what my childhood self may have thought, I know now as I have always known that my parents mattered. My wife and my children matter. My siblings, my co-workers, my friends and extended family members matter. Every person in every walk of life matters no matter what the rest of the world may think of us.

On occasion I forget.

But it only takes a moment to see the struggle; to know that the struggle is real and what matters most is how we make people matter.

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Why dinner is still the most important meal of the day

alone at dinnerIf I could point to a time in my life when I was the happiest and the most miserable it would be dinner time in the Matua home. Why? Well because it was a time when I grew closer to my family but it was also a time when I felt my most vulnerable and my spirit was pliant because mom’s food was delicious and I loved the familiar banter.

Every night as our family gathered for our evening meal, my parents would engage us in the proceedings of the day. Like most American families, dinner time was a good time for catching up. Unlike most American families we grew up with one foot firmly rooted in mainstream Americana while the other foot stood persistently on traditional Samoan values. Everything in our lives, Samoan and American was also heavily influenced, entrenched and explained through my parents abiding love for God so our conversations were lighthearted but often became a tender teaching moment for our parents and a learning experience for us, their children.

There were of course times when the conversations veered toward more serious matters like missing homework assignments, teasing siblings and destroying the neighbors’ vegetable garden. These topics were grave and somber affairs in which the kalave elegi (fried mackerel and gravy over a bed of rice anyone?) went down in solid clumps because my throat constricted at the thought of being reprimanded or worse yet, being a disappointment to them. But even in those situations when I felt like I was at fault or the weight of the world was on my shoulders for neglecting a class project on a Monday that was due on Tuesday morning, my parents never made me feel as if the world teetered on the brink of extinction because of my failing grade in Social Sciences with Mrs. Eyring.

I miss those nights more than anything. Especially now that me and my siblings are essentially ‘orphans’ though in Samoan culture one is never truly without parental guidance because there are always aunties, uncles, grandparents and the like to step in with sage advice. There is something about good food and good company that eases tension, relaxes the mood. In that rarified moment when it seemed like the cares of the world were non-existent and the pressures of being an All-American kid in the Samoan skin suit seemed okay for the night, we talked, we shared, we laughed, we were taught and we felt complete as individuals and as a family.

I recall a particular moment when I was fighting with one of my siblings about some inconsequential thing that children often fight about when I reached over and smacked her as hard as I could. I was angry; infuriated really. It was that white hot anger that makes your breaths come in ragged gasps and for a brief moment there are white spots exploding like fireworks in the periphery of your vision and your heart is struggling to pump enough oxygen into your blood. It is that volatile, violent moment when your mind clicks off but your body is moving at hyper speed and all you want to do is destroy something or someone. It is the kind of anger that scares others, but for the angry one it also casts an dreadful fear in you because its clawing at your brain begging you to stop but you can’t because your anger is, at that very moment, a much more stronger emotion that you cannot control.

I have felt that anger many times. I felt it then when I smacked my sister with what I knew even then was very little provocation. My father was furious. My mother was appalled. She was cooking dinner. He had just come home from a long day of working two jobs to feed his family. As we all sat down for dinner I wondered if I was going to be sent out into the cold night to fend for myself. I felt the tension in my shoulders and could see it on my parents’ faces. My siblings were eagerly awaiting the pronouncement of my punishment. I felt as if I was sitting on a pin cushion and my head was about to explode.

The minutes ticked into eternity and my mom’s food tasted bland and cold in my mouth when dad finally stared down the long table at me, took a sip from his cup and then said in that familiar, rich baritone voice, “A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1).” He uttered the words in Samoan and then again in English and by the second time I finally caught the meaning of the Biblical phrase.

“I can tell you that you’re a bad kid and that you’re a horrible brother. But the truth is, you’re a good kid with a bad temper and you love your siblings but you don’t know how to show it,” dad said without breathing. I then realized that I wasn’t breathing along with him and neither was anyone else at the table.

“If you’re so mad that you don’t know how to deal with it,’ mom added, ‘you get out of this house and walk. You walk until your heart hurts worse than your feet. And when that happens, you come back and apologize for your behavior. Don’t you ever hit your brothers or your sisters again, do you hear me?”

I nodded my agreement because opening my mouth to say ‘yes’ would have resulted in a whimper of embarrassment. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks as I gulped down a bite of food and ventured a look at my dad.

He nodded back at me then said, “When you’re done you help your mom clean up, you take a shower then you take that walk. Okay?”

“Yes dad,” I tried to say but it sounded more like something a guy eating his teeth would sound like. And that was it. I had been chastised, warned and taught several very valuable lessons over dinner and not a single voice was lifted in emotion, not a single leather strap was used, not a single soul was torn apart or scarred but rather our spirits were buoyed up and challenged to be better.

I’ve taken many ‘angry walks’ in life. I had many wonderful dinners with my parents and we continue the tradition with my siblings to this day. I do it with my own sons and my lovely wife. We eat dinner. We talk. We laugh. We are taught and we learn. Dinner time is family time and it has slowly and surely slipped away from the landscape of our lives.

We are too busy. We are distracted by technology; telling a whole world of people who don’t care about us, things that we should be saying to the people whom we care about the most. We eat fast food because we’re in a hurry to get from one frivolous activity to another equally frivolous activity that we insist is building our children into good human beings but all the while we are just finding ways to squander away time until we no longer have enough time together to say what we’ve been typing into our Facebook Status.

What happened to dinner? What happened to sitting down together to discuss what is happening in the world and in the tiny worlds that we build around us? It’s gone but not forgotten and it can be recalled and reinstated if we just make the time.

Is dinner time still important? I might still be a flippant, angry, social pariah today had it not been for a simple dinner meal at a simple dinner table consumed by people who cared enough to share food and a thought for one another at a time when spiritual nourishment was equally as vital as the physical.

What are you having for dinner? I hope it includes memorable moments like mine.

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She hated Valentine’s Day

Actually, she loves Valentine’s Day – she just hates that it’s not celebrated with more fanfare in our home. She is surrounded by men she loves and yet, on Valentine’s Day she finds that the men in her life are hopeless in the romance department.

All year long she dotes over us; she cooks, she cleans, she fixes, she polishes, she fixes some more and she attends to us with the enthusiasm of a wife and mother. Yet on Valentine’s Day she watches with longing, restraint and I’m sure a bit of envy as her friends, sisters, mothers and strangers enjoy the day with lavish gifts, heartfelt prose, flowers and all sorts of extravagances fit for a queen.

But she never utters a complaint. She merely goes on doing what she has always done and so do we. She gives her love every day and we take it willingly and for granted.

Years ago when we were dating I went to extremes to make sure that she felt special on Valentine’s Day. But as our family grew, so too did the gap between romance and the pressures of every day life. What was once a feverish longing on my part to please her soon settled into the comfort and conformity of familiarity and a life of blaming, demanding and expecting. Rather than nurturing her love, consoling her in her grief, protecting her in her times of fear and treasuring her always I abandoned chivalry.

Why?

Because I’m a man which in a manner of speaking means that sometimes, many times we behave more like animals than we do like humans with feelings or emotions. Sometimes, we mistreat, ignore, defeat and mishandle the most precious and important relationships in our lives because we are selfish and inconsiderate. It’s not an excuse but rather a condemnation of what was and what we tell ourselves will always be. When I speak of taking her for granted I mean that I neglected my duty to love, to honor and to cherish her as her husband, friend and confidante.

Before I realized what had become of our love I had already traveled down a path marred by the pain of those who had gone the same way. And yet I soldiered on, blinded by my own ambition, by my own ignorance and by my selfish pride.  That I was headed for the same fate was of no consequence because in my deluded mind her love for me would always be strong.

But would it?

Fate is cruel. We reap what we sow. We get what we get and that’s the natural order of things. She never stopped loving me, she just didn’t love what I had become until what I had become simply became too much. She pushed back and in pushing back I felt something in my heart that was like a million intense pin pricks slowly bleeding me to death. It was agonizing but it was necessary.

They say when you break a bone and it’s not set properly that you have to break it again for it to grow back the right way and when it calcifies it becomes stronger. In a sense it’s what needed to happen to my spirit. My heart broke because I had let her down. Not just on Valentine’s Day but on every day since our first Valentine’s Day as husband and wife.

When the dust had settled and I had apologized, groveled and implored her to let me be the man she had married I renewed my commitment to love her in words and in deed. We are not perfect but I like to think that we love each other more every day than we ever have before.

It takes a lot of soul searching. It takes deep commitment and faith in yourself, in God and in the woman you love but it is possible to be a good man who is worthy of her love. I confess, Valentine’s Day still isn’t the greatest at our house and she may still hate it, but I tell her I love her as often as I can so that Valentine’s day is not just an obligatory overdose of frivolous outward signs of affection but a simple reminder of a deeper love and appreciation for her and the many things that we can do for each other that solidifies our love for one another.

Happy Valentine’s (every) Day my love. Here’s to you:

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Pure love is rare love

A mother loves us because we are her’s and that’s enough reason to love.

A father loves us because we have potential and because he is proud.

Some people will love us because we are like them and others will love us because we are not the same.

Some people love us because we are beautiful to look at while others will love us because we make them feel beautiful.

But what if someone loved you simply because they just can’t find a reason not to love you? What if they love us because loving you makes them feel alive no matter what your inabilities, your disabilities your capabilities? That’s exactly how sweet little Ace feels about her brother.

Love a little more today just because you can. This is pure love and pure love is rare.

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My USA Sevens 2014 Recap

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Saturday night I was feeling alright at the USA Sevens – Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV

Every year I look forward to the USA Sevens.

Every year it seems to get bigger.

Every year since it was moved to Las Vegas I feel cheated.

I realize that Vegas is all about gambling but watching quality rugby (even though its just the sevens code) is like a slot machine – you put a lot of money in and you rarely ever hit the jackpot. It no longer feels like the focus at the USA Sevens is about rugby but rather more like the by-product of another show that occasionally shows and talks about what’s happening on the field in between the dancing, singing and bawdy gyrating in the stands.

My disenfranchisement with the status quo grows every year with every endorsement plug, every overplayed sound byte, every sleepy Emcee who knows absolutely zilch about rugby and whose occasional “Owwww” and “Oohhhh” on a mic that should be turned off if he has no relative commentary to share with rugby mad fans who share seats with inebriated ones. There is nothing that can induce me to keep singing the same bars of “Sweet Caroline” over and over again year after year for three straight days if you can’t give me rugby that is worth swooning over.

The three-day format is still a stretch for me although I do like that on Sunday my day is over early (sometimes even earlier that the final whistle which has been at or about 3 p.m. for the past two years). But let’s face it Vegas – the real truth is that you want fans to stick around for three, sometimes four days because you want us to spend more money. You want drunks in the stands. You want us to stay in the stadium and buy from overpriced vendors that you’ve already fleeced so you tell us that we can no longer re-enter the stadium after we have gone out to eat more reasonably priced food. You also limit the items craft and retail vendors can sell because you want to push your own costly apparel.

The date change from it’s regular slot in February to January was met with immediate push back from the U.S. rugby community. If it’s not broke (I’m only referring to the date here because obviously a lot is broke) don’t fix it. Some people (myself included) plan their lives around that date so to change it and give us some lame excuses that don’t really add up just makes your planning (pun) seem all the more ridiculous.

Pricing is still outrageous and if you thought that we would get used to the “it is what it is” mentality and go on paying that price, look at your stands and count your gate revenue. If you made more than last year it sure didn’t look like it if you were up in the nose bleed seats just so you could lay out on an empty bench, soak up some intermittent rays and take a nap.

I was sad and my heart was bleeding when my beloved Manu Samoa Sevens team lost to the Canadian’s who by the way outclassed and outsmarted our boys in blue for the third place victory this weekend. But I’m more sad that the IRB, USA Rugby and USA Sevens aren’t listening to fans. Not the drunk ones who don’t really care what’s going on inside of the stadium so long as their Elvis suits are getting photo op’s and the beer is flowing freely but the real fans who are still wondering when you’re going to make this more about rugby and less about your bottom line. I mean, if the most important thing to you is what happens before, in between and after the rugby, than call it the “USA Party with a few invited rugby friends” and keep the same packaging but let someone else give us the rugby games.

Congratulations to South Africa for giving us another look at the future of Springbok and Blitzbokke rugby. Cecil Africa is still a dominating force and a cool customer but names like Branco du Preez and Frankie Horne are now the go-to-guys.

Congratulations to New Zealand who are always entertaining on the field and who are just one point shy of the lead in the HSBC Sevens World Series behind South Africa in the points table. DJ Forbes is a class act and by far the best captain in the sevens game.

They came up short this time around but every game the boys from Fiji play in is going to be an exciting one. Their flair with the ball is unlike any other team in sevens rugby and their speed is world class.

Samoa is blooding some new players at the right time but the inclusion of veterans Lio Lolo, Reupena Levasa and Tom Iosefo had as salivating for a cup final after missing out in the 2013 cup. But the loss of play-maker Sani Niue to suspension after a comeback win against Australia made it hard for the boys to get back to yet another championship under Vegas lights. On the bright side, if Samoa can keep this young group together and get more consistency out of Alatasi Tupou and more touches for Tulolo Tulolo and newcomers Fomai Ah Ki and Kelly Meafua we should be in good shape for the remainder of the Series.

The series moves on to Wellington, New Zealand where the home town favorites are expected to regain bragging rights after losing to Kenya in the semi finals last year and settling for third place after a victory over Samoa. But New Zealand will have a tough test against Fiji who have find themselves again fighting for the top spot in Pool B. Samoa on the other hand appears to be in the pool of death having to contend with Australia, upstarts Kenya who were in the Wellington Final a year ago and their Pacific Island cousins Tonga.

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