Category Archives: Parenting

Dad Leads Me on a Bullfrog Hunt at Dallenbachs

Dad and Me (ca 1969)

At dusk at the abandoned Dallenbachs quarry turned deep lake in East Brunswick, New Jersey, Dad and I turned our attention from the bluegills to the bullfrogs.  This was a new experience for me, and I was wide-eyed and expectant.  Enormous frogs croaked, a loud, deep, rumbling song.  Spying a bullfrog, Dad pounced just at the frog jumped under his shoe.  Dad felt so upset about hurting the frog.  I didn’t know what to do or feel.  I simply stood quietly, then followed, quietly, to the car.  Fifty years later, the memory has reappeared and found its way into this new poem.

Dad Leads Me on a Bullfrog Hunt at Dallenbachs

From reedy black bank-water emanated the rumbling
thrum that I knew, at four,
came from big bullfrogs. Even the bluegills

eluded our hooks, so we skulked the flank
because we could and because we were serious and excited
and on the hunt. I followed his point to two

gray spheres, an iceberg of frog flesh, its ears
metallic yellow discs just below. Two things
happened then, a concomitance in four

dimensions, the giant frog launching
a great leap, the big man’s
wet sneaker falling hard on the frog

sitting dazed, pink tongue bulging, while dad cussed
a grimace, I watched
and I listened and I knew both were

hurt, the soft body and the gentle mind,
and I did not move or speak
and I did not know what to feel

and I did not know how to help the bullfrog or
the father, hearing not a gravelly croak
on the long lake shore.

 

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

That Man

Grand Teton from Table Mountain, by Caleb Baker

Sitting in church I noticed a rough-looking man handling his three little boys with patience and kindness and gentleness.  He inspired me, and I felt filled with gratitude for the method of this man.  Those boys will know they are loved, that they matter.  Those boys will learn that kindness is the way of true manhood as they marry and raise their own children in turn.  My wish and prayer is for kindness to find ever more-frequent expression in this world.

THAT MAN

that man
over there
who ruffles one boy’s strawberry hair
and pats the older gently on the back
and kisses the littlest on top the head and whispers in his ear and smiles,
that man
will raise prophets
and kings
with his kindness

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure and magical farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Three Quilts

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All parents have had the experience of children wandering into their room late at night, afraid or disoriented, and asking, “Can I sleep with you?”  Rather than be angry or annoyed, we merely laid out the spare quilts, sewn by the children’s grandmothers.  And we all fell asleep again.  Waking early for work, I tip-toed over and around my sleeping children.  Home in the evening, their quilts lay on the floor like the discarded skins of pupaed caterpillars taken flight.  I hope you enjoy my poem memorializing that recollection.

THREE QUILTS

Three quilts lie in a corner of my room,
folded, again, neatly, again;
three queen-size quilts
sewn and tied by gifting grandmothers
who rest under blanketing memory,
leaving to me these warm tokens.

From night-sleep stupor,
I hear distantly the click of a switch, and a flush,
an apologetic knocking, and a whispered “Dad,”
more like the hiss of heavy breathing than a name.
In my knowing, I find the corners
of a folded quilt and toss it out its full length
upon the floor, by the bed, where there’s room.
I could order them back to their beds, but
there seems to always be room.

In the obscurity of my morning,
I have sense enough
to step gingerly over and around
the boys, asleep in their quilted cocoons;
my boys, rising each day
with a deep life-breath yawn and
a stretching of slumber-stiff limbs,
flying from their crumpled quilts,
like the discarded skins of metamorphosis, with
only air and sky ahead.

Shoe Shine Boxes

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ONB

When I was a boy, my father scrounged scraps of oak plank and made himself a beautiful shoe shine box, of his own design, with his initials “ONB” carved on one end and chiseled greenery on the other.  He made a similar box for me, bearing my initials “REB”.

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REB

As boys, my four sons often watched me shine my shoes, asking me if I would please shine theirs.  Then they began asking if they could use my shoe shine stuff to shine their own shoes. They have enjoyed using my shoe shine box during their boyhood years.

This Christmas I presented to each of my sons their own shoe shine box.  It was time for them to have their own, to carry on the tradition.  For lack of tools, time, and skill, I simplified the design.  But I still find their shoe shine boxes elegant.

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I had planned to make the shoe shine boxes over the Thanksgiving weekend while staying with my parents.  Caleb (16) asked if he could stay one night with me, so I decided to let him in on the secret and help.

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After Caleb left, Grandpa, the original shoe shine box carpenter, helped me finish the boys’ boxes.

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My sons may be the only living boys to have such shoe shine boxes, in a three-generation genealogy of shoe shine boxes, made by their father and grandfather.

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I hope my sons find years of enjoyment and pride in shining their shoes with their shoe shine boxes.  And who knows: perhaps they will make such boxes for their own children someday.

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I hope you will find a unique and meaningful way to connect with your sons and daughters, and to carry on the traditions of your generations.

Nativity

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The mere thought of adding to the Christmas repertoire intimidated me from making the attempt.  But one quiet evening, as Christmas approached, I began to think of the baby Jesus, and to hum.  I thought of the star and the heavenly choir, of the Magi and their gifts, and of Mary holding her child wrapped in rags.  The Christmas lullaby “Nativity” arose from my musings.  Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Nativity.  Sing it softly to your own little ones as you put them to bed.

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Dreaming

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My children, when they were young, liked to be put to bed with a song.  I composed many little lullabies and songs, some of which are posted on this blog.  I tried to compose tunes and lyrics that would sooth and inspire each child.  But sometimes I composed something to just make them smile and laugh.  “Dreaming” is one such song and contemplates a child’s nonsensical but humorous dreams, ending with mother’s call to wake up in the morning.  I hope you enjoy it! Click here for the sheet music: Dreaming.

Chapter 41: Of Marriage, Lies, and Promises

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–Marriage is a long, clumsy dance, with frequent stepping on toes.–

I sat on the couch next to Angie while she held baby Hyrum over her shoulder.  Feeling romantic, I put my arm around her neck and shoulders.  My hand alighted upon a cold, wet spot of vomited breast-milk on the burp cloth draped over her shoulder.  She laughed at how “romantic” it was.  I joined in the chuckle after a momentary shiver of “ew.” Continue reading

My Child

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When small children are feeling hurt–on the inside or on the outside–they need to know that they can turn to someone for comfort, acceptance, and love.  They need to know that there is someone they can trust.  With our big-person problems, it can be challenging to find patience for a little child’s hurt.  But we must.  We must show our children that they can trust us and that we will be here for them when need us.  Otherwise they turn to others, often less trustworthy, or attempt to bury their pain deep inside, where it festers.  I wrote the poem “My Child” when Erin first went to a church nursery class at 18 months old.  I sat on the floor in the corner of room, keeping as low a profile as possible while she interacted with the other children and adults.  Erin came to me a time or two when her anxiety overcame her tranquility.  When she felt safe, she ventured off to play again.  She has now ventured off into the wide world, though she checks in once in awhile.

MY CHILD

Small child
clinging to me.
Soft cheek against my roughness,
delicate arms draped over my drooping shoulders.
Soothe your fears.
Let your tears fall and
wet my sleeve.
Let your love flow and
seep into my craggy heart.

Soon healed, your troubles forgotten,
release and turn away to play,
a smile on your small-child face,
a greater love in me.

Baby Zebra

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I composed the little song “Baby Zebra” to help baby John go back to sleep, laying spread-eagle on my chest, when what he really wanted was for his mother to nurse him back to sleep.  He asked me for a “be-be ze-ba” song: Baby Zebra, and I obliged.  The animal “zebra” can be replaced by most any other land animal, including elephant, ostrich, horse (horsie), or pig (piggie).  Change a few words around and it can work for birds and dolphins, too.  I hope you enjoy the song.  Here is a link to the sheet music to Baby Zebra.  (This song is referenced in the post Chapter 30: Good-Bye Harv of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)

Remembering the Day (Lullaby)

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As Angie helped each child wind down to go to sleep over the years, she would sit on the side of their bed and ask, “What was your favorite part of the day?”  They would talk about watching a Monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, a picnic at the park, rollerskating, or a trip to see grandparents.  That question seemed the perfect opening line of a lullaby.  Walking on Rabbit Lane, I played around with a tune, and settled on beginning with my favorite interval, the octave (or perfect 8th).  The melody and lyrics came as the weeks and months clocked by.  This song celebrates all of the end-of-day conversations between parents and children about their special moments together.  Sing it alone to your child or as a parent-child dialog, with you and your child taking turns singing portions of the song to each other as indicated in the score found at the link below.  (For more on this song, see the post Chapter 24: Remembering the Day of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)

Remembering the Day

Across the Day

Each morning as I leave for work I cross paths with my children.  They each require a hug (or two or three) as I run out the door.  I am often late and anxious to get away.  Sometimes I protest, “Just let me go, guys” or “You already hugged me once” or “I’m just going to work.”  When I slow down and live more mindfully, I stop and put my briefcase on the floor to give them a genuine embrace and a smile and a kind word, perhaps “I love you” or “Have a great day”.  If I really pay attention to these moments of connection, I notice a subtle but distinct feeling of goodness and happiness, a sense that something in life has changed for the better.  This poem is about one of those moments when I suppressed my natural tendency to hurry on to the next task and allowed myself to slow down and see what really needing doing.  See the related Chapter 12: Worm Sign post of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.

ACROSS THE DAY

Down the stairs he stepped,
pulling up a pant leg
to expose to me
yesterday’s skinned knee
and today’s unabashed want
for tenderness.
“It still hurts,” he whimpered
as I flew toward the door
with my briefcase and bagel.
“And you forgot.”
With guilty remembrance, I stopped
and lifted him to a counter top.
With guilty haste I rummaged through a drawer
for a bandage and soothing ointment.
“It feels better already,” he sighed,
his smile following me
out the door, down the highway,
and across the day.

Sun Has Gone

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Hannah (8) has added me to her bedtime routine.  “I was wondering,” she begins, “if you could maybe sing me a few short songs tonight.”  I sit on the edge of her princess bed and sing her one of my little songs, or a song from my 1970 Mister Rogers’ Songbook, a prized if tattered possession.  A song only takes a minute.  But many nights I feel burdened and tired.  The thought of answering to one more child’s needs sometimes overwhelms me.  It’s just one song, I say to myself with a sigh, and succumb.  From the first note I feel glad that I didn’t give in to the excuse of being weary.  A song only takes a minute.  Here is one of my favorite songs.  I wrote it years ago in response to a child’s request for a song from Dad.  It is sweet, calming, and, best of all, short.  The perfect lullaby for nights when Dad just needs to say “good-night” and go be by himself, or go to bed.  I hope that you will sing it to your little ones.  If you are so inclined, sing it through twice.  A song only takes a minute.

Sun Has Gone

Little Baby (Lullaby)

Brian, my firstborn, suffered typical colic from about six weeks to about six months of age, always beginning at 6:00 p.m., it seemed.  A second year law student (and struggling with the stresses of law school), I frequently paced the living room floor trying to sooth the crying baby with gentle bounces, soft shushes, coos, and random soft melodies.  In Brian’s moments of calm slumber, I looked on his beautiful face and felt overcome with feelings of love, peace, beauty, and gratitude.  In these serene moments I began to compose a lullaby, metered to the my rocking arms.  Although Brian is now a 6-foot-4 24-year-old, I think of his once tiny form every time I sing this song.  Here it is for you to enjoy.  While I have titled it “Little Brian Baby” in my own book of music, for you I have titled it simply “Little Baby” and have added brackets in the lyrics indicating where you can insert the name of your child or grandchild as you sing. Enjoy this lullaby as you rock your precious little ones to sleep.  (To see the score, click on the link below.)

Little Baby

Chapter 9: Witch’s Tree

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–Desire teased spawns vice.–

My boots crunch loudly on Rabbit Lane’s loose gravel.  The noise reverberates in the air and in my brain and distracts me from the peaceful quiet of my surroundings.  I imagine the noise to be similar to that of chewing crisp carrots with tight earphones on.  I find myself wandering within the roadway in search of the path of least noise generation potential.  Part of me doesn’t want to startle the wildlife, which in turn startles me with a sudden rustling of wings or splashing of water.  I also don’t want to interfere with nature’s soft voices.  A bigger part of me simply doesn’t want to draw attention to myself, not even from the animals.  On Rabbit Lane, at least, I can be free of critical eyes and voices.  Still, even here, alone, I instinctively avoid the noise that would bring the attention of looks and whispers in other places. Continue reading

Come Walk with Me

Rabbit Lane-Laura

It was obvious to me that my daughter, Laura, was feeling emotional distress. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked.  “Nothing,” she replied, in typical hold-it-in fashion.  I put my arm around her and said, “Come walk with me on Rabbit Lane.”  We walked, she talked and cried, and I listened and did my best to buoy her up.  We have taken many walks on Rabbit Lane since.  Rabbit Lane has become more to me than an unremarkable little dirt country road.  It has become for me a place of contemplation, enlightenment, and healing.  I wrote this poem not only to remember the occasion of that walk with Laura, and of many other special walks with my family, but also as an invitation to you, my fellow travelers, to come walk with me down Rabbit Lane, as it were, in our respective journeys to understand, to grow, and to be the best men and women we can be.

COME WALK WITH ME

Come walk with me,
my child.
Come walk with me
down Rabbit Lane.
Tell me your troubles.
Tell me your fears.
Tell me your joys and your dreams.
Tell me everything
while we walk
past racing horses and cudding cattle,
past the llama guarding thick-wooled sheep,
past deep-green alfalfa and wispy golden grain,
past the skittish muskrat diving to its ditch-bank burrow,
past Monarch caterpillars poised on pink, perfumed milkweed flowers.
Come walk with me,
my child,
just you and me.
Come walk with me
down Rabbit Lane.

Chapter 8: Tracks in the Snow

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–Wherever I am, I find that the road stretches both ahead and behind.–

From the airport lighthouse shine alternating beams of white and green light, ghostly sweeping columns in the crystalline air against the undersides of low-hanging clouds.  Here, walking in this desert, I imagine a lighthouse perched on a craggy rock cliff, overlooking ocean waves beating themselves in ferocious crashes against the rock, and ships with trimmed sails rocking, taking on water, close to sinking, with frantic, frightened sailors looking to the light as to a savior, the only thing in the world they can cling to, trust in. Continue reading

Good Night My Dear (Lullaby)

I wrote this lullaby for Erin, my second child, to comfort her in her nighttime fears.  (See Rabbit Lane: Memoir page, Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse post).  (To see the song score, click on the link below.)

Good Night My Dear


Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.

Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse

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–Only small people seek to make other people feel small.–

Our first night in the country house, the children all slept in mom’s and dad’s room.  We offered this arrangement until they felt comfortable sleeping in their own rooms.  One night several weeks after moving to her own room, Erin (5) couldn’t sleep.

“Daddy,” Erin called in a loud whisper.

“What?” I moaned groggily after a moment.

“The lightning is keeping me awake.”

“What lightning?” I yawned.  “I don’t hear any lightning.”

“No—look—it’s flashing right now, without thunder or rain,” she persisted.

I pushed myself up onto an elbow with a groan. Continue reading