Quick note about the boss picture above. It was taken for us for FREE at the Unpolished Conference by our awesomely talented friend Jon Willis. He has this thing called the Simple Portrait Project where you can get some sweet photos like that for yourself.
Sometimes I Am 13 Years Old
When Jon and I were dating, I remember us saying that we wish we had met earlier. It would have been fun to play with each other as kids or to have done all of those absurd high school pranks together.
Now we understand that marriage actually gives us the opportunity, for better or for worse, to become very well acquainted with those younger versions of each other.
I have had conversations with five-year-old Jon. The little boy who made a paper crown for Lisa Dobbs and brought it to kindergarten only to be humiliated when she and Shelly Tsuji laughed at him. I have assured him that I am not Lisa Dobbs and I really like the stuff he makes for me.
Last Thursday, Jon got to spend a morning with 13-year-old Carrie.
On How I Hate Business Conferences
We were supposed to be at the Unpolished Conference at 9 am. Unpolished is a two-day conference on faith and entrepreneurship. I began the morning by pressing the snooze button 47 times. Then I was mad that I woke up late. Mad that I didn’t have time to run. Mad about wearing “nice” clothes and madder still that Jon was all cheerful and helpful with the kids. When he suggested that I bring my business cards to the conference, I lost it.
“An APP is NOT a BUSINESS, Jon! I don’t even know why we’re going to this STUPID conference anyway!”
I was 13. Stupid conference? My kids don’t even talk this way.
And here’s a really great thing that happened. He didn’t join me in my regression. He stayed 42. He invited me to sit down on the couch and pray. And then he told my 13-year-old-self that he thought she was valuable and talented, and that she has something inside her that the world needs. I was still kind of mad and I secretly decided that he was just making it up. I had read the explanation for this conference and it just wasn’t for me. I’m not ambitious. I’m not remarkably talented at ANYTHING. The thought that Jon wanted me to be something I’m not, terrified me.
I wanted to stay home and stay comfortable. I wanted to stay where I’m not going to fail or look like a fool. But I listened to what Jon said and then we left for the conference.
We got there two hours late, just in time to hear the end of Kirk Perry’s talk. And, dang it, he had to end with something great.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Part of why this quote struck me so powerfully was that our whole family had recently gone through what you might call a “Theodore Roosevelt Obsession”. It had started last year when our daughter was ill for several months. We learned that TR was a chronically sick child and we loved and admired his bravery in the face of it. “Teddy” became regular household conversation and we even started collecting mice that had been living in our attic. We let the girls keep them as pets just because Teddy did. I probably lost some of you right there.
So when Kirk Perry quoted a man who had become so dear to our hearts, I caved. I put up my white flag and allowed myself to be inspired, despite my lingering insecurities. I dared myself to believe that I don’t have to be the ‘cold and timid soul’. I began to think there was a place for me in the arena.
On How Maybe I Don’t Hate Business Conferences
During the afternoon, a new concept of “entrepreneur” began to emerge in my mind. I began to think of God as The Most Creative Person EVER, The First And Best Entrepreneur, The Ultimate Problem Solver. I began to see that Jon, in wanting us to make something together, was actually just joining God in what He is ALWAYS doing. I began to love (again) the thought of doing that as a family.
Then there was this motivational teacher guy, John Maxwell who talked about the qualities of an entrepreneur. As John Maxwell spoke, I began to understand some things about my husband that had never made sense to me before. Over the years, Jon has been consistently dissatisfied with what most Americans would consider a pretty great life. I’ve often resented this dissatisfaction. I’ve taken it personally or even considered it to be sin. This may sound silly because it’s so simple, but when Mr. Maxwell said “Average people want you to be average,” I was BLOWN AWAY. I began to see Jon’s ‘aversion to normalcy’ as a gift – to our family and to the world.
I started the day reluctant to even acknowledge that our company existed and 12 hours later I was our company’s evangelist for a conference pitch contest, proclaiming that RocketWagon exists to tell TRUTH to kids through stories. It was more than our attempt to win a $3000 prize. I like to think it was my step into the arena that my friend Teddy was talking about.
I think whenever I am faced with a situation that makes me feel inadequate, I shrink back down and become the girl that first felt that way. Thirteen.
I am lucky to have a man in my life who loves all of my ages. I’m grateful that he took the time to talk some sense into his adolescent wife, and I’m really glad she had just enough wisdom to listen. And to go to Unpolished. More on that later. I can’t wait to tell you about how Todd Henry WRECKED ME on Friday.
When she was into ridiculously long, golden hair, we were totally on top of it.
Singalong led by friends who are not above dressing up. Check.
Lite Brite name in ‘Tangled’ font. Check.
The year our kids spent ALL DAY EVERY DAY prowling around the house growling and eating out of bowls on the floor, it was a No-Brainer.
Face Paint. Check.
Deck Turned into Animal Pen. Check.
Actual animals in tutus. Check.
This year, however, she temporarily stumped us. She asked for an Otter Party, and we weren’t sure what to do for that. Pinterest, on that subject, was a BIG BLACK HOLE. I am here today to fill that hole. That’s why this is called “On How To Have An Otter Party”.
First of all, Otters play in the water. That is why we all love them. That, and the fact that they are not afraid of crocodiles. But Jon and I skipped the Crocodile-Fighting aspect of Otters, and went with the playful, slippery part of their personalities. For this, you MUST have a water slide. If you are not willing to have a water slide, we should probably just stop this conversation right here.
And you must not have a LAME-O water slide. Because Otters are NOT lame, and neither are your kids and their friends. We are going for something epic here, people.
So here we go. THESE ARE THE STEPS!!! I can hardly believe that I am telling you STEPS!! Because that makes me sound like some sort of an EXPERT or something!!
STEP NUMBER ONE: Measure your backyard. Ours was 60 feet.
STEP NUMBER TWO: Go to Lowe’s and buy some plastic. It will come in a box that looks like this:
Definitely make sure it says 6 Mil. on it. That means it is thick enough, I think. We bought 100 feet, but it also comes in 50 feet. Ours was like 50 bucks. Also at Lowes, you should buy garden staples and carpet tape if you don’t already have them at home. I will tell you in a minute what to do with those. Trust me on this.
STEP TWO: Go to Dollar Store and buy pool noodles. You will need enough to put down the sides and at the bottom. I think we bought 24!!! Holy Cow, it’s getting expensive, I know!! But you have to remember it’s totally worth it, you need to trust me. You do NOT need to buy your child a present, we NEVER do! So just remember, awesome slide or lame toy. We all know which is the correct answer here.
STEP THREE: Lay out plastic in your backyard. We had a big tarp to put at the end of it, so that is the big green thing at the end. If you have one of these it is a good idea, because it gets pretty muddy down there. Don’t go out and buy one, though! Let’s stick with the necessities. This is what our plastic looked like:
STEP FOUR: Take a board from your garage and roll the top of the tarp over it. This helps to keep the tarp anchored at the top.
STEP FIVE: Use the carpet tape (you could also use velcro for this) to attach the noodles to the sides. Put a noodle in and roll the plastic over it. We made it round at the bottom. Turn the whole thing over when you are done.
STEP SIX: See that bale of hay and the cardboard? This was such a brilliant move! In order to make a softer landing at the top of the water slide, we put down some straw, then put cardboard on top of that. It was a section about 15 ft long, I think. Then put the slide on top of the cardboard. I forgot to take a picture of us doing that, but you get the idea.
STEP SEVEN!! This is the last step! Use the garden staples to staple the plastic down! Then set up your sprinklers!! We used two, one at the top and one halfway down. We also used biodegradable soap on the slide.
Ok, so now I have told you how to make the slide. But as you remember, this post is not called “How to Make a Water Slide” but “How to Have an Otter Party”. So now we move into a brief section of Party Details.
DETAIL #1: The CAKE. The main thing I wanted Pinterest to tell me, which it did not, was what on earth to do about the cake. I found some very fancy cakes with sculpted Otters on top of them, but that was not what I was looking for. I was thinking simple. Not ‘LAME’, please don’t misunderstand me. ‘Simple yet pretty awesome’ is more what I was going for.
So this is what we came up with. Oyster cupcakes. Just stick a Madeline on top of an iced cupcake, and put a candy pearl or two under the Madeline. Now, before you tell me that River Otters don’t eat oysters, let me tell you they totally do. I’m not sure if river oysters have pearls or not, but we let that detail slide.
(At one point, before we came up with the Oyster cupcake idea, I suggested to my daughter that we make cupcakes that look like sea urchins, and she gently explained to me that “we are having a River Otter Party, Mommy. Sea urchins live in the sea”.) I thought that was so adorable that she said that, and I was like “O my gosh, of course.” Here is the best photo I have of the Oyster cupcakes.
DETAIL #2: These two things are VERY IMPORTANT!! DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!! Do you even know how much chaos and possible injury you are going to have if you don’t do this?! The two very necessary details I am talking about are called OTTER GUARDS. They are two older kids who know the rule (no walking on the slide!) and they each NEED TO HAVE A WHISTLE! No one will listen to them if they don’t have one. Also, they need a badge to let the other kids know who is in charge. We made badges, but then realized there was really no good way to attach it to them. It was way better just to tattoo them on with a marker. Now, being an Otter Guard is a VERY prestigious and respectable job and some of the other kids will definitely ask to become Otter Guards too and you may think “why not, the party’s almost over?”, but listen to me, people!! DO NOT LET THEM!! Tell them NO Way Jose!! I will not go into details now, you just need to trust me on this one.
We had our Otter Guards give a little Safety Camp (explaining how Corbett fell on the slide last night because she walked on it) at the beginning of the party. This worked out perfectly. The whole day was just fun and no injuries.
DETAIL #3: You should paint their faces. This is VERY easy. Just a little black nose and white whiskers. Everything is more fun with whiskers.
DETAIL #4: I almost forgot this. And it is not necessary, it’s only if you have a tree. You can make a sign that says “Otter River. Treat Otters the Way You Want To Be Treated”. Our neighbor said she read a book that was called that, and I thought it was SO CUTE and totally stole it. I also wrote that on our Favor bags, which I forgot to take a picture of. But you should definitely put Swedish Fish in the Favor bags. Another idea for Favors is Otter Pops!! My husband grew up in California and remembers these popsickles called Otter Pops and I tried to find them here in Ohio but they are NOT HERE. Anyway, here is our tree sign.
LAST DETAIL: I promise, this is the VERY FINAL THING!! The Otter guards also demonstrated to the younger girls how otters go down the slide: on their belly with their arms behind their back. It was so much fun to watch them all afternoon. They really did look like little Otters. And the VERY VERY FINAL thing is this: tubes help with kids who want a softer landing, and they worked really well. Not as authentically otter, but VERY fun. That is all. I will leave you with some pictures.
Disclaimer: This is more of a personal story, but it’s about how a family created something together, and since that’s what we are attempting to do with Rocketwagon, I think it’s okay to put it here.
My daughter has been strangely unwell all winter and when people have asked me how we are doing the only way I know how to describe it is to say that I feel like I am Bilbo with the Dwarves, stuck inside the mountain, the door that they came in has been destroyed, and the only way out leads past the dragon’s lair, so they are just endlessly waiting in the darkness.
And there’s no dragon down there, they just think there is, so they are terrified to go down and can’t go up. The only thing they can do is to sit and worry and wonder.
My tunnel has had a whole bunch of chicken noodle soup and Advil in it. And days that seem to be exactly the same. I sit beside my sweet girl and I miss her. I notice when she smiles, I used to notice when she didn’t.
I just stopped talking about it. I didn’t want to hear any more possible diagnoses, or suddenly cry when someone in Kroger asks me how she is. I think that’s when everything got so dark, and I began to forget what day it was. The Tunnel.
And then a little group of Penguins showed up in my darkness. They held out their little flippers and invited me to come back out.
One morning I came outside and found a sign in my yard that said “Penguins Wanted. Apply Within.”
I hoped that someone had the wrong house. And if they didn’t, I hoped they figured out soon that we used to be fun but now we’re just sad. I took the sign out of the yard and stuck it behind the bushes. I wasn’t in the mood for Penguins or nonsense signs. As I walked into the house, there was this faint little voice from some faraway place calling to me, almost like out of a dream. It said something like “Carrie . . . nonsense signs are one of your favorite things ever . . .”
I thought, “Not anymore, they aren’t,” and let the door slam behind me.
Over the next few days, Penguins began to show up. Running out the door for school, when Kalley was delighted (Mommy, look! Another one!), I was unmoved (that’s nice, get in the car). Until the morning I had already found a new Penguin, then opened the door a few minutes later and found yet another (that had NOT been there before) halfway to my door. He looked so intent on finding a job, and he won me over.
I brought him inside and examined him. His body was a dish soap bottle filled with black water, with a belly that was carefully painted white. His head was a black styrofoam ball with hot-glued on eyeballs and beak, and his little hat and scarf looked as if they had been sewed by someone who was experimenting with their first sewing machine. I immediately envisioned what had gone into creating this guy….paint, glue guns, eyeballs, cut-out beaks, first-time-sewer and fabric had created a huge mess in someone’s kitchen. I was stunned. This was not some silly prank; it was an act of love.
I had been able to avoid the run-ins at Kroger, pretending that I didn’t need to go down that aisle or studying the fake list in my hand. I had gladly made use of the “silent” button on my phone. I was not, however, prepared to guard myself against a whole group of handcrafted arctic birds showing up in my yard asking for jobs. This was not on my radar, a vulnerable place in my carefully planned defense.
The final penguin to appear offered not only an impressive cover letter and resume, but also an irresistible bribe (a gift certificate to ATavola, a restaurant that we can waddle to right down the street). I immediately gave him the management position, and consented to appoint the others to appropriate situations as well. When the final sign appeared, explaining that all of this was courtesy of the Zoeckler family, I texted Kristen that her penguins had awakened me from my self-imposed isolation and her response was, “We love you guys and could tell that you were hurting”.
I sat there in my living room, tearfully thankful to have a friend who was willing to mess up her kitchen for us. And not only that, one who recognized that sometimes nonsense is necessary.
Kristen and Geoff had commissioned their three girls with the task of being Secret Love Ninjas for a week. They had crept around the neighborhood on school nights for a ridiculous reason. It was absurd, preposterous, bizarre, and silly. And it was perfectly, beautifully RIGHT.
I don’t know if nonsense is one of those Love Languages, but maybe it should be, because it’s totally mine. Corbett is still not herself, and some days I still wonder if if there is a dragon in our future. But when I remember that I don’t have to cower in the darkness alone, I feel brave. I feel loved.
When you live in the tunnel, you start to forget who you are. Kristen had somehow understood that a ridiculous surprise would remind me. Those penguins stood in my yard and brought me back to the truth. I was humbled, comforted, and inspired.
Our family’s main creative goal right now is to create another app together, but I would love to try out the Secret Love Ninja racket sometime. This means that the inspired part of this story may show up in your front yard one day.
I am proud to say that our front yard is now the the site of the ONLY local Penguin Cafe (that I know of ). The service is very slow, most of the items on the menu contain fish (I was like “Fish Pancakes, No Thank you!!”), and the seating arrangements are slushy and cold. They do, however, serve hot chocolate (just ask them to hold the FISH) on snow days, which makes up for most of their aforementioned shortcomings.
I can look at Corbett in the rearview mirror and tell when she is re-playing a playground conversation in her head. I make her tell me what she’s thinking because no one ever made me do that. When she’s nervous, I try to expose her fears and tell her the truth. When she wonders who she is, I remind her. But O my GOSH. I did none of that today.
It started when I was utterly unable to understand why she didn’t want to jump out of bed and happily join me in my ten laps around the block. It was 45 degrees, no humidity. I couldn’t fathom how my daughter, my tiny self, wouldn’t want to run in that. After a block or so, I realized that maybe she was just hungry, since she had just woken up and not eaten, so I sat her on the porch with a granola bar and told her I would keep running and be back for her in 4 and a half minutes. Five minutes later, I felt like I was trying to run while pulling one of those toy ducks with big floppy, rubbery feet. She was lagging, her shoes were going FLOP FLOP FLOP on the sidewalk and I was like, “Corbett, what’s up with the feet?” We had a hasty lesson about stride. I was annoyed. No patient, persistent compassion. No mother’s intuition about what was happening on a deeper level. I didn’t care. I wanted her to run.
The day went on like this. I was impatient with Corbett while cleaning the house, making plans with friends, talking about what to do for Father’s day. I was frustrated with her indecision, her daydreaming, her inability to remember what I asked her to do, her lack of desire to run. (That last one was purely selfish, probably.) She got meek and I got mad. Finally, I went downstairs to talk to Jon about it.
I interrupted his work. Told him that we really need to figure out how to train some of the meekness out of this girl. Seriously, Jon. Maybe I need to sign her up for something. He smiled. He loves that little weirdo.
He never wanted to have kids and was devastated when we found out we were going to. He said he thought a lot of people have kids just because they can’t think of anything better to do, and he could think of plenty of things. Over that first year, I watched his despair turn into acceptance, followed by mild occasional interest. At some point along the way, around the ten or eleven month mark, he surrendered. He sent up the white flag and settled forever into that fierce enchantment that is a father’s love.
And today he did that thing that I think I always do. He reminded me of who she is. He knows. He has deliberately considered her identity because he is fervently devoted to her. He has intentionally examined her disposition, identified her genius, and recognized her fragility.
He reminded me that her indecision was partially because she was considering how everyone involved would feel about what she chose, that her daydreaming was probably because she was making up a poem or drawing a picture in her head, her inability to remember what I asked her to do was related to the daydreaming, and the running was because it was morning, and because running is just silly anyway. His face lit up when he was talking about her. He thinks she’s amazing. By the time I walked back up the stairs I was delighted with her again.
I am glad he’s her Dad. Understatement of the century. Happy Father’s Day, Jon. Sorry it’s late.