By Vijay S. Mann
My son was born last August. I’m a believer in the notion that everything happens for a reason at that time. I believe that this new being came here to challenge me, change me, and make me see the world and myself in new ways.
When he was born, I felt incredibly powerful and yet unimaginably vulnerable at the same time. It’s one thing to have the ability to create life, but it’s an entirely different thing to nurture and protect it. It’s like pulling your heart out of your body and letting it walk into the world. A beautiful yet ugly world.
A plethora of feelings rushed through me as I held him for the first time. The first one I remember was nervousness; he was so new and fragile and I didn’t want to hurt him in any way as I held him.
Then came elation. He was healthy, my wife was fine, and I was now a dad. Some time later, I was struck by a feeling of fright. I realized that this wasn’t about me anymore and that I was now responsible for another human being. I felt an incredible weight on my shoulders at that time, realizing that I was now responsible for the life, health, development, and happiness of another. I was now responsible for molding a good person, who is to be an asset to his family, community, and society in general.
How was I going to mold this person when I have so many faults of my own?
I had had these thoughts during the pregnancy, but now it was staring me in the face. Crying. I recall feeling shame as well. Shameful for believing that some of my freedom for being yanked from me and in turn, I was being handed responsibility.
How could I think that when I was gifted this child? Moreover, how could I think that knowing this was a decision I was a part of?
These brief yet disturbing thoughts quickly faded. I felt assured that everything would work out, as it always does.
I now carry with me a sense of appreciation. I appreciate the opportunity I have to raise a child, an opportunity many wish they had, but aren’t as fortunate. I also feel appreciation in that I have the chance to teach my son from my mistakes in hopes that he makes better decisions in his life. I think of him as my do-over. He’ll be a new and improved me. A better me than maybe I’ll ever be, or I hope to be.
In that respect, he’s already changing me. I feel a greater sense of calm now; a calm I don’t recall feeling before. This doesn’t mean that I’ll be walking around with an aura of serenity. There are a number of things that still trigger me. And there are new things to deal with. Among them are diaper-changes. As much as I love my child, I still have that “Oh shit” moment when I have to change him. Pun intended.
And there will be greater frustrations and challenges along the way, which will test my new found calmness. This is just the beginning. Life is now a road from Pampers to a university campus, and beyond. RESPs, birthdays, school, friends, heartbreaks and happiness, and everything in between await us.
What he will feel, I will feel as well. There will be the things I can’t foresee as well—things he’ll have to go through on his own. I’ve come to realize that I can do the best that I can as a parent and some things will be out of my control.
The central focus of my life is my child now. Every significant and perhaps not so significant thing I do now will have some effect on him. How I think, act, and speak will be of some consequence to my child. What I believe and value will be the beliefs and values my child will be raised upon.
I can’t help but to think about the film The Place Beyond the Pines. Decisions that parents make create the legacies they leave behind for their children. Fatherhood has become my most significant branching point and this one is indeed a branch; an addition to the family tree.
My life is forever altered through parenthood. It’s an experience that is making me a better person. I felt new life being breathed into me at that moment he was born. I experienced a kind of love that I never felt before; one not built on reciprocity, but one more selfless.
I once read that your children are something you love more than your own life and something you die for without a second thought. I can say that I understand this now. I have many hopes for him. My ultimate hope is that he becomes a person who lives with dignity for himself and compassion for others. This is now my duty.
This article was originally published on The Good Men Project.
Image courtesy of the author
It happens at least once a week. I’ll be walking somewhere with Eloise, my five year-old, and I’ll see a puddle ahead. Immediately I know I have a decision to make: Can she jump in it? Sadly, my instinct is to nearly always find a reason to say No. ‘You’re in your school uniform.’ ‘We need to keep those clothes clean.’ ‘You haven’t got your wellies on.’ The list goes on.
I know why this is. If she ends up wet and dirty, it’ll mean more work for me having to clean her up later. But other than when we’re on our way to school, there aren’t really many occasions when ending up soaked from a muddy puddle would be the end of the world.
So I’ve tried to lighten up on this front. On Sunday I took Eloise and Imogen—who’s nearly two—for a walk along a river with a friend before heading to a playground. Naively, I hadn’t anticipated the ground being as wet as it was and so neither of my girls had their wellies on.
When I saw all the mud and puddles, I tried at first to get them to avoid them, badgering them both to walk around them all. I quickly realized this was stupid, not to mention pointless. They were going to have so much more fun if I let them get on with it.
And so the puddle jumping commenced.
There’s something wonderful and freeing about not caring how dirty we get. I could see it in their faces. There wasn’t a single thought about everything needing to be washed later or getting cold from wearing damp clothes. They were simply reveling in the moment.
As adults, we rarely get to experience this. We’re always thinking about the consequences. This is mostly a good thing. But I’m wondering whether sometimes we need to learn from our kids, embrace the moment, and not care about what has to get cleaned or tidied later.
It’s very tempting to try to tame this non-caring in our kids. But I’m convinced it’s worth, sometimes at least, resisting that temptation. The sheer joy I see on my girls’ faces when they get to jump up and down, unrestrained, in muddy puddles is beyond precious. Why would I want to constantly deprive them of these moments?
Pretty much every time she see’s a puddle, Eloise gives me this delightful look that, without any words needing to be said, simply asks with such hope and anticipation: ‘Can I?’ And hard as it is sometimes, I’m trying to say Yes more and more. It’s good for her soul. And, who knows, maybe in becoming more relaxed about this, it’s good for mine too.
Maybe I still need to go further though. It’s one thing to give the OK to my girls getting dirty in muddy puddles, but what if I need to let go too? I know I’m meant to be respectable and grown up, but wouldn’t my girls love it if I joined in with them sometimes?
And that’s my new goal. Having decided to be more relaxed about my girls getting wet and dirty, I’m going to try and join in with them sometimes.
So, bring on the muddy puddles!
Photo: Flickr Scooter Lowrimore
This article came from Sam Radford on The Good Men Project
By Meika Rouda
I have a good friend who is single and in her early forties and wants to be a mom….now. She is divorced, just moved to the Bay Area leaving her comfortable apartment and lucrative career in New York. For two years she has tried to conceive both the natural way with different partners and with IVF so now it is time to move to the next phase which is adoption, just not the typical kind.
She would like to adopt a child but is worried she won’t qualify since she just moved cities and has no job currently. So she is going to adopt an embryo. The clinic she found near Sacramento will give you three tries for the price of one IVF cycle so it is a good deal. When she first told me about it I had trouble understanding why anyone would do this.
“Just go adopt a baby.” I said.
“I won’t qualify. Besides who will pick me, I am a single mom in my forties?”
“You will be picked, it might take time but you never know what resonates a birth mom. Or do the closed adoption route and get matched.”
“I still don’t think the state will approve my home study. I am living in a studio apartment the size of a closet and have no income.”
“You can get a job.”
“I will. But I also want to be pregnant, it is nice to have some control over how my child is growing in utero even if I have no biological connection.”
“So it is the same as adoption except you are giving birth.”
“Yes but I can bond with the baby while pregnant and make sure I am eating well and taking my pre-natals. You can’t make sure a birth mom is doing everything you might do if you were pregnant.”
This is a good point. A birth mom may not make the same choices you would if you were pregnant and giving birth is an amazing experience to share with your child.
Yet is also confounds me in many ways, how medicine has totally changed how we create families. It used to be adoption was the only other way to have children if you couldn’t conceive naturally, then IVF, then donor eggs and donor sperm and surrogacy and now both donor eggs and sperm and even then sometimes a surrogacy..
“Do you tell the child that you aren’t their biological parent?”
“I don’t know.”
When she went to the clinic the first time for her interview, she was given a questionnaire on profile characteristics for eggs and sperm; for her baby. She chose a very tall sperm donor because she is short and likes tall men and was open for her egg donor as long as she was healthy.
She was just matched yesterday with an embryo that has a 6’4 college student sperm and a 22 year old mixed Latina and white egg donor. This embryo is fertilized and is ready to go, just waiting to be placed into her uterus.
I was with her when she got the email describing her baby, “Mom is 5’3, dad is German and Irish 6’4…”. It felt a lot like reading a profile of a prospective adoption.
“Should I get two eggs implanted or one?” she asked.
“Do one and then if it doesn’t work, do two next time. You get three tries for the same price right.”
So that is the plan. Next month, this embryo will be implanted into my friend and hopefully by Mother’s day next year she will be a mom. And if it doesn’t work she still has two more tries for the price of one. You don’t get that in adoption.
By Meika Rouda
I heard a story on the radio the other day that made me cry. It was on StoryCorps, an amazing program of personal stories, recorded and archived through the Library of Congress. It is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind and is open to the general public for free. This particular story was a father being interviewed by his ten-year-old daughter. She was asking him about what made him decide to adopt a child.
“I want to tell you something. You have absolutely changed my life. The most interesting thing for me was the idea of the Red Thread. In Chinese adoptions and in the Chinese culture the Red Thread means that we are, with our souls, connected to a specific person. And we got you. And I am so pleased that you’re part of my life. I just love you so much.”
I had never heard about the red thread before. It is such a simple idea that I know every adopted parent would agree with. We are bound in a predetermined sense with our children, adopted or not. When you adopt a child, it does feel like a soul connection. A connection so strong and so much larger than yourself, it feels destined. It also truly simplifies the complex reasons for adoption, that sometimes people can’t get pregnant while other people may not be able to parent at a certain time in their lives. Adoption is complex, but when I am explaining to my five-year-old why he was adopted, I think the red thread is a beautiful metaphor for the invisible link we feel with our children. While I don’t want to oversimplify it, I know there is plenty of time in the future to discuss the details and feelings of his adoption. For now, while he is five, there is the red thread.
By Meika Rouda
Lately I have been posed with the Do I mention my kids were adopted or not? quandry. I was at the dentist the other day and my hygienist who I have been seeing for the past few years was looking a little round in the belly. She is a little younger than me, smiley, always cheerful and I wanted to ask “are you pregnant?” but knew better. Maybe she had a huge lunch? Isn’t that what the celebs complain about when Star magazine says they are pregnant but really they just had a bowl of pasta and are bloated? Anyway, while my mouth was hanging open, I noticed the engagement ring on her finger and managed to say “You are engaged; congrats!” She smiled and said “and I’m having a baby in May.” She rubbed her belly. “I noticed you were a little rounder but didn’t want to say anything just in case.” She laughed. “I have had the strangest cravings! Licorice, something I don’t even like usually, I just can’t get enough. It is so strange. I feel like my body has been invaded.” She is talking to me while poking at my gums. I can’t say anything because I have a suction tube in my mouth so she continues. “And apples, this baby, oh he is a boy, he just loves apples. How were your pregnancies? Did you have any strange cravings?” This is when I have to think, do I just say “my pregnancies were easy”? (which they were since I never was pregnant). It is a half-ish truth but evades the issues. Or do I just say “I never was pregnant, we adopted both of our kids.” As is my tendency, I went with the latter. She looked at me and said “Oh- I forgot, you told me that before. So you did have easy pregnancies then!” And then inevitably the conversation switched from pregnancy to adoption. How long it took. How she knows a friend who has been waiting forever for a baby. How she knows someone who adopted form China. I wish we could just talk about pregnancy and not worry about that fact that I didn’t give birth. It isn’t a delicate subject to me but I can’t really explain that to my hygienist.
Later that same day I was at school picking up my son who I have mentioned before is tiny. As he was playing with another boy from his class on the playground, the boy’s mom said to me “he is so strong for being so small.” Kaden has mastered the monkey bars even though he is the size of a 3-year-old. It is amazing to watch him. “Yes, he is.” She turned to me and said “Well, you and Chris are tall so he will have had a growth spurt. At least you don’t have to worry.” Then of course I just had to pipe in and say “Actually, he may be small. Both of our kids were adopted and his birth mom was only 4’11″. ” She looks at me wide eyed and I realize she is shocked. It just never occurred to her that he was adopted and why should it? I didn’t mean to be so forthcoming; it is just the truth and I know my son will be in school with these kids for the next eight years so why not be straight up? Plus if I am coy about adoption that makes me feel like there is something to be ashamed of and I don’t feel that way. I feel like it is something to share and celebrate. So I am going to tell. Even if it makes people uncomfortable, that is their issue not mine.
By: Brandy Black
This weekend I did the thing I’ve always feared I would. I may have created that 4-year-old memory that my oldest daughter will remind me of for years to come. Nope, she won’t remember the Nutcracker or sitting around the living room singing Christmas carols, or picnics in her bedroom. She’ll say, “Remember that time Mama, when we showed up 3 hours late to my friend’s birthday party, remember how everyone was leaving as we were arriving, remember how heartbroken I was? Remember how you stole my moment by crying even harder than I was so much so that I stopped to console you?” She won’t remember the part about her first soccer medal that day and dessert before lunch and fun times at Kidspace or the little white bag of treats I put together for her so that she could feel like she got the goodie bag from the party that I botched! Nope, she’ll simply remember that horrifying moment when one of her friends was shouting “Everyone’s leaving, the party’s over.” And I will remember her tiny hand in mine squeezing tightly and the utterly sad look on her face.
I have tried to avoid these moments as a mom; I swear I attempt to elude them so much these days that I’m terrified to volunteer to be snack mom or anything else for fear that I’ll fuck it up like I did Shabbat the other day when I stood around with the other moms wondering who in the world would forget their child was Shabbat girl until suddenly it hit me, it was ME! Thankfully Sophia missed that part, had no idea what a true failure I am and the teachers protected me from the wrath of the children by getting another class to share with us –but how horrible am I? I handled that well; I realized people mess up, we’ve got a lot going on in our life but this time, this party, it just broke me. I’m becoming overwhelmed and it’s all I can do to get through the day. When I think back to this past year, I hardly remember any of it. Sometimes I don’t know how I got my children from point A to point B, I just do it, I wake up and do what my iphone and my wife and our au pair tell me to. I convince people that I’m in charge and I know what’s what and I’ve got this three kid thing licked but the truth is I’m a mess. I fear people are judging me, well let’s face it, I’m sure they are but mostly I fear my children are going to hate me for all my mistakes. I want to be perfect for them, to show them what a good mom I am but I realized at the end of the night when I was tucking my daughter in and apologizing one last time, that my imperfections will one day help her get through hers and when she’s sad because something has gone wrong, I will remind her of my bad days and failures and this I hope will help her through her day.
Or maybe this is what I tell myself in order to get through my own.
By Meika Rouda
Last Friday I did something I never thought I would do. I signed up for a parenting class. It isn’t that I am against advice; I have a whole library of parenting books including “How To Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk,” “Parenting the Difficult Child,” and “The Wonder of Boys.” Still, no matter how much I read, no matter the arsenal of tools at my disposal, I still get frustrated, exhausted, and impatient. The newest cause for alarm is that my almost two-year-old daughter is talking, in full sentences. This has drastically altered my son’s world because before, when they would play together in their room while I was doing dishes or cleaning up or doing other mundane household chores, if I heard Asha crying I would only have his story to depend on for what happened. “Kaden, what happened?” He looks at me, big eyes, innocent stare “She fell down!” Then I would pick up the crying baby and console her, wondering how she “fell down” when they were playing on the floor and take her into the kitchen with me. Now, when they are playing and I hear crying I go in and I have Kaden’s version “She hit herself on the head!” and her version “Kaden hit me!” It is clear who is telling the more accurate account. I am troubled by him not telling the truth which I think all kids do when they have done something wrong and don’t want to fess up to it. When I get to the bottom of the dispute it usually has to do with the same theme, she got in his way while he was playing cars or she took the car he was playing with so he had to pry it out of her iron grip. I feel like a broken record reminding him “use your words” instead of force. She is stubborn and strong, traits probably mastered by having a big brother and needing to defend her space, but I would like to feel like they can play together, which they do often and happily, and not worry that it will always result in crying. So the workshop I signed up for is “Siblings Without Rivalry.” This is my hope for the workshop, that I will have special voodoo powers that make my children stop fighting with just one look or that they listen to me, the first time, when I ask them to stop fighting and yelling at each other. Or when my daughter sits on my lap, gives me a hug and declares “My mommy!” My son won’t run over, yank her off my lap by the neck and then sit on my lap yelling “My mommy!” Then they both start pulling at my arms screaming at each other “My mommy!” “No! My mommy!” My hope is that after this workshop they will both share my lap and hug me taking turns and say “Our mommy!”
Is it possible? I’ll let you know after my class tonight- stay tuned!
By: Meika Rouda
I was stunned. It actually stung me to the core. I had never heard him say the word “hate” before. Lately he has been telling me “you are mean” when he doesn’t get his way, something we are working on but truthfully in his mind, I am being mean when he wants a second ice cream and doesn’t get it. But hate is a new level. Does he know what hate is? Has someone said this to him? Where do I begin to address this? And since we try to follow a philosophy of talking about feelings, expressing how one feels, how do I incorporate hate into his vocabulary in a positive way?
Since I was being reactionary I first told him hate is a strong word. That we don’t use that word for people and that it hurts my feelings when he says that. I then tried to explain what hate is. Hate is a a word for things that you strongly dislike. It is an angry word, often said when one doesn’t really mean it. But then I felt like I was arming him with a word he will want to use, he now knows it has a strong meaning, that it does hurt me. Then I told him that I love him no matter what, even if he thinks he hates me.
Later in the kitchen after our son finally went to bed, my husband told me how surprised he was to hear the word hate come from our son. “I never in my life said I hated my parents.” My husband comes from, ironically, a strict yet hippie background where feelings were not expressed and yet children were treated like adults from Day One. He was raised in a mutually respectful home where the word hate was outlawed. I, on the other hand, have yelled at my parents countless times as a child and have even said I hated them when I was an unruly teenager, seeking love and attention. I don’t think my 4-year-old has any idea of what the word hate means. I know this is just the first of other incidents where he will be upset with me and express himself in hurtful ways. And I want him to express himself, it is vital that he tells me how he feels, that he puts a name to his feeling but I have to remind him that when he thinks he hates me, he is actually just frustrated that he isn’t getting another book. Or when I am mean because I am not buying him a toy, he is actually feeling sad or mad or a host of emotions that are difficult to navigate at his young age. And I have to remind myself not to take it personally even when it hurts.
By Meika Rouda
I have been struck by the duality of age recently. On the one side, I am watching my kids get older, and with each day there is something new: an inch to grow, a new word to learn, a bike to ride. On the other side I see my parents aging: saggy skin, muscles that don’t work they way they used to, dying friends. They are on opposite sides of the spectrum, one side ascending and the other descending. Yet they both greet each new day with delight, happy to be here, to be alive.
My parents are 78 and in wonderful shape physically and mentally, but time has chiseled its imprint on their bodies and they are slower, less energetic. They have ailments like chronic coughing and digestive problems. Nothing major but things that remind them they are approaching a later stage in life, where they have outlived many of their friends and other family members. I am grateful my parents are alive and they are not sick or struggling, that I get to see them often, that my children spend time with them and have gotten to know them. And yet it makes me sad to see them change, to know that maybe in the best case scenario there is only a good decade left before they leave us. To wonder what it will be like to not have parents anymore or worse perhaps, to lose the parent I know while they are still living. I am fearful of them having dementia and being captive in bodies that still work but minds that don’t.
I’m not ready for my parents to die. I have never known life without them. They are the people I call with good news and bad. The ones who I have leaned on many times in my life and have always comforted me, reassured me, supported me when I have needed it.
And now I am a parent and filling this role for my children. My children who too are aging and it is a joyful aging process, from babies to toddlers to kids.
I am in the middle, middle age, neither young nor old, bridging these two generations watching one decline and the other rise.
My dad has a saying that helps me keep it all in perspective. If you ask someone if they would like to live forever, most people would say yes. If you ask that same person if would they like to live forever but no new babies would be born, they all say no. If no new generations were to grace the earth in order for them to continue living, it would not be worth it. And that is what I see when I look at my children next to my parents. A full circle, a full life, another day to celebrate.
By Meika Rouda
My son has a lot of energy. I know most 4-year-old boys have a lot of energy, everyone out there with one is going “oh, you should see MY son.” But my son has more than the average 4-year-old. He is loud, without even realizing how loud he is. And he talks or sings or chats constantly, a continuous stream of sound. Sometimes I feel like I am going mad and I realize it is because I live with noise pollution. It isn’t horrible, I love hearing his songs, how he makes up lyrics or asks insightful questions. He is exuberant, expressive, and lives life to the fullest…volume. He has no filter yet, no self consciousness to halt his feelings, he goes from happy to sad in an instant, celebrates the smallest things like getting hand me down shoes that have laces – laces! What a concept. He can have a full school day, ride his bike for an hour after school, and then go swimming for an hour and still NOT BE TIRED. He is also able to calm himself, playing legos quietly by himself in his room or looking at books but that is not his natural state and never lasts long. His natural state is excitable, high, and full of life.
And sometimes what we love the most about someone is also what drives us crazy. My husband and I struggle with managing this whirling dervish of a roommate, who runs through the house never walking, who has no volume control and has no autopilot switch. Many times we use a hand motion to remind him to lower his voice, I turn an imaginary knob and he will quiet down, from volume 10 to volume 7. He is like a race car always revving. And there are times when managing this bundle of energy, his natural mass of combustable excitement is too hard. I don’t want to squash his spirit, be the parent always yelling at him to be quiet. I love his enthusiasm even when it drives me crazy. But silence is nice too and knowing when to be loud and when to be quiet is actually a learned quality, not innate for everyone. So I try to help realize when to be more quiet, that telling me a story at the dinner table, at volume 9.5 isn’t necessary, I can hear it at volume 5 or even 4. That you don’t have to scream when you sing. That sometimes being quiet offers you a the ability to hear wonderful sounds like birds and crickets. But that isn’t my son, and when he is quiet, it actually makes me a little nervous. I always ask him “are you feeling OK” instead of enjoying the quiet. And ironically, the quiet is only nice for a little while before I start missing the noise.