By Shannon Ralph
“I don’t have any friends.”
The air leaves my lungs all at once in a violent burst, as though I have been punched in the abdomen. I grip the steering wheel tightly and keep my eyes on the broken white line running down the middle of the road. The dirty slush lining the streets of our modest neighborhood is an indicator that spring will soon arrive in Minneapolis.
“What do you mean, Nicholas? Of course you have friends.”
“No, he doesn’t.” Nicholas’ twin sister pipes in from the booster seat adjacent to Nicholas. “He doesn’t play with anybody at school.”
“How would you know that, Sophie? You’re not even in his class.”
“All the first graders have recess together.”
“Do you not play with your brother at recess?”
“Sometimes I do. Most of the time he doesn’t want to play.”
Here we go again. Talking about Nicholas as though he is not sitting right here in the minivan with us. As though he is not present. He has gone missing again.
“Why don’t you play with your sister, Nicholas?”
I glance in the rearview mirror. Nicholas is staring out the window. His petite features and wispy blonde hair are reflected in the window against a background of white and gray. Everything is white and gray in March. Nicholas appears deep in thought. I wonder briefly where he goes when we all forget he’s there.
“Nicholas?” I say again.
Sophie kicks his foot across the space separating their bucket seats. “Momma’s talking to you, Icky.”
Since she first learned to speak, Sophie has referred to her brother as Icky. It’s not a commentary on his cootie status, but rather a simple mispronunciation of Nicky. I find it simultaneously endearing and aspersing. Nicholas has ever seemed to mind.
“What?” he asks, his forehead pressed against the window. He doesn’t look at me.
“Why don’t you play with your sister at recess?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to.”
Of course he doesn’t want to. He’s a six year old boy. Why would he want to play with his sister and her friends? But what about the boys? Why doesn’t he play with the boys?
Nicholas has never been like other little boys. He’s not your typical rough and tumble boy’s boy. He is the baby of our family—three years younger than his older brother and one minute younger than his sister. Nicholas is the runt of our litter. He is the child I have always worried about the most. Though I love my children equally, he tends to require more of my time. More energy. More focus. More patience.
Even before he was born, I worried about Nicholas. I had vivid and disturbing dreams when I was pregnant with him. In all the dreams, his sister was perfectly normal and he was born with one debilitating disease after another. Or he was missing limbs. Missing organs. Or he was simply missing.
“Who do you play with, Nicky?” I ask.
“No one,” he says. “I like to sit and watch.”
And that sums up my youngest son. A watcher. An observer. A bystander.
“I’m worried about Nicholas,” I say later that evening as I climb into bed next to my wife.
“So what else is new?” Ruanita replies.
“No, I’m serious. I don’t think he has any friends.”
“He’s young. Lucas didn’t really have friends until he was in the 3rd grade.”
“I know, but I think Nicholas is different.”
Ruanita lays the book she is reading on her chest and looks at me over the top of her glasses. “Shannon, you worry entirely too much about him. He’s perfectly fine. He’s a happy boy.”
“I know, but I can’t help it.” I climb into bed, kiss Ruanita lightly on the lips and rest my head on my pillow. I watch the shadows on the wall cast by the ceiling fan dancing in the pale light coming from Ruanita’s bedside lamp. After a few moment of silence, I turn to Ruanita.
“Do you think Nicholas is gay?”
She does not look up from her book. “I don’t know. Does it matter?”
“No, of course it doesn’t matter.”
“Then why worry about it?”
“I don’t know. It’s harder for gay men.”
“How do you figure?”
“People can be cruel. Girls can be cruel, but boys—”
“Things are changing, Shannon. It’s not like when we were young. I mean, we’re actually getting married next summer. Did you ever think that would happen in Minnesota?”
“I know things are changing. But are they changing fast enough? Fast enough for Nicholas?”I grab the book from Ruanita’s hand and lay it on the bed between us. “I’m serious. The world is full of monsters. Wild things, like in that book Nicholas loves so much.”
“Yeah, but the world is also full of good people. Nicholas is a sweet boy. He’ll be fine.”
“But how can you be so sure?” I feel tears welling in the corner of my eyes. I don’t want to cry. Ever since my son spoke the words “I don’t have any friends” that afternoon, I had been in a state of acute turmoil. Was it my fault he had no friends? Was it something I did? Or didn’t do? Am I too dismissive of him? Not encouraging enough?
“Listen, Shannon.” Ruanita looks me square in the eye. “You sound like one of those idiots who blame themselves for their kids being gay.” I flinch at her accusation, but Ruanita continues undeterred. “Nicholas is going to be who Nicholas is going to be. You can’t change him. You can’t make him into something he’s not. He’s a good kid. A smart kid. He is going to be perfectly okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, I’m not sure.” Ruanita reaches for my hand and squeezes it tightly in her own. “I am not sure about anything. But I’m hopeful.”
I lie in bed and consider her response. I know she is right. I must have hope.
It’s really the only thing we have to hang onto as parents. We hope that we are doing right by our children. We hope that we are not screwing them up beyond all recognition. We hope that our insecurities do not become their insecurities. That our missteps do not become their missteps. We hope that they grow to be better people than we think we are.
And, above all, we hope that the wild things of this world are gentle with the little people we so ferociously adore.
You can find more from Shannon on Chronicles of a Clueless Mom
By Melissa Mensavage
Photo Credit: Arvell Dorsey
We are nearing the end of the winter season, from a calendar perspective. In 17 days it will officially be Spring. However, on tap for this week is another three inches of snow in the Chicagoland area, in addition the lovely frigid temps of less than 15 degrees.
I love living in Chicago, its my home and well, because we typically see all four seasons. Some years, one may last longer than normal, or start earlier or later than expected. So when I hear about snow storms or extreme heat, I am not phased. I mean I live in Chicago. Anything goes here.
However, this current winter season has just lingered a bit too long. And its seems even longer with two young boys. My house feels like it’s the size of a box of matches. We are crawling all over each other. We are all tired of being cooped up.
When cabin fever hits, along with it comes short tempers, irritability, laziness, too much screen time. It dosent make for any fun in my house. So this past weekend, I purchased a group pass to our community’s recreational center’s indoor jungle gym. The best $20 I’ve spent in a long time. Of course, as I was sitting there yesterday morning watching the boys run all around crazy and screaming and having a good time for themselves, I thought, ‘WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THIS SOONER??’ … hindsight. It kills me.
Its hard to write this months post because I most certainly have the winter blues. Not a serious case where I would need to seek help, but surely the ‘I am SO breaking up with you Old Man Winter!’. Not much goes on here during these boring months and I find cheap entertainment for the boys. (see above)
As I surf Pinterest and other websites that are advertising Spring, I am so ready to start doing these activities. Man, I’ll even settle for temps above 40. We can at least get outside and ride our bikes or play with our trucks, let the fresh air inhabit our lungs and minds. Now that is a great feeling!
By Shannon Ralph
This week, I am coming to the stunning realization that my eldest child is no longer the adorable little boy I first fell in love with. No, my son is a middle schooler, and suddenly the entire world is “boss.”
Lucas is definitely boss. His brother is usually boss. His sister is occasionally boss. Fried chicken is boss. Coke is boss (though he is rarely allowed to drink it). Video games are boss. Video games where lots of random stuff blows up are especially boss. Most people on television are boss. Even the dog is boss on occasion.
I am not boss. I am the epitome of anti-boss-ness, apparently.
And don’t be a total dweeb and say that someone is a boss. Boss is not a noun. Boss is an adjective, idiot.
The closet correlation for the word “boss” that I can come up with from my own vernacular is the word “rad.” I remember thinking lots of things were pretty damn rad back in the day. Kirk Cameron was rad. I mean, obviously. Recording songs from Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 onto my portable tape recorder was pretty rad. Ralph Macchio in The Outsiders was rad. And if we got married and he took my last name instead of me taking his—because we were going to be, you know, like, a progressive 1980s couple—then he would be Ralph Ralph and that would be SO RAD. Molly Ringwald was one rad redhead in Sixteen Candles. She was even more rad in The Breakfast Club. By the time Pretty in Pink came out, I was dying my hair red and trying the Molly pout on for size (strangely, it looked better on her). Huarache sandals and Sun-In were pretty rad. Lee Press-on Nails were also rad. Standing in the television department of our local K-Mart watching the video to Thriller for the first time (we did not have cable…hence, no MTV) was a life-altering rad moment. Footloose was the best movie ever made. It was so rad, it was practically tubular. Oh…wait…maybe that was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Regardless, I experienced many rad things in my adolescence. But being rad is now a relic of the past. These days, I now know, the term is boss.
Here are the things—at forty-one years old—that I find extremely boss.
Sleeping past 6:30am is boss. Peeing without an audience is boss. Children bathing themselves is pretty boss—even if I have to threaten to smell them afterwards to “make sure.” Strawberry margaritas are boss. As is strawberry cheesecake. The BBC is boss. Ignoring the strange noises coming from my basement playroom because I am lounging on the couch in a kid-free living room is pretty boss. Re-watching episodes of Sherlock on Netflix while the kids dismantle the basement board by board is somewhat boss…if I don’t allow myself to think about the whole basement dismantling thing. Telling the kids in no uncertain terms that I will NOT be downloading Minecraft onto my new iPhone is boss. Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks are boss. Being finished with my Christmas shopping a month early is boss. Restaurants that do not have chicken fingers anywhere on the menu are boss. Movies that have no ties to Pixar or Disney are pretty boss. Nights without 5th grade homework are Über boss.
And whether my son agrees or not, I like to think I am pretty damn boss!
When I am not busy being so bodaciously rad, that is.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
The last couple of weeks haven’t brought lots of interesting news around our house. If I’m being honest, it’s been simply more of the same with a friend having a biopsy for possible cancer later this week (can I say “Screw you, cancer”), another friend going through health complications (on top of everything else) with her child, a student who’s going through an extremely rough patch and in need of desperate help, and there’s ongoing health concerns with my father-in-law that are a mystery, but he’s finally having them addressed. In the midst of all this stress that isn’t mine directly but that I have to navigate around, I have found myself focusing on silver linings, bright sides, and the simple pleasures (to throw together a mash up of happy cliches). It’s helpful for me, and gives me the strength to be what other people need from me at that moment.
Health- Yeah, I may have a slight cold but that’s nothing compared to what others have to deal with, obviously. This winter has been pretty mild for our house, frankly, with no major flu or other illnesses hitting our house. In fact, with the help of a faculty and staff wellness program at work my health has been improving and I’ve been losing some of the weight I packed on while dealing with the crap of the past couple of years. This is one blessing that I could pack up as easily as other blessings and share with those who need.
Family- They might be annoying at times and a source of stress at others, but they’re mine and they’ve been there through so much for me. It’s awkward, and they’re hard relationships to maintain but we do it. We recently had a visit from my mother-in-law and her new husband, and it actually went far better than I had expected. She and I can’t hold a conversation to save our lives and have almost nothing in common. Heck, I can’t even get her to talk about our difficulties. But we had a good visit, playing board games after brunch, and having fun as a family. My brother-in-law even showed up, and both he and his wife came out for dinner.
Friends- They are my rock, and have helped me through so much. The least I can do for them is to reciprocate when they need it, and as much as I wish they weren’t going through the issues they currently are, I’m glad to have the chance to return the help that they have given me over the years. One friend nearly made me cry by asking if I would help her and her husband by carrying their child if her health issues end up being worse than we all want them to be. Even though I hadn’t been thinking of myself doing another surrogacy, the possibility of helping a friend in this way has me a bit excited, I have to admit; she would make an amazing mom.
Job- Even though I’m currently one of those adjunct faculty members that are getting an increasing amount of national attention, I enjoy my job. I love it, really. I know this adjunct thing is temporary, and have solid applications out to a number of tenure track jobs and a campus interview in a week. No, I don’t have all the resources that I need, but I’m finding creative ways to fill the gaps that benefit my students and my research. I’m learning skills to be a better educator with less, and with the help of another colleague, I’m writing my courses to be intentionally more inclusive and present more of the history of biology than just old white guys by talking about researchers like Rachel Carson, Rosalind Franklin, Wangari Maathai, and Tyrone Hayes. And I have great fun with side projects like this blog, Fireside Science, and Ear to the Ground.
Home- My husband and my son, the home that we’ve made together, and our life are amazing. I can’t imagine any other place to be or who to be there with. Yes, it’s tough; yes, it has challenges, but at the end of the day this is the life I chose, and this is the life I would choose over and over again. I have what I need, and I have enough to share what I have.
I just wish that more people in my life could say the same right now, and I’ll keep doing what I can until they’re there.
By Rob Watson
We just passed Valentine’s Day. Gay parents around the country are being attacked by those who want to deny them marriage equality rights in courts around the country. The reasons do not make sense, but neither does trying to undermine love.
One of the most nonsensical reasons is the suggestion that gay couples marrying is done for only romantic love, and heterosexual couples are doing it for love of family. Rather than submit logic here on why heterosexual couples are as likely to enjoy consensual relationships with each other, and how same sex couples can be as strongly “child centric”, I decided to go ahead and commemorate the day by BEING child-centric instead.
Here is my Valentine. It is not to my partner Jim, whom I adore. He will got his own valentine last week. This one is to my sons for whom I live and for whom I would die. Jason and Jesse, both eleven years old, were adopted as babies from the foster care system. They were each born to drug addicted birth parents and put in life threatening circumstances. I am the only dad either have ever known.
Dear Jesse and Jason,
Hi guys! It is Valentine’s day and tonight you spent the evening writing out your cards and putting together little gifts for all your school mates. I thrill over the joy and generosity you exhibit in wanting to make sure each person is touched, and that everyone of them knows you care.
My sweet boys, this is my valentine back to you.
You have transformed me. I knew who I really was destined to be the minute I looked into each of your eyes. I thought I knew before then, but I did not know completely. In those two instances, I looked deep and heard my soul mutter, “Hi there, I’m your Dad.” The incredible thing is, that each of you looked back with a gleam that said, “Yes, you are.”
I thought when I was young that I wanted to win an Academy Award someday. (You know, that’s the show where I take over the TV for the night…) Watching you grow, and become the young men you have, has been the greatest honor of my life. Lights, camera….no cinematic action, just one heck of a lot of pride.
I also thought, when I was young, that I wanted to be a super hero. (I know you guys have thought about being ones too!). Here is a secret for you. You made me into one. When you were little, you gave me the power to heal owwies with a single kiss. You each would fall down and cry, and then run into my arms and with just one of my cuddles and a single kiss (sometimes to the owwie itself), waala! It was miraculously healed. The tears dried up and in less than a minute, you were back to your happy self. You also gave me the power of incredible magnetic force—as soon as I walked into your pre-school room, your little bodies came flying at me at an incredible speed and force that it almost always knocked me down. You gave me the power to overcome all adversities against all things yucky. Somehow, someway, I no longer wretched at poopie diapers, vomit covered t-shirts (mine) or spiders, the later of which I was the designated hit man against.
(I will let you know as you enter your teen years that I have developed a keen x-ray vision and ability to hear through walls. You have been officially warned.)
There are people in this world who believe that people cannot love as deeply as we do unless the kids were made by the Dad. Jesse, you got this reaction recently when classmates made faces to you after you told them you have two dads. They were wrong and I hope you never let their mistaken ideas get to you. They just don’t know us.
What they don’t understand is, I did make you. And you made me. None of us would be who we are without the others. We pro-created each other. There are people who believe that if we don’t share the same DNA we cannot have the bond that we do. They are wrong. I don’t cherish my DNA. I cherish you. More than anything, you rock my world.
When people attack families like ours, it does make me angry at times. I too get hurt over the ignorance they display. I feel wounded for the people who suffer at the hands of their opinions. I feel helpless sometimes that I can affect a change. I need to be reminded myself of what I just told you: they don’t know us.
I get reminded when something happens as it did tonight when I came to bed. On my pillow was an item more powerful than homophobia and self-righteousness put together. In the creases of the bed linens was something that makes me invincible. It was a slightly wrinkled, cut out white paper heart with these words scrawled on it:
“I Love You Daddy”
With that, you restored my super powers once again. I am ready to take on the world, and I hope you are too. You both have all my heart, all my soul. You are my Heaven and Earth. Happy Valentine’s Day.
By Halina Newberry Grant
My 5 1/2 month old used to be an expert sleeper-up until about 3 1/2 months. Life circumstances threw us all off schedule and out of our routine, and now we are repairing the damage. Most parents confront sleep training some time in the first year of their baby’s life, and if they don’t, I don’t want to hear about it. Bully for them.
First you have to choose your method, and while doing so, you must weigh the advice and suggestions from friends and relatives, and then go with your gut based on what you know about someone who’s only been alive a few months and who is changing every day and going through growth spurts and sleep regression and teething, to name a few possible obstacles.
Once you’ve chosen your method, you must ignore the doubt and panic that sets in, suggesting you chose wrong. You must also, constantly, tune out the well-meaning advice of others who think you’re doing it wrong, and who find creative ways to tell you that. You must memorize the relevant chapters of the book you’re using, so that at 4 in the morning you remember what to do when she roots to nurse and you’re counting backwards trying to determine if enough hours have passed since the last time you dropped strap, and you’ve left your notes in the other room and you forgot to look at the clock on the way in. You must bury your self doubt beneath weeks of no sleep and loneliness and despair at seeing your sweet beloved cry because she’s even more tired and confused than are you.
The emotional, mental, physical and spiritual work is relentless, and the only reason you trudge through is because there is the hope and promise and evidence that this will work, and that you will, after some time, get a solid and restorative chunk of sleep. You also trudge through because if you’re like me, you’ve never cared so much about a job, and never put so much of yourself, your time, your heart, your patience, your creativity, your stamina, your care, your earnestness into anything else you’ve tried. And, moving forward, I will know which other jobs are worth any amount of this sacrifice, because I will weigh their worth in lost hours of sleep.
By Brandy Black
I love looking through pictures on instagram, mini postcards of perfect beautiful lives. The food, the sunsets, the snowman, the skiers, all of the adventurous things people are doing. I like vacations because I too can participate in sharing my picture perfect life, but this year, my instagram went silent. I got slammed with the reality that three kids will bring. It all started with a toothache that led my wife and me to pacing in the waiting room after our daughter had been sedated for a root canal, one day before a vacation to Mammoth. After surviving that and having a lovely vacation we closed out our final day by momentarily losing our son in Mammoth Village and proceeded to a long drive home filled with contentious quips that built into a big fight on Christmas Eve. I reminded myself that I am strong and we can weather the storm until a day before our vacation in Laguna Beach with the family three days later, our daughter got a very painful ear infection that culminated in screaming at 12AM and a rush to the doctor in the early morning. Medication in hand we made it to the hotel and gathered with the family only for me to break out in a fever and an extremely painful Strep throat that kept me in bed the rest of the trip. On New Year’s Eve, shortly after we arrived home, I woke up at 8AM puking from the pain and drove myself to the doctor, dizzy and exhausted, with no appointment and no voice to ask for one. I walked to the window of my Century City doctor and begged in a whisper for someone to see me, after being turned down 3 times because apparently doctors don’t work on New Year’s Eve, a lovely woman, we’ll call her my angel took me to another office in the building and told them they must see me. I missed the half marathon that I had recently done a 10 mile training run for, that I had been training for over the last couple months because I was on antibiotics and dehydrated. This is how I began my 2014. Defeated, tired, still recovering from multiple family catastrophes, a stolen purse incident that happened in the midst of all of this as well as an au pair that no longer feels up to the task of taking care of our children.
Dare I write new year’s resolutions? What’s the point? I have no control, I am ready, fists up, prepared for the fight, peaking around the corners, waiting to be knocked down. I have come to terms with the reality that life is not perfect and I can only assume that what I’m being given I can handle and on some days I’m pretty horrible at handling it. And on others I think I was made for this shit!
oh you know…
it’s like this…
here is the path i took to sitting down to write this blog
i put the toddler in her bed
moved the kindergartener from our bed to hers
checked on the suffering of the insufferable 8 year old
and flopped down next to my wife…
who was more exhausted than me
having spent the weekend casting
Much Ado About Nothing…
in addition to the usual stuff…
i started to talk to her,
and justify my bedtime actions:
sticking to my guns,
so that i dont get pushed
to the point of
losing my temper.
letting the child
in control of my own…
my temper gets the better of me
like it did yesterday…
i feel like
a pretty crummy parent
a pretty crummy human being.
i looked up..
knowing that she knew all this,
but wanting affirmation,
of my actions…
or even a reprove.
she was snoring…
I gathered up my stuff…
notes from the week
writing supplies…(the computer)
came downstairs to the living room
went to the cupboard to find
the tylenol pm…
sometimes i go for the stress relief tea…
but sometimes i need a guarantee…
And my head hurt…
and there was a lot of stuff knocking around in there,
likely to keep me awake.
So as I reached up into the basket that holds the various remedies and medicines
my hand hit something sticky… something gooey and grapey.
I pulled down the basket to confirm that indeed…
childrens tylenol had leaked, spilled, upended…
slathering the entire basket with a viscous purplish, graying syrup.
so… there I was – ready to settle in to the evening
and write for an hour until the painkillers kicked in and took me to dozy, drowsy land
and instead what did i have before me but a goddamn
this is the way my week has been…
mishaps and misfires.
misunderstandings and crossed wires.
every time I come up with an on-the-fly solution…
a last minute wrench just fucks the whole situation even further.
i’m not sure what is happening – if it’s the cosmos…
or just a function of being too busy
hurried, harried, hassled…
i could make you a list.
the best example, other than the medicine basket,
is the leotard fiasco…
Wednesdays ‘Zilla has ballet at 6:10.
and Lil’ Chaos has piano at 6:15.
Somedays Jen is not busy,
and we split this up.
Otherdays i attempt to defeat the laws of physics
to be in both places on time.
I don’t know how we thought this schedule was possible…
i think we didn’t realize how often Jen was going to need to be somewhere or doing something.
Some Wednesdays we manage to feed the rugrats prior to all their cultural inculculation,
but more often than not, they get some apple sauce and/or a granola bar on the way,
and a sandwich or a bowl of soup before bed when we get home.
Wednesdays are hard.
This Wednesday had an added layer of complexity which involved Jennifer and I
misunderstanding each other about dinner plans with a friend/colleague visiting from out of
town, and not communicating very well about it.
As a result,
I waited until the last minute to pick Zuzu up from daycare… and neglected to feed the children –
though there was – as per our meal plan – roasted chicken and sweet potatoes available to them…
The latest possible pick up for Zuzu is 5:30pm…
The day care is only a few blocks away…
Much of the year – if we wait until 5:19 to leave the house – no sweat.
If we wait ’till 5:19 this time of year – we are pushing our luck.
Boots, hats gloves, coats…
these things take time to locate and apply…
but are necessary even for a car ride when windchill is pushing the temp to 20 below.
So the Elder two and I slammed out of the house in breakneck speed.
But in a stroke of inspriation I had everyone grab lesson supplies
‘Zilla had checked her dance bag for appropriate contents and it was slung over her shoulder
Li’l Chaos had her piano books…
I grabbed granola bars…
we’d be fine.
We’d arrive at the dance studio
early enough to change ‘Zilla there…
We’d have some time to relax – a few minutes at least.
And then we’d load up, leaving ‘Zilla in class,
to take Li’l Chaos to piano…
We even had time to accommodate Zuzu’s toddler rebellion..
Allowing her a good 5-8 minute protest about sitting in the car seat.
It was a masterful rejiggering of a sticky situation.
But the plan went to shit
when, at the dance studio changing room, ‘Zilla looked in her ballet bag and discovered it was
lacking a leotard or tights…
“What!?-Didn’t you look? I Thought you looked!”
(waitaminute dad, she’s five… she “checked her bag”)
oh well, nothing to be done. had to head home get the leotard – maybe we’d make it.
of course Zuzu was compelled to stage another protest…
my metaphorical tanks mowed her down
the car seat was Tiananmen Square,
I was riot police… with tear gas.
no time… sorry Zuzu.
So… still not having a clear understanding of what our evening plans were, and in need of
re-enforcements with the terrorist uprising in the toddler seat behind me, i frantically attempted
to call my wife…
who had just wrapped what sounded to be a slogging but significant needs assessment meeting
for her department. Needless to say, my frantic pleas were not what she was most in the mood to
hear and thus was not as receptive as I had hoped she’d be to my preternatural howling through
she dug deep however…
I heard her take a breath and say, “I will find a leotard and tights for you.”
We had to cut the conversation off – the light changed – it was probly for the best.
But I needed more…
i needed her to understand – the riot – the leotard – the ruined plan – i needed to know what was
happening – i needed her to jump in and help…
if only i had been as articulate in the moment as i was in that paragraph.
so it was like the leotard
and the purplegraysticky mess
maybe all year…
maybe my whole life…
I have been thinking a lot
of this little bump
in the sidewalk…
it’s about halfway
to Zuzu’s daycare
I have been trying to figure out the
to write about it
and thinking about it a lot.
The thing about it is this…
Back in July or August when we first started walking to the Daycare with Zuzu
She was pretty new at walking…
And that bump was a big deal
It caught her off guard
more than once.
and pulled her to the hard pavement
like a troll under a bridge.
But here is the key point.
On the days she did see it…
She would walk to it
check to see if it was still there
and stand on the fucker.
And pretty soon
she saw it more often than she tripped over it.
had a reason to celebrate,
a little reason,
on the three block walk to school.
Ha! you didnt get me, bump.
Pretty soon after that
she didn’t even notice it anymore.
And as much as I was sad to say goodbye to those little celebrations…
I guess forgetting about it
is another form of conquering it
I guess the lesson to learn
from my toddler
is that, as trite as it may sound,
life really is full of bumps in the road
both literal and figurative.
And you will conquer them…
and then forget they were ever there.
They won’t even bother you anymore.
You may take your accomplishments for granted as you move on to new challenges,
but be sure to take a little time to celebrate the things you do right as you go.
Do you do anything else besides stay at home with the kids? That question was posed to me recently, and my quick reply “Oh, if you only knew” didn’t do justice to the facts. I am Dad to three boys and proud of it. I just wonder if the world (especially the people of the world who are not stay-at-home-parents) has any idea what goes on in my life on a daily basis. I play so many different roles in a single day that it would be difficult for me to devise a job description. I think that’s why it was so much easier in the pre-children days, when I arrived at work at 8 am, worked my eight hours as a physical therapist, and left at 4 pm. Then from 4 pm all the way until 8am the next morning, for a grand total of 16 hours, I did not even have to think about my job. That sounds almost ludicrous now that I’m 6 ½ years into my present 24/7 stint as stay-at-home Dad. And to focus on one job for the entire 8 hour workday sounds so cush compared to the many hats I have to wear in a typical day. Here are some that come to mind.
Chauffer – Commuting to school, and transporting the boys to their many activities & play dates, all while fielding questions, breaking up fights, feeding snacks, and avoiding oncoming traffic, all without the pleasure of screaming and cursing at the awful Los Angeles drivers.
Cook – It’s important to keep an ongoing dialogue going in your head about what the next meal is going to consist of, unless you want your kids to eat pizza or pasta again. Preparing the food takes some thought too, like how each child likes his nuggets or how chocolaty he likes his milk.
Dishwasher – I have the benefit of the actual appliance, but it’s pure drudgery to wake up each morning to a full dishwasher that needs to be emptied, with a keen eye on the dishes and utensils that don’t make the cut and need to be washed by hand because the oatmeal had hardened and became one with the bowl.
Launderer – Thankfully we live in modern times and passing laundry from the hamper to the washing machine and then the dryer is not the worst thing. But I’m begging the innovators of tomorrow to come up with a third machine to fold the laundry.
Housekeeper – Who knew that floors get dirty so quickly? Do my boys purposely fill their pockets and hems with sand in order to dump them onto my sofa and their beds? Walls need wiping down where hands lean for support, and with young boys with bad aims, the toilet and everything within a 12 inch radius of it needs a good cleaning. Plus the seat. Plus the lid. Plus the trash can next to the toilet.
Shopper – I keep a running list on my iPhone of food needs, but without fail I’m always low on milk. Forget getting a dog, kids, we’re getting a cow as our next pet. There’s also household supplies, school supplies, clothes, plus presents for each and every birthday party.
Event Planner – Going places, whether for a day trip or a longer vacation, requires forethought and planning, and that’s on me too. I need to secure plane tickets, accommodations, do the packing, and then the dreaded unpacking upon returning. Local activities involve scanning the newspapers, checking the internet (Red Tricycle), or relying on the network of friendly parents for suggestions.
Teacher – Whether it’s quizzing the kids, helping them with their homework, or reading to them in the library or bedtime, everything becomes a teachable moment.
Disciplinarian – Boys will be boys, but they do get out of hand and need to be disciplined. Currently, the threat of taking away something that they fancy seems to be doing the trick. Previously, yelling seemed to be the discipline du jour, but that just did not feel right to Daddy, so he put that in his back pocket for extreme situations. Believe me, that pocket gets open a lot.
Doctor – I hurt here. I itch there. I can’t poop. My bones hurt. My teeth hurt. I swallowed a tooth. I’m not hungry. I’m so hungry. I’m so tired. I can’t sleep. I’m sad. I’m nervous.
Fashion Designer – You want your child looking presentable. I try to make sure things match, midriffs are not exposed, and that there are no holes in their clothes. Beyond that I don’t particularly worry about impressing anyone with my child’s attire. They’ll be plenty of time for that in high school.
Accountant – Paying the bills, the gardener, and the taxman is a full time job in itself, but I’m left to try to fit it all in my free time.
Husband – Oh yeah, I am someone’s partner. Someone who requires attention, sex, and most of the other things on this list. Thankfully mine helps me with some of the other things on this list too, so it kind of evens out.
Coach – Being an athlete myself, I’m inclined to get involved in their physical fitness and athletic endeavors such as karate, swimming, running, gymnastics and basketball. They need instruction (above and beyond what their team coach gives) but most of all they need encouragement.
And there’s more. Entertainer, mediator, handyman, IT guy, fact finder, and magician … the list goes on and on. I’m proud to be wearing all these hats, but I’m most proud just being called Dad.
By Ann Brown
On the agenda at this week’s faculty meeting was the book, How Children Succeed. The director had given us each a copy of the book at the back-to-school faculty retreat and we all agreed to read it and discuss it together. Because we are an erudite, intellectually curious, book-discussing kind of faculty. Plus, everyone is in a “yes” sort of mood at the beginning of the year. As opposed to the end-of-the-year faculty retreat when we tend to table everything on the agenda until the back-to-school faculty retreat and spend the day gazing at the beauty of the sun on Teacher Elizabeth’s pool and promising that by next year’s b-t-s faculty retreat we will be courageous enough to wear a bathing suit. Oh wait. Maybe that’s just me.
Frankly, however, I don’t remember agreeing to read the book at all, but I believe that it happened. The back-to-school retreat is generally when I resolve to be A Better Teacher and I probably answered with an enthusiastic affirmative when Sheila asked if we wanted to do a book discussion this year. Or – a more plausible theory – when that dialogue happened, I was in the kitchen, loading up on the feta and Kalamata olives and squinting deep into the pitcher to see if all the sangria was gone. We take food very seriously at our faculty retreats. In fact, last month we spent over forty minutes discussing the menu for our faculty holiday party and subsequently had to table the discussion on How Children Succeed until after Winter Break.
Even with the extra weeks, however, I came to last Friday’s meeting still not having read the book, wholly unprepared to discuss it. Which – if you know me even a little bit you will not be surprised to hear this – did not stop me from expressing my opinions about it. Evidently, I don’t really have to have read a book to be able to talk about it for an entire ninety-minute faculty meeting.
Despite just making up stuff, I found myself really getting into the discussion. During a particularly lively conversation about fostering qualities of grit and perseverance in children, I even volunteered to write an article about it for the school newsletter. In fact, I would write an article about the whole book! So you could all learn from what I read!
I was so carried away with my awesome offer to do this that it kinda slipped my mind that I haven’t, ahem, read the book yet. Though I sincerely intend to. Right after I finish reading that Maria Semple book, whatsitcalled? Bernadette or something. It’s due at the library on Tuesday so I really have to read it this weekend.
But there is good news.
As it turns out, a point in the book that we were discussing – and about which I volunteered to write – is a topic dear to my heart. It is a topic about which I have done quite a bit of research. And by “research”, I mean I have spent a lot of time on a sunny chaise lounge, drinking white Sangria during summer vacation thinking about it.
The topic is: coping skills.
As with pretty much everything in raising kids, it all begins with us – the parents – modeling the quality we want to see in our child. This can be confusing and difficult in a world that tells us our kids need high self esteem to succeed, and to be an involved parent, and to validate, validate, validate. It can feel as though fostering coping skills is in direct conflict with our “everybody wins” culture of parenting.
The way I see it, we have to offer our kids appropriate opportunities and doses of frustration, sadness, anger and – yes – failure in order to foster their coping skills. I mean, if you never feel failure or disappointment, with what, exactly, are you learning to cope?
Let’s say, for instance, that your four-year-old comes home from school and says to you, “my teacher is so MEAN! She made us come inside from the yard just when we were in the middle of our game! It made me sad the whole afternoon.”
What do you say? If you try to reference all the parenting books, you can find yourself saying everything from, “that teacher DOES sound mean. I am so sorry you were sad” to “never question a teacher” to “bring Mommy her beer, please. My day was no fucking picnic, either.”
Fostering coping skills in our kids allows us to keep The Big Picture in mind when responding to our kid’s frustration. We can say, “Yeah, nobody likes having to stop their game in the middle’” and give our child a sincere look of validation. And then we can move on to a new topic of conversation.
Or, let’s say your child starts crying because the blue cup he wanted was chosen by his baby sister. It can be tempting to belittle or dismiss the kid’s crying, especially at the end of a long day (“IT’S JUST A CUP. A STUPID, #%&^%^ CUP, DO YOU HEAR ME? THERE ARE CHILDREN WHO HAVE NO WATER!!!”) or to sink to The Stuff We Swore We’d Never Do (“you want something to cry about??? I’ll give you something to cry about!”) or – and I admit to doing this more than once – just take the stupid blue cup from the stupid baby and give it to the whiner. Because life is short and you will put your head in the oven if you have to listen to your child cry one more stupid minute.
And then you say to yourself, “what did that blowhard Ann Brown write about that book she never read that talked about fostering coping skills in my child?”
And you remember what I wrote. And you say to your child, “Yeah, I get it. You are really disappointed about not having the blue cup today. Some days are like that.” You try very very very very hard not to sound sarcastic when you say it because your goal is to validate the child’s feelings without buying into it.
If you are an aging hippie like me, you might call this: COMPASSIONATE DETACHMENT. And it will set you – and your child – free. Not to put too dramatic a spin on it or anything.
Kids need to know what disappointment feels like. Because if they experience it, that’s how they trust that they are capable of living through it. Kids need to know what sadness feels like. And frustration. And anger. And failure. And the myriad feelings that we think we are supposed to protect them from feeling.
The trick, as a parent, is to find that sincere balance of compassion and detachment. Personally, I think it starts in the eyes. Really locking eyes with your child and transmitting a message of “I hear you”. If you have a strong visual connection that reads compassion, then your words of detachment from the issue won’t sting as much.
“You are really angry and sad because we took the Christmas tree down. I remember when I have felt like that.”
And then you give your kid a little hug or a nice lovey kitty gaze, and you move on. You don’t give it any more energy than that.
Raising kids with strong coping skills is pretty much numbers one, two and three on the list of stuff that’s really important to do. People who can cope with the vicissitudes of life, people who see failures and disappointment in perspective, people who believe they can weather a storm, are generally optimistic, resilient and adventurous people. Even if they have melancholic, hand-wringing Eyeore type mothers like me.
Raising kids with strong coping skills also requires the parents to get through hearing a lot of crying (their child’s. Well, and their own, I suppose, as well). Because your child is allowed to feel what s/he feels. You cannot be the feelings Nazi (“That’s not a good reason to be sad”). But you can make sure your child’s feelings don’t rule and define the entire household. (“I get it that you’re really sad about the Christmas tree. But we are eating dinner now, and if you’d like to join us, you will have to pull yourself together.”)
(Also, the example of the Christmas tree is just conjecture. I’m Jewish. I have no idea what feelings arise from taking down a Christmas tree. Personally, when it’s time to put the Chanukah menorah away after eight nights, I am happy and relieved and sick of candle wax on the dining room table.)
Please don’t hesitate to continue the dialogue about this great book, How Children Succeed. I’m happy to talk to you about it. Right after I read it. Or not.