By: Ted Peterson
Ian and I did an interview which will appear in the newsletter for the Alliance for Children’s Rights about some of the myths of foster adoption. Some of the myths were about whether it was difficult for same-sex couples to adopt (it’s not) and whether the biological parents can take the children away after the adoption (no, they can’t). Then the next myth we were presented with was whether children in the foster adoption system are damaged. That was a hard question to answer.
We wanted to say that the kids in foster care are just like all kids everywhere, but that’s not really true. Ask any social worker and they’ll tell you that the vast majority of kids in foster care were born with drugs in their system, crystal meth, cocaine, alcohol, and more, in some combination. Even if they weren’t born with those poisons in them, something bad happened to put them into the system. Their bodies suffered abuse, most often in the form of neglect. It’s dishonest to say these aren’t damaged kids.
We’ve been incredibly lucky with Mikey. He was carried to term with no drugs detected in his system. He’s in great health -mentally, physically, and emotionally -but he’s not even four yet. It’s hard to tell what effect having three different homes before he was two years old will have, but it’s unrealistic to think that there was none. He was developmentally trying to form bonds with people and they kept being broken.
Of course, the scars of that damage are all on the inside. Anyone who meets Mikey is not only charmed by his personality, but by his good looks. Not that he hasn’t suffered his share of bumps and bruises like any 3-year-old. The week before Easter, there was an incident while playing basketball where the flesh just below Mikey’s eye had unwanted contact with a fingernail. The timing wasn’t great for a bloody gash, with the photo op of egg hunting around the corner and school pictures the following week. Luckily (thanks Neosporin!), the scratch had faded away in time for the school pictures, and at Easter, it gave him a tough look which let the other kids know not to touch his chocolates.
After the child’s initial pain has subsided, I think many parents worry about these scratches and bumps and how it reflects on them. On one hand, we know that every kid who isn’t in a bubble gets them; on the other, we don’t want anyone to look at our kid, and then look at us, and think, “Child abuse!” I think that comes from the same part of the brain which makes you panic even though you’re not doing anything wrong when a police car pulls up next to you at a traffic light.
So those shallow scratches fade away, but sometimes an injury’s deeper. Sometimes, there’s a scar on the surface or deep inside, which very few can see.
The thing about discussing kids as being damaged is that it makes it sound like they’re a chair partially eaten by termites, or a scratch on a car bumper, or a hole in the bottom of a shoe. Kids aren’t objects which can either be repaired or are ruined for good, or things which lose their value when they’re hurt.
In Mikey, his early experience losing home after home has made him more empathetic. He watches everyone around him, at home and at preschool, and is the first person to give hugs when someone is feeling bad.
That damage has been done, and we can’t undo it. It’s fucking unfair, but it’s not all bad.
The cliché, of course, is that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Like so many clichés, it’s true.
By Ted Peterson
We planned a lot before we began the process of adopting. Besides learning what we could from the classes required under Calfornia law, we made a number of changes in our life as a couple. We quit smoking. I sold my two-seater and bought a car I could put a babyseat in. When we moved into together, we left two one-bedroom condos in West Hollywood, for a three-bedroom, two-bath cottage in the San Fernando Valley. It was -is- far from trendy restaurants and boutiques, but set on a quiet cul-de-sac on a lot filled with fruit trees. The perfect place to raise a family.
What we forgot was to check the local schools.
It’s a pretty seriously stupid thing to forget to look at when you’re picking a neighborhood to start a family. Straight couples buying homes in suburbia in which to breed don’t forget to ask about schools. I mean, even when there’s a pool and a mature blood orange tree in the backyard. Right?
We found a fabulous preschool in walking distance from our house right away, using the trick I found in the book “How To Choose The Right Preschool For Your Child” by Jenifer Wana – just go to the website for NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Child, type in your address and you’ll find all the certified preschools in the area. The author explains that there are plenty of good preschools that aren’t certified by NAEYC, but if they are certified, then they are excellent.
Once that was out of the way, and our son was nestled in a child-centered, nurturing, creative, and needless to say, expensive environment, we figured we could breathe for a while. We went to parent classes at the school, and smiled at the other parents who were nervous about their toddler graduating into the room for two-year-olds, or the two-year-olds coming into the class with the real preschoolers. What was there to be worried about? Even more hysterical were the graduating preschoolers, whose five-year-olds would be going off to Kindergarten. Would they be ready? Would they be scared? What if they had to read and they couldn’t, or they had to go to the bathroom and they didn’t know where to go?
Ian and I gave our support, but inside we were thinking, “Chill. It’s Kindergarten, not a pit of vipers.”
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, you had to be five by October of the year you begin Kindergarten. Mikey’s birthday is in September, which is a great (and statistically popular) month in which to be born. The weather is nice enough for an outdoor party for one thing, and as a child born in February who grew up in the Midwest, I can vouch for the fact that outdoor parties beat indoor parties every time. Most importantly, it seems, you get the advantage of being the oldest one in your class.
I’ve read some articles suggesting that the oldest kids in their grade levels have the best time of it in school. I can imagine. If Mikey wants a car for his 16th birthday, to be the first kid with a license as 10th grade begins, I envision a long summer of mowing lawns. Oh, and I suppose there are other advantages as well.
The point was that we didn’t have to think about Kindergarten for two more years. We didn’t have to research schools, visit them, interrogate parents and teachers and administrators, do the applications and interviews and tests for another twelve months.
But we were wrong.
The age for admission for LAUSD schools has changed from kids being 5 by the beginning of October to kids being 5 by the beginning of September. Mikey wouldn’t be the oldest in his class, he’d be the baby. And I was twelve months behind schedule for researching!
Immediately, I went from mocking the hysterical parents to joining them, firing off calls and emails to them to find out what they knew. I called up my parents, freaking out, to get some good old grandparentish advice.
They told me to chill. So I jumped into research mode.
As I said, we didn’t know much about our local elementary school so we looked into it. Turns out it hasn’t passed the minimum requirements for the No Child Left Behind program for the last three years. So, so much for the safety net school.
Looking into private schools, we found that the majority of the schools we were interested in wouldn’t take children who weren’t 5 by October- “no exceptions.” There’s no reason to apply until next year.
Talking to Mikey’s preschool teachers, they’re happy to keep him on for an additional year, and promise they’ll make sure he doesn’t get bored. That’s a relief, though it doesn’t mean that I’m not researching and applying to schools now.
You see, besides private and public, there’s the third possibility: magnet schools. Magnet schools are specialized public schools which can take students from outside their immediate physical area, thus “magnet.” They also have a largely deserved reputation as being better than the generic one-size-fits-all public schools. The way you get into them is by lottery, but not all applicants have the same odds. You gain points in order to strengthen your odds by a number of factors – having an overcrowded local public school, or one that is primarily attended by minority students, for example – including being on the waiting list.
What you have to do is game the system, apply to a magnet school you’re unlikely to be admitted to, get waitlisted, and then use those points the following year – the year you actually want your kid to start school – to get him in. We applied for a magnet so popular, it accepts 1 in 32 applicants. That makes it twice as competitive as Harvard.
There are still a lot of questions, and not just what will we do if Mikey beats the odds and is accepted at the magnet we applied to. There are so many school in Los Angeles, and so many sites to use for research, that it probably makes sense to get organized now. The problem is that none of the websites tells me what I want to know to filter our choices.
We want the school we pick to be diverse in its student population, and we can find that out. We want good sports facilities and strong academics, and we can find that out. We want our son not to be the only kid with same-sex parents at the school, and we can find that out.
What we can’t find out without two years’ worth of research: at which school are the parents people with whom we’d want to spend five minutes? Based on a little anecdotal evidence we’ve compiled, the better the school, the more horrible the parents.
Fingers crossed we’ll find some exceptions to that rule.
By: Ted Peterson
Carpe Diem is the best advice you can give anyone, and that goes double for parents. If we can just enjoy and appreciate what’s happening today, this minute, with ourselves and our kids, we’d all be so much happier. That’s admittedly easier said than done. It seems we parents are always opining that our kids are growing up too fast or not fast enough.
Examples are legion. Last weekend, I was talking with the father of one of Mikey’s best friends in preschool, and the subject of martial arts classes came up. I never took any as a kid, but look up any dojo oriented towards kids in your neighborhood and you’ll hear the same spiel about how they promote fitness, honor, respect, and discipline … as well as the ability to tear your opponent’s spine out from his throat if that’s got to be done.
We took Mikey to one class at a karate school in Calabasas and he didn’t like it. Really, the problem was the kids were doing all kinds of routines he had never been taught, and he was expected just to imitate them without any particular instruction. That’s just a lousy class, but we heard about other, better ones. Interestingly enough, we heard about them from friends of ours with girls. Actually, as soon as I thought about it, it was perfectly sensible. Girls have even more reason to know self-defense.
I was discussing all this with Mikey’s friend’s father, and it quickly came out that he’s a real true believer in everything about martial arts. We were in a noisy bowling alley at a kid’s birthday party, but you could almost hear a distant gong sound out across misty fields of bamboo as he spoke of growing up in the karate tradition. He concluded his reverie by saying that he wasn’t going to put his son into it until he was 8 or 9 years old. He had taught younger kids and became convinced that they aren’t developmentally ready yet, and more often than not would get burned out quickly if put in too soon.
That’s good enough for me. Karate is just something I think my kid should try out. It’s not something important to me. Like the movies, which he must learn to love like I do.
Last Sunday, we took Mikey to the movies for the first time. There are all sorts of first time moments this summer. Swimming and diving for the first time, first sleep-over, coloring between the lines, unfettered pony rides, getting up on a surfboard … Every week, there’s something new. In a week, we’ll be going to our first baseball game. That’s the sort of thing most dads dream of doing with their sons. But for me, it was the movies.
I can’t wait to share all my favorite movies with him, and watch and discuss new ones together. Like Mikey’s friend’s father, though, I’m conscious of not pushing him too early. Mikey didn’t watch anything at all until he was two years old, and then gradually, he’d watch a few minutes of a cartoon on television or the iPad. His attention span just wasn’t long enough, and we figured that was fine. We didn’t want to force him into couch potatohood until he was ready.
He went to a theater for the first time when he was two-and-a-half, to see “Cinderella” in the style of the British panto, which means a lot of songs, dances, and audience participation. We made it through to intermission, and cut our losses and left. It was a success, but Mikey was obviously still antsy. The first play Mikey sat all the way through was another children’s play we saw in London when he was almost three called “The Tiger Who Came To Tea.” The following Christmas, we went to another panto, and Mikey adored it and became obsessed with “Snow White.”
He hadn’t been particularly into Disney before then. Of course, he had seen all three “Toy Story” movies and “The Lion King,” because every kid has, but we decided that we needed to go back to the classics after the success of the play version of “Snow White.” We bought the DVD of Disney’s original first animated feature, the 1937 movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” I believe Mikey can quote it almost word for word now, and not only the movie, but the Little Golden Book of it which became his favorite bedtime story.
It was only natural we followed “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” with the next movie from Disney, 1940’s “Pinocchio.” Talk about an alternative family. An elderly bachelor, Geppetto, with his kitten and his fish, is such a good man and brings so much joy with his woodworks that the Blue Fairy grants his wish that his new puppet is brought to life as his son. At that point, the puppet Pinocchio needs to prove himself “brave, truthful, and unselfish” in order to became a real boy, not a living puppet.
Mikey was musing on this the other day. “I think I’d like to be made of wood.”
That’s understandable. But while Mikey’s movie knowledge was growing, he had still not been to watch one in the theater. A lot of his friends have been, some back when they were babies. It’s common at Mommy & Me classes for there to be special screenings for babies and moms, where the lights aren’t brought down too dark. We knew that Mikey would sit still if the entertainment were solid, with lots of music and comedy, but I knew we’d have to explain that unlike in children’s plays and pantos, there was to be no interaction, no yelling and singing. You just sit and watch.
We decided that when Mikey finally saw a movie, it had to be a classic. We wanted something that generations of kids had already given their stamp of approval to. We imagined him talking to his friends years from now about their first movies, and we didn’t want him to have to confess to a modern, forgettable piece of dreck like “The Lorax,” “Mars Needs Moms,” “The Pirates!”, “Megamind,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” … So, we began combing the listings from revival theatres for new releases of old movies.
That’s when I heard that “Cinderella” was coming to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. The El Capitan was built in 1926, a year before Graumann’s Chinese Theatre was constructed across the street. It has a deco “East Indian” décor and was originally a legitimate theater for plays. For that reason, the stage is deep enough that to this day before each performance, a classic Wurtlizer pipe organ rises up from a trapdoor in the center of the stage before the performance and descends as the curtains rise. In short, the El Capitan is one of the classic grand dame theatres of the age and a perfect location for Mikey’s first movie.
I haven’t seen “Cinderella” since I was a kid, and the only impression I had was, for better or for worse, it’s the girliest of the classic Disney movies. That’s fine, though. Better show it to Mikey now before he feels the pressure to only enjoy movies about cars, guns, and flatulence.
We took the Metro train down to Hollywood and Highland, which was another first for all of us. Like most kids his age, Mikey has a fascination with trains, so it was an easy decision to park for free in the Valley and spend $1.50 for the experience. We began bribing Mikey immediately, telling him that we would get him ice cream after the movie if he showed us what a big boy he is by staying in his chair and not making any noise during the movie.
We needn’t have bothered. As soon as the movie started, Mikey and all the other princes and princesses in the audience were transfixed. We laughed out loud at Cinderella’s mice friends Jaq and Gus, and held Mikey’s hand when Lady Tremaine’s evil cat came close to eating them. When Cinderella and the Prince danced at the ball, Mikey put his head on my shoulder and smiled. It wasn’t boring. It was wonderful. He was charmed.
Only after the movie was over, and we were having ice cream next door, did a frown cross Mikey’s face.
“Who did Cinderella marry, the Prince?” he asked.
“Oh,” he said, and took a thoughtful bite of his scoop of mint chocolate chip and shook his head. “Poor Snow White.”
By: Ted Peterson
I have avoided the subject of discipline, because it is a particularly treacherous subject even within the landmine-strewn subject of childrearing. A few days ago, however, a friend posted on Facebook a video of Bristol Palin, the loathsome daughter of the even more objectionable former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. One might’ve hoped that after 2008, the Palins would have entered the dustbin of political trivia together with other would-be vice-presidential families. But while you won’t find the Ferraros, Kemps, Stockdales, or Liebermans on basic cable, you will find the Palins.
Bristol’s new show features her and her equally vapid little sister Willow bopping around Los Angeles, occasionally with Bristol’s three-year-old son Tripp. Tripp was, you might recall, the subject of a scandal when it was announced shortly after John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his vice president that the family values conservative’s daughter was having a child out of wedlock. Bristol quite rightly bristled at the idea that being an unwed teen mother made her a whore, and then went on to do Dancing With The Stars and this new show to demonstrate what really makes her one.
Tripp is an adorable little moppet, even in the scene from the reality show which is getting the most recent buzz. In it, Bristol, Willow, and Tripp check into a hotel, and they notice that there’s a pool. Tripp immediately wants to go in, but for whatever reason – the late hour, the lack of energy, the logistics of schlepping a full TV crew down to the deck below – Bristol nixes the plan. I can empathize as the father of a three-year-old water baby myself.
“I hate you!” Tripp snarls, thwarted. Mikey’s never said he hated me, but I recognize three-year-old hyperbolic anger when I see it. Bristol and Willow look to the camera and titter. Not a great sound bite for their show, they’re thinking. Bristol meekly suggests that it’s not nice to say, and Willow throws out the idea of a time out as punishment.
“Go away, you faggot!” Tripp screams at Auntie Willow.
There’s little question how Tripp’s three-year-old vocabulary includes such invectives. Auntie Willow Palin herself called a classmate a faggot for posting disparaging remarks about the Palins’ last reality show on Facebook. Monkey see, monkey do.
There’s been a fair amount of discussion about Tripp’s word choice, but a side discussion among some of my friends on Facebook was about Willow’s suggestion of a time out and Bristol’s subsequent confession that she’s not great on discipline. Folks less amused and more angry about Tripp’s behavior, conflating his bombast with homophobia, have fumed that the child is due for a spanking, not a time out.
If it’s not clear from what I’ve written above, I’m no fan of any of the Palins, but neither am I a fan of spanking. Also in my corner on this is every modern, respectable pediatrician and psychologist in the civilized world. The jury is in and has been in on spanking for a long time, folks, and just because you survived it doesn’t mean you need to inflict it on the next generation.
There are worst things you can do than to spank your kid, but that doesn’t make it right.
People don’t know what to do with this information. In our foster parenting classes, it was explained that particularly because so many children in the system have been physically abused, any kind of corporal punishment was verboten and grounds for having the child taken away.“But after the adoption,” one fellow asked, “then we can spank?”
What a happy adoption day that family’s child must have had. Welcome to the family officially, kid. And now, drop your trou and get ready for all the whipping we’ve been storing up for months now.
The problem is what to replace spanking with. We’ve been ahead enough of the trend that my parents didn’t spank me, and their parents didn’t spank them. Considering we were good middle-class Midwestern Republicans, our whole rule system was a bit haphazard for the first couple years of my life. One of our family’s stories was in kindergarten, the teacher was talking about class rules. She asked the other kids what rules there were in their families. As they went around the circle, other kids volunteered what they could do, couldn’t do, with all the hows and whys and ins and outs you might expect.
When the teacher got to me, I couldn’t think of any rules in my house. She pushed a little more to have me think of something I knew I was absolutely not allowed to do.
“I am not allowed to … pee in the living room?” I finally suggested.
My mother who was present thought that was a pretty good rule. She was glad I had signed on.
Mikey knows that rule and a handful of others, but for the most part, we try to be flexible. When he’s at home, for example, he knows that he has to ask to get down from the table after dinner, and we may add some additional requirements (“Yes, you can get down after two more bites of spinach, and one more bite of chicken”), but when he’s having pizza with his friends at a birthday party and half the kids are already up and playing, we let it slide. The one thing we don’t let slide is when we’re the recipient of the corporal punishment we don’t indulge in ourselves.
It’s happened the last couple of days, usually late in the day, now that Mikey is weaning himself off naps. He’s a little more emotional when he would previously be philosophical about life’s little disappointments and annoyances. Mikey gets angry, and responds quickly with a smack, kick, or spit. We quickly take away whatever privilege he is or is about to enjoy – a cookie, a movie, a swim in the pool, a book. This turns the petulance into a full-blown tantrum, at which point, we walk away. No negotiating. Our only rule is nothing reinstates that privilege once it’s been taken away, even after the tantrum has passed, and apologies have been given and accepted, and we are all laughing again.
Frankly, we have it good. We have a son who is cool and happy so much of the time that when he melts down, it takes us a moment to wipe the grins off our faces and get to our battle stations. Part of the reason I didn’t want to talk about discipline is because I know the pro-spanking crowd will want me over their knee, but most of the reason is that I don’t want to jinx what’s been working well so far. Ever since we took one of her classes for credit towards keeping our foster license, we get Heather Forbes’ email from her Beyond Consequences group aimed at the parents of aggressive, violent kids. The emails always have guilt-inducing subjects like “Ted, Does Your Child Ever Scare You?” “Just Making Sure You Are Safe” and “It Isn’t Supposed To Hurt To Be A Mom.”
I know how lucky we are. But Dr. Forbes doesn’t advocate spanking, even for these most vicious of children. She advocates keeping yourself safe, and listening. Letting your kids know that it’s okay to be mad, but not okay for them to hurt us, or us to hurt them with words or fists.
Sounds like a plan -for you, me, and even Bristol.
By: Ted Peterson
Getting older is a major point of discussion around our house. For a few months now, Mikey’s been asking everyone -family members, waiters, homeless people, other children, perfect strangers, “What’s your name?” Now, less delightfully, he’s been asking, “How old are you?”
He can only count up to 20, so any numbers outside that don’t compute. But Mikey asks anyhow.
Mikey understands that some things are for grown-ups and some things are for kids. He understands now more that some things are for kids of a certain age. A super soaker water gun he saw at Target for example is plainly marked “4 and Up.” He recognized that number, and now the toy is an even greater object of desire.
“Remember, I will have that toy when I am four?”
He throws out predictions: “I will swim better … when I am in kindergarten.”
“Maybe I will tie my shoe when I am five?”
He realizes that as he gets older, he gets bigger, and so one of his pronouncements was, “When I am one hundred, I will be so big!”
Our friend Robert Ell’s grandmother Raisa is turning 102 years old, and she joined other Pasadena area centenarians in a video project that debuted at the Pasadena Museum of Art. We were lucky enough to be invited to a private showing. Mikey sat on my lap while we listened to stories of life in the early years of the 20th century and words of wisdom.
“I have all my own teeth, and not in a jar by the side of my bed. And I don’t need glasses for reading,” Corrie Harris, one of the subjects of the project said, and then paused. “And I have given up complaining about my knees. I figure they have done a good enough job, carrying me around for 101 years so far.”
Raisa and her sister went to dinner with us after the party, and Mikey kept us all entertained. Then he attempted his famous Dizzy Gillespie with a mouthful of milk routine.
This has been a regular part of his boundary-pushing behavior for about eighteen months now. He will fill his mouth with milk (or water or juice) and stare at us with big eyes, while we issue dire warnings that he better swallow or face severe repercussions. Finally, he swallows it down and the game is over.
One time about a year ago, we were at a pub in England, and he decided to do it to amuse and delight the locals. As I wagged my finger and told him to be careful, I couldn’t help noticing that his cheeks were wider and more tremulous than usual. He had overfilled them and had not anticipated a cough. He spewed. The locals stared. We wiped up best we could and beat a retreat. Mikey didn’t need much punishment: he was plainly mortified.
He hasn’t had any accidents since then, but we warned him every time he played the game that he better be careful. The odds were that he would slip up again.
And that dinner, it happened for a second time. His eyes bulged, he tried to swallow, and then the milk sprayed.
Most good dads say they would take a bullet for their son. I would, and I probably would even take a shot of milk, but since Mikey was in my way, that wasn’t an option. I angled him to soak his own projectile midflight.
No one was hit but Mikey and the table. Everyone stared, including Mikey, and then Ian, just as silently, picked him up and carried him off.
Raisa chuckled and shook her head as I mopped up the mess. She’d seen it all before.
By: Ted Peterson
Mikey’s preschool had a bake sale and a trike-a-thon to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As part of the week leading up to that, during one circle time, Mikey’s teachers taught them about sickness and health, and asked the kids what they would do to help another child who was seriously ill.
The adorable suggestions were documented on the school white board under each child’s name. Many of the kids advocated “Kisses” and “Hugs,” together or separately. One tot came up with the fabulously surreal idea of “Giving them a monkey.”
Mikey evidently raised his hand and said, “Why don’t we give them … treatment?”
The teacher figured Mikey had picked up the word from some adult conversation, and asked what treatment meant.
“It means medicine,” he explained.
Have I mentioned that he’s a Virgo?
Of course, Mikey also has plenty of belief in the magical powers of kisses and putting bandaids on invisible wounds for ten seconds until they feel better. A friend of ours mentioned that she used a brand of anti-cold nasal suppositories called Nozin and Mikey tucked that info away until tonight, and used it as a delaying tactic before bed, saying he needed one of them because even though he wasn’t sick, he might get sick in the future. He said he would wait while we went to the store.
The events at the preschool were great successes and, thanks I think to the red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and Spiderman and the Green Goblin topping each, more money was raised for St. Jude Children’s Hospital than any time in the six years the preschool had been involved. If you don’t know St. Jude, it was founded by “Make Room For Daddy” star Danny Thomas. Since 1962, it has become the preeminent pediatric cancer hospital in the country.
This weekend, pediatric causes continued to be a major part of conversation as we were invited to participate in two children’s charities. Sunday morning, we went on a 5K Walk for a Cure for Neurofibromatosis, and in the afternoon, we went to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Picnic.
The latter has become an L.A. institution over the last twenty-two years, since Elizabeth Glaser used her celebrity status as the wife of actor Paul Michael Glaser, Starsky of “Starsky and Hutch,” to shine a light on how AIDS affects children here and in Africa. Ian and I first went to the picnic five years ago, before we had Mikey, and we commented at the time that we really needed to bring a kid to it next time. This year, guests on the grounds of the VA hospital included Sharon Stone, Carmen Electra, Gwen Stefani, and a bunch of young actors from the Disney channel I’m too old and Mikey’s too young to know. He certainly recognized Mickey Mouse when he turned up.
The Walk to Cure Neurofibromatosis was notably less glamorous, but for us, more personal. My niece, Mikey’s beloved two-year-old cousin Natalie, suffers from the genetic condition which can cause tumors to erupt along any nerve ending in her body. Like AIDS, there is no cure for neurofibromatosis, also called NF, but the hope is that events like this can lead to education and research into a disease which can be devastating and is tragically all too common. Our team alone raised almost $50,000, so the walk around the CBS Studios lot in the San Fernando Valley felt like a victory lap of sorts, because we know that in itself will pay for a new trial and study in the hopes of finding a cure.
Of course, at both events, there was food and games and music, which like the bake sale and trike-a-thon keeps the sad reality of what these charities are fighting more bearable. From Mikey’s point of view, they are all parties, and we are so lucky that he is healthy enough to enjoy them as that for now.
By: Ted Peterson
I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on most aspects of parenting Mikey. The care and feeding of our three-and-a-half-year old hasn’t exactly gotten boring, but the “Oh my God, what the hell are we doing?” moments seem rarer and shallower than once they did.
The exception to this is on the subject of hair. Completely falling into the cliché of the clueless Caucasian parents, the hair of our kinky-haired heir is, pun intended, quite a tangled web.
The cliché seems to be true even among the rich and famous. While browsing around a web board for advice for our son’s hair care, I came upon several discussions about how Madonna and Angelina Jolie were not doing an adequate job caring for the hair of their respective adopted daughters, Mercy and Zahara. Obviously, there was a general acknowledgement that it’s unlikely either lady was hands on with the washing, moisturizing, and braiding, but still, the comments were withering.
The best thing Ian and I have done is embrace our ignorance. A week after we got Mikey, we brought him to his first stylist, Althea, who has classes wherein she teaches white parents how to care for their adopted black or biracial kids’ hair. Only in Los Angeles.
Althea gave us our first advice on Mikey’s hair, sending us off with a shopping list of special shampoos, conditioners, and combs. She also put the fear of God in us, letting in on the whispered conversations particularly common among black women seeing kids with badly kept hair. Almost as bad, she said, were those parents who simply shaved their boys’ hair to a shade above bald, for easy care but no personality.
No fear of that. We are fascinated with learning all things about Mikey, and hair is no exception. At least, we had a boy: anyone who has ever seen Chris Rock’s hilarious and oddly moving documentary about the politics and enormous expense behind the world of black women’s hair “Good Hair” has an inkling of how many traps are along that path.
Althea worked in a salon filled with the type of ladies “Good Hair” was about, spending many hours and lots of money on weaves, relaxers, blowouts, and other techniques completely alien to us, even as gay men who never frequent Fantastic Sam’s, and aren’t strangers at the local manicure / pedicure clip joint. Under her tender but firm hand, Mikey obediently let himself be shampooed and deep-conditioned, even sitting under the heat lamps really let his dry follicles drink deeply. Unfortunately, Althea spent most of the time chatting on her headset, and ended up clipping rather weirdly.
We held off getting Mikey’s haircut for a while, until Ian, on a whim, took Mikey into a children’s hair salon convenient to where he was shopping that day. They assured him that they could take care of African-American hair. With hindsight being 20/20, it should have been a sign when they said everyone got the same hair conditioner regardless of the texture and type of hair they were sporting. The salon was so cute with balloons and bright colors, he was seduced. I don’t blame him. It wasn’t until thirty minutes later, when he was putting Mikey into his car seat and noticed that the leave-in conditioner was turning the consistency of thick putty that he realized he’d made an error. Two shampoos and an hour later, Mikey’s hair was free of the sludge, and he was not the only one who was cranky.
We decided to skip haircutting for a while. Ian and I decided that our ideal hair for Mikey was that of Will and Jada Smith’s son Jaden, who had grown an afro two feet in circumference which he later – when he played the new Karate Kid – turned into cornrow braids. All it would take is time. We diligently did our best, and in time, he had a hairstyle we thought was very cute, a vast mane full full of corkscrew curls like mini-dreds.
This is where we faced an interesting cultural divide. Our white friends agreed with us that it was adorable. Our black friends thought that it was cute but a bit wild. No one ever said anything to us, but we started thinking about what Mikey would think, looking back on his childhood photos. Maybe it was time to brave another trim.
The next stylist we used was thanks to Groupon. A salon in Santa Monica, which had a children’s and an adult’s section, advertised a Mommy and/or Daddy & Me special, which sounded charming. Lots of dads out there imagine themselves coaching their son’s Little League games or helping them carve blocks of wood to make into pinewood derby cars. I imagined my son lying in the salon chair next to mine, both of us sighing as our stylists suds up our hair and kneaded our scalps.
Unfortunately, though the treatment was called Daddy & Me, in actuality they couldn’t do it simultaneously. It’s hard to enjoy your shampooing when you have one eye on your bored kid running around the salon. By the time Mikey could be worked on, he was ready to go and squirmy, and the stylist cut a little here and a little there. It was even less even than his last two cuts.
That was November of last year, and we haven’t taken him anywhere since then – almost six months. Mikey’s mane grew tall and wide. I came upon the name of a stylist who was praised all over Yelp, and we dragged Mikey in.
We like Mikey’s new haircut and so does he.
Here’s the advice we have received so far:
1. Don’t shampoo hair more than once a week.
2. When shampooing, use Just For Me brands.
3. When shampooing, use DevaCare No-Poo.
4. Comb hair through every bath with Kinky-Curly Knot Today.
5. Condition with Dermorganic masque once a week.
6. Moisturize and detangle daily.
7. Moisturize with Miss Jessie’s Baby Buttercreme.
8. Moisturize with jojoba oil.
9. Moisturize with olive oil.
10. Style with Kinky-Curly Curling Custard.
11. Use Infusium to make the hair more manageable.
12. Don’t use Infusium or his hair will calcify.
13. Use a Miracle Brush to detangle.
14. Use a wide-toothed comb to detangle.
15. Use nothing but your fingers to detangle.
16. Have him sleep on satin pillows, because cotton will soak up all the moisture and product
What we do with all this advice is we follow it all. Randomly. I have to say, no one has come forward to us and said we’re making our son look bad. And some folks have said we’re doing a good job with it. Of course, those are the folk we tip generously.
By: Ted Peterson
Youtube, like Wikipedia, IMDB, and other vast databases disguised as websites, sucked me in the other day with a series of legendary music videos, movie moments, and TV commercials. A new modern classic I had almost forgotten is the Yes on Proposition 8 one from 2008, where the child comes home with a book called “King and King,” and tells her mom, “Guess what I learned in school today? I can marry a princess!”
The mother gives the same expression moms have been giving in commercials since the 1950s when faced with the horror of dish pan hands, ring around the collar, and that not so fresh feeling. The mother evidently believes that her elementary school-age daughter is on a one way road to Lesbotown because Proposition 8 failing = gay marriage becoming possible in California = school kids learning about there being different kinds of families = some kids who are little same-sex-oriented deciding to go for it. And that’s a bad thing, because it would be preferable for her daughter, if she indeed had gay tendencies, to stifle her feelings for Snow White, and see if she can make a loveless life with the Huntsman work. In that lesson taught for decades, it’s better to be unhappy than gay.
The variation on this commercial’s message is that some folks objected to homosexuality “being taught” in schools at all. In editorial after editorial, from then and now, you can read about parents objecting to this, as if homosexuality were in itself a field of study with films, text assignments, and lab work. The fear is real enough, I believe they believe it, even though to my mind, that makes them quite clearly stupid.
Teachers have a tough time in schools, dealing with parents and their strange beliefs. I understand from Mikey’s preschool teacher that one child several years ago shared with his or her classmates, “My mom says that the world is going to come to an end in 2012.”
As a teacher, you’re supposed to respect different religions and belief systems, but sometimes, you gotta say, like Mikey’s teacher did, “That’s not what we think here.”
The truth of the matter is that there’s a reason why everyone who has the best interest of tolerance for gays at heart encourages people to come out of the closet. It’s harder to hate and fear The Other if you have a gay or lesbian as a friend, family member, or neighbor. Mikey’s friends at school know that he has two fathers because we drop him off at school every day together as a family. They know which one of us is called “Daddy” and which one is called “Papa,” and they discuss it with their parents. If it were true that they were being “taught homosexuality” by our very existence, they would pass the subject with all A’s, since they recognize that there are at least two grown-up men they know who, like their own moms and dads, love each other so much, they have enough love to share with their child.
I do have a little bit of sympathy for the parents who wish to shelter their kids, at least for a little while, from the facts of real life that they might not fully embrace themselves. Because people know that Mikey loves books, we get boxes of books from friends whose kids have outgrown them, and subjects of some of the books are, let’s just say, not always what I would have chosen. I want Mikey to know the Bible, even though we’re not religious. It’s right up there with Shakespeare and Greek Mythology as the foundation of all western literature. I’m not crazy about the fact that he’s already been given some books with pretty heavy religious overtones, but so far he’s taken it as the same fantastical fiction as talking animals, pet dragons, flying lost boys, and small men who tirelessly stalk you to urge you to eat green eggs and ham.
Mikey’s favorite book right now combines a bit of fanciful religiosity with a theme which we fortunately haven’t had to face yet – death, and specifically, the death of a pet. It’s obviously the sort of book good Christian families give their kids while they’re grieving from such a loss, and it’s titled, “Angel Cat.”
The good Christian family in the book has a pair of cats with oddly Taoist names, Yang and Yin. Yin, perhaps fuzzled by her dark cosmic feminine energy, doesn’t look both ways crossing the street, and we see in the distance the blurred shape of a car heading right for her. Silly cat. The next page, we see the big maple tree where they’ve buried her, and the kids ask the parents where the cat is. Obviously, the parents could point towards the lump of earth on the lawn quite plainly visible in the illustration, but instead they say, “In heaven.”
The kids then ask whether she’s an angel. The parents agree she is.
It’s not really clear yet whether the parents believe this or not. It’s a bit of unorthodox scriptural reading to say so, but we are told that the kids in the book, Gillian and Matthew, felt better by being told this. Far better to assure the kids that that’s the way the universe operates, the book seems to be arguing, that to either say, “I don’t think so” or even “No one knows, but I hope so.”
I always pause at that moment in reading to consider this, the analgesic advantage that religion offers to children at these moments, but Mikey encourages me to keep reading.
The story moves on to winter, and – spoiler alert – describes how Yin, as an angel cat complete with wings, sees a spark from the fireplace set fire to the downstairs rug, and flies upstairs to wake up and rescue the family. Actually, only the little boy sees the angel cat, and when he later tells them that angel cat woke him up so he could wake up the rest of the family, they react with laughter and skepticism. Evidently, the family’s belief in the divinity of the souls of domesticated animals was just a very thin white lie.
We’ve been reading this book for a couple weeks now as part of our regular rotation, and Mikey loves it enough that several nights, like tonight, when I couldn’t find it on the bookshelves and tried to substitute another beloved book for it, my son wasn’t having any of it. Fortunately, we found it. As I was reading it tonight, once again, the religious aspect gnawed at me, and I began to feel like the mom in the commercial, faced with her daughter loving the book, “King and King.” What was it about this book that was filling a void in Mikey’s soul? What were we postmodern, alternative parents out here in the wacky West Coast not supplying? Could we start with Unitarian Universalists and work our way?
Finally, I asked him, “Why do you like the book so much? Is it the cat? Do you like that she has wings, and that she became an angel when she died?”
“Hold on,” Mikey said. He flipped some pages back until he found the page he wanted. “I like the snow.”
That was it. Our son who has only lived in southern California loves this book because it’s the only one with snow.
I wonder what anti-gay-marriage parents would learn from their kids if they actually asked and listened themselves. It might just be that they like the snow.
By: Ted Peterson
In more ways than I can count, becoming a father has improved me as a person. I’m laughing all the time. I am reminded to look at the small miracles, like rainbows in the lawn sprinklers, which fascinate my son. I get regular and real cuddles and kisses. My partner and I have discovered new depths to our relationship. And yet, occasionally, there’s evidence of the less attractive signs of parenthood.
I think I’m avoiding so far the worst one, being the helicopter parent who frets over development milestones, skinned knees, and every minutiae of every danger that could face Mikey. I am guilty, however, of the cousin of that psychosis, where all my adult conversations – even with people who don’t even have any interest in having kids – turn back to stories about my adorable boy. And, worse, I am in danger of becoming a stage dad.
Everyone thinks that their kid is the cutest, most talented, most brilliant, and funniest creature yet spawned. Those of us who live in the vicinity of Hollywood have to live with the temptation that this wonderfulness needs to be and easily can be shared with the world. In Dayton, Ohio or Billings, Montana, parents love to hear from friends, family, and kind strangers, “Your kid is amazing. He could be a star.”
Only here do we then think, “Oh, yes, let’s do that.”
When our favorite boys’ clothing designer, Fore!! Axel and Hudson announced an open casting call on Facebook, we submitted a couple photos of Mikey on a lark. They replied back immediately that they wanted him for the photo shoot.
It went pretty well after he understood about standing on a mark and why Daddy and Papa couldn’t be in the picture with him. The biggest direction he had ever been given when taking a photo was to say, “Cheese.” A couple of the shots they took will probably be in their Fall “Look Book,” so evidently they got what they were looking for.
Some friends with contacts at model agencies have taken some of the pictures we’ve given them, and we might be getting some representation soon for more work.
Immediately, of course, one’s mind goes to all the True Hollywood Stories of child stars with unhappy lives – Corey Haim, Dana Plato, Brad Renfro, Mackenzie Phillips, Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, the list is long. Worrying about the dangers of superstardom, though, is like fretting about a lightning strike. It’s a million percent likely not to occur, so there’s no reason not to get out and have fun.
If doing the photo shoot was serendipitous, and sending photos to agents is simply logical, it’s hard to come up with a good reason for the most recent, goofiest of projects. Perhaps you’ve seen the commercials yourself: Tyson’s Chicken Nuggets want you to submit a picture of your kid eating their product. The winner gets, not money, but fleeting fame, with his or her mug in ads in various magazines and a billboard in Times Square.
It’s a blatant attempt to sell product to vain parents. I was unable to resist.
In addition to being absolutely adorable, as I’ve mentioned, Mikey is funny as hell, so as creative photographer, I thought I’d get him to sing some songs, mug for the camera, and generally try to be as silly as possible. In that I succeeded, and we had a great time. The actual pictures, however, just look like I’m documenting some kind of tragic, involuntary seizure.
Check it out:
We picked the least weird one and submitted it. Near as I can tell from Tyson’s “Wall of Smiles,” every single daft parent of every single halfway presentable child in America submitted one. It’s worth a visit just to see multiple spellings of Addison, Chase, and Jayden. Oh, and if you want to see Mikey’s picture and vote for it, I suppose I shouldn’t stand in your way.
Now, excuse me while I practice my rendition of Rose’s Turn from “Gypsy” in the mirror …
An Interview with Ted Peterson by The Next Family
TNF: How has it been blogging for TNF?
The horror, the horror. Heh heh heh, I’m kidding, of course. It’s been great, but challenging. When I started blogging three years ago, there was a lot of drama going on: becoming a foster parent, getting our first placements, dealing with the new experience of being a parent, and finally adopting our son. Since then, we’ve established our routines and the dramas are thankfully few and far between. That’s good for my life, but not great for finding subjects to write about. I’m getting more comfortable now, telling our stories which are really just everyday stories. One of my friends says -I think kindly- that I’m sounding like Erma Bombeck.
TNF: How is your family like every other family and how is it different?
All the ways we’re different aren’t so unusual one by one, but when you add them up, we are the weird. We’re a same-sex couple who adopted a biracial son, for starters. My partner Ian is British, though he’s recently picked up American citizenship as well. Culturally, he’s a super-Brit, and has taught our boy to love Marmite and bangers. I am a Midwesterner boy with a close, loving family, but when you dig a little deeper, we’re pretty eccentric and quite proudly so.
When we get together with any other family with a three-year-old, we speak the same language. Potty training and preschools, stubbornness and sleep deprivation, toys, books, Disney this, and Disney that.
TNF: Did your family accept you and your lifestyle? If yes, explain and if not explain what you have done to help them to accept your decisions and your lifestyle.
When I came out to my parents, the first thing my mom asked was if I was seeing anyone special. I told her no, and she said that I should try to find someone, because life is so much better with someone to share it with. They would know, my parents are best friends. When I met Ian and brought him home, they treated him as one of us immediately – which on recollection, is pretty strange. In a sense it was a test to see if he could hold his own, and he passed with flying colors, and that was the end of that.
My parents eloped, and even though I think they were puzzled that we felt the need for a big party to celebrate our marriage, of course they came. They weren’t at all puzzled by our decision to adopt, and they cried along with us when we lost our first two placements. Now that we have Mikey, he forever wants to see Grandma and Grandpa, and of course the feeling is mutual. It’s too bad they’re on the east coast and we’re on the west, but we manage to see each other a couple times a year.
TNF: How do you juggle the work at home with your jobs?
I was lucky enough to be able to take off the first four months we had Mikey, which was so important for bonding. When I went back to work, Mikey went to daycare, which he loved, but I predictably was guilt-riddled about. Now, we’re at preschool and we have a routine, which includes two alternating nannies who pick him up from school. It’s tough though, because my industry demands I put in more than 40 hours a week, so I often will just see Mikey first thing in the morning when we bring him to school, and dinner and bedtime.
Juggling work and home is a work in process, but the one thing I’ve figured out is that when I’m home with Mikey, unless I’m in my office, I am 100% there for him. No checking email or texts while we play. I am happy to let the phone go to voicemail.
TNF: What lessons do you feel are the most important to teach children in this day and age? Are there any lessons they, or perhaps we as parents should unlearn?
It’s funny, I never think about lessons. I believe that play and learning are the exact same thing – ideally throughout life and certainly in childhood. Playing with Legos and setting up train tracks, dancing and singing nursery rhymes, trips to the zoo and the beach and the theater, all are all about learning.
I was talking to a friend of mine about whether everyone should challenge authority, or whether childrens and teenagers should learn to do as they’re told. I said I think children and teens should especially challenge authority, and they do whether you want them to or not. The word “challenge” makes it sound like an aggressive, confrontational act, but I take it to mean a variety of actions – question authority, engage with authority, ask “why” of authority, et cetera.
Children and teenagers should grow into independent adults capable of critical thinking, and the only way to that goal is generally polite, thoughtful, practical, but unrelenting challenging of authority. Including us, I might add. Our job is not to avoid conflict but to help our children win arguments with us.
TNF: Any words of wisdom to pass on to our readers?
I think the chief secret of my relationship with my partner and my son is that I find them both incredibly interesting. I want to be with them all the time and ask them what they think, whether I agree with them or not, and I feel them doing the same for me. The result is that even though we’re a family that laughs a lot, we’re also a respectful family in the best sense. I think that’s the most solid foundation you can build for relationships.