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The 5 Stages of Spending Time Without Kids

nokids“Holy $*&%, I just need some time for myself and away from these kids!!”

How many parents have uttered some variation of that phrase at some point in time? I know I have. Hell, I just went through life with an infant again this past year. Between Sam’s multiple nightly awakenings, screaming fits, and teething, combined with Will’s adjustments to big brotherhood and the first year of school, I used to fantasize about a life of solitude in a quiet mountain cabin where no one could find me and I could pee alone.

But on the rare occasions we’re granted a parental sabbatical, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend — we miss our damn kids too much!

I don’t know about you guys, but it’s not too long after I’m sprung from the asylum that I start to — gulp — miss it a little. And then a lot. It’s like some sort of parental Stockholm Syndrome. I just spent 55 hours on my own, and here are the stages of kidlessness I experienced.

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Stage 1: FREEDOM!!!!!!!!
The first stage is characterized by an initial and intense feeling of release. Like I’m Andy Dufresne finally escaping Shawshank Prison through 500 yards of shit smelling foulness. Or like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, only if I skipped the torture and got to sleep with Sophie Marceau again instead. Whether your childfree time is going to last for a night or a week, it seems the possibilities are endless and you can do anything. Road trip, baseball game, bar, expensive dinner, or even a movie at the theater that doesn’t have cartoons — the world is your oyster.

Stage 2: Whatever I Want!
Sure, you’re going to put your Vegas trip into action soon. But that can wait for a minute, while you enjoy the little things you can’t do when the family is around. You know, the simple things you used to do when you were single. As for me, I immediately strip down to my boxers, stretch out on the couch, and watch SportsCenter while scratching myself at will. Either that or all the movies no one else likes. Then I have a dinner that consists of Kraft mac & cheese, beer, and Doritos. Normally I’d be chastised for my post meal bodily functions, but only the dog was affected this time (and she was guilty of a few nasty ones too). And then — as the grand finale — I take up the entire king size bed by sleeping diagonally, as opposed to sleeping on the sliver of bed I have after the wife and dog are accounted for. Sure it might SEEM slightly pathetic that a grown man can enjoy farting in peace, leaving the toilet seat up without reproach, and using a plethora of bed space so much, but best not to dwell on such matters for long. There’s work to do.

Stage 3: Reality Sets In
After you’ve eaten like a pig and reveled in smelling like one as well, it’s time to get serious about this temporary kid hiatus. That’s when you start thinking of all your friends and get ready to call them up to have a good old fashioned rager of a party. You call Jim but his oldest has summer baseball and his youngest has a ballet recital. No worries. Skip right to Brian, only to find out he’s going to a concert. Awesome, right? Because you haven’t been to a live show in years. The only problem? It’s a “Wiggles” concert. Andy and Jake moved away, Ted doesn’t want to stay out past 10 pm because he’s coaching T-ball in the morning, and Bill already went out for a night this month so he’s used up his privileges. Suddenly you realize two things: 1) You’re old, and 2) Spontaneity is officially dead. Which makes you sad. Which leads to additional mac & cheese, Netflix, and gas.

Stage 4: This Kind of Sucks
This stage sees panic setting in. You’ve gorged yourself, farted at will, lounged around in your boxers, and realized all of your friends are now lame. You start calling your wife and kids more often just to hear what they’re doing. While you’re watching TV, you see “Jake and the NeverLand Pirates” and consider watching it because you know how much your oldest likes it. But you’re barely even watching TV now because you’re mostly looking at family pictures hanging in the hall, as you make one more call to the family to see what they’re doing now.

Stage 5: COME HOME!!!
This is when things get really desperate. Suddenly your faltering plans don’t even matter, because you’re too busy playing with Transformers and sitting in the kids’ empty rooms getting emotional. You’re not even watching TV because you’re combing through six years of YouTube home videos. You know they’re due home today so you up your calls to every hour on the hour just in case they get home early. In a fit of total desperation and longing, you flip on Frozen and sing “Let It Go” with tears streaming down your face as you promise never to take your family for granted ever again.

When they finally pull into the driveway you sprint out barefoot because you’re so damn happy to see them. You rip open the door of the minivan to see your precious little angels, only to have the youngest sneeze in your eye and simultaneously take a dump the likes of which makes landfills blush, while the oldest bitterly complains you woke him up from his nap.

I need a break…

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When In Doubt, Change Your Perspective

will_sunset“Dad, you’ve gotta come up here.”

My 6-year-old beckons from atop a lifeguard stand on a Harwichport beach. It’s after sunset and we have the expanse of sand entirely to ourselves, save the cormorants dawdling by the ocean’s edge. My initial reaction is to refuse, since climbing the lifeguard stand smacks of effort and I’m totally exhausted from the frenzy of a day with kids on Cape Cod. Plus, I loathe the beach, and my first thought is not to extend my time there. But 6-year-olds are nothing if not persistent, so up I went.

Then he asked me questions. Why is the sky black on one side, but orange on the other? Why is the water salty? Where does all the sand come from? How come the ocean meets the sky way far out, and does that mean we can touch the sky if we sail far enough? Some I answered, some I didn’t know, and others I simply left up to childhood imagination.

“You know what I like best, Dad?” he asked me, head cocked to one side.
“No pal, what do you like best?”
“I like that it’s all the same stuff we’ve been looking at, but different. Because we’re high up.”

I always thought I hated the beach (and the subsequent beach experience that goes along with it) for simple reasons. I hate the heat, I burn easily, I don’t like swimming, I loathe taking my shirt off in public, sand is annoying, and beaches are usually crowded. Fairly straightforward, summertime, fat guy laments. But after my most recent beach trip with my son, I’m thinking I had it all wrong.

Will made me stand with him in the surf to let the waves tickle our toes. I hate that feeling. It’s not the fact that I’m wet that bothers me, it’s the feeling of being off balance. As the waves break on shore and the water sweeps past, I feel like the Earth is giving out beneath me, taking away my solid ground. Or at least the illusion that I was on solid ground to begin with.

And looking out at the horizon has always made me uncomfortable, because nothing is scarier to me than uncertainty. I’m someone who has never had a passport because I’ve never left the United States (except for Canada). I prefer familiarity to the great unknown, which is probably why I’m partial to the mountains over the ocean. I can almost always see the top of the mountain, and with a lot of effort I know I could eventually get to the top. But even though I’m aware a long ocean journey would eventually find land, the never-ending nature of the sea overwhelms me. As does losing sight of the shore.

The strains of U2′s “Beautiful Day” drift toward us from a wedding reception farther up the beach. Will walks ahead of me now, holding his shoes in one hand and scanning the sea-swept ground for shells (and Great White Sharks, naturally). From my angle, it looks like if he kept walking along the shore he’d eventually curve off into the horizon where the sea touches the sky.

Part of me wants him to charge into the unknown with reckless abandon and total confidence, going places I would never dare. But another part of me wants to carry him out of the surf and away from the tides completely, to be safely on the shore. As if the shore — with its shifting sands and seismic inconsistencies– is really any safer.

The beach during a crowded, 90-degree day is still my version of hell. But for me to continue saying “I hate the beach” just isn’t accurate. The beach at night is nice. After sunset, walking on cool sand, and sitting atop a lifeguard chair with my son — this version of the beach was nice and it was all ours for a little while.

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Stop Criticizing the Ice Bucket Challenge

donate

Apparently it’s not enough to do good deeds anymore, unless you’re doing them “correctly” or for the right reasons.

Perhaps you’ve participated in the now infamous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people video tape themselves getting a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads, donate, challenge others to do the same, and then post the entire thing on Facebook and other social media. You probably did it, donated, and felt pretty good about yourself, right? Well wipe that smug smile off your face, because some people think donations that come via marketing campaigns and viral memes are negative.

Yup, that’s right. You’re donating incorrectly and for all the wrong reasons. You big jerks.

Nevermind the fact that as of August 20, the Ice Bucket Challenge helped raise $31.5 million (and growing) for ALS research. Because (and stop me if you’ve heard this in the last couple of weeks) it shouldn’t take Facebook and videos of ourselves getting buckets of freezing cold water dumped on our heads to donate. We should donate because it’s the right thing to do, not because we’re guilted or pressured into it by friends, family, and social media, according to the critics.

Look, if someone had told me a month ago that I’d be showering myself with freezing cold water and donating to charity because of it, I would’ve mocked them. In fact, I was so dubious about the Ice Bucket Challenge that I held off on doing it, even though I had been repeatedly nominated. I only did it after I found out the challenge had actually led to a spike in donations.

Because here’s the thing — it doesn’t matter how or why people donate. It just matters that some good is being done.

Same goes for this story making the rounds, about a bunch of Starbucks customers in Tampa who started a “pay it forward” campaign, in which each person paid for the coffee of the person behind them. Hundreds of people in a row performed the good deed, but it ended when one pompous blogger intentionally broke the streak because the Starbucks baristas had begun asking each customer if they wished to continue the streak. To him, that violated the unwritten rules of good deed doing because it was more peer pressure than anything else.

Bullshit. Utter bullshit. Because good deeds are good deeds, even when they might have been prodded into existence by a little guilt.

Who among us hasn’t taken our kids’ fund raisers to work and hit up coworkers? Ever dug a dollar out of your pocket at the supermarket because the Scouts/Cheerleaders/Pop Warner are having a charitable drive? Volunteers man phone banks and make calls to raise money for charity as well.

If you gave to any of these, you’ve done something good. Something worthy of celebration. So what if you felt some pressure from social media to donate to ALS? I bet a lot of people knew nothing about the disease before they did the challenge and donated. And so what if a barista asks you if you want to buy coffee for the person behind you? First of all, you can always say no. There’s no shame in that. Second, I’m hoping knowing about “pay it forward” will prompt people to do it more often.

The world is so fucked up right now. Whether it’s racial tensions exploding in Missouri, another truce broken in Gaza, beloved actors committing suicide, or journalists being beheaded, we’re under siege from bad news. The world strikes me as off kilter and our humanity has never felt so fragile.

So in the face of all that, I think it’s pretty abhorrent and ill-advised to sit there and criticize things that are helping people.

No one deserves a medal for doing the Ice Bucket Challenge. Our donations don’t make us superheroes and we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back and be done with charitable giving and random acts of kindness, simply because we took part. But you know what else people who give to charity don’t deserve? Condescending and misplaced scorn from people who have nothing better to do than knock people doing something positive.

In a fit of irony, those railing against the millions raised the “wrong way” for ALS are guilty of the very same narcissism they allegedly abhor in others. So let’s criticize actual problems and misdeeds, and celebrate the fact that for a little while, we all came together and did something positive.

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Parents: It Is Never OK to Change a Diaper at the Table

diaper

I want you to imagine you’re at a restaurant, with your kids, and a man walks inside holding a paper bag.

He orders some food and sits down at a nearby table. Then, without warning, the man opens the paper bag and you see it is full of shit. Yup, that’s right. I’m talking actual human feces out in the open where you and your family are eating. He closes the bag up quickly but you’ve already seen it and the smell of piss and crap is now wafting through the air. Outrageous, right? If you’re anything like me, you’d complain to the manager immediately to have this guy removed. Human excrement in a dining area? Disgusting!

Now, replace the man with a mother and the paper bag with a diaper, and that’s exactly what happened in Texas earlier this week.

Miranda Sowers and her three daughters, including a 3-month-old, were at a neighborhood pizza joint when the infant dropped a stink bomb in her diaper. Sowers went to the bathroom, but there was no changing table. Not wanting to pack her family up, she decided the best course of action was to change her diaper right there at the table, on one of the chairs, near where other patrons were eating.

Understandably, people complained to the manager and Sowers was given her food in a to-go container and asked to leave. Yet amazingly, she felt SHE was the one who was wronged, and ultimately decided to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, as well as alert the press.

Let’s get one thing straight — what Sowers did is disgusting and wrong.

Not only is it unsanitary to introduce feces to an eating environment, it’s also incredibly rude and unnecessary. There were other people eating around mom and her clan, yet because she was displeased with the lack of a changing station (a reasonable criticism, by the way), she went ahead and polluted everyone else’s lunch that day.

It is never the right move to open up a poop-filled diaper where everyone is eating. Ever. Excrement + Eating Area = No. Yet when I put this story on Facebook, I had an even bigger surprise — a number of parents defending Sowers! Check out some of the comments:

I think we should not judge since mommies have baby brain at 4 months pospartum (sic).”

The restaurant needs to take care of business and put in changing tables, or have a sign that says don’t bring your kids here.”

I changed LO at the booth in chipotles on out (sic) way back from NC because they didn’t have a changing table in the bathroom. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.”

 I would’ve done exactly as she did. And then never go there again, because obviously they don’t think parents make up enough of their clientèle to warrant a place for their childrens bathroom needs to be met, even though I’m pretty sure it is a health code violation to not have a changing table for this exact reason. She was right in reporting them. Maybe the dumbass in charge will figure it out.”

Wow. I mean…WOW! I’m not stunned and speechless often, but the fact that anyone was defending this mom and blaming the restaurant, well…it threw me. A lot.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks.

I don’t think it’s out of bounds to politely inquire as to the absence of a changing station in the bathroom. Key word: politely. But that having been said, restaurants are not (and should not be) required to cater to one certain group. If you don’t like it, you have the option to dine elsewhere and if enough people speak with their wallets, the message will be received.

But the main thing I want to talk about is regarding where she should’ve changed the baby absent a changing station in the bathroom.

Moms may not realize this, but the one thing dads get really good at really quickly, is learning how to change a diaper in suboptimal conditions. Because even when you find a restaurant with a changing station in the ladies room, chances are there isn’t a matching one in the men’s room. So we need to make it work however we can, and that ain’t always pretty (or easy).

So what should Sowers have done when forced to think like a dad? The easiest thing to do, if it applies to you, is go back out to the car. I’ve changed diapers on every seat and in the back. It’s easy, it’s only messing up your own stuff, and you’re not bothering anyone else. If you don’t have a car (or the car isn’t available for some reason), then I would try the bathroom counter. If that’s not feasible, then you suck it up, throw the changing pad (yes, she had one with her) on the cleanest part of the floor you can find, and make it quick.

What you should never do, under any circumstances, is introduce human fecal matter into the same vicinity where people are eating. And if you do have an unfortunate mental lapse and proceed to be rude and disgusting, you should not blame the restaurant. The restaurant is not responsible for you or your kids, and it is not responsible for how you dispose of dirty diapers. That is YOUR responsibility as a parent.

When the hell did some parents become this entitled?

Having kids doesn’t mean the world should cater to us. It doesn’t mean every business needs to be prepared to meet our needs. And it certainly doesn’t mean we have the right to gross people out with our kids’ bodily functions during meals, simply because we didn’t plan ahead.

Upset about the absence of changing tables? Leave.
Need to change a diaper? Find a way to do it that doesn’t affect everyone else.
Feel unwelcome? Find a more family-friendly restaurant.

But don’t screw up in a mind-bogglingly discourteous way and then turn around and blame someone else for your stupid mistake. That’s the kind of stuff that gives all parents a bad name. We’re better than that.

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Working Parents Squeeze In Their Moments

will_canoe

The canoe glides along silently, save the “plunk/whoosh” sound of the paddle slicing through the water’s surface. The gargantuan clouds are puffy and impossibly white, but not foreboding — no rain checks needed today. A summer zephyr gently prods us along toward a cove spotted with lily pads, as the oldest and I look to add to our summer bass total.

“Dad, this is very calm. And peaceful,” he says from the front of the canoe.

But all I can do is look down into the clear water to see the milfoil just below the surface. Thick, green submerged weeds like fuzzy fingers reaching up from the depths. I can’t help but feel this invasive species is reaching for me, trying to rob me of time like it’s suffocating the water quality in the pond.

I’m only on Day #3 of my vacation, but already my window is closing and one thought is flashing in my mind like a neon sign — DO MORE!

This is the curse of working parents.

I work two jobs (three if you count the blog) and I struggle to provide as a breadwinner and a father. Rent, bills, and canoes aren’t cheap, which makes the hours at work numerous and quality time scarce. I get three weeks of vacation every year, but I use one for conferences and the other around Christmas when things are crazy. That leaves one week. One week solely for my kids. One week to do everything.

Lately I’ve been envying my wife for being a stay-at-home mom, which is ironic since I’m not even sure I could do her job. Or that I’d want to do it, if we’re being honest. I know her role is filled with damn hard work and days she questions her sanity when our youngest won’t nap because his 1-year molars are coming in and he’s drooling blood in a fit of rage. I know sometimes she feels like she wishes she could trade places with me.

But stay-at-home parents have the thing I’m most envious of — the knowledge that they’re doing the most important thing in raising quality human beings.

They are in the trenches and doing the grunt work. Sure they’re unappreciated now when the kids are young, but in 25 years they’re going to realize my wife was always there. The reliable one. The go-to parent. And they’ll have a bond with her that will be deeper and stronger than one can imagine.

Me? I’m the guy working on the computer. Answering one last email and sending one final freelance pitch. So on vacation, I really pour it on.

“Let’s go the museum!”
“Hey, how bout a baseball game?”
“Want some ice cream?”
“Time for fishing!”

Where MJ is a fire that burns slowly and steadily, I flash hot and bright and then fade back into the office. She’s steady as the tides, I’m a tsunami. I’m an annual meteor shower and she’s the moon.

Working parents don’t witness milestones, they’re told they occurred. The phone call at the office that he got his first tooth. The video she sends you of his first steps, and hey — at least we saw it before all of Facebook. So there’s that. It’s enough to make us feel like spectators, or subscribers to the newsletter of our own lives.

Which is why when vacation hits, I get a little desperate.

We tried to get Will to ride his bike without training wheels last year. It went horribly. He wasn’t ready or physically able, and it ended with lots of crying, pouting, and frustration. Will was also pretty upset.

But this year, I vowed to make sure Will could ride his bike by the end of the summer. And I was going to see it, dammit.

When we went at the beginning of vacation a week ago, it was…rough. I was too hard on him and placed way too much pressure on the poor kid, and his performance reflected that. I was trying to force it so I didn’t miss it, and in the process I damn near ruined everything.

Yesterday was my last day of vacation. After we went fishing, I nonchalantly asked if he’d like to try bike riding one more time. This time, I took an entirely different tack. I told him it didn’t matter if he did it, only that he improve from last time. I had him sit down first and envision a successful ride, and then try to emulate in real life what he mentally pictured. I smiled and told him stories of my learning-to-ride failures as a precocious kid.

He fell. A lot. But then, well…he didn’t.

Once my attitude was positive, so was his. He refused to accept my help because he wanted to do it on his own, and he constantly repeated affirming messages to himself throughout the whole thing. “Just keep trying, Will” and “Will, remember to pedal, steer, and not panic.” 

And then off he went, pedaling furiously away from me as I jogged to catch up. As apt a metaphor for parenting as there ever will be. But this one — learning how to ride a bike — this one is ours. Will’s and mine. I needed a win, badly, and my wife saw that and graciously let me have it. Because she’s awesome and far too good for me.

Back on the pond, the interesting thing about milfoil weeds is there are no known biological controls to fight them off or slow them down. In time, and like time, they come whether we like it or not and eventually they change the existing habitat. Armed with that knowledge, my vacations in coming years have taken on a whole new meaning and level of importance.

If you only have a week, you’d better make it count.

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