Celebrate the First Day of School, Don’t Mourn It

school_angstLast September, I stood in my driveway on a cool autumn morning and watched my then 5-year-old beam with pride. After briefly struggling under the weight of his oversized backpack and kissing everyone goodbye, he was literally buzzing with excitement as the big yellow school bus pulled up. He bolted up the steps, found a friend to sit with, the doors closed, and off he went to kindergarten. The kid never even looked back to wave.

Which is to say it was a complete success, because that’s exactly how my wife and I wanted it.

There was no sobbing in the corner. No hand-wringing. No cursing of time and how it robs us of our little babies. No one jumped in the car to follow the bus like some crazed helicopter parent stalker just in case our little cherub had a tough time. Mainly because, in the weeks leading up to the big moment, we treated the first day of school as an exciting and joyously momentous occasion — something to celebrate instead of mourn and fear. And I firmly believe because we took that approach, so did he.

That stands in stark contrast to the script playing out for many other parents, and parent bloggers, who seem to dread the start of school. Some even seem to be making it about themselves instead of their kids.

Look, I get being astounded at how fast the time passes. And, as some pointed out, I also understand getting a little melancholy, or being so proud on the first day of school that you shed some tears out of happiness. While I completely get that we’re all different and so are our emotional responses,  I think emanating a feeling of dread leading up to the first day of school — and then either crying or hovering in front of your kid on the day of — is a potentially terrible thing.

Our kids look to us for direction, so if we’re showing signs we’re upset about a huge transition, it stands to reason they’ll start getting upset and anxious as well. That’s why there was no crying on Will’s first day, and we didn’t go to the school with him to witness his transition into the classroom. MJ and I talked, and we thought getting sad in front of him and showing up at the school sends the message that something is wrong, there’s a reason to be sad, and he can’t do it on his own.

But he can do it. And he did.

Also, I know I’ve delved into this topic before, but I just don’t get the constant wailing about wishing we could turn back the clock. Parents of incoming kindergarten students, you have no idea what kind of amazing things you’re in for this year. If they can’t read already, suddenly they’re reading EVERYTHING. And if they can already read, their skills are sharpened exponentially and taken to the next level. Will grew so much in kindergarten both inside and outside of the classroom, and it was amazing witnessing his progress in real time.

Time flies and lamenting its passage is understandable to a degree. But as a parent, I just won’t let that sadness ooze out in front of him — especially not on the first day of school. I won’t turn something that’s supposed to be exciting into anything resembling a negative. Because as a Facebook acquaintance who works as a kindergarten teacher wrote:

First day of school this year a mom started to cry…what does the boy, who was absolutely fine up to that point, do?? He starts crying – no wonder. If the mom cries the child gets the feeling something must be wrong or even bad about this place, so he starts crying too. The mom stayed all morning (Grrrrrr!!) and sobbed all morning long. Please, by all means go cry if it helps you, but do it AFTER you said goodbye and your child can’t see you anymore!”

See? It’s bad for the kid, the parents, and even the teachers. That’s why when Will has his first day of first grade tomorrow, it’ll be with a smile on all of our faces. A happy day with no tears. A day we’ve been looking forward to, and the start of a new chapter.

I’m saving the tears for three days from now when I’ll be having trouble helping Will with his first grade math homework.

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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

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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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