Tag Archives: parenting

Son, Be Brave At All Costs

Photo by Jason Rosewell
Photo by Jason Rosewell

An older boy told my son he’s a terrible singer and it shattered him. But even worse, it has the potential to ruin much more than his day.

Will, 7, has been practicing the Star Spangled Banner in music class for weeks. He sings it constantly around the house, to the point no one can question his commitment to practice. Whether or not he’s any good is immaterial, because he’s passionate about it and sings the song with fervor and glee. Also, he’s fucking 7, so there’s no reason to go all Simon Cowell on him.

We were at a party with kids we didn’t know, and they all went off to play together. After a few minutes, it was apparent they discovered the karaoke machine set up in the basement. I heard the little ones singing songs from Frozen, Princess and the Frog, and The Little Mermaid to name a few. But then I heard the familiar strains of our country’s national anthem, and I smiled as I listened to Will belt out the words with gusto.

But when he trudged upstairs alone a few minutes later his lip was trembling and he was fighting back tears. He retreated to the corner of an empty room, so I went to him and asked what was wrong.

“That boy said I’m a horrible singer and I should never sing again because I’m so bad, and nobody wants to hear it,” he said, eyes welling up with tears.

My first instinct, like all parents have when their kids are subject to unnecessary cruelty, was to find the little bastard and scare the life out of him. But since I’m an adult and that’s a crime, I had to come up with a better plan.

It’s easy to resort to platitudes at times like this. “Don’t listen to him” and “You’re fantastic” and “It doesn’t matter what other people think” are all old favorites and standbys, and could easily be implemented in situations like these. But I think, even at 7, kids know when you’re placating them with recycled advice that doesn’t truly take their hurt into account. So instead of trotting out those old lines, I asked him a question.

“Did he sing?” I asked.

“Did who sing?”

“The boy who made fun of you? Did he sing anything down there?”

“No, he didn’t sing. Why?”

I told my son the other boy didn’t sing because he’s a coward. And he felt so bad about being too scared to do something that he had to resort to insults to make himself feel better about being gutless. Whether someone sings well or not is far less important than having the intestinal fortitude to put yourself out there, and that’s what Will did. He took a chance and decided to risk it by singing in front of an audience, while this other boy took the easy way out and simply criticized others while watching safely from the sidelines.

The world has too many critics and not enough doers.

My boy, like his father, is sensitive. In fairness, sometimes too sensitive. But not yesterday. Yesterday he had a right to be upset and hurt. I hate that my kids have to face this stuff  so early, inescapable and necessary though it may be. The thought of them giving up on something they love because of cruel words from others just kills me, and it’s unsettling how years of parenting can seemingly be undone with one off-handed remark.

I’m sure the boy who said it isn’t bad, and kids say mean and stupid things to each other. It happens and I get it. But as I watched a carefree kid with a love of singing tell me he’s never going to sing again, my heart sank. Needless to say, he didn’t go back downstairs to join the karaoke party.

Later, during our car ride back home, I saw his face in the rearview mirror still full of sadness. So I grabbed my phone and quickly called up the national anthem and played it at full blast.

“Dad, don’t. I know what you’re doing,” he said.

I pretended I didn’t hear him as I sang along loudly. He rolled his eyes and went back to playing his Nintendo 3DS, determined not to give in to my ploy. But halfway through the song I saw his lips moving, mouthing the words. Then, toward the end, I could hear him. Softly, but I heard him singing.

“…and the home, of the, brave.”

Always be brave, kid. It’s not easy, but you’ll be better for it. I’m proud of you.

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When Dad Doesn’t Fit In

photo credit: Rest in Piece via photopin (license)
photo credit: Rest in Piece via photopin (license)

The irony is rich.

When I accepted a new job as a director of a PR agency in Boston a couple of months ago, I was worried about a lot of things. Could I do the work? Would I fit in with the people there? Will the learning curve be too steep? Will I be able to hack it in the city? As it turns out, those fears were unwarranted. I can do the work, I love the people, I’m contributing as I learn, and I’ve come to really enjoy the city. I’m out of the creative rut I was in at IBM, I’m back with a smaller company which is more my style, and I get to do something different just about every single day. It’s fantastic.

The problem I have isn’t at work, it’s at home.

I used to work from home three days a week, which meant I saw my kids all the time. I was still connected if not always available. I could do things like put my son on the bus and volunteer in his classroom every Friday. I was home for dinner almost every night. I was plugged in.

Now I commute into Boston five days a week. I’m out the door by 6:30 am and I don’t get home for another 12 hours. Sometimes the kids are awake when I leave, sometimes they aren’t, and I get home half an hour before Sam goes to bed. I miss every dinner. I have just enough time to scarf down some food, put Sam to bed, ask Will how his day was, put Will to bed, and gaze at Tommy as he drifts off to sleep.

Occasionally my wife and I even say hello to one another before falling into bed exhausted.

That means MJ is basically a single mom for 12 hours a day, Monday through Friday. She handles everything at home because I’m not there, and she does it well. I married a fiercely independent woman, and even before I started my job she was preparing herself for when I was gone. That means developing routines predicated on being a one-woman show, maximizing individual effectiveness, and strategically adapting to life as a solo, on-the-go mom.

I was prepared for all of that. What I wasn’t ready for was what happens when I am finally there.

MJ scrambles to get by with three kids in tow on a daily basis and she’s developed certain routines. But when I’m home, my strategies are a little different. We’ve always differed in our approaches to just about everything, but now that she has the bulk of the parenting responsibilities during the week, it’s all her way. Needless to say, the weekends are full of clashes.

She and the kids are used to one thing, I’m bringing something else to the table. Neither of us is right or wrong, it’s just a matter of familiarity. Being unfamiliar with their regimen, I feel like I’m gumming up the works. Mainly because my oldest has no qualms telling me “you’re doing it wrong, dad” when I’m upending their routines.

I feel a little bit like an outsider or a fish out of water. I watch my family operate — accustomed to life without me during the week — and I get a little sad. I feel like I don’t fit in, and worse than that, I feel like a hindrance. I’m unnecessary drag on their sailboat as I struggle to figure out what my crew is doing.

MJ would never say this and she denies it, but I’m confident I see it at times. I don’t blame her, she’s doing what she has to do to get by on a daily basis. But still, I feel so — removed.

I used to eyeball Will’s homework and work with him on his spelling every morning over breakfast. I used to be the go-to person for his teacher and I was a familiar face in the classroom thanks to volunteering. Working at home allowed me to see Sam grow up and become awesome on a near daily basis, as I was the first to hear new words and watch him meet milestones. I was still working at home so I couldn’t always play, but I could take five minutes and snuggle with him. And I could discuss things with my wife and give her a hand when necessary.

Now? I’m a ship passing my family in the night. Sam sings the alphabet and counts to 15, and I didn’t know right away. A girl has a crush on Will at school, and I found out days later because it had already been discussed. And Tommy seems to age 6 months every time I come home from work. I try to plug back in on weekends between emails and sponsored blog posts for my second job, but I never feel like I’m on the same page. Nothing feels like it fits anymore, and sometimes I wonder if all my kids will remember of me is the guy who left when it was dark and got home when it was darker.

Kids don’t care that the lights need to be kept on, rent needs to be paid, and down payments need to be saved for a house. Stay-at-home parents are amazing and keep the world turning, but working parents are forced to give up life’s most precious commodity — time. We worry every single day our contributions — while completely necessary — aren’t enough. We worry we’re more of a hindrance than a help, and an annoyance patiently endured until Monday morning when things get back to normal.

This tightrope we walk is so perilous, not because of the fall, but because success isn’t even guaranteed should we make it across.

It’s time to find my fit and focus on quality time versus quantity. Oh, and single parents — I have no freaking idea how you do it!

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Netflix Helps Parents with the Bedtime Wars

dino5minutes

Sam is two. Two-year-olds don’t like to be told what to do. And they especially don’t like being told to take a nap or go to bed.

Every parent has war stories to tell involving bedtime, and I’m no exception. When they’re really young and not quite fully verbal, they just cry a lot. But now that Sam has found his voice, he can communicate his objections more clearly. Which is to say, he is already turning into a master manipulator who tries to weasel “just five more minutes” every. single. night.

And I know I’m not alone, as this infographic from Netflix proves. Although they haven’t officially learned to network, kids seem to inherently know from birth to team up with other kids and cause their parents similar headaches. It’s uncanny.

netflixsurvey

But seriously, you should hear some of the things Sam says to avoid going to bed.

“Dada, no time yet.” (as if he can tell time)
“Dada, I go potty.” (this is toddler speak for “I’m going to sit on the toilet, do nothing, laugh at you, and then piss all over you, the bathroom, and everywhere but in the toilet)
“Dada, I need to see my friends at the zoo.” (yes, he calls the animals at the zoo his friends, which is pretty cute, I admit)
“Dada, I’m scared of T-Rex in my room.” (despite dinosaurs being long gone for millions of years, this excuse will seemingly never be extinct)
“Dada, I finish watching TV.”

That last one is my biggest weakness, mainly because I’m a TV fanatic and I can respect wanting to finish watching something once you’ve started. The only problem is most shows are at least half an hour long, so if I let him stay up for the end of the program I’m extending his bedtime by quite a bit. And he knows it.

That’s why Netflix has felt my pain and come up with a solution in the form of 5 Minute Favorites from Dinotrux.

So here’s how it works. I tell my overconfident master negotiator he can watch one more TV show before bed. He’s happy because he thinks he’s outsmarted me again and gotten his way, but little does he know he’s watching a 5-minute-long condensed version of the new hit show, and in 300 seconds he’s off to bed after having watched as entire show. Just like I promised.

Is it a little dodgy? Yes. Does it allow me to get off on a technicality? Definitely. But who cares? Welcome to parenting. Your kid gets five more minutes, quality TV programming, and you finally get to feel smarter than a toddler. It’s a win-win. Except if you’re the kid, but screw that noise.

Bedtime battles are a matter of survival, and winning is crucial to maintain sanity. Netflix already does so much in the binge-watching department to keep me sane, and now they’re helping me with kid hacks. Thank you for helping me trick and bamboozle my child, Netflix. You clearly know what’s important and what parents need, and I salute you for it.

StreamTeamBadgeI was compensated by Netflix for writing this post. Although I did not receive monetary compensation, I received free Netflix for a year and an a smart TV. However, as always, my opinions are 100% my own. Check out Netflix on Facebook.

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What It’s Like Having Three Kids

Photo by Meri Belanger of Sootie Studios.
Photo by Laura Fiorillo of Family Tree Photography.

Imagine you’re wrestling an alligator with your bare hands while also trying to catch a monkey who is just out of reach and throwing feces at you. Then you’re asked to simultaneously tame a lion.

I’ve only been a father of three for six weeks, but this is the most apt comparison I can think of when describing what it’s like to raise a trio of children.

The jungle metaphor is overplayed, for sure, but it has persevered through the years for a reason — there’s truth at the heart of it. Granted, the “animals” involved are pretty damn terrific and the danger they pose is dwarfed by the cuteness they exude, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is hard.

Two was difficult. Three is HARD.

Two meant a divide and conquer mentality. Three means being outnumbered and out-manned at all times. Two meant we could still play man-to-man. Three means zone and the dreaded Prevent defense. And even though Tommy can’t talk, it seems he’s been able to telepathically communicate certain commandments to his older brothers, which have been mutually agreed upon.

  1. There shall be no time of day during which all three children sleep simultaneously
  2. No more than two brothers can be in a good mood at the same time
  3. One of the three must always complain of hunger or thirst at all times
  4. Someone must always be crying out for attention
  5. None shall allow either parent to defecate alone behind closed doors

But lest you think this is some sort of unbearable task or prison sentence, allow me to disabuse you of that notion posthaste.

This is awesome.

I love being a dad. Now multiply that love by three and you have my current level of elation. And gratitude, since I never forget this road we traveled was not easy and seldom smooth. So while MJ and I are exhausted zombies who wake up at all hours of the night, can barely keep our eyes open during the day, and have forgotten what it’s like to poop without a captive audience, we’re also two very lucky and happy people.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, but it’s so easy to embark on journeys you know are worthwhile.

We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, but it didn’t matter. Now, at the young age of six weeks, Tommy makes us feel like he’s been here all along and both MJ and I can’t imagine life any other way. Three boys bring a certain amount of chaos to our lives, but what’s life without some commotion?

Screaming jags eventually cease and give way to the rhythmic rising and falling of tiny chests. What was just the bane of your existence mere minutes ago becomes the source of all your peace in an instant. Bedtime kisses between brothers, however fleeting the moment, live on for time eternal.

boys

It’s hard, yet so easy. And so worth it.

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The Real Reason The Walking Dead Scares Me

walkingdead

The Walking Dead terrifies me, but not for the reasons you’d think.

It’s Halloween and scary movies/TV shows are all anyone is watching.  AMC’s The Walking Dead (available on Netflix) tops that list for many because it is a thrilling epic involving hordes of flesh-eating zombies that are quickly taking over the world and snuffing out the last bits of humanity that remain. And to make matters worse, some of the people untainted by the mystery plague zombifying the world have turned into violent sociopaths hellbent on killing everyone they meet.

But while there have been countless gut-wrenching death scenes (too often involving our most beloved characters) featuring people being ripped apart by the undead, zombies and gore don’t scare me.

I’m most horrified by the idea of being a parent in a climate of hopelessness.

Rick Grimes leads a band of misfits through the ongoing apocalypse, but first and foremost he has to worry about his teenage son Carl and his toddler Judith. Being exposed to that unyielding and unsafe environment is bad enough, but having to worry about your kids in it? It’s the most terrifying thing I can think of.

Maybe it scares me more these days because sometimes it feels like we’re not so far removed from The Walking Dead.

If you’re a news junkie like I am, it’s difficult sometimes to read the headlines every day and not wonder if bringing three kids into this world is an act of cruelty. Kids are shot to death in schools and in accidents after getting a hold of loaded weapons on a damn near daily basis, yet no one in charge will even attempt to fix the problem. Too many families live in poverty and then have to deal with the added insult of being vilified for accepting handouts.

In the show, the longer Rick is exposed to this environment the more of his humanity erodes. The very meaning of decency changes in real time, and doing the right thing becomes an impossibility because the “right thing” loses all meaning. Rick, in an attempt to protect his family, has gotten dangerously close to turning into the very thing he guards against. After one hits a certain point, sometimes there’s no return.

As a frequent denizen of Internet comment sections, I have seen a lot of ugliness from a lot of people. There’s a certain segment of the population that is honestly looking forward to an end-of-days scenario like The Walking Dead. They secretly (and not-so-secretly) wish for armed revolution. For a chance to overthrow the government. For chaos and insurrection and every man for himself survival of the fittest. They pine for the day they can put their stockpile of weapons and their bunker to good use.

The storylines in The Walking Dead don’t scare me because they’re spooky fiction, but because of how quickly it could become reality. And I’m scared to death of raising kids in the thick of hopelessness and horror.

But hey, it’s just a TV show. Right?

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StreamTeamBadgeI was compensated by Netflix for writing this post. Although I did not receive monetary compensation, I received free Netflix for a year and an iPad Mini. However, as always, my opinions are 100% my own. Check out Netflix on Facebook.

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