Tag Archives: parenting

Buzz-buzz

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“I SAID IT’S TIME TO GO!”

This experience started out like all the rest the last few months — with the best of intentions and me trying to find my back to involved fatherhood. And then it ended like it always has for the last few months — with me getting impatient and yelling at the boys.

This time it was Sam. I took him to walk the dog down the dirt road across the street from our house. The road ends at a small pond that Sam loves, mainly because it’s now frozen over and he discovered that when you throw a rock on a frozen pond it makes a really cool noise. But when 3-year-olds find something new and fun, they want to do it again. And again. And again and again and again. Over and over until they’ve squeezed the enjoyment out of it like so much blood from the stones they seek to skip along that ice-encrusted surface.

I knew he’d want to linger and I told myself to be patient with him. After all, with the hours I work we haven’t had much time together and I know he just misses me.

So we threw rocks for five minutes and it was fun. Then I felt the familiar sensation of a buzz in my pocket. Work email. Dammit, I’ll have to respond to this. I gently say “Hey bud, it’s time to go back, OK?” He ignores me in favor of picking up another rock and tossing it down to smash against the ice.

Buzz-buzz.

I feel the discomfort growing as I try to read the email, herd Sam, all with the dog’s leash attached to my wrist, which is yanking me as I try to catch up on what I need to do when I get back to the house. I put my phone in my pocket and kneel down beside him and tell him again how we have to go home. He cries and says “NO!” and I can see him digging in his heels. I take a breath and try to reason with him and tell him “Peanut is cold, we need to walk back so he’ll be warm.”

Buzz-buzz.

I’ve now lost my patience and the thought of emails I haven’t yet responded to fills me with more dread and loathing than is healthy. But that buzzing is my job, that job is my future, my future is that house, and that house is everything I want for my family. Which means whatever that email is is the most important thing right now. The ridiculousness of that statement is not lost on me, even in the moment. Yet it has taken hold of me and I can’t fight it. Not now. Not there at the frozen pond with my phone abuzz and my son’s temper flaring and the dog pulling — pulling me in a thousand different directions so that I’m everywhere and yet nowhere all at the same time.

Buzz-buzz.

“SAM, I’VE HAD IT. LET’S GO OR YOU’RE LOSING A TOY!” I scream, too loud. Too close to him. I’ve now triggered Sam’s fight or flight response and he almost always chooses fight. He scrunches up his face, balls up his fist, and grunts like it’s Lord of the Flies. He’s savage now and I made him this way, only now I’m off the reservation too.

I snatch him up but he’s big and I have the dog, who pulls me off balance and forces me to put Sam down. He views this as a victory and runs back toward the pond as I yank the dog to give chase. He’s screaming about wanting to throw rocks. I’ve just threatened to take every toy he’s ever owned or will ever own. Our father-son walk has turned into a grudge match and neither of us is going to yield an inch.

Buzz-buzz.

This imbalance can’t be blamed on the kids or work. It’s my fault. I didn’t do it on purpose but that doesn’t matter, and it’s up to me to fix. I just don’t know how. I don’t know how to excel at my job without working the hours I work. I don’t know how to be a good parent if I routinely go 2-3 days during the week without seeing them, and then spend my weekends being annoyed by them and the work I didn’t get to during the week.

It’s easy for others to tell me I just need to spend less time at work, but my job is what’s allowing us to move into a great house. My wife would work if she could, but she can’t. It’s not good for her health and I won’t have her in that situation again. So I stumble on, hoping to find a middle ground I’m not even sure exists and wondering how much human leeway I’ll be afforded by my family until I’m nothing more than a stranger passing in the night who shows up late for events and spends time screaming at little kids for wanting to throw rocks on the icy pond.

I have no answers, just anxiety. It is the fear of worrying you’re screwing everything up and realizing you won’t really know the answer to that until it’s far too late. It’s the terrifying notion that a job you love and the people you love could very well need more time and attention than you have to give, yet something has to give. Otherwise you end up having WW III over rocks on a pond.

Buzz-buzz.

 

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There’s No Such Thing as Taking Too Many Pictures of Your Kids

cell phone

“Put the phone down.”
“You’re taking too many pictures of your kids.”
“Your eyes are the best camera.”

If you’re a parent with Internet access of any kind, you know how controversial a topic phones are in relation to your children. You can’t whip out a soon-to-be-outdated phablet without hitting some parenting “expert” or “guru” telling you what a materialistic and superficial jerk you are for posing your kids in a pumpkin patch or posting a selfie with the kids to Instagram during Touch-a-Truck.

I’m pretty confident in my parenting, but after reading so many of these articles talking about how I’m not actually enjoying life because I’m living it through my cell phone camera lens, I started to worry maybe they were right.

So one day I left the camera in the car.

I took Will and Sam on a hike through some local conservation land, and it was gorgeous. It was hot out, but felt 10 degrees cooler when we entered the forest and walked beneath the canopy of towering maple trees. The pine needles padded our steps and my boys bounded forward with youthful zeal, as slits of sunlight periodically found them and dotted their backs.

We explored the forest and inspected downed trees while wondering if a giant blew them over in a fit. We climbed rock formations and claimed them as newly discovered lands (Willtopia, SamLand, and Dada’s Village if you must know). We ran to the next trail map and studied it forcefully, as if it alone held the key to our ultimate survival.

And then we saw the butterfly.

A Monarch butterfly, you know the type. Wings a deep Halloween orange with jet black lines that made it look like an ornate stained glass window. Little white circles dot the tips of the wings and its head, as it rests on some grass seemingly weightless. It was totally still, and so were my boys. Enraptured. Until…

“Dada,” Sam whispered excitedly. “Take picture of butterfly!”

Crap.

“Sammy, I can’t. I didn’t bring my phone with me,” I said with fear rising in my throat. “But that’s OK, wanna know why? Because we have something better than a camera — our eyes. Let’s look at the butterfly and study it really hard, and we’ll take a mental snapshot so we’ll always have the butterfly in our memory.”

I even did that thing where you make a camera out of your hands, hold it up to your eye and snap a “mental picture.” And I immediately recoiled in horror and felt an unyielding desire to kick my own ass.

He knew it was bullshit. I knew it was bullshit. Sam flipped out and started crying, because — well, that’s what almost 3-year-olds do. The unphotographed butterfly must have also sensed the bullshit level rise to dangerous levels, and with his moment of zen interrupted by shrieking, flew off for parts unknown.

In a desperate attempt to stop Sam’s meltdown, Will had a phenomenal idea. He reminded Sam about our geocaching adventures, and started talking about finding hidden treasure. This idea pleased Sam greatly as his sobs subsided and excitement took over as both boys turned to me for the coordinates to our next find.

Coordinates I didn’t have, because I didn’t have my phone with me.

Taking an excessive amount of pictures of your children and adventures is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. Committing things to memory and looking at the world absent a lens is overrated garbage, mainly because 1) taking pictures doesn’t always take you out of the moment, and 2) my memory sucks.

I’m a working dad. I’m up at 5:30 am, I work all day, I come home to parent, I do some more work, I go to bed. My mind is a ball of mush. It takes me at least two tries to get my kids’ names right, I poured my beer into a sippy cup last week, and the only things I truly remember are random ’90s song lyrics. So while it’s a noble thing to live in the moment and try to commit to memory the look on my sons’ faces when faced with the unparalleled wonder of a Monarch butterfly, I’d rather have my camera so I can have it forever and share it with the people I love who weren’t there.

Cell phone cameras are incredible and allow me to relive moments from years ago whenever I want. You’d be surprised how much I revisit them, especially now with Facebook’s “On This Day” feature that allows you to relive memories from years ago.

Excess can be a real problem in so many areas, but when it comes to pictures of the people and places I love most, there’s no such thing as too much. So have fun being “in the moment” and thinking you’re superior because you left your cell phone in the car. I’ll be busy happily recording memories and avoiding toddler meltdowns.

Just think, if I listened to the know-it-alls and didn’t have my phone with me, I’d miss moments like this.

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What Kind of Parent Attacks a Grieving Mother? Donald Trump

I have to believe losing a child is one of the most horrible things a human being can experience. It is something so fundamentally unspeakable as to be feared by all parents, and when it happens there is nothing but universal sympathy and empathy from anyone who has ever cared for a child as their own.

Except for Donald Trump, it seems.

Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala spoke at the Democratic National Convention last week, criticizing Trump for his call to ban Muslims from entering the country. That’s because their son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, was killed in 2004 while serving in Iraq and protecting his fellow soldiers from a suicide bomber. They had some harsh words for Trump, and offered the Republican presidential nominee a copy of the U.S. Constitution for him to read.

But instead of ignoring them or offering his sympathies and reiterating the party line about how he’s still the best choice compared to Hillary Clinton, Trump went on the war path. He decided the best defense is an overly aggressive offense, so he put two grieving parents in his crosshairs and said this:

“She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me. But a plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet, and it looked like she had nothing to say. A lot of people have said that.”

The message is undeniably clear — Donald Trump believes Ghazala Khan was forced into a position of subservience because she and her husband are Muslim. So, while being criticized for being anti-Muslim, Trump decided his best course of action was doubling down and taking ANOTHER shot at Muslims by suggesting the grieving mother of a fallen U.S. war hero was being intimidated by her husband and not allowed to speak.

Nevermind the fact that she has spoken out in the past (and would do so again after the fact), there is something much more despicable and troubling at work here.

Donald Trump is a father of five children. He is no stranger to parenthood and all the trials and tribulations that come with it. Yet despite sharing that common bond with the Khans, Trump made the decision to berate and belittle two parents whose son sacrificed his life for his country. I repeat, Trump, a man who hopes to one day command soldiers, doesn’t have enough respect and consideration for Gold Star parents to stop himself from lashing out and attacking them.

There is something wrong with Donald Trump. There is something wrong with any parent who can’t conjure up enough sympathy and respect for parents who have had to bury a child.

Don’t tell me this isn’t about parenting and don’t tell me I shouldn’t discuss politics on a page largely devoted to parenting issues. This is the presidential election and EVERYTHING relates back to parenting. The person we vote for will shape the world in which we live for at least the next four years. He/She will likely nominate multiple U.S. Supreme Court Justices.

It is not acceptable to attack our Gold Star parents. Just like it’s ridiculous to attack POWs who endured a hell I can’t possibly imagine while being held captive. Yet that’s where we’re at with Donald Trump.

Politics has always been nasty, but Trump has navigated us to uncharted waters. He has no empathy or sense of compassion. He thinks only of himself and is so thin-skinned he feels the need to fire back at all of his detractors. Women who disagree with him are “fat pigs,” media outlets who criticize him using his own statements and verifiable facts are banned from covering his campaign, and now Gold Star parents are apparently in play for Trump. Sen. John McCain, Speaker Paul Ryan, and even the VFW have publicly stated how horrified they are by Trump’s actions, yet Trump is undeterred and totally willing to say anything about anyone at any time.

This isn’t fighting against political correctness. There’s nothing correct about what Trump is doing by removing the last vestiges of civility from politics. This is about a lack of humanity and an inability to empathize with anyone who has a dissenting opinion. It’s an indicator of how things will work if (deity of your choosing forbid) Trump becomes President Trump. It’s disgusting and dangerous and wrong.

And it’s beneath us as Americans.

Seriously, folks. What Trump is doing and saying isn’t worthy of this country or the office he’s trying so desperately to occupy. If you’re a parent and you’re OK with the way Donald Trump has acted toward the Khans, then seek help. Immediately. Because you are broken.

When the face of the Republican party can’t even find common ground with other parents who are mourning dead children, there’s a problem. We have a problem. Let’s make sure we don’t put the problem in the Oval Office.

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My Son Learned It On Netflix

Home- Adventures with Tip & Oh

I don’t think TV should be a child’s only teacher. But the fact remains, there are some damn good shows out there that have taught my 8-year-old a lot.

This isn’t a license for you to plop your kid down in the living room and let your TV do all of your parenting tasks for you. But it is an acknowledgement that a lot of the shows you can find on Netflix are really fantastic for teaching facts, history, science, and some really important lessons about life, love, friendship, and morality.

I sat down with my 8-year-old son, Will, and interviewed him about some of the shows on Netflix that have taught him valuable lessons. Here’s the scoop, right from the mouths of babes.

4. DinoTrux
This show isn’t just an entertaining romp through a made up world of prehistoric vehicles and creatures, it’s filled with valuable lessons about teamwork and getting along.

Will says: “The T-trux and the Reptools didn’t like each other at first, but that’s because they didn’t talk to each other. They learned to always work together when they had a problem, because you friends can have really good ideas you didn’t think of.”

3. Home
Adults know this movie (which was turned into a subsequent Netflix Original series) as the alien with Sheldon Cooper’s voice. But kids actually took some valuable lessons from the adventures of Oh and Tip.

Will says: “It taught me to never give up on my dreams, even when there’s a lot of trouble. Oh and Tip were looking for Tip’s mom and they never gave up even though it seemed impossible.”

2. Charlotte’s Web
A timeless classic I watched as a kid, that is apparently still just as relevant today. My son had a simple yet poignant reaction.

Will says: “Always be kind to your friends.”

1. Sofia the First
Despite initially battling the stigma of Sofia being a “show for girls,” Will really grew to like this one. And so did I, because I love how Sofia battles with coming into money and privilege while trying to stay true to who she really is and her roots.

Will says: “Just because you’re royalty doesn’t mean you can stop being nice. You should always be kind to other people even if you’re rich.”

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

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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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