Tag Archives: parenting

Post #127: Me Vs. Batman

UseYourWord1-1Hello! If you’re still out there, thanks for hanging in and many apologies for the radio silence. I’d make excuses, but you don’t care.

The leaves are changing here in Vermont and our yards are dusted with crispy little piles of orange and purple leaves. It’s six-thirty right now and the sun is already starting to set. I went to a bar tonight and there were wooden crates of complimentary apples on the tables, local varietals, crispy and juicy and delicious. I ate one while I drank my beer.

I also have an essay in the new Kids Vermont, a publication I love and have written for before, including an award winning essay I wrote last year about my father. This time around they asked me to write about technology and I gave it a go. Have a peek. It’s not even that long.



Post #119: How To Avoid Brushing Your Teeth, by Leo (Age 3)

It’s like this.

The first and most important thing if you’re trying to get out of brushing your teeth is avoidance behavior. Master this art and you might never have to brush your teeth again. Parents play tough, but they all have a breaking point, and it’s all about knowing how to find it. You might run away laughing, for instance, and then turn that into a game which will prove aggravating and distracting since it’s the opposite of what you’re being asked to do. This might even result in a time-out, which will totally prolong or maybe even negate having to brush. Milk this set-up by crying a lot and pretending the time out makes you really sad and upset, all the while thriving in the glory of having abated the dreaded brushing. Another thing to do is simply pout and yell “no” when they tell you to brush. They hate that and might get caught up in the logic of your tone or responsibility or disappointing the dentist or some shit. All I’m saying is there’s lots of ways to play it. Be creative. Try some different stuff out. And if you ever find yourself really stumped and desperate, just shit your pants. Chances are you’re fresh out of the bath and have clean jammies and diaper on. This will immediately draw their ire and distract them away from you brushing your teeth.

But let’s say you can’t avoid it and your parents are feeling stubborn. In that case, just play dumb, man. That’s my policy. The more you make it look like you don’t know how to brush your teeth, or stand still, or stop babbling, the better. Just go deep into that pose like Daniel Day Lewis or something. What I like to do is just chew on my toothbrush like it’s Bubble Yum. Sometimes I don’t even hold the handle. I’ll just chew on it like a country bumpkin on a piece of wheat. Don’t move it around or anything. And whatever you do, don’t make any kind of a swishing, back and forth motion or they’ll just back right off and make you do it yourself. The more inept you make yourself seem, the more likely that one of them will just swoop in, say “here, let me.”

Whatever it takes, really. I don’t sweat the judgment or how it might make me look, either. I’ll save that shit for when I’m older.

Send any suggestions.

Post #105: Mind Your Own Damn…

c6cef30a-994e-403d-aad6-076b68c35772So, I’m on an airplane the other day, flying with my two small sons, and the seating arrangement was unfavorable to say the least. My wife ended up in the back of the plane, the kids were together closer to the front, and I ended up directly in front of them, which, if you’ve ever been on a plane, means I couldn’t see them. At all. Unless peering through the half inch declivity between my seat and the one next to me, or craning my body out into the aisle like Inspector Gadget. At first I was unworried. Figured I’d ask the person across the aisle from the boys to trade with me so I could be next to them. No problem. So I asked as politely as humanly possible. It was just short of groveling. She refused.

In her defense, she was older and said it was because of arthritis, which I know sounds tricky and rude to dispute as an excuse, but lest you think I’m heartless, or have it in for the elderly, my seat, I’m convinced, had the exact quantity of leg room as her own. It just happened to be beside someone else, whereas hers, and her entire aisle’s, were singletons. A few minutes later, the lady, perhaps feeling guilty watching me trying to parent from such an awkward and untenable position, offered vaguely to “keep and eye on them.”

So we sat there awhile, waiting to take off. Occasionally I would lean my body around, check on the boys (they’re only 5 and 3 by the way), correct their behavior, ask how they were, get them something to do out of the backpack, or something to eat or whatever. Triage. Flying with kids is all about filling minutes.

I then, feeling a bit desperate, asked the gentleman sitting beside me if he’d trade with me so I could see my kids better. I’d still be in front of them, but at least I’d be able to see them. He too refused, rather curtly I might add, saying simply, “no, I prefer this” and making no eye contact with me. If he hadn’t been reading Steinbeck, for whom I have a blue whale sized soft spot, I might have offered a snide rejoinder. Mostly I was too surprised and pissed to say anything.

I should add here that, even though I didn’t know it at the time, he turned out to be the woman’s husband.

We got out to the runway area and then sat there. And sat there. The pilot said we were grounded for a little while because of weather on the departure route. I started to get worried. The kids were getting more rambunctious, not doing anything bad–in fact they were being amazing–but there’s something deeply unnerving about not being able to see your kids, even if they’re right behind you. And it’s hard for kids to be in a confined space like that. I had no idea how long we were going to sit there and, if it proved to be a long time, the situation was poised to go south. I could hear Leo, my 3 year old, making lip spitting type sounds (motor boat?) at Felix, and turned to see, at which point I noticed the woman frowning in consternation and wagging a finger at the boys and verbally chiding them, or at least mouthing “don’t do that,” or “oh no no” or some such. Either way, she was kind of letting them have it, unafraid to show her disapproval.

Before I could stop myself, I looked at her and said, firmly, though not rudely, “Mam, please don’t do that.”

She looked stunned.

“Umm,” she stammered, “well…I figured you wouldn’t want them spitting on each other.”

Needed Non Sequitor: They were NOT spitting on each other. They were making spitting, lip rippling type sounds. There’s a difference.

“I don’t,” I said, “but I can handle it, thank you.”

She said nothing further. I turned away and did not address her again, making sure to avoid looking at her every time I turned around to check the boys.

Now, the story ends well for me because we took off shortly after and my children behaved so well during the flight that after we landed, it took me an hour to pry the halos off their heads. But the incident lingers. I can’t decide if what I did was justified or not. Who was in the wrong here, if anyone? Should I have responded differently? Was the lady in the right? Was she, God forbid, just trying to be helpful?

I should add here that, in the abstract, I’m mostly in favor of a community based approach to parenting. Meaning, I think that we should all strive to help ourselves and the people around us behave well, including our kids and other people’s kids. This, of course, comes with a long list of caveats and exceptions. Disciplining someone else’s kids, especially a stranger’s kids, is a very tricky matter and one must exercise a great deal of prudence in doing so or one risks looking like an ass or doing it very wrong and really pissing someone off; however, I don’t have a “don’t tell my kids what to do!” type rule in life. If my progeny are behaving like assholes, someone should tell them, hopefully in a constructive way.

So what gives?

I think in this situation, it was the combination of things. First, my kids were not out of control. Nor were they actually spitting on each other. I think it was the woman and her husband denying me the ability, through an unwillingness to be mildly inconvenienced to help another human being, so I could actively parent, and then assuming it was okay to just step in in my stead, that really set me off. That I think would have set many people off. Still, I was, and continue to be surprised about how I reacted, even knowing I stayed calm and didn’t raise my voice. Conflict with another human being, however minor, is just unsettling I guess.

It’s been a few days since it happened and I’ve decided that if placed in the same predicament, I’d probably do it again. Maybe not. Maybe I’d just ignore her.

But for some reason, I’ve been second guessing myself and soul searching.

What would you have done?

Post #99: Being Dad

sociallogo-kidsvtsquareI have an essay in the new issue of Kid’s Vermont, a monthly foray into the world of what to do with your kid if you’re a Vermont parent. For their Dad Issue, they asked me to contribute to their “Use Your Words” feature, a monthly personal essay, on a topic related to parenting. I ended up writing an essay about my dad, who was, is, and always will be the most important man in my life. I know that’s not an original thing to say–Dads loom large, after all–but writing this piece was a reminder of just how grand and essential a figure my dad has been for me. Check out the essay here.

I would be remiss not to express gratitude to the editors at Kids Vermont, Carolyn Fox and Cathy Resmer, for helping see this piece through. There was quite a lot of back and forth on this one, and I’m grateful for their help and guidance.

Post #86: Kindling Quarterly

kindling-quarterly-issue1-preview-1As a father of two young boys (4 1/2 year old Felix and 2 1/2 year old Leo) I pay a lot more attention than I used to to how fathers are portrayed in our culture. And, for the most part, at least from where I’m sitting, the portrayals suck and are a pantheon of one note men who don’t know how to behave and who are basically grown up children masquerading as men who think that farting is high humor and scoff at vacuums and toilet brushes. These are your Tim from Home Improvement kind of guys. These are the guys in Old School and The 50 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up and on the sitcom Guys with Kids. Guys whose naiveté and reliance on masculine puffery/buffoonery and female intuition is supposed to be cute. On occasion, you see far more nuanced and life like fathers, but most that I bump into fit the mold described above. Men who need women to remind them about really complex and hard to figure out stuff like, you know, cleaning windows and making a roast chicken, morality and table manners. Not that all stereotypes are unfounded and unfunny. Some ring true some of the time. There’s pervasive truths about gender that do truly seem to trump interpretation. But I work hard to deliberately smear and ignore gender lines in my own home. And I like cleaning and cooking. I pay actual attention to my children and care a great deal about how they see me. I want to define manhood and fatherhood on my own terms. I don’t want my sons to feel burdened by gender-centric expectations and images the culture feeds them about what boys and men are supposed to be like, especially when the bulk of those portrayals are so embarrassing and limited. And straight. And white.

Enter Kindling Quarterly, a new magazine published by a pair of fathers, David Michael Perez and August Heffner, who seem fed up with the same thing that I am. The newly launched magazine is an exploration of fatherhood and features articles, photos, fashion, recipes, and a host of other content. Full disclosure here that I haven’t read the magazine yet and am not purporting here to review its content. But I heard about it and was intrigued enough to do a little digging. Have a look at the website and read a little about it. It sure sounds cool and looks nice, even if the photo spreads and design are a little hipster looking for my taste. In fact, the whole thing looks like it might be taking itself a little too seriously. But maybe that’s what’s needed. In the “About” section of Kindling Quarterly’s website, they state, “men who are active caregivers are not a novelty and we do not depict them as such” and that’s a sentiment that rings awfully true in these ears. I’m going to pick up the first issue soon and let you know if it justifies it’s hefty $12 price tag.

Until then, The New York Times City Room Blog wrote a pretty decent feature on the magazine. Read it here.

Post #43: A Fine Line

Sometimes in parenting, the line between fury and hilarity is paper thin.  You feel incredibly powerful emotions, emotions like rage and hate and amped-up types of frustration that make earlier, pre-parenting forms of frustration seem almost quaint by comparison.  And yet, these emotions, and the strong and often regrettable language that accompanies them that is directed at your misbehaving spawn, have dual lives, for they are also a kind of comedic performance you enact to be a good parent and to teach your kids life’s most hard earned and valuable lessons.  You become the emotion so they can learn.  Sometimes you literally want to wring their necks, and yet, you know that if you actually started to, wring their necks I mean, you might just bust out laughing because it’s so damn ridiculous how mad you’ve gotten over the fact that they won’t just eat their fucking dinner in the time frame that you’ve previously decided is the reasonable amount of time in which to consume a plate of food and now you’ve spent twenty minutes arguing about eleven peas and half a pork chop.  You also can’t help but face the fact that most of time you’re hating in them what you most hate in yourself (or other people hate in you) and there’s also a strange and sickening kind of karma at play that no one ever warned you about in the pre-parenting world, or could even have prepared you for if they had.

To wit.

The other night, Felix is in the bath and refuses to get out.  I’m standing in the bathroom doorway, lion towel in hand, spine aligned with doorjamb, palm against forehead.  It’s late.  I’m tired.  I want him out of the bath so as to be one step closer to the end of the day and my first beer and my book and my tv show or whatever the hell it is I’m needing.  He’s sassing me in the most passive way.  Kind of hearing me and then responding with gibberish and disappearing beneath the rim of the bathtub as if he didn’t hear me.  Lately Felix has been experimenting with two unfavorable traits: sullen faces and pointed fingers.  When confronted with a task he doesn’t want to do or a directive that’s not to his liking, he’ll play with these traits, setting my blood to boil as he crosses his arms aggressively and makes his angry face at me.  So I’m asking him to get out of the bath and he’s saying no in his own special way.  I’m getting kind of pissed, but trying to keep it together, urging him like I would my dog, “C’mon Felix.  Really buddy, it’s time to get out.  C’mon pal.  Felix.  Felix?”  My wife is sitting on the toilet seat, combing the hair of our younger son, who’s recently been removed from the bath and is already in his pajamas.  He’s also put up a fight, but luckily he can’t talk yet and isn’t that strong.  She’s watching me get pissed.  I’m in control though.  I am.  Until Felix barks “No!” and points his finger at me and then simmer becomes boil and I get really mad.  There’s just something about a pointed finger.

“You know?” I say, “I’ve had about enough of that tone from you.  You’ve been very curt with me and mommy lately and I don’t like it when you use that tone of voice.  And I don’t like it when you point your finger at me.  It’s rude and I want you to stop it!”

But even as I’m saying the words “It’s rude and I want you to stop it!” I’m also noticing my own totally heated and unreasonable tone, not to mention my own aggressively pointed finger and it’s at this point I realize that I’m basically looking in a horrible mirror.  I’m yelling at him to stop doing the exact thing I’m doing right that second and the whole thing is just so ridiculous that before I know it I’ve burst into fits of laughter and tears of hilariousness go cascading down my face.  I’m laughing so hard I can barely catch my breath and feel like I’ve just broken character because my cast mate was making funny faces at me.  Like I was just pretending to be mad, but really, I wasn’t.  I was really mad, but in a puff, all my rage went up in smoke.  It was one of those surreal moments.  Add it to the catalog.

There’s a great line in The Big Chill where the Glenn Close character is on the phone with her daughter and saying things like “I don’t care,” and “no, I didn’t say that, young lady,” and “well, when you’re a mommy, you can be mean” and things like that.  When the conversation’s over, she hangs up the phone, turns to her friend, played by Mary Kay Place, and says “sometimes I can’t believe the things I hear myself saying.”