That Summertime Sadness

IMG_1096This has been a summer of adventure for the boys as they have now spent more time away from home then they have sleeping in their own beds. The summer kicked off with a visit to North Carolina where we had a great time with family, I got to sample cocktails in an underground whiskey club, and the boys organized a pickup soccer game with 20 kids in the park. They then spent the next two weeks driving from Cape May, NJ all the way back to Portland with stops to see many friends and family members. They made it home just in time to head to Clatskanie for a soccer camp before finally coming home a month after school let out.

Rule breakersSummer is usually a tough time where I have to manage a full work week with the boys anxious to play and explore. But this summer has been a whirlwind of travel, camps, and family that has left me feeling a little sad about the changing landscape of our lives. There is now more work hours and less play as the boys find engagement elsewhere. As a dad that liked the idea of being primarily focused on parenting while working a little on the side I’m finding it harder to come to terms with my new role. I know that there is still a lifetime of parenting to do but part of the job is always letting go of something, be it the seat of the bike as they learn to ride or the keys to the car as they learn to drive. I guess what I’m getting at is I recognize a trajectory of growing independence in the boys that will have me letting go of more and more. As I sit here working alone in the house while they are both away at another camp at my parents house those days don’t seem years down the road. It feels like tomorrow and I’m not ready for tomorrow.

Pregnancy is a nine month process of getting us ready to be parents and I think that childhood is an even longer process of teaching us to let go. I want to be the kind of parent that knows when to hold and knows when to let go but that knowledge doesn’t come easy, and it’s not without sadness.

But don’t worry daddy, we took care of the problem

I hear you need a plumber

I hear you need a plumber

It had been a long day. Not that there was any one thing that I could point at to say this is why I needed a break, it had just been a long day. So when my sister-in-law left for the store and I was left responsible for my nephew and my two boys I took the opportunity to grab some alone time. Grabbing a change of clothes I headed into our one bathroom for a long hot shower. Knowing how the boys see shower time as the best chance to catch up on the days events while peppering me with questions I removed the door knob from the bathroom door. We didn’t have a lock at the time so to keep someone out you had to resort to more drastic measures. Simple turn of the screw and the knob was off, the door shut, and the hot water turned on.

It really was a great shower if I’m honest. Those movie scene type showers with my head hung under a stream of scalding water as the windows and mirror fogs over. I could feel the stress rise off of me carried up and away by the steam to pool in some other corner. There were faint voices outside the door, something about how daddy does this some time when he needs space. I was grateful for the way that they knew me and enjoyed the luxurious peace. After resource wasting long time I turned the shower off, and took my time to dry, dress, and fuss over things before returning the know to the door and exiting the bathroom with a whoosh as two different weather patterns collided in the hall. The boys were jumping on my bed together, happy and free.

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“I pooped my pants uncle James!”

“But Don’t worry daddy, we took care of the problem!”

Wait are you kidding, are you making a joke?

“No I pooped my pants”  “It’s OK daddy, we took care of the problem”

Over three separate explanations the story started to become clear. My nephew, who is four, started the tale off:

“I felt like I had to fart and I kept playing, then I when I farted I pooped my pants”

They tried to get into the bathroom to clean up but there was no knob on the door because some idiot took it off for his own selfish reasons. The boys sprung into action. Primo had his cousin pull down his pants so he could see what he was dealing with. They decided to bring this party out to the back yard by way of the front yard. So our little soiler waddled out the front door with his pant around his ankles and tried to navigate the step and slopped sidewalk to the side of the house. This is when our neighbor Libby looked over from her porch. “uhhh …. what are you guys doing?”

“My cousin pooped his pants and daddy won’t let us use the bathroom, he took the door knob off, but it’s ok we’re taking care of the problem”

“Sure that makes sense” and on they went. In the back yard there was the issue of removing the poo from the chonies which Segundo solved with a wiffle bat. When I asked where the poop ended up they excitedly told me it was behind the wood pile. I couldn’t imagine how they got it there and even after their explanation of using the wiffle bat to hit it away from them I am still baffled. Did they smack it golf style while my nephew stood there, did one of them pitch it while the other swung for the fences? They told me that they took his chonies off and held them up while the other one hit the poo out T-ball style. Like the worst piñata ever created i guess.

After the home run shot the boys told me they threw the dirty chonies into the laundry. This translated to throwing them half way down the basement stairs towards the washing machine. Arguing semantics at this point seemed silly so we moved on. They then got some paper towels and cleaned the little man and his littler man off, pulled his pants back up, and proceeded to have a celebratory jump on the bed.

Problem solvers, these two boys

Problem solvers, these two boys

Now I know that I come off as a pretty terrible parent in this story but I think that reading misses the point. A better view sees the problem solving and outside the box thinking these kids of mine displayed. Should I have removed the knob of the bathroom door, who’s to say for sure. But were they able to asses their situation, come up with a great plan, and execute that plan with the tools and wiffle bats available.YES they were, they indeed took care of the problem.

Simple ideas for dads in the classroom

Helping in the classroom is not just moms job

Helping in the classroom is not just mom’s job

I’ve noticed a prevalent thought among dads that education is a woman’s world. Sure we’re all for teaching our kids the practical things like changing a tire or setting your Fantasy Football lineup but when it comes to the classroom we tend to view that space as somehow less manly. I never understood this mentality and from early on I was involved in our boy’s school life as a board member of the Co-Op Preschool or a room parent for the Kindergarten class. Now that both of my boys are in school I’m the President of our school’s PTA. While I don’t think every dad needs to suffer through the meetings that decide what structure goes on the new playground, I do think there are a couple of easy ways for men to get involved in your kid’s school.

Start early in their education but showing up to read. Every school I have been involved with has spots open to read to the kids. It gives the teachers a break and it’s something I know you can do if your reading this post. Whether you bring in your child’s favorite book or grab one off the school shelf, taking 15 minutes to stop in and read to the class will allow you to see who your kids interact with, what the classroom atmosphere is like, and show your child that you value education. Once or twice a year on a lunch break is all it takes and you have built a connection.

Help Chaperone a field trip. This may take a little more time and more of a commitment but the time is very valuable. You can help provide a safe environment as the kids leave the school and explore the local Children’s Museum or Zoo. There are multiple adults that sign up so you are only responsible for your own kids and a couple of their friends but again you see a side of the kids that you don’t get anywhere else. Listening to my first grade son trying to make a couple of second graders laugh on the way to the Pumpkin Patch last year is one of my favorite memories.

These are two simple ways to get involved with your child’s class that don’t require a lot of time or effort but that make a huge difference in how your child sees your role in education. By taking an active role you are showing that you value school and want your kids to succeed. By spending a little time in the hallways and classrooms you will have a better understanding for the education your children are receiving and find new ways to engage in the process of learning. Our kids learn from watching us more than they do from listening to us and by showing up in their schools we are teaching them that education is important to us, and that they are important to us. How are you getting involved?

At the still point, there the dance is

Tranquility

 

Sometimes while it’s happening you’re not even aware of it until it is almost over. That somehow by recognizing the moment you are hastening it’s decline. That moment when you realize that children are playing nicely in the living room while you make dinner in the kitchen. There is a fire, and rain on the windows. The hiss and pop of wood and Vinyl as music and warmth fills the air. This very scene played out in our house recently and a long time had passed before I knew we were in sweet spot. Beautiful was well into making dinner and I had been picking up the house while the boys played. There was no fighting over toys or even questions of fastest, strongest, or best. There was a cooperative scene fueled by story instead of competition. The moment dawned on me slowly and I was even slower to mention it to Beautiful because I knew that naming it was the first nail in the coffin. She had noticed it too, some time before and had kept it to her self. We slow danced in the kitchen to the quiet and the hiss and the pop and for a moment fully inhabited that sweet spot. It was magical to be fully aware that we were in the good old days right here in this warm kitchen as the rain tapped on the windows. Soon there was a disagreement over story, and the competition came back and the boys were soon fighting over which toy was the best. We smiled at each other, Beautiful and I, and went back to our cleaning and preparation. While that moment had passed we were happy in the knowledge that we had fully seized, examined, and enjoyed it before it fluttered away. There were more moments to come and we would be on the lookout for them as well, but the fire needed tending and the record flipped.

Toeing the mossy Tightrope

mossy tightropeMy 6 year old is easily swayed towards sickness by words. Well maybe not towards sickness per say but there are a few phrases that immediately bring symptoms on for him. Today after school he was feeling a little low and I asked if anything was wrong, how his day was, yada yada yada. I felt his head and thought he felt warm and he went from a little down and chatty to full on sick kid mode. He laid on the couch and whimpered, at one point telling me he couldn’t move his body he was so sick. I accidentally said the word fever and it had a devastating effect on his health.

A similar thing happens around throwing up. Primo is terrified of throwing up and if he burps wrong he will have to carry a bucket with him for the rest of the night, in case he has to throw up, and might even start limping for good measure. There have been a few time I’ve joked about hurling and sent him into a panic just for my own amusement. I know, I know, I’m a terrible person. This is a frustration of mine, seeing my sons symptoms radically change based on the language I use to describe them. Somehow naming it gives power to the feelings.

Segundo treats sickness as a minor speed bump, the ones with cutouts so you can drive through without even slowing down. Words have no effect on his health just as his health has little to no effect on how he goes about his day. It is often hard to tell when Segundo is sick, though he is almost always suffering from some bug. The dangers of pre-school I’m afraid. I often wonder why the difference between the two. Why do I need to be so careful with Primo, walking a thin line between finding out what is bothering him without creating new maladies by giving them names. I don’t want to raise a hypochondriac but I also don’t think telling him to sack up will do the trick. How would you handle this situation?

 

A modest proposal on play

I pick the boys up from school and hang out at the school while the kids play tether ball and run around. I play tag on the playground before gather all the lunch boxes, coats, and school work to head home. At home I play Angry birds and Mouse Trap, both high setup games before making breakfast for dinner. We chat about school and soccer and goofy faces over bacon, eggs, and hash browns. After dinner I sit down with Primo and help him read a book before reading another book that Segundo picked out. Needing to get back to some work I put on hold to spend some quality time with my kids I told them that I needed to finish up work. Immediately both kids started whining and complaining that I ALWAYS work and that I never PLAY with them. I stood there slack jawed just staring at them. Really? Really? I mean Seriously?

This makes me question the idea of playing and engaging with my kids at all. I’m not sure it’s as important as everyone makes out to be if they forget about it seconds after you stop playing. I mean if kids have such short term memories then maybe I’m wasting my time playing with them. This might be a better time to teach them to find their own way by ignoring them completely. If I focus on what I need to do instead of spending so much learning the animals of each Power Ranger or perfecting fort construction in the living room than I might be more successful at work. I could be moving my way up the corporate ladder with the extra time I would have to focus on finding the right silly voice for Skippy John Jones. I’m doing them a disservice by not teaching them that people will really disappoint you and you need to look out for yourself.

All this research on parent engagement is a crock. Kids don’t remember the times you played, only the times you did not. So I think that by never playing with the kids I will help them learn at an early age how to take care of themselves. I will be preparing them better for the world as it is instead of wasting their time with frivolity. I might be on to something here, I’ll need some more time to suss it out.

Daddy got a minivan

I’m not a car guy. You might not have guessed that about me but it’s true. I appreciate cars and admire restored classics but I couldn’t tell you what year it was based on the shape of the head lights. My brother is a car guy. We took Autoshop together in school, me as a Senior and him as a Freshman. He did all the work and scored me my first non-Gym class “A” in all of High School. So when it came time for us to get a car that would be primarily mine the choice was easy. I want a minivan. I want to drive half the soccer team and all of the gear in one car. I want stow and go seats and make a bed for snuggling at the drive-in. I want automatic doors and captains chairs and a DVD player for long trips.

In Dan Zevin’s great book Dan Gets a Minivan he talks about how his life went from economy size with only one passenger and a radar detector to family size with wireless headsets for the built-in DVD player. This is me and I love it. I love this car in a way that I have never loved any other. I didn’t care what kind of car I had from my two-tone tan Toyota Celica from the 70’s to the Honda Prelude that we sold to a teenager that was definitely going to race it on the streets. Cars were just utilitarian not definitive. But I’m cool with this minivan being definitive. I like that picture of me as a dad. When Beautiful and I talk about dreams and where we want to be in X amount of years I come across as cheesy and boring when I say that this is it for me. This family, my wife and boys. this is what I have been dreaming about and striving towards for years.

So I have my dorky dream car with one kid in the far back row and another in the middle row with their headsets on watching to the latest Chugginton DVD while Beautiful and I listen to Spilled Milk podcasts on the way up to Gig harbor. You can laugh at me all you want but I’m happy and living my dream.