To Be Kind

Kindness is a virtue always best practiced but starts with modeling and teaching. I’ve been taking some mental notes lately about the behaviors and values I want to instill in my son. Here are just a few in no particular order that are near  and dear to my heart. Feel free to add your own in the comments; the more kindness in this world the better off we will all be!

1)Basic manners. Please, thank you, yes/no sir/ma’am, excuse me, bless you, I’m sorry, the list goes on. Let’s start with the basics and go from there.

2) Empathy. Admittedly I am not as good at this as I want to be, but I try to remember that everyone is fighting their own internal battles.

3) Sharing. Not just with toys and things you have, but with things other people do not have. To quote the great Louis C.K., “You should not look in your neighbor’s bowl to see how much they have, but rather to see if they have enough.”

4) Say Hello. My son currently has no problem with this, but that’s because it’s natural at 2 years old. As we become older this openness tends to fade. I can’t tell you how many people won’t say “hello” back when I greet them in the hallways at work; some won’t even make eye contact. I do it from time-to-time as well when I’m just not feeling people, but in order to keep my son’s momentum rolling I need to lead by example.

5) Acknowledge your privilege and use it to help the persecuted. I completely understand White Privilege. My son is in a very unique situation as a biracial child in that his racial identity can be fluid and adapt to his environment. While this could certainly be exploited for selfish reasons, I would rather foster a sense of empowerment and obligation to connect with both sides of his racial identity and obliterate White Privilege for everyone. [Sidebar: This topic is probably worth a separate blog post on its own.]

6) Use emotions to connect. Emotions are extremely powerful, especially shared emotions. Connecting with people on an emotional level tends to get lost in this ever-digital world of Instant Messages, auto-erasing chat sessions, and social feed algorithms designed to mainline your preferences straight to your neural core. Let’s look people straight in the eyes again and attempt to read their souls. [Personal Note: I really need to stop constantly checking my f0cking iPhone status.]

That’s it for now; not exactly a full “Top 10” but that’s where YOU come in! Add yours in the comments so we can help this generation create a kinder and gentler world.

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Dora Duck Drowns in the Pond

Reading children’s books is fun. I admire writers who can keep kids excited while also keeping adults engaged. But every once in awhile you find a book that is so bad you want to set fire to it and watch all the characters die a slow, painful death. Here’s a page-by-page commentary on one of my least favorites, Dora Duck Goes for a Swim.

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Dora Duck is out on this bright, sunny day. And she’s hoping some fun will come her way. “There must be something exciting I can do. I’ll search the garden and the meadow, too.”

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Cool! Nice to meet you, Dora! There’s always something to do when the weather is nice. Let’s explore together!

“Come and have fun with me and my ball of wool!” “Thank you, Kitten, but your paws look quite full.”

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Yeah, balls of wool aren’t really my thing either. And especially for you since you only have 2 feet. Way to be polite, Dora!

“You can come and chase my ball with me.” “That’s what puppies do best, but not ducks like me.”

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Sure, puppies are good at chasing balls. But how do you know if you’ve never tried? I think you should give it a try here, Dora.

“Come on, Duck, let’s bounce and spring.” “It looks like fun, but it’s not my kind of thing.
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Are you sure, Dora? You were desperate for things to do on this bright, sunny day and now you’re gonna buzzkill the rabbit’s idea because it’s “not your thing”? Well what exactly is your thing, Dora?

“Grab some sticks and build a nest with me.” “I’d like to, Bird, but I can’t climb trees.”

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What the hell? You know who else can’t climb trees? This Bird. He flies, and so can you, Dora. Or maybe you’re suspicious because he’s asking you for free labor to build his house? Even so, weak ass excuse, Dora.

“You can hop with me on all fours!” “Sorry, Frog, but I don’t have legs like yours.”

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I’m getting real sick of your shit, Dora. I would have had fun with all your friends by now. I bet you’re the last one to find out about the neighborhood block party.

“Join me, Duck, let’s dig a hole.” “It’s not what I do, but have fun, Mole!”

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Notice how Mole wasn’t even excited that you showed up, Dora? He overheard your lame-ass excuses with your other friends. I bet he wants to push you in that hole.

“There must be something for me to do. But I don’t seem to have a clue. What is it that ducks do best? I suppose I’ll have to try and guess!”

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Fuck you, Dora. You just had ALL YOUR FRIENDS give you fantastic suggestions for what to do on a great summer day. And you STILL have no idea what to do? Seriously, fuck you. 

“Why, silly Duck! We know just the thing for you to do on this bright, sunny day. Come and join us in the pond and paddle and splash away.”

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So you wasted time and shit on all your friends’ ideas just to hang out in the pond with your other duck buddies? You’re a real asshole, Dora.

Now please excuse me while I go use Dora to start my barbecue grill.

 

Explosia

It happened without warning, without even a hint of leading up to it. One morning, we’re in my son’s room, getting ready for the day. Diaper change, pick out clothes, put on clothes, business as usual. Right after slipping his shirt over his head and his arms sliding through the sleeves, he turns to my wife and says, “Trenton loves mommy,” and gives her a hug. Then he turns to me, gives me a hug, and for the first time says “Trenton loves Daddy.”

Time STOPS. The world shifts. My heart explodes into a million technicolor pieces. There isn’t enough time to think, cry, or even understand the implications of this. I’ve told him I loved him literally every day of his life and always wondered when this day would come. Sometimes I’ve desperately wanted him to say it, to know what he’s thinking and feeling, to see that he’s put it together. But nothing prepared me for it. Just like when he first said “Dada”, this is another memory forever etched into my heart and mind. All I could do is whisper back, “I love you too”.

It wasn’t a one-time random occurrence, either. Every so often he’ll say it, and lately it’s been even better – “I love you Daddy”.

Thanks baby boy, I love you too.

GrinchHeart

 

Unimaginable

Parenting an infant is hard. There’s no way around it. It may be harder for some than others, but it’s still f0cking hard. So when I read stories like (**TRIGGER WARNING**)this(**TRIGGER WARNING**), I’m flooded with multiple, sometimes conflicting emotions. Grief, horror, anger, sadness, possibly all at the same time. But yet, on some level, also empathy. At 20 years old, this father was basically still a child himself. And obviously a 4-month-old infant’s only communication mechanism is crying. But prolonged crying takes a toll on a new parent, especially if your efforts to soothe and console are all for naught (as was often the case with me). That type of stress – usually combined with fatigue – can send the brain into some really dark places. Look, I don’t condone what this father did at all. It’s horrible beyond imagination, and even in my darkest of moments I never considered something like that. But there’s a reason why playing recordings of babies crying inconsolably is an effective military torture techniques. There’s a reason why so much effort has been put into stopping Shaken Baby Syndrome.

So what should we do? We should offer as much support as we absolutely, possibly can to new parents. I’ve discussed on this blog at length how difficult it is to parent alone. Sometimes it’s necessary even if it’s not desired. So we should offer family support, community support, education, relief, anything to help. Because sometimes even the littlest of help can save lives.

Hourglasses

2015. Wow, what a year. Lots of highs, way too many lows, and our first full year over 2,000 miles away from family, friends, and everything we used to know. All while trying to learn this whole parenting thing? Yeah, let’s just say it wasn’t the best of years for me. But, I did learn quite a lot. Here’s my year in review – 10 things I learned about parenting and about myself:

1) Co-sleeping is still awesome. Even though my son has gotten much bigger (91st percentile height at age 2), I still really do like having him in the bed and falling asleep next to me, no matter how long it takes. I know he won’t be this small forever so I’m cherishing as much of it as I can.

2) Toddlers are ridiculously cool. Or at least mine is. Language. Curiosity. Motor skills. Emotions. Music. Rough-housing. Cuddles. Hugs. Kisses. High fives. Fist bumps. Every single bit of it is cool. Since he’s experiencing it for the first time, so am I. On the flip side….

3) I am not the infinite well of patience I need to be. Every day my patience limit is tested. None of it is his fault; he’s only 2 years old after all. Patience is a humbling lesson to learn, coupled most of the time with healthy doses of regret and edible crow. Pro Tip: There’s always a reason for a child’s behavior; things don’t happen “just because”. It’s my job as a parent to figure it out, and at that part of the job I’m usually pretty bad.

4) I severely underestimated the importance of our existing support network and the challenge of establishing a new one. Moving out here has been hard. Really, really, really hard. If I had to do it all over again I’m not sure I would. Hindsight is a motherfucker.

5) Proper lifting techniques and ergonomics are paramount. He’s over 3(!) feet tall and 30(!) pounds now. The repetitive lifts, twists, bends, etc. can wreak havoc on my body. I’ve got an elbow, a toe, 2 fingers, and a shoulder out of whack. Always lift with your legs and use your core.

6) Baby talk is for the birds. I’ve never, ever used baby talk around him, mostly because I suck at it and feel stupid and awkward. Turns out he’s an advanced human even at his age and deserves to be treated like one. I think this has helped both of us figure out our communication styles and advanced his language skills. Also, here’s a good article on why that’s important when he’s learning about his body. Bonus.

7) Cloth diapering still kicks ass. I take it for granted on a day-to-day basis, but the ease of use and financial savings have made our initial investment pay off huge dividends in the last 2+ years. And there’s been zero effect on our water bill from the additional laundry. That said, I’m immensely grateful our washer and dryer have held up to near-daily use. We lost use of our washer for about 24 hours while I fixed a drain blockage and we almost reached DEFCON5 panic level. Again, investments up front are key. If you’re having a baby, look into cloth diapers (or ask me!) and ask for them as baby shower gifts. You absolutely will not regret it.

8) He can travel like a boss. 10-hour car rides? No problem. 5-hour flights at the crack of dawn? Piece of cake. 7 errands in 2 hours with constant strapping in and out of the car seat? Bring it on. The kid’s a better traveler than most toddlers I’ve seen and in some ways a better traveler than I am. I can only hope he carries that adaptability and resilience forward with everything in his life. Pro Tip: If you’re flying with a car seat drop some cash on one of these. It’s a game-changer, seriously.

9) I failed at preparing to be a father. My wife read the books and did the research. She tried so hard to get me to read them as well. I prioritized other things, read what I thought was necessary, and figured I could learn the rest on the job. After all, 90% of the advice in the books goes out the window when you get to practical application, right? Yeah, no. Fuck no. Of course going completely by the book is impossible, but having the same knowledge base is critical so both parents can be aligned and feel like they’re working as a team. I absolutely failed here and instead I’m playing catch-up and making mistakes that could have easily been prevented if I had done my work up front. In lots of ways my wife has to be a parent to both our son and me. I’m not out for sympathy here; use my failure as a cautionary tale for future parents. This is one of the very few things in my life I truly regret and wish I could take back.

10) He’s growing up too fast and that makes me sad. For his birthday he got a patchwork space-themed backpack and some books. Dressed in his cargo shorts and flannel button-down shirt he tried the backpack on and loved it. He doesn’t look 2 years old, he looks like he’s 6 and ready to blast off to school. No, no, no. Stay little for awhile longer, where the hugs are pure, the bond is strong, there are no obligations, and the moments can live on. I’m not ready to let go.

So here’s Auf Wiedersehen to 2015 as I look forward to the next year with open eyes and a hopeful heart. Best of luck everyone; we’re gonna need it.

Understudies and Walk-Ons

He wasn’t supposed to be a main character. He was supposed to show up as a “special edition” figure, festive and well-timed for the Thanksgiving holiday season. Yet here he was, Gobby the Turkey, now front and center of every story I tell my son before he drifts off to sleep.

To help my son relax at night we’d been singing songs together, but somehow one night that wasn’t working so I decided to tell him a story. Completely winging it, I started crafting little vignettes of a boy just his age, no younger and no older, with a green bicycle just like his riding around the neighborhood and into the woods. There were birds, rabbits, squirrels, a Mr. Owl, and – channeling my inner Mo Willems – even a bear named Oso. So naturally the night before Thanksgiving a new character, Gobby the Turkey, had to make an appearance. And every night since then, after having some milk and kissing Mama goodnight, my son lays next to me in bed and in his perfectly innocent 2-year-old voice, asks, “Tell story Gobby Turkey?”. How can I say no to that?

So every night I add a little more to the narrative, crafting a world for Gobby and my son rife with adventures, lessons, and relatable experiences to foster the wonderment of his mind. Yet for me it is so much more than a story. It’s a shared bond, something completely spontaneous and unique in his life that only he and I have. Something I can seed, nurture, and grow until dissolved one day by the hands of time.

My wife has suggested I write all the stories down. I may just do that, perhaps as a part of something bigger. There’s been a new story every day for over 2 weeks now so the details are fading quickly from my memory. But no matter what the adventure, every story now starts out the exact same way:

“Once upon a time, there was a turkey, and his name was Gobby. Gobby the Turkey lived in a field with all his turkey friends, and in that field they had swings and a BIG slide to play on……”

Terrific Two

My Dearest Baby Boy,

Well, you’re no longer a baby anymore. You’re a 2-year-old boy who’s discovering the wide, wide world waiting for him. It’s been so wonderful watching you grow this past year. I see amazement, wonder, curiosity, passion, kindness, fearlessness, and an unstoppable desire to learn. I love watching you figure things out, never giving up but also never afraid to ask for help. I can already see signs of the impact you will have on the world, and I believe it will be big. You are a human like no other; I see so much in you that I wish everyone had.

I love every minute we spend together, from the mundane diaper changes to the tickles, raspberries, and songs we sing. Words cannot express how incredibly proud of you I am. You’re tackling this world head-on and mastering skills at a breakneck pace. Let’s keep it going, and know that I will be with you every step of the way.

I love you, no matter what. Happy Birthday.

Failure.

My Dearest Son,

I love you dearly. I love you more than I ever thought I could love another human being, including myself. And for that reason, I have to say with meaning and feeling as deep as the universe, I am sorry. I’m trying as hard as I can, and in the end it isn’t enough. Most likely because I’m just not capable and have too much pride to admit it. It certainly isn’t for lack of want or lack of love, please know that.

The biggest piece of advice I will ever be able to give you is this: Don’t become like me. Because if you become like me, this is the life you will lead, and as you can tell, other than your presence it’s not turned out all that well for me. Realize my flaws for what they are. Get angry with me because I haven’t prepared you for the world. Get angry that I can’t teach you patience, empathy, communication, selflessness, listening, remembering, or any of the skills that I lack to develop and maintain healthy relationships. Get furious at me for not doing my job as a parent. Resent me for having to look elsewhere for these lessons. God knows you’re entitled to feel that way.

What’s happening now is not normal, not the way I want it to be. It’s in my power to stop it and turn it all around, yet I struggle mightily with how to do that, failing at every turn. And as long as I struggle and fail, you and Mom both suffer. And neither of you deserve that.

I don’t know what the future holds, but please, please take my advice as soon as you can. It may turn out to be the best thing I can do for you.

I’m sorry.

Pride

I took my 19-month-old son to the Seattle LGBT Pride Parade this past Sunday. If you’ve never been to one, it’s quite possibly the most wonderful and moving parade you’ll ever see. Thousands of people gathered to celebrate pride, happiness, love, and this year, victory. Not less than 48 hours prior the US Supreme Court had declared gay marriage a fundamental right to all Americans, so this parade had the same kind of exuberant, victorious joy similar to when my beloved Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. I felt it was of the utmost importance not only that I attend, but that I provide the opportunity for my son to attend as well.

How did he like it, you ask? Well, to put it simply, he loved it. All the marching bands, costumes, floats rocking out to good music, fire trucks, police cars, motorcycles, and happy, dancing, joyous people. And I was moved to tears with the unbelievable amount of LBGT support from all facets of humanity – the Seattle police and fire departments, public works, parks & recreation, mayor’s office, local businesses such as T-Mobile, Starbucks, Chipotle, Alaska Airlines, BECU, even the Boy Scouts of America. That one got me right in the feels.

I was so overcome with emotion and the joy of the moment that I struggled to formulate the words I wanted to say to my son, to explain to him entire reason for us being there. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, here’s what I wanted to say to him:

You see all these people? All these smiling and happy people? They come together once a year to celebrate something truly special – the continued progress of earning the basic rights and respect of humanity. Ideally we wouldn’t have to celebrate this because happiness, respect, and dignity are all fundamental rights that everyone has, and we should all treat everyone as we want to be treated. But sometimes people don’t like others simply because they are different, and that is not okay. So even though they are different from us, it is our duty to be their advocates, to support them, accept them, and love they for who they are.

And I want you to know that I will do the same for you, always. You are my child. I’m proud of you and I love you just the way you are.

Seattle = Pride

Toddler Top Ten

With all the articles about the “Terrible Twos”, “Toddler Meltdowns”, and other crazy (but absolutely true) stuff, I figured it was time to spin it the other way. Time for another Top Ten!

1) He understands what I say. Oh boy, does he understand what I say. One of the most frustrating things about his infancy was the natural communication and understanding gap. But now? I can talk to him like an adult and he gets it, even if he can’t articulate it. One one hand that’s amazing, but on the other hand it’s made me check myself and analyze my words like I never have before.

2) Words words words. You can practically see the wheels turning in his head as he learns to associate things with the words we say and the names we call them. And when the new words come out? It’s like a tiny little candy hearts exploded and melted in my chest. And the rate at which he’s picking them up now is astounding. Here are some (probably not all) that he knows, more for record-keeping but possibly for your enjoyment too: Up, down, ball, rabbit, fox, socks, shoes, broccoli, potato, bathroom, cheese, cookie, water, rock, teeth, mama, dada, papa (grandpa), uh oh, balloon, vacuum.

3) Singing!! Yep, that’s right! Apparently one of his favorite (or at least most memorable) songs from Music Together class is a song called “Me, You, We”. And my wife caught him singing it to himself one day!! Since then he’ll sing it every once and awhile, but the fact that he caught on and can sing it? Unbelievably cool.

4) He’s an outdoor kid. So far, he seems content with playing outside as long as possible and protesting when it’s time to come in for a nap. This bodes well for the future where I see him as I saw myself in childhood – playing outside until called home for dinner or until the sun went down. That’s one of the main reasons why we moved to the Pacific Northwest: more outdoor opportunities. So it’s slides, parks, play structures, nature trail walks, and wagon rides until the cows come home. This will just get more and more fun as he gets older.

5) Adventures in food. About the only thing better than playing outside is eating. We have yet to reach the age where he starts rejecting the food we feed him. Even at 19 months, this kid loves his food. Salmon, kale, cole slaw, mustard greens, sushi (Tamago), tuna, avocado, tomatoes, you name it, he’ll eat it. He’s clearly related to us. 🙂

6) Kiss it and make it better. I’m not sure who he picked this up from, but whenever he hurts himself he’ll point to it and look at me. I ask him if he wants me to kiss it and make it better. He brings it close to me, I kiss it, and apparently all is well as he goes about his day. Just like him understanding me, this is incredible. And I didn’t realize I had the magic power to heal dings and dents with a kiss. 🙂

7) Hugs & cuddles. He’s an affectionate boy. I love it. I’ll never force him to kiss or hug anyone he doesn’t want to (related or not), but I know there may be a time where he doesn’t want to be as affectionate (“Ew, dad, gross!”). So for now I’ll soak up every hug, cuddle, and Eskimo kiss I get.

8) Motor skills. Everything from climbing to looking under couches and beds to dipping french fries in ketchup. His skills are accelerating at a breakneck pace. “Child proofing” is an ever evolving practice where I feel I’m at least 2 steps behind him.

9) Music class! We’ve been going to Music Together class since he was 2 months old, and while he’s always seemed to enjoy it, it’s only in the last month or so that he’s really blossoming into it. Dancing, hand motions, drum playing, it’s all happening now. And I can’t get enough.

10) We’re not done yet. Not by a long shot. Here’s to whatever the future will bring. I love this kid.