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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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.

10 Things I Wish I Knew About Parenting – 1 Year Edition

Yep, it’s that time again! It’s still hard to believe over an entire year has passed. What happened?!?!?! While I’m searching for answers to questions Don Quixote style, here are 10 new things I wished they would have told me.

1) It doesn’t get easier; it gets different. Sure, the nights of being up every 2 hours and changing infant diapers in a semi-conscious state are gone, but they’ve been replaced by babyproofing the house, getting kicked in the back by a rogue child foot at night, and following my son around the house to make sure he doesn’t put everything in his mouth (including the cat’s tail). As he grows, the problems become more complex. So be wary of anyone who tries to tell you “it gets easier”. Either they’ve never had kids or they just enjoy the schadenfreude.

2) You’re wrong. Every. Single. Day. My inner voice is constantly telling me I suck at this. I’m not asking for a pity party, but sometimes it’s near impossible to muster up the strength to get up off the mat after another knockdown. Metaphorically, of course. Being a parent means you will screw up at least one thing every day for the rest of your life. Everyone tells me that’s OK, so I’m figuring out how to accept that.

3) Solid food diapers are the second nastiest thing on the planet. I previously covered formula diapers as #1. But having to scrape solid, putty-like waste out of a cloth diaper into a toilet? Yeah, I’ll give you a minute to wipe your previously-digested lunch off your computer screen.

4) “Tight-fitting” pajama sets are the Devil’s work. Yes, I understand they should be well-fitted for safety reasons, but trying to squeeze a pre-Chernobyl toddler into PJs at bedtime should be an Olympic event. Either plan on spending an hour putting them on or saying “Fuck it, let ’em sleep naked.” And getting them off the next morning? Better get the Jaws of Life.

5) Bedsharing is awesome. OK, full disclosure here: Since my wife breastfeeds, she gets the brunt of the waking and feeding in the middle of the night, sleeping in uncomfortable positions, getting kicked, kneed, elbowed, and punched at random, and just generally dealing with the fallout of having a little dude invade your bed space. That said, I enjoy having my little guy sleeping soundly next to me. Of course it’s nice to have a king size bed, but still. He wants to be asleep next to us because that’s where he feels safe and secure in a world he barely knows. Why would I want to take that away from him?

6) You’ll start having “remember when” conversations. About your kid. Yeah, nostalgia after only 12 months. Funny thing about your brain: it has a way of softening the insanely brutal memories of the first few months and somehow magically trick you into thinking you might want to do that again.

7) Watching kids learn to eat solid foods is both wildy fascinating and utterly terrifying. Ever try chewing and swallowing your food without using your molars? Yeah, it’s wicked hard. “What do I do if he chokes?” “Oh God, he’s choking.” “Wait, no he’s not.” “Yes he is.” “No he’s not.” “Yes he his.” “No he’s not.” “Wait, he just swallowed it.” “He swallowed it?” “YAY! HE SWALLOWED IT!!!”

8) Going out to eat is like trying to diffuse a ticking time bomb. Except this bomb doesn’t have a predictable timer and needs constant distraction via toys, games, or food. Look, I’m terrified of having my child melt down in a restaurant (and believe me, it’s happened), but the only way to get kids comfortable in those situations is trial by fire. The more my son is exposed to it the more he’ll be comfortable with it. So the next time you see a parent frantically trying to calm their Tasmanian Devil, show a little compassion. Unless you’ve been there you’ll never know. Now I’ll just hop off my soapbox and head to the next one….

9) Yep, it still takes two. Like I said, it doesn’t get any easier. In my case, I know I wouldn’t be able to have the career I have and raise my son the way I want without the never ending and unconditional support from my wife. My awe and praise for her could fill up an entire post and then some (hey, there’s an idea for another post!). How on earth a single parent does it all is still beyond me. Mad props to all the single parents out there. You have my undying respect and admiration.

10) You’ll still love being a parent. Hell yeah it’s hard. Hell yeah I think I suck at it. But it’s everything I wanted it to be and added a huge new dimension to my life. Seeing his eyes light up when he sees me and says “dada” is THE best feeling in the world.

Batteries Not Included

As I sit here with my 11-month-old son watching him inspect my iPhone and figure out how his favorite song (The Incomparable Mr. Flannery, by Clutch) is emanating from this mysterious black box, a small pit forms in my stomach. I begin to question myself: “Should he be exposed to my phone screen?” “Will the bright colors and sounds desensitize him from the simpler things in life?” “Shouldn’t I be sheltering him from all this technology?” “Am I using my phone as a substitute for real interaction?” It took me quite awhile to really understand where these thoughts came from and even longer to figure out how to answer them.

My wife and I grew up in a period of technology explosion. Stuck firmly on the corner of Generation X and Generation Y, at the intersection of latchkey kids and 90s grunge/alternative, I feel like we occupy a unique place in technological history. Our childhoods are filled with memories of playing with friends outside AND digital experimentation. Big Wheels, Slip ’n Slide, Skip-It, “Ghosts in the Graveyard”, and “Cowboys and Indians” right alongside MTV, AOL Instant Messenger, Napster, Myspace, and Facebook. So of course our experiences have cultivated a subconscious and visceral gut-check to ensure we do not use TVs, iPads, the Internet, and DVD players as de-facto babysitters for our children.

But is sheltering our children from technology at such a young age the right answer? I’m starting to think it isn’t. There’s a HUGE difference between using it as a babysitting crutch and teaching them about it, watching them learn and discover it. You see, our children will be growing up in another unprecedented era. A world where this technology is not only ubiquitous, but also taken for granted. A world with new technological breakthroughs that I can’t even begin to fathom. And my job as a parent, above all, is to prepare them for this world. Sheltering them from this technology is doing a giant disservice.

I love watching my son figure things out, discover the ins and outs of how things function, cause and effect. That if he pushes the big round button he can “speak” to Siri, who will speak back. That if he touches the screen on one of my color drawing apps he can literally create something new, something from his own mind. I can see his brain working overdrive during phone calls as he tries to figure out how mommy, daddy, or grandma got their voice into this tiny black box. He’s even starting to understand video chat, which will become incredibly important as our family and friends are spread all over the place: Peoria, Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington state, and even Sweden.

It goes without saying that my other job as a parent is to set reasonable limits for how and when to use said technology. My childhood experiences (as well as my wife’s) have ingrained in us that there is no substitute for good, solid playtime with other kids, especially outdoors. It remains a core and primary value. But our children will live in an entirely different world than the one we grew up in. Recognizing that and understanding how to merge the two worlds is the new challenge. This merge smacks me in the face yet again as I hit the “Post” button on this blog, written on my laptop from my couch with iTunes playing in the background, staring out my front window at the multi-colored leaves of our giant oak tree in mid-Fall. Wow.

Raising a Respectable Son

A couple things have happened over the past few weeks that caused me to reflect on how I should raise my son to treat women. Inherently I know that he will develop a lot of thoughts, actions, and attitudes based on my words and examples, but it dawned on me that I will not be the only source of influence that shapes his behavior. I’m really interested in feedback from other parents of boys, so please feel free to comment.

One: Photoshop Advertising
We were at the mall a few weeks back and I was holding T. as we waited for the rest of our party to finish up in the restroom. On the wall behind me was a large advertisement for women’s make up that featured a very pretty woman with big eyes staring out at the world. T. was absolutely transfixed by the poster, grinning from ear to ear. This came as no surprise to me since he’s a huge flirt with all the ladies, but I realized that he was staring at a digitally-altered image that represented some marketing firm’s perception of what natural beauty looks like to the most popular audience. Even at this age what he sees is shaping his views of the world. Of course he liked the image, but I don’t want him to limit his scope of beauty to what the advertisers are feeding him. (NOTE: This digitally altered perception of beauty also applies to advertisements of men, so if T. happens to be gay I believe this still applies.)

Despite our best efforts, he is going to be bombarded with the highest concentration of marketing and advertising of any generation – and this is coming from someone from someone who lived through MTV, the advent of the Internet, Myspace, Facebook, Nickelodeon, and Saturday Morning Cartoons. Looking back I know my generation was a marketing cash cow, but my son’s generation will be a marketing wet dream! I want him to be able to differentiate what is real from what isn’t, and the lines are so blurred now that it’s difficult for even me to tell. At the very least I want to teach him that true beauty lies on the inside. Oy.

Two: The “Sexy X-ies”
I “follow” our local commercial rock radio station on Facebook. Just like every other corporate rock station in America they have local women in the 18-25 age range that dress up in skimpy outfits and appear at promoted events with the sole purpose of increasing participation from their target audience – males between the ages of 18 and 29. Now to this station’s credit, they do a decent job at selecting a wide variety of women instead of pulling an Abercrombie & Fitch and trying to sell a particular “image”. But that certainly didn’t stop the haters on Facebook from coming out full force. The radio station posted an image of their latest group of “Sexy X-ies” and some of the comments were jaw-dropping. Some verbatim examples:

“Looks like a bunch of butter faces.”
“They look like the [local strip club] rejects lol.”
“2 outta 5 ain’t bad.”
“Ugly ass girls lol.”
“Man this is all false advertising.”

I could go on and on with the vitriol but you get my point. Most of these comments were made by the radio station’s target audience – again males age 18 to 29 – and they certainly didn’t mind their names being out on display in a public forum such as Facebook. What kind of boys are we raising if this is their level of judgment against women, and let’s remember that these women are someone’s daughters? More disturbingly, what kind of men will these boys turn into if we deem this acceptable? This has all sorts of implications for the self-esteem and self-image of these women, rape culture, and chauvinism, yet the voices who spoke up against it were batted down and rendered irrelevant. This is NOT how I want my son to behave towards ANYONE.

Such are the challenges that await me and my wife as he develops. I can’t help but feel this world is very, very different from the one we grew up in, the one in which our parents raised us. And while I passionately look forward to raising him right and teaching him about love, beauty, and respect, the fact remains that it will be an uphill battle against the fabric of society. Oy indeed.

10 Things I Wish I Knew About Parenting – 6 Month Edition

Following the success of my Newborn Edition of Top 10s, I figured I’ve learned enough to write another one. Here’s a basic summary of my last 6 months; hopefully it helps you out in some way or at least makes you laugh. Cheers!

1) You won’t care what you look like in public anymore.
Bags under your eyes? So what? Dried spit-up on your shirt as you walk in the door at work? No biggie. Hair all askew from the rushed 30-second shower with no dry time? Pffft, you should get credit just for showing up. Wear it all as badges of pride. To quote the great Patton Oswalt, “I want to apologize to anybody that I ever made fun of for wearing sweatpants in public. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, they’re a miracle. I thought that the pinnacle of mankind would be a Mars colony or teleportation. Nope. Sweatpants!

2) Jet lag is no big deal after you’ve had a child.
Staying up for an extra 4 hours to adjust your clock to the opposite end of the world seems like peanuts after you’ve stayed awake 6 extra hours for 3 straight days tending to a sore and frightened infant who’s going through a growth spurt.

3) The reason time flies is because your child changes literally Every. Single. Day.
Just when you’re done adapting to one skill, mannerism, or habit your child completely switches directions. Time as you know it becomes completely relative to your child’s daily development and activities. That’s why 6 months feels like 6 weeks but 30 seconds of solid crying feels like 30 years.

4) You’ll never know how much disposable diapers suck until you use cloth.
Full disclosure: I’m not a shill for the cloth diaper industry but we use cloth diapers 100% of the time at home and 85% of the time when we travel. I don’t care how you diaper your children. Seriously, you do what’s best for your family. But it is an irrefutable fact that no disposable diaper will ever hold a candle to the quality of a cloth one. Absorbency, containment, softness, ease of use, everything and anything you need a diaper to do, cloth does it better. I completely understand why people use disposables – the upfront cost of cloth can be daunting. BUT, if you are fortunate enough to have a baby shower, the total amount of money people will spend on disposable diaper “cakes” or “towers” and all the required accouterment (diaper “genies”, rash cream, etc.) is roughly the same as they’ll spend on a complete set of cloth diapers for an infant. And the water bill from doing laundry every day? Mine has increased a whole $5 per month. Watch out now! Sarcasm aside, if you want any info or tips on cloth diapers just send me an email or check out some of the links under “Merch” on the right side of the main page.

5) Core strength is underrated.
Hauling a 15-pound 4-month old is no joke. You’ll wish you didn’t go soft on all those ab crunches and twists at the gym before you had a kid when you weren’t feeling motivated because you only got 7 hours of sleep. Seriously, lift with your legs. Speaking of……

6) Leg strength is underrated too.
We have TWO sets of 16 stairs each in our house. Needless to say I see a ranch or a retirement home with an elevator in our future. Bend deep to maximize the power from those quads and calves.

7) You’ll gain the “First Child 15”.
Unless you’re Tiger Mom (and why would you want to be?) or you hire your own personal chef, you’ll gain the weight. Why? Motivation, or lack thereof. Now, before you panic, remember that it’s okay. It’s only temporary, and as you figure out how to adjust your life to get your eating and exercise habits to compliment your new addition, things will eventually drift back to normal. Or they won’t, and that’s probably okay too. Just stay focused on the fact that you are doing the most important job on earth. Period.

8) It still takes two.
Again, a HUGE shoutout to the single parents because I still have no idea how you pull it off. Having a second parent there to share the load is the best thing for everyone’s sanity and for the health of the child. 2 mommies, 2 daddies, or 1 of each, it doesn’t matter. Two is always better than one.

9) Going out in public is like being in the mafia.
Whenever you enter a room you quickly scan for hazards, identify all possible exits and escape routes, and always sit facing the door. When your meal is finished you ask for the check as quick as possible and tip big for any “inconvenience” you’ve caused the staff. Then after you clip the kid in the car seat and close your car door you breathe a sigh of relief, just grateful you’ve survived the night.

10) It’s all still worth it.
Every single moment. I wouldn’t trade any of this for the life I had before my son. It’s everything I wanted it to be and then some.