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Picture the scene. I arrive home from work, unlock the front door, and step inside. Immediately I hear the frustrated cry of my 2-1/2 year old son as I see him running toward me with sadness on his face and tears in his eyes. Mom isn’t home and Grandpa looks on, despairingly, from a distance. “He just woke up from a nap and started crying, not sure what’s wrong,” he says.

It’s clear that all the usual remedies have failed, and I know Grandpa has tried his hardest. My son isn’t crying hard, but certainly crying enough for us to not understand what he’s trying to say. I pick him up and offer the usuals: Snack? Water? Toys? How’s the diaper doing? It needs to be changed but I know he’ll have none of it right now. The last thing we both need is a dirty diaper battle on top of this.

We retreat upstairs to his room, one of his comfort spaces. I still can’t understand what he’s saying but I see that look of desperation and in his eyes. “Help me,” his eyes tell me, fighting back panic. “Please figure out what’s wrong and fix it.” I’ve seen this look before, and briefly my mind flashes back to the times when he was just an infant and all I could do was meet his eyes with panic of my own. I certainly had no idea what to do back then so we both learned together the hard way.

But this time is different. I’ve learned and grown as a parent. “Do you want a hug?” I ask softly. I hear a murmur through the sniffling that sounds like a yes. So standing there in the center of his room, with him still in my arms, I hold him close, his cheek to my chest. With one frail arm wrapped around my neck and one around my side, I start slowly rocking back and forth, just like bedtime when he was younger. No words, no songs, just the gentle rocking he’s known his entire life.

Slowly, I feel him relax, his breathing calmer, tears no more. He woke up with some pretty big and scary emotions for his little self. Being a toddler is hard enough when things are going well, let alone when these giant invisible forces take over your mind and body. Did he want his usual snack and water after waking up from a nap? Absolutely. But his mood jammed him up with a vengeance, and he didn’t know how to navigate those dark waters.

He knows now that I can be his boat, gently rocking in the waves, soft warm blanket around him, guiding him to shore with a calm yet bright light showing the way.

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Grief and Love

We had to euthanize Sandy, our sweet, beautiful, 8-year-old family dog this week. She had cancer. It probably started in her abdomen or bladder and rapidly spread to her lungs. When she was diagnosed the vet said she had 6-8 weeks to live. She made it a little over 2 before we did the right thing and said our goodbyes. She was a wonderful companion and friend, not only to my wife and I but to our son as well. She loved him dearly and they grew on each other. Lately, “I love Sandy” would spring forth from my son’s mouth along with some gentle hugs. A Boy and His Dog indeed.

Trenton & Sandy

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As hard as it was for us to go through this, my wife and I made a conscious effort to guide my 2-1/2 year old son through it as well. This required much more strength than I ever thought I had, but I wanted my son to understand what was happening and know that we were here for him. Here’s what else I wanted him to know:

The truth. We tried very hard to explain to him exactly what was happening so he wouldn’t feel blindsided later. I also wanted him “Sandy is very sick and in pain. Mommy and Daddy are going to take her to the vet and say goodbye. She is going to be euthanized and die so she won’t hurt anymore. She won’t be coming back home.”

It’s OK to be sad and cry.Mommy and Daddy are sad,” was the observation repeated quite a bit over the past 2 weeks. “Yes, we are.”

Emotions are scary. It’s OK to work through them however you need to. We will be patient, loving, and understanding as you work through your feelings and realize what’s happening.

We help each other through the bad times. As a family we’re all in this together and we need each other to get through it.

Our pets are family. When they hurt, we hurt. We love them like we love each other.

We must do the right thing for our loved ones even if it hurts us. Euthanasia is a gift we can give the animals we love. We surely will experience pain, grief, and loss, but this is the right thing to do when our pets are faced with suffering.

We will cherish the memories. All the photos, videos, and experiences of the happy times. We will celebrate Sandy’s life in all the happiness and love that it was.

Goodbye my sweet Sandy. We love you.

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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.

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.