Movie Lawyers: A Source of Parental Inspiration

For most people, their own parents are the primary model for how to be a parent – good or bad. After that, we are greatly influenced by the characters we see in TV and movies. As I’ve mentioned before, the current gold-standard for TV dads is Bandit Heeler, but sitcoms and movies have forever been a source of parental role models. However, I’ve recently found useful inspiration on parenting from a different type of character – the movie lawyer.

It has been a recent trend in our family that my kids are dirty liars. Every different scenario essential comes down to this: one person is crying and two kids have different stories about why.

“She hit me!”

“No I didn’t!”

One of them is lying, and it’s my job to find out who. Lucky, I’ve watched enough courtroom scenes over the years to be adequately prepared. I’ve picked up some techniques from some of my favorites, and they are pretty effective.

The Daniel Kaffee Technique: Let Them Get Themselves In Trouble

This is probably my go to. Not only because it comes from one of the best scenes from one of the best movies of all time, but it really works. Added bonus that it sets up a nice “ah-ha!” moment when you really nail the little liar. The strategy here is to keep asking them questions until they contradict themselves and then turn their own answers back on them.

In a recent application I found out that my older daughter hit her younger sister, not on accident as she was walking by as she originally claimed (which was a flimsy excuse to begin with), but very much on purpose.

“Where were you walking when you bumped into her? Where were you going? Why were you walking there? Where was she standing? If it was an accident, why didn’t you just say sorry? Because she was being annoying? What was she doing that was annoying? But you said she was standing over there, that’s why you bumped into her, right?” – and there it is. Kaffee time.

“No, that’s not what you said. I said “Where were you walking?” and you said “to get my clothes” but that’s not what you’re saying now. I can have mom come in and repeat back what you said if you don’t remember. If you’re claiming she hit you first, then it wouldn’t have been an accident at all. You hit her because that’s exactly what you want to wasn’t it!”

The challenge here is not not just go right to laying down the law, but in going through the exercise. I knew who was lying and who was telling the truth, but the fun is in getting your kid to admit the lie. It’s a longer game for sure. In the case of my daughter, a three day long game. Even after catching her in the lie, it still took her three days to finally come out and admit the lie. When the kid is that level of stubborn, a more forceful approach may be necessary.

The Cousin Vinnie: Right to the Point

I’ve got questions, and you’re going to answer them. I’m not here to go through procedures, I’m here to get to the bottom of what happened. Also helps to use visual aids.

“Did you bite your sister? No? Then how did she get these bite marks on her hand? What’s this red spot on her hand? What are these little dents that look like teeth? Why does her hand look like that if you didn’t bite her? Look at her hand, these right here, they look like your teeth?Are you sure about not biting her? Are you sure about that?”

Am I a little worried about coming a cross as a bully to a two year-old? Maybe. But does applying pressure get him to break down and admit he bit? You bet.

This also comes in handy for cloud control if you have a third party witness who feels the need to add their point of view to the proceedings. I have three kids so in most cases when two are fighting the third one feels compelled to chime in, so Cousin Vinnie reminds me to address my line of questioning specifically to the people directly involved.

“Evie – AND ONLY EVIE – where was your hand when you say your brother bit it?”

Both the Kaffee and the Cousin Vinnie are pretty easy to default to, as are both rooted in your having all the information and generally being in a position of power – which as a parent, you are. A fun alternative is to play dumb.

Caveman Lawyer: I’m Just So Confused

This is similar to the Kaffee in that you are letting the kid get themself in trouble with their own words, but in this strategy you aren’t asking any tricky or pressing questions, you are asking the obvious and playing it dumb. Also good to get one kid to turn on the other, because odds are somebody will answer the obvious questions with the obvious answer – the truth.

“How did the crayon get on the wall? If it wasn’t you, then I just don’t understand? Who else couldn’t it possibly be? Did Grandpa come over, color on the walls, and then leave? I just don’t get who could have done this. I mean, it happened in your room, on your walls, with your crayons….I just don’t get it.”

My daughter once tried to blame the Easter Bunny for coloring on the walls. Caveman Lawyer provided the perfect technique to respond. I didn’t call her a liar, I didn’t get overly upset, I was just so confused as to why the Easter Bunny would come all this way just to write on our living room walls.

A similar approach would be the Joe Miller (Denzel Washington’s character in Philadelphia), where asks somebody explain the situation to him like he’s a 5 year-old. Another way of dubbing it down to the basics, but my kids actually are 5 year-olds so that aspect of the approach is lost on them for now. But you better believe I’m busting that out when they are teenagers trying to explain why they came home after their curfew.

Ideally, I wouldn’t need these techniques. Perhaps a better parent role model would be one that found a way to raise their kids so they don’t lie about stuff in the first place. Which I suppose would be Bluey’s dad. So there you have it, the ability to raise kids who never lie to try to get out of being in trouble is as realistic as a talking archaeologist Australian dog.

Have I Created a Middle Child?

As soon as we had our third kid there was nothing we could do about – we’d have a middle child. Stupid math. In my mind I tried to tell myself that we would fall into the traps of creating the stereotypical middle child. Having two older girls and a baby boy, my second daughter, Evie, wasn’t the middle child, she was my baby girl. Right? As much as I purposely try to avoid it, she sometimes does get treated like the middle child. And I hate it.

Growing up, my family didn’t have any middle children. I had one brother, so the family dynamic didn’t extend beyond big brother and little brother. Simple. Easy. My wife is one of five kids, and she is squarely in the middle. To this day she speaks with resentment about the day her little brother was born and forever supplanted her as the baby of the family. One day she’s singing and adorable, the next day she’s too loud and waking the baby up. A new baby was born, as was a middle child.

Luckily for us, there is no resentment (as far as I can tell) from Evie toward the baby boy in our family. If anything, she loves him too much. She will hug him so much he’ll get upset and smack her. A good problem to have I suppose. But there are some situations where her being the middle child shows up, and it stings each time. Maybe more so for me than her.

Evie’s school has their Spirit Week recently, so the kids got to dress up in some fun way each day. A breakdown of what you were supposed to wear each day was emailed out in the weekly newsletter. A newsletter which I did not read. To be fair, between my two daughters being at two different schools, I get a lot of update emails and newsletters. But is that really an excuse? I mean, if I don’t read an email for work I can’t say that I didn’t read it because I got other email too. What bothers me more is that when my oldest daughter was first going through pre-school I would have read that newsletter.

My wife did read the newsletter, and did let me know which days she was supposed to dress up like what. Some mornings she leaves for work before I am out of bed, so she let me know the night before that the following day was mismatch day. Mismatch day for a 4 year-old – just let her dress like normal, perfect.

I did make more effort that usual to make sure her clothes didn’t match, which was actually pretty tough when almost all her clothes fall into the the general category of “Disney Princes Riding a Unicorn on a Rainbow.” She had a shirt under a dress that were different colors, pants that had different rainbows than her dress, and two different kinds of neon socks. Good enough. After dropping her off at school, I wondered what the next day was incase I needed to do a little more prep work than finding two different unicorn patterns, so I went back and looked at the newsletter for dress up list. I saw the next day was sports day – of which Evie owns nothing other than a pink Detroit Tigers hat which she never keeps on her head. I also saw that today was not mismatch day. It was backwards day. Ugh.

I couldn’t help but feel she’d been middle childed into not wearing the right thing. If it was our first Spirit Week, I’m sure I would have read the newsletter myself. Hell, we probably would have marked each day on the calendar so we wouldn’t forget. But this was our third Spirt Week at our second school, and I couldn’t be bothered to make sure Evie was doing it right.

I doubt she or her teachers noticed. For a unicorn pattern dress there really isn’t any difference between forward and backward anyway. But I knew, and it bugged me. She didn’t come home and say anything about it, but I wouldn’t be all that shocked if four months from now she brings it up. Her mind is a little trap that way – holding onto some some detail until her mind can’t keep it in anymore. Who knows how any of these middle child moments she’s locking away in there?

For the most part, Evie is very easy going. Sometimes to her detriment, and to the development of more middle childness. Her older sister definitely has a more dominating personality, so Evie is almost always one to go along to get along. Just the other night they each wanted to listen to different music at bedtime, and after a brief back and forth Evie gave in. On one hand I was proud of her for not escalating the situation, but on the other hand, I could see that she was sad about it. The next day I made a point to put on what she wanted to listen to, but not all situations can be made up so easily.

My wife and I outnumbers ourselves. We knowingly did this, so we can’t complain about the demands on our time or finances having three kids creates. Evie didn’t have a say in it though. She didn’t knowingly commit to the possibly of going to school dressed wrong, or eating breakfast by herself because dad has to go change the baby’s diaper and get him dressed in the morning. This morning I only know she ate all her breakfast because when she was done she took her empty bowl to the sink without anybody asking or reminding her. A kid who quietly does what they are supposed to do is a parent’s dream, right? Part of me can’t help but feel she has become that way because she doesn’t think she’d get the attention anyway.

I try to give each of my kids one on one attention, but when they are all together the oldest and the youngest seem to naturally demand more of me. I don’t do it on purpose, but I’m sure if I put a clock to it, she would have the least amount of daddy time. I take turns with my kids taking them out for dates with dad. This month is Evie’s turn. She hasn’t told me where she wants to go or what she wants to do yet, but I know my answer will be yes.

Can a Dad Cry? Yes, But I Probably Won’t

While playing a game of “Would You Rather”, my daughter asked me – would you rather cry glue or sweat maple syrup? My initial response was sweat maple syrup. While it would make exercise more challenging, It’d be delicious. However, when I thought about it for a few seconds I changed my answer to cry glue. I said that I sweat most days, but I never cry, so crying glue would be a non-issue.

My wife was not as impressed by my logic as she was appalled by what she perceived as a lack of emotion, prompting her own follow up question – “What is wrong with you?”

I’m not here to stand firm on some antiquated concept of manliness and that real men can’t, don’t, or shouldn’t cry. I’m saying that I don’t, or at least don’t often enough that I’d be worried about gluing my eyes shut should my tears to Elmer’s. Do I get sad sometimes? Sure. Is the average thing that makes me a sad enough to move me to tears? No. Some people (men, women, whoever) are more expressive with their emotions, and the bar to clear for tears to fall is set lower. I demand olympic high jump quality of sadness.

Though it’s probably more accurate to say I’ve adapted to a higher crying threshold. I look at my kids, and my two year-old son will cry if you give him the cup that he asked you to get for him. Not the wrong cup mind you, but upon receiving exactly what he asked he’ll get so upset that he’ll cry. My four year-old daughter won’t cry about getting a cup, but she will cry about not being able to sit next to her Mommy at dinner. My six year-old daughter won’t cry about a seat (thought she will yell about it), but she will cry about being blamed for something she (allegedly) didn’t do.

I get that kids cry over just about anything, and I try not to hold that against them. My first reaction when my kids cry isn’t to tell them to stop. It’s my second reaction. I at least ask what’s wrong first. If they have a legitimate reason, then I’m there to comfort them. If they are crying because they can’t get the cap back on the marker, then I politely invite them to get their shit together.

If we carry that emotional evolution up to a grown man, and odds are that unless somebody died, I’m not going to cry about it. My mom passed away when I was in my mid-20’s, and since then I think I’ve adapted to set that as my threshold. So in your average day, the saddest possible thing that could happen doesn’t come close. Outside of family funerals, I’ve maybe cried three times in the last twenty years.

  • One instance that comes to mind is after my last game of high school baseball. Yes, I understand the irony that there is no crying in baseball, but baseball was over.
  • Another is watching the movie My Life with my college roommate. Just two dudes hanging out on a Saturday night enjoying some fruit salad and crying about Michael Keaton. Wild college nights, amiright?
  • One that I would describe as a more of a heavy mist than crying, but the one my wife brings up most often, is one lone tear falling from my eye when Jim said goodbye to Michael on Steve Carell’s last episode of the Office. I mean, they were a regular part of my life for seven years. Lots of pets die faster than that. If somebody can cry about their dead cat, I can drop a tear for Michael Scott.

Sure, I’ll get a little misty eyed listening to the Jimmy V speech, and it may seem like every time I watch It’s a Wonderful Life somebody starts cutting onions. I mean, I’m not a robot, but no actual tears are falling either. And yes, I understand the irony of Jimmy V saying you should cry everyday, but if I laugh and think then I figure two out of three isn’t bad.

People have asked if I cried when my kids were born, and no, I didn’t. I was happy when my kids were born. One of the things my wife hates most about me is that I didn’t cry when she was walking down the aisle at our wedding. I found the fact we were about to spend the rest of our lives together as something joyous and not so sad it was worth crying about. What an asshole I am.

I’ve been so happy I could do a lot of things, but cry hasn’t been one of them. I fundamentally don’t understand the concept of “happy tears.” Same goes for the notion of “having a good cry.” A good cry sounds about as good as a good colonoscopy. As I’ve mentioned before, when my daughters get married I suspect I’ll be emotional enough to cry then, because part of that will be sad for me. But in most cases, the emotional response my kids generate is either joy or anger – neither of which are tear producing.

So I don’t think there is anything wrong with me. It’s not like I have no feelings at all, or that I don’t recognize the feelings in others. I’m not a sociopath. If anything, isn’t it a good thing to feel an emotion, understand it, but not get carried away by it? Isn’t that kind of self awareness something we want to instill in our children?

I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking I’m emotionally distant or cold-hearted or anything like that. They know when I’m happy, when I’m proud of them, and yes, when not mad at them – just disappointed. Of all the emotions they’ll see from me, is it so bad that sadness wouldn’t be one of them? Is the fact that they don’t see dad cry going to somehow stunt their own emotional development. I dunno, maybe? But I’m certainly not upset enough about it to cry.

Stoic Saturday: How Do You See Your Kids?

There is, without a doubt, a gap between how we see our children and how they really are. We may see the smartest kid in class, a teacher may see a kid who won’t listen. We may see an athlete, a coach may see a kid who sure does try. We may see kids playing the yard and having fun, neighbors may see an annoyance. I’d like to believe parents know their kids well enough to be right about them more often than not, but there are absolutely times when our perceptions of our children don’t line up with how they really are.

When that happens, it isn’t the teacher’s fault, or the coach’s fault, or the neighbor’s fault. It is the fault of our perceptions.

Disturbance comes only from within – from our own perceptions.

We love our kids, and that’s a good thing. We can see the best in them, and it’s great to build that confidence in them. We can also create perceptions of them that center around only the best of them. When those perceptions are challenged or completely shattered, we naturally feel upset at whatever snapped you into cold reality. But it’s not the coach’s fault our kid doesn’t end up being the leading goal scorer. It is more likely our kid’s lack of coordination, or the fact they would rather chat with their friend on the other team than pay attention to where the ball is going. I’d like to say those are hypothetical examples, the next Mia Hamm my daughter is not.

And I understand that. I am not upset that she doesn’t get to play more offense, or even play more of anything. However, how many coaches, umpires, other parents draw the ire of a parent who is unable to get beyond their perception of their own kid’s abilities?

Though I am still not in control of my perceptions. This week my daughter got sent home this week with a letter from school saying she’ll be getting extra attention in math because of how she performed on an assessment. My first reaction was a bit of disappointment and maybe even a little sadness. My daughter is a little smarty pants, how can she need extra help in math? I’ve heard her count to 100 many times because she says, “Dad, listen to me count to 100.” Many. Times.

But what was I disappointed in? Not the fact that my daughter may be struggling a bit with addition or subtraction, but the fact that she might not be as smart in the classroom as she is in my mind. My disappointment came from within.

Lots of things happen in life. Most of them are neither truly terrible nor truly spectacular, so we need to be careful not to perceive them as such. This is easy to put in practice for something impersonal like not letting yourself get annoyed by a traffic jam or bad weather. It is much more difficult when we must try to maintain appropriate perspectives on our children. I mean, we made them for crying out loud. Still, it is helpful to stop and take a look at what is really making us upset when we are faced with the notion that something about our kids doesn’t match up with how we see them. I see my kids as my babies, and I’m told someday they’ll be teenagers. When that moment comes, and that realization sinks in – there will most definitely be a disturbance within. But only if I let it happen.

Waiting for Medical Results and Momento Mori

A few weeks ago I had something of a medical concern. I am usually one to take a wait and see if it goes away approach, but this caught my attention in a way that I thought would be best not to wait and see. I’m sure you’re curious what it was. Don’t worry, it wasn’t something weird or gross. Just some blood in my urine. If it turns out that actually is weird and gross for you to read, imagine how I felt.

Upon noticing this symptom, I naturally immediately assumed I had cancer. Maybe prostate, maybe bladder, maybe kidney, maybe all of the above. Wanting to give myself the opportunity to catch it early, I made a doctor’s appointment. I tried to anyway.

After initially being told it would be several weeks until the doctor could see me, I was told to go get blood work and a urine test done and they would schedule something from there. Clearly the scheduler at the doctor’s office did not have the same sense of urgency to find out why my insides were bleeding that I did. The next day I went and filled the cup and got my blood drawn. They told me the results would be available within a day. The wonders of modern medicine! However, there is a big difference between results being available and results being understandable. The wonders of modern medicine.

As soon as I got the notification email that my results were in I went to my patient portal to see the news. Most of the results were normal, but a few things on the list had a big yellow caution icon next to them. My white blood cells were low, my bilirubin was high, and the specific gravity of my urine was low. I’m no doctor, but I have seen every episode of ER, and know that low white count is bad and high bilirubin means your liver isn’t working. I have no idea what specific gravity of urine means, but having piss that defies gravity actually seems kind of cool.

Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I Googled what that combination of results couldn’t mean. Even though I knew a medical professional is more reliable than WebMD, I was now convinced my liver was failing.

A few hours after the results were available, I got another notification. A message from the doctor – “Call my office to make an appointment so we can discuss the results.” I couldn’t help but notice she didn’t say anything about not having liver cancer. The soonest I could get an appointment was in two weeks. You can sure do a lot of thinking in two weeks.

Naturally, my first thought was how soon would be too soon to take the once in a lifetime trip for my kids to Disney World? Am I too old to qualify for Make-a-Wish? Do I go now while I am still feeling healthy, or wait until I’m more sickly and and use a wheelchair to skip to the front of the line at Space Mountain?

My second thought was I need to be more intentional with the time I spend with my family. Have I been wasting my time? Have I been spending it rather than investing it? Is this whar Tim McGraw was singing about? Should have been living like I was dying for my next thirty years instead of still getting down on the farm? Mostly I thought how strange it is that we only start to look at our time critically once we realize we might not have as much of it as we thought.

Why do we wait for some huge news or some major life event to look more critically at what we do with our time? I get that it seems completely depressing if you were constantly aware of the fact each day of your life is more day closer to your death, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. I am sure on some level our minds purposely block those thoughts for us as a way to keep us happy, and we shouldn’t dwell on the fact we are all going to die someday. However, should thinking about our mortality depress us or motivate us? Deflate us or inspire us? Momento mori the Stoics say – remember you must die. Not to make you sad about dying, but to make you excited about living.

I tried not to dwell on anything until I talked to the doctor, and over the passing days I found myself not thinking about what might be wrong with me, but about what kind of life I want to live. I thought about how to focus on the things that matter (even started reading a book about it), about job fulfillment beyond a paycheck, about about what I really wanted to do with my time, and yes, about how long could it possibly take to tell me what my test results mean.

After waiting slightly less than patiently for my appointment to come, the day arrived and I went to talk to the doctor. Thankfully, the first thing she said was that while some things where high and some things were low, nothing was too far from normal to indicate something serious. No cancer. No liver failure. While it was good to hear that, I feel like that she could have just told me that in the comments she left in the test results. Or at any point in the last two weeks. We can talk about whatever else we need to talk about in the appointment, but leaving a quick voicemail to let somebody know they don’t have cancer should be standard practice. Hell, shoot me a quick text – “No prostate cancer *eggplant emoji*” would have been great.

Turns out my body is breaking down red blood cells faster than my liver can filter them out. It is exercise induced and mostly harmless. Runner’s bladder they call it. I always loved the quote from Steve Prefontaine, “Somebody may beat me, but they’re going to have to bleed to do it,” but I never thought I would take it so literally. I guess that’s the price I pay for the “free” t-shirt that comes with running a 10k.

I can relax my mind and not think about the worse case scenario anymore. Or at least what the worst case scenario was at the time. Now I know the worst thing I can do is waste my time. My talents. My energy. My life. Apologies to Tim McGraw, but I am still not going to live like I was dying. Rather, I’m going to live like I’m living.

Stoic Saturday: Don’t Wait for Another Instant

When you have kids it becomes easy to fall into the trap of planning ahead. It is easy to think of the next milestone or how much easier life will be once they are out of diapers. While planning can be wise and often necessary, the future should not be your focus – this moment should be.

Each of us lives only now. This brief instant.

When I was in my 20’s and childless I thought life was moving fast. I distinctly remember turning 27 and thinking “how can I be this close to 30 already? I was just 17.” Fool. Some say college is the fastest four years of their life. My daughter is four right now, and while I don’t have a calendar in front of me at the moment I am fairly certain she was only born about a week and half ago. This phase, this season of life, this moment you’re in really is an instant. So are you in it, or are you just waiting for it to pass?

While you wait for the next thing, the better thing, the different thing – you’re missing the only thing. I hate to break it to you, but the life you’re living is the only one you’ll get. So what are you waiting for? For more of it to be gone? Look at your kids. This is the only time they will be this little. Is your kid asking for one more book before bedtime a burden, or a passing moment that will never come back? Is a kid insisting to be pushed on the swing more, and more, and more boring? Well maybe, but but in the scope of life it is an instant. Blink your eyes and they won’t need you to push anymore. Blink again and they won’t even want to go to the park with you anymore.

I know I fall into looking ahead too much. When the kids are a little bigger we can go camping. One more year and we won’t have to pay for day care anymore. Three more years and we’ll only have one school to drop our kids off at. It is good to put your mind to creating a plan for what might happen in the future, but it can’t take up residence there. I know I need to work on not just enjoying the moment, but truly being present in the moment. The future will be here. Probably quicker than I think. What matters more is what actually is here now.

Tomorrow isn’t promised to anybody. That is not to say you should live irresponsibly, with no regard for consequences. But rather to live intentionally, with purpose for the present. If you don’t get a tomorrow, and today is your last day, would you be happy with the way you lived the day? With how you lived each day up to this point? Or do you look back at a series of days there spent waiting for them to pass? Time will pass all on its own, it doesn’t need your help. But your life won’t be lived in a way that matters unless you put the effort in to each moment as it comes.

Literally as I was writing this, I stopped to go read a book with my six year-old daughter. She wanted us to take turns reading every other page of “The Pigeon Goes to School.” If there was ever a time to try to rush the moment, it was waiting her to work through the word “alphabet.” But I let her figure it out, I helped her when she needed it, and I was present in the moment. I’m not going to lie, it took effort. But if I can stay present through soft c’s and silent l’s, the rest should be easy. Right?

Working From Home When Kids Go Back to School

Like many people in the modern workforce, I can work from home. Going into the summer, I knew I’d be working from home with at least one of my kids three days a week. My wife’s schedule allowed for her to be home with the kids the other two. Having two “normal” workdays in the office might not seem like much, but it did a nice job breaking up the week and gave me a change of scenery. Sitting at a computer in my basement and sitting at a computer in an office isn’t all that different, but working in a place without kids is very different than sharing a workspace with somebody who is on their summer vacation and always wants a snack.

About half way through summer I started a new job and I now work fully remote. Except for a few hours working from coffee shops, my workdays were filled with the sound of kids in the house. Until today. This morning I dropped of all the kids at school and day care and came back to an empty and silent house. It was stranger than I thought it would be.

I immediately noticed two things – I had gotten used to the noise, and I expected the routine.

When I was working without kids around, I would almost always have music on or be listening to podcast. With kids, the music was still a thing, but it was from High School Musical and there were little voices singing along. Loudly, and with most of the words wrong. Podcasts were out the window. An hour of time to quietly absorb information was in impossibility. What quiet time I could get needed to be reserved for Zoom calls, and could not be squandered. I’d rather miss out on the cast of Boy Meets World getting nostalgic than have the sounds of Pinkalicious on the background of a meeting.

Oddly, without anybody else in the house today I did not immediately jump at the opportunity to choose the music or to catch up on podcasts I’ve missed. Not because I was enjoying the silence, but because I didn’t think to do it. I had gotten used to not being able to. Now here I was sitting in a house that was too quiet. I missed the noise, or more accurately, the noise makers. It dawned on me that this was going to be my first full work week from home without any kids since the days of pandemic shutdowns. Working from home stopped feeling weird a long time ago. Working from home alone will take getting used to.

I needed to break the silence so I told Alexa to play some music. She played “Landslide”, and I skipped it. She played “Fire and Rain” and I suffered thought it. After that, she played Harry freakin’ Chapin, “Cats in the Cradle.” Alexa is a cold-hearted bitch.

In addition to not knowing how to break the silence, I also didn’t quite know what to do with myself. With kids home, we had a set routine built around reading time and snack time and TV time and lunch time and bike ride time. Now I could set my own schedule, but again, I didn’t actually think to do it. I went for a walk around the neighborhood around the same time I used to get the kids out of the house because it felt weird not to. But it never really occurred to me to eat lunch. With nobody asking if it was time to eat, I didn’t. Lunch was replaced by a series of snacks throughout the day whenever I’d realize what time it was and I hadn’t really eaten yet. We had developed a routine for the day to keep the kids busy and not stuck in front of a screen all day while I worked, but it also gave apparently much needed structure to my day, which seemed to fall apart without it.

Now the kids will have the routine of school, and I’ll have to build myself a new routine for the work day. The walks around the neighborhood will stay. The High School Musical soundtrack will be gladly cut out. I’ll even set myself a lunch time and settle into a flow that works. I am sure I’ll get perfectly used to working from home without the kids around just in time for Christmas break. I guess that is what working from home is all about – adjusting and adapting one change at a time.

The solid structure of the 9 to 5 office job is gone, and the price to pay for working from home in comfortable pants is giving up a consistent daily routine. Which, I understand that for some people sounds amazing, but when you have kids your routines are their routines. Without the structure they’ve necessitated, I have to say I feel a bit like Red after he gets out of Shawshank. I can do almost anything now, so what the hell do I do?

Stoic Saturday: Be The Good You Want to See In Your Kids

Parenting essentially comes down to two things: keeping your kids alive, and making sure they grow up to be good people. There is plenty of help available for the keeping them alive part – car seats, baby gates, child-proof everything. Little kids are even designed to so bendy and squishy they are hard to break. However, you can’t put anything on your baby shower registry to assist you in raising a good person.

It would be wrong for anything to stand between you and attaining goodness.

Actually, I take that back. You can register for something that will help you raise a good person, but not too many people register at book stores. Everybody wants to get a jogging stroller, but people would roll their eyes if somebody gave them a copy of Meditations. Though if we are really being intentional on what kind of parent we want to be (and in turn what kind of kid we want to raise), the means by which we instill ideas of courage, justice, temperance, and wisdom are much more important then how we will get a tiny person from point A to point B.

So if resources to teach goodness to our kids are available, what’s stopping us? Personally, I think it is the age-old cliche of all parents (or at least bad parents) – do as I say, not as I do. Unless your kid is Doogie Howser, safe to say your toddler isn’t cracking open Marcus Aurelius or Seneca. But you can. And we know that every kid inevitably mirrors their parents’ actions. To instill the goodness we want in our children, we first have to attain that goodness our selves. Or at least be making an effort.

If everybody waited around until they achieved goodness to become a parent, the human race would have ceased to exist immediately. The pursuit of goodness is a lifelong journey, not an alarm you can set on your biological clock. Knowing the destination could be a lifetime away, why not start the journey now?

Ironically, for myself as a parent, one thing that stands in the way of attaining goodness is actually being a parent. When there is breakfast to make, kids to get dressed, and three places to drop off three kids in the morning, it is hard to start the day intentionally. It’s easier to sleep in than it is to wake up early and give myself time to spend reading. After a workday and dinner, showers, and bed time routines, it’s too easy to sit on the couch and turn my brain off before I go to bed. While it may take more mental effort to engage my mind in reflection and writing than it does to stream a few episodes of something, what is more worth my time? I mean, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is funny, but is it helping my journey to goodness?

Kids take up a lot of my time, but I can’t let that stand in my way. If I have to set my alarm for 5:00 am to give myself time to read and reflect each morning, then that is what I need to do. I can’t let the comfort of my bed stand in my way. In the big picture, an hour or so of sleep seems like a pretty fair trade for being the kind of person I want my kids to pattern themselves after.

So what is standing in your way? A perceived lack of time? Bad habits you can’t seem to kick? The fact that your own parents were poor models of goodness? All of the above? Whatever it is, don’t let it be an excuse. Don’t let the fact that something in your way today stop you from taking steps toward achieving (and modeling) goodness in the future. Easier said than done for sure, but what could be more worth it?

Why Parents Can’t Go to the Bathroom

Kids can go from having a great time to having a terrible time in a split second. Usually it is their own fault. When it’s not their own fault, it is probably their brother or sister’s fault. Sometimes it’s the fault of the color of the cup you gave them. One of the more frustrating things about when kids do melt down is that it can happen any moment, and you never know when that moment will be. With one exception – when you’re in the bathroom.

Without fail, as soon as the bathroom door closes, a tiny mouth opens and out comes a scream. It doesn’t matter if I take 15 minutes to take a shower or 15 seconds to pee, as soon as my kids know I am not immediately available they view that as an open invitation to freak out about something stupid. If anything, their freak outs seem to be proportional to the length of time spent in the bathroom. If I’m just grabbing some floss to get something out of my teeth, one kid will commit the terrible offense of getting a song lyric wrong and the other kid will yell at them. If I got done working out and need a nice long shower, then for sure somebody will end up laying on the floor crying. I sometimes wonder if they remember what I had for dinner the day before and plan the severity of their outbursts accordingly.

What is it about the bathroom? I can leave them alone for periods of time to do other things and they are fine. I’ve never gone to the mailbox and come back with a fist full of political flyers I’ll throw out immediately and a house full of crying kids. When I’m working from home I can sit on Zoom calls for hours and they’ll be fine doing whatever it is they do when I’m in the basement and they are upstairs. While whatever it is they play leaves their room a total mess, it leaves nobody crying. But I go into the bathroom and their bedroom suddenly becomes the island from Lord of the Flies. God forbid I get the stomach flu, somebody would surely get a rock dropped on their head.

What is it about me being behind the bathroom door? They aren’t newborns. They know I continue to exist when I leave the room. At least I think they do. I was average at best when it came to peek-a-boo, so surely they’ve figured it out by now. They know sound can travel through the bathroom door. When they scream for help wiping their butt I come to help them. I don’t pretend I can’t hear them because they are in the bathroom. Though maybe I should. If they think I can’t hear them scream at each other when I’m in there, only fair for me to choose to not hear them.

It’s more likely that they are fully aware I can hear them, but they know that if only for a few seconds there is nothing I can do. In their minds I might as well be on the moon, and when the cat’s away the mice will jump off the bed and land on their little sister. I don’t know if I am more pleased that they’ve learned to respect my privacy when I’m in the bathroom, or more disappointed that they immediately devolve when they think they’re out of my reach. From a young age I trained them to leave me alone when I’m in the bathroom, and they don’t pound on the door when I’m in there and they certainly don’t try to barge in. My wife on the other hand did no such training and is the frequent victim of tiny barging people.

The bright side is that they they learned what I taught them. If only they could apply this beyond bathroom etiquette and into something like cleaning up their toys or staying in their bed at bedtime. Too bad from them neither of those things presents them with the opportunity for unsupervised chaos, then I bet they’d keep the house spotless. Isn’t that really their motivation here? To do whatever they want. They do just enough of what I want them to do to allow themselves the opportunity to do as they please. Then again, isn’t that everybody’s motivation? I mean, why else do adults go to work? Perhaps my kids aren’t out of control, but wise beyond their years? Good for them, but I’d still like to be able to shave without a kid ending up in tears.

So I guess I did this to myself. I made them think that if I am in the bathroom I am totally unreachable, and they’re pushing to see how far that can go. This is why we can’t have nice things. I’ve traded five minutes of privacy for ten minutes of calming down a screaming child. Talk about a shit deal. See what I did there.

Picking Up My Son for the Last Time

When you think of memorable parenting moments, what comes to mind are the firsts. You save first pairs of shoes, sometimes people save locks of hair from first haircuts, the real weirdos save the first teeth kids lose. Baby books are filled with pictures and dates of first steps, smiles, solid foods. First days of school are possibly the most recorded and archived events of a kid’s life. Part of it is because firsts are fun. They are moments of pride, of joy, of major celebration. Also, you can see them coming and can plan accordingly. What you don’t see coming, but are just as important, are the lasts.

My wife and I have decided to take down one of the sides of our two year-old son’s crib and get him used to sleeping in a big boy bed. I think he’ll be fine and it’s the right thing to do for his development, and I am happy for him. But at the same time, I’m a little sad for me. The next time I pick him up out of his crib will be the last.

A cute little boy sleeping in a crib

One of the best parts of my day is getting the little guy out of his crib in the morning. He is always happy to see me (except for the occasions he is specifically asking for his mommy), and unlike other times I pick him up he isn’t fighting it or squirming to get down. In those morning moments all he wants is to get picked up and I am the person he wants to do that for him. From the time he gets up to the time he decides what he wants for breakfast, I am providing everything he needs in his little world. Assuming I get around to taking that crib down tomorrow, that will only happen one more time.

At some point the day will come where I can’t pick him, or any of my kids up at all. My 6 year-old daughter just crossed the 50 pound mark, and while I can still pick her up, I can’t carry her around like I used to. The way I see it I have two options – stop feeding her, or get myself to the gym. I suppose getting myself stronger seems like a more responsible choice than a malnourished child. Also seems like a lot more work. These are the tough parenting choices nobody tells you about before you have kids.

While picking up my kids is a last that I can do my best to delay, it will happen eventually, and I probably won’t know the last time is the last until after it happens. I didn’t know when the last feeding happened, and I won’t know the last adorable mispronunciation when it happens (he calls his sister Evie “wee-wee”), but the last pick up out of the crib is on my timeline now, not his. Maybe I’ll take it down tomorrow, maybe I’ll take it down when he is eleven, who knows.

Now that I know it will be the last time and I”ll be prepared to savor every second of it, of course he’ll have a poopy diaper, or will be screaming, or will want his mommy and not me, or quite possibly all of the above. Makes me think about the hundreds of times I’ve picked him up without even thinking about it. Or any of the other little things throughout the day that are so easy to blow past, or think of as just something you need to do, or maybe even something that feels like an inconvenience. A little thing here and a little thing there as you go about your day, but what is life but a collection of little things with only a few biggies sprinkled in?

There are a handful of holidays to celebrate each year, and only one birthday per kid, but little kids need help wiping their butt every day. One day my daughter will ask for help and I’ll find her in the bathroom waiting patiently with her little butt sticking up in the air for the last time, and I won’t know it until who knows how long goes by. Not as fun or adorable as getting a sleepy-eyed toddler out of a crib, to be sure, but another little moment with my kids that will disappear.

I get it, kids grow up. I was a kid once and I (mostly) grew up. You know going into parenthood that there is impermanence to it, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready for it. But in this case, I’ll look on the bright side of knowing exactly when the last time to get him out of bed will be. So I’ll do three things – savor the moment of getting him out of bed one last time in the morning, take his crib down in the evening, and get to the gym and lift some weights. The kids aren’t getting any smaller, and I’ve still got picking up to do.

UPDATE: I was sitting on the couch when I heard him call out for me this morning. This was it. I told myself to savor the moment, to take it all in. I walked to his room and said good morning. He sat in his crib and pointed to some cars that were sitting on the floor of his room. “Cars,” he said.

“Ready to get up buddy?” I asked.

“Cars!” he responded.

I prepared myself for a good squeeze and bent over and picked him up out of his crib. As soon as I got him up he was squirming to get down. “Cars!” he insisted. I didn’t fight it.

So there you have it. My last time picking up my little guy out of his crib was thwarted by a couple of Matchbox cars on his floor. A cherished memory for dad just can’t compete with a blue Jeep. Little jerk.