Stoic Saturday: Your Happiness Is Different Than Your Child’s

Once you are a parent, to a certain extent your life is not your own. So many of your actions and thoughts are dictated by the actions of a your kids. Yes, you should focus on your kids. Yes, you should take pride in being a good parent. But know where the dividing line is between their life and yours.

Everyone gets one life. Yours is almost used up, and instead of treating yourself with respect, you have entrusted your own happiness to the souls of others.

I think what Marcus Aurelius is saying here goes back to the practice of focusing on what you can control and not wasting your thoughts on what you can’t. What is going to happen will happen, and other people are going to do what they are going to do – even your kids.

We give so much of ourselves to our kids, all in the name of raising them to be good people. Or at least what we think will be good people. I don’t think any parent intends to raise their kids to be selfish, or arrogant, or ignorant, or hateful, or lacking a moral compass. Yet we see these people. They exist, and they did not come from nowhere. If your child make poor choices and not absorb what you taught them, should your happiness suffer?

We can continue to try to teach them, to model the right kinds of behavior, to attempt to show them the error of their ways, but at the end of the day our happiness and our peace of mind should come from the decisions we’ve made for ourselves. If we are living a virtuous life, and doing all that we can to raise our children to be good people, that is what should bring us happiness – not necessarily the outcome. We don’t control the outcome. Try as we might, once our kids are out there on their own their happiness is theirs and ours is ours. Can you take pride in your kids? Absolutely. Can watching them bring you joy? Absolutely. Should your joy in life be completely dependent on them? No.

Even though you have a life that depends on you, your life is still your own. You were a whole person on your own before kids came along, don’t forget that you are still your own person now. Everyone gets one life, right? Marcus warns us that yours is almost used up, and compared to your kids it certainly is. Depending on the age of your kids, they could literally have their whole lives ahead of them. You might be coming down the home stretch. Continue to make the best use of your life, in all aspects, not just parenting.

Have you sacrificed time for reading, meditating, or journaling in the name of being a parent? After you’ve had kids, do you still make time to run, or hike, or bike? I think a lot of parents let these things go because they need to devote so much of their time to their kids, and taking the time for themselves feels selfish. However, taking care of yourself – mentally, physically, spiritually – will make you a better parent for you kids. If you are taking care of your own happiness, that will be reflected in your kids.

Today’s takeaway – take some time to develop and maintain good habits that will increase your happiness. Don’t do them with your kids, but model them to your kids.

An Effective Parenting Technique: Throwing Socks

There are parts of parenting that I am better at that others. One thing I make an effort, and I think I do pretty well at, is not to lose my temper with my kids. I can probably count on one hand the times I’ve actually yelled at them. And my “them” I pretty much mean my oldest daughter. She can be a stubborn little shit (which she just might get from her old man) and there have been a few times when she pushes past the point of reason. I don’t think I have ever yelled at my younger daughter. She is dainty and delicate, and I am pretty sure if I ever yelled at her she would melt into a puddle of rainbow colored tears.

While I don’t verbalize my frustration with them, there are definitely times when my frustrations are communicated very clearly. I find an effective way to do this is to fire some laundry across the room.

A few days ago my daughter asked me to pick out her clothes in the morning, so I did. A dress, some pants to wear under it, a clean pair of undies, and a pair of socks – all laid out on her bed. Naturally, she took issue with my choice of pants. She didn’t want me to just pick for her, even thought that is explicitly what she askef for, she preferred I present her with options. Fine. I grabbed another pair of pants and laid that one out as well for her to pick from. Wrong again pops.

Apparently, what she really wanted was for me to hold them up for her, so she could pick between the two. Fine. I held them up. She picked. I turned to walk out of the room so I could help get the other two kids ready, and she snaps at with “No! What about socks?”

A dad can only be pushed so far.

“Oh, you mean these socks?” I asked as I held up the socks that I had already picked out. “I already got them for you, but if you’re going to talk to me like that you can get them yourself.” I replied in a very calm voice, as I chucked her socks out of her open bedroom door. They landed half way across the house. I haven’t played baseball in quite some time, but in the moment it was good to know I’ve still got it.

I calmly walked out of her room and went to get her little brother and sister dressed – who of course were eating it up. “I’m being a good girl Dad.” is often uttered by the younger sister when she senses the older one is in trouble. The yin and yang that keeps a multi-child house functioning.

As I was getting them dressed I could hear her sobbing and sniffling in her room. For a moment I felt bad. Was that a bad choice? Should I be setting a better example? I suppose I could have explained to her the right and wrong way to talk to me. I could have shown her that I was just trying to do my best to help her get dressed. Maybe just show that there were in fact socks there. Yes, each one was an option. But the satisfaction of chucking those socks was really quite something.

I mean, sure, even if a loss of temper isn’t vocalized, it still is a loss of control in the moment. But on the other hand, what’s the harm? It’s not even the first time I’ve thrown their socks. On more than one occasion I have thrown their socks in their faces when they were being too silly and not getting dressed.

“Don’t want my help getting your socks on? Ok, do it yourself,” As they catch a face full of cotton.

Thinking about it, I have used the same strategy with other things too. Stuffed animals have been thrown across the room. Shoes have been thrown down stairs. Pacifiers have been fired against a wall. But I’ve never yelled, and I’ve never hit. Only inanimate objects have born the brunt of my frustration. Though I am careful not to take it out on the good toys. I’m not about to send a replica Buzz Lightyear face first into a closet door, but a generic stuffed bear? Brace for impact pal.

Ok, the technique is questionable, but the results are real. After she pouted about it, my daughter went and trekked down her socks and put them on without a peep. She hasn’t had an issue getting dressed since. So is the value of a teaching method in the method, or in the result?

I’ll take the result.

Telling Your Kids About Your Will: Exciting Stuff

After we had kids, my wife and I made the responsible decision to make a will and decide what should happen to our kids if we die. Fun stuff. I don’t know how it would have came up in a conversation with a 4 year-old, but apparently my daughter knows that should we die, she will go live with my sister in-law. She is also very pleased by this. I know because she told me.

“Dad, you know what’s exciting?!” She asked me.

“No, what?!” I inquired, expecting her to tell me about something at school, or the park, or pretty much anything other than my mortality.

“When you die, we are going to Aunt Sarah’s!”

Like Bill Cosby said, here take this. Wait, that’s not right. Kids say the darnedest things. Yeah, that’s the one.

I mean, I get the appeal. Aunt Sarah has two daughters of her own and a dog she can play with. And I am glad to know she would apparently have an easy time with the transition. I am less than enthusiastic with how quickly she glossed over the part about my wife and I being dead. A mere detail in the prologue that can easily be skipped on the way to “Chapter 1: I Have a Dog Now.”

My kids have mostly grasped the concept of death thanks to basically every kids movie ever made, but they are still a little unaware of its permanence. They have asked me a few times if people come back from heaven, or where you go after heaven. They also seem to be unaware that it is not something that you have a set appointment for. I know this because upon hearing the news that that my premature death gets them a one way ticket to Aunt Sarah’s, my youngest daughter looked up at me and said-

“Dad, when are you going to die?”

I get wanting to be honest with your kids, but bringing up the concept that I could get hit by a truck tomorrow didn’t seem like it would be productive. I didn’t want to answer a series of follow up questions about the impermanence of life, and I certainly didn’t want to answer any follow up questions about driver safety and why a truck would hit daddy.

Though in hindsight that was a missed opportunity to drive home a point about the need to drive the speed limit and wear a seat belt? Don’t want daddy to die? Then you better not ask for something on a car ride that makes me have to get out of my seat and climb to the back of the van. A.B.P – always be parenting.

“Not for a long time kiddo. Now get your shoes on.”

While I am not thrilled that the prospect of me dying while they are young seems so exciting to them, I can’t help but be impressed with their understanding of importance of, and need for, binding legal documents. It also gives me the option of threatening them with me changing the will.

“If you don’t clean your room I’ll send you to live with your Uncle Nick when I die. He only has a cat!”

Dead parents and a cat, talk about your childhood trauma.

Stoic Saturday: Focus On The Task at Hand

It is possible to become a parent without intending to, but you shouldn’t parent your kids without intention. Even if you stumbled into the role, felt unprepared and overwhelmed (what parent hasn’t?), once the responsibility of the position is yours – act accordingly. Marcus Aurelius says this:

Concentrate like a Roman – like a man – on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can – if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life

The concentration habits or Romans was something they never covered in history class, but I don’t think he is talking about the average citizen here. I think he is talking about the ideal kind of person you should strive to be, and the step to take toward being that person by being living in the moment.

Being told to “live in the moment” has almost become cliche, but I think it goes one step further from having an awareness of the moment you’re living right now. It calls you to be a participant in the moment you’re living right now. It isn’t talking about appreciating what is in front of you, it’s talking about doing what it in front of you. I know this is a challenge for me. Do I sit on the couch and watch my kids play while my mind is somewhere else, or should I join them and be an active participant in their development?

Does having three kids actually make it harder to give enough attention to each one, or is that just an excuse for not concentrating on each of of kids completely in the moment they need me? Devoting one-on-one time to each is important. They need to know they have my attention without distraction from their siblings, or my phone, or the TV, or whatever needs to get done around the house. There are times for those, but if I am doing something with my kid, then I need to be free from other distractions.

I think the word choice is important here – “Freeing yourself from all other distractions.” Not minimizing distractions, not blocking out distractions, but freeing yourself from them. Distractions hold you back. They are not just an inconvenience, they are just background noise, but rather they are genuinely harmful. Time with my kids should be time with my kids. Anything else that is important can have it’s own time, and anything that isn’t important doesn’t deserve my time. There will never be a shortage of things competing for my attention, three kids pretty much guarantees that, so I need to be aware of what is competing for my attention and be quick to decide who gets none of it.

I find it interesting that he says to concentrate not just precisely and seriously, but tenderly and willingly. It is not like were are trying to do math homework and need to shut up and focus so we can begrudgingly buckle down and get it done, but we are to care about what we are doing. Whatever it is we are focusing on is something that we have chosen to spend a chuck of time our of our lives on, the least we can do is do it on purpose and with care. When your kid asks you to read the same book for the 100th time, do you do it willingly? When your kid misbehaves and needs to be taught a lesson on why you don’t play with nail polish (not that that has ever happened to me….) do you do it tenderly? It is not enough for your head to be present, your heart needs to be invested too.

And how differently would you do things if you did them as if it was the last thing you did in life? Would you be so quick tempered at your kids for not having their shoes when it’s time to go? If getting your kids ready to leave for school in the morning was the last thing you’d do in life, I bet it wouldn’t matter so much that a kid can’t find one shoe. You would probably take a moment to appreciate how the kid who can now zip up their jacket all on their own has learned and grown. And you’d take an extra minute to help teach the kid who can’t. If a game of CandyLand was the last think you ever did, would you have one eye on something else while playing? Would you stack the deck to try to get it over as fast as possible? Probably not. And doing a disservice to a game of CandyLand certainly isn’t doing it with justice.

Is it realistically possible to bring this level of focus and intentionality to everything you do? Maybe, maybe not. I wonder, how does one change a diaper with seriousness, tenderly, willingly, and with justice? Tenderly, sure. With seriousness, okay. Willingly? I suppose if I did as if it was the last thing I did in life, I would leave my son the the cleanest butt the world has ever seen.

Today’s takeaway – purposely eliminate distractions and focus on what I’m doing (even diapers) as if it is the most important thing I’ll do. Because in that exact moment, it is.

I Can’t Protect My Kids From Stairs

A significant portion of being a parent to little kids is trying to stop them from hurting themselves. I make sure they don’t pinch their fingers in drawers or bang their heads on tables. What feels like a hundred times a day I tell them to be careful. I remind them of what happened to all those monkeys that jumped on their bed. I think I do a pretty good job making sure my kids don’t flop around the house with complete disregard for their personal safety, and for my efforts all three of my kids have fallen down the stairs.

Before you ask – yes, we have a baby gate and it is almost always up. It was actually up when my one year-old feel down and gave me the neglectful parent hat trick. To be fair, he has the physical make up a fire hydrant. The baby gate was no match for his mass. He sat down on the floor with his back to the gate, leaned back, and down he went. At least this is what I pieced together in the Fall Scene Investigation, because of course it happened when I left the room for one freaking minute.

I climbed over the baby gate to go down stairs to move a load of laundry from the washer to the drier, and bring what was in the drier up to be folded. No good deed goes unpunished, right? It took me no time at all, and as I was approaching the bottom of the stairs, I heard it. The snap of the baby gate giving way, the bang of the gate as it hit the stairs, the thud and the wail of the baby that followed.

I threw down the laundry, leapt up the stairs, dodged the falling gate, and got to the little fella as he laid on his back three steps from the top. Three steps, not bad. Could have been worse. When my middle daughter was about his age, maybe a little older, her tumble down the stairs made both her lip bleed and me feel like the worst parent in the world. So I can live with three stairs and no blood.

Although, she fell down the stairs because she was trying to climb up them. I have no idea how high up she made it before tumbling down, because – shocker – I wasn’t there. I had to run upstairs to take a work call. How’s that for some guilt? I choose work over my kids and one of them immediately falls down the stairs. I put her older sister in charge, but apparently she was really slacking on her literal only job of keeping her sister away from the stairs. Free tip – never put a three year-old in charge of anything. While she did nothing to actually prevent it, she was more than willing to run and tell me that her sister fell down. Thanks kiddo.

What I really find ironic, is that the stairs is pretty much the only thing in the house that we baby proofed. We didn’t put latches on cabinets, or rounded corners on tables. We did an ok job of putting the plastic plugs in the electrical outlets the kids can reach, but they quickly learned how to take them out. If a kid is that determined to zap themself, what are you gonna do? But we did put the baby gate up. And I have climbed over that thing hundreds of times, because I’d rather leave it up than take it down for even just a minute while I run and get something out the basement. And what happens? My bowling ball of a son plows right through it.

I get that you can’t protect your kids from everything, but is it too much to ask to actually protect them from the thing you are protecting them from? I suppose the bright side of this is that they are all fine, and few bruises and bloody lips never really hurt anybody. And it doesn’t make me a bad parent. Does it? No, it doesn’t. But does it? Is the fault in the act, or in the result? I’ve always been a firm believer in “no harm, no foul,” and I think it applies here.

Though I am sure it will burn in their memories and stick with them forever. Nobody carries a mildly traumatic experience with them like a little kid. When my oldest daughter was still learning how to run, she tripped, fell, and scraped her knee while we were out for walk. For the two years since that happened, every single time we walk past the spot where she fell she reminds us how she fell there. Sometimes forgets that she is already wearing underwear when she goes to put a new pair on, but she always remembers the exact spot on the sidewalk where she bit it.

I hope that stairs are just my Achilles heel and this isn’t the start of what will be an ongoing trend. Does it start with falling down the stairs on my watch and escalate from here? Just to be safe, I’ll keep them away from escalators. Moving stairs is just asking for trouble.

Welcome to Stoic Saturday

Welcome to the first in a series of discussions on philosophy! Exactly what you expect in a fatherhood blog, right? Well, I didn’t pick the name for this blog because it was catchy. My intention with this series is take some time to step back from the day to day of being a Dad, and take some actual time to think. Specifically, I’ll be talking about how the Stoic philosophy can help me become a better Dad. 

Make no mistake, I am not a philosophy teacher. The same way I don’t claim to be a parenting exert, I am not an expert on Stoicism. I am here to learn, not to teach. About a year and a half ago I started reading “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. As I went, I underlined parts of the book that stood out. My plan is walk though those sections and think about them though the lens of a parent, and see what nugget of wisdom is in there to help me be a better Dad. 

“There is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return”

The cliches about time flying gloss over the very import fact that it is absolutely true. When you look at your kids and they suddenly aren’t babies anymore, it is easy to say something about how you blinked and they grew rather than take a look at how the time that is now gone was actually spent. Did it fly by because you weren’t living in that moment with intention? Did it fly because you were trying to do a hundred things and once, but none of the one thing you should have been doing in that moment? Maybe it flew by because you just weren’t paying attention.

Time is limited. Nobody lives forever, we know that. Frustratingly, just how much time we get on this planet is completely out of our control. A difficult thing to do is balance the idea that death it not something to be feared, but just a natural action. To the Stoic, something that is in accordance with the true nature of things can’t be bad, therefore death is not a bad thing. But I find that the fear of death is often what motivates the living to make the most of the moment and to fully live their lives. Then again, are the people using fear as their motivation for living using that time to free and grow themselves, or are they actually trapped by fear? The YOLO lifestyle may make for good Instagramming, but does it make for a good life?

So if we don’t fear death, then our motivation to use our time isn’t to cram as much living into that time, but to truly use that time to better ourselves. If I know I only have a set amount of time with my kids, am I going to try to take them to every park, play every game, color every picture? Or am I going to slow down and try to do less in that time? It feels contradictory, but doing less with more intention could actually be the better way to use your time. I almost typed “fill your time” there, but I don’t want to “fill” my time. I can fill my time with my kids by watching Frozen for the 52nd time. I want to use my time.

What then does it mean to “free yourself?” This is more than just freeing up more time, we already know that more time isn’t guaranteed to anybody. You could free up your calendar for next month and get hit by a car tomorrow. We need to free ourselves from noise, distractions, things that go againts the virtues we are trying to pursue. Wouldn’t you love to be able to spend some of your time sitting in the quiet, having time to think and reflect? Time that you can use to grow? Time where you don’t have texts or emails to think about. Time that you don’t have meetings or appointments. To kick off Stoic Saturday, I set my alarm for 5:50 am. That is about a half hour earlier than I set it for on a workday. Why? Because I wanted to be able to sit in stillness and quiet to write this. In a house with three kids under five, before sunrise is the best option to get quiet. Have I achieved freedom at 5:50 in the morning? No, but I think I’ve made a step in the right direction.

It is easy to fall into the pattern of spending time with my kids by just doing the things – get them fed, get them dressed, get them clean, get them to bed. Of course these things need to happen, there is no way around it. But am I just moving from one thing to next? Are snacks and diapers the kid version of texts and emails? I should be careful not to confuse using time to accomplish the baseline parental tasks with spending quality time with my kids. Recognize the difference between activity and productivity. Quantity and quality. Will my kids remember the time I efficiently got them fed and out the door for school in time? Probably not. Will they remember how I asked them about their day and actually listened? I sure hope so.

There is good, there is bad, there is indifferent. Spend time pursuing the good, spend time avoiding the bad, don’t waste time on the indifferent. By investing time – time alone or with my kids – in pursuing the good, you will achieve freedom, and truly be making the most of your time. What would I do with my kids if my time wasn’t pulled away by things that don’t matter – either out of habit, or worse, by conscious choice?

Today’s takeaway – choose to use time on the good, on the virtuous. Make an effort to realize my choices in how I spend my time, and change habits that’s waste time.

My kids are awake now. My quiet stillness has been promptly replaced by a baby the needs a clean diaper and full belly, and two sisters who already need to be kept apart from each other. Each one taking their turn to cry. Such is life. But while the quiet may be gone around me, the stillness can still carry on inside.

The Greatest Heroes in American History – Parents of the Oregon Trail

There is perhaps no more dreaded part of a parent’s life than spending an extended period of time in a car with your kids. Even if you tailor the entire experience around their enjoyment, the best you can hope for is that it isn’t terrible. Don’t you dare hope for actual enjoyment. If you plan your drive time around naps, meals, and bathrooms breaks, pack plenty of books, toys, and snacks, and even if you let them pick what to listen to on the radio – the odds of reaching your destination without issue are not great.

On a recent trip to my in-laws (a normal 2.5 hour drive across Michigan), the drive became a mix of closed lanes, bathroom breaks, and tears, many tears, that stretched to over 3 hours. My three kids each took their turn, tagging in and out along the way to make sure there was at least one kid crying at all times. It was easily the worst care ride we’ve ever had with them. I should say that for the most part my kids do very well in the car, and hopefully this trip will prove to be an abnormality and not a new trend. I credit part of their car ride track record to the fact that I’ve refused to let them watch anything. They get no screens in the car. I have no great reason for this other than the fact that I didn’t have anything like that when I was a kid, and I did just fine. Kids today have it so easy, amiright? While modern convenience has made travel easier for kids, the biggest beneficiaries have been the parents.

When I was little, we loaded up the Dodge Caravan and drove to Florida. It look 3 days. Our only source of entertainment was a box of books and games my Mom packed and whatever was going on outside my window. Spoilers – trees! God have mercy on my parents.

Every advancement in child’s mobile entertainment and comfort has also advanced the sanity of parents. We’ve never had it so good. Which got me thinking about parents of olde, and the fact that the greatest heroes in the history of America are the parents of the Oregon Trail. I mean, sure, the men who stormed the beach at Normandy are up there. But how many times did somebody ask them for a snack, but not that snack, something else?

There was an estimated 40,000 kids who made the great trip West. There was an estimated 7,543,345,123 utterances of “We’ll get there when we get there.” The average trek took 5-6 months. That’s over 150 days. As entertaining as ball-on-a-string-on-a-cup and stick and hoop are, those parents never stood a chance.The amount of a times a snack would be asked for and denied boggles the mind. “If you eat all the hard tack now, we won’t have any for later!” How many siblings were poking the other one? Talking to the other one? Heaven forbid, looking at the other one?

Though I suppose the bright side is that they probably didn’t have too much time to be bored with all the walking to do. That’s right. Riding in the wagon was for if you were sick or hurt, otherwise kids walked. The only thing more pleasant than a tired, hungry child is a tired, hungry child with blisters on their feet. I’ve had my kids complain that Crocs made their feet hurt. They never would have made it out Missouri.

So now that the kids are hungry, tired, and cranky, let’s get them to do chores! Common tasks for kids included herding animals, fetching water, gathering firewood, and collecting buffalo chips. I have a hard enough time getting my kids to pick up stuffed animals off of their bedroom floor, and these parents had to get their kids to pick up animal doo-doo.

But hey, it wasn’t all fun, games, and feces for parents. They also had the base line task of just keeping kids alive. If the video game taught me anything, it’s that you will die of dysentery. I mean, with all the buffalo chip collecting kids were doing, it was a matter of when you’d get diarrhea and vomiting, not if. I got super annoyed when we had to get off the highway so my daughter could stop to pee in a Walmart. Can you even imagine the bathroom breaks involved with dysentery. “We just stopped so you could go back at the big pine tree, we’re not stopping again! You’ll just need to hold it until we get to that big rock or we’ll never get to Oregon!”

Not to mention the deadliness of the mundane. About as many people died from being run over by a wagon that died from scurvy or freezing to death. How many blankies do your kids insist on bringing in the car ride? Kids today, with their ample amounts of vitamin C and protection of exposure.

So while 3 hours in a minivan with little people who want more fruit snacks was not the most fun I’ve ever had, nobody got typhoid, and I’m grateful for that.

Western expansion is often overly romanticized, and a great many sins are glossed over in the name of going west young man. However, it did produce the greatest American heroes – parents who managed to get small people from once place to another without the aid of a screen, or juice boxes, or books, or Raffi, or anything. Anything at all. Other than the ever-present threat of death and disease. Maybe on our next car trip I’ll give my kids a ball-on-a-string-on-a-cup and tell them to deal with it. Either that or a super soft and comfy pair of jammies so they fall asleep in their air-conditioned car seat. Could go either way.

What My Daughter Hears Me Say

My little girl was sitting at the table eating her lunch, when she looked at me and said, “Dad, do you know what you say all the time?” I was curious and nervous. In the mind of the three year-old, what it is that I say that sticks in her mind?

Best case would be something adorable like “I love you.” What better to know that I say it enough to her that she knows it. If that is so engrained in her little mind that Daddy says “I love you” that it has become my cliche catch phrase, surely I am at least doing one thing right as a parent. And as far as catch phrases go, it’s no “How you doin’,” but it’s certainly better than “Did I do that?”

Or would it be a term of endearment? Most of the time I call my daughter Peanut, so would she say that? Every kid needs a good nickname, and the best ones carry into adulthood. She may outgrow it at some point. Will I call her Peanut when she’s in her 30’s or has kids of her own? Maybe not. But will I can her Peanut when she’s a teenager and calling her that in front of her friends will embarrass the crap out of her? You bet your ass.

A few worst case scenario words flashed across my mind as well. I really try not to swear in front of my kinds, but they’ve been around me while I’m trying fix things around the house or assemble their toys so I can’t make any promises as to what they’ve heard.

Or would it be some word that I say all the time without even realizing it? Some nervous tick of a word that works its way into my speech. I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to not say “um” or “like”, but has something else taken their place? Like, uh, some kind of word like “you see” or “anywho?”

Perhaps it would be some reflection of my habits, either good or bad. Would it be something like “baseball” or “exercise”? There is honestly a higher probability it would be “beer” or “cake”.

“What do I say?” I asked her as she chewed.

I was glad she wasn’t talking with her mouth full, but her delay in response left me hanging. I need to know what lasting impressions I am making on my kids. How have my words shaped their growing minds? Who am I in their eyes? Chew tiny lady, chew!

I hoped for the best yet braced for the worst, fairly certain that either way it would be adorable.

She finished chewing her bite, looked up at me and said –

“Bing.”

Is My Kid a Bad Influence? Yeah, Probably.

Try as we might, we cannot completely shelter our kids from negative outside influence. They will learn bad words, they will pick up bad habids, and God help us they might even listen to Cardi B. It is clear that my daugher has picked things up at pre-school and brought them home.

For the most part the trend has been increased levels of sass and eye rolls. What used to be a simple “yes” has become a “yeeEEs”. And never at an appropriate time to use sass. Its not like she implements this when repeating the same question about whether or not she’s picked up her toys, she hits me with the sass when I ask her if she wants milk with dinner. Clearly, she picked up this new and exciting response at school and can’t wait to use it, context be damned.

She has also said that things that I know she has never seen or heard are her favorite. Yesterday she said to me, “Dad, JoJo Siwa is my favorite person.” After a Google search to find out who the hell JoJo Siwa is, I concluded that, no. No she is not. More likely that she heard somebody at school with an older brother or sister talk about it and decided that she wanted to be able to talk it too. This is the pre-school version of nodding and smiling in a work meeting when people start throwing around acronyms that you don’t know what they mean. Her JoJo Siwa is my JSON. My only understanding of their existence is that the seemingly random collection of letters that make up there name have made their way onto my computer.

It has been said you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If the behavior of five other kids is osmosing into my daughter, I wonder what of my daughter is showing up in them? What odd new thing is being chalked up the influence of Lucy K.? As much as I don’t want it to be, I assume it is taking off their pants when they shouldn’t be taking off their pants.

Twice in the last month my wife has gotten a call from the school letting her know that our daughter was being inappropriate. One was a classic game of showing yours and mine, which my natural dad reaction is that I’m sure it wasn’t my daughter that started it but the other little son of a bitch. The other was her dropping trou to scratch an itch during nap time. Not much I can say about that one. I mean, I am all for comfort when you’re trying to sleep, but c’mon kid.

We are always given an assurance that it is no big deal and normal, but at the end of the day my kid is the kid who showed the class her business. Much like the kid who has to do the same grade twice, every class has one, but you never think it will your kid. I imagine one of her classmates going home and letting it hang out at the dinner table and giving the excuse of “Lucy K. does it.” And word gets around. Just like that, she’s got a bad name. She’s not invited to birthday parties, she’s left out of play dates, she doesn’t get to sit at the kids-who-keep-their-pants-on table lunch. That Lucy K., she’s a bad seed. But I ask you what is worse – influencing other kids to take off their pants, or have an awareness of JoJo Siwa? Taking your pants off and listening to some 90’s Whitney Houston (which is some of my daughter’s favorite music) sounds a lot better than wearing all your pants and listening to some fad garbage that’s YouTube famous. I might just go take my pants off and listen to The Bodyguard soundtrack right now.

I am sure some good of these kids is rubbing off on each other too. There are moments when my kids do something so kind and responsible I am amazed. And I take total credit for it. It could be something they picked up from a friend though. Helping somebody else get their shoes on and when not to display your parts – the two most important lessons of pre-school.

Dad Isn’t Pretty

Evie, my two year-old daughter, dropped some truth on me the other day. She was looking at us the bathroom mirror as we were washing her hands, and she said to me, “Dad, you’re not pretty.”

At first I was insulted. I’ve been called a lot of things, but but “not pretty” has never been one of them. I mean, it’s not like I’m Rob Lowe circa 1986, but to be flat out called not pretty? Ouch.

A very pretty man.

Then I thought it must be because I’m a boy. This is a girl who says that her baby brother can’t be a sweetie because he’s a boy, and sweeties are girls. So I ask “Oh, is it because I’m handsome?” Solid logic. Pretty = girl, handsome = boy, right?

“No.”

Well now she’s just being a dick.

“Because you don’t have a jammie dress.” She justified.

I felt better. It’s not that she thinks I’m ugly, but finds my pajamas unsightly. Which, in her defense, consist of old shirts or sweatshirts two sizes too big and a pair of shorts. So compared to her adorable little night gowns, yes, I am dressed like a hobo. It is very clear that I do not measure up to her young idea of beauty.

Beautiful is pink. Beautiful is sparkly. Beautiful is painted toenails. Dad is a constant state of 5 o’clock shadow. The princess is the epitome of pretty. The prince is some schlub on a horse.

I had taken pandemic hair seriously. I went a year without a haircut, and when I suddenly came home once day with 8 less inches of hair she didn’t take it well. My wife was pleased. My older daughter laughed. My baby boy paid no mind. Evie was disgusted by my shorn appearance. At the time I thought it was just a shock for her. I went more than a third of her life without a haircut, so I was just glad she recognized me. But now I realize that my long hair was the only thing about me that aligned with her concept of beauty. It could go in a ponytail, it could go in a bun, it downright flowed. She says my hair used to be “floppy,” which apparently is what she thinks hair ought to be.

She asks me at least once a week when my hair will grow back, and why is it taking so long. Sadly for her (and me if I’m being honest) my long hair has had its last hurrah. I will never again be pretty in the eyes of my daughter. Although, I suppose I could start wearing a night gown. I could totally pull off that look. Probably would be super comfortable. Breezy in all the right places. She doesn’t have a monopoly on adorable sleepwear. I’ll show her who’s not pretty!