Being a parent is not a job. It is your life. A life that you sometimes need to remind yourself that you chose on purpose. Certain aspects of parenthood can absolutely feel like jobs – chef, maid, warden. Of course, if those were your actual job they would pay you money, and filling those roles as a parent does the exact opposite of that. Lately, I feel like my most frequent parental role has been that of a chauffeur. And my kids never tip.
This school year, my three kids are at three different places. One at a day care, one at pre-school, and one at kindergarten. Looking back at having to drop one kid at one place, I wonder how I didn’t have time to sit and drink a coffee and read the paper in the morning? Well, probably because the internet exists and I’m not 70 years old, but you get the point. Whether it is dropping off one kid or three kids, we just get used to it. And the kids get used to it too.
The logistics of it all are certainly an adjustment, but they are what they are. You make it work. I just hope my job doesn’t start enforcing rigid start and stop times to the work day. Taking a conference call with kids singing “Into the Unknown” in the backseat would pose a challenge. Beyond the hustle out the door and the timing of the drop-offs, I was surprised how challenging it would be from the perspective of a dad who is very used to being very needed.
Our kids never had a hard time getting dropped off at day care because they all started going at just a few months old, so as far as they know that is just a part of everyday life. Adding the drop off to pre-school changed that. When our oldest daughter started pre-school, when I dropped her off I would walk to her room with her until something distracted her and I could pry her off of me enough to walk out. Over the course of the school year, that got better, but it never got the point where I’d just leave her at the door and send her on her way. For our second daughter, a high five and have a good day in the parking lot is the norm. Partly because Covid has changed the drop-off rules at the school, but I really don’t think she’d expect me to personally escort her to her room. She’s seen her sister get dropped off hundreds of times. Have a good day and see you later, it’s no big deal. By the time our youngest is ready for pre-school, are we just going to slow the car down to a roll and toss him out the window?
Our oldest in in kindergarten now, and the drop-off evolution has advanced more rapidly. When I dropped her off on the first day, me and all the other parents walked our kids up to the school, gave them hugs, and stood around and waited from them to go into their rooms. After a few days, that became walking her up to the school, getting a high five, and then leaving. Last week she asked me if I could just drop her off at the sidewalk and she could walk to the building her self. On one hand, part of me was thrilled that she not only had the confidence to not need me to walk her up to the door, but also had the courtesy to trim five minutes off of my drop-off routine. On the other hand, she didn’t need me anymore. She needed a chauffeur, not a security guard. My job there was done.
At least all my kids are still very happy to see me at pick up time. Though, when my wife picks up our youngest, he runs up to her and gives her a hug. He just says “hi” to me. Maybe I’ll start insisting on a nice, firm handshake from him. But still, they are not yet embarrassed by my presence at their school at the end of the day. I wonder if when they are fourteen they will still have the same enthusiasm about getting a hug from me outside of their school? I assume yes, but we’ll find out. I’m not going schlep them around for over a decade and not take the opportunity to give them a big hug and kiss and yell “Daddy loves you!” on their way into high school. My chauffeur role may not pay, but it will have its rewards.
When my sister-in-law first came to my wife and I with the proposition that our kids participate in her wedding, we were thrilled. Visions of our tiny people dressed like fancy adults flashed before our eyes. A little man in a tie and suspenders? Little ladies in poofy dresses? I am holding back an “Aawwwwww” just typing it. These things are objectivly adorable. Who wouldn’t want that in a wedding? As it turns out, the parents of the kids, thats who.
Waiting: A Kid’s Least Favorite Pastime
The wedding was at 4:00, we were to arrive at the venue with the kids to get ready by 1:00. Time flies when you are getting ready for your own wedding. The exact opposite happens when you are getting your kids ready for somebody else’s. My wife took our five and three year-old girls to get them ready with the bridal party, and I was left to be in charge of our one year-old boy. I was confident he would love some father-son time. I was even more confident he’d love all the snacks I packed. I knew it would be no small task to keep him happy the whole time, but the least I could do was keep him fed.
His satisfaction with father-son time lasted about twelve minutes and he was looking for his mom. But hey, I’ve got Cheerios!
His satisfaction with Cheerios lasted about three minutes. Fifteen minutes down, two hours and forty-five minutes to go.
Eventually it was time to get him dressed. Little dress pants, little vest, little bow tie. This is what we all came to see. I mean, sure the bride and whatever, but there was no doubt in my mind this handsome little man would steal the show. Getting a squirmy little person dressed in pajamas can have its challenges, getting a squirmy little man in a dress shirt with buttons, so many buttons, started the stress snowball rolling. Why, I ask you, would you make a shirt for a toddler with a button down collar and button cuffs? I sometimes have trouble buttoning my own cuffs, but yeah, let’s expect an 18 month-old kid to hold his hands still long enough to button his cuffs. Million dollar idea – child sized dress clothes that use only zippers and snaps.
After a well-dressed wrestling match to get him in his clothes, it was back to waiting. But hey, I’ve got crackers! And a new challenge – keeping a tiny little man both fed, and clean. An hour and half down, and an hour and a half to go.
The rest of the time was filled with him wandering away, me going and getting him, him smacking me in the face, me putting him down, repeat. He doesn’t talk so if something happens that he can’t say “no” to, he hits. He told me “no” a lot. The schedule of the wedding didn’t allow for a nap and it was starting to show. With each passing minute the wedding was getting closer and he was getting crabbier. I feared he was on a collision course with a tantrum half-way down the aisle.
Getting Kids Down the Aisle: Please Don’t Cry
My younger daughter was supposed to the flower girl. My older daughter was supposed to hold the hands of her little brother and her little cousin, who is also less than two years-old. Part procession, part day care. What could go wrong? The rehearsal had mixed results. The first practice run went pretty well. The second practice run left the flower girl in tears. The actual wedding could go either way.
The bridal party was lining in the back of the building. The girls were anxious, but mostly fine. The little boy was losing his shit. He had enough. Enough of his fancy clothes. Enough crackers. Enough being picked up and moved from here to there. It seemed the only thing he didn’t have enough of was smacking his old man in the face.
We had been reserving the right to pull him out at the last minute if he was clearly not going to cooperate, but hoped it wouldn’t come to that. The procession started to move, we were making our way to the ceremony, he was still crying. Then my wife pulled out a miracle. And by miracle, I mean half-eaten apple pie Larabar out of her pocket. I now understand why women get so excited when a dress has pockets. If you ladies aren’t using these pockets for snacks, what the hell are you doing?
Snack clenched in his tiny fist, he turned off the tears and started to make his way down the aisle. Thankfully, my wife was the person going up directly in front of him, so I told him follow mommy and hoped for the best. Wobbly step after wobbly step he made his way to the front. At one point he realized a hundred people were looking at him and he came to a stop. The older girls caught up to him, and they all looked a little confused. I prepared myself to swoop in and grab him, but he looked at his snack, regained his composure, and kept on waddling up the aisle. That’s my little prime time player.
Picture Time: A Fresh Hell
The wedding ceremony itself is the hardest part, right? After getting the kids down the aisle the rest is fun, right? Getting kids to walk down the aisle was nothing compared to getting them to stand still.
The high of the ceremony wore off. The kids were ready to party. We told them there would be music, and dancing, and cake after the wedding and they wanted it now. But pictures needed to be taken. Many pictures. This would be the proof that these tiny adorable people were in the wedding. This was the whole reason to have kids in a wedding in the first place – for a perfecly posed picture with adorably dressed children with angelic smiles on their face. That picture doesnt exist. I haven’t seen the photographer’s pictures yet, but I would be totally shocked if there was even one picture with even half of the kids looking in so much as the general direction of the camera. It is much more likely that they have tear streaked faces, snotty noses, and crumbs covering their clothes. Can you photoshop out a booger?
We begged, we poked, we prodded, we were smacked in the face. We were taking pictures during the pre-dinner cocktail hour. The. Whole. Hour. As starving as my kids said they were, they wanted nothing to do with the available appetizers. Apparently chorizo stuffed mushrooms and teryaki chicken skewers aren’t “kid friendly.” My daughters were reduced to tears at the prospect of eating chicken on a stick. Sadly, you don’t often see string cheese on the h’orderves menu. At one point my fitness tracker buzzed, and I looked at my watch to see what it was. My stress level was too high. You don’t say.
Once pictures were finally done I played cocktail hour catch up. I fired down three scotches in about fifteen minutes. The first two were to take the edge off, the third one was for fun. I mean, its still a wedding after all.
Finally, We Danced
Eventually, we proved to our kids we weren’t liars. There was music, there was dancing, there was dessert. The kids loved seeing their aunt dance, and they would later say that their favorite part of the wedding was when she kissed their new uncle. By the end of the night the little man was a complete mess. Handsome little outfit in shambles, and I wasn’t looking much better. He had chocolate on his hands, so I had tiny chocolate hand prints on my suit. But at this point I didn’t care. Maybe it was the relief of finally being able to enjoy the party, or maybe it was the open bar, but he could have lit my tie on fire at that point and I wouldn’t have cared. They were all having fun.
To keep my girls from twirling around on the dance floor while the bride and groom had their dances, I held onto them. As I picked them up, one in each arm, I held my girls while we watched the bride have her dance with her father. Right then I realized something. As challenging as them being in this wedding was, it will be nothing compared to what it will be like for their own. At this wedding I was stressed. At their weddings I’ll be a puddle.
One of the biggest differences between having no kids and having three kids, is having lots of time to watch sports and almost no time to watch sports. I still watch when I can, which for the most part is games that are on after my kids are in bed. My kids know I like to watch sports though, and I’ve tried to have them watch with me, with pretty much no success. Once they get past why the teams are wearing different colors and what that guy’s name is, they quickly move on to something else. Though Evie, my three year-old daughter, has quickly learned to use my interest in watching sports to manipulate me into letting her stay up past her bedtime. And I’m completely ok with it.
Though we get our kids into their beds by 7:45 most nights, they don’t actually fall asleep until at least 8:30. They talk, they read, they play, and it’s fine as long as they don’t get too loud or keep each other awake if the one of them is ready to go to sleep. A few nights ago Evie was still up at almost 10:00. The Tigers game had just ended and I was about to go to bed myself when she walked out of her room, sat next to me on the couch, and asked “Daddy, can I watch baseball with you?”
I’ve been waiting my whole live for a kid to ask me that. And she knew that. She knew I wouldn’t say no. She didn’t care about baseball, but she knew that if was watching baseball with me then she wouldn’t be in her bed having to go to sleep. Tiny little genius.
I agreed to let her stay out and watch baseball with me just for a little bit as I excitedly searched for a game that was still on. Time zones came in handy, and we settled in to watch the Phillies at the Diamondbacks. Under any other circumstance, watching that came wouldn’t be worth my time. I didn’t care who won, I didn’t know hardly any of the players, and I knew I wouldn’t watch enough to know who won anyway. But she cuddled with me and asked about their uniform colors, and she asked what that guy’s name is, and she asked what is he doing. It might have been the best inning of baseball I’ve ever watched.
The other night my wife took our oldest daughter to soccer practice, and I stayed home with the little two. Evie was excited she got to stay home with me. She knows she gets to stay up later than her little brother, which means uninterrupted one-on-one Dad time for her. As soon as she realized this, she asked me “Can we watch baseball?” You bet your tiny ass, sweetie!
As bad luck would have it, most of the schedule that day was day games or off days. Once again, we ended up watching whatever game was in a time zone that fit our needs – Dodgers at the Rockies. It actually did turn out to be a pretty good game, but this time she didn’t even bother with the usual questions or pretending in anyway to care about the game. She mostly wanted to be tickled and make pretend pizza. This was her Dad time, baseball just happened to be there.
Now that college football is on, I try to catch at least some of the games I want if we are home during the day. I’ll have a game on and the kids will glance over at it and ask two questions; first, what are you watching? Second, why? They ask me the same thing when I have a Detroit Lions game on, though in that case I genuinely don’t have an answer for the second question. Anyway, Evie has no interest to sit and watch football with me in the middle of the day, or even baseball when it doesn’t fit her needs. Funny how that works.
It took her three years to learn how to use my interests to her advantage. She already knows that if she asks for “Tarzan songs” I’ll always play it for her because it’s Phil Collins. It can only be a matter of time until she starts making me cake with ulterior motives. What the hell is she going to do by the time she’s 18? I don’t know what kind of guy she’ll end up with when she’s older, but one thing for sure – that son of a bitch won’t stand a chance.
Really, if it means I get some quality time with my kiddo, and maybe some sports and cake, I really don’t care. She can manipulate me all she wants. I’ll pretend I don’t know what she’s up to, she’ll pretend she gives a crap about baseball. It’ll be great. Would I prefer she has a genuine interest in watching baseball with me? Of course. Will I happily snuggle with a little liar? Absolutely.
My daughter started Kindergarten this year, and like any parent I was a little concerend if she would easily make new friends. She had gone to pre-school for the last two years at a different school, and I think she was a little sad that she wouldn’t see her same friends from before at her new school. After two weeks, it is now clear that other kids are making friends with her, but I’m not sure she is making friends with them.
After only a few days, she came home excited and told us about Clare, her new “bestie” that she played with at recess. I was glad she had made a friend, but was a little weird that the first friend she made was not a kid in her own class, but a kid she met on the playground. But it is still early in the year, and the playground is a fun place to make friends, so I get it. Since then, she had come home telling us about two other “besties” that she plays with on the playground. Not only were these also kids not in her class, but when we asked her what their names were, she didn’t know. Hmm…some “besties” these must be.
Then, a few days ago she tells me about how another girl pushed her on the playground, but it was ok, because it was one of her anonymous “besties.” So many thoughts rushed to my mind. First, we’ve really got to teach her what a bestie is. Second, who is this little ass-hole? Third, why doesn’t my daughter still know anybody’s name? Maybe thats why she got pushed.
Other kid greets my kid with a smile: “Hi Lucy!”
My kid greets other kid with side-eye: “Who are you?”
We explained to her that, no, its not OK that she pushed you. And if she did push you, then she is not your friend. This concept was completely lost on her. She could not fathom that this random name-less girl was not her bestie. For being applied so easily and seemingly arbitrarily, apparently this term is ironclad.
So two weeks into the school year, my daughter has made three friends. She knows one of their names, and one of them has assaulted her. She’s off to a great start.
A few days ago her school was sponsoring a night at a local ice cream shoppe, so we went. They had me at ice cream, so the fact that some of the proceeds went to her school was just the figurative cherry atop my literal sundae. We were there for maybe a half hour, and during that time multiple kids either came over and said “Hi Lucy” or said to their parents “That’s Lucy.” Each time I would ask her, “Are they in your class? What’s their name?” For all but one, the answer was the same – “I don’t know.”
What is she doing all day in school? Is she cold-shouldering every kid in class? Does every kid in her class know who she is because she’s the weird kid in class who sits there all alone and doesn’t talk to anybody? Or does she talk to people but is so narcisistic that the fact that other kids have names too hasn’t dawned on her? Or best case scenario (I guess?) is that she has the memory of a goldfish. None of these scenarios are great.
There was a bright spot, however. At one point a parent walked over to us to say hello and let us know that her daughter is in the same class as ours, and they will be on the same soccer team too. It turned out that she was the mom of the one kid whose name my daugher actually knew. That girl didn’t come over to say hi though, because she was too shy. So the one kid that my daughter actually does make the effort to learn her name can’t bring herself to come over and say hi, and the kid my daughter has annointed as her “bestie” is a nameless jerk.
I think we’ll invite shy girl over for play date. Both girls will play at opposite ends of the back yard in silence. If my kid can be entertained and quiet, what more could I ask for? Maybe they’ll end up being best friends for years. I really hope they do, if for no other reason then it seems it may take until the 6th grade for them to talk to eachother. Unless it turns out that that no-name bestie has parents we’d get along with better. Then my kid needs to start learning names pronto.
Golf is a challenging, frustrating, and humbling game. More difficult mentally than physically, it can flummox even the most experienced player. Of course, I am talking about putt-putt with small children. Compared to a round of mini golf with a five, three, and one-year old, the Masters is a walk in the exceptionally landscaped park. Bryson DeChambeau can hit the ball a mile, but can he putt with only his left hand as he holds a crying toddler in his right? Jordan Spieth might have laser focus in the final round of major, but has he ever putted around a waterfall while making sure a tiny child doesn’t fall into said waterfall? Could Louis Oosthuizen play it as it lies if it lies in the clenched fist of a tear and snot-soaked one year-old? Methinks not.
Since the start of school, we have decided to have a Family Fun Friday to reward the kids if they have a good week at school and do their chores all week at home. This week we though taking them for their first time playing mini golf would be a fun thing to do. Fools. Right before we are about to play the first hole, my two daughters both suddenly had to go to the bathroom, despite the fact the both said they didn’t have to go right before we left the house. Funny how that happens. On the way back from the bathroom my 3 year-old tripped, fell, and cried. The round of golf would not get any better.
I knew my kids would not be good, but I completely under-estimated the amount of crying that would be involved. To my five year-old’s credit, after showing her the right way to hold the club, she did maintain a mostly proper grip the whole time. However, the concept that you make your way through the course in one consistent direction was lost on her. My three-year old mostly pushed the ball around as if she was playing some sort of golf-curling hybrid for the first half of the course, and then decided she was done playing for the second half. When they weren’t racking up the strokes, they were making their way from tripping hazard to tripping hazard. The thing I never noticed about mini golf courses until I went with kids, is that the whole thing is designed to entice a little person to fall and crack their head open. If the decorative rocks and uneven brick walkways weren’t enough, the holes themselves are designed to be uneven. My kids have literally fallen down standing still, they had no shot walking around a golf course with a club in their hands. I’d like to see Brooks Koepka shoot under par while reminding his caddy not to stand on that every 30 seconds.
I don’t know what the right age is to take a kid for their first game of mini golf, but it sure isn’t one. Between his rapidly approaching bed time and his rapidly approaching teeth, he was mess. Every hole went something like this: carry him to the tee, put him down to hit, he cries, hit, pick him up, repeat. His only source of enjoyment came when we would sit him next to the hole and he would pick up everybody’s ball out of it and hand it back to them. It was a little encouraging to see that he may have a bright future as my caddy some day, but he would have so much fun at each hole that he’d cry every time we’d have to take him to the next. Even after 17 holes, he never caught on there there would be another hole just a few feet away.
Hole by hole we trudged on. At first my wife and I kidded ourselves that we’d at least be able to keep score between ourselves. After the first hole the score card went in my pocket and it didn’t come out until it was put in the recycling bin at home. While it slowed down our start while we waited at the first tee, I think it was a blessing that the course was very crowded. It look us roughly 45 minutes to finish each hole (or maybe it just felt like?), but we were always right behind the group of people in front of us, who was right behind the group in front of them. Each of us with children no older than seven or eight. Behind us was a mother and her teenage son. Even if we let them play through, they’d be sandwiched between two groups without any hope of maintaining pace of play. Poor bastards.
The highlight for the kids was the abnormally blue water. Even though kids four and under were free, I felt I overpaid. When we finally finished the round my 5 year-old looked at me and asked “Is this all we’re doing?”
Yes. Yes it is. Happy Family Fun Friday. Now, let’s go home so Mommy and Daddy can have a drink.
This was a question on a form from my daughter’s pre-school. My first thought was “Does sweetest-little-lady-in-the-world count as one word?” My next thought was that it is an almost impossible task. If I could narrow down just three words to describe any of my kids, it would mostly depend on the day. Or even the time of day. The three words when it is an hour past their bed time and they are still running around their room are very different that the three words when they first wake up and come give me a hug.
The more I think about it, the teacher has to know how hard it is to narrow down a kid into just three words, so I wonder – what are they really getting at? I can’t help but feel they might be doing it more see what kind of answer I give, and not how the answer actually applies to my kid. For example, if I put the word “princess” down, that has to be a big red flag for me. Good luck expecting me to be able to hear anything less than a glowing report on how my kid is doing. Or if I say “smart” does she think I don’t have an accurate sense of my kid’s abilities? I mean, every parent thinks their kid is smart, but the world is full of dumb-dumbs.
Maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe she just wants to know what to expect from my kid. Which brings it right back to how hard it is to do that in just three words. I think it would be easier if my daughter was older. I have to believe it is going to be very easy to sum up a teenager in three words. Maybe not even that many. Most people that know me could probably describe me pretty well in three words. But a three year-old? She can be shy, goofy, smart, ditzy, respectful, rude, helpful, and obnoxious all while waiting in line to check out at the store. Throw a sugary treat into the mix and who the hell knows what you’ll get.
We ended up going with sweetheart, silly, and delicate. I think that pretty well covers our bases on however she might act. She goes out of her way to help another kid in the class? What a sweetheart – I told you so! She bursts out into tears because nobody would sit and listen to her reenact a scene from Frozen – well, told you so.
Maybe at the end of the school year I’ll ask her teacher to describe my daughter in three words and see what she says. I bet she’ll want to know if “smartest-little-cutie-face” counts as one word.
At what point in our lives do we start to become so aware of what other people think? Little kids don’t care. My daughter will break out into full song in the middle of the produce section and not give a second thought as to what the stranger buying avocados thinks about it. But somewhere along the line (probably middle school) we find ourselves doing, or not doing, something based on what somebody else will think about it. Possibly worse, we end up creating unnecessary amounts of mental stress over it as well. Marcus Aurelius says this is a waste of our time. And he’s right.
Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people – unless it affects the common good.
As we’ve talked about before, your time is an extremely limited resource. Of all the things you can spend your time on, concerning yourself with the thoughts of other people should not be at the top of your list. Especially when it comes to parenting.
Ask 50 parents the best way to do something and you’ll probably get 50 answers.
“Go ahead and use a pacifier.”
“Never use a pacifier!”
“Use a pacifier but only at nap time.”
“What about the nipple confusion?!” – As a complete aside, how great is the phrase “nipple confusion”?
Food, discipline, bed time routines, potty training – you name it and there are a wide array of opinions out there to be found. Both expert and otherwise. The best case scenario is you are actually trying to find them. More often than not, parenting opinions are not discovered, but rather thrust upon you in a lobby. Each can have their value at the appropriate time, but each can also drive you absolutely crazy. Either way, don’t waste time on it.
Find a trusted advisor. Find a source of truth. Maybe that is your own parents, maybe that’s your pediatrician, maybe it’s some really cool guy who writes online about being Dad. Ultimately, you need to create filter for outside opinions, and do what you know is right. Let the rest of the noise fall on deaf ears. If you don’t have the same parenting philosophy as your in-laws (shocking, but believe it or not it could happen), don’t spend a second of your time thinking about what they think about how you parent. If you find yourself wondering how you measure up to the parent ahead of you in the pick-up line at school, realize what you’re doing and change your train of thought.
Remember too, that there is a flip side to that coin. If you see a parent doing something you wouldn’t do, so what? Don’t worry about them, and certainly don’t offer your own unsolicited advice. What could you have done for your own children while you were going out of your way to dispense your self-perceived parental wisdom?
While we shouldn’t be constantly concerned with what a social media influencer thinks about parenting, we can’t ignore the caveat that Marcus gives – “unless it affects the common good.” So, should you butt into a situation a parent is having with their kid? No. But if that situation impacts the safety or wellbeing of others, then not only should you, but the case could be made that you have an obligation to.
I know it is a tricky time right now to talk about the common good, but it matters. The heath, safety, and prosperity of the whole matters more than inconveniencing the individual. Doing what’s right as a parent, not just for your kids, but for the whole of society is important. What is good for the whole is good for the individual. So before you spend any time or effort worrying about other people, ask yourself – is what they are saying or what they are doing having a real impact on the common good? If no, then get on with your day and pay them no mind. If yes, you still shouldn’t worry, but act. Remember, Stoics aren’t just thinkers, they are doers.
Today’s takeaway: Don’t worry until you have something to worry about.
More than ants at a picnic, rain at a parade, or Tom Brady at a Super Bowl, nothing ruins a good time like a kid who’s having a good time. Actually, I take that back. Parades aren’t fun in the first place, so there is no good time to be ruined. Attending a parade at all ruins the fun you would have had doing something else. Anyway, a kid’s good time will inevitably end by their own doing.
What parent hasn’t seen this scenario play out before? Your kid is having a good day – they’ve listened, they’ve shared, maybe they even lasted a whole car ride without crying. Such good behavior deserves a reward, so you decide they should get a treat! Yay, ice cream! A kiddie cone and some sprinkles blows their little mind. And their good day. The excitement of the fun day combined with the sugar of the ice cream is just to much for them, and the next thing you know they are covered in melted ice cream, quickly covering everything they touch in melted ice cream, and not listening to a word you say because they are just having so much fun. The fun day now ends with you demanding they be quiet and listen, and stop touching that, and sit still, and be quiet. Onlookers must look at you and wonder how you could be in such a bad mood while doing something as fun as having ice cream. What kind of wet blanket are you? Are you a bad parent or something? Let me tell you, no, you aren’t a bad parent. You just waited to keep the fun in check.
Much like every action has an equal and opposite reaction, every child’s mood has an equal and opposite mood. Laughs inevitably turn to cries. Being grumpy will turn to being giggly. Being tired will turn to being awake for hours past bedtime. I’ll call it the Third Law of Emotion. I’ll come up with the first two later.
As a parent, you have now moved from being the fun parent who got them ice cream to being the fun police. I get that temperance is a virtue and you need moderation in all things, but it just makes you feel like you’re being the kind of parent you never set out to be. It turns out an under-appreciated part of parenting is the ability to allow your kids to have fun, but not too much fun, and I’m not sure I know how to do that.
Rather than reward them with ice cream, should I give them cottage cheese? I mean, it’s still cold dairy? When they are running around being silly, should I inturrupt their fun to remind them about the shots they’ll get at their next doctor’s appointment? Maybe knock over thier Lego tower for no reason? Where is the line on what is keeping them in check and what is being a dick? Who’s to know? But I do know that letting their good time get too good will end badly.
Which sucks, but is also why the fun parent isn’t always the good parent. A major part of he job is protecting your kids, mostly from themselves. I’ve spent infinatly more time not letting my kids eat as many chocolate chips as they want than I have baby-proofing the house. I’m yet to have a kid try to shove something in an electrical socket, but I have had three kids try to shove a pound of chocolate in their faces. Would it have been fun to see them try to chew fistfulls of ghirardelli, yes. Would the aftermath of wound up kids leaving chocolatey fingerprints all over the house have ended in tears? Without a doubt.
Dad just can’t be that fun. Uncle can be sometimes. Hell, grandpa can see their chocolate chips and raise them gummy bears. Dad needs to keep everything in check. At least until the kids are old enough to keep to the promise of not telling mom.
Kids are funny. Though almost never on purpose – their jokes are terrible and they have essentially no sense of comedic timing. But they say and do all kind of ridiculous things thant make you laugh. On one hand, this makes parenting very entertaining. On the other, there are many times when you can’t laugh at your kids. There are also some topics that you can’t laugh at. These worlds collide in the bathroom.
We have been trying to stop our kids from asking for a thousand different things after we’ve tucked them in for bed with little success. On an average night, my daughters will ask for a drink of water, the fan turned on, the fan turned off, music turned on, lotion put on, a tissue, ask to go to the bathroom. Naturally, these requests never come in combination, and neither child asks for something at the same time as their sister. To put a stop to this, we’ve established that they don’t need to ask to go to the bathroom and we are really encouraging them to take care of everything themselves. We find that they don’t really need help wiping, it just depends on if they are in the mood to do it themselves. It is a big step for a parent when poop removal no longer takes up so much of your day.
Last night my three year-old daugher Evie did it almost perfect. Without saying a word, she got out of bed, went into the bathroom, and started to take care of business all by herself. Then she called for me. For no particular reason, she used what I assume was her interpretation of a southern accent that boarded on a terrible Forrest Gump impression.
At first I ignore her. I need to stick to my guns to break these bad habits, and I find that ignoring your children can be a really effective parenting technique in most situations.
Evie: “Da-day. Da-day. Da-day.”
Her repeating this in consistent intervals was enough to get a response, but I sure wasn’t going to get up off the couch.
Evie: “I have pewp on my un-days.”
Me: “Why?!” I asked legitimatly scared of the responce.
Evie: “I tooted and some pewp got on my un-days.” She stated very matter of factly in her newly aquired faux southern drawl.
I looked at my wife, she looked at me, and we lost it. I broke like Jimmy Falon in Debbie Downer. I couldn’t go help her while failing to hold back laughter with tears in my eyes. I needed to treat this like a normal, no big deal thing that sometimes can happen. I coudn’t embarrass her, or even worse, give her some kind of signal of encouragment that sharts were funny and should become a normal part of the bedtime routine.
Also, you can’t let kids know that poop actually is quite funny. This is one of the bigger challenges in parenting. You need to treat bodily things very matter-of-factly. You don’t want them to talk about them, but you also don’t want them to feel ashamed to talk about them, but they have to talk about them in the right time and place and with the right people. So even though its funny, it can’t be funny, and even though its ok to talk about it, you better not talk about it dinner. Or breakfast. Or church. Or the grocery story. Or school. But its natural and normal. But don’t do it whenver you feel like it. Who knew poop talk would be such a fine line to walk?
And I wonder, at what point can we inform our kids that poop humor is not only acceptable, but hilarious? Perhaps this would be a good time to point out that I have the sense of humor of a twelve year-old. In the process of my maturity and development my sense of humor stopped while the rest of me kept going. Apparently, after listening to The Goat while I was in the seventh grade my sense of humor was like, “Ya know what, I’m good here. The rest of Pat, you keep going, but don’t wait for me.” For a few years my metabolism stayed behind to keep my sense of humor company, but he came sprining to catch up. So here I am now – poop is funny but the prospect of digesting a Whopper is no laughing matter.
Anyway, I dug deep, I bit my lip, I focused on the task at hand. Much like my daughter just did. (See, poop jokes are funny!). I collected myself to aid my child in her time of need. And like every good story, this one has happy ending – there was nothing on her undies. I assume for a moment my child chose to embody an old gentile southern belle with irratable bowl syndrome. Oh the imagination kids have!
I still don’t know when the right age is for it to be ok for kids to see the humor in poop, but I sure to hope it is before my daughter is old enough to read this.
My kids are getting to the age where they are questioning why other kids have something they don’t have or get to do something they can’t do. Part of it is the age. They are still too young to do things they see other people doing, like stay up late or get a big piece of cake. Part of it is the choices we make as parents. Like not letting them stay up past their bed time, or keeping the big piece of cake for myself. Which by law is the right of every dad. It’s true. I’ve never looked it up, but I’m pretty sure its one of the amendments. I think Taft was behind it. Anyway, it has brought up an opportunity to teach am important life lesson – life isn’t fair.
While thinking about this, I realized the way we teach the concept of fairness to kids is contradictory. First we tell them to do things because they need to be fair – share toys, take turns, play nicely, follow the rules. Then, once we’ve pounded that into their heads to the point where they can move on from complaining that their sister is being mean to me to their sister isn’t being fair, we introduce them to cold hard reality that life isn’t actually fair. There are adults who have a hard time grasping this concept, so how can we expect a kid to understand?
Are we doing the wrong thing by trying to instill the need for fairness? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach kids to share, take turns, and play nicely, but perhaps we shouldn’t be telling them to do it in the name of fairness. I think we’d be better off teaching them to act in the name of doing it because it is the right thing to do. What seems like simply swapping out one word for another may seem minor enough, but it could actually make a big difference in the development of their character.
If I continuously tell my kids that they need to do things because of a need to be fair, they place an importance on the concept of fairness. A concept that will inevitably be torn down. A sports radio host used to say, “Fair is a place to buy a pig.” True words for both the competitive balance of the Big Ten and life in general. I want my kids to understand what is fair and what is unfair, but I’d rather have them act out of a desire to do what they think is right, not what they think is fair. I’d love to have them embrace the perceived unfairness as a means to overcome a challenge and build character, but that is probably asking too much of kids who are still working on such complex concepts as the indoor voice.
Here I am now in the awkward position of simultaneously telling them that one of them will get the orange plate today and the other will get it tomorrow because that’s fair, and also that they don’t get to have the same toys as other kids because things aren’t always fair. So when it becomes a matter of them getting upset because they can’t do or don’t have something that somebody else does, I shift away from fairness to a concept that they already understand – everybody is different.
I know they firmly understand that concept because Daniel Tiger told them that in someways we are different, but in so many ways we are the same. Of course he did it in a tune that is forever drilled into both their brains and mine and we couldn’t forget it if we tried. Well played Daniel Tiger. But they understand it none the less. They already apply this concept to why somebody is taller, shorter, lighter skinned, darker skinned, or anything else they recognize as different from them. Why not apply it to non-physical traits? Somebody else getting an ice cream sundae while you get a kid sized cone isn’t something that is unfair to you, it’s just that that kid is different. You get a scoop, they get a big sundae. You made a healthy choice, they are one step closer to juvenile diabetes.
So I’m going to throw fair out the window and focus on doing what is right and being ok with everybody being different. I assume there will be a flurry of “Why?” headed my way, but with little kids in the house I get a couple hundred of those a day anyway, so what’s a few hundred more?