Parenting Hacks: Learn From My Mistakes

We have a wonderful bedtime routine going right now. Edie and I and her other dad (I am Papa and he is Dad) all get into her bed after she tends to her oral hygiene and any waste management needs. We read. We laugh. Sometimes there are tears, depending on how tired she is (ok, sometimes I am the one crying). Usually she wants to say the Lord’s Prayer/ Our Father. I sit in a chair and Daddy lays on the floor for a bit as she drifts off while I sing.

Tonight we read a book that was given to Edie as a birthday gift from a friend. If you don’t have it you should order it right now. Here, it is:

It’s wonderful in it’s discussion about feelings and all the various ways that a heart can feel and why. Beautifully written and conversation inducing. Edie started asking us questions tonight as we were reading it. She wanted us to give instances when we felt certain ways: happy, sad, scared, shy, etc. She shared her examples as well and it was a really thoughtful moment and glimpse into her emotional development.

One of the things she asked me was what made me sad. I told her that as a parent the thing that can make me sad is when I feel I have made a mistake or acted harshly as a parent. I don’t think she totally understood what I was getting at. I do want her to know that I recognize my mistakes and shortcomings as a parent, and as a human. I also think that her understanding of such topics happens incrementally and often gradually, so it’s ok to talk about things that are still slightly out of reach intellectually.

So it made me think that perhaps I could share a few of my mistakes I have made along the way. When I was a brand new parent I was always interested in hearing from parents about the mistakes they had made. It helped me to feel capable of parenting, even as a flawed person,and also to look for ways to avoid the same errors. I share this as a way of sharing with other parents. A way to say that you are capable, flaws and all, and maybe a way to help you to avoid some of the same mistakes I make. I am usually my own biggest critic and I’m sure like some of you feel that I’m often making more mistakes than not. So, the list is long but I’ll share the top three.

My Top Three Parenting Goofs

1. Lacking Patience

I absolutely hate myself when I am not patient with Edith. This is a mistake I make as she has gotten older. I have to remind myself that she is not trying to “push my buttons”. She is a tiny awesome human learning to navigate feelings and desires in a world where she is trying to slowly assert some level of autonomy.

I find that when I slow down and explain things calmly and kindly she is more apt to listen and respond reasonably. I find the same to be true of having a negative or biting tone with her. I don’t like when anyone speaks to Edith in a condescending or negative tone. Even when frustrated, it’s important to stay kind. As I like to remind myself, my voice becomes her inner voice. Patience and kindness go along way. In doing so I am teaching her to be patient and kind to herself and others.

2. Buying Too Much Stuff

I love to shop. I try really hard to be green and consider the environment in everything that I do. I must say though, when it comes to shopping, I struggle. I like the feeling I get when shopping. I like pretty things. I like clothes and shoes. I even like going to the mall some times. And Target, oh Target how I love thee. I try and follow a spending plan. I also buy a lot second hand, particularly furniture and decor. I have gone through seasons of buying way too many clothes and clothes that were too expensive for a little person. Recently we got rid of our toy room and got rid of some things. Edie toys now all fit in her room and that feels a little less excessive.

I also have stopped buying too many clothes, well ok, maybe I am still working on this one. However, I do buy less expensive things. We are obsessed with Get 20% off your first order at Primary.com with code AFF20PCT Primary. Their clothes are adorable, soft, practical, and reasonable reasonable reasonable. Follow the link and get a great little discount and no shipping fees.

3. Spending Too Much Time On My Phone

This is such a tricky tricky one. Edie doesn’t watch tv ( see Set Free From TV) and is quite low tech. However, I do look at mine way too much. I mean I am trying to do this blogging thing and that requires some phone time. However, we all know that we are hooked and that is what the makers of the technology want. We also now know that kids feel neglected by grown ups looking at their phones when we should be focusing our attention and gaze toward them. Edie recently has been trying to turn the internet off so that no one can have access to their phones. Ugh. Lesson learned. Hopefully. There is a sign at a local establishment nearby that warns parents “Stay off your phone and give your kids the attention they deserve.” I don’t want Edith to be addicted so I have to work on my own addiction as well.

Maybe I will make this a regular topic here on the blog. Would you mind sharing one of your parenting mistakes? I would be very curious to hear what you think you suck at! Just kidding. I think it helps us all to feel more human and less awful when we know we aren’t in this alone. So, chin up parent. We can learn from our mistakes and each other’s. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go as my screen time minutes are a bit high for today. Edie is always watching.

Always Somewhere: Discussing Death With a Child

 

Edie and her other dad left town for a few days today, so I am home alone. This is a rare opportunity to relax, take long showers alone, listen to whatever music I want to listen to, and to lay around a bit in my pajamas in between cleaning and organizing projects. Thanks, Marie Kondo for making me feel like a failure of a homemakerhttps://konmari.com.I always feel a little anxious and sad when Edie and my husband are gone.

As previously confessed, I am a bit of a worrier and when they travel I am always a little worried about them while at the same time feeling guilty and simultaneously happy to have my own time. Parenting can be such an emotional roller coaster. I usually follow along with a flight tracking website to see where they are every little bit and am always relived when they land. Tim is very good at sending me pics and text updates. I like to know where they are, that they are somewhere out there. Being somewhere out there is a bit of the theme for this post.

I have talked a bit about my dad and his dying. He is still here on this plane or in this realm or whatever you choose to call this existence. He is still present. He sleeps most of the time and his communication is a bit loopy and confused, though often funny and insightful. To be totally honest this has been one of the hardest times I have had as a parent and as a person. The grief and sadness can knock me down at times and being a full-time stay at home dad doesn’t allow for much time to think, grieve, and process. My husband as always is everything and provides me lots of space, time, and support when he can.

I struggled a lot with how and what to tell Edie. I guess I am just a big ol’ WASP but for some reason I didn’t want her to know that my dad was dying. I wanted to protect her from it, I suppose. She has only met my dad a few times so it seemed unnecessary in a way. At the encouragement of many and with guidance I did talk to her about it and told her that I was sad. I told her that I was not going to see my dad again and that I had to say goodbye to him forever.

I explained that sometimes as we age or get a disease our bodies get very tired and they can’t do their job any more. I assured her that daddy and I were healthy and we try our best to take care of ourselves in order to be around for a long time. I also told her that I didn’t know what happened to us when we die. We like to be honest with Edie about the mysteries of life and spirituality and this is certainly one of them.

Yes, we are practicing Christians, but for me, at least, there is still no clear answer. I am not one of those literalist Christians (obviously) but I do believe in Resurrection, I just don’t know exactly how it works. Is it a physical one? A memory that lives? Isn’t every day a resurrection of sorts? Every season? Every kiss? I told Edie that Dad will still be somewhere out there, but also in my heart, forever, and in fact in hers too.

As always, Edie is the one to do the teaching and the explaining. One of these days I will learn to just ask her. She told me that since I was sad she could make me feel better by kissing me and hugging me and sitting with me. She is right. She can help me just by being here. That is how we all help each other. Perhaps that is part of resurrection.

When I was young I had a lot of trouble sleeping. Night time made me anxious and sad. I would feel safe though if someone was still up in the house doing something. I would wait and listen for my dad to light a cigarette. When I heard the sound of his lighter closing I knew that he was still up and I could rest easier. It made me more relaxed to know that my Dad was somewhere out there in the living room. I felt safer and less alone.

Soon, my dad’s texts will stop. His “good morning” and “just checking in” will be no more. He won’t be here anymore. What’s next is a mystery to all of us. I am holding on to hope that he will still be somewhere out there and that when I am feeling scared or alone I can still feel his presence, still existing somehow and somewhere. In the meantime I can sit with Edie and hold her and she can help with the sadness. Together, we can hope for resurrection. 

Update :

My dad died. It has been brutal at times. It’s has been peaceful and hopeful at times. Edie has been the biggest help of all through all of this. She has been insightful and supportive and kind. She asks me if I’m ok and will hug me and say “Are you sad today, Papa?” Edie makes new life possible. She is part of resurrection too.

 

It Does Work

I’ve been trying to teach Edie gratitude and thankfulness, at least as much as one can teach a 3.75 year old.  I can’t really teach her to be grateful if I am not.  That is the really tricky part.  I think I have to admit that I tend toward pessimism naturally.  I am a bit anxious and depressive, a belly-acher if you will.  So this post is not about me preaching to you or even giving advice.  Believe me, I am the last person that you would want to take advice from.  Most of the time I feel like I am a super hot mess of a parent and human and am mostly just trying to get through each day and make myself better and hopefully get better at this parenting thing, too, without being a total jerk to those I love and need the most.  Along with exercise, gratitude is a fantastic remedy for these conditions and attitudes.  I try many evenings to have Edie pause and name what she loves or loved that day, to name the things for which she is grateful.  I say most nights because there are some nights when we can barely get her to potty and brush her teeth before she loses it and collapses into alternating laughing and crying before a final crash into sleep.  Last night as she was about to fall asleep, she said simply:

“Let’s talk about Maine.”

Maine is our favorite place in the world where we like to vacation and would love to live full time if we could figure out how to make a living there.  It makes us happy and peaceful and relaxed.  We always feel more connected and more ourselves, really.  It makes us grateful.  So we talk about Maine.  We talk about our favorite meals, memories, and moments including Rufus, our dog, getting sprayed by a skunk.

These shared moments of gratitude bring us closer together and help keep us centered and focused.  It’s one of the reasons I find it necessary to belong to a faith community.  It’s a place where you can share your struggles, sure, but it’s also a place to be grateful together.  To say, even though there is a lot of shit in the world we still press on.  We have hope. We hold each other tight.  We stand up to injustice and oppression.  We know that Trumps presidency will one day end.  For certain it takes a lot of audacity to have hope and gratitude. There are days when I can get bogged down with a lot of the junk that a lot of us do: my aging dog, my dying dad, failed relationships, oppression, the rise of the right around the world, and climate change to name a few.

Hope, grace, and gratitude seem to be the antidote to most of this shit.  I have so much to be grateful for.  I have a feeling that most of us do.  As usual, Edie is the one who teaches me how to be a better person.  She already gets it and when she says, “Thank you, Papa,” her gratitude makes me grateful too.

Here is what I am grateful for in a list form.  This list is not exhaustive.  It is a start and a reminder.  It is an anchor for me to come back to on those days when I can’t seem to find a place to start.

I am grateful for:

  1. Every text message that I still get from my Dad.  There will not be many more, but there have been more than I thought.
  2. Tim, my husband.  I literally have no idea how he puts up with me.  He makes me a better person.  Every single day.
  3. My family.  My mom who I get to live with.  My sisters, who understand me like no other people on the planet.  My family through marriage.  I am lucky on all accounts here.
  4. The ocean.  I am grateful to live on the coast and the ability to smell the sea daily, to gather sea glass, and to have the mystical metaphors that come along with the tide.
  5. Sobriety.  I drank too much for so long.  Man, a lot of it was really fun.  I still drool when I think of a good Cabernet.  But, I am healthier, happier, and much more rested and present than I have ever been.
  6. My plants, inside and out.  There is nothing like growing something to help with gratitude.  Sometimes when no one is watching or listening I even tell them how lovely they are.  Crazy ass hippie.
  7. Edie.  Yeah, we have our difficult moments, but this person that I am lucky enough to spend every day (and many nights) with is just perfect.  I have been told not to tell her that by some well intentioned folks but I completely disagree.  She is perfect.  How many of us actually feel that way about ourselves? I want her to and she is gonna have enough messages to the contrary.
  8. Snow
  9. Bread
  10. Sleep.  I love how dark it is in coastal New England in the winter time. It gives me an excuse to put on my pajamas at 7 and be in bed reading by 8.

Ten seems like a nice place to start.  Gratitude is something I am working on for my sake and for Edie’s too.  I am doing it because I have to.  If I do not, I can get completely bogged down in the garbage.  Gratitude enables Grace.  It gives us that second chance ( and third, and fourth…).  Like teaching a three year old to be grateful the hard part can be getting started.  As Edie has taught me, sometimes you just have to cuddle in bed and talk about Maine.

What we leave behind.

This one is going to be a bit heavy. I have been listening to Joni Mitchell, it’s Monday, and my dad is dying. He has been for a few years, but is really sick now and I was just texting with him and he “really just wants to make it until Christmas.” He was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis about five years ago and has been steadily declining since. There were several times we thought it was the end but this time it really is. He can’t really do much at all. He gasps for air and is uncomfortable. He texts and listens to music and plans for his cremation and memorial. In the evening, if he is up for it, he gets wheeled to the car and is driven around by his partner to look at Christmas lights.

Edie has only seen my dad twice. That is enough right there to leave me heartbroken and sad. My parents divorced about 14 years ago and I didn’t handle that so well. I was mad at my dad and let that anger eat away and ruin our relationship. Not that it was ever a perfect one, but it definitely had its positives. I have a lot of regret about those missing years and our lack of closeness. Some days it really gets me down.

Edie will not remember my dad. Even now he is mostly known through pictures and texts. When I tell her that he is my dad she laughs nervously as if she doesn’t know what to do with that information. He and I have made peace as much as we can and I’m so thankful for that grace. My dad had a really tough childhood and was emotionally and physically abused in some really awful ways by his parents. When I think of this and consider what a kind and gentle parent he was I’m amazed at his strength and tenacity and love.

I learned a lot from my dad. Sure, smoking cigarettes and flirting are two of those things. Thankfully, I haven’t smoked in 14 years or so and I rarely get the chance to flirt. But, I learned some really important things too. Some of those things helped shape me as a parent and will help Edie as a person too. One way I can remember and honor him is to share with her those things and tell her about my dad and all the things he helped me learn and be.

My dad taught me to love everyone. He didn’t stand for racism and homophobia and indifference or prejudice. He is kind and anti-war and violence. He never owned a gun. He’s never voted Republican.

My dad believed that his daughters and sons were equal in intelligence and ability. My dad loves hanging out with LGBTQ folks. When I came out, all the young gays who were often rejected at home had a warm welcome, a meal, and a place to stay with us. My dad (along with my mom) would even take us all to the gay bar for a drag show.

My dad stood up to institutions like the church and challenged them on institutional biases and prejudice. Eventually the hypocrisy grew too much for him and he left those institutions behind.

My dad taught me to love good music and to sing loudly and enjoy it. Some of my fondest memories are of Simon and Garfunkel being played loudly on the record player as we all sang and danced along. To this day folk music is still the epitome of good music.

My dad loves family. Though his parents were difficult my dad made the effort over and over again to show them love and kindness and forgiveness. My dad always put my sisters and mom and I as first priority. He worked very hard to provide for us, and we wanted for nothing.

My dad loves the ocean and the beach. We didn’t grow up in a coastal state but always vacationed on the shore. He knew how to just sit and listen to the waves or Bob Dylan and chill.

My dad loves Christmas. As his health started really declining almost a month ago, one of the first things he wanted done was to have his tree put up so that he could enjoy it for one last season.

My dad is cool. He has a strut. He is a music snob. He has a wicked and irreverent sense of humor. He is a smart ass. He loves passionately and deeply.

I will miss my dad. I already do. I only hope that I can pass on to Edie some of these great things that he gave to me. I hope that some day, she will have a similar list when she writes about her Papa’s legacy.

Edit: Dad died on February 19th, 2019 at home alone. We are still in the early stages of grief and it can be brutal. He IS missed. Now, to work on my own legacy with more intention and love.