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.

The Reason I Stay: The Life of a Stay-at-Home Dad

Our daughter, Edith, just turned four. It really is crazy and incredible and I can hardly believe that it has been four years already. As I have mentioned in other posts, this is the final Spring and Summer before she starts school in the Fall. We are so very excited that she will be attending a Waldorf School. (More posts about that in the future). However, I am sad too, because it will be the end of a portion of my life with Edith that I have been very fond of: the stay-at-home-dad years.

I feel so very lucky that we were able to figure out how to make it work for me to stay at home. Being a dad (Papa actually) that stays home brings it’s own awkward moments and plenty of moms giving unsolicited advice. We still have a very pervasive attitude in our culture that men are merely babysitters and aren’t fully capable of parenting. I have wonderful and smart friends and none of them have ever “momsplained” anything to me, but plenty of strangers have:

“Put that girls hat on!”

“Giving mommy a break?”

“Do you have the day off today daddy?”

“Shouldn’t you be working?”

“You are doing a good job, daddy, how great that you are helping out!”

Gag. Gag. Gag. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Dads are parents too. This is doubly true of folks lucky enough to have two of them. Mostly we laugh these off but sometimes and on some days it can get to you at least a little bit.

I always get very excited when I run into another dad who stays at home. In fact if you are reading this and you are one please message me. We should definitely be friends. I’m not sure if stay-at-home-moms get the same line of questioning but I do get asked to sort of justify my choice to be at home. So, I thought I would share the reasons we chose for me to stay home. I say “we” because clearly I have the best husband on the planet and we make our decisions together. Usually. Unless it’s about how to spend $200 a week at Target. That’s all on me.

So here are the reasons I stay home.

1. I wanted to parent more than anything

I waited until I was almost 40 to be a parent. For a large part of my life I didn’t even think being a gay parent was an option. I want to be the best parent I can be. For me, this means spending as much time as possible with Edie in her formative years. I want to set the pace of the day for her and be there when she reaches milestones. I liked being a teacher and making money but nothing at all compares to the responsibility and reward of being a parent every single day.

2. She is my only child

Perhaps if we had started earlier, or if adoption wasn’t so darn expensive, or if having multiple children wasn’t so expensive then we would have had more than one. As it stands though she is my only child and most likely always will be. (Unless I get pregnant naturally). I literally can’t believe that my time as stay-at-home Papa is getting remotely close to ending. I have learned so much about myself, the world, and my husband during this time. I also feel like I’m just now getting ok at this parenting thing. Like many of you I feel like I suck most of the time. However, I give it my all because she is my all.

3. I want Edie to love herself

This is my absolute top goal as a parent. I want Edie to love herself and to love others. It’s also part of why we are raising Edith in a faith community. I want to be here to show her how to speak kindly to herself and others. I want to be there to help her navigate racism as best I can and to help her love herself so much that she can stand brave and tall in the face of injustice. I want to be there to help her build her confidence and to find her voice. Again, I mess up almost every single day and as a white man I am still learning, but we are determined that she love herself.

4. I stay home so Edie knows we will always be there

I should make sure that you know that I didn’t love my job as a teacher. So, quitting a job you don’t like is never too difficult. I should also say that though my husband works a full time job as an attorney he too makes tons of sacrifices. He rushes home on the 5 pm train to insure he sees Edie for at least an hour every evening and he is at her beck and call all weekend. We make sacrifices of our time to be with her because we want her to know that she is our priority and that we will always be there. This is certainly not to say that working parents do not do this. I am not judging anyone’s choices at all. I’m simply explaining our choice!

5. Who wouldn’t want to play all day?

Of course there are tough times. Most of the time by Friday I’m so tired and just want a moment or two to myself. However, I basically get to play all day and spend a large chunk of time outdoors. What’s not to love? Today, for example, we made pancakes, we did some chores, played with baby dolls, painted, went to the library, read, danced, did gymnastics in the family room, colored, played in the yard, walked the dog, and drew before bed.

Perhaps you are a stay-at-home parent as well and can relate to some of these. Maybe you are thinking about taking the leap into the land of parenting from home every day. I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences. Also, if you are a fellow stay-at-home-dad message me! We can start a club.

What are your thoughts on staying home to parent?

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.

Which Hat Will Santa Wear?

I love being the parent of a 3 3/4 year old.

Edie is interesting, funny, inquisitive, sensitive, and timid. One of the things that I love most are the questions that she has about the universe, life, and a plethora of other topics.

A few of the questions of late:

Why is the skin on the inside of my hand lighter than the outer side?

Where was I before I was born?

Why doesn’t Rufus have thumbs?

There have also been a lot of questions about Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and Santa Claus due to the season, of course. We were reading something about Saint Nick, who she assumed was in fact Santa Claus until she noticed his Bishops mitre. She wanted to know why the different hat. We tried to explain that he was a Bishop and that he and Santa were very similar, etc. She was very concerned with what hat he might wear to her house when he delivers her presents in a few days.

What hat will Santa wear?

This question had my head spinning a bit too as the different layers were pealed back: layers of history, religion, conquering, commercialism, and capitalism that are all mixed together along with individual family traditions to create this experience that we call Christmas. I am the kind of parent that wants to be able to help my child grapple with important questions and also provide some guidance. Having a child often makes us question practices and beliefs or to at least tighten them up a bit so our values are clear and represented.

What hat will Santa wear?

What is the essential message of Christmas? What do I want to get from it (or give to it)? What do I want Edie to get out of it (or give to it?)

I’ve always loved Christmas: the tree, the gifts, the smells, the coziness, the family, the candlelight church services. Many years on Christmas evening I’d end up worked into a panic attack because I was so overstimulated, overwhelmed, and depressed that it was over.

As I’ve aged, I still love Christmas. I love the lights, the gifts, the smells, the coziness, the family, and the church services. Even this year, with my father nearing his death, though it’s been hard, Christmas has helped to soften the blow (and intensify it at the same time).

What is it at it’s essence that makes it so magical? What hat will Santa wear?

For me it’s all about Hope and Radical Love. That is what I want Edie to get and give at Christmas. There is so much to despair about. Even today, millions of dollars were raised by fellow citizens who want to build a wall at our border with Mexico. (Apparently they’ve never read any of the Gospels). Our environment and planet are in major trouble and Edie will be around to bear the brunt of that future. My dog is getting old. My dad is so sick. One of my best friend’s mom’s cancer is back. There is so much to feel upset, angry, and disgusted about. And some days the hope is illusive. That’s why we need Christmas. We need Christmas to remind us that though it’s so dark, we can hang up lights and burn candles. We can reach out to our neighbors and refugees and love them. It’s simple and sappy but exactly what I need. It’s what we need. It’s what Edie needs.

What hat will Santa wear? I suppose the bishop’s ” hat” would be the most historically accurate. We are Episcopalians after all, and we will read the Christmas story from one the Gospels. When it comes down to it though, this man (historical or not) Jesus, that we celebrate and remember came to the world to stir some shit up: to hang out with outcasts, to despise wealth and excess, to forgive and reconcile, to love and empower. He taught us in spite of it all to have Hope.

What choice do we have? We can choose misery I suppose. That would be easy enough and probably the most logical. However, neither St. Nick or Santa Claus seem to be overly concerned with logic and ease. Giving away wealth and other gifts to children and those in need as Saint Nicholas or flying around the world in a night gifting toys to children everywhere as Santa Claus both require a bit of Hope and Love.

What hat will Santa wear? I suppose it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have hope, love without fear, challenge institutions and injustices, and keep the light burning in the darkness. It’s what I want Edie to get out of Christmas. It’s what I hope she can give to the world.

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.