Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Fine Farewell

It's been 179 days, or apparently 257,760 minutes since my last post. Since then a lot has changed and a lot is still the same. Some of it good and some bad and some of it neither here nor there. If that's not colloquial enough for you then I don't know what is. Why has it been so long since I last posted? Mostly laziness, since lack of subject matter would be an impossibility. I just lost interest. I needed this blog to be therapeutic, but it was never enough to simply get my thoughts onto the screen. So this is my final post and I plan to make it an open one and a good one.

Parenting has gotten tough, really tough.

A mash-up of the boys being in stages that drive me up a wall, one constantly pushing established boundaries while attempting to manipulate the Mrs and I and the other constantly testing boundaries yet to be set while rocking the terrible twos tantrum train like a champ. Combine that with me questioning if this stay at home parenting gig is still for me and you have yourself some really awesome FML soup.

The Mrs and I decided four years ago that me staying at home was the best decision for our family. I was already having to call out of work or to leave work early regularly to pick up the Little Man from day care and that was causing a riff between my boss and I, so I started working from home as a contractor. A year later, I had had enough of being tied to a work phone that seemed to ring only when I needed to be paying attention to my son, so I dropped traditional work altogether for full time stay-at-home dad-dom.

Like anything, I have had some ups and downs in this role. And like a typical man, I tend to internalize all of the struggles. Even when with other dads, I often blow off how hard something is for me and joke about it as if my laughing it off would make it all better and I was over it. But I never do just get over it. It's just building stress. That coupled with the fact that it is often just the boys and I from breakfast to bed time, as the Mrs can be working 80-100 hour work weeks with many of those hours falling over the weekends (Mammas, don't let your babies grow up to be lawyers…I think that's how that old Willie Nelson song goes), was making things even more difficult. It stopped feeling like I was a stay-at-home parent and I had now become a single parent. I have to play the role of the fun dad as well as the judge, jury and discipliner when it's needed, which seems to be the vast majority the time. Then when I share my parenting frustrations with the Mrs, she often sees some sort of triviality in whatever event it is I am upset over. And that's no fault of hers. Hearing that the boys were trashing their room instead of napping, or that our two year old has been nothing but disagreeable or that our four year old has been complaining about being bored all day as I cleaned the house; none of this comes off as crimes punishable by infinite timeouts. Unless, of course, you are dealing with it all of the time.

So like anyone unhappy with where they have found themselves lately, I've fallen into a self-pitying funk. Yup, the best kind. Oh, and because I know you are probably saying "well the other option is to buck up and get over it, that's an option too, ya'know", you're right, but that's not what I did. Sometimes you don the rally cap and will your team to turn it around and sometimes your team is so far behind that you just get drunk up in the stands and say 'fuck it.'

But before you get on my case here or stop reading. There is light at the end of the tunnel, or at least I think there is.

I just read this eye-opening article in The Atlantic, The Overprotected Kid by Hanna Rosin. The basis of the piece is centered around this new type of playground (though not in the sense you are thinking) in Wrexham, Wales (that's the UK for some of you geographically challenged). It's called The Land and it apparently looks more like a junk yard than a place I would take my kids for a fun morning or afternoon. It is filled with discarded or donated…well…crap. Pallets, mattresses, couches, shopping carts, tires, shipping containers, an open fire pit (yes…I said fire) and a myriad of other things you would not typically find at a place you would label a "playground." But at it's heart the article is about how parenting has changed since, you guessed it, we were kids.

As the article's title implies, children are overprotected by their parents today. Parents constantly trying to ensure their child's safety at every turn and through all of life's obstacles. Furthermore, Hanna Rosin, goes on to suggest that we as parents have also tried to fill our kids lives with not just safety but with constant entertainment from extra curricular activities, endless supervised play dates and of course TV time. She also makes correlations, through research, that all of this 'overprotection' is adversely affecting our kids. They are becoming less creative, less independent and less confident than we were when we were their age.

I won't tell you that I bought into this article hook, line and sinker. For at least half of the article I thought that Ms Rosin was off her rocker, one of those parents that lets their kids do whatever, whererever and whenever. The type of parent I can't stand. But as my background thoughts began to churn and I read on (it's a long article and I'm a slow reader), I started seeing more to this than just what a 'Return to Thunderdome'-esque park would mean for our kids. I was able to boil down my current state of parental dismay to two primary problems, an over controlling personality and my assumption that the best parent is the parent who does the most with their kids and is physically involved in every little activity from the time the kids eyes open just enough to crack the sandman's nightly delivery until the time their little heads hit the pillow for bedtime.

Then I started thinking back to my own childhood.

Since my parents divorced when I was three, my mom has raised me as a single parent. Going back to kindergarten, I have always had a lot of freedom. I remember when we lived in Massachusetts, I would just disappear with other neighborhood kids into the woods behind the house to set up kingdoms and fight dragons in places I know my mom never saw. When we moved to Arizona, I remember riding my bike to school with a friend in 1st grade (it was maybe a mile or two away from the house). And not just school, we rode everywhere, in and out of our neighborhood. We used to go over into these small tree groves on these farms and set up forts with whatever junk we could find (I think we may have messed up some homeless peoples 'tents' on an occasion or two, thinking that this stuff was just there by chance). We played stick ball with real sticks and if you wanted a shorter bat, then you broke the stick (which I did once only to launch the half I wanted straight into my thigh and then used my tube sock…it was the 80s...as a tourniquet). We were wild, but so was every other kid in the neighborhood.

But the point of all of this is not the shenanigans I got into or that I knew it was time to come home when it was dark; but the fact that I had the freedom to do any of this at all. I don't recall my mom ever being stressed about the little things and maybe she just hid it well, but I don't think so. She worried about money and how we could afford things, but not about what I was doing, how I was doing it or when I would be done (unless of course it was schoolwork, but that's a whole other topic), she just let me be me.

When I thought about it, I realized that a lot of my frustrations with my own boys has been that I'm not only always overseeing their playtime, but I am often directing it and figuring out what we'll do next or signing the Little Man up for sports, lessons of some sort or camp. All of the moving parts and the fact that the outcome, often one of the boys being bored or getting hurt or simply fussing about not liking what I have set up, only infuriates me and leaves me with little patience for additional activities. Then I feel like a shitty dad and try to get through it only to be hit with another age appropriate tantrum and it all falls apart. I am not just overprotecting, but I am also over controlling, over assisting and over entertaining my boys. The kids are unhappy and unengaged while I am also unhappy and feeling ill-equipped to be a stay at home parent and sometimes a parent at all.

So in the interest of the scientific method, I am going to test this theory. I am going to work on letting go of my over controlling nature, letting my kids experience reasonable risk and their own self created play. I want to be less careful and more carefree. I want to be less involved but more immersed. And I want to be happy, and not just during that brief period of time in the morning before anything has happened.

I'm not sure what's going to happen. I've been this way for a long time, so change won't come easily. I've been working so hard on making my kids be who I think they should be or working on things I think they should know, and maybe I've lost us all in that asinine desire to have the best kids (whatever that is) instead of just having my kids who are already the best as they are. It's trite, I know, but it's true. I've gotten so wrapped up in the bullshit of my own mind that I have forgotten to appreciate my kids for the often tender, sometimes beastly, always curious, currently contrary and cool kids that they are. And while two days ago, if you had asked me if I would allow my kids in a place like Hanna Rosin describes of The Land I'd have told you 'no way in hell', but now…who knows? And while the title of my blog, To Live And Diaper, was meant as a joke, maybe that's just what I should be doing.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Camping 2.0

The woods is where I had all of my adventures as a kid. Either blazing new trails or simply going to my favorite spots. I liked that it was quiet. I liked the idea of being nowhere and being somewhere at the same time. And I also liked the idea that while my parents knew where I was, they didn't know exactly where; it was mine and mine alone. It might sound like I must have done a lot of hikes and probably camped often too. Nope. Not at all. My parents never took me camping and I never went with friends, I don't recall even being asked or hearing about friends camping. My dad liked to be outside, but just on a golf course, on the grill or out for a run. My mom was no hermit either, though she'd prefer the beach or to sit by a pool somewhere. It wasn't until I was in college that I slept outside, and that was a music festival in Maryland and I didn't sleep so much as my body said 'enough.'

So when we moved back east, I decided that my boys would get to experience camping and, through it, the joys of the woods, exploring their surroundings and maybe even finding their own cool spots tucked between the trees. We took our first camping trip this spring, and it was to say the least a very eventful inaugural trip, which I wrote about here.  Since then I have wanted to get back out with the boys and hopefully the Mrs, to try it again, but to do so a little closer than last time.

The Mrs found a good weekend for it, one that worked with her erratic schedule, and luckily there is a beautiful state park that offers camping only fifteen minutes from our house. So we went...and we also brought our dog.

Though we didn't have a clear night, it rained a bit, it was still a good time. We roasted hot dogs and marinated chicken breast over the fire, we made s'mores and we read stories. We watched the boys wrestle like maniacs in the tent (later discovering that they just tracked dirt all over our sleeping bags, pillows and sleeping pads). While the Mrs went to bed when the boys did, I sat out with the dog to watch our first camp fire go out. When I went to bed, the boys were still awake, though barely. The Monkey was using the Mrs' ankles as a pillow and the Little Man was laying his and his brother's sleeping pads. In five minutes, all I could hear were the crickets, a few other campers getting to bed and two little snores from the boys.

I think that sleeping in a tent takes some getting used to, at least for me and the Mrs. We have sleeping pads, but the 2.5" of inflated air is nothing compared to our king bed. We both woke up several times through the night (thankfully, to the pitter-patter sounds of a small shower on the rain fly) and when the boys let us know it was awake time, we both groaned and body's creeked our way up and out of the tent.

The Mrs is a coffee girl (I don't care for the stuff), so I had to come prepared with coffee. There is an art to making coffee well, I learned that I do not possess this skill naturally. But with not-so-good-coffee in hand, the Mrs was ready for the morning. Since I had seen a beautiful green clearing in the woods from our campground, I thought it would be fun to go explore and see what was there. The Little Man wanted no part of it, but the Monkey was all too happy to join me and the dog for a short romp. When we got there, it wasn't much to see just a clearing in the woods. The Monkey, however, thought it was pretty cool as he ran around chasing the dog for a few minutes. Had it just been he and I, we would have kept exploring. He even pointed in the woods away from camp and said 'go, dadda', but we had planned to take a short hike as a family on the trails so we headed back.

The Little Man whined the entire hike (only a half-mile round trip and mostly flat or downhill) and the Monkey wanted to be carried for the short up-hills and put down to hazardously run down the downhills. By the end of the hike, we were all ready to pack up and get on home. I think we were all happy that the drive was only fifteen minutes.

Camping, for us, is going to be a learned behavior and perhaps a few tweeks will be needed to enjoy it more. But for a first whole family camping trip, it was still fun. I am starting to get to know my boys better for who they are and what they like and dislike. You'd think I would have that down pat being that I spend all of my time with them, but they are becoming more and more their own little individuals everyday. One day they might be afraid of something and the next day it's no big deal. I just hope that in time they can both learn to love occasionally getting lost, be it in themselves or out our backdoor, and truly understand the great Dr Seuss line: "it's opener there, in the wide open air."


Monday, September 23, 2013

Huzzah To Fall!

Summer is over and that makes me happy. The cool weather of fall has returned and winter not far behind it. For me that means many things: beautiful cold morning runs, colorful foliage all around, aside from my runs I won't sweat, fall camping, driving with the windows down and of course school is back in session. What's not to love?

All summer long I have been looking for activities to do indoors: go to the children's museum, go to the Natural History Museum, let the boys play on the tractors at Lowe's, go to the movies and embarrassingly enough even go to the mall. It's not that I despise the longer days, the lush forest or summer holiday festivals. I actually love all of those things. But like me, my boys can sweat in a snowstorm. They don't care if they sweat, they're four and two. But I carry an extra t-shirt (and sometimes two) in the car every day of the summer if I know we are going be outside. I do this so that if we go out to eat, I won't look like a drowned rat.

I know that my dislike of the summer season is not a popular one. Anytime it comes up or I mention it, people's eyes pop out of their heads and they gasp as if I had just smacked their mother and kicked their dog. Summer is like a religion, and I understand why. We grow up looking forward to our breaks from school: fall break, winter break, spring break and the creme de la creme, the longest of the four, summer break. 

Like every other kid, I too salivated for summer. Summer was when school was out, when we took trips to the mountains or out to the Thimble Islands off of Connecticut, when I could chase lightning bugs on the golf course where my dad liked to drink, when I would go to camp and when I could basically lounge around and do or not do whatever I wanted. But back then, I could run around in the heat and humidity and it didn't matter. I don't think I sweat then like I do now, and if I did it never affected me.

But that was 25 years ago. Yeah sure, I used to go to the beaches in the summer as a teenager, but frankly, that's where the girls were and that's where my friends went. And yes it was fun, but my sweat glands had not turned into tipsy cauldrons of salty refuse yet. They were still normal then. Now I'm almost 35 and I notice when a trickle of sweat beads on my brow and even more when I feel the river go down my back, and that's just when I lock my front door. Furthermore, I don't chase girls anymore, I'm married. Nor do I go where my friends go. Sure, we still go to the beach, but I am the trench digger for the boys which is like a grave digger with a good view and shallower holes. And when we're not at the beach on vacation, it's playgrounds for us. For some reason, park designers try to capitalize on sunshine and not shade. So the boys and I are forced to submit to the heat when we do venture out in the summer. And like me 30+ years ago, the boys don't seem to mind sweating up a storm. But someone has to keep up with them and make sure they stay hydrated. I'm like a damn waterboy now!

And when we do go to the park, I am flummoxed at the people in long shirts and pants in 95+ degree heat and 99% humidity. How are you not drenched? What is wrong with your skin? Do you not drink water? Were you born in a steam bath? And when I have had the chance to make conversation with such people, they tell me 'it's not that hot out' and that 'this summer has been cool compared to others'. How can you say that to a guy in shorts and a t-shirt with a sweat-V from his collar bone to his groin...front and back?!? And it's not like I am some tubby, inactive schlubb. I run 20 miles a week, yet I sweat the same amount standing still on a playground for an hour as I do running 6 miles in the same time.

Even more so, it's all the "summertime" pictures that I see from everyone. Kids in the sprinklers, at the community pool, out at the beach, eating ice cream in the sunshine. Meanwhile, my summertime pictures are of my kids in front of the oven while I bake peach crumb cobbler, or sitting in the dark at the movies, or playing in the tee pee in our basement. It makes me feel like a hermit, and I guess I sort of am. I am the Summer Grinch.

I shared my sentiments in the description of one of my photos posted last week in Instagram, and while the picture was good, I got few likes. I'm certainly not a popular IGer, not by a stretch, but I think there were only 3-4 likes. I am certain I could have gotten more if I had applauded summer and talked about how awesome that time of year is and how I will miss it, but that would have been BS. The one comment was: "I'm the same way and felt the same. Huzzah to fall!" (thanks for a title @katemshepherd).

Yes, you have to rake leaves in the fall. And yes, I sweat a ton when I rake leaves. But if I stop raking for 20-30 minutes, I'll stop sweating too. If I stop doing yard work in the summer, the faucet never turns off, it's a constant drip at the least. I'm simply over summer and was on the third official day of summer, and not just this year but every year. So I survived another season, and I'll survive a ton more. But when we see each other, just don't tell me that it's not that hot and we'll get along just fine.