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.

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