Thursday, March 29, 2012

What's in Your Shoes?

I have written a little about the perspective changing power of parenting. As soon as our first child emerges from the womb we see and think of many things in a new light. Foremost among these is... poop. In an instance poop goes from a revolting, taboo subject to something that demands inquiry, study and discussion. Especially in the early years, poop and poop related matters become the center of most discussions between parents. Diaper changes, blow-outs, consistency, frequency, amount, potty training successes/failures - all of these become valid topics of discussion for all parents. This is perfectly normal. Granted, these conversations should probably not be had at the dinner table over a steaming bowl of chili. But for those not in the know, even this can happen as poop becomes a severe preoccupation with moms and dads, particularly those that are at home with the kids all day long.

For the stay-at-home parent, poop occupies a large chunk of your energy. Even if your not dealing with poop directly, it is mentally ever present. Will this food constipate my child? How easily will these new clothes come off my kid for diaper changes? Which ointment should I get for diaper rash? Do we need more air-freshener? Should I wait to go to the store until after the next diaper change? Should I get some stronger laundry detergent?  If your child is crying, more often than not, the first thought is, "do they need a diaper change?" For babies that breast feed, poop is even more important because the only way you can tell if they are actually eating is if they are pooping. There is a saying - you can only be sure of a few things: death and taxes. I would amend that - you can only be sure of a few things: death, taxes and poop.

I don't know if this is common knowledge, but every parent has a poop story. Some of them are more horrific than others. When my most horrific poop story happened to me I really felt like this stuff only happens to me. I found that as I started sharing my poop stories to other parents they would share their stories. As gross as this sounds, it was actually quite nice knowing that poop is a burden every parent has to bear. This wasn't just happening to me. This is the norm. So, for your edification, I present my poop story...

My son at roughly 2 years, in the later potty training stages, fell into a vicious poop hardening cycle. He had a difficult time defecating once, due to firm stools, and so he decided that he just wasn't going to poop again. This of course made him more constipated, which made defecating more painful. This hardened his resolve not to poop as well as his feces. I tried administering enemas, but this was equally, if not more, unpleasant. Suddenly, our bright and cheerful bathroom was becoming dank, unpleasant dungeon, and slowly I was un-potty training my child. After over a week with no bowel movements, I had to concede that I couldn't handle this problem on my own.

Frazzled, I packed up my son and took him to our most excellent doctor. She calmed me saying that this wasn't all that uncommon (You see?! If only more parents had shared their poop stories!). She prescribed a laxative and told us that this we should use it to flush him out and then continue to use it in smaller doses to keep his stools soft so that we could continue with the potty training in a more pleasant fashion. I was expecting his prescription to come in a little bottle - you know, like Pepto Bismal. What we got was a jug... more akin to Drain-O. I had to think back to the words my doctor said when I had asked "What if he still refuses to poop?" She paused and calmly said, "He won't have a choice." I can't be sure, but I recall the corners of her mouth curling up ever so slightly.

Days passed and nothing happened despite our vigilant administration of his medication. Then one day my son was in the backyard playing. I was tiding up the house, keeping an eye on him through the open sliding glass back door. "Dad!" he called to me. I could see him standing quite stiff like he was frozen.

"What is it, buddy?" I answered.

"There is poop in my shoes."

Now, we have a large dog, so when he said this I just assumed this was his 2 year old way of telling me he'd stepped in dog crap. Seeing that this event, whatever it was, had immobilized him, I went out to investigate. No doubt you have guessed that he was speaking quite literally, and it was indeed his own poop in his shoes, but how exactly does poop get into shoes? The answer is simply, it goes there when it has nowhere left to go.

I would briefly like to preform a small thought exercise with you. Imagine two weeks of food - that's three meals, plus snacks, a day for at least 14 days. For those of you not mathematically inclined, that"s 42 meals. Now imagine blending all that food and cramming it all into a pair of size 2T pants. This will help you mentally visualize what I walked out to that afternoon. It looked like MacBeth's witches were trying boil my son in an overflowing trouser shaped cauldron filled with poo. Both pant legs were stuffed to brimming with a slurry that resembled freshly mixed beige concrete. So much so, that the feces had no where to go but out the top and out of the bottom, and into his shoes.

This is one of the ways in which parenting builds character. I can hear my inner dialogue now. He is your responsibility. There is no getting out of this. No one is going to clean this up for you. It needs to be done and YOU are the one that has to do it. And I did. I went out there and using my thumbs and forefingers I peeled his poo filled pants off of him like a giant brown banana, hosed him down (and his clothes) and put him in a hot bath to be vigorously scrubbed.

Some of you will never experience anything this bad, some of you have had worse happen (at least I was at home!), and some of you have experiences yet to come! As gross as they are, these experiences make us better parents if for no other reason than they show us how dedicated we can be as parents and what we're willing to do for our kids. And for all you kid-less folks, be patient with us dads and moms and all of our poo-talk. It is, for good or bad, a major part of our lives.

-Brother Brett

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Parental Performance

How well would you rate yourself as a father. How well would you rate yourself as a parent? Lets be honest here. Is there something you could do better? I sometimes wonder if I'm doing this dad thing right. I'm not saying that I leave my kids in the car while at the mall, but is there a philosophy or method that I haven't thought of yet?

I remember how I felt after my son was born. It was a feeling of helplessness. He was our first and there were no instructions in how to raise him. There are plenty of books and people to tell you in a general sense how to raise a family, but there isnt a mechanism in how to handle the specific person you just brought into the world. After my second child was born I didn't feel helpless. After all, how different is it to have two children over just one child? It took a little longer with the second one, but then it hit me. I felt helpless again. I found that the second child, this time a girl was totally different than the first. Again no instructions. My experience has shown me that the helpless feelings soon leave as you are busy dealing with the new life forms you have in your house; so much so that I now have three children. But that’s for another day. As for me now, I don’t feel helpless. I just wonder if i'm on the right track in raising my family. Being a dad can be a real rollercoaster ride sometimes.

I find it fascinating how people interact with their children both inside the home in private, and outside the house in public settings. I think by nature I'm a people watcher. Whenever I am out at a restaurant, it's interesting to watch how the mom or dad keeps their child from misbehaving, or calms a tantruming child down while waiting for the check. You can feel the patience, or fear, or even rage sometimes with the parents in these situations. Sometimes it seems parents do little if nothing when children are running amok inside the dining room. I myself have been the parent in the restaurant trying to gain control of a child. It’s embarrassing and stressful knowing that you have an audience who will watch and see how well you perform. Is this how I gauge my parenting prowess? Are these the moments when I need to rate myself as a father?

To me parenting is a moving target. Just when you think you have it figured out, things move on ya. Over and over again I take aim only to lose site of the target. It’s amazing to see the different tactics and techniques that people utilize in rearing children, especially Mr. dads. So if you are a stay at home dad or a single father, or a dad of a traditional family, now is your chance to weigh in on all subjects pertaining to the life of a dad. Even you chicks out there are welcome to stir the pot. The important thing here is that we will all have a chance to learn a few things about being parents and “Mr. dads”.

Speaking of rating dads, watch this guy with his great instincts. Some of us might need some help.

-Brother Jared

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Double Standards

Men really are strange creatures. As one of them, it has been interesting to see how my attitudes and emotions have evolved over the years due to my career as a full time dad. Perhaps more interesting to me is how other men initially react when they find out what I do. From my experience so far, reactions fall into one of two categories. Maybe its just that I have been doing this dad thing too long, but I find these reactions odd.

The first reaction type usually comes from guys that are married with kids. This how the conversation usually goes:

"So, what do you do, Brett?"

"I'm a stay-at-home dad."

"Really?! Good for you, man. There's NO WAY I could ever do that!"

Initially this sounds very complementary. To me, though, it's weird for several different reasons. My first thoughts are whether he likes being with his family or not. Are your kids so bratty that you can't imagine spending more than a weekend with them? (If so you may need to consider spending more time with them...) Are those strangers in neighboring cubicles that much better company? The reason this is strange to me is because the longer I do this dad thing, the more I realize that my kids are my favorite people, and there is no one I'd rather spend my time with. Now, I'm firm believer that getting out every once and a while is a good thing. I relish my "guy's night out" or even catching a movie by myself. If, however, I had to choose one group of people to hang out with for the rest of my life, it certainly wouldn't be the people I used to work with - it would be my wife and kids.

There is another thing about this that puzzles me and it has to do with attitudes toward women. When was the last time this sort of shock and awe was expressed to a woman that stays home and raises a family? Is this sort of amazement expressed to their own wives? Their mothers? Somehow, I doubt it.

The second reaction usually comes from single guys or married men with no kids.

"So, what do you do, Brett?"

"I'm a stay-at-home dad."

"Lucky! Must be nice to hang out at home all day."

I'm sorry, but did you just call me "lazy"? That's certainly how it comes across. Do you really think I spend all day in my boxers playing Call of Duty? This used to really irritate me. I've realized now that this reaction is really just an expression of ignorance as to what it takes to raise a family, rather than an attempt at being demeaning. Now I find it more funny than offensive. What's even more interesting is that they feel safe saying this to me. Would they ever dare say that to a woman? Again, what does this say about their attitudes towards women in the same position as me?

Perhaps its because I'm a guy that other men find themselves with their defenses down, inserting their feet into their respective mouths. Maybe the shock of finding a man doing what I do causes them to say the first thing that comes into their heads. I'm a man, and as such I'm sure I've said some pretty stupid things. Maybe we're just wired that way. Either way, I think the world would be better off if we actually thought about what we're going to say before we say it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Transitions for Dad

Most boys won't say that they want to be a homemaker when they grow up. In fact, at least for my generation, it was never even considered an option. For the vast majority of at-home dads this career is one that usually starts out of necessity. For my wife and me it started as basic economics. My wife made more money than I did. It was further cemented after an incident at our church; a woman running a daycare killed a small boy in her care - both were members of our congregation. We really believed that no one, other than ourselves, should be raising our child.

Being a modern man I accepted this new calling of primary care giver with enthusiasm. I had visions of playing ball in the back yard, building Lego's together, watching his face when he learned that Vader is actually Luke's father. It was going to be fun all day, every day. And surely I would still be able to work now and then on days my wife had off.

It turns out, like many other things in life, that raising my son wasn't at all what I thought it was going to be. The problem was I didn't have an 8 year old that I could play, build and watch Star Wars with - I had a baby. Instead of spending all day every day having fun, I was dealing with blow-outs, spit up, feeding, figuring out why he was crying for no apparent reason, trying to get him to sleep, trying (and failing) to do an endless amount of house work, doing errands like shopping while simultaneously dealing with blow-outs, spit up, feeding, and figuring out why he was crying. Well, at least I could work on those precious days off. That too was a false notion and soon the work dried up.

We're raised with the notion that women take care of the kids and men earn money. As such our entire youth is built on our plans for the future. What classes you take in high school, your grades, what crappy job to get to save for college, what you decide your major should be, is all based on the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Having all these years of preparation and indoctrination magically erased by choosing to stay at home is for men psychologically jarring. This problem is uniquely paternal. Being a primary care giver is hard work, woman or man. The difference is that most women are more mentally prepared, as being an at-home mom has always been a possibility for them. Unfortunately, the possibility of being an at-home dad is a consideration that is rarely realized by men.

For me the first year was the hardest. Subconsciously, I started resenting my wife and even my child because they had somehow stolen the future that I had been working for years to build. But of course we're men so we don't express these feelings, in fact I didn't at first really understand why this was so hard for me. Now I wouldn't change what I do for any salary. What changed?

Often attitudes change with our perceptions. My perceptions changed when I one day had an epiphany. I came to a realization: I AM GOOD AT THIS. This is a job that requires training, intuition, and skills and I was starting to master them. My wife needed me to show her how to best hold a bottle, calm him when he was upset, get him to sleep, etc.. I was needed in this role. I wasn't just some full time babysitter. I was the one with the skills needed not just to bring up a child but to make our lives livable. Nothing feels as empowering as a dad as when your child, upset and crying, comes running into your arms, right past mom. Those are the moments when you know that what you're doing is right - when you know what you're doing is important.

-Brother Brett

Transitions for Dad II

When we think of “dad” in the classic sense of the definition, How many of us imagine a tired old grumpy guy who is always over worked and underpaid. He usually gets home in the evening, dirty and tired. He walks Through the door, throws his lunchbox down on the table and flops down on the worn sofa chair with a low sounding but sharpish groan. Sensing that no one has affirmed his arrival he calls out in a rusty voice, “ I”m home!” In this scenario the “dad” has a wife who takes care of the three children, maintains the house, and always has meals ready at the proper times. Even if this isn’t how you might see “dad”, usually its something like this. After all, isn’t this how its supposed to be?

Is it a bad thing that I’m not a grumpy guy who comes home to a “Leave It To Beaver” house? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not bagging on guys who have that life style. More power to them. In fact, if it weren't for these guys we wouldn't be here commenting on the “Mr. Dad” phenomenon. For me its been a slow transition to be a house husband. It has taken a lot of time, baby steps and training for me to adjust to being home. The fact that you never have to punch a time card is a little weird at first. I have had to learn that there isn't a time card as there isn’t a time off. The nice thing about coming home from work is that you don't have to take work home. That's a subject all on it own.

After all this time I am still learning how to adjust to my job. I have had to learn how to respond to my wife differently as she has me. There is a new sort of ebb and flow that must be respected if you are going to make this thing work. One has to respect the new pressure of bringing home the bacon of which the wife now has. I have to make sure that I am pulling my weight and keeping things running at home. So there is plenty of pressure to go around.

The interesting thing to appreciate about this transition is that everyone in the house has had to change as well. My wife and children have had to adjust to me playing a different role. Mother is now the overworked and under appreciated person. The children now have to relearn who knows what, and where to go for certain resources. These things alone caused me much guilt and anxiety. As a husband and father I feel it is my duty to bring stability and peace into the home. This change causes a few waves that can capsize how things are done in the family. My experience is that things get easier as the family settles into the new situation. It does take some time. My children are now used to the routine and schedule that I give them. My wife has been able to build a good career and I do wish her much success.

From time to time I do feel as if I need to get out there and be the primary bread winner. It’s a wonderful thing to provide security and stability to your family. Funny how life changes what you think, to the reality that is. Right now my role is caring for my children. The best way to provide for my family is by being there for them at any time. Its really fun helping out with home work and discussing issues that arise with school or friends. I find it pretty cool that I can provide for my family in this way. We all have unique situations. Its about being creative in how you provide for you family.

-Brother Jared  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Beginnings Part II

I remember a time when I would get home from work and say to my cute wife, “what should we do tonight?” We would discuss all of our options of which there were many. Usually we would end up eating out at some restaurant and maybe even seeing a movie. Sometimes it felt like it took quite a bit of effort to fill the time. Those were the days...

Now, it would be a treat to be able to find time to take my wife out on a date. Its hard to find someone daring enough to watch my three energetic children long enough for a proper marital outing. Being a parent takes a lot of effort and time. Don't get me wrong, I love being a dad. To me its the greatest thing I can do. Having said that, there are many ways to go about being a good father. Luckily for me I've had some good resources at my disposal in supporting me as a parent. One of them being my cool brother who shares a similar situation. Like him, I'm at home while my better half brings home the bacon. I am lucky to have Brett as a support.

You see, there was a time while my wife and I were in the midst of making our three children that I was the one bringing in the bacon. We soon found out that babies cost money. At least more money than we had. The natural way to fix this issue is for both parents to work. People do this all the time. The problem my wife and I have with this arrangement is that we don't want someone else raising our children. We made a choice to reduce our income and keep a parent home with the children. This involved evaluating my wife and me as potential earners. On paper with the consideration of benefits my wife was the logical choice. So, I swallowed my pride, put on an apron and began being a real man. Mr.Dad is going to be a great way for me to vent, and learn some things at the same time.

-Brother Jared

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Beginning

My oldest child is 8 now and I've been at home with him and his sister for almost the entire duration. There are a lot of things I've had to learn to keep sane, not just how to be a dad, but what it means to be a dad (there is a difference). Fortunately, my closest brother has been going through the same things as myself. Fate deemed that we both should be at-home dads at relatively the same time. One of the best tools I've had as a parent is having his support. Its all about perspective. There are things about being a dad specifically - as opposed to a parent - that my wife can't relate to, and in that sense my brother was a great help.

He and I decided that there are other dads out there that are going through the same things we did. Some of them probably don't have the luxury of having someone close who understands the difficulties (and the joys) of being an at-home dad. So we're going to write about our failures and successes in hopes that at least a few of you might find some encouragement here. It's also a pretty damn good venue for us to vent and rant about many of the hypocrisies and misgivings around being a dad.

First some history.

It all started around 9 years ago. The words "I'm late" were really not the ones I wanted to hear coming from my wife. We had a comfortable life. She had a successful career as a hairdresser and my reputation and paychecks from my work in the film industry were steadily growing larger. This "lateness" was going to really throw a monkey wrench into things. I mean, I always knew I was gonna have kids sometime. Did it really have to start now?

I'm a responsible guy, right? I decided I wasn't going to freak out. People have kids all the time. It wouldn't really change my life that much. I spent the next few days mentally prepping myself. I was fully preoccupied with psyching myself out. Yes, this would be good. "I can do this! - Having a kid is gonna be awesome!"

To make it official we decided to make a night of it. My wife went to the pharmacy and picked up a pregnancy test. We then dressed up and went out to dinner. After our meal, before dessert, she excused herself to the restroom. I remember sitting in my chair with my stomach in knots, more from excitement than anxiety, waiting for her to come back and make it "official". She returned.

"Its negative."

At first I was a little confused. I mean I was supposed to feel relieved, right? Our lives could go back to normal - comfortable. For some reason, though, I wasn't relieved. I was disappointed. I could tell by the look on my wife's face that she was too. I had done way too good of a job psyching my self out. We realized, almost simultaneously, weather we were ready or not, we needed to have a baby.

-Brother Brett