- What’s the appropriate duration of a timeout?
- Does six hours sound excessive?
- Why are they fussing? They have no job, bills, mortgage, laundry, projects, weeding, cleaning, defrosting, refinancing, painting, mending, refinishing, planning, polishing, emptying, loading, folding, fixing, buying, selling, trading, deciding, shining, formulating, planting, plumbing, hanging, or rearranging to do. Right now, their biggest decision is what game to play and what snack will satisfy them. With the possible exception of the Royal Family (and they must deal with that unpleasant ear problem and the miniseries fallout) no one has it better than they do.
- Why is there no NWL (National Wiffleball League)?
- Why isn’t kindergarten spelled like garden?
- How many woodchucks would a woodchuck chuck?
- Why did Richard Scarry decide to write children’s books?
- I was so tired this morning I popped a prenatal vitamin. Do my breasts look bigger to you?
- Why is the dog the only one who understands me?
- How come we spend most of babydom trying to get them to burp and the rest of their lives trying to get them to stop.
- How do you get to Sesame Street?
- Why isn’t Barney extinct?
- Am I the only one who is scared of Teletubbies?
- Are you sure there are only 150 Pokemon?
- Why does Spider-man always forge right ahead when his spider senses are tingling?
- What is the Boy Wonder wondering about?
- How come I’m the only one who gets sleepy when reading bedtime stories?
- What is the maximum length of a minute, as in, “I’ll be there in a minute”?
- If there is three of them (kids) and two of you, (parents) do they win?
- If there is two of them and two of you, do they win?
- If there is one of them…oh never mind.
As the parent of little kids, patience is probably the most important and inaccessible of traits. I know my own father had a lot of patients. He was a doctor. But when you are in the heat of the moment with your own children, and all is collapsing around you, patience is about as unattainable as humility is for Ben Affleck. Affleck!
Quite often it is to your detriment because the outcome might be different, if you only had the patience to let the situation unfold. I am reminded of one particularly taxing day where I finally got our two little guys settled in for story time. The dinner and bath routines were especially chaotic, and I knew the cleanup that awaited me would probably take a few hours.
With both tucked in their beds, I sat down on the floor to read them a story and they bolted out of the room as if the ice cream truck was playing its tune. I wanted to scream to high heaven, “If you don’t get back in here right now, no food for a week!” but something made me hold my tongue. I think it was my wife.
A few seconds later they came back into the bedroom, each holding a pillow that they lovingly placed between me and the wall I was leaning against. I was touched beyond words that they would both realize my back had been bothering me and thought of a way to alleviate my discomfort. They climbed back into bed as if this were a normal course of events and waited for the story to begin. It took a few minutes for me to find my voice and begin reading “10 Minutes Till Bedtime”.
That simple expression of love has stayed with me for more than twenty years. More than the act itself, the thought that I could have missed it if I had not exerted some small modicum of patience, never escapes me. It makes me wonder what other acts of kindness or generosity I was deprived of because of my lack of patience. Hopefully with the grandkids I will be more patient!
When it comes to other people’s children or even with your own spouse, you will find that you are a fount of sage advice and valuable experience. Spouting off words of wisdom that will help them as a parent and throughout their everyday lives, you can see the appreciation in their eyes.
A consoling word here, an insightful platitude there. Nothing quite compares to a parent offering parental advice to another. Your heart swells with self-satisfaction. You are The Fount Dad (dramatic music swells).
But when YOU are caught up in heat of the moment with your own kids, it is all you can do to keep from screaming! I guess it falls under the theory “Those that can’t do, teach (or write a blog!)” because keeping your composure during a heated kids encounter can be very challenging.
Usually these types of situations come out of left field (or maybe center, I can never remember). Everything is going along fine. You are playing some type of kid’s board game and then BAM, it happens.
One child starts crying because he lost, the other one is hitting him because he is crying. Your words go totally unheeded as a mini-brawl breaks out in the family room.
WHERE’S YOUR MOM???
I have watched my wife intercede in these situations with her typical aplomb, pacifying everyone involved. She even invites neighborhood kids in to help settle their disputes. She calmly talks to each side and comes up with a workable solution. Eat your heart out Solomon!
THE FOUNT DAD HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
Me, I have trouble keeping a calm head when tears and limbs are flying. Usually any advice I had ever been given in my life goes out the door, along with any visitors that may have been over, and I start laying down the law.
Timeouts are prescribed, toys are taken away, and boarding schools are sought on the internet. This is the most difficult time to keep your cool. It takes real practice (luckily you will have plenty). A calming disposition would help too. I strongly recommend the peaceful approach, but then my boys are asleep right now, so it is easy for me to say.
SAY GOODBYE, IT’S INDEPENDENCE DIAPER
Editors note: The photo on the right is not reality. Potty training is not a happy time for the parent or child! This is a Madison Avenue ruse.
With potty training comes freedom from the confines of the cloth and disposable shackles they must bear around their midsection. Freedom from grownups yanking at the back of their pants and taking a whiff. Freedom from being put on public display for anyone who happens to be talking to their parents at the time of the diaper change. Freedom from the constant parade of men washing their hands in public restrooms as you balance a bag, a dirty diaper, shopping bags, a clean diaper, and your child on the tiny little shelf they refer to as a changing table. What table? I’ve seen bigger hors d’oeuvre trays.
This theory of freedom is what I surmise, because, about the time your child becomes potty trained, their entire attitude changes. They develop this incredible independent streak. It is not an entirely bad thing, not entirely! For instance, when and where they “go” now becomes their decision.
I know with my boys they have a tendency to hold their pee until about five minutes past the two-minute warning. Mind you they have been holding themselves in a “Roseanne singing the National Anthem” kind of way for the past fifteen minutes. And you have been asking them every five minutes if they need to go. So let me just say, once they do say they need to go, I know I have seventeen seconds to find an unoccupied bathroom or I will be using that two sizes too small spare change of clothes that has been riding around in the minivan since the Clinton Administration.
Don’t think for a minute that once the diapers are shelved next to the Teletubby videos and the Talking Barney Doll that your days of cleaning up bodily fluids are over. Especially if you have boys.
THE ART OF ARCING
The art of arcing just right to have pee hit “nothing but water” is a skill that does not apparently come in the early years. We’re hoping by high school! It has gotten so I have to carry around a spray bottle of Lysol and roll of paper towels at all times. I looked a little out of place at Christmas dinner last year, but I did manage to clean that upended wine glass in record time.
Unrelated story: Did you ever hear the old joke about the mother who was having some of her friends over for lunch when her little five-your-old comes running in and says “Mommy, mommy I hafta go pee pee.” The mother, obviously embarrassed, talks to her son after her guests have left. She decided they should come up with a code word for pee pee and suggests the word whisper.
Fast forward two weeks, Uncle Billy is visiting from Vermont and sharing a room with the young five-year-old. In the middle of the night the boy wakes Uncle Billy and states, “Uncle Billy, I need ta whisper.” Billy groggily replies, “Wait until morning.” Two more times the boy tells Uncle Billy he has to whisper. Finally, Uncle Billy relents and says, “All right, but do it quietly in my ear.”
Whenever my youngest son, now four, wants to whisper (and I mean actually whisper) something to me, I lean down and rotate my head so my ear is pointing towards him. The unfortunate thing is he does the same thing and our ears meet. This not only tickles like crazy but closes up my hearing canal (medical term) so that his whisper is a barely audible breeze.
I have tried to explain to him the art of whispering a hundred times, but the entire concept escapes him. It is one of the multitude of things I take for granted, but it appears to allude the kids. There are others:
- Being in a hurry: “Come on get your shoes on we have to get going…tell me in the car. No we don’t have time to play a game. Where’s your jacket? You hid it, but we are already late…”
- Hunger: You’re driving away from a restaurant when your son informs you he is hungry. “But we just had dinner and you only ate half your pasta. What do you mean you weren’t hungry then it was five minutes ago?”
- Potty: Driving away from your house, “Daddy, I hafta go potty.” “I asked you three times before we left if you had to go, I stood you in front of the toilet twice, you cried outside the bathroom door while I was going and you insisted you didn’t have to go.” “Daddy, I hafta go now!”
- Silence: “Quiet in church now…shhhh…whisper…do you know how to whisper?” Child shouting “I think so, wanna hear me?”
- Sunflower seeds: Do not try to explain this art form indoors! “All right son, put it in your mouth, bite it in half and spit out the shell. Not bad, let me go change my shirt and we’ll try it again.”
- Getting to the point: The other day my three-year-old was desperately searching for his Superman figurine’s red cape. “It’s over there” I said nonchalantly pointing to the coffee table, barely looking up from the ball game, bottom of the ninth, tie score, two out, two on, Posey up with a 3-2 count. It wasn’t until the top of the twelfth I realized he was still searching, now frantically, and near tears. “Son, it’s over there” but as I watched his eyes, he took no notice of where I was pointing or nodding my head. It was as if “over there” was a specific place in the family room and if he went there, Superman’s cherry red cape would be waiting. “No, look where I am pointing and nodding,” I told him. In frustration, I took his hand and walked him over to get the precious cape just as the announcer was saying, “…Holy cow, it’s not often you see an unassisted triple play, and that will conclude our coverage for today…”
SING A SONG
One trick I have found for surviving some of the more mundane or unpleasant tasks of Dadlands, is to modify songs. I pick a song I am fond of and adjust the lyrics to suit the situation, they become a very modified version of a kid’s song. This will do nothing for the children, especially if your singing voice is as torturous as mine, but it will make the task at hand more bearable.
Here are a few examples:
When changing a poopy diaper try this, sung to the tune of “Everybody Plays the Fool” from the Main Ingredient:
- “Everybody goes poop, sometimes, there’s no exception to the rule. It may be flatulence, it’s definitely cruel, but everybody goes poop. Listen Baby…”
When feeding my child some form of inedible gruel, I will hum the Michael Jackson/Weird Al hit:
- “Eat it, just eat it, don’t know what it is, wouldn’t want to try it, just eat it…”
When you are washing hair, try this classic from South Pacific:
- “I’m gonna wash that dirt right out of my hair, I’m gonna wash that dirt right out of my hair and send it down the drain…”
And rounding out the bathtub medley try this one from The Rolling Stones
- “Scrub me up, dododo dododo scrub me up, won’t you scrub me up. Ohhh you can wipe me down, wipe me down like you never wiped. Ahhh you make a dirty kid cleeeaaan, you make a dirty kid cleeeaaan, your hands are filthy, your feet are greasy, I’ll clean your grime like you’ve never, never seen…”
Whenever you notice the warning signs that your child is heading for a complete emotional explosion, you know the signs (lightning, pestilence, flood, volcanic eruption) I choose the Boz Scaggs number:
- “Danger there’s a meltdown dead ahead, and I said maybe you’re in way above your head, I’ve been burned…”
If the diaper wrap you are using gets dirty (details omitted for decency standards) you can sing the Queen tune:
- “Another wrap bites the dust, and another one’s gone and another one’s gone, yeah another wrap bites the dust…”
WHEN YOU’RE DOWN…
And for purely sentimental reasons I love to sing Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” to my boys. No lyric tampering required; the message conveyed in that song is the way I would like them always to perceive dear ol’ Dad.
Quick related story: As I mentioned I am to singing what Keanu Reeves is to acting, but my wife has a beautiful voice and would often sing to our sons right before bed. One night she was out so after I read the boys a book, completed our prayers and tucked them in bed, I launched into “You’ve Got A Friend.”
With all the heartfelt, tone deaf emotion I could muster (“When you’re down,”) I began the song in a gentle quiet whisper (“some love and care.”) The song seemed to resonate from somewhere within the confines of my soul (“and think of me and soon,”) soaring, filling the room. And for once in my life I wasn’t flat and achingly off key! It was as if the gentle timbres of James Taylor had taken residence in my vocal cords. My confidence built (“you just call out my name”) and I was filled with…“Dad! Dad! You’re hurting our ears!”
Snapped out of my Grammy winning performance I stared in disbelief. “But I was singing you to sleep,” I replied innocently.
“Who can sleep with all that noise!”
“But every night I hear your mommy…”
“Daddy, Mommy doesn’t give us owey ears when she sings.”
Coincidentally, they were both shipped off to boarding preschool the following Monday.
VOWS WERE MADE TO BE BROKEN
Those parental pledges you made before your children were born, forget about them. Except for the one that says, “I will not harm my children,” the rest are just pipe dreams.
You know the ones I am talking about:
- I will not bargain with my child.
- I will not use food as a reward.
- I will not use the television as a babysitter.
- My child will not master the features of the TiVo before I do.
- Cookies are not dinner.
The reality is that children are skillful negotiators. They are born with this innate gift that tells them the correct bargaining technique for achieving their final objective. For example, if they want a snack and they know you want to run an errand. Avoid the middle step of trying to coerce them into the car with logic, pleading and guilt. It’s pointless. Just pull out the Cheetos, let them see the bag and then toss it into their car seat. The rest is easy.
GIVE ‘EM THE GUMMIS!
Secondly, if the children want some candy and you don’t want to give it to them, they are going to find a way to get it. Case in point, they have a diaper that makes a hockey team’s locker room smell like Lemon Pledge. It needs changing. If you wait much longer the paramedics may have to administer oxygen to you. They know it needs changing, you know it needs changing…. Give the child the gummi bears for God’s sake.
The television! It’s four-thirty and your wife is coming home in an hour. You have not had a moment’s peace all day, but you know you must get dinner on the table by six. She manages to do it every night, it is the least you can do. The child knows you need to make dinner and he also knows Toy Story 3 is in the queue. Give it up, they are going to be watching Buzz and Woody in a few minutes no matter how many other techniques you try.
GREEN BEANS OR OREOS?
Its dinnertime and your wife is out at book club. The Niners kickoff on Monday Night Football in twenty minutes and none of the boys are touching the chicken and rice casserole with green beans. Stupid green beans! Everyone can see the bag of Oreos on the counter. At least they won’t go to bed hungry. You’re well into the third quarter when your wife returns and asks why the boys have black teeth.
The sooner you learn to capitulate on the vows the better you’ll all feel. Plus, it will be highly entertaining to listen to new parents explain their many parental pledges regarding children.
I hate change! I think the Olympics should still be on ABC (that’s going old school!), Diane should never have left Cheers, Joe Montana should have finished his career with the Niners, M*A*S*H should be starting its 47th season this Fall, there shouldn’t be a designated hitter, two-point conversion option or three-point shot. I rescind that last one, because then Steph wouldn’t be Steph!
But parenting is all about change. Just when you learn to accept one phase (okay, I guess my boys are going to play Chutes and Ladders every day for the rest of their lives), they have moved on to something new. Moments after you have acknowledged the fact that your son will only eat bacon and carrots for the rest of his life, he is enjoying your wife’s broccoli casserole. That proud moment when your boys are playing together again with such joyful exuberance is soon shattered when you find them wrestling over who won Battleship.
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT
The changes can be abrupt or gradual, but life with kids is like riding a roller coaster that daily changes direction, height and drop rate. My second son had a favorite shirt when he was four that he wore every day for sixty-seven consecutive days. It was different shades of green with dinosaurs emblazoned across the front and back. As fashion statements go, it said “On sale at Target for $3.99”. It had stains, holes and tattered sleeves.
We tried hiding it, not washing it (like that mattered!), pointing out its flaws and switch pitching with new clothes. All to no avail. Then, on the sixty-eighth day he came out dressed in the blue Spider-Man tee and the green dino shirt was relegated to the bottom of his drawer. That shirt now resides in his memory box and in forty-seven photos from that period. I thought he would be wearing it to his first day of college.
CHUTES AND LADDERS
Parenting is all about change because life with little ones can be so unpredictable. You never know where the next fixation will come from or when it will leave. Toys, games, clothes, friends, TV shows, movies, they are all preoccupations, until they are not. It keeps life interesting and always evolving. I think I’ll pull out Chutes and Ladders and see if my wife wants to play a round or two.
A LITTLE TIME FOR DAD
Life in the throes of Dadlands is all about giving. Giving of your time, patience, money, sanity, energy, freedom, extremities, soul. But there are instances when you need to make time for yourself, even if it is to accomplish the most mundane of tasks such as going to the bathroom, washing your hands, getting dressed, finding your contact lense, taking your medication, showering, yoga, meditation…
To that end, here are 4 tactics for surviving fatherhood that will allow you to carve out a little time, even when you’re in charge and the nearest alternate adult is the cat lady up the street.
- Naptime – It’s quite possibly the best 1-2 hours of the day. Not that you don’t love spending time with your little guys, but now you can have a moment to yourself. The tricky part occurs when you are driving home for naptime after an exhilarating park excursion and they start falling asleep in the car. This cannot happen because even five minutes of dozing in their car seat will find them feeling refreshed and energized. But two hours later this non-nap child will be your biggest challenge since that college calculus course. This is when your creative juices need to flow. Start talking to them, rolling down the window, singing along to something on the radio or your best acapella rendition of “Thunder Road.” It is crucial that you keep them awake until you get home.
- Quiet Time – You’re the dad, so one of the fringe benefits is declaring what event is next on the agenda. There are other fringe benefits such as… uh… we’ll come back to that. But at any given time of the day you have the ability to declare, “Now it’s quiet time. Grab your favorite book and read it to yourself quietly for a while.” If your kids are as precocious as mine this will probably buy you four minutes tops because they typically will reach for the same book and bedlam will ensue. But sometimes four minutes is all you need!
- TV Time – (At this point you are probably catching on to the theme here!) Pick their favorite program and start the show. This will probably only produce twenty-two minutes without commercials, but that is five times longer than Quiet Time!
- Stroller Time – While this doesn’t exactly provide you with an opportunity to accomplish anything, it does give you fresh air, exercise and the chance to clear your head. Sometimes that is all you need. Plus, once they are strapped into the stroller you have approximately 7.89 seconds to do something before your children will start calling your name. Plenty of time to brush your teeth or comb your hair, but not both. You will have to choose!
You are at a work party without the kids, a glass of wine in one hand, peanuts in the other, all the while trying desperately to maintain a conversation with the guy in accounting when it hits you: I don’t know how to talk to adults anymore! I have nothing to say and I don’t even remember the structure of an adult conversation.
Sure, you talk to your wife, but those are brief snippets of one cohesive thought. “Today at work I (ten minute break to change a diaper) had a budget meeting (twenty-seven minute interruption to settle an argument, wipe faces, and load the dishwasher) where they reviewed my department (seventeen minute bath time interlude) and realized it wasn’t (bedtime story, prayer, kisses, chat about the existence of dragons, another kiss, more chatting, argument about said dragons, lights out) necessary. They gave me two weeks. How was your day?”
Fear hits you as you realize to have a meaningful conversation anymore the other participant must be under four feet tall, believe wholeheartedly in the existence of Spider-man and use the word “potty” in their daily vocabulary. Otherwise you have nothing to say to these people.
It is a shocking dose of reality as you look around the party and see that no one else seems to be having a problem discussing various adult topics. You spot your wife on the other side of the room happily carrying on a conversation with Dennis in marketing. Dennis! How come they can have a normal conversation? What is normal anyway? I should talk to the boys about normal tomorrow.
When you try to interject yourself into a conversation, your contributions appear to fall on deaf ears:
- Movies – “I just saw Benji VI: The Last Canine on Prime. Not much of a plot, but the special effects were impressive.”
- Politics – “My son is running for Kindergarten Rep. He would have run for Vice President if it wasn’t for that Nicholson kid.”
- Sports – “We ranked third in the Little League Double A standings and just missed the playoffs because of those darn Riverbats!”