Tag Archives: toddler life

Toddler Life, Chapter 148: Because It’s Hard


You don’t get much help as a parent. You can buy all the books — all the Idiot’s Guide to Parentings and How to Think Like a Toddlers you like — but when the rubber meets the road and you’re faced with the prospect of actually bringing up this fledgling human to be an actual human, you’re pretty much on your own. All that preparation goes out the window and you’re locked in with your lizard brain, fight-or-flight instincts to get through it.

Not only are you all alone at the stick, but there’s a fogbank closing all around you, the instrumentation is freaking out and giving you bad readings and it’s close to impossible to tell whether that dark shape in the distance is the runway you’re hoping to land on or a mountainside waiting to pulp your plane. Oh, and there’s a tiny person behind you who keeps screaming in your ear and placing their hands over your eyes — only they don’t fully understand how that works so it’s not so much hands over your eyes as jagged, flesh-rending fingernails thrust into your eyeballs.

It’s often hard to see what you’re doing, in other words — and doubly hard to see what sort of effects you’re having on your kid. And while most moments fly by and don’t make much of an impression, every now and then you find yourself in the midst of a Moment. A Moment that Matters. You feel the gravity of the situation fully, and somehow, through senses indecipherable, you see through time to the futures that could unfold as a consequence of your choices in this Moment.

A Moment, in other words, where you see that your choices could make or break your kid.

Such a Moment transpired last night.

The Sprout is in kindergarten, which means homework. Writing his name. Writing numbers. Practicing “sight words.” (Did they even have “sight words” when I was a kid? I have no memory of such a thing, but I don’t know if that’s because “sight words” is just a new buzzword or because education was just a leaky life raft in those days — it worked and we didn’t much care about how it looked or performed along the way as long as it got us there, which it seemed to. Also possible: my memory is less steel trap, more sleepy security guard.) Preparing for class presentations.

The teachers told us there would be homework on the order of about 10-15 minutes a night. Which is fine. But this week, it’s gusting towards an hour (10-15 minutes of handwriting practice, 20-30 of sight word practice — which feels more like two to three hours, let me tell you — and another 10-15 minutes of reading books about firefighters for a class dress-up day this week). And last night, it reached a head, and caused that Moment.

We went to a fundraiser night at a local restaurant, which had us getting home later than usual — just about 45 minutes before bedtime. And the kids have been cooped up all day, so we let them out to play in the yard for a few minutes while my wife and I take stock of the situation and figure out the plan of attack for bedtime (and if you think having a “plan of attack” for bedtime sounds a little silly, well, obviously you’re not a parent). So by the time they come in, we’ve got thirty minutes until bedtime. And in our house, much like Bruce Willis doesn’t miss his drilling depth even in an asteroid of alien construction, WE DO NOT MISS BEDTIME.

It dawns. We don’t have enough time to do Sprout’s homework. What do we cut? His handwriting is atrocious; he needs every rep he can get. And for every day we don’t work on his sight words, he forgets ninety percent of what he had learned. And the bloody firefighter presentation is tomorrow, so we can’t skip that.

We start working. He’s writing while I sit next to him, and I’m watching the clock. He’s dawdling (go figure, he’s a kid), and I’m getting frustrated. The waters are rising, threatening to close over both our heads. He goes to erase a mistake and I stop him. I stop him. “Just leave it. Let’s get finished.” He’s confused and upset — do I want him to work or do I want him to be done working? — and near tears. It’s too much. Now I’m underwater, and I’m fuming. He’s five years old, for crying out loud. We shouldn’t be dealing with having so much homework he has to stay up late at five years old. This is insane. Just let it slip.

And then, the Moment. Because, see, in addition to being a dad, I’m a teacher, too. And as a teacher, I know what’s plaguing our youth and by extension, our future; it’s a lack of gumption. That thing that sends you out into the rain for a five AM workout when you’d rather stay in your warm bed. That thing that gets teachers staying late in the evening and going in early in the morning when their neighbors are working their 9-to-5’s. That thing that gets Rocky off the mat after Creed knocks him on his keester. (Kiester? Keister? Keester? Spellcheck recognizes none of these.) The thing, in other words, that recognizes that the job is tough, the job is unpleasant, the job is painful; but at the same time, the job needs doing, and if you don’t do it, then it won’t get done.

The urge was there. The thoughts were there. He’s only five. Why is he doing all this at home anyway — aren’t they supposed to teach him in school? What’s the big deal if he doesn’t do it? Not like he’s going to flunk kindergarten!

But it’s that kind of thinking that has classrooms across the nation filled with kids who don’t know the value — not just of homework — but of WORK. Who don’t have the patience to work at anything that doesn’t come to them almost immediately.  Who aren’t interested in trying something if it doesn’t already interest them.

This is a Moment, I realize — maybe not the moment (because after all, he’s still only five), but certainly a Moment — when we teach him that homework is just a Thing You Do, that school exists outside the walls of a government building, that Mommy and Daddy support and believe in and will even enforce the things he’s getting from his education. It’s not a thing that happens to him in a vacuum, separate from us. Not a thing we hear vague whispers of across a dinner table, in disinterested mumblings around mouthfuls of mashed potatoes. (“How was your day today?” “Fine.” “School okay?” “Sure.” End scene.) Not a thing we allow to slip at the first inconvenience.

That way would be easy.

That way is too common for too many parents of too many kids.

That way is not for us.

JFK said it best … we do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

And, okay, sure, there’s the added benefit that maybe, hopefully, these things will turn the Sprout into a decent human being one day.

So I gather him in for a hug and we back off for a few minutes and talk about doing the work and being ready for school the next day. We dry his tears. And we get back to it. I’m happy to say, we finished the homework. Then we got him down to bed a little bit late. And we talked about firefighters the next morning before we sent him off to school.

And he was smiling when he left the house.

I guess a few minutes of missed sleep didn’t hurt him. And for that matter, it didn’t hurt me, either.

Advertisements

Five Years a Dad


My son is five years old today.

Nothing quite drops a boulder in the stream of what you thought your life was like the birth of a child, to say nothing of adding a 26-day stint in the NICU into the mix. Having kids has forced me to grow up in ways that I never thought I would have to, has cast shadows of doubt and rays of hope across my world in ways I didn’t think possible.

I used to think I had a pretty good idea of who I was and where I fit in this world. But kids will divest you of that notion like a raccoon divesting a garbage can of its contents.

Ever since I became a dad, I feel like every day I have to reinvent myself a little, adjust the way I think a little, consider my effect upon the world just a little bit more. I have to grow up a little more every day, just to stay a few steps ahead.

wp-1488330274775.jpeg

Well, maybe not that far ahead.

Happy birthday, Sprout. To quote Johnathan Coulton, you ruined everything … in the nicest way.


No?


A question for the parents in attendance:

How many times do you say “no” in a day?

Broadly interpreted, I’d be willing to believe I come close to five hundred or so; more if it’s rainy out.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results. This week? Maybe not so productive.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Look Around


A short entry today:

Holy carp, it’s Saturday. The Thanksgiving holiday is basically over (teachers get a few perks). If you asked me — or, I’d imagine, any other teacher, even the ones that only got a few days off — I’d be just as likely to believe that we only got an extra day or two as opposed to the full week.

Not because I got a lot done over the break (I didn’t). Not because a lot was happening over the break (decidedly not). But just because when we’re sitting around with our families and spending time with the people we love, the time seems to pass a little faster. A watched clock at work can take an age to tick over, but the same clock when you’re enjoying time with the kids — watching them explore and paint and build with blocks and chase the cats and “read” books and “help” around the house — well, that clock runs at ludicrous speed.

It’s easy to lose track of that stuff. The tribulations of parenting a two- and a four-year-old seem to outweigh the joys on your average day-to-day. The good stuff is still there, of course, but it has to fight for its time, and when you’re working full-time, the stuff you have to do sort of ends up claiming its time first.

But holidays give us a chance to slow down and take a look at the whole picture, and you know what? This parenting thing? It’s not so bad. I gripe about it a ton, but all things considered, my kids are both pretty awesome. I mean, who cares if the house is a wreck, if my wife and I both have permanent raccoon-eyes, if the best moment of our day most days is the moment we’ve gotten them down to bed, the screaming has stopped, and we can sit on the couch and exhale. They amaze me every day, even if they do drive me nuts more often than not.

This week has reminded me of that. So even though I’m not going to give a pages-long things I’m thankful for account, I’ll just point out that I am, indeed, thankful for my kids, who, as I pointed out above, amaze me every day. And for my wife, who, truth be told, does most of the work with the kids and allows me to work a creatively fulfilling job and practice my creatively fulfilling hobbies. And for the rest of our family, who continually shower the kids and us with love. And … no, stop that. Keep it brief.

I started this post out planning to keep it short, and I’m creeping towards going long, so I’ll get to the point: the quote that inspired this post. Not a particularly poetic one, but a classic all the same, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

So. Here’s to the holidays that allow us to stop and look around once in a while.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The World of the Small


We took the sprouts to Six Flags last night, and it opened up our eyes (as doing things with your kids will often do) to some things that you just don’t notice or even think about when you don’t have kids.

Namely, “family” events. Before you have kids, these things might as well be taking place on the moon, and you can avoid them just as easily. In short, if you see a bouncy house, a grown person in costume, or a brightly colored clutch of balloons, steer yourself in the opposite direction, and you’ll be fine. But when you do have kids, these are things you have to do, somehow. There’s a vague impression that lives at the base of your skull that you’re not a “good parent” if you don’t take your kids to these things. Unfortunately, they usually also mean leaning into the worst things about having kids. The peer pressure of other kids acting crazy, which inspires your kids to act crazy. The hyperprevalence of sugary snacks and drinks, for which your kids will beg you incessantly. The proliferation of oblivious parents, obliviously ignoring the obliviously a-hole-ish behavior of their oblivious kids.

But because you’re dumb, you take them.

And it sinks in — again — that your life has changed irrevocably, and will never again be what it once was.

Because once upon a time, you were young and adventure-seeking, and you went to amusement parks for the thrill rides: the more the better. Your stomach was made of iron: you could easily take down a 64-oz full-sugar soda, a double cheeseburger and fries, and a funnel cake, then ride the most wickedly devised gravity-defying stomach turning rides and never blink an eye. There was a “kids section” in the park, and you knew its location only so that you could more effectively avoid it.

These days, you know the kids section because it’s the only area of the park that concerns you. You pack your own snacks because you know that a whiff of funnel cake after riding even the tame little teacups will leave you queasy and sweaty. And you walk right past the thrill rides with a suppressed sigh because you won’t be riding them today, even if you thought you could handle them, which you probably can’t anymore.

So it’s bad enough going to the park with sprouts in the first place. But it’s worse on the “family days” (here in Atlanta, it’s Six Flags’ Holidays in the Park). Because 90% of the traffic in the park is poor, run-down, exhausted and raccoon-eyed moms and dads and their squalling, snot-faced brood.

The kid-centric drains on your wallet are even more pronounced, prevalent, and shameless. The kids’ area is lousy with “games” that cost a ridiculous amount of money for your kid to win a bit of candy or a cheap stuffed toy. Everywhere around the park are carts selling pretzels and popcorn and hot chocolate. And around every corner is a festive elf or a costumed cartoon character just crying out for a photo-op with your bundles of joy — which means people are clogging up all the major thoroughfares and creating foot-traffic jams, the worst kind.

But worst of all is making your bee-line past the thrill rides — most of which have waits of less than five minutes, if they have a wait time at all! — to the kids area with its crappy slate of rides, for which you’ll be waiting twenty minutes a pop, because everybody who is here tonight is here for this.

The part of your life where you could run amok, ride everything in the park, and go home without making a bathroom stop halfway (because the four-year-old somehow never needs to go when you’re walking past a restroom, but damned if he doesn’t suddenly start doing the dance when you’re about to get on the crappy kid coaster)? That’s over.

Say goodbye to fun at the amusement park.*

You’re parents at the park, now.

Abandon all hope.

*Actually, Holidays at the Park is pretty sweet. I just hate everything.


%d bloggers like this: