Things I’ve learned as a parent, or want others to learn.
I don’t take my son with me to Target anymore. It doesn’t matter how much groundwork I lay or how often I repeat, “We are not going to buy toys. We are not going to buy toys.” While he might show signs of understanding initially, the moment we cross the store’s threshold, the begging and negotiations ensue. And it just goes downhill from there.
Perhaps I could be a stronger parent, or more patient, or more something else I’m not. But sometimes I need a break from the kiddo — and if I have the option (I don’t always), I do my shopping alone.
Sunday afternoon I had finished some blissfully solo retail therapy, and was headed to the front of the store. I passed the elevator bay and noticed a girl of 6 or 7 whining to her father about something her Mom (who wasn’t there) had said or done differently than Dad — I couldn’t hear it all that well.
But as I passed to the other side of the elevator, I clearly heard the daughter exclaim — rather loudly,
“Dad, you’re worthless!”
To explain the stress there’s been in the house the last couple of weeks… well, I could, but I need to hold it close and protect it, or at least disguise it in prose. And by it I mean him — our brave, defiant, demanding, turbulent, tender boy.
Limits have been being pushed. Or is it boundaries? Whatever they are, they’ve been pushed. Also, buttons.
Last night I sat and watched as my son played out an allegory for his life at this moment in time. Having eaten his dinner, my five-and-three-quarters-year-old requested ice cream. I got one of his “baby bowls” from the cabinet, after a second or two of consideration as I skimmed through the options in my well-oiled (though oft -addled) dad-brain:
“Though he does fine with the plates, his clumsiness rules out a ceramic bowl. The plastic ones Papa and I use for ice cream are rather deep — he’s still a bit short to reach inside… Plus a smaller bowl would do better for a smaller portion. Baby bowl it is.”
I placed the ice cream in front of him at the table, then ever-so-carefully scattered out sprinkles until he’d declared there were enough. He then jumped up, scrambled to the cutlery drawer, and came back wielding a large, red-handled spoon. He explained he needed a grown-up spoon because “my mouth is so big.” Truer words.
As I finished my salad, we talked about school and who his new friends were and the song about elephants he learned in music class that day. And he ate his ice cream. Vanilla with rainbow sprinkles, in a too-small baby bowl, with a spoon too big for his talkative mouth. He would pick off the tiniest of bites with his giant spoon, careful to get a couple of sprinkles in each nibble, placing some atop the ice cream if the spoon failed to snatch some. Perhaps his micro-bites were an attempt to avoid brain freeze or him wanting it to last longer or trying to avoid catapulting the entire scoop out of his bowl.
Whatever the reason, I continued to soak in the image of my newly-minted kindergartner with his tiny bowl and huge spoon, reflecting on recent weeks and the growing pains it had brought us. His final morning with preschool classmates and teachers closely preceding the afternoon he met his kindergarten teacher; his first day of class a mere two days later. I worried it was too quick; too abrupt a transition, but he took it in stride. No tears, only excitement tinged with nervousness.
On that transition day, after seeing his classroom and chatting with his Mrs. Kelly, we roamed the halls of the new school as a family, dodging teachers and parents, kids of various sizes and speeds, exploring the cafeteria, the library, the gym. As we maneuvered these large, crowded, foreign halls, my in-between boy would absentmindedly reach up for my hand, feel it was there, then drop his back to his side. Never looking up, never taking hold, always moving forward. My hope, that it was with the knowledge I was by his side, had his back, and was ready to take hold when he needed it. And to let go when he needed that, too.
It was a bittersweet moment, and a portend of the weeks ahead, between then and the ice cream. Weeks that have seen a straining to grow more, to catch up, to chase after the big kids, to be his own person. And the fall-out from falling short or trying to go too far, too soon. Meltdowns and tantrums. Defiance and anger. But with moments of joy and triumph, laughter and maturity in-between.
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It’s T-Minus three weeks until my son starts kindergarten, but I’m not stressed at all. I know there are a lot of other parents out there just like me, who will be sending their baby out into the big, bad world of crafts-making and rule-following and bells ringing…and them being away from you all day, and you not knowing what the hell is going on and why can’t I give him a cell phone so he can text me if he needs me but his spelling is still pretty terrible…oh no he’s already behind and it’s my fault plus he’d only use a phone to play Minecraft and won’t learn anything and flunk out of school on his first day thus ruining his chance of any happiness in life!!!
Nope, not stressed one bit.
Preparing your kid (and by “your kid,” I mean you) for their first day of REAL SCHOOL is easier than you think. Just follow these few simple suggestions and everything will be absolutely, positively, one hundred percent perfect.
1. GET THE LAY OF THE LAND
Obtain schematics for the school, including drop off/pick up spots, location of the nurse’s office, routes to bathrooms, and all fire exits. Make a recording describing these layouts in detail, then play them while your child sleeps so they’re subliminally committed to his or her memory. Conducting middle-of-the-night fire/disaster/poop drills are also beneficial. Air horns recommended.
2. KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE…
Do background checks on all the kids in your child’s classroom, as well as their parents. Find out which have a record of pulling hair, spitting or biting (applies to kids or parents), and make flash cards so your child can familiarize him or herself with this “Bad Seed” list.
Additionally, hack the school’s computer and maneuver your child so he’s seated next to that super genius musical prodigy with the millionaire parents.
I had the honor of participating in Listen To Your Mother – a curated show of readings about moms and motherhood. I was the only male in our cast, and I shared a bit of my journey regarding Jon’s birthmother.
I’ve not written much about this topic, for the sake of my son’s privacy as well as that of his birthmom. However, the events encapsulated in my 6-minute reading took several years in real time, and included a slew of emotions ranging from fear and resentment, to disappointment and anger.
Many adoptive parents struggle silently with guilt and confusion over how they think they should feel about their child’s biological parents, versus how they actually feel. I’m sharing this for those parents — so they won’t feel alone like I did so much of the time. So they’ll know there are no right or wrong ways to think and feel about these complicated relationships.
I may write about this more in time — particularly as it relates to being a gay dad. But for now, thank you for watching (or reading). And if you have one to share, I’d love to listen to your story, too.
Ever since I started putting notes in my son’s lunches, I’ve tried to ensure a good representation of female characters. The same goes for educating him about superheroes outside the context of lunch, and about life in general. Yet any parent that has attempted to teach gender equality to their kids knows it’s an uphill battle. As much as you try to debunk stereotypes, model acceptance, and expose them to what’s fair, you’re regularly thwarted by a toy company, or the aisles of a retail store, or that boy at preschool who convinced your kid that “Frozen is boring…because it’s for girls.”
Then last week, the trailer for the upcoming Supergirl TV show debuted, and I saw a glimmer of hope on the horizon…
JOCK ITCH. The “big rash” was actually jock itch; I just didn’t have the nerve to stick it up there in the title.
It was only midway through the first full day of BlogHer — a ginormous conference about blogging and social media, started by and primarily for women — when I realized I was miserable. I’d had more than my normal level of big-guy-thigh-chafe discomfort (AKA “Chub Rub”) from all the walking around, and I couldn’t stop scratching myself. I was, in fact, on fire.
I skipped whatever session I was planning on attending, and approached the concierge at my hotel to inquire about the closest drugstore. “There’s a Walgreen’s not too far away,” he said cheerily. He gave me quick directions and added, “It’s about a 15 minute walk.” Uh, no.
Getting desperate, I made a beeline for the taxis out front. And for whatever reason, said to the cabbie, “I hurt my foot and need to go to Walgreen’s to pick up my medicine. Can you wait for me there and bring me back?”
I’m sure I could have just asked him for a round-trip to Walgreen’s without adding my ruse. Perhaps I didn’t want to appear lazy. Or I wanted to make sure he understood I was crippled so he wouldn’t drop me off at the drugstore and abandon me. In any event, I was committed to it now, and I’m nothing if not committed.
As the cab stopped in front of the store, I told the driver I’d be about 5 minutes, then exited the car and proceeded to pull a reverse Keyser Söze, adding a slight limp to my few strides up to the drugstore’s door.
So here I was, my not-small frame perched on the teeniest of tiny wooden chairs, clad in a retina-searing-orange t-shirt emblazoned with my son’s preschool logo, waiting for the class to be corralled before we headed to the petting zoo for a field trip. All of these kids knew me as “Jon’s Daddy,” the one who picks up — as opposed to “Jon’s Papa,” the one who drops off. There are other quite noticeable differences, but I can imagine that from a 4-year old’s perspective, we’re both just gigantic, bespectacled, goateed man-parents.
Yet it still came as bit of a surprise when I overheard my son’s classmate say, “Jon, your Papa’s here!” As expected, my son quickly corrected his chum, and things seem to be right with the world.
There was a lot going on, kids hopping up and down, excited about the field trip, distracted by the several parents scattered and squatting around the room. But amidst the melee, I hear mention of “mommy” something. I turned back toward my son and his posse, and the same friend exclaimed to all who would listen, “Jon doesn’t have a mommy… because she’s dead.”
I apologize if this smacks of bragging, but I wanted to share a particularly sweet note I got from a reader a bit ago. Okay, so maybe I’m bragging a little. Yet I’m also putting it up here to remind me, on days that I’m discouraged, that my words do get heard; that I’m not alone in my feelings of aloneness; and as a motivation to keep on keeping-on — as a writer and as a dad. Plus, his comment about Stepford gays was perfection.
So if you send me a particularly sweet (or sassy) note, you may very well make my day…and I might publish it. You’ve been warned.
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You don’t know me, and that isn’t the point of this message. And I promise there is a point to this message, so please just stay with me as I can get a bit long-winded.
Just recently — this past week in fact — I’ve decided that I want to be a father. This has been something I have gone back and forth on for years as a gay man. I have been filled with so much worry about this or that: Do I adopt or do I find a surrogate? Am I capable as a person to raise a child? What will I do about explaining to him about where he comes from having no personal points of reference in my own life? Did my parents screw me up too much to raise a child? All of the standard questions I would imagine plague most would-be parents. However in recent days I have focused less on the impact to me and my life and more on the positive of having a child. But still I worry [if I] will I be a good dad. Will my child know how much I love them and that no matter what happens that love will never end?
As a result of these feelings I started writing letters to my future child, as writing has always been an outlet for me. So as the afterglow of wanting to be a father started to fade, I wondered again how I would deal when my little angel is reaping my mother’s revenge upon me for one reason or another (lack of nap, saying no to a toy or candy, whatever) — and how am I going to keep my sanity? And just as these questions started to boil to the surface, I found your post “Hide-and-Seek with Mr. Moon” and I am not gonna lie: I cried just a little bit.
I found myself crying — not just for the heartbreak of a small child, but because of the line about you expending so much energy to keep from “throttling” your child.
I have read some parenting blogs, and specifically followed two over the past couple of years (more for the hilarious insights on life than the parently portion), but all of them were from the points of view of heterosexual parents. And let’s be real — as sad as it is, gay men are still not properly portrayed in media. Yes, we have moved past a good portion of the stereotypes, but there are still some there that bug me. I think we as a culture are entering the Stepford portion of our media portrayal.
So with all of this said: thank you. Thank you for granting me insight to a seemingly random moment in time that has shown me that not only is it possible to be a good parent while still making mistakes, but that life really can be normal as a gay father.
With gratitude and sincerity,
P.S. I am totally going to steal and use the Hide-and-Seek with Mr. Moon game when I do have a kid. 🙂
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We were winding down from a particularly drama-filled play date. There had been sharing-related skirmishes; LEGO lay strewn about the playroom like carcasses on a battlefield; there had been tears. And after much cajoling and promises of future bounty, there had been an “I’m sowwy” from my little force of nature to his playmate and host. Jon can sometimes be like a giddy locomotive off its tracks. Full steam ahead, tooting its merry horn, nary a thought for the fact that it’s derailed and tearing through the countryside, mowing over everything and everyone in its path.
Yet while he may be full of drive and boundless energy, he’s always been very affectionate. Which, for me — his somewhat introverted and decidedly less adventurous Dad — makes it all manageable.
After we’d made our apologies and gathered our things to go, Jon approached his friend — 6 years old to Jon’s 4 and-a-half — to tell him thank you. He followed with one of his epic hugs — both arms flung out fully extended, not closing them until he’d fully enveloped the huggee. His friend seemed a little overwhelmed, but hugged back; then my son tilted his head, stretched up on his toes, and moved in to give his pal a smooch on the cheek.
The friend jerked his head away, reacting with an annoyed “WHAT THE…?!?” Jon just kind of shrugged and let go. But my heart broke a little.