Things I’ve learned as a parent, or want others to learn.
When I first read the words, I was sick to my stomach. It worsened as the coverage expanded, as I watched and re-watched the video and awaited the eventual (faux) apology. Nausea then gave way to disgust as I witnessed a serial assaulter attempt to shame his female opponent by exploiting the assaults of even more women.
Yet as this insanity unfolded, my greatest anxiety came from the question on repeat in my head:
How do I raise my son in the age of Donald Trump and rape culture?
Imagine yourself a kid at summer camp.
Perhaps it calls to mind bunk beds with flimsy mattresses. Potato sack races and three-legged races and racing around at dusk playing hide-and-seek. Scratching mosquito bites, catching fireflies, watching sparks swirl up from a fire into the night sky. A night sky so black and stars so bright, it’s like you’d never seen them before. An escape from school and parents and all the baggage that entails; a chance to be on your own, yet surrounded by others in the same, wonderfully wobbly paddleboat called childhood.
Now imagine one of your parents has cancer. Perhaps they’re in remission, or they’re enduring chemotherapy; or maybe they lost their battle and now you’re a teenager (or preteen, or younger) without a parent.
It all began the Monday before Mother’s Day.
My son’s kindergarten teacher sent me an email to inform me that over the last few days, Jon’s behavior had been “like spring fever on steroids.” How clever.
While that subject could fill more than a few paragraphs, this is about the seemingly secondary purpose of the note. It continued,
“We will be doing some Mother’s Day activities this week. Jon asked if he could do them for his Grandma – of course!! Just wanted to check with you on this.”
I replied to both topics; for this one: “Yes, he’s done things for his Grandma (or Nonna, Nick’s mom) in the past, so that’s totally fine.”
And this was true. Both at preschool and in Sunday school at my parents’ church, my son was encouraged to make something for his Grandma or Nonna on Mother’s Day — which he always did, without issue.
The holiday came and went. We called Nonna in Italy and Grandma in Virginia. We also spent a good deal of time consoling/entertaining our pouty 6-year-old who was frustrated none of his friends could come over to play. They of course all had plans with their mothers.
Come Monday morning, once husband and son were packed up and off to work and school, I finally got around to weeding through the stack of activity sheets, flyers, and crafts that get brought home from school each week.
Amongst the pile, I found a homework assignment, an activity sheet, a craft, and a card — all about or directed toward “Mom.”
I was initially surprised, then confused; this soon morphed into concern and irritation.
Through nearly every phase of my life, comic books and superheroes have been a source of entertainment, enlightenment, and inspiration. Yet there’s a real-life superhero that has had my back through it all — one that has gone heretofore unrecognized. Whether venturing out on my own, finding my soulmate, or settling into domesticated dad bliss, this unsung hero has never failed to protect, comfort, and heal. All while swathed in soothing shades of pink.
I’m of course talking about Pepto-Bismol.
Or as I like to call it…
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and A.C. Moore Arts & Crafts is sponsoring a campaign to raise both awareness and funds for breast cancer research. And to see how many of you are tough enough to wear a tutu.
As you can see, this challenge is not a huge stretch for me. However, as a tutu-wearing advocate, I want to encourage as many of you as possible to participate in this fun way to give a little — a way that doesn’t involve getting doused in a bucket of ice water.
And when you think about it, wearing a tutu (or doing a walk or giving money) involves very little bravery when compared to those living with and fighting breast cancer. I’ll wager there are very few people who read this who haven’t been affected by breast cancer, whether it’s a family member, friend, coworker, or yourself.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE:
1. Take a photo of yourself in a tutu.
Don’t have one lying around? Head to your closest A.C. Moore, where they sell a tutu-making kit, just for this occasion! For you crafty types, you can make your own using this short tutorial from A.C. Moore’s web site.
2. Share the photo on social media with #Not2Tough2Tutu.
And if you knew my late friend Oren, add a #Dads4Oren to it, too. While Oren didn’t have breast cancer, he had it pretty much everywhere else — and his life and death continue to motivate me to get more involved, to give back, and to live life to the fullest.
3. Tag 3 friends to join the challenge.
Call them out. Triple-dog-dare them. Throw down the frilly, tulle gauntlet. It can be anyone — man, woman or child. Big, hairy dudes are of course the funniest, but please don’t limit yourself to that.
HOW THIS MAKES A DIFFERENCE:
In addition to putting a smile (or a giggle) on everyone’s face who sees it, for every post on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the AC Moore Foundation will donate $1 to the American Cancer Society.
As an added bonus, I’m matching that by donating an additional $1 for every social media post that also tags me. (DesignerDaddy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) If you don’t have the time or inclination to don a tutu, please consider making a donation to the American Cancer Society anyway.
Got questions? Shoot me a message, leave a comment, or check out the official press release from A.C. Moore. It also explains their inspiration and motivation for the #Not2Tough2Tutu campaign.
And finally, here’s the original challenge video, from A.C. Moore’s CEO (and fellow fat, hairy dude), Pepe Piperno:
#Not2Tough2TutuOur CEO Pepe Piperno is #Not2Tough2Tutu, are you? A.C. Moore will donate $1, up to $25,000, to American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer for every picture we see. So put on the tutu, post a pic, use the hashtag, and prove you aren’t too tough to tutu!
Posted by A.C. Moore on Thursday, October 1, 2015
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To learn more about the American Cancer Society, or to make a donation directly, visit Cancer.org.
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.