First day of school pics have become ubiquitous in the world of social media. Whatever did we do before pre-printed grade signs and frantic, front porch photo sessions? Me — being me — I like to add a list of superlatives to further document this moment each year. It’s my version of the annoying holiday newsletter.
But lest you think I’m only showing the best, brightest and Photoshoppyest version of my so-called parenting life, here’s a little back story on this year’s more-chaotic-than-usual first day of school photo.
Sometimes I forget how lucky I am. For example, how many parents can say their kids are excited to go back to school? Okay, so I loved going back to school as a kid — but all my favorite activities involved air conditioning. My kid LIVES for summer, but he’s hyped for back-to-school as well.
Maybe he’s excited because he’s an only child and misses being around other kids. Or perhaps it’s that his classroom is in a newly-built wing. Or he’s just pumped to use his new Black Panther backpack.
It’s likely all those things. But it’s also a genuine love of learning. And as a parent, I can’t imagine how I could be more lucky.
A couple of weeks ago, Jon initiated this conversation.
“Daddy, this year at school I have some goals,” he began.
“Oh yeah? Like what?” I asked.
He begins to list them. “I want to be a better listener in class. I want to not talk in class unless I raise my hand or it’s my turn. I want to be a better helper. I want to stand up to bullies…”
With the release of Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel celebrates ten years amassing the money-makingest film franchise in history. They’ve also made some really great movies. And mixed in amongst the epic battles, amazing effects, and side-splitting one-liners there lies a wealth of character-building wisdom. One might even say gems of wisdom.
Just a little over a year into the MCU Decade, I became a father. Few things have given me more joy as a dad than introducing my son to these characters and these films… at age appropriate times, of course. 😉
So as a galactic-sized THANK YOU to Marvel and Disney, I’ve pulled together 10 of the great life lessons I’ve gleaned from the films. While my intention was to impart these nuggets to my kiddo, they’ve certainly taught me a thing or two, too.
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1. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Superheroes don’t just throw big punches, they’re also often very, very smart. Geniuses Bruce Banner, Shuri, and Tony Stark have used their knowledge of science and technology to give them an edge against that universe’s bullies. Just don’t rely too much on your smarts, or you might accidentally create a sentient robot set on destroying humanity.
For anyone who wasn’t a straight, white, Christian man, 2017 was a hell of a year. Yes, our Reality Star-in-Chief made a couple of appearances on the blog — how could he not? The year also saw struggles for the trans community, convos with my kid about sex, and family game night made more tolerable by booze. It wasn’t an easy year, but it certainly was eventful. These are my 10 favorite blog posts of 2017.
Papa and I certainly could have done better in keeping Jon up on his reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic this summer. Unless role-playing digital comics counts as reading, creating Roblox/Minecraft/Terraria structures out of code counts as writing, or “subtracting” swim trunks, goggles, water bottles, lunch boxes, socks, towels, and underwear during summer camp counts as math.
But what he lacked in academics, Jon made up for in feats of awesomeness. Last November, the pediatrician had tasked us with making sure our son could swim beyond doggie-paddling and ride a bike without training wheels. He now swims like a fish and rides like the wind, though both still with a healthy amount of youthful wobbliness. He also danced and dabbed his little heart out during Family Day at camp, and took on dog-walking (galloping, rather) responsibilities.
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
After setting the summer months with a beautiful weekend on the Bay, we are once again here — the first day of school. SECOND GRADE! We’ve been in our new house and Jon’s new school for a year now — so we can’t honestly call either of them “new,” though they still feel that way at times. Despite the occasional rookie parent mistake, we navigated the First Day like seasoned pros. We managed to get up and out the door in time, sans a drop of drama. I even made his lunch note the night before!
When my son turned seven earlier this year, I had a couple of simultaneous epiphanies. First, I realized Jon was now the age I was when I experienced two of the most significant milestones of my life. Second, he’s going to remember a lot more from here on out, so I’d better get my shit together.
ME AT SEVEN
Not long after my seventh birthday, I did what every good preacher’s kid does around that age — I got “saved.” Accepted Jesus into my heart. In non-Baptist layman’s terms: I officially became a Christian. My father baptized me shortly afterwards.
My motivations were probably typical for a seven-year-old; a mix of peer pressure, avoiding Hell, and a sense of inevitability. Having been taught about salvation since birth, there was never any doubt I’d end up born again. And fear of eternal damnation aside, there was some comfort in knowing I was fulfilling my duty as a Good Son.
In thinking about this from my own fatherly perspective, it’s more meaningful to me than it has been for quite a while. Notwithstanding my spiritual path from that point until now, I can only imagine how special it was for my father to have that moment of bonding, when he baptized me in front of his congregation. I aspire to such moments with my own son.
The other milestone from that year was on a much less public scale, but equally significant. I had my first dream about a boy.
I don’t recall the dream being overly romantic or sexual; it was the intimacy that struck me. A faceless, nameless boy and me, both naked, sitting side-by-side on the floor by my bed. I don’t remember how I felt immediately following the dream; yet after coming out as gay nearly 20 years later, it was the point I looked back to and said, “This was the first time I knew.”
While I have memories from as early as two-and-a-half (hello, little brother … goodbye, only childhood), seven certainly sticks out at as a watershed year.
It’s been quite a year of evolution for our little family. Between trips overseas, moving into a new house, and starting a new school, it’s been an exciting and eventful 12 months. Yet it’s also been daunting — facing down so much that’s new, and less and less that’s known. I’ve heard similar stories of big life changes causing children (and adults) to regress. They search for something comfortable and familiar in a wide, open field of uncertainty.
We’ve definitely felt it, seen it in one another. My newly minted 7-year-old experiences this the most. In addition to officially graduating from “big boy” to “kid” — and on top of a new house, new school, and new classmates — he’s also lost multiple teeth, grown multiple inches, and reads everything in sight.
When overwhelmed or insecure, my son’s default settings range from Silly to Ignore to Meltdown — sometimes all three within the span of a few seconds. This in turn triggers my default settings of anger, frustration, helplessness. Many times it’s damn near impossible to be the bigger person. Many times I fail.
But as seems to be my parenting mantra, I keep on trying. In attempts to empathize with all the transitions my
little boy big boy kid is going through, I try to speak less; try to listen better; try to breathe more. And I try to do what he’s always needed the most from me — be there.
In organizing the new house, I culled several years’ worth of artwork and school projects. Among the mountains of crafts were these three masterpieces:
Created over the last three Thanksgivings, they are a gloriously fun study in artistic interpretation.
But they also serve as a reminder that time continues to continue; that it speeds by, leaving me stunned that I have a child who’s already been in school this long. It also shows that as each year brings new challenges, he/we keep coming out the other side slightly different, hopefully better. And with extra glitter.
This first Thanksgiving in our new surroundings brings new traditions along with it. But in the midst of the new and of change, I plan to soak up the familiar, appreciate the growing pains, and anticipate the next evolution.
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Sometimes the big picture of parenting can be overwhelming. Taking the time to enjoy and celebrate individual moments is so important — a lesson I continually learn from my always in-the-moment son.
This past spring, Jon played on his first baseball team. We were excited to have found a county league that emphasized fun and learning, with each practice ending in an unofficial “game” that only loosely adhered to big league rules.
While never much of a jock myself, I have fantasized about being a Cool Sports Dad. The emphasis on “Cool” — not the hot-headed kind of dad that screams obscenities at umpires and such. There are plenty of other things to hound my kid about (flushing, for example), so Papa and I were looking forward to his first team sports experience being on the low-pressure end.
The season had lots of stops-and-starts, with several rain delays and a week skipped for holidays, but the last game day finally arrived. Not unexpectedly, there was a much higher percentage of parents in attendance — and I imagine expectations (real or imagined) weighed heavier upon the players’ sweaty heads. I hung back for most of the game, only walking up to the fence to encourage and cheer when Jon was up to bat. The innings consisted of each child getting to bat once, with unlimited strikes until they got a hit.
As the game wrapped up, it became apparent that Jon would be the final player at bat. Even with the loosey-goosey rules, my heart quickened a bit — nervous for him, excited for me (or probably the opposite).
I slowly pushed and contorted my way out of the car, minding the door against a bank of snow, eyeing the slick of ice under my left foot. I was very much feeling all my forty-six-and-a-half years as I gingerly walked towards the pale, blue house. The sitter had agreed to keep Jon for a couple of hours while I attempted to eke out a bit of work and restock our depleted pantry.
The worst of the storm was past, and with it the worry that we’d lose power. Yet as we were midway through what would eventually be a full week without school, new stresses were putting my stomach through its paces. A full week (plus the weekend before it) of no school meant lots and lots of hours spent indoors, or at most, on our unplowed block.
I knew it was coming, and did find comfort that we kept the lights and heat (and TV and Internet), but that barely made the challenges any less so. My aspirations were grand — to bake, to craft, to LEGO — but were slowly and monotonously eclipsed by my desire to keep the peace and my wits.
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.