Category: parenting

Confusion and loss: When a 12-year old has all devices taken away

“I’m not allowed to touch my computer, the PlayStation or my phone for the rest of the weekend.”

My 12-year old son shuffled away with his head hanging down.

His father had handed down his sentence after my son’s conviction of excessive sighing, eye-rolling and flouncing when asked to complete homeschool assignments.

“So now I have no idea what to do with myself.”

Poor, kid. I felt for him. He must have been in such emotional pain.

Still, I did nothing to ease his distress.

He’d earned it. In addition to the eye rolling, his whining when he couldn’t find a clean spoon, because apparently, the parental devices weren’t loading the dishwasher fast enough for him, pretty much sent this mother over the edge. Then there was the waking up early on weekends but moaning like he was in physical agony when he was being woke up at 10 am (yes. Ten. In the morning. You read right.) on a weekday to do his school work.

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DSC_3755Therefore I felt only slight pity for him as he stumbled around the house like a druggie needing a fix. I began to observe him – waiting to see how manic he would become the longer he was away from YouTube and Minecraft.

First, there was the sitting in the couch, knees folded to chest, bouncing his legs anxiously, looking at me sadly as if the pitiful expressions he hoped I was seeing would convince me to overturn his father’s ruling.

He literally has no capacity to imagine what to do without the games and a cellphone now. It’s a sad development in his young life but even sadder that many adults, including myself (though I’ve gotten better), sometimes have the same problem.

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Spring has finally sprung in Pennsylvania but it’s always possible another snow storm will come

“There are robins on the hill,” my dad said and we rushed to the windows and “ooohed” and “aahed” because in Pennsylvania we know that the sight of the robins in our yards means spring has sprung. Sure, the grass may still be brown and yellow, the trees may still be naked, and the flowers aren’t yet budding, but when the robins appear, back from their trip South, we know it won’t be long.

Soon there will be flowers (and for our family sneezing), warm days spent at the playground (though we already squeezed a playground visit in this week),

I have to be honest, during our first warm day this spring, I found myself briefly wishing for cold again. After months of waiting for weather warm enough to get the children out of the house, I felt a rush of anxiety at having to talk to people again while walking the dog and pushing my daughter up the hills on her bicycle. I’m anti-social at heart (which is weird, considering the 13 years I worked in newspapers) and find the older I’ve become the more I prefer sitting at home, reading a book, writing nonsense on here, or watching another episode of “Somebody Feed Phil.”

Not having to wear a coat to walk to the car or around the block was welcome for those three warm days, before cold weather set back in, though. I walked to the local diner on the second warmer day, after a family friend invited me for lunch. I was fed what was possibly grass with some dried cranberries, the smallest sunflower seeds I’ve ever seen and a pile of oregano. Apparently, I’m not as “natural” as I like to think and found myself wishing the black beans sprinkled on as my source of protein was a huge steak.

Showing that I’m not yet prepared for the normal warm weather walking of five paces behind my daughter on her bike while trying not to let the dog yank me onto my face on the sidewalk on her short leash, I decided to try to cut corners and let the dog pull my daughter on her bike. I wasn’t really going to leave the leash hooked there long, but truly thought the dog might pull her forward a few inches instead of yanking the bike onto its side and leaving my preschooler laying under it at the exact moment a local police officer drove by.

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The officer’s SUV slowed down and he looked through the tinted window at me as I lifted her off the sidewalk and checked her skinned elbow and grabbed the dog’s leash to keep her from running away. He gave me a thumbs up as if to ask “You okay?” and I gave one back to let him know I was and then waved a ‘thank you’.  One thing that is nice about small-town life is the local police presence.

He drove away and I looked closer at the mark on her arm was about the size of the top of a pin, but you would have thought she had almost lost her arm the way her lower lip was pushed out and she started making demands we turn around and go home. In the past two weeks, she’s become very attached to bandaids and seems to think she needs them on even the smallest scratches.

Even her animals are receiving their own bandages, especially if the dog happens to grab on to one of them and run off with it. Also in the past two weeks, she has become much more stressed about – well, everything. I had a feeling what she needed more than a bandaid was a nap after a couple of hours at the playground earlier with her dad and even more running through the house chasing the dog, before our walk.

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By Friday night the warm air had faded and I was receiving texts from my husband, who was at work, reminding me to turn on the heat. I refused, telling him it was still warm out and I wouldn’t close the windows and turn the heat on until I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes. This resolved faded shortly after that declaration and I found myself craving a warm cup of tea and the shawl that used to be my aunts. 

For now I’m happy to sink back into a little bit of introvert isolation, content with the excuse that it’s simply too cold to go outside and interact with others. And who knows, maybe we will have a March blizzard like last year and I’ll have even more of an excuse to stay inside.

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Four is the new terrible twos

“I’M NOT DOING ANY MORE SCHOOL WORK UNTIL MY BROTHER SITS NEXT TO ME AT THE TABLE!!”

Her little voice pierced my eardrums and grated on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Papers, pencils, and crayons scattered across the floor with a swift move of her fierce little hand. Next, she took aim at the battery for my camera and the charger it was connected to sent that to the floor with a bang.

DSC_3479For the last week, I had been laying my hand against her forehead to see if she was coming down with something, anything, looking for any reason for her Horrid Henry-like behavior. Since no fever was detected next on the list was to call the local Catholic Church to see if they still perform exorcisms in between press conferences to defend their innocence in abuse cases.

She was sitting with her head down on the table, her little feet dangling off the bench, kicking them back and forth as she revved up for her tantrum.

She was wearing the same outfit she’d had on for three days – a long sleeved dress and long pants with a brown leopard pattern. On Saturday she’d fallen asleep before I could negotiate a peaceful ending to the outfit change. On Sunday I knew we’d never make it to church if we stopped to let her pick the ten outfits she normally does before she gets dressed.  I promised myself I’d begin a peaceful settlement when we returned. Negotiations failed and I somehow let it go an extra day. So there she sat, her clothes probably caked to her now, while she started her new tactic of whining instead of verbalizing.

“Your brother is in the bathroom, I can’t make him sit next to you,” I told her, throwing up my hands in exasperation.

“I won’t do work ever, ever again if he doesn’t sit with me!”

I ignored her and went to the kitchen to start cleaning the pan for lunch.

Her brother came down and I asked him to sit with her but now she had worked herself up to a wail, the same wail she’d been sounding for almost a week now – anytime she didn’t get what she wanted, when she wanted, even though half the time she never said what she wanted, but simply cried and whined and kicked her feet.

I burned my hand in the hot water trying to clean out the cast iron pan to make lunch. It made me even grumpier.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT!” my screams were now matching her own and for good measure, I tossed a fork, which bounced off the counter and shattered the McDonald’s collection Garfield class I’d bought for my husband to replace the one he’d had as a child.

Now I was mad at her and myself. It was a standoff of uncontrolled emotions and suddenly I realized I had dropped my emotional maturity to the level of a 4-year old. A 4-year old who was still trying to figure out how to navigate her emotions, while I was 41 and supposed to already have it all figured out. I shouldn’t have a fuse as short as a preschooler and I knew it.

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“Let me hold you,” I told her finally, no longer caring what her original breakdown had been about. She climbed into my lap and leaned into me her little body warm and heavy against me. Tears were still rolling down her cheeks as I rubbed her back and absentmindedly patted her bottom as  I rocked her.

It grew quiet and she sniffed.

“Mama?”

“Yes, sweetie?”

“Are you patting my butt?”

“Hmm….um..yeah, I guess I was. I thought it was your lower back.”

She pulled away and looked sideways at me.

“Okay. That was disturbing.”

She climbed off my lap with her finger in her nose and shook her head.

She’s been skipping naps of late so when she passed out against my chest early in the afternoon, an hour or so after this. I texted my husband and said, with much relief, though a bit of regret, “she’s asleep and I have to pee.”

I held that pee in until my bladder almost burst because I had a plan to enjoy the last chapter of my book in blissful silence.  That hour free of preschool manipulation was certainly welcome.

And then my preteen began to extol the virtues of his latest video game discovery and the silence was broken, but, hey, that’s life.

 

Three going on fifteen or why my new name is “mooooooom”

Little Miss, 3, 1/2 is back to calling me “mom” instead of “Mama” and saying it like an annoyed and spoiled teenager. “Oh Moooom.”

“Mooooom, watch me.”

“No, I don’t want that for dinner, Moooom.”

It’s seriously like she’s 3 1/2 going on 15 some days. And boy does she have my moodiness tendencies, much to my disappointment. One day last week she made a mess with water by pouring it all over the living room floor in what she said was an attempt to pour it on Zooma the Wonder Dog to stop her from pulling on her clothes.

I asked her to clean up said mess and she informed me, first, “No. I won’t. That’s not my job.”

Trust me, that little comment did not go over well with me.

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Her second excuse was: “I just got comfortable” as she lounged on the couch watching a cartoon.

I promptly turned off the cartoon and this resulted in long sighs as if she’d been mentally transported into the future as her 15-year old self. Somehow my demands that she clean up the mess she made by herself became a completely overblown toddler crisis and she ended up hiding behind our couch, in a small area near our front door where we keep our shoes.

She had thrown all the shoes out, was crying and in between sobs was saying “but it’s not my joooob! I don’t want to do it! I just want to be lazy and not clean it up!”

I know exactly where her demands to be lazy are coming from and when my 11-year old son got back from camp we had a serious talk about the days he declares “I don’t want to do anything today! It’s lazy… (insert whichever day of the week it is). Eventually the entire drama came down to her saying she would have cleaned up the water if only I had used the word, “please.”

She said all this while still nestled in the space behind the couch and when I added the “magic word” of please to the request a slightly muffled voice informed me: “Well, I can’t do it while I’m crying and I can’t stop crying!”

Eventually, the water did get cleaned up and the drama was abated with a cartoon and cuddle but the attitude bordering on full-blown teenage angst continued off and on throughout the day, with most of her responses coming at me in irritated and impatient tones.

I liked my mom’s suggestion when I told her this story, which was that if she says again “it’s not my job” I turn the tables on her by refusing to do various tasks she would like done and saying flippantly “Sorry. It’s not my job.” Mom and I were fairly certain this effort will one day backfire on me, however, since I am a mom and it actually is my “job” to take care of my kids and Little Miss will most likely inform me of that. one day.

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Real life parenting moments

I’m in the kitchen trying to perfect a Ree Drummond recipe but every few moments my oldest is shouting that the cat is on his Lego table knocking pieces off to smack around on the floor or the youngest is holding an empty bowl and asking me when she can have “port top” (pork chop).

She’s looking up at me like a child from Oliver Twist, big green eyes, pitiful and pleading. One would think she hadn’t eaten in days, instead of five minutes before when her cheeks were full of apples.

Let’s be honest, I know I’m no Ree Drummond, whose children aren’t under foot when she cooks, or at least when she films for her show, but it would be nice to have at least twenty minutes uninterrupted to try to complete a new recipe (incidentally one of the Pioneer Woman’s. I had to leave out the grits because I’m allergic to corn.).

If I only have two children and a cat interrupting me then I have no idea how parents with more than two children cook, although they might have the benefit of an extra parent to help out. Extra help is rarely a luxury here thanks to my husband’s late afternoon to late night schedule and most of the time I really don’t mind.

On this day the ultimate interruption came between cooking the apple part of the recipe and browning the pork chops.

I heard the footsteps and the words before I even looked away from the cast iron pan the chops were sizzling in.

“Mama. I jus’ poop!”

I remember at that moment how Jonathan told me earlier his sister had stripped down naked. And sure enough she’s standing before me in her natural state pointing toward – not the bathroom – but the dining room.

“What do you mean you pooped? In the potty? You pooped in the potty?”

I knew she didn’t poop in the potty. Call it a intuition. Call it a horrible dreading feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“No. Right der. ” She was still pointing in the dining room.

“Where?” I asked, somewhat frantic to find “it” before my or my son’s feet did.

“Der! Under table!”

And indeed it was there.

Under the table.

Looking much different than it does squished in against her little tush in her diaper.

Yes, be thankful this is one of those life moments I didn’t photograph.

Unlike other similar events in the past (though this was the first pooping on the floor incident) I was able to stay calm and instead of asking “what were you thinking?!”because she wasn’t, because she’s two, I kept myself calm and used this as a learning experience for us both.

I ushered her into the bathroom and reminded her that was where we went when we had to poop, not under the dining room table.

She sat on the potty but let me know she didn’t have anymore poop left so I suggested she pee, which she did.

We celebrated and then I made sure she was instantly clad in a diaper before I let her loose in the house again.

I mentally committed to quickly respond with running to her with a diaper if I ever heard again, “Gracie just took all her clothes off.”

And despite all the interruptions, I managed not to burn dinner.

Yes, Virginia, there really are Stay At Home Dads

You are about to hear a question.  

It may amuse you. It may shock you. It might make you angry. It will definitely confuse you.  

I get it. I felt all of those things the four times someone has asked me the question. I was at a park with my daughter the first time I heard it, a lovely, sunny day.

“How long has her mother been dead?”

I found out that day that if you are confused enough about something you hear, it can help to blink slowly in disbelief. For some reason, blinking slowly seems to wash away stupid in the ears the same way it washes away irritants in the eyes. Someone should look into that, because there might be a Nobel Prize in it.

With the birth of my son it became: “How long has their mother been dead?”  

At first I thought it was just me. My mother died when I was ten. “Maybe,” I thought, “I just have that dead parent vibe.” But then I talked to other dads. I saw the question listed on an at home dad poll of the oddest questions you get with a high percentage of men getting that blink inducing question.

So the reaction to seeing a father playing with his child on a weekday afternoon, loving her, enjoying her antics, meeting her eyes when he talked to her, engaged in all she did, and smiling at the very thought of her… was to assume that the only possible thing that could cause it was one of the most tragic events that can befall a family.

This article is about how that question is really the least of it.  

My wife and I made the decision that I would say at home on economics alone. Her paycheck was more than mine. Childcare would literally be the entirety of one of our paychecks. The math was clear that one of us could stay home with the kids, work part time, and we would actually have more money! It was an obvious choice that I should be the one to stay home. There are a dozen other good reasons that a parent should be home if possible, but the first one that brought us into this was the basic math.  

So what is this ‘being the parent at home in the day’ thing like?  

It’s amazing!

It is the most challenging and singularly rewarding endeavor in which I have ever been privileged enough to engage. This time with the kids is a gift from God that I am deeply thankful for… even as I prepare to potty train my son.

Which is why I would like everyone to focus for a moment on the misconceptions a father deals with when he decides to take on this challenge. To explain why one of the biggest terms used by society at large to describe at home dads is wrong. Parenthood does not fit in a pigeon hole. It does not exist in soundbites. It cannot be explained in a tweet. And that leads to some terms being misleading. It also leads to people saying some foolish things when they see something outside of their comfort zone.

But first let me get out of the way something you may be wondering. How did I answer that question at the beginning? What did I say when asked four times a nice euphemism for, “You’re a guy! To get you to parent someone must be dead!”

Well, here are the responses, in chronological order:

“She didn’t, I am a stay at home dad. She’s at work.”

“She’s at work, I take care of them in the day and work overnight.”

“I just called her and did not use a Oujia board so unless Verizon expanded their map she’s good.”

Leaned in and just went, “Shhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Clearly, I am at the amused stage of reaction.

People say they ask it because, “You’re just so good with them!”  As if that isn’t a complete double down on the original line of thought that the only thing to make a good father is a dead wife. But that is the general thought. For a father to rise to the base expectation of being a Dad, it must require a heroic situation.

At home dads with their kids get one of, or a combination of, four reactions:

None.

You are some kind of Hero!

What odd turn of events caused this?

Where is mom today?/So are you babysitting today?

I left out one reaction because it is too big for this: That to be a stay at home dad you must be lazy. If someone wants to describe five minutes with young children as lazy… go ahead. I honestly lack a response to that much stupid in one sentence. And frankly, I have never had to deal with that. But many others have.

Let’s look at each reaction.  

None.

It’s normal to be with your kids. You get this more than half the time, and that’s an encouraging sign.

You Are Some Kind of Hero!

On the trying to be nice side, you get people who act like you invented a life saving heart operation… because you do laundry. They speak with the halting admiration reserved for musketeers charging, people stepping foot on the moon, or a man performing CPR to save a kitten.

And at the end of the day, we are just a parent. Doing what all parents should do. I just happen to do it as a Dad.

When my daughter was born I read some books on being a dad. One was by Dr. Meg Meeker called Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters and had three very important take aways: Be the man you want her to marry; You are her first love; and She needs a hero. That hero part was not about doing laundry. It was about something far deeper and more meaningful.

To be a parent is a heroic effort. Any mother or father going into that breach with their whole heart is a hero. But that doesn’t mean that a dad is special because he takes care of the kids, and does the chores that need to be done, because he is physically present. Those things are part of the experience and not the experience itself. He is special because he is a dad. He need only to live up to that gift.

A dad is a hero when he loves his wife and his children with all that he is. Moms and dads are heroes because they find a way to donate all that they are to each other and their children while still being uniquely themselves. The heroism comes from the love given. Because that love is what reflects God’s love for his creation.

Bottom line, I do laundry, don’t fold it well, clean the house, and keep everything mostly nice. The fact that I do that with a Y chromosome does not make me the Pope performing brain surgery on an orphaned chipmunk.

What Odd Turn Of Events Caused This?

A father with his kids… Cats and dogs must be living together!

This is the realm where the question at the beginning lives in all its regal, blink inducing splendor. The idea that there must have been some unimaginable tragedy to cause you to be a stay at home dad is pretty common.

I’m not going to pull sexism on this one. It frequently happens to moms too.

Yes, the stay at home dad shocks people more.

But what really shocks them is the willing loss of income.

“How do you do it? What about money? You must be rich!”  

Trust me, most at home parents are not rich. Not even close to rich. But many people are amazed when either parent is at home. And for dads, the only natural reason he could be there is the death of his wife.

The core of this is the total disbelief that a parent would want to stay home when they could have a job, put a child in all day care, and be, essentially, child free for many hours a day. Because, who really wants children in this day and age?

Where is Mom Today?/So Are You Babysitting Today?

Did you know? According to the federal government’s most recent census, a dad taking care of his kids is classified the same as anyone else, even non-relatives taking care of them?  

He’s not a parent! He’s a babysitter!  

By far, the thing a father is most accused of is merely babysitting. You’re ‘giving mom a break!’ or told something equally dismissive of your irreplaceable role in your children’s lives. This is where the term primary caregiver comes from.

Dads felt the need to defend that they were not babysitters. They had to, somehow, highlight they were just being a parent when the term “parenting” did not satisfy. He had to be babysitting so mom could ‘have a break.’ Maybe, in their minds, mom is on a fainting couch in a dress from Gone With The Wind while the husband takes the kids to play on the swings. Sure, it’s sexist, but at least it’s assumed that she’s alive in this scenario.

So we end up with the term ‘primary caregiver.’ I know, it is a legal term. It is also a term that reflects nothing in reality.

Think about it for a moment. In a relationship where you have a mother and a father fully engaged in parenting their children; what exactly determines primary and secondary caregiver? In a home where the mother and father live together and work together to raise their children, who could possibly be considered primary? But someone needs to be ‘primary caregiver’ and stay at home dads latch onto this. I even fell into the term for the first year because it was all anyone used in the definitions.

But it is an empty term based on a non-existent reality.

My wife and I parent equally and differently. We keep them fed, clothed, amused, educated, and provide for our children at different times. We love them all of the time.  We care for them all of the time. We don’t count percentages based on some legal definition of care giving. My wife should never be called secondary just because I make sure they eat when the sun is in the sky.

She does not walk through the door only to have me throw a kid at her yelling, “Your turn! I put in my 51%!”  

When a kid needs changed she does not look up from her book and say, “I put in 49% this week. You need to do that one.”

Parenting is not equally divided. It can’t be equally divided when done right. Parenting is a constant 24/7 effort for both mother and father. I am one of two constant parents. One of two people who can not and will not turn off their love for each other or the kids for even a second. One of two irreplaceable parts in a larger working whole.

Allow me end by going back to the first time I was asked the question at the beginning. I was asked and I answered it with my usual humor of having heard it a million times. And after double downing on the ‘I was so good with my own children’ line, she attempted to restart the conversation on what she thought was a better note:  

“I’m sure you’ll be happy when they go to school and you have more time to yourself.”       
 

“Oh.” I smiled. “We’re homeschooling.”

 

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David Nicastro is a dad who homeschools his kids in the day and works in a library overnight. He sleeps little but somehow manages to hallucinate even less.