My second born son, Colton, gives me tremendous experience in dealing with whiny kids. He is a magnificent study in extremes. He is adorable. He could charm the wallpaper off the walls. His seductive grin makes mincemeat of the hardest of child-hating hearts.
And at the opposite extreme, what I call: #tearlesscrying.
Not tantrums. It’s worse. He whines incessantly.
Seriously, y’all. It’s soul-sucking. Dealing with whiny kids is, well…parenting. I know. But this is another level.
Believe me, Colton does not lack for coddling. Remember the whole ‘He’s so cute” bit? He’ll snuggle for hours. (Well, 15 minutes). It’s heaven to hold him in my lap after a nap. (Though his nap mainly consisted of 30 minutes of silence and 20 minutes of what? You guessed it: #tearlesscrying.)
“Take my shirt off! Take my shirt off!” my 3yo shouted with pure childhood bliss. She wanted to be like the older kids running across the grass as shirtless savages of summer. Normally, she does not let it all hang out.
So I took off the shirt, cursing myself for having left the sunscreen at home. It was already 4:30. Post-PTH, hopefully. (*peak tanning hours.)
I knew one of the boy’s parents and we’d met at the park for happy hour summer picnic. I needed adult contact since my one-year-old was near peak of his incessant whininess.
Upon arrival, the parents offered me a beer. I nearly downed it in one sip.
Seconds later, I noticed my 3yo and the older kiddos were missing. I said as much.
“Oh, they’re over behind that brick wall playing in the fountain,” the mom said as she handed me a second beer. “They’re fine. Don’t worry.”
I’m sorry. What part of that statement should not have made me panic? Our kids were out of sight, in New York City, playing in a fountain hidden by a stone wall.
I was fairly certain the 5-year-olds weren’t trained lifeguards.
I tried looking calm with a frozen smile. I took a sip, stood up, carried the whiny 1yo (who whined with the movement), and left to investigate.
At the stone wall I saw that the fountain was “only” a 12-inch-wide ring of water surrounding a 10-foot sculpture by Tom Otterness. The water flowed in a circle around the sculpture. True: I needn’t worry. Too much.
My 3yo joined the boys dropping items (trash, really…broken balloons, styrofoam) in the “upstream” part of the fountain, then chased it around the 10-foot circle. They were definitely in pure childhood bliss.
As I approached, my kiddo reached into the water, jumped up with hand clenched and squealed, “I got one!”
“What’d you get, buddy?”
“Yeah!” she beamed. It was new for her to play so imaginatively.
She was so happy. I was so happy to watch it.
The entire situation reminded me of studying “A Perfect Day for Bananafish“, J.D. Salinger’s short story, in my high school English class. It’s a moment of innocence in which an unstable Army Veteran is reminded of “pure childhood bliss” as he unexpectedly plays with a child in the ocean who swears she sees “bananafish” underwater.
But I digress.
Some kids around nine or ten years old had entered the scene at the fountain. They sat on benches nearby. They held skateboards and sported baseball caps over shaggy hair.
The 5-year-olds playing in the fountain stuck started taunting the skater boys and sang “nanny, nanny- boo, boo.” The skater boys didn’t take the bait. They minded their own business and joshed around like 10-year-old boys. They occasionally laughed or pointed at the little kids. It was innocent, but it also looked like gangs forming.
My 3yo still jumped and splashed, squealed and laughed. She kept grabbing items (trash) at the “top” of the stream and watched it float with the current. He dipped his bloated diaper in the water. She looked at me and enthusiastically screamed, “Daddy!”
It was a juxtaposition of innocence (and innocents): my kid and the two rival gangs (the 5yo’s and the 10 yo’s). I whipped my phone out to video the pure childhood bliss. She hadn’t a care in the world, least of all the chiding of other kids. Not a speck of self-consciousness informed her actions…no insecurities about clothes, having two daddies, vocabulary, nothing.
She just played.
How can she know the joy that brought me or how precious that time was for her? The only thing existing for her was imagination and water and pure childhood bliss (and trash).
If I could endow my kids with only one gift, just one, I’d make them impervious to judgment. I know that’s impossible. But couldn’t she always play in her own world with the water and ignore the others?
Kiddo: don’t modify your behavior or preferences or speech. Just play. Just be. Just maintain that pure childhood bliss for as long as possible.
I hope I’m able to show that video to her one day (assuming I don’t drop my phone in the kids’ bathtub a third time) and help her reconnect with a paradigm free of self-consciousness.
May there be many, many, many more moments of pure childhood bliss.
I crossed another Rubicon, with my kid. Ugh. Parenting: it’s hard y’all.
Both my kids were running around in the twilight in blissful imaginary play. They were both wearing dresses (cuz that’s how we roll – and luckily the younger doesn’t mind being occasionally treated like a dress-up doll by his older sibling.)
So there was a lot of squealing and laughing and I noticed a
couple times my older kid lifted up her sibling’s dress revealing that he was
(Quick side note – can we all just agree that running around
commando in a dress is the way we should all be living regardless our gender
The younger one laughed but yelled “stop!” and kept running
But it happened a few more times, specifically just after I called them in for bedtime. And as they continued squealing and ignoring me and playing “lift the dress”, for some dumbass reason, in that moment, I was furious.
I read the riot act to my older kid about how she was crossing boundaries by exposing her brother’s hiny and this wasn’t ok and “you need to know that you are harassing him and you may be laughing right now don’t you dare laugh in my face about this it is very VERY serious. I know you’re laughing about it all, right now, but he said ‘stop’ and that means you STOP because you can’t go around lifting dresses how would you like it if I went around lifting your dress?”
At which point I did exactly that, exposing her…oh.
Welp…that didn’t prove my juvenile eye-for-an-eye point, at all.
She started laughing. And then I wanted to laugh, infuriating myself all the more, and rather than checking my anger, I channeled my giggles into greater fury.
“You need to realize this could get you in serious trouble.
If you lift someone’s dress at school or you do this when you’re older you
could go to jail. Yes, JAIL is where
you land when you lift up other peoples’ dresses.”
Man, I tell ya. I know seven year-olds are supposed to run around saying poop and laughing about butts and shaking wieners. It’s fun and funny. I laugh, too.
And I am 100% HERE for body positivity.
I don’t mean for them to keep body parts under wraps. Hell, walk around naked all day long, if you want (at home. Out in public would be a bit too much, obvi. I suppose I would head to jail, then.)
My entire point confession, here, is I was the one who snapped a little too forcefully and I crossed the line I thought I’d avoid for longer than this:
…that my kid started laughing in my face at my fury and that just sent me over the edge.
It’s human, I suppose. And it seems like a rite of passage.
But I felt so stupid, afterward. I tried to talk about it with her, after I’d banished her to her room, but she was buried in a book and just said, “Leave me alone!”
At bedtime, I covered her in kisses and re-visited the topic
that it really isn’t ok to expose body parts if someone’s screaming “no”, even
if they’re laughing. “The fact is, that’s violating someone’s personal
boundaries. Even if it’s your brother.”
But she was quickly like, “Yeah, Daddy, I get it. Stop
talking about it.”
We ended the night on a high note – prayers, a song, and a few “I love you’s”.
Hopefully I haven’t scarred her forever.
But I’m scarred – because of feeling that very first rage at
“hell hath no fury like that of a parent being laughed at by the kid they’re
trying to lecture”.
It usually begins, “It’s great you’re letting your son wear a dress.”
And ends, “Do you think he’s gay?”
And I just think, why can’t we live in a label-less and limit-less way?
And then I go in a mental tailspin. “What does it mean that my son wants to wear a dress? Does it mean he’s gay/transgender/confused/abnormal? No. It doesn’t mean anything. He wants to wear a dress. In the end, maybe he will be one of these things, and maybe not. But why label or limit him, now? He’s 5, for Chrissake.”
I try to shrug it off and be Zen. Many parents in the U.S.
have already tread this path….evidenced in blogs/news/facebook/life. A
boy in a dress is not that big a deal.
Aaaaaaand…it still scares the shit out of me.
I don’t want him to be teased.
I want him to feel safe.
And this all comes from my own experiences.
I came to my current “sexual definition” later in life. After a youth of romance with the ladies, I unexpectedly fell deeply in love with a man (he with whom I share my life and family, right now.) Without going into great detail (you can read about that in my as-yet-not-at-all-conceived book), my greatest struggle “coming out of the closet” at age 28 was the fact that I didn’t feel like I had a closet to come out of.
I was just suddenly loved a dude.
Until then, I had never felt confused. I hadn’t had a “trouble” with women.
No, it’s not shocking that I found myself with a man – I was never the boilerplate macho meathead spewing virility. I was teased for being “gay” as a kid, though I wasn’t…technically. But I also didn’t lie awake during my teens and 20’s thinking I was doing the wrong thing with the wrong gender.
And reconciling this at age 28 was difficult because I didn’t want to be painted into a corner.
Why did I need to be labeled a completely different person because of the person I suddenly loved?
Plenty of my friends condescendingly said, “Mm-hmm. Sure,” in response to me feeling label-less.
Some friends asked “are you bi?” And I was like, “I dunno.” Another screamed, “You’re gay! Get over it!” And one particularly sweet friend rolled her eyes at me when she mocked me, “Right. You don’t want to be labeled.”
Right. Is that so hard? Label-less and limit-less?
I wasn’t trying to eek from one orientation to the other through the
“clichéd-by-the-media-or-whatever” path from straight to bi to gay.
I just…chose to be.
That choice was really difficult. Why? Because of social fucking constraints.
I’m not saying I reserve(d) the right to go back to heterosexual knockin’ boots. By current social convention, “jumping back and forth” is virtually impossible.
But why must it be so?
Isn’t sexuality and identity more fluid than just black and white?
Isn’t there more depth to human connection than what moral (or church
or government or repressed political) convention allows for?
When we allow ourselves to ponder our place in the world, reflect on what makes us deeply happy, meditate on more than making and spending money; when we’re really allowed to ponder our place, our identity, and our desires – aren’t there hundreds of ways we relate to each other that could be interpreted as “gay” but are actually just different dimensions of human relationships?
I digress. Greatly.
So when someone asks me now, “Do you think your son is gay?” I refrain from snarling or barking. But I do want to scream, “How childish are YOU for needing to label my 5-year-old son? He just wants to wear a dress! Can’t he just have that without being defined for the rest of his life? YOU need to grow up.”
But instead, I usually just respond, “I don’t know. He’s 5.”
I’m late to the game, but having recently watched it, A Dog’s Purpose becomes more than just a movie, it is a teaching tool for profound topics. I’ve got all the feels for it – a movie that’s beautifully shot, well-acted, charmingly written, and poses questions about mortality, kindness and mindfulness for children and grown-ups alike.
A Dog’s Purpose
follows a dog’s quest for his, er – purpose?, over the span of several
reincarnated lives as several men’s and women’s best friend.
“Bailey”, charmingly voiced by Josh Gad (so you can tell
your children “That’s Olaf’s voice.”) cycles through several lives, some
thrilling, some sad, some long, some short.
What particularly moved me was the provocative questions the movie inspired: thoughts about reincarnation, mortality, kindness and mindfulness.
The day after watching, on the way to school, my younger kid asked, “Why do dogs have many lives but humans don’t?”
We then had several blocks of talking about profound human
beliefs. That led to more spirituality, speculation and religion after I said,
“Religion is often what comes from people asking un-answerable questions about
the world and about life and particularly about what happens to beings after
He responded, “Uh-huh.”
It was 8:15 in the morning. Too much for him, too.
Talking about the life cycle while watching A Dog’s Purpose when children ask “why
does he have to die?” and “Oh, good, he came back to life.”
It’s tough to chat with children about death, but there are beautiful and constructive ways of doing so and develop constructive life-long coping mechanisms. Death is part of life. We shouldn’t deny that fact from our kids.
Kindness entered our post-viewing conversation as we observed the treatment of the dogs by their owners. Some were neglectful, some strict, some were…uh…euthanizing, but most were quite loving. Kindness isn’t a hard concept for children, but it’s often glazed over or discounted. We all could use more modeling of kindness, right?
Finally (and most profoundly for me): mindfulness. Throughout the movie, Bailey is on the search for his (and in one life her) purpose. Discussing with children, “Why am I here?” and “Do I have a purpose in life?” ain’t easy. It’s tough for adults, too. But it’s a question that renders life stimulating for our feeble brains. (That old “the unexamined life…” adage.)
By the end of the movie, Bailey shares with the viewer: “So, in all my lives as a dog, here’s what I’ve learned:”
Have fun (obviously)
Whenever possible, find someone to save, and save them.
Lick the ones you love.
Don’t get all sad-faced about what happened and scrunchy-faced about what could.
Just be here now.
Be here. Now.
Isn’t that simple and wonderful and pure?
Life would be so much better for us all if we relentlessly
sought a purpose, played more, didn’t get scrunchy-faced about the past or the
future and learned to be here – now.
Simple and thought-provoking, A Dog’s Purpose is a must-watch for families.