When I first became a dad, I didn’t expect to be forced to out myself as gay, but since everyone assumes you’re straight (understandably) because when you’re on your own with the baby, people ask, “Oh, is it Mom’s night off?”
(Funny how society also uses the phrase, “Dad’s babysitting because it’s mom’s night off.” All woke dads chant: #dadsnotbabysitters #dadsnotbabysitters.)
When my first child was seven weeks old, a friend invited my partner and me to an antique auction in Nowheresville, Connecticut. My first auction. I’m always game for “firsts”.
There were hilarious (shocking) items for sale. Of note was a box of lawn boy/mammy figurines, including a 7-inch Aunt Jemima iron doorstop. Not all of Connecticut is Martha Stewartville.
But I digress.
At the time of serious bidding, when the room hushed and you could cut the tension with a knife, the kiddo got fussy. Of course.
So I walked with my baby bjorn into an adjacent room where a woman sold hot dogs, coffee and cookies.
She had a mullet half way down her back. On her sweatshirt was an airbrushed wolf howling at the moon. It was awesome.
(Not that I’m furthering rural stereotypes, but across the street was a drag racing track.)
She ooh’d and ahh’d over my 7-week-old and marveled at keeping baby quiet. We made small talk about regular baby things: birth weight, sleeping, etc.
Then she asked, “So is this Mom’s night off?”
I kept bouncing, but my eyes went dead. “Um…”
“Or is she just watching the auction?”
Rage boiled within me and I looked at her pointedly. “Mom’s, just…well, she’s just fine.”
Wait, what? “Mom’s just fine”? That was a worse response than Baby’s “I carried a watermelon,” in Dirty Dancing. It lacked any logic, least of all in my emotional response.
I walked away, trying to hide my huff.
Aaaaand…I quickly realized my irrationality.
She had made a reasonable assumption. Of COURSE she’d assume there was a mom nearby. How often do you see gay fathers with newborns? Not very often. And in rural Connecticut? Even less often.
This is something that happens to a lot of gay fathers. I’ve noticed a lot of sleep-deprived fathers already stressed about the pressure of keeping a newborn alive, who’ve gone on Facebook tirades about the assumptions made by others. I think it might be a gay dad rite-of-passage.
But surprisingly for me, I just hadn’t realized being a father would often force me out of the closet to strangers.
Not that I’m closeted, but straight people don’t have to walk around declaring they sleep with the opposite sex. Why must I walk around outing myself all the time?
Also, a lifetime “proving” my straightness to people makes me jittery about being perceived as gay. I know. It’s my own issue. More on that in another blog. Or not.
I needed to chill out and realize that if she went on some tirade about me being a fag-besmirching-Jesus, so be it. To be a good dad, I need to deal with close-mindedness productively, anyway.
I returned to the kitchen area. She was wary.
I said, “I’m really sorry. I haven’t been asked questions about my son’s mom, yet, and it’s bound to happen. Fact is, my partner and I are raising this little boy and he’s watching the auction, right now. And unfortunately he’s buying a useless phonograph that will undoubtedly collect dust and take up space in our already-cramped house.”
Before I could finish my awkward apology, she reached for my hand and nodded warmly.
“I got it. I got it. Before you said anything, I got it. And that’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you. That’s a wonderful thing you’re doing.”
I bought a hot dog from her. It wasn’t Mom’s night off, but it was a very good night for me.
Honestly? Not so bad. Or…the morning wasn’t so bad. Get up, go for a walk (thank goodness we can) and they’re pretty motivated to be doing “school” in another form. It’s a relatively quiet and focused time.
And then helicopter dad swoops in and starts screwing everything up.
Again – we were pretty focused for the morning, had a snack, got some reading and writing done, had lunch, and then had some “gametime with daddy” time after lunch.
I’ve made it my personal mission to teach my kids some basic sporting rules of basketball, soccer and baseball…which is hilarious given my lack of care about professional sports. But in our school which is wonderfully arts-heavy and focused on participation and dance, I don’t think they’re getting any actual sports learning. So…I’m the not-by-choice-default coach. (All my friends are laughing at this.)
Anyway, I wanted to have some actual soccer drills going on. The younger kiddo (who loves soccer) was game for some passing and teamwork. The older was just annoyed with me.
She kicks. Great job. Maybe just a little lighter. She kicks. Good. Now can you do it with the side of your food for more control? I control it just fine! As she’s kicked like a Rockette and the ball’s sailed over my head and way off to the side. Right, but you can control it more if you kick lightly with the side of your feet. I kick and demonstrate. Daaaaad! Stop telling me what to do! She Rockette-kicks the ball away from me. I retrieve ball and start dribbling over to her (poorly…but with a bit of control) over to her, trying to show off. See? If you trot along and kick lightly with the side of your foot, it’s so much easier and you just control the ball and everything stays together and… Daaad, stop telling me this!
She’s pouting and angry, I’m increasingly annoyed by her lack of willingness. And mind you – I was exactly the same at her age. Zero interest in sports. My parents constantly encouraging me to show an interest and practice and play in soccer and baseball leagues. I loathed it. But I succumbed to social pressures making me do “boy” things that just didn’t interest me at all.
She’s pouting. She’s angry. I’m demonstrating and pleading with myself, “god DAMN child, you can do what you want, but learning these skills now will be a life skill that will help you just be well-rounded…” Daddy, stooooop! But sweetie, this is 'games with Daddy' time! You’re not making it fun! Because you need to learn the skills! I already know the skills! But kicking with the side of your foot… Stooooop! I already know that…. And I kicked the ball to her. And I swear to you, dear dozen readers, I did NOT put extra sauce on it intentionally. But I did. And it struck her. Hard. In the chest. Cue: instant hysterical tears of frustration, anger, and pain. I mean - it couldn’t be that much pain. It wasn’t THAT hard. But I get it. I admit: I wanted to laugh just a little bit. But I refrained from that. I hugged her. For a long time. I held her sobs and let her calm down as I held her close. We had a good recovery. And a good cry. I calmly explained to her all I wrote above - I hated this as a kid, too. But life will be easier if you have some skills for the future when you’re somehow forced to play soccer. Or baseball. Or basketball. She got it. And it was time for a snack.
Later, the other feature of the day was when I forced our “social studies.” They were losing focus, understandably.
And on their fabulous tour of what I suppose is main floor of this fab modern art museum (Museu de Arte de São Paolo…the MASP), we got a wonderful reminder and tour of art through ages, from Middle Age portraiture to Renaissance still life, religious everything and then some modern.
And all of it (from the religious forward) had boobs. Lots of boobs.
Some butts, a couple of uncovered vulvas, interestingly no penis until we got to a modern piece of an over-exaggerated baby boy. Whatever. They were thrilled to look through artistic pornography at a museum in Sao Paolo. At least I had them engaged. And they’ll remember that little “social studies” tour as the most delightful part of COVID-19 Day 1.
Not sure if tomorrow will be more about causing tears and exploring nudity. But it seems like a full day, after all.
As I constantly harp on and rely upon in my own parenting, everything is about setting expectations.
And the best way to do so is have the kids’ input.
This morning, we sat down and had a “morning meeting” in which we set daily expectations with a to-do list that the kids helped craft.
Set a daily routine schedule Set some goals for what kids would like to accomplish on a weekly basis – culling through old toys, learning a new skill
Find a reward system for sticking with the program – incentivize (fine: call it a bribe) with screen time, sweet treats. But also – this is just life, kids. Rewards come from exceptional behavior. They don’t need a reward for every tiny thing they do.
Make a check-list chart so kids can gauge their progress.
Set lots of timers.
Keep your own expectations low so you don’t get too frustrated.
Be kind to yourself and the kids – it’s a strange time. Space everything out with snacks and breaks.
And at the end of the day, give up, have a drink, and hand over the iPad. You done good setting expectations to manage the kids’ enrichment. hell, they’re going to learn a ton during this pandemic and be touched for the rest of their lives.
It seems to me that society is slowly making room for women – and thank goodness for that.
I’m late to the #MeToo conversation surrounding sexual harassment, but I’ve encountered fewer men weighing in than I’d expect. I know this is a time when men should often just shut up and listen. (Bad timing for some man-splaining?)
But I also think dads and sons and brothers should be part of the conversation.
This isn’t the time for anyone to ask, “but this all happened so long ago. Why bring it up, now?” (Because it still matters. Even you, Keillor.)
This isn’t the time for postulating, “Yeah, it was bad, but should it really ruin someone’s life?” (Well, Spacey, maybe you should’ve thought about that before thinking with your groin. You weren’t 13; you were in your 20’s. You knew better.)
Women: I’ll probably put my foot in my mouth wading into this delicate issue. So maybe I should just be speaking to the menfolk.
But I have to say: I’m loving this time, this space, this conversation, this movement.
I love this zero-tolerance-for-douche-baggery moment we’re witnessing. And I hope it changes our culture for the good.
Several female friends of mine have voiced their cynicism that “nothing’s gonna change. We have so far to go.”
I’m so pissed at the people I admire – Franken and Keillor. Do I think their transgressions are as serious as Weinstein or Lauer? Not really. There’s a difference between stupidity and sickness.
But it’s all under the same umbrella of objectification, crossing lines, and exploitation.
Being part of the non-douche-bag club, (of which I think a majority of my fellow men are card-carrying members), I’m glad pigs are going down.
I’m happy that the shit that riseth to the top masquerading as cream is being scooped out and exposed.
So I hope there’s more women come forward, because that’ll open up corporate positions thus making room for women (and some men who aren’t entitled douche-bags.)
And it’ll teach our sons they can’t be creeps and our daughters that they don’t have to tolerate creepiness.
If a few people (beloved or not) have to take the fall to make society an egalitarian place where women do not feel objectified or exploited or belittled or unsafe, then that’s ok.
NO MATTER THE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE WHO GO DOWN. It’ll never be enough to rectify the harm done.
Because a systemic cultural sickness that has allowed sexual harassment to be excused for (thousands of) years is worth changing; no matter the sacrifices made or how many supposed role models are scandalized in the process.
Obviously many books can serve as the ten best children’s books to delight and educate your children. This is especially true since it’s not about the substance you read to your kids but the act and tone and exposure to words.
But what about the grown-up’s experience? – shouldn’t the best children’s books delight us, too?
I’m far too selfish only to think of my kids when reading. I better be delighted and educated, as well – and that, for me, is what qualifies books for being on a list of the ten best children’s books.
Below are 10 of the best children’s books in my kids’ collection, as well as a few more foregone conclusions for classics that should just be in your collection by default.
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud & David Messina – Feelings are sometimes abstract and hard to articulate for kids. Even grown-ups often wonder “what’s the point in being kind for kindness’ sake?” Further, why bullies are mean is particularly complex. But this book gives you tools for explaining the self-interest in being kind and why bullies are mean. It feels like a corporate H.R. in-house self-publish. But trust. You’ll find it unmissable.
Tuba Lessons by T.C. Bartlett and Monique Felix is magical. Plain and simple – evocative illustrations inspiring children to fill in their own blanks. Trust me – open the cover and watch the kids dive in. There are very few words – so challenge your kids to narrate the pictures, themselves!
Little Boy by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds – For those of us who struggle with being present and mindful, this book, with its unique cadence and adorable illustrations helps parents slow down and think of the importance of days made of now. It’s too bad the book is specifically gendered and focused on a white boy’s perspective. The only improvement would be to expand the lens to universal gender and skin color.
I Stink! by Kate & Jim McMullan The best children’s books lend themselves to creative voicing and a personality that leaps off the page. This, the first in a series, is educational and entertaining and allows the reader to be as ridiculous as possible. You’ll never look at garbage trucks the same way.
The importance of cooperation and teamwork is one of the most fundamental we should pass on to our littles. And Little Blue Truck always shows that life is easier when we work together. Further, the rhymes and illustrations are entertaining for everyone.
The Secret Circus by Johanna Wright Similar to Goodnight Moon, this beauty combines uniquely simple illustrations with quiet language perfect for lulling little ones to sleep and allowing grown-ups to take their time with the sparse language and just revel in the quiet of the story.
Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak – – The author of Where the Wild Things Are created masterpieces of childhood wonder and unique illustrations. This series of mini-books allows kids to experience unique stories (and alphabet repetition) in a tiny package that kids can organize, discover and (re)organize.
Press Hereby Heuvé Tullet – Reading this book requires children’s interaction giving them a sense of cause and effect. They will insist on executing every page’s instruction and will result in tons of delight. And if your kids are like mine, hours of repetition and ripped pages that have been repeatedly over-loved.
Stuck – Oliver Jeffers – Another element of children’s book magic comes from nonsensical storylines that delight. This is one of those. Just trust me. How Much is a Million? – Conceptualizing large numbers is tough for anyone. This book actually illustrates a million. It’ll expand your mind and warm your heart.
City Dog Country Frog by Mo Willems While Mo can do no wrong, and all of the pigeon books are must-haves and Piggy and Gerald are modern classics, this wonderful book about a friendship through the seasons gently introduces loss and sadness in a way that may introduce your children to your own tears.
Again, children grapple with complex ideas of feelings and numbers that are fascinating to contemplate and very difficult to illustrate and understand. And haven’t YOU wondered what a million looks like? Look no further. This gem literally illustrates it for you. This wonderful book is guaranteed to blow your mind as well as your kid’s. Again, children grapple with complex ideas of feelings and numbers that are fascinating to contemplate and very difficult to illustrate and understand. And haven’t YOU wondered what a million looks like? Look no further. This gem literally illustrates it for you. This wonderful book is guaranteed to blow your mind as well as your kid’s.
Also, I have to include the basics, without which your kid’s cursed to live a pointless, unfulfilled life. Kidding. (Sorta.)
Honorable Mention: Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd(?). Despite being a parody (knock-off) of one of the best children’s books of all time (see above), its application to modern life is hilarious and apt. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in cleverness.
And all of these bags could be easily carried in the best daddy diaper bag with confidence that your kids will love them and you won’t be annoyed.