Thursday, December 17, 2015

Oh, Caravan!

An Ode to Practicality

When you become a parent, especially for the second or third time, you tend to find yourself looking at things through the lens of practicality.  In the midst of the chaos that comes with children, you look for anything and everything that can simplify the process or calm the storm.  Your life takes on certain complexities that seem incomprehensible to those without children, but make so much sense to you.  Somebody wants you and your children under age 5 to do something after lunch?  Not a chance.  Anticipating the kids sleeping longer on the weekend because you told the sitter they could stay up later while you were out “painting the town”?  Wishful thinking*.  Keeping a potty chair in your vehicle just in case?  Smart move.  Because you have practically zero control over how your day will unfold, your approach to it has to be as practical as possible if you ever hope to survive.
The purchase of our minivan is a prime example.  The minivan is a bastion of practicality – seating for seven, the seemingly never-ending storage space, relatively good gas mileage considering the occupancy level of the vehicle, reasonable insurance premiums.  Did I mention the storage space?  You may have hesitations about the stigma surrounding people who drive such contraptions`, but once you get one, it’s hard to imagine life without one.  Or, as an article pointing out the complexities of having three kids notes, “you need an automatic sliding side door the way an eel needs water.”  I’ve actually started to eagerly imagine the first adults-only road trip that the van can be utilized for.
Because it is such a practical vehicle, I feel as though my approach to operating it should be congruent with its practicality.  Yes, I am the guy driving the actual speed limit because it yields me the best gas mileage.  Honestly, I’m not usually in a hurry to get anywhere, because when you’re trying to go somewhere with kids you’re either late or early.  And when we’re late, we’re likely so late already it doesn’t make a difference.  I don’t really care if you’re running behind for work or your yoga class or your coffee date.  My improved gas mileage is more important than your time.  I’m also assuming that you are talking/texting/tweeting/posting a selfie and focusing about 17% of your attention on the road.  You’re welcome to speed by me coming out of the stoplight; I’ll keep my RPMs under 2000 to balance the redlining of yours.  You can even honk or gesture obscenely if you’d like.  As Marge Simpson would say, “slow and steady wins the race!”
I've always been relatively frugal (read: cheap), but my parental practicality has helped me develop a more effective approach to utilizing our various resources.  Like washing and reusing Ziploc bags or any jar or container that seems as though it could hold something else after its original contents have been consumed.  I’ve been known to put the clothes my kid’s wore throughout the day back in their drawers if they don’t seem excessively dirty.  To say nothing of my own clothes that don’t even make it into a drawer, but rather a pile on the floor to be put back on tomorrow, and likely the day after that, visibly dirty or not (see earlier post).  Toilet paper that Gus has pulled off of the roll while entertaining himself in the bathroom either gets re-rolled or folded nicely and placed on top of the toilet ready to be used for its actual purpose.  And when the toilet paper is actually gone of course we’ll put that empty paper roll in the “craft box” along with anything else I think could possibly be used for a “creative project”, where it will sit for a few months before I eventually just recycle it anyway.
Taking a practical viewpoint of things can work itself into all kinds of scenarios.  You become hyperaware of your plan of action should anyone in your party need to use the bathroom while out in public. When we go anywhere, I immediately identify the closest bathroom and mentally visualize the quickest route to said bathroom should anyone start to motion toward their crotch.  My questioning of my kid’s need to use the potty before we leave the house or when we find ourselves in close proximity to a bathroom could be considered borderline interrogation.  Are you sure you don’t have to go?  How about now?  And of course we keep a potty chair in our van as part of our roadside emergency kit; it’s a genius idea I wish I could take credit for.  There’s also more than ample space.
Sometimes the approach of parental practicality is done during times of sheer impracticality.  Most notably this time of year when we tend to ask our little ones to complete insurmountable tasks – sitting still for family photos while dressed in uncomfortable clothes we’ve sternly instructed them not get dirty; behaving like sweet little angels in new environments while off the regular routine and coked up on frosted cookies and candy canes; waiting patiently to open presents that have been sitting under a tree visibly taunting them for weeks; acting cordial when we try to coax them to sit on the lap of some stranger who has a big white beard and a one of a kind red ensemble^.  We make gracious attempts to stay practical, like keeping the bottom third of our Christmas trees free of any ornaments, especially the old “sentimental” ones that are 100% pure lead paint.  We make comments like, “that went about as expected” to give us some justification for putting our kids through the torment.

Luckily, when it’s all said and done and the Holidays are over, we can always pile back into the calm oasis that is the minivan.  Inside everything will be peaceful and serene, as long as everyone is sleeping (save the driver) or there is a movie playing on the built in DVD player (a feature I was adamantly opposed to before better grasping its practicality).  Sure it will be full of new relatively impractical things that we’ll have to find practical ways to deal with when we get home.  But at least we’ll still fit comfortably because the amount of storage space is unreal.
*Let’s be honest, after you have kids you no longer paint the town.  At best you prime it, but usually you’re just edging or doing the trim.  Every parent knows the later you let your kid stay up, the earlier they will be up the next morning, no matter how hung-over you are.  Luckily you are seldom hung-over anymore because it’s just not practical.

`I drove a van for the better part of my senior year of high school.  This was done more for the sake of irony than practicality.  And suitable punishment for some reckless teenage behavior.

^I think I’d be concerned if my kids didn’t freak out when we encourage them to sit on Santa’s lap.

Seriously, look at the space.  You could live in there.
Down by the river, of course.
I'm glad she finds the presence of an abnormally
dressed man she's never met somewhat disturbing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Parenting Strengthsfinder 2.0

Arranger (of playdates)

Responsibility (for driving the minivan)

Harmony (on the children’s music)

I just passed the one year mark on my tenure as a stay-at-home parent.  Thus I figured it’s about time for my first annual performance review, something I had the pleasure of doing on a yearly basis before I “retired” and something I’m sure a number of you are familiar with.  Now I haven’t actually had an official performance review on how I am doing as a stay-at-home parent, but if I did, it would likely be conducted by my wife, who of course is the boss.  There was a news headline a few weeks ago that suggested that spouses should actually do some form of performance review with each other as a form of relationship building.  While that seems good in theory, I’m guessing not too many couples have started the practice.  

Of course every performance review has a self appraisal component, where you inform your boss of how you think you are doing with your job responsibilities.  I usually approached these sections with some general restraint, usually giving myself mostly 3s & 4s on the 5-point Likert Scale.  Downplay how well I thought I was doing, which would typically lead to one of two scenarios:  1. My boss informing me that they thought I was doing way better than what I thought I was doing, which lead to some nice ego-boosting.  Or 2, (and usually more common) where my boss would agree with my assertions that I was doing pretty middle of the road work, which in reality meant that I was actually doing pretty piss poor work and should probably get my act together.

So, how is it going or how do I think I am doing on fulfilling my responsibilities as a stay-at-home parent?  I’d still give myself some 3x & 4s on that 5-point Likert Scale.  Like any other job or responsibility, I tend to have my good days and bad days.  I had a lot of lofty goals, and despite this being my “year of do”, I only accomplished a handful.  On the positive side, I haven’t lost any of them yet, we haven’t broken anything too valuable, and I don’t believe I’ve unintentionally introduced them to any curse words.  That is not to say that we haven’t had our fair share of bumps along the way.  Just this week, Jess came home from work to find a very noticeable bruise and bump on Gus’ forehead to which I had absolutely no explanation for.  Later that evening, I found Havi applying appliance epoxy to the exposed part of her skin.  Can you tell us about a time when you don’t feel as though you were able to completely execute the duties of your position? 

Part of doing a self review for a job is identifying your strengths and weakness, or areas of improvement in more friendly verse.  I certainly have my own strengths and weaknesses as a parent, like most others do.  I could egregiously tell you that my weaknesses are that I love my kids too much, or I try too hard to engage and keep them happy all the time.  But of course that isn’t true, and that type of answers if probably why most people think performance reviews are a waste of time, as we’re never really honest during them.
Kids are honest though, sometimes brutally.  I suppose I could do a performance appraisal with them, but I think I already know what the feedback would be – you don’t let us watch enough tv, you should give us more candy, sometimes you get lazy while giving horse rides, etc.  A few weeks ago, Isla told me that I was bad at brushing hair.  It’s a very valid criticism; I’m not very good at brushing hair.  I have limited experience, and my personal need to brush my hair has been on the sharp decline since having children.  While I understand that there are some safety concerns ensuring that your child’s hair is adequately brushed following a bath, I will be the first to admit that “hair presentation” is definitely a weakness of mine.  I can put in a pony-tail, not a good one, but one that will hold the majority of the girls’ hair back or at least five minutes.  I also claim that I can braid hair, but not any of my children’s.  Only the hair of inanimate objects that sit completely motionless, can’t feel pain and don’t talk back. 

My lack of finger dexterity will almost always guarantee that any diaper changes I do will take considerably longer and involve many more tears than they should.  I’ve never understood why the buttons on children’s clothing need to be so small (or why buttons are needed at all).  I’ve also learned that for anyone over 6 feet tall, there never seems to be a comfortable position to change a diaper of a squirming baby.  Invariably you are hunched over in the most awkward, permanent back-pain inducing position for much longer than you’d like trying to get the damn buttons on the onsie to match up.  While I recognize these weaknesses, I’m probably not going to do much to try and improve on some of the arbitrary ones.  Sure, one could make the argument that I can practice and work on getting better at styling my girls’ hair or become more efficient with my diaper changes.  Consider those weaknesses though the next time you hand me a jar of salsa to open or ask me to get something off the top shelf.  I know what my strengths are and how they can be best utilized.

I’ve always considered patience to be one of my strengths in life in general.  Being a stay-at-home parent has definitely tested this patience, and I’ve certainly found a number of times when I’ve really struggled to keep a level head when interacting with my kids.  I’m reading a great book right now called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids and it has been a much needed refresher on how to stay calm and patient during those particularly trying times.  Kids can certainly add a significant amount of stress to our life, but parenting does not have to be a stressful experience.  As Dr. Markham points out, kids act like kids because they are kids.  It doesn’t do us any good to judge their behavior.
It also doesn’t do us any good to judge other parents or other children, but this is something parents seem to be horrible at.  Even for me, as non-judgmental as I believe I am, it becomes all too easy to watch other parents and their children and compare them to your children and your parenting style, as pointless as it is.  I remember our pediatrician once commenting that all kids develop differently; physically, emotionally, and intellectually.  This is something I try to keep in mind when I see my children interacting with other children, and wondering if my kids are smarter, healthier, more socially mature, and better behaved than their peers.  What I’m really measuring through that valuation is if I’m doing a better job at parenting than my peers.  

This is absurd because we don’t, at least we shouldn’t, parent our kids for the recognition of other parents.  We parent our kids to foster connection and sustain a meaningful relationship with them.  To provide them the unconditional love and support so they can go out and be successful in the world.  And the best way to do this is to create a peaceful, loving environment.  The irony is that while we probably claim we don't like to be judged (hence the reason we probably hate the performance reviews), our behavior seems to suggest just the opposite, especially today in our social media filled lives.  Every time we post something about ourselves, our children, or the company we keep, we're really looking for judgement from the broader public on our behavior and viewpoints.  In monitoring the various likes, shares, retweets, page hits and comments provides we are looking for validation of ourselves.  Obviously I can't claim to be above this as I'm utilizing a social medium right now to express my opinions to be judged by others.         
Our kids will always find ways to get on our nerves, and because we are imperfect humans, we will inevitably have moments with our kids that won’t go as well as we’d like.  I’ve experienced this first hand; a lot.  As parents we get to choose how to react to those moments.  As an old colleague liked to remind me when a situation arose at work that created some tension, “they don’t pay us enough to stress out.”  Undoubtedly I’ll never get to the point on any “parental performance review” of tallying all 5s on that 5-point scale, as the hair and make-up will probably always be my "areas of improvement".  But if we work on trying to ensure that we are parenting consciously and mindful of our own emotions and actions, we should hopefully consistently meet expectations (the 3s), if not occasionally exceed them (the 4s).  It may not get you a promotion or a pay raise, but it will at least keep you employed.

Of course this was not my doing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Stay-at-Home Dadbod

Why I quit the gym

I had an annual physical last week, and you'll probably be relieved to know that I received a relatively clean bill of health.  I have been deemed fit for my current role as a stay-at-home parent.  If physicals of the President and professional athletes are newsworthy, I figure mine probably is too.  As to be expected, immediately following my check-up I came down with some sort of virus that is still making the rounds within our house, but more on that later.

This past spring, social media and the internet were abuzz (at least for a few weeks) around the concept of the "Dadbod".  It took hold when Mackenzie Pearson, a student at Clemson University, posted an article entitled "Why Girls Love the Dad Bod".  The phenomenon was picked up by major media outlets including The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, and other outlets of culture commentary (of course Buzzfeed), which helped solidify its prominence.  While the concept hasn't gotten any press lately and is by no means #trending, I wanted to revisit it.  Naturally as an opinionated blogger I have a few issues with it - it's kind of what I supposed to do.

I know what you're thinking, "Why would someone who has been sporting a "dadbod" for at least a decade have any issues with this?"  The first reason can't really be summed up more accurately than this conversation between Kristen Schaal and Jon Stewart on the The Daily Show back in May.  The sexist double-standard is bad for both women and men.  It's like the standing ovation for the guy who changes the diaper.  Don't encourage it.

The second reason is as someone who you believes they have cultivated an authentic "dadbod", I feel a little exploited.  As Jon Stewart was quick to point out in the segment, none of the male celebrities referenced in the media clips are actually dads.  And in the initial article by the Clemson University Junior that referenced the topic, she is presumably referencing "dadbods" on her male collegiate counterparts.  At least I hope she is.  While the physical nature of what constitutes a "dadbod" seems to be generally agreed upon, there are stark differences in how one can achieve a "dadbod" figure.

In the effort of full disclosure I quit the gym because my gym access stopped when I stopped working outside the home.  I stopped lifting weights because throughout the course of my day I'm typically doing a non-stop 25, 35, or 45lb arm curl.  Sometimes its one on each arm.  My lightly defined quads can be attributed to the various times at all hours of the day or night when the only way to soothe a sleeping a baby was to put her/him in the baby bjorn and do some squats reps.  Cross training and cardio becomes a mix of engaging in

As a parent your personal time decreases significantly, and subsequently

Sure I still enjoy my pizza and beer.  But now instead of eating a whole frozen pizza      

So frat boys, if you're currently rocking the "dadbod", enjoy a few more slices of pizza and a few more beers.  Revel in your ability to maintain your "dadbod" with minimal effort.  In ten years you may find yourself where those of us with real dadbods are, and it might not seem quite as enjoyable.  But we don't do it to try and keep up with you, or impress your sorority girlfriends.  If we're trying to impress anybody, it's actually our wives' friends.  Because as Brian Kelms has pointedly stated, and I've referenced before, the better we look to our wives friends, the more attractive we look to our wives.  We also do it for our kids, so that we'll hopefully be around long enough for them to appreciate the fact that we didn't completely let ourselves go after becoming fathers.  It's a tempting proposition.              

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Family Vacation: Same Chaos, Change of Scenery

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

We took a little family getaway for a few days last week as my wife somehow managed to scrounge up some vacation days (see earlier post for necessary context).  We had managed a couple of long weekends this summer, but typically those involved trips up to a small resort owned by Jess's grandparents.  This time we opted to head some place new with the kids, so given the time of year and the amount of time it would take us to get there (a reasonable nap length) we decided on Duluth.

Before we had kids we liked to travel.  I was able to spend a semester abroad in college, and after our first years of grad school, Jess and I traveled around Spain for four weeks.  We'd also made a few trips to Mexico and tried to coordinate some leisure travel in the United States at least once or twice a year.  We were not frequent flyers by any means, but we liked to go when we could.  Once we found out we were expecting, I was adamant that having a baby would do little to dampen this desire.  I read books about how to travel with children and started to mentally prepare myself for the adventures that would ensue*.  Sure it would take a little work, but we were up for the challenge.

Then reality set in - traveling with kids is hard.  Even though they are small people, they tend to require a lot of stuff.  Even before we setting off for a weekend away we inevitably drive around our block at least once to pick up something we've forgotten - a favorite blanket, extra diapers, climate appropriate clothing, etc.  Once I needed to make a midnight trip to Walmart to purchase an extra Pack & Play, as our's was conveniently left sitting by our back door.  Factoring the extra drama and chaos by being off of a routine and sleeping in different beds, along with the cost of accommodations and meals for a family of five, it's tempting to not want to go anywhere, ever.  So whenever we manage to snag a few days off, we always seem to do that dance - it would be fun to go somewhere, but it would probably just be easier and significantly cheaper to stay home.

But every now and again you just need to get out of the house, and as someone who spends a significant amount of time in his house, that urge can become much more compelling.  Duluth was about a 2.5 hour drive from St. Joe, which we figured could provide enough time for Havi and Guthrie to nap if we timed it right by leaving mid-morning.  Naturally we booked a hotel with a pool because that is the most exciting thing of the entire trip for the kids.  Pools and continental breakfasts have become our default search filters when booking accommodations, and on our last hotel stay I actually found myself contacting various hotels to inquire about the depth of their pools.  Isla had taken to swimming without a life-jacket, and I wasn't interested in her hanging on me the entire time we were enjoying the aquatic amenities so I wanted to make sure she could touch on her own.  

When you take a trip and then find yourself spending a sizable amount of time in the hotel pool, you kind of wonder what the purpose of the trip was, and why you paid so much money when you could have just stayed home and got a day-pass to your local Y.  But then you wouldn't have any photos to put on Facebook (via Instagram via PicCollage) to show the world all of the fun things you do as a family, or the few times one of your children happens to not be crying.  This trip actually found us finding a good balance of doing what the kids wanted; swim in the pool and jump on the hotel beds, and what Jess and I wanted; see some of the sights, eat at some good places, and not stress out too much.  Of course we had our fair share of meltdowns and often resorted to what I like to call "any port parenting."^  But in the end I was glad we went and would deem the trip a success.

A key component was getting into a good schedule, even during our short stay.  We'd wake up, way too early for a "vacation" and gorge ourselves on baked goods at the continental breakfast.  This would typically give us an hour or so to swim before attempting to be out of the hotel around 10/10:30.  We tried to fill our day with enough activity to keep the kids excited and tire them out at the same time - we saw ships come into the port, we visited the Great Lakes Aquarium, ran around a few playgrounds and did some hiking at Gooseberry Falls State Park.  On our second day, all of the kids fell asleep in the car after playing at a playground, so we spend most of the afternoon just driving around Duluth, which was not-surprisingly peaceful and enjoyable given the scenic drives along the lake.  We'd keep lunch light which would work well for an early dinner out with the Senior Citizens, and allow us to get back to the hotel for a few hours of swimming before crashing in whatever bizarre sleeping arrangements we had devised.    

This trip was also somewhat of a redemption trip considering the end result of a similar trip we took last summer.  We were in a comparable situation with a few days off before a July weekend, and considered going up to the lake or just enjoying a few days at home, but in the end decided to go to La Crosse, Wisconsin - where I actually spent two years in grad school.  It is a scenic little town on the Mississippi River with a quaint downtown and enough outdoor activity that I figured would keep the kids entertained.  We were also able to stop by and see some of my old bosses from my grad school days and have them meet the family.  Of course our hotel had a pool, and even a waterslide and a "kid's pool".  Jackpot!  We had a fun couple of days, and the last thing on our trip agenda was to grab brunch at my favorite breakfast spot before having the kids nap during the 3.5 hour drive back.

We checked out of our hotel and were on our way to brunch when we got in a minor car accident.  Everybody was okay, but it did result in Isla being transported to the hospital via an ambulance and us needing to find a rental car to get home since our car was out of commission. Havi took her first and hopefully last ride in the back of a police car, as she waited with me for a tow truck while Jess went with Isla to the hospital.  After finding a rental car, getting a cab from the hospital to the airport to pick it up, and lugging our belongings, carseats and all, throughout the entire process, we finally made it to brunch about four hours later.  Isla still had an enormous cinnamon roll.  It seemed ironic that the one time I was in La Crosse and didn't go to a bar, of which there are many, was the one time I found myself in the back of cop car and inside the Emergency Room.

Luckily our trip to Duluth did not involve in hospital visits or interactions with police officers, just random run-ins with neighbors from down the street and an old college friend we hadn't seen in at least five years, and Jess .  Sure if you venture out you always run the risk of something unpleasant happening, like getting into a car accident or your kid throwing up chocolate milk while you are out to eat.  But staying home has its own risks too, like one of your kids "accidentally" cutting one of his/her siblings with a scissors.  I figure if it's always chaos, sometimes a change of scenery can be nice.  At least you can have a semi-viable excuse for allowing your kids to eat excessive amounts of junk food and stay up too late.  It's vacation!

I also figure at some point the kids will take much more interest in the places you are going.  One of the things we did before we left was check out a book about Duluth from the library.  We looked at pictures and I paraphrased the content, which was a tad heavy on the economic composition of the area.  After seeing pictures of the Aerial Lift Bridge and some of the big ships that come through the port, they could hardly contain their excitement of seeing it in person.  While it might seem pointless now to attempt to expose them to those sorts of things now, I think if you want them to take any interest in traveling as they grow up you have to set the foundation now.  I remember taking a trip to Washington DC when I was about 10, and after we got back our parents actually let us go see "A Few Good Men" because it featured a number of the historic sites we visited while we were there.  It was also the first "R" rated movie I was allowed to watch.

After our trip to Florida we kind of resigned ourselves to the fact that any trips we want to take with the kids for the foreseeable future will have to be somewhere we can feasibly get over a naptime.  While there are a number of international locations on my "to get to" list, it has been kind of nice to think about the cool places even within the state of Minnesota or surrounding states that we haven't yet experienced, or would like to experience with the kids - Duluth and the North Shore being one of them.  Even weekend trips to the Twin Cities have become a "mini-vacations" of trying to do something different that the kids will enjoy (in addition to swimming in the hotel pool).  One of these days we'll get them passports and put them on a plane, something we've yet to brave.  It will be chaos and there will undoubtedly be plentiful tears and Griswold references, but it will be well worth the adventure.  Even if they seem to hate every minute of it.

Now it's your turn.  What's a kid friendly destination that you've really enjoyed?  What crazy stories do you have of traveling with your kids?  Comment below if you would.

Notice the scowl on Havi's face even despite the ring pop on her finger.

Of course the small rocks are hot lava.
I suppose they actually might have been a few million years ago.

Where's Isla?  She's sulking in the corner of the photo.

Betty's Pies!
It's vacation....
The close of our La Crosse trip.
They didn't want to leave the ER since they got to watch "Frozen" 


*In one book, "How to Fit a Carseat on a Camel", I read about a family who had to retrace a sizable chunk of a road-trip to pick up their young son's imaginary "friend" who had forgotten to get back in the car after a stop at a gas station.  Once they got to the gas station, the son informed his parents that his friend had actually been in the car the entire time, he just didn't see him.

^I lifted this from the saying "any port in the storm"            

Friday, September 18, 2015

Yes, You Can!

Or Maybe You Shouldn't

One of the responses I hear with some frequency when I tell people I am a stay-at-home parent is, "oh, I could never do that."  Or less frequently, but still on occasion, "my spouse (typically husband) could never do that."  When I hear these comments, I usually respond with a lighthearted chuckle knowing that their statement is an excessive exaggeration likely aimed at trying to make me feel better about my current job title on my LinkedIn profile (or lack thereof).  Even our pediatrician once commented to me that she couldn't be a stay-at-home parent, which was a blatant lie.  I would let her stay at our home with our kids any day.

Sure, being a stay-at-home parent can have its fair share of challenges; it requires excessive amounts of patience and a healthy dose of self deprecation to keep you from snapping.  But it's not rocket-science or brain surgery.  Remember that, outside of needing the necessary anatomy and physiology for reproduction, there are no other required prerequisites to having and raising offspring, even though there maybe should be.  While you might not be as good maneuvering in the Grand Caravan as I am, if you are currently a parent or thinking about becoming a parent, I'm pretty certain you could do what I do on a daily basis.*

At least I really hope so.  After hearing the remark from people about their, likely exaggerated, inability to be a stay-at-home parent, I started to wonder if some people actually believed that statement to be true for themselves.  That was when I began to get a little worried, especially considering the number of current parents who made that comment to me.  I've decided that if you truly don't think, under any circumstances, you could ever be a stay-at-home parent, you're not ready to be a parent period.  A few weeks ago, I was asked by a couple who has contemplated starting a family when I felt I was ready to have kids, and I didn't have a good answer for them - especially considering how we started our own family somewhat unexpectedly.  This notion has given me a definitive answer on when I think people are ready.

Not that I think everyone should be a stay-at-home parent or even feel "called" to be a stay-at-home parent.  There are certainly households that function better and are probably happier with the parents working and kids going to a high quality daycare.  I felt as though that was our situation before we added number three.  But life has a tendency of throwing you more curveballs than Tim Lincecum, and at some point, the circumstances of your life might necessitate, or just make more sense, for you to be a stay-at-home parent.  This can be the case for a whole host of reasons - child illness, job layoff, relocation, something, good or bad, affecting your spouse, etc.  If, even under those situations likely out of your control, you could never see yourself being a stay-at-home parent, even temporarily, I don't think you're ready to be a parent.

Becoming a parent doesn't mean that you need to put all other aspects of your life on hold or give up everything you've worked so hard to achieve from a career standpoint to focus solely on the adorable little monster you've created.  Yes, work-life balance can become even more challenging with children, but millions of people figure out how to make it work.  However, when starting a family and adding other human beings to the mix, you inevitably increase the likelihood that something beyond your control will come up that will have a significant impact on your life.  Becoming a parent means that you have to be ready to put all other aspects of your life on hold should the circumstances warrant it - mother or father.  To drop everything and deal with any shit that has hit the fan - usually figuratively, sometimes literally.

Andrew Moravcsik, a political science professor at Princeton University, contributed a great article for the October edition of The Atlantic, entitled "Why I Put My Wife's Career First".  It his article, which was a follow-up to an (also great) article his wife, a former State Department official, wrote a few years ago, Dr. Moravcsik cites research that given the "nearly impossible expectations....for ambitious young people planning two-career marriages" and increasing number of young professionals are opting to not have children all together. That is certainly one way to go, and sometimes it is those people who decide not to have children who would make terrific parents, stay-at-home or working.

Personally, I see this first hand with my sister and brother-in-law.  They have made a conscious decision, despite the fact that I think they would both be phenomenal parents, to not have children.  They haven't necessarily done this to pursue high-powered careers, as both of their professions are very family-friendly, or because they are kid averse, as they love spending time with their nieces and nephews.  They've decided that the life they've created is what they want it to be and expanding their immediate family is not of interest to them.  Certainly some people see this as a selfish move, but I actually feel it is the opposite.  Because starting a family and having kids is the prevailing norm in our society, I believe it takes more thought and more self actualization to realize that not having kids won't leave you feeling unfulfilled.  While the actual operation of parenting is much tougher (to say nothing of the labor and delivery for the female), I see making the decision to not be a parent as a more challenging one.    

So when people tell me that they "couldn't be a stay-at-home parent", I feel the urge to respond with, "Yes, you can!"  But if you don't already have kids, and honestly don't think you could ever be a stay-at-home parent, I wouldn't recommend becoming a parent to begin with.  If you do already have kids, and honestly don't think you could ever, under any circumstances, be a stay-at-home parent, I hope your spouse vehemently disagrees.

"Yeah, you don't know how it feels."

It can get a little taxing when you're
carrying around some additional weight.  

Seriously though, it's not that tough.

*I actually have significant prior experience with a Grand Caravan, as I drove one for the better part of my Senior Year of high school.  Don't get discouraged, practice makes perfect.      

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Intricate Dance of Parental Multitasking

A Contraposing Paradox

The ability to multitask seems to have become a minimum requirement to be qualified for any job these days, akin to being able to read and write.  With the advances in technology, it seems we are now more capable than ever of completely maximizing our time efficiency, and if you're not doing more than at least two things at once, you're probably sleeping.  Parenting is no exception, and being a stay at home parent to three kids under the age of 5, my life has become one permanent multitask.  Even the Pope recently marveled at what he sees as parent's ability to pack 48 hours or activity into a 24 hour day.  

When I decided to stay at home, one of the draws was being able to tackle some of the other time consuming facets of life that often got overlooked while both my wife and I were working - keeping the house semi-clean, running errands during normal business hours, cooking meals, doing laundry, etc.  I have had more time to lend to these glamorous tasks, and will occasionally make time (see 2/26 post).  But it can still be a challenge to balance everything that is going on, and the "To Do" list seems pretty never ending.  It doesn't tend to help that the minute you complete on item on your list, say vacuuming, the kids have a way of adding three more: clean up broken glass on bathroom floor from glass container dropped by 4 y/o, wash floor outside of the bathroom where 2 y/o peed because she couldn't get to the toilet in time due to broken glass, do laundry because 2 y/o was wearing the only dress she will ever consider wearing - you know, the one that twirls really high.

So you have to perfect the art of parental multitasking, and there are definitely some modern devices that can help you.  To calm a fussy baby and get a variety of other things done at the same time, a baby bjorn is a great tool.  A few things I have done while "baby wearing" include: various household cleaning, meal prep (recommend limited oven/stove use), meal consumption, grocery shopping, playing with older children (pushing in swing, pitching for batting practice, etc.), helping older children use the bathroom, using the bathroom myself (by all means, judge away), and low intensity strength training (more to come on that one, and feel free to keep judging).  I've been able to rationalize the, likely excessive, use of the baby bjorn by considering the parental bond that you create with your baby by having them so close to your body.  Plus they are so young that they won't remember it anyway.

I also tend to gravitate toward various tasks that can somewhat easily be left alone for a sizable chunk of time, like laundry.  I do a lot of this "household chore" because I can put a load in the wash and it buys me 45 minutes.  Then I move it over to the dryer and buy myself another 45 minutes.  The trouble can come though after those 90 minutes are up, and the finished product actually needs to be addressed.  I like to say that our laundry spends a lot of time "in transition" at our house - it's been washed but hasn't had a chance to move to the dryer yet; it's dry but hasn't been folded yet; it's folded, or partially folded, but yet to be put away and currently occupies the entirety of our dining room table.  Transitional time of our laundry typically ranges between 1 hour and 1 week.

When you always have to be doing something to make it seem like there is a chance you could possibly be on top of things, you really have to seize every moment.  I've been known to load/empty the dishwasher while eating - I'm a slow eater and figure I could do something else in between bites while I chew excessively.  If I need to keep Gus entertained while I'm doing anything in the kitchen, he often gets put in his high chair with some food in front of him - poor kid eats out of boredom before he can even say the word.  For Isla & Havi, bath-time typically gives me free range of doing anything as long as I am within earshot of the bathroom.  Most of my checking in on the outside world through email, the daily news or social media feed occurs either when I've found a particularly good hiding spot for hide-and-seek or I'm taking care of some personal business - a questionably unhealthy routine I've tried to kick, but old habits die hard.

Figuring out all of the these ways to multitask and efficiently use your time can certainly give you a small sense of accomplishment.  At least temporarily until that sense of accomplishment is replaced by a sizable sense of guilt.  Sure one of the reasons I wanted to be a stay-at-home parent was to try and get more things done around the house, and I'm fortunate that our kids do play pretty well together and pretty well on their own, without always needing my companionship or assistance.  But when that happens, too easily I can find myself getting caught up with the other things that I think need to be addressed.  And after an hour or two go by, I wonder what I've really accomplished, besides folding half of the mountain of laundry that has been sitting in transition for three days.  Even though the kids can't tell time yet, I start to feel like a pretty horseshit parent when I realize I've been repeating, "I'll be there in just a minute" for the last 10-15 minutes.

Of course I've commented on how I feel it is important to allow my kids that independent play, and how I also feel it is important for them to see me doing chores around the house and understand that those things do need to be done.  But the primary reason I wanted to be a stay-at-home parent was to spend more time with my kids, not to try and keep our floors cleaner.  As always, it's finding a balance, and like most things you'll never feel like you are getting that balance quite right.  You'll never feel like you can keep the house as clean as it should be, or the meals as healthy and balanced as you want.  And you'll also feel like your squandering your time with your kids, and wonder why your preschooler isn't doing math at a 5th grade level or your nine-month old isn't "baby-signing" full sentences yet.  After our first was born, I would have one-sided conversations with her on our way to and from daycare while listening to the news on the radio, since I had read about the importance of talking to your child at a young age.  It felt absurd, but I thought I was wasting precious time where I should be fostering her intellectual development.      

Equally absurd has been realizing the bizarre contrast between the things I don't feel I have time to do as a stay-at-home parent and the odd things I do seem to have time to do.  Naturally, I never feel like I can stay on top of keeping the house in order as much as I should.  And because of the futile attempts to keep the house in order, I never feel as though I have enough time to prepare intellectually stimulating activities for the kids - Pinterest worthy craft projects, piano lessons, practice SAT exams, etc.  Essentially gone are the happy hours and adult extracurricular activities.  Finding 45 minutes to mow the lawn even tends to be a stretch.  And given that my last post was a month ago, one of the last things I seem to find time for is writing.  Does anyone know if they've developed thought-to-text software?

While I might not have time for those things, we do seem to have time to make the 2 mile round-trip walk to the grocery store for a small number of non-perishable items (usually takes us at least 2 hours).  If it's a nice day, we can go to the beach/pool/splash pad on a moments notice (or within the hour).  My tan this summer is unreal.  I have time to read and re-read as many children's books as I please, and could spend an entire day watching cartoons if I really wanted to (feel like a horrible parent that is).  Just the other day I marveled at how I spent the better part of the afternoon with Isla playing Legos, one of my favorite activities during my adolescence.  Yeah, it can be a pretty rough gig at times, but you just have to suck it up for the kids.

Similar to deciding if your going to stay home with your kids or not, deciding how you're going to manage/balance your time if you stay home with your kids tends to be one big crapshoot in my opinion, especially if you have multiple.  You'll feel various levels of guilt either way.  It's something I struggle with on almost a daily basis, but I think I'm getting better at understanding that I don't have to be doing 8 things at once to try and feel a sense of accomplishment.  One of my favorite authors wrote about the notion of "Unitasking" - focusing strictly on one thing at a time as a way to be more actively engaged in that particular thing.  It's definitely not easy to do, especially in our fast paced, technology-filled society.  I think it's worth considering though, especially when we are spending time with others, and most especially those we love (presumably are children).  To quote a late 1980s philosopher, "Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it."       

Titles courtesy of Dr. John Hasselberg, one of the best college professors for buzzword Bingo

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Why I'm "Too Good" To My Wife

"I'm only a man in a silly red sheet"

The last book I read was How to be a Husband by Tim Dowling.  It has instantly become one of my newest favorites on the topic of married life and children, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is in a committed relationship, especially one involving offspring.  In the book, the author recounts how he has managed to survive twenty years of marriage (to the same person) while adding three kids along the way.  When my wife saw the title, she commented that she thought I could have written the book.  I pointed out that Dowling himself is quick to note that the title is How to be a Husband, not How to be a Good Husband, and his personal suggestion on how to be a good husband is, essentially, to be the exact opposite of him.

My wife will, with some regularity, make affirmations of that nature to me.  She'll call me endearing things like "Super-Dad" or "Perfect Husband".  She'll say things along the lines of, "You're so good to me/the kids",  or better yet, "You're too good to me."  Usually these comments are made after I've completed some mundane domestic task, like vacuuming or mowing the lawn.  Just the the other day she claimed I spoiled her because I did the laundry and the dishes and made dinner, all while managing to keep the kids alive.  S-P-O-I-L-E-D.  It's a drastic exaggeration, but the positive reinforcement is certainly appreciated despite its factual incorrectness.

My wife isn't the only female to have showered me with seemingly excessive praise.  My Mom, naturally, will say almost anything that she thinks will make me feel good about myself because I am her only son and she loves me dearly.  Her second (probably her first, actually) agenda is that she likely also hopes the compliments will manifest into more opportunities to see her grandchildren.  But even aside from my wife and my Mom, some of my wife's female associates have commended my actions as a husband and father.  One went so far as telling me that I was her "gold standard" of a husband, and anything I did she would not-so-subtlety suggest to her husband that he should also do.

I'll admit, it feels pretty good to be highly regarded in your "profession" and have your ego-stroked on occasion.  But here is the catch, and here is where I think my wife's friend's comment is a little misguided.  I'm "too good" to my wife because that's all I've got.  It's, as Dowling puts it, how I stay relevant in our relationship.  Yes, I'm doing the bulk of the domestic drudgery around the house - cooking, cleaning, carting the kids to various activities, and I'm assuming I probably did more than the average husband before I "retired", as pathetic as that is.  But there is also a whole host of other things that, by being "Super-Dad", I am not doing.  Like contributing to our retirement fund, helping save for college for the kids, or reducing our monthly cell phone bill with an employer discount.  I'm also certainly not providing for the family in the "hunter-gatherer" sense, as I don't hunt and the extent of my gathering is picking a handful of peas or lettuce from my pitiful attempt at a garden.  Hardly enough to sustain anyone in our family for more than a few hours.  I can't even pick up the tab if we ever go out on a date.*

Fortunately for me, I have a spouse who thinks that what I do is enough.  Sometimes even more than enough considering her name-calling and preposterous statements.  She is immensely appreciative of what I do, both for her and for our family, despite how meager it can seem at times.  She doesn't, as Dallas Green says, "ask for no diamond rings, no delicate string of pearls."  And I don't even write her songs.  In fact, I haven't purchased a piece of jewelry for my wife since her engagement ring.  I've still yet to get her a traditional wedding band, which has resulted in her getting asked almost daily at work when the big day is.  It was six and a half years ago.

I know what some of you ladies might be thinking, "I'd much rather have my husband/partner be more helpful around the house and more engaged with our children than buy me expensive things or take me out on lavish dates."  Great.  Have you told him that?  As a good friend who was going through some struggles with his own marriage confided with me, "It seems pretty unrealistic for us to expect anyone else to know how we are feeling if we don't communicate it.  But that is what we seem to do, especially with our spouses.  We just want them to get it without having to tell them."  If you haven't told him (or her) how can you expect them to know how you feel?

Even if you have told him, and numerous times at that, there is a chance you might be sending mixed messages based on your actions.  While us guys might not be that great at communication, we like to think we are pretty good at reading between the lines, which allows us to avoid actually communicating.  Sure, you might tell us one thing, like you don't want anything for your birthday or that your current vehicle works just fine.  But if we see you flipping through the pages of a Tiffany & Co. catalog or mention how great your girlfriend's new luxury SUV is, we're going to get the hint, even if you weren't trying to send one.  Of course we could have a conversation with you about it, and share how we might be feeling confused, but that isn't an easy thing to do.  While we live in a patriarchal society, it has a tendency to best support those who fit the desired mold - breadwinner, emotionless, authoritative.  We don't talk about feelings because the people we looked up to didn't talk about feelings.

During our wedding ceremony, one of the presiding ministers, who also happened to be my wife's uncle, said that "marriage isn't about keeping score".  When you're working through the stressful moments of your marriage, which are typically amplified when you add kids to the mix, it can become easy to feel unappreciated, and even easier to be unappreciative of your spouse.  I am not a "perfect husband" and my marriage to my wife is by no means perfect.  This is statement that I need reminding of almost daily.  When you keep score in a marriage, no one wins.  Note though that if you were to somehow devise an agreeable scoring method and actually keep score, your wife would always win^.

During the ceremony, this same minister (still my wife's uncle) talked about making bread during his message.  He discussed all of the different components that go into bread - flour, salt, baking soda, yeast, various spices, etc.  He even brought these ingredients along and had our groomsmen and bridesmaids add them to a bag, which he made the best man knead.  He talked about how all of the different ingredients were like ingredients to a marriage.  Each person has their unique ingredients that they share, but all of the ingredients are necessary to make the bread turn out or the marriage successful.  But the most important of those ingredients was the yeast, the "active ingredient". Without the yeast, the bread doesn't rise.  Being in a marriage, especially one that has kids, requires an active ingredient from both spouses.  You also need to enjoy and appreciate the bread, and realize that while someone might be able to buy the ingredients, someone still has to do the baking.  If you want to call me "Super-Dad" for baking the bread, go right ahead.  I'll even put on my Superman t-shirt, because it actually is pretty easy to be me.


Subtitle courtesy of John Ondrasik

*Yes, technically you could say that once you get married your financial resources are joined, so my wife's income would essentially be mine as well, but I think you get the point I'm trying to make.  Fortunately, or unfortunately I guess, we have three kids which means we never go out on dates.  On more than one occasion whilst out with my wife's friends or family I have justified purchasing a round of drinks because I was spending "her money".  

^I can say this with the utmost certainty because if you are married male and are reading this, there is pretty solid chance I know you personally.  If I know you personally, that means I also know your wife personally.  Sorry dude, she wins.  Always.  The guys I know are not married to losers.                                                    

Saturday, July 25, 2015

And the Oscar Goes To...

Last week our family attended a free concert put on by the college a few block away from our house - my old place of paid employment.  During the summer, the college's Fine Arts Department hosts four outdoor concerts and we like to go because the girls like the music, and they are free, so it gives us some low investment entertainment.  The last concert of the series happened to be a dueling pianos outfit called Deuces Wild.  Having seen them before and being familiar with the dueling pianos concept, I figured it would be a good show, even if it was a PG rated version and the profanity and drinking would be virtually non-existent.

As is typical at these events, our girls wanted to sit as close to the stage as possible, and because variable weather had moved the event indoors, we found ourselves at the front of the auditorium.  We seemed to land right in the "kids area" (or we started it) and soon found ourselves surrounded by kids ranging from 2-12.  One of the pianists took notice of this and made reference to us being the von Trapp family as he segued into "Do Re Mi" - a hit with the under 5 crowd.  That was followed by the other pianist (it's dueling pianos, so there are two of them, get it?) pointing his "deer shiner" in my face and instructing me to get up on stage.  Whilst on stage I was given the opportunity to channel my best Michael Flatley, and Riverdance along to the Irish ditty they played.  I'll be a little critical and say it wasn't my best performance by any means, but there was a respectable round of applause from the crowd of 700+.  I actually learned today, that my PDD (public display of dancing) was the most embarrassing thing I could do as a dad.  Just another Thursday night with the Bruns Family.    

I never participated in organized dramatic endeavors during my school years.  I was too busy attempting to be cool by pretending I was a jock.  In retrospect this was theatrics in its own right, given my lack of any notable athletic skill.  As a parent these days, and especially as a stay-at-home parent, I seem to be getting my shot on the "big stage", even though there isn't really a physical stage (last Thursday notwithstanding).  At times, my life has the tendency to feel like one big movie, or daytime television series, or even an off-broadway (way off) show.  Usually it tends to be a Rom-Com, but sometimes it's an action-packed thriller (usually when we are late needing to get somewhere), a sci-fi horror flick (typically involving scenes in the bathroom), or even a musical (when I just decide to sing everything I say to my kids).  Of course I'm usually cast in the standard role of dad, but also have had significant experience playing some form of royalty - typically prince.  I've dabbled in other roles too - pirate, butler, unicorn owner, shopping patron #2, etc. - in effort to diversify my character portfolio.  I've even had the opportunity to portray a variety of species from the kingdom Animalia, and not just as a voice-over.      

When I'm "in character", anyone with a basic understanding of acceptable social behavior could arguably say that the way I interact with my kids would medically be defined as "bat-shit crazy".  But the kids don't get it, nor do they care.  If they understand what is going on, they think it's relatively hilarious, and though they can be a pretty tough crowd, they can also be pretty forgiving as long as you make a concerted effort.  They won't be overtly critical if my attempt at a British accent takes on more of an Aussie tone.  There is also no fear of flubbing your lines, as our life is essentially a non-rehearsed Saturday Night Live episode starring your's truly in every skit.  Taking a dramatic approach to the day can add an element of fun variety to the otherwise common drudgery of domestic life.  It can also serve as a strategy to try and stay sane in the throes of chaos.  Let's approach this bedwetting scene in a "good cop gone bad" character type.  I will do damn near anything to get my kids to laugh.

The girls haven't necessarily emulated my thespianism, as they've kept similar levels of drama over the years - absurdly high.  If anything, I'm just trying to keep up with their own theatrical displays.  Gus does some pretty emphatic facial expressions, but we usually chalk that up to gas.  It has been fun to watch the older ones assume different character roles while they are playing, as they've definitely started to understand that there is a level of creativity they need to employ to make those characters work.  I definitely hope that they are drawn to theater and performance as they get older, at least mildly, as I feel the skills you learn are essential tools to being a well adjusted person.  Putting yourself out there, especially on a stage, while terrifying, can also serve as an important life lesson in humility and be a huge boost of confidence.  It seems like it would also be really helpful when you need to "fake it to make it", a strategy I employ almost daily.

I think I've always been somewhat of a natural-born performer.  My mom likes to recount how my first public performance was at the ripe old age of 2, when I sang "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in front of a class of high-schoolers that her friend was substitute teaching (and we wonder why the education system has gotten so bleak).  I've never really been one to shy away from the limelight, especially if it ends in a few laughs, typically at my expense.  I recently read that the typical age at which men stop being embarrassed by their own actions, regardless of their buffoonery, is around 50.  These days, especially with three kids, not much fazes me when I'm out in public.  A few months ago, I actually added "audition for, and get a part in a live theatrical performance" to my list of 40 things to do before I'm 40.  I'm sure they'll turn out in droves if and when that finally happens.

At this point, I can definitely sense that we have some extroverts in our two girls, and I hope that they continue to grow as performers, enjoying the beauty and excitement of creative art.  My hope is that when the light shines on them, they'll have the confidence to assume the role they've been asked to play, even if that light is a "deer shiner".  If, as Shakespeare says, "All the world's a stage, and all men and women are merely players" they best learn how to own that stage.  Sure it will be scary, probably a little embarrassing, and definitely exciting, but that's character building at its best.  And I guess if they want to become famous actors or musicians and want to support their old man in his aging years, that would be alright too.

At times my character requires specific costume.
Other times, more extensive detail is paid to hair...

...and make-up.



Thursday, July 9, 2015

'Cause You Got To Have Friends

In Low Places

I celebrated my 10 year college reunion two weekends ago, which dates me, but also gave me an opportunity to reconnect with some good college friends, some who I hadn't seen in a number of years.  We waxed nostalgic, pretended that we could imbibe like we were 22 again, and paid the price for it once the weekend had concluded.  A good thing they only come around every five years.  I've always seen my four years in college as a pinnacle experience in my life (see earlier post for reference).  It was a time when I really "found" myself, and a big part of that was due to the great friendships I was able to make while in college.  Despite being kid-less for most of the weekend, there was still plenty of "parenting shoptalk" that occurred.  When your kids start to consume your life, they start to be your main points of conversation.  Especially with other parents.

When I came of traditional child-bearing age, one of the reasons/excuses I would sometimes use, both internally and externally, to downplay the thought of having kids was the demons of the modern world.  War, murder, crime, rape, drugs, bullying, high pollen levels.  You name it, it's a pretty nasty place out there.  I figured I would be doing any potential offspring a favor by not exposing them to society's various ills.  I also reflected on my own childhood, the drama of adolescence, and how I would never, personally, want to return to any age under 18 if given the chance.  Even considering how relatively mild the degradation was that I received in my preteen years from my peers, which I'm certain is now amplified with the advances of social media/technology.  I wouldn't wish that torment on anyone, especially my own children.  

One of the things I realized I was excited about after we found out we were expecting; along with having a newborn baby to love and cuddle, create memories with and mold into your own "mini-me", was the opportunity to have our kids get to know our friends, and have our friends be apart of our kids' lives.  This really dawned on me after they threw us an appropriately themed baby shower, replete with fajitas and Coronas (see earlier post for additional insight).  I was excited for my kids to meet my friends, because I thought (think) that my friends were (are) pretty f@#%ing awesome.  And to look at the things that they've accomplished, especially in the last 10 years, it's inspiring and humbling to associate with them.  They've started successful (and cool) businesses, held senior level positions at huge companies, worked internationally and traveled a ton, become decorated military veterans, volunteered in the Peace Corps, served in Teach for America, and gone to prestigious law/grad/med schools.  Beyond all those accomplishments, they've continued to be genuine, down-to-earth people who are great to be around and always up for adventure.  To quote one of them, a respected lawyer, they "bring something to the table."     

David Brooks, one of my favorite authors, suggests in his book, The Social Animal, that emotional ties and social interaction are essential for forming a decent life.  As the title connotes, we look to develop friendships and relationships and those connections have a huge impact on our happiness.  Or as the PBS Project, This Emotional Life more pointedly states, "we need close relationships to be happy."  When it comes to raising a family, I agree with the African proverb (and Former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton) that "it takes a village to raise a child."  I feel fortunate that the people who make up "our village" are all loving, caring, and positive people.  Their presence in the world makes it a better place for those of us fortunate enough to know them.

I'm excited for our kids to get to know our friends for two main reasons, both selfish, one more narcissistic.  The first being that I want my friends to have an influence on my kids life, because as previously mentioned, they're f@#%ing awesome.  We're blessed to have tons of incredible mentors for our kids as they grow up, and a vast majority of these individuals are those we'd call friends.  I hope that our kids will see the success of those people around us as another prime example of what they can accomplish with their life, all while being humble and genuine.  We're also very fortunate that our close friends see their relationship with our children as an extension of their friendship with us.  Even the ones who don't have kids or a spouse, or haven't even given either of those concepts much of a passing thought, are eager to engage our kids whenever they are around, seeing their happiness as our happiness.  If my kids grow up to be like any of them, I will be extremely proud.  Even if they occasionally engage in some questionable behavior during their college years.

The second reason I'm excited for my kids to get to know our friends, is that their f@#%ing awesomeness can be an augmentation to our own f@#%ing awesomeness.  This will probably be more beneficial as the kids get older, and Jess and I (most certainly me) transition from the "coolest people in the world" to our kids, to the "lamest people on earth".  As the kids age, and develop an opinion on what they think constitutes "awesomeness" and have decided that their parents (especially their dad) are definitely not awesome, we can point to our friends and say; "Look at our friends that are awesome and have done all of these cool things!  Because their friendship is reciprocal, and they think we are cool, despite your own insistence that we suck, we must be awesome like our friends."  It's conditional probability.  Basic math, really.

Okay, maybe that is a more self-serving reason, and harder for a kid to understand, but it's definitely nice to have that validation, even if it isn't really needed.  If having meaningful relationships and connections is a surefire way to increase your happiness, having those relationships with people you think are awesome is likely a good way to go.  And hopefully that is the case.  Hopefully the people that make up your "village" are people you'd be excited to have in your kids' lives.  Both because they are/will be great role models for your kids and hopefully you can brag about them and their accomplishments to your kids when they reach their anti-adult stage.  It has also encouraged me to try and be that person for my friend's kids.  To be someone my friends would want their kids to look up to, or at least hang around occasionally.  "Oh, that's just Crazy Uncle Jon.  Don't worry, he's not really your uncle."

So, of course we need to thank our friends - you know who you are - for being (you get the idea) awesome.  Thank you for being a part of our lives, and more importantly our children's lives.  Thank you for supporting us as we have embarked upon our familial journey, as crazy as it has been.  Thanks for liking at least a few of the excessive number of photos of our kids that we post on Facebook.  Thanks for being a listening ear when we talk about our children's bowel movements.  Thanks for realizing and understanding that we can't always make happy hour, or dinner, or a movie, or most anything else for that matter, because we have three little humans that depend on us pretty much non-stop.  But thanks for inviting us anyway.  We'll hopefully be able to make someday.  Maybe in like 18 years.                 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Cover 3

I Said Everybody One, Everybody Two....

We love our sports metaphors, and when it comes to modern parenting it's no different.  One of the frequent comments I received when people found out we would be having our third child was that we'd be going to a "zone defense" instead of "man-to-man coverage".   There is a standard football defensive strategy referred to as the Cover 3.  The general premise (yes, I had to look it up since I've relatively football illiterate), is to utilize three defensive backs to provide the good balance of run & pass defenders, attempting to avert the big play downfield.   

While my defensive strategy looks nothing like the Cover 3 (if run correctly), I have taken to utilizing the term when describing my approach to surviving the day with my three kids.  The caveat is that instead of having three defenders to cover the receivers (the kids), the two cornerbacks have tripped over their own shoelaces at the line of scrimmage, and I am the free safety solely responsible for stopping the big play, or in my world, preventing injury that requires immediate medical attention.  And it's not even like I'm a good free safety like Ed Reed.  I'm probably more along the lines of Bacarri Rambo.  Who, you ask?  Exactly.  

As we were approaching Havi's first birthday, our second, and youngest at the time, I made the comment to my wife that I was very content with two kids.  While we by no means had things under control, they seemed at least manageable.  I objectively observed that having a third would likely necessitate us getting a larger vehicle and making some bedroom adjustments.  I also felt no burning need to have male offspring that could carry on the family name.  Yes, I was perfectly fine with our family of four.  Jess responded that she didn't quite feel done, but wasn't ready to add a third yet.  Maybe when Isla was in kindergarten.  The best laid plans, I guess (pun intended).

After we found out we were expecting again, I tried to think of the number of couples I knew who were within a few years of my wife and I who also had three kids.  It wasn't many, and I think I can count on one hand the number of couples who have them spaced out as congruently as we do - every two years.  Most rational ones seemed to follow my wife's thought of getting one or even two into school before adding anymore.  The national average still hovers around 2.6 kids per family.  There was actually an ever so slight uptick in that stat after the 2010 census, which was preceded by a solid 50 year decline in the family size.  Of course we've always tried to be just above average, especially since we live in Lake Wobegon.    

It is a little crazy to think that having three kids has become the new "big family", and that making the jump from two to three seems, well, crazy.  Don't get me wrong, it's absurdly crazy.  But consider that a generation ago, a three kid family would seem relatively small.  Both my Mom and Mother-in-Law came from families that were probably "medium-sized" for the mid-20th century - 6 & 8 kids respectively.  My Dad, being the youngest of four kids, had a small family by the norms of the day.  My Father-In-Law was even more of an anomaly, having only an older sister.  But these days, going from two to three is portrayed as rocket-launching yourself off of the sane planet.  This Huffington Post article gives a good and humorous synopsis.

With three under the age of five, there are definitely a few new-found realities in our day-to-day operations.  No longer can I attempt to control the direction of what unfolds during our day.  Inevitably we will have at least one child crying in our house at all times.  Sometimes two, and occasionally it will be a trio of tears.  Luckily(?) it seems like after the third, the volume gets turned down a few notches (or my hearing has started to go from all of the crying and screaming).  Unfortunately, despite homo sapiens being the "masters of evolution", as you add offspring to your fold, you do not grow any additional helpful appendages or eyes in the back of your head (despite what you tell your children).  As another father of three fittingly stated, it's pure triage.        

Fortunately our oldest two play pretty well together, until they don't, which is when they bicker like teenagers (a sign of things to come I've sure).  This definitely helps out when Gus needs some undivided attention, like most babies do from time to time, for feedings and bio-hazard clean-ups following diaper blow-outs that go up to the back of the neck.  Sometimes Isla and Havi will want to assist, and I should commend them for wanting to be helpful but usually it creates additional work for you.  "No, you cannot try some of the bottle, only your brother gets the liquid gold.  You two have to drink the watered skim milk, which I've watered down more so it will go further."  "Please step away from your brother's fecal matter.  Please, do not touch that.  Okay, go wash your hands."

They don't always want to help though, and would rather be doing something else.  Plus there are always occasions when you need a small amount of time to take care of your own business matters, which you may or may not get the privacy you desire for such activity.  This has forced me to understand that I can't always keep tabs on everything my kids are doing, at least within my own house, especially with the two that are mobile and familiar with the floor plan.  I can only assume that they're playing nicely together (when I don't hear screams and sobs) with age appropriate toys and activities.  But for all I know they could be performing minor surgical operations on each other, doing illicit drugs, or reading anarchist zines.

Timing also becomes vitally important and something you lack a significant amount of control over.  When you have kids, multi-tasking becomes second nature (more on that later), and you learn how to take advantage of every seemingly free second you have.  With three kids on pretty different schedules, to survive I essentially always have to be doing something, usually two things, all the time.  I brush my teeth at the most bizarre times.  I ridiculously attempt to work in my "APA recommended amount of daily physical activity" during lulls in the action (more on that later too).  And it never fails that once I sit down to give Gus a bottle, Havi will decide that she has to use the potty and need assistance.  It is amazing how you can learn to transition somewhat seamlessly from wiping a butt to making a bottle, or changing an exploded-out-of diaper to fixing lunch - washing your hands in between of course (usually).

Sometimes timing can work in your favor, if all of the Gods of every religion happen to feel like giving you a break for a few minutes, and you can miraculously get three kids all sleeping at the same time (like I actually had for about 15 minutes earlier today).  When that happens you must either take a nap yourself, even if it is just for 3 minutes, or mix yourself a very stiff cocktail.  It's almost better than winning the lottery, and I was actually fortunate to experience this during one of the first few weeks after my wife went back to work.  I was brought back to earth when I found out how quickly the dynamic can change for a tranquil house of three sleeping children to a house of pure chaos.  It's a relatively entertaining story (to me at least), and I think it somewhat aptly portrays the variable nature of being at home with three young kids.

We had just gotten back from picking up Isla at preschool, and Gus was overseeing my lunch prep while the girls were playing in the other room.  They were playing fine, when Isla decided to go upstairs to the room she shares with Havi.  As I was dishing up some lunch for Havi, I got a call from an old work colleague wondering if he could stop by.  Having not heard anything from Isla for about 15 minutes, I went to let her know that lunch was ready, only to find her fast asleep in bed.  When I got back downstairs, Havi had finished most of her lunch, and informs me that she wants to go lay down with Isla too (they share a bed).  I moved Gus from the bumbo chair on the island (since it directly says on it to never use on an elevated surface) to the portable crib we have set-up in the dining room.  When I get back downstairs after putting Havi down (and miraculously not waking up Isla), Gus is also passed out and just like that I have three sleeping children.  My buddy arrives, scoffs at how easy I have it, and we proceed to have a leisurely two hour lunch (cocktails excluded this time).

His departure times the plot twist.  The girls are in desperate need of finger and toenail attention, so to bribe them, I promised nail painting after clipping.  After their dad provided mani-pedis, I attempt to clip Gus fingernails too, which also need attention.  I start on an index finger, and after making my first snip, he gives me the 2 second delayed blood-curdling wail that usually happens after shots at the doctors office.  I look down to see that I've cut a small part (at least I think it's a small part) of the skin on the tip of his finger.  There is blood, so I grab some tissue and apply pressure, figuring it will stop quickly.

It doesn't stop quickly.  It actually doesn't want to stop at all.  I go for the band-aids, and put one on.  It doesn't stay and it's not holding the blood in, which seems to be coming out at the rate of your average Red Cross blood donation.  I double it up - one around the finger and one over the top.  This seems to help, but naturally he now wants to put his hand in his mouth and suck on that particular finger.  This causes the band-aids to come off, and for a very long 10 seconds, I swear they are in his mouth ready to be swallowed and subsequently choked on.  Luckily the band-aids are located (not in his mouth), but at this point he has blood on his face and outfit, looking much like an extra in a Quentin Tarantino film.  After a few more failed attempts with applying pressure, I finally get some band-aids to stay and promptly put a sock over his hand to keep him from gnawing on his wound.  As he yawns and rubs his eyes, I observe the amount of blood stains covering his blanket and burp rag and hoping he's just ready for an actual nap, and not passing out from the loss of blood.

Of course the older two do little to help me during my frantic crisis management.  They spend most of the time cashing in on my nonobservance by jumping on the couch(es) and requesting assistance with the potty at the most inopportune times, allowing you to momentarily ponder what is worse, a kid bleeding on themselves or peeing in their pants.  They will relay my nail cutting debacle to my wife when she gets home from work (after they show off the rainbow of colors painted on their own nails), and I will be temporarily banned from cutting Gus' fingernails for the next year.  That's alright with me though, we all have our strengths and weaknesses I guess (more to come on that later).

So it's an adventure here at the Bruns' household with our #partyoffive*, and it's actually given me an idea for a new business venture.  An experiential 24-hour workshop to help prevent teen pregnancy.  For a nominal fee, parents can send their pubescent teenage son to spend a day and night with me and my kids.  Highlights to include multiple overnight wake-ups to calm crying children, changing dirty diapers and assisting with toilet usage, driving the minivan while bringing kids out in public, making and negotiating the consumption of healthy meals and snacks, and reading approximately 300 bedtime stories.  It's guaranteed to scare them abstinent until they're at least 25, so let me know if you're interested.      

*Used without permission from Troy Applen.  It was too good to pass up.