Sunday, July 20, 2008
I suppose that it's normal for children to have rivalries with their siblings. In that regard, my two older girls are just like everyone else. My oldest, who turned 9 in April, seems to have chosen pestering my next oldest, who turns 7 in August, as her true calling in life. It's always interesting to see the way that they can be buddies one minute, and at each other's proverbial throat the next.
I looked at their report cards. As usual and expected, my oldest received good marks. As usual and expected, my second girl got stellar marks, along with copious teacher notes about what a pleasure it is to teach her, how far ahead of her class she is, we should consider eventually putting her ahead a grade, etc.
Children are individuals, and find a way to define themselves. In many families, one child is the athlete, one is the dancer, one is the A+ student, etc. But what if one kid decides to steal all the titles?
For my two younger children, this is not yet an issue. My son, at 2 years old, is too young to know the difference. He basically has down the concept that he and Daddy are the "boys", and Momy and his sisters are the "girls", and that because of that only he is allowed in the bathroom when Daddy is taking a shower. Beyond that, he has no clue.
My third daughter, at 5, is just about to enter Kindergarten in the fall, so she doesn't have a full grasp of interpersonal rivalry yet, either.
My second daughter has a wealth of gifts. Already mentioned is her intelligence. She is very proud of the fact that she can read "chapter" books. She is also a very talented athlete. She loves to run. Just over a year ago, at the end of her Kindergarten year (she just finished first grade a few weeks ago), her school had a fundraiser where the kids got their family to pledge money for them to run laps around the track at a local college, $x per lap. She ran farther than any other child in her school, except for a single sixth grader. For fun, and special one-on-one time, she wants me to take her down to the track and time her while she runs laps. And all three girls go to dancing school, and my second daughter is the most talented of them.
I don't worry so much about my third daughter. She is beginning to show some of her older sister's academic talent, she is the second best dancer (and has enough enthusiasm for it to close the gap somewhat), and has a personal flair for the dramatic that sets her apart. She won't have trouble making a name for herself. But my two oldest, because they bicker, I worry about them more...
I want my oldest girl to know that I love her, and that I am so proud of her, just who she is. But then I worry that I feel like I am overcompensating, and perhaps not paying enough attention to my second girl, and maybe she does so well at everything because she feels driven to try hard at everything to get my attention over her older sister. Then I worry that I am overcompensating in the other direction, and by making sure to praise and recognize my second girl my oldest will feel that I am neglecting her in favor of the one who seems to be good at everything. And of course, then I worry that I am paying too much attention to the oldest two, at the expense of the younger ones.
It's not always easy. I do the best I can to let them all know that I love them, and I am proud of all of them, and of all of their accomplishments.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Last week, around Wednesday or Thursday, my wife approached me with an idea. She wanted to enforce a new policy, and needed me to back her up: no computer or TV on Saturdays from now on.
I was raised in a very "liberal" Jewish household. My parents' idea of fully participating in the Jewish religion has always been going to the synagogue twice per year (on the High Holidays in September), lighting candles and eating potatoe pancakes on Hanukah, and eating matzo and matzo-ball-soup on Passover. My wife didn't grow up Jewish at all. She was born into a Catholic family, dropped out of catechism and refused confirmation, and then started her own little 20 year spiritual self exploration.
For the first years of our marriage, I never pushed religion on her. I never asked her to convert to Judaism. I loved her just the way she was. Then, about a year ago, I changed my tune for two reasons: us, and the kids.
I overheard a conversation that started me thinking. A co-worker was discussing the fact that she had gone out and bought cecmetary plots for herself and her spouse so that they could be buried together. I thought about my own future mortality, and the cemetary where my great-grandparents and my grandparents are buried. Someday, (hopefully not for a long time), my parents will be buried there, too. I want to be there someday, so that my children and grandchildren can visit all of us and see for themselves their history in our community. I realized that, unless things changed, my wife and I would have to be buried seperately. Our love is like that of Tristan and Isolde. I could not bear the thought of spending eternity with her anywhere other than by my side.
Second, my children have a profoundly Jewish identity. They are very spiritual and are always asking about the nature of G-d and the universe. They want to celebrate Jewish holidays to the fullest, and to make Jewish ritual a part of their everyday lives.
So, my wife and have started making religion a more overt part of our family's existence. And, with the help of our local rabbi, she has contacted a rabbi at the Bet Din (the rabbinical court in Boston) to undergo an Orthodox Jewish conversion.
My wife is a very smart woman, and an absolutely voracious reader. It is not at all uncommon for her to devour 10 or more books in a week. This religious activity has now provided her with an entirely new course of study, and she is reading and learning all that she can, from a wide variety of authors.
A large part of traditional Jewish practice is the observance of the Sabbath. The Sabbath, or "Shabbat" in Hebrew, is held to be more than just sacred. As the day on which G-d rested after creating the Heavens and the Earth and all that is within them, it is incumbent upon people to do the same. Orthodox Jews won't even ride in a car or answer the telephone. They have a big celebratory dinner on Friday night at Sundown, with blessings over wine and fresh bread, and on Saturday they have a day that is devoted to prayer, study, and time spent together as a family.
I have long held that social and religious practices are like a technology in that they perform a function, and that they persist over time because they "work". In recognition of that, we began having the Friday night dinners over a year ago, and it has been wonderful so far. It makes for a great ending to the week, a night to relax together as a family and reflect together upon the week just past. We often invite over friends and family, my wife has learned to bake the best home made fresh bread in North America - definitely two thumbs up all around.
So now she wanted to take the next step, and make Saturday an exclusive rest-and-family only day. In addition numerous small adjustments, that means two big changes: no computer and no television.
I had honestly thought of this before, but decided not to say anything. After all, she is the one who is going through the trouble of converting. The last thing she needs on top of that is me pushing her too fast and telling her what to do.
Last Saturday was the big day, and it was fabulous. There were no arguments over who's turn it was on the computer, or what show we were going to watch. There was far less squabling in general. Instead, we spent the morning at home together, then walked down to the park. We played games, told stories, and just plain-vanilla spent time together apart from the bustle of the everyday world. No phone calls, no email, no tv news. Just he six of us, and the sunshine, and a little ice cream for a special treat.
Even the kids seemed to like it better. Not only did they fight less (actually a lot less - there were hardly any arguments at all), but they also all got a more full share of my wife's and my attention.
My wife actually woke up Sunday morning and felt like it was Monday, because she never feels that rested after only one weekend day.
We are definitely going to make this or new way to spend every Saturday. Or, excuse me, every Shabbat.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
I spent three day alone, and man is it different. I guess it has been so long that I really didn't remember what it was like to be by myself.
Starting with Sunday night... I have mentioned before that the computer is a big deal in our household. Well, on Sunday after I dropped my wife off with her cousin (they rode up together), I basically spent the rest of the afternoon and evening on the computer. I went web-surfing, I played video games, I downloaded a new video game off of a website. Nobody told me that I couldn't, nobody needed my attention, and nobody needed a turn.
I went to bed late, and woke up early on Monday morning. And when I woke up, it was like someone had flicked on a switch in my head. I was up. Even though I technically hadn't slept as long as usual - maybe more accurate to say would be that I hadn't spent as much time trying to sleep as usual. Nobody kicked me, or bumped me, or tried to climb in with me because they had a bad dream. I just fell asleep, and slept straight through.
And if I had such a great afternoon, evening, and night, then why did I start to think of my wife and wonder where she was as early as 3:18 Sunday afternoon?
Life has thrown me an interesting curve ball. I had the chance to spend my time doing anything I wanted, and what I ended up wanting is to sit down at the dinner table with my wife and kids.
Before I had kids, an old friend told me that I may have thought that I knew what love it, but I did not. He said that I would love my children more than I thought possible. It would be an entirely new experience. He did't mean anything by it. He said it just as a way of explaining something to me that I had never experienced before. I believed him, I had not reason to doubt him, and fair enough - I never knew how right he was until I had children of my own.
I am a big proponent of individual choice, and leaving people free to make their own decisions about their own lives. And I never give advice. Pretty much every bad decision I have ever made, in both my personal and professional life, has been the result of someone who loved me, and cared for me, and wanted the best for me doing their very best to give me the best thought out advice that they could to to help me be happy and successful, and then me following it. So I am definitely not one of those people who says that people in their 30's and 40's who have been married and never had children are somehow being "selfish". But I can say the my life would be incomplete without my family.
And there was no way for me to know that until I got married, and had children.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
On Saturday afternoon we all traveled up to my wife's aunt's house in New Hampshire for a party. My wife's cousin just graduated from high school, and her Mom threw an enormous party for her. There was food and drink, a few sports games played, and finally fireworks and a bonfire. Quite a time.
And a quick aside - the family softball game was a heck of a lot of fun. It started out as a serious game, but then the kids wanted to get involved, and the adults began making multiple intentional comical and ridiculous errors to ensure that every kid at least got on base. My five year old hit a home run every time just by making contact with the ball and, having never really played before, she just kept running. The adults didn't want to tag her out, so they just kept dropping the ball, throwing it to the wrong player, missing the tag, etc. And she just kept running, sometimes tagging the base and sometimes not.
Also, when the graduation girl came up to bat, and I was pitching, I intentionally beaned her with the ball. It took her brother several minutes to stop laughing long enough to give me a high-five.
We didn't leave until very late, and the kids were so keyed up after everything that even then they didn't really fall asleep on the ride home.
The next day, Sunday, they were able to sleep in a little late, but then we had another party to go to, at the home of a current friend and former co-worker of mine. It had threatened to thunderstorm all afternoon, so he decided to cook indoors. He has an enormous, wall sized television as the central asset to his home theater, and for indoor entertainment we had a showing of the Jungle Book, followed by a rousing game of Monopoly.
It was quite a weekend, and Monday we paid the price.
Most kids, when they get too much activity and not enough sleep, are miserable. Mine are no exception. They all took up temper tantrums as a hobby, and getting into fights with each other as a profession.
But the queen was my five year old.
She was in the car seat behind my wife. She was throwing a knock down, drag out temper tantrum, and kicking her feet, when she accidentally took it too far. My wife, in her infinite benevolence, was trying to comfort her so she could calm down by reaching back and asking her to hold her hand. My daughter, eyes closed and kicking, ended up kicking the back of my wife's headrest, and only missed her head by and inch.
Life, like football, is a game of inches, and today my daughter is alive because of that inch. If she had actually connected with my wife's head, I would have killed her.
In the immortal words of Bill Cosby, "I brought you into this world, I'll take you out. And it don't make no difference to me, I'll make another one, look just like you."
I have never spanked any of my children, but it's not because I don't believe in it. It's just that none of the kids has ever done anything in my presence that has warranted it. My wife says that she does not believe in spanking, and that there are always better options. But more than once, she has been pushed to the edge of her tolerance and swatted someone on the behind. Not me. I always say that if you give me a good enough reason to unleash the "Ultimate Punishment", then it will arrive for you swiftly and surely, unencumbered by either hesitation or guilt. Perhaps because of this, they have yet to push the issue all the way.
But my daughter came awfully close. Within one inch, to be exact.
As it was, I pulled over the van, yanked her out, and sat her down on the curb for 15 minutes while my wife and I sorted it out and decided her fate.
Computer time is a big deal in our house. It is carefully measured and monitored, everyone has to take turns, only so much time is available. Therefore, having computer time taken away is a big deal, too. To have to quietly sit in the living room, only a few feet away from the precious computer, while some undeserving sibling is enjoying what should be your computer time, watching them as the revel in it; I'm sure that small some part of the children would almost rather get spanked than have to give up computer time.
I advocated for three full days of no computer. My wife (again with the benevolence...) vetoed anything over one full day. She said that the way I immediately pulled her out and sat her down certainly got her attention, and that a full day with no computer would make her remember.
Was I advocating too harsh a punishment? Did my wife end up being too lenient? My daughter is only five. It's difficult to find the path to follow, to strike the balance.
As it is, we have had a few exciting days here. First comes the party, then comes the hangover.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Last Wednesday night I tried going out for a walk at the park, adn that worked well enough. So last night, Monday, I actually went back to the gym. I got in 4 miles on the treadmill, followed by a couple of hard rounds hitting the punching bag, and I felt good. For a change.
This brings me around, interestingly enough, to my real topic - marital conflict.
Every married couple has to fight about something. I think it's actually in the rulebook. It's not the same thing with every couple, but everyone has something. If you don't, either your spouse is actually a paid employee who puts up with you for the money, or one of you is the reincarnation of Mahatma Ghandi. For my wife and I, it's my desire to exercise. Or, perhaps more precisely, my desire to train.
And there is a difference.
On just about every other aspect of our lives, we use one of three models that pretty much works everything out for the best: compromise, delegation, or assumption of responsibility.
Compromise is easy to explain. On some things, we work it out and come to an agreement. Disciplining the kids. Meals. Extra curricular activities. Do we or don't we ride up to Canobie Lake Park this weekend.
Delegation is easy to explain, too. For some things, one of us is just better at it that the other, or cares more, or has more time to do it. I already wrote about how much better my wife is at monitoring the kids' health and wellness. On my side, I have an economics and mathematics background, so she told me that she would feel better if I handled our finances and investments.
And as far as Assumption of Responsibility goes, we have a rule in our house that has solved many an argument before it started: if you don't like the way I do it, feel free to do it yourself. Earlier tonight I was putting my 5 year old daughter to bed and telling her one of my famous "Blue Monkey" stories. These are loud, raucus tales involving a nerdy college student who spontaneously turns into a giant blue monkey in conditions of stress, and then proceeds to do all kinds of bizarre, socially unacceptable, and sometimes disgusting things. They are very entertaining to a 5 year old. My wife doesn't think they are the best thing before bed - they might get the kids too riled up. Maybe she's right, but she never says anything. If she asks me to put the kids to bed, she knows there will often be a "blue Monkey" story. If she doesn't want the story, then she puts them to bed herself. On my side, my wife doesn't always do things around the house the way I would do them, but I'll be darned if I am going to say anything about it. She has a lot to do, and if I don't like it, I am welcome to go do some of it myself - any time I want.
I love going to the gym and training hard. Before I got married, I used to run about 30 miles per week, plus martial arts, boxing, swimming, and weight lifting. I took enormous pride in what I could do physically - how strong I was, how fast I could run, how far I could run; how tough I was, both mentally and physically. Then I got married and, more importantly, had kids. Especially my five year old. I know you have heard of sympathy weight. Well, when my wife got pregnant, something flicked a switch in my head. After work, instead of going to the gym, I wanted to come home and cuddle with my wife, rub her tummy, and go out for ice cream.
And that's the insideous part. I wanted to do it. I was happy skipping my workouts and coming home.
I don't even like ice cream!
The diet and exercise industry in the US is a multi-billion-dollar a year industry. I can sum up the entire combined wisdom and efforts of this entire industry in on equation. Ready?
"Eat Less" + "Do More" = "Lose Weight"
See? Very simple. My problem was that this equation has an equal and opposite equation.
"Eat More" + "Do Less" = "Gain Weight"
I was eating all the regular meals I had always eaten, plus taking her out for ice cream sundaes all the time, and I went from about 1500 calories per day of caloric expenditure from exercise on average to 0. In the 9 months she was pregnant, I put on 90 pounds and 14 inches on my waist.
I'm not as heavy as that now, but I'm still fat. My wife just doesn't understand why I want to get back into "fighting" shape. She was never a big exerciser. The only reason she can rationally understand for why a person might want to run is if they were in a building that was on fire. She loves me just the way that I am, she just doesn't understand why I am unhappy. In a sense, she is right. It's one thing to just want to be healthier, it's quite another to want to be able to run a marathon - or step into the ring and fight for 6 rounds.
It's because of who I am. It's not that physical things came hard for me, but it's that anything intellectual was always so easy for me by comparison. I could give a 50% effort in school, and still be #1 - so I never valued my accomplishments there. I never took pride in them. But in sports, my talents were only a little better than average, so if I wanted to excel I had devote myself with a passion. When I boxed and kickboxed, I often fought somebody who was naturally stronger, faster, or more agile than I was. The only way that I could win was by trying harder, preparing better, working harder on technique, and having better conditioning. When I won, it meant something to me. I was proud of myself, and what I had accomplished.
Today, it's sad to say, I really lack any pride in myself, because when it comes to my physical self now, I am really very average. Mediocrity isn't cause for pride, it's cause for shame or embarrassment. It's very difficult to do anything about, because training takes time - time to run 8 miles instead of just 2, time to hit the puching bag, and the speed bag, and to spar, and jump rope, and lift weights. Time to do it 4 or 5 days per week, not 1 or 2. Time away from my wife and kids who love me, and need me, and have the right to have me around. And my wife just can't understand why I'm not that guy who was content to sit on the couch and eat ice cream with her while she was pregnant, any more than she can flap her arms and fly.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
What can I say? It was one HECK of a day. I started off with an old stand by - I took my son to the Home Depot. That is ALWAYS a thrill.
After that, my wife and I and all four kids met my parents at a local restaurant.
Have you ever seen National Lampoon's: Christmas Vacation?
EVERYTHING went wrong. The poor waiter was brand new, and really didn't know what the heck he was doing. It was still early enough on a Sunday that the after-church crowd was still around, and it was very busy. He had nobody to help him, and he mixed EVERYTHING up. My father and I couldn't stop laughing. He mixed up the drinks. Then he spilled one on the birthday cards the girls had spent all morning making for me. He brought us the wrong appetizers. Then he forgot to bring one of my daughters' meals entirely. Finally, when it was time for ice cream, he brought it for the adults and forgot all of the kids. It was a disaster.
But what can you do? He was just a kid himself, he was obviously very new, and he was overwhelmed. My Dad and I just kept laughing at everything, and tried to get him to laugh along with us.
Afterwards, my wife and I took the kids to the park and, wouldn't you know it, the water pump in my van cracked open like an egg JUST as I was pulling into my parking space. It drained all of the coolant out of my radiator, all over the parking lot. By this time, I just couldn't stop laughing.
We had a WONDERFUL time at the park. We visited war memorial and walked along all of the trails there, then went up the hill to the petting zoo (the worker there was nice enough to fill up a water jug for me to pour into my radiator, just so I could get the van home safely) and pet the goats/sheep/horses/etc. The peacocks were putting on a show for the females, and all the kids were amazed by their beautiful plumage. And they had two new pigs in the pigpen. Pigs are ALWAYS a big hit with the kids, because they are totally gross and disgusting.
(Brief Aside: I had alway been told that it was a myth that pigs were dirty animals. For anyone who hasn't been to the zoo in a while, you may be surprised to find that THAT'S the myth. Pigs are actually unspeakably dirty. They revel in projectile defecation.)
Perpective counts. If you get wrapped up in the ups and downs of daily existence, it can certainly wear on you. But both of my parents are still alive, thank G-d. Not everyone my age gets to say that. I have a beautiful and wonderful wife, and we both love each other very much. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to say that, either. And I have four smart, healthy, well-adjusted kids. And I got to spend my birthday with all of them. I am a VERY lucky guy, and I REALLY enjoyed my birthday.
(Special thanks to one of my wife's dearest friends; she invited everyone over and threw a birthday dinner-party for me later that night. The London Broil was perfect).
Happy Birthday to Me!
Thursday, May 29, 2008
My third daughter was very attached to her mother for the first two years of her life, and during that time she really didn't care for me at all. For some reason, we had a hard time connecting. She always wanted to be like Mommy, and be with Mommy. We didn't have any activities that we really shared. There was just not a lot there, and I wasn't happy about it.
I wasn't prepared to let the situation be. I wanted to find something that we could do together. I had read a book years ago that included a suggested list of things for Daddys to do with their kids. One idea that stuck out in my mind was "wrestling". My two older girls had never seemed to have any interest in that kind of play, but I figures that I would give it a try.
I started hesitatingly at first. She was so little (just 24 months), and I am such a big man, I didn't want to accidentally hurt her. And, in all honesty, it was a little wierd because we had such a distanced relationship before. But we both took to it like ducks in water. She was tough, and spirited, and refused to back down. And she was so smart, she already had such a vocabulary. She would take on a "tough guy" pose and scream out movie quotes as a challenge.
"You want a piece of me?"
"Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya?"
We would swing at each other with pillows, then she would put on her "War Face" (another movie quote) and charge at me, and I would let her push me over and jump on my back.
Every night before bed, she got some special time with Daddy to play a game that she dubbed "Fight on the Bed". And from then on, we had as close a relationship as any father and daughter I have ever met. As the years have passed, the other kids have joined in as well, especially my son. In fact with him the game could really be called "Fight the Daddy, Wherever He May Happen to Be Right Now." But it is still special when I play with my third daughter, now 5 years old. It was the spark that lit our very special relationship, and for that I will be grateful every single day for the rest of my life.
I have three older girls, and I love them all very much. Before I had my son, wasn't sure that I ever wanted a boy. Strangers on the street would see me, the three girls, and my pregnant wife, and say "Oh! Trying for a boy?" I would say "Yes!" but think "not necessarily..."
I was within my comfort zone with girls. I knew how to fix a Barbie, I knew how to dress a squirming little girl in a leotard, and I knew how to judge a shoe-modeling-contest (that's where they all take turns walking past me in my wife's shoes, and I tell them how great they all look and how well their shoe choices match what they're wearing).
I know, I know - very stereotypical. I can't explain it, but it's what they all like. Believe me, before I had my son, I tried desperately to get them interested in learning how to box, or play sports, or do household construction and repair projects, so it would be something we could do together. No dice. The closest I came was getting my third daughter to wrestle and pillow-fight on my wife's and my bed.
I was especially afraid of the prospect of giving a little boy a bath. When my son was born, I had already been a father of girls for 8 years. I had literally changed thousands of girl diapers, and given thousands of girl baths.
365 days per year x 1 bath every other day or two x three girls = about 400 to 500 baths per year, and my wife always prefers that I am the one to do it.
But I had only changed one or two boy diapers in all of that time, and I had never given a boy a bath. I was afraid that I would feel like some kind of pervert.
It's not that I did't want a boy, it's that I didn't want a boy. If I had a boy, that would be fantastic. If I ended up with 12 kids, all daughters - that would be fantastic, too.
Now that I have a boy, I realize how wrong I was, not because they are somehow better, but because they are so darned different. And If I had never had one, I wouldn't have ever known that.
First of all, I used to hear parents talk about child proofing their homes. I thought they were overdoing it. None of my girls ever even considered doing anything crazy, dangerous, or destructive. Sure, we put the little plastic plugs into all of the sockets, but the girls just ignored them. Eventually we found them to be a waste of time, along with all of the other standard "child proofing".
My son, the "Dangerous Lunatic", on the other hand will not hesitate to kill himself, and take you with him if he has to. We can't even keep chairs and a table in the same room unattended, because before he could walk he would use the chairs to climb up onto the table, and then jump off. And now that he can walk, it's only that much harder to deal with.
Yet he never hurts himself. My daughters have all had stiches, casts, etc. Not him, because he never falls accidentally. Before he jumps off the table, he thinks to himself "I know what would be fun - jumping off the table and into that full laundry basket." Almost every day he gets some minor injury, like a bump on the head, but never anything more than that. I'm impressed.
He is fascinated by tools, and especially by me when I am using them for something. He wants so badly to help, and I do my best to encourage him, but when I say "Come here and help Daddy, hold this with Daddy," he gets a look on his face like he isn't worthy of it, like he's honestly embarrassed at being allowed to touch a big-boy hammer with his own hands. If I can get my wife to sit with him while he holds a hammer or something, while I do something with another tool, it's like watching someone hold a sacred relic. He really can't believe that he has been entrusted, even temporarily, with something so magnificent. And he really likes it when I take him with me to the Home Depot...
He loves trash day. He hears that "Beep. Beep. Beep." that means that the trash truck is backing down our street, stops whatever he is doing, and runs over to the living room window yelling "Truck! Truck! Truck!" over an over until the truck has cleaned out the whole street.
Until he was 18 months old, in his world every animal raored and growled. If you asked him "What does the lion say?", he would reply with a roar and growl and make a claw-attack-motion with his fingers and hands. If you asked him "What does the cow say?", he would make the exact same roar and growl and claw attack. Disney Princess Figurines, too. He would, for example, pick up the Fairy Godmother figurine and threaten his sisters with it, growling and roaring and holding it out to them like he was holding a giant bug.
Speaking of bugs, if the girls ever see one, they run from the room to get Daddy to come kill it. Not the boy, though. He just starts pointing and repeating "Bug! Bug! Bug!" over and over again, until he gets close to it. The he squishes it in his fingers, and brings it over to show Mommy. Mommy sure does love that!
"Bug, Mama, Bug!"
I feel so much more responsible for him. My daughters can just be fun for me. It's not my job to teach them how to be women, so I can just relax and cuddle with them on the couch. I can play with them and enjoy them, without worrying as much about how their future reflects on me. But for my son, it's different. It's my personal responsibility to teach him how to grow up to be not just a man, but a good man. And what if it doesn't work out? What does it say about me if he grows up to be the kind of man who hits his wife, or doesn't take care of his children? What does it say about me if he grows up to be the kind of man who can't be bothered to help another human being in need? What does it say about me if he grows up to be the kind of man who is afraid to stand up for what's right?
I can't let myself get carried away with that mental garbage, though. Not only is it overwhelmingly likely that he will be just fine, but if I focus my attention on that junk not only will it make the both of us neurotic, but it will also distract us from the day to day task of learning and growing together.
I'm so glad that I have my son.
Monday, May 26, 2008
One example is organization. I am simply a much better organized person than she is, particularly when it comes to items that I consider to be important. I can't keep track of everything, so my mind automatically assigns priorities to different items depending upon how often I need to find them. By the way, this leads to one of my favorite games, called "watch me find it with my eyes closed". Here is an example of how it's played:
I always "brown bag" my lunch to save money. Mornings can be hectic, and time is often a constraint, so I end up eating a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. So, my mind assigns a high priority to notcing where the peanut butter is so I don't have to waste time looking around in the cabinet for it. Last week, I heard my wife in the kitchen announce, "I think someone broke into our house last night and stole the peanut butter again," meaning that she couldn't find it and was beginning to get frustrated.
I exited the bathroom with my eyes closed and said "watch me find it with my eyes closed". I felt my way over to the cabinet, reached into the cabinet up on the right hand side of the second shelf up from the bottom, grabbed the peanut butter, and handed it to her.
Now my wife will lie and tell you that she hates this game of mine, but in the end she likes the fact that I know where stuff is. We finish the game when my wife gives me a kiss, says "thank you," then punches in me in the arm and calls me a "jerk".
My other game is called "what do I get if you're wrong and I'm right?" We usually play this game when driving. My wife just can't navigate at all. Years ago we lived with my parents for about a year, and after 12 months living in the house she still couldn't figure out which window she would have to look out to see the back yard. We have lived in the same city for 5 years, and she still gets lost driving around. It's bad.
Again last week, on the way to the rehearsal dinner for her cousin's wedding, I was headed to the restaurant when my wife piped in, "I think you're going the wrong way."
"I know which way it is, honey."
"No, I think you were supposed to turn the other way back there. I think you are going the wrong way."
"What do I get if you're wrong and I'm right?"
She doesn't respond right away. She knows it's a trap. But she can't help herself. Her haywired directional sensors are going crazy.
"How long are you going to go the wrong way before you admit that you're wrong and turn around?"
My response is simple, and very effective. "What do I get if you're wrong and I'm right?"
She is silent for another ten seconds, until we see the sign for the restaurant as we round over the hill.
"I hate it when you're right! I hate it when you're right!"
We play that game all the time.
So, here is where I am grossly incompetent. I have no idea when the kids are sick.
Now, don't misundertand me. I don't mean that I have a hard time figuring out when they are fine or when they need to go to the doctor. I mean that I have been wrong, every single time the issue has come up, for over nine years. That means that a blind-folded, brain damaged monkey throwing darts at a dart board has better odds than me. Heck, I would be better off flipping a coin - at least then I'd be right 50% of the time.
I have learned through trial and error to never even question my wife on the issue. She has some innate ablity to tell the difference between sniffles and the flu just by looking at the kids and listening to them. Not me. In fact, I'm so screwed up, it's not that I can't tell the difference between them - it's that my brain thinks that it can tell the difference, with absolute certainty, and it is always, always completely wrong. If I think the kids are sick, then they just have a little allergies and need some benadryl before bed. If I think that the kids are fine, then we had better get them to the emergency room quickly - seconds may count.
Six weeks ago, my five year old daughter fell off the couch and hurt her arm. She cried for a while, and cradled her arm a little, but she seemed OK to me (always a bad sign). Kids fall and bruise themselves all the time. The next day, we were at one of her cousin's birthday parties. She accidentally banged her arm, and started crying again. My wife told me, "she seems really hurt. What do you think?"
"I think she's probably fine. She just hit it again on the same spot as yesterday. It's still bruised, so of course it hurt. But she's tough. She'll be OK."
"I don't know. I don't like the sound of that cry. She seems really hurt."
Part of me was certain that she was OK, and that my wife was overreacting. But, somewhere in the back of my mind, the danger sensor started rigning.
"Honey, do you think we should take her to the doctor?"
"No," I said calmly. "I think she'll be fine."
"So, what do you want to do with her?"
"I want to take her to the emergency room."
"But I thought you said you thought she's fine."
"I know that's what I said. I am a complete moron when it comes to this. We can't wait to get her back to the city. We should bring her to the hospital here in (her Mom's hometown)."
And that is how we found out that my daughter had a buckle-fracture of her left arm.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Last Saturday, my wife's cousin got married, and my wife was the matron of honor (see my last post for a more complete story). One of her uncles was the photographer and, after a few days, forwarded all of the wedding photos to members of the wedding pary via email.
A portion of my wife's family was unable to make it because of the travel distance involved. Being the considerate sort, she immediately forwarded the email to her aunt so that she could see the photos right away. A few minutes later she got a very harshly worded email in reply complaining that the photos were in the wrong format for her to view properly, a few more untoward things, and then finishing with telling my wife to "grow up and think of someone besides yorself for a change".
Now for a bit of background. When my wife and I first met, this particular aunt was very down on her luck. This isn't a bad or shameful thing. I myself at one point in my life was under-employed and in very poor financial shape. It can happen to anyone, and I am forever grateful to one of my cousins who helped me out. Similarly, my wife, being the kind of person that she is, took this aunt in to live with her, rent free, for 18 months. By the end it did grow to become uncomfortable (my wife was pregnant, we needed the bedroom, she was still living there...), but you cannot seriously argue that my wife was insufficiently "grown up" about it, or that she failed to "think of someone besides" herself.
Nor is my wife a martyr. She does not need exaggerated thanks or anything resembling it. She has done this kind of thing for members of her family before, and will certainly do it again. It's the person she is, and they are her family. But she did feel slighted, perhaps a little insulted, and certainly unappreciated. So she wrote back another email, and in it she announced her displeasure, made some fairly uncharitable comments about her aunt - and cc'ed her mother.
And so the snowball of "drama" grew...
Husbands, do you feel obligated to "stick up" for your wives?
Wives, how do you feel when your husbands do, or don't, "stick up" for you?
Because in response to the email from my wife, one of her cousins (son of the aunt in question) wrote back a scathing email letter, and cc'ed literally everyone we know - including my father (where did he even get the email address?) our next door neighbors, several of my friends - everyone. In the email, he pointed out that he meant me no ill will, my only mistake was in marrying my wife (and he thought I would be OK with this?). And he was very insulting to my wife, and finished with the phrase "GROW THE !@#$% UP!" - except he used the actual obscenity.
We are all very lucky that this was an email and not a conversation because I was angrier after reading that email than I recall having ever been before in my life. If he and I were in the same room at that moment, there is not a doubt in my mind today that I would have punched his lights out - and enjoyed it.
Still, my body actually shook with rage. So now it was my turn to respond to him. I hit "reply all" and, in my angered state, wrote back an email that could have melted a diamond. I extensively described his failures mental, physical, moral, and spiritual, and using as much profanity, obscenity and vulgarity as was possible. Then, knowing that the aunt would be a recipient as well, I continued, and repeatedly and colorfully accused her of cowardice, ungratefulness, and being a public disgrace to her father.
In retrospect, my email lacked the dignity I am trying to write with here, but I was under tremendous duress. Interestingly enough, it got a very positive review from several members of my wife's family. They felt my wife had been wronged, and were glad that I had spoken up - and the more anger I showed, the better. I actually got calls of congratulations from my wife's sister, and another of her aunts - and that aunt's fiance referred to me as his "hero, from now on."
I had never gotten involved in any of their intra-family conflict, in even a very small way. I guess now I'm finally a full member of my wife's family.
Monday, May 19, 2008
It's Monday evening now, and I am home from work. What a weekend!
My wife's cousin got married over the weekend, and my wife served as the Matron of Honor. Now, I have never been so honored as to serve as the best man at a wedding, and this was her first turn at the role of Matron of Honor. I had forgotten how much simple work it was to pull on of these things off!
The groom's family hosted a fantastic dinner on Friday night (I'll have to check the "blog policy" about mentioning specific venues; the restaurant did an impeccable job, and has earned whatever small public recognition I can offer them), and the two families got along swimmingly (also, always a neat trick). There was only one problem - babysitting. My wife's best friend and her husband watched my kids for the night, but my son (still under two) really needs his mama at bed time, and was not easy for them. Worse still, for the wedding on Saturday night, they were coming, too. So, child care was needed for both my kids and theirs. Not an easy proposition.
Not an easy scenario; I had to call in the pros. I called MY dad.
My parents are getting older, but I worry a lot less about my dad than I do about my mom; and I think justifiably so. I am not a medical professional, but to my layman's eyes he is a very healthy specimen. When he comes over for dinner, he climbs the stairs to our apartment easily, gets down on the floor and wrestles and rolls around with the kids while my wife and I prepare dinner, then gets up to come sit at the table when it's ready. So, to me, if he can do all that, then he's not in bad shape. Any serious knee, back, or cardio-respiratory problems would seem to interfere with the whole climbing the stairs/up and down on the floor/wrestle the "Dangerous Lunatic" thing. He also still works full time, and he IS a medical professional. And, sometimes, his beeper goes off (this is called foreshadowing...).
My mom is another story. She has had both knees surgically replaced, and has serious muscle atrophy in both legs. She has congestive heart failure, diabetes, progressive rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, periodic attacks of diverticulosis, and persistent sciatica. It is difficult for her to climb the stairs to our apartment, we would only find her on the floor with the kids if she had fallen there, and then my wife and I would have to work together to get her back up an over to the kitchen table.
I love my mom, and I worry about her - a LOT. I encouraged my dad to leave her at home because I was afraid it would too much for her. That's why I was so surprised to have her answer the phone when I called home to check in around 8:00 Saturday night.
"Daddy got called in to the hospital," she told me. "They got in a new patient, and they needed his help with something."
"Are you sure that you're all right? The ceremony is over, they're serving dinner - do you need us to come home?"
"I'll be fine," she insisted. "Don't come home."
So, my wife and I hit the dance floor. Now, I can't judge how good we are, but whatever faults we have when it comes to dancing, we overcome with reckless enthusiasm. So, when the waitress came over to me, I didn't realize that two full hours had passed - we still hadn't sat down yet.
It seems my mom had called the club where the wedding was being held. I borrowed my father-in-law's cell phone, and stepped outside.
"Hi. I need you to come home right now (click)."
Yikes! All right then. Grab the wife, hug the bride and groom, and out the door. We managed to make it home bringing with us only a few vital and irreplaceable items that the bride will need on her Florida honeymoon - her only pair of prescription sunglasses, for example.
I came in the house. My mom was fine, but it had definitely been too much for her. She was exhausted, the kids were crying, and the house looked like an insult to disasters everywhere.
My wife and I knew that the possibility for just such a scenario exhisted. But she was the Matron of Honor, and the bride and groom didn't want kids at the wedding. What were we supposed to do?
To all of you aspiring young love-birds out there. I know that you want your wedding to be perfect, and that you are afraid that kids will "complicate" things, and that you don't have any of your own yet, so you can't fully empathize with what I'm talking about - but please, please, PLEASE let me bring my kids to your wedding. I have no problem killing them if they step out of line, but please don't make me leave them at home.
My mom will thank you for it.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
"I just wanted to let you know because I just heard. They're closing the school at the end of the year."
I have four children; two with my wife, and two from a previous marriage. My two older girls attend a well known private religious school. My third girl, who just turned five, is enrolled to start kindergarten there in the fall.
Now, no school is perfect, and this one is no exception. But you know what? It has been pretty darn good. It's not easy paying for private school, but thus far has always been worth it. The teachers have been uniformly excellent, the class sizes are very small, the curriculum has been rigorous, and the standards have been high.
Great, right? Well, apparently not great enough. Not enough parents signing contracts for the fall means not enough students, which means not enough tuition, which means no school. They called all of the parents today to let us know. So now it is a mad scramble to get kids registered at new schools for the fall. It's very frustrating. Wherever they go, they will be going to a new school, they'll be the "new kid".
My youngest girl actually my smallest worry (no pun intended). She has never been to "big girl" school before, so wherever she goes will seem normal and natural. But how is my oldest girl going to adjust socially and academically to a RADICALLY different environment? At age 9, she is just starting to enter into that "awkward" stage, and I worry about her.
I feel very frustrated right now, and I have all day.
Monday, May 12, 2008
When I finally was able to come home for the night, I found my wife waiting for me with a distraut look on her face.
"I think you should be made aware that your son is a Dangerous Lunatic."
He loves ducks. He has two favorite stuffed animals - both ducks, both named "Quackie". Earlier in the day, he put them both in a cloth bag, AND SHOVED THE BAG INTO THE OVEN. Luckily, my wife happened to open the oven when she turned it on to preheat before cooking supper...
As she confessed on the phone to her Mom that she nearly burned down the house, my wife turned around to see him smearing suntan lotion all over the computer screen. While she was cleaning off the computer screen, he went into the living room and smeared vaseline all over Daddy's "comfy-chair". My wife chased him out of there, by this point laughing and crying at the same time, and a few minutes later he came staggering back in wearing a bucket on his head, his sister's old cast on his arm, and puffing on an empty medicine dropper like a cigar. My wife had lost, he had won, and he was taking his victory lap.
"Honey, the girl's cast is loose. They want you to bring her down."
A couple of weeks back, my third daughter (age 5, child #3) discovered that the couch is NOT the proper forum for the ballet. She fell to the floor, broke her fall with her arms, and therein broke one of them. A "buckle" fracture of the left radius, to be precise. Since then, she has been in a cast.
Now, most of our friends and memebers of our "peer group" are two-car families. My wife and I made a conscious decision to get by with only one. It's not always easy or convenient, but avoiding that second car payment/car insurance payment can do wonders for your budget.
Today was going to be one of those days where it was less convenient, and not particularly easy, either.
My wife brings in extra money for us by babysitting during the day. But because it is an informal arrangement, she doesn't get paid time off. I do. And It's not always possible for her to get the parents to come pick up their children in the middle of the day. So, when something like this happens, I am the one who leaves work for a couple of hours.
The one thing about it that I love is this - the rest of my life is spent rushing from one event to another, and when I can spend time with my kids it is almost ALWAYS with all four at once. It is rare that any of them get one-on-one time with Daddy. But at the Hospital, we can sit together in the children's waiting room and play with the few toys that they have, I can read them a story, or we can watch a show on one of the monitors. It forces me to sit there, patiently, spending time with just one child, comforting them, easing their pain and allaying their fears, without feeling guilty about what the other three are doing right then.
So, we went to the hospital, Jessie and I, to get a new cast. We sat in the waiting room together, cuddled up on a love seat. The Orthopedic Technician had to cut throught the old cast first, and the noise from the electric saw scared her. So, she sat on my lap, and held my hand, and I told her that everything would be all right, and she didn't have to be scared. And I was right.
I love the Hospital.
I am a 38 year old married father of four living in the vast wilderness West of Route 495 in Massachusetts. I work for a very successful e-commerce company, and my wife is a dedicated and professional homemaker.
I hope that over the course of this blog you find yourself both entertained and enlightened, and gain a little insight into the world I live in.