December 19, 2012

My Daughters, Not Safe Enough

We tell them that there are no monsters.

We tell them that there is nothing waiting for them in the darkness, that we will keep them safe.  They come into our rooms in the night when they wake from a terrible dream, seeking comfort.  We brush the hair out of their eyes and tell them "Hush.  Everything is alright.  There is nothing trying to get you."

We read them story after story where the monsters turn out to be a coat rack with a funny hat, a stuffed bear sitting in a rocking chair, a tree branch blowing in the wind.

On the rare occasions where the monsters are real in the sense that they are creatures with horns, sharp teeth, scary faces, claws, we always discover that they were simply misunderstood.  They have a change of heart and end up saving the protagonist from a raging river, from falling from a tree, from being lonely.

These are excellent stories with important lessons about friendship and tolerance.  They help us to teach that the world is not such an awful place.

We tell them that there are no monsters.

But there are.

They don't have horns or claws or live in caves or under bridges, or in dungeons, but they exist.  The world is not the awful place that the media often makes it out to be, but it is dangerous.  We do our best to protect them, physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, but there is no way to completely protect them.

And we shouldn't be able to if there were.  They need to be able to experience life and the only way to do that is with risk.  A life without risk is no life, but we try to minimize it.

When bad things happen in stories, it's easy to explain with backstory.  We tell them that this happened because the monster was left alone and no one treated him nicely.  We tell them that no one gave him a chance to be friends.

The reality is much more terrifying and we have no way to explain it to them, or even to ourselves.

Bad things happen and there isn't always a reason.  Sometimes it's because people get sick, or were treated badly.  But there isn't always a reason and we don't know how to handle chaos for the sake of chaos.

Our reactions are rarely rational or expected, but in retrospect, they make perfect sense.

On September 11, 2001, I was at college outside of Pittsburgh.  When the news announced that the plane had gone down in Somerset, my mother was frantic in trying to reach me.  The crash site was 100 miles from me and I couldn't understand why she was so upset that I hadn't picked up the phone or called her back any quicker.  I chalked it up to parental paranoia and lack of geographic knowledge.  I never understood why.

On Friday, I understood so clearly that it hit me like a train.

On my drive home from work after the shooting at Sandy Hook, there were hundreds of cars in the way.  Every light was red.  Even at green lights, people were taking their time.  At four specific points, I found myself having to resist the urge to smash my car into those in front of me just to get home and hug my children.

The shortest route between my house and Sandy Hook Elementary School is 404 miles.  It wasn't far enough.

December 14, 2012

My Daughters, Infected (Me Too!)

A plague has descended upon my home.

A pestilence so vile and vulgar that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have sent me a letter stating that, in accordance with the Public Safety Act of 2005, I must tent my home and place signs in my yard declaring it a quarantined site.  They have even sent me a beautiful, high quality vinyl banner to hang on my door that reads "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here!"

What, pray tell, is the name of the sorrow and misery that now infests my domicile?

The contagion goes by the name ... Dora!  (bum bum BAAAAA)

Woe unto us.  WOE UNTO US!  I thought I was a good father.  I thought I was doing what was best for my children.  I can only assume that Harper caught this ailment at day care and spread it to her sister.

Symptoms in children will vary from those in adults.  In children, symptoms include calling for Dora at all hours of the day, yelling nonsense word that sound like Spanish, but are not, and a burning desire to carry a backpack full of random items.

In adults, the disease manifests in a more vicious way.  All songs that the infected adult has ever known suddenly turn into insipid chanting about traveling from place to place, interspersed with random Spanish words.  Years of membership in choirs, and the musical accumulation that accompanied them, flow out of the ears of said grown-ups and puddle on the floor, to quickly evaporate into the ether, never to be seen again.

The infected adult will find themselves responding to normal questions in the vocal intonation of Swiper the Fox. (Aw, MAN!)  They will find themselves, alone in the car, asking, and answering questions about destination (Where are we going? To the big red building where I work!) and wondering where the trumpet playing snails are for musical accompaniment.  They will find themselves wondering where the mean old troll is, and what riddle they will have to answer, when entering the Turnpike.

Please.  Spread awareness so that in the future, this horrid disease can be controlled and, hopefully one day, cured.

Thank you for your attention.  This message has been a service of Adults Against Terrible Kids Programming.

December 4, 2012

My Daughters Have a Crap Dad

I am an amazing father!  Truly, it's inspiring!

I am dedicated, loving, patient, creative, and fun!

All of the above is true under the following conditions:
1) The children are not hungry
2) The children are not eating
3) The children are not playing with playdough, markers, crayons, pretzels, crackers, etc.
4) One of the children is asleep or elsewhere
5) Sara is not home
6) No one else is around
7) The children are not tired
8) The children are not overly stimulated
9) The children want to read a book or play at the playground
10) The children are strapped into a moving stroller or carseat

When those things are true, I am a rockstar dad!!

(To clarify number 5, this is because when Sara is home, the girls stick to her like glue and I might as well not be there.  She asks me to take one to give her a little bit of breathing room, but unless I strap them down, they shoot right back to her like iron filings to a magnet.  It's only when she's not around that they care about me in any way.)

It's incredibly hard to be a good dad when you're as selfish as I am.  I spend way too much time and energy trying to make myself happy and not enough trying to make my family happy.  I recognize this and I am making efforts to change it.  I could blame my job for my lack of patience with my kids, but in reality, I know it's all me.

Luckily for me, I have two things going that help.

The first is that my kids are way too cute to abandon at a truck stop.  Just when I think I'm completely about to lose my patience, I watch them interact in a way that just melts my heart. The other day, I walked into the living room to find B wearing a pull-up like a hat, staring into space, pulling it on and off her head, as if trying to find the perfect fit.

"Much better!"
During a bath, H got a hold of her rubber duck and began singing over and over.  She picked the skit from Sesame Street where the jazz owl explains that if Ernie wants to play the sax, he is going to have to make the choice to put his rubber ducky down.

All cares disappear and I have to hug and kiss them until they punch me in the throat, or give out a high-pitched scream that threatens to shatter my windows.
No parental abandonment THIS week

The second is that Sara is an amazing role model for me about what a kind, loving, patient parent should be.  I watch how she interacts with the girls and I am not only baffled by how well she does it, but also confused by her enjoyment, even when they are being difficult.  She seems to have endless patience, not just with their destructive antics, but also with my seeming inability to control my kids.  I keep telling her that I'm awesome when she's not around.  I can sit and read with the girls for hours.  They help me make dinner with not TOO much of a mess.  They help me clean up toys and, in nice weather, we have great time at the park!

But when she's around, I might as well be a cardboard cutout for all the good I am at child-wrangling.  I try to help by doing non-child related things, like making and cleaning up from dinner, doing laundry, picking up toys, etc.  I know that from the moment she walks in the door until when I put B down for night, I will get minimal interaction with my children.  And I don't blame them.

No matter how good the burger may taste, you'll always choose the filet when it's available.

The one consolation is that their aversion to me is so great that I am amazing at putting them down for the night, or for naps.  They would rather sleep than be held by me any longer than necessary.

So after a whole weekend apart, it was mom climbed in between the car seats and was dog-piled by crying children while dad unloaded the car.

In addition to working on my patience for their behavior, or lack-there-of, I am working on my patience for their dismissal of me when Sara is around.  It's not personal, but I need to work on remembering that.

H and I had a great daddy-daughter day a few weeks ago and, in spite of their face, which I swear is entirely due to them being too cold, I had a great daddy-daughters day with both of them.  The key seems to be getting them out of the house...

...where they can't break my things.

Halloween was fun as well



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