Marriage: It’s All About Teamwork (With a Dash of Competition)

There’s so much work involved in just pretending to look like being a functional adult, it’s common to feel over-worked and under-appreciated.   There’s a lot of aspects to adult life that really suck.  Taking care of the bills, the trash, the dirty dishes, the piles of laundry. Cleaning up messes, picking up toys, and wiping up spills.  Filling out the never-ending-Godforsaken work forms, the relentless (and often pointless) data collection sheets, the before-work and after-work and lunchtime meetings.  Dealing with the idiot co-workers and the idiot bosses and the idiot customers and doing all of these things without losing your shit.  Day. After. Day.

Being a successful grown-up person requires a crapload of work.  But, being a successful married individual requires even more.

Each person has their own way of doing things and their own viewpoints about what things are high priority and what is completely and utterly unimportant (generally there is an inverse relationship between Partner A’s List of All Things Important compared with Partner B’s).  Negotiating with each other, without compromising your values and sense of self, requires a delicate balance and a lot of alcohol patience.  It’s worth it, though, when we’ve found The One.  Having a companion who we cherish and admire, who loves and adores us right back, flaws and all, is one of the best things on the planet. Out of everyone on this Earth, the one person we most want to appreciate us, and all of our hard work, is our spouse.

Successful Marriage Formula = Love > Annoyance

Successful Marriage Formula = Love > Annoyance

 

Which often leads us to conversations like these:

 

SCENARIO 1: As I’m changing my daughter’s diaper I say to my spouse, “Oh my God, I just got poop on my hand! Quick, hand me a wipe!”

TEAMWORK: Spouse jumps up deftly and passes me a baby wipe faster than you can say, “Ew Ew Ew Ew Ew” five times fast.

COMPETITIVE EDGE:  After handing me the wipe, Spouse casually mentions, “I had WAY more poop on me yesterday morning.  She pooped on me, explosively, when I took off her diaper”.

 

SCENARIO 2: My spouse wakes up in the morning and complains, “I’m so tired”.

TEAMWORK:  I feel badly about the fact that Spouse’s day is already starting out so rough, so I go downstairs and make a protein shake for Spouse to take for breakfast.

COMPETITIVE EDGE:  …but not before I letting Spouse know how much more tired I am first, “I’m soooooo tired.  The kids got up three times and I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I’ve been up since 2:30 a.m.”.

 

SCENARIO 3:  After the birth of our second child (and nine solid months of reflux) I told my spouse, “I’m so glad I don’t have heartburn anymore!”

TEAMWORK:  “Yeah.  Heartburn really sucks,” spouse says, nodding in support.

COMPETITIVE EDGE:  Spouse then adds, “especially when it’s so bad you have to go to the E.R.” (spouse did). “By yourself” (spouse did).  “I know, I feel badly about that,” I concede.  It doesn’t stop there.  “You went out to coffee with your friends” (I did….ok maybe I really met them for a beer. But, shhh don’t tell him). (Spouse’s heart was just fine).

 

SCENARIO 4: A lot of things need to be taken care of in a household.  Yard work. Cleaning.  Finances.  Blah blah blah. Boring stuff that makes you sometimes wish you were a kid again, until you remember that as an adult you can purchase alcohol and no one can stop you from eating nothing but nacho cheese Doritos for dinner, if you really want to.  Adulthood means Freedom!  Unfortunately the road to freedom is paved with endless chores.

TEAMWORK: We each have “our” jobs we do around house.  We divide and conquer, and we do so quite well.  We each have our own things we care about – so that means that everything gets cared for.  For example, I care about the kitchen (dishes put away, counters clean, everything in its place) and the laundry (everything clean and folded and put away each week) and the family fun factor (fun, silly and engaging interactions).  My spouse cares about the finances (long term savings, how much we spend on the electric bill), safety of us and our possessions (doors locked, garage door shut) and the yard.

COMPETITIVE EDGE:  I’m quite sure we subconsciously sabotage each other’s efforts at times,  Spouse leaves 700 (give or take) dirty dishes on the counter directly above the dishwasher each week and always leaves the hand towel on the counter, instead of hanging it back up on the towel rack.  I leave the lights on, in every room, you can retrace my path by following the lit bulbs. Spouse insists (wrongly) that watching television is an interactive event.  I spend hundreds of dollars over budget on frivolous things, then complain that I don’t make enough money. He leaves his folded laundry piled up on the folding table until it reaches the ceiling.  I may or may not sometimes leave the front door unlocked (and possibly gaping open).  This type of subversive competition is the ultimate test of marriage strength: can we, as a couple, deal with the other’s laxity without cracking?

 

SCENARIO 5:  At a certain point in a marriage, there are no secrets left.  Personal grooming that used to happen behind closed doors becomes more of a shared experience.  Over time, people just get more comfortable with one another. And, at least for people like us, we also tend to get more hairy.

TEAMWORK:  One spouse shaves the other’s neck, and back, and fields the question, “Is my back getting really hairy?” with, “Oh, it doesn’t matter”.  One spouse plucks the other’s eyebrow(s).  One spouse gets pregnant and the other needs to help shave her legs ….and stuff…that can no longer be reached. One spouse clogs every drain with the constant shedding of Chewbacca-like tresses, while the other spouse cleans the clogs out on a regular basis.

COMPETITIVE EDGE:  No solid couple can resist letting the other know, “Your moustache needs to be waxed”, or “Your eyebrows are starting to connect to your back hair”.

 

The ultimate measure of a good marriage is whether or not you love the person you are united with more than you are annoyed by them.  If you happen to have that much affection for the one you spend almost all of your personal time with, you are really a lucky duck.  I’m one of those luckies.

 
“I love you”, my spouse always says.  So naturally my usual reply is, “I love you more”.

 

 

Marriage:  It takes teamwork. And, apparently, an underlying competitive edge.

Marriage: It takes teamwork. And, apparently, an underlying competitive edge.

 

You know I want to hear your marriage teamwork/competition scenarios. Let me hear ‘em!

5 Things Spouses of Runners Need to Know

1.  Yes, they really need all of that gear.  You don’t realize all of the places that chafe and rub until you’re starting to rack up the miles.  Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  Rubbing that’s not even noticed at mile three can turn into a deep red burning patch of inflamed skin by mile eight.  Depending on the temperature, different weights and layers are needed to keep your spouse warm, but not over-heated.  As the runs get longer, water or gels need to be carried, along with GPS equipment for tracking location and pace, and reflective clothing and head lamps for running before the Sun wakes up. Compression gear and shoes are necessary splurges, as are socks, seemingly simple garments that can be appallingly expensive, yet shockingly effective (or ineffective, if you get the cheapies).  The accouterments make a significant impact when it comes to keeping your spouse’s body comfortable and healthy.

2.  Beware of their running gloves.  For spouses of cold-weather runners:  I advise utilizing pliers, disposable chopsticks or some other utensil if you need to pick up their running gloves. The gloves are used just as much for soaking up sweat and wiping off snot as they are for keeping hands warm.

5 Things Spouses of Runners Need to Know

5 Things Spouses of Runners Need to Know

3.  Just because your spouse is running out the door (maybe with a buddy) don’t think this means they are running away from you.   Your spouse might want to hang out with their running partner every Saturday morning instead of staying in bed and cuddling with you. Don’t take this as a personal affront. The running buddy is needed not only for companionship and stress-relieving purposes (we’ll concede that they might hear how annoying it is when you keep nagging about turning off the lights), but also to help keep them accountable, to keep them from walking, to keep them on track for meeting their running goals, and to keep them safer – running alone can be a dangerous act.  Oh, and don’t worry, the running buddy hears about your good qualities too, it’s not all negative talk, in fact the longer the run, the more those happy brain chemicals produced are likely to make your spouse feel like singing your praises. Don’t be jealous of the running buddy, and don’t be mad that your spouse is leaving your side – trust me it has nothing to do with your spouse not wanting to spend time with you and everything to do with them wanting to spend more quality time with you.  Running makes your spouse a better spouse.

4.  Pre-run and post-run rituals are all part of the long run.  You can’t expect your spouse to skip out on either one for the sake of time.. Fueling up with peanut butter on toast and a cup of coffee at least a half an hour before the run is essential for sustaining energy throughout the trot.  The pre-run shit is often not openly discussed, but is always needed. Post-run foam-rolling is another must-do, as well as possibly icing. And, of course, one of the most important post-run rituals is the consumption of eggs with crispy bacon, washed down with more coffee (but this cup should be spiked with Kahlua). BONUS:  You can join your spouse for this last bit.

5.  Their long run is truly in your best interest.  I’m sure you realize by now that if you are married to a runner you are married to someone who is at least slightly crazy.  Even though you might have to change extra diapers or cope with whining from the kids on your own while your spouse is off on a leisurely jaunt for hours at a time, trust me, they are doing this to be a better person, which equates to being a better parent and partner. Runners, as a whole, they have a deep-seated, primal aching, a visceral need to release pent-up energy.  The healthy manifestation of this exists in the form of a long run, but if that’s not an option, it could potentially transpire in a seemingly unprovoked raging incident that involves flying objects chucked across the room, aimed at your head.  It’s really better for you if they go for that jog. Look out for yourself.

 

Your spouse is a little bit crazy.  That's why he/she needs to run.

Your spouse is a little bit crazy. That’s why he/she needs to run.

 

 

 

Singing Off-Key (And Loving It): A Small Collection of Remixes For Parents of Toddlers

You know how when you sing, sometimes you can’t hear when you’re off-key? It seems like a lot of people tend to think they are better at singing than they actually are (especially after imbibing adult beverages) but, not me.  I can hear my off-key-ness LOUD and CLEAR and you know if YOU can hear it, it must be really bad.  Really really.

So, it was a surprise to me after Baby Grouch Numero Uno was born that I found myself singing to her, often.  As she has grown, she loves to sing, and we are constantly singing, all of the traditional nursery rhymes we hear on Pandora (Nursery Rhyme Radio) or YouTube (Have you checked out Super Simple Songs yet? If not, you MUST) or that she has learned at daycare, and of course the Michigan State Fight Song (gotta brainwash ‘em early).  But more often than not we are making up lyrics on the spot, using the same beat to sing different versions of songs, or making up lyrics to describe what we are doing at the moment, or to just have fun and be silly.

Case in point:

Happy and Sad ABC’s

We always sing the ABC’s while washing hands. Somehow Toddler Grouch started singing bits of the song in a frenetic and goofy tone, “aybeceedee eeeeffGEE!” while smiling and bobbing her head and rubbing her hands back and forth vigorously, and singing other bits super slowly, with a mournful tone, slowly swaying from side to side, the corners of her mouth turned down, faking a sad version of the tune, “ayyyyy beee ceeeee deeee eeeee eeefff geeeeeeeeeee”. If I don’t make my fake-frown frowny enough, she stops me, “Mom, sing it with your mouth!”  It’s hilarious. We giggle.

Case in point 2:

Silly Word Pattern ABC’s

I have no idea why, but ever since Toddler Grouch could speak “tunu” meant ABC’s.  I have no explanation for this, and it took us a looooong time to figure out what she wanted when she said, “tunu” but we eventually figured out that this meant the ABC song.  Every now and again we sing the ABC’s like this:

A-b-c-d-e-f tunu,

h-i-j-k-l-m-n-o tunu,

q-r-s-t-u tunu,

w-x-y and tunu.

Now I know my a-b tunus,

next time won’t you tunu with me?

 

One of our favorite Super Simple songs is the Good Morning, Mr. Rooster song, which I realize might seem ridiculous coming from the Morning Grouch, but maybe I sing it just as much for me as for her.  It’s really cute.

Good Morning Mr. Rooster Lyrics – by Super Simple Songs

Good morning.  Good morning.  Good morning to you.

Good morning, Mr. Rooster,

Cock-a-doodle-doo.

 

Sometimes we sing the original version, but we often remix it up a bit:

The Good Morning Song

Good Morning.  Good morning. Good morning to you.

Good morning, Little Grouchy,

Mama loves you.

 

(Repeat as needed)

Remix for two kids:  Replace “mama loves you” with “and (insert kid’s name here) too!”

 

Sometimes we use the same beat to get her moving towards the bathroom:

The Potty Song

Good morning. Good morning.  Good morning to you.

Let’s go pee on the potty.

And, maybe poo.

 

*Remix: replace poo with toot.  Farts are always funny.

 


Songs just make everything easier.  And happier.

Here are a few that are sung to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb:

The Nap Song

Now it’s time to
take a nap, take a nap, take a nap,
Now it’s time to take a nap,
It’s time to lay in bed.

Lay your head on
the pillow, the pillow, the pillow,
Lay your head on the pillow
It’s time to get some rest

Do you want to
read a book, read a book, read a book?
Do you want to read a book
Read a book with me?

 

The Let’s Change Your Poopy Diaper Song

It’s time to change your

diaper now, diaper now, diaper now,

It’s time to change your diaper now,

let’s clean up your pooooooooop.

* The longer you draw out the word poop, the louder the giggle

** Can easily be modified to accommodate a strictly pee diaper

 

Toddler Grouch’s favorite rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb is the one I bust out when she’s acting all toddler-like.  “No! No! I don’t wannnnnt to!” You know what I’m talking about. This helps lighten almost any mood:

 The No Song

Toddler Grouch says no no no,
No no no,
No no no,
Toddler Grouch says no no no,
No no no no no!

Trust me, sounds too simple, but goes over very well with the target demographic.

 

The Brush Our Teeth Rap  

This must be performed in rap version, swaying from side to side, bouncing the knees a bit up and down, with a sassy scowl on the face.  Bonus points if you can do this dressed in a hoodie, or with a rasta hat on.

*Every “Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!” is accompanied with a hand gesture, mimicking brushing teeth.

 

We brush our teeth.

Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!

We brush our teeth

Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!

 

We get the bottom.

We get the top.

We go in circles.

We do not stop.

 

Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!

Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!

 

We get the front.

We get the back.

We keep them healthy.

We do not slack.

 

Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!

(Sung in theatrical high pitch): Do you have to spit in the siiiiiiink?

Eeeeee eeee eee ee ee eee eeeeeeeeeeeeee (spin the discs – don’t forget the hand motions)

We brush our teeth.

We brush our teeth.

We’re almost done.  (remix version = let’s have some fun)

(Sung in theatrical high pitch): Do you want to brush your tongue?

 

Eeeeee eeee eee ee ee eee eeeeeeeeeeeeee (spin the discs – don’t forget the hand motions)

Repeat.

Pro tip: Stop singing when the kid stops brushing.  Tell them you need them to keep the beat.

Songs for toddlers. Toddlers love to sing!

Songs for toddlers. Toddlers love to sing!

What are your favorite songs to sing with your toddler? Please, let me siphon your ideas.

The Gratitude Muscle

Building strength can be hard.

The first part is deciding to get stronger.  That’s really the hardest part, even though it doesn’t even involve a workout regime.  It’s just a mindset, at first, a determination to make improvements to who we are.

Until it becomes habit, reminders are needed.  Sticky notes that say, “go work out!” and a calendar on the fridge with the workout plan on display, demanding to be seen.  Smiley faces are drawn on the days the plan is followed through and frowny faces are drawn on the days that aren’t.  Until it is second nature, strict discipline and careful planning are needed.

Over time, the body starts to crave the good feeling it gets from the workouts on its own. There is less reliance on the sticky notes and the calendars and more just listening to the muscles, noticing when they need to rest and recoup, and when they ache to be used.

It doesn’t take long for changes in the body to be noticed.  At first by you, and then by those around you.  Energy pervades, even when the muscles are tired, or sore, because they are stronger.  Healthier.  Everyone has slumps, but those who are determined find motivators: workout buddies or personal trainers, or bigger calendars on the fridge.  Even with a downward slide here or there, a fit person generally keeps getting fitter.

There are 206 bones and several hundreds of muscles that make up the adult body, but one of the most important, yet overlooked, piece of human anatomy is the Gratitude Muscle.

Just as the heart must be strong enough to pump oxygen and nutrients, and our bones must to be strong enough to carry our weight, the Gratitude Muscle is on par with those anatomical necessities – it must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile.

Children have bodies with natural strength, they exercise daily, through exploration and play, but over time sedentary lifestyles and self-neglect can cause atrophy to all of the muscles, including the Gratitude Muscle.  Even though the importance of staying fit is always recognized, we can easily become set in our ways and make excuses for why we don’t have time to learn, to play, to be grateful.  People without healthy Gratitude Muscles, can technically survive, but they.tend to live horribly dreary, unhappy existences.

The good news is that even if we’ve neglected our Gratitude Muscle in the past, we can always start strengthening it now, no matter how weak it may be.  If we have the desire, we can bolster our thankfulness, even if it is currently grey and mushy from extended disuse.  It is worth penciling in Gratitude Workouts, forcing ourselves to focus on what we have, and what is good.  Working to find gratitude in everything and everyone means pushing ourselves to new limits, which might tire us out, might sometimes cause temporary strain.  It can be uncomfortable at times, practicing gratitude.  The end result is worth it , no pain, no gain, as they say, and a little bit of tenderness can feel good, in this case, loving what we have so much it hurts.

The Gratitude Muscle is an anatomical necessity that must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The Gratitude Muscle is on par with those anatomical necessities – it must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

 

Depression ≠ Sadness

Not too long ago, one of my friends, who reads many of my blog posts, said to me that she was always, “reading about how sad you always are”.  Her words rocked me back on my heels for a second, catching me off guard, for a number of reasons (it also made me think that all of those truly anonymous bloggers are really smart cookies). Even though I have a decent number of posts about depression and mental health, here’s the thing:  I’m not always sad.

Not even close.  

If you ask me how life is going or how I’m doing, I’d (honestly) say that life is AMAZING! WONDERFUL! and that I am SO GRATEFUL for all of the good things I’ve got going on. Life is so good, folks! I think I express this on the blog as evidenced here and here and here. But, that’s the misconception surrounding depression, that the term is synonymous with sadness.  I suppose the misunderstanding exists because everyone grasps sadness, but not very many seem to get what depression is all about.  Today I heard two people discussing a recent suicide, “I think she’d been depressed for a while”, one person said, and the other person responded with, “What did she have to be sad about anyway?  She had kids!” I wanted to jump in and clarify some terms for them: She wasn’t sad.  She was depressed.

There’s a big difference.

Chronic depression doesn’t go away like sadness does.  And it doesn’t necessarily feel like sadness does either, even if we are feeling “down”. That’s part of the issue – it’s hard to explain what it feels like. Even when life is at its best, and there is nothing to be sad about, and we’re on an upswing, we are never “cured”.  The depression is still there, a part of us, though it might be barely noticeable, or easy to forget about, temporarily.

I usually use the analogy of treading water, but another way to think of depression is like carrying an added weight around all the time.

For many of us functionally depressive people, who can maintain relationships and hold a job and engage in fun activities, depression can be thought of like a heavy backpack. Most of the time, the weight of the backpack is relatively stable, so we’re able to remain relatively even-keeled.  We can still do everything that everyone else does, backpacks are pretty ergonomic and carrying an extra twenty-five pounds isn’t too hard.  During the good times, the weight is easily managed, and a lot of us make it look effortless.  The bags are hardly noticed.

Sometimes, the backpack gets heavier. This could be due to some sad occurrence it could be due to increased stress or it could be due to nothing.  Either way, instead of twenty-five pounds, the bag weight multiplies, turns into forty.  Or more. And instead of just the backpack, sometimes we’ve also got ankle weights on and a million grocery bags on our arms. You know how you don’t want to make one more trip back to the car, so you load up six bags on the left arm and five bags on the right?  It’s sort of like that, except we are carrying them around constantly, not just from the car to the house. And of course, the bags are invisible, so no one else can see why the hell we are struggling to just walk from the car to the house.  We just look like weaklings.

During big dips, it’s like having to carry all those extra bags around when you have the flu. Same bags, but so much harder to manage.  We fumble over seemingly easy tasks and we can’t hold on to one more thing, so when we’re asked to do so, even if it is something we’ve held before, we might protest and it might look like we’re overreacting. “Just hold it. It isn’t even heavy,” you might think. And it’s not, by itself, but it is too much when you factor in our compromised immune systems and the combined weight of the invisible bags. We can’t just drop the bags, that isn’t possible, so when we’re at our weakest, we just can’t move.  We might not be able to talk to our friends or family, we might not be able to leave the house, or even to get out of bed.  We can’t. We’re too tired.  We don’t make very good load-bearing animals.  Since the bags are invisible, people really get pissy about this one.  “Just get up!” they say, wondering why the hell we are just laying there or why we are being so lazy.

Sometimes when we feel an impending depressive episode coming on, we try tactics to prevent getting pinned down, because we don’t want to be immobilized by the weight. Maybe it’s a med change. Maybe it’s meditation or therapy, maybe it’s drinking, maybe it’s exercise.  Maybe it’s continuously moving, doing All The Things!

Continuous movement is a strategy I employ from time to time.  Sometimes it’s easier to just keep moving because stopping to rest means that getting started again would require dead-lifting the invisible heavy load, and that would just be too much.

For a lot of us, this land of functional-depressiveness is where we live most of our lives. And, it’s where many of us hope to stay, knowing that with just a bit too much weight piled on we could lose the “functional” tag at the beginning.

But, remember this: if expressing the depressive part of ourselves makes you think we’re constantly morose, know that you’re still not getting it. Keep in mind that the other parts of ourselves laugh and enjoy and are grateful for all in our life that is amazingly good.  We’re not always sad.

Even when we’re depressed.

There’s a difference.

So for those of you who are sick of hearing the sad-sounding posts – stop reading them. They really aren’t for you, anyway.  But, for those of you carrying around invisible baggage of your own, they are for you. Because I know that just realizing you aren’t the only one with a heavy load can make your backpack feel a little bit lighter.

The Day We Caught Our Kids Looking At Their Butt Holes – A Guest Post by Clint Edwards

Today we are honored and privileged to have the distinguished Clint Edwards, author of No Idea What I’m Doing:  A Daddy Blog, sharing one of his gems with us.  I hope you enjoy hearing about his struggles dealing with the crazy-ass (pun intended) scenarios, that are an inevitable part of parenting, as much as I did.

clint

THE DAY WE CAUGHT OUR KIDS LOOKING AT THEIR BUTT HOLES

My wife, Mel, approached me in the kitchen and said, “I just caught the kids looking at their butt holes. We should talk to them about that.”

Mel was in jeans, and wearing a pink and white maternity top. In her right arm was our new baby, Aspen. It was Mel’s 32nd birthday, and it was a Friday evening. I’d just placed candles in Mel’s cake and was washing my hands at the sink.

It took me a moment to figure out what the hell she just said. I played a scene out in my head where Tristan (age 7) and Norah (age 4) were naked, bending over, and giggling. In my mind, it seemed innocent enough, but the more I thought about it, the stranger it became.

One of my duties as a father was to get the kids ready for bed, which really was a collection of other duties, one of them being herding the kids into the bath. Moments earlier, I’d started filling up the tub in the kids’ bathroom, and started the shower in the parents’ bathroom, and then stepped into the kitchen while Tristan and Norah got undressed. Somehow in the few moments it took me to walk down the hall to the kitchen, our children had decided to explore their butts.

Shit like this was the main reason they were bathing separately. About six months ago both kids were in the tub. Mel caught Tristan and Norah play fighting. Tristan was wielding his penis like a weapon, while Norah was holding a rubber ducky like a sword. The rest of the details are sketchy, but from what I understand the weapons collided. There were giggles. Then Mel made Tristan move into the other bathroom. When Mel broke up this ducky penis fight, Tristan and Norah acted like she was the strange one. Like she was the one who needed decency education.

It was then that Mel and I decided they were getting too old to bathe together.

I have to assume that actions like this are a natural part of childhood curiosity, but at the same time, I feel an obligation as a parent to help my kids understand social decency. It’s probably nothing to worry about. But then again, it’s down right strange, and I want it to stop. I don’t want to be the parent of that dude in Central Park showing strangers his penis. Nor do I want to get an email down the road from someone telling me that my daughter has been spotted on Girls Gone Wild showing strangers (the world) her butt hole. I’m all for unconditional love, but right now, at this moment, I like the idea of my kids growing up to be responsible adults who dress modestly. Adults with families, carriers, and a complete and well-worn wardrobe. Call me old-fashioned, but the last thing I’m going to do is encourage genital to bath toy play fights, or the examination of family butts.

Mel and I were both standing in the kitchen now.

“Hold on…” I said. “Say that again.”

Mel let out a breath, like what she was saying was an everyday thing, and easy to understand, and the fact that I asked her to repeat it made me the fool.

“I was in Norah’s room getting some PJ’s for Aspen when I overheard Norah say, ‘What’s that hole in your butt?’ Then Tristan said, ‘It’s my butt hole. Want to look at it?’ I heard laughter. Once I came into the bathroom, things had obviously progressed because Tristan was now looking at Norah’s butt hole.”

She paused for a moment. Then she said, “We should have a talk with them.”

Usually when Mel says, “we should talk with them” she means, “You should talk with them.” Normally I fight this assumption, but I did consider that fact that it was Mel’s birthday. I thought about how I’d like to spend my birthday, and I knew that it wasn’t handling some strange moment like the one we were discussing.

“How exactly do you suggest I handle this?” I said.

I honestly didn’t know how to approach this subject. What were the ramifications of it all? What were my kids experimenting with? Was this something that needed to be handled? I never examined any of my siblings’ butts. I thought about asking Mel if she ever examined any of hers’, but then decided I’d rather not know.

If they weren’t brother and sister, that would be one thing. But they were, and that was just strange. I assumed that both were too young for this to be a sexual thing, but at the same time, I didn’t really know. It felt like we were moving into some strange new territory as parents, a land filled with brothers and sisters looking at each other’s butts. A community I’d rather not be a part of.

“Just go tell them that it’s not appropriate, and that they shouldn’t do it anymore.”

Her explanation sounded simple enough, but I knew that it wouldn’t be that easy. I wondered if I should speak to them together, or separately. I knew that I needed to chat with them tonight, or they would forget about the whole thing. I wondered if I should chat with them while they were bathing, if I should wait until we were all at the table eating birthday cake. I imagined it. Mel blowing out her candles after we sang the happy birthday song. Then we’d all sit around the table, and as we munched on cake, I’d bring up an awkward conversation about butt holes.

For the sake of Mel, I decided to talk to them individually as they bathed.

Tristan was in the shower. I thought for a moment before I approached him. I ran a few heart-felt parenting speeches through my head. Ones that I thought would be appropriate to handle such a strange subject. All of them seemed to start with “When a young boy becomes a man…” or “When I was a boy…”, but nothing I could think of really fit the complicated subject matter that I was dealing with.

Once I got to my son, all of those long-winded, Tim Taylor style, life changing dad speeches went out the window.

“Hey,” I said. “Don’t look at your sister’s butt hole.”

“Why not?” Tristan said.  He was naked, in the shower. Water was running down his chest, his mouth in a half frown, hands clenched in fists at his sides. He looked offended, like he was a teenager and I’d told him not to smoke pot, or hang out with a group of troublemakers.

Then he started laughing.

Tristan is a complex little guy. When faced with a situation he doesn’t like, or doesn’t understand, he will get angry at first, and then try to make a joke to lighten the situation. I did the same thing when I was young, so I understand his logic. But what I didn’t understand as a boy was how infuriating it is to try to talk to someone about a serious subject, and have the person laugh in your face, or make jokes the whole time.

“It’s weird,” I said. “Do you ever see me or mom looking at our butt holes?”

Tristan thought about this for a moment, and then he laughed. “I don’t know, but that would be really funny if you did.”

My question obviously didn’t help with his defense mechanism of laughter and joke making.

Rather than linger on what was obviously a bad comparison, I kept talking.

“Do you have friends that do that? Please tell me that you don’t have friends that look at your butt hole.”

“No. I don’t,” he said.

Then he started laughing harder, and I got worried that I’d just given him an idea. Suddenly I imaged getting a call home from school on this subject, and realized that, right then, I was failing as a father.

We went back and forth for a while. I explained to him that what he was doing was inappropriate and strange, and I didn’t want him to do it anymore.

“Fine,” he said while rolling his eyes. “I won’t look at Norah’s butt hole anymore.”

I wasn’t sure if I could believe him, so I said, “Do you promise?”

Tristan let out a long breath, “Yes! Dad!”

I didn’t push it any further.

“Thank you,” I said.

I approached Norah on the subject. She was stretched out in the tub, her head half underwater.

I asked her if she’d looked at Tristan’s butt hole, and she giggled.

Then she loudly cried, “Yup!” in her four-year-old chipper little voice.

I’m not sure if I laughed because of her response, or because the conversation was absurd, but what I do know is that I had to step from the room and regain my composure. I stood in the hallway for a while, listening to her giggle. I was a mix of silly laughter and anxiety, trying to understand if I was handling this situation appropriately.

It is in moments like these that I fully realize what people mean why they say there is no instruction manual on raising children. Would there be a chapter titled, “How to Approach Your Children About Not Looking At Their Sibling’s Butt,  And Turn It Into A Rewarding Moment”? No! I don’t think so.  How on earth could someone come up with a text complex enough to tackle the unexpected situations that can arise when raising a family?

Once I came back, I told Norah, in my best serious voice, that what she did was inappropriate and strange, and I asked her to never do it again.

“Ok,” she said. “I won’t ever ever look at Tristan’s butt hole ever again.”

I didn’t believe her. Norah is at that age where she will say, “Ok” to just about anything she is confronted with. If I tell her not to steal cookies from the pantry, she will say, “Ok.” Then I know that there is a 75% chance that I will find her 20 minutes later trying to steal cookies from the pantry. But much like when I discussed this situation with Tristan, I just wanted it to be over.

“Thank you,” I said.

Once both kids were bathed and in bed, I sat in the living room and thought about what it meant to be a parent. I wondered if I’d handled this situation well, or I’d just made things worse. I hoped that something like this would never happen again, but I knew that it would.

I never had an awkward talk with a parent. I didn’t really know my father that well, and my grandmother half raised me. I was shuffled between homes a lot, and so I missed out on a lot of those Hallmark, cliché moments, like the birds and the bees talk. But I’d heard a lot from friends talk about their parents approaching them about awkward subjects like the one I faced. My friends always said how it felt like the whole situation was so awkward for them, like all they wanted was for the conversation to just end. But what I never realized was that those conversations are just as awkward for the parents.

Maybe even more so. Especially when I consider how I feel that my children are a reflection of myself.

There was no way I was going to get out of parenthood without having more awkward conversations with my kids. I just hoped that, with time, I’d get better at it.

 

 

 

Clint Edwards is the author of No Idea What I’m Doing: A Daddy Blog. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

We’re Full of Bull

My daughters come from a long line of strong-willed individuals.  Before they were born Mr. Grouch and I wondered what our kids would look like, or what they would be interested in, but one thing we knew for sure.  They’d be headstrong.  Our girls have aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, and, lucky for them, great-grandparents too, who are full of strength, who say to themselves, “I will be brave, I will not give up, I will not be stopped”, and who say to others, “I will be heard, I will follow my dreams, I will not be knocked down”.  There is wicked strength within each individual and we, as a family, are a formidable force when our energy is corralled in the same direction. An unstoppable herd.

We are bulls.

Toddler Grouch is at the age where her bullheadedness can sometimes be frustrating.   Like when she won’t put on her shoes, or brush her teeth, even when I say to her, “C’mon girl, we’ve gotta go!  We can’t be late!”  When she digs her heels in, asserting her independence and demonstrating her strong will, sometimes I call her my Little Bull. I place my hands by my ears, point my fingers up like horns, while I huff and shuffle my feet on the floor.  She laughs and mimics the gestures, repeating the phrase, “C’mon, Little Bull!”   Even when she doesn’t listen right away or when she blatantly disobeys, and I have to pull out my discipliny-mama voice, I’m secretly proud that she’s hard-nosed. There’s a lot of positive attributes to being a bull.

Mr. Grouch and I are both bovine in nature, both of us capable of being bullish to the max.  Our individual ability to persist, to push on, to persevere has, for the most part, served us both well, and when we join forces, we are unstoppable.  But, with any strength, comes complementing weakness. Bulls can lack grace. Bulls sometimes charge into situations, with their eyes on the prize, not thinking about the damage they may be inflicting upon anything in their periphery, with their bucking and banging, incapable of slowing themselves down. They can have difficulty seeing something from someone else’s perspective, seeing only the path that leads them towards their own passions. Bulls can be ornery and selfish. When Mr. Grouch and I are heading in opposite directions, the results can be brutal. We charge and we crash and when we’re back on track again, we have to sort through the debris, putting together the pieces that we unceremoniously smashed to smithereens.

As a family unit, we can not all be bulls. At least, not all at the same time.  Four bulls in a house, all traveling down their own paths, means inevitable, even if inadvertent, trampling, wrecking emotional havoc and/or physical destruction.  At any given moment, one of us needs to balance some of that brute force with a bit of softness.

So, how do we do that?  How does a bull not act like a bull?  Neither one of us can dramatically change who we are, but sometimes we can temporarily morph.  We fill ourselves up, taking in all of the happiness and joy and light-heartedness that comes along with being happily married, and rearing young children.  We swell with parent-pride, and transform ourselves into beings that are a little more graceful, a little lighter on our feet, with a little more bounce in our steps.  Figurative bulloons, if you will. Kinder, stretched-out-smooth, versions of ourselves that make it easier to wipe off the shit-storms that emerge in marriage and parenthood, allowing us to more easily clear away unpleasantness and filth with a simple swipe, instead of allowing it to fester, stuck in our fur.  Our bulloon selves are gentle to the touch, are buoyant enough to rise above our usual space of constant clamor, and are highly unlikely to cause any damage, even if we are to ricochet around the room.  It works, for a while, until we deflate, landing on the ground with a thud, the floorboards creaking under our weight.  Back to our regular punchy selves, we charge into action in our typical fashion until we need to fill ourselves up once again.

Dear General Education Teacher: Surprise! You’re A Special Ed Teacher!

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My first job out of college was working as a general ed high school biology teacher.  On day one, during second period, a woman I had never met before walked into my room, alongside the kids.  She introduced herself as a special education teacher in the building and informed me she was assigned to work with me during that hour.  At first I thought she meant for the day, but she meant for the entire school year.  I had no idea why.

Turns out, I had a high percentage of special ed students in my class that hour, and the model utilized at this school to help address those individualized needs was co-teaching.  I didn’t have any special education training, I didn’t know the best practices of teaching with another teacher in my room. No one, it seemed, had bothered to inform me ahead of time that this is what my job as a high school science teacher would entail.

I suppose they didn’t need to: it might not have been emphasized during teacher training, but a large part of general ed teaching is teaching special ed students.

It worked out well, for the most part.  I just taught the kids who were in my room, and did the best I could to help them succeed, and she did the same, complementing my actions and responses with her own.  Each year I taught, I ended up adding a section of co-taught classes.  Eventually I taught a biology class that was made up entirely of special education students, a course that had previously been taught by a special ed teacher with no biology background.  I’m not sure if other biology teachers had tried teaching this class in the past, and it didn’t work out, or if the special ed department had never even considered asking any of the other teachers to teach it. Eventually I got my masters in special ed, and then I was the co-teacher, in someone else’s science room, and now I work mostly with students on the autism spectrum in a resource room setting.

For me, teaching a diverse set of learners was never easy.  But it made sense.  I had kids in my classroom. Some got it.  Some sort of got it.  Some struggled.

This was true for both academics and social/emotional regulation.  It was easiest to teach the kids who got it. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to “teach” students who are readily teachable, who can basically teach themselves, who have maturity and coping mechanisms solidly in place.  It takes a lot more patience, more time, more creativity, more ability, to help the kids who struggle. It took me awhile to figure out where I needed to be firm and rigid, and where I could bend, molding myself into the teacher that each particular student needed me to be.

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It was difficult, and sometimes impossible, to find the time to plan lessons for the “easy” kids and also creatively change the plan for the ones who didn’t get it, or the ones who seemed unruly.  I could not meet all of their needs.

But I tried.

I went to conferences, and I collaborated with peers, and I spent a lot of time working, well after that sixth hour bell rang.  I asked my co-teachers for help and I took them up on every opportunity offered to present a concept to the class in a different way, or to adapt a worksheet to make it more accessible.  I kept learning the content, and more importantly, I kept learning about the kids, because I knew there was really no point in me learning additional facts, if I was unable to help pass this along, in any sort of relevant fashion, to the people placed into my classroom.

It never surprised me when I learned that seated in the front row was a student with Prader-Willi Syndrome, or a student with ADHD, or a student with a significant attitude problem.  It surprises me that this surprises other teachers.  Doesn’t everyone know about the bell curve?  That there are always points outside of the average range (and a lot of them!), and it’s impossible for everyone to be A students, for everyone to complete each task in the same way, or in the same amount of time, or for everyone to be at the exact same point of social/emotional awareness and ability?  Doesn’t everyone get that we are still responsible for teaching the kid who is that data point, waaaaaaaaaaaay out there, far to the left?

I have certainly had days when my students drove me crazy, or puzzled me and put me in positions where I didn’t know what I was going to do to help them become successful adults.  I have often felt frustrated and worn out and exasperated.  But, I’ve never looked at a student name on my roster and literally thought to myself, “I shouldn’t have to teach that kid”, or “That kid isn’t good enough to belong in my room”. That is a very dangerous mentality. Especially considering the fact that the problem isn’t the kid. The problem is that I just don’t know how to reach him or her. That’s my shortcoming, not theirs.

 In the public school setting, we don’t get to pick and choose who we get to teach, but we do get to decide, in many ways, how we will support them, how we will help them improve their knowledge of the subject matter, their confidence levels, and their strategies for dealing with stress.  Even when I know I can’t meet every need, I know I can still do something.

 I am constantly asking myself, “What can I do to help support these kids?”.and “What do these kids need?”  And I mean all of them.  Not just the ones that make my job easy.

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Maybe we need a separate sign that starts with Dear Teachers…..

 

These Are The Reasons I Am Thankful For My Childcare Providers

As a working mom, I have a love/hate mentality about leaving my kids in someone else’s care for what amounts to about 40% of the time my child is awake, each week. Sometimes there are things I think should be done differently, sometimes I question how well I really know what is going on there when I’m not around, and sometimes I have concerns about the sheer volume of donuts my child may or may not be consuming.  It’s easy to get frustrated.  It’s easy to get panicked inside, feeling like I may not be doing what’s best for my children, by sending them there.  Because no one that I’ve found will take care of them exactly like I think they should.  Of course, if I stayed home with my kids every day, I’m quite sure even I would not be able to take care of them exactly like I think I should.  I am trying to take a step back and look at the big picture, and when I do, even with my cynical and critical eye, it sure seems like there is a lot to be grateful for.  I need to remind myself of this.

They create stability and routine. Everything has a time and a place at daycare. Shoes always go in the cubby, coats always get hung up on hangers, and show-and-tell is always on Thursday.  There is allotted time each day to play with baby dolls and listen to stories and create mini-masterpieces and no one leaves the lunch table without asking to be excused.  This isn’t in the fake sort of way, like we have at home. They really mean it, and they follow through.  As if that wasn’t impressive enough, daycare usually incorporates a catchy song that accompanies each time and place.  My kid whistles while she works.

They get my kids to do things I wouldn’t be able to by myself.   I can’t recreate the peer pressure of eleven other kids at home.  The motivation to clean up, or stay in their seats during mealtime is often the result of being a part of the group, and being able to participate with their peers.  There was a brief period of time when Baby Grouch would linger and let the other kids pick up all the toys, while she just looked at them and stared.  “Nope”, she said with her eyes.  “You guys can do it”.  At home I utilized a few strategies to work on this.  I was a broken record and said, “Clean up.  Clean up.  Clean up.”  I told her she could do something fun, but only after she cleaned up her toys (and hoped that what I offered was a motivator that day).  I physically held her and made her sit until she cleaned up the cheerios she spilled on the floor.  But that gets tedious and would be ridiculously impossible to do all day, every day. Sometimes I just cleaned up the blocks for her.  They did not have this problem at daycare.  Once she figured out that she wasn’t allowed to move on to the next group activity without doing her share, she became a cleaning speed demon.

They teach social skills in an authentic setting. I can’t recreate Johnny stealing Toddler Grouch’s light up bouncey ball or Susie giving her a hug and asking if she is okay when she falls and skins her knee.  She says hello, she shares, she waits to take a bite of birthday cake until she sings to her friend and they take a bite first.  It was a weird feeling when I realized my one-year-old had friends that I knew nothing about, other than their first names and fuzzy images of their faces.  But it begins that early, folks. They play very well together, but of course sometimes they fight.  My daughter got put in time out the other day for going on the slide and then putting her feet out, purposely kicking another kid at the bottom.  I’m glad this happened.  On one hand, I’m glad she got annoyed enough to fight back – I think she needs to be more assertive – sometimes she is so laid back she is the one who gets pushed around.  I also want her to learn how to do so appropriately, and I know they help provide her with words to use so she can assert herself with her speech, rather than with physical force.

They clean up my kid’s shit. Seriously they wipe their asses. A lot. Not to mention spit up, puke, snot and other bodily fluids.  I usually don’t mind changing diapers, but I am not under any illusion that my kid’s diapers are full of rainbows and flowers.  My kid’s shit always stinks.

They put in a ton of hours. Our daycare is operated by a mother/daughter team, and they are open almost every day, and rarely have a sub.  They open at seven-fifteen and close at five-thirty. They have no true coffee breaks or lunch breaks.  During the winter, they must be sure to have the driveway shoveled, and, since the daycare is in the basement, they also have to shovel out the area in the backyard surrounding the windows, per fire code.  Living in Michigan, this equates to a lot of time and energy. They run their daycare like a preschool, and have weekly and monthly themes, they have activities planned for every day. They organize, and clean and sanitize equipment on a regular basis.  My kid is in a safe and orderly environment.

They provide sensory stations so I don’t always have to. They have fingerpainting and bubbles and sprinklers and moon sand and glitter glue.  They turn paper towel rolls into pencil holders, hot air balloons and  binoculars.  They turn handprints into butterflies and flowers.  They are probably so grateful for the existance of Pinterest. The kids play outside almost every day, in the summer and in the winter, and they return my child with relatively clean hands, even after she spends an hour digging in the dirt and rocks (one of her favorite things to do).  My kid loves to stick and scoop and smash, and I love that she does this so often there, so I don’t have to clean all of that joy off my floor every day.

They go above and beyond. For every birthday and holiday, they make sure my kids feel special.  They have birthday crowns and the birthday kid gets to lead group activities and get sung to.  They have holiday parties with special outfits and special games.  Our daycare sometimes gives little presents for big occassions.  They pick gems from the “birthday box”, they get wrapped presents to open at Christmas.  I’m paying them about three dollars an hour and they are using part of that money to buy my child things she loves – baby dolls, books, one of those horseheads attached to a stick. They don’t have to do this, because they are already making her feel special in the other, more important, ways.  My kid is a teeny bit spoiled.

They provide a needed service, and sometimes a needed break. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I go for a jog after work before picking up my kids.  In my head, daycare is for when I’m working, so I sort of think of it as free babysitting at this point, even though they as a business have determined the hours and rate that I am paying for.  I’m a better mama when I take care of myself, and it couldn’t happen unless I felt like my kid was in a safe place.

They love my kids. In their own way.  They play with them.  They hug them.  They want them to grow into good people.  They know them inside and out, in some ways maybe a little more than I do.  At least a little differently than I do.  And they get that same feeling of happy-sad when they grow up that I do.  Sometimes, though, if you care about someone a lot, they don’t always measure up to your expectations.  This can lead you to be tough on them.  Which brings me to my next point.

They aren’t always nice. There’s a reason I didn’t decide to have Grandma watch the kids. She’s too nice.  She’ll put on my kid’s shoes for them, and clean up their toys for them and will give in when my children scream and cry that they don’t want to do something.  She will feed my children french fries and cookies and chicken nuggets every single day. She will pamper them.  That said, it isn’t always easy to accept that my kids aren’t being pampered all the time.  I remember my first heart-punch, hearing how my daughter “didn’t want to do anything for herself” one day. When she was six months old. Seriously? And I know there are times when the ladies might be a bit snippy. Maybe even a little shouty.  I’m pretty sure Toddler Grouch didn’t come up with, “Don’t play those games with me”, by herself.  It isn’t something you might want to hear, or think about, but let’s face it: they’re human too. As far as my kids are concerned, I figure that learning how to deal with people who are sometimes moody is a valuable life skill.  That said, my natural instincts are to swoop in like a bird and snatch up my kids in an instant if I suspected any real abuse.  I’d probably peck out a few eyes in the process, too.

They teach kids how to do shit. My kiddo was carrying and setting up her own cot at eighteen months. I watched once, peeking my head out from beind the stairwell and my jaw dropped.  I saw her working with a partner to lift and carry her end of the cot, and walk it from the nap room to the storage closet.  Then she went back and helped her partner (who was a little older and held her hand and reminded her where to go) carry hers. They get these kids to do amazing things.  More things than I will be able to witness, since they can’t record every event or give me a play-by-play of the entire day. I don’t know when my child would have given up bottles, used a sippy cup, put her own coat and shoes on, sang (and danced) the hokey-pokey, the itsy-bitsy-spider, ring-around-the-rosie, counted to thirty, sang the ABC’s, recognized shapes, been able to safely climb up and down stairs, use a fork to feed herself, learn the days of the week, et cetera, if daycare hadn’t taught her.  Yes, she would have learned it all, eventually, but she has certainly learned that she can do things independently at a much earlier age than I would have thought possible.

Reasons to thanks your daycare provider

Reasons to thanks your daycare provider

Anything I missed that I should be thankful for?

I Am Equally Terrified of Having More Kids and Not Having Any More Kids

So, there’s the tantrums.  And the screaming.  The “Mine!”s and the “No!”s.  The bazillion toys with annoying musical themes.  There’s the feeding and the changing and more feeding and more changing.   There’s the blowouts and the spit up and the adult-type vomit that begins at a much earlier age than you would expect.  There’s the cleaning food off the walls and off the floor, out of the crevices of the couch, and strewn across every square inch of the car.  There’s the wiping of snot off of faces, off of walls, off of everything.  There’s the cost.  Of formula. Of food. Of daycare.  Of clothes.  Of parties.  Of braces.  Of college.  Of cars.  Of housing.  Of weddings. There’s the “Don’t lick the window!”s and the “We do not eat cat hair!”s and the “We don’t pee on the dresser!”s.  And, for the love of all that is holy, there is the LACK OF SLEEP.  And I hear it doesn’t get any easier when the kids get older.  Maybe they don’t wake you with their cries, or their morning renditions of Elmo’s Song, but they still wake you, with the worries.  Late teen/early twenty-somethings doing God-knows-what with God-knows-who on a college campus.  The impending insomnia tires me out even more than the current insomnia does.

That’s what really scares me.  The exhaustion.

But, there’s the cuddles.  And the “Look at that!”s and the gasps of awe at observing something new, the quirky insights and the questions that make you think, even though they came out of the mouth of a human being that has been around for a shorter number of years than my current smart phone. There’s the laughter and the silliness and the finding happiness in the little things, every single day. There’s the joy that exists in me, that is multiplied exponentially when I see the same joy exhibited by them.  There’s the comfort in the feeling of being a part of a whole.  There’s the learning what’s important, from those teeny-tiny monsters, those miniature Buddhas-with-attitudes. There’s the being ridiculously happy just from watching them be themselves.

That’s what really scares me.  Missing learning and growing from a unique perspective, missing another eye-opening lesson about what life is really all about.

Now that I have two little peanuts, who are similar in the important ways, but who are already oh-so different in every other way, it makes me mourn for who else could have been.  It makes me wonder who else could still be.

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