On Grieving

After our son was born I called friends who already had kids and apologized to them for not being more excited for them when they became parents. I didn't know until I saw our own son how awesome it was. How could I?

I did the same after my father passed. I called friends who had already lost a parent and apologized for not being more sympathetic for them at the time. How could I have known?

And then I became acutely aware of the grieving of others. A mention of a loss or a diagnosis stops time and puts me back in the moment when I heard the news. The news that changed things. While a smell can take your mind back to summer camp just a few words arranged in the right order can transport your heart back the same way. The day I heard the news. How I held it together for a few minutes and then cried on the shoulder of the first person I saw. I didn't know her too well but she was older and could see it in my eyes. She was part of the club.

That's the club you join when a parent dies. A club that every human throughout existence who has outlived a parent has joined but yet it can still can feel like a party of one. While you are told many cliches when you are in the fog of it the one that is never overused is the one that comes from a club member. "I know what you are going through."

The thing about grief is that it comes out of nowhere. Sure there are the moments that come up that you'd really like to share with them. There are the moments when a question arises in which the answer literally has been taken to the grave and you will never know the answer. But then there are the surprise moments when your mind hits an infinite loop of a memory. You lock in for a bit. My mental record skips and that last note is played over and over again. Luckily, my soundtrack is full of great songs.

For me my mind will stumble on a memory and it will replay in my head as if I was there again. I think it's memory’s survival strategy. My brain is making a back-up rewriting it a few times to ensure it sticks even as my record gets scratched with age. In many of these flashbacks, I'm the only one alive who knows the story now and I think my brain is ensuring it doesn't fade away.

I think I've been good with this. I don't think I'm callous or avoidant or unengaged. I think I'm good. I think being there with him when he needed me most and being able to say goodbye has allowed me to look forward and cherish the memories. It has allowed me to carry his lessons of fatherhood into my own family.

Watching my seven year old and remembering my times with my dad when I was that age have helped me look to the future. The memories I will make for my boy. To etch those into his permanent record.

Being a father to my dad’s grandson has helped me grieve.

Teaching Irony through Sarcasm

  I have the luxury of working weekends and being able to pick up our son from school most weekdays. I watch with joy as he bounces down the steps from his school happy to tell me all about the things he did during the day. Rarely does he come out upset. Never has he come out needing comfort. Until this week. I was waiting with the other parents as we stood around making fun our kids behind their backs… as we do. The doors opened and he came flying out full of wails and tears. He looked inconsolable. The other parents parted making a red carpet like path for him to have easy access to my welcoming arms. He collapsed to the sidewalk at my knees gasping for air between his breathless screams of agony.

“Oh my son. What happened man?! What’s going on?!” I cried back to him.

“I didn’t have time to finish my stress ball!!! My stress ball! I didn’t have time when the bell rang!!!” He cried out at what to me appeared to an incommensurate amount of tears.

Perhaps I misunderstood him?

“Say that again? What’s this about?”

“We were making stress balls and I didn’t get to finish mine! It’s not done! The bell rang and it’s not done! This is the worst day of my life!!!” He yelled.

I stood stunned. The other parents watched on trying to listen in to get a clue as to what horrors must have happened inside. Several seemed to be bracing themselves for what they may face when their little bundles were released from school.

Once I understood what was happening all I could do was laugh. A lot.

“This isn’t funny! This is horrible! This is the worst day of my life!”

I restrained my laughs but spoke through a smile. “You know what you need son? A stress ball.”

“I know! I need a stress ball and I couldn’t finish mine in time. Oh!!! Why me!!!”

“No.” I added. “What’s funny here is that you need a stress ball because of this stress ball situation.”

He didn’t get the irony. I promised him we’d make some when we got home.

“But you don’t know how! You’ve never made one! This is so horrible.” He argued.

I told him we would google it. I'm sure it's just flour and balloons. We can handle that.

But I didn't watch the youtube video result on how to make them. I actually didn't read anything more than what was in the search results. At home I improvised how to get the flour into the balloon by using the nozzle from a cake decorating kit. I filled it with flour and forced the powder into the balloon by blowing really hard into the nozzle. Really hard. The balloon was now full of flour and my compressed air. Once the stress ball was inflated and after pulling my mouth and nozzle from the balloon all the flour erupted from the contracting balloon back into my face. It really was a pretty spectacular scene. It was like a stylist shouted “Powder!” and then some stranger hit me with a pillow full.

The boy laughed out at what to me appeared to an incommensurate amount of joy.

And I stood there stunned, looking at him through my flour covered glasses and he said, “Now you could really use a stress ball huh dad?”

I think he learned irony.

Avoiding the Dad Stereotype

Mr. Mom (1983) Directed by Stan Dragoti Shown: Michael Keaton
Mr. Mom (1983) Directed by Stan Dragoti Shown: Michael Keaton

It’s been nearly seven years that I became a dad. Seven years and I’ve done the best I could to avoid being the bumbling dad stereotype on tv shows. You know the one. He pours orange juice in his coffee and puts sticks of butter in their lunchboxes. I’m the modern dad. I wore the baby. I carried his diapers in my back pocket and bottles in my backpack. (Blue bottle = formula. Red = White Russian.) I went to Mommy and Me. He's starting first grade and I've made it without knocking back the dad cause or erasing the gains my fellow dads have made. We changed Amazon Mom to Amazon Family! I’ve carried the flag well I hope. Except for that one time. I was tired. It was early. He was just beginning to make recognizable sounds. I was just learning to ignore him. We were rushing out the door for daycare and I was knocking things off my before takeoff checklist. Never rush a checklist. I was calling out the items from memory and he was finding his voice. It was white noise to me but still distracting. Up until recently I was able to do my checklist in silence. He used to watch and listen. “How does this man do it all!” Now he wanted to participate and he was bad at it. Out the door and in the car. Checklist complete. I thought. Off we went. He made an excited noise and gesticulated. “Yeah yeah.” I said. Surely he was pointing out something he recognized from the endless rounds of flashcards. “I know. I know. Bus. Car. Dog. Cat. Great job man!” He gesticulated more. Made more fervent noises. “I got ya buddy. Kind of in a hurry here. That diaper situation was an unexpected diversion this morning. I know. I know. Bus or monkey or cloud or rocket ship. Great job!” Again with the pointing. “Yep. So smart. That is an elephant or a tiger or a dinosaur. Nailed it!” And this was how the ride to daycare went. And then we got there and I rushed him out of the carseat and into the school. And his teacher pointed and said to him. “But where are your shoes?” And he pointed and gesticulated and spoke pretty clearly. And I said, “Oh…. shoes!” And he repeated it in a sweet and a so very nonjudgmental voice. “Shoes.” He said. And I said, “Uh, Checklist complete?”

[Shrugs to the camera. Cue the laugh track.]

Rambling With Flashcards

learn-to-read-free-sight-words-2
learn-to-read-free-sight-words-2

We recently upped the ante on our nightly single sight word flashcard routine.

After recognizing the word on the card before him the boy has to use that word in a sentence. At five and three quarters old (his description) the words these days are short and typically monosyllabic. We’re giving him things like BROWN and CAME and FUNNY and DOWN to read to us between bites during dinner. Sometimes his sentences turn into paragraphs that take us far from the given word and down a long stream of thoughts. But in the end he finds a way to tidy things up and use the word on the card before him. Does he begin with a theme or does he simply ramble his way through a thought until he finds us nearing the end of our attention span and then clean up the loose ends with the given word?

His word was "DOWN".

“Um, after dinner and after I finish my words and my food and my milk and my applesauce and after I wash my hands and clean up and put my plate in the sink and everything then will you please get my Halloween candy so I can have a nice piece because I was good and did everything I was supposed to and when you do get the candy you will have to get my Halloween bag from on top of the refrigerator and you will have to get it down.”

My guess is regardless of the word getting candy was the objective.

And if getting candy was his goal then in his mind all he needed to do was turn any word we gave him into a story about how that candy was going to get into his hands.

Perhaps he’s been studying the presidential candidates and learning from the way in which they turn any question into a platform to spin their objective.

In the end they all just want candy.

Time... According to a Child

 
   

How amazing it must be to have no concept of time? How liberating.

Plotting our sons growth alongside the chart of mankind’s evolution, he is close to understanding that as the sun settles near the horizon it's time to get back to the cave.

Walking upright? Check.

Simple cave drawings? Check.

Charting the Suns movement across the sky and breaking it into 24 equal increments? Hardly.

Our five year old's time thumps to the rhythm of his own internal combustion engine... and the beat of his imagination. Unless it's a school day and his routine is orchestrated by our needs, he wakes when his body tells him he's had enough sleep. It's never the “groggy, rolling out of bed hesitant to start the day” look. His is the “I got exactly the amount of sleep by body needs to replenish the energy I lost on the previous day playing and doing kid stuff” look. It's our job though to manipulate his clock.

He has yet to fully comprehend that the numbers on the face represent the time of day. His only perspective is sun up versus sun down.

As his overlord, there have been a few days I've set the stationary teaching clock on the wall in his room to 7:50am and told him he can't get up until 8. It's nice playing god.

He has yet to figure out how morning fog can delay wake-up time.

“Nope. Sun’s not out yet… Back to bed.”

Curtains were invented not for privacy but to control a kids sleep patterns.

We've taught him days in how many sleeps he will have between now and the event in question. But that doesn't always stick. Maybe we need a slow burning rope with knots for days? Or an hourglass.

Mankind has come so far. Childkind? Not so much.

I told him recently I was coming to observe him at school the following week. The following Tuesday. That day was Friday.

“Are you coming to my school tomorrow?”

“No, tomorrow is Saturday. I will be there Tuesday. Four sleeps.”

“Tomorrow is Tuesday!”

“Well, it’s not. Today is Friday. Tomorrow is Saturday. If tomorrow was Tuesday, tonight would be a school night and you would have school tomorrow.”

“I don’t have school tomorrow! Tonight is not a school night! Are you coming to my school tomorrow?”

I told him to think that over.

On the news one morning he overheard the reporter mention an approaching nor'easter.

“Yay! Tomorrow is Easter!”

“Well, no. It’s not. Easter is always on a Sunday. Today is Friday… that makes tomorrow what?”

“Easter! I can’t wait. He said it was Easter! Did you know the Easter Bunny lives in the ground? Why do they live in the ground? Is it cold down there?”

He has it in his head that Halloween happens when it’s dark out. Occasionally, as the sun is setting he will exclaim! “Yay! It’s Halloweentime! I love Halloween. What am I going to dress up as tonight?”

When you have no concept of time the daily rotation of the earth determines the holidays. That and seasonal holiday decorations.

At the sight of Christmas lights up in March. “Yay! It's Christmas! I've been a good boy this year. I hope Santa comes.”

“It's not been a year. It's only March.”

“I don't like to march. I can do a somersault though. And skip.”

And blowing leaves means it's Fall.

“Yay! It's fall! The leaves are falling!”

“Well, it's actually spring. Summer will be here soon.”

“No it won't. It was hot yesterday. Summer was yesterday.”

To be unburdened by time. What a peaceful world.

He's watching the earth move and slowly assigning values to its position. And when that doesn't work… He pulls holidays out of the air.

“You're wearing red? Yay! It's Valentine’s Day! I love Valentine’s Day. Can we get some chocolate?”

“Not necessarily. But today is not Valentine's Day. It will be Valentine's Day in a year.”

“When I am six?”

“Yes.”

“Yay! When I turn six it will be Valentine’s Day. And my birthday! At the same time! Yay!"

Let's hope he doesn't see a turkey that day or we'll have Thanksgiving too.

 

National Adoption Month. Where Do Storks Come From?

stork-and-baby
stork-and-baby

“Father?” Said the almost five year old. “Listen, there is something I’ve been thinking about. You and I have been watching a lot of classic television programing lately. Shows like Tom and Jerry and Dumbo and I’ve noticed that in them, often a Stork drops off a baby to Moms and Dads.”

“Yes?” I answer while thinking, “Here we go. It’s time to talk about his adoption story. Where’s Mom? It’s something her and I have had on our to-do list but just haven’t gotten to. Damn you MarioKart.”

“So in these shows,” He continues. “The families always receive their babies from flying Storks. They are dropped from the moonlit sky and the little ones float in under a full parachute safely to land on the doorstep of their eager families. I’ve seen a Stork drop little elephants, giraffe and humans. All sorts of things. But what I’m wondering is this. Who brings the Storks?”

“Uh, I’m not sure I follow?”

“Well. A Stork flying around with a baby llama is quite a sight. Clearly that’s not the Storks child. It doesn’t look like her. It doesn’t even have wings. The same with a baby alligator. The Stork is going to drop off the alligator to an alligator family. Why would a Stork be flying around with an alligator if not to drop it off at its real family? But why would she deliver a Stork to another Stork? Wouldn’t they be able to deliver their own baby? Is this why we never see them flying around with a baby Stork in the basket?”

“There is a lot to cover here?” I said. “Maybe we should wait for your Mom to get home. I think I’m going to go play some MarioKart.”

“I guess my question is this. Where do Storks come from?”

“Just so we are clear here, Son.” I ask him. “We are talking about Storks right? The bird.”

“Of course we are Father. What else would it be? I understand that when a Stork is flying around with a potbellied pig in her basket or cloth sack no one would guess that it is hers because the pig looks so different. Same with a baby zebra. But if the reason we never see Storks flying around with their own is because Storks deliver themselves… where do Storks come from?”

“Okay. First of all. Families are made of all types of animals. Moms and Dads adopt children from other species and they make beautiful families. Even when they look different and have different features. Sometimes a bird may have a donkey for a son and that is just fine. Or a monkey. Second. Storks do fly around with other Storks. Just not in the basket. Baby birds can fly too so they just fly alongside their parents.”

“Surely they can’t fly at birth. How do they get to their parents houses?”

“Magic.” I said.

“That’s not true.”

“A Genie in a bottle.” I answer.

“Like Aladdin?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t believe that answer either.”

“Amazon Prime. They come in those brown boxes.”

“Oh. That makes sense. Amazon drops off all the babies that way right? Then on moonlit nights, the Storks fly them to their families?” He asks.

“Yep. You got it. Until the drones take over. They will put all the Storks out of business.”

“Oh. One more thing?” He asks. “Am I adopted?”

“Yes. And we love you very much.”

“Thanks Dad. Can we order a sister from Amazon?”

Future Daddy Blogger Support Group

Group white chairs
Group white chairs

The meetings are held in the basement of a church near an all-night donut shop. Although both are helpful, the location is more about the donuts than the man upstairs. The chairs are arranged in a circle. The donuts are placed on an end table in the middle. They are a focal point. The embers of a fire that never goes out. There are always more donuts.

“It’s time to start the group.” The host says. “Thank you all so much for coming today. I see a few new faces and many familiar ones. Who wants to begin today? Tyler? How about you start?”

Tyler was seated in the circle directly across from the host. Although he was a regular to the support group he was hard to remember. He had an unassuming disposition and talked in a hushed voice. The others leaned in when he spoke because he was barely heard over the buzz of the box fans. It’s not uncommon for the grown up kids of dad bloggers to shun the spotlight. Growing up online was enough. Tyler was the norm.

“Hi, I’m Tyler. You all may know me as “Little T” from the SometimesHePoopsInHisPants.com blog.”

“Hi Tyler.com” The group said in unison. Adding a dot com to their name was a joke that caught on. A way to mock their dads who’ve chronicled their lives online since birth.

“I’ve made some progress since last week when I told you I was ready to talk him about his blog and how it has always been the third wheel in my relationships. He acted surprised that employers ask about the site and that first dates do their research before we meet. Secretly, I think he was adding up the page views in his head. He suggested that I add his link to my resume to help with search engine optimisation. He even asked if he could make me a match.com profile and put it on his blog. But, he listened and was receptive but... I caught him recording me. I haven’t seen it pop up on any of his feeds yet. With our conversation recorded at least I know he may listen to it later. The last time I had a serious talk with him he spliced my words into a Beastie Boys song that went viral. “Whatcha Whatcha... Whatcha Want!” with me replying “No More Blog.”

“I like your optimism.” Said the host. “We’ve all learned that they will not change and unless you are ready to hack and delete their pages we’ve got to find a way to live in their world.”

“Thanks. I tried to vary my pitch and volume to give him little to work with. He’s always been pretty good at sound editing though.”

“I’d like to go next.” Said Rachel as she sat down with a fresh donut. “I’m Rachel from SheWillAlwaysBeMyLittleGirl.com”

“Hi Rachel.com.”

“My dad wrote me a letter this week responding to an email I sent him. All I told him was that I wished I didn’t have pictures of me online from every awkward age growing up. To him they may be cute and at the time maybe they were but now I can’t hide from them. I told him that when I look in the mirror all I see is every flaw from childhood. He seemed genuinely sympathetic and wrote me a poem.”

“That is really great, Rachel. Would you like to read it to us.”

What moon songs do you sing your baby?

What sunshine do you bring?

Who belongs? Who decides who's crazy?

Who rights wrongs where others cling?

I'll sing for you if you want me to

I'll give to you

And it's a chance I'll have to take.”

Tyler squirmed in his seat and spoke up. “Oh man, Rachel. Holy shit! Your dad’s passing a Smashing Pumpkins song off as his poem to you. Damn! That’s low! I’ve had damn near every 90’s alternative song used as the backdrop in my childhood home movies. I hate that shit.”

“I knew it was too good to be true. I bet he spent more time choosing the font. He’s always going on and on about fonts. I think he only speaks to me in headlines sometimes.”

“Sorry about that Rachel. That really sucks. To you all. I’m new to the group. My name is Mark from ItsGonnaLeaveAMark.com”

“Hi Mark.com.”

“I thought I was alone all these years in my feelings. I thought I was being too selfish and judgemental and then I realized that it was he who was being selfish and narcissistic. There isn’t a movie from my youth out there for me to enjoy because all I see is my face cropped into the movie posters. I think my dad must have taken every movie made during my childhood and spliced me into it somewhere. What gave him the right to take that from me?”

“Your anger is justified Mark.com and your feelings are valid.” The host said. “May I suggest you watch something that he didn’t use?”

“I have! All I can enjoy is Japanese Animation and I hate Japanese Animation! I don’t know what’s going on and I always think I’m gonna have a seizure.”

“Most of us have tuned out from the digital world.” Said Rachel. “We get together and play parcheesi. You should join us after group. We don’t take pictures and listen to vinyl so there is no digital record. God, my dad would love to stream my listening habits online."

"My dad blogger would love to write a post about that." Added Mark.com.

His First Joke

10557699_10152354800583860_4772943340586971653_o
10557699_10152354800583860_4772943340586971653_o

For the first time in his life he has come up with something funny. Months later he still calls back to it. And it is funny. He’s had funny moments before. He’s pulled some physical gags and laughed at himself and then asked if it was silly. But this is his first joke.

Sometime late summer the subject of a sweet dessert came up. He was asking for it and I didn’t know what it was. He wasn’t saying it right. His pronunciation was off. It didn’t make sense. It was something he got somewhere and I didn’t know what it was. At four he’s too young to have things in his life I’m not aware of. We both laughed (hysterically) as I made it into a game of twenty questions. He caught on to the bit and riffed with me.

He was asking for something that sounded to me like “Fruit Myer”.

“Is it cold?”

“Yes!” He said laughing implying that of course it is served cold.

“Is it in the refrigerator or the freezer?”

“It’s in the freezer silly!”

“What color is it?” I asked.

“Green.”

“And what is it called again?”

“I told you. Fruit Myer!”

“I have no idea what this is! Maybe next time we are in the store you can point it out to me.”

“They don’t have Fruit Myer in the store, Silly! You are so crazy.”

"Also, Dude. Fruit Myer is not the preferred nomenclature." I added.

I have no idea what this stuff is.

My clues so far.

It’s green. It’s served cold. You eat it with a spoon. It makes a mess if you spill it. You get sick if you eat too much of it. Asking if it is bigger than a breadbox makes no sense to him. They don’t sell it at the store. You’d be crazy to think they did.

I’m guessing it’s some kind of green ice cream that my Mother-in-Law bought him.

She was also the source behind another mystery. One that I was able to solve.

That one was easier to piece together.

He asked for a popsicle from the freezer and when it was lemon instead of chocolate he demanded I put it under running water. “It will turn to chocolate!”

“No it won’t.” I said.

“Under the water! It will turn to chocolate! I don’t want lemon! I want chocolate!”

“That doesn't make any sense! That is impossible!” I yelled back matching his volume for affect. “Running water will not turn frozen lemonade into chocolate! It will turn it into more lemonade!”

I proved this and subsequently disappointed him in the name of science. His expression when I gave him a plastic stick that once held a popsicle was actual comedy.

“See!" I waved it. Again, for affect. "No chocolate!”

I may have over done it. He sulked. Tough audience.

My hypothesis. His Grammy makes him frozen popsicles with chocolate milk. She also makes him some from lemonade. My guess is to help extricate them from their plastic mold she runs them under water to loosen them up. Perhaps the lemonade variety doesn't need loosening? He must think we have a Willy Wonka sink that can turn anything into a chocolate popsicle?

But. To the current mystery. And joke.

Months later he will call back to the Fruit Myer bit and laugh knowing it’s funny.

It may begin with him chuckling, “Remember the Fruit Myer?”

I will laugh and start the round of the twenty questions again.

Even better is when I catch him laughing to himself and then when I ask him what’s funny he says snickering, “Fruit Myer.”

It’s a joke we share. A joke him and I wrote and one that I think he finds as funny as I do.

Maybe I don't want to ever know what Fruit Myer is?

My Son. My Chronological Yardstick

growth.jpg

spacegrowththinEvery memorable event in my life that happened before the spring of 2010 is filed away in my brain with a five year buffer. My mental calendar from the era before I had a child is ordered in half decade increments. When did I graduate college?

“I was done wearing flannel shirts by that time... mid to late 90's?”

Since my son was born he has become a yardstick on which I measure time. Instead of just inches marked off on the door frame I see months and the corresponding historical events. I look at his growth notches on the wall like a geologist sees the colors of a canyon.

My brother was married the month our son’s adoption was official. June 2010.

February 2011 he started scooting around the coffee table on his way to becoming bipedal.

In addition to tagging my memory with his chronology, I’ve watched the evolution of mankind as he’s inched his way up my leg. His descent from the crib akin to early man deciding that a tree wasn’t such a great place to raise a family. Soon after conquering land he began grunting and sketching crude drawings on the walls. This led to the use of simple tools and more complete sentences and an attempt to overthrow the established rules of the house. He assumed he was smarter than his elders but didn’t yet realize that we control the food and the bath toys.

It’s just a matter of time before I catch him sitting around a plastic round table with his playmates playing Rock Paper Scissors to decide who gets to be Braveheart this time.

“They will never take away our Freedom!”

I can’t wait for him to catch up with the 1960’s human and enter the space race in the backyard. Am I allowed to impart my wisdom onto him or do I have to let him fail in order to achieve global dominance? Does he need to lose a few model Estes rockets because my interference will disrupt the space time continuum? I’d hate to walk back inside after properly staging his rocket engines when he’s not looking to find my image fading in the few physical photos we have on the wall.

And when he actually becomes smarter than his elders I’ll be certain to hide the growth chart from him so he can’t rewrite history. It will be saved for posterity so I can remind him where he came from if his power becomes too great for him to handle.

“Right there. That is when you first inched up to my waistline.”

Hopefully he will still look up to me as he did then.

If not, I'll just take away his bath toys.

What I Did Not Do During My Summer Vacation

14696482734_412e6fcbf3_o
14696482734_412e6fcbf3_o

I was on vacation during the month of July. I ceased all work related activities.

I also didn't...

  • Read a USATODAY
  • Eat airport food
  • Shave
  • Tell a passenger their flight cancelled... just for the fun of it
  • Turn my back and walk away from the TSA while they attempted to explain the rules
  • Make small talk with a new hire pilot about what they flew before this
  • Set an clock alarm with a pencil so as to not touch the buttons with my fingers
  • What CNN Airport News Network
  • Wear a tie
  • Watch sailboats from the cockpit of jet wishing I was down there
  • Iron anything
  • Get excited about finding a People, US Magazine and OK! in the same seat back pocket
  • Ride in a hotel van telling horror stories about flying with my crew while one non-airline person cries silently to themselves in the back
  • Send my phone through an X-ray machine with the "Get me out of this bag!" ringtone set to fire in T minus 10 seconds
  • Drink an emergency shot of airplane coffee
  • Wear a five point harness (almost though. Considered racing a go-cart)
  • Use outlook for email
  • Touch a thrust lever
  • Do a checklist (making a list now. Close)

It was a blissful month away from the airport. I return to the cockpit tomorrow. I just hope they didn't move any of the buttons around.