The misadventures of a first time father

Tag Archives: Life

This past week, my wife and I sat in the doctor’s office, staring at a black and white image on the screen. The grainy images of an arm, a foot, and eventually a profile of a head filled us with smiles inside and out as we finally put a somewhat-face to the growing little person that will be joining the ranks of our growing family. It was an odd moment. One might think it might feel routine at this point. This’ll be our third child, after all. We’ve been through this all before.

But, this time, staring at that screen, we felt…connected. To the baby, to each other, to the moment right then and there.

It’s something that, perhaps, we didn’t allow ourselves with our first two children. It’s not meant with any disrespect or disregard for either our son or daughter. It’s just that we now realize how much of their pre-arrivals were spent worrying so much about the future, planning what was to come, what had to be done, how would we handle things, that we failed to be in the moment, living in the present as we should have been and would have liked to be.

Sitting in the waiting room between sonogram and the appointment with the doctor, we were both on our phones, taking pictures of the sonogram and sending it to family members.

smart-phoneIn the course of any given day, I check my smart phone device constantly, scrolling through Twitter and thinking if I have anything funny to say, checking email to see if anyone’s gotten back to me about the house we’re selling or one of the myriad of book queries I’ve put out there, checking in with the virtual beings whose lives I lord over in Sims Freeplay, or checking my Google Keep app for the numerous to-do lists it allows me to make, organize, add to, and check off as I complete things in the never-ending, always growing list of tasks for work, home, creative pursuits, etc. It’s constantly ongoing, and I keep it that way. I constantly think of things that need to get done and add it to the list. Or I check to see what i can cross off. Some are more pressing than others. Others aren’t necessary at all. But I check obsessively regardless. It’s as fruitless as trying to keep up with email.

“Looked at in terms of flowing and static information, the email inbox is one, big, unfinishable loop,” says Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. “It is not a book or document that can be successfully completed. It is a flow. Sure, we can mark or move emails that are important, create priorities and sorting routines. But the initial choice to have email at all is to open a loop.”

I put off taking risks, following pursuits or making changes in life because I’m constantly waiting until something else is done. (I.e. In a year I should have my master’s done, so I’ll wait to search out other jobs until that’s done; I have 24 more payments left on both my student loans, which is two years, so if I can just hold off until that’s paid off in that time, THEN I’ll give dream/risk/pursuit xyz a try.) Always looking ahead, planning, sometimes to the point of excuses, rather than living in the present.

I think of not too long ago, the guilt I felt when my son asked me to play and I was too busy looking at something unimportant on my phone that I told him I couldn’t at the moment, only to find a few minutes later that he had moved on, leaving the lyrics of “Cats in the Cradle” running through my head and a desire to try and not allow myself to follow down that path due to such easy distractions.

As we talked later that morning, holding pictures of our soon to be third child, my wife and I both acknowledged how rare it is to feel like that, to truly feel present like we did in that room.

We’re not alone.

Even as I wrote this blog post, I found my hand casually moving over to the mouse and bringing up tabs of Facebook, Twitter, and before I knew it, sucked down the rabbit hole of online interaction. Though I wasn’t interacting. I was just scrolling. Scrolling through like a mindless motor function without any true purpose. Was there anything pressing I needed? Was there information I had to have that very moment that I took myself away from the focus of writing – something that I struggle to re-focus on and get back to once I’ve been pulled away. No. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I had nothing to say. I’ve just in many ways become conditioned to get distracted. It’s something I admit I desperately want to stop doing.

“Catching up with Twitter is like staying up all night to catch up on live streaming stock quotes from yesterday,” Rushkoff says. “The value was in the now – which at this point is really just a then.”

I have come to feel that I often spend so much time worrying about and trying to plan for the future and various ways in which it may occur, that I’m rarely ever actually living in the present anymore. The moments pass with no appreciation as I’m constantly looking for how to take care of what comes next, or what will or could come next.

It’s not surprising that it’s a constant source of exhaustion and anxiety, and causes me to spend way too much time on my devices that I could be spending living in the moment with my friends and family. It’s why the founders of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or various apps that eat up all our time, are as successful as they are. It may not be a sinister intention, but it takes aim at our internal longing to escape but feel a part of something bigger, a community, or simply to be more relevant, and exploits it for gain.

Meanwhile, so many of us are ever living outside of our lives and constantly chasing digital nostalgia (remember, nostalgia doesn’t always refer to the past. It’s a combination of Latin words meaning “longing for home.” And home can mean comfort.)

“Another definition of unhealthy escapism—escapism gone too far—is the effects it has on the essential fabric of living,” psychologist Andrew Evans writes in This Virtual Life, as noted by the February 2015 article in The Atlantic titled The Good and The Bad of Escaping to Virtual Reality. “The individual in the context of family, friends, and social commitments.”

Evans connects his definition, the article states, to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ranking love and a sense of belonging just after basic physiological and safety needs.

bird feederThen I think of the calm, the peace, the feeling of being in the now, in the present that I felt looking at the baby’s form on that monitor. It may sound silly, but it was almost akin to the feeling of being present I experience when I’m sitting alone looking at nature, whether it’s a walk through a nature trail and admiring the plants and trees, or sitting quietly in our backyard, sans digital devices, getting lost in the greenery, trees, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and wildlife going about their day.

In Richard Louv’s The Nature Principle, the author suggests using natural systems to enhance the physical, psychological and spiritual life of humans.

“Whereas technology immersion results in walls that become screens, and machines that enter our bodies, more nature in our lives offers us homes and workplaces and natural communities that produce human energy…[and] products and environments that make life more comfortable for people.”

Clinical Psychologist, Consultant, and Author Catherine Steiner-Adair, in her book The Big Disconnect, notes that our reliance on technology can often be an attempt to fill voids that we’re not getting from the physical world around us.

“Simply put, we are more sociable when we are connected to nature, and without nature we manifest antisocial behavior more regularly and rely on technological substitutes more.”

In a March 2011 TEDx Talk, Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses the ways in which technology connects us, yet disconnects from the people and physically around us.

“Children talk about that moment of coming out of school, looking for eye contact and instead of that moment with a parent, that parent is looking at the smart phone,” Turkle says.

A generation has grown up with technology as the competition for their parents time and attention and now that generation is older and has their own turn to live in the culture of distraction.

Turkle had been present when computers were first being implemented into home use and recalls when designers/programmers were having trouble finding ideas to keep the computer busy (calendars, contact list, etc, were some early ideas for home use). As she says, it didn’t matter in the end, because now they are what keeps us busy.

“What I didn’t see coming…and what we have now is that mobile connectivity, that world of devices, always on and always on us, would mean that we would be able to basically bail out of the physically real at any time,” she says. “To go to the other spaces we have available to us and that we would want to.”

She refers to this departure from multi-tasking as multi-lifing, and that escapism, that distraction, that other life that technology offers us is seductive, hitting us in some of the most vulnerable parts of our humanity. It is, she surmises, what has led so much of our culture to become one that would rather text or send an email than pick up the phone and talk. The technology has allowed us to dial down our own human contact.

As these bits of our humanity are chipped away, it will become even more crucial to find a way, amid a world where this technology is not going away, to revisit, revive, and instill our own humanity into future generations, for fear that they could lose it completely.

“If we don’t teach our children how to be alone, they will always be lonely.”

Like many addictions, it becomes a vicious cycle. We escape to online, we become distracted from the physical world around us, and as we cut out the real world, we more and more seek out the illusion of friendship and community without the companionship in the digital world of technology. It feeds our loneliness which just keeps us perpetually alone. But we continue to seek it out, and the media texts that it provides, out of this sense of longing for comfort, and media companies will continue to exploit with the latest social platforms, digital shows, films, apps, or games as long as we keep needing a digital place to seek out and fulfill that need of nostalgia, of longing.

 

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woman burned out multitaskingIt’s no big secret that I’m a list maker.

Usually, prior to calling it a day and heading to bed, I pull out my planner and start jotting down what I would like to accomplish the following day. It ranges from work assignments that I need to wade through to personal projects or writings (“blog post” shows up rather often. Guess how many times it doesn’t get crossed off the list?) to house maintenance and errands (“pick up coat from tailor” or “buy gutter downspout” were just some this week).

Needless to say, it’s gotten harder to work my way through the daily lists as the years progress, especially when there’s the daily responsibilities of parenthood involved. I’m often told that I put too much on the list each day, and I agree that it’s probably accurate.

Unfortunately it doesn’t make me feel any better when I stare at an incomplete list that’s not completely crossed off at the end of the night.

But I’m trying to take on a new perspective. It’s not easy by any means, and my instincts immediately become reluctant to do so, feeling like I’m not being productive enough.

However, I’m doing my best to cut back and cut some slack.

There comes a point where we have to stop beating ourselves up over what doesn’t get done on a laundry list of daily to-dos and take a moment to accept and celebrate what we did manage to accomplish.

Amid work, transporting kids here, there and everywhere, meals, bathtimes, storytimes, bedtimes, and all the questions in between, the weight of these little people’s world rests upon our shoulders as parents. That in itself can become monumental tasks on anyone’s endurance and energy. So we can not realistically expect ourselves to be as productive now, shouldering all that has to get done in a day just to survive, as we did against our lives at 27, 24, or the years when it was just us, be it just us as couple or just as individuals.

If we as parents can accomplish even one additional thing on top of the requirements of each day, then I think we need to teach ourselves to accept that as a win. Some days there will be more, some days there will be less, but speaking from experience we have to stop beating ourselves up when there just sometimes isn’t enough time in the day. Allow yourself a chance to breathe, to say “I did something” even if it’s just one thing. You’ve earned the small victory. Don’t let stress take it away from you.We have to give ourselves the small victories.

Because that’s honestly what they are amid everything else – victories.

Relax enjoy

Allow yourself a chance to breathe, to say “I did something” even if it’s just one thing. You’ve earned the small victory. Don’t let stress take it away from you.


smart-phoneThe other night, I was standing in our dining room, leaning up against a piece of furniture, chiming into conversation but primarily scrolling through my phone, looking at the latest news going on in the outside world (no lack of those lately), what friends were up to, and checking in to see if any emails I had been waiting for popped up.

The family was going about various evening norms – unpacking the array of bags that seem like we’re boarding an airplane but really just make up our collective day, sorting through the mail, looking at what’s in the fridge and at recipes for dinner possibilities. A one year old little girl wandering about with that cute little waddle, babbling away with sounds that we think we understand but can never be sure, and a 4 year old little boy bouncing around the house with more energy than any of us could hope to muster at any given point of day, let alone the exhausting post work, kid-pick-up, drive home, kid unload, baggage unload, figure out dinner part of the day.

I was there, completely exhausted and mindlessly moving my hand across the screen, when that little voice chimed in “Wanna play with me daddy?”

And, tiredly, I looked at him, smiled…and gave him some reason of how I really wasn’t up for playing and was really very tired. He walked away, a little bummed, and sat down to see what was on PBS Kids as I continued moving my finger across the phone, taking in all of the outside world in its digitally relayed form, and completely ignoring the physical one right in front of me.

Meg leaned nearby, and quietly said “He’s not going to be asking for much longer.”

Wow.

I stopped for a moment, looking up from my phone and over at that little boy watching television. How big he’s gotten already. How fast he’s growing. How quickly he’s changing. From the little baby I held in my arms in the hospital to the little toddler who learned to walk to talk, to count, the alphabet, using the potty, spelling his name. It all happened in the span of four years now, but it seems like it went by in the blink of an eye. A cliche? Sure. But the reason they have cliches is because they’re true for so many.

In the blink of an eye all that time was gone. He’ll never be discovering those same things again. New things, sure. But never those firsts we’ve already crossed over. He’s already in Pre-k, making friends, telling us about his days in the car and over dinner. Heck, we have kindergarten registration next week. Before I know it, he’ll be there, every day, all day in school.

In that same blink of an eye, we’ll be through grade school, dealing with the junior high years, high school, whatever comes beyond. It will happen so quickly and I will wish, beg, pray for the chance to play with my little boy again. And I won’t have it. That time will have passed.

I couldn’t escape the sounds of Cat’s in the Cradle playing through my head as I looked at him in that moment.

All of this swirled through my mind in a matter of seconds after Meg spoke the words. How right she was.

I closed the phone, walked over to him and sat down next to him, asking about what he was watching, then asking if he still wanted to play. He wanted to play something different, but it was still something.


tumbleweedThe silence is palpable as a tumbleweed spins across your path. This place seems like it’s been dead for quite some time. It’s nothing but a ghost town.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but I haven’t exactly been pounding out the pieces as of late, making this place a virtual deserted city.

I’ve meant to. Truly. I can’t tell you how many times the phrase “blog posts” or sometimes “blog posts!!!!” has been scrawled out on my daily planner, never to be crossed out, left out of the reindeer games of the day like poor little Rudolph. Even those four extra exclamation points haven’t been able to add extra time to the day, even if they have increased the amount of guilt for it.

I at first thought that the greatest challenge in having a second child would be remembering or re-learning how to care for a baby again. I was surprised to find that this came back pretty easily. What I hadn’t really understood was that the greatest challenge to a second child is juggling the care a baby needs alongside the growing needs of a three year old.

From the moment we wake around 5:30 or 5:45 (or earlier if the cats are feeling particularly saucy that morning), it feels like a whirlwind begins, feeding cats, showering, dressing, cleaning litter boxes, prepping lunches, waking kids, getting the little guy on the potty, dressing kids, out the door, a full workday, and then back again around 6 for the nightly responsibilities of dinner, bathtime, storytime, bedtime, and a little bit of playtime or family time squeezed in the moments between.

If both my wife and I are in the same room at the same time, that often means a divide and conquer strategy, with one of us handling the baby while the other plays with, talks with, keeps engaged, our three year old son.

And that has left very little time for much else. Yes, yes, I’ve heard the “just work on it when the kids are asleep” or “get up earlier” suggestions before, and I admit, it certainly was more doable with a growing little boy who eventually had a bedtime, and went to sleep. But with a new baby in the mix, his bedtime doesn’t mean free-time, just the two of us to handle the baby at once instead of the divide and conquer of earlier in the evening.

I truly don’t know how some folks do it, and to those of you who do, I commend you. I really, really do. Bravo. But I have to ask, how? How does one balance a full day of work, kid pickups and drop offs, home life and responsibilities, and still find the time to write and blog on such a regular basis? Are you all wearing chrono-belts that let you slow down the time-stream? Tell me your secrets!!!! 🙂

collar grabSorry. Didn’t mean to grab your collar like that. I got a little carried away.

It has, admittedly, been tough to find time to do anything.

That’s not bad. First, it won’t always be this way. Before we know it, that three year old boy will be a six year old boy, 12 year old boy, 18 year old boy, and off into adulthood. That little baby girl will shortly after be doing the same. There are moments where sure, we think to ourselves that we’d like the time to do things we want, but let’s be honest – it never outweighs what we don’t want – for this time to go by in a blink, for these moments to blow past us like a drag race.

No, no, no.

These are the times to savor, to enjoy, to live.

Having the memories written to reflect upon one day might be nice, but they’re only half a memory if they aren’t truly lived.

Yes, we all get down on ourselves for not always accomplishing the things on our to-do list, whether it be a room clean-up or repair around the house, or a blog post to be written.

But no, it’s not terrible, and I think we all need little reminders of that when we start to feel that we don’t always have the luxury of time we once had for such things.

It’s not bad. It just means that we’re too busy being parents and living life with our children to actually always write about it.

I’d rather take take the moments as fully as they can be than to forsake them or short change them for the sake of writing them down.


box of comicsLittle by little over the past few months, we’ve been clearing out much of our home office, converting it into a hybrid office/nursery with the arrival of our newest addition. Packing books up, taking down wall art not quite suitable for a newborn, and taking the numerous boxes filled with comic books and packing them away in our basement.

Part of that process includes protecting them from the elements and time, so each comic is placed in a protective plastic with a flap taped on the back to keep moisture, dust and other undesirables out.

Here and there during a nap time, I’ll take a few minutes and go down to the basement and work a little more on bagging up the books and filing them away in a box, on a shelf, for posterity and safe keeping.

During a recent session of ‘archiving,’ though, I found myself swept away by the various memories associated with these books, accumulated over a lifetime of reading, and yet, carrying with them numerous lives, numerous versions of me, long gone.

With every piece of tape snapped, every comic bagged, boarded and slid away into a box, I realized so with it was a small piece of me. By that I mean it was like flipping through the pages of a yearbook unearthed after years in a box. Many of these books I hadn’t seen in decades. Music playing from Pandora as I worked (some Steve Winwood, some Asia, Phil Collins, all music I used to hear growing up in the 80s, often while I sat reading this comics originally), I was transported to the various parts of my life that coincided with each of these books.

JSA comicEach one a representation in some weird way of who I was at any given time. Of what I was going through, feeling, of who I was, be it the kid sitting under his bedroom window at 13, wondering if the girls playing down the street were going to come knocking at the window; the 20 year old who, after several years away from them, started picking up comics again while away at college, finding comfort while away from home in things that re-connected me to my childhood, yet opened my eyes to storytelling, characters, and perspectives I had never quite known of (thank you, indie comics); the 24 year old, out of college, trying to find his place in the world, thriving on creating art in the form of low budget filmmaking, yet finding inspiration and solace in the full-color panels of the comic pages; or the 27 year old single journalist, coming home exhausted, wanting nothing more than to crash on the couch, casually grabbing a floppy comic book from the ever-growing reading pile on the end table as time started becoming more of a commodity.

Or today. Though the books are incredibly fewer than ever before, the reading piles still add up with the day-to-day responsibilities of a worker, a husband, a father, a homeowner. They’re still there, though. Connecting the me of today with all the mes of the past.

I have been so many different people in my lifetime already. A son. A brother. A friend. A student. A newspaper delivery boy. A restaurant host. An actor. A library aide. A coffee barista. A film projectionist. An indie filmmaker. A newspaper reporter. A comic book writer. A news anchor. And a father.

Sometimes it can be difficult to reconcile all of those identities into one being today, the same yet different in so many ways.

This is not necessarily a negative thing. What it is, I think, is a reminder.

Flash comicWe grow, we change, we learn from our experiences and transform into a new being made up of and shaped by the lessons, mistakes, and thoughts of our past. We shake away the being we are unhappy with, even in the smallest of increments, on a never-ending journey to transform, to become better. In effect, the old us dies and is reborn as something new, molded by our experiences.

We all have our own “comics,” our own items carried with us throughout our lives that carry with them the remnants of our own past.  And when we occasionally uncover them, it’s like an archaeological dig to rediscover when we were, where we were, who we were, and most importantly, who we’ve become.


"Quit hoggin' the covers."

                “Quit hoggin’ the covers.”

Of all our three cats, nobody is the bundle of love that is our Jasper. While our other two have their moments of wanting some love, Jasper has been ever-consistent since the day he arrived and first curled into Meg’s lap and went to sleep on our front porch.

Just as early upon his arrival, shortly after we would call it a night, the sound of little paws could be heard hurrying up the stairs and leaping onto our bed, making his way over the cloud of sheets into the middle of the bed. He waits for us to lift the sheet or comforter so that he can tunnel in, turn around so his head sticks out at the head of the bed, and then plops down on one side, usually with a paw on Meg, and quickly dozes off.

The other night, as Meg and Jasper slept, his purring next to me lulling me into a relaxed state of sleep myself, my mind began to wander. And it wandered to the realization that things won’t be like this forever. For a while if we’re lucky, yes, but not forever. Sadly, nothing is. It all began to hit me like an emotional avalanche at that point. Every night this amazing little kitty curls up like a child between us, giving us more unconditional love than probably any human is capable, and yet, how often do I stop to realize just how amazing that is? How often do I stop to appreciate it?

Let’s broaden the scope a bit beyond Jasper, because my realization was prompted by but in no means limited to his furry, lovable little self.

I’m often a victim of my own drive to do things, cornering myself into a routine and life made up of to-do lists, projects and whatever the next priority is. I don’t know what it stems from. Sometimes I think it’s because I have some (possibly irrational) obsession with creating, making things, doing things, leaving something behind (be it a website, a book, a blog, a comic, a film, or any other project I tend to be working on at the moment). Because of this, there is constantly a list of things to be scratched off my planner each day, or the dry erase board next to my desk.

But the side effect of this drive to constantly having many irons in the fire is that I literally live a life controlled by lists, motivated by crossing something off that list, completing a project and immediately looking to what the next project is.

And in the meantime, I’m never stopping to appreciate the life around me – the people, the places, the events, the emotions and yes, the cats like Jasper.

I often like to quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. “

And that seems to be exactly what’s happening. I’m 35 years old. It seems like I blinked and 18-34 were gone, already a lifetime ago. And yet, I’m still going at the same speed on a million different things as I have all those years past instead of stopping to realize and appreciate all the wonderful people around me – my wife, my son, my parents, my brother, our cats, our neighbors, our friends – and truly enjoy the time I have with these folks while it’s available. Because before I know it, the next 35 years will be by in a blink, and no amount of blog posts, comics written, films made, books published, will ever be able to make up for it.

This isn’t a blueprint for how I’m going to do it, because honestly, I’m not quite sure. But I’m hoping that, much like other issues, admitting to it and realizing that it’s a problem might be the place to start.



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