It’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.
Some time back I publicly gushed about what I normally gush about to any parent who will listen – my love of the PBS Kids series Odd Squad.
For those uninitiated, Odd Squad is an organization run by kids that investigate anything odd. Be it people who drink lemonade that turns their head to lemons, being turned into puppets, or stopping blobs and flying books, the agents of Odd Squad are on the case. Using (and through the power of entertainment and television, teaching) math skills, they get the job done with a lot of fun along the way.
And come on. Their Rogues Gallery is made up of the likes of Odd Todd, Noisemaker, Fladam, Symettric Al, Shapeshifter and more, this is creative gimmick-villainy on par with baddies out of Gotham City or The Flash.
It’s the kind of show you love to watch with your kids because it’s just as entertaining for the adults as it is for the young ones. And I love it.
At the time I originally wrote, the show was setting up for a big transition trading in its two leading characters of 40 episodes for, at the time, new, unknown characters. And with so much love for (original agents) Olive and Otto’s adventures combating odd, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
But I had faith in the show’s creators to keep the laughs and lessons coming in the same way they had since the beginning, despite any new faces.
And new faces is what we got. Gone were straight-laced Olive (Delila Bela) and goofball Otto (Filip Geljo), off to be bosses of their own Odd Squad branch. I had hoped we would get to keep scientist Oscar (Sean Michael Kyer) around a bit longer, but while his exit seemed necessary following quite the growth spurt between seasons, he did stick around for a few extra episodes to train a protege and allow his change to create perhaps one of my favorite jokes of the show..
We even get some more Dr. O (Peyton Kennedy) for a few episodes, which is fine by me, as her constantly introducing herself as “a doctor” and reminding people how they know her “we work together” never stops being funny.
The biggest upside is that despite the exits of beloved regulars, we still get Millie Davis as Ms. O at the helm, sending agents on their missions, making them scatter with a yell, and best of all, getting to show some great new sides to her with an enlarged role out from behind the boss’ desk in many episodes. She not only helps create a common thread throughout the various cast changes, but is just an absolute delight to watch.
I’m still holding out hope for another 1980s-set episode with Ms. O…sorry…Oprah when she was an agent.
Even Odd Squad arch-nemesis Odd Todd pops by for an episode in this hilariously titled Mid Day in the Garden of Good and Odd where the now reformed-Todd-turned-gardener helps the new agents crack a case only a former villain’s POV could. And along the way, Joshua Kilimnik once again gets the chance to show off his acting abilities jumping between cackling-Todd, conflicted-Todd, and master gardener-Todd.
But wait. All I’ve done is talk about who stuck around, right? Did this show even have a cast change? What are you doing to us, man?!
Okay, okay. So I wanted to get the kudos to the returning champs up front. So what are the major changes we’ve seen. The biggest, of course is who would fill the shoes of Olive and Otto as the squad’s main agents. For that we get the overly-excitable Olympia (Anna Cathcart) and the straight-laced, no-nonsense Otis (Isaac Kragten) in a somewhat personality reversal to Olive and Otto.
I waited a few episodes before deciding what I thought of this new team and I have to say…I like them. I really, really do. I can’t use the term pleasantly surprised because I had faith in the show’s creators to keep delivering the same great casting choices, writing, humor, and production that has made the show so darn enjoyable already. And they didn’t let us down.
The thing is, change can be tough for television audiences, but with Odd Squad, the concept lends itself to periodic change. Grown-ups aren’t allowed to be agents (only bumbling, hapless victims in town and man do I want to play one some day. would several years experience on camera as a News Anchor and a few decades of theater get me a shot? Guys?! Hello? Is this thing on?) so with that in mind, as agents age, they move on and new ones come in.
It’s built right into the concept and so far, the first round of transition has worked pretty well. Carrying over cast members where they can (Oscar for a few episodes, Ms. O and Dr. O more regularly into the new season) help create a level of comfort and familiarity for the audience as new faces emerge. Eventually, those new faces become the regulars as even newer faces could move in. It’s created to be self-sustaining, and the fresh faces means new characters, new situations, and keeps the writers, I would think, on their toes. Kid or adult, this show has never made a bad casting decision yet, providing some of the best acting and comedic timing I’ve ever seen in young actors. It’s hard to come by at any age and Odd Squad does it in spades every time.
The fact of the matter with any type of show that revolves around kids is that kids grow up. We all do. Fortunately with a show like Odd Squad, no matter our age, we can be a kid again.
I hope they’re solving missions for a long time.
I am fascinated with the ways children evolve from their completely dependent forms – making nothing but sounds or cries, but eventually forming words, then sentences, then complete conversations like little adults. From needing to be spoon-fed mushy puree to sitting down to a meal with mommy and daddy like the little human they are.
Lately I’ve gotten to witness more of the evolution as our son, now four, suddenly has begun to recognize words.
We were at Barnes and Noble recently with a friend and her little one, waiting for a cup of tea at the cafe (I love that African Autumn tea) before heading back to the children’s section for some Thomas the Train Engine time and general book browsing. Nearby stood the little countertop with napkins, creamers, stirrers, etc, and the flapping door of the garbage can underneath, with two words embossed across it.
“Does that say thank you?” his little voice asked.
“Does what, buddy?”
“That,” he said, pointing to the flapping door on the garbage can, clearly saying “Thank You” on it to those who throw away their trash and not litter.
“It does, buddy! How did you know that?!”
“I dunno. I just did.”
And thus has been a bit of a trend lately. We’ve been fortunate enough that he’s been interested in and fluent in his alphabet since early on, but this…THIS….to see his eyes move from one end to the other, his mind taking in these letters and putting them together, and recognizing the words they form. It has truly been a remarkable experience, as a parent, and just as a human being.
I thought back to a time in recent months at my mom’s house, where he was hanging out for a bit while Meg and I ran some errands and my mom asked about lunch. Not wanting to give away the options up front and lock ourselves into something he’d hear, we spelled our options, including when she said “I can make g-r-i-l-l-e-d c-h-e-e-s-e?”
“That would be great,” I said.
Then his little voice popped up, “Yeah, I LOVE grilled cheese.”
Or when I asked my wife what she was in the mood to watch as a family one particular evening, The Dick Van Dyke Show, or some Adam West B-a-t-m-a-n.
“Batman?” we heard pipe up.
Suddenly it dawned on me as we stood there at the cafe in front of the thank you sign, hearing him read this aloud, that he’s been doing it, little by little, right along – only I haven’t paid close enough attention to realize these are no flukes.
Seeing this string of word revelations over time is a revelation to me that we are in a brand new stage, one that will open the door to a whole new era of life, and of knowledge for him. I couldn’t be happier. Or prouder.
What’s that they say about a child’s laughter?
There truly is nothing quite like it, I’m convinced.
With both our little guy and the new little lady, we’ve been amazed at how early children start to shine through with their happiness, with smiles that light up an entire house with the mere stretch of a muscle.
I’ll never forget how infectious the little guy’s laugh would get once he’d start. One of the most vivid memories being the laugh riot that would ensue from him when I’d read The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems. Specifically two pages broken down into a series of small panels where Pigeon will find anything and everything wrong with the the bath – “too hot! too cold! too much water! too little water!” It was the kind of laugh fit that a stand-up comedian dreams of for their material.
And silly as it may sound, it just made me so incredibly happy through sheer proximity to that kind of joy. And now I get to do it all over again.
Our little lady’s laughs have gone from what sound like a little cough to an actual, audible laugh, wide smile across her face, at things that just seem pedestrian to you and I, but to her, are hilarity.
The other day I sang her name. That’s it. Just sang her name to her. It was slightly to the tune of Lovely from the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but I’m no Sondheim, so that’s all it really was – her name. And she smiled, cooed, and then giggled the whole time.
And my heart soared.
There are times when I question what life is supposed to be. Am I at the right job? Am I doing what I should be? Are my talents being put to use? Am I being all that I can be?
But when I see the smile on the face of that baby girl, or that little boy, when I hear the uproarious sound of laughter come from those grinning faces, it’s hard to not catch some of that joy in its purest essence. And when I do, I realize I’m exactly where I should be – there, in that moment, to bear witness to this unadulterated, happiness.
A castle turned restaurant. Candlelight. Fine wine and amazing food late into the night.
This was a Valentine’s Day for my wife and I several years ago in the days before parenthood.
As I write this in the present, two kids later, it is again Valentine’s Day. There is no wine. Just a large supply of juice, water and hot tea. Amazing gourmet food replaced with bowls of hot soup. And I am the only person awake in our house – a rare sight on any given day, but particularly lately.
We’ve been sick. All of us.
Our son led the charge in this battle that he’s been fighting for over four weeks now. We’ve been to the doctor’s multiple times, the latest diagnosis being that whatever virus he’s been battling has turned into an ear infection.
I came down with it this past week and have been struggling to stay coherent for days.
Yesterday, my wife and our 3 month old began their path down the road to the sickness.
High fevers, constant hacking, headaches, noses that don’t stop running teamed with heads that won’t stop stuffing up, achiness in the bones.
It’s been a ride. I keep thinking back to sick days when I was single. Or even when it was just the two of us. The sick days usually consisted of tea, soup, TV, reading, and general lounging or sleeping as much as possible. The lounging/sleeping part being virtually impossible as a parent.
Being sick can cause irritability in anyone, but in the body of an already energetic three year old, that crankiness and obstinance gets knocked up to 11. That means any energy we adults have managed to muster or conserve amid the late night wake ups, comforting, medicine administration, feedings, diaper changes, etc quickly goes out the window in trying to negotiate with this little version of yourself who seems to want to thwart your every attempt at making him feel better at every turn.
Seriously. When I was sick as a kid, I loved being curled up with a blanket watching cartoons or looking at comics. Not our three year old. Sickness be damned, he is running, shouting, playing, dancing with as much boisterous energy as a Broadway show.
So it’s been trying. On all of us.
We exchanged Valentine’s Day cards in the morning amid coughing up our lungs into our tea (and the little guy’s juice), my wife surprising me with a DVD of one of my childhood favorites – Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks with Angela Lansbury and I her with a copy of the recently published The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney.
Other than that, we have done nothing all day with little regret. Between subzero temperatures outside and the virus that won’t quit, I can’t see any reason to even want to exit our warm home.
And on top of all the human sickness, one of our beloved cats is also ailing. He’s had a history of health issues since we found him, but it doesn’t make us worry any less. The veterinarian just prescribed some new medication to try a new approach to one of those ongoing health issues – his ear, which constantly gets filled with gunk no matter how much it’s cleaned out. While he’s still eating and drinking, he has suddenly become incredibly lethargic, and won’t/can’t open one eye. That same eye has been draining clear liquid as well, leaving a household already juggling sickness among four, adding a fifth to the roster.
Hacking and sniffling all the way, I got him to the vet where we learned he’s suffering from a form of conjunctivitis, also known as Pink Eye. Luckily for us that just means eye drops for the next several days and a return to the vet next week. As well as keeping the little man from getting too close to the all too catchy Pink Eye – a feat for Hercules, asking a three year old to keep away from the kitty while he’s sick and said three year old not seeing it as an invitation to do just that.
So yes, sick days have changed. Yes, Valentine’s Day has changed. But also, so what?
With parenthood comes responsibility. Sure, it may have been easier to rest up when you only had yourself to worry about, but who said parenting was easy? And Valentine’s Day? Let those who can’t help try to out-post each other on social media about how great their evenings are keep on clicking away during their evenings. Tis okay. Enjoy yourselves. Sincerely. Go ahead. Though I don’t know how much enjoying you’re doing if you have to take the time to convince the online world about it, but I digress, a post for another time, I suppose.
This Valentine’s Day, I was right where I wanted to be – with my loved ones. The sniffly noses, the coughs, the sleepless nights, I’ll take it. Cuz you know what? We’re in it together – war buddies in this battle against a virus so stubborn it wanted to take all four (five with the kitty) down together. But it won’t. It may win a few battles, sure. We may retreat to our cold mists and our hot teas here and there, but in the end, we will win, because we’ve got each other to care for. It’s where our hearts are.
And really, isn’t Valentine’s Day about love? Which is really about having your heart in the right place?
In recent years, I had felt very proud that I had sort of, gotten myself to a point where my emotions don’t get the better of me. Where I can take a step back, take in what’s happening, and not react with emotions outweighing logic and thought. It felt like a huge step forward from the very emotionally-driven actions and reactions of much of my youth, teen years and young adulthood.
So, it was absolutely devastating for all involved when last weekend I flat out lost it, disappointing myself and my family.
I won’t lie. It has been rough in this transition from parents of one to parents of two. There is an incredible amount of sleep deprivation, lack of energy, and very thin patience in ways I never thought imaginable, for things that don’t really mean anything in the scheme of things, yet seem so incredibly irritating.
And it seems as though all our tempers have been bubbling.
The weekend had, for the most part, started off so well. We went out together as a family and got a Christmas tree. The little guy had even decided an impromptu round of Jingle Bells was in order in the car.
Then came lunch, and he knew what always follows lunch – a nap. No one had mentioned it, we just talked about eating, but he knew. And without discussion, without a word, we asked what he wanted for lunch and he completely and utterly broke down into a crying, yelling fit about not eating anything and not napping.
After the eventual nap, which my wife, literally, had to carry him upstairs for, things seemed to calm down.
Note in the midst of this is a crying, fussy newborn. So compounded together, every little thing that our little guy was saying, doing in his obstinance was suddenly becoming the most irritating thing ever.
It was a fight to go upstairs, a fight to sit on the potty. Even putting on pajamas was a fight because he wanted one specific pair of pajamas, but those monkey pajamas that he had worn to death that week, were currently in the wash. And instead of talking about it, the instant reaction was to throw himself on the ground, crying at the top of his lungs, with no words used at all, despite any attempts by us to do so.
There I was, with the dresser drawer open to his PJ drawer and as all this chaos is unfolding, one of our beloved cats (meant seriously, never snarky. I never snark when it comes to cats) jumped in the drawer. I pulled him out and set him down. He jumped in again. I picked him up and set him down. He jumped in again (all amid the crying, screaming and sheer insanity around us).
I pulled him out one more time, set him down on the ground and stood up, with more rage in my being than I can remember feeling in a very long time. It was palpable. It was visible. So visible in fact that my wife yelled at me to get out of the room and away from everyone in the family immediately.
I did. I went directly into our former office (now turned quasi-nursery) across the hall and sat on a floor with my head down, because I couldn’t believe that I had let things bubble up so incredibly that it was terrifying to my family that I was losing my sh*t. From the other room I heard the little guy screaming at my wife, “Don’t you yell at my daddy! Don’t yell at my daddy!”
And I sat, head down in the other room, wondering how it all got to this.
A few minutes passed and in came the little guy, tears wiped from his eyes, giving me a hug and all of us saying we were sorry to each other.
It doesn’t change what happened. I still allowed myself to move to the farthest brink of anger, allowing all the pressures of this new household dynamic of parents, toddler, cats, and baby to come undone, falling out of the air like juggling balls I’ve lost all control over.
In that moment, I felt like I had my biggest failure as a father so far. For those of you who’ve been through it longer, grown-up kids, I’m sure you’re chuckling “just you wait. You haven’t seen anything yet,” and I’m sure you’re right.
But there have certainly been lessons to be learned here. Without a doubt, there are takeaways that, while not always easy to implement, or even remember in the midst of such chaotic, emotional moments, they are there to help prevent the situations from escalating to that point again, or worse, even further.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t pretend to. My journey into and through parenthood, like so much else of life, is just a work in progress. And everyone’s case is different.
What I can tell you is that I have learned with our little guy that meeting anger with anger does not beget peace. Quite the contrary. A three year old yelling at you and being met with an adult yelling back does not diffuse the situation. If anything, it only makes matters worse. There are definitely times for discipline, times for time-out, but there’s also times where it’s a matter of finding other words.
After reading this article from Positive Parenting Connection, I have realized just how much I say “don’t” to my son in the course of the day. I can’t imagine what that’s like for a child to constantly be hearing that what he’s doing is always wrong.
And it’s not always wrong. We just, as adults, have the way we want things to be, ways that a three year old just has no grasp of. They haven’t lived the lives we lived or worry about the things we do. Nor should they.
So, I’m trying my damndest to replace the don’ts with other words. For example, when he didn’t want to use the bathroom to go potty after waking up (instead wanting to use the portable training potty in the living room) I told him “we’re going to use this one and then go downstairs.” He still didn’t want to. He lazily placed himself on the floor, going limp. I told him I needed the help of a superhero who could stand up, that we’d never be able to stop the bad guys if we couldn’t stand. And slowly, he did.
I don’t always have it well in hand. I’ve already noticed ‘don’ts’ that still come out or times I stop and realize I’m saying it and have to attempt to try and find new words.
This is not a cure-all, this is not groundbreaking research. What it is, is a start. A start of a new attempt on my part to change the outcomes of so many situations as of late. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over hoping for a different result, then maybe it’s time I try a different approach.
But that’s just it. I’m trying.
If I’ve failed to write as of late, it’s like the old saying goes, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Or blame it on the sleep deprivation.
Yes, Meg and I have been up late once again, all for a wonderful reason – a little over a week ago, we welcomed our second child into the world – a beautiful baby girl.
Just like with our little guy three-plus years ago, we chose to be surprised about the gender of the child, and boy, were we ever surprised! We were convinced, almost entirely, that this one would be a boy, and when we heard the words “It’s a girl!” that morning, we couldn’t believe it. I think sometimes we still can’t. The awe still washes over me, realizing we have a little girl joining our little (though he’ll tell you “i’m a grown up!”) monkey.
While he was born a week and a half late and weighing over ten pounds, this little lady was a week early and just a little over eight pounds, making her a peanut in comparison to what it was like holding her brother.
All talk of lightweight/heavyweight classes aside, none of those little details mattered when I was holding her in my arms in that hospital room, seeing the tears of joy in Meg’s eyes as I had the privilege of showing her our daughter for the very first time.
I stared into her eyes the first night we had her home, and just thought, “Of all the people in the entire universe, I get to be your daddy. Me! How absolutely lucky I am.”
There will be a whole new set of adventures, a whole new set of lessons for me to learn, but I look forward to all of it. I just am thrilled that our family has grown once again.
And you know, the sleep may be few and far between and the poopy diapers may seem like they keep coming, but deep down in my heart, I wouldn’t have it any other way,
Sometimes I feel like there’s a bit of amnesia once a few years have passed from having a baby. It’s like we forget all about all the trials, tribulations, sacrifices, mental, emotional, and physical tolls that come with a baby, infant, then toddler.
Or maybe we just secretly miss it all and have an inherent need to start the process again.
I admit that I thought the biggest challenge of having a second child would be having to learn/remember how to raise and care for a baby all over again.
I was so wrong. Not even close.
No, I’m quickly learning that the biggest challenge with a second child is raising them while simultaneously raising your first.
Here’s one example – With your first child, those late night feedings, cryings, etc, wake you up, sure. They leave you a little sleep deprived for a while, of course. But the second time around (and I’m sure the third, fourth, etc, for those of you so inclined), you’re no longer the only ones who that baby can wake. So now, while you’re up at 2:30 a.m. changing a diaper, feeding, or generally just trying to soothe a baby to sleep, you’re also praying to high heaven that your first child isn’t going to wake up as well, adding an entirely new level of obstacles to the night. (Not to mention the crankiness that will come the next day from a toddler who doesn’t sleep)
All that aside, though (and fodder for future pieces, no doubt), it’s been incredible to welcome her to the world.
We’re all very happy, and we’re all very tired.
More to come…Stay tuned.