To My Friends With Kids: Sorry I’ve Been Avoiding You

Hey pal, hope you’re doing well.

Sorry that I’ve been avoiding you since you became a parent. It seemed like a lot to handle and I didn’t want to get in the way.

Also, I had very little interest in your kids. No interest at all, to be honest.

But now I have my own kid, so that’s changed. Self-interest has made me a better man. We should hang out again sometime!

I’m sorry I haven’t been there throughout your kid’s development. Doing anything social before sundown just seemed like a total drag and you were always talking about “bedtime” as if it were a real thing and not some propaganda invented by Big Business to sell more mattresses.

Remember how I used to run away when your kid started crying? I don’t do that anymore. Now I empathize and try to learn from your experience.

Oh no, your daughter thinks her room-temperature macaroni and cheese is still too hot? That’s such a relatable problem that’s totally worth discussing. Let’s crack open a case of Capri Suns and talk coping strategies.

It’s clear now that I was wrong to make that disapproving gesture after you told me the cute nickname that your toddler has for Grandma.

We’re still trying to figure out what my daughter should call my mother-in-law, so I promise this time I’ll listen.

You go with MeeMee for one and Nonna for the other? That’s adorable, please continue. Since we’re on the subject, when did your kid say her first word? Mine just chokes on her fingers – should I be concerned?

Because we’re friends, we probably went through something together that you didn’t take way too seriously.

Cracking jokes with you about the overly ambitious co-worker, the oddly eccentric professor, or the clueless customer probably helped me get through some pretty boring times. It turns out that was all small potatoes compared to how seriously other parents take themselves. They schedule everything including the time to sit down and make schedules.

I can’t do this alone. I need you now more than ever to help me navigate this minefield of all-natural, BPA-free, kid-friendly society.

I need a pair of eyes to roll mine towards the first time an adult asks me to sit “criss-cross applesauce,” and I hope they’re yours.

I’m a stay-at-home dad now, so I literally have nothing else going on. Jenny goes back to work this week, and I’m scared to be alone. The baby keeps looking at me like there’s something more I should be doing.

The worst part is, I think she’s right. But I have no idea what that something is – Legos, maybe? Could be anything.

Wanna grab a bite to eat? We can go wherever you want, as long as the men’s room has a baby changing station. Restaurants are way less crowded on a Tuesday at 10 AM.

What’s going on this summer? We should walk around a pond together or sit in a shaded part of the parking lot until my baby stops crying. That’s what I’ll be doing, with or without you.

Not to brag, but my local library has a Keurig now if you’re looking for coffee on the cheap. Or we could go to a petting zoo and make fun of the stupid sheep. I’m up for pretty much anything.

I know it’s been a while since we talked, but I promise there won’t be any awkward silences. I could easily talk through a full meal by just comparing butt creams.

Who came up with the color choice for Boudreaux’s butt paste anyways? And why is that other brand butt cream so watery? The last thing our kids need down there is something else that’s runny, right? See, we already have an inside joke!

I’ve seen the error of my ways and promise to be a better friend. At least until your kids become teens. Those things are the worst.

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If You Aren’t Telling Your Children You Love Them Every Day, You Are Doing It Wrong

I was recently giving my 12-year-old son a lecture because he’d gotten in trouble in his garden class. Apparently he and another boy wandered off from the school garden, out of sight, and started smacking random trees with one of the school rakes, attempting to break it. The principal caught them. Only it gets worse, my wife — his mother — was also teaching the class.

Naturally, on a list of stupid stunts pulled in junior high, I’m pretty sure this ranks somewhere near the bottom in terms of severity. However, it was pretty embarrassing for my wife to have her own son brought to her by the principal. And I told him as much. I also told him that I’m surprised his mother didn’t break her foot off in his butt, right there in front of his classmates. He looked at the ground, sheepishly, and once I was done giving him a punishment, I said, “You know what you did was out of line, but I do want you to know I still love you.”

This isn’t the first time one of my children has been in trouble, and we ended with an “I love you.” That phrase really is the refrain of our home. When I leave for work, I hug my kids and say, “I love you.” When I come home, it’s the same. When I put them to bed, I say it again. I’ve been a father for 12 years, and I cannot think of a day I haven’t told my children that I loved them. I don’t know if I say it too much. I don’t know if you can tell your children you love them too much. But what I can say is that I didn’t hear that phrase all that often from my parents.

I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I think it had something to do with my family being pretty unstable. My father was in and out of jail because of a drug addiction. My mother struggled as a single mother. But when I was 14, I moved in with my grandmother, and she said, “I love you” after everything. She must have told me she loved me three or for times a day, sometimes even more. When I was in trouble, the lecture always ended with an, “I love you.” It seemed like no matter what I did, how I performed, the good, the bad, and the ugly, my grandmother loved me.

In high school, I didn’t think much of it. And when she said it around my friends, I’ll admit, I got a little embarrassed. But looking back now, I know without a shadow of a doubt that my grandmother loved me no matter what. And I must say, in comparison to the uncertainty I have around my own parents’ love for me, it feels like this cool refreshing certainty that I cannot help but want to give to my own children.

digitalskillet/Getty

So I say it a lot. I say it when I’m angry with my kids. I say it when I’m happy with them. I say it before I hang up the phone, and when I drop them off at school, and before they step out on the soccer turf, or gymnastics mat, or settle into bed.

I have this strong desire for my children to now that regardless of who they are, what they do, who they become, how they perform, or how they feel about me, that they know I love them. My love for them cannot fade, and it does not have to be earned. It is the foundation of our relationship. My love for them is their safety net. It is the parachute. It is their soft landing.

This doesn’t mean I don’t express dissatisfaction when they slack off in school. It doesn’t mean that I don’t speak firmly with them when they do something boneheaded, like my son did in garden class. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have high expectations for them as humans. It also doesn’t mean that I look the other way because I am blinded by my love for my children.

It simply means that my children are loved. They have a father who is there for them during the good and the bad. Sometimes it means tough love, and sometimes it means “kiss their scuffed knee” love. But ultimately, I want my children to know, regardless of how they turn out, that their father loves them.

So back to the story with my son. When I told him I loved him after scolding him for misbehaving in his own mother’s class, he didn’t roll his eyes. He didn’t argue with me, or stomp out of the room. He just looked up at me and said, “I love you too, Dad.”

And in so many ways it felt like he was saying, “I know you are doing this because you love me.” It took us a long time to get to this point, but I know for a fact that we wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t made sure that he knew I loved him.

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As A Working Parent, I Feel Like I’m Never Giving Enough At Work Or Home

I was sitting in the living room looking at my phone when my wife, Mel, asked me a question.  When I looked up, she was obviously irritated. Turns out she’d asked me the same question twice already and I’d responded “sure” to a non-yes-or-no question.

She was asking me about a weekend trip we were planning, and yet there I was, only half listening, trying to answer a text from one of my employees. Before that, I’d been scheduling posts on my professional Facebook page. None of it needed to be done right there and then, but at the same time, I was feeling the itch so many working parents feel to get to finish up a few things while at home, so you can get to bed a little earlier.

I looked up at Mel. Her lips were drawn to a tight line, right hand on her hip. Naturally, I felt guilty, so I put my phone down.

“Sorry,” I said.

I tried to play it off, like I always do. I said, “Yeah, I heard you.” I said it with sincerity and conviction.

I do this all the time, and each time Mel hits me with a pop quiz. She asks me to repeat what she said, or something along those lines, and I never can.

My interactions with my children aren’t all that much better, mind you. It’s getting to the point where the refrain in our home is “Put your phone down, Dad!” And I always respond with an affirmative grunt that no one in the house believes.

She didn’t quiz me this time, however. Instead she sat next to me at the table, looked me in the eyes and said, “When you don’t listen to me, it feels like you are saying I don’t matter.”

It got quiet them.

I let out a breath, and thought about the tug-of-war I always find myself in between home and work. I work for the academics side of a Division I athletics program. I have tutoring and study tables that run well into the evening. My schedule is a little wacky, and it isn’t all that unusual for me to get a text or a call from one of my student employees that must be handled immediately. But there are also a lot of messages that could wait until morning, and I often have a really difficult time taking my hand off the wheel and letting that stuff wait.

Now I will admit, were it not for my cellphone, I would need to be at work much more than I am. But the understanding that I am always on duty in case of an emergency causes me to always have that phone near by, and the reality that I cannot seem to fully pull myself away from answering every little question regardless of its importance, is creating a real problem in my house.

I think I’m good at multitasking while being a working father, but I’m obviously not. I seem to always be half at work and half at home, my face in my phone while trying to care for my kids, and ultimately I’m turning into a half-assed father and husband.

I have no doubt that I am not the only parent living this struggle.

There are times when I’m not a good listener, but like so many working parents I have a difficult time admitting to that. Until that moment when my wife called me out, I didn’t ever think about what I was actually saying to my wife by not listening to her speak.

One of the most beneficial things a spouse can do is listen, regardless of what your partner has to say. Listening is one of the highest forms of validation. And yet, although I know all of this, I still struggle to put down the distractions and really listen to my wife.

But honestly, if I am to take a step back, and look at this whole situation from the sky level, I was ignoring my wife of 14 years, the mother of my children, and the person I love most in the world, and that is pretty rude, don’t you think?

So I stood up, put my phone on the other side of the room, and turned on the ringer, so I could hear if someone needed me, but not keep getting sucked into every little thing. Then I sat down next to her and said, “I’m sorry. That’s not what I’m trying to say.”

I’m not going to say that she 100% forgave me, and I’m not going to say that I won’t fall into this balance trap again, but what I will say is that when we sat across from each other and I gave her my full attention. Because she deserved it.

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I’m A Parent Who Doesn’t Drink, But I Still Want To Hang Out

I’ve been asked if I’m a monk. I’ve been asked how I raise three children without alcohol as if I’m doing it without oxygen. I’ve been given the side eye, or the suspicious up and down glance, that only comes from telling someone a fact, and then they immediately become suspicious of you. But what I suppose bothers me the most about not drinking is being left out.

So here are the facts. I don’t drink. This isn’t to say that I’ve never drank. I did years ago. Mostly in high school, and a little bit in my 20s. I can’t say I ever really enjoyed it, although that doesn’t mean I can’t understand why others enjoy it. There are days when the kids make me want to light it all on fire, and I think to myself, I could use a drink.

And yes, there are reasons I don’t drink. The first, and usually the one most people want to discuss, is my Mormonism. I started practicing the religion in my mid-20s, and now I’m 36 and still active. But I actually stopped drinking before that. My father was addicted to painkillers and alcohol. He died when I was 19 because of his addictions, and I must say, watching your father die from substance abuse really ruins the party. He missed out on my kids. He didn’t see me graduate from college or get married. He should still be around, but he’s not. It’s pretty difficult for me to separate drinking from memories of my father, and shortly after he died, I put the bottle on the shelf, and never took it down.

I think both are good reasons not to drink. Both are personal and easy to explain. But for whatever reason, for some people, a lot of people, there’s never a good reason not to drink. Now check it out, I don’t understand that logic. I can’t. I don’t think I ever will. But the reality is, when asked if I’d like a drink, or to get a drink, or if I’d like something a little extra in my Coke Zero, and I say “No.” This isn’t a personal attack against you. It isn’t me judging you. And it isn’t a reason for you to exclude me, my wife, or my children from your social function. We can still party. We are still fun to be around. We can still engage in conversation and enjoy a meal with you, all while being sober.

Listen, we can still be friends even though I don’t drink, okay? We can. I promise. I’m not going to judge you. I’m not interested in convincing you to not drink. And I’m not a buzz kill. I don’t think I’m better than you, and I’m not bonkers or strange. I’m just a father of three, with a job and a mortgage, and a pretty solid sense of humor. I like good conversation, and chances are, we have a lot in common once we all get past the fact that I’m always the sober one in the room.

I’m happy to drive you wherever, and I will laugh at whatever comes out of your mouth, sober or not, as long as it’s funny. If you are an irritating drunk, I won’t judge you for it. I just won’t sit next to you. Once again, not personal.

Just last week I was at a conference, and many of the attendees started drinking mid-afternoon, which is understandable. I must have been offered a million drinks and said no a million times, and received a million suspicious looks that were unnecessary. But once we got past all that, and everyone realized I wasn’t a cop, we all had an enjoyable time. We laughed, and joked, and it was wonderful. I wanted to scream, “See! I’m just like all of you!”

I’ve lost friends because I don’t drink. And that sucks. There’s no reason for it. Honestly, if you have a non-drinking parent friend, realize that they made a personal decision. They decided to not drink, and you should respect that. They are not strange, odd, or untrustworthy. You don’t have to try to trick them into drinking because you are 100% sure that if they just tried it, they would see the light and loosen up. They don’t have a stick up their ass. They don’t think they are better than you. They are not a person who doesn’t know how to enjoy themselves.

They simply don’t drink.

It’s all cool. Invite them out. Be their friend. Don’t comment. Don’t gawk. Don’t offer to buy them a drink over and over again. Just accept it and move on. The fact is, they have their reasons, and whatever they are, they are good enough. Then, once you’ve processed it all, be friends.

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PSA: Take More Candid Pics Of Your Spouse With The Kids

I was on Facebook the other day and the most adorable picture came up as a memory. It was from seven years ago, when I was attending graduate school in Minnesota. Mel and I took our daughter, Norah, to the fire station for a tour. It was part of her preschool class. They dressed her up in a fire jacket, with a fire hat, all of it several sizes too big. Then my wife snapped a picture of me next to her.

The funny thing is, back then, Mel was always taking pictures of me with the kids. And you know what happened? She’d show them to me, and tell me I looked like a cute dad. But then, I’d look at one of them, and decide I looked out of shape, or awkward, or my shirt wasn’t fitting right, and I’d ask her to delete that sucker. I’d ask her not to post it online, but usually ended up relenting.

But now, looking at that picture from the fire station, I can’t believe how young I look, and I can’t believe how cute my daughter was, and all I want to do while looking at that sucker is to hold that little girl again. I feel this warmth in my heart looking at it, and I must have looked at that picture a dozen times since it came up on Facebook, and smiled.

Just writing about it right now is making me smile.

But the sad part is, until recently, I didn’t take nearly as many pictures of my wife as she did of me. Then, periodically, she’d ask why we don’t have very many pictures of her with the kids that aren’t selfies, and instead of taking more pictures, I often end up keeping my mouth shut, when what I really should have been doing is taking pictures like a little ninja, hiding them away, and then showing them to her later so she could feel that same warmth I felt looking at that picture from the fire station.

I take a lot of pictures of Mel with the kids now. And I know, this all might seem silly, but what I’ve realized is that taking pictures of your partner with the kids is important. This whole parenting gig is passing us by pretty fast. Looking back to all those Facebook memories, I’m still struggling with the idea that I’ve been on Facebook long enough for it to have “memories” at all, let alone for it to say that a post was from 10 years ago.

Time’s flying by, and frankly, we all deserve pictures of ourselves with our children — even ones that aren’t selfies.

And listen, taking pictures isn’t hard. Just pull out your phone, catch her in the moment, reading books with the kids, or teaching them to bake cookies, or watching TV with a little one on their lap, or washing their hair in the evenings, and snap a picture. Be sneaky about it. Make them candid. Your wife deserves to have some memories too. She deserves to see her children look at their mother with admiration, or frustration, or compassion, or love. She deserves to see how motherhood looks from a different angle.

She deserves to look back and realize she wasn’t as out of shape as she thought, or wasn’t as mean as she remembers, or that the kids weren’t as frustrating and it might have seemed. She deserves to look back and smile and laugh and long for those little smiles and hands and feet.

And sure, she might not like the picture in the moment. She might not like the way she looked, or the way she was dressed, or the fact that she was wobbly pregnant. But take it anyway. If she asks you not to share it online, don’t. You don’t even have to show it to her in the moment. Wait until she’s forgotten. Wait until the kids have changed, and she has too. Then, when the time is right, show it to her and laugh, and talk about how much you admire her motherhood.

Taking pictures of your wife with the kids, it says a lot without saying anything. It tells your wife that you admire her hard work with the children. It shows her how much you appreciate her efforts, and that you think the way she looks is picture worthy. It shows that you want to take a little bit of her, in that moment, loving your children, and put it in your pocket to save for later.

It’s probably one of the easiest things you can do, and yet it’s also one of the most overlooked.

It will help her remember a moment she might not even know was significant, and it will help her to realize that you understood how beautiful motherhood is.

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As A Father Of A Daughter, Let Me Tell You Why ‘Captain Marvel’ Changed Everything

I recently took my nine-year-old daughter, Norah, to see Captain Marvel at the small theater in our hometown. It was the opening weekend. We went to an afternoon showing, in 3D. It was just the two of us. I picked her up from a pajama-themed birthday party, so she was wearing a tiara, and pink Disney princess PJs, her brown hair a little snarled from a pillow fight. Despite what she was wearing, I can say confidently that Norah is a tried and true Avengers fan. Over the years, we’ve seen all 800 hours of them, but none of the films from the Avengers world hit her like Captain Marvel.

We sat near the middle of the theater. It was packed. She had a bag of popcorn in her lap, 3D glasses on, just tall enough to see over the seats in front of her. She laughed at the Flerken (that seemingly harmless cat with the tentacles behind it’s face.) And she asked me what a Blockbuster video was, but on the whole, she just gazed at the screen, transfixed.

Now I don’t want to make this a Marvel versus DC thing, because I simply don’t have the credentials to argue on that level. But what I can say is that when Wonder Woman came out, it played at the same small hometown theater as Captain Marvel, and I couldn’t get Norah to go. I don’t exactly know why, but I think it had something to do with the fact that she’s not seen nearly as many DC movies as Avengers movies. So does this mean we were subject to a well-built brand? Probably. Would Wonder Woman have had a similar impact on my daughter? Possible. I’ll let you know once I finally get her to see it.

But let me tell you what I do know. Norah and I have watched all three Avengers movies. We’ve watched every Iron Man, and Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy. None of them caused her to look at the screen like Captain Marvel.

She was speechless. Near the end, she wiggled in her chair. I asked her if she needed to use the restroom, and she didn’t answer me, unwilling to leave the theater for even a moment. One scene in particular hit her hard. You know the one I’m taking about, the montage, where Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) falls down, and gets back up, over and over. Comic writer Kelly Sue DeConnick sums up the scene perfectly in this quote from Polygon, “Carol falls down all the time, but she always gets back up — we say that about Captain America as well, but Captain America gets back up because it’s the right thing to do. Carol gets back up because ‘F*ck you.’”

During that scene, I looked at my brown headed, small for her age, skinny daughter, and her right hand was gripping her pant leg in white hard fist. Her shoulders were ridged, lips in a flat line. I know her pretty well, so I can say confidently that she looked empowered. It was awesome.

There are a number of things that I want for my daughter’s future. I want her to become educated. I want her to understand and value the importance or family and community. I want her to look her boss in the eye, and demand a raise. I want her to feel confident and safe and empowered. I want her to bust down all the glass ceilings. Hell… I want her to become an Avenger if the opportunity presents itself. I know that my little girl is bright and communicative and wonderful, and the last thing I want is for her to feel like she needs to fight with “one hand tied behind her back.”

But it’s difficult to teach that on my own when cinema (and the world in general) places a spotlight on powerful male characters time and time again. For my daughter, Captain Marvel was more than just a movie, it was a new example. It showed her that women can be superheroes. It showed her that she has options outside of princesses. That she can fall down, and get back up, and be stronger for it. And as a father of a daughter, that changes everything.

As we left the theater, her left hand in mine, her right holding a half-eaten bag of popcorn, I asked her if she liked the movie. She stopped walking, looked up at me, and said, “It was awesome.”

I smiled back at her. Then I went to walk again, but she didn’t move. She just looked up at me and asked if she could be Captain Marvel for Halloween. This would be the first year that she hadn’t asked to be a princess. I gave her a high five and said, “heck yes you can.”

She smiled, pumped her fist, and we finished our walk to the van.

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What Happened When My Wife Went Out Of Town For The Weekend

My wife, Lauren, went away for the weekend with her mother, ostensibly for some R & R at a spa in Pennsylvania. She might have just gone to her parents’ house and hid there for 48 hours. I wouldn’t blame her if she did.

This left me alone with the children from Friday evening through Sunday. Expectations were low as I am a sometimes-depressed/always-lazy parent who preaches discipline, which in reality translates to impatience, yelling, and finally caving to all their desires.

Lauren (before leaving): I left you four notes.

Me: I’m fine. I don’t need notes.

Lauren: Four! Read them and text me any questions.

Me: You can’t wait?

Lauren: No.

SATURDAY

(I have skipped Friday night as no major injuries occurred and the children made it to bed on time. I would argue that my superior parenting was the cause. Reality would say they were exhausted from school.)

Brett Grayson

I’m not sure how it’s mathematically possible. Liz and Matt know twenty other kids tops. Yet there are multiple birthday parties every weekend of our lives. I’m convinced some parents throw their kid a
party three times per year. Which brings me to my first problem. Lauren’s aunt can’t make it. I
have to become the parent who brings the kid who isn’t invited.

11:16 A.M.  We arrive and I explain to Jenny’s mom that the babysitter bailed.

“Of course he’s welcome! What’s his name?” Jenny’s mom says (while cursing under her breath).

“Matt.”

Matt hides behind my leg. He’s in a stage where he does this a lot.

Like the hypocrite I am, I totally excuse this behavior when it’s me he’s clinging to, as opposed to when he does it with Lauren.

Speaking of types of invites, a cousin to the “uninvited sibling” is the “parents’ friends’ older kid who’s invited to avoid offending the parents’ friends even though they didn’t want to come anyway but didn’t want to offend you.” I scan the room and get a look at all the children running around. I spot an older kid not participating. I make eye contact and nod my head at him like, “I feel you, kid.” He looks back at me and appears to be debating if he should scream “Stranger Danger!”

It’s time for the kids to eat. Minus my obsession with germs and complete lack of self-control when there are three pies of pizza sitting there and no one to tell me “No,” I think this portion of the party goes fairly smoothly.

Am I too old to eat icing from a cupcake?

SATURDAY AFTERNOON

At home, we watch New York Minute with the Olsen twins which won 14 Academy Awards, I believe. I try not to look at my phone and the college football games. Liz loves it. It’s kind of entertaining. Wait,
did I just say that? Have I lost that much perspective after less than 24 hours with my kids?

Brett Grayson

(Does anyone else find these notes slightly condescending?)

5:58 P.M. It’s time for showers. Do they really need showers? Lauren didn’t say anything about showers in her note. In my mind, I run through their various exposures to the outside world. My germaphobia and my laziness are in a tight battle.

Laziness prevails.

I play in the poker tournament. In a past life, I played a lot of poker and it’s one of the two activities (along with eating peanut butter straight from the spoon without choking) that I’m good at. So I
last until the final table. It’s getting late.

I text the babysitter:

What???? That’s a violation of babysitting etiquette. You can’t leave the house until the parents come home.

We’re down to five people and it’s $1,000 and town bragging rights on the line. I am at a crossroads. It’s been a long time since my gambling problem directly interfered with my life.

I ask a few fathers their input.

“They’re sleeping. What’s going to happen?”

“It’s only $1,000 to the winner, right?” I confirm. I think if it was more than $5,000, I’d have to take my chances. I intentionally lose and leave.

I am a hero.

SUNDAY

11:00 A.M. Birthday party for Matt’s classmate. We’re on time to this one since Lauren’s aunt is watching Liz, and bringing one kid to a party is 50 times easier than bringing both.

Brett Grayson

Twenty years (and pounds) ago, I was a good athlete and played competitive tennis and soccer. (Lauren met me later and refuses to believe that I’m capable of extending past whatever speed I get up to when I run to the free sample line at Costco.)

I’m also a sports fan, and I badly want my kids to play sports so I can live vicariously through them. I just need something to root for again.

It was hard to accept that I may not ever have that experience.

I’m still trying though.

1:10 P.M. We arrive at the clinic.

1:25P.M. (clinic halfway done) I have finally gotten their cleats and shin guards on. Liz is wearing jeans because she only cares about her appearance and has no interest in running, which, at least when I was
playing, was an essential part of soccer.

Matt is more interested, though he spends 90 percent of the clinic picking the wedgie out of his butt from the jersey that’s tucked into his shorts because it’s huge on him. He is engaged
though.

Until he’s not. “Daddy, my hands are cold.”

Fuck, I forgot the gloves. I spend the next twenty minutes intermittently blowing hot air into his hands and sending him back out to play.

MEALS FOR THE WEEKEND

Brett Grayson

2:30 P.M. – MCDONALD’S

We started out okay on Friday. I have since been broken down. In this case, I used McDonald’s as a bribe to get my kids to cooperate while getting ready for soccer (which didn’t work anyway). I also want to close the weekend strong so that Daddy gets proper credit. What’s the point of this weekend if not to make me the favorite parent?

I eat McDonald’s for the first time in a decade. A few thoughts: One, this food is delicious. Two, how do I have to go to the bathroom already? It just went past my esophagus three minutes ago. It’s a public bathroom though so I hold it in.

Matt and Liz are only eating the French fries.

“Three bites of your burgers,” I threaten.

“Four bites,” Matt bargains against his own interests.

“Fine. Four.”

“Matt, four is more than three,” Liz points out, ruining things.

I go to my bag of tricks. “Five-and-a-half bites each.”

Fractions work every time.

Note: I’m not sure why exactly I’m so anxious for them to eat a burger over the fries. Protein, maybe? I think I’m just personally offended that my children ignore food. As I am a total pig, I would question
whether they are in fact my kids. But I can’t imagine there’s a man out there who Lauren could have had an affair with who has this level of disregard for food.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON

We arrive home and I can see the finish line. I could stick them in front of the TV until Lauren gets home. Does New York Minute Part 2 exist?

I decide against the television route. If Lauren walks in and they are watching TV, she will assume they have been in front of the TV all weekend.

“Kids, let’s clean up.” They have no interest in complying, but I have one card left to play. When they finish, we will bake an apple pie from the 564 apples left over from apple-picking last weekend.

SUNDAY EVENING

Lauren walks in.

“Would you like some apple pie, dear?”

“No. We met a nutritionist. I’m eating clean now.”

Whenever Lauren is introduced to something new, it changes her entire perspective on life. Until the following day when she forgets about it. I excuse myself to go upstairs. I am not as organized as Lauren and don’t plan weekends away. But I will now pretend to use the bathroom for the next thirty minutes.

My own little vacation.

The post What Happened When My Wife Went Out Of Town For The Weekend appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Stop Praising Dads And Do This Instead

Last November I sent an email to my coworkers letting them know that my daughter was sick and I’d be taking the day off to take care of her. I got a number of emails praising me for taking time off because my daughter was sick. One person even called me “a wonderful father.” Each time I stay home with one of my children, I receive this kind of praise. And I’ll admit, as I read those compliments, I felt pretty good about myself. But honestly, am I even doing anything special by staying home with a sick kid?

My wife works full time at our children’s school. She takes time off to care for our children when they are sick, and I can say, with 100% confidence, no one from work sent her a message letting her know she’s a great mother.

So what gives? Why do I receive so many compliments for merely doing the same thing moms do with regularity?

I see it online all the time, mothers praising their husbands for doing the dishes or folding the laundry or falling asleep next to their child. A few months ago I wrote an article about how I showered my friend with praise when he told me about flying alone with his three children. I ended up having to step back a bit and ask myself why him flying alone with his kids was a big deal, but when a mother does it, no one even bats an eye. I ended up apologizing to his wife.

I suspect the reason no one praises my wife when she stays home with our kids, and no one praises a mother when she flies alone, and a million other duties a mother just does, is because these tasks are socially expected of her. This doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve gratitude. Mothers deserve much more gratitude than they could ever receive in a lifetime. But it’s hard not to notice this dichotomy and ask: Why are we getting all goofy over fathers simply for being fathers?

I’ve been writing about fatherhood and parenting for a number of years now, and I receive a lot of messages, and what I’ve come to find out is, on the whole, most fathers are stepping it up and becoming equal partners. They are pitching in, becoming more involved, caring more for their children, and taking on domestic obligations without chagrin. The majority of fathers I encounter love and respect their egalitarian relationship and don’t need praise for doing what they ought to be doing as a father anyway.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t show gratitude for the father in your life. You should. But praise is something else, and I think this is where we need to take a step back and examine the difference. For instance, back to the story about my friend who took his three young children flying alone. As he got off the plane, a group of people clapped. They patted him on the back and called him a wonderful father.

Now that’s praise.

Yes, flying with children alone is 100% hell. But have you ever seen that kind of praise given to a mother traveling alone?

I haven’t.

I think there was a time 30 years ago when a father traveling alone, or doing the dishes, or getting up with their children might have been seemed more praise-worthy. That dad was breaking the mold. But we are past that. Don’t get me wrong, if a father does something truly exceptional like build a small amusement park in the backyard for his child with autism who can’t attend an amusement park, then yeah… praise him.

But doing the dishes?

Flying alone?

Staying home to be with his sick children?

Frankly, this sort of thing should be expected of fathers. It’s the bar. It should be something that a man comes home to a kiss from his wife, perhaps a thank you, but not a social media post or a crowd of strangers cheering him on as he exits a plane.

Listen, you need to love the person you are with. You need to show them gratitude. Good marriages are rooted in gratitude, and contributions should be recognized. But we need to move away from the understanding that if a man does anything outside of the ’50s bring-home-the-bacon, fatherly stereotype, we should be showering him with praise. NO. ENOUGH.

Many fathers are good men who care about their families and deserve to be treated as an equal in the parenting battle, not someone who deserves to be praised for doing the minimum.

So the next time you see a dad do something fatherly, save the praise and just show him a little gratitude.

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6 Movies From My Childhood That I Can’t Watch With My Kids

Listen, folks, the ‘80s and ’90s had some problems. Sure, there were some amazing things too. Slap bracelets, Pogs, and Hi-C Ecto Coolers were the cornerstone of my childhood. But the movies, well… there were some issues there. I’ve been re-watching some of those amazing movies that were the cornerstone of my childhood lately (mostly because of Netflix), and let’s just say, there was some scary garbage in there that might explain some of the issues we are dealing with now.

And I’ll be honest, as a father now, it’s been a pretty big letdown considering I was so excited to watch some of these with my children. But now, I just can’t and here’s why.

1. Sixteen Candles

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How many times did I watch this movie as a teen? It must have been somewhere between 100 and a bazillion. But it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realized how disturbing that scene is when Jake (our romantic hero) suggests that The Geek “violate” the prom queen because she’s too drunk for something like, you know, consent. Sounds a lot like a certain swimmer from Stanford we all know, doesn’t it?

2. Revenge of the Nerds

How often did the edited-for-TV version of this little gem come on during the summer? Sometimes it felt like it was being shown back to back. And yeah, they edited out all the swearing and nudity. But they failed to edit out when the “nerds” place cameras in a sorority so they can watch them shower. Or that stomach-turning scene when head nerd Robert tricks a girl into having sex with him by pretending to be her real boyfriend. And how did all that rape (yes, tricking someone into thinking they are someone else to have sex is rape) turn out? She fell in love with him, and they stayed together of like 25 more films (I lost count). No, sorry. WRONG. On so many levels.

3. License to Drive

Anyone else watch this move on repeat during school vacations? I know I did. We had it on VHS, and although I thought it was epic as a teen, when I think back on that scene where Dean (the cool kid) takes a camera up Mercedes’ (the older popular girl) dress as she’s passed out drunk in the back seat of the car, I feel sick to my stomach and downright livid.

4. Dazed and Confused

This movie was a cornerstone of my high school years. Everyone talked about it. We all had to see it. And who was the coolest guy in that move? David Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey), a 20-something dude who spends his days trying to hook up with high school girls. You remember the iconic line, “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I keep getting older, they stay the same age.” Somehow this movie made statutory rape seem cool, and that is beyond disturbing.

I Get Older Matthew Mcconaughey GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

5. Weird Science

If we break this movie down to it’s core, two teenagers use science to create a grown woman they can take a shower with. As if that’s not odd enough, there’s also a flip side to it. The boys are (16 and 17) and the woman they create is in her mid 20s. She’s also really into them, so actually, they created a pedophile. I must have watched this movie 800 million times as a teen, and now, after writing this very short paragraph, I’m wondering what it did to my over-all development.

Weird Science GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

6. 7 Brides For 7 Brothers

I know. I know. I’m reaching well out of the ’80s and ’90s here. This came out in the 50s, but it seems like everyone who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s watched it growing up. And if they didn’t watch the movie, they were in a high school production of it. I won’t go too far into the nitty gritty of this sucker because all I have to do is give a simple plot summary like “Seven brothers kidnap seven women. They lock them up in a cabin for the winter until they all fall in love with each other.” Pump the breaks, people! This is a comedy. But honestly, there is nothing funny about Stockholm Syndrome.

I know. I know. If you are like me, it feels like your childhood was just destroyed. And for that, I’m sorry. And sure, this just happens with time. People look back on art and it reflects how messed up society was. But the question we, as parents, are now left with is: Do we keep these ideas around by showing these movies to our children?

I’m going to say “no.” Let’s just not.

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How We Saved Our Relationship When We Were On The Verge Of Divorce

I was convinced Mel and I were going to get divorced after our first child. 100% sure. Not that we didn’t love each other, because we did. But we were young, both 24 years old. I was still in college. Our son, well… he sucked. Can I say that about a baby, because it’s true? He was a no-napper, and a no-night sleeper, and a fussy little butthole of a baby who refused to be let down. And even when we did hold him, he still cried a lot.

In hindsight, I sometimes wonder if he was colicky, but at the time, I honestly didn’t even know what that was. What I did know is that I was a young father working full time waiting tables while attending full-time college. My wife was working full time at a hardware store. No one was sleeping. NO ONE, and it felt like Mel and I were at each other’s throats all the time.

Although we split the night evenly, we still fought about who got up. We fought when one of us fell asleep on the sofa while the other held the baby, most of the time accidentally, but there is something about looking at your partner taking a nap when you are exhausted that makes you want to light everything on fire.

We fought on dates over what to order. We fought about directions and where the little money we had should go. We fought about EVERYTHING.

It came to a head at the grocery store one afternoon when I put a box of cereal in the cart that wasn’t on the list. Mel asked me who was going to pay for that, and I said it was on sale. And then we said a bunch of other things that were bitter and nasty. Almost 10 years later I don’t even recall the specifics, but I know none of it was worth fighting over. It was a box of cereal.

I also know what I felt. I felt like I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t handle the lack of sleep and the fighting and the bitterness I felt toward my wife.

We didn’t talk for a while aside from what was necessary. And when I say “a while,” I mean days that led to weeks. We lived like business partners, doing what we had to do to raise our child, but not talking about our days. Not talking about anything personal.

Mel and I separated for about 6 weeks. She moved in with her mother, and took Tristan. And during that absence, we spoke occasionally, but what we mostly did was write. Mel created a blog that only we could access, and each morning we’d write about our day. We’d write about our challenges. We’d write about how we missed each other. Those first posts started out casual, but eventually, they became love letters.

There was something about writing to each other that stripped away the tension. It pulled away the pain and frustration that we were dealing with as a couple, and caused us to reconnect in a way we couldn’t before. I can’t explain it exactly. It was almost like the love we had for each other was still there, it always was, but with the baby and school and work and all the lack of sleep, we just couldn’t see it. We couldn’t find it in the fog, so we needed a lighthouse, or a foghorn, or something that could bring us back to what we originally were. And that blog, those messages, that did it. We were forced to reflect on each other and what we mean.

Neither of us had done anything wrong in all this. We were just adjusting to the reality of being a young married couple making a go of things with a new baby. But sometimes that’s just marriage and family and life. You do everything you are supposed to do, you fulfill all your obligations, and yet you still argue and you still feel stressed, and you have no one else to take it out on but each other, so you fight. You pick and poke at the problem, assuming that if someone in the relationship just pulled a little more weight, your life would be livable again. But the reality is, you are both pulling with everything you’ve got, so it all comes out sideways.

The messages turned into phone calls, and then dates, and then we reconnected, stronger than we were before. We were ready to be together again because we remembered who we were before and why we got into the whole gig, and by the end of that first year with a child, it got better.

People talk about challenges in marriage, and how you have to work through them. But no one ever tells you what that actually looks like. This time with a new baby was one of those challenges. It was probably the biggest adjustment of our marriage. And although it almost broke us, we worked through it. And now, after being married for 14 years, and two more children later, I’m grateful that we did.

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