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.

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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

GIPHY

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.

The post How We Saved Our Relationship When We Were On The Verge Of Divorce appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Why I Apologized To My Friend’s Wife After Praising Her Husband

In the moment, I kind of freaked out when my buddy mentioned that he flew with three children under eight-years-old, alone. I put my hands up and said, “What! No. No. Are you bonkers?” We laughed about it for a moment. He told the story of people at the airport supporting him. One woman helped with his older son on one of the flights just because he clearly needed it. He almost missed his flight because the stroller wouldn’t collapse. When he got of the plane, another parent gave him a high five.

Ultimately, he said it was horrible. I had no doubt that it was.

As he spoke, I told him he was amazing. I gave him praise. I mentioned that I’d never flown alone with kids, nor did I ever want too.

Our children were playing in the back yard. My wife was sitting next to me, his wife was at the head of the table. We were done eating. We were all just chatting. And as he spoke, I looked over at his wife, and although she was smiling, and sometimes laughing, there was something else about her. Something about the way she was looking her husband, and then back at me, that just didn’t sit right. I got the impression that she’d probably flown alone with her children before. And if she hadn’t, I have no doubt that she’d done something equally as sucky alone with kids, and no one — not a single person — gushed over it like I was over her husband flying alone.

But it wasn’t until I looked at my own wife and her tightly drawn lips of disappointment that seemed to say, “I thought you were better than this,” that I started to realize my error.

I mean, honestly, how many times had I seen a mother walk through an airport, a child at the hip, two children trailing behind, 80-something bags crisscrossing her body, her eyes a deep weary, her children begging for snacks and toys and asking to be held as if she actually had a free hand? I didn’t know the answer because it was somewhere between a million and infinity. In fact, I cannot recall going to an airport and not seeing a mother in that situation.

Now a father flying alone? Not so much.

And that’s probably why my friend stood out when he flew without kids, because it just doesn’t happen nearly as often. And when it does, everyone, including me, gets all worked up about it. We make a big deal of the situation like it was some exceptional thing, same as running into a burning building to save a child.

Regardless of the gender, taking young children to the airport alone sucks. Taking young children to the airport with help sucks. Traveling anywhere with young children, regardless of the parental support, sucks. But that doesn’t mean parents won’t travel, or don’t travel, and it doesn’t mean that when a father travels alone it is any more significant than when a mother does.

But honestly, we do this all the time, right? We dish out praise when a father goes shopping alone with children. We do it when a father gets up in the middle of the night, or makes dinner, or attends parent teacher conference. We get all worked up as though it’s something exceptional when, in fact, it’s just being a parent.

I’m not trying to say I’m any better than anyone else here, because there I was, at the table getting all worked up over a man doing something a woman does all the time. And I’ll be honest; I thought I was better than this. I thought I’d come so far as an egalitarian father that if something like this came up, I’d be able to see right through it.

But then, boom, I didn’t. It wasn’t until his story was finished, and I’d stopped getting all goofy over it all that I stopped, thought, and then looked over at my friends’ wife and said, “I’m embarrassed. What your husband did was great and all, but honestly, if you’d done it, I wouldn’t be having this big of a reaction. And that’s sad. I’m so sorry for the way I reacted.”

Naturally, this took some of the wind out of my friends’ sails, but at the same time, I could tell that his wife appreciated it.

But that’s the thing with moving forward to being partners in this whole parenting gig. It’s going to take a lot of moments like this, where parents take a step back and wonder if the praise they are expecting, or receiving, is actually because of their gender. This isn’t to say that going to the airport with kids alone doesn’t deserve praise. It surely does. But if we are going to praise fathers for it, we sure as hell better be praising mothers because they are the travel champions.

So if you see a mother at the airport, offer to help. Tell her she’s awesome. Give her a high five. Give her some praise same as I did when I found out my friend took his children. And if you see a dad, do the same. The last thing I want to do here is start limiting the praise, because honestly, parents need it. But what I do want is to see balanced.

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Here Are Some Of The Worst Parenting Restroom Experiences

I recently posted on my Facebook page a story describing a pep talk I received from my four-year-old in a gas station restroom while struggling with a bout of diarrhea. She’s basically the Richard Simmons of pooping. I’ve never felt so supported in anything. It burned up the Internet for a week or so, and now if I Google my name along with the world “diarrhea” the results of endless. For those of you that missed it, click here to give it a read.

Like any viral post, there were thousands of comments, most of them from parents who had equally, if not more so, embarrassing moments while using the restroom with children. I don’t know why we parents have to endure taking care of our business with a small-faced audience, but it’s obviously a universal problem. I went through the comments on the post and collected some of the truly tragic examples of where using the restroom with kids didn’t flush easily (see what I did there), and listed them below. Check it out, it’s not only me. Or you! You’re welcome.

1. “My oldest was about 3 or 4 and we were at home, but we had people over when he saw me change a tampon, his response was to run out the door (leaving it wide open) and run down the hall yelling ‘Dad , mom’s pecker fell off and now she’s bleeding.’”

2. “When my daughter was a toddler, I had to pee. Before I could catch her, my daughter darted under the stall, and started clapping and cheering. She’d heard our bathroom neighbor let a fart, and she was determined to let them know how great they were doing. I was horrified, but I think the lady that was having a poo might have been just a smidge more horrified than me.”

3. “And then there was the time my teenager and I went into the bathroom together. She took the stall next to mine (or so I thought) and a few seconds in she lets lose some epic gas… To which I say loudly, “Way to go, Lil!” And I then heard over the top of my praise, “Nice one, mom!” Turns out we weren’t next to each other… Someone was in the stall between her and I.”

4. “When my son was 4, I took him into the ladies room. When he was done, I figured I might as well go too. He’s leaning over and in a sing song voice says, ‘I can see your peeeeenis.’ I answer back in sing song ‘No, you-oo ca-an’t..’ Him: ‘Yes, I can.’ Me “no you can’t, I don’t have one.’ Him, quizzically: ‘Why don’t you have one? Daddy does and it’s REEEAAAL big!’ Many chuckles around us. At the sink, a lady said she bet daddy would feel real proud of my son’s assessment.”

5. “My daughter once was pooping in a big, public bathroom and I was outside the door waiting when all of the sudden we hear, ‘GET OUT OF MY BUTT, BIG POOPY.’ Me and my sister both tried hard not to laugh, but a bunch of people did and I couldn’t refrain.”

6. “My 4-year-old once asked if she thought we might get to meet the lady with the biggest farts ever in the next stall over when she was done going potty.”

7. “My daughter would say don’t push too hard mommy just relax or your brain will explode.”

8. “I was once in a public washroom with a friend, who took her granddaughter into a stall with her. Her granddaughter says, ‘Grandma, why is there hair on your bum?’ I never laughed so hard in my life!”

9. “I have 5 daughters. One time one of them was pooping in a stall, and this older lady pulls on the door and my daughter yells, ‘I’m working on a big one in here. Try the next stall!'”

10. “A lady walked in and I guess she went pee for a long time and my daughter says out loud, ‘WOW, she had to go really really bad. She’s peeing A LOT! Good job, lady!!!'”

11. “My niece was in the stall with her mother… ‘Momma, you pooping or just gassing? Oh, pooping! Nice work!”

12. “Took my young daughter into a men’s room once and she finishes in the stall beside me. I told her to wait but she was determined to complete the job with washing her hands. Next thing I hear is her saying the sinks are really strange. Nooooooo … She’s washing her hands in …. You guessed it … A urinal!”

I’ll be honest, I gag-laughed with most of these. Particularly the last one with the urinal.

But hey, they say parenting is an adventure, right? But they don’t always tell you what the adventure actually looks like, or smells like, or how embarrassing it can really be. So those of you with a little one gazing at your business, eye bright with curiosity, we are all right there with you. In spirit, of course.

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How This Referee Is Trying To Stop Parents From Being A-holes At Kid’s Sporting Events

I was once at my son’s youth soccer game when one of the parents went off the rails over a call. This was a community league in a small Oregon town. The children playing were between ages 9 and 10. I don’t even remember what the referee called, but this parent wasn’t having it. The guy got all red-faced yelling as if this was the World Cup rather than a kids’ sporting event where parents still bring juice boxes and graham crackers in brown paper bags for after the game.

Eventually, his wife had to walk him to the car. I was blown away by how this dude was acting. I mean, honestly, it’s just a game, right? At a young age like that, kids learn as much from losing as they do from winning. Youth sports are about building grit, gaining coordination, making friends, and getting exercise. But this dude felt it was life or death.

I couldn’t help but think about this experience as I read an article in the New York Times about a Facebook page called Offside. The page was created by Oklahoma youth soccer referee, Brian Barlow, who offers a $100 payment for each embarrassing clip of parents overreacting at youth sporting events. His hope is to use shame to squash out the rising tide of unruly parents.

Is “unruly” the right word here? I’m not sure — that’s the word the Times used, not mine. I’d swap it out with “verbally abusive” or “violent.” Flip through some of the videos on Offside’s page and you will see fathers in cargo shorts and polo shirts throwing punches over a bad call. It’s appalling, really.

This video below is from a semi-final basketball game in Pennsylvania that turned into a brawl when fans collided in the stands and nearly cleared an entire upper section.

Or this video from a youth soccer game, location unknown, where a dad takes a swing at the referee and the children — I repeat, THE CHILDREN — break it up.

Or this charming clip of a man screaming, “You are horrible” over and over at a youth game.

I mean, seriously people. Do you really need to look at a video of yourself acting like a dick to realize that you might be a dick?

Most of Brian Barlow’s message is about how many referees leave the profession (volunteer or paid) because of this sort of abuse. But I’m here to say: grow up. Put your fists in our pockets if you can’t control them, and if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. You were taught that sort of stuff as a child, right? You probably try to teach it to your kids, but when you flip out at a child’s sporting event, all those foundational lessons in how to treat other people go out the window, and suddenly your child thinks it’s cool to punch someone over a bad call.

Your children are soaking it all in. They are learning from you about how to treat other people. They are learning what’s important, and what isn’t. And let me just say, youth sports aren’t that important. They just aren’t. It’s good for children to be involved, sure. But none of it, not one shot, or goal, or touchdown is worth throwing a punch, spewing a bad word, or instigating a brawl. None. And it’s not worth showing your children the wrong way to act when things don’t go your way.

So let’s all take a collective breath and focus on what matters. It’s a game. If your child’s team receives a bad call, turn it into a valuable life lesson on how things don’t always work out the way you want them too. But that’s not a reason to quit, or get in a fight. It’s a reason to try harder, to keep going, and to overcome obstacles. If a child loses a game, help them understand how to overcome and bounce back. And if a parent is acting like a dick at a sporting event, call them out on it. Don’t stand for it, because the fact is that type of behavior is never called for. This is a society, people. We need to care for others, and we need to intervene when someone, or several someones, are acting like jerks.

Now don’t get yourself hurt, naturally. From looking at these videos that is an actual concern. But if enough people put a stop to this sort of behavior, we can all go back to drinking a diet soda, eating some chips, and relaxing while our children exercise.

Doesn’t that sound nice?

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