5 Reasons You Should Be Thankful For Your Toddler

I don’t remember the last time I slept past 6:30 a.m. I don’t remember the last time I went to a movie theater. I don’t remember the last time I ate a meal at my own pace. I don’t remember the last time I went an entire day without changing a poop diaper. I don’t remember the last time my toddler ate what I prepared him for dinner. Yet, I cannot think of anyone I want to spend more time with this Thanksgiving.

Just when I think I might toss him out the window he snuggles against me on the couch to watch an episode of Puffin Rock. He gently leans his head on me. The same head he used to ram me an hour ago. He pats me with the same palm he slammed into my nose this morning. How such a destructive creature could exist in such a cute body is a mystery I cannot explain. All I know is I am grateful for him.

I’m gonna take a moment to list why I appreciate this monster-truck-loving, peanut-butter-face-wearing, belly-button-jabbing child. I don’t know what I would do without him. And I wouldn’t trade him for anything. Well, I might consider a massage recliner, the kind they have on display at Costco is the closest to heaven I’ve been.

Anyway, here are five reasons I am thankful for my toddler:

5. Toddlers have a remarkable capacity to let go of things and move on. For instance, the other day I accidentally smacked him on the chin when the car seat belt slipped causing my hand to bonk him. I felt like crap. He cried, lip quivering, maximizing my guilt. I apologized. And two minutes later he wanted to talk to me about the foxes in his book as if nothing happened. Tiny people are refreshing because they tend to not hold grudges, harbor resentment, and wield bitterness.

4. The kid makes me laugh every day. Whether its giggling at his own farts or stuffing his face with linguini or his uncanny ability to locate dog poop. He makes me chuckle during the chaos. The other day I set him down to walk through the doorway of his parents day out classroom. He demanded I put his backpack on. I told him it was too heavy. He insisted. I put the straps on his shoulders and let go. He took one and a half steps forward and the backpack pulled him backwards to the floor. He dropped like a load of bricks. The teacher smiled. I laughed out loud and felt like the parent of the year.

3. My toddler reminds me why language is such an amazing thing. Reading children’s books with him has renewed my appreciation for the sound of language. For myself, listening to him repeat sounds and combine syllables into words is the most interesting part of early development. When I’m away from him I still find myself listening to the sounds of words. And don’t tell anybody this part:  I’ve started reading poetry because I love the sounds of children’s books so much.

2. He is teaching me patience. Oh boy, is he teaching me patience. I thought I was a patient person before his birth, but now I see how much room I had to grow. Leaving the house, getting in the carseat, shopping at the grocery store, attending church, and traveling to see family feels like mobilizing an army. And I just have one child. Much respect for families with multiple kids. I don’t know how you do it.

1.  Most importantly, he gives me perspective when I need it most. He causes me to remember what makes life rich and worth living. Relationships. People. Connection. Just when I think I need other things to make me happy, he reminds me the essentials are usually simple and free and natural. Sharing a meal. Bedtime hugs. Reading a book together on the floor. He seems to never forget these things because he isn’t weighed down by any other expectations. I’m grateful to be his father. He is teaching me important lessons.

Helicopter Parents, Tiger Moms, and Free Range Dads, Oh My!

Last weekend, my wife and I took my son to the playground. As we arrived, an older girl was climbing a curved, metal ladder that extended to a platform about five feet high. After studying her, I could tell my son was eager to climb. He shuffled his hands on the metal rails and lifted his feet to the first rung. His two-year-old motor skills were developed just enough to maintain balance. I kept my distance, a few feet away.

As he climbed, he was looking around at kids darting across a bridge. His legs wobbled. Keep your distance, Billy, keep your distance. After regaining focus, he climbed three-quarters of the way up the ladder but a boy screamed on the slide causing him to turn his head and he completely missed a rung, his leg dangled in the air, torso pressed against the ladder. Keep your distance, Billy, keep your distance. He regrouped and kept climbing and reached the top and stepped on the platform. He stood with raised hands and a mile-wide smile. “I do it all by myself,” he said, before running to the slide. I released a deep breath.

I’m learning to navigate the tension of parenting, knowing when to intervene and when to make room for my child to take risks. It’s tough. I didn’t want my toddler son to smash his head into the ground. But if I intervened I would have removed the risk that allowed him to accomplish a steep climb. I would have robbed him of newfound self-confidence. It was awesome to watch him smile on top of the platform and I wish I could say I am the trusting parent who always errs on the side of stepping away and managing my own anxiety. But that would be a big fat lie.

I am an anxious daddy. And here is what I hate to admit:  I am at risk of becoming a helicopter parent. Maybe I already am one. Ugh. I don’t want to swarm my child with anxiety, undermining his ability to make decisions and care for himself. I don’t want to be THAT parent. Nor do I want to be a tiger mom (always pushing my child.) And I don’t think I will ever be a free-range daddy, even though I like the ideas associated with this parenting style. So, where do I stand?

I’ve not spent significant time discerning whether or not I am a helicopter parent or tiger mom or free-range dad. I wasn’t interested in the debate until I read last Sunday about Mike Lanza’s Playborhood in The New York Times Magazine. His radical parenting philosophy, the polar opposite of a helicopter parent, jarred me. It left me with much to ponder. The gist of the article is that Lanza created a Playborhood (a creative and inviting playground) in the backyard of his suburban, San Francisco neighborhood. It is a space for his children and neighborhood kids to engage in unsupervised, free play and take risks which he considers a key ingredient to growth.

After reading it, his parenting ideas caused my head to spin. Lanza is talking about more than benign wrestling matches in the backyard; he allows his kids access to the attic of their home, which contains a door to the roof (a two story home) where they can hang out. Also, they climb to the roof of a backyard playhouse and jump off onto a large trampoline.

His ideas are extreme and make me uncomfortable. Yet, I have to admit they are compelling and I believe he has put his finger on a real problem, the toxic anxiety of modern parenting. His free play philosophy is so striking because it runs counter to conventional parenting norms.

To be clear, I really don’t think we can label parents and shove them into rigid boxes on different ends of the spectrum. But for the sake of thoughtfulness, I think it is helpful to use the categories to help you think through your parenting style.

I resist these labels because I don’t think rigid parenting philosophies are what children need. Parenting is a relationship. It involves two unique human beings. Two complicated people. And to make a parent-child relationship work flexibility is needed and one must always be adjusting to the needs of the other. I would never seek out a marriage philosophy or a philosophy to relate to my parents or grandparents or other family members. So, it seems a bit silly to think we can formulate parenting philosophies as if parenting is a one way relationship that is not changing every day. It seems subscribing to a parneting philosophy takes your eyes off the kid in front of you and their particular needs and places it on your self and the needs of your ego.

I want to be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and wave my own flag. I want to be the fluid parent that looks at my child and their stage in development and draws the resources I need based on where they are at. I am not interested in rigid philosophies and adhereing to them at all costs. I need more flexibility. I’m not a tiger mom or a free range dad or a helicopter parent. I am me.

There are parts I admire about both ends of the spectrum. I want to blend the attentiveness of the helipcopter parent with the trust of the free range parent. I want to be present to address my kid’s needs but I also want to respect his boundaries and make sure he has room to take risks and do what he needs to learn and grow.

One of the parents I admire most in our social circle is one that I consider resourceful. She doesn’t strike me as an anxious, hovering parent nor does she strike me as the parent who embraces any extremes of free play. She seems to stand somewhere in the middle. I would argue what makes her so skillful is her knack to find the resources her child needs to deal with whatever problem is present. She knows how to be aware of what is going on in her kid’s life and then turn and find the help needed.

She is a self-aware parent, which I think is a critical skill for parents to hone and develop more so than developing a specific parenting philosophy. Its often our own crap, our own unresolved issues, that impact our kids the most. Sure, there are plenty of real dangers in the world but are we aware of the issues we force our kids to deal with under our roof everyday. These are the things more likely to derail them–addiction, abuse, neglect, uncontrolled anger. The things we must turn away from the world to see and look inward.

I know this idea does not sound as interesting or exciting as a tiger mom or free range dad. Maybe it sounds kinda boring. Maybe a bit obvious or old fashioned. I think people like Mike Lanza are in the headlines because their extreme views invite discussion and prove interesting. That is fine and I think he offers exciting ideas. But I don’t think our kids need newspapers headlines or extreme ideas. They need stable, reliable, and resourceful parents who can problem solve when physical and emotional issues arise. And also know when to leave kids alone.

The People’s Shorts: Raising Cargo Awareness

It’s time someone stood up for functional clothing. It’s time someone spoke out against intolerance towards pocket aficionados. It’s time someone showed support for those who love to carry freight against their thighs. It’s time for someone to champion the cargo short.

Every hour a pair of cargo shorts are tossed into a garbage bag and sent to a thrift store. They sit in a pile, neglected, waiting for a middle-aged father in need of a man purse. Yet, so many cargo shorts don’t find homes because of fashionistas who stigmatize them with arbitrary rules, deeming them the tacky clothing of the underclass, reserving them for pro wrestling fans and zookeepers. They are viewed as pants for the clueless, for those who traded their dignity for comfort. Guys like me.

2016 has been a brutal year for cargo short enthusiasts. Haters have beat us down with negative posts, memes, and pie charts. We’ve suffered. We’ve been pushed to the margins, ostracized by mainstream fashion. But we will not be dismissed any longer as mere remnants of 1990’s fashion. Who do you think we are? Fanny packs?

You can make fun of my man purse if you like but I ask you: how much crap can you fit in your pockets? Cargo short pockets can hold:  car keys, smartphones, wallets, headphones, sunglasses, sunscreen, snot rags, pacifiers, baby bottles, trash, hot sauce, wipes, diapers, matchbox cars, ammo, grenades, and dog poop bags. Really, you can put anything in cargo shorts. In college, I used them to transport chicken fingers.

I believe its my right to wear comfortable and functional clothing without harassment. As an act of resistance, I offer five ways to raise awareness and fight back for our beloved shorts:

1.  Take a picture of your favorite cargo shorts and post them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Share a memory to raise awareness, a time when they were there for you. Camouflage cargos earn bonus points. #CargoShortsForever

2.  Go to your local cargo short dealer and invest your money in a new pair. You deserve a new shade of gray. Use your money to send a message that the demand for cargo shorts is alive and well. The people want functionality! #CashforCargos

3.  Pay it forward. Gift a pair to a friend or neighbor or coworker. It’s time to share the wonderful functionality with someone else. It might be the thing they need most. #Pockets4everyone

4.  Hold a cargo short rally outside of your local congressmen’s office. Our representatives need to know there is a growing movement to support casual dress. They need to know we stand as one for pocket rights. Make signs, banners, and t-shirts. #Cargorights

5.  Talk to your children and grandchildren. We need to speak to our youth about the importance of functional clothing. It’s up to future generations to keep the multi-pocketed dream alive for decades to come. Your kids might act like they don’t want to hear it, but deep inside they admire your passion. #Cargo4thenextgeneration

Sure, many people left them behind in the 90’s, but we are the faithful remnant, called to pass the torch. We will still be around when your skinny jeans are no longer hip and resting at the bottom of resale store bins. The cargo short is for every man and woman. It knows no class or race or creed. It’s functionality breaks down barriers. Our pockets can unite us around the world.

I stand with and in my cargo shorts because they have stood with me since my sophomore year of high school. My cargo shorts are one with me. And if you want to take them you will have to pry them from my cold, dead hands.

Join the movement, follow this hashtag:  #YesCargo

Ten Parenting Duties I’m NOT Doing On My Break

After a week of childcare, I need a break. Often, I’m too tired to leave the house so I stay home and do my own thing, but this presents a challenge. Avoiding small children around the house is like trying to escape a monster in a B-grade horror film. No matter where you turn they will find you.

To help me navigate around the house without getting sucked into my kid’s tractor beam, I created a list of parenting duties I’m NOT doing on my break. This is not intended to be a rigid set of rules just a recipe for sanity. And a friendly reminder.

10. For starters, I’m NOT wiping anyone’s ass.
9. I’m NOT disposing of any boogers, snot, or nose gunk.
8. I’m NOT spending my time moving glass objects away from edges.
7. I’m NOT watching Paw Patrol.
6. I’m NOT engaging in popsicle negotiations.
5. I’m NOT allowing small people to occupy the bathroom with me.
4. I’m NOT refereeing toddler/canine wrestling matches.
3. I’m NOT receiving or giving belly blows.
2. I’m NOT allowing tiny fingers in my crevices or orifices.
1. I’m Not sharing my peanut butter toast. It’s the only thing holding me together.

Okay, now its time to hear your list. What are the parenting responsibilities you are not doing on your break? Leave a comment.

5 Stages of Moving With Small Children

I love moving with small children. It’s no problem as long as you enjoy exploring new levels of exhaustion. I learned during our recent move that August is an ideal time. In the brutal heat, you will consider leaving your whining children behind. You will discover who you really are when you slam your thumb in the truck door. Make sure your mother-in-law or someone else you wish to impress is standing nearby. But hands down, the highlight of moving is the short-term stress placed on your marriage. For twenty-four hours, you will get to flirt with divorce.

I believe there are five stages to moving with children:

Stage 1: Two fools standing in a front lawn next to a sold sign. This is so exciting! Let’s rent a truck. Purchase overpriced cardboard. Order an unaffordable couch and try out fancy mattresses. We are having a blast. While we are it, let’s pose our child in a large box and share it on FaceSnap. Moving is awesome!

Stage 2: Ugh. Packing sucks. Why do we have so much junk? I thought we put the George Foreman grille in the yard sale. Did we not donate the back-up microwave? Why the heck do we have so many juice glasses? We are not wealthy. By the way, I can’t find the car keys. I’m pretty sure the toddler packed them in a box buried in the corner of the garage. We might never find them again. Why are we doing this again?

Stage 3: Standing in line at the U-haul store. I’m staring down the obnoxious man complaining non-stop and causing the line to stretch out the door. I second guess what truck size to order. My wife is inspecting the new house and texts me to let me know someone left urine in the upstairs bathroom and it smells like a middle school locker room. Wonderful. If our marriage survives this event, it will be by the grace of God. If I remember correctly, it was included in the vows: on moving days, you will take deep breaths, resist the urge to stab your partner and delay contacting a divorce lawyer until seventy two hours after the move.

Finally, we are loading the moving truck. My arms are about to fall off. Please tell me why we chose to move in the middle of summer. I’ve not sweated this much since high school gym class. And I just spent the last thirty minutes trying to move a crib into the truck. They are the furniture from hell. I hate their awkward shape. I hate putting them together. They make me want to set things on fire. And I swear if my spouse gives me one more set of instructions I’m gonna commit a murder-suey in our new home before we ever sleep in it. Things are not looking good.

Stage Four:  There are different levels of tired. There is marathon running tired, which I will never experience because I’m too lazy, and there is birthing a baby tired, which I will never experience due to biology, and then there is moving tired that falls somewhere under these two. It’s the type of tired that aches across your entire body, confusing muscles you have not used in ages. Paper cuts. Bruised hands. Sweat drenched shirts. And an inability to speak complete sentences by dinnertime.

During this stage, any thought of efficiency or organization flies out the window. All you can think about is the pain ending. Over. Done. Stopping. So, you throw crap in boxes, mixing kitchen utensils with lawn care or bathroom supplies with wine glasses. You no longer care that your toddler is digging through the box of kitchen cutlery. In fact, you are glad it is entertaining him for a minute. This is moving tired.

Stage 5: The move ends. Not the sentimental moment you wanted, but it is over. No fancy goodbye. No made-for-television moments including a wave goodbye to the old house. None of that nonsense, just prayers of thanksgiving for the conclusion of a process that broke you and nearly dissolved your marriage and led you to question your commitment to parenting. Now, you can exhale. Lean against a pile of boxes. Or just go to sleep. Of course, you swear you will never move again but we know that is unlikely. Time will cause you to forget the suffering.

Remember this:  When the delusion seizes you again and you hear yourself talking about how much you look forward to moving. Pause. Take a deep breath. If necessary, slap yourself. At the least, hire professional movers and know its worth the cost to maintain your sanity.

Men Crying At The Olympics Makes Me Uncomfortable

His unrestrained emotion made me uncomfortable. Something inside me needed it to stop. The more he cried the more I wanted the camera to move to another athlete. I needed distance. And then the middle-aged male coach placed his arm around the young  gymnast’s shoulders. Too much. It’s one thing to tear-up with red eyes and another to release them uncontrolled. Did they not know they were on worldwide television? Men do not cry like that in public. No. Couldn’t handle it. Needed it to stop.

Last night, my wife and I sat in the loveseat enjoying our nightly viewing of Olympic competition. She turned to me, “I’m loving this guy’s emotion. He’s just letting it flow.” Part of me wanted to dismiss the crying because it was men’s gymnastics. From a macho, American perspective, this was not a “real man’s sport” like football or baseball. I bet the men who tend to compete in gymnastics are overly emotional. I bet the sport draws this type of personality. As I listened to myself, I could not believe my inner dialogue. I was startled by the hyper-masculine judgment that surfaced within me. A critical voice reappearing from a dark corner. I consider myself a sensitive dude, one of the guys in touch with their feelings. A man willing to be honest about what stirs inside. You know, a forward thinking guy. Yet, I could not deal with the crying Brazilian.

The camera switched to other athletes, but it kept coming back to the raw emotion pouring out of the expressive gymnast. Overwhelmed. Scrunched Face. Tears. He had just finished a fantastic floor routine. The commentator noted the tears stemmed from joy because he realized a metal was within reach. It was only a matter of which one. When they announced the final scores the young man, now standing on his feet, released more emotion with open gestures. He won silver. He exploded with excitement.

As the Brazilian’s emotional response increased, I couldn’t ignore my discomfort. It was relentless too. Hounded me. Reminded me that was it not okay to express this level of feelings. It was not acceptable to accept another man’s freely flowing emotions. Not in that setting. Couldn’t handle it. Needed it to stop.

When I woke this morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about the young gymnast, hands in the air, tears unrestrained. I thought about his gentle coach who wrapped an arm around him, not trying to calm him or stop the tears. He just sat with the young man. Shared the moment. Offered words of what appeared to be celebration and encouragement. He embraced him like a friend. A family member. A human being.

The more I digested the scene, I realized how perfectly natural the gymnast’s expression was in that moment. Completely appropriate for a young man who reached a goal he worked towards for years. I can’t fathom the sacrifices he made and the commitment and discipline necessary to compete at the Olympic level. He had every right go let the joyful tears flow. And it was my problem that I had an issue with it. Not his.

His emotional display terrified me. Translation:  I feared how others would perceive me if I released a similar, unrelenting cry. I worried others would see me as weak, soft, and inferior. Deserving rejection.

I can’t help but view my response through the lens of fatherhood. I am raising a boy.  A boy moving through the toddler years and displaying wild flashes of emotion, often emotions he does not know how to control. But the day will come when he will learn he has the power to control them and I hope he will find a healthy way to express his feelings. Not the bottled-up, macho version of American masculinity but something along the lines of the cry released by the young, Brazilian athlete. I hope he cries tears of joy and sadness and frustration. A gushing river. Whatever the moment warrants.

And I hope to learn how to do the same.

3 Things A Stay-At-Home Dad Wants for Father’s Day

“What do you want for Father’s Day,” my wife asks.

“Sausage balls,” I say.

“Really, that’s it?”

“Actually, I want sausage balls and a fifteen minute chair massage at the mall.”

“You are kidding, right?”

“No. I want sausage balls, a sketchy mall massage, and an ESPN 30-for-30 marathon.”

“We will take you to lunch.”

“As long as it involves sausage balls.”

What are you giving your stay-at-home dad this Father’s Day? Maybe you are considering giving him a fancy meat preparation guide, maybe you are considering a Make-Your-Own-Hot-Sauce-Kit, maybe you are considering a laser guided beard trimmer, but these gifts will not do. I cannot speak for all SAHD’s but here is what I want on Father’s Day:

  1. Time for myself. I want what every stay-at-home parent desires, an opportunity to regain my sanity. I want to pee uninterrupted and shower for more than two minutes. For your SAHD, it could mean giving him a fist bump as he walks out the door to ride his motorcycle, visit the art museum, attend a monster truck rally, read a book in a coffee shop, or catch a matinee. Encourage him to do whatever tickles his fancy.
  2. A little bit of appreciation. How about a banner across the living room that reads: “We love our primary caregiver!” This might sound rediculous, but I don’t think you understand the challenge my ego has endured as a SAHD. When was the last time someone celebrated a male who chose to forego employment and paycheck to care for children in a role traditionally filled by women? Look. I’m not asking for a medal, just a banner. Alright, I will settle for sausage balls.
  3. Fun Time With Spouse.  I want a childless and stress-free outing with my wife. Drop the kids off at grandma’s house. Call a babysitter.  Do whatever is necessary to make this happen because it would be so refreshing to eat dinner, have a drink, and chat without a little person pulling on my sleeve and interupting my conversation. I want to laugh with my partner and talk about something besides Paw Patrol. After dinner and fun, we can relax on the couch, snuggle, and finally finish the last season of Mad Men.  For a night, we will pretend to be newlyweds and deny that our lives are run by a twenty pound tyrant. It will be lovely.

So, now you have an idea of what to do for your SAHD on Father’s Day. It’s up to you to celebrate him. He earned it. Recognize him on this holiest of dad days. Got it? Good. And whatever you do don’t call him Mr. Mom.

How Your Life Will Change: A SAHD’s Letter to Soon-To-Be Parents

Dear Soon-To-Be Parent,

You are about to experience a deep, mysterious bond with a tiny creature that will turn your world upside down. I know its cliché to say “kids change everything” but its true. This new relationship will most certainly test your limitations, surprise you, and reveal parts of yourself you did not know existed. I am excited for you.

I think your best move is to admit now you are in over your head. Humble thyself and acknowledge you don’t know what you are doing and ask for help. I wish I could say I was prepared to be a father, but I was not. Sure, I anticipated dirty diapers, spit up, and sleeplessness, but I did not understand how a child alters every facet of your life. Nobody does. This is okay.

What changed in my life?

The moment my son arrived he was as grey as a sheet of newspaper, face scrunched, and soundless. Dangling him by the neck, the doctor passed him to a nurse who darted to a warming table where she rubbed his chest. My mind raced with thoughts: Why is he not crying? Is he breathing? Is he alive? In that vulnerable moment, a new sense of fragility seized me. You will feel this too. Your insides will wobble like jelly. Babies have a knack for waking us up to our illusions of control. This is healthy.

Another thing your precious baby will provide is a new lens to see the world through. This lens will magnify your true priorities and draw them towards the center of your life. And it will filter out the not-so-important stuff. I know you think you understand the importance of family, but your little one will give you a richer definition. Mother Nature will grow a bond between you and your child so deep it will reach to the center of your being. An unfathomable connection. This is a beautiful thing.

Speaking of beautiful things, a few days ago I watched my neighbor push his newborn in a stroller for the first time. My neighbor typically bounces around his front lawn and marches to work, but on this day he moved at a snail’s pace, clutching the handlebar, head down, and maintaining eye contact at all times with his baby. He moved so cautiously it appeared he was strolling a load of dynamite at risk of blowing up any minute. Mother Nature worked her magic on him. It was magnificent.

For the first month of my son’s life, I stared at his stomach and watched it raise and lower with each breath. In the middle of the night, I woke and sat straight up in bed, consumed with fear my child was lost. Of course, he was always sleeping in the bassinet next to the bed. You will probably be equally anxious. It’s okay. This is normal.

I’m betting a new level of happiness will fill you, the kind so rich that it only arrives on the special occasions of life–weddings, graduations, and anniversaries. The experience of your first child is unparalleled and so fulfilling that the corners of your mouth will stretch across your face wider than ever. Enjoy it. Bask in it. Put work aside and allow yourself to be consumed with the moment. Just do it.

Oh, and be sure to tell your spouse you love her and celebrate the tremendous miracle she performed to bring this baby into the world. It’s an act we will never truly appreciate as men.

In addition to new levels of happiness, parenthood will surprise you with parts of yourself that lie dormant. Caring for my son taps into the sensitive, nurturing, and patient side of myself. It teaches me that I do not have to bow to rigid, traditional views of fatherhood that do not suit me. It challenges me to not divide the roles of provider and protector from nurturer and caregiver. It encourages me to be a whole person. I hope it will do the same for you.

I don’t mean to portray parenthood as an ongoing mountaintop experience because you will eventually end up in a valley, maybe a dark one. There will be moments that nearly break you. At 3a.m. when your child screams, thoughts will cross your mind you will be too embarrassed to share with others. When your child bites you on the inner thigh you will be tempted to toss them out the window. You will be so sleep deprived you will get on the subway going the wrong way multiple times or repeatedly take the wrong exit. Be kind to yourself. This is hard.

Parenthood has pushed me to the edge, especially as my son’s primary caregiver. For the first time in my life, I am taking medication for anxiety and sleeplessness. For an undercover control freak like myself, a small child is the best joke the universe could have played on me. Above, I mentioned illusions of control. Yeah, mine have been shattered. Shattered to pieces.

Instead of asking how things have changed, I think a better question to ask is how they have not changed. I struggle to answer this question. My son has reshaped nearly every aspect of my life, mostly for the better. Two years later, its hard to imagine life without him. (What that heck did I do with my time before him?) I believe your life will be reshaped for the better too. It might take a while for you to see it this way, but I think you will come around.

Many people portray parenthood as a type of death: a loss of freedom and time and opportunity. I don’t think this is accurate. Of course, it is a tremendous sacrifice, but is also an opportunity to fulfill our potential as human beings. Parenthood is not a roadblock or a limitation, but an opportunity to grow and mature. I hope you will see it as an evolution of yourself, an unlocking of a new dimension.

Sincerely,

A Dad Still On The Learning Curve

P.S. I recommend investing in a quality coffee maker.

Letting Loose In The Bounce House: Why Parents Need To Play

On Wednesday mornings, a few minutes before ten o’clock, my two-year-old son and I arrive at the YMCA. I restrain him from escaping my lap while wrestling off his shoes. Once free, he darts across the shiny floor to the bounce house.

Small bodies scramble through the netted door, while screams echo off the cinderblock walls. A pack of children jump and tumble causing their arms, legs, and torso to ricochet off the plastic walls. In the inflatable wonderland, my wide-eyed toddler contorts his twenty-five pound body. He is so intoxicated by the excitement the only thing on his mind is bouncing.

I enjoy the break and tend to stand nearby keeping one eye on my son and one on my smart phone. The bounce house helps me maintain my sanity. Yet, at a recent visit to the castle-shaped house, my son summoned me through the netted window. “Da da,” he yelled. His tone made clear my presence was requested. Initially, I brushed him off with a smile and encouraged him to return to tumbling, but he did not relent.

“Da da. Da da. Da da,” he yelled. I had only one choice and that was to make my way towards the bounce house door. I stuck my head through and he grabbed my finger and leaned back with all his weight. Already in my stay-at-home dad uniform: grey sweatpants, long sleeve t-shirt, and 1990’s Nike sandals, I agreed to climb into the chaos.

At first, I felt self-conscious as the only adult in the bounce house, but I didn’t have long to consider my feelings because my son charged me with reckless abandon. He tackled me and we collapsed into a plastic crease where he infected me with bounce house joy. Despite their often difficult temperament, two-year-olds have a refreshing lack of self-consciousness.

Whether on the changing table, in the bathtub, or rolling in the bounce house, they care little about who is watching them and embrace the present moment. As a thirty-five year old, I cannot say the same. My mind stretches a million different directions and floats in a sea of anxiety, worry, and stress. My head is like a bounce house, but the thoughts deflecting off the walls are not joyful.

Inside the plastic castle, we chased each other around in a circle yelling at the top of our lungs. We lowered ourselves on all fours, while imitating our favorite animal noises. We launched into the plastic walls and rolled from side to side. As air compressors hummed, our bodies pressed into the elastic house and I was set loose by a twenty-five pound tumbler who rolled away the tightness in my mind and heart.

Parents need breaks and sometimes you got to check out during playtime to regain your mental health. I get it. However, my recent experience in the bounce house convinced me parents also need to play, not only for their children’s sake, but for their own. The moments we resist play the most are often when we need to roll, tumble, and jump. It is so easy to forget how to amuse ourselves and engage in an activity for no practical or serious purpose. Small children offer a gateway to enter the present moment and experience the joy of letting loose.

I believe we are designed to play whether we are eight months old or eighty. The need for amusement is part of human nature and children help us to recover the playful parts of ourselves we ignore and neglect, the parts we lose in adulthood but desperately need because playing is just as important as paying the bills, mowing the lawn, and eating a well rounded meal. When we deny ourselves play we become dull people.

Playing is a behavior that comes natural to children. We can allow them to take the lead. When they tug on our fingers all we need to do is follow. I’m glad I followed my son into the bounce house because I needed him to remind me how to play. We had a blast and we only got in trouble once. It was a minor offense: a runny nose. I understand their concern because the downside of bounce houses is they are plastic cesspools. After you finish jumping, I suggest you wash your hands, wipe your child with an anti-bacterial cloth, and set your clothes on fire.

A Prayer for Parents of Small Children (no. 1)

(Loosely based on Prayer of Saint Francis)

God, make me an instrument of thy patience.

Where there is sleep deprivation, provide long uninterrupted naps.

Where there is destruction, allow acceptance of messiness.

Where there is frustruation, let me take deep breaths.

Where there is terror, remind me life is fragile and never was under my control.

Where there is defeat, remind me tomorrow is a new day.

Where there is isolation, remind me of public libraries, Chick Fil-a playgrounds, zoos, and art museums with kid rooms.

Where there is exhaustion, remind me leaving my child under the care of another is okay and necessary for my sanity.

O, God, grant me patience not only with my toddler but with myself for I am an imperfect parent doing my best to raise a small person in a chaotic world. It’s okay to make mistakes. You are asking me to do my best to love my child and leave the rest to you.  Amen.