A moment of Zen Parenting

When a cliché becomes a reality, you adapt

I found myself in the middle of a classic parenting crisis a little while ago. We were bundled up and heading out the door to go to the library for a quick visit before dinner. Max was done his pre-trip bathroom pit stop, and I was heading in to do the same.

In the bathroom, I discover one of the world’s worst sights: an overflowing toilet full of human ick. My mind races back to the morning’s conversation:

“Dad, I have to tell you something. The toilet paper roll fell into the toilet.”

“Did you take it out and throw it out?”

“No, it had poop on it.”

“So what did you do?”

“I flushed it down.”

At the time, I had wondered how that had actually happened, but it was 7AM and my critical thinking skills were still offline. I did take a look at the toilet, but didn’t see any sign of something going wrong.

Flash forward to 4:30PM, with something very obviously going wrong. The very normal emotional responses of anger, disgust, and panic rushed towards my brain in a dead heat. But, luckily, a sense of calm stepped in the way. Instead of freaking out (and I so wanted to freak out), I looked at the gross scene in front of me and told myself “this is a thing that is happening. And I will deal with it.”

I calmly worked on plunging the atrocity down the pipes, as Max clarified that he had used the toilet brush to push the soggy toilet paper roll down the flush this morning. When the bowl finally emptied after repeated plunging attempts, I gave a small silent cheer of relief.I suppressed my revulsion as I cleaned up the horrifying water coating the floor, and I doused the area with the most toxic and powerful array of cleaning agents that I could.

Throughout the ordeal, I kept a calm, positive demeanor (with intermittent exclamations of ‘oh this is gross’). Max and I discussed the situation and agreed that, in the future, he should wait until mom or dad are awake before trying to resolve a toilet-based issue. I told him that I did appreciate that he tried to fix a problem himself, and that he had no reason to know that the toilet paper would expand and plug the drain.  And after giving myself a little clean-up, we continued along on our trip to the library.

After it was all said and done, I was struck by the lack of an emotional aftermath, If I had lost my cool and started bellowing, it would have made the rest of the afternoon and evening stressful and negative for both of us. Hopefully, I can start applying this technique to every challenge I face, but I’m still a normal person , and sometimes I’m going to flip right out.

Oh and yes, I did eventually realize while planning this blog post, that the experience could be summed up with the phrase “sh*t happens”. At the heart of every cliché lies a nugget of truth, I suppose.

Putting in the time

I think we’ve stumbled upon my a prospective best friend for my little dude, and as with every childhood bond of deep friendship, it’s primarily based on proximity. We’ve found another family living in our townhouse complex who have a son who is almost exactly the same age as Max, even born in the same month. This means that they’ll both be going into junior kindergarten at the same time, and they’ll both attend the school right around the corner. Like magic, my anxiety about the new school and the strangeness of it all has almost entirely vanished. He’s going to have a class buddy! Someone familiar who will accompany him as he embarks upon the journey into the mysteries of primary school.

And, to allay any concerns that their nearness to each other is the only commonality between them, please rest assured that they get along like peas and carrots. They are both smart, energetic, outgoing and creative dudes and they rally enjoy each others company. Of course, this means I now have double the amount of 4-year-old negotiating and pleading when I try to split the two of them up, but it’s a small price to pay.

It’s funny, I normally would feel very awkward about dropping in on a relative stranger, and a younger version of myself would have avoided doing that at all costs. But now, I can do it without really flinching, all because I want the relationship between Max and Shane to grow.

The trick to doing things you’re not comfortable with is having the right motivation. Before I found pursuits that I really believed in, it was impossible to challenge my own limitations and barriers. Now that there are a wealth of causes and goals that I’m chasing after, the intermediary steps I have to take to achieve those goals don’t seem insurmountable. As another example, I set up a meeting with a complete stranger, to talk about their involvement in my riding association. And not only did I set up the meeting, I was excited to go. For someone who used to describe himself as socially anxious, this is a surprising development (and a pretty cool one).

 

The fury of a 4 year old

If this blog is supposed to be about adventures in parenting (among other topics) I should try to write about dad stuff once in a while. The delightful trouble is that things are pretty even keel right now. Other than flapping my arms and crowing proudly about the little dude’s massive brainpower (starting to honest-to-goodness read!), we’ve been just keepin’ on.

There was one noticeable exception, though. A few weeks ago, during a particularly rough bedtime, my exhausted son threw a tantrum.  That’s the standard term for his behaviour – I’d say it would be more accurate to say that he lost his ever-loving mind. Not just pouty, or weepy or angry, but a full-blown loss of all restraint. Shrieking at the top of his lungs and hammering on my chest with his tiny fists.

This wasn’t the first tantrum that he’s had –  I took the brunt of what I think was his first one months ago, when he woke up a half-hour after bedtime and freaked the f*$k out. And with his history of occasional night terrors as an infant, that first tantrum was somewhat understandable. It still pushed me all the way past calm and controlled,though I managed to somehow resolve the situation. I actually pried his eyelids open during the tantrum, and that calmed him down. I think he was still kind of asleep. Sleep rage, I guess? Even after he was back asleep, I was left with immense guilt and shame for having lost my own composure and for getting angry at him for shrieking at me.

This time, he was fully awake when he launched into his tirade. I am glad to say that I had learned from the first time, and I found a place of serene compassion and calm that I hunkered down in. I was ready to gently talk to him and hug him until his cognitive process regained control of his body. My dear wife actually came in and interceded, because she didn’t want him treating me that way. It was a kind of strange dynamic, and I admit that his angry, spiteful words were pretty hurtful. But under the calm but stern guidance of my dear wife, we came together as a family and calmed down to resolve the situation.

Afterwards, it was a strange sight to see his pride fighting with his remorse as he struggled to apologize to me. He was embarrassed by his actions and he really didn’t have the ego to spare for a hearty apology. A mumbled “sorry” without making eye contact was the best he could manage. But, when I came downstairs the next morning, he made a point of looking over at me and saying “I’m sorry dad”. And that was probably one of the best apologies I’ve ever received, because it was entirely unprompted and heartfelt. He had thought about what had happened, and he felt bad.

Staring into that unthinking and defiant tantrum reminded me of the angry beast inside every one of us. It’s not that we lose the urge to throw all the rules aside and assert or will upon the things around us with violence and spite: we just learn to control it. I know that there are times that I just want to punch walls, kick over tables, and scream at the world for not obeying my commands, and I think that’s common to all of us. We live in a universe that doesn’t really care about fulfilling our desires, and that is immensely frustrating to a species that is so self-important. So, in staring down the lad’s tantrum and finding a peaceful way to deal with it, I’m also re-enforcing my own coping mechanisms, putting new chains on the rage beast.

Metaphor at the fair

We had a fantastic day at the Western Fair on Saturday. For those who aren’t locals, the Western Fair is our fall fair. It has a big focus on farming (we are in the middle of one of North America’s most fertile areas, after all) but it also has all the additional attractions: rides, carnival games, music concerts, gambling and delicious food that seeks to shorten your lifespan. Max was full of energy and excitement, wiggling and dancing as he walked through the midway.

There were some well thought out changes made to the fair from last year, the most important one being a much bigger focus on family friendly activity that had no additional cost. Every good parent loves to take their kid to a fun event like the fair, but the costs can be pretty prohibitive. By adding free activities, the fair gave the kids more fun opportunities while letting mom and dad’s wallet have a little rest.

And like most of our outings, I had the most fun wen I was with the animals. Cows! Goats! Pot-bellied pigs! Affectionate horses! Stand-offish Alpacas! I even had the wife take a picture of me standing behind the rear end of a horse that was taller than me. And no, the horse did not poop on me. What a terrifying mess that would have been. So, as a family fun day, it was top-notch.

But let’s get to the incident that this post’s title refers to. As my little dude waited in line for his turn in the bouncy castle, I noticed a set of parents at the back of the castle and, being nosy, I went to snoop. I overheard them griping about the lineup, and the father was suggesting to another nearby parent that they just lift their kid up over the back wall and let them bounce. From the grousing and whining that continued from the parents, I realized that they had done that with their own kid. Frustrated with the speed and disorganized state of the line to get in, they had decided to break the rules and cheat. At first I wasn’t really bothered by this, until I realized that my 3-year-old was patiently standing in line and waiting for his turn. My dear wife and the ride operator were doing their best to keep the line of young, excited kids waiting without wandering off or getting upset, and they were doing a great job. So, I became enraged, and I began beaming the stare of death at both of the parents (known as “La Glare-o Del Muerte”). I debated the idea of verbally laying into the entitled pile of garbage, but my consideration for the family atmosphere kept me locked into silent stinkeye mode. And to her credit, the second mom refused to take the suggested shortcut cheat.

There was a fair amount of chaos in the waiting area for the ride, and the system wasn’t running as optimally as it could have been. The jerks in the back took that as a sign that they should ignore what’s best for everyone, and break the rules to suit their purposes. My wife, on the other hand, saw the problems with the system, and she considered the happiness and wellbeing not just of her own child, but of every child in the line. She didn’t storm up to the ride attendant and start whining about the problem, because she could see that he was doing his best. She did what every sensible, responsible and compassionate person would do: she rolled up her sleeves and pitched in. And soon, the system went back to functioning normally, and all of the kids were happy.

Maybe that is a stirring and compelling parable, or maybe my tired and sun-baked brain is misfiring. Either way, I’m proud of my wife.

I really don’t know what I’m doing

Are we all in the same boat here, full of a sense that we can accomplish more than we are, but no idea on how to practically achieve it? I’m going through this phase in life a little late (or a lot, depending on my optimism/pessimism levels) and maybe everyone else has already dealt with this feeling when they were in high school or university, and the rest of you have made peace with the tools you have on hand and your ability to build with them.  For me, it’s like I’ve woken up from a coma and I now have a brain full of exciting goals and dreams, but my withered coma body isn’t up to the tasks I’m presenting it.

Ego plays a huge part in all of this: I want to be in the cool kids club with the leaders and thinkers and visionaries, no matter how little experience I actually have, or the quality of contribution I can bring to the table. It’s pretty demoralizing when you want to help the people around you and your community but you don’t really know how.

Okay, the above statement is both maudlin and inaccurate. Blame senor Ego again. I do know how to help out. But I want to help out in the bigger and more impressive ways, like being a board member at a not-for-profit. The trouble is, I don’t have the skill set these boards need, and I know that. It will all take time and effort. I can’t help but glare glumly into the past at the younger version of myself and mutter about his lack of success. If young me had finished university, how much farther ahead would current me be?

The trouble with that kind of logic is that it assumes that the younger versions of me were capable of doing more than they did, when that’s not a fair assessment. My brain was a pretty sad mess for most of high school, a swirling mix of low self-esteem, social anxiety and a total lack of personal responsibility. That fog was extended and worsened by a five-year (give or take) enthusiastic drinking habit. It has been a long, difficult process of managing to function and thrive despite the brain mess, and things are much, much better.

Now that I’m paying attention to the world around me and trying to be a better all-around citizen, I’m hitting the limits of the amount of information I can process. No matter how earnest and engaged I am, I just can’t assimilate a comprehensive understanding of civic issues at the municipal, provincial, federal and international levels at the same time. My poor brain is aching. Do I like standardized testing? Is my opinion on the Shared Services plan well-informed? Do I even care if there are ad banners on the railway bridges? Is my stance on Israel fair and balanced? Ack! I don’t know! I’m just a poor author.

Speaking of artistic poverty, there’s this cheery piece of dream-crushing: http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2011/09/cory-doctorow-why-should-anyone-care/

The author is a guy who has been doing this for a while, so he’s got the street cred. I know that the odds of my first book making a giant pile of cash are hilariously bad, but I really want to hold to the (reasonable?) hope that I can eke out a subsistence living by continuing to write and publish novels. I don’t want diamond shoes or anything, but would it be too much to ask to make enough to remove money stress from my life? I’m not talking a large sum of money here-when you work out the hours I spend on writing, it would probably come out to about a full-time minimum wage. Oh well. I can’t control who buys my book. I can only control the creation process.

Massive Cuts at Dad Co. !!!!!!

MadeUp News – The workforce at Dad Co. has been given notice that, as of September 6th, they will be transitioned to a part-time basis, working only Mondays and Fridays. A company spokesman was quoted as saying “it’s a definite shift in our workload, but the consumer demand just isn’t there. Our primary client has decided to use another service provider for Tuesday to Thursday, and we can’t offer a competing package.” Reaction from the workforce has been generally sad and mopey, with muttered talk of “my boy is growing up so quickly” and questions about “who will make sure he eats his lunchtime vegetable?” filling the air of the Dad Co. Factory.

 

translation: Max goes back to preschool tomorrow, and this year, he’s going for 3 full days a week. For the first time in 2 years, I won’t be there during lunchtime. For some reason, that’s the part that I’m hung up on-his new level of sandwich autonomy.

I know that he’s going to enjoy going back to school. In fact, he’s been asking about school for the last few weeks, after he reached a state of boredom with our summer routine. My boy’s a social butterfly, and he’s looking forward to having new friends to play with. And it will be good for me as well, giving me time during business hours to try to make money, while also plugging away at my next novel.

But like every parent before me, I can’t help but be sad at the march of time, since that march leads him towards independence and away from me. Last year, I couldn’t fathom reaching this point in time. I thought it was so far away that it would never actually happen, but here we are. Next year he’ll be at the real deal, full day junior kindergarten. Sniffle.

I’m very grateful that I’m able to be at home, spending Mondays and Fridays with him, and being able to pick him up at 3PM after school.  I sincerely hope that I can find some kind of reliable income source that will allow us to keep me here, though I realize how challenging it’s going to be to find some kind of job that will fit within the hours I have available (nevermind my continual battle with the lack of credentials on my CV. Curse you, lack of employer-enticing accomplishments!) So, dear universe, if you were planning to throw some cash my way, this would be a fine and dandy time to do so. I promise that I’ll keep trying to make the world a better place, and I won’t buy even one giant foam cowboy hat.

Me and the camel are now friends

We packed up the family car and drove into the wilds of Corn country, to visit a place called Greenview Aviaries and Zoo. Like most cynical parents, I had a few assumptions about the place before I even laid eyes on it. I was sure it was going to be a little run-down, very expensive, and full of poorly maintained and sad animals. Boy, was I wrong.

First, it was clean. No litter, no broken playground equipment. In addition to the zoo (more on that in a bit) there was a large picnic and playground area, and they were not fooling around when they set up the playground. There were 3 full-size trampolines. Yes you heard me, a plethora of trampolines.And the big sandbox was full of  at least 15 toy dump trucks and dozens of plastic shovels. it was almost as if the proprietors of this establishment actually knew what kids liked to play with.

It also impressed me that the picnic area was interlaced with the playground, so the kids could keep running around like lunatics while the adults finished eating their lunches. The picnic and playground area was also a sort of libertarian dreamland: not a staff member in sight. The trampolines had signs beside them pointing out the rules, which were routinely ignored. All children were left in the responsibility of their parents or caregivers. I don’t know if this is in any way an accurate representation of a Libertarian’s dream, but I do know that there were a series of minor injuries taking place during our visit. There was a girl around the age of 9 or 10 who suddenly discovered on the zip line that her grip strength wasn’t quite as good as she had guessed. Her mom ran over to the prostrate girl, and after a moment, she got up and walked it off. All in all, most injuries were walked or cried off with no permanent damage, and we escaped with no wounds (other than bug bites).

But on to the animals! I had assumed that the zoo would be an anemic collection of a few slightly exotic animals, a pack of donkeys and maybe a peacock or two. Surprisingly, this zoo in the middle of corn fields and wind turbines is full of exotic creatures. It blew my mind that they had 4 lions, a tiger, 2 cougars, a pack of alpacas, a black bear, a horde of different monkeys, 2 surly buffalos, and a camel. My fondness for an animal is based around its similarity to a dog, and I didn’t think that a camel would meet that criteria, what with all the stubbornness and spitting. But this fellow was agreeable and approachable. I gave him a pet on the nose, and  when he didn’t immediately attack me, I started to give him a hearty scratch behind the ear. And after a moment or two, I swear that one of his back legs started to kick reflexively, just like a giant dog when you find their itchy sweet spot. You cannot believe how much I enjoyed this. I had hoped to give the buffalo a pet too, but he was disinclined to allow such nonsense, and when a buffalo slams his massive head against the fence between you and him, you back off.