It's been a little while since we had one of these, right? And with school starting, it seemed an opportune time.
My family is moving into a new phase this year - all 4 of my kids are in full-time school, with the youngest starting Kindergarten. My oldest is in 6th grade, which is still Elementary where we are, so for this one year all 4 kids will be at the same school. We've been talking about this for 5 years, ever since Heidegger was born.
Philosofette has a part-time job at the school, in the classrooms, this year too, which should be excellent for the family. Or the rest of them at least. I'm all alone.
Anyway, it's been a real gut punch. I'm super excited for the future for all my kids, but also kids grow up too fast, and I don't want any more time to slip away.
Also, here's a sappy poem I wrote. Someone feel free to edit it to be better and more effective - emotionally I'm a wreck right now because my kids are growing up too fast, so I'm no condition to fix a poem about my kids growing up too fast.
To my daughter, now all grown
On the eve of school’s first day
To that happy girl whose beauty shone
Whenever we would play
I can’t believe you’ve come so far
So fast, the time has flown
My pride and joy you truly are
My love expanding as you’ve grown
This night before I sit on edge
I can’t believe it’s almost here
Now to leap from home’s safe ledge
The morn draws ever near
The doors will close, the bell will ring
Your attendance will be marked
While to the past your father clings
Your future now embarked
To my daughter, now all grown
As the time slips still away
Go out and make this world your own
And know I love you more each day
Alright... everyone with kids older than me, tell me it'll be alright and how wonderful this next phase is too. While I wait for people to do that, I'm gonna go look at their baby books.
Aquinas is in 5th grade. We had a version of The Talk with him a year or two ago, when there were rumblings of kids in nearby grades making certain comments and references and the like. It was clear at the time that it might have been a bit premature for him, but I'd definitely rather that than he hears about it too late from us.
Today his school had their "Your Changing Body" presentation, or whatever they called it. Parents were invited (this is a private school). I felt it was important to attend. I was the only parent there. The materials presented were pretty watered down, but that's probably okay for a 5th grader. They highly encouraged students to talk to their parents. That seemed good. Maybe more importantly, for me at least, the materials also talked a little bit about values - being empathetic to others going through things, understanding mental health as a part of development, having patience, etc. - and I was quite pleased, though I think extended conversation would have been good.
That's what the parents are for, I suppose. So not having other parents there left me feeling a bit worried. I want other parents talking about this stuff with their kids. That's going to help my kid get through it, just as much as theirs, right?
Anyway, this seemed like something worth chatting about on this site.
How have you all handled this subject? What are your experiences? How can we be better about this stuff for our kids?
The wife and I eat a wide variety of foods and enjoying trying new things. The kids... do not. While the young one is amiable enough to at least try sticking something in his mouth for awhile, they older one has a deadly fear of anything palate expanding.
We've heard the parts about slowly introducing new foods and the "it takes fifteen times" or whatever the number is, but we've blown past that number awhile ago. We don't force plate cleaning, but at least to try everything. Minds have been made up though, and every sample is immediately panned. For vegetables, corn is the one acceptable one. He's finally resigned to the fact that any tacos he have will have a nominal amount of lettuce. That's really about it.
It's funny because there are a couple things he happily shoves in his mouth that I absolutely loathe. For example, natto. He freaking loves it and I can barely even stand the sight of the stuff. Nor the smell. Nor the texture. It's the one thing he can lord over me. "Come oooooon, dad, try it!" he teases as he waives those foul smelling slime nuggets in my face...
I've finally mostly hit the point where what we make for dinner is what we've having. Eat it or don't. I still try to be somewhat accommodating. As you can so from my finely crafted cuisine, I don't think anything there is too crazy. Gotta find a middle ground somewhere I guess.
Are there any strategies that you've found that have been helpful? Do you try to sneak in as many vegetables into things as I do? I'm still working on ways to expand the palate. I'm sure we're doing something wrong here, but maybe it's not too late to correct the course (well, that probably applies to this whole parenting enterprise).
With all that's been going on lately, how are the Citizens with young kids handling it? I want to share some thoughts, tips, and resources, in case they're helpful. And if you don't have young kids but know someone who does, please feel free to share this with them.
First off--do you really have to talk about race with kids? Can't you just tell them that everyone is equal and let them figure it out from there? Nope! The world is not colorblind, and neither are your kids. A while back, I read the book NurtureShock, which has a great chapter called “Why White Parents Don’t Talk about Race.” You can check out an excerpt here. The key takeaway is that even very young kids see skin color differences and that not talking about race results in kids jumping to conclusions that are probably not what you wanted them to have.
And think about it. Once kids hit a certain age, they're going to hear things at school, from kids on their baseball team or in their gymnastics class or from someone at in their scout troop. So wouldn't you rather have given them a certain level of knowledge and understanding for when things come up in situations you're not a part of?
Telling a kid that a cop killed a Black man in your community is wrenching. When we told the jalapeno, who is nearing ten years old, about George Floyd's murder (omitting graphic details), he asked "But why?" in this voice that broke my heart. I was glad that at least we've been talking about race and racism for a long time already with him. When you have already been talking about race with your kid, in a moment of crisis you're not starting from zero.
So where do you start? I probably have a bias toward books, but I also think they're a great way to have a conversation about something without making it about your kid or their friend or anything that feels more personal.
For a resource specifically about police violence toward Black men, there's a good book called Something Happened in Our Town that's also been made into a 9-minute video you can share. I like that it includes both a white family and a black family in the storyline. Consider watching it with your kids as a way to launch a conversation. If you get the book, there is a lot of information for parents and educators about how to talk more with kids.
Earlier this morning, I read an article in the Washington Post specifically about the need for white parents to talk about race with their kids. There were three key points I found helpful.
1. Include books, TV shows, movies, music, etc., by nonwhite people as a regular thing for your family. And expand your circles to include people of different ethnicities. The article didn't mention this, but supporting minority-owned restaurants and other business would be another great thing to do.
Our actions speak at least as loudly as our words, and kids pick up A LOT just by seeing what we do. Remember that if you're only reading books about Black people when talking about slavery and civil rights, you're not sharing a complete picture of Black life.
To find good, diverse book for kids that aren't specifically about racism or oppression, a great tool is the Our Story app from We Need Diverse Books.
2. Educate yourself and your kids accurately about history. The article doesn't mention this, but I think doing so also gives you the background so that you can speak up as needed in conversations with your kids' teachers to advocate for a more accurate, more inclusive curriculum.
3. Talk often about current events and things you're seeing on social media. We white people are so often uncomfortable talking about race because we didn't grow up doing it. But by making it a regular part of conversation, you and your kids will start becoming more comfortable having these conversations at home--and out in the world.
Keep in mind that you're not going to have one conversation about race with your kids. Like everything important in parenting, it's something that will come up repeatedly. And your conversations will expand and deepen. And kids will ask questions sometimes when you're not ready for them. But remember that your kids don't need you to have all the right answers. They just need your willingness to talk.
Finally, if you've made a donation in recent days, talk to your kids about the place you're donating to and why. When I was a kid, I had no idea my parents donated anywhere, and while I get the instinct to not call attention to it, I didn't really understand that donating was important because we weren't talking about it.
So I hope this is all helpful, and I wish all the parents out there lots of strength and support today and every day!
The nice thing about having agreed to write this post is that I have something to do this weekend that doesn’t involve repeatedly checking Twitter and Instagram, trying to send messages to friends but not being able to figure out the phrasing and finally giving up, and staying up too late thinking I’ll get something done but accomplishing nothing.
My kids were on spring break last week and I had four days off, but Friday was rough. To get us through the weekend, I had my kids make schedules (pictured above), which definitely helped in terms of avoiding boredom as well as giving them a sense of control in a situation that’s beyond their control.
If you're looking at the photo of the schedules and thinking they're absurdly detailed, yes, it's true. They're ending up being more of a guide to a sequence of events than something we're following exactly. A long time ago, I remember reading something about the value of following the usual routine during times of crisis. For a kid (especially young kids), the routine provides comfort and helps them know what to expect. So having a set wake-up time and bedtime, having some limits on screen time, having regular mealtimes, getting dressed every day, etc., all have meaning right now.
For those people here who have kids, I imagine the specific things you’re dealing with are different depending on the age of the kid, but it’s all stressful. And for those who don’t have kids, I know many of you still have your own parents to worry about right now.
Highlights of the past couple days include the jalapeño learning to chop vegetables with a chef’s knife and the peperoncino grating his own cheese for a quesadilla. The boys have also done a good number of household chores, and the jalapeño’s room is the cleanest it’s been all year. The jalapeño has also been having FaceTime chats with a 4th grade friend, and they've been both hilarious and adorable. Yet there were also some intense sibling fights and meltdowns.
In some ways, having elementary-age kids is great because it limits how much time I can spend reading about the pandemic. Taking care of my boys’ immediate needs gives me something to focus on and keeps my anxiety levels down. On the other hand, I dearly miss having any sort of time to myself (the boys did very little without a parent all weekend), and I envy the people who seem to be actually accomplishing stuff while staying home. On the other other hand (I have a lot of hands), I recognize how fortunate I am to not be dealing with far more serious problems.
During this next week, teachers in our school district will be working on plans for teaching remotely; we will be going to the school to get a Chromebook for each boy at an assigned pick-up time. Since Mr. NaCl and I will both be working from home (and need to be able to actually get work done), my parents are going to come help. They’re both 70 and in good health, so on the one hand I think they’re happy to stay busy and pitch in. But part of me can’t help wonder if I’m being selfish and irresponsible by accepting their help.
Over the weekend, I did do a very little bit of reading about how to talk to kids about coronavirus, and one of the key takeaways is that it's wise to filter the information they get. It depends, of course, on age of the kid and how sensitive they are, but limiting their access to TV news/press conferences and online sources of info might be wise. I've also told the jalapeño that there are things he might want to talk about that shouldn't be discussed in front of his 6-year-old brother.
By chance, I came across some wise words from a school psychologist. This psychologist said not to be surprised by an increase in behavior issues, including meltdowns, tantrums, and oppositional behavior. This is a normal reaction under the circumstances. (I was very reassured to read this.) They also said not to obsess over kids' progress in school during this time of remote learning or to put too much pressure on kids academically. As parents, our first priority is to do what we can to ensure that our kids feel comforted and loved right now. To quote the psychologist, "How [your kids] felt during this time will stay with them long after the memory of what they did during these weeks is . . . gone."
Today is Aquinas's golden birthday. He's 10. As cliche as it is, I still cannot believe how fast the time has flown by.
Aquinas is the person who brings me closest to understanding the mind of God. I suppose that's what parenthood is, really. Their joy is your joy, their pain your pain. You want for them so much more than you want for yourself. You both see the person they could be and love the person they are. It has been a decade, and the effect this kid has on me continues to grow.
I've documented on the site some of our hard times - his struggles to fit in with kids who aren't much like him, how a small town makes those problems seem bigger, some bullying, etc. I want so very much to take away all of the pain and hardship he faces, or be able to gift him the tools to expertly overcome those problems. But I can't do that. So instead I wanted to take a chance to document just a few good developments too, because there are so many of them, and they feel like they're very much parenting related.
Aquinas was born in D.C., and as his birthday gift Philosofette and I flew out there with him for a trip over Labor Day Weekend. It simply could not have been more perfect. The museums were a tremendous hit. We saw a play at the Kennedy Center. We hung out on the Mall at night ("This is exactly what I pictured!" he exclaimed). He met old friends of ours and their kids, and saw our beautiful old neighborhood. And most important, especially coming from a small town, he was able to broaden his perspective on the world. We know how important this is for him - especially for him, as opposed to some of his other siblings, given his experiences and personality - and being able to deliver... it feels like a real accomplishment.
Aquinas seems to have some genuine creative ability. It's a big reason why we've enrolled him in piano lessons (finally). He's somewhat hesitant towards the lessons themselves, but just in the past couple months he has started tinkering around on his own, and I think it's really growing on him. The idea that we were able to nudge him into something he could be very good at - and enjoy - is incredibly rewarding. Always the balance between pushing too hard and not pushing enough. This feels like an area - at least for now - where we're succeeding in helping him to be the person he could be.
We started Lego League recently. Basically, you build a robot out of legos, and program it to complete tasks. I specifically started this league because our community members need something other than sports, and because Aquinas specifically is one of those community members. This is one of those parenting areas where I'm modelling my Dad. He was my baseball coach, and I remember him staying up late at night after work to watch videos about how to coach, and what drills to run, and things like that. I learned a ton listening to him discuss coaching philosophy, not just about coaching or baseball, but I learned about priorities. What was important wasn't winning or losing. That probably wasn't even secondary. And so when the Lego League opportunity popped up, I jumped. Aquinas can learn those things too, I hope. And hopefully find some other kids, and an activity, that he enjoys in the process.
Anyway... I'm kind of rambling, I realize. This isn't a well-thought out post with a point, other than that it seemed like a good time to share. He's our oldest - our golden child - and it's his golden birthday. What better time to celebrate?
My wish for Aquinas is to be the best person he can be, with all the success, happiness, and virtue that come from so being.
My oldest son Francis used to be my oldest daughter Frances. Francis is 25 and lives and works in Chicago so being the parent of a trans kid is somewhat removed for me at this point but it still presents unique challenges and opportunities for learning.
One of the challenges is who do you tell and when? Even though by this point many people know Francis is now a man, not everyone does. I find that some people I have an easy time telling but some people who I have a fleeting relationship with will refer to Francis as a “she” and I find myself not correcting them. It’s really hit and miss for me and as I’ve kept this quiet on the WGOM for nearly 3 years myself, consider this Father Knows Best posting my “coming out” as a Trans Dad.
Of course having a trans kid brings other concerns as a parent. Let’s face it, not everyone is comfortable with trans people; discrimination and even violence is not uncommon. I bring it up to dates in case they are uncomfortable with it. It is a parent’s worst fear that bad things could happen to their child because of who that kid is and basically are powerless to do anything about it. Luckily nothing like this has happened to Francis (that I know of).
It is, however, pretty amazing how accepting people are. For people under 30, it’s not even an issue. My youngest refers to Francis as his brother like it’s been rolling off his tongue forever and the nieces and nephews didn’t even bat an eye. Others that I have told have been more fascinated with the process than questioning the intent. Which has been nice for me.
One thing that I have learned these past 3 years is that sexuality is definitely not M or F but is in fact on a continuum. Francis is the same person he’s always been with the same personality, sense of humor, needs and desires. In fact he exhibits some characteristics that I would consider “feminine.” But having said that, I don’t question at all his identifying as a male.
So we are all in a good place. Francis is a very happy, young person, striking out on his own in Chicago. He has a good job, been in a relationship for over 5 years, and has matured greatly these past few years, like many kids in their mid-20s do. The three of us are going backcountry hiking at Glacier National Park this coming July and I’m really looking forward to it.
Do I have any Father Knows Best advice? Probably not, each of us will have to experience the world our kids bring to us as they grow up. All I can say is your kids are their own person and it’s quite fascinating to watch them grow and experience the world on their own terms. It’s quite a ride, just make sure you have something to hold on to.
Last week, I closed out the Girl's 529 Account and this week, we'll be making our last ever(?!) tuition payment. We are now entering that netherworld between having "children" and becoming grandparents (with no guarantee that we will ever graduate to grandparent status).
So, what now?
Thankfully, we've been able to transition gradually, via the mostly-empty-nest, for about three years. And let me tell you, having the house to ourselves is pretty awesome. The Mrs and I can have conversations not about the kids, and we can, like we did Friday night, head up to bed at 7:30 p.m. with nobody to give us shit for being old.
Still, the "senior advisor" role takes some getting used to. When do you offer, when do you keep your damned mouth shut?
I'm like many guys, oriented toward fixing problems when I see them, rather than mere, passive availability of emotional support. I have seen my daughter struggling emotionally--with relationship issues, in particular, but also with mild mental health challenges, and found it very hard to find the right pitch. She's a brilliant, talented, highly opinionated, intensely moral, tightly-wound personality, slow to make friends but fiercely loyal when she does.
I've seen her fall in love. It was glorious. She positively shined. And I ached for her, knowing that there are tremendous risks that go with giving your heart to someone, particularly for the first time.
And I've seen that love crumble, as often happens, not-just-but-particularly with first real loves, and wondered how I could support her and give her what she needs.
I went through something vaguely similar when I was a college junior. A long-term, intense relationship died, not of my choosing (although to my long-term benefit). Picking up the pieces after is one of the signature challenges of becoming an adult. So I know that it's something that she mostly has to do herself. Knowing that doesn't make it much easier for a parent.
She comes home in two weeks for her last spring break. I get to wrap her in my arms again, maybe hold her hand on a walk, and tell her I love her. Maybe along the way, we'll get to have one of those conversations that two adults sometimes have with one another about things that matter. And then we'll send her back across the country for a last time as our dependent, before she goes out into the great, wide open.
Our kids have gone to Catholic school from K-8. Our oldest (now a senior) played travel soccer so she had some friends going into high school. Our middle child (now a sophomore) has never been to into sports. We were pretty concerned with her friend situation going into high school. Of her friend group, only a couple kids were going to the public school. We suggested (strongly) that she join some type of fall activity that started before school was in session so she could meet some people.
She ended up doing both marching band and cross country. Marching band was a given since she decided to do band and they require all members of the band to also do marching band.
We encouraged her to run during the summer but she really didn't run too much. We knew that cross country would be a pretty rude awakening for her. It started worse than we could imagine.
The first couple weeks of practice, she complained that she was so slow that she was essentially all alone out on the runs. She also didn't really know anyone else so it was a tough way to try to meet people.
After the second week, they do time trials at a park along with a breakfast for families. It's a nice way to meet the other parents and coaches. The kids had a 2-mile timed run to get an idea where everyone was at that point of the season.
The girls all went out on their run. The parents gathered around the finish line to cheer them on. The first girl came in. Then another and another. Based on what she told me, I figured she'd be last.
Finally, there was a long gap after one of the girls came in. The coaches all looked at each other and walked away with the other parents. But my kid wasn't back yet! I wasn't sure what to do. Do I start yelling, "There's one still out there!" and have all the parents and coaches come back? I'm pretty sure she'd be mortified by that. Instead, I just stood there alone at the finish line.
I waited another minute or so and then I saw her running towards me from the wrong direction. She was so far behind that she got lost. And then the coaches and teammates forgot she was out there. She jumped into my arms and was sobbing and telling me that she was going to quit cross country. I just tried to comfort her and told her she could do whatever she wanted. We went straight to the car and didn't join the team or families for breakfast.
My instinct is to try to do too much and say too much with the kids. This time I didn't say anything. I was pretty pissed at the coaches for forgetting she was out there. I don't care if she's good but the least you can do as a coach is know how many runners leave and how many come back. What if she had been hurt? I was writing the email in my mind but I have a 24-hour rule so it would never get sent. (Her coach was also my other daughter's track coach and teacher, so going full burn-the-house-down could have had some negative repercussions.)
I said nothing about what happened on Saturday and Sunday. I didn't comfort her. I didn't give her advice. I just went on like nothing happened.
Sunday night, she comes downstairs to tell us she'd gotten a text from our neighbor (and one of the top runners on the team) offering her a ride to 6 a.m. practice on Monday morning so we don't need to drive her to practice. It's amazing what just a little bit of kindness can do when someone is down. All she wanted was someone to notice she was on the team.
She went on to finish last in JV in the first 4 races of the year but improved every race. This year, she's continued to improve and is a middle-of-the-pack JV runner. She's made a couple friends on the team and plans on trying Nordic skiing this winter to stay in shape for track.
She deserves all the credit in the world. I know how tough that was for her to go through. We knew there would be some growing pains, but I couldn't have imagined what she went through and how far she's come.
I've always said my favorite thing about cross country and track is that you can compete with yourself and success is measurable. I was just glad this story had a happy ending.
Alright, the title is a bit misleading. I don't feel any need to defend large families, or that they've been denigrated here, or anything like that. I was just trying to draw some eyeballs. And let me state at the outset that I, much like others before me, don't in any way think there is a "right way" to do families. Everyone is different, it takes all kinds, and I've no reason or desire to judge the way anyone else does it.
The last few Parentgood posts have been, in some way or another, about not-having kids. There was the having of someone else's kid, the not-going-to-have-them, and the prepping for an empty nest. All were much appreciated perspectives. So I thought maybe I'd just offer a little bit of my experience, since it's noticeably different from those previous entries. Quite obviously this isn't going to be the thing for everyone, (again, to each their own, and no one should condemn anyone's choices in this realm), but I thought maybe I could shed a little light on life in a big family.
First, I am the oldest of 13 children. So I have some insight into truly big families. Second, I have 4 kids of my own. Not exactly a big family, but certainly not a small one by the going standards. (As an aside, we'd be open to more, but that might not be the possibility we once thought it was. Doctors visits are pending, and prayers are appreciated. But not what this post is about.).
One of the things that stands out to me most about being part of a big family is that there's a certain generosity of spirit that is more or less required. The family motto is "there's always room for one more" and we really carry that out. We had 50 people at Thanksgiving dinner, and we've had bigger. There's always enough because everyone is always giving, contributing to the common cause. Indeed, my parents are the most generous people I've ever met. They are far from well off - we spent much of my youth as considerably poor - but the amount they give surpasses anyone else I've known. And I suppose that's especially true in the Biblical "widow who gave her last two coins" sense.
A more quirky aspect of the large family is that nearly everything is a large production. You can't have a get together without it being an event. You can't do an outing without it being involved. I still carry the habit of sliding to the back of a group and counting the heads of everyone in front of me. Just the role of the oldest, I guess. But with this comes a real feeling of accomplishment. Admit it: if you successfully took a dozen people to the zoo or hosted a 30 person bonfire, you'd feel pretty good about yourself. That's just a regular weekend in a huge family, so you learn some real skills, and to feel good about them.
It's also amazing to have such a wonderful support system. Whenever we need help, family is there. That's been true of little things like a couch to crash on or painting a room, and that's been true of big things, like a dentist sister who can do a root canal or planning a benefit for my nephew who was born with half a heart. That support is also amazing for dealing with the emotional baggage we all face. Grief, especially, has hit us hard these past years with a couple of deaths in the immediate family. But we're all there to help each other pull through, to provide support and comfort, and that system is amazing.
Sometimes there is a sense that with big families you don't really get to know your siblings, or that you're not as close, or, most horrible: that there is a finite amount of love to be had, so it gets spread thinner. Nothing could be further from the truth. My siblings and I all know each other really well. We're incredibly close, and, if anything, that love in the family is multiplied, not spread thin.
Finally, I want to talk about being a parent of a bigger family. I take it as an acceptable premise that a person's identity changes in some way when they become a parent for the first time. I don't know too many parents, if any, who wouldn't acknowledge that. I remember a conversation with a good friend after we both became parents for the first time, and we both expressed how much better we understood life, now that we were parents. We understood our parents, we understood love, we understood God, and so many other things in such a better way.
For me, there was a somewhat similar experience when I went from having 2 kids to having 3. Somehow, something about having a third kid, where you could no longer split them off, one to each parent, shifted my identity again. I became less of a parent and more of a family man. Yes, I am still a parent to individual children, and I have that relationship with them still, but there's a larger family sense that I'm more vividly aware of now that I have a larger brood. There are things I try to do "for the family" now, in a way maybe I only did "for Aquinas" or "for Aristotle" prior to Neitzsche's arrival. I'm more aware of the way in which the kids are interacting with each other, and how one kid's experiences are affecting the others.
Honestly, it's really cool. And really humbling. I became more of a servant when I had my third kid than I ever was before. And I like that. Now, I know it's not for everyone. But given my experience, it's something I'd recommend to those on the fence. I know I'm better for it.