Tag Archives: Parenting

Pandemic Parenting

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."

So how are you feeling?

“Age-appropriate behavior” … or something else?

Question: When are fidgeting, spacing-out, silliness, lack of focus, inattention to detail, emotional overreaction to 'change' and hyperactivity "normal" in a child?
Answer: Apparently, it depends on if those things are causing said child to struggle at school, with friends or at home.

Question: If you find it necessary to attempt to address (i.e., "fix") those aforementioned behaviors, and following an in-depth conversation with an "expert", the first thing said expert(s) identify is ADHD, followed by a suggestion of medication, what should you do?
Answer: I. Don't. Know.

This is sensitive, because I'm not really seeking advice, per se, and my wife straight-up told me that she really doesn't want to tell our family about this (though my mother already has some knowledge of it). However, I know we have lots of parents here, with a pretty wide variety of experiences - both professional and personal - who might be willing to talk about what they know, think they know, or otherwise have an opinion on.

I have a child with a lot of intelligence, curiosity and quality interpersonal skills. Great kid - caring, empathetic and friendly. Also, this kid cannot sit still in class, stay on task, pay attention to things that aren't of interest, etc., etc., etc... to the point that two-years worth of teachers have spoken to us about her inability to complete tasks on time, without continuous prompting and repeated reminders. No surprise there, because tasks like getting ready for dinner, bedtime, breakfast, school, play, bath .... all take much longer than they should, and frequent prompting typically results in tears and overreaction (on my/our part as well).

We want to help, and want help, so we sought out expert advice. I trust experts - attorneys, physicians, accountants, mechanics, etc. I look for the 'best' and trust what they tell me. That initial meeting went well, confirming (but not formally diagnosing) what we'd already considered. However, when the inevitable discussion of options to address the concerns led to information about medications, I immediately felt a panic - "No! Not my child! I've seen/heard too many horror stories about [insert whatever 'brand name' stimulant or anti-depressant(!) comes to mind] to be giving that to my child!" That's all the farther we've gone; still working on a formal diagnosis, but I'm feeling conflicted about what comes next.

What do ya got for me?

I mean, c'mon, even the label warns to "Keep Out of Reach of Children" !!!

(Over)Protective Fathers … or, “Other People’s Kids”?

Editor's Note - Copied an LTE of mine from yesterday that got away from me. I started typing a response, and it blew up. Instead of making a standalone FKB post, when I realized it was paragraph(s) long, I went back and added the cop-out "FKB(?) alert..." and hit "Mail Letter to the Editor".

Context: My daughter is very sensitive & emotional ... like, look at her the wrong way (make a face she thinks is mocking or angry) and she's ready to cry; give her a hug and tell her how amazing she is and she's beaming. Lately, she's been concerned (is certain) that other kids don't like her or are laughing at her. It doesn't take much to break her heart.

We were in the hallway at child care and I was checking her and Niblet into the computer system, when a snotty voice from her classroom (adjacent to the keypad, but out of my sightline) mockingly calls out to her, "What are you looking at!?!" as she's standing there next to me. We couldn't have been at the door for more than 10 seconds at that point. She embarrassedly looks down and away - and I damn near lost my shit. I leaned into the doorway and stared this kid down (7-9 years old maybe? - it's a classroom for various school-aged children, before & after school care) and he sort-of nervously grins in surprise at me, then leans back and looks at his buddy and snickers. Says under his breath, but loud enough to hear, "what's he staring at?" I stand there long enough for it to be uncomfortable, and he just kept grinning at me. So ... I walk into the classroom and over to his table. I stop about 6 feet away, with the table and some other students (and a "teacher") between us, I tell him in my dad voice that it's not okay for him to talk to my daughter that way. Tell him that he better not do it again, either in front of me, or when I'm not there. He stops smiling and just holds his half-eaten toast partway to his mouth. I say if I hear about it from her that he treats her that way again, there will be consequences (I did not define what they might be - pretty sure there isn't anything I could actually 'do' about him being a jerk ... at that point I was working hard not to yell or swear at him). Then I had my daughter come into the classroom, and told him to apologize to her. He did. The two "teachers" and the rest of the classmates eating breakfast just sat there. I was so livid, that I just nodded at his apology and Kernel and I walked out to take Niblet down to his room.

On the way back, her lead "teacher" met me in the hallway and asked if this was an issue that she hadn't been aware of. She seemed very concerned about it being bullying or somesuch. I said, "No," but informed her that my kid is sensitive and isn't very good about standing up for herself (quite the opposite, she shrinks and feels bad about herself). So, if there's someone being mean to her who's old enough to know better, and I'm standing right there, I'm going to call them out on it. I said that no more follow up was needed ... I just wouldn't put up with that kind of behavior.

I'm hopeful it isn't an issue, but man, it was not something I was prepared to deal with. I just reacted to the tone of his voice, and his response to my stare only exacerbated things. I guess I was hoping he'd be embarrassed or something ... I don't know.

There were a few immediate responses:

Zee German

In my head I'm seeing that video of the guy who starts knock-out slapping everyone in sight after something happened to his kid.

Might be a good FKB discussion, but if our kids are out there among...people, we best prepare ourselves for the inevitability of these situations. For the record, my son is usually the super-sensitive one who is now recognizing that he's an outsider in middle school. Tough place to be. He's an easy target for someone who wants to provoke a little entertainment. Still not sure how we handle it.


Good for you. I know it's easy as a parent to not engage in these situations as we think we may embarrass our kids. I had 2 situations like you describe. One, a kid in the hockey locker room was making fun of my quiet /introverted son. I did get in his face about it not being the way to treat a teammate. I then went to the Dad and explained what happened and described how I handled it. 9 years later the Dads and the boys are good friends. A couple years after that incident a neighbor boy, bullied my son on the bus. We are good friends with his parents, and he is a year older than my son. I called their house and the boy in question answered. I told him that I heard about the bullying incident, and that I was greatly disappointed. I told him that I was giving him one "pass" when it comes to bullying. I told him I would not tell his Dad this time, but the next time he would not be happy with the ramifications. Never had another issue since. Families are great friends. My son was actually proud that I stood up for him both times, which surprised me. Shorty after these 2 incidents, he had a couple situations where he totally stood up and had his own "Christmas Story/Ralphie" moments. Both times, he intervened when a friend or teammate was bullied and fixed the problem. Proud papa moments. I once had a supervisor that told me that as managers, we had to approach conflict like firemen. Rush into the fire and put it out. Don't stand across the street and hope it rains.

Update - No blowback at the school this morning, but Kernel did say the boy had repeated his "What are you looking at!?!" on the bus and indicated both that he is kind of a jerk (her word!) and that she'd told the bus driver. My initial thought was basically, "Well, I can't be with her 100% of the time, so good for her for doing what I'd recommended - tell an adult." On the other hand, we've been noticing a lot more lying from her lately, about really stupid (& easily verifiable) stuff; lies for reasons that make sense to her ... because she's 6. My second reaction was, "Did he really? Or, did she see how angry I was with him and liked knowing [seeing] how much I cared?" or something like that.

FKB: Father of the Freakin’ Year

I've made some pretty boneheaded parenting moves over the last month.

First: I left the baby sleeping on the bed while I went downstairs to get breakfast for the other kids. She seemed completely out. Of course she woke up a short time later, and didn't make a sound until she fell onto the floor. I think she probably had a mild concussion, given the way she was acting for the first half hour or so after the fall. I had a thing scheduled at work and I made plans to take her to the doctor after I got back from it, but she was back to her old self by the time I got home. Still, it was kind of horrifying.

Second: It took me more than a month to really respond to Aquinas' complaints of bullying before I took action. And it seems like that action was much needed, and has gone a long way towards correcting the problem (thank goodness for the fact that they're first graders, and still open to being good kids instead of blaming the one who told on them). My fear of ruffling feathers was too strong and my kid paid the price.

Third: And yet, in communicating about this issue, I may have inadvertently sent some signals that didn't exactly endear us or my kid to the teacher. I'm not quite sure why we can accurately observe that one kid is faster or stronger than a different one, but we can't observe that one is smarter than another? (I didn't straight up say anything like that, but I fear some unintended implications were taken (look, the class isn't particularly rigorous, and there is some classic "things are going too slow for him" stuff going on (I don't say this to brag about Aquinas, only to observe that this class is moving really slow. Halfway through the year and he's still doing math work that he did at this point in Kindergarten.)(also, he's absolutely going to keep getting 90% on everything you teach, no matter the difficulty, let's not act like 100% is needed to move on...))).

Fourth: Here's the biggie... I forgot my kid. I usually pick up Aquinas from school. If I can't, I arrange for him to take the bus to daycare. Well, I had a hearing out of town and... I forgot. So he walked to my office, per usual, only I wasn't there and the door was locked. So he started walking to the daycare, which is about a mile out of town. On the way there someone - a stranger to him (and us, but not other relatives) - stopped and offered a ride. He happily accepted because, as he put it, "he was tired of walking." The stranger brought him right to daycare (and apparently has done the same for other kids), so in a way it's a "no harm, no foul" situation. Except that my kid accepted a ride from a stranger. So... big time foul.

Anyway, I'm working at this parent thing. This morning I built a huge pillow barrier around the baby as she slept on the bed, and still went up and checked on her just about every other minute, and caught her just as she was waking up 6 minutes into me leaving her there... And I remembered to have Aquinas take the bus when I was gone on Tuesday. And I bribed him, so he got 100% on his spelling test last week. Maybe by the time they leave home I'll feel like I'm on the right track.

Gun Culture

With news of the recent school shooting in Oregon causing (what seemed to be) only a momentary ripple in the national consciousness, I felt compelled to re-examine my own position on the issue of guns in America. Mostly my thoughts are outside the purview of the 2nd Amendment discussions; this is an internal, moral inquiry rather than a legal one.

Some Background:
In 2008, we bought a house in St. Paul's Eastside, near Maryland & Johnson Pkwy. We knew it was near some rough neighborhoods, but had heard (been told) that things in the area had really improved and it was becoming safer. My S-i-L and her then-husband & children were/are on Wheelock Pkwy, perhaps a mile away from the house we bought. It was nice to be close to them and they vouched for the neighborhood.

In the five years between when we bought that house and when we sold it, I can't tell you how many crimes and acts of violence occurred within a 2-mile radius of it. I don't have time to do the research, but off the top of my head, I can recall:
- a police officer being murdered,
- at least five other murders,
- a fairly infamous instance of a guy walking home being beaten senseless by a large group of youths,
- a woman being brutally assaulted while walking her dog in the park,
- aggravated assaults and "simple" assaults too numerous to recount,
not to mention easily 500+ thefts, burglaries, robberies, drug busts and car thefts - including an attempted theft of our Civic and the successful theft of the catalytic converter off my truck, parked in front of my home.

After being in the home for a few years, I found a bullet hole in the exterior aluminum storm window with the offending bullet still lodged in the wooden window frame. This was the main floor guest room. Someone had driven through the alley and shot at the house. It appeared to have been there for awhile, but unsettling doesn't quite capture my feelings, as there's no way of knowing for sure. Another night, I awoke to the sounds of a police action - a K-9 taking down a fleeing suspect in my neighbors backyard (just outside what would become my daughter's bedroom).

So, I did what any self-respecting man in America does when he feels concern about his family's well-being: I bought a handgun. I also took a state-approved concealed carry permit course. I'm not a novice when it comes to firearms. I'd been armed for long stretches in the Navy with both a handgun and/or automatic rifle and have hunted for more than 20 years. In the end, I chose not to obtain the permit to carry. I understand the gravity of what it means to carry a gun and was not willing to do so in public, but I kept the guns in my house.

In June of 2013, we sold the house and moved north to the WBL/Vadnais Heights area. The choice to move was due to a combination of needing more space in the home & yard, wanting better school options, community location & amenities. Also playing a huge part in that decision to move was the safety of our family. Despite additional policing and increased community engagement, things were not getting better. Unlike a lot of the folks in that community, we had the ability to leave. We lost money on the house, but sadly, I still think we came out ahead.

What Prompted this Post:
The vortex of low-income households/poverty-crime-drugs-violence-guns-murder seems to go on unabated ... this morning, my wife sent me a link to this story. That first murder in the story happened about five blocks south of my S-i-L's home, just south of St. Paul's Johnson High School ... the second one was a block south of the intersection of Maryland & Arcade, about half-a-mile from the house we used to live in. Two weeks ago, police found a dead body in a park near the grade-school my nephew's attended until two years ago. The individual had been shot.

I don't have an in-depth grasp of psychology, but I felt safer with the gun (locked in a safe) under the bed. Most of the time anymore, I don't even think about it. But I know the statistics and I know my wife does not feel any safer with it there. I'll admit that for me, and many others out there, there's something fascinating (titillating?) about holding a handgun. Perhaps, at the most basic level, it's because we know that handguns are for shooting people. Taking a life ... that is truly incredible power. Sure, I know some folks hunt with handguns and lots of people shoot handguns at the range (very often at people-shaped silhouette targets), but you're lying to yourself if you don't think they're for "offense" or "defense" against people.

Here's where I'm at:
If I teach my children how to safely handle firearms for hunting purposes, but also want them to have familiarity with handguns because they exist in the world (and for now, in our home), I am doing them (and the world) a disservice? Furthermore, by purchasing that handgun, was I simply contributing to the problem; perpetuating the gun culture in America? I don't know the answer (or perhaps I'm not ready to admit it), but I feel that as a member of society, as a "grown-up" and most importantly a parent, I need to be asking the questions and examining my own beliefs and actions.

Easy as ABC

A is for: (a little) arrogant

I didn’t know much about babies before the jalapeno was born in 2010, but I thought I knew—in general terms—how I’d approach being a parent. All I had to do was follow the example of my own parents.

Growing up, I always felt that my sister and I were at the center of our parents’ lives. They worked hard at their jobs during the day, but on evenings and weekends they were supremely attentive to our needs, our activities, etc. Not to say we got everything we wanted—they were plenty firm about setting limits—but they always seemed to be focused on us. I wouldn’t say they were at the level of helicopter parents, but they were definitely very involved. I suppose I must have known that they theoretically had lives of their own, but that fact barely registered. My mom’s hobbies included things like going to church meetings and sewing clothes for my sister and me. My parents occasionally got a babysitter and went to the theater or the SPCO, but it was rare. All in all, everyone seemed pretty happy with this arrangement.

B is for: (lack of) balance

Fast forward to after the jalapeno was born. I went back to work when he was three months old. My general routine became: work (at a job I liked, fortunately), spend time with the jalapeno, dinner, tend to whatever chores needed to be done, collapse into bed at 9:00, dreading how often the jalapeno might wake during the night. Over time, his sleep improved somewhat (hello, sleep training) and I started working in occasional trips to the gym. I went online and read message boards where moms talked about their babies. Sometimes I found the energy to catch up with a friend or two via email. Once in a while, we made plans to get together with friends (who also had small children) on the weekends. But I rarely left the house other than to go to work or the gym.

In retrospect, this seems ridiculous. How could this setup possibly be a good idea? But I’m by nature an overachiever. I was trying to do everything “right” for my kid, but in doing so I was failing myself.

C is for: changes

Fast forward again to the present day. The jalapeno is 4 years old and the pepperoncino is 15 months. I’m still working full time (and fortunately still like my job). Life is chaotic, to say the least. In theory, I have less free time than ever, but I’m doing things differently now. Having gone through all the infant and toddler stuff once before, I know that many of the hard things are only temporary. I stay away from online discussions where moms compare and compete about what their children are doing and everyone knows what’s best for all babies everywhere. I’m also making time to do things that have nothing to do with my job or my children.

Get a last-minute chance to go to a Twins game on a beautiful day? Do it. Hear about a bizarre online game run by some guy who goes by a moniker that has to do with scary dairy products? Do it. Have a friend who wants to check out a new restaurant (sans kids)? Do it.

There are by no means enough hours in the day to do everything I’d like—for my job, for my kids, or for myself. But now that I’m no longer trying to be something that was making me miserable, I’m a lot better off, and I daresay my kids are better off as well.

Image credit: (cc) Michael Verhoef

Father Knows Best: Roundup

Sitting here listening to some hockey (Wild win in Detroit, 4-2) after watching an episode of Homeland, drinking a glass of this, trying to figure out what my edition of Father Knows Best should address. I realize that any of those first three items could (and typically do) generate a whole day’s worth of conversation here at the World’s Greatest, but none of them really help me with the task at hand: namely, come up with something about being a father that is useful, challenging, interesting and LTE-inducing – all while keeping the post manageable, i.e., short.

More after the jump… Continue reading Father Knows Best: Roundup