Wednesday, May 30, 2012

He's Hip, He's Cool, He's 45

Everything is happening just as I had feared it would.

The kids are growing up way too fast, and I'm getting old as hell.

My wife got a call last week that seemed like it might change everything.  The preschool run by the Very Large State University where I used to teach called to tell her that there were two spots for our girls, who are not quite three years old.  The openings were available starting the first week of June, and if we didn't act now, we would probably not be offered them again this fall.

The VLSU preschool had been a longshot.  It's a very popular program, and they offer a certain number of spots to children of college students, a certain number to children of faculty, and a certain number to regular old community members.

We had already more or less resolved to send them to a different preschool that the kids liked, that some of their friends would be attending, and that we were pretty okay with.  There was some Jesus-talk happening at the school, which gave us pause; but everyone assured us that they only preached the lovey-dovey hippie Jesus stuff, not the "don't be gay or believe in evolution" kind.  So we were cool with it.  That school was going to start up in September.

But then we got the call.  And I started trying to prepare myself.  The kids would be spending two entire days per week with some really nice strangers in a really nice, cheery, light-filled, strange building, and a lovely, state-of-the-art outdoor area with vegetable gardens and beautiful playground equipment that was totally foreign to them.

And during this time, I would do...what, exactly?

But then I got another call from the VLSU preschool.  There had been a misunderstanding. I had been faculty when we put the kids on the waiting list.  The two available spots were for kids of faculty.  I was no longer faculty.  She would see what she could do, but it didn't look good.

Oh, well.  At least I could avoid thinking about what I was going to do with my life for another couple months.

Then another phone call.  They shuffled some things around, and our kids are once again welcome to attend the school! Starting next Tuesday!  Yay!

It really does seem like the best school for them.  We love pretty much everything about it.  It's just that...it starts next week.  I'm pretty sure the kids are ready for it.  And my wife is ready for it.  I still have some stuff to work out.  In the next six days.



******

Meanwhile, it's my birthday today.  I wish I were as cool as this guy:




Thursday, May 24, 2012

So I was all up on the Tee Vee yesterday...

It's true.  I wrote an article for the Headline News website. (Are they just called HLN now?  I don't know.  Ain't got the Tee Vee.)  It was an article about dad blogging, meant as a primer for the uninitiated.  My hope was that it might get some civilians interested in what we do here in the dadosphere.

This is what's known as "on-air chemistry"
Well, apparently somebody from the TV part of the operation thought that it would be interesting to put one of these "dad blogger" characters in a segment, and, you know, they had my email address and all, so I was the dude.

This is the part where the robot made the pretty lady cry
Look! The robot can smirk1
It all went down pretty quickly, and it was fine.  I had hoped to talk more about the dad blogging community, issues that we discuss, maybe some of the recent controversies, but that's not really how it turned out.  We talked mostly about me, which, thankfully is one of the subjects I'm the most authoritative and enthusiastic about. 

It must have killed her that I was so much prettier. I feel bad now.
We did the interview via Skype, right from my couch, while the kids were in the office/guest room/junk-storage unit, absorbed in an episode of Barney on the iPad.  I wish I would have been a little looser and maybe shown some kind of expression on my face, but it was a pretty weird talking straight at the little green light on my MacBook while hearing the disembodied voice of the interviewer.

Why don't you judge for yourself.  Here's the article I wrote, which has the video embedded in it.  And here's just the video, if you don't care about the words part.
 

I don't often beg you to "like" and "share" stuff; but it would be pretty cool if this article got some traction on a mainstream news website, just so more people became aware of all the great dad blogs out there.  Also, I think the guys at HLN told me that every time you share the article, they save a puppy from euthanasia.

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Now that I've been all up on the Tee Vee, I expect to become hugely famous.  That's how it happens, right?  In any case, I sure hope that a couple people came over here after seeing the segment, and I hope you'll poke around and read some of my stuff.  To help you with your poking,  I've linked to some of my posts that were either well-received or that I really wanted to be well-received because I was happy with the way they turned out.

If you like what you read here, I hope you'll add Beta Dad to your RSS, or your reader, or follow the blog by clicking that thing on the right with all the little faces, or by some other means keep in touch.  You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook too.  Thanks for stopping by! 

Now, here's your reading assignment:

Night at the park  Ruminations on the urban ecosystem of the park near our house, where I spend a lot of time with my kids and dog.  It also has a thriving hobo population and gay cruising scene.  #trannyhookers 

Five things for cynics to do at church   How I got through a church service in order to get our kids on the waiting list for their preschool.
  
Large dog drags babies through park  Our much-maligned Swissy dog doing what she does best--pulling a wagon and looking beautiful.

Pets from the past: Moscow '79  A visit to a back-alley vet after a car vs. dog collision on a winter night during the cold war, when my dad was posted at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
 
Failing at feminist fathering  Blah blah blah whatever.  This has some really cute pictures of the girls in their girly party clothes.

The Shiny: an animated short  The twins try to pull off a heist on the Beta Family Dishwasher, using an ATV and a mustard bottle.

Greta and the Grief Stalker   A crazy(ish) lady follows me around the park as I prepare to have my dog euthanized.  Good times.  I guess I write about dogs a lot.

Project Trike I built plywood trikes that convert into balance bikes for the kids.  I kind of went overboard. 

The First Time I Told My Kids I was Proud of Them  I'm not comfortable with pride.

Video Response to the Rootin'-Tootin' Laptop-Shootin' Dad  Remember when that guy made the viral video of him shooting his daughter's laptop because she said some mean things about him on Facebook?  His problem is he didn't start with the munitions-based discipline early enough.

Goodnight Moon: The Nauseating Landscape of Childhood  I've written a bunch of overwrought literary and rhetorical analyses of children's books here, but people really seemed to like this one.

Wordless Wednesday: Sledding in San Diego  Pictures of my kids.  People tell me they're cute.  I don't know, they just seem like regular kids to me.  I'm gonna go stare at them while they sleep now.

Tex: A Special Father's Day Post By...My Dad!  This is one of my all time favorites.  I've probably read it 50 times.  I asked my dad to write some of his recollections of his own dad (my grandpa) for Father's Day last year, and man, did he deliver.  Grandpa was the real deal.  Montana (via Arkansas) cowboy, brawler, badass, family man.  I think I'll go read it again right now.   




Friday, May 18, 2012

The First Time I Made My Kid Cry

It's been a weird week.  I've been too fatigued from arguing about what's sexist and offensive and what's not sexist and offensive to write anything here, even though I have a whole bunch of titles for stuff I want to write about in my draft folder.  I did publish a couple pieces that I'm pretty happy with at other places this week, and there are some samples below.  You can just click on the titles and go straight to the other sites if you don't feel like you need to read the teaser.  

Have a great weekend! 

 
It's one of the good days we've been having a lot of lately.  A little outing in the morning, kids playing quietly in the house while I make lunch and simultaneously goof around on the internet.  One of the days I don't want a lot of people to find out about because they'll know how sweet this SAHD gig can be.  One of the days I don't want to talk about because it might jinx me for the next two years.

Twin A (age:2.75, blog name: Cobra) is sitting at the kitchen counter, waiting for her burrito to come out of the microwave.  (Yes. A fucking frozen burrito. At least now the kids like them warmed up instead of straight out of the freezer.)  Her sister is still making "cake" with all the different colors of Play-Doh we own.  Whatevz.  She can join us later.

I hold the gallon of milk in a way that gives Cobra the illusion she is pouring it into her new Abby Cadabby cup by herself.  "I want lots," she says.  We pour lots.

The microwave dings.

"I hear-ed something," she says, fanning her fingers from her cheeks in a way that's not so much cupping her ears as creating the illusion of dorsal fins on her face.

I pivot to collect the radiated vittles.

I hear it first.

The trickling of milk off the edge of the counter.  The splash of milk on the hardwood floor.

Then I see it.

Cobra, frozen, holding the cardboard tray the burritos had once rested on, in the same position it had been in when it made contact with the Abby cup and set the catastrophic wheels in motion.

Read the rest on Dad Centric...


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Since we don’t own a TV (ditched our last one in 2000), many of our friends and family members were concerned that our kids would be so isolated from pop culture that they would be ostracized by their peers. Luckily (I guess), the internet solved that problem by offering all kinds of programming for free on the small screen.

Our twin girls got almost zero screen time before age two, per recommendation of… well pretty much everyone aside from the Baby Einstein cartel. These days, as almost-3-year-olds, they watch maybe two hours of actual shows (Elmo and–God help me–Barney, mostly) at home on the iPad, and probably play with kids’ apps for another two hours. And to our snobby delight, they spend several hours every day with books: having us read them aloud, looking at them, and quoting long passages verbatim.

Despite my self-righteousness, I must now admit that there have been a few drawbacks to keeping our kids on this very restrictive media diet.

Read more at Aiming Low...


Monday, May 14, 2012

The Problem with Mother's Day (A Post-Mortem)

I had a lovely Mother's Day.  I think my wife did too. 

Mostly, the kids and I stayed out of her hair while she and her sisters and her mom went to brunch and got massages.

The girls, staying out of Mom's hair

Last week, I had been talking to an editor from a website I'll probably start contributing to about writing my inaugural post there on "The Problem with Mother's Day."  Mother's Day has the same problems many holidays do: the fact that commercial aspects have drowned out the original intent of the holiday to the point that it becomes onerous to participate in it for a lot of people, for example.

But my argument for the piece I pitched to this editor was that the bigger problem with Mother's Day is all the attendant rhetoric that reinforces gender stereotypes and does not advance the cause of equal parenting.

Alas, I was too busy to write the article by the deadline, and frankly, I just wasn't feeling it.  I had not been inundated by outdated images of family life with Mom as the competent martyr and Dad as the guy who makes up for his shortcomings by buying her some shiny bauble, as I would have needed to be in order to position myself for the Mother's Day rant.

I knew that if I wrote the article, I would have to do some research so I could find some evidence that supported my thesis and then structure it so it looked like I had become outraged by the ubiquitous sexism and then decided to write the piece.  And that's kind of bullshit.  I had no doubt that I could find some stupid TV commercials to pick apart if I tried, but my heart just wasn't in it.  It may have also been the appeals from some mom bloggers I know who said, in the midst of a bunch of trumped-up controversy surrounding the weirdly salacious Time Magazine "Are You Mom Enough" cover, "Can't Mother's Day just be about celebrating moms this year?"  In any case, I didn't write the article, and nothing about Mother's Day got my hackles up.

My hackles remained at rest until I made the mistake of looking at Facebook right before going to bed last night.  There was a post on my feed from the Babble.com page that said the following: "Finish this sentence. The one thing that mothers do better than fathers is ___________. (Then see what this dad said!)" It had a link to what "this dad" had said.

My eyes rolled.  Typical controversy-baiting.  I didn't even read the responses, but I had to click on the link.  It was a post on Babble*, in its tiny corner for male writers called "Dadding," written by a dad, and called Top Ten Things Mothers Do Better Than Fathers.  

The article, by Cody Coombs, could really not be much worse.  It's a slideshow in which each slide represents a parenting task at which his wife excels and he sucks:  Hugging! Changing diapers! Feeding the kids healthy food!  Keeping the kids clean!  Logistics!  Comforting the kids! Showing Emotion! 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Mom Proves that Parents Should be Their Kids' Friends

Christmas, 1967. Definitely the cutest I've ever been.
On and off throughout the day today, I've been contemplating what to say about my mom for Mother's Day.  I jotted a little list all up in my brainpan.  Then I sat down to write, and figured I should check my new list against whatever I may have written for the previous two Mother's Days that passed since I started this blog.  Oh yeah, that's right, I thought as I found an entry from last year that was exactly the same as my "new" mental notes.

So this is a rerun of the original post, entitled "A Bouquet of Bullet Points," but with a special bonus bullet to demonstrate the perspective I have gained over the past year.  And a poem that I didn't write.



Why My Mom Rules at Being a Mom


  • She has never given up on her kids, even when (some of us) have been thankless, recalcitrant, unreasonable, nihilistic, self-destructive, or unresponsive.  When I was trying my hardest, God knows why, to fail out of high school, she once told me she had had it--she was just going to let me fail.  The next day, she was on my back about my homework again.  And then for two years after high school, she never stopped trying to get me interested in college even though I constantly rebuffed her, until the day I woke up and said, "Hey--I think I'll go to college now," at which point she produced the application materials out of thin air and started helping me fill them out. 
  • She always sticks up for the underdog.  I don't think she realizes that she's doing this.  Whenever there were fights between the siblings, Mom always defended whoever was most beleaguered.  This could be frustrating, because the most miserable person wasn't always the one who was right.  It seemed unjust if you were righteously indignant but otherwise on an even keel emotionally; but it wasn't so bad when you were being a jerk and feeling terrible about yourself.  It took me a long time to realize that there are more important roles for a mom than meting out justice.
  • She doesn't take any bullshit.  I mean, from me she does.  But growing up, I saw her make some grown men look like they were going to cry after they tried to get over on her somehow, especially if they were patronizing in their attempts to placate her.  This is another thing she may not realize she's doing.  I've seen her intimidate incompetent waiters, amorous drunks, Military Police, and my obnoxious friends, to name but a few.  And heaven help the young smartass who makes a sexist comment within earshot of Mom.  This taught me to be less of an idiot and a dick than I would naturally have been inclined to be.   
  • She sets a good example.  Although she's not a big storyteller like (ahem) some other members of our family, she has led a rich life, from being a farm kid in hardscrabble North Central Montana, to a college sorority girl,  military wife, teacher, mom, public servant, non-profit maven, and hardcore backcountry skier.  The pace she keeps as a "retired" person puts most working stiffs to shame.  Her example, and her encouraging words, make me believe I can keep pursuing new experiences and charging off in new directions endlessly.
  • She sets a good example (addendum) Not only does my mom continue to set an example for how to be a good person in general; she also sets a good parenting example.  It's an article of faith these days that "being your kids' friend" will only ruin your children.  That's bullshit as far as I'm concerned.  Despite having the usual parent vs. kid struggles, my mom remained my friend throughout.  There were rough patches, as there are in any friendship, but we got over them.  And as a good friend should, she didn't cut me any slack when she saw that I was making terrible mistakes.  Like a good friend, she let me know when she didn't approve of my other friends.  She gave me space when I needed it, but brought the hammer down when I was being stupid.
Obviously, there's more to parenting than being a friend.  A friend can't really impose sanctions when you refuse to listen to their warnings, or offer incentives when you need to get off your ass.  At least not as effectively as a parent can.  But there's more to raising a child than making them safe and compliant, too.  Far too many of my friends--most of them successful grownups--had dysfunctional relationships with their parents, and have spent a lot of time and energy working through that.  Some of them have reconciled with their parents, and some of them have moved on.  Many of them still grind their teeth at the very mention of their folks.  I don't have any illusions that my kids will grow up without resentment toward their mom and me; but good friends can get over that.


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Here's former poet laureate Billy Collins reading the poem that I wish I had been able to write for my mom, "The Lanyard."  Don't worry: it's poetry, but it's also hilarious.  And poignant.  Here's a text version so you can savor it.  


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Parenting is not a Job (from DadCentric)

Over the past few weeks, I've been seeing this Proctor and Gamble ad plastered all over Facebook walls, festooned with comments about the tears and squishy feelings it has inspired.  I'm sure you've seen it too.  If not, here it is:



Being that this is an advertisement for household products, I was skeptical when I clicked play.  Then I saw where it was headed: Moms make sacrifices, kids excel, sports happen, medals and glory follow, moms cry, we all buy soap.  I have to admit that , despite my fully engaged force-field of cynicism, I was a little moved.  This thing was, after all, scientifically formulated to tug heartstrings, which I still have, however frayed they may be.  And who among us can resist a good montage?  Not me.

But when the last few seconds of the ad rolled around, and the tagline appeared on the screen, my hackles went up.  I should have smelled this tired old commonplace coming from around corner: "The hardest job in the world, is the best job in the world. Thank you, Mom."

It wasn't just the superfluous comma that raised my ire, although it certainly didn't make the message any more palatable.  No, my more powerful initial reaction was indignation.

Oh. Yeah. Of course.  Being a *mom* is the hardest job in the world.  And being a dad is...what?...a fucking hobby?

Shortly after that, though, I realized that my indignation wasn't sustainable, because I wasn't really mad about men being treated as the second sex in terms of parenting.  I'm increasingly not indignant about that notion because I realize the only place I'm getting that message from is the media.  In real life, no one (to my knowledge) is making assumptions about who in my family is the more important or competent parent, and the idea that there is competition for those titles just doesn't come up.  Your mileage may vary.

Read more at DadCentric

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I haven't been able to write much here for the usual reasons, but, in case you missed my relentless facebook (like me?) and twitter (follow me?) pimpage, here's what I wrote elsewhere in the last couple weeks.


On Aiming Low, I wrote about keeping the fun in my marriage by making light of others' desperate situations.

Also on Aiming Low, I talk about kids' earliest memories, and ask readers to share their own.

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