Why Lazy Parenting Is Good Parenting

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Daddy Stories

I am a lazy parent. Well, maybe not a lazy parent, but certainly I am lazy-er than I used to be. I think back to when Malcolm was small and a typical day involved making baby food, changing diapers, feeding time, reading time, play time, tantrum navigation, trips to the park, trips to the store and then, to top it all off, a lengthy pre-bedtime ritual which involved bath time and redoing many of the other things before he would finally drift off to sleep. Phew! That is a shit ton of work, and I am frankly surprised we ever made it through it in one piece.

My approach has changed somewhat over the years, bearing little resemblance to the (some say hovering) presence I used to be. I trace this transformation back to one specific thing that Malcolm used to do: asking me to wipe his butt. Mostly, it was the way he asked: he’d scream, “Wipe!” but really I heard, “Wipe it, loser, and hurry up, I got stuff to do!” The whole transaction reeked of an impolite transaction between an over-entitled business traveler and a shoe shine guy at the airport. There is only so much indignity that a parent can stand, and one day, when Malcolm summoned me, I declined. Of course, he was incredulous, like it was some great honor for me to be involved in his bowel movements at all, but I held my ground and made that kid wipe his own arse. After a lengthy back and forth, he accepted the new truth and began caring for his own backside. That was seven years ago. (In another seven, he will probably start getting it right!)

I felt good for a number of reasons after refusing to wipe Malcolm’s butt, the most notable being the feeling that sometimes, when a parent doesn’t do something for their child, the child is actually better off for it. You will never learn to wipe your butt if your parents do it for you. So why do it then, unless you like wiping butts? In this age of helicopter parenting, could it be that sometimes the best thing a you can do for you kid is to stop doing the thing that you don’t want to do anyways? Wow! Over the years, I have been utilizing this principle to make Malcolm do the things that I don’t like doing, whether it’s putting away his  laundry, making his school lunch, or diagnosing his own communicable diseases.

I realized recently that I was feeling guilty about not being more proactive in certain areas of Malcolm’s life. A bit of reflection has allowed me to recognize that there is more going on than lazy parenting. Here is what is happening:

  1. Play dates.

Malcolm has been asking me a lot to make play dates with this or that person. I don’t like doing it, they require a lot of details and, more importantly, I have to figure out stuff for them to do. Plus I totally get all caught up in the soap opera-esque subtexts: Why this kid and not this other? What happened to fun with gal pals? What do I care? My parents may correct my memory on the subject, but I remember being in fifth grade and I don’t remember parent organized play dates at all. When I was a kid (D’oh! The dreaded words of parenting. Fuck it, I don’t care!) playtime occurred when child A got on their bike and went over to child B’s house. If child B was home and wanted to hang out, they would both get on their bikes and check out what child C was doing. Things continued to a small gaggle of kids had coalesced and adventures were had. Now, we are stuck in this parent controlled system where everything is pre-authorized, pre-planned, and pre-negotiated. Yuck! I hate it, both because it robs kids of their own invention and causes me extra work/mental energy. I recently started telling Malcolm to schedule his own time with other kids. It has had limited success; I am still involved in more of the process than I want, but Malcolm is making all the initial overtures. It would be a lot easier if all his friends lived in our neighborhood.

2. Summer Camp

I used to have Malcolm’s summer schedule planned out by mid-February. I was heavy on camps of differing interests, science camps, sports camps, cheap get dirty and tired city parks and rec camps, grandparent camps, with a few weeks reserved for he and I to engage in some shenanigans. I have nothing set up for Malcolm this summer. If he has some interests that he wants to explore in greater detail this summer, let him figure it out. I don’t feel like it is my job to tell him what he should find interesting and then spend a bunch of time and money getting him summer exposure to it. Oh, I’ll help him identify and plan anything he wants to do, but my days of overscheduling his summers are done. In practice, this means that if he wants us to fork over the cash for him to go to Minecraft Camp, he is going to have to do the leg work himself!

3. School

Malcolm’s preschool and kindergarten severely limited parental involvement in the classroom. At the school, students did all their work in the classroom and parents had little or nothing to offer to help with the kids’ learning (other than money!)  Malcolm has changed schools many times since then and certainly the schools’ cultures have changed as well. My approach hasn’t, though, and I don’t like getting involved in Malcolm’s classwork. If he can’t figure something out, he knows that he needs to ask the teacher about it. I am interested in his schoolwork, for sure, I am just not interested in helping him do it. I ask to look at his work once he is done with it, and rarely if ever, point out the all the wrong answers. He recently had a big science fair project and I can gladly say that the sum total of my contribution to it was going to the store, at his direction, and buying some poster board. Luckily, the project was not a complete disaster, as Malcolm’s partner’s family doesn’t hold the same “hand’s off” policy as ours. Lucky him!

I am not always 100% comfortable with my take. I would like it if Malcolm were more social, pursued his interests more and was more diligent in the outcome of his school work. I mean, who wants their kid to have a shitty science project? Not me, for sure, but Malcolm is ultimately going to have to decide whether he is the kind of kid who will figure things out or just suck at stuff. I will only get in the way. Sometimes, the lazy approach is just what they need.

This is what's really going on in my mind...

This is what’s really going on in my mind…

Goodbye Baseball – My Kid Just Quit Little League

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Daddy Stories

Parents all have different reasons for having kids. Some want a loud household where the pitter-patter of little feet can barely be heard over the constant giggling and singing. Others want to preserve the family name or have someone to take care of them when they are old. Celebrities want kids like they want fashion accessories, and Making of a Murderer star Steven Avery’s parents hoped that having a kid would someday make their family reunions the talk of Manitowoc County. Boy were they right!

Me? I’m pretty sure that the only reason we had a kid was to watch him/her play baseball. If this sounds stupid, just remember that Ted Cruz was bred by his Martian parents to slowly sap the joy from our lives with his creepy stare. THAT is a bad reason to have a kid. We are completely normal. We didn’t think Malcolm was going to be a pro ball player or even a great youth player, we both enjoyed playing sports growing up and wanted to experience that same vibe as parents. We weren’t going to be pushy parents, we just wanted our boy to be on a team.

Immediately after the taking of this picture, he accused me of being a "mean pitcher" and we left to a chorus of tears.

Immediately after the taking of this picture, he accused me of being a “mean pitcher” and, after he tried to bite me between second and third base, we left to a chorus of tears. (Just to clarify, it wasn’t the “good” biting that can take place between second and third base.)

So, we had a kid. As soon as that kid could walk, he had a bat in his hand. A stay at home dad has a huge perk; he can spend as much time with his kid doing what he likes to do. As a result, Malcolm and I would go to the park, throw the ball around and do some hitting. We’d eventually get to a game, and everything would go great, until the temper tantrum that would inevitably arrive and derail everything good in young child’s life. I was pleased, though, my kid liked playing baseball!

By the time organized baseball arrived, Malcolm had a leg up on the competition. He could already hit, throw, spit tobacco and touch his junk. He was as baller as a tee baller could get. True, tee ball is painful to watch, and coaching it is worse than going on a date with Ted Cruz. Still, my boy was on the path to the Little Leagues and I loved every minute of it.

Like butta!

Like butta!

His progress through the ranks was remarkable. He was a switch hitter as a six year old, and if you don’t know what that means, it’s the youth baseball equivalent of winning an EGOT. If you don’t know what an EGOT is, it’s really good. If you don’t understand what either “switch hitting” or an “EGOT” is you got problems. Big ones. Take that nose out of the books and live a little! Anyways, Malcolm continued up through the Little League ranks, playing well above his age level and, while the games only got marginally better to watch, we enthusiastically attended all of his games.

When we moved to France, his interest waned. He played on a French team and practice was in French. The games were 2 hours away through a mixture of buses, trains and carpools. The 7th inning stretch involved Chablis and a sinewy goat cheese. No one was particularly found of French baseball, so when he wanted to quit, I didn’t pay much mind. Actually, I was relieved, but was sure that he would pick things up again when we got home.

He didn’t. Baseball tryouts were a few weeks ago, and he coolly informed us that he wasn’t going to play anymore. We spent a good 48 hours “making sure” that had thought things through. In reality we tried to bribe him, threaten him and come at him from every single angle to see if he would budge. He wouldn’t, and it was the end of an era.

In my “Fine, have it your way” speech, I was pretty emotional. We had spent countless hours in the activity together, working at a game we both loved. It was our thing, and now he was over it. Yowza! I teared up, not so much because he was done with baseball but because the era of “he and I” was coming to a close. I am sure we will always have things that we’ll do together, but the days of “proud dad and his ferocious tiny tike ball dude” were done. It was saddening. I cried.

There must be a multitude of good things that will come of Malkie quitting baseball. I can’t appreciate them all right now, I just keep remembering the feeling of walking off a dusty baseball diamond having just enjoyed the session. Of course, he was usually crying and/or trying to bite me, but still: I remember the good times. The good thing about your kid growing up is that they develop they own personality and are able surprise you with the things they are interested in.

Unfortunately, it can also be a bad thing.

At least he’s not Ted Cruz.

Yet.

Goodbye little gamer. Goodbye crocs. Goodbye jammies under the jersey.

Goodbye little gamer. Goodbye crocs. Goodbye jammies under the jersey.

The Sweet Taste of Freedom

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Daddy Stories, Uncategorized

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of dropping Malcolm off for his first day of school. The first day of school for kids is always such a complicated time; they are nervous about new classrooms, excited to see old friends, and, if they are anything like Malcolm,  devastated by the idea of not being able to watch Youtube all day. Throw in new wardrobes, new homework policies and new feelings towards prospective boyfriends/girlfriends and you can easily see why kids might have a love/hate relationship with the first day of school.

Parents, on the other hand, have no such mixed feelings. The first day of school to a parent is like Christmas, New Years, Hannukah, Kwanza, July 4th and National Lasagna day all rolled into one. (Not made up, National Lasagna day is July 29!) You know that headlong dash that kids make out of their classrooms on the last day of school? Parents have that same feeling on the morning of the first day of school. To understand why, you have to understand the summer from the perspective of a stay at home parent.

The first days of summer are pretty cool. Free from the bondage of school day/night routines, you can do pretty much whatever you want. Wanna let your kid stay up until 12:30 am to watch an extra inning Giants-Dodgers game? Go ahead! Perhaps you’d like to sleep in late, golf and then go eat philly cheese steaks? That’s cool too! During the first days of summer, the rule book goes byebye and everyone is titillated by the relaxed summer atmosphere. You plan great events for your days and honestly think that you are going to kick summer in the nuts.

Then, some kinks in the armor present themselves. You notice that when your kids don’t get enough sleep, they turn into complete assholes. Their demands for junk food don’t end when you give them a cheesesteak. All of a sudden, they want cheesesteaks AND ice cream. AND Candy bars. AND Donuts. Giving them anything fun isn’t a treat, they now expect it. You could take them to a fair with all you can eat cotton candy and unlimited rides and they would complain why you didn’t take them to the Minions movie on the way home. By the middle of summer, the little person in your house more closely resembles John Belushi than the child you raised. What the hell?

As a stay at home parent, you can’t stand for this new, unsatisfying child and start re-introducing rules. Bedtimes come a little earlier. Diets are monitored a little more closely. You stop letting your kids watch movies like Animal House. You start asking them to do things they don’t necessarily want to do, like read or change their underpants. This is really when the fighting starts. (“But I changed my underpants last week!”) This unfortunately marks the real end of the summer, but you usually have a good six weeks to go before school starts. At this point you  frantically look around for a summer camp to stash the kid in, but the only camps open are for Jewish girls with musical skills and eating disorders. Shit!

The last week or two are a total grind. Nobody, not married people, coworkers, best friends or foxhole buddies can spend an entire summer together without getting on each others’ nerves. Parent and child are no different. In the morning, your child wakes up and starts talking to you, but you can’t hear anything because you’re too busy figuring out what you are going to start yelling at them about. Your kids start making outrageous demands just to watch you break. Every conversation between parent and child is the same: Person 1 says something to Person 2. Person 2 tells Person 1 how much they have disappointed them. Screaming ensues. Both parties regroup in separate areas of the house to plot their respective revenge. It’s not family time, it is the Hunger Games. Summer has profoundly kicked you in the nuts.

Just when things look their bleakest, a day or two before researching how to abandon children at the fire station, you see a calendar entry that becomes a light at the end of the tunnel. Reading the words give you hope, the kind of which you need to make it through to the other side. It is the same hope that that crazy Italian runner guy had to get him through weeks of being lost at sea in Unbreakable. The calendar, on a magical day in either late August or early September, reads: First Day of School. You aren’t a better parent in the days that precede this wonderful, magical day, but it does give you the focus to not go Full Trump and deport your children to any country that would take them.

I don't care where that donkey is going, just get on it and go!

I don’t care where that donkey is going, just get on it and go!

On that morning, your kid is full of unprocessed feelings and nervousness about school starting. You don’t care. Your kids have needs, like lunches, putting on clothes and any paperwork you have received and haven’t turned in yet. You don’t care. Breakfast needs to be made and school supplies need to be packed. You don’t care. YOU DON”T FUCKING CARE ABOUT ANYTHING! There is a beehive of scrambling around you, people running around like chickens without their heads but you just sit and drink your coffee. Smiling.

Nobody really knows the first thing they do when they finally pull away from the curb at the school on that first day. It’s like your first time shooting up heroin. It’s spectacular, but the details are a little fuzzy. All you know is that life is about to return to something manageable. And, it will.

Malcolm started school last Wednesday. We were both ready.

Sorry We Suck: An Open Letter To Our Friends With More Than One Kid

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Daddy Stories

Dear Friends,

I wanted to apologize for a few things. Our house still smells faintly of musty cat. We generally serve cheaper wine that the stuff you bring over (we keep the good stuff and drink it after you leave.) When we dine out together, I often look at how much of a tip you’ve left, and then leave a little more, winking at the wait staff on the way out as if to say, “Sorry about my friends, but don’t worry, I got your back.”

I also wanted to take up a subject that has been coming up more and more lately. Most of you have two kids. We have just the one.  This wouldn’t seem like that much of an issue, but it turns out to be relatively important, and not in a good way. When our kids get together, our child acts as an impartial third party who is able to settle all longstanding disputes between siblings. Who is the funner child? The one who Malcolm plays with first! Who is the better athlete? The one Malcolm wants on his team! Who is the better wizard/jedi/teacher/parent/weasel? You guessed it, our boy. With every choice Malcolm makes, he sends the implicit message that one of your kids is special, and the other is a piece of shit. Sorry! When you hang with us, one of your kids is generally going to be upset.

It’s not as if Malcolm is uniquely situated as some sort of talent identifier protege. Really, he’s no Paula Abdul. He just gets to be a second vote. And when there are only three votes, the second vote is kind of important. (That’s why marital counselors are so popular!) This is what many of our play dates with you look like:

Activity is decided. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s use Malcolm’s favorite activity at school. It is a game called weasels. I’m not sure what connection he has to weasels other than the name is fun to say. So the kids start playing weasels.

5 minutes later the roles are defined and play commences. Usually there is a parent weasel and a few youngin’ weasels, sometimes there is a general weasel and some spy weasels, depending on the gender of the play date attendees. (For obvious reasons, we put the kibosh on the game that involved the Rihanna and Chris Brown weasels.)

2 minutes later, the parent weasel realizes that the kid weasels are having way more fun and wants to switch. No switch is made, and the two kid weasels begin to make fun of the parent weasel for being lame.

1 minute later, the parent weasel attacks the baby weasel and tries to find out if weasels go to heaven when they die. Parental intervention is necessary. The parents are irritated that their precious conversations have been interrupted and threaten to stuff all the weasels into a sack and smack them against the side of the house.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Repeat.

You might have been asking yourselves, “Why don’t you just have another kid and join the rest of us?” Fair question. (If you are insane.) Have you not noticed what a pain in the ass it is to have a kid? We went through the sleepless nights, the endless crying, the bottles, diapers and long sessions staring at the new kid, just to make sure they are still breathing. Think we’re going through all that again? No chance! Once you get in the habit of NOT wiping someone else’s anus and skin folds several times a day, you’re not really looking for reasons to go back. Also, my hoodie is nearly vomit free and I intend to keep it that way. I am told, as well, that there is something called “sibling rivalry” which does not sound very enticing and we aren’t really looking to sign up for that either.  As nice as it would be to have a back up in case Malcolm turns out to be an axe murderer, we are just going to stick it out with the one.

Slice up this pie? No way!

Slice up this pie? No way!

Plus, there is this thing called the “love pie” that I invented in order for me to get people off our backs when they kept asking when we were going to have a second kid. Here’s how it goes. You only have a certain amount of love that you can give to this world. When you are all alone, you love your TV and your favorite pair of sweats. Then, you meet someone and fall madly in love with them ( causing you to throw out those old sweats.) If you decide to have a child, you spread the love you have between your significant other and your child. When you have a second child, you must spread that love between three people instead of two, meaning your love for each of the wonderful people in your life drops by a whopping 16% when you have your second child. Not good! (If you think the Love Pie theory is a bit flimsy, the groundwork was actually laid out by a pretty smart guy named Albert Einstein. His theory of relativity can be paraphrased as “You only have so much love to give your relatives, so try and make sure you don’t have too many.” So there. It’s science.)

So friends, I am sorry that our familial arrangements are causing some grief. Why not attack this problem more proactively and get rid of the least popular kid your house? All parents say they love their kids equally, but I totally know they don’t mean it. Get rid of one of your kids and we’ll have smooth sailing from here on in. Thanks.

Truly yours

Paul and Amy

P.S. Anyone know how to get rid of cat funk?