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The eternal opposites

Learned something interesting the other day. There are numerous opposites that come into play when you’re a stay-at-home dad to an increasingly stubborn and energetic two-year-old boy. Being a standard (well, not quite standard but rather, extraordinarily talented and bright and witty) two-year-old boy, he likes to test me from time to time. I can see his mischievous grin as he deliberately disobeys my umpteenth order to NOT TOUCH THE DRAWERS CONTAINING THE SPICES – OR ELSE THERE WILL BE A TIME-OUT!

And do you want a time-out? I ask him. He’ll of course say “No!”, back up a little, and then after a minute or so, move towards the spice drawer again.

It’s at this point where I feel my blood start to simmer. It’s not at boiling point, but I’m hardly the model of Buddhist monk chilling, especially if this has been happening several times in the span of 20 minutes when I’m trying to follow Bobby Flay’s recipe for flounder fish and wanting it to be a good meal.

So what happens? I realize that it’s both very, very hard and very, very easy to maintain my composure. It’s also very, very hard and very, very easy to lose my temper and just take him to his time-out corner and yell in his face

Yell in his face? Yes, I admit it. I’ve done it, several times. Often it seems to have the desired effect because nothing up to that point seems to have worked. So bang – “DO NOT TOUCH THE SPICE DRAWER! GET OFF THE TABLE! NOW! DO NOT HIT PEOPLE IN THIS HOUSE! BLYAAARAAARGGGGGH!” And finally he will calm down, and become a cute little angel and attempt to hug me in an apologetic gesture.

And again, I find it very, very easy and very, very hard to calm down. Such is the challenge of parenthood. These opposites. It’s so easy to be a parent because it’s in the instincts, but it’s also so fucking hard. It’s so easy to be cool, calm and collected because how could I in my right mind ever lose my temper at a fantastically awesome two-year-old boy – let alone my son? But it’s also so easy to just lose my temper and explode, because he knows how to push my buttons and likes to get a rise out of me. Is it on purpose? Sure, probably some of it is. Is it just because this is the way he is and it annoys the heck out of me? Yes, of course. Is it because he’s simply two years old and likes to explore, learn and do all these things that he shouldn’t do? Yes, absolutely. It’s a combination of all these things.

Hard? Easy? Yes, and everything in between. It’s truly a clash of opposites. The eternal opposites linger on in the life of being a parent.

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Messy messy messy

Being a stay-at-home dad has its many challenges. A lot of people who stay home with a little kid will list off the many drawbacks on their fingers: loneliness, lack of intelligent conversation, isolation from the outside world, maddening negotiations with the child, constant supervision, etc., etc., etc.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s been awesome being a SAHD. I have the opportunity to watch my son grow day by day, learning new things as he goes along – such as this morning when he was being whisked away by X to his daycare and shouting “Window! Window! Window!” while pointing at the windows on his treasured Thomas trains. She had texted me from the road asking if I did indeed teach him that word, and honestly, I do not remember. I probably did. But it’s really neat to see him learn stuff from me and learn it so vividly, like super glue and such.

Back to the topic at hand. I suppose one of the major challenges of being a SAHD is cleaning up. Constantly cleaning up. I’m serious. Laundry almost every single day. Picking up toys every hour. Sweeping up the kitchen floor which is just covered in crumbs, food scraps. dried bits of playdough, and all kinds of other stuff. When you sweep you’re just in disbelief at how much can collect there in a neat little circle around the boy’s child seat every day. Yes, I sweep – I SWEEP – almost every day. Because it’s necessary.

Toys, too. Now, X and I were never the ones who go buying toys every single day or every single week for our little toddler. But we have indeed amassed a nice little collection of throw-away toys – hand-me-downs from coworkers, gifts from families and friends, and a fantastic set of Thomas the Tank Engine train cars which YY absolutely loves. All of these, with crayons, paper, playdough stuff, stickers, chalk, etc., etc., etc., all collect on the floor in three separate rooms – the kitchen, the living room and the TV room. It’s just crazy how quickly it gets messy here, and he’s only just turned two.

I don’t say this to bitch and whine, but rather, to remark on the amazing challenges posed in being a parent to a young’un. Mostly, it’s just to bring to mind the fact that a 30-pound, two-year-old boy can really indeed make that much of an impact in your life, not just socially, emotionally, spiritually or else – but physically as well.

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Challenges

It’s crazy. Difficult to be a poppa sometimes. Honestly, if you are a person like myself where you have a mild temper – sometimes as tight as piano wires – you’re going to find it a challenge to be a stay-at-home poppa to a little boy who likes to cry and wail and scream every five minutes throughout the day.

More so, he’s stubborn as an ox. Just like his dad and his mom. Everything seems to be a challenge now – diaper changes, clothes, bathtime, sometimes even dinner and lunch is a battle. We have our strategies for each of them though – when he’s eating we have the phone in front of him playing various cartoons including Thomas the Tank Engine, Curious George, Edewcate songs, and so on, and that keeps him occupied while we quickly shove the food into his mouth via spoon. That’s not a very healthy setup, but certainly healthier than letting him starve.

Diapers and clothes are another thing though. There’s no way to keep him “busy” or “occupied” in doing so. I must manhandle the little guy, holding him down in a valiant effort of jiu-jitsu, keeping him pinned down under one arm while somehow smearing diaper rash cream on his bum and then getting that diaper on him while simultaneously trying to push his hands away as he struggles to push off the diaper.

I talked with a guy who lived in southern Africa, he told me about the monkeys and how you could play with them. And interesting challenge with monkeys is that when they grab onto something and you want to take it away from them, the advantage they have is that they have four hands -
really, their feet are like hands as well – while you only have two hands. You can only do so much to push their hands away or pry the thing out of their hands while holding them at bay.

So, eventually, you feel like giving up. It’s kind of like that with the boy. But giving up is not an option. Not because I must assert myself in the face of authority, but rather, because, hey man, he’s gotta have his diapers on. The alternative is poop on the floor or pee in the rug. Big Lebowski jokes aside, I can’t have him peeing on our rug. So, diapers, on they go whether he likes it or not.

Ditto, clothes. Again a massive battle. When I get on one pants leg, he’s kicking so much that he eventually frees that leg when I’m getting the OTHER pants leg on. That stuff is enough to drive me batshit.

But in the end, once he’s finally down and sleeping, I’m kicking back and watching The Wire or Supernatural, with all the exhaustion, all the frustration, sometimes anger, and bewilderment at how much energy it takes to take care of a two-year-old, I don’t feel any kind of lasting bad energy towards the little guy. Maybe it’s Buddhist of me – in fact, my wife said I’m a saint and destined to go to heaven the way I’m so patient with him – but really, how can I ever be mad at that lovely little boy? It’s not his fault he’s like that. He’s learning as much as we are. He’s scared and frustrated just like us. He’s tired of being inside all the freakin’ time with this monstrously long winter we’re having right now. But in the end, we both just get up to a new day and troop along. That’s what we’re all about. We are family. We take care of one another. Even when it’s a challenge.

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Real-life male role models

Something kind of struck me earlier today as we had three early hehaviour child development specialists come to the house to test our little YY and see whether or not he is on track as a two-year-old boy. He is absolutely on track in all aspects of development, but that’s really another story. What I want to talk about is how all three specialists were women.

This got the little exercise wheel in my head turning. A lot of teachers are women, too. A lot – if not all – daycare teachers are women. A lot of single parents are women, also.

So, I wondered, what about the men? Well, men, historically until this generation and perhaps the last, have never really been the primary caregiver in the community, be it at home, school, or elsewhere. It’s often been the woman. And nowadays, it seems like there are very few male role models out there for little boys to look up to, apart from the ball-busting action heroes and sports stars. Really, seriously. Tom Brady and Batman are the big role models for kids these days. And god forbid, Dennis Rodman.

I’m not saying women have great role models of their own to look up to -
not in popular culture anyway. Movies are still predominantly written, produced and directed by men, with men as the leading stars. And so on.

But when it comes to real-life interaction, it almost seems as if there’s a lack of real social interaction between grown men and little boys in our society. I look at our little YY and see how much fun he has interacting with grown women in all kinds of different environments, but then I find myself wondering: Where are the men in this case?

This made me wonder about myself. I’m a red-blooded male, and kind of a beta one in the sense that I’m new-age, new-school, sensitive, creative, and driven by emotion rather than logic. But still, I’m a man. It seems that I’m my boy’s sole role model when it comes to men. That’s a lot on my shoulders. My wife has plenty of fellow peers that YY can look up to when it comes to women, but I’m one of the only men in my boy’s daily life.

Isn’t that interesting? Makes me wonder two things. Am I doing it right? Sure hope I am, because no doubt YY will look to me in the future for boy stuff. And the second thing is, what will become of the boys of today’s generation if they have this much lack of interaction with grown men?

Well, it’s not all that different from the past, is it? Men are often much more distant emotionally from their kids than women are, in the broad sense of community. But I guess the one huge difference now is that the father is much, much more involved in home life than he used to be.

That could well be a good thing. While things haven’t changed all that much out there, things have changed dramatically at home. It’ll be interesting to see how the next generation of men lives. I will certainly be watching, and I’ll have front-row seats to the whole thing via my little boy.

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And now he’s in his third year…

The little tyke’s already passed two, and well into his third year as I type this one crappy Monday morning in January.

As it happens, I have been a stay-at-home daddy for more than a year now, and I tell you, it hasn’t always been a picnic.

There are many cherished moments though that I can only begin to tell you about – our little father-son 10-day trip to Brooklyn in the summertime when the house just wasn’t fit for caterwauling and rambunctious rambling, our many day trips to the Museum of Science in Boston and the New England Aquarium, among others – and these moments I will hang on to for a long, long time. Reason being these kind of experiences with the little boy, long days together, many weeks and months as solitary companions to one another, allowed us to really bond. I may have been frustrated some of the time, bored much of the time, temperamental several times, and generally longing for a little more social activity oftimes, but in short, I’m blessed with some very strong memories of experiences as a father to my little guy.

And now we are entering the new year. I have to admit that apart from a couple of magnificent experiences including a trip to Brazil (blog post on that soon) and a visit from my parents over the holidays, I found it excessively difficult to be a stay-at-home daddy.

There were several moments where I was literally driven to tears with frustration. I posted to Reddit in desperation to ask for help and advice. I would just dread yet another long day, waiting for X to come home, because I just couldn’t handle it much longer.

But now, I just had my first real adventure in a long time yesterday -
went to an acrylic painting class at the Museum of Fine Arts, and it was magnificent. I loved painting and loved being able to interact with others in a normal setting for the first time in awhile. It also helped whet some of my ridiculous desire to leave here and move back to Canada – which thanks to the always insightful X, I realize was just based on unrealistic nostalgia and lack of true connection with people in Boston’s community.

Not to say that I don’t enjoy being with little YY. He’s a little treasure. I love playing Lego and Tommy the Tank Engine with him. Allows me to revisit my own childhood in so many different ways. I’ll continue to be able to do that even if I’m working fulltime. It’s just time to start working on a part of my life that has been set aside for the time being – which involves social connections and personal projects, both of which I’m really getting started on again as 2014 surges ahead.

Check back in a few to let you know how that progresses. And I assure you, it’ll be a great new adventure.

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Playin’ the blues

No, that title isn’t meant to say that poor daddy is playin’ the blues… it is more literal than anything.

After much discussion between myself and my better half on how to task our little YY with playing music, we decided just to give him the harmonica and somehow teach him that all he needs to do is blow.

And blow, he did, after a few tries. Once he had it figured out, he was suddenly blowing and inhaling, going up and down the harmonica and then putting it down and applauding himself for a job well done. This went on to the point where it was time for dinner and bedtime, upon which we took the harmonica from him. This resulted in a massive temper tantrum -
one of the worst we’ve seen in awhile. The only way we could calm him down enough to eat his dinner was to bring out the laptop and start playing YouTube videos of people playing harmonicas.

It worked. It calmed him down and he ate and went to bed.

But it was really, really neat to see our little 22-month-old playing a harmonica. You know the saying “swelling with pride”? I felt it literally when watching my boy. Seriously, my stomach fluttered like a butterfly and my chest just expanded to the point of explosion – I was that proud and that excited to see this.

I hate to be one of those parents – but I don’t freakin’ care. I’m really proud of him and really happy to see him figure out a little talent when he’s so, er, little. Not even two years old and he’s already figured out the harmonica. That’s my boy!

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Imitation is flattery at its most dangerous

Little YY is now pushing 22 months old. Can’t hardly believe the time has whooshed by like that. It was just yesterday – actually, nearly 22 months ago but who’s counting? – that the little tyke popped out of his momma’s belly and screeched to the world that he wanted to get back in, it was so warm and comfortable in there. Doctors, fluoroscent lights, surgical equipment, the weary world cacophony, and all the caterwauling and drugs (for X) and tears (for Y) and so on and so forth – what a rude introduction to this planet.

And little did he know that he was about to become one of us. One of us!

He’s becoming more and more like that these days. Becoming one of us means imitation. You know the old saying, imitation is the sincerest flattery. Or something to that effect. It also can be the most dangerous. The reason for that is multifold – and primarily because no matter what we do as parents, he will watch and learn and start to imitate.

Monkey see, monkey do. That’s ri-i-i-ight. Almost as precisely as his father – in other words, me – imitates various actors in various movies. “You talkin’ to me?” “You find me funny?” “Bonasera, Bonasera… what have I done to have you treat me so disrespectfully?” and my personal favourite: “Awwwwwwwl RIGHTY, then!”

So, little YY sits there at the table, watching us. We’re usually running about, doing our stuff, engaging in loveable horseplay, and every so often, I’ll have my head up my arse and X will whack me across the shoulder as a message to pull my head out of my arse.

Until now. I realize that little YY will see this and realize that violence is OK. So she’s stopped. She only whacks me when he’s not looking. And she’s careful to check, too. So she’s not so off-the-cuff – she is precise in whacking me like that.

And language? Yes. Little YY has become very adept at language. He’s becoming bilingual – Portuguese as well as English – and he points to his mouth and says “Mmwaaooh?” Points to his eye: “Aye-EEEEE!” Points to his nose: “Nariz! NARIZ!!” He wants water: “Agoooooooo-AH!” He’s finished whatever he’s doing: “Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwl DONE!”

Very cool. This means one thing and one thing only: No more F-bombs and no more S-bombs. We’re very, very careful about that. We wonder if he learns this stuff from TV as well. It could well be possible. So we’re careful about it all.

Monkey see, monkey do. That’s right. We are getting to that age where we actually have to watch what we do and say around our little imitation machine. We actually have to be role models now.

Role models? Us? Good lord. Lots of work to be done, to be sure.

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Tantrum! Tantrum! Tantrum!

Well, kids, that time of the development is upon us now.

I’ve heard all about the “terrible twos”, but being the incoherent, stubborn, distrusting-of-authority types that we are, we absolutely refused to acknowledge the possibility of the “terrible twos” actually existing.

In fact, X would boldly claim: “There’s no such thing as terrible twos”. And then she’d fill up her glass of wine, and end of discussion right there. Just because people talked about arsenic hours and terrible twos does not necessarily mean that our little YY would experience the same.

Or, more accurately, subject us to the same.

Boy, were we wrong. Or so I think. X is still at the jury on this topic.

What happened before is every once in awhile, little YY would be quite difficult, but most of the time it’d be easy to calm him right the heck down and move right along. It’d be easy to keep him occupied, easy to keep him happy, and entertained, and whatnot.

But now, it’s as if he would completely flip out – complete with kicking legs, arching back and everything else – if we were to even come anywhere remotely close to imposing barriers on what he wanted to do. We thought for sure that we were being horrible parents. After all, what self-respecting parent could raise their child to be such a difficult little devil?

Yes. A massive tantrum every time we stop him from going outside. Every time we walk into a new room. Every time we try to pry something out of his hands that we really don’t want him to play with. Every time we try to stuff food into his mouth (gently, of course). And everything. Well, not everything, but you get the idea. It feels like every evening is a battle of wills, a test of patience, a trial and tribulations for one’s self as a parent.

And for little YY too, as we learned, it’s immensely frustrating and bewildering, this whole new world in which he has been deposited without any say in the matter.

So, for little YY, he’s just learning how muc the world has to offer, and how much it’s seemingly at his disposal. And when we try to stop him from doing anything, he will lose it. Because he doesn’t know how to manage his frustrations yet. He doesn’t know how to be disappointed yet. It’s either total happiness, or total anger. Being less than two years old, he can’t really be faulted for not knowing how to manage his emotions.

So, managing his tantrums is something we all have to learn as a troika. Not just him. Us, too. We all learn together. I learn to be patient, to be calm, to be strong. Ditto for X. And little YY learns from watching us, and perhaps learns down the road that throwing a tantrum doesn’t help matters at all, and as a matter of fact, makes things more difficult.

So, down the road – we hope – things get a little easier as he learns to talk, learns to understand why we don’t let him do certain things, and learns to comprehend what we’re saying. And most important of all, he learns to talk and in turn communicate what he wants from us.

And that fateful day is coming soon, we hope. One day: “Mamma, I’m hungry.” Another day: “Mamma, I pooped myself.” And so on. And hopefully when those gates are opened, there won’t be such a pent-up frustration building up all the time.

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Poop shoot lesson

Had a wonderful experience with poop, potty training and our little YY the other week. Suffice to say, he is just 19 months old going on 20, and still likes to drop his load in his diapers after grunting a little bit. What makes me laugh watching him poop is the way his face contorts into some sort of weird grin and his skin turns red as he puts in the effort. And then, the grunting stops, and he’s happy as usual, and I, with a habitual sigh, take him upstairs to the change table and relieve him of his soiled nappy.

This time, though, I had just picked him up after one of his legendary two-to-three-hour naps that he has daily in the bed. He had a touch of diaper rash, and with a touch of brilliance I decided that it would be a good idea to let him run around sans culotte for a little while and let things air out down there.

So far, so good.

And then… I saw him standing behind the table looking up at me with his beady eyes, telling me that he had done a kind of “uh-oh!” thing. He says this a lot. “Uh-oh!” every time he drops the cellphone on which he’s been watching Baby Einstein, or every time he drops a Cheerios, or some other kind of boo-boo.

A boo-boo such as taking a massive dump right onto the hardwood floor. There it was, a lovely little brown log, and our little YY standing right behind it not sure whether to be proud, embarrassed or ashamed of himself.

So I took this as my onus to teach him a wee lesson on the fine art of pooping. I led him to the bathroom, tore off a few sheets of toilet paper, and led him back to the poop. I then picked up the offending morsel with the toilet paper, all the while saying: “Poo! Poo!” with a big grin on my face.

An aside: It’s important to X – and therefore, important to myself -
that little YY isn’t embarrassed about his poop, but rather, is accepting of this wonderfully fascinating element of the human body. We don’t want this guy growing up with a weird complex where he’s ashamed of poo, pee, penises, or whatnot.

So, back to my story: I showed him the poo, letting him know in a chirpy voice that it was HIS poo. He had a little smile on his face, wondrous and fascinated. I then led him back to the bathroom, lifted the toilet seat and threw the offending morsel into the water with a little splash. “That’s where your poo goes!” I said with glee, and told him it was now time to say bye-bye.

Another aside: “Bye-bye!” is another favourite word of little YY’s. He often waves at people, things, animals, and other stuff and says with a loud voice: “BYE!”

And here, he waved at the poo and said “Bye-bye!” as I flushed the toilet. What a happy boy he was, immensely proud of himself. The little tyke may not even be 20 months old, but I’m hoping – and perhaps not necessarily against hope – that he understood the whole concept of poop in the toilet. Good for him, and good for us, too, because eventually we may not have to change him so often after he’s produced yet another chocolate mousse in his underwear.

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Monkey see, monkey do

Well, the time has come. We, as parents, need to be parents. No more dillydallying around. No more of that hippie stuff where you get to be however you want to be around your child. No more of that fun crazy stuff of being a normal human being. We are suddenly role models.

Reason? We had a meeting at the daycare last week – kind of a PTA meeting, you know? – and they told us about little YY’s antics there. Often, they told us, he likes to fart around, keep to himself, play, and particularly loves to engage in artistic activities (which in no short way made me beam with pride). But there were a couple of problems – first, little YY seems a little oblivious to what’s going on, particularly when he’s called by name. The daycare teachers would clap their hands and say “OK, kids, time for┬álunch!” and call each one of them to the table by name. Each and every one of them obediently stops what they’re doing, gets up, and walks over to the table and sits down, ready to eat.

But not little YY. He’s totally oblivious. He doesn’t seem to respond to any of this. They suggested maybe he had a bit of a hearing problem, but X and I know that is absolutely not the case. There’s plenty of evidence that he can hear – he gets really excited every time he hears the front door open, as it’s either an opportunity for him to go out or it’s a sign that mama is home from work. And there’s other reasons we know he can hear – he can listen to music and in fact bounces his head up and down like a true headbanger (hey, like father, like son!) when he clicks on the radio.

Still, teachers call him – “YY! YY! Come to the table and eat!” and he acts like they don’t even exist. But you know what I think? He’s a little like I was at that age. I didn’t want any of that shit. I just wanted to chill, do my thing, and be independent. I wasn’t going to be this obedient little lamb who flocks with the herd. No sirree.

In fact, I talked to X about this, and told her about how it’s like the scene in the Social Network where Jesse Eisenberg (acting as Mark Zuckerberg) was at the table conversing with all his lawyers, until suddenly he starts staring out the window and ignoring them completely, like a pompous jerk. When his lawyers inquired as to what the heck he was doing, he responded with:

“You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.”

Maybe that’s what Alex is doing. He’s a future Zuckerberg of sorts. He is focused on his task at hand, and other crap is not important. I thought it was pretty funny myself.

But I’m going off in tangents. Back to the monkey see, monkey do bit. The teachers told us that little YY was getting a little aggressive with the other kids without provocation. Twice in the last week, we were informed of sudden, repeated incidents within a half-hour time frame where little YY would walk up to another kid, grab them by the neck and throw them down to the floor, and then carry on in his merry ways. Then ten minutes later, he’d go to another kid and pull them by the hair. He did this twice to two different kids. And he’s also pinched other kids, grabbed their cheeks, yanked their toys away from them, and so on.

The teachers assured us that it’s likely a very normal development and that little YY is just learning and developing as a toddler and doing what he can because of his limited communication abilities. He’s just exploring and testing what he can and can’t do. But the teachers also suggested there’s a possibility he learned this behaviour from watching others do the same – i.e. from TV and movies.

Now, we’ve been pretty careful not to let little YY watch any kind of violence on TV – one outstanding example would be when we’re watching UFC – and so, he’ll hang out in the other room while we’re watching this sorta stuff. But both X and I realized that we’re acting sort of violent with each other. Not outright smack each other violence, but pretend, fun violence like ordering each other to do something and mimicking the crack of a whip as we do so.

It was a bit of a realization for both of us. We have to watch what we do and how we act around YY. And we particularly have to watch our language – we both swear like sailors in the home – so no more F-bombs, no more shits, no more assholes. We’ll now have to do flippin’, freakin’, shoots, bugger it, and so on and so forth. Like Hugh Grant trying to censor himself in Four Weddings and a Funeral – Bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger it!

So, we, as the elder monkeys, have to put on a responsible facade of sorts for our little monkey, because as the old saying goes: Monkey see, monkey do. There’s a lot of truth in that.