fathers and daughters

He called out to me as I was taking the blue recycling bin out of the side yard by the garage to roll to the curb. He had stopped his bicycle in the middle of the street, several feet away from the mouth of the driveway, when he had ridden by and seen me. He called me “sir,” and said he didn’t mean to startle me.

I was already in a bad mood for no good reason. I’d spent what felt like fifteen minutes searching through piles of shoes looking for my sandals, muttering frustratedly about never being able to find anything in my mess of a house. Then, once in the backyard where my wife and girls were playing with the dog in the spring air after dinner, I tried unsuccessfully to put air in The Pumpkin’s flat bike tires with a pump that was either broken or just impossible for me to figure out, adding self-pity to the frustration.

Now, here was this stranger intruding into the few minutes of solitude I’d have all day (taking out the trash!), probably a panhandler or can collector looking to get into the recycling bin I was dragging toward the curb. I was ready to blow him off, like I do most people who ask for money since the long-ago time I gave bus fare to one stranded man only to see him hitting up others with the same spiel hours later.

He stayed astride his bike, proffering his driver’s license as proof of his identity. He had lost his job but couldn’t collect unemployment because of a dispute with his ex-employer. He and his two daughters were homeless, had been on the street, then in a shelter which they left after he became concerned with the attention being given his daughters by an adult male resident. Tonight was their fourth night in a motel, where a neighbor lady was watching the girls, paying by the day as he scrounged the money. He was hoping to make the last $17 doing any odd jobs in the neighborhood. He’d made some money scrubbing out buckets for a florist, but he’d do anything, for whatever one would be willing to give.

I sighed, not knowing what to do. I didn’t think he was conning me. He seemed utterly sincere, contrite, and undemanding. I told him I didn’t have anything he could do around the house. I asked him about other resources, other service providers he’d tried to use. He named a few that he’d been to, said that they had some food but he was concentrating on finding work to make enough money to keep a roof over their heads for one more day, to make it one more day.

I told him to stay right there, that’d I’d be right back, and I went inside. I wondered what kind of reception he’d gotten from others he’d approached in the neighborhood that day, a lone black man on a bicycle in an area where there weren’t that many others. I thought about my girls, glancing at them through the back window as they played without a care, my wife probably wondering where I’d gone, what I was doing. I put a tray of leftover pad thai that la dra. had brought home from a meeting two nights before into a plastic bag and got a twenty dollar bill from my wallet, and headed back outside. As I walked past the kitchen window, I saw him wiping tears from his eyes.

I walked up to him and handed him the bag, telling him that it was stir-fried noodles, too much for us to eat alone. He thanked me as he took the bag, taking my soft, unexperienced hand in his rough, calloused one and shaking it. I don’t know how much older than me, pushing forty, he was, if at all, but his hands were proof of a life of hard work, all done for his family’s sake, a life I can’t imagine and by luck and circumstance have avoided having to know. As he thanked me, I handed him the folded bill and said, “I’m a father too.” I watched his eyes water as he saw what it was. I knew exactly what it was–three more dollars than he needed to guarantee one more night of shelter for his girls, enough so he could stop looking for work for the day and go be with them. He shook my hand again, firmly, thanked me again in a voice I could tell he was trying to keep from breaking. Was there anything he could do for me, he asked, any chore or odd job, anything at all? No, I said. Just take care of your children, I said, and take care of yourself.

After he thanked me again and rode away, I walked back into the backyard and found my loves in the far corner, at the play structure. The Button was sitting sideways on the swing, yelling “Yee haw!” as she pretended it was a horse. The Pumpkin was climbing up as high as she could go, saying, “Look at me! Look at me, Daddy!” Their mother was next to the play structure, playing with Fluffy, and she looked up as if to ask where I’d been. And without a word, I went to each of them, holding their faces in my soft hands and placing a kiss on their foreheads. My girls just laughed and went on playing, knowing that their mommy and daddy were there, and that they loved them. And at that moment, that is all they needed to know.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments

this is me at thirty-eight

Whenever I’m in photographs, I’m rarely alone. Just as during the undocumented moments that make up the majority of life lived, I’m always with others: holding a child up high, or putting an arm around my love, or squeezing into the crowded framing of a group shot of family or friends. I am defined by the people in my life: son, husband, father, friend. So much so that when I have to, say, pick a photograph to serve as a profile picture on Facebook or Twitter or to illustrate my biographical statement for a conference or to put on the back of a business card, I don’t choose a solo photo. Partly because I don’t have any solo photos to speak of, but also because this is who I am, the man in the photograph with the child, with his girls, with his family. Who am I if not that man? Who am I without them?

Now, reading back those lines I realize that they sound way more morose than they were intended. Actually, they weren’t meant to be morose at all. I am because they are. I have always defined myself as such, and seen that as a good thing. When I was the college race activist, those things permeated all I did and all I was, from extracurricular activities to the very things I studied in the classroom. When I was a teacher, however badly and however briefly, youth issues and education for change and social justice were why I was there, were who I was in and out of the classroom, or at least, they were supposed to be. When I did digital journalism and social media, I lived on the cutting edge, I read and researched above my paygrade and dreamed of the next wave of the democratization of information and my place in it. I have never known how or where to draw those lines.

And as a parent, oh, as a parent… It is all-encompassing, all-enveloping in a way that makes all those other things seem mere preoccupations. And as someone privileged to be at home with my children for most of their, and my, time, sometimes those lines between them and me seem to fade into nonexistence. Sometimes, that’s okay. Other times, it’s a sign that you need a break, no matter how guilty you may feel to take one, for both their sake and your own.

Ironically, my break, a not-so-little pre-birthday gift from myself and from my wife, came in the form of a trip to a conference of dadbloggers. Six years ago, I combined my long-ignored love of writing with my love of my family and of this new role I found myself in and became a self-professed “daddy blogger.” I wrote about the politics of being a stay-at-home-dad, about race as a parenting issue, about all the little minutiae that fill the days of a new parent at home with a baby that no one really wants to read yet again. As time went by and our family grew, I wrote less and less, and got more and more tired. With a second-grader exploring her ever-expanding world and a toddler not yet in preschool but bursting with energy and thoughts and feelings she can’t yet express in language I can always understand, I’ve found myself quicker and quicker to vocalize frustration even as I cringe within myself when I do it and apologize after.

I didn’t want to put too much pressure on this trip. [And I do plan on writing up a post with more details about the actual conference and the actual trip itself. Though publicly promising such a thing doesn’t always work out for the best for me.] But part of me did hope that, with a few days away, by myself for the first real time, I’d be able to take a breath and come back… I don’t know, refreshed? Calmer? More me again? More able to be present for my family without the guttural noises of frustration that have been all too easy for my littlest one to mimic?

And you know what? Even with the missteps that always happen with trips and conferences and travel in general, I think it worked. I think I got out of it what I needed to get out of it. I was both alone and among peers, with other men who, even if they didn’t define themselves along the same lines as I did, were dads who wrote and were writers who parented. I got to breathe. I got to walk, alone. In the last two days, I hope that I’ve been slower to frustration, quicker to appreciation, and to showing that appreciation, especially to my oldest, so much like me in so many of the ways that scare me for both of us. And I think, I think that I have returned recommitted to writing. Maybe not to this blog necessarily and specifically, but to my craft, to the act and practice of writing, to being a writer, to writing all this down. Because if I really look back, before all those other encompassing identities and underlying them along the way, there was always this, the word, the act of putting fingers to keyboard, the magic of expression caught on screen and paper. This, too, is who I am.

And, at the conference, thanks to the friendship, generosity, and talent of a fellow traveler whom I’ve known for years but only just “met,” I finally have that headshot, that solo photograph, that image, alone, and yet not, because all those others who usually share the frame with me are still there, in my eyes and in my smile.

Today is my birthday, and this is me, at thirty-eight.

Who will I be tomorrow? I can’t wait to see.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

freaky friday (and thursday, and saturday, and sunday)

I don’t get out much.

And that’s fine. No, really.  I mean, yes, I’d love more regular outings sans kids with my wife, and I’d surely appreciate more solo time to read and write. (Read: to nap.) And yes, just a couple hours ago I had one of those archetypal moments SAHMs often refer to when dreaming of the day they get to use the bathroom alone and in peace. (And yes, I just wrote that last sentence while my eldest darling stopped by the computer desk just long enough to blow a birthday party noisemaker in my ear.)

But life being what it is, it just works out that way, most of the time, and I’m okay with it. But this week is different. This week, la dra. and I are sort of changing places.

In a few hours, in the pre-dawn darkness, I’ll be winging my way toward Austin, Texas and the inaugural Dad 2.0 Summit, where I’m proud to be among an amazing array of speakers and panelists. I won’t be back until way past the bedtimes of all my family members on Sunday night. That’s three nights—and two weekdays, which my wife is taking off from work.

That’s right. I’m going on a business trip, and she’s staying home with the kids. Freaky, huh?

When The Pumpkin was three and I was working outside the home, I was gone one night to speak at a digital journalism workshop, but I left on a Sunday and the next day was a regular preschool and work day. A year ago, I was privileged to rep parentbloggers on a panel at an Asian American bloggers’ conference, and was gone two nights; that time, I left after the school- and work-day was over on a Friday and came back Sunday, and my in-laws came on Saturday and stayed until Sunday.

While la dra. and the girls will go down south for the weekend to visit la dra.’s family and celebrate our nephew’s fifth birthday [Happy birthday, Moose! Sorry I won’t be there!], Thursday and Friday will be my wonderful partner’s first real solo at-home-parent experience. La dra.’s been going on multiple business trips a year for advocacy, activism, and education, and when The Pumpkin was younger, and especially when it was just her and I was at home, it was no big thing for all of us to go with her. But now, with her in second grade and having to miss school, and with The Button, at three years old, getting more and more independent [read: harder to wrangle], it’s easier for her to go solo for most trips. Last year, she spent an amazing week at two family medicine conferences working on advocacy, leadership development, and legislative lobbying; that was the longest I’d gone solo. More typical are trips like the one she took last month, which, like mine this week, was Thursday to Sunday.

I know that it’s a stereotypical trope for an at-home parent (usually a SAHM) to worry about leaving their work-outside-the-home partner at home with the kids overnight, and then to be happily surprised when they return to an intact home and uninjured children. I am so not doing that. I am, however, leaving my wife with a detailed list of what happens on a weekday when she’s not at home, from when to leave to get to school on time to what kind of snacks the girls eat in the afternoon. And I also know that, as a SAHD, my kneejerk reaction to reading a post by a SAHM who leaves her husband detailed instructions when she goes away would probably be similar to the reaction of dads across the interwebs to the current Huggies fiasco (for example, see this post by the moderator of my Dad 2.0 panel on dads and community). And please, please believe me that this is not like that. (Heh. That sounds exactly like what someone would say if it was exactly like that.)

You see, I’m the kind of person who puts toothpaste on his wife’s toothbrush because he’s the first in the bathroom, or routinely unplugs his wife’s cellphone in the morning and puts it in her work bag, or puts his kid’s homework folder in her backpack. And this is by no means a humblebrag or anything, because the kind of person who routinely does these sorts of things out of love and caring is also the kind of person who, as a result, has family members who forget their stuff because they’re used to it already being where they need it. And thus, the checklist.

I am also the kind of person who does all the laundry and dishes so that my wife can concentrate only on enjoying her time with our daughters during her first experience of SAHMishness. (Okay, that one is sort of a humblebrag, so sue me.) I am glad that she will be able to take The Button to her parent-participation kiddie-gym class and The Pumpkin to her gymnastics class, both of which she never gets to go to. I am glad that she’ll be able to go to both The Pumpkin’s class play and her oral language competition. I am glad that she’ll get to meet the other parents that only know me (though I’m confident that no one will ask her, as they might if the situation were reversed, if she’s babysitting today). I am glad she’ll get this time she usually doesn’t get. And I am so thankful to her that she’s enabling me to go to this conference, an early birthday present of sorts (yeah, I’m turning 38 on Tuesday).

That whole thing about how I don’t really need time to myself, at the beginning of this post? Yeah, screw that. I do need this. More and more, I’m catching myself losing my patience with my girls, overreacting, yelling when I shouldn’t. I’m so used to our daily routine, I don’t want that to become part of it. I don’t want to expect too much out of a couple days (well, actually, at three nights and four days, the longest I’ll have ever been away from my wife and two daughters all at the same time) away, even amongst my peers and colleagues—dads, bloggers, writers. But I hope I return a little calmer, less tired, refreshed, ready to give my girls the patience they deserve, and ready to refocus and recommit to my own writing and my own creativity.

Oh, and full of Texas barbeque.

Good night, everybody. The next few days should be fun.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

dads of a different color

Next week, I’m honored to be a speaker at the inaugural Dad 2.0 Summit in Austin, Texas. I’ll be part of a panel called “Pack Mentality: Dads and the Power of Community,” moderated by Bobblehead Dad Jim Higley with Chookooloonks writer/photographer/teacher extraordinaire (and one of the first people I “met” in the parentblogosphere) Karen Walrond, NYC Dads Group founders Lance Somerfeld and Matt Schneider, and National Fatherhood Initiative President Roland Warren. Before summit co-founder Doug French asked me to be on this panel, I had put together some thoughts on the issues of dadbloggers of color and diversity in the parentblogosphere. I am happy to be able to talk about the intersection of race, fatherhood, and community at Dad 2.0, and with the conference a mere week away, I thought it’d be a good time to share those earlier notes.

On Dadbloggers of Color and Diversity in the Dadblogosphere

In the scant few hours after I received your Facebook message about my idea for a diversity/dadblogger-of-color panel at Dad 2.0, I saw these items surface in my FB newsfeed:

• A mother of color, whom I knew as a progressive activist and artist during college, posted that her 7-year-old biracial Dominican/Filipina daughter came home from school saying that she wished she were blonde.

• A parentblogger of color posted that upon visiting her biracial daughter’s Southern California public elementary school, she overheard two white staffers complain that a diversity of shades of makeup made it harder for them to find makeup for white people and heard her daughter’s classmates call the peach crayon “skin color.”

• Mothers and fathers of color continued to chime in on a thread started five days ago by a dad of color asking for recommendations for non-stereotypical dolls of color for Christmas.

• A parentblogger of color and public education activist linked to the Huffington Post’s article about a study showing that Black and Latino parents overwhelmingly wanted education reform in their communities but also overwhelmingly placed responsibility for said reform on themselves versus government or the private sector.

I started reading and writing parentblogs because I was a new SAHD looking for community. While I found what I was looking for first in the nascent dadblogger and SAHDblogger community, I soon found that I gravitated toward other parents of color, both moms and dad, and parents of children of color, whether by adoption or intermarriage, even if race wasn’t a primary topic. I co-founded Rice Daddies, a group blog by Asian American dads, with the only two other Asian American dadbloggers I’d been able to identify at the time (including Pierre “MetroDad” Kim), and joined the group blog Anti-Racist Parent (now Love Isn’t Enough) to deepen the conversation. I contributed to an online dialogue on race and diversity in the parentblogosphere, spearheaded by prominent writers of color like Stefania Pomponi Butler, Kelly Wickham, and Kristen Chase, after the first moms-of-color-and-marketing controversy at BlogHer 2007. While such discussion has recurred online and at conferences since then, the conversation is by no means over. Witness the ongoing discussion at Kelly Wickham’s MochaMomma blog spurred by BlogHer 2011 as just one example.

In his addendum to Babble’s Top 10 Group Dad Blogs on Dadding, Jason Avant cited Rice Daddies’ race/ethnicity-based p.o.v. as a reason to read it: “Let’s face it: the dad-o-sphere is still dominated by white guys. Rice Daddies provides a valuable perspective on fatherhood that manages to be both unique and universal.” As the perennial discussion vis-à-vis diversity in the momblogging community underscores, presence and representation is important. Much as contemporary parenting often gets painted as focusing on mothers while giving lipservice to fathers, so too does it get portrayed as monolithic in terms of race, class, and sexual orientation. Just as the media-created frenzy over “the mommy wars” was based in a firmly white middle-class motherhood to the exclusion of the concerns and realities of mothers of color and working-class mothers, current discussion of parenthood in general and fatherhood in particular online and in the mainstream media continues to be monochromatic. While diversity has been a discussion topic in the community for some time now, I believe that the basic starting-point questions of where the dadbloggers of color are and why is it important that their voices are heard are still valid places to start our discussion.

Recent posts give a window into how dadbloggers explore the intersection of race and fatherhood vis-à-vis their own identities as men of color and the lessons they wish to impart to their children in a world where race still matters. Shawn Taylor recounts at Daddy Dialectic the experience of his relationship to his own lighter-skinned child being questioned in public due to assumptions made based on his appearance as a large black man and how he faces explaining the encounter to his child. Tomás Moniz talks about how race, phenotype, culture and politics collide in raising two multiracial children who choose very different ways in which to identify themselves. I write at The Good Men Project about why, as a multiracial father of multiracial children, race is always, contrary to some parentblog readers’ beliefs, a parenting issue. Jim Lin writes at The Busy Dad Blog about how his own experience with racism growing up is different from his son’s. A little further back in time, Pierre Kim writes at MetroDad about his daughter’s early experiences with racism and how he tries to teach her and mediate pop-cultural messages, while at the same time dealing with a pop culture machine that would recast his own, unique parenting experiences with white actors.

Not all dadbloggers of color talk about race all the time, but presence is important. It’s important that blogs like Mocha Dad and Makes Me Wanna Holler are out there, putting an African American face on fatherhood. It’s important that PapáHeroes, a predominantly Latino group blog, was named on Babble’s Top 10 Group Dad Blogs list. Keith D. Morton of African American Dad writes in his sidebar, “This blog is about fatherhood. Black fatherhood to be exact. But it’s also about how no matter our race, gender, political affiliation (or whatever it is that can potentially separate us), good parents are all connected through parenthood. Our shared experiences are what bind us, not to mention our love of a good story.” The specific and the universal are both important, and we cannot have one without the other.

Dadbloggers of color can and do deal with, in life and on their blogs, issues that people of color and parents of color have always dealt with. We can talk about how, by our very presence and example, we grapple with and fight against stereotypes, just as dadbloggers in general fight against stereotypes of fathers and men in families: the distant and strict Asian father; the absent African American father; the patriarchal and sexist Latino father; the invisible Native American father. We can talk about how race and masculinity intersect, and how we see ourselves as men of color. We can address how race is a parenting issue, and how it should be seen as such for all parents, not just parents of color. We can talk about how race is a factor when mediating and advocating for our children’s education. While by a momblogger rather than a dadblogger, Liz Dwyer’s recent post and video at Los Angelista about her sons’ experiences with racist name-calling is an example of the direct, didactic discussion about race and what it means to be people of color, raising people of color, in this society that parentbloggers of color can and do do, in a parentblogosphere that too often either sees race as a non-issue or, just as bad, someone else’s issue.

We can also talk about how we pass down not only lessons about racism and survival to the next generation, but lessons about pride and culture and identity. We can talk about raising the next generation to fight for justice, and how all oppressions, whether based on race or class or gender or sexuality, are interconnected. We can talk about building alliances and how we can all be allies for each other.

I don’t know if this is all too nebulous, but I think that at a ground-breaking conference like this one, a dedicated discussion about race and diversity in the community, a continuation of a conversation that is always on-going, would be invaluable.

I look forward to continuing this conversation in Austin with friends new and old (especially those who I’ll get to meet IRL for the first time!).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

my better-late-than-never entry into the “what _____ think I do” meme–for SAHDs

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

an end and a beginning (hopefully)

For another forty minutes or so, it is still November 30, 2011, and thus the last day of NaBloPoMo and my little experiment to try to get myself blogging more and into the habit of daily writing practice. Including this post, I wrote and posted on 28 of the thirty days of November (one missed day due to technical difficulties, one due to tiredness making me totally forget about it). I only copped out with one “wordless” post, and looking back at my output, I’d say that there were only a couple egregiously craptastic examples of my stream of consciousness dribbling into nonexistence. All in all, I am pleased.

This was all about pushing myself past my usual walls: my aversion to keeping up daily habits; my tendency to choose sleep over writing; my propensity to not write unless I have a definite topic in mind on which to hold forth in essay-ish fashion; and my directly inverse inclination to seize upon a timely subject and then let time pass by with nothing written because of any combination of laziness and perfectionism and fear until I convince myself that it’s too late and thus excuse myself for not writing. I think I’ve attacked each of these over the past month—my output, my tired-to-the-point-of-hurting eyes, and my wife, with whom I have rarely gone to bed at the same time, can attest to that. Again, I am happy.

Now, of course, is the hard part. So I met this little artificial challenge, so what? Am I gonna keep writing daily, now that I have no self-imposed time-limited obligation over my head? It’s far too easy for me to say yes, and it’s far too easy for me to do the opposite. I know, because it’s happened before. So let’s just say this. I will try to write as often as I can, more than I did before. I will try to write even when I don’t know what I’m going to write about when I sit down at the keyboard. I will try to write even when part of me says that I need to “think about it more” or that it’s too late, the topic’s past or the moment’s gone.

Scratch the “try.”

I will write.

And if I don’t—if this blog goes on hiatus for unseemly amounts of time for no good reason—the handful of you reading this, you call me on it. Don’t say, “How’s that writing thing going?” or “Are you still blogging?” Say, “Hey, lazyass, you said you were gonna write, so write!”

I might not appreciate it when you say it (and notice I’m going with the worst-case scenario of “when,” not “if”), but I’ll need it. And thank you, in advance.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

giving and receiving

It’s less than a month until Christmas, and that means, of course, that I need to get my gift-giving ass in gear. I still haven’t even made out our list of who needs to be given stuff and what yet, so I’m feeling a little behind. But I’m not too worried. I think that, overall, I’m a pretty good gift-giver. It’s how I was raised.

My parents, my dad especially, like to give presents and celebrate occasions and holidays. I was taught to give greeting cards to close relatives on holidays from Valentine’s Day to Halloween. My my mom would give both me and my dad presents on Japanese Boy’s Day, and my dad would give her a gift on Japanese Girl’s Day. [I still get a card, if not a present, from them on Boy’s Day, though I’m way past boy—this past year was an awesome origami Starship Enterprise made out of a dollar bill—and now my girls are happy to get presents from Grandma and Grandpa on Girl’s Day.] And I’m still scarred for life from the time my dad thought it would be hilarious to give my mom and me presents on April Fool’s Day and have me open the gift meant for my mother—lingerie. Yeah.

Anyway, I enjoy giving my loved ones presents, thinking about what they’d like that they might not have thought of themselves, or finding that special match, or just giving them something they’ve wanted but haven’t gotten for themselves. Sure, I’ve given my share of mismatches or duds, but that’s just how it is. It all evens out in the end.

But receiving, that’s another story. I supposed one might call me “difficult to shop for.” And the main reason is that I don’t really like to say, directly, what I want, especially when asked, directly, what I want. It just feels weird to me, somehow, even thoughI know that those asking really want to know so they can get me something I’ll like. Sometimes, I’ll give titles of books and CDs I want, that’s easy. But it’s the higher ticket items, or the “special” presents, that I sometimes balk at specifying. [And I can hear my dad laughing and pointing out that I had no trouble telling him when we “needed” a new stereo or DVD player or TV or even car—but somehow my strange mind categorizes things for family differently than things for just me.]

When the iPod first came out, and I was asked if I wanted one, I balked, demurred, said no, I didn’t need one, didn’t want one. If they really wanted to give me one, they could just give me a generic MP3 player, that was fine. And then when I finally admitted that it wasn’t enough and needed to upgrade, I said, still balking at asking for more, that an iPod Shuffle was fine. Even though they were asking, they were wanting and willing to give me the more expensive and state-of-the-art item. [And writing this I feel even more ridiculous, all #firstworldproblems, LOL.] Finally, I said yes, I would like a real iPod. The reason my wife had an iPhone for a long time before I did was, again, me saying no, really, it’s okay, I don’t need one, I don’t want one. And then, when I finally do go ahead and say, yeah, sure, give me one of those, and make it the big/top-of-the-line/most-expensive one while you’re at it, I feel like karma bites me in the ass—when my folks gave me a new computer for my birthday and asked what size monitor I wanted, I said, sure, why not, get the big one, which of course will not fit inside my desk hutch by mere eighths of an inch, but which I didn’t know until I unpacked the thing. It now sits where it always sits, just in front of the hutch.

So, if you really wanna give me a present, don’t be discouraged if you ask what I want and I say “I don’t know” or “I don’t need anything, it’s okay.” Just as I like giving, I like receiving. I just don’t like to admit it. [Heh.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

second-child dinner-prep-time-neglect-induced tantrum syndrome

We used to talk all the time about how easy a baby The Button was, about how she never cried without a reason. Even now, strangers remark on how outgoing and happy she seems to always be. And really, for the most part, most of the time, she is. But let there be no doubt that, as her third birthday creeps closer and closer, she is most definitely a full-fledged toddler, with full-fledged toddler emotions and full-fledged toddler tantrums.

These mostly come out when she’s frustrated about something (and probably tired at the same time)—she can’t do something she wants to do, can’t decide if she wants help or doesn’t want help, something isn’t happening or doesn’t turn out the way she expects it to and can’t explain it to anyone else. It’s understandable. And so, down on the floor she’ll go, or maybe she’ll hit a chair in frustration, and she’ll cry, and scream, repeating the same syllables over and over, the pitch getting higher and higher.

And I do my best to calm her, comfort her, help her, redirect her. But sometimes, I just can’t, and it seems that, like today, her frustration-related tantrums and need for attention happen just as I’m trying to cook dinner, with my hands covered in meat or something hot needing stirring on the stove. And poor thing, she just doesn’t get my just-a-minutes. And why should she, really?

This is yet another instance in which the difference between raising a first child and a second child is underscored, the unearned inequality of treatment of the second child who did nothing to deserved such inequitable treatment. When The Pumpkin was a baby and I was at home with her, her mother wouldn’t get home until 7:30. I’d start cooking dinner between 5:30 and 6:30, and so as to occupy her while I was in the kitchen, I’d feed her in front of the t.v. Later, when I was working outside the home and la dra. changed jobs, she had both of us home to juggle dinner prep and toddler entertainment.

But things have evolved differently with The Button. With la dra. getting home around 5:30, I usually start dinner between 4:00 and 4:30. Once we get home from picking The Pumpkin up from school, the afternoon’s packed with her doing her homework and me checking and helping her. By the time she’s done and off to doing whatever she wants (mostly) independently (like today, when she read a whole Magic Tree House book in an hour in the playroom), it’s time to get cooking. I don’t turn on the t.v., which had been The Pumpkin’s dinner-prep-time babysitter, for The Button, in part because I know if I do, her big sister will just sit there too, and I don’t want that. So I turn on the stereo and let The Button dance around to Recess Monkey or Elizabeth Mitchell, and I try to get dinner on the table.

The Button’s always been very busy and independent, moving around the house without a care and finding toys and stuff with which to amuse herself. But lately, she’s been demanding more and more attention. She wants to play dress up—”Help me, Daddy!” She wants to read a book—”How about this one? Again!” And I try to give her as much attention as I can, because she deserves it, but I also want to get dinner done and not burn anything. And so I find myself telling her, “Just a minute, honey,” more than I’d like, more than I should. Saying, “What’s wrong, sweetie?” to her screeches of frustration in the next room where she’s trying to put on another costume that won’t stay put, when I know already exactly what’s wrong, that she needs help and I’m not giving it to her. And I know I sound selfish and neglectful and begrudging.

I’m an only child. I never had any experience on any side of this before. And it seems to me that the second child is made to live life around other people’s schedules and other people’s priorities, through no fault of their own, whether they like it or not. And it’s not fair. And some part of her toddler brain knows it’s not fair. And so, the crying and the screaming and the flailing.

And so I try to wash my hands and turn down the flame as fast as I can, scoop her up and help her in or out of her second or fourth layer of costume and read her the same book for the thirteenth time that afternoon. Because she’s my baby, and I’m her daddy, and along with getting the family dinner cooked and ferrying her big sister to and from school and deciphering second grade math, that’s my job.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


I’m tired.

It’s 10:30, and I just fell asleep on the floor while watching the premiere episode of Tony Bourdain’s new show, The Layover, on the DVR. La dra. knew I fell asleep because I had possession of the remote control to fast forward through commercials, and we were watching a commercial.

And while there’s nothing I’d like more than to go straight to bed, I’m here, at my computer in the dark, alone, writing something, anything, because it’s soooo close to the end of November and thus the end of this crazy-ass NaBloPoMo thing and I’m soooo close to finishing it with only two missed days. I’m so bad at keeping this kind of thing up, and so, for me to be this close to finishing so well, I need to keep going, even if all I write now is a bunch of random crap.

Visiting family, especially for the holidays, is nice, but it’s always nicer to be home. Especially after trudging through slow-moving afternoon-of-the-last-day-of-a-four-day-weekend traffic on the major north-south artery through suburbs and exurbs and rural mountainous terrain with half the driving population of California trying to get home in time to get to sleep so they can go back to school/work/their regular schedule tomorrow. Especially when both your 2-year-old and your 7-year-old, who are usually mostly happy and good, when pacified by your laptop playing a nonstop catalog of Fresh Beat Band episodes in your iTunes library, decide to freak the frak out at exactly the same time for totally different reasons while moving 2 inches at a time through the Grapevine Pass.

Yeah, good to be home. Good to be sleeping in my own bed, after three nights on the cot in my dad’s closet room. Well, it will be good, as soon as I press “publish” on this thing.

And so, I shall bid you good night, inspired by this afternoon’s long car ride’s soundtrack of both Sirius XM’s Muppet Radio and NPR’s Fresh Air Weekend interview with Jason Segel and “Muppets” co-writer, with the eternal question:

Are you a man or are you a Muppet?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

on the town

For the second time this NaBloPoMo month, I missed a post, and again it was while we were staying overnight at my parents’. Last night, I was so tired that I went to bed early (10:30), before my parents even, and totally forgot about posted. Didn’t even cross my mind, once we got home from our date afternoon/evening.

Yesterday, thanks to my parents’ watching the girls, la dra. and I got to enjoy a kid-free date night (that didn’t involve a larger organized event) in I don’t know how long. We got to be spontaneous (where we usually plan things out), and we got to go back to our old neighbhorhood, where we lived 9 years ago, before Bakersfield, before kids. It was, in a word, nice. Very nice.

We knew that, after meeting our dear friends from Bakersfield at Elite for a dim sum brunch in Monterey Park and stopping at our friend’s family’s landscape statuary business, Rosemead Gardens, for something for our relatively recently redone backyard, we needed to go to the optical department at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center for la dra. to order a new pair of glasses. My parents were already watching the girls—why not extend our outing?

La dra. did her her residency in family medicine at Kaiser Sunset (where also, coincidentally, I was born), and we spent those three years between Providence and Bakersfield living in a small one-bedroom apartment a mid-century fourplex in the nearby Los Feliz neighborhood. We loved exploring our neighborhood, and those on its borders—East Hollywood, Little Armenia, Thai Town, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Atwater Village—its odd little shops and galleries, its coffeeshops and restaurants both upscale and lowbrow, walking its hilly, winding residential streets past very expensive Spanish Revival mansions and mid-century architectural masterpieces and middle- and working-class hodgepodges of Spanish/Mediterranean/Tudor/Craftsman duplexes and cottages. We dreamed of buying a home there, of returning after la dra. finished her med school scholarship repayment service.

Obviously, that never happened. But for an afternoon, we got to stroll, sans children, hand-in-hand through our old neighborhood, walking up and down blocks of charming, small old homes and multiplexes, looking in the windows of shop we’re too unhip to shop in, reliving, in a way, those old days. We walked from the new, gleaming Kaiser Hospital, started while la dra. was finishing her residency, to the vintage Egyptian-themed Vista Theatre to watch The Descendants at a very full holiday Friday afternoon matinee. After, we walked to the Los Feliz branch of Umami Burger, a chain started after we’d moved away, for a nice dinner of gourmet burgers in a space we once frequented often when it was home to the quirky and much-missed Hillmont steak house. We then drove closer to our old apartment, just blocks away, actually, to have too much cake and an artisanal cocktail for a nightcap on the heatlamp-strewn patio of Alcove Cafe and Bakery, which we would’ve been regulars at if it had opened before we moved. [It amuses me that Alcove, in a building which had been occupied by a real estate agent’s office when we lived there, is across the street from a Scientology center that had been another real estate agency and next to that is a Chabad center in what had been an upscale restaurant.]

We were still home around nine, the girls already bathed and put to bed by my parents, and we went to be at 10:30. Party animals and night owls we are not, but then again, we never were. But for one afternoon and evening, we got to relive a little bit of our past, and it was nice. We always mean to have regular date nights, as “everybody” always says how important they are for a good marriage and a good relationship. Life, of course, gets in the way of the best intentions. But after last night, I know that I’m going to make a better effort to make more time for us to be us, together.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment