Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Myth of the XBox Dad.

There is a grave misconception that a stay at home dad sits in front of the XBox all day playing video games and tossing the occasional scrap of meat to the child penned in the corner or climbing recklessly on the bookshelves.

This is wrong.

Just this morning we shopped for groceries, had breakfast out (Doughnuts... Don't judge...), dropped off the groceries, grabbed our laundry, did three loads, joined a rally for our local library, talked to our city councilman, got the kid a haircut, folded the laundry, and lugged it home like a Sherpa. All before 1.

This is my stroller, laden with bags, and sea bag full of laundry. It's the how of what we do. We don't have a car here in NYC, so these are our wheels.

So much for the XBox Dad...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day and the Ghost of Crap Advice

Two things converged this weekend:  Memorial Day and streams of advice from questionable parents...

I know you want me to dish, but I'm going to make you wait... for a minute.

Memorial Day has always been the day when we break out the grill.  It's the first real day of summer.   It's that day we get off work so we can go fight the crowds at Coney Island or the street fair and we can drink way too much beer and get ourselves all worked in a dither about the best way to cook a four inch thick Rib Eye?

(Sear on both sides in a cast iron skillet the approximate temperature of the sun for about a minute on each side, then stick it in the oven until it's about a nice medium rare, then cover it in foil and let that sucker rest for a good ten minutes, maybe more.  This is the most important step.  While you wait, you can ponder the wisdom of buying those four inch thick rib eyes at Costco for $30 each when you had no clue how to cook them in the first place and thank whatever deity you worship for having me here to keep you from tossing them on a grill until they "looked ready" and end up with eating something akin to a size 13 work boot.)

There is something else about Memorial Day...

What was it?

Oh, right.  It's about honoring the dead.  Our dead.  The people who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

There are some who believe that it's an opportunity to honor all our passed relatives.  It's a lovely gesture.  We take one day to look back at those who came before, often doing things so well and effectively that we can’t help but choose to ignore their wisdom and completely screw things up because "we know better."

Memorial Day.

It is not a day to honor living service members.  That's what Veteran's Day is for.  I don't know when that also became part of Memorial Day.  I think sometime after 2002, as we increased the number of people honored on Memorial Day, honoring the living became a way to avoid confronting the truth about our increasing dead.  I completely understand that.

We honor the dead, those we know and those we don't, because it is the right thing to do, because we never want to forget sacrifices made and lives lost whether our cause be just or not.

I heard a saying the other day:
"Honor those who gave their lives by pestering your elected officials to ensure no more have to."
I like that.

Now, if you do want to thank a living service member, present and past, I'm sure that's fine.  (Some fine friends and fellow vets did that today and I thank you.  I feel honored.)  You can also thank them on Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and especially on Voting Day.  Elect someone who might take that billion dollars for fighter plane we no longer use and gives our soldiers on the ground a raise.  No matter what your politics, I’m sure we can all agree that having service members on food stamps is unacceptable.  That may be the biggest thanks we can give them.

With all of these thoughts of Memorial Day swirling around in my head, my wife and I were flooded with really strange parenting advice.  It was strange because it came from other parents who seem to have done a really shitty job or just plain given up.

Just for fun, let's look at their advice and compare them to the things the United States Navy taught me.

(This is addressed to the givers of bad advice... Not you, gentle reader.  And this is not boy-centric.  "He" is also "she.")

YOU!  Yeah, YOU.  I saw you drop that box-  Nay, throw that box intentionally at a small tree on the sidewalk in front of your kids.  There is a trash can twenty feet away.  Pick it up.  Have pride in yourself and where you live.

Oh, you don't live here?  Then respect the people who do.

"Don't let him play with his tricycle.  He'll hate it.  My kid does."

This is not your child.  My kid loved it - the tricycle itself, just not so much the actual riding  of the tricycle.  Not quite old enough to master pedals that parents are unable to disengage...  (Not such smart engineering, there Go Green.)  He loved pushing it, steering it around, rolling it, talking to the handlebars like microphones.  Let your kid try - not the just way you think he's supposed to, but in the ways he thinks he's supposed to.  He might surprise you.

"You'll learn at some point, they’re just going to do what they want to do.  You just have to give up."

No.  Your oldest is always stoned, dropped out of school, hangs out in grandma's basement selling dope to other 17 year olds because you're of your inability to discipline.  Saying, “Hey, you know better,” and then throwing your hands up is not discipline.

If he's out of line, you send him to marching party, you send him to Captain's Mast and you drop his rank and paycheck.  There is no excuse.  You get your kid out of that basement, back in school or you come up with options that are acceptable to you.  He is the child, you are the parent.  Act like it.  The consequences for both of you are too dire.  The consequences for us as a nation are even worse.

"Your kid is smart.  He needs to be in school now, or he'll lose all of that."

He's 2.  He's smart because he is curious and this is the exact age for him to be exploring and learning from the world, not a book.  He doesn't need to be able to read Kierkegaard.  Basics.  Small steps.  Then expand!  (I promise the two of us will break out my dusty copy of Virgil and be translating the Latin soon enough.)

"He outside already.  It's too early.  My kid is still asleep.  He refused to go to bed last night.  I just let him sleep.  Kids need their sleep you know?"

It’s 11:00 A.M.  Your child may still be asleep because you keep him out while you partied.  He's running the hallway at midnight.  Yes, he does need sleep.  Maybe you could set up a routine.  Story, Bath, Brush, Kiss Daddy, Comfy Comfy (pj's), Sleepy Sleepy is a routine that works for us.  It's nightly.  We pay attention to the details of each element of the routine and therefore he pays attention to the details.  Does he stay awake sometimes?  Like now, as he's trying to climb into my lap to see what I'm typing?  Yes, he does.  (But it's only 7:30 P.M.)  Does the attention to detail pay off? Absolutely.  How do I know?  My kid was asleep at a decent hour and, to steal a line from the Army, did more by 10 A.M. than your kid did all day.

"He looks sunburnt!"  "Is he eating enough?" "Oh, he drinks milk?  Not chocolate milk?  You should give him chocolate milk...  or a juicy drink.  Or maybe a Gatorade. It'll keep him hydrated."

No.  Yes.  Are you high?
I interpret this one as simply knowing more than a toddler.  A toddler wouldn't think about sunscreen and a hat.  I do.  A toddler wouldn't pay attention to what or how much he ate.  I do.  A toddler wouldn't think twice about drinking liquid candy or some noxious neon colored sugar water.  I do.  I know better.  Because I'm squared away like that.

My advice to these nosey parents is this:  Teach your younger kids these things now or shove your 18 year old into a recruiter's office and sign him up.  I'm a big fan of the reserves or national guard if you can't make the commitment.  No, I'm not a war monger, nor am I an advocate for violence or armed conflict.  I am an advocate for the lessons the military can teach a young man or woman who has not been exposed to them by age 20.  I had excellent parents and most of these lessons I already knew, but in my need for college funds I joined the Navy Reserve and I found that I was lacking in the way I integrated those lessons into my life.  I think EVERY child, should be required to go through boot camp.  I think EVERY child should then give two years in service, be it in the military or peace corps or whatever.

Which brings me to my last lesson.

"You make Turtle clean up?"  "You make Turtle share?"

You're damn straight I do.  But most of the time, I don't have to.  Why?  My child sees us picking up random bits on the playground and keeping it clean for everyone, so he is in the habit of doing the same, doing his share.  This simple little lesson permeates everything he does:  he helps clean in his little group class; he shares; he helps around the house, trying his best to sort laundry - even the stuff that’s already been folded; he wants to be involved in the most mundane chores, often pulling his stool to the kitchen sink because dishes look like fun - and the sooner they’re finished, the sooner we all can enjoy story time.

He will become an adult who believes in the simple power of service.

That's advice everyone should take this Memorial Day.

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Christopher T. VanDijk is an actor, writer, and dad in the NYC enclave of Astoria.  He can be found in the local parks picking up random bits of debris, grumbling to himself about pride, respect, and service nearly every day.  The script for his film "Cowboys Versus Indians" is currently in pre-production and his latest play is nearly... nearly... nearly finished.  He is a proud member of Partial Comfort Productions and the NYC Dad's Group.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Mother's Day! (If you're "mom enough.")


That's the first thing that popped into my head and, simultaneously, out of my mouth when I saw the new cover of TIME Magazine:  A skinny, detached mother, her face oozing judgement with what looks to be a four year old, just standing on a chair, attached to her exposed breast.
Just hanging out... sucking a tit.

The MOTHER'S DAY issue has this disturbing cover with the title, "Are You Mom Enough?"  This implies that there are mothers who are not.

Since my wife was only able to nurse our son for the first year, I assume they're implying that she isn't.

I know differently.

I guess I should be upset that my son isn't attached to my wife looking like a recruit from Camp Lejeune doing a keg stand while on leave.

I'm not.

It took me awhile to understand the image.  There's a nice piece discussing the photos and the images they used, relating them to the religious iconography of Madonna and Child.  There are some beautiful images inside, but the cover image was so jarring it made me look at the issue.  (And that's exactly what TIME wants... They are all the talk at the moment, aren't they?  It's all about selling something, right?)

And as I got into the articles, there’s truly nothing new, nothing shocking.  The response seems to be much ado about a photo...

And a headline.  A headline that pits parenting styles against each other.  EXTREME BREASTFEEDING!


TIME, I kind of hate you right now.  Why?  Because most people will not actually read what Attachment Parenting is.  Hell, in one of the articles a woman, who is an "extreme breast feeder," makes the idea of baby wearing and co-sleeping sound like Nazi experiments in the 1940's as she tries to desperately to convince us that she's "not an attachment parent..."

Attachment parenting is not some detached skinny jean model with her four year old suction  cupped to her.  It is not some dogmatic thing where you must breastfeed until the child is in middle school,  co-sleep until college, and never vaccinate (In fact, Dr. Sears, the "Attachment Parenting Guru," goes into great detail on what immunizations your child must have and when, also dispelling many common misconceptions about vaccines).

It's not crazy.  Crazy people are crazy.  They’re not doing crazy things because they read a book on child rearing and said, "Let's see just how bat guano we can make this?"

This is about following your instincts.

Attachment parenting IS, as described by Dr. Sears:
"A way of caring that brings out the best in parents and their babies.  Attachment parenting has been around as long as there have been mothers and babies.  It is, in fact, only recently that this style of parenting has needed a name at all, for it is basically the commonsense parenting we all would do if left to our own healthy resources."   

It is a return to the simple way of nurturing a child that somehow got lost in the "your baby is trying to manipulate you, put them in the crib and let them cry it out with a bottle of formula" style that became the hallmark of American parenting over the last half half century.

Dr. Sears specifically, in big ol' letters so everyone can see them, titles a section:  PARENTING YOUR BABY, because this is about YOU and YOUR baby.  Pitting parenting styles against each other is not only a waste of precious energy, but detracts from a simple fact:  all kids and all situations are unique.  We have friends who Ferberized their child.  We chose to co-sleep.  (Safely co-sleep, there is a difference and most co-sleepers are aware of that.  We're not shuttling down a bottle of Patron and a cigarette and placing the child between our 400 pound selves on a giant goose down cushion... that would be nuts.)

Point is, by the time these two children were one year old, they were both in their cribs, for the most part, sleeping.  The other parent’s path involved more crying, ours involved more feet to the face than I'd like and the occasional flying fist to the groin.  However, both kids got to the destination:  independent sleeping!

According to Dr. Sears book, The Baby Book, there are three goals to Attachment Parenting:
  • to know your child
  • to help your child feel right
  • to enjoy parenting
There are seven steps to achieving this.

Bonding With Your Child Early.  
Don't keep your new baby in the nursery at the hospital.  Pick her/him up.   Your child wants nothing but you.  And you need her just as much.  I can't tell you how frustrating it was to have the woman we shared our birthing room with text and talk on the phone all night and all day and then call the nurse whenever she needed a simple diaper change.  She complained about the child crying and how she couldn't wait to get back to work.  The child was less than a day old.  Bond with your child.

Reading and Responding To Your Baby's Cues.  
Your child is not trying to manipulate you.  They cry when they need something.  That's it.  They cry because they don't have words.  When I need something, I say, "Hey, Bubba!  Get me that thing!"  A baby cries.  I get so frustrated when I hear someone say, "That baby is only trying to manipulate you for attention." Well, yeah!  It's a baby!

It costs you nothing.  It's better for your child's health.  It helps you lose the baby weight (so you can fit into those skinny jeans all "real moms wear.")  There are hormones that are released that continue to form the chemical basis for the bond between mother and child.  Maybe we should be subsidising good breast pumps in this country instead of giving out vouchers for formula.  We should be investing in programs that encourage and teach new mothers to breastfeed, not handing over a check each month for a synthetic powder.  My wife and I... or really just my wife.. was able to do it for one year.  It was heartbreaking for my wife when it ended.  But, then again, it was a miracle that we could in the first place.  We were lucky.  If you can, then do it.

Baby Wear.
This one's a burr up my butt.  Babywearing does profound things - it's good for you, your baby and makes your life easier.  (I used to wear Turtle when I was doing dishes, walking, vacuuming, riding the subway, walking the streets of New York City, through Versailles - Yes, Ethel, through Versailles - and the Louvre, up the steps of Sacre Cour and the streets of Amsterdam.  We never used a stroller until he was 15 months. We carried him everywhere!  This is also a chance for me to share my vacation photos!)

Far too often I see mother's wearing babies and, pardon my language, it's all f*ed up.  The mother complains about back pain and wants to give up waaaaaay too soon.  Well, stop wearing that kid around your crotch like Nikki Sixx's bass and maybe your back won't be all screwed up.  Get the right kind of carrier for you.  The crappy ones they sell at Baby's R'Us ain't gonna cut it.  Go to a place that knows what they're doing, not one staffed by the G.E.D. All Stars.  Find a place that will take the time to go over them with you and knows their stuff.

(I'm talking about you, Metro Minis.)

They'll teach you all about carriers and try them on you, get the type that fits your lifestyle.  We got a Mei Tai style carrier initially because we were constantly switching who was wearing Turtle and, since it's just fabric and knots, it's instantly adjustable to the wearer and can roll up and slip into my backpack.  You CAN wear them as newborns IF you have the right carrier.  There are so many different types there's bound to be one that suits you.   A knowledgeable expert will also teach you how to tie wraps, and the best way to position them at any age.  (I'm going to go in and have them help me with Turtle, who is 2...)  Facing out is not the best way to carry them when they're little... Just an FYI.  Would you want all the lights and movement happening when all you really want is to be cuddled and protected?  Go talk to an expert.  (If you don't trust me about Metro Minis, fellow New Yorkers, watch Koyuki do this on a moving subway.  Seriously.  She's amazing.)

Bedding close to the baby.
Notice it doesn't say, "co-sleep."

Sleep near your baby, in a co-sleeper next to the bed, or with them in a co-sleeper in your bed (which was what we did).  You can put them in a crib that's right next to the bed.  There's lots of great reasons that are great for the baby, but the thing is, it's great for YOU!  Why does the baby have it's own room already?  They're not having to do homework or shut you out in a tantrum... that'll come.  Why get up in the middle of the night, step on the cat, avoid randomly thrown teddies or slip on baby books and trudge down the hall to do a diaper change or to check on them because they made a sound that turned out to be nothing more than a whimper loud enough to activate that $200 baby monitor you had to buy because you didn't just put the crib next to your bed.

Keep them near you!  They crave being near you, you get more sleep.  It's a win/win.

Balance and Boundaries
Know when to say yes and when to say no.  It also means taking care of your own needs as well, because a happy mom and dad equal a happy baby.

Beware Baby Trainers.
You know your child.  There are tons of "advisers" who will give you lots of detachment advice, like:  "Let her cry it out," "Get her on a schedule," "You shouldn't still be nursing her!," and "Don't pick her up so much, you're spoiling her."  As Dr. Sears says, it's a lose/lose situation.  Your baby loses trust in the signal value of her cues and parents lose trust in their ability to read and respond to those cues.
"Attachment parenting is based on sensitivity, baby training requires insensitivity.  Attachment parenting helps you get to know and read your baby better. Baby training interferes with this. The basis of baby training is to help babies become more "convenient."  It is based upon the misguided assumption that babies cry to manipulate, not to communicate.  Baby-training books and classes teach mothers to go against their basic drive to respond to the cues of their baby.  Eventually they will lose sensitivity and their trust in their own intuition.  Before trying any of these baby training methods, compare them with your intuitive feelings.''

In the end, Dr. Sears advice is to stick with what works and discard what does not.  Despite some of the companion pieces assertions about this dogmatic thing you're supposed to buy into... it's not.  Raising a child is a moment to moment exercise and here's some time tested ideas to make it easier on you and your kid.  You're beginning a journey together where you will learn just as much from this little creature as he or she will from you.  You are learning to pick up cues from each other that will last a lifetime, because you never stop being their parent.

This is important:  Attachment Parenting includes fathers.

No, we can't breast feed, but we can be supportive of the mothers who do.  And, as every father will attest, we can hold a bottle in a pinch.  (Or two father homes... where breastfeeding is not an option but compassionate feeding is.)  Over the course of a lifetime, fathers have to know their children's cues, the signs that something is wrong or that all is well with the world.  We are capable and willing to do all seven steps.  It's easy, when you think about it.

I got all of this from the first seventeen pages... out of 700, of Dr. Sears book.   It's called research.

StollerDerby over at Babble had a very funny take on the cover of TIME and I posted my favorite below.  While I agree with her about the insanity of trying to polarize parents for their child rearing choices and the sexism of the image, I did disagree with one thing.
Meet the MAN who advocates a system of parenting for WOMEN that DRIVES some of them to EXTREMES (read: crazy).

I don't think it says anything about the "sad state of American female personhood."  There are lots of things that are ripping at the state of American female personhood, Dr. Sears is not one of them.  He made motherhood easy and doable for my wife, who is our primary breadwinner and had to return to work after our cobbled together maternity leave.  Perhaps that's an issue we can address.  Equal pay, a year paid maternity leave, a social structure that supports mothers (working or not) - these are issues that may speak more to the state of American female personhood.  The fact that an entire political party treats women as if they are quaint and their voice is simply not valid - and leads with a paternal fervor that influences many to vote or act against their better judgement or self interest, might be a bigger contributor the state of American female personhood.

This line is also dismissive of the work by Dr. Sears, a pediatrician who wrote The Baby Book in 1992 with his wife, Martha Sears, who is a nurse.  They raised children who went on to join their practice, all pediatricians.  His first book, The Baby Book is 700 pages of information for the first two years and is considered one of the definitive books on babies.  It is the first of 40 books on children's health and well being.

He's not just a MAN.  And he advocates a system of parenting that simply emphasises the connection between PARENTS and CHILDREN.

As for the extremes, people are crazy enough without any help...

I, as a stay at home dad, get kind of tired of the bashing that goes on some of the mommy blogs when it comes to men.  I loved what StrollerDerby did, but this one sentence opened the door to the demonization of the entire attachment parenting community and the physician who created it - without any explanation of what it is.  And what followed?   A thread of comments bashing men.

(Not StrollerDerby's intent, I'm sure.  Again, people do crazy just fine on their own, right?  All they need is an opening and an excuse.)

Now, I know, in the current climate, we're not the most popular sex.  We're doing-

-No, let me back that up-

Republican politicians, religious zealots and morons are doing stupid things aimed at women.  (Most of them are men, but let's remember, the Susan G. Komen decision and the Congressional version of the VAWA were both written by women.)

Some of the comments seemed to be grasping at low hanging fruit.  "I'm sure it was a MAN who put this cover together."


Because a woman has never put a provocative photograph of a scantily clad or extremely photoshopped woman on a magazine cover.

The one thing StollerDerby got spot on, that I hope you get from my lengthy treatise on the general ideas of Attachment Parenting, is that we're all just trying to get it right.  This is an issue that we should all be passionate about, the raising of our kids, but it's also not really anyone else's business if we co-sleep, put them in a $2000 hammock (which looks so cool and comfy), carry them in a papoose or a ring sling or a sheet tied around us, wheel them in a $1000 Stokke or a $19 umbrella stroller, whether we breast feed until they go to elementary school or we are unable to at all.  

And don't judge.  I'm sure if we could still be breast feeding Turtle at two years old, we would.  Not just for the nutrients it provides him for the first few years of his life, but for the connection and bond that is forged.

It's offensive to parents everywhere, mothers and fathers, to force us to take sides against one another.  All parents make the best decisions with the information they have at hand and our goal is to raise loving, self reliant human beings.

Shame on TIME for their cover.   Now have a laugh.  Click through to StollerDerby and check out what they've done to the cover.  Some of them are brilliant.
Are You Polarizing Enough?
Why we have to use images like this to get people to care about issues that are really personal and no one else's business.

Want more?  Hit us up on facebook, google+ or follow us in the twitterverse.

If you're in New York, come to the Baby Expo!  I'll be live blogging, tweeting and doing some google+ Hangouts at the Dads Lounge with the NYC Dad's Group.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Occupy fail.

We're supposed to be in General Strike today. However, we needed milk. And to quell the monster that lurks within my son, our trek to find the milk o' the cow led us to our local haunt, The Queens Kickshaw, for croissants - the magic pill to keep the toddler dragon away. (We are supporting our friends and a locally run small business... That's still in the spirit of Occupy, right?.)

As we sat at our usual spot near the front window and my son pointed out how the Cadillac Escalade looks exactly like a Triceratops (and is remarkably about the same size) I realized we had sort of already failed the OWS General Strike we'd pledged to support and participate.

What makes it worse is that I will go to work later...

I'm not only a stay at home dad, I'm an actor. Work is few and far between. Basically, I'm on strike every day. So the one day thousands go on strike is the one day I get offered a job.

And I'll take it.

It's difficult to be part of a movement when you are sort of out of the system already. We're not going to purchase anything today, at least anything other than milk and coffee. We're not going to get on the train and support the corrupt MTA. We're not going to do anything out of the ordinary... Our normal day is already pretty much off the grid.

This is not to say we're not consumers or that we don't participate in the whole corporate capitalist monstrosity run amok. We just live our lives quietly. Even in the most capital driven city in the world, it is possible to exist without a Fendi bag, or whatever accessory is in vogue this week.