Letting it go, together

spoonMonkey enthusiastically bashes a plastic sippy cup against the high chair tray, again and again, until it slips out of his grip and flies through the air, narrowly missing the serving dish on the table. A toddler fork clatters onto the floor, collateral damage in Bean’s tirade against pasta that is the wrong shape.

As long as I continue to shovel food into his mouth, Monkey shouts with excitement. Once the bowl is empty, he shouts in frustration until I’ve mashed up some more of the food off of my own plate and can resume shoveling it into his mouth. Bean complains and refuses to eat. The pasta is the wrong shape. It is too hot, and then it is too cold. The peppers are orange, and he would prefer red. He isn’t hungry. He wants to play.

As the noise level escalates, so does my irritation. Both boys are shouting now. My shoulders tense and my breathing becomes shallow. I catch D’s eye across the dinner table and see my irritation mirrored there. At that moment, Monkey yanks his spoon out of my hand and it drops to the floor, splattering tomato sauce onto my feet. I look up at D again, our eyes meeting. And we laugh. We laugh until I am breathless and D is wiping a tear from his eyes, and Bean is demanding to know what’s funny and Monkey is bemused. And then we laugh some more.

Once upon a time, in our pre-kids life, dinner time was peaceful. It was a chance to unwind and reconnect after a busy day apart. We could talk, or we could be silent. We could enjoy a complicated meal or a simple sandwich. We could relax.

Now, dinner time is non-stop motion. One of us is always up. There are bowls to refill, spills to mop up, forks to retrieve. Something is always missing from the table. Bean wants the construction placemat, not the alphabet one. Monkey’s dropped his cup. Bean has to go to the potty. Monkey needs more food. We are telling stories, asking questions, reminding about manners, persuading a stubborn toddler to eat his food, convincing him to remain at the table just a little longer. By the time I take my first bite of food, it is often cold.

The connection that used to be part of the evening meal can be hard to find, night after night in the chaotic dinner time grind. But in these sudden moments of synchronicity, when we catch each other’s eye and surrender to the mayhem, I feel more connected to my husband than in any memory from our pre-kid, peaceful life. Because this is the life we’ve created, the family we’ve built, together. Yes, life with small ones can be maddening, and we don’t have to enjoy every moment. But we can make the choice to let go of our expectations, to give in and hang on for the ride together.

I’ve heard it said that the season of small kids is one of the toughest for a marriage. I believe it. I feel it. And I look across the dinner table at my husband, and I’m grateful to have him as my partner.

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Is that my Daddy?

When I think of parents and embarrassment, I think of mortified preteens huddled in the corner of the gym as their parents dance the night away at the middle school’s family spring fling. Horrified adolescents covering their ears and pleading with Mum to just stop singing in the car on carpool day. Disgusted teenagers rolling their eyes and praying they won’t run into anyone they know as Dad tries on sunglasses at the drug store.

Well, that’s what I would have thought a few years ago. But now, as the proud parent of a toddler, I have my very own collection of stories in which the parent is embarrassed, not the child. And I strongly suspect the embarrassing hi-jinx that parents of older kids get up to are payback for the public humiliations routinely suffered when their kids were little.

Inspired by this post on Who Put Me in Charge Here, today’s story is about one of the many indignities I’ve experienced as the parent of my lovable Bean.

Bean is a silly guy. He loves to make up strange stories and finds his own jokes hilarious. When he’s about to say something that he thinks is funny, he has a way of cocking his head to the side, leaning forward, and smiling a little half-smile up at me. One of his favourite games involves the car. When we’ve been out somewhere and are on our way back to our car, he’ll often point to each car along the way and say in an exaggerated manner, “Is that our car?” as if he’s forgotten what it looks like. When we get to our car, he pretends to be very excited and says, “Oooohhhh, there’s our car!!” Innocuous, silly fun.

One day we were at the grocery store and Bean was in a silly mood. He was pointing at all the different packages, cartons, and cans in the aisles, asking in his silly toddler way, “We going to get that for our lunch?” I was happy, he was happy; it was kind of fun.

And then we passed an elderly man in the coffee aisle. Bean, sitting in the cart facing me, got that head-cocked-half-smiling look, raised his hand to point past me at the man and said, very loudly, “Is that my Daddy?” I laughed it off and tried the old distraction technique: “No, silly. Oh look, there’s the coffee we need! Will that be our lunch?”

But then another man came down the aisle – this one was a twenty-something college student type, carrying a shopping basket with his sullen-looking girlfriend.

“Is that my Daddy?” This one was even louder than before. The young man looked up, startled, too awkward to respond. His girlfriend gave us A Look. We hurried down the aisle.

A new man crossed our path. Didn’t women grocery shop anymore?

“Is THAT my Daddy?”

Yup, that’s us. A mother and son, roaming the grocery store in search of milk, eggs, and an absent father. Any takers?

For a few short-but-long minutes, this continued – Bean calling out strange men as his long-lost father, and me nervously laughing and saying, “No silly, Daddy’s at work. You know that! Ha ha…” We got looks of confusion and faint worry; men hurrying by; bystanders smirking. Finally one brave soul, who from the contents of his grocery cart appeared to be a father of young children, looked at Bean and laughed kindly. “Nope. Sorry kid, not your Daddy.”

That was enough to startle Bean into shyness, and we finished the shopping trip in relative silence.

In the context of all the humiliations I’m sure to face as a parent, that one isn’t the worst. Still, if you need me, I’ll be working on my sweet dance moves in preparation for Bean’s 14th birthday party.

What-my-kid-said Wednesday: parenting tactics gone wrong

Parenting a toddler is, at times, frustrating. (Understatement.) So I’m often looking out for new strategies that will make life with our tiny tyrant just a bit easier. Sometimes Bean misinterprets these strategies.

Who’s in charge?

I’ve read that teaching kids that they are in charge of their own bodies can help them to respect each other, protect against abuse, and pave the way for the concept of consent. So, I’ve been telling Bean that he is in charge of his own body and Monkey is in charge of Monkey’s body. (That is, hands off your brother because you’re not the boss.)

The other day as Bean began to manhandle Monkey out from under the dining room table, I started to tell him that Monkey was in charge of his own body. Bean responded with arms waving excitedly:

“I in charge of myself… AND THE WHOLE TOWN!!”

No choice

When we’re trying to get Bean to do something, we give him a choice. For example, if he refuses to go upstairs to get dressed we’ll say something like, “You have a choice. Would you like to walk upstairs all by yourself, or should I carry you?” If he doesn’t make a choice then we go to that old parenting standby, the one-two-three count, after which the parent gets to make the choice. It took a bit of practice, but this strategy works really well.

Yesterday, as my husband was reading on the couch, Bean climbed up beside him, got right up in his face, looked him straight in the eyes, pointed his finger and said:

“Daddy, you have a choice. You. Have. A. Choice. You come play with me.”

Yeah… Daddy definitely didn’t have a choice.

Dads can be judgy too

We’ve all heard about judgy mums. You know, the ones who have discovered the secret to perfect parenthood and are honour-bound to share it condescendingly with all in their immediate vicinity.

“We make all of our baby’s purees out of organic food.”

“Baby doesn’t eat purees – we are doing baby-led weaning as it promotes a healthier relationship to food.”

“It’s so much better for your connection with Baby to wear him; you should really try it.”

“Why are you still wearing your toddler? Shouldn’t he be walking on his own?”

“Time-outs are the best way to discipline your toddler. My toddler’s behaviour has improved dramatically with time-outs.”

“Time-outs are cruel punishment that make kids feel isolated and don’t teach them the correct behaviour. We would never do time-outs.”

“Breast is best, no matter the circumstances.”

The judgy mum and backlash against the judgy mum have been well documented (for example, here.) It’s tough to be a mother – there’s so much pressure to be perfect and it seems that the weight of this perfection falls solely on our shoulders. We agonize over each and every parenting decision and then feel guilty if we don’t measure up to someone else’s standards.

But what about the dads? Why should mothers be the only ones to carry the weight of perfection? Why are we the only aggressors and victims in the war of perfect parenting? Why are they called the “Mommy Wars?”

I’ll tell you a secret: judgy dads are out there too, and they’ve been flying under the radar this whole time. They’re free to spout their judgy judgment all over the place without fear of being labeled or judged themselves, because the judgy dad isn’t “a thing.” Yet.

I present for you snippets of a conversation I had with a dad I met last week at a parents and tots group.

On family size

Dad: How are you finding the adjustment to having two kids?

Me: It’s getting easier now, but honestly it was really tough in the beginning.

Dad: Yeah, I have three. The third was the hardest by far.

On gardening

Dad: Do you have a garden at home?

Me: No, we don’t. Maybe another year.

Dad: You really should. It’s so good for the kids to eat vegetables that come right out of their own garden.

On picky eaters

Me: Bean tends to be a pretty picky eater. He won’t touch protein, unless it’s frozen chicken nuggets. I’d rather he ate the real food that I cook, but some nights I just need him to eat something and so we do nuggets.

Dad: We don’t do any kind of processed food in our house. I don’t want that stuff in my kids’ bodies.

Me: Hmm.

Dad: I do all the cooking. The kids sit at the kitchen island and I get them involved, you know, smelling the spices that go into the food, that kind of thing. It makes them excited to eat it.

Me: That sounds like a good way to do it.

Dad: But, you know, my kids can be picky too. Like, some days they’ll eat pickled beets, and then the next day they only like beets that aren’t pickled.

Okay, I get it. Different things work for different people. But come on. If your kids will eat beets, pickled or otherwise, they’re probably not that picky (unless beets are all they will eat). This was a clear example of humblebragging. The dad was parading the examples of his spice-smelling, beet-eating kids as a reflection of his super-awesome parenting, all while judging my obvious inability to prepare healthy food for my own kids. But guess what? I try to get Bean involved when I cook too – it’s just that in my tiny, island-less kitchen there’s no space for the kids to sit docilely and watch as I whip up a delicious gourmet meal. It’s Bean, standing on a chair beside me at our cramped counter, and me, trying to keep him from touching knives and raw meat. (All while Monkey alternates screams of happiness, excitement and rage in the bouncer just outside the kitchen.) Bean is not the type of kid to be a spectator. He is in the action, all the way. For about 2 minutes, after which he has made a big mess and is no longer interested.

Suffice it to say, there are a thousand ways to do this whole parenting thing, and what works for one family may not work for another. Nobody can be perfect all the time, because there is no perfect.

So to the judgy dads out there, I say this. Judge all you like, but I’m on to you. The judgy dad is now officially a thing.