Farts are Funny and Six more Life Lessons from my kids

Over the last couple of months I’ve been trying to really pay attention to my job more than the distractions in my iPhone. Since I’m nearing the end of my 14th school year as a Stay At Home Dad that means my “job” is really my kids. I realized that I had been prioritizing such worthy endeavors like Facebook, blogging, Twitter, Trivia Crack, Words With Friends and the latest sports talk on the radio or the ESPN app. Even though I justified it as only a few minutes here and a few more minutes there, it added up to a less than satisfactory job performance in my own mind. I don’t want my children to think that they are less important than whatever was holding my attention on my phone. As a result of being more present and mindful in my day-to-day life I’m learning a few things that perhaps I’d been too distracted to fully appreciate before.

Farts are Funny. Yeah, I went there right away. Couldn’t hold that one in any longer. (Get it?) Not my farts, mind you. But when my kids let one fly it’s pretty much the most hilarious thing around. How many times have you seen a princess/ballerina playing with her baby dolls pause her play to rip one? I have on an almost-daily basis. Not only that, then she has to comment about how loud it was or how her tummy suddenly feels better. No shame at all. You’d think she was a fifth grade boy, not a precocious almost five year old. Yeah, those of you who know me in real life know that these apples didn’t fall far from their tree.

I love you, Daddy. While my almost two year old isn’t saying those words yet she is able to communicate it pretty effectively by her desire to snuggle with me. I used to use that snuggle time to play on my phone. Lately I’ve just been snuggling her, basking in her unconditional love and adoration and smelly morning breath. There’s something so special about those first few moments after I take her out of her crib in the morning; how she lights up with the biggest smile and literally dives into my arms, burrowing a hole into that spot where my neck and shoulder meet. I’m soaking that up as I know it’s not going to be like that forever.

Games. Games. Games. 

Victory!

Victory!

Instead of checking email or blogging or playing on my phone I’ve been choosing to play more games with my kids. You might recall that I recently wrote about how I beat my kids when we play games. Shortly after writing that blog post my ten year old son finally beat me in the board game Carcassonne. My four year old became interested and he and I taught her how to play and she beat us both in her first game! Just a couple of day

s ago my son crushed me in a game of Monopoly, proudly bankrupting me as he ended up with more money than the bank. I love the quality time we spend together playing games, especially when they earn a well-deserved victory. That victory smile and sense of accomplishment is terrific.

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Camel ride at the zoo

What do you want to do? Instead of trying to be some sort of super-intuition daddy I just ask my kids what we should do today. One week it meant going to the zoo three days in a row. It’s good that we live only ten minutes away and have a membership. Sometimes we stay home and bake cookies, put together lots of puzzles, read lots of books, color, play games, or go to the park or open gym at the YMCA. But in whatever we’re doing we are doing it together and I’m keeping my phone in my pocket or, gasp, even in my backpack/diaper bag. I’m saddened to see so many parents missing out on what their kids are doing at the park or indoor play areas because they’re paying attention to their phones instead. I’m that parent who is awkwardly playing “grounders” with my kids on the play equipment or climbing up the tall slide after my kids have asked me to join them. We even go to the beach close to our house for the sole purpose of throwing rocks into the water.

Turn the radio off? Wait, what? Turn down for what? (Yeah, I have teenagers!) Instead of blasting music all the time in the car with my kids I’ve been trying to listen to the never-ending questions of my four year old. She’s become very curious about how different things are made and often asks me to explain it to her as she observes things while we’re driving. Daddy, how was the Tacoma Narrows Bridge built? How are signs made? How are houses built? How are roads built? Are we still in Washington? How are cars made? How was the world made? Did God make the world? How?I could go on but you get the picture. So, I try to explain to her, using vocabulary that she could understand and concepts that make sense to her, the answers to her questions. I was feeling pretty pleased with my efforts on our fifteen minute trip to Costco today as I explained to her how roads were made. It helped that my dad was a civil engineer who worked for the city where we lived during my childhood and that the road in front of my childhood home was resurfaced one summer when I was probably about 10-12 years old so I witnessed exactly what happened. Upon completion of my explanation, my perceptive daughter showed wisdom beyond her years by asking me,

Daddy, do you really know all of these things or are you just making it up?

Seriously. Come on, have a little faith, you little stinker!

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Classics made hilarious by inserting the word toot at opportune times.

Toot Toot. On a recent road trip I was mindlessly playing on my phone while my wife drove and our kids kind of passed the time away, not really doing anything. After her prompting (I love you, honey!), I found some board books that I keep in the car for my almost two year old and began to read them aloud. Only I changed one word as I read them. I added the word “toot” (as in, fart) in place of the word “whistle” in the book Whistle for Willie. I know, it’s kind of juvenile, but, like I wrote above, farts are funny. And you have to know your audience. It’s kind of like playing Mad Libs but with well-known children’s books by beloved authors like Eric Carle, Ezra Jack Keats and Margaret Wise Brown. My kids were cracking up when I read Goodnight Toot, The Very Tooty Caterpillar and Hand, Hand, Fingers, Toot. Of course, now my daughter wants me to read like that all the time. I hope this passes quickly.

Slow Down. Sometimes Most of the time I need to just slow down and let my kids be kids. Let their natural curiosity explore the world around them. Just a couple of days ago this point was driven home for me by my little girls.

Decorating the white flowering bush

Decorating the white flowering bush

We were walking back to our van after playing in the Open Gym at the YMCA. My four year old was being kind of pokey and I was absentmindedly asking her to move faster and hurry up. I was already thinking ahead to trying to get a few chores done at home before I had to get my 15 year old from school in an hour. Only then did I notice what was making my daughter so slow. She was carefully picking up blossoms that had fallen from one of the shrubs and decorating a smaller shrub. Pretty soon my almost two year old joined her big sister and the two of them happily decorated the smaller bush like a Christmas tree. What once was a bush with only a small number of white flowers soon brandished pink, red and purple blossoms. It was fun to see them playing together like that and I was reminded once again of how much I have to learn from my own children.

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Sultan of Swat

This is a tough post to write but I’m going ahead with it because one of the reasons I started this blog about being a Stay At Home Dad was to use it as a way to be reflective about what I’m doing as a parent. To learn from both the successes and the failures. Over the 14 years I’ve been a SAHD (and the six years before that as a middle school teacher) I’ve done a pretty decent job of keeping my cool. I’m a pretty laid-back guy and I try my best to be patient with everyone, especially my children. Any parent knows that kids can really test you and pester you and do stuff that shouldn’t get on your nerves, but it still does. It’s my experience that this is exacerbated for the at-home parent of small children who often deals with the seemingly endless requests to do this or that from the moment the little ones wake up until the moment they (finally!) go to sleep. Sure, I try to get my little ones to learn patience but, well, herding cats sometimes seems like it might be easier.

Well, rewind to a few days ago, Thursday, to be exact. It was a routine Spring day for us that was highlighted by a trip to a local park to enjoy some of the nice weather.

Playing at the park

Playing at the park

We had an early dinner without my wife, who stayed late to work, so we could be on time to meet her at my 15 year old daughter’s high school water polo game at 6:20 pm. Even though my M, four year old, very thoughtfully served some spaghetti to J, her 22 month old sister, while I finished cooking dinner (yeah, that onesie may not ever come clean), we were on target to leave the house to be, gasp!, ten minutes early for the game. The final hurdle to conquer was changing the J’s diaper. Piece of cake for this seasoned veteran. Or so I thought. As I laid J down on the changing table I noticed M trying to climb up the end of it. I asked her to please get down. Moments later M was standing bedside me at the changing table, trying to tickle her sister. I asked her to please stop. (I’m patient and well-mannered, thankyouverymuch!) Within the next 30 seconds as I was trying to wipe J’s butt and place the clean diaper under her I must have asked M three or four more times to please stop poking, tickling or otherwise prodding her sister because every time she did that her sister would twist her body impossibly as only toddlers on changing tables can do and I’d have to rearrange the diaper all over again. Exhale. I could feel myself getting a little worked up as I asked, for the sixth time in about a minute and a half, for M to Please. Stop. Touching. Her.

SWAT! 

8d8718e763a4a1392f460e9efec731ed35ea1a2eThat’s what I did to her hand as she reached to poke, tickle or prod her sister that one last time. It wasn’t a “hit”, but it might as well have been. And in that moment of frustration I lost my patience with my adorable four year old and violated one of my cardinal rules of parenting: never, ever, under any circumstances, lay a hand on my child in anger or frustration. I felt like smelly poo. How could I have done this to my child? She pulled her hand back and looked into my eyes, giant tears already forming in her eyes. Not as much from the physical pain but more from the fact that I’d swatted her hand out of frustration. I dropped to a knee to be at her eye level and immediately told her how very wrong it was for me to do that to her and I asked her earnestly to forgive me. Through her tears she nodded yes and, as we embraced, hot tears flowed from my eyes as they burned my cheeks. We talked about it some more right then as I finished getting the diaper on J and while we headed to the car.

It’s been just over 48 hours since I became, in my own mind at least, the Sultan of Swat. And I’ve been beating myself up over my lack of self-control and momentary lapse the whole time. It cannot happen again. Period. There is no room to justify my actions by thinking, “If she had listened in the first place…” Nope. Not even remotely an excuse. Yet, I have to be able to forgive myself in order to move on. M forgave me so now I need to do the same. Yet, I can still learn from this experience. While I am a pretty patient parent, I need to realize that I do, indeed, have a breaking point. If/when I feel myself approaching that point I need to do an internal “lemon squeeze” like my kids were taught in elementary school or slowly count to ten. Looking back on this particular incident, I should have counted M using the 1-2-3 Magic discipline system that we’ve used with all of our children for the last 15+ years. (I think I’m going to reread that book this week.) Had I done that, the situation would not have escalated and there would have been no swat. In the end, I have to learn from this mistake, forgive myself and remember that I’m not perfect. After all, imperfection is part of the human condition.