5 Types of Parents It’s OK to Judge

If you’re one of those people with no kids of your own who’s constantly judging everyone’s parenting skills, then please stop.  Trust me, all the other parents and I had a meeting, we put it to a vote, and it was unanimous: we hate you.  You don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re rude and you should keep your stupid opinions to yourself.

On the other hand, if you are a parent, then judging other parents can be one of the most fun and satisfying ways to spend your time, so have at it!  It’s open season for you!

OK, that might still get you in some trouble with the people you’re judging, so I can understand if you want to be careful. But I can’t imagine any of the lamest moms and dads would do something so informative as to read a parenting blog, so just between us, I’m going to let them have it.

Here are 5 types of parents who, in my opinion, it’s perfectly OK for you to judge…

1. The “What’s Bedtime?” and “What’s a Sitter?” Parents.

saw 6_edited-1Look, I’m sure you really needed the six pack of Corona Light, but was it really worth dragging your toddler out to Stop & Shop at 10pm?  Some of us call that “bedtime”.  We look forward to it as a relaxing break at the end of our hectic day, and what’s more, the kids need it.  It’s win-win.

At least Stop & Shop is an age-appropriate activity for young children.  We’ve all seen those morons who were so psyched for “World War Z” that they dragged their 2-year-old out to the midnight showing at Mann’s Chinese rather than wait the two months it’d take for that movie to be on DVD.  How are they selling these people tickets instead of calling child protective services on them?

It’s insane that some places have laws against gay parents adopting or fostering kids when there are clowns like this raising children.  Look, not every gay couple is Ozzy and Harriet, but if you want to root out the truly unfit parents, I suggest starting at the multiplexes.

2. Parents Who Helicopter Other People’s Children. 

booboo_edited-1Say what you will about helicopter parents. At least the only kids they’re messing up are their own… that is, except for this subset of helicopter parents who are determined to overparent everyone’s kids.

When my kids fall down at the playground, I don’t usually make a big deal about it, and because of that, they don’t make a big deal about it either. They get up, limp for a second or two and then run around like maniacs again… unless some other grownup runs over and screams, “OH MY GOD! ARE YOU OKAY?”

Odds are, my kid was fine until the crazy lady ran up and started screaming hysterically in his face. Now he’s not crying because he’s hurt. It’s because you freaked him the eff out. If not for you, he’d be back swinging upside-down from the jungle gym by now.

Oh, and while you’re at it, spare me your evil eye. When my kid really does get hurt, I will swoop in faster than you could imagine and do all the things that need to be done. I just want him to know that there are some ouchies he’s perfectly capable of handling on his own.

By the way, this is a park. I’m not sure what that green spongy material under our feet is, but I suspect it’s at least 70% marshmallow. No one’s going to get beheaded here. Relax.

3. The Only-Engage-With-The-Kids Parents.

gamelastnight_edited-1These ones are just weird. I take my kids to the same places over and over, and we see a lot of the same people.  Some of them are friendly, some of them are not, and a lot of them fall in this weird middle ground where they’re very friendly… but only to the kids.  They talk to them, hand them toys, introduce them to their kids, but even when I’m standing right there, they won’t address me directly or look me in the eye.

Instead, they’ll direct all their questions to my children.  “Does your Daddy mind if you play with that?”  “What a pretty shirt your Daddy dressed you in!”  I imagine they’re just socially intimidated by other adults, but it’s hard not to feel like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense.  Her Daddy is standing right here! Talk to him, please! He’s starved for adult conversation!

Seriously, if there are other people out there who can’t see me, please let me know, because I’m starting to worry that I’ve crossed over to another plane of existence or something.

4. The Insufficiently Apologetic.

hairpull_edited-1One day at the kiddie gym, a little boy smacked my daughter in the face because she was on the trampoline he wanted to use.  His mother was appropriately horrified, but she didn’t say a word to me or Sutton.  No “Sorry”, no “Please don’t sue”, no “Bobby, give that girl a hug.”  She just grabbed the kid and ran away to lecture him.

I’d lump into this category any parent who offers their own apology for the kid’s behavior but doesn’t make their kid apologize himself — and worse, doesn’t do anything to reprimand him. One day at a playground, a perfectly polite nanny assured me that her kid didn’t normally pin kids to the ground and pull their hair until they screamed, the way he had just done to Sutton.  She even gave him an ultimatum: apologize or they were going home.  He didn’t apologize, but half an hour later, they were still there, and he was pulling some other kid’s hair.

I thought we were all in the same boat, trying to teach our kids to own up to their actions and say they’re sorry when they screw up. But now the next time my kid misbehaves, she’s going to whine, “But that kid at the park didn’t apologize!” And suddenly my teachable moment turns into me teaching her that some people are just assholes.

5. The Overly Apologetic.

misbehave_edited-1Look, everyone’s kid throws a fit in public sometimes.  It sucks.  But you don’t need to run around telling everyone how sorry you are and swearing, “He never does this!”  Try to forget about all the annoyed jerks glaring at you and focus on your kid instead.  Calm him down, get him out, do whatever your parenting instinct tells you the situation demands.  Trust me, no one’s going to hand you a report card on the way out, with an “F” in tantrums. Well, I’m not, at least. I’ll be one of the parents passing you glares of sympathy and encouragement. In almost any case of tantrummy kid vs. beleaguered parent, I take the parent’s side, because I’ve been there myself many times.

Sometimes the best way to handle an outburst is to ignore the behavior, and that can be tough.  I know I look like a horrible parent because my kid’s screaming their head off in a shopping cart and I’m trying to decide which brownie mix to buy.  But you know what?  I’m not going to give into him just to calm him down, and it’s not that I think this is acceptable behavior.  I’m just halfway through my shopping, and I’m really in the mood for brownies, so we’re riding this one out together, everybody.  You don’t like it?  Kindly move to Aisle 6.  Thanks.

Besides, don’t be so self-centered.  You think everyone’s judging you?  Pfft, who would do that?

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How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay People, By a Gay Person

English: Train Board at Grand Central Terminal

Image via Wikipedia

[Note: I originally published this piece here as How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, By a Gay Parent. The post took on a life of its own and was read and shared by lots of people whose kids might be exposed to homosexuality any number of places, and not just through kids with gay parents. So I figured it was time to freshen the piece up a bit and broaden the scope.]

It could happen anywhere, at any time. A train station. A Disney Channel show. The NFL draft.

Your kids are just hanging out, being kids and daydreaming about candy, when suddenly they see…

TWO DUDES KISSING!

michaelsamkiss

Or maybe they spot a little girl in the dropoff line at school. She kisses her mom goodbye, and then… she kisses her other mom goodbye!

You feel a tug on your leg, you look down, and there’s your kid. He just saw the same thing you saw, and now he looks up at you with his innocent face and says, “Yo, what’s the deal with that?”

As a gay man, I know I’ve spurred conversations like this myself, by doing just what Michael Sam and his boyfriend did on live TV. I want to be clear first of all that I don’t kiss my husband in public because I want to confuse your child or piss off right-wingers, although I’m aware that both of those things might happen as a result. I’m kissing him because I love him and I’m probably saying hello or goodbye at the time. (I assure you. It will never be because I’ve just been drafted by a professional sports team.) When I kiss my husband, I’m not going to look around first to make sure your kid and/or Pat Robertson isn’t watching. I’m just going to kiss him and then go on with the rest of my day.

I understand you might be unprepared for what follows. So here and now, I’m going to do what I feel is only fair for someone in my position to do. I’m going to prepare you.

Naturally, these tips are intended for the sympathetic straight parent. Unsympathetic straight parents are free to ignore my suggestions, in which case, I’ll enjoy watching them squirm.

Obviously, what you say will depend on how old your kids are and how much exposure they’ve had to gay people previously, but in a broader sense, these suggestions should apply to anyone.

I’m not a child psychologist, just a gay dad who’s thought a lot about the issue and who has a big stake in it.  After all, I don’t want your kids coming up to my kids one day and telling them they’re weird for not having a mommy.

If you don’t want that either, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Use the word “gay”.

Everyone’s concentrating on taking the negative connotation away from the word “gay”, but at the same time, let’s not forget to encourage the positive.  We don’t want “gay” to be a curse, so go ahead and teach it to your kids.  That’s how we’ll really take the sting out of the word.

“Oh, Uncle Doug and Uncle Max?  They’re gay.”  “Aunt Vera and Aunt Debbie aren’t sisters, honey.  They’re lesbians.”  “Well, statistics suggest at least 3 of the Smurfs must be gay.”  Don’t make a big deal about it.  Just say it.  If your kids hear some jerk at school sneering, “That’s so gay!”, their response will be, “Yeah?  So what?  So are Uncle Max, Aunt Vera and, most likely, Brainy.”

2. You don’t have to pretend half the world is gay. 

Don’t play down the fact that your kids may have witnessed something unfamiliar.  “Geez, Madison.  They have two daddies, what’s the biggie?”  It’s natural for poor little Madison to be confused, so give her a damn break.

Kids are probably going to assume all families have one mommy and one daddy, because that’s all most of them see.  You can be honest. Use words like “most” and “some”.  “Most families have a mommy and a daddy… but some have two mommies or two daddies.”  “Most women marry men, but some women marry other women.” As long as you don’t attach a value judgment to those statements, it really is no biggie. (The same goes when explaining single parent families, divorced families or anything else your child might be witnessing for the first time.)

Some kids might say something like, “That’s weird”, or they’ll think you’re playing a joke on them.  That should just be a reminder of why you’re having this conversation.  Get to your kid before ignorance does.  If you’re honest with them, they’ll get it.

3. Get your mind out of the gutter.

It seems silly that I even have to say this, but when some people think about homosexuality and kids, they imagine that you’re suggesting they graphically describe intercourse to kindergarteners.  Um, no.  All you should be doing is answering the questions they’re asking, and save the rest for junior high health class.  If they wonder why they saw two football players kissing, it’s because “Those two men are in love”… or because “Some men love other men.”  Hopefully, you’ve taught your kids to understand what love is, so no further explanation should be required.

And do use the word “love”.  That’s what we’re talking about here.  You don’t need to say “attracted to” or “some boys like boys”.  “Like” is how they feel about each other.  A kid might think, “Well, I like boys.  I guess I’m gay.”  Compare it to your own relationship (assuming you have a good relationship).  “You know the way Mommy and I love each other?  That’s how those two men or those two women feel about each other.”  And if your kid says, “Yuck!” it’s probably because they feel the same way about when you and your spouse get all schmoopy-doopy with each other.  That’s progress.

4. Don’t make it about your kid — yet.

Understanding homosexuality is a big enough topic of discussion, and your kid probably won’t be prompted to wonder about their own sexuality at this point.  You don’t need to say, “You might marry a man someday yourself, Junior!”  While it’s great to plant the seeds of acceptance early, you’ll probably just end up confusing them more.  Your kids have plenty of time to figure their own feelings out, and when the time comes, make sure you let them know that you love them no matter what.  But no, they can’t marry Brainy Smurf.

5. If your kid does ask you to speculate, you can tell them they’ll “probably” be straight.

Again, only if your kid expresses some curiosity should you even broach the subject.  But if they’re wondering, “Who will I marry someday?”, feel free to tell them, “You’ll probably marry someone of the opposite sex, but I’ll accept you either way.”  Of course, if you’re like the mom from the amazing blog Raising My Rainbow, your “probably” might lean the other way.  Just take your cues from your kid.

6. Remember the magic phrase, “Love is what makes a family.” 

Even kids who don’t know exactly where babies come from understand that women are the ones who get pregnant and give birth.  When that’s all you know, then the idea of two men being in love and even forming a family together just might not add up.

Again, don’t go into any more detail than you need to.  Remind your kid that while it’s a woman who gives birth to a baby, your Mommy(-ies) and/or Daddy(-ies) are the one(s) who raise you. It’s no different than how you’d explain adoption by a straight couple.  “The Strattons flew to Beijing and brought little Daisy home.  Now they’re her Mommy and Daddy.”

What kids want to know is that the little boy or girl they see whose family looks different is still being well taken care of. Assure your children that the kids are in good hands, because love is what makes a family, and those parents love their kids as much as you love yours.

7. Most importantly, just talk to your kids.

Your kids are bound to see a gay couple sooner or later, even if it’s just Mitchell & Cameron on Modern Family.  So if they come to you with questions, it’s really important that you don’t get weird about it.  Don’t change the subject, don’t tell them they’re too young to understand and definitely don’t lie and say that those two ladies were only kissing to be silly or because they were rehearsing a play.  Otherwise the message you’re sending is that there’s a reason to be uncomfortable around gay people.  The same goes for all kinds of people, really – just explain that some people look or feel a bit different from most people we meet, and isn’t it nice that everyone’s a little different.

… which leads me to a big secret.

You see, there is a gay agenda.  It’s true.

What most people don’t realize is that the gay agenda isn’t “everybody should be gay”.  It’s “everybody should be themselves.”

Be a nerd, be a Yanni fan, be a real housewife of your particular geographic region.  Whatever.  It’s all part of the same cause, and it’s a great message to teach your kids.

I shouldn’t have to say this in the 21st Century, but for anyone who’s still wondering, NO, I don’t want to make your kids gay.  I just want to live my life with a sense of mutual respect for everyone else on this planet.  If you want the same thing, then let your kids learn by your example.  Show them that gay people and nontraditional families are nothing to be afraid of.

Teaching your kids to be accepting of gay people and gay families is a great way to teach them acceptance in a broader sense – and to teach them the ultimate lesson: to be accepting of themselves.

I know some people think differently, but that’s what I call family values.

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If you know anyone who you think would appreciate this post, please share it using the buttons below. I’ve come back and revised this post a couple of times now, so if you have any non-homophobic notes or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment. If you have homophobic notes or suggestions, on the other hand, you might want to read my comment policy first.

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5 More Secrets I Keep From My Kids

ShhHey guys. It’s Daddy again. Remember that post I wrote about the 10 biggest secrets I keep from you? Of course not! I only shared that with everyone except you. (Oh, and did we have some good chuckles about it, too!)

Well, it turns out, Daddy’s full of secrets, and since you still can’t read or use the internet, I’m ready to spill a few more. Yes, go on playing Legos. Just grown-ups talking here. Nothing you’d be interested in…

1. None of your friends nap anymore.

naptimeIt’s true. I’ve talked to all their parents, and they’re stunned that Daddy and I are still making you lie down for an hour every day at four years old. Their kids would never do that, they tell me. I usually leave out what a struggle it is to get you to follow through, and how every day I consider putting an end to nap time. But even our constant fighting over the nap is better than a day without naps — and I don’t mean for you.

I always say you have to nap because you get too cranky when you don’t, but the truth is, that doesn’t compare with how cranky it makes me. You may hate your naps, but I really, really like them. You might be ready to give them up, but I’m not. So until you learn the timeless childhood art of pleading, “But Jimmy’s parents don’t make him nap!”, you’re stuck with a daily snooze.

Seriously, kid. Start comparing notes. Jimmy’s got it a lot better than you do. A LOT.

2. Most of your artwork is garbage.

garbageOK, that sounds a bit harsh, but don’t take it too hard. I only mean it literally. As in, that’s where I put most of it. In the trash.

You know that picture you drew just for me, that you worked so hard on, that I swore was a masterpiece I would cherish forever? Well, five seconds after you went to bed, I crumpled it up and buried it deep, deep in the kitchen garbage can so you would never find it.

I know you won’t remember it tomorrow, and frankly, you make me way too many masterpieces, more than I can ever hang on the refrigerator or even store in an archive. I know you were especially proud of that dog dragon you drew me, but frankly, it wasn’t your best work. Sure, I took a picture of it before I dumped old coffee grounds and that half-eaten cup of yogurt on top of it, but don’t expect it to show up as my desktop wallpaper or anything.

Oh, and when we moved, Daddy and I threw away about five garbage bags full of your stuffed animals. You know why you didn’t notice? Because of the ten garbage bags full that we kept. Many of the things you love are garbage to us. I like that you have enough love in your heart to spread out among every crappy plush knickknack you take home from the Everybody Wins booth at the carnival, but the space in your heart is bigger than the space in our house, so some things just have to go.

3. We’re Going to Disney World!!!

You know how you’re constantly asking us if we can go to Disney World, and we respond, “Maybe someday”? Well, guess what, suckers? Someday is coming next February. We made the reservations, booked our flights, requested time off from work, reserved a dinner with Cinderella and even bought those Secret Guide to Disney books so we can make this the most awesome trip of your childhood. If you think we’re telling you about it anytime soon, though, you’re crazy. We planned this trip six months ahead of time.  Do you know how long that is in kid years? Of course not, and that’s the point. But in grown-up years, it’s six months of “Is today the day? Is today the day?”, and Daddy ain’t havin’ that.

Oh, and don’t take this to mean that “maybe someday” is always code for yes. When you ask us for a puppy, “Maybe someday” is our way of ending the conversation. But that one’s a definite no. Not someday, not ever. Sorry.

4. If I ever played a game against you at my full ability, I would whoop your sorry ass.

See anything you need? Oh, come on!

See anything you need? Oh, come on!

You really think you could beat me on a race to the tree and back? I know I’m not Jesse Owens, kid, but seriously, if I ran as fast as I could, I would mop up the front yard with you. The same goes for when we play Zingo, that kiddie version of Bingo you love so much. There are only nine squares on the board, but when Kite comes up, I’ll sit and wait like two whole minutes for you to realize you have Kite in your center square.

Hello! I have two kites on my board, but I’m not going to swipe that tile away from you, because I guess the whole point of this is to get you to learn about image recognition or spatial relationships or something. I don’t know what the point is, but whatever it is, it’s something I already know. I don’t need the validation, so I’m going to let you have it. Let’s just move it along, OK?

Honestly, though, the bigger secret is that sometimes you win fair and square. Want to know how to tell the difference? When I’m smiling, that means I let you win. If you actually earned your victory, you’ll notice me quietly giving you the stink eye.

5. When daddy and I spell things, we’re usually talking about you.

In fact, we’re usually talking about either nap time, Disney World, how I smoked you at Zingo or how soon we can throw something of yours away after you go to bed. I don’t know what we’re going to do when you guys learn to spell, because Daddy and I have really come to rely on our secret code. Maybe we’ll start learning Russian or something.

*****

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Kid Peeves: 5 Perfectly Innocent Things My Toddlers Do That Drive Me F*%#in’ Nuts

Play-Doh, Play-Doh cans

Like anybody’s kids, mine do things that drive me nuts, but most of the time, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. They’re hoping that the 5,000th time they ask me for ice cream will be the one where I finally give in because I’m going to have a nervous breakdown if I have to keep saying no. The same goes for when they’re rubbing mashed potatoes in their hair at dinner or belting out “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” when they’re supposed to be napping. Even at 3 1/2, they are virtuosos at pushing Daddy’s buttons.

Sometimes, though, they can fill me with unbridled rage without even trying. Kids can drive you nuts just by being kids, doing things that are perfectly developmentally appropriate, even beneficial for them.

What really frustrates me about these things is that I can’t punish the kids for them. All I can do is quietly seethe, ride the behavior out and then write blog posts in the hope that other parents out there might relate. Please, please tell me you do.

These are 5 of my Kid Peeves:

1. Mixing Play-Doh colors.

Cinderella, Play-Doh, Spin & Style Cinderella

(l-r) our Cinderella, the Cinderella on the box

See all those cool things the kids on the box of the Play-Doh Fun Factory are making? The bright yellow bananas and pretty pink ribbons? Well, we can make those in my house for about two minutes. After that, my kids have mushed all the colors together into one messy swirl, which never looks like it’s supposed to when pressed into the molds or wrapped around the ball gown of the Spin and Style Cinderella.

I know, it’s their toy, and I shouldn’t tell them how to play with it. It’s probably good for them to experiment and make a mess with it. But eventually, they get frustrated that all their Play-Doh is the color of puke. “Daddy, where’s orange?” they’ll whimper.

“Where’s orange? Where’s orange?! It’s mushed in with green and purple and that glittery blue so it’s all just one turd-brown mess. Good luck making something out of that!”

Then I sigh and open another can of orange… which stays orange for about 5 seconds before being pressed into the turd with all the other colors.

No wonder our Play-Doh budget is killing us.

2. Questioning my knowledge.

One Direction, The WantedI thought my kids would be teenagers before they decided I was full of crap. But at three years old, they already doubt 90% of what comes out of my mouth, which is really frustrating because their other dad and I are their sources for roughly 100% of the information they seek. It burns the most when it’s something I’m clearly an expert on, like the alphabet (“I swear, kangaroo starts with ‘K’, not ‘C’!”) or One Direction songs.

“Daddy, who sings this song?”

“One Direction.”

“No, it’s the Wanted.”

“No, it’s One Direction!”

“It’s the Wanted!”

“It’s One Direction! It says it right here on my iPod. ‘Last First Kiss’ by One Direction. You can’t read it but I can, and that’s what it says. Hear that? Those are Niall’s harmonies! It’s One Direction! Admit it! Admit it!”

3. Reading the same books over and over.

Little Engine That Could, Watty PiperA few years ago, I read the book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon, and it was so good that I read it a second time. Then, I moved on with my life. My kids do not understand this concept. We’ll get to the end of one of their favorite books, and they’ll instantly want to read it again. And again.

And again.

I know repetition is good for kids, and so are familiarity and routine. Plus, when you like something a lot, you don’t want it to end. But Daddy’s not getting quite as much enjoyment out of our 1,000th reading of “The Little Engine That Could.” We know he’s getting up the hill, dammit. Do we really need to read ten pages of “I think I can!”?

Sure, for the first few dozen times, I’m sharpening my dramatic reading of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” I’m rehearsing the best way to hit all the punchlines in “Don’t Let Pigeon Drive The Bus” and just where to pause for laughs. (Attention children’s theater companies: if you need someone to play the bus driver, I’ve got the part down cold.)

We don’t even bother to hold the book of “Goodnight Moon” anymore, because we all know it by heart. The pictures are permanently ingrained in our minds, like haunting memories of misspent youth or that chilling napalm photo from the Vietnam War.

4. “Forgetting” how to do things.

Everyone’s heard the old saying, “It’s like riding a bicycle. You never forget.” Well, my kids could forget how to ride a bicycle. They forget everything. They forget how to put their coats on, how to get GoGurt out of the tube, how many daddies they have. They forget the dance moves we choreographed to that Ke$ha song, which we’ve practiced like A HUNDRED TIMES. When they’re counting to 20, they sometimes forget the number 17. Or 12. It varies.

They forget how knock-knock jokes are supposed to go. I can’t stand that the most childish form of humor has such a rigid structure that actual children can’t possibly get it right. “Say ‘Boo who?’!” I find myself shouting half the time. “C’mon, the joke only works if you say ‘Boo who?’! Say it!”

And speaking of humor…

5. Not laughing at my hilarious jokes.

"Is this thing on?"

“Is this thing on?”

Like a struggling stand-up, I’m all too used to my punchlines being met with blank stares and the sound of crickets. I bomb daily in front of my kids. Try as I might, I just can’t get them to appreciate my subtle comedy stylings.  Talk about a tough room. What sucks the most is that 90% of the time, they’re the only room I have.

Forget sarcasm, deadpan, word play, insults, Borscht Belt, dirty limericks or references to supporting actors from obscure 80s sitcoms. It all goes right over their head.

Just about the only humor my kids appreciate right now are toot (i.e., “fart”) jokes and physical comedy. Sure, they love when daddy falls down. Only daddy wasn’t trying to be funny. He really fell, and he’s hurt. Stop laughing and get him an ice pack, you monsters!

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Have your own kid peeves? I’d love to hear them in the comments section. And if you like mine, please share this post on Facebook, Twitter or whatever. (“whatever” btw is the name of a new social network. All the cool kids are on it.) It also makes me very happy when people like me on Facebook, so if you haven’t already, hey, won’t you please, because my kids would totally never do that for me.

cookieface

The 10 Biggest Secrets I Keep From My Kids

Hey guys, it’s me, Daddy, and I’m only writing this post because you can’t read, you don’t know what a blog is and because you’re still in that developmental sweet spot where you take everything I tell you at face value.

Suckers.

Your old man is full of secrets, things that could destroy my authority if you ever found out.  Here are 10 highly classified facts that I will take to my grave… or at least wait to tell you until you have kids of your own.

1.  TV is a reward for me, not you.

There’s a reason I never promise you TV for being good.  When you’re behaving, I don’t need to turn on the TV.  Overall, you guys are terrific company… but when you’re not, that’s when TV comes to my rescue.  Those 22 blissful minutes of Yo Gabba Gabba are my reward for getting through the crying, whining, fighting meltdown madness that’s become a recurring feature of your toddlerhood.

Here’s the big secret: if you want more TV, you should act out more.  You know how sometimes I’ll pop popcorn and we’ll have a “movie day”, where we get to watch all of Beauty & The Beast or Toy Story from beginning to end?

When that happens, you’ve been BAAAAAAAAAD.

You can never know this, of course, because that would encourage you to misbehave.  So I have to be clever about it.  I always make sure to calm you down first, so you don’t know that I’m only turning on the TV because I’m on the verge of tearing off your Tickle Me Elmo’s head with my teeth.

2.  While you’re napping, I shove my face full of chocolate chip cookies for two hours straight.

You don’t see me eat much, do you?  It’s not because I don’t require sustenance like every other human being, though if it adds to your sense that Daddy is some kind of awesome superhuman, I’m fine with that.  No, the real reason I never eat in front of you is because when you’re watching, I need to model good eating habits.  You think I like eating vegetables and chewing slowly?  Phooey!

I spend every moment in your presence suppressing my natural urge to shovel peanut butter M&Ms through my maw by the fistful.  When you’re asleep, oh boy, do I make up for lost time.  I practically funnel chocolate sauce directly down my throat.  I watch lots of TV, too, and I sit as close to the screen as I want.

3.  I fall for your crocodile tears about 90% of the time.

I don’t know whose side of the family it comes from, but I’d be willing to bet that you two have some Meryl Streep in your blood.  Your performances are unparalleled.  You are gripping emotional powerhouses, both of you, able to summon cascades of tears at will.  I feel like I should be tossing bouquets of flowers at your feet, or at least teaching you to act out Uncle Vanya so your talents can be put to good use.

Even when I’m sure you’re faking, I get sucked into the performance.  I want to give you that second cookie you’re demanding only because I don’t have an Oscar to hand over instead.

Seriously, I don’t know how you do it.  You cry over the most trivial things, but still, you get me to believe that nothing matters more in the world than you getting a turn with the “good” xylophone.

I don’t want to spoil you by always giving in, but I don’t want to stifle your theatrical gifts either.

Bravo, kids.  Brav.  O.

4.  I don’t know how we’re going to pay for your college.

I’m really grateful you guys have no concept of money, because if you knew what college costs versus how much money we have in the bank, you’d wake up crying at night even more than you already do.

Let’s put it in terms of Play-Doh.  If you add together all the various sources of Play-Doh at our disposal — the cans in the craft cabinet, the little mini tubs that came with the Cookie Monster Letter Lunch set, a few unopened packages we keep stashed in the closet for rainy days — it’s a comfortable amount.

Now picture all the Play-Doh in the world.  That’s what a year of college is going to cost by the time you guys are filling out your applications.  I’m not exaggerating.  Our Play-Doh supply would barely cover one semester of independent study credits at that college in Texas that gets all the oil subsidies.  We’re screwed.

I mean, sure, we have a few years.  We’ll keep stashing away Play-Doh in the meantime, but don’t get your hopes up.

5.  I find your speech impediments adorable.

I’ve written here before about how much I hate baby talk, and I stand by that.  Grownups trying to sound like kids are idiotic.  But secretly, I love hearing little kids try to sound like grownups, and failing.

I love Sutton’s slight lisp, and I get a kick out of the way Bennett drops his “S” from the start of words (“Daddy, ‘utton wants a ‘nack!”)  These things remind me, as you’re growing up, that you’re still going to be little kids for a while.

I know better than to encourage poor speech habits, of course.  I do the right thing, suppressing my smiles and correcting you gently, so you’ll learn to speak properly.  But secretly, whenever you mangle the English language, I’m thinking, “Aww!”

6.  Your other Grandpa, my dad, is dead.

Sorry, this one’s kind of a downer.  I’ve shown you pictures of my dad, and I’ve told you a bit about him, but I’m really grateful that you’re still too young to ask the big question: “How come we’ve never met him?”  To explain that, I’d have to tell you about death.  Then you’d figure out the really big secret, that daddies can die.

Ugh, I just can’t have that talk with you.  And it’s not just about you not being ready.  I’m not ready either.  I don’t know when I will be.

When we talk about your mystery Grandpa, I tell you the good things, and then I change the subject.  I know I won’t be able to get away with that forever, but for now, that’s the best plan I have.

Grandpa loved kids, by the way.  You would’ve had so much fun with him.

7.  “F#&%”, “S*@#”, A$$#@!&”.

You know that Madonna song we love to sing along to?  You’ve probably noticed how I always turn down the volume when M.I.A.’s rap part comes on.  Let’s just say there are a few vocabulary words which may come in handy later in life, but which I’m glad you haven’t picked up on just yet.

8.  I was an even pickier eater at your age than you are.

I spend way more energy than any sane person should trying to get you kids to eat things you don’t want to.  Even your junk food diet is limited.  C’mon, why can’t you see how awesome Taco Bell is?

Here’s the truth, though: If I’m always encouraging you to try new foods, it’s mostly because I don’t want you to end up like me.  I’m living proof you can live to the age of 14 eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and pretzels.

Sure, at some point my tastes got a bit more exotic (i.e., Taco Bell), but I’m hoping that, unlike me, you’ll have at least sampled each of the four food groups before you reach puberty.

9.  Someday, I’m going to go back to work.

I know you don’t understand work.  That’s why you’ll sometimes cry in the middle of the afternoon and demand to pick Daddy up at the train station, as if he’s just waiting there all day for us to swing by.

Work takes daddies away from their kids, that’s all you really grasp of the concept.  Well, this may come as a shock to you, but before you were born, I used to work, too.  Staying home with you is better than any job I’ve ever had, and it’s worth every sacrifice Daddy and I have had to make.  It’s not going to last forever, though.  In the future, you won’t need me as much, at least not as much as we’ll need the second income.

A few months ago, I was in the running for a job, one that would’ve been too good to pass up.  I’m not going to lie, I was excited about the prospect.  I was also heartbroken.  I imagined what it would be like to tell you I was going back to work, that you would now have two daddies you hardly ever saw.

Then you’d cry about how much you missed both of us, to a person we hired to take care of you all day.

10.  You guys are my best friends.

I used to think people who were BFFs with their kids were terrifically sad.  Now, I kind of get it.  No offense to any of my grown-up friends, but you’re way cooler than any of them.

Yes, I need adult conversation once in a while.  I need to talk about politics and celebrity scandals and last night’s Breaking Bad.  But in general, your reluctant, unfocused recounting of your school day is better than any of that.  Really?  Billy spilled his juice at snack time?  Tell me more!

Again, you can never know this, because the only thing sadder than you being my best friends would be if I were yours.  You don’t need a graying old doofus roughly 14 times your age as a buddy.  You need me as a parent.  My job isn’t to play trains with you and Billy after school, it’s to serve you juice… and to send Billy’s parents the cleaning bill when he spills it all over you.

F#&%in’ Billy.

******

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9 Unwritten Rules of the Playground

Nobody ever tells you the Rules of the Playground.  I’m not talking about “No littering” or “No loitering after dusk, teenagers!”  Not the kinds of rules you might actually find posted in a public park.

I mean the unspoken code among parents that governs everything that occurs on surfaces made of asphalt, spongeturf or wood chips.  A trip to the playground is like having a playdate with whoever shows up.  Unless everyone agrees to a few ground rules, things can quickly devolve into a shrunken simulation of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

I’ve decided to take it upon myself to write down these implied rules, as best as I understand them.  Granted, there may be a bit of wishful thinking thrown in.  Here goes:

1.  Everything you bring is communal property.

It’s not just polite to share, it’s the only practical way to do things.  I’m not going to check every toy my kid picks up to make sure it belongs to us.  I’m also not going to shout at them, “Don’t touch that dump truck until we track down its owner and ask permission!”  You brought it, you share it.  If it’s not being used, my kids and I are going to assume it’s up for grabs.  The same goes for the junk we brought.  When my kids get bored with it five seconds into our trip, it’s all yours.  Enjoy.

2.  It’s your responsibility to round up all your toys when you leave.

Yes, my kids played with your toys, but they’re your toys, so when you’re ready to leave, good luck finding them.

If you don’t like having to round up a hundred things, don’t bring a hundred things.  Kids really don’t need that much stuff anyway.  How many hands do your kids have?  Mine have two.  That’s two toys each, and maybe a ball for their feet.  If they get bored with those, then thankfully, they’re at a park so there’s a good chance they can find something else to do.

And don’t be a dick if some kid is playing with your stuff when you’re leaving.  Bend over and say, “Hey, thanks for taking such good care of our lobster sand mold.  It’s time for us to go now, so we need to pack that in our stroller.  Do you want to play with that shovel over there instead?”  When the kid turns to look, grab the lobster and make a break for it.

3.  If you bring it, label it.

You know that bucket of sand toys you got at Target for $3.99?  Yeah, we all have that exact same set, and it gets confusing.  Put your initials or your kid’s name on it so we know whose is whose.  Think of it like branding cattle.  Come up with a family logo if you want.  Have a blast.

4.  If you can’t bear to share it, leave it at home.

Some parents and kids think their toys are exempt from the communal property rule.  “But it’s Madison’s special Pocahontas doll — it’s like her daughter!”  Sure, I get it, but try explaining that to my two-year-old.  There’s nothing I hate more than when my kid throws a fit because they want to play with some other kid’s toy.  I don’t want them playing with that toy anyway.  I brought them to the park so they could run around and get some exercise.

Other than sand toys or things that can only be enjoyed at the park, I suggest you don’t bring any toys from home.  I don’t get why some parents let their kids bring their favorite Princess Jasmine or Lightning McQueen thingamajig to the park.  It’s a park.  The park is the toy.

If your kid brings her entire Disney Princess collection, then suddenly my kids don’t want to go on the slide or play hide and seek.  They want to sit on their tushies and play with a bunch of crap they could’ve played with at home.  If your kid won’t share, that just adds insult to injury.  Now I have a kid who isn’t getting any exercise and who’s screaming her head off because she can’t play with your kid’s lousy toy.  Screw you.

5.  If you can’t bear to lose it, then definitely leave it at home.

Last winter, a woman came up to me as we were leaving an indoor playground.  “We can’t find the purple car,” she said.  “The one she was playing with.”  She pointed to my daughter.  I already had the kids’ shoes on, and they were zipped up in their coats and most importantly, I’m not the idiot who brought a bunch of toys to a room full of toys.  (Toys which we were paying to play with, no less.)  I took a quick, half-assed look around for the stupid car, but honestly, I really didn’t care if she never saw it again.  I know, she and her kid were very courteous about sharing with my daughter, but like I said, if you bring it, it’s your responsibility. Take a look around.  It’ll turn up.  Or not.  Screw you.

When I go to the park, I bring a couple of plastic buckets and shovels, and maybe a playground ball.  Grand total: less than $10.  Even in this economy, I can afford to take that kind of hit.  If something breaks or someone walks off with one of our toys by mistake, I can easily replace it.  This is another reason not to bring your kid’s favorite thing.

6.  Your kids are your own responsibility, so don’t look to me for help.

Everyone has different rules for their kids.  Maybe you let your two-year-old scale the ten-foot-high rock wall.  Hey, you must have better medical insurance than me.  It’s not my business.  Just because your kid is doing something dangerous, I’m not going to step in, especially when I have two kids of my own to keep out of the emergency room.

It’s not that I don’t care about your kid’s well-being.  I’m going to make sure I don’t hit him with a swing, but it’s not my job to protect him from all booboos in my vicinity while you chat it up with your friends or play Angry Birds or whatever people do on their cell phones for hours at a stretch — seriously, what’s with you people?  If your kid is teetering off the edge of something and my kid is about to eat a bug, sorry, but my kid comes first.  I’ll save your kid’s life if I have a second left over.

By the way, it’s a public park.  You ever watch the news?  Ever heard about the things that happen to kids whose parents aren’t watching them every freaking second?  Yeah, it sucks that you never get a second to sit down and rest, but having your kid end up as an Amber Alert sucks worse.

I’m not saying you can’t ever check your email, but do it quickly.  You want to relax?  Stay home and lock your doors.  If you’re in an open area full of strangers, you’re on duty.  Look alive.

7.  Down the slide has the right-of-way.

Sure, going up the slide is fun.  It’s rebellious.  It’s a challenge.  If I see your kid going up a slide, I’m probably gonna think he’s pretty cool.  But if some other kid decides he wants to come down that slide, your kid better move his ass, fast.  In the war of up versus down, gravity wins, every time.

Oh, and those covered twisty slides are one-way only.  If your kid dares to climb up one and mine flies down like a torpedo, careening around a bend completely unexpectedly and laying your kid out on the asphalt, so be it.

8.  You are the policeman for your child.  I am the bodyguard for mine.

I’ve written about this topic before.  If your kid is being a menace, it’s time to take him or her home.  Yeah, I know, you packed a picnic and planned to stay for two hours.  Well, too bad.  If he can’t stop punching or pushing or pulling hair, he’s not welcome here anymore.  Teach him a lesson — or not, just get your lunatic away from my kid, pronto.

You don’t have to be embarrassed.  Even the best behaved kids can go nutso sometimes.  Maybe they’re tired or pumped up on sugar or trying to get somebody’s attention.  We’ve all been there.  It’s only if you ignore the situation that the rest of us will think you’re a terrible parent.

“But wait!” you say.  “My other kid is playing nicely!  It’s not fair to punish them both!”  Well, why not find another way to reward the good kid?  “We need to go home now, guys.  Everyone who doesn’t have another kid’s flesh wedged under his fingernails gets ice cream.  Sorry, Johnny!”

If you’re going to keep your psycho at the park, you’d better be all up in his business from now on.  My kid’s blood is on your hands.

Yes, per Rule #6, you don’t have to protect other people’s kids from falling off a slide or getting carried off by a predatory hawk, but you do have to protect them from your own kid.

9.  Unless somebody’s crying or bleeding, it’s not a fight.

Knowing when to step in is only half of it.  You also have to know when not to.  You’ve heard the saying about picking on someone your own size?  Well, that goes for you, too.  When you try to mediate a dispute between kids, you’re not an impartial judge, more like a lawyer for your offspring.  So whenever possible, let them work it out.

So you just saw a kid push a smaller kid out of his way and cut in front of him for the weird flying fish bobble contraption?  Your instinct tells you to jump into the fray and teach everyone right from wrong.  But hey, if the kids are cool with what went down, why rock the boat?

Kids don’t always realize when another kid is being an asshole.  If you step in and tell your kid to stand up for himself, then you’re introducing shame to the situation, or showing him that he needs Mommy or Daddy to solve his problems for him.

Besides, injustices occur on the average playground at the rate of about a ten per second.  You can’t possibly police them all, so wait until there’s a safety issue or a really serious offense, then lay the smack down.

I know, your kid pushed mine, and you’re mortified.  But if my kid’s willing to let it go, then so am I.

Go finish your Angry Birds game.

******

What do you think?  Anything I missed?  Leave me a comment below, or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook to share your thoughts.

World War Pee

If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago for a clean, dry place to sit at my house, I probably would’ve recommended one of my kids’ potty chairs.  Those were pretty much the only places that hadn’t been peed and pooped on.

Mercifully, since I last wrote about my struggle to domesticate my 3-year-olds, Drew and I have made a bit of progress.  And yes, the credit goes to us, the grownups, because we’re the only ones here who seem the least bit disturbed that, thanks to what we generously term “accidents”, our entire house has basically become one giant toilet.  My current plan is, when this is all over, we blow the place up and start over — you know, kind of like in that Little House on the Prairie TV movie, the one where they blow the town up and start over.

We really didn’t have a choice but to end our cease-fire with the kids and kick the training back into high gear.  It turns out their preschool teacher wasn’t joking about wanting her students to be underpant-ready.  We’re not even allowed to send them to school in diapers.  The teacher will clean up accidents and put the kids in clean clothes — as long as they happen in underpants.  If your kid’s in diapers, he’s on his own.

When I heard this, it sounded to me like someone else was offering to train the kids for us.  Awesome.  When Drew heard it, he thought we’d failed as parents.

The first day I picked the kids up, the teacher told me that they hadn’t had any accidents.  They both obediently sat on the tiny toilets when the teacher asked them to.  Bennett even peed.  It was hard not to feel like we were being snookered.  Why wouldn’t they do that for us?

I was almost relieved on Day 2, when Sutton had what the teacher called “a tiny accident”.  I just wanted this professional educator to feel my pain.

Like a lot of people have suggested, seeing the other kids use the bathroom really inspired them.  No one ever talks about the bright side of peer pressure.  When the subject comes up, it’s always about jumping off bridges.  Well, from now on, peer pressure, we cool.

School was helping, sure, but the kids are only there for three hours at a time, three days a week.  The rest of their lives, I’m the one cleaning up after them.  Whatever the teacher and the other kids were doing to my children, it was my job to keep it up when they were with me.

I wasn’t going to settle for a quick-fix solution, and I sure as hell wasn’t going back to that insane 3-day method from the internet.  Instead, I decided to do something even crazier: trust my instincts.

There would be no more running through the house to get a kid in mid-pee to the bathroom.  I was tired of cleaning up messes that stretched down the entire hallway.  Instead, if someone had an accident, I would instruct them to stay totally still, so their mess would collect in one giant, easy-to-clean puddle.

Is it a bit awkward for them to stand still in their own urine while Daddy then runs and gets them a pair of clean underpants?  You know what?  That’s not my problem.

I was also done with that “Don’t pressure them, they’ll go when they’re ready” nonsense.  If you haven’t peed in two hours, I’m sitting your butt on the potty until you’ve got something to flush down the toilet.  If you’re dancing around trying to hold your bladder, I’m not waiting for it to explode while you insist over and over that you don’t have to go.  I know a ticking time bomb when I see one.  Onto the potty with you!

I also decided that I was tired of staying home all the time.  Sure, I’m still nervous my kids will have accidents in public, but why should I be punished when I know perfectly well how to use a bathroom like any higher primate should?  And why should my kid be locked up for an accident that hasn’t yet occurred?  What is this?  Minority Report?

Screw it.  When we want to go out, we go out.  I don’t sit them on potties in restaurants like that nutjob we’ve all read about.  Instead, I try to take them to places where it’s OK to let a few pints of urine drip down your leg, should it come to that.  Public parks, for example, and… um, well, maybe just public parks.

I even bought some portable potties for my minivan — a blue one and a pink one, of course.  We folded down the third row of car seats and basically turned the trunk space into an outhouse.  It was a welcome safety net, although one that encouraged the kids to pee in my car.  Great, another behavior I can look forward to correcting someday.

We’re on week three of World War Pee, and while there hasn’t been an official surrender yet, the opposition forces are definitely weakening.  They rarely complain about going to the bathroom anymore.  Sometimes they’ll refuse to go, but that’s usually because they don’t actually have to go.  When they do have full bladders, they’ll sit down and get it over with, and then I’ll knock the roof off our house with my over-the-top pride squeals.

Winning.

Sadly, though, even a victory in World War Pee will only mean an end to conflict #1.  There’s still #2 to deal with.

That’s right.  Even as they get more comfortable with peeing, they still refuse to do #2 in the potty.  They’ll just hold it in for hours, until they finally explode in their underpants and all over the floor.

For now, we let them put on a diaper just on those occasions.  It’s better than cleaning up that kind of mess or letting my kids’ colons swell up like overstuffed sausages.

We’re going to wait until the peeing thing is under control before tackling the next phase.  Then, an even bigger battle looms:

World War Poo.

*******

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Oh, and those adorable cartoons are from Leslie Patricelli’s book Potty, which is the Infinite Jest of toilet training books.  Five stars.

mommydearest

A Gay Dad Wonders… Do My Kids Deserve a Mom?

I almost wrote this post a few months ago when Bristol Palin said something annoying about gay parents.  Now, it’s Rupert Everett who said something annoying about gay parents.  Forgive me, but I’m having a harder time lately getting annoyed.

It’s the same argument every time: hey, moms are great.  Kids should have one.  (Ditto for dads, but I’m covered there — my kids have two!  Whew!)

OK, you win.  Moms are great.  I agree.  I have a mom.  My mom has a mom.  Abraham Lincoln had a mom.  (Turns out she died when he was 9.  Think how much more awesome he would’ve been if she’d lived a little longer.)

So sure, if you have a mom or two, count yourself lucky.  But don’t look down on my family just because we’re different.  You think my kids are better off with some smack-talking piece of trash like Bristol Palin than with me and my partner?  Or do you want to take her kid away, too, because she’s a single mom and a worthless idiot?  Either way, you’re wrong.  (See that, Bristol?  I’ve got your back.)

A model family

It’s almost too easy to make the counter-arguments to the people who insist that all kids should have exactly one mom and one dad.  Yes, there are those studies that say that kids raised with gay parents aren’t any more likely to knock over a liquor store someday than any other kids.  But all that science overlooks an even bigger argument — namely, what if your mom’s an asshole?

Ever heard of alcoholics?  Child abusers?  Dina Lohan?  Ever seen a little film called Mommy Dearest?  Trust me, plenty of gays have seen it, so it’s no wonder we think we can do the job better.

Come to think of it, I should take it easier on Bristol.  Her mom kind of sucks, too.

Lots of mothers are just plain horrible, and if you’re stuck with one of those train wrecks, you have my sympathies — and an open invitation to come hang out at our place sometime.  You’ll love it.  We don’t have any female role models, but we do have all three major video game consoles and a trampoline.  Sweet, huh?

Again, I’m not trying to badmouth moms, most of whom are loving, nurturing, patient, incredibly generous people.  I just think the anti-gay parents brigade are missing the point.  Since when do we expect every single family to fit some ideal of How Children Must Be Raised, and why is that ideal so often limited to gender roles?

Couldn’t you say kids are better off in smaller families, where they can get more attention from their one mom and one dad?  That they’re better off in affluence than in poverty?  With access to health care than without?  With a good education than in an underfunded public school?  With jetpacks and laser guns and a computer chip implanted in their head that helps them do long division?

You can’t just hold up some hypothetical ideal and tell everyone who can’t provide it that they shouldn’t be having kids at all.  Who would be left?  And what if someone in one of those ideal families dies or gets laid off or moves to Cancun with their secretary?  Families face all kinds of circumstances, positive and negative, and they persevere because they don’t have a choice.  That’s why we need families in the first place — to get through all the garbage life flings at us.

Besides, just having one mom and one dad is no guarantee that all the gender-related territory is covered.  Even with straight couples, some dads are girly and some moms are manly.  Just because a kid has a mom and a dad, it doesn’t mean he’s baking cookies with her and driving monster trucks with him.  It could be the reverse, or neither.  Tell me, Prince Charming from Shrek, how much micromanaging of familial gender roles is necessary to protect children?

Deep down, those of us in the trenches know the truth: families aren’t made by a mold.  They’re made by people who love each other, and they come in all different forms, some of which seem weird to outsiders.  Ours has no mom.  Maybe yours lives in a Winnebago or has a reality show on E!  Nobody’s perfect.  But even though we can’t all give our kids everything we’d like them to have, we do our best.

Before we had kids, my partner and I thought a lot about what they would be missing out on with no mommy.  I was satisfied we could still provide them a good home, but I realized I could never satisfy the people who don’t think two dads should be raising a family.  You think my kids deserve a mom?  Fine, maybe you’re right, but they’re not getting one.  I’m just not capable of loving a woman the way I love my partner, so if we’re going to do this, it’s him and me.

And like it or not, we’re doing it.  We have twin 3-year-olds who rely on their two dads to feed them, tickle them, wipe their butts and protect them from monsters — plus a few million other things we do because we love them to an unfathomable, sometimes ridiculous degree.

I know a hypothetical mom might add certain wonderful things to their lives.  I think about that constantly, because like all good parents, I want my kids to have it all.  I worry what’s going to happen when my daughter hits puberty and my partner and I have to Google menstruation to talk her though it.  It breaks my heart when I pick them up from school and overhear the teacher telling the class, “OK, let’s see if your mommies are here to get you!”  At three years old, they already know our family is different.  Someday, they’re bound to hear the hurtful things that Bristol Palin and Rupert Everett and so many other people say about us, and that bums me out big time.

But that’s the world my partner and I chose to bring kids into, and ours is the family we knew they would have.  And you know what?  I still think we made the right choice.  Our family may be a bit different than most, but our kids know that they’re loved and that their two daddies will always be there for them, possibly with a female friend along if we’re buying a training bra or something.

The good news is that, other than the rantings of a few homophobic celebrities (including at least one self-loathing gay man), gay families are getting some pretty good PR these days.  We have sitcoms like The New Normal and Modern Family that make us look (mostly) good, celebrity ambassadors like Ricky Martin, Elton John and Neil Patrick Harris, even the support of the President.  It’s not always going to be such smooth sailing, though.

Someday, maybe even soon, there’ll be a major news story about some horrible gay parents who kept their kids locked in a subterranean torture prison or made them work at an iPad factory or something horrific like that.  You know it’ll happen, because every sexual orientation, not to mention every gender, race, religion, ethnicity, disability status, blood type, Edward-or-Jacob affiliation and grouping of any kind has its share of douchebags.  And when the media circus springs up around Doug and Bob and the half dozen foster kids they used as drug mules, the Bristol Palins and Rupert Everetts will point at them and say, “See?  See???”  Kind of like what global warming deniers might say on a cool day in August.

You know what?  Doug and Bob are jerks.  But if you think that says anything about me and my partner, then so are you.

So I don’t have time to be outraged every time someone in the public eye says something negative about gay families.  It’s going to happen again… and again, and again.  Ultimately, though, it’s not what a few people say but what the rest of us do just by living our lives that speaks the loudest.

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10 Things I’ve Said Over and Over While Potty Training…

… and the approximate number of times I’ve said them in the last 3 days (in descending order).

“You’re such big kids.  You can do this!” (1,400 times)

“Remember, tell me if you have to pee or poop, and we’ll run to the bathroom, OK?” (850 times)

“What are you going to say if you have to pee?  ‘Daddy, let’s go!’  Yeah!” (700 times)

“Every time you pee or poop in the potty, you get a balloon!” (550 times)

“I’m proud of you, just for trying!” (490 times)

“Let’s check underpants!  Still dry?  Yeah, I’m so proud!” (320 times)

“Who wants more juice?” (300 times)

“Guys, please stop walking in the pee!” (250 times)

“It’s OK.  Everyone has accidents.  I’ll be right back with the Windex and the paper towels.” (32 times)

“Yes, you get a balloon!  Hooray!” (2 times)

I Know Nothing About… Tantrums

How could you say no to this face?

I got a surprising amount of sassback on my meltdown post.  Sure, most of my commenters related to the complete irrationality of my kids’ tantrums, but some took it as an occasion to attack my parenting skills.  What interested me most is that I got it from both sides — those who think I’m too hard on my kids — “Sheesh give some freedom dad” — and those who argue I’m too lenient — “You’re the adult, ACT LIKE IT. Sheesh.”

Well, at least they agreed that I deserve to be sheeshed.  It’s a starting point.

OK, fair enough.  Proclaiming myself a “Superdad” certainly invites people to test my invincibility.  But hey, even Superman has kryptonite.  Mine happens to be tantrums.  And potty training.  And getting my kids to eat vegetables.  (And about a thousand other things, but I’ll save those for other posts.)

You think I’m in over my head when it comes to tantrums?  Well, you’re right.  I know nothing about them.  Nothing at all.

Except for the following…

A tantrumming child is not necessarily a sign of a bad parent.  I admit that before I had toddlers of my own, I’d sometimes see a kid melting down in public and think, “Why can’t those parents control him?”  I know better now.

Still, those judgmental jerks are out there, and if your kid throws a tantrum at the pumpkin patch or at IHOP, you can expect them to make themselves known.  The nicer ones just shoot you judging looks.  The real assholes think it’s their job to teach you what you’re doing wrong.

Their technique is always the same.  They bypass you, the parent, and crouch down in front of the kid.  Head tilted to one side, they crank the empathy up to a thousand and pout, “Oh no, little guy!  Why are you sad?”

Oh right!  Why didn’t I think to ask my kid why he was sad?  Thanks, Dr. Spock!

Bad news, genius.  Chances are my 2-year-old isn’t going to calmly explain to you that he thinks he should be able to stay in the pool all day even though he’s shivering, he’s hiccupping from all the water he swallowed and we’re running late to pick his other Daddy up at the train station.  The whole reason we’re in this mess is that his little mind isn’t capable of rationalizing any of that yet.  All he knows is: “Pool fun.  Daddy took me out of pool.”

I’d tell you that myself, but you didn’t ask me, jackass.  Go ahead, try your way, though, because you know what always helps kids relax?  Having to talk to complete strangers.  Yeah, that’s like a trip to the spa for them, totally clears their minds.

If my kid does stop crying for a second, it’s because he’s so terrified of this crazy lady who’s all up in his grill that he’s forgotten why he was upset.  So now the crazy lady thinks she’s the Tantrum Whisperer, and I’m the worst parent in the world.

Two seconds after she walks away, the tantrum starts up again, and now we’re a minute later to pick Daddy up.

But thanks, stranger, because clearly, you know what you’re doing.

Tantrums strike without warning.  One second, my kid is skipping merrily along, quoting Muppet one-liners and telling me, totally unprompted, how much they love me.  The next, they’re willing to stake our entire relationship on whether or not I’ll give them a packet of Dora fruit snacks, like, immediately.

Most of the time, I don’t know the tantrum is coming until after it’s begun.  So I’ll make a decision along the lines of, “No, sorry, I don’t feel like listening to that Katy Perry song for the 10,000th time today,” thinking that’ll be the end of the debate.  Instead, my kid melts down for half an hour.  If I’d known that would be the outcome, I would’ve just said yes and suffered through “Part of Me” yet again, but because I said no, I’m forced to defend my decision.  Once the tantrum has started, I don’t want to give in, or I risk giving the kid the message that acting like a lunatic gets you what you want.

And sometimes it does, because dammit, it’s just a Katy Perry song, and if this kid doesn’t stop screaming, I’m going to drive the car into a tree.

There is no single cause of tantrums.  Tired kids tantrum more often, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean the solution is to put them to bed.  Sometimes, the kid is bored, they’re testing their boundaries or they’re struggling to express something their little brains just can’t process.  Very often, though, they just really, really want more M&Ms.

There is no single way to defuse tantrums. 

I yearn for the days when distraction was a foolproof antidote to the common tantrum.  If my kid wanted to play with, say, a steak knife, the argument would go something like this:

“I want the knife!”

“No, the knife is dangerous.  You can’t have it.”

“I want the knife!  I want the knife!  I want the knife!”

“How about this train instead?”

“Ooh, a train!”

As they’ve gotten older, the “How ’bout a train?” technique has been working less and less.

Sometimes ignoring them for a while helps.  Other times, what they need is to be cradled and soothed.  Sometimes, nothing works – even giving in.

The kid just might need to throw a fit, and if you give him what he wants, he’ll find something else to complain about, or he’ll complain about the way you gave in.

One time, Bennett wanted me to play a song on our car ride home.  I said, “I can’t search my iPod for your song out right now, because I’m driving, and it’s not safe.”  As soon as we got home, I offered to play him the song, but that apparently wasn’t good enough.  “No!” he screamed.  “I want to hear it IN THE CAR!”

Tantrums are like viruses. Find a way to fight them and they mutate into something even more inscrutable.  You can lessen the symptoms, but you’ll never cure them.

There are no winners in a tantrum.  Sometimes, I give in to my kids, but do they smirk and gloat over their victory?  No, they’re usually too exhausted and frustrated for that, and they still need a hug.

Sometimes, my kids calm down on their own, but that doesn’t make me feel like some kind of champion.  It’s hard to watch a kid struggle through a tantrum, and it can be devastating to have someone you love so much scream in your ear for what seems like hours before they finally give up.  No matter how the tantrum shakes out, I won’t be popping champagne for my parenting skills at the end.

If you are keeping score with tantrums, I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong.  This isn’t a battle of you vs. them.  It’s you and the kid together, versus bedlam.  You’re helping them through their tantrum, teaching them to deal with emotions they’re not quite equipped to process and showing them where the boundaries are.

Tantrums aren’t competitions, they’re (ugh, overused phrase alert) teachable moments.

Like I said, I know nothing about tantrums, but I have to believe my kids are learning something from them, that each episode brings them closer to an understanding of the world and why I set the limits that I do.  Over time, they’ll learn that there are good reasons why Daddy says no, and they’ll discover more productive ways to petition for the things they want.  If I do my best to help them through this phase, then eventually, they’ll outgrow it and become the mature, rational, productive little citizens I want them to be.

Right?  Right????