Hey 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.
It’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.
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.
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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“Am I funny?”
“No. You’re serious.”
“Are you funny?”
“Is Bennett funny?”
“So I’m the only serious one?”
“What about your teacher?”
“Oh, good. So it’s not just me.”
“But sometimes she’s funny.”
“Am I funny sometimes?”
“Who else is funny?”
“Um… the cup.”
“The cup is funnier than me?!”
“Can I play with the iPad now?”
We did a little bit of bargaining in the wake of my daughter’s fish’s death – if that’s what you’d call it when we offered to get her a new fish, and five seconds later she was thinking up names for it. Other than that, my kids skipped right over denial, anger and depression and went straight to acceptance.
This morning, we brought home Sutton’s new fish, Matilda, named after her favorite book, musical and second-favorite movie (behind James and the Giant Peach). Before we’d even transferred Matilda into her permanent tank, Sutton was thinking up names for the next fish she’d get after Matilda died. (The current front-runner for the next fish’s name: Sutton). Then, Bennett started thinking up names for the fish he’d get after his current fish, Sulley, died. (Current front-runner: Bennett).
Drew and I tried to keep the conversation about fish, but it didn’t take long before the kids made the connection that people die, too.
“Someday, I’m going to die,” Bennett announced. He sounded almost happy about it, like he was just pleased to be included in something that had been such a big topic of conversation for us. Little did he know he was uttering my worst fear out loud.
“Not for a long time,” we assured him. “A long, long, long, long, long, long, long [I actually think we're still saying 'long'] time.”
Sutton took it a step further. “Someday, Roald Dahl is going to die,” she said.
“He already did, actually. Quite a few years ago.”
“Oh. Well, I think he left some stories for after he died.”
“Yeah, that’s the nice thing about when people die. They always leave behind wonderful things for us, whether it’s their books or the memories they gave to all the people who loved them.”
There’s something both wonderful and incredibly disturbing about seeing my kids so at peace with death. I know they don’t fully understand what they’re talking about, and that’s part of what makes me so uncomfortable. I’m torn between changing the subject and shaking them violently and screaming, “Death is everywhere, and it’s permanent and horrible and it’s coming for all of us and sometimes, it’s all I think about! Fear death! Fear death!”
But I calm myself down, acknowledge what they say and try to move on, because they’re still processing what happened, and for now at least, I’m the one who has a problem with it, not them. It’s probably the right course to take, but it does require me and Drew to have our guts ripped out over and over from the things they come up with. Like this gem, from Bennett, which I typed down verbatim after he said it:
“The day before I die, I’m going to say goodbye to you guys and I’m going to do a happy dance and then I’m going to die and you’re going to drive me to the cemetery.”
I hear things like that coming from my 4-year-old’s mouth and wonder how I can go on. Then I realize what beautiful and amazing kids I have, and I picture my son doing his happy dance, and once again, I’ve forgotten about death and I’m thinking about life instead.
In this case, it was our cleaning lady, and she had some bad news.
“Jerry, Sutton’s fish is dead,” she told me, sadly. We’d left a 7-day gradual-release food pellet in his tank to cover our absence, but either something had gone wrong with it or it was just his time to go. She graciously offered to run out to the pet store and buy a replacement for us. Drew and I talked it over, then decided we’d handle the arrangements when we got home.
Thanks to some advice I got on Facebook, we decided to be honest with the kids. We also decided to wait until vacation was over.
We managed to put it out of our minds for the rest of the week, unsure how our sensitive, loving little girl would handle her first direct experience with death. Tonight, as we pulled into our driveway, I started to feel sick. It was time to face it.
I can’t claim that my fear of death is more intense than anyone else’s. You all think about it pretty much every single second, right? Right?? I’ve written before how worried I am about my kids finding out about it. Death is one thing I can’t protect them from. I’m not a religious person, so I don’t plan to tell them about Heaven or Nirvana or the idea that hey, things are actually even better when you die!
Death happens. It sucks. Everything else is a mystery.
It’s taken me 42 years to achieve that much acceptance of death, and I’m still terrified of it, of all the ways it could strike me, my family or anyone else I love, at any freaking time.
Bennett named his fish Sulley, after the character from Monsters, Inc. Sutton called hers Dolos, because… well, who the hell knows. After her phase of naming all her dolls Sutton, she’d moved onto a stage where she made up the most batshit names her little mind could concoct.
I don’t know why so many of them sounded Spanish. I’m sure I’ll find out someday that these are all the names of Dora’s woodland friends or something. Until then, I’m going to keep believing she’s some kind of twisted genius.
We didn’t wait long after we got home before we took her in the room and showed her the fishtank. I really think this was the right thing to do. It was pretty obvious from looking at Dolos’ belly-up body that he’d changed, that he was gone.
“Dolos died, Honey,” we explained.
She started to tear up. Through sniffles, she asked, “Can I still feed him tonight?”
“No. He doesn’t need to eat any more.”
“Do you want to go to the pet store tomorrow, so we can replace him?” Drew asked.
She smiled, instantly happy again. “Yes!” Then, she calmed down and asked, “What does replace mean?”
Bennett got choked up, too. We all moved into the bathroom, where we reenacted the Cosby Show fish funeral scene as well as I could remember it.
“Do you know what a funeral is?” I asked the kids. “When someone dies, we gather to remember them and talk about how much we love them.” I suggested we all say something we loved about Dolos. “I’ll go first. I loved how colorful he was.”
Sutton hung her head. “I loved watching him swim.”
A minute later, we flushed him. I’m not sure anyone was as emotional as I was, because I couldn’t focus much on them. I was too busy thinking of all the other funerals I’d been to, of everyone I’d cared about who’d died and of all the funerals my kids would go to in their lives. Of mine, someday, who knows when.
I gathered the kids for one more memorial. They’ve been really fond of the movie version of “James and the Giant Peach” lately. We’d watched it in the car on our way home from the trip. They knew all the words to all the songs, and through them, I had come to as well. I realized the movie provided a perfect elegy for our departed pet, so I played the song “Family” on my iPhone, and we all sat silently and listened to it.
“Do you kids want to play with the iPad now?” I asked when the song ended.
“Yeah!” they shouted. And that was the end of our funeral.
At dinner, the topic came up again. “Not all fish die, right, Daddy?” Sutton asked.
“No, they all die eventually.”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “Only some fish die.”
“Sulley is never going to die!” Bennett said.
“No, Sulley will die, too,” I told him. “But we hope it won’t be for a long time. That’s why it’s important to show him how much we love him while he’s here.”
As we tucked Sutton into bed a few hours later, still unsure how much she understood about death, she got sad again for a moment. ”Daddy, do you know who died?” she said. “My fish, Dolos.”
“I know, Honey.”
She thought for a second. “And do you know what’s another word for burp? Belch. Just like you have around your waist.”
“No, Honey, that’s a belt.”
“Good night, sweetheart. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Daddy.”
“Daddy, when I’m an adult, I’m going to grow a baby in my belly.”
“That’s great, Honey, and if that’s what you decide, then yes, you can.”
“How does it get in there?”
“How does what get in there?”
“The baby… how does it get in my belly?”
“How does it get in there, Daddy?”
“Well… um… actually, for Daddy and me… we had a doctor put you in.”
Giant sigh of relief.
My new post at Lifetime Moms was inspired by the last time my kids got sick. It was awful, of course, because it’s always awful when kids are sick. But it wasn’t nearly as awful as it was supposed to be, because their medicine came in delicious candy flavors. (I guess someone at the drug companies finally took Mary Poppins to heart.)
It was a relief to me as a parent, because who wants to deal with giving their kids medicine? But as a former kid, I was kind of pissed off. Lucky little squirts don’t know how good they have it! So I came up with a few other ways my kids are living the sweet life, at the risk of being labeled a grumpy old man. Check the Lifetime Moms site to read the whole thing.
And as always, if you have any of your own to add, leave me a comment over there.
Also, I’ve started a second twitter account, @MommyManBlog. In theory, it’s going to be the place where I post anything specific to the blog, so it’ll be lighter on my personal “jokes” and observations. (I’ll still link my blog posts on both accounts, though. I’m no slacker when it comes to self-promotion.)
If you want to choose one to follow, stick with @WhyJerryWhy. That won’t be changing. The big difference is that I’m going to follow all the @MommyManBlog followers back. I’ve seen enough of these “I follow back!” people to wonder if I’m the douchebag who’s been twittering wrong all this time, because I’ve tried to keep my feed to a level I can actually keep up with.
So now I have one feed I’ll actually keep up with and one where I just follow whoever is nice enough to give me a follow. Hey, I get it. I like getting that “new follower” email notification, too.
I started writing a whole blog post about my impressions of Twitter etiquette, but I decided to scrap it, because trust me, that one really made me sound like a grumpy old man.
I had originally planned to call this post, “Shameless Boasts of a Superdad: My Kids Are Freaking Geniuses,” because any parent knows that their #1 responsibility in raising their children is to brag about them, even when privately the kids are driving them close to a nervous breakdown. Not my kids, of course. Other people’s. So I’ve heard.
My kids really are geniuses, and I was going to lay out all the evidence in this post so you could decide for yourself if I had a couple of Stephen Hawkings on my hands or merely Einsteins. I was going to lead the whole thing off with this picture:
That’s Bennett completing a puzzle of the solar system, for the first time, by himself, without looking at the box. Um, yeah. And he was 3 years, 4 months old when this was taken. Did I mention he had no idea what the solar system even was? (He does now. He’s learned a lot in the last 4 months.)
As I started composing the post in my head, though, I had an “Uh-oh” moment. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “Some people might see this a little differently.”
See, a few months ago, I put up a post that showed Bennett doing one of his favorite activities, lining up whatever objects he has handy and imagining them as trains. I thought it showed a pretty creative mind, or at the very least, a snapshot of a little boy who really liked trains.
Most people did see it that way, but there was a minority that wrote with concern. It turns out a nagging attention to detail and repetitive behavior can be red flags in kids this age.
It wasn’t the first time I’d had those fears myself. Who doesn’t? We all know there’s an epidemic, and early intervention is key, so any half-aware parent is going to take note of their kid’s unusual behavior.
The problem is, everything about my kid is unusual.
When Bennett was a baby, he started doing this thing where he would roll his eyes back in his head. It could’ve been a neurological tic, but I swear it seemed more like a sarcastic eye-roll. His timing with deploying it was impeccable. It really seemed like he was mocking me, which I loved. But he was way too young for that… wasn’t he?
Bennett also has a very mechanical mind. He loves toys that turn when you move a crank. He loves to check out all their moving parts. One day, Drew was running on the treadmill, and Bennett got down on the floor to inspect it. “It goes around!” he said, in a eureka moment. “You’re not moving!” At 3, he understands that a constantly rotating belt is what makes a treadmill work. Personally, if you’d asked me, my first guess would’ve been “magic”.
Bennett also likes to wear his sister’s dresses. He was planning to be Thomas the Train for Halloween, but at the last minute, he changed his mind and went as Sleeping Beauty. He’s told me that when he grows up, he plans to marry a boy. Other times, he says he’s going to marry his sister or one of his daddies. (And yes, it stings when he picks the other daddy over me. “Why, Bennett? Don’t you think I can provide for you?”) On a side note, it’s nice living at a time and in a state where my son can tell me he wants to marry a boy someday, and I can respond with a simple, “Okay!”
Again, some people want to put labels on these behaviors, but he’s 3 years old. Do I think he’s confused about his gender? Probably not. He’s always been very clear in labeling himself a boy. I just think in a family with two dads, you have to work extra hard to be subversive. Maybe he senses our family is different than most, and he wears it as a badge of honor. Plus, dresses are fun to twirl around in.
Bennett’s laugh is the single greatest sound in the world, a high-pitched titter that conveys nothing but pure joy. There’s a smile that goes with it that I won’t even try to describe. You just have to see it, and if you spend five seconds with him, you will. His favorite meal is a grilled cheese sandwich, followed closely by two peanut butter half-sandwiches. His third favorite meal is walking away from the table to play with his trains.
He has a couple of catch phrases. One is, “That can’t be right!” He says it whenever something unexpected happens. While watching Beauty & the Beast, he might say, “A talking candlestick? That can’t be right!” He also says it when he thinks you’re trying to fool him, even if you aren’t. “You mix yellow and blue to make green? That can’t be right!”
His other catch phrase is, “I gotta tell you something.” He says this every single time he begins a conversation, even if he’s not sure what he wants to talk about yet.
“I gotta tell you something.”
Speaking of trains, he knows every single friend Thomas the Tank Engine has. All their smushy faces look exactly the same to me, but one quick glance is all he needs to say, “That’s Gordon” or “That’s Skarloey”. He can play trains quietly by himself for half an hour. That may not sound like long, but at this age, it’s an ETERNITY. He can get 7 different engines going at once on the same track. He spaces them out perfectly so they won’t crash into each other. When we got him a kiddie mp3 player, he wanted us to load it up with nothing but Thomas the Tank Engine songs. (There are more than you’d imagine, and some of them aren’t half bad.)
He’s a better athlete than I ever was. A better dancer, too. He loves to invent games with names like “Run With a Balloon” or “Run Around the Trampoline,” or my favorite, which is simply called “Run!”
He’s off-the-charts skinny, literally below the first percentile in weight. He’s the only kid I’ve ever known who’ll stop eating dessert when he feels he’s had enough. Seriously, the kid can take two nibbles of an Oreo, shrug and say, “I’m done” and then just walk away. (That’s when his sister and I rush in and fight over the part he left behind.)
One of his favorite pastimes is to walk around with his eyes closed. At first we warned him he was going to get hurt, but then we realized stumbling into things was part of the fun for him. Maybe he just likes experimenting, seeing the world in a different way. He has gotten hurt, of course, but right after that, he’ll close his eyes and stumble into something else.
There are a million things about this kid that some people might see as odd, but whenever that voice in my head says, “Something’s wrong,” it gets shouted down by an even louder voice that tells me, “He’s perfect.” Not one of those million unique things about my kid is bad. So he’s good at math? Great. He has a silly sense of humor? Awesome. He likes machines? Swell.
What matters more to me than anything is that Bennett is the happiest kid I’ve ever known. One of the things he says the most is, “This is the best ____ ever!” You can insert virtually any word into that blank. “day,” “episode of ‘Dora’,” “peanut butter sandwich.” I’ve heard them all.
Quirkiness is a gift. So many people struggle to develop it in their teens and 20s, and my kid was lucky enough to born with it, in spades. Maybe it was growing up gay that made me realize not every idiosyncrasy is a problem to be solved. As a teenager, I always felt the need to hide from who I was. It took me half a lifetime to accept that there was nothing wrong with me. When it comes to my kids, I want to teach them that from the very start.
Sometimes, things Bennett does stand out to me, or to other people. But I’m not concerned. If there’s a technical term for whatever’s made him the way it is, it still won’t bother me, because what he is, is perfect.
My son is special, and I wouldn’t change a thing about him.
“I was so brave.”
“That girl did not share, and I told her, ‘YOU’RE NOT PLAYING NICE!’”
“I forgive Legoland.”
* two weeks ago, these were TERRIFYING