What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?

futureoccupations

Just about the most horrible thing you can ask a kid, other than “Do you want to watch Barney?”, is “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My kids are 3 years old. You really expect them to have their lives mapped out already? If you ask my kids what they want to do later that afternoon, they’ll say, “Eat cookies.” That’s how much thought they’ve given to the future. But you want them to imagine a day when they’re paying into social security? Geez, let them be kids for five seconds. If you’re going to start pressuring them about their future, why not give them a sample SAT test while you’re at it?

How many jobs do you think my kids can even name? Around now, I’d guess 3: stay-home dad, TV executive and exploradora.

So I was a little disappointed when I found out their teacher asked them just that question. C’mon, I had a hard enough time picking a major in college. Can’t they just spend pre-pre-Kindergarten making snowflakes with construction paper and safety scissors?

OK, fine, the damage was already done, so I asked what they said.

“I want to be a train conductor!” Bennett announced.

“And I want to be a princess!” Sutton cheered.

It was worse than I’d feared. My kids were cliché.

I was going to discuss it further, but I wasn’t sure what to say. I mean “a princess”? Am I supposed to take that seriously? Should I have scolded her? “Would you really think about this? This is your life we’re talking about!” Better yet, am I allowed to hold this against them someday? “Hey, you said you wanted to be a train conductor. I’m not paying for law school!”

We were in the middle of getting some renovations done on our bathroom, and when we got home, there was a contractor in our front yard mixing cement.

“Hey, can you show the kids what you’re doing?” I asked. “It looks cool!” Princess, my ass, I thought. I’m going to show you kids what a job is.

I already knew the contractor loved the kids, so I figured he’d be on board. “Grab a shovel!” he told them. “You can help!”

cementSo my kids learned to mix cement, and from the way they talked about it afterward, it was probably the most thrilling thing they’d ever done. (Good thing the contractor didn’t make them stick around and watch it dry.)

I admit, I felt good about myself. Instead of asking my kids to narrow down their options for the future, I was expanding their concept of what was possible, introducing them to something new.

It’s how I feel about most things my kids do. If my son wants to wear a dress, great. Let him know how it feels to wear one. He has plenty of time to figure out his identity, so I’m not going to try to pin him down. I’ll just consider it a non-issue and appreciate his desire to explore. I make sure he knows that I’ll love him no matter what. It’s his job to figure out the “what”.

We told Drew all of this as soon as he got home that night. How they picked out their future professions in school and how, afterward, they learned a new trade. While Drew was wrangling them for bathtime, my cell phone rang. Private number. I wouldn’t usually pick up, but for whatever reason, I did.

“Hello Gerald? It’s Doctor ____. We just got the results of your blood test, and I have some bad news.”

Yeah, it was one of those calls.

“OK.”

“You have an extremely elevated potassium level. Because it is life-threatening, you need to get retested right away to see if we got an accurate reading.”

“Um…”

“Our urgent care facility closes at 9pm, so if you can’t make it there by then, you’ll have to go to the emergency room. I’d really recommend you go to urgent care.”

“I’ll go to urgent care.”

I don’t know how much of the call Drew overheard amid all the kids’ shouting and running around, but apparently, the word “life-threatening” had gotten through. I could tell that much from his petrified expression.

“Do you want us all to come with you?” he asked. His face had completely drained of color.

“No. It’s almost the kids’ bedtime.”

“But…”

It was only when I saw how Drew was looking at me that the term “life-threatening” really sunk in. It was as if he thought he might never see me again.

I hugged the kids and told them I loved them. What more could I do? Whisper “Goodbye forever!” just in case?

“Will you be back when we go to bed?” Bennett asked.

“Probably not,” I replied. “But I’ll be here when you wake up tomorrow.” (I hope.)

bananasI don’t know how I made it through the 15-minute drive to the doctor’s office. I kept thinking if the potassium didn’t give me a heart attack, my anxiety about the potassium surely would. How did I get so much potassium in my blood anyway? Fucking bananas!

The urgent care center was closing down as I walked in. The gift shop was dark and gated up already. Janitors mopped the entranceway, and there were no more patients in the waiting room. I walked up to one of the two receptionists, and she gave me a form to fill out.

Under “Reason for visit”, I wrote, “Blood test”. When I handed it over, she shook her head. “Oh, sorry, honey. The lab is closed.”

She passed the form back to me. “Hold on,” the other receptionist said. “You Mahoney? Oh, yeah. Dr. ____ called about you!” She grabbed the form and nodded. “Have a seat.”

This was not comforting. If there’s anywhere you don’t want to feel like a VIP, it’s at an urgent care facility.

The receptionist picked up her phone. “He’s here!” she barked.

A few seconds later, a nurse rushed out. “Mr. Mahoney?” I couldn’t tell if the nurse was rushing because she was worried about my potassium or if she was just anxious to go home for the night. She brought me back to an exam room. Along the way, everyone we passed looked up at me, as if wondering, “Is that him?” I almost expected one of them to call out, “Dead man walking!”

Within about half a second, the nurse had taken a new vial of blood and strapped me in for an EKG. “Are you a little nervous?” she asked.

“No. I’m a lot nervous.”

“There are a lot of false positives on this test. That’s why we retake it.” She finished the EKG, ran a printout to the doctor and then pointed me back toward the waiting room. “We’ll have the results in about 15 minutes.”

15 minutes is not a long time, unless of course you’re waiting for blood test results or, worse, sitting through 15 minutes of a Terrence Malick film. Much like it did during The Thin Red Line, my mind began to wander.

Death… my dad died when he was 61… I would be 41… I was 28 when my dad died… my kids would be 3 when I died… I have a lot of wonderful memories of my dad… My kids would probably forget what I looked like… Am I really going to die tonight? Here? Should I tweet something?

I used to think about death a lot when I was a teenager. It was just kind of a rite of passage as a gay kid, I guess. Depression, alienation, death. Too much Smiths music. But there was one thing that always brought me back, that gave me hope, and that was thinking about the following summer movie season. Stop thinking about death, Jerry. It’s a great time to be alive. There’s a new Back to the Future coming out!

I didn’t understand how people could commit suicide, and it had nothing to do with all the hurt loved ones they’d leave behind. Weren’t they curious as to what Spielberg was cooking up for next Memorial Day weekend?

Sitting in that deserted urgent care waiting room, there wasn’t a single movie I wanted to see or place I wanted to visit or experience I wanted to have in my life. My bucket list was complete, except for one thing. It was the only thing I could think about.

I just wanted to watch my kids grow up.

They’re such amazing people at 3 1/2, but who will they be at 18? Or 30? A train conductor and a princess? Right now, that was the best information I had. Something told me it might not stick.

I realized in that moment that all I’ve seen of my kids so far is a coming attraction — a teaser, really — and the old kind. The kind that doesn’t give away all the good stuff. I need to see how their story turns out. I don’t want to die. I can’t die.

I want to watch my kids grow up.

“Mr. Mahoney,” the nurse said. “Come on back.” She was smiling. So either the test results were good, or she was just happy that after this, she could punch out of her shift.

“We have about 2 or 3 of these false positives a year,” the doctor explained. “The blood starts to clot before they get the reading and hemoglobin antigens capillary stat…”. I’m not going to try to recap the medical explanation for why they scared the crap out of me for no reason. All I heard was that I wasn’t going to die.

toeI know the sitcom version of my brush with death would end with me learning some big life-affirming lesson, like not to take the important things for granted. But honestly, I feel like I already know that. You know Debra Winger’s “I know you love me!” speech from Terms of Endearment? Well, I subject my kids to that every time they get mad at me, just in case I slip on a sock puppet and break my neck against the train table before we get a chance to make up. It could happen.

This wasn’t a wakeup call about my health either. The urgent care center didn’t send me home with a stern warning to eat better or exercise more. Just, “Bye!” It was a lab error. I could’ve stopped for a taco grande and a skillet cookie on my way home, and don’t think I didn’t think about it.

But I realized that, if I went right home, I could actually make it there before the kids went to bed. I could tuck them in, tell them I loved them for — who’s counting? — maybe the 1,012th time that day and, best of all, ask them what they wanted to do tomorrow.

They’d probably say something like, “Eat cookies.” But for now, that’s all the answer I needed.

Ultimate Parenting Smackdown! Why the Anti-Time Out People are Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Supernanny, Jo Frost

I’ll admit that 90% of my parenting philosophy comes from Supernanny, because watching a reality TV show is easier than reading a book or taking a class, and you get to look at cute kids acting like animals, which is always fun. What I love about the show is that Jo Frost, the Supernanny, only has about 3 techniques, which work 100% of the time and turn even the nastiest little monsters into complete angels with only four commercial breaks in between.

Sign me up!

I’ve since learned that everything the Supernanny advocates is a tried-and-true parenting method, like Ferberizing, but she doesn’t use the real terms so it seems like she came up with them herself. Oh, those clever Brits!

One thing Jo does in every single episode is give Time Outs. She puts an adorably British twist on it, sending kids to “the naughty ____” [chair/step/Barcolounger]. But it’s a time out. The kid does a bad thing, you make them sit still for a bit, then you all move on with your lives.

MonopolyIt makes sense. I mean, that’s the world we live in, right? Commit a crime, do the time. Scare them straight. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

That’s what happens to grown-ups, after all. You do a bad thing and we punish you by making you go away for a while. First-degree murder gets you 20 to life. Raiding the cookie jar gets you one minute for every year old you are. Sounds fair to me.

Or so I thought. It turns out there’s a whole anti-Time Out movement that wants me to feel guilty for being so barbaric and heartless.

Well, fine. I’ll do what I do any time someone criticizes my parenting skills. I’ll listen closely to their arguments, ponder them calmly and rationally, then shoot them down one by one.

It’s time to play Ultimate Parenting Smackdown! Hit me with your best shots, anti-Time Out people. I’m ready for you!

ARGUMENT: The child is only acting out because his needs aren’t being met.

Which need are we talking about here? The need to beat the shit out of his sister? (For the record, my kids rarely hit each other, so I must be doing something right.)

Most of the arguments in my house happen when one kid wants the other kid’s toy. I calmly give them a list of options — ask for a turn, find another toy, come up with a way to play together — and once in a while, one of those methods actually works. More often, they just grab the toy and run. That’s when they get a time out.

I think some people confuse needs with wants. Most kids want everything, all the time. Any rational parent is going to push back. What if I got mugged by a junkie? Would you tell me not to call the police? Or would that fail to address the criminal’s need for crack?

You want to talk about needs? Let’s talk about my need for peace and quiet. When my kid’s need to yank the cat keyboard from her brother’s hands infringes on that, then my need trumps hers.

ARGUMENT: You’re treating the symptom, not the underlying cause.

When I have a cold, I take cough medicine. It doesn’t make the cold go away, but it eases my discomfort for a bit, and that’s all I expect it to do.

Putting a kid in a time out may not teach them never to misbehave again, but it keeps them quiet for a few minutes, and sometimes, that’s good enough.

Kids do bad things — always have, always will. It’s natural, it’s healthy. They’re testing their boundaries — and my patience. You have a method that makes a toddler never want to take a toy away from another kid, ever? Great, I’d love to hear it. Until then, I’ll take the 3 minutes of silence as the next best thing.

ARGUMENT: Kids can’t understand consequences until they’re 4 or 5 years old.

Most kids can’t read until they’re 4 or 5 either, so should I not allow my children access to books? Should I not teach them how to spell their name or that “J” says “juh”? Trust me, if I put them in enough time outs, they’ll start to make the correlation way ahead of whenever a psychologist thinks they’re able. And won’t I be proud!

Nobody ever says of a violin prodigy, “Man, their parents must be so cruel, shoving that instrument into their hands at such a young age and forcing them to practice.” You just enjoy the music and the cuteness, right?

Well, I’m creating discipline prodigies, so sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor, world. You’re welcome.

ARGUMENT: Redirecting is a more effective method of curtailing bad behavior.

Some people say that the best way to handle bad behavior is to remove the child from the activity and get them interested in something else. It’s certainly quicker than forcing everyone through the several-minute ordeal (those of you without kids, trust me: every minute feels like an eternity) of a time out.

Really? Ignoring the problem is your solution? Forget “redirecting”. This is avoidance. And since when is that a psychologically healthy way of dealing with a problem?

What’s wrong with telling a kid he did something bad? What message is he going to get if I redirect him instead? “Hey, I saw you hit your sister. Wanna come over here and play with my iPad?”

chair, time out

Misbehave in our house, and you’ll get… The Chair!!!

ARGUMENT: You’re withholding love from your child in order to teach them a lesson.

Damn right I am. They’re screaming their heads off and driving me nuts. What’s the appropriate amount of love to show them at that moment? Once they’ve calmed down and done their time on the chair, I always tell them that I love them and I think they’re good kids, but that [x] behavior was unacceptable.

Don’t worry. My kids get plenty of love from me, and they’re smart enough to realize (or they will be eventually) that it’s love that makes me sentence them to time outs.

I’m not claiming that time outs are perfect or even perfectly effective, but as a parent, I need to do something to keep my kids off the path to hoodlumhood. So until someone comes up with a cure for childhood misbehavior, I’m sticking with them.

******

I always encourage my kids to share, so don’t think you’re off the hook either. If you liked this post, I hope you’ll use those buttons below to post it to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Digg or whatever other service you use. And if you haven’t yet, please show your support for the blog by liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter or subscribing in the little box on the top of the right column of this page. Then, in the future, you can skip these little post-asterisk messages. Okay, time out’s over. You know I love you, right?

9 Incredibly Uncomfortable Yet Absolutely Essential Questions to Ask Potential Surrogates

Cover of "Vacancy"

This is the latest in a series of informational posts I’ve been doing on the gestational surrogacy process. This is for those of you who might be where I was about 5 years ago, weighing the options you have for becoming a parent… or for those who are merely curious about the process. This time, I’m sharing my advice on what questions you need to ask your surrogate before deciding if you’re a good match.

To the rest of you, I apologize. More peepee poopoo jokes next time, I promise.

Meeting with a potential surrogate is like the most awkward first date imaginable. You’re face-to-face with a woman you barely know, and both of you spend most of the time talking about making a baby together. Talk about rushing things.

There are probably a million things you want — and need — to know. I’ve seen some websites that suggest you approach your surrogate with a massive checklist of questions, many of which are not exactly subtle, like:

“Do you smoke?”

“Are you sexually active?”

“What were the results of your last pap smear?”

Sure, those are great things to ask… if you want the surrogate to throw a drink in your face and slap an instant “No Vacancy” sign on her womb.

Remember, this isn’t a job interview. She can reject you, too, and if you treat her like an employee or a menial laborer, she probably should.

Don’t worry, if there are any red flags, they’ll turn up in her medical and psychological exams, and you’ll be made aware of them by a professional, neutral third party.

When you sit down face-to-face with a potential gestational carrier, try to empathize with what she’s going through. After a huge amount of deliberation and soul searching, she’s decided to do something incredibly generous, terrifically inconvenient, and more than a tiny bit risky, for a virtual stranger. She’s nervous to meet that stranger, but also a bit thrilled.

Then you come in and ask about her pap smears.

So what should you discuss in your first meeting? First and foremost, it’s time to take the mystery out of your relationship and just get to know each other. If things go well, you’ll be creating a life together.

That being said, it’s not exactly a first date. You need to check your compatibility on some pretty weighty matters.

If you’re working with an agency, much of this subject matter will be covered by them, but if not, these are the questions you need to ask, in increasing order of unpleasantness.

1. What made you want to be a surrogate?

No one’s going to reply, “I need the money,” and if they do, you should probably run away as fast as you can. Sure, the money is a nice perk, but with all a surrogate goes through, she’s going to earn that cash, and it is a limited sum. No one’s getting rich as a gestational surrogate, so it’s a safe bet she has bigger motives.

Our surrogate heard a report about gestational surrogacy on the radio when she was 19, and it made her cry. She turned to her mother and said, “Someday, I’m going to do that for someone.” Once she’d completed her own family, she googled surrogacy agencies, and that’s how she was eventually paired with us. It was such a sweet story, and it told us so much about who she was as a person.

Raising this basic topic is a great way to get to know your surrogate and to show her that you appreciate the sacrifice she’d be making on your behalf.

2. What were your other pregnancies like?

Again, the medical exam will clue you in to any relevant technical info, so try to keep this as light as possible. How bad did her babies kick? Did she get morning sickness? You may not know very much about the surrogate at this point, but you know she’s been pregnant before (at least in most cases, since most gestational carriers have a proven history of successful pregnancies).

You, on the other hand, in all likelihood have never been and never will be pregnant. Show some curiosity and empathy by asking her to describe exactly what she’d be going through for your benefit. This is also a great way to show you appreciate the sacrifice she’ll be making on your behalf.

And if you find out pregnancy makes her crave pickles and ice cream, file that away. Someday, when she’s carrying your child, you’ll know just what to put in her care package.

3. How do your friends and family feel about you being a surrogate?

Surrogacy is physically and emotionally demanding, and no one can do it alone. Make sure she has a good support system, people who care about her who appreciate what an amazing thing she’s doing. If she’s religious, it’s very helpful if her spiritual leader is on her side as well.

This is especially important for gay intended parents. If your surrogate has a homophobic husband or goes to a gay-unfriendly church, you’re not off to a good start. Someday soon, she might find herself at the Wal-Mart in her tiny town when a woman comes up, points at her belly and says, “Aww, lucky you!” She’ll have to reply, “Oh, he’s not mine. I’m having this baby for George and Steven.” Is she ready for whatever may come next?

Let her know what kind of homophobia you’ve faced and how you’ve persevered. It can be very difficult for a (most likely) straight woman to willingly expose herself to homophobia, but that’s what she’ll be doing by having a baby for a gay couple.

One surrogate my partner and I met with had previously carried a baby for a gay couple, and she hadn’t encountered any resistance, so we knew she’d be fine this time around as well.

4. Are you comfortable with me/us being in doctor’s appointments and the delivery room?

Sorry, guys, when you came out of the closet, you probably thought you were exempt from discussing (and possibly seeing) ladyparts. Not any more. Obviously, let the surrogate know that you’ll respect her privacy as much as possible. But one of the main benefits of having a baby with a surrogate is being able to participate in all the exciting prenatal moments, like finding out the baby’s sex or seeing him or her for the first time on a sonogram monitor.

Most surrogates will fully anticipate and welcome your participation in the process, but raising the issue in a polite and respectful manner will set the right tone for when those intimate moments inevitably arise.

5. What kind of communication would you like to maintain after the birth?

There’s no correct answer to this. Some surrogates and intended parents want to stay in close touch. Others might want to be your Facebook friend so they can see pictures of your kids growing up. Still others may be content merely to get a holiday card every December. As long as both parties are on the same page, anything can work.

My advice is to offer up a safe but minimal amount of contact. If you and your surrogate hit it off (as we did with ours), you can always have more contact than you planned.

It’s important to reiterate that your surrogate will have no legal rights to your child. Once your baby is born, you are well within your rights to cut off all contact with the surrogate and never see her again. I’d imagine that kind of clean break only really happens in extreme circumstances. Most people and their surrogates form a bond through the process and want to stay in touch afterward.

Once your child is old enough to understand how he or she came into the world, they’ll likely be curious about who their surrogate was, so it helps if you’ve kept up the relationship.

6. How many fetuses are you willing to carry?

My partner and I were very lucky to have twins with our surrogate, but it made the pregnancy considerably harder on her. She was confined to bed rest for most of the third trimester and there were a few scares where we thought she might be miscarrying one or both of the fetuses, which meant some late-night trips to the emergency room.

Thankfully, everything worked out okay for us, but the more fetuses involved in your pregnancy, the higher the risks. A woman carrying triplets is almost always put on bed rest. It’s not surprising then that many surrogates limit the number of babies they’re willing to carry to one or two.

If you were hoping for octuplets, in other words, you’re out of luck.

7. Would you be willing to undergo a selective reduction?

Here’s where the questions start to get really dicey.

Even if your surrogate only wants to carry one baby and you only want to have one kid, you may still want to transfer multiple embryos to increase the odds that one of them attaches.

So what happens if your surrogate becomes pregnant with two or three embryos? In that case, she may undergo a selective reduction, where excess embryos are removed from her uterus at a very early stage, leaving only the number of babies you’re willing to have.

We interviewed a surrogate who had undergone this procedure with a previous pregnancy and, for various reasons, didn’t want to go through it again. She was asking that we not transfer more than two embryos, so she could be mostly assured she wouldn’t have to carry more than twins.

Some IPs plan to transfer as many embryos as they can, then reduce down to just one or two if too many of them take. That’s fine if the surrogate agrees to it, but not everyone will be comfortable with that.

This is obviously a very tricky ethical situation, so for everyone’s benefit, it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page.

8. If we were to decide, due to complications with the fetus, to terminate the pregnancy, would you be willing to do so?

You and the surrogate are both entering into this agreement with the same goal: to make a baby. Neither of you wants to think about terminating a pregnancy, because that goes against the very reason you’ve come together.

However, everyone knows that things do sometimes go wrong, and the baby will be yours, not hers, so if there are complications and you become concerned with what your child’s quality of life would be, it should be your call to make.

There are people — surrogates and intended parents alike — who would never terminate a pregnancy under any circumstances. That’s fine, of course, but if you feel that way, it’s good to have a surrogate who would defer to your judgment in the case that your feelings change.

Again, no one wants to think about the worst case scenario. You both want a healthy baby. So bring this up now, and then forget about it. Hopefully, it won’t end up being an issue.

9. What concerns do you have about us or this process?

You never know what your surrogate may be thinking or how you may come across to her. She might have a special request that’s very important to her or a fear she’s working to get over.

Our surrogate had two requests: One, she wanted an epidural, because she went without one when her son was born and didn’t want to do that again. And two, she wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t be handed the baby in the delivery room. When doctors first handed her her son, that’s when she bonded with him. To make sure to establish the right boundaries, she didn’t want to see the baby until later on, when she was in the recovery room.

Let her know that her concerns are important to you, and in case she does have a vastly different idea of how the birth should go, it’s better to find out now rather than a trimester or two into the pregnancy.

 

Hopefully, you’ll find plenty of common ground with your surrogate on these topics, because once you’ve discussed them and agreed about the important things, you’ve earned the right to never discuss them again. In all likelihood, you won’t have to, and now that you’ve gotten past the tough stuff, you can talk about things that don’t really matter: what her favorite sports teams or TV shows are, what kind of sense of humor she has and what she thinks of the baby names you’ve picked out.

Then, finally, you’ll know for sure if you’ve found “The One.”

newyorkercover

It’s a Mommy’s World – Exposing Dadscrimination

Nice try, New Yorker cover.  Hey, can you tell me where to find that park where there are so many cool dads that moms feel left out, because I have a feeling you need to live in a cartoon in order to get there.  I’ve been doing the stay-home dad thing for going on three years now, and I still feel like Marisa Tomei at Hillman College, if you know what I mean.

According to the 2010 census, there are 154,000 stay-home dads in the U.S.

154,000?  That’s not even a lot of people in Delaware.  Isn’t that exactly the number of Wayans brothers?  We couldn’t take over Lichtenstein with those numbers.  You really think we’re taking over parks?

Look, I’m not one to cry “oppression”.  I’m a middle-class white male, after all.  My kind have had it pretty good for the last few millennia or so.  Yes, I’m also gay, but let’s put that aside for a minute.  Other than that, I’m fairly demographically charmed.

Still, I’m in a minority group because of what I do for a living, and as a result I face a particular kind of prejudice on a daily basis.

That’s right.  I’m talking about “Dadscrimination”.  There may be more of us than there used to be, but in a lot of ways, the world still doesn’t get us.  We’re second-class parents, a joke or an afterthought.  Yo, it’s hard out here for a Daddy.

From the serious to the semantic, here are just a few of the ways dads get the shaft:

- The Mommification of Everything Parent-Related

You never see “Men at Work” signs anymore.  It’s always “Crew Working In Trees”.  We don’t call them “Policemen” or “Mailmen”, they’re “Officers” and “Postal workers.”  But when it comes to parenting, everything’s “Mommy”.  “Mommy movies”, “Mommy & Me” classes, “Mommy wars”, “Mommy Zumba”.  It’s as if the M-word is synonymous with “parent”.  No matter what barriers we break down in terms of gender inequality, inclusiveness goes out the window once you have kids.

I’ll admit I’ve never been to a Mommy movie, mostly because neither my kids nor I are interested in a film whose title is preceded by the words “Katherine Heigl in…”.

I did take a Mommy & Me class when my kids were young, although I think the kids and I all snuck in through the “Me” loophole.  Some parenting groups won’t even allow men.  I get it.  Ladies want to talk about breastfeeding (and do it) in privacy.  But until there are enough stay-home dads to sustain a decent-sized get-together, we don’t have a lot of places to turn for information.  I’m going to vouch for straight dads, too.  They’re not trying to look at your boobs.  We’re all just doing it for our kids, so please let us crash your party.

- The Boob Tube.

My only role model

If you’ve ever turned on TV between when school starts and the work day ends, you know it’s slim pickins for anyone with a moderate amount of testosterone in their system.  Good thing we have Tivo, On Demand and Netflix Instant or we’d be stuck with nothing but endless infotainment featuring doctors, judges and chattering coffee-sippers sitting on stools.  You know what I’m talking about .  The “The” shows.  “The View”, “The Talk”, “The Chew.”  Yes, there’s really a show called “The Chew”, and if I didn’t love my kids so much, that alone would be reason enough to go back to work and throw them in day care.

And what about choosy dads? I’m all ears, Madison Avenue!

Of course, no one is blinder to the existence of stay-home dads than advertisers.  Check the commercial breaks during those aforementioned shows, and you’ll see what I mean.  Look, I buy the Lemon Pledge in my family.  Would it kill you to show a dude dusting his fine wooden surfaces now and then?

- The Great Potty Disparity.

Nowhere is the disparity between dads and moms more obvious or extreme than in public restrooms.  I’ve already written about one bad experience I had at a children’s play center, but it’s an ongoing concern.  Too many businesses only put changing tables in the women’s bathrooms, which is not just dadscrimination but sexist, too.  Who says wiping poopy tushies is just a woman’s job?  If dads aren’t changing their kids, they should be.

There’ve been times I’ve had to wait outside a women’s bathroom until the coast was clear so I could go in and change a diaper.  Other times, I’ve had to lay my kid down on a scummy men’s room floor in the shadow of a urinal or take them back to my car just to get the job done.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing a Family Bathroom, because I know it’s well-equipped and Dad-friendly.  I know a lot of small businesses don’t have the funds or the square footage to add a third bathroom, let alone one with curtain-shielded rocking chairs for discreet feeding.  But at any public establishment that welcomes families, Koala Kares in the men’s room are a must, or personally, I’m going to find somewhere else to pump my kids full of chicken fingers.

- Perv stares at the park.

I don’t hover over my kids at the park, but I’m always watching them closely from afar, for two very important reasons: 1, so they don’t get seriously hurt and 2, so they’re not snatched up by a perv.

We all know public recreation areas are pedophile smorgasbords, but here’s the irony: While I’m standing there by myself, eyes narrowly focused on a child who’s frolicking far off, then turning occasionally in a different direction to eyeball my other kid, what do I look like?  That’s right…

A LOUSY, STINKING PERV.

Ask any dad, and he’ll tell you: In a Mommy’s world, you are assumed creepy until proven otherwise.

Stay-home dads often fit the perv profile — middle-aged guys who look tired and unshaven, wearing yesterday’s Spaghetti-O-stained t-shirt and seeming as if they didn’t have time to take a shower that morning.  We spend a lot of time at playgrounds and toy stores.  And if you catch us in a moment when our kids aren’t eagerly tugging at our pant legs and begging us for some Dora the Explorer fruit snacks, we might look like we’re just there to case the joint.

In researching this piece, I came across this post from Daddy Dialectic, who faced the ultimate indignity.  Someone actually asked him to leave a park because she assumed he was a predator.  He did a survey and found out it was more common than he thought.  Having read that, I consider myself lucky that that’s never happened to me.

When I get a perv stare, I’m always quick to establish contact with my kids, just to prove my credibility.  Of course, that only works when your kids back you up.  One time, while my daughter was throwing a tantrum at Target, she yelled out, “Where’s my Mommy?”  That’s the only time that’s ever happened, but if the wrong person had been listening, I could’ve ended up in a one-on-one with store security.  Thanks, kid.

- Mommy cliquishness.

I thought my days of feeling hopelessly uncool ended with high school, but that was before I tried striking up conversations with stay-home moms.  Anywhere moms gather, dads are outcasts.

At least this is one area where gay dads have an edge.  Once I out myself, moms tend to get friendlier.  Maybe their real fear is that I’ll be some suave male homewrecker like Patrick Wilson in Little Children.

I suspect it’s something deeper and darker.  Most women just don’t respect men who stay home with their kids.  They see other women raising kids and think, sure, she’s a traditionalist or a post-modern feminist proving she doesn’t need a career to be a strong woman.  Go, sister!

When they see a man raising kids, they think he’s lazy.  They can’t help imagining his poor wife busting her ass trying to make partner while he stays home wearing flip-flops and eating Fritos on the couch.

- The presumption of cluelessness. 

When Drew and I were exploring our parenting options, we saw a counselor to help us sort things out.  She was smart, supportive and extremely helpful.  She quickly became one of my favorite people I’ve ever met.

Then, after the kids were born, I lamented how hard it was sometimes to soothe them when they were crying.  Our counselor just shrugged and said, “Well, you’re a dude.”

I was stunned, but I’ve since realized that’s how a lot of people think.  “That poor guy, alone with his kids.  He must be in over his head.”

Thanks, I’m doing fine, and you can spare me your advice, strangers.  I prefer to screw my kids up my way, not yours.

OK, fair enough.  Moms get unsolicited advice, too, and they hate it just as much.  Maybe this is one area where dads are catching up to moms faster than we’d like.

I know dadscrimination isn’t the worst form of bias.  Nobody’s making us sit in the back of any buses or denying us the right to vote.  I won’t be leading any marches on Washington or trying to become daddyhood’s Malcolm X.  Mostly, I just wanted a chance to vent.

Aren’t dads allowed to complain once in a while, too?

OK, gotta go.  My kids are waking up.

It’s a Wonder You Can Walk: Why Me No Wuvvy Baby Talk

Do you talk to your kids wike dis?  “Come on, Poopie Pie, open yuh moufy-woufy ’cause da choo-choo’s dewivvering some yummies fwum Taterville!”?

If so, I have a confession to make:

I want to punch you in the face.

Or, to put it in terms you can understand, “Me wanna give big booboo to da poopyhead!”

OK, that was a little harsh.  Me not really wanna give you big booboo, although you are definitely a poopyhead.  What I really want to do is to explain to you calmly and rationally why you’re an enemy of the human race.  You’re Kim Jong Unbearable.  So sit down, grab your binky or your foofoo or whatever the hell you call it and listen up.  ‘Kay, Sweetums?

Baby talk is child abuse.  Worse, even, because it hurts everyone within earshot.  It demeans us as a species.  Every time you say “moo-cow” or “goo goo gaga“, you help the apes rise one more rung up the ladder to overtake us.

I’ve never used baby talk on my kids.  For starters, I don’t have time to learn a new language.  My kids never drank a “baba“.  They drank bottles.  And those bottles contained milk, not “moo juice“.

I was never “Da-da“, always “Daddy”.  It’s not that much harder to say, and it’s so much more satisfying to hear.  “Da-da” could mean anything.  “Dance-dance”, “dazzle-dazzle”, “Dag Hammarskjöld-Dag Hammarskjöld”.

I won’t even add that cutesy “y” to the end of animal names, like “doggy” or “piggy” or “ducky” or “froggy” — geez, it’s not even creative.  You may think those kinds of minor tweaks are sweet and harmless, but as far as I’m concerned, you might as well be teaching your kids Klingon.  Made-up words aren’t doing them any good, and they’re just going to have to unlearn them at some point if they want to function in society.  Snoop Dogg was in his 30s before he finally dropped the Doggy from his name.  It’s a hard habit to break.

“Oh, but it’s cute,” people will say.  “I wuv when wittle Jillsy-Willsy tells me she has a boo-boo that needs Mommy’s magic smoochies to make it awl bettuh.”  Well, between you and me, Jillsy-Willsy sounds like an idiot, and so do you.  Personally, I find my kids cute enough without them talking like mental patients.  Of course, I don’t know Jillsy-Willsy.  Maybe she can use the boost.

When Bennett was in the hospital, we had a nurse who used some of the most egregious baby talk I’ve ever heard.  Bennett had come to fear the nurses, because they were the ones sticking needles in his arm.  When this particular lady leaned over his bed, she assured him, “Don’t you worry, baby!  I just need to check your pulsy-wulsy.  You won’t get any hurties from me!”

I swear the kid looked at me like, “What’s wrong with her?”

Caution: This face could be a sign that you're losing them.

C’mon, lady.  How is my kid supposed to know what you mean when your entire vocabulary comes straight out of your ass?

People who think they need to talk down to kids are using the same logic tourists use when they go to a foreign country and believe they can break through the language barrier simply by raising their voice.  “EXCUSE ME, MONSIEUR, BUT DONDE ESTA THE BATHROOM AT?!!!  BATHROOM?  FLUSHY-FLUSHY???”

As if baby talk isn’t confusing enough in itself, the perpetrators make their words even less intelligible by purposely mispronouncing them.  “Aw, what a sweet wittle guy!”  Wittle?  Do you think that’s charming?  We’ll see how charming it is when Caleb comes home with a broken nose because he told his buddies on the Wittle Weague team he had to make a tinky-tink in the potty.  Ever heard of speech therapy?  Kids spend years – YEARS! – trying to overcome impediments like the one you’re practically forcing down your child’s throat.

I know.  I’m wasting my time.  It’s not like I can expect this message to get through to the baby-talkers themselves.  I didn’t include nearly enough ooh-oohs and wah-wahs in this essay to hold their interest.

So let me speak instead to the poor, unfortunate children trapped in their care:

Hello, young person.

I’m sure your parents love you very much, so it’s a shame they insist on reinforcing the linguistic hurdles you’re struggling so hard to overcome.  They may mean well, but I’m going to tell you something you would probably realize on your own eventually:

Mama and Dada are just a tiny bit insane.

Yes, I know.  The truth hurts, but I’m not going to underestimate your intelligence the way they do.  You can handle it.

It’s not their fault, of course.  Their parents probably spoke baby talk to them when they were growing up.  Maybe it scarred them.  Maybe they thought it was the only way.  But don’t let them hurt you like that.

The cycle ends with you.

When your parents say something asinine, don’t try to figure them out, and please don’t parrot their jibber-jabber back to them.  Let them know you’re not going to lower yourself to that level for their amusement.  I know I can’t possibly teach you all the real words you should be learning right now, so instead, let me offer one all-purpose phrase you can whip out at need:

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Try it.  Say it over and over, whenever your parents talk to you like the baby they want you to remain rather than the well-adjusted grown-up society hopes you’ll become.  Eventually, they’ll get the message.  And hopefully, if they’re capable, they’ll start making some damn sense.

Good luck.  You have a long, hard road ahead of you, like all victims of baby talk.  But whatever you do, even when your parents are at their most insufferably incomprehensible, please resist the overwhelming urge you might have to punch them in the face.

That would be terribly immature.

Confessions of a Bad Dad: 10 Reasons We Love McDonald’s

People say the nicest things in my comments section:

“You’re such a great parent!”

“Your kids are so lucky!”

“Will you have babies with me?”

I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.  Just pure, sweet, huggy affection.  When I read my blog comments, I’m filled with warmth, joy and hope for the future.

Then I kick back and go, “Hahaha, suckers!”

The truth is, I have you all fooled.  Sure, I sound like an amazing dad in these blog posts.  But guess who writes these blog posts?  Yup, that’s right…

This guy!  

Well, I gave that guy the day off.  Today you’ll get to meet the other me, the one my kids know very well but the rest of the world rarely gets to see…

Jerry the Bad Dad.

(Cue the sleazy 70s funk music.)

Jerry the Bad Dad doesn’t make “wise choices” for his children.

He doesn’t listen to Dr. Spock or the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Hmph!

Jerry the Bad Dad makes his own rules.  He goes rogue.  He makes mistakes… but not apologies.

Jerry the Bad Dad… you so BAAAAAAD!

Just how bad is Jerry the Bad Dad?  Well, get this:

I take my kids to McDonald’s!

Yes, that place!

(Record scratch, screams of horror and disgust.)

That’s right.  My two-year-olds are no strangers to the sweet, salty seduction of McFood.  I can feel you judging me already, but it’s worse than you think.  We’re regulars there.  We go once a week.  They know us there.

McDonald’s is our Cheers.

If you’re not already rolling over in disgust or calling Child Protective Services on me, then allow me to tell you why.

I have some very BAAAAAAAD reasons!

1. My kids are always the best behaved children there.  You want to feel good about your kids?  Take them to McDonald’s.  Have you seen some of the riff-raff toddling around that joint?  Yeesh, instead of booths, they should have cages.  There’s a reason they don’t give out nunchucks in Happy Meals – those little monsters would use them.

Sure, I’d love to take my kids to The Four Seasons, but there, the clientele tends to frown upon customers screeching out “Movin’ Right Along” at the top of their lungs while shoving Dora fruit snacks up their nose.  At McDonald’s, as long as your little ones aren’t running around knifing cashiers, everyone’s coming up to you for parenting tips.

Winning.

2. The meal comes with its own entertainment.  There’s a reason my diaper bag weighs 200 pounds.  It’s because every time we go out, I bring half the contents of our toy chest in hopes of keeping the kids happy for the duration of dinner.  At McDonald’s, I don’t need any of that stuff, because the kids get a brand new toy with their happy meal.  Yes, it’s always some piece of junk tied into a lame kids’ movie and it breaks as soon as we get home, but so what?  It kept them busy while Daddy ate his McSalad, so it served its purpose.

3. It kills time.  I’m sure I don’t have to explain this one to other stay-home parents, but sometimes the biggest challenge every day is just finding activities to keep the kids occupied.  I’ll come up with a brilliant idea like hide and seek, and they’ll get bored with it in two minutes.  You ever tried playing hide and seek with kids who refuse to hide or seek?  It gets old fast.

That’s why I love eating out.  Dinner at home might take twenty minutes, but a trip to McDonald’s, including putting coats on, loading them in the car, driving there and back, ordering and actually eating the food, can last a blissful hour and a half.  We don’t even go to a McDonald’s with a play area.  If we did that, they might stay all afternoon.

4. The zit-faced 16-year-old slaving over the grill for minimum wage is a better cook than me.  I don’t know his secret, but his Angus Third Pounders are always fried, flipped and oversalted to perfection.  McDonald’s is a welcome break for our whole family – for me not to have to cook… and for the kids not to have to eat my cooking.  So whoever that is in the hairnet behind the electronic order screen, my compliments to you, young chef!  And the red-haired clown out front, too.

5. It’s an excuse for me to eat McDonald’s.  Seriously, have you tried those Angus Third Pounders?  Damn, that’s the sweet stuff!

6. It’s cheap(ish).  Have you been to one of those chain restaurants lately, like Uno’s or T.G.I. Fridays?  These days, they all advertise on their kids menu that they use Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  Well, guess what?  I know what Kraft Macaroni & Cheese costs, and it ain’t $6 a serving.  Sure, McDonald’s marks up their prices, too, but at least they don’t shove it in my face and make me feel like a moron.  My whole family of four eats there for under $20, and I don’t end up giving my kids something I could – and do – give them at home for $1.29 a box.

7. It’s low maintenance food.  It’s a tenet of dining out that the price of the food is directly related to how cold it’ll get before the parents get a chance to eat it.  Take your kids to a steakhouse and you’ll spend half an hour carving their filet into pebble-sized portions they’re actually capable of digesting.  Then comes the convincing.  “C’mon, it tastes like a hamburger!”  You know how to solve that problem?  Just get them a damn hamburger in the first place.  Done.

At McDonald’s, the kids recognize everything on the menu, and all of it is bite-sized.  I don’t have to cut, coax or cajole.  All I have to do is open the happy meal box and let them go to town.  I may not get to eat prime rib myself, but at least I’ll enjoy my McChicken before its core temperature registers on the Kelvin scale.

8. They eat a full meal there.  I often wonder why the kids don’t finish the meals I make them at home.  Were they just not hungry?  Or did my turkey meatballs suck?

At McDonald’s, I know they’re eating as much as they want.  They usually finish everything, but if there is food left over, it’s not because they didn’t like it.  Sure, the food is garbage, but honestly…

9. The food’s not much worse than what I serve at home.  I know that what McDonald’s scrapes off the slaughterhouse floor to put in their burgers isn’t exactly Kobe beef, but then again, what’s in those hot dogs I buy at the supermarket?  Are the chicken nuggets we heat in the microwave so much more full of vitamins and minerals than McNuggets?

Fair enough.  When I’m at home, I can at least try to make things nutritious.  Even Jerry the Bad Dad always puts a fruit and a vegetable on the high chair trays, and he does buy organic (well, you know, sometimes maybe he does).  Overall, my kids are better off eating my dinners than a fast food dinner.  But that’s why we don’t eat McDonald’s every day.

Which brings me to my final point…

10. McDonald’s teaches my kids the value of moderation.  It’s not like I tell my kids that McDonald’s is healthy food.  But by limiting the number of times we go there, I’m letting them know it’s a special treat we can’t have too often.  Only by going to McDonald’s can my kids appreciate the value of not going to McDonald’s, which, after all, is what we do most of the time.

They rarely ask for it anymore, and when they do, I just remind them that fast food is OK once in a while, but we can’t eat it every day.  It’s a special treat that we can only have when Daddy says so… just like TV.

Oh yeah, TV.  I know the doctors all say that kids who are exposed to even five minutes of TV before they turn 2 will instantly morph into raging chain-tantruming paste eaters with droopy eyelids, but… well… you see…

Eh, I’ll save that for another post.

The Babysitter’s Guide to My Kids, Part One

I had to go out of town for a few days, so my Mom is taking care of the kids while I’m gone.  I gave her a quick rundown of my daily responsibilities, but since I left I’ve been thinking of all the things I should’ve told her, the practical advice that would help any temporary caregiver survive a few hours or more in my shoes.

So I’ve decided to start a new blog feature, The Babysitter’s Guide to My Kids.  That way, I’ll have a handy guide for the next time I leave my kids in someone else’s care… and any of my regular readers will be qualified to step in at a moment’s notice.

First up, a guide to the main set for Why Jerry Why the sitcom, our condo building.

Amenities.  See that cement backlot covered in astroturf out our rear window?  That’s where the building’s Jacuzzi used to be before homeless people started using it as a bathtub.  Now, nobody uses it for anything.  If it’s nice out, the kids can play down there.  We’ve even set up a plastic slide and a big water toy that the kids love.  None of our neighbors has complained yet about us squatting in the common area this way.  If you are out there playing and one of them complains, just act like you don’t understand their thick Russian accent.  If they don’t have a thick Russian accent, then pretend like you have one and they’ll go away.

Elevator.  The kids love to push the elevator buttons, especially the “Emergency Only” button.  You will tell them not to do this, but sometimes they’ll get away with it anyway.  They may even team up.  One will distract you while the other pushes the button.  In this case, wait for the emergency operator to pick up, then let her know that Bennett or Sutton hit the button.  You can use their names.  I’m pretty sure they know our kids by now.

Our “backyard”.  On days when it’s too cold or rainy to go outside, we use the hallway like a backyard.  The kids can take their bikes, basketball hoop, shopping cart or whatever else they want and play there.  They love this.

While in the hall, Bennett may try to get you to play Hide and Seek.  There is only one hiding place in the hallway, the tiny alcove around the corner.  But they are still delighted to find you there and will act surprised every time.  Beware: if Bennett asks you to play Hide and Seek, it may be a trick.  If he doesn’t find you within 10 seconds, he’s probably inside jumping on the couch.  This means he never wanted to play Hide and Seek.  He wanted to jump on the couch.

Neighbors.  Our neighbors are all very friendly, and they love our kids.  They are mostly older people who enjoy the carefree sounds of youth.  In fact, when they hear the kids playing in the hall, they’ll often come out of their units to say hello.

The most enthusiastic is Auntie Ruthie.  She likes to poke her head out and feed the kids cookies.  I’m not crazy about them eating cookies between meals, but for Auntie Ruthie, I make an exception, because it makes her happy.  Sometimes the kids will knock on her door and ask for cookies.  If that happens, please make sure the kids stay and talk to Auntie Ruthie for a minute and not just run away once they score the goods.  If they’re going to eat junk food, they at least have to earn it by talking to a nice older lady for a few minutes.

I don’t recommend taking the kids in the hall until after the View is over.  That’s when Auntie Ruthie takes her morning shower.  Before then, you run the risk of seeing Auntie Ruthie in her house dress.

You may also run into Uncle Ivan.  Don’t let Uncle Ivan see the kids with cookies or he’ll get very judgmental about it.  He’ll sometimes give them weird fruits from the Russian market.

Last week, Uncle Ivan asked the kids if they knew their letters.  Again, I was feeling judged, but thankfully, they not only knew what the letters were but what sounds each one makes.  Sometimes, they could even name a word that started with the letter.

I thought Uncle Ivan would be impressed, but instead he shook his head and warned me that they were learning too fast.  He feared that when they got to school they would be bored and probably fail out.

Deliveries.  Approximately 2-14 times a day, we will get some kind of delivery.  Diapers, bulk boxes of baby food, video games from Amazon for Daddy.  To buzz someone in, pick up the phone and press 9.

Note that this system is also helpful if you happen to get locked out of the building.  Just use the intercom in the lobby to call a neighbor.  It doesn’t matter which one.  When they pick up, say the secret code: “UPS delivery!”.  They’ll buzz you in right away.  (Note: After 7PM, the secret code is “Chinese food!”)

Mini Mart.  If you run out of milk or something essential, you may be tempted to use the convenience store next door to our building.  I don’t recommend it.  We’re pretty sure it’s a front for drug dealers and/or the mob.  If you actually check the expiration dates in the store’s refrigerators, you’re likely to find milks from when Charmed was still on the air.

Don’t talk to anyone who’s idling in their car outside the mini mart or pacing back and forth nervously as if they’re waiting for someone to show up.  They’re probably just waiting for the next milk delivery.

Do not use the alley that separates the mini mart from our building and especially do not use the entrance to our building off that alley.  Those areas are frequented by homeless people and spiders, respectively.

We really do have a wonderful building, and the kids love living here.

Whenever possible, though, you’ll probably just want to stay inside.