Sidewalk Art Appreciation

Yesterday.  Outside an ice cream shop.  There is a bucket of chalk near the door…

“Honey, look at all the cool things people drew on the sidewalk!”

“Yeah!  There’s SpongeBob!”

“Wow, that’s a great SpongeBob.  It looks just like him!”

“Daddy, can we draw on the sidewalk?”

“Sure!  What should we draw?”

“SpongeBob!”

“OK, here, take the chalk.  Show me what SpongeBob looks like.”

“No, Daddy!  You draw SpongeBob!”

“Me?  Why don’t we just write your name instead?”

“No, Daddy.  I want you to draw SpongeBob!”

“But, Honey, look, someone already drew him, and my SpongeBob isn’t going to be–”

“PLEEEEEASE, Daddy?”

“Oh… OK.”

“Well, there’s my SpongeBob.”

“Daddy, that’s the best SpongeBob EVER!  Look, everyone!  My Daddy drew SpongeBob!”

 

Just Your Typical Morning Meltdowns

I. Breakfast

Bennett: “No, Daddy, that’s not enough cereal!”

Me: “Well, eat that, and then I’ll give you more.”

Bennett: “No!  I want more NOW!”

Me: “You need to eat that first.”

Bennett: “No!  I’m not eating it!  It’s not enough!”

Me: “That’s more than you usually eat.  If you finish it, I’ll give you more, but I’m not putting more in the bowl until you eat what’s there.”

Bennett: “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!”

 

II. Getting Dressed

Sutton: “Daddy, I want to wear my blue dress today.”

Me: “You can wear it this afternoon, but this morning I thought we’d go to the Burger King with the play area.  Does that sound like fun?”

Sutton: “Yay!”

Me: “Great, so let’s wear your Little Mermaid shirt.”

Sutton: “No!  I want to wear my blue dress!”

Me: “You always have problems climbing in your dress, so just for the morning, let’s wear your Little Mermaid shirt and shorts.  C’mon, that’s your favorite shirt.”

Sutton: “NO!  I WANT TO WEAR MY BLUE DRESS!”

She grabs the Little Mermaid shirt out of my hand and runs away.  A minute later, she comes back.

Sutton: “I THREW MY LITTLE MERMAID SHIRT IN THE TRASH!!!”

Me: “You did what?  That’s it.  You’re getting a time out!”

Sutton: “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!”

III. Lunch

Bennett: “Daddy, I want to go to the Burger King in Mount Kisco!”

Me: “No, that one’s half an hour away.  I looked online, and there’s one in Port Chester fifteen minutes closer.”

Bennett: “NO!  I WANT TO GO TO THE MOUNT KISCO BURGER KING!”

Me: “Don’t worry.  It said this one had a play area, too.  I wouldn’t take you to a Burger King without a play area.”

Bennett: “NO!  I WANT TO GO TO THE MOUNT KISCO BURGER KING!”

Me: “Just because we’ve been there before, it doesn’t make it the best one.  Maybe this new one is even better.  It’s good to try new things.”

Bennett: “I WANT TO GO TO THE MT. KISCO BURGER KING!”

Me: “Too bad.  We’re going to Port Chester.”

Fifteen minutes later…

Me: “Here we are, guys!  Woohoo!  Burger King!”

Bennett and Sutton: “YAY!!!!”

Sutton: “Daddy, I don’t see a play place.  Daddy…?”

Me: “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!”

Half an hour later…

At Mount Kisco. Notice what she’s wearing.

So You Want to Be My Babysitter… 5 Interview Tips You Should Know Without Me Telling You

You are SO not hired!

Hello!  Thank you for your interest in babysitting my kids.  It’s a fun job – and educational, too.  If you come work for us, you’ll learn the names of all the Thomas trains and how to distinguish them by their creepy mushed-up faces.  You’ll get to know the lyrics of every One Direction deep album cut, especially “Tell Me a Lie” and “I Wish”, which are my son’s and daughter’s “jams”, respectively.  Most of all, you’ll learn the one and only proper way to make a peanut butter sandwich to avoid making a little boy cry.

The job has its perks, too.  Once you’re on our payroll, your kisses are granted the power to heal minor injuries, you’re free to lounge in one of our two backyard (plastic princess) pools, and you can help yourself to all the Penguins of Madagascar fruit snacks you want.  (We’re trying to get rid of those.  They’re “too sticky”.)

I’ve interviewed a lot of people for this position, so before we go any further, allow me to offer you a few tips – just suggestions, really – to help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of our applicants and help you get on my good side.

1.  Show up on time.

What I’m looking for most in a babysitter is reliability, so if we schedule our interview for 4pm, try to arrive by, oh, say 3:59:59 at the latest.  Maybe you’re used to your econ class starting a few minutes past the hour or going to movies that have 15 minutes of previews before Kristen Stewart shows up on screen.  Here in the world of legitimate employment, we start on time, and if you’re not here when you said you would be, you’re likely to see my minivan backing out of the driveway and peeling off on its way to a playdate.

In that case, don’t bother rescheduling.

2.  Don’t look like a slut in your Care.com headshot.

I know your Facebook friends love that picture of you with a beer in one hand, your back arched to accentuate your barely-covered boobs, with that “I’m a naughty girl” expression on your face.  I have no doubt it’s gotten you tons of responses in the Craigslist personals, but you’re going for a different audience here, and they may not appreciate you mimicking the Lolita one-sheet… or the way their husband shouts out, “Whoa!  Hire her!” when he sees your picture.  We gay dads are unlikely to be impressed either.

When I see anything resembling a “Girls Gone Wild” audition still, I picture my daughter in a few years, and I start to weep.  If you insist on the trashy headshot, please include your parents’ phone number in your ad, because I’m going to want to give them a call and express my sympathies.

Surely there’s a photo somewhere of you playing minigolf with your special needs cousin.  Use that instead.

3.  Show the most conservative side of yourself.

I’m aware that I’m from a different generation than most of the young women who apply for babysitting jobs.  They have more liberal attitudes about what body parts they’ll pierce or what colors they might dye their hair.

I would never suggest anyone not be themselves, because I respect your individuality, and besides, I’m going to discover your freaky side eventually anyway.  Still, if you’re the lead singer of a death metal band, maybe you could tone it down a bit for our first meeting.  You must have something other than skull earrings.  Wear those.  Go with a tasteful tongue stud rather than that spike-tipped rod that I have to duck to avoid every time you open your mouth.  Swap the black lipstick out for a pale gray.

I gave big bonus points to the young woman who, during her interview, pointed out and explained each of her visible tattoos.  I would never disqualify someone for their body art — well, maybe Amy Winehouse wouldn’t have made the cut — but the fact that this applicant raised the topic showed a) self-confidence and b) a sensitivity to the squareness of parents like me.

4.  Know your kiddie lit.

This is our Great Gatsby.

I’m going to let you in on a secret.  I have a “gotcha” question.  It’s really tricky, too.  Ready?  Here it is…

“What are your favorite children’s books?”

Gets ’em every time.  First, I’ll ask my interviewee what she likes doing with kids, just to see if “reading” makes the list.  It should.

If not, I’ll ask directly, “Do you like reading to kids?”

“Oh, yes.  I love it.  On my last job, I used to read to the kids all the time.  It was our favorite thing to do.”

“Really?  What were some of the books you read?”

Shrug.  “Nothing in particular.”

I’m stunned how often that question leaves babysitter applicants speechless.

Seriously, is it so hard just to say Dr. Seuss?  The Very Hungry CaterpillarGo Dog Go?  Even people who hate kids can name a couple of children’s books.  I’d trust someone who loathes Dr. Seuss more than someone who can’t quite remember his name.

Originally, I intended to screen out anyone who didn’t know Mo Willems, author of the Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie books.  He was my favorite children’s author before I even had kids, when I used to buy books for my nieces and my friends’ kids.  Yes, I had a favorite children’s author… is that too much to ask of a childcare provider?

I have yet to interview a babysitter candidate who’s even heard of Mo Willems.

What’s up?  Are the other kids you sit for just that lame?  Have you never been to the children’s section of Barnes & Noble?

Now I look at it differently.  You may not know Mo Willems – or Sandra Boynton, Bob Shea or any of our other favorites, but if I hire you, you’ll learn.  We’ll enrich your life with fine literature like Happy Hippo, Angry Duck and Time to Pee.  When your next potential employer asks about your favorite children’s books, you’ll hesitate to answer because you have too many to choose from.

Still, when you first meet me, at least try to prove you’re literate.

5.  Don’t completely ignore my children. 

You may have noticed a couple of other people sitting in on our interview.  They’re small and active, and they didn’t have a lot of questions for you, but you know what?  They were kind of important to the process.  The fact that you didn’t say hello to them when you came in, goodbye when you left or pretty much anything else in between, reflected a bit badly on your children-handling skills.

This is one interview where it might actually have been good to walk away from the boss and brush a Rapunzel doll’s hair for a few minutes.  Once you show up on time, you can drop the professional demeanor.  Silliness is a plus.

See, my kids may not be the ones who’ll pay you or drive you home, but they get a vote, too.  If, after you leave, my daughter confesses, “She was scary”, you’re probably not going to get the job.

So there you have it.  Five easy steps to winning that job babysitting for my kids.  Good luck!  Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to tell me how cute they are.

My Son Wants To Wear a Dress

If you’re wondering whether gay parents are more likely to raise gay kids, you should know that my 2 1/2 year-old daughter has already announced that she wants to marry a boy when she grows up.  No particular boy, not at this point, just “a boy”.

Where did she get this crazy idea that you can marry, you know, people of the opposite sex?  I blame Disney movies.  Ariel and Eric, Tiana and Naveen, Beauty and the Beast.  Daddy and Daddy just can’t compete with love stories like those, especially without any Menken-penned showtunes of our own for her to dance along to.

I’ve even reminded her that girls can marry girls, at least here in New York.  No thanks, she’s marrying a boy.  And her brother is going to marry a girl.

So she says.

Like most boys his age, Bennett hasn’t shown much interest yet in marrying anyone, of either gender.  But he does want to wear a dress.  Badly.  Lately, he’s been asking me every day.

I read absolutely nothing into this, of course.  It’s not like either of his dads was ever into the drag thing, but he certainly hears about dresses an awful lot.  His twin sister is obsessed with them and gets a lot of attention for them, so I don’t blame him for thinking something magical will happen if he puts one on.  He’d definitely get a lot of attention.

Of course, that’s my fear.  I don’t care if the kid wears a dress, whether or not it ends up being something he wants to do when he gets older.  But I know if he wears a dress to the playground or the zoo, some schmuck kid (or, perhaps more likely, grown-up) will feed him that nonsense that “boys don’t wear dresses”.

If that happens, it might not be a big deal.  He might go, “Oh, really?  They don’t?  Why didn’t you tell me that, Daddy?”  Then again, he might cry.  I’m just not ready for the world to teach my kid shame.  I grew up in the closet myself, albeit a slightly different one, and I don’t want that to happen to him.  For now, I don’t even want him to know there is a closet.

So when he asks me to wear a dress, I don’t say no.  I tell him he can do it “later” (as in when we’re not going outside for a while).

“Later” also means when he’s old enough to understand how other people might react.  And if he wants to wear dresses anyway, then I’ll have his back — plunging, ruffled or otherwise.

I’ll also remind him that he can marry whomever he wants, no matter what society – or his sister – might tell him.

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.

Photo courtesy of JustBathroomSigns.com

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.

Happy Other’s Day!

There are work-arounds to not having a mother in your family.  Our kids drank formula rather than breast milk.  We make adjustments to forms when necessary.  And when our twins are overly cranky, we tell them “Save the drama for President Obama!”  But I’ll admit, Mother’s Day is a tough one.

What are my kids going to do when their classes are making macaroni and glitter cards and milk carton bird feeders every mid-May?  Sit in the corner and do long division because they have no one to give theirs to?  I don’t want them to feel left out, and I would never want a school to cancel Mother’s Day for their benefit.  It’s a great holiday.  I even have a mother myself.

Actually, my problem with Mother’s Day started before the kids were even born.  Three years ago, around this time, our surrogate, Tiffany, was pregnant with the blobs who would eventually become Bennett and Sutton.  She did everything a pregnant woman is supposed to do – ate well, got regular check-ups, stayed off crack.  For her diligence, she was rewarded with non-stop morning sickness, a fetus who kicked the crap out of her uterus, Braxton Hicks contractions and eventually, 24-hour bed rest, all for the sake of someone else’s kids.

For that alone, I’d say she earned a bouquet of flowers once a year, but it doesn’t make her, you know, an m-word.

Then there was Drew’s sister, Susie, who’d gone through the hassle and discomfort of egg donation, who’d injected herself with needles on a daily basis, flown across country about five times – at the risk of losing her job – and forked over her DNA to make a couple of kids who would always call her “Aunt”.  What would Mother’s Day represent for her?  Just another Sunday?  An annual unacknowledged reminder of her sacrifice?

It didn’t seem right.  But using Mother’s Day to honor Tiffany and Susie didn’t seem appropriate either, because we were very clear about our family structure and who was in charge.  Fear not, Right Wing.  I have no desire to redefine motherhood.

After thinking it over for a while, we invented our own holiday, Surrogate and Egg Donor’s Day, which we celebrate on the Saturday before Mother’s Day every year.

The timing is significant, because it keeps our kids from feeling left out of Mother’s Day weekend, and it allows our surrogate and egg donor, both of whom now have kids of their own, to celebrate Mother’s Day with their own families, while still being honored for their contribution to ours.  Because they’re such amazing people, they get a whole weekend of love.

We’re not the only non-traditional family who can use this extra holiday.  Plenty of special women fall outside the definition of the word “mother” but still deserve recognition for their contributions to families.  It could be:

  • Your adopted kid’s birth mother
  • The woman who raised you in your mother’s absence
  • A stepmother
  • Your family’s long-time nanny
  • A trans parent who’s not sure where they fit in on Mother’s/Father’s Day
  • A co-parent
  • A mean green mother from outer space

Mommy?

Or whoever you think deserves a special day to honor her for her role in your family.

The same goes for special men, who you might want to celebrate the day before Father’s Day, rather than, you know, not at all.

In writing this piece, I realized I’m not the first one to use the term “Other’s Day”Some people are even offended by it, which is fair enough.  But the distinction is totally up to you and your family to make.  If someone’s special to you, you can celebrate them on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Other’s Day.  If Other’s Day sounds off-putting to you, call it Special Women’s Day or Special Men’s Day or even something clumsier, like Surrogate & Egg Donor’s Day.  Every family’s different, so we can all celebrate in different ways, too.

My kids are still a little young to understand the meaning of our special holiday, but I look forward to getting them involved in it as they get older, doing art projects, Skyping, or sending flowers.  It’ll be a great excuse to retell the incredible story of how they were born and to acknowledge what makes our family special.  Maybe it’ll also be a reminder of how corny their dads are, but I’m fine with that, too.

Again, I’m not trying to redefine anything, but I think it’s only fair that non-traditional families have a way to honor the people who matter to them.  I know, the last thing we need is one more holiday on the calendar, but if Hallmark wants to put out a special card with some schmaltzy sentiment aimed at surrogates or egg donors, they’ve got their first customer right here.

Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned From Marvin Hamlisch

I read a lot of parenting books before my kids were born, but none influenced me as much as the song “At the Ballet” from A Chorus Line.

It’s sung by three women, each recalling in turn how her miserable childhood at the hands of lousy parents drove her to that most destructive of lifestyles, dancing.


Maggie sings last.  Actually, she does some spoken monologue thing where her voice nonetheless goes unaccountably up and down in pitch because she’s just that perturbed.  She’s pissed at her dad because he ditched the family right after she was born.  She used to hold her arms up in the living room, waiting for him to show up and lift her triumphantly like a swan or something.  Also, in her fantasy, Daddy was an Indian Chief, but that’s not really relevant.

He’d say, ‘Maggie, do you wanna dance?’

And I’d say, ‘Daddy, I would love to!’

Everything was beautiful at the ballet.

Raise your arms and someone’s always there.

If you want to see a grown man cry, play me that part of the song.  Never fails.

I don’t really have any sense of rhythm.  I certainly know nothing about ballet.  And if I were Native American, there’s no way anyone would make me the chief.  I have every excuse to avoid dancing with my kids.

Yesterday, they were acting a little wild, and I needed a break.  I turned on the TV, then retreated to the other room to do a little writing.  Ten minutes later, Bennett came running in.  There was a perky song on their show, and they had both climbed down from the couch to run around like lunatics, as 2-year-olds are known to do.

“Daddy!” Bennett shouted.  “Come dance with us!”

I don’t remember what I was doing at the moment.  It really didn’t matter.  “Bennett,” I said.  “I would love to.”

I know I’m not a perfect dad.  I’m not the best athlete or cook or nurse.  I’ve been procrastinating on potty training for a long time now.  My Pigeon voice sounds just like my Bus Driver.  If my kids want to perform sappy monologues about me when they grow up, they’ll probably have plenty of material to work with.

But there’s one thing they can count on: when they raise their arms in the living room, I will always – always – be there.

Shameless Boasts of a Superdad: My Kids Sleep 15 Hours a Day

Now that I’m confessing my worst sins as a father, it’s only fair that I balance that out by patting myself on the back from time to time.  Thus, I introduce my counterpoint column to Confessions of a Bad Dad, Shameless Boasts of a Superdad (me).

One thing my kids have always been good at is sleeping.  They could sleep through the night at four months old.  No midnight bottle, no crying, just blissful uninterrupted sleep from 9pm until 7am.  Both of them.

These days, it’s more like 8pm until 8am.  A nice 12-hour break for Daddy.  For more than half the day, it’s almost as if I didn’t have kids at all.

That’s not even counting their daily nap.  Until they were 18 months old, they took two naps a day, each about two hours long.  Since then, they’ve dropped the morning nap, but I can count on them sleeping reliably from 1-3pm every day.  Sometimes they’ll sleep for three hours.  A couple of times, they’ve gone for four.

I know the odds of getting even one baby who sleeps that well are pretty long, but somehow Drew and I hit the jackpot.

Go ahead.  Hate me.  You won’t be the first.  My kids’ sleep habits have made parenting astronomically much easier and less exhausting than it has any right to be.

When they’re sleeping, I eat lunch, sneak snacks I don’t want them to know I eat, write blog posts, watch last night’s “Daily Show”, pay bills, straighten up and, most importantly, take my own naps.

How did I get my kids to sleep so well?  I’m not sure.  I probably didn’t even do anything.  I just lucked out with two amazing kids.  Or maybe I’m a supergenius.  You decide.

All I can do is tell you my approach to sleeping and let you figure it out from there.

1. Yes, I’m going to tell you to Ferberize.  Yeah, I know, what a news flash.  Feberizing works.  You want your kid to sleep through the night?  Ferberize.

I’ve heard people tell me that Ferberizing didn’t work for them, but when I’ve pressed them for details, the story is always the same: they didn’t follow through.

Let me be clear: Ferberizing is absolute agony.  It goes against every instinct you have as a parent.  It feels cruel and selfish, like you’re torturing a poor, confused baby so you won’t have to get up five times a night.  But the worst thing you can do is to kinda Ferberize.  If you let your kid cry for an hour and then cave in and pick her up, then you just taught her she needs to cry for an hour to get your attention.  And from now on, that’s what she’ll do.

It’s all or nothing when it comes to Ferberizing.  But if you go all in, the benefits extend far beyond your baby’s sleep habits.

The best part of that awful night of a thousand screams is what happens the following morning.  Your kid is just as happy to see you as ever, just as sweet and loving as they were before that evening of unspeakable torment.

They’ve forgiven you.

They probably weren’t even mad in the first place.  And now they know more than ever that they can rely on you.  Just because you don’t respond to their cries, it doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned them or stopped loving them.  They know they can soothe themselves to sleep, and tomorrow their parents will still be there to love them.

In that respect, I truly believe that Ferberizing has set up a parent/child dynamic that has paid off to this day.

2. Have a routine.  I called a potential babysitter recently for a phone interview.  It was 9pm, and I could hear her 2-year-old in the background.  He was helping her bake cookies.  I didn’t hire her.

Don’t people want their kids to sleep?  Why are you engaging your child in stimulating activities at an hour when you could be sipping wine and watching Revenge?  (Full disclosure: in my case, it’s Pepsi and The Good Wife.)

We start winding our kids down at 7pm, when Daddy gets home from work.  A bath, some bedtime stories, a couple of YouTube videos, then finally, they get into their cribs…

… where the routine continues.  We recap our day, share our favorite memories, then read Goodnight Moon, turn off the turtle that projects stars onto the ceiling, give hugs and kisses, then we say good night.

By then, they’re so worn out from the bedtime ritual, they rarely make a peep.

3. Babies belong in prison.  We resisted tenting the kids’ cribs.  It seemed like we’d be imprisoning them.  Then we realized cribs are already prisons.  And don’t most prisons have a roof?

We caved on the crib tents after one agonizing night when Sutton realized she could climb out and run around in her room.  We must’ve gone back into the room and put her back in the crib 25 times before she finally fell asleep.  After that, the baby jail seemed like a great idea.

Not our kid, but they really do get this happy in their cribs.

To our amazement, the kids actually loved the crib tents.  They were excited to get in and try them out.  It felt like a bounce house inside.  It was also a step forward, a sign they were growing up.  They felt like they’d graduated to something for bigger kids.

The zipper recently broke on Sutton’s crib tent, and she’s inconsolable.  She doesn’t feel safe unless she’s zipped securely in her crib tent at night.

4. Kids go in kids’ beds; parents in parents’ beds.

I’m always shocked when people tell me their kids sleep in their bed with them because that’s the only way they’ll go to sleep.  Sure, they’re that way… because you let them get away with it.

Call me crazy, but if you’re letting a two-year-old establish a policy that affects your entire household, something’s wrong.  Don’t you want a break from your kids every night?  Don’t you want privacy when you go to bed?  You have to be hard-core with your kids.  Don’t let them sleep in your bed – ever – or you’ll never get them out.

It’s no different than if you fed them a bowl of M&Ms and whipped cream for every meal, then said, “Well, it’s the only way he’ll eat.”  Oh, God.  People probably do that, don’t they?

Lay down the law and be firm: “We paid a lot of money for those Thomas the Tank Engine sheets, kid.  Use ’em!”

If it helps, make their bed somewhere special for them, somewhere they want to go.  Let them pick out a blanket with their favorite Disney character on it.  Let them take their favorite stuffed animal to sleep.  (No toys, though.  Beds need to be a place of rest.  Not a place to play.)

And when your kid cries and screams and begs to come to bed with you, say no.  No, no, no, no, no.  If you have toddlers, you undoubtedly hear that word a lot from them.  Well, it’s good to throw it back at them once in a while.  “You want to come to bed with me?  No!”

If your kid is used to sleeping with you, you’re going to have a tough time breaking them of that habit.  I’m sure you’re in for a few hellish nights, but I can guarantee this – once you get them to sleep regularly in their own bed, it’ll be worth it.  They’ll sleep better, and so will you.

Now that I’ve been at this a while, I feel like sleep is probably the most important thing babies and toddlers need.  If my kids miss their nap, they’re cranky and wild.  They cry, scream and have meltdowns.  Yet so many people I’ve talked to let their kids sleep “on demand”.  They don’t take naps, and they go to bed whenever they feel like it.

Then those parents tell me how funny “Go the F*** to Sleep” is.  Really?  Well, shut the f*** up, because your kid’s lousy sleep habits just might be your fault.

We’ve promised to get our kids toddler beds for their third birthday in a few months.  I’m a little nervous how the transition will go, but we’ll deal with it.  Kids’ sleep habits are constantly changing, and I think that’s why so many parents throw in the towel and let their kids dictate what they want to do.

Again, maybe my kids are just awesome sleepers and I’m the luckiest dad in the world.  If so, then I apologize for boasting, and I wish that kind of good fortune on all fellow parents, because everyone deserves a little rest now and then.

OK, I have to go.  Nap time’s over.

UPDATE: Please note that the crib tents I shamelessly rave about in this post have been recalled due to safety concerns.

https://jerry-mahoney.com/2012/05/18/public-service-announcement-on-crib-tents/

The Littlest Bullies: How (And When) To Discipline Other People’s Children

One day at the park, a little boy pulled my daughter’s hair – hard.  When she started crying, he laughed.  His nanny told him to apologize, but he refused.  She threatened to take him home, but then didn’t.  A few minutes later, he pulled my daughter’s hair again, so hard that I had to bend over him and pry his hands off her head.

That time, I didn’t wait for his nanny to reprimand him.  I got down on his level and told him sternly, “Do not pull her hair!  Do you understand?  It’s unacceptable.”  The nanny muttered half-heartedly, “He’s never done this before,” but I ignored her.  She was a lost cause.  I moved my kids away from that boy… and I kept my eye on him.

He found another kid – a crawling 10-month-old – and pulled his hair so hard he screamed.  Then he did it to another kid.  And another.  It happened at least five times that I witnessed personally over the next 20 minutes.  He never apologized and he never got punished.

The other day in my kids’ art class, a little boy shoved my son so hard he fell down.  It was unprovoked and intentional, and he did it with a smile on his face.  His mother ignored it.  A minute later, he pushed Sutton just as hard.  His mom looked the other way, so I got down in his face and said, “No pushing!”

After that, he left my kids alone, but he kept pushing the other children.  He eventually became fixated on one little girl.  He pushed her over and over, knocked her down so many times that I lost count, but it was at least 10.  His mom meekly muttered, “Don’t push” a couple of times and told the teacher something annoyingly familiar: “He’s never done this before.”

What else did these two situations have in common?  The caretakers did nothing.

I’m not talking about the bad kids’ caretakers.  Of course they weren’t doing anything.  That’s why their kids were monsters.  But the victim’s parents didn’t do anything either.  They never addressed the offending kids or their guardians, even as their own kids were getting the crap beaten out of them.

I want to say something to those parents:

Sometimes, you have to lay some smack down with other people’s kids.

I know disciplining your own kids is hard enough, but this is different.  You’re not trying to teach the bad kid how to behave.  That’ll never work, because his parents clearly won’t follow through.  When you discipline someone else’s bad kid, you’re doing it for your own kids – to protect them and to make sure they know that you can’t get away with that kind of behavior.  They should see that the standards you hold them to apply to other kids, even if those kids’ parents don’t always enforce them.

Why do parents sit idly by while their kids get harassed?  I think most of us are just too nice and conflict-averse to question anyone else’s disciplinary practices (or lack thereof).  Well, I’m conflict-averse, too, but if your kid pushes my kid, he’s the one who initiated the conflict.  I’m just stepping in to make sure it’s resolved to my satisfaction.

If there’s one thing parenthood has taught me, it’s that I can be a lot braver on my kids’ behalf than I would ever be on my own.

Yes, this begs the question: Don’t I feel like a bully for intimidating someone 1/3 my size?

You bet, and it’s awesome.  I can see why these kids enjoy it so much, and it’s high time they had a taste of their own medicine.

As I’ve said before on this blog, I’m not an authority on anything, just an overly opinionated man who feels extremely lucky to be a parent and who’s taking full advantage of the meager power this role provides him.  In other words, feel free to ignore my advice.  But if you’re ever in a situation where some out-of-control hellion is tormenting your child, here’s how I would handle it:

Strike One.  You just saw some kid attack your child – or maybe your kid came to you crying and saying something happened, but you’re not 100% sure what really went down.  OK, fine.  Comfort your kid and tell him that the offending behavior is wrong.  Leave it at that.  Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because everyone’s kids misbehave sometimes.  But from that moment on, watch the other kid closely.

Strike Two.  Now you know exactly what happened, because you had your eye on the bad kid, and you saw him do it.  Now, your focus shifts to his caregiver.  Make sure she or he knows what’s going on without confronting them directly.  Again, give them the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they didn’t see it happen and they just need your cue to step in and discipline the kid.

Here’s what you do: comfort your kid again, but do it louder.  First, validate your own kid: “Yes, he pushed you.  I saw it.  That was not acceptable.”  Make sure the bad kid and his guardian hear you.  Give the guardian a chance discipline her kid, and if she’s any kind of parent, she’ll be embarrassed and she’ll apologize profusely.

Now you’re watching the kid and the guardian very closely.

Strike Three.  By now, either the guardian has reprimanded the kid appropriately or he hasn’t.  But the kid did it again.  This is where you address the kid directly.  Act as if he were your child.  Be firm, but don’t shout.  “Don’t hit!  Do you understand?  Say you’re sorry.”  The kid will probably be shocked, because no one’s ever talked to him that way before.  You may even make him cry.  (Good!  That’s a sign that he never hears “no”, and you got to be the one to introduce him.  Bravo.)

At this point, don’t make any excuses for the other parent.  Maybe they weren’t paying attention and missed the behavior yet again.  Well, too bad.  They know there’s an issue, so they should be watching their kid closely.  If they’re not, you have every right to handle the situation yourself.

Strike Four.  Tell the other parent to leave.  Their kid is out of control and needs to be removed from the situation.  If you’re at a place of business like an indoor playroom, speak to the manager.

If the other parent refuses to leave and the manager does nothing, then you leave.  Tell your children clearly, “I’m sorry we have to go.  You haven’t done anything wrong, but that other kid is out of control, and I don’t want you around him.”  Don’t wait for a strike five.

I know in baseball, you only get three strikes, but what can I say?  I’m nice.

Does that sound harsh?  It shouldn’t, because here’s how I think you should handle it if your kid is the aggressor:

Strike One.  Let’s say that you didn’t witness the action first-hand, but your kid is standing over some other kid who’s crying and all evidence suggests your kid just did something bad.  Ask your kid what happened, and whether they confess or not, remind them, without directly accusing them, “It’s not OK to hit or push.”  Then, keep your eye on your kid.

Strike Two.  Now you know what your kid is up to, because you were watching your kid closely.  It’s your job to take control of the situation.  Pull your kid away.  Tell him you saw what he did, and it was wrong.  Make him apologize to the other kid.  Then, apologize to the other parent yourself.  Don’t make excuses, don’t assure them that your kid never does that sort of thing.  Everybody’s kid does bad things sometimes.  Your actions at this point will do a lot more to vouch for your parenting than your excuses.

Strike Three.  Repeat step two, but more firmly.  Remove your kid from the area for a serious talk.  If he seems contrite, let him know he only has one more chance.  If he can’t behave himself, you’re going to leave.  (If your kid is uncooperative, don’t even give him another chance.  Just leave.  You know when your kid is out of control, so react appropriately.)

Strike Four.  Leave.  Make sure you apologize to the other parent(s) on the way out.  Let your child know that he’s behaving inappropriately and that’s why you have to go.

Maybe I’m being overly lenient letting my kid get to four strikes, but sometimes with twins, that’s only fair.  I don’t want to make both of my kids leave if only one of them is misbehaving, so I’m going to do all I can to make the situation right before I punish both kids for the actions of one.

Then again, I’ve never actually gotten past strike two with my kids.  As I said, I’m no expert, but I assume that means I’m doing something right.

One final note: don’t be scared of the other parents.  Chances are, if they’re afraid of their own kid, they’ll be even more afraid of you.  I’m a short, scrawny little weasel.  99% of the other parents out there could take me down in a heartbeat.  But no one’s ever roughed me up for talking smack to their kid.  On the few situations when I’ve actually done it, the other parents have been totally speechless.

And witnessing that is the best part of all.

What do you think?  Do you have a better way of dealing with situations like this?  Let me know in the comments.