Monday, July 26, 2010

Struggling, in a Strictly First World Sort of Way

My blog output has been hampered of late partly due to my reluctance to use this space to complain about my pretty-all-right life. I mean, we're not suffering through starvation or disease. Our neighborhood is not torn apart by warfare or even criminal activity. We're all doing very well, relatively speaking. But still, I feel like I'm struggling, and I haven't wanted to say so. I asked for this job, this stay-at-home dad job, and I got it, and it's made me very happy, so complaining about the difficulties seems, well, a little whiny.


I'm having a hard time here. I yell at my kid daily. My levels of frustration, irritation, annoyance, and outright anger often catch me by surprise and fill me with guilt. I think I want another child, but I'm frequently pretty sure I can barely handle the child I have, so another one might just unravel me completely.

Aerie and I like to point out which of Thumper's phrases, sayings, and gestures originate with whom. "Oopsie, doodle bugs" is definitely hers. "You're getting on my nerves," unfortunately, is definitely mine. I try to obviate my frustration by blogging and Facebooking all of the fun things, the adorable moments and interactions, and to remember to see him as other people do, as a smart, charming, sociable kid who's pretty much funny as hell.

Today, for instance, when we were leaving the YMCA, a staff member I'd never seen before, without so much as a glance at me, gave Thumper high five and said, "See you later, Rock Star!" People love this kid. He's a charmer. Often, his charm is lost on me, though.

And don't get me started on the whole potty training saga. It's mostly going pretty well, but good God, it's exhausting. How can I be so full of pride when he craps on the toilet and so mortified when he pees on the floor at the mall, all in the same day?

And I'm sure my struggles are all perfectly normal. Thumper's darn-near three and is supposed to be pushing and testing every limit that's set for him. He screams; he flops; he throws things and hits people, mostly me. I nag him all day long: "Don't touch that. Don't put that in your mouth. Be nice. Don't hit. Don't throw that. Ask nicely. Stop kicking me. Say thank you. Sit up and eat your lunch, please. Sit up. Sit up. One more bite. Get in your seat, please. Come on. Come on. Come on. Come on! Come on! Come here right now!"

When I tell him over and over again to leave the back door alone and don't slam it, and then he slams his finger it, and then does it again the next day, when he cries I practically yell "I told you so!" at him. I just don't feel like I'm being the kind, patient, and loving father that I should be, especially since this is exactly what I signed up for.

Friday, July 9, 2010

More Awkwardness

I'm not sure how to write about this now. I think I've been looking at things from the wrong direction. I've thought of play groups as something good for Thumper, something that helps him learn how to interact with other people, and maybe get some potty training motivation from seeing other kids pause the action while they go pee. I have also thought of it as something good for me, as ideas for destinations and activities when I run out, as pleasant conversation. I had several expectations for the dads' group when I first joined, with almost none of them actually approaching reality. I thought I would find ideas for ways to supplement Aerie's income; I did not. I thought I would find conversations and message board posts about approaches to solving difficulties I was having. But dads don't talk much. They sit in companionable silence. They talk about possible solutions to inexplicable noises coming from rear brake drums. And fishing. And sports. And they tell dirty jokes.

Don't get me wrong; there are a few great guys in the dads group whose company I enjoy and whose parenting I admire. I've had pleasant times and even great times over the past few years. But I haven't made fast friends, and I haven't found the regular, core group of kids that Thumper can play with again and again, learning how to navigate personality conflicts when everyone's not on their best behavior because they've just met. One obstacle is the large size of the group and the large size of the geographical area over which they're spread. The bigger obstacle is the apathy the dads have towards getting their kids together to play.

So I joined the couple of moms' groups thinking I'd have better luck finding friends for Thumper, but not really expecting to find friends for me. I have never minded being the only man on the playground. Moms have always been surprisingly friendly and accepting of me, especially with Thumper's outgoing nature. But I didn't anticipate, when I joined the moms' groups, the frequency of the in-home play date versus the playground/pool/sprinkler park play date. I tried twice to host in-home play dates for the dads' group. When Thumper was almost 6 months old, I hosted. I was apparently a little nervous. It went well, but it didn't turn into a relationship, either for me or for Thumper, and it would be another 2 years before I hosted another. Again, it attracted only one dad and one kid. The kids had fun; I had fun. But I haven't seen the dad, or the kid, since, at playgrounds or elsewhere.

Since joining the two moms' groups, though, we've been to 3 in-home play dates, a birthday party, and a baby shower, on top of many playground, pool, and sprinkler park dates. That's five times in a couple of months that we've gone to other people's homes, along with sometimes large and sometimes small groups of other kids and parents. Thumper loves these play date so much that he has not yet managed to leave one without having a screaming, hysterical fit. It is a cruel injustice that so much fun ever has to end.

For me, though, the in-home play dates add another layer of social awkwardness. Not just with the unselfconscious breastfeeding, but with all sorts of aspects that don't generally come up at the playground. I want to make sure my kid doesn't make a mess and shares and has good manners and covers when he coughs and doesn't club any babies or big-screen TVs with a baseball bat, lest my male parenting style be judged inferior. I want to make sure I participate in food prep or cleanup to the degree that's appropriate, not too much to be overbearing or annoying but not too little, either.

And conversation, especially at the baby shower, just takes turns that seem to leave me behind. When one mom asks the showeree how much weight she's gained, and the showeree says, "Oh sure, bring that up in front of everybody..." I feel like maybe I'm overhearing something I shouldn't, or that I'm the particular everybody it shouldn't have been brought up in front of. When birth stories were shared, with so many hours spent to reach so many centimeters dilation, I just never felt the natural opening in the conversation to talk about Thumper's birth, and transverse breach and c-section. It felt like I'd be intruding.

And then Bingo was played, and I was invited, and I played. I misheard the prize, though, thinking that the winner would watch the showeree's 3 1/2-year-old some day soon so that she could go out and watch the latest Twilight movie in peace by herself before the baby comes. I won at Bingo, tying with another of the moms, and it was explained that the prize was two other moms watching the showeree's and the winners' kids so that we could all go enjoy Edward and Jacob together. It suddenly seemed too much like a date to me, and I mumbled something about what I thought the prize was and wandered away. At the end of the shower, one of the moms who'd offered to do the kid watching reminded the other winner of Bingo that she was obligated to go see the movie whenever the showeree wanted, but she never looked my way, and I felt kind of stupid. And kind of relieved.

And when people began to leave, and the showeree was hugged, I filled one arm with my big bowl of fruit salad and the other with my big toddler so that I wouldn't wonder if I was supposed to hug too, or not. But still, it seemed like the hug could've happened, if I'd tried, but I didn't, and I wondered if she felt snubbed, or felt like I was oddly reserved, or if the hug, if I'd attempted it, would've been even more awkward, especially since I'd filled my arms with cargo.

And then, when I got home, I saw a Facebook Status Update that made it clear that one of the breastfeeding moms had found my blog, and I remembered that, though I'd originally intended to keep my blog anonymous and separate from my Facebook, I'd had second thoughts. I couldn't recall if I'd actually added as my webpage in my Facebook info, or if I'd just thought about adding it. Turns out I had actually added it. And my imaginary online life collided with my real life.

It didn't sound like she was offended, though maybe her husband was. Hard to tell. But what struck me from what she said about the whole thing was: I am probably making up all of this awkwardness all by myself. If I feel like I'm standing on the outside, unincluded, it's probably because I'm standing on the outside, not participating. I have been very careful not to offend, not to overstep my bounds, whatever those bounds might be to whoever might be keeping score. And who knows how my own reserve is interpreted by these perfectly nice people who've invited me into their homes.

I wonder how old I'll be when I finally stop acting like that awkward teenage boy who was pretty sure that everyone else was working with a script he never got?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It Doesn't Really Feel Like Emasculation, But It Is Kind of Odd

I'm spending part of my evening tonight making a big bowl of fruit salad to take to the first of two baby showers that I'll be attending over the next three days. I haven't been to a baby shower ever in 38 years, but after joining two moms' play groups, BAM! Two in a row. For the first, the entire play group was invited, and I thought, "Oh, they don't really mean me. That would just be awkward." But then I was explicitly, specifically invited and encouraged to attend.

I even tossed the apple chunks in lemon juice to prevent browning.

I guess the second shower doesn't really count, because it's for BFF and his girlfriend, and it's being billed more as a celebration than a shower, with gifts not necessary, but still. It's a shower. My second in three days.

There are clear differences in how the moms' groups and the dads' groups operate. For instance, the moms show up in numbers, and the dads show up in ones or twos. The moms host play dates in their homes, and the dads stick to the playgrounds. The dads venture all over two counties, and the moms return to the neighborhood playgrounds again and again.

The biggest difference, though, and perhaps the most disconcerting? In a couple of years of dads' group play dates, breastfeeding has never come up. Not once has a bare breast suddenly appeared in the middle of a conversation. With the moms, it's happening with somewhat alarming frequency. I like to think of myself as a hip, modern man with no philosophical objections to breastfeeding in public, and I like to believe that there's nothing erotic about the use of the breast for the sustenance of children, but somehow, when I'm having a pleasant conversation with a woman and she suddenly pulls her top down, it's a little distracting. I think I'm playing it off okay, but it sends my brain into a little bit of a spin. Should I just not look at her, pretend to be fascinated by what Thumper's doing over there on the other side of the room, even though she's still talking, and talking to me? If I don't look, does that make it even more obvious that I'm discombobulated? Can I continue to ignore that one voice in the back of my head that's yelling, "It's a boob! It's bare! Look at it!" and still hold eye contact?

And am I glad, or maybe just a little bummed out, that I'm so non-threatening that these moms seem to give not a second thought to whipping it out in front of me?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wow, That Was Two Years Ago?

I was thinking my whole Self-Improvement Project Thingy was last year, and I was thinking it was time to do an update about how I've done. Turns out it was two years ago, and last year I already did a progress report. I must be getting old, because the time, it is a-flyin'.

So anyway. As of today, I'm at 243 pounds, which is 19 pounds less than this time last year. As I mentioned last year, virtually all of that progress was while sticking to the tenets of Weight Watchers, but I friggin' hate sticking to the tenets of Weight Watchers. It's tedious, and takes all of the joy out of every single meal you'll ever eat for the rest of your life. I was, at my best, down to 232 pounds, but, well, I gained some back. I'm not too down on myself right now, because I think I may be about the best I've been as far as health and strength and endurance, physically. I mean, this is the year that I ran a 10K, and I'm pretty proud of that. I may never be my ideal weight, but I'm still exercising, and that's a good thing. My downfall is caloric intake. I like to eat, and I like to drink. I haven't smoked cigarettes in 4 years now, and it's been even longer since I might possibly have consumed whatever illicit drugs that I may or may not have done at some unspecified point in my life. My greatest vices are eating and drinking, and while I know that needs to change, right now I'm kind of OK with it.

So if I have goals for change for the next year or so, they would mostly be gaining control of my emotional reactions to Thumper and his more or less constant testing of his limits and mine. I'm not always the calm and reasonable parent I'd like to be. I may never be, but I need to work harder at not losing my shit on a nearly daily basis. He's pretty damn cute, but he's also a test of my patience and kindness and selflessness, and I fail that test far more often than I'd care to admit.

So, as DJ Lance and the Yo Gabba Gabba gang tell us, keep trying. Don't give up; never give up.

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