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Happy Birthday to My Girls

December 3, 2010 1 comment

Seven years ago today, we said hello to Kate and Tess and everything changed.  Twin girls, exactly the same, except…not the same.

Kate–you are an endless drain on my wallet and patience and I don’t care–except for that needle thing, PLEASE don’t do that again.  Your older brother makes me a father; you make a me daddy.  I love you as much as I miss your sister, and perhaps one day you will understand that.

Katherine Anne Gary, now age 7

Tess Elizabeth Gary, 12/3/03-5/18/04

 

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Another Pathetic Son of a Bitch

December 1, 2010 1 comment

When I decided to return to school and become a stay at home dad, I vowed to not become one of the following:

  • Hipster Dad, who’s goateed face greets each day by donning the uniform of  jeans or cargo shorts, ironic t-shirt,  retro shoes and iPod,  and who then listens to Vampire Weekend and The Hold Steady while running errands, cooking and folding laundry.  Take a look at the picture of me with my kids in Central Park this summer to see how well I’ve avoided that trap.
  • Oprah Dad, who, much like Oprah Mom, rarely misses an episode of Oprah or Dr. Phil.  Or The View.  Or Ellen.  Or Kathie Lee and Hoda.  Or anything else on daytime television.  And who cannot carry on any conversation that isn’t an extension of that day’s programming.
  • Fat Dad, an example of which is doubtless within 50 feet of where you are.
  • Slave Dad, who spends every waking moment in servitude to his family, an endless stream of sports practices, errands, play dates, school projects, volunteer gigs as well as cooking, cleaning, washing, etc.

Central Park Summer 2010

So I’m a partial but not complete failure in this regard, which frankly is progress over the usual assessments directed my way.  To give myself some solace, context and excuse to drink beer during the middle of the day, I set up an interview with another stay at home dad also in my graduate program.

Jim Shoff is a former managing director at a Wall Street investment firm.  He took a buy-out awhile back and now splits his time between caring for his wife and three teenage children and attending communications graduate school at Queens University of Charlotte.  Where he once clipped bond coupons, today he clips actual coupons.  And while he doesn’t have a Wall Street salary anymore, Jim says he now gets paid in other ways that aren’t so immediate: for example, his kids have better lives and have been able to pursue new sports and interests.  We agreed how lucky we are to have this time with our kids.

With that necessary nicety behind us, we were both now free to express what a giant pain in the ass it is to be a stay at home parent.  Perhaps it’s better if not combined with the demands of graduate school–neither of us would know.  Certainly those women in the traditional housewife role had and still have difficult jobs.  Again, we don’t know but we’re also pretty sure those women have not had to endure the disapproving looks of strangers or snide remarks of family or acquaintances who consider our new roles as merely excuses to slack off while our wives support us.

Jim and I, we are heroes, we are victims…we are full of shit.  But then so is anyone else who considers raising their own kids the equivalent of hanging on a cross.  It’s difficult, unappreciated work, full of emotional minefields, long hours and the sort of cleaning tasks that would only be performed by someone who loves unconditionally.  But what else are you going to do?

Jim says he will one day return to work but not in banking.  Fittingly our conversation that day finished up on the topic of laundry–we both prefer top-loading washers.  He has two dryers.  I’m so jealous.

My Average Day is Shockingly Dull Yet Exhausting

November 18, 2010 6 comments

Yesterday was fairly typical for me–see below.  Bear in mind that any entry involving the children does not capture the true constant goat wrestle that is life with kids.  They are devoid of any memory of owning a book bag or coat let alone that these items should be with them when leaving the house in the morning and returning each afternoon.  Also absent from kids’ memories–pencils occasionally need sharpening; markers have caps; the existence of forks, spoons, napkins, tissues; toilets flush; oral hygiene; how to take a bath or shower; any items needed or due dates for school projects; current day of the week.  It’s easier to state what kids can remember, which is limited to what gifts they want, any promise you may have made them and any time you cursed in their presence.

Enough digressions, here’s my day for Wednesday, November 17, 2010:

8:00 Breakfast, make beds

8:30 am  Kids to school–no breakfast for Kate as she took 20 minutes to brush her teeth and walk downstairs

9:00 am Coffee, online newspapers, email, Twitter and text

9:30 am Finalize hotel contract for February trip to Washington, DC by Sam’s scout troop

10:00 am Gym–first week back since my toe injury.  Weights, floor exercises, half hour on Arc Trainer, run a half mile to test out the toe, ten minutes of soccer ball drills

11:30 am Lunch meeting & interview with fellow student Jim Shoff

2:30 pm Tutor undergraduate student

4:30 pm Return home, start laundry, unload dishwasher

5:00 pm Help kids with homework–Math help for Sam while Kate requires assistance to focus on anything that isn’t an animal or shiny

5:30 pm Start dinner while continuing homework help, more laundry

6:00 pm Usually in class by now but no class this week; phone call with childless friend whom I believe was sitting at a bar on the water in Miami across from his office–he sucks

7:00 pm Dinner, dishes, more laundry

8:00 pm Phone calls to finalize Thanksgiving plans with family while kids watch TV

8:30 pm Text wife to pick up another protractor for Sam, less than 24 hours after the last one was purchased

9:00 pm Cattle-prod Kate into bathtub

9:15 pm Remind Kate to bathe before water gets cold

9:30 pm Wash shivering daughter myself, wife arrives home following one of her two weekly study nights for EMBA classes

9:45 pm Kids in bed, wife’s night to read with Kate

9:50 pm Phone call from parents

10:10 pm Text reading, computer work

1:00 am Bed

No TV but I don’t consider that a loss.  Also absent was any significant contact with my wife, which she probably doesn’t consider a loss.  Mixed into the day were about a dozen car trips, a few random calls and several email and social media checks (except for Facebook, which I check about as often as I replace the AC filters in my house).  Took the picture below of me just before bed.

Does this make me look fat?

Actually I didn’t, I’m just jazzed for the opening of the next Harry Potter movie.  That’s a picture of Dobby, a house-elf from the Potter books and movies, and that pic is of course the copyrighted material of Warner Brothers.  I do feel like him some days though–not in a withered and persecuted sense but rather in the invisible, unappreciated laborer sense.  Better not tell anyone I speak Spanish or they’ll have me arrested.

The Talk, Round One

November 4, 2010 4 comments

As I mentioned the other day, my son Sam will soon be entering puberty.  Prior to that, he’ll be discussing it will his 5th grade class.

In an effort to prep him for these events, my wife and I gave Sam this book the other night.  I asked him to take a break from reading his latest Young James Bond and instead take a couple of nights to review “What’s Happening To Me?”  I asked if he had heard that his class would be studying puberty in health class and did he know what that meant.  He said he knew of the upcoming lessons but didn’t really know what puberty was.

Without resorting to a planned speech, I asked him if he could obviously tell the difference between a 10-year-old and an 18-year-old.  He listed several–bigger, facial hair on boys, girls have boobs, etc.  Puberty, I said, is the process by which that happens, how we physically grow up.  Then I mentioned that all animals have the same basic imperatives–feed, fight, flight and reproduce.  Human bodies go through puberty so they will be able to do reproduce.  No freak outs, on either part.

I told him to create a list of questions and we’d review those in a couple of days.  I also mentioned that this was the first of many conversations we would have on this topic, that there were additional books we can and will give him and that he will have a lot of questions to ask us in the coming years.

This evening before dinner we reviewed his questions and I must admit the first round wasn’t too bad.  Why do sebaceous glands produce so much oil?  What does testosterone do?  What is the purpose of circumcision?  The only possibly blush-inducing query: what is a venereal disease?  On this last one, apparently the book mentioned them but did not explain what they were.  Rather than being surprised at the question, I was more surprised that the book still used that term instead of STD.

We’re early in the game but so far, so good.  Total conversation time for both conversations–less than 20 minutes.  Total expenditure at the bookstore–about $20 bucks.  Parents, why is this so hard?

A Scary Gary Halloween

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

As promised, see below for a picture of the family taken prior to tonight’s trick or treating.  Daughter Kate is a devil, son Sam is The Joker, wife Susan is a convict and I am Chilean Coal Miner #21.

We enjoyed going to house to house with the kids but were surprised again this year at how few kids trick or treat, even in kid-heavy neighborhoods on weekend nights.  I know that many churches and schools have trunk or treat events, where the kids walk through a parking lot from car to car and say hello to people they already know.  Why have we deemed this a good thing?

Halloween used to be a time when kids and adults wandered neighborhoods, met new neighbors and caught up with old ones.  Have we retreated to the “safe” and familiar because of ridiculous and untrue urban legends or because we prefer to associate only with what we know?  Or are we just so damned fat we won’t walk anywhere?

 

Available for weddings and bar mitzvahs

 

 

Better Days

October 31, 2010 1 comment

In years past, the week before an election usually found me sleepless and on edge.  If I wasn’t directly involved in a campaign, I was busy assessing races and making predictions for my employer or a client.  As a result, I haven’t enjoyed many Halloweens in my adult life.

So I was happy to spend the day with my kids putting together the last bits of our Halloween costumes, then home to carve up a few jack o’lanterns.  We finished off with our first family dinner out since July.  In the pre-stay-at-home days, we would go out every weekend for a steak and a bottle or two of wine.  We may not be able to do that anymore but I think we appreciate more the things we do have and the time we have together.  I know I do.

I’ll post more pics tomorrow but here’s the result of this afternoon’s handiwork.  Happy Halloween!

Too Young to be a Sandwich

October 29, 2010 4 comments

I’ll be 40 next year and I’m not looking at this next birthday as a milestone, at least not yet.  Forty is the New Thirty I’ve been told and it had damned sure better be.

The sandwich in question is the “Sandwich Generation,’ those who are raising children while also caring for aging parents.  My parents aren’t old–Mom’s 65 and Dad’s a year younger–but my mother does occasionally require assistance due to fibromyalgia and the aftermath of four hip replacement surgeries.  She recently had a bad fall at home and broke several bones and dislocated a hip.  Currently recovering at home, she needs someone with her full-time to help with laundry, food preparation, walking, exercising, etc.

After dropping the kids off at school, I spent most of today with her: making breakfast, washing dishes and clothes and just keeping her company.  Grad student that I am, I also wrote a short paper and outlined a presentation while she napped and I waited for the clothes to dry.  I’m glad we live nearby and I’m able to help.  Doing so makes an already tight schedule tighter but I’m looking for ways I can stay with her more often.  Usually my mother is the one providing assistance to a sick churchgoer or an overextended relative so I think she deserves a bit of attendance.

In a few weeks my mother will heal and return to the role of caregiver.  But the odds are that the days I’m spending with her now are a glimpse at our futures.

A friend of Mom’s arrived to relieve me so I left my parent’s’ house mid-afternoon.  After two quick errands, I was home to greet the school bus and fix my kids a snack before I was back out the door to class.  One of my errands was to the bookstore for a couple of books ( 1 and 2) on puberty.  My son is in 5th grade and soon his class will discuss sex education.   Determined not the have my children follow in my footsteps and learn the facts of life from purloined Penthouses and HBO, my wife and I will be having ‘the talk’ with my son this weekend.

There was no such chat from my parents.  My dad did once mention something about ‘not wasting all my time trying to get laid’ when I went away to college but even that looked like it killed him to say it.  Public school health class and church youth trips–on these my adolescent sexual education was founded.

My wife and I are pretty socially liberal and I’m known for not shying away from a topic.  A bit of online research yielded some excellent advice.  There can’t help but be some degree of awkwardness heading into this but we are determined to not stammer, become uncharacteristically formal or just generally get ‘weird’–kids hate that and it will become what they remember forever.  Everything changes once kids hear ‘the talk’, or in my case when some kindly 8th grader named Kelly introduced me to second base.  Hopefully, we’ll laugh our way through it.

And laughing beats crying, and Christ knows I could cry…ten years ago my son was just a newborn; ten years from now my mother may be an invalid.  Neither seems that far away.

I’ll update after the talk with a report on how it went.  Leave a comment and tell me about when you had the talk with your parents or with your children.  Hopefully, the dialogue was different than that provided by these two parents: