Monthly Archives: March 2013

On Bullies, Zebras, and Axl Rose

Axl Rose, in my opinion, is severely underappreciated as a poet.

Well, he was. I haven’t heard “Chinese Democracy” yet.

“You can have anything you want, but you better not take it from me.” There are few quotes that so perfectly capture the zeitgeist of a playroom full of toddlers.

We’ve made the choice for Mama to stay home and have been fortunate enough for this to be possible, so far. So Little Man hasn’t been in daycare, and this shows in the playroom scrum. There’s an aggression, a sort of desperate hunger that characterizes kids who’ve had to hustle for the good toys. They’re quick, opportunistic, like coyotes or meth addicts.

So when we’re in the Tot Lot, or in the Kidzone at the Y, Little Man will sometimes have toys snatched away by those toddlers operating under Jungle Law. He usually is unfazed by this, and just moves on to the next thing, but sometimes, he’ll be put off. Never to tears, but nonetheless.

Enough about my kid, let’s talk about me.

This may or may not be objectively true, but I’ve always considered myself something of a push-over. Not standing up for myself, avoiding conflict, trying to appease all parties –  these are all tactics I’m familiar with and wish I wasn’t. My daydreams and revisionist autobiography are full of decimating comebacks, good fights fought, and lines in  the sand most ominously drawn. I try to avoid having too much of my own agenda for my son’s development, but one giant point that I can’t seem to get off my to-do list is for him not to be the coward I sometimes feel myself to be.

And this is why, when toys get snatched away, I have to restrain myself from delivering street justice to a 3 year old.

It seems absurd to think about now, but in the moment, the urge to get all Steven Seagal on some little cheerio-faced zebra-thief is a very real thing. You parents out there know of what I speak.

I want to protect my son, of course, but if I’m honest it’s also about redeeming myself by saving my son from my own past failures.

And it’s standing up to a bully, right? That’s wicked noble. That’s all kinds of memes. I mean, yes, the kid who filched the rubber Zebra (that actually belongs to the playroom, not us) is maybe 3, tops. But putting that aside, dishing out to a bully is striking a blow for justice. Am I right?

I’m fairly cynical by nature, but I can’t help but get a little excited by this movement to end bullying. I was bullied, like most nerds. Not as bad as some, not as bad as the ones we hear about. But that experience makes all this publicity resonate with me. It makes me cheer and give victorious crotch-chops with every video, every article, every gif that brings the fight back to the bullies. That rumbles over the web, raises the virtual fist in defiance, screaming the message that they won’t get away with it any more.

These things all make me very excited. And then I remember that I was a bully.

In middle school I bullied a kid. Never physically, I never beat him up, and I didn’t make a habit of it- it was only the one kid.

Listen to me try to qualify my way back towards some kind of innocence.

I was a bully. To whatever degree. A bully is a bully.

I couldn’t have told you why, not in any satisfying sense. The guy had done nothing to me, nothing to deserve it – no one ever does. But I teased him, picked on him, pranked him through 7th grade.

With 20 years to look back on it, I can lay it on my own self-esteem problems, my own struggle towards identity. It was almost like it was a persona I wore for a year, wondering if it was mine.

It’s odd, also looking back how no one stopped me. No teachers, no other kids. I’m not shifting blame away from myself. As much as it mortifies me to, I’m owning what’s mine. I’m just observing. Bullying is an act of cowardice, and cowards only operate when they don’t think anyone’s watching. If a teacher had confronted me, I would have stopped, I’m sure. Again, I’m not shifting blame here, just observing.

I try to approach life without regrets – enjoy it or learn from it, bad or good, experience makes you who you are. But this is a regret. The biggest, probably.

I regret what I did.

I’m sorry for what I did.

I’m ashamed for what I did.

The knowledge of my own capacity for cruelty, the depth of the darkness in me, I do actually value. I feel it actually makes me kinder, but how I wish, how I so dearly wish that knowledge wasn’t paid for with someone else’s suffering.

This is a terrifying post to write. Not many people know this about me, and perhaps my deepest, howling fear is that I won’t be loved. But truth is necessary. I have to be honest with myself, with my son, with you. I’m sure the little man will find countless things to resent me for, but hopefully being false won’t be one.

I tracked him down, by the way, the kid I bullied. A few years ago, before becoming a father, I found him on facebook. It was before everybody was watching their privacy settings, so I could get a sense of how he was, and he seemed as fine and well-adjusted as anybody else. I sent him a message, an apology. I never heard back. I didn’t expect to.

I really, truly hope this anti-bullying movement takes hold. That it filters into the public consciousness so people will stand up and call bullies out when they see one. I can’t get as outraged as the headlines want me to be, though. Not because the behavior of these kids isn’t outrageous, but because they’re kids. The bullies are kids, too. They don’t deserve the sympathy that their victims do, not by a long shot. But every kid deserves some understanding. Bullying is a serious, systemic problem that needs to be stopped, but maybe helping the bullies understand what they’re doing can be part of the solution. I hope that I’m proof they can change for the better.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to talk to a 3 year old about sharing zebras.

Blog Epilogue (epiblog?): ahem. Of course, in the time between my writing this, and my posting this, my son has swung the opposite way, and now lives by the code of Axl, purloining toys with impunity. The moral of this post has now changed from “Magical Rainbow Understanding Heals the World,” to “Don’t Get Comfortable, Even With Your Problems.”


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Who Knew the Internet Could Lead to Poor Taste?

There was a time in my life when work meant tracking paper, updating spreadsheets and spending hours and days trading voicemails about schedules and payroll, and things that make me bald.

Memories of management, coupled with 1-2 hours of nightly dishwashing and hi chair cleaning have left me with a profound appreciation for the job that only needs to be done once. Or once in a great while.

Which is one of the many reasons I love my job now –  when the remote control sheep doesn’t work, you fix it, or replace it, and it’s done.

Applying this philosophy to parenting would make for a disaster of Bundy proportions (I’m thinking Ted, not Al, though either illustrates the point). but nonetheless I do appreciate it when it so rarely happens. Toilet training will by no means be a linear process; there will be progress, regress, all kindsa gress. Same goes for sleeping in his own bed, getting ready for school, and trying to get him to move out in 18 years (we can hope, but really).

Some developmental milestones are one-timers, though. Solid foods – though he still may nurse for comfort, there was no going back after the man had watermelon. And here’s a threshold of walking beyond which you don’t need to hover behind him with a crash pad and a catcher’s mitt. Some things do only need to be done once.

Musical taste, I find, does not fall into this category. There are no toys in the house that play stupid little songs, no CD’s of Disney hits for kids, no Barney on the TV. Out of the gate I’d sing Johnny Cash, Bob Marley, Wilco, maybe some Old Crow Medicine Show as I held him. The playlist we’d dance to sleep with had the Jackson 5, the Ramones, and yes, even L.L. Cool J (it never took more than twice through ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ for babies to drift off).

But our daily routine now involves watching videos on the laptop. He gets to pick, and sometimes we watch Sesame Street, sometimes Shaun the Sheep or other quality programming, but he’ll go on these binges of cheap CGI nursery rhymes – This Old Man, Wheels On The Bus, or even stranger ones from South Asia about pigs getting hit by trains. Not kidding. For days this will be all he wants to watch.

Okay, he’s 2, I get that. And fully grown ‘adults’ make poor music choice. How else will Toby Kieth pay for all his trucks? But man, I thought I laid a foundation there. I thought maybe the Beatles, or the Beach Boys would be as poppy as it got before he got into school. How wrong I was.

Something tells me it will get worse before it gets better.

How early is too early to start on Metallica?

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Notes From the Infirmary

So I’m sick this week.

Not the whole week. Not yet. There are still a few days to go, so I probably shouldn’t get cocky.

But so I’m sick and I didn’t work far enough ahead so now I’m caught with my bloggatorial pants down.

Kids, you find, are to illness like an arthritic joint is to bad weather – whatever’s coming down the pike, they’ll give you a big heads-up. For example: Little man starts vomiting on Monday, Mama start vomiting on Friday, Papa takes his turn at the porcelain bus on Sunday night.

It’s nice to do things as a family.

It’s odd, when you think about all this little organisms that get inside this bigger, ruggedly handsome organism and set off all these chemical reactions  at the cellular level that end up sending our March toilet paper budget skyrocketing. In this instance it certainly isn’t good for my health, but on a macro level, it’s vital. We need to be exposed to these things in manageable doses to maintain a working immune system.

And that’s just viral. Bacterially speaking, it’s even more of a rich, filthy tapestry. Sure, you’ve got your flesh eaters, and who wants them in the pool? And there’s typhoid and all sundry infectious diseases, but we do actually depend on certain bacteria to metabolize food in our digestive system. There are studies that show that the presence of these gut bacteria play a big part in seratonin production, and thus, our moods.

And that’s not me, that’s these guys talking.

And once I get going on this train of thought I can’t help but consider the miniature external wildlife we carry around on us. There are teensy tiny mites that live in our eyelashes. Like, they live their entire lives up there, for generations. It’s like Europe. In your eyelashes.

How can we even conceive of ourselves as individual agents, really, in light of such facts? Aren’t we more a series of ecosystems that coexist in symbiosis? Dozens of little circles of life playing out in concert with every update of a facebook status?

Or am I just awake on the toilet for the 4th time tonight?

I gotta get some reading material in here.



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There’s Just No Pleasing Some People

The very first thing you learn as a father is that crying is bad.

If you’re smart, this is your cue to hand baby to mama. I say “If you’re smart” because you only get to pull this trick a handful of time before mama just hands him back, and at first he probably just wants to nurse anyway so it’s like a freebie.

Soon enough papa finds himself all on his lonesome with the howler and this is where lesson 1.5 comes in: crying means one of about 5 things:

1.I’m hungry

2.I’m cold

3.I’m hot

4.I’m tired

5. I’m done with this diaper

One, sometimes two cycles through this checklist will almost always resolve the issue. And by the end of the second week, like the Car Talk guys, you’ll find you can diagnose the problem over the phone if necessary. You know the baby’s routine, you learn the different kinds of crying, you know whether to turn on the vacuum cleaner, or start boiling water.

And from there you’ve got it down. Sort of.

By trial and error, desperate effort and being knee deep in the mud on the front lines of parenthood you’ve tuned into every current of thought coursing through his massive, massive head. You know when trains are in and dogs are on the wane. You know when peekaboo needs to change to hide and seek and when actual swear words need to swap out for Bugs Bunny swear words. You learn his rhythms and whims like the most obsessive of Beliebers.

Or at least you think you do.

The other day we went to the zoo. Little man loves the zoo. Talks about it for days after the fact. Loves the zoo.

And at the zoo, there’s a monorail train. Little man loves trains. Plays with his wooden train on the floor for tens of minutes at a time (I call these parent-hours). Watches youtube videos with trains. Always wants to go downtown to see and or ride the light rail. Loves the trains.

So riding the train at the zoo? Donuts stuffed with Christmas stuffed with the 1812 Overture, right? One would think…

Two minutes in and he’s whining to go home.

It’s a 25 minute ride.

Fatherhood lesson number whatever – you know exactly nothing.

You’d think I’d have learned that in college.


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