Monday, April 23, 2018

A Sweeping Declaration

Oh the humility...the moments where our past indiscretions take us like Moses up the mountain up, to walk down with our epiphany, our commandments, our newfound awareness to make a bold declaration. "I'm never getting that drunk again." "Last time I eat 3 day old nachos." "I'm never flying United Airlines again," then my wife adds, "And Spirit also!" Our lives are filled with these declarations that we use for the most part to learn and adapt behavior even though they err on the playful overly dramatic side.

But as a parent, I find myself making these declarations fairly regularly. "I need to get my son eating more vegetables." "I need to get my daughter to stop waking me up at 3am every night to help her pee when she can obviously do it by herself." It is quite natural with problem solving, 1) state problem, 2) state goals for problem, 3) find the method to resolve, 4) test, 5) study results, 6) repeat making adjustments as necessary.

7 days ago, I made a declaration of epic proportions, "I will no longer use threat of punishment or promise of reward to the modify behavior of my kids." This isn't all that dissimilar to some of my past declarations. "I will be nicer to my kids." "I will not put either kid in timeout today." "Today is going to an Only Fun Day." Much like New Years Resolutions, they were broken before they were even started.

Now toddlers are tough. They are active, noisy, smart enough to know right and wrong and the rules but not smart enough to control their emotional responses every time. This makes all day every day very testing for the patience and positivity of us parents. I've said to my wife numerous times "How can they not give themselves headaches? They literally never stop making noise or just sit quietly. Maybe they're deaf and we should get their ears checked." Not deaf. They just don't stop until they fall asleep.

And with this constant barrage of toddler energy and chaos, I found myself all day long, day after day, dangling the carrot of punishments and rewards to get my kids to act appropriately. And it works. But what I am teaching them? Good moral character is doing right because it is right, the age old Kantian view. I believe as parents, that's the ultimate goal for our kids, to know right and WANT to do right. But I had the sneaking suspicion that I have been teaching my kids that doing right comes with rewards and wrong with punishments, so as they are getting older, if there is no reward or an adequate reward or no punishment or a marginal punishment, then they can cost benefit whether to do right in that situation. That is no bueno! I just felt I couldn't wait til the moment my son looked at me after I ask him to put his shoes in his room and he says "what's in it for me?" If he says that, I just may hang him upside down from the dining room chandelier and make a pinata out of him. Even now, I often get the "I just poohed, can I get a jelly bean?" to which I must reply, "No. That was 2 years ago when you were learning how to pooh on the potty. Now you are a big kid and know how to pooh on the potty every time." to which he replies, "aw." See, these types of interactions were happening way too often so I knew I needed to modify my behavior in order to modify theirs, thus the declaration.

So first, I had to stop myself saying the "If or when and then". "If you're nice, then...." "When you're not listening, then..." "If you want, then...." It was hard but doable. I did much better the first 3 days and then started slipping a little over the weekend. I had to catch myself mid-sentence a bunch and just start over with it reworded. What I found was that in instead making offers and ultimatums at nauseam, I was making statements and then either answering questions like the target of a FBI Probe or asking questions constantly like a Mafia Don, and these conversations were long and exhausting.

1) Old converstation: "If you want to watch a movie before bed, then you need to eat all your dinner."
2) New conversation: Me: "I need you guys eating all your dinner." G: " Then can we watch a movie?" Me: "We can talk about the movie later. For now, let's eat." G: "But I don't want to eat chicken nuggets." Me: "I made them because you asked for them. How many can we eat?" G: "None." Me: "So you don't want anything for dinner? Sounds like you'll be hungry later." G: "Maybe I can get a snack later." Me: "Or maybe we can just eat dinner now." G: "Then can we watch a movie?" Son of a!

1) Old conversation: "Gray, if you snatch another toy from G, you'll need to go take a timeout. That is not playing nice."
2) New conversation: Me: "Gray, did you just snatch a toy from G?" Gray: "Yes." Me: "Was that nice?" Gray: "No." Me: "Do you like it when other kids snatch toys from you?" Gray: "No." Me: "What can we do differently next time?" Gray: "Not snatch the toy." Me: "That's right. Now go play but make sure you're playing nice." 5 seconds later, she snatches a toy again. Son of a!

Like I said, very testing of our patience and positivity. But kids need to learn and grow up in a positive environment. Right now, I am far from a perfect dad and remind myself many times every day about the importance of that positive environment. My wife likes to remind me to let them be kids sometimes. I admit that is harder than it sounds. We all want well-behaved kids, especially out in public. But I guess it's better to have little a-holes now than have them being big a-holes when they are grown.

Our little boy turned 4....
 New MLB season upon us....Go Yanks!
 Big kid bike getting ready....
 A little beach fun....
 Our little girl turned 3...
 Inside joke....
 Willy Wonka fans....or more like Willy Wonka obsessed....
 Willy Wonka Birthday Party to celebrate....

 What do you do after a Willy Wonka Birthday? Make sure everyone survived, of course....
 Spring Break in Cancun, Mexico.....
 
 Soccer fun, G vs. E....
 A fish....
 Showing off their cuteness....

 Gray vs. Gunner, not first battle, not the last, but maybe the most picturesque....
 Her team just got scored on so not sure why she was so excited....

Comfy beach living....
Obviously she had fun in Mexico....
Delta flew us first class there and back without us asking or them even telling us! They are the best!
 Uncle Marc's Birthday happened and we notice growing resemblance of him and his namesake....
 "Dad, I can't play right now. I have to do work on my computer." Solid burn Gunner, solid burn.



Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Diagnosis: FOMO

Parenting toddlers is just a different level of tough. Newborn tough is usually all physical fatigue. I'm assuming teenage tough is all emotional fatigue. And this wonderful world of toddlers is both. Why is the question.

Terrible Twos? No. Sibling rivalry? Nope. Natural Immaturity? Nah. Kids being kids? Not a chance.

Like any public health crisis, first you identify the crisis, then attributing factors to the spread of the crisis, then attributing factors to the origin of the crisis, followed by an intelligent action plan to systematically reduce or remove the attributing factors, then study the progress through evidence based decisions driving any necessary adjustments, and proceed until crisis is eradicated or brought to within a natural standard deviation of random occurrence. Sounds easy enough.

I have had toddlers for 2 years now, 15 months of two of them. And all of my scientific observational analysis has led me to one conclusion. Toddlers live in a perpetual state of FOMO. That is correct. The Fear Of Missing Out is the one definable characteristic behind all the struggle, every last bit of angst, fight, frustration, remorse stems from being unable to do or have something based on the not always rational desire to do or have it. They just NEED to experience something regardless of the consequences and parents are a barrier, not a wise voice of reason like we believe we are.

Someone has a toy, a kid wants it. Doesn't matter what the toy is.
Someone has a treat, a kid wants it. Doesn't matter what the treat is.
Someone has a drink, a kid wants it. Doesn't matter what the drink is.
Someone gets to go on a car ride, a kid wants to. Doesn't matter what the errand is.
Someone gets to read a book, a kid wants to. Doesn't matter what the book is.
Someone is dancing to the music, a kid wants to. Doesn't matter what the music is.
Someone has to walk over hot coals, a kid wants to. Doesn't matter.

So the basic theorem lays out as....

1) Someone has/gets/can ________, a kid will want to have/get/can ________ also.
2) Kid wants to do/have something, being denied that opportunity creates negative emotion void of any understanding regardless of rational explanation or any prior occurrences.

Classic FOMO. They just want to do whatever they are not doing.

And I see this with all kids, not just my kids with each other, but friends at school, cousins, kids in toy stores or on playgrounds. It is evident in the initial curiosity, followed by long moments of examination, then small incremental experimentation, capped of with full on participation. The closer the relationship of the kids, the quicker this process happens. It's as consistent as gravity.

So how do you parent to negate the powerful effects of FOMO? What techniques are most effective? I don't know. I mean I have no clue. All I know is it can be exhausting some days, a true battle of attrition. I can also see how this phase is where parents can ruin kids with too much or too little parenting so I feel as though finding the right balance, striking the chords of fun, laughter, comfort, and love with consistent enforcing of basic rules is what keeps our kids from acting like wild banshees. And just like in music, the better chords we strike as parents leads to better music we play with our kids' behavior and temperament.

King Cake Love for Mardi Gras....
 Still Mardi Gras season even missing a thumb....
 Showing Uncle Marc some ballet and tap dance moves from class....
 This ferret loved G....
 Nine finger happiness, courtesy of Disney movies....
 Awaiting our follow-up....
 Leading the class Mardi Gras parade....

 A little Atlanta trip to visit friends....
 Who knew my son directed an Oscar winning film....
 So good he doesn't even watch it strike the pins....



 G: "Dad, is he going to be okay?" Me: "No son. He is an Arsenal fan."


 After the bandages come off....


Thursday, February 8, 2018

"Not So Super" Bowl and Our Heart Stop Moment

I am rapidly becoming a firm believer that if you think parenting is easy, then you clearly aren't doing it right. Little bundle of joy? Ha! You always have to read the fine print: For that little "joy", side effects include extreme anxiety, perpetual sensations of inadequacy, dizzying second guessing. There are easily a million little things that keep you up at night as a parent. Every moment of sleep, everything they eat, their schools and learning, their social interactions with family and friends, illnesses....is it enough or not enough? are we doing it right or need to do something better or something different? enough variety? enough stimulation or not enough or too much even? learning right and wrong and morality or is our kid the next Charlie Sheen?

With everything that can worry us, now the other foot drops, emergencies. The major fears of first time parents are usually centered around the notion of rushing your baby to the hospital. It's a gut wrenching thought. For 3 years and 11 months (15 of those months with 2 kids), we were blessed to not have to endure a true emergency with our kids. Enter Super Bowl Sunday and 4 toddlers playing.

It wasn't the first time these kids played together and won't be the last. But it was our daughter who got her finger slammed in a door. I was the first to see it happen and sprung towards her. Her screaming was piercing. I opened the door, moved the other kids away to examine her thumb as it resembled disheveled play-doh. We rushed to kitchen, wrapped it in towels with pressure, and little ice for comfort. I looked at my wife and said "We got to go to the ER now."

She didn't believe me at first. I have somehow gained the reputation of the "dramatic one" in our household even though my wife cries at Wells Fargo commercials, my son throws a shutdown tanturm if he can't watch the movie Trolls 3 times in a row, and my daughter cries when she only has 7 stuffed animals and not 9. But I'm dramatic. So she opened the towel to see the crime scene and immediately "Oh yes. We need to go."

We didn't tell our son much. My wife: "Gunner, stay with Papa G. He's putting you to bed so listen to him. Mom and Dad are taking Gray to the doctor. She's going to be okay and we will see you in the morning." We were out of the door before he even processed it I'm sure.  We live about 20 minutes from the closest hospital, we made it in 11 minutes. I dropped my wife and daughter off and parked and when I came in, they were being shown to a room. My wife forced the nurses to take her immediately to a doctor. A screaming 2 year old, a blood soaked mom, a disfigured thumb bleeding through a towel like a Game of Thrones episode, and they told her to "we need to get some information first". Thankfully, my wife's insistence helped them put a pep in their step.

Of course, my daughter was MISERABLE, screaming bloody murder while the towel and all our clothes looked like bloody murder. Even then, we constantly poked out of the room to see where the doctor was while we waited. When a nurse closed the door to our exam room, we opened it. They weren't going to leave our baby girl waiting any longer than absolutely necessary. If she had to suffer, everyone would suffer with her. Want it to stop? Heal our baby girl.

And thank God for the morphine. A small prick in the butt cheek and within 10 minutes, our little girl was comfortable, tears had stopped, and even some silliness and smiles at times. We put a movie on our phone for her while we waited and she was even singing along to Moana. Of course she sounded like Mariah Carey without the backup sound assistance but she didn't care. She had settled down.

Our wait was for them to prep an operating room for an emergency surgery. My wife and I aren't doctors, we took one look at the thumb in our kitchen and our reaction was "this is too much for a band-aid and some neosporin... to the ER" naturally assuming stitches for a bad cut and maybe a broken thumb also. Oh no no no. The doctor came in with "We called the Hand Surgeon on call to come in. He will need to fix this. It's beyond me just stitching it up, The bone was not broken but was exposed. It was a near complete amputation of the entire thumb. We need to reattach it."

I mean Holy Shit! I started my night wondering why Tom Brady went to the Super Bowl looking like an SNL skit of Andy Warhol to hearing my right handed daughter may lose her right thumb! At age 2! Her thumb! One of the very assets to distinguish her primitive innate dominance as a human over other animal species. And what of her future? A surgeon, a gymnast, an artist, a musician, a pro golfer? Just how much would this impact her down the road.

Every time my mind wandered to the dreadful place it shouldn't, I found comfort that Luke Skywalker had a robot hand it didn't seem to stop him from defeating Vader, the Emperor, and toppling the Empire. Lefties are also tough in tennis with being able to kick serve wide on the ad court (yes, I know my tennis jargon) and if she did want to play for the Yankees one day, lefty middle relievers are always in demand.

We left the hospital at 5am, Gray passed out from a long night, thumb reattached and bandaged so thick she could dip it in battery acid and not feel a thing. Her and my wife went straight to bed. I relieved our awesome babysitter and got some stuff ready for the next day before my son awoke at 630.
Gunner's first question, "How is Gray?"
Me: "She is okay. She is sleeping with mom now."
Gunner: "Good. Can I have a granola bar now?"

What I find most frustrating about toddlers is the listening to safety conundrum. I don't care if my kids don't listen to me about everything so long as they listen to when it comes to their safety. But that's not how it works, is it? You can sound like a broken record, do a powerpoint presentation, reinforce with candy, and no matter what, it's still mostly a crap shoot to get 100% compliance. I am usually pleased with 80% or higher even though don't my grad professors that. I've told my kids 50 times about not playing with doors and they for the most part listen. But on this day, since we had other kids going in and out of doors, I told Gray specifically 6 times to be careful around the outside door and even physically redirected her twice earlier. But tired toddlers don't seem to care about much from their parents or for the rules. Even though we spend every waking minute and most sleeping minutes, trying like hell to keep them safe, something can always happen that can make your heart stop. Pray it never happens but be prepared just in case.

Room 11 was no party room....
 But the morphine helped, silly faces with a detached thumb under that towel....
 Still detached and bleeding away under that new dressing....but our girl was a trooper....
 Finally off to emergency surgery....
 Maybe realizing what was about to go down....
 Wrap this Sunday up....
 Thumb back on....for now, our girl is back to 10 fingers....
 Perks of catastrophes, breakfast in mom and dads bed with the big tv....

 Hanging out with mom while working....
 Still wanted to do her piano lessons....