Tag Archives: stay at home dad

I’m supposed to be the adult

Luke and I are in the basement playing with the wooden train track he and his brother constructed a few days earlier. One section continually falls over and I move some pieces around to make it more sturdy. Luke warns me that Noah is going to be really mad. I don’t listen. I should have.

Early one morning a few days later, Noah comes down into the basement to play trains. Immediately he sees that the track has changed and begins to cry. It is the latter part of the school week so his coping skills are low, and to compound the situation his mom worked late the night before and was not able to be home for bedtime. The latter always upsets the balance of the house. I quickly offer to help change the track back, but it’s too late. He no longer hears me and begins to take out his frustration by wreaking the track. I take Luke upstairs to have breakfast. Noah follows crying and tries to rip up some of Luke’s schoolwork. I lose my cool, snatch the papers out of his hand and yell at him.

I’m supposed to be the adult in this situation, but I’m not doing a very good job of holding it together. My coping skills erode by the end of the week as well it seems. Getting upset with Noah and yelling accomplish getting my heart rate up, causing Noah to dig his heels in more, and scaring Luke, who at this point is covering his ears and hiding behind the plant in the corner (something I did as a kid when there was yelling). If I’d just taken the papers out of his hand and said nothing and gone about the morning, the situation would have defused a lot faster. That’s not what I did and now I feel horrible that Luke is clearly scared and the morning has crumbled so quickly. However my stubborn prideful self causes me to stand my ground. I should just stop and give Noah a hug and admit I lost my temper. That’s what will work, but instead I continue to be an ass.

I called my mom to see if I had tantrums that were as colorful as Noah’s are. She said she couldn’t remember, though she did say that I stood at the top of the stairs and screamed when I was mad.

“We just ignored you when you did that,” she told me.

Recently my wife and I decided to have a code word for those times when one of us is getting out of line. Coconuts, is what we are supposed to say, the idea being that this will cause the other person to take a step back. It has been working with mixed results. What we really need to do is re-read the book called If I Have to Tell You One More Time. In it the author talks about how bad behavior is often just attention seeking behavior, which is what was clearly going on with Noah on this morning. In hindsight I should have just started putting the track back together the way he had it.

The remainder of the morning is a roller coaster but I manage to keep calm and use phrases like­–When you leave your bike there, then I am not going to help you put it away. Emphasizing the when and the then (we also learned this from the book) lets children know what the consequence will be and gives them a chance to make a choice. This works better than giving a command.

By the time we head off for school everything is back to normal.

 

 

 

 

 

Long days short years

On November 2, 2009, two weeks after Noah was born, I was laid off from my job as the creative director of a living-history park in Utah. The day had started off like any other for two new parents- hectic.

Shortly after I arrived at the office that day, I found myself sitting across from my boss as he blew sunshine where it did not belong, telling me how this was an extremely hard decision and he had been up half the night and blah blah blah. They wanted to go in a new direction, get someone with marketing experience. I was completely blindsided.

Not quite two years earlier I had been hired as the graphic designer for the park. I never pretended to be a marketing genius; in fact, I had told them I did not know much about it. I only took the role only because they had fired the marketing person for not doing her job, and with the understanding that I would only do it for a short time until we could find someone else, someone with more training than I had. Nonetheless, I loved my job, and I was excited to go to work. I may have been learning on the fly, but I was giving 200 percent every day.

I left the office mad and scared. The park is over 400 acres with dozens of buildings and I headed for one I was sure would be empty. I sat on the porch exhausted. I looked out over the valley, wondering how I was going to tell Erin. After a short time I got in my car and drove home. Thankfully I’ve never been the breadwinner in the family. Still, the pain of being out of work weighed on me.

By the time I pulled into the driveway my plan was set. I would get a job in a restaurant. Since college it had been my standard fall-back plan when times were lean. That way I could at least contribute to the household income. I was the man of the house after all. I stood outside our front door, staring at the lock, trying to find words. I walked inside and right away Erin knew something was wrong. I told her what had happened and of my plan. She told me there was no way I was going to wait tables, I hated waiting tables, and I could stay home with Noah. The running joke since the beginning of our relationship was that I had found myself a sugar-momma and someday I would be a househusband. We had stayed in Utah because of my job. Me staying home had never really been talked about when we found out we were having a baby.

Now we were at a cross roads and I had a choice to make. Did I really want to be a stay-at-home dad? At first I was on the fence; I figured I could go out on my own. I had a healthy list of contacts and the experience. We figured why not give it a try, and I set to about creating a company. Soon Erin went back to work and I was a full-time dad, trying to juggle starting a business, caring for a baby and doing some consulting work for our church. The day it took me an hour and half to write a ten line email was the day I realized I had a choice to make. I could be a stay-at-home dad or I could be a graphic designer, but I could not be both. It did not take me very long to make my decision.

The last six years have been far from easy. I’ve learned so much about who I really am that at times I sit back in pure amazement at all of the changes that I have gone through. Several times I have told Erin that I could no longer handle staying at home and needed to find a job outside of the house. I’ve made two more attempts to start my own business each resulting in me spiraling into a stressed-out anxiety riddled state that leaves me short fused and unable to deal with the little things that come with raising two very strong willed rambunctious boys and running a house. No amount of money is worth that.

On the Eve of Kindergarten

-This was written on 8/24 the night before Noah started kindergarten

It is hard to believe that the summer has drawn to a close, at least as far as school schedules are concerned. At this time three years ago I was feeling completely overwhelmed with being a stay-at-home-dad. I vividly remember standing on the playground of Noah’s nursery school and feeling as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel and wondering how I would make it for three more years.

Staying home was never the plan. When Noah was born I had a job that I loved and there was no plan on leaving. Then on a Monday two weeks after he was born, I was let go. I remember coming home shortly after I had left for work and standing outside the front door of the house, seeing Erin through the window sitting on the couch with Noah on her lap. We decided then and there that I would stay home. It has not been easy, but now on the eve of him starting Kindergarten I wouldn’t trade any of it. God truly had a plan but I refused to hear it so He had to take some hardline action. I am certainly glad that He did.

I have learned so much over these last five and a half years, not only about being a dad and a husband but also about myself. I learned to let out the person that I needed to be and to stop trying to be the person I thought I wanted to be. I’ve learned to be honest with myself and accept my faults and try, often without success, to fix those faults. Being a stay-at-home-dad has taught me and given me more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. Thankfully I get one more year of learning with Luke and I can’t wait to see what that brings, now that we have all this time to spend together, just the two of us.

Passive Protest

How do your children show their displeasure? Perhaps they run off and hide, fall to the ground kicking and screaming, stomp their feet or yell at you. If your children are anything like our boys they have done all of these things, sometimes in a single tantrum. Noah, who is five, also employs what I have come to call the passive protest. While the aforementioned actions can be extremely embarrassing in public and contribute to hearing loss, it has been my experience that the passive protest is by far the most exasperating of all the ways children can show their displeasure.

Once a protest has begun Noah will stand rooted to the spot where he became annoyed. It does not matter if that is in the middle of a room, or the middle of the sidewalk, he simply refuses to move. He will stand there with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. If I try to ask what is wrong he will scrunch his face up even more, pull his shoulders up to his ears, stare straight into my eyes, and say nothing. If I try to move him he will go limp and crumple to the ground.

For the longest time I would use threats of the loss of toys or playing with friends and when these failed I would just scoop him up and carry him out to the car and put him in his seat. Then I’d go back for whatever else I needed, his coat, his shoes, or his little brother Luke. Saying I was going to take something away posed another problem in that I would often forget about it five minutes later. To Noah’s credit, though, he will often remind me of what I said. After a particularly long string of protests I got so fed up that I walked out of the room and literally hopped up and down and roared, looking very much like Yosemite Sam without the chaps and ten-gallon hat and thus learned that you can in fact get hopping mad. After this wonderful display of total loss of control, I decided that I’d better come up with a new approach. Now I meet silence with silence, save for the occasional warning, and if the situation calls for it, the removal of the current favorite toy, at that moment, for the day. The one thing that I don’t do is use the I’m going to leave you here threat, even on the days when I would really like to. Not, because I think it is cruel to say that to your child but because the one time I did say it, Luke broke down into a sobbing, fear-filled frenzy over the fact that we were going to leave his brother who, as he repeated many times, is part of the family. Having a sobbing child and a silent unmoving child is extremely counterproductive. Like all aspects of parenting how I deal with a situation, as well as how the kids deal with it, is always changing. Often our coping ability hinges on how much sleep either party has gotten and how many days in a row my wife has been working. For the most part though the meeting silence with silence seems to be working. I just continue to plod along, and when things get really bad tell myself that other parents must be going through this sort of thing as well.

As frustrating as these protests can be, I am secretly impressed with how strongly the boys hold to their positions. In the age of bullying, extreme peer pressure, and a divided society having the tenacity to stand up for what you believe is right or against what you believe is wrong is something that should be fostered. Figuring out how to do that without becoming a complete pushover is the real trick to all of this.

This essay  was  written for the Charlotte News’s Humbled Parent Column

Lost and Found

I spent a good portion of my twenties wishing I was doing something else or was somewhere other than my current situation. I would think to myself, If I could just get to this point, I would be happy. If I just did this more, I wouldn’t feel this way.

In 2008 I was hired as the graphic designer for a living history park. I can honestly say that I loved going to work. We had only planned on staying in Utah for three years but since I had found a job that I actually enjoyed we decided to stay longer. Then, on a Monday two weeks after Noah was born, my boss called me at home and asked me to stop into his office when I got to work. When I got there, he told me they were going in a different direction and they were letting me go. I knew I’d been doing a good job, but just like that it was over. I went home, and after some soul-searching my wife and I decided that the most logical thing was for me to stay home with Noah, even though this was not part of our plan.

I thought that I had figured it out, that with the job at the living history park I was finally able to define who I was. Then the job was gone and I felt lost and completely uncomfortable in being defined as just a stay-at-home-dad. At first I tried to do some freelance design work. Then I began writing this blog but soon became more concerned with how many people were viewing it and how often I was posting, and it became more stressful than fun so I stopped. After so much time spent on the computer writing, I drifted into painting, which led to printmaking, which led me to turn our shabby garden shed into a shabby but functional art studio. Every month or two I would freak out and exclaim that I could no longer do this and I needed to get a job. Then I would come to my senses. I looked into being a volunteer Chaplain at the VA but found that, unfortunately, the time commitment was too great. I looked into ski patrol, but for the same reasons I decided against it. My painting turned to sketching and then to watercolors, which were easy to transport when I was out with Noah. I would try running now and again but it never stuck. So I stayed with the art, even though what I put on the page or the canvas never looked like I had planned it to. I did a lot of journaling for myself and the boys, and spent a lot of time putting my sketches onto my blog and looking at other people’s sketch blogs and wishing I was as good as they were. Then my dad’s cancer treatment stopped working and his health deteriorated fairly rapidly and I wrote poems nearly everyday to cope with it. After he died, I stopped sketching and soon journaling but the poems continued, for a while. Then it all stopped. It was all just too hard.

We moved back to Vermont and I again tried freelance graphic design only to discover that I really did not like being a graphic designer anymore. I was really struggling with the loss of my dad, the move, the stages the kids were in, and who I was. Then I began to trail run and it felt right, so I kept at it and that helped release some of the pain and frustration I felt and the extra pounds I was carrying. Yet something was still missing. I wanted to be writing more. Then I would remember the stress that having the blog caused me and I would think, I’ll write when the kids are in school and I have more time.

This past winter I began journaling again and I started carrying a small notebook in my pocket again. I got rid of all my old ideas that what I put in the small notebook had to be good, and I just put everything into it, thoughts, things I would hear, descriptions of people, the start of essays, poems, and random notes. Then I decided I would start writing for this blog again on a regular basis. I came up with a posting schedule and I developed an editing system. I read a book about writing called Writing Down the Bones and it opened my eyes.

When I recently agreed to write a monthly column about parenting for our local paper, it occurred to me that God had a plan that was not anywhere near my plan, but it was obviously a better plan. As hard as it is to stay home at times, it has allowed me to try all these different things with little risk. We have a greater freedom to spend time together as a family, and my writing has given me a creative outlet and a way to capture the little moments in life that are often lost to time. Running allows me to satisfy the adventurer in me and gives me time to clear my mind. I’m no longer looking for something else or thinking if I just do this I’ll feel better. I finally feel comfortable in the definition of who I am: a runner, a writer and a stay-at-home-dad riding the coat tails of his boys’ imagination.