When Did I Become My Parents?

Like every parent I thought I’d be cooler and more laid back than my parents were, 33 months later, I’ve had to rethink that.  My parents weren’t always the strict, stressed couple I remember growing up.  I’ve seen old pictures — there was a time when they were young and energetic.  Raising two sons has a way of catching up with you.

Over the past months I’ve noticed changes, I’d like to say subtle changes, but I don’t do subtle — I started morphing into my parents.  If you are a parent you’ve either experienced this or are in denial.

I’ve put together this list to see if you’ve become your parents.

Me explaining the family tantrum policy to Cristian

The Bulging Vein in My Forehead – I first noticed this during Mommy and Me Class.  I thought being the only Daddy in Mommy and Me class would have set the vein a popping but bringing a cooler of beer tucked under the baby stroller took care of that for me.  However spending most of the classes prying open Cristian’s mouth making sure he wasn’t eating Play Doh, stopping him from gobbling up other kids’ snacks, and keeping us both from looking like an old drop cloth while he played with paint and shaving cream made me twitchy.

Daddy Doesn’t Do Tantrums – I was born in the mid 60s before parenting books, websites—or even the internet.  In those days common sense was an essential component to parenting.  My Dad comes to mind, he had no tolerance for tantrums so he used an old-school approach — he ignored them.  Tantrums are Toddler Performance Art, they work best in front of an engaged audience — the show ends quickly when there’s no audience entertaining them.

Heeding Dad’s wisdom, I adopted this policy on Day One.  Holding my crying one-hour old son, I whispered to him gently, “Cristian, I love you but you need to know something, Daddy doesn’t do tantrums.  I’m going to let this one slide because it’s your birthday and you don’t know the rules yet, but going forward I want you to remember this little talk.”  To date, he’s been slow picking up on this one.

Parents Say No, Grandparents Say Yes – You know karma’s bitten you in the ass the first time this happens.  When I was a kid visiting my grandparents meant I’d get away with things I never could at home.  I remember my grandmother saving a six-year old me from a butt whipping or two.  These days Mom is the one spoiling the little one.  I usually find her chuckling as she sees my expression as she’s giving Cristian a sugary snack right before his bedtime.

Tunneling in My Gym classs

You’ve Become Your Child’s Personal Driver – Mom never learned to drive, so in addition to being the sole breadwinner, Dad sometimes had to drive a group of us home from soccer practice, or drop me off at a hockey game in Williamsburg.  After working on job sites as a carpenter, he preferred to relax with a beer or two and the evening news, but off we would go.

These days I take Cristian to play dates, My Gym classes, or to the park to play and burn off excess energy.  It’s inconvenient at times, especially after a nutty week at work but I knew I’d this was part of becoming a Dad.

Of course it’s all a matter of perspective, one of my favorite memories  of my Dad was the two of us battling rush-hour traffic to get into Manhattan. Although he hated driving into Manhattan under most circumstances, he drove me and about 30 pounds of props in to a photo studio on 18th Street, because third-year photo majors rarely get access to a professor’s photo studio for a shoot. Hopefully when he grows up Cristian will have similar memories of me.

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The Last Days of a Stay at Home Dad

Enjoying my days as a SAHD

It’s been awhile since my last post—too long.  A lot’s changed in the four months since I posted about sore nipples—they’re still a little tender by the way.  Cristian turned two, an orange narcissist was elected President, and I’m no longer a Stay at Home Dad.

Shortly after Mommy and Me Class, (my last post), Esther and I discussed putting Cristian into daycare three days a week.  We figured spending time with kids his age is better for learning childlike-behavior, instead of spending days with his old man learning childish behavior.  We signed him up when he started throwing his sippy cup at the TV whenever CNN aired a Trump Rally.

Around the same time, I started receiving job offers.  A steady gig as a school photographer was a bit scary—not because of the workload but photographing elementary school kids was a sneak preview of the next few years of parenting.

Shortly afterwards I scored an interview for an academic advisor position at a college, my alma mater.  Since I was already working steadily as a freelancer with a possible full-time job lined up, we added two more days to Cristian’s schedule.  I had mixed emotions—I was excited at the challenge of a new job but was a little bummed too.

Getting his daily dose of CNN.

I’ve taken care of Cristian since Esther went back to work from maternity leave.  We’ve gone to MyGym classes, shopped at Costco, and he came along with me when I delivered documents for my medical billing job.

I knew I’d miss chasing him around the playground, watching him hit new developmental milestones, and miss the vein popping from my forehead as he tested Daddy’s patience time after time, (usually after the playground and hitting developmental milestones.  Life was changing yet again.

My mornings are different now.  Instead of taking Esther to work and Cristian to the playground, before settling into a few hours of spreadsheets and billing codes, my mornings are now a blur of shave, shower and get dressed.  Once again Esther and I are tag-team parents, one of us watching the baby while the other gets ready for work.  Sure my new job has nice perks like an office, but I still miss watching Cristian goofing on Wolf Blitzer after coming home from the playground

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Remembering Dad A Year Later

Dad in mid conversation, probably talking politics.
Dad in mid conversation, probably talking politics.

A year ago today my Dad passed away and I’ve spent the past week with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.  Whether it was driving past the nursing home where he spent his last days on the way to the baby’s My Gym Class or seeing images of him in a slide show at my niece’s Sweet 16 Party last weekend.  Last Friday night’s torrential rain awakened more memories than expected.

I remember a painful conversation with Mom as I drove her home from the nursing home in a heavy rain. I told her the doctor said Dad developed pneumonia, and probably wouldn’t make it through the weekend. That was the best case scenario—the worst case scenario was he wouldn’t make it through the night.  You would have thought a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer and three months of doctors and hospitals would have prepared us for this—it didn’t.

When my phone rang at 6am the next morning, Esther and I knew it was bad news.  How many early-morning calls are good news?  I felt numb calling Mom, my brother Bob and various aunts and uncles, informing them of Dad’s passing as I walked Chico.  The conversations were short and quick, the numbness stayed with me a few months.

We spent the weekend after Dad’s passing decluttering Mom’s house, devouring cold cut platters, and reliving memories.  I’ve always been amazed how people achieve saint-like status simply by dying.  I’ve written about my Dad several times he was a good man with many wonderful traits—but he was no saint.  We lightened the mood, spending parts of the weekend reliving stories of our favorite meltdowns or Mom and Dad bickering like George Costanza’s parents on Seinfeld.  Fifty plus years of marriage will do that.

Dad with my Maternal Grandfather in Puerto Rico in 1980
Dad with my Maternal Grandfather in Puerto Rico in 1980

A lot’s changed in the past year, Esther, Cristian and I moved in with Mom to help out with the house and dealing with losing Dad.  Esther and I do much of the former, Cristian handles the latter.  The numbness is gone—it’s been replaced with sadness and regret.

I regret not asking him more about the Spanish side of my family tree, about his dad and his brothers.   I never met them—they all died too young.  I regret being a stubborn child who didn’t pay enough attention when he tried teaching me basic carpentry and household projects.  I regret not thanking him for all he gave me, did for me, and for not saying I love you.

Dad helping pop a champagne cork to celebrate my 14th Birthday.
Dad helping pop a champagne cork to celebrate my 14th Birthday.

These days many people are concerned with their legacy.  Once considered the domain of athletes and politicians it’s now a concern among many average people.  Maybe it’s a product of the age we live in.  I doubt Dad put any thought into his legacy, but he did leave one behind.

To the many carpenters, electricians and other skilled laborers, most from Galicia, the part of Spain he was from, Dad’s legacy was helping them with a well-placed phone call to an employer or union rep finding them a job or a union card shortly after arriving in this country.  To him it was paying forward the kindness extended to him by a friend named Viña many years before.

Before writing this piece I thought about Dad’s legacy.  Was it fulfilling the American Dream?  He arrived in this country in 1956 with little more than the clothes on his back, a few dollars in his pocket, and a trade—he was a skilled carpenter.  Over the next 60 years, he married, raised a family, built a home, saved a few dollars, and gave his children a better life than the one he knew as a child.

Although impressive it’s incomplete.  As a father he taught me more by his actions and examples than his words.  He and Mom were married for 56 years and sure they bickered a bit as they got older—show me an old married couple that doesn’t—but it was his genuine concern for her in his last days that touched me.  He insisted I keep him up to date her latest doctor’s appointments, making sure she was taken care of.

Ever the doting grandfather, he waited 88 years for his elusive grandson.  Seeing his hazel eyes light up whenever I brought Cristian to the nursing home was one of the few bright spots for me during his last days–but there were sad memories too.  I’ll never forget him playing with his nine-month old grandson saying, “You’re beautiful!  What a shame I won’t be able to see you grow up.”

Today we’ll honor Dad’s memory, with a memorial mass for him and Esther’s Mom Maria—she lost her fight with Pancreatic Cancer three years ago this week.  After paying respects at the cemetery, I’m firing up the grill, serving up sardines and other grilled meats along with wine and beer just like Dad would do on any Sunday afternoon in July.  I can’t think of a better way of keeping his memory alive.

 

Grandpa's Stone

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Five Signs You Need a Night Out

Esther and I before becoming parents. Notice the smiles on our faces.
Esther and I before becoming parents. Notice the smiles on our faces.

We all love our kids but being locked up with your little booger monster takes a toll over the long haul  A blizzard, ear infection, and daily bombardment of the Donald-Marco-Ted three-way is enough to make the strongest among us scream for a night out.

If you aren’t sure if you a night away from the baby I created this guide.  Helpful hint nicknaming your pride and joy Godzilla thins out the baby sitting pool quickly.

Playdates Dominate Your Social Calendar– Playdates and Children’s Fitness Centers like Gymboree and MyGym are great for socializing your child.  They also let new parents compare notes on sleep patterns, developmental milestones, and the strangest place you’ve found poop and puke. As helpful as they are an evening spent with a different circle of friends will make a huge difference. Suggestion – Double date with another couple.  Bonus points if their child is old enough to babysit.

Hamming it up at his MyGym Class
Hamming it up at his MyGym Class

You’re Watching Too Many Kiddie Shows –When PBS Kids and Nick Jr are your go-to channels it’s only a matter of time until you get caught up in Elmo’s latest adventures.  Waking up humming the Pepa Pig theme is a sign you need a night out.  Suggestion – Beer and Wings with the guys at a Sports Bar.

The Last Movie We Saw Was Um…– Having young kids in the house means they determine what’s on TV.  It makes you long for the nights when you and the wife battled it out for the remote.  If the last movie you saw was the first Hunger Games you’re overdue for a movie night.  Suggestion –Dinner and a Movie.

Playdate in the park
Playdate in the park

Funerals Become Date Nights – It’s gotten pretty bad when attending a wake or sitting shiva is the highlight of your social calendar. Although wearing something other than the stained sweatshirt and pajama pants will score points with your better half, sharing a meal of brisket and rugelach with your fellow mourners is not a date night. Exceptions may be granted for an Irish Wake.  Suggestion – Make Reservations for two at a steak house because nothing says love like porterhouse.

Some Private Time Please Keeping up with a toddler requires the patience of a monk and the energy of an extreme athlete—sometimes that’s not enough. Working all day and trying to outlast a wired baby late into the night is exhausting—usually resulting in one parent falling asleep before the baby.  You know it’s gotten pretty bad when you start comparing who’s better looking Wilma Flintstone or Betty Rubble.  Suggestion – Call in a huge favor and have someone to watch the baby while you book a romantic weekend, a three-day weekend if possible in case one of you passes out the first night.

Disclaimer- No Cartoon Characters were hurt during that last joke.

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Is Parenting at 50 Easier?

A Twenty-Something me, with beard and mullet (I know) tailgating before a Grateful Dead show. Photo Randall Luttenburg
A Twenty-Something me, with beard and mullet (I know) tailgating before a Grateful Dead show. Photo Randall Luttenburg

Becoming a SAHD (Stay at Home Dad) at 50 concerned me a little—okay maybe more than a little.  I worried about, bathing, diaper changes, and being the responsible adult.  I was working without a net—it was just me and the baby—without an adult more adult than me nearby.

I’ve outgrown my initial concerns but still dread the day when someone asks, “How old is your grandson?”  Hopefully Cristian will do the right thing and kick them in the leg.  I’m counting on you son.

I spent Sunday’s Super Bowl Party comparing notes with Dads who’ve been there and done that.  We agreed first-moments are great, tantrums suck, and debated which was more annoying, the Teletubbies or Caillou.

Here’s what I learned:

Looking Silly is Okay – My friends may be wondering about this one.  Silliness and an off-beat sense of humor is kind of who I am. I have a hard time seeing a thirty-something me bopping around to kiddie songs during a My Gym class or even out of class. These days I’ve become a rhythmless-dancing machine—it’s easier when you embrace the silly.

Baby-Related Entertainment – My days are consumed binge watching Sesame Street, Sid the Science Kid and Pepa Pig.  Going to show or museum used to be a comedy club or MOMA now it’s Sesame Street Live or the Children’s Museum of New York.  Cristian’s smiling face makes up for the crowds and loud crying children.

Cristian and I heading to the Chilldren's Museum of New York
Cristian and I heading to the Chilldren’s Museum of New York

Pacing and Energy – Twenty years ago I was younger, fitter, and had washboard abs.  Today, I’m older and grayer, okay mostly white without the hair color.  A keg replaced the six-pack. Caring for and chasing after a toddler requires endurance.  Finishing twelve marathons taught me how to pace myself. Occasionally I hit the wall, but push through until Esther comes home from work or I’ve worn the baby out.

I’m Older, Calmer, and More Secure with Myself – It’s not like I’m doing yoga, sipping green tea, or reading the Dalai Lama but twenty years mellowed me.  I no longer stress things I can’t control.  I’ve learned to enjoy the moment because they won’t last forever.  That’s not to say I haven’t fired a baby bottle or thrown an iPhone across the room during those special moments.

Payback’s a Bitch – I watched from the sidelines when my friends became parents in their 20s and 30s.  Knowing I could bolt when the tantrums started was a good option to have.  Those same friends are now empty nesters, offering advice and even babysitting here and there.  These days they’re the ones reaching for their coats when the tantrums kick in.

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