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I have always craved solitude. Perhaps this is a symptom of the fractious household I grew up in. Heaven meant alone time, either in front a mirror imagining myself the Garfunkel half of the duo while lip-syncing into a deodorant stick, or lying in the dark at bedtime being entertained by Bob Newhart’s standup routine threading through my cassette player.
Now I am a 44 year-old husband, a father of two children—ages 11 and 9—and the co-owner of a 1955 detached cottage which is making demands on my DIY skills that I can’t keep up with.
I am gainfully employed at a job which allows me to earn a decent wage while also being available to involve myself deeply in household chores, to coax my daughter through piano practices and stand at the sidelines during her soccer games, and be a committed volunteer at my children’s school.
I am a solid citizen.
I am an evolved male.
What do I want for Father’s Day? For it all to go away.
There is one universal truth for parents: the moment you accept the responsibility of child-rearing is the same moment you abdicate the right to absolute selfishness, forever.
There will be date nights; there may be weekends away without the kids; and there are sleepaway camps which provide a sense of freedom while they ironically also instill a sense worry and longing. Even once alone, reclined in an Adirondack, it is impossible for a parent to psychologically transcend their role. We will read two pages of John Irving; then we may spend a moment spotting shapes of mammals in the clouds; then we will ease ourselves into a shallow dream; then, inevitably, we’ll wonder how the kids are doing.
You may have gotten away, but there are no direct flights to true escapism.
We are kind and loving, but not completely selfish and free.
I miss selfish and free.
There seem to be only two of the three-hundred-and-sixty-five days per year when a parent can attempt unabashed narcissism: Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, and on his or her birthday.
Despite that greedy right, there is an aura of Romper Room circle-time celebration surrounding Parents’ Days.
It is a day of gathering.
This is especially true when your children are tweens, as mine are.
They have outgrown the ignorance of toddlerhood—when they present you with a pipe cleaner stickman, and can then be led away and distracted by sandboxes and beetles. By the time they are teenagers, you are as relevant to them as a bathing cap in the Sahara, especially on Father’s Day. They yearn to give you the gift of abstention from your household on your auspicious day; a day with Daddy is uncool.
But, tweens? They still devote significant classroom time crafting keepsakes and composing poetry they can barely stand to withhold from you until the third Sunday in June.
“I’m so excited to show you what I made for youuuuuu!”
They still want you, and they want you to want them.
“Daddy needs some alone time for Father’s Day,” is not only a bizarre and abstract concept to 9-year-olds, it is also hurtful to them. Once it’s run through the tween filter, it is received simply as, “I don’t want to be with you today.” The message is distilled into an empirical form of selfishness and rejection.
How can you want to be away from me? “Me” is love, “Me” is fun, “Me” is your children, you jerk!
But, I’m tired.
My Gen-X level of engagement and involvement is exhausting. I’m dizzy, perhaps due to too much helicopter parenting?
I want twenty-four hours of selfish unpredictability.
I want to lay on my bedroom floor and stare at the ceiling, listening to the baseboard heaters crackle until...until I don’t want to do that anymore.
I want to play half of a song on that piano I don’t play anymore, and listen to its sound echo off the walls of my empty house. Then I’ll play another half of a song, and then maybe a whole song. And I’d like to maybe play for an hour, or just for five minutes, and then maybe go back to that later.
I want to fall asleep in front of a movie—perhaps one of the Oscar nominees...any of them, really, I’ve seen none of them.
When I wake up from my nap, I want to rewind it and watch the rest without scolding myself for not having started dinner.
I want to stand in my son’s room and talk to his guinea pig in an honest way that I can’t do when people are home because they’ll think I’m crazy.
A heart-to-heart with a rodent who also has nowhere to be.
I just want time.
Time is that thing that, at 44-years-old, is in decline—certainly in terms of quality, if not quantity.
I’m in love with fatherhood. And loneliness, in a permanent state, is a tragedy. But, like a favorite dessert or a seat under a tree, solitude would trigger some necessary decompression.
I believe being a parent is a gift. But, by definition, it is a gift which requires you to give and give and give.
On Father’s Day, I just want to take one...full...day.
I’ve lost my corny imagination which convinced me I was Art Garfunkel; I’ve thrown out that Sanyo cassette player; I don’t want to also dismiss my need for solitude.
I just don’t know how to explain that to my kids without bruising their hearts just a little.
So, on Father’s Day, we’ll do something together, as the family we have worked so hard to build.
Perhaps I’ll call in sick the following Monday, and spend some time talking to that caged rodent.
"Do I have to wear a jacket, Dad?"
"Of course! It's only six degrees outside!"
"Yeah, but honey," Mom intervenes, "It is going up to fourteen today, he'll just end up stuffing it in his backpack. You're fine as you are, sweetie."
"Great!" Boy celebrates, "Thanks, Mom!"
Dad is not done, however.
"But, you're the one always worried about him catching a cold because he's not dressed properly."
"Well, sure." She answers, "When it's minus five and there's snow on the ground. Not when it's late spring!"
"But," He keeps going, "Six degrees is six degrees. Why is six degrees in March any different than six degrees in May?"
And so on.
Welcome to parenting in 2016.
Have they been on the iPad for too long, or do they deserve some downtime after scoring well on their report cards?
Before getting dessert, do they have to eat four pieces of broccoli, or six, or all of it? Did you give them as many florets as last time? If the number of florets has increase, they'll notice and refuse to eat them, and you'll have to explain yourself.
They're playing with that new toy, because Dad said they could. But Dad was unaware that Mom told them they had to clean their rooms today. So, can they clean their rooms just a little later, since it's Saturday, and Dad, after all, did give them permission to play with their new toy.
Mom said they could stay up later tonight, "What?" says Dad, "We just talked about how tired they are in the morning!" Mom replies, "I know, but they only have four days of school this week, so I thought we could have a special family movie night."
Are parents exhausted at the end of the day because of parenting, or because of each other?
Any single parent probably would not need very much time to prove how much more difficult it is managing a household without a partner to support you. But, when there are two of you, do debating and nitpicking augment the stress level unnecessarily?
There is a certain peace which comes with being able to make a decision, even a "bad" one, without having to run in by your partner.
Too tired to make supper? I'm ordering pizza...without a conversation about budget and nutrition.
I'm watching this movie with the kids,...because they want to, and I, just this once, don't want to defend whether it's appropriate, or explain the research I've done online to justify my decision.
Sometimes paradise is defined simply by being able to say "yes" or "no" all by your grown-up self.
One study, and article after article online describe moms who simply want alone time for Mother's Day. That's it. Time without their partner, without the kids, and without having to decide anything for anyone but herself.
We Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers have so much literature available to us (much of which contains information which will be updated and/or changed by the time we successfully implement those ideas) we think about and analyze nearly everything about our children. Not only can we still not reach a consensus of agreement from family to family, but we still even have a hard time presenting a united opinion in front of our children (which can destroy your children's respect for your authority, if you believe the literature).
I once heard the difference between the Gen-X/Yers' parenting style and the Baby-Boomers' parenting style described in the following way:
Yesterday's parents worry about what will happen; today's parents worry about what might happen.
I think that is absolutely on point.
So, for Mother's Day and Father's Day, how about this: let's move up our New Year's resolution date from January 1st 2017, to late May 2016, and resolve that, before second-guessing our partner, we will ask ourselves, "What real harm can come from what's about to happen? What do I have to gain, compared to the energy I am going to lose, by debating the number of broccoli florets on a plate, or the temperature at 8 AM vs 1 PM and how that temperature change should be reflected in my child's outerwear?"
Let it go.
Let it free your body,
Let it move your soul.
- Luba 1984
When I received my review copy of Lynn Wilson's A Handbook for Grandparents, Over 700 Creative Things to Do and Make With Your Grandchild, I expected to find within its pages a lot of cute pictures, some children's drawings, and a few notes to Gramma and Grandpa about how to go about making collages with their little grandchildren.
I expected a sort of Arts and Crafts for Dummies.
Instead, this must-have work is so multi-dimensional, it would behoove both grandparents and parents to stow a copy on a shelf which is within easy reach at all times.
While there are many tools available to teach parents how to shave balloons and make papier maché, very few also have "above the fold" advice stressing the importance, and the delicate balance, of a parent/grandparent relationship. Before I discuss the encyclopedia of activities which comprise the vast majority of the book's pages, I would like to mention how important I found its opening section.
Lynn's book begins its journey with several pages devoted to helping grandparents understand that, yes, they play a vital role in these little people's live, but most important decisions lie with the child's parents, and must be respected. Also within that first chapter are wise words for parents who must come to understand that the older generation are no longer the parents they grew up with. They are now grandparents who have earned their retirement years, and whose joints and energy levels are not what they used to be:
Parents must also have realistic expectations about the amount of practical help some grandparents are willing and able to provide given their own plans for their retirement or their work commitments. Grandparents' involvement will vary significantly between families.
I especially like these passages, which speak to grandparents of how different modern-day parenting may be from what they were accustomed to a generation ago. These are delicate words which are often more easily transmitted through a book suggestion than spoken in person:
Family dynamics are always changing. Over time there may well be many changes in your immediate and extended family. There are many challenging transitions that can affect families, and it's important to be respectful of each unique circumstance. A new baby, an adopted child, a move, a new school, illness, death, separation and divorce, another set of grandparents to build relationships with; these can all have a drastic effect on the members of any family. In many of these situations, your daughter or son will need your support as never before.
As our children find partners who may be from different ethnic or religious backgrounds, grandparents will be exposed to various cultural influences and differing social conventions. This may influence the parents' beliefs, attitudes, and expectations to child rearing. Whatever the circumstances, successful relationships between all parties will depend on open communication.
Sometimes it's nice to have someone speak for us, isn't it?
The early chapters of the book even go as far as teaching grandparents that a visit by their grandchildren does not translate to a behavior free-for-all. Ms. Wilson offers specific methods for ensuring there is a continuity for the child as far as an expectation of respect and responsibility, and several ideas for how get a child to clean up after themselves once all the toys have been given a run-through. In other words, even at Gramma and Grandpa's, there are House Rules.
Now, on the to the nitty, gritty.
Before I explain how magnificently this book offers what must be thousands of ideas to be shared between and a grandparent and a grandchild, I will make the suggestion that this is a book which is best consumed in small doses. This is definitely a reference guide, not a novel. It can be overwhelming if a grandparent, upon receiving the book, feels he or she must digest all this information and react immediately to call to make your house safe, acquire age-appropriate toys, and buy all the classic children's books. (Ms. Wilson actually actively discourages grandparents from rushing out and purchasing a "truck load of toys," and, for that, we thank her! There is even a fantastic section of gift suggestions...other than toys!)
I would inscribe this book "Dear Mom and Dad, to be used only as needed. Love, Me."
The meat of the book is divided into sections and subsections of indoor and outdoor activities, ideas, and crafts.
The real genius of this work is its rhythm, simplicity and the repetition of its layout. (Just how kids like things!)
Each section has a master theme, for instance, Bath Tub Fun. There you will find at least a dozen ideas, each rarely more than a sentence in length. There are always "Simple Ideas" for young children, and "More Complex Ideas" for older kids.
In each section I found ideas which were very different and wonderfully original when compared with suggestions I've read in best-selling magazines and on the popular websites. These sections are also decorated with children's drawings, memories and thoughts from children, parents, and grandparents, as well as children's book suggestions which match each chapter's theme.
There are sections dealing with recipes, nature, rainy days, technology, books, and even some suggestions for what to do on snowy days (this book does work for us Canadians!)
One of the great things about this book's building block—its heart—is it can generate as much excitement and interest in a grandchild as it can in a grandparent. If I were a grandparent (my kids are 11 and 9-years-old respectively, so I'm in no hurry!), I would definitely encourage my grandchild to "Grab the handbook off the shelf and pick something to do!"
There are literally years of what-to-do within its pages.
I especially like the chapter about extended stays at Gramma and Grampa's, because that means a little quiet reading time for mom and dad, or, as I like to call it, Naptime for dummies.
With Derick Fage on BT Montreal this morning, I talked about the growing trend of holding Dad-chelor parties: a gathering with the guys to celebrate impending fatherhood.
Is this a justifiable romp, or just an excuse to leave your pregnant partner at home while you enjoy Vegas?
As we debated, we realized...a big part of the problem was with the name!