Real parenting milestones

You always hear about the cute little milestones.  First steps, first words, first tooth falling out, first haircut, first time going to school.  These moments are supposed to be so magical, but I am going to be honest with you.  All the little Hallmark milestones are nice but they have not elicited the biggest emotional responses out of me.  Let me break down the real parenting milestones.  The milestones that actually elicit the biggest emotional responses. Some good, some bad, but these are the important ones.

First Day without the Diaper Bag

More than any other day, this day brought a tear to my eye.  The first time you can yell into the other room, “Hey boys, we gotta go” and then simply walk out of the house is the single most liberating moment of parenting.  No more hoisting a 75 lb diaper bag onto your shoulder. No more checking their shoes.  No more wondering if you restocked that bag with back-up underwear, wipes, flares, or snacks.  No more wrestling the boys into the car seat.  No more pinning down the flailing little monster with 17 layers of coats while you desperately try to fasten a 5-pt harness onto what looks like a writhing mini-Michelin Man. No more trudging into the snow looking like a Sherpa.  The day when the time between announcing that it’s time to leave and putting the key in the ignition is under 37 minutes has been the greatest day of my parenting career.

“Dad, don’t put it into reverse until I buckle my own seat and you stop crying?”

“I’m sorry son. I’m just so happy.”

First time ordering off of Adult Menu

This one just sucks.  “Dad, I don’t want a mini grilled-cheese with apple slices and a plastic cup of juice.  I want the Bomb-Burger with fries and a Coke with refills!”

This milestone is not sad because you realize that your son is becoming a young man.  There is no moment when you sadly look at the boy before you and see a pudgy little baby cramming Puffs and Cheerios into his mouth. You do not flash back to a tiny infant drinking 6 oz of milk, belching and falling into a bloated, post-meal coma.

What you see is your bill tripling.  What you see is the waitress carrying away about a third of that Bomb-Burger because your little glutton power chugged 40 oz of carbonated sugar before the meal even showed up.  You are sad because you know you are going to be eating out far less.

Toileting

Obviously, when the kid starts using the toilet there are a million obvious pluses.  Obviously, you are done with diapers. You are done with wiping stinky butts.  The diaper bag shrinks or disappears.  Your hands are not longer chafed from the constant washing after handling wet underwear.  There is no longer that hint of “used-diaper” smell that has always lingered in your house.

Here is the real pay-off.  You no longer shackled to a littler person’s excretory system.

“Dad, I need to use the potty.”

“Yup. Better do something about that.  Hey, when you’re done, why don’t you grab me on of those Girl Scout Tagalongs on your way back?”  Pure magic.

First sleep-over

Yes, your child is growing up.  Yes, this is a new level of independence.  Maybe some people are even a little sad that the child no longer needs them quite as much.

But you get to have sex again! And foreplay does not involve the phrase, “Do you think they are asleep?”  You do not have to sneak into each room to double check that they are deep into the REM phase of sleep. You do not have lock your door and set so many security cautions that even semi-sane Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible can not drop in.

True the ultra-erotic bedroom banter of “Wait..Shhh.. shhh.. be quiet! Do you hear Ben?” ends.  You do have to live without my personal favorite, “Don’t move.  I’m serious. DON’T MOVE! Maybe he’ll just flush, wash his hands and go right back to bed. Steady… steaaaaady.. I think he’s almost back in his room… Hooold.. Hooooold… I think he just closed his door…Hey! wake-up!” but it is so worth it.

I got my fist speeding ticket after dropping my boys off at their sleep-over.

First Time Watching Awesome Movies

I had no problem living through years of animated movies and TV shows when the biggest danger was that maybe, just maybe, Daisy wouldn’t be able to finish Goofy’s birthday before the surprise party. Will the Wiggles eat their fruit salad? Will the Imagination Movers finally not be able to brainstorm an idea to get Warehouse Mouse his cheese? Will a Higglytown Hero please just save the day! I’m fine with that.

However, it’s a very special day when you can sit down as a family and watch a Hobbit slog across Middle-Earth for over nine hours without fast-forwarding, editing or trying to explain that those forty arrows probably just tickled Baromir. No son, he’s dead. In fact, every time you ever see Sean Bean, you can just start preparing yourself that he’s going to die. Cows kill Sean Bean.

 

The expansion of movies that we can now watch produces sentimental, deep conversations such as…

“Dad, Aragon just chopped that orc’s head off!  That was awesome. Why are you crying again?”

“Come here and hug your dad.”

I’m not stupid. My boys are not watching anything related to Westeros and I have limits, but being able to watch a show that we all enjoy is an incredible parenting milestone.

“Dad. Are the clones good or bad? I mean, they help the Jedi, but they will eventually be Stormtroopers and they are bad, so are they good, bad, or just do what they are told?”

“Sshhh, little one.  Yoda is about to lay the hurt on Dooku. This is going to be awesome because for years I have carefully planned out the correct order to show you these movies so that when you eventually suffered through these prequels, you would find these next forty-five seconds amazing. Why?

Because I know what the important moments really are.”

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Parenting sucks

Being a dad is the best thing I have ever done.  I love it.  I love playing with my kids, I love seeing them grow and learn. They make me smile more than anything else in the world. I have been blessed with two boys who I am extremely proud of. They are kind, well-mannered, thoughtful and considerate young men who I can (generally) trust to do the right thing. I know that both of them are going to be far better men than I am and that is all I can ask.  I would not change my boys or my parenting experience for anything.

But let’s be honest.  Parenting sucks.  There are the obvious suck factors. There are the  financial strains. The sports fees, clothes, toys, gas for chauffeuring and the occasional feedings are mind-boggling.  I could be quite well off without my financial parasites.

There are the endless hours of crappy television. Sitting through hours of performances to see your kid do something of 180 seconds.  Favorite clothes ruined by vomit, feces, or jelly. Property destruction. Barney.  The realization that you haven’t had a non-kid conversation with your wife since Bush was in office. Sleep deprivation. The Talk. Realizing your kids can stomp you in MarioKart. Dinner battles. Homework Wars. Jar Jar. Suck, suck and suck.

However, this single thing that sucks most about parenting is having to let my sons fail. I disagree with a lot of people who rush to rescue their kids from failing, work hard to avoid putting their children in situations that are uncomfortable or simply refuse to let their children be wrong.  Don’t get me wrong. It breaks my heart to see my kids fail or become frustrated with something. I turn into a neurotic mess when I drop them off at something that they are not familiar with and count the minutes until I pick them up again. I hate it more than any other aspect of parenting but I know I have to do it.

I do not want to raise boys who do not know how to cope with failure, who are scared of the uncomfortable or do not know how to handle adversity because I have shielded them from it. I screw up every single day. Frankly, it’s more of an hourly habit for me. I fail at parts of my job, as a friend, as a husband, and as a father. Guess what happens?  I try fix it and move on because I’ve learned how to deal with failure.  I certainly get enough practice.

Life is going to be uncomfortable for my kids.  At some points, things will go south. Friends will betray them.  People will fail them. They will screw something up and it will be nobody’s fault but their own. And let’s be  honest.  James looks exactly like me and Ben acts exactly like me. That means they are both doomed to some pretty spectacular dating failures in the next few years. It’s going to happen. I hate it, but it’s true.  However, when it happens, I do not want it to be like falling off a cliff.  Maybe more of a bump on life’s hill.

One of my worst parenting experiences was watching Ben not make a soccer team he wanted. I saw the try-outs. I knew he was not gonna make it but I watched his face and saw the exact moment he realized his number was not going to get called. It broke my heart.  Not because he came up short, but because I had to watch him hurt. Watching him hold the tears until the parking lot and listening to him cry in his bedroom killed me. I hugged him, talked to him, or just sat with him for what felt like forever.  No part of me wants to put him in that position again, but in three months I will.  Every part of me wants to either drop him at try-outs and pick him up at the end or make my wife, Jasmine, take him, but I will do it.  I will do it because in the greater scheme of things, the results of the try-out will  not matter but Ben being in position to learn how to handle failures, as well as success, does matter.

I think the reason I hate it so much is that it’s taken me thirteen years of parenting to realize the stupid “This hurts me more than it hurts you” cliche has some merit. My kids rebound fast but it takes me longer to get over seeing them struggle. If you were to ask Ben today about not making the team he had hoped for he would say, “That sucked. Can I make some popcorn?”  On the other hand, it has been eight months and I still feel a little physically sick  when I write about watching his reaction to being placed on a different team.  I have started to wonder if the reason so many parents will not let their kids be uncomfortable is really for the parent to avoid having to witness it. I wonder if the “rescue” is really a selfish act?  I don’t know.

Most parenting “sucks” really are not that bad. I’m OK being home on St. Patrick’s Day writing a stupid blog instead of being out.  Being impaled by Lego is part of the job. Seeing nothing but animated movies for a decade is a small price. If I could give up one part of parenting, it would be having to watch my boys work through adversity without swooping in to rescue them.  However, if that were the case, I feel like I would not be helping them. I truly believe that letting them experience and work through bumps along the way will help them better deal with some of the inevitable tough times life with throw their way. Doesnt’ mean I have to like it though.