20 Ways To Not Piss Off Your Parenting Partner

Being a parent is hard work. Being married to/living with a parent is also hard work. So here are a few handy tips based on my personal experience (and some from my friends) to help navigate the tough/busy/emotional times, balance out the domestic to-dos, and avoid frustrations, snark and general spousal pissed-off-ness. Note the below applies not just to husbands, but also to wives (like me). Read on, for marital and domestic bliss awaits you.

  1. Don’t make assumptions. About anything.
  2. When opening the fridge, take note of what’s not there, and add those items to a shopping list (physical or mental).
  3. When popping into the store, think about what’s on the physical/mental shopping list, and buy them. Heck, buy two.
  4. Do not question money or time spent at the hair or beauty salon. Budget for it in the family financial plan and tell her/him she/he looks lovely.
  5. Check with your partner before making purchases over a certain amount. Pre-agree what that amount should be.
  6. Don’t just talk about scheduling items; go ahead and put things on the family schedule. Physically or digitally. Just do it.
  7. Participate in meal planning (see items 1 & 2).
  8. Share homework checking and backpack management duties.
  9. Schedule regular alone time or time out with girl/man friends. Then do item 6.
  10. Don’t contribute to the general messiness and disorder of the house. Or at least try not to. And if/when you do, pick up after yourself. See item 16.
  11. Always be thinking/doing laundry. It’ll avoid those “I have no underpants” situations. It might even get you laid.
  12. Have assigned duties/roles (e.g. he handles finances/bill paying, she ensures kids has an adequate supply of clothes/shoes that fit even when they are growing like weeds which is like always.)
  13. Be united in your kid disciplining approaches. Kids can see through any weaknesses in a nanosecond and will use all and any leverage they can.
  14. Don’t make assumptions. I know, I know I said that before but, boy, it is everything.
  15. Tune in to each other’s work/stress load and proactively offer to take the kids out or handle a chore you don’t usually handle. Even better, take the initiative: book a babysitter, make a ressie and take him/her out for the evening.
  16. Just do it. Don’t wait to be asked. Like, if you see a mess.
  17. Listen. Put down your smartphone and listen.
  18. Watch/listen for unspoken cues. Like sighing, eye rolling or, you know, door slamming.
  19. Quash the temptation to snark about each other in public forums; instead celebrate each other on Facebook. (Snark about your kids instead. At least until they are old enough to read or use FB themselves. Cos then you are in trouble.)
  20. Never EVER assume (or state the words out loud) that time spent alone at the grocery store is the equivalent of real alone time.

(Am printing this off and putting on my bedside table to review on a regular basis.)

(Actually, am printing another one off and putting it on his bedside table too!)

 
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Introducing the Birds and the Bees

This all happened much sooner than I had anticipated. I thought I’d have at least one more year, till my oldest would be in fifth grade. But over the past few months, my kids – independent of one another – started asking questions. My son had read stuff about DNA in one of his science books and was curious (“Look it’s so cool, the woman’s DNA is in an egg and it mixes with a man’s DNA which is in sperms.”) My daughter had overheard discussions about young teenagers becoming mothers (“Mama, can girls have babies?”) and also wanted the nitty-gritty details about how dogs breed (“But how do they mix the two dog breeds? I mean how?”) I’d done a fairly good job up until this point deflecting their questions or giving them just enough information to be satisfied with the answer but not enough to spark further curiosity.

But based on the frequency of their questions, it felt like the time had come to reveal all.

My kids are now armed with new knowledge and vocabulary. To all my parent friends, my kids’ teachers, their classmates and classmates’ parents, I apologize should you hear words – like scrotum – uttered by my otherwise sweet seven year-old. For some reason, she has latched on to the word scrotum. Go figure.

It’s not that I was trying to keep any of this a secret. It’s just once you breach this milestone, there’s no turning back. Not that it’s a bad thing to equip them with this information. But while you are filling in the gory details about how babies are made and how they come out, you may as well open the kimono on Santa, the tooth fairy and all that. Suddenly, all that is magical evaporates replaced with science and biology. Where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, I decided to buy books. I ordered two different books and read them cover to cover before handing them over to the kids, ever so casual. “Hey, you’ve been wondering so here’s something to read, and papa and I can answer any questions you might have.” No biggie, right? (“JUST DON’T DO THIS UNTIL YOU ARE AT LEAST 30, my brain screamed.”)

For the seven year-old, I selected the book It’s Not The Stork. All the basics are there, presented in very accessible cartoon format. She dug right in and has enjoyed it as much as reading her Magic Tree House or Pokemon books. No questions asked.

For the ten year-old, I bought It’s Perfectly Normal. To say it’s comprehensive is an understatement. The book covers a lot of territory, much of which makes little sense right now to him (sexting, gender identity, birth control … etc.) What I appreciated most about this book was how everything was presented in the context of acceptance, love and respect.

When I first gave him the book, he was mortified. he sat on the floor, head in his hands and said “I can’t believe you gave me a book about sex: it’s so inappropriate!” So I explained he could treat it like a reference book, dip into it every now and then whenever he had questions. I told him it wouldn’t all make sense now and that was OK. Needless to say, he has actually read it cover to cover. Also no questions have been asked though we have made it very clear that if and when he wants to talk, we are here.

Whether or not I’ve handled this right, I have no clue. It’s part and parcel of the whole operating without a handbook thing. And we are only at the beginning of this journey.

Still, there have been several hysterical moments. My daughter apparently lectured her grandparents over breakfast one morning about the two different ways babies are born. I’m not sure if they were horrified or amused. She also recently used the phrase “pretend he just sucked his testicles in” while her Hero Factory/Chima Lego creatures were play-battling in the back seat of the car. I almost drove off the road. She was also overheard explaining to her best friend about how a girl’s private parts are inside, while a boy’s hang out. Which, I guess, is correct. Not sure how that came up in their conversation.

And then there was the evening when I was telling the kids about how on that very night, 14 years earlier, their papa and I had met on our first date. I thought it was going to be a sweet conversation about falling in love and romance and all that.

However my son looked at me with a knowing look on his face: “Oh, I’ve read all about dates,” he said, eyeing me suspiciously. “And love. And penises.”

Ah well. This should be fun.

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For Your 10th Birthday, 10 Ways That You Amaze Me

Dear son, today you turn 10. And while every birthday is worth celebrating, this one is particularly poignant.

For ten whole years, I’ve held you, fed you, hugged you, entertained you, laughed with you, cleaned you and cleaned up after you, answered your questions, dried your tears, high fived your achievements. I’ve spent hours fretting, researching, discussing, wondering about how you’re progressing socially, cognitively, biologically, emotionally, academically.

I’m often telling you to quieten down, slow down, clean up, hurry up. I may nag, I may yell, I may sigh with frustration. I discipline and punish. I lay down tough rules. And yes, I make you empty the dishwasher, pick up your stinky socks, turn off your device, do your homework, eat your vegetables, flush the toilet, and play nicely with your sister.

Because this is all part of the contract I made with my heart when I became a parent. Its design, other than to protect my sanity, is to show you the path to becoming a good person. Because I consider that job number one.

But mostly, throughout this past decade, I’ve admired you. You, Gabriel, amaze and inspire me, and here’s why:

  1. You are high on life. You are always 100% in the moment (even if that moment only last 60 seconds before you are on to the next moment!) You grab each day with gusto and joy, extract from it as much delight as you possibly can. May your lust for life and joy always be with you and rub off on the people around you, so they can light up the room, like you do.
  2. You are creative. Your inquisitive and imaginative mind, sharp, curious eye and lithe fingers compel you to express yourself through detailed sketches, funny doodles, paintings, sculptures and, oh so many, fantastic origamis. There’s no doubt you have an innate talent. I hope you continue to explore and challenge your art because when everything is grey and dull, your creativity will bring color and energy.
  3. You are a book worm, a reading ninja. You surround yourself with all kinds of books from Captain Underpants to National Geographic. Almost every evening, as I tiptoe into your room to kiss you goodnight, I have to first peel from your cheeks the pages of the book you were reading as you fell asleep. Please don’t ever stop reading. It will feed your brain, your imagination and your sense of adventure.
  4. You are sensitive. Grandma always said you have an “old soul.” This past year you’ve dealt with some tough stuff – your beloved dog died and you were in a frightening car crash. You cried, you hurt. You were scared. But you worked through it all with more maturity that I ever imagined a nine year-old could. I’m sorry that sad and scary stuff happens. I wish I could protect you from it all but it’s part and parcel of life and I’m proud that you are sensitive and brave enough to show your emotions. Because it’s always OK to feel all your feelings. Except the cold. Please put on a coat when it’s cold.
  5. You love animals and nature. You cried when we had some trees removed because you were worried the birds would lose their homes. If there’s a moth or spider in the house, I want to crush them, but you insist on saving and releasing them outside. You want to pet every dog you meet. Maybe you were a golden retriever in another life. It would explain a lot!
  6. You make friends with ease. You are so personable and easy to know. With kids and adults alike, you interact with confidence. I hope to continue to pick – and be – the best friend. Because we need friends, in good times and bad.
  7. You are generous (you get this from your father.) Just last week, you spontaneously made an origami for the waitress at a restaurant. This past weekend you told me you’d saved enough money to buy your sister a Christmas gift. Generosity is so important; it keeps you ever mindful of the needs of others. But remember, generosity is not just about things: it’s about being generous with your time, your attention, your skills. And it demands no reciprocity. It just is.
  8. You are funny. I always say you’ll be the next Conan O’Brien. Your teachers think you are hoot. But please remember there’s a time and a place for your hi-jinx!
  9. You have an amazing metabolism. The sheer volume of food you can consume in a sitting is crazy yet your body remains lithe and lean. You enjoy being active and understand what comprises a balanced diet – even if you have the wickedest sweet tooth. Just keep everything in moderation and keep moving.
  10. You love your family. Grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles and especially your cousins (especially Emma!) You are always so sad when it’s time to leave them. Remember family is everything: your roots, your anchor.

I can’t believe how time has flown and I’m so excited for the next ten years. OK that’s not entirely true. I’m terrified of the puberty years. Of hormones. Of teenage temptations. Of you learning to drive! But I’m also confident that you have the building blocks to show you the way.

Happy birthday Gabriel, I love you.

And don’t forget to wear a coat when it’s cold please.

And turn off your bedroom light.

And no, you can’t have a third slice of birthday cake.

Gabriel

 

 

 

A New Way for Parents to Problem-Solve: Are You a Rock, a Cotton Ball or a Rubber Band?

Guest post by Rebecca Bell

I recently attended a fascinating parenting seminar entitled, “You’re not the boss of me! Help your child be a flexible thinker (by being a flexible thinking parent).” The presenter was Donna Shea, who runs the Peter Pan Center in Ayer, which provides social, emotional and behavior coaching for children. She acknowledged that the following collaborative problem-solving framework came from Ross Greene’s book, “The Explosive Child” (a misleading title, in Donna’s opinion, because it implies you need a “problem kid” to benefit from these strategies, which is not the case.)

  • Plan A – adult (meltdown causing) – Rock
  • Plan B – Both (problem solving) – Rubber Band
  • Plan C – child (meltdown prevention) – Cotton ball

Plan A is to be used sparingly, mostly in matters pertaining to safety. Some things are non-negotiable. On these matters you are an unyielding rock. You do not debate these things with small children.

“No, you may not ride your bike without a helmet.”

“You must hold my hand in the parking lot.”

When you really need to use plan A, be firm but not angry – try not to yell. We lose ~30 IQ points when we’re angry, so the goal is to avoid full on screaming meltdown mode. You do not have to attend every argument you are invited to. Pick your battles, but then don’t negotiate. If your kid continues to pester, you can reply, “You already asked and I already answered.” Use Plan A in moderation, but be firm when you do.

One of the big revelations I had during the evening was when the presenter said, “Remember, if your child is complaining but still complying, you won – tune it out.” I know I have a tendency to keep cajoling when my kids are whining while completing a task, because I would rather have them perform it willingly and happily. But sometimes I simply need to settle for begrudging compliance and stop talking!

Plan C involves saying “Yes” to your child whenever you can, when the answer is of little consequence and you can truly not be resentful of the outcome. This may take work on your part!

“Yes, you may wear the tutu and the green striped leggings to the grocery store.”

“Yes, you can spend your allowance on another stuffed animal.”

Saying “Yes’ to kids is fun – do it whenever you can, instead of your default response being, “No.” It can be easy for me to get in a rut of assuming that everything my kids want is unreasonable, when in fact that is not the case.

Plan B involves 3 key steps:

1) Verbally express empathy for your child’s perspective. Repeat/reflect their words back to them.

2) State the position from your perspective. It’s important that this comes second, after you’ve expressed empathy. If you do step 2 first, you’re on Plan A. I know my natural inclination is to assert my parental authority first, and I need to work on being empathetic to my child’s perspective before stating my own piece.

3) Invite your child to a problem-solving party. This can take place immediately if you have time, or at a later time when the problem is not currently happening and everyone is calmer.

Don’t waste time in a prolonged yelling match when you could be using that time to teach negotiation, flexibility and compromise. Recognize that skill teaching is hard work, messy and time-consuming. But once it becomes second nature, it will get quicker and easier. Be a problem-solving detective and look for solutions that make everyone reasonably happy.

Finally, don’t compare your strategies to other parents. The real question is not, “Is this right or wrong?” but, “Is this working for us?” If it’s not, then it might be time to change something.

Useful links:

http://peterpancenter.com/

http://www.amazon.com/The-Explosive-Child-Understanding-Chronically/dp/0061906190#

 

Rebecca is a world traveler, a singer, a Scrabble addict, and a mom to two children. She’s a Brit who now lives outside Boston, MA.

Rebecca Bell

Taking Off The Training Wheels: A Mother’s Perspective

She’s a lot like me. A little cautious, a tad fearful. Prefers to set her own pace. Doesn’t take criticism awfully well. But determined, so determined.

Last year, she really tried it but took a spill. And that was it. Her confidence was grazed, never mind her knees. She decided she didn’t want any more of it. The wheels went back on. We didn’t push it.

A year later, things are different. After all, just look at the glee in her big brother’s eyes as he crazy speeds up and down the driveway, purposefully weaving this way and that, doing tricks? Taking spills but getting back on. She wants some of that action.

If I were the only parent, she may have never learned this. I’m the mother than cannot watch as they struggle to gain balance, take off and then wobble. With my breath catching in my throat, I put on an eager, supportive face but my insides are jelly, my nerves are screaming, waiting for the inevitable swerve and crash, tears and wails, grazes and bruises and hopefully, really hopefully, nothing worse. I’m terrified but I’m still cheering her on.

Fortunately, there’s him. Cool as a cucumber. Instructive. Determined and patient. Under his steady eye and hand, she really works at this, confidence building like a three-layer cake. And something clicks. She gets it. And she’s off, a little wobbly at first but she’s off. Self-propelled, balanced. Proud. The pedals turn, kinetically building energy, speed and conviction.

As she practices, her balance becomes stronger. The thrill of the ride shines in her eyes. “Wooohooo,” as she picks up speed. If she wasn’t wearing a helmet, the wind would be buffeting her hair, locks streaming out behind her like the dust Road Runner leaves in his wake.

I’m still terrified, of course. It’s the mother in me. But so proud of her hard work and grateful for his steady determination.

Of course, there will be spills, grazes and tears. But she will deal with them and get back on. She will learn when to switch into a higher gear, to look out for bumps in the road, to enjoy coasting, and when to apply the brakes.

And if that isn’t a metaphor for life, then I don’t know what is.

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In Defense of Silliness & Spontaneous Dance Parties

This morning during breakfast, as Bruce Springsteen was playing on the iPod, I jumped up, grabbed my daughter’s electric guitar and rocked out to “Born To Run.” I couldn’t help myself! My six year-old looked at me, wide-eyed, with wonder and glee. After calling me weird, she jumped up and joined in, followed by my husband and son and a spontaneous dance party exploded culminating in us all grooving and giggling to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

Every morning should start off with silliness and a spontaneous dance party. It’s good for the soul, not to mention the cardiovascular system.

Admittedly, it’s a distraction from the “business” of the morning. Making lunches, brushing teeth, playing Minecraft on the iPad, packing backpacks. Yes, we were rushed as the minutes ticked by on the clock ….. but it was so worth it!

Every kid needs to see their parents being silly, every now and then. If we are always instructing, nagging, shuffling them from A to B, focusing on chores and homework, well, it’s all quite dull. The occasional goofiness provides healthy perspective. It tells them that we don’t always take everything so seriously, that we can be light-hearted and laugh at ourselves. Seriously folks, it’s even the secret to my happy marriage!

Silliness defies age. In fact, it keeps you young at heart. Being silly keeps you present and in the moment. If fosters togetherness. And, later in the day, you can reminisce about your antics and giggle a little to yourself.

Silliness has its time and place, for sure. Not every morning is suited to spontaneous dance parties. but, if the music moves you, I say go for it, let it rip. Your kids will start the day smiling and what’s better than that?

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Why Am I Doing So Much For My Kids?

“I cannot help you; you’re too independent.”

My Mom said these words to me a few months back. I think she was complaining but I’ll take it as a compliment. After all, I’m the middle child. The older one got all the first son status. The younger one got all the youngest child attention. So I was always determined to chart my own course. Consequently, I firmly believe that happiness and success are my own choice. I alone am responsible for the decisions I make and their outcomes. I create my own destiny.

So why the heck am I doing so much now for my kids? I do their laundry, I clean up after them (I use the word “clean” quite loosely), I remind them (when I remember) to take their swimsuits/library books/signed forms to school, I arrange their playdates, I (sometimes) check their homework. I organize their clothes, get new ones when they outgrow current ones. We buy groceries, new shoes, toys. My husband folds their clothes, packs their lunch every day. We plan and cook their dinners, recycle their trash. We ferry them here, there and everywhere.

Is this not part of the definition and commitment of parenthood?

Yes, they do have some basic chores but inconsistency is ubiquitous (our fault, largely.) Take your plate/glass/cutlery over to the sink when you have finished your meal. Put your shoes/coat/hat/mittens away when you come in the house. Hang your towels up after you use them. Make sure dirty clothes find their way to the hamper, at some point. To me, these are all part of respectfully co-existing in the same household.

But I have decided it’s time for the grown-ups to back-off and for these kids start stepping it up. There is much much more that they can – and should – be doing to be active contributors to our home and hearth, otherwise known as this working Mom’s domestic crisis.

Starting today – albeit gradually and with best intentions – I’m doing less and they are doing more. They are nine and almost seven years-old and I believe it’s time. Maybe even beyond time. It’s going to start with bringing their full hamper down and then folding and putting away their own laundry. We’ll move on to making their own school lunches. Stacking and emptying the dishwasher. Sweeping the kitchen floor. On the weekends, they can make their own breakfasts and lunches. They can call their friends and arrange their own social schedules (checking with parents, of course, who still have to do the ferrying.) I’m sure my husband would appreciate help putting the trash out.

The whining will certainly be loud. Eyeballs will roll. They will be plenty of “fine” and “whatever” and pushback. There will be days when the particular pair of pants he wants to wear are not clean because he won’t have realized that the hamper was full.  They will inevitably say “I’m hungry” and get all stroppy when food does not instantly appear. They will learn. I know other parents who have successfully drilled these duties into their kids’ and I feel ashamed that I am still doing it all for them.

Over time, I’m hoping, these chores will become natural, second nature and hopefully, this household will hum with organization, goodwill and less mayhem. But this isn’t just about making my life easier (though that’s a huge incentive, I’ll admit.)

It’s about getting them to think, anticipate and understand the ingredients of an independent life so that, as they get older and obstacles (emotional, physical and academic) plant themselves in their path, they’ll have the muscle memory to face them. Be responsible for their actions. Take failures and inequity in their stride and ultimately, create their own success – whatever that will be.

Emptying the dishwasher, putting away clean socks and remembering their library books are just stepping stones in this journey. Independence is the goal, but happiness is always a choice.

The Facebook Post That Made Me a Terrible Mother

by Kristin Parran

I can’t keep it in any longer. I must be the worst mother ever. It doesn’t matter that my not-yet-3-year old son adores me. Or that he climbs in bed with my husband and I and tells us we make the best team (then asks for high-fives). Or tells me he loves me more than cars. CARS! None of that matters.

Two things I have read today make me believe that despite all of these things, I must be a terrible mother. First, I read a blog post about breastfeeding. Or, rather about not breastfeeding. The author shared her honest feelings around the disappointment – and subsequent judgment – around not being able to breastfeed. The point was that mothers should leave other mothers alone – breastfeeding or not. Funny, though, all of the comments from women who felt judged about not breastfeeding came from a place of not being able to breastfeed. I didn’t see one from a woman who CHOSE not to breastfeed, like I did. It’s hard as a new mother to not feel at least a little judgment with every decision you make – even if it’s self-inflicted judgment. But, I am increasingly finding that mothers like me – those who choose to bottle feed for one reason or another – don’t exist in public forums. They sit back, try to stay unnoticed and feed their babies the best way they know how. Some choose the expensive organic formula. Some pay for soy-based. Some do extensive research to understand which product is best for their babies. But the thing that connects all of these women is that they love their babies just as much as breastfeeding women do. I love my son no less than the next woman. I firmly believe – and would argue til I died – that in the way I know how, I have given my son the best chances for a life full of love, happiness and health. But it’s hard to find people like me out there. At least those who admit it.

The second thing I saw was on Facebook. This kind of thing usually doesn’t affect me the way it did today. Maybe it’s because I’m more sensitive, or because my stepdaughter is visiting and that always has my emotions doing somersaults. Either way, it hit me. An old acquaintance just went back to work and posted that she’s missing her babies more than ever. But that’s not it – it’s what she said next that hit me: “I know every working mom would rather be at home with their babies all the time.” I dropped everything and started this post. I couldn’t help it. My brain is screaming. You ARE a good mom. You ARE a good mom. But, am I? Really? My response to that post was not: “Sister…you are so right! I would so much rather be at home with a screaming toddler, playing with cars and arguing about naptime Every. SINGLE. DAY.” Rather, instead my response: “That’s BS! While I LOVE my baby, I also LOVE my job. And the people I work with. And the opportunity to be ME. And the socialization. And that I contribute something financially to my family. I love having both. I NEED to have both.”

I get the sense that a lot of mothers will read my response and gasp. GASP. HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT!?! How could you say you love your job AND your baby? How could you not want to spend every single waking moment with your child? The answer for me is simple. Being me – the me who loves my job and my husband and my son and my friends and my time alone – makes me the very best mother I can be. Whether or not that mother meets standards set by others is something I can no longer judge myself against. I wish I could say that feeling follows me everywhere, every day. But, it obviously doesn’t. Rather than reading that post and saying: “There are mothers of every color, and I happen to a bright pink” I took it as a jab. A knife turning in the heart that is still trying to heal from post-partum. So, I’m not perfect. I do let some things get to me. But after the initial crazy self-judgment and guilt wear off, I once again see that I’m not such a bad mom. My son is an incredible human being. And, at the end of each day, I have to believe that I have something to do with that.

Kristin Parran is a mother of one (nearly 3-year old) boy and wife to a husband who anchors her in peace. Wise enough to know life can (and should) have balance, brave enough to listen to her gut – but not always smart or Zen enough to stop sweating the small stuff – she recently moved her family 1,100 miles to give everyone the best shot at equilibrium. She spends her days working from home for a tech PR firm and shedding tears of gratitude for newfound peace – which is soon interrupted by the impatience of reality. Each time she leaves her house, she secretly hopes to be discovered by Keith Urban, Brad Paisley or Dierks Bentley as a (silent, yet energetic) back-up singer. Or, to someday see her name on the cover of a book.

KP

Guest Post: Searching

by Ben Jackson

As most of us who blog discover from our analytics, people put some strange search phrases together to find things on the internet. Aside from the stomach-churning searches for nocturnal activities (of which there are many), I also often find queries for advice on dadding (“single dad blog. too busy to eat breakfast”), searches for quotes and things to say on fatherhood (“dad eulogy” often appears), and queries for which I simply can’t understand how my blog could possibly be relevant (“waiter with dreadlocks” and “she said prison barber hair shorn”).

And then there are the searches for “teratoma,” and variants thereof.  It’s these people, anonymous through the internet, I want to find, and hug and do whatever else I can to offer some small measure of comfort.

My daughter Emma was born in 2001 with a cervical teratoma – a tumor on her neck which was larger than her head.  It protruded from her mouth, it extended down into her chest and attached from her heart, and it sat like a grapefruit underneath her chin.  It nearly killed her, and she spent almost her entire first year hospitalized as a result.

These search queries in my stats page are small digital prayers.  They represent some terrified stranger, who has just received news that is far beyond their comprehension, and they are pleading into the information ether for salvation or information. They are suffering in a way I can understand more deeply than almost anyone else on the planet, and most of the time I feel powerless to do anything to help.  I hope my writing provides some factual information and a lot of hope, but because of the anonymity of the internet, these deeply personal cries for help are beyond my reach to personally answer.

Last week, I received an email from a mother of a girl who also has a tumor similar to the one Emma had. She talked about being isolated, and was largely reaching out for a connection from a very lonely and scary place—and it knocked me for a loop for a bit.  It reminded me that what we write is read by actual people; that those search phrases bandied about have an individual behind a screen, looking for something to connect with.  That, beyond the creeps searching for their jollies, there are stories, and there is pain, and hope, and love and loneliness yearning for something that maybe we can touch.

It reminded me that we who write have a responsibility to those people behind the queries, that our words matter to someone, and that we had damn well better get what we’re trying to say right—and it reminded me that from my readers I can gain the connection that I seek as a writer, and as a dad.

Here’s hoping that your queries find you the connections you seek in 2014!

Ben Jackson is a father, blogger, publishing professional, creative writing student, and majestically bearded. From time to time, he has conned otherwise sensible editors into publishing his short fiction and essays. As an avid martial artist, one can often find Ben writing through bruises, slings and casts. You can read more of his writing at www.benfjackson.com or www.dadofthedecade.com

ben xmas sweater

20 Signs That You Have an Elementary School Kid

(This post originally ran on Huffington Post Parents)

The days of bottles, potty training, snotty noses and sippy cups are far behind me. I now have two kids in elementary school and, like so many parents of similar-aged kids, find myself pondering about how much my life has altered as I cruise around the grocery store at 9 p.m. on a Saturday evening. One on the one hand, my kids are more independent: they can read, they can write, they can tie their shoelaces (well, almost) and I’ve even been paying them to sort, fold and put away their laundry! But on the other hand, the sheer volume of school/PTO requests, homework and social activities threaten to overwhelm and quite frankly, erode any chance of quality me-time (other than grocery shopping late at night). Does any of this sound familiar?

Here are many ways to know when you, too, are the parent of elementary school kids:

  1. You find out about a school project/permission slip/photo day at 8 a.m. the day they are due.
  2. Play dates and parties are drop off… and you are thrilled.
  3. You proudly wear rainbow loom bracelets (while muttering under your breath about the chaos of rubber bands littering your house).
  4. Math homework makes you quake with fear.
  5. You manage to squeeze your lower half into those tiny seats during parent-teacher conferences.
  6. The days of the week take on new meaning: Monday is “you have PE, don’t forget your sneakers day!”, Thursday is “return library book day”, Friday is “pizza day!”
  7. Minecraft.
  8. You are scared to put your hand inside their backpacks.
  9. Your second job is peddling wrapping paper, raffle tickets and other fundraisers (and your friends and family deftly avoid you).
  10. Ninety percent of the morning mayhem in your house is created in the last 10 minutes before school drop off.
  11. Your iPad/laptop is no longer your own.
  12. You have to explain why Miley Cyrus is really not that cool.
  13. You are adept at stealthily throwing away the latest ‘art project’ in the trash can outside, making sure to hide it underneath other stuff.
  14. You find yourself singing along to Kidz Bop (even when there are no kids around…).
  15. Gloves and hats and socks get lost with uncanny frequency.
  16. Pokemon.
  17. Your toddler knows to yell “BUS” as it approaches the end of your driveway.
  18. Your weekends are a complex logistical challenge — full of parties, play dates, sports and errands.
  19. You are not beneath drying papier maché volcanoes in the microwave.
  20. You know that the day when you’ll have to explain the birds and the bees is inching closer and it terrifies you.

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