Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Reframing Mother’s Day - Guest author Mike Cruse

As Mother’s Day 2014 neared I began to dread it; the same way I do every year. I had planned to write a piece about how hard the day is for me due to my fractured relationship with my mom, but for whatever reason the words just weren’t coming to me.

I have written a lot over the years about my strained, and now altogether non-existent, relationship with my mother, but recently I have been asking myself, “What message are you trying to get across with this? Are you just complaining; are you looking for a hug? Or are you actually trying to convey a real message and connect with others who might be dealing with the same issue?” To be honest, I’m not sure, but having looked back as much of my writings it feels like I’m doing a great deal of whining and not as much connecting as I would have liked. I’d like to change that going forward.

In 2006, after what felt like a life time of emotional abuse (and physical when I was younger), I cut off all communication with my mother. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I can remember standing on the sidewalk outside of a restaurant where my girlfriend (now my awesome Wife) and I had just shared Sunday brunch. I can also still vividly remember feeling the pain of listening to my mother on the other end of the phone telling me that I was no longer welcome in the family; I had been told this on many occasions during my life, as it was my mother’s favorite dagger to use when bullying me or trying to emotionally break me to get her way. But most of all I can also remember the overwhelming sense of relief when on that day after brunch, I finally stood up for myself and said, “No more!” I chose to be free of the abuse.

I wish I could say life got easier once I made that choice, but the reality is that it didn’t. In many ways it got worse, but those are stories for another time.

Eventually my Wife and I decided to relocate to the other side of the country, not altogether because of my mother, but she definitely factored into the decision. And since living on the East Coast, life has chilled out as it pertains to my estranged family. But every year (mostly around the holidays, and Mother’s Day) I’m reminded of a dynamic that is missing from my life, which I so desperately wish was there. I wish I had a mother/son relationship to foster in my life, and even more now that I have a child of my own.

It has been very difficult to see other friends who have had children cultivate, grow and experience this new and awesome relationship with their kids and their parents. I witness how they change as adults, and cannot help but be a bit envious as they can lean on the lessons of their parents to help them become better parents themselves. I don’t have that feeling or resource for my son, but more importantly I don’t have that relationship for me. This leads to a great deal of my anxiety about being a parent.

I know that parental estrangement is not as uncommon as it used to be, which is kind of sad in itself, because that just means the idea of broken families and estranged kids has become the norm now. In fact, it’s becoming so common that individuals in the media are starting to take notice.

At the end of 2013, I was honored to be interviewed for article written on the Huffington Post Parents website. The article was about people who have become estranged from their parents, and have now become parents themselves. Titled, “How To Be A Parent When You’ve Stopped Talking To Your Own,” was written by Catherin Pearson and did an excellent job capturing the whirlwind of feelings experienced by a new generation of young parents who don’t necessarily have the strong family dynamic to lean on.

In the article Pearson quotes a psychologist (Joshua Coleman) who says that one reason why we see estrangement on the rise is that over the last five decades we have become a “culture of individualism.” He goes on to say that kids are now asking themselves, “Does this family work for me?   Is this where I want to be?” While not altogether untrue, I really feel Coleman’s point of view make this topic way too narrow.

At least for me, and many others whom I have spoken with over the years, the decision to break ties with our families did not come as easy as it sounds in Coleman’s questions. It wasn’t simply a question of does this work for me. The simplistic question strips away all contexts for why people feel the need to break ties. It instead make people sound selfish and self-centered, when in many, if not most cases those same individuals would give anything to have family support.   For me, I had dealt with what felt like a lifetime of abuse, and one day I decided enough was enough. And though I made that decision, almost a decade later it’s still very hard on me; sometimes on a daily basis. Since making that decision I have battled my own substance abuse issues, and I still battle depression on a regular basis. But through all my trials I do feel lucky that I have had some incredible friends and loved ones, like my Wife, by my side to help me through.

The past eight years’ worth of Mother’s Days have been hard; not having someone of my own to call and say, “Hey, thanks for being an awesome mom to me.” But, it’s not like the mother’s days pre-estrangement were all puppy dogs and rainbows either. So for last two years I have made a strong effort to reframe how I see Mother’s Day. While it will always be hard because of my past, I have instead chosen to focus on, not the mother that I had, but the mother I live with now. I am trading in the sadness and negativity of the mother who I lived with growing up, for the mother that I live with now and who is raising our son to be a healthy and happy boy. And like so many ways we celebrate in our house, my Wife chose to celebrate Mother’s Day 2014 with me. She did that by buying me a Mother’s Day gift saying, “I know this is my day, but I couldn’t do it without you.” We both know she could, but it’s still nice to be loved so much that she would say that.

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Mike Cruse is the author of the very insightful Papa Does Preach. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A father’s review of Pinkalicious and the Cupcake Calamity

Photo by Rachel Bussel

Pinkalicious and the Cupcake Calamity by Victoria Kann (HarperCollins 2013) begins with an unaccompanied five-year-old approaching an ice cream shop, and moves into a questionable narrative of addiction, temptation, and a complete lack of large machine safety.

This is one of my five-year-old daughter’s favorite books. I’m not sure where it falls in the Pinkalicious cannon. Perhaps it’s the seventh or the 20th book in the collection, but what I do know is that the first Pinkalicious book was a cute and well written story about how a little girl’s passion for cupcakes helped her find love for her parents. But as the Pinkalicious’ character has progressed through multiple books, it seems that she is slowly turning into a flaming addict with an unstoppable hunger for pink cupcakes. The feel of the story falls somewhere between the unsettling circus scenes in Tim Burton’s Big Fish and the psychedelic candy factory in his remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My daughter and I read this book a couple times a week, and honestly, I’m fearful that it’s teaching her to embrace addiction and to trust slender ice cream men with thin mustaches that are only socially acceptable on police officers and porn stars. Not the kind of lessons I usually promote.

Every time I look at the first page I’m suspicious of Mr. Swizzle. Perhaps he really is a trustworthy ice cream man, but considering the book opens with him surrounded by children that were clearly lured away from their parents with promises of a cupcake, he comes across as a lean deranged pervert with a bow tie and wispy hipster hair.  The first few pages make me think of Hansel and Gretel being persuaded into a gingerbread house.

On Mr. Swizzle’s lawn is a large object covered with an even larger pink tarp. Mr. Swizzle removes the tarp to reveal the Cupcake-Create-O-Matic, an obviously spectacular machine with brightly painted gears, bells, and a bicycle horn. Kids cram dollars into this large dazzling machine, but nothing happens. No one get’s a cupcake. He says the machine must be broken, but he doesn’t say it with much conviction, making me assume that it’s all a ruse to steal money from children.

Because the machine is not producing pink cupcakes, Pinkalicious starts to get the shakes, her arms folded, face twisted. Mr. Swizzle approaches the machine with a large plumbing wrench as though he’s qualified to do more than lure children away from their parents with promises of sweets.

It’s here that the story really comes off the rails.

As Mr. Swizzle looks at the machine with a confused smirk, Pinkalicious sneaks into a small back door in the Cupcake-Create-O-Matic to find a mess of sprinkles, frosting, and large turning gears clearly capable of mangling her limbs. Were Pinkalicious being watched by her parents, I feel confident she never would’ve made her way into the Cupcake-Create-O-Matic, or been left to hang out with the suspicious Mr. Swizzle, but sadly she is an unattended child who will stop at nothing to feed her cupcake addiction, even if that means crawling inside a large gear driven machine.

Pinkalicious wanders around in the Cupcake-Create-O-Matic for a couple pages, licking frosting and uncooked batter, most likely contaminating the cupcakes and picking up a healthy case of salmonella from eating uncooked batter. Eventually she realizes that only half the machine is working and discovers a lever that she feels confident will fix the problem. As a reader, I will admit that the first time I read this story I felt confident in Pinkalicious’ ability to diagnose a complex mechanical problem. However, on the second time through I started to be suspicious that a five-year-old was really up the challenge.

To reach the lever Pinkalicious climbs up a collection of gears and belts, stands on one leg in a pair of slick bottomed black shoes, her toes touching a bar of some kind. I hold my breath on this page, concerned that she’s going to fall to her death. I can never decide if my feelings are dread that a little girl is going to die in this machine, her motivations purely based on a bad sweet tooth, or if I’m just hopeful that she will die and end the Pinkalicious series.

Once she pulls the lever, the machine begins to shake and fill with batter, and then BOOM, it explodes, leaving Pinkalicious inside a massive, beautifully baked pink cupcake. And suddenly Pinkalicious is the belle of the ball, her friends eating the cake off her body. The story ends with Pinkalicious apologizing to Mr. Swizzle for breaking his machine. His response, “That’s okay… From now on, I’ll stick to ice cream and leave the cupcakes to you!” his reaction all the more odd considering Pinkalicious damaged his property.

By the end of the book, I will be honest, I am always left wanting more. I want something to sink my teeth into. Something that might leave my daughter with a stronger self-esteem, or a better understanding of who she is as a person and her place in the world, not just fear that she will one day be lured away from me by an ice cream man and eventually mangled inside a cupcake machine.

I see this same lack of strong story in a lot of the books my daughter loves, and I must say, it bothers me every time. But what would bother me more is missing out on a tender moment, snuggled up next to my little girl before bed, reading. So despite how much I dislike this book, and how much I worry it’s teaching her questionable life skills, I still read it. I assume this is why most parents read whatever their kids tug from the shelf each night. It isn’t about story depth. it’s about what happens outside the book. It’s about the moment that really matters. And so, tonight, when my daughter pulls out Pinkalicious and the Cupcake Calamity, I will silently roll my eyes, like I always do, and then sit down next to her, one arm around her shoulders, the other holding the book, and read.

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him onFacebook and Twitter.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ten Reasons You Will Never Sleep Like You Did Before Kids-Guest Author Jennifer Lizza

The other day as I stood bleary eyed watching my coffee brew  I drifted off into a daydream. I started remembering the mornings before kids. The get up on your own time Saturday mornings, the roll over at 9am on a rainy Sunday and wake up feeling completely rested.  They say your brain doesn’t function properly if you don’t get enough sleep. Well I can tell you my brain hasn’t functioned properly in 5 years, 5 months, 8 days and 10 hours. As I came out of my daydream I realized just how poorly my brain was functioning as I watched my coffee brew all over the counter and onto the floor because I never put the mug under it.

  If you have ever been in a conversation with a group of parents you have probably had a conversation based solely around the topic of sleep. As parents it seems to be the thing we all obsess over the most. We talk about how tired we are, how little the baby slept the night before, how the older kid was up with a stomach ache and the middle kid was up from a bad dream. We ask each other about it. How old was little Johnny when he slept through the night? What time do your kids get up in the morning? Is it still dark? Does Suzy try to sleep in your bed ever? It seems that once you become a parent the nights of long, beautiful, uninterrupted sleep are long gone but are they really? Yes, YES THEY ARE so grab some coffee (don’t forget the cup) and read the ten reasons you will never sleep like you did before you had kids.  

1.      You brought home a beautiful newborn. They are trying to make up for nine months of being in utero. They don’t want to sleep in fear that they will miss something earth shattering. When they realize nothing exciting is happening at 3am they will decide they will be the excitement. Thank God for 3am Law and Order reruns.

2.      Your adorable baby is desperately trying to crawl. Did you know that reaching a milestone like this can cause your FINALLY SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT baby to wake up crying, frequently throughout the night? Yeah I didn’t either until my Dr. told me that’s why he was waking up.  Apparently I have over achievers who are still trying to accomplish things in their sleep.  I may have spent the whole next day showing him how to crawl so we could jump up and down, applaud like raging lunatics and hopefully get some sleep that night.

3.      Teething. I’m telling you I have never thought teeth with more overrated than I do now. I watched my kids eat food with just their gums and I’m pretty convinced we don’t really need teeth.  I mainly feel this way because I want to sleep and teething gets in the way.

4.      Leaky Diapers. There is nothing worse than waking up to a crying baby or toddler only to walk into the room at 3am and get hit in the face with the smell of urine. It’s 3 am and you now have to change your baby’s diaper and the crib sheet which is essentially like wrestling an alligator in a small cage. Trust me the alligator wins every single time.

5.      Colds. I don’t know about you guys but when I’m sick all I want to do is SLEEP. When my kids are sick though all they want to do is get up all night long.  I inevitably wind up sick when they are better. I mean of course I’m sick I got a total of 3.2 hours of sleep in one whole week. I also look 10 years older.

6.      Monsters are under the bed. Well if we’re being honest the monsters are in the bed but you have to check under the bed and in the closet to convince them that it is all clear and they can safely close their eyes for the next 8-10 hours, which they apparently hear as minutes and will call for you to tell you that.

7.      They need water. I don’t know what my kids are doing in their sleep to work up such a thirst but I’m starting to suspect they do some type of sleep aerobics.

8.      They heard something, and you are not allowed to leave their room until you decipher exactly what that something was. Just blame the dog and call it a night.

9.      You are foolishly in the soundest of sleeps only to wake up to a kid 2 inches from your face. It only takes one time of this happening for you to sleep with one eye opened for the rest of your existence.

10.  Kids have endless energy. Those mornings of easing into the day have been replaced with waking up like a shot out of a cannon.

So 5 years, 5 months, 8 days and 10 hours into this whole parenthood thing I have finally accepted that I will never sleep like I did oh say 7 years ago. I have also become pretty good at knowing what the necessities are for surviving; coffee, coffee, and more coffee.  I’m also secretly planning my revenge for when my boys are teenagers (can you say trumpets at 6am)  so that keeps me going all while continuing to hunt down the person who first said “I slept like a baby last night.” Because they either a) were an idiot, b) never met a baby c)  have a baby that needs to teach every other baby on the planet how to sleep. If I find them I will let you know. Until then stay strong my friends. 

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Before having children Jennifer thought being a stay at home mom would be a walk in the park. Now that she's doing it she realizes it's more like a run in a zoo (without cages for the animals). She traded in her salary for sloppy kisses, corporate lunches for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and sales meetings for finger painting sessions. Her two boys outsmart her on a daily basis. She writes at Outsmarted Mommy and has been featured online on The Huffington Post, Today Parents, Mamapedia, Scary Mommy, and iVillage Australia. She is also a contributor for Felicity Huffman’s What The Flicka? You can follow Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter and Google +

Thursday, April 30, 2015

I asked my son to work next to me and he complained

I was in the yard building garden boxes for my wife. Tristan, my 8-year-old, was helping. Or at least I wanted him to be helping. Moments earlier he was in the house playing Minecraft on his tablet, and I had to, more or less, drag him outside. It was a Sunday, and the sun had been shining all weekend. It wasn’t too hot, or too cold. It was an amazing day to be outside, and yet my son wanted to be inside, playing video games and eating cheese puffs.

Now that he was out, and handing me nails, and helping me hold boards, all he did was bitch. Each sentence had a refrain: Are we done yet?

“No,” I said. “We need to build four boxes. This is the first box.”

Long agonizing exhale.

Tristan was in a red polo shirt that he usually wore to school, and a pair of gym shorts. He’d been dressing himself for some time, and although I often make fashion suggestions, little of them take. He tends to dress in contradictions, mismatches of formal clothing with workout clothing, ultimately making him look like an engineer on the way to the gym.

“Hand me a nail,” I said. “Then hold this board in place.

He sagged his shoulders, and then sulked across the patio to the box of nails.

“You know, Dad,” he said. “You could do this yourself.”

He looked me in the eyes when he said this. His face seemed to say, “You are wasting my time.”

I thought about how much quicker I could get this done with out his “help.” I thought about how working on a project like this would go much easier if I were alone, and didn’t have to constantly drag my son along. I told myself that I was teaching him how to work with his hands. This is a rare opportunity living in the suburbs. We don’t have a farm or anything. We don’t have fences to mend, so teaching my son how to work with his hands tends to manifest itself in projects like the one we were working on.

And I suppose I was teaching him how to work with his hands. But honestly, the reason I had him out there helping me, the reason I wanted him at my side when I built those boxes was because I wanted to have the father-son interactions that I never got with my own father.

My dad left when I was 9 and died when I was 19 from drug addiction. I never got to work on many projects with him. And thinking back, if he did want me to work on a project with him, something similar to building garden boxes, I would have done just what Tristan was doing. I would’ve bitched. I would have asked to go inside and watch The Price is Right or Home Improvement. But now that I am older, I hear friends talk about moments like the one Tristan and I were having. About how their fathers made them help with this project or that project, and although they hated it, they really enjoyed working with their fathers. I want to give that to my son. But I also want it for myself. I want to know what it feels like to work as a father and a son, even if I am now older and on the other end of the equation. And when I think about it in those terms, I feel like I’m reaching for something that is lost. I feel like I’m trying to get back something that I never could possibly get back, but will try for it all the same. I will never have the opportunity to work next to my father. But working next to my son seems close enough.

As we worked, I wanted to tell my son all of this. I wanted him to know what working with him means to me. I wanted to explain to him that he was helping me get something back that I long ago lost. But I wasn’t sure how to say it, and I don’t know if he is old enough to get it, so I just kept working with him, hoping that somehow, in some way, this would become enjoyable for him and he’d be willing to stay without me forcing him.

“I’m going to pound this nail in half way,” I said. “Then I want you to pound it in the rest of the way.”

Tristan raised his eyebrows.

“You want me to use the hammer?” he said.

“Yup. Just don’t bend the nail,” I said.

He smiled. Then he went on about something from Minecraft. Some hammer or pick ax or something that this opportunity reminded him of.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s just like that. Just like Minecraft.”

He took the hammer with both hands, and began beating the nail in short, fast, aggressive strikes. He smiled, having fun with it, and although he wasn’t doing much outside of chipping up the wood, he was having a good time. Then he got frustrated because the nail wasn’t moving, so I showed him how to swing a hammer. I told him how to make sure to let the hammer do most of the work. Thinking back, I’m not sure where I learned how to swing a hammer. Maybe from my older brother. Perhaps I learned it from my father, back when he was still around. I don’t know. But what I do know is that by the time Tristan got that nail in place, he was smiling with satisfaction. And so was I. And right there, we had a moment. It wasn’t hugely monumental or life changing, but it felt right. It felt like something that I will tell others years from now, I feel confident that Tristan will, too. It was the kind of moment I’d always wanted with my father, but never had. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning AmericaThe New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Huffington PostScary MommyThe Good Men ProjectFast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.   

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

8 Reasons parents are always late

My oldest sister was the first to have children. She is seven years older than me, and I recall bitching a lot about how she was always late. I couldn’t understand what was so hard about getting her shit rounded up and getting somewhere on time. It wasn’t until I had children of my own (I have three of them ranging from 11 months to 8 years) that I started to realize leaving the house with children is a chaotic mix of lost items, poopy butts, sudden hunger, loss of concentration, and fits of rage. If you are ever wondering why I’m always late, here are a few examples of what I’m dealing with.

Lost shoes: I suspect my kids hide one shoe from a pair each night because they hate me. Every time we leave the house, I have to spend 5 to 10 minutes searching for a lost shoe. And I know that there is some reader out there right now ready to solve my problem. “Just have the kids put the shoes back where they belong each time.” And to you I say, “Kiss my ass.” Most of the time, I get home with kids, I’m so irritated from being in a van with three screaming wanting little turds that the last thing I want to do is worry about their shoes. And yet, the second I can’t find their shoes, I will flip and tell them to put their shoes back where they belong. The whole thing is a twisted cycle that makes daddy want to live in the woods.

Lost comfort item: For a long time my oldest wouldn’t leave the house without his blanket: a tattered stained little rag of a thing with blue dinosaurs on it. Whenever we needed to leave, suddenly the blanket would come up missing, and he’d turn into a boogery bitching mess until we spent 10 minutes looking for it.

Thirst: Yesterday I got all three kids ready to go to the store. The baby was buckled in her car seat, my oldest was buckled in the back seat, and suddenly my five year old was dying of thirst. I told her that she had water in the van, but she didn’t want that water. She wanted water from her special Princess cup. So I gave it to her, and then she slowly sipped for several minutes while staring at me, her eyes glossy and cold.

Hunger: My kids are crafty. I feed them before we go somewhere, but they don’t eat it. They just pick at it. They tell me it is gross, or they don’t feel hungry. Then, right before we need to leave, suddenly the food looks good, and they want to eat it. So I offer to take the food with us, but then it turns out that it doesn’t taste as good in the van. Or they insist on my giving them something else (usually mac and cheese or fish sticks). This is usually when daddy ends up dragging a kicking and screaming child into the van.

Poopy butt: There is something about getting ready to go that triggers my 11-month-old’s bowels.

Sudden need to pee: I will fight with my son for 10 minutes to go to the bathroom before we get in the van. He will insist that he doesn’t need to go, but the second I get everyone loaded and turn over the motor, his bladder fills and he has to spend several minutes taking a wiz and then dicking around with the bathroom sink.

Argument over seat placement: We gave the kids assigned seats in the van hoping that it would keep them from arguing over who was in whose seat. But it didn’t work. Now it’s all about arguing over who is in the cool seat. We move the assignments to accommodate the cool seat, which is hard to pin down because the cool seat seems to change every time we get in the van. This is why daddy cries.

Sudden illness: This really depends on where we are going. If it’s a trip to the store, everyone feels fine. If we are heading to school or church, suddenly a wave of tummy aches washes over the house.

Screen distraction: Telling my kids to get ready when they are looking at a screen is about as effective as telling a turtle to walk faster. Take the screens away so they can focus on getting ready, and suddenly I’m an asshole and everyone sprawls out on the floor and cries.

What are some of the reasons you are late?

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.