I ran in a half marathon on the weekend which I will post about shortly. I wanted to post this video of having to deal with the aftermath and my children’s complete lack of any type of empathy.
You know why your 16-year daughter is pregnant? It’s probably because you didn’t teach her to sleep when she was 6 months old. That makes you a bit of an idiot don’t you think? It really isn’t rocket science so if you haven’t figured it out your government subsidized job at NASA won’t be opening up anytime soon. You know those geniuses that worked on the Mars Rover? You’re not one of them. Actually I’m not one of them either but at least my kids slept like champs so I have a leg up on you.
Did you drop the hammer at 6 months old and let your kid cry it out? No, of course you didn’t. That would be mean. And your baby has special needs. He gets hungry. She gets lonely. He has an obscure medical condition that causes him to breathe from 1 nostril from 1-3 am. You can’t bear the sound of hearing her cry. Great. Get used to hearing the sound of your granddaughter crying while your 18 year old drop out works at McDonald’s while she’s working on her GED or whatever they call it here in Canada.
Sleep is one of those fairly important parts of living a human existence. You’ll parent better. Your kid will be happier and she’ll have a much lower chance of ending up knocked up, hooked on meth and ruining your empty nester years. Here’s a tidbit– it’s your job as a parent to teach them to sleep. What a concept.
Ferberize your kid and be done with it. It works and it will immeasurably improve your life. There’s probably a book on it but it works like this. At 6 months let them cry. Go in and check to make sure they’re ok, don’t make eye contact and close the damn door. After a few nights it’s over. Done. I did that and it resulted in kids that at 7 and 8 will go to bed at their bed time with nary a word of complaint. It’s a lovely place to be. I taught you what to do in 9 sentences and one of them had a single word which probably makes it not an actual sentence. So, 8 sentences and 1 random word.
Sure there will be a few nights that your dogmatism might end up with your kid rolling around in a shitty diaper for a bit. It’ll make you feel like crap (see what I did there) when you realize it. So then you’ll change it. And you’ll continue on in your blissful world of sleep. Hell, for all the fellas out there, you might even get lucky again. I’m not sure why I combined these two thoughts into the same paragraph. That is probably a literary faux-pas and too revealing of the inner workings of my mind.
If you think sleep is just about sleep you’re also a bit of an idiot. When parents remark to me how good our kids are I tell them, “It all started with teaching them to sleep.” It’s setting expectations, boundaries and following through with your word and decisions. It’s teaching them early that you’re there for them but not there to service their every whim. This will result in independent kids that feel safe in their relationship with you. Kids get that. Kids need that…from you. Who else are they going to get it from?? And they will exploit the hell out of you when you careen off the rails out of a misguided sense of guilt.
Never take your eye of the prize. The short-term goal is sleep and the long-term goal is good humans that kick ass and make the world a better place. It starts with sleep. Actually, it probably starts with not getting tanked every night of your pregnancy. After that comes the sleep.
I’m a morning person. I wake up early and leap out of bed. Most days, anyway. One of the my favourite parts of the day is making the girls breakfast. I’m no gourmet but I think I do a reasonably good job. Tanja has relegated me to cooking sausage on the bbq outside so our home doesn’t smell like a greasy diner which is probably a great idea.
I love hearing the kids wake up and pitter patter around upstairs. Chloe comes down hair-combed, dressed and looking proper and ready to go. Melody typically arrives on scene naked with her hair standing on end looking like a train wreck but in great spirits.
My point is not to wax lyrically about breakfast. It’s to underline the importance of realizing that how you choose to interact with your kids changes everything. Never, ever lose sight of the fact that every one of the million interactions you have with your kids is an opportunity to shape them into the human beings you want them to be. You have the ability to turn mundane, everyday occurrences into opportunities to teach, bring joy and build the kind of connection with your kids that will reap rewards for a lifetime.
What is making your kids’ breakfast to you? Is it a time where you are bleary-eyed struggling to decide between bacon and sausage? Wondering why your kids suddenly hate your fried egg sandwiches and trying to figure out what in god’s name you are going to shove down their gullets? How can your kid not know that she needs to put socks on in the winter time? It’s only been mentioned 567 times.
Breakfast is an event that will set the stage for the upcoming day. It’s a time to talk about what happened the previous with the benefit of a little time and space. It’s an opportunity to talk about their dreams from the night before and what they might mean whether it’s serious or silly. It’s also your chance to discuss what’s on the agenda for the day, how they feel about it and talk about the things they’re excited or nervous about.
For a dad of two young girls its also a time for them to see what it takes to be part of a happy, well-functioning family, They see their dad emptying the dishwasher, whipping up some grub for them and mommy, running out to grab mommy a coffee etc. This is not about cooking. It’s about setting an expectation with them that this is just what dads and husbands do. I believe strongly that my job is to set the bar high for what they will expect from their partner when they get older.
I don’t get to make them breakfast every day and when I don’t I miss it terribly. Which makes me realize that how important and fleeting this time is. So when I can do it I try to make it count and I think its working. I think often about what it will be like when they’re gone. The image that warms my heart is thinking of them looking forward to dad’s breakfasts when they are in their 30’s and coming home for a visit with their kids.
Now if I could just figure out a repeatable process to properly cook a soft-boiled egg things would be perfect.
Our daughters just completed their first year of Waldorf. Chloe finished Grade 3 and Melody finished Grade 1. To say the school and the extended community have been a blessing in our lives is an understatement to say the least.
Chloe’s teacher and her husband came over for a wonderful dinner last night and she dropped off Chloe’s report card. The package also included a beautiful hand made card with a personalized verse written by her teacher. She mentioned that the report cards typically take her about 12 hours. When we read it we were nearly moved to tears at the effort and thoughtfulness that was put into it. We felt like it provided some real insight into how our daughter is doing at school and how fortunate she is to have the teacher she does.
I imagine this goes without saying but all the transcription errors are mine:
Dear Tanja and Jason,
Last year at this time our class was getting ready to continue into third grade without three of the important people who had been with us since our first year. I wondered how the class would be without those three; I asked myself if the class would feel less complete, Then, over the summer, another three members swept into our lives and I was in awe of how they made our class more beautiful. Included in these three was Chloe, a sweet, interested, calming child. Chloe fluttered into our class and friends immediately saw her and were so happy she was with us,
In the fall, Chloe\s printing was quite small. Chloe was very nervous to attempt to spell anything and I suspect she was already convinced that she did not know how to work with words (in reading, writing and spelling). Gradually Chloe realized that her skill level was actually quite strong within the spectrum of the class, and through this realization she gained confidence. Although Chloe can still sometimes confuse phonetic sounds with the wrong letter combinations (i.e., Chloe might spell the word “dress” like this: “chress” or “gress”), her continued memorization of some of her trigger words or sounds (the words or sounds that confuse her) usually prevents her from confusing sounds.
Chloe took her spelling lists very seriously. Throughout the first term we had one spelling list that the whole class studied. I found that this was more of a waste of time that it was useful so I began to ask the children to derive the own personal spelling lists that came from the words that were misspelled in their journals (every morning there is a question written on the board that the children must answer in their journals; I correct the entries;the children copy their misspelled words into their spelling books; the following week I give each child a personal “spelling test”). By June, Chloe’s spelling lists were substantially shorter, and the words and compiled her spelling list were quite difficult, especially in comparison with many of her words earlier in the year. Chloe grew sure in her abilities and the more timid child I knew in the first term became a sturdy, secure “spelling warrior” by June. Chloe’s success in spelling is another example of what a resilient, determined person she is; it is easy to be in awe of her steadiness.
Chloe is a cautious reader. As with her spelling abilities, in the fall Chloe was slightly insecure when it came to reading. Although she more than likely knew the word, Chloe was apprehensive about committing to an answer. Chloe was taught to read in a different way and at a different pace than many of her classmates, so often she would try to “decode” a word rather than read it in the context of the sentence or the picture being created by the story. As a result, Chloe would read in more of a stifled than smooth way. That being said, by about April Chloe’s reading was infused with with more ease and less fear. Chloe is nervous when she has to read, but I feel like she will relax with time.
An important part of every Main Lesson is mental math. Usually I come up with some story about broccoli and dinner guests and dividing up the glorious vegetable so everyone gets the same amount. (i.e. There are 49 pieces of broccoli and 5 people; how many does each person get and how many are left in the bowl?) Chloe is regularly one of the first to answer one of these questions; if she is not one of the first, she is sitting, calculating furiously – it’s amazing to watch.
Chloe came to us a very skilled mathematician. Where there was uneasiness in the language arts realm, there was confidence and fearlessness in the math realm. Right away Chloe took to working on memorizing her times tables through to the twelve’s and did so quickly and successfully. Chloe is a student that does not mind spending time practicing; arguably, when you are a teacher, the kind of student that Chloe is is much more exciting and appealing to watch than a student who automatically recalls or memorizes everything. It is much more joyous to watch a child go through the phases of learning than it is to never see it happening in a child. Chloe quickly caught up to the rest of her class in mastering the concepts of borrowing and carrying, and she moved on to vertical multiplication and and long division questions. My suspicion is that Chloe will tackle fractions in Grade 4 with the same enthusiasm she tackled all the concepts in Grade Three.
Chloe is a natural artist. Her drawing has progressed nicely from very small pictures to fuller drawings. She definitely has her own style, and feels most comfortable sticking with it. That being said, if she is being taught a new technique, she is open to attempting it. In painting, Chloe met the sometimes frustrating wet-on-wet painting with curiosity and warmth. Although she seemed unsure about it in the beginning, she could see for herself how beautiful her painting turned out and she heard the other children comment on her use of colour. In one way, wet-on-wet painting can be nerve-wracking for a child who is unused to the sometimes unpredictable nature of the technique; in another way it can relieve the stress of having to feel like “you should have known” how to do it (as is the case in more academic or conceptual subjects). I think that initially, painting was highly stressful for Chloe ; however, Chloe eventually notices that even the children who had been working with wet on wet since Grade One often had paintings that did not go “as planned”. Once she relaxed into the mood of painting, Chloe created effortless, stunning paintings, often envied by many of her classmates (and her teacher).
It was very clear from the beginning that Chloe was very eager to play the recorder. She was very eager during the learning of any song, and watched my fingers intently. Truth be told, Chloe surpassed the playing abilities of some of the children who had been playing since Grade One. If I had not had Chloe to excitedly remind me, I might not have remembered to trade the children’s plastic recorders in for the beautiful wooden ones.
We did two plays this year; Joseph the Dreamer and Grammar’s Garden. During our practicing of the former, Chloe was quiet and nervous. She wished to be louder and bolder in the way that she delivered her character’s lines but was nervous and unsure. In the latter, however, Chloe took her role as the adverb bird by the horns (or the wings?) and quickly memorized her lines, presented them boldly and did not miss a beat in any of our practices. I look forward to watching Chloe’s acting develop in our play next year.
Socially, Chloe knows what it is to have true friends. Her friends are sad when she is sad, and they are happy when she is happy. Although they cannot know what she feels like when she remembers some of her life’s saddest memories, the offer comfort and allow her to just be sad. What a gift – for her to receive and for those other children to able to give.
Note: This next paragraph refers to some of the things that have happened in the kids lives and more details are here: http://lurchingforward.com/2012/03/08/living-dying-loving-chapter-1/
Chloe is another child in my life that keeps my humble. Resonating in her experience rare for a child her age; in some ways Chloe knows parts of life that I might never know. Although the memories of these experiences surface from time to time and her show in her mannerisms and heart forces, she perseveres and seems to accept the way she feels. Chloe is a brave child, a joyful friend, a determined student and give to the unit of our class. I look so forward to watching Chloe grow old in Grade Four.
One of the things I always wanted to do with my girls was to take them out on a Daddy/Daughter date. I wanted to wait until they were old enough to really appreciate it as something special.
I had given the girls a coupon for a movie date with Daddy for Valentine’s Day. Melody used hers to go to a movie a few weeks ago and she wanted Mommy to come too. That’s just how she roles J Chloe was at a sleepover so the timing worked out perfectly.
On the weekend Chloe told me she wanted to use her coupon so I told her we could go out on a wait for it…..school night!! She was extremely excited. We talked about it and I told her this was going to be an official date and that I was going to put on a suit and that Mommy would do her hair J
When the big day arrived it was the first thing she asked about when she opened her eyes in the morning. After school she told me that she had told all her friends about it although she left out the “date” aspect of it. We decided to go see Lorax which was the same movie we had taken Mel to. I enjoyed it and it was worth a rewatch.
I got gussied up in my suit while Chloe got ready with Mommy’s help. It was a big surprise and I was not allowed to see her while she was getting ready. When it was time for the big reveal I was instructed to sit down in the living room and I complied for my own good. Tanja turned on some music and Chloe floated down the stairs. She looked so beautiful and grown up.
I told her that I would be opening all her doors for her. We headed out and we talked about why I was looking forward to this so much. Firstly, it was because I was so looking forward to spending an evening with my lovely young lady. Secondly, I told her that it was my job as a dad to show her how she should expect to be treated. We chit chatted about how one of the reasons I try to be so nice to their mom is so that they develop expectations about the kind of life they want to live. At 8 years old she is at the age where she gets this stuff now so talking about it with her is extremely rewarding. She also wanted to talk quite a bit about her hair and how much she loved it, what it looked like from the back, whether the braid was tight etc. Females’ ability to analyze the hell out of their hair never ceases to amaze me.
We went to a very fancy restaurant – Swiss Chalet J We held hands on the way in. As soon as she started eating she started complaining about really bad stomach cramps. She looked like she was in so much pain. She started to cry because her stomach hurt so much that she couldn’t go to the movie. She was so worried that this meant that coupon was used up but I reassured her that we could go to the movies another time. With big, watery eyes she looked up at me and sniffed, “Ok Daddy. I just want to go home then. My tummy hurts and I miss Mommy.” So we got her food packed up and headed home.
About halfway home she let out a massive belch. Not exactly the best way to win friends and influence people but it was hilarious nonetheless. Immediately afterwards she looked at me and said, “My tummy feels fine now.” I asked her if she was OK to go to the movie and she said she was so we did a U-turn and back to the theater we went. She munched on her supper on the way there and was back to her old self. Plus she had some skittles left over from dinner that she ate in the movie.
We held hands on the way back to the car and I opened her door for her and off we went. She told me how much she enjoyed our night together and she was so genuine it was very touching. Sometimes I wish they could see visually how happy they make me. The huge grin I have a lot of the time is probably a good indicator. We arrived at home just in time for bed and I told her we’d do this again soon. She smiled.
This is how Melody spends her evenings. Thank you Waldorf!
2 years ago today, almost to the minute actually, was one of the harder days of my life. I had just slammed down the phone (figuratively as it was a cell phone) on the 20-something social worker from the Children’s Aid Society. “We can see no reason that Cindy poses any danger to Chloe and Melody.” We had yet another court date coming up on March 29 where I was going to attempt to get emergency custody of the girls. This decision made that all but impossible. 2 days later, on March 26, 2010 Cindy took her own life and ended her tragic battle with bipolar disorder.
The last 2 years have been difficult at times but have been vastly more joyful than I could have imagined.
Chloe & Melody
We’ve watched Chloe go from a naïve 6 year old to a much more worldly and insightful 8 year old. Chloe dealt with Cindy’s death amazingly well. There were tears, and a lot of questions – some of which remain unanswered and are waiting for the right time. She keeps a picture of her and Mel with Cindy in her room. Chloe has become an incredibly kind little human who values what she has now more than she would have otherwise. Watching your parents split up is something no kid should have to endure. Having a parent die on top of that is just another indicator that stability and safety don’t really exist.
Chloe was sitting on my lap at Cindy’s funeral. As I wept, she looked up at me and placed her hand so gently on my cheek and said, “It’s going to be OK Daddy.” It was as though our hearts were connected.
Watching Chloe and Tanja’s relationship develop and evolve has been beautiful. There have been and continue to be challenges but nothing that we can’t handle as a family. Last year, Chloe told Tanja that she was only going to call her Mommy from now on. Tanja telling me about it was one of those moments that will nourish my soul for the rest of my days.
Chloe is now in Grade 3 and doing so well. She has made some great friends in her new school and is transforming into a lovely young woman. I am so looking forward to watching her grow up although I could do with the pace slowing down a bit. She has a lot of Cindy’s characteristics from the shape of her body to the identical birthmark on her back. Chloe is highly organized and her room could pass a military inspection on most days. She loves her clothes to match and puts a lot of thought into what she wears.
Melody had just turned 5 and it was very difficult for her to comprehend the finality of death. It was difficult for me at 36. There were times when she acted out and would get very upset. It was her little mind trying to understand what happened and verbalize her feelings of anger and frustration. That period passed quickly and the last 2 years have been wonderful. Melody just turned 7 a few days ago and has grown into an incredibly funny, charismatic young lady whose smile can light up a room. She knows she’s damn charming but she also knows it won’t get her what she wants with us J
On Mel’s first day at her new school she promptly walked up the Grade 7 and 8′s and introduced herself. Sometimes I think she is their unofficial mascot. She’s in Grade 1 now and her teacher says wonderful things about her spirit and intelligence. Melody loves nature and flowers so much that her birthday present was Tanja making her a plot in the backyard so she can have her own garden. She can identify more flowers than me which is actually not saying much I guess. Melody’s room tends to look like a bomb went off in it most of the time and I’ve never seen a kid wear stranger clothes on purpose. Think Cindy Lauper and you’re on the way there
The girls are very different but they get along with each other exceptionally well although there are the occasional sisterly incidents. These are always the other one’s fault. It’s funny how that works.
I don’t really know where to start with Tanja. Perhaps stating simply that her coming into my life continues to be one of the greatest strokes of luck I have ever had. 2 years ago we had been together for about 7 months. We were living in Orangeville and Tanja lived in Stoufville which is about an hour away. I had introduced her slowly to the girls but by this time they realized that she was my girlfriend.
The night Cindy died I called Tanja and then my parents. She was on the way over and was a rock. That was actually the first time she had met my parents – nice timing. I can appreciate that it was probably weird seeing Melody sitting on Tanja’s lap at Cindy’s funeral but the whole experience was surreal and I already knew that I loved her. I had known that for a while.
After Cindy’s death I was no longer able to go to Tanja’s place during the week so the onus was on her to come to Orangeville. She did this for over a year without complaint. Well, without too many complaints J
One of the things that really upset me when Cindy died was the fact that her estranged family handled the funeral arrangements and the headstone. That wasn’t the part that bothered me. The fact that they misspelled Chloe’s name on the headstone was like a final lingering insult. I locked this away in my mind although I thought about it frequently. I just didn’t have the cycles to deal with it. On my 37th birthday Tanja handed me a folded up piece of paper. I opened it and it was the drawing of the new headstone that she had arranged and paid for with Chloe’s name spelled properly. That was the hardest I cried since Cindy’s death. Partly it was some sort of mourning but it was much more feeling so damn fortunate to have this caliber of woman in my life.
As our relationship continued to blossom we started talking about moving in together. We originally were looking at Kitchener/Waterloo but on a whim decided to move to London instead. I am so glad we did. We moved in to our beautiful home in June, 2011. I was fortunate enough to be able to take the summer off which was a fantastic way for our new little family to start to coalesce.
Since that time Tanja has become the master of the home domain. She is an incredible mother and an incredible person. The girls love her so much and it’s hard sometimes to imagine that she wasn’t always their mom. Her pathological Germanness has made the girls much more conscious of what their responsibilities are and they love the structure she provides. Tanja has also, with the patience of Job, expanded the girls’ palette so that they shovel asparagus in their mouths. She teaches them about cooking, gardening and locally grown food.
She loves me and I love her. She is the funniest chick ever and has actually made me fall on the floor from laughing so hard. Lately when this happens she seizes the opportunity to fart on my head. If that’s not love I don’t know what is. I’m looking forward to chasing her around in my walker 50 years from now.
The fact that the past 2 years have passed with so much smoothness is in large part due to Tanja’s influence on our lives. I remain in awe of how much she loves me and I will never stop appreciating it.
After that who cares about me?? I’m doing well and adjusting from being a single dad to being part of a team that works together. I have really started to feel that helping people and their families dealing with mental illness might be my calling. It’s important to me that good comes out of this tragedy. It’s strangely important that, as a non-religious person, I still think of Cindy looking down and wanting her to be proud of me.
We held a lemonade stand in 2010 that raised close to 4000 dollars for the Canadian Mental Health association. We’re going to do another one this year and I want it to be huge. I am confident that we can raise over $10,000 this time.
I have also been involved with the Ontario Provincial Police. After Cindy’s death I emailed the OPP to express my thoughts on her, policing and how the organization deals with members dealing with Mental Illness. This led to me participating in a video that will be used to train all OPP members about how to identify and understand mental illness. I recently watched the finished product and am very proud of my role.
I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in an Ontario Ombudsman’s Office investigation into how the OPP deals with operational stress injuries. I didn’t play a major part but I’m glad I got the chance to share my opinion and be included in the final report.
We attended TedX Waterloo earlier this week and a woman spoke about mental illness. There is an organization in London called Mind Your Mind that I have reached out to with an offer to help in any way I can.
I’m currently trying to write a book on my experiences because I think it will provide a lot of insight into what families dealing with this can go through. It’s a painful process as I’m not a writer which I’m sure is painfully obvious from this blog post. I’m actually supposed to be working on Chapter 2 right now so I think I’ll wrap this up.
To summarize: LIFE IS GREAT.
Off to Orillia to pick up the girls from Grandma and Grandpa’s. It’s a beautiful day for a drive.
I will say that chia seeds and flax seeds is not the most satisfying breakfast.
Insight is defined as the following:
1. The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation;
2. The act or outcome of grasping the inward or hidden nature of things or of perceiving in an intuitive manner.
I believe insight is one of the most important learned skills and it begins with teaching your kids how what it is and how to use to the advantage of themselves and the people in their lives. How do you teach it? I’ll share what Tanja and I have been doing. Check back in 10 years as I might want to take this all back.
Empathy is the ability to identify with someone else situation feelings and motives. We teach the kids to always frame their perceptions of situations in the context of the viewpoint of the other person. When one of the girls come home and has had a crappy day of school in invariably has something to do with some real or perceived slight at the hands of another kid. The conversation typically ends up with talking about why the other kid might have behaved that way and that without a full understanding of their situation there are a lot of variables at play. The important thing for the girls to remember is that they’re nice and they will continue to be nice regardless of the behaviour of others – something over which they have a limited amount of control. I also remind them that after their mom died they would have appreciated some understanding had they acted out at school in the immediate aftermath.
Decisions and their Outcomes
Admittedly we are near fanatical about making certain that decisions (good or bad) have repeatable and well understood consequences. We tend to see everything as the potential to start going down a slippery slope. But the most important thing is how things are framed. So when I ask the kids a question and they don’t answer because they are distracted or disinterested I insist on an answer. At that point I explain not only that its rude to ignore someone but explain how that makes the other person feel. Wizards of Waverly place can be intense competition sometimes.
A child knowing that behaviours and decisions will have outcomes and they are responsible for making them in the first place and then dealing with the fallout is ultimately liberating for them. Kids needed to be provided with a framework within they need to operate and their behaviour will dictate how constrictive the boundaries of that perimeter are. When I let them sleep in the spare room as a treat it is made very clear what the expectations are and we make them agree to them out loud. I also make sure that they know that since they agreed to it that they’re living up to it is a matter of trust – which is a very foundational concept that they understand. Thankfully it seems to be working and there are never any issues
Understanding and accepting what you can and cannot control is a pillar of possessing insight but also a very useful coping mechanism in times of crisis. Melody is a very passionate, sensitive kid and was having trouble with a kid at school who was being a but mean to her. We talked about it a lot and I explained to her that ultimately she couldn’t control the behaviour of the other kid and while she needed to try to empathize with her she might have to take further steps. That might involve explaining to her that if she continued to behave that way that Melody might not play with her anymore or if the situation were to escalate which steps she might take. The important thing though was that the decision was hers. I should point out that this situation was really minor – but a big deal to a 5 year old J
I personally find wasting time analyzing the hell out of things you have no control over to be an insufferable waste of time. I prefer to spend my time thinking about the outcome I want to achieve and the girls are taught the same thing. This speaks to the ability to discern the true nature of a situation.
I’m sure as I ruminate on this more I will add more but as I am a somewhat spontaneous type of guy this is what I have right now.