undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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Karma Police

kismet10cSometimes I have no fun at all, and sometimes it’s my own damn fault.

Random groups of children and parents set the stage for some of my most frustrating experiences. For instance, this April vacation, my son and I had some alone time and planned a day around robots. A local museum was hosting free guided tour of its robotics exhibit for kids and families. The issue was that it was free and first-come-first-served to only 25 participants, which was a set-up for all sorts of anxiety.

My son and I made a day out of it. After taking the train early and having breakfast, we charged through the rain and stood outside of the still-closed museum under an awning. Eventually making it inside, we had to wait until 30 minutes prior to the tour to receive a free ticket. We scoped out the reception desk, and at exactly 10:30, they started giving tickets away. Someone’s dad cut in front of a line that included me and women with strollers. I was mildly annoyed, but got my tickets and we waited.

When the tour started, they cordoned off the entire wing, so that only tour participants could take part. We felt very special. The tour started well, with the curator giving the kids stickies to put on the exhibits they found most interesting and most scary. I noted that the tour seemed small, with only about 20 people. Finally, about 10 minutes late, another family of five, a mom and her 2 pre-teen girls and 2 teenage boys showed up. Her kids started on the periphery of the group, while she found a bench all to herself, staring at her cell phone.  It took about 5 minutes for her girls to stray from the group and wander the deserted hall, and after about 10 minutes her boys followed suit, until the entire family was doing their own thing and mom was staring at her phone.

I kept glaring at them. I kept thinking about how disrespectful it was to the tour guide. I kept thinking about all the other families in the museum who had the opportunity of a private tour stripped from them by these people who weren’t taking advantage of it.

About 30 minutes into the tour, that family left the exhibit, never to return. I was left up on my moral high horse, alone with my frustrations.

The issue with being up there on my moral high horse was that I wasn’t down in the tour with my son. It was hard for me to put away my anger and instead focus on the fun that was happening right in front of me. This happens to me a lot, especially around children and their parents. Inevitably there’s somebody that’s out of control or at least troublesome: the kid who runs around, or disturbs the group, or makes fun of the exhibits, or barrels over other kids. But that’s not the unnerving part; after all, they’re just kids. In most cases, these kids are chaperoned by parents who aren’t doing anything. They sit back on their phones, or appear oblivious, or throw their hands up with a “whatcha gonna do” face. This is the thing that drives me bonkers.

“We live in a society, people!” my inner George Costanza screams. The only way to enjoy the fruits of society is by sharing them. When parents don’t teach their kids to share space, time, and resources, then kids become self-serving, domineering adults. And so standing in that tour group, my mind wanders to the future; to these kids growing up and populating a world where my son has to share the highway with them as they swerve through traffic, or stand in line while they cut in front for their morning coffee, or work in an office where they steal his ideas and pawn them off as their own. I think of a million different scenarios about how the world is (and will) become a worse place because kids aren’t taught about how to respect others.

It all sounds very good as a write it. In fact, there’s a part of me that wants to stop there. End of post. People suck.

But what I’m really trying to convey is the way I feel obligated to be the morality/karma police in these situations. Looking around the tour group, there were obviously children who were participating, and their parents appeared just as engaged. Even the curator seemed to be ignoring the wandering family and going about her business, touring the group. Why was I the one steaming? Why did I feel as though I had to hold the weight of other people’s decisions?

I think that is the hardest part for me. I don’t want to lose that part of me that discerns behaviors that I don’t want to cultivate in my son. I also don’t want to be so fixated on that discernment that it takes over my mind and disallows me from enjoying the moment in spite of others. I’m sure the other parents in the group noticed this wandering family. I’m sure some of them even made judgements about their behavior. But somehow, they were able to live and let live, or perhaps even forgive and forget. For me, it never feels easy.

 

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Deep Breaths

I'm gonna freak out on you like Roger Clarvin at the Welshly Arms.

I’m gonna freak out on you like Roger Clarvin at the Welshly Arms.

….pursed-lipped, red-faced deep breaths is more like it.

It seems my son is in some sort of weird testing phase at the moment, and I find myself taking lots of deep breaths to re-organize.  These breaths help me take a second to respond rather than react, but he makes it incredibly difficult at times.

The two things that really get under my skin are when he takes one more shot at whatever he’s been told to stop and when he talks back.  For example, he has a habit of pulling on my arm when walking next to me. Not the cute tug of days of yore, but a “let’s hang my 50 lb frame from dad’s arm and see if it doesn’t come out of its socket” sort of way.  I have back issues, so lots of off-balance, twisting force will screw it up.  So we’re walking through the grocery store and he starts swinging like a monkey.

“My back, buddy. Please don’t do that or you’ll hurt me.”

One final tug…

….deep breath.

I feel like Will Ferrell’s SNL character, the lecherous professor in the hot tub who’s loquacious and gushy until his wife climbs onto him and his back seizes.  I want to snap in that moment and yell at my son in my best Roger Clarvin voice, “Ah, my back!  Get the hell off me!” That’s what that breath’s for. So I don’t snap and yell at my son in the middle to the produce aisle like some maniac.

The second thing that really gets under my skin is when he talks back. I’ll ask him to put away his shoes.  I’ll ask once.  Then again, and again, and again, without any semblance of a response.

“Man, did you hear me?  I asked you like a million times.”

“No you didn’t.  You asked me like five times.”

….even deeper breath.  The shoes might have gone whipping across the room if it weren’t for that breath.

He’s a good kid overall, and I think he’s just at that age when he’s testing the waters.  Just double-checking to see where the lines are drawn.  That doesn’t mean I just let him do it.  It doesn’t mean there are no consequences.  But what I don’t want to do is just react and yell.  My parents both had short fuses in their own ways.  If we went too far as kids, we’d get this Bruce-Banner-turned-Hulk reaction from our mom and suffer a long tirade.  Dad would just blow up and blow out, hauling off to his room or out to the backyard, all the while mutter or yelling.  I don’t want to do either of these things.

The breaths give me pause to regroup.  In the vegetable aisle I can go down on one knee, grab both my son’s shoulders and explain to him in a forceful voice that he’s going to hurt me if he keeps hanging. I let him know that I won’t hold his hand if he’s going to keep swinging from mine. Addressing the issue instead of freaking out.  The breath helps me explain that reminding him five times to put away his shoes is too many, and then order him to put them away immediately.  Addressing the issue instead of humming a shoe (for the record: I’ve never hummed a shoe, no matter how badly I’ve wanted to).

Thank god for these breaths.  If it weren’t for them, I’d be growing out my beard and getting my hot-tub speedo ready.