Parenting is about managing the moment

As a parent we want to create those memories, those experiences, those moments that will be cherished throughout time. These are the moments where we find ourselves looking back on nostalgically, and we want to recreate them for our own kids. Moments like the ones shown in movies, tv shows, and written about in books. Moments to share on facebook, post to instagram, and … maybe write a blog post. Yep, tonight was going to be one of those evenings … and then everything went sideways.

gingerbread train

Tonight was a special night, a cherished night. With their mom busy the boys were instead going to be staying with me. These nights (sometimes days) I look upon as gifts of extra time with my boys. So I try to do something extra fun, something outside the normal. After all, they don’t happen every week. I was excited.

Owen and I stopped to grab dinner, drinks, and pre-bake cookies from the store. Figured we could eat, listen to carols, put up the outside lights, and finally get to the gingerbread train put together (something still left from last year). It was going to be a Christmas holiday evening with my boys … quality family time.

It was going to be perfect.

Of course, due to the excitement I was planning the “what” and not the “how”. I wasn’t taking into account the context of the situation. Specifically, the fact we had been up until midnight watching “StarWars: The Last Jedi” the previous night. We were tired, possibly too tired to recognize it … I was too tired and too determined to recognize it.

While things started out good, got homework going and dinner cooking. You could tell we were not focused on the same things. Once dinner was ready, I changed plans slightly and made the declaration that “tonight would be a screen free night.” Which meant that we were not going to eat and then just sit and watch TV … we were going to do something together … good idea right?

Sadly, by the time dinner was ready part of it was cold … a had failed to coordinate it properly. But that was ok … we enjoyed it. When I was done and the boys were still eating I continued reading a book we are working our way through. Another parenting win right? But I think that was the last point of success for the evening.

I should have known … I should have seen

Before we could get one with things we had to get Math homework done – think all parents understand how frustrating this can be. It was a hard, new concern for him but he was taking a very negative view on his abilities and a dismissive response to trying to learn it. For me … there is nothing more frustrating that someone not engaging in the topic. In the moment I saw this as attitude, in hindsight it was more likely a factor of being tired.

After that, and while Owen was finishing up, Joe and I started stringing some lights outside. While I was attempting to let him own the task, he too was taking a very negative tone – often crossing the line into downright being disrespectful. As with many pre-teens he seems deaf to this. Doesn’t see how the tone in which he speaks to adults and peers impacts how he is treated. The disrespect both boys display towards me specifically I think they see as ‘in-fun’, but it grates on me and wears me down. Yet, at the time I thought is was nothing a coffee wouldn’t fix. So I parent, and tried to move on.

However, by the time we got to working on the ginger bread train I could tell my temper was short. It was already getting late and I knew we were tired … I could feel we were tired. I should have pulled the plug and saved the cookies, eggnog, and gingerbread train for another night. We should have snuggled into bed, read more of our book and gone to sleep all cuddled up together. That is the moment I long for today. That is not what we did…

Fallen Christmas
To be clear, this happened the previous night – but it seemed to foreshadow this night so well.

Instead, we pushed forward. We put the cookies on to bake and started on the train. The complaining got worse, fun smack talk turned into negative comments, instructions were not followed or not even heard, the cookies were burnt and our night spiraled out of control. You could hear the tone getting sharp and I was done with it. Boys may be boys, and brothers may show love through smack talk … but I could not handle any more negative and disrespectful talk, I could not handle any more instructions going completely disregarded, I could not handle … any of it. I snapped. The night came apart in an instant.

With my older son headed outside in tears, I sent Owen upstairs to bed. He was now upset that he was being punished for my blow up towards Joe. But the night was over, which I tried to explain but I don’t think that made the moment any better. My words had just cut Joe deep … I knew it, and I could not take them back.

My heart sank as I sat there, I am better than this … I have to be better than this.

Words spoken in anger cut with the edge of raw emotion

After a few moments I joined Joe outside, looking to comfort and repair … he was having none of it. What transposed was a parenting scene in our driveway for all to see. A battle between teenager and parent that was leaving us both emotionally bloodied, it wasn’t pretty. This is not how I want to be seen as a father, this is not how I want to BE as a father.

Yet, out of the anger, disrespect, and pain we opened up some of our emotions. Things kept inside and bottled up. Things I wasn’t expecting to hear, but did not surprise me. They stung, not because they were directed at me but because I know I had just fed into them. Into his fears, self doubt, and pain. Everything changed in that moment, defenses came down. I sat there an listened. I tried to pass along that he wasn’t alone, that I was there and that I understood. However, by this point we were drained … it was time for bed. All we could do was share a hug.

I was wrong and I will do better!

As I tucked him into bed I apologized and took ownership for the things I said, I shared my love, concern, and understanding. By the time he was in bed and his head resting on his pillow much of the anger had been dismissed. Just wish we had more time in the morning because there is still so much I feel is left to do.

I am not the perfect parent, not even close. I like to share all the joys, all the adventures, and all the fun … but parenting is hard, and sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes we are human to.

So Grateful

This marks the start of the holiday season. A time of friends, family, and reflection. While it has been a rocky couple years with both highs and lows, I can say without a doubt that those that have come into my life have undoubtedly held me together and changed my life. Each of you have impacted me differently, some have provided that caring heart when I needed it most and some have pushed me out of the confines of my preconceptions. While not everyone is still a part of my life, I am thankful that you were when I needed you most.

Please, everyone stay safe this holiday and enjoy the turkey, stuffing, and pie.

Summertime is here!

This week marks that time of year when School’s out for Summer. As a kid growing up this was the best time of year, a time to turn up the music and let loose. As the schools slowly let out I have watched as parents and families start to celebrate the upcoming break, excited with all they plan to do. As a single parent the joys of summer are often tempered by challenges. Summer throws a kink into the coparenting relationship and messes with the schedules. Add in summer camp and vacation coordination and you have a pot of stress ready to boil over. It happens every year and always manages to work itself out. So you relax, breath deep, and enjoy the sunshine on your face.

After all it is summer. A time for family and fun. A time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and a chance to reach out and explore more of the world without concerns of homework and school. A time to enjoy the pool, waterpark, and beaches … a time to enjoy the great outdoors.

Yet you can’t, as a parent, completely relax. In all that summertime excitement you need to remember to keep the family safe. For a single parent this is just one more of those challenges times as your attention is that much more stretched. That is why when the Digital Dads recently had a podcast episode on this very topic that I wanted to share – not just for single parents … but all parents. They discussed, with Dr. Shoba Srikantan out of Orlando, many of the summer safety tips we should keep in mind. I won’t go into a lot of the details as I would encourage all parents to take a listen. However, the key takeaway for me was ‘be vigilant’. It only takes a few second for a child to escape your protective zone.

While the podcast seemed primarily focused on water safety, a big concern in the summer, summertime is a time for heightened awareness all around. Summertime offers kids more time to explore and to be more independent. As such, it might be a good time to discuss any rules or boundaries you have regarding playing outside or at the park. As they mentioned repeatedly, we as parents can’t relax. We are not off the clock while the kids are around – so stay vigilant and don’t let your guard down, especially when there are dangers around. The podcast also reminded me that I need to go get at least my CPR certification, Dr. Dad is always on duty so I better have the skills.

However, I thought I would add a few additional points to remember. I know we have all been told them before, but never hurts to get a refresher right.

Mind the Fire

One of my favorite activities during the summer is getting the change to go camping, now granted in the hot summer heat of Florida it tends to be put off until later in the fall – but for many this is the prime time of year to pitch a tent or park your RV and enjoy the great outdoors. There is often nothing better than roasting marshmallows over an open fire under a full moon, with nothing around you but trees and the sound of wind flowing through the trees. So, remember Smokey Bear and pay attention – a tossed match or renegade spark is all it takes.

Don’t Feed The Wildlife

My kids are some of the worst for this, always tossing crumbs out for the birds and turtles. They are cute, and pleasant. It is such a thrill to get close to wild animals. Your heart starts racing and you can feel the blood rush through your body. I admit, I am one that loves the encounters. But you have to be careful. Animals are primal, creatures of habits. Once they associate food and attention from humans they will seek it out, and sweet creates one moment can be aggressive the next. They are Unpredictable. They are wild. Which is why it is a thrill, just recognize it and keep yourself safe.

Be Prepared

As with almost every aspect of life, make sure you are equipped before heading out. A simple 45-min, late afternoon, drive into the woods can turn into an overnight stay (I will save that story for another day). So before heading out make sure you have the right gear – first aid kit, matches, and a plan.

With that, enjoy a safe and happy summer. Lets get on with those adventures!