Ever have a pair of toddler nostrils ruin your perfectly parented night?
You’ve had a great and filling meal. Shower, book then down on the bed for some quick snuggling to get kiddo in that perfect place. That contented place you know all so well.
You came to the bed prepared with a pacifier and kiddo’s most comfy blanket. You strategically deploy the blanket first. Kiddo cuddles and makes a sound only the happiest of little ones make. You take your time making damn sure you don’t time the next move too fast but keep a clear mind to not miss your moment.
When the time is right, in the middle of a yawn or coo, with a flick of the wrist you place the pacifier in kiddos mouth. It’s like a mute button and a pause button had a child of their own. Kiddo is ready. Time for the crib and sleep for tired parent. Rejoice!
You throw your legs off the bed and hold Kiddo tight. A few looks are exchanged bit you’re such an expert at this. Such perfection. Kiddo’s eyes quickly close and you walk to the nursery. One more move to make: crib placement.
A smooth swing from head on shoulder to cradling in your arms. Eyes still closed. Slow but steady lowering to the blankets and suddenly it is complete. Quiet happy child in their own bed. Perfection I tell you. Perfection!
You turn for the walk out and hear a short but loud *SNORT*. Your exhausted devil parent on your left shoulder says keep walking but the caring parent angel on your right convinces you to check it out.
The horror. Mount Vesuvius and Krakatoa have both erupted at the same time. Kiddo is covered but doesn’t make a peep. The surprise by the explosion of their own sinuses has left them speechless.
You tell Kiddo everything is ok as you quickly grab whatever is closest. Shirt, towel, wipe, rug… it doesn’t matter. Anything to salvage the night for that glorious sleep you’ve been fighting for. You were perfect. You worked your parent ass off.
You quietly pray underneath your breath that Kiddo will sleep. Pray to every god and goddess you can think of. Pray to people you don’t even think are gods in the fear you might miss one.
As you finish cleaning your eyes meet. The acknowledgement is blatant in Kiddo’s eyes. They know what has happened. Their surprise turns to fear and sadness.
Better luck next time. Go grab something to drink. It’s not fair but your night is over. Good luck starting again in the morning.
Every great album has a title track, right? Why shouldn't a blog? This also gives me a chance to explain my intent so you wonderful readers (anyone taking the time to read my ramblings is a wonderful, intelligent, fantastic human being in my book) can have an idea where this all is going.
I hate being out in public. I get anxious, worried and am on edge looking for dangers in ever corner. Visualize a squirrel who knows there is a larger land animal or bird just waiting to find a midday snack. That squirrel is me alone and out around people. I’ve dealt with feelings like this for a long time. I can’t pin point the first time I had a panic attack and some of what I experience is definitely due to brain chemistry but the bullying I experienced in school couldn't have helped these issues.
This doesn’t mean I am a shut in… I just have ways of minimizing and coping with these issues that have been honed over the decades. If it’s just a normal day I’ll have headphones in when I know I am in a relatively safe environment. At other times my passion (photography) serves as my distraction as well. When I have not only an action to do but also what looks like a reason to be there I can relax and move about the world. Occasionally I combine the two and can block out everything from a few too many people around to Cthulhu rising from the Pacific.
Side Note: People who know me will ask about when I teach, speak in public and such. I believe it goes to my performance roots. When I’m “on” most other things fall to the side and the more people the better.
Great… so what’s the problem Joe? If you’re asking that question then you either don’t have kids, have never watched young children or haven’t quite pieced it together yet. That’s fine. The problem is I can’t get lost in WuTang songs blaring on my headphones when I’m back carrying my kiddo on a trail. The problem is I can’t ditch the stroller to take a photo when something unique catches my eye. I need to be focused on my kid. I need to be attentive to him and his needs. The problem is my coping skills, tricks and quirks aren’t feasible as a stay at home dad.
Second Side Note: Some of you are wondering about medications. Yup, I’ve been there. The only ones that help to be honest make me not give a shit about whatever is going on around me. I’m not about to feel that way while with my kid. It’s fine for late at night when I can zone out but not in public.
I could just keep my son at home. Entertain him 5days a week until my wife has a day off and can take him out. My wife is nearly the exact opposite. Whereas I don’t want to go out she has trouble staying in too much. They are always looking for something to do and experience. I could just rely on that as his adventures. But I won’t. I want to experience the joy of watching my son experience fun new places and motions. I want to share with my son the places that have brought me joy and comfort. I want to be there for my son in every way possible.
I want to show my son that there are ways to experience the world around him even if he has similar difficulties that I do. I want to be a fearless role model for him to follow in the future. I don't want him thinking he needs to hide from the world.
With that all being said this blog is an attempt to kick my ass into gear. If I’m writing about adventures with my son then first I need to be having adventures. Small day outings, longer weekend stuff, indoors, outside, museums, baseball games the sky is the limit. I’ve just gotta get us both out the door. Out the damn door.
I love hugs. Always have. They are an important part of my connection to friends and family. I remember what hugs feel like from certain people and even specific individual hugs from the past.
There are different types of hugs. Dare I say a hug for every situation. There is the “see you in a few days” quickie hug. There is the longer, closer “its going to be a while” hug. There is the handshake, shoulder to shoulder with other arm around the back hug. I was taught by homophobes in high school that when paired with two taps on the back this type of hug is the “not gay” hug using the taps on the back to emphasize each word. There are side hugs aka “A-Frame” hugs that were supposed to protect us from inappropriate touching between colleagues in college. So many to list but I can’t forget to mention the grandma hug+cheek kiss. One of my all time favs.
We are a hugging family. We are teaching my young son to hug. He’s great at it but one type of hug has eluded me. The “never leave/never die” hug. This one is characterized by a full double-arm swing around the neck and face planted next to the cheek. It takes time and the squeeze is strong. You can feel the person’s heartbeat as it pounds right next to your own. This type of hug is heartbreaking and when real very rare. It expresses the most emotion of any hug I ever experience. I love this hug and have seen my son hug my wife this way. Never me.
The first time I experienced the NLND hug was just days before my 13th birthday. It was the day I would later learn that my uncle had committed suicide. The family decided it would be best to let me finish the school day and my piano lesson after school instead of pulling me out when they got the news. My brother and a good friend of his picked me up, informed me of what was going on, then drove me to the house where everyone had gathered and begun to attempt the grieving process.
When we got home the only thing I can remember is my father. It was his brother who was now gone. Up until this point I had never seen him cry. He’s not a “men don’t cry” type of person. More I think that he is a source of strength in the family and sometimes that means keeping a stiff upper lip for everyone else so they have the space to emote.
Walking into the house I saw my father crying for the first time. I didn’t know how to react. I had absolutely zero words. For a kid who never stopped talking I was speechless. The only tool I had for the situation was to hug my father so I did.
That hug… is burned into my memory. Having just lost his youngest brother my father hugged me tighter than he ever had before. My father held me longer than I can previously remember. That hug said two things loud and clear. Don’t ever leave me and I love you with all of my heart.
Over the years there have been a lot of hugs from a lot of people. None have been that powerful until about two weeks ago. I had been hired to photograph multiple events that day. One was during the workday so my son was not with me during our usual times. We had been on a very consistent schedule for nearly a month and as any stay at home parent will tell you the rhythm of the day starts to really sync. That is not to say we weren’t busy. We had bumps in the road daily but activities and needs were easily anticipated.
Let’s go back for a second. I have been away from my son for extended periods of time. On the shorter end are 4-5 conference trips (Shout out to The National At Home Dad Conference and Dad2.0). The longest was a 45 day working trip to France and Iceland (Afram Island!) for the 2016 Euros Tournament. At no time did my son embrace me with a NLND hug. His mom… yup. Not me. I’m not too proud to admit I was getting a bit jealous.
Returning to the almost present. I arrived home after the 6th or so hour of taking event photographs that day. It is important to note because for this photog events are the roughest. Constantly on my feet looking for the next unanticipated moment. Mind always running like a souped up HemiCuda. It can be exhausting over time. I was expecting my son to give me a quick hug and then return to either eating or running around in circles.
To my surprise as I picked up my one year old he reached for my neck. Once he was close enough he pulled hard and connected his hands behind me. Planting his face next to mine he squeezed with all the might a young one can muster and held firm.
At first I couldn’t take in what was happening. All I could think was “what’s wrong” and “what happened while I was gone?!?!” Of course nothing had happened. Everything was fine. For some reason that day my son missed me so much he felt the need to express it when I returned. Luckily for me he held that hug long enough for me to get out of my own head.
I pressed my cheek against his. I held him as close as I could hold a little kiddo. I loved every second of it. There are moments when you know you should cry but a little dumb voice tells you for whatever reason not to. That voice told me to hold back but my better angels prevailed and I cried with my son in my arms.
I missed you too Kiddo.