A Challenge That I Didn’t Expect

In hindsight, my decision to have children was about as informed as is the decision of a typical eight year old child to get a puppy. An eight year old thinks that having a puppy is a great idea because the puppy will provide companionship and a close bond. The eight year old hears that they will be responsible for the animal, but doesn’t have the adequate conceptual framework to comprehend the actual significance and meaning of this responsibility. I was much like that eight year old when I first started seriously entertaining the idea of having children. I had heard that raising a child was challenging for a multitude of reasons, but I lacked the insight to understand the implications of my decision.

The “Little” Difficulties of Parenthood

There have been many hurdles to overcome while on this trek called parenthood. To be honest, many of them revolve around the very basic idea of taking care of yourself. Having kids was, to say the least, a lifestyle change and I don’t think I fully comprehended what this entailed. Sleep, for example, is something that I had been told take at every available opportunity, but it is very hard to put myself to bed when I feel that I haven’t had adequate time to myself during the day to appreciate just being myself. As a result, I typically stay up much later than I should trying to give myself a little “me” time during my day.

Prior to having children, I had also been warned that having children might jeopardize friendships. Yet another case of hearing the words of warning, but not fully understanding their context. I think there are at least a couple main reasons that having kids can make you drift away from people that were good friends. Once you have children, you will have some pretty intense limits placed on the time you have available to partake in your pre-child lifestyle and this is likely to dig into the time that you have available for friends. Another strain on friendships is the inevitable change of your priorities. As a father, I still have all of my old interests, but since I am one of the major care takers for our children it stands to reason that the details of my children’s lives will be one of my primary interests, and I think this can be alienating to friends that don’t have children.

The frustrations that children present are another thing that I had been warned about, but that warning just didn’t quite sink in. I have worked a fair bit with slightly older kids and find them relatively reasonable. Infants and toddlers, however, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with and have since learned that they are almost entirely unreasonable. Don’t get me wrong, they are cute, beautiful and charming, but they are also incredibly unreasonable. It is both hilarious and exasperating to watch a toddler walk around and interact with their environment. They will generally make a move for anything that you don’t want them to touch; move random objects from one place to another without any obvious reason; repeat themselves ad nauseam; appear to make concerted efforts to obstruct any reasonable course of action; find that thing that is most likely to stain your carpet and hold it so that if it were to fall, it would only barely miss the table (which could easily be cleaned), and then with infuriating grace they will drop it on your carpet, thereby destroying any remaining hope you had of retrieving your damage deposit.

Although I had been warned about the aforementioned “little” difficulties, I still found that I wasn’t fully prepared to deal with them. Parenting has a momentum to it though, and I found that I certainly became prepared to deal with the little challenges very quickly. Having had the warnings was useful, because even though I didn’t have a deep understanding of exactly how these challenges would look when I was in the situation, at least I had a frame of reference. This made the act of becoming a father much less of a culture shock than it otherwise may have been.

My Unexpected Challenge

The negotiations went on long into the night

I have this underlying belief that fathers of multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) are much more engaged in the raising of their children than fathers of singletons. I know that I had every intention of being a very involved father prior to finding out that we were having twins. Once our twins came along though, there was really absolutely no choice for me to do anything other than be a very engaged father, and because of the higher work load, I suspect that I took on more than I would have if we had one child at a time. As a result of me being so involved with my kids, Jenn and I both felt like every parenting decision that either of us made became quite the negotiation, and this is what I hadn’t heard anyone mention in the lead up to having kids.

To be clear, I think it likely that the parents of any child are often involved in negotiating how to do certain things, however I also think that the amount of negotiating increases with the level of involvement of the parents. It seems like a fairly natural association, because the more both parents are around and the more involved they are, the more both parents have at stake. Although the negotiations were a natural consequence of a high level of involvement from both of us, at times it was also quite difficult and both Jenn and I found it quite frustrating at times.

When deciding how to proceed with different issues, there were obviously times when Jenn and I didn’t agree on the best course of action. Generally we’d both give the other a chance to try their method, and ultimately this was a great learning tool for both of us. Trying an approach that individually we might not have tried started yielding some good results for both of us. It was a great learning tool and we have both had times when we benefited from trying something that is outside of our usual bag of tricks.

Although it is sometimes exhausting and frustrating, negotiating with your spouse on how to deal with parenting issues it’s certainly worth it. It implies that your child(ren) have two parents who are involved enough to care about how things are done and it has helped me to remember that there are usually multiple ways to achieve your goal. Moreover, there has been a benefit to my communication skills and with luck our kids will benefit from growing up in a house with parents that communicate fairly well.

Surnames and Patriarchy

The “good ole days”, when men were men, and women took the last name of their man and of course the children would also take the surname of their father. Simple, neat, tidy and terribly old school. There are a lot of reasons and circumstances for women to keep their surname after they hook up with their partner, and when this happens, how do you choose a last name for your child(ren)?

When Men Were Men

Men proudly defending their tradition of keeping women down.

Things have changed over the last generation or two, and increasingly men are no longer the men they once were, and it’s a good thing. I can think of a plethora of reasons why a woman would choose not to take the surname of her partner, and my wife fits into this category. In our case, my wife is a scientist and has several publications under her surname and for her to change her name would, at best make it difficult for people to track her body of work, and at worst may actually prevent her career from taking off. If my wife had a career that was less dependent on her name, I would have still raised the issue of whether or not we should share a common last name after being married. In my mind, we are both individuals and to assume that she would take my name would be akin to denying her identity as a result of our relationship.

 Surname Options

Since my wife and I both still have our original surnames, we had to decide what the last name of our children would be. The following is a list of the options that we considered in choosing a last name for our kids:

  1. My last name for one, and my wife’s last name for the other
  2. My last name for all of them
  3. My wife’s last name for all of them
  4. A hybrid of my last name and my wife’s last name
  5. A hyphenated combination of both of our surnames
  6. An entirely new last name for both of our children

Jenn and I were both opposed to option #5 because we thought that if our kids keep their last names and they decide to hyphenate the names of their children, then you’d be creating a situation where the length of hyphenated surnames could grow exponentially with every new generation and that seemed ridiculous.

We, or at least I, had a lot of fun with option #4. By combining our surnames in a particular way, you could create a resulting surname of “Bakins”, which seemed awesome to me because I am a geek and saw an opportunity to name my son “Bilbo” which would have made me the father of “Bilbo Bakins”. Absolutely fricking awesome,right? Jenn, appreciated the humour, but also appreciated that this was probably not how our son would want to be known for his whole life. Option #6 was also ruled out pretty quickly, and if I recall correctly it was primarily because there would be no connection (by name) to either Jenn or myself. This left us with options 1, 2 or 3 and the concern of being linked to our children by name.

We gave a lot of consideration to options 1, 2 and 3, and ultimately opted for option #2, but I feel that all three of these options had a lot of merit. If social conventions hold, then whatever surname we gave our son would likely be the family name that survives this branch of our collective family tree. Most people who get married tend to take the family name of their husband, and so, traditionally most people probably never really consider how this affects how a mother feels about her name not being carried on through her children. Because Jenn still has her own family name, from my perspective this was certainly an important factor to take into account since I didn’t want Jenn to feel that I was insensitive to the possibility that her family name might not carry on through her children.

Honestly, thinking through this whole thought process again makes me think that we should reconsider changing our kids family name to Jenn’s. It seems funny to me, and very indicative of our patriarchal society that it is assumed that a woman will take the name of her man. Moreover, the children which she carries in her body, which are literally part of her body for the first 9 months of existence are then brought into the world and appropriated in name by the father. To be sure, this is a complex issue and I know that I am presenting an oversimplified version of the facts, but this reality does make me cringe. I would certainly not want to be a woman in today’s (or yesterday’s) society. It makes me feel very passionate about how this world will treat my daughter and how much, as a society, we owe women. What are your thoughts on surnames and the way they are dictated by a our societies patriarchal influences?

The Lesson That a Trivial Parenting Decision Taught Me: Daddy or Papa?

daddy-vs-papaWhat is in a word? Over time, I suspect that my children will call me a wide variety of things, some of which I’d rather they didn’t. Initially, at least, I have some control over how I am known to my kids and I opted for the less conventional (in my region) “Papa”. I quickly found out that this decision was taken much more seriously by some of my acquaintances than it was by me. Don’t get me wrong, I put some thought into it, but my decision actually seemed to bother some people more than, in my opinion, it ought to have.

Why Papa?

There were a few reasons that made me choose to be called “Papa” rather than “Dad”. The most basic reason was that it was unconventional in my area, so it was just a way of being a little different. This has turned out to work pretty well for me, because when my kids are with a group of kids, it is very easy for me to tell when I am being called because so few fathers are called “Papa”. So I like being unique, and I’m a lazy parent who doesn’t like having to look too hard for my kids in a crowd, but there was a more personal reason for me to go with the more unconventional option.

When I was a boy there was a time that I decided that instead of calling my father “Dad”, I was going to try calling him either “Pa” or “Pop”. My father and mother came into my room one day and I tried it out, and they both really loved it. They tried to get me to say it again and out of embarrassment I refused. It really is a shame, because I liked it and it seemed like they both liked it too. In any case, as a bit of an homage to my father, this is why I chose to be known by my children as “Papa”.

What Did I Learn?

The decision to be called “Papa” by my children was one of my first real decisions as a parent. Clearly not a big or terribly important decision, but I did learn a lot from it. As I mentioned, I took a surprising amount of heat from relatives and friends for making this fairly trivial decision, and this, my friends, is what they call foreshadowing. You’d be amazed at how many of your decisions other people will call into question when you are raising your children. Unsolicited parenting advice abounds, and can come from a close relative or the person sitting next to you on the bus.

In the end, I feel that this early “parenting” decision gave me a little bit of a heads up that it is important for me to be able to let people’s opinions about my parenting style roll off of me. To be sure, this is easier said than done and honestly, I feel that I am still fine tuning my understanding and implementation of this lesson. On the other side of this, I have also learned that I should not offer fellow parents unsolicited advice. The role of a parent is so deeply personal, that it is very hard to say things about parenting without making a person feel criticized. What sort of parenting advice have you had from relatives or strangers? Also, what is the preferred nomenclature (obscure reference to a Coen brothers film) of your child’s father: Daddy or Papa? Finally, what Coen brothers film did I just reference?

What to Do: Kid Friendly Activities

So here is a quick and dirty post geared towards helping you help yourself and help others. My lovely wife made me aware of a website that helps you find kid friendly activities in your area on a map. It works a little like Padmapper, if you’re familiar with that site. The content of the site is user generated, so you can also add suggestions to the site. I happen to believe that parents are just the right group of people to make a site like this work because we are all looking for great ideas for things to do with our little ones, and in my experience, we are also a pretty helpful group of people who are willing to help other parents out. Help prove me right by giving this site a visit and possibly even contributing some ideas of activities in your area.

Here’s what the creator of the site has to say:

I have created a website for people to find, share, and comment on kid-friendly places and activities which can be found at http://kidfriendlyplaces.org. Its a work-in-progress  so I am trying to figure out if “real” people in the real world (ie, people other than my friends or coworkers) would use it and how. If any of you have a moment to spare, I’d love to know your thoughts.

For the record, I am not affiliated with this site at all, I just think it is a great idea and a potentially good resource.

Monuments Explained

In my previous post I put up a poem that I wrote when I was a younger punk than I am now. When I wrote the poem my intent was to point out that, generally, people have a tendency to avoid dealing with the larger problems of the world. Children have quite a few unique characteristics, two of which are a remarkable clarity of thought and the inability to edit their thoughts. While this sometimes leads to public declarations like “Papa has a penis” or “Papa toots” it can also lead to fairly profound observations about the world. The final line “Quite often the monuments to our ignorance stand no higher than the waist” was meant to point out how children often seem to be able to ask very penetrating questions which reveal our lack of understanding and resolve to address such problems.  Therefore, with the clarity of thought that their fresh perspective affords them, children are like pint sized monuments to our ignorance.

What Have I Done for the World Lately

In any fundamental way, am I any less ignorant than my parents, or theirs? Well, if I’m going to be honest, I’d like to say that I am, but the reality of the situation is that I’m not. On an individual level, I have done nothing substantial or significant to end poverty, war, pollution et cetera. My poem wasn’t really supposed to be an indictment of individuals for lacking the moral fortitude to “save the world”. It was really just an interesting observation that children can see through a lot of the crappy excuses that we use to ignore some major issues that exist in the world.

Since children do seem to have this ability to ask very revealing questions, my new role as a father leaves me wondering what approach I should take when these questions are asked of me. I have a plan for how I’d like to address the more often thought of “drugs” and “sex” related questions, but I’m realizing that I have no plan for how I’m going to respond when I am asked why person X from country Y has no food when we have plenty or why it’s okay for people from one country to kill people in another country when it is a “war”, but normally that is murder. I need a plan for this.

The Plan

vietnam-war
How would you explain this photo to your child?

What I would most like to avoid is becoming my own self-fulfilling prophecy by having my children become the monuments to my ignorance. The simple realization that there are no good answers to questions like those above is going to have to be my starting point. I think it is very important for me to not shy away from those questions, even when there are no good answers. Come to think of it, I think the way to go is to become a child again myself. Explore their enquiries with them and ask penetrating questions back. This way you wouldn’t be avoiding the issues, and you would avoid coming off as arrogant. Well, this is where my idea has taken me this time, what are your thoughts on the issue?

Monuments

This post is a bit of a personal rambling. When I was younger, and in university, I had some ideas that I sometimes wrote down. I guess, generally they had the form of poetry. Luckily for you, this particular idea was short and sweet. It encapsulated the essence of a thought that I had when I was a child.

I present to you a “poem” that I wrote that is, in some way, about children. Read it, comment if you like and in my next blog post I will explain what my thoughts were when I wrote this.

Monuments

What things are out there for the normal person? What is with them at the end of their day?

For the most part, the learned seem not to have done their job, but they are not alone in their negligence.

Quite often the monuments to our ignorance stand no higher than the waist.

-Me

On Death and Birth

VennThat’s right, I’m going there, in my blog which is about parenting and children, and by inference birth and life. On a few occasions, while watching my kids play around, it has occurred to me that they have absolutely no idea that, at some point, they are going to die. Of course I don’t think this really matters since they are only two years old, but it has made me think back to my introduction to the harsh reality that is death and how my understanding of death, and now birth, has grown and changed over the years.

Death

In my life, there have been a number times when I have had to say a final good-bye to a person very close to me, and every time it has been a deeply saddening experience. Just before the twins came along, there was quite a drama unfolding within our family, as two close and beloved family members passed away as a result of unrelated health problems. This certainly cast a pall over the lead up to our children’s birth, but my experience of these two deaths was significantly different to the death of anyone else who had ever been close to me, and it was, in part, because of the imminent birth of my children.

In every instance that I have had to deal with death in the past, there has always been this incredibly simple, yet baffling thought that has occurred to me. There is a person who exists one minute, and then a moment later, all that made that person what they are, is absolutely gone. Every part of their body still seems to exist in front of you, but they are no longer there. What a feeling of loss and emptiness this gives.

Birth

With the arrival of my children, there were a number of thoughts on my mind that seemed somehow familiar. They were familiar because they were similar in form to the thoughts that I’d had when someone close to me dies, but these thoughts were different in content because they gave me feelings exactly opposite to those that surround a person’s death. In this case, first there was no one, and moments later there were two new people that formerly didn’t exist. In the same way that I had always found it hard to comprehend that after someone dies, even though the body remains, they no longer exist, I found it equally perplexing that out of nothing, there was now something.

I have always found it difficult to get used to the reality that a person has died. Seeing something that makes you chuckle, for instance, might make you think “I should give X a call and tell them about this because they’d love it” and shortly after having this type of thought, you’d have to make the realization that there will be no more phone calls to share the details of your day with that person any more. It’s a sad and hard reality to come to grips with after the death of a loved one. With the birth of my twins, however, I was making the realization over and over again that now there were two new people with which I could share the details of my day (once they learned English, that is).

With the death of these two family members, there seemed to be a poetic balance about the situation. Two lives lost and two lives gained. Of course, in a literal sense, my children could not possibly replace the lives of the family that we lost, but they were a reminder that each death is the result of a birth, and we were witnessing the whole process of renewal within a very short time. I remember it being an emotion packed experience, and in this instance there was both intense sadness and joy all within a very short period of time, and a lot of reflection upon the whole event.