Friday, November 13, 2015

I Don't Let My Children Share My Bed

Let me begin by stating, quite clearly, that there are no absolutes in parenting. Any parent that tells you that they “never” or “always” is either a liar or a crazy person and, in either case, I advise you to stop listening and flee the scene immediately. That said, my wife and I never let our girls share a bed with us.

For the first couple of months of their lives, our daughters slept in a bassinet next to our bed. That decision had less to do with bonding with our beautiful baby girl and more to do with allowing my nursing wife to feed said bundle of joy four times a night with a simple roll-over and lift maneuver. But we also believed that we couldn’t spoil a baby at that age. In those early months, no bad habits were being learned, no difficult to break patterns were being set. (Other than maybe crying gets you stuff.) Once she became more aware of her surroundings, however, our cohabitation period ended and we moved her into a crib in her own room. From that point on, we taught our children that they would sleep in their beds and mommy and daddy would sleep in theirs.

My wife and I felt that establishing our bed as an adults-only zone was important for our and the children’s well being. Children take over every nook and cranny of your world, both physical and mental. Toys and clothes and unpleasant smells clog every hallway and room in your house. Thoughts of “why is she crying?” and “are we saving enough for college?” and “good god, where is that smell coming from?!” bounce around your mind day and night. And so, we felt it imperative to our welfare that we create a childfree space. A space to allow us to connect with each other, not as parents, but as people.

Maintaining a loving, respect-filled relationship is one of the most important, and often overlooked, aspects of being a good parent. And nurturing such a relationship takes time and energy, neither of which new parents have in abundance. A childfree bed allows for a few moments of conversation and connection at the beginning and ending of each day. It’s also a heck of a lot easier to get a good night’s sleep without a size 2 foot in your face.

Established, enforced rules about sleeping spaces also create more secure, happy children. As any parenting book will tell you (NOTE: you should also avoid fellow parents that begin sentences like this), kids need rules and limits. Predictable routines reduce anxiety and arguments. If children understand from an early age that they sleep in their own bed, the bedtime routine can be a fairly simple affair. In addition, at least based on my own observations, letting children share your bed creates problems when sharing a bed isn’t possible. If a parent goes out of town or the child visits friends or family without their parents, suddenly the child is asked to sleep without the familiar comfort of the family bed. Without that comfort, the child can become angry, sad, or scared.

All of this isn’t really to say my kids never share our bed. When they’re sick and they just want us to hold them, of course we let them squeeze in. When I go out of town, my wife frequently declares it a “Girls Night” and they’ll fall asleep together watching Frozen for the hundredth time. Those moments of rule breaking are essential for health and happiness, too. Like a birthday dinner of ice cream, it’s special precisely because it’s against the rules. Parenting isn’t about absolutes, but giving love and support the best you can. Which, in our house, means always sleeping in your own warm bed. Except for when it doesn’t.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Mothers Only

‘Parking for Mothers with Children Only.’   My oldest daughter was an infant, probably two months old, when I first noticed the sign in the Target parking lot.  I’d stayed home with her since she was born and my wife and I planned for it to be our permanent arrangement.  When we decided I’d stay home, I was excited.  Slightly terrified, mildly apprehensive, but mostly excited.  And I didn’t feel any concern with ‘what people would think.’  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I was a little worried that people might think my staying home wasn’t a choice, but rather because I couldn’t get a job.  Or I was lazy (true, but not the reason!).  Or I’d been fired for embezzlement or some similar dopey white-collar crime.  But I didn’t view it as emasculating.  Even at that stage in my new career, I knew enough stay at home mothers to know that this wasn’t a job for the weak – emotionally or physically.  It took caring and compassion and love, of course.  But it also took courage and toughness and stamina in spades.  So I never felt like less of man for staying at home.  Until I saw that sign.  Or, rather, until the day I parked in front of that sign.

I certainly didn’t park there the first time I noticed it.  I chalked it up as a mildly amusing anecdote I could tell my wife that night and parked elsewhere.  I passed it up the next few trips, too.  But one day, I paused.  My darling daughter was screaming in the back seat (unlike 98% of human infants, my little angel hated riding in the car.)  And I’d made several stops already on this outing and my right arm was getting sore from lugging my tiny girl in the world’s largest, least-ergonomic carrying device ever devised.  And I knew that I was going to be leaving with an 847-pack of diapers.  So I parked in Mothers Only. 

If I’m being honest, my first concern upon sliding out of my mini-van was that I was going to be accosted by an irate mom carrying her child.  While virtually all of the lady stay-at-homers I’d met in the neighborhood and the grocery store and the diaper aisle were sources of great advice and encouragement, I’d encountered a few (‘No socks, Dad?’ as I finished unwrapping my daughter from her fuzzy, wool car seat cover that kept her baking like a foil-wrapped potato) more than happy to share their thoughts with the ‘Dad’ whose wife was obviously sick or out-of-town or stuck under a bookshelf.  Thankfully, there was no confrontation.  Just a guy, happy to only have to lug his 10 pound daughter and her 87 pound car seat a little shorter distance.  But all the while I wandered the aisles, there was something nagging me about it.

That screaming, sock-less infant is 9 now.  And in the ensuing years I’ve encountered a dozen more ‘Mothers Only’ signs.   ‘Mommy and me’ music classes.  Mothers’ Coffees after pre-school drop-off.  Signing up with “Amazon Mom” for cheaper diapers, complete with “Hi Amazon Mom!” emails.  The latest occurred last week, when a friend expecting her first child announced on Facebook that she was looking for pediatrician recommendations from area ‘moms.’  Reading that post immediately took me back to that day in the Target parking lot.  Should I comment with the name of our great doctor?  OBVIOUSLY, I told myself, she would welcome my recommendation.  CLEARLY, this wasn’t some conscious exclusionary phrasing, rather a quick post by an expecting mother looking for some advice.  But I didn’t respond.  In fact, I still haven’t.  (And in a fantastic twist of irony, I just noticed, literally as I typed this paragraph, that she just thanked all “the moms and dads” for their suggestions.) 

So why didn’t I respond?  My gut reaction, was: ‘Why, I’m standing up for us guys, of course!  I’m fighting for my fellow stay-at-home dads against the onslaught of mommy-centric semantics! Ignore one of us, you ignore all of us! Attica! Attica! Attica!”  It didn’t take me too long to realize that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard.  (And I’ve talked with 3 year olds.) 

Why would I not immediately offer help to a friend looking for someone to care for her soon-to-be newborn?  I wasn’t making some silent protest against ignoring the contributions of us stay at home dads.  I was being a dope.  My ego overrode my better judgment.  It was the same with the parking and the music classes and the coffees.  And it wasn’t because I didn’t think moms were awesome (why some of my best friends are moms!).  It was because my ego felt bruised by responding to something labeled for moms.   Now, I realize that on the first-world scale of problems,  “but it says it’s for moms!” ranks somewhere below “why are there so many carrots in this salad?” But this isn’t really about that.  It’s about not allowing your ego to stop you from helping a neighbor, a loved one, or a friend.  And that doesn’t go for fathers only or mother only.  But for all of us.   

Mad Max: Fury Road

Four Stars

By: Joshua Ferguson

Roger Ebert famously explained that, “it's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it.” The thrilling, epic Mad Max: Fury Road serves as definitive proof of that maxim. With dynamic direction that actually holds on the action and the actors, director George Miller allows us to clearly see, and thus truly feel, this Cirque du Soleil of destruction he has created.

Wonderful performances by stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, as well as by the extensive supporting cast, elevate the minimal plot by suggesting unseen backstories and sidestories with little more than a longing look or knowing sigh. This gives a depth to the characters, and by extension the plot, which serves to give a weight to the proceedings.

We open, as one would expect of a Mad Max movie, on a lone man standing in harsh, expansive desert.  The world has been killed and replaced with colonies built around the necessities of life that they control. In this dystopian future, those essentials are water, oil, and bullets. A band of merry maniacs, controlled by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Bryne), captures the titular Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) and hauls him to their enclave built around a fresh supply of water.  Soon after his arrival, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a driver for Immortan Joe, leads a convoy away from this territory to exchange water for oil in a nearby district.  Furiosa, however, uses this trip as her chance to flee Immortan Joe in search of literal greener pastures.  She strives to return to the place of her birth, the Green Place.  With her, she smuggles out Immortan Joe’s five concubines, women whose sole purpose is to bear offspring for Joe. 

Upon learning of this betrayal, Joe gathers his band of warriors, with Max in tow, and the chase is on.  And, oh, what a chase it is. With scant let up, the remaining screen time is filled with dozens of vehicles and hundreds of men, with all manner of spikes and fire and fury, seeking only to stop Furiosa’s tanker and retrieve Joe’s property. Eventually, after many unsure glances and terse exchanges, Max and Furiosa work together to fight off the angry hordes, search for the Green Place, and attempt redemption for unspoken past transgressions.

Any further description of the plot would serve little purpose. While most modern action films use chase scenes and explosions to cover up for and distract from weak stories, the action in Mad Max: Fury Road IS the story. George Miller not only knows how to form every shot in a filmmaker’s arsenal, he knows when and why to use them. In short, he has created a masterpiece of the genre and one I suspect that will be studied in film schools for years to come.

Let me close with a movie review cliché. During one of the more harrowing moments of the film, I realized that not only were my teeth clinched, I was literally on the edge of my seat. I don’t believe a film has ever generated such a physical reaction from me before. And I’m confident it will be some time before one does again.