Tag Archives: work

‘Who is REALLY caring for your children?’

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My wife came with me to the recent Dad 2.0 conference in New Orleans (thanks again, Cottonelle, for the trip!), where I attended sessions and workshops while she drank cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, visited cemeteries, and otherwise explored the city.

I’m joking. Mostly. While she did sample more of the local cuisine and color than I did, she actually attended some sessions, too, and visited the sponsor booths and suites, and met and talked with dads from around the country. She was an active attendee, and I was excited and proud to be able to share the experience with her.

My wife works with developmentally delayed infants and toddlers, a job for which she attended a conference of her own on Tuesday earlier this week. The day after she got back, she surprised me with this e-mail:

“Yesterday, I went to a conference in a neighboring city. It was nothing like Dad 2.0, with all of its glitz and swag (the entirety of my ‘swag’ for this one was a printout of the PowerPoint presentation and a folder—in my color choice—to store it in). No Lee jeans, no Starbucks (in fact, the first announcement of the morning was an apology for the fact that they forgot to buy Half and Half to accompany the industrial urns of watery coffee). I left my house at 5:45 in the morning and returned roughly 12 1/2 hours later. The conference was attended primarily by educators, child development specialists, child advocates, and foster parents.

“During the breaks, I chatted with the people at my table. One woman asked if I hoped to have children someday. I informed her that I already have three children. She declared, ‘Oh, you do not look old enough to have children at all!’ Bless her heart. Of course she asked my kids’ ages. I told her. Upon learning that I have a toddler, she asked how I could get away from him for an entire day to attend a conference. I assured her he was safe and sound with my husband/his father, and I had no concerns about being away for a day. Then she said, ‘Sure, but who is REALLY caring for your children? You must have a nanny or a daycare provider. A man couldn’t possibly handle a toddler and two older children ALL DAY LONG.’ I was shocked. I’m sure I said something about my husband being an amazing father and just as capable of caring for our children as I am. But mostly I remember working very hard to keep myself from expressing my outrage in a way that was sarcastic, rude, or unproductive.

“I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, but this conversation—and the sentiment behind it—was repeated all day long as I chatted with more and more conference attendees. I am disheartened to realize that in a room of more than 150 professionals who work with children for a living, so many people are clinging to the idea that men cannot be competent (if not excellent) caregivers.

“I am thankful for Dad 2.0 and the blogging world that is working hard to change stereotypes of men and fathers. I am happy to see small changes in the media and advertising that are depicting involved, loving fathers. I hope to see more. I hope, as each year passes, fewer and fewer people react with surprise and shock when I say my children are with their father for the day.”

I was humbled and grateful to read my wife’s perspective, and though I have flown solo with the children before, I do have to point out that the two girls were in school for part of this particular day, and a friend did watch the kids for a couple of hours in the middle of the day since I edit two weekly newspapers and we were on production deadline. But I did get everyone out of bed, dressed, fed, brushed, and packed up in the morning; had the toddler with me in the office for the first third of the work day; handled all of the school drop-offs and pick-ups; edited articles for two newspapers with and without kids tugging at my sleeve; gathered up all the kids for the third third of the work day; drove them to an appointment in the late afternoon; and took all three back into the office with me at the end of—and past the end of—the work day because a computer crash in our production department deleted several files and I had to re-approve already-done work in order to make sure the paper could get to the printer late but intact.

Quickly moving from assessing libel risk to changing a poopy diaper is an odd shift, but not a prohibitively taxing one.

I am fortunate to have giving and flexible friends, bosses, and co-workers, without whom none of this crazy juggling would be possible. I’m amazed and grateful at the help we receive, and at the fact that my wife has a similarly busy schedule—plus she remembers the laundry—and pulls it off.

I’m not doing any of this (or mentioning it) for applause; it’s what has to be done. But I’m sure glad she’s the one I’m doing it with.

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The Chaos

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I’m still in the midst of playing catch-up after my New Orleans trip and getting a handle on my freelance work. The above page of doodles is something I dug out of a drawer. It’s from 2002 or thereabouts, and it represents, well, chaos. There’s also a rare hand in the middle there.

In the midst of my busy schedule and tapped mental state, I haven’t wanted to post just for the sake of posting. But every day that goes by without an update on this blog makes me antsy.

Today I had my son with me at the office for a spell, and then all three kids for a particularly busy stretch after a co-worker’s program crashed and took a chunk of work with it. It was a marathon day, a nonstop day. And now I have my work at home. Still, I wanted to post tonight.

Journalist Josh Levs is writing a book, titled Stretch Out, about “American fatherhood” and ways life can improve for families. I talked to him at length while in New Orleans, and he’s looking for more dads and moms to contribute to his research. You can find a list of questions here.

I was happy to be able to give him some potentially usable material, and I can’t wait to read his book. I’ll have to wait until 2015, but I have enough to keep me busy until then, I’m sure.

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Awkward Week: Worry Wednesday

As much as I would like to eliminate worry from my life—and by that I mean cut out sweat-inducing worry from my daily schedule—the best I can seem to manage is to keep it at a low simmer.

As a journalist, I sometimes write about health issues, which is the equivalent of me turning up the burner.

Some months back, I put together a piece on Lyme disease. Now, I’m in the midst of a story on drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Neither of these stories was one I had to pick up, but I felt they were both important to tell.

So I’ve learned that Lyme disease presents in so many different ways, it can be incredibly difficult to diagnose.

And I’ve learned that tuberculosis can infect far more than just lungs: joints, the brain, even intestines. Yes, intestinal tuberculosis is a thing. An explosive thing.

Knowledge may be power, but power corrupts, right? And I feel like there’s a place somewhere here for an extension of the simmering water metaphor—a watched pot never boils, or something. Except I’m always watching that pot, and it’s boiling away despite the constant scrutiny.

There’s an awkward work-home balance I haven’t yet mastered. Unless I decide to focus, professionally, on nothing but fun features, I’m going to be staring sickness in the face. And not just sickness, but murder and fraud and rape and all the dirty stuff that proliferates if no one’s there to shine a light on it. And even then. There’s no avoiding it in my line of work, and so, for me, there’s no avoiding the fuel constantly getting thrown on the fire.

Or I should say the knob constantly getting turned up.

This helps: the writing. It keeps me from watching the pot, directly, so I can’t see whether it’s boiling or not.

But I would like to figure out a way to get it off the stove completely someday. Or at least move it to a smaller burner.

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Memory Week: Freaky Friday

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I didn’t intend for this week to become a doodle gallery, but cleaning my desk(s) for the New Year yielded so many examples of what happens when I get a pen in my hand.

I’ve showcased some of the random faces I’ve found over the last couple of days, but I saved a few for Freaky Friday. For hopefully obvious reasons.

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I’ve recently learned that there are some people—my firstborn among them—who seem to have to be doing some sort of physical activity while they listen in order to process the information they’re receiving. Fiddling with a pencil, for example, lights up part of the brain that in turn helps to hear and comprehend words coming in. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.

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While learning about this phenomenon, I realized—somewhat belatedly, I suppose, since I’m 35—that I have to be one of these people, too. I can’t keep still. I’m always either chewing on a pen, sticking one behind my ear, flipping it around my fingers, or—obviously—doodling.

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Sometimes the doodles are repetitive. I found half a dozen variations on a rabbit done in orange highlighter.

But sometimes the doodles make me wonder what dark corners the lit-up parts of my brain were illuminating, and what else is hiding there in the shadows.

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Memory Week: More Cleanup

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And here’s a batch from the New Year’s clean-up of my desk at my other office.

A little freakier, to me.

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Memory Week: 2013/2014

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Pictured is about a third to a quarter of the doodles I found on my work desk when I cleaned it up at the end of 2013. I make them while I’m on phone calls, but not taking notes; while waiting for particularly large files to open; as meetings are winding down; etc. Unlike the doodles I make at home, these predominantly feature ball-point pen lines and highlighter for color.

Here’s to a blank slate for 2014!

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Waiting Week: The Internet is Out

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I find that I’m more productive, more rested, more everything good the longer I stay offline. But, as a blogger, I do need a connection. Plus, Netflix.

So when my Internet cuts out, as it often does—as it did this morning—I’m both frustrated and relieved. Like it or not, much of life these days revolves around e-mail and Facebook, posts and threads.

Between dealing with a spotty connection, cleaning up the house (ha!) in advance of an inspection by our property managers, my day job, my side job, my freelance projects, holiday preparations, and—oh, yeah—actually spending time with my family, today’s post drew the short straw. Which is why the image is entirely unrelated (except, and I just now thought of this, there’s a whole “web” theme going on), as I drew this one back in 2011 and pulled it from my reserves because I think it’s funny no matter in what year it originated.

What do you do when you can’t get online?

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Toy Week: How Do You Figure?

Toy Week: How Do You Figure?

My wife’s family does a gift exchange for Christmas, for which each person draws another person’s name and handles the gift for him or her. It’s a way to save money and avoid clutter—and the little kids are excepted. Anybody can buy for them.

Before Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law circulates a list for everyone to write down gift ideas for themselves. I filled in mine two weekends back, and then was talking to my wife about it.

“I put some Pacific Rim action figures on my list,” I said.

“Oh.”

“Does that disappoint you?”

“No … just … where would they go? You already have a bunch of toys in the garage.”

She’s right, but those are my Lord of the Rings sets, several of which I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to open. The Nazgûl looks so awesome in its box. Plus, those toys had been at my office for a long time, and they came home during a move, and I haven’t got around to finding them a permanent home yet. After several years …

I actually split my time between two offices, and I have a lot of toys on my respective desks: A complete set of Homestar Runner figurines, a set of Umbrella Academy figures, and a Davy Jones action figure from Pirates of the Caribbean sit one one. The other boasts Batman, Iron Man, and a few My Little Ponies.

I grew up on action figures. More than one closet at my parents’ house is still filled with Star Trek: The Next Generation toys and collectibles, including an entire set of Playmates figures still in the packaging and a second entire set for display purposes. Sooner or later I’ll figure out a way to display them all.

No, I don’t really need them, but I do enjoy them. I don’t make them walk around on my keyboard or anything, but I do fondly admire them from time to time, and I like to explain what they are to guests who give me puzzled looks.

They’re sort of like geek badges, I guess, especially the obscure ones: I know what these characters are from. Do you?

After my conversation with my wife, I looked back at the all-family wish list. For herself, she’d listed certificates for restaurants or movies for date nights with me, her husband.

That really put things in perspective.

Still, I hope I get to unwrap at least a kaiju this Christmas.

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Reality Week: Resource allocation

Reality Week: Resource allocation

There’s only so much of me to go around.

Admittedly, there’s more of me than there used to be. Somewhere in the comments on a prior post you’ll see that I took ballet instead of PE in high school, and I was the fittest then that I’ve ever been. College, too, was a good time for my body, as I walked everywhere and participated in some organized physical activity multiple times a week. I didn’t have chiseled abs, but I also didn’t have much of a gut.

Then I got a desk job and fell in love with a woman who cooks with real butter, and, well—the drawings of myself on this site are more flattering than you may think.

But the point is that I’m finite, even if I have more mass now than I used to. I can’t be in multiple places at once, and I can’t expend more energy than I’ve got. (For too long, anyway.) My day job as an editor is mentally taxing, riddled with ethical dilemmas and frequent fires that need putting out. Parenting three kids is even more taxing, as is secretly trying to figure out how, exactly, to do that parenting on the fly with my equally drained wife.

I was all set to write today’s post about sleep deprivation, but I found myself lacking the energy—not from being physically tired (though I am), but from being mentally and emotionally stripped bare, like my work and my children are gangly, co-conspiring, deadline-hammering and tantrum-throwing giraffes methodically devouring the leaves on my tree of will.

To be honest: I hate that. Admittedly, it’s not every day, but it’s a lot of them. And I hate that. I don’t want this blog to be my personal complaint desk staffed by you, but I hate that.

Yesterday afternoon, my 6-year-old daughter staged a major fit (Threat Level: Midnight) at a friend’s house, insulting her best friend and my other daughter in the process. Oh, and she deliberately broke a meticulously constructed model bridge her friend had built.

When I arrived to pick her up, I was far more embarrassed and contrite than my cranky daughter was, and I felt the will to do anything later in the evening slowly sap away as she subsequently fought me about: leaving the house under her own power, leaving the house at all, getting in the van under her own power, getting in the van at all, getting into her seat, staying in her seat, getting buckled, staying buckled, refraining from shouting at her sister, refraining from shouting at me, refraining from justifying her behavior as appropriate, refraining from telling us all that she wished she were the only person in the world so she could do whatever she wanted whenever she wanted.

The van had been in for a routine maintenance check earlier in the day, and it began wobbling and pulling a bit to the right as I drove home.

I have grand plans each morning. I wake up with the day vast and shimmering in front of me like a fresh whiteboard, and I proceed to fill it in with tasks and duties, hopes and goals. Life necessities (food) come first, followed by luxuries like showers. (I joke, but not much.) Then come the work obligations and mandatory chores (like buying groceries or getting the car smogged). Quality time with my children and wife—and friends, occasionally—goes up, though farther down the list than it should be. And then come my own writing projects, hobbies, and the like.

As the day goes on, I start erasing items on the board. Not because of lack of time, but because I start petering out. Some days I only erase a few things; some days I get all the way down to the essentials necessary to maintain consciousness.

Several years ago, I wrote a single line on a scrap of paper: “How strange and easy it is to go from living to simply existing.” I wasn’t in a good place when I wrote that, and I’ve been fighting it ever since. But the fight takes energy, too.

I’ll be honest with you again: I hate that I can’t do everything. I want to date my wife and spend time with each child individually and collectively and read my book club book and write the blog post I’d planned and chip away at the young adult novel bouncing around inside my head and call my parents and just zone in front of the TV for a while. Some of those things require discipline, yes, but some just need the sort of mental energy I don’t have in ready supply these days. The bad thing is that I tend to leave zoning on the whiteboard.

Because zoning is easy—and easy to justify—especially when my mind is still reeling from the day. And I love Andy Dwyer.

I’ve been finding, though, that the more I leave on the whiteboard throughout the day—even if I don’t feel like leaving it up there—the more often I get more stuff done. Like writing this. Here I am, a week into the Shallows, and I really didn’t feel like blogging. As I work on this, I still have some editing work to catch up on, a freelance deadline to meet, and (shh … don’t tell my wife) two anniversary presents to complete by Wednesday. And, oddly, I feel like I can handle that—despite the nuclear daughter-splosion and the shimmying van from earlier in the day.

Productivity breeds productivity, I guess. When I actually sit down to do the stuff on my whiteboard, I get a sort of momentum going. Yeah, I guess it is discipline. So this blog is probably good for me.

And here’s another thing I’ve learned: Time alone with my wife is always a good choice. She’s got a whiteboard, too. And I’m usually on it.

Do you have a whiteboard? How about a giraffe?

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