Notes from a Camping Trip

I took Little Bear on a camping trip coordinated by her preschool a couple of weeks ago. My partner stayed home with our one month old, so it was just Little Bear and me. We had a great time setting up the tent, eating outside, drawing a giant mushroom we spotted, hiking, playing with other families, making new friends, roasting our vegan marshmallows, and going on a star walk in our pajamas.

I love getting to see her grow and discover who she is, and getting to watch her interact with her peers especially when she thinks I’m not watching is (usually) delightful. She did a great job asking if she could hug other children, or hold their hands, and listened when they said no. Children’s conversations can be so funny. “J, do you like dancing?” “I do like dancing! I like dancing in the forest!” “Let’s dance in the forest!” “Yeah, let’s be dancing robots in the forest!”

Our shared campsite was with two other families: one kid was in her class and one is a little younger and in a different class. The kid who isn’t in her class has two moms, and it was great to camp next to them. Their kid and LB might be in the same class next year. It’s always funny trying to signal to other LGBTQ parents that my family is also LGBTQ without necessarily having to point blank drop the “oh, neither my partner nor I are straight, and I’m trans”  comment into conversation. Let me tell you there are rarely any obvious ways to bring that up on a preschool camping trip. There’s the subtle dropping of hints, the discussion of neighborhoods and activities, the mentioning of LGBTQ pop culture references.

I was also proud of her for standing up to an adult. She was talking to another child about his younger sibling and asked “is your sibling a brother, or a sister, or both, or something new?” The other child’s dad jumped in with a “the baby’s a girl, you can’t be both, you are either a boy or a girl, you don’t get to pick.” My kid give him this look of “you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about” and calmly told him “noooo, I think we all get to decide and then later we can change our minds” and then she scampered off to sing Into the Woods at the top of her lungs while parading around our tent.

Tantrum City

Tantrums. Every kid has them. Little Bear has been throwing some real good ones lately. My partner and I have been both feeling frustrated. I won’t speak for Rebecca, but I’ve been feeling downright angry when Little Bear pitches a tantrum. I want to give her space to work through emotions and feelings, but sometimes I need her to put her boots on. Now. 

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Little Bear and wall collage!

Lately, what I’m trying to work on is not reinforcing that pitching a tantrum works, which is harder than it sounds. A recent example: Little Bear pitched a tantrum over not getting to walk up the stairs one night before bed. I had been repeatedly saying we were going to go upstairs and use the potty and get ready for bed. I finally just picked her up and carried her, and she sobbed and cried about “My go upstairs! My walk upstairs!” So I took her downstairs and let her walk up herself and we carried on with the night. This is perhaps not a super dramatic example, but I had been saying it was time to go upstairs and trying to corral her for a while before picking her up. I reinforced that whining and crying would get her something she wanted (and let her delay bedtime, which is already a long process in our house).

One technique that we’ve been using is saying something like “I’m going to count back from five, and when I get to one I’m going to help you put your boots on.” Then I count back from five and do whatever it was I said, even if she continues to tantrum. To be honest, one of the reasons I’ve been liking this is that it gives me a second to breath and think about what I’m going to do instead of reacting in the moment and yelling or letting the tantrum work. I also like it because it gives Little Bear really clear communication about what we’re going to do and when. She gets warning instead of just getting picked up out of what might feel like nowhere. Now, most of the time she’ll keep whining up until I get to two or one and then she stops and does whatever I was asking her to do. 

How do you deal with tantrums? What are your favorite strategies for redirecting tantrums? How do you keep your cool and not throw a tantrum right back?

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I recently attended a conference here in town that’s put on by one of the organizations I’m involved with and was pretty saddened by the list the kids created about what they wanted in the kid’s area. The room used as the kid’s area was completely bare, other than having a sink, and academic institution style chairs and tables. The people providing child care had brought some paper and markers, but other than that there wasn’t really anything for the kids to do.

I’m really glad that there was child care available, it made it possible for me to bring Little Bear to part of the conference. However, I also read the list that the kids created, think about how many people said something like “I didn’t know there was childcare, I would’ve brought my kid” or mentioned a friend who could’ve attended had they known, and I wish more thought and resources were given to supporting children, parents, and care givers in justice movements and communities.

I’d like to think that communities rooted in social movements and collective processes can do a better job supporting parents, but it frequently feels like organizing child care and promoting child care falls on to people involved in parenting and care giving. In the LGBTQ community in particular I think there’s still a perception that people aren’t raising children, or that people who are raising children are selling out/opting out of organizing.

When Little Bear was born I pulled back from almost all of the organizing work that I was doing. Meetings weren’t at convenient times, weren’t baby friendly, or were just too long for someone with an infant. Now that I have a toddler I worry her presence will be perceived as disruptive to the community, and meetings are still frequently too late or too long. So when I want to commit to work on something I need to juggle whether I can bring Little Bear or if my partner can look after her, and if I’m doing the parenting and housework 50-50.  I have no easy answers for how to make this better, I only have my deep commitment to be a good partner, a good father and my desire to organize in my community.

Part of parenting is making sure that your kid doesn’t do something stupid like run into the street, but part of parenting is also teaching your kid about the world and giving them tools to engage in creating a more just society. If we don’t teach our kids about the work while we’re busy organizing where does that leave them? The late great Whitney Houston sang it in The Greatest Love of All, “I believe the children are our future.”

Last month I read the book “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind” and had to keep myself from jumping up and shouting “yes!” every five minutes. The essays in the book affirmed my existence as a parent and my hope that making social movements inclusive of parents, caregivers and children is possible. Here’s a nice blurb about the book:

“Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind is a collection of concrete tips, suggestions, and narratives on ways that non-parents can support parents, children, and caregivers in their communities, social movements, and collective processes. Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind focuses on issues affecting children and caregivers within the larger framework of social justice, mutual aid, and collective liberation.”

You can check out the Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind blog for more ideas on ways to include kids, parents, and families in communities. Are there any tips or experiences around including parents and kids in your communities that you value?

 

 

On being extra arms

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Dylan’s busted clavicle

As Levi mentioned last week in his post last week, I was recently doored by a car two weeks ago. My clavicle was fractured in several places, and I had surgery last week to put a plate and several screws in to realign the break. Fortunately I didn’t have any other major injuries other than some pretty colorful bruising.

The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur, but I have been reminded of how valuable our friends and family are to the FaB Family. People have stepped up to fill in for my injured arm and then some. My partner’s mom was coincidentally in town when I was hit and she extended her stay by several days to help take care of Little Bear. My mom then came to help and stayed for a few days. She took me to surgery so Rebecca could work. Both of Little Bear’s grandmas handled soothing her if she woke in the night. Our friend Billy set up a schedule of friends dropping off dinner for us for a week, even though I was being Minnesotan and waffling about needing dinner help for the whole week (Billy was right, we totally needed help for the whole week).

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Dylan’s fixed clavicle

Friends cooked us dinner, helped play with Little Bear, mowed our lawn, and generally offered to do whatever we needed help with and I am so grateful for it. I suppose my general point here is that even if it doesn’t seem like much, keep offering to help out the parents in your community. Be that extra arm or two to put the kid in the high chair, sing a silly song, mow the lawn, read a book, whatever. Even if you frequently get turned down, or if you asked to do something that seems sort of odd, it all helps and will be appreciated even if the parents can’t always thank you fully. We are still tired over here at the FaB house, but doing so much better than if we had needed to cope with my broken clavicle without all the care and help we’ve been given. While I am tired and sore and angry about getting doored, I am also fortunate and grateful to have such a strong network of chosen and biologically family.

Little Bear has definitely noticed that I’m injured. Granted, it’s hard not to with the giant “Ultrasling III” I am wearing. The night I got home from the ER right after getting hit she climbed into my lap and sat quietly without wiggling while I read to her. Let me tell you, having an almost two year old sit still in your lap is pretty miraculous. Now that I’ve had surgery Little Bear keeps pointing to my bandage and saying “Dada owie, ba ba!” Translation: Daddy has an owie and is wearing a bandaid. I went up to sooth her when she woke up in the night and she tapped my bandaid, said “Dada owie,” kissed my other clavicle, and then clapped because she was so pleased with herself. It still took a while to get her to go back to sleep, but at least she was adorable.

Exhaustion Guilt

Today I am exhausted. Little Bear has moved into full on toddler-hood, tantrums and all. She hasn’t been sleeping very well the past two nights. She’s not running a fever or tugging on her ears, just screaming and crying. Both my partner and I are tired and frustrated after several nights of only a few hours of sleep.

Several people I know have been posting that New York Times article “Cheating Ourselves of Sleep” about the long term impacts of insufficient sleep. It just made me mad. Trust me, I know that I am not getting enough sleep and that it is bad for me. I am also frustrated because I think about how people who are more likely to get insufficient sleep are probably working multiple jobs for not enough pay while trying to take care of their families. I’m willing to bet most people with “insufficient sleep” aren’t consistently not getting enough sleep by choice but by circumstance.

I know I tend towards overly mushy posts about how much I love being a dad and how much I love my kid. Today I am giving myself permission to be tired though. It is ok that I am tired and exhausted and maybe can’t give 100% to my job or my kid. It is ok that this morning all I could really do was stare at my partner with glazed eyes and apologize for the shitty sleep we got before I staggered out the door go get croissants from the bakery instead of making breakfast.

Caregiving is hard work. Like so many other parents who want to be more involved in organizing and activism, I am wiped out at the end of the day. When Little Bear goes through one of her bouts of not sleeping well, neither my partner nor I have much time to do anything other than wipe the dinner remains off the table and maybe wash a few dirty dishes. I feel guilty about not getting this blog post up on time, turning down invitations to organizing meetings, not picking up my old volunteer shifts at the shot clinic, still not having gone to a radical families group that has been meeting in my city for over a year, not going to fundraisers and events, and so much of the rest of the activities that made up my life before being a parent. Today I am going to do my best to absolve myself, and let go of that guilt. To use the words of Ethan, my friend and fellow blogger, “let’s take care of ourselves so we can take care of others.”

Ready for what’s next

On Sunday, Little Bear officially become an 18 month old. On Monday I graduated from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. My parents and my sister came from out of town over the weekend, it was great to celebrate with my partner, at least part of my family of origin, and of course Little Bear. I am grateful that my partner and I decided to have a kid when I was in grad school, and that we were able to be flexible enough each semester to figure out schedules for both of us to balance working and caring for Little Bear. While I am quite proud of the work that I’ve done in school, and think it was worth the time and investment to slog through the hoop jumping and hierarchy of higher education, becoming a dad has been the best part of the past two years.

Yeah, I learned some fancy math and statistical analysis techniques, did a lot of homework, and learned how to create and evaluate policies along with a whole slew of other things. But I’ve also grown into both actually feeling like a dad, and like I often even know what I am doing. When Little Bear was born I was thrilled and excited. I wasn’t scared, but I was certainly a little anxious about screwing up. While I technically became a dad, I didn’t start feeling confident as a dad until later. I know I felt fiercely protective of this little being from the moment I scooped her out of water she was born in, even if I didn’t know much beyond getting sustenance in one end and keeping the other as clean as possible.

I recently have had some really great conversations about parenting with new dads, soon to be dads, and fellow toddler-dads. These conversations have been full of excitement, fears, and deep reflection on what being a dad means to us. So much of the cultural narrative about fathers and infants is the bumbling dad who means well but is clueless until the kid is potty-trained. This isn’t the kind of dad any of the people I’ve talked with want to be, which makes me hopeful that there’s a shift in how we view parents and caretakers.

I can’t say exactly when it happened, but somehow I’ve turned into someone who is confident in his parenting skills and has fully integrated “dad” into my identity. Heck, I even do the tuneless half-singing half-humming thing my dad does when I’m washing dishes. This is not to say that I have everything figured out, or that I am not going to screw up multiple times in the future. Right now my partner and I are trying to figure out how to get better at having time together, even when we are tired and our brains are fried. I am also trying to figure out how to be patient with the toddler temper tantrums over nothing.

I know parents so frequently get told “oh just wait for [insert your favorite awful age here]” but I’m excited. I know we will have tantrums and arguments and Little Bear isn’t going to do exactly what we want because she is her own person. Living into who she is means she’s not always going to listen to us. I can only hope I remember that as she continues to grow up. I am a dad, I am a parent, I am ready for whatever is next.

Lit Review: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type

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I am entering the headlong rush towards the end of the very last semester of my grad program, so in lieu of a more thoughtful post today I want to share a little bit about one of our favorite books over at the FaB house. 

 

“Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type” was a present from our friend Sumner who has an excellent blog about activism, queer issues, and gender over at Queering the Line. In “Click, Clack, Moo” the cows and hens are recast as agricultural laborers seeking to negotiate for better conditions. The cows, knowing the value of their labor, have found an old typewriter and request Farmer Brown provide them with electric blankets to keep warm in the cold barn at night. They form a coalition with the hens who are also cold. When Farmer Brown refuses to provide electric blankets, they strike. As the strike continues, eventually the cows propose to exchange their typewriter for electric blankets. Duck, the neutral party, functions as the go between during this deliberation. In the end, the cows and hens get their electric blankets. Instead of returning the typewriter, the ducks have taken it and have written a note requesting a diving board for their rather boring pond. 

We’ve been reading the book to Little Bear since she was little. It has become a big favorite. Little Bear is fond of rushing over to the shelf and pulling the book off while emphatically saying “moo. moo.” We’ve been using baby sign, so she enjoys pointing out the chickens and the sheep and the ducks. As Little Bear gets older I am hoping to have deeper conversations about why it’s important that the cows and hens have banded together, talking more about strikes and the importance of labor laws, but until then I’ll keep her giggling with my humorously realistic (if I do say so myself) “click clack moo, click clack moo, clickity clack moo!”