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?

Mister Mom

A couple of things:

 

 

 

  • Are you reading VillageQ? Because you should be. Because there’s a host of excellence going on there.

 

  • I have a short story published in THEM Lit. If you have any interested in gender and literature, check it out. Everything in the publication is phenomenal—AND I hear they’re coming out with a paper run pretty soon here!

 

On to the proper post:

 

Members of Queen, in drag, looking amazing. From the music video for I Want To Break Free.

Members of Queen, in drag, looking amazing. From the music video for I Want To Break Free.

 

 

I hate that phrase. Mr Mom. It always made me feel uncomfortable when I was a kid—like I wasn’t sure who they were mocking, but I was pretty sure I didn’t like it. Maybe it was personal—my dad does things coded as feminine by the patriarchy—he loves cooking and sewing, for example. Or maybe it was both my parents and their second wave teachings. Either way, I hate the phrase. I’m glad it seems to be going out of style, though a quick search on google’s news page tells me it’s not fully out of vernacular.

But it haunted my thoughts the other day. Our neighbors stopped to talk to Jetpack. They asked what he learned that day at preschool—”nothing.” They suggested he teach it, since he’s so smart. And then they suggested I teach it. I laughed, and Jetpack agreed. “Daddy Levi can teach cooking!”

OWCH. Cooking? I mean. I love cooking. I love feeding my family. But—and I admit this sounds a little ridiculous, but this is how it felt—if I died tomorrow, he’d remember me as that guy that cooked a lot. Not as the guy who writes. Not as a dad who reads with him, or who helps people out, or who gardens—but that guy that cooks.

I don’t think I prepared myself for the little disappointments—the way that kids can sometimes cut at their parents. They have a lot of power! I’m sure there’s a lesson in here somewhere—maybe my own internalized sexism? Maybe not taking things so seriously? Maybe some of both?

Anyway. We’re getting take out for dinner tonight. Gyros. You know you’re jealous.

Family to the Rescue!

The day after New Year’s, our house came down with sickness. If you name the symptom, we had it. Someone was coughing, someone was barfing, someone could not stop singing Kidz Bop. Ok, that last one may not be related to sickness, but it’s definitely a symptom of some kind of ailment.

We had just started a stretch of the 5 day parenting schedule. My partner and I played a symptom game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and I lost. (In case you’re wondering, Vomit trumps Cough.) I ended up doing most of the parenting for the next 2 days, balancing a fever and chest congestion. My partner vacillated between the bed and the toilet. It was not good.

By day 3 we were allowing way more screen time than ever, and my partner was able to get back to parenting (even if that meant laying on the couch in a heap while the kid watched her 4th episode of Winx). Some dear friends with kids offered to come by and get the kid for a playdate. They kept her through lunch and dinner, returning her at the relaxing hour of bedtime. Yesterday, another friend with a kid offered to have an extended playdate as well. He took the kid roller skating and out to lunch. At the house, we managed to clean our bodies and weep quietly for the love of our friends.

We don’t often think of friends as family. We’re taught as Americans (and for this house, white Americans), that we are a closed family unit; that problems must be solved by the family. That we can DO IT ALONE, NO THANKS TO ANYONE ELSE. ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE, GRRR. Well after 4 days of the flu, I am happy to report that my family extends beyond the borders of my house. I’ve got kin down the street and across the country.

Thank you to each and every one of you that watched the kid this weekend (and those who offered!) and did so without question, in complete selflessness. Parenting while being sick is so hard, and my partner and I feel so loved and supported by this great extended chosen family!

a Punch to the Gut

Holiday in California

I wish this post was full of tales from my great vacation last week to California with my partner and the kid. I wish it was some sort of heartwarming story about a family conflict that we resolved over snuggle time before bed. Life isn’t always like that, and truth can hurt without a soft landing or a happy ending.

A few weeks ago, my partner, the kid, and I were getting ready to leave the house. This can be a long process, sometimes ending in Yelling Parent who cannot possibly say “Put your shoes on” for the 6th time. I said something like ‘Is this kid ready to go?’, which the kid heard as ‘Is my kid ready to go?‘. To be clear: I do not refer to the kid as “my kid”. She is clearly not the child I ‘created’, and I think that referring to another person as your property sounds a little creepy. Probably exasperated with the nagging adults trying to get out of the house, she said “Anyways, it’s not like I’m even your kid.” Ouch, man. Yeah, you’re not. But yeah, you sort of are.

If the kid is in the house, I’m an active parent. I plan time with friends around the kid’s schedule, making sure I am contributing in some way to caring for her whether it is helping with dinner, bathtime, bedtime, or playtime. I grocery shop with her likes and dislikes in mind. I notice when fun things happen in town and see if she’d like to go. I listen to her fears, her nightmares, her weird thoughts and creepy imagination. I’m there for her sicknesses, her triumphs, her tears, and her fun projects.

No, I didn’t plan her birth. I’m not a primary parent. I don’t have a say in where she goes to school, what state she lives in, and changes in her routine. I don’t choose her doctors and I don’t choose her haircuts. I’m glad she has a concrete understanding about who her parents are, and that neither myself nor her other parent’s partner are clouding that at all. But dang, that was a real sting of a sentence. She wasn’t upset, and we weren’t fighting about anything; I don’t even think she said it with ill will. She was just correcting what she thought she heard me say.

It was a nice reminder of what her teenage years may be like. Sometimes I think it could go both ways; she could find me a refuge from her folks and seek me out as an ally or she could take the stand of “You’re not my parent” and create that distance that teenagers need from the adults in their lives. Time will tell.

Anxiety.

Picture from Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. I have lived this feeling.

Last weekend, Jetpack wandered off in the grocery store. I had a basket with six apples, and three other things, and I unloaded it, and turned my head, and he was gone. He’d gone the length of the supermarket to look at the flowers, and he didn’t answer my calls. Luckily, some amazing person had seen him wandering and started looking for me. He was gone for about two minutes, and before I found him I was pretty convinced he had been kidnapped.

A week before that, I wrote all this:

I’m not good enough. I’ve yelled at Jetpack for really stupid reasons, like not listening or not letting me use the toilet without climbing all over me like a caffeinated capuchin. I’m always late on flea/tick drops for the dog, and someday she’s going to get lyme disease again because of it. My sister (I’m her primary caregiver) didn’t get a bath the other night, even though she should’ve, because I took Jetpack trick-or-treating. Sometimes she has dry cereal because we run out of soy milk in the fridge and I don’t notice until after she’s eaten breakfast. Sometimes we yell at each other because we don’t understand each other well. The other night the Mister was up very late because I forgot to clean something up, even though I promised, and it really needed to be done. The last two times I put away laundry, I did so because I needed to the basket, in order to wash all the newly dirtied stuff. I can’t fix everyone’s problems. I don’t think I can fix anyone’s problems. And my worries about something terrible happening to Jetpack are as numerous as grains of sand on the beach.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I saw it first written, about me, in college. The student counsellor didn’t mention anything to me. She just wrote it on her notes, and I happened to see. It left me with a huge mistrust of her, and a diagnosis that I researched on my own. (Protip, mental health professionals: don’t act like we’re stupid, please).

I’ve never had a job where I didn’t spend some days at home, terrified of going in for absolutely no reason. I’ve never been bad at a job, but I’ve always had attendance issues, usually from days spent sitting at home, sobbing and shaking, afraid of going anywhere. Classes too. I’ve dropped plenty of classes because I was SO SCARED of going. I had a panic attack in spanish class once—not anxiety, a full-on panic episode. Completely lost it. I drove home and actually hid in my bed. (Protip #2: don’t drive directly after a panic attack. I made it home okay, but it was probably the most unsafe I’ve ever been on the road).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had a pretty complicated childhood. I also know I don’t have a lot to complain about—my parents are very loving, I’m white and have never been homeless or without food.

But sometimes I’m still damn crazy.

A friend—who has been travelling her own bumpy mental health road—mentioned the fear of passing these problems on to our children. If you’re genetically related to your child, some of your mental health problems are probably passed on automatically (thanks, genes!). But nature and nurture being the murky waters that they are, who knows. And I know so many people who identify their own neurosis in their parents, and blame them.

I don’t want Jetpack to look back and see that.

Sometimes I wonder, who am I to have a kid? Shouldn’t I have thought about this before taking on that responsibility? (I did, but that’s not the point). I never want to see Jetpack even half as crazy as I feel sometimes. But no matter how much I struggle to shut it down, no matter how much therapy I attend or medication I put into myself, I can’t hide it all. That sad and twisted fucked up me is still in here. I can’t just cut it out. And it scares me that someday he’ll see that too, and he’ll resent me for it.

I don’t have any answers for that friend. I don’t have any hopeful closing paragraph for this litany of my own tragic faults. I can try my best, and I will probably fail.

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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?

 

 

My Life as a Ghost

I’m a ghost.

Not a real ghost, really (I think I’d just be able to type cryptic messages if that were the case). More like…what exactly are the people from Dead Like Me Called? You remember that show, where Ellen Muth became an undead/grim reaper-type being that worked a normal office job, except when she was instead culling the souls of the recently deceased.

The resemblance is uncanny, though I don’t actually have a desk job, thank goodness.

Well, okay, I haven’t culled any souls yet (though Jetpack was both angry and mournful when I accidentally crushed a grasshopper the other day). But otherwise, life is often like being the same person—in a different body.

Over the summer, Jetpack attended (for a few weeks) a large camp at the local nature center. Once, as the sun beat down on us and the bugs buzzed their merry mindless tunes, the Mister and I dropped Jetpack off together. We stood next to the car as he gathered his things, watching him put on his itty bitty backpack with pride.

From behind us, a voice greeted the Mister. It was a coworker from something like six years previous. She was dropping off her daughter at the same camp. We’d seen her once, shortly after Jetpack was born, and then we all fell out of touch.

She gave me a once over, and then briefly spoke to my partner, and we followed her in to camp. I said a friendly word or two, which she didn’t even respond to, and as we parted ways, I caught her giving me a look again. It was only as we were settling Jetpack in his room that we realized—she saw ours as a broken family. The Mister had dumped his wife for a young, bearded buck, and even the kid was okay with this. The nerve!

A friend (who I’ve known forever, and who transitioned about a hundred years before I did) and I were spending time in a park (with Jetpack). A nanny and two small children were playing on the play equipment as well. He and I leaned toward each other.

“Do we know her?”

“I think so.”

We awkwardly mutter for a few more minutes. At some point in the afternoon the nanny talks to us, introducing herself in that way you do at parks. She’s very friendly, and very much considers herself a stranger.

These moments are flattering, in a way. Pretty nice. And it allowed us to avoid any number of awkward conversations that might come up, and honestly, summer camp, or a beautiful day at the park, is not where I’d prefer to be having trans101. I’d rather be with my kid, my friends and family. And, on the other hand, if you’re actually interested in talking to said person, do you make it abundantly clear who you are, to everyone’s discomfort? Do you miss out on an opportunity?

What do you do when your sister’s friends look at her and say, “I didn’t know you had a brother.” Suddenly, you’ve killed Model01, and replaced them with Model02. How many science fiction stories have used this?

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If only transition were as simple as compressing a glowing ball of magical energy…

Of course, I get to be Buffy AND Faith. Ha.

And there’s the HUGE privilege inherent in getting to choose whether to come out. There’s a huge privilege inherent in feeling more or less safe to do so in many situations. I am incredibly lucky that I can choose to be a ghost.

Being trans can be pretty confusing! And being a ghost is pretty awesome. Except when it’s not.