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?

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.”

Unicorn Father’s Day

Facebook says we’ve been friends since September 2009. I think I knew of him way before that, though I’m not quite sure how. He sort of appeared in my queer context like a whispering unicorn; visible, yet a calm and reassuring presence.

Dylan and Little Bear

If it seems like I’m building up to something, you’re right! As we are close to Father’s Day, I’d like to highlight a dad I am particularly fond of; Dylan, fellow blogger!

Dylan and I have been in each other’s lives during some important shifts. I’ve seen him move through the world, steady as a rock, helping to create and support this family he loves. He has done this in the same way that he helps to create and support the queer and trans* community of which he is a member. Never demanding recognition for his activism or his work, he fights tirelessly against a system that does not intend to include us. When there seems to be no space for the “others”, he helps carve out space. He doesn’t leave his friends behind.

I’ve learned a lot from being in community with Dylan, but the most important thing is that I’ve learned to push back against even myself. The kyriarchy has this way of twisting things up in our brains. We’re born to believe in this myth of male superiority; that white, male bodies allow a particular ease through life. Dylan could move through the world a lot more easily than he does. Instead, he continuously questions and rejects the idea that he should allow his privilege to benefit him. While his child was born and grew into toddlerhood (eep! so fast!), he was a stay-at-home dad, part time worker, and part time student. He wrote about the complexities when out in public with his child in When is a Dad Like a Unicorn?

That men aren’t as perceived as competent at care-taking is just another facet of the gendered division of labor enforced by heteronormative, patriarchal norms. It’s a little exaggerated, but sometimes it seems that society sees me as above and beyond incredible for meeting my child’s basic needs, or so clueless that I should hand over my kid to someone else who hasn’t been wiping her ass for 14 months. I do want to be a fabulous dad, but not because there’s a low social hurdle.

So this is a shout out to Dylan. Rarely recognized (publicly), but always appreciated. Thanks for continuously teaching me all the ways that we can be great dads and better activists.

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!”

Family Surprises

This past weekend we drove down to Madison to go to my grandpa’s 84th birthday party. We left Saturday afternoon as soon as I was done with class, picked up my sister, and arrived after 8pm. Frankly, I was surprised my grandparents were still up. We stayed up and visited a little bit, letting Little Bear run around before bed. She hasn’t spent much time in that house, just an hour here or there when we are driving to Milwaukee, so there was a lot to inspect before bed.

The next morning we spent visiting with my grandparents and watching Little Bear. She climbed up and down the stairs, pulled cards and games out of drawers, carried my grandma’s stuffed bears around, ate snacks, and was adorable. In the afternoon, my parents, three of my mom’s six siblings and their spouses, and a handful of cousins came over. We did what do best. We ate, took photos, and sat around talking. Everyone oooh’ed and ahhh’ed appropriately over Little Bear. We talked about the most recent great-grandchild born a few weeks ago, and the 11th great-grandchild due in the fall. We talked about the weather, we talked about old family stories.

Before we left Monday morning, Little Bear sat on my grandma’s lap totally relaxed listening to her tell stories and sing a finger counting song she sang to me when I was little. She giggled and let my Grandpa dance her around the kitchen on the tops of his feet.

In the car on the way home I was struck by how easily my family has welcomed Little Bear into their midst. Relationships with my family weren’t exactly rough but they also weren’t exactly smooth over the course of my multiple comings-out. I was worried that my family wouldn’t reallly know how to relate to Little Bear, but I’ve been happily suprised at every turn. She has been welcomed whole-heartedly into the big mess of people that is my family of origin in such an unquestioned manner that amazes me.

Families of origin are certainly messy, complex, and painful. But occasionally they can also be beautiful and easy. Here’s to my family, in all their imperfection.

Can I Tickle You?

I find myself starting to miss being warm sometime in January...

I find myself starting to miss being warm sometime in January…

Way back when Jetpack was cute and chubby and two years old, we were at the neighborhood sandbox, and Jetpack wanted to give someone a hug. He toddled over to the (older) Girlchild, who pushed him away and cried. Her mom explained that Jetpack was trying to be nice, and that it was okay for him to give her a hug.

Jetpack was definitely trying to be nice, but Girlchild didn’t see it as nice. She saw it as an intrusion of a stranger on her personal body space. And her mom explained to her that strangers are allowed in her personal body space.

We coerce our children into hugs and kisses and tickles. We force our kids to hold hands with strangers, or talk to them, and at the same time tell them to be careful. We expect our children to toe the line between “behaving nice” and “staying safe,” as if we as adults even know how to do that, as if there’s prescribed dance steps toward appropriate bodily autonomy.

“Childhood is not just a psychological state, but also a social status – and a very lowly one at that. Take one example: the frequency with which children are touched by adults. The amount of unsolicited physical contact people receive is a good indication of relative social position. It has been observed that bosses touch workers, men touch women and adults touch children much more than the other way round. To touch one’s social superior without good reason is an act of insubordination. Think how frequently children are shaken off when they use touch to attract an adult’s attention, and how that same adult can freely take hold of the child, adjust his or her hair, cut short his or her activities.“ (Stevi Jackson, 1982) *

Jetpack is now required to ask people if they want hugs. (He forgets sometimes, especially with close family members, but he also often forgets to close the front door, that he has a cup of water already, that he’s got shoes on. It’s an upward battle.) Often times parents laugh uncomfortably, and adults puzzle at his polite requests to hug them. But just Friday, at preschool, one of his friends didn’t want a hug, and pulled away and shook his head when Jetpack asked. And that’s okay.

A few weeks ago, Jetpack and I were walking down a pedestrian-heavy road. An older man smiled. “Aren’t you cute! What’s your name?”
Jetpack shrunk back against my side, hand gripped as if his very life depended on it. I shrugged.
“I guess he’s feeling shy today.”
It is the Tyler and my standard response when he doesn’t want to talk to someone. Afterward, we sat on a bench, and I asked him why he was feeling so shy.
“I just didn’t want to talk to anybody,” he pouted.
I paused. “Well, you don’t need to talk to people when you don’t want to. Just let me know and we’ll just keep walking, okay?”

An acceptable answer for a three-year-old. An acceptable answer for me, though in thinking about and researching this post, I came across the following comment (the rest of the entry [Bodily Autonomy and Sexual Abuse] is really worth reading, and includes a helpful step-by-step on helping children achieve bodily autonomy, though it is a tiny bit triggery):

My only complaint is that when your daughter did not respond, you asked her if she was feeling shy. Why even say that? You’re labeling her behavior, where you could simply respond on her behalf. In other words, she shouldn’t have to provide any explanation for why she isn’t responding. In these circumstances, I will respond in an appropriate manner, acknowledging the individual that spoke to my son.

I can understand not agreeing with the commenter, but I think I personally do. Labeling the (totally understandable and normal) reaction of “I don’t want to talk to this person” as “shyness” (arguably) turns personal choice and personal autonomy into a pathology. And I, as Jetpack’s dad, have been turning his moments of personal choice into a pathology—as if not wanting to be around a stranger is a strange, wrong, bad thing.

And it’s not. It’s just another symptom of the way in which the systematic degradation of society does a disservice to us all, even white (for now, assumably) male (for now, assumably) cisgendered children.

In a now-famous quote to Parade Magazine, the magnificent Will Smith says:

“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”

It’s a quote I love, not only because it’s a rocking supportive quote from a dad, but also because it brings ideas of bodily autonomy into a strong, real world context, and it’s a damn positive one at that.

Compare it to this post titled “Will Your Son Be A Rapist?” There’s lots of interesting links on there, and a (understandably) frightening title, and an idea—how do we stop our children from raping—that needs to be addressed. The post addresses things like talking to our kids about sex (big thumbs up), and talking to our kids about not making disgusting rape jokes (huge fucking thumbs up) and the culture we’ve built up around rape in this country.

But I don’t really feel like starting from a hypothesis that my boy-oriented child will grow up to be a potential rapist is good for him, or anyone else. Because he might be raped. I don’t want to pretend that that’s not a thing that happens because it is a thing. But we so often think about bodily autonomy in children as a thing that girls need and boys have. We look at boy children and we don’t worry about whether they want us to touch their hair or tickle them, but we look at girl children and we worry about their safety.**

I don’t want to focus on teaching my son to not be a rapist. I need to focus on teaching him that he is not an under class because he’s small and young. I want to teach him that he is a person that has a body, and that he has a right to be touched when he wants to be touched and not touched when he doesn’t. And I think that I will teach him that it’s the same for other people—but that if I teach him HIS OWN bodily autonomy, that the bodily autonomy of the other children on the playground and the other teenagers at the party should come much, much, much more naturally.

“Can I tickle you?”
“No. Yes! No. Tickle me only when I say chocolate, and stop when I say toast.”
“Okay!” I hold my hands out at the ready and we grin at each other.
“Chocolate!” He squeals the word, and I dive in with finger tips to ribs. He wiggles and almost instantaneously shouts, “Toast!” I stop. He gets back into position. “Okay, now tickle me when I say poopy and stop when I say orange.”
I internally sigh, because the potty language is such a pain lately. “Okay.”
“Poopy!”

I really like this post of Raising My Boychick’s, Ten Tips For Tickling Without Trauma. Go read it if you have a kid. Go read it if you’ve never been around a kid. Go read it if you’re a school teacher or an aunt or any other human being.

This is a little harder to read—or anyway, as a survivor, I find everything having to do with the tragic happenings at Penn State hard to read—but please do. Now Give Your Uncle A Kiss.

I don’t think there’s one way to raise your child. I don’t think your child is going to grow up to be raped or a rapist or anything ridiculous like that if you over tickle them, or if you make them give Creepy Aunt Sally a hug. I do think that as a parent, as a dad, I have very large responsibility to my child. I think you, as a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, role model, caregiver, or random imposing adult on the street, also has a responsibility to children you encounter. Your responsibility is to respect their space and their feelings and to not treat them as an under class.

As a white male person, I wield more privilege in a lot of situations. As my kid is a white male person, he’s going to have privilege that he needs to learn the meaning of, an understanding that the bodies of others belong to them. And he’s going to, at times, be a vulnerable person in situations where teaching him that his body is his is super, super important. So let’s teach our children to be meaningful in their physical space, powerful in their defenses and respectful of each and every creature around them.

*Thank you to Kate for scoring this quote for me!

**In researching this post, I found few-to-no blog posts about the fear that our CHILDREN might be abused, and handfuls and handfuls that our DAUGHTERS might be. I don’t in any way want to vilify those parents, because I get it. I really do. But I think we need to take the conversation further.