September 28, 2009

So they say it’s her birthday…

Dear Renee,

I hear it’s your birthday and some of your friends are getting together to throw you a virtual birthday party. And I know I only just met you at BlogHer and while I’m pretty sure we were once sprawled on the same bed in a hotel room*, I thought you were pretty cool. And I never miss a good party.

So, I volunteered to bring the pinata. But not just any pinata. This pinata was bought for my daughter by her evil Grandmother who wanted to ship it off to our home after a visit last year. See for yourself the pinata in all its glory:

hello kitty pinata

As you can see, it’s a Hello Kitty pinata. It’s pretty. It has a cute little pink shirt and a cute little pink bow and cute little whiskers. Take a moment to bask in it’s cuteness. Perhaps Hello Kitty brings back certain memories for you. An old backpack, a pencil case with a built-in pencil sharpener or little erasers that smell like bubble gum. Or maybe it means nothing to you. That’s the trouble with surprise parties, you do the best you can with what you’ve got.

Anyway, it’s so cute. Just imagine it at your party. Hear the laughter of friends and family drifting into the air. You can smell the barbecue and the feel the warmth of early fall sunshine fall upon your serene face. All is right with the world. It is then that you casually walk over to Hello Kitty, pick up the baseball bat nestled up against the tree and…


And just like that, you nestle the bat back against the tree and smile knowing that no one at that party, after witnessing your violent assault on Hello Kitty, will EVER even think of messing with you or your family.

Have a Happy Birthday, Renee! You deserve it!

To be clear, the sharing of a bed isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds when half a dozen other people are sprawled around the room as we try and coordinate our party itinerary for the evening.

September 23, 2009

The Glass Ceiling Nobody Talks About

I’m a father.

And while that may seem like an obvious statement, the title of “father” means many things to many people. When one hears the word “Father,” certain images spring to mind – and many of those images are not positive. In fact, most of these images are ingrained into us at an early age. The traditional view of the Father is often that of the bumbling parent who cannot possibly survive parenthood without the help of his wife. This scene has been played out in countless sitcoms and television commercials. The father has his place when it comes to parenting and that place is firmly behind the mother.

And I have a problem with that.

Over the four years that I have been a parent blogger I have noticed a theme in countless blog posts and, more recently, several Twitter streams where wives/mothers complain about the ineptitude of their husbands when it comes to parenting their children. I have seen twitter conversations that basically say, “I don’t tell my husband what to do at his job so he shouldn’t come here and tell me how to be a parent.” How dare the father have a say in how his children are raised.

I have also had several women comment on this blog over the years telling me how they wish their husband was more like me. I assume they mean someone who can put on a diaper, read a bed time story, play with the kids, cook a meal and get the kids dressed in the morning or at night. Or perhaps they mean someone who connects to their children’s emotional needs and nurtures a bond between parent and child that is equal to their own. And when I see those comments I feel sad. But I also wonder if those mothers really mean what they say.

And here’s where I’m going to piss off some people who read this and I will acknowledge right off the bat that what I’m about to say is a huge generalization but I’m going to say it anyway. And here it is…

I often wonder if women really want their husbands to be equal partners in parenting. I wonder this because our society puts a lot of pressure on women to be the nurturer, the caregiver, the one who kisses owies and wipes noses and cooks dinner and cleans the house and earns six figures and looks fabulous doing it. And as soon as a man steps up and says I want to do those things too, I want to be a nurturer and a caregiver and have a real relationship with my child to the point that my child will come to me when they are scared or need something rather than my wife, then I think it’s possible that women could and do feel threatened by that. By allowing men to be more involved in parenting (and it has to start from infancy), then women are basically giving up part of what society expects them to be. This is an incredibly difficult decision for women to be in. They want to be everything to everyone. And in the end, nobody wins.

Nobody wins. Not the mother, not the father and most importantly not the children.

I am lucky. I have a wife who has accepted from the very beginning that I would be just as involved in parenting our children as she is. Aside from two very important details (pregnancy and breastfeeding), I have been equally involved with my kids. We take turns giving baths, we take turns feeding the kids (I do breakfast, she does dinner), we are both involved in the bedtime routine. If the children get sick we take turns taking time off from work and if a child needs to be comforted or nurtured in any way, we take turns doing that too.

The beauty of this parenting relationship is that we both get to be parents. We both get to experience the joys of snuggles and kisses and laughter and smiles and we both get to experience those powerful moments that build character through discipline and/or hugs.

And we both do things differently. Boy, do we do things differently. But I think that is the greatest aspect of our parenting relationship. My wife’s way of doing things is entirely different from the way I do things. And that’s ok. In fact, it’s better than ok. It’s what makes our kids so well rounded. They get to see different styles. They are comfortable with Mommy’s way of doing things and Daddy’s way of doing things and I believe that it helps them be more adaptable in their everyday lives. I am thankful for how we have parented our children and I’m thankful for my wife because she has been incredibly generous in allowing me to share in the parenting responsibilities when it would have been very easy for her to stake her claim to the role of parenting our children. After all, our society expects it of her.

Now I also know that there are men out there that just don’t get it. I realize that men also have to overcome long-standing stereotypes about fatherhood being the emotionally detached breadwinner. Or that changing diapers or dressing your children is somehow the woman’s job. I get that and I do acknowledge that more men need to step up to the plate. But at the same time I can’t help but wonder if women, often subconsciously, send out messages to their partners that in effect tell them that they are not an equal in this parenting gig.

So how do we take the next step? It’s already begun, of course. I’m too lazy to look it up but I recently read somewhere that men are now spending significantly more time with their families than men did a generation ago. This is good but we’re nowhere close to being equal in parenting. A lot more has to happen before we men can bust through the glass ceiling of parenthood and be accepted as equals in the parenting world. For starters, early on, before the child is even born, roles have to be discussed. Expectations have to be laid out. I was clear to my wife that I wanted to be involved in parenting our children from the very beginning. To her credit, she heard me and gladly surrendered some of those expectations that society puts on her. Of course, having twins certainly helped because we very much needed each other in those early days. But we also talked about how we wanted to parent before the twins arrived and it set the tone for the first four years in an incredibly positive way.

So, someday I do hope that people won’t be surprised to find out that I dressed my daughter in the incredibly cute outfit she’s wearing or that I cook breakfast every morning or that I give my kids baths at night or that I did my daughter’s hair that day. I also hope that someday I won’t get praised for doing this simply because I’m a man. This isn’t revolutionary work. Women have been doing it for generations and they never got a medal for making sure their children were fed. Someday, expectations for fathers will be so high that simply bringing home a paycheck won’t be enough anymore. And I won’t be just a father anymore.

I’ll be a parent.

September 20, 2009

Rethinking that life insurance policy

We arrived at the registration table of the local “Family Bike Ride” fund raiser for local schools about 30 minutes prior to the start of the race. I wasn’t in the greatest of moods. If I were a cartoon character, steam would have been emanating from my ears and I would have been grumbling things like, “Razzafrackle Fruzzlemrggerrrr” over and over again.

Why was I grouchy, you ask? Well, the kids decided that today would be the day to wake up at 5:00 a.m. so I was forced from my peaceful slumber at Satan’s hour and never really got my groove back on. Because usually? The groove is so on.

Anyway, Beautiful Wife was on her bike and I was on my bike. The only difference between her bike and my bike is that hers is newer, shinier, a better ride AND isn’t towing the kiddie trailer with two 40 pound kids in the back. The ride over only contributed to my mood as I realized that towing 100 pounds is something someone who hasn’t done a lick of exercise in the past 6 weeks should even contemplate doing. And yet, there I was.

I would like to place this day as Exhibit A in “How much Matthew loves his wife.”

Soon enough the race actually started and I was spurred on by the flat ground and the kids yelling, “Faster, Daddy! Faster!” from their carriage seats behind me. The wind was blowing in my air, I was passing people left and right and I was feeling it. I was Lance Armstrong only with a bigger butt and more hair. Soon, we hit a huge downhill and we flew down the hill faster, in retrospect, than it’s probably safe for me to tow a couple of pre-schoolers.

Alas, in bizzaro world of physics, what goes down, must come up and soon enough we had to go up a hill. A long, long hill. At first I was fine. I stood on the pedals and cranked about halfway up the first length of hill. I even passed a fat dude and his daughter who were walking their bikes. I was feeling good.

And then I wasn’t. My quads started to say things to me like, “What the hell are you thinking, moron?!” and “You sit on your ass all day eating brownies and now you want us to pedal that fat ass up this hill?” I stopped. After a few moments of sucking in air and a swig from my water bottle that, sadly, only contained water, I proceeded up the hill.

The kids, sensing their old man needed some encouragement, began chanting, “Go Daddy, Go! Go, Daddy, Go!” This sudden excitement from the kids spurred me on and I crested the top of the first hill with great gusto. (Okay, maybe it was only medium-gusto but it was gusto, nonetheless.) But then the second hill came. And about halfway up, my body gave me one big middle finger and I was forced to stop. As I stood panting, the fat dude and his daughter passed me. Along with just about everyone else. The kids, caught up in the moment, began shouting, “Daddy! People are passing us!! Let’s race!!”

And I wanted to. I really did. But then I felt like I was going to throw up. This is when I asked Beautiful wife to trade bikes and she agreed. She went on ahead while I waited for the nausea to pass. I few minutes later I was back on the bike and quickly caught back up to the wife and kids. Soon after, we traded back and we rode the last (flat) bit of race to the finish line.

And while the kids seem to have fun and my wife enjoyed the ride, I have vowed never, ever, ever again to agree to do something like this. Not ever.

Until next time.

September 19, 2009

Daily Portraits – The First 100 Days

On June 12, 2009, the twins’ fourth birthday, I began taking a daily portrait of Swee’Pea and TheMonk. Today marked the 100th day since their birthday. In those 100 days, over 14 weeks, I have missed a total of 12 days. Not bad, in my opinion. Below is all 88 photos for both Swee’Pea and TheMonk. You can see that Swee’Pea has begun to warm up to the photos and TheMonk enjoys engaging the camera in different ways. Enjoy.

The Daily Dose of Swee’Pea

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TheMonk: Day by Day

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You can also follow Swee’Pea’s daily portraits here and TheMonk’s daily portraits here.

September 17, 2009

How Lou Gehrig touched my life

For my undergraduate degree, I attended Columbia University. And while Columbia has had many famous alumni (including our current President), one of the most famous is the baseball player, Lou Gehrig. As you may know, Lou Gehrig contracted a disease called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) which forced his early retirement from baseball and, ultimately, caused his death. ALS, also now known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord resulting in muscle weakness and atrophy. Most people with ALS die within 2-5 years of their diagnosis.

Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because I have a friend, a former co-worker of mine, who suffers from ALS. What makes her story so compelling is how unfair this disease is and how she has chosen to live life to the fullest while fighting this awful disease. My friend Eryn was 31 years old when she was diagnosed. Most people with ALS aren’t diagnosed until their 50′s which, to me, seems so unfair to Eryn and her family. Did I mention that Eryn has two beautiful children? Kai and Kate are so beautiful with incredible blue eyes and freckles on their noses – just like their mom.

And did I mention that Eryn was a swimmer? According to her swim coach at the University of Miami, Eryn was “a legend.” A conference champion in 1994. I didn’t know this until recently but as I see how she’s fighting ALS and working so hard to raise money to beat this terrible disease, I can see how she has the heart of a champion. She doesn’t like to lose.

There are so many worthy causes out there in there to support with time, treasure and talent. I have asked many of you in the past to support the YMCA and you have done so in a way that leaves me amazed and humbled. But today I ask you to consider making a donation to the ALS on behalf of my friend Eryn. Eryn’s goal is to raise $4,000 this month and she has raised $3,225 as I write this. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could help her beat her goal and, God willing, help her beat ALS?

Thank you for considering this request. Eryn deserves what we all have. A chance to raise her children and live a long and happy life.

To support ALS and Eryn (and see photos of her kids and hear from Eryn in her own words), go to Erin’s ALS fundraising page here.

September 10, 2009

SeaWorld Dolphins Feel like Pancakes. And hot dogs.

When the nice people at SeaWorld San Diego invited us to be a part of the final weekend of the Dolphin Discovery show, the longest-running show in the history of SeaWorld at 13 years, I was pretty excited. I mean, how many people get to play with dolphins as part of a live show? And how many people get to do this with their young child? And how many people get to do this while also getting to have a new wife?

Yes, you heard me, a new wife. As part of the Dolphin Discovery show a dad and his child (in my case children) team up with a SeaWorld trainer that poses as the mom of the family. Halfway through the show, she falls in and the unsuspecting crowd gasps in disbelief until she’s rescued by a dolphin. So, I had a new wife this past weekend. But it didn’t last long. Apparently I’m not her type of mammal.

Anyway, we were invited to be the family that gets to interact with the dolphins and I was excited for Swee’Pea and TheMonk to get the opportunity to do so. There was only one small problem. Swee’Pea didn’t want to do it.

When we explained what she would have to do (stand up before hundreds of people and say her name and age and do what the trainers asked of her) she was not all that enthusiastic. In fact, one of her late night conversations with her brother, overheard on the baby monitor, was something like, “I don’t want to be on stage in front of all those people.” So, I did what any other good parent in my shoes what have done. I bribed her.

Swee’Pea isn’t sweet in name only. No, she has a real love for sweets that I’m sure she gets directly from her mother. So, it came as no surprise when I asked her if there was something special she wanted at SeaWorld for her to do this show that she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I want cotton candy. All to my self. That I don’t have to share.”

Deal! And because she was dead serious about the not sharing part, I offered a similar proposition to TheMonk who promptly requested a light-up sword similar to a light saber that they sell for $4.99 at SeaWorld. Deal!

But just to be sure they, I showed the clips on YouTube of the Dolphin Show and explained what they would have to do and why they would have a “pretend mommy” for the show. They seemed satisfied. I was cautiously optimistic.

When we arrived back stage to discuss our roles, I was promptly greeted by a smiling young lady who thrust waiver liability forms in front of me and asked me to sign “Here, here and… here.” Most of the forms were all, “You won’t sue us if Dolly the Dolphin decides that your kids would make a tasty snack.” I think I might have sold my kids to the circus with that last signature but I can’t be entirely sure.

But anyway, before we knew it, we were standing up on stage waving to the crowd as we were introduced. And then, the moment of truth. The emcee asked Swee’Pea what her name was. I cringed. I crossed my fingers. I might even have closed my eyes, dreading the fact that Swee’Pea, my shy little girl, would freeze up and not play along. But then I heard, loud and clear over the loudspeakers, her name resonating through the stadium as she shouted her name in the littlest girl voice you can imagine. Hail the power of cotton candy.

TheMonk followed suit and then I was being introduced to Duncan the Dolphin who, I announced to the crowd, felt a bit like fluffy pancakes. The kids were then escorted to the main stage where they announced that Dolly felt a lot like hot dogs. Then, they were encouraged to have a water fight with Dolly. I would like to report to you that Dolly lost that water fight. But that would be a big, huge lie. At the end, I’m not sure who was wetter, Dolly or my kids.

But that didn’t matter. After my wife fell in the water we were escorted back to our seats of honor where we enjoyed the rest of the show. As soon as the show was done and I escorted two soaked 4 year olds out of the stadium, Swee’Pea had a burning question for me.

“Where’s my cotton candy, Daddy?!”

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