Monday, December 31, 2012

Action Jackson -Part 1

When Glenn was born, my very first thought was, “Holy shit, that’s what I looked like on my first day.”

To say Glenn looks like me is a bit of an understatement.  I showed him a picture of me when I was his age, and he said, “Hey, that’s me!” He has my haircut, my eyes, nose, and my sense of humor.

When Jackson was born, my very first thought was, “Holy shit, that’s what Tammi’s dad looked like on his first day.”

Unfortunately, that includes his temperament.  Tammi’s dad is a bit of a (how do I say this without getting beat up) he’s a bit gruff…yeah.  Sometimes when Jackson gets frustrated, I laugh to myself, and tell little Mike it will be OK. 

If I could speak bluntly, the truth is when I first met Jackson, or big Mike for that matter, I didn't really care for him all that much.  I know parents aren't supposed to say things like that, and, it makes me uncomfortable, but it is true.  I always tell Tammi it is easier for her to bond with a newborn, because she has known them for nine months longer than me.  

Besides, I’m not saying I didn't love him.  I looked forward to learning what big Mike was like as a toddler.  I didn't bond with Glenn instantaneously either but with him everything was so new.  It made the bonding process easier.  Plus, you know, it was like looking into a weird time machine. Without the novelty and the ego soothing, the difficulty of the process became more noticeable.

Think of it from the father’s perspective.  We spend nine months caring for your wife (hopefully), making sure all her needs are met and that she isn’t plotting to cut you up and store you in the basement. Then, on one random day, you’re handed this crying, screaming, non-sleeping, poop machine.   I don’t know how many machines you’ve met, but they don’t provide the most positive reinforcement.  The closest they get to positive feedback is a smile.  Then, you discover it’s not joy they are expressing but the fact that it is time to change their diaper.

I hate the first six months, and I’m not ashamed to say it.  After six months they get a little easier and begin sleeping better.  More importantly they acknowledge they know who you are and think you’re pretty cool.  Once they get to a year old, they really start to resemble little people. Even then,  it’s not easy but they, at least, have their moments. 

Plus, I said I didn’t like him at first, after a year, if you haven’t bonded with your kids, then you should probably get yourself checked out. 

I’ve cherished getting to know Little Mike, and I can’t wait to see grown Jackson. I think it’s fair to say that every day my love for him has grown. And that’s what really matters

Thursday, December 27, 2012

You Can't cancel Christmas

It’s two days before Christmas, and, like many homes, things are very busy around here.  My in-laws are in town (there’s a whole other blog); I’ll spend most of tonight wrapping (my poor back), and if I have to find one more spot to hide the damn elf on a shelf, I might…well let’s just say it won’t be good for the elf.  I love Christmas, but as you may know happy meals don’t come with toys (

Loving Christmas and hating toys makes for a convoluted and difficult internal struggle.  Every time the boys open a thing of blocks, I see myself picking them up endlessly – either crawling on my hands and knees or bending over and over and over and over. Or when they open a toy they really like, and I can clearly see that it will be broken in a week.  Over/under on number of meltdowns is 3.5.  Take the over folks, it’s easy money. 

 My mother-in-law said to me yesterday that she is getting payback.  So, when he opens a noise maker, I think to myself, “But I didn't do anything to you! Don’t you know your daughter doesn’t suffer from this.”
But Craig, think of the children.  Don’t you want them to be happy?  Kids can’t possibly flourish unless they are showered with toys to constantly keep them happy.

What makes you think I want my kids to be happy?  That’s a pretty poor assumption on your part.  Well, okay, I want them to be happy, but I see no reason to push for constantly happy. I’m not.  Furthermore, when did a thing ever make someone happy? 

Here’s the problem.

You can’t cancel Christmas. 

The Grinch tried once, but he was no match.  No matter how much crap the boys open Tuesday, it pales in comparison to the message of Christmas.  If you are a Christian and likely even if you aren’t, this is a day about a man who changed the world.

But Christmas isn't about the man. It’s about the baby.  Yeah, yeah it’s also about the winter solstice and stealing pagan holidays to make your religion more likable…stop distracting me…you’re missing my point. This man, who had more of an impact of the world then arguably any other person, was a baby, just like you.  He was as helpless as those poor kids in Connecticut, and he was as hard on his parents as your kid’s are on you. 

That doesn't mean I have to like the toys though.

Prior to the New Year, a large bin of old toys will be collected and taken to Goodwill just in time for one more charitable tax write off.  Listen Glenn, you can’t have more toys than space in the toy box.  Pick the ones you’re done with and give them to someone else.  It is never too early to start impressing Santa for next year.
More importantly, what do I get the boys for Christmas you ask?  Well, I have a real knack for gift giving, governed by a simple theory.  Don’t spend money.  Let’s take a look back at Glenn’s previous gifts.

First year – A small tin found among the Christmas crap.  I filled it with tissue paper and a spoon.  Boom, there you have it – a drum. Total cost…zero

Second year– A large stack of paper from the computer that I stapled together, and then combined it with crayons he had forgotten about.  Boom, there you have it – a coloring book.  Total cost…zero

This year – Now keep in mind these are gifts he asked for specifically. One, kids’ safety scissors, which he uses at school and we already had but he has never used.  Two, a tie and not just any tie. He made sure to tell me that he wanted a “Daddy” tie.  Not a problem son I can do that. 

“Not one of the bad daddy ties either, make sure it’s a nice one.  OK, Daddy?”

Not a problem son.  Total cost… zero, well to me anyway.  Tracey had to buy the scissors at some point.

I think I can keep the gifts under five dollars until he is at least ten, but it’s going to take work.  Work that I have no choice but to persevere in.  You can fight the over whelming consumerism, but…

You can’t cancel Christmas.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

We are All Going to Die

My favorite mass is Ash Wednesday.  There are many lessons to learn from this mass, but the overriding, and my favorite, message is you’re going to die.  Furthermore, so is everybody else.  I have taken both the boys, and it has always upset Tammi.   She understands that they are going to die one day, but doesn't think it should be thrown in her face, or more literally marked on her face.

And then there is Connecticut.

Talk about throwing it in your face.  Here I was having a nice day, and boom all over the news is evidence of the randomness of this life.  Glenn and I were at the kitchen table, painting Christmas cards for his mom, while I listened in the background to the horrible news of the day. 

By far the hardest part for me, and many others, is just how you shoot a 5 year old.  I mean I understand how guns and violence works, but I do not understand, how someone could actually do that.  It truly breaks your heart to think of those kids, only a year younger than Glenn, and the grief their parents and family must feel.

A lot of people are thinking about the causes, and prevention of another tragedy.  I’m not really doing that.  Although, I do believe that stricter gun control laws are not the answer.  I am for stronger gun control, I just don’t know that it fixes this problem.  Sadly I think that next month, hell maybe even next week, it will have left the news cycle, and it will be out of sight out of mind, for those not directly affected.

What I do think about, is how I would cope.  Does the age of the kids matter?  Is losing a 5 year old worse than losing an 18 year old?  I think either way you’re going to feel like time was taken from you.  I would be happier to have had 18 years rather than 5, but it’s not a choice we get to make.  Having not been through this, I would console someone to feel blessed with the time they were given.  Yet, that seems like something that’s easy to say.  Tammi would be a goner.  I think that I have a 40% chance of not losing my mind, but if I did it wouldn't be pretty folks.  The over/under for divorced, jobless, and alcoholic is 2.5 years.  I just hope those people who lose children aren’t restricted by the perception, and seek the mental health they need.  

(There is a whole other issue about this situation)

Here is another question…Are people who have children affected more by this tragedy, than those without children?  I’m very tempted to say yes, but that seems rude and dismissive.  I can tell you that I think I have been affected more, than if I didn’t have kids.  It is easy to see that the closer you are to a situation, or a better way to put it, the more you have in common with a situation, the more you are affected.  Now that I write that, I don’t think that affected is the right word either.  Maybe, sympathize? 

If you continue this logic, than you would say that people who have lost children, are more affected by this than people who have not lost their children.  Ultimately, this isn't a contest, so the question is a little stupid.  We are all sad, and we all feel that sadness differently.  It doesn't make it worse or better. 

People keep saying to go home and hug your children…It misses the point.  Go hug your children, your wife, call your parents, your grandparents, contact old friends on Facebook, go take your nieces and nephews a homemade gift, reach out to cousins you haven’t seen in ages, and have your buddies over for a beer.  Not just this week, but every week.  Because we’re all going to die, and all we have is the time we have.  

Monday, December 17, 2012


Tammi sent me the following texts over the course of one night while I worked my part time job.

5:30 pm:  “Glenn just peed on Jackson in the bathtub.  How is your day going?”

5:40 pm:  “And now Jackson has pooped in the tub.  This is a disaster.”

Now, I did what anyone would do. 

I called to make sure she wasn't shaking the children, and, then, I had a good laugh at her expense. 

Once I got home, I got the full story. 

Glenn peed on his brother, but he did apologize.  This wasn't R. Kelly, but he did offer to clean him with his hand towel afterwards. So thoughtful, that one. 

Then, Jackson started what turned into a terrible gastrointestinal week by letting it fly right there. Glenn, of course, freaked out and nearly climbed straight out of the tub. Tammi then took two dripping, screaming, and dirty children into our shower.  Neither of them enjoys taking a shower, and I can only assume that by the end all three were standing in the shower sobbing uncontrollably.  To make matters worse, Jackson had clogged the bathtub, and (stay with me people) Tammi could tell what he had eaten for lunch.

Few things in this world test your parenting mettle more than feces…FACT

When I got home, I nodded approval of her large glass of wine and gave her a hug. I then started to clean the tub.  Glenn asked me how I was going to do it, and, for the first time, I said something that sounded like my mother. Sort of. 

“Well Glenn, Daddies are just better at cleaning some things up than Mommies.” 

One more bit of back story till I can get to my point, which is not (actually) to make you sick.  I had lost my wedding ring that week. A coworker suggested that Tammi had the ring. Still, I spent the three days trying to hide my left hand from her and fidgeting with a ring that wasn't there.  When I came out of the bathroom, I had decided now was the time to break the news that I had lost the symbol of our love and commitment. Again.

“Tammi, you should know I've lost my wedding ring. Now, seeing as how I just cleaned feces out of a tub, may I have a pass on receiving any shit from you?” 

Sure, she said. And then she stood up, walked to the bookshelf and handed me my ring. Arrrgh.

So, what is my point?  Listen, being a stay at home parent is hard.  Being a PARENT is hard.  Just because Tammi has a full time job doesn't make her time with the kids any easier.

When we are home together, the kids will default to me. I make lunch, do diapers, time outs and bath time.  For me in particular, and I think stay at home parents in general, it is easy to dismiss the challenges our spouses have with children.
We see them struggle with the kids, and we think to ourselves  “Saw that coming… doesn't she know that when he taps his foot three times it means he wants to do it himself?’  The main difference is that they rarely see us struggle with the children.  We have hours and hours upon which to test our methods, read nonverbal cues, and to learn when to just give the damn kid the blue plate.  But we do have struggles…many of them… and often… and a lot of times we don’t have the correct parenting response. 

Tammi will tell you it is harder on the working parent.  Their growth pattern changes almost daily, and a small change in their routine can cause a lot of undue stress for all parties.  Tammi finally did get me a successful day to sleep in. But her day started with Grant screaming, “Noooooo, Daddy!” for the first 15 minutes.  It’s not that he has a preference for me. Well okay, he does (so do a lot of people). He just wants his routine to stay the same.  The more consistent things are, like who gets him up, the better he is able to start to make sense of this crazy world. 

For me this is a classic parenting trap.  It is so tempting to let yourself fall victim to this trap.  Who is the harder working parent is no less volatile than which kid do you love more, or who is the better parent?  None of the answers to those questions matter.  Life is hard, dying is easy, don’t sell out your partner and dismiss what they bring to the table. 

Tammi did want me to make very clear that she had not left the feces for me to clean up.  When I got home the boys were in their pajamas, and Tammi was half way through a post bathtub apocalyptic glass of wine.  I could see how stressed she was in her face. That feeling I could understand so I did what I could to help out.  I’m not a super hero, just a parent.

*As always, I hope that you enjoy the reading, as much as I’ve enjoyed the writing.  Don’t be afraid to post comments or share with your friends. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Who Wants Cookies?

Since returning to Texas, I have been making a much more concerted effort to take the boys to church.

It’s something that is important to me and I enjoy it.  And, since it is so much easier to make it up and out the door when you have someone to go with you, my sister often joins me for the 8:00 a.m. mass. It can still be a bit stressful though, because it’s Erin, her newborn, and my boys (ages three and one).  And it is made somewhat awkward because my sister and I are only four years apart, and people often assume we are married.  We are Catholic and when we go to church they look at us like rock stars. 

“What a perfect Catholic family. They are so brave, what with the three kids all a year apart,” is what I hear their eyes telling me.

Last week, we left Caleb and Jackson at home, and, wow, I cannot tell you how much easier the morning unfolded.  It’s not that Jackson is bad in church, just more needy.  Caleb doesn’t spend the mass screaming, but he is, after all, just over eight months old. Glenn, now Glenn, is perfect (almost) every time.  He pays attention, folds his hands, and even on occasion will shush Erin and myself. 

It makes me very proud, and, more than that, it makes me feel like we have struck a good discipline balance.  For the most part, we don’t spank the kids.  I honestly try to treat them like I manage hotel employees by setting clear expectations — and following through on consequences — when they fail to meet those expectations.  We allow the boys to make their own choices and give them the confidence to be able to do so.  Then, we heap on a heavy dose of praise when they make good choices. 

Obviously, a lot more goes into raising well-behaved children.  It’s not enough to print up a 22-item expectations list like I do at the hotel.  Instead, I just repeat myself one hundred times a day.  I try to provide warnings and let them know what will happen if they continue to make poor choices.  For safety things though, it is an immediate removal from the area of danger and a timeout if they do it again. 

Timeouts last for a minute for every birthday. When done, Glenn will explain why he got a timeout, and I’ll explain my point of view.  Then, he has to apologize and then we hug.  If he gets three timeouts, the next one results in a spanking and a timeout.  There have been very few days when he has made it to four.

Some of that is on me. 

Being the disciplinarian takes effort, and sometimes you let them push you back.  This isn’t that different from the hotel.  If you walk in hung over, then your employees know they can get away with more.  This week I am trying to work on some of the back talk, and it can be very stressful.  I am trying to get Glenn to school on time, and Glenn just yelled, 'no!!!’ at me and fell to the ground.  Great, now we have to do a timeout, then try to get his shoes on, then try to get to school on time, which is what he wanted to do in the first place.

I have noticed that as the stay-at-home parent, my threshold for bad behavior is larger than Tammi’s.  When they start to F around, Tammi is having none of it and will give a timeout much faster than I will. On the other hand, she lets them climb and jump on furniture, and she is much less strict at the dinner table. I will let the boys fight a little more and I don’t really mind when Glenn bosses Jackson around.  I think we strike a nice balance, and we both try very hard to be consistent, if not between each other, than at least with ourselves.

When not arguing over whether to wear shoes in public or not, I try to let Glenn make as many choices as he wants.  I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have every aspect of your life managed by someone else.  (Kind of like living with Ta.... never mind) So, if he needs a long sleeve shirt, I take two long sleeved shirts out and let him choose which one he likes.  When I cook lunch, I ask him if he wants peas or carrots and apples or bananas.

The praise is the easy part.  Kids, by nature, adore their parents.  They live and die by their attention, both positive and negative.  If Glenn is kicking or playing too rough, I don’t yell at him.  I ask him to stop, and, when he doesn't, I walk away.  I don’t want to hang out with someone who knocks my glasses off my face.  When he does something nice, I’ll really lay it on thick. 

“Oh my, thank you Glenn, I bet your brother really appreciated you giving him that toy he wanted.”  On, and on, and on.  Even when not disciplining them, we try to speak to them positively and with respect. Since my wife is a hippy she believes that how you speak to your children, is how they will hear their inner voice.

And what parenting arsenal would not be complete without bribery?  As a parent I have taken the lessons learned from potty training and implemented them to every other aspect.  You want a cookie? Well guess what, kid, cookies aren't free. 

In the end, parents have to decide what works best for them.  There are times the kids make me so angry, I want to smack them.  Jackson, in particular, has a very good knack for getting under my skin.  All parents feel this way.  It is hard work, and sometimes you just want to give up, like I've done with Jackson and mass. I’ll try again in 6 months, after he has gotten a few more timeouts and hugs under his belt.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Me Time

There is no place that is sacred in my house.  My family has taken everything away.  The living room and dining room has always been Tammi’s.  The playroom/dog room, is well, not mine.  I’m allowed to provide input in the study, and have never cared about the spare bedroom.  

Hell even Glenn seems to have more say about my own bedroom than me. ( Every day I clean the house so that other people can enjoy their rooms.  It’s like I’m crop sharing in my own house; working for the right to sleep in my bed.

The kitchen is mine, but no one knows or cares.  It is funny to me, that if a family member wants to get us something for the kitchen, they always ask Tammi.  Who has no idea what we need or where it would go if we got it.  She always tells them the same thing, ‘Ask Craig, it’s his kitchen.’  No one gets it though.  Plus it’s not like the kitchen is a place of sanctuary.    Usually if I’m in the kitchen I am either cleaning, or cooking for two hungry and irritable boys under foot. 

The new house has two bathrooms.  One of them even got titled, Daddy’s Bathroom.  Finally a place where I could be by myself, collect my thoughts, and you know get some business done.   I was so naive.  I wish sometimes I could go back in time and at least give myself a heads up.

“Craig, it’s me.  You are being a dumbass.  You really think it’s gonna work out that way.  Come on man, lower those expectations and give up.”

I haven’t been to the bathroom by myself in over 6 months.  Hell sometimes I expect Tammi to walk in and start playing with the toilet paper too.  If I want to have a moment to myself I have to close the door, and listen to Jackson scream.  Not exactly the quiet time I was hoping for.  Glenn just opens the door anyway.

"Daddy I want some juice."

"Well we all want things Grant.  Like you know, I want to be left alone."

So the other day my friend is over, and we are hanging out drinking beer on the patio.  I get up to go to the bathroom, and I leave the bathroom door open.  It is now second nature to assume I will not have peace.  As he walks in for a refill, I quickly swing the door closed…

Maybe if I throw out all the crap in the attic, I could carve out a new spot for myself.

*This unedited version, is brought to you by me.  Since I didn't get it to my sister in time, you can see how much I love the comma, and run on sentences. Did you see the semi-colon Ellena?

Monday, December 3, 2012


Ummm, I just want to make sure we are all on the same page here — I’m a huuuge Notre Dame fan.
I was born in Indiana, and I’m pretty sure state law dictates your college football team of choice.  Wisconsin has a similar law about their professional football team. 

Now, I’m really gonna blow your mind here — I state for the record that Notre Dame is going to the national championship game. I’m booked Jan. 7th. Don’t call. Or visit.

The same team I have cheered for since my adolescences is finally going to do what I have said it is going to do for the past 15 friggin’ years.  I was eight when they last won, and I was 18 when they were last in the conversation.  I talked so much shit that year — right up until they lost to Boston College.

A friend of mine told me Notre Dame would keep winning as long as I didn’t wake up.  I texted him during the Pittsburgh game that it was too early to get up.  Because at the start of the year the only way Notre Dame was getting into the national championship was if I was dreaming.

They haven’t ever been really bad, just irrelevant.  To golden domers, if you lose one game than the season is over. Sure, you can beat Michigan or USC to salvage a season, but if you don’t get invited to the NC, then ya really didn't do it right.  They have not been “doing it right” for a very long time.  OK, in fairness to others who aren't ND fans, they have been very bad at times. Possibly.**

Now that Genn is into football, I have to explain the difference between Saturday and Sunday football.  Listen, if you want me to raise two Packers fans just because that’s where they are from then I can do THAT.  But if you expect me to say there is any football program anywhere better than Notre Dame, then you have lost your effing mind.

I finally laid it out to him this year.

“Listen Glenn, if you wanna be a Badgers fan, then I can’t stop you.  You were born in Madison. However, I must warn you that the BEST the Badgers are ever gonna do is make the Rose Bowl.  Now, my Saturday team, son, they play for national championships on their good years.”

January 7th I will not be easy to find.  If I had it my way, I would be in a cave watching the game.  I’ll probably end up just going to a bar.  All I can say is what I’ve been saying for years. It’s the same thing Grant said to his grandma at the airport.


*Ha Ha you read a whole post about the greatness of Notre Dame

**I take it back. They've never been bad.