Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Brown Eyed Rules & Other Homophobias

“Oh, hey, did you know the owner of the Montessori school we send Glenn to, hates gay people?”

My wife was confused and wondered why I was bringing it up right before bed.

Granted, it was kind of a strange time to bring it up, but it had been bothering me for a couple of days.   I was ‘friends’ with the teacher/owner on her Facebook page, and as each new story arose out of Arizona and Florida, I became more and more uncomfortable with her beliefs. 

Once I was able to verbalize my uncomfortable emotional state, I fell right asleep.  My wife only contributed her attention.  Just saying it out loud made me more certain how I felt about it.

Then, as if to demonstrate my psychic powers, the following Friday the boy was sent home from school with a letter.  It laid out a situation of a same sex couple being turned away.  Well, first they were accepted, and then they were turned away for their “lifestyle.”  I imagine the owner sitting in her office stewing over their smug gay faces, and deciding that it was her turn to take a stand for…well I don’t know who or what she thought she was taking a stand for. 

I had only briefly had some time to digest the letter, and barely time to bring the wife into the loop, before the lead teacher called.  She asked if I had any questions and I assured her that I did, but I wanted to talk to my wife before I vocalized my questions.  She seemed confused, even going so far as to say she had gay friends.  In my head I wondered if I should ask her for their numbers.

In the end I cut her off, “I understand they are your personal beliefs, I’m just not sure I want to financially support them.”

It wasn't any easy decision.  The boy really loved going there, and we had seen so much growth.  However, as conflicted as I was, I knew, even at that early stage, where this would end.  As my wife said, and then repeated to herself many times in an effort to make herself feel better about taking Glenn out of an environment he had blossomed and excelled in- ‘It is not enough to TALK about tolerance to your kids, we needed to TEACH this.’

You see, I have always struggled with my thoughts on same sex marriage, even though I think of myself as a tolerant person. (Who doesn't though?  No one thinks they are a bigot)  When possible I would avoid the topic, and try to keep my beliefs in the closet.  I’m the type of person that loves to talk politics.  So, as you can imagine, keeping my thoughts to myself, was like hiding a part of who I was.

See what I did there?

Honestly, it has just never been my fight.  I've met a lot of good and bad people in my life.  The only time I have endeavored to discover what their sexual preferences were, was when I was trying to get a girl to take her pants off.   My zeal to discover her interest would only be matched by my zeal to convince her to take MY pants off.

But this was real life discrimination, taking place not only in front of me, but also in front of my son.
I crowd sourced the situation to my Facebook Dads group, and they helped me work through it. I wasn’t willing to ignore it.  If I couldn't ignore it, then I either had to explain to my son why her actions were ok, or explain to him why he was moving schools.  We always tell our kids to use their words, but without action behind them, those words become hallow.  Now thanks to this jackass, I had to teach my son about discrimination. 

As soon as I was done being angry, I was embarrassed. 

Here I was working through my anger with a group of dads.  Many of which were in happy same sex marriages with children, and one of which is getting married this week as I write. 

I was mad because I had to explain to my five year old about discrimination.  It was ridiculous self-made white man feelings about discrimination.  I should have been happy he made it THAT long.

I would venture to guess that in most minority families discrimination is a conversation that happens early and often.  How about the family that was turned away? You think that two year old little boy doesn't notice the looks his moms get when they go shopping?  By the time that boy is my son’s age, he will have seen more discrimination first hand, than either my sons or I will experience in our lifetimes. 

It is well past time for a shift in the conversation.  In order for a shift to take place we need to understand that we don’t know what we are talking about.  We know what discrimination is, but having never truly experienced it, we cannot comprehend the implications of it. Discrimination for white middle and upper class people is like a Wisconsin winter to my Texas family.  We should be upfront about this, and open to learning.  We should defer to people who live with discrimination as part of their daily lives.  We should also be given a break, when we don’t understand how the words we use are offensive.

Hell, you could say that Glenn’s brief brush with discrimination was a net positive.  Most of his friends moved over to his new school.  I would say about 70% of the parents pulled their kids.  I know…Texas, who knew?  Most of the teachers and support staff got hired on at the new school, as well.  They also provide food for breakfast and lunch.  Even better, they only charge me an extra $60 for this godlike feat. 

Isn't homophobia grand!

I think he got it, but I really have no idea.  I tried to use eye color to explain it.  We both have brown eyes, while his mom and brother have blue.  As we were playing I started enforcing ‘brown eyed rules.’  He thought it was fun.  His brother did not.  Eventually he got the point that the brown eye rules weren't fair and didn't even make sense.  Then I was able to have a larger conversation.  I tried to teach him, through example, that although we are different, we are the same too. 

Later when a same sex couple came over to visit with my wife and have the kids play.  He was shocked when he found out the little boy with them had, get this, a spider man T shirt.  He loves Spiderman TOO! Glenn couldn't care less that his friend has two mommies. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How to Win Every Argument with your Spouse

The first rule of home ownership is that things are going to break.  When you can’t call the landlord, the next person in line is you.  I suck at home repair.  I often tell my wife, ‘You didn't marry that person.’  I can do basic repairs and maintenance, but if Google can’t show me, then I can’t do it. 

To overcompensate for this fact, I bring my ability to argue to our relationship.

Case in point, we had a light fixture in the kitchen that was giving us fits.  We bought a new one, but the instillation of said light fixture was not going well. (Our house is a bit old) After about two weeks of me cooking in the dark, my clearly frustrated wife, went behind my back and called an electrician.  This particular electrician’s slogan was, essentially, we are always on time.  When they weren't I was able to get the service call waived.  A $150 bill was reduced to $50, and we received a year of no trip charges.  In my mind that is the same as doing it yourself.

You see, prior to my current gig as super-dad, I worked in the hotel industry for over 10 years.  The front office of a hotel is essentially conflict resolution.  So when my wife and I argue, she is at a distinct disadvantage.  (Please note my wife and I never fight, because she is perfect)

From a platonic customer service standpoint angry customers are very easy; Listen, apologize, empathize, fix, and compensate.  The acronym is wrong, but that is basically the Marriott playbook 101.

With our spouses, though, things can get more heated, and playing lip service to your spouse only hurts you in the long run.  Don’t worry, I am here for you.  There are five very easy rules to follow when having an argument with your spouse.  When you follow them, your relationship will win every time.

1.       Don’t argue if they are not there.  This is both the most important and the most difficult.  Even as someone who lives by these rules, I struggle with this, and find myself constantly reminding my wife.  Maybe it’s the bowl on the counter, the dirty sock on the floor, or maybe it is something that is really serious.  You begin to imagine in your head how the conversation is going to go.  Only you’re half of the conversation, so you have to imagine what the other person is going to say.  You think to yourself, I’m going to say this, then they will say this, and I’ll come back with this…Boom that will teach them.  In your head you think your being smart and game planning how the conversation is going to go.  All you are doing is making yourself angry and making it more difficult to reach a positive solution.  Stop having arguments in your head with a person who isn't there.

2.       Never raise your voice or curse.  This is so simple, and yet in the heat of the moment it is easy to forget.  At the hotel, if you curse at me the conversation is over, until you can speak like an adult.  I don’t care if you found a small family of rats making a home in your bed.  If you drop the F bomb, we are done.  This is your spouse you’re talking to.  The mother or father of your children.  Either you respect each other or you don’t.  Remember words have meaning, and can hurt.  Did you seriously just call your significant other a fucking bitch?  Apologize asshole.

3.       Fight like your kids are watching.  This goes hand in hand with #2.  You are the people who will teach your children how conflict should be resolved.  If you don’t think they are watching, you are wrong.  Children see and absorb everything, so give them the tools they need to be healthy adults.  When I was a kid, my parents would send us to our room, where we would listen at the door to them screaming at each other.  As an advanced move, have disagreements with your children in the room.  My wife and I try to always have budget meetings, in front of the kids.  They should see that life is a struggle, but two like minded people can compromise, which brings us to number four.

4.       Know the end point is the same for both parties.  It’s tough, I get it.  Both my wife and I are very strong willed people, not inclined to backing down.  If it is involving MY kids, and I think it is important, I’m going to fight for them.  Keep in mind so is your spouse.  They are not disagreeing with you, because they like to fuck with you.  They also want what is best for THEIR kid.  The odds that two people from different walks of life, and different experiences will come together with the same parenting styles is about the same as you being struck by lightning.  Even if we agree on 95% of what is important, I’m still going to fight like the dickens for the remaining 5% to go my way.  (Did I just say dickens???)  Just keep in mind that at the end of the day, you both want happy healthy children.  We came up with core values that we want to instill in our children, family, and personal lives.  When you are fighting, ask yourself, ‘How does this support our core values.’

5.       Pause, reset, and do-overs.  I can’t tell you how many times this has come to the rescue.  It’s Saturday, your day to sleep in, but the kids get up early and your entire day starts off on the wrong foot.  Before you know it, you find yourself bickering with your spouse.  Have a do over, because you’re not really mad at each other, you’re mad that on the one day the kids can sleep in, those bastards got up at six am.  My wife and I will literally go lay back down, and pretend to start the day over, taking extra care to tell each other how much we love them.  You will also find yourself in situations where you just don’t have the time or focus to give a topic the attention it deserves.  You must be able to compartmentalize enough to pause the fight, while Jimmy gets taken to soccer practice.  This goes hand in hand with phone calls and text.  You’re having a nice conversation, but something sets one of you off.  Stop fighting on the phone, no good will come of it.  Tell the person you love them, remember #4, and wait until you are together.

Whoever told you that marriage was all sunshine and roses was an idiot.  Don’t listen to that person anymore.  Listen to me.  Think of your marriage like your home…shit is going to break.  You are going to fight, you are going to be angry, and you are going to have cases of SAS. (Shaken Adult Syndrome)  Take some deep breaths and follows these rules, you will be fine, and your relationship will be better for it. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I Get What I Asked For

We had just gotten up, and the boys were shouting their breakfast orders into the kitchen.  Very specific orders, without a side of appreciation, and I was getting frustrated.  Especially since, they have the SAME thing for breakfast almost every day.  I mostly brushed them off, but took the time to remind them that I was not a short order cook.  I usually would invite them into the kitchen to make their own breakfast, which they can’t.

Then they started requesting the specific cup they would like their milk to be in.  One wanted a Dora cup, the other Spiderman.  So I got the milk in the two plainest cups they had. 

Jackson collapsed onto the floor.  His world had been crushed.  When the boys are upset I will talk to them in a somewhat shocked voice.  “What?  You seem angry.  Can you tell me what’s wrong?  Do you still want your milk?”

What followed was a 5 minute conversation with Jack.  Well I conversed, he mostly just sobbed.  (I need to find a better conversationalist) I would ask if he wanted his milk.  He would say no.  I would start to walk away, and he would scream anew, because I was leaving with the milk.  Each time I pretended I was more shocked and confused then the time before.

“Jackson I don’t understand.  You said you didn't want it, so I was going to throw it out.  Now you’re yelling at me more.  Do you want this milk?”

“No!”  I especially loved how indignant he became after each question.

Post-toddlerdom is a tough spot to be.  Everyone tells you how terrible the two’s are.  When your kid is two, everybody takes it easy on you.  You can tell people how hard it is to care for your toddler, as he rolls on the floor at Walmart. 

Nobody has any sympathy for you if your kid is three.  Now they are judging you.  I mean your kid is three when are you going to get control of him anyway???

At a year old, your child is still too dumb uniformed to know that they have free will, and can make their own choices.  By the time they reach 2 (Well 1.7 really) they have realized that they no longer have to listen to everything you, as the supreme overlord, have told them.  Problem is they don’t really have a good way to tell you.  I remember very succinctly the day both boys left the terrible twos.  One day a light just flipped, and they figured out that they had to tell you want they wanted in order to exercise their new found free will.
From that point on they have entered stage 3.  Now they know they can make choices, they know they need to inform you of those choices, but god forbid you disagree with those choices, no matter how irrational they sound to your stupid adult brain. 

If you can keep up with the speed at which those choices change, then you are a better parent then me.  Most times you are able to use a calm reasoned approach to what they would like.  Other times you can't or more likely are to tired to negotiate the mind field that is a three year old's brain.  I can’t really blame them though.  As adults we change our minds just as often.  Really the only difference between us and them is we have the emotional control to cry on the inside. 

The day after I finished complaining about my short 20 minute commute, it took an hour and a half.  You can’t make this stuff up.  It took an hour to make it 7 miles up the highway.

At first I was all…ha ha ha isn't this funny.  I could appreciate the irony as it has happened to me in the past.  One Sunday in the distant past, I had prayed for patience.  After mass I went to Wendy’s and stood in line for 45 minutes to get my food.  I could literally hear God laughing at me. 

I don’t remember when I stopped laughing.  I think it happened some time after I had to call the hotel, so they would know I would be there shortly before the end of time.  I wasn't collapsing on the floor, but inside I was screaming just like the three year old I was trying to give the milk he wanted earlier in the day.  

We humans are a fickle bunch.  Unfortunately as adults we don’t get to roll around on the floor at Walmart because the TV we wanted just went up $30. I think that kids are more like the adult version of us then we give them credit for.  Someday little Jack is going to feel too socially awkward to express his emotions so vocally.   That makes me a little sad actually, which in turn makes me a little crazy I think. 

Glenn just laughed and rolled his eyes.  “It sure is hard being three isn't it dad.”

You should try my age, said every person ever.

The crying did stop, and he moved on as if nothing had happened.  When I went to get his clothes for the day, there was no doubt what he would be wearing that day.