Single

As someone who loves my kids more than life itself, I say this with all sincerity:

Single parenthood? … Dumb.

It doesn’t matter how good, responsible, and/or on-the-ball your kids are. Raising even one … and especially multiple … kids by yourself—and, in my case, choosing to do so—is dumb. And it’s dumb for a lot of dumb reasons.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a very, very long time, you probably are aware that the traditional model of “one mom + one dad raising some number of kids under the same roof” is an ever-shrinking family construct. Be that as it may, the reality is that most activities your kids are involved in still assume a two-parent structure. This plays itself out in a number of ways. Many of them involve timing and schedules:

  • The 4-5pm practice that ends at 6, because, hey, mom’s home to make dinner and watch the other kids.
  • The school event that goes to some ridiculous hour—on a school night—because, hey, if the little kids need to go home, parent 1 can take them while parent 2 stays to bring home the older ones.
  • The endlessly shifting schedules for practices, competitions, events (I’m looking at you, skating). Same principle: Of course we can change the Friday practice—on Friday—to Saturday afternoon, because, hey, with all those spare parents lying around, who cares if skater child has siblings who might have other commitments? Spare parent is there—with spare car, of course!—to pick up the slack.

As you might have guessed, I’m pretty protective of my time. I’m happy—well OK, willing—to run around all day for either or both of my kids, as long as I have some warning—in advance—of when and where said running around needs to happen. The last-minute thing? Not so much.

Schedules and timing are only the most obvious of the external issues with single parenting. There are plenty of internal ones, as well. A friend of mine recently reminded me that being a parent in and of itself means that I am in “taking care of” mode all the time—it’s so consistent that it becomes second nature. And like many second-nature things, I often forget. I forget that my life is substantially different from my non-parent peers, which means I forget a lot of corresponding things: like how it’s not only OK, but healthy, and even necessary, to take as many breaks as possible. As many evenings and days off as possible. Heck, as many weeks off as possible. How that’s better not only for me, but for the kids as kids and for us as a family.

How it really, really takes a lot out of a person to be making all the decisions, all the time—especially when you try (with variable success) to base your decision on what’s right for the other person in question, not (always) what works for you. It’s like having a running “Who’s on First?” dialog in your head at all times, except there are three voices instead of two. One of them is your own, and the others are the voices you are imaging the other two people are contributing to the conversation, as you imagine what their owners might actually say. And somewhere in there, you need to figure out who actually is on third base.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Please understand that I know in theory—and know in practice folks who are examples of this—that being in a parent couple doesn’t necessarily make any of this easier. In fact, when two parents aren’t on the same page about a given parenting issue, the potential conflict can actually be worse—I’ve witnessed how some of those “Who’s on First?” routines play out, and it isn’t pretty. So this isn’t a “my pain’s worse than yours” argument—just that they are different, and unique.

Plus when you screw up as a single parent, even if you kick yourself out of the bedroom and sleep on the couch, it doesn’t give you quite the same sense of a break.

Next: Dating: Dad Division

Weird

For the next few posts, I shine the light on the guy who pays the bills and was the brains behind this whole enterprise in the first place: Yours truly, the humble alterna-dad blogger.

We start with what my kids would probably say is my most distinguishing characteristic as a parent.

A little background: In my 12+ years as a dad, I have noticed that the relationship of child to parent very often looks something like this: The child is the star/comedian/actor/personality, while the parent plays the straight man/woman. Over time, the parent fades bit-by-bit into the background while the child’s presence overtakes not just center stage, but the whole darn theater. We’ve all seen the most extreme version of this: Children who don’t pay any attention to their parents under any circumstances, listening to or ignoring them at whim. I believe these children have—correctly, unfortunately—somewhere along the way picked up the message that their needs, interests, and whims matter, while the parents are simply stage crew in the production.

And the parents, all too often, are willing accomplices in this game: Kids’ needs, important. Mine, not so much. On the other hand, based on the amount of complaining I have heard over the years, it may be more of a case that the poor parents didn’t know what kind of monstrous situation they were creating.

Purely by luck of the genetic/personality draw, I have a secret weapon that I believe has helped our gang avoid this dynamic:

I’m pretty weird.

Being a pretty weird dad has had two terrific consequences: one, as a family we have laughed a lot, especially when the kids were younger and our senses of humor were more aligned (i.e., before they became teenagers and  no longer had a sense of humor). And two, even though I hope/think my kids have developed pretty sparkling personalities along the way, our home is definitely a three-person show, and I claim my fair share of the spotlight.

How weird, you ask? A few examples:

  • For a long time, when I would say goodbye to the kids—for example, when they left for school in the morning—my standard line was (probably inaccurate) “goodbyes” in every language I could think of:

“So long, see you later, don’t forget to write, auf weidersein, sayonara, au revoir, adios, ciao, arrivederci roma, vaya con dios, aloha means hello and goodbye.”

  • For about an equally long time, I spoke to them in the voice of Scooby-Doo—which translates as 1) starting every word with an “r” and 2) referring to them (either one, it didn’t matter) as “Raggy”:

“Rood rorning, Raggy.” “Row are roo, Raggy?” “Rinner’s ready, Raggy.” Etc.

  • And when they would do something noteworthy: “Wunderbar! That’s German for, wunderbar!”

(And let’s not forget our world-famous bedtime hits, which were a long-standing tradition that I will explain in detail elsewhere.)

So yeah, weird. The good news is that it has kept them guessing—always a useful strategy for a parent—and helps them enjoy and express their own quirkiness, so everyone can feel comfortable being himself.

Though I’m funnier.

Next: Single

Hernia

When you have kids, you spend a lot of time at the doctor’s. And when you spend a lot of time at the doctor’s, you get very used to hearing doctors say those three little words: “I don’t know.”

Except when they do … or think they do.

One day at a track meet, after running the 2-mile, Daveon doubled over in pain and lay on the turf for a solid 10 minutes. He had complained about pain from time to time before, but seeing it live prompted me to action. Daveon was off school the next day, which made it convenient to go to the doctor. There were only two issues: 1) Daveon’s regular doctor was out, so he was seen by a new nurse practitioner. And 2) there was only one appointment slot available, which happened to be right when I had an important conference call. So I had to drop Daveon at his appointment and take the call at a café nearby. He was 16 so this was doable, but not ideal.

The doctor visit was … inconclusive. The nurse practitioner referred Daveon to our nearby Children’s Hospital for X-rays, thinking the cause of pain might be a hernia. So we went and, as these things go, spent the next six or seven hours at the hospital.

The X-rays were … inconclusive. There was “something” that might be appendicitis, and nothing that looked like a hernia. So the X-ray people referred Daveon for an ultrasound—nothing like cold jelly on your belly on a Friday night. I told him if he ever gets pregnant, he’ll know what this feels like.

The ultrasound was … inconclusive. Again, they found “something” that might indicate some calcification on his appendix, but he didn’t have any of the classic symptoms of appendicitis, so they couldn’t say for sure. As these things go—again—by the time the doctor got back with the results, I was in the middle of a 20-minute break to get Mark and a friend to a school dance. By the time I got back, Daveon was dressed and ready to go, appendix intact.

I called Daveon’s regular doctor the next Monday. Because we were now officially in Wonderland, the doctor scratched her head as to why they just didn’t take the (unneeded) appendix out just in case, and promptly gave us a referral for an appendectomy.

We met with the surgeon in June, and arranged for the appendectomy in August—the earliest time that both patient and practitioner were available, given vacations and camps, etc. During the visit the surgeon poked and prodded and said he felt some swelling, which he termed a “sports hernia.” This, apparently, isn’t a real hernia, but something athletes get that is currently very trendy and usually prompts them toward surgery they don’t need. Because Daveon isn’t playing for the Miami Heat, the doctor instead recommended a treatment of eight weeks of mega-doses of ibuprofen—as well as rest (read: abstaining from athletic activity). Given that Daveon was looking forward to a breakout cross-country season in the fall, which included intense summer training, he was not at all happy about this. I, for my part, was not happy about 600mg of ibuprofen three times a day in his zero-body-fat, 95-pound frame. But, with the thought that this would improve his performance and overall health moving forward, we signed on.

For those keeping score at home, we’re now at one surgery for appendix, and one non-surgical medication treatment for non-hernia.

Come August, and it’s surgery time. Daveon goes in and under, and partway through the surgeon comes and finds me. “I’m taking out his appendix, and the scope is also showing a hernia. So I’m going to fix that while I’m in there, OK?”

In other words … the hernia he didn’t have? He had one.

The upshot is, Daveon got everything patched up at once, so file this under “blessing in disguise.” He actually did have a great start to his cross-country season, including his first-ever first-place finish. (The season was cut short for reasons I’ll talk about elsewhere … but for now we’ll celebrate victories.)

I told Daveon he should recommend joint hernia repairs/appendectomies for all his teammates. If the surgeon had a sharp uptick in business over the past three or four years, he has me to thank.

Next: Portrait of an Alterna-Dad: Weird

Pain

One of the hard lessons I have had to learn as a parent is how to somehow get comfortable with pain. I am making this statement as someone who fits the description “pain-avoidant,” although “pain-terrified” might be more appropriate. And I’m not talking about one’s own pain—stubbed toe, heartburn, heart break—that everyone deals with, parent or no.

The pains that are specific to parenthood come in many forms. There is, of course, the pain accrued in your own experience when your kid—consciously or otherwise—rejects you, or defies you, or otherwise does the opposite of whatever would feel good for you in the moment. In other words, the pain you experience most days.

But the pain I’m thinking about here is the pain that your kid experiences, the physical and emotional ailments that you can’t fix, but can only try to support and comfort them through. Of course, watching your kid in pain brings about your own secondary pain—see preceding paragraph.

Though my kids have certainly suffered their share of emotional blows—some of which I write about in other posts—what stands out as a little bit funny, well after the fact of course, is their predilection for major leg injuries. In terms of these injuries, there is clearly some weird sibling energy going on here. Consider:

Over the course of our first year together, on different occasions, one of the kids woke up in the middle of the night screaming with leg pain, which led to a trip to the emergency room. Both visits lasted all night, required x-rays, and turned up nothing. (This, by the way, is usually the answer we get when either kid has a complaint that requires a doctor or hospital visit: nothing Their files under “cause unknown” must be a mile long.) To add that special je ne sais quois to the mix, both (non)emergencies happened the night before a holiday: Daveon on New Year’s Eve (a really, really good time to be in the emergency room, BTW), and Mark the night before his/our birthday. I’ve written before about the relationship for my kids between transition and anxiety—here we had something like a relationship between excitement and psychosomatic shingles.

Two of the other three major injuries the boys have incurred also involved their legs. During an outing in San Francisco, Mark was sliding down a covered slide, caught his foot on the wall of the slide near the bottom, and twisted his leg about 180 degrees. About a year later, during a little league game, Daveon was sliding home, caught his foot on the dirt, and twisted his leg about 180 degrees. Luckily, in neither case did the boys tear anything or cause any lasting damage, and they were both (literally) back on their feet after a few days. But if you ever want to feel your stomach twist about 180 degrees, try watching one of your kid’s body parts get mangled.

For the record, the third major injury was when Mark fractured his wrist. This happened during an afterschool dodge ball game, when the custodian (who I am guessing was older than 11) wanted to show off his strength by whaling the ball at a bunch of 11-year-olds. Mission accomplished: The guy must be pretty strong, because the ball caught Mark in the wrist and splintered it. Unlike the leg mishaps, this one required a cast, which at least gave Mark the chance to get sympathetic signatures from his classmates—and, if there’s any justice in the world, from the custodian. On the bright side, at least I didn’t have to witness this one.

Next: Hernia