Thursday, March 9, 2017

Saying Goodbye

No, not to blogging; though you'd be excused for thinking that, based on my posting rate lately.

Instead, I'm talking about saying goodbye to a long-time friend: our dog Duke. We had known the decision to put him down was coming. It was no surprise. At somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 years, he had already lived a longer life than was probably normal for a dog of his size and assorted minor health issues.

Add to that the fact that his health slowly faded over the last year, and then took a nose dive over the summer. By the time August rolled around he was not doing well. We managed to make him a little peppier, and more comfortable, but there is only so much you can do for a 15-year-old dog with what I'll paraphrase the vet as describing as "either 1 big problem, or 10 little ones."

I had honestly hoped I would just walk down one morning and he would be lifeless. As bad as that would suck, at least I wouldn't have to make the call. But no. Man in the sky love him, the dog who was beside me for three-quarters of my adult life and pretty much 90 percent of my time with my wife, the dog who took countless walks with me and played seemingly endless games of fetch (until they ended) was stayed with us right until the end. He wouldn't be the one to abandon us; we would have to let him go.

So we knew the day was coming. I had already teared up and cried over the decision and situation a couple times. The knowledge was supposed to make it easier. The inevitability supposed to smooth the emotions. At least in my mind. So much for that.

I'll probably never forget the day for a couple reasons. I woke up to my wife informing me that Donald Trump was our next president. So with that bit a joy already percolating, I headed downstairs to let Duke out. By this point in time he had needed help getting up off the floor for about 6 months, maybe longer. So I went over and hoisted him up. He took two steps, collapsed, and pee ran everywhere. So while half our electorate was mourning the election of Donald Trump, I was mourning a different loss.

I made the call I dreaded and took him to the vet later that morning. I'm not ashamed to admit I cried a bunch. Heaping bunches of crying occurred. When I brought him in and the receptionist cheerfully greeted me, during the procedure, afterwards, in my truck. Countless times after that.

The house was quiet for the next month. I'd catch some movement out of the corner of my eye and think it was Duke. I'd watch the yard for him.

Life was a lot empty.

I'm not saying Duke was a lap dog, but...
The crazy part was I kind of expected it to be rough on the kids. As much as Duke has been a part of my life, he has been around their entire life. And its really their first experience with death or the loss of a beloved living thing. So I kind of expected tears, sadness ... something.

But nope. They handled with no problems what so ever. Zilch. The kids are amazing. And sometimes they surprise you. Like when they handle something that seems so monstrous and overwhelming to you with the air and ease of a summer breeze.

I had Duke cremated, because why not? Except it took me approximately two months to even go get his ashes, despite the fact that I was in the area constantly and actually took a couple trips in that direction where the vet was one of my destinations.

But eventually I made it - cried some more - dumped his ashes at the park he loved so much in his younger years. And I cried some more.

An aside here: I'm not a huge crier. Never have been. Now I cry at This Is Us and other sappy things. I blame the kids.

Anyway, I think that is out of my system. I think. Since I teared up writing this damn thing, who knows. But one thing I know: we won't be getting a dog any time soon (or will we?).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

One Thing You Should Stop Doing In 2017

Its January, which means we've turned the page on another year. Usually, that means new leaves overturned and resolutions. I did that last year. I did awful. Some of that is events that transpired in November that I think impacted my writing (No, not the election, but its a story for a different time), but honestly, the failing failed fully before that; likely

*checks stats* Yep; probably before that.

So this year, I'm not doing Better Bryan. Call it a Better Bryan Break. This year, instead, I'm going to make all of YOU better.

How, you ask? Good question.

There is one thing that really bugs as a parent that a LOT of you are doing. And I realize, you are doing this as a kind act. You think this makes you a sweet and nice person and you probably pat yourself on the back a little when it happens. I'm here to tell you, you are secretly impeding the ability to raise safe kids while making my job as parent harder.

Let me set the scene:

I'm crossing the street. With my kids. Its hard enough as I have only two hands and three kids. They are fiveish. Them holding each other's hands, while possible, still isn't really a good option. So I'm stuck usually having two on one hand. Luckily, unlike our current president, I have biggish hands. Hypothesize away about what that means.

So its a journey any way you slice it.

I get the kids situated around me, which requires some orchestra conductor-like work with the patience of a monk and the foresight of a prophet. Who goes where, are they facing the proper direction (no, one is always facing the opposite direction for some reason), and are they going to trip over each other and fall face down during our trip across 2 lanes.

We look left, we look right. Oh look kids, a car is close. Do we cross?

Kids: No Dad.

Dad: Of course we don't because a car is comi...

Except thanks to you, you honest, good-intention having loving, doer of good deeds, we do. Because you just waved me past. Which is fine. I get it. You see a Dad with lots of kids trying to cross an otherwise empty parking lot road and you think, "let me do that guy a solid and let him pass."

I'll ignore/pretend you aren't doing it in a sexist way simply because I'm a Dad and you think I'm overwhelmed. That's a different column.

But what you have done is essentially force me to teach my kids that its OK to cross the street with a car bearing down on them, because it will stop and let them pass. Except they have no idea you waved me on. They don't know to look for that. They can't possibly see it. Or even know to look for it. They don't have the power to look behind you and make sure some idiot isn't going around you.

And I can't wave you past, because my hands are currently tied up with fingers and hand holding. Untying three kids and leaving them anchorless near a street doesn't appeal to me. Partly for danger, and partly because somehow, someway, they will end up unable to reattach and one will inevitably be facing backwards. Sometimes I'll jerk my head for you to pass, but mostly I'll go. Because standing there jerking my head while you do whatever the hell it is your doing is mostly not helping me.

So I beg of you. I know you think you are doing a good thing, but please, just drive past me and let me cross the street after you.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Pregnancy Changes Your Brain

So says this study mentioned at webmd. Your brain evolves to handle the new threat... er... little one.

Ho hum, right? I know. But two things kind of caught my eye.

The first: 
According to study co-director Oscar Vilarroya: "The findings point to an adaptive process related to the benefits of better detecting the needs of the child, such as identifying the newborn's emotional state.
It occurs to me, having had triplets, that "detecting the needs of a child" and its "emotional state" are relatively easy. Early on, the child is either hungry, has pooped, is generally angry, or is content. Generally, if the child is screaming its upset. If the child isn't screaming, its content.

Determining a newborn's emotional state is as simple as reading their face. Is the newborn crying? Its upset. Is it cooing? Newborn is happy. Later, the second one goes away, but the rest generally remain.

Its about that simple with newborns.

At least now my theory that having kids made me a super hero has some serious scientific backing.

I noticed one other thing. And I like how they tack this on at the end. Apparently, if you get pregnant through fertility your brain experiences the same changes. Ground breaking, I know. But its right there:
The changes were similar whether women got pregnant naturally or through fertility treatments.
Really?

I get that its two different methods of conceiving. But this type of thinking is why we parents of multiples get questions about whether we conceived "naturally." Hell yeah it was natural. Why would fertility make one iota of difference? Because the egg and sperm met in a petri dish instead of a Fallopian tube? Because conception was given an scientific assist? Scientists might as well study whether conceiving on a couch, bed, or kitchen counter makes a difference. Honestly.

Monday, November 21, 2016

How Do You Raise Your Daughter In Trump's United States

Ok.

So we moved on and accepted that Trump is president elect (not king).

What now? We can't change the election. So what do we do? For this exercise, lets assume Trump's rhetoric stokes the fire of hatred in the country and his policy proposals are to 1) try to build a wall, 2) imprison Hillary Clinton, 3) deport Mexicans and 4) put Muslims internment camps. For the record, I think 1, 2 and 4 are never going to even get proposed, but lets say they do.

What do we do? We fight those proposals.

Democrats who have been deporting people at record numbers under Obama are going to have to object. Democrats who hated gridlock are going to have to be that gridlock for 2 years, after which structural realities of our politics mean that that Congress will likely fall to the Dems.

And they are going to have to work with Trump. Not every policy of his is bad. He was a Democrat for years and diverges from Republicans on a number of issues.

And we focus on the local. We raise good kids who are nice people. Kids who will grow up to reject this kind of nonesense. Because our future isn't with Trump, its with the kids. Nothing Trump does in his 4 years will have the kind of impact our kids will have.

Which reminds me of a quote from the movie Bad Moms that I'm going to paraphrase: We should be trying to raise nice kids. Our job as parents isn't to raise math geniuses or science whizzes. The reality is that if you when your kid is born, whether they Albert Einstein or a Rufus Dufus is already set. When you brag on Facebook about how your kid is so talented at math you aren't really saying how great a kid he/she is or how great a parent you are. What you are really saying is something like "we got really lucky with genetics." Or maybe "we got a really lucky roll of the dice."

Whether your kid can speak, or add, or do complex theoretical physics is a function of genes and luck. Pretty much every kid learns to speak. Whether they are poetic about it or not is a function of genetics. You can practice and practice and practice, drill and drill and drill, but no amount of work will make your kid Stephen Hawking or Robert Frost.

Nature chooses to bestow those gifts or it doesn't.

As a parent you can help draw it out, sure. But its not like if my parents had just tried a little harder, pushed me a little more, I could do theoretical physics.

I'm just not genetically able to.

But you can make your kid a good person. You can teach them what is right and wrong. To care about people (within reason). You can give them a frame work. You can make sure that the next person with charisma and the ability to impress a crowd with a speech isn't the type of person who makes blanket statements about people who don't look or think like them. The kind of person who won't say insane things simply to get power.

So what do we do? As adults, we fight the good fight, whatever you think that fight is. And as parents you raise good kids. Ones who are caring and insightful.

I'm not going to tell you how to do that. I'm not sure I can. I'm not sure anybody can. But I strongly believe that it starts with not being afraid. If we turn the election of a Donald Trump into a parade of hate, if we pretend his idea for a wall at the Mexican border is something odd and racist in and of itself* we only serve to make our kids afraid of different ideas and different people. If we teach our kids to that we should appreciate the unique thoughts and differences in people, but not those deplorable redneck idiots, we aren't doing our jobs. Replacing racism with xenophobia accomplishes nothing in real terms. And indeed, there is evidence that this country is more xenophobic than racist. Name calling and blanket statements are what must oppose and if that is goal, simply replacing one group with another won't move the ball forward.

That just replaces one type of fear for another.

That isn't the way forward.

* which it isn't, because again, we already have a wall, and a wall for which Hillary Clinton voted in favor. We should be able to have policy discussions about immigration and walls without it being racist.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How You Explain Trump To Your Daughter

I've seen lots of posts about how you explain the election of Donald Trump to your daughter. I'm just not sure what all the anxiety is about.

I say this as a man who didn't like Trump, who didn't vote for Trump, whose wife probably didn't vote for Trump, and whose daughter cried when told "the girl" didn't win. All three of my kids voted for Hillary Clinton in their class' mock election.

So I write this not from the Trump Train in some gloating fashion but with honest and open eyes.

How do you explain this to your daughter? First, it might help if we stopped defining every single life event as if it was the apocalypse. Not every election is the "most important one of our generation," even though someone inevitably trots that out ever stinking year. How am I explaining it? Like I would any election. As this post from Popehat.com suggests: We move on. (Seriously, read the linked article, its awesome).

Elections are won and lost for lots of reasons. I'm firmly in the camp that believes this election was lost when Clinton put half of Trump's voters in a "basket of deplorables." You can argue the truth there. Some of his supporters are certainly racist. He appears to be a misogynist. No matter. You aren't likely to rally voters to your cause by calling his names. And worst, and what I think happened, is that she gave them a badge of honor and fired them up. Its why you see the high rural area turnout. The left prides itself on empathy, but all too often its an in-group empathy. One that feels only for certain poor people, focusing on inner-city poor while mocking  the rural poor. Its how you get people who would never permit name calling in other situations referring to a group as "uneducated red necks."

Coupled with low turnout for her and there you have it folks: President-Elect Trump.

That is a lot for a five-year-old to take in. I realize that. But its reality. Sometimes good people do bad things with the best intentions. Sometimes bad people do good things. Electing Hillary Clinton, who appears in her actions and need for secrecy to share lots with another former president: Richard Nixon, was no promise things would be delightful. Thomas Jefferson, arguably one of the greatest thinkers and founding fathers (and my favorite) held slaves while arguing passionately about the immorality of that practice. The same Dems who loved Bill Clinton now often blame many of his policies for the economic collapse.

But this isn't bad policy. We are talking illegal and immoral here, aren't we. Well, arguably, at best, only two of our last 5 presidents hasn't done something pretty awful on that point either. Bush II arguably lied about the need to invade Iraq. Clinton had his assorted scandals, assaults and alleged rape. Reagan had the Iran-Contra issue. Bush I comes off relatively clean, I suppose. He did have Dan Quale as VP. Obama has Syria and Lybia. You can put them in the "pretty awful" category, and they both are, but I'm not sure they rise to the level of the other scandals; all those are borderline illegal or violate the constitutional. It wasn't so long ago that we were locking up U.S. citizens in concentration camps based on their nationality during WWII.

So yes, we elected Trump; Trump the Democrat who was friends with the Clintons until he was a Republican nominee who wanted to lock her up, until he was President-Elect Trump who said we owed her a great debt for her service. Maybe he will work out, maybe he won't. Personally I think its 60-40 that he won't. But we have had awful people do awful things as president before and survived. You don't have to like the president the person. You don't even have to like him to recognize the good things he or (someday soon) she, does. We are still the country that elected Barak Obama not once but twice.

On last note that might help you explain: We have a very strong system. A system designed to weather these storms and one that has weathered worst in the past. If you think the country or life is over because we elected Trump Tuesday, then you really don't believe in that system, you believe in the cult of personality of the presidency.

So, dear Sadie, or Judy, or Emily, I may think Trump is not a nice man, but that doesn't mean he won't be a good president, or do good things. He won't do anything to you. And I know its confusing, but sometimes good people do bad things and bad people do good things. Its one reason why you can't be quick to judge people.

You celebrate the good and you fight the bad and that doesn't change regardless of who we elect. And always remember, the good old days weren't always good, and tomorrow isn't as bad as it seems.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I Sent My Kids To Get Sick

Something pretty amazing happens every year at this time.

Back to school pics.

Facebook is absolutely flooded with them. At least it is if you are of a certain child-bearing age. Its pretty much a right of passage. First day of Kindergarten, first bus ride (EVER!), first day of high school, college drop off, first job, first day on the job wearing a blue shirt, etc. If  you send kids to school, you almost have to take a pic at this point and post it on Facebook, complete with Pinterest-cutesy sign, or it didn't happen.

Que the 100 likes you'll inevitably receive on that pic. If you aren't posting these, you might as well not have kids. Pics or it didn't happen. 

Or maybe you just really care about your kids.

Because think about what those pictures really are.Those cutesy "first day of school" pictures are really "I sent my kid to go get sick" pictures.

After we sent our kids off to school this year (obligatory pics take and posted!), it took them all of a week and a scant few days to come down with some unnamed illness. They passed that around to each other over the subsequent days, and then shared with Mom and Dad.

In their defense, we do emphasis the need to share things you don't want or aren't using any longer.

What all those pictures are really celebrating is a Hunger Games-style test of your child's immune system. You might as well write "First Day Of Immune System Training" on that Pinterest-cutesy sign. Because that is what it is.

People (some, not all) are scared to give their kids vaccines or sugar or chemicals, but will gladly and compliantly send their kids into a sickness battleground, knowingly and willingly giving their kids ailments that will transfer to the entire household.

That is some messed up thing to celebrate.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The 5 Things Every New Parent MUST KNOW

1) Babies are essentially fool proof. They will feed when they want, walk when they want, talk when they want. Almost nothing you do will change that. You can worry endlessly over this and that and the other, but relax and you'll have a better time.

2) Who you are, genetically speaking, probably matters a lot more than what you do. At conception your kid has the genes to have a certain IQ. You can nurture that or degrade it, but otherwise, its fairly set. Your kid's genes also affect whether he will be driven or lack focus. Twin studies confirm this. So you if your genes connect in the right way and you get a smart, driven kid out of the dice roll, pretty much nothing you can do will change that.

3) Your kid faces more of a risk of injury from being a passenger in a car than from vaccines. Vaccinate your kids.

4) You'll get an amazing amount of advice. Notice I didn't say amazing advice. Pretty much everyone who is anyone, especially if they have or ever had kids, will give your their thoughts. Feel free to ignore them. Each kids is different and pretty much no strategy works on every kid. There are a few broad strokes you can paint, but the nitty gritty specifics are unique to each kid. Get a routine, stick to it. It helps you. Set a bed time and keep to it. It helps both you and baby.

5) Parenting is hard. Its unlike anything you've ever done, so you are completely unprepared for it. Thankfully, as I've said above, its also somewhat hard to mess up. You'll have days when pretty much everything goes wrong and you feel like a complete failure. Welcome to the club.