Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Single Child Equation: When Parents Just Aren't Enough Fun

Wanted: One child, part-time only, flexible hours. Ages 5-7, girl preferred, though boys who like American Girl doll play will be considered. Must be available for play dates, excursions, dinner with grown-ups. Sleep-over expertise desirable. All snack, outing, and transportation expenses covered; no reciprocation required.
If there was such a thing as "Craig's List for Parents of Only Children," that would be my ad. You will notice that I am not actually seeking a second, just a loaner, a child we would happily return to her rightful family as needed. In the music world, she would be called a "ringer": someone who fills in whenever an orchestra wishes; though this performer's talents are much appreciated at show time, she is meant to pack her violin and move along afterward.
We need a ringer because, as our only child gets older, it has become clear to her that two 40-something men are not as consistently fun as kids her own age. This wasn't always an issue: When she was a baby, I strapped her on and took her everywhere for stimulation --sing-a-longs, parks, the local mom's group. When she was a preschooler, we spent most of our time with dear friends whose kids she'd known since babyhood. But when they moved away, it became painfully obvious how much their children had acted as proxy siblings for our gal.
It's not like she can't get one dad or the other to sit on the floor and enact elaborate serial dramas involving Barbie talent shows. But there comes a point when pretend-play fatigue sets in. And we adults reach that point long before she does. The truth is that I have about an hour limit on voicing the emotional dilemmas of dolls of any kind (not to mention their assorted dogs, cats, and horses). My husband is not much better, which leads us to a math problem: The Single Child Equation...
Read the rest HERE at Huffington Post.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Two from my new gig at Huffington Post

How to Guarantee Your Children Won't be Teased. (Hint: Don't have any)

Of all the reasons I've heard from people who oppose same-sex parenting, perhaps the most oft-repeated concern is that having gay or lesbian caregivers sets up a lifetime of trauma for the child who will endure teasing about the comparative oddity of her family. As one person recently asked, "Did you ever think about the needs of the child?"

This is an interesting logic and, I suppose, at least premised on a fair understanding of the nature of children: kids can indeed be cruel little beasts and any perceived difference or weakness is ripe for mockery. Where the claim falls short is the implied message that the only people who deserve to parent are those who can guarantee that their children will not be mocked.

I hate to break it to you, but those people don't exist.

Read the rest HERE.

Do Ask, I'll Tell: Gay Dads at Back-to-School Time

The Hello Kitty backpack is ready, as are the Justin Bieber notebook and the shiny purple pencil box freshly larded with Ticonderoga #2s. All that's left now is to pack the first lunch and saddle up for the first day of school drop-off, knowing that our simple presence will provide an education of its own. As the only two-dad family in an elementary school with almost 500 kids, we become the default face of same-sex parenting for some of the children and their caregivers. And that's OK -- when we filled out paperwork to adopt six years ago, we literally signed up for this.

Last year, soon after Kindergarten started, my husband and I eagerly attended Parent Night together. Anyone at this event had no trouble figuring out the relationship between the dude in the leather jacket and the guy in the foofy scarf. But once the semester was well underway, it was rare for anyone to see both dads at once. My husband did all the drop-offs and most pick-ups, while I was the one volunteering in the classroom and organizing after school play dates for my daughter. Some of her classmates' parents only ever saw her with him, while others only saw her with me. Not surprisingly, both of us dads got asked about our wives and we both cheerfully referenced our husbands in reply. That linguistic substitution was usually all it took for our fellow Kindergarten parents to adopt our language.

Occasionally, this prompted an outpouring of curiosity. When one mom commented that she hadn't seen me on the playground the day before, I said that my husband usually did pick-up. As if primed, she pounced on the distinction. "How did YOU get to be the wife?"

Read my answer and the rest of the article HERE.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Family Vacations Are Hell! (Let's have another.)

The pictures from our summer vacation tell a lovely story: The water is sparkling and the skies are clear. My husband strides through the surf in a sort of Daniel Craig-as-James Bond pose. My daughter digs a moat in the sand to protect her castle from the tide. And though I’m usually behind the camera, even I made into a few photos, looking tan and happy in each.

But the photos lie. The best thing about these snapshots is that no one can hear all the screaming.

Family travel can be exhausting, even maddening. But you’d never know that from the online slideshows and Facebook photo albums we all post. In the digital age, it’s easy to cull a few excellent shots from a thousand, weeding out the 990 images that show the rest of the story.  That sparkling water was 60 degrees; my daughter set foot in it on the first afternoon only and never again; and my husband bickered with her so much that the only smiling photos of me were both taken in the last 18 hours of the trip, when I knew it would soon be over.

When we returned from the coast and friends asked about the trip, I was honest, which led them in turn to tell their own Bad Family Vacation stories. The basic outlines were always the same: parents and children clashing over itinerary and schedule, as the children refused to simply play along with adult expectations of how vacations should be.  Travel made longer by whining, meltdowns ruining a long-planned outing, wired children keeping grumpy parents awake all night—whatever the last straw was, there always came a moment when the grown-ups threatened to end the vacation early or, failing that, to never again take another trip all together.

Yet all these travel horror stories had one more thing in common: the parents were already planning the next trip anyway. What makes us such gluttons for punishment?

It’s a little like childbirth: just as the memory of body-ripping pain is eventually dulled enough by time to make (some) women feel like doing it again, the tear-your-hair-out insanity of a trip gone awry fades the further you get from it. In both cases, this softening of memory is a kind of alchemy performed by the children themselves. When they kiss you goodnight, show you their new dance step, or unveil a finished Lego tower, they’re quietly rounding off all the sharp edges that come with family life.  Little oxytocin delivery systems that they are, they inspire our best impulses, and make us crave more quality time with them—which, in theory, a family vacation provides. 

The problem is that most vacations—even ones we ostensibly plan for the kids—are about grown-ups. The adults typically pick the destination, plan the itinerary, and sweat the cost, and then hold the kids accountable for enjoying themselves. I’ve heard countless stories about family fights breaking out because a parent’s version of the “ideal” vacation was not being met, even though the children had never been consulted about whether that ideal was very appealing to them.  While, on the one hand, it is perfectly understandable for a grown-up to feel entitled to make the primary decisions about the vacation, not factoring in the needs and wants of your children is a recipe for blow-ups.

This year, we didn’t plan a family vacation until the last minute. We settled on three days on the coast of Maine, but didn’t book a hotel until we knew the weather forecast. While that meant we could guarantee maximum beach time, it also made for an expensive room, which ramped up the pressure. If we didn’t get 72 hours of wave-jumping, sandcastle-building bliss, we dads wouldn’t feel like we’d gotten our money’s worth.

For our daughter, however, vacation requires only two things. The first, and most important, is access to an indoor swimming pool, where she could happily frolic till blue. The second requirement is receiving ten bucks of “mad money” to spend on a souvenir, a sudden cash flow which turns her into a precision machine of focus as she compares prices on small toys.  As soon as she’s made her purchase, it’s all over but the swimming.

The inevitable clash of ideals was immediate. During the drive north, she said, “No!” so often and about so many things that, before we even arrived, I snapped that the grown-ups were making all the decisions. That’s an enforceable position, but not a tenable one; by the next day, I knew I needed to work harder on considering everyone’s needs equally, but by this point my husband had been pushed so far over the edge by the arguments, that he dug in his heels. I spent the remaining days running interference between a man insisting on his notion for vacation and a girl insisting on hers.

Not every trip goes like this, but we’ve had enough similar experiences that I’m finally getting the message: Vacations are not a time to insist on playing “My Way or the Highway.” You can’t force someone else to enjoy any activity just because your sense of vacation propriety demands it.

Beyond that, you have to be willing to acknowledge that much of what makes a vacation so appealing to adults—a real break from the daily routine—is what makes vacations so rough on kids, especially younger ones who thrive on predictability. If you start by accepting that transitions may be bumpy and that everyone (including you) might be thrown off, then you can work harder on relaxing your grip. Your child’s needs don’t have to run the show, but the same is true for you: you shouldn’t have to be in control every minute to enjoy yourself.

The greatest skill of all is letting go of the ideal long enough to make the most of the real. What startles me the most about the simplicity of that lesson is that I already knew it; in my first book, I described the exact same learning curve for couples. So why couldn’t I remember that logic when I became a parent? Blame it on lack of sleep or the million demands crowding my Papa brain, but at least I’ve gotten the memo now. I’ll let you know if it sticks…right after our next vacation.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie: Papa and the Small Bikini

When did I become such a prude? This was the question when Diva and I opened the box of summer clothes sent by a relative -- and I saw the teenie weenie bikini. A napkin's worth of hot pink and orange fabric, its arrival sent my 6-year-old into paroxysms of delight. She squealed; I reeled.

It was just a bathing suit and not even her first two-piece, but this was the real deal -- not a tankini, not a shorts-and-top set, but a bikini with a low rise and a string tie bandeau. She immediately declared that this was a "big kid" suit, unwittingly putting her finger on the very reason her dads were not over the moon about this outfit.

As she wriggled into it, her long and lean build presented a challenge: The suit might scream "big kid" but it sure didn't say "tall girl." The top was a few inches wide at best, which meant it just barely covered her nipples. The bottom had such a narrow rise that you could see the top of her hip sockets.

According to the label, this tiny ensemble was actually a size too big for her. I had to wonder: What exactly did the smaller versions look like? Color-coordinated Band-Aids and dental floss?

The timing couldn't have been more perfect for Diva: This was was the first day hot enough to use our new blow-up pool. Not surprisingly, she wanted to wear her new bikini, and I told her she could, but I only said yes because we were staying at home.

As she splashed around in the water, the picture of exuberant near nakedness, I couldn't help but be glad that we weren't at a beach with crowds of strangers seeing, well, so much Diva.

My visceral response to the bikini prompted a little soul-searching. If I was visiting a country in Scandinavia or Europe where women swim topless, or pausing by a pond in Germany where skinny-dipping was all the rage, I wouldn't find anything particularly scandalous about nudity. And there is nothing inherently provocative about Diva's body, which is that of a child, just a long rubber band in motion. So it wasn't the flesh that bothered me -- it was the bikini itself. And what sense did that make?

Read the rest at AOL Parentdish.com

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It's Not You, It's Us

Remember dating? And that most awkward of moments, the end of an evening when it was clear not everyone had enjoyed the experience equally?

Your date would ask the question, "What are you doing next weekend?" And, instead of saying "avoiding you," you'd stay pleasantly vague. "Ooh, sorry. I think I'm busy." For that matter, you'd be busy the weekend after that, too. Suddenly, your calendar was just packed.

Marriage is supposed to put all that behind you, right? Not if you have children. For every time your kid makes a new friend, you end up doing the getting-to-know-you-waltz all over again with a new set of parents. It's a little like having a 40-inch yenta stubbornly pushing you toward an endless series of blind dates. And if you think chemistry is hard to predict between two people, just try making it work with four...

Continue reading here at Parentdish.com

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fathers' Day--the Plural form

On Sunday, my household will observe a holiday that is somehow universal and statistically rare all at once: Fathers' Day. Note the location of the apostrophe, indicating the plural possessive form, which is to say two dads but only one day.

We've been celebrating (and punctuating) this way for six years now, since Diva was a peanut small enough to rest comfortably in the space between my palm and elbow. In the years since, we've gotten quite an education about what society thinks a father is and is not. Based on my not-especially-scientific reading of all the relevant cultural indicators -- commercials, sitcoms, and the greeting card aisle at CVS -- we've become aware of the following definitions.

Father (noun, singular)

1. Parent who does all or most of the following: throws a ball; plays golf; farts copiously; watches sports; thinks he's a stud if he can make pancakes; uses tools to fix (or claim to fix) broken things; buys women jewelry at the last second before a birthday, anniversary or holiday; and says "ask your mother" without interrupting what he is doing.

2. Parent who cannot do any of the following: sew; dance without embarrassing all parties present; cook a meal not involving pancakes; choose a decent outfit from the current decade to save his life; please the woman he bought the jewelry for; or understand why he has not pleased that same woman.

By this definition, Diva might as well be fatherless...

Read the rest HERE at Parentdish.Com

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Meant to Be: A Letter to My Daughter on Her Birthday

Long ago, before there was you, when Daddy was not yet Daddy and I was not yet Papa, he and I promised each other that someday we would be parents. We had a wedding and bought a house, but then let more than a decade pass while we waited to be "ready" for a child. (We didn't realize there is no ready, only willing.)

In the early fall of our 11th year together, Daddy's beloved Nana passed away, one week after deciding it was her time to go. But first, she'd called her children and their children to her bedside, sharing her love one last time and commanding us all to live full, happy lives.

When Nana died, Daddy and I both felt something stirring inside, a clear impulse that it was time to move forward with our plans to adopt a baby, adding a new life to the now smaller family. Many of the people who would become your relatives, godmothers and aunties were thrilled when we announced this decision.

But my own mother didn't think God approved of two men raising a child, an opinion also shared by the governor of our home state and some of the most prominent men in the land. The doubters didn't stop us: Our course was set...

Read the rest here at AOL's ParentDish.com, in The Family Gaytriarch's, the nation's first mainstream media same-sex parenting column.

A Piece of Unsolicited Advice: Don't Offer Any

My friend Gwen was taking a stroll, her sleeping 1-year-old daughter Lola pressed to her chest in a baby sling. It was a lovely day, the nicest so far in a too-late spring, and Gwen was thrilled to be out of the house. A Friendly Stranger rolled up alongside her on his bicycle, cooing over Lola before asking, "How old is she?"

When Gwen answered, Friendly Stranger asked if he could "say something." He was already "saying something," so the phrase was just a euphemism for his real intention. Like a preacher at a revival, he lectured Gwen.

"Your problem is that your daughter is facing the wrong way. She has to face out at this age."

Until that moment, Gwen had been unaware that she had any "problem" or that this wasn't a casual chat. But she played it cool.

"Lola likes to sleep this way."

The cyclist's voice rose. "But she's too OLD! You CAN'T let her do that any more!"

Gwen's a writer and a lawyer -- she could have verbally sliced up the Less-Friendly Stranger, but instead she tried to de-escalate the situation.

"I'm aware there are a lot of opinions on this, but I'm comfortable that she'll be fine."

"You're going to DEFORM her! Her neck will be TWISTED!"

Gwen's jaw tightened. "OK. You've shared your opinion. Move along."

The decidedly Un-Friendly Stranger did roll off, but not before shouting: "This is ABUSE! They should TAKE THAT CHILD AWAY FROM YOU." And thus ended Gwen's lovely morning.

Is there anything your average parent wants less than unsolicited advice?
And, yet, we all get it...

You can read the rest here at AOL's ParentDish.com in The Family Gaytriarchs, the nation's first mainstream media same-sex parenting column.

The Men in the Mirror: Modern Family & Me

Question: Where can I find the following family?

Two gay dads -- one slender and uncomfortable offering public displays of affection, the other hefty and prone to flamboyant gestures. Add one adopted daughter of another race, the youngest member of an extended family whose senior patriarch is remarried to a younger woman, which makes him now the parent of a child close in age to his grandchildren. Need a hint? Their wacky adventures are broadcast on Wednesdays.

Answer: I just have to look in the mirror.

You can read the rest here at AOL's ParentDish.com in The Family Gaytriarchs, the nation's first mainstream media same-sex parenting column.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Where babies--and tongue-tied papas--come from

"How do babies get out of a mommy's tummy?"

Like so many incredibly loaded topics, this question arrived over dinner. Diva was then 4, a preschooler whose primary understanding of adult female anatomy came from Barbie. We'd been joined for supper by Diva's Auntie Mikey, to whom she addressed the question, but since we hadn't been talking about either uteruses or Angelina Jolie, Mikey's jaw fell open in surprise.

Our general philosophy is to tell the truth in the simplest terms. We'd long ago settled on the idea that, when the time came, we'd neither stigmatize nor aggrandize the subject of sex. We just didn't expect to that moment to arrive while our daughter was still watching "Sesame Street"...

Read the rest at AOL ParentDish, in The Family Gaytriarchs blog, the nation's first mainstream media same-sex parenting column.