Positive Parenting From Negative Parents

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine about our respective childhoods, comparing notes, in a way. While our upbringings were very different, they were thematically the same. Our motivation to do good -- or to not do bad -- was the same: fear.

Fear is fear is fear. Whether it stems from years being locked under a staircase or the sting of a belt or fabricated stories about people who will harm you, fear is fear is fear. There may be other problems that stem from the impetus for that fear, but that feeling itself is the same no matter where it comes from.

Entire generations of adults were raised through fear, through negativity.

My hometown has trick or treating on the Sunday closest to Halloween during the day. Everyone I have ever met from anywhere else in the country is been confused by this. But in 1981 a boy named Adam Walsh was kidnapped and murdered and kids going door to door at night was no longer considered safe, so my hometown decided to take precautions.

Part of it was the times; we were all prepared for nuclear war at any moment. Part of it was that the generations before us were raised with a very strict set of rules. But at some point the best way to get children to behave was through fear.

More often than not, it worked. I've led a pretty responsible life. I passed on a lot of chances because I was afraid of what could possibly happen, but I never got into much trouble.

There are, ultimately, two ways to motivate people: through negativity or through positivity. Negativity will get faster results and is much easier, but usually has unintended side effects. Positivity can take much, much longer, but the side effects are things like self-esteem and confidence. So it's probably worth the extra time and effort.

And not to sound like a hippy, but positivity is always the best course of action. Positivity will ultimately get the best out of people.

I think my generation realized that at some point. I think we decided that we needed to raise our children in a different way. We decided to try positivity.

The problem is that none of us really speaks that language.

You then get a generation of parents who were raised on negativity trying to raise their children on positivity yet lacking the necessary skills to do so. More often than not, if we mess up it will be in overcompensating.

And this is how we get to endless internet articles on spoiled, entitled children and helicopter parents. This is how we get to mindless jokes about participation trophies (which have actually been around for 40 years, but we didn't have the internet then).

We don't want our children to live in fear so we do whatever we can to prevent that, even if we end up making mistakes in the other direction - as we should. Because you know what the world will take away from you? Self-esteem. Confidence. Naivete. You know it will give you? Fear. Humility.

Shrinking an ego is infinitely easier than growing one.

I understand that we run the risk of raising a generation of spoiled, entitled jerks, but I think that's a chance we should take. Fear is the great enemy. Fear is the source of our misery. We have to do something.

For my part, I ask a lot of questions and read a lot of articles. I look for advice from people who know better. And perhaps that's the lesson: we really can't do this alone.

Each generation has the opportunity to do better for the next. That's not a chance that any of us should waste.

Kyle Reviews Cartoons: Blaze and the Monster Machines

My four year old son says things like "tensile strength" and "momentum" correctly. He builds things and discusses whether they're stable or not. He talks about combustion and and angles. None of that is all the time, mind you, and is generally buried under pretending to be a cat and telling me to do voices for all the Cars characters.

Still.

The concepts I mentioned are pretty big for a four year old (a three year old, really, as he started talking about them at least a year ago) and they didn't come from me or his mother. They came from Blaze and the Monster Machines.

There is a lot of like about Blaze and the Monster Machines, which airs on Nick, Jr. It has some really catchy, pop songs about things like structural engineering, trajectory, and potential energy. It's kind of insane, really, but they are educational ear worms, probably only second to Bubble Guppies in their quality.

The theme song is also pretty good.

For those who don't know, Blaze is a monster truck, the fastest monster truck, and he and his driver AJ have adventures, most of which involve winning races. They are joined by their monster truck friends: Starla, Zeg, Darrington, and Stripes. The main "bad guy" is a monster truck named Crusher who constantly cheats. Crusher has a best friend named Pickle whose only flaw is that he always tries to think the best of Crusher.

Blaze is the only monster truck with a driver for some reason (more on this in a minute). Blaze having a driver makes sense: he's a kid that serves as the doorway character for the audience. I just don't know why none of the other monster trucks have drivers or think it's weird that Blaze has one. I suppose it's a matter of limiting the number of characters.

All of Blaze's friends have unique qualities: Starla is a cowgirl, Zeg is a dinosaur (truck), Darrington does stunts (DARINGton), and Stripes is a tiger (truck). They all have a hook. Blaze's hook is that whenever he needs it, he can turn on his "blazing speed," which he can also give to others. This is why he always wins everything.

(Blaze is also able to turn himself into whatever kind of vehicle he needs to be to get past any and all obstacles, but that is an entirely different issue.)

 Below Blaze, l to r: Starla, Stripes, Zeg, and Darrington

Below Blaze, l to r: Starla, Stripes, Zeg, and Darrington

The show has two main problems, the first of which is probably glossed over by people who watch it: Blaze always wins.

I appreciate that Blaze is super cool and kids love him, but having him always win is the wrong message, particularly given that he often races with/against his friends. It regularly drives me batty that he always win. It's okay if he loses and kids need to know that because they are going to lose sometimes, too.

The other problem is a bit bigger. I mentioned Blaze's friends. Only one of them (Starla) is female, at least based upon the pronouns that are used. You can probably guess what color truck Starla is.

Yes, she's pink.

And of the seven monster machines on the show, she's the only girl.

The show tries to offset this with Gabby, who is the mechanic for all the monster machines. It's great that the person who fixes all the trucks is a girl; she's clearly smarter than the other human on the show, AJ. But she's not in every episode and even when she is, it's a supporting role.

Recently, the show introduced a new monster machine, another girl, named Watts. And you will never guess what color SHE is.

Yes, she's pink - well, magenta. She has electric wheels, though, so I guess that's better? And Gabby gets to be her driver, although the fact that Gabby has to be the driver of a female truck is a bit problematic, too.

 Blaze and Watts

Blaze and Watts

I've come to realize, though, that fighting the gender portrayal battle against cartoons is not one I'm going to win any time soon, so the best I can do is off set it in all other aspects of my son's life.

That sadly common fault aside, Blaze is a good show. The songs are super catchy and the STEM focus gets through to kids, or at least it does in my son's case. It's also a fully realized world, with pirates, a sphynx, a city full of race cars, an island full of animal trucks, and much more.

The toys are super cheap, too.

If I were creating some kind of ranking system for kids' shows, I'd put Blaze in the same tier as Paw Patrol. It's smarter, but it's hard to compete with the appeal of those talking dogs.

Kyle Reviews Cartoons: Paw Patrol

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Paw Patrol is like a drug addiction.

At first, it seemed harmless enough. In fact, it was actually kind of nice. But then you get in deeper and deeper and eventually you realize that it's sucking away your entire life.

Okay, maybe it's not that bad.

But there was a time when Paw Patrol seemed, I don't know, more innocent?

My son didn't watch many cartoons. The extent of his TV viewing up until that point was mostly Baby Einstein, Sesame Street, and Blue's Clues, which thrilled me to no end as I love me some Blue's Clues. He was also already obsessed with Cars and perhaps that's why Paw Patrol seemed so wonderful: his newfound love of the pups would at least temper his passion for Cars.

We played an episode of Paw Patrol for him months earlier, but he didn't respond to it. I don't know, maybe he wasn't old enough, maybe he was still too fascinated with Elmo, maybe the computer animation was outside the scope of his reality. But he didn't take to it. He didn't care.

Somehow, some way, we showed him another episode some time later. I have to assume it was out of desperation: he doesn't watch a ton of television, but he watches the same shows over and over again. Maybe we thought we could mix things up a bit by adding in some Paw Patrol.

We were doomed.

For those who do not have toddlers, Paw Patrol is a computer animated show that airs on Nick, Jr. It is produced in Canada and all of the main characters say "sore-y."

The main characters in question are a young man named Ryder and his team of highly trained talking dogs.

It's a fun show, don't get me wrong. It takes place in the fictional town of Adventure Bay which apparently has no public services to speak of, so they have to turn to a kid who lives in a tower and his pets to take care of pretty much everything. Car accident? Paw Patrol will save you. Water main burst? Paw Patrol. Trapped in a cave? Paw Patrol.

Besides their human leader, Ryder, the rest of the Paw Patrol is made up of Chase, Marshal, Rubble, Zuma, Rocky, and Sky. They're all dogs. Sky is the only female. She wears pink. But she's also the only one who can fly (or she was until recently).

The Paw Patrol is marketing for kids to the extreme. Each dog has their own color (six of the seven colors of the rainbow). Each has their own specialty which comes with not only a pack that can do things (Rubble's pack has a shovel, Chase's pack can shoot a net), but with a dog house that turns into a vehicle.

You've got the complete package there: anthropomorphic characters, clearly defined roles connected to colors, and gadgets. It's the perfect storm of kids TV.

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Paw Patrol also has one of the greatest theme songs in children's television history, which means that it is evil. I have gone weeks with that song in my head. I know every word. I've even learned how to play most of it on the guitar just to make my son happy.

The main problem with Paw Patrol is that it's never ending, which means each season they need to come up with new ways to keep the kids entertained, which invariably involves coming up with new vehicles and gadgets for the pups. The Paw Patrol has a large RV type vehicle that they can travel in. So if they have a land vehicle, shouldn't they have an air one? Thus the Air Patroller was born. But wait, if we have the land and the air covered, what about the water? And so we got the Sea Patroller.

But what if they go to the jungle? Shouldn't they have special outfits for that? And special vehicles? What if they get new packs that allow them to fly? Maybe there should be more pups? How about a bilingual pup? Or another girl!

That last point is a tricky one. The Paw Patrol falls into the same out dated trope as nearly every other cartoon: the girl character has to wear pink. Not only that, but Sky was originally the ONLY girl on the team, the TOKEN girl, if you will. Someone somewhere must have pointed this out to the creators, so eventually Everest was added, although she's not in every episode.

It's easy to hate the Paw Patrol. The characters are relentlessly cheery and naive, the show has a basic formula it repeats every episode, and the Paw Patrol are EVERYWHERE. They are toddler crack.

But in an era where every studio thinks it can produce a computer animate show, the Paw Patrol looks pretty darn good. As the show evolved, the creators really started to embrace the idea that the computer generated animation was meant to feel like claymation and it really shows. Compared to shows on PBS or even the Disney channel, the Paw Patrol is a work of art.

Sure, I've spent a lot of time over analyzing the show. The pups are often facing off against an eagle, and given the show is produced in Canada, I feel like that must be a subtle jab against the U.S. Rider is supposed to be 10, but he's clearly the same age as Katie, who runs her own pet grooming store, and seemingly older than Daring Danny X, who does ridiculous stunts that he would have to at least be a teenager to perform (he's also a horrible, horrible addition to the show). There is a statue of Mayor Goodway's ancestor in the middle of town, which suggests that the position of mayor is handed down like royalty. That ancestor also looks exactly like Mayor Humdinger, the mayor of Foggy Bottom, Adventure Bay's rival town. Why?

I could go on.

As far as TV for toddlers is concerned, Paw Patrol isn't bad, which is good, considering that it is everywhere and completely unavoidable. And at the very least the show teaches kindness. Problematic gender roles aside, kindness always wins the day, powered by friendship, and there are worse lessons a toddler could learn.

Ultimately, Paw Patrol gets a thumbs up from me. Let your kids watch it, just be prepared for the rabbit hole you'll find yourself in.

Parents: Use your phone as much as you fucking want

As much as it pains me to use the current hip vernacular, I'm going to: parent shaming.

At one point, I think the focus for parent shaming was screen time, as in how much time your child can spend staring at a screen of some kind. But there have been inconclusive scientific studies on that front, so it's not as sturdy as some other parent shaming options.

Diet? Sugar is the heroin of toddlers, after all.

Education? The best time to learn a second (or third!) language is at the age of two, you know.

Culture? Listening to an opera would be so much more stimulating than listening to the Cars soundtrack (again).

But, no, those options are somewhat narrowly targeted and, for many parents, easily avoidable. What, then? What is something that every parent does that can be ridiculed by those who wish to feel superior?

Cell phones.

Boom.

You use your cell phone when your child is with you? That is shocking -- shocking, I say! Your child is going to think you care more about your cell phone than you do about your own precious little angel!

It is impressive how many parents take to the internet to rail away against the evils of using your cell phone when your child is present, pretending as if they're doing it to somehow help other parents. I can't imagine a single parent reads these articles and suddenly changes their ways. No, they're written so the writer can feel superior.

I know full well how tempting it is to use a device as a baby sitter. I also know that there are other toys which can do roughly the same thing while allowing your child to control the creativity. That said, I don't begrudge anyone who's in a position where a device is their best option. I know too many single parents to think that a tablet can't be a life saver.

But let's get back to parents using cell phones.

I understand the basic concept behind the complaint, the idea that kids will think that they are less deserving of your attention because you are looking at your phone all the time. But consider that thought. Think about how much the average parent has to do with their child over the course of any given day. It would be physically impossible to spend more time on your device than interacting with your child. They are tiny tyrants who need you to survive. A cell phone isn't going to dress them or take them to school or get them to bed. A cell phone isn't going to comfort them when they get hurt or help them through some strong emotions. We have few moments that aren't controlled by these kids and very, very few of those moments can be solved by cell phones.

So if your kid is playing and you decide to check Facebook, where, exactly, is the harm? If your child needs you, you're there. But your child doesn't always need you and, honestly, it's probably good for them to realize that. "Hey, child of mine, you're doing fine on your own and I trust that you can scoop sand into a bucket without me watching you like a hawk, so you do your thing, I'll be right over here if you need me."

The crazy thing about it is that if there's another parent shaming method out there, it's the "helicopter parent" who is always hovering around their child, never letting the kid do things on their own.

So if it's bad for us to follow our kids around and obsessive over them and it's bad for us to do other things while we're with our kids, then what, exactly, are we supposed to do?

I am overly sensitive about my son knowing how much he means to me. I tell him constantly. It's a whole thing. So at some point early on in his life I decided that if I'm going to use my smart phone around him, I'm going to tell him why I'm doing it. I want him to understand why looking at this tiny screen would be something I would want to do while he's eating dinner or or watching cartoons.

So I say things like "let's see if mama has left work yet" or "let's see what the weather is going to be like" or "grandma sent me a message." I try to explain what social media is, but he does't seem to care. In fact, he doesn't really care about any of that, but I feel like telling him what I'm doing at least helps him realize that there's a purpose, that I'm not just looking at my phone for no reason.

I explained this to a therapist who works with children and she told me it was genius, so I'm running with it.

Here's the thing: being a parent is hard. I realize that's like complaining that your diamond shoes are too tight, but it is what it is. And sometimes you can only take so much Paw Patrol or so much doing funny voices before you need a break, and in today's day and age, a break is looking at your phone. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

So for those who are thinking about telling other parents they need to stop using their phones so much around their children: don't. Get off your high horse and just let a fellow parent be. We are all stumbling through this together and the last thing any of us needs is someone giving us shit for looking at Facebook while our kid is crashing cars into each other.

Go to town, parents. Use your phones as much as you want. I don't have the answers for that and I'm not stupid enough to think that I do.

What I said when my son asked me what make-up was

I stopped myself.

I almost answered with the first thing that came into my head, but made a change before anything came out of my mouth. That change was not using the word "women."

I'm assuming he heard the term "make-up" from my wife, probably that morning as she was getting ready for work, which meant he had to ask me about it on the way to school. So, of course, my wife was on my mind when I started to answer. But I managed to modify my answer before it came out of my mouth.

"Make-up is something people put on their face to make it look different," was my answer, or at least as close to it as I can remember.

"Do you remember that clip we saw of the boy whose face was made to look like Rubble? That was make-up."

Rubble is a member of the Paw Patrol and the clip was on the Nick, Jr. app. It was a short video of a make-up artist painting the boy to look like Rubble, a dog.

It's a legitimate question to ask why I stopped myself. At the time, it was because I don't want my son to grow up assuming that only women can wear make-up. I don't honestly know any men that wear make-up, but I know they exist and I don't want my son thinking of them any differently.

But afterwards, I realized that I was more concerned about the idea of teaching him that women wear make-up. Yes, women can wear make-up, just like men can wear make-up, but they don't HAVE to. I mean, socially speaking they do which is a problem, but I want him to know that it's not something he should assume.

I realize, of course, that his 3 year old brain will probably not hold on to my explanation. And, really, my answer was less for him than for me. It forced me to think about the answer.

I'm trying my hardest not to instill in him the same assumptions that were introduced to me growing up. To say that my father was opinionated would be an understatement, but I know I have that within me, too. I have very strong opinions and I'm not shy about sharing them. But I don't want to put any of that on my son. I want him to walk into the world with as few preconceived notions as possible.

I'm left wondering how often such issues are going to come up (frequently) and how well I'm going to deal with them. I caught myself this time, but what if I don't the next?

Which is, I think, why it's important that I did catch myself this time, even though my son is only three. This is practice. This is preparation for the coming years when he takes my comments to heart, when my opinions start to influence his way of thinking.

I think the fact that I'm thinking about any of this at all is a good sign.

YouTube is ruining our children

My son calls YouTube "The Red" because the screen with the logo when you open the app is red. "I want to watch something on The Red," he says.

I hate The Red.

I won't, for a minute, complain that YouTube is ruining my child because I have the ability to do exactly what I did this afternoon -- remove the app from our Roku. I told my son that The Red had gone away and that was answer enough for him.

For what it's worth, The Red had gone away before, but my wife accidentally stumbled across it again while looking for a Disney app and my son saw it and presto! Cries for The Red started up all over again.

The shockingly elaborate videos of people making stories with various action figures are fine. Some of them are really well done. And, honestly, what could be cooler than seeing different types of toys interacting. Nothing beats seeing Lightning McQueen on an adventure with the Paw Patrol.

Those types of videos are only a problem because they are of random and various lengths of time. The nice thing about a regular old cartoon is that I can say to my son, "one episode while I make dinner" and I know exactly how much time I have to get food on the table - and he knows exactly when he'll have to stop.

No, the problem is the "kids getting toys" genre of YouTube video.

I could suggest that kids watching other kids getting a ton of new toys is a bad thing if only because it makes them want those new toys for themselves. But, again, I can control these things. The Red went away. I'm an adult.

No, the children who are being ruined by YouTube are the ones IN the videos.

I cannot even fathom how ill-equipped for reality these children are going to be as they get older. The sky is the limit for what incredible d-bags they could become. We are going to have to come up with new words for their degree of entitlement -- megatitlement, perhaps. These videos are just that crazy.

And while some of these videos may be filled with toys that were sent to these families by their respective manufacturers, that doesn't change the fact that these kids are still being spoiled rotten. Two dozen new Paw Patrol toys are still two dozen new Paw Patrol toys regardless of who pays for them.

Manufacturers will only send free toys to people who make videos with a certain number of subscribers. So not only are these children spoiled, but they are internet famous, which cannot be a healthy combination.

Basically, YouTube is creating a small army of small jerks.

But I suppose there's a silver lining in there, at least for the rest of us. Yes, I deleted The Red and yes, my son looks for it every day and yes, I feel a little bit like a jerk myself for stealing it from him. But I'm his father and every once in a while I really do know what's best.

And even if I didn't, I'd still be a much, much better parent than the people who are putting their kids on YouTube.

We should talk about the JOY of parenthood more often

Nicole's brother and his wife are expecting their first child any day. It could be starting right now, to be honest. I'm going to be an uncle again, although this time by marriage and not blood, while Nicole gets to be an aunt by blood for the first time.

Weeks ago, we had a baby shower for the expectant couple and it was good. But I noticed something. All of the people who already had children would make jokes and comments about how hard it was, how little sleep you get, how paranoid you become, on and on. And all of those things are true. Misery loves company and there should be a hazing period. Besides, while it might not do anything at all to actually prepare new parents for what's to come, it at least gives them some vague idea.

After the party, I told Nicole that her brother and his wife have no idea what's about to happen to them, but not for negative reasons. They can't know what it's like to have that tiny little person enter your life. There is another level of love that happens. It is unlike anything I'd ever experienced.

Now, I think Nicole's brother and his wife have a leg up on me in that they have large families and at least have some concept of what this love might be like. But it's not something you can really know until you experience it. It is unique in a world where so few things truly are.

It's overpowering and overwhelming and unbelievable and glorious. Our son being born gave my life new meaning, not that the old one has gone away or was bad. But it doesn't hold a candle to where my focus lies these days.

But we don't really mention this side of having a child to soon-to-be parents. It's mostly jokes about diapers and delirium. There's so much comedic content to those first few weeks, at least in hindsight, that it seems to be all we talk about.

You can't prepare for the hard parts, but you can at least have an idea of what you're getting into. You have no way of knowing what the great parts will be like. It is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't experienced it. And it is impossible to explain.

There's the answer.

We don't really talk about it because we can't. There's no frame of reference. We can make comparisons to other times when someone got no sleep or we can describe how disgusting it can be in awful detail, but there's no shared language between those with kids and those without when it comes to the joy of it.

While I'm thinking about my brother-in-law and his wife and those awful, terrifying first few weeks, I'm also thinking about how amazing it will be. I'm wondering if it will hit them the way it hit me. I know that it is going to be great and that they have no idea how great it will be.

They are about to experience something wonderful and I'm so happy for them.

And while I didn't need it, it reminds me how incredibly lucky I am.

The Introvert Parent

There are roughly a million articles online discussing the common characteristics shared by introverts. I suppose introverts are the ones sitting around writing all day, so that's probably why there seem to be a disproportionate amount of articles about them.

There's usually a reference of some kind or another to something I'll call the gas tank. The idea, as it goes, is that introverts can be just a social as anyone else, but that they have a limited amount of energy to do so. It's like a gas tank that, once empty, takes a long, long time to refill, and there will be no socializing until the tank is at F.

This isn't just applicable to socializing. It applies to anything that requires a lot of mental or emotional energy, anything that requires interacting with anyone other than ourselves. And it's a very real thing. It is very often the bane of my existence.

I'm not moody, I'm an introvert.

What's difficult, then, is realizing that the time you spend with your child is siphoning the tank.

I love my son more than I can possibly explain and I love spending time with him. But it is exhausting; it would be exhausting for an extrovert, let alone an introvert.

That's hard to reconcile, because no one wants to think of the time they spend with their child as being a problem.

I don't know how it is with other introverts, but I also have a habit of burning brightly when I engage with people. I am all in and often over the top. I'm a man of extremes and when I'm switched on I will be as on as is humanly possible.

With my son, at least, I'm choosing to be that way, but the end result is still the same. Whereas I might actually enjoy interacting with my son, I'm still tapped dry. And I never burn brighter or hotter than when I'm choosing to.

It's a difficult realization to come to, the idea that something you ostensibly love doing (spending time with your child) can also be sucking you dry.

To follow the metaphor to its end, I need time to refill my tank. But being a parent means not having a ton of time for yourself, which means refilling can be that much harder -- and take that much longer.

If I had a dollar for every time I said to myself that I needed to start going to bed earlier then I could quit my day job and I'd have plenty of time to refill. As it is those few hours after my son falls asleep are the only time I'm able to prepare myself for the next day, and that time is often not enough.

I'm regularly running past F and after a few days or weeks of that, I start to lose it.

It seems like a simple matter of being overwhelmed, of thinking that perhaps the work/life balance is off or the division of labor is off. Or maybe my son is just having a hard time lately or maybe I'm just moody for some other reason that I can't put my finger on yet because I'm painfully oblivious to my own emotions. The reality, though, is that I've been running on empty for days and I've reached my limit.

So I try to take long lunches at work. I try to leave early. I try to steal a few extra quiet moments to keep myself afloat.

And I try to make sure my son never sees me grinding to a halt.

 

Plight of the Pushover Parent

Here's a humorous column on getting your toddler to call for daddy at night instead of mommy. I have no doubt that this is an actual issue in many households.

It is not a problem for us.

Early on this was intentional. The demands on a mother during those first few months after having a child are unbelievable. There were just so many times when I couldn't appease our son no matter what I did. The bond between mother and child can never be understated. It's also something I don't think fathers can ever truly understand.

But that bond can cut both ways, as the child makes continuous demands of the mother, demands which can periodically be filled by the father.

Any dad worth worth anything at all will relish these opportunities, even if they're a bit rocky to start. Our son wanted his mommy whenever something was wrong and instead he regularly got his daddy and he was not happy about that, not at first. He would get mad at me when I went to get him in the morning, telling me he didn't want dadda, he wanted mama.

I still remember the first time that flipped.

It was my morning to sleep in, or what passes for sleeping in when you have a child. Nicole went to get our son out of bed and she was greeted with "Don't want mama, want dadda!"

So I got up and went to his room to get him out of bed.

I couldn't let a moment like that pass by.

We are at the point now where our son usually calls out for me (there are rare instances when he calls out for his mom, but she a) is strong enough to ignore him when it's not serious and b) could sleep through world war 3, so often doesn't even hear him). And every time I have to fight the urge to run to him. I have to calculate whether or not he actually needs something or if he's playing me.

That's the thing about toddlers: they are master manipulators. It's frightening, really, and our son is quite adept at it, which shouldn't be all the surprising given who his father is.

Needless to say, I end up running into his room multiple times in any given night.

This has gotten better recently, as he's falling asleep faster and not waking up as many times at night. But when he does, he calls out for me, just as he does when he wakes up.

This is only one example of how wrapped around my son's finger I am. And I know that it's not really a good thing and that I need to stop.

But that's the thing about pushover parents: we can't help ourselves. We don't want to be a pushover parent. Even if we're conscious that we need to be less weak with our children, it's hard for us to stop.

No sane person wants to get up four times a night -- and that's after the three times I go in there before he even falls asleep. No sane person wants to feel like they constantly need to be "on." No sane person wants to be responsible for their child being spoiled.

But, in the end, parenting is all about defeating your lesser self. Being a parent means constantly having a gut reaction to any given situation and then considering if that gut reaction is correct or not and then acting appropriately. It's how we become better parents, how are children become better than we ever were.

So I try. With everything I have, I try not to be the pushover parent. Because I don't want to be like this. I know it's not good for my son, just as I know that it's not good for me.

The Bizarre Fear of Female Toys

My son loves Paw Patrol. Heck, I love Paw Patrol. I love the theme song. I love the characters. I love reading into every episode in a way that is probably unhealthy (it's a Canadian show and they seem to face off against an eagle on a regular basis...).

But for as great as the show is, it falls into the same trap as every other cartoon/toy line: a baffling refusal to embrace female characters.

The main Paw Patrol team consists of Chase, Marshall, Rubble, Rocky, Zuma, and Skye, all led by the human, Ryder. Each member of the team is associated with a type of vehicle or job, and each has their own color from the rainbow. For those who don't know:

Chase wears blue and he's the police dog.
Marshall wears red and he's the firefighter/EMT dog.
Rubble wears yellow and he's the construction pup.
Rocky wears green and drives a recycling truck.
Zuma wears orange and has a hovercraft, the only water vehicle.
Skye wears pink and flies a helicopter.

Oh, and they all have catch phrases, some of which rhyme.

If you look at that list, you can probably guess the gender of each of those dogs. Only one of them is female and, of course, she has to wear pink. I suppose the fact that she's not the baking dog is something.

This bothered me when we first started watching the show, but they eventually introduced a new pup, Everest, who, as you might imagine, is the mountain climbing dog. Oh, and Everest is, in fact, a girl. Her color is kind of purple to round out the ROY G BIV of it all.

But Everest isn't part of the main team, so she only shows up periodically. Still, at least the writers were aware of the fact that only having one girl was a problem.

It was apparently a different kind of problem for the people who make Paw Patrol merchandise.

Their problem was having icky girl (or two) in the mix.

We got my son underwear for Christmas because we're in the potty training phase. His underwear features every character of the Paw Patrol...except for Skye (and Everest, for that matter). One pair has a head shot of every pup but Skye, but features a paw print where another picture would/could be. So it's not even a matter of math.

Nicole actually bought our son a bottle that featured the Paw Patrol. He saw it in a store and wanted it. It's pink. It has Skye and Everest on it. That kind of leads me to believe that the addition of Everest was just so they could branch out into making products for girls as well as boys, when the reality is that it shouldn't matter.

I pointed out the gender bias in Paw Patrol to the mother of one of Sam's friends and she was not happy about it, although she had never noticed. And I think that's telling. I think that a lot of people don't notice, particularly when it comes to toys for toddlers.

Sure, people were rightfully up in arms when there was no Rey action figure after The Force Awakenings was released, but a big reason for that is that adults were buying the toys, and adults were certainly watching the movie. To some extent, we don't really expect such behavior from the people who produce shows for young children.

My son also loves Blaze and the Monster Machines, which features exactly one female truck, whose die cast figure is the hardest to find and, because of this, is also the most expensive. She is also featured in the fewest adventures, which is all the more sad given that the show is focused on STEM, a field that women are regularly barred from.

My son also loves Cars. The average person would probably have a hard time even naming one of the female cars in either of those movies. The third movies, at least, seems to promise a new, prominent female character.

It's funny: the one time a debate about pink toys and my son came up, it was my wife who was hesitant. He received a gift of a toy that he already had, but the one he had was pink. My wife wondered if we should keep the new one (which wasn't pink) and get rid of the old one. They were identical in every other way. We kept the pink one.

But it's so ingrained in all of us, even those delightful Canadians who produce Paw Patrol.

For International Women's Day this year, my son and I both wore red.

Maybe that's how it gets better.

Holding Back Tears During Disney on Ice

It was cold and windy and wet as we power walked through the parking lot and exterior stairs of the Oracle arena in Oakland. We hadn't planned for weather that bad, so my son didn't have his hat on, which is why we were power walking. He started to shiver before we got into the building.

He kept shivering even after we got inside and it slowly became clear that he wasn't just shivering because it was cold, but because he was overwhelmed. There were a lot of people at Oracle for Disney on Ice and we were hustling past them to get to our seats in time.

Even when he stopped shivering, he still looked overwhelmed. He stared off into the distance, trying to take in the ice rink, the rows and rows of people, the colorful lights. Even the arrival of his aunt and uncle, whom he adores, didn't break the spell.

We sat down as the show started, my son on his mom's lap. He still had that hundred yard stare.

A bunch of athletic, good looking twentysomethings came onto the ice and did a bit about getting exercise and staying hydrated and eating right which was a little tone deaf given that the concession stands sold nothing but hot dogs, popcorn, and nachos.

Finally, the ice skating models declared that they needed some assistance with their dance routine and they called out the big guns: Mouses Mickey and Minnie.

This would be the first time during the show that I got choked up.

I had been watching my son the entire time and when Mickey and Minnie came out onto the ice, his face lit up. He smiled. The apprehension and daze that had overwhelmed him since we left the car was gone. Mickey Mouse was here. Everything was okay.

I have to think most parents would get choked up by that.

There were other moments, like when the toys from Toy Story came out, or when the cars from Cars came out. But the biggest came towards the end, during the Frozen section of the show.

The songs in Frozen have always gotten to me, so it wasn't a big surprise that I would be fighting back tears. But this performance took it to another level.

There were an awful lot of kids at this show and most of them loved Frozen.

So when we got to the big hit, to "Let It Go," they all sang along.

That was almost too much for me.

Did Disney know what they were doing when they created Frozen? Were they aware that they weren't just creating something emotional, but something empowering?

After the show I started thinking about the thousands of fathers of girls out there who had to have been thrown for a loop by Frozen. The sheer tenacity of "Let It Go" requires anyone who sings it to own it. What's the stereotypical father to do? Embrace girl power? *gasp!*

I spend most of my time feeling horrible about the way children are being raised in this world. It was nice, for a brief moment, to feel like perhaps we, as human beings, are doing something right.

Daycare is killing me.

My son turns 3 today, so I decided to repost a few choice blogs from the first year after he was born.

He smells different.

At the end of the day, Appleseed smells like the daycare.  It's similar to how an airplane or a hotel room smells, that attempt to make something sanitized that will never ever be sanitized.  I smell it when I kiss his head.  He doesn't smell like us.

I don't think Nicole has noticed because I've done a good job of re-scenting him before she gets home.  I sit on the couch with him and give him Sophie the Giraffe, which he promptly sticks in his mouth and gums like crazy.  He slobbers everywhere.  I kiss his cheeks, his head, the spot where his neck and his head connect which makes him squeal with happiness.

The squeal is muted.  There's less energy to it.  His smiles don't come as quickly.  His giggles are harder to come by.  And he smells different.

There's a logical explanation for it.  Besides the sensory overload, Appleseed doesn't sleep at daycare, not like he should.  They can rock him to sleep, but he wakes up when they try to put him in the crib.  So when I pick him up, he's tired, too tired to humor his father.  After I've gotten my fill of drowning him with affection, I decide to rock him to sleep.  It doesn't take long.

The best way to make sure Appleseed will not just sleep, but sleep for a long period of time, is to sleep with him.  So I take him into our bedroom, lie him on the bed, crawl in next to him, and tip him over on to his side.  He likes to sleep on his side, he just can't maintain it on his own.  We'll spend the next two hours or so like this.

It's during this time that the smell fades.  Cuddled up in bed, cuddled up next to daddy, he begins to smell like us again.

After the long nap, he starts to perk up.  His energy returns.  And mommy comes home.  The smiles come fast and furious.  The giggles and squeals are back.  Appleseed has returned.

I know that he's fine at daycare but that doesn't mean I like it.  That doesn't mean I don't feel like simultaneously throwing up and crying when I drop him off, and that's after I make it out the door.  Up until

that point, I feel like taking him back home and skipping work.

He's in the infant room at his daycare, and the teacher to student ratio maxes out at 4-1, although it's probably more reasonable to say 3-1, as one of them is almost always asleep.  But between diapers, bottles, and tantrums, how much attention can those three really get?

When I drop Appleseed off in the morning, I put him in a boppy and I find him a couple of toys.  That's how I leave him and it has, so far, been how I've found him when I come back.  It's a different boppy and they are different toys, but that's where he is, because he's a relaxed baby who can hang out like that.

And that's perfectly fine.  I know he screams his head off when they change him or when they put him in a crib.  I know he's happier on the boppy and he's certainly more quiet.

When I show up, he smiles, he squeals, and he kicks his arms and legs around, so I know he's happy to see me.  I know he's still him.  I know he's fine.

But I want him to be more than that.

Staying at home with Appleseed was exhausting, and I only had to do it three days a week.  It took so much energy to stay engaged with him and I'll admit that I took a fair number of breaks.  When four o'clock rolled around, it was time to watch a little bit of baseball.  He'd zone out on it for a few minutes, but then get bored.  But those few minutes were nice.

But I did my best, as I know Nicole did.  She felt even more pressure than me, I think, to interact with Appleseed every minute he was awake.  A lot of that is because of how much stuff she reads on the internet.

Our son his happy and energetic to the point where I'm a bit confused by it.  I don't think we do anything special.  We just love the heck out of him to an obnoxious degree.  And, apparently, he responds to that.

Going to daycare means he's no longer getting that as much as he used to, and that makes me sad.

It's hard for me to think about Appleseed when he's at daycare because it breaks my heart.  I sometimes have to force myself not to think about him because it's honestly too much.  And I resent the fact that I have to stop myself from thinking about my son.

For the first three weeks of daycare, Appleseed will only be there 3 days a week.  After that, he'll be full time, Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM, although as the guy who picks him up, I can guarantee you he'll never stay that late.  I'll be skipping out of work early a lot more often.

I can't imagine what it will be like when he's there every weekday.  It seems unbearable.

So the wheels are turning.  Maybe we can handle three days a week and maybe that's all we need to handle.  I just need to find a way to only work three days during the week.

Because I don't want him to be "fine."  I don't want him to get the bare minimum of attention.  I want him to have all the things he's had for the last 5 months.

He deserves all that and more.

Appleseed: And it begins

My son turns 3 today, so I decided to repost a few blogs from right after he was born.

Roughly 19 hours after my son was born, I began to freak the fuck out.

It was while I was walking, for the third time that day, from our room in the recovery ward to the hospital cafeteria.

This was the first time I actually had some idea where I was going and the first time I managed to not get lost either on the way there or on the way back.

I was tired.

I was beyond tired.

If I was running on more than 4 hours of cumulative sleep over the last two nights, I’d be shocked. I wanted to go to bed, but my ability to do so was being controlled by this new little person in my life.

And I began to think about how all the time in my life was going to be sucked away.

Truth be told, the fact that our son is going to absorb the vast majority of my time isn’t really that big of a problem. I waste a lot of time. Hell, just my wasted time will cover a big chunk of his needs.

And while the inevitable cutting down on the things I want to do is upsetting, what was I really doing with that time, anyway? I don’t really do anything that can compare with raising my son.

No, what terrified me was the fact that I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into.

My old life –and that’s what it is, a whole other life prior to this one –was comfortable.

I knew it pretty well.

It wasn’t always inspiring and It wasn't always enjoyable, but it was the devil I knew.

I don’t know this new life and I don’t know how any of the pieces of the old one that I want to keep will fit into it.

Even simple things like phrases Nicole and I used during our old life make me feel panicked.

It’s as if those phrases no longer belong here.

The Reckoning came and our little jokes about the silly little things in our life before we became parents no longer matter.

It’s a strange reminder of what we’ve lost, even though we’ve gained so much more.

I don’t know how I’m going to sleep.

I’m terrified something will happen to my son if one of us isn’t awake with him at all times.

And then I wonder how that would even be possible and I wonder if I will ever not feel guilty about wanting to go to bed.

I wonder why we decided to do this.

Was it hubris?

Did we just want so badly to leave our mark on this world? Were we selfish do bring him into this world?

Why does anyone have kids?

But then I think about how great he is and the fact that he wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t done this.

I spiraled again in the 20th hour.

I was overwhelmed.

I saw my amazing wife forming this wonderful bond with our son the way that only a mother can and I saw a peacefulness in her, a sense of knowing.

She knew, without question, that this is what we’re meant to be doing.

I wish I had that confidence. It is not, I’ll admit, a new phenomenon.

I have never felt confident in most things I do.

Second guessing this new life was inevitable.

So where does this leave me as I sit here in our hospital room, watching the second hand on the big clock on the wall as we tick closer and closer to the completion of my son’s first 24 hours on this earth?

It leaves me, as usual, at odds with my own emotions.

Part of the difficulty has come from our environment. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change the time we have had in this recovery ward for all the money in the world. We have learned so much from these amazing nurses I can’t even do it justice explaining it.

But we’re here just as much for Nicole as we are for our son because she’s recovering from a traumatic ordeal.

This means that Nicole is constantly busy, which is just unbelievable.

She’s doing so much at once.

And our son is just here to feed and sleep and go to the bathroom.

Ultimately, this means I’m sitting around waiting to be of use, which is in some ways worse than being busy.

I only ever notice how tired I am when I don’t have anything to do.

When I’m in the thick of it, adrenaline takes over.

But I’m also a paranoid first time parent, so I have trouble sleeping if I have any worries about our son.

Even if Nicole is nursing and has no need for me to be awake, I won’t be able to sleep, just in case.

If we were home, that much would be easier.

I (and Nicole, for that matter) could go to another room to sleep and at least force us into an out of sight, out of mind type scenario

The other upside of being at home is that there will always be stuff to do.

There will be laundry to wash.

There will be dishes to wash.

There will be a whole house to take care of – the garbage alone will keep me busy.

The sleep deprivation will inevitably be easier to deal with if I’m busy the whole time.

There’s also the simple fact that being here at the hospital underscores the fact that Nicole is dealing with so much – a lot of which I can’t help her with.

The fact that Nicole is still dealing with what happened to her is hard for me because I want her to be okay.

I may be staying awake because I’m worried about our son, but I’m also staying awake for Nicole.

Going home will, even if it’s not true, make me feel like she’s doing better.

There’s also a strange sense of urgency being here.

Because we have so much support, I feel like I have to figure everything out before we leave because we won’t have a call button to hit when we get into jams.

But we’re never going to know everything we need to know.

I’d also really like to sleep in my own bed again, even if it’s only for an hour or two at a time.

It’s now Monday morning. We’ve been at this hospital for 86 hours.

We’ll probably leave in a little bit.

Nicole had a headache which has turned into a full blown migraine, so she’s sleeping.

Appleseed is sleeping in the mobile changing table/bassonette thing they have here.

He’s just absolutely amazing.

I’m looking forward to going home.

I’m looking forward to trying to relieve some of my guilt when we see our cats.

They’ve been like children to us for so long and we’ve suddenly replaced them.

Did I mention that Appleseed is amazing?

I don't think I can say that enough.

But I'm sure I'll try.

I'm a great dad.

But it's relative.

Over the 34 months that I've been a father, one thing has become clear to me: the bar for fatherhood is very, very low.

I don't consider anything I do as a dad to be more than what any other father should do, but over and over again I have people tell me that what I'm doing is unusual. I don't think the enthusiasm with which I greet every other kid in my son's school to be out of the ordinary. I think it's something I do because these are kids he spends his day with and I want to know all of their names so that when he talks about them, I can talk back.

I don't think it's strange that I make his lunches and his dinners or that I get up in the middle of the night to comfort him when he has a bad dream. I don't think it's unusual that I spent a solid two months bathing with him because he refused to take a bath otherwise. He's my son. I would do anything for him.

I don't know why gender roles still exist when it comes to parenting and I don't know why the average father has a time limit on how much time they can spend with their kid(s).  I'm not the idiot TV dad who is clueless when it comes to raising children. I'm aghast that such a character exists on TV, let alone in real life. But he does.

I was Facebook friends with a woman I know from my home town, although I haven't actually seen her in probably twenty-five years. She still lives in my hometown, though, and occasionally sees my parents. One day, she saw them and mentioned what an incredibly involved father I am. Her basis for this was all of my posts about my son, about being a parent.

But what else would I post about? What could possibly be going on in my life that is more important than raising my son?

The other night Nicole noticed that I went into our son's room to check on him before going to bed. She asked me if I always did that. I do. Every single night, I step into his room and just listen to him breathe.

Stepping into his room is magic. I'm suddenly free from everything but my son. There's a purity of purpose, a clarity of mind that I don't really get anywhere else in my life. I love my son, I would do anything for him, and I will do everything I can to raise him the best that I can. None of that is questionable. It's absolute.

A friend recently shared this column from Time magazine about the added mental burden that women take on as the person who keeps the ship afloat, in this case the ship being the household.

Columns like that are frustrating for me because that's not the way it is in our house. We split our work. Nicole keeps tabs on the toilet paper (and all other paper products that we order in bulk), I do the grocery shopping. She handles more big picture things while I'm much more day to day. That's not to say those roles don't switch from time to time, but they always work well together.

We've fallen into these roles because our jobs and, to a certain extent, our personalities require them. We are each doing what we are most capable of doing and neither of us takes on more than the other. We are a team.

And we're an anomaly.

This isn't to say that we're perfect or that our system doesn't have flaws or that there aren't times when each of us wants to curl up in a ball and hide under the blankets for a few days. But we try our best to make sure that the stress of raising a child is distributed equally.

I know other parents who do the same, but there are an awful lot who don't and that is hard for me wrap my brain around.

There are also plenty of dads out there who think they're doing just as much as mom, but just aren't -- and just as many moms who are willing to put up with that.

It makes sense, I suppose: my mom did everything. My dad was responsible for all the things that the Y chromosome was "supposed" to take care of, like teaching me sports or punishing me. That's what men did.

It wouldn't be hard to see how kids raised in that environment would grow up believing certain things, and I would imagine a lot of kids from my generation had similar upbringings.

But isn't the goal to learn from the prior generation, to improve?

The problem is that we live in a society that constantly attempts to normalize that which shouldn't be considered normal. Be it sexism, racism, homophobia, etc., we exist in a time when a lot of preconceived notions are being upended as wrong headed and hurtful, but they are so ingrained into our being that we are trying to hold on.

I fully admit that change is hard and that I have to reconsider my perspective on a regular basis. But, man, I can't even comprehend not playing an active role in my son's life. I can't imagine leaving the bulk of the work of parenting to my wife, not just because of how stressful that would be for her, but because of how much I would miss out on.

We're a nation that prides ourselves on our work ethic, and yet we seem to draw the line at acknowledging that the most important work we can do is to raise our children.

Mothers, at least, seem to have a sorority that values giving your all at being a parent (to the point where it's a problem, really, but I digress). The time and effort you put into raising your kids doesn't hold the same weight among fathers. And that doesn't seem to be changing the way that I figured it would.

So, yes, I can say I'm a great dad, but given the standards, that's not saying much.*

 

*Although, to be honest, even if the standards were higher, I think I'd still be considered a great dad.

Trying to be Superman

My son refers to all superheroes as Superman.

I'm not sure how he knows which characters are superheroes. The Spider-man action figure is Superman. The Batman book features Superman. But Woody from Toy Story is Woody. None of his Duplo figures are Superman. Only the two superheroes get named for the ultimate superhero.

How does he know? Spider-man doesn't wear a cape. Maybe it's the fact that they all have symbols on their chests.

I've been reading comic books for over thirty years and there's a lot to be said about the depictions of masculinity in superhero comics, most of it not good. But growing up this was my example, at least on a subconscious level. I've noticed recently that there's an evolution at work within superhero comics, epitomized by what are perhaps the three most iconic characters, who all happen to be male (and white and straight, for that matter): Spider-man, Batman, and Superman.

I realize that those three are not the traditional "trinity" of superhero comics, largely thought of to be the DC trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. And those three aren't the current Marvel movie trinity of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. But I think the average person on the street with only a passing familiarity of comics would point to Spider-man, Batman, and Superman as the top of the hill with regards to superheroes.

Let's consider 3 aspects of Spider-man, Batman, and Superman: family, violence, and sex.

The classic version of Spider-man (the one who will be gracing movie screens yet again next year) lives with his aunt. She's a prominent figure in his life. He is still very much in need of parenting. Even today in the comics, he is the only one of these three characters who still has a mother figure in his life. Being someone's child is still very much who Peter Parker is.

He might be older now, but the iconic Spider-man is a high school kid, so much so that Marvel regularly goes back to that well whenever they can, be it Untold Tales of Spider-man, Ultimate Spider-man, or Spidey.  And any time Peter Parker might start moving too far forward with his life like, say, getting married, Marvel has done whatever it takes to pull him as far back as they can. My favorite Spider-man stories are actually the ones that take place after he's graduated from high school, but I understand the appeal. High school Spider-man is a way of life. But he's not a paragon of maturity.

Batman, however, is clearly an adult. While Alfred may seem like a father figure, Bruce Wayne has taken it upon himself to be a father for a handful of characters who more often then not work with him as Robin. Part of what makes Batman more than just a two dimensional vigilante is the fact that he's trying to build a family to replace the one he lost.

He is, it should be noted, a horrible father, though. It would be easy to make the case that he's an abusive parent and should never be entrusted with minors.

Bruce Wayne is also over the death of his parents, no matter how many times it's revisited in the comics. He's not doing what he does to avenge them, not anymore. He has a mission and he's devoted his life to it. Was the death of his parents the motivation for that choice? Of course, but it's moved well past that.

Superman never really had to move past the death of his parents because he was a baby when Krypton was destroyed; he has no memory of them. As to whether Ma and Pa Kent are alive, I'm not entirely sure, as their status in the comics seems to change on a regular basis. The most common scenario seems to be Pa no longer with us, but Ma still alive. Regardless, by the time either or both of his parents die, he's already been fighting for truth, justice, and the American way for some time; their deaths are not his motivator.

Because here's the thing: Superman is selfless. Sure, perhaps you can make that claim about Spider-man and Batman, but those two characters regularly struggle with their own needs versus the needs of others. Most of Spider-man's early stories deal him making the wrong choice in this regard, in part because every time he makes the right choice horrible things happen. And it would be easy to argue that Batman is the most selfish superhero in all of comics, in part because of his martyr complex.

Superman doesn't really struggle with such things. Superman knows who he is and he's comfortable in his own skin. He really is what we all aspire to.

The violence these characters take part in (these are superhero comics we're talking about) reflect the characters perfectly: Spider-man makes jokes while he fights, Batman is painfully serious, and Superman, well, Superman usually tries to resolve conflict without violence if he can. There have been a number of writers over the years who have actually tried to write Superman as a pacifist, but even when he's not taken to that extreme, violence is his last resort. To an extent, it has to be; he's so powerful that his actions can have unforeseen consequences. But this is also a reflection of who he is, just as Spider-man's jokes reflect his insecurity and Batman's grim determination represent his lack of balance.

Their love interests are equally as telling. Regardless of what comic book lore would tell us, Spider-man has really only had two love interests: Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane. He met both of them while still in high school. Gwen was a two dimensional personification of the girl next door, while Mary Jane was the actual girl next door, who would be come the ultimate adolescent fantasy: a model.

Vicki Vale notwithstanding, Batman's most notable romantic partners are either villains or those who walk the fine line between villainy and heroics. Batman has a bad girl fetish and it plays perfectly into the next step of maturity from Spider-man. These are women who need a strong man to get them to behave, emphasis on the man. But these aren't real relationships.

Let's just get this out of the way, then: Lois Lane is a singular character, unlike any other in all of comics.

Superman isn't Superman without Lois Lane, so much so that creators in other mediums don't even pretend it's possible to separate the two. There was a TV show called Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman that, as is clear from the title, was about the two of them, not just the guy with the S on his chest. Heck, technically she got top billing.

You can separate Batman and Catwoman or Spider-man and Mary Jane, but you can't separate Superman and Lois Lane.

And she's done this by being one of the few female characters in superhero comics known for her brains, her wit, and her ability. I honestly can't remember any lengthy period of time in which Lois Lane was nothing more than a pin-up; the same cannot be said for the vast majority of other love interests.

And perhaps that's why -- Lois Lane has never simply been the love interest. That's not to say that she was written particularly well in the early years, but her obsession with Superman ultimately translated to tenacity as a reporter that expanded beyond the Man of Steel. Once she found out who Clark Kent really was, nothing changed. She was still the same driven Lois Lane.

The fact that Lois Lane is who Superman falls in love with speaks volumes. And, of course, he marries her, and in current comics continuity, they have a son.

Lois Lane isn't marrying Batman. She's not dating Spider-man. She's spending her life with someone who deserves her.

This is where I am, then: I was Spider-man, then I became Batman, now I'm desperately trying to be Superman.

That's not to say I was actually any of those characters. But my growth as a straight white guy can be traced from character to character. I still think Batman is the best superhero character in comics, if only because of how he changes to reflect society from decade to decade. But Superman is the be all and end all. He's who we should all want to grow up to be.

We reminisce about being Spider-man. We fantasize about being Batman. We try to be Superman.

A few months ago, DC Comics (home of Batman and Superman) had a soft relaunch of their comics. One of the biggest changes was replacing a young, single version of Superman with the aforementioned married with child version. Not much was changed about Batman.

The current crop of Batman books do nothing for me.

But Superman is probably my favorite superhero comic currently being published.

 

 

 

 

Discovering Hip Hop at 40

Having kids leads to some strange changes in your life.

Like listening to hip hop.

I was born in the mid-70s, so suggesting that I'm a child of the 80s wouldn't be far off. But puberty wrecked havoc on me, to the point that I became almost a different person. At the very least, I went from a kid who generally did what he was told to a kid who generally tried to do his own thing. By this token, the 80s weren't so much my decade as the 90s, after puberty, after I'd decided to start making decisions for myself.

Rap music "broke" in the 90s, really. It had been bubbling below the surface of mainstream music for years, but it really broke through in the 90s. That's when it became popular music. And even now, I have some affection for 90s hip hop.

But that wasn't me. I was an angry white kid from the suburbs who had no idea why he was angry and seemingly out of no where came an entire genre of music that spoke to me: grunge. And when grunge burned away, I'd already jumped ship to its main influence, punk rock. And punk rock led me to indie rock, which more or less allowed me to mix some sadness in with my anger.

I stayed away from hip hop. I needed music that spoke to me, but I was also for anti everything, which meant that listening to popular music was out of the question. And, like I said, rap had taken over the Top 40.

I dabbled in hip hop over the years. At a certain point, indie rock began embracing lesser known rap acts, I suppose the way that Anthrax embraced Public Enemy. And I liked hip hop. I've just never had any idea where to begin with it and, really, not motivation to do so. I was waist deep in minor chords and feelings and adding another style of music to the mix was just too much for me.

But when you have kids, you suddenly find motivation for things, motivation that wasn't there before.

I started listening to hip hop regularly after our son was born. The internet is great for getting suggestions; there are a hundred streaming music services that will take one song you like and turn it into an entire playlist. So slowly but surely, I waded deeper and deeper into the hip hop waters.

I'm still a novice, I fully admit that, and I doubt anyone would ever accuse me of being anything other than a dabbler. But I'm open to anything. I want to learn.

What does this have to do with my son?

I wasn't raised on music. My parents loved Abba and Neil Diamond, but beyond that seldom even talked about music. When I discovered the Beatles, I raided my parents record collection, but I'd never heard of them from my parents and was surprised to find those albums in the house.

I want my son to be exposed to as much as possible. I know that hip hop might seem like a small thing, but I feel like it's important. I feel like growing up around a diversity of music is important.

It's more than that. We live in the Bay area and his class at school is fairly diverse. But I know how much more impact parents can have on kids and I don't want him to see me living on a steady diet of sameness. I want him to experience a wider world that I only ever got glimpses of and I at least want him to feel like that experience is encouraged, not just overtly.

Honestly, it's been a lot of fun to dig into a new genre of music, particularly something that's so far removed from what I've listened to for most of my life. It's like learning a new language. I'm starting to become discerning, starting to notice what I like about particularly songs and what I don't. I can't really verbalize it yet, but I'll get there.

And I still can't dance, but my son doesn't care.

Blame Fairyland

It's not really Fairyland's fault. I'd actually made my decision days earlier, it's just that Fairyland reassured me that I was doing the right thing.

I spend a lot of time doing two things: interacting with people online and submerging myself into comic books. The two have become interlinked over the last few years of my life.

I have read comics since I was 10 and that won't change. I will always have a robust online life. But I've found recently that I need to pull back on both of those things.

At the moment, I run a web site: Comics Bulletin. It is, as you might surmise, a site about comics. I've been running it for less than a year, but in that time it has become a top priority for me. This is, in part, because I'm neurotic and this is what I do. But the site is also about something I'm passionate about, so it was easy to justify my obsession.

My current priorities in life are as follows:

My son
My wife
My writing
My job

That last one is in that spot as an aspect of taking care of my son, helping my wife, and being able to afford to write (in a house while fed). The problem is that the site, and by extension comic books themselves, was getting in the way of each of those priorities. That wasn't a big deal with regards to my job as no one really noticed, but it was a very big deal with regards to everything else on that list.

This isn't a post about comics or that site, though. I'm going through one of those times when I realize that what I used to feel was important either no longer is (to me) or can't be, and that there are new things that are replacing them.

Yesterday I deadlifted 195 lbs, which is 60 lbs more than the last time.

The idea of me using any of those words, let alone together in a sentence, is crazy. And yet here I am, a guy with a trainer who lifts weights. Better yet, I look FORWARD to it. I try to squeeze in a visit to my trainer's gym whenever I can.

I started going to strengthen my lower back, which has given me problems for years. I wanted to be able to pick up my son and not worry about being incapacitated for days. I've been going for months now, getting stronger and stronger, my energy level increasing the more I go. I'm doing it for my son, but the impact it's had on me has been huge. It's important to me.

That's not something I would have said even six months ago.

My son's school has a parents group with a representative from each class. His class didn't have one, so I volunteered. I didn't just do it because they needed someone, I did it because I felt like I was the best person for the job: I know the kids in my son's class. I say hi to each of them by name every morning. It takes me a half an hour to drop off my son and part of that involves playing with the all of the kids.

That's important to me now.

A lot of this is to be expected, I guess, but it's a testament to a) how drastically the needs of a child change when they become toddlers and b) how desperately I'll hold on to my past when I feel change coming.

What I have found surprising about my shift in priorities is how liberating it feels.

I honestly don't know why that is. Sure, it's in part because I'm no longer bound to a web site and all that entails. But it's more than that. There's clarity. For as enjoyable as my hobbies have been, they're amorphous; there's no start, no finish, no straight line. I wasn't working towards anything. Now I feel like I am.

Every moment I spend with my son or my wife is working towards building and maintaining our relationships. Every moment I spend writing has the duel purpose of unburdening my soul and creating something I can get published. Every moment I spend at work pays for this life and brings me closer to possibly making more money to pay for this life.

Like I said earlier, I'm still reading comics, just as I'm still reading books and I'm still playing video games. But they're not foremost in my mind anymore, not like they were. So I don't mind leaving the house. I don't mind a spur of the moment trip to the zoo or our inaugural visit to Fairyland. These are all parts of a bigger picture which is suddenly less cloudy than it was before.

The funny thing is that for all the time I've spent trying to stay a kid, by actually growing up I now spend more time playing with toys and watching cartoons than I have in years.

"Happy to see you, dadda."

One of the things I've learned during my 28 months as a parent is that you can't explain it to anyone who hasn't done it. I've done my best to avoid giving any advice to future parents because even if the advice is completely on the money, it more or less goes out the window when that kid shows up. Everything goes out the window.

I'm sure at some point someone tried to explain to me how emotional having a child would be, or how those emotions would sneak up on you and over take you when you least expect it. But it's impossible to comprehend what that's like until you go through it yourself.

Appleseed (what I call my son online) and I were playing at his train table. I'd been to the gym earlier and I was pretty wiped out, so I laid down on the floor. Instead of grabbing my hand and telling me to get up and be Gordon (I am Gordon, he is Thomas, my wife is Emily), he laid down with me, kind on top of me at first, then down next to me, then he crawled back up on top of me again, all the while smiling.

And then he said it.

"Happy to see you, dadda."

I could barely form thoughts, let alone answer.

He said it again.

"Happy to see you, dadda."

But he didn't say it as if he was waiting for me to say it back, he said it again as if he wanted to make sure I heard him, that I understood what he was saying.

"I'm happy to see you, too, Appleseed," I said.

We rolled to the side and I looked up at my wife, who was sitting on the couch watching us. She saw the look on my face.

"I know," she said. "He said it to me the other day and I couldn't believe it."

Appleseed shows us that he loves us all the time. He's a happy kid. He's a sweet and affectionate kid. Every day that I pick him up at school, he sees me and runs towards me, yelling "daddy!" and giving me a hug. He's even more affectionate with his mom. He loves us and he shows it.

But there's something different about hearing him say it (even if he didn't actually say it).

His affection for us has always seemed, to a certain extent, like an extension of the fact that we take care of him. Of course he loves us; we made him. We feed him, clothe him, entertain him. We are the center of his universe and he is the center of ours.

Hearing him say that he was happy to see me, though, seems like an independent thought. It's as if he is expressing something that he feels that is separate from our relationship up until now. I didn't have food in my hand. I wasn't giving him a Paw Patrol toy. I didn't just tell him he never had to brush his teeth again. I was lying on the floor. He could have just ignored me, really.

Instead he decided to tell me that he was happy to see me.

When people talk about such moments, they generally describe how it affected their heart. It melted or it broke or something like that. But the truth is that it felt like a section of my heart that I never even knew existed suddenly came alive. This boarded up room that had never been used was opened up and feelings I never knew I had suddenly circulated through my system.

There have been a lot of rooms like that, and Appleseed keeps finding new ones to open. The flood of them is sometimes more than I can bear.

He was happy to see me.

I know because he told me.