No Two Kids Have The Same Parents

The first time I can remember hearing, “No two kids have the same parents,” was from Rose. It was maybe a year ago.

Those words instantly seemed true, but now, with Ruby in my life, it has been very real. I’m not that much older than when Rock was born, but we are in a different country, we own a house, we own a car, we have a second dog, and most importantly–there are two kids. When Rock popped out we hadn’t done this before; many things were terrifying. Every time he stopped making noise I thought he might be dead. But that isn’t Ruby’s life. Also she snores like a piglet with hay-fever.

The experience that we gained with Rockford has made us remarkably different in our comfort with children in general. Rose is nowhere near as burdened by what-ifs, because we survived an international move and living in a van with our first little monkey–that is hard to top as a challenge. I am more laid-back about the development of Ruby, more understanding that I am of little use to her for the first few months. Thankfully neither of our children seem to be gentle souls. The just scamper/squirm/flop to whatever beat is happening.

Ruby will not get the kind of direct scrutiny that her brother gets (he hits the milestones first), but she will also live with a different kind of scrutiny. She will live in more a panopticon with many eyes, ears, and cold wet noses milling about. Now that we “know” enough to get ourselves in trouble we have to remember that “the same as last time” isn’t the goal. With Rockford becoming more sophisticated and Ruby being an entirely different adorable little monkey my goal is to focus less on the act of parenting. From this point forward I am focusing on being a role model.

I can’t be the same dad to both of them, they are not the same kid (right?). So, I’ll look to enact what I want them to learn, and grow with them, to be a better man. If I tell them to do one thing, but do another myself, I will just raise kids that are the worst of me, and good liars. Personally, I would prefer them to be honest rather than civil (both, fingers crossed). In the end, I hope, they will overlook my parenting failures because they know I am one of the monkeys too–even though I run the monekyhouse.

From the Front Lines of Two Kids

Carlos and I recently made the transition from being parents of an only child to taking on the full-time tag-team wrestling challenge of having two children. At the end of February, we welcomed Ruby, and made Rockford a big brother. The first week was a blur, and the second week was like watching the landscape fly past a train window. Here, a couple days into week three, things are starting to feel like real life again.

Sixteen days in, here’s what I’ve learned in the land of multi-child parenting.

 

  • Say goodbye to sleep. Oh, I still sleep, but the sleep I get now is a sad, Newman-Os for Oreos substitute. It’s a second round of all the best parts of newborn sleeping – the weird noises, the every-two-hours feedings, waking up in a puddle of breast milk, with the added perk of fighting a toddler for space in my own bed.
  • The costume changes are constant, except when they’re impossible. Newborn-size diapers are too small, size 1 is too big, and the result is the same either way. Is that mud on the big kid, or poop? The only difference is how urgently the pants need changed. Why do I keep smelling sour milk everywhere? Oh, it’s me. Again. How many kinds of jam are OK on one toddler t-shirt? Doesn’t matter – there aren’t enough kinds in the house to either convince the kid to change, or to obscure the demonically-smiling face of Thomas the damned Tank Engine.
  • I never was in control. The aforementioned Thomas t-shirt? It was the second blow to my carefully constructed Thomas-free zone. Yeah, he knew that Thomas existed, kind of, inasmuch as PBS Kids plays the show. But we don’t watch it, we don’t know which train is which, we don’t know anything about that little world, and intentionally so. It’s often thanks to shared Thomas-hating that I reveal myself to other parent as, well, kind of a commie pinko. Except, all that is ruined, now, thanks to one interactive pop-up book and a stupid t-shirt.
  • There’s no shame in defeat. Yeah, we’re all wearing some component of pajamas to the grocery store, but hey, we’re out of the house! Rockford doesn’t live here anymore, you say? Fine, does Thomas the “helpful blue engine” want to eat his dinner? Oh, and you’ll only go to sleep bundled up on the couch? Fine, as long as you go the hell to sleep.
  • Take what you can get. I will absolutely let the toddler put himself to sleep on the couch, because a winning scenario for me is one in which he, y’know, sleeps. And yeah, I will put him down in his own bed, knowing full well that he’ll be in mine by morning, because I can’t give up that sliver of grownups-in-bed-alone time.
  • The first kid is the hardest part about having a second kid. Sleep when the baby sleeps: yes, except who’s watching the toddler? “It’s NOT Ruby-size, it’s Rockford-size!” Luckily, Rock is a quick learner, and only had to attempt to put on one newborn-sized outfit before he was convinced that Ruby-sized was a real thing. Some parents worry about every little noise waking their baby; I worry that the baby’s noises will wake the big kid.

It’s not all doom and gloom and sleep disruption, though. Rockford insists that he likes Ruby, and she likes looking at him (when he gets close enough for her to see). Having a baby in the house is helping Rockford embrace the transition to big kid. Toddler attitude makes me really grateful for baby-scale problems.

Finally, some things are only remarkable in how little they have changed. Remember how Carlos is an excellent father? A creative, compassionate, solver of problems and swaddler of babies – he is still all of those things, and more. The satisfaction of feeling a tiny person cooing and snoring is exactly as rich the second time around. The laundry – still never-ending. The sudden, catastrophic hunger of breast feeding: yup, still sneaks up on me.

It’s a whole new world, the same world that we’ve been in all along. As ever, I am incredibly happy to share it with the people that I do, and I’m delighted to add Ruby to that list.

 

We vs. Me in Relationships

Two common perspectives I’ve seen in our interviews and group discussions about relationships are people who focus on Me and people who focus on We. That is, their perspective is being driven by either individual concern or group concern.

Me people tend to see a relationship as two individuals that are each wholly responsible for their self, and have a mutual point of interest. This is often expressed like this, “If each person makes sure their needs are met, the relationship will be healthy.” Clear enough, right? Each person should be taken care of, so the group as a whole should be happy.

We people often approach relationships as an interdependency; that is to say, that the relationship is a third, separate entity. “If each person contributes to the shared interest (relationship/partner) then everyone has time to care for their other needs,” is a cosmmon description given by We people. So, many hands make light work.

In theory both approaches work. Many conflicts that I have seen come from places where partners have opposite approaches. One person gets very well taken care of and the other doesn’t.

Few of us apply just one approach in all situations. We have things that we are comfortable sharing and things that we like to approach strictly as self-interested individuals. As far as relationships go, it is good to be self-aware about places that we have strong preferences toward an individual or group mentality. Take a moment to think about what parts of your relationships that you expect to share, and what part you expect each partner to be personally responsible for.

 

Family Home Evening

One of the levels of fallout from disengaging almost entirely with my family of origin has been the liberty and challenge of building our family life the way that makes the most sense for our actual family. When Carlos and I decided to build a future together, he told me, “we never have to be normal people, Rosie.” It was, without caveat, the most important thing another human has ever said to me.

We never have to be normal people!

Our life is not “normal,” and that’s the way I like it. We have the chance to pick and choose the things that make sense for our life, which makes us incredibly lucky. And, being true to who we are, we shape those things to be fit our life, rather than any other way around.

One tradition of other families that I have chosen to adopt full-force is Family Home Evening. Naturally, there is no prayer or hymns the way we practice, and the definition of “family” that we use would surely irk most Mormon elders. Family Home Evening as practiced by our family is likely to include conversations about consent, collaborative troubleshooting of people’s various relationships, and trading off toddler-harassing duties. All this, of course, bathed in the noise and laughter of adults coming together because we enjoy each other’s company, and bubbling over with the joy of knowing we are among our people.

Sometimes I find myself in an awkward position trying to explain exactly what was so special about a couple friends over on a Wednesday night, and I marvel at how my life has grown. We never have to be normal people, but we get to be true to the people that we want to be.

What Is Your Gender?

One of the topics that we haven’t addressed directly is the issue of gender. Recently I have been seeing an increase in discussion on these topics and a change in how the mainstream is presented with gender. To that point Facebook supports between 50 and 71 choices for gender and OKCupid will soon have about 20 gender and sexuality options.

When I say gender I don’t mean biological sex, I mean your expression and what your culture expects based on how they perceive that expression. For example if I describe someone as a Man or as a Gay Man do you have different expectations about their behavior, dress, and appearance? That is part of your cultural expectation of gender.

Here is a rough estimation of my gender expression (as scored by Rose)

Gender Identification

As you can see she sees me as having some very feminine qualities. This is a pretty comprehensive description of the categories that describe how I present to the world: my body shape, how I dress, how I speak/sound, my behavior, and what my interests are. This is what people see when they make an assessment of what my gender is. Overall, you can see I didn’t score particularly high on masculinity.

You will notice that this is very basic, it is the stuff that exists from across the street, or over the phone. Think about that for a moment. If you are talking to me on the phone (according to Rose) I am much more masculine than if you see me on the street and can’t hear me speak. Your interpretation of my expression can be entirely different from my internal identity.

Why are there so many gender identities?

Part of why there are so many gender identities is because that chart above is only part of the story. How we choose our label is more than just the behaviors that are readily observed, but also the motivations behind them. Factors like where we fall on a biological sex spectrum (see this article for more) and our identity in relation to sexual orientation can affect how we choose our gender identity, and how we express it.

This means that as we change various things about our behavior and appearance we may shift subtlety. Even though a person may spend their entire life in the same general area that doesn’t mean they haven’t changed. A wide variety of factors including changing cultural groups, medication, and parenthood (even a fathers hormones change in response to children) all can change the factors that make up your gender identity.

Remember this please, gender is not sex or sexual orientation, two people with exactly the same identity and expression can have different sexual orientations.

So, how can you tell what a persons gender is?

You can’t. You have to ask them. Viewing yourself as a man has nothing to do with being manly. Viewing yourself as queer has nothing to do with your sexual preferences. And, wearing short hair and a flannel shirt doesn’t make you any less a woman.

Love and Empathy

Previously I have said that the cost of love is ego. While enacting love we show empathy for another’s experience. But, it turns out that showing empathy for people we don’t identify with is difficult.

Today I read an article by Jonathan Chait. It is best described as a deeply flawed pan-flute of bigotry. He intones a wide variety of dog-whistle political attacks with carefully coded language to cast blame on women, people of color, and liberals for policing the tone and language of discussions/arguments about bigotry. In total it was a difficult thing to read through, but it is a very resonant display of distain. Chait does not have empathy for other people’s experience, he is the kind of man whose opinion about a thing is directly linked to whether it affects him. Like when a politician changes their stance on marriage after their child publicly comes out.

What Chait puts forward is a powerful ego response, many of the things he critiques are ego too, constrained by his personal experience and identity. He shuffles through a variety of stories about people that failing an ideological test. When a real world opportunity for empathy comes to them they hide in the letter of their philosophy, instead of the spirit. They become ideologues and extremists, because they fear a loss of identity if they occupy an opposing view or feeling.

In my real life I run into a frequent test of my empathy. When someone tells me that they have lost a loved one. I know what that is like, I have experienced it. Reliving my experience is not empathy, accepting and taking on their perspective–there in that moment–is empathy.

This year I took Rockford with me when I got a flu shot. Imagine being two-and-a-half years old and a stranger has a hypodermic. My kid is a trooper he wanted to sit in my lap, he remembers what a shot is, his ego response was to solve this imminent problem through comfort. He calmed down immediately when he realized that he wasn’t getting a shot. His eyes got wide and he pouted when the nurse pushed the needle into my shoulder. He reached out his hand and said, “Papa, ouch?!” I told him, “I’m okay,” he sat in my lap to gently (thank god) pat my bandaid and coo, “Papa. Ouch, okay.”

To me that is what empathy and love are, it isn’t about my experience, it is about sharing the other person’s experience.

Who Are You

Recently, I attended an interesting presentation by Dr. Antoinette Izzo. The presentation was based on findings from an anthropological study she is running with the help of UNLV. She found four strong themes in how we label ourselves.

How we label our self, or others, comes from the intersection of:

  1. Our Philosophical Values
  2. Our Ideological Values
  3. Our Identity View
  4. The Practice We Observe

Antoinette confided that this was her first delivery of her presentation, so I am going to take some liberty with what she said (she has not formally submitted any papers on the work yet). I hope that this comes close to the mark.

Our philosophical values are the foundational beliefs we hold that are to some degree changeable through exploration. Our ideological values are foundational beliefs that are embedded and harder to change. When it comes to love my philosophy is love is lack of ego about another’s actions or state. Ideologically, this brings me to believe feelings are always okay, actions range from good to bad.

Because I identify as a dad, a husband, and a silly person, I strive to take actions that display love for my wife and child (soon to be children). But, sometimes being funny/silly on my end leads to discomfort/pain on their end. In these moments my actions of love become really important. These actions include things like:

  • Don’t use words that deny feelings
  • Listen actively when my loved ones speak to me
  • Create space for for them think about their feelings
    • Give time to think
    • Don’t ask them to feel differently
    • Focus on actions, not perceived motivation
  • Acknowledge that disagreements can’t be won

When I label myself, or others, I am trying to describe their actions in relation to my philosophies, ideologies, and existing identity categories. Sometimes this means there will be conflict between what I mean and they understand from my words.

That is a tense moment–I suggest dealing with it by saying some form of, “What does that mean to you?” When someone is hurt by something you say you have most likely attacked one of their beliefs. There is little way to tell which one, though.

Taking responsibility for how your actions affected them is really the least you can do to diffuse the situation. Showing that you care, even before you understand, shows good faith in the process, even if the problem can’t be solved immediately.

Christmas Songs for Grumpy People

Now that Thanksgiving is over, even the totally reasonable retail establishment where I work has taken a turn for the Christmas-y. The radio has been switched to a “holiday” station, and so it begins: the time of Christmas music. I personally like to celebrate the season by arguing with loved ones over which holiday songs are the worst. Carlos’s personal peeve is “Little Drummer Boy,” and the folks I work with universally hate “Dominick the Donkey.” But I’m trying to be a little more positive this year, so instead of addressing why we should all drop Bing Crosby from our Christmas playlists (it’s because of domestic violence), I thought I would share Rose’s List of Acceptable Christmas Songs! In no particular order:

The Waitresses, “Christmas Wrapping.”

Harvey Danger, “Sometimes You Have to Work On Christmas”

Robert Earl Keene, “Merry Christmas From The Family”

Nightmare Before Christmas, “Making Christmas”

And because it IS well loved, just not especially by me, Pogues, “Fairytale of New York”

Fear of Loneliness

Love is, perhaps, just our natural reaction to an intense fear of feeling lonely.

One of the first books that ever touched me was The Bluest Eye, it is about intense loneliness. A kind of lonely tundra filled with many other people running away from each other. It is the first book that Toni Morrison wrote. The Bluest Eye exposes many ways that people feel alone, and misplaced attempts to right one’s self. Recently I learned from her interview with Stephen Colbert that Toni feels she did not do justice to one of the characters.

I am certain that Toni has a different character in mind, but I did feel that there was a missing chapter when I read it. One that I created in my mind, wrote for, and presented to the english class that assigned The Bluest Eye.

I wrote a letter as Cholly.

Cholly is not a good man: he is an alcoholic, he is violent, he is an arsonist, he rapes his daughter, and in all things he is a wild and rootless man. He is the catalyst, but not the cause, of many plot points. And, he disappeared in a way that drew my mind to draw him in greater detail.

Love is never any better than the lover.

As a 15-year-old boy I felt the most in common with Cholly, because he lived his life arrested in his teen years. His life started abandoned in a trash heap. He was a teenager when the woman who raised him died, and a pair of white men interrupted and made spectacle of his first sexual experience.

Extending my mind into this character at 15-years old in many ways helped me cope with my sexual experiences and sense of alienation. It helped me to deal with some of my experiences as narrative, instead of terminal experiences. Needless to say, at 15, I was a better writer than lover.

At least in my writing I could be certain, less confused, and less ambivalent about what my words meant. After years of barely surviving social systems that didn’t want me as a member, and weathering constant implication that I didn’t have value because the system didn’t want me–I was confused. I saw the picture that was painted of romantic love as both a life-raft and a constant threat. It was part of a system that hated me, and it offered the possibility of connection in opposition to that very system.

As a teen love is clumsy and physical. It is holding hands, and kissing, and touching, and sex–it ranges from mystically important to taboo. For many of us as we grow older it gets more complicated. For others it stays the same, but becomes less effective at its goal as life becomes more complicated.

Over the years my understanding of love has grown fed by this line from The Bluest EyeLove is never any better than the lover. Take the challenge to see yourself as the story of what you have done, not what you thought your motives were. Observe yourself from an outside perspective.

It is harder to be lonely if you love someone.

When I think about my darkest points, they are not when I lacked people who loved me. It was when I had no love for others. There wasn’t anyone that I had the necessary openness to consider as beloved. When I admitted someone into that part of my life alone was no longer the same as lonely.

I think that is why so many fear being alone, and long to be loved. Because company and attention of others appear to be the shortest route to avoid loneliness. I think that the shortest route away from, and best protection from, lonely is to give love. Even if it is just one day, make that day about someone else by showing only the parts you like of yourself, and shine light on the parts of them that you like.

It Is Not JUST Racism

On November 24th we learned about some of the unfortunate misuse of our judicial system. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch failed to convince a grand jury to send Darren Wilson to trail for killing unarmed Mike Brown. The entire concept of the Grand Jury is meet to a minimal threshold of plausibility to enable a District Attorney to take anyone to court–even a ham sandwich.

From Google:

The purpose of the grand jury is not to determine guilt or innocence, but to decide whether there is probable cause to prosecute someone for a felony crime. The grand jury operates in secrecy and the normal rules of evidence do not apply. The prosecutor runs the proceedings and no judge is present.

Did you see that? There are no rules of evidence, no judge. It is a dog and pony show, when the prosecutor says whether they want to indict. Robert Paul McCulloch got on stage and lied to you. He misrepresented the entire concept and purpose of the grand jury, and his role in shaping their decision.

He lied to you so hard that the National Bar Association has castigated DA Robert P McCulloch. A Bar Association that represents 20,000 members feels that the only possible explanation for this outcome is that District Attorney McCulloch failed to properly perform his duties as he was sworn to do. The National Bar Association endorses that the US Department of Justice ignore the grand jury and pursue federal prosecution. The National Bar Association feels that no competent prosecutor, or properly informed, functioning jury could have reached the result of November 24th.

It Is About Greed

You may not remember, but there were multiple requests that Robert McCulloch recuse himself from this case, based on conflicts with performing his duties. Among his conflicts of interest are very strong ties to the police department, a history of tanking grand jury investigations against cops, and being the president of an organization (Backstoppers) that collects money on behalf of the police. Beyond that, this particular incident has similarities with an incident that killed Paul McCulloch, Robert’s father.

Robert McCulloch has gotten away with this before. Even in cases where he was forced to go to grand jury (like this one), he usually fails to secure an indictment when the defendant is a police officer. He has a history of choosing the side of his own interests over those of the public, and he does not make any effort to hide that fact.

DA Robert McCulloch is not the only party who stands to gain from this situation. There is, unfortunately, a lot of money in jailing people. John Oliver points out several very disturbing statistics about the US penal system.

  • The number of prisoners has grown 8-fold since 1970
  • Around 9% of US prisons are entirely private
  • Food and medical care are increasingly privatized
  • Around 50% of prison population is related to drug offenses
  • We spend around $35,000 per prisoner per year

The NAACP, using statistics provided by the FBI, finds that black Americans are 10-times more likely to serve jail time for drug offenses than white Americans are. This is problematic in part because there are 14,000,000 white Americans that report using drugs, 5 times the number of the black population that report using any illicit drug. Black Americans are sentenced to an average of 58.7 months (almost 5 years) for drug offenses. By contrast, white criminals serve an average of 61.5 months for violent offenses. That means that I would serve almost as much time for drug possession as Rose would for attacking a stranger with a bat.

A pervasive characterization of dark skinned Americans as criminal, and scary, leads to not only higher arrest rates, but longer sentencing. So, there is plenty of money in not installing cameras, like Ferguson, or in destroying footage, like Seattle. Body cameras range from $120-$200 from a company like Police One. A taser is $400. A SWAT vehicle is $250,000. The reason that your town doesn’t have cameras is because cameras cut down on profits, not because the police can’t afford them. Ferguson PD claims they spent $6,000 buying dash cams, none of which have been installed. They spent $6000 that could have equipped 30 of their 54 officers with body cameras, but instead chose to buy and fail to utilize car-mounted cameras. Ask yourself why that happens.

Yes, It IS About Race

Even when the cameras are watching, race is still a problem in how we are policed. Time and again, police and civilian surveillance footage makes it clear that emergency personnel carry a clear and disgusting disrespect for black lives and black bodies. John Crawford was shot in a Walmart, not even carrying an air-rifle, in an open carry state (Ohio). After Cleveland police shot twelve year-old Tamir Rice, they left him injured for 5 minutes before first aid was administered. EMTs refused to administer care to Eric Garner after he was choked by NYPD, and Mike Brown was left lying in the street for 4.5 hours.

You just don’t see this level of disrespect being inflicted on other populations. Chokeholds were banned by NYPD in 1993, long before the officer who choked Garner even started his career there. Between 2009 and 2014 the Civilian Complaint Review Board investigated over 1,000 complaints of choking by police officers. Fully 63% of the victims were black.

Tamir Rice was shot within seconds of the police car arriving. They were called to his playground by dispatch, and informed that the weapon he had was probably fake. Knowing that the call was about a child, the officer identified Tamir as a 20 year old black male. Even having back-up, police see black children as a threat. While responding to a dispatch about a youth with a probably fake weapon, the officer was nonetheless afraid enough to shoot first and justify it later.

This is how deeply racism is driven into our system. In NYC, a black person is choked by the police more than twice a week, because the police believe that the rules of conduct don’t apply to them. And unfortunately, It’s not just the police, it is emergency medical personnel, too, who are afraid to treat black American as worthy of basic respect. I promise you that black is not a weapon or a disease, you can’t catch it, and it can’t injure you.

What Can You Do? 

The least you can do is change the way you speak. Change the way you talk about these incidents.

Don’t pluralize. Don’t talk about individuals in the plural. Mike Brown was a person, not those people. If someone changes the subject from an individual to these people, that neighborhood, or any other plural thing–shut that person down. No one deserves to die because they are in that neighborhood. If someone is trying to change a conversation about what happened to one person into a generalization about what those people are like, they are telling you that they don’t see black people as human. If someone is trying to dehumanize an individual by calling on generalizations they are a bigot trying to hide. Don’t let them get away with it. Don’t let them cower behind generalizations and pretend that they are anything but a participant in the disrespect of humanity.

Promise me that one thing, that you will stop pluralizing and talk about people as individuals.