The Radar Metaphor

One of the keys to communicating with a partner is letting them know what is on the horizon. Not just the things that you have done, but some of your vision of the future.

Rose and I have at times used a metaphor of a radar to describe communicating about what is going on in our lives, because a radar has sectors and rings. So, you can describe people and events by what part of and what importance they have. Sectors can be things like: friends, family, romance, work, hobbies, etc. categories that hold importance, but aren’t dependent on each other. The rings are the importance you place on a particular person or event: low, medium, high; consider, pursue, mandatory; maybe, most likely, definitely.

The point here is to add a language about how important something is to you. Because, text messaging and email don’t allow for proper tone miscommunication about intensity can happen. Even if your are talking face to face some people miss non-verbal cues. Communication works the best when the speaker acts to create as narrow a meaning as possible. Using the radar metaphor can help the participants have a way to ask questions about intensity without seeming like they are being judging.

Be A Dad Project Continues

Rose is back at work. This means that I am back to double duty as Dad/Marketer/Janitor/Zookeeper. Trying to accomplish 3 or 4 things at once every moment of every day. Which I love. I get to use my problem solving brain to filter down to what must.

At any given time I can be making progress on a number of things, but one has to be done. The deck gets shuffled to accommodate and the list of things I do in a day are often longer than the list of things I planned to do, but didn’t.

My biggest challenge right now comes from the motivations of my kids. One who is exerting his independence in a world where he only has three things he can reliably do “by self” as he puts it, none of which are things I want him to do unsupervised, and one who needs constant reassurance that she is still safe without mama in the house.

Wonder Weeks has been helpful. Mainly because it reminds me that Ruby is terrible because babies are terrible, not because she hates me in particular.

But, the boy is developing well and is a reliable helper when it comes to comforting the baby. Thankfully he likes his new responsibilities as a big brother. My short term goal is to get back into working out, because he also likes miming whatever I do and gets tired, or at the very least bored of bothering me, after a 30-minute workout.

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.

For the Men I Miss During the Holidays

Today is a turning point for me. But, not a big one. It happens every year. I am on the 30-day countdown to my birthday. In spite of my general excitement about having an excuse to have a party and engage in a couple of personal traditions it isn’t a happy time of year for me.

This is the time of year that I miss my dad the most. Even though he has been gone a very long time he is still with me on a regular basis. Many of the things that I feel are important in my life are modeled after thinking about what I liked most about him. It really shows when I am around certain people.

I think that there was some positive in not having him around over the last decade. It has been easier for me to be the parts of me that he didn’t like. And, it has been easier for me to separate myself from the parts of him that I didn’t like. I can pare away the parts of him that I don’t aspire to without ever worrying about offending him.

Robert Bly’s Iron Johnalong with the writing of Joseph Campbell, were helpful in understanding that I was literally experiencing something that I would have to do, at least metaphorically. You have to bury your mentor. Obi-wan, Gandalf, Dumbledor, and Mom&Dad all of them have to be laid to rest before you can emerge as your own whole person.

I know the conflicts that I would have had with him over the years, but as I come into this part of the year he is the person that I want to have around. To share my weird problems with.

Our family trouble from the summer has left us with less to worry about when making plans, but also brings some weight. I’m used to feeling that there is an empty place at my table, but this year I miss Joe (my brother-in-law) too.

I after having him as a central part of the family Rose and I are building I miss sharing our weird problems with him too. Particularly, I miss sharing Rockford’s weird moments. Today I want to express my sincere thanks to the men that have been important to my life: Sean, Birger, Chris, Andrew, Eric, Joe, et al. but most of all my Dad.

Breaking Up

Parenting is, without a doubt, one of the most important ways that we conceptualize being a lover. Carlos has shared a lot with the blog about what being a father means to him. I haven’t been sharing my thoughts on motherhood with you, because something that happened earlier this summer has put them all in disarray.

My mother broke up with me.

This is a long story, and one that is not going to be told smoothly.

In part, I can’t tell it smoothly because its wounds are still fresh, and the events and their meaning have not had time to uncurl and make sense of themselves. In part, I don’t really want to tell this story, because I cannot believe that it’s true, because the things that have happened bring vividly back all the desire to shut down and hide that I work so hard to get past. I don’t want to tell it, but holy shit, you guys. We have to talk about this.

My mom broke up with me. Both my parents did, I guess, but my mom is the one who sent me an email telling me that she can “no longer support [me], as long as I am married to Carlos.” My dad packed all of the things that we left at their house, and my mom stood in the garage doorway and watched us load it into a truck.

I have gone around and around with myself about how to talk about, how much to tell. Like I said, I don’t want to tell any of it, because I want to believe that I can keep it from being real. But the truth is this: my mom decided that she didn’t like my marriage, and gave me an ultimatum. She told me that I had to choose between her and Carlos, and she stuck to her guns when I made my choice.

So, how did we get here?

My mom has always described herself as having a very long fuse, leading to drastic consequences once she hits her limit. She is also extremely conflict-averse. So her long fuse has been burning, with anger at Carlos and at me, and she only ever hinted about her unhappiness. She has just been burning, for months, maybe years, while she has been angry at me, angry at Carlos, and not talking to us about it.

You Don’t Know About Any Relationship You’re Not In
Wedding 10
On this blog and in person, Carlos and I talk a lot about the principles that guide our decisions as parents. “Love your kid and treat them with respect.” “Make their life better than ours.” “Do better.” “Take care of your family, you’re stuck with them.” For the most part, these are lessons that my mom shared with me explicitly, in discussions about how and why they raised us kids in the way that they did. It was not an accident that Carlos and I talked about having kids so early in our dating; having children, raising them to be good people who do good for the world is important to me. I knew I wanted to find a partner who saw the world the same way that I do, whose purpose and practice in parenting would be in line with my own. On our first date, in 1999, I hadn’t worked this out, but by the time we went out again in 2009, I knew what I wanted in a coparent, and I saw it in Carlos.

I saw other things in Carlos, too. I saw a man who knew me when I was a child, who remembered me fondly despite the years I had spent running away from him. I saw someone who had purpose and direction, setting the terms by which he lived his life. And I saw a place for me in that life. I saw a person who knew me in some of my absolute shittiest times, who had always intimidated and intrigued me, and who thought I was really something, even after all that. He was, and is, a smart, strong, challenging, supportive person who understands where I am coming from and wants to go great places together. In him, and our relationship, I saw a future I wanted to live.

The time that Carlos and I have been married has not always been easy. I came to this marriage with A LOT of issues. I am afraid of many things, including my feelings, and confrontation, and other people’s feelings, and vacations, and the ocean, and doing things wrong. At times, these fears can be paralyzing for me. I chose Carlos as my partner for life because our life together is better than my life with fear. I struggle with my fears every day, and I don’t always come out triumphant. There have been times when the struggles of our life together have been miserable, but even so, my life is better with Carlos.

Take Care Of Your Family, They’re All You’ve Got
This is why we can't have nice things
When it came time for us to embark on this grand adventure, I saw an opportunity to do something to nourish myself as both a child and a parent, and to support the relationships between my parents and their only grandchild. I knew that there was tension between Carlos and my folks, and I hoped that spending some time together would alleviate that. In my youth, and during my pregnancy, my mom was always by my side, sympathetic to the challenges I was facing, ready with hugs and wisdom and patience. I loved that about her, and I wanted to share that patience and experience with the family I am building. I wanted to practice parenting with the people who had raised me, to be in a place where their guidance and experience could help me and Carlos give Rockford the same kind of loving, respectful care that they had given me.

Instead of that, they placed the blame for my exhaustion on Carlos, met him with hostility, and refused to engage with either of us as adults. I can’t help but feel like it’s my fault that they treated us like children, for coming to them in a time of turmoil and changes. Why wouldn’t they assume that I (and by extension, Carlos) would just do as they told us, without arguments or questions? I needed so much help. When we were there, it became clear that my parents dislike my choice of partner, don’t respect the commitment I’ve made to my husband, and had no intention of helping us keep our marriage strong.

All this was pretty hard, but the worst of it came when we finally did launch onto the road. Getting our van ready took a long time, and while we were working, Carlos’s grandmother died. There was no question for us of whether we would attend her memorial, and it became the hard line for getting us out of my parents’ house. My dad described this as me “doing things on [my] husband’s time line, not mine,” as if there was some timeline on which he would have been comfortable with any of this happening. During our travels to Las Vegas and Portland, lots of moms took care of us, and I tweeted about how important that felt to me. This was the last straw for him, I guess, because it was the point where he started calling me an ungrateful child on twitter, and refusing to speak to me on the phone, instead carrying on an extended argument via text message. It was during this barrage that some important details emerged, explaining in part why my mom was mad, and why she hadn’t (and still hasn’t) spoken to me. That story isn’t mine to tell.

You Don’t Get To Choose Your Family
delrios
Here’s the story that is mine, though: finding ourselves in a hard situation, my parents pressed me to make a choice between them and my husband. I guess their expectation was that I would fall into line with their demands. They didn’t like the choices I was making, and tried to call me back to the fold. But the lessons that they instilled in me as a child have stuck. “You don’t know any relationship you’re not in.” “You don’t get to choose your family, and you have to look out for one another.” “The things most worth doing are often the hardest.”

did get to choose my husband. I chose the family that I wanted to build, and there wasn’t a question for me about whether I was going to defend that family. I didn’t get to choose my parents, as awesome as they have been for me, but I did choose to stand in front of all my friends and family and make a commitment to Carlos. I renewed that commitment when I chose to have a child with him. The hard times that we have together are part of a bigger story. We have hard times on the road to great times. My life is richer, stranger, and more interesting because of my marriage to Carlos. I have lived bigger, better, more challenging experiences because of my commitment to him, and his commitment to me.

Carlos never asked me to ditch my parents. He never told me that I was being unreasonable by being hurt by their actions. He comforted me in my pain, and tried to calm my rage. He felt rage for me, and looked out for the best interests of our family. When the moment came, and my mom told me “you’re not welcome as long as Carlos is in your life,” I didn’t feel any ambiguity. I felt anger, and hurt, and disgust. And I curled up next to my husband and cried.

She sent me her email in the middle of July. Some days I miss her so hard it hurts. Some days all I see is the myriad ways that her story makes up my story, and all the ways that I am her. She thinks that I hate her, and sometimes I do. Sometimes I reach for the phone to tell her about something funny I’ve seen, and the hurt catches my breath in my chest. I hurt, but she raised me to be an adult. So here I am. I am nursing my broken heart and taking care of the relationships that nourish me.

 

It’s A Dog’s Life

Our beloved, silly dog is having a hard time.

She is happiest when there are multiple people who love her, and when she has a somewhat predictable lifestyle. She’s a creature of habit, with high social needs. Even on her best behavior, she’s still kind of a hyperactive weirdo. Her needs are pretty straightforward – food, water, exercise, companionship.

More than any of us, she dislikes the “van on the road” lifestyle. When riding in vehicles, she prefers to have a seat where she can watch the road through the windshield. She wants more stops, and to be able to go with us everywhere we go. She seems to like it when we have the kind of sleep schedule that lets her to go bed early with me and stay in bed later with Carlos, which isn’t really how things work out in the van.

As a consequence of our life lately, her behavior has slipped somewhat. I catch her nibbling on Rock’s snacks when he’s not looking. Her levels of excitement at new people are through the roof, which means lots of headbutting people in the crotch and jumping on them. At least it’s not biting, right?

This morning my best lady friend sent me a video of her tiny dog wresting with another dog, in complete silence. I had forgotten that dogs could play without barking their heads off! I knew that Dita Lily has been needing some more focused care than she’s been getting, but until I watched Anchovy flipping around, I hadn’t realized quite how much. We exchanged 45 text messages about the best, dog-trainer approved ways to address her barking, and oh, my. So much work to be done.

When we launched in the van, I knew that there were going to be things that would be rough, and that there would be areas that we would have to work on. I feel bad for Dita, and her limited ability to communicate with us about her struggles. Perhaps more than any of us, she’s going to be happy when our chaos settles into a more permanent location.

Appreciating The Best Things

One of my favorite things about being on the road is enjoying the particular specialties of our favorite people. The other morning, I woke up in a house that has a whole section of the kitchen dedicated to coffee makers. There’s a thermal-carafe drip machine, an espresso machine, a siphon, a french press… I don’t even know if that’s all of them. In addition to the assortment of coffee, my friend tells me she’s been forbidden from buying any more tea, and omg, the beer. ALL THE BEST BEERS!

Before that stop, we hung out with my sister, who always has the best snacks. Seriously: when I was pregnant and struggling with the need to eat more food than I wanted to, I called her up to get a shopping list. On our last trip through Boise, her partner commandeered the shopping trip to make sure that we had all the snacks we’d need for the road, and put back the tortillas I had picked, in favor of way better ones.

Every house we’ve visited has had some kind of best thing about it. One of the AirBnBs that we stayed at had the best creepy taxidermy. (This is kind of a special category — no place else that we’ve stayed had any creepy taxidermy, let alone several dozen pieces). Thankfully there was no actual taxidermy in the bedroom we stayed in, just a couple giant plush animal heads. It was both fascinating and a little terrifying, to be honest. Almost every home we’ve stayed in has had some great art in it, which I’m going to call a credit to the awesome taste of the people who like us. Even hard pressed, I probably couldn’t say that one place had the best art. That’s totally OK with me.

Wyoming (to my surprise) had the best smells. Nebraska had the best lightning storms. Aunt Judy’s house had the best bunnies in the back yard, AND the best selection of kid’s books. I couldn’t wait to discover what’s best about my sister-in-law’s house. It turns out the answer is that her house has the best cousins in it. OK, yeah, that’s a tough call to make, but the kids (who are adults, or almost) spent most of the time we were there fighting (so gently) over who was going to hold Rockford, and bringing us delicious treats.

This period of our life is so strange, so chaotic, so unpredictable-despite-our-attempts-to-plan. It’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed, to feel like I don’t have anything but Carlos and Rock and Dita to anchor on, and taking the time to check in with my surroundings, finding something there to appreciate for its own weird and wonderful merit has been immeasurably valuable for keeping me grounded and in the practice of staying open to beauty and possibility. I think that when I have traveled in the past, I have not been great about anchoring my memories to specific places — was that cool castle in Grenada or Sevilla? Where did we eat all those tiny lamb chops? I like to think that making a note to myself about the things that are the best in each place has been helping me be better about remembering the places that we’ve been.

Who Do You Love?

During one of our recent interviews someone said, “I hope that I come to love my son for who he is, not just what he is.”

That moment crystalized for me. In the smudgy comic book of my mind people started dividing and filling those buckets: Who and What. I realized that if you were to press me about the five people that I call my siblings I can only confidently say that I know who two of them are.

I have affection for all of them and know things about them, we have known each other for 20-30 years, but I think that I have more understanding of Sean and Dee. When it comes to my cousins I think it point becomes even clearer. I have several first cousins that I have only met once. I wouldn’t hesitate to show them hospitality, but I don’t think that I would open in the same way as I would with the ones I know well.

Staying connected with family in many ways means balancing these two aspects. Acknowledging what someone’s role in your family is the least you can do. Showing love really means taking that leap into opening yourself to who they are, what they think, and how they feel.

In my own life I know that I am largely to blame for my distance from my family. In early years I only had good connection habits with one person, my dad. When he died I really never got back into the habit of talking to anyone. Between running from so many things, intense depression, and spending more than a year with neither a phone nor email I just forgot what to do.

By the time I came back to reality I didn’t use text, didn’t think about email, and really never called people unless I was trying to meet up with them face-to-face. Even though it has been a decade since I emerged from the jungle, I still fail at staying in contact with my family. Seriously, multiple times this year I have promised myself that I will write an email to a family member on Sunday. On Tuesdays I tend to realize that I have failed yet again.

In part this blog is a passive way to fight that bad habit. I am trying to get used to telling people where I am and what I am up to. Writing about all of this has given me an excuse, something specific to talk about, and a built-in subject to discuss.

Getting to know who a person is really requires asking a lot of questions. In that moment during the interview I realized that I was getting to know who this woman on the other end of Skype is better than I know most of my blood relatives.

To improve my community, and strengthen my family, I am going to start investing more into asking questions of the people that I love, even when I think I already know the answers. Ultimately, I really do want to love you people for WHO you are.

What Love Is Not and What Love Is

This is a collaborative work of the 50 Love Project, Rose and Carlos del Rio. 

We are now 6-months into the adventure of investigating how people build their families and communities. One of our central goals is to explore all of the ways that people love, and things that people love, that might not have occurred to us before. Along with the wide variety of healthy ways that people express and enact love, we think it’s important to address some of the damaging behaviors that happen under the guise of love.

What Love is Not

Love is not about guilt. Invoking a sense of guilt in your partner or child is not an act of love. Even though many people in the Baby Boom generation grew up in a time where invoking guilt was a common tool of parenting, using guilt to control someone’s behavior is a form of abuse (cc @Pontifex). Telling someone that you are treating them like this because you love them is not a form of love.

Love is not about wearing someone down. Berating, insulting, and annoying someone into doing what you want are not the tools of loving people. If you are trying to neg someone into interest you are abusing them. If you are sending your adult daughter repeated text messages calling her a bad mother or bad child you are committing abuse, not love.

Leveraging children is not love. Invoking, “But what about the children?” is not a form of love; it’s a form of guilt, and an attack on a person’s worth as a parent. Using children to deliver messages or restricting access to children is a form of blackmail and emotional manipulation.

Emotional blackmail is not love. Saying things like: If you loved me (fill in the blank), I won’t have sex until you (fill in the blank), You are welcome back in the family if you divorce your husband, are all attempts at control—not expressions of love. Unilaterally placing demands on how someone must behave is not an act of love, it is an act of control.

Isolation is not a form of love. Telling a person whom they can interact with, or how they can interact with people is controlling and abusive—especially if the goal is to avoid responsibility for other offenses or behavior. Telling a child that they aren’t allowed to talk to the rest of the family, or telling a partner that they can’t see a friend is not an act of love.

Threats are not love. Telling someone you will cause him or her problems if you see them or their partner is not an act of love. Threatening to isolate someone or cut them from the herd is not a form of love.

Transferring blame is not a form of love. Saying things like: you shouldn’t complain about me, my parents PHYSICALLY abused ME; you brought this on yourself; I’m doing this because of (fill in the blank), are not expressions of love, they are attempts at shaming and controlling the person.

Tolerance is not a form of love. Tolerating your children’s decisions is not a substitute for talking to them about their decisions. Tolerating that homosexuals, Muslims, and people of color exist is not a substitute for protecting their equal rights. Tolerance is the barest minimum requirement for decent behavior; it’s a neutral state, at best.

Blackmail, duress, and intimidation are not forms of love. Ignoring situations that are difficult to discuss is not a form of love. Below you can see the Wheel of Power & Control. This wheel was created to help people recognize the patterns of abuse that happen in domestic violence. This one is largely focused on peer relationships, but these patterns also are seen in parent-child dynamics.

power_control-wheel_clip_image001

 

What Love IS

Here you can see the flip side of the issue, the behaviors that we see displayed in loving relationships. Meeting all of these is a lofty goal, but this is much of what we strive for, and try to return to when we fail each other.

Love is sharing responsibility. This doesn’t mean that each person does X% of each thing, or certain things, it means that people do what needs to be done. This means that if something isn’t getting done, you ask if the person needs help or trade them one responsibility for another.

Love is negotiation. Love is a LOT of negotiation. Not just negotiation but also compromise. Love means that remembering that when there is a compromise, usually your partner didn’t get what they wanted either. Real life requires reacting to changing circumstances and moving forward together with your community (family, partner, friends, etc.). Sometimes things will go your way, sometimes you should make sure that it goes someone else’s way.

Love requires respect. Not just respect for what a person wants/needs, but also a respect for who they are. Small gifts and simple quiet moments where you let them be vulnerable, or outside their normal, and then return back can be very powerful expressions of love.

Showing trust and being trustworthy is an act of love. Carlos talked about how letting someone see your vulnerable side is a very real expression of love. Responding to another’s vulnerability with respect shows you are trustworthy. Both sides of these moments require and express deep love.

Love means sharing. This can take a variety of forms: money, food, time, sadness, joy. No matter what form we have heard it expressed as, it almost always has the same foundation: thinking about what you have that can help someone, not what they have that can help you.

Love means accountability. Examine your own actions and be accountable. Help your friends, family, and lovers see the world honestly. Judge yourself honestly. One of the best ways to show love to your partner is to recognize that you have a problem before they do. Seriously, it comes back to that vulnerability thing from earlier, “I love you and I trust you. I need your help to solve a problem I have.”

The Wheel of Equality is the flipside of the Wheel of Power and Control. These are the behaviors that healthy relationships are built upon:

equality-wheel-122

 

Good love really comes down to stepping outside of our own comfort and taking consideration of someone else’s needs. Taking care of someone else’s needs doesn’t have to be a sacrifice – often, their needs and our own are in alignment, or there is a clear reason why their needs should come before our own (those of us with little kids know this one well). When there’s conflict or stress about it, take that step back and remind yourself that we are in this together.

 

– Rose and Carlos (@50LoveProject)

The Be a Dad Project: Year in Review

 

I have been a dad now for a year. It has been a big year.

  • 2 Countries
  • 8 states
  • Rolling, crawling, walking, screaming
  • And major changes to our family

To arm Rockford for life I have endeavored to instill 3 basic virtues:

  1. Explore
  2. Share
  3. Don’t slap the dog

When I started this whole “let’s have a baby” journey my friend Eric told me: “All you can do is love them and feed them.” In my experience I can’t argue against that point. However, I do know that Rose doesn’t really like the phrase (b/c it isn’t about food), so I will reword it.

All you can do is love them for who they are, and help them become who they want to be.

My son wants to chase the dogs. Clearly I can help him get there, but there is very little I can do to change his state. I can encourage him to walk instead of crawl, I can demonstrate how to chase the dogs (and when to leave them alone), but I can’t magically make him balance well enough to run.

Loving my son, in part, means accepting that with each new skill he gets I need to pay more attention to him and let him show me what is next on the agenda. Right now he is pre-talking and getting used to walking and holding at the same time. As a baby he is changing quickly, which means both the bad and good events each day are rarely repeated. But, soon he will have some actual proclivities and broader interests.

Right now my goal for loving him is to accept what he gives me (food, sticks, rocks, cute moments). My goal for helping him become someone cool is to introduce him to lots of people and places.

The Road Plan For Year Two:

  1. Listen to what Rock tells me.
  2. Continue to teach him Sign Language.
  3. Never tell Rock who he is
  4. Ask who he wants to be.