The Hardest Thing You’ll Ever Do, But It’s Pretty Easy

2015-06-13 21.40.59A co-worker, my office mate during our first pregnancy was 5 or so years further down the road from us with two kids, preschool and kindergarten. She was largely bemused by me and my behavior as an expectant dad. I would be now too. Expectant parents, the good responsible ones at least, are a bit silly. We were no different. I don’t recall what brought about the comment she made to me, but it’s stuck with me all these years. She said, ‘having kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But it’s easy.’
Well, this is the definition of a conundrum and sounds like absolute hog swallop! But it turned out she was right.

Before the kids I had an absolute need to find consistency. To make that which was juxtaposed become resolved. To that brain there was a crisis, or there would have been had I accepted the statement, to make one of these opposing realities fail. After all how could it be hard and easy? A thing can’t be black and white. It just can’t!

Well, turns out it can. Because caring for my kids, providing for them, raising them, being there every minute is incredibly and sometimes seemingly unbearably challenging. It’s all the things you hear about but can’t fully conceive of prior to them arriving. And an absolute TON more.

Physically it depletes and even destroys some parts that may be revived to some extent but will never be fully what they were before. Emotionally they take you to your furthest limit and live on that edge, leaning on it and pushing it to the point where you have to break in order to rebuild your walls further out than you ever thought you’d be. Then they move there, to your new outer limit, lower their shoulders and push. Push until they break through and you are once again forced to build retaining walls further out. You can’t even remember where your silly emotional limits were before they arrived to push you, but surely you now think of your former emotional stamina as that of some sort of lower animal. Hard to imagine you ever thought a thing difficult before this.

Financially. Others focus on this and ameliorate it through hard work, smart work, good fortune, determination and single minded focus. I, being one who is unwilling and likely unable to eliminate this issue, pities these people. Mostly I pity them out of envy and defensiveness. That is as far as I’m willing to explore the dynamic so I’ll leave it there. But be it known, your money which you’ve always considered in short supply and wholly yours is now in shorter supply, much more necessary and barely yours for even the few moments in which you possess it. I’m not complaining and I remain aware of how insanely lucky I am to have what I have. But it’s still a grinding thing trying to make it all work.

Beyond this you now carry a burden that is beyond your comprehension until the moment that baby meets you. I daresay that moment came months earlier for my wife than it did for me. Still, once it appears it will be with you for as far out as you can look. Another human being, one completely incompetent and needing of you every single day, all day, is here. You love him and hold him and treasure it all, but it does weigh on you. I once knew a man who honestly believed he didn’t carry this stuff with him. Yet if you asked his wife and kids they’d tell you, he carried it nobly, and for ten years while the kids were young he moaned like a cow mooing in his sleep. Loud. Wake you up on other floors loud. Showed up with the kids and disappeared when most of them could shower, bathe and feed themselves. It hits us all.

The hard is evident and there’s an annoyingly long line of people who can’t wait to tell you this as you head toward welcoming your little baby to the world. It’s doubly annoying because the negative commenters, parents I now recognize as being in the midst of their own process of becoming who are merely projecting all of the above onto you because they need the support you can’t yet give them, far outweigh the positive. Like my office mate, Mary, who also said, it’s pretty easy. And it is.

Me, Karen and the boys...
Me, Karen and the boys…

It’s easy for a lot of reasons. Reasons that arrive to you with the baby. Because along with all the ‘what!’ comes boatloads of ‘why’. You are provided a wonderful, bottomless bucket of love and care. Endless and effortless motivation. Without realizing it you have all jumped into the river and are teaching each other to swim. We are interconnected and integrated into this life that we lead. All of us. Together. Before long you accept all the challenges as the life you’re now blessed to be living and you

move on changed, multiplied. Stronger for having broken. Deeper for having cared. Happier for changing that which you feared you could never change. Your life is now one you can’t even conceive of existing without these new responsibilities, challenges and love. So sure, it’s hard, but you’d not have it any other way. Which makes it all pretty simple. Easy.

Handle with Care

I sometimes take a picture of you because you’re just so adorable and amazing and beautiful. And sometimes I catch a hint of fragility in what the camera catches. Other times I see huge heaping mounds of it. Giant reserves of delicate. Like you’re a crystal chandelier in the shape of my beautiful boy. And then, in my minds eye, I see all the thousand ways you’ll be disappointed by the realities of life you can’t even fathom at this point. Sculpted from this thing of beauty into another thing of beauty to be sure. But still, that journey is treacherous and full of potential. Potential harm. Potential fortune. Potential damage and grace.

Maybe it’s you. Maybe I’m not just a proud dad that’s just insanely obsessed with my kids. Maybe your specialness, your perfectness is not a function of my pride. Perhaps you are magical and I’m afraid of being at the helm and breaking you by some silly decision I make that seems necessary that I’ll grow to regret years from now.

I could stare at the pictures of you, the you you are now, on the precipice of independence and I dread the pain that growing up can be.

You’ll be fine. I know that. But you’ll be broken too. You have to be. Good, happy little boys can’t survive growing up. If they could they’d never grow up. Which sounds good until you realize that never growing up makes it hard to be a good man. That’s just the way it is. It’s okay. If you figure out what’s important from being a boy you can pull some of those parts out and take them with you. You may have to pack them away for a time, but they will be there when the time comes and you need them again.

A broken arm is one thing. I can handle that. Easy, actually. But the thought of you being teased or picked on or not knowing what to do in a school cafeteria and feeling sick and disoriented because you think everyone doesn’t like you, that thought ties me in knots. I got caught up in that process when I was a kid. I cried everyday for months when I was sent to school the first time. I was removed eventually and allowed to return the following year, but by then I knew to be cautious. I knew people didn’t like me. I knew they didn’t have to. What was wrong, though, was that I looked at the few that enjoyed making fun of me and thought ‘how can I do what they want me to do? How can I make them like me and stop picking on me?’. All along there was a world of kids who’d have been delighted to play and be my friends. But I just kept trying to impress the cool kids, even shunning kids I’d have gotten along with great who weren’t at the ‘right’ table.

Eventually I figured it out and sat safely where I didn’t want to be. It was mostly fine and it largely defined who I was to the world, or at least to my classmates who comprised the entirety of the world for me then. It took so long for me to be the me I liked and was comfortable being. I learned early on how to make them like me and I leaned on that all the way through school, which I hated because of how it all began. I spent so many years not liking me, internalizing the voices of all the wrong people.

All because I had some tough early days. The types of days grown ups like to say are ‘tough but you get through them’. Days we fool ourselves into thinking aren’t all that important because we were 5 and how much damage can really happen to a healthy and loved 5 year old. But we’re wrong. We can get hurt and scar up in tender places at very young ages. Even those of us that had enough of everything. imageI see your precious face and your beautiful and awesome expectation that nothing breaks and everyone will love you always and it scares the hell out of me. Because some day you’ll feel weird, alone and scared. And you won’t know why. And it will break you as it must. In the end I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about the ‘weird’ and the ‘scared’. You need to get through these things. We all do. But if we can help you with the alone part for as long as possible and stay present for the times you’ll need to explore being ‘away’ than maybe, just maybe, a small but invaluable piece of you, a piece of the you you are now might be able to make it through to the other side. If it does I hope that you are able to see all the things that I’m getting to see in you. If you do you’ll see what all that breaking was for. You’ll know once again what it feels like to be a fragile chandelier. To look at something you love so much that you can’t even imagine it ever not loving you back. The mere thought makes me break just a little.

Holding On

 

He’s too old to need this. He shouldn’t need to be cuddled and huddled to sleep. But I do it. I shouldn’t need it either. But we’re simpatico this way.

Like him, I too am refusing some transitions now that I know there’ll likely be no return, no future facsimile, no one ever who will need me this way again. It’s really hard early on, but it’s also so simple. The hours are neverending but the repeated need, once the electricity is on, the fridge is stocked, the house is clean and warm, the bum is wiped, powdered and covered, is just love. Hugs and kisses and cuddles. It’s all I need really. Its what he gives me in exchange for everything I can provide him. I’m getting the better end of the deal. It’s not even that close.

He was sleep trained before. At least this part. The ‘going to bed’ part of the sleep training. There was a month or two about six months back when he could be read a story or two, put down and largely left to fall asleep. It was a miraculous thing. At first. Until it dawned on me that I’d made myself obsolete. It’s my job to give independence and I relish it, but in such a task as this it was too soon. All the sacrifice this little angel has demanded of me, I’ll be damned if I’m going to drop this one exhausting, truly taxing, wonderful hour of my night just because he’s ready.

Gone is the swelled brain, feverish, red-eared exhaustion of the newborn phase. The nights aren’t ridiculous anymore, they’re just tiring. Tiring is okay. So I did it. I untrained him. I once again insisted on holding him to sleep. I cursed myself for bringing all this work back but I was and suspect I always will be, happy that I got it back. He’s gonna get these added perks denied his older brother who does more teaching of us than we do teaching of him. It’s a balance to all the things the first gets that the second can’t.

We’re on vacation now and naps are hard to come by. Our days are filled. Sleep routines be damned. When the occasion does arise for me to once again ‘put him to bed’ he enjoys it for a bit, then, from time to time, asks to be put down in his bed. It’s a sweet request and one I surely oblige immediately. I kiss him goodnight and tell him I’ll see him soon, as we still like to take him in with us when he wakes in the night. It used to be consistently between 2 and 3 but now is often at 4 and even later.

I can’t really untrain him anymore. I won’t do it, I’ll let him grow up, of course. But from time to time, when it won’t hurt him, I might take advantage of my position and keep him my little boy a little boy for a little longer than he needs to be, and a little shorter than I’d like him to be. We’ll meet in the middle between his need to grow up and my need to hold on. Time will come when he will need to shed the burden of me, the burden he can hardly see as it is so buried in his need for me at the moment. Someday these roles will be reversed. I’ll need him more than he’ll need me. Perhaps it will have always been the case, for that matter. But someday he’ll surely notice. When he does, when he sees that my need for him is more than his need for me I hope he’ll know how much I’ll appreciate his concern and his efforts. I hope he’ll have an understanding of how much it will mean to me.

 

 

30 Years Ago, 30 Years From Now

Me, Karen and the boys...
Me, Karen and the boys…

When I was eleven years old life was pretty damn great. I was finally able to play on the CYO team where I was the star everyone saw coming. I was finally allowed to leave the school where I was punched more than I’d have preferred and was instantly popular in my new school, where I wouldn’t catch a punch for a good five years. Girls, girls I was starting to notice almost all noticed me! Of course one or two didn’t, which was also great because that allowed me to talk about them for hours on end with my best friend Cory while we shot hoops, rode bikes, got into trouble and hung out everyday. I remember it like it was yesterday. The map of the streets, and all the little curbs you could catch air off of, and all the paths through woods, the towpath along the canal that could take you uptown to the theater that played matinee’s of Back to the Future that I’d bring myself to after earning money mowing the lawn. The locks that everyone else jumped off but I was too mature (scared) to and the trail into the woods where parents didn’t venture and where we taught ourselves to smoke cigarettes. If there was nothing to do for some reason I had a basketball court across the street that was essentially mine for years where everyone came to play. Hoops on either end but we only ever used the one side, the one with the net that came off, then the chain that went in its place only to become half destroyed and half tangled so you couldn’t get that satisfying sound of the chain swish when the ball made it through. It’s all engraved in my brain. It was 30 years ago. And it feels like I’m still there.

30 years from now I’ll be in my 70’s. I fully intend to be vibrant and present and years away from my final farewell. But still, your 70’s is your 70’s. My great accomplishments will have been achieved, whatever they might be. And don’t kid yourselves. Anyone that makes it to their 70’s has had their fair share of great accomplishments. They’ve had a fair share of everything, actually. They’ve had love and loss. They’ve had wins and losses. They’ve had boundless optimism and crushing defeats. They’ve had magic. They’ve had insurmountable challenges that they prayed to be saved from only to find out how capable, how able, how great they actually could be. They’ve learned that most of the tragedies are actually just turning points. They’ve survived what they thought would kill them. Maybe physically, maybe spiritually maybe just situationally, which often feels the worst but leaves the least scarring. They’ve bought and sold and bought. They’ve seen cruelty. They’ve been moved to tears by beauty and by rage and by love and compassion. They’ve had a life.

It’s impossible to think that I’m as far from 11 as I am from 71, but no matter how I crunch the numbers it always works out that way. Sadness is a small ingredient in this soup. Gratitude is the broth, the part that all the rest swims in. If I had to isolate a feeling I wish for you guys when you reach an age, it’s gratitude. It’s truly the key to unlock true acceptance, love and happiness. Because this gift you are given is not to be trifled with. I’ve seen people who didn’t get it, who stewed in hate, anger, resentment and ugliness and it’s not worth it. It’s scary to be truly vulnerable but it’s also necessary if you are going to ever be able to feel what all of this can be.

Little Weirdo
Little Weirdo

I started writing when I was not much older than 11. Back then it was the muse that would get to me. It might be months on end of filling notebooks or it might be years of living and reading and thinking and learning, not once putting pen to paper. Putting the pen to the paper was great. Not in quality of the work, but in the quality of the time spent producing that work. When there’s so much to say, things you’ve only just figured how to articulate, so many things that you don’t know how to keep all the plates spinning and fear you won’t be able to get out this new piece of knowledge, this new way of understanding how the world is all connected, but it organizes itself, you let go of trying to hold on and you find yourself simply flowing. It’s remarkable. It’s playing pool on beers three and four, the angles appear to you effortlessly and you execute their plan intuitively and confidently. It’s a jump shot going down for days, the hoop starts to look bigger, like it’s looking at you and you know you can’t miss. It’s finding a task that excites you and becoming so enmeshed in it that you lose awareness of yourself and function fully  engaged. It’s a way of refreshing yourself to be so fully immersed. It feeds you and gets you back to full. It’s a glorious feeling that has occurred to me at the keyboard and with my open notebook. I hope you both find something that replicates that feeling. It’s so gratifying.

I shared it with a handful of people from time to time. It was hardly their fault that they didn’t fully understand the task they’d been assigned. They were to merely report that it was brilliant. Transcendent. Perhaps they could have questioned what it was I was doing wasting time working when I was sitting on a goldmine with this massive and massively beautiful talent. Instead they said hurtful and mean things like, ‘It’s really very good. I really like it.’ I eventually would recover and write about how cold the world can be to an artist.

20141025-102744-37664948.jpgThen you two came along. Turns out you guys were just the kick in the ass I needed to start living the life I talked about wanting. I started with a terrible first attempt at blogging while mom was pregnant with Charlie. Writing has always been my way of logging memories. Not just of events, but also of experiences. Of feelings and thoughts. And even in the excitement before I met you, at the mere thought of meeting you someday, I had to start building my collection of memories up. But I couldn’t do it. I’m embarrassed actually by the things that were there. I’m not kidding when I say this, I was literally the only person to have ever seen this blog. Even your mom, who was kind and supportive only heard what I read to her.

That fear of being fully exposed, the fear of being vulnerable in front of people, it owned me. Not just in what I had written but in life. My life was in service to never feeling vulnerable and exposed. Ultimately it’s a goal you can accomplish and many men do, but it’s a goal you’ll regret achieving. It’s fools gold. As men you need to know, feelings are often hard for us to understand and to recognize, but when you do notice something don’t succumb to the foolishness of thinking you can outrun yourself. You can’t. That game is rigged. You can’t avoid feeling vulnerable or exposed. If you do you might make it through protected, but you will have lost the only opportunity you have to live a great life.

Sure, I am a proud father and I would not at all be surprised if you accomplish a great many things in life that would make your resume a thing to be envied. But I can tell you right now at 2 and 4 you each have the chance to have a great life. A beautiful life. But if you hide from life, avoid pain and discomfort, try to keep who and what you are covered up, you’ll get to the end and realize you wasted the whole damned thing. I’m so thankful to you both for being the unwitting teachers who clued me in to this.

Before that it was your mom who crumbled the walls. She helped me understand that I had to stop hiding from life. Which I did actively through passivity until she helped me engage and be vulnerable in front of just one person. Her. In doing so I saw what I’d been missing.

Writing here has taken many turns I didn’t see coming when I started. I’ve had some successes and it’s been great. I hope there are more. But in the end, this, the developing dad blog is about you guys. Even the parts that are so clearly about me and my journey. Some day I’m not going to be here and you’re going to be left with an understanding that you didn’t know as much about me as you wished you did and it’s my hope that this can be a small supplement to your record of me, mom and our family. Not just when I’m passed, but before that as well.

I want you guys to have the chance to read about how we were with you each and how much we loved you. How obsessed we were with you. I want you to know who I was growing up. I want you to know that I’ve made huge mistakes and lived to tell about it. I want you to know that I’ve been really depressed for long periods of time and even thought about ending it all. I’ve even taken comfort knowing it was an option. Then I want you to read about the amazing wonderful life I got to live instead. I want you to know that therapy is something you can do. It’s like working out and eating right. Therapy can be part of being healthy and you should never ever feel anything is beyond repair. I want you to know fully, from my own words how flawed and human I was. I want you to know that I was funny. Sometimes in really inappropriate ways, though I’ll probably hide most of the really blue material (I also want you to know I love old phrases that were not even a part of my life, but once found I incorporated them into my language, things like ‘blue material.’) from you guys. I want you to know that I made bad decisions and that none of them were as bad in the end as they may have seemed at the time. I want you to know that I had a big heart and my work meant something to me.

I want you to have a chance to meet the me of 41 and hear about what I thought about. I want you to have a place to go if you’re ever curious about who I was when I was growing up. Your parents voices are your native language and I want you to have this always here so you can hear my voice in your head saying my words to you when I’m gone. I want you to hear me say I love you, Charlie, with all my heart. I want you to hear me say I love you, Teddy, with all my heart. I want you both to know how much this life has meant to me because I got to be your dad. I want you to know I just cried a little after saying that.

I want you to have all of this, all of me for as long as you want it. I want to be there in the only way I can be at the times you’ll wish I was there but know I can’t be.

I love you with all of my heart, Teddy.

I love you with all of my heart , Charlie.

5 Lessons Learned While Hiding in the Other Room

Home Day Fun..
Home Day Fun..

Have you ever taken a step back and tried to understand your toddlers understanding of the world? If not take a minute sometime to just observe. You might be surprised by what you find.

From time to time I am home alone with the boys for an hour or two on the weekends. It’s not often, but it happens and when it does I do my best to hide from them observe them from afar to see what I can learn about what they know. Here are a few of my conclusions.

  1. You don’t at all have to teach a child to hate – To the contrary. They come to it quite organically. That said, they have nary a care to your race, creed, sexual orientation or income bracket. Their sole determining factor between love and hate is whether or not you are giving them what they want when they want it. Furthermore, as toddlers, this may still result in them hating you. Granted, they have only the most vague sense of ‘hate’ and likely mean something more like, ‘I’m mad at you’, but still they are perhaps the demographic least afraid to hate. Granted, it’s usually balanced with cuddles but still.
  2. They are intuitively aware that posession is 9/10ths of the law – At least when they posess a thing.  When someone else is in possession of something, and really it can be anything, that to falls under the category of things that are rightfully theres because at one point they were holding it. Our four year old likes to say it was his ‘from when I was a baby.’
  3. Sharing is not a virtue, it’s a liability – This is mostly in regard to toys. My son told me yesterday that he wanted to play a game in which the only rules he could articulate were that ‘..all the toys in the world are mine.’ I’m not paraphrasing. He was so proud of himself for inventing this game. He thought he’d cracked a code or something.
  4. They have a sense of natural law – You use what you got. In our case we have two boys, 4 and 2. The big one is huge and he uses his hugeness to approprate property of the younger one, be it land or durable goods. The little one, he’s crazy. It’s like he’s in prison and he knows he has to act insane from time to time to keep the bigger one a little off balance and afraid to come after him. Its an intricate dance, but one that’s mostly entertaining and remarkably effective.
  5. They are aware of how adorable they are – Seriously, they know. They know that eventually we’ll break, whether its a laugh or a cuddle or all out crying, they on some level know that we are powerless over them in the end. Thankfully they tend to go about their days happy and grant us the illusion that we are in charge. I think they pity us.

Their is a good deal more to learn, but for now, I’m just going to hide in watch from the other room and hope they don’t hear me. Besides if they see me gorging on these Skittles I’ll have to share.

Home, Home!

They all start the same.

Teddy is the alarm clock. He is two and a half years old. This age comes with many challenges for the little guy and can lead to many challenging moments for us. It’s all okay though as evolution has whittled away at this problem for some time by now and as a result he is in possession of natures cutest adaptation. He is unbearably adorable. All cheeks and just enough language to get his point across eventually after several missed guesses, while giving your heart if not your countenance a smile as you try to interpret his barely understandable babble/speak. Even if the way he pronounces a word like ‘truck’ is mortifying at first, it’s also sweet beyond words. So his morning cries (more often then we tend to admit coming from the space between us in our bed) are tolerated.

The first instant is the only challenge. How can you possibly be waking up this early, you think. But he is anything if not persistent. His insistence makes you open your eyes. The fog lays low for a bit, we are almost 5 years into this schedule however and we long since have stopped cursing the morning light. Before you know it the blurred vision takes focus and he is there, all cheeks and sorrow that we are not yet awake and feeding his belly and his need for attention. Momma never asks for relief from this duty. She knows I’d help, at least most of the time, but she loves the morning light with her coffee and her soon to be giddy and happy boy.

It’s her story to write, the story of the morning the two of them share, but I love what I walk into when I go downstairs anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour later. He is curled up under her arm, laughing and silly, every bit the showman. His belly and life are full at the moment as he’s been afforded the chance to be mommy’s only for a few minutes each day. They both love it.

Before coming down the stairs I open the door to Charlies room. I turn off the white noise and allow our low key morning fun to drift up to him, allowing him to wake gently. On the good days, on most days, we’ll hear something like, ‘Mommy. Come get me.’ at full on four year old volume 10 or fifteen minutes later. Mommy comes eventually, or if he has to wait  a minute he might come down on his own. Either way the morning is in full swing by now, taking a turn from the rhythm of a ‘home day’ into the reality of a ‘school day’. They don’t know that yet. We do. Its also a work day and we need to dress and make lunches and dress the guys and prep for the day. So the TV goes on. the boys sit silently on the couch, cereal and sippy in their laps while George or Sponge Bob more recently, entertain us as well as them. We are fully engaged viewers of TV for children and we know when somethings good or not. It’s mostly not, but these two we like.

Our slow and soothing rhythm steadily increases in velocity. What we would allow to occur organically earlier in the morning now has two parents prompting and prodding if not begging for them to move move move. It’s a bummer for everyone involved. Mommy and I frantic to make deadlines, some real and unavoidable, some self-imposed, all interfering. By the time we sit in our cars we know that the bubble was burst, but we never can actually notice it while it’s happening. The weekend is over and we all have to get on with what it is we get on with.

‘Is today a home day, Daddy?’ Charlie will ask. He and Teddy both wait for the answer.

‘Nope. Sorry, buddy. But it is a school day! You get to see all your friends!’ And it’s true. He loves his school friends. We all do. But eventually has asks how long until another home day. We answer together, I start.

‘School, school, school, school, school…’ and I look to him in the rear view mirror.

His eyes get wide and he’s so happy to speak up for his part. ‘HOME, HOME’

Food Allergy PTSD

Parents of kids with food allergies tend to have a form of PTSD. It’s a commonality that ties us together. We get it. We know when we’ve run into another parent who understands us. Most parents empathize, but only we can truly understand.

At least that’s how we feel.

Food allergy PTSD leads to a lifetime of sensing threats around corners, threats both real and imagined. We have intimate knowledge. We have the knowledge you can only get when you are holding your baby and running for help while he is dying in your arms. The one job we are tasked with above all others, to keep this child alive until he can do so on his own, is slipping away and every second counts and you know, KNOW that were this a hundred years ago you’d be burying your baby. Having survived it you are changed. Broken. You are facing a changed landscape and a changed job. It’s unfair but it’s pointless to dwell on it.

I remember thinking terrible things about the parents of young kids at Target or Wegman’s or any of the other places one finds themselves mixing with young families before having kids of one’s own. I remember thinking, ‘Wow. How can they talk to their kid like that? It’s just mean. I’ll never be like those people.’ I remember thinking of friends that had a kid, ‘I’m tired. I’m always tired. Who are these people that think they’ve cornered the market on tired.’ These were reasonable thoughts to have. I had no freakin clue what the hell I was talking about. Having no clue was my perspective. Still is in many areas of life, to be honest. The fact that it was completely uninformed and laughably ignorant doesn’t invalidate that perspective.

The only thing that could revoke the validity of my perspective was having kids. Since then I have caught myself scaring my three year old into compliance during a short trip to Target. I like to think that my terrifying, clenched-jaw frustration was less upsetting to the ecosystem of the store than the screeching of others. Of the parent of three trying to get the grocery shopping done without a full meltdown, but to anyone that saw me around a corner, grasping the scared little boy’s biceps and staring him in the eye with the insane focus of a cartoon villain I’m certain mine would be the one more deserving of a call to CPS. Dad scary can be truly scary. I remember this from my dad, who I knew all along was the most gentle and loving and thoughtful father the world has ever seen. But toddlers require different. My mother once caught me at 5 or so playing with matches inside a camper and when she told me ‘Just wait til your father gets home.’ I knew enough to be terrified. Since it is required to scare kids early on to make the point, we change. We have to. And when we do we feel shame around other parents who might be having a good day while I’m staring at my little boy and doing my best impersonation of DeNiro in Cape Fear.

When it comes to other people and our kids food allergies it’s insane to think they can have our intimate knowledge even after they’ve heard our harrowing tale. Only we have that. That’s why we are each other’s best support. We can speak shorthand. We can elaborate on our stories, on our near misses with one another and know that we are understood. Regardless of how compassionate, empathic, caring and sensitive we are, for most of us, we’d be lying if we said that we didn’t change when it happened to us.
For many of us there’s residual shell shock and we find ourselves frantically unloading on kindly people that will listen and simply increasing our volume because why shouldn’t everyone share my perspective and this fight. At least all parents. My god, your hummus and carrots are a literal loaded gun free to be played with in any room where my little boy is. Don’t you get that? Is hummus really that important to you? ARGH!! You’re awful!!

Intimate knowledge can be like that. It can seem so true to you, so elemental that you forget there was a time before you had acquired that knowledge. Acquiring it leaves you changed. When I became a dad I was surprised by a few things. Certainly the amount of time there is in 24 hours. I thought I had that concept down, but I was way off. I was surprised by how aware of my own mortality I became. That’s how the responsibility hit me I suppose, that and the love. Also, I was surprised by the instant sense of connection and empathy I felt for parents everywhere. We can get as modern as we want but the primal nature of holding your newborn baby, however he or she got to your arms, is universal. Nothing was the same ever again. Almost immediately I was sliding away from my former perspective and a new life was stretching out before me. As it unraveled it revealed understandings of my life and its meaning. Now that I was here, on this side with the other folks that had had this beautiful and magic epiphany, I knew it was where I wanted to be. I proceeded on this path and began to find less and less in common with the people who hadn’t had kids. I was fully a parent.

Then I was born into a smaller family of parents. The rare club that was more exclusive and less desirable. I became a food allergy PTSD dad. I became a husband that had to relearn how to relate to his family and the world with this terrible new knowledge. Our son had an anaphylactic reaction to a single bite of a sandwich with a small amount of dressing on it that contained a small amount of sesame and it nearly killed him. It would have had a seed fallen to the floor from our bagels or our Chinese food that we had eaten regularly that first year and he had gotten to it while we were in the other room. Its traumatic information to live with. As hard a time as I had relating to parents before having kids, and as hard as it became to relate to people without kids after having them, it is now equally hard to relate to parents that don’t worry about their kid’s immediate environment every minute of every day. I just don’t get them. I can’t. What’s worse now, I somehow feel like they should all be able to relate to me. The childless, the parents of kids without life threatening food allergies, everyone needs to be in this thing with me. Right?

It’s easy and understandable to lose perspective. Sometimes it’s even advisable. And since it’s our kid’s lives I’m all for erring on the side of crazy if there’s any question of safety. But from time to time we have to poke our heads out of the bubble and remember that it’s a great big scary world out there for a lot of people. For a lot of reasons.

In my son’s classroom, where they will see me and confront me and Charlie every day, I may need to ramp up the nutty. Perhaps it will cause that extra attention when it’s called for, which it may never be, to save my son’s life. But if I want my message to be heard by the people that don’t have reason to understand my plight intimately, it’s my job to learn what invisible realities they are facing and try to share in those struggles. To not be so blinded by the dangers of the world as to forget that others have children suffering even worse, more assured tragedies. That while there are loaded guns ready to end my child, there are others whose children have bullets headed there way. That there are many parents in the exact same situation as me that couldn’t stop the grip of the unknown entity that ruined their lives forever. That it is a great gift I’ve been given to be able to know for sure what I need to do to assure my child safe passage and that I shouldn’t ever take for granted how lucky I am. That if I want empathy and understanding I have to remember that the world is full of parents facing innumerable struggles, challenges and threats and it’s my responsibility to support others and seek out ways to help, just as I ask them to do for me. Compassion is not a finite resource, it is infinite and needs to be fed constantly in order for it to grow.

Sometimes the PTSD and the eminent dangers make me rude. Make me insufferable even. Sometimes I’ll need others to forgive me for that. Sometimes I have to forgive myself for that. Sometimes I have to learn from it.